A/N: This chapter turned out to be monster. I am cutting it up into parts.
Again, thanks for the reviews. This chapter is dedicated to rosehiptea.
Chapter 4: Part I
"Miss Granger? Ah, good, you're alone." Dumbledore's head appeared above the fire in Hermione's bedroom at Sirius's house at Number 12, Grimmauld Place. "Can you come down please." With that, Dumbledore cut off communication, and left Hermione no chance to refuse his order.
Hermione sighed. She had planned on enjoying a peaceful night reading a thesis written by one of the forerunners in Charms. She felt she deserved it, after she and Ron slogged through Sirius's house and decontaminated it as much as they could. But she also knew that Dumbledore would not order her about unless the matter was pressing and she was not one to shirk from her duties.
Walking out into the hallway and down the stairs, Hermione saw Dumbledore waiting for her at the bottom, his violet jacket a sharp, disorienting contrast to the greyness of Sirius's house. Dumbledore was smiling, but the smile was weary, and Hermione threw him a concerned look, which was lost on him. Dumbledore led her to a disused room near the kitchen, and Hermione saw McGonagall standing next to a man who was lying on a couch, seemingly unconscious.
"Are you sure this is wise, Albus?" McGonagall started, but Dumbledore waved her into silence.
"You know there is no place safer. Miss Granger," Dumbledore turned to face Hermione. Seeing Hermione's worried face, he smiled.
"Don't look so anxious my dear. I apologise if we have not explained matters."
Behind him, McGonagall rolled her eyes, "You haven't told her? Albus, you like your secrets too much. There is no danger, Miss Granger. We… Headmaster Dumbledore only wishes that you help watch this man for the night." A frown creased McGonagall's forehead as she looked at the stranger. She said to Dumbledore, "I still think…"
"Minerva, you have tired yourself the last two days helping him and bringing him to St. Mungo's. The members of the Order have their own tasks. Hogwarts is not safe for him. Too many eyes and ears. And Miss Granger is the soul of discretion. We entrusted her with a Time-Turner. We can entrust her with him."
The Order? St. Mungo's? Hermione's worry deepened, instead of disappearing. Dumbledore rarely came to Sirius's house. She recalled only two occasions. Capturing Dumbledore's attention meant the stranger was important. St. Mungo's probably meant that the stranger was ill or wounded.
"It is not Miss Granger that I don't trust," McGonagall snapped.
"I trust him," Dumbledore said simply. "Has he not proven himself all these years?"
"Yes… But…" McGonagall gave up, "Well, all right, I've never liked him."
"Prejudices are the bane of our cause, Minerva."
As the professors continued, Hermione examined the unconscious stranger. He was in his thirties, although with wizards, it was hard to tell. Black hair, black robes, black shoes… His black eye lashes made a stark contrast to his pale face, which was thin and, Hermione could not help thinking initially, all nose. There was something severe and tense about his person, as though he must always be on guard, even while unconscious. As she took in the mouth that was drawn tight and the deep frown line between his eyebrows, Hermione felt compassion grow.
After McGonagall was obviously defeated, Dumbledore explained to Hermione that the man was part of the Order too. When Hermione asked why she had neither seen nor heard of him before, Dumbledore replied calmly.
"When he arrives here to give his reports, he Apparates into the meeting room so that none but the Order will see him. He uses a Silencing Charm on himself so that even Messrs Fred and George Weasley's Extendable Ears cannot detect him." Dumbledore's eyes twinkled knowingly, "They have tremendous talent and creativity." Then, he dropped the bomb without warning, "This wizard before you was a Death-Eater."
Whether or not Dumbledore had prepared for hysterics, Hermione was pleased that she did not react.
"He's in the Order now?" she asked.
"Yes. We can't tell you his name. In these uncertain times, the fewer people who know him, the better. You're clever enough to find it out, but I urge you not to. He works as a spy for us in front of Voldemort and his followers. Any hint that he is not altogether loyal to Voldemort will put his life in danger."
"Then… he's still a Death Eater."
"Only in appearance, only because I ask him to spy for us," Dumbledore persuaded.
"Did he kill anyone before?" Hermione blurted out.
Dumbledore's bright, blue eyes pierced hers, and Hermione recognised the amount of trust and responsibility he was placing in her.
"Miss Granger, whatever he was and whatever he did, his repentance is sincere. He puts himself up to a great deal of risks for our sake. It will be my fault if anything untoward happens to him."
And if they could not trust Dumbledore, who else could they trust? If Dumbledore said that the man was with them, then he was with them. As if he could read her mind, Dumbledore smiled.
"We need you to keep a vigil over him for the night. He was badly injured during an expedition, and Professor McGonagall only had time to find him and bring him to St. Mungo's to get the necessary treatment without alerting anyone."
McGonagall contributed, "He's an accomplished Potions Master, and made his own antidote before losing consciousness. Didn't trust the ones in St. Mungo's. He will wake up later at night but he will be weak. You'll feed him two drops of antidote every two hours, starting," she looked at the clock in the room, "from the next hour."
Understanding her task, Hermione tried to be calm. Looking at her charge, she remarked lightly that he was quite surly-looking.
"Oh yes. He's always surly, even when he was a boy." He gave Hermione a sideway glance, "He used to study in Hogwarts, so there's something else we all have in common."
After Dumbledore and McGonagall left, Hermione sat down on a rickety chair beside the couch and cupped the vial of antidote in her hands protectively.
It was going to be a long night, Hermione thought despondently. Turning her attention to the vial, she observed the clear green antidote swirling in it. There was a familiarity about the…
"Green for rebirth, a fitting colour in my condition."
Hermione looked up, startled, and was surprised to see that the stranger had shifted his position without her noticing. He was now half lying, half sitting on the couch, facing her.
A spy who moves in stealth.
He was observing her. Although he was weak and breathing heavily, he cut a striking figure. His first words were self-deprecating, but his demeanour, his tone all exuded arrogance and superiority. His eyes, not surprisingly, were black.
Green for rebirth perhaps, but also the colour of an Unforgivable and Mosmordre and…
"It's also the colour for Slytherin," Hermione pointed out instinctively.
He raised an eyebrow. His voice, she noted, was deep, silky and not unpleasant. "Hm, you are a Gryffindor, I take it?"
She nodded. She had not meant to make Slytherin sound like an accusation and felt apologetic. After all, not all Slytherins were…
"I am surrounded by dunderheads."
Hermione's guilt dissipated. She should be used to Slytherins' taunts by now. But those were students. To hear them from an adult was highly offensive.
The man, whom Hermione decided to mentally call S (for Slytherin and spy and silk and sarcasm, looked around him and his eyes rested on a faded tapestry. "So McGonagall has brought me to the Headquarters."
Hermione suppressed her anger. "Headmaster Dumbledore was here too."
"Indeed," Hermione noted the hint of surprise in his voice, before he continued sardonically, "Perhaps to see that his valuable asset is kept from unwanted eyes. How much did they tell you, Miss…?"
"Granger, Hermione Jean Granger. Erm, that you are a spy for the Order, and that you were a Death Eater."
"And remain one still. You are not frightened?"
"No," Hermione said firmly.
"That is your Gryffindor pride speaking no doubt. Yet you do not seem suitably outraged or morally superior to me either."
"Headmaster Dumbledore's a Gryffindor and he trusts you."
"Dumbledore is different," S snapped, "Sometimes, I think he puts us Slytherins to shame with his connivance."
Hermione frowned. Trustworthy or not, S was not a likeable person.
"You were studying my potion." S turned the topic back to the beginning.
"Well," she said, deciding to be civil, "There wasn't much else to do."
S smirked, "True." Staring at her, as though exploring her mind, he said, "For strength, for poisons, for peace."
Hermione blinked, and looked at the potion again. "Salamander, bezoar and moonstone," she answered confidently.
S nodded, "Those are the basics. Add the salamander, stir anti-clockwise twice. Next, add the bezoar, and stir clockwise twice."
"No, you have to stir it four times," Hermione interjected, "Otherwise the bezoar will not dissolve properly, and the potion will coagulate."
"Ah, a bookworm. Pity."
Hermione frowned again. The man had a way of rubbing her in all the wrong ways.
"You should learn to think more creatively. Stirring it four times will cause the bezoar to dissolve properly, but it does lessen its strength. So you add pomegranate juice afterwards to enhance the rate of dissolution."
He continued listing the ingredients, their properties and the process of making the potion, and Hermione's grudging acknowledgment of his intelligence gave way to complete admiration when he discussed about rare potions with her and the improvements he made to them.
It seemed she had impressed him as well, despite his initial disparaging remarks of her. S inquired about her studies in Hogwarts, and remarked that she had studied even more widely and diversely than he had when he was the same age as she. They moved to topics like Charms and Defence Against the Dark Arts. S was overly obsessed over the latter. It was dangerous, Hermione knew and she disapproved it, but she kept listening, fascinated by his wide knowledge and experience.
When the clock struck, Hermione was taken aback to see how rapidly time had passed. She quickly cast an Accio spell to get a spoon from the kitchen and pulled the stopper out of the vial. Under S's watchful eye, Hermione carefully added two drops of potion onto the spoon. When she brought the spoon to S, he grimaced and murmured that he had to depend on someone else whilst his hands were unsteady.
"Everyone needs help sometimes," Hermione said.
"I don't," S said haughtily, and Hermione ignored his childishness.
"I've Murtlap Essence for your wounds too, if you like."
"No, I don't need it."
She was surprised to be able to read his mood quite well. It was darkening at the reminders of his haplessness when he was fed the potion.
"What else did you add or do to come up with this green colour for the potion?" Hermione tried to strike up another conversation, "I should have thought the potion would come up orange, based on what you said."
S grunted and settled back against the couch, looking tired, "Yes, it took me quite a while to come up with the formula… Do you like it?"
"It's a beautiful shade." Hermione said.
A long pause, before a shadow of a smile flitted across S's face. He closed his eyes. Soon, he was asleep. This time, he appeared more relaxed.
But it's not Slytherin green, Hermione thought to herself. In fact it was not any green she could think of.
But it was so familiar.
End of Part I