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Life & Loyalty

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Waking up proved a slow process and Sybil was scared to finally open her eyes for fear that she was still in the nightmare. It was an old nightmare that she tried to forget. It hadn't returned in more years than she cared to count and she had thought it gone permanently.

The future seemed to be beating itself against her skull and she feared that it was finding it's way in, but surely that was only the residue of the nightmare. She hadn't seen anything for more than a decade and as much as she hated that loss, the idea of the future returning to her eyes was terrifying.

"Don't be an idiot, Sybil. You no longer see the future and if you did, it would have nothing to do with him. He's in the past, he's in your great-great-great-great-grandmother's past at that. Pull yourself together, girl. You've come this far, you can get through one more day, and at the end of that day, you can get through another night, and at the end of that night, you'll get through another day. Okay? Okay."

She was muttering to herself as she got up, wrapped herself in a thick robe, and lit the first stick of incense. She worked hard to get her senses interacting with the present world. Let the future come to her through tea leaves and tarot and crystal balls, not through the cracks in her psyche. The dream was nothing more than a nightmare.

She had nothing to fear from the man with gold-green eyes.

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"Mudblood."

The insult came from a group of students walking to their next class in one of the Hogwarts corridors. It was not obvious who had spoken, but they had all heard it. Hermione tried not to let it show how much that insult hurt.

It was only to be expected. When the great Albus Dumbledore, generally acknowledged to be the most powerful wizard alive, takes on an apprentice for the first time in at least twenty years, there's going to be some jealousy. And it was such an obvious insult. But it still hurt. It told her that no matter how much she learned, and how hard she tried, she would never be completely accepted into the wizarding world. Her eyes prickled.

"Miss Granger." The low voice caught her attention and after a sniff, she turned to face Professor Snape.

"Yes, sir?"

Snape was just looking at her in a considering fashion. She wasn't sure whether to be insulted or complimented that he was looking at her much as he would some new, mildly interesting, potions ingredient.

"Do you attend church?"

The abrupt question took her completely off guard. "What? I mean, um, yes. When I'm at home, I attend my parents' church."

"Tell me about the creation of man."

"Um." She took a moment to think back to Sunday school. She wasn't particularly religious, but she did have a very good memory. "'Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.' Genesis 2:7."

Snape looked a bit disgusted and Hermione winced. He always looked that way when she recited from a book. After all the essays she had written and gotten back covered in insults, she should know by now that he expected her restate her readings as a demonstration that she held "at least some miniscule pretense at comprehension". As he had pointed out on several previous occasions, a good magical reference book could provide quotes on any given subject at request, and he would prefer that she offer some evidence of being sentient. She held herself ready to receive another insult, but looking at him it was clear when he bit back whatever comment he was about to make.

Instead he said, "'Mudblood' is only an insult if you are embarrassed by your faith. As a rule, wizards don't have religion. If you are embarrassed by having religion then you are made weak because you are possessed of something you must hide and protect. If you are proud of your religion, then those who are without faith are the ones who do not understand and are lacking that which you have."

Hermione was amazed by this entire speech, but what finally burst out was, ""Mudblood" is a religious reference?"

Now Snape really looked disgusted with her. "You've been called that for how many years now, and you, the annoying know-it-all, never even bothered to look up what it meant?" He sighed dramatically, waving her away with a contemptuous hand. "Be quiet and lead the way."

Hermione shut up and led the way.

That morning, Dumbledore had asked her to give a tour of the castle to a friend of Professor Snape's while the professor was in class. It had been rather enjoyable. She had been too cautious to question Master Adam, as he had been introduced, about the unexpected friendship but the man had been pleasant and she had kept up a constant monologue of facts and stories that she had learned from Hogwarts: A History. Adam had actually seemed interested, unlike all of her own friends. He was also kind of cute, with a sharply angled face and rather amazing eyes that seemed to shift between green and gold depending on the light.

And then they had gotten to Sybil Trelawney's tower and been seen by the batty old fraud who had immediately let out a shriek and fled into a corner to cower there, as if expecting to be beaten. The shriek had almost given her a heart attack, Hermione was sure, and she had no idea what to do with a hysterical professor. She supposed it would be bad form to simply leave the woman where she was, especially since there was a witness present. Hermione really disliked That Woman.

So the tour was cut short, Adam stayed to try to calm Trelawney, and Hermione was sent off to Dumbledore to apprise him of the situation. From there she had been sent to escort Professor Snape to Adam who was still with the divination professor.

At least she was getting her exercise today, racing back and forth and up and down through the entirety of Hogwarts castle. Once she had made sure that the two professors and the guest were settled in the infirmary for the time being and did not want anything further, she left them, headed back down the main floor, and then up again to Dumbledore's office.

After events there had calmed down and Dumbledore was ensconced in his office preparing to make a floo call to Trelawney's family, she went to the library and got out a dictionary and looked up Mudblood. Sure enough, "a reference to the followers of three of the major muggle religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Stems from the belief that a supreme being formed the first man out of mud." Hermione had to laugh out loud. She would bet nearly anything that none of the people who called her this actually knew the meaning. The dictionary was one of those centuries old books that the Hogwarts library seemed to specialize in. Almost nobody actually read it, not even her. They heard the insult and repeated it knowing only that it referred to muggleborns. She had always thought it had to do with blood purity and she was fairly sure most people thought that. Only Snape, with all his cutting comments and insults, could be depended on to know the actual meaning of every insult he used, and then use it appropriately.

She was beginning to realize why Dumbledore liked Snape so much. He was a rather enthralling character.

She had always tried to show the professors of Hogwarts respect. Well, with the exception of Trelawney who was a complete fraud and deserved no respect. But, she had always shown Professor Snape respect, and tried to make Harry and Ron do the same. It was not, however, until the point she had hated Snape with every fiber of her being, that the seed for true respect had been planted.

It had been near the end of her seventh year, after Voldemort had been defeated.

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Hermione once more had her hand up in Potions class.

With the war finally over, the atmosphere at Hogwarts was more relaxed than it had been for six long years. The change had even effected Professor Snape.

Admittedly, Hermione was rather surprised that a more drastic change had not taken place he was still harsh, insulting, and highly prejudiced in favor of his Slytherins but the insults were not quite so pointed, and he wasn't quite as unfair as he had been before. Thus, Hermione felt better than ever about raising her hand to answer every single question asked in potions class.

It was only the third day after classes restarted. After a moment spent under the thoughtful gaze of Professor Snape, he called on her again.

He waved her to stand. "Miss Granger."

She stood and gave the answer to the question, but then to her surprise, he kept asking questions of her specifically, getting more and more advanced and esoteric. She began to sweat. The other students were completely lost a third of the way into the fifteen minute oral pop quiz. And by the end, she was making wild guesses and had to concede that she had no idea what the answers were or even what kind of answer the questions demanded. When she had first admitted that she didn't know the answer to one of the questions, Snape had nodded his acceptance, but just when she had thought her humiliation was complete he told her to continue answering questions with her best guess as to the correct answer. It only ended when she admitted that the final question made so little sense to her that she couldn't even parse the sentence.

It was like a nightmare in fact it was to fuel later nightmares for months to come. She just stood there and tried to answer questions that she didn't know the answer to and the professor listened to her stuttering and gave her absolutely no feedback. She trembled.

"Miss Granger. You have all the knowledge of an apprentice and all the attitude of a first year. To prevent you from getting a swelled head, more than you already have, let me inform you that a correct attitude is considerably more important than mere book knowledge. You will sit down. For the rest of this course, you will remain silent and with your hands down. For every word you speak within this room for the rest of the year, you will lose your house five points. Do you understand?"

Hermione was still in shock from the grueling pop quiz and at first his words had no meaning to him even though they were in standard English. He waited for her reply and when she finally comprehended what he had said, her mouth dropped open.

"Nod, if you understand."

She closed her mouth with a click of teeth, her pale face now red with anger. She nodded jerkily.

"Oh, and five points to Gryffindor for every correct answer you gave, and five points from Gryffindor for every incorrect answer."

"But you told me to guess!" The words burst from her without any thought. She was outraged.

"I don't believe I told you to guess incorrectly." Snape looked slyly condescending and spoke in his silkiest voice. "And that will be thirty points from Gryffindor for speaking six words."

Hermione had to grip the edge of her desk to prevent her hands from shaking too badly, and possibly to keep herself from jumping on the professor and trying to kill him. Snape continued to smirk at her, as she stiffly sat back in her chair, and turned her eyes downward.

The professor leaned on his desk and finally took his eyes off of her. He scanned the entire room of students. The other students were variously angry, shocked, pleased, or gloating. However, mostly they were confused and waiting to see what happened next. Several of them thought that it really wasn't fair of Snape to start changing now, in their very last year. And if he was going to change, why couldn't he suddenly change into someone nicer and easier to deal with? Wasn't it just like him to confuse things this close to graduation. Sadistic bastard.

"I am implementing open office hours twice a week, Mondays and Thursdays, after dinner. If any of you have any potions questions that you didn't ask in class, for one reason or another, you may do so then."

Hermione was furious. That had been far worse than anything Snape had ever put her through before. She barely heard what he said for the rest of the class period. She hated him.

She muttered obscenities as she ignored her friends after class and stalked to the library to research the correct answers to each of the questions he had asked her.

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Over the following few weeks even the Slytherins had started disliking Snape's new attitude since they were all now required to know the answers to the questions that Hermione had once answered for them. When Ron's rants against the professor quickly turned from being solely in her defense to being about how he really wished she could speak in class so that he, Ron, didn't have to study as much, Hermione began to get a glimmer of understanding about her situation.

It was this dawning understanding that convinced Hermione to venture down to the potions office on a Thursday night and see what happened. Snape had apparently had a good reason to tell her to be quiet. He couldn't be totally unreasonable. Perhaps she wouldn't be killed on sight if she ventured into his office.

Professor Snape had a surprisingly pleasant office. It was brightly lit and verging on too warm given the extra layers Hermione put on in preparation for time spent in the dungeons. The professor was relaxed in his chair apparently researching something given the number of books on the desk.

But he looked up when she entered and politely waved her to a chair while he marked his place in the book he was currently studying. "Yes?"

Well that didn't sound too antagonistic. She smiled nervously and pulled out a scroll that had all of the questions she wanted to ask, with space left between them for her to fill in the answers. Most professors would wince to see such a thing in her hands, she knew, and the pre-final-battle Professor Snape would have probably given her detention for a month just for sullying the doorstep of his office. However, now that the war was over and he wasn't under as much pressure, Hermione was willing to test the new limits. She didn't think he would kill her. She kept her hand near her wand just in case, though.

Snape just continued to look at her questioningly.

"I have some questions."

"Ah. Revenge for that quiz? It took you long enough. And you a Gryffindor. I'm sure Minerva would be disappointed to learn that you seek revenge and, given that you are, that it took you so long to bolster your courage." He paused for a moment to see if she would reply, but she just flushed. At least some of the questions she had put on the list solely as a way to get back at him for that horrible pop quiz that still had her waking up at nights in a cold sweat.

"Well? Are you going to ask or just stand there all night?"

Her face was still red when she asked the first question.

Two hours later, when she left for the evening, she was astonished. He had answered each question fully, many with various side comments or stories. Occasionally some other student would come in with a question and the professor would break off to help that student, but when it was done he would return to exactly where he had left off with her and continue.

He had leaned back in his chair, rested his head back, his dark eyes glittering under slightly lowered lids, and wove a web of knowledge with his voice. He was relaxed and obviously enjoying expounding upon his subject of choice. He was enjoying what he was doing, and for the first time ever, Hermione looked at him and saw something beautiful.

Hermione left in a daze, completely amazed by the amount of knowledge the professor had. She wondered if any of the other student even realized how knowledgeable the potions master was.

By the following Monday, several other students were coming to listen and interject a few questions. Mostly sixth and seventh year Ravenclaws, although a few younger students would come and sit in the hall so as to not be seen, without a hope of understanding the potions discussed, but just to hear his voice and the occasional story's that dotted his expositions.

By the end of the year, the other teachers had learned which students to threaten with a detention on a Monday or Thursday for maximum threat. It had taken the students a much shorter period, and a few painful lessons, to learn that Snape was only this relaxed when he was in his study. In class when he had to get through an entire lecture in a finite period of time, or when there were a dozen cauldrons at work, he was just as short-tempered as he ever had been.

This had actually appealed to Hermione for a time, that vitriol that seemed to be lacking in all the other professors who remained giddy over the end of the war. After the horrors of the battlefield, Hermione had thrown herself into her studies once more, seeking some escape from the memories. Professor Snape managed to provide just what she needed. When he was talking about his potions, his voice was surprisingly comforting, and the information given was enough to keep her mind more than occupied at the same time.

While she refused to be grateful for the anxiety dreams he had given her, they were at least a break from some of her other nightmares.

Another thing he had given her to think about was the idea of being an apprentice. He had told her that she had sufficient knowledge to become an apprentice. Admittedly, he also said she didn't have the attitude, but she had been silent, as per her instructions, for the rest of his classes. Being an apprentice after graduation was the best way to become the best in whatever field she chose. And she chose potions. Or rather, she had chosen potions as her field of study for as long as it had taken to get up her courage to ask Professor Snape to be taken on as his apprentice and for him to look at her like she was insane and say, "no."

Hermione vaguely wondered how it was that after seven years of being this man's student she could still be so utterly mortified by him giving her a single look.

Since she had nothing more to lose, certainly not her dignity, she might as well continue. "But, sir. I'm your best student in potions. I've beaten all the records of every student you've ever taught at Hogwarts, sir, and,"

He cut her off when she took a breath. "Given that Headmaster Dumbledore has been chortling to himself, and anyone else who stands still for too long, about the joys of taking on an apprentice ever since you requested a time-turner five years ago, your immediate future is not really up for debate, so stop blathering at me about your grade percentages."

Hermione had been honestly shocked. "What?"

"Oh, come, come, Miss Granger. You have top scores in Arithmancy, Runes, Transfiguration, and Potions. Now what field do all of these add up to? And that Hogwarts happens to contain a world-renowned master of?"

"Alchemy." The word was said on merely a breath. Her eyes were large. "Headmaster Dumbledore wants to take me as an apprentice?"

"Indeed. Why don't you go and let him know that I've ruined his surprise." Snape snorted, then smirked. "And I never take apprentices."

Chapter Text

"Before I give you today's lecture, do you have any questions?"

Dumbledore was always amused when he asked Hermione this, but despite the silent laughter, she was grateful since she always did have questions. He gave her a chance to ask questions, before and after every session, as well as at various points in the middle. He might not answer all of her questions, but he did give her a chance to ask them. On the occasions when he didn't answer her directly, he would generally tell her how to find the answer. She just hoped that this wasn't one of those times.

"Yes, sir." For once though Hermione hesitated before asking. She didn't hesitate for long, though. "Who is Master Adam? And how does he know Professor Snape?"

Having Dumbledore look at her over the rims of his glasses was rather unnerving, especially since this was the Great Albus Dumbledore. Maybe Harry thought of him like a kindly uncle, but she had always just been the sidekick, given a pat on the head and then politely asked to leave the room while secrets of war were discussed. This had never really bothered Hermione, it just made it much harder to get used to having such a great man as her mentor especially when he was staring at her like he could see into her very soul. Despite this impression, Hermione rather thought that Dumbledore was simply thinking things through and wasn't paying attention to where his eyes were directed. Finally his eyes dropped and focused once more on something in this mortal plane.

"I do not know what exactly Adam is, but I do recognize the pattern that he represents. He is much like Fawlkes." At the sound of his name, the Headmaster's phoenix chirped and looked in their direction, then went back to preening himself.

"The obvious, of course, is that he rises from the dead, but the implications of such an ability are both joyous and intensely painful. Those who rise from the dead are not born, nor do they ever entirely die, and due to this, they are always set apart from those of us who do. Adam is not just unknown, but he is in many ways unknowable. You will find, as you advance in the field of alchemy, that there are three types of knowledge: the known, the unknown, and the unknowable. If it's known, then you can read it in a book or some such, and it can be put on your bookshelf and left alone. If it's unknowable, then there's no point in studying it, and again, it is best left alone. It is the unknown that calls us to study it, to understand it, to make it known."

Hermione's eyes shown with her desire to go out and find unknown knowledge and it was hard to keep from shifting. Dumbledore continued, "Unlike Adam, Severus," the Headmaster smiled faintly and his eyes gleamed, "Severus is just Severus. It should be possible to understand him. I think. Severus was a student here, as you know. What you probably don't know is that I mourned him when he graduated. He was lost to me and to the Light. But then suddenly he returned. It is as if Fawkes had decided to adopt an owl chick." Fawkes squawked suspiciously at them, apparently making sure they knew that if that was a suggestion, it was a bad one.

"Such an owl should be a known quantity and yet it's experience with one of the unknowable changes it in some way. No matter who raised it, an owl should stay an owl, a human should stay a human. And yet, half the time, Severus doesn't act human. Later on in your apprenticeship I'll introduce you to some of the older immortals about. There's a venerable old dryad in the Forbidden Forest that I visit occasionally. I've even met master vampires before, although I won't be introducing you to any. But, sometimes Severus acts more like them, than he does other humans absolutely in control of himself at all times, except for those rare and disturbing occasions when he is completely out of control." Dumbledore drifted into silence and then came to himself. "But this is not what you should be learning. I should be sharing with you my knowledge of alchemy, not my obsession with a cranky, potions master."

Hermione followed the conversation shift easily and only remarked silently and to herself, "too late," before allowing herself to focus on the magical properties of various stones.

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Of all the professors who taught at Hogwarts, Sybil was probably Severus' favorite.

This surprised practically everyone who knew, although Severus himself thought the appeal was self-explanatory. Originally it had been because she lived on the opposite end of the castle from him, she never tried to push conversation on him, and every year for Christmas she gave him one of the bonsai trees from the forest of them that she had inherited from her mother.

He, in turn, every Christmas made her the particular incense that she liked supplementing it with fumes to help concentration and soothe migraines. And, because she never forced conversation on him, on the rare occasions that he felt social, he would make some overture to her and see if she was willing to converse. She almost always obliged him, and afterwards never pushed for more socializing and didn't appear hurt if he ignored her for several months at a time. They would speak for a while and then go their separate ways. They talked about the students, the faculty, the weather, or whatever other light trivialities came to mind.

It had been several years before he had given in to his curiosity and asked her about her apparently endless supply of different species of bonsai trees. He loved his growing collection of them, in large part because they offered him a steady supply of very concentrated potions ingredients, unlike anything that was available through a standard apothecary.

Severus had been wary of asking such a question because it bordered on personal. Their current rate of talking about inconsequentials approximately three times a year suited him just fine and he didn't want to change that. On the other hand, he was very, very curious about the bonsai trees.

In her normal manner and wispy voice Sybil had told him about her mother, Circe.

Circe Trewlaney had loved two things in her life: the forest of bonsai trees that she tended and her daughter, Sybil.

She had loved them both deeply and had cared for them in much the same way: coming to a decision about what she wanted the finished products to look like she had enforced growth along the lines she wanted, nipping any other outgrowth at the bud. The trees grew from seedlings into perfectly formed miniature trees, and Sybil grew from an infant into a perfect seer.

And then she died.

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Sybil's first real memory was when she was fifteen and hungry.

It was the day her mother died. It was the day the future that had kept her company for over a decade began to recede until she had only the occasional nightmare or migraine. It was the day the world changed and she was never sure afterwards whether it was for the better or the worse.

Every day as a child, she sat in her room and wrote in her journal everything that she had seen, either in her sleeping dreams or the a trance. Before this point she had plenty of other memories but they were all set in times and places where she knew her physical body had never been. She lived in her visions of the future. In the present her mother told her what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. She couldn't effect the future and she didn't effect the present.

Thus she didn't know what to do when a house elf came to her to tell her that her mother had died unexpectedly and asked for a command.

Sybil and the house elf had faced each other for most of the day, each of them waiting for the other to tell them what to do.

The stalemate was finally broken when Sybil stomach had growled with hunger. Upon hearing this the house elf had asked, "Is Miss hungry?"

Sybil had said, "I am hungry."

The house elf had been relieved to finally have something to do and had immediately departed to prepare a five course meal for the new mistress. This was Sybil's first experience with decision making.

Their relationship had progressed along those lines. Sybil and the house elf had each very tentatively offered suggestions of what should or could be done and the other always agreeing with relief that they hadn't had to make that decision.

Over the years, Sybil grew in her ability to make decisions and understand the world around her. It was a painful experience as her vision of the future fought for space inside her head against her new found sense of the present.

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Severus listened to what Sybil said, and over the course of several months and much soul searching, asked a few other personal questions.

"Were you scared when you first left the Trewlaney estate and met other witches and wizards?"

"No." Sybil looked honestly surprised by the question. "Why would I be?"

"From what you've said, I assumed that you were alone with your mother, and then entirely alone for many of your formative years. Given that ordering a house elf to make you dinner scared you, how could the crowds of new people not scare you?"

"I was never alone. I met people all the time. I saw them in my crystal ball and in my cards and in my dreams. I knew them better than any person I know now. It's lonely sometimes meeting people only in the flesh. But I only meet people in the present now and they don't make sense now like they did when I saw them in the future."

Severus was still not a social person but he did take Sybil under his wing to some extent. The other professors considered this an amazing anomaly that could only happen in a castle overloaded with magic, causing all sorts of inexplicable things to occur. However, they had also found that if they were unobtrusive they would sometimes find Severus in the teachers lounge telling stories to Sybil about all sorts of people their past and future, motives and goals trying to ease her loneliness in his own way.

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"Tell me what you know of Cassandra."

Sybil had worn herself out in hysterics and was now sleeping lightly. Left behind in the infirmary were a bemused Severus Snape and Adam at his most uninformative. It was Adam who had spoken.

Looking at the completely impassive face of his old mentor, Severus answered as best he could. "There are very few witches named Cassandra in the wizarding world. It is considered an ill-omened name. The few Cassandras that there have been have almost all been talented seers who died early and unpleasant deaths. The fame attached to the name may tempt some pureblood families if not for the fact that every Cassandra almost invariably dies before she has any children of her own. Purebloods do like their grandchildren."

"Sybil said that her great-to-some-degree grandmother was Cassandra."

"Ah yes, the Trewlaney family's claim to fame. They all say that. The Cassandra in question however was the second wife of Terrence Trelaweny and all of the descendants came from the first wife."

"Of course." Severus shot Adam a questioning look. He was sure that Adam knew something.

After a pause, Severus continued. "The story of Cassandra Trewlaney is something of a mystery. The one thing that is certain is that she was a talented seer. A good percentage of the prophesies in the Ministry records come from her. No one knows what her maiden name was, but she met Terrence Trewlaney almost five hundred years ago during an attack by dark wizards. Terrence Trewlaney's first wife was killed and the eldest son badly crucio'd when Cassandra arrived and saved what remained of the day. It was all very exciting, or so the old records say. Within a year, Cassandra had married Terrence. Within seven years, Cassandra was convicted of repeatedly casting Unforgivables on the eldest son whom she had previously saved. She was sent to Azkaban and died soon thereafter."

"An unpleasant story, but not particularly mysterious." Adam's face showed slight inquiry. Severus was relieved to see something on Adam's face, even if it didn't tell him anything.

"The mystery is that both Terrence Trewlaney and Edmund, the son in question, argued vehemently for her innocence. Despite their defense, however, she was found guilty, imprisoned, and soon dead. Historians argue over whether she was so deeply into the dark arts that she had succeeded in placing both Terrence and Edmund in her thrall or if one of her prophesies had threatened someone with political power to the extent that they had arraigned matters so as to get her alone and vulnerable in the prison."

"Not one and not the other."

Sybil's voice was even wispier than usual, the sounds barely voiced. None the less, both men jerked at the sound. Sybil had kept her eyes barely open so that she could peer through her eyelashes without letting either man know that she was watching them. She had listened to them as she tried to disconnect herself from the fear that had overwhelmed her earlier.

She had heard about the mysterious "Adam", of course, who had played an interesting role in the second war against You-Know-Who. He was a friend of Severus' and would not hurt her, she told herself repeatedly. But maybe he did have a relationship with her great-great-great-great-grandmother. She watched him closely as she continued to speak.

"It's a secret passed down within the family, but Cassandra escaped although even we don't know how. She returned to the Trewlaney estate, but her time in Azkaban had been terrible. My mother had me read the journals that Cassandra wrote after her escape. They still give me nightmares, sometimes. They're filled with visions of the future and memories of the past that she saw during her stay with the dementors. It took her three years and a dozen journals to empty it all out, and then she left."

Adam remained silent, but Severus finally queried, "left?"

"She turned into her animagi form, a wolf, and ran into the forest. Neither Terrence nor Edmund ever saw her again, although various Trewlaney's down the generations say that if they lose themselves in Donan Woods a wolf will come and lead them out."

Sybil stopped pretending that her eyes were closed and just looked at Adam as he released a long sigh. He appeared to have his emotions under control, but his voice was tight when he spoke. "I had hoped that it was some other Cassandra. But as you said, Severus, it's a rare name among witches."

Chapter Text

Hermione was pale with shame.

She could feel the hard knot in the pit of her stomach. All she wanted to do was ignore it, pretend she hadn't been so thoroughly wrong, and in such a way as to hurt a person who was already hurting. She was supposed to be one of the good guys. And yet, she had thrown Sybil Trelawney's failure into her face, consistently disrespected the woman, and never stopped to consider who that woman was. She had learned over the years as a regular student that the professors were not infallible, but, it was only in her apprenticeship that she was beginning to realize that they were real people. If tickled, they laughed; if cut, they bled; if killed, they would die.

She shivered and kept her eyes downcast.

"Miss Granger." Professor Snape was possibly the last person she wanted to see. The Headmaster had already rebuked her for leaving Professor Trelawney alone in the presence of the man who had set off her hysterics. She didn't think she could feel worse about herself, and she really didn't want Professor Snape to prove her wrong about that. None the less she turned to face him.

Oddly enough, he didn't speak immediately. Instead he placed two fingers under her chin and raised her face to his. She almost flinched. But he just looked down at her for a long moment before speaking.

"You do realize that nothing has changed, don't you? Sybil is still the woman who uses an excessive amount of incense. She still routinely foretells the death of a student every year. Her past does not change those facts. Nor does my friendship with her make her any more competent in her chosen field."

"But, she, the Headmaster told me, she used to be ..." Hermione trailed off, unsure how to complete her sentence.

"Whatever the Headmaster told you is indubitably true, but it hardly matters. She is who she is regardless of how she came to be that way."

Hermione looked at him with wide eyes. "But..." Again she trailed off, she didn't know what to say. She just wanted him to continue to talk.

"Feeling pain doesn't make you innocent, nor does feeling pleasure make you guilty. Don't feel shame for having been disrespectful to her. It is up to a professor to demand respect or not. But if you look at her and start to judge her on nothing but her past rather than who she is right now, then you should feel shame."

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Looking at the class offerings for her third year at Hogwarts was a delight. Having to pick some of them and discard the others was pure misery. In a world of magic where everything was possible Miss Granger decided that she would find a way to take all the classes. None the less it rather amazed her when it was less than a day before she learned of the magic item she needed. A Time-Turner.

She researched the theory and the regulations for a further week before requesting an interview with the Headmaster.

"As you know about Time-Turners, I feel sure that you've researched all the restrictions placed on their use."

"Yes, sir."

"Then I'm sure you already know that they are not to be used by minors."

"Yes, sir. However, that regulation is not part of the laws regulating the use of Time-Turners. That rule is based on the more extensive law stating that children under the age of seventeen are disallowed from reaching seventeen years of age before such a time as seventeen years have passed since their day of birth."

"Which a Time-Turner used by an underage student would cause. Since you know this, why are you asking me about a Time-Turner?" It was not a rhetorical question. Professor Dumbledore was honestly curious to know what this bright-eyed girl was thinking. She looked rather smug when she answered.

"But sir, I spent nearly three weeks in a petrified state this term during which period I did not age. Thus I am technically four hundred and sixty-three hours younger than my time of birth would signify. I have calculated that if each elective class meets twice a week for two hours over a period of thirty-seven weeks, then each extra course I might take with the use of a Time-Turner will take up one hundred and forty-eight hours. Thus, I can take three extra classes without aging beyond my calendar age, and in fact having a full twenty-four hours to spare." She was sitting at the edge of her chair and visibly refraining from bouncing.

Dumbledore couldn't stop himself from laughing. Miss Granger joined in with excited giggles.

"Miss Granger. Come by my office at the beginning of next year. You may sign up for as many classes as you like, though no more than three that overlap."

"Yes, sir"

The very old man and the very young girl grinned at each other.

It was a year later that they next discussed the Time-Turner, and the circumstances were much more serious.

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"What we need," said Dumbledore slowly, and his light-blue eyes moved from Harry to Hermione, "is more time."

It took a moment for what he was saying to sink in, but then Hermione felt her eyes open wide. "Oh."

As Dumbledore continued to speak, thoughts raced through the thirteen-year-old girl's mind. There were rules about the use of Time-Turners, but Hermione had learned over the course of her friendship with Harry Potter and Ron Weasley, as well as the beginning of an understanding of the Headmaster, to view rules with a certain amount of contempt. What was significantly more important was the theory behind those rules. The theory said that the past could not be changed.

Thus, "Harry, I don't understand what Dumbledore wants us to do. Why did he tell us to go back three hours? How's that going to help Sirius?" It didn't make sense. She knew exactly where Sirius had been for those three hours. Absolutely nothing she did was going to change those facts. Wizards had tried to change the past using Time-Turners before but in each case some really nasty things happen to everyone even remotely involved. While not everyone died, no one ever remained in a condition to tell what happened.

In the library, reading about the theory, it had delighted Hermione that the most important thing about a time-traveler was what facts they knew. If a time-traveler knew a fact about the future, that fact was impervious to all attempts to change. On the other hand, anything not known, could have happened any which way, and so the time-traveler could perform it any which way and that is the way it would have happened.

Being the most important person in the world because your knowledge alone keeps the future stable is a heady sensation for a young girl studying alone in the library, pariah amongst all of her peers.

It was not nearly as pleasant a situation when you have a headstrong friend with you in the past trying to change the past.

At least neither of them had actually seen Buckbeak die. So as long as they heard a thunk of an ax and Hagrid howl something or another, Buckbeak could survive.

Hermione raced after Harry. Hopefully they could save Buckbeak, remain unnoticed for three hours, and then hand off the hippogriff to Sirius Black, all without doing anything too horrible, like cause a paradox that would result in the messy deaths of all those involved. There were times when she wondered exactly how sane the Headmaster really was.

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After watching the Headmaster walk off down the corridor with a bounce in his step, Hermione turned to Professor Snape.

"Is he insane?"

The words were out of Hermione's mouth before she had consciously thought them. She braced her self for whatever insult Snape responded with. She didn't bother apologizing, as she would have with any other professor. Even if she had thought it through, she probably would still have asked. Snape always made her feel inferior and whiney, but somehow in the months since she had become an apprentice, he had also become something of a guiding light in the labyrinth of knowledge that Dumbledore was sending her through. She felt a little less lost every time she talked to him.

Snape snorted. "Sanity is the knowledge that the world works in certain ways. As you may have noticed," the tone of voice was scathing, "the world doesn't - not when you have magic. In the wizarding world, if you are sane, then you aren't paying attention."

Snape set off towards his dungeons and Hermione assumed that was all he was going to say. But then he paused and appeared to contemplate a shifting staircase for a moment. "Of course, if you don't understand the way the world should work, then you won't know how to change it. The most powerful people in existence are those people who have a firm grip on reality which allows them to hang over the abyss of insanity and stare down into the dark." Hermione was suddenly aware of Snape having shifted his attention to her. "How firm is your grip on insanity?"

"That's not a very comfortable thought."

Snape snorted again. "If you wanted to feel comfortable you should have stayed in the muggle world. You had your chance when the letter offered you a chance to go to Hogwarts. And then you had a second chance when Albus offered you an apprenticeship. All you have ever had to do is say, no'."

"I couldn't do that," Hermione objected.

"Knowledge is power, and power is dangerous, little girl."

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"I don't know if the legends are true, but if you are Cassandra, then you should know. I just talked to the Headmaster of Hogwarts. My cousin, Sybil, has seen a man you wrote about. The man you labeled Master."

Cassandra wrapped her arms around herself and tried to control her shivers. One of the current Trelawneys had just left the woods after recounting to her the news from Hogwarts. A descendant of Terrence had seen Methos at Hogwarts Castle.

The gathered members of the Wizengamot look down at her and pass a judgment of guilty. Her husband and son are warned against speaking of what they know.

Cassandra knew that she could not abandon one of her own to the nonexistent mercies of her previous master. She could not. But any action would mean entering the wizarding world to which she had sworn never to return.

Tears. Sweat. Mucus. Blood. Cassandra gasps for air as she comes back to life one more time inside the increasingly filthy prison cell. Visions of death beat at her. Once she catches her breath, she digs her fingers into her own flesh once again.

She tried so hard to forget those eight months of hell. Eight months of flashbacks to every time she'd ever been tortured or betrayed. Eight months of prophesizing wars and violent deaths. Eight months of starving herself and killing herself with her bare hands before she had been weak enough that she had not healed before being discovered and her body tossed into the rubbish heap outside the walls of Azkaban.

Despite the sounds that came from a busy camp life, silence seemed to surround her, as Cassandra was pushed in the direction of Kronos' tent. Methos stood in plain sight, but his eyes were averted and he did not speak.

She tried so hard to forget that time. The memories were all written down, there was no need for her to remember that time. It was darkly funny that it had been Methos himself who had taught her that keeping a written record could sometimes ward off the flashbacks.

Methos' arms were hard and constraining around her, his breath came shallowly through gritted teeth, but he made no move and no sound in his sleep. It was one of his bad nights. When he woke, he would kill her without any recognition in his eyes, but when she woke, he would be writing in his journal and for the rest of the day would be gentle with her. As she waited for his to wake, she thought it was worth it. He prized her above all others.

She tried to turn off her emotions and think about events logically, but all her thoughts turned to the idea of evil. Dementors may or may not be intrinsically evil, but to use them as a device for punishment was certainly evil. They punished in relation to how much you had already been hurt, rather than in relation to how much harm you had caused.

Her husband was dead, and in the tradition of his people, she was given a drug to dull the sense and sat upon his funeral pyre. Her immortal healing washed the drug out of her system within minutes. Her grief kept her apathetic for a further few minutes. Then there was just the fire and the pain and the healing and the dying.

Azkaban was evil.

Some prisoners shouted out their innocence. "Question me with veritaserum," they cried out. Their crimes had been enjoyable, Cassandra thought and laughed. They could no longer hold onto such memories before the dementors sucked them away.

Thoughts of evil swirled in her head.

The skull and snake swirled in green fog above the house. It was soon blotted out by the rising clouds of black smoke. None of the neighbors looked up anyway, their eyes drawn to the brilliant and roaring flames.

Methos was evil. She knew he was evil. The knowledge seemed settled into her very bones. The memories of half a dozen tortures rose to mind, seared into her memory. The passage of time did nothing to soften the memories.

"He's changed, Cassandra. He isn't the monster you once knew."

MacLeod had tried to convince her that Methos had changed. What he didn't realize was that that made it worse. If Methos was peaceful now, then it meant that he could have been peaceful then. If Methos were merely a vicious creature, then Cassandra would want him dead like any rabid animal. But if he had chosen to do what he did, then he was truly evil.

"You will call me Master."

And she knew that for all of her terror, for all of her inability to stop herself from trembling even alone in her cabin, she would enter the wizarding world. For her family, she would face down her demons and triumph over them.

Chapter Text

Hermione had always admired Professor Dumbledore's study with its plethora of books and trinkets and little objects that seemed sure to have wonderful abilities and stories. The study made it all the harder to concentrate on what was happening which was the negotiation of her apprenticeship with Dumbledore.

Of course, her first reaction was to jump at it before the offer got away, however, "I, ah, rather get the impression from Harry that, um," Hermione tried to think of a polite way of phrasing her question, came up blank, and decided to forge ahead regardless. "You're not always as forthcoming with knowledge as he'd like. I can hardly be a proper apprentice if I'm kept in the dark."

"Ah. I promise you, Hermione, that I will do my best to never lie to you or even mislead you. There will be some things I cannot tell you, but in such cases I'll simply tell you so, and give you as many of my reasons for silence as I can. Is that acceptable?"

Hermione startled. This was the first time the Headmaster had ever called her by her first name. She had always been Miss Granger before this. Being an apprentice would take some getting used to.

"Yes, Sir. Thank you."

"A large part of the study of alchemy is philosophy. We will be having many discussions on all sorts of topics over the years. But, I have to warn you, I'm going to be as honest as I can be, and in exchange, you need to keep many of my secrets in confidence. There will be times when you may tell others and times when you may not, and you're going to have to develop your own abilities to make those judgment calls. You're also going to become privy to some knowledge that will give support to the saying "ignorance is bliss".

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Hermione recalled that conversation as she sat, eighteen months later, and felt her nails did ever deeper into the flesh of her palms. She didn't want to hear what he was telling her even as she continued to listen. Dumbledore was answering her question with an answer she really, really didn't want to have to hear.

She had asked, "how could a mother's love protect a baby? And if it was that simple, what did that have to say about all the other parents and children who had died to Lord Voldemort's wand?"

He replied, "Lilly's love made it possible for Harry to live, as did her sacrifice. But, no, it was not that simple. Those were crucial but not the only crucial parts of that night so long ago.

"We had known in advance that the Secret of where the Potters were might be broken. And we knew in advance that if that happened Lord Voldemort himself might come after them. So we planned for it. If anything happened, first James would try to fight them to protect his family, but if he failed, then Lily had a fall back plan to protect her son.

"Lily's last words were "Not Harry, kill me instead." You know that, Harry must have told you when he heard them in his dementor visions. However, I know that because I worked with her on those words. Getting the phrasing and the cadence just right so that she triggered a contract she had written up.

"She was a bright student, and she loved her son enough that she was willing to sacrifice her life to protect him. For nearly twenty years I've kept the secret of how Harry survived, of how Lilly managed to actually tricked Voldemort into agreeing to not kill Harry. It was a tacit agreement, but magical contracts don't care about that. And she had written up a contract with a heavy punishment for breaking it. When he killed her before killing Harry, he tacitly accepted her offer to kill her rather than Harry.

"I gave her some blood from one of the Death Eaters we had captured before. The blood had been pulled out with a needle straight from the middle of the dark mark. She mixed that blood with her own and some of Harry's and she had written a contract At her death the contract she had written in blood on the floor of her own living room and then covered in a rug accepted that she had fulfilled her portion of the contract by willingly being killed by Voldemort. When Voldemort then tried to kill Harry, the contract prevented him and attempted to kill him for breaking his agreement.

"Even though Voldemort managed to survive somehow, he was still incapable of killing Harry. Of course, anyone else could, and so Voldemort had to be made to think that he alone had to kill Harry. Any other Death Eater could have killed Harry, but not Voldemort. So as long as Lord Voldemort told his followers to save Harry for him, Harry was safe."

When Dumbledore finally fell silent, Hermione took a long shuddering breath. The thought of carefully planning out her own manner of death and then willingly being the sacrifice in a contract written in blood was ... horrifying. She could imagine the small house that couldn't be entered or left, containing two adults and an infant, and every day the adults waiting to see if that day was the day they were to be betrayed by a childhood friend, whether that day would be the day they implemented a plan of murder and suicide.

Blood magic leaves a taint that Hermione could feel when she passed the books in the library that discussed it. Harry's parents would have been able to feel it coming up around their feet every day as they walked through their living room. Dumbledore watched as Hermione thought through everything he had said. She laughed slightly, a little dry sound, "and Voldemort was so dark already that he wouldn't notice the aura."

"No. He never noticed. He died again sixteen years later never knowing what had caused his first downfall. It was a constant and unknown threat.

"Tom Riddle was a brilliant young man and he understood the fine line between power and insanity. As long as he tread that line, he was more powerful than me. We had to make him tip his balance over into insanity."

"Yes," Hermione was still trembling slightly from the horror of mere knowledge. She had to remind herself that she had willingly decided to learn everything she could. There was no turning back at this point, no saying that really she only wanted the nice, comforting knowledge. She needed to learn everything. As bad as Dumbledore's response to her previous question, she had a sudden insight that his answer to her next question might be worse. She asked it anyway, "if it was all planned out to leave Harry an orphan, why was he not left with a better family to raise him?"

"I think you might already know the answer to that question."

Dumbledore knew that she had a guess, even if she didn't know it to be true, even if she didn't want it to be true.

"Are there any powerful magic users who did not have an abusive childhood in some way?"

"Occasionally." There was a long pause. "But, no, it's rare and the historians still argue about the veracity of the few cases suggested."

"Is that what you did? You left Harry there in that house, with that family, with the Dursleys, just to make him more powerful?"

"No." Hermione looked pitifully happy to hear this. Dumbledore had spent the last several years thinking about how wonderful it was to have an apprentice. And it was fun, most of the time. He had simply forgotten how gut-wrenching awful it was at other times. Part of the teaching and learning process involved the destruction of innocence. He wanted to look away but instead he looked her directly in the eye with no apologies and said, "Not entirely. I also left him there to make sure that he didn't come into his full potential until later in life. Harry and Voldemort were connected. The contract made it so. The prophesy confirmed it.

"Whenever Harry fulfilled his full potential, so too would Voldemort fulfill his. So the trick was to make sure that when Harry was at his full potential he was stronger than Voldemort. Harry could not be allowed to reach his potential when he was two years old, five years old, ten. He had to be kept at as low a percentage as possible for as long as possible, so that Voldemort would be down too.

"It wasn't Lily's love that saved her son, it was her sacrifice. Her death. Power is not about love, not about safety, it's about sacrifice. In white magic, you sacrifice of yourself, in dark magic you sacrifice of others, but in the end it is all the same. All magic is about sacrifice."

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"The books didn't betray you, you betrayed yourself by believing in them."

Hermione wondered how it was that Snape always knew how to giver her the perspective she needed. As she went down to the dungeons to deal with her most recent lesson with Dumbledore, she thought about the last time she had gone to the dungeons.

"At least I was willing to believe in something!"

There had been dead silence, and Snape had looked down.

"I'm sorry. That wasn't true. I was just hitting out."

Severus looked up again and she hadn't been sure how to interpret his expression. "I know it's not true. I may not believe easily, but when I do believe, I believe strong."

"Yes, sir. I know."

"You, however, have apparently decided to believe anything printed in book format, failing to realize that books are written by people. Books are people talking to you. Just like any other form of communication, you have to decide how much you trust the speaker."

The issue that time had been about books and witch hunts and hidden deaths. She had come to his office just to here him talk about whatever he wanted to talk about in between the visits of various students getting help on their potions work.

She had laughed at something he had said. "Ha! Slytherin just didn't think muggleborns were good enough but I think I'm proving him wrong."

"How much do you actually know of the history of Hogwarts?"

"I've read Hogwarts: A History."

"Mm. I was thinking more about the founders."

"Not all that much is known about them."

"Of the four founders, only Slytherin was born of muggle parents."

Hermione was surprised, but over the years she had learned when to keep her mouth shut. Snape shot her a suspicious look but then, after a moment, continued.

"When he argued against muggleborn students being invited to Hogwarts, he wasn't denigrating them, he was being wary. He was the only founder that had sufficient respect for muggles to be nervous of them. The others, Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, and Hufflepuff were all from wizarding families and they considered themselves better than muggles. They thought they could send out messages to muggle households labeling the children witches. They had no thought of the muggle view of witches. A great many children, and their parents in some cases, have been killed over the passing centuries."

Hermione's eyes were wide. "But, the books say that no real witches or wizards were killed."

"Ah yes, and what is it that makes someone a 'real' witch or wizard?"

Hermione frowned. "Having magic. The ability to do magic."

"No. At least not legally. You will find that according to Ministry law, a 'real' witch or wizard has a wand. That's why underage magic is not regulated for muggle born children before they attend Hogwarts and acquire a wand. Before that point, they are not considered 'real' witches or wizards."

"But, but, the books lied then. Real witches and wizards died."

"You are a rather ruthless creature, aren't you?"

"What?"

"You don't appear to care that muggles died."

"I, it's just," Hermione tried to sort out her thoughts, knowing that if she was ever to impress the potions master it would not do to be disorganize and easily flustered. "I've always known that the muggle world was not perfect. That death and pain and stupidity and, and just bad things are in the muggle world. But the wizarding world has always seemed so perfect. Even as we fought a war, I never doubted that I would, and could, be healed from any injury. After all, how many people can tell you what a basilisks eyes look like? And I was proved right. All my friends and professors survived. Good triumphed and evil was defeated."

"Ah yes. Reality is so much more real in the muggle world, isn't it."

"You're a pureblood, aren't you?" Hermione was confused. "What do you know about the muggle world?"

"I've spent my entire adult life as a spy during a wizarding war. The one benefit to having such sharply defined wizarding enclaves is that when I required a break from it all, I could simply leave. I spent most of my vacations sans magic."

"Oh."

"Curiously enough, I followed in Slytherin's footsteps in this matter. He too left the wizarding world after his argument with Gryffindor, and lived out the rest of his life among muggles."

"How come none of the books tell me things like this? All they talk about is how safe and wonderful it is to have magic! They lie to me!" Hermione had been horrified at the whine that had crept into her voice.

Snape looked equally appalled at the whine. "The books didn't betray you, you betrayed yourself by believing in them."

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The books hadn't betrayed her. Dumbledore hadn't betrayed her, either. It was her beliefs, her interpretations, her expectations, that had betrayed her. It was her own silly self that had set her up for such hideous disappointment repeatedly. But she had to have some faith in someone or something. She had to.

But if it wasn't books, and it wasn't Dumbledore, it seemed impossible that she could find her comfort in the presence of the potions master. But it was Snape that she went to when she felt adrift and in need of grounding. It was also Snape that she went to when she felt in need of a good, sharp conversation, though, so perhaps it wasn't need but just desire that brought her to the dungeons.

Hermione tried not to become dependent on the talks with Snape, but it was hard. Their conversations helped her get her focus when she was lost, when she was overwhelmed, when the world didn't make any sense. Even as the world changed, Snape remained the same. If she felt different about him now than she had as a student, she knew it wasn't because he had changed but because she had. Snape was like lead. Immutable.

Snape was so concentrated. He was pure in a way that no one else was. When he was a potions professor, he was completely a potions master, caring for nothing but his potions. When he taught a class, he was a teacher, he was completely present. Be here now. When he hated, it was with a rage that bordered on insanity. Hermione didn't think she'd ever forget the look on Snape's face when he was confronting Sirius Black in the shrieking shack. She wondered what he would be like if he were in love.

The emotions of the wizarding world needed to be much stronger because reality was so tenuous here.

Hermione remembered his metaphor for magic, of standing on the edge of reality and looking down into the abyss of insanity. Dumbledore was showing her everything she needed to know about reality and insanity and the magic edge in-between the two. But it was Snape who helped her maintain her grip on that edge.

Chapter Text

"I do think that girl who gave me the tour has something of a fascination of you."

"Miss Granger?" Severus was pulled out of his contemplation by the comment.

"Yup." Adam had smirked at him, as if he had known how much this new thought would bother Severus.

They were sitting in Snape's office, a large, comfortable room, and just enjoying each other's presence. Snape had been doing some research for his most recent potions experiment while Adam had been writing in his journal.

The comment had seemingly come from no where and, as Adam did not push the issue further, they both returned to silence. But Snape found that he couldn't get back into his research.

It was a ludicrous thought, that some young woman would find him "fascinating." But, when he tried to wave the thought off, casually dismiss it, he found that he could not.

Miss Granger came to his office at least once a week to just sit and talk. And he did enjoy those conversations. She turned to him for help interpreting those parts of life she didn't understand. She was such a whirlwind of thoughts, facts, and opinions. It was a puzzle to try to find what was at the center each time.

He remembered a conversation from long ago in which Adam had said to him, "Do you understand that I'm teaching you how to survive, I'm not teaching you how to live."

No, Severus hadn't realized that, but as he thought about it, it struck a note of truth within, so, "Yes."

"Good. Someday, if you survive long enough, you will find someone to teach you how to live. But for now, you'll learn survival."

Now, as he thought about the difference between surviving and living, and the differences between himself and an optimistic young witch still in the first years of her first apprenticeship, he wondered whether he was showing Miss Granger how to survive or if she couldn't possibly be showing him how to live.

Severus stared down at the notes he had been writing but didn't see them. What was his relationship with Miss Granger? Surely he should have a better sense of what was happening than he apparently did. But after a while he realized that it did not matter.

He enjoyed the conversations he had with Miss Granger, and it was reasonable to assume that she enjoyed them as well, but in the end that enjoyment could not last. He was taking part in introducing a happy, optimistic, and heartbreakingly naive girl to some of the horrors that underlay the world of magic.

As he disillusioned her, she would eventually draw away from him and he need worry no more about what sort of relationship theirs was for the brief time that it existed. For all it was a depressing thought, he found it supremely reassuring.

When she next came to him, she was pale and wanted some reassurance after having come from an intense lesson about what it really meant to make magic. It was just such times, he knew, that would eventually ruin their growing rapport and he found himself hoping for the end to be soon. Once it was over he could remember what they had without any fear of the eventual end. It would already have passed.

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Severus hadn't known that Albus had helped set Lilly Potter up to die, but it did not surprise him that he had and he said as much to Miss Granger.

"Magic is about sacrifice. It can be your sacrifice or it can be someone else's. But for every miracle that magic allows, a price is demanded.

"Everyone knows that you consider divination a fraudulent subject, but that's because the Headmaster does not allow it to be taught as it is traditionally. He has decided not to allow the sacrifices necessary to make our divination department great. All of the great lines of seers share another commonality, and that is abuse. Every last seer there is, has nightmares as well as visions. Severe physical abuse is generally the way to open the door to the future. The way to create a seer is to take a person who has the gift and then break their psyche so badly that their willpower is drained out and the future is evident. The more vivid and concrete the visions are, the more broken the seer."

"But surely that's dark!" Miss Granger's eyes begged him to say that what he was describing was illegal in her beloved adopted world.

He denied her. "How can it be illegal to be broken? And with magic that heals so easily, what evidence is there of abuse? You've said yourself that you never feared physical mutilation on the battle field because almost anything can be fixed. Nobody would ever need to know that you were injured in any way." He sent a grim smile in her direction and thought about his own childhood. And not a single scar anywhere on his body. He shook his head to drive those thoughts from his mind, and continued to speak.

"Objects that can see the future, of course, are perfectly legal. Anyone who has the eye can use tarot cards, they practically see the future for themselves. A practitioner just has to practice for a few decades and get the hang of interpreting them correctly to see the future. Of course, it's so much easier for people who are seers in their own right. They just pick up the correct interpretations. Tea leaves are the same. But crystal is just too dense to carry the future all on it's own. You have to host the future in your own psyche and there isn't room in there for the future and willpower at the same time. Any powerful magic user who had a happy home life is rare. I have never seen a powerful seer who is not a victim of abuse although it is theoretically possible. Many the parent of a seer has announced that their child is the perfect example of that anomaly." He shook his head once more, but this time in true amusement, even if the humor was black.

"Albus knew what he wanted and how to achieve it, and if that was to arrange the suicide of one of his students and then leave her child in an abusive situation that's what he would do. You don't get as powerful as the Headmaster is without being ruthless."

"So you're saying the only way to greatness is to sacrifice others?" Severus could taste the bitterness of Miss Granger's question but was saved from answering by Adam's entrance. He wondered how long his mentor had stood listening at the door to time his entrance so well, but decided against asking.

Adam smiled benignly at them both before crossing over to a chair and settling in and answering Miss Granger's question. "Not at all. Achieving great things, one must make sacrifices, but you can sacrifice yourself sometimes. Now what are you two kids talking about?"

The tense mood was broken and Severus glared at Adam, even knowing it would achieve nothing, and Miss Granger stifled a bark of laughter. Miss Granger, probably to distract attention from her laughter, answered. "We were discussing what it takes to become the acknowledged greatest wizard alive."

"I can answer that for you: luck."

Severus raised an eyebrow. "Luck? I would say ruthlessness."

"Nah." Adam gave a somewhat twisted smile and settled down in a third chair. "Great respect and acclaim is a foolish thing to strive for. It depends not on actions of your own, but on other people's perceptions and those are tricky things to manipulate en masse."

"Then I would think all the best Slytherins would be down in the history books as being the great good guys." Miss Granger put in her two cents worth and seemed to be studiously avoiding looking in Severus' direction. Adam threw an amused glance at Severus to see if he had noticed the subtle ribbing.

"There's no real way to tell how people will react to great achievements. Salazar Slytherin thought he could get his place in the history books as a good guy by discovering the countercurse to Crucio, the only Unforgivable that had been created at that time."

"An impossible task."

"Not impossible at all. He did create it. Cast on someone suffering or about to suffer Crucio, the countercurse protected the person from all the effects. It was even a partial cure for crucio madness, if applied repeatedly at decreasing intervals over the course of a year. "

Both Severus and Miss Granger had straightened in their chairs. Miss Granger was alternating looks of inquiry between Adam and Severus. Severus looked intently at his old mentor and asked, "There's a cure?"

The Longbottoms were not the only people suffering from crucio insanity. If there were a cure, a cure that had existed for over a thousand years, Severus didn't know if he would be relieved to be able to help those people or enraged at the great insult that they had not been cured already. Both. The two reactions were not mutually exclusive after all, he thought.

Adam nodded. "Yes."

"What is it?" Severus still spoke in his most intense voice.

"Unfortunately, if the countercurse was cast on someone who was not suffering from Crucio it gave the recipient a feeling of mindless euphoria that took some practice to throw off, and in a time where muggle religion argued strongly for the necessity of pain and suffering for the soul's good, Salazar's discovery was considered sacrilege.

"He tried to argued that if those wizards with religion wanted to live short, miserable, painful lives, then they should do so out in the muggle world and let the wizarding world separate itself from them and create a world in which problems could be fixed and pain taken away.

"Godric Gryffindor, who was a Templar Knight, a largely muggle organization, argued that any spell that could create such euphoria, no matter what the benefits were, was dangerous. Rumor has it there were some rather heated arguments containing references to the serpent tempting the people of God. Anyway, in the end, Salazar was so worn down by arguments that he took himself off and was seen no more, leaving behind the message that one day his heir would revenge him.

"The other founders went to his study, maybe to keep his notes, maybe to destroy them, but he had taken them all with him."

Severus and Miss Granger stared at Adam, trying to absorb what they had been told. Miss Granger responded first, putting off, for the moment, the concept that there had once been a cure for crucio that had been thrown away. At least now they knew a cure was possible.

"So, Slytherin was really mad at muggles and wizards, and everybody. I understand that. But why did he put off his revenge for a thousand years until "Slytherin's Heir" came? Why not just hurt the people who harmed him, rather than their descendants?"

Adam looked at Severus for a moment but the potions master was obviously still deep in thought. When he did ask a question, Adam knew it would be a pointed one. He would deal with that later. For now, he answered Miss Granger.

"When Slytherin left, he was worn down. He was old and tired, his best friend had betrayed him and he was being called a satanist for trying to help people. He wanted nothing more to do with the wizarding world, not even it's destruction. However before he left he gave a warning to the wizarding world at large. It was not a threat. You might feel more comfortable thinking of it as a prophesy. One day his heir would come and they would rue the day that happened. His heir would not be distinguished by blood, or houses, or parseltongue, but by anger. One day the wizarding world would again wrong one of their own. They would allow muggles to have their way with a wizard rather than protecting him, or her. And that wizard or witch would not be old and tired, but would instead be made strong by their anger and hatred and would attack the wizarding world in turn.

"I've heard the rumors that maybe Harry Potter is truly Slytherin's heir, or maybe even Severus here. But Lord Voldemort is truly Slytherin's Heir, because he knows the anger of having been betrayed by wizards to muggles. The fact that he carries Salazar's blood in his veins is coincidental; he carries Salazar's hatred in his heart."

"Was Salazar Slytherin was a seer then?" Miss Granger was the very image of concentration, obviously trying to put all of this knew information together.

"He didn't need to be a seer to know what would happen. It was inevitable. In a society that is based on betrayal and abuse, it didn't take a seer to say that sometime the wizarding world would betray the wrong wizard. If Godric betrayed Salazar, then it was only a matter of time before such an event happened again. And again. And again. Hundreds of wizards and witches have been harmed, it is only Lord Voldemort who had the understanding and the anger to fight back."

Adam suddenly froze. Severus and Miss Granger pulled themselves from their individual thoughts to looked at him inquiringly but he seemed to be listening for something.

When Adam finally moved, he shifted his chair to be facing the door, and when he spoke is voice was expressionless. "If you spend a thousand years bringing about pain, eventually someone will respond in kind. It doesn't have to be a specific person, it doesn't have to be a specific time, but eventually, someone, somewhere, somewhen, will try to hurt you back."

The door opened and a witch that Severus had never seen before took two steps into the room. She had an aura of power about her, but Severus was used to dealing with powerful wizards and witches. It was not the power or even the feel it had of being slightly unstable, that made him nervous. What made him nervous was the look of ill-suppressed fear and hatred on her face along with the unsheathed sword in her hand.

She stopped right inside the door and was so tense she seemed to vibrate. He desperately wanted to have his wand in his hand but it seemed a poor idea to make any action that could possibly trigger the woman's fight or flight instinct. He sat still in his chair and Adam and Miss Granger in their chairs and none of them did anything for a long drawn out moment. All four of them waited in silence to see what would happen next.

The silence was finally broken by Adam.

"Hello, Cassandra."

Chapter Text

Methos had managed to avoid Cassandra for three thousand years. A lot of that time was during eras in which the various means of travel were slow and cumbersome so it had been easy enough to get away from anyone he had known, but there had been some close calls. Walking down busy streets a couple of times he had recognized her before she could recognize him and left the country. But then, she had never been hunting him. Now she was.

He tried to think of what to do as the silence stretched. Cassandra definitely held the high ground in this particular confrontation: she was currently standing with an unsheathed sword in her hand and she was a witch in the wizarding world. He, on the other hand, was currently wearing only his daggers and his gun, was sitting down, and didn't have any magic that he could control.

He continued to listen to the sounds of breathing.

He was a better swordsman and a better killer than Cassandra. In a fair fight he would beat her. She would know that, however, and wasn't likely to offer him a fair fight and frankly he didn't want to kill her, anyway. He was perfectly happy avoiding her for the rest of eternity.

He still didn't know what the plan was, but the goal was now to bring this confrontation to an impasse and get everyone out of here alive. His life held priority, but Cassandra and the others were certainly part of the goal.

He continued to watch Cassandra whose eyes continued to flicker between all three people sitting in the study, two of whose' eyes continued to alternate between him and Cassandra.

The sound of silence, highlighted by the contrast of four people breathing.

Cassandra had yet to respond to his greeting.

She had, as a matter of fact, not yet said anything.

The ball was in her court and Methos silently waited. Severus took his cue from Methos and silently waited. Miss Granger took her cue from Severus and silently waited.

Cassandra was waiting for something too, but Methos wasn't sure what. Finding that out was, of course, what he was waiting for.

Dumbledore must have some way of sensing happenings within the castle because he raced into the study after not much more time than it would take an old man to get from the Headmaster's tower office to the potion master's dungeon study. Unfortunately, his entrance had the result of startling Cassandra so that she whipped around and laid her sword edge against his throat. She turned herself so that she could see where everyone in the room was. Methos cursed inside his head for having to have this confrontation with so many other people present. Accept what is, he told himself, and deal with it.

First, Cassandra was, despite being the aggressor, obviously the most terrified person in the room. At a guess, she'd had even worse experiences with the wizarding world than he'd had. And now that she was here, she expected one more bad experience. At least when he had decided to return for a visit, he had done so with the desire to spend time with a friend. And it occurred to him that while he considered her to be in the greater position of power, she probably thought the same of him.

"Cassandra." Methos spoke in a soothing manner, much as he would speak to a wounded or frightened animal. "Cassandra, it's all right. No body is going to ambush you. Did you ever meet Nicky Flame? He was one of Rebecca's alchemy students. A total firebrand with so much energy-he never sat still. You remember Rebecca, right?"

Cassandra's eyes locked with his and her glare intensified but it was clear that her panic was receding. "Yes. Of course." She spoke sharply. "I knew Nicky, too. What about it?"

"Well, that is one of Nicky's friends. Albus Dumbledore, the Headmaster of Hogwarts. He's a friend and old student of Nicky's."

Methos watched the expression on Albus Dumbledore's face change from the calm that it had settled into when threatened to the confusion to being absolutely dumbfounded. For all that Albus had known that Adam was something unusual, and must have already guessed that this newest arrival to the castle was also more than the mere witch she appeared, he didn't manage to keep his jaw from dropping. It rested against the flat of Cassandra's sword. His eyes were still wide behind their glasses when he finally managed to close his mouth and say, "Nicky Flame? Nicholas Flamel?"

Cassandra transferred her glare to the Headmaster once more, although it was much more relaxed and she slowly lowered her sword so it's point rested on the ground. Her glare was more of an annoyed glare than anything else. "Nobody called him by his full name. You practically had to tie him down to keep him from bouncing off the walls-the fewer syllables in that boy's name, the better."

And like that, the first hurtle was passed.

Cassandra was no longer threatening immediate physical attack. The innocent bystanders were being identified and the battle grounds had shifted from physical to verbal.

As quickly as the shift had happened it could be reversed just as quickly. And while Methos knew he was the better swordsman in a fair fight, this setting was far from a fair fight and he wasn't at all sure if he was the better manipulator.

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Cassandra hated Methos from the very depths of her soul and that hatred was only intensified by how easily he had taken control of the situation away from her. She had been so terrified of the wizarding world and continued to have to work so hard to fight off the flashbacks that Methos had simply changed their positions. She was no longer the attacker and he the victim; she was now the guest to his host. He had greeted her and introduced her and done everything but offer her salt at his table. He had done everything to invoke a host and guest relationship except for any offer she could refuse.

And he had thrown her a lifeline out of her torture flashbacks, he had reminded her of Rebecca the Jewess, with whom she had studied alchemy for so many years, and Nicky Flame, the joyful young boy whom Rebecca had raised along with her husband of the time. Those meetings were happy memories of magic and family and it was Methos who had reminded her of them.

Cassandra had to consciously keep her hands relaxed. They wanted to be tense, holding her sword and her wand, and hopefully doing something both painful and fatal to the man before her. She knew perfectly well it was a stupid thing to do. It was not smart to attack someone with deadly intent in front of witnesses, especially witnesses who were probably on the side of her enemy, and Methos was too unpredictable for magic. Magic always acted unpredictably when cast on an immortal, but with Methos it would probably be more erratic than even that.

Witnesses would prevent a physical attack, but then, they could also be a weapon in their own right. She indicated the three people watching her warily, with fear but also with curiosity. "Do they know who you are? And what exactly you're capable of?"

Methos smiled faintly. "You may be sure that they do not. Have you let them know what your capabilities are?"

"I am hardly comparable to you! I never killed for pleasure!" Cassandra sneered the word. For three thousand years she had learned self-control and just being in the room with him destroyed it all. She clenched her hands, her knuckles went white around her sword hilt. But she didn't raise her sword and after a moment she slowly relaxed them.

"Have you not? You surprise me-most people out age have killed for a reason other than survival at some point. But, Cassandra, all my sins, although they may be legion, are muggle. I have killed in the muggle world, in a muggle manner. The Ministry doesn't bother with such crimes, especially so out of their jurisdiction in both time, space, and citizenship. They would not treat me nearly as poorly as they have you. How do they react to a witch capable of wandlessly casting Imperio? Without even vocalizing the word?"

"I think you know already, Methos. They gave me to the dementors. I tried to heal, and they tortured me, you tortured me for years. I had to kill myself, again and again, with my bare hands, to escape. I don't know how many times I died. It took an eternity. I escaped to Donan woods, and lived there for centuries. Didn't speak to another person for so long that when I next met another person I couldn't understand their speech, the language had shifted so much." She ranted and she hated him but she also knew enough about healing that she knew it was good for her to get the words out there, and she knew enough about herself, that she would never talk about this to anyone other than him.

Hot tears came to her eyes and she had to blink them out and force them down her cheeks to keep her vision clear and steady. She hated him and perhaps what she hated most was that he was the one person in all the world with whom she felt the ability, the compulsion almost, to accept her own weaknesses, even as she fought desperately to be strong.

A handful of years ago she had seen him cry for his brother's deaths and even as she wanted to kill him then and there, she had hated him for having strength in his weakness. He hadn't even tried to hide his grief. He had been able to turn his honest grief into a strength while all of her hidden grief made her weak.

"Oh Cassandra. You remind me why I hate the wizarding world. Their cruelties aren't even done in malice. But Cassandra, you know perfectly well that killing me would not help you, if I lived only in your memories I would get stronger and crueler with every passing year. You can barely control your flashbacks even as we stand." It was the truth-Methos always spoke the truth to her, or at least never spoke a lie that she could catch. And for all the pity inherent in the words he spoke, his tone was completely without inflection.

"Do you think you're my teacher that you tell me how the world works?" Cassandra sneered the question, trying to keep herself under control, fighting the last ditch effort to keep the conflict going. She knew that he would not attack her at this time and that she could not herself make the first blow. That chance had come and gone.

"Am I not? I was cruel and vicious, certainly. Selfish in my desire and intentions. But I was still the one who taught you how to survive, taught you what you were. Did you have anyone who was more your teacher than I?"

"I had no teacher."

"No, perhaps not. But what I said was true, none the less. My death, right here, right now, will not help you. You and I both know that eventually, if no one else gets to us first, we will fight to the death and one of us will die and one of us will live and neither of us will win. But I think that fight will not be here today."

It was the truth. Methos had always had a way of making the truth into a weapon to support his side. Methos wanted them both to live while Cassandra just wanted the conflict to be other, but the truth was that this was not the right time and place.

She could force it to be, she could still attack, she told herself, but having it happen would not make it right. She could feel the future beating at the barrier in her mind and knew that the time was not now, not yet. For all her self-will, the fight was not yet.

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Methos watched Cassandra and concentrated on keeping his eyes impassive and his breathing easy.

He was forcing her to confront a truth and he really, really, really didn't want her to consider him the aggressor. Fight the words, fight the message that I'm giving you, fight against the truth, because that is a fight that doesn't take place in the physical realm and can't get either of us killed. Unless, of course, Cassandra refuses to believe that this is not the right time, decides that it is the right time and comes at him with her sword and attempts to lop his head off. Then, of course, it could get one or the other of them killed, and possibly both depending on how Dumbledore, Severus, and the girl respond to the situation.

Methos knew the mortals were still present but they were merely observers in this fight and he was intently focused on Cassandra. Thus, when Severus spoke, Methos startled.

"Imperio."

In fact, everyone startled and turned to look suspiciously at the dark man who's study they occupied. It took a moment for Methos to realize that Severus had not cast the spell but had spoken the name of the spell.

Methos almost wanted to smile, despite the current situation, at the way his student caught and held the attention of everyone in the room and didn't show even a trace of fear. When he spoke again his voice was his regular deep controlled voice.

"Cassandra Trelawney was imprisoned for casting unforgivable on her stepson who suffered from crucio madness."

Severus paused a moment. "Salazar Slytherin invented a cure for crucio madness which was immediately outlawed for creating a sense of euphoria."

Another pause as they all considered the new fact, and Methos gave in to the urge to show a small smile. His student had put the facts together. "This Cassandra is capable of casting the Imperius curse wandlessly."

This was a day made for tense silences, Methos thought. The silence that permeated the room now was just as tense as the silence that had surrounded them when Cassandra had first appeared with her sword raised. Methos waited for his student to say the answer aloud. Dumbledore and Miss Granger waited with wide eyes to hear the revelation that they were just beginning to realize on their own. And Cassandra was waiting to be vindicated five hundred years after the wizarding world had condemned her.

"It's imperio, isn't it." Severus looked at his old mentor and asked as if they were the only two people in the room. "Imperio is the counter-curse for crucio."

"Yes."

There was a single gasp of shock.

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It was the gasp that signaled the presence of another witness. The two immortals had already known about imperio, Severus had figured it out on his own, and Dumbledore and Miss Granger were silent in their shock. It was Sybil Trelawney who gasped aloud and revealed herself to be lingering in the doorway as if unsure whether to go in or stay out.

Cassandra needed no introduction to recognize her great-to-some-degree granddaughter.

Immortals maintained their immortality in their own physical body, denied the immortality of children. And yet, Cassandra thought, for all that there was no blood relationship between them and they had never met before today, Sybil was her child, her descendant. She was the descendant of the child of Cassandra's husband. Even after all these generations, she could still see Terence in this woman's face, in the tilt of her mouth, in the shape of her hands.

As difficult as it was for her to be there, Cassandra looked at Sybil and took strength from the knowledge that she was needed. The presence of fear and pain in Sybil's expression told her that she had done well to come rescue her descendant from Methos and the evils of the wizarding world.

"I will protect you." Cassandra stated, trying to put as much intensity into her voice as possible, lacing it with the voice to make Sybil believe. "You no longer need to fear Him. I will protect you."

Cassandra stretched out a hand to her descendant but had only taken a single step when she stopped as if slapped. Sybil had flinched. Sybil had flinched away from her. It was not Methos who put that look of fear on Sybil's face but her own presence.

Just as quickly as she had been reassured of her actions, she was devastated.

Hurt and furious, Cassandra spun away from looking at her own descendant and raised her sword up, "Did you manage to turn her against me so quickly, then?"

If not for Methos being slightly paler than before, she would have thought he was as calm as ever. His voice was even as he answered. "You know that's not true. Can you not think of any reason why a seer struggling for self-will might shun your presence, Cassandra?"

The hurt and rage was nearly overpowering and she wanted desperately to be back in her forest, maybe back in wolf form so that she could howl long and loud, share her grief with the world, or at least all within hearing distance. Yes, she knew why Sybil had flinched. And even as she thought it, Methos spoke the thoughts aloud.

"The future beats upon your shields trying to possess your body to make itself known. The future clings tight to your aura and trails behind you like too strong perfume, sticking to all those who come too close. For another seer, you are a source of prophesy in more ways than one. Professor Trelawney has been in your presence for less than five minutes and I imagine she can already feel the migraine develop."

Cassandra wondered what expression was on her face because after a moment Methos continued speaking. "If that were not enough, you use your Voice almost unconsciously, it is so much a part of your lifestyle. And for a seer who struggles already with the future . . . you overwhelm her."

She clenched her hands again, leaving her knuckles white. Above all else, she hated being weak and ineffectual. And here she was- incapable of doing anything to help her descendant. When she felt the blood well up in her wand hand where her fingernails had punctured her skin she took a deep breath and managed to unclench both of her hands, again.

"Tell me you'll not hurt her."

"I swear I won't." Methos looked at her with his face solemn and sincere-looking. Cassandra wanted to sneer at him but forced herself to at least consider the possibility that his oath was good.

There was nothing she could do, nothing she could say, that would make this situation better. She desperately wanted the world to be different, her life to be different. If she couldn't have that, she could at least return to her cabin where she could tell herself that she didn't care one way or another about the fate of some woman who was scared of her own great grandmother or the continued life of the man who had once enslaved her, or the disdain and pity of a set of complete strangers.

It was over, at least for now.

She whirled around and avoided even looking at Sybil as she made her exit.

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And suddenly it was all over. The conflict was put off; not ended but postponed. For all that it worked out well, Methos wished the confrontation had played out differently. Cassandra had had so few breaks in her life, had so routinely been knocked down, by both himself and others.

She was disappearing out the door when he finally spoke up, fighting against his own desire to just leave well-enough alone. She was leaving without trying to kill him. That should have been enough, but, "Cassandra." Methos spoke at the last minute. "I can offer you something, if you'll take it."

"What?"

"Remus Lupin. He's a wizard and a werewolf, somewhere in Germany I think. But, he's hurting and he's alone, and I think you two could help each other." Methos remained sitting in the chair he had been the entire time of this confrontation, his hands visible and empty. He was offering her a truce and a gift of knowledge. What she did with it was up to her. She nodded and then turned and left. Maybe one day when he returned to Hogwarts, he would know if she had ever accepted his offering.

But for now, it was over.

Methos looked at Sybil still trembling slightly in the corner, Miss Granger looking pale and unhappy in her chair, Severus looking introverted in his chair, and Dumbledore looking unsure of himself in his corner.

The conflict with Cassandra was over for now. What was left were the repercussions.

Chapter Text

Everyone had scattered.

Cassandra had left as suddenly as she had arrived and Severus tried not to think too much about her. She had been dangerous and disruptive but also hurting. He could sympathize. And there was absolutely nothing he could do about it.

After Cassandra had left, Sybil had gone up to her tower and spelled her ladder away. She had been up there for a week without seeing anyone but her own personal House Elf who brought her food. Her fireplace was blocked off and honestly, Severus was glad of it. He rarely gave in to guilt but he had felt it nibbling around the edges of his mind. He hadn't wanted to talk to anyone, but he knew that in this one case, he had to check on Sybil to see if she needed someone. But she had been completely closed off.

Adam had been gone the day after everything had happened. He had just not been there anymore. His clothes and toiletries had still been in his room, but not his journal. Severus could remember when Adam had left him after the first fall of Voldemort. He had just walked out of his own house, away from his entire estate, taking nothing with him. Adam was gone and it was a further day before Severus found the note that had been scribbled on his office blotter, "S- I need some time away. I'll be around. -A". And that was it. Would he be gone for the decade and a half that he had after that first disappearance? Would he return after less than a single year as he had after the final battle?

Albus was spending long days working on the paperwork necessary for running a large boarding school. Severus wondered whether this sudden intense bout of responsible bureaucrat on the part of the headmaster was to give the rest of them some space or to get some space for himself. Albus had even assigned his apprentice a research project that would keep her in the library for the better part of two weeks.

And his apprentice had seemed glad enough to not speak with anyone, to get her own thoughts clear. Hermione . . . Miss Granger . . . Hermione had lost herself in the stacks.

And Severus had kept himself occupied in his room rereading the few novels he had in his rooms.

Reading fiction carried something of a stigma having to do with the muggle taint. Wizards very rarely wrote fiction and when they tried it, it tended to be very bad. Knowledge of what was and was not possible or probable got in the way of writing a believable but false account of anything.

Of course, pureblood bibliophiles read any muggle literature they wanted and, if questioned, simply announced with supreme assurance that of course the author was a wizard. Thus it was that Machiavelli, Shakespeare, Plato, Socrates, Agatha Christie, Nietzche, Sun Tzu, etc. were all wizards according to wizarding society. Lucius Malfoy had even gone so far as to put up protective wards around Agatha Christie's house so that even when she was alive he could read her books with impunity and have some evidence behind his claim that "of course she is a witch."

One of the most common eccentricities of wizarding novelists was that they tended to "live in muggle society for the amusement" or for the inspiration, or to avoid the Ministry or whatever other reason people came up with. Every so often it was even true.

Snape still smiled at the memory of Lucius returning from Georgette Heyer's house. Narcissa Malfoy had nagged her husband for months to put up wards around Georgette Heyer's house and Lucius had been rather embarrassed when, after finally agreeing to do so, he apparated in only to discover that Heyer really was a witch who was eschewing wizarding society and she already had some very nasty wards up to deal with any random wizards who might try to apparate in.

But unlike the Malfoys, Severus generally didn't care for fiction. He thought the plots were all contrived and the people artificial and the descriptions either went on for too long or left too much out. It never struck him as realistic.

It still didn't, but now he found it comforting.

There was a clear beginning, middle, and end in these books. The characters were introduced, they had their adventures, and then everything was worked out. And he, as the reader, got to see it all laid out before him.

It was in real life that nothing seemed to tie neatly off. He had been present at a great confrontation between sworn enemies, Adam, who was both Death and the Beloved Traitor, and Cassandra, who was the greatest seer ever known, and it had been a volley of words and nothing more.

He hadn't wanted a fight, certainly, but it was unnerving to know that the beginning of their conflict was three thousand years before his birth, and the end could come at any time, but it was more likely to come three thousand years after his death than it was to be tomorrow.

He and his old mentor lived on different time scales, and he was less than a chapter in Adam's life. This was not a new realization, but it was always a shock when he was forced to think of it.

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"She has a stupid school girl crush. I'm too old for her and too nasty. She should find someone just as young and naive as she is."

Adam seemed amused by his vehemence. "Are we talking about the same girl? The one you once described to me as "a sneaky, ruthless, pain in my arse, but bloody impressive at times.'?"

Severus snorted his general disgust at his mentor's gall at throwing his own words back in his face. He couldn't deny the quote but wasn't willing to admit it either. "She's still too young. She has a long full life ahead of her."

"She's dying, you know."

"What?" Severus thought he might have given himself whiplash with how quickly he looked up. He ignored the sharp pain in his neck.

"Hermione Granger is dying."

"What, how, how do you know?" Severus looked aghast.

"I know because she's mortal. She's dying. You're dying. Albus is dying and the students are dying. You might hold on for another century or you might die tomorrow."

"That's not the same." Severus blew off the explanation with an irritated wave, to hide his relief, then raised that hand to massage his aching neck.

"It is the same. You don't know how long her life is going to be, nor do you know how long your life is going to be. Age is immaterial next to the concept of mortality."

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Hermione had come to his office only one day since then. That had been . . . interesting.

She had asked him if he would like to go out to dinner with her.

He had refused. "You want something that I cannot give. I am used up. I have thrown my entire being into taking down Voldemort. I have sacrificed my life, my thoughts, my body, my soul. When I was your age, Hermione, I desired. I desired power, and knowledge and the final destruction of Voldemort. Over the years, I have given up my desires for power and knowledge and thrown myself entirely into the desire for Voldemort's fall. Now he's dead. I have burned my candle at both ends, I did not last the night."

"But oh my foes and oh my friends, you cast a glorious light."

Of course, she would hardly be the know-it-all he had taught for so many years if she couldn't respond back to a simple quote like that. Snape was annoyed, with her and with himself. "No longer. I've burned out. There's nothing for you here. Go find yourself a boy who has emotions left to give. I lived for years off of hate, and now I can barely even remember what that felt like, I no longer even have that."

"Your argument has a fallacy. Desire is not a finite material. You desired with your entire being. Well, maybe you need to rest and renew yourself, but desire does renew."

"And you know this with your vast experience?" The sarcasm was heavy in his voice.

"No, I know this with my vast intelligence." If there was one thing Snape had taught her over the past year, Hermione had thought, it was to make her weaknesses into strengths and to hide as little as possible. She wasn't modest in her head, she wouldn't be modest in her words. "But you'll be ready eventually. I just hope it's soon."

"You're not promising to wait for forever?" He had been at his most sarcastic. He had tried to be gentle and it hadn't worked and it gave him a headache.

On the other hand, sarcasm didn't appear to work on her either. She had flushed but stared back at him levelly. "No. I won't stop growing, and I won't promise you forever after having a few really nice conversations. And I'm certainly not declaring an undying love for you. I'm merely offering you and myself an opportunity in which to see what happens. It's of limited time, but neither of us knows when it expires until it does. I hope you take me up on the offer while it's still good. Think about it." And she had left.

He hadn't seen her since, but he had thought about it.

Time kept going and she would keep going with it. And so would he, so would he. And neither knew where it would go and how long their paths would run parallel.

Adam had known that.

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With fiction, Severus almost always knew exactly how everything was going to turn out by the end of the first chapter. Was the book a romance or a tragedy, suspense or mystery or comedy? It was clear whether the good guys won or the guy got the girl.

It was real life that didn't have those cues. His life didn't fit into any of those nice labels and he would never know how things turned out until the day he died, and even then he'd miss his own epilogue.

It wasn't fair that the characters in books got to live such a perfect existence, facing dangers and difficulties, yes, but perfectly scripted out. All their actions were to a plan and the extraneous parts were removed.

It was only with his potions that he felt in control, and he knew that he could spend the rest of his days ensconced in the dungeons and free from the confusions inherent in real life.

But then, it was a rare mood for him to read fiction. He always had preferred wizarding nonfiction.

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When Severus was still learning basic potions from Adam, they had frequently dined together. Sometimes, if Severus hadn't needed to be anywhere else, they would stay up and converse late into the night.

"And what about History? I find it hard to believe that you're not a Master of History along with Potions and Arithmancy."

Adam snorted. "I don't like History."

"You don't?" Severus was seriously surprised here.

"Studying it, one is in constant danger of being lost in the past, and teaching it, one has to keep track of too many versions."

"Oh. Yes."

They settled into silence. Snape was thinking about what he had just learned, and vaguely wondering what Adam was thinking about. To all appearances, Adam wasn't thinking of anything much.

"Adam?"

"Yes?"

"You've told me several stories about the history of the wizarding world." Severus paused to find the correct phrasing of the question he wanted to ask. "Are there not several versions of those?"

Adam grinned. Inwardly Severus winced at this; he knew it wasn't going to be a reassuring response. "Of course. I just pick the version that comes to mind. That's why I couldn't be a serious student of history: some of those stories could be true but forgotten, and some of them might be apocryphal. I haven't bothered to find the accepted versions."

Severus sighed with exasperation, but didn't press further.

After a moment Adam spoke again, "Anyway, my life is a case of me against the world." Adam grinned, and raised his glass in a toast. "Confusion to the enemy."

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And so on, ad infinitum.

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