Chapter 11

The Beginning of the End

Hermione felt like her skull was on fire. Her eyes squeezed shut as blinding images sifted through her mind like pages of a book, the edges burning and crumbling, and faded like an old tome.

She was no longer cognizant of the fact that she was sitting on the grass against a tree, or that Severus was sitting beside her. Hermione felt as if she had been ripped from the ground and forced into her head, watching her life flicker by in fastly fading images.

She was sitting in the girls' bathroom, sniffling as she attempted to wipe the tears from her face. There was no use crying now. She was an outcast as a muggle and an outcast as a witch. Nobody would ever like her, and they weren't wrong….she was a know-it-all…nobody would be her friend…

Hermione stepped outside the stall and felt her heart stop when she saw two heavy feet standing in front of her, and her jaw dropping when she looked up and saw a troll staring down at her…

"Focus, Hermione," Severus said sternly next to her, and she gasped.

Before she could react the scene shifted again, and Hermione found herself kneeling on the floor watching a cabinet repair and destroy itself over and over, as it vaulted in a time loop right before her eyes. She had finally noticed the shard embedded in her knee, and glanced down and saw the broken time-turner. Hermione's eyes widened.

"No!" she yelled and closed her eyes, throwing up a shield desperately in her mind. He shouldn't see this, he should not be seeing this!

Hermione gasped when she was pulled out of the memory and back to the present. Her breathing was rough as air filled her lungs rapidly, and she vaguely realized that she was doubled over, the palms of her hands flat against the ground.

"Not bad," Severus said beside her, his tone holding a touch of concern.

"T-hanks," Hermione gasped, straightening in her seat and composing herself. Licking her dry lips, she looked at Severus fearfully and swallowed hard. "So, um, I think I'm done for the day."

"What?" Severus scowled down at her. "Hermione, as much as I'm impressed that you were able to block me out at some point, that's hardly near success. This won't work if you don't practice."

"I understand," Hermione's hand trembled as she fought to push a bushy lock of hair behind her ear. "I'm just…I just…I don't think I'm ready for this right now." She gave an apologetic smile to an extremely perplexed Snape.

Severus narrowed his eyes. "Hermione." When she made no response, he scowled. "Were you just spouting more sympathy notes before then, about wanting to get stronger?"

"What? No! Severus—"

"Do you not trust me? I told you there would be no damage in learning this."

"I do trust you, and I do want to be stronger, you knowI do…"

Severus's lips curled instantly into a cheerful smile. "Well, then. Shall we continue?"

Hermione's eyes widened. "No, no wait please, please—"

It came even faster than before, and Hermione felt the wind knock out of her as her mind zoomed through the recesses of her memories, some buried deep and some resting fragilely on the surface. She tried desperately to do what Snape had been trying to teach her, to shield her mind from intrusion, but everything was going too fast and she was struggling to remember what she was doing in the first place…

Hermione was staring down at a pale, blond-haired boy as he spoke, and something snapped in her. The next moment her hand swung in the air and connected loudly with the boy's cheek, leaving everyone—including herself—flabbergasted.

"Hermione," Ron said in wonder beside her as the blond ran away, looking at her as if she owned the world, and Hermione felt herself warm with pleasure…

"Focus," a voice reminded, and she blinked when the scene shifted to Hermione sitting in Dumbledore's office, as he handed her a golden necklace. The Time-Turner was almost weightless in her hands, and she was mesmerized by the ruby red grains of sand inside.

"Professor Dumbledore," Hermione said shakily, "you used this tonight, didn't you."

Hermione blinked and realized what she was thinking. "No," she breathed, "No, you can't! Get out of my head!"

She attempted to stop the memory, to redirect it elsewhere, and for the moment it had worked; the scene shifted to darkness, her mind tirelessly striving to shut him out. She grew tired immediately, and felt wisps of thoughts flicker around her. She could feel Severus there with her, in her mind, penetrating it with his presence, and she struggled to throw him out. He was like heavy weight pressing against her in every direction, the walls closing in. But as quickly as she managed to stop the memories, they came flooding back, and Hermione was far too weakened to do anything to stop them.

She was standing in shock when a little boy shyly stuck out his hand to her. "I'm Sirius Black, by the way." The little boy beamed, and Hermione's heart stuttered.

"Hermione…?"

Hermione blanched at Severus's voice and screamed inside her head. No, no, she couldn't—and then it was happening already, before she could stop it—

She felt pools of moisture collecting under her lids when Professor Snape curled his lips in disgust, saying softly, "Five more points from Gryffindor, for being an insufferable know-it-all."

"NO!"

Memories swirled and vanished, and she threw her mind into darkness, fighting to keep Severus out. It was long moments later that Hermione realized the darkness she was seeing was the back of her eyelids, and she was on the grass once more.

She was too frightened to move. Her breathing was uneven, but so was Severus's beside her.

Trembling, Hermione opened her eyes. She was lying on the grass with her hands clutched to her head. Slowly, she raised herself to a sitting position. Swallowing thickly, she turned to look at Severus.

Severus was sitting absolutely still. His back was perfectly straight, his muscles tense. Silence filled the air between them stiflingly, and Hermione grew afraid.

"Severus?"

No response.

Hermione blinked rapidly, and shifted closer. "Severus," she repeated. When he made no move to reply, she said pleadingly, "Please say something."

"I was there," Severus said quietly. He was staring intently at his knee, his breathing light. "Older. I was there. You called me 'Professor'."

Not knowing what else to say, or what to make of this unusually frozen Severus, Hermione answered tentatively, "Yes. You were."

It was ages before Severus spoke again. "Is this why…" He gave her a scrutinizing look, as if trying to decipher her. "Is this why…Black mistrusts you?"

She nodded haltingly. "Yes."

Severus was lost in thought again, and Hermione did not know what to make of it. She didn't know what to do. Finally, she whispered, "Severus, you cannot tell anyone."

This finally got a real response from him. He furrowed his brows and said, "Does anybody else know?"

"No," she said quickly. "Not even Dumbledore."

Immediately Severus sprang to his feet, drawing his wand. "For once perhaps that oaf Black was right," he said coldly, and it was like a bucket of ice had been dropped over Hermione's head. "Dumbledore must know."

"No—stop!" Hermione grabbed Severus's arm violently. "You can't tell him, you cannot tell anyone!"

"Why?" Severus sneered. Hermione fought back the hurt inside her and scowled.

"Because he's the one who sent me here. He's the reason I'm even here in this bloody time. I can't…I can't know what it will do if Dumbledore knows, if anyone else knows. It could throw off the rhythm of an already disturbed time stream."

"Why are you here?" the next question came rapidly from Severus. Hermione opened her mouth, and stilled.

"I—I can't. I can't tell you. Please, you must know I mean no harm."

"You can be vague," said Severus, taking a step forward, and keeping his wand locked on her. His upper lip curling, he hissed, "Explain."

Hermione bit her lip. Severus's eyes were filled with confusion and mistrust. She would never be able to reach her wand without having a hex thrown at her.

"Lower your wand," Hermione lifted her chin. Severus frowned. "I'll not be speaking as if I'm a criminal, with a wand at my throat. Lower your wand, Sev, and I will tell you what I can."

The use of his nickname brought a spark of clarity to his eyes. Narrowing them, he lowered his wand arm hesitantly and waited for her to speak.

"Come, sit," she sat back against the tree, and waited for him to follow. He sat down stiffly, his eyes never leaving hers.

"You may ask whatever questions," she started quietly. "And I may choose to answer. I will tell you what I can."

"Who are you?" Severus asked at once.

"Hermione Granger."

"Who are you really?"

"Hermione Granger," Hermione repeated. "I've not changed my name."

"How did you get here?"

"From a Time-Turner."

"Don't be daft," Snape snapped. "No Time-Turner can move back years; even first years know that."

"I didn't use an ordinary one," retorted Hermione. "You saw my memories. Think of what you saw when I was sitting in Dumbledore's office."

Severus grew silent again, his mind racing. "The red sand is responsible?"

Hermione nodded. "I've never heard of such an instrument," said Snape coldly. Hermione almost snorted. "I didn't either, until a few months ago."

Severus sobered immediately. "Why are you here?"

"I was sent by Dumbledore."

"For what purpose?"

"To…help."

"With?"

Hermione shook her head. "So you knew me already," Snape continued. "When you arrived. You knew everybody here."

His voice sounded almost betrayed, and her heart twisted. "Not personally," Hermione insisted softly. "I don't know most of the people in this era; I only recognize their names."

Severus was silent once more. Hermione fidgeted in her seat, waiting for the worst. She was mentally preparing herself for the distrust, the betrayed eyes and the sneering. Always the sneering. It was a shame, because Severus and Hermione had finally become genuine friends.

The sneering did not come. Instead, Severus said inaudibly, "Proof. Show me proof."

Hermione's eyes widened. Slowly, she replied, "Were my memories not enough?"

Severus shook his head. "I…have to know this is all by Dumbledore. I need to know you aren't here…to hurt anybody."

"I don't know if I have anything like that to show, Severus," Hermione muttered. Wringing her hands, she shook her head. What could she show? Her textbooks from the future? Fat lot of good that would do. She brought nothing of proof, nothing to—

"Wait," she said suddenly. "I have one thing. It's not enough, but it's something."

Silently the pair walked back into the castle. Hermione led him to the Gryffindor common room, muttering the password and climbing inside. Severus hesitated.

"I'll stay here," he said uncomfortably.

Hermione shook her head. "I don't want this out of the open. You should see it where it belongs."

After much persuading and harsh words, Severus grudgingly entered the Gryffindor common room. She spelled the staircase to stay put as she led him to the girls' dormitory. It was still lunchtime and Gryffindor tower was silent and empty, and she crept into her dormitory, with Severus right behind.

She stopped at the foot of her bed and knelt down. Reaching for her trunk, she pulled it out on top of her mattress and flicked her wand a few times, disabling some enchantments and opening it. She groped inside, searching for the bag, while Severus watched her intently. His stare was unnerving, and she could not meet his eyes when she finally pulled the bag free and slipped her hand inside, wrapping her fingers around a cold chain.

She reached for Severus's hand. She dropped the necklace in his palm, and waited. He stared at it, then lifted it to his eyes in scrutiny.

"Where is the sand?" he pondered.

Hermione bit her lip. "After I…after I got here, it disappeared. You're only allowed to use it twice. But if you look closely inside, there's still a tiny spot of red."

Severus brought the Time-Turner closer to his eyes, squinting. Finally he lowered his hand, expressionless, and returned the necklace to Hermione.

He sat down on her bedspread without a word. Silently, Hermione returned the Time-Turner into her trunk and put the charms back on it, then drew it under the bed. She had never expected this sort of reaction if someone were to find out about the truth of her existence. Screaming, accusations, flying hexes—those she had expected. But not this. Not quiet contemplation.

As quietly as she could, without disturbing the bed too much, Hermione took a seat beside Severus. He met her eyes, and Hermione held her breath.

"The story," he murmured, as if unsure of what to say. "About…the Dark Lord's followers attacking you, and killing your family. That can't be true."

Hermione shook her head slowly. "Honestly, Severus…I have no idea. I think it is."

Severus scowled. "What does that mean? You're not from here, you can't have been attacked and had your family murdered."

"This wasn't normal magic I used to get here, Severus," she whispered harshly. "Using this Time-Turner—it changes fate. My destiny has been changed. It rewrote history, what it needed to change, to have me stay here. I have—I have bits of memories of being tortured. I have residual effects of the Cruciatus Curse, as if I truly had been cursed with it for hours."

Severus was shocked, and his eyes went wide as he stared at her incredulously. "How is that even possible?"

"How is any of this possible?" she replied with a shake of her head. "But I know there's some truth to the stories. The Granger family—the family lineage where I come from, the parents that should have had me in a few years—are dead. There will never be a baby Hermione Granger born in 1979. So the Time-Turner has done its work."

It took Severus several moments to process these words. He looked torn between denying it all and going into a fit of rage, and clutching his head in confusion and dismay.

"Why are you here, Hermione?" Severus looked from his lap and pinned her with a fierce stare. "You said you came to help. Nothing you've done here could have been without a purpose." Understanding registered on his face, and it was slowly twisting into fury. Hermione shifted nervously, and reached for his hand. "What happens in the future that is so terrible that Albus Dumbledore sends a teenager into the past to fix the mistakes?"

"Severus—"

He pulled his hand away before she could touch him, as if already burned. His eyes were full of accusation. "I saw your memory. You knew me. I was your professor, and I was—I was—"

Cruel to you. Hermione bit her lip as he worked the pieces together.

"That has nothing to do with it," she said earnestly. "I hadn't plan on talking to anybody, being noticed by anybody; being your friend happened on its own! I swear, Severus, I—"

Severus abruptly stood up, breathing quickly through his nostrils. He was shaking, but was still trying to keep his anger checked.

"I understand," he said evenly. He turned to leave.

"Where are you going?" Hermione jumped from her bed and reached out to him, stopping him before he opened the door. "Are you angry?"

"I don't know."

His expression was unreadable, making it impossible for Hermione to know what he was thinking. Severus was clever, and had probably worked out the finer details of her purpose here without needing to be told. It frightened her. He would think she had used him.

Licking her dry lips, she said timidly, "Nobody can know, Severus."

His glare was sharp and piercing. "Suddenly forgot we were friends? No longer trust me?"

"No, I—"

"I'll keep your secrets," Snape forced out, shaking her off him. "I…I need to think for a while."

"You have to promise," Hermione quickly held out her hand. "Promise you will tell nobody of what you learned about me today."

Severus stared at her. Narrowing his eyes, he gruffly took her hand. "I promise," he growled, and then withdrew. "Now I would appreciate," he began quietly, "if you would respect my wishes, and allow me to think."

"Y-yes," Hermione agreed unsteadily, watching him retreat. He closed the door, and she heard him close the portrait door.

Hermione dropped her head in her hands, body shaking.

xxx

Remus was sitting quietly in the common room, the walls growing dark as the sun set outside. He reread the same line five times, until he finally snapped the book closed in frustration. At this rate, he would barely get a Troll in the O.W.L.s.

It was almost time. Checking the clock, he saw he had about an hour before he was to head to McGonagall's office in preparation. Glancing around the common room, he noticed that it was abnormally crowded with fifth-years, though understandably. Each of his housemates was either buried in a book or scribbling furiously on stacks of parchment. Some were even practicing spells on the far corner of the room, with cheerful encouragement coming from the portraits looking over the students' progress.

To say he was disappointed when he didn't see his best mates around on this particular night was one way to look at it. Remus was past feeling angry and hurt. He was resigned, and accepted what was unraveling before him.

A sudden thump of footsteps caught Remus's attention. Hermione had just walked out of her dormitory, her eyes world-weary and slightly pale. She shuffled over to the empty sofa near the fireplace, and reached for the book that was sitting there. It seemed she hadn't noticed him, for she did not look his way nor acknowledge his presence.

And why should she? A dark look passed over Remus. Of course she would not speak to him. He was currently keeping away from her, was he not?

He thought of James, Sirius, and Peter, and began to frown.

"Hello," Remus blurted, before Hermione could walk away. She jumped a little, as if she hadn't expected anyone to notice her.

She blinked. "Evening, Remus. Studying well?"

Her voice was tired, but not unkind. She had a haunted look in her eye—or was it hunted?

"Just barely," he cracked a smile. "Are you staying?"

She followed his gaze to the book in her hand, and smiled slightly. "I was just picking up my book. I thought I'd head in early to bed."

Remus nodded in understanding, feeling his gut twist with guilt at this removed, passive Hermione. Had he caused this? Perhaps this had nothing to do with him at all, but he could not help but feel somewhat responsible. Remus remembered the shock he felt when Peter sat next to her at lunch yesterday—an open defiance to Sirius's suggestion of keeping away. Peter had opted to act on his own, and Remus…well, he could not help but feel envious.

He focused on Hermione's book, and frowned. "That's an interesting text. Anything in particular you're researching, or are you simply fond of unapproved magic?" It was a quip, but he realized quickly that it was a poor choice. Accusing Hermione of dark magic within a minute of speaking to her? Remus was surely going places.

Hermione looked at the book and stiffened. She almost didn't speak, but something in her eyes shifted and she shrugged slightly. "It's more a companion to A History of Magic. I'm looking at the lineages of some spells, like fiendfyre."

Remus nodded eagerly, relieved that she hadn't taken his inquiring the wrong way. "Yes, that's quite an old spell, I think. Horribly tricky, even for Dark Arts meddlers."

Hermione nodded vaguely. "Yes. It's proving to be quite tricky to understand, let alone trace its history. Whoever even tries to use this spell is insane."

Remus nodded politely, then looked around awkwardly as silence ensued between them.

"It's going to be a full moon," she murmured, looking away from his suddenly stiffened form and staring outside the window.

"Yes," he managed, his fingers twitching. "I do believe so." Hermione was looking at him sadly, and appeared to want to say something more before she was interrupted.

"Beautiful night tonight, don't you think?" James's voice suddenly appeared behind them. Hermione stiffened and saw James walking near the fireplace, with Peter and Sirius climbing through the portrait hole behind him. James caught Hermione's eyes and tried to smile a little, wearing an expression of guilt and hope. Hermione did not know what to think of his friendliness, and chose to look away.

James sagged a little in disappointment, but brightened when Sirius and Remus sidled up with him. "Fancy a stroll, Remus?"

Remus blinked up at them, perplexed. "I—what?"

"Come, now," Sirius grinned cheerfully and hauled Remus to his feet. "I hear there's a surprise with your name on it, just waiting for you out the door."

"I don't understand," Remus stammered, and shot an apologetic look to Hermione as they pushed him through the portrait hole. James was the last to leave, and he threw a lingering glance in Hermione's direction. "Goodnight," he called, waving hesitantly. Hermione, surprised, could do nothing but stare and wave back.

xxx

"What is it?" Remus snapped when they'd stepped through the Room of Requirement. "Are you all mental? I have to leave in a half-hour, McGonagall will be expecting me—"

"Ask her to let you transform in the Shrieking Shack again," Sirius asked suddenly. Remus frowned, his brows bunching together in confusion.

"Why would I do that?"

"Because," James stepped forward, "You have a reason to go there now. You won't be alone."

"Of course I will be alone," Remus said slowly. "What are you three playing at?"

"You know how, these past few weeks, you've seen us all slip away?" Peter began hesitantly. Remus shifted his eyes to the three, and nodded uncomfortable. "Well, we weren't messing around, and we weren't excluding you."

"Well that feels loads better to know. Thank you for informing me," Remus retorted sarcastically, and moved to push past them. Sirius caught him by the arm.

"He's right, Remus," he said seriously. "We weren't goofing off. We were waiting until it was perfected—and I'm only sorry it's taken this long."

"Taken this long for what?" asked Remus in exasperation. James and Sirius exchanged significant looks, and then to Peter.

"We might as well show him," Sirius shrugged. Looking grim, the three stepped away from Remus and closed their eyes.

Remus's mouth fell open in shock as a stag, a shaggy dog, and a rat stood in the places where his three best friends had been standing not a second ago. The transformation had been instantaneous, quicker than the blink of an eye, and it was all Remus could do not to jump in shock.

"What…you…!"

The dog—Sirius—ran around him playfully and put his paws on front of Remus's shirt. Remus knelt down in awe, grabbing the dog on either side of the head, and looked into his eyes.

They were grey, just like Sirius's, and they were staring contemplatively back at him.

"Merlin's beard," Remus breathed, jolting a little when a pair of antlers nudged his leg. James was wont for attention as well, and Remus saw that Peter—little, squeaky, ratty Peter—had climbed on James's back.

Remus stepped away and watched the animals transform back into human form. All three were fighting grins, and looked to Remus as if waiting for approval.

Remus had no words. His mouth opened and closed, until he spluttered, "Have you all gone mad?"

The grins faded. "Aren't you happy, Remus?" James asked in confusion.

"Why would I be happy?" Remus asked incredulously.

"We—we learned to be Animagi!" Sirius exclaimed. "It took a lot of bloody effort, but it was worth it. Now you don't have to be alone when you transform, Remus. Don't you see? This is a good thing?"

"No, it's not," retorted Remus hotly. "Did you even think what would happen if anyone were to find out? You're underage and you're unregistered—what will happen if you get caught? Azkaban is not short of empty cells, you know."

"Don't be dramatic, Remus," Peter snapped. "No one will find out, just as nobody else knows about your secret."

"I like to think of it as his furry little problem," Sirius added thoughtfully. Remus was shaking his head violently.

"It's as if you have all gone deaf! Haven't you heard me? It isn't safe! And if you think I am going to put my best friends in danger and rip their animal throats out when I turn into a werewolf—"

"You wouldn't do that," James said gently. "You're a danger to humans. I think the mortality rate goes down a bit with other creatures. And you wouldn't feel threatened, so it's not like you would lash out at us."

"No," Remus said firmly. "I won't do this. I will not."

"I'm afraid you've got no choice in the matter," Sirius said in an equally challenging voice. "You're my best mate, my brother. We've sat back and watched you suffer alone through this long enough. And we're going to be with you every full moon, right at your side, chasing rabbits and scratching trees and keeping you safe from the arseholes that could attack you like last time."

Remus was still shaking his head. He whispered, "Why?"

Sensing that the fight was going out of him, Sirius stepped forward and slung his arm around Remus's shoulders.

"Remus," he said quietly. "We would do anything for you. If the roles were reversed, wouldn't you do the same? Would you listen if I tried to stop you?"

Remus sighed wretchedly, and looked away.

"Al-alright. But I cannot guarantee I'll even get permission to do so," Remus warned. He sighed again when the three ushered him out of the room and into McGonagall's office. Needless to say she was appalled that Remus suggested to transform in the shrieking shack, and had outright refused—but then Dumbledore was there as well, back from his journey, with his keen, twinkling eyes had narrowed on Remus's face, and had asked him gravely, "Would you feel safer?"

Remus, dumbstruck, nodded fervently, and was shocked at Dumbledore's smile when he acquiesced. He went back into the hall looking every bit as numb as he felt, and told his friends the news.

"I don't agree with this," he mumbled throughout their journey to the Shrieking Shack. And when they arrived, he began to refuse their presence.

"Remus," James started exasperatedly.

"Okay look," Remus said sternly. "You three will stay a good ten feet away from me once I transform. If I snap at you, get the hell out. I don't care if we're best friends, I will not have your bloods on my hands."

"We understand, Remus," Sirius said quietly. Remus nodded quickly, nearly shaking.

"Good," he said almost breathlessly, "good."

He ushered them away so he could strip down, tucking the clothes safely in the passageway. He waited, and he was trembling heavily at the thought that his friends could be injured in less than a minute.

Before he could open his mouth one last time to shout at them to leave, the first beam of moonlight entered the Shack. He stiffened, feeling his body crunching inside him, and Remus let out a low moan.

Sirius, James, and Peter held their breath as Remus began to transform. It looked violent and painful, and within moments the trio transformed into their animal counterparts.

Then, they waited.

The wolf was hunched over, breathing rapidly. The shaggy dog licked his nose and decided to be the first to pad over him. The stag shivered, its eyes alert and filled with alarm.

At first, the wolf howled and swiped at the dog. It missed by a hairsbreadth and the dog snapped its mouth at the paw, pouncing around the wolf.

And, amazingly, the wolf played along.

The stag, with the rat sitting astride it, walked slowly to the pair, but within moments they all began to poke around each other in animal content.

xxx

The book was shaking in her hand.

The book, the final book that had planned to read about fiendfyre, was shaking in her hand.

She had read it. She had gone to the restricted session, cloaked with a Disillusionment charm, and stole the book in the dead of the night. She poured into its contents until daybreak, and stared numbly out the window until the rest of the Gryffindors began to wake up.

"Bugger," she finally whispered, and closed her eyes.

She ate breakfast in the library. She knew Severus wanted his space, so she had given it to him for the past few days. The Slytherin table was off-limits now, and she was still not too happy with sitting at her own House's table.

The book trembled in her grip as she waited by the Black Lake. She knew this was his usual spot, had seen him strutting about here enough times to know when to avoid him. But she was not looking to avoid him any longer.

This will be the death of you. You can't trust him. He's a pureblood. He enjoys the dark arts. He will betray you!

These thoughts went through her mind hundreds of times, and continued when she saw the figure approach. She made no attempt to conceal herself, and crossed her arms when he stopped in his tracks.

A smile spread on his lips slowly. "What did I say, Granger?"

Hermione did not look away. She bit the inside of her cheek, waiting for him to live it up.

"I think I said," he sauntered over to her, smirking proudly, "that the next time we meet, it would be you coming to me. Seems I was right."

"Yes, yes," Hermione said impatiently. "Have you finished gloating?"

"Not nearly, but continue," Scabior grinned wickedly. He settled against a nearby tree, crossing his feet and arms, and waited patiently for her to speak.

Hermione cleared her throat, shifting uncomfortably on her feet, and stuck her chin up. "Well, I've been doing some reading."

"Oh?"

"And I found something rather interesting in a book."

"You don't say."

"About a bit of magic, that I'm sure you're very familiar of," Hermione said quite stiffly, as if she were forcing the words to come out saccharinely polite. She breathed evenly through her nose and recollected herself. Standing straighter, she announced, "Considering, of course, it is your family lineage that created the spell."

"Ah!" Scabior brightened, and clapped twice mockingly. "I see a lumos spell hovering over your head, Granger. Took you long enough to figure it out."

"Yes, well," Hermione coughed uncomfortably. "There it is."

"There it is," Scabior repeated lightly. "What do you want from me, then? To teach you?"

Hermione's eyes widened comically. "No. No, no, I-I was just curious. I'm always in search for information, to better educate myself. I thought it would be…beneficial, to ask from the source, as it is at my disposal."

"Hmm," was Scabior's thoughtful response. "There's one itty problem, dearest." Hermione frowned, and Scabior leaned closer until he was towering over her. He pointed his thumb to himself. "Slytherin, remember? I ain't doing nothin' unless there's a benefit for me. And sorry to say, love, but you're not my type."

"Not your—" Hermione spluttered, then quickly snapped her mouth closed. "I'm sure we can think of something."

"I'm sure we can," he nodded in agreement. "Like writing my next two Charms essays."

Hermione burst out laughing. "You really think that would work? Copying homework in a Charms class? Flitwick would know in an instant."

"Not asking you to copy them," Scabior looked at her as if she was daft. "I want you to write me a draft. Spare me the extra work. I'll rewrite in my own words an' all, see? I have better things to put this—" he his head, "—to use on."

"Clearly," Hermione muttered.

"Well?"

"How about I help you write them?" Hermione asked hopefully.

"You will be helping."

"No, I mean I'll just sit and help, like a guide! Surely that's much fairer."

"Fair?" Scabior began to frown. "Who said anything about fair? Spending every damn day with you to work on—" Suddenly he paused. "On second thought," he said vaguely, "I think that's a great idea. Yes. You and I will work together. Together, on these papers. And I'll be teaching you about me family spell."

Hermione grew suspicious at the pleased look in Scabior's eye. "What aren't you telling me?"

"Hmm?" he murmured distractedly. "Nothing, love. Merlin, a bloke stares into space and suddenly he's plotting the worst."

Hermione continued to stare at him warily. Scabior brightened and took her by the arm. "No time to start than now, then."

"Now? I thought—"

"I thought you wanted to learn?" Scabior asked, not-so-innocently. Hermione bit her lip.

"If anybody asks, I'm helping with your essay," Hermione said tersely.

"Don't want anybody to know where your interests lie, is that it?" asked Scabior with a raised brow. Hermione stiffened.

"Not at all. I'm just not keen on being harassed by your other, less genial friends."

"Ah, them," Scabior acknowledged. "Hard to get around their thick skulls, honestly. They're just a bit of fun; time-passing, even."

"Your idea of fun is very different from mine," Hermione muttered as they walked towards the castle.

"And yet here you are, asking me about bloody fiendfyre," said Scabior in a surprisingly dark voice, which made Hermione pause in her fast steps. "You know why you're so interesting, Granger?"

Hermione swallowed. Scabior leaned forwards so that they were eye-level.

"You walk like a Gryffindor, you talk like a Gryffindor, you even wear their robes—but inside, when you think no one's looking, you're no more a Gryffindor than I am. And if that isn't bloody exciting, I don't know what is."

Hermione's heart pounded as he straightened, his words reverberating in her skull. Mutely, she followed him inside, her head swimming in thoughts as they made for the library.

It was difficult finding a secluded seat that was not taken by every fifth year in the school. As the O.W.L. exams were now a mere two weeks away, panic had fallen over the fifth years. Scabior grimaced in disgust when a girl in the far corner of the library burst into tears, dropping her head on a very large textbook.

"Amateurs," Scabior muttered.

"Don't start," Hermione muttered. "You're making me help you with two essays, you're no better."

"Not because I don't understand it. I just don't want to do it," Scabior shot back. They settled into a vacant table nearby, and Hermione took out a few rolls of parchment from her bag, along with a bottle of ink and a quill.

"Your boyfriend is staring at us," Scabior observed bluntly, and Hermione immediately straightened and looked in the direction Scabior was.

It was Severus. He glanced away, but it was clear he had been watching the two since they'd arrived in the library. Hermione tried to make eye contact with him, but he was firmly avoiding her and had turned in his chair so that his back was to her. Hermione let out a soft sigh, and returned her attention to Scabior.

"He's not my boyfriend," Hermione muttered. Truthfully—and for some ridiculous reason—she had expected to see either Sirius or Severus. But she could see why Severus was given such a title. They had become such close friends, and had spent nearly all their time together once she broke from the Marauders.

How long would he ignore her? It was killing her, knowing that he knew but refused to talk to her. She hated not knowing what was going on in his mind.

"Is that an invitation?" Scabior asked hopefully.

Hermione shot him a glare that only earned her a grin.

"Right then. Fiendfyre. What do you want to know?"

Hermione blinked at his direct question. "Er, what do you want to tell?"

With a glint in his eye, Scabior huffed. "You see what I mean? Sneaky. You should've been in our House."

"I don't think that would work out. 'Dirty blood' and all."

"Ah," Scabior blinked as if he'd forgotten about that aspect of her. "Right. Best you stay where you are, then. But you haven't answered my question."

Hermione twisted her mouth unsurely. How would she ask this? Tell me how to use it and put it out?

"Tell me…how it started. With your family."

"Well," he began, steepling his fingers. "It's very old magic. Traced it back about six hundred years. My family was the one to create it."

"Why?" Hermione asked. "Why was something as horrific and indestructible as fiendfyre necessary?"

"Nearly indestructible, Granger," Scabior corrected. "And why does any spell, dark or not, exist? It's a means to an end."

"But clearly went vague on the 'end' part," Hermione muttered. Scabior raised an eyebrow. "Oh, come on. You know what I mean. It's almost impossible to execute the spell and put it out as well. The fire burns forever."

Scabior looked at her closely, then a smile grew on his lips. "Is that what the books have been telling you?"

Hermione furrowed her brows, and nodded slowly. Scabior looked extremely pleased.

"My, my. Looks like the family legacy hasn't died yet," he said proudly.

"What do you mean?"

Scabior tilted his head. "I mean what I mean. The books got it wrong."

"You mean it doesn't burn forever?" Hermione asked, intrigued.

Scabior barked out a laugh. "Simpler than that, Granger. It can be put out. But it seems not many people have figured out how."

Hermione let his words sink in. Put out? But how? She had scoured every book she could find, researched until her eyes were ready to bleed, and yet there was no word on how to stop the spell once it started.

"I can see your neurons firing like mad. Frustrating, isn't it? Not knowing everything." Scabior leaned over the table. "I'll let you in on a secret though. How does one ever put out a spell? Any spell? Come now, Granger, I know you to be clever."

Hermione blinked. Then, her eyes widened. "Counter spell," she breathed. "You know the counter spell. That's why none of the books could mention it—they didn't know it!"

She hadn't realized how close she was to him, or how animated she had gotten in her excitement, until she heard a loud screech of a wooden chair and hard footsteps to her right. Hermione jerked away and caught the sight of Snape exiting the library just in time. Suddenly the beauty of her discovery began to fade, and Hermione frowned in her lap.

"Hermione?"

She looked up and caught Scabior's uncertain look. "Thank you, Scabior," she said sincerely. "Let's start on that essay."

xxx

"Five points from Gryffindor, for being an insufferable know-it-all."

Inwardly, Severus Snape flinched yet again, for what seemed to be the tenth time that day.

It had been two weeks since the incident. Two weeks, without a word of hello or goodbye to the girl who had come and changed his entire life. Two weeks, and Severus still felt every bit betrayed and confused as he did the day it happened.

Severus tried very hard not to think of what he had seen. Most days, he could almost forget. But then that forgetfulness would nearly make him fall in step with Hermione Granger in the hallways when he caught sight of her, and then he would stop himself. He wasn't quite ready for that. Not just yet.

But then on days like these, when he was sitting in a crowded library with students chatting frantically like tiny bugs fluttering around him, his mind drifted to the memories he unknowingly peered into. Had seen the gaunt, thin, cynical man he would be in twenty years. From the looks of it, he had grown worse as the years progressed. He did not seem happier in the future, from what little Hermione had inadvertently revealed to him in her memories. He was even crueler than he was now, and that thought truly frightened him.

It seemed, Severus thought bitterly, that he was not meant to be happy even in the future.

Many things began to make sense, however. How Hermione seemed to know things more than she ought to have known. How she easily performed sixth and seventh year spells without even realizing. How rarely she seemed to the study the course material (though her nose was always buried in books), yet she passed with flying colors.

Truth be told, he understood. He knew, logically, why Hermione would keep this a secret. He knew why should would never tell him, or anyone else, about her secrets. Had he been in her position, he would not hesitate to do the same.

Regardless…regardless

Severus started when he saw the foolish flirt of a Slytherin strut into the library, but alongside Hermione Granger. He blinked several times, as if trying to clear the image. But it remained the same—Hermione was now sitting with Scabior at a vacant table, looking dually annoyed and hopeful.

He watched them for several moments. They discussed and bantered, grinned and frowned. The longer he watched, the more irritated he became. She had done this before, with so many others. He knew her to have spoken with Regulus. The marauders. Scabior. And himself.

What was Hermione Granger doing in 1975?

Severus closed his eyes, warding off the intense wave of anger. It was foolish to behave this way. She had a purpose here, and one that the greatest sorcerer of all time had bestowed upon the young girl. She was brave, he would give her that.

But alas, it would be naïve to forget that Severus Snape was still a teenage boy, nearly sixteen, and full of thoughts and tempers that fought defiantly against the logic that his brain attempted to resurface.

And when he watched Hermione lean dangerously close to the Slytherin, completely enraptured, Severus had had enough.

Betrayal. Yes, that was what it was. Not to himself, but to their friendship. Secret or not, she had hurt him. She would have been better off not being friends with him at all. Not if she knew him in the future. Not when he had been her professor.

The joke he had made with him calling her 'professor' during their Occlumency lesson now made him sick.

She had fooled them all, including Severus, and it was not something he could tolerate for very long. She had fooled him, tricked him, into being her friend. She had made a mockery of him, and would probably have exacted some revenge on behalf of his future-self, for a crime he had not committed yet.

Angry, betrayed, and utterly alone, Severus swiftly exited the library and headed towards the dungeons.

It was at this inopportune moment that Severus bumped heavily against a group of boys. "Watch where you're going," he hissed dangerously, and noticed when it was too late that he had bumped into the four infamous buffoons.

"I'd watch myself if I were you," James Potter said haughtily, raking his hand through his hair as was habit.

"Hold your tongue, filth," Severus growled. It was Sirius who spoke next, his expression blank and his words full of mockery.

"You should invest in some shampoo, Snivelly. It'll take me weeks to get these grease stains out of my robes." Immediately Severus drew out his wand, and Sirius had his out instantly.

"Give me one good reason not to hex you purple," Severus said softly. Sirius and James stared down at Severus fiercely.

"I hope I qualify as a good reason," a kind voice interrupted. Sirius and Severus jumped back, eyes wide as they stared at the headmaster not three feet away from them. Immediately they stuffed their wands in their robes, not daring to look at each other.

Dumbledore's eyes were bright and knowing, and his hands were folded behind his back. He stepped forward and looked at them gently. "I would hope that my students would focus their magic towards their exams, rather than on each other."

"Yes sir," Sirius and Severus said in unison.

"Sorry, sir," Sirius added quietly. Severus remained silent, and merely stared at the headmaster. Dumbledore nodded genially and watched as Sirius, James, Peter, and Remus began quickly walking away. Sirius shot one last loathing look at Severus while Dumbledore had his head turned, and disappeared.

Severus knew he should leave now, for he did not want a longer conversation with the headmaster than necessary. But something in him stopped his movements, and he found himself gazing at the wizened old man. This wizard, in twenty years' time, would be responsible for sending a teenaged girl into the past? He could not believe that Dumbledore would ever do something so foolish, and yet…he had. And Severus, for all he was worth, was going to stare at the man until he understood why.

Dumbledore caught his gaze and his smile brightened. "Is there anything you wanted to say, Mr. Snape?"

"No sir," Severus said automatically.

"Are you certain?"

Severus looked at Dumbledore for a moment before replying, "Yes, sir." Quietly, before he could say another word, Severus turned around and walked away from Professor Dumbledore.

He did not entirely like what he found in those bright, blue eyes.

xxx

The day Hermione was dreading the most had finally arrived.

The O.W.L.s were nearing their end. It was the second to last one now—Defense Against the Dark Arts. It was surprisingly easier this time, considering her own O.W.L.s had been with Umbridge, and Fred and George had set off never-ending and multiplying fireworks in the test room. A missing Dumbledore, Peeves cackling like mad up and down the halls, and Harry collapsing shortly afterward—it had been chaotic. In fact, it had been the worst day of her fifth year, for it was shortly after that when the fiasco at the Department of Mysteries had happened.

But Hermione was not afraid of zapping to the Ministry of Magic this time, nor was Dolores Umbridge her Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. No, she was dreading what she knew was to happen this day—unless her presence in this decade had changed at least that much.

She glanced between Severus and Sirius, then James. They seemed to be willfully ignoring each other, focused intently on their exams. Sirius seemed far too relaxed for his own good, but she knew well enough that he was in the top five percent of his class already. He gloated with good reason, yet it did not make Hermione any less pleased about it.

Suppressing a sigh, Hermione redirected her attention to the exam paper in front of her. It was filled entirely with her neat handwriting, little notes and explanations flooding the pages. She had finished fifteen minutes ago, and was going through her third revision. Handing it in early seemed far too overconfident, so Hermione decided to bide her time and wait.

"Quills down," Professor Flitwick squeaked, indicating the examination was now over. There were several panicked squeaks and even more sighs of relief. Hermione remained silent, and merely stretched her arms a bit before lowering her quill to the desk.

Finally, it was over.

The daunting thought was accompanied with the amount of information Scabior had revealed to her last week. They had finished the Charms essays together, (she had done most of the writing, and Scabior had smirked through nearly all of it), and in between writings he would tell more and more about the creation of the curse. He did not tell her the counter spell to fiendfyre, however, which frustrated her beyond measure. What good was he if not to help with the main purpose!

Patience, Hermione repeated to herself. A little bit of patience was all she needed. Soon, soon, she would know. But she had to be patient. She was, after all, dealing with the most unpredictable Slytherin she had ever met.

Hermione was packing her things when Hermione felt a sudden burning sensation press against her chest. Gasping, Hermione lifted her hands to her throat and stiffened, tremors running up and down her frame.

"Hermione?"

It was Sirius. Damnation to hell.

"Hello," she managed, gritting her teeth. This hadn't happened in months, why was it happening now?

"Are you alright?" he murmured under his breath. She looked to his eyes, and saw genuine concern in them. Not ghostly suspicion.

Her eyes narrowed on their own, and before she could stop she found herself saying, "As if you care."

Sirius's eyes widened as he stiffened as well. His mouth forming a grim line, he looked away and sank in his seat in boredom, tossing a lazy look to James who was behind him.

Shut down. From her. Hermione sighed a little and shook her head.

Her eyes wandered over to Severus. His nose had been barely an inch away from the parchment, but he now straightened in his seat and set his quill down. His hair flopped to the other side, stringy and shinier than usual, his expression blank and unusually drawn. He caught her stare before she could look away, and Hermione shifted in embarrassment. She tried to smile, but it simply would not form. Thus they merely watched each other from across the room, not knowing how to look away.

Another shiver ran through her, this time hotter and even more painful, and Hermione's eyes squeezed shut.

When they reopened Severus had a look of alarm on his face. He gave her a questioning look—oh, how she missed it, and her heart twisted all on its own—and Hermione shook her head, as if to dismiss it. Once her paper was collected, Hermione knew she had to get out. She could not stay any longer, not with this abnormal pain. She feared it was the effects of the Cruciatus, but somehow it felt different. It was more painful, if that was even possible.

She spared no glance at anybody else, and ran to Gryffindor tower. Choking out the password, Hermione stumbled inside and ran up the flight of stairs to her dormitory, and fell to her bed. She yelped when it brought no relief. Suddenly, she noticed something peculiar—a light, coming from beneath her bed. Eyes wide with disbelief, Hermione sank to her knees and threw out her trunk. It burned at the touch and Hermione whipped out her wand, disabling the enchantments and bringing out what she feared to retrieve.

The horcrux was glowing.

Hermione's breath was stolen away. How? Why was this…? Hermione dared not touch it, lest it harm her even more than it already was. The diadem was glowing, as if being superheated to an unimaginable temperature.

Suddenly, dread filled Hermione.

She had felt the pain of this glowing. Her body knew that the horcrux was acting up. Her body had known.

In horror, Hermione quickly threw the diadem back inside the trunk and placed the extra charms back on it. It still glowed faintly from underneath her bed, but it was nothing a good cloaking spell couldn't cover.

She needed to destroy the horcrux fast. And it seemed Scabior would be her only way out.

xxx

"Very well, everybody, you are free to go!" Flitwick squeaked finally, having forgotten to announce it at one point after falling deeply into conversation with a nearby fifth-year. The students cheered and started piling out of the room.

"Did you like question ten, Moony?" Sirius asked with a grin. He relished in the new nickname, one of four that they had come up with amongst themselves.

"Think I did," said Remus seriously, as they joined the crowd around the front doors and anxious to get out into the sunlit grounds. "One: he's sitting on my chair. Two: he's wearing my clothes. Three: his name's Remus Lupin."

Remus grinned when his friends laughed, feeling lighter than he ever had before. Having his friends accompany him on his last transformation had changed everything. He had not thought it possible, but he had never felt more alive.

Peter was the only one who looked thoughtful.

"I got the snout shape, the pupils of the eyes and the tufted tail,' he said anxiously, 'but I couldn't think what else –"

"How thick are you, Wormtail?" said James impatiently. "You run around with a werewolf once a month –"

"Keep your voice down," implored Lupin.

"I happened to be joking," Peter said dryly.

They all wandered outside, settling down by the Black Lake near a mossy tree. Severus had been trailing behind, however, his attention distracted by the exam paper in his hands. He plopped himself down by a set of bushes, nearly overshadowed by them as he hunched down.

Sirius, leaning against the tree, announced, "I'm bored. Wish it was the full moon."

Remus gave Sirius a dark look. "You might. We still have Transfiguration next. Be useful and test me."

Sirius gave a pinched look to the outstretched book and shook his head. "I don't need to look at that rubbish. I remember everything just fine."

"This'll liven you up, Padfoot," James said quietly. Sirius followed James's line of sight, and smiled.

"Excellent," he murmured. "Snivellous."

Snape was currently busy reading over his examination, a frown etching his forehead. What most would not know, however, was the concern lurking in his eyes as he periodically cast glances up towards the Gryffindor tower. He knew Hermione had fled there as quickly as she could, before Flitwick could even properly dismiss them, and while he had misgivings for her, he could not squash the tremor of concern he had for her pained look before she left.

It was this distraction that caused Severus to fail to notice Sirius and James's intent stares. Remus frowned in disapproval as he looked up from the book he'd been pouring into.

"We just spoke with Dumbledore," Peter protested, but to deaf ears. Remus wanted more than anything to go back to his book, wishing that his friends would not do what he feared they would. And as much as he wished, he knew he would not be reading a single word on the page if he were to try. Silently he closed the book, and rose to his feet.

"Don't," he warned quietly to Sirius. Sirius half-glanced in Lupin's direction, and appeared as if he was considering his words, but his expression changed and he turned away.

"All right, Snivellous?" James asked loudly.

Severus stiffened, the paper shaking in his hand. It was spoken differently than before. A challenge. Something he had not heard in a very long time, not since…

The incident where Hermione had intervened.

"Finally off your leash, Potter?" Severus said quietly, folding the paper into his bag. "Did Granger reward you for being a good little boy these past few months?"

James, who had no real plans to do more harm than poke fun at his arch-enemy, suddenly grew stiff with anger. Both drew out their wands simultaneously, but Severus was a half-second too late. Before he could utter a spell, James shouted, "Expelliarmus!" Severus's wand flew twelve feet away.

Sirius let out a bark of laughter, and shouted, "Impedimenta!" when Severus made a dive for his wand. Remus rushed beside Sirius and gripped his arm tightly, as if in warning.

"You—wait," Severus panted, looking up at James and Sirius with pure loathing, "you—wait!"

"Wait for what?" said Sirius coolly. "What're you going to do, Snivelly, wipe your nose on us?"

"That's enough, Sirius," Remus said quietly.

They winced when Severus let out a slew of curses, and James grimaced.

"Wash your mouth, if not your head," said James coldly. "Scourgify!"

Severus choked wildly as pink soap bubbles filled and foamed in his mouth, gagging him—

"Leave him ALONE!"

James stiffened immediately, turning to the source of the shout with a fidget.

"All right, Evans?" he asked kindly, as if Snape was not lying on the ground writhing.

"Leave him alone," Lily repeated angrily. "What's he done to you?"

"It's more the fact that he exists, if you know what I mean," James tilted his head thoughtfully, speaking more to himself than to her.

"You think you're so cool," Lily shook her head in disgust. "You're just a bullying toerag, Potter. Leave him alone."

"And what do I get in return?" James inquired softly.

Lily glowered. "If you're going off on me dating you, it's never going to happen. Now let him go."

James shook his head. "Ah, ah. Name your price."

Lily was revolted. "Has your sister taught you nothing? You're just the same, vile creature you were at the beginning of the year. I thought you had changed."

James appeared hurt for the first time that evening, and began to reconsider the wand in his hand that was point towards Severus. Conflicted, he began to lower his wand, when Severus lunged free from the spell and shot a curse at James that just barely nicked his cheek.

"OI!" Sirius shouted, and threw a spell at him that caused him to levitate in the air, frozen.

"STOP!" Lily screamed. "You let him down right now. Now!"

James, who had been silent, removed the spell and Severus fell to his knees. "You're lucky Evans was here," James muttered tonelessly.

And before he could stop them, prevent the wretched words from spilling from his lips, Severus allowed the humiliation and defeat raging in his body overtake his mind, as he yelled:

"I don't need help from filthy little Mudbloods like her!"

Lily blinked. "Fine," her voice was even. "I won't bother in the future. Continue."

"Apologize to Evans!" James and Sirius roared.

"I don't want you to make him apologize!" Lily rounded on James. "You're just as bad!"

"What?" James spluttered. "I would never call you a—you-know-what!"

Lily shook her head in plain disgust. "Strutting about the halls messing with your hair, hexing students in the corridors because you think them beneath you—you will get nowhere in life, James Potter. You make me SICK."

She ran to the castle, and before anyone could think to stop him, Severus bolted after her.

Remus looked away from James and Sirius, and met Peter's eyes briefly. He bent down and picked up the forgotten book, and walked away.

xxx

Hermione had finally calmed down enough to feel the tremors fade from her body. The horcrux had stopped glowing on its own. Why in the name of Merlin did it glow? And why was Hermione able to feel it?

Hermione jumped from her thoughts when the dormitory door slammed open.

"Lily?" Hermione asked cautiously as Lily began throwing on her night clothes.

"If you hear banging outside the portrait hole, tell him to go away," Lily said stiffly. Her eyes appeared puffy, but otherwise she was completely calm. Hermione's eyes widened in horror.

"Lily?" she repeated, but to no avail. Lily had taken to collapsing on her bed, back turned to Hermione, and pretending to fall asleep. Heart thudding wildly, Hermione sprang from her bed and leapt down the staircase into the common room.

"Hermione," Remus said suddenly. She looked at him in a panic, and Remus was taken aback. "I—I'm…" he trailed, as if saying more was useless. She glanced briefly at James and Sirius, who were sitting quietly by the fireplace, when she heard loud banging on the portrait hole.

Marching towards it with her stomach fluttering wildly, she opened the door.

Severus was sitting cross-legged before the door. His clothes were in complete disarray, his head in his hands, and seemed to be waiting.

"Severus?"

He looked up immediately, his eyes desperate.

"I didn't mean to," he rasped wildly, eyes bloodshot as if he had been crying. "I have to tell her I'm sorry. I didn't mean a single word. Could you—could you tell her I'm here?"

Hermione swallowed thickly, and whispered, "Oh, Severus," she said softly. "She's not coming."

He stilled at her words, and for a very long time they remained that way, their eyes connected for an eternity. Then his eyes misted over, as if lost in thought, and he looked numbly away.

"I'll stay all night," he murmured inaudibly. Hermione shuffled hesitantly towards him, unsure what to do. This was the first he had spoken to her since their Occlumency lesson, and she didn't want to damage more than what was already broken.

Tentatively, she sat on her knees beside him. She patted his shoulder gently, shocked at the trembling she found there. His face was expressionless and his eyes dry, but there was a numbness and a terror inside him that Hermione had never seen in Severus before.

He had done what she had feared. Nothing, not even her, could stray from what fate had already ingrained in the fabric of time. Severus was shaking, and Hermione knew then, just how much Lily was to him. She would have felt the same for Ron, if the roles were reversed. It was friendship rooted deeply, winding and twining together until they became inseparable. And Snape had severed the only bond he ever loved.

They stayed there until it became dark. It was only until a prefect had warned to give them detention that she managed to get Severus to his feet. She kept a gentle but firm grip on his forearm as she walked with him to the dungeons. He was terrifyingly silent throughout the journey.

As they stopped before the entrance of the Slytherin dorm, Severus rounded on Hermione. Eyes wide, he said urgently, "I didn't mean it, Hermione. I'm sorry. I didn't mean it, and I don't mean it for you."

Hermione, heart panging wildly, replied quietly, "I know, Severus."

A flicker of recognition showed briefly in his eyes, before they returned to the dull, deadened gaze.

"So it would seem."

xxx

*NOTE: Quotes used directly and indirectly from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix belong only to J.K. Rowling. I merely used it as a plot device, and claim no ownership.

xxx

Surprise!

Would you look at that. Two chapters in one month. I could sing.

Some of you knew this chapter was coming. A lot of you have some AMAZING guesses at what's going to happen next, especially with Peter. I'm constantly floored at what great and insightful readers you are.

Next chapter will be focused a bit more on Sirius, because he's been neglected long enough.

I'd love to hear what you thought of this one! I'm about to start replying to last chapter's reviews; honestly I love the ideas you guys have of what will happen, who will be the bad guy, who will be redeemed, and sometimes they inspire me to tweak things around!

Thank you for your patience and support, this writing experience would be nothing without my lovely and loyal readers :)

Let me know what you thought! xx