Out of necessity they related the facts of the situation, what had happened.
Potter's eyes widened with horror, face twisted grief… and then nothing. No yelling, no crying or moaning in disbelief. His expression settled into one of grim acceptance.
Severus was somewhat relieved. He had no idea how to comfort or deal with a hysterical teenager. Nonetheless, the boy's silence was unnerving as Severus guided him from his ruined home to Order headquarters while the sun rose in the sky. Kingsley left from there, being needed back at the Ministry.
Severus wondered what to do next. For lack of any better ideas, he took them into the kitchen and began preparing a pot of tea.
Knowing he was out of his depth, he cast his patronus and sent it off to summon Molly Weasley. The witch had seven children, surely she was capable of handling this one?
Severus sat in silence across from the boy as he waited, sipping his tea and pondering. He should have been making plans, determining possible repercussions of the night and preparing to move the other orphans as soon as possible. The aurors had discovered one of the hidden rooms, there was nothing to keep them from discovering the rest now that they knew exactly what to look for.
But instead he was dwelling on the deaths of Lily and James Potter. Dwelling on the capture of nine orphans who may very well be on their way to Azkaban soon. The horrors that they'd face. If only they had thought to move them sooner, if only the aurors had come a few days later.
His eyes narrowed.
The more he thought about it, the stranger it seemed. That Potter would show up just before his home was raided, insistent that the orphans and his mother be moved immediately.
Very strange. Suspicious even. By the time Molly arrived thirty minutes later, Severus had worked himself into quite a state, glaring at the oblivious boy.
Molly clucked and cooed over Potter, her own eyes teary at the events of the night while the boy's remained dry.
Severus couldn't contain himself any longer
"How did you know they were coming?" he asked forcefully. Potter and Molly looked at him with wide eyes. "How could you have known? Yet you must have. You chose that day to follow your parents to headquarters, out of all the other meetings. They were in hiding for weeks and yet you chose that day to insist they be moved. Urgently. Now you said. How. Did. You. Know?"
"I just knew!" Harry yelled, "I don't know how! Why does it matter? I knew they weren't safe. I knew and you didn't listen!"
"For Merlin's sake, leave the poor boy alone!" Molly snapped at him, moving in to enfold the now-sobbing boy in her arms. "It's no more than coincidence, and he doesn't need your questions after the night he's had!"
"Did you tell anyone the orphans were there? Overheard something you shouldn't have?" He had to be sure.
"No!" Potter choked out. "I just knew. Why didn't you listen!?"
Severus deflated with a sigh. He was being irrational and paranoid. There was no reason to suspect it was more than coincidence. Kingsley already said that it was Sarah who'd inspired the raids. Or at least, had inspired the Ministry to conduct them so soon. And surely Potter would have shared any information that would have helped protect his mother.
"My apologies," he said wearily. "I thought we had time to make arrangements. I was wrong. We will begin moving everyone to your house in London immediately."
"It's too late," Potter whispered hoarsely.
Severus grimaced. Yes, too late for some. Hopefully not for the others.
"Molly," he said. The witch frowned at him, still angry about his questioning the boy he was sure. "If you're willing, I'd like you to take Potter home with you. The Ministry is under the impression that he is with friends at present and I wouldn't like to disabuse them of that notion. I believe you have a son his age? Kingsley tells me that he will not arrested for his parents' actions, only questioned. Although highly unpleasant, I think it best to cooperate on this matter. The vow will prevent him from sharing anything important. Arthur should take him to the Ministry to settle things."
Molly nodded. Potter didn't react.
"Of course he's welcome at the Burrow."
Severus stood, resolved to do what he could to protect the other orphans. He bade Molly and the boy farewell and made his way upstairs to wake Dumbledore. The apothecary would have to wait.
He was exhausted. His day had only just begun.
"Misses must pack!"
Hermione reluctantly opened her eyes to investigate the source of the noise that had woken her, blinking slowly as her eyes focused.
Opy the house elf stood among the crowded beds, urgently trying to wake everyone. Hermione felt a creeping sense of déjà vu.
"What's going on, Opy?" she asked. The house elf twitched in a shrug.
"Master Severus says wake and pack, all of yous! Must be leaving soon."
Hermione complied quickly with a few flicks of her wand, hurrying downstairs with her things in the hopes of interrogating Mr. Snape. Were aurors on their way? But surely they would be told to stay in the room if that were the case, and she hadn't received any warning messages on her charmed coin. Were they going somewhere? Harry's house? But that wasn't supposed to be ready for days.
She found the wizard in an armchair in the sitting room, head back and eyes closed, frowning. Was he asleep?
His eyes opened lethargically as he fixed his eyes on her, still frowning. Awake then, although barely it seemed.
"Ah, Miss Granger!" came a voice, at which point Hermione spotted Mr. Dumbledore standing in the entryway leading to the kitchen. "Splendid to see you. Lovely morning for a change of scenery, don't you think?"
"Um… I suppose?" she said, looking between the two wizards. "Are we leaving then? Why so soon?"
Mr. Dumbledore became far less cheerful, even hesitant.
"The Potters are dead," Mr. Snape said from the armchair, and Hermione gasped. Harry-!? "Their son is well and in the care of the Weasleys at the moment, however the orphans were taken into custody by the aurors. It is no longer safe in Hogsmeade. Indeed, in any part of Wizarding Britain. Hence, the accelerated move."
Hermione couldn't process it. Harry was safe, but oh his parents! And the other orphans, most of them just children! It was unthinkable.
"I have to see Harry!" He couldn't be alone, not after what had happened.
"Your concern for your friend is admirable, but safety is our more immediate concern. He is safe in Molly's care. And you will be safe in London."
The other orphans were stumbling downstairs at that point. When they saw Mr. Dumbledore, each of them gaped with recognition and awe. It wasn't often that many found themselves in the presence of the former Minister for Magic, after all. Especially after he had disappeared with Minister Voldemort's appointment.
Hermione decided it was wise not to further complicate things by arguing with the exhausted wizard. Likely he had more important things to be doing than escorting her to visit her friend.
Mr. Snape rose slowly and shepherded them to a portkey with the barest minimum of explanations. And after a short, dizzying journey they were deposited in the entryway of a dusty old townhouse already abuzz with activity. Witches, wizards, and house elves were scattered around performing various tasks, tidying the rooms for use.
An older witch greeted them and offered to show the orphans to their rooms and the children eagerly followed.
"Mr. Snape… might I not stay in Hogsmeade?"
"And why should you want to do that?"
A number of reasons and excuses crossed her mind. But mostly… she felt safe in his home. It was familiar and comfortable. He was familiar and comfortable. Yet…
"This house has no books," was all she said. She wasn't even sure it was true, but given the extremely sparse furnishings she thought it likely. And what would she do without books?
Mr. Snape appeared less than impressed with her reasoning.
"You'll have to make do for a time," he told her, and gestured in the direction of her departing companions. "Until then I suggest you get settled."
"But what about Order meetings?" It was a last ditch effort.
"We will be setting up a floo connection between the two houses shortly."
"Oh. Then I guess… goodbye, Mr. Snape," Hermione said reluctantly, "Mr. Dumbledore," and slowly walked away to trail the others upstairs. The two wizards bid her a short farewell before turning to each other to converse.
By the time Hermione was unpacked in her new room and back downstairs they were gone.
And so she wandered the house aimlessly for a time, watching as the adults the Order had been sheltering from the Ministry went about making the building habitable. Scourgifying here and there, eliminating doxies and unshrinking furniture that had come from who knows where. The house elves seemed affronted that wizards were doing "elf work," but they were so busy in the kitchens they had little time to object.
No one paid her any mind. No one asked her to help, and she didn't really want to offer. But neither did she really want to go back upstairs where all the orphans were gathered, friends boisterously celebrating their reunion.
Her attention turned toward the grimy windows. Or rather, what lie beyond them: muggle territory. That mysterious, dangerous place that she'd never had the chance to know. Her birth place. Her parents' home.
And there was no Wall here to bar her entry.
She looked around furtively. Should she ask someone? But who? And wouldn't they just say no?
There was no reason to think anyone would recognize her, much less know that she was a witch. Muggles didn't even know that magic existed!
Well practiced, Hermione strode casually toward the front door. No one noticed. No one was looking. There was a glowing, magical ward right in front of the door that Hermione recognized as an age line. Hoping it was set to the standard seventeen, she took a nervous step forward and sighed with relief when it allowed her to pass. She slipped out quietly and felt a rush of victory and excitement.
Hermione looked up and down the street, eying the strange carriages lining the street with curiosity. There were so many of them! But far more interesting were the few people walking alongside. Muggles! Oddly dressed though they were, the muggles seemed harmless and paid her no mind as she stood awkwardly frozen on the front step of the townhouse.
Gathering her courage, she stepped onto the pavement and took a few slow steps away from the house only to freeze soon after. A woman was approaching her at a brisk jog, dressed in the most scandalous outfit Hermione had ever seen. Tight and revealing, the two piece outfit seemed more suitable as undergarments than clothing. Was she running from something? Or someone? But the woman didn't seem to be in a great hurry or in distress.
Hermione couldn't help but stare. And once the muggle noticed her she stared in return. They shared puzzled, nervous looks until the woman passed her by at a slightly faster pace than she'd approached.
Looking around, no one else seemed to be running so Hermione felt it safe to walk.
She walked to the end of the block and stood at the corner watching as more of the strange carriages sped along the street. They were much faster than the carriages in Hogsmeade.
Hermione frowned. Come to think of it, how did the carriages move if they weren't enchanted? Or was this part of the "science" that made muggles so dangerous?
After receiving several more strange looks from passing muggles, Hermione decided it was best that she return to the house.
And so her first jaunt into Muggle London ended peacefully and without fanfare. No one screamed or shouted "witch!" No one harmed her or acted crazy. Just ordinary people going about their ordinary business. The experience left Hermione feeling relieved and yet oddly disturbed.
This was what the Wall had been built to protect them from?
Mr. Snape came by only briefly the next day along with Mr. Dumbledore to assist in connecting the fireplace to Order Headquarters via floo. He informed her that only she and the few other Order members in the house would be able to use it as the location of Headquarters was still secret kept. You couldn't floo somewhere without a floo address, and only Order members were let in on the Secret of the Headquarters' address after all.
It was midway through the day and already Hermione was feeling restless in the house chock-full of people. Mr. Snape's house was seeming peaceful and spacious in comparison. And there really were no books! Only those that Hermione had in her trunk, and she'd read each of them at least three times already.
And so she made her way toward the fireplace and opened the fresh pot of floo powder. She remembered seeing some books at headquarters. It would be quiet and, after all, no one had told her she couldn't.
A dash of powder, whispered words to the emerald flame, a step and she was off. Stumbling into the Hogsmeade townhouse along with a cloud of ash. Coughing, she cleaned up the mess with a wave of her wand and then made her way upstairs.
The house was much quieter without everyone gathered for a meeting. From the faint noise it seemed that someone was in the training room, but Hermione wasn't too keen on investigating. She was scheduled for defense training twice a week and it had been so unpleasantly taxing so far that she would rather avoid any unnecessary supplemental work, thank you very much.
She went straight to the small study on the second floor, pausing when she opened the door and found the room unexpectedly occupied.
"I'm sorry, I didn't know you were here! I'll leave you alone."
"Please," Mr. Dumbledore said with a genial smile from an armchair. "Do join me. I believe my eyes are about to cross, reading all of this small script. I could use a distraction."
Hermione entered the room slowly.
"I don't want to be a bother. I only thought I could find something to read."
"Happen to have any interest in old treatises about spell alteration?" the wizard said, rubbing a hand over tired eyes beneath his spectacles.
Hermione took an unconscious step forward.
"What language are they in?" she asked eagerly.
The old wizard's face crinkled in a smile.
"Most are in Old English and Latin, however there are a few Old Gaelic and Sanskrit as well."
"I could help with the Latin," she suggested, approaching the stack of manuscripts he had piled on a side table. He waved a welcoming hand toward the collection.
"By all means."
Hermione lifted the first bundle of old parchments carefully, although she knew that a number of spells were likely in place to protect them from her touch. She then settled into the armchair opposite his.
"What exactly am I looking for?" she asked.
"Any mention of souls, really," Mrs. Dumbledore said. "Modern spells rarely manipulate the soul in any fashion, and any alterations of those that do could prove disastrous. Best that we try to glean any advice from those who came before us."
Many peaceful hours followed as the unlikely pair read silently. Occasionally Hermione would mark a passage that mentioned souls with her wand, but it was a rarity and none of it seemed particularly useful. Yet she was engrossed by the text and all the fascinating topics it discussed. Some of it she knew had since been disproven, other parts explained things she'd never thought to wonder about, or introduced totally new things she wondered weren't more well known.
She neglected to notice the passage of time until that evening when Mr. Snape came upon them. He opened the door and greeted her with a frown.
"It is considerate to inform someone when you intend to disappear unexpectedly," he said. Hermione flushed, feeling guilty.
"I'm sorry. I only meant to find something to read."
"Tell Arabella next time," is all he said before sending off a patronus explaining that she was safe at Headquarters.
Mr. Snape then joined them, conjuring another chair and reaching for a manuscript.
"Progress?" he asked.
"Coming along splendidly," Mr. Dumbledore said, but Hermione thought his smile looked just a bit forced.
And the three read silently.
It was the evening of the next scheduled Order meeting and Hermione waited anxiously for Harry to arrive.
The moment he entered headquarters in the company of the Weasleys she pounced, pulling him into a tight hug right there in the entry hall, tears in her eyes.
"I'm so sorry," she said. He shrugged, making no move to return the embrace. So she stepped back and took a good look at him. His pallid, sullen face. Drooping, bloodshot eyes, glasses askew. Hair even messier than usual, though she wouldn't have thought it possible.
The Weasleys and a few others were watching, so she tugged him upstairs toward the study to get some privacy before the meeting. He followed mutely.
"How are you holding up?" she asked, watching him carefully.
A shrug. She frowned. How could she comfort him if he closed himself off?
"How are you feeling?"
It was apparently the wrong thing to say. His face twisted into a scowl and he snapped.
"I don't know, Hermione, my parents were just murdered. How do you think I feel? Sad? Angry? Well you're right. Congratulations, you figured it out! The brilliant Hermione Granger solves another one."
She gasped, eyes wide. More shocked than hurt. She'd never known Harry to be so... mean.
"I understand that you're upset-"
"Upset? You don't understand, Hermione. You can't, you don't have parents! You can't know how it feels to lose them."
"You're right," Hermione said, expression pinched as her voice constricted. "I don't know what it feels like, because I never even knew my parents. But that feeling-knowing that I've effectively lost them, even though they're still out there somewhere. Knowing that they didn't abandon me, that I was stolen away but I'll never get the chance to know them, that I lost that chance for stupid, petty reasons, because of the stupid, thrice-damned Wall... I know that feeling, because I've felt it every day that I can remember. You had seventeen years with your parents, Harry, and they told you every day that they loved you."
By that time Hermione was shaking, overcome with years of pent up resentment and longing.
"You think about that before thinking you're the only one who knows grief, before yelling at people who are only trying to help you."
And she walked away, ignoring his attempts to call her back. She settled herself in the meeting room with a stony expression, waiting for the last few members to arrive.
Harry slunk into the room just before the meeting began, looking even more miserable than before. Hermione hardened her heart, still angry.
She hardly paid attention as Mr. Snape announced the raid on the Potters and explained the changed situation of the orphans for those who did not already know. She ignored the sympathetic murmurings of the Order members just as Harry did. She sat stewing in negative emotion as the topic gradually shifted to other things, standard reports of lack of progress.
Her attention was caught, however, as the meeting wound down and Harry loudly interrupted Mr. Shape's closing remarks.
"So you're doing nothing?" His tone was incredulous, furious.
"I beg your pardon, Mr. Potter?" came Mr. Snape's calm reply.
"My parents are dead, their murderers are running the country and innocent people are in Azkaban, including children! And you're doing nothing!"
Several angry people began to reply at once. Recently orphaned or no, they weren't going to let some kid disparage their efforts. Mr. Snape raised a hand to silence them.
"And what would you suggest that we do?" he asked.
"You could start by getting them out of Azkaban or, oh I don't know, taking down the Ministry. Which is what I thought we were here to do!"
"Certainly. And how would you suggest that we manage this extraordinary feat?"
"No answer? No ideas about storming a secure Ministry or dementor-guarded island prison with our paltry, untrained force and limited resources?"
"I thought not," Mr. Snape said.
"So maybe I don't know how with only thirty seconds to think. But I shouldn't be the only one trying to think of a way! You've had months! And now mum and dad are dead and you still haven't gotten anywhere. Ron could do loads better than you lot."
"Ron-?" A raised eyebrow.
"Ron Weasley. We've faced worse odds in matches and his ideas have always gotten us ahead."
"This isn't quidditch, Mr. Potter."
"Quidditch, war, it's all strategy. And it seems you have none."
Rather than get angry, Mr. Snape stared at Harry piercingly, contemplative.
"You think young Mr. Weasley can do what we have not been able to manage. We, a group of intelligent, established witches and wizards," he clarified.
Harry stubbornly nodded.
"Well then. Molly, Arthur, if you would please bring your son to our next meeting. I would be interested to meet such an extraordinary young man."
He ignored the shock and sideways glances of everyone in the room.
"I must object!" Mrs. Weasley said. "This is too dangerous to get a boy involved in!"
"Is he seventeen?" Mr. Snape asked. Harry nodded. "Then I believe it is up to him to decide if it is worth the risk. Any other concerns before we end the meeting?"
Everyone sat in confused silence.
"Excellent. Then I bid you all goodnight."
Rather than linger as he usually did, Mr. Snape stood immediately and left the room, making his way upstairs. Hermione watched him go, then glared at Harry reproachfully.
Severus sat in the study, tired eyes skimming the worn pages. He didn't notice the other person entering until she spoke.
"Harry is wrong," Miss Granger said with conviction. "You are doing something."
"The boy is correct," he said, resisting a sigh. "We are taking no steps to see that those who are imprisoned are released, or to overthrow the Ministry that imprisoned them. Our political plays are useless when everyone is too fearful to back us or take any action themselves. No one will risk the Minister's wrath. We are doing nothing, and I would be deluding myself to think otherwise."
"You've protected us, and you're altering that spell to find the Minister's horcruxes!"
"Far too few, and the spell is far from complete. Once it is, destroying a few objects will still bring us no closer to the Minister himself."
She was silent after that, having no retort. It was true, after all. He went back to reading.
"Do you feel guilty?" she asked quietly. "Because you didn't listen to Harry before? Is that why you believe him now?"
Severus paused. Was it true? Yes. But then so were the boy's accusations.
"I took it upon myself to protect them, and I failed," he said.
"But you couldn't have known they would come so soon! You were already preparing to move them. If it had been just a few days later-!"
"If we had considered moving them outside the wall sooner, this could have been avoided. It took Mr. Potter's pleas to jolt us from our complacency in the success of our wards. It shouldn't have been necessary. Any talented ward breaker would be able to find them, and we knew the Ministry would not allow the orphans to slip away silently."
Miss Granger was getting increasingly worked up. As she prepared to continue arguing, a flash of fire announced the arrival of Fawkes. The phoenix settled himself on the back of a chair and sang soothingly.
Severus stubbornly resisted the effects but Miss Granger noticeably relaxed. He decided to ignore them both and Fawkes soon subsided with an indignant squawk. He tried to read. Until she approached and lay a hand on his shoulder.
"You've gathered a group of remarkable people together to fight for what is right and good," she said. "You've led them to do extraordinary things. You saved me. You saved Sarah, and Colin and Dennis. And Jessica and Terrence and Cheryl. And every other orphan, every other witch and wizard that is at 12 Grimmauld Place right now. I am grateful for what you've done, what you're doing. And so are they. And I know we'll accomplish more, but I know it will take time. And when we're done, the innocent in Azkaban will be free and Wizarding Britain won't need to fear their government. We'll do it. I'm sure of it."
"Your youthful optimism is far more remarkable than anything I've done," he said.
But a sliver of tension had left him, and Severus reluctantly felt more hopeful than he had in some time.
A/N: Love it? Hate it? I'd love to know. :) Thanks for the reviews, yall.