On Oaks and Reeds

Disclaimer

Anything you recognize belongs to JK Rowling; I am not making money on this and I certainly don't own anything, except the plot and the sacred right to steal from real literature...Oh, wait, I don't even own the whole plot, as this story is an answer to HermySnape's Impostor Challenge on WIKTT.

Warnings

This story may consider a love relationship between Severus Snape and Hermione Granger at seventeen. If such an idea disturbs you, please don't read it. Also, this fic will be concerned with torture and sexual ambiguity – you'll be warned in advance in the occurrence of graphic descriptions.

Chapter 1 – A Troubled Night

Hermione couldn't sleep: her room in Grimmauld Palace was too quiet without Ginny. Furthermore, the whole floor was empty, as Harry was still at his relatives' house and Ron and the twins at the Burrow. Alone in the darkness, Hermione found she was freaking out.

"Stop being stupid," she said aloud to herself. "Lupin and Tonks are here. There's nothing to be afraid of."

"Oh, but there is," was the whispered answer.

Hermione sat up in her bed with a jolt, grabbing her wand.

"Lumos," she said.

The portrait hung on the opposite wall, which had been empty all evening, had been suddenly filled with one of the unsavoury Black ancestors – a man in his fifties sporting elegant, blood-red robes.

"Oh, it's you," sighed Hermione. She'd seen him before, but he'd never talked to her.

"Don't be impertinent, you little Mudblood," the portrait shot back, angered. "It's not 'just me' – I'm Octavius Fibrillus Black, Grand Sorcerer of"

"Ok, I'm sorry," yawned Hermione, overlooking the insult. "But what did you say about a danger in here? Is it just the house or"

"For you, it may very well be 'just the house', as you put it. We were never friendly to your kind. But as it happens, a furious argument is going on downstairs – in fact, I had hoped that you could go and find out what the row is about – I can't hear properly from Agrippina's portrait, and there isn't any canvas in the kitchen."

"A row?" asked Hermione, suddenly curious. "Who's rowing?"

A few days after Dumbledore's death, Lupin had finally decided to admit Tonks into his life and since they'd been close to the point of elicit disgust from the onlookers. Hermione sincerely doubted they would quarrel about something in the near future – they were too engrossed in each other.

"Two men," said Octavius Black. "The werewolf and one I do not recognize."

This must be some Order business, thought Hermione. Despite having turned seventeen, she was not admitted to their meetings, and was very annoyed by this blatant injustice. Now it seemed she had a chance to discover something of their plans…it was well past midnight…they thought she was asleep…

"Turn round," she said absently to the portrait. "I'm going to get dressed."

Octavius Fibrillus Black, Grand Sorcerer, obeyed with a tutting sound, and Hermione crept out of her bed and put her jeans on. This should be enough, she thought vaguely, as she was already wearing her sleeping t-shirt. Stuffing her wand in the back pocket of her pants, she padded barefoot to the door and opened it carefully.

The corridor was empty, but she could hear a faint noise coming from the basement.

She threaded carefully downstairs, and nearly jumped when the newly Transfigurated portrait of Sirius' mother, Agrippina Black, cooed at her through the darkness.

"Out of bed so late? Couldn't sleep, poor darling? Oh! But you're barefoot! You'll catch a cold, sweetie!"

Hermione squinted at the canvas through the dark entrance hall. Losing any hope to detach it from the wall, Moody and Professor McGonagall had transfigured it into a depiction of Mrs. Black as an old woman, and there she was, as she'd been in real life – joyful and completely senile. The portrait had proved even more of a nuisance this way, calling on everyone, mistaking the names of people she saw every day, insisting that they should stop and gossip, knitting sweaters for her dead sons as she talked and talked about nothing at all.

"It's okay, Mrs. Black," whispered Hermione, not wanting to alert Lupin of her presence.

"Oh, no it's not!" gushed the portrait. "Maybe you had a nightmare? But you can tell auntie Agrippina, now, can't you?"

"Mrs. Black," said Hermione firmly, "I did not have a nightmare. I'm on my way for a cup of tea."

"Tea! How sweet! A young woman such as yourself drinking her tea, as it was in the old days. You know, my Regulus detested tea. He used to have a plain glass of water instead and"

"I'm sorry, Mrs. Black, but I'm very tired. Could we chat tomorrow?" pleaded Hermione, edging towards the door leading to the basement.

"But of course! Off you go, and be careful not to bump into something, you never know. My uncle Patricius, once…"

Hermione smiled vaguely at her and headed for the stairs. The quarrelling voices were louder now, though the quarrel itself seemed to have lost its venom. Hermione recognized easily Lupin's soft voice, and it took her just a moment to identify the second speaker as Kingsley Shacklebolt – he stopped rarely to Grimmauld Palace, and she was not unhappy about it – there was something about him she didn't like.

"And once he's here, how do you intend to proceed?"

This was Lupin's voice, and it sounded weary and resigned.

"The usual," said Shacklebolt, in a business-like tone. "Small talk…"

"Which won't work on him."

"…Veritaserum – I nicked a vial from the Ministry…"

"He surely thought of an antidote, some of them take months to wear out."

"…UQM."

"UQM?"

Lupin's voice was shocked, and Hermione, sitting on the stairs, the coldness and dampness of the old stone sinking into her body, thought hard. Whom were they talking about? And what did UQM stand for? She'd made a list of the most used acronyms for an Arithmancy essay, but she was sure she hadn't read about that one.

"It's a Ministry-approved procedure, in particular circumstances."

"Is it…is it still?"

"Scrimgeour re-integrated it into the Code. One of his first acts of office."

"Blimey. He kept that quiet."

"Well, it's not like last time. Not yet. But that's the very point – we don't want it to be like last time. We want to be prepared."

"And you think you'll be prepared thanks to UQM? You don't know what you're talking about!"

Hermione recoiled slightly. She'd never heard Lupin shout at someone before. Remus Lupin was a kind and quiet person – he would never seek a fight, or openly defy someone. Harry though it was just the way he was, but Hermione rather thought he was scared about hurting someone – as a werewolf, he was stronger than most people.

"I am an Auror. I have experience in this," said Shacklebolt, rather coldly.

"Have you ever performed it yourself?"

"No, but"

"Then you don't know what this is about, and you won't do it in this house."

"It's Harry's house, and this is a decision that the Order should take. You represent nobody."

Whereas Lupin sounded deeply agitated, Shacklebolt's voice was growing colder any minute.

"Harry won't be informed about this until the matter is clearer."

"He's not a child."

"It's not a question of being a child, it's a question of childishness."

There was an agonizing silence and Hermione, feeling that the discussion was coming to an end, stood up.

"Lupin," said Shacklebolt in the end, and Hermione heard the noise of a chair being pushed back – she quickly ran up the stairs, passing in front of Mrs. Black's portrait – "How was your tea, darling? I hope you didn't choose a full blend this late at night." – up to the second floor – in no time she was in her room, closing the door behind her. She stood against it for a moment, breathing hard and clutching a stitch in her side. What had this been about?

"Well? What was that about?" said a voice, echoing her own thoughts, and she jumped.

"Don't do that. And anyway, I have no idea," she said to Octavius Black. "Now, if you don't mind, I'd like to sleep for a while."

The portrait tutted again and disappeared from his frame.

Hermione took off her clothes mechanically and crawled into her bed, drawing the bedcovers up to her chin. She'd meant to think about what she'd overheard, but she fell asleep almost immediately.

Miles away, the boy called Harry Potter, who, in Lupin's opinion, was too childish to decide about the appropriateness of UQM, was staring out of the window.

It was very late; Harry could hear Dudley snore loudly next door, and aunt Petunia tossing and turning in her bed. She hadn't slept well for days, now, and judging from her face at breakfast, she often didn't sleep at all. Not that Harry cared. He was mildly curious, though, about her worries. After all, he would be gone forever in two days. She should be happy about it.

Harry glanced at the crumpled parchment in his right hand, than raised his eyes to the window again. All the houses were dark. The streetlights, on the other hand, were so bright Harry felt sick if he looked too long at them. He strongly suspected that the Order might have improved the Muggle bulbs with a Strengthening Charm.

He was finally leaving Privet Drive forever, but he felt strangely empty about it. He certainly wasn't feeling the wild joy he had anticipated so many times. In fact, he was even wondering what would have happened if Hogwarts' letters had never been delivered; if Hagrid had never come after him. He would surely be working by now, he thought. The Dursleys would never have paid for higher education. Maybe he would have been a policeman. Or a salesman of sorts. Or a gardener. He liked Professor Sprouts' classes well enough. He would have sold some flowers to a pretty girl – Ginny's face appeared on the surface of his thoughts, and he squashed it down. Thinking about her was way too painful.

Stop it, Harry thought furiously. I am here now. I know what I must do.

He spread out the paper in his hand and re-read it at the light of the streetlamps.

Fleur Delacour and Bill Weasley

Are happy to invite you to their wedding, which will take place at the Burrow on August 3rd

– was written in an ornate writing. Two white doves were circling the names, a small red heart glowering between them. Behind the parchment was a scribbled note from Ron, informing him that the Order would most likely pick him up on the night of July 31st – they couldn't afford to let him in his relatives' house unprotected.

It was midnight. This meant a last whole day with the Dursley.

One of the doves on the wedding invitation hooted softly, making Harry start.

Feeling that he'd brooded long enough – as Hagrid had said, the future would come whatever one did about it – Harry lied down on the bed, fully clothed, and put his glasses on the floor, over the battered cover of Quidditch through the Ages.