Disclaimer: Harry Potter and characters are the intellectual property of J. K. Rowling. I claim no ownership over anything belonging to her that appears in this story.
Severus Snape glanced up from the potions essay he was grading to see Harry Potter entering his office for their scheduled occlumency lesson. The dour professor silently indicated for Potter to take a seat before returning to the parchment in front of him. Neither wizard said a word as the sound of Snape's quill dominated the room. Setting the essay aside to dry, Snape stood and strode over to his pensieve to begin siphoning his most private memories into for safekeeping. As the last silver strand landed in the mercurial liquid, he turned and regarded his guest with an unreadable expression. Although his face showed no emotion, he was anything but calm.
Severus has barely been able to contain his glee when Dumbledore had presented him with this task. Normally the process of learning occlumency involved learning the theory in the first lesson followed by a gradual strengthening of the mental shields against increasingly violent intrusion attempts. Severus had forgone the theory altogether and instead immediately began attacking Harry's mind with the strength usually reserved for testing at the Master level.
Rather than teaching the boy occlumency as Dumbledore believed, over the last several weeks he had instead been inflicting the most painful, invasive, and embarrassing torture possible while systematically eroding any natural mental shields the boy may have had. He took great pleasure in forcing the brat to relive over and over every horrible thing that had happened to him in his life, including the abuse he had endured lately from Madame Umbridge's delightful quill. His efforts to weaken the boy's mind were paying off, and tonight he planned to leave behind several subtle compulsions designed to breed feelings of resentment and hostility toward his friends, especially that mudblood Granger. He saw it as fair revenge for the loss of Lily Evans to James Potter to deny the bastard's son the chance at the same happiness.
With these thoughts in mind Snape moved to stand in front of Harry, noticing with no small amount of satisfaction the boy's shoulders already slumped in defeat. "Potter," he sneered, "your continued lack of focus and commitment despite the gravity of the situation will no longer be tolerated. I daresay that I'd have more success teaching occlumency to one of Hagrid's abominations in half the time I've wasted on you. From now on I will receive nothing less than your full efforts or you will be left to the Dark Lord's nonexistent mercy. Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes, professor," Harry replied without looking up. Snape quirked an eyebrow. Something about the boy's body language and vocal inflection seemed… off, somehow, but the potions master couldn't quite pinpoint the difference.
"Clear your mind," he said. After a few moments of silence Harry gave a determined huff before looking up to meet his eyes and nodding. Barely suppressing his smirk of victory, Snape drew his wand and leveled it between Harry's eyes. "Legillimens!"
It was only a few seconds before the screaming started.
Delores Umbridge looked up from the paperwork that Minister Fudge had sent her to peruse to see Severus Snape stepping into her office and shutting the door softly behind him.
"Severus," she simpered, trying to hide her annoyance at being interrupted. "To what do I owe this visit?"
"Good evening, Delores," Snape drawled. "I wonder if I might take a moment of your time to discuss a matter which I believe you may find… enlightening."
Intrigued, Delores set aside the parchment in her hand. "I believe I can spare a few moments for a colleague. Tea?"
"Allow me," Snape said, crossing the room to the tea service next to the fireplace. "How do you take it?"
"Two sugars, no lemon," she chirped. Snape nodded and prepared two cups of tea, passing one to her as he took a seat in the chair in front of her desk with the other. A few moments passed as both professors sipped their steaming tea before Delores set aside her cup and cleared her throat. "Now then, what is it you wished to speak to me about?"
Snape met her gaze for a moment. "I've just come from a remedial potions lesson with a particularly troublesome fifth year Gryffindor, with whom I believe you are most familiar."
"Potter," she spat, her eyes hardening.
Snape nodded. "The very same. The headmaster has tasked me with helping the boy improve his dismal potions grade, a task that is proving to be an exercise in futility despite my considerable skill. After two insufferable hours confined to a potions lab with him I was nearly ready to boil my own head. I'm sure you can relate."
Delores nodded. "Indeed I can. However, I'm quite curious as to why you feel that Mr. Potter's less-than-adequate potions grade is any of my concern?"
"I believe it concerns you because Mr. Potter's remedial potions lesson is in fact a cover for the occlumency lessons that the Headmaster wishes the boy to receive."
Delores's eyes lit up with malicious glee. "Is that so? I take it that by bringing this to my attention you are implying that he is keeping secrets that the Ministry ought to know, and that you are seeing to it that they fall into the correct ears, as any good citizen would?"
Snape smiled. "Quite."
In the blink of an eye Delores had a quill and parchment in hand with a look on her face as if Christmas had come early. "Go on, please."
"Mr. Potter and his friends have organized a clandestine group of students under direct remit of the Headmaster which they call 'Dumbledore's Army.' Each meeting consists of Mr. Potter personally instructing Hogwarts students in techniques designed to bring about the downfall of the Ministry of Magic." Delores's hand was a blur as she copied Snape's words verbatim. "Admittance into the group requires the signing of a magical contract which carries gruesome consequences for any who would expose the group's existence. They meet in a secret room on the seventh floor across from the tapestry of Barnabus the Barmy, but the meeting times are sporadic and difficult to predict. It may also interest you to know that Hermione Granger is the mastermind behind the contract as well as the trap spells it contains."
Delores continued writing for a moment before stopping with a flourish. "Severus, this is excellent! With this information I'll finally have what I need to snap that little upstart's wand and ship him off to Azkaban for the rest of his natural life, along with his mudblood girlfriend. Now that I know the 'what' and the 'where,' it's only a matter of time before I find out the 'when.' Until then I'm afraid I'll have to keep Mr. Potter in detention every night to keep a close eye on him. It will be difficult, but I'm sure I'll come up with something… entertaining for him to do." Delores waved her hand airily, drawing Snape's gaze to a piece of parchment on her desk where the words "I must not tell lies" was written repeatedly in a suspicious red ink.
Snape regarded her with a look that almost resembled respect. "A blood quill," he said. "A most creative punishment Delores. Although, I fear that it leads me to the other piece of disturbing information that I feel the need to share with you."
Delores quirked an eyebrow. "More?"
"Yes. I have knowledge of a plot against the Senior Undersecretary to the Minister of Magic, one Delores Umbridge."
The quill dropped out of Delores's hand almost as fast as the blood drained from her face. "Are you implying… assassination? Of me? Do you know by whom?"
"Indeed I do," he said. "In fact, he's in this very room as we speak."
Delores gaped. "You!? Y-you… intend to… to… to kill me?"
Snape's mouth curled into a wicked smile. "My dear lady, you don't seem to grasp the entirety of the situation." He withdrew an empty vial from his pocket and placed it firmly on her desk. "I killed you ten minutes ago with your first sip of tea." Delores reeled back as if struck, her hands instinctively clutching her throat as her eyes widened in horror. "It's quite a nasty little potion too, found only in the darkest of potion texts. Once a single drop is ingested it goes to work, eating away at the victim's magical core like acid. In a matter of minutes it will completely consume the core and move on to the rest of the body, slowly liquefying all the major organs. I'm told it's one of the most agonizing deaths in the wizarding world." By now the terrified witch was curled into the fetal position, clutching her belly in agony. Snape stood and stared down at her with pure loathing in his eyes. "Goodbye, Delores. I'm afraid the next time you see this face it will be in Hell." Giving the dying witch one final glare, Snape spun on his heel and left the room, shutting the door just before Delores began coughing up blood.
"Is he dead?"
"Not yet, but he will be soon."
"What in Merlin's name did you do to him?"
"He did it to himself really; all I did was sit there. Of course I could've mentioned who I really was before he tried barreling into my mind like a herd of hippogriffs, but I doubt he would've listened. He seemed quite intent on causing as much harm as he could as quickly as possible. You can see how well that worked out for him. Anyway, what of our friend, the Toad Lady?"
"The very smartest. Hey now, wipe that morose look off your face. We did the right thing, and you know it. You read the letter, and we both saw the evidence with our own eyes. They were both torturing him, and nobody else in this place was lifting a finger to help. James and Lily's son deserves better than that, and we owe it to them to look after him."
"I know he does. I just hope this doesn't wind up doing more harm than good."
"Our boy's in good hands. She'll take good care of him for us."
"I'd say she already is."
While his tormentors were meeting their sticky ends, the real Harry Potter was in the hospital wing with Hermione Granger at his side gently wiping his feverish brow with a damp cloth. He had suddenly fallen ill during dinner and made his way to Madam Pomfrey, who immediately shooed him into a bed for the night. The mediwitch would later swear that the two teens had talked quietly until just before curfew, when Hermione left him with a kiss on the forehead and a promise to visit first thing in the morning. The Fat Lady would confirm opening the door for Hermione no more than five minutes later and not seeing her emerge until morning.
Portraits in other parts of the castle had a much more interesting story to tell. Although there was no sign of Harry Potter outside the hospital wing, several portraits reported seeing Severus Snape making his way from the dungeons to Delores Umbridge's office and back. He would be discovered several hours later dead in his office. A check of his wand revealed his last spell to be an obliviate powerful enough to cause all brain function to cease. Since he had effectively erased any clues as to his motives, nobody could be sure what drove the potions master to murder the woman in such a gruesome way. There were many theories, but most chalked it up to him simply cracking under the pressure of teaching such a dangerous subject for so long. Examination of the pensieve found in his office revealed traumatic memories from his childhood as well as several horrifying scenes from his days as an active Death Eater, all of which clearly pointed to Severus Snape being a very mentally-disturbed man.
With the castle in an uproar over the apparent murder-suicide the night before, Harry and Hermione went unnoticed as they stolled out of the castle and down to the shore of the Black Lake. It was there that she added to Harry's considerable good mood by finally admitting her deep feelings for her best friend, feelings that he returned with gusto. After several hours of talking, laughing, and snogging, the new couple could be seen sitting silently, hand-in-hand, watching the sun glisten on the water.
As she gently ran her thumb across the hateful words forever scarred into Harry's hand, Hermione thought back to the plans that had unfolded to lead them to where they were now. After finally getting Harry to open up about what was going on with Snape and Umbridge, she had wasted no time in sending off a letter to the only two people who could possibly help. It only took two days before they wrote back saying that they had made arrangements according to her plan and that they would be ready to strike during Harry's scheduled occlumency lesson that week. Hermione had then contacted Dobby who, after having the situation explained to him, was only too happy to help protect "Master Harry" from "the bad bat man" and "evil toad woman." Being a house elf, it was no trouble at all for him to stealthily retrieve several hairs from Snape and Harry, or to slip a sleeping drought into Dumbledore's evening tea so he would be unable to interfere, or even to spike Harry's dinner with a fever potion courtesy of the Weasley Twins to keep him safely tucked away in the hospital wing and above any suspicion. All that was left was for two old Marauders to sneak into the castle undetected using one of the many secret tunnels they discovered in their youth. Using a combination of Polyjuice potion and Harry's invisibility cloak, borrowed for the night by Dobby, Sirius and Remus had followed Hermione's plan to the letter, showing Snape and Umbridge exactly what happens when you hurt a Marauder's family.
Walking back to the castle with her arm around her wizard, Hermione breathed a sigh of relief. It didn't faze her in the slightest that she was now an accessory to two murders. All that mattered to her was that the man she loved was safe, happy, and hers. As she led Harry through the corridors intent on finding a broom closet to do some further celebrating in, Hermione's good mood was interrupted by the sneering voice of Draco Malfoy.
"Well well, if it isn't Potty and the mudblood. Couldn't find anyone better to shag than this one, eh Potter? Better get your kicks while you can. The Dark Lord will be putting you both in your place soon enough." Harry opened his mouth to fire off an angry retort but was stopped by Hermione's hand on his shoulder. She shook her head while giving him a sultry look that quickly pushed all thoughts of the Ferret out of his mind. As they walked away leaving a sputtering Malfoy behind, Hermione's mind was already hard at work on a plan to deal with the arrogant berk. Her last thought before losing herself in the feeling of dueling tongues and wandering hands was that soon, very soon, it would be time for one more remedial lesson. And this time, she would be teaching it personally.