The Fire and the Rose

Disclaimer: Anyone and anything you recognise belongs to J K Rowling; the story, however, is ours.

MetroVampire & Rhosymedre

... the end of all our exploring
will be to arrive where we started
and know the place for the first time

TS Eliot - Little Gidding

"Hermione," Neville hissed, "what do I do now?" Hermione slid a glance across to her lab partner, resisting the temptation to roll her eyes. The year had barely started and already it seemed - although it would have been stupid to think otherwise - that Neville was not going to do any better in Potions this year than he had in the previous six. It was going to be a long year.

"Ten points from Gryffindor, Mr Longbottom." Snape's voice cut through her thoughts with its usual incision. "Miss Granger, try to let Mr Longbottom at least attempt one unaided action this year. It would be too much to expect him to actually achieve anything," the acid was as sharp as ever, "but we should perhaps give him the opportunity to try."

Hermione vaguely turned her attention back to the potion in front of them, her mind elsewhere - they were finally officially making Polyjuice Potion, and she didn't need to follow too closely; her experience in the second year had seared the details into her mind.

She gazed around the classroom, idly watching the other students with their varying degrees of concentration as she waited for her potion to come back to a rolling boil. The summer holiday, and her 18th birthday, already seemed a long time ago - she occasionally wondered whether there was any point to holidays; the moment they were over it seemed as if they had never happened. The same routine, the same people, and nothing much changed.

Hermione felt Neville concentrating furiously next to her, and heard him muttering under his breath. She caught only the odd word but, suddenly, realised that he was about to make another mistake - he shouldn't be adding boomslang skin now, she thought. His potion was nothing like the colour it should be at the stage where he'd need to add that, and she could see his hand hesitantly moving towards the cauldron with a pinch of the shredded skin.

She looked round surreptitiously and couldn't see Snape. "Neville," now it was her turn to whisper furiously, "don't -"

"Don't what, Miss Granger?" Her heart sank. He was standing behind her; no wonder she hadn't been able to see him.

"Well, Miss Granger - please, share it with the rest of us. I'm sure it was vital?"

Hermione looked down at the cauldron in front of her, thinking frantically through a list of excuses and reasons but she waited just a little too long.

"P-Professor, it was my -"

"Silence, Longbottom. If I want your contribution I will ask for it."

The next moments stretched past in slow motion; Hermione would have sworn that they filled at least an hour, when she thought about it later. Snape had bellowed at Neville - much as he did in every lesson - and Neville had jumped. He dropped the boomslang skin in panic, scattering it over the flames below the cauldron. The resulting firecracking pops had everyone in the room diving for cover. Neville backed away in horror, bumping against a nearby set of shelves.

The cascade of ingredients to the floor, to the desks and into Neville's cauldron seemed to take forever; Hermione fell backwards against Snape, trying to avoid the gas that bubbled up from the now-adulterated potion. He swept his robes around her, trying to protect them both from the fumes.

Hermione was never entirely clear what happened next; all she knew was that suddenly she was drenched in a ice-cold mixture that burned through her robes and Snape's. The cold seemed to freeze her thoughts and actions for a moment, and her vision blurred.

When she could see again, the classroom seemed oddly distorted, as though she was standing on the desk. All around her was a sea of chaos; whilst the potion hadn't splattered far, the wreckage caused by students taking cover was impressive. She looked down. Then she blinked. When she opened her eyes, she looked down again.

The view hadn't changed. She was looking at herself, huddled against ... against herself? That didn't make any sense. For a moment, Hermione wondered whether she had died and was having an out-of-body experience. She'd always dismissed the reports of such experiences as nonsense but, perhaps, there was something to them. The return of feeling put paid to that thought, though. She was definitely corporeal; the chill on her skin where the potion had made contact was proof of that.

Hermione looked down again, trying to make sense of the fact that she could see her own body - a body that was now looking up at her with horror in its eyes. Slowly, very slowly, she began to realise what had happened as she took in the fact that the hands holding her body up were clearly under her control. They were, though, very definitely not the hands she had woken up with this morning. Long tapered fingers, large-knuckled and strong. These were not her hands.

They were Snape's hands. She'd watched them preparing a demonstration in class often enough to be familiar with them. She had Snape's hands ... no, she corrected herself. She had Snape's body.

"Uhh ..." The voice was all wrong; it reverberated through her, an octave lower than she would expect. Oh god, it was Snape's body. Her mind froze, trying to process the conflicting thoughts and responses surging through her. All around her, the students were slowly getting up from under desks and from behind chairs, looking curiously towards her - towards them - no, her, him ... too much. An urgent whisper, in an unfamiliarly familiar voice reached her.

"Dismiss them!" Hermione blinked, wondering whether she usually sounded that sharp and shrill before realising what she - no, he - oh, hell, whatever.

"Class dismissed! If any of you are hurt, go to the Infirmary!" Hermione tried to snap, hoping for at least some of Snape's authority and willing the class to be too pleased to leave early for anyone to question why their Potions Master had suddenly developed a tremor in his voice.

"P-Professor Snape, do you want me to stay and -"

"Get out, Longbottom!" she snapped. That was easier to manage, and there was something rather satisfying about being able to get rid of him without having to worry about dealing with his hurt feelings later.

The room emptied rapidly, a stream of black robes and bookbags making their way eagerly through the doors. Moments later, Hermione and Snape were alone in the classroom. Hermione watched Snape disentangle himself - herself - from their robes and take a step back, looking up at her as he folded his arms across his chest. He looked disconcerted as he realised that wasn't quite as easy to do any longer.

Hermione bit back a grin as he let his arms drop to the sides; she was suddenly absurdly cheered by the realisation that he was not finding this any easier than she was.

"What the hell did that fool Longbottom do?" Hermione wondered whether her voice always sounded like that - she was sure it was lower-pitched. Dragging her thoughts from the circumstances she concentrated instead on the more immediate problem: what had been in the potion when it exploded over them, and how were they going to undo the effects?

"I don't know, Professor," she answered, watching him blink at the sound of his own voice calling him by his title. "Do you have anything that will reverse this?"

Even before she had finished the question she could see him shaking his - her - damnit, his head. "Since I don't know what 'this' is, Miss Granger, I don't have any solution for the problem right now. There were over 100 ingredients on the shelf which Mr Longbottom managed to demolish so easily - it would take more than our joint lifetimes to test all the potential combinations he could have created. This particular effect is not one I have encountered before; there is something rather ironic about the fact that Mr Longbottom appears to have created an entirely new potion when he is incapable of creating even the simplest established ones."

"You seem to be handling this well, Professor," said Hermione. Her comment was punctuated by a snort of laughter from Snape.

"Falling apart would serve no useful purpose, Miss Granger. However, you can be reassured that I am not finding this any more comfortable than you, I suspect. It is ... disorienting, to put it mildly. No doubt we will begin to get used to it."

'Disorienting'. It was a good enough word for it, Hermione supposed. 'Weird as hell' was more like it, though, she thought.

"So ... " Hermione stretched the word out as she worked her way through the implications, "you mean, we're stuck like this. I'm you, you're me and ... oh god, I have to take my NEWTs in June!"

"Trust me, Miss Granger, I have no desire whatsoever to remain in your body until next June - and still less desire to sit the NEWTs again. Although I suppose it would ensure that you achieved an exemplary Potions grade."

At that point Hermione realised that Snape was finding this as difficult as she was - the distraction in his voice as he seized the tangential thought was evidence enough. Anything to avoid having to think about the problem directly. They needed to take the problem to someone else - someone unaffected.

"Dumbledore." Hermione wondered if she'd been thinking aloud until she realised that although she'd heard her own voice, it was Snape who had spoken; he'd obviously come to the same conclusion.

They left the classroom in a hurry, both awkwardly adjusting to unfamiliar strides; Snape almost stumbled as Hermione's shorter legs failed to keep up with his habitual speed. Behind them, the silver-grey potion that was Neville Longbottom's sole contribution to the art and science of potion making dripped gently from the cracked cauldron onto the desk below.