Disclaimer: Anything you recognize belongs to the goddess, JKR. I've committed to finishing this story as quickly as possible and not leaving my readers waiting two years for an update. This is definitely AU and OOC and a whole bunch of other acronyms (for those of you who care about that sort of thing) because, in my universe, our beloved snarky Potions Master is alive and well and living at Hogwarts (with Hermione, of course).

Chapter 14 – Tensions Rising

A week passed and, despite the now constant communication with Hermione, Severus was reaching a breaking point. If the Headmaster were to suddenly decide to use Legilemens in order to determine the inner workings of the Potions Master's mind, Severus doubted he would have the will to keep everything a secret for very long.

He was exhausted and the increasing frequency of demands for his skills from the Order was weighing on him. And he could not keep relying on girding potions…he was already reaching the point of jumping at shadows…his own most of all.

The Headmaster, when not checking on his whereabouts, was involved in so many clandestine meetings that it was a wonder rumours were not already circulating of his certain demise. He rarely ventured outside Hogwarts' walls (at least, not in plain sight) and he stopped attending meals with the students in the Great Hall.

Something serious was happening. That much was certain. But it puzzled Severus because there was no news in 'The Daily Prophet' which warranted further examination. There wasn't a sudden flurry of Death Eater activity to worry about or an increase in the disappearances of either muggle and wizarding folk. Everything seemed rather ordinary…well, as ordinary as everything could be when the fate of the world was in the balance.

Severus sighed, as he sat in his office. He was looking at an invitation to a special council of Potions Masters and Mistresses taking place in Johannesburg. The purpose of the council was to discuss advances in the treatment of long-term exposure to the Imperius Curse. It was a commonly held myth that, once released from the curse, the witch or wizard would recover almost immediately with no ill effects. But he knew better…and had seen worse.

Prolonged exposure to the curse, particularly when cast by a powerful wizard or witch, could result in a significant loss of willpower, thereby becoming susceptible to even the weakest of suggestions. Severus remembered a wizard who struggled with the almost complete loss of his free will. He had been walking down the street and a mother was disciplining her child for being excessively noisy and told him, in a very loud voice, to be quiet. The afflicted wizard didn't speak for three weeks. While amusing on the surface, it was a dangerous situation potentially. All that was needed was to hear someone making a comment like 'go jump off a bridge' to bring about a most tragic turn of events.

So many people scarred, both physically and mentally, by the followers of the Dark Lord. It had to end.

But would he be allowed to attend? It was exactly the sort of event Hermione would appreciate…allow her the opportunity to participate in discussions with the greatest Potions minds in the current age. She could learn so much in so little time...

Glancing at the date, he realized it was a full six months away.

"The world could have come to an end by then…I could be dead," he said quietly, putting the paper away in a desk drawer, making a mental note to look at it again in a few weeks' time…all the while knowing that it would take a veritable miracle (or the defeat of the Dark Lord and all his followers) for him to be able to attend. But he swore, if he could go, he would bring Hermione…one way or the other.

As he reached for his quill, he heard footsteps approaching his door. Looking up, he wasn't surprised to see Remus Lupin leaning against the door frame with his hands in his pockets. He looked tired but otherwise well.

"Married life appears to agree with you," Severus commented, unrolling a piece of parchment and dating it. "You don't seem to have expired just yet and look, at the risk of sounding like our dear Molly, very happy indeed."

Remus chuckled, "I have to say that I quite like it. Molly was right…I should have done it a long time ago."

"Molly would marry everyone off upon graduation from Hogwarts," Severus shook his head.

"Well, perhaps not that early…do you think you will ever take the plunge, Severus? Ever considered getting married…having a family?"

It was such an unexpected question that, for a moment, Severus was temporarily at a loss for words.

And then…

"I hope so," he replied in a quiet voice, rolling up the parchment again and setting down the quill. "I…I no longer fear it."

"I'm impressed, Severus," Remus stepped into the office and sat down on one of the more comfortable chairs. "I thought the idea of marriage would have made you run away screaming. Didn't you once say that romance is for Hufflepuffs?"

"I have discovered, thanks to the positive experiences of my friends, that it can be a very good thing. Love…does weaken you…makes you vulnerable…and yet…it is a strength beyond imagining, a hope that sustains through all the darkness we live in," Severus steepled his fingers out of habit, making Remus smile.

"You sound as if you are giving a lecture. But, you must really love her," Remus said, becoming more serious.

"I do," Severus confirmed with a nod, looking down at his fingers, rough and somewhat ragged from years of working with caustic ingredients. "Though I fear it unmans me…I love her."

"What twisted webs we weave for ourselves," Remus sighed, running a hand through his hair. "Our circumstances are so much different than what I would have expected even a few years ago. The only thing which has remained constant is the war. It seems to never end."

"It never ended the first time around, I suppose. We just had a bout of remission, as if from some horrible disease…but the disease was never cured. It festered under the surface, waiting for its chance to break free and unleash a new infection on the world…"

"That's exactly how it seems. Sometimes I wonder if we are really doing the right thing. I mean…I trust the Headmaster but, by placing all his hopes on Harry and not having a back-up plan, he leaves too much to chance and fate."

"You do not believe in fate?"

"I believe in free will. I believe in choices and the consequences of those choices. I do not believe that the events in our life are pre-ordained and there is nothing we can do about it. What would be the point in that?" Remus asked. "What's the point of anything if everything has already been set for us…my marriage…this conversation…the end of the war?"

"Agreed…there would be no reason to show initiative, to continue to develop and learn. There would be no purpose to living if your entire life and death were already planned," Severus replied, wondering if it really was too early for something stronger than Butterbeer.

"Well, the Headmaster appears to be quite busy," Remus commented, pulling at a loose thread in his jacket,

"The Headmaster has become quite unavailable. I do not know what he is doing…he has not shared any information with me. It's becoming worrisome."

"I have no idea what's going on, Severus. I fear there is something brewing in the Dark Lord's camp and the Headmaster is preparing for it but…I don't know what that can be."

"Potter suspects a traitor in our midst," Severus said, conjuring two glasses and a bottle of sparkling elf wine. "As does Draco."

Remus did not look surprised.

"I've wondered the same thing over the last little while. I…I thought I was being paranoid."

Severus filled both glasses, handing one to Remus.

"You are not paranoid…unless you, Potter, Draco and myself are collectively and individually paranoid," he said, sipping the wine appreciatively.

"Have you spoken to the Headmaster?" Remus asked.

Severus nodded.

"I have, and have essentially been told that I am delusional," he replied.

"The wine is very good, Severus. Much better than Wolfsbane Potion," Remus grimaced, as if he had drunk the afore-mentioned potion and not the elf wine. "I never get used to the taste…always hoped that, at some point, I'd at least become accustomed to it."

"I wish there were a way to make it more palatable," Severus replied, thankful that he himself did not have to drink it but also wishing he could make it easier for his friend and others who suffered from the same affliction.

"I don't understand why our dear Headmaster insists on not believing either you or Harry," Remus remarked. "I would trust you both with my life."

"Thank you. That means a great deal to me. But the Headmaster is of a different opinion, it would appear. He believes that we have each individually reached the point of, how did he word it exactly…ah yes, jumping at Puffskeins," Severus pinched the bridge of his nose in exasperation…another headache would soon arrive.

"I know you and Harry as well as anyone and probably better than most…and you say that Draco is also of the opinion that we are dealing with a traitor?"

Severus nodded. "I believe him."

"Do you suspect anyone?"

"I have not detected any of the more apparent signs of prolonged exposure to the Imperius Curse, the Confundus Jinx or even a badly cast Jellylegs Jinx. Everything is as it should be."

Remus drank the last of his wine. "Tonks suspects Pince."

"Everyone suspects Pince…a most meddlesome witch who cares far more for the books in her care than her own kin," Severus muttered, remembering an episode when he was berated quite soundly for leaving a rare book on a table without a protective spell.

Remus chuckled. "Voldemort would never recruit Pince…he'd be terrified of her."

"And rightly so," Severus affirmed. "The woman is a menace."

Remus stood up and walked over to the one window that was slightly open, despite the cold winter weather.

"It's a new year and we're no closer to defeating Voldemort than we were last year," he sighed, leaning on the frame and looking out over the snow.

"We haven't lost any ground either…I suppose that is positive."

"Tonks…she wants to start a family. It's something we've always talked about….but…I want to wait until it's…well, perhaps not safe but at least safer than it is now," Remus touched the scars on his face. "II suppose I'm just a bit afraid.

"Your condition is not hereditary," Severus pointed out. "And none of us are safe at this time."

"Do you think I can be a good father?" Remus said quietly.

Severus walked over to where Remus was standing.

"I…am not in a position where I can accurately assess your potential as a father, Remus. My own personal experience with my father left much to be desired. But I do know that you were an excellent professor...and I believe many of the qualities that made you an excellent professor will make you a perfectly acceptable father. "

Remus smiled. "Thank you…I needed to hear that."

That evening, Severus retired to his parlour. The house elves already had a fire crackling so he settled into one of the wing chairs and, pulling out a parchment, began to read it intently. It was a summary of clinical trials recently conducted into a promising new treatment for, as the more polite would say, 'magically-challenged individuals' (a less charitable person would have called them Squibs).

The premise was an interesting one. The treatment assumed that magical ability was always present but somehow suppressed. The research had actually begun because of a Death Eater attack on a 'magically-challenged individual'. The Death Eater had thought it would be amusing to cast an Imperius Curse and forced the poor man to cast spells with a spare wand. The intent had been to drive the man insane…but the most amazing thing happened…a spell was successfully cast.

Thankfully, the spell had been a Full Body Bind (the Death Eater had arrogantly demanded to be completely immobilized) and so, after a time, the man was rescued and the Death Eater thrown into Azkaban. The research began immediately and, for once, an Unforgiveable Curse was being used, with permission and under strict guidelines, for a more positive and constructive purpose.

The preliminary results had been incredible and more clinical trials were being planned with a larger group of subjects. There was even talk of trying it on muggles.

Severus knew that this was the kind of research that the Dark Lord and his Death Eaters would put a halt to immediately. Nothing was more against their twisted ideology than the thought that everyone possessed magical ability…and could be taught to use it.

For him, the possibilities were dizzying.

As he studied the results more carefully, his fireplace suddenly roared to life. He looked up and was shocked to see Minerva's head looking at him and looking gravely concerned.

"How on earth…this is a protected fireplace…how did you manage to…" Severus sputtered.

"Quiet," she hissed angrily. "I only have a few moments…if anyone were to discover what I've done to accomplish this…well, Azkaban would certainly be in my immediate future."

"Is Hermione with you?"

"She's sleeping…I had to give her a potion without her knowledge. It pains me to be so Slytherin about it but she is not well and is looking almost wraith-like."

Severus felt his blood turn to ice.

"She has confided in me, Severus, and I want you to know that you can trust me."

And Severus knew he could. Minerva had proven herself to him many, many times. Despite the irritating knowledge that she was head of Gryffindor House, he rather liked her…although he would never admit to it without Veritaserum.

"What is happening at Beauxbatons, Minerva? Are you safe?"

"A number of students have been pulled from the school recently. I don't believe it to be a coincidence that they are all students whose families have connections to the Dark Lord. Something is going to happen but I cannot convince the Headmistress of the gravity of this situation."

"It would appear that the heads of both schools share something in common other than a love for ballroom dancing."

"I don't understand it, Severus. Why does it feel as if everyone is turning a blind eye to these very real signs that something is about to take place…something dreadful?"

"Have you spoken to our Headmaster?"

"Yes," Minerva snapped angrily. "I was basically told to stay put and keep an eye on Hermione. He feels she is being targeted because of Harry and I'm inclined to agree which is why I want her back at Hogwarts, Severus. I want her to be with you. I have gotten old…I can't possibly protect her if we come under attack."

"I still fear your ability with a wand, Minerva, and would never wish to count myself among your enemies," Severus said, trying to bolster her spirits but feeling an ever-increasing sense of dread in his heart. Minerva's intuition bordered on the uncanny…it was no coincidence that the form of her animagus was a cat.

"You are being ridiculously chivalrous, Severus. In any case, I will keep you informed as best I can."

"Thank you Minerva…for…everything."

"You sound like a Hufflepuff, Severus…and you're welcome. "

And, with that, Minerva's face disappeared and he found himself staring at the embers of the fire.

What was he to do? Was there a way by which he could get to Beauxbatons and circumvent the watchful spells of Albus Dumbledore, the greatest wizard of this age?

He sighed, tossing aside the parchment that he still had in his hand. It seemed hopeless…Hermione was so far away and he had no direct way to stop the danger he knew was trying to find her.

"She confided in Minerva…that does not surprise me in the least," he thought as he stared at the cooling embers. "I'm glad that she has at least one true friend at Beauxbatons and that it is Minerva."

It was a thought that comforted him very little…they were much too vulnerable over there. Hogwarts was safer.

If anything happened to them…

He clenched his hands into fists and closed his eyes tightly.

"It will not happen…she will live. I will not allow you to destroy her, Lucius," he vowed.

Picking up the parchment from the floor, he shook his head…it was going to be a very long night…

The next morning, he was very late in rising from bed…both because he hadn't fallen asleep until he'd consumed a sleeping potion and because he's spent the night reading the clinical trials parchment and making notes. He needed coffee, very strong…and black, in order to wake him from the semi-stupor in which he currently found himself. Combining a stimulant potion with the sleeping potion from the night before could have very uncomfortable consequences.

At breakfast, he wasn't entirely certain that his conversation with Remus and Tonks was coherent. He merely hoped that he was nodding in agreement in the right places so that they didn't think him a befuddled Hufflepuff…he seemed to be comparing a lot of things to Hufflepuffs lately.

It was evident that he needed more than just coffee.

After breakfast, he took a walk by the lake, hoping that the cold air would revive him. He brought two sweet rolls for the Great Squid (who was most appreciative) and chatted with a Merman who had popped his head through a hole in the ice, having followed the cephalopod to where Severus was.

But now, he was in his office, reading a copy of The Daily Prophet…but not really taking in any of the words. He was lost in thought…and his thoughts wandered to Beauxbatons…

He was so deep in thought that the sudden appearance of a house elf completely startled him.

"What in Merlin's name?!" he yelled.

The house elf cringed in terror and Severus immediately felt contrite for his outburst.

"My apologies…I didn't mean to terrify you…I was rather preoccupied," he apologized sincerely.

The house elf still looked nervous but he nodded in acknowledgement.

'I've been sent by Sirius Black, Professor. The young woman is starting to awaken…"

With a muttered curse, Severus turned quickly and hurried out of his office, leaving the house elf wringing his hands in dismay.

He'd been checking on her condition at least three times daily and was beginning to worry at how long the process was taking. Sirius, in typical Gryffindor fashion, never faltered in his faith that she would be all right.

He quickly reached his destination and almost ran inside.

Padma was moving her head from side to side, muttering unintelligibly. Sirius was holding her hand and looked as if he hadn't slept the entire week.

"Tell me how this began," Severus asked, casting a preliminary examination spell. Everything seemed normal.

"She just started moving around…I called a house elf right away…probably scared it half to death," Sirius muttered, not taking his eyes off of Padma. "Is she all right?"

"Everything is as it should be…she should regain complete consciousness very quickly."

"Are you sure…is there anything I should be doing?"

"You are here with her…I believe that is all she requires. We just have to be patient…it might be a…"

Suddenly Padma sat upright, her eyes wide open. Severus held his breath. Sirius looked terrified.

She didn't say anything…staring straight ahead as if mesmerized.

"Padma?" Sirius said hesitantly, reaching out a hand to touch her hair.

For a moment, there was no response and Severus began to worry that the spell had not worked.

And then…

"I know who did this to me," she spoke in a clear voice. She turned to Sirius and her face crumpled in pain. "I know who murdered my family…and who did…this to me."

Sirius embraced her tightly and she continued crying. Severus was relieved to see that, other than being understandably upset, Padma seemed perfectly normal. The spell had worked…so far.

"Are you ready to tell us what happened?" Severus asked gently, conjuring a cup of steaming hot tea.

Padma looked up at him and nodded. Sirius took the cup of tea and silently offered it to her.

"Lucius Malfoy did this. He had taken Polyjuice Potion to appear as someone else but…I think…he forgot to keep taking it and he changed back while…well….before he meant to. He became enraged…said his plan was ruined…and then he started killing everyone. Except me. He…he…used me…hurt me. I never thought I could feel such pain and still live. I know he meant to kill me too but he never got around to it. He was interrupted and Disapparated...but not before casting this curse on me and telling me that he would be back and finish what he had started."

"Who had he disguised himself as?"

"Draco Malfoy…we let him in the house…he was…seeing my sister. I know that he loved her. He is not the person you believe him to be. "

Severus felt his heart turn to ice.

"Would you be willing to present your testimony to the Wizardgamot?" Severus asked, watching Padma take the cup of tea. It was a small thing but it spoke to something so mundanely normal that it pleased him immensely. She would not suffer any ill effects from the curse and enough time had passed that she would be able to work through the pain of her experience with assistance from her friends. It would not be easy but she would recover.

"Of course…I want to see him receive the Dementor's Kiss. I only wish there were some way for me to rip out his soul myself."

Sirius nodded.

"You are a very strong woman, Padma. Your family would be very proud of you," Severus said.

"I am relieved that you are…that you're…you," Sirius said awkwardly.

Padma turned to him with a tired smile. Her expression reminded Severus of Hermione.

"I haven't forgotten," she said, kissing him on the cheek.

Sirius had the good grace to look abashed and Severus left as discreetly as he could.

He was no longer needed here…and he needed to contact Arthur immediately with the information that Padma had provided.

It really was a shame that a Dementor took the entire soul in one go…Severus would have preferred that Lucius' soul (if he, indeed, had one) could be shared among several.

Sometime later, he was again sitting in his parlour, sipping a cognac and thinking about Hermione. He had the beginnings of a plan formulating on how he could spirit Hermione (and Minerva, of course) away from Beauxbatons and perhaps live incognito in a foreign country. Something unexpected. Perhaps Canada. There were several excellent magical academies…Toronto, Victoria, Moncton, Tadoussac…they could start a new life.

He sighed tiredly. What was he thinking? Without the defeat of the Dark Lord there was no chance that they would ever be able to have a peaceful life. Lucius Malfoy was like a rabid dog…he would never let go of his personal vendetta until either he or they were dead.

It was an unnerving thought to think that so many people had to die in order for them to have any chance at a normal life.

"Professore," a familiar voice stirred him from his reverie. He turned and saw the image of the Professoressa in an empty portrait. She looked very upset.

"What has happened?" he said, getting up and walking over to her. "Is Hermione all right?"

"Yes, she is fine. That is not why I came. Your friend at the 'ospedale'…the one who was attacked…something is wrong with her."


"Yes. She is speaking in a language that I do not understand. She is under observation but they do not know what is wrong with her. I fear a curse that was linked to her memory loss."

"I will be there immediately. Advise the medical staff that I am on my way."

"Should you not speak to the Capo?"

"If I am right, and I hope that I'm not, I do not have much time. Please go immediately…I have a few items to collect."

The Professoressa vanished and Severus hurried to his private laboratory. He quickly went into a securely guarded storage room and selected a number of small vials…various potions and elixirs that he hoped would help his good friend. Placing them in a small pouch, he hurried to the closest fireplace and took a handful of Floo powder, shouting the name St. Mungo's Hospital before disappearing in a burst of green flames.

The scene at St. Mungo's was one of sheer chaos. There were mediwizards and mediwitches running to and fro and they all had an expression of panic on their faces.

He recognized one mediwizard (from a conference they had both attended) and stopped him.

"Severus Snape! What on earth…how did you know…"

"What has happened?"

"There's just been an attack on the London Eye and the surrounding area…the casualties…we don't know what to expect…they say that hundreds have died…not even on the news yet…Aurors on the scene trying to manage everything."

"Death Eaters?"

"The Dark Mark is there…we should be seeing the injured any moment."

And, suddenly, the area began to fill with people who were obviously badly injured. Knowing St. Mungo's as well as he did, Severus knew he was in the triage area for those whose injuries were not life-threatening. And he knew there was another triage area where his expertise would be of more valuable assistance.

"Jordan, please ask a house elf to bring a message to Headmaster Dumbledore that I am here and will remain to offer what services I can."

Jordan looked immensely relieved. "We could use a Potions Master of your caliber, Severus, make no mistake."

"I am at your disposal…I will away to the critical care triage and assist in any manner I can."

"Thank you…Margaret…she's always spoken so highly of you..."

"I will see her as well but, for the moment, there are others who need us far more."

Jordan nodded and walked over to the administration desk where a number of house elves were coordinating the suddenly complex communications network that connected St. Mungo's to the outside world.

Severus turned quickly and hurried over to the critical care triage.

Opening the door, he was shocked at the devastation laid out before him. In the days before the unfortunate death of the Potters, the Dark Lord had launched a series of attacks. There had been so many deaths that, had James and Lily been anyone else, their names would simply have been added to a long list of deaths attributed to the Death Eaters. Severus had seen, first-hand, what evil could be done to a human body.

But nothing in his past could have possibly prepared him for what was in front of him.

There were bodies on stretchers as far as the eye could see. The room stank of blood and of other bodily fluids but it was the rank stench of death that immediately raised the bile in Severus' throat.

These people had been tortured…by what curse, only the Death Eaters knew.

Swallowing down a wave of blinding panic, Severus walked over to the mediwitch who seemed to be in charge and set to work…wondering what the final death count would be…and if this was just a twisted form of déjà vu.

The hours passed but Severus had no sense of time. He deliberately focused on the injuries…avoided looking at the faces of the injured unless he had no other choice. This was certainly the easier task, trying to mend the atrocities inflicted on the innocent…bring the dying back from the brink.

Having to tell someone that their loved one was dead…well, that was so much more difficult. As he mended the effects of a hideous modification of the Sectumsempra curse on a young witch, he thought back to the death of his own mother. That had been the first time he met Margaret…she had been the one to tell him that Eileen Prince, a formidable witch, had been killed by a cursed Bludger.

No, he did not envy the trained professionals whose role it was to communicate the terrible news. Margaret had been compassionate and had not taken offence at the string of obscenities that came from his mouth at the news. She simply waited for his rage to be spent and held him close as he sobbed. He had never been close to his father, a muggle who feared his mother and despised him…but he had been close with his mother. She had been the one to encourage him to pursue a future in Potions.

She had died far too soon. At the time, he didn't understand just how much he still needed her guidance…

He sighed as he realized the young witch he was tending would never be able to recover from her injuries. As soon as he stopped working on her, her breath stilled, almost as if in relief, and her eyes closed…her head falling to the side.

She was so young….had barely begun to live her life…

Not giving himself a chance to grieve (after all, grieving was a luxury he could not afford at the moment), he moved on to the next casualty…and the next…and the next…not being able to save even half of them.

"Focus on the ones you can save…every life is precious," he thought to himself, trying not to fall into the trap of despair. "There is always hope…even in a place like this."

And so it continued…saving some and losing more. He had no idea how many people he tended but, when the waves of bodies entering the triage finally stopped, he collapsed on the floor in a boneless heap and just sat there, overcome with shock and too exhausted to even weep.

So much death. Was this just the beginning?

Someone touched his shoulder and, looking up, he saw Jordan looking at him with concern.

"Tell me what you need," the mediwizard said kindly.

"The strongest Pepper-up Potion that you have in stock," Severus said wearily. "I think that will suffice."

A house elf, looking rather exhausted herself, appeared immediately with a glass. Severus took it gratefully and downed it in one go. The effects were immediate but he knew they would be temporary. He had to get back to Hogwarts…but he needed to see Margaret first.

Standing up, he waited for the slight dizziness to pass.

"You should go back, Severus…you need to rest."

Severus shook his head. "Take me to Margaret. I must see her immediately."

Jordan looked at Severus and nodded.

"This way."