A/N: Man, was this chapter hard to write. But here it is, and I look forward to your comments.


Bound to Him

Chapter 82

As familiar voices drifted up the staircase, Hermione squared her shoulders and took a fortifying breath. Many things had changed in the three weeks since she had last seen Harry, and she worried how he might react to seeing her again. Thus, she deemed it best not to stage their reunion in the Great Hall during supper. Few students were on the premises – McGonagall and the Board of Governors were waiting until after Dumbledore's funeral to make the decision regarding resumption of classes – but Order members and Aurors were also present.

Ron rounded the corner first. A grin began to form on his face upon noticing her but fell away as soon as the circumstances caught up to him. He turned to waylay the boy walking beside him, but it came a moment too late.

Though she had expected Harry to be angry, Hermione was stunned by the intensity of the rage that crossed his features. It was not until her head thunked against the wall that she realized he had even approached her.

"WHAT DID YOU TELL HIM?" Harry shouted.

The witch could not find her voice. The similarity of the situation to her nightmares distracted her. Any moment Harry would accuse her of being a Death Eater's whore or a mudblood spy.

"You were shagging the fucking ferret!" the boy continued. "No one's stupid enough to believe he wasn't getting something out of it!"

"Ha-Harry –"

"I TOLD YOU HE WAS USING YOU, YOU STUPID CHIT, BUT YOU WOULDN'T LISTEN!"

Hermione flinched both at his words and the spittle that peppered her face. She attempted to slip away, but Harry pinned her arms to the wall, and she feared fighting back would make him less conducive to a reconciliation. Though she tried to focus on her friend, the darkness of her memories and nightmares crept in from the edges.

"What did you tell them?" he snarled, while Ron uselessly gaped from the side.

Just how to sneak a bunch of psychopaths into the castle. Her reply came out barely above a whisper. "N-nothing."

"Rubbish!" Harry punched the wall beside her head. "Don't tell me you didn't know!"

"I didn't…"

"WHERE WERE YOU?"

"Harry!" Remus's voice boomed in the distance.

"Where were you when your Death Eater boyfriend and your pal Snape MURDERERD PROFESSOR DUMBLEDORE?"

Having reached them, Remus grabbed Harry about the waist. "Let go of her, Harry!"

"Kneeling before Voldemort, is that where you were?" the boy spat. "Entertaining his troops again?"

"HARRY!" The werewolf yanked him away from Hermione and pushed him back a few feet. "That's ENOUGH!"

Remus continued shouting at Harry, but Hermione did not register his words as she shakily sank down to the floor. Harry was only supposed to suspect her of such treachery in her nightmares, but this was no dream. She wanted to think it impossible that Harry could know of her connection to the Dark Lord. However, given that Harry and the Dark Lord had, respectively, been upset and thrilled by Dumbledore's demise, their heightened emotional states could have allowed for certain impressions to leak through into Harry's thoughts.

Oh fuck, fuck, FUCK! She screamed internally. She was going to have to try even harder to avoid suspicion from Harry if she wanted back in his good graces. Is it even possible anymore?

Feeling a hand on her shoulder, Hermione looked up to see a strange, yet familiar woman crouching beside her.

"Come on, luv."

Tonks. Hermione allowed herself to be guided to her feet and into a nearby classroom. She gratefully dropped into the proffered desk, but a cold sensation rushed down her spine when the Auror locked the door and dragged a chair adjacent to her own. Is this an interrogation? Does she believe Harry's accusations?

Her throat tightened. "I was with my parents. That's where I was when…when… I wasn't…"

Tonks leaned her crossed arms on the desk. "How's your father doing?"

"About the same, I think," Hermione mumbled. "I wanted to stay, but… I'm supposed to be here. With Harry. At least, I thought so. Doesn't appear he wants me here anymore."

"I'm sorry he's ill," the woman replied. "I would be devastated if anything happened to my Da."

Hermione nodded but grew more uncomfortable as Tonks watched her. It was disconcerting how the mousy brown hair accentuated similar features to Bellatrix that had gone unnoticed beneath pink or purple locks. The eyes were different, at least. Brilliant blue to Bellatrix's dark brown, they were wider and kinder, even when trained in scrutiny.

"I didn't know anything," Hermione claimed when she could stand the silence no longer. "Draco and I broke up, but it wasn't because… I didn't know they were going to… I didn't know."

The Auror took a measured breath. "Did you notice anything suspicious?"

She shook her head. "No. I mean, sometimes he grumbled about the Headmaster but nothing to suggest he wanted him dead."

"What did Malfoy talk about?"

"Besides schoolwork?" Hermione decided it was safe enough to stick to the truth, especially since she was likely being monitored for signs of deception. "Draco sometimes talked about his mother. He was worried about her safety and was angry at his father for ruining the family, leaving them all at risk. And he truly did seem to hate… You-Know-Who."

Tonks leaned back in her seat. "What gave you that impression?"

Criticizing herself for nearly referring to Voldemort as 'the Dark Lord', the girl took in a deep breath and tried to hide her trembling hands. "He said as much. Rather frequently actually."

"And you believed him?"

Hermione slowly nodded. "Of course, I did. His emotions seemed genuine. He was scared, angry, and wished he could protect his mother from You-Know-Who. He didn't think he could trust anyone, but I told him he could at least trust…"

Tonks cocked her head. "Trust whom?"

The girl dropped her gaze to the desk. "Professor Snape."

The Auror grimaced and momentarily looked aside in contemplation. "A month ago, you were certain Malfoy was not involved in the Thomas incident. You begged me to help him, but days after we spoke you ended your relationship with him."

"He ended it. I didn't end it."

Tonks tightened her gaze. "He did? Why?"

"I was trying to figure out how Harry could have been bewitched. Draco thought I was trying to blame him. We quarreled because he couldn't understand that I didn't think either of them were at fault. He ended things between us because he didn't think I was willing to sacrifice as much as he was."

"Sacrifice," the Auror repeated. "What exactly did he say?"

Hermione sighed. "He said he had been willing to turn his back on his family and friends to trust me. Since I wasn't willing to do the same, he said there wasn't any way we could go forward together."

"So, he tried to prevent your looking into the matter though it could've helped prove his supposed innocence. You refused to do so and refused to turn your back on your friends, so he split," Tonks summarized. "What was it that caused you to seek out Snape in a panic? You said it had to do with Malfoy."

Her heart raced as she searched for a believable answer. "I… It was right after our row in the library. I just… I was concerned about Draco. He was so upset."

"You thought he might hurt you?"

"No, of course not."

"Someone else?"

She frowned. "No."

"Himself?"

Hermione snapped her mouth shut and closed her eyes, thinking of the night she spent with Draco waiting on word from Snape about Narcissa. "Possibly. I'd never seen him that broken before and wasn't sure what to do. Professor Snape thanked me for letting him know and said he would deal with it. I didn't see Draco again after that."

Tonks stood suddenly and paced to the nearest window. Her mind was whirring through months' worth of memories, looking for some sign she had overlooked and kept coming back to the afternoon in Snape's office. She now knew at the same time Snape was discouraging her from investigating the attack on Thomas, Malfoy was doing similarly to Hermione. Obviously, the pair of them had been working together, but she could not figure out how they had been able to manipulate and deceive everyone so thoroughly.

And why attack Dean Thomas? Had the boy seen something? Or had it all been a distraction? If it was meant as a distraction, it must have backfired on them since it took scarcely any time at all to bring suspicion down on Malfoy's head. Snape and Malfoy were both intelligent wizards – surely, they ought to have expected that particular outcome. So then why rile up the Aurors and the Order only weeks before assassinating the Headmaster?

No matter which angle Tonks approached it from, it never made complete sense. Though she could conjure possible explanations for why Snape had quickly come to Dumbledore's aid after the poisoning if he meant to kill him (He had only pretended to provide aid), or why he would protect Potter under the Pakastekupla (Voldemort wanted to deal with the boy personally), or why Malfoy had warned her about Bellatrix (He meant it meanly), she could not shake the feeling she was missing critical details.

Eventually, Hermione cleared her throat. "Tonks?"

The Auror turned away from the window. "Hmm?"

"Is it… Are you certain that –"

"Snape killed Dumbledore," Tonks stated with finality. "There is no doubt of that in my mind."

Hermione leaned forward, hoping to leave some semblance of doubt in the witch's mind. "But I don't understand! It doesn't make sense. Why would he - "

"He and Malfoy snuck nearly a dozen Death Eaters into a school, then led half of them to ambush the Headmaster. Snape murdered him, manipulated me into believing he was uninvolved, and then calmly walked out the front door like nothing happened."

The girl tensed upon hearing how cold-hearted Tonks believed Severus to be. A man who had been unable to sleep, eat, or function without employing Occlumency for days on end was not unaffected. Then again, she herself had thought the worst of him during the binding ceremony and its aftermath.

Hermione shivered at the memories accompanying that thought. "H-Harry saw it happen?"

Tonks shook her head. "Snape neutralized him before the murder. Only Death Eaters witnessed it, but not a minute after I encountered Snape and Malfoy escaping did Bellatrix Lestrange come dancing down the corridor shouting 'Snape killed Dumbledore!' over and over again. There wasn't a soul in the castle who didn't hear her."

Hermione clenched her fists, knowing Bellatrix had meant to make Severus's escape almost impossible. She wanted that bitch dead sooner than later and was willing to do anything to see it happen.

Noticing the angered expression on the girl's face, the Auror reclaimed her seat. "Is there anything? Anything at all that stands out now? You probably spent more time with the two of them recently than the rest of us."

Briefly Hermione considered mentioning the tunnel since it did not appear Tonks knew of it. Though the thought of Death Eaters further abusing the use of the unknown passage unnerved her, the girl realized it would be incredibly suspicious for her to know anything about their point of entry. Feeling sick to her stomach, she shook her head. "I can't think of anything I could tell you. I just… I trusted them. I told Harry he should trust them."

Blowing out a deep breath, Tonks laid a hand on the younger witch's arm. "I understand, Hermione. I trusted them, too. I'm supposedly a dark wizard hunter, but they fooled me. I had them in my grasp right after the murder and didn't see their darkness. I bloody well wished them safe travels!"

After a shake of her head, the woman donned a determined countenance. "We trusted them, and they gutted us with their betrayal. They may be feeling powerful right now, but I will find them. I will bring them down and see to it they get exactly what they deserve."

Hermione swallowed nervously, noticing the streaks of red creeping through Tonks's wavy brown curls.

"You're still wearing it?"

"What?" The girl flinched when the Auror suddenly produced her wand. Her hands flew to her throat as the amethyst necklace was magically removed and stored within a containment charm. It was surprising how vulnerable she felt with its loss. Only once in the past seven months had she ever taken it off and, even then, only so Severus could heal her neck.

"He gave it to you, didn't he? I need to ensure there aren't any charms embedded within it," Tonks explained, stowing both her wand and the contained necklace within her robes. Her face softened, and she leaned closer. "Hermione, I've heard both Remus and Potter mention this, but I need to hear it from you. Were you sexually involved with Malfoy?"

Her cheeks flushed at the question. Though she wished to deny it given the falsehood it was, the girl nodded her head.

"When did you last have relations?"

Hermione's eyes widened, but the woman merely waited for her response. "Erm… we… a few days before Dean was hurt, I guess."

"Alright," Tonks sighed, standing and holding out her hand. "Come on, then."

"Where are we going?" she asked, hesitantly rising to her feet.

"Hospital Wing."

"What? Why?"

The older witch paused near the door. "Because we need to be certain you're not pregnant."

"I'm not. I know I'm not. We used contraceptive potion."

"Nevertheless," Tonks grabbed hold of the girl's elbow. "I need to absolutely sure, which means having a qualified Healer perform the test."

"But…" Hermione let out a puff of air while being tugged toward the door. "Why is it so important?"

"Because we want to be certain he has no control over you," she explained. "There are some incredibly old, rather disturbing spells a father may use involving the developing fetus. Chances are good Malfoy or his Death Eater mates know them, and it wouldn't work out in your favor."

Though she relented, Hermione could not help but feel like she was being led to the executioner as the pair walked silently through the corridors. The cloying evidence of grief – black curtains covered the windows, tapestries had been replaced by wreaths of flowers and rosemary sprigs, and the portraits had donned mourning garb – only set her more on edge.

Madam Pomfrey knows of my connection to Severus, but does she know the truth of Dumbledore's death? If she thinks Severus a murderer, will she expose me to the Aurors?

Hermione's stomach was trying to claw its way up her throat by the time they reached the infirmary. She considered contacting Severus for guidance, but ultimately dismissed it. She ought to at least attempt to handle difficult situations on her own. If things went poorly, she could have them summon McGonagall to straighten things out.

The young witch felt faint when Madam Pomfrey emerged from her office but relaxed when the Healer snatched her up in an embrace.

"Hermione, I'm so glad to see you're alright!" She took a step back and lowered her voice. "How is he?"

"Still alive," the girl tried to keep her answer vague enough that one might assume they were speaking of her father. "At least, he's started eating and sleeping again."

Poppy squeezed the girl's arm. "I'm relieved to hear it. Although it seems you've also been neglecting yourself. You'll remedy that, yes?"

As Hermione nodded, Tonks cleared her throat. "Pardon me, Madam Pomfrey, but might we move conversation into one of your private rooms?"

Agreeing, the Matron led them back to the room she typically reserved for Severus. "What is it I can do for you?"

"Would it be possible for Hermione to have a pregnancy exam?"

Poppy's eyes widened and flashed to her apprentice. Before she could ask a question, Hermione explained, "I used a contraceptive anytime Draco and I…were intimate, but Tonks is still concerned."

"You and Draco Malfoy?" the Healer questioned.

"If it's alright with you, Madam Pomfrey, could we discuss my ill-advised romance later? I'd rather get this over with."

Nodding, the Matron drew her wand. Hermione straightened her posture and held still as the spell was performed. Off-handedly she noted this was her fourth test in less than nine months. Not exactly a statistic to gloat over, now is it?

All three witches let out a collective sigh when the wandtip glowed red. Though Hermione had been relatively certain she was not pregnant, there was always the small possibility that the contraceptive had failed.

"That's a relief," Tonks exclaimed before banging her hip into the edge of the counter. Wincing, she rubbed at the injury. "Uff, would you have time to do a full physical exam?"

"What!" Hermione gasped.

Poppy frowned. "Whatever for?"

"We still have no idea how they bewitched Potter or how they breached the wards without alerting the Headmaster," Tonks answered. "Clearly they have knowledge of or access to a wealth of dark spells. Perhaps Malfoy truly cared for you but could not pull away from that path. Or perhaps it was a planned seduction, which leads us to question why. If he merely wanted your sympathy, it wouldn't have required a romantic relationship."

Tingling with sudden fear, Hermione sank down on the bed. She felt trapped. If she protested, it would only exacerbate suspicions.

Noticing her trepidation, Tonks perched on the stool. "Hermione, I am trying to protect you. As an Auror, I should have added what I knew of your relationship to the investigation file, but I haven't. I am risking whatever trust the Aurory has in me to keep you out of it because I know you. You would never knowingly work against us and do not deserve to have your life ripped apart. But to do this, I need to be dead certain Malfoy cannot manipulate you through any form of sexual or dark magic. I presumed you would rather Madam Pomfrey complete the exam?"

Hermione fought the urge to vomit as she agreed to it. Her fearful eyes met those of the Matron, who placed a comforting hand on her shoulder.

"Do you need to be present, or might Miss Granger be allowed some privacy?"

Tonks grimaced. "I do have to be in the room for the exam, Hermione, but I will step out while you disrobe."

When the door clicked shut behind the Auror, Hermione pitched forward, gasping for air.

"Shhh, dear," Poppy cooed, bending down. "If you lie on your back and face her whenever I'm working behind you, I can keep her from seeing the bond's mark. It'll be alright. We'll get through this."

XxxxxxxxXxxxxxxxX

It was late when Hermione was finally allowed to return to Gryffindor Tower. The Common Room was thankfully empty; her dormitory, however, was not.

Ginny sat up at her arrival. "You shagged Malfoy?"

The brunette exhaled deeply, stumbling over to her bed. "Not now, Gin. Please."

"Are you insane? Were you bewitched? Or Imperiused? Because those are the only possible explanations I can think of to explain you allowing that slimy ferret to touch you…with his hands, let alone his slimy ferret prick."

"Stop, please," Hermione mumbled into the comforter.

"Shit's sake, Mione! Malfoy? Draco Malfoy? Pureblood, bigoted, daddy-worshipping, ferret-faced Malfoy? Have you forgotten everything he's done? Everything his family's done? How could you –"

"Just SHUT UP!" the older girl cried, sitting up to face her friend. She heaved in a breath and wiped away frustrated tears. "I have been here for you all year, Gin… Dean this, Harry that, Fleur's a bitch, Ron's a prat. You pouted, and complained, and cried, and panicked, and yelled at me how many times? I put up with it all because you're my friend, so maybe you could just hold off on the shaming til the morning? I'm exhausted and would like to sleep now."

A mutinous expression was on the redhead's face as she flopped back against her bed. "Guess I'm just a terrible person, eh? Then again, I've never fucked a Death Eater."

Hermione angrily punched her mattress before yanking the black bed curtains closed. Even in her own bed she could not escape the reminders that the Headmaster was dead, and she was supposed to mourn him.

Careful not to disturb the sleeping Crookshanks, she hugged her pillow and lamented having left the cabin. Though she had told Ginny she wanted to sleep, it was the furthest thing from her mind. She needed time to herself, or more so time away from accusations or interrogations – even those that were well-meant.

Truth be told, she did not want to be alone. Hoping it was not too late, she cast a mental Patronus.

'You should be asleep.'

'I probably would be if I were there. Can I come back yet?'

'It's been half a day.'

Hermione snorted derisively while reflecting on that half day – being assaulted by Harry, interviewed by Tonks, poked and prodded by Madam Pomfrey, and shouted at by Ginny.

'I am sorry. I didn't expect it would be that difficult.'

Tears dripped down her cheeks, and she hastily wiped at them. 'I don't know if I can do this. I thought they would find out everything. Gods, if Tonks hadn't left the room while I changed, or if she had seen the mark… I was afraid she would catch a glimpse of it in a reflection or something.'

The full weight of the situation finally came crashing down on her, and she could not fight her tears any longer. When she worried her sobs were loud enough for Ginny to hear, she buried her face in her pillow to muffle the sound. Minutes passed without hearing anything from Severus, and she wondered whether he had silenced the connection.

'I'm still here.'

'I'm sorry.' Hermione hiccoughed, embarrassed at having contacted him only to break down weeping.

'Hermione, it's alright. You're fine. We're fine.'

'I was so scared, Severus. I thought I was going to get caught.'

'But you weren't. You kept your head, and we're fine.'

Hermione heaved in a breath and pressed the pillow tighter against her face to stifle her cries.

'You might as well let her hear.'

'What?'

'I hadn't anticipated Miss Weasley knowing of your supposed relationship. I should have, given Potter's inability to think, but you can use your emotion to your advantage. She'll assume it your anguish over having been betrayed by your lover.'

Pushing aside her pillow, Hermione sat up and rubbed her eyes as she sniffled. 'Please, don't call him that. It's hard enough with everyone else talking about Draco and me. I'd rather not hear it from you.'

'My apologies.'

'Thank you.' She let out a loud, shuddering sigh. 'Tonks is determined to catch you.'

'I imagined she would be.'

'If she had monitored Madam Pomfrey any closer… It was too close! It's too dangerous having her chasing you. We should tell her. Tell Remus, tell Tonks, and tell them immediately.'

'No. Minerva wants to wait until after the funeral, and we will wait until after the funeral to tell Lupin. At that point, we can discuss Miss Tonks.'

Hermione snarled, slamming her hand against the mattress and waking up Crookshanks. 'But it's stupid to wait! You have to see how dangerous it is.'

'Minerva thinks it best to wait.'

'But do you agree with her? What if she's wrong? What if –'

'We have to answer to someone, Hermione!'

The witch froze as he bellowed across her thoughts. When her heart started beating again, she closed her eyes and tipped forward to press her head against the bed.

'I'm sorry, but I'm not going to be moved on this. Despite what we've done the past few months, we are not a rogue element running about doing what suits us best. Minerva is the Head of the Order, and I trust her judgement far more than I do my own. Disagree with her if you must, but you will respect her decision. Understood?'

Hermione nodded into the bedcovers. 'I'm just scared for you, Severus.'

'I am fine, Hermione. Nothing will happen to me in the next week.'

'You can't know that!' Frustrated tears reemerged. 'What if she can track you somehow? Track your magic, or your wand, or… or something? You can't do magic, Severus. Promise me you won't use any more magic!'

She could practically feel him scowling at her as the seconds ticked by.

'Alright. Unless it is absolutely necessary, I will not use magic.'

Hermione let out a deep sigh of relief and sat up again. She did not know if magic could be traced for an adult wizard, but given what she had read about Ministry tracking, she figured it was possible. Licensed Apparition and Animagi can be tracked, so why not other forms of magic? For that matter, can the Trace be reactivated?

'You are not going to the library.'

The witch, who was already halfway across the room, froze mid-motion.

'You're worried about drawing suspicion from the Aurors but thought to sneak out after curfew on a quest to investigate the Ministry's ability to monitor magic? I realize it's the Gryffindor way, but how often does that go to plan?'

Flushing in embarrassment, Hermione hustled into the bathroom lest Ginny wonder at her actions. She winced upon bumping her arm against the door knob.

'Did Potter injure you?'

She touched the back of her head where it had hit the wall earlier. There was no concussion but was still tender to the touch, as were the bruises forming on her arms. Madam Pomfrey had agreed, however, that half a dose of pain potion and some bruise paste would set her to rights quick enough.

'By all means, relieve the pain, but I might advise against the paste.'

The witch frowned, pushing up her sleeves to examine the dark spots where Harry's fingers had dug into her flesh. 'Why?'

'We want Potter to forgive you as soon as possible. Though he is an arrogant twat, I believe he has enough compassion to be ashamed of hurting someone, especially a friend. He will feel guilty if he sees the marks he left on you, and that guilt will gnaw away at his anger.'

Hermione thought of Snape's reaction to the finger impressions on her hip the morning prior. The bruises on her arms already looked worse, and it had only been a few hours. Honestly, she was not certain which bothered her more – that Harry had put them there, that she would have to keep looking at them, or that she would be using them to intentionally manipulate her friend. But in the grand scheme of things, does this even rank as one of the worst things I've done?

'You're doing this for a reason, Hermione. We can't lose sight of that.'

Acknowledging he was right, the girl tugged down her sleeves. 'Madam Pomfrey was worried about you, you know.'

XxxxxxxxXxxxxxxxX

Hermione, anxious about displaying her bruised forearms to everyone at the funeral, fiddled with the sleeves of her black dress as she left the castle. It did seem to be an effective plan, though - she had caught Harry and the Weasleys eyeing them the previous day. No one said anything to her, of course, but at least they had noticed. Now she just had to let them stew until they were ready to confront her again.

In the meantime, she needed them to see her apparent misery. It would not be difficult to accomplish because she was miserable. Her closest friends were disgusted with her, and no doubt most of the Order thought she was a stupid slag. She was still concerned about Severus being caught, and yesterday's planned research trip had to be abandoned since Mad-Eye Moody had been conferring with an Auror just outside the library. McGonagall had been busy, so she could not confirm that the tunnel had been warded, though Severus had sworn it had been done. Since she was trying to avoid everyone else, Madam Pomfrey had been her only source of conversation for the past day and a half.

And now she was supposed to sniffle and sob over a sociopath and sit quietly by while everyone condemned her wizard. Miserable did not even begin to cover what she was feeling.

Hermione ground her teeth upon reaching the location of the funeral. The Ministry had granted permission for Dumbledore to be buried on the Hogwarts grounds – an honor no previous Headmaster or Headmistress had received – solely because he had wished it. Even in death, he gets away with whatever he wants, and everyone still celebrates him.

Rows of golden chairs – enough to seat nearly a thousand people – had been set up near the Black Lake. A center aisle ran between the rows, leading to the front where a thick marble table stood.

Cold sludge seemingly dripped down her spine as the thudding of her heart drowned out all other noise. The grey sky darkened into night, and the white marble became moonlit stone. Funeral attendees were now Death Eaters, hemming her in from all sides, as they congregated before the altar. The Dark Lord… where is he? They're waiting for him. I have to get away before he arrives.

As Hermione turned to flee, her shoulder bumped into one of the Death Eaters. Her stomach plummeted into her pelvis as he looked toward her.

"Oh, pardon me," he apologized. "Terribly sorry."

The witch blinked in surprise at the kind voice, and the darkness faded back into reality. She had not collided with a Death Eater but an elderly wizard, who shuffled past her to converse with an ancient-looking witch in magenta robes.

Nerves tingling with adrenaline and humiliation, Hermione fled along the shore until she reached her boulder. Leaning against it, she heaved in deep breaths and listened to the quiet lapping of the water until her panic subsided.

"Damnit," she gasped, covering her face with her hands. An anxiety attack was the last thing she needed to deal with right now. Staring up at the sky, she wrapped her arms about her frame and blinked away tears.

When she finally thought she could handle it, Hermione picked her way back to the funeral. Making every effort to avoid looking at the front, she swept her gaze over the crowd instead. Half of the chairs had already been filled by a wide array of witches and wizards, most of whom she did not recognize. Many of the attendees were still milling about, conversing in small groups.

Harry and the Weasleys were already seated near the front, leaning on each other for support. Obviously, she would not be welcomed there. A seat was available beside Professor McGonagall but, given the proximity to Moody and the Ministry bigwigs, it was not an option either. Likewise, she was determined to avoid Remus and Tonks until they could be told the truth, and Madam Pomfrey was surrounded by other staff members.

"Hermione, you can sit with us if you'd like," Neville gestured to the empty chair beside him.

Giving him a forced smile, Hermione politely nodded to his grandmother before claiming the proffered seat.

"Good gracious, girl!" Mrs. Longbottom declared. "What in Merlin's name have you done to yourself?"

Hermione flushed and tucked her arms against her stomach as the elder witch chided her about not knowing how to apply bruise paste effectively.

"Who did that?" Neville whispered.

"It doesn't matter," she sniffled.

"Was it Harry?"

Hermione ducked her head but refused to answer. She raised her hand to her chest to fiddle with her necklace only to recall, yet again, it had been confiscated by Tonks. Though it was possible it had been nothing more than a placebo effect, she could not help but think the loss of her amethyst talisman was contributing to the resurgence of her nightmares.

"I heard he lost his temper with you," Neville explained. After another moment of silence, he hesitantly touched his hand to hers. "I'm sorry he hurt you. It's not your fault, you know…what happened."

"Thank you, Neville." She squeezed his hand, grateful for the support but also hoping to discourage further conversation.

The boy however continued trying to comfort her. "Professor Dumbledore would never blame you for anything. Snape and Malfoy – they're the ones who did this. They're the ones to blame; not you."

Her tears began again at the hatred dripping from his voice as he mentioned Severus and Draco.

"Here," Mrs. Longbottom said gruffly, reaching across Neville to thrust a lace-trimmed handkerchief in her face.

Hermione whispered a word of thanks and dabbed at her eyes.

"Snape won't get away with it," Neville murmured. "The Aurors are searching for him. They'll find him soon enough and put him in Azkaban until trial."

His grandmother snorted bitterly. "I doubt they'll waste the resources. If they don't kill him outright, he'll get the Kiss before nightfall."

Biting back a horrified gasp, Hermione jerked her head away from the Longbottoms. Her shaking hands twisted the borrowed handkerchief in her lap as she tried to suppress the image of a Dementor sucking out Severus's soul.

To distract herself, she resumed her scrutiny of the ever-increasing number of people settling into their gilded seats. Her lip curled in disgust at the sight of Rita Skeeter flitting between groups of chatting people. The parasitic reporter seemed to be enjoying herself, which suggested some inflammatory publication of half-truths and embellishments was on the horizon.

Everyone else demonstrated some degree of grief. Many were crying; some were flat out sobbing. It was nauseating really. All of these suffering people. Dumbledore would not have shed so much as a tear over their deaths. He wouldn't even blink before sending them to their demise.

At the feeling of being watched, Hermione swung her gaze back around to find Harry staring at her. Sucking in a breath, she raised her bruised arm to wipe at her tears. She kept her eyes downcast but could sense some of the heat dissipating from his glare. When she was certain he had looked away, she stared at the back of his head. If only you knew, Harry. If only you knew what Severus has sacrificed to protect you. If only you knew how the great Albus Dumbledore destroyed both of your lives. If you knew what I now, would you still hate me?

Eerie music began, signaling the start of the ceremony and sending the stragglers scurrying into the nearest chairs. With everyone seated, it became obvious that the Merpeople in the lake were the ones responsible for the depressing melody.

"Look," Neville murmured, gesturing toward the forest. A herd of centaurs could be seen standing amongst the shadows seemingly paying their respects as well.

They read the stars. Could they not see Dumbledore for what he was? Or maybe they do know but are just letting us flounder about until we figure it out ourselves? Deciding the latter was most likely, she focused again on the center aisle. A sobbing Hagrid carried in the Headmaster's corpse, which had been shrouded in vibrant purple velvet and twinkling golden stars.

Hermione begrudgingly stood with everyone else to watch the slow procession and knew the ceremony was going to be painfully elaborate. Lord give me strength.

XxxxxxxxXxxxxxxxX

Hermione approached the door to Remus's office. She knew from Severus and the Marauder's Map that the coast was clear of Aurors – they had mostly cleared out after the funeral – and that Remus was currently alone. Though he had been anxious to share her secrets with the man, she could not help the fear suddenly freezing through her veins. What if he doesn't believe me? What if he thinks Severus is using me to manipulate him?

Stop it. Confidence. Be confident, and things will turn out well. Hermione shook out her hands, raised her chin, and knocked softly. At the gentle invitation, she pushed open the door and stepped into the room.

"Hermione?" Remus failed to hide his surprise as he looked at her. "I admit I wasn't expecting to see you this morning. You seemed just as determined to avoid me yesterday as you have all term."

The young witch nodded solemnly as she closed the door. "I know, and I'm sorry. I… Well, you said before that I could talk to you about anything. Does that offer still stand?"

Sensing the seriousness of her question, the wizard set down a stack of books and perched on the corner of his desk. "Of course, it does, Hermione."

"And it will remain confidential?" she pressed.

Remus frowned but kept his eyes on her face. "You have my word, Hermione. Nothing you say will leave this room without your permission."

Even though she had envisioned this conversation half a dozen times since breakfast, Hermione still struggled to find a way to start. Sensing her hesitation, the Defense Instructor cleared his throat and added, "Neither will anything you say change my opinion of you."

"I really hope that's true," she muttered. "There are many things I have to tell you, so I need you to remain calm and listen to me."

Remus dipped his head. "I can do that."

"Alright," Hermione whispered. Deciding to plunge in head first, she extracted from her pocket the scroll Minerva had given her that morning. After unfurling and glancing at it for a moment, she held out the parchment to him. "I think, before I say anything, you should read this."

Bemused, Lupin took the item from her. His face paled as he skimmed the description of the binding ceremony. His eyes lifted to her, and a touch of fear was evident in his tone. "Hermione, why am I reading this?"

"Because when Dumbledore told you all about the attack on my family last summer, he lied," she replied. "And in January, when we were all in his office, he lied again."

"Lied?"

Closing her eyes and saying a silent prayer, the witch turned and lifted the hem of her shirt.

"Hermione!" Remus gasped, slipping off his desk.

She dropped her shirt back in place and faced him once again. His eyes, wide with horror, snapped back to the text in his hands. His breathing became frenzied as he pored over every word and noted the last entry in the list of known victims.

"Snape! He did this to you?" his voice squeaked.

Hermione swallowed the lump in her throat as he grabbed hold of her arm, turned her about, and pushed up her shirt. Tears came to her eyes while he stared at the mark on her spine. When she felt his fingertips brush against it, however, she ripped out of his grasp and spun to face him. "He had to -"

"No," Remus snarled.

"—to save my life. He didn't have another option."

Oblivious to her attempts to explain, the man shook his head angrily. "That bastard!"

"If he hadn't, we'd both be dead."

"I'll kill him!"

"Remus, you –"

"I swear to the gods that I –"

"Will you be quiet!?" she shouted. "You promised you would listen to me, so I would fucking appreciate it if you did that!"

Flustered, the man bit back the rest of his comment, instead exclaiming, "But Snape raped you!"

"I know! It happened to me." She poked herself in the chest. "I'm the one who was raped; I'm the one who gets to be upset, so stop yelling at me!"

Lupin heaved in several deep breaths and adopted an expression of shame. "I'm sorry. You're right. I shouldn't… I… Just I don't understand how… he hurt you, but you… how did you…"

Hermione shifted uncomfortably. "Because I knew he didn't have a choice."

"Bullshit! There's always a choice."

"There is, yes, but –"

"If Snape were any sort of decent man – not the murderous Death Eater he is – he would never have considered this," Remus snarled, shaking the parchment.

Hermione huffed quietly as she sat down in the chair across from his desk. "I see. You'd prefer I had been killed, then."

"What? That's not –"

"Better dead than defiled?" she questioned. "I didn't expect that from you."

Remus frowned. "Hermione, that isn't what I meant."

"No? Well, that was the other alternative. You say he should have refused but refusing would have killed us both."

"I'm sure that had he actually cared to try, he could have –"

"You weren't there, Remus!" she hissed, leaning forward. "You have no idea what it was like that night, so do not sit there and tell me what we could have done. You don't know."

"So tell me," he replied. "Please. I want to understand."

Hermione crossed her arms. "If I start at the beginning, do you promise not to interrupt?"

Though he looked like he had swallowed something unpleasant, the man nodded.

"Thank you." She paused, then cleared her throat. "I wasn't at home when the Death Eaters found me. I'd had a row with my parents about how dangerous it was to return to Hogwarts, so I'd left to cool off. I wasn't paying attention. I didn't even give them a challenge.

"There are pieces missing about that night. I see flashes every so often but don't always know if its memory or imagination. But I remember waking surrounded by darkness and Death Eaters. I was frozen, not from cold – it must have been cold, though I don't remember feeling it. I was just… I couldn't move, I was so terrified. The – You-Know-Who was right there, standing over me with Professor Snape."

The werewolf bristled but held his tongue.

"I could see the panic in his eyes but, in that moment, it didn't register. I couldn't think of anything except that I was going to die and that I should have listened to my parents, should have told them sooner. I think I begged Se—Professor Snape… or maybe it was just in my head." The witch frowned in contemplation. "It must have been in my head because I don't think any sound came out at that point. I just stared at him… and he stared at me. I know the others were talking but don't really know what was said. I just focused on him because I knew, I knew he was the only one who could help me. He tried to stall…"

Hermione looked away as her voice cracked. Belatedly, she realized she had never explicitly spoken of that night. Severus and Dumbledore knew more than she did regarding the event, while Professor McGonagall and Madam Pomfrey only had a general understanding of what had occurred. She had relived that night so many times in her thoughts and dreams but never had she verbalized many of the details.

"Hermione?"

Her eyes meandered back to Remus. "I'm sorry. I just… I've never said this out loud before. I didn't think… it would be this hard."

The man swallowed nervously. "Take your time."

She nodded and took in a breath. "Severus tried to stall, to find a way out of it. He disappeared with the Dark Lord for… god, I don't know how long it was. It seemed like forever that he was gone. I thought… I started to think maybe Severus wasn't coming back. That he had left me there because I wasn't worth the risk to save, or perhaps the Dark Lord had hurt him for trying to help me."

A tear dripped down her cheek as she stared at his knees. Though she had intended to use 'Professor Snape' and 'You-Know-Who' in her explanation, she could not keep detached enough to do so. Quietly, she recounted everything she could recall from that night: the seemingly endless agony of Bellatrix's Cruciatus; her relief at Severus's return and how it vanished as he commenced his mental assault; and the shock, betrayal, and pain she had experienced as his attack turned physical.

Tears steadily streamed down her cheeks. "The Dark Lord was right there…the whole time, watching, instructing him. It hurt…everything he had to do hurt so much. It hurt even more because…I thought he was supposed to help me. At the time, I couldn't see how he was. I thought I had been wrong about Severus, that he really was one of them. That he'd fooled us all along."

Hermione quickly wiped at her eyes. "Later, I realized he had tried to get through it as quickly as possible. Had Severus hesitated any more than he had, they would have killed him. Without him, the Dark Lord's plan wouldn't have worked, so who knows what they would have done to me. I wouldn't be alive now; I know that much. My parents wouldn't be either. After he brought me here to Dumbledore and Madam Pomfrey, Severus went to my home. Bellatrix had been granted permission to kill my parents, but Severus moved them before she could. He protected them though he didn't have to."

"Dumbledore would have –"

"If it had suited his needs somehow, he may have protected them," she replied bitterly. "But I can't think what use they would be to him. Likely he would have thought it too great a risk to Severus's position to save them."

Remus frowned. "Then how did Snape manage it?"

"He lied to the Dark Lord, saying he had killed them, and was punished for depriving Bellatrix of her fun. The house, he burned down to cover his tracks. He even lied to me, letting me believe they were dead –

"What!" he exclaimed, standing.

"—because I couldn't keep them safe," Hermione explained. "When Severus was confident I could occlude well enough to keep their existence hidden from the Dark Lord, he told me the truth. He carried letters between my parents and me and took me to be with them for Christmas. But as far as the Dark Lord and his followers know, my parents are dead."

Crouching in front of her chair, Lupin carefully studied her face. "Hermione, did he… did Snape order you to come here and defend him?"

"No," she replied, pulling back her hand when he attempted to hold it. "I'm not telling you all of this because I'm compelled to. I'm choosing to confess all of this."

He eyed her a moment longer before moving around his desk and collapsing into his chair. "I still don't understand. I don't understand how you can… after everything he did to you, you're sitting there trying to protect him. Regardless of the fact Snape just murdered the man who was his greatest champion, you still believe what he's told you. But before that… before he betrayed the rest of us, he betrayed you. How could you even stand to be in the same room as him?"

Hermione absently picked at her fingernails. "I couldn't at the beginning. I wanted to hate him. I wanted to because it was easy – he hurt me, and I should hate him. He raped me in… in front of them all, and… I think Severus wanted me to as well – to hate him, I mean. But I couldn't. At least not for very long. Not after Dumbledore pointed out Severus was also suffering—"

"What?" Remus snapped, dropping his hand to the desk. "Dumbledore wanted you to focus on his suffering?"

She nodded.

"When did he?"

"There were a few conversations, but he first mentioned it the day after."

"The day after!"

Oblivious to his pallor, Hermione pulled her knees up into her chest. "I knew then Severus had done what he had to and felt sorry for him. I didn't like him at all – not for months, at least – and I certainly hadn't yet forgiven him. I wanted to stay as far away from him as I could, but Dumbledore instructed Severus to start training me in Occlumency right away."

"Why didn't Dumbledore teach you? Why would he subject you to undergo such an intimate, violating experience with the man who had just raped you?!"

"Why did he require Severus to teach Harry when neither of them likes each other?" The witch shrugged. "Dumbledore told Severus to train me because I needed to learn to trust him, though I doubt that was the whole truth."

"Snape told you this?"

She shook her head. "Dumbledore. He showed me some of his memories in the Pensieve after Severus saved me from drowning. That was when I first saw the scroll. Until that point, I thought that if I died, so would Severus."

Hermione traced a seam on her jeans. "Even though I had been angry with Severus – I swear to god he seemed to say things deliberately to piss me off – and I wanted him to suffer at times, I never wished him dead. But I also think… perhaps I couldn't really hate him because I hated myself for everything. I thought my parents were dead because of me. I thought…sometimes I thought if it weren't for my actions, he wouldn't have had to make such an awful decision. Or if I hadn't struggled against him, he wouldn't have had to be as… forceful."

Remus cringed, then laid both arms on the desk. He waited until she wiped at her eyes, then cleared his throat. "Hermione, it was not your fault."

"I know that…usually. But…my actions did put me in a position to be targeted by the Dark Lord. And when I think about everything that's happened because of that…" She shook her head and closed her eyes. It was bad enough that her nightmares and flashbacks had resurfaced; she should not start blaming herself again.

"Can I ask…why did Voldemort—"

Her head shot up. "Don't use his name!"

Lupin held up a hand defensively. "Why did he demand for you to be bound to Snape?"

Hermione lowered her feet to the floor. "The Dark Lord wanted to use me to spy on Harry. Severus was meant to control me, to ensure I did as the Dark Lord wished, and to deliver me to him whenever he called for me."

"Called for you?" His eyes widened. "Snape dragged you before Vol – You-Know-Who again?"

She nodded.

"How many times?"

"Does it matter?" When he shrugged, she dropped her eyes to the desk. "Three times. Before Halloween, in early December, and the week before Easter Hols."

Remus's eyes narrowed on her. "You knew, then. You knew Snape would assassinate the Headmaster. You knew Death Eaters would attack Hogwarts."

Hermione sighed. "I knew, but so did Dumbledore. So did Professor McGonagall."

"What did you just say?"

"Why do you think the attack happened when it did - after curfew during holiday? Or how Minerva summoned the Order so quickly despite the fact she was floors away from where the attack took place? Or why you couldn't use your Floo because the Headmaster had all of the Floo powder removed before the left the castle that evening?"

Lupin slowly closed his mouth as he processed the questions, none of which had occurred to him.

"They all planned it because Dumbledore was dying. He had been since he touched a cursed object he'd found in the Dark Lord's former home after Christmas. I'm sure you noticed his hand?" Hermione held up her own for emphasis. "Severus did his best to contain it, but it was going to spread. Like everything else, Dumbledore wanted to control his demise – to use it strategically.

"The Dark Lord had assigned Draco to kill Dumbledore in order to punish Lucius Malfoy for failing to retrieve the prophecy last year. Everyone, including Draco, knew it was meant to be a suicide mission, and when Draco failed, the Dark Lord would also kill his mother. Dumbledore instructed Severus and I to earn Draco's confidence –"

"Hold on. Snape commanded you to sleep with Malfoy?"

Scowling, Hermione snatched up the scroll she had brought. "Had I slept with Draco, I would be dead."

"But you…"

She shook her head. "Draco and I were never romantically involved but, when you assumed we were, I decided to use it as a cover story. Per Dumbledore's orders, we helped Draco. When Bellatrix gave him the poison, Dumbledore wanted the Dark Lord to think progress was being made. On his orders, Severus diluted the poison and placed it in his tea."

With a growl, Remus covered his mouth and rested his elbow on the desk.

"When Dumbledore recovered, Severus pinned the failure on Bellatrix. The Dark Lord still wanted Dumbledore dead and told Severus to assist Draco in the task. Dumbledore, however, wanted to spare Draco's soul, and demanded Severus kill him instead."

Lupin lowered his hands as he gaped at her. "Why?"

"Because he wanted to prove Severus's loyalty to the Dark Lord so that Severus can still help Harry and the Order. And so he can be named Headmaster when Hogwarts falls."

A dark look crossed over his face. "Hogwarts won't fall."

"Dumbledore is dead, and the Ministry doesn't know which way is up, as per usual. The Ministry will fall as will Hogwarts. If Severus is Headmaster, he can at least limit some of the damage to the students."

"I cannot believe this. I can't. I…" Remus shook his head and rubbed his mouth. "Forgive me, Hermione, but what you're asking me to believe… especially given that you've informed me that Snape can control what you –"

"Then speak to Professor McGonagall," Hermione interrupted. "Dumbledore told her of the plan when he swore her in as his successor to head the Order, and she's been aware of my relationship to Severus since the beginning. She can confirm what I'm telling you."

"If Minerva knows all of this, why are you the one approaching me? And why are you approaching me?"

"Because we need your help, obviously. And because we trust you – well, Professor McGonagall and I trust you. Severus doesn't really trust anyone." The witch rubbed her shoulder. "As for why she isn't here… well, that would also be Dumbledore's fault. He required her to swear an oath not to reveal anything he told her to anyone who didn't already know of it."

"Yet you told me to speak with her –"

"She can confirm the details; she just can't reveal them," Hermione corrected. "And when we've finished here, I'm supposed to take you to her quarters anyway so the four of us can discuss this further."

Remus froze mid-nod. "Four of us?"

XxxxxxxxXxxxxxxxX

Two facts were immediately apparent to Hermione when she Flooed into McGonagall's personal quarters. The first was that Minerva was not present as she had expected. The second was that Severus had listened to her conversation with Remus as she had not expected. She could see it in his eyes as they slowly met hers, and a lump formed in her stomach at the thought of what he could have heard.

'I'm sorry, Severus! I didn't mean to tell him all of that.'

The witch held her breath, but he neither responded nor removed his gaze from hers. It was clear he was no longer listening, which made her feel even worse. Embarrassed and afraid she may start to cry, she closed her eyes. It was at this point, however, that the significance of her first observation set in finally. Minerva was supposed to be there not only to facilitate discussion but also to keep tempers in check.

Indeed, when Hermione opened her eyes again, it was to see that Remus – who had followed her through the Floo – was no longer standing behind her. Instead, he had flung himself across the small space and into Severus.

"Shit," she hissed, leaping forward as the two plowed into the bookshelf. "Remus, stop!"

Undeterred by her plea, the irate werewolf threw his fist directly into the Potion Master's large nose. "YOU SHIT-FUCKING, MURDERING BASTARD!"

"REMUS, I SAID STOP!" Hermione produced her wand and hurled a Stinging Hex at his form to no effect. She planned to send a second but held up when the fighting pair shifted, moving Severus into her line of sight. Growling, she hurdled over the back of the sofa. "REMUS!"

Severus broke loose of Remus's hold only to be shoved back into the bookshelf. Taking advantage of the gap that had formed, Hermione darted in between them.

"Stop it!" she snapped, training her wand on Lupin.

"Nnoo!" Snape quickly righted himself and grabbed Hermione's arm, forcing her out of the way.

Not having noticed the young witch until the last possible second, Remus managed only to reduce the force behind his next blow. His knuckles merely skimmed her shoulder before striking Severus in the chest. While the werewolf was alarmed at having nearly harmed her, Severus seized him by the lapels and slammed him into the wall.

"Touch her again, dog, and I will put you down," he snarled.

Lupin bared his teeth. "Like you put down the Headmaster?"

Severus flinched at the comment. His head snapped backward as Remus snatched hold of his throat.

"I should kill you for what you did to her."

Sensing Hermione's movement, Severus managed to turn his head enough to gasp, "Don't come any closer."

Disregarding the command, the girl stepped forward only to yelp in pain.

Further angered by witnessing her distress, Remus tightened his grip. "Give me one reason, shitstain, why I shouldn't snap your neck right now."

Hissing through gritted teeth, Hermione stumbled backward and picked up a book that had been knocked to the floor. She then launched it at the Defense Instructor's head. "Kill him AND YOU KILL ME!"

With a whoosh, Minerva stepped out of the fireplace in time to awkwardly catch the book after it glanced off Lupin. She quickly took stock of the chaos in her sitting room and, with a few decisive flicks of her wand, separated the wizards and sent them flying into the furniture. As Remus landed in an armchair, and Severus on the end of the sofa, she hit them both with a Sticking Charm to ensure they remained seated.

"I apologize for having stepped away. I should have expected it would take more than 45 minutes to schedule a 15-minute meeting with the Ministry," Minerva sighed, setting the book down on an end table. "Hermione, dear, are you able to tend to Severus's face?"

The girl sighed and crossed her arms. "If he'll allow me."

"Allow?" McGonagall repeated in surprise. "Of course, he will."

Snape grimaced and wiped at the blood trickling over his lips. "Granger, you may move wherever you wish."

Ignoring the resulting snarl from Remus, Hermione came to stand in front of the injured Slytherin. Holding his chin steady, she repaired his broken nose with a quiet Episkey followed by a Tergeo to siphon off the blood. When she finished, Severus snatched her wrist.

His voice was low and dangerous. "Never do that again."

Her stomach flipped at the ferocity of his gaze. "I'm sorry. I…"

"Do not ever put yourself between me and an angry werewolf," Snape clarified. "Do you hear me, Hermione?"

"Yes," she breathed, dropping her eyes when he released her arm.

"Are you in pain?"

"No, I'm fine." Cheeks flushed, Hermione narrowly avoided bumping into Minerva while retreating to the other end of the couch.

"And you, Remus?" McGonagall asked, glancing at his red knuckles. "Do I need to ask Poppy to join us?"

The man flicked his eyes to her, to the Floo, to Snape, and then back to her. She raised one eyebrow in acknowledgement of his unspoken question. "Oh, yes. Poppy is well aware of the situation."

Lupin crossed his arms and resumed glaring at Severus.

Sighing, Minerva glanced at the other armchair but ultimately claimed the middle sofa cushion. She sat tall and rested her hands in her lap. "Remus, I understand your anger. I reacted similarly upon discovering the nature of the connection between Severus and Hermione. I also know you were hurt by the Headmaster's death; we all were. Our emotions are high and energy low, but the truth of the matter is we need to set aside our animosities, so we can work together.

"A house divided against itself cannot stand. Vol –" She glanced apologetically at Severus and cleared her throat. "Riddle expects the Headmaster's death has fractured the Order into ineffective pieces, but I refuse to allow that bastard to have the right of it. I assure you I stand behind what Hermione has told you, and Severus had my full support on everything he has had to do, but I recognize you likely require further assurances. Do you have any questions for me?"

Remus angrily stared at her for several seconds. "Was Albus actually dying?"

The elder witch nodded. "The eejit thought it a good idea to don a ring that had belonged to Riddle and beheld a particularly nasty curse. He would have been dead within hours had Severus not treated him so quickly. You can ask Potter yourself about the state Albus was in that night."

"Wouldn't he have said something?"

Minerva snorted in disdain. "Because he's always been so forthcoming."

"But something like this…"

"I've come to see that the greater the significance of a bit of information, the more likely Albus Dumbledore was to keep it to himself. Like a giant niffler hoarding gold." The elder witch sighed and folded her arms. "Knowledge is power, and to an even greater extent when you are the one who controls access to it. Truth is something Albus was only interested in sharing if it suited his interests."

"He told you," Remus argued.

"Solely because Severus refused to follow his final command unless I knew the truth and was sworn in as his successor. Even then Albus demanded I swear an oath not to reveal what he told me."

"Hermione? Poppy?"

"Miss Granger knows," Snape broke his silence, "because I was not going to make a decision that could negatively impact her well-being without first discussing it with her."

"Pity you didn't have such a policy last summer," Lupin spat.

Hermione jerked forward but was held back by a gentle hand on her shoulder.

"That was uncalled for," McGonagall chastised. "And Poppy knows because she is a competent Healer with eyes, ears, and a functioning brain."

Remus shifted as much as the Sticking Charm allowed him to. "I don't understand why you're telling me but not anyone else."

"Because we need your help."

"In what way?"

After a nod and a hand squeeze from her Head of House, Hermione nervously described their problem and proposed solution.

Remus gaped at her explanation, then awkwardly lurched in Snape's direction. "You thought you would bribe a cover story out of me so you can keep raping her?!"

Severus flinched and closed his eyes, while Hermione jolted out of her seat. "It's not like that! It's not rape."

"It isn't exactly consensual, though, is it?" the werewolf retorted.

"And what if it is?"

"Remus, you are out of line." Minerva stood in front of Snape and prodded Hermione to return to the couch. She then crossed her arms and scowled at Remus. "I may have excused your earlier behavior, but I expect civility within my quarters. You do not have to like Severus or what he must do to keep his position as our man in V—Riddle's ranks, but despise him on your own time. Protecting Hermione means protecting Severus. Keeping Potter safe, keeping the Order well-informed means keeping Severus in one piece. If you cannot handle that, I need to know and will do what needs to be done. So… can you handle it?"

Tension reigned while Remus considered the question. Hermione nervously glanced at Severus, who bore a pained grimace and had yet to open his eyes. McGonagall's gaze held steady, giving her the appearance of calm that she did not feel. Eventually, Remus nodded his head.

"You want me to vouch for Hermione's brewing of the Wolfsbane," he summarized.

"Yes." Minerva relaxed and reclaimed her seat.

"I'll do it, but it's not going to work."

The relief Hermione had started to feel suddenly vanished. "Why not?"

Minerva sighed and rubbed her face. "I was afraid of that."

"If it were just Harry and the Weasleys, perhaps it would," Remus explained. "But Dora will smell a rat straightaway. And if Kingsley or Moody catch wind of it?"

Severus groaned, dropping his head back against the sofa. Minerva rested her hand on his wrist as she asked, "Can anyone think of an alternative, which would still allow Hermione to remain with Potter? She needs to be with him. The boy needs supervision."

Minutes of silence ensued until Remus finally cleared his throat. "Not without involving others."

When Snape tensed and prepared to protest the comment, McGonagall squeezed his hand and replied, "Then I think that's what we'll have to do."