A/N Yes its here at last, the sequel to Second Time Around (if you haven't read that you'll need to understand what's going on). We rejoin Severus, Hermione and their friends at the beginning of the Sixth Year and Severus is once more his adult self.
A big thank you to the wonderful WitchRavenFox who is my amazing beta and all round bestest buddy. She does so much good work on my typos.
As usual I own nothing of Harry Potter, that belongs to the wonderful JKR. I promise to put all the characters back when I have finished playing.
So sit back, enjoy and if you like, review. I'll be posting every two weeks.
The thestral-pulled carriages finally reached the gates of Hogwarts, Harry and Ron leaping down with little ceremony and not bothering to wait for those of their friends who followed behind.
"I bet the dirty old git has been enjoying himself far too much with our Hermione," said Ron, "I don't know whether I want to stay in our room, who knows where they might have…you know!"
"Ron I really don't want to think about it," said Harry, "And I don't know why we've had to talk about it all the way from London."
"Well you can't seriously think that they've been in separate rooms for the passed week," said Ron, before he grimaced, "You don't think there'll be Snape juniors before too long do you?"
"Shut up will you," said Harry as they followed the crowds up towards the school, "Don't go winding Severus up about it either, you've already told half the people on the train their news without even knowing if they wanted people to know."
"Well they've hardly been shy about anything else," said Ron as the castle loomed before them, "I reckon Dumbledore will announce it in his speech."
"I think Dumbledore will have more important things to talk about than the engagement of a couple of students," said Harry as he noticed several figures prowling the perimeter of the path they walked, "There are Aurors everywhere."
"Probably after Malfoy," said Ron, "Are you going to speak to Severus about what we saw in Borgin and Burkes?"
Harry nodded, "As soon as I can get him on his own," he said, "And away from other ears, beyond your family, him, Hermione and Dumbledore I don't know who I can trust."
"Sev can sniff out a Death Eater from ten paces," said Ron, "He'll let us know who to keep away from but as a general rule anyone with a Slytherin badge is a good bet."
Harry smiled, "Nothing unusual to last year then," he said upping the pace of his walking, "Come on, I want to speak to the two of them before we go to the feast, I want to know what Dumbledore was after when he sent for Severus."
Ron matched him for speed and they headed up towards the castle together, calling out to friends as they passed them by, glad to be reunited with them after the long summer break. They finally hit the castle, the entrance hall thronged with students being herded towards the Great Hall by already exasperated teachers.
Ron began to laugh as he spotted one particularly troublesome group of third years who were ignoring the pleas of Gryffindor's Head of House, "Check out old McGonagall getting all wound up, she…" he trailed off as he realised his words, Harry joining him in surprise as they both looked upon the woman who had gone from their professor to their friend and clearly back to a professor once more.
"That's Minerva," said Harry, "But she's…"
"She's old," said Ron, "That must mean they've found a cure."
Harry paled, "Severus!" he said turning around in the crowd, trying to make out his friend in either the form he knew or the one he remembered, "Ron we've got to find Severus?"
"You don't think that's why Dumbledore…"
"Of course its why," said Harry, "But he can't change back, his mark will come back and Voldemort will kill him."
At the mention of the Dark Lord's name the crowd around them fell silent and the teachers' attention turned to them, Minerva the first to sweep to their sides, an unfamiliar figure that reminded them all the more that they're friend was noticeably absent from the cackle of happy students.
"You two boys better come with me," she said, taking Harry's arm as she led them away from the crowds, the noise commencing again as they left.
"Min…Professor, what happened? Why did you change back?" said Harry.
"Dumbledore and I worked on a cure and the Ministry insisted it be administered," said Minerva, her eyes growing sad as she spoke, "To Severus also."
"So he's a teacher again?" said Harry, "But what about Hermione and what about his mark? Where is he, I want to see him?"
"Calm down Potter, you can't see Severus because he isn't here," she said, "Now look you two, things have altered somewhat and I can't give you the answers. All I know is that you will find Miss Granger in a new private chamber off the Gryffindor common room. Severus left the morning after his return and there appears to have been some unpleasantness but Dumbledore won't share the reason as to why. You may go up and see her if you wish but I warn you, it may be a bit of a shock."
"Is Severus alive?" said Ron.
"I don't know," said Minerva, "Dumbledore guards his council and Miss Granger will not even hear his name. I fear what I thought would be a benefit may have backfired. You should go to your friend quickly, whatever the reason she is in need of you."
Harry and Ron took little persuasion to push through the crowds as they raced to the main stairs, hoping that they wouldn't alter too much on their way to Gryffindor Tower. They reached the portrait entrance, both of them realising that they had failed to ask for the new passwords they would need to gain entrance to the common room. The Fat Lady looked up at them but rather than asking for the customary word her eyes grew sad.
"You should see the state of her," she said, "Whatever that dreadful Snape did to her I hope he pays for it, I knew he never belonged in Gryffindor."
"What Severus did to her?" said Ron.
"Have you not been told?" said the Fat Lady, "Haven't you been warned about her face?"
"Let us in," said Harry with a rising panic, "I know we haven't got passwords but please let us in."
"I really shouldn't…"
"Please, if she's hurt we need to see her," said Harry.
"Alright but just this once," she said, "And don't go running to Dumbledore and telling on me."
"We won't, we won't, just let us in," said Ron.
The portrait swung open and they burst into the room, both of them calling for their friend as they were met by the empty common room.
"There's no need to shout," came a quiet voice from the landing above the stairs, "I knew you were here before you came through the door."
The boys looked up, recognise the silhouette of wild hair in the light of the room but their friend's face remained obscured. Harry was the first to step towards the stairs but Hermione stepped back further into the shadows.
"You should be in the Great Hall," she said, "The feast will start soon and you'll want to see who the Sorting Hat puts into Gryffindor this year."
"You'll need to come down too," said Harry.
"I have permission from Dumbledore to be absent," she said, "I'm not in the mood for crowds."
"What happened Hermione?" said Ron, "McGonagall is old again and she says that something happened to Severus?"
Hermione's sharp intake of breath was enough to have them both heading for the stairs, catching up to her before she had a chance to escape them. Harry caught her arm, tugging her back to face them but swiftly dropping his hold of her with a gasp.
"Your face," he said, "What happened to you?"
Hermione reached up and tried to pull her hair over the deep bruising that went from around her neck and up the side of her face, "Its nothing," she said quickly, "I…I…"
"Say you fell and I'll know you're lying," said Harry moving her hair and gently touching their neck, "They're finger marks."
"Please Harry just forget it," she said, "It'll be gone in a few days."
"Tell me who did this to you," he said darkly, "Tell me and I swear I'll kill him."
"Severus," came the response, though the voice wasn't Hermione's, "Severus did that to her."
"Don't be ridiculous Ron," said Harry, "Severus would never…"
"He did," said Hermione weakly, tears already beginning to pour down her cheeks, "They changed him, the Ministry changed him back and the second he was his old self again he…"
"But why?" said Harry, "He loved you, he was our friend."
Hermione shook her head, unable to meet their eyes, "He never was, he was working for Voldemort all along. Everything was designed to have us begin to trust him; even Lucius attacking him at Christmas was a ploy. He was just getting close to you in the hope that he could take you to Voldemort. I was just a pawn in his scheme."
Ron was already spitting fire and rage at the tale but Harry kept a firm hold of Hermione, shaking her gently in the hope that she would reveal some elaborate hoax that would have Severus appearing from the shadows, young or old, to laugh at them.
"But if that was so why not stay pretending when he changed back?" he said, "We always knew there was a chance he'd become an adult again and it wouldn't have effected our friendship in the least."
Hermione pulled away from him and turned to face the wall, "I guess his nature was harder to hide. When he changed back, I was frightened and I thought he would give me time but he… when I refused him he grabbed me. I begged him to stop but he wouldn't," she said, her shoulders shaking as she spoke, "When he was done, he left me and returned to Voldemort. He's dangerous Harry and its all my fault, I should have listened to you back in September and stayed away from him."
Harry's expression darkened as Hermione covered her face with her hands as she wept quietly with her back to them, neither he or Ron knowing whether or not to touch her as the gravity of her words sunk in.
"I trusted him," said Harry, the words thick in his mouth, "I thought he was my friend. All those things we told each other, everything he shared with me about my mum."
Hermione choked but she forced the words past her lips, "It was all lies Harry, all of it," she said, "Severus isn't who we thought he was."
Harry finally stepped forward, laying his hands on her shoulders and stroking gently, "I'm so sorry Hermione," he said quietly, "But for what he's done to you believe me, I'm going to make him pay. I'll make what Lucius did to him seem merciful."
Hermione all but wailed as she began to cry all the harder, pulling away from him, "Please, please no more blood," she said, "Just stay away from him Harry, you have to keep yourself safe. He's so powerful, he'll take you and then where would we be?"
"Alright, alright," said Harry, waving Ron down as the redhead tried to persuade him otherwise, "I just want you to feel better."
Hermione said nothing, her back to them as she sobbed all the harder into her hands. Harry finally stepped forward and placed his hands on her shoulders, rubbing gently as he pressed his cheek against her hair, glad when she leant back slightly against him.
"I'm sorry," he said quietly, "I'm so sorry, if I'd known…"
"How could you have known?" said Hermione, her voice dull, as she stepped away from him and turned to face them once again, the bruising on her face thrown into stark contrast by the dim light, "You should go to the feast, the others will be wondering where you are."
Harry shook his head, "No, we'll stay with you," he said, "I'm sure Dumbledore…"
"Will be expecting you," finished Hermione, "Please. I want to be on my own. I'll see you in the morning for lessons."
"Hermione…" began Ron but Harry took hold of his arm.
"We'll see you tomorrow then," he said.
"Thank you," said Hermione, "I'm glad you're here. I would have owled but I didn't want to upset you. You don't know how good it is to see you. If you need me, my room is to the left of the stairs to the girl's dormitories, the green door. Dumbledore at least let me have some privacy."
Harry nodded, clearly wanting to stay at her side but knowing that she needed the space she asked for, "Come on Ron," he said, "We'll see you in the morning Hermione, try to get some rest."
Hermione forced a small smile, "You will," she said, "I…I know word will get out all the same but don't tell anyone about…this."
Harry felt tears prick his eyes as his friend raised her hand almost absently to her damaged face, "I won't," he said.
He turned away, ushering Ron before him, the details of his conversation with Hermione almost blurring in his mind as he tried to make sense of them. She had been beaten, he could see that but her assertions that it had been Severus who hurt her didn't sit right. Even as cruel as his former Potions Master had been in class he had never physically harmed any of them and had never even given Harry that fear that he would despite how hateful his words could be. The change in Severus the year before had slowly allowed Harry to see what he had believed to be his true nature, memories coming to him of talking late into the night together, the two of them as close as brothers but Hermione's words had destroyed those thoughts, evidence of Severus' deceit clear on her face.
He and Ron were both silent as they headed into the Great Hall, the Sorting Ceremony still taking place and reminding them once more of the changes they were facing as Professor McGonagall undertook her role as Deputy Headmistress once more. They found their seats, Ginny waving them over from where she sat with Neville and Dean, their faces pictures of concern.
"Where've you been?" she whispered.
"Common room," said Harry, "We went to see Hermione."
"Is it true then?" said Dean, "What they're saying?"
"What are they saying?" said Harry, not wanting to let slip any of the knowledge he'd gleaned from Hermione.
"That Severus beat her up," said Neville, "That he turned him and McGonagall back into adults and tried to make Hermione become a Death Eater."
Harry shook his head, "Don't believe the school gossip…"
"Oh I knew it wasn't true," said Ginny, with a relieved sigh, "Even if something did turn Severus back into an adult he always promised he'd stay our friend."
"He's not our friend," said Ron darkly, "Hermione didn't say anything about him trying to make her a Death Eater but the git definitely hit her."
"What?" cried Ginny before she hushed herself as several faces turned to them, "Ron be serious. Severus? Our Severus Snape hit Hermione?"
"Pounded her more like," said Ron, his temper barely reined, "And he tried to strangle her, she had fingerprints on her neck."
There was a collective gasp from the table, those nearby turning to listen as Dumbledore announced the beginning of the feast and the hall exploded into a hubbub of chatter. Ron seemed happy to take the floor, extolling how he had never once trusted their absent housemate and how they had all been duped by the cunning ploys of a Death Eater. Harry however remained silent, his mind turning over all his time with Severus and trying to find any indication that the boy would betray them. He let his glance move to the top table, seeing the pinched features of his house head as she looked over, pain written in her countenance. He moved his gaze to Dumbledore, the old wizard raising a glass in his direction with a familiar small smile but just as Harry had allowed a question to form in his eyes one of the younger Gryffindors stood near the head of the table, blocking the Headmaster from view. When the obstruction finally cleared Harry saw the headmaster turned away from him once more, talking animatedly to Professor Sprout beside him. He cursed under his breath before vowing to speak to him as soon as he could, knowing the headmaster at least would give him all the facts that had left them with two friends absent from their party.
"…and I bet anything that old Snivellus was the one who poisoned me at the Quidditch match against Ravenclaw," Ron continued, unperturbed, "He thought everyone would like him if he took the keeper's post. I always knew he was tricky."
"But he was so nice," said Ginny sadly, "He looked after me when those Slytherin boys set on me and after everything that happened at the Ministry."
"Careful he's not put the Dark Mark on you then," said Dean.
Harry frowned as Ginny all but tore the left sleeve of her blouse to reveal her unblemished forearm, relief flooding her face when she saw it.
"Here, you don't reckon he and Page were carrying on together do you?" said Dean, "Ron said he saw them together now and then."
Anger flooded Harry, unsure quite who it was against; all he knew was the conversation seemed inappropriate when none of them had yet heard the whole story and Hermione was alone in Gryffindor Tower, broken both in heart and body.
"Can we talk about something else?" he said but his cohorts remained silent and he struggled to think up a suitable topic, "Did you see the write up in the Prophet about the Malfoy trial?"
The group was silent for a moment but then Ginny, ever empathetic, picked up on his discomfort and helped him along. Soon talk had turned to the fall from grace of Lucius Malfoy and Voldemort's return, uncomfortable topics but Harry found himself happier to discuss them than his two absent friends.
Gryffindor Tower was its usual mix of noise and hilarity as they returned for the night, the group immediately gravitating towards one of their favoured spots in the common room. Harry remained quiet as the others chatted, one large chair opposite him conspicuously vacant. He remembered how it had become Hermione and Severus' favoured perch, even before their relationship had been revealed, the size of it allowing them to sit close but comfortably. A memory came to him, all of them gathered near to one another, tired and happy after celebrating the final Quidditch match of the year and Gryffindor's victory. He remembered looking up and meeting Severus' dark gaze, seeing the light there that had been borne from the house's acceptance of him but knowing that it was also due to them finally having formed a true friendship. Bile rose in his throat as his thoughts turned once more to Hermione's battered face and the confusion her words had brought.
"…they say she's hiding because she's got a Dark Mark…"
The whisperings of two fourth year girls as they passed him caused his hackles to rise further, unable to countenance such gossip being laid at Hermione's door. He tuned back into his friends' conversation and found a similar theme, Ron still leading the accusations against Severus. Harry got quickly to his feet, barely pausing to tell the bemused faces that he was going to bed before he stormed up the stairs to the dormitories.
The room looked as it did every year at the start of term, immaculately draped in the house colours with their trunks placed neatly at the end of their beds. It would not be too long until it was a mess once more but that was not the thought that entered Harry's head as he noticed there no longer stood a bed between his and Dean's, Severus' battered trunk nowhere to be seen.
"What's really happened Sev?" said Harry to himself, "Where are you?"
His voice had clearly roused something sleeping as he heard a shuffling in the far corner. He took a step forward but got no further as a familiar feline leapt up onto Neville's bed, her fathomless eyes wide in recognition.
"Hello Lisse," said Harry, heading to the Siamese and scratching behind her ear.
The cat purred and pressed her face into his hand, soft mews of contentment floating to his ears.
"Whatever happened must have been bad for him to leave you behind," said Harry, picking her up and sitting down on his own bed, "What's happened to your master? Where's Severus, Lisse?"
The cat blinked up at him before she gave a soft, sad meow; her master's name clearly reminding her of his absence.
"You don't know either hey?" he said, absently scratching her head.
He continued to pet her silently, his thoughts turning over in his mind and growing more and more outlandish as they went. He had just decided to go to Hermione and persuade her to divulge more of the events when the door opened to admit his roommates.
"What's that bloody thing still doing here?" spat Ron as soon as he spied Réglisse.
"Leave her alone Ron, she's just a cat," said Harry, "She's hardly going to hex us."
"It's Snape's cat, who knows what it can do," said Seamus, "Kick it out in case he's cursed it."
"No!" said Neville, "She won't hurt anyone, you can't kick her out. I'll look after her Harry, give her here."
Harry handed the cat over to him, glad to see Réglisse unperturbed by her new protector, "Thanks Neville."
"I still reckon she's jinxed," said Ron, "Snape's enough of a bastard to do something like that."
"Oh shut up Ron," said Harry, a decision finally coming to him as he reached into his trunk and pulled out his invisibility cloak, "Don't wait up."
"Where are you going?"
"To get some answers," said Harry, not waiting for any further comments to stop him.
No one noticed him leave the common room, too engrossed as they were by renewing acquaintances and the latest gossip, and the Fat Lady said nothing against his common nightly wanderings. He threw on the invisibility cloak as soon as he stepped out, frowning as it felt bigger on him than ever before; the expression deepening when he realised it had been a long time since he had used it alone. Memory assaulted him once more as he remembered many-a night caught in stifled laughter with Severus under the cape, the ghost of Salazar their favoured game whenever Filch had been particularly cruel to them. He squeezed his eyes tight as the memory transformed itself once more into Hermione's face, bruised and crying, her own words laying blame at Severus' door.
He hurried his footsteps, the stairs clearly tired from tormenting the first years and allowing him easy passage to the ground floor. He heard footsteps at his back and froze, waiting with barely a breath as Professor Vector wandered passed. Her face was bored and she clearly had not the slightest notion that she was not alone. He waited until she had turned out of sight before he continued his journey, keeping to the shadows despite his cloak. The path had been well trodden by him throughout his residency at Hogwarts but it had never felt as foreboding as it did to him now. He finally reached the stone gargoyle that guarded the entrance to Dumbledore's office, the stairs down and the wards high. Harry raised his wand, pushing at the magical protection but when nothing happened he knew that the Headmaster was not within. He knew looking for him would prove fruitless and cursed that in his haste he had left the Marauder's Map in his trunk.
A thought came to him as he slumped back against the wall, reason speaking against the notion but he followed it nonetheless. Ensuring that the cloak was pulled tightly around him he headed a quickly as silence allowed towards the dungeons. Several of the older Slytherin students were still lurking in the corridors, Slughorn proving a much less menacing head of house than Severus had ever been. Harry deftly avoided them as he passed the entrance to their common room and headed to a simple tapestry that he knew hid the entrance to Severus' old rooms. Again he felt the wards, woven to prevent anyone entering. He tested them all the same, frowning as he failed to recognise any of the wards he knew Severus commonly used. He rested his forehead against the tapestry, hoping will alone would open the door and allow him to try and find anymore information than he had been so far provided to him.
Finally realising he had no hope of persuading the wards to drop by mere thought he stepped away from the tapestry and left the dim lights of the corridor, glad when he had finally exited the dungeons and the oppressive atmosphere that always seemed to hang there. With nowhere else to turn so late at night he headed back up the stairs, reaching the common room as quickly as he could and waking the Fat Lady, who grudgingly granted him access. There were still several people scattered around the room but all the faces were sleepy, the excitement of the return to Hogwarts beginning to fade. He headed to the stairs but didn't head up to the boys' dormitories, instead heading to the new door that sat to the left of the stairs to the girls' rooms. He hesitated before raising his hand to knock.
Silence greeted him and his shoulders slumped but then he heard a faint shuffling before a soft voice sounded from the other side.
"Its me Hermione," said Harry, "Can I come in?"
Silence greeted him once more before he heard the turn of a lock and the door opened and inch to reveal the less damaged side of her face.
"Are you alone?" she asked.
"Just me," he said.
The door opened a little further as Hermione stepped back, allowing him to enter. He slipped into the room and closed the door behind him, unsurprised as Hermione immediately reinstated the locks. The lighting was low but he could still see the well appointed room; a bed, larger than those in the dormitories, stood in one corner with a wardrobe and desk placed opposite. Her trunk sat at the base of the bed, its lid open and the inside decorated with pictures from the previous year. Harry couldn't help but notice that the largest of the pictures given pride of place in the centre was of Severus and Hermione on the night of the ball, the night they had finally admitted their feelings for one another. Hermione clearly saw his gaze and moved passed him to close the lid, her tired eyes questioning him.
"What can I do for you?" she said, her voice quiet in the silence of the room.
"You can talk to me," said Harry, setting his cloak down on the bed, "What happened Hermione?"
She sucked in a breath, her hand coming once more to her face, "I told you what happened," she said, her eyes bent on the carpet, "He beat me and then he left, he went back to Voldemort."
"I can understand him returning to Voldemort," said Harry, "If he got older and his mark came back he wouldn't have had a choice but are you really telling me that Severus hit you? That he could do that to you?"
Hermione turned her back on him, her hand dropping to fuss with the collar of her shirt, "That's what happened," she said, tears apparent in her voice, "We came here and the Ministry forced him to change. The second he was his old self he…he's always been working for Voldemort."
"Do you really think the more you ask the question the more likely I am to change my story?"
"No," said Harry, stepping round to face her and taking hold of her hand before she could drop it from her collar, prising her fingers from around the thin gold necklace and letting the pendant of it rest in his palm, the obsidian and diamonds that decorated the band glittering in the low light, "But you might explain to me why you still have his ring."
Hermione snatched the ring from his hand, spinning away from him once more.
"You were looking at his picture, you're still wearing his ring," said Harry, "If Severus truly did what you say surely you'd have burned the photos and got rid of your engagement ring."
"Not if I still loved him," said Hermione quietly, "Not if I…he was mine, Harry. That perfect boy, he was mine. The Ministry forced him to change and I lost him then, he became…the cursed mark, it changed him and he was so cruel and so cold. He'd lied all the time he was with us but I…I can't stop loving the boy he was."
"Oh Hermione," said Harry, feeling the tears prick his own eyes, "I can't believe he…we trusted him, he was our friend. I can't believe he did this after all we've been through together."
"We never should have trusted him," said Hermione, her voice distant and hollow as she kept her back to him, "He knows so much now, all your weaknesses and he'll pass them to Voldemort in the hope it will help him defeat you. That's what last year was all for, to get close to you and know everything that you know. I just helped him get closer."
Harry clenched his fists at his sides, anger warring against upset as the extent of the betrayal hit him, "Well when I get my hands on him…"
"No Harry!" cried Hermione spinning back around to face him and taking hold of his arms, "No you mustn't go after him, you mustn't go near him, you'd be in danger."
"He hurt you," said Harry.
"I'll heal," said Hermione, her tears tumbling down her cheeks, "And I can't put you in danger. You need to stay safe, so you need to stay away from Sev…Snape. You need to stay away from Snape. Please promise me Harry, promise me you won't go near him. Look at my face, if he's capable of this with no provocation then what else could he do?"
"I'm not afraid of Snape, I never was," said Harry.
"But I am," said Hermione, "I'm terrified, so you stay away from him. Just forget him and then maybe I stand a chance of forgetting him to. Please Harry, for me."
Harry said nothing but hugged his friend tightly, his own heart breaking at both her pain and his own, and knowing that if Severus Snape dared ever cross his path he would have as little mercy as he had shown Hermione, the risk be damned.
A/N Please leave a review and check my profile for information on how to follow me for story teasers.