Author's Note: Hello! I know I'm terrible, and you all hate me... but I promised not to give up on this, and here I am! I was being whipped into finishing Another Dream. Now that it's completely done, I can focus on Guilt a bit more! I'm so sorry for the delay, and thank you for your patience!
Chapter 28: Creating Peace
"Hey, Grang- Hermione. You're bound to have some incoming correspondence soon," Draco said by way of greeting, wrinkling his nose at the plate of sandwiches she was carrying. "Don't tell Severus you're bringing food into the lab, by the way."
She gave him a dirty look. "I warded them, I'm not daft."
"Never said you were," he assured her mildly as he gave the potion a final stir to double-check the viscosity before decanting it into vials. "I just said not to tell."
Hermione sighed, corking the vials as he filled them. "So, correspondence, you said?" She looked over at him warily. "From who?"
"Potter. Here – last one." He flicked his wand to clean the cauldron before casting a Scourgify on his hands.
"Why's Harry going to owl me?" He was being dodgy, and she didn't like it one bit. Draco didn't answer, carrying the plate and one vial of potions towards the stairs.
"I gave him your wand."
"My wand?!" she shrieked. "Why did you give it to Harry?" Hermione grabbed Severus's dinner tray from the kitchen table and followed Draco up the flight to the second floor. "Why not just give it to me?"
"Well, the two of you," Draco retorted, raising his voice loud enough for the house's other occupant to hear, "are going to have to talk to him sooner or later. Now neither Potter nor anyone else has time to plan or follow him if he gets an owl from Severus. Make him take the vow you had me take, and you should be fine. You should be able to bring him here under the pretense you originally warded the house to save it for your parents."
"And why, exactly, are you making this decision for us?" Severus asked icily as they entered his room. Hermione was fuming but managed to at least not slop soup on him as she shoved his tray at him and crossing her arms, glaring at Draco.
"Because Draco's a pompous ass," she said nastily.
The blond scowled and threw a sandwich at her. She caught it and brushed the crumbs off of the bed with a scolding look.
"Behave," Severus hissed at them both. Hermione glared at him and subsided, scowling. "Draco – you had no right to put me in this position."
"You?" Hermione squawked, uncaring of the dangerously arched eyebrow shot her way. She grit her teeth. For a man who was suffering and recovering he certainly didn't act like it.
"Miss Granger, do be quiet. While inconvenient for you, keep in mind that it is my wand you are using, and I am the one who ultimately has to deal with the boy."
She hadn't thought of it that way. Chagrined, Hermione let him pin Draco was a steely glare. "I'm waiting."
Draco looked a little blotchy when he flushed, she noticed, feeling smug that she wasn't the one suffering Severus's very best Professor Snape glare. "You can't even write to my father, when I should just talk to him. Far safer to cast a few privacy charms than to take a letter if she'll release me to tell him. Regardless, Father is capable of acting surprised. Potter, however... He has very little skill at dissembling, we all know this." Even Hermione nodded reluctantly. "Better to have some word of you from her, plus he gets to return her wand and feel all heroic."
Severus snarled, his crooked teeth bared. Not for the first time, she wondered just what her parents would say about them. "You are walking a dangerous line, Draco."
Icy grey eyes met hers. "I can do it. I know which spells the Aurors use and how to circumvent them. I just need your permission."
Hermione's teeth sank into her lower lip, and she looked at her professor-housemate. "It's up to you, sir."
"At least one of you has the decency to ask first," he snapped. Hermione rolled her eyes. Good lord, the man was being petulant.
Severus prodded at his dinner, feeling rather put-upon over the whole bloody thing. Worse, the first dose of muscle restorative he'd taken at lunchtime had tasted worse than he'd expected. It was damned embarrassing to have the elf pop in and out to bring him toothbrush and toothpaste, and he was not, precisely, looking forward to taking it with every meal.
The taste lingered on his tongue and he wondered if, perhaps, he should have taken the revolting concoction after his meal. He had thought he was being clever, getting it over with. His nose wrinkled in distaste. He had to eat, he knew. He was underweight but also needed to recover his strength. There was no guarantee his plan would work and that he'd be welcomed into the fold, as it were.
Hermione had given Draco leave to inform Lucius of his survival, and he didn't envy the boy the task. Lucius wasn't terribly forgiving when information, his true trade, was withheld. But then, extenuating circumstances and whatnot.
Pushing his beans about his plate, he took another belabored bite. He never had been fond of the bright green vegetable, not matter how temptingly Tipsy had prepared it. And the aftertaste most certainly did not help.
Draco rapped on the study door. "Father, do you have a moment?"
Lucius waved an elegant hand holding a peacock quill. "Of course."
"In private, of course." His father raised a perfect brow and dismissed the hapless elf who had been holding up a rather long list before pressing his index finger against the ornamental snake carving. The single drop of blood welling up from the delicate silver fang was enough to activate the privacy wards with a soft hum. "Thank you."
"Must be a grave matter," he said dismissively, a formerly-pristine handkerchief pressed against his finger.
"Not as such." Draco sat down in the second leather chair with a creak. "I am delivering a message, with my apologies for keeping something from you, Father. I did not have a choice, given the situation."
Lucius's grey eyes were wary and Draco swallowed hard. "He says, 'stop worrying, you bloody ponce, I don't blame you'."
"I see." He leaned back, looking for all the world as if this wasn't unexpected news as he steepled his fingers. Still, Draco knew better than to underestimate the weight of his father's displeasure. "And you have known this for how long, Draco?"
Draco flinched. Oh, he was in trouble. That tone was far too mild. "I would rather not say. I was under a vow, and only this evening did she release me from it enough to inform you."
"She?" The eyebrow was up, now. Oh, Merlin. Pretending to brush lint from his sleeve and refusing to meet his eyes, Draco uttered her name.
Lucius paused, mouth opened slightly, before he relaxed, his lips curving into a smirk. "Well, now. How delightful. I look forward to the full story."
Hermione paced outside the bookshop, waiting for Harry. He'd sent Pig to her, the pint-sized owl fluttering nervously against her kitchen window until she'd managed to pry open the sash, with a missive asking to meet her.
Her nerves were on edge – she still wasn't used to crowds and being, well, unprotected. A year on the run didn't help with that, nor did the knowledge that Harry wasn't going to be happy with her. They'd been close, like brother and sister, and she chewed her lower lip as she wondered just how much this was going to damage that.
She'd only been thinking of Professor Snape's safety, but he was bound to see it as a betrayal.
"'Mione!" She turned in a flurry of curls, fingering the wand in her sleeve before she realised it was Harry. He was grinning. "Hey!"
She embraced him gladly. "Hi, Harry! How've you been?"
"Good! I have – a lot to tell you, actually. Also, I -"
"Can we go to my house?" she interrupted.
His green eyes darted to the passing Muggles. "Oh. Yeah. That's probably a good idea." He grinned. "You know, I've never been to your house."
"You haven't?" Hermione frowned, tilting her head as she thought about it. "You haven't. Well then, perhaps you're overdue. Just... a few things. It's Secret-Kept, and I have a weird request to make..."
Harry looked at the neatly-kept house in front of him. So this was where Hermione lived. It was practical-looking with a tidy lawn and painted shutter. The brick house was a twin to many of its neighbors, but so much more welcoming than the Dursley's home had ever been. He could understand why she'd been keen to protect the house she'd grown up in.
"Er, any luck on finding your parents?" Harry asked, watching her turn the key in the lock. Hermione shook her head mutely. He chalked her strange quiet to worry over her parents. The feel of her wards was familiar after nearly a year surrounded by them. It was almost calming.
"Tea?" Hermione was smiling, hesitant.
"Nah. I told Mrs. Weasley I'd be over, and you know what she's like." He looked around at the incomplete-looking photos on the walls. "Wow, you really went to lengths."
"Did you..." Hermione hesitated. "Did you want a tour?"
"Next time. There's been a lot that's happened. Is it okay if I sit on the couch?"
"What?" She stared at him, her fingers twisting. What was she so worried about? "Of course you can sit on the couch, Harry, don't be daft." Hermione quickly whisked a few scrolls containing what looked like complex arithmancy equations away to make room for him with a blush. "There, sorry... I should have tidied up first."
Harry realised she must be nervous about having company. "Hermione, it's okay. I mean, we've spent how long in a tent together?"
She laughed and he grinned, feeling better. "So what's your big news, Harry?"
"Well, the first... well, Malfoy contacted me. We met up for lunch, which actually wasn't too bad considering it was, you know, Malfoy, and he gave me this." Harry reached into his light jacket and carefully extracted the box. Hermione's face lit up at the familiar shape of a wand box.
She took it and opened it almost reverently. He knew exactly how she felt – having broken his own holly wand and then being able to repair it, to hold it again...Hermione trailed her fingers over the carved vines.
"It's clean," she whispered. "I thought for sure it'd be bloody after all that. It looks like new." Her lip trembled and Harry pretended not to see her dash away a stray tear. "Like none of it ever happened."
"He had it cleaned," Harry told her.
"I know." She gave him a smile. "It's sort of obvious."
"You'll probably have to turn Bellatrix's wand over, though, now that you've got yours back."
She flushed. "I, er... I haven't got it."
He frowned. "Of course you do." Her mouth opened, then closed, and she frowned. "Well, whose wand are you using, then? Where's hers?"
Hermione flushed. "It didn't work well for me. So I, er, I may have swapped it for someone else's. They weren't... they weren't needing theirs at the time, were they?"
Ugly suspicion drew his brow. "Hermione...?"
"I swapped it with Professor Snape's," she blurted.
He was horrified. "When? You didn't have time -"
"I did. I, erm, I may have Confunded you and Ron," she admitted. His eyebrows rose, incredulous. "I just..."
"Hermione?" What in Merlin's had she done?
"I, erm, I helped him." Her voice was little more than a whisper. "I applied dittany, a blood replenisher... I made a timed Portkey. Illegal, I know, but..."
"You helped him." He didn't mean to sound accusatory as he cut her off, but there it was. She flinched and looked away. She seemed to find her resolve, but he cut her off. "Why, Hermione? You thought he was on their side! And you didn't tell me you helped him? You told the Aurors that he was still laying there and now he's missing and -"
"He'd probably be dead if I hadn't helped!" she shot back.
"So he's alive, for sure, and you didn't bloody tell me?" Harry yelled.
"For the love of – Harry, calm down!"
"No! You knew! You didn't tell me! Do you know where he is, too, Hermione?" He stood, clenching his fists. "I've been working to clear him, I've gone diving into the Pensieve, and you couldn't be arsed to tell me that my godfather's alive -"
"He's your -" Hermione looked shocked.
"Finally, something you don't know," Harry said. He knew he was being nasty, that she didn't deserve it, but it felt like everything was coming to a head, and Hermione was safe to yell at. Ginny wasn't acting herself, he'd spent hours and days fighting to keep people out of Azkaban and being worried over Snape and Hermione hadn't said a word. Ron was spending nearly all his time at St. Mungo's, the Weasleys were shattered and yet he couldn't bear to leave them to escape the permanent air of loss for more than a few hours. "How couldn't you tell me?! You knew I was worried, and still -"
"Harry, it's not like that!"
He was hurt, and knew he should stop talking. With considerable effort, Harry drew himself up. "I'm sorry – I shouldn't be yelling. I can't talk to you right now. I'll owl you later when I'm not angry."
Hermione looked hurt as he left, his jaw tight. He'd apologise later, but right now... he needed to get away before he said something he'd regret. He paused, green eyes serious behind his glasses. "I'm sorry, 'Mione."
"Me, too," she whispered.
Severus sat up as straight as he could as Hermione mounted the stairs. Merlin, even her tread sounded weary. "That did not go well."
The witch laughed mirthlessly. "Harry's pretty hurt. From his standpoint, I can understand it... But it still stings."
"Such is the way of Gryffindor emotion," he said snidely.
"Well, in good news, I've got my wand back." Another typical Gryffindor behavior – looking on the bright side of things. She smiled and carefully extended his wand to him, hilt first. "Thank you for your unexpected kindness, sir."
The ebony was warm in his hand, and he was glad to have his wand where it belonged. "At least you were not one to abuse the privilege."
She sat on the edge of the bed, ignoring the vacant chair and giving him a weak smile. Was she always so forward? Apparently. "What do you want for dinner?"
He relaxed: good. She wasn't going to ask about what Potter had shouted about being his godson. At least, not yet.
It was dark in the house, as it always was. If the choice was liquor or the power bill, well, they could make do. If the use of magic would let him drink, he condoned it. The house was filthy, the smell of decay rising from the refuse piled in the kitchen. He couldn't understand the slurred insults any longer.
He hurt. His nose was broken, copper filling his nostrils. His knuckles were split open, as was his lip. The oversized shirt and ragged pants that constituted his clothing were stained with blood. Someone was pleading with his assailant, and he fought to remain conscious. If he passed out, he'd go on to her, and she wasn't strong enough. He just had to make it a week more and he'd be of age, could wield his wand to defend them both...
The winter's chill was seeping into him, stealing his strength. His breath was ragged, burning his lungs. He had to hold on... just a little longer...
Liquor sloshed in glass, a shattering, a woman sobbing... The sudden absence of fists and feet against his bruised flesh registered, as did the sudden crash, the shriek of pain, the bellow of surprise –
Severus jerked awake from the nightmare at a sharp cry that hadn't belonged in the nightmare that memory was. His heart pounded against his ribs until he could place it. Hermione had forgotten to cast a Silencing Charm again – he could hear her whimpering in her sleep. Severus shifted in the bed, feeling ill at ease. His hair was greasy between his cheek and the pillow, and he flinched as she cried out in distress.
He lay there for several minutes, listening to her suffer as her screams and moans hung in the house's still air, before he could take no more.
No more suffering. No more, damn it.
Carefully, painfully, Severus levered himself out of the bed and managed to turn into the hallway, clutching the walls where he could. By time he staggered into her room, his legs were aching from the strain.
Hermione was curled up, shaking as tears trailed down her cheeks – he could see the tracks in the filtered glow of the streetlamp.
"Please, help, please," she moaned softly. "We found it, I swear!"
The last was a shriek: Severus sat down heavily on the floor by her bed and grasped her icy hand. The shaking became a tremor and he tilted his head back, resting against the mattress. Slowly, her hand warmed in his and her breathing evened out, became calm.
It was... interesting, how it felt to create peace within another.
Severus yawned. Bugger trying to go back to his room. He'd just bloody well sleep here.
See you next chapter :)