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Big Things in Small Packages

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Summary: [HG/SS] AU/Crack: Severus Snape has to deliver the acceptance letter to the Granger home thanks to Minerva being sick with the cat flu. He has no idea how this one event will change his life forever.

A/N: I've been up for over 24 hours (at work) and I am not (yet) officially brain dead.

Update: Pretty sure I'm really brain dead. Not quite sure how I'm still breathing…

Beta Love: The Dragon and the Rose, Dutchgirl01, Flyby Commander Shepard, and the visiting flyby, dragged in, lured off her knitting podcast, Worrywart


Big Things in Small Packages

If you're a human being walking the earth, you're weird, you're strange, you're psychologically challenged.

Philip Seymour Hoffman


When Severus delivered the acceptance letter to the Granger's house due to an ill Minerva guilting him into doing her job for her, he could have skinned her alive.

Truly.

What a crock.

He hated children, and he hated people—

Why on Earth should he have to deliver the damned letter instead of—

Well, anyone else.

ANYone else.

Any—

A young girl was watching him through wide, soulful eyes. Amber brown, intelligent and filled with fire, they seemed to peer into his very soul.

Pfffff!

A young fey dragon zipped around him, her small wings flapping wildly like a hummingbird's, all coloured like a butterfly's wing—

She clung to his neat line of buttons with her tiny claws, purrrrrrrrrrring so loud that they seemed to vibrate. She looked up at him—

With such absolute trust.

Such— worship, even.

"Well, Hazel, I think our little girl has found her hero," Mr Granger said, chuckling.

Mrs Granger smiled warmly as she passed Snape a glass of iced tea. "I see you've met our Hermione."

Snape stood perfectly still, frozen in place as the young fey dragon warmed his neck and snuggled up against it.

"She's done that ever since she was a wee little bairn," Mr Granger said fondly. "She's never really trusted anyone else quite so quickly though—"

"No one outside of us, really," Hazel Granger said, sipping her tea. "Please, do sit down, Professor Snape."

"You—" Severus began, feeling somewhat awkward to say the least, "ah, accepted her unique gifts so easily?"

"Well, I wouldn't really say so easily at first," Mr Granger explained. "Hazel was quite baffled to find our daughter's crib had a baby dragon in it, but my great grandmother used to say that if you wished for strange things, even stranger things would come to visit you. At first we thought we were hallucinating, of course, until she turned back into our baby girl right before our eyes."

"Easton thought I'd accidentally baked a bit of weed into our Christmas biscuits," Hazel chuckled. "Which I didn't, thank you very much."

Mr Granger chortled. "Seeing you here really doesn't surprise us all that much, Professor Snape. We've learned there is far more to the world than we ever gave it credit for, so it was only a matter of time that someone like you would come to our door."

"How very—" Snape said, carefully elongating his words, "pragmatic of you."

"She's really taken quite a shine to you," Hazel observed as Hermione wriggled, having moved herself under Snape's hand to gain belly rubs, her miniature legs pumping with delight as he automatically did so, unable to resist the temptation of the colourful little belly.

"Normally, she finds books far more interesting than people," Mr Granger commented. "Top marks in all of her classes, always. Her remarkable intelligence has seen her often bullied, however—" Hermione's father sighed. "She was too trusting at first, and that has scarred her somewhat. Children are often much more cruel than adults to each other."

Hermione curled up in Snape's lap, draped over it like a feline whose entire job was to commandeer the most impressive real estate to sprawl on.

Severus found himself rubbing under her chin with his fingers, and then upon realising what he was doing, froze, completely and utterly baffled by his own actions.

"She'll fit in, in this Hogwarts, yes?" Hazel asked tentatively.

"Finally have a place where she can really shine?" Mr Granger asked, his discerning dark eyes intent.

Severus' brows furrowed. "Even amongst the magical, I fear her talent is quite poignant and— very special. It will require some additional nurturing for her to thrive, and protection as well."

He frowned in thought. "Miss Granger?"

The little dragonet perked at her name, her frilly crests rising like a fan unfurling.

"What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?"

The dragonet zipped around, and in a flash had arranged the balls of yarn from her mother's knitting basket into an intricately detailed tapestry of a tall, brooding Potions master dumping what looked like a brain into a cauldron as a sizable pile of odd-looking beans threatened to teeter off the counter and spill onto the tapestry. She clutched her clawed forelegs to her chest and then proceeded to dramatically "die" over the tapestry, her small form as still as a rock.

Snape's lips curved upward, then he was picking her up and rubbing her frills. "I'm not really sure how you knew that, Miss Granger, but you are, in fact, quite correct."

She performed a perfect loop-de-loop and zipped around his head in glee.

Mr and Mrs Granger looked at Snape with such mutual hope that he found himself quite discomfited—

Never had anyone had such blind faith in him before, Muggle or magical.

He was—

Well, look at me! he thought to himself.

PurrrrRRRrrrRRRrrrRRRRrrrRRRRrrrrRRRRR!

The little fey dragonet bonked against his hand, her whirling topaz eyes sparkling as she radiated such a terrible trust in him that he wanted to both curse her for her foolishness and cry for the sheer pain in caused him—

Could he let this pure, innocent young soul meet him solely as the infamous bastard teacher that everyone believed him to be?

That I am, he thought bitterly. Do you not deserve their scorn?

Death Eater—

Unforgivable.

The magical world would attempt to subjugate her—

Use her without remorse.

Tear her down.

Clip her wings—steal the greatness from her before she could even find it in herself...

Bully her just as surely as her erstwhile Muggle classmates did—

He was no stranger to that.

Worse—

If Dumbledore found out what she was, he would undoubtedly turn her into one of his blind sycophants who believed he was the undisputed champion of the greater good, the light, and all things brave and pure.

"Pure" my moon-white arse, he thought, mentally scoffing at the very idea.

Hermione sneezed, and a shimmering, colour-shifting black opal landed in his lap.

Hermione's eyes whirled. Oops. Sorry. She hung her head shamefully.

Kssshsshttt!

She sneezed again, this time a pear-shaped, violet-tinted, faceted—was that taaffeite?!—bonked against one of his buttons and fell into his lap.

"Oh! Sorry, Professor," Hazel said apologetically. "It's allergy season!"

Severus blinked, his wand already out as he cast his wand over the two gems in his lap.

Fey gemstones— gems created from the concentration of magic into the purest of minerals coveted by wizards around the world because of their unparalleled splendour and rarity—

Because they couldn't be stolen or they would curse you.

They had to be given freely.

Gods—

She was a real fey.

Hermione Granger was a changeling, and her parents probably had no idea at all. In fact, they probably enjoyed the blessings of the fey that had swapped her out with their own child in the hopes they would raise her to understand the human world.

Hermione saw him eyeing her sneezed out gems, and she hung her head, thinking herself rude.

"They're beautiful," he said to her.

Her eyes widened, her mouth opening in a draconic smile that beamed from ear-to-ear. She poofed in a cloud of magic and reappeared atop a carved wooden chest, bobbing her head excitedly.

She hopped off it and nosed the box over to him with a powerful move of her snout that belied her tiny form.

Mrs Granger chuckled. "It's her college fund— she's been saving for years."

Severus frowned. "Her what?"

"We had them appraised, and people seem to think they are synthetic— too perfect to be real— but she hoped if she saved enough of them, it could buy her supplies for school."

Severus tried very, very hard not to burst into laughter.

Muggles would think them lab-grown perfections—

He lifted the lid of the chest and almost fell over in shock as thousands upon thousands of gemstones spilt out, shimmering and perfect.

Hermione dove into the pile, getting gems everywhere as she searched for— something in particular.

Her head stuck out of the pile and she shook the excess gems off like a dog shaking off water— if water could ever be worth so much, ever.

She had a flawless red diamond in her mouth, with such hidden depths of colour trapped in the darkest of facets. She bonked his hand and placed it in his palm, looking up at him with a draconic smile.

He could feel the magic dripping off it—

She nosed it into his hand more forcibly, her intent clear.

"You can't want me to have this—" Snape protested even as his brain screamed at him to shut the hell up.

Hermione took it in her mouth and dropped it in his palm again, looking up at him like a canine who dropped a tennis ball in the hopes he'd pick it up. She sneezed again, showering his hand in a small rain of tanzanite and what he suspected were various rare earth metals—

Suddenly the formation of rare earth metals became clear to him, and he stifled a disbelieving laugh at the irony of it all.

She hung her head in shame, thinking ill of herself or her manners.

"It's beautiful. Thank you," he said, trying to still the beating of his heart at seeing her smile brighten her reptilian face and her whirling gemstone eyes. "If you truly wish me to take it, I would be glad to have it."

Hermione did a loop-de-loop, obviously happy with his choice.

He made a sudden decision, right there in the middle of the Grangers' living room, as a protective surge filled him.

Old magick came to his beck and call— the kind of thing saved for powerful shows of strength between the old families or the times when one's bond was sealed in the purest of magic.

"I would take you as my apprentice, Hermione Granger. I would teach you the subtle science and exact art of potion-making. I will teach you the ways of the wand, but you will not rely on it. I will show you the beauty of the softly simmering cauldron and its shimmering fumes, the delicate power of liquids that creep through human veins, bewitching the mind, ensnaring the senses," Snape said so softly it was but a bare whisper, a brush of velvet across the starry expanse of night. "I will teach you how to bottle fame, brew glory, and even stopper death— if you would but share your trust in me."

Snape's black eyes were endless pools of obsidian, but fire blazed within each facet. "I will teach you to stand on your own, protect you until you are able, and set you free as your own master to decide your true path in life. This bond will be forever, for there is no trust greater than the one between the master to the apprentice and the apprentice to the master, even when you are grown and powerful, sweeping the world under your will and influence. But you must make this choice on your own of your own free will and take the time you need to choose which path you wish to take."

"An apprenticeship with me— or a relatively normal, magical education at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry shared amongst the many teachers that live there. Some would argue that any education at Hogwarts is magical enough for anyone, and I will not be an easy master by the standards that most live by."

"But first— we should go to Gringotts," he said. "Regardless of what life you choose, Miss Granger, you should protect your assets for what they are."

Easton and Hazel Granger's eyes widened as the potions master stood and extended his hand, and Hermione Granger's small human hand latched onto his fingers as she gazed up at him with absolute trust.


"Those gems were really— worth something?" The Granger parents looked around the huge vault in awe— piles upon piles of golden galleons in exchange for their daughter's chests full of "sneezed up" gems.

The goblin at the door of the vault snorted in amusement, baring his teeth. "More than a little— something. Yes."

Hermione zoomed around the vault, checking out the piles of gold by sliding down them on her belly, utterly unimpressed by the value of it save for the fun of playing in them.

"We will, of course, invest it as Master Snape has requested in exchange for an occasional sneeze in our direction." The goblin looked quite amused as Hermione stuck her snout into a cup of something, snorted, and then sneezed out a perfect black opal the size of an egg.

It rolled over to the goblin's foot, and the amused goblin picked it up. "Thank you, my Lady."

Hermione cocked her head and seemed rather sheepish that her random sneezes turned out to be worth so much, but her new golden playground was definitely a big plus.

It even came with an enormous library!

What more could a young witch ask for?

"What do you mean you put half of her wealth into my vault and moved it down to the lower levels?" Snape demanded of the other goblin who was taking inventory of the items lining the far wall.

"She requested it, Master Snape," the goblin said, quilling away without even bothering to look at him. "That is your traditional due as her master as contracted by the Old Ways with her acceptance of your formal apprenticeship. She was very thorough in researching the traditions."

"She's eleven!"

"Imagine what a meticulous researcher she'll be when she's older," the goblin said, obviously amused by it all.

"You let her have access to the goblin library?"

The goblin smirked. "Does this displease you?"

Severus blinked. "I have not known the goblins to give access to their library in the history of— ever."

The goblin chuckled. "We do not give access to mere humans, Master Snape. She is not, as you well know. Not in any way that matters to us."

The goblin handed him a small box.

"What is—"

"Why not open it and find out?"

Snape, eternally suspicious, fidgeted a bit. He struggled to force himself to open it without scanning it with a wand first and thus insulting the entire Goblin Nation.

He opened the latch to expose a bed of dark green velvet cradling two formal circlets forged in goblin silver— delicate vines and laurels detailed with small, rare gems set in the distinctive headdress of a master.

It took every last bit of control he had not to drop the box on the floor in total shock.

"Miss Granger," Severus said softly. "Is this what you truly want?"

Hermione stood beside him, looking up at him with that very same look of wonder. "Yes."

"You are sure?"

"Yes."

"You've discussed this with your parents?"

Hermione nodded.

Snape knelt beside her. He very carefully lifted the master's circlet and placed it on his head.

"I, Severus Tobias Snape, Master of Potions, hereby swear to be the master and protector, friend and confidant, and guide along the path of life for my apprentice, Hermione Jean Granger. May this bond last long after she stands on her own. This I swear upon my magic, my bond and my honour. So mote it be."

The circlet magically wove around his head and latched, sinking into his skin with a soft hiss.

He lifted the apprentice circlet and held it out to her.

Hermione accepted it and placed it on her head without hesitation. "I, Hermione Jean Granger, do hereby swear to be your apprentice and student, to always trust in your guidance, take in your lessons, and have faith in your judgment. I submit to your protection and place my trust in your honour. May it last beyond the time when I can finally stand on my own. So mote it be."

The circlet hissed as it sank into her skin, fusing to her magic and her body.

The gems glowed as their auras wove together, binding together in both oath and mutual trust.

Flash!

Mr and Mrs Granger snapped a photo proudly of their beloved daughter and her new master.

Severus dearly hoped the image of his face shattered the lens even as the young fey dragon zipped and twirled around him with happiness.


"You what?" Dumbledore said. "You cannot be serious."

"Do I look like the face of comedy, Headmaster?" Snape said, black eyes narrowing. "I am well within my rights to take on an apprentice. It is written in the very words of the founding of this school."

"You should not have even been there!"

"You would prefer to have a Minerva with a galloping case of cat-flu rampaging around London, giving an entire Muggle subdivision cat ears and whiskers every time they sneeze?"

"Well, no, but— you've never once shown any desire to—"

"I never found the right one."

"The right— The Dark Lord is hardly going to have mercy on any apprentice you should take—"

"The Dark Lord will not be privy to the arrangement," Severus said, eyes narrowing.

"Any injuries you take will reflect on the apprentice!"

"I am aware."

"You would see her tortured?"

"I would not willingly place myself in such situations."

Severus was silent, and Albus stared at him and contemplated the younger wizard's unvoiced accusation.

"Renounce the bond, Severus," Albus ordered coldly, his blue eyes losing the famous twinkle.

The room suddenly seemed to become oppressive as a force bared down on Severus, and he grunted as he was forced to his knees. He clutched at his head, shrieking in agony as his body was torn in all directions by invisible bonds.

"You will remember your Vow!"

"You will remember yours!" Severus hissed fiercely.

Magic curled around Albus, and he tightened the yoke around Snape's body.

"The greater good must prevail, Severus! You understand this!"

"I serve the greater good by protecting her!" Snape snarled even as he cried out in agony.

Ba-dum.

Ba-dum.

Pulses like the beating on an ancient god's heart sounded as magic pooled in Snape's convulsing body.

Ba-dum.

He kept screaming, thrashing, fighting against the tendrils of the old Vow that demanded he renounce his bond with his new apprentice— the apprentice who had willingly bound herself to his very magic, his soul.

Blackness poured from his arm as the sickly green tendrils of the old Vow burst through his chest and exited his body as the pulsing heartbeat of the apprenticeship bond between himself and Hermione tightening around his magic and his soul, protecting him from all threats, all bonds that were not theirs—

Ancient magic

Both cold and hot

Combined together

Where you could not

A broken vow

You took from him.

A promise made

To suit your whim.

A Mark given

In pain and hate

Taken in reckless

Need to rate.

Ancient magick

Heals all scars.

Ancient magick

Claims what's Ours.

We bound two souls

Fated to rest

Together bound

Forever blessed.

You will not have them,

Dumbledore.

You will not have them,

Forevermore.

The blast of primordial, ancient magick blew outwards from Snape's body and slammed Albus into his bookshelf and into his spinning globe. The globe toppled as Albus slid down the bookshelf and a pile of books landed on top of him, even as the Dark cloud of nastiness was obliterated off the fair face of creation.

The entire room was lit up by an utterly blinding blue-white and then faded to a forbidding pitch black.


It had taken the threat of about a hundred stunners and the bribe of a full pound of Severus' highly-coveted custom tea blend to keep Minerva from storming up to the Headmaster's office and doing something—

Either very, very stupid or very, very impressive.

He wasn't really sure which one it would be, either.

He was pretty sure it would have been an immensely satisfying display of sheer magical wrath as yet unseen by Scotland, but he really didn't want Minerva to end up getting fired for attacking the Headmaster outright.

Hermione had clung to him like a burr when he came back, her small body still shivering from the agony of having felt his torture secondhand, and he soothed her with a gentle hand.

How very strange that it had become so easy—

To accept her frequent accosting of his personal space—

To accept her touch, her worry, her emotions—

Hogwarts herself seemed to think that Albus was far too full of himself, because as Minerva and he spoke on the way back to his chambers, he found it had been utterly transformed.

The dungeon had become a forest—

The like of which should have been in the most ancient of places.

Minerva let out a startled meow as she ran her hands across the bark of the tree roots— trees so utterly massive that only the roots could be touched. The trunks themselves rose impressively upward and upward they most definitely were.

The classroom was now nestled in a woodland grove, the shelves made of living wood and lined with soft moss; a shimmering layer of magic protecting each shelf from the sun and elements.

And the sun cast its dappled light into the room naturally, making for a well-lit but pleasantly cool, not too humid, ambient temperature.

The desks were all formed from the tree roots, set auditorium-style around his raised main teaching platform. All the seats were thickly lined with lush moss. The tables had been seemingly carved from the smoothest granite, polished to a mirror-like sheen.

Yet, everything was there.

Cauldrons, supplies, the ingredient closet, even the preserved creatures in jars that had been there since the days of the Founders.

And the lake—

Roots and a transparent wall spanned every way both upward and down, giving Slytherin an absolutely beautiful view of the famed Black Lake that loomed unseen by most, unknown to even more unless one was up on the surface.

It was like the world's most impressive aquarium— a window into an entirely different world.

Hermione was buzzing about with excitement and wonder, and Severus gave her a silent nod to go off and appease her insatiable curiosity.

She took him with, her hand wrapped tightly around his thumb and index finger, refusing to let him go far from her.

He tried to ignore Minerva's look of sheer delight as the young witch happily dragged him around with her, taking him with her rather than fleeing away from him as most if not all people would have done.

How strange it was, and how painfully touching.

How foreign to have such trust and a young witch who thrived off of such closeness.

That he could even give her such seemed even stranger as if Hogwarts itself was taking away all of the reasons he had come to hate his indentured servitude there.

Always before, Slytherin had been condemned to live in the miserable pit of Hogwarts— the dungeons. It hadn't been that the dungeons had been a truly horrible place to live, but it had never been a place anyone from above could believe was even remotely welcoming.

Slytherin's domain had always been a forbidding place of discomfort and dark mystery, never a place of wonder and natural beauty.

And much to his startled surprise, the changes had also transformed Slytherin's living quarters much the same, gifting the once-neglected house with a bit of an upgrade. Natural greens now grew to replace what once had been made and carved by human hands. The common room now had easy access to the lake, giving all who lived there a living portal all around them. The lake's natural lighting diffused downward, casting the rooms with a pleasing, ever-changing ambience.

And the irony of ironies, vast gardens spanned around them, growing everything from rare fruit trees, bushes, and rows upon rows of potions plants that the common eye would never have realised were there.

To the casual eye, they were just beautiful plants—

To him, they were a veritable treasure trove of valuable and renewable potions ingredients.

It was enough to make Snape forgive Hogwarts for having allowed his miserable time as a student to happen.

Something deep in the pit of his stomach told him that Hogwarts had been, until now, unable to assist him.

Something had obviously changed.

Something had unleashed Hogwarts again to be how she should have been from the very beginning— a living school of magic.

Now, people would come down to the "dungeons" and feel that perhaps it wasn't just a place for Dark witches and wizards, terrible secrets, and evil deeds.

He might have to beat Pomona Sprout off with a stick to keep the stout Hufflepuff witch from raiding their brand-new gardens, however.

Minerva was mrowling in ecstasy as she found the lush patch of magical catmint in the newly acquired hydroponic planters that lined the walls.

Bother, he'd never be rid of her now!

He admitted, at least to himself, that finding his private quarters after the upgrades was an interesting adventure in itself.

And what a quarters it was.

Gods above and below—

Hogwarts was so forgiven.

His quarters were lit by dappled sun that broke through the ancient trees, highlighting his entire collection of books that now lay upon newly "grown" shelves. The shelves themselves were lined with a sort of fibre clearly designed to protect the parchment and leather, unlike the mossy ones in the laboratory classrooms.

He had to boggle at how alive everything felt, no, was.

FIP!

Hermione was flitting around in her fey dragon form, inspecting everything. He had no doubt that she knew it was his place— no, theirs.

There, close by, was the entrance to her quarters, a place to call her own nestled within his domain, his safety— his protection.

Minerva jerked her head as she suddenly realised that Hermione was much more than she had appeared previously.

The little dragonet was zipping around, doing loop-de-loops and clinging to all the shelves as she took inventory of all the books first.

But she didn't touch them, no.

It was as though she knew that some of them were dangerous books or very delicate.

Content to look but not touch, she zoomed around in a cloud of magical particles, every so often sneezing and sending a random gem tumbling across the floor.

Severus picked them up and placed them in the small chest that had appeared on the mantle— perfect for collecting Hermione's sneezed treasure. The goblins, he knew, would be if they already weren't nigh ecstatic.

Their cut in being able to exchange the gems for galleons was no small thing, but considering their network of contacts, only the goblins could offer such reliable and fair service. Humans would ask too many questions and want to know where they came from.

Everyone knew you didn't ask a goblin where they got something— ever.

And Hermione's coffers were hardly empty, nor were his thanks to the crafty little witch.

Most of it, he knew he'd never use and thus tip off those like Lucius Malfoy to his suddenly improved financial status. He would, perhaps, renovate the home at Spinner's End and perhaps even sell it and get a place more fitting for himself and his apprentice. That he could have afforded to do long ago, but never did.

He'd never had a reason to put anything into the place that had been his most horrible childhood's home base.

But—

Now he had a reason to invest in a place where they could have their lessons and live together. It was expected as the master to care for the apprentice and provide the support they needed to learn and mature. Most masters took that very seriously because the ancient magic ensured that any harm that came to one came to the other— to harm one's apprentice was to harm one's own self.

It was a guarantee to make absolutely sure that no master ever abused their apprentice, and no apprentice would do something so horrible as plot to overthrow their master.

It was also why Wizarding law made meddling with masters and apprentices highly, highly forbidden.

Minerva was still gaping at the little fey dragon, barely able to keep up with tracking the little reptile as she zoomed about.

"Is she registered?" Minerva asked at once.

Severus snorted. Of course she was.

"Yes, Minerva," he replied.

Like he would not protect Hermione from all angles.

Hermione chirred with delight as she found her things, all as she left them in the "old room" and the newest chest of shiny things she was piling up in the corner.

Severus figured she simply couldn't help herself. Shiny things were like iron filings to a magnet for Hermione, and she would probably collect them much like she did her books, only she'd slide down the pile on her belly on the former rather than the latter.

He did notice that Hogwarts had very carefully excluded anything iron in the rooms— as if it knew that it would hurt Hermione.

Or potentially could.

He was pretty sure that it would—

The Fae and iron were well-known enemies.

Even the cauldrons had been replaced by goblin steel— the kind of thing that most schools could never even hope to afford despite how superior it was.

Again, the goblins were probably ecstatic at having such a high-profile school using their fine metallurgy.

It was probably a one sneeze worth of goblin steel in just the classroom alone—

Probably good she kept sneezing, all things considered. Children blew up cauldrons so easily. Goblin cauldrons would likely survive, to be truthful, but children never failed to impress upon him that if it could blow to pieces it would, and it would always be a child's inattentive hand that did it.

"Apprentice," he said softly, his voice barely a whisper.

Foop!

She was in front of him, staring up at him with wide, trusting eyes.

"Come, let us work on your lessons for a while."

Hermione beamed at him, clearly excited to learn.

Severus snorted, amused despite himself.

She was going to be such a little know-it-all when school actually started.


The Welcoming Feast was, as Snape expected, rife with a lot of blatant staring from the tables full of children who had known him— most of it focused on the small witch sitting beside him who took her place with such ease and dignity.

He wasn't really sure which amazed them more: him having an apprentice or that the apprentice didn't seem to think that having him for a master was unspeakable torture.

The incoming children seemed confused, as usual, as to exactly what would happen to them now, shuffling awkwardly to their new tables as they were Sorted as usual.

Potter was among them this term—

The spitting image of his swine of a father but with Lily's vivid green eyes.

Dumbledore looked at him with fond expectation, but all Severus could see was the all-too-familiar shadow of the remorseless bully who, with his pack of like-minded best mates, had made it his personal mission in life to torment Severus for all of his years as a Hogwarts student and beyond.

Yet—

As he searched for the rage and the bitterness that normally came from seeing the product of Lily and James Potter—

He felt the warmth of Hermione Granger leaning against him as she nervously scanned the crowds. Her small hand clasped his teaching robes with a habitual need for comfort.

Crowds bothered her.

Other children bothered her.

He could definitely relate. He knew well what it was like to see enemies everywhere.

What he wasn't used to having was a safe place to go to, and that was something she had now, through him.

The irony was thick enough to cut and serve up as a holiday pudding.

Dumbledore was treading very lightly around him of late— so much so that he wondered if the old man was going to ask him to do anything yet that year outside of the usual school responsibilities.

It was frankly rather creepy.

Hermione sneezed, sniffling due to her allergies or perhaps because of all the children wearing perfumes and other obnoxious fumes. Thankfully, her human form did not shower the table in gemstones, much to both her and his relief. The last thing he needed was people trying to capture her and make her sneeze out gems by dousing her with pepper or something.

Not that it would have done them a lick of good.

Gems not given freely and without coercion was like taking unicorn blood.

Very bad things would come to curse their lives for their greed.

Fey all the world around would come their way to personally rain shite down upon them.

Perhaps both magically and physically.

It was bad enough Lucius had already looked upon the gems in his master's circlet and wondered who he had murdered to get them.

That his little apprentice had literally sneezed them up would have completely floored poor Lucius.

Pity he couldn't tell him just to watch the man writhe.

And now Hagrid was being a right pain in his arse. He threw down a length of iron chain on the Head Table— no doubt for Fluffy— and asked the headmaster if he could order more like it. The broken link seemed to prove that the three-headed monster had not been overly impressed by the original.

The immensely heavy chain ended up causing the table to tip over, and the links went flying. One hit Hermione on the head, and she cried out in pain.

"IDIOT MAN!" Snape roared in fury, his entire body fuming as he swept his injured apprentice up in his arms and stormed off to the infirmary, trying not to trip and wince as his own head burned in sympathy.

People scrambled out of his way, and he was quite thankful that his reputation as a temperamental bastard was still undamaged enough to keep them tumbling away from his person and out of his way.

Hagrid, covered in an assortment of iron links and various foodstuffs from the Head Table, looked rather put-out.

"I guess I shouldn'a done tha'."

Albus, his hair and beard dripping with mashed potatoes and gravy and a few random chicken wings, merely waved his wand to clean things up.

"Hagrid, I would like to speak with you in my office after the Feast."

The half-giant somehow managed to look distinctly smaller.

"Yes, Headmaster."


Fluffy was—

Anything but Fluffy.

If anything he was a menace that really needed a good grooming, but who in their right mind or even left mind or lost mind would actually want to get close enough to do such a thing?

Fluffy took a swipe at him, nailing him the leg before he could get out of the way in time.

A blur of multi-coloured rainbow fury slammed into Fluffy's middle head, covering the bewildered canine in a cloud of prismatic shed scales.

Clawing.

Scraping.

Furious draconic ire— albeit in miniature.

Fluffy yelped, stumbling backwards until his rump hit the back wall. He whimpered, desperately trying to bite at the furious reptile, but ending up biting himself instead.

Obviously not the brightest tool in the shed— not unlike his so-called master.

Snape limped and leaned on the closer wall, wincing as his leg bled out.

Damnable three-headed menace.

A soothing warmth wrapped around his injured leg.

The little dragonet was crooning with worry, clinging to his leg like a living bandage.

Oddly he felt better.

lot better.

"Come now, let's get out of here. Let go of my abused leg."

Hermione clung on like an enraptured octopus, utterly refusing to leave his wounded leg.

He pulled her off gently, tutting, cradling her against his chest and then distracting her with his shiny buttons (that never failed to fascinate her.)

As she worried on one with her tiny teeth, he realised his leg wasn't bleeding or even injured. In fact, the nagging pain he'd had in his calf for the last year was gone as well.

The three-headed dog was crawling forward, belly on the ground and whining, his tail wagging in appeasement.

Hermione was glaring accusingly at the offending canine from Snape's chest, clearly unimpressed.

Whine.

Whine.

Tail wags.

Gah!

Slurps to the face.

Hermione stood, now drenched and human again, looking mighty flustered.

She placed her hand on the middle head and the dog whined and tail wagged apologetically.

Apparently taking a bite or three out of yourself makes for much improved manners. Who knew?

"Master?" Hermione said, wobbling unsteadily. "I feel funny."

Severus staggered too but caught her as she fell. They crumpled together as a heavy fog and dizziness took ahold of them both. Their brains fell into what felt like thick molten taffy. Their eyes closed without their express permission as the great cerberus tucked his chosen people between his legs and lay his head over them protectively as magic did the rest.

Golden light shone out from under their closed lids and was reflected in Fluffy's triple paired eyes.


"But that's me dog!" Hagrid protested as the Department of Regulation of Magical Creatures gave Hermione three collars, one for each head.

The cerberus tail-wagged, seemingly ecstatic to be outside, and waited for Hermione to latch the collar around his triple necks before rolling around on the grass like it was the best massage of his life.

"We'll have lessons every week, my dear," the official said. "Basic training, hand commands, signals, and the like, okay?"

"Okay!" Hermione said, patting the huge canine on the belly. "Can we name him?"

"NO! That's my Fluffy! You can't name him! He's MINE!" Hagrid bellowed.

"I want to call him Helios, after the Greek Titan of the sun and guardian of oaths. You like that?"

Ex-Fluffy barked in triplicate, tail wagging his approval.

The official was already writing it down.

Hermione eyed the very large bone that was far, far bigger than her. "Ummm…"

Severus took her hand. "Here, cast with me."

Hermione moved her wand with his movements and repeated the spell exactly as he directed. "Wingardium Leviosa!"

The bone floated over to the (very) happy cerberus.

"WOOF!"

"Mr Hagrid," the official said calmly. "These are very rare demon-dogs of the Underworld. Greece is the only place they are found and bred legally. Please tell me how you came about one?"

"A Greek chappie gave 'im to me at the ol' tavern," Hagrid said. "Was a gentleman's agreement. We shook on it an' everything!"

"These dogs are very dangerous creatures, Mr Hagrid. They will guard their things so viciously that they will kill anyone who gets close to them that they do not know. Tell me, is there something you require guarded so fiercely?"

"Well, me stuff, of course," Hagrid said rather awkwardly.

The official arched a brow as she looked at Hagrid's ramshackle hut. "Yes, I can see so much value here."

"The registration fees and the fees for the Greek language classes are a bit hefty, Master Snape, Apprentice Granger. Will you require a payment plan?"

Hermione shook her head. "If you ask the goblins, they will take care of it. Just mention our account."

The official looked to Snape, who nodded back with a bemused expression.

The official nodded. "I will do so, thank you, young lady."

Hermione smiled at her. "Thank you, Madam Gavalas."

"You are quite welcome, my dear. If you could both please place your seals on the registration parchment."

Snape and Hermione pooled some wax onto it and pressed their signet rings into the cooling wax.

"Helios is now legally registered to you both. Greek lessons will be Tuesday evenings, and we can send the tutor here so you can learn along with Helios, okay?"

Severus nodded. "Thank you, Madam, for coming on such short notice."

"It was a true pleasure," Madam Gavalas said. "Familiar bonds are an honour to see, especially ones that save the life of a fine beast like this. If we had found him unsocialised and unregistered with no bond to temper his natural ferocity, we would have had to put him down."

"You can't do this! This is me dog!" Hagrid wailed.

"Now, the Greek Ministry would like to have permission to breed him on occasion to help keep the lines from being inbred, if that is okay with you both," Madam Gavalas said. "This wouldn't be until after all the lessons are done and you have your full handling license."

Hermione looked to Severus with a baffled look.

"That would be fine, Madam," Severus answered for her, not missing the girl's relief.

Hermione wrapped her hand around the curls of his robe, pulling on it for comfort, but she smiled at the official genuinely.

The woman looked at her with a soft smile, not missing the shyness in the young witch or the tightness of the trust she had for Snape.

"Now, Mr Hagrid," Madam Gavalas said. "We will speak with the headmaster about the highly questionable legality of having a Grecian hellhound on school grounds without a licence or training as well as the matter of other interestingly bred beasts I have seen on my way in."

Hagrid paled as the intimidatingly small elder witch led the way back to the school with Hagrid bumbling along behind.


And so, Hogwarts so kindly connected Snape's quarters to the "new and improved" Grecian temple-styled room where Helios was settled down in.

The huge hound seemed much happier with the arrangement, especially not having to have a chain attached to his collar, adored Hermione's ministrations, belly rubs, and even Snape's application of his anti-flea and pest potion on the dog's body.

The temple, dedicated to Hades, Ruler of the Underworld, flickered with purple fire on magical sconces as the great statuary of Hades Himself stood in the middle.

The cerberus sprawled comfortably in the middle of the "room" which now resembled a piece of ancient Greece, and if anyone doubted his ability to guard the newly upgraded room, they didn't after the first attempt to test the great dog's attentiveness.

Dumbledore, somewhat perturbed that the school was taking liberties in changing itself without his permission, seemed to know better than to insult the young witch who tended the dog as he, in turn, guarded the Headmaster's secret that lay below.

Severus watched him so very, very carefully any time the old Headmaster came around.

Hagrid tried to visit "Fluffy" on a number of occasions, but he apparently forgot that his relationship with the hellhound wasn't exactly peaches and cream the first time around.

It most definitely wasn't on the second, as Helios was even more protective of the portal to his master's home as he was the door under the temple.

Perhaps, Snape considered, it was because of Hermione.

Hermione was a sensitive girl and so eager to please. In her true form, she was brassy and daring, commandeering of his lap, warmer of his shoulder, she even bossed Helios around in draconic chirrs.

But even then, she responded to Severus like the sea to the lunar pull, flitting and twirling around him like a hummingbird around its favourite flowers.

It was so very unlike any other relationship he had ever had in his life.

Such trust.

Such warmth.

Even Hermione's parents trusted him to take good care of their daughter, asking only that he and her come to visit from time to time and let them know how she was doing.

How could he not when they had such faith in him— genuine faith.

That, too, was a first in his life.

Perhaps the second.

Once, for a short time, Lily Evans had had faith in him, back when her fights with her sister drove her into the same park he, too had frequented.

That had all changed when she came to Hogwarts and gained "better" friends.

Non-Slytherin friends.

Bigoted, yes, but "better" in her mind.

But Hermione—

She trusted him to guide her life.

She did the research—

She knew the binding words—

She would be a powerful witch the like the world had not seen since the time when the Founders roamed the halls alive. That he was certain of.

And she would not be limited by the constraints of Gryffindor that had turned Lily into a crusader of a one-sided light, the myopic devotion to academics that Ravenclaws walked, the lemming-like blind loyalty of Hufflepuff, or even the more self-serving ways of Slytherin.

As his apprentice, she would be Slytherin, but she would be so much more as well.

She could be herself, safely cloaked in his rancor and his fearsome reputation.

"Master?"

"Hn?"

"Where are we going?"

"Down." He looked at her, taking her hand as he lifted the deceptively flimsy door down. Why Dumbledore insisted on such a thing was beyond him. Surely a hidden door would have been a better idea, even with Helios on guard.

Hermione grasped his hand, swallowing hard as she gathered her bravery.

"On three, we jump."

"Together?"

"Together."

Hermione pressed closer to him. "Okay."

"One. Two. Three."

They jumped into the gathering darkness—

Into the Abyss.

The slithering dark gathered even as it both cushioned and tightened around them.

"Apprentice, tell me what these are."

The vines slithered and constricted around them.

"Devil's snare," she whispered. "A really, really big one."

"And what do we know about it?"

The body's instinctive response to the vines was to tense up, and he allowed himself to stay so for the lesson. Yet she—

Her body was relaxed against him, using him as her life raft.

Her safe place.

"It loves the dark and damp. It fears the opposite."

"And what is that, Apprentice?"

"The sun. Bright light. The heat from a fire."

"And what if you have no light or fire. What if your spells fail you?"

She looked into his eyes and smiled. "Relax, Master." She snuggled into his buttons.

A smile tugged on his lips as his arms wrapped around her, and he relaxed, allowing the plant drop them down to what lay beyond.

The other tests they didn't trigger, for his job was to merely ensure they remained intact. Hermione stayed close, boggling at all the tasks and the strange rock her master carried to pass through each task unmolested.

When they got to the final chamber, however, Hermione saw that the platform was empty.

"What goes here, Master?" she asked, visibly curious

Snape cracked his neck. "Something that Dumbledore cares very much about."

"But it's not here."

"No, not yet."

Hermione scrunched up her face. "It must be very important. And very vague."

Snape snorted. "You will find, my apprentice, that most things involving the headmaster are both very important and very vague."

Hermione tightened her grasp on his fingers. "I much prefer you."

Snape froze in place and then looked down at her, seeing the fire in her amber brown eyes. He nodded to her silently, having no profound words to say. "Come, time to go home."

He touched the stone in his hand, and said, "Fizzing Whizbees."

They disappeared with a pop.


"He really likes music," Hermione said, playing a small recorder as Helios tail thumped and closed his eyes in obvious pleasure. "But he's still awake, see?" She placed a biscuit on his middle nose.

His tongue shot out, flipped it into his mouth and it disappeared with a swift THUP!

Helios tail wagged, growling softly and watching Hermione through half-lidded eyes as she rubbed his muzzle.

"Good dog," she said, praising him affectionately. "You keep a good watch over us, okay?"

Woof!

The cerberus tail thumped loudly against the temple floor in ardent agreement.


"There is a troll loose in the castle!" Quirrell yelled before promptly passing out cold onto the floor of the Great Hall.

"Come, we must go check on the door."

Hermione took his robes into her hand, taking her place at his side with habitual ease. They fled the Great Hall through the side door, away from the rushing students. They were the first to the stairways, and they slipped into the third floor's forbidden area before the flood of fleeing students even know they were there.

Helios tail thumped as they approached, and Hermione zipped around his heads in a blur of colours, checking the cerberus out from nose to tail tip. She returned to Snape's side, clasping onto his robes as he patted the dog down and checked his paws and legs for any signs of a scuffle.

The dog whined, begging for a belly rub, and Snape sighed heavily, obliging the huge animal as he dodged being tongued from three sides.

"He's okay, Master?" Hermione asked.

He nodded. "He is."

Hermione smiled up at him. "Is the door?"

"Here, I have a spell to teach you."

Hermione pulled out her wand, eager to learn.

Severus guided her wand in a pattern. "Remember this when checking traps on a door— tampering or if you even suspect someone may have touched it that shouldn't."

Hermione perked, repeating the incantation carefully and copying the wand movement precisely.

The door glowed a brilliant blue and then faded showing the imprint of hands upon it. There were more than just one.

"Now, to add a limiter— a time frame— we must concentrate on a particular time as we cast the spell or use a word such as dies for day or hora for hour. If you cannot remember the word, you must think it clearly in your mind. It must not waver. Now, what is is the Latin for say, three hours?"

"Tribus horis," Hermione said promptly.

"Good, now weave that into the spell."

Hermione frowned in concentration as she tried to shape the Latin into the form she wanted.

"Remember, the words are just a crutch to guide the mind for when the clarity fails you. If you can imagine it clearer, then you are not limited by words."

Hermione set her jaw, doing the wand movement. "Tactum deprehenditur trihorium."

The blast of her determined magic made the entire room light up, and they saw that the temple was smeared with foot and hand prints, but all of them were not the distinctive splay of her master's hands or her smaller ones.

Large hands encroached on many surfaces, scuffled footsteps, and the splay of a figure silhouetted against the wall where the person in question had pressed up against the walls and fled back towards the door.

Severus frowned darkly, and Hermione cringed. "Did I do it wrong, Master?"

His eyes flicked back to her. "No, Apprentice, you did not. My frown is not for you."

Hermione relaxed a little but seemed a little dubious since his frown continued. She followed his gaze to the series of glowing "imprints" of a man against the wall surrounded by huge canine footprints and pools of dried canine slobber— and blood.

The silhouette of the figure highlighted in magic had a turban on its head.

Severus patted Helios' middle head. "Good dog."

"Do you think he's okay?" Hermione asked, worried when she saw the blood.

"Wherever he is, my apprentice, he is bleeding out— and he deserves it."

Hermione's eyes widened.


He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named RETURNS!

DADA Instructor at Hogwarts Found Wearing Second Face!

A troll set loose at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry was discovered by Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, Quirinus Quirrell. The flighty teacher fainted upon delivery of the message, but the children were all evacuated safely for the staff to deal with the troll.

However, while the troll was subdued in short order, it soon became clear that Professor Quirrell was not recovering from his faint, and he was taken to the infirmary. There, it was discovered he was bleeding, which many believed to be from having fought the troll before coming to warn the students and staff.

Checking his head for concussive injuries, Madam Poppy Pomfrey, the school's Mediwitch, she discovered that Quirinus had two faces— the one he'd been known for all his life and a second face… belonging to none other than He Who Shall Not Be Named.

Aurors descended upon Hogwarts for the better of a week to not only subdue and take Professor Quirrell into custody but also go through all of his belongings.

According to his journals, Quirinus had gone on sabbatical in 1990 to allegedly gain more than theoretical experience, but instead went off in search of what might remain of He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named. While his initial interest was mostly theoretical, it became clear that his feelings of inadequacy and wanting to make the world see him in a better light drove Quirrell to find what others could not: the Dark Lord's essence.

Quirrell was, subsequently, possessed by He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named and was sent back to Hogwarts to carry out his orders—

One of the things he was tasked with appears to have been the murder of a number of the local unicorns in order to harvest and drink their blood, something that has been known to bring a person back to life from the brink of death but at a very great price.

Mr Quirrell will be kept in secure in stasis holding until if or when the possession can be reversed. If it cannot, he will be kept there indefinitely to prevent the habitation and repossession of another victim upon Quirrell's death.

"It's obvious that You-Know-Who didn't intend to have Quirrell survive the experience," Auror Rictus Mortimer observed. "If the diaries weren't proof enough, the very nature of Dark Possession requires the host to die in order to release the spirit again."


To: Editor of The Daily Prophet

From: Rita Skeeter

How dare you allow Abernathy to write such a droll and boring report of what happened at Hogwarts! Why wasn't I allowed to cover it! You know I'm a better writer than that bookish fop! I could have brought in millions of readers with that story!


From: Barnabas Cuffe, Editor

To:  Rita Skeeter, Reporter

Abernathy has been covering Auror news for the last fifteen years, something you have shown absolutely no interest in. They were called in, and he was allowed to cover it.

Reporting about Hogwarts while onsite has been forbidden without Auror escort as you well know.

You will not interfere with Abernathy's reports.


Alastor Moody glowered blackly at Snape, his arms crossed over his chest as he gave the Dark wizard the look that normally sent friend and foe alike diving for cover.

Snape, however, simply crossed his arms across his chest and somehow managed to billow impressively even while standing still.

Snape, he had heard, had recently taken on a young apprentice, and he didn't like it one bit. To think that an impressionable child could be shaped and moulded by Snape of all people— it made his mind reel back in outraged horror.

Death Eater.

Worst of the worst of people.

How could Dumbledore ever allow such a—

A—

"Master?" the girl asked. She looked up at Snape with a hopeful expression. Her hand was curled around the edge of his robes. "May I work on the bug zapping ward?"

Snape sniffed, looking down at her. "You may. But you must keep it centered around this room. Doing otherwise will drain your energy excessively."

"Okay!" The girl didn't seem to mind the dour man's scowl at all. She plopped down into a seat nearby and pulled out her wand, calling on her magic to form a ward.

Wards?

At her age? She couldn't be more than twelve at the most!

Impossible!

Snape knelt down and took her hand in his, gently guiding her motions until she could do them herself. He recited the Latin little by little, and she built upon it until she could say the phrase completely.

A warm rush of magic signalled the rising of the ward.

"Good. Now break it down and put it back up."

He released her hand and gestured for her to continue.

Snape watched her for a while and then looked up again, his lip curling in disdain as he stared back at Moody.

She had—touched him.

He had allowed her to touch him.

Alastor felt the bile rising in his throat.

"Is there something you need to get off your chest, Auror Moody?" Snape asked, his voice a rumble of distant thunder.

"You're a Dark wizard!"

Snape raised a brow at him. "I believe the Headmaster has said on multiple occasions that I am on your side, as it were."

Moody snarled. "That doesn't make you any less a Dark wizard that shouldn't be trusted." He slammed his palms down on the nearby desk, startling poor Fawkes, who startled Helios, whose loud triple-bark started Hermione, whose spell to create the wards flashed with chaotic magic and blew outward in a blast of distressed intent.

Hermione clutched her head as a terrible scream filled the faculty lounge, and a woman dressed in loud, gaudy clothing crashed into Fawkes' perch (and Fawkes) and a very startled Headmaster Dumbledore.

Moody whirled, wand at the ready, seemingly torn between pointing it at Snape and the intruder who had materialised out of nowhere.

However, as the woman's arms were distinctively insectlike, Moody started to gravitate towards pointing his wand at the intruder instead.

As she was paralysed and unable to do anything other than scream, Alastor pointed his wand to her throat and cast a muffling spell, cutting her screams down to a dull roar.

"Well, well, Ms Skeeter," Moody said gruffly. "It seems I understand now why you always seemed to be in the right place for knowing things that you shouldn't."

Skeeter's eyes flicked toward Moody, fear filling them where arrogance once stood in abundance.

As Albus pulled himself off the ground and dusted himself off, he eyed Skeeter's paralysed body with consternation. "I don't recall having invited you to my school, Ms Skeeter."

Hermione shuffled closer to Snape's robes, shivering. "Did do that, Master?"

Severus looked down at her with an arched eyebrow. "Not intentionally," he said with a furrowed brow. "I don't think anyone expected one of the insects plaguing our school to be a lurking reporter. I will admit, however, that the strength you put on your anti-insect ward may have been— just a touch overzealous."

Hermione looked at the paralysed Animagus. "I'm sorry."

"Don't be, lass," Moody said with a grunt. "We've been trying to catch Skeeter here and figure out how she managed to sneak around undetected for years. It seems a bit obvious now, her being an Animagus— and unregistered, too."

Moody gave Snape an appraising look. Maybe he really was on "their" side. Still, it discomfited him to see the amount of trust the little girl had in the greasy old git.

"Your hair isn't much better," Hermione said shortly, her hand grasping onto Snape's wrist as she glowered at the Auror.

"Apprentice," Snape said.

"I'm sorry, sir," she apologised. "Your thoughts are extremely loud. And rude."

Moody's eyes widened. A Legilimens? At her age?

"Think of a calm day and a cool mirror lake. Dip yourself in it," Snape said, his expression not changing in the slightest.

The girl looked up at him resolutely, closing her eyes obediently. After a few minutes her eyes opened and she smiled at him. "They're gone!"

Snape nodded to her. "Whenever you feel overwhelmed, do the same thing."

Hermione smiled up at him. "Yes, Master."

Snape turned his head to stare at Moody, his face betraying nothing.

Dumbledore had Skeeter bound securely in what appeared to be a purple star-spangled dressing gown, the arms tied tight around her back like a Muggle straightjacket.

It was rather impressive, even if it was a tad disturbing.

Skeeter looked more disturbing though— caught somewhere in-between woman and beetle.

At least, he thought it was a beetle. It was so hard to tell twisted around like it was.

Moody couldn't help but notice the look Dumbledore was giving the girl— the girl rather than Snape himself.

Why the girl?

She seemed a bit naive, perhaps, but—

Moody noticed that the moment Albus realised he was being watched, his usual grandfatherly twinkle was back and he stopped staring at the girl, but the seed of suspicion was already planted. He noticed how the girl hid behind Snape's robes, very carefully placing herself behind him just enough to block the headmaster's gaze. She kept her hand somewhere on Snape— his robes, his wrist, even wrapping her small hand around Snape's unguarded thumb.

And Snape— let her.

Things weren't adding up here.

Things obviously weren't quite as they appeared.

Or perhaps— they weren't as he had believed.

The girl was helping the phoenix out from under the fallen globe and perch. Fawkes' feathers were in disarray after his tumble, and the bird looked utterly disgruntled. Still—

Fawkes opened his mouth wide for an offering of fruit, and the girl bit off a piece of plum and fed it to him piece by piece. The phoenix warbled, allowing her to pet his feathers back into order.

The phoenix was huge, though, and the girl was quite small in comparison. Her arms barely went around the bird, and he was apparently a lot heavier than his size suggested.

"You're pretty heavy, friend," Hermione said, giving him a fond pat.

Fawkes didn't show any sign of wishing to leave her embrace. He placed his head over her shoulder, giving Moody the amusing impression of a small child attempting to carry a holiday turkey meant to feed an entire family of twenty strong.

A combustible holiday turkey at that.

"Apprentice, you may wish to put the combustible feather duster down before he refuses to leave your embrace," Snape said. "I'm sure the headmaster would not appreciate having his familiar stolen away from him."

Hermione frowned but then brightened again. "Okay, Fawkes. I'll put you over here, okay?" She slowly shuffled over to one of the chairs and put the bird down on it.

Fawkes seemed sad that she let him go, making a mournful-sounding warble that filled Moody's heart with a profound longing.

Hermione's eyes went wide. "Aww."

She hugged the bird again, and Fawkes gave a contented warble of pure satisfaction.

"I think your bird needs a bit more attention, Headmaster," Snape said, distracting Fawkes with a large bunch of grapes to extract his apprentice from the bird's desire for additional cuddles.

"Headmaster, I will be calling in the other Aurors," Moody said, trying to put his mind back on the task of Rita Skeeter over what his eyes were noticing about the young witch in Snape's care— an obviously caring young girl who left impressions on even Fawkes.

And Snape wasn't abusing her—

No, if the girl actually had any fear of people, it was not of Snape— it was clearly Dumbledore.

Dumbledore, of all people.

What was he missing?

"Severus, you should take your apprentice away from here before the Aurors arrive en masse," the headmaster said. "This office will be a bit crowded then."

"As you wish, Headmaster," Snape said, pulling his robes over his shoulders. He swept from the room, robes billowing, and the girl followed him dutifully— something a bit rare for a child her age, they often placed their own independence over duty. Coming to Hogwarts was a time of wonder, and often that wonder erased reason as the child was swept away by the magic of it all.

Moody frowned. He had a lot to think about, and the mystery of the young Hermione Granger would have to wait.


Ah-KKKZZTT!

A black opal tumbled across the floor and thumped into Snape's boot.

"Bless you," he said, grading his scrolls. He placed it in the chest on his desk with the other sneezed treasures.

The fey-dragonet zipped about, every so often she'd stop and concentrate and—

Pop!

There would be two candlesticks instead of one.

Or two quills.

Or a second teacup— one that giggled as he drank from it by accident.

She seemed to find great pleasure in replicating objects around the quarters— and beyond.

Like going out to feed Helios and finding two giant three-headed hounds of the Underworld waiting for him.

Sometimes, he'd walk into class sporting a rather dashing tricorn hat with feathers, and his students would try very, very hard not to stare, knowing that to say anything at all would bring down his wrath in the form of perfectly legitimate reasons.

Technicalities, perhaps, but rules were rules, and Snape was hardly someone who would let the little heathens get away with stupidity. Even his Slytherins knew better than to commit acts of idiocy in class and thus bring more negative light to an already much-maligned house. People would still assume, of course. That was the nature of being a member of Slytherin house— to be scorned before they even did anything worthy of scorn.

At least his snakes knew better than to dare question his having taken an apprentice— or be stupid enough to provoke him into defending her. But Hermione did nothing out of line, she did everything she was required to do as his apprentice. There was nothing they could ridicule but her supposed blood status, and that—

That was just a lie.

Fey were perhaps the most magical of beings that ever walked the Earth— to split hairs on her not being a pureblood was downright laughable.

Still, he could hardly tell them the truth.

She was his little (very large) secret.

Hermione perched on his shoulder, singing sweetly, her warmth seeping into his neck and shoulder like a balm.

He reached up and rubbed her gently under the chin to earn himself a thrumming purr of approval.

"Time for bed," he said softly, giving her another rub under the chin.

Her soft snores revealed she already had— on him.

He plucked her off his shoulder and carried her over to her favourite nesting bowl, tucking her in her bed constructed of a combination of living moss and pilfered down. He placed one hand over her wings and smiled.

"Dream well, Hermione."


Summer seemed to come faster than ever before. So many things had been done and dealt with, that it made Snape's head spin with the novelty of it all.

Spinner's End was entirely gutted and refurbished, and they rented it out to a needy family whose only crime was in attempting to make a living in Cokeworth.

Severus and Hermione found themselves an run-down holiday cottage near the sea that had been abandoned by its original owners for whatever reason—

Severus suspected they didn't much like the biting flies and mosquitos, but—

Well, Hermione loved them— to death.

And Helios acted like a giant dog-shaped fly trap, and Hermione zipped around as she snapped up the flies and other insects until her belly was full. The bats and flycatchers happily took care of the rest.

The summer was surprisingly tolerable at the seaside, and Snape found himself with something he'd never in his life had before: an actual tan.

Hermione finished all of her lessons before noon, and her homework was already done before afternoon tea. In the late afternoon they enjoyed the seaside together, and Hermione would turn herself into everything from a shore crab, an otter, a seagull, or whatever else struck her fancy. By night, she'd bring up a fine haul of fresh seafood befitting royalty (albeit with a few otter-sized bites where her teeth had latched onto said seafood to haul it up), and they would have so much to share between them that they'd often invite Minerva over for dinner to help eat it all.

Not that Minerva was complaining.

Not one bit.

Even Helios seemed all too happy to switch to a seafood diet, even if they did have to enlarge it to appease all three hungry heads.

Severus had to admit watching the canine try to go after a giant rock lobster that had managed to avoid the cooking kettle was more than a little amusing. It looked like one of the old monster movies where claymation dinosaurs attacked each other or the classic mythical movies where the dashing hero had to fight the hounds of Hades, giant scorpions, and whatever other monstrous creatures the gods would deign to throw at them.

Though, watching the great dog go after the (poor?) lobster made him think more of some Godzilla spinoff: Cerbzilla versus Megalob.

He wondered what the old man was doing to guard his Philosopher's Stone now that the school was empty— was it still down there? Waiting for some other ambitious minion to attempt to claim it?

In the meantime, Hermione was "nesting" in Minerva's hair.

Minerva was laughing joyfully, some old pains in her life healed by the playful antics of one cheeky little dragonet.

The otters were quickly coming to shore, attracted by the large pile of remaining food, and Hermione flitted about, distributing shellfish equally to the hungry otters' obvious delight.

Hermione returned to Minerva's head, nesting in her hair like a dragonet-shaped helmet, her tail swishing back and forth like a leopard's, complete with a curl on the tip. As Minerva scratched under the fae-dragonet's chin, Hermione wrapped her tail around her finger tightly like a pinky promise.

Snape shook his head as Hermione had Minerva wrapped around her tiny claws faster than old Albus ever could— and unlike the headmaster, Hermione had no desire to use anyone.

Trick, yes.

Befuddle? Certainly.

Hermione wasn't a user in any way.

Thuuup!

Hermione was cuddled around his neck, her tail wrapped around him like an iridescent choker.

Okay, perhaps she was when it came to one thing— finding a living perch.

Hermione let out a thrumming, content purr as she snuggled into him. She was asleep in a matter of seconds.


Hermione's second year brought the walking migraine headache of the man whose sparkling teeth and eyes, perfect smile, and utterly pompous, self-serving ways gave Snape a terrible case of indigestion.

Gilderoy Lockhart entered the school with a parade of swooning young witches wanting to throw themselves at his feet.

Even more disturbing, Hermione, too, seemed distracted by the man— if you could even call him a man. Snape wasn't really sure what he was.

Well, other than the fact that he was supremely annoying.

Snape blamed the shiny factor. Hermione couldn't really help herself when it came to shiny things. He had a bookshelf with countless shiny things stashed in every free space behind the books, so much so that when he removed Most Potente Potions, an entire cascade of shiny baubles came tumbling out.

Much to his consternation and her mortification at having her "secret" stash discovered.

She still had a bit of learning to do on what made a secret stashing spot secret and not predictable.

Then again, he figured, she didn't exactly hide anything outside of her safety zone: their shared cohabitation.

Hermione's parents wrote her back to tell her that Professor Lockhart looked like a man who'd never worked hard in his life, and that seemed to make Hermione's obsession with his shininess take a hard turn to the right. So, she was back to normal, brewing things far above the ability of her peers and stuffing shiny objects in places she figured no one would ever dare to look— like his ear, his preservation jars, and even his teaching desk.

Insufferable little dragonet!

Where was she even getting all of that stuff, anyway?

The drawer packed full of phoenix down was pretty self-explanatory, but she had a cascading horde of things from rings, hair pins, bottle caps, and even some of Albus' trinkets he distinctly remembered seeing on his shelves and protected behind enchanted glass. That didn't even include broken strands of pearls, bracelets, and other things that seemed perfectly shiny but broken in some way— easily repaired had whoever cast it aside taken a moment.

His apprentice just might be a kleptomaniac—

Or a magpie.

Or maybe a bowerbird—

Maybe all of the above?

Severus opened up his storage closet door to collect ingredients for some personal brewing only to find himself literally buried alive in shiny objects that came tumbling out in a huge tidal wave of loot.

The pattering of student shoes met his ears shortly after.

"Uncle Severus?" Draco's startled voice broke the silence. "What the hell happened here?!"

Snape sighed, a goblet, coin, jewelry cascade falling off his body as he tried to stand up. "Language, Draco," he said dryly, picking a flawless ruby out of his collar.

Draco reached out to pick up one of the objects when Snape's hand clamped firmly onto his wrist. The boy looked at him fearfully, knowing from past experience that Snape would rather bathe in a pool of molten lava than touch someone unnecessarily.

Snape's vision shifted as he saw the poisonous Dark aura emitting from some of the objects: a jeweled crown, a golden goblet, a ring set with a strange black stone and a locket that looked like it came directly from the portrait of Salazar Slytherin himself.

He waved his wand, summoning a roll of charmed leather from the storage shelf to securely wrap the items even as he banished the other more benign treasures back into the storage closet from whence they came.

Snape levitated the bundle of lethally-cursed objects with a puzzled frown as he let go of Draco's wrist. "I need your owl, Draco."

Draco gulped and nodded sharply. "Of course, Uncle," he replied, rushing off to get his owl.


"I don't believe you, Snape," Moody snarled as he stormed up to the storage closet in question. "You seriously expect me to believe that your storage closet just magically spat out a bunch of cursed objects and you weren't involved in them getting there?"

Hermione shrank back from the Auror, hiding herself in Snape's robes yet again. She trembled, realising her secret stashing place had been discovered and that she might have been stashing things in there that she shouldn't have too— judging by Moody's snarling facade.

"I wouldn't—" Snape started to say, watching the angry Auror go for the door.

Moody flung open the storage closet door.

And he tumbled arse over teakettle to be buried alive in a multitude of shiny things.

Klip.

Klip.

BONK.

A crystal fishbowl landed on top of Moody's head, and a crystal fish bit his nose.

Hermione tried to bury herself deep in Snape's robes with a little more gusto.

All of the items were shiny, gaudy, or otherwise far too colourful for Moody to ignore.

"Okay, I admit these ruddy things are definitely not your style," Moody said a bit reluctantly, spitting out a crystal ornament done in Easter-like pastels.

Draco's owl hooted in avian amusement from the relative safety of his master's shoulder, looking rather impressed by the teetering mountain of shiny objects.

Draco pinched his beak closed. "Shh, Gwydion."

The owl ruffled his feathers.

Alastor wrinkled his nose. "And you, boy. You said you saw him open the door and all this— stuff— came tumbling out?"

Draco nodded. "It did to him what it did to you, sir," he said. "Swept him right out into the hallway. I ran up to help. I tried to pick up some of the objects, but he stopped me in the nick of time."

Moody missed the scowl Snape gave Hermione, and she hung her head, clutching his robes tightly, feeling quite ashamed of herself but also needing comfort— and comfort had always come from him. Her inner conflict seemed to tear her in two directions, but she decided that clinging to him was still the better option.

The irony was thick enough to choke on.

"So he knew they were Dark objects!"

Draco gave the Auror an annoyed look. "He'd be pretty stupid not to recognise an obviously Dark object. I'm twelve. He's not. He's the one who told me to fetch my owl to message you. It would be doubly stupid of him to summon an Auror to show off his own stash of Dark objects."

Alastor frowned, unhappy with the child's logic that was, unfortunately, quite sound indeed.

He ran his wand over the objects in the bundle and frowned. "Your magical signature isn't on any of them."

"Ob-viously," Snape replied dryly.

"Then whose are they?!"

"Not. Mine."

Alastor looked like he was going to tear out his hair. "I'm going to take these to the Ministry so we can have the DoM look them over. All this other stuff too—" He glowered at the shiny mountain of things. "No telling what else is in there."

"By all means, do," Snape said, scowling, "but I want all of my potion ingredients back. I will know if any of them are missing."

Moody sighed gustily. "Fine. Savage. Proudfoot. Contain this sodding mess and get it to the DoM on the double."

The two Aurors sighed together. "Yes, boss."

Moody folded his arms across his chest and glowered fiercely at Snape.

Snape narrowed his eyes and glowered right back at him.

Draco eyed Hermione rather curiously, perhaps thinking that diving under the cover of Snape's black woolen robes was a sound tactic worth serious consideration.


Amelia Bones was perhaps the most intimidating of women without even having to stand up. Her magic was powerful but hidden behind a wall of iron control. Hermione could see it spark out of her aura every so often. Unlike her Master, her magic flared with her emotion in a very genuine manner. Her master hid his emotions to most everyone, appearing to her eyes like a mirror pool, reflecting what was around him rather than his own buried emotions.

Yet he was kind to her, supportive.

His concern for her health had coaxed the truth out of her that yes, she had been collecting things for quite some time and stashing them in his spare potions cupboard. He hadn't used it at all until the moment he'd decided to go in to fetch some random obscure ingredients—

And everything promptly came crashing down around his ears.

"Hello, Hermione," Amelia said. "Do you know why I am here?"

Hermione nodded silently. She was in big trouble. People in trouble always ended up with someone intimidating coming to call you out on it.

Amelia pulled out a parcel wrapped in leather, and she opened it. Inside was a shimmering ammolite. The Wizarding world thought them useless, but they were beautiful. They also had certain other purposes— but were useless to humans.

Hermione's eyes widened. "For me?"

Amelia nodded. "If this is acceptable to your master."

Hermione looked up at Severus with clear longing in her eyes. He nodded at her.

"You may."

Hermione took the gem in her hands, pressing her face to it. It glowed brilliantly. As she cradled it, it glowed even brighter, burst into a swirl of prismatic colours and merged with Hermione's body, casting her entire body with peacock-like sheen.

She beamed at Severus, smiling like she'd just taken a huge swig of Ogden's finest, wobbling a little.

"You may," Severus said, giving a small nod.

Amelia gasped as the young girl disappeared, and a small fae dragon appeared in her place. She purred, and rolled around, stirring up a prismatic cloud of magic, wings flapping, tail swishing. She zipped around Amelia's head like a hummingbird, inspecting her from all angles as she swirled and tumbled about in the air. Then she zipped back to Snape, curling herself around his neck and anchoring herself with her tail to his line of buttons, only her tiny head peeking out from under the fall of his black hair.

"Well, now that does explain the cupboard hoard of shiny things," Amelia said with a sheepish grin. "However did you gain her trust, Severus?"

Snape frowned, his eyebrows furrowing. "I don't really know. I ended up delivering her Hogwarts letter when Minerva was quite ill with the cat-flu. She— apparently found me acceptable."

Hermione's tail twisted around his buttons even more tightly, making it clear she wasn't going anywhere by choice.

Snape rubbed under her chin and gained a purr and pleasing warmth in return.

"She is extremely bright, eager to learn, and full of curiosity," Snape said. "She even knew the binding words for an apprenticeship without my telling her. She accepted it on the spot."

"Poor Alastor," Amelia said dryly. "This will utterly shatter his whole world. He will either have to accept that fae dragons can choose to align with Dark wizards, or he will have to admit that you are not anywhere near as evil as he believes you to be. Either will probably break his mind."

"At what point do you wish me to exit the scene when Auror Moody finally realises she truly fears Headmaster Dumbledore and what that implies about him?"

Amelia snort-coughed. "Oh?"

"He attempted to force me into breaking my apprenticeship bond with her when he learned of it," Severus said, a rare quirk of a smile on his face as Hermione flopped into his lap, belly up, inviting him to rub it as usual.

He obliged her, of course. It was only natural.

Amelia's eyes widened in amazement as she realised just how close master and apprentice already were— the trust was already so very close to unshakeable.

If anyone dares get between these two, gods above and below, she thought to herself, it will not end well.

Amelia looked at the little dragonet, her heart filled to bursting.

Hermione chirred, wriggling her legs in clear invitation.

Amelia extended a hand, looked at Snape, and then carefully rubbed her prismatic belly.

Hermione crooned happily, sniffed, and sneezed.

KERBONK!

A flawless egg-sized trapiche emerald thwacked into Amelia's forehead.

Hermione's eyes widened, and she buried her head in Snape's sleeve in shame.

Amelia rubbed her forehead as she picked up the emerald. "Is this—?"

Hermione's tail wrapped around the emerald and moved it closer to Amelia even as she burrowed more deeply in Snape's robes.

"That is for you, Amelia," Snape said, visibly amused. "Talk to Griphook at Gringotts, and he will assist you in converting it to a fair market price."

Amelia gaped. "You can't be serious— this would fund the DoM for well over a year with galleons to spare for side projects while paying off projects we have had waiting for years!"

CCCIIIIEEEK!

Hermione sneezed again, and an exquisite five carat red diamond hit the bookshelf and fell into the goblin silver tea service.

"You must be wearing perfume," Snape said, eyeing Amelia with weary tolerance. "Back to your human form, Apprentice," he said, coaxing her out of his sleeve. "Before your bury us in wealth."

Hermione sat in the nearby chair and took on her human form, looking a bit sheepish as she sneezed into a handkerchief. "Sorry, Master."

Snape picked up the red diamond from the tea service and placed it in front of Amelia. "Any other projects in need of funding?" he asked dryly.

Amelia looked wary touching the red diamond.

"You can have it," Hermione said. "Master says the DoM tends to get shafted the most in the Ministry. Maybe that will help—" She looked at Severus. "Grease the hands, as it were?" She wrinkled her nose. "Or was it gears? Wheels, maybe? Bother."

"I will be sure to speak with Griphook directly after I leave here," Amelia promised. "I wouldn't want to risk anyone else finding out about our sudden windfall. Much less the source of it."

"It is far easier to let the goblins take the blame for finding the wealth," Snape said with a sniff. "They actually enjoy being blamed for it."

Amelia chuckled. "I believe it. They take a percentage, yes? For the service? Even so, I'm sure it is far more fair than most would ever wish to admit."

"Goblins will show respect to those who give it," Snape said, rubbing his chin. "They loved her from day one," he added.

Amelia took Hermione's hands in hers. "You have done a very good thing here, Miss Granger. Thank you. And we'll keep your little hoarding addiction under wraps too. All I ask, my dear, is that you allow your master to examine all of your objects before you squirrel them away, okay?"

Hermione nodded. "Okay."

"Glorious," Severus said, wrinkling his nose.

"So, my dear," Amelia said. "How did you find all of those things?"

Hermione tilted her head. "They sing to me. The shinier or more magical, the prettier the song."

"But how do you get to them?"

Hermione frowned. "I just follow the song."

She scratched her head. "The other things— the Darkest things— sing in disharmony. I took them from where they were because they were making the other songs sound hideous when mixed together. They gave me a terrible headache. Master's cupboard silenced them, so I hid them all in there."

"Do you hear them now?"

Hermione nodded. "You should really put them back in Master's cupboard."

Amelia sighed. "I fear that is not a very safe solution. Perhaps your master could help us make a new cupboard somewhere else, okay?"

Hermione looked up at Snape. "I guess so, but does that mean we have to see the headmaster for permission again?" She unconsciously worried on Snape's robe sleeve, her hand balling into a fist.

Amelia smiled. "I will take care of it personally, okay?"

Hermione regained her smile. "Okay." She leaned into Snape's side with clear relief, which Amelia definitely did not miss.

"If you should find any other things that cause disharmony, Hermione, could you bring them to either Severus or myself immediately? But take care to not be seen."

Hermione seemed to ponder the request. "I could. Okay."

Amelia smiled. "Thank you." She sighed heavily. "I will deal with Alastor, Severus. I'm sorry he is being such a stubborn old sod over everything involving you."

Snape just shrugged. "He is a bulldog. To sink his teeth in and cling tightly to his preconceived notions is simply his nature."

Amelia chuckled. "Not all of his notions are wrong, but when they are, they are quite egregiously so."

Madam Bones rotated her shoulders and stretched. "I have something for the both of you. Should you ever need a quick entrance into the DoM." She pulled out a box from her robes and opened it. Two small gems sat on the velvet. "They are Portkeys to a fully stocked safe room hidden behind my bookshelf. You can stick them onto your master and apprentice circlets and no one will ever know the difference. No one will have access to that room but you, so you never need worry about running into someone there. There is an enchanted pane so you can see out and check if the coast is clear before exiting. I'll be alerted the moment you use it, so I can make my way there and clear the way for you."

Severus cast his wand over the gems, naturally suspicious.

"I swear to you that is all they are, Severus," Amelia said solemnly. "My word. My bond."

Severus met her eyes and then nodded. He picked up one gem and fastened it to Hermione's circlet then his own. "What is the passkey?"

Amelia's wicked smile spread from ear-to-ear. "Fudgesicle."

Snape snorted tea up his nose as Hermione frowned at him.

"Have something against Muggle frozen treats, Master?"

Snape shook his head, grinning despite himself. "No. Not at all."

Hermione made a soft chirring sound. "Okay."


Grand Opening of DoM Living Quarters and Arboretum

Celebrate with us the grand opening and unveiling of long-awaited private residential quarters for singles, partners, and families alike. Thanks to a very generous donation from a party that wishes to remain anonymous, all current agents of the DoM are invited to apply for onsite housing.

Including in our new housing area is a general store, homestyle bakery and grocery, daycare, and a family clinic.

A big thank you to those who donated their time and funds to help us bring our long-cherished dream to reality.

Those interested in the housing units are welcome to visit during our open house this weekend. All applications should be owled to Mattias Shaw, DoM housing officer.


Gargoyles and Gryphons, Oh My!

Please join us tomorrow in welcoming our new mated pair of gryphons that will be guarding the entrance to the Department of Mysteries as well as a new family of gargoyles who will be watching over our storage areas.


Memo

From: Amelia Bones, HBOY

To:  All, DoM

Haha. Very funny. Whoever put the lifesize doll of Dolores Umbridge in with the gryphon kits to rip to pieces was very clever. Madam Undersecretary Umbridge, however, was not amused. Please do not give her reason to oppose our gryphon family more than she already did.


To: Amelia Bones, Head Boss of Us

From:  Master Olivia Sykes-Mayhew

Amelia, those objects you brought us are Horcruxes. I believe they were created by You-Know-Who himself. They all have the same magical signature, but each one seems more unstable than the one before. They will need to be destroyed by Fiendfyre or a weapon imbued with basilisk venom.

I highly recommend locating them all quickly and destroying them at one time if there is any chance at all that YNW still exists in some form or another. If this is not the case, then you may have more time with which to find any others.

I have preserved the signatures for tracing, but I fear it will not work unless we are close to whatever objects may still be out there. We also have no way of knowing how many more there are.

We are placing the objects in a sphere of Fiendfyre. Any attempt to break into the holding facility will destroy the objects rather than risk allowing them to be taken.

We can only hope that YKW did not make more than seven total, as seven is one of the closest significant magical numbers— as to how many he might have succeeded in making, at this point I cannot say for certain.


Albus Dumbledore stared in total shock at the scene before him.

Fawkes was happily bathing in a very eerie-looking birdbath shaped like Moaning Myrtle holding up a stone basin complete with a remarkably ornate central fountain. The one-time ghost's mouth was open wide and frozen in mid-scream.

"So, you said you threw the "evil book" away here in the girl's lavatory, Miss Weasley?" Dumbledore asked, frowning slightly.

The red-headed witch nodded up and down, sniffling. "I didn't throw it, though. I tried to flush it away, but Moaning Myrtle zoomed up out of the toilet and started screaming at me."

"Was this—" Dumbledore rubbed his beard with his fingers. "Birdbath here when you first came in?"

"No, sir."

Dumbledore frowned again as he saw the ghost had a bright pink sapphire clasped between her ghostly teeth— but Myrtle was no longer a ghost. In fact, the longer he looked at what he thought was a ghost, he realised the grey colour was fading into an actual pinkish skin tone.

The gem, however, was fading into a ghostly form even while the former ghost was phasing back into rather spotty human flesh.

Dumbledore blinked as the gem faded away to nothing and Moaning Myrtle fell flat on her face, still petrified, but alive.

Fawkes seemed to sulk, having lost his brand-new birdbath.

Dumbledore quickly sent a Patronus to summon Poppy and the teaching staff even as he looked around for the "evil book" the youngest Weasley had sworn up and down was there.

By the time the other staff arrived on the scene, Gilderoy Lockhart had already tripped over the petrified Moaning Myrtle and slammed his head against the sinks, hands flailing about and grasping frantically at the faucets for purchase.

A cage with a snake inside it went flying from Lockhart's hands, having been carried from whatever class he had been teaching before answering the summons. It hissed as it bounced across the floor.

Creeeeeeeeeeeak…

The floor suddenly shifted, and the fountain moved as a great stone staircase opened up—

Leading down, down, down into the darkness.

Lockhart gave a startled yelp as he tumbled headfirst down the stairs into the all encompassing dark.

Dumbledore placed himself in front of a wide-eyed Ginny Weasley. "Filius, please escort Miss Weasley to the infirmary, I believe she could do with a bit of calming draught."

"Of course, Headmaster," Flitwick squeaked, quickly ushering Ginevra out of the lavatory.

"Poppy, Minerva— please take Myrtle to the infirmary as well," Albus directed. "As unlikely as it might seem, apparently an unknown curse of some sort rendered her solid just in time to be petrified."

Minerva and the mediwitch exchanged baffled glances. "Yes, Headmaster," they said, levitating the still form of Myrtle between them as they left.

"Severus, I want you to stay up here and make sure this entrance does not close," Albus said, summoning a light to follow him. He sent out a Patronus to to a destination known only to him.

"Yes, Headmaster," Snape said, scowling as the old man went tromping down the stairs like the Gryffindors he favoured.

As Albus disappeared, Hermione peeked out from Snape's side.

Hissss.

A shrunken basilisk hissed from around her neck, a witch's hair ribbon bound around its eyes to keep its gaze under wraps.

"Shhh," Hermione said, cuddling the serpent's head against her neck. "Master says quiet time."

The basilisk tucked itself securely around her neck and hid in her mane of curls, transforming into a beautifully ornate silver choker with the Slytherin crest on it.

Hermione tugged on Snape's sleeve, looking rather distressed.

"Yes?" he replied.

"Can basilisks turn into chokers?"

Snape sighed. "That one clearly can."

Hermione's eyebrows knit together. She fidgeted, another question boiling inside even as she knew Snape was busy with his task.

"Ask your question," he said softly, startling her.

"Do you want that awful, obnoxiously off-key leather book now or later?"

Snape blinked.

"Now?" he said, his tone half-questioning.

Hermione pulled out a soggy leather journal, wrinkling her nose in distaste. "It sings like a drunken troll, and it isn't shiny at all."

Snape pointed his wand at it, wrapping it up in a protective layer of charmed leather as his shoulders quaked and a deep baritone laugh echoed in the lavatory.

His apprentice had turned Moaning Myrtle back into a flesh and blood witch (albeit by sneezing out a gemstone and Myrtle taking it without permission), tamed a cranky (and lonely) basilisk when it had come out to attack after hearing Myrtle's moaning, and found the next Horcrux… and all before dinner time.

His hand pressed into her wild curls. "I think you've earned the dessert of your choice tonight, Apprentice."

Hermione brightened and pressed close to his side, feeling far more inclined to wait quietly when dessert was on the line. Her small hand curled around his wrist like the warm curl of her tail, and she sighed contentedly.

Whenever her master was near, she felt like she could do anything, even wait patiently without asking questions.

She smiled up at him, and while he did not say anything, she saw the slight quirk of his lips that signalled he was proud of her.

She basked in that revelation as she idly wondered what the next year at Hogwarts would bring when her second year had already held so much drama.

She smiled to herself. Her master would be there with her. Whatever came their way, they would face it together.


End of Chapter One


A/N: This was posted after a bit of a delay due to working on my SSHG Giftfest entry. This was also supposed to be a one-shot, and well, we all know how I utterly fail at that—

Please thank The Dragon and the Rose for getting out the whip and keeping me on task because after having a rodent decide to eat the electrical harness of my vehicle while all the bills come due at the same time, I've been one hot mess of distraction!