Hermione nearly screamed when she opened her eyes to find herself in the atrium of the Ministry of Magic rather than Harry's flat for the tenth time in as many minutes. She reached into her robe pocket for a few Knuts and marched over to the Floos. "Bloody secretive prat," she muttered as she placed her Knuts in the dispenser and waited for Floo powder to fall into her open hand.
Hermione pushed her way to the front of the queue. "Sorry," she responded to groans, "Ministry business," she explained as she flashed the badge on her robes. Hermione cast a silencing spell around herself, then threw the silvery powder into the flames. "Harry Potter's flat, London," she shouted into the grate. Slowly, Harry's empty sitting room began to materialize before her. "Harry!" she shouted, not bothering to hide her annoyance. "Are you there? I've tried apparating in nearly a dozen times. Harry?"
There was no response. Hermione took a deep breath and squeezed her eyes shut before she made an attempt to step through. She was surprised to find that she wasn't chucked back into the queue of angry witches and wizards waiting to use the Floo, but rather, had successfully entered Harry's flat. She dusted off her robes as she made her way out of the sitting room and into the hallway leading to the kitchen.
"Harry," she called again. "It's me. I've come to make sure you're all right. We're all worried about you, really. You haven't called anyone in nearly three weeks."
Hermione heard a door creak and then click shut behind her. She turned to look over her shoulder and saw a shadow coming from beneath a closed door. She drew her wand and approached cautiously. She really wished, in that moment, that she'd told someone where she was going.
Hermione was surprised to hear muttering. It grew louder as she got closer to the closed door. It was Harry - muttering words under his breath as he read, just like he did when they studied together at Hogwarts a lifetime ago. Hermione knocked at the door. "Harry?"
She heard him clear his throat. "Hermione? What are you doing here?" he asked. She heard footsteps, and then the door burst open. "I - were you calling me?" he asked, confused.
Hermione gasped at the sight of him. His hair was greasy. There was a thick growth of facial hair when he was usually clean-shaven. His glasses were dirty. He smelled as though he hadn't showered in a week and it seemed he hadn't changed his clothes either. "Yes. We've all been calling," she bit out, annoyed. "What have you been doing?" She waved away his stench. "You've got us worried sick. Molly was ready to reassemble the Order. She's convinced a rogue band of Death Eaters has kidnapped you."
Harry stepped back from the doorway to let Hermione enter what he called a study. Really, it was the spare bedroom. He'd shoved an old card table in there and piled books and scrolls around himself. Hermione had to resist the urge to transfigure quills into bookshelves and the card table into a decent desk. Harry got rather cross when she took it upon herself to organize him. "No Death Eaters. I've been researching. I, er, seem to have gotten carried away. But you of all people can understand."
Hermione tutted and shook her head. "No. I never let people think I was dead, or worse." She put her hands on her hips. "What could be so pressing? You're not supposed to endure any stress. The healers told you ..." she started to scold.
Harry rolled his eyes and crossed his hands over his chest. "I bloody well know what the healers said," he yelled. "Don't upset me or I might go mad - turn into that monster I destroyed. I may have turned myself into a vessel for the last fragment of his soul and on and on and on with conjectures no one can prove."
Hermione sighed and reached out to touch Harry's shoulder reassuringly. "Is that what you're doing? Trying to find out if he's in you?"
Harry shrugged away from the contact. "No. I'm not. I don't care if he is." He sounded like a petulant child. But, as he spoke, he kicked an open book behind another stack.
"What are you hiding?"
Hermione walked past Harry and stooped down to pick up the book. One look at the cover told her all she needed to know. She put the book back in Harry's hands. "What you're doing, Harry, it won't bring them back. There's no way to raise the dead."
"I'm not trying to raise the dead. Sirius and Ron both fell into that curtain. They didn't die. They vanished. There might be a way to return the living."
Hermione patted Harry's hand. "This is bordering on Dark Arts, Harry. You might become tempted - I trust you, but we don't know what happened that night."
Harry threw the book down to the floor with a hollow thud. "I need a shower," he ground out, pushing past Hermione. He made it to the door before he turned to look at her. "You know your way out."
Hermione nodded. "One last thing."
"Why can't I apparate directly into your flat?"
"Because what I do is my business. I don't need a bloody band of babysitters to make sure I don't become the next Dark Lord. I know what I'm doing. I saved the world. I can save two more people."
Hermione chewed on her lower lip a moment. "I'll come by tonight with dinner. Will you let me through if I Floo?" Because if he didn't, she'd have to alert the Ministry. The last thing she needed Harry to know was that she was assigned to be his babysitter.
"Yes." Harry turned around and stalked toward the bathroom. He slammed the door. Hermione heard the pipe gurgle followed by the hiss of the shower.
"Harry," Hermione sighed, as she Apparated away.
Hermione apparated back to her own flat after her encounter with Harry. She shucked off her cloak and tossed them aside. Her only job was to make sure Harry didn't jump off the deep end and become that which he destroyed. And she was failing. Each time she saw him, Harry had slipped a little further away from her. Now he wanted to raise the dead.
"Hermione?" Draco called. "Are you back already? I thought you going to talk to Potter. He didn't die did he?"
Hermione held her breath and counted to ten before she replied. It had become her normal course of action when dealing with Draco. He'd ended up living with her when no one else would agree to take responsibility for the former-Death Eater, turned spy. Three more years and his probation would be over and he could go back to his precious manor.
"No, he's not dead. He is, however, a right prat. He changed his wards."
Draco was interested in this news. He made his way out his bedroom, the one he rarely left, and into the sitting room. "But that's against the conditions of his release. Don't tell me he's going to come live here, too. This flat's just not big enough for three people."
"Move over," Hermione said, waving her hand about. She sat plopped down next to Draco on the sofa. "He's not going to live here. He doesn't even know you live here. He thinks you're in Azkaban. And yes, he's not supposed to be using magic unsupervised."
"Bloody Potter. No rules ever stick to him," Draco whined. "He should be locked up. He's going to start collecting minions and before you know it, Granger, you're going to have a lightning bolt mark burned into your forehead." He paused. "We all will! Well, not me. He'll bloody well kill me."
Hermione sighed. "What do you know about the Veil at the Department of Mysteries?"
"That if you fall into it you vanish - like the Weasel. He tried to push me in but," he stopped, clearing his throat. "Well, you remember what happened. I don't need to dredge up that rubbish."
"No, you don't," Hermione snapped. The only reason she'd agreed to take responsibility for Draco was that she was against Azkaban on principle. "Well, Harry's trying to get Ron and Sirius back."
"What? Is he using those spells? Granger - Hermione, if he starts to use them, we're all fucked."
"Thank you, for pointing out the obvious. The problem is, however, that we've been keeping him in the dark for the past four years. He has no idea what's the matter with him." Hermione shook her head. "And I had to put the book back in his arms and tell him I trusted him."
"You what? You can't let him keep a book like that." Draco got up from the couch and started pacing. "Half-bloods aren't even supposed to look at books that contain that information! Are you insane?"
"He was very upset. He also looked as though he hadn't slept in weeks." Hermione sighed. "And all this rubbish about blood makes no sense. Simply because Voldemort was a half-blood does not mean all half-bloods are lining up to become Dark Lords."
"Whether or not it makes sense is not the point. The point is if you get caught allowing him those materials then my situation becomes jeopardized. I've managed to keep out of Azkaban thus far and I'd like to keep it that way. Plus," he said, sitting down roughly, "I don't think you'd make out well in that place."
"He's not doing anything. He's reading. He's stayed in. He hasn't spoken with anyone."
"This is not good," Draco muttered. "Not good at all. Potter's going to snap and I'm going to Azkaban," his voice grew louder with each syllable. "Granger, you've really cocked it up this time."
Hermione narrowed her eyes at Draco. "I know what I'm doing. I know Harry - better than anyone!"
Draco gave a wry laugh. "That's just it, Granger. You don't know Potter. Not like this anyway. He's not your friend from the train. At best, his brain's a bit addled from that last confrontation he had with Voldemort. At worst? Well," he shuddered, "I don't even want to think about that." He paused and let a hand rest heavily on Hermione's shoulder. "You need to find a way to stop him. Necromancy might seem harmless enough. And it would be for someone like you. But Potter's been exposed in all sorts of ways we don't quite understand."
Hermione pinched the bridge of her nose to ward off an oncoming headache as she rested her head against the back of the sofa. "Well, I can't go to the Ministry."
"No. You can't. They'll kill him and we'll both wind up sharing a cell in Azkaban." Draco nudged Hermione. "There's always one person you could turn to."
Hermione rolled her head toward Draco. "But he's lost to us. He might as well have been Obliviated, Draco," she whispered.
Draco shook his head. "He's not lost, Granger. He's just had no reason to come out of his own head. He knows that if he's sane it's a one way ticket to Azkaban. He doesn't want to stay there. He'd rather room with Lockhart." Draco cleared his throat. "You know Severus Snape is your only chance to save Potter."
Hermione waited in the tiny, windowless room. She glanced down at her watch and drummed her fingers on the tabletop impatiently. She heard the snick of the lock and a green robed Healer crossed the threshold, a smile on her face.
"Miss Granger, I'm sorry, but Mr. Snape isn't up to visitors today," she said. "You could come back tomorrow," she offered. Then she paused as the smile melted from her face. "But he won't see you then either."
"Look, I don't want to help him find his way into a cell at Azkaban if that's what your worried about," Hermione started. "I only used my Ministry connections to get to him because I could. The Ministry doesn't even know I'm here. It's unofficial business."
The healer shook her head. "He's been through enough, Miss Granger. He thinks You-Know-Who has got him. We've had to bind his magic because the accidental manifestations of magic were coming far too frequently. Whatever it was you needed him for, he can't help you."
"He's the only one," Hermione insisted. "I want to see Healer Longbottom."
"Healer Longbottom is not the healer on call." The healer was dodging Hermione. There was a smile on her face, but, it didn't reach to her eyes. She was trying to hide something.
"I already know Severus Snape is in a closed ward. I'm aware of the impossible conditions. I'm aware of the condition in which he's kept - to standards so low, he might as well be in Azkaban. I'm not going to censure this institution or write a report or leak anything to the press," Hermione whispered quietly. "I am, however, going to see him," she paused. Her voice grew more demanding. "Now."
"Five minutes," the healer finally acquiesced. "And if you upset him ..." she let the threat dangle. Though, Hermione knew Snape would be the one to suffer.
As Hermione passed through the doors leading to the heavily guarded prisoners ward she nearly choked on the stench. She pulled her cloak around her nose and mouth and squinted her eyes. The hallway was lined by heavy iron doors on either side. The names of the room's inhabitant was etched onto the door and illuminated by blue backlighting. The hallway was rather dark. Hermione's skin prickled, as though a dementor was lurking around the corner.
She took a deep breath and coughed. "There aren't any dementors on the premises, are there?" she asked.
The healer laughed. "No. But there should be. These lot are a dangerous bunch. The last of the Death Eaters - the lot of them mental," she scoffed. "You'll be wanted to see Snape. He's in the last room on the right side."
"How am I to get into the cell?"
"You aren't. No one goes in there. Look through the window - speak to him. He can hear you. You can see the flicker of venom in his eyes when you speak. But, don't worry. He can't hurt you. There are wards, layered over wards, layered over defensive shields. You'll be safe enough."
"I'm not afraid of him," Hermione replied.
She made the rest of the journey down the hallway alone. She nearly broke down when she saw Snape - no man, murderer or not, deserved such treatment. He was huddled in the corner, naked and shivering. His eyes were still beady, and black - but they were empty. He looked a broken shell - worse than if the dementors had gotten their Kiss.
Hermione pressed her hand against the glass and sighed. "Open this door," she shouted down the corridor. "You open this door this instant. I'm taking him with me," she shouted. She reached into her robes and produced documents she'd intended to use to bribe Snape into helping her : conditional release papers. "He's my ward now."
No one moved. People stared at her as though she'd escaped from the very cell she was staring into.
"Are you all deaf? Someone remove the wards from this door!"
Draco drew the heavy duvet over Severus Snape's body and quietly exited the room. He found Hermione at the kitchen table with a pot of tea and a plate of his favorite pastries.
"He's bad off," Draco said, sitting down. "Worse than I would have imagined. He told me he had plans in case they ever got him. But this," he threw up his hands, defeated. "I can't even sense what kind of blocks he's erected. This is going to take some time to figure out."
Draco sat down at the table and leaned on his elbows.
"From what I can tell, he's locked himself in his own head. I can sense him when I use Legilimency - mind you, I'm not a natural talent - but he's there. He doesn't feel safe. And who can blame him."
Draco poured tea into his cup and traced his finger around its lip as it cooled. He stared into the dark, steaming liquid as he spoke. "How'd you get him out? The Ministry didn't care about those Pensieve memories or the portrait's testimony during that farce of a trial. What changed their mind?"
Hermione looked down at her own cup of tea. "I was able to persuade Percy," she replied, cryptically.
"Granger, please tell me you didn't -," he stared.
"I would never use sex as leverage," she said, offended.
Draco gaped. "I was not implying that you would use sex that way. I was going to ask if you'd used Imperius."
"Oh," she said, blushing. "Yes. I did. There was no choice."
"I'm impressed, Granger. Maybe there's hope for you yet."
"Hope's all any of us really have, Draco," she said. Hermione pushed her teacup away and stood up quickly. "Can you mind Snape. I've got to check on Harry."
"All right - but don't bring back any more guests. I don't want to end up sharing a room with Potter."
"You didn't answer me, Harry," Hermione said, her temper growing short. "It's a simple question. Have you used those spells or not?"
"No," he snapped. "But it's not for lack of trying. My magical core is still ... weak."
"Well, you expelled a lot of energy that night. The healers told you it would take time."
Harry nodded. "It's not just that, Hermione. I," he cleared his throat. "I think my magic's changed."
"Are you taking your potions?"
"They aren't working. I can't sleep. I'm up all hours - in that room reading furiously. Even if I don't want to," he muttered. "I want them back, though. That's for sure. I'll pay any price to have them back."
"Harry," Hermione said, putting her hand gently over Harry's. "If you keep this up, and it works, they'll lock you up in Azkaban - or worse. Then you'll be no use to anyone and having them back will be meaningless."
Harry looked up at Hermione with glassy eyes. He smiled softly. "No. You'll be happy to have Ron back. You won't be alone. And you won't have to look after me anymore, either."
"It's not a chore, Harry," she said, smiling. "Now, before I go I'm going to have to reset the charms. Tracking, minor binding, and you'll have to reset your wards to let me pass. If Percy does an inspection - and you know it's only a matter of time - he'll check. It's not that I want to," she added. When she noticed a flicker of dejection in Harry's eyes she added, "It's for your own safety. Your magic's still a bit out of your control and if the Death Eater's come ... well, we need to know where to look. And Percy just thinks he's overly important since he's been assigned to oversee your safety."
"I know," he sighed. He waved his hand. "Just have done with it, please. It's an exhausting process."
"At least you'll sleep tonight." The pair was silent as Hermione worked. When she was finished she tucked her wand back in her robes. "I want copies of your notes, Harry. All of them. If you're bent on doing this I'm going to help you."
"Hermione - those spells, they're not - I've already killed. There's nothing a few more black marks on my soul will damage."
Hermione stood up. "You've a lot to learn about me, Harry. The notes. Owl them to me by tomorrow morning. Copies of everything. I'll know if something's missing. I know how you think."
The screams were unbearable, Draco decided. Severus had been screaming since Granger left. He didn't want to use any silencing charms - just in case. Just in case of what, Draco wasn't sure; but he let the man scream, he forced himself to hear it, and he tried to make out the words. He didn't understand a syllable.
Draco started to pace when the screaming dulled to a constant, raw, guttural groan. Severus sounded as though he were in pain. Draco walked toward the room, slowly, with his wand drawn. He spelled the door open and quietly crossed the threshold.
"Snape," he called, his voice a loud whisper. "It's Draco," he said, a bit louder when Snape didn't respond to his own name at all. Severus was twisted in the sweat-drenched sheets. His naked feet were poking out at odd angles and his hands clung tightly to a knot of fabric near his chest. Draco couldn't help but smirk. The man looked like a child trapped in a nightmare that had finally broken: calm and peaceful.
Draco sat on the bed. He summoned a cool, wet flannel and began to wipe Snape's brow as he spoke. "Listen to me, Severus Snape. You're safe now. The Ministry doesn't have you. Hermione Granger does. I know it seems a fate worse than Azkaban - but it isn't. She's normal enough. And Potter," Draco sighed. "I know you helped him too much for your liking, but he's going to ruin us all if you don't find your way out of this."
Snape's fists loosened on the sheets. His whole body relaxed on the bed. But he didn't make sound.
Severus opened his eyes - black beady eyes reflecting fear and hope at the same time. There was a flicker of something familiar for an instant before there was nothing.
"We're so fucked," Draco muttered. He set to untangling Severus from the sheets.
"Well?" Hermione asked as she entered the kitchen. Draco was re-heating left over take away curry with his wand. "Did you make any progress?"
Draco nodded. "Well, he stopped screaming. That could be considered progress." Draco paused as he spooned his dinner onto a plate. "How about you? Did you get Potter's book away from him?"
"No. I didn't. I did, however, reinforce the bind on his magic. He won't be able to do more than a few simple spells - think, First year charms," she said. "He thinks his magic's still weak."
Draco sat down at the table. "Do you think he'd kill you if he found out?"
"He knows I'm binding his power. Granted, he thinks it's because he needs to be protected from his own accidental magic. If he knew the real reason," she shrugged, "he might actually be grateful. But, it's best not to tempt him."
Draco nodded. "Did you get those books from Harry's library?"
"Yes. He wasn't too happy about letting them out of his sight, though. Don't know what he's doing with Legilimency. He's rubbish at it."
Draco laughed. "Snape always said Harry was a right pain in the arse where those subtle arts were concerned."
"I'm going to help Harry with his project," Hermione blurted. "I can help him hide it, at least. And, if there's any Dark spells that need doing I'll do them."
"Stall him as long as possible."
Severus blinked against the darkness. The room smelled unfamiliar. It was warm. The bed was soft. He was clothed. Everything was different. Closer to what it used to be.
He struggled to pull his hands free. His hands were stuck. He was bound. He kicked his feet. They were twisted around something, limiting his range of motion.
"Master," he called out. "I'm sorry."
Severus imagined he felt the prod of a Legilmens at the corner of his mind, prying into his most secret memories. The memories that would betray his true loyalties; memories that told of the pain he felt when he killed Dumbledore. Albus.
"There are precautions in place, Severus," he remembered Albus speaking those words to him. "Pensieves, of course. My portrait will know. And select members of the Order."
"Granger," the name rolled over his tongue, sticky and miserable. It was heavy, foreign. Something he never wanted to say again. But, it was the only thing that could save him. Granger would never hurt him. Granger would save him. He had to get away from Draco and back to Granger.
He got up to find his way.
Hermione bolted up right in bed. The sound of screaming was foreign to her; invading her sleep, tainting dreams of Ron and smiles and better days. The screaming voice wasn't recognizable to her. For a moment she thought it was Draco - he screamed a lot during his first weeks with her. She rubbed her eyes and remembered: Snape.
"... to stop, Snape. No - don't kick me!" Draco was shouting. Hermione could hear scuffling in the hallway followed by the sound of a body colliding with a hollow wall. There was the tinkling sound of glass shattering on the hardwood floor. Draco yelped. "Fuck, that's glass!"
"You work for him," Snape's raw voice yelled. "The Dark Lord can't have my mind."
"Voldemort is dead," Draco said, levelly.
Hermione clutched her wand in her hands and crept into the hallway. She peered around the doorframe and saw that Draco had Severus pinned to the wall.
"No," Snape whispered. "He - the horcruxes. Potter didn't find the horcruxes. He didn't listen."
"He listened Snape. He killed Voldemort."
Snape nodded. "Killed him. Potter killed him," he said, his voice disappearing into the darkness of the hallway. Snape slumped forward over Draco's shoulder.
"Is he all right," Hermione called. "Well, aside from being passed out?"
"Heavy," Draco replied. "Help me get him back to his room."
"Harry these aren't all you notes," Hermione said. She rubbed at her temples mechanically. "I want to help you. I can't help you unless you're honest with me. Haven't I always gone along with your mad schemes? Ever since Fluffy and that trapdoor I've been there. This is no different."
Harry looked away from Hermione. He drummed his fingers absently on the table and licked his chapped lips. "This is different. Fluffy wasn't an enigma we couldn't solve. Fluffy wouldn't have eaten your body and soul." He shrugged. "Fluffy was just a dog with three heads."
Hermione trailed her finger down the parchment scanning Harry's crooked, cramped writing. After a moment she cleared her throat. "This spell here," she said, pushing the parchment toward Harry with her finger on the page, "won't work. It requires the body. We don't have bodies."
"We could fashion golems," Harry replied. "I've been studying it. It seems quite simple compared to most of the things we've done."
"That's a last resort. The ideal situation has both Sirius and Ron coming through the curtain the same way they went in. But," she sighed, "no one else is going in to get them."
Harry regarded Hermione for a moment. The tip of his tongue poked out of the corner of his mouth as he absently rubbed the faded scar on his forehead. "When were you going to tell me you've got Draco Malfoy and Severus Snape living at your flat?"
"Who told you that?"
"Percy. He came by for one of his checks. He looked strange. Like Seamus did when he'd gotten Imperius cast on him. It only took one diagnostic spell to see I was right. Then I used Legilimency to get at the information I needed." He paused. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"I didn't want to upset you. You've been recovering," she answered, choosing her words carefully. Harry's successful use of Legilimency didn't sit well with her. Harry was never able to master the techniques before the war. He certainly shouldn't be able to use that kind of power with the binding spells in place.
"That's the other thing - I didn't really need to recover, did I? You lied. In fact, I'm stronger than I've ever been." Harry's voice was a low, dangerous whisper. Hermione backed away from the table when Harry looked at her. He narrowed his eyes. "You want me weak."
"No. I want you well, Harry. I love you."
"You're afraid of me."
"No. I'm not afraid of you. I'm worried about you."
"You're worried about what I can do to you."
Hermione eyed Harry nervously. She tried to reach for her wand with out drawing attention to herself. That task failed miserably. Before Hermione realized Harry had moved, he seized Hermione by the throat and levitated her - seemingly with his thoughts - and pushed her into the wall. Hermione could hear the echo of her body colliding with the wall.
"Harry," she pleaded.
Harry responded by applying more pressure to her throat. "This is what I can do, Hermione. I could kill you. One thought; that's all it would take."
Hermione wriggled, her fingers scratched at the wall, her legs moved wildly in an attempt to find purchase.
"But I don't want to kill you. Hurt you - maybe," he continued. "You lied. I put all my trust in you. All of it. And you repay me by binding my powers and keeping me a prisoner in my own home. You told me I was too weak to do anything. That isn't the truth."
"No. I'm sorry. Please."
"I'm powerful enough to do anything. That night I absorbed him. The last remaining fragment of his soul fused with mine and now," he laughed, "now I can bring them back."
Harry held Hermione there a moment longer. When he noticed her face had begun to purple he removed his hand, letting Hermione fall to the ground unceremoniously. Harry backed away from his fallen friend, staring at his own hands. He tripped over the chair Hermione had recently vacated and fell onto the card table, it collapsed under his weight. "Fuck," he whispered. "What the fuck did I do?" He looked at Hermione, tears pooled in his eyes, and whispered, "Get out. It's not safe. I'm not safe."
Hermione reached for her wand. "I'll bind your powers again. It's not your fault."
Harry shook his head. "No. Get out."
He pulled himself up from the floor and stalked toward Hermione. He picked her up by the back of her robes, catching her long hair in his hand, causing her to yelp in protest. He pushed Hermione toward the Floo. He reached for Floo powder, tossed it on the flame, called out the address of Hermione's flat, and pushed her in.
Draco was reading a book in the sitting room when Hermione tumbled out of the Floo, gasping for air.
"What the bloody hell happened to you?" Draco asked, scrambling toward Hermione to help her to her feet. As she stood up and straightened her robe, he noticed a livid red mark across her throat. "Did Potter do this? Are you hurt? What hexes did he use?"
Hermione nodded. "He knows," she whispered. "About you and Snape. Percy came to his flat. Harry detected the Unforgivable I used and he knows everything."
"So he hurt you? Shouldn't he be here breaking down our doors?"
Hermione nodded. "That might be next. We need to protect you. We need to renew the Fidelius. You can be Secret Keeper."
"But I live here. It won't work."
Hermione waved off his concern. "There's more than one variation of that spell. After what happened to the Potters," she shrugged, letting the sentence hang in the air. "How is he?"
Draco smiled. "Having a bath. He woke up this morning as though he'd only been sleeping rather than trapped in his own head."
"Does he remember?"
"Every detail. Don't," Draco cleared his throat, "mention Dumbledore though. I tried to ask and wound up with a black eye. Good thing I'm adept a healing charms." He looked at Hermione meaningfully.
Hermione's hand went to her throat. "He looked shocked after he'd done it. He couldn't control it."
"Of course he couldn't. No one can control that much magic. It always controls them. Look at Voldemort. Bloody nutter. All that power's not good for a person in a concentrated form."
Hermione moved to sit on the sofa. "He's going to wall himself off from the rest of the world. Then it'll start to eat at him. He'll remember all the anger and he'll go after me. Then the Veil."
Draco shook his head. "Veil first. It's a true test of his power. He won't want to hurt anymore people than necessary."
"When Harry was holding me against the wall he didn't look like himself. I mean he was unquestionably the Harry Potter - but something was off."
Draco snorted with the effort of not full out laughing. "Of course something's off - he's walking around with fragments of Voldemort's soul in his body."
Hermione glared. "Thank you for illuminating the obvious. I, at least, have an excuse. He nearly strangled me to death! I'm distraught."
"Moaning Myrtle used to use that excuse. All she did after that was stare at me while I was trying to have a wank."
Hermione abruptly stood up. "I'm going to check on our guest," she paused. "You're disgusting."
"I try," he said, shrugging.
Draco watched Hermione leave the room. "Bloody Potter," he sighed. That idiot was going to be the death of everything. Not only was he on the verge of openly flouting Ministry Decrees - no matter how stupid or ridiculous - he was going to drag the entire world down with him.
Severus let his fingers trail over the tiny buttons at the front of his robes. Real clothes, he thought appreciatively, that covered him all the way around. No open backs, or worse, uncivilized nudity.
He paused in his consideration when he heard a knock at the door. "Sir?" a soft, feminine voice called - must be Granger, he thought.
"Enter," he replied, his voice thick from disuse. The door creaked open.
"Sorry, I - Draco told me you were awake."
Severus nodded. "And sane. With my memory in tact. I do apologize for the screaming. Mr. Malfoy said it was rather ... distracting."
Hermione waved off his concern. "It didn't bother me. You know how Draco can get, I'm sure."
Severus nodded. "Almost a fate worse than Azkaban. Almost." He smiled. "Please, sit. I assume you're here to discuss Potter."
Hermione's hand went to her throat. She pulled her robes closed over her neck and sat on the chest at the foot of the bed. "It's always about Harry. Every minute of my life since he killed Voldemort has been devoted to making sure he doesn't turn into him."
"Not a good end for you then, was it?"
"Not a good end for anyone. Draco, as much as I am loath to admit it, is right. If Harry turns we're all doomed."
"Yes," he agreed. "Although, I don't see what you two think I can do about it."
Hermione considered that. Draco had merely insinuated Snape could help. The how of the matter wasn't something Hermione had actually given much thought to. "Well, you're versed in the Dark Arts," she suggested, helpfully. "One of the most skilled potions experts alive."
"Well, Draught of Living Death is an option."
Hermione shook her head. "No. They tried at St. Mungo's. Harry's magic's far too strong. It worked no better than a Dreamless sleep draught for most people."
Severus Snape's eyes widened. "He - are you sure? Not even The Dark Lord had power enough to over come Draught of Living Death."
"That's why there's all the concern, you see. I've been monitoring him. Up until very recently - as in today, I've been able to bind his powers."
"And what changed today?"
"He found out. Everything."
Draco sighed and dropped his wand to his side. "It's no use. That stupid owl still found us. That shouldn't happen. The book says so." He'd been trying, without any hint of success, for hours to establish a Fidelius.
"Books don't always have all the answers," Hermione said.
Draco smiled at her uncertainly. "Are you ill? I seem to recall a lecture a year ago that involved a tirade, actually, about the omniscient powers of those dusty tomes in your library."
Hermione crossed her arms and glared. "I was referring to cook books, Draco. I had - and still have - no intention of acting as your servant." She held up her hand in his direction. "Don't even make a joking remark, insincere or not, about blood lines and my work to free the elves."
"You do something once and you never live it down," he muttered. "Even Snape can't get this right, Hermione. It's not going to work."
"We can't trust anyone else," she insisted. "Let me try."
Hermione was surprised when she, too, failed. "This is ridiculous," she shouted. "One of us should be able to make this work. We're all reasonably powerful."
Hermione peered over the edge of her book at Severus and Draco as the played Wizard's Chess and sipped at fire whiskey. They spoke to each other in a hushed murmur that underscored her status as outsider. It annoyed her. Not because she was new to the social position - but because it reminded her of all she'd lost: Ron to death and Harry to insanity, or worse.
"There's nothing here to explain it," she said.
"I didn't think there would be," Severus replied, moving a pawn on the board.
Hermione closed the book gently and set it beside her on the couch. There was something about Severus's tone she didn't like. "What are you hiding?"
"Nothing. But, it seems all my memories are not in tact. There are traces of some essential event between myself and Potter before I was captured, but after Dumbledore ... died."
"Like you were Obliviated?" Hermione asked.
"Perhaps. It could have been done at the hospital. But, this doesn't feel like professional work," he said, his hand brushing his temple. "It's clumsy. There's still a trace, as I said."
Severus leaned back in his chair. The chess game forgotten. Draco leaned forward on his elbows and studied Severus as he spoke. "That was clumsy. Definitely not the work of a Death Eater."
"No. It was Potter; of that I'm sure. I told him something having do to with his very first encounter with The Dark Lord."
"Voldemort," Draco corrected, it was an automatic response now. "If you say 'The Dark Lord' in public, you'll get five years in Azkaban. No trial. No one even knows you've been taken into custody," he warned.
"Five years for three words? Who's idea was that?"
"Who knows. Some scared nitwit on a council somewhere," Hermione replied. "All the post-war reforms were pounded out behind closed doors. It was all published one day in the paper. Things that were suddenly illegal. There's a long list of offenses."
Draco snorted. "Don't itch your left forearm in public - that there's life. No matter if there's no evidence of a Mark, either." He wasn't joking. Lavendar Brown wound up in Azkaban for such an offense. She was whisked away without a word; took her family months to find out what happened to her."
Severus's hand went instinctively to his own marked forearm. "And the precautions with Potter?"
"From that very same meeting. Everyone expected him to die, too," Hermione shrugged. "But he - today, I can see why." Hermione paused. "All this time he's been isolated. It's been easy to lie."
Severus nodded. He knew that feeling all to well. "Well, there's nothing more we can do tonight. We'll have to work it out more in the morning."
"Miss Granger, do you still have copies of those scrolls?" Severus asked, not looking up from the book he was copying notes from.
Hermione nodded. She picked up her wand and summoned them. Nothing happened. "That's odd," she commented, writing the failure in her magic off to tiredness. She focused her energy and summoned them again. A quill came into her open hand instead of the scrolls. The quill had been next to the desired item.
Draco watched with a puzzled expression upon his face. "That's not like you at all." He pulled out his own wand and summoned the objects. They came immediately. "Here," he said, handing the scrolls to Severus. He turned to Hermione. "Don't worry, it happens to everyone," he said, smirking. Though, Draco had never seen a witch with Hermione's powers fail in a simple summoning. He shot a concerned look to Severus, who nodded imperceptibly before turning his attention to the scrolls.
Draco was surprised the wards to Harry Potter's flat had allowed him to pass. "Potter," he called out, "I know you're here." The truth was, he didn't know, he'd only hoped. He crumpled up the parchment with Harry's address on it and tossed it onto the floor.
"I was wondering when you'd come," Harry said from somewhere in the shadows. "Did you bring Snape?"
Draco gripped his wand tightly in his pocket as he slowly moved deeper into the darkened room. "No," he replied. "It's just me. Hermione's sent me to look after you," he lied. "She's not well." Not well was an understatement. Hermione was losing her magic; it was draining from her somehow. Draco suspected Potter was the cause.
"Oh?" Harry asked. "Well, send Hermione my regards then."
And that response told Draco all he needed to know.
"Shall I tell her you did this to her? All she did was protect you - all of us," Draco said, his voice a dangerous whisper. "She's - well, I'm sure you know."
"She lied to me. She's friends with you. She's keeping you Death Eaters as pets! We could be doing something useful," Harry ground out. "We could be working to bring Sirius and Ron back - she wouldn't allow it. She kept me from using my magic."
"So you've decided to take hers?"
"Yes." Harry stared at Draco, locking his gaze.
Draco felt the familiar, unwelcome, tingle of someone probing at the edge of his mind. He didn't appreciate the invasion. Draco crossed his arms, reinforced his Occlumency shields, and sighed. "I can do this all day, Potter. I managed to keep Voldemort out of my head. I can surely keep you out. Powerful you may be, subtle and skilled at the art of Legilimency, you are not."
"How did you force her to do it? Take you in?" Harry paused. "You killed Ron!"
"How do you suppose I managed to force her? I was in a holding cell, waiting to be transported to Azkaban. When they came to get me I thought I was heading for a little boat and death. Instead there Granger was," he said. "Either way, for me it was a death sentence."
"House elves," Harry muttered. "Always taking up causes that are no good!"
"Like you?" Draco spat. "She's spends all her time worrying about you. Everything she's done since she was twelve was to help you, Potter. And you repay her by stripping her of her power?"
"She did it to me."
"To save you."
"To keep me from being happy."
"To keep you from killing all of us. Do you even understand what happened to you?"
Harry nodded. "I should kill you."
Draco laughed, wryly. He held his arms out - wide and accepting. "Go ahead. But if you do, let her be. She loves you, Potter."
"No one loves me. They love the idea of me. What it is I represent: Salvation."
"What spell did you use?" Draco pressed.
"Binding charms - simple binding charms," he repeated. "Of course, you know that their effect is dependant upon the wizard who casts them." He shrugged. "You're not powerful enough to reverse it."
"She'll die. That spell will eat up her magic. Then it will go after her soul."
Harry stood up from his chair. He took long, elegant strides, toward Draco. He stopped only when he was inches from Draco's face. "What makes you think I care? I can do anything. If she dies - when, really, I have the power to bring her back."
Draco scoffed. "You couldn't bring back Black or the Weasel. What makes you think you can get her back, too?"
Harry smirked. "Funny you should mention them," he said. "They're here. I went and got them both."
Draco stared wide-eyed. Two figures separated themselves from the shadows. Weasley and Black. Potter had accomplished the impossible. "No," Draco gasped. He Disapparated before Potter could finish his show.
Severus sipped his tea. "What do you expect me to do?"
"Something," Draco replied, his voice wild. "How can you sit there and drink tea when Potter's off doing ... Dark things."
Severus sighed and set his tea cup in its saucer. "We know how to help Miss Granger. Aside from that? We can't stop him. Whatever will be, will be. We can only hope at this point that the Fidelius holds up."
Draco smirked. "I can't believe you got it to work."
Severus shot Draco a look. "Of course I did."
"It only took you three days. But," he said, defeated, "I guess that's better than my long string of failures." He paused. "Do you think you can reverse Potter's binding?"
"In time," Severus said, "certainly. However, time is something Miss Granger is short on."
"What about those transference spells Voldemort was so fond of? Would those help?"
Severus nodded. "Yes. But they require one of us to die - or, someone else. I'd prefer if it were Potter; but then, Miss Granger most probably wouldn't understand that course of action."
"We can't kill him, I don't think," Draco added. "At least I hope we're not the ones who have to do it."
Hermione tried to sit up in bed. Her head was too heavy. And the room was spinning far too fast for her to keep her balance. "Bugger," she whispered before admitting defeat and falling into the pillow.
"Is there something you need?" Draco asked, putting the magazine he was reading on the nightstand. "Water? You haven't had anything to drink all day."
"No," Hermione croaked. "Harry?"
Draco pushed out a heavy breath. "Harry's fine."
"He did it, didn't he? I've been having dreams - Ron and Sirius and Harry."
"I don't need to hear your perverted fantasies, Granger," he teased. He didn't want to have to be the one to tell her. He didn't want to have to be the one to crush her. She was in enough pain as it was with her magic fizzling out into nothingness, most likely taking her with it.
"Snape?" she asked.
"Working on getting you better. We've figured out what's wrong." He kept his tone hopeful, even though he didn't have much hope. Not the way Severus was crumpling parchment and banishing the heap with constant regularity. That meant no progress. No progress meant stagnation; which meant death. And not just Hermione's death. They'd all die.
"Harry did this," Hermione said. "I know he did. It's revenge." Draco could tell by the flicker in her eye, that if she'd had the energy, she would have laughed. It would have been a derisive, wry sort of laugh that exposed her broken heart even more than if she would have laid all her pain bare.
Draco sat down on the edge of Hermione's bed. He used his wand to fill a goblet with cool water. He set it down and helped Hermione into a sitting position, propped up on her pillows. "Drink it slowly. These are silk robes; I don't want your vomit all over them," he tried to sound petulant, it failed.
Hermione sipped at the water carefully and then sat back. "I'm dying," she said, plainly. "I can feel it. The magic's ebbing out."
Draco set the goblet down. "We're going to find a way to fix it. We found a way to make Fidelius work, didn't we?"
"And Harry went into the Veil and came back out," she retorted. "He's not himself, don't blame him."
Draco rolled his eyes. "Listen. When I first got here you made sure I didn't fall to pieces. You gave me my wand back and made me take care of myself. I owe you."
"Then don't hurt him," she begged. "He's - Harry," she replied.
Death, Draco thought, didn't have to hurt. He smiled at Hermione. "I won't hurt him."
"Good," Hermione whispered. "Please tell me the truth about Ron and Sirius."
Severus broke the binding spell in a matter of hours. It completely seeped all the strength from his body. He felt as though he could sleep for three months. Now, Hermione was sleeping fitfully. It was a shame that any damage that had been done would take years to recover, if it did at all. The brightest witch of her age barely had magic enough to summon tea to her bedroom.
"Perhaps, after we kill him, we could use his magic to fix her," Draco said, placing a vial of bright green potion in front of Severus. He recognized it as one of his own restorative draughts. He plucked it up from the table and downed it quickly. It tasted vile.
"She's better off the way she is than tangling herself up in that mess," Snape hissed. "But something has to be done with him."
"I'd hoped he'd just stop. Come to his senses," Draco replied.
"Miss Granger's optimism seems to be rubbing off on you. Alas, I remain pragmatic and realistic in my views. Potter needs to be dealt with."
Percy Weasley steepled his hands and leaned back in his chair. "I don't see how I can help," he said, bored. "The Ministry has released Potter from supervisory care. He's been declared to be of sound mind by the Healers at St. Mungo's."
"He's a superb Legilmens, Weasley," Snape bit out. "He can convince anyone who isn't a skilled Occlumens of anything."
Percy flipped through a file. "It says here Potter was rubbish at Legilimency. In fact, it says, you tried to teach him and failed. You're the best, Snape."
Severus pushed out a heavy breath. "Listen, that power transference you were so worried about is complete. Potter is walking around as nothing more than a shell for Voldemort's power."
Percy laughed. "I can't take this to the Minister. He'll laugh me right out of my job." He paused. "I went to see him a week ago. He seemed fine. A bit wrapped up in his reading, but very well."
Severus leaned forward in his chair. "Is that what really happened? Come, now, Weasley, you're a smart sort of fellow - do you sense the gap? He's not very good at eradicating the trace ... yet."
Percy wrinkled his brow in contemplation. He rubbed his temple absently. "Now that you mention it," he said, letting the end of sentence trail off into nothingness.
Severus opened his robe for his wand. "Allow me?"
Percy leaned back in his chair and let Severus examine his memories, hoping the lost one would be found.
"I wonder just how many people he's managed to Obliviate. Do you remember what he did to you yet?"
Severus nodded. "I warned him about the effects of the Killing Curse when used on the both of them. Harry knew the risks when he did what he did. In fact, I think he did it because he thought he could contain the power in himself."
"Why would he think he could contain that kind of power? Was he mad before the final battle?"
"The power he knows not," Severus quoted. "Foolish Granger may have even convinced him. Which would explain why she was so happy to watch over him all this time."
"Well, in fairness, she kept it contained all this time. It wasn't her fault Weasley was a weak minded nitwit."
"Stop defending her stupidity. She should have put a pillow over his face while he was in hospital."
"Well, since I don't have a Time-Turner," Hermione interrupted, "we'll have to deal with the mistakes I've made. And in case you're wondering I am feeling better. I managed to unlock the bedroom door - with magic."
"Do you think you're feeling up to making a visit to Potter?" Severus asked.
"Are you mad?" Draco yelled. He turned to Hermione. "You don't have to do that." He turned back to Severus. "She's not going to do that."
"Would you two please stop trying to tell me what to do. I'm not going to see Harry," Hermione said, irritated.
"Good," Draco said, smiling.
"I'm going to invite him here."
"Miss Granger that is not a wise idea," Severus started. "We'll have nowhere to hide."
Hermione shrugged. "He's powerful. It's only a matter of time anyway."
Draco sighed. "I hate when she's right."
Harry apparated into the sitting room. No one commented on the rudeness of his action, though, Severus and Draco did exchange a look. No one moved for a long moment as Harry reached into his robes and produced his wand. He levitated it, without opening his mouth or any sigh of struggle etched on his face, over to Hermione's open hand. "As per our agreement," he said, taking the chair nearest to the Floo. "Ron and Sirius will arrive when I summon them."
"Summon them?" Draco asked, impulsively. His arm felt the phantom burn of his Dark Mark, memories of Voldemort and groveling made him sick to his stomach as he spoke.
"Draco," Hermione scolded. She turned to Harry. "How are you?"
"Fine now that I'm myself. I'm finally able to sleep." He didn't look at Hermione.
"Thank you for coming," she said, acting every bit the hostess her mother had taught her to be. "Would you like tea?"
"No. We're here for business; not pleasure. We're not friends any longer. My friends wouldn't willingly harbor Death Eaters and keep it a secret from me. Nor would my friends bind my magic."
"Mister Potter, perhaps we can stop this argument. It will get us nowhere," Snape interrupted, bringing Harry's attention to him for the first time since the final battle. "We asked you here because I do not believe you managed to bring Black and Weasley back. Draco has an over active imagination. And you were very good at transfiguration; those could have been facsimiles he saw."
"No; they're real. Confused, but real," Harry said, smiling. "Things are almost finished. I'm working on my parents next. I want the life Voldemort robbed me of and I'm using his power to get it. Irony at it's best."
Hermione gaped. "Your parents aren't behind the Veil. Dumbledore told you there weren't any spells to raise the dead."
"He also forced me to poison him so Snape could kill him," Harry retorted. "He wasn't omnipotent, Granger. He was a dotty old wizard who didn't use half of his power."
"Since when do you care about power, Harry?"
"Since I realized it gets me what I want. Everyone was so afraid that it would take me over – control me, but," Harry opened his palm and stared at his hand, a quill materialized before their eyes, "I control it well. It's only been a little while. Imagine what I'll be able to do once I'm more practiced."
"Kill us all you bloody idiot," Draco yelled. "No one is meant to possess this much power. You were supposed to die killing him."
"I was," Harry admitted. "But, thanks to Hermione, I didn't. She tried to correct her mistakes, but in the end what was meant to be is." Harry sighed. "I'm going to offer all of you one chance to help me. If you refuse well," he shrugged, "there's nothing I can do to change what'll happen."
"I've had too many master's in this life, Potter," Snape spat. "I'll not have another. So, do to me what you will."
"I understand Death is a tedious master; never allowing you to move, letting your flesh rot from your bones. There'd be no more making of potions, I'm afraid."
"Death would be preferable to serving yet another mad man," Severus replied. "But, I don't think you're going to kill any of us. Bringing back the dead is one thing. Creating corpses is quite another."
Harry ran a hand through his hair, it was messy as ever, and smiled. For a moment, Hermione expected Harry to stand up and laugh, admit it was all a perverse joke. But then his eyes narrowed. "It's easier to create a corpse than you think. Percy Weasley begged for his life. I rather enjoyed it. The pulse of this magic is intoxicating." He turned to Hermione. "You always wanted to feel the power – to understand the exhilaration of it all. You can. I know things that you never dreamed of knowing. It's wonderful, Hermione." He extended a hand toward Hermione. "Will you help me? I don't want you to serve me."
"Miss Granger – Hermione," Severus said, when he noticed her eyes widen as she chewed her bottom lip. She was considering his offer. "That is an empty offer. There can be no compromise. You'll be forced to do his bidding. You'll be marked by his power if not physically by his hand."
"No marks, Hermione," Harry counted. "I won't turn into him. I won't be like him. I want to set things right. Bring back all those people who died needlessly at Voldemort's hand and mine."
"They were meant to die, Potter," Draco said. "They were all meant to die. So were you."
Harry's green eyes focused in on Draco. "If I was meant to be dead I would be." Harry stood up. He summoned his wand into his hand. "I'll give you time to consider your options. Just know that bringing back lives requires an exchange of lives. Dumbledore's life is going to be expensive. Three souls for his."
Hermione walked along the streets of Diagon Alley. She and Draco had argued over her leaving; but Severus needed freshly severed newt toes for the potion he was working on, and he couldn't leave his cauldron.
Hermione was shocked by the emptiness of the streets. It was the end of August. Students should have been crowding the streets, purchasing the necessary supplies for school. There were a few older children clinging tightly to their mother's robes as the darted down the street.
Hermione went to the apothecary. The bell rang as she passed under. There was no one behind the counter. "Hello?" she called. "Is anyone here."
No one answered.
Hermione walked behind the counter and peeked behind the curtain. The short, balding wizard who usually occupied that space was missing. "Hello?" she called again.
When no one answered, Hermione darted down the aisle containing the severed newt toes and stuffed them in her robes. She left seven Knuts on the counter and dashed out of the store. She was looking behind her, toward the swinging door of the apothecary, when she collided with something.
Hermione reeled backward, tripping over her own shoes and falling to the ground at the sound of that voice. "Ron?" she whispered. She shook her head. "He was lying. It's not really you."
Ron reached down and caressed her cheek before taking her hand and helping her to her feet. "It's me. I've been looking for you everywhere. You're not easy to track down."
"I've been hiding from Harry."
Ron nodded. "That's why I've been looking for you. He needs help. He's gone around collecting witches and wizards to trade for various people. He hasn't actually got anyone back yet. But there are five more corpses added to his tally."
"He wasn't joking?"
Ron shook his head. "He wants you, Hermione. It's not safe for you to be out here alone. I'm supposed to bring you back to him."
"Then you have to take me back. If he finds out …" Hermione warned.
"He won't find out."
"He's a skilled Legilmens, Ron."
Draco handed Severus the vial of freshly severed newt toes and set to pacing the floors. "What the bloody fuck is she thinking?"
Severus counted out seven toes and rolled his eyes. "That she's saving the day, of course."
"He's going to kill her."
"Only if she refuses to help him. Which, she won't- not right away at least. She's a Gryffindor, but she's not an idiot." At least, Severus hoped she wasn't an idiot.
"I knew you'd find her Ron," Harry said. He turned to Hermione. "Have you made up your mind?"
Hermione nodded. "You need help. It'll be like always. The three of us working together."
Harry smiled. "Just like old times."