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Bearing Your Burden

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There is a countless amount of universes, all spiralling somewhere out there. Destinies filled or unfulfilled, heroes standing over fallen foes in triumph; and sometimes falling themselves, and all they hold precious falling with them, after one rash and hasty decision.

This was one of those destinies. Once upon a time — not in the beginning of a story nor in the end of one, but in the middle — were two young adults, dying. One from a poison consuming him, the other by proxy, being the fallen hero's best friend.

They knew they had failed and that everything they held dear was now falling around them. They had been starving, running and hiding. They had seem so many loved ones die in the past year, and had lost everything.

But this was in the middle of a story, and as stories go, the middle of the story is an interesting place. There's room there, room for a new decision, a new chance. When the boy you have learned to love as your brother lays dying by your feet, rotting alive from the bite of a cursed serpent, there is need for an act of courage and love. Perhaps, when the young hero blames himself for the mistakes that occurred and wishes it had never been him in that place, there is a book with a spell. The spell that would, if cast by two who loved each other as siblings, not as lovers, change fates and destinies.

Perhaps, when all is lost, there is that one precious piece of love and magic, chanted by a young woman over her dying brother-in-all-but-blood, willing to carry his burden, to fill his sad fate.

Then there was a long, dark tunnel of swirling images changing as they were dragged in, the feeling of falling, the sense of memories fading... and a blinding white light that drowned everything.

 

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Albus Dumbledore, April 4th 1980

At the Hog's Head Inn, Albus Dumbledore, the Headmaster of Hogwarts school of Witchcraft and Wizardry, was conducting an interview on Sybill Trelawney, who had applied for the position of the new Professor of Divination. The room was comfortable, the seats soft and the fire in the hearth combined with Heating Charms made the room very comfortable, but Albus was already missing his chambers in the castle. He had also drank all too many cups of tea, and the lemon drops were out. Trelawney's resume had seemed promising: she had relations to true and known Seers, and had studied Divination extensively. Her gaudy robes were accentuated with dozens of charms, her neck weighted with a dozen or more pendants and baubles. She seemed nervous and talked a bit dramatically, clearly trying to impress. Suddenly the woman seemed to seize. Her breath hitched, her eyes glazed over, and she spoke with a loud, strong voice that did not resemble her normal voice at all.

"The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches... born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies! And the Dark Lord..." Trelawney wailed, her voice echoing far and wide. But then suddenly there were two voices, not one, both citing almost simultaneously:

"...will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not!" But the other voice, stronger and louder, boomed:
"...will mark HER as his equal, but SHE will have power the Dark Lord knows not!"

Trelawney slumped to the floor from her seat, gasping for breath. There was a commotion just outside the room, and Dumbledore faintly heard a patron being dragged away to be tossed out by his brother Aberforth, but Trelawney's Prophecy was clearly not complete. She stood up once more, and continued:

"And either must die at the hand of the other, for neither can live while the other survives! The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies..." Trelawney fainted on the floor, slumping on the rug. Dumbledore was too stunned to cast a Cushioning Charm, but she slumped down rather than fell, and didn't seem injured.

As Dumbledore roused the woman with a quick spell, helped her up and signed her paperwork for the new position, his mind was racing faster than the Hogwarts Express on a downhill slope. The woman was clearly a true Seer: he would need to protect her, so hiring her was a logical choice. There would be a child who could defeat the dark lord, but it would take years before the child would be old enough to defeat Tom Riddle, the self-appointed magical tyrant. People were dying: the war was raging on, people targeted and murdered every day. If the child would be born this year, Voldemort's reign would last years, and protecting the promised child would be extremely difficult, if not impossible.

The case of the two simultaneous voices was almost as bad. Prophecies were sometimes very vague, but this was, as far as Dumbledore knew, unheard of. He would have to research into the matter. There were two young couples waiting for their firstborn children, Dumbledore remembered: Frank and Alice Longbottom and James and Lily Potter. Both couples had defied Voldemort several times. Both babies were due at the end of July that year. But what about the gender of the child? It couldn't mean that both children were chosen, could it? Or two Chosen Ones, one of both genders? Both children couldn't be Chosen Ones, could they?

Dumbledore shook his head, confused beyond measure and irritated as hell, and departed back to the school. He would have to protect both of those couples and make plans.

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July 31, 1980

Hermione Lily Potter was born to James and Lily Potter. She was their firstborn, so loved by her parents. She did not resemble her father much at all: she had her mother's green eyes but with tiny specks of honey brown and bronze, the colour of whisky, those probably inherited from her hazel-eyed father, although the colour was different. Her eyes were very gentle: not filled with mischief like her father's or joy and laughter, like her mother's. They had expected her to sport the Potter lineage's black hair or perhaps the lovely auburn locks of her mother, but her hair was brown, though neither of their families had ever, as far as they knew, sported that kind of shade of hair, and it soon became apparent the hair would be very, very curly. When she was born, there was something strange about her: some great feeling of sadness. She cried a lot, big tears that wouldn't stop with feeding or even basic nursery spells, but in two weeks it died down a little. She never laughed a lot, even as a toddler. There was a feeling of something deeply thoughtful in her soul, some deep contemplation, but she did occasionally smile just a bit and when she did, she brought great joy to the hidden house in Godric's Hollow.

In another part of the country two Muggles, Mr and Mrs Granger, had already settled to a new routine with their son, Harry John Granger. He had very large and bucked front teeth and his eyes were a lovely shade of brown, much like his mother's, but when he was feeling happy and mischievous, there was a green tinge to them. He was a happy child, doted and loved. His mother read him a bedtime story every evening. His parents would be very stunned when he would display his first feats of accidental magic: but that would be years from now. For now, Harry Granger slept soundly in his crib in a clean room, filled with toys for him to play with when he'd be big enough to appreciate them.

 

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Minerva McGonagall, November 1st, 1981

 

As the wizarding world celebrated the defeat of the Dark Lord Voldemort, Professor Albus Dumbledore and Professor Minerva McGonagall walked down the dark Privet Drive with a small bundle that had just been dropped by the half-giant Hagrid. Professor McGonagall was especially worried: a child with such magical capacity should not be growing up in a muggle neighbourhood, left in a basket for her aunt and uncle to raise, but once Albus Dumbledore had set his mind on something there was nothing to it.

The Halloween-decorated neighbourhood seemed nice enough, for a Muggle neighbourhood anyway: the houses were tidy and orderly, gardens well-kept and the streets tidy, although both the Albus and Minerva much more preferred the colourful and jolly wizarding areas and the impressive Hogwarts castle they both had called their home for decades.

With a heavy heart they left the tiny baby girl on the stairs of a Muggle house, kept warm by a Warming Charm. Orphaned just a few hours ago, the child had cried itself to sleep on Hagrid's flying bike. Minerva McGonagall, a strict teacher, held back her tears as she looked at the sleeping toddler with a lighting bolt-shaped scar marring her forehead, partially obscured by her short, brown hair. For just a brief moment the baby opened her green, brown-speckled eyes and gazed deeply at them, before the little orphan drifted back to sleep.

"This child has a great promise," Professor Dumbledore muttered, partially for himself, "and I can sense so much love in her. Not just the love of her mother and father, but the love of another person as well. Strange..." he trailed off, deep in thought, as they walked away, leaving the slumbering child behind.

"Good luck, Hermione Potter".

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Severus Snape, August 1st 1991

Professor Severus Snape was sitting in a dark corner of the Headmaster's office, his expression sour and unfriendly, and scowled angrily when Albus once again tried to offer him a Sherbert Lemon. He did not want to be here: the name of Potter brought back too many bad memories, and the child of Lily Evans and James Potter was a continual reminder of his guilt: the death of his childhood friend over a decade ago. For all these years Dumbledore had kept reminding him of his mistake: when he had unwittingly caused the death of James and Lily by turning the information of the Prophecy over to the Dark Lord. The now 11-year-old brat would be arriving to the school in just a few short weeks. Snape took a sip of his Ogden's Old Firewhisky.

"Hagrid delivered the girl her letter and took her shopping on Diagon Alley for her school supplies," Albus stated. "He had some problems with her foster parents, the Dursleys: apparently they did not want her to attend Hogwarts. It seems they are very thoroughly Muggle, and they absolutely detest the idea of magic. They seem to have treated her as a sort of a servant."

"I cannot imagine the child of James Bloody Potter acting as a servant!" Severus hissed, setting down his glass on the aged mahogany desk in front of him. "Her father was an arrogant, egotistical lazy bully and a swine, and his brat would..."

"The girl is nothing like her father, Severus!" Albus interrupted. "From what Arabella Figg, Daedalus Diggle and the other observers have told me, the child is very much like her mother in behaviour, though not so much in appearance. She is a very intelligent and talented child, Arabella says she is constantly reading whenever she can, and not just fiction either. Hagrid told me she took quite a while at Flourish and Blotts. A very kind and obedient child as well," Albus chuckled, "Hagrid told me he didn't have to drag her out of the book shop or give a strict order to leave, but it was obvious that she liked nothing quite as much. Her grades at Muggle school have been stellar."

"Lily was never one to adore books", Severus muttered, picking up his glass again for a short sip of Firewhisky. His hands were shaking slightly, even though he was Occluding heavily. Lily had been a very smart and a talented student, especially at Charms and Potions, but when she did read, her reading material was usually Muggle novels, and she had much more preferred chatting about anything and everything. But it still hurt knowing the child had so much of Lily inside of her. How much of James would he see in the brat? She would attend his classes for the next few years if they both survived that long, and he'd be forced to face his loss daily.

"I think you will like her, Severus," Dumbledore said softly, "She seems to be not only academically driven but also friendly and kind. Hagrid told me he found her chatting with young Draco Malfoy — Lucius's son — at Madam Malkin's robes, and that she was curious but also very obedient and did whatever Hagrid told her to. I know I am asking much of you, but the child is very important in our upcoming battle. The Dark Lord... Tom... WILL rise again, and we need to take care of her, train her and protect her. Severus... she has her mother's eyes..."

Severus absolutely refused to cry. The guilt has palpable.

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Severus Snape, August 15th 1991

Albus had called a small meeting, including only some of the staff. The old fool had brought the Philosopher's Stone to Hogwarts. Just in the nick of time, of course: the Gringott's vault it had been stored in had been breached just after Hagrid had picked up the Stone. The old poofter was still ahead of the game, Severus thought.

"I have called you here because I intend to protect the Stone inside the school," Dumbledore said. "There is no doubt that someone is trying to steal it. Breaching a Gringott's vault takes immense skill and power, so we are dealing with someone with power and possibly a great deal of influence. I have cleared a hallway and some quarters, and I wish to protect the Stone with obstacles set by each and one of you," Albus said, nodding to Hagrid, Quirinus Quirrell, Minerva McGonagall, Pomona Sprout, Filius Flitwick, Rolanda Hooch and Severus Snape. "I will speak to each one of you in turn, but I want you to think of an obstacle or a puzzle you could set up to protect the Stone. We will set up a labyrinth of sorts to protect it. Do not make them impossible, mind you: make them difficult but not impossible. If something were to happen to any one of us, the rest must still be able to reach the Stone if need be."

"Just us," Filius Flitwick asked, "and not all the members of the staff? Surely Septima and Aurora, for example..."

"No, Filius, for the time being I wish to keep this matter in a very small circle. It's not that I wouldn't trust the others, of course, but a secret remains a secret longer if the amount of keepers is smaller."

The others nodded thoughtfully. Snape was already imagining a logical Potion puzzle. That one would stop almost anyone. Wizards and Witches were prone to use magic instead of logic.

The other professors left, but Severus remained seated lazily on his chair. When the footsteps and chatter of the others had died down, he looked at the Headmaster. "Really, Albus? What's your game? I am not an idiot. A labyrinth? Sounds quite a bit like an bloody obstacle course, for Merlin's sakes!"

"I will need to test the girl, Severus. We do not know her yet: her strengths, her weaknesses, her skills. Setting it up will take some time, but I already know how to truly protect the Stone."

Severus sneered cynically. "She will fail, of that I am sure. She's a bloody Potter, after all. That's all we need to know."

"I am not sure about that, Severus, but even a failure is a result. We need to find out what she's capable of before we begin her training. We need to find out about her character and skills."

Severus snorted cynically, tossing back his drink with a grimace.

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Severus Snape, September 1st 1991

 

Just another Start-of-Term Feast, Snape told himself again and again, just another year like all the others. If Albus was right, the Potter girl might be the future saviour of the wizarding world, but at this time she was just another dunderhead to teach. Another thorn on his side. Nothing special at all. A menace.

He watched through the curtain of his shoulder-length lank hair as the first years were ushered in, trying to look as he usually did, not to betray any emotion. One by one the new students were sorted into their houses: Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff and Slytherin. For a while he wondered if the child would be sorted into Gryffindor, as both of her parents were... perhaps in Ravenclaw, if the information was correct about her interest in books? That was probably too optimistic.

As the amount of students to be sorted grew smaller, he saw her. He stared at her: yes, those green eyes. He remembered her mother, Lily, when she was her age, and could remember the Sorting Ceremony. He could remember the constricting pain when she was declared Gryffindor. Hermione Potter did not look like her mother or father at all: he probably would not have recognized her, if it wasn't for the lightening-shaped scar on her forehead and the green in her eyes. But nothing in her behaviour suggested to James or Lily Potter. She seemed... shy? A bit withdrawn? Severus frowned.

Her name was called in turn. "Hermione Potter!", Minerva announced, and the voices in the hall rose for a while, to die down to a complete hush. Speculation was wild and everyone waited, probably holding their breath. The hat was silent for a long time, and then called "GRYFFINDOR!". The Gryffindor table roared with applauds, and most of the teachers clapped as well. Minerva looked smug. Of course she would. Bloody Gryffindors.

When the last student was Sorted, the Feast began and the food appeared. He helped himself to a light meal, but mostly ended up pushing it around his plate as the annoying Defence-instructor Quirrell stuttered and blabbered inanely about vampires next to him, reeking of garlic. He had to keep an eye on the Slytherin table, although the Prefects usually did their work properly — he saw to that himself, personally — but felt his eyes wander to the Gryffindor table again. He saw nothing of James Potter's looks in her. Her hair was especially different. It was a bit strange: Potter had sported black hair, Lily's was auburn, and neither of them had curly hair. And definitely not wildly curly like that! He almost found the hair funny, such an unruly frizz. But by Merlin how thin she was! The school robes probably covered the worst of it, but Snape was an experienced spy and had seen her move when she was sorted: the girl was malnourished and too small by far, with hollowed-out cheeks and absolutely no baby fat, unlike her classmates. What on earth was Petunia Dursley thinking?

The girl was sitting next to a black-haired boy with round glasses and bucked teeth and a red-haired boy, who was most definitely another Weasley. He had missed their names, but there would be time to learn those later. The boy looked a bit like James Potter, with the dark hair and the glasses, and with a bang of irritation and jealousy he wondered if the boy would become Hermione Potter's "James" in the future. Were the people around her the new Marauders? Probably. Another thorn on his backside.

He had promised to protect Lily's daughter with his life, if necessary: he had a debt to pay. Because of him Lily and James were dead and the child orphaned: but seeing how little she resembled her father made it easier, although he suspected she probably would have inherited Potter's manners and behaviour. She was surrounded by Weasleys, which did not bode well: George and Fred Weasley's pranks were never as hurtful and mean as the Marauders' pranks were, but would she encourage them? She was talking with the sycophantic Percy Weasley, apparently quite excited about something. Trust Percy Weasley to suck up to the Chosen One.

Then he saw that the girl was looking straight at him. Had she sensed his staring? For just a moment their eyes locked, and Snape narrowed his eyes. Suddenly the girl flinched and her hand shot to her forehead, as if in pain. The scar? She must have felt something in that cursed scar. But she had been looking right at him. It couldn't react to him, could it? Or was it reacting to something else? Some danger? The girl was in danger, he knew it, but was it this close?

He averted his eyes and made sure he wouldn't be caught staring, but kept an eye on her, and decided to do the same in the future. Severus hoped he'd be able to slip away right after Dumbledore's welcoming speech, just to avoid the annoying school song. It made his ears ache.

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Severus Snape, September 2nd 1991

 

Severus swept into his Potions classroom, his robes billowing dramatically behind him and began his routine introduction to Gryffindor and Slytherin First Year students. He loved the dramatic effects of his voice — and, of course, the threats — on the students. He'd memorized the whole speech years ago, so it was easy to speak while sizing up the classroom full of dunderheads he'd be forced to teach.

He had already gotten to know the basics about the Slytherin half of the class. His experience as Slytherin Head of house made it easier to identify potential troublemakers immediately: when the trouble started it was just so much easier to know who needed his stern, penetrating gaze and a prompt punishment. Draco Malfoy was most definitely one. He sat in the front row, close to Hermione Potter, although on the Slytherin side of the class. Next to Miss Potter sat Neville Longbottom, another Gryffindor, and behind them Ronald Weasley, who was turning out to be a ginger menace in the true and tried Weasley way, and the buck-toothed and messy-haired Harry Granger, who was a Muggle-born. The four Gryffindors and the Slytherin boy had become thick as thieves in the first week, and Snape had suspected the school would be cursed with a next set of Marauders, although with five members instead of the original four.

Snape snapped out of his thoughts as his gaze drew to the five. The students were listening in rapt attention. Miss Potter was staring right at him, her green eyes — strange, those light brown speckles in them were definitely not from Lily — in rapt attention. "Miss Potter, what would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?", he quizzed. To his amazement, her answer was immediate... and long! By Merlin, she was practically regurgitating her textbook back at him, word for word! He had to struggle to keep his jaw from falling, and he abruptly cut her answer short, rudely and without any encouragement.

The next question was aimed at the class in general, but the girl sat on the edge of her seat, hand held as high as she could, almost straining to give an answer. "Sit down, you insufferable little know-it-all", he snapped, and regretted it immediately when her green eyes glazed in tears. She did not cry or whimper and her cheeks remained dry, but she pressed down her head and her wild hair covered her face from both sides. Draco Malfoy answered the question correctly and earned five points to Slytherin, but it was obvious that the entire Gryffindor half of the class was furious: Granger and Weasley almost growled in outrage. The little chit was not, and it hurt more than he thought it should have. The students would have to get used to his style of teaching: obedience meant a lot in a subject as dangerous as his, and he hated Gryffindors.