Chapter Two: Prime Directive

Disclaimer: Only the plot is mine. The characters, setting, and everything else belong to JKR.

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She took a deep breath and then sighed. It wouldn't be much longer now. Unbidden her hand rose to stroke the trunk of the tree behind her. The feel of the rough bark grounded her somehow, and she knew it was going to be all right. Everything was going to work out just the way she planned.

She would not suffer a monster to live.

Even at night, the forest was always full of sound, but all of a sudden it became deathly quiet. A gentle breeze caressed her cheek. She opened her eyes and cast her gaze at the sky. The full moon was shrouded in clouds, but the wind would soon change that. Undoubtedly her opponent thought that would give him the advantage. She stood up straight, knowing it would not be much longer until he finally made his appearance.

Slowly but surely, she began to make out the figure of a wizard amidst the fog in the distance. Although the moon was clouded over, the wizard still looked to be half beast with his wild, mangled hair and his nails so long that they were practically claws. Hermione clenched her fists at her side and waited. This would all be over soon. She simply had to be patient and hold her ground until he stepped into the grove she had chosen.

Her target stopped abruptly when he was about ten feet away from her. His lips twisted up into a cruel parody of a smile. "Well, well, what do we have here?" he asked. He made a show of sniffing the air. "It seems like someone forgot to tell the Mudblood not to go out alone at night. Particularly not when the moon is full." His tongue rolled out of his mouth as the werewolf's ghastly laughter rang out.

She said nothing. Her resolve only strengthened in the face of his taunting. She simply had to rid the world of him. He was the reason that all the dark stereotypes of werewolves persisted. So long as he drew breath, good men such as Professor Lupin would always be lumped into the same category as the psychopath before her. She simply couldn't fail to complete her plans tonight for she didn't know when she might get another chance. And for that to happen, she needed to lure him closer. Hermione straightened her back and glared at her adversary, all but daring him to press forward. The moon might be full, but she knew that no harm would come to her. Her allies—no, her friends—simply would not allow it.

The werewolf's lips curled back in a snarl. "What's wrong, pet? Too scared to speak?" He snorted. "I see that myths of Gryffindors' bravery are just that."

That verbal insult stung, but not enough to make her reply in kind. However her opponent still remained outside the copse, and so she spoke, hoping to verbally prod him forward. "I see nothing of which to be afraid," she said with a toss of her head. "You're pathetic, really."

That provoked the response she had been looking for. Fenrir growled and began stalking forward once more. "You're going to regret that, girl. When I get through with you—"

"Oh please," she said in a bored voice. "You can't even touch a hair on my head. I almost pity you. You rely on the brute strength lycanthropy grants you, but that strength is useless against my magic and my blood. You're so stupid that you don't even know you're outmatched."

"Outmatched?" he barked. His voice was low and deep, and she knew the monster had finally taken the bait. "I'll show you outmatched!" A sudden gust of wind revealed the moon. A heartbeat later the wolf leapt towards her, his slavering maw open, intent on ripping her to shreds.

A great cracking sound filled the grove, louder and closer than thunder, as roots ripped out of the ground and reached in the air, ensnaring the wolf mid-jump. Frantically he twisted and turned, swiping his claws and brandishing his teeth, to free himself of their grasp. But each and every time he broke free of one root, two more rose to take its place. The fight continued. Soon enough blood, fur, and broken bits of wood littered the ground.

Finally after half an hour, it was over. The trees had won. The wolf lay still, utterly spent, held in place by their roots and branches. Streams of blood rushed down his side. Hermione slowly paced towards him. The werewolf feebly glared at her, not bothering to snap at her. She stopped then, sensing that he wasn't quite as exhausted as he seemed to be.

"A werewolf's healing ability isn't something to be underestimated," she said in a cold, detached voice that she barely recognized as her own. "Take off his head," she commanded the trees.

They did just that. Fenrir Greyback's life ended in a whimper, not a roar.

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A small frown crossed Severus Snape's face as his long fingers finished with the last button. He didn't need a mirror to tell him that his robes hung poorly upon his frame. He could feel that they were far too loose on him. That was the result of the weeks on the run he had spent after Dumbledore's death.

That had been a miserable time. He had been hiding from everyone—from the Aurors who wanted to drag both him and his charge to Azkaban to his purported allies, who he couldn't trust with his charge. Severus knew all too well that if he had returned to the Death Eaters with Draco that the Dark Lord would have punished the Malfoy scion for failing in his task. That had made returning to them not an option because of that damnable oath that he had taken the summer before.

However the one good thing about the fall of the Ministry meant that he and Draco had been able to return to Malfoy Manor for Voldemort's attention was once again focused elsewhere. There was always the possibility that Draco would be punished by their leader—certainly Narcissa Malfoy worried about that incessantly—but Severus didn't think that was likely. Now that things were going his way, the Dark Lord was too cunning to do anything permanent to the boy and risk losing the parents' loyalty. Of course he could be proven wrong. The Death Eaters were an opportunistic bunch, and several of them sought to advance in the ranks at the expense of the Malfoys.

And then there was Fenrir Greyback. The werewolf had taken to roaming the halls at night as though hunting for prey. His predilection for going after children was well-known. He had made many a remark on how it had been weeks since he had last hunted human flesh and that the opportunity to personally punish Draco for his failures would be savored. Needless to say, Narcissa had placed the most powerful of wards upon the boy's bedroom. Severus couldn't say that he blamed her. While Severus didn't think it would happen, there was always the possibility that Voldemort would throw Draco to the wolves, so to speak.

A knock sounded on his door. "Come in," said Severus. He prepared his mental shields, making certain that they were up to full strength, as he turned to face his visitor.

"Good morning, Severus," said Narcissa Malfoy with an elegant nod of her head. She cast a glance at his trunk, which was packed. "Are you returning to Hogwarts already?" she asked.

"Indeed," he replied. "There's much to do now that I've been appointed Headmaster, especially as we'll be having several new staff members."

"I see." She raised one delicate eyebrow, and he knew he wasn't going to like what she was going to say next. She was simply the craftiest witch he had ever had the displeasure of dealing with. "Does that include choosing the head students?"

"Yes," he said shortly. Severus cursed mentally. He should have known that was the reason she had decided to visit him this morning. He had hardly seen Narcissa during his sojourn at Malfoy Manor, only running into her occasionally at meals as he rarely bothered dining with the rest of the Death Eaters as nothing killed an appetite like fear and misery. Still he would have thought that she might have sought him out to thank him for saving her spawn. But then again, it wasn't like Narcissa to thank someone who she thought was beneath her.

"I feel awful for even asking this after you've done so much for us already," she said. Her proud demeanor belied her words; clearly she had no problems with making yet another request of him. "But I do hope you will consider Draco for the position of Head Boy. He has the best marks of his year, you know."

"Out of the Slytherins, that is true," replied Severus. And for that, Severus was genuinely fond of the lad. He would have hated his lot in life much more if the likes of Crabbe and Goyle were the best his House had to offer. "You don't think it might benefit Draco for him to stay out of the spotlight, so to speak?" he asked, alluding to Narcissa's fears for the boy.

The sudden smile that crossed the blonde witch's face didn't bode well for him. "You mean you haven't heard?" she asked, all innocence. "Fenrir Greyback was found dead this morning."

"What?" His mouth dropped open in shock. Last night had been a full moon. It should have been impossible for all but the most powerfully magic of wizards to take down the werewolf. "Where?"

"Deep within a forest, many miles from here." Her lips pressed into a thin line. "For some reason, I don't think he appreciated all the silver I told the elves to use for dinner last night."

"Imagine that." Of course, Narcissa would do everything in her power to drive the werewolf away from the manor last night. She had her son to protect after all, and she knew how much that monster loved hunting children. That made her son a target, especially with how low the Malfoy family had fallen. Now that the werewolf was dead, she undoubtedly felt that Draco's future was much more secure.

Severus held back a sigh. Time and time again, he had counseled Dumbledore to rid the world of that werewolf for no Death Eater family would even consider switching sides so long as their children could be targeted by Fenrir. Narcissa was one such witch they might have turned to their side, with some help from her older sister, for she had never been fond of the beast. But of course Dumbledore hadn't listened. The old fool never did.

But then again, one of Dumbledore's biggest faults was that he didn't care for all of his students the way he cared for the Gryffindors. Things might have been so different if the old wizard had tried to reach out to Draco before that night on the tower. Severus pushed that thought out of his mind. Life was too short and he had too much to do to waste time, lingering over his many regrets.

He decided some more information about the killing wouldn't be amiss. "So do we know who—"

"No," Narcissa answered, not needing to hear the end of his question. "We have no idea who might have done it. He had many an enemy, you know. Still the way he died was quite chilling from what I understand."

"Oh?"

"His head was lopped off."

Severus looked askance at the blonde witch. "While that's certainly messy, I don't see what's so chilling about that. It's one way to make sure a transformed werewolf stays dead, especially if you don't have any silver handy."

"I know. But when they found the body…it was all tangled in branches, as though the forest itself decided to rid the world of that monster."

"Maybe it did." That bit of information perked his curiosity. Having created a few spells himself, Severus wondered what manner of incantation had been used and if he could possibly duplicate the act. It would certainly come in handy when dealing with unstable allies around Hogwarts. "Well at least that is one less worry for me as Headmaster of Hogwarts," he noted, half to himself.

Narcissa didn't question that statement. Instead she pounced upon it, determined to use it as an opening to bring up her previous topic. "You must have so many, seeing how this is your first year in charge of the school and all. But I promise you if you appoint Draco as Head Boy that he won't disappoint you."

Severus started to speak but then thought the better of it. There were just so many ways he could respond to that. Obviously Draco was currently a public disappointment to his family for the way he had failed to kill Dumbledore. Privately Severus believed that both the boy's parents were happy that he hadn't become a murderer. It was a sentiment that Severus shared.

But Draco had been a disappointment in other, more private ways. Chief among them was the fact that the boy had never spared a moment to question his parents' beliefs. He never stopped to ponder whether it was right choice to do as he was commanded or whether there might be another path. Perhaps it was inevitable. Of course it was blasted difficult to put aside beliefs pounded into you since you were a child. But Severus had hoped that the Malfoy heir might at least have thought about it for a second or two during the six years he spent at Hogwarts away from his parents.

If a boy as clever as Draco never bothered to consider his options, then Severus had no hope at all for the rest of the Slytherins under his care. It seemed that never-ending disappointment and frustration was to be his lot in life.

Regardless Severus knew that if he wanted to leave any time soon, he would have to give Narcissa the answer she wanted to hear. Thankfully he could easily do that without fully committing himself. "While the final decision doesn't rest entirely in my hands," he said, "I assure you I shall take your recommendation in to consideration."

"Thank you," the blonde witch said, a smug smile on her face. "Something tells me that few of the other professors will protest much when you suggest Draco for the position."

"That may very well be. Now if you will excuse me, I must get going," he stated firmly. Narcissa recognized the dismissal in his voice and gracefully made her exit, leaving him free once more to finish preparing for his return to Hogwarts.

****

The smell of eggs and toast and sausage floated up the stairs, wrapping itself around the two witches as if beckoning them to the breakfast table.

"Oh my! That smells absolutely scrumptious," declared Ginny Weasley. "Mum's outdid herself again."

"Doesn't she always?" replied Hermione artfully. The truth was, however, it took all of her self-control not to grimace. While she had never been overly fond of meat, she found it almost impossible to eat any meat now. The mere thought of that turned her stomach. The slightest scent of meat—raw or cooked—made her nauseous. Her mother had undoubtedly noticed the change in her eating habits. While she hadn't said a thing about it to Hermione, she always made certain that there was at least one vegetarian dish at the table.

Unfortunately the same could not be said for meals at the Burrow.

"I'm surprised to hear you say that," Ginny noted with a tone of aspersion in her voice. "You hardly ever eat these days. Mum's beginning to think that you don't like her cooking."

"Oh no! She's a wonderful cook," Hermione protested. Which was true. Molly Weasley was a gifted cook. Unfortunately her repertoire of dishes, while suited to a family of growing wizards, didn't appeal to Hermione at all.

"Is that so? Shall I take that to mean that there's another reason for you not eating much lately?" asked Ginny. She looked slyly at the other witch, a hint of a smirk tugging at her lips.

"Another reason?" Hermione repeated.

"Why yes." Ginny now had a full-fledged smirk on her face. "I noticed that you didn't go to bed until very late last night," she added. "So where were you?"

Hermione narrowed her eyes. She didn't like where this conversation was headed. "I don't see how that's any of your business, but if you must know, I couldn't sleep last night so I decided to take a walk outside."

"You took a walk outside? That's all?" The redhead gracefully arched up one long eyebrow in disbelief.

"Yes. That's all."

"Oh Hermione!" Ginny exclaimed then. She looked from side to side and then rushed forward to take Hermione's hands. "In here," she said, pulling the older witch into an alcove along the stairs. "Hermione, Hermione," she tsked. "What are we ever going to do with you? You're an awful liar, you know."

"Am not," Hermione protested.

"Are too. But enough of that. That's not the point. The point is that you can trust me." Ginny looked earnestly at the other witch. "Don't worry. I won't tell a soul about where you spent last night." She suddenly grimaced. "Although please spare me the details. Ron is my brother, you know."

"What?" screeched Hermione. "You think that I—"

Ginny shook her head knowingly. "It's very convenient, isn't it, how he's not sharing a room with Harry any more. Of course, the two of you are going to take advantage of that. I would with Harry if.…" She trailed off, frustration written all over her face.

"Look," said Hermione, "I'm sorry about Harry. He can be terribly stubborn sometimes."

"More like all the time," Ginny mumbled.

"But trust me, Gin, I've not been doing anything with Ron." She shuddered. "Just the thought…ugh! He's like a brother to me!"

"Hmm…if I didn't know better, I'd say you were telling the truth."

Hermione stamped her foot. "I am telling the truth."

"Yes, well, you're certainly not lying." Ginny tilted her head to the side as she stared at the older witch. "So if not Ron, then which of my brothers is it? Fred and George are a definite no, Bill's getting married...which leaves Charlie?"

"Dear Morganna," Hermione swore. "I'm not involved with any of your brothers. For that matter, I'm not involved with anyone." There was always Malfoy, of course, but she thought he didn't count. After all it wasn't as though her mate would ever want her.

"You're not? But I thought you were—"

"You thought what?" Ginny gulped nervously, and Hermione suddenly knew what the other witch had thought. "You though I was pregnant?" she asked in shock. She couldn't believe it. "Don't you know me better than that?"

"I do, I do! You being who you are, you must know at least a dozen contraception spells. But the way you keep acting at breakfast…as though the mere sight of food makes you nauseous." She shrugged her shoulders. "I kept telling myself it had to be something else, but when Ron remarked on it too last night, I thought that it must be morning sickness and you must be pregnant."

"And it must be Ron's?" Hermione wrinkled her nose. She hated how people assumed that she was still mooning after her redheaded best friend.

"Yes, because why else would he notice? I love my brother but he can be annoyingly oblivious to how other people are feeling. And he looked dreadfully worried, let me tell you, and so I put two and two together and—"

"Came up with the wrong answer," Hermione concluded.

"Sorry about that."

"Don't worry about it." Hermione could see why Ginny had leapt to the conclusion that she did. For her not to be eating at meals and for Ron to openly worry about it....that made her wonder who else amongst the Weasleys thought that there was something go on between the two of them. Hopefully not Mrs Weasley. The thought of that made her grimace.

"So if you weren't visiting anyone last night, then where did you go?" Ginny asked her.

Hermione sighed. She would have to tell Ginny a bit of the truth. "I did go for a walk outside. A long walk. Because I wanted to think."

"But you were gone for hours!" Ginny fell silent as the gears began to turn in her head. "I see," she said quietly. "You went for a longer walk than anyone would like if they knew."

"Yes." She sighed. "You see…it's just that—"

Ginny held up a hand to quiet her. "I know, Hermione. I know. Trust me, it's probably worse for me than it is for you. It's awful, isn't it? The way everyone's always hovering over us, treating us as though we can't take care of ourselves, as if we're porcelain dolls. Ugh! It makes me sick." She tossed her hands in the air out of frustration.

The younger witch went on. "And I hate how they think they're so clever about keeping secrets from us. I know that Harry and Ron aren't planning on going back. And they don't want to take me." She cast her eyes down at the ground and bit her lower lip sullenly. "Not that there's any way Mum or Dad would let me go. Dad's all but threatened to escort me back to Hogwarts himself." She suddenly looked up at Hermione. "But you're going, aren't you?"

"Yes," said Hermione with a confidence she didn't feel "I'm not going to let them leave me behind."

"Good," declared Ginny. "One of us needs to be there to watch over the two of them." She rolled her eyes. "I don't know where they got the idea that they could take care of themselves."

"Indeed." Hermione turned and exited the alcove, with Ginny following shortly after.

"Hermione," Ginny called softly after her.

"Yes?" She paused and waited for the other witch to catch up.

"So if you're not…you're not…well you know…." Ginny waved her hands in the air vaguely. "If it's not that, then why haven't you been eating?"

Once again, Hermione determined that telling some of the truth would serve her well. She let out a deep sigh and then said, "It's because I'm a vegetarian now."

"Oh!" Ginny covered her mouth with her hands. "You are? Then why didn't you say anything?"

"I didn't want to impose."

"Impose? Oh no. It's no imposition," Ginny stated baldly. "Mum loves learning new recipes. She's going to be so relieved. Honestly you should've heard her! She was ever so worried that you hated her cooking! She's going to feel much better to know the real reason why you've not been eating. Oh I have to tell her right away!" With that, she pushed past Hermione and rushed down the stairs.

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Author's note: Please review. I'd love to know what you think of this fic. :D