Disclaimer- I do not own Harry Potter or anything related.
I am very, VERY disappointed in you, my reviewers. One of you – just ONE – got the answer right before she CHANGED it! Nobody got it right! No virtual cookies for anyone. All mine. Nyah.
Also, I am punishing you by giving you a short chapter. (Shorter than the other ones of this fic… It's still longer than the chapters of other fics out there…) Anyways, the next chapter will be longer and blah blah… Go read it. (eats cookies)
Chapter 21 – It Was You… Obviously
Severus frowned, narrowing his eyes. Without saying anything, he grabbed Hermione's arm and led her past Ginny and to the fireplace. After he threw in a pinch of the dust, they stepped in, disappearing into the flames.
"Sit," Severus ordered. He pushed Hermione into her armchair by the fire before taking the one across from her. "Tell me everything."
Hermione was staring thoughtfully into the empty fireplace, but there was something odd about her expression. "I can't believe you were right all this time. Fate is bullocks. Decisions are all that matters." She sighed a little, looking happy and sad all at once. "Our match wasn't made in heaven. It wasn't that the Gods decided to do it or the world came together to do this… It was one person."
"Who?" Severus demanded.
"I need a Pensieve." Hermione's tone was strangely monotonous and firm. Severus stared at her for a second before getting up to retrieve the one in his closet. He carried it back and set it down between them. Hermione leant over it and stared into its contents, mentally shifting through them until they came to the hospital memory where Charlotte first got her memory back. "Come with me," Hermione said and entered it.
Severus didn't need to be asked twice. As soon as Hermione was gone, he followed her.
"I remember everything." Severus heard Charlotte's voice before he saw her. When his vision cleared, he saw the memories of himself, Dumbledore and Hermione gathered around Charlotte's bed and his daughter lying in it. The real Hermione was standing in front of the fireplace, staring at the group.
Severus silently went to stand next to her. "Is something about to happen?" he asked, wryly.
"I should have realized that something was off when Charlotte first got her memory back," Hermione murmured.
All of a sudden, the memory around them began to blur and change. Hermione looked to Severus in surprise. "I started reading her mind when she started remembering," Severus smirked. "It'll give us a better picture."
Severus and Hermione watched as Elizabeth woke Charlotte up and gave her the letter from her father. Charlotte began reading from it and Hermione leaned forward.
"Apparently… He just finished a large order of Evanesce potions for the ministry. He's done it, even made some extra, but exhausted himself doing it, so my mother's insisting they spend the rest of the week at my grandparents' cottage. So that he can relax." Charlotte looked up. "You think my mother's just trying to relieve the daily threat of disownment so that I can study in peace?"
Elizabeth smirked. "Speaking of Evanesce… You've got to look over Jason's Evanesce potion before he submits it."
As Charlotte and Elizabeth continued talking, Hermione turned to Severus. "Why would the ministry order Evanesce? They could just use disillusion when they wanted. Even if they needed Evanesce, it's a fifth year potion – anybody could have done it. Why approach you? And why would you make extra?"
Severus scowled at the letter Charlotte was holding. "Why would making Evanesce exhaust me?" he added. Suddenly, he strode behind Charlotte and looked over her shoulder. "Damn, I thought I'd written this letter so my own assumption would have thrown it off." He looked to Hermione. "Did I write this letter?"
Hermione didn't answer. She only frowned at the letter her daughter was holding, and ignored Severus' frustrated sigh as he moved back to her.
They continued to watch as Elizabeth, Rosa and Charlotte ran through the halls, only to be stopped by McGonagall. Charlotte tripped over the stone in the floor and Hermione slapped her forehead. "We keep tripping over that thing," she muttered. "Charlotte broke her own watch this time. In her future, she'll break Jason's as well in the exact same way. It almost got me this morning, too."
Severus silently thanked his espionage work for teaching him how to hold his laughter in.
Hermione was staring after her daughter and two friends. "And then you have Jason," she said. "He told me – he told Charlotte, as well – that when he'd finished his potion the night before, everything was fine with it." She smiled, wryly. "Neither of us really believed him."
"For shame," Severus smirked. He thought for a second. "If that letter hadn't been from me, whoever wrote it also broke into the castle to sabotage Jason. That's the assumption we're going on?"
Hermione smiled, thinly. "It's possible, isn't it?" She thought for a second as the scenery changed around them. "There's so much more. The car, for instance. How convenient is it that it just showed up at a spot her friends are regularly at? That they found it just when Charlotte needed it?"
"Deus ex Machina of life," Severus stated. "Miracles happen." When Hermione said nothing, he smirked wryly. "That's your reasoning? Someone wrote a fake letter in order to inform Charlotte that there was Evanesce in our empty house, then set up the situation so that she would need Evanesce and gave her a means to get across England to retrieve it?"
Hermione blinked off into the distance and then gave him an utterly intelligent shrug. "Possible, isn't it?" she smiled, wryly.
Severus rounded on her, starting to get a tad annoyed. "Honestly, Hermione, are you listening to yourself? Even I'm starting to think that it was fate." He stopped short at what he'd just blurted and then gestured around them before raising an eyebrow. "This wouldn't be a rhetorical, sarcastic way to present your arguments, would it? Are we in the middle of a debate – fate vs. human control?"
Hermione suddenly gave him an irritated look. "Grow up," she told him. Before he could answer, she turned away as the scenery once again started shifting.
"Grow up? Grow up? Did you just tell me to - ?"
"I told you to gain a bit of maturity. I didn't tell you to grow old enough to lose your hearing." Hermione smirked as she made her way to the car where Charlotte and Tom were sitting in the front seats. Practically feeling Severus' irritation at that, she almost laughed as she climbed into the back, sitting behind Charlotte.
Severus stood outside the car and glared at her for a second before getting in to sit beside her. He faced forward and turned his steely eyes to the back of Tom's head. "So that's Elder's spawn?"
"Now, now," Hermione said, casually. "Look, his tie is green."
"I think my grandfather pushes this to make it go…" Charlotte was muttering in the front seat.
Severus took some satisfaction in Tom's sharp inhale as the car shot up off the ground. "It's a pity you can't hurt a memory."
It took a second for that statement to settle on Hermione. She slowly turned toward Severus, trying not to look as gleeful as she felt. "What's wrong?" she asked, innocently. "Why do you hate him so much?" She craned her neck to take a better look at the boy. "Prefect, too."
Severus only scowled, but said nothing.
And then, Tom signed his own death warrant. "After exams are over, you want to go somewhere?" he asked the brunette beside him.
Severus' scowl blackened. He raised his eyes to the ever expanding sky above them and leaned back against the seat. "This is a torture no parent should ever have to endure," he muttered. "Watching my daughter flirt and get asked out…"
Hermione laughed, softly. "Now, now. There are worse things in the world." She winced, remembering the horror Charlotte must have endured the night before. "Like getting stuck underneath the bed while your parents are snogging on it."
Severus sat up and gave Hermione a disgusted look. "That's horrible. Why would you think of something like that?" he asked, sounding honestly offended.
Hermione turned away to face the front. The wind had lifted a few strands of Charlotte's hair and was blowing it straight behind her. Hermione could have easily reached them. She smiled. "When do you think you started teaching her how to occlude?"
Severus shrugged. "Who knows? Who cares?" he asked.
"Why would you?" Hermione prodded.
Severus gave her an exasperated look. "Why not?" he asked. "It's a useful skill. It's power. It kept her safe when she was at the Riddle House, didn't it? Or else, the Dark Lord would have found out about us."
Hermione frowned and then turned to Severus and gave him a significant look. "How fortunate."
Severus understood immediately. He pinched the bridge of his nose. "It's already happened – their little tea party. I know it has happened, so, in the future, I prepared her – will prepare her – so that she would be ready when she gets captured." He was suddenly angry at himself for not thinking of it earlier.
"Nothing ever happens without a reason," Hermione agreed. She sighed, and then, quite bravely, leaned over against his shoulder. "Nothing's ever what it seems." She closed her eyes.
Severus looked down at the young woman beside him and suddenly had an urge to stroke her hair. His fingers tingled, but he stayed put. Instead, he swallowed. "I'm sorry I worried you with the fake meeting," he said.
"Don't bother apologizing," Hermione murmured. Her eyes were still closed and she looked as peaceful as ever as she added, "I will make you pay dearly for it."
Severus suddenly chuckled. "I'm terrified."
"Now… How do you land this?"
Hermione's eyes snapped open, and she and Severus straightened. They sat still as Charlotte lowered the car into the backyard of their house.
"Wow…" Hermione breathed, staring at the back of the house. It all looked very neat, comfortable and homey. "If I venture to say that we've done pretty well…"
Severus was staring around at the house, and its surrounding areas. "Why does it feel like I've been here before?" he mused.
"Aw, you feel at home," Hermione couldn't help remarking. Before he could respond, she called, "Come!" Charlotte and Tom were already moving around to the side of the house.
Tom stopped at the side of the house to stand guard, and Severus and Hermione followed Charlotte to the front door. Their daughter quickly entered the house and they hurried to keep up with her. Once inside, they focused on the girl alone – if the circumstances had been different, Hermione would have stopped to study the décor.
Severus stood right behind Charlotte as she started murmuring the words to open the door. He scowled. "Open – just a bunch of Latin words that could mean open?" he frowned. "This is not the way I do things," he told Hermione. "Whoever wrote that letter and broke into the castle also broke into our home and changed my password!"
Hermione watched Charlotte disappear into the labs and followed her. "So we're starting to narrow it down, eh, Severus? Who do you think has the power to break into Hogwarts and our home? And mess with your passwords?"
Severus scowled, his heart starting to race. "I can think of two wizards. The war is over, so one of them is dead." He followed Hermione and Charlotte into the basement. "Dumbledore!" Of course! That old coot! All the pieces fit! This was just the kind of meddling, twinkling…
"Severus! Anytime today?!"
Severus suddenly realized he'd stopped on the staircase to utilize every fiber of his being in his internal rant against his boss. Scowling, he made his way down the stairs to where Hermione was waiting.
"Look…" the Gryffindor said. She gestured toward the table Charlotte was at. The Evanesce seemed to glow with its own light. "There's nothing else on that table."
Severus saw where she was going. "Dumbledore might as well have put up signs pointing to it, along with flashing lights. How obvious can he get?" he snarled.
"A Slytherin would have been more subtle, eh?" Hermione asked, dryly.
Severus only smirked. Then, his gaze caught the wardrobe. "It's doors are already open, just waiting for her to step in." He suddenly scowled, feeling quite cross with himself. "This is an obvious set-up. Why had we not realized it before?!"
"You're starting to drive me insane…" a feminine voice came from upstairs.
Severus and Hermione whipped around to face the top of the staircase. "That's me," Hermione said.
"You're obvious, too," Severus suddenly snapped at her.
Hermione turned to glare at him. "It's obvious to point out that I'm obvious!"
"I would have thought I'd started driving you insane years ago…" Severus' voice came.
In the lab, Charlotte started fumbling with the Evanesce. Severus and Hermione watched as horror washed over Charlotte's face when she didn't turn invisible like she'd expected. Having no other choice, Charlotte stumbled toward the wardrobe. Hermione cocked a head. "You know something that's never occurred to me?" she asked.
"The secrets of the universe?"
Hermione ignored him and continued. "Charlotte would rather face her claustrophobia here than face you."
Severus actually found this highly amusing. "Dumbledore was actually quite clever in this," he remarked. A thought struck him and he frowned. "But I would never have agreed to any of this. How did he ensure that I would come back to scare Charlotte into the wardrobe?"
The scene around them dissolved and a sudden gust of wind whipped around them. A second later, they were standing over the Pensieve in Severus' room.
Hermione looked at Severus with a worried expression. "About that…" she murmured.
Severus furrowed his eyebrows, trying to figure out what was on Hermione's mind. She suddenly seemed very nervous.
"Sit," Hermione said. She herself sunk onto the couch across him. For half a second, she rubbed at her temple before she spoke. "Okay… Remember a few hours ago, when you told me – how did I know you hadn't made it easy for me to break into your stores in my second year?" She fidgeted. "Did you mean that?"
Severus gave her a disbelieving look. "You really need to sort your priorities!" he snapped.
Hermione looked up at him and gave him an even look. "Could Dumbledore break into your labs if he wanted to?" she asked.
Severus raised an eyebrow. Then, he smirked wryly. "No, probably not."
"Then how did he change your passwords at the house?"
Severus thought about this, but could come up with no witty response. His heart was starting to beat faster in his chest and there was tingling under his skull.
Hermione stared at Severus, watching him carefully. "No one could break into your labs. No one. Not unless you let them." She sighed. "Fate is nothing. Everything is under your control. Isn't it, Severus?"
Severus' heart stopped. He was suddenly hot and cold at once.
"Who has the power to break go to Hogwarts, set up Jason's Evanesce and capture that car? Who knows Charlotte well enough to know what she'd do in these situations? Who planned our lives and always kept control of them?" Hermione met his eyes. "It was you, Severus. It was you all along."
Severus' reaction in the next chapter…