Hermione spent the afternoon in earnest searching. She had searched the Hogwarts library from top to bottom and had come up empty handed. She then contacted Kingsley Shackelbolt to ask permission to search the ministry's restricted library. She sighed and ran a hand through her hair and rubbed the bridge of her nose. There was a soft knock on the door then it squeaked open.
"Any luck?" asked Kingsley.
"No. None. I can't find anything that would be helpful." She stood and replaced the book she had been perusing. "I know there's a cure," she mused aloud.
"How can you be so sure?"
"Lestrange said that The Dark Lord had used the curse on him." She put her hands on her lower back and stretched her aching muscles.
"Any word on him?" she asked.
"Unfortunately we haven't had any real leads."
Hermione shook her head, "This can't be happening again! I thought I was through with living in fear. I know that Lestrange is no Voldemort, but he's going to be after Snape, and he's no fuzzy kitten. I have to keep Snape safe, and I have to find the counter curse." She sighed wearily and said to no one, "Maybe I could invent my own counter curse for it."
"Hermione, you're talking nonsense. The only way to undo the curse that has been placed on Snape is to repeat the exact words the creator invented. You, of all people, should know that."
Hermione became incensed in desperation. "Tell me, then! What am I supposed to do?! I have a Death Eater after my client and I, who happens to be the only other known person to have had this curse placed on him! A curse that, by all normal standards, should have been lifted when Voldemort was defeated!" She sighed and plopped back onto her chair, feeling wearier than she had felt in a very long time. "There has to be a way," she finished softly.
"May I ask you something?" Kingsley asked tentatively.
Hermione didn't answer, but looked at Kingsley expectantly.
"Why do you care so much about what happens to him? I was always under the impression that you didn't like Severus."
She considered his question before answering. "Harry didn't like him. I've never really had a quarrel with him. Even if I had, though, I would still want to help him. His life is worth as much as anyone's, and I will not stand by and watch it go to waste! Even Harry would want to do whatever he could to help Snape, no matter the quarrel."
Kingsly smiled sadly. "That's what makes you such a great counselor." He shook his head and studied the floor in front of him. "I admire your dedication, Hermione. I wish some of the ministry employees were half as determined as you. I wish you luck, and if there is anything I can help you with, please, all you have to do is ask."
"Thank you, Minister." She stood to shake his hand.
She watched him leave the room and she turned to continue her search. Her eyes fell on a book that she had somehow overlooked before. Everlasting Magic: What You Need To Know. She pulled it from the shelf and sat down. She ran her finger down the index until she found the chapter on curses.
Of all curses, the most dangerous and difficult to achieve is that of everlasting curses (ie: curses that continue to hold their power even after the castor has fallen).
The easiest and safest way to lift an everlasting curse is to, naturally, repeat the counter curse. On the other hand, if the castor has fallen and one wishes to lift the curse when the counter curse is unknown, take heed. It is a very sticky business and in most cases witches and wizards will cause more harm than good.
Hermione's mind soared. This was it! There was a long list of recipes for poultices and potions. Granted, every one of them was more complicated than anything she had ever made. But with Snape's help, it would be simple. She was sure of that.
She placed a disillusionment charm over herself and the book and set out. She didn't want anyone else to know where she was. Lestrange knew that Snape was with her and she wasn't sure who all she could trust. So far, only Minerva and Kingsley knew. She trusted them implicitly.
She stopped back at Kingsley's office to say goodbye before going back to Hogwarts. There was one more favor she needed to ask of McGonagall.
Forty-five minutes later, Hermione stood in a dark, abandoned corner of Diagon Alley, a phial of thick, mud-like potion in her hand. With her other, she dropped a few gray hairs into it. It bubbled and frothed and turned to a bright emerald green.
She quickly swallowed the contents of the phial and shuddered as her insides began to writhe. She grew several inches and watched as age spots and wrinkles appeared on her hands. Within moments the transformation was complete and anyone she came across would see no one but the Headmistress of Hogwarts.
She looked around to make sure she was still alone before pulling on the robes that McGonagall had loaned her. She pulled the list of ingredients out of her handbag and set off for the apothecary.
Hermione spun on her heels. She would know that voice anywhere. Her heart stuttered and sank to the pit of her stomach. She had thought her feelings for him had diminished to nothing but friendship. She swallowed a lump that had formed in her throat at the sight of him.
"Mr. Weasley. This is a surprise."
"What are you doing in Diagon Alley?" he asked. His arm was wrapped tightly around the girl that Hermione had seen him with on occasion.
"I believe that is not really any of your concern." Oh how she wanted to throw herself into his arms. He may be a bumbling fool, but he had been her bumbling fool for seven years. She missed being held and cuddled. She missed having someone to talk to outside of work. She missed feeling loved and wanted.
"Right, well anyways. . . Have you met my fiancé?"
The lump in her throat grew to an impossible-to-swallow size. She didn't trust herself to speak, so she merely shook her head.
Ron beamed and looked lovingly at the girl by his side. "This is Jessica. She attended the Academy of Magic, in Italy. She moved to London a year ago and I met her when she came into Weasley's Wizard Wheezes, while I was working. That was about three and a half months ago."
"That's fast," Hermione said. Her voice cracked. She hoped that Ron didn't notice.
"Well, I've never been so in love. When you know it's right, you don't want to waste time." He brightened again and said, "Oh, and George and Angelina are expecting."
Hermione forced a smile onto her face. She knew about George and Angelina. Harry had told her. "Well, it's good news for the Weasley family all around then. Congratulations," she said feebly. "Good day, Mr Weasley." She turned and put her knuckle to her mouth, biting it in an attempt to stem the tears that were threatening. She felt sick. I have never been so in love. She had thought that he loved her. What was it they shared, if not love? He had met Jessica before they had ended it between them. Had it been romantic from the very first? Or had Ron been faithful to the end? She desperately hoped it to be the latter.
She thought she had no more tears left for him. Yes, the split had been a mutual decision, but that didn't make it easy, and it didn't stop it from hurting. And the wound in her heart that had begun to heal nicely had just been cut open anew at the word fiancé.
She darted around a corner and sank to the ground, burying her head in her lap. The tears spilled over and her shoulders began to tremble. She allowed herself a few moments of heartache before sitting up straight and wiping her eyes. She took a deep calming breath and stood up. She had a lot to do and she had just wasted twenty precious minutes by talking to Ron and then losing control. She would need to hurry if she wanted to complete her shopping before she returned to her own appearance.
She looked at the list. She would need to go to Knockturn Alley to purchase some of the ingredients. She decided she had better go there first. If she was going to be caught in mid-transformation back into herself, she definitely didn't want to do it in Knockturn Alley.
She turned onto the corner leading to the alley devoted to the dark arts, and shivered slightly. She had only been down there three other times in her life and she always had the sneaking suspicion that her every move was being watched. She took a deep breath and forced one foot in front of the other.
She turned another corner and pushed the door to Potions and Poisons open. A bell tinkled and the smell of rotting flesh filled her nostrils. She gagged and put a finger under her nose. She gave the list of dark ingredients to the decrepit old man behind the counter and waited while he gathered her supplies.
"Tricky, tricky, tricky. You must be up to something sticky with ingredients such as these. Acid worms, poisonous frog liver and sea snake venom."
Hermione placed the galleons on the counter and took the box from the old man. "Thank you," she said stiffly.
She stepped out into the fresh air and inhaled deeply. Even the dank air in Knockturn Alley was pleasantly clean smelling compared to the cramped confines of the little shop. She made her way hurriedly back to Diagon Alley.
She glanced at her watch and entered the apothecary. She only had fifteen minutes left before she returned to normal. The witch behind the counter was chatting animatedly with another customer. Hermione tapped her foot impatiently, glancing at her watch every few seconds. By the time the chatty customer had left, Hermione only had five minutes left.
"May I help you?" asked the friendly witch behind the counter.
"Yes," Hermione said tersely. She shoved the list into the witch's hand and stepped back.
The friendly demeanor of the witch disappeared at Hermione's cold behavior. She quickly gathered the ingredients and placed them in a box. Hermione paid for them and took the box from the witch's grip.
Hermione could feel herself shrinking. She hurried through the door and spun to Disapparate. She landed moments later on her front porch. She opened the door enough to let herself in.
"Professor?" she called excitedly. "I have some things that may help! But I'll need your help, it could go terribly wrong if it's done incorrectly."
"Miss Granger, I've never known you to do anything incorrectly. But I'll help however I can."
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