A/N: I'm so terribly sorry that it took me AGES to complete this. I'm sure I sent it to Maleday at least 4 different times. I just couldn't figure out how to work everything together... it's been exceedingly difficult. But I've cobbled this together pretty well, and have decided that it's the best it's going to get. So don't be too harsh, okay? It's still pretty awesome; just sayin'.
A Meeting with the Order
"Albus, has there been an update on the Grangers? What are we dealing with?" Tonks asked as soon as the older wizard stepped from the fire. She stood closest to him, pulling her cloak from her shoulders. Her fuchsia-tipped hair was artfully messy around her head, which made the Headmaster chuckle.
"Where is Hermione?" Remus questioned. He was already seated at the long table. He looked a little gruff, no doubt still recovering from the full moon earlier that week. Albus could see the rings around his eyes from where he stood.
"What 'appened?" Fleur's voice was airy, but worried. She was seated facing away from Albus, but had turned in her seat to see him as she spoke.
"Did we catch the Death Eaters responsible?" Bill demanded, having just entered himself. He had Apparated into the corner of the room, and was now claiming the seat beside Fleur.
"We'll get to those questions as soon as everyone arrives and is seated," Albus answered. He was still brushing the soot off when the Order members bombarded him. There was no sense in answering the same questions more than once, and he was sure everyone wanted to know the same information. While he understood that waiting for the truth was difficult, it would really only be a few more minutes.
Only Molly Weasley disregarded his decree. "Albus, shouldn't she be here by now?" she asked, causing every eye to turn to her.
"I'm sure she is on her way, and will be here shortly, Molly. Severus has her; she is safe," he answered.
Molly opened her mouth to say more, but her husband squeezed her hand and she remained quiet. She crossed her arms and waited, frowning anxiously. She didn't agree with Hermione staying with Severus. He had never been her favorite, and Molly always thought that the safest place for a child was under a mother's wing. Severus was male, had no children, and probably didn't even know how to take care of a flobberworm, let alone a young, grieving woman like Hermione Granger.
A moment later green flames shot out of the fireplace, announcing another arrival. Severus and Hermione stepped out gracefully, brushing the soot off of themselves. Severus had missed a spot on his left shoulder, and Hermione reached up to brush it off for him. He gave her a pleased smile that surprised Molly; she'd never seen Severus Snape smile at anyone. Severus returned the favor and dusted Hermione's back, then used his thumb to wipe off a smear on her cheek. Upon noticing that the Order was watching, a scowl and arched eyebrow replaced the smile, and he led Hermione to two empty chairs near Dumbledore.
Hermione passed Molly as she moved towards her seat, and the matriarch stood and pulled her close. Hermione allowed her head to rest on Molly's breast for a moment, but pulled away more quickly than she would have normally. She just couldn't take the empathy. She was trying to stay strong, to not cry and to not feel overwhelmed by all the emotions coursing through her, and Molly's warm hug would be her undoing if she let it go on too long. It would be so easy to let go and sob into the motherly woman's embrace, but there was business to attend to and Hermione needed to stay collected for it. She offered the woman an apologetic smile before ducking her head and claiming the chair Severus held out for her. She tried to ignore the quiet questions various members aimed at her.
"Now, I'm sure you're all eager to start," Dumbledore said, eyes twinkling at Hermione. This effectively stopped the Order members from interrogating Hermione and Severus. "As you are all aware, there was an attack on the Grangers. Arthur, you led a team to their home, what did you find?"
Arthur Weasley folded his hands and answered, "We immediately found the Dark Mark over the cottage. Inside, we found Rachael and Joseph in the den, and they were both without a pulse. Rachael was hit with Avada Kedavra, but Joseph..." He paused, looking at Hermione as if asking if he should continue. Though teary-eyed, she nodded. "An investigation proved he had been put under the Cruciatus several times before a spell cut open his torso and he bled to death. The rooms had all been searched, leaving the cottage in overall disarray."
Hermione avoided thinking about her father's body and instead knitted her eyebrows together as she pulled the memory up for examination. "I watched them—the Death Eaters—come out, and they were… arguing," she said. She pressed her hands to her temples, forcing herself to remember. She turned to Severus, "But they knew they couldn't remain any longer, and the taller one shot the mark out just before they Disapparated." Hermione looked up and met the pitying expressions of the people around her. They all seemed to be thinking the same thing: had she been in the house, she would have been taken, or worse.
"They were there for me," she whispered, shaking. "The Death Eaters wanted me, and they killed my parents when they couldn't find me." Severus wrapped his arm around her and pulled her to his side, comforting her in the only way he knew that worked. The other members remained solemn and quiet, unsure what to say to the grieving young woman. "Why didn't I protect them better?" she whimpered.
"We should have protected them better," Albus said, his expression heavy as he looked at Hermione. "We knew that you were a target, but we thought the protection charms we placed would hold. This is not your fault, Hermione."
"We should have kept her here," Molly said. Everyone turned to her, expecting her explanation. "We offered to keep her safe here. We could have relocated her parents and oblivated them until a safer time; they could have lived."
The room stayed quiet for a moment. "This was an option? Why wasn't I made aware of the danger my family was in?" Hermione asked, first looking at Severus before turning to Albus.
"We didn't think they were so determined to have you," Dumbledore said. "We were naive."
"What made them go after her, Albus?" Remus asked. "Harry's always been the main target."
At that moment, Harry and Ron burst into the room, knocking the wooden door down. "You sealed us out!" Ron shouted at his mother. "You knew we wanted to see Hermione and be involved in this meeting. This is important to us!"
"Boys! This is Order business." Molly shouted back, using her magic to push the boys back out.
"Mrs. Weasley, this includes us too! You can't just shut us out," Harry said, reaching for his wand. "Besides, I'm of age now!"
"You can't be members until you've graduated!" Molly replied, still forcing them out with her magic.
"I told Harry he was welcome to the meeting," Sirius said, standing to support his godson against Mrs. Weasley.
"Molly, let them be. They deserve to be here," Severus supported. He met the matriarch's quick glance with an even stare.
"Severus is right, Molly. Let them join." With Dumbledore's words, Molly acquiesced, falling heavily back into her chair. Harry and Ron fell back once her magic loosened, but righted themselves quickly before grabbing chairs and sitting at the end of the table.
Harry met Hermione's hollow gaze and sent her a questioning look that she merely half-smiled at. If he'd been closer, Harry would have reached for her hand. As it was, he was at the opposite end of the table and couldn't do more than send her a reassuring look.
"We have to decide how to respond to this attack," Severus said. "Hermione is still at risk, and the Death Eaters will pursue her if they find out where she is. If the Dark Lord wants Hermione, he won't stop until he has her."
"Severus, you've been spying on the dark lord. Why didn't you warn us that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named wanted Hermione?" Sirius asked, almost sneering. It was no secret that he disliked the Potions Master.
"I didn't know," Severus said starkly. And it was true—he hadn't known that the Dark Lord had taken special interest in his goddaughter. "We haven't had a meeting in weeks, and he hasn't called me personally."
"Does this mean he no longer trusts you?" Remus asked, though his tone suggested that he wasn't suspicious, merely curious.
"I think it means that he's plotting," Severus replied, unoffended. "The Ministry knows about him now, and he's not as powerful as he would like to be. He's taking things slow—working his way into the Ministry and recruiting more followers before he makes his next move."
"What move is he working toward that involves Hermione? Or have there been other Muggle-Born deaths recently?" Harry asked, his eyebrows drawing close as he analyzed the puzzle.
"No more than usual," Kingsley Shacklebolt answered. As head Auror, he was usually informed of dark activity. "But the Dark Lord knows that she is important to you, and it cripples you if she is harmed. The Dark Lord needs to hurt you if he is to win. Perhaps that is why he sent his Death Eaters after her: he cannot touch you, and Ron is much more difficult than a witch with Muggle parents."
"Surely that's not the only reason he's after her," Alastor Moody said, looking between Kingsley and Severus. His mad eye was dancing around its socket, but no one paid it any attention.
"What else could it be?" Harry asked.
"The Dark Lord always has a reason to do what he does. Whether he is after Hermione because of her connection with Harry or something else, I cannot say," Albus said solemnly. He didn't think Voldemort knew about Soren—the only people to know wanted her protected, and would guard that secret with their lives. But Albus doubted that it was as simple as her relationship to Harry. Had he somehow learned that she was a daughter of a Death Eater? He didn't bring that up though, having decided with Severus that the best course of action was to figure out how to keep the young witch safe without revealing her true identity.
"So we need to keep Hermione somewhere safe," Harry said, looking at the witch protectively. She was quiet tonight, and that gave away the depth of her pain more than the haunted look in her eyes. Harry knew Hermione better than anyone—knew that her curiosity would never be hampered unless she was battling to keep her emotions in check. She put up a good front though; he was sure that most everyone else thought she was managing better than expected.
"She will stay with me," Severus answered, straightening his posture and daring anyone to disagree. "She is safest there—"
"Bollocks!" Molly shouted, slamming her hands on the table. "She should stay here with us."
"It is not your decision to make," Severus hissed, but Albus raised a hand to keep him from saying more.
"Severus is more than capable of protecting Hermione," Albus said. "I understand that you want to look after her, but—"
"We can protect her too, Albus!" Molly shot back. "Hermione needs to be with people who will comfort her and help her through her grief. She needs to be with her friends."
"Thank you, but I choose to stay with Severus," Hermione said evenly. Her soft voice cut off Molly's protests far easier that any word from the wizards beside her.
"Hermione, we can help," Ron said quickly. "Besides, that's Snape you know, and you couldn't possibly choose him. What would make you want to stay with the greasy bat—"
"If you finish that sentence, Ronald Weasley, I will hex you within an inch of your life," Hermione cut him off, standing abruptly with Severus' wand in her hand and pointed at the red-head. Her hand never faltered, but stayed poised and ready. "You have no idea what I want. Severus saved me from that house, healed me, and protected me. Do not make the mistake of insulting my godfather again."
Her whip-like response positively petrified Ron, and it wasn't until Severus guided her hand down and reclaimed his wand that the red-head could actually breathe again. Hermione was so focused on Ron that she didn't notice the looks the Order members were giving her: shock from the eldest Weasleys, wariness from Mundungus and Fleur, and a quiet awe and curiosity from Kingsley and the two Marauders.
"Godfather?" Harry questioned. He was one of the ones who didn't seem too bothered by the news, instead curious.
"Hermione's parents named me her guardian and godfather," Severus said simply, refusing to give out more information. He and Albus had agreed to keep as much information about Soren and her parents to themselves as they could, but it was damned difficult with Molly trying to coerce Hermione out of his keeping and the dunderheaded Weasley boy insulting him. Of course, Severus was proud of his goddaughter and her swift defense of him. She'd been willing to curse one of her best friends for his tactless comment, and he felt honored that she thought of him so highly so quickly. But he needed to calm her, so Severus guided the young witch back to his side.
Molly could no longer argue against Severus, so she sat back and tried to understand how Severus was suddenly Hermione's guardian. Ron was speechless when none of the other Order members spoke up for him, taking their silence as support for Hermione. After being humiliated in front of them all, he quickly got up and left the room. Harry watched his friend go, but didn't move to follow; Ron had been a prat and Hermione had punished him for it. While Harry didn't think too highly of the Potions Master, he wasn't going to be a fool and insult him when Hermione was so clearly attached to him.
"Do you think that Spinner's End will effectively hide Hermione?" Sirius asked, aiming his question at Severus. Of all the members, Severus knew Voldemort best.
"The Dark Lord has no reason to search my home, but if he were to send spies... The house is old and magical, with layers of wards," Severus replied. "They are very difficult to unravel. She will be sufficiently guarded." Severus was confident in his ability to protect Hermione, but not knowing about Voldemort's interest in his goddaughter was troubling—it meant that the Dark Lord was keeping it close and that Severus wasn't close enough.
"Perhaps we should take her out of the country, just in case? We can't keep her locked up in the manor until the start of term." The woman who spoke was a mixture of dark and light, with pale skin and silky midnight hair. Hermione hadn't even noticed her before she spoke. She could admit that she really hadn't been paying much attention to all the members at first, but she should have noticed someone she didn't know. The honey-headed witch looked up to her godfather, who was smiling at the beautiful woman. It was then that Hermione realized how similar the two looked, and she couldn't believe she hadn't seen the resemblance sooner.
"An excellent idea, Aislynn. It's still another three weeks before the new term begins." Albus said, eyes twinkling at the witch.
"But what happens when she goes to Hogwarts?" Alastor Moody asked. "There are spies that won't hesitate to report her presence to the Dark Lord. While that doesn't mean that he'll come after her in school, he may position Death Eaters in Hogsmeade."
Hermione wanted to tell them that they wouldn't find her because she'd be someone else, but she'd agreed with Severus that her identity needed to stay secret. The fewer people who knew, the safer she would be.
"We've had spies enter Hogwarts and take what they wanted—remember Barty Crouch? We should station Aurors at Hogwarts," Moody said, his good eye focused on Albus. "Constant vigilance!"
"Everyone knows that Dark Lord has returned. I'm sure parents will be relieved to hear that Hogwarts is taking extra measures to protect their children," Minerva McGonagall said. "At least this time it's Aurors instead of Dementors."
"Additional security sounds nice, but don't the Aurors have enough to worry about now?" Remus asked, ever the sensible one.
"There are plenty of things to worry about, yes," Kingsley agreed. "But we will protect Hogwarts. As Minerva says, knowledge of the Dark Lord has spread; Harry and other students are targets as well."
"I will stay at Hogwarts," Moody said. "I won't allow a repeat of Crouch."
"I volunteer too," Tonks said, smirking when Moody made to argue against her. "You can't deny my set of skills. I'll be able to blend in and move around without as much notice. I'll even choose normal hair colors."
"I do need a new Defense professor," Albus said, smiling Moody. "And we could set you up as a transfer student from Beauxbatons, Nymphadora."
Tonks winced at the use of her first name, then glared at Moody to be sure he didn't think he was allowed to call her that.
"I'll arrange for more peripheral security, Albus," Kingsley said. "We'll set up a rotation for Hogsmeade or something of the like. I'll touch base with you once I get it sorted."
"Thank you, Kingsley. Well then, is there anything else to discuss?" Albus asked, meeting the gaze of each member around the table. No one seemed to have anything relevant to offer, so Albus inclined his head. "Let us adjourn this meeting then."
Chairs scraped the hardwood floor as their occupants rose to leave. Severus leaned back to observe his goddaughter, who had calmed sufficiently, before rising. He offered his hand to the young witch, and then led Hermione over to Aislynn, who beamed at him.
"Severus!" Aislynn greeted, pulling the Potions Master into a tight hug. "Merlin, it's been ages!" She pulled back and directed her attention to the young woman next to Severus.
"Aislynn," Severus returned, grinning at the witch. "Allow me to introduce you to my goddaughter."
Aislynn's smile suggested she knew exactly who Hermione was, and Hermione found that she wasn't unsettled about that. But she was surprised when Aislynn pulled her into a quick hug and kissed her cheek.
"Oh, it's wonderful to finally meet you!" the dark-headed witch whispered heavily into her ear before pulling back and looking her over. "I'm so sorry about what happened…" she said, loud enough to be heard by others around them.
"Thank you," Hermione replied, before looking back to Severus.
"Aislynn is my younger sister," he said. "She's been off in Italy for months now."
"I've been busy in Italy for months now," Aislynn corrected, smirking at her brother. "I'll tell you more about it later," she said, her eyes rising to look over Hermione's shoulder.
Hermione turned to find Harry approaching, his eyes clouded. He didn't greet her, instead nodding at Severus and Aislynn before taking her hand and guiding her outside to the garden. Hermione followed, relieved that he was heading somewhere more private. There were so many things they needed to talk about, and she had no desire to do it in front of the Order. Harry was her best friend—almost a brother to her—and he was the one person she thought she could reveal her broken little world to.
He stopped just outside the garden gate and turned to look at her in the moonlight. "Hermione," he said, "you look almost soulless."
Hermione's laugh was almost a bark. "You'd be soulless, too," she said quietly, referring to more than just her parent's death. Of course, Harry didn't know that. She sat down in the grass, uncaring that it was dewy.
He sat too, turning to face her. "I know that emptiness. I know the mix of helplessness, rage, desire for revenge, sorrow… It's horrible." He took her hand and wove his fingers between hers. "But you get through it eventually, you take it, re-forge it, and make it into something stronger. You're going to get through this, Hermione."
Tears trickled down her cheeks, but Hermione smiled at her friend. He was right, she would. "It's hard, Harry, but it's more than just that." She ached to tell him about her secret. Harry he knew her better than anyone, and he was the one she trusted most to understand and see her through this.
"You can tell me, if you want," he said, understanding her implication but willing to let her choose to tell him, rather than demanding. She was quiet for a moment, deciding. "It has something to do with Professor Snape, doesn't it?"
"Yes," she answered simply, unsure of whether or not to continue. Harry let her think, content to rub her hand with his thumb and look up at the mosaic of stars.
"They were adopted parents," Hermione admitted after a length of time. Harry turned to her sharply, surprised by the news as well as her decision to voice it. "I didn't know until after."
"He's not your—" Harry cut himself off, unsure of how to convey his suspicion that Severus Snape was Hermione's father.
But Hermione cottoned on quickly. "Gods, no! He's my godfather, Harry."
They were quiet for a moment, Harry considering what she'd said, and Hermione breathing through the pain that welled up whenever she thought of how her parents weren't her parents. She wasn't sure if she could tell Harry who her real parents were.
"It still hurts though," Harry said, trying to comfort his friend. "It doesn't matter if they weren't blood."
"Yeah, but it complicates things. My actual parents… It's just so hard to accept them."
Harry wasn't a fool—he knew that having Severus Snape as a godfather was telling—Snape wasn't close to many people, and while Harry may not know exactly who Hermione's parents were, it wasn't a stretch to figure out who they might be.
"You are still the brightest witch of our age, Hermione." Harry pulled her hand up and rested it against his chest. He looked at her like he could see through her. "You're still my best friend."
Hermione smiled through her tears, dropping his hand so she could crush him in a hug. "Thank you," she said, just loud enough for him to hear her. "You don't know how much it means to hear you say that."
Harry wrapped his arms around his friend and let her cry into his shirt. "I'll always be here for you, Hermione. No matter what. Just like you've always been there for me." The two stayed like that for some time, until Hermione pulled away and swiped the last tears from her eyes.
"I should probably go," she said apologetically, standing. Harry pushed himself up too, realizing they'd been outside for much longer than it had seemed. "I'm sure everyone's already left."
"Probably," Harry agreed. He brushed some grass off himself before they headed inside. "But that's okay. You know where to floo."
Hermione grinned, "If he hasn't remained to make sure I return in an appropriate amount of time."
Harry was happy to see some small amount of humor in his heart-broken friend, and it reassured him that Hermione wouldn't be broken by the past few days. It was a heavy burden, but Hermione wasn't a witch to give up and break down. She would soldier through this, one step at a time, with the people who loved her flanking her. She would get through this, because Hermione Granger was made of stronger stuff. He smiled at the back of her head as he followed her inside the Burrow.
A/N: Right. So there you have it. Whatcha think? I struggled over the meeting having meaning but at the same time keeping them ignorant of Hermione's identity-I mean really, that would be a disaster! Everyone would be all 'OMG HERMIONE'S A DEATH EATER" and all that jazz, and we all know Sev and Albus said 'forget about that'. So, Aislynn and Severus are planning on taking Soren out of the country, Harry and Hermione are cool, and Ron's the git we all know him to be. I can't decide how involved I want Tonks to be in this story-I was planning on Ginny being the supporting female role, but I haven't figured it all out yet. I'm still tossing all these ideas inside my head. As soon as one takes shape, I'll have that chapter to you all.
I part with a fond hello and thanks to all my readers, especially those who have taken the time to review! I'm trying to take your suggestions to heart, and appreciate all the support! 3