Numbers Never Lie
By klynie (AKA slippingpastyou)
Summary: In her third year, Hermione's favorite class is Arithmancy.
This story is a submission for the Omniocular September AU Fic Challenge, Prompt #3: Snape is Hermione's biological father. It's time to write an alternative to Severitus fics!
My deepest thanks go to Khantael, who was not only my sharp-eyed beta, but improved this tale tenfold, all between RL commitments and with an injured hand. Any remaining mistakes are mine.
Disclaimer: The world of Harry Potter, its characters and settings are the copyrighted works of J.K. Rowling, Warner Bros., her publishing companies and affiliates. No profit was made from the writing of this story.
Warning: Spoilers for PS/SS, CoS, PoA. Gen, PG-13: some violence, implied non-consensual sex and strong language.
Starting Third Year
"…And as an introduction to the concepts of Arithmancy, I want everyone to choose an arithmantic chart used for political purposes, and write twenty inches on its history, development and political application by next Thursday."
A collective groan met Professor Vector's words, silenced as she slowly turned her gaze upon each student. Feet shuffled under desks, and quills scratched across parchment as the students dutifully wrote down the assignment. The murmur of voices and dry whisper of parchment pages rolling up marked the end of the class period, and chairs scraped against the stone floor as students began to leave.
Bundling her book and parchment into her book bag, Hermione Granger turned her back on the crush of students trying to crowd through the door and hurried to the professor's desk. This was only the first day of her third year at Hogwarts, but she could already tell that Arithmancy was going to be wonderful.
Professor Vector looked up from her marking, one eyebrow curved in a perfect bow of inquiry. She was a striking witch. Her age was difficult to guess, with her dark hair and sharp eyes. Hermione had noticed she was precise and correct in all her mannerisms.
"Yes, Miss…Granger, I believe."
"Yes, Professor, Hermione Granger. About our assignment," Hermione pushed back a wayward coil of mousy brown frizz from her face, barely able to contain her excitement. "Does the chart have to be in contemporary political use, or can it be one used in the past?"
"It sounds like you already have something in mind." Professor Vector placed her quill in an inkpot and leaned forward. "It can be either current or historical, as long as you are clear about the political implications it had for the period during which it was used." She tilted her head and sat back. "May I ask in which chart are you interested?"
"Well, I was reading about how the nobility used to rely on personal arithmancers for advice and counsel. Before the Parens Potion was developed, the book I read said that many arithmancers used the Natura Rerum Parentis Chart to determine the true heirs of the line. I thought it would be interesting to see whether there was a difference in application to pure-blood, half-blood and Muggle-born witches and wizards, and maybe to chart members of each group."
Professor Vector blinked. "Actual creation of a chart is well outside of the parameters of the assignment, and may be difficult for one not experienced in the art."
"But not impossible, isn't that right? I mean, the chart's well-documented – I saw several references to its use in Hogwarts, A History and I'm sure that the library has lots of additional reference material for me to use…"
Professor Vector lifted her fingers slightly to still Hermione. "Who do you propose to chart? You realize there are ethical considerations in any application of Arithmancy, but even more so when you are delving into personal lives. I will not condone the use of any Arithmantic principle in class without the express and informed consent of any subjects used in the analysis."
Hermione bit her lip. She had thought to ask Harry and Ron if they would mind if she analyzed their parents, but the professor's reference to ethics made her pause. What if something came up about Harry or Ron that would upset them, or worse, hurt them?
"I hadn't thought of that," Hermione admitted. "But would it be okay if I used myself as a subject?"
"If you're not afraid of the consequences, self-analysis is common practice amongst arithmancers experimenting with unknown or unfamiliar charts or formulae. But I would not, in any sense of the word, consider it to be a safe practice."
Hermione flashed her new professor a smile and hitched her bag over her shoulder. "Well, the Hat didn't put me in Gryffindor for nothing. Thank you, Professor!" She hurried out of the classroom.
The hallways were full of students, everyone rushing to get to their next class. Hermione looked around. When she knew nobody was looking, she slipped into a closet, pulled out a chain hanging around her neck and fiddled with it for a moment.
Then, she disappeared.
Later that week, Hermione wished that Ron and Harry would be a little more quiet.
Earlier in the evening, the three of them had visited Hagrid. It was good that they had, Hermione thought. Hagrid was really upset, and she suspected that he had reason to be.
Ron and Harry dissected Draco Malfoy's dramatic failure in Hagrid's class. Both boys agreed that Malfoy had deserved it when Buckbeak had slashed him with his talons. Hermione agreed with them that Malfoy was exaggerating his injuries, but she privately worried that Draco could get Hagrid into trouble. After all, Draco's father, Lucius Malfoy, was very influential, and totally evil. Hagrid left them at the castle doors with a final scolding about walking around without an adult with Sirius Black on the loose.
When they finally made it to the Gryffindor Common Room, Hermione announced that she needed to go to the library to work on her Arithmancy assignment. The boys had come to the library with her, supposedly to do their Divinations assignment. Instead, they were annoying her.
Ron and Harry were shushing each other while they drew all over their parchments and whispered about Quidditch. She glared at them, and they both gave her sheepish smiles, but as soon as she looked away, they started whispering again.
Hermione ignored them as best as she could, and started on her Arithmancy project.
Two hours later, Hermione slowly placed her quill on the table and tried to still her shaking hands.
She couldn't believe it.
She bit her lip to keep from shouting, but her head screamed, 'No!'
She had to be quiet. She couldn't make a fuss. Madam Pince would be so upset if she made a commotion in the library during study hours.
Numb, Hermione could hear Ron and Harry arguing about Quidditch Keepers.
What would they think of her if she told them?
Hermione had seen the way that Ron fought with his brothers and sister. At first, Ron would argue with her and tell her not to be stupid, that something was wrong. Then he would lose his temper and shout. His face would turn as red as his hair, and he'd look at her like she was a slug.
Ron held onto grudges.
Hermione looked at Harry from the corner of her eye. He pushed his glasses back up on his nose and smoothed down his dark, messy fringe across his forehead as he looked at the diagram that Ron had drawn.
Harry's reaction would be different to Ron's. He had lost his mother and father to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, so family was important to him. While he might not like what she'd just found out, she didn't think he would end their friendship.
But even so, their friendship might change. Harry might feel caught between her and Ron, and if that happened, Hermione was afraid that Harry would choose Ron's company over hers.
Hermione swallowed hard. She couldn't lose either of them, they were too important to her.
She must have made a mistake. But where? She had proofread her work three times, and each time, the same answer stared her in the face. Maybe if she asked Professor Vector to tell her what she had done wrong...?
Before the thought was completed, Hermione swept her work into her bag and raced off, leaving Ron and Harry to stare after her with wide, surprised eyes.
Professor Vector's expression was serious, and somewhat shocked.
"There is nothing wrong with your calculations, Miss Granger."
Hermione's breath was nearly a sob. She swallowed hard, but her mouth was dry.
"I know that it's asking a lot, Professor, but…" The words rushed out despite her efforts to appear calm. "Please, can you keep this in confidence? At least for now, until I figure out what to do?"
Professor Vector's glance was sympathetic, but firm. "Miss Granger, I understand your quandary, even if I can't entirely believe what I'm seeing. However, I'm ethically bound to report anything as serious as this to the Headmaster, I'm afraid."
"Why would the Headmaster even need to know? This really doesn't have anything to do with Hogwarts, especially if nobody knows about it. I'd just have to pretend like it never happened. I can do that!"
"Miss Granger, you just learned that the man who you have always thought was your father is not, in fact, your biological parent. Instead, someone else holds that distinction. While you may be able to put that fact from your mind, you certainly cannot deny that fact in your heart. No one could. The conflict could seriously affect your school work, your personal relationships, even your future." Professor Vector lowered her voice and spoke soothingly. "You are certainly not the first student attending Hogwarts who has ever received traumatic news. Hogwarts is a small community, and you are part of it. The Headmaster is the head of that community. He needs to know."
"Please, just until, until…" For the life of her, Hermione couldn't think of any actions that could warrant an extension of time under the circumstances, other than telling her parents. And she couldn't do that! Her shoulders slumped.
"Would you come with me to see the Headmaster?" she asked quietly, fighting her tears.
"Of course." Professor Vector's voice was gentle. "I think the Headmaster would be available now."
"All right." The ache in Hermione's heart grew bigger. "Thank you."
Their progress through the castle was silent. At the end of an empty hall, they stopped in front of a very large stone gargoyle.
"Chocolate Beetle Balls."
The gargoyle leapt to the side at Professor Vector's quiet words, and the wall in front of them split in two. Inside, Hermione saw a spiral staircase made of stone slabs. Professor Vector led her to a step and the staircase with them on it began to rotate upward, like a circular escalator.
Standing in front of the massive door of the Headmaster's office, Hermione had to fight off an overwhelming desire to turn around and run away, away from Professor Vector, away from Hogwarts, away from any knowledge of magic…
The great door opened. The Headmaster cheerfully greeted them, and escorted them inside.
"What a pleasant surprise, Professor Vector, Miss Granger." Albus Dumbledore's eyes twinkled beneath his bright purple wizard hat with gold stars and moons, which were echoed in his velvet robe. He nodded genially at them. "And to what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?"
Hermione took a deep breath.
"Headmaster, I just found out that…" Her throat closed. She took a shaky breath and tried again.
"Sir, I just found out that Professor Snape is my father."
Hermione burst into tears.
Severus Snape hated many people.
But of all of the people that Snape hated, he hated Sirius Black the most deeply. Snape dreamed of an eternity where he could inflict unending humiliation and pain on Black, with no chance for Black to escape.
When Black was in Azkaban, Snape felt vindicated but cheated of his opportunity to punish Black himself. But recently, fate intervened, and Snape was ready to grasp the chance to wreak his own revenge on Sirius Black.
Because Black had escaped from Azkaban in order to kill Harry Potter. And Harry Potter was at Hogwarts.
So when Black came after Potter, he would walk straight into Snape's hands.
The Headmaster's summons tore Snape from his reverie.
Snape walked into a maelstrom of sobs and general unpleasantness. He sneered at Vector's haughty glare, pulled his robes tightly about him to prevent the untidy Granger girl from using them to stem her copious tears, and dared to hope, just for a moment, that those tears meant that the two miscreants with whom the annoying girl usually hung about had come to some horrible end. The lack of a Potter or a Weasley in the room made the hope flare a bit brighter.
"You summoned me, Headmaster?"
"Yes, Severus, please sit down."
Snape looked at the violently patterned upholstered chair indicated by Albus' entreating hand with distaste. Not only was it hideous, but it was entirely too close to the red-eyed Granger child. He pulled the chair closer to Albus, and sat.
Snape inclined his head. The teapot poured tea into a cup, which wafted into Severus' hand. The tea tray floated over to Vector.
"Yes, Headmaster." Vector pointed her wand at the pot, filling two cups. Three lumps of sugar and vast quantities of milk were added to one cup, which Vector handed to Granger.
Snape sat up straighter and wondered when Albus would actually inform him why his presence was so necessary. From vast experience, however, Snape knew that he would just have to sit and wait. The more he pushed, the more vague Albus would become. He dared a sip of tea, watchful that Dumbledore wouldn't surprise him, as was his wont.
But this time, Albus seemed distracted. Snape's eyebrow nearly met his hairline when he saw the Headmaster absently add two lemon drops to his tea.
A silent pause was broken only by the girl's sobs. Granger seemed to realize that she had become the focus of everyone in the room, and she shakily set her teacup on the Headmaster's desk. Pulling a damp handkerchief from her sleeve, she wiped her eyes, dropped the handkerchief into her lap, and picked up her tea again. Still hiccuping a bit, she huddled into a ball, looking strangely small in her cushy floral armchair. She clutched the cup of tea, which (no doubt due to Albus' intervention) miraculously managed not to slop all over her robes.
Though Snape didn't think that Albus would serve tea if Potter were really dead, there seemed to be hope that the nuisance might at least have been violently maimed. Perhaps the hippogriff that had attacked Draco earlier in the week had run amuck again and attacked several Gryffindors. Heart lifting, Snape continued to sip his tea as Dumbledore began, "Severus, there is something that I must tell you…"
Two minutes later, Snape wished it was the little, idiotic, overachieving know-it-all to his left who was maimed, preferably by a blow to her head that would leave her permanently addled.
It was only when Vector said, "Well, really, Professor! That was entirely uncalled for!" that he realized that he had voiced his thoughts, and that he was standing, tea staining the front of his robe, and screaming forcefully enough that spittle was flying from his lips.
"Entirely uncalled for! ENTIRELY UNCALLED FOR! The only thing in this room 'entirely uncalled for' is that moronic disaster over there!" His out-thrown hand nearly clipped Vector along her jaw. Snape ignored her and glared at the bushy-haired little Muggle-born freak, who, now that she should be groveling to him in abject apology, glared back. She suddenly stood up, dropping her teacup. Milky liquid stained the carpet at her feet.
"How do you think I feel?" she shouted. "I have a wonderful father, who I love very much, and then, then – then suddenly there's you! Nasty, mean and absolutely unfair to anyone who isn't a Slytherin!"
"FIVE HUNDRED POINTS FROM GRYFFINDOR!" Snape roared back.
"I hardly think that's constructive, Severus," Dumbledore gently admonished, waving his wand, undoubtedly restoring the points. "Now, would you both please sit down and have another cup of tea?"
Snape felt like biting someone. Violently waving away the teacup hovering in front of his face, he dropped into his chair. Granger followed suit.
Snape watched Dumbledore while he angrily considered his position. Maybe he could simply have a stroke and never again have to worry about officious little swots messing up his life, as had been happening since he was eleven and first came to Hogwarts. Surely his tenure with the school would ensure him a comfortable bed in St Mungo's for the rest of his miserable but oblivious life.
Better yet, he could shake the foolhardy girl until her bushy brown hair stood completely on end and her brain exploded.
"Now, Miss Granger, Severus, I'm asking you to put aside your differences so that we may discuss this untoward event."
Granger looked at Dumbledore, her face adorned with the overly earnest big-eyed simper that Snape had long since identified as the universal Gryffindor ploy for sympathy and forgiveness. Dumbledore would be completely taken in by the look, he always was.
Snape simply glared and snorted. If Dumbledore wanted him to listen attentively, he'd damned well better have something good to say.
"Sir, do we have to tell my parents? My real parents?" The stupid girl glanced at Snape and immediately dropped her eyes.
"That is a fair question, Miss Granger. While I normally would not hesitate to inform parents of a child's difficulties, this particular situation is abnormally delicate."
Granger's face paled, as did Snape's as they both absorbed the implications of Dumbledore's words.
Obviously, Granger hadn't thought far enough ahead to wonder how Snape and her mother had – conceived her. And Snape didn't want to think about it; in fact, he had tried to leave that part of his life behind him.
It caught up with him now. Snape was overwhelmed by memories of what he had done to show his faith to the Dark Lord. Screams, curses, heartbroken pleas – all drowned in the stench of warm, thick blood. He couldn't even begin to imagine which set of circumstances had been the exact ones to lead to Granger's conception. There were simply too many.
Another thought rocked him. What if there were more of his illegitimate offspring running around the castle? How many other Muggle-born students were there between the ages of – he rapidly calculated – thirteen and eighteen?
Horrified, Snape leaned forward and hissed, "I absolutely refuse to discuss this with the girl in the room."
Dumbledore looked thoughtful. "I agree with you, Severus. Miss Granger, Professor Vector, would you kindly excuse Severus and me while we discuss the situation?" As Granger and Vector stood, he added, "Miss Granger, I would like to speak with you individually as well, a little later tonight, if it's convenient for you." The girl nodded. "And I know that both of you will want to keep this matter between the four of us, for now."
Snape watched as Vector and Dumbledore exchanged a glance. Horror seemed to have frozen him to his chair, and Snape looked bleakly around the office as Albus stood up and walked Vector and the Granger brat to the door. A fire burned low in the grate, barely illuminating the portrait-filled walls beyond Albus' desk. The rustle of shaken feathers drew his eyes to Fawkes. The normally smug Phoenix stared back, and emitted an unexpectedly sympathetic trill.
A hand grasped his shoulder, and Snape's head bowed.
"I swear, Albus, I have no idea when I impregnated the Muggle," he managed to choke. "It was obviously around the time that I came to you, but there were so many, and fulfilling the Dark Lord's need for the power generated by violence and sex-based spells…it had become so automatic and impersonal and necessary…"
"It's useless to dwell on those times, my friend. Put them from your mind, and we'll deal with the situation as it stands now." Dumbledore circled around him and gave Snape's shoulder a last pat before he returned to his chair.
"I doubt Granger will feel the same." Snape looked up to meet Albus' eyes. "Albus, I can't. I simply cannot feed her insatiable curiosity with information about my past."
"And there's no need for you to do so." Albus raised a hand, and Fawkes flew to his shoulder. "I'll speak with Miss Granger. But, as indelicate as this question is, I must ask it, although your answer shall only be known between you and me. Severus, do you think that this situation may arise again?"
"With someone else, you mean?" At Albus' nod, Snape sat back in his chair, defeated. "I don't know. Whenever possible, I simply used Obliviate instead of the Killing Curse. I must tell you, there were many. I can remember at least twelve, all within a timeframe that would include most of the students attending Hogwarts now."
"I would highly doubt that you are the only one in this position."
"I wouldn't." Snape looked into the embers of the fire on the grate. Smoke and death were scents he knew well, and the smell of the clean little fire that burned before him did little to dispel their memory. "I did not want to kill, but I did if any of my – comrades – could witness my actions. When I could, I tried to spare the Muggles. The others did not share my…weakness." He shook his head. "If there are any others like Granger, it would not surprise me to find that they are mine, as well."
"So you accept her findings?" Dumbledore's voice was gentle, and triggered a backlash of emotions for Snape. He struggled to control his sudden flare of anger.
"Of course I do," Snape snapped. He would not accept pity for his own stupidity. He had done what he had done, and no one other than himself should ever be privy to his feelings about it, even Dumbledore. Snape forced himself to sit up straight and curl his lip. "I can't imagine that you would present me with such a ludicrous notion without fully investigating it yourself. I would like to go over the little brat's work, but if you and Vector could find nothing wrong with it, I hold little hope that I will find anything different."
Dumbledore passed a piece of parchment to him. "Here is her work. Please take it with you, and let me know if you find a flaw. But there are other consequences that we must discuss tonight, Severus."
"If you mean to ask me whether I'm able to continue my guard over the sainted Potter boy, I can assure you that I will continue to watch for Sirius Black. Indeed, I anticipate his arrival with a great deal of pleasure." His sneer turned into a twisted smile of distinct satisfaction as he contemplated his plans for the fugitive should he be so unwise as to show his face on Hogwarts' grounds.
"Actually, I was referring to whether you would acknowledge Miss Granger as your daughter."
The word sent shivers down Snape's spine. With an effort, he made his face forbidding.
"Certainly not publicly, and I see no reason to do so privately, either. It is an unfortunate circumstance, but one born of fate, not of intent. I have no obligation to her."
"I beg to differ." Albus sounded disappointed. Well, if Dumbledore didn't want to be disappointed that Snape didn't act like a self-sacrificing Gryffindor, one or the other of them would have to have a fundamental change of character. And it wasn't going to be Snape. "You have a great deal of obligation to her. Have you given any thought as to where she got her magic? Her – what did you call it – insatiable curiosity? Her brilliant scholarship abilities?"
Albus leaned forward. Snape reared back in his chair, away from the headmaster's words, but he couldn't escape them.
"They came from you, Severus. While many Muggle-born witches and wizards are capable, few are as outstanding as Miss Granger is. Now that I know her parentage, how much easier it is for me to see flashes in her of what I saw from you at that age. She's a remarkable young woman, a potentially powerful witch, and very much your daughter, whether you like it or not."
Snape leapt to his feet. "So, once again, I'm to be the one to be sacrificed to your altar of the greater moral good, am I? I can't challenge you publicly if you betray my secrets, but between the two of us - it's my choice, Albus, and I'll thank you to remember that!"
Snape left the office to the sound of Fawkes' soft trills, the girl's damnable parchment crushed in his hand as he stalked off to his dungeons.
When Hermione left Professor Dumbledore's office, she stopped in the girl's bathroom to wash away the signs of her tears. She suspected that she wasn't as successful as she'd hoped, but thought that it might be possible to sneak through the Gryffindor Common Room and into her dorm without anyone noticing.
She hadn't anticipated that it would be so difficult to escape Harry and Ron, who pounced on her immediately as she walked into the Common Room.
"Hermione, are you all right?" Ron asked anxiously. "I thought you were going to be sick or something! You ran out so fast! But when we went to the girl's bathroom, you weren't there. We even asked Lavender to check. But all she did was to yell at us to leave you alone."
"Sorry." Hermione kept her head down, but Harry put a hand on her arm.
"Hermione, are you okay? You look like," Harry squinted, "like you've been crying." He pulled her over to the couch in front of the fire and sat her down. "You have been, haven't you?" He looked closely at her face and sat down next to her, Ron hovering over them both. "Is Malfoy back? Did he do something to you?"
"No, it wasn't Malfoy. It's nothing, really," Hermione said, as Ron flopped down on the couch next to her. "I just realized that I messed up an assignment, and I was really upset about it."
Ron frowned. "You know I keep telling you that you shouldn't take your classes so seriously, Hermione. It's not worth it."
"It is to me, Ron!" Hermione snapped, then immediately felt ashamed. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to yell at you. I'm just upset, still, I guess. Look, the library is open for another hour. I should go back and see if I can finish up the rest of my homework before it closes." She stood up, and the boys stood, too.
"We're coming with you," Harry said firmly, and headed toward the portrait hole.
"No!" When Harry turned around, his round glasses made him look like an owl. Hermione tried to smile. She didn't think she was too successful, though – Harry just looked more concerned. "Really, I appreciate the offer, both of you," she turned to include Ron, "but I really just want a little time alone. I'll see you at breakfast, okay?"
Both boys nodded, and Harry stood aside so that Hermione could pass. Giving them a last wave, she pushed open the painting and stepped through the portrait hole, then started toward the library.
As the portrait swung closed behind her, Hermione considered whether or not Ron or Harry would ask any more questions. She was sure that Ron was okay with her explanation, though she could tell that Harry was still concerned, but where Ron would push and push to find out what was wrong, Harry would just be quiet and watch.
She would just have to make doubly sure to act naturally around Harry, at least until he stopped watching her.
Hermione looked up at the sound of footsteps, and saw Professor McGonagall coming toward her. Even this late at night, her grey hair was bundled tight into a bun at the back of her neck, not a strand out of place.
"Miss Granger, Professor Dumbledore would like to see you in his office, if you please." The professor's sharp eyes narrowed as she looked at Hermione. "I'll take you up."
"Thank you, Professor," Hermione said, her heart sinking. She followed Professor McGonagall.
Hermione blew on her hot chocolate and looked at the Headmaster. "So you think it's okay if I don't say anything to my parents, sir?"
"I think that the knowledge may do more harm than good." Professor Dumbledore looked sad, his face deeply lined and tired. Suddenly Hermione realized just how many years he must have lived. She dropped her eyes.
"What about Professor Snape, sir? Do I need to do anything…" Hermione couldn't even finish the thought. She breathed deeply for a moment or two to get her feelings under control.
It helped that she felt safe in the warmth and light of the Headmaster's office. She could hear the fire crackling, and the rich scent of her chocolate mixed with the familiar smells of parchment, ink and dust.
When she looked up, the Headmaster had a small smile on his face, though the sadness hadn't left. "Miss Granger, Severus Snape is an unhappy man, and no, he is not a professor who makes learning easy for his students. But of all of the people I have ever met, his bravery and loyalty are among the greatest I have known. There are worse people to have as a part of one's life."
"But he hates me."
Professor Dumbledore suddenly chuckled. "There are few people who haven't earned Professor Snape's enmity. He despises pretension, abhors what he considers to be stupidity, and takes pleasure in crushing overinflated egos. Since you display none of those qualities, however, I doubt that you've earned more than the general dislike with which he views most of the people around him. In fact, if you were a Slytherin, Miss Granger, I believe that you would fill him with pride, although you must never let him know that I told you so," he added, winking at her.
Suddenly, Hermione felt much better. If Professor Dumbledore didn't expect Professor Snape to suddenly like her, then nobody was expecting her to suddenly like Professor Snape.
She and Professor Dumbledore finished their hot chocolates in companionable silence.
A few minutes later, as she left Professor Dumbledore's office the second time, Hermione paused. She was reluctant to go back to Gryffindor Tower. What she really wanted was some time to ponder her situation alone, yet she couldn't think of anywhere that could provide the solitude she craved. She jumped at the sound of a voice from the shadows.
"Miss Granger? May I ask what you are doing in the hallways at this late hour?" Professor Lupin stepped into the light of the nearest torch. He looked a bit haggard and his brown robes were a bit threadbare, but his voice, while stern, was kind.
"I'm sorry, sir. I have a note from Professor Dumbledore." Hermione showed him a parchment that the Headmaster had given her as she left his office. "He needed to talk to me about my…family."
Professor Lupin looked concerned. "I hope that nothing is seriously wrong…"
"No, sir, it's all taken care of," Hermione hastened to say. "I'm just going back to Gryffindor Tower now."
"I'm headed that way myself." Professor Lupin gestured for Hermione to join him. "I'll walk you back."
Hermione really didn't want to go back to Gryffindor Tower, but she wasn't going to tell that to a professor. She nodded.
"I was impressed by your performance in Defense Against the Dark Arts," Professor Lupin said as they began to walk. "You obviously study hard, and the class benefits quite a bit from your contributions."
"Thank you, sir." Hermione could feel her cheeks burning at the unexpected compliment. "It's very interesting this year. Last year…" She trailed off and bit her lip, uncomfortable that she had nearly complained about a professor to another professor.
"I heard about Gilderoy Lockhart from the other professors," Professor Lupin offered with a smile. "I understand that he had some – entertaining – classes."
"I really liked his classes at first, but…"
"You got bored?" At Hermione's nod, he smiled. "I'll endeavor to keep from boring you myself."
"It wasn't just that I got bored, really! And I wasn't bored at all in your class; I'm learning so much! It's just that Professor Lockhart wasn't…" An image of Professor Snape's pale and horrified face flashed through her mind, and Hermione paused. She spoke slowly. "Professor Lockhart wasn't what he seemed."
Nor was Professor Snape, she realized. He had really been upset, and not just angry.
Professor Lupin didn't seem to notice her preoccupation, though his smile disappeared. "I heard that Mr. Potter and Mr. Weasley had some trouble with Professor Lockhart last year," Professor Lupin said quietly. "Miss Granger, may I ask you something?" He stopped, and Hermione paused, too. The emotion in his voice made her uneasy.
"You're good friends with Harry, aren't you?" Hermione was surprised to hear Professor Lupin use Harry's name. At her cautious nod, he looked down at her, his face very serious. "I've heard that Harry seems to…well, that he seems to attract trouble."
"Harry's not a troublemaker, sir," Hermione interjected.
"No, I know that. It's just that trouble seems to follow him. He needs friends, friends that he can trust, and I think that he's found them in you and Mr. Weasley. However, there are some things that not even friends can help with."
"You mean Sirius Black, don't you?" Hermione's interest was piqued – Harry had told her and Ron that Ron's father had warned Harry that Sirius Black was after him. Maybe Professor Lupin knew something that she could relay to Harry.
"Yes." Professor Lupin's shoulders dropped. "I've talked with Harry, and I'm concerned that he isn't taking the situation with Sirius Black seriously enough. I wanted to ask you if you could talk to him about it, and try to get him to understand how dangerous Black is."
"I'll try, sir," Hermione promised.
"Good. Thank you." Professor Lupin looked relieved. "And I want you to take care of yourself, too. It's best not to walk around the school alone at night. Though Hogwarts is safe, it's always best to be cautious."
"But Sirius Black can't get into Hogwarts, can he?"
"Of course not," he answered, a little too quickly in Hermione's opinion. She would have to talk to Harry and Ron. It seemed like at least one professor in the school was afraid that Black would do just that.
They walked the rest of the way to Gryffindor Tower in silence. When they reached the portrait of the Fat Lady, Professor Lupin stopped.
"I'll leave you here, then. And remember," he cautioned, "don't walk alone at night. And keep your eyes open."
"Yes, sir." Hermione stood and watched him as he walked back down the hallway. She waved back when he waved at her as he turned the corner out of sight. She sighed, and turned back to the portrait.
"Password?" the Fat Lady asked, yawning so widely that her eyes disappeared.
Hermione felt like there were just too many thoughts running through her head. She still needed some place quiet to think, and she just wasn't comfortable doing it in the Common Room. The library was long closed, and she couldn't think of anyplace else that would offer her the solitude that she craved.
The Astronomy Tower. Ignoring Professor Lupin's advice and hoping that she wouldn't meet anyone, Hermione headed for the stairs that would take her to the tower in the quickest possible way.
Behind her, the Fat Lady was already asleep.
Hermione slipped through the grey stone corridors as quickly and quietly as she could. Various portraits called out to her, but otherwise, the hallways were silent.
She crept up the long circular stairway that led to the top of the Astronomy Tower, but met nobody. Hermione suddenly remembered that it was late, long after most students went to bed. She relaxed – there was very little chance that she would meet anyone up here, then. A perfect place for some quiet thought.
When she opened the door and stepped out on the rampart, though, Hermione was surprised. Someone else was already there.
Her heart plummeted.
She knew the person outlined against the backdrop of stars, but it was too late to back out now. Professor Snape had already whirled at the sound of the door and was glaring in her direction.
"Who's there? If you're a student, prepare for lost points and a week's detention."
Hermione realized that it would be useless to run, especially since she didn't have Harry there with his invisibility cloak, so she closed the big wooden door, determined to face Professor Snape with as much dignity as she could muster. The outdoor air was very cold.
"It's me, sir. Hermione Granger."
"Granger." Hermione shuddered at the anger directed at her. "Twenty points from Gryffindor for being out long after even the most insomniac student has retired."
Hermione knew there was no sense in arguing. Professor Dumbledore's note wouldn't mean a thing to an angry Professor Snape.
"Yes, sir. I'll leave now." By now, Hermione's eyes had adjusted to the starlight. Professor Snape seemed tense. He stared at her in a way that made her think that he was seeing her for the first time, and not in a good way. She shivered again, and turned to leave.
Hermione turned back to the professor. He stepped up to her. Despite her resolve, she shrank back. In the darkness, his fierce black eyes were hidden, except for an occasional flash when starlight touched them. His hand shot out and grasped her chin, making her gasp. He turned her face slowly from one side to the other, and suddenly hissed.
"Great Aunt Sexta," Professor Snape muttered. "You have her mouth." He let go of her chin and snatched his hand away as if burned. He backed away from her. "Particularly her teeth," he added maliciously.
Sensitive about her slightly protruding front teeth, the pettiness of the insult suddenly infuriated Hermione. Recklessly, she retaliated. "Well, at least I didn't get your nose!"
"I imagine you think yourself quite clever," Professor Snape continued, ignoring her outburst. "Rushing in like the reckless Gryffindor you are, trying magic that you know nothing about, no thought of how your actions might affect others, no apologies, only a particularly disgusting self-righteousness, as if it's your right to interfere with other people's lives any time that's convenient for you!"
"I didn't…" Hermione huffed in frustration. "Sir, this," she gestured between them, "this existed before, we just didn't know about it. So yes, I'm responsible for finding out the information, but I'm not responsible for the situation itself!"
"Impertinent child!" Professor Snape said through gritted teeth. "Instead of merely implying I'm responsible, why don't you just come out and say it! You're a Gryffindor, aren't you? Isn't that what Gryffindors do, make accusations without knowing all of the facts?"
"No! No," Hermione replied. "Please, let's just not, let's not talk about it anymore. Professor Dumbledore said that we don't need to tell my parents, and he and Professor Vector will keep it secret, so it's just you and me. And," she took a deep breath, "I plan to forget about it altogether. It doesn't make any difference. My parents are still my parents, and always will be. You just gave me some genes, and that's where it ends. Sir."
"You think so?" Professor Snape swept over to her, crowding her back against the wall. "You think it will be so easy to forget all about it, do you? Will you forget it every time you use your magic after this?"
Professor Snape continued, moving closer. "You didn't think about that, did you? You were born to Muggles, with no history of magic at all in your family, yet magic comes so easily for you that you master new spells within a few attempts. Do you know of any other Muggle-borns who can do that?"
Hermione shook her head, speechless. In the cold outdoor air, the heat of his body radiated toward her and she could smell the pungent scent of potion ingredients clinging to his robe. He pressed closer.
"I gave you that magic," Professor Snape hissed in her ear. "I gave you those abilities." He drew back and folded his arms across his chest. "So tell me now that you'll be able to forget all about it!"
Hermione felt blindly for the handle of the door behind her. Finding it, she pulled it open and ran down the stairs. She didn't stop running until she reached the Fat Lady.
The Fat Lady was deeply asleep, and didn't stir until Hermione was nearly yelling. "Wake up, wake up, wake up, WAKE UP!"
The Fat Lady huffed indignantly, but opened when Hermione gasped the password. Hermione stumbled over the threshold and climbed the stairs to her dorm. Her roommates, Lavender Brown and Parvati Patil, were already asleep. Feeling very lost and alone in the dark, she changed into her pajamas. Then Hermione climbed into her bed and closed the curtains.
She didn't sleep at all well that night.
As the nights slowly grew longer and the days grew shorter, Snape watched.
He was watching for Black, who was annoyingly nowhere to be found.
He also watched Granger, who was annoyingly proving to be a mystery. Snape had always thought of her as Potter's know-it-all sidekick, but now he began to notice other things about her.
Apart from a few days when Granger was uncharacteristically subdued, the girl seemed to recover her composure. She continued to perform adequately in Potions, though she never met his eye, and no longer volunteered information, as had been her wont.
He would still occasionally see her sitting in the Quidditch stands with Weasley, the redheaded imbecile watching Potter swoop around on his broom while Granger studied.
Granger's name still graced the top of all exam results for her year; her professors still sung her praises at any opportunity.
Yet, soon after he began watching her more closely, Snape noticed something.
Granger was everywhere. Even when it seemed impossible for her to be so, she was there.
She was obviously taking Arithmancy. Yet, Snape once watched Granger leaving the Muggle Studies classroom, inanely giggling with Hannah Abbott, a particularly dim Hufflepuff, when by rights she should have been in the Arithmancy classroom.
Granger never missed Potions, though Snape knew for a fact that the third-year double Potions class conflicted with Ancient Runes, where her name was (again) listed at the top of the list of student marks.
Snape began to listen to conversations in the staff room, lurking at the edges of groups or reading the other professors' class notes upside down. Everyone seemed to discuss Granger's abilities at one point or another, yet all of the other professors seemed to be ignorant of the fact that it was physically impossible for her to be in everyone's classes.
Flitwick gushed about Granger's delicate wandwork.
McGonagall boasted about Granger's ability to grasp complex transfiguration theories.
Lupin mentioned Granger's enthusiasm for studying dark creatures.
In fact, Granger's name was mentioned nearly as often as Potter's was.
After three weeks of watching, Snape confirmed that Granger was taking five elective classes in addition to the seven mandatory classes that all third-years had to complete. Twelve classes, when every other third-year student past and present took a maximum of the seven mandatory third-year classes and two electives.
Twelve classes that overlapped.
Snape casually introduced classroom attendance discussions in the staff room. He learned that Granger was attending all of her classes, and hadn't missed one session.
How did she do it?
She was obviously getting help of some sort. Though he wouldn't put it past Granger to know the Doppelganger Charm, that particular charm could only be used once a week at the most, without completely draining a wizard's magic. Besides, a doppelganger couldn't do magic, and it was apparent that Granger was using magic in all of her classes.
He considered an accomplice using Polyjuice Potion, but there were no unexplained absences among the residents of the castle, nor any evidence that someone from the outside was coming in for the classes.
Of course, there wasn't much time for him to devote to Granger's strange puzzle, which was doubtless why it was taking him so long to discover her secret.
In addition to his teaching and Head of House duties, Snape frequently met with Dumbledore to discuss strategies for discovering more information about the horcruxes that the Dark Lord may have created.
Snape was sure that Black was searching for one, in order to resurrect the Dark Lord after he killed Potter. He argued with the Headmaster to be allowed to search former Death Eater meeting places, since logically, Black might be hidden in one and Snape may find him when the aurors couldn't.
Predictably, Dumbledore disagreed, and asked Snape to focus his efforts not on finding Black, but on protecting the idiot Potter boy. Snape had to admit, though only to himself, that shadowing Potter might be the simplest way to find Black.
So every evening, Snape prowled Hogwarts, watching for signs of Sirius Black. When he wasn't prowling, he was refining his plan to capture and kill Black.
Snape loved the symmetry of his plan. He would kill Sirius Black using the same method that Black had planned for his murder attempt on Snape all those years ago.
By the end of September, the basics of his plan were complete and in place. Snape recruited the Bloody Baron, who bullied the other ghosts into watching for Black. Once the ghosts alerted the Baron to Black's presence, the Baron would inform Snape, who would hunt Black down, disabled him, then bundle him away in a secret room until the full moon.
And on the night of the full moon, Snape would lure Remus Lupin to the secret room, seal it behind him, and wait until morning, knowing that, come morning, Black would be dead and Lupin accused of his murder.
Because Snape knew something that very few other people did: Remus Lupin was a werewolf. Even more ironic, Lupin was a werewolf with a conscience. If Lupin killed a human, he would likely end up killing himself, as well. Snape smiled grimly as he contemplated the werewolf's weakness. But then, Lupin had always been weak. That weakness meant that Snape would be rid of two enemies through one elegant plan.
No one would fault him for Black's death, and Snape was counting on Lupin's lycanthropy to lead to an execution without trial. All he had to do was refine the details of his plan and wait for Black.
For all of his vigilance, though, Snape was nearly too late.
The ghosts hadn't spotted Black.
Snape couldn't believe it.
Black entered Hogwarts. He sneaked through the hallways, with a knife in his hand. He slashed the portrait guarding Gryffindor Tower. The Fat Lady identified him, and other portraits saw him. The only thing that had saved Potter was that he was attending the Halloween party in the Great Hall, as were all of the rest of the Hogwarts student body and staff.
But the ghosts hadn't attended the party. They had continued to patrol, yet they hadn't spotted Black.
Snape was going to have to rethink his plan.
After leaving the sleeping children secure in the Great Hall, Snape followed Dumbledore into his office. A tea set was perched on Dumbledore's desk, and Albus poured cups for both of them. The fragrant scent of the tea stimulated Snape's mind even before he took a sip. He leaned against the mantel of the fireplace.
"I still believe that the key to Black's access to the castle lies in his past, Headmaster."
Albus looked his age. Though the night had been extraordinarily long, Snape suspected that Dumbledore's appearance had more to do with his grief over Black's actions than with fatigue.
"He knows Hogwarts as well as many, and better than some," Albus admitted. "But I still disagree with your theory about Remus Lupin's assistance. Remus genuinely regrets his childhood association with Black, and I can think of no one bitterer about Black's betrayal. He lost so much that night…"
"Not as much as Potter lost," Snape muttered.
Dumbledore sighed. "And Remus is very fond of young Harry. He wouldn't let any harm come to him, nor to any child here. No, Sirius Black found another way into the castle. We must redouble our surveillance efforts."
"Somehow, he keeps slipping past the dementors," Snape mused. "What weaknesses do they have, Headmaster? Can you think of anything about them that could be used against them?"
"The only known defense against them is the Patronus Charm." Albus sipped his tea, his voice gaining strength as he speculated. "The theory behind the charm is that the power of joy taking shape is enough to vanquish the empty desolation of a dementor's presence. Perhaps another form of joy…"
"If it was a joy associated with killing Potter or serving the Dark Lord, every prisoner in Azkaban would be free." Snape crossed the room to sit by Albus. "What other possible joy could Black feel?"
"True. Perhaps the answer doesn't lie in that direction, though I will give it more thought. I admit, if it were possible to persuade the Ministry that the dementors are not proving effective against Black, I would have them sent away from the grounds immediately."
"The Minister of Magic would never let that happen. It would imply a failure on his part." Snape shook his head. "There aren't many ways to access the school. Black can't Apparate into Hogwarts. Theoretically, the dementors prevent him from walking, riding or flying onto the grounds. We've sealed the Floos, so he can't come in via the fireplaces. The only other ways that he might possibly use would be via a Portkey or by direct assistance, both of which imply inside help."
Dumbledore looked into the fire. "I can find no flaws in your reasoning, Severus, yet my heart still tells me that you are wrong. No one within Hogwarts is helping Sirius Black."
Snape sighed and put down his teacup. "If the answer isn't any of the apparent routes, then what about routes less apparent? Perhaps he has an invisibility cloak, or is hiding in some shielded part of the castle."
"An invisibility cloak wouldn't hide him from the dementors, since they can't see. The only shielded portion of the castle is the Chamber of Secrets, and he would have to speak Parseltongue to access that area."
"Blacks have been Dark Wizards for generations. Perhaps the ability to speak Parseltongue is one of their family secrets."
"Perhaps. I'll look into their history, and see if there is any direct descendant from Salazar Slytherin in Black's past. That's the only way that Parseltongue could be passed from one generation to another."
Snape nodded. "I can't think of any other possibilities at the moment, Albus."
"Nor can I. The children will be waking again within an hour. I suggest that we use the time to get whatever rest we can." Albus put down his empty teacup, and stood. "I also need to talk to Argus about repairing the Fat Lady's canvas, and setting a temporary guard on Gryffindor Tower."
Snape also stood, but hesitated before turning to the door. "Headmaster, there is one other mystery that I would like to bring to your attention."
"And what is that, my dear boy?"
"Granger. She's taking more classes this year than any other Hogwarts student has ever taken, to my knowledge."
Dumbledore smiled. "You must be very proud of her, Severus. She's becoming an extraordinary witch."
Snape's eyes narrowed. "Truly extraordinary. So extraordinary, in fact, that she seems to manage to be in two places at once. Most of us are content with being in one place at one time. How is she different?"
Dumbledore chuckled. "While I doubt the rest of the staff will realize that, Minerva and I knew that you would notice it sooner or later. Professor McGonagall gave young Hermione a Time-Turner, with my knowledge. I think that Miss Granger has been doing a splendid job of managing her time without betraying her secret."
"A Time-Turner! You gave a child of thirteen a controlled device?" Snape's voice cracked.
"She's a remarkably responsible young woman." Dumbledore was still genial, but Snape could detect a familiar hint of iron underlying his voice. "She researched the possibility over the summer, and presented her proposal to Minerva a week before classes started. Both Minerva and I have talked with her extensively about the perils of time travel, particularly when it is abused. I'm satisfied that Miss Granger is fully aware of the consequences if she should misuse the device, and that she is taking every precaution to ensure that she doesn't do so."
Snape grit his teeth, infuriated at the trust that Dumbledore expressed in the privileged little imbecile. "You never would have given me a Time-Turner if I had asked for one. How many other students have you favored with this support?"
"No others." Dumbledore's voice became very gentle. "Severus, you know that I trust you implicitly. But if I had given you a Time-Turner when you were thirteen, I am convinced that you would have misused it."
"But you never gave me that chance, did you?" Snape snapped.
"No, I didn't. Miss Granger does not carry the burdens that you carried at her age. She doesn't have anything that she needs changed – not like you. Can you honestly tell me that you wouldn't have tried to change some portion of your life, if only to make your burdens a tiny bit easier to bear?"
"Well, we'll never know, will we?" Snape gathered his robes around him and whirled away. As he reached the door, Dumbledore called to him, and he paused without turning around, his back stiff.
"Severus, wait. Consider this. Miss Granger saw an opportunity, and exploited it with a great deal of discretion. That's a very Slytherin thing for her to have done. She didn't get that from her parents. She got it from you. She truly is yours, Severus."
Snape reveled in the way he made the door slam reverberate through the Headmaster's tower.
Unaccountably, Snape found his mind turning to the Headmaster's last words several times during the following days.
Each time, he viciously put it out of his mind, and redoubled his efforts to stuff information as maliciously as possible into the empty heads of his students, whether they liked it or not.
Snape shut the door to Lupin's quarters, feeling smug. He'd given Lupin his Wolfsbane Potion, which would allow Lupin to keep his human mind when he transformed that evening. But since tonight was the full moon, not even the potion could keep Lupin from snapping at students as his wolf-driven anger surfaced. He might not really attack anyone, but even in the few moments that he had spent with him in his room, Snape's taunts had goaded the normally mild-mannered professor enough to make him snarl.
And now Snape would make the most of his opportunity to teach Lupin's Defense Against the Dark Arts class. The class that should be his, except that Dumbledore kept telling him that he needed him more in Potions. Not only would Snape have the chance to show Dumbledore how much better he would be as the Defense professor, but Lupin would feel indebted to him in the process. Perhaps he could use that vulnerability later, once he had Black.
Today, Lupin would normally be teaching third year Defense; Potter's class. Snape smiled. Potter would be upset that Lupin was not teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts today, and that Snape was substituting for him. With luck, he could provoke Potter so badly that he could assign him detention during tomorrow's Quidditch match between Gryffindor and Hufflepuff.
And the best way to antagonize Potter was to attack his two hangers-on. If, as a result, he could incidentally cut Granger to the quick, all the better.
He opened the door to the classroom and swept in.
How dare she challenge his authority! Other than one or two Gryffindorish outbursts, the class had been properly subdued after he had threatened Potter and deducted points from Gryffindor. Except for Granger.
"We've done boggarts…"
Yes, they had. And he'd heard both students and colleagues laughing behind his back at the insipid Longbottom's boggart experience. The one sensible notion that Longbottom had ever had was his fear of Snape, and when it manifested itself in a boggart, Lupin had made Snape the laughingstock of the entire school when he taught the fat idiot the boggart counterspell.
"We're not supposed to study werewolves yet…"
Internally, he gritted his teeth, though he was careful to maintain his façade of disdain in front of the students. The class had become a power struggle between the two of them. Granger had advanced from being simply annoying, and had deliberately invited outright hostility.
"The werewolf differs from the true wolf in several small ways…"
His anger built. Each of her outbursts was more inane and self-serving than the last. Looking at her determined face, he noticed that behind her quasi-respectful demeanor, her eyes were cold and angry.
He would give her something to be angry about.
He savored the words. "Five more points from Gryffindor for being an insufferable know-it-all." He relished the deep flush that spread across the little swot's face and the tears that filled her eyes.
After Weasley vented an overly protective outburst, the detention that Snape assigned to him was simply icing on the cake, though sadly, he couldn't justify a detention for Potter. Still, he thought that he'd accomplished a good day's work.
"You will each write two rolls of parchment on the ways to recognize and kill werewolves." As he dismissed the class, he was unprepared for the depth of anger and loathing on Granger's face as he caught the girl's eye before she swept out of the classroom.
The expression looked strangely familiar.
When Potter followed her with an equally murderous look on his face, Snape barely noticed. Instead, he remembered Albus' words yet again. This time, he couldn't put them out of his mind.
Granger's stubborn power struggle throughout class, against odds that she knew she couldn't overcome, proved she was a Gryffindor through and through.
But Albus was right: the secret use of a Time-Turner was a very Slytherin thing to do.
Strangely, instead of making him angry, this time the thought made Snape uneasy.
Christmas break had started on a good note for Hermione, apart from the odd argument here and there with Ron, and her continued concern about Harry. Since that was so much a part of their daily interaction, however, it was easy to be cheerful about it.
Especially since this year, she wasn't spending Christmas break in the Hospital Wing, transformed into a cat by a botched dose of Polyjuice Potion.
Hermione also felt a great relief at being able to put aside the Time-Turner for a few days. Classes were going well, but she still found the extra hours each school day to be quite tiring. Combined with the few times when she cheated a bit and added extra hours to the weekends in order to finish her never-ending homework, she had begun to feel like she would never get enough sleep ever again.
But classes were done, and the holiday stretched ahead of her like a never-ending vacation.
Hermione felt simultaneously relieved and guilty about staying at Hogwarts over the Christmas break. It was the second year in a row that she had spent Christmas away from home, and she missed her parents. On the other hand, she still didn't know if she was ready to face them, knowing what she did about her mum and Professor Snape.
The only dark spot was when she, Ron and Harry went to visit Hagrid, who tearfully told them that Lucius Malfoy had pressed charges against Buckbeak, who was scheduled to go on trial for his life for injuring Draco Malfoy. Walking back to the castle afterward, all three of them speculated about the Committee for the Disposal of Dangerous Creatures, and discussed how to research past Committee hearings involving hippogriffs, pledging to help Hagrid as much as possible.
The next day, spent in the library together, was as nearly perfect as Hermione could ever ask.
For the first time in weeks, Harry put aside his anger at Sirius Black's betrayal of his parents, and plunged into research on case histories. Hermione hadn't realized just how little Harry smiled lately, until she watched him grin at Ron's grimaces, as the two boys each tried to top the other in finding the most gruesome way that dark creatures had turned on unfortunate members of the Committee for the Disposal of Dangerous Creatures.
Hermione scolded Ron for bringing his pet rat, Scabbers, with him to the library. Ron refused to listen to her, and said that a rat had just as much right to be in a library as, say, the spiders that lurked in the dark corners. The squabble kept them both happy for nearly an hour.
The week went by quickly, full of research, naps, snowball fights and hot chocolate.
Hermione woke up on Christmas Day, eager to spend it with Ron and Harry. Since Hermione, Harry and Ron were the only Gryffindors spending the Christmas break at Hogwarts, Hermione felt comfortable wandering up to the boys' dorm in nothing but her nightgown and robe. She headed upstairs.
When she got to the room, she saw that Ron and Harry had already begun to open their Christmas presents. She sat down in the midst of the discarded wrapping paper and began to examine the presents that the two boys had received.
"What's that?" Ron asked, breaking off a piece of his mum's mince pie and stuffing it into his mouth.
'That' was a long package wrapped in brown paper and addressed to Harry. He pulled it over and looked at it.
"There's not a signature. Maybe there's something inside." Harry ripped the paper from the package and gasped.
Hermione could tell that it was an extremely expensive racing broom even before Ron gaped and said, "Blimey, Harry! A Firebolt!"
"Look and see if there's a card," Hermione urged, feeling uneasy.
Harry searched through the paper. "Nothing," he said. He ran his hand along the sleek broom shaft. "It's beautiful," he breathed.
"I think you should show that to Professor McGonagall," Hermione said. "I've got a bad feeling about this, Harry. What if it's booby-trapped or something?"
"Why?" Ron demanded. "Who would spend that much money on a broom just to booby-trap it? I say who cares if Harry is lucky enough to get a broomstick for Christmas? I bet there are dozens, no, hundreds of witches and wizards that want to give him things. Hey, Harry, d'you think I could have a go on it?"
"It's beautiful," Harry repeated. He grabbed it and stood up. "Let's go try it out!"
"No!" Hermione tried to come up with an excuse to give them more time to think about the gift and its implications. She brightened. "We've got to go down to breakfast now, you'll have to wait until after that."
Grumbling, Harry and Ron followed her out of the dorm and down to the Great Hall.
Hermione could see that Harry had no misgivings whatsoever about receiving an anonymous gift of a broom. A very expensive broom, at that, one that no boy with Harry's love of flying could possibly put aside for long. She thought furiously about what she could do to make sure that his enthusiasm didn't leave him injured, or dead.
So she told Professor McGonagall.
And lost both of her best friends in the process, when Professor McGonagall confiscated Harry's broom in order to implement a time-consuming series of analyses and tests to check it for jinxes or hexes, and Harry blamed Hermione for the loss.
She had only been thinking of Harry's safety.
Whenever Hermione went into the Gryffindor Common Room, not only did Harry and Ron glare at her, but so did most of the other Gryffindor boys. She spent more and more time in the library, which was all well and good, since she loved the library, but there was a problem.
The library closed at nine o'clock, yet Hermione always had several more hours of studying to do.
At first, she tried to slip into an out-of-the-way corner of the Gryffindor Common Room when she left the library. But invariably Ron or Seamus would start talking loudly about how friendships should be based on loyalty, or how unfortunate it was when a Ravenclaw who cared more for her books than for her friends was accidentally sorted into Gryffindor.
Being a Gryffindor, Hermione determined to ignore her former friends, but when the war of words escalated into sneaky hexes, she stopped going to the Common Room.
It had taken more than an hour to get rid of the sticky knot in her hair caused by a Gummy hex. Though Hermione hadn't seen who had hexed her, she suspected Ron, who had once laughed while telling her and Harry about using it to discourage his little sister from following him around when she was younger.
She hadn't realized how much she depended on Harry and Ron, and the friendship that the three of them had built.
Hermione tried to spend time with Lavender and Parvati, but all they ever wanted to talk about was robes and makeup, which didn't interest Hermione at all. And their prattling disturbed her studying. It didn't take her long to abandon them and determine that she would just have to get used to being on her own.
Hermione tried to find an empty classroom to study in after the library closed, but no sooner would she get settled in and well into her work, when the alarm charm on her watch would go off. She set it to remind her that it was midnight, and that she absolutely had to go back to the dorm to sleep.
Hermione started ignoring the alarm, just to get in another hour or two of studying. But from that point on each night, she found herself nervously listening for Filch and his cat, for they patrolled the castle to capture students wandering the halls late at night.
After nearly being caught two nights in a row, she realized that, somehow, Filch knew there was something going on in the classrooms, and had focused his searches on that area of the castle. She found new sanctuaries, only to be ferreted out again. It was only a matter of time before she would be caught.
And then she had a brilliant idea: find an empty classroom and use the Time-Turner to give herself time enough to study for several additional hours, and still get to her dorm by midnight.
The first night she tried it, Hermione immediately found a problem with her plan, however - one that she hadn't anticipated. After dinner, students used many of the classrooms while they were working on projects, or, occasionally, as spots to engage in a bit of covert snogging.
She wrinkled her nose every time she found a room occupied in that way.
But since Hermione couldn't let herself be seen in two places at once, she needed to avoid people. The longer she had to wander the corridors to find an empty classroom, the more chance there would be that someone would see her in a corridor at one end of the castle, then see her settled in and studying in the library immediately afterward.
After prowling around the classrooms after dinner one night and feeling somewhat desperate, Hermione went down a staircase that she had never used before. She found herself in the dungeon, just down the hallway from the Potions classroom. She shuddered and began to turn away, when she realized that she had stumbled onto the solution to her problem.
Professor Snape's aura permeated the area, discouraging teen hormones. There was a very good chance that the hallways and rooms would all be empty of students.
Hermione sneaked around the dungeon's hallways, watching for Slytherins as she peeked into closets, storerooms and dark alcoves.
She didn't meet anyone, but none of the rooms seemed like they could work without a great deal of cleaning and numerous drying charms. Feeling desperate, she went deeper and deeper into the dungeon. Yet every time she opened a door, she only found spiders, creepy mounds of unidentifiable objects and the pervasive damp that leaked out of the walls.
After nearly an hour of exploration, she still hadn't found anything, and she couldn't see any more doors to try. Discouraged, she leaned against a wall to consider her options.
And fell backward into darkness, landing heavily on her bum and dropping her book bag and wand.
Hermione's heart pounded wildly as she scrambled around the dusty floor, searching for her wand. She touched something that felt familiar, grasped it tightly, and whispered, "Lumos."
The tip of her wand softly glowed, but didn't illuminate much except for the dusty floor under her knees.
Encouraged by the fact that nothing horrid had leapt out at her yet, Hermione said "Lumos," again, stronger this time. The light from her wand showed her the rest of the room.
It looked like a very small Potions classroom. Hermione climbed to her feet and explored the room. There were three workbenches, an upright cupboard, and a sink in the back. Empty shelves lined the walls, dusty and cobwebby, but dry. She tried to wiggle one, but it stayed firmly attached to the wall.
The cupboard seemed to be firmly locked. Even "Alohomora" didn't open it.
A stool with a broken leg was leaning in a corner. A quick "Reparo" later, and she pulled the mended stool over to the biggest workbench. Potions accidents and student graffiti scarred the top of the bench, but it was sturdy and didn't wobble at all. Hermione retrieved her book bag from the floor where it had fallen, and placed it on the workbench.
Hermione felt, with that simple action, that she had claimed the space for herself.
It felt right. Dry, secluded, and obviously long forgotten. The only drawback was that it was in the dungeons.
She would just have to be extra sneaky.
Hermione examined the wall that she had fallen through, to find that a space the size of a doorway was an illusion. She hesitantly pushed her hand through it, and when nothing happened, stepped out into the hallway.
She couldn't see the doorway. Raising her hand, she pushed against the place where the illusion was, and immediately stepped back inside the room.
From inside the room, Hermione couldn't see the hallway.
It seemed to Hermione that she had stumbled across the perfect study space. If she took care to be very quiet while she was here, there was little reason that anyone would find her.
Unlit torches flanked the doorway area, and a huge, candle-less chandelier hung over the worktables. Hermione lit the torches with a quiet "Incendio," and began casting cleaning spells.
Half an hour later and the space was clean. It seemed nearly cheerful with the torches burning.
Hermione knew that she should think of the location as an ironic and somewhat disturbing coincidence, being so close to Professor Snape, but she decided to be pragmatic about it instead. She now had a place to study, and that was all she cared about. She made a mental list of all of the supplies that she would need, like candles, extra parchment, quills, ink and maybe a mug, so that she could draw water from the tap.
The next night, she smuggled in all of the supplies that she had thought about, as well as a knife to clean out the candle stubs still in the chandelier and a sandwich. She spent an hour setting the room up exactly how she wanted it, then sat down for several hours of uninterrupted studying.
Hermione couldn't believe her luck.
She quickly settled into a routine. After dinner each night, she hurried to the library to continue her research into a defense for Buckbeak, and then to study for several hours. When the library closed, she sneaked down to the dungeons, used the Time-Turner, and settled down to study some more in her little workroom.
Christmas break gave Snape another opportunity to refine his plan to capture and kill Sirius Black.
The Wolfsbane Potion that he made for Lupin each month left Lupin with his human mind. Since Lupin would expect to have the Wolfsbane Potion every month, Snape would have to create a non-functioning substitute to use the evening that he trapped Lupin in with Black.
But that would possibly create a situation in which, having killed Black, the werewolf might escape the room to wreak havoc amongst the student population. As much as Snape disliked students, he vividly remembered his own childhood experience when faced with a wild werewolf. Besides, the wolf would probably start out in the dungeons where the room was located, leaving his Slytherins the most probable victims.
He couldn't do that to his own House. But could he develop a slow acting Wolfsbane that would activate after ten minutes instead of immediately? That should give Lupin enough time to tear Black to pieces, yet come to his senses before he had the opportunity to hurt anyone else.
It was exactly the type of intellectual challenge that Snape loved.
Snape knew that it would be a delicate process. Wolfsbane was notoriously tricky to brew and its effects were easily negated, since it was sensitive to adjustment. If the potion didn't eventually leave Lupin with his human mind, he would not only be a threat to Snape, but to all of the residents of the castle.
It also meant that he needed a place to hide the highly illegal and dangerous potions ingredients that he needed for his experiments. His Slytherins would have a field day if they could get their hands on them. Though he wouldn't be at all opposed to the resultant litter of student bodies in the hallways, he didn't want to be the one to explain how it happened to the Headmaster.
Snape used a free afternoon to go to Diagon Alley, ostensibly to stock his supplies for the upcoming school session. Which he did, but he also slipped into Knockturn Alley and spent an obscene amount of his hard-earned Galleons on Mummy's Breath, which was essential for any timed potions, quality hag-produced cyanide as a non-reactive binding agent, and a small vial of Squib Death-Blood to incite the initial bloodlust.
When he returned to Hogwarts, he restocked his potions ingredients shelves. Then, when he was sure that nobody was nearby, he cast a Disillusionment Charm on himself, gathered up his Knockturn Alley purchases, and slipped through the dungeons to his hidden room.
Albus Dumbledore was the only other resident of Hogwarts who knew of the room's existence. The Headmaster had created the room during the Voldemort War, so that Snape had a place to brew potions for the Dark Lord without exposing his role as a double agent. As far as Snape was concerned, Albus' concern for student safety was a secondary consideration.
Snape wove through the hallways until he arrived at a familiar empty corridor. He paused to listen for any possible witnesses. Detecting nothing, not even the clammy coldness surrounding a ghost's presence, he walked through the wall.
With a curt word, he lit the torches in the room. With another, he sent blue flames to burn in the gutted chandelier. The room was reassuringly shabby, the dust undisturbed. Snape crossed to the cupboard and lowered the layers of wards and locks that he used to protect the precious contents within.
The cupboard opened with a screech of hinges. Snape scanned its contents and allowed himself a small smile. So many rare and expensive ingredients, and they all belonged to him. He doubted that it was possible to obtain some of them any longer.
For instance, the last wheat grown on Atlantis, still viable. He picked up the tiny box, thick with runes and magic binding the living wheat through the centuries.
The Dark Lord had presented it to Snape over the torn and bloody corpse of its wealthy wizard owner.
Snape's smile faded as he remembered the rush of pride and fealty that he'd felt for his Dark Master upon receiving his gift.
Swallowing his discomfort, he put the memory from his mind and added his new ingredients to the cupboard. Snape stood looking into the cupboard for several long seconds, then closed the doors.
He put aside his lingering unease and looked around the room. It would do nicely as Black's prison. He should remove the cabinet before he incarcerated the fugitive, but nothing else in the room would assist Black in escaping once imprisoned. He would have to stock the room with enough food for Black to survive for a few days, until the moon was full. But otherwise, the room was ready at any time.
Casting a new series of locks and wards on the cabinet, he committed them to memory, extinguished the torches and the chandelier, and slipped back into his life as a professor at Hogwarts.
When Snape made the Wolfsbane Potion for Lupin in mid- January, he delivered a goblet of it to the werewolf. Then he headed for his hidden workroom.
When he reached the empty dead end corridor, he paused. He turned his head slowly, sniffing the air as he did.
He smelled smoke. And it was coming from in front of him, not from the hallways through which he had just passed.
Cautiously, he advanced to the blank stretch of wall and listened.
"Oh, drat!" said a young woman, to judge by the voice and its inherent level of frustration.
Snape was outraged. How dare his little Slytherin miscreants use his hidden workroom for their adolescent dalliances! He drew himself up to his full height, swept his robes around him and stepped through the wall.
"You have thirty seconds to straighten your clothing, gather your belongings, and leave my sight!" Snape announced.
He was met with a wide-eyed stare and a rounded mouth full of Great Aunt Sexta's teeth.
"Oh my god," squeaked Granger.
"What are you doing here?" Snape demanded, stunned.
Ignoring Granger's trembling, he swooped over to her workbench, placed his hands on it, leaned forward and said through gritted teeth, "What are you doing in my dungeons, you imbecilic little twit? You should be on the other side of the castle!"
Granger flushed and looked miserable. "I couldn't find anywhere else to study."
"There is a perfectly good library full of books and study space provided for students through the largesse of generations of Hogwarts' governors and staff. Perhaps you are aware of its existence?"
Granger looked down and bit her lip. Suddenly, Snape understood.
"Unless you're already using that facility as we speak?"
She looked up, and the expression of sheer panic that flashed across her face answered Snape's question for him.
"Does McGonagall know that you're using the Time-Turner for studying as well as for classes?"
"How did you..? I mean - I don't know what you're talking about," the brat tried to lie, and badly at that.
Snape reached for the chain that he saw hanging around Granger's neck. He dragged a small Time-Turner out of her robes and dangled it in front of her face. "And I suppose this is a mere love trinket from the youngest Weasley male hanging around your neck?"
Granger's face was still flushed, but she kept her mouth shut and looked defiant. Snape examined her closely. He had overheard several Gryffindor students gossip about Granger's falling out with Potter and Weasley, so her presence in the dungeons made a bit more sense to him. But as he looked closer at her, he saw deep circles under her eyes, which were puffy and bloodshot. And he suspected that her trembling had more to do with chronic fatigue than it did to his presence.
He dropped the Time-Turner, and Granger hurriedly stuffed it back into her robes.
The idiotic child, treating an artifact that powerful as if it was nothing more than a bauble.
The thought made Snape pause. He slowly straightened. If he had a Time-Turner, he could possibly use it to capture Black. In fact, it would be perfect. Once Black was sighted, he could use the Time-Turner to go back to that particular place and time and subdue Black.
He rapidly thought, and decided on a course of action. He couldn't steal the Time-Turner outright – Dumbledore would be suspicious at once. But if he kept Granger close to him, he'd have access to the Time-Turner whenever he needed it.
Her fatigue gave him the perfect opportunity.
"When was the last time that you felt properly rested?" Snape barked. "Answer me!"
Granger looked at him as if he were deranged, but answered, "At, uh, over Christmas break, sir."
"And when was the last time that you ate properly?"
She looked apologetic and hung her head. "I had some soup at dinner tonight, sir."
"Soup!" Snape huffed. "You're trembling. Is it chronic yet?"
"Sir?" Granger looked hopelessly confused.
Snape took his wand out of his pocket. He transfigured a broken cauldron into a stool and sat next to the girl. Stowing away his wand, he reached out with his other hand to grasp Granger's chin and turn her head this way and that, looking at her face closely all the time.
"The skin has a parchment-like quality, and is exceptionally pale, though the lack of color could be from spending so much time inside this time of year." He tilted her chin up and tilted his head to look beneath. "The tendons are rigid," he mused to himself, "and the hollow at the throat is pronounced." He released her chin and Granger shrunk back.
"Did McGonagall or Dumbledore never talk to you about time exhaustion?" he demanded.
"They said that I could get sick if I used the Time-Turner too much," she admitted. "I didn't ask any questions, though. I remember reading about it, but I didn't think it would come to that."
"Tell me what they told you." The more he could learn from her, the more he could exploit her.
"Um," Granger began hesitantly, "they said the Time-Turner would only work within a twenty-four hour time period. I was only to use it a maximum of two hours each day, and only during the week…"
"In other words, only to attend the additional classes," Snape supplied.
"Yes, sir." Granger took a deep breath. "I was never to be seen in two places at the same time, and I was never to overlap hours more than two times – once, the original timeline, and once, the second timeline that I got when I dialed the Time-Turner."
"And just how badly have you broken the rules that they set down for you?" As her eyes shifted away, he barked, "Don't bother to lie to me, Granger. I shall know it if you do."
Granger's shoulders slumped. "I've been using it for classes, like I'm supposed to…"
"But," Snape prompted with a sneer.
"But, I've also used it a few times for some more study hours in the evenings." She hung her head, but Snape wasn't fooled.
"I told you not to lie. Twenty points from Gryffindor, and the truth, if you please."
"All right," Granger snapped. She looked up. "I've been using it every day, two hours for classes and four hours for studying. Sir."
"I use it for about five or six hours a day, then." Her reluctance to tell him was plain.
"So, let me see if I understand you." Snape ticked off the hours on his fingers. "During the week, two hours for classes, plus four hours for studying. Six hours a day. Another five or six hours each Saturday and Sunday." Snape tilted his head and narrowed his eyes. "While the rest of us find twenty-four hours exhausting, you seem to think that you are so superior as to easily handle thirty hour days."
"It's not that much more!" Granger protested, frowning.
"You exhibit the classic early symptoms of time exhaustion, Miss Granger."
"How would you know? You're not a mediwizard. Sir," she added again as Snape continued to glare at her.
"I've been reading, unlike you." Granger wisely did not answer. She met his eyes squarely, but he saw some trepidation enter her face when he lifted a corner of his mouth into a parody of a smile.
"You will do as I tell you," he said softly. "You hereby have lost another thirty points, for a total of fifty points from Gryffindor tonight." Granger groaned. "You will report to me for detention every night this week, and for every week hereafter, until I tell you otherwise." He raised a hand when she gasped and opened her mouth. She closed her mouth and listened as he continued.
"You will only use the Time-Turner for a maximum of four hours each day. No exceptions. You will use one evening each week of your detention to brew yourself a Sleeping Draught, which you will consume each night before you retire.
"If you vary from these instructions, even once, I will go to Professor McGonagall, tell her how you've abused her trust, and demand that she take the Time-Turner from you. If she refuses, I will go to the Headmaster.
"And if the Headmaster persists in supporting this madness, Miss Granger," he savored the distress in her eyes, "rest assured that I won't hesitate to go to my good friend, Lucius Malfoy, who sits on the Board of Governors for Hogwarts."
Granger leaned her elbows on the workbench and hid her face in her hands. Snape waited.
She finally looked up. "You don't give me any choice," she said, defeated. "I don't want Professor McGonagall or Professor Dumbledore to get into trouble because of me."
Gryffindors were so absurdly easy to manipulate.
Snape stood. "Pick up your books and follow me." He waited until Granger gathered up her books and papers and bundled them into her book bag. Then he drew his wand, whirled and walked back through the wall, extinguishing the torches and the chandelier on the way.
Once in the hallway, he paused. "And Miss Granger," he let his voice deepen to its most intimidating, "you will never, under any circumstances, ever use this room again." He raised his wand and cast several wards on the blank wall in quick succession. He turned back to Granger.
"Because, if you do, I will not be happy. And you," he leaned toward the girl, "will be even less so. Am I understood?"
"Yes, sir," she mumbled.
Satisfied, he swept down the hall, Granger scrambling behind him to keep up with his long strides.
The little fool and her Time-Turner were his.
The next evening, Snape opened his office door to a hesitant knock. He stepped aside, and Granger entered.
"In." Snape pointed to the door leading into his study. Granger pushed the door open and stepped inside.
Snape followed. "Sit." He pointed to a chair at the table that he had long ago appropriated from the library. Granger pulled the chair back far enough to slip into it, and placed her book bag on the table.
Snape smirked as she looked around the room.
His private quarters consisted of the warm, well-lit study, a decadent lavatory with full bath and a comfortable bedchamber, though Granger would never be allowed to see the latter part of the suite. A fire burned to keep the damp dungeon air out of his quarters and torches generously studded the walls to lend a soothing light as needed. In addition to his desk and the library table, one corner of the room near the fire boasted two comfortable leather wingback chairs, with small end tables flanking them, covered in books. The huge Axminster carpet that he had inherited from his mother covered the floor.
The wonder reflected on Granger's face amused him.
"Miss Granger, though I live in the dungeons, I do not live in a dungeon. I prefer my comforts." He saw her eyes light up at the shelves upon shelves of books that lined his walls.
"And if you want to use my library, you will have to earn the privilege." As Granger turned to him, eyes full of hope, he smiled cruelly. "No one yet has earned that privilege except the Headmaster."
He loved how her face fell.
"Tonight, you will come with me to the Potions classroom and I will teach you how to brew a Sleeping Draught. As I said before, you will faithfully use the Sleeping Draught each night before you go to bed. You will retire each night by midnight at the latest." Dissatisfaction was plain upon Granger's face, but she said nothing.
"Rest assured, I will know whether you meet your deadline. I have established monitoring systems. Don't bother trying to figure out how they work. You won't be able to.
"Thereafter, each Sunday evening, you will report to me in the Potions classroom, and will brew a perfect Sleeping Draught, which you will use in the same manner as the one that we will brew tonight. Do you understand my instructions so far?"
"Yes, sir. Sundays in the Potions room brewing Sleeping Draughts, Sleeping Draughts every night by midnight."
"Interesting. You actually do know how to listen to your betters. A pity that skill doesn't manifest itself in the classroom."
"Yes, sir," Granger muttered.
"Continuing," Snape said, ignoring her. "You will report to the library every evening after dinner until it closes. Madam Pince is aware of your restrictions, and will report any deviations of behavior directly to me.
"When the library closes at nine o'clock, you will either…" he inclined his head toward Granger, who gritted her teeth.
"Go to the Potions classroom on Sundays, sir."
"…Or report to me at my office. You may use the Time-Turner to give yourself two hours at that time. You will study or brew from seven o'clock to half-past ten in my presence, after which I will give you a note to show to anyone asking why you are out so late, and you will go directly back to Gryffindor Tower and retire."
Granger looked distressed.
"Yes, Miss Granger?"
"Would it be possible for me to have two hours one night a week to visit Hagrid? It's only that, he's trying to put together a case to defend Buckbeak…"
"The hippogriff that injured Mr. Malfoy?"
"Yes, sir. I promised to help Hagrid with Buckbeak's defense."
How did Gryffindors manage to accomplish anything, when they advertised their vulnerabilities so openly? He knew that if he outright refused to allow her to help the oaf that she would take it up with Dumbledore. But she made it so ridiculously easy to place the responsibility for her visits upon her shoulders, secure in the knowledge that she would accept it and not blame him.
He wore his most imperious expression. "You will have to earn the privilege, Miss Granger. If, by Thursday of each week you have successfully completed all of the tasks that I have set for you, and if you maintain the high grades that I and the other Hogwarts professors expect of you, I will consider allowing you visit Hagrid for two hours each Friday evening."
The relief on her face was entirely idiotic. "Yes, sir, thank you, sir. I won't disappoint you, sir."
"Don't make promises that you can't keep, girl," he snarled. "Since tonight is Sunday, we will now go to the Potions classroom."
"Yes, sir." Dutifully, Granger picked up her book bag and followed him out of the office.
If Snape were anyone other than himself, he would have had to admire Granger's talent as she competently brewed the Sleeping Draught potion per his instructions, especially given its complexity compared with anything that the third-year classes had attempted to date.
Thank all the powers that be that he was not prone to such sentimental tripe.
The annoying child seemed surprised on Monday night when Snape told her to do her homework quietly at the table while he graded papers.
Did she think him completely heartless?
Snape viciously found fault with every one of the fifth-year Hufflepuff/Ravenclaw Potions class' reports on the brewing of Blood-Replenishing Potion.
However, after that less than promising beginning, the evenings quickly settled into an acceptable rhythm. Granger would arrive at seven o'clock after leaving the library when it closed. Snape would grade parchments or put together class plans, while Granger would write copious inches more than she was required, or, when Snape was lucky, would merely read chapters at a speed approaching his own.
Without the competitive atmosphere of a classroom, Snape found Granger to be a quiet companion. After the first three weeks, she was so much a part of his evening routine that Snape often forgot that Granger was at the library table while he worked on parchments or research.
One evening in early February, they met in the Potions classroom so that Snape could work. Snape brewed a base potion that he needed for the next day's second-year class while keeping an eye on a huge cauldron of Pepperup Potion that he was making for Madam Pomfrey, Hogwarts' mediwitch.
Intellectual and magical combined more elegantly in potion making than in any other discipline he had practiced. The smooth precision of preparing ingredients and combining them through magic soothed him. Snape often found peace within the complexity of his art.
When both potions reached the stage where he could take them off the heat and cast a Cooling Charm on them in preparation for bottling, he realized that Granger, who was supposed to be quietly studying at a worktable, was instead staring at him.
His good mood vanished in an instant. "If your other professors haven't given you enough work to do, Miss Granger, perhaps you would like me to assign some more."
Granger shook her head, a bemused expression on her face. "I'm sorry, sir. I've just got a few more inches to write. But I was wondering - would you like some help bottling the potions?"
Taken aback, Snape paused. After a moment, he nodded his head sharply.
"You may take a break from your work to assist me."
For half an hour, they silently stood side by side and ladled potions into single-use bottles.
Snape taught Granger a sealing charm for the bottles once they were all filled.
Snape looked up from his notes. After six weeks of testing, he nearly had the Wolfsbane variant perfected. He was impatient to get every detail perfect.
"A passage in this book doesn't make sense, and I was wondering if you might have a moment to help me with it."
Snape tucked his notes under some student essays and crossed over to Granger.
"What class is this for?" He bent to look at the text over her shoulder.
"It's not for class, it's for Buckbeak's defense."
Snape heard the tentative note in Granger's voice. Ignoring it, he said, "Well, which passage do you mean?"
"It's this one," Granger pointed, her voice relieved. "It seems to imply that the degree of an injury caused by a magical creature directly affects sentencing, but can't be taken into account during the trial itself. Yet, I've read Legal Niceties for the Not-So-Nice, and I'm sure that it said that the Committee for the Disposal of Dangerous Creatures is required to use the evidence provided by the injury to assess the danger posed by the magical being."
Snape sat in a chair next to her and reached out his hand. "Let me read it."
She handed him the book, and he hunched over it. "Do you have the passage in Legal Niceties available?"
"Right here." Granger dragged a thick book bristling with scraps of paper over to him. She quickly flipped through its pages until she reached the one in question, then pointed out the passage that she had marked.
Snape examined the two texts, both of which seemed to be intelligently written and therefore could reasonably be presumed to be accurate. He read them quickly, comparing them closely before answering.
"I believe, from the context surrounding the two passages, that the authors were referring to two different classes of…entities. Magical beings are those that are capable of understanding and taking responsibility for wizarding law. All other beings, regardless of their intelligence, are classified as beasts, or creatures."
"And Buckbeak would be a creature, wouldn't he?" Granger sat back in her chair, clearly disheartened.
"There have always been divergent theories about what qualities define a 'being' and what qualities define a 'beast,' but it would take a very clever and experienced individual to introduce that argument into Buckbeak's trial."
Snape snorted. "But you're not experienced. And Hagrid is neither, and could defeat the purpose of the argument in the first place, considering his background."
"What background is that?"
"None of your business." Snape looked at Granger. "Miss Granger, I believe that you are approaching the problem first as a Muggle, with Muggle ideas about the legal system, and second, as a Gryffindor, presuming that trials are a mechanism for fairness or justice. Neither approach will suffice in a wizard court of law or administrative hearing."
"What will, then? Galleons?" Granger asked, skepticism apparent in her voice.
Granger slumped. "I don't have any political clout. Hagrid says that Professor Dumbledore has been helping him, but even the Headmaster's influence doesn't seem to have any effect on the Committee."
"As any Slytherin knows, political clout is not attained through reputation. Political clout is attained through knowledge. Who are the members of the Committee? What do you know about them? And, more importantly," he carefully looked away from her, "what do you know about them that they don't want known?"
"OH!" Granger gasped. "Blackmail! But that's wrong!"
Snape stood up abruptly. "Then Hagrid will lose and Buckbeak will die."
He walked back to his desk and returned to his notes. But out of the corner of his eye, he noticed that Granger sat motionless for a very long time before she returned to her research.
It was only a couple of days later when she handed him a list of names and asked, "So, where should I start?"
Snape allowed Granger access to his wizard Genealogy and Current History texts, over which she alternately gasped and paled during that night.
But within the week, Granger must have become inured to all but the worst of the extremes that she found in the texts, as she once again studied quietly, occasionally quizzing him about some obscure family skeleton and its relevance to a current Committee member.
That Sunday, while Granger brewed her Sleeping Draught and Snape organized potion supplies, he heard the girl clear her throat.
Snape was deciding whether or not to order more lacewing flies, and merely grunted in reply.
"Thank you for not killing her."
Snape froze, feeling like he'd been hit by a Reductor Curse. He could hear Granger stirring her potion behind him, noticing that she hadn't changed the rhythm of her smooth, even strokes.
"I've thought about it a lot. I know that mum was in hospital the year before I was born. Dad said that she was in a bad car accident, and for a while, they didn't know if she would make it. But I think that was it, the time that she was…hurt." Her voice stumbled for the first time, but her strokes continued smoothly, as he had taught her. When she spoke again, her voice resumed its quiet, conversational tone.
"I was so angry at you for hurting her. I thought of all of the ways that I could hurt you back. I think I even hated you for a while."
Snape didn't move.
"Then I thought, 'but at least she's alive.' And it hit me. Muggles didn't survive Death Eater attacks." Snape breathed in, his lungs aching, but her voice continued. "So, if one did survive, if my mum survived, it was because someone spared her life. So I wanted to thank you for doing that."
Snape gripped the ingredients cupboard until his fingernails turned white.
"That's all. I don't need to talk about it again. But I just wanted you to know." Granger stopped stirring her potion. "Sir, the Sleeping Draught is done."
"Leave it," Snape choked. "Get out of here. Go back to Gryffindor."
There was a long pause before he heard her cross the room and quietly close the door behind her.
Snape slipped to the floor and tried to breathe.
The next night, Snape acted as if nothing had happened. Granger did, too.
"Who have you identified as the most politically dangerous Committee members?"
After examining the past four years of case history, Hermione had noticed that three members of the Committee for the Disposal of Dangerous Creatures seemed to have the most influence on recent decisions. "Walden McNair, Leticia Brindlefoot and Jaeger Jackleby."
"Acceptable, although I would recommend that you have something in reserve for Lucius Malfoy as well, seeing that he is the one bringing the suit and that he has significant political clout with the Ministry. And how will you approach them?"
Hermione thought for a moment. Professor Snape would be expecting her to approach the situation like a Slytherin.
"Well," she began slowly, "I suppose that I shouldn't just approach each committee member directly."
Professor Snape snorted. "If you did, you would be open to charges of blackmail. So how would you apply pressure indirectly?"
"Everything I've read says that peer pressure is a strong motivational tool," Hermione said. "But I don't really know how to use it. Won't they all know each other's secrets, if they're so politically active?"
"Of course they will, girl!" Professor Snape shook his head, and Hermione could see that he looked disgusted. "But their knowledge of each other's indiscretions balances their political power."
"I understand!" Hermione exclaimed, suddenly seeing his point. "You mean that they're balanced since they know that if they say something about someone else's secrets, that person will tell about theirs!"
Professor Snape bowed his head, still shaking it. "Yes, you imbecilic Gryffindor. I truly don't understand how you hope to function in the world without such basic knowledge. What does McGonagall teach you over there?"
Hermione shrugged. "To always tell the truth and not hide anything."
Looking up, Professor Snape narrowed his eyes and spoke through gritted teeth. "Don't mock me, Granger. Thinking as a Slytherin does not mean that one automatically tells lies."
Hermione flushed and looked down. "I know that, sir. I'm sorry. It's just that I've been taught that lies are always wrong."
"Regardless of what you've heard elsewhere, they're not." Professor Snape sat straight in his chair. "However, in this case, I believe that you can 'tell the truth,' as you say, but do so in a subtle way. I want you to imagine that you're Leticia Brindlefoot."
"All right." Hermione wasn't sure what point Professor Snape was trying to make.
"If I were to comment, to the meeting in general, that approaching a hippogriff is a gamble at the best of times, and that the true stakes lie in knowing the reaction of the creature, what might you think? As Brindlefoot," he warned.
"Um, well, her husband's side of the family has a gambling problem, I know."
"And have there been any events in the news lately that may indicate a situation that a chronic gambler may find to be irresistible?"
Hermione's face lit up. "You mean the allegations that the Puddlemere United games were fixed last season?"
Professor Snape closed his eyes, again. "That would certainly seem to be such a situation."
"So I would think to myself, 'if he says that knowing a hippogriff's actions affects the stakes of a gamble, then he's really saying that he knows that my husband bet on fixed games!'" Hermione triumphantly exclaimed. "But wait!" Her face fell. "I don't really know that to be true. Her husband may not have bet on fixed games."
"No, you don't know the truth. However, she probably knows, or at least suspects, what the truth might be. You must watch for her reaction."
"I get it." Hermione nodded. "I say things, and if they react, I know that I've got them. But why would they worry if a student knows?"
"Because they don't know anything about you. They don't know anything that they can hold over your head to keep you quiet, and they don't know if you know someone who could make trouble for them. Since you go to Hogwarts and Professor Dumbledore is the Headmaster here, they will have to assume, for their own safety, that you would go to Dumbledore with the information."
"So, if I were to say something about how Professor Dumbledore's opinion is as respected and sought throughout the Wizarding World as the Minister of Magic's opinion, then maybe Jaeger Jackleby might think to himself, 'I want to be the next Minister of Magic. Being on Dumbledore's good side is important to that position. I might not be on his good side if the girl tells him that I voted against the hippogriff.'" Hermione smiled and sat back in her chair. "This is sort of fun."
"Yes, it is," Professor Snape smirked. "But it is also dangerous. You must always weigh the risk with the result. By making these veiled allegations, you will undoubtedly create future potential political enemies."
Hermione nodded. "So I shouldn't just say things to get a reaction."
"Nor can you bounce around like an excited Gryffindor when you do get a reaction."
Hermione smiled. Professor Snape stood up and scowled down at her.
"Don't smile, idiot. Learn to school your face to innocence. Or, in Gryffindor terms, look vacant."
Hermione nodded, and tried to make her face look innocent. Professor Snape rolled his eyes. "I didn't mean for you to look as if you were completely lacking a mind." Hermione relaxed her face and tried again.
Professor Snape sighed and walked over to his desk. He sat down and took a quill from the inkpot. "Since the Headmaster has given you permission to accompany Hagrid to the hearing tomorrow, and therefore you will be missing your Potions review, I want a parchment on the uses of dittany in healing potions."
"Yes, sir." Hermione sat down at the table, opened her Potions book, and began taking notes.
But the Committee's work reminded her of another issue that lay heavily on her mind. She rolled it around in her head.
Hermione chose her words carefully. "I imagine that a werewolf's life is pretty hard."
Professor Snape paused, then resumed writing. "I'd imagine their victims' deaths are even harder."
Hermione was so happy that she doubted that she would need a broom to fly. She walked with Hagrid from the Hogsmeade train station, trotting three steps to every single step the huge gamekeeper took and laughing as he told her outrageous stories about some of the Committee members. If there were dementors anywhere near by, Hermione didn't feel them.
When they reached Hogwarts Castle, Ron and Harry were just coming from the Quidditch pitch, to judge by Harry's disheveled appearance and the broom over his arm. Hermione stopped smiling and slowed down to fall behind Hagrid.
"Harry! Ron!" roared Hagrid. "Guess what Hermione done? Buckbeak won his hearin'!" He stretched out his huge hand to scoop Hermione forward and thrust her toward the two boys.
Hermione kept her head low, but noticed that Hagrid frowned briefly at Ron and Harry. They looked sheepish.
"That's great, Hagrid," Harry replied. He sounded like he meant it. "How did you do it?" He glanced at Hermione.
"Our Hermione brought along a trunk full of books an' had so many facts and figures that they couldn't come up with anythin' ter say. I thought Brindlefoot was goin' ter faint when Hermione said that there's no gamble ter workin' with a hippogriff, so long's yeh know how they react." He beamed. "Not much they could say after that. You could almos' see ev'ry member make his decision!"
Hermione blushed. Remembering the veiled threats that she had made to each committee member, her joy at Buckbeak's release suddenly became tinged with shame. What would Ron and Harry think if they knew just what she had done?
It was just one more reason that she needed to hide her relationship with Professor Snape. The last thing that she needed was for other people to think that she was like him, because she was determined not to be. Except this once, but only because it was necessary.
Harry squinted at Hagrid. "Didn't Malfoy still try to press charges?"
"I dunno what she said, but Hermione took care of that right away," Hagrid replied. "She just talked ter him a bit 'fore we all went into the hearin' room. If I didn't know better, I'd think she had some Slytherin in 'er – she knew just what ter say to 'im. Tell 'em, Hermione."
"When I saw him outside of the hearing room, I complimented him on Draco's outstanding performance in all of his classes, and added that it was too bad that Hogwarts scholars weren't recognized publicly," Hermione mumbled. Her face was flaming. Did Hagrid know?
She looked up when Harry burst out laughing. Ron looked confused.
Hagrid winked at Ron. "An' we all know that our Hermione has higher marks than Draco Malfoy in all their classes."
Ron's face split into a grin. "Brilliant!"
"Well, I better be goin'." Hagrid swept Hermione up in a huge hug. "Thanks fer all yer help, Hermione! Bucky'll be happy that everythin's all straight'n' out." He put Hermione down and strode down the hillside to his hut.
"Is that it then?" Ron demanded. "After all of that, Buckbeak is just let off?"
"Well, Hagrid can't teach using any creatures that would be considered dangerous," Hermione said quietly.
"That he considers dangerous, or that the rest of the world knows is dangerous?" Ron muttered.
Hermione, Ron and Harry stood around uncomfortably, shooting little glances at each other.
Harry cleared his throat. "Um…" He looked at Hermione a bit shame-faced. "I got my Firebolt back today." He offered his broomstick for her inspection.
"Was there anything wrong with it?" Hermione asked.
"Nah," Ron answered for Harry. "It's just Harry's luck again – mysterious racing brooms shower down on him whenever he really needs 'em."
Hermione bit her lip, and blurted out, "I'm sorry, Harry –"
Only to be surprised when Harry blurted out, "I'm sorry, Hermione!" at the same time.
They both smiled shyly at each other. Ron hit both of them on an arm, and then slung his arms around their shoulders. "I don't know about the two of you. Really," shaking his head, "you need someone like me to take you in hand and put you straight."
Harry dropped his Firebolt and looked at Hermione. Laughing, they jumped Ron, Harry putting him in a headlock while Hermione tickled him. Ron squirmed and shouted until, with a last head rub, Harry let him go, scooped up his broom and grinned at them both.
Then the three friends ran up to the castle together.
If Hermione had been happy when she walked up the road from Hogsmeade, it was nothing compared to how she felt as she entered Hogwarts' huge double doors with both of her best friends.
That evening, Hermione went to dinner in the Great Hall with Harry and Ron, who insisted on sitting on either side of her at the Gryffindor table. The rest of the third-year Gryffindors rolled their eyes, and Hermione overheard Seamus muttering to Dean, "Now I suppose the Common Room will have to be quiet every night so she can study."
She heard Dean whisper back, "Of course it will, you dolt. Would you shut up and pass me the potatoes?"
Hermione turned to Ron and jumped when she saw his shirt pocket move. A moment later, Ron's pet rat, Scabbers, poked his nose out of Ron's pocket and started sniffing at the delicious smells floating up from the food on the table.
"Ew, Ron!" Hermione wrinkled her nose. "You shouldn't bring Scabbers to the dinner table!"
Ron cradled Scabbers in one hand. "Well, ever since Parvati got that bloody great cat of hers, Scabbers hasn't left me. He even squeals if I don't take him to the showers, so I've been locking him in my trunk then."
Harry leaned over to confirm Ron's story. "Crookshanks stalks Scabbers everywhere, Hermione. I even found him rummaging in Ron's bed, once."
"Even so, couldn't you lock Scabbers in the trunk at mealtimes, too?" Hermione scrunched her nose as Scabbers grabbed a piece of bread and began to nibble it.
"Tha's jus' 'nhumn," Ron tried to say around a mouthful of peas.
"It's not inhuman, Ron, it's sanitary." Hermione looked away as Scabbers started to groom himself.
Ron swallowed and beamed. "See! He's sanitary."
"Hardly," Hermione muttered.
"Look, nobody else has a problem with it," Ron said. He looked around at their closest neighbors at the table, only to meet several disgusted looks. "What! You never complained before!"
"Speak for yourself!" sniffed Lavender. "I think Crookshanks has the right of it. Scabbers is a dirty little beast."
"I agree," chimed in Parvati. "Best to just let Crookshanks catch Scabbers, Ron. He's an old rat, anyway. It'd be a mercy."
Scabbers dived back into Ron's pocket, while Ron's face began to go red. "I'd like to see what you say when your stupid cat is twelve years old and full of mange. Probably hit him over the head and dump him in the trash, wouldn't you!"
Parvati's eyes widened. "Ron! That's just mean!" Across from her, Neville went pink.
"She's right, Ron," he said. "You really shouldn't say things like that…"
All of the students jumped. Their heads slowly turned.
Professor Snape loomed behind them. He seemed to be angrier than usual. "I think that ten points from Gryffindor should suffice for this disruption. Any more outbursts, and it will be twenty points and detention with Filch."
"But…" Ron protested.
"Twenty points. Report to Filch at eight o'clock. I'll make sure that he has something – interesting – for you to do." Professor Snape whirled in a flare of robes and left the Great Hall through a side door.
Ron stared after him in shock. "We always fight at dinner. What's so different this time?" He slumped on the bench. "And it's Friday night, too."
"What I want to know is, how does he sneak up on us like that?" demanded Seamus.
Hermione looked down at her plate. Something was wrong – she hadn't seen Professor Snape that angry in a long time. Probably not since the day in Defense Against the Dark Arts, in fact. Was it anything to do with her?
She looked up, to find Harry looking at her. She flushed, and Harry's eyes widened behind his glasses. Then he leaned around Hermione to address Ron.
"He's been watching us all dinner." Harry glanced at Hermione again, but quickly looked away. "I think that he was just waiting for a chance to come after us."
"Now what did you do, Harry?" Seamus grumped.
Harry snorted. "I was breathing, Finnegan. What do you think?"
Everyone snickered, and conversations resumed around Hermione. She pushed her food around her plate.
What should she do tonight? Normally, she would go to Hagrid's to help him with Buckbeak's defense, but now she supposed she didn't have to do that anymore. Should she go down to the dungeons instead? A chill ran down her back. Professor Snape seemed really angry. It may be best if she just gave him some time to calm down.
She would go tomorrow, instead.
Late Saturday afternoon, Hermione sneaked down to the dungeons as usual. After checking the corridor to see if any Slytherins were wandering the hallways, she slipped down the corridor to Professor Snape's door and knocked.
There was no answer.
She knocked again, and waited a few moments. Then she knocked a third time.
The door didn't open.
With no other alternatives available to her, she went back to Gryffindor Tower. That day, Hermione wasn't able to find an opportunity to use the Time-Turner for more study time, but it didn't matter. She had no place to go.
Sunday, and the Potions classroom was locked tight. Hermione realized that she would have to do without her Sleeping Draught this week.
Monday night, Professor Snape's door remained stubbornly closed. If this kept up, she would start to fall behind in her classes again.
In desperation, she tried the hidden room, but she couldn't get past Professor Snape's wards.
Hermione knew that she had a problem.
Hermione stirred her cauldron in a precise figure eight fifty-seven times. She lowered the heat and added a diced rosehip and two cat whiskers. The potion turned clear blue, and she smiled. She had a perfect batch of Deflating Draught. If the current set of second-years had an accident while brewing their Swelling Solutions later in the year, they might even get a dose of her brew.
She glanced around the classroom. Nobody else seemed to be finished. Draco Malfoy was frowning at his cauldron and stirring in a counter-clockwise pattern. Neville Longbottom looked worried – his cauldron was overflowing with roiling orange bubbles. From the corner of her eye, Hermione could see Professor Snape standing by Pansy Parkinson's cauldron and pointing to her ingredients.
Hermione was determined not to leave the Potions classroom until she had talked to him.
In the spot next to her, Harry's potion was a muddy brown. He'd obviously not sliced his slugs thinly enough. Hermione nudged his elbow and surreptitiously nodded her head toward the powdered toadstool on his workbench. He cautiously added some, then grinned at Hermione when his potion turned forest green, just like it was supposed to. She smiled back, then froze when a cold voice spoke behind her.
"Potter. Please repeat the extremely clear instructions that I gave to everyone at the beginning of the class period."
Hermione watched Harry shift in his seat. "We're supposed to each brew a batch of Deflating Draught, sir."
"And did you at any time hear me say that this task was to be undertaken in silence, without assistance from your neighbors?"
Professor Snape swept around to the front of the workbench where Harry and Hermione were working. He placed his hands on it and leaned toward Harry.
"And at what point did you hear me say that those rules apply to everyone but the great and special Harry Potter?"
Harry glared back at Professor Snape. Hermione jumped in before he could say anything.
"Sir, Harry didn't ask for help. I saw that his potion was the wrong color, and I made him add the toadstool."
Professor Snape continued to stare Harry down. "I wasn't talking to you, Miss Granger. Detention with Filch tonight for speaking out of turn. Mr. Potter, I am waiting for your answer."
"You never said that. Sir." Harry spoke through clenched teeth.
"Correct!" Professor Snape straightened and crossed his arms across his chest. "No one else in the classroom chose to cheat on their brewing. Since you did, you will receive a zero for today's session. Report to my office for four hours' detention every night at seven o'clock for the next week. Beginning tonight."
"Sir, Harry didn't cheat!" Hermione protested. "If anyone cheated, it was me!"
"Two nights' detention with Filch, Miss Granger." Professor Snape finally looked straight at her, and Hermione was surprised to see that his customary sneer didn't accompany his words. His expression was severe. "Perhaps you'll think twice the next time that you decide to break the rules." He raised his voice, still staring at Hermione. "Everyone clean up your workbenches and leave a vial of your doubtlessly useless potion for grading on my desk as you leave."
"Professor," Hermione said quietly. "I would like to talk with you after class, if I could."
"You may not." He turned and stalked back to his desk. Hermione ignored Ron's angry sputters to Harry as they cleaned their cauldrons and followed the professor to the front of the room.
"Please, sir," she tried again. "I really need to talk with you."
"There is nothing to say." Professor Snape snatched Neville's vial from the boy's hands. "Longbottom, once again you have managed to make a toxic brew from a reasonably innocuous potion. The next time that I want a Flame Throwing Potion, I'll ask you to brew a Deflating Draught. Until then, allow me to destroy this and possibly save a few of your classmates' miserable little lives."
Neville scurried out of the classroom after the rest of the students, leaving Hermione and Professor Snape alone.
"Professor," Hermione said desperately. "I need your help! Please…"
Professor Snape whirled, a bitter curl to his lip. "Of course you need my help, you insipid little idiot. Perhaps you should consider your decisions more closely in future."
"What decisions? I followed your advice for Buckbeak's trial, and it worked. I've wanted to thank you. But I haven't seen you since!"
"Think, girl! Use that sponge that you call a brain!" Professor Snape spoke quietly, but with a great deal of anger. "What do you need my help for?"
Hermione looked away, feeling a bit ashamed for her selfishness. "Because I don't have any place else to go to use the Time-Turner."
"And why were you successful at hiding your increased use of the Time-Turner in the first place?"
"Because nobody knew that I was in two places at once…oh." Hermione slumped onto a nearby stool. "Because when Harry and Ron were mad at me, nobody was looking for me."
"I would suggest that you use the Time-Turner in the manner established by Professor McGonagall, and realize that you will most likely drop from the top of each of your classes. That, or," Hermione looked up, "sever your ties to Mr. Potter and Mr. Weasley again." He straightened. "It's your choice."
Hermione jumped up from the stool in shock. "I can't break off my friendship with Ron and Harry!"
"Then resign yourself to a lifetime of mediocrity," he sneered. "I think we have discussed this issue enough, Miss Granger. I have work to do. Please see yourself out."
Professor Snape turned and walked to his desk, sitting down and pulling students' parchments and his bottle of red ink and a quill toward him. As he started to mark a parchment in front of him with slashes of red ink, Hermione stood watching him for a moment. When he didn't look up, she slowly turned, gathered her book bag, and walked out of the classroom.
Hermione gasped as someone grabbed her arm and yanked her into a nearby alcove. She looked around to see Harry, looking grim.
"I sent Ron back with the rest of them, so it's just you and me. Something's going on here, Hermione. I think it's time we had a talk."
Harry led Hermione through the corridors until he found an empty classroom. Pulling her behind him, he entered the room and closed the door, then placed a locking charm on it. He turned to face her.
"Now tell me what's happening."
Hermione swallowed and tried to act confused. "What are you talking about, Harry?"
"You. Snape. You disappearing and reappearing." He sat down. "That'll do for a start."
Hermione sank into a chair. "There's really nothing to tell."
"I don't believe that. Look," Harry dragged his hand through his messy hair, making it stand on end. "Do you trust me anymore? Did I completely mess up our friendship?"
"No, Harry! No," Hermione was upset by the distress that she heard in his voice. "You're my best friends, you and Ron! I'd trust you with anything, honest!"
"Then tell me what's going on." Harry waited for a few moments while Hermione frantically tried to figure out what to do. Then he asked, "Hermione, are you in trouble?"
"A bit," Hermione admitted. "But I can't tell you about it." Harry looked away, and she leaned forward toward him. "It's not that I don't want to, it's that I can't, really." When Harry looked back at her, she added, "It's not completely my…problem. So I can't talk about it, because it would mean that I would be breaking my word."
Harry ran his hand through his hair again, and adjusted his glasses. "It's something to do with Snape, isn't it? He's been watching you a lot these last few weeks. I noticed it at the beginning of last term, and it hasn't stopped since."
"Yes," Hermione admitted.
"When I was waiting for you after class, I heard you say something about breaking your friendship with Ron and me." Harry looked lost, and very sad.
"I would never do that!" Hermione replied. "I'll always be your friend."
Harry looked at her. "But Snape wants you to, doesn't he?"
Hermione's eyes burned and she swallowed hard. "Yes. But I won't." She brushed away a tear with her sleeve. "I couldn't do that. You're my best friends," she repeated.
Harry stayed silent as she tried to compose herself, but Hermione found it hard to stop her tears. It didn't matter if she wasn't the best in the class. Harry and Ron were more important.
Even as she thought that, though, she was aware that a part of her wanted to be the best, no matter what the cost. She choked down a new sob.
When she finally got her tears under control, Harry leaned forward and placed his hand over hers. Hermione looked up at him.
"I trust you," he said quietly. "It's alright. You don't have to tell me what's going on."
"Thank you, Harry," Hermione whispered.
"No thanks needed." He leaned back and let go of her hand. "Want me to get you a cold cloth?"
"It's okay," Hermione said. She took out her wand and transformed a piece of chalk into a handkerchief.
Harry grinned. "You need to teach me that!"
Hermione laughed a bit shakily, but with relief. She stood up. "Make sure that the halls are clear, would you? I don't want anyone to see me like this."
"Right," Harry said. He got up and used his wand to unlock the door. Peering out, he beckoned to Hermione. "It's clear."
They hurried through the corridors. As they started up the first floor staircase, a voice called from behind them.
Harry turned around and walked down a few steps, while Hermione turned away to hide her red eyes. "Professor Lupin."
"I'm glad that I saw you," Professor Lupin said. He walked up to the bottom of the staircase. "I wanted to let you know that I won't be able to help you with your…project on Thursday." He glanced at Hermione, who watched him while she kept her head ducked low.
"That's okay," Harry replied. "I was going to tell you that I couldn't, anyway. I have detention with Snape that night."
"Professor Snape," Professor Lupin gently corrected. "Whether or not you like him, Harry, you should address him with respect." Again, Professor Lupin glanced at Hermione, but didn't say anything to her. "It's getting late, you both should get ready for dinner."
"We're just going to the Tower to put away our books, then we'll be down," Harry promised. Professor Lupin nodded, then turned and headed toward the dungeons. Hermione waited for Harry, and the two of them began to climb the stairs again.
"Project? It sounds like I'm not the only one with secrets," Hermione observed.
Harry blushed. "It's nothing, really. Professor Lupin is helping me to learn how to deal with the dementors."
"That's wonderful! Do you think you could teach me?"
"Maybe. If you let me use your Transfiguration notes. And your Potions notes, and your Divination notes, and your Charms notes…" They grinned at each other and headed for Gryffindor Tower.
Hermione's detentions with Filch were anticlimactic. When she got to Filch's office each night, the grizzled and embittered caretaker grimaced at her and muttered, "Snape wants you to sit down and study."
So, both nights, Hermione sat and studied. But there was never enough time, and each day she felt like her marks were slipping just that bit more.
On the other hand, after Harry's first week of detentions with Professor Snape, he was immediately given another week's, for sabotaging Malfoy's Scintillation Solution. After class, Harry swore to Hermione and Ron that he hadn't done anything to Malfoy's potion, and Hermione believed him.
But she found herself jealous of Harry. What she wouldn't give to get a week's detention with Professor Snape! She was nearly tempted to sabotage someone's potion herself, except that she couldn't afford to get a failing grade in a single Potions class if she wanted to stay even with Malfoy, who was currently top of the class.
Two weeks later, after dinner, Hermione realized that she, Ron and Harry all had an evening together with no fixed plans. She was about to suggest that they all go to the library and study when Harry offered his own idea.
"Let's go visit Hagrid. We haven't seen him for a while, and I'm tired of having to always stay in the castle."
Hermione realized that it was Friday, the day that she had been accustomed to spending a few hours with Hagrid while she researched Buckbeak's case. Part of her chafed at the thought of losing any study time at all, but then she felt guilty for being so selfish. She hadn't seen Hagrid since…it had almost been a month! The last time that she saw him was the day after Buckbeak's hearing.
She agreed to go to Hagrid's hut with a bit more enthusiasm. "Why don't you send Hedwig down to his hut with a note so that he can come to the castle and walk us down to his hut?"
Ron scoffed. "It's still daylight. Black isn't going to try anything right out in the open where people could see him!"
"Hagrid can walk us back to the castle, later." Harry was obviously eager to get going.
Reluctantly, Hermione agreed, and the three left.
The walk down to Hagrid's hut was almost farcical. Ron's birthday had been four days earlier. At the impromptu birthday party held in the Common Room, he had tried a piece of candy that his twin brothers, Fred and George, called Hyperactive Hot Drops, their version of Pepperup Potion.
It still hadn't worn off. Ron galloped down the path ahead of Hermione and Harry, occasionally turning and grinning and waving at them to hurry, then bounding off again. His red hair was a bright spot against the snowy backdrop, caught in the last rays of the setting sun.
Hermione and Harry followed at a slower pace, watching where they stepped so that they wouldn't twist their ankles in the gathering dusk. Spring wouldn't arrive for a few weeks yet, and the rocks on the path were icy as the afternoon sun faded.
Suddenly, Ron yelled, his voice panicked.
Hermione looked up. Horrified, she watched as a huge black dog grabbed Ron's leg and pulled it out from under him. Ron fell awkwardly, and yelped in pain.
"Harry! Hermione!" The rest of his outcry was cut off as the dog dragged Ron by the leg toward the Forbidden Forest. It seemed like they were gathering speed the further away they went.
Harry reacted first.
"Come on!" He pulled Hermione forward and she found herself running down the path after Harry, in pursuit of Ron and the dog. Once clear of the rocky path, they ran as fast as they could across the uneven snow-covered slope, stumbling over tussocks of grass and through hidden dips in the ground.
It's taking him toward the Whomping Willow!" Harry gasped, and headed in that direction, Hermione right behind him. They were now running along the path that the dog had made while dragging Ron, and Hermione was horrified to see an occasional dark spot sunken into the snow.
Ron was hurt badly enough to bleed! Hermione's breath caught in her throat and she tried to run even faster.
Ahead of her, she saw Harry dive toward Ron, reaching out to catch Ron's outstretched hands, but missing them. The dog dragged Ron into a large hole at the bottom of the tree. As Hermione watched, the hole closed up after them, leaving Harry on his stomach, arms buried in the snow.
Suddenly, Hermione was blinded as something slapped across her face and knocked her off her feet. It felt like a whip, but she could smell wet wood all around her. She felt the blood rush from her face as she realized what was happening.
The Whomping Willow was attacking her!
"Get back, Hermione!" Harry's voice was frantic, and Hermione scrambled backward. There was a rush of air and a whistling sound just in front of her, followed by a thump. She kept scrambling backward until the snaps and thuds of the whipping branches seemed like they were all in front of her. She stopped and wiped the blood from her eyes.
She found herself just outside the reach of the Whomping Willow. The tree seemed to know that it couldn't reach her, because its branches suddenly withdrew and started whipping toward the base of the tree.
Hermione looked closer, and saw Harry crawling on his stomach toward the trunk, trying to stay low enough to slip under the bigger branches, and grunting as smaller branches whipped across his back. A movement caught Hermione's eye and she screamed.
The branch caught Harry in the side and swept him up. Harry's cry of pain stopped suddenly as he hit the trunk of the tree. He slid to the ground, clutching his side. Hermione saw another branch aiming for him, and watched as Harry's hand slid up the trunk to pull himself out of the way. Then he pounded a knot in the tree.
The Whomping Willow immediately stilled.
Hermione got to her feet and stumbled down to Harry. He was lying against the trunk of the tree, the hole that had closed after the dog and Ron gaping open beside him. He groaned and tried to sit up just as Hermione reached him.
"Here, let me." She pulled his arm around her shoulders and helped him to his feet. "Are you okay?" She tried to brush snow off his clothes so that she could see if he was hurt and bleeding.
"Yeah, just had the breath knocked out of me," Harry replied. He took a deep breath and grimaced, then grinned weakly. "I've had worse Quidditch accidents. I'm fine."
Hermione decided to take his word for it. "How did you make the tree stop?"
"I was close enough to see that the dog pushed a paw onto that knot," Harry replied, pointing. "The hole opened up right away. I guess that stopping the tree was just sort of a bonus."
She looked down at the open hole. Between the sunset and the shadows under the tree, she couldn't see a bottom.
Harry gestured to it. "Ladies first."
Hermione glared at him. "Funny, Harry." Nevertheless, she didn't want Harry going anywhere until he had recovered from the tree's blow. Besides, she wasn't sure how long the hole would stay open.
She crawled to the edge of the hole and dangled her legs. She took a deep breath, drew her wand and let herself go. She slid down a gentle slope and stopped a few feet down. She cautiously stood. "Lumos!"
Hermione looked around in the light cast from the tip of her wand. She was standing at the mouth of a low tunnel, the smell of damp earth all around her. Without any sunshine reaching in to warm it, the air was noticeably colder. There was no sign of Ron or the dog. She looked around some more, but the tunnel was the only way forward.
Suddenly her legs were knocked out from under her as Harry slid down the slope and fell into her. "Sorry," he apologized as they straightened out their tangle of legs and arms. Untangled, they crouched side by side and looked into the tunnel. Harry also cast a Lumos, and they extended their lit wands into the darkness, but could see nothing.
"Let's go," Harry said, and started running down the tunnel as well as he could in a crouch. Hermione followed, trying not to think about Ron and what the dog might be doing to him.
It seemed like forever, but they finally saw the dark lighten a bit ahead of them. They continued forward, but more cautiously. The tunnel started to head upward. Both of them held their wands out in front of them as they crept up to the opening.
Slipping through the opening behind Harry, Hermione looked around. They seemed to be in a sort of basement. The floor of the room was packed dirt, and the beams above them were full of cobwebs. The only exits seemed to be the tunnel behind them and a very rickety wooden staircase in front of them.
Hermione could hear the sound of wood creaking in the wind, but couldn't hear anything to indicate that Ron may be nearby. She refused to think about what that might mean.
"Harry," she whispered, suddenly guessing where they were. "I think this is the Shrieking Shack."
"The haunted house outside of Hogsmeade?" Harry whispered back. Hermione nodded. Harry looked determined. "Well, I'm not letting any ghosts get in our way."
"Right." Hermione's mouth was dry.
"Upstairs," Harry said quietly, and Hermione nodded. She followed him up the stairs, shuddering when she realized that Ron's body must have made the clear swath that she could see in the thick dust covering the steps as he was dragged further into the house.
The drag marks continued upward from the ground floor and past the first floor. When they reached the top of the stairs at the second floor, the trail led down the hall and through an open door. The room beyond glowed with a soft light. Harry glanced at her, and she gave him a small nod.
"Nox." they both whispered. The light from their wands disappeared and the sudden darkness seemed to shiver with anticipation. Harry started forward and Hermione followed, clutching her wand tightly in her sweaty hand.
When they reached the door, they saw Ron lying on the floor inside. He looked very pale, and was shaking so hard that she could see the tremors. He held his leg with both hands, and Hermione could see that they were stained with blood. He seemed to be watching something beyond the edge of the door, but when Harry started forward, Ron looked at them. His eyes widened.
"Run, Harry! It's a trap…" But before he could say anything more, a ragged figure appeared next to Ron, Ron's wand pointed toward Hermione and Harry.
Hermione's wand flew from her hand at the same time as Harry's flew from his. The stranger caught them both and grinned. Hermione stared, more frightened than she ever remembered being before.
Black had long, dark, matted hair, and he was so thin as to be nearly skeletal. His teeth were cracked and brown. Hermione could smell the sour scent of unwashed sweat coming from him.
"Come in, Harry. I was wondering when I would finally catch up to you." Black stepped back, motioning them to enter.
Ron gasped, "He's the dog, Harry. He's an Animagus."
"Animagus?" Harry asked, eyeing the stranger.
"Like Professor McGonagall. A wizard who can change into an animal," Hermione quietly explained. Harry nodded and walked into the room.
Hermione slowly followed Harry in, circling around to kneel by Ron. Hermione took off her jacket and wadded it up to press against Ron's wound. He winced and hissed. She supported him as he tried to sit up.
Black glanced at her, but his attention seemed focused on Harry. His gaze was hungry and his smile never dimmed.
"Do you know who I am, Harry?"
Hermione had never seen Harry so angry, but when he spoke, his voice was quiet and cold.
"You're the man who betrayed my parents."
Hermione gripped Ron's shoulder, and he reached up to capture her hand and squeeze it.
"I've dreamed of this moment," Black said, Ron's wand trained on Harry. "I knew that you would come to help your friend. Your father would have done the same."
"You bastard! How dare you speak about my father!" Harry hissed.
"Harry, no!" Hermione launched herself at Harry as he surged toward Black, his face twisted with anger. She tried to drag him back, but she could barely keep him in place as he struggled to get to Black. "Harry!" She was desperate. Black would kill Harry if he got his hands on him.
Harry abruptly stopped struggling, and Hermione pulled him back several steps. Ron had dragged himself to his feet, and stood behind them, though he looked like he might faint any moment. Still, he sounded grim.
"You can't kill Harry without killing all of us."
Hermione suddenly realized that she was about to die. Her breath caught in a sob, but she stood with her friends.
"Only one will die tonight," Black said. He gestured to Harry and Hermione with Ron's wand. "Move aside."
This time, Hermione didn't move fast enough. Harry yanked himself from her grasp and launched himself at Black. The two went down in a tangle of swinging arms and kicking legs.
"Harry," Ron gasped, and tried to move forward. He fell to the floor with a cry, just as Black rolled on top of Harry and grabbed him by the throat.
Without thinking, Hermione ran forward and kicked Black in the side as hard as she could. The air left his lungs in with a whoosh, and he fell to the side, releasing Harry and dropping the wands. Harry grabbed his wand and scrambled backwards, holding his throat, his feet hitting Ron and Hermione's wands and sending them flying. As Black lay curled up in pain, Harry got up and stood over him. He used his foot to push Black onto his back, then aimed his wand at the fugitive's head.
"Oh, Harry," Hermione whispered. She couldn't bear to think that her best friend would kill a man.
Black seemed to think the same thing. He laughed, though. With a smile still on his face, he asked, "Are you going to kill me, Harry?"
"I hear my mother dying, over and over in my head, every time a dementor comes near," Harry growled through gritted teeth. "Yes, I'm going to kill you."
Black's smile faded, and he looked – sad. Hermione was confused. Black should be scared, or angry, or even mad as a lunatic, but he shouldn't be sad. He looked as if someone dear to him had died.
Suddenly, behind her Hermione heard someone come in through the door. Before she could turn around, she heard an "Expelliarmus!" and Harry's wand flew out of his hand.
They both whirled to see Professor Lupin standing in the doorway. His clothes were dusty and disheveled, and his eyes seemed wild as he looked around the room, wand drawn, breathing heavily as if he'd run a long way. He held Harry's wand in his other hand.
"Get back," he said, gesturing to Hermione and Harry. They backed up to stand by Ron, who was grey with pain as he lay on the floor. Professor Lupin crossed the room to stand over Black.
The two men stared at one another. Professor Lupin knelt and then, to Hermione's horror, he gave Harry's wand to Black. He smiled and swept Black up into an embrace.
Hermione gasped in shock, and felt Harry stiffen at her side.
"Remus," sobbed Black, clutching Professor Lupin tightly. "I hoped that I'd see you again, my old friend!"
Professor Lupin drew back, the smile fading from his face. "Where is he, Sirius?"
Black looked over at Hermione, Harry and Ron. Professor Lupin turned to look at them, too. Both men stood up.
Hermione's anger surged. She had trusted Professor Lupin so much that she had kept the secret that she'd discovered about him, even though it was a dangerous one. Yet now, she saw that everything that she'd thought she knew was wrong.
"You!" She pointed at Professor Lupin. "You're the one who let Black into the castle! You're the one who's been spending time with Harry, all to hand him over to Black! It was all lies!" She whirled to Harry. "Don't trust him, Harry! He's a werewolf!"
Silence fell across the room. Hermione turned back to face the two men, and moved protectively in front of Ron, while Harry looked simultaneously sick and furious. Black backed up a bit, and bent down to pick up Ron and Hermione's wands. He straightened, Harry's wand half-raised and aimed at them.
Professor Lupin's face was pale, but his voice was calm. "How long have you known?" He took a wand – Hermione's own – from Black as it was offered to him.
Hermione glared, but her heart beat faster. "Since Professor Snape gave us the essay for the Defense class." Beside her, Harry clenched his hands into fists and moved closer to Ron, too.
"Did you tell anyone?" Professor Lupin asked. Black moved forward to stand next to him.
Hermione was desperate. Without their wands, they were defenseless. Ron was badly hurt, and she and Harry would never leave him behind. Nor had any of them told anyone that they were going to visit Hagrid. Nobody knew where they were. No help was coming.
All they had were their wits. She needed to think like a Slytherin.
"Yes. We told Professor Snape. And he'll bring the others if we don't show up at Hagrid's."
Hermione was suddenly very sorry that she hadn't gone home for Christmas.
The Past Relived
Lupin didn't answer Snape's knock. Snape swept into Lupin's office anyway, a goblet of Wolfsbane in his hand.
Lupin's office was empty. Snape welcomed the opportunity to take a closer look at the werewolf's possessions. Maybe he could find something to help him with his plan to kill Black. And even if he didn't, it was always prudent to learn as much about one's colleagues as possible, especially the ones who one wanted to be rid of.
Snape put the goblet down on Lupin's desk and glanced at the papers strewn across its surface. He knew that he should read through them, but he decided to start his investigation more generally. He began to investigate the desk for hidden drawers.
Nothing had gone right over the past few weeks. He'd had Potter with him every night for two weeks, making sure to let Lupin knew where the boy was. He was sure that Lupin would take the opportunity to let Black know that Potter was in the Potions classroom, a sitting target.
Yet Black had not made an appearance.
Snape finished with the desk and moved on to bookcases.
He was frustrated. Everything was in place. If Black ever showed up, he knew that he could manipulate Granger's actions easily, and gain control of the Time-Turner when he needed it. The room was prepared, stocked with enough food to keep a man alive for a month, if needed. Lupin owed him a favor, and would be easy to lure to the room at the proper time.
With Potter in his possession, he'd felt sure that Black would take the bait.
The bookcases thoroughly searched, he turned back to Lupin's desk to read the papers. A large piece of parchment caught his eye, and he picked it up for a closer look.
It was a map of Hogwarts. An amazingly detailed map, with little flags moving down corridors and clustered within rooms. He bent closer, and realized that each little flag contained a name and floated near a dot. There was dot labeled "Albus Dumbledore" circling around the interior of Dumbledore's office. A dot labeled "Minerva McGonagall" hovered in the Transfiguration classroom, surrounded by dots with overlapping labels identifying them as fifth year Hufflepuffs and Slytherins. Becoming angry, he looked at the Defense office, and saw a dot labeled "Severus Snape" within it.
How long had Lupin had this? Snape remembered years of childhood harassment, even when he had gone out of his way to find a remote study spot, and his anger flared higher.
He was certain that Lupin had the map all along, ever since they were students. Not only Lupin – Black and Potter had the map all along, too.
This map was likely responsible for a great deal of Snape's childhood pain and humiliation. Snape began to crush the map in his hands, ready to rip it to pieces, when a rapidly moving dot caught his eye.
The label read "Remus Lupin." The dot was nearly at the edge of the map, but Snape suddenly knew where it was going. It confirmed all of his suspicions about Lupin.
There was a house just beyond Hogwart's boundaries, just on the edge of Hogsmeade. Snape knew that house.
Sirius Black had tried to kill him in that house. It would make the perfect hideout for Black.
Snape dropped the map and ran out of the office. Sweeping through the corridors without meeting anyone, he drew his wand and raced to the edge of the protective Anti-Apparition zone surrounding the castle.
Once he was beyond the edge, he Apparated to the Shrieking Shack.
Snape pressed himself against the wall outside the second floor room. He'd heard Lupin, Black, and Granger so far, and Granger had spoken to Potter, so he was in the room, too. Snape suspected that Weasley was in the room as well, simply because he never left Potter's side.
He was furious with Granger when she blurted out Lupin's secret. What kind of a fool lets a man with a wand know that she knows a life-threatening secret about him? He'd shake the imbecile until her head spun as soon as he got them out of this.
When she said his own name, he couldn't wait any longer. Thinking that rescuers would be there soon, her words would either prompt Black and Lupin to kill the students immediately or Apparate them somewhere else. He swept into the room.
"Expelliarmus! Expelliarmus!" His first spell brought Lupin's wand to his hand, but he missed Black, who threw a Jelly-Legs Jinx as he ran for cover. Snape dodged the jinx and tried to position himself to cover both Black and Lupin.
Before he could, he heard Granger scream from behind him. Snape whirled instinctively.
Lupin had another wand. It looked like Granger's. Even as Snape raised his own wand, he knew he would be too late to throw a spell.
Lupin shouted a binding charm, and long, snakelike ropes poured from Granger's wand to wrap around Snape. Overbalanced, he fell to the floor, landing on his side, facing the three students huddled together in the middle of the room. He tried to break the ropes, but they were too strong.
He heard Black walk up to him and pause. Then both Lupin and Black circled around in front him. Lupin moved off to block the open door.
Black had Snape's wand. "Look, Remus. It's Snivellus Snape." He gave Snape a hard nudge with his foot while Snape glared. "On the ground, right where you belong, isn't that right, Snivellus?"
"Stop it, Sirius." Lupin gestured to the three brats. "Let's complete what we started."
Snape was furious with himself. He'd seriously underestimated Lupin. The werewolf was not only good enough to deceive Dumbledore, but had deceived him more deeply than Snape had guessed. Lupin was obviously as loyal to Voldemort as Black. Snape tried his bonds again, hoping to find a weakness so that somehow he could get the brats and escape.
Lupin must have been in on the plot to kill the Potters from the beginning, undoubtedly to secure a hideaway for the two traitors to use once Black carried out the plan.
Snape glanced at the students to assess their potential as allies. Potter looked like he was about to suffer from apoplexy, Weasley was obviously fairly seriously wounded, and going into shock, and Granger was…well, Granger, looking worried the way she did when things didn't go the way she thought they should. Snape hoped that she would be able to keep her head, but highly doubted her actual ability to do so.
Therefore, he was astonished when Lupin handed Granger's wand back to her, followed by Potter's and Weasley's.
Judging from their faces, Potter, Weasley and Granger were, too.
"Please," Lupin began. "Harry, Hermione, Ron – you have to listen to us, and trust what we have to tell you. You, too, Severus," he added, glancing at Snape.
"You're a fool, Lupin," Snape snarled. He struggled some more. One of the strands binding him seemed to be loosening. He redoubled his efforts, worried that both Black and Lupin were certifiable, and therefore even more dangerous than if they were merely Death Eaters.
"You're right," Lupin said sadly. "I am a fool. All these years, I've believed that Sirius betrayed your parents, Harry. Instead, the real culprit was someone else."
"If it wasn't Sirius Black, who was it, then?" Potter had at least had the sense to raise his wand in a defensive position as he barked out his question.
Black started laughing. Snape was uneasy – there was an edge of madness in the sound that didn't bode well for them. Black pointed Snape's wand at the children.
"Your traitor is right there!"
Granger finally had the sense to raise her wand. "You're pointing at Ron! You're mad!"
The little fool! She should have been covering Black as soon as Lupin gave her the wand. The first thing that Snape was going to do when they got back to Hogwarts was to convince Dumbledore that it was essential that he teach Defense.
"Sirius!" Lupin commanded, and Black stopped his insane cackling. Lupin turned back to Granger. "He's not mad. The real traitor is Peter Pettigrew."
Snape snapped. "You're both mad! Black killed Pettigrew twelve years ago, as well as a dozen Muggles. There were witnesses!" There! A hand was free! He cautiously began to work on the other hand.
"That was what Peter wanted us to believe, Severus," Lupin said. "I believed it, too, until I saw Peter's name on the Marauders Map."
"I saw that once, too," Potter claimed. "But nobody was there. I looked. The map lied."
Snape worked his other hand free, the binding cords now hanging slack around his waist. He slowly gathered himself to act when the time seemed right.
Black shook his head and snapped, "The map doesn't lie!"
"Sirius!" Lupin exclaimed again, though he still watched Potter. "You're not helping! Harry, you were looking for a man, right?" Potter nodded. "Then that's why you didn't find him. Because, you see," he pointed at Weasley, "Peter's a rat."
There was a stunned silence. Then Snape tackled Lupin.
The two men rolled over the floor until Snape managed to wrestle Lupin's wand away from him. It clattered to the floor. In the ensuing confusion, Granger picked up Lupin's wand, and Potter held Black at bay with a determined look on his face.
Snape finally managed to knock the breath out of Lupin, leaving him gasping on the floor. Potter continued to cover Black. Granger gave Snape Lupin's wand as soon as he got to his feet.
"Granger, transfigure something into a splint and immobilize Weasley's leg!" Snape ordered. He pointed the wand at Lupin's face, keeping the werewolf on the floor.
Black stayed crouched defensively, watching Snape. He snarled. "Just like usual, you've got everything wrong, Snape! Listen to Remus, you fool! Pettigrew is right there!" Black flung an arm at Weasley and Potter brought his wand up sharply.
Out of the corner of his eye, Snape saw Granger start to bind Weasley's leg. One problem was being dealt with, now to get Potter to do something constructive. "Cast Petrificus on Black, you imbecile!"
Instead, Potter spoke, keeping his eyes on Black. "Professor, what did you mean before? That Pettigrew's a rat?"
Lupin shifted on the floor. "Pettigrew is Ron's rat, Harry. Scabbers."
Snape saw Potter glance at Ron and open his mouth to say, "Scabbers?" just at the moment that Black lunged for the boy.
"Potter, look out!" Snape shouted, knowing it was already too late.
Several things happened at once. Distracted by Potter's idiocy, Snape caught Lupin's move from the corner of his eye a heartbeat before Lupin collided with him. He grabbed Snape and threw him to the floor before Snape had a chance to put up a defense. Lupin rolled over on top of him, yanking his wand out of Snape's hand and kneeling on his throat to restrain him.
"Sorry, Severus," he gasped. Trying to breath with Lupin's knee pressing into his throat, Snape wondered if the werewolf would kill him now, or wait to share the deed with Black once the fugitive killed Potter. He desperately tried to assess the new situation, even as he choked.
Black had grabbed Potter. Like Lupin had done with Snape, he held Potter's wand and pinned him to the floor. Snape heard Black beg, "Harry, please, listen to us!" and scrabbling noises as the boy squirmed beneath him. "Remus is telling the truth…"
Granger screamed and Weasley cried out in pain. Lupin's knee relaxed minutely. Snape gulped in air and turned his head toward Granger's voice.
"Peter," Lupin breathed. He looked like he had seen a ghost.
A short, squat, rat-like man dressed in a ragged brown robe knelt over Weasley, the fingers of one hand twisted into Granger's hair and her wand clenched in the other. Though there was little of the boy that Snape had known left in the man's face, Snape knew that he was looking at Peter Pettigrew.
Black rolled off Potter and pulled the boy away from Pettigrew. "Stay behind me, Harry," he growled.
"D-don't move!" Pettigrew yanked on Granger's hair again, and she yelped. Snape could see Potter move as if to go to her, but Black held him back. Granger had tears running down her face; she looked as if she were about to panic.
With Granger violently dragged backward over his injured leg, Weasley seemed to have fainted, most likely from pain. Snape reflected that Weasley's condition was probably not the worst thing to have happened under the circumstances. At least Weasley wouldn't make a mobile hostage, or have to watch his and his friends' deaths at either Black or Pettigrew's hands. Meanwhile, he was one less distraction for Snape.
"Let me up," Snape grated through his sore throat. Lupin seemed to be frozen on top of him, and Snape couldn't get the leverage to throw him off.
Black held Potter's wand steadily on Pettigrew. "Harry, it was Peter who was your parent's Secret-Keeper! Peter who went to Voldemort! Peter who betrayed your parent's location!"
"Everyone said that you were their Secret-Keeper!" Potter sounded hoarse, and was straining against Black's restraint.
"We wanted everyone to think that." The madness seemed to have left him. "We thought that the Death Eaters would come after me, so that Peter would stay safe and protect your father's secret."
Pettigrew's eyes grew wide. "He lies! He lies! It was Sirius who was the Secret-Keeper and who went to the Dark Lord…"
"Ha!" Black smiled, a death head's grin. "Nobody but a servant of Voldemort ever called him the Dark Lord! Your own words betray you, Peter! And you killed twelve innocent Muggles and framed me for their murders, all to escape Remus and me and return to your Master!"
Pettigrew cowered behind Granger and changed tactics. "No, Sirius, you're wrong! I didn't go to him! He found me, and he said that he'd kill me if I didn't tell him! Remus, you'll believe me, I tried to resist! But you don't know what he was like…"
"I don't need to know what Voldemort was like!" Black roared. "You should have died before you betrayed James and Lily! Just like we were willing to die to protect you!"
Snape heard Potter whisper, "So you're the one…"
Potter's words seemed to release Lupin, who finally positioned himself into a better fighting stance, though still using his weight to pin Snape.
Snape tried again. "Lupin, let me up!"
Lupin paused, then eased off Snape. Snape sat up, rubbing his throat, thoughts racing.
"Hold him, Remus! We don't need two Death Eaters on the loose!" Black shouted.
Snape used the moment. He swung his arm and caught Lupin across the face. As Lupin fell backward, Snape twisted the wand out of the werewolf's hand and turned it on Black as he slipped over to Pettigrew and his hostages.
"That's right, Black," he gritted out. "Now you've got two of us to contend with. Pettigrew!" Pettigrew squeaked. "Stand up, slowly, and start backing toward the door. Black, if you or Lupin so much as twitch, I'll kill Weasley."
Pettigrew dragged Granger to her feet and slid his arm around her neck; his hand was still buried in her hair. He started to drag her toward the door.
Backing slowly after them, Snape caught Granger's eye for an instant, in the hope that she would be able to act when he gave her the opportunity to escape. But he didn't dare take his eyes off Black and Lupin. He looked back at them, and raised his wand.
He whirled and pointed it at Pettigrew. "Stupefy!"
Red light shot from his wand and enveloped Pettigrew. Granger squirmed away as Pettigrew fell to the floor, and Snape reached out to pull her behind him. He pointed Lupin's wand at the unconscious man and cast a binding spell on him.
Then, ignoring Black and Lupin, he whirled and grabbed Granger by the shoulders. He shook her hard and shouted, "Cut that hair or tie it up like a normal woman does, or I'll curse you with a balding spell so that it never grows back again! Why do you think Minerva wears hers in a bun?"
"I'm s-s-sorry," Granger tried to say. "I-I'll remember that, honest!" Then she burst into tears and threw her arms around Snape, burying her face in his chest.
Snape wrapped an arm around her, and looked up to glare at Black, Potter and Lupin, who were all staring at him with varying degrees of astonishment. "What are you gaping at? Help Weasley, you fools! We need to get these idiot children back to the castle!"
"Of course, Severus," Lupin said, giving himself a visible shake. He looked back at Black. "Sirius, do you remember any of those healing spells that we learned during the war?"
"But he's a bloody Death Eater!" Black cried.
"And you're a bloody Black!" Snape retorted.
"And you're both bloody fools," Lupin snapped. "Sirius, do you find anything at all wrong with Severus' suggestion that we help Ron?"
"Then as it's such a sensible suggestion, it seems to me that it's best to act on it, regardless of your feelings about its source. Severus," Lupin added more quietly, "thank you for thinking so quickly back there." He rubbed the side of his face where Snape had hit him.
"Someone had to," Snape sneered. "Especially in the midst of so much false bravado and self-indulgent breast-beating during a time when children's lives were endangered."
"Of course, Severus," Lupin sighed. He turned and walked over to Weasley.
Black shook his head and glared, but followed Lupin over to the boy, still lying unconscious on the floor. Potter kept staring at Snape, an unreadable expression on his face.
Snape looked at Granger as the girl pulled back, wiping her face. He released her, and Potter hurried over to wrap her in a hug. Snape watched her hang around Potter's neck. He could hear her trying to laugh, and a muffled, "I'm okay, really."
Snape snarled and turned away. Black was casting healing spells on a groaning Weasley, who seemed to have recovered consciousness. Snape then moved over to Pettigrew, checking his bonds and verifying that he was still unconscious. Satisfied that they would be able to deliver Pettigrew to Dumbledore with no further problems, he stood up to see how far Black and Lupin had progressed with Weasley.
Lupin was standing a few feet away, a horrified look on his face.
Lupin's hands were elongating. As Snape watched, Lupin's face started lengthening, and he began to scream.
Snape's heart leapt into his throat.
Tonight was the full moon, for which he had brewed Lupin's Wolfsbane Potion.
Which he'd left sitting on Lupin's desk, undrunk.
He couldn't move. The years dropped away, and once again Snape was sixteen, watching one of his tormentors twist and stretch into a nightmare, inhuman screams echoing in his ears, unable to move and watching Death form before him. He couldn't breathe, he couldn't stop looking, he was going to die with teeth and claws ripping him, hot breath in his face as jaws closed…
Black looked up at Lupin's scream and his face went white. "Run!" he ordered, sounding hoarse. "Run! Harry, get out of here!"
Snape struggled to push aside his childhood panic. There might still be time. If he and Black could act immediately, perhaps one or two of the students could be saved.
Potter and Granger stared in horror, frozen. Snape forced himself to move, and pushed them toward the door. "Get to the tunnel, now!" The two students stumbled a few steps toward the door and stopped.
"We can't leave Ron!" Potter cried out. He started to run back, and Snape caught him by the arm.
Black leapt to Lupin, throwing his arms around him and trying to restrain him as the werewolf twisted and howled, its transformation nearly complete. "Snape! Get them out of here! I'll Apparate with Ron as a side-along!"
Snape nodded sharply, and started toward the door, dragging Potter after him. The idiot struggled, and Snape shook him hard. Potter looked at him, eyes blazing.
"Black will bring him," Snape snapped. "Now take Granger and run!"
There was a roar and a bitten off cry of pain from Black. Potter looked over Snape's shoulder and his eyes widened, pupils dilated with fear.
The smell of dirty dog filled the air; behind him, Snape heard the deep panting of a large beast. He could feel the hairs at the back of his neck stand on end.
He hoped he could hold the wolf at least long enough for Granger to escape – if the fool girl had the sense to run in the first place.
Shoving Potter away, he whirled to face the werewolf.
The wolf was fully transformed, still half-crazed with pain, its muzzle wrinkled and snarling over long yellow teeth. Its golden eyes locked on Snape, and it crouched.
It was going to leap. Snape swallowed and readied Lupin's wand.
The werewolf startled at the scream. Snape watched it look at the students still standing behind him like the idiotic Gryffindors that they were. He was completely unprepared for what happened next.
With a whimper, the wolf rolled over on its back and waved its legs in the air. It bared its throat to Snape.
Snape gaped. Black, painfully dragging himself up from the floor next to a snow-white Weasley, paused, astonishment written across his face.
Snape stared down at the subservient animal at his feet. He should be in the process of being torn limb from limb. His blood should be flying through the air like rain, his chest ripped open to show his still-beating heart, his throat so much mangled meat.
Had shock caused him to hallucinate? Was this what dying was like?
The wolf whined, and tried to wag its tail. The motion made its hindquarters rock from side to side.
"What happened?" Black demanded in a harsh voice.
Black's words shook Snape from his bemusement. What had happened?
Potter moved forward, and Snape automatically blocked his progress. "Stay back," he croaked, thinking furiously.
The werewolf was acting like a scolded dog.
Acting on a hunch, Snape whirled and crossed to Granger. Without Snape's arm to hold him back, Potter stumbled a step or two toward the werewolf, but Snape didn't care about the annoying little dunderhead's fate at a moment like this.
"Listen to me, Granger. The Wolfsbane Potion is in a goblet on Lupin's desk. I left it there just before I came down here. Lupin must drink that potion before he leaves the castle and no one must see you give it to him!"
Granger paused, nodded and pulled out the Time-Turner. She fiddled with it for a moment, then looked up at Snape. He nodded. "You know what to do." She swallowed hard and disappeared.
Potter yanked Snape around with surprising strength. "What did you do to her!" His face was red and twisted with anger.
Snape snarled. "She has a Time-Turner, you idiot! How else do you think she's been taking all of those classes?"
"But Time-Turners are controlled devices," Black said. "Where did she get one?"
"Where do you think?" Snape suddenly felt like he'd been hit by a Jelly-Legs Jinx and slumped to the floor. He pulled off the last of the binding cords that had been hanging from his waist. "From the senile old bastard who runs this school, of course. And if any of you ever utters a word about it, I'll personally cut your tongue out."
He and Black shared a long look, a mutual recognition of a temporary truce.
"So, what do we do now?" Black asked.
"I suggest that we just wait until Albus deigns to send someone down to get us. Granger will tell him where we are, and have them send medicating potions for Weasley." Snape lay back on the dusty floor, exhausted. Who would have thought even half an hour before that he and Black could have a nearly civil verbal exchange? Or that Black had enough integrity to try to save him from the werewolf that he had nearly used to kill Snape all of those years ago?
Maybe he wouldn't kill Black after all. Black now doubly owed him a life-debt, not only for Black's attempt on his life when he was sixteen, but because Snape had saved everyone's lives tonight with the Wolfsbane Potion. In fact, if Black and Lupin maintained their friendship, Black would be beholden to Snape on Lupin's behalf, simply because Snape provided Lupin's Wolfsbane Potion. No one else could brew it for him.
Snape imagined Black's disgust at living so deeply indebted to him. The situation was probably the most irritating and torturous circumstance that Snape could have ever devised.
Snape smirked. He could envision scores of conversations where he could rub that fact into Black's face. Yes, he would allow Black to live.
It seemed to take forever for Granger to notify the Headmaster, but eventually Dumbledore coordinated their return. Two Aurors, Nymphadora Tonks and Kingsley Shacklebolt, arrived at the Shrieking Shack to arrest Pettigrew. They brought a painkilling potion, which Snape administered to Weasley while Black hid the werewolf in the tunnel. When the two Aurors took their prisoner away, their absence allowed Snape, Black and the two boys to release the werewolf and return to Hogwarts. Snape floated Weasley on a stretcher.
Granger waited for them in the Hospital Wing. Her hair was twisted into a tight chignon and the cut over her eye was healed. Finally, the stupid girl was showing some sense.
Once Madam Pomfrey claimed Weasley, Potter and Black for treatment, Snape and Dumbledore moved to stand near the wall and watch the mediwitch treat them. Granger hovered near the two boys.
"Sirius has already been cleared," Dumbledore said quietly. "Peter is being interviewed by two Aurors we trust. I gave them a vial of your Veritaserum; he'll tell us all that we need to know. I've already sent the dementors back to Azkaban."
"He's not gone, Albus. Eventually, the Dark Lord will come back." Snape leaned his head wearily against the stone wall behind him.
Dumbledore looked serene. "You're undoubtedly correct, Severus, but now we have time. I always feared that there was a hidden agent who could aid Voldemort until he grew in power once again. But I find those fears much diminished now."
"Pettigrew just spent the last twelve years living as a rat," Snape snorted. "Hardly a threatening occupation."
"And you call yourself a Slytherin," Dumbledore smiled for a moment. "The hidden agent is always the most dangerous, as you well know. But thanks to you, we know which Death Eaters remain free, and which ones are most likely to actively work toward Voldemort's resurrection. We can watch them and keep them from doing so. Everything now lies to our advantage."
Snape straightened and rubbed the back of his neck. "Unless any other Death Eaters have faked their deaths, or there's someone else of whom I have no knowledge."
"That's highly unlikely." Dumbledore became serious. "Truly, Severus, we are well-positioned now. We know that Voldemort created at least one Horcrux, thanks to Lucius Malfoy's mistake with Riddle's diary last year. Even now we're tracking down those who might give us additional information."
"They'll be difficult to destroy."
"Yes, they will. But with Voldemort's power diminished by Harry's actions over the past two years, it will take him many long years to rebuild his strength – it took him ten years from the time of his first destruction to rebuild his power to the point where he could possess poor Professor Quirrel. He'll be even weaker now, with the destruction of the diary Horcrux.
"But think. In another ten years, Harry will be old enough to have learned of the prophecy proclaiming him to have the power to destroy Voldemort and to accept his role. He'll have time to train, and we'll have time to locate and destroy any other Horcruxes that Voldemort may have created. Their destruction will mean that, once the prophecy is fulfilled, Voldemort will not be able to cling to life. He will finally die, as all men should."
Snape felt a familiar anger roil in his stomach. Albus wanted everything to go smoothly, so of course he put a sunny interpretation on the situation. He was a fool.
"I disagree, Albus. We still have a long struggle ahead of us, and can't afford to relax our vigilance. There are too many variables that could still go wrong. Your vision depends on keeping Pettigrew and the other Death Eaters imprisoned or closely watched for the next ten years. Ten years," he emphasized. "It's too long. In the twelve years since the Dark Lord's first demise, people have already begun to forget his reign of terror. In another ten, the war will be tales that the people who fought it tell to their grandchildren. Pettigrew and all of the other convicted Death Eaters should receive the dementors' kiss now. That would give us some degree of safety."
Dumbledore shook his head. "And it would provide martyrs that Voldemort's followers would use to rally new recruits. No, keeping them imprisoned is our best control, at least for the time being. There is a little-known permanent countercurse to the Animagus Transfiguration. Peter will be subjected to it, but to be safe, we will contain him in a space that a rat can't escape."
"It won't be enough. He needs to be kissed by the dementors and lose his soul. I don't trust either the Ministry or the keepers of Azkaban to be responsible for him." Snape folded his hands across his chest and scowled. "Nor do I trust Black. He exhibited signs of madness earlier tonight. He bears watching. Azkaban may have proved too much for his sanity."
"When you first arrived from the Shrieking Shack, Harry asked me whether Sirius was truly his godfather." Dumbledore looked sad. "I told him that he was. Severus, if you can't spare Sirius for his own sake, I would ask you to spare him for Harry's. The child needs to know what a real family is like."
"Don't worry, I've decided that killing Black is too much trouble. Unless, of course," Snape's eyes narrowed as he watched Black being helped into a hospital bed, "he should ever decide to revert to his old ways. However, I would advise you to have someone keep a close eye on them both if you allow Potter to spend time with him."
"I agree. I believe that I will ask Remus to stay with them for a time. However, family is supremely important, Severus, and living together will likely prove to be a healing experience for both Sirius and Harry." The Headmaster suddenly cleared his throat, putting Snape on guard.
"Incidentally, I noticed that Miss Granger has hardly been able to take her eyes from you since you arrived." Even without looking, Snape could hear the Headmaster twinkle. "Nor have you looked at anyone else."
Snape refused to be made a fool by Dumbledore's sentiment. "I'll be damned if anyone harms anything of mine, no matter how little value it holds for me."
"Ah. I thought as much. She truly is like you, Severus. She exhibits your depth of loyalty."
Snape snorted dismissively. She exhibited a strong self-destructive streak, in his opinion.
He was going to have to cure her of that.
Hermione sat with Harry by Ron's bedside as Madam Pomfrey continued to work on Ron's leg. He was still extremely pale and drawn, but looking much happier after taking another dose of painkilling potion.
Whenever Hermione looked up, she met Professor Snape's eyes.
She glanced down again, and then looked over to see Harry watching her. He smiled, and she smiled back.
Madam Pomfrey finally seemed satisfied with her work on Ron's leg. She gave Ron a dose of Skele-Gro. Ron shuddered and made a face. Madam Pomfrey shook her head.
"Don't look like that. It will heal your leg bones overnight. However, it's not the most pleasant sensation, I'm sorry to say. You're in for an uncomfortable night, Weasley. As for the two of you," Madam Pomfrey turned to Hermione and Harry, "five more minutes, then off with you. He'll need all the sleep he can manage."
Madam Pomfrey stood up and twitched Ron's blanket. Looking at all three of the friends, she repeated, "Five minutes," then walked toward her office.
Ron looked like he could fall asleep any moment, but as soon as Madam Pomfrey was out of earshot, he immediately demanded in a low voice, "Did I hear right? Did you shout 'dad' at Snape?"
Hermione had prepared herself for the question ever since she let the word slip at the Shrieking Shack. "Don't be ridiculous, Ronald. How could Professor Snape be my father? I just knew that Professor Lupin needed to be distracted, so I shouted the first startling thing that came into my head. It worked, didn't it?"
On Ron's other side, Harry hid a smile with his hand.
Ron looked at her closely, but Hermione was able to meet his gaze calmly. Then Ron shook his head and shuddered. "Well, it was scary all right. Never do that again, do you hear?" He hit his chest and rolled his eyes. "I don't think my heart could take it."
Harry snorted, then looked at Hermione. "So, what's a Time-Turner?" He kept his voice low, too.
"I can't show you here; there's too many people," she replied quietly. "But basically, it lets me go back in time a few hours so that I can go to more than one class held at the same time. But it really has to stay a secret," she cautioned, looking around. "Professor Dumbledore could get in a lot of trouble if anyone found out."
"Promise," pledged Ron.
"You already know so many of my secrets, I reckon it's just fair for me to know one of yours," Harry said. Hermione noticed that he emphasized the word "one" slightly, and frowned at him.
At that moment, Madam Pomfrey returned to Ron's side. "All right, everyone leave now. Weasley needs his sleep."
Hermione and Harry obediently stood up and bid Ron good night. He yawned widely, closed his eyes, and seemed to fall immediately asleep.
Harry looked over at Sirius Black's bed. Hermione nudged him. "Go on, Harry. You seem to be worried about him."
"In a minute." Harry drew her a few beds away from Ron and pulled her down to sit next to him.
"Hermione, I know about you and Snape."
Hermione felt panicked, but tried to cover. "What are you talking about?"
"Shhh. Don't worry, I won't tell Ron. I'm okay with it, really I am. Listen." Hermione stared at him with wide eyes, "I've got a good feeling about what happened tonight. I reckon things are going to go fine from here. Sirius told me that he's my godfather, and when I checked with Dumbledore, he said it was true." Harry pushed his glasses back up his face, eyes gleaming. "Maybe I'll never have to go back to live with the Dursleys again! Maybe I'll be living with Sirius from now on – we talked on our way back to the castle, and he said he wanted me to live with him. And he's not a fugitive anymore since we found the real traitor."
Hermione smiled. "I'm happy for you, Harry. You deserve a real family."
"And so do you. I know I've met your parents, but it's plain that you've got, well…Snape, too. I'm not sure how he fits in, but however it is, I know that he means something to you. I'll try to like him a little, for your sake."
Hermione blushed, and decided not to deny it. Harry wouldn't believe her anyway, and he could keep a secret. "Thanks, Harry. But I don't think that anything's going to change, you know. He's not the nicest man in the world. He'll still be mean to us. It's the way he is. And we can't tell anybody."
Behind them, a throat cleared. The two friends jumped and turned around.
Professor Snape stood behind them, looking severe, but pleased in a very nasty way. "Professor Dumbledore gave me the dubious pleasure of meting out your punishments for your activities this evening."
"What?" Harry sputtered. "But we cleared Sirius and caught Pettigrew! Those are good things! We shouldn't be punished for that!"
Professor Snape looked down his nose and smirked. "All right, Potter. I won't punish you for consorting with known criminals. However," his smile grew darker, "I feel quite comfortable assigning punishment for being out of the bounds of the castle proper after dark. Wandering the castle grounds without an adult escort while the school is in a state of heightened security. Leaving the school grounds via a highly illegal and potentially unsafe tunnel. Threatening a teacher. Refusing to obey said teacher when ordered to leave a highly volatile and dangerous situation for your own good. Shall I continue?"
"No," Harry growled. "We get it."
"Don't be insolent, Potter. Both of you are to go to Gryffindor Tower immediately, and not to come down unless you are given permission to do so by Professor Dumbledore, Professor McGonagall, or me."
Hermione stood up, but Harry stayed stubbornly on the bed. "Dumbledore said I could stay here with Sirius. Sir," he added, and looked at Hermione.
Professor Snape leaned close to Harry's face. "Then I suggest, Mr. Potter, that you do as Professor Dumbledore told you." He straightened and pointed to Sirius Black's bed.
Harry glared at Professor Snape and stood up. "Yes, sir. You go on, Hermione." He started to walk over to the bed, but paused and looked back at her, a mischievous smile on his face as he glanced at Professor Snape, too. "By the way, I like the hair."
"On your way, Potter," Professor Snape commanded. He stood next to Hermione and watched until Harry sat down in a chair next to his godfather. Then he turned to Hermione.
"You come with me."
He whirled and swept out of the Hospital Wing, Hermione at his heels.
When they were in the hallway, he slowed somewhat. Hermione took that as an invitation to talk.
"How will Professor Lupin be?" she asked, careful to keep her voice low.
"Lupin is fine. He's sleeping at the Shack tonight. The moon will set in three hours, anyway. The fool can make his way back to the castle on his own after that. You've undertaken damage control, I presume."
"I told them that I said the first startling thing that came into my head to distract Professor Lupin. Ron won't question me, but Harry knows. He'll keep it secret, though, and if Sirius Black asks him about it, Harry will tell him the same thing that I told Ron." Hermione thought for a moment. "I think that Professor Lupin knows, though. I don't know if he'll believe my excuse."
"I'll take care of him." Professor Snape's tone made Hermione a bit worried for Professor Lupin, but she decided that he could take care of himself well enough. "No one saw you?"
"I didn't meet anyone. I made sure to travel the halls while classes were in session. I had to use the Time-Turner twice – once to pick up the goblet after you left it, and once to go back further and give it to Professor Lupin."
"What did you tell him?"
"That I was serving detention with you, and you told me to bring him his daily vitamin draught."
Professor Snape grunted. "Good enough."
Hermione smiled to herself, pleased that she had received Professor Snape's approval.
"Are you maintaining your grades?"
Hermione's smile vanished. "I'm falling behind Draco Malfoy and Terry Boot in nearly everything," she admitted. Professor Snape glanced down at her with a frown, and then looked ahead again. He walked a bit faster, and Hermione knew that their conversation had ended.
They came to the first of the four flights of stairs leading to Gryffindor Tower. They continued to climb to the Sixth Floor in silence.
At the foot of the last set of stairs leading up to the Tower, Professor Snape stopped.
"I will assign detentions to each of you for your stupidity this evening," he stated. "Each one of you will serve those detentions from now until the end of the year. You will serve your detention with me as you did earlier this year. I expect you to achieve your former class standings within the next three weeks, and maintain them for the rest of the year. Understood?"
Hermione nodded. "What detentions are you going to assign to Ron and Harry?" she ventured.
He looked at her sharply. "None of your business, though I assure you that they will be appropriately severe. Now go up to the Tower and do not come down until you receive permission to do so."
Without another word, Professor Snape whirled and started back down the stairs. Hermione watched him with a speculative look until he was out of sight, and then slowly started up the stairs to the Seventh Floor.
She thought she understood, finally. Professor Snape had fathered her, but he wasn't her father. In some strange way, he had accepted a kind of responsibility for her, but Hermione didn't try to fool herself - it wasn't based on love, at least how she understood the emotion. In fact, she highly suspected that he still disliked her to a significant extent.
Still, she had come to trust him, within the limits that he set. And she looked forward to learning from him for the next four years – he was sharp and extremely knowledgeable, and she suspected that he was even brilliant at times.
Coming to the portrait of the Fat Lady, she said, "Wormy green apples." The painting swung open, and she climbed in to the Gryffindor Common Room.
Hermione wondered if there was any way to combine a career in Potions with her love of Arithmancy.
She smiled as she started up the stairs to her dorm. She would take a look in the library first thing tomorrow. If there wasn't already an established career that incorporated both disciplines, that didn't mean that there shouldn't be one in the future, after all.
She walked into her dorm room and shut the door quietly. After brushing her teeth in the bathroom and donning her pajamas, she climbed into bed.
She fell asleep almost before her head touched her pillow.