Disclaimer: Harry Potter and his universe all belong to the delightful JK Rowliing.
A/N: Canon up to the Order of the Phoenix. In this story, situated one year after their seventh year, Snape and Remus and Tonks are alive. Dumbledore too and he is still the headmaster of Hogwarts and the war against Voldemort still rages on
I was looking for a new take on the Patronus when this idea popped into my thick skull, I hope you'll enjoy!
Chapter 1: Warriors of the Light
Harry was engaged in a closed-off duel with Voldemort, neither seemed to be over-powering the other. Would it be yet another useless confrontation, with losses on both sides, but still no victory to proclaim. It had been going on for quite some time now. The Golden Trio had left the sanctuary of Hogwarts one year ago for that of the Headquarters at 12 Grimmauld Place or The Burrow.
Hermione had become battle-hardened after the first few skirmishes as a full-fledged member of the Order of the Phoenix, but her heart plummeted at the sight before her. A dozen...no, maybe even a hundred Dementors were swooping down from the sky like some graceful and macabre ballet. She was on the out-skirts of the battle and far enough not to be overly affected by their presence, but standing right beneath them in a huddled group were several wizards of her own faction, probably trying to cast a Patronus. The bastards! This was a trap! The soul-less monsters had been hiding in the stormy clouds above, waiting for their chance to feast on unsuspecting souls.
Why hadn't their spy warned them? Didn't Voldemort trust him any more? Or hadn't he confided in anyone? The latter was more likely. As time went by, and the two opposing forces remained at a stalemate, Snake-face had become more and more paranoid.
She was far away, but not far enough that she couldn't cast a Patronus. She'd be damned if she let anything happen to her fellow warriors of the Light. Running towards them, she desperately assembled her happy thoughts: Ron and Harry, her first friends ever, and who accepted her as she was; her parents, who had always loved and encouraged her until their untimely death; the Weasleys, her second family who smothered her with love;...and LIFE! Oh Gods! Life was beautiful and she wanted to live it fully and freely, with everyone else. Tears were streaming down her face as she clung with all her strength to her happy thoughts, to her unconditional love for everyone and everything in this world.
She halted as she whipped her wand towards the dark creatures, swished and flicked while shouting EXPECTO PATRONUM! as loudly and fiercely as she could, clinging to her happiness and love like a protective shroud.
Nothing happened and after a moment of totally useless embarrassment, her eyes focused on the Dementors who had noticed her outburst. A few of them drifted towards her, easy prey.
Why? Why wasn't there even a little pure-white mist erupting from her wand? She should have at least managed that much! Where was her faithful otter?
Just as panic was starting to take a hold on her emotions and nibble at her happy thoughts, the tip of her wand glowed and she sighed in relief. But the intense pure light did not leave her wand, it slithered down it, transforming what was once solid vinewood into an ethereal translucent white glow.
Her wand was transforming into a Patronus? What the hell?
But that was only the beginning. She stood frozen and transfixed as the beautiful light touched her fingertips and changed them too. The sensation was incredible: at first, only a tinkle and then she could feel joy, peace, and bliss as the light invaded her whole body. It prevented her from dropping her wand, she couldn't fear such an amazing feeling.
She felt so light, she was so radiant, like a lighthouse in a storm. And she felt so euphoric. No, she didn't feel it, she was it. She was bliss, she was rapture.
Hermione felt dark vile magic nearby and she collected her thoughts. The Dementors. The Order of the Phoenix trapped nearby. And she soared through the air, high above the grassy meadow. She had never liked flying but this was glorious, and served to increase her happiness and her power, so she fed on it. She braced herself as she was about to fling herself into the hoard of black and putrescent creatures, just like her otter would have done, but she felt nothing. Nothing bad at least: she could sense the vile beings dissolve into nothingness, liberating some trapped happiness back on the world beneath.
She swooped at an unbelievable speed through the wretched things and herded them back as they started panicking and tried to flee. Her beautiful glowing hair had a life of their own and the ethereal tendrils snared and whipped at the dark rotting corpses. There must have been over a hundred of them and it took her a long time, and despite the glorious feeling off success and joy overflowing her heart - if she still had one, that is – she started to feel a strain on her magic.
The young woman floated back down to ground level and froze when she saw she had missed two Dementors, still advancing on a lone weakened Order member that was by himself. Others were running to the rescue but they wouldn't manage it on time. How could she have been so foolish? She valiantly mustered what strength and euphoria she had left and sped towards them, annihilating the shrouded horrors. She felt more resistance this time but put that on the count of her weakened state. She would worry about it later, if she still existed...Patroni usually blinked out of existence once their mission was accomplished, didn't they. Now was the moment of truth.
As her feet touched the ground, she felt herself becoming heavier, more solid and more real. She looked around, disoriented and spotted the small group of Order members she had glimpsed earlier coming to the rescue of their isolated kin.
She found him first, lying motionless on the ground. Had she been too late? Or...that resistance she had felt...had she flown right through him? Had she hurt him? She took shaky steps towards the prone form, turning him over. It was Professor Lupin. Oh, Merlin, no! Please!
Hermione heard the hurried footsteps behind her but a black veil was already clouding her eyes. She was too exhausted, maybe she would disappear now.
Why were people speaking so bloody loudly? Couldn't anyone get a bit of respite here? Sometimes she really regretted having yielded to the Headmaster's orders and taken up living at Grimmauld Place. Ron stayed with his family at the Burrow, which had been put under the Fidelius as secondary headquarters, while Harry alternated between the two. Hermione herself had no family left, so she could have gotten her own place like other members of the Order, like Tonks or Mr Diggle. But she had submitted to Dumbledore's demands. She would really have to learn to defy authority one day.
Still, why was it so noisy? People were usually more subdued the day following a skirmish with the Death-Eaters and U-NO-POO. And she had been having such a nice dream too for once: she was flying among the stars, happy and beautiful. It was a welcome change from the nightmares.
Oh, well. She might as well get up.
Hermione blinked a few times before her eyes could focus. It was probably past noon already judging by the light streaming in through the windows.
"Oi! She's awake!" yelled a voice, too close to her ears for comfort.
"Bloody hell Ron! Would you mind tuning it down a bit! Since when does my waking up need an all-out announcement?" her voice was raspy and she felt a bit light headed. Maybe it was later than she had anticipated. Did she get hit by a hex yesterday? She felt weak and sore all over.
"You're awake!" the redheaded menace shouted again.
"Will you quit it, Ronald Bilius Weasley! It's hardly a feat, you know." she replied, annoyed. She was trying to recall the events of the last skirmish and he was not helping her focus.
"Indeed." drawled a voice from the doorway. "How nice of you to grace us with your company, Miss Granger."
What was the Potions Master doing in her bedroom?
"Miss Granger." greeted the headmaster, eyes all a-twinkle, as he stepped from behind Professor Snape. "I'm glad to see you're feeling better. Mr Weasley if you don't mind giving us some privacy?"
Feeling better? Something was definitely amiss, and the odds were that it was her and not all the rest of them who was in the dark. It probably had to do with last night.
She closed her eyes, sorting out her memories: apparating next to Hogsmeade, the battle, the duel between Harry and Voldemort -again-, the Dementors...Merlin's pants! The Dementors! She hadn't been dreaming, she had somehow patronussed herself and chased off...no killed!... the bloody things. And she had hurt professor Lupin.
She opened her eyes wide and paled considerably.
"You remember then. Splendid!" the headmaster beamed.
"Lupin! Professor Lupin! Did I..? Is he...?" she demanded in a shrill panicked voice, but couldn't voice her fears. She wouldn't be able to live with herself if she had killed someone, and someone she cared for on top of that.
"He's doing just fine, dear; He was only comatose for six hours, just a good rest in other words." the old wizard reassured her, sitting on the edge of her bed and patting her hand. "If you're well enough, would you mind reporting." Dumbledore switched so easily from his grandfatherly mode to his leader of the Light role, he had her head spinning.
"Of course, sir. I'm sorry for the delay. How long have I been sleeping?"
"Four days. You had us quite worried. Even our optimistic Severus here was starting to doubt your recovery."
She chuckled at hearing the dour spy described as optimistic. He was anything but.
Sensing the elder wizard was growing impatient, she gave him a meticulous report, even if she herself did not fully understand what had happened. The two wizards remained silent for a few minutes, no doubt processing this twist of events, before they nodded at each other.
"Miss Granger, what happened to you is an unforeseen blessing for the side of the Light. Your new skill makes you a precious...asset to the Order." he said in a kind voice but his words sounded hollow.
He said 'asset', but all she heard was 'weapon'.
Hermione looked over at the other wizard, who was sitting in a transfigured hard-backed chair next to her bed. What she saw terrified her: she discerned pity in his dark obsidian eyes. He had no business looking at her like that. And then she understood - she wasn't the brightest witch of her age for nothing - Dumbledore was planning on using her like a disposable weapon, just like he did with his spy, who faced a dangerous maniac on a daily basis on the old man's command. He would command her just the same now, to do his bidding, and she couldn't say no, because she had taken an oath to obey the leader of the Light when she had been sworn in as an Oder member. It seemed a bloody stupid thing to do now, in retrospect.
She felt bile rising but suppressed the urge to throw-up. Surely, he would still consider her as a person and not like some shiny new toy. Shiny indeed. Oh, the irony!
"I think it would help us tremendously to analyse your memory in a pensieve, if you don't mind."
"It's a good idea." she agreed shakily. "I'm still feeling weak however, I don't think I'll manage to extract the memory myself, more so because I've never done it before."
The twinkling wizard nodded, still smiling insanely. It was like Christmas had come early.
"We thought that might be the case. If you trust us enough, myself, or Severus, can perform Legilimency to retrieve it for you."
No fucking way the conniving old man was getting in her head. She glanced at the quiet wizard sitting next to him, considering something she never would have before today, and saw him give her an almost imperceptible nod.
"Fine." she answered, trying to sound aloof "If you don't mind, headmaster, I'd rather Professor Snape do it though. I'd be too embarrassed if you saw some intimate memories by mistake. Professor Snape already loathes me though, so it wouldn't be too much of a loss on me."
Dumbledore chuckled, probably still on a high of euphoria at the good luck befalling him, he agreed readily and just as he left, added:
"Do not worry, Miss Granger. Severus is a very accomplished Legilimens."
Hermione waited until she heard him shuffle away and the remaining wizard threw a strong silencing and privacy charm.
"Yeah, because that's what's worrying me. Geez..." she huffed.
"You'll have to get used to it, I'm afraid. Once he's got his claws on you, consider yourself his slave."
"Have you gotten used to it?"
The spy, merely shrugged, neither a yes or a no.
"Thank you for helping me." She told him in a small voice. "I didn't want to give him more ammo to control me. He would probably have harvested my mind like some fucking Dementor."
"Language, Miss Granger." but he sounded amused. "But it was wise of you to trust me. Now, let's get back to business. Have you experienced Legilimency before?"
"No. I only know what Harry told me from your special Occlumency lessons" and she shuddered.
Professor Snape smirked.
"I will be more careful with you. First, I need you to call forth your memory from last night starting from your apparition there. Then, I will need to look into your eyes and maintain eye contact for the duration. Physical contact will make the connection smoother too, if you don't mind."
"What? Like holding hands?" she asked, befuddled.
He barked a short deep laugh. It made him look so human, it was uncanny.
Sitting face to face, because he was much too tall otherwise, he bend towards her, staring deep into her eyes and she felt his cool fingers on her temples.
"Ready?" he inquired softly.
"Yes" barely a whisper, before she concentrated on that particular night.
She couldn't feel any invasion of her mind but maintained her focus on the last skirmish. And suddenly the images flew before her eyes, much clearer than her fuzzy memories. She couldn't say how long it lasted before the connection was broken and she slumped forward, exhausted. Professor Snape prevented her from falling in a heap on the ground and gently helped her settle back in her bed.
"Did you get all of it?" she asked.
"I didn't feel anything, it's almost as if you weren't there." she insisted.
"It's because you freely opened your mind to me." he explained but she could see the evil smirk he had sported earlier at her mention of Harry's Occlumency lessons. He turned to leave but she had one more question she was itching to ask.
"Any advice for a fellow sacrificial lamb?"
She saw him fighting a grin but he answered, as seriously as ever:
"Stay sharp, trust no one."
"No one? Not even you?"
"No one." he confirmed "That is, if you don't want to finish as dragon-bait."
And he left, robes billowing and all. What a fraud, she thought, before she succumbed to sleep once more.
The next day -probably- she decided it was finally time to get out of bed, because she was famished. Nourishing Potions just didn't fill an empty stomach even if it did fulfill your biological needs.
It was dark outside, casting a Tempus revealed the time: 2 a.m. Everybody was most likely asleep. Her stomach rumbled loudly, so she threw on her nightgown and made her way quietly to the kitchen, being careful to skip the third step from the bottom because it creaked so loudly it may as well be a burglar alarm.
Driven by her hunger, she strutted cross the kitchen and she threw herself on the pantry, searching the shelves for some leftovers and backing out with the rests of a bowl of potato salad, perfect! She was going to take a seat at the long table when she cried out in surprise and dropped her fork.
She hadn't seen anyone when she had entered the dimly lit kitchen and walked to the far end where the larder was. Not that she had really looked, mind you, she had just assumed. Kingsley Shacklebolt, Professor Snape and Professor Lupin were all seated at one end of the table ogling her. She gave herself a once-over. Yep, she was definitely not decent: her muggle sleeveless shirt and and shorts definitely did not cover much, especially with her dressing-gown gaping open. She blushed furiously and hastily closed the gown, too tightly for her comfort.
"Hum...I wasn't expecting company." she explained.
Snape had the gall to smirk and in his deep silky voice threw a not so innocent:
"May I join you? Or is this a private meeting."
"Sit here, Hermione. We've reached a dead-end anyway..." said the werewolf, waving her over to the seat next to him.
The witch deliberately walked behind Snape to take the offered seat, muttering just low enough for the raven-haired man to hear: "Cannon-fodder." And she was happy to hear him choke on his drink.
"Professor Lupin!" she greeted him warmly with evident relief and a hug that he had obviously not expected.
"Umph! Steady there, what's the occasion?" he chuckled.
"I'm sorry." she blurted out, sitting down next to him and summoning her forgotten fork that she scourgified thoroughly. "I was so worried. The last thing I remember was knocking you unconscious because I attacked you. I'm so sorry."
"I wouldn't say you attacked him, Hermione." interrupted Auror Shacklebolt. "Actually, I'd even go so far as to say you saved his life. And everyone else's. And it was one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen."
Professor Lupin nodded enthusiastically.
"What?" she squeaked, embarrassed by his words. "You saw me?"
"Yes, I was one of the Order members who was failing miserably at fighting off the Dementors." answered the Auror, grimacing at the mention of his failure.
"Well, there were rather a lot of them." she laughed nervously
"However." cut in the spy's silky tones "The Dark Lord also saw you. The good news is, he was too far away to make out that it was a person or the identity of the Patronus. He currently thinks it's some kind of giant Accromantula or octopus, but cast by a very powerful wizard and he demands a name. I don't intend to reveal the true nature of the Patronus but he demands a name all the same and we were just...brain-storming."
Kingsley and Lupin seemed shocked by the snarky man's sudden volubility and invitation for the young woman to join them, but preferred -wisely- not to comment on it.
"Snakey must really have his knickers in a twist." she said matter-of-factly and the tension around the table dissolved into laughs, before they resumed their strategic plotting.
They discarded several potential solutions, either too unbelievable or that had a high probability of backfiring.
"I still think it would be easier to just give my own name, seeing as I'm already a prime target, what with being a mudblood," the three men flinched, "who's bested pure-bloods since I was eleven, and best friends of the boy-who-lived... and I can actually lengthen the list! I'm a kill-on-sight priority and you all know it. But being the insufferable know-it-all that I am," she dared smirk at the spy, who responded with a snarl, "I think we could frustrate the egomaniac homonculus just a bit more and hope to prevent our dear Professor Snape a few torture-sessions as well. Hear me out..."
And the bushy-haired woman endeavoured to convince them to tell Voldemort that Dumbledore had recruited a new ally of a mythical -that is to say invented- nature in a far-off country that is all Light, the exact opposite of the Dark Dementors. That way he'd have no target amongst the Order members and he'd be tearing his hair out – if he had had any that is.
"You would have made a passable Slytherin, Miss Granger. It's quite devious, and protects you as much as myself."
She acknowledged graciously and the two other wizards seemed to suddenly realize the nature of the bond that had suddenly drawn the unlikely pair closer.
"I'll run it by Albus tomorrow at Hogwarts and settle the details if he agrees." resumed the Potions Professor and he took his leave. Just before he crossed the threshold, he uttered three words at the kitchen at large:
Hermione chuckled, being the only one to understand.
"Good one Professor." His knowledge of the muggle world was surprisingly rich.
Auror Shacklebolt left soon-after and Professor Lupin gallantly walked her back to her room, telling her to rest well because her training would start the next morning.
"You realise I have no idea what you're talking about, don't you?" she told the werewolf.
"Didn't Albus tell you?"
Of course he didn't, he lets his underlings deliver the bad news, she thought bitterly. She shook her head. Don't shoot the messenger, she reminded herself. Don't shoot the messenger!
"I'm to supervise your mastery of the Patronus as you did it last time."
"B-But... I have no idea how I did it!" And she didn't like failing. It was unfair. Couldn't they just forget about the whole thing. In the middle of a war? Fat chance...
Seeing her distraught look, the wizard hugged her until she calmed down and wished her a good night. Fat chance...