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Hermione Granger and the Cat from Beyond the End

Chapter Text

There were few things in the world worse than losing a beloved pet. The timing could not have been worse, either.

Crookshanks passed away just as Hermione’s final year at Hogwarts was ramping up to be a hell of a show. That grief, on top of everything else, nearly toppled her. Her beloved Crooks, who had been a fixture in her life despite the chaos of the Second Wizarding War, wouldn’t be there at her side to see the end through.

Maybe that was why, after the fighting was over, as everyone else gathered their loved ones to the castle to mourn, Hermione found herself walking the field.

Death was everywhere: the bodies and destruction everywhere she turned her gaze, polluting even the sky with a sickly red light; the sticky sweet smell of rot that suffused her lungs; a bloody metallic pang that swamped her tongue and mixed with the nausea in her gut; distant moans and hacking coughs of the dying. She could practically feel the decay hanging in the humidity of the wind.

Hermione kept her wand close, but as she moved between the bodies, she realized she needn’t have worried. Those on the ground were hopeless. The further in she went, the more the sensation of death cloistered around her like static electricity.

She couldn't save them, but she couldn’t leave them, either. She started with a man who looked like he might be related to the Lestranges, but Hermione found that she cared little at this point. He reached for her, and she took his hand, which he squeezed feebly. She could see the faded Dark Mark on his forearm. One of his eyes was nothing more than a bloody pulp, destroyed by a cutting curse. The one that was remaining stared at her, pleading. She could see fear there, an echo of her own eyes whenever she’d looked in the mirror for the past however many years.

“It’s alright,” she said, and he squeezed her hand again. “I’ll stay with you.”

And she did. She stayed until he spluttered, and blood oozed out of his mouth. Then he shuddered, rasped, and his eye unfocused. At some point, a point that she couldn’t remember, she began to sing. Little things, just nursery songs and whatever else came into her head, but something soft and loving. She wasn’t sure what possessed her to do it. She wasn’t even sure it helped. But she needed something besides just the endless rasps and whistling of the bloody wind.

It was when she arrived at the Shack that she realized that she’d been blazing a trail to it. She looked out behind her, at the dead that she had tended to, her hands sticky with their drying blood.

Snape, she realized. Snape deserved… well, a lot more than he’d gotten.

She pushed open the door. Maybe a day ago, or even a few hours ago, she would’ve flinched at the atmosphere within. But she couldn’t now. Instead she just walked forward, and kneeled beside his head like she had all the others.

He was pale and unmoving. At a different time she could’ve joked about how he looked dead long before death decided to make his acquaintance. It was when she reached for his head that she hesitated. She could’ve sworn she felt his breath ghosting over her hand.

Was she hallucinating?

She certainly could be. Bloodloss. Trauma. Sleep depravation. Starvation. Hermione could easily list six dozen reasons she was hallucinating. But something else, something deeper, pushed her to check more closely. She leaned in, tightened her hair into a semblance of a bun, and checked his pulse with one hand. The other hand used her wand to cast a diagnostic charm.

Weak pulse. Shallow breathing (if at all). But what struck her was how little he’d bled. Nagini’s wound was right over major blood vessels, and she’d sworn there was blood at the time of the attack, but…

Light flared from her wand as the results of the charm appeared in the air.

“He’s alive,” she realized aloud. Her heart tripped over something and stumbled in her chest. Of course, Snape was bloody brilliant. Maybe he’d used a potion or draught or something, she didn’t know, she had to act and not think--

Lifting her wand, she pointed it back towards the castle, focused, briefly, hurriedly, on the rushing joy of realizing Harry was alive. “Expecto Patronus.”

The wand sputtered with light. Another try, and nothing.

“Fuck!” It was always the bloody patronus. Hermione could feel adrenaline pushing through her veins like fire. She’d thought her body had already produced all of the panic it could. Of course she’d failed when it was most needed.

No, she thought, not yet. Not while there was a chance of something living out of this bloody nightmare. She lifted the wand, again, and took a deep breath, ignoring how it trembled, or how loud her breathing and heartbeat seemed, or the sudden tears.

Focus, Hermione. Focus like it’s the month before O.W.L.s.

She thought about all the people out there, all the people who weren’t on the field behind her, and about how they could live. She thought about the doors they’d opened. A world where maybe, someday, there’d be a little muggleborn girl that could go to Hogwarts and not know fear like she had. She thought about how Harry could have kids and it wouldn’t have to be anything out of the ordinary that they lived.

She thought about how, maybe, someone like Snape could have a future that wasn’t overshadowed by fascism and mistakes made when they were a dumb teenager, and that maybe, if he lived, he could finally be free.

The otter sprang forth in a torrent of blue-silver. She ignored how much she felt like keeling over in relief, instead staring at the otter’s sparkling eyes. “Find McGonagall or Pomfrey. Snape’s alive. Hurry!”

Her patronus shot off towards the castle, so Hermione turned her wand to Snape’s wound and began to sing as she worked. “Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St. Clement’s…”

Chapter Text

Hermione hadn’t got it in her to pick out another familiar. Ginny had suggested it, gently, with the offer that something fluffy and equally disgruntled might make her have an easier time. Not that she could ever replace Crooks, but Ginny had made a good point about hugging fluffy warm things.

Instead, Hermione had focused on what she’d thought of in the Shack that day. The possibilities. The possibility of a future of peace. It would never be perfect, but maybe, it could be better and safer.

Ron didn’t get it, but Harry did. She was a little surprised at first about his maturity, but apparently dying at least once had really made him mature quick.

By the time they were on the train back to Hogwarts for their eighth year, Harry and her had testified multiple times in front of the Ministry court about multiple surviving Death Eaters. It was all the newspapers could talk about when Snape was exonerated.

He hadn’t been seen since the day he was released.

It worried at her, but she didn’t know what else she could do, so she and Harry tried to continue encouraging the rebuilding efforts. They’d started working with Luna, of all people. Apparently the Lovegoods’ history in newspapers had given Luna a knack for public relations. Together, the three of them turned the Boy Who Lived (Twice) into a figure that the post-war world needed. Harry got accustomed to suits and talking about unity, Hermione deigned to wear blouses and pencil skirts and occasionally attempted to wrangle her lion’s mane of hair.

Thankfully today they were just on the train, so Hermione was back in her uniform, which was way more comfortable, if only because she was used to it. Ron was out using the lav and Ginny was off visiting with some of the other girls when Harry gave her that look, the one that showed how tired he really was.

“I’ll be glad to get away from the reporters for a while,” he said. Hermione suddenly noticed the bags beneath his eyes. She wasn’t sure if his demeanor had changed, or if he’d actually managed to glamour something.

“Me too.” She nodded. “You deserve it.”

“We all do.” He rubbed at his face, staring out at the countryside rushing by. “Fucking bloody mess, we were supposed to get a break after the war.” He was silent for a moment, then laughed. “I’m almost looking forward to being back at school. Is this what it’s like to be you?”

Hermione managed a grin. “I’ll make a bookworm out of you yet, Potter.”

“Please don’t,” he said, still laughing. “I’m having enough difficulty just being Harry Potter right now.”

“The Boy Who Continues To Survive Despite All Odds?” she shot back with a giggle.

Before he could retort, the door opened again and in tumbled two gingers. Ginny plopped down beside Harry and kicked her legs up into his lap, while Ron sat beside Hermione and looked expectantly at her, as if waiting for her to be the same.

“I’ll pass,” she told him. “I’m not nearly as flexible as Gin.”

Ginny laughed, shaking her head. “You’re so silly, Hermione. Anyway, I just saw Hannah and Luna and Parvati and I think it’s good to have everyone back in one place! Even if we do have to go to school.”

“At least you don’t have to repeat your last year, Gin,” Ron said, rolling his eyes and staring out the window. “Wish they’d just let us go on to Auror training.”

“Weren’t you thinking about applying for the Chudley Cannons?” Harry asked. “Another year’ll give you time for try-outs.”

“I’m not sure yet. If the Cannons’ll take me, that’s where I’m going.” Ron shrugged, and the talk turned to quidditch.

Hermione was not big on sports, muggle or no, and so she decided instead to pull out her planner and open to the page designated for year-long goals. The list was very small, but she liked to review it, to keep herself focused on some sort of structure after the war.

Decide and apply for potions apprenticeship or mediwitch, or both (?).
NEWTs.
Memory potion.
Survive.

She traced her finger under the words ‘memory potion.’ That was her first goal. She wasn’t even sure it’d be possible. She’d had precious little time to read over the summer, and when she did, the texts had been contradictory or downright unclear.

Unbidden, Snape’s voice came to her. Ahh, Miss Granger, have you finally found something that you cannot learn from a book?

Unconsciously, Hermione pressed her lips together, staring through her planner. Snape was maybe the one person that’d know if such a potion was possible, but she was absolutely certain he wasn’t going to be much pleased with her or Harry after the way they’d so openly defended him in trial. If he wanted to talk to her at all, she’d have to tread carefully so he didn’t realize she’d been involved in his recovery. McGonagall had insisted that Hermione not let him know that she was the one who saved his life. Everyone involved had been sworn to secrecy.

Hermione hadn’t understood it at first, but after that first day at St. Mungo’s, she got a better idea. She and McGonagall had sat fidgeting in the lobby while the healers worked away in secret. Hermione had passed out on McGonagall’s shoulder, only woken up seven hours later. The healers had said Snape had potions on him that would save his life, but there were no traces that he’d taken them. He’d wanted to die.

Instead, some little chit had made him survive, checked in every day while he was unconscious, exposed his most private secrets to the world, and kicked him into the status of ‘war hero.’

Merlin’s balls, if he figured it out, Hermione was so dead. Thank goodness she didn’t even know where he was. She was certain he wouldn’t return to Hogwarts, not after all the hell he’d been through in the damn castle, and the tabloids spent much time speculating about where he could be. It’d present an issue if she needed to ask more of her insufferable unending questions, but hopefully distance would keep her safe from getting hexed six ways to Sunday.

When they reached the castle, the four of them stayed in a tight group as they were jostled by other students. There were plenty of “oooh”ing and “aaah”ing over the castle’s renovations, then much to-do as the older students headed to their towers to unpack their things.

As Head Girl (because of course she was), she had her own room with an on-suite bathroom. She pulled her luggage out of her beaded bag, and set about methodically unpacking her things. When everything was complete, she paused to view her handiwork.

Something wasn’t quite right. She couldn’t remember what, but the room felt incomplete. She opened the bag again, rummaging around. There was nothing missing, her luggage had all been empty when she’d packed them away. She looked around the room, trying to figure out where she’d gone wrong…

Oh.

What she was missing was a grouchy old orange cat, curled up at the foot of her bed.

Hermione twirled her wand, setting an alarm for fifteen minutes, and sat down to have a cry. When her wand dinged with the end of the timer, she charmed away most of the evidence, twisted her hair into a ponytail, and headed downstairs to dinner.

She paused by the door to the Great Hall, in an attempt to steel herself for whatever public scrutiny would make of her, then entered.

The room’s volume hushed noticeably as she came in, and she could practically feel the eyes staring at her. The fight or flight response that had kept her alive while they were on the run was now screaming about how she absolutely hated being the center of attention, and how she should definitely run away, but she swallowed and took her seat beside Ginny at the Gryffindor table.

Talk resumed, and Ginny gave her leg a sympathetic squeeze. They traded smiles.

“I don’t know how you do it, Ginny,” Hermione sighed, rubbing at her temples.

Ginny shrugged. “Practice, and the fact that my boyfriend’s pretty cute so it all evens out.”

Hermione snorted, and their talk turned to Harry’s plans. He was probably going to join the Aurors, but was eager to work with Headmistress McGonagall to develop a better DADA curriculum so that their teachers would stop being so fucking useless all the time.

Apparently having kids fighting a war made some people sober up about their own regulations and safety procedures. (Sadly, those people did not include the Ministry.)

Ginny was just talking about how she was thinking of either following her brother into quidditch or looking into opening a clothing boutique when Harry practically jumped into the spot across from Hermione, startling both of them. His eyes were dark and worried.

“Harry! You scared me!” Ginny yelped.

“What’s wrong?” Hermione asked, leaning in.

He grabbed at her hand. “I’ve heard rumors,” he said, voice shaking. “Snape’s back, he’s Potions Master, McGonagall invited him back.”

Hermione froze. Well, there went all of her carefully concocted plans about distance. Instead, she would have to tread more carefully than usual in the Potions classroom.

“That’s awful,” Ginny said. “He was awful to us, I wish she’d let him retire.”

Harry and Hermione exchanged looks. He was the only other one who knew that it was her who saved Snape, not McGonagall.

“People are going to boo him,” she realized aloud. Harry nodded. “How should we-?”

He ran a hand through his hair, tearing at the dark strands. “I have no idea. I have… no idea.” He looked around, towards the Ravenclaw table. “Merlin’s balls, Luna isn’t here.”

Hermione took a deep breath, and licked her lips. “Let’s clap. Nothing special if there’s a normal response.”

Harry paused, then nodded emphatically. “Okay.”

Ginny looked between them. “I… wasn’t he awful to you, Harry? Hermione?”

“Yeah,” Harry said. “But he also saved our lives. A lot… a lot of times.”

“If people see The Boy Who Lived Twice applauding, they might think to treat him with dignity.” Hermione sighed.

“He’s gonna hate it, you know that, right?” Ginny said, her ginger brows pulled together. “I can’t imagine he likes other people helping him.”

Hermione nodded. “But the alternative is--”

Ron slid into the table beside Harry. “Guys! I just got the schedule for the quidditch tryouts--”

Hermione took a deep breath as Harry and Ginny’s attention evaporated. Bloody quidditch. She looked up to McGonagall, who already sat at the head table. The Headmistress offered her a warm smile and a nod. Hermione barely managed a smile back.

Once everyone was seated, McGonagall stood up to make the customary welcoming speech. Hermione couldn’t pay attention. She was too busy fixated on the staff behind the table. Flitwick, Sprout, Trelawny, Vector… there he was.

He must’ve snuck in through the staff lounge. He looked… well, it was tough to tell at this distance, but she could tell that he looked pissed. That was expected and quite frankly if he looked anything but pissed, Hermione would’ve questioned whether or not this was real.

Finally they were to the faculty introductions. Hermione glanced to Harry.

“Everyone gets the same amount of applause,” she whispered, and he nodded.

“Got it, boss.” He threw her a wink. It didn’t do much to soothe her nerves, but the thought was nice.

McGonagall was going down the line of faculty, and Hermione watched out of the corners of her eyes as Harry carefully moderated his applause with her. Stupid, that they had to worry so much about such little things. But the world had decided they weren’t kids anymore, and now they had to think about stupid litlte things like how everyone would take their reactions.

To her slight surprise and pleasure, Hermione noted that Ginny, too, was watching them and applauding just as they were. Her heart warmed a little. Maybe Ginny got it.

McGonagall finished with Vector’s introduction and it was the moment of truth. Hermione wanted to pretend that her stomach wasn’t the most nauseous it’d been since that day on the battlefield. Even in court, it hadn’t been so bad. Maybe because court, despite its flaws, wasn’t made up of a bunch of hormonal, dumbass teenagers.

“Next, I am honored to welcome back into the position of Potions Master, Professor Severus Snape. We are incredibly lucky that he has decided to rejoin us.” McGonagall beamed at the crowd in a way that said ‘fuck this up and I’ll skin you.’

Hermione swore she could’ve heard a charm drop, it was so silent.

With a deep breath, she raised her hands, and began to clap. Not loudly, not obnoxiously, just a light smatter of applause. Harry and Ginny joined her. After a few moments, she realized that two other people had also joined in: Luna and Neville. Everyone else was perilously silent.

She glanced at Harry, and he quirked a brow. She nodded, and with her signal, he stopped applauding. The remaining four followers followed suit, and McGonagall continued to smile in a way that felt like a challenge to a duel.

Then she went on to Trelawny, and Hermione was so relieved she barely remembered to pretend to clap for the abominably useless divination teacher. Turning back to Harry, she took a deep breath.

He also let out a long sigh. “Who knew that we’d have to plan applause?” Harry shook his head. “Scheme about it, even.”

“What the fuck, guys?” Ron asked. “Applauding for the greasy git--”

“Shut up, Ron, McGonagall’s still talking,” Ginny hissed. Her brother fell silent, but he continued to glower as McGonagall announced Longbottom was Head Boy.

Hermione returned to pretending to listen to McGonagall, but her eyes soon slid over to check Snape’s reaction. As expected, he was not pleased. Behind the curtain of dark hair, she could feel that cold glare, pinning her down just as surely as ingredients on his cutting board.

Later that night, Hermione had been called to the Headmistress’ office to receive her detail of Head Girl duties for the year. As she hurried to the office, her survival instinct kicked in and, too accustomed to war to fight them, she quickly hopped behind a portraited alcove and cast a notice-me-not. She noticed quickly that the portrait, while opaque to someone outside the alcove, was translucent from within the alcove

A moment later, a storm tore down the hallway. A storm in the form of a Professor Snape with a thunderous scowl and robes so billowy she swore he’d charmed them to have at least six extra layers of billow. Cringing into her hidden alcove, Hermione bit her lip and prayed her charm would hold.

He paused in his stride by her portrait, and she swore his black eyes found her behind the protective painting. It was opaque to him, he shouldn’t be able to see her! But he still seemed to detect her presence, somehow.

She’d never noticed how pretty the darkness of his irises was, and although she’d had his attention before, she’d rarely had his full and undivided regard. It was overwhelming, like every crevice of her being was under scrutiny. Fuck, fuck, fuck, shit, fuck--

And just like that he was off again, apparently having decided that nothing was the matter. She waited until his steps faded in the hallway and the adrenaline in her blood calmed down, then pushed away the portrait and hurried to the Headmistress’ office.

She paused as the gargoyle closed behind her, taking a moment to catch her breath.

“Miss Granger?” McGonagall’s voice called.

“Sorry, Headmistress.” She quickly hopped up the stairs to the office, hoping she didn’t look too breathless.

The Headmistress frowned at her, studying Hermione carefully. Hermione looked at her black-buckle shoes, trying to steady her breathing. “Dear, your lip is bleeding, and you seem awfully out of breath.”

It was bleeding? Without thinking, Hermione brought her bottom lip back into her mouth, chewing it nervously for a moment before she realized what she was doing and started a little, flushing. “S-Sorry, Headmistress.”

“Is everything alright, Miss Granger?”

Hermione nodded. “Yes, Headmistress. I was, er, just dealing with some tough Arithmancy problems and nearly forgot the time. That’s why I’m so… out of breath.”

Some things never changed, and Hermione Granger was still a shit liar.

The Headmistress chuckled. “Well, classes haven’t started yet,” she began, and Hermione colored even brighter, realizing she’d been caught. “However, you are always a very proactive learner. Sit down, please, let’s go over your schedule.”

Hermione nearly thought that she’d gotten away with the whole terrifying interaction during dinner, but as the Headmistress was about to dismiss her, McGonagall instead just gave her a sympathetic but pointed smile. Hermione’s stomach flopped. She knew what this was about.

“Miss Granger?”

“Yes, Headmistress?”

“While I appreciate you convincing your friends to… support Professor Snape’s return, I would warn you to be careful. He is assuredly a hero, but…” McGonagall paused, and her lips thinned as she pressed them together. “...After what we determined over the summer, I would urge caution. I understand your concern for him, but you and your friends have had enough hell. It is not your responsibility to make things harder for yourselves in order to make things easier for another person, even someone as deserving as Professor Snape.”

Hermione’s shoulders sagged.

“Please remember, Miss Granger, he can’t know that you were involved in his rescue.”

Finally, Hermione found her voice. “Headmistress McGonagall, have you ever rescued an animal?” she asked.

McGonagall paused, then shook her head.

“When I was younger… my parents and I, we lived by a place where people would abandon cats. Just toss them out of their cars as they drove by.”

“That’s awful.”

“Yes. My parents and I would collect them and help them find rescues, so kind souls could adopt them and give them the love they deserved. I always liked the kittens, but sometimes there were these older cats, and…” Hermione shifted, so she could use her hands to gesture. “One day, we found this older black tom.”

“How appropriate.”

Hermione managed a small smile at McGonagall’s dry words. “Horrible, ugly thing. He’d lost an eye and his leg looked like it’d been ran over, and he was hissing and scratching and biting at anyone who got close. I was terrified of him, I thought he deserved to be left.” She looked at the Headmistress, unable to contain the tears in her eyes. Not just from the cats, either. “But my mother just sat by him and gave him water and little bits of food and slowly he came around. We got him to the vet and ever after, he was the most loyal and loving creature you ever met. He saved my life once, by letting my parents know that I was allergic to something.” She sought some sort of understanding in McGonagall’s expression. “He might’ve hissed and spat and clawed at us but he was just scared. Scared and in pain and so horribly alone.”

McGonagall nodded. “I know, Hermione,” she replied, her voice low and quiet and surprisingly thick with tears. “I know. But you’ve rescued the cat. You can’t always be the one to open its heart.” Hermione opened her mouth to protest, but McGonagall threw up a finger to stop her. “That being said. I can’t officially approve, but I’m certain I can’t stop you, either.” She began to count, beginning with the finger she’d already raised. “No undue attention. Perform capably. Don’t antagonize.”

Hermione finished for her. “And know that he doesn’t mean it.”

McGonagall chuckled. “Well, he probably does some of the time, and he certainly thinks he means it. But yes. You cannot let him know that he’s one of your ‘projects,’ you understand? He won’t take kindly it.” She reached out and grasped Hermione’s hand with her own, and Hermione found herself caught by McGonagall’s eyes. Swallowing, she maintained eye contact.

“Yes, Headmistress.”

“You can’t make him one of your projects,” McGonagall said. “You can’t try and ‘fix’ him. He will never respond well to that. You must understand it may not be your touch that teaches him to trust, and it is not a failing to step away from pain. You can only try to understand and be present for him.”

Chapter Text

Hermione knew it was only a matter of time before things with Ron fell apart. After trying and failing to get into her pants again, he’d called her frigid and bitchy and like a dead fish and she’d told him that she just wanted to be his friend, that it’d been a mistake from the stress of the war, and now she needed some time to figure out what the hell she’d just gone through.

He stormed out of her room so furiously she thought the door was going to break, or that she’d be in physical danger. A moment later, a tearful Ginny rushed up to comfort her, followed not long after by Harry.

She’d told them to worry more about Ron, she’d be fine, and she didn’t want to split apart their little friend group--let alone sour Ginny’s relationship with her brother over something so silly.

Ginny dried the tears on Hermione’s face. “Hermione, you are the brightest witch of our age, but you are also incredibly daft. My brother’s a right git and an idiot. I’d tell you what he called you but I don’t want you to have to think about that.”

She managed, through a sniffle, “Don’t worry, Gin, I’ve probably heard them all already.”

Ginny’s gaze darkened and she looked over her shoulder. “I’m going to hex that bastard.”

“Don’t.” Hermione took another tissue and blew her nose again. “He’s… he’s just like that when he’s upset.”

Ginny rolled her eyes. “Yeah, and it’s unacceptable.”

Harry squeezed her shoulder. He’d been silent nearly the entire time. “Hermione?”

“Yeah?”

He drew a deep sigh. “I think… Oh, fuck, I’m the worst friend ever for saying this--”

Hermione shook her head. “Don’t worry, Harry. I understand. You could never choose someone over him.”

“That’s…” He opened and closed his mouth a couple times. “Not what I was going to say. What I was going to say was that you’ve stood behind me this entire time. I think I owe you my life at least twenty times over, and that’s before we even get to our… camping trip. And after, too, you’ve been with me as we deal with all this… adult bullshit that we’re not even supposed to have to handle.” He pulled her into a side hug, and she buried her face in his shoulder. “You’re the sister I never had and always wanted. You and Ginny are the people I want beside me when I have to face the next crisis.”

Hermione snorted a mirthless laugh into his sweater. “Because you know the Ministry sure as hell isn’t going to be able to handle it.”

He scoffed, but it sounded more like a laugh. “Yeah. But not just when there are crises. I want the two of you around all the time, because I’ve decided you’re the best people in the world. Okay?”

Ginny beamed and joined the hug, Hermione opening up an arm to let her in. “I love you guys, okay? One of you in a slightly different way than the other.” She giggled.

“Merlin’s sake, Ginny!” Hermione couldn’t help the laugh that escaped her.

“Oh, I know you secretly want in Hermione’s pants,” Harry shot back, grinning.

Hermione threw her head back, rolling her eyes. “No. No more Weasleys attempting pants entry. I’ve had enough of that for a while, thank you very much.”

She’d gone to bed considerably cheered. She’d attempted to persuade them to keep their relationship with Ron good, but to her surprise, Ginny had stood firmly by her side. It made her wonder what Ron had really said about her, but Hermione found that she could guess well enough without the precise details.

It wasn’t until the next morning that Hermione realized she still had double Potions with Ron Weasley to endure that day. Ron’s timing was impeccably awful, as always.

Hermione corralled her hair into a bun and stabbed it through with a pair of chopsticks to keep it in place. Then she gathered up her texts for the day and hurried, so she wouldn’t be late.

After having to break up a tangle between a Slytherin and Gryffindor (she wished some things would change), she was running tight against the clock. So she was less than pleased when Ron was standing in the doorway of the Potions classroom.

She attempted to step around him, but he just moved sideways to block her. “Miney, we need to talk.”

“Not now, Ron,” she hissed. “I need to attend class.” Head Girl being late on the first day of class was not an impression she wanted to make.

A black shadow appeared behind Ron. “Mr. Weasley, Miss Granger, is there an issue?”

Ah. There it was. That cold voice was the sound of her day going to shit.

“No, sir,” Hermione replied dutifully, ignoring how her cheeks flushed. Sweet Circe, Ronald, get the bloody hint.

“This is a Potions classroom, not some lovers’ bungalow,” Snape hissed. As he bore down, Ron cowered away, which thankfully left Hermione’s pathway into the room clear of Weasleys, if not clear of terrifying professors. “Ten points from Gryffindor for both of you, and detention tonight and seven. I’ll make that twenty points each if you’re not in your seats before the bell.”

He stepped aside and Hermione lunged through before Ron could, quite happy to make use of the muscles she’d never quite lost. Ginny waved her over excitedly, and Hermione’s heart nearly burst at the realization that Harry and Ginny were still forming a protective guard for her. She sat down between them, offering each of them a thankful smile as she unpacked her things.

As she took her notes, she strategized. She needed to maximize her time in the ingredients storage room, and minimize her contact with Ron. It wasn’t that she was planning to steal things from Snape (again), it was just… well, alright, stealing from Snape was her back-up plan. The primary plan was obtaining them in perfectly legal, above-the-counter ways that would all be wonderfully moral and polite. And if that failed, theft it was.

“We will begin the semester with a revision of the wit-sharpening potion, seeing as how many of you had a spotty education last year and may require such a draught.” Lovely. Some things never changed, and Snape was still an asshole. Hermione almost felt relief. “If you can manage its creation.”

When Snape began to ask the class about the potion, Hermione realized with dawning horror that she would not be able to answer the questions this year. Because she had promised McGonagall oh-so-faithfully that she’d not attract Snape’s attention. And answering questions probably constituted attention. She chewed on her lip furiously. Could she answer a small amount of questions, after everyone else had a chance to be called on? Maybe. Maybe she’d just… play last resort for Snape. If he even wanted to look at her, which she wasn’t sure about.

The first few questions were okay. People did a good job of volunteering, for which Hermione was endlessly grateful. Maybe she could keep her promise to McGonagall after all.

“At what stage should your potion be dark green?” Professor Snape asked. Resounding silence was his answer.

One… two… three… fuck it… Hermione raised her hand.

He did not call on her.

Merlin, she forgot how much of an absolute bastard he was. Now, though, she didn’t feel nearly as afraid. Maybe… how did she feel? Not surprised. Not happy, but not angry either. Finally, she settled on bemusement.

Was it wrong for her to consider Snape’s overtures of terror… infantile? He was so clearly putting up a wall, and he got very pissy when it was disturbed.

Hermione realized no one had answered. The image of the hissing, wounded alley cats came back to her mind. So she threw caution to the wind, kissed her House points goodbye, apologized to McGonagall in her head, and stated, “Never. It should only be lime green, after both mixings of ginger root. Too much mixing after adding armadillo bile the second time may turn the potion dark green.”

“Thirty points from Gryffindor and detention tomorrow night for speaking out of turn.” Snape pinched his nose bridge. “It is absolutely abysmal that to produce an answer, I must be disrespected by a single impetuous know-it-all in a class full of supposedly intelligent seventh years.”

Hermione had to look down at her paper to cover her smile. She’d called it, on so many levels. Oh, yes, Snape was still terrifying. Absolutely and utterly. He was one of the most powerful wizards alive, and she was completely certain that if he really wanted to, he could give her a mental dressing down that would make her recede a few years in self-confidence. But somewhere along the line, Hermione had found his weakness: simply not giving a thestral’s ass.

Could she keep it up? That was another question entirely.

When it was time to collect ingredients from the stockroom, Hermione decided to wait until the rush was over to collect her materials. After most of the class had come back out, she went down and slipped in, quickly sizing up the room.

Small. One entrance, behind her. Many volatile ingredients, organized alphabetically. Not much room to move around. A decent place to fight dirty in, with all the mysterious substances.

She headed for the armadillo bile first, measuring out just as much as she needed. Then she checked the jobberknoll feathers. She’d need stewed mandrake, too—

“Hermione. We need to talk.”

Merlin’s shits, Weasley was stubborn. “Not now,” she repeated. “We’re in the middle of bloody class, Ronald.”

“The hell does that matter? You’re always so bloody fixated on your education. If you gave us an honest chance instead of paying more attention to your books than to me, we would work!”

Hermione paused very thoughtfully, then turned around and began to measure out her ginger root. She didn’t look towards him, not even when she heard him step forward and her fight or flight kicked in.

“Hermione! Fucking pay attention to me when I’m speaking! You’re so bloody inconsiderate, you know that, right?”

She bit her lip, focusing on the remainder of her reagents. Hermione was certain she had never wanted Snape to show up more than now. Ron was getting louder, so she was pretty certain it wouldn’t be long now.

“You can’t just ignore me forever! Stop being such a bitch—“ Ron grabbed her hand and she winced slightly as the ginger root dropped to the floor.

“Is there an issue, Mr. Weasley?”

There it was! Hermione was pretty certain her entire week was going to shit at this rate. Snape loomed in the doorway, leering pointedly at Ron.

“Miss Granger?”

She took a deep breath, closed her eyes. “Nothing I can’t handle, sir.”

One imperious black eyebrow raised as he looked to the dropped ginger. “Your ginger--the root, that is--says otherwise.”

Was that a joke? Lovely. If it were anyone but Snape that might have earned a laugh. As it was, she scowled at the root until it levitated up and into the dish. “Weasley, please release me so I can return to my studies.”

She looked at Ron for the first time in their encounter. He was livid. She could see the veins on his face in stark contrast to the flush of anger.

“Mr. Weasley, return to the classroom. Detention with Filch all of next week. There will be no manhandling of my reagents.”

Right, because the reagents were the important part here. Ron released her and stalked back to the room. Hermione looked at her wrist, silently cursing the fact that it would undoubtedly bruise.

“Miss Granger.”

“Apologies sir, just getting my bearings.” Because she couldn’t just snap back from an encounter with an angry ex like nothing occurred.

“Five points from Gryffindor for dawdling.” He spun on his heel and vanished.

She was careful to wait until he was out of eyesight to roll her eyes and laugh humorlessly. He might as well have said ‘five points for poor taste in men’ but Hermione had a feeling he’d take off a lot more than that.

The rest of double Potions passed without too much going wrong. She could feel Ron glaring at her, but was careful to ignore him and focus instead on making sure Snape didn’t have any additional reason to make her evening hell.

That afternoon she was careful to take dinner early and quickly, eager to dodge Ron, before retreating to her rooms to tame her hair into a bun. No sense in it getting in the way during detention, since she’d probably have to clean cauldrons or something.

She was one corner away from the potions classroom when she realized that there was someone waiting for her. Platinum blonde hair and a tall, too-lanky figure. Draco.

“Granger,” he said as she attempted to ignore him and pass by. “A word?”

Hermione’s stomach churned a little as she turned. “So long as I’m not late to detention, Malfoy.”

He smiled, but it didn’t quite fit on his face, still a little too foreign for the shadow of a boy. “Just wanted to warn you about that stunt you pulled yesterday in the Great Hall. He’s not going to like it, you know that, right?”

Was Malfoy threatening her? Hermione searched his eyes. No… there wasn’t the typical glint of a leer. Instead, maybe something like worry, or even appreciation. He’d changed, she noticed, more than just physically. She knew he’d been held in Azkaban until he was charged as a minor during trial. Snape’s memories had saved him, too. Both she and Harry had been called to testify--in his defense. They’d made the point that if they were in his position, pressured into taking the Dark Mark, they probably wouldn’t have been any better off.

Maybe this was how Slytherins said thank you. “I’m aware,” she said, finally.

“Watch yourself, Granger.”

She offered a smile, and he seemed to relax a little. “You too, Malfoy.”

He pushed from the wall, and wandered off down the corridor.

Hermione made her way to the Potions classroom, checked the time, and paused outside the open door. She could smell the results of the day’s brewing wafting from inside the room.

No undue attention. Perform capably. Don’t antagonize. She took a deep breath, and was about to knock on the doorframe to report for her attention when she heard running footsteps behind her.

“Miney!”

Aha. Hermione knew there was no way Snape hadn’t heard that. There went ‘don’t antagonize.’

Ron skidded to a halt beside her, his shoes squeaking on the floor. She hated that squeak. “Miney, we need to talk. I wanted to let you know, before you ignored me like a bitch, that I’ve forgiven you.”

Hermione steeled herself. She kept her voice quiet, hoping to avoid further antagonizing Snape. “Ronald, we have maybe forty seconds until we’re late for detention. I’m not talking about this right now.” She made a move for the classroom, but Ron grabbed her arm.

“You’d put us after detention with that greasy--”

Without thinking, Hermione flicked her fingers at him and his mouth was suddenly filled with feathers. “Don’t be an ass, Ronald.” As he coughed and spat them all over the floor, she turned towards the room, knocking lightly on the doorframe. Snape was at the desk, grading papers, pointedly not acknowledging what was happening outside of the classroom.

“Enter,” he called.

She strode purposefully to his desk, standing in front of it. “Reporting for detention, sir.”

There was an especially loud wheeze and hack from the doorway. She shot a glance towards the door, wondering if Ron had inhaled a feather or two. Who knew that stuffing his mouth full of feathers would be such good stress relief?

When she glanced back at Snape, he was looking to the door as well. He blinked slow and lazy, and exhaled a sigh through his nose. “Miss Granger, were you never taught to clean up your trash?”

Hermione couldn’t help the little hop that her heart did at his… joke? She wasn’t sure what she should call it. She just knew he looked faintly amused. That was the opposite of antagonizing! ...Protagonizing? She had no idea what the word was. 'Behaving,' probably.

Her joy must’ve found its way onto her face, because one of Snape’s thin dark brows raised imperiously. “Ten points from Gryffindor for feathers in my classroom.”

She got the feeling, again, that he was taking points off for her taste in men, but even that continued trend couldn’t damper her attitude. “Yes, sir. Sorry, sir.”

Snape gave her a Look that said she was pushing it. “You will be cleaning cauldrons.”

Predictable, but not the worst he could’ve handed to her. Of course, he’d never let her do it with magic, so she drew her wand and held it out to him. He arched a brow, but took it, then turned back to grading. That was evidently her dismissal.

She was on her second cauldron, enjoying the feeling of hot water and the way her muscles burned when she scrubbed as hard as she possibly could, when Ron finally staggered in.

“Trouble breathing, Weasley?” came Snape’s greeting. Hermione risked a glance out of the corners of her eyes at the confrontation, enjoying Ron’s redness for once. “Since I doubt I can trust you with even the most banal of tasks-” he inclined his head towards where Hermione was scrubbing cauldrons “-you will be writing lines. ‘I will not manhandle.’”

Hermione practically glowed. Snape hadn’t said ‘I will not manhandle the reagents,’ he’d just made it a no-manhandling policy in general. That wasn’t a defense of her, it was likely just a broader reproach, but it felt perilously close to progress.

Chapter Text

Any illusions of ‘progress’ were destroyed during Hermione’s second detention, the next day. Snape was making her scrub cauldrons again, and once she finished that, he’d snipped at her for her attitude and told her to organize the reagents room.

She’d been careful to suppress any joy she felt at that, terrified he’d take her chance away.

Stealing during detention would not go over well, but she could at least identify what was present in the stock room. It made the time go much faster, too, since her organizational tendencies luxuriated in the chance to perfectly order the ingredients.

The last half an hour was nearly unbearable. Snape had apparently decided he had nothing better to do than ‘supervise’ her by looming in the doorway and insulting any time that she even paused. It was all Hermione could do to bite back tears and remember her mother, slowly and gently approaching the injured cats.

She didn’t have time between detention and patrols, so by the time she got back to her room it was late and she collapsed into bed, exhausted. She was careful to not squish Crooks where he lay sleeping at the foot of her bed, barely throwing off her robes before she curled up under the sheets.

“Night, Crooks,” she told him automatically.

“Maow,” he replied.

It wasn’t until she woke up that she realized that there was no way Crooks could have been snuggling. She stared at the spot. His spot. There was no indication of any feline presence, now or the night before. Had she been hallucinating? Maybe she wasn’t over her grief like she thought she was.

Later that day, she asked Pomfrey for a quick check-in, asking about unusually vivid dreams and dizziness. All Pomfrey could offer was dreamless sleep and a sympathetic smile as she talked about stress and post-war experiences.

So she went to class and pretended she wasn’t going crazy.

When Hermione got back to her quarters that night, Crooks was sitting on her desk. She stared at him, heart hammering at her ribcage so hard she was scared it’d burst out.

“Crooks?” she whispered.

Crookshanks (who had been dead for a year at least) looked back at her, his ears flicking once, as if asking, ‘what?’ His tail flicked back and forth, and he stared at her like this was the most normal thing ever.

She raised her wand and cast a ghost-sensing charm. It didn’t pick him up. Well… not precisely. The air distorted near him, his appearance shimmering with sparks of blue, but then it reverted to normal and Hermione was left to stare at a perfectly normal-looking Crooks.

Her heart froze. Had some evil being subverted her cat’s death to get to her? She cast spell after spell, searching for any indication of Dark magic. Nothing. No curses, no dangers, no illusions.

Fuck it, she trusted her spellwork.

“Crooks,” she gasped, running over and hugging him, fully expecting her hands to go through him. But instead, she found him physical and fluffy. Hermione barely registered her knees hitting the ground as she embraced him. Her tears melted into his orange fur. “Crooks, how the hell?”

He rubbed his cheek against her, tail still twitching. It hadn’t stopped moving, which was unusual, as he had always been a very lazy cat.

Hermione breathed in his scent, and realized that instead of the typical smell of stinky kitty, he smelled of magic. Ancient magic. Older than anything she’d dealt with in a while. Without hesitation, she raised her wand and began to run more diagnostic spells, looking for the type of magic that influenced her cat.

There were definite traces of magic, old magic, so old that she wondered if it was affecting her own casting. Biting her lip and taking Crooks on her lap--which he accepted without protest, as usual--she started casting basically anything that came to mind. He didn’t show any traces of Light magic, either. And he showed no traces of life.

She couldn’t feel his heart beating, either, come to think of it. And while he was physically present, as she hefted him up and down, she realized he weighed almost nothing at all.

“Crooks, what happened to you?” she asked. He simply curled back up on her lap and let out a contented sigh, tail still twitching.

***

Severus had thought, just for a few moments that day, that someone had actually stood up for him.

Everyone knew about his teenage years being bullied at Hogwarts, but they did not realize that the vitriolic comments had continued. It was undoubtedly his fault at this point, but the students’ disgust still pricked at him like barbs, no matter how old he got. Even Slytherins, despite his attempts to legitimately take care of them, would only invoke him as a way to earn his favor.

For the first time in his decades, someone had stood up for him, without seeking anything in return.

Weirder was the fact that it was Granger. Her words to Ronald had been so quiet that he knew she hadn’t intended for him to hear. That night, during detention, he’d felt strangely content.

It was ruined the next morning, of course, as he realized Granger would never actually put anything on the line for him. Her support with Potter was nothing more than a publicity stunt. That’s all he was--another pawn on someone else’s chessboard.

Fuck that.

How could he be so foolish as to still think that someone would ever willingly take his side? He was supposed to be experienced enough to understand that.

He made sure she understood it, too. He was certain that he’d reduced her to tears at least once during detention the next day, and students scattered as he approached.

Severus took food in his room, but after picking at the mashed potatoes, he found he wasn’t hungry. Honestly, he wasn’t sure he’d been hungry in days. Instead, he decided to take a bath.

After starting the warm water, he closed the door and disrobed except for his boxers. He set the razor on the side of the bath, right by the empty soap dish, and stepped in.

The scorching hot water slid around him in a way that almost seemed welcoming. He dropped the glamours on his forearms. Although he couldn’t hide the Dark Mark, even in its state of decay, he could cover the other scars. Most notably, a series of parallel lines, on the insides of his arms, so old that they were barely white lines on his pale skin.

When he looked up, he saw the cat.

The beast was as orange as a Weasley and its face was smushed in, like someone had punched its nose in or it had ran into a wall too many times. Sharp eyes watched him, the tip of its tail twitching to and fro, as it sat by the soap dish and his feet.

Severus was so stunned that his only reply could be, “What the fuck?”

The cat looked down at the steaming water, and with the hesitation and poise of a true cat, dipped one paw in the water and curled it up to that scrunched up nose, sniffing at it. Apparently the water did not pass the cat’s perfunctory examination, as it flicked the paw a few times to dry it.

“Fuck off,” Snape told the cat. “I’m busy, can’t you see?”

It did not deign to respond, instead turning to nose at the nearby soap dish. He could see its whiskers twitching as it sniffed. Stealthily, Snape picked up one of his feet and attempted to push the cat off his bathtub.

The cat stepped away from his foot, and, with a pointed spiteful look at him, swatted the soap dish off of the tub.

Snape rolled his eyes.

The cat paused, its paw still up, hovering by the razor.

“Don’t touch that!”

Another swat, and the razor toppled over the edge.

Damnit. He couldn’t even be left alone for a task as bloody as this. Instead he had some asshole student’s runaway familiar fucking him over.

With a sigh, Snape held out his hand, summoning a towel from the nearby rack. He stepped from the bathtub, intent on ridding his quarters of feline intruders, and froze.

There was no razor on the floor, or soap dish.

Wrapping the towel around his waist, he knelt down to look for other places the razor could’ve wandered off to. The cat hadn’t hit it with any particular force, and his bathroom was plain enough that he could see all possible hiding places. Even an “accio” didn’t help him.

He stared at the cat. “Did you just vanish my fucking razor?”

It was a question asked in exasperation but he swore he saw a self-satisfied glint in the cat’s eyes. With a growl, he lunged for the cat, intent on seizing whatever animagus or familiar was being such an asshole. Had Minerva put someone up to this?

He lifted the beast by its scruff and held it up, watching as its tail continued to twitch to and fro. Snagging his wand from where it rested by the sink, he tapped it to the beast’s nose, attempting to dispel any animancy.

Instead, the cat continued to be feline in his grasp, and nosed interestedly at his wand. It seemed to find the ebony tip far more interesting than it had the bathwater, and brushed its cheek against the wand.

“Asshole,” he accused.

The cat was nonplussed.

Snape sighed, staring at the animal as it hung limply. He was tired. Tired of everything. Tired of living and waking up and dealing with students. They weren’t even as bad after the war, but he hated them nonetheless. A small part of him was pretty sure he hated the concept more than reality, but he wouldn’t admit to that.

He was far too old and tired to deal with any of this, and a small twinge of self-hatred clawed at his insides as he remembered the last time he’d threatened a student’s familiar. Without releasing the feline interloper, he headed back into his quarters, checking his wards as he went. They were all completely intact. Whatever creature this was, it had slipped past his defenses, and a couple closed doors.

At the door to the hallway, he glared at the cat. “Do me a favor and show back up to smother me in my sleep,” he told it, and then tossed it out into the hallway, shutting the door before it even hit the ground.

That night, when he awoke to a pressure on his chest and found an orange cat curled up there, by all appearances slumbering except for its constantly twitching tail, Severus was not amused.

Asshole.

Chapter Text

Hermione chewed her lip as she stared at Crooks, sunning himself by her window.

Ginny had come by earlier to borrow one of Hermione’s textbooks, and she’d passed by Crooks without even seeming to notice him. Ginny knew Crooks was supposed to be dead, she’d helped with the little funeral Hermione had held after the war. The Weasleys had already buried the body, but Hermione needed to pay her respects when she had the time and energy to properly devote to him. And Ginny had been one to suggest the possibility of adoption.

But she walked by without even noticing the orange blob right in front of her eyes. Hermione had even stood beside Crooks as they carried on a conversation, waiting for her to notice the cat. But nothing. Instead, Hermione was left with the growing concern that her cat wasn’t visible to other people.

It wasn’t something she had time to dwell on. Between her duties, revising for her N.E.W.T.s, and classwork, she barely had time for the main personal project she insisted on working on: the memory restoration potion.

The weekend she had free to head to Hogsmeade, she hurried up into the bookshop. She headed straight for the section on potions.

It was fairly substantial, but she noticed to her dismay that there was a distinct lack of more advanced texts. She drummed her fingers on their spines, enjoying the smoothness of the bindings and the scent of paper, picking out one that looked promising and flipping to the table of contents.

Absolutely nothing on potions for memory. There wasn’t even much on potions to alter minds, beyond the common ones.

She tried five more texts, and was about to give up and head to the legilimency or occlumency sections in desperation when she stumbled into someone behind her.

“Eep!” escaped her mouth before she had a chance to control herself. Flushing, she looked up to see who she’d stumbled into.

Snape was staring down at her with bright hatred in his eyes. Don’t antagonize.

“Sorry, Professor.”

“Watch where you’re going, Granger.”

“Yes, sir. Sorry, sir.” She stepped out of his way, then hesitated. Would it hurt to ask? Probably. She ran the calculations in her head. Costs: Snape would suspect her, and also probably think she was irredeemably awful. Benefits: he might give her an answer, a place to start.

‘Might’ being the operative word here.

“...Sir?”

He was already looking at the shelves, and didn’t glance at her. “What.”

“Do you happen to… know of any texts that might talk about memory potions? Not the memory-sharpening ones. Memory restoring potions.”

There was a moment of silence, and her gut tried to drop through the floor while her heart tried to climb out of her mouth. He was suspicious. She could practically see the cogs turning, so similar to the calculations she’d sketched out in her head moments earlier but infinitely more terrifying.

“Yes, but you won’t find them in a store like this,” he replied at last, and she nearly collapsed with the relief of an answer, even if it wasn’t a good one. “The most pertinent ones you’d have to import from Belgium, and even then there’d be precious little. Why?”

Fuck, that was the most helpful answer she’d ever gotten out of Snape. What had happened after the war? Oh, shit, he was looking at her expectantly for an answer. She spluttered a little.

“Curiosity, sir, I’m just curious.”

Some things never changed, and Hermione Granger was a terrible liar.

Snape sniffed in a way that indicated he didn’t believe her in the slightest.

She chewed on her lip. “Er. Thank you, sir. I mean it.” She tried to keep the feeling out of her voice, keep him from realizing how much it wasn’t just simple curiosity, but still convey authentic thanks. She was pretty sure it didn’t work, and was all the more certain he suspected her when his brow crept perilously upwards. “If you’ll excuse me.”

Before she could fuck that up further, Hermione darted away to the occlumency section.

The spell was irreversible by any normal means. She’d known that. She’d known that the instant she thought about it and she’d gone through with it because she knew she couldn’t let people get hurt for her. It wasn’t that she regretted her decision, she thought as she bit back tears, but that she still wished she could maybe solve this problem like she’d solved all the others. It might’ve been a child’s hope, but she’d cling to it nonetheless.

That night at dinner, she was finishing eating when Harry came in. His hair was at all the wrong angles and he had bags beneath his eyes.

“Harry, I say this with love, but you look awful.”

He laughed. “Thanks, Hermione.” He rubbed at his eyes as he pulled over some chicken. “I’ve been getting these awful nightmares. Ran out of my stock of dreamless sleep last night and haven’t had the chance to pick up more.”

“Lovely, nightmares.” She scooped up some mushy peas onto her spoon. “Want to run by the infirmary together, after dinner? It’s on the way to the library.”

“That’d be great.” He grabbed some peas himself, and began to eat. “How’re classes treating you?”

“Could be a lot worse. Haven’t had detention again yet, but it’s only a matter of time before Snape decides he doesn’t like the way I breathe.” She sighed, not wanting to admit how stressed that made her, knowing she was under his scrutiny. “Arithmancy just keeps getting more and more interesting.”

Harry snorted. “Only you would say that.”

She flashed a grin at him.

“Did you…” He leaned in. “Ask Snape about the potion?”

She stared up at him. He must’ve read her worry in her eyes. She sighed. Maybe she needed to review her occlumency. “Not directly. I asked him about texts that might have references to it.”

He nodded. “Look, Hermione, if anyone can invent a memory restoration potion, it’s you.”

She rolled her eyes. “Wrong. If anyone can invent a memory restoration potion, it’s Professor Snape.”

“Okay, fair point.” Harry chuckled. “All the more reason you should ask him.”

“I know, but I’m not keen on disturbing him more than I already am by existing in his general presence and attempting to be pleasant.” She grimaced a little, because she would very much like to ask him. “How are classes for you?”

“I mean, you know most of them. Speaking of, I might go talk to the Headmistress about the current… er…" He trailed off, staring at his turkey like it had personally kicked his puppy.

Hermione’s grimace returned. She knew what he was talking about. The new DADA Professor was fucking useless. “The Professor Forwit is a useless piece of cardboard and hasn’t taught us anything new?”

“Yeah, that.” Harry ran a hand through his hair. “I’m just worried she’ll ask me to TA, and while I’d love it, I don’t think I have the time for it between this and the Ministry bullshit.”

Of course, the next time she was in potions Snape gave no indication that he’d fixated on her very, very suspicious question in any way. She was thankful for it, because it’d probably make her even more nervous than she already was.

Nervous, because Ron had been glaring at her the entire day in their classes, and she really didn’t want to deal with it. She felt like she’d been demoted. For a solid seven years she’d been fighting the literal Dark Lord, and now she was dealing with a dumbass teenage boy. Wasn’t she allowed to stop dealing with teenagers yet?

...Maybe this was how Snape felt.

The aforementioned Snape swept into the room with his triple-billowing-action-cloak and she swore the temperature in the room dropped by several degrees. Lovely. It was one of those days that he was practically shoving punishments on anyone who twitched. Even if she no longer wanted to soil herself when his insults and threats rained down, that still didn’t mean she enjoyed the tense atmosphere of his grumpy days. Well, grumpier days.

Of course that was the day that Ron decided to knock over the powdered goat horn onto her. On purpose. She sighed and stared down at her soiled robes, taking a spare glass vial to siphon the dirty powder into with a quick twirl of her wand. Mixing the reagent back in with what remained of the clean powder could contaminate a potion. She checked over the floor, making sure she didn’t miss any spills, before capping both vials and turning to take the spilled reagent to Snape--

He was standing in the door, glaring at her. She was certain he’d seen the entire exchange, especially because Ron seemed frozen by the doorway, pinned by the Professor’s presence.

“Weasley, ten points for reagent mishandling. And detention with Filch.” Snape stepped aside and gestured for Ron to get out. The ginger darted away.

Hermione gathered her reagents and approached Snape, holding out the bottle of spilled horn. “Sir, this is the contaminated reagent.”

He picked it from her hand with two long, pale fingers, holding it up to the light. “Five points for dawdling.”

Or, for bad taste in men. Hermione couldn’t help that she rolled her eyes. Even if he saw it. That particular gag was getting real old real fast.

“And detention tonight for disrespecting a teacher.”

Her eye twitched. A thousand burning retorts jumped to her tongue, ready to rip him several new ones, but she was a very calm and professional young lady, and Minerva would have her hide if Snape even mentioned Hermione’s ‘insubordination.’ Also, it wouldn’t do to start a screaming match in front of the entire class that she was still trying to convince to respect the thrice-damned professor.

“Yes sir sorry sir,” she replied mechanically, through teeth gritted into a smile. Snape met it with a sneer.

Hermione was careful to use a disillusionment charm on herself on the way to detention that night, not eager to have another confrontation with Ron’s inept ass. She knew he was fucking half the school at this point, why was he still trying with her?

Stepping out of the disillusionment, she knocked lightly on the open door of the classroom again. As normal. This was becoming a routine.

“Enter.”

She walked over to his desk and stood in front of it. “Reporting for deten--”

The fireplace suddenly flashed with green. “Snape!” called a familiar voice. Pomfrey.

He whirled around. “What?!” he snapped.

“Snape, dear, can you mix up some more sleeping draught and calming draught? Everyone seems to be having awful night terrors this week.”

Hermione arched a brow, chewing her lip thoughtfully. That was… interesting. Harry had mentioned it too. Not everyone could have such awful memories of the war as they did, and the school had been prepared for student trauma come reopening. Hermione refused to believe that McGonagall hadn’t stockpiled calming draughts and other things for when the nightmares continued.

Pomfrey smiled at her. “Hello, dear.”

Hermione smiled and bowed. “Madam Pomfrey.”

Snape slammed a quill on the desk, snapping it in half. Apparently he didn’t take well to being called ‘dear’ in front of students. “Fine,” he snarled. “Now get out of my hair.”

“Thank you!” chimed Pomfrey as she vanished from the fireplace.

Muttering something, Snape turned to Hermione, and she felt positively harpooned by the anger in his gaze. “Since it appears we have a crisis on our hands, and you ought to be acceptable at the most basic of potions, you will be helping me brew tonight.”

Holy Merlin, Snape was letting her brew with him! Yeah, sure, he made it sound like an insult, but she knew that he wouldn’t let someone help unless he knew they could handle it.

Oh, shit.

Suddenly she was under more pressure than the O.W.L.s. Snape did not distribute praise and she had long given up on receiving it, but she still wouldn’t disappoint.

Over the summer, Hermione had ended up brewing extra large cauldrons of calming draught for Harry and Ron and everyone else in the Burrow and Grimmauld Place. She knew the recipe by heart, and had even memorized the one from Snape’s textbook.

“Yes sir,” she replied, trying her best not to chirp.

Snape pointed at the reagent room, rubbing at his nose bridge. He looked like he already regretted this. “We will be brewing for twenty at a time.”

Fucking massive. Hermione had never brewed for so many at once. She hurried to the reagent room, doing the math for the reagents in her head. She was quite proud when she realized she could eyeball the amounts very accurately. Once they were weighed, she put them in bowls that she spelled to hover beside her.

“The stock room is nearly out of crocodile heart, sir,” she informed him as she returned to the room, placing the bowls on the table beside him.

Snape didn’t reply beyond a grunt, snatching up the peppermint and placing it in mortar, grinding it up with the accompanying pestle.

Hermione watched, fascinated. She knew why he did that--it’d been in his notes in the textbook. Ground ingredients were easier to measure for weight (a ‘sprig’ was a terribly inaccurate unit of measurement), and mixed faster, than their whole counterparts. It was a side effect of increased surface area.

“What, no questions?” he hissed, goading her.

She shook her head. “No, sir, sorry, sir. I’ll go retrieve reagents for sleeping draught.”

Another grunt, and she hurried off. More bowls, which she dutifully delivered to the other cauldron he’d set up. She grabbed a mortar and pestle herself, working on powdering the standard reagent while he handled the lavender, handing him the reagents as he required them. He was silent, which was as close to a compliment as Snape ever got.

“You’ll be making another batch of twenty for the calming draught. Retrieve what reagents you can from the standard stockroom, I’ll find the crocodile heart.”

You? Did he mean her, personally? She decided to not put too much stock in it. “Yes sir,” she replied instead, before snatching up two more bowls and hurrying off to the stock room.

When she got back and was busy grinding up the lavender and mint, he simply slid her another bowl of diced crocodile hearts and walked away.

He’d let her brew on her own!

Hermione tried to constrain her happiness, lest it make him revoke the privilege, and set up her brewing station. She started on the potion, and while it was simmering, charmed a stirring rod to stir itself and hurried over to help him crush up more reagents. He accepted her assistance without a word.

The detention flew by, and it felt a lot like not detention. As Hermione carefully portioned out the calming draught into the little vials he’d supplied, she found herself smiling. She was careful to leave her brewing place cleaner than when she’d started, placed the crate of vials on Snape’s desk, and went over to help him package the sleeping draught. She handed him vials and corked them after he was done pouring, before fitting them into their own crate.

After they were done with all the brews, he waved a hand disinterestedly at the brewing station and it began to clean itself up. Wandless magic. Hermione was well aware she was probably radiating happiness, which meant Snape probably wanted to throttle her.

Instead, he just said, “You are dismissed, Miss Granger.”

“Thank you, sir.” She made towards the door, then paused. They’d made forty calming draughts and twenty sleeping draughts… would that hold the infirmary for long? A step away from the door, she pivoted. He was already grading papers. “Sir?”

“What.”

“If you happen to be brewing more tomorrow, may I return?”

Silence. Then, “Why?”

“To… help.” That was the wrong word. Snape did not like help. She couldn’t think of anything better, so she just ploughed forward. “If the Infirmary really is in such a state, they’ll need more draughts soon, and you probably have more important things to do.”

He sniffed. “Seven o’ clock.”

“Thank you-! Sir,” she said, an attempt to not sound too excited. “Have a good evening!” And then she ran out of the classroom before he had a chance to change his mind.

Chapter Text

Severus had known she’d be early. He had not realized she’d be a full twenty minutes early.

Hermione seemed content to hover about the entrance of the classroom, until he rolled his eyes and called out. “Miss Granger, my classroom door is not a place for loitering.”

“Yes sir, sorry sir,” she replied, like she had been for the rest of the year. The response was starting to infuriate him. Sure, her know-it-all nature had been annoying as fuck. But he couldn’t hate her spark, as much as he tried. She was maybe what he could’ve been, if he hadn’t fucked everything up.

He could still see the fire still inside of her, although she was much quieter and more contemplative. Maybe he’d try to get a rise out of her one of these days.

Admittedly, the help brewing was nice. Nice, but not necessary. It wasn’t as if he was doing anything more ‘important’ than spending another lonely evening wrapped up in firewhiskey and self-hatred. He’d allowed her to come back under the pretense of trying to figure out more about her interest in memory potions.

“The entire school seems to have an epidemic of night terrors,” he began. “We will be doubling batch size from last time.” Forty doses at once. She looked thrilled. “Follow me.”

He got up and lead her into his personal stock room, pretending to ignore her and watching her expression of wonder in the reflection of a glass vial. From the shelves he retrieved huge glass beakers of reagents, sliding them onto a central table by a scale. Without having to be asked, she sprung into action, chewing her lip as she measured out reagents. He noted that she began by eyeballing the quantity, then measuring her way to a precise number. She was unusually accurate.

Apparently Granger’s illicit brewing activities had continued beyond second year. He was not surprised.

This time he handed the sleeping draught off to her, curious to see how well she knew the recipe. He suspected she and her friends had need of the potion after what they’d been through. His suspicions were correct.

While the batches simmered, he returned to grading while she prepared ingredients for the next batches. Once those were prepared, she started cleaning the room, much to his... amusement. Was this how the girl relaxed? He had to admit he sometimes cleaned as a de-stressing activity, but he’d always assumed her eagerness to clean was sucking up. But now, as she worried at her lip and blazed a trail of spotless surfaces, he had a feeling that it was a personal thing.

After she’d finished cleaning, she looked a little lost, confirming his guess. She meandered around nervously, and finally came over to the bookcase at the front of the classroom. All his personal tomes, but most of them were just supply catalogues.

“Sir?”

“Mm.”

“Would you mind if I read one of these while I waited?”

His eyes narrowed, and she leaped backwards like a skittish deer. “They had best be returned in perfect condition,” he threatened, needlessly.

“Yes, of course. I probably take better care of books than you do.” She glanced at the dog-eared book beside him on his desk, then colored. “Not that I--er, I mean, sorry.”

It was fun watching her dig herself further and further in. He continued staring, just to see what would happen.

“I didn’t mean to imply that you take poor care of books, I just meant it as a figure of speech, you see, oh, I’m so sorry, I--” She moved to back away from the bookcase, so he interrupted her.

“Fine.” He returned to grading. Once she was settled across from him at his desk, he subtly looked over at what she was reading.

Ingredients catalogs. Multiple ingredients catalogs.

What.

Granger was looking at jobberknoll feathers, and was she… comparing prices? And qualities? Her lower lip was going through the shredder, too, so she was apparently quite worried about it. She had a small notebook out, and had a chart going.

Severus continued to grade, watching as she worked through the catalog and found several reagents that were standard for memory potions. Memory sharpening potions, he specified, thinking back to her words at the bookstore. Who the hell had forgotten something? And why was Granger so irritatingly nervous about fixing it?

“You’ll probably want American Sage,” he said as she hesitated between American and Northern European variants. “The powdering enhances American variants more than European.”

She nodded. “Thanks,” she said, noting that down. Then her hand froze halfway through ‘American,’ and she looked up at him with big wide eyes. Her eyes reminded him of the firewhiskey he had waiting for him back in his room.

“Eep,” she said, then sat with her mouth hanging open for a bit. “Thank you,” she repeated, finally, and he could hear she meant it.

He didn’t respond. How the hell was one supposed to respond to being thanked, anyway?

Her wand let out a ding, and she jumped into action, carefully setting the books down before rushing off to finish the potions.

After she’d finished the batches and dropped them off on his desk, he dismissed her. She hovered by the door again as he picked up one of the vials and examined it in the light.

“Thank you for letting me brew, sir.”

“No need to brown-nose, Granger.”

“I’m not,” she protested. “I enjoyed it, and I’d be happy to brew more.”

He stared through the vial, then slid his gaze over to her. He arched a brow. “I’m sure I can just give you detention the next time Pomfrey runs out of something.”

Granger grinned a little, toeing at the ground. “Or ask, if you’d prefer. Have a good night, sir.”

Severus sniffed disdainfully at her disappearing form. Ask for help? Not likely. He’d have to make sure she understood he was not a friendly brewing partner.

***

They were crawling.

Everywhere.

They were gnawing.

Everywhere.

They were clamoring and yowling and hissing and there were hundreds of hands on her and grasping and everywhere and she could see their sunken faces and toothy smiles and skin taut over bones and she was drowning and everywhere she looked she could only see the half-decayed faces with their skin peeled off around the lips and they were swarming, swarming everywhere, and she couldn’t breathe, and they were moving, bringing her with them upwards in the air, and she was inside a massive mouth with three concentric rows of teeth like a lamprey, teeth made of shattered femurs and grasping claws, and she was looking out through the horrible jagged window of the mouth onto the battlefield, covered in new blood, and those horrible gnashing teeth undulated and turned towards the castle--

Hermione threw herself from bed and a wandless wordless hex splashed itself uselessly against her far wall. She landed on the ground, magic crackling at her fingertips, and…

The room was washed in calm moonlight, Crooks lay on her bed, and nothing in the world was amiss.

Sudden pounding on her door nearly made her explode with more accidental magic. Instead, she took a deep, shaking breath, and snatched up Crooks for comfort.

“Hermione!” Harry’s voice. “Are you awake?”

Her wards told her this was truly Harry, not some impostor or half-imagined specter, so she pulled the door open, Crooks in one arm. He was shivering on her doorstep, looking absolutely awful.

She pulled him into a tight head, smushing Crooks between them.

“Fuck, I saw it again,” he mumbled into her hair, as she let herself cry on his shoulder. “The fucking nightmares.”

“Tell me what you saw,” she said, and it felt like a plea.

“It was huge,” he mumbled. “I don’t know… some sort of creature, made from the bodies from the battlefield, and…”

“It had a mouth with three rows of teeth,” she supplied.

He nodded. “You were in the mouth.”

“Yeah. I couldn’t breathe.”

He released her from the hug, looking her over as if ensuring she was okay, and then his eyes fell on Crooks.

“That’s…”

She nodded. “Yeah.” She opened the door further, and he stepped in. She closed it behind them, checked the wards. Harry sat at the foot of her bed, and she joined him, depositing cat between them. “I’ve got no idea what’s going on. He’s not alive. I think he’s… he’s not a ghost, he’s not light or dark, he just is.”

“Undead cats and terrible flesh golems,” Harry muttered. “When did he return?”

“A few days before the nightmares started up again.” She paused, petting Crooks. “Ginny can’t see him. Parvati couldn’t, either, when she came by.”

Harry stared at Crooks, also taking the opportunity to pet the cat. “Feels real enough.”

“There’s no heartbeat. And he’s much lighter.”

He snorted. “You always did try to pudge him up. He’s probably just at a healthy weight.”

Hermione stared at him, aghast, and lightly swatted his arm as he giggled. “My Crooks was never pudgy! He was prosperous.”

Harry fell back, laughing, but sobered up quickly. “I wonder why people can’t see him. Wonder if it’s like thestrals.”

“I’m sure Ginny would be able to see him, if he went by the same rules as thestrals.”

“Mm, you’re right.” Harry scratched his head. “Well, fuck. No doubt you have some idea about tests to run?”

Hermione managed a smile. “Oh, you bet your ass I do.” She paused, tilting her head and scratching Crooks’ ears. “Do you know if Ginny’s having nightmares, too?”

“She is. But it’s a different nightmare. She’s getting just… flashbacks to the war, I think. Same with Ron, and Neville, and everybody else I’ve talked to.”

“So we’re the only ones getting this…“ Hermione waved a hand vaguely. “Bone monster.”

“Yeah. You know, the creatures that made it up remind me of inferi.”

“That’s… troubling. Think you can ask around or eavesdrop, see who else might be having dreams like ours, or if they’re all just having normal nightmares?” Hermione hefted Crooks onto her lap. He melted out on her, his tail twitching. “I’ll figure out ways to see how many people can see Crooks.”

“You got it, boss.”

She snorted, and rolled her eyes. “I’m not that bossy!”

Okay, maybe she was, but a day later when she had Crooks in her arms while relaxing in the common room, nobody noticed except for Harry. The two of them were exchanging increasingly worried glances, and while everyone else was debating the quidditch season, Harry slid over to her.

“We’re the only ones seeing the bone monster,” he said. “Did you have a dream last night?”

She shook her head.

“Neither did I.” He paused, reached over, and frowned, pausing to sniff Crooks. “Hermione? He… he smells like Limbo.”

Harry rarely talked about Limbo, the time when he visited the train station between life and death. Hermione didn’t blame him.

He glanced up at her, his brow scrunched. “I wonder if it’s got to do with whether people have died or not.”

“But I haven’t died,” she protested.

“Not officially, no,” he said. “But when we got you back from... from the Manor, and that time with the basilisk…”

“You think that counted?”

He shrugged. “All I know is that I have no idea how you lived through the Manor.”

“I do.” Hermione managed a dry laugh. “I knew you and Ron needed a chaperone.”

Snorting, Harry rolled his eyes. “You’re not wrong.”

“We should check if anyone else has come close enough to death for them to see Crooks.” She rubbed at the cat’s ears. “I can think of one off the top of my head, but I doubt Snape’d tolerate me shoving a cat in his face.”

“Let’s try and keep that as a last resort. We’re not supposed to know how close to death he got, anyway.”

***

“Minerva, this is an abnormally high incidence of night terrors.”

The Headmistress rubbed at her temples, while Severus stood across from her desk, arms crossed. Madam Pomfrey was seated by him, looking worried.

“You can’t deny it,” Severus repeated. “Let me check the grounds for Dark forces. I don’t have the time to keep brewing this much sleeping draught, even with Granger.”

Minerva’s sharp eyes were suddenly staring at him. “Granger?”

Oh, fuck’s sake. He forgot how overprotective Minerva was about her little lioness.

“Is that why she was there, Severus?” asked Pomfrey. “When I called on you?”

Rolling his eyes and tightening his arms over his chest, Severus scoffed. “She’s been in detention for her interactions with that atrocious Weasley boy. I’ve had her brewing.”

“I never thought I’d see the day!” Poppy beamed at him, her worry disappearing. “You found a student’s potions work satisfactory enough to have her brew for our infirmary! Brightest witch of her age, I say!”

Sometimes, Severus hated Poppy. “Fucking Circe, that’s not what we need to focus on right now.”

“You’re forgetting to mention something, Severus,” came the familiar voice of Albus from his portrait. Snape could practically hear the twinkle in his voice.

“What?” he snapped.

“Miss Granger volunteered to keep brewing, even after her detention, and you accepted.” Albus was definitely twinkling. Fuck him. Even after death, he couldn’t stop pissing Snape off.

“I’ll wash your portrait with turpentine,” Severus snarled.

Poppy gasped, her eyes matching Albus’ twinkle. “You’re making friends, Severus!”

“Well, friend, singular,” Minerva muttered.

“Friend!” Poppy corrected herself, without missing a beat.

Severus pinched his nose bridge. “I’m surrounded by idiots.” Why was he even asking for permission to patrol? They couldn’t stop him if they tried. What would Minerva do, threaten to fire him? Saddle him with more wretched tweens? “I will be patrolling nightly,” he announced, stated, whatever. There would be no argument. “If I have to brew more, I’ll keep giving the damn girl detentions.”

“When will you sleep, Severus?” Minerva asked.

He shrugged. Frankly, he could not give less of a shit. “I’ll use dreamless sleep. I’m accustomed to it.” It was how he had survived being at the beck and call of two masters. Dreamless sleep and black coffee.

Pivoting on his heel, he turned to go, but Minerva’s voice held him back.

“Severus.”

“What.”

“Did you know Hermione is thinking about a Potions Mastery?”

No. “I’m very glad that her overtures of helpfulness are simply an application for apprenticeship.”

“Severus, you’re not thinking,” Minerva retorted, sharp and quick. “She doesn’t need an application for anyone but you. She’s one of the Golden Trio. I know for a fact that she received apprenticeship offers from three Masters on the continent, and she denied them all.”

He stood at the top of the stairs, staring longingly at the door. “I fail to see how that’s relevant.”

“Just think about it. I’d let her sit her N.E.W.T.s early and start after Christmas break as your apprentice. She could take some of the brewing load and younger classes off of your shoulders.”

It was a common misconception that Severus thought everyone else imbeciles. He thought most people imbeciles, and he acted like they all were. He’d be a very poor spy if he couldn’t correctly estimate someone’s competency.

Hermione Granger was, without a doubt, the most brilliant person Severus had ever met. And that was why he was especially careful to not trip up around her. Albus had known this, and Severus wouldn’t be surprised if he told Minerva.

Minerva, who was still sitting there expectantly for some sort of answer.

Fuck that. Severus didn’t respond, instead breezing--or storming, rather--out the door.

“Minnie, it appears you owe me a galleon,” he heard Albus say as he left.

Was that bastard betting on Severus’ lack of friends? Damn him.

***

Hermione was studying Arithmancy in the common room when an owl knocked on the window. Popping it open, she let in the bird, handing it a few treats from her pocket in exchange for the little scrap of paper attached to its claw.

She unfurled the note to find McGonagall’s handwriting: My office, in fifteen minutes.

Packing up her books, she threw her bag over her shoulder and hurried to the Headmistress’ office, dodging a very snarly Professor Snape on the way. He seemed in an unusually bad mood, and didn’t even glance at her when he stormed through.

A minute later, she knocked on the Headmistress’ gargoyle, which swung open.

“I think he likes her,” she heard Dumbledore’s voice from far above as she climbed the stairs.

“I agree.” Was that… Madam Pomfrey? What were they all doing there? Hermione hesitated. “At the very least, he wants to like her,” Madam Pomfrey finished.

Slowly, Hermione climbed the rest of the stairs. “Er… Headmistress? I got this note…” She glanced between McGonagall, Madam Pomfrey, and the ever-twinkly Dumbledore.

“Yes! Come in, Miss Granger.” McGonagall indicated the empty chair by Poppy. “I assure you, you’re not in trouble.”

“Oh! Uh, alright.” Hermione settled herself, as much as she could, into the chair indicated.

“We need to adjust your patrol schedule,” McGonagall said. “Professor Snape has to time his later, so you will be taking over some of his patrols.”

She nodded, accepting the new schedule that McGonagall handed to her. Something as simple as scheduling didn’t seem like it required Dumbledore’s presence as well as Madam Pomfrey’s, but she tried to not glance at them too much.

“I also wanted to talk to you about Professor Snape. He hasn’t been punishing you too harshly, has he?”

Hermione could see the worry in McGonagall’s eyes, but it was entirely unfounded. She beamed at the Headmistress’ furrowed brow. “Oh, not at all! He even let me brew last time, it was absolutely wonderful. I’ve never had to brew for such a large number of people before! I was making calming draught over the summer and everything, but that was only a small amount, and it gave me some great ideas about how to scale up production. And you learn so much, even just watching him! I’m--” She froze as she realized how much she was talking. “Sorry. Babbling.”

McGonagall chuckled. “You’re fine, dear. I know he probably doesn’t say it, but I’m certain you’re a huge help.”

“I certainly like having multiple people helping,” Madam Pomfrey supplied. “The two of you have practically tripled production speed.”

Flushing, Hermione looked down at her hands. She was always a sucker for praise. “It’s no problem, really, Madam,” she said. “I just hope I’m not too much of a bother for Professor Snape.”

All three of them assured her otherwise, but Hermione still wasn’t convinced.

A few days later, Hermione had completed her potion for that class and was turning it in. Snape held it up to the light, swirled it around, sniffed it, and muttered, “E. You will be serving detention this coming Saturday, beginning at one PM. Expect to run late. We’ll be making batches for eighty.”

Of course he’d never give her an O, and that wasn’t fine, but Hermione couldn’t dwell on it for too long or she’d break down in front of him and that’d definitely flunk her. Besides, Snape trusting her to brew batches of potions for the entire school felt like an entire essay espousing her greatness, coming from him. But such a large batch called for modern solutions. “Of course, Professor. May I bring my own brewing equipment?”

He sniffed distastefully. “If you must, Granger.”

It was time to show Severus Snape how she’d supplied an army.

Chapter Text

Towards the end of the war and during the rebuilding efforts, Dumbledore’s army had required a broad diversity of brews. Hermione, being the person who generally had to deal with those sorts of things, had learned how to quickly and efficiently prepare and run several concurrent brews.

One of her techniques was the use of charmed muggle cooking implements. She and Arthur had made them to help with supplying the group, but also because he was fascinated with them. A charmed blender, enchanted (ex-electronic) scale, lemon squeezer, peeler, steel mesh tea nets, measuring cups and spoons, garlic press, and several spritz bottles helped her quickly manage brews. She’d brought them with her to Hogwarts because she didn’t trust her friends’ ability to stay out of trouble. Now, she hurried to the Potions classroom with all of her muggle cooking gear in her beaded bag. She paused outside of the classroom to secure her hair up in a bun, then knocked.

“Enter.” Snape was, of course, seated at his desk, grading.

It was tough to keep the bounce out of her step as she came to stand in front of him. “Reporting for detention, sir.”

He didn’t look up, instead handing her a note in Madam Pomfrey’s handwriting. “Complete what you can. Don’t fuck it up. My private stock room is open to you. If something is locked, you’re not allowed to touch it. Try and not steal anything this time, Granger.”

Flushing, Hermione ducked her head. “I am sorry about that, sir.” She glanced around the classroom. “I may need a lot of space.”

Snape waved a hand dismissively. “If you ruin any batches, you’ll be scrubbing cauldrons until your pay for all the reagents you waste.”

She grinned, turning so Snape wouldn’t see it. “Brilliant,” she whispered, then louder, “Yes sir.”

So he was trusting her to know her limits. That was very… flattering of him, that he was willing to trust her. And Hermione would not fail him.

She pulled out his old textbook--the one Harry had gotten--in case of any uncertainty on her part. She’d been using it for the past year, and had added some of her own notes on small pieces of parchment stuck on with charms (writing next to Snape’s handwriting felt like too much of an intrusion).

Then she numbered the potions the infirmary needed in order of urgency and brewing complexity. Casting a muffliato to keep from disturbing him, she grabbed the first three cauldrons she’d need, checked they were clean, and set one up on each desk. Humming softly to herself, she proceeded to upend her beaded bag, allowing all of her brewing equipment to tumble out. Snatching up a long scroll with ingredients and rough conversions between weights and volumes, she dashed happily off to the ingredients room to get started.

She was half an hour into her brewing, already having successfully set up five cauldrons that were now self-stirring. Small dishes by each one had pre-measured and prepared ingredients, ready for when they needed to be dumped in. Little charmed clockwork timers by each one told her when they’d be ready for the next step.

The garlic press and lemon squeezer were perfect for crushing a number of ingredients, and she was currently using the press to dice some crocodile hearts when she was startled by the sound of the blender turning on beside her. Letting out a small squeak, she jumped away and whirled to face the noise.

It was Snape. He was bent over at the blender, pressing the buttons, which were charmed to act as they would on any normal muggle implement. For a moment she just watched him, struck by the glint in his eyes and he poked and prodded at the blender. That wasn’t his normal hateful glint. Was it… curiosity? She cancelled her muffliato to apologize, but before she could speak, he did.

“This thing needs copper blades,” he said. “For grinding some of the touchier ingredients.”

Copper blades. She hadn’t even thought of that. “Brilliant,” she murmured, darting over to her notebook to note it down. “Stone too, I’d bet.”

He nodded. “What’s it called?”

“Blender, sir.”

“How quaint.”

Hermione stared at him, frozen over the page. That wasn’t an insult, was it? It didn’t sound like an insult. It didn’t sound like something good, but he… hadn’t murdered her for bringing muggle implements into his lab, which was better than she anticipated.

As if sensing her stare, he glanced up at her, one brow raised. “What?”

Her mouth popped open like a dumb fish, and she froze as she tried to think of something to say, but thankfully one of her timers saved her with a bright ding! She hurried over, watching the color of the potion carefully as she added the next phase of ingredients before charming the stirring rod to perform its magic.

“What is this?”

She looked up and her heart did a weird flip. Snape was holding the lemon squeezer up, holding it by the very end of its handle with just two fingers, like one might pick up a dead rat. She couldn’t keep the grin from her face at his clear interest, as derisive as it might be. “Lemon squeezer.”

“Lemons.” His nose wrinkled.

Hermione bit her lip so she wouldn’t giggle. “I find it very helpful for juicing berries. The garlic press is better for roots and the like.” She held up the press.

Snape squinted at it, looking unimpressed, then reached out slowly and snatched it from her hand like a wary snake.

She let it go, and he wandered off with both of them.

Snape came back later with another set of ingredients to help with the infirmary list. Hermione watched him out of the corners of her eyes, he looked to be using the potion as an excuse to test out the toys she brought. Nonetheless, she liked the help, and the companionable silence they shared.

After setting up a batch of anti-burn poultice, Snape wandered off to brew his own stuff--potions she didn’t recognize, with ingredients she’d never seen. Hesitantly, Hermione snuck closer as she waited for her cauldrons to be done. But he didn’t snap at her, instead just ignored her.

His hands worked with a certainty and dexterity that Hermione felt bordered on preternatural, as if they were possessed by some ancient and little-known muse of slicing and dicing potions ingredients. It was mesmerizing as a dancing fire, satisfying like watching an artist paint, and fascinating in probably the nerdiest way possible. She watched how he tilted the knife to strip leaves from a plant, or how he judged the quality of a blossom just by feeling its petals.

She was so scared he’d snap and chase her off that she hadn’t dared ask questions at first. Finally, though, something had to come out.

“Professor?”

“What.”

“Why do you use that particular angle when cutting ginseng?”

“It has to do with the way the magic flows through the root,” he said, holding up a section cut with a perfect thirty degree angle and tossing it to her. Hermione barely caught it, her first instinct to dodge and apologize for bothering him while he was working. He continued to cut as she examined the little wedge of root. “Do you see the rings? You want them to form a balanced ellipse, with the semi-major axis about one and a half to two times the length of the semi-minor. The energies harmonize better in that formation, has to do with how the energy can focus at the same spots as the ellipse.”

Hermione stared as her heart flip-flopped. Several different thoughts warred for dominance in her. The first was ‘That’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard.’ ‘Say thank you’ was close after that, followed by a series of ‘holy shit’s in slightly different tones of voice and ‘that makes so much sense, I can see how that’d apply to dogwood, too,’ as well as the very quiet very brief question of, ‘is this what love feels like?’

Trying not to scream externally, Hermione managed, “Thanks for explaining. Is that… can that be applied to dogwood root, too?”

“Yes, with a similar ellipse shape. Ginger and mandrake use different geometries.”

“Would ginger be… more eccentric of an ellipse? Because the energy flow is broader.”

“Precisely.”

“So if mandrake has a triadic energy flow, would you use a perfect circle? Or would it make more sense to shave the root down to a triangular shape?”

“Huh.” At first she thought he was about to scold her, but instead he was staring through the wall, thoughtful. “Haven’t tried triangular. I suppose it’d depend on… how you shave it down, you’d have to be careful not to cut off the foci. We’ll have to try that next time I’m forced to deal with one of the shrieking bastards.”

We. Next time.

This was definitely what love felt like. Okay, probably not, but Hermione was pretty convinced. He hadn’t even praised her. He hadn’t needed to. He’d just said she was right, and taught her to understand how. This was all she’d ever wanted. Everyone else was struggling to keep up with her, or even asking her to teach them, and here Snape was, casually discussing the theory behind potion making with her.

Fuck. She wished he’d do this with her all the time.

Hermione managed to get in a few more question-and-answers before it was time for her to package the last of her potions and go patrol. By then her brain felt abuzz with information. Unfortunately there was no one else she could share it with because no one else was as fucking nerdy as her, except for Professor Snape, apparently.

After she’d cleaned and packed up, he still was using the lemon squeezer and garlic press, so she decided that they were no longer hers and relinquished them as a peace offering. Honestly, she was surprised she managed to retain her blender, considering how much he seemed to enjoy putting it on the super-fast mode. By the end of the day they had restocked the infirmary of almost all the required potions and poultices.

She stopped at the door, as he technically hadn’t dismissed her. “Professor Snape?”

“What--? Oh.” Snape nodded, absently. “Dismissed.”

“Thank you, sir. It was a lot of fun.”

***

That night, Severus drew up the paperwork for Hermione Granger’s apprenticeship.

It was incomplete. He left out his own signature, and hers, of course. Then he ascended to the Headmistress’ office.

“Keep this, don’t read it.”

Minerva arched a brow.

“I’m giving it to you for safe keeping.” In case he decided to do something stupid, like destroy it, in the middle of a rage.

And then he left.

Severus was pretty sure that she would read it the instant he was out of the room, but that was…. well, not awful. Even if she didn’t read it, she probably knew what it was. (His resignation papers were kept under similar Severus-proof conditions, because he would’ve quit innumerable times if he’d had the forms.)

Before he went to patrols, he stopped to clean up a few things in the lab and prepare for the next day’s lessons. It was then that he noticed the two utensils--what had she called them, lemon squeezer and garlic press?--still in his room. He picked them up, by now quite familiar with how to hold them. The initials HG were written in her careful hand on the handles.

Had Granger forgotten them?

No, that wasn’t right. Granger did not forget things. Granger hadn’t forgotten to leave a note when she got fucking petrified by a basilisk.

Maybe she’d noticed him using them and had been too scared to ask for them back. That was slightly more in character, although given Granger’s penchant for obtaining things from him regardless of how they weren’t hers, he doubted that something as simple as asking would repel her.

It puzzled him, but he wasn’t afraid to use them while they awaited reclamation by their rightful owner. They were terribly convenient, after all. If only he could figure out how to get his hands on one of those so-called ‘blenders.’

Severus went to bed that night thinking about plans to obtain copies of the rest of Granger’s goodies.

The next few days that he saw Granger, he noticed a marked change in her demeanor. He pretended to ignore it, of course, while watching it very closely. First of all, she kept watching him with those big doe eyes of hers, all firewhiskey and caramel, but every time he stole a glance out of the corners of his eyes he could see absolutely no judgement in her expression.

He started seeing her in the hallways--always sitting in the bay sill of one window by the Arithmancy classrooms, perfectly absorbed in reviewing any number of books, but he knew she was staring at him. It was an amateur attempt at spying. If it was spying. He really had no idea what her designs were.

When they next brewed together, she asked him more questions, but questions he found significantly less irritating. Maybe it was because she phrased them as observations, or maybe it was because they were considerably more insightful. It no longer seemed like she was trying to show off or know it all, and more like she was trying to understand advanced theory. Perhaps it was the tone of her voice, how it had become less shrill and more honey, soft and unobtrusive. Or maybe it was because, despite his best attempts otherwise, she actually managed to get a legitimate conversation on potions out of him, and for once, he found himself talking to a peer and not an inferior.

Towards the end of the session, she started humming. Severus found he didn’t mind. It was actually rather soothing.

Which was not a thought he’d ever guessed he’d have.

So of course he dismissed her early and snippily, then stormed off to Minerva to complain over a glass of scotch.

“I mean, she just keeps watching me!” he said, angrily, leaning against the fireplace in only his frock coat. The robes had been ditched, it was after hours and they were drinking firewhiskey along with scotch.

Minerva raised her eyebrows at him. She was reclining in an armchair, in slippers. “Who?”

“Granger!”

“Hermione?”

Severus rolled his eyes. “Is there any other Granger worth complaining about?”

Chuckling, Minerva took another sip of scotch. “She’s probably just trying to learn from you. Hermione thinks you’re brilliant, Severus, you must know that by now.”

Waving a hand dismissively, Severus shook his head and gulped down the rest of his scotch. That wasn’t how you were supposed to drink scotch, but fuck it. “She’s done that forever. This is different. She’s been sitting in the hallways where she knows I walk.”

“Coincidence.”

“Fuck coincidence,” Severus hissed. “It’s a shit attempt at spying. What the hell do she and Potter suspect me of this time?” He ran a hand through his hair, then stood up to pour himself another three fingers of scotch. “I mean, she’s even started holding conversations with me. Despite my efforts, may I add.”

“Has it occurred to you that she might want to get to know you?”

He couldn’t hold back a scoff and a roll of his eyes as he flopped in the other armchair. “Don’t be ridiculous.”

“I’m not. Think about it, Severus. She’s been going out of her way to help you, make things easier for you, talk to you…”

Squinting, Severus sipped his scotch. “There were the muggle utensils she left behind.”

“The what?”

He tried to make a gesture of how one used the press and squeezer. “They’re these things muggles made, I think for cooking, but she charmed them to resist ingredients’ innate powers and now they’re beautiful little things for working with ingredients. Hell of a lot easier than a mortar and pestle.”

Minerva was leaning in now, with one brow arched and a sly smile that Severus definitely didn’t like. “And she left them behind?”

“Yes. After… our second to last brewing session. She didn’t take them back during this last one, and I expected her to.” He frowned at the glass of golden fluid. Kind of like Granger’s eyes. Ugh, Granger. He took another sip. “I wonder if she’s trying to persuade me to return them. I thought she’d just steal them back.”

To his surprise, Minerva snorted. “Steal them back. Severus, you’re really unaware of why she’s acting like this towards you?”

Pressing his lips together, Severus slid his gaze over to Minerva, matching her raised eyebrow with one of his own. “No, I just came all the way here to get drunk and bitch about a problem I knew the solution of.”

With a secretive smile, Minerva withdrew into her chair and scotch. “Then I don’t think I can tell you. I suspect it’s a rather private matter for Miss Granger, and I doubt she’d want me talking about it.”

Severus rolled his eyes. “Infinitely helpful, Minnie, as always.”

The next day brought... revelations.

Chapter Text

Severus had no visitors during his office hours that day, which was typical. People didn’t like asking him questions, although he felt he was being much more patient nowadays since he didn’t, you know, have to be at the beck and call of two masters. Apparently the students didn’t agree.

He really liked freedom. Pity he had no idea what to do with it.

“Professor!”

Granger? What was she doing here? He glanced up to find her at the door, a little rosy-cheeked and with bright, excited eyes. She was carrying a small square package. “Yes?”

She made to enter, but hesitated. “I’m not interrupting anything, am I?”

Severus looked down at the papers he was grading that she was very much so interrupting, then back at her. “No.”

Granger beamed, skipping over. Was this really the same girl who had endured the horrors of war? Had her extended exposure to Potter and Weasley addled her brain beyond repair? Why the bloody fuck was she always so happy around him? Maybe that was a good thing. Some of the greatest potions masters had been completely off their fucking rockers.

Before Severus could analyze the implications of thinking of Granger as a potions mistress, she placed the box on the empty end of his desk and tapped on it with her wand. It expanded to the size of his torso.

Now that it was larger, he could see the details of it. The box was wrapped in a tasteful emerald green paper, with delicate silver lines detailing leaves. It was tied with silver and black twine twisted together.

Granger beamed at him. He stared back at her. What was he supposed to do with this? She was watching him, waiting for him to make a move, and he had no idea what the hell she wanted.

Severus gestured vaguely at the box. “What, uh. ...Elaborate?”

“It’s for you?” she offered.

She blinked as if puzzled, and Snape’s blood pressure rose as he realized he was out of the loop here. Was this some sort of prank? Had Minerva set her up to this? When would the other foot drop? He glared at her in accusation.

“I mean--I know there’s no real occasion, but…” Granger trailed off, toeing the ground. “Oh, Merlin, maybe it’s inappropriate? Did I overstep? I’m so sorry, Professor, I just-” she was looking increasingly chagrined and panicked “-I just thought since, well, we’ve all done such an abominable job giving you gifts over the years, and now that the war’s over everybody seems to be throwing medals at you and no offence but that doesn’t really seem like your thing, and I just thought that since you were so kind with dealing with me brewing and answering my questions and I wanted to get you something to say thank you, something that was maybe a little more you and I mean clearly I never knew you all these years so I probably fucked it up but I did my best and--”

Okay, Severus had a feeling he knew what was going on right now. The first objective was to get her to stop winding herself in those little anxious circles. He opened his mouth and swiftly interrupted, “They’re not.”

Hermione froze and stared at him.

“Medals,” he said, hurriedly, realizing he was considerably behind the Hermione-Granger-anxiety train and having to run to catch up. “I hate them. I tried to throw the Merlin one in the lake but Minerva wouldn’t let me.” He tried to make it sound offended, but he was pretty sure it came out like a pout.

It was a minute before a little giggle came from her.

“And I doubt that you’d fuck up…” he gestured at the gift, too scared to call it by its name, “that unless you involved the ginger one in your decision making process. Which, from the wrapping paper, it appears you did not.” He propped one elbow on the table and rested his chin on his palm. “By my estimate, almost all of your fuck-ups have been because of those boys you chaperone. The only one I can think of is the cat hair.”

She turned bright red, but was still smiling. Severus decided he kind of liked that mischievous and not-very-guilty smile she was giving the floor.

“Where the hell did you even brew that, anyway?”

Hermione bit her lip, as if trying to suppress the growing smile. It wasn’t working and Severus was very glad for it. “Girl’s lavatory, second floor,” she replied, sounding not at all sorry.

Severus laughed. “Merlin’s balls, doesn’t that one have Never-shuts-up Netty?”

Wait. Did he just laugh? It was so natural he almost didn’t realize he did it.

Apparently Granger had noticed, because she was looking at him with those wide eyes again. “M-Moaning Myrtle, yes.”

This was weird. It was almost as if he was having an actual, honest conversation. Almost all of his conversations for the past several decades had been him trying to get information, trying not to give up information, or pretending to be something that didn’t feel like him. Severus was loathe to cut it short, but he also wasn’t sure how long he could sustain it.

Speaking of things he didn’t know how to handle, the present.

“I--” He licked his lips, staring at the present and trying not to look like it might bite him at any moment. “--appreciate the, uh.” Gift still felt like too much of an assumption. “Thank you,” he finished, lamely.

Hermione nodded, and drew herself up a little more. “You don’t have to open it now,” she said. “I think you might not like it so maybe I shouldn’t be here.”

Was he that scary? Yes, Severus decided, he was.

“I doubt I’ll dislike it,” he replied. “I believe the cliche is ‘it’s the thought that counts.’ But whatever you’re comfortable with.”

She blinked at him. Severus knew he wasn’t typically one to offer comfort, but he repaid kindness with kindness to the best of his stunted ability.

“Open it later,” she said, finally. “Then you can have time to test it to make sure it’s not a prank.”

His mouth popped open to protest, but he couldn’t actually think of anything to say, because that was exactly what he had intended to do. So he just shut his mouth again.

She giggled again. “For the record, I don’t blame you. There are charms involved, but they’re not things that should threaten you.” She headed towards the door. “I hope you like it. If you don’t I won’t be offended.”

“Have more faith in yourself, Granger.”

She was already gone. He hoped she’d heard him.

After he was certain she’d left, he closed the door and warded it, not particularly caring that he was ending his office hours early.

Severus stood in front of the box and stared it down. His wand hand itched to catch detection charms on it. Checking everything for threats was his way of life. But he trusted Granger, he realized. He trusted Granger. She wouldn’t prank him, not intentionally. Probably not unintentionally, either. She was aware enough to try and avoid getting framed like that.

Was he just not checking for traps because she’d called him out on it? Was it legitimate trust, or guilt? Was she going to do some sort of double-cross where she convinced him that it was harmless by calling herself out so openly?

… He was being ridiculous. He was letting his anxiety talk for him, just as Granger had done. Granger was clever but she was not manipulative in the slightest. She was about as straightforward as people came.

Worst case scenario? It exploded and killed him. Wait. No, that was actually a decent outcome. He wouldn’t mind that. Worst case scenario was it exploded or was filled with taunts and didn’t kill him and ruined all of this tentative trust and joy he found in Granger’s company.

Best case scenario? Severus had no idea what a best case scenario could even look like at this point.

Still staring down the present, Severus wondered what it would feel like to trust a gift, open it, and see something that he legitimately wanted, not just something generic or misconstrued. His family had never been big on gift-giving. His mother had tried, but his father had quickly squashed that. Lily and he had exchanged gifts a few times.

He remembered the last year they did. The years before, their gifts had always been intricate, personalized. Gifts that good friends would give each other. Or so he had believed. Severus, having missed her company over the year, spent three days planning out the exact present, a journal with a portrait painted on it of her and the flowers that were her namesake, spelled only to open for her.

She got him soap.

Severus took that as his exit. It had crushed him. Nowadays, he understood. He could hardly blame her for distancing herself from him as he threw himself deeper and deeper into the blood-purist, bigoted Death Eater cult. He knew how he must’ve appeared to her, an unwanted hanger-on with dangerously violent designs who’d had a crush on her a few years too long, and who couldn’t handle rejection.

At the time, he’d thought, ‘No matter what, she didn’t deserve to die.’ That was why he had switched sides. Tom had made it abundantly clear that things which had brought Severus happiness--even if those memories had soured--were not allowed to exist.

Tom had succeeded, even in his death.

It wasn’t until years after Lily’s death, after years and years of pain and occlumency, that Severus started to really take a knife to his psyche. It’d started with just a night like any other, vomiting in the Headmaster’s bathroom--his bathroom. Severus had asked himself, ‘How the fuck did I get here?’

And that was when he started to focus down on his own actions. Not Lily’s death, not her friendships with other people. Him. His responses.

It had always been him.

It was then that Severus realized how much of a piece of shit he’d become. It wasn’t just that he was a horrid teacher, lackluster mentor, and generally bad-tempered, it was that he was a bigot about it. Sure, he could blame it on the part he had to play. But it wasn’t that. He knew that at some point, he’d genuinely held those ideas, genuinely believed them, even killed for them. That was what taking the Dark Mark meant. It didn't matter what he believed in now, or how 'reformed' he was, neither his Mark nor his past could ever be washed away. Deep in his pit of despair--a pit that was his fault alone, mind--he had wondered if an old dog could learn new tricks. A very old dog, with very little to care about, and even less to live for.

He hadn’t thought so.

Minerva and Septima had spent the summer trying to change that. They had succeeded, to a degree. Severus owed them his life, and any improvement he’d made. Yes, he’d been manhandled into taking up his position at Hogwarts again, but it was because Septima had sat him down and explained to him in no uncertain terms that he was not allowed to leave Minerva and her’s sphere of observation until they were certain he wasn’t a risk to himself--or anyone else--anymore.

… Fuck, he should probably get them gifts, huh? Even if he hated being observed.

Severus stared at the thing that had started all of this melodramatic rumination. The present sat there, utterly confusing. He still hadn’t tested it for pranks. Briefly, he entertained the notion that Granger could’ve charmed it to put him in a better mood, but the thought was mostly a joke and not a serious consideration.

Finally, deciding he’d delayed enough, Severus gently tugged open the bow. The twine fell away. He considered tearing apart the paper as a sort of catharsis, but it was very pretty and very him, and Severus wondered what it’d look like as an accent wallpaper around his rooms. Deciding to keep it so he could mess with that later, he unwrapped the box carefully.

A muggle box sat in front of him, proudly declaring BLEND-O-MASTER 5000, YOUR ULTIMATE BLENDING MACHINE! BLEND FRUITS, VEGETABLES, ICE, FROZEN MEAT, THE ENTRAILS OF YOUR ENEMIES, CONCRETE, AND MORE!*

Severus stared.

Picking the box up, he moved it to a student desk (even if it blew up on him, that paper was still quite pretty), and then finished opening it.

The box had already been opened, and he realized why. Granger had set up a complicated series of charms linked to the buttons on the machine. Different modes, different speeds, different containers… there were even different blades. She’d made him blades of copper, silver, and even glass spelled to be shatter-resistant.

The charmwork must’ve taken hours, he realized as he inspected the thing closer. The instruction booklet was printed muggle-style, but there were a few addendums in Granger’s handwriting for things that she’d altered.

Severus rocked backwards as if physically pushed, practically falling into the nearest chair.

He wanted to ditch the box and start playing, mixing up random shit to test the blender’s abilities. He wanted to stare at it and struggle to comprehend that bloody Hermione Granger, previously a know-it-all chit, had somehow become a calm and intelligent and thoughtful young woman who for some fucking unknown reason, had spent a serious amount of time and energy on getting him--him, him!--a gift. And he wanted to do something to repay her, because he had never received something so… beautiful.

She didn’t realize, did she? She didn’t realize that he was still the same grumpy, bigoted, mirthless old asshole that he’d been before. She didn’t realize he did this to himself. She thought he was actually worth something so thoughtful.

Maybe this could be the start of some new tricks.

It was a strange feeling to have hope. Even stranger to have something worth living for. It felt altogether uncomfortable and alien, too strange and too ephemeral to trust. But if there was one thing Severus knew, it was that he had nothing left to lose.

A loose plan was sketched out in his mind by the time he made it to the door. Thank fuck he already had a gift ready. It hadn’t been intended as a gift, but it would suffice. He needed something else, something better to repay the terribly perfect thing that she’d just gotten him, but that could be dealt with later.

Severus practically ran to Minerva’s office. He was panting when he hauled his ass up the stairs, cursing the fact that he was forty and his knees were no longer what they had been.

“Severus?” Minerva greeted him, looking a little bewildered.

“Give me the papers.”

***

“D’you think he’s polyjuiced?”

They were sitting in the Great Hall, grabbing a late dinner. Ginny and Ron were both at practice. Harry, despite his love of quidditch, had decided to abstain from the team this year--he had enough on his plate with his work with the Aurors. It was baked potatoes and roast beef tonight, with salad. Harry was sitting across from her, while she corrected his Arithmancy homework and

Hermione bit her lip and twirled a lock of her hair in one hand, scratching out some of his work with the pen in her other hand. “I don’t think he’d be okay with someone else taking his face, even if it did give him reprieve from us students.”

“Yeah, that’s fair. I just can’t believe he, you know, laughed.” Harry paused, drumming his fingers thoughtfully on his cheek. “Possessed?”

“Maybe.” She finished one last correction and passed his homework back to him. “You’ll pass the answers on to Ron, yeah?”

“Thanks,” he said, tucking it away. “And probably. Dunno yet. Might make him squirm, he’s been a real ass recently.”

At that, she let out a laugh and grabbed some more pumpkin juice. “I’m aware. At least he hasn’t gotten me in trouble with Professor Snape recently.”

Harry shovelled potato into his mouth. “I noticed. I don’t know if you’ve seen, but Snape has been a great deal more threatening towards Ron when he thinks you’re not looking.”

She shook her head and rolled her eyes. As if. “Don’t be silly.”

Harry glanced up at her, eyes perfectly serious. “I’m not shitting you, Hermione.”

Hermione snorted. “Bullshit,” she pressed on, regardless of the gravity in his gaze. “Professor Snape has barely managed to tolerate me in class, even if he’s more relaxed when there aren’t as many people around. I’ve still barely managed to keep out of his hair.” She chuckled, although it was dry. “I wish I could figure out whether he likes me taking some of the brewing work off of his shoulders or not. I was hoping it’d be helpful, but I still can’t tell.” Hermione paused, tilting her head thoughtfully. “Maybe he doesn’t know, either.”

She looked at Harry for a response, but he was staring at her quite fixedly and making no move to open his mouth, so she continued.

“Did you know, I think he’s had some sort of running snark with me since the beginning of the year?” she said, as she cut up the pork. “He kept docking small amounts of points for ‘dawdling’ but I’m pretty sure he was docking them for poor taste in men. They always happened after Ron would do something stupid.” Hermione laughed, authentically this time, even if it was a little self-deprecating. “I think he’s probably right. I feel like I should be honored that Professor Snape has been inconvenienced enough to make commentary on my shitty love life.”

Harry was still staring pointedly at her. Was that fear?

“Harry?” Hermione asked. “What’s wrong?”

Harry swallowed, hard. “Hello, Professor Snape,” he said, looking behind and above Hermione. “What can we do for you?”

“Fuck-” Hermione whirled around to stop herself from finishing the word. “Professor! I’m so sorry-”

He was standing there like a black-clad monolith of displeasure. It took Hermione another heartbeat before she realized that the rest of the room, while not silent, was certainly a good deal quieter than she would’ve liked it to be, and was watching them. Hermione felt like her pumpkin juice had been spiked with pepper-up, given how hot her face was. His expression was emotionless, but Hermione knew better than to judge off of that.

Snape reached long pale fingers into his robe and drew out a scroll, holding it out to her.

Tentatively, afraid he’d snap, Hermione reached out and gently took it from him.

“Look these over,” he said. “Then we will discuss with the Headmistress.”

He whirled on a heel and was gone, out of the Great Hall before Hermione could draw breath.

There was another beat before conversation returned. Hermione slid her gaze back over to Harry.

They stared at each other for a moment before she couldn’t stand it anymore. With a groan, Hermione buried her beet-red face in her hands.

“Fucking Circe, Harry, how many people heard me being an absolute--dunderhead?”

“Just him,” Harry replied. “The talking didn’t die down until after you finished. Dunno if that makes it better or worse.”

“Fuck,” Hermione mumbled into her palms. “I don’t think that helps.”

His hand patted her shoulder from across the table. “It can’t be that bad, can it?” Hermione glared at him from behind her curtain of hair. “Okay, dumb question, it can definitely be that bad.” He paused, then looked at the scroll she still clutched. “What’d he give you?”

“I have no idea,” she mumbled. “Oh, Merlin, he mentioned the Headmistress, didn’t he? That means it’s bad. Probably notice of my expulsion.”

Harry leaned back with a roll of his eyes. “Fucking hell, Hermione. They can’t expel you, you’re the best student in decades.”

“They can definitely still expel me.”

Laughing at her misfortune in the loving way only a true friend can, Harry nodded at the scroll. “Open it. You’re killing me with the suspense, here.”

With a sigh, Hermione took the scroll and unrolled it with shaking fingers. It must’ve been feet of parchment, all written in Snape’s sharp hand.

The title of the pages caught her breath and stole it.

Contract of Apprenticeship between Professor Severus Tobias Snape, Master of Potions, and Hermione Jean Granger, Prospective Apprentice.

She unrolled the parchment more, scanning down the list of duties to the very bottom of the scroll. Under “Signature of Master,” Snape had already signed. Next to his signature glistened a seal in gorgeous, glittering emerald green wax. The seal detailed a crow volant on a shield, encircled by heather sprigs, with the words ‘HOUSE OF PRINCE’ beneath it.

“Fuck,” she breathed.

He already signed it.

Hermione shoved her plates of food to the side, scrambling for her quill while Harry shouted at her to tell him what the fuck was going on. She snatched up her quill and dipped it, moving to where she needed to sign.

“Hermione, holy shit, he’s offering you--did you even read it?!”

“No,” she said. “I don’t give a fuck what he wants, I’d give him my damn firstborn if I had to.”

Harry grinned at her. “I doubt he wants to deal with more kids.”

She managed a smile as she finished signing her name. “There.”

“...Fuck, he even used a seal? This is incredible.” Before Hermione could answer, Harry had lunged over the table to wrap her tight in a hug. “I’m so proud of you. You’re going to be the most brilliant Potions Mistress ever. Now maybe you should read the terms while you still have a chance to vanish your signature.”

With a laugh, Hermione hugged him back. When he released, she returned to the scroll, and began to review the terms of her new apprenticeship. Harry leaned over the table, munching and reading with her.

“So you’re going to finish up this semester early, then come back after break as his apprentice?” Harry said, pointing to a paragraph.

“Looks like it,” Hermione replied quietly, chewing her lip. “I have to get a series of minimum scores on my N.E.W.T.s… that’s going to be terrifying.”

“Hermione.” Harry’s tone was soft, loving. “I know your anxiety will never listen, but I hope you know that there’s absolutely no way you’re going to do poorly on your N.E.W.T.s.”

She sighed. “Hopefully.”

“It’s just more to worry about for you, and that’s the bitch. Right?”

Hermione paused, nibbling her lip, then nodded. She reached out and squeezed Harry’s hand. “You know me too well.”

He laughed. “I have a brilliant idea. Once you’re done reading that? Let’s get registered as siblings at the Ministry.”

“Brilliant indeed.” Hermione didn’t even hesitate. Harry was already her brother, as far as she was concerned, and it’d be nice to have family again. “Will they even let that happen?”

Harry shrugged. “No idea. But I bet between the two of us we can browbeat them into submission.”

Giggling, Hermione clinked glasses of pumpkin juice with him.

Chapter Text

The Ministry officials, to their credit, were bewildered but did in fact have legislature in place to allow the two of them to become adoptive siblings. It changed basically nothing, except now they could act for each other in medical emergencies.

Honestly, that was a relief to Hermione. She knew Harry would take care of her if something like the basilisk happened again, and since her parents… well, no longer knew she existed, it was really nice to have family in the world again.

Harry was feeling much the same way, and said as much. They talked about it on their way back to Hogwarts, and upon entering the grounds, an owl dropped a request from the Headmistress to meet with Hermione on both their heads.

Hermione said her goodbyes to her newly-legal brother and headed off to the Headmistress’ office. She clutched the scroll of parchment tightly in her hand, hoping she wasn’t getting it too wrinkled or sweaty in her eagerness.

As she crested the stairs, she found McGonagall beaming at her. Snape hovered behind her, looking marginally less angry than usual, which Hermione considered a compliment.

McGonagall got up as Hermione entered, wrapping her tightly in a hug. Hermione hugged her back, suddenly feeling very warm and loved despite all of the hell the last seven years had been.

“Hermione,” McGonagall whispered. “I’m so proud of you.” She withdrew from the hug and grasped Hermione strongly by the upper arms. “You’ve read the scroll?”

Hermione nodded. “And signed. If that’s okay.” She glanced at Snape.

He just inclined his head. “I would not have written it up, let alone signed it, if I was not prepared to enter such a contract.”

That made Hermione want to do a victory lap. Snape was not one for praise. His actions had always spoken louder than his words. And this was the greatest compliment that he could’ve ever paid her.

“Brilliant.” She knew she was probably smiling at him like a loon. “Thank you, Professor. I mean it.”

“You are not in the habit of lying, Miss Granger.”

She laughed. “I try my best to avoid it.”

The shadow of a smile, like some half-forgotten memory, flickered on his lips before it was gone.

“Sit down, Miss Granger,” McGonagall said. “We have a lot to go over.”

Hermione took a seat across from the Headmistress, Professor Snape seated beside her. He was silent while McGonagall went through the expectations of apprentices, as well as the shifts and additions to her duties before and after her official graduation.

It was only when the Headmistress got to the fact that Hermione would be the first apprentice at Hogwarts in nearly a decade that Snape spoke up.

“Headmistress,” he said. “I know you mean to impress upon Miss Granger the magnitude of her achievements, and speak with a great amount of affection. But I believe she may be interpreting it--unwillingly, mind you--as an added responsibility.”

McGonagall stared at him, open-mouthed, then nodded. “A good point, Severus. I apologize if I made you more anxious, Hermione.”

Snape leaned forward in his seat, fixing Hermione with those black eyes. She felt once again pinned, like a butterfly in an entomologist’s collection. “Miss Granger, I have not taken an apprentice before in my life. I have no desire to stick to tradition blindly. This-” he waved a hand loftily at the paper “-is not meant to be a fixed or rigid structure. It is meant to be a foundation upon which we can build a relationship in which I am actually able to teach you, rather than just snarling obscenities from the front of the classroom. Am I clear?”

Hermione stared, her words caught in her mouth. Finally, she managed to open her mouth, and the first thing that spilled out was the exact words he’d given her in parting: “Give yourself more credit, Professor.”

Snape let out a single bark of laughter, so dry and sudden that both Hermione and McGonagall jumped. “Touché,” he said, the corner of his lips barely twitching upwards. “I simply find myself a realist, Miss Granger. This will be a shift from the established dynamic, and it may shift several times, until we find something that works.”

“That seems very reasonable, Professor,” Hermione replied. “I appreciate you being up front about this.”

He nodded, then leaned back in his seat.

A sudden and very worrying thought came into Hermione’s mind. She glanced between McGonagall and Snape. “Sir, I hope that my gift didn’t come across as any sort of bribe, I meant--”

He made a dismissive, sharp flick with his hand. “Not at all. These papers were written up before then.”

Before then. Hermione managed a nod before she turned back to McGonagall, trying to wrap her mind about this new information. Snape had my apprenticeship contract drafted… at least for a few days. He was thinking about this.

She wanted to borrow a time turner and spin it until she could tell her younger self that one day, Snape would actually consider her smart enough to be his apprentice--his only apprentice, she noted with just a hint of smugness and a whole dose of awe.

After they had handled the rest of the logistics, Hermione asked him a few general questions about her duties as a TA. She’d be dealing with the younger children, unsurprisingly, and helping him prepare for and grade upper-level classes.

“I wouldn’t put you in charge of peers your age,” he said, in the same tone that he said ‘Gryffindor.’ Hermione remembered then that he’d been hired at only twenty-one. He knew from experience.

“Thank you, Professor. I appreciate it.”

Another dismissive, swift flick of his hand. Apparently his tactic to respond to thanks was to just ignore it. Honestly, Hermione couldn’t blame him.

After they finished discussing her TAing duties, it was Snape’s turn to ask questions. “Miss Granger. I would like to know why you wish to apprentice under me.”

Hermione rolled that one around in her head. She knew that other Potions Masters existed, as well as other disciplines, many of which would be happy to have her, and many of which she would love to master in--particularly Arithmancy, and Transfiguration. But Snape in particular drew her in, as did potions.

“May I be blunt with my answer, sir?”

“Please do.” He was still leaned back in his chair, his fingers steepled in front of his lips.

She licked her lips. Even if he’d given her permission to be an ass, she still didn’t want to offend him.

“Potions has… never been my strongest subject,” she began. “At least, it never felt like it. I think that’s maybe why I’m drawn to it. Honestly, it’s also partially your fault, Professor. With all of my love and respect to my other professors-” she paused to smile at McGonagall, who was still positively beaming “-and no offence, of course, Headmistress-” to Hermione’s great relief, the smile on McGonagall’s face didn’t falter in the slightest “-I have always been told that I perform nearly perfectly. It has always been expected of me, and my failure has never been tolerated--although that pressure is more self-imposed. Except for you, Professor Snape. Intentionally or not, you have always pushed me to understand more, to learn beyond the text, and to question what I read. I think that’s why I want to apprentice in potions, and under you specifically. Rote memorization isn’t enough to survive. I must learn not just creativity, but also hone my critical thinking skills, if I’m to continue to improve myself, in any field.”

Snape was smiling. She could barely see the quirk of his lips from behind his hands, but Hermione dared to believe it nonetheless.

“Eloquently put, Miss Granger.”

Hermione hesitated, then asked, “If I may--why did you choose to accept me as an apprentice?”

He folded his hands in his lap, smiling openly now. “What, fishing for praise?”

Her eyes nearly bugged out of her skull. “Oh, no, I was just curious, sir, I’m so sorry--”

Snape laughed again. “I’m just teasing, Miss Granger.”

Oh, like she was supposed to know Snape was capable of teasing. Hermione would’ve rolled her eyes if she wasn’t about to vomit from fear.

“Simply put, you’re the only student that has ever made me want to actually want to teach them. Admittedly, I still find a classroom setting insufferable. And rote memorization unimpressive, but you’ve come a long way from that. You also possess the rare quality of being able to call me out on my bullshit.”

Hermione laughed then, unable to contain herself. “I’ve been trying to be nice about it, sir.”

“Don’t.” He waved a hand again, although not nearly as sharp about his dismissal. “It’s merited when you point it out. Respect and critique must be a two-way street from now on.”

“If you insist, sir, I would happily continue.”

McGonagall clapped her hands together, smiling at them with a radiant, unfaltering, extremely Scottish love. In fact, her expression was so warm that Hermione briefly wondered if the Headmistress had something to drink, or if she was possessed by a particularly cheery Dumbledore. “I’m so proud of both of you. This is going to be wonderful. I can’t wait to have Hermione as a peer on staff. I can finally invite her to poker.”

Hermione froze. “--Poker?”

Snape rolled his eyes. “You cannot corrupt my apprentice.”

“My little lioness cub is growing up!”

“Headmistress…” Hermione squinted at her, trying to ascertain whether or not she was sober. “Are you alright?”

“She did indeed have firewhiskey before this meeting, if that’s what you’re asking,” Snape muttered.

“Ah. Brilliant.” The sarcasm was nearly as heavy as Snape’s.

Snape’s lips quirked into a smile for a moment. Hermione wanted to describe it as ‘Snape smiling,’ but that felt too unnatural still. His smiles, for the brief moment they existed, seemed to be almost involuntary, as if it was a response he had long smothered finally returning to the surface.

“Do you have any other questions, Hermione?” McGonagall asked.

Hermione paused to think about it, and was about to say no, but then her gut dropped through her chair and her heart leaped up and lodged itself at the back of her mouth. She tried to swallow it down, but she could feel her pulse, fluttering by the base of her tongue. “Er--yes,” she said, trying not to sound defeated and failing utterly. “I have… uh.” Shit. McGonagall knew about her parents, but not the full extent of it, just that she wasn’t in contact with them anymore. Snape didn’t know anything at all. “Finances,” she managed, finally, around the huge lump that was suddenly constricting her airway. “As Headmistress McGonagall knows, I am… no longer in contact with my parents. I have an account at Gringott’s, and it can probably cover the apprenticeship, I would just like to know…” She was trying to think of how to finish that sentence when Snape spoke up.

“Miss Granger, if you think that Minerva here wouldn’t personally fund your apprenticeship, I have some news for you,” he said, holding up a finger before Hermione could explode with protests about not having other people pay for ridiculously expensive things. “You will be given a small salary as befits any other member of Hogwarts staff, which I believe will be above the normal apprenticeship salary due to the fact that you’ll be supplying the infirmary with large quantities of potions. Additionally, you will receive a stipend to purchase potions supplies. If that is not enough, I run a small potions business on the side and can certainly employ you there.”

“I’ll rob a bleeding bank if I have to,” Minerva muttered, rummaging around in the drawers and pulling out a canteen.

“That’s our signal to wrap the meeting up,” Snape said with a roll of his eyes.

Hermione turned to him. “I know I’ve said it a lot, but--thank you, professor. I mean it. Truly.”

Another smile. This one stayed for a little longer than the others before it fled. “The pleasure is mine, Miss Granger. If you have more questions, you know where to find me. Good night.”

And with that, he billowed away.

McGonagall poured two shot glasses of firewhiskey, and slid one over to Hermione, who caught it instinctively. Bewildered, she stared at the golden liquid, noticing too late that Minerva had clinked their glasses together. “To your apprenticeship!” The Headmistress proceeded to shotgun the liquid.

Hermione stared at the glass, then tentatively raised it to her lips and barely managed to gulp down the stuff. It was like swallowing hand sanitiser. “Cheers,” she wheezed as McGonagall laughed good-naturedly and took the glass back. “Fuck, that stuff’s strong.”

***

“HERMIONE!” A ginger-topped blur flung her arms around Hermione as soon as she entered the Gryffindor common room, toppling them both over onto a nearby couch. “Oh my Merlin! Harry told me everything and I’m so excited! How’d it go how’d it go how’d it go!!”

“Ginny-!” Hermione managed, between happy laughs of her own, smothered as she was between Ginny’s soft ginger hair and the couch cushions. Harry ran in after Ginny, breaking into a wide grin at Hermione’s smile.

“Sorry for stealing your thunder, I was too excited,” Harry told her as he sat down across from them. “I left the other news for you to break, though.”

“Other news?” Ginny sat up, looking between them with wide eyes. “What other news? Wait, Hermione, you have to tell me how your meeting with McGonagall and Snape went!”

“Well,” Hermione began, sighing deeply.

“--Why does your breath smell like firewhiskey?”

Hermione giggled. “Oh. Headmistress McGonagall toasted with me for my apprenticeship.” She stared at the rug and blushed. Blushed more, that was. Her face was already pretty warm.

“So you got it!” Harry exploded.

“Yes! Professor Snape’s taking me on. I’m--” Hermione shook her head, trying to blink away the happy tears. “I could never have dreamed, I mean, I never thought he’d do it.” She wanted to smile to emphasize the point, but she hadn’t stopped smiling yet. “I mean, as long as I do okay on the N.E.W.T.s. Apparently Professor Snape will help me review.”

Ginny gaped at her. “Really? He must really like you, he’s normally not even that helpful with his snakes. And you’re a Gryffindor!”

Harry rolled his eyes. “He’s been much better after the war. I think it was part of the act, you know.”

“Either way, I can’t believe it’s real.” She closed her eyes for a moment. Apprentice to Snape. “We even talked about finances and everything and it’ll all work out. It’s actually in my reach, you guys,” she whispered, unable to dare say it louder.

“Finances.” Harry stared at her, suddenly concerned. “You know that my Gringotts account is yours, right? Like, I have a bunch of money in there, I can--”

Hermione shook her head. “Harry, I can’t steal your bloody inheritance,” she said with a laugh.

“Our inheritance now, remember?”

Her eyes widened. “Damnit, Harry, you did that on purpose!”

He laughed. “I didn’t, I promise. You know I’m not capable of that much scheming. But it works out rather well in hindsight, doesn’t it?” he asked, grinning like a devil.

Hermione rolled her eyes at him, lightly swatting at him before pulling him into a hug with Ginny.

“What are you guys talking about? Is that the other news?” Ginny asked.

“Yeah,” Hermione replied. “We officially adopted each other as siblings earlier today.”

Ginny squeaked in joy and threw her other arm around both of them. “That’s incredible! I’m so happy for both of you. You deserve it. Your families have been torn apart enough by this dumb Voldy bullshit.”

Hermione snorted. “I can’t wait until Rita gets her hands on the news. Watching her twist things is always great fiction.”

Harry rolled his eyes. “I’ll hex the shit out of her, one of these days.”

Chapter Text

Severus remembered her at the trial.

He’d been bound in magic-dampening chains, and the Aurors hadn’t even deigned to remove them for the fucking trial. If that wasn’t “guilty until proven innocent,” Severus wasn’t sure what was. They hadn’t fed him properly, and had dragged him out of St. Mungo’s as soon as they could legally rip him away from the life-supporting tubes, and cut off from his magic, Severus could barely sustain himself.

But Granger and Potter--damn the two of them--had showed up in practically matching get-ups. Potter wore a full suit with a green and silver tie, and argued with logic and facts for Severus’ innocence. Severus hadn’t even recognized Granger at first. She had worn a black pencil skirt over tights and ankle boots with a chunky heel, along with a green satin blouse and black blazer. Her hair had been swirled up into a bun, and she had rained hellfire on the entire fucking courtroom.

It was when she opened her mouth and began her attack that he realized it was her. By the time she was done with her impassioned speech (which had contained a number of accusations against Ministry officials for being so inept against Voldemort’s rise as to require a man to sacrifice his life to double-agent-ship to resolve the conflict) Severus wasn’t sure whether he was hallucinating or not.

It had been a clearly coordinated effort. Severus had been watching them in the papers for weeks at that point, with Potter playing the boy hero and Granger cleaning up his mess, as she always did. While in their public appearances it seemed like he was the one guided by pathos and Granger the logic behind him, in their court appearance the roles had been completely flipped. Potter had even looked like he tried to constrain her at certain points.

He had not succeeded--not in that regard, at least.

At the end of the trial, Severus wasn’t just acquitted, he was given an Order of Merlin, first class--the very same medal he’d told Hermione that he tried to throw into the lake. It wasn’t a lie. He had tried, and more than once. It felt too unearned. It felt like the only reason the Ministry had given it to him had been to assuage their own guilt at their ineptitude, so relentlessly pointed out by one muggleborn witch who’d been surrounded by loss and death.

Severus quite liked her ability to call people out on bullshit.

By the end of her speech, some of her hair had come loose, and sparked and floated around her head like a halo. Severus found it strange, because he felt like that was the second time he’d seen an angel in his entire life, and both times were after he was bit by the fucking snake.

Well, he didn’t technically see the angel the first time. He couldn’t remember much about it at all. It was right after the snake, he knew that much, after he’d given his memories away to Potter. It didn’t align with the story Minerva had given him of how he was found by herself and the other staff after the battle, but Severus had always brushed it off as a hallucination. At least, until the day in court. That was when it took on more than just an air of death-induced fantasy.

He just knew he was lying on the ground, and the pain was everywhere, and he saw blood swamping his eyes like tears, felt blood pooling around him, smelled his life spilling out, tasted the iron on his tongue, and heard an angel singing.

***

Severus had taken to watching them.

Muggles, that was. As horrible as it smelled and as loud as it was, he’d become rather fond of muggle London. Minerva had started bringing him here over the summer, determined as she was to make him stop being such a bigot, regardless of whether or not he intended to live.

“Bloody hell, Severus. You can’t change what’s already happened, but I’ll be fucked if I don’t get you to at least die a decent man,” she’d said. “You deserve it.”

Severus had disagreed. But he found muggle London calming, in a way. There were no expectations on him here, just anonymity.

...And he did love their little computers. He had purchased something called a Gameboy, made by a thing called Nintendo, and it had this curious little game called Pokemon on it. The Pokemen (he thought, he wasn’t sure about pluralization) could battle and seemed to live in a world of harmonious socialism. Severus had gotten quite good at it. He’d charmed it to work even when he couldn’t recharge it.

The music, though, was the first thing that really drew some respect out of him. Wizarding music had always been atrocious, and Severus had always thought of himself as someone who hated music. It fit, since he was someone who also hated fun, flowers, puppies, kittens, and everything nice.

As it turned out, Severus only hated wizarding music. He rather liked some of the stuff that the muggles had on their CDs, and found himself a fan of jazz, classical, a group known as Queen, and basically anything rock with a political message. Minerva had found him listening to one of his CDs one day and he’d nearly murdered her on the spot.

Most of the time in muggle London, he just sat at cafes and read. He mostly read newspapers. He liked the technology section, and learning more about those things they called ‘stocks,’ which was an interesting way of having fake money. Severus was interested in how things would go if the goblins figured that one out, stubborn and brilliant as they were.

It was after he was done with one of his normal masala chai that he saw the gathering. Wrapping his scarf tighter around his neck, he slipped closer, falling in with the crowd as he listened.

Severus didn’t know what they were talking about. He didn’t need to. He felt the understanding in his bones, but more importantly in his blood, which raged suddenly with familiar adrenaline. The rhetoric was all he needed to hear. It was laced with fear and hatred and xenophobia and violence and Severus suddenly knew what it looked like from the outside, a position he’d never had before.

It was terrifying.

It didn’t matter that they were muggles, it didn’t matter that he could defend himself or stop them from whatever they intended to do. What mattered was the intent. Dark enough for any curse, bloody enough to bury a world--wizard or muggle--beneath its hatred. Fascism.

Severus clapped his hand over the Dark Mark, waiting for the familiar pulse. It never came, but that certainly didn’t help.

Glancing around, he checked that no one was watching, then cast a swift, wandless and wordless spell to ensure he’d dodge the ministry’s wards and watchful eyes. Then, not particularly caring that it would look incredibly suspicious, Severus promptly set the man on fire.

He stayed around to make sure it did some proper damage before heading back towards the apparition point.

***

Even if Hermione’s apprenticeship was secured, she still felt obligated to not fuck things up. She was still Head Girl, she still had responsibilities, and it’d be bad form to go crazy now that her future was secured.

Not that she was planning on it. But one night, well past midnight when she was finally done studying, Crooks suddenly sat up alert.

“Crooks?”

The cat leaped down from his spot at the foot of her bed and trotted out the door. Which was closed. He just went right through it.

Groaning, Hermione threw on a robe over her pajamas, grabbed her wand, and hurried after her undead cat. Quickly, she cast a Patronus to tell Harry what was up, then hurried after her cat.

Crooks was making a beeline for the parapets. Hermione could barely keep up with him. He darted around a corner and a moment later Hermione turned it and--

There was a sudden wall of blackness in front of her and faster than she could think, her wand was at the neck of Professor Snape.

She registered what was going on a moment later and her eyes nearly bugged out as she withdrew her wand and began to apologize.

Before she could even manage a ‘sorry,’ Snape shook his head and placed a finger to his lips in the sign for silence. He didn’t seem even alarmed.

Hermione nodded, then peeked around and saw where Crooks had gone. She stepped around her Professor and hurried after him, realizing only a moment later that Snape was equally intent on following the cat, seemingly without direction from her.

“You can see Crooks?!” she hissed out.

Snape gave her a Look of indecipherable meaning, and nodded, before they followed the cat up to the roof of the Astronomy Tower. Without pausing at the top of the steps, Snape hurried forward and crouched down, hiding behind one of the crenelations. He motioned for Hermione to do the same.

She snatched Crooks down from his perch atop the crenelations and the three of them peeked out from behind the stone at the woods.

The lights began a moment later.

It would’ve been beautiful, if it didn’t instill such an immense sense of dread in her stomach. Ghostly blue light oozed from the ground, and a single figure in a black hood picked their way through the unkept grasses.

The figure reached out and placed one hand on the stone memorial that had been erected for all the fallen. With a single, deep crack, the white stone edifice split down the middle.

There was no protective magic linked to the memorial, Hermione realized. The figure was breaking it because they hated the memorial, not for a tactical reason.

Her gut cinched tight like a noose.

The figure moved across the ground and knelt in the grass. Hermione closed her eyes and threw her mind back to that day. That had been where one of the giants had fallen. She tightened her grasp around Crooks, and readied her wand, summoning her magic to her.

One of Snape’s hands clamped around hers, keeping her from raising her wand. She glared at him, unafraid of reprisal. But he simply shook his head mutely, eyes filled with a warning.

“They are tightly warded,” he whispered. “The last time Minerva and I tried… we had no effect.”

Minerva. Minerva knew.

Hermione was rather relieved, truthfully. McGonagall at least knew what she was doing. As much as she hated it, she kept her wand down, but was unable to stop the creeping snarl on her face.

The lights had coalesced around the figure like a shield of teal, but a moment later they surged into the ground. Hermione bit down her scream as a huge, hulking mound of flesh rose from the ground, shuffling off towards the forest.

A moment later, the lights faded, and the figure followed the undead giant.

“Fuck,” said Snape, breaking the silence.

Hermione glared at where the giant had gone. “Do the centaurs know?”

Snape shrugged, glancing at her. “I’d assume so. They have not been forthcoming.”

She chewed her lip. “I’ll have to talk to them. Ensure they’re safe.”

With a long-suffering sigh, Snape turned back to the forest. “Does Potter know? I don’t suppose I could persuade the two of you to stay out of it.”

“Yes and no, respectively.”

He made a noncommittal noise. “Was worth a shot.” For a moment longer, he stared at the forest, and then turned to Hermione. His brow furrowed as he stared at the cat clutched tightly to her chest, as if he’d realized something. “Miss Granger. Is this your… feline?”

It was the same tone with which he said threats, specifically. Hermione looked at Crooks. “Crookshanks, that’s his name. He was.”

One imperious brow crept upwards. “Was, Miss Granger?”

“Yes.” She held up Crooks to him, and gestured to where the heartbeat on a cat would be. Snape did not move to check it. “You see, Crooks died about two years ago.”

Hermione wasn’t sure she’d ever seen Snape speechless. Maybe he had been at his trial, but she was pretty sure that was because he’d been mostly dead. This was just stunned silence, plain and simple.

“Weird,” he said, finally.

She snorted a laugh and situated Crooks in her lap, scratching at his neck. “He’s been staying in my room, I think. I try and keep him there.”

“Try and fail, Granger.”

Hermione looked guilty, staring through the ground. “I hope he hasn’t been too much trouble. He’s been walking through doors and wards.”

“I’ve noticed.”

“He’s a good cat, Professor, he’s just a little too smart for his own good sometimes,” she mumbled, cradling him. Hermione hadn’t forgotten how much she’d missed her Crooks. “He tried to eat Pettigrew.”

Snape made a noise that sounded suspiciously close to a snort of laughter. “Mm. I suppose he is forgiven for his mischief, then. He has been useful in detecting this particular intruder.”

Hermione hid a smile by scratching at Crooks’ ears, which he received with dignified acceptance. Finally, she glanced up at him, and noticed that he swallowed awfully hard. Was he still uncomfortable with humor, or just with her? “Sir? Do you think it’d be alright if we… collected Harry and talked to Minerva about what’s going on?”

Snape froze for a moment, and then nodded. He stood up, and offered her a hand, which she took with a murmured thanks, hauling herself up.

Shortly after, they had indeed collected Harry and made it to the Headmistress’ office. Well, Harry had found them, with a combination of the map and cloak. McGonagall made tea while the other three made themselves comfortable. Or, as it were, uncomfortable--as Snape couldn’t stop pacing and Hermione was cradling Crooks like he was her baby.

Once McGonagall poured cups and had a seat, the talk began in earnest.

“So,” McGonagall began. “First, Severus. What occurred tonight?”

“The memorial’s broken again,” he said, his voice a baritone drawl.

“Bloody hell, it’s becoming a real nuisance,” McGonagall muttered.

Snape arched a brow at her, but didn’t comment. Instead he continued, “Typical ritual, but one of the giants was raised tonight.”

“Raised?” Harry interrupted. He looked at Hermione with wide eyes. “Is it--”

Hermione nodded at him. “Just like the dream. It looked like an inferius.”

McGonagall held up a finger at them. “Hold that thought. Is that all, Severus?”

“Yes, Minerva.” Snape stopped pacing, crossing his arms and leaning against the wall beside the fireplace.

“Alright.” McGonagall turned to them, folding her hands around her teacup. “Now, if you two would be so kind as to inform us what you know, that would be excellent.”

“We’ve been having dreams,” Harry started, fiddling with the cloak pooled in his lap and glancing between it, McGonagall, and Snape. “And I say ‘we,’ because… well, everyone else is just getting nightmares, but Hermione and I… we can coordinate them.”

“We started giving each other signals, code words,” Hermione explained. Harry nodded. “Then the next morning, we’d confirm with each other. It wasn’t basic stuff, either.”

“The other night Hermione made me memorize the Polyjuice recipe.” Harry did not look pleased. Hermione couldn’t keep a small smile off her face.

“I was wondering how you knew that so well on your most recent quiz,” Snape muttered. “I should’ve guessed Granger was behind it.”

For his part, Harry beamed at him cheekily. “Thank you, sir. I didn’t realize you were so impressed with my performance.”

Snape rolled his eyes, but didn’t comment.

Hermione ducked her head to hide her grin. “If I knew this was what it took to get him to study, I would’ve tried it sooner.”

McGonagall looked equal parts amused and exasperated. “Focus, please. What did the dreams entail?”

Hermione glanced at Harry, all of her mirth suddenly stolen. He swallowed.

“I can’t… see much,” Hermione admitted. She held up a hand before Snape could make a disappointed noise. “But what I can see, it seems like there’s a monster, made up of bodies. I think, especially given tonight, that it’s probably the bodies of the people who… died out there.” She rubbed at her eyes. “I tried to give them a proper rest, I really did, but that… person… doesn’t care.”

“It’s huge,” Harry said, quietly. “The… thing, you know, whatever. It looks like a dragon, almost? Made out of the bodies. And the head is horrible. The teeth are like a leech’s, or a lamprey’s. Concentric circles. Hermione’s…”

He looked at her, and for the first time in a very fucking long time, Hermione saw some level of fear in Harry. She reached out and squeezed his hand.

“I’m in its mouth,” she told McGonagall and Snape, her voice firm.

Harry nodded wordlessly.

There was a moment of heavy silence. Then McGonagall leaned down and pulled the canteen from one of her drawers, taking a deep swig.

Snape, for his part, frowned and tilted his head to the side slightly. “Is it harming you?”

Hermione shrugged. “I’m certainly not comfortable. But… I have started to control it. Only minor things. Mostly looking at Harry so I can hear him better.”

“I don’t find that particularly reassuring,” McGonagall muttered. “Severus? Have any ideas? Dark rituals are much more your field than mine.”

Snape nodded. “If you’ll allow me…” He trained off, nodding meaningfully towards some of the portraits.

McGonagall nodded. “Can any of you dears go fetch Salazar or Rowena for us, please?”

Phineas nodded and disappeared out of frame. A short moment later, Rowena stepped into where he’d been before.

Snape nodded a greeting to the founder. “We were wondering if you could confirm some suspicions of ours. It appears as if someone is attempting a Scholomance ritual on school grounds.”

The ease of it made Hermione’s heart beat faster. Shit. She was in her pajamas in front of a founder of Hogwarts. She wasn’t sure about the precise rites that one ought to use to greet someone of such stature, but she was fairly certain her kitty-patterned pajamas weren’t part of it.

Rowena leaned against the portrait frame, one arm crossed and the other tapping her chin thoughtfully. “The signs you’re describing certainly fit it. Unfortunately, we know very little about Scholomance’s ritual teachings, particularly those involving necromancy. What we do know… the rituals are nearly unmatched in power, but their targets must be very well defined or else the energy will consume the caster.”

Hermione raised her hand a little tentatively, and Rowena nodded at her. “No need to be so uncertain. Your contributions and mind have always impressed me.”

The words made her flush. “I--thanks,” she said, lamely. “I appreciate it. So do you think that the caster is using, say, ‘things that died during the Battle of Hogwarts’ as their definition?”

Rowena nodded. “That was the exact definition I was going to hypothesize.” She tilted her head to the side, and furrowed her brow as she scrutinized Snape. “You know, the two children fit the pattern. Potter died on the field that day, so it only makes sense that the ritual views him as something to be incorporated into the beast. Granger didn’t die, but she was walking the field, and touched deeply by Death that day--so much so that it may view her as the heart of the beast it’s aiming to create, if that makes sense. But you ought to also be experiencing these dreams, Severus.”

Something almost uncertain flickered in his eyes for a moment. “I was,” he said, finally. “But they didn’t seem out of the ordinary, even though I hadn’t… been on the field at that point in the aftermath. I’m certain you understand the mind’s propensity towards flashbacks, after what we’ve been through. I simply took more sleeping draught.” He offered a crooked grin. “Stupid as that was of me.”

The implications of that statement made Hermione glance towards Harry, who met her gaze with one of his own. Snape had been having night terrors with such frequency that he considered ‘giant undead dragon made of bodies on the field that day’ to be ordinary.

“Truthfully, I think both Harry and I would’ve been in a similar boat, if we hadn’t had each other to confirm the veracity of the dreams,” Hermione offered. “I think it’s a perfectly understandable assumption.”

Snape made a noncommittal noise.

“Although that leaves me with another question,” Hermione realized. “What about Crooks?” She held up the cat.

McGonagall looked confused. She shot a glance at Snape. "Care to inform me what's going on, Severus?"

"Oh!" Hermione flushed guiltily. "Sorry, Headmistress. My cat came back from the dead, except apparently only people who died on the field that day can see him. And me."

McGonagall arched a brow, but nodded. "Thank you."

“That’s the other outlier,” Rowena replied. “I suppose that certain familiars become more of an extension of their master’s souls than simply companions. If your half-kneazle was especially loyal, he may have bonded with you in such a way. The magics of familiar bonding are poorly studied. Otherwise, it may be an entirely other consequence of the ritual, and the scope of the resurrection may be broader than we’d hoped.”

“I don’t suppose we know how to stop this ritual,” McGonagall said.

Rowena sighed. “Not much comes to mind, besides the obvious of killing the perpetrator. I’ll consult with Salazar, of course.”

“If I may--” Hermione hesitated again until Rowena nodded encouragingly at her. “Harry and I… if the ritual truly believes us to be part of the creature, we might be able to unravel it from within.”

“A promising theory. Or it might backfire and bind you to it,” Rowena replied with a shrug. “But I think that’s a good ‘if all else fails’ plan.”

“I’d prefer if the two of you didn’t go risking your lives willy-nilly,” McGonagall added, with a sharp look at both of them. “Although I suppose it’s pointless to try and convince you otherwise at this point.”

“Sorry, Headmistress,” Harry offered, not looking sorry at all.

“I’ll be in touch,” Rowena said. “Salazar and I have some things to discuss, along with a few of the other portraits.”

“Thank you,” Snape replied. “As for the rest of us, it’s well past your bedtimes.” He looked pointedly at Hermione and Harry, then over at McGonagall. “And yours.”

Chapter Text

Severus was eating an early breakfast when Minerva walked right over to him and tossed a paper in front of him. “What’s this?”

He stared at for a moment before recognized it. A very well-respected, progressive muggle newspaper. The title yelled, ‘NEO-FASCIST LEADER LIT ON FIRE DURING RALLY, NO CAUSE IDENTIFIED.’

“A muggle newspaper,” he replied obliquely, trying to push down his smirk at the words ‘severe burn damage’ and ‘lost a limb.’ “I didn’t know you took a muggle newspaper, Minerva.”

She chuckled. “Just that one. I like to stay in the loop when I can. Our conflict spilled out into their world, it’s only time before theirs spills into our world. Interesting title today, did you see? They say he combusted, as if by magic.”

Snape made a politely uninterested noise as he passed her the newspaper. “Muggles do enjoy such hyperbole.”

“I was wondering if you had any insight, seeing as how you were in London at the time.”

He smiled up at her, perfectly peaceful. “You know I don’t hang around with that sort of crowd anymore.”

“No, indeed not.” She smiled twinklingly at him, but unlike Dumbledore, it held no manipulation. Minerva held up her mug of coffee in a toast to him. He raised his own and the cups clinked against each other.

“Cheers,” he said, taking a sip.

“To happy accidents and--what’d they call it?--’spontaneous human combustion.’” She paused. “How’d you hide it, anyway?”

Severus smiled at his toast. “Tom was a piece of shit, but he did develop a few useful methods for evading Ministry bullshit.”

It was later that day, when he was teaching the fourth years, that Severus snapped.

They were ‘learning’ how to brew the weedosoros poison, and Severus found it a small relief that at some point he would get to dump these dipshits on Hermione. Granger. Granger, he’d dump them on Granger.

A Slytherin--Gordon, his name was--had been prodding at a muggleborn Ravenclaw all day, certain of his protection. Severus hated him already. There was something about his smile that reminded Severus of Dolohov, that predatory predilection in the edge of his grin.

“Mudblood,” Gordon hissed in the Ravenclaw’s ear.

Severus did the math, decided no one would be able to prove anything, and flicked a little bit of nearly-complete weedosoros poison onto Gordon’s hand--wandless and wordless, of course. Then he spoke.

“Fifty points from Slytherin, Mr. Gordon, and two weeks of detention. I will not have that sort of regressive ideology in my presence. If you weren’t aware, Mr. Gordon, we fought a whole damn war about its place in our society.”

He’d said it without glancing over from where he was scrutinizing a Hufflepuff’s cutting technique. Even without looking up, he could feel all eyes in the classroom turn to him, as if the students were attempting to bore holes in his robes. He didn’t react, simply stepping over to the student beside the Hufflepuff, and finding their cutting technique… well, he wouldn’t say ‘passable,’ but it wasn’t actively dangerous, so he allowed it to continue and went to the next student.

It was the talk of the school by the next period. He could tell from the way the seventh (and eighth) years looked at him. Severus still had no idea, after all of these years, how the gossip machine worked. It shouldn’t be possible to have that many people find out in such a short time.

At dinner, he took his seat next to Minerva. He’d had to move to sit next to her, since he was deputy Headmaster, a required role given that the castle still responded to him in some ways.

“Decided to make many statements today, Severus?” she asked over dinner.

He paused for a moment to give the effect of not caring. “I need your permission for an… alteration to the Slytherin common room.”

She put down her fork, turning to face him fully. “Oh?”

Severus continued to eat. “I’d like to install a charm that deducts points each time someone says something purist.”

Minerva pushed food around on her plate, and he could tell she was actually thinking it over. He put his own utensils down and turned to actually have a discussion.

“I worry that it might be…” Severus hesitated. “Freedom, particularly freedom of speech, is necessary. But I also know, for certain, that Tom’s war started with those ideas, and ended with them. This generation must learn from our mistakes.”

“I see your points,” Minerva replied. Severus ignored the stares from the rest of the staff, and a fair number of the students. “I don’t know if we should go that far yet. Perhaps… we can engage in positive reinforcement instead?”

The words ‘positive reinforcement’ made Severus’ lips press into a thin line, more out of reflex than actual thought. The reflex of it was what convinced him it was probably an idea to embrace in this… slightly less asshole chapter of his life.

“Awarding points for egalitarian, open-minded discussion.”

Minerva nodded. She reached over and squeezed his hand. “Restorative justice, Sev, I’ll make you understand it yet.”

Severus rolled his eyes, returning to his food.

“I’m proud of you, you know that?”

Another roll of his eyes. Minerva. “Anything else, Mother?”

She chuckled, returning to her food as well. “Alright, point taken.”

A moment later, Gordon--the Slytherin from earlier--started violently convulsing. Severus was careful to not pay attention. Weedosoros.

“Severus?” Minerva asked.

“We were working with poisons today. Not my fault the boy doesn’t know how to wash his hands.”

And he returned to his food.

Apparently Minerva also discussed Severus’ plan with Filius, because later that day, the Head of Ravenclaw approached him with a plan for a charm. It reacted based on intent, rather than words themselves, so that farming points wouldn’t be possible. Together, they set it up--in all the common rooms.

“Does she intend to tell the students?” Severus asked him.

Filius shrugged. “I don’t think so. The points will appear separately on our registrar, so we can see the effect.”

Severus just nodded, and before the Ravenclaw Head left, muttered something about appreciation. Before Filius could register it, Severus billowed away, making sure to be well out of range for any commentary on ‘changes’ or ‘you’re welcome’s.

***

Hermione’s morning was a little different.

She had just come down from her room when Harry darted out, grabbed her, and yanked her into a hiding spot behind one of the couches. She suppressed her questions, knowing that when Harry hid, it was time to be quiet. A moment later, Hermione heard a familiar voice yelling.

“FUCK!” screamed Ron.

Hermione looked at Harry, who was shaking. Tears streamed from his eyes. Hermione stared at him, uncertain if he was sobbing or laughing.

“I thought when that damned orange shit finally fucking keeled over we’d be done with the fucking suprises!” Ron yelled, and there was a sick squelching sound, followed by a scourgify. “Whose cat just barfed in my fucking shoe?!”

“I don’t know if there’s an orange cat around,” another, unfamiliar, more distant voice replied.

“Fuck!” Ron repeated. “I swear to Merlin, when I find out--”

A door slammed so loudly it made both Harry and Hermione jump. Ron’s yelling became muffled.

Harry burst out laughing, rolling over on the floor and slamming his fist into the rug. “Holy shit, Hermione,” he wheezed. “Your ghost cat just ralphed in Ron’s fucking dress shoes.”

At that, Hermione also burst into an evil cackle. “You’re joking!”

“God no! I would recognize a Crooks hairball anywhere.” Harry brushed away tears. “Holy shit. I love your cat, Hermione.”

“I do too,” she said.

Chapter Text

“What’s it like?”

Hermione tilted her head to the side and watched Harry think about his answer.

“I mean,” he said to begin, “I didn’t have a typical experience. But Snape, when he was teaching me Occlumency, said that entering a mind really depends on the person. It’s different for each person you legilimens, and varies based on how they’re receiving you.”

They were sitting on a windowsill facing each other, cross legged, with Crooks between them. The window faced out at the field where the battle had taken place. It was late at night, and based on their previous encounters, they were certain that the ritual would begin soon.

“What was Voldemort’s like?” Hermione’s eyes flew open as the words left her mouth. “Sorry, you don’t have to answer that. I know it’s probably not something to revisit.”

Harry shrugged and shook his head. “No, it’s fine. It was… orderly. Compulsively so.”

“That’s what undid him in the end. His need to be in control.”

“Yeah. His mind reflected that. It was sort of like…” He scrunched up his face. “This is going to be a really poor analogy, but… imagine if you had a recurring dream. Entering his mind was like entering that dream, except it had become a nightmare, and everything was all reflected and mirrored and ordered so compulsively it kind of felt like someone was strangling you.”

Hermione reached out and squeezed his hand. “I’m sorry for asking.”

“Don’t be.” He shrugged, and grinned mirthlessly. “Honestly, it’s good to talk about. I’ve felt like I’m the only person in the world who had to cope with knowing what Tom’s mind was like, and it’s not something I’m keen to share but it’s also not something I’d like to be alone in.”

“You could talk to Professor Snape. I’m pretty sure he dealt with Tom’s mind, although from a very different angle than yours. If you think it’d help.”

“It might--”

Crooks sat bolt upright.

Both of them tensed, hushed, and Harry swept the invisibility cloak around the three of them. From beneath its protective cover, they watched through the glass as the figure approached the recently-fixed white stone memorial.

“Ready?” Harry hissed.

“As much as I’ll ever be.” It was a risky plan. Also probably a dumb one. But Hermione was used to risky and dumb, she’d camped with them for a year. And she said that with love.

Harry squeezed her hand.

Hermione looked at Crooks, and he met her eyes readily. “I’m going to try this, okay, boy?” She didn’t dare believe he understood her, but he turned to face her more firmly. “Legilimens,” she whispered.

Hermione certainly hadn’t expected it to work. She’d read up on theoretical legilimency, in parallel with her research into occlumency, before she Obliviated her parents. During the latter year of the war, all three of them had taught themselves as much occlumency as they could, but none of them had the energy or desire to risk an attempt at legilimency on each other.

Maybe it was because Crooks seemed to welcome her. It was like that time she’d half-polyjuiced into a cat, but instead of discomfort, she felt as if she were embracing in an old and faithful friend. Hermione couldn’t keep the smile off her face, trying to convey to Crooks how much she loved him, too. She could see herself smile through his eyes, and felt the corresponding surge of love.

If Hermione had needed more proof this was truly her cat, she was now certain. She felt Harry squeeze her hand and smiled.

“It’s working,” she whispered.

Crooks broke eye contact and turned to the field. Hermione’s grip on his mind wavered, and for a moment she felt the embrace falling away as her vision shifted and spun like she was waking up from a drugged sleep. It was hard to stay seated fully, and she felt like she was hanging on by a twig to someone else’s broom. Focusing on the image, she imagined herself grasping the handle of the broom, and the world stabilized.

Window pane. Glass… grass.

“He’s standing up,” said Harry. “And walking through the window.”

Hermione took a deep breath and kept her mind on the image of the broom. She hated flying, which was maybe why this image felt so appropriate. She could feel her anxiety begin to worm into her spellwork, and she was losing her grip on the broom--

The image of her smile and her warm embrace resurfaced in her mind, as Crooks remembered it. It was the memory of the first time he’d let her hug him after she adopted him. He’d been grouchy at first, but this was after months of gaining his trust, and he had finally let her hug him one night when she was sobbing alone in her room. He’d licked the tears from her cheeks and she’d giggled. Now, Hermione watched her much younger self bond with her beloved cat, and her magic surged back into certainty.

Crooks was helping her. Bless his heart.

While she had been focused on the memory, he had descended to the grass of the field, across the moat. Hermione was pretty glad she didn’t have to be there for that transit, and re-imagined the image of herself firmly grasping the broom. Crooks crept through the grass, approaching the memorial, which practically glowed even in the light of the slim crescent moon.

The figure was there, too. It looked like a man, Hermione noticed, as Crooks slunk forward and hid behind him.

Once again the figure touched the stone and shattered it, the tremendous crack shaking Crooks’ vision as if someone had thrown a stone into the pool Hermione was looking through. She grit her teeth and held on as the image stabilized, and when she could next focus her eyes, Crooks had come to get a better look at the man as he moved through the field.

The teal lights illuminated his figure. Those were the robes of a Death Eater, that was for certain, although they were tattered. His forearms weren’t covered by the ragged cloth, and Crooks eyed his left forearm--there. The thin outline of a scar, which was… red with blood?

Crooks opened his mouth and scented the air. Feelings flew through his shared thoughts. Blood. Old. A few hours at least, a day at most. The wound’s appearance confirmed it.

“He’s cutting it open anew,” Hermione realized aloud, the words and her own voice feeling distant, like a remembered dream.

She couldn’t hear Harry’s response, if he had one. Crooks was busy hiding as the man made his way through the grounds, kneeling at a spot that Hermione figured he hadn’t resurrected something from before.

He pulled down his hood.

It was probably to see better but Hermione didn’t give a shit because it was exactly what they needed. Crooks prowled forward, arranging himself to get a good look at the man: gaunt, black hair, sallow cheeks, and those eyes. Hermione would’ve recognized those eyes anywhere, the same eyes that had been at Malfoy Manor that day, standing beside Bellatrix.

“Lestrange,” she whispered.

The fear tugged at her now, her instincts making her want to withdraw her own magic back into her body. No. She needed more information. She thought of the broom, of how she’d always just sucked up her fear and gripped on white-knuckled, or that time with the dragon and how she’d known she had to see it through. Fighting her every instinct, she continued to watch.

Lestrange, whichever one of the brothers that he was, pulled a knife from his belt and stuck a strip of leather in his mouth. He began to cut, and before he even placed the knife against skin she knew where he’d be cutting. The mark. He bit down hard on the leather, and she could hear his heavy breathing.

The first drop of blood hit the ground and the teal-blue lights rose from the ground. Crooks’ vision began to swim, and Hermione felt the effects of the magic on his body as if it was her own. She grit her teeth, willing herself to stay in Crooks’ mind as long as he would brave the magic.

A wash of reassurance flooded her, coming from her cat. He would not endanger them. But he would not give up easily, either.

The more blood fell on the unmarked graves, the more the lights swirled closer. Crooks was forced to back up as the metallic tang of lightning and gut-emptying scent of rot assaulted them like a wall.

Lestrange was saying something. Hermione couldn’t distinguish his words, not around the nausea and the vertigo and the scents of death and magic, not when she was barely hanging on to the connection and her own consciousness.

A hand burst from the ground.

Hermione’s magic shot back into her own head like a rubber band, so fast it felt like she’d been smacked, and she felt something cold and rough against her limbs and a confusion of noise and light and the lingering smell of rot and the overwhelming fear. Someone was shouting for her, she was going to pass out, she was going to vomit--

“Lestrange,” she croaked out. “Lestrange.”

Then she barely managed to register that she’d vomited all over one of the Deathly Hallows before she passed out.

***

Severus had been forced into babysitting duty. He had not been particularly happy about it, but after Potter admitted that Granger (why was it always those two) had attempted legilimency for her first bloody time on a fucking cat ghost, he’d reluctantly acknowledged that as the expert legilimens on staff, it was his job to make sure she wasn’t fucked up.

It was the third day when she finally stirred, and so late at night Severus had nearly given up on her for the night and retreated to his quarters with the magazine he was reading. McGonagall had to let him sleep sometime.

She whimpered.

“Don’t get up too quickly,” he said without looking up from his reading material. “You’ve--”

It was then that Hermione vomited.

Severus’ mouth was stuck open as he turned to look at her. Their eyes met, and all he saw was fear and fight.

She rolled off of the bed and a stunning spell flashed through the air, which he barely managed to block with wandless magic and a little assistance from the most recent edition of Potions Monthly.

“Hermione Granger!” he snapped. “Calm down!”

It was his first response and he regretted it almost immediately. The shouting and aggression would probably not work. It would probably just aggravate her, especially if she’d lost memories, or--was that sobbing?

Oh, and more vomiting. Cool.

With a sigh, Severus put down his badly crumpled magazine and stood up. A quick whirl of his hand scourgified the blankets.

Getting down on the floor would hurt his old man knees, but it would let him see Granger closer and look less ominous doing so. Crouching down on the ground, Severus decided that he didn’t need use of his knees anyhow. He carefully inched himself over with as much dignity as he could manage--which was not much at all--until he was on the same side of the medbay bed as her, holding his hands up in the signal for surrender.

She was curled up, knees to chest with her arms wrapped around them. Her hair floated around her head in a wild mane.

“I’m not armed. I’m not your enemy,” he said. “How much do you remember?”

“Everything up to when I got back from using legilimency on Crooks,” Hermione said, then shook her head and buried her face in her arms. “God, Professor, I’m so sorry, I just--”

“Don’t apologize. And you haven’t forgotten anything, then.” He shuffled himself into a sitting position, scourgifying the second pile of vomit as he did so. “I recognize a flashback when I see one.”

She laughed. It did not have joy in it. In fact it kind of sounded like an uncontrolled, pre-panic-attack response.

Severus decided he was not equipped to deal with a panic attack, especially not from Hermione fucking Granger. “If I may offer some advice, Miss Granger?”

She didn’t respond. He took it as a yes.

“Try and avoid using legilimency on a fucking ghost cat again. Especially when you’ve never been trained--I mean, how the bloody hell did you even know what to do?”

“Books,” she mumbled.

“Right. I should’ve called that.”

She made a little noncommittal noise that nearly broke his heart. Normally there’d probably be a blush and a smile and maybe even a cheeky retort for his trouble.

“Water?” It was a futile attempt at consolation.

There was a moment of hesitation, then her head nodded, but she didn’t look up from where her arms were crossed. Severus summoned a glass of water and had to crawl (yeah, fuck it, he didn't need dignity or knees) a few feet to place it next to her. Thankfully by the time she looked up, he was back in his previous spot.

Granger took a few hesitant sips, then gulped the entire glass down. A flick of his hand refilled it, but she just reddened and put it down, burying her head in her arms again.

Books, he realized. She’d learned how to do legilimency from fucking books. Most legilimens struggled even with talent and a good teacher. The few notable exceptions were well-recorded in wizarding history.

Brightest witch of her time, and patented do-er of bad ideas. (‘Bad ideas’ may include a Weasley.)

“How long have I been out?”

“Three days,” he said as casually as possible.

Another whimper. “I’m going to have so much homework to catch up on.”

What? “Potter said you were two weeks ahead on all your classes--Granger, don’t tell me you constantly work two weeks ahead.”

The silence was enough of a reply.

“It’s a wonder you had enough time to save the world with those two.”

“I learned time management skills,” she mumbled, sounding defensive.

Severus snorted. “Which included a time turner.”

“Time management.” She sounded so glum he couldn’t argue.

“Oh, fine. Time management.”

She was silent again for a while, and Severus was just about to call over his reading material when she spoke up again.

“I should tell you what happened.”

Severus shrugged, then realized she probably couldn’t see that. “If you want.”

Hesitation. “I want to.”

When another few beats went by without a continuation, Severus offered, “It doesn’t have to be now.”

“No. It needs--I need you to identify him.”

Ah. Potter had mentioned the name she said. “It’s probably Rodolphus or Rabastan. I’m not too worried, they’re both interchangeably fanatical and racist.”

No giggle there. Damn, was Severus losing his touch? Well, maybe 'touch' was the wrong word, but it was a little clunky to say 'whatever mysterious force that made Hermione Granger, brightest witch of her age and member of the golden trio, happy when he made dumb jokes.'

“Can you… take it?”

What? Oh fuck. Was she asking him to use legilimency on her? “From your mind?”

“Yes. I don’t want to have to talk about it.”

“You’ll still have to experience it again.”

“I know.” She rotated her head a little, and those golden eyes stared at him with such acute mourning.

He could hear his heartbeat in his ears. People didn’t typically ask to have their minds delved into. “Are you certain?”

“Yes. I wouldn’t have asked otherwise.”

Still, Severus hesitated. “I don’t want to overstep bounds of privacy.”

Her eyes drifted down, to where he realized suddenly that he was gripping his hands together quite tightly. He relaxed his hands immediately.

“Just… if there’s anything about the Malfoy Manor, or my parents, try and… avoid it.”

“Alright. Push me out whenever you’re uncomfortable.”

“I will.”

His lips quirked into a smile against his will. She was the one who seemed okay with this, out of the two of them. For some reason, Severus found himself a little uncertain about his desire to violate the sanctity of Hermione Granger’s mind, which wasn’t something he’d ever experienced before or ever thought he’d experience. But she trusted him? Which was… unexpected. He wasn’t sure how he felt, or should feel, about that.

“Alright,” he said, finally, and her eyes moved back up to meet his. “Legilimens.”

Severus stepped into a library. It wasn’t a vast, expansive place, like an official or public library, but rather something cozy and lived-in. It wasn’t like one of those stereotyped genius mind-palaces, either. It was too welcoming for that. Warm and friendly, very nerdy, a little eccentric, all like her. A personal collection.

He recognized it instantly as one of the more difficult occlumency techniques. Also, probably just how Granger thought normally, given her… penchant for rote memorization. Fuck. She probably had an eidetic memory, didn’t she? Or at least something very close.

Severus paused to observe some of the titles. They weren’t organized well, but he found the mixture amusing. Photo albums were interspersed with volumes on charms and arithmancy, fiction novels with entire textbooks of potioneering and transfiguration. Some titles were written entirely in ancient runes, others in French.

Hermione tugged him to one bookcase. She wasn’t there, not physically, but he could feel the draw nonetheless, like something pulling on his sleeve. He touched the carved likeness of her cat, and the whole case swung away, revealing the next layer of her mind.

“Clever,” he muttered, despite himself.

It was another library, although he would classify this one as more of a room of notes. Memories. He was drawn to one that sparkled in front of him on a central table.

Severus went over and peered in.

It started with the windowsill, talking with Potter about being in Voldemort’s mind. Then she went into Crooks’ mind, and Hermione sped over most of their transit to the point when they could see the figure.

Hermione’s mind opened further to him and Severus allowed himself to sink fully into the memory, brushing away the layer of Hermione’s mind that prevented him from seeing things clearly, so it was as if he was in Crooks’ mind himself. The man was crouching down, and his hood fell--

Panic. Severus felt Hermione nearly suffer a breakdown on the spot. Other memories were rushing in, now, as well as her current emotions--Malfoy Manor, pain in her forearm, Bellatrix’ eyes and those standing beside her--

Severus wrenched her memories of the manor out of the way to focus on the one from that night. Crooks was able to get a good look at the man’s face, and the way he reopened the cuts on his Dark Mark.

“Rabastan Lestrange,” Severus confirmed, as the memory faded away to vertigo and nausea and he gently pried himself from her mind, trying his best to ignore the strange aura of thankfulness and relief, a reflection of her current feelings.

He returned to his own body to notice her staring at him with those big doe eyes again.

“How did you do that?”

“Do what?”

“The… bit where you pushed away my memories. S--Professor, you just completely shut down a panic attack, I haven’t ever been able to get out of the flashbacks that fast.”

“Oh.” Severus settled back against the wall of the infirmary, extending his legs and crossing them over each other. His hands he let remain folded in his lap. “It’s a variant of occlumency, a technique that isn’t built for defense so much as general mental health.” He swallowed, ignoring the way that Nagini’s scar chafed against his collar. “Although, an enemy legilimens will often try to induce panic attacks in their victims, so it can be helpful in focusing during a combat situation. Which reminds me, how the hell do you know occlumency?”

There it was. The hint of a smile beneath her curtain of curls. Severus decided to not acknowledge the sudden wave of relief. “Books.”

He rolled his eyes. “That how you learned to breathe, too?”

“Yes. Muggle doctors perform a series of examinations on newborn babies, did you know that? I wonder how much I studied for them.”

Severus snorted, despite himself. “Was nine months not enough time for baby Granger? Did you worry that you’d only get ‘Exceeds Expectations’ on your screaming test?”

She giggled. The sudden abrupt thumping of his heart was definitely coincidental. “It’s hard to read in a womb, there’s very little light.”

“That’s not a statement I’d ever thought I’d hear.” Severus managed to constrain all but a small smile on his face.

He was about to reply further, to continue the banter, when her stomach growled quite insistently. She flushed, and looked about to apologize, but he wasn’t about to give her the chance.

“Hungry? Poppy would murder me if I let you have solid food, but I bet we can get some soup.”

A look of guilt and uncertainty passed over her face. “I wouldn’t want to wake Madam Pomfrey up, she’s always so overworked and busy.”

“Who said we were going to wake her up?” Severus’ grin grew as he stood. “Come on, this place is easy to sneak out of once you know the trick.” He held out a hand to help her up.

She took his hand and he pulled her to her feet. It was only then that he realized she was considerably dressed down and it took all of his occlumency to not respond by immediately flipping shit at putting her in such an uncomfortable position. She’d been in pajamas with little llamas on them and Severus was not about to speculate about what stage of undress his pupil enjoyed sleeping in.

“Sorry,” he said. “I’ll wait outside while you get ready?”

“Sure.” She turned to find where Poppy stashed her stuff.

It was only a minute. She came out in a hoodie with her hair tied up in a ponytail, her wand stuck in it and her hands stuffed in her pockets. She frowned a little at the infirmary, looking still a little half-asleep. “Did Harry tell you I barfed on the last remaining Deathly Hallow?”

Snape barked a laugh and lead the way out of the infirmary. Before exiting it, he paused and waved his hands towards the doorway, casting a spell to look at all the wards visually.

The air lit up in a multitude of colors, each detailing different types of wards and different casters, written along the planes of their casting. He could hear Hermione inhale sharply. Stepping up to the wards, he traced where the protection wards ended and where the alarms began.

There it was. He traced his fingers along the light indicating an alarm placed by Poppy to alert her to escapees, and it glowed brighter while the other spells faded. With a whispered counter-incantation, he dampened it for a moment, and gestured for Hermione to hurry through.

She was quicker than he thought she’d be, given how tired she looked. Apparently war had done some shit to her, despite her outward appearances. He followed, then paused to re-establish the alarm, before turning back to her.

“Handy,” she said as they walked side by side towards his office. He tried to slow down, not eager to tire her out after a three-day almost-coma. “You’ve got to teach me how to do that.”

“It’s easier than it looks,” he said with a shrug as he opened the door, took down most of the wards, and let her through. “Really it’s just a basic revelio charm with some extra trimmings to make it easier to interpret.”

They stepped into his office and, to Severus’ utter not-surprise, Hermione was instantly attracted to the books like they were magnetic. Probably were, to her. He turned and clapped twice, one of the house elves appearing in a puff of magic.

“Hello, Pipps,” Severus greeted her, sitting down so he wasn’t looking down at her. “I hope it’s not too late?”

“Never too late, Master Snape. What cans Pipps do for you?”

He pointed to Hermione. “Granger, what sort of soups do you like?”

“Oh-! Uh.” She turned, and smiled at Pipps. “Hello there. Would you mind just making me some chicken noodle soup? Something simple. I appreciate it.”

“It would be Pipps’ pleasure!”

“Coffee too, and a little bit of warm bread, if that’s alright. Thank you, Pipps.”

The elf bowed and disappeared.

“Coffee, this late?”

Severus shrugged. “It doesn’t have much of an effect anymore.”

“Oh, that’s right,” Hermione said absently, “You used to subsist entirely on black coffee and stress.”

One of his eyebrows quirked at her, but she was looking at his books. Severus was still pretty sure she was hiding a smile. It was good to see her feeling better. “I’ve added toast to my diet.”

“What has the world come to? Severus Snape, eating food? If I told you from a couple years ago that, one day, you’d go so far as to indulge in toast, I think he’d hex me seven ways to hell.”

Severus snorted, torn between pouting about how accurate she was and being very glad that having her address him as Severus wasn’t as forced as he thought it’d be. He hated his name, albeit not as much as his middle name, and he was worried that his apprentice using it would feel strange.

The fact that she said it like it wasn’t repulsive was a great relief. Like he wasn’t repulsive.

“Honestly, that was a pretty typical response from me for most of my years.”

“I know. Shall I talk to Minerva about staging an intervention for your recent shift away from grumbling, or check you for polyjuice?” She glanced at him out of the corners of her eyes. It looked like she was trying to be surreptitious. It was not working.

“I didn’t grumble that much. It was a lot more sneering.”

“You’re grumbling right now.”

He grumbled out a response, then physically choked on the words, rolling his eyes at her subsequent snicker.

“Maybe we won’t need an intervention after all.” Her eyes were sparkling.

“Harrumph,” he replied, eloquently.

She laughed again, and opened her mouth to reply when food was delivered onto his desk with a crack of magic. Her stomach growled--or, more accurately, roared--at the food, and Hermione smiled. “Thank you, Pipps!” she called into the air.

Severus moved to sort the food out, ladelling out a bowl of soup for her from the large pot they’d included. “Damn,” he muttered. “They must love you. They gave you a lot of food.”

“Oh, they’re wonderful. They forgave me for my misunderstanding of their culture, and a lot of them are coming around to the idea that they can do things for themselves, and that they deserve protection against masters like--” She froze.

He glanced up, worried she was having another flashback to Malfoys, when he noticed that her gaze had caught on one of the books. He knew what it was instantly from its placement. It was an old text about research into memory restoration potions, and included details about the formulation of memory sharpening potion.

“--Oh,” she said.

“Just don’t let those dunderheads spill anything on it,” Severus told her as he poured himself a cup of coffee and adding in three cubes of sugar. “They’re out of print.”

She was staring at him. “You… I… Dunderheads?”

Severus snorted. “I like to believe not, but it feels a bit too close to self-diagnosis for me to be certain.”

She was still staring at him. He liked watching her try to process this.

“What?” he asked. “Did I metamorph into a unicorn, or something?”

“N-No, I just.” She swallowed, looking between him and the book. “You’d… really let me borrow it?”

He shrugged, and nodded, pulling out a piece of bread and buttering it up before pouring himself a small bowl of soup broth. “I’m not doing anything with it. And you’re not likely to find one anywhere else, they’re a bitch and a half to get ahold of nowadays. Do you know how many Ministry officials I had to hex for it to be imported properly? Seventeen. Now get over here and eat, before you collapse again and Poppy Pomfrey shows up to skin me alive.”

When Hermione showed up the next day in the corridor, Severus noted with amusement that she’d warded the book so heavily that she had to wear gloves to turn the pages. He sidled up beside her with a snort. “It’s a book, not the bloody Boy-Who-Lived, Granger.”

She smiled at him with deceptive sweetness. “I know. I’m just concerned about your importation strategies. You see, Professor--” her eyes twinkled dangerously here “--curses have always been one of my weaker subjects, and I’m not certain how effectively I’d be able to manage to hex the whole Ministry Importation Division.”

Granger was going to be the death of him.

Chapter Text

“So you’re certain it’s Rabastan then, Severus?”

Hermione looked between McGonagall and Snape. Harry sat at her side, and Crooks in her lap.

Snape nodded. “The Ministry never found his body. Rodolphus is in Azkaban, but Rabastan was presumed dead. I told them it was an oversight. It’s the same bloody mistake that Tommy made, and we’re not going to learn from it? If he had the presence of mind to curse Potter again, the war would’ve had an entirely different outcome--”

“Severus,” McGonagall warned.

“I mean, he’s right,” Hermione said. “I wouldn’t have trusted Narcissa.”

Harry nodded. “Me neither. Still don’t.” He chuckled, and Hermione joined him in it. “Double tapping’s easy enough, I don’t know why the Ministry didn’t get on board with it. I definitely did it to Tom’s body.”

“Double tapping?” the Headmistress asked.

“Muggle term, ma’am,” Hermione explained. “It’s when you… make another fatal wound on someone’s body, to ensure they’re dead.” She glanced between Harry and Snape. “Voldemort did have a tendency to not ensure people were dead.”

“His hubris was always his downfall,” Snape said in agreement, his voice quiet and eyes distant. “That and his inability to kill Potter despite being the most powerful Dark Wizard of all time. Asinine, really.”

“You’re extra grouchy today, Severus.” McGonagall sighed, and adjusted some of the papers on her desk. “Very well. I will speak to Kingsley about not fucking it up this time around.” Harry suffered a sudden coughing fit that sounded suspiciously like laughter at her choice of words, but unperturbed, McGonagall continued. “Rabastan Lestrange has performed his ritual six times that we’ve accounted for, once every week since the beginning of the semester. He’s been switching up the days, however.”

The number clicked in Hermione’s mind. “He’ll be aiming for seven. He’s still a loyal death eater, and Voldemort had a fondness for that number.”

“Agreed,” said a new voice.

Hermione looked up and saw that Rowena was back. Her heart skipped a beat at the Founder yet again siding with her.

“He’s been timing it with different lunar and planetary alignments. Tomorrow night will likely be his next attempt, if the pattern holds,” Rowena continued. “And your best bet at stopping him. He will have a small army of inferi at his command.”

“Lovely,” Harry muttered with a roll of his eyes. Hermione reached over and squeezed his hand.

McGonagall grimaced. “I will get the students on war footing again, then,” she said. “And by that I mean I will get them to safety, with the exception of some of the seventh and eighth years, who would throw a fit if I didn’t let them join up.”

“You may also want to send that fish you call a DADA Professor with the first years.” Snape looked like he’d swallowed bitterroot essence. “I doubt he will be useful in the slightest.”

“Is Professor Forwit truly that bad?” McGonagall asked.

Hermione started as she realized McGonagall was looking at her and Harry. She glanced at Harry and met his gaze.

“Yeah,” said Harry, and she nodded. “I’m worried that I won’t be qualified as an Auror if I have to keep studying under him.” Harry’s voice was a whisper, so quiet that Hermione wasn’t sure if she’d heard correctly. When she whirled to face him with wide eyes of concern, he just shrugged, looking truly defeated.

How dare Forwit make her brother feel that way.

Hermione leveled her gaze at McGonagall, chin up. She saw the disbelief in the woman’s eyes at Harry’s words.

“Here we go,” Snape muttered.

“Throughout the year, all we have learned is that Forwit believes the world is full of happy shiny rainbows since Voldemort is gone. We have not discussed any spells, protections, tactics, or creatures. Forwit is the singularly most useless professor I have had my entire time at Hogwarts. I include that assessment the sociopathic pink tea cozy and the time that we had an actual Death Eater teaching us.”

“Which time?” Snape asked with a wry grin. It even showed teeth.

Hermione snorted a laugh and rolled her eyes at him. “Truthfully? Both. You should’ve heard the girls’ common room the night after your speech on the Dark Arts.”

Snape blinked. “What.”

“Boy’s common room, too.” Harry said with a little shrug and a look of mischief.

Snape looked between the two of them with such open bewilderment that Hermione thought he’d faint. “Aren’t you two funny.”

Hermione offered him an apologetic smile and a shrug of consolation. “Yeah, we’re not joking.”

“There was consideration of a fanclub,” Harry added.

Snape’s jaw dropped and, after a moment, he turned to the wall he’d been leaning against and started smacking his head against it.

McGonagall sighed, rubbing her temples. “Talking with you three is like herding cats.”

“You would know about that, Headmistress, not us,” Hermione replied, the words falling out of her mouth before she had time to censor them. She almost froze out of fear, but then she heard Snape start to laugh. The sound emboldened her like she’d just snorted liquid luck.

McGonagall froze, then closed her eyes and groaned. “I’m beginning to think Severus has the right idea.”

Harry snickered. “You walked into that one, ma’am. Anyway, yeah, Forwit’s a useless piece of shit.”

“At least shit has uses as manure,” Hermione pointed out, trying to keep her voice relatively low in the futile hope that McGonagall wouldn’t hear. “I dunno if I’d even trust Forwit’s body to fertilize a field. Can you even grow plants on soggy cardboard?”

McGonagall must’ve heard, as she began gently hitting her head against the top of her desk.

Harry paused thoughtfully, then nodded. “You’re right. All of the plants would die out of boredom and lack of nutrition.”

Hermione’s grin grew as she realized something. “Hah. It’d be worse than watching grass grow.”

“I’m about five seconds from resurrecting that damn snake to finish the job,” Snape muttered, collapsing against the wall. “Maybe I can ask Lestrange, since he seems to be the resident necromancer.”

Oh yeah, that thing that was currently endangering their lives. “We need a plan for that, or are we just going to wing it?” Hermione asked, arching a brow at Harry.

He shrugged. “Improvisation’s always worked before.”

“Brilliant. Five knuts they’re going to try and kill Harry.” Hermione grinned, elbowing Harry in the ribs.

“Miss Granger, that is a most inappropriate statement,” Snape hissed. For a moment fear constricted her insides, but then he continued, “Everyone is always trying to kill Potter. Only a dunderhead would take those odds.”

McGonagall glared at him. “Severus! Don’t encourage them!” she said, her breath coming in stuttering gasps that indicated someone trying very hard to not laugh. “Or else I’ll retire and you’ll have to be Headmaster again.”

“Is that your go-to blackmail line, Headmistress?” Harry asked.

“Yes,” Snape replied, pinching the bridge of his nose.

McGonagall rolled her eyes, and waved her arms dismissively. “Alright. Out, all of you. We’re going to call a meeting of staff, and then we’ll inform the students during dinner. Granger, Potter, you are expected to attend.”

“Yes, Headmistress.” Hermione stood, holding out a hand to pull Harry from his seat.

“Wouldn’t miss it, Headmistress,” Harry seconded.

“Indeed, Mr. Potter, you had better not.”

McGonagall instructed the portraits to call the staff together, and then lead the way. Hermione stuck close to Harry as they followed McGonagall and Snape. The two teachers were muttering to each other as they walked, so Hermione and Harry did the same.

“Who do you think we’ll have joining us?” Hermione asked. “You know, of the seventh and eighth years.”

Harry was silent for a few steps. “Ginny, Ron, Neville, and Luna for sure,” he started. “I expect most of the DA, and Draco, will also come.”

“Draco’s changed, hasn’t he? For the better.” Hermione kept her eyes on Harry, ignoring how Snape threw a glance over his shoulder at the mention of Malfoy.

“Yeah, he’s been…” Harry trailed off. “I dunno. I mean, he was a little bully, but I think he grew up. And he didn’t deserve Azkaban. I’m glad he’s back.”

Hermione nodded, but was unable to reply before they stopped in front of a portrait. The Headmistress turned to them and looked between all three of them.

“Try and not be too impolite,” she said. “It’s difficult enough wrangling some of these people even without provocation, Severus.”

He arched a brow. “If they don’t want me to say something, they should endeavor to be less insipid.”

With a warning look at him, McGonagall whispered something to the portrait to open it, and then they stepped through, Snape holding the portrait open for the two of them.

“It’ll try and shut on students,” he said, in a tone that indicated explanation, but Hermione felt like it was more of an excuse.

“Thanks,” she said anyway. He made an unimpressed noise.

Some of the staff were already there. Vector and Flitwick beamed at them. Vector was even sitting on a couch and moved over, patting the cushions and gesturing for Hermione and Harry to come over. Flitwick, who was just entering, took a seat on a stool by Harry, with Snape relaxing in an armchair to Vector’s other side after pouring himself a glass of firewhiskey.

“Thank you,” Hermione murmured as she sat down by the Arithmancy professor, Harry on her other side.

The other reactions were mixed. Hagrid came over for hugs. Sprout seemed startled, but smiled. Hooch cackled like an insane woman before sitting down and watching them all with a wide grin. Pince just gave them a Look that made Hermione wonder if she was related to Snape. Pomfrey smiled at them, waving, and took a seat. Sinistra arched a brow. Forwit scowled thunderously and stood by the door. Trelawny looked highly displeased, but sat down.

After all the staff had assembled, McGonagall began, standing at one side of the room where everyone could see her.

“Some of you are aware of the intruder on our grounds.” She held up her hand to silence the protests of a few teachers who seemed in varying degrees of shock. Forwit puffed up angrily, Vector sat up in her seat, and Hooch leaned forward with eyes narrowed. “A few days ago, Miss Granger managed to ascertain the identity of this intruder, but was knocked unconscious before we could verify her findings. Professor Snape has, earlier today, verified this intruder’s identity as Rabastan Lestrange.”

Another ripple of reactions. Hermione kept her eyes fixed on McGonagall. She wasn’t here to cause trouble or react. She was here to prepare the school.

“Rabastan Lestrange was--or is--one of Voldemort’s most faithful followers and a powerful Dark Wizard. Given that he has survived a year on the run without alerting the wizarding world as a whole to his survival, he is not to be underestimated.” McGonagall paused to make sure her faculty understood.

Forwit scoffed. Hermione bit her lip to keep the retorts from coming up.

“This is poppycock,” Forwit said. “The Death Eaters were all hunted down and imprisoned, with a few… exceptions.” He shot a pointed look at Snape, who just took a sip of his firewhiskey. “These children are just paranoid, or trying to reignite the war to reclaim lost glory--”

“You do realize Harry died during that bloody war?” Hermione exploded. “He died, Professor. He was made to believe that he needed to die to get rid of the Horcrux in him, so he fucking walked alone to face an army of Dark Wizards knowing he was about to die, to be murdered, tortured, and didn’t raise a wand in self-defense. I think the only one who can say something similar is Professor Snape. I’d like to see anyone else in this room face Voldemort with such dignity.”

The silence was heavy, like someone had dropped a thick blanket over the entire room. Snape took another sip of firewhiskey.

To Hermione’s surprise, it was Flitwick who spoke up first. “Voldemort was my boggart,” he said. “Probably still is. I’ve been through a lot, but I don’t think for one moment my experience matches the pain that these two esteemable young people have endured in the past eight years. I think you owe them an apology, Forwit, and a great deal more respect.”

Hermione turned to the Charms Professor, offering him a smile of thanks. Brilliant. He smiled back at her, and nodded.

“I knew what I was getting into,” Snape said, surprising Hermione. “I entered the conflict knowing full well my chances of survival. These two were given no such choice, or knowledge. They acted simply because it was the right thing to do, regardless of the pain they would face. There was no little flier telling them the hell they would endure, and they were only twelve when they first stood up to Voldemort. When you were that age, Forwit, you were still soiling yourself at the monsters under the bed.”

Forwit muttered something, going redder.

Hermione noted that McGonagall was giving Snape an exasperated look, but she ignored it, instead smiling at Snape. He met her eyes and pointedly took another sip of firewhiskey, which she nodded in agreement to.

“As I was saying.” McGonagall’s voice had a bit of tension to it, and she shot a look at Forwit. “We will be instituting emergency war footing in the school until Rabastan is subdued. If our calculations hold, he will act in two days. He has been raising an army of inferi from the old battlefield, and we’re uncertain what he intends to do with them, but it cannot be good.” She nodded to the three Heads of Houses. “We will need the Heads of Houses to secure the students in their respective shelters, and work with prefects to secure the school. If seventh or eighth years insist on joining the battle, they will be allowed to. I expect a few sixth years will sneak out too to help, but we will not encourage it. I will announce these developments during dinner tonight, and we will have tomorrow to prepare. Are there any questions?”

A few of the staff asked about the specifics of the emergency plans, which Hermione paid attention to, wishing she had something to write things down on. As if noticing her twitching fingers, Vector pulled out a small notepad and quill, smiling as she handed them over. Hermione began meeting notes immediately, scribbling down what needed to be completed.

Apparently, after the Battle of Hogwarts, the statues needed some time to recharge and repair. A small detachment would join the army, but they couldn’t rely on them. Staff were assigned sectors of the school to ward, as well as different duties. Hooch volunteered for aerial reconnaissance, to the surprise of absolutely nobody, and Flitwick and Vector were in charge of organizing general defenses. Trelawny promised to seek the future for guidance, which McGonagall agreed to under the condition that she didn’t get in the way of other preparations, and Pomfrey was going to put the infirmary on war footing.

They were nearly wrapping up when Severus spoke up. “I will require Granger for the next day.”

McGonagall paused, but nodded, glancing at Hermione. “If there’s nothing else she needs to do for preparing defenses, I’m sure she’d be happy to assist. What do you require her for, Severus?”

He finished draining the firewhiskey from his glass. “I have an idea about how to deal with the inferi, and I need another person to aid with brewing.”

Hermione nodded. “I’ll come to the Potions classroom as soon as I can, Professor.”

Dinner was a typical affair until the very end, when McGonagall stood and clapped her hands. The room quieted.

“Students, I must inform you of some very grave news.” She folded her hands in front of her. “The staff has reason to believe that there is a renegade ex-Death Eater on school property, who seeks to harm us. As such, for the next few days, until such time as we are certain of this wizard’s defeat, we will be instituting emergency war footing.” She nodded to the other Heads of Houses. “Your Heads of Houses distributed brochures at the beginning of the year involving emergency procedures. I regret that we have to utilize them at all, let alone so soon after the defeat of Voldemort.”

Hermione ignored the rest of her speech, having basically heard it before. Instead, she glanced around at the other kids. Those who remained from the DA were all looking to her and Harry. When she glanced at Harry, he nodded.

“I’ll handle organizing the DA,” he said. “You go handle your Head Girl duties, then see what Snape needs you for.”

“Brilliant.”

Chapter Text

It was late by the time that Severus finally dragged himself to his potions room. He swung off his cloak, tossing it on his chair and only then realizing that there was someone else in the room.

Hermione. Granger, that was her name, she was here and she was already brewing.

She glanced over from the cauldron she was working on. “I took the liberty of beginning a few healing brews that Pomfrey asked me for,” she said, then chewed at her lip. “Mostly wiggenweld. I hope that’s okay.”

“Always good to be prepared.” He left the room, heading to his office for a moment and tying up his hair while he pulled out the stack of papers he’d been working on for the past few days, and a couple of tomes. Returning to his classroom, he handed Granger a mostly neat recipe before dumping the rest of the papers on his desk.

“What’s this?” she murmured, almost automatically, as she looked over the page. Her eyes sparkled. “Valerian, erumpet tails… powdered dragon horn, phosphorus… hellebore seeds… pufferfish quills, scarabs....”

“What’s your guess, Granger?”

She scrunched up her face thoughtfully, while he began to retrieve cauldrons. “It’s a mix between exploding potions and skele-gro, but I think some of the ingredients wouldn’t mix well… Something with fire, possibly targeting bones.”

“Correct.” He plopped down a cauldron, and summoned his blender. “If I’m correct, it should create a fire that will only burn inferi. What ingredients concern you?”

Granger had pulled out her other toys and brought them over to him. “I just always thought you weren’t supposed to mix scarabs and hellebore seeds, sir.”

“If you want to keep your hide, you don’t,” he replied. “They’re very volatile together. Why do they work in this potion?”

She tilted her head, grabbing some bowls and following him into the reagent room. “I suppose the valerian could stabilize it?”

“Yes.” He paused, measuring out dragon horn. “Well, hopefully.”

“...Hopefully?”

Severus shrugged. “I haven’t had time to test it. That is why I will be preparing this brew and you will be making a batch of fire resistance potion.”

She grinned. “Brilliant.”

Granger was good company. Their brewing session alternated between companionable silence and a sort of snarky banter that Severus found himself getting quite used to, despite his attempts to not take her presence for granted. It just felt so natural, and he forgot himself when he slipped into their dynamic. She wasn’t nearly as chatty as before the war, and when she did talk, it was always of substance.

By one in the morning, the fire resistance potion was ready and Severus could take the next step of his brewing. He chugged a glass, feeling the icy liquid pour down his throat. It felt like ice was filtering through his blood vessels, creeping outwards into his extremities and penetrating his marrow.

Severus made sure she’d taken some before he tossed in the first scarab.

There was a light puff of fire that shook the table and scorched the ceiling, but nothing worse than that. With a shrug, Severus rolled up his sleeves, then gently emptied a carefully-weighed bowl of scarabs into the mix. A small fountain of fire accompanied this development, but it washed harmlessly over his hands, flames licking painlessly up his forearms to brush against the scar of the old Dark Mark.

“That could’ve gone a lot worse,” he said as he brushed out the last few bits of scarab, then turned.

She was smiling at him. Just smiling. Those big golden eyes sparkled.

“What?” he asked.

“Oh, I just feel very Victorian,” she said. “It’s so scandalous to see your wrists, after all. I might swoon.”

Severus rolled his eyes, unable to comment. She was right, after all. His stifling clothes were his protection against the world. He turned towards the storage room. “When you’ve recovered from the impropriety, we need to make more of this. After we test it.”

She laughed and followed him.

After the first batch was done, they went to the dungeon’s containment area, where there was a solitary inferi that had been trapped for DADA lessons by someone, at some point, the details of which were lost to the ages. It was very lethargic and hardly even menacing, but it’d do for a test run. The firebomb was packaged into an easy-to-break clay vial.

“You want to do the honors?”

“You certain? It’s your potion.”

Severus shrugged. “I like my eyebrows being intact and not scorched.”

Laughing, Hermione grabbed the vial, wound up, and chucked it right at the inferi. It shattered on impact, and with a massive FWOOM, the beast lit up in silver-black fire. Severus instinctively threw her behind him and threw up a ward, realizing a moment later that his reaction was both merited and extremely prudent, as the silver fire licked against his shield.

Hermione was grabbing his arm, and poked her head out from behind him. She let out a low whistle. “Damn,” she said. “The boys are gonna love that.”

Severus rolled his eyes.

By three in the morning, they’d completed a few batches of his experimental firebombs. He’d conjured a pair of armchairs for them to sit in by the fireplace in his office, with Granger reading the book on memory potions and Severus grading essays. One of her timers dinged, signalling another brew ready to be packaged. Severus stood, but Granger didn’t stir.

“Granger?”

No response.

“Hermoine?”

Still nothing.

He crept closer, crouching down in front of her. She was curled around her book, head falling against the side of the armchair, eyes shut peacefully. Some of her hair had come free from its bun and framed her face. She was definitely asleep.

Fuck.

Okay, well… First things first. Severus went to the potions classroom, and carefully poured amounts of his potion into the easily disposable clay phials he’d chosen for them. Once the station was cleaning itself up, he returned to Hermione in his office.

Transfiguring the chair he’d been sitting on into some sort of divan, he went over, gathered his courage, and gently picked her up. She was remarkably light. Had she been eating properly since she returned from the war? Fuck, he’d have to check in with Minerva about that one. Placing her on the divan, he settled her into what he assumed was a passable sleeping position, then tugged her wand from her hair. It exploded into a bun, and Severus nearly made some undignified startled noise by the sudden brown curls assaulting his face. Stifling his reaction, he transfigured a stool into a nightstand and placed her wand on it, along with her book, notes, and a quick scribbled explanation of where she was.

She shivered.

Fuck. Okay. Yeah, the dungeons were cold. Standing, Severus grabbed his robes from where they were thrown over his desk. A wave of his hand enchanted them with a heating charm, then transfigured them into a black blanket. He covered her in the newly minted blanket, tucking it in around her neck.

“Maoww.”

Severus jumped, whirling around to see the cat. Crookshanks, she’d called him.

“You,” he accused the cat. “Look at what your mistress has done.” He gestured at Hermione. Her only response was to shift in her sleep, snuggling in deeper with his robes-turned-blanket. He glared at her sleeping form. She looked very comfortable--which was both a relief to him, and slightly infuriating given that this cat was judging him for it.

“Mee-ow,” the cat said, looking at Severus pointedly.

“Don’t give me that face,” he told the cat. “I’m not accustomed to having people pass out in my office, okay? I’m not exactly the comforting type, if you hadn’t noticed.” He gestured at Hermione. “Go, I don’t know, cuddle with her or something. Whatever it is you felines do.”

The cat licked its nose, then walked forward, brushing between Severus’ legs as it did so, the long puffy orange tail twining around his thigh. Then Crooks leaped up onto the divan and curled up over Hermione’s feet.

“Good cat,” Severus said, then glanced at the damage to his pants. It looked like a Weasley had exploded on them. “Eugh, I’m going to need a de-hairing charm.”

Chapter Text

With a tremendous yawn, Hermione stretched out in bed and stretched her arms up. Unexpectedly, she found herself rolling against a padded wall. What was that doing there? Blearily, she opened her eyes.

The light from the ceiling was like looking up through a great body of water. Was she under the Black Lake? Or was it just enchanted? Where had she seen that window before?

...Snape’s office.

She tried to throw herself into a sitting position, but realized then that Crooks was asleep on her chest. Well, ‘asleep.’ Being dead, he definitely did not need sleep anymore.

Out of habit, she reached up and began to scratch beneath his chin, looking around as Crooks started up his jet-engine purr. She was definitely in Snape’s office, which begged the question, what the fuck? She’d been brewing with him, then… had she fallen asleep?

Hermione had never realized how easy it was to mess with Snape. As long as he didn’t seem too bothered by her banter, she was going to continue to be a little cheeky. It was worth it to see him lighten up.

Her comments about his clothing had hit home, she’d noticed. It confirmed her suspicions that he used his beloved frock coats to keep the rest of the world from seeing who he was. All of that made her itch to unravel him. Sure, he wasn’t a good person, but he was clearly making an effort--especially nowadays, after the war, he seemed to really be working to be someone new. Selfish as it was, she wanted to be there for that. It had started when she saved him at the Shack, and just ramped up from there.

“What the bloody hell is that noise--” The door burst open, and Snape stared down at her and Crooks.

“Morning,” she mumbled. “Sorry I fell asleep.”

“Is that. Your cat? Is your cat making that noise?”

“Yeah, he’s purring. Why?”

Snape reached a hand up and ran it through his hair. “I think it might be damaging the structural integrity of the dungeons.”

It was then that she realized he was just in a black button-up shirt and pants. The shirt was rolled up to his elbows, revealing the pale skin of his forearms, dotted with scars. His hair was up again. She liked it up, it looked good. And he was wearing glasses, rectangular lenses with emerald frames. It made him look more like a professor, and less like a shadowy specter of doom risen from the depths of the dungeons.

“I like your glasses.”

“My--oh.” He glanced around, looking suddenly very uncomfortable. “I’m going to go finish brewing, get yourself to breakfast. Preferably before your cat brings the castle crumbling down on us.”

He vanished so quickly she wondered if he’d run away. It wouldn’t surprise her if he had.

“Thanks for the sofa and blanket!” she called after him. There was no response, so she turned to Crooks. “Okay, Crooks,” she told her cat. “You heard the man.”

Crooks made a great show of yawning and stretching before he got up, which told her for certain that he had not been sleeping.

After he got off of her chest, Hermione stood and grabbed her wand to re-transfigure things into their previous states. The divan popped back up into an armchair, the table became a stool. Hermione tucked the book into the corner of her arm before she transfigured the blanket, and realized that it was his robes.

Damn, how many layers did that man wear? He must have the button-up, coat, and then the robes. That was excessive. Also, his robes were absolutely covered in cat hair. With a sigh, she folded them up and decided to bring them back to her quarters, where she could clean them more thoroughly after all of this was over with.

A tempus charm on the way back to the Gryffindor tower told her that it was about a half an hour before breakfast. Time enough for a quick shower and meeting up with Harry.

She found him in the common room, going over a map of the castle and its defenses with Ginny and Neville. Wandering over, she stifled a yawn.

“Hey,” Harry said, squeezing her in a side hug. “We’re just doing some final review before the preparations today.”

“How are things looking?” she asked. “I was up until three brewing with Se--Professor Snape, so I’m a little out of the loop.”

“Merlin, Hermione,” Ginny murmured. “You gotta take care of yourself.”

She shrugged. “It was fun. Anyway?”

Harry nodded. “Ron and most of the Quidditch players will be joining Hooch with the aerial defense,” he said. “Neville’s gonna grab the sword and help out Flitwick with any ground-level defense. Ginny’ll be backing them up. The Patil twins will be helping Pomfrey with field medicine. Luna’s helping Hagrid wrangle all of his animals to safety, with the exception of the thestrals, because fuck knows what they’re gonna do. I’ll be helping out with the ground fighting, unless you’ve got a better idea.”

Hermione shook her head. “I think it’d be prudent to keep your broom on you. Severus made up this inferi-burning firebomb--it’s absolutely brilliant, we’ve got nearly two hundred ready to go--and it’s very, uh, excitable.” She cleared her throat pointedly. “Might be safer to deliver the payload from the air.”

“Oh, I love it,” Harry muttered.

She rolled her eyes, realizing only a moment later that she was mimicking Severus’ exact reaction from the night before. “That’s what I told him you’d say.”

“Honestly, I’m really glad that both of our Hogwarts battles will involve pyrotechnics.” Neville grinned a little.

Hermione chuckled. “Anyway, I’m going to go take a shower, brewing works havoc on my hair and I want to face my undeath smelling decent.”

Ginny giggled. “That’s the spirit, Hermione!”

“Okay, I’ll see you at breakfast!” Harry beamed at her, then frowned at the bundle of black in her arms. “Is that Snape’s bloody cloak?”

“Robes,” she said with a shrug.

“How--you know what, never mind.”

Rolling her eyes again, she swatted his arm. “Guttermind. He just transfigured them into a blanket for me, and I figured the only decent thing to do was to get Crooks’ cat fur off of them.”

Harry burst out laughing, but Ginny just cocked her head to the side, frowning. “Crooks?” she asked. “Are you still getting his hair out of your stuff, Hermione?”

“Oh, no. I forgot to mention, Crooks has returned as a semi-ghost-thing to help deal with the undead army. See you all at breakfast.”

While she was showering, her mind wandered to potions. Obviously she needed to invent a sort of memory restoration potion--the book she was borrowing from Severus made it clear that such a thing had not been previously invented, but might be possible. It would be a bitch and a half, as Severus liked to call things.

… Severus. When did he become Severus? That was…

That was something she was not about to address the day before another life-endangering battle. Besides, it was probably just her getting ready for the shift in their relationship that would come with her no longer being his student and instead being his apprentice. That was also probably his reason for adjusting the way he talked to her. She shouldn’t over-analyze that.

She needed to focus on the battle, and what else she’d have to do to prepare for it.

Severus having her make fire resistance potion gave her an idea. She was shit at being in the air, and everyone knew that, but she had Crooks--and Crooks was excellent at tracking Rabastan. She knew a few modifications that could be made to potions to extend their effects, and if she extended the effects of a fire resistance potion, made a couple… she could more effectively function during battle. It might even help her chase down Rabastan. The ingredients weren’t too expensive, and she actually had all of them already. (She might’ve been stockpiling for her apprenticeship.)

After she was done showering, she set up the cauldron of potion in her bathroom, charmed it to brew automatically, then headed down to breakfast.

Harry plopped down across from her, and while they ate she told him of her plan. He nodded. “If anyone can pull that sort of shit off, it’s you. I’ll try and follow you from the air, then.”

“That’d be nice. I can put a tracking charm on myself for you, in case I have to go in the forest.”

“Fuck, I hope not. That place is hell to navigate when you’re not on a broom.” Harry scrunched up his face as he pushed eggs onto his toast.

“What are your plans for the rest of the day?” Hermione asked, grabbing another piece of toast. She paused to wave at Ginny as the redhead sat down next to Harry.

Harry embraced Ginny with a side hug as he responded. “I was going to go help wrangle the animals with Luna and Hagrid, then get some rest. It’s weird knowing when shit will go down.”

Hermione snorted. “I hope we’ve got the time right. He might start the ritual early, just to fuck with us. He has to know we’re aware of him, he must have seen the wards go up.” It had looked just like before the other battle, all gorgeous and shiny and pretty much a direct sign that Hogwarts knew something was coming. “I hope he needs some sort of planetary or lunar alignment for this, because otherwise he could start whenever.”

Ginny grabbed a plate for her breakfast, glancing between them.

“He’ll probably go for darkness either way,” Harry said, sighing. “Whether that means cloud cover or night, I don’t know. I just know that Dark Wizards love their mood lighting.”

Hermione chuckled along with him, buttering up her toast. “Scholomance was known for weather magic. My bet is on that.”

“It’s overcast already,” Ginny put in, with a grave look.

Once again, Harry sighed. “We’ll have to tell McGonagall.”

“Yeah. I’ll probably go help Severus brew, I know he was working on something when I left this morning.”

Harry paused, frowning at his toast, then up at her.

Ginny froze, then looked at Hermione slyly. “Left this morning?” she asked.

Hermione sighed, rolling her eyes. “You are incorrigible. I was up until three brewing in preparation for the battle! I told you this! That’s all.”

Giggling, Ginny shrugged. “I know. I’m just teasing.” She paused, then, waggling her eyebrows, “Although I wouldn’t be surprised either.”

“Ginny!”

“Hey, yeah,” Harry said, eyes widening with realization. “She called Snape by his first name earlier. That’s a sign if there ever was one.”

Hermione buried her face in her palms. “Kill me.”

“Is that a yes?” Ginny asked through her laughter.

“No!”

“You know…” Harry paused, looked around, and then leaned in conspiratorially, lowering his voice so only they could hear. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he likes you. I felt his emotions towards my mom, okay? She meant a lot to him but he’s not in love with her anymore, he just misses her dearly and blames himself ‘cause she was his only friend. I wouldn’t be surprised if he moved on to the brightest witch of our age who, may I add, saved his ass after that snake.”

“Shh!” Hermione hissed.

Ginny’s eyes flew open. “Wait,” she said, also leaning in. “That was you? Hermione, I thought Headmistress McGonagall said that…”

With a sigh, Hermione nodded. “Yes. He… I didn’t want him to be indebted to someone again, okay?” She put her elbows on the table, and buried her face in her hands. “And he was lashing out at everyone. He didn’t want to be here. He doesn’t want to be here. McGonagall took credit and said she’d just make sure he was safe. I didn’t know he was coming back to teach, but it makes sense, because it’s the easiest way for her to keep an eye on him and I’m sure she’s probably wrangled it so that if he gives me a Mastery then he’s ‘cleared’ of his debt to her.” She bit back the tears.

“Holy shit,” Ginny whispered.

Harry reached across the table, and squeezed her forearm. “I’m sorry for upsetting you, Hermione,” he murmured. “But I’m being honest here. He… I think he’s found a new lease on life. Look at him, Hermione.”

Against her better judgement, she did.

He was sitting at the head table, talking animatedly with Hooch and Vector. It wasn’t as animated as some people got, but it was certainly a great deal more energetic than old Snape.

“I think you did a good thing,” Harry said. “And I don’t think he’s ‘giving’ you a mastery, let alone for releasing his debt. McGonagall knows what he’s been through, and she’s not manipulative like that. Not… not like Dumbledore.”

Hermione sighed. “I hope so. Even if he was an asshole all those years, and even if he’s still an asshole, someone needed to recognize the pain he went through.”

“He’s not an asshole anymore,” Ginny said. “He keeps punishing people for using slurs in his classes. Gordon was just the first, he’s been very strict about no more blood purity in his classrooms. I overheard Flitwick saying that he and Snape were even working together on a project of some kind.”

Were they? That warmed her heart a little. Maybe Severus was going to be okay. She’d been so worried when she’d seen that same reckless self-endangerment and lack of care.

She should probably stop thinking about him as Severus now.

“Okay,” she said, removing her hands from her face once she was certain she wasn’t crying. “That’s… good. Also irrelevant. We have to deal with an undead army tonight, guys, not just spend the entire time needling me about my lack of a love life.”

She and Harry went to talk to McGonagall after breakfast, and from there were sent to Sinistra, who gave them a list of possible astronomical occurrences to track, including the rising times of different planets and the moon, as well as the precise time of sunset. These were dispersed to the leaders of the defense teams, to be aware of things that might precipitate the ritual.

After that was done, Hermione checked on her fire resistance potion, adjusted the charms to allow it to brew itself, then headed to the dungeons.

Severus was there already, bottling more of his fire. Against her better judgement, Hermione paused to watch him.

He was wearing his frock coat again, although it wasn’t fully buttoned and he’d rolled up the sleeves. She couldn’t blame him. It was bloody hot in there. As he carefully portioned out the explosive concoction, she watched the faded Dark Mark flicker in and out of her view. The way the snake twined around the skull reminded her of chain links.

He had on his glasses too, she realized. Even if he’d been embarrassed about them that morning. They really did look good on him. Maybe she was just a sucker for glasses. Hermione wasn’t sure.

“Is there something wrong?” he asked without his eyes moving from his careful dispensing of potion.

“Oh, no, sorry. I just didn’t want to interrupt.”

He made an unconvinced noise, putting down the vial he was filling and stoppering it. “What do you need?”

“I’m here to help brew,” she said, ducking out of her own robes and beginning to braid her hair so it’d be out of her way. “It’s bloody hot in here. Anything specific that needs to be handled?”

“Uh.” He seemed startled, or at least unprepared, glancing around the room, then frowned at her. “You don’t want to spend the day with your friends?”

Hermione laughed and shook her head. “Severus, we’re very accustomed to splitting up in preparation for a battle.”

“Oh. Right. That makes sense, I suppose.” He looked around again. “There’s going to be a lot of need for burn salve, if you want to get on that--and then I could use help transporting these gently up to the different defense teams. Hooch cornered me after I told the staff about them. She’s quite excited, wants to carpet bomb everything. I don’t think I’ve seen her this eager since we repaired the quidditch field.” He wrung his hands together. “Nobody seems concerned that the potion isn’t well tested.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “That’s because you’re brilliant, Sev. How large of a batch should I make for burn salve?”

“S--” He paused, blinked, and readjusted himself. “Fifty? We’ve got a good stock already, I just don’t think any of these students should be trusted near this much fire.” He paused, and ran a hand through his hair. “We’ll also need a way to put out the fire, although I suppose we could just conjure water from the lake.”

“Alright.” Hermione tied off her braid and twisted it up into a bun, using a hair tie to constrain it, then sticking her wand through it. “I’ll get on the burn salve. How long until you want to move the firebombs?”

“Give me twenty minutes to finish packaging these, then we can move them.”

It was eighteen minutes later that the alarm bells sounded. Literally.

“Fuck,” Snape said.

Hermione snatched her wand from her hair, and twirled it at the cauldron, putting a stasis charm on it. “How many of the firebombs are already out with the teams?”

“Hundred and fifty,” he replied, pouring one more firebomb with remarkably steady hand. “I’ll grab this crate, there’s another on the table, can you get it to Hooch?”

“Yeah.” Hermione grabbed it, cast a stasis charm on it and a few non-jostling charms, then hurried away with the crate.

Hooch was perched on the parapets like a gargoyle with her hawklike eyes. “Granger!” she called as Hermione approached. Her eyes gleamed when she saw the crate. “Oh, wonderful.” She rubbed her hands together. “Thomas! Get these to your squadrons.”

Dean came over, and offered a grin and a nod to Hermione. “Hey.”

“I spelled the crate to protect against shaking them too hard, but you should still be careful,” she said as she handed it over.

“Oh, I know.” His eyes grew wide and he shot a glance at Hooch, who was shouting orders at other kids. “Hooch went on a test flight with one, nearly blew herself up already. I’ve never seen her this happy.”

Hermione sighed and rolled her eyes as she transferred over the box. “Good to know.”

“Yeah. See you when this is all over.”

He walked off, and Hermione paused to assess the battleground. The undead giants were already visible, their bony forms hovering like nightmares at the edge of the forest.

There was a sharp crack from the air beside Hermione, and McGonagall appeared with Harry side-along.

“Shit,” Hermione breathed. “I thought apparition was blocked in Hogwarts.”

“Not for the Headmistress,” McGonagall replied, stepping up to the crenelations and raising a pair of enchanted binoculars to her eyes. “Hooch!”

“Yes, Headmistress?” the Madam answered, appearing from wherever she’d last been shouting.

“If their forces start moving towards that memorial, begin your runs. That’s always where he starts. I don’t know if he needs to break it, but I’m willing to bet he wants to break it in front of us. And be careful of airborne intruders.”

“Aye, ma’am.” Hooch disappeared back towards her teams.

Hermione swallowed hard. “Harry, I may need to ride with you on your broom.”

“Any time. You ready for battle?”

She hesitated. “I need to grab some stuff from my room. And get a lot of those explosives.”

“Me too. I’m eager to see what you cooked up with Snape.” He grinned.

She rolled her eyes, leaning against the mortar of the castle and searching for any forms besides the giants. “It was all Sev, really. I just followed instructions. Oh, and he let me throw the first one at a captured inferi. But that was mostly so he didn’t light on fire.”

“Sev, is it now?” Harry asked, leaning in and waggling his brows.

She shoved his face back. “Shut up. Focus.”

“He only ever let Lily call him Sev.”

Hermione froze and stared at McGonagall, who was still looking out at the battlefield. Harry copied Hermione’s movements.

“I’ve managed to get him to respond to it after thirty years,” she continued. “And the first few times, he still tried to hex me. I think Septima still has to call him Severus.”

Hermione could feel her pulse in the back of her throat. “He--didn’t hex me,” she said, finally.

“No. Indeed he did not.”

Hermione opened and closed her mouth several times, feeling very much like a fish. “I don’t know what that means.”

“Neither do I, my dear.” McGonagall reached over and hugged Hermione to her side. “But I think he appreciates you, at the very least.”

“I’m glad,” Hermione whispered. “I’m going to go grab what I need for the battle. Harry, meet you back here?”

“You got it, boss.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. McGonagall snickered.

“Good luck, you two. I’ll be in contact.” She withdrew her arm from around Hermione and apparated away.

***

Hermione re-emerged onto the crenelations prepared for battle. She’d transfigured a belt into a bandolier, which was fitted with multiple slots for the firebombs, and a pouch for her fire resistance potions. The rest of her clothes were simple, comfortable, and relatively skin-tight to ensure they wouldn’t catch fire. She wore washed jeans and a t-shirt, and she’d ditched the robes for a hoodie. Crooks was perched on her shoulder, like a very lightweight tiger.

The noise was the first thing she noticed. She rushed to the crenelations, and saw what everyone was screaming about--the inferi were coming through the lake, surging up against the castle’s wards and scrabbling like a thousand chomping mouths. The giants had begun to lumber across the field, swatting at the wizards that came too close with uprooted trees. Inferi acromantulas were spewing poison at the airborne wizards.

“Fuck,” she hissed.

Crooks perked up.

“Harry!” she shouted, fighting the crowds to find her friend, glancing down to find that swarms of inferi were crawling across the causeway. That was terrifying. Finally, she stumbled over to Harry, where he was standing by the crenelations, hurling spells at the undead on the causeway. “Crooks perked up. Rabastan’s here.”

He looked up from where his fireball singed a dozen inferi. He adjusted his grip on the broom, and held it out to her. “Right. Get on.”

“You realize they told us specifically not to do this.”

“When has that ever stopped us?” he replied. “Get on.”

She did, hopping on behind him and grabbing him tightly. Crooks hopped off of her shoulder and perched in front of Harry, presumably to guide them.

Before they took off, she handed Harry a couple of her fire resistant potions. “Here. Take these if you’re getting too close to the flames.”

“Thanks.” He stuffed them in his pockets. “Okay. Hold on, and get ready to firebomb. And… don’t blame me if I pull some stunts.”

“Harry James Potter, if you drop me, I’ll--”

Hermione’s threat was lost in a shriek as they launched forward. Oh god she had forgotten how much she hated flying. The world rushed past her as the wind whipped at her eyes and body, biting through the skin-tight layers she’d worn. Hermione became distantly aware that she was chanting “fuck, fuck, fuck” but the words were stolen by their speed before she could hear them. Focusing on the warmth and security of Harry, she released one of her arms from him and grabbed a firebomb.

The broom cornered, and Hermione’s stomach released from her body and shot off on their original trajectory. Or at least it felt like that. A moment later, they were zigzagging between the blows of a giant. Gritting her teeth, Hermione twisted and threw.

The air reverberated with power, and the giant staggered, silver fire clinging to its form like Hermione was now clinging to Harry.

“Nice!” he shouted over the noise.

“Fuck!” she screamed back at him.

He was laughing, she could feel that. Grabbing another vial, she bit down hard on her lip and threw again. The taste of iron filled her mouth, and the giant was flattened to the ground, an unholy wailing coming from it as it was consumed by silver flames.

Harry zipped upwards, and as they crested in the air, Hermione had a chance to pause for breath. A moment later, she screamed a counterspell as purple light shot from the woods beneath them. The curse rebounded off of her spell, and a moment later they shot forward, a new green light crackling uselessly into the air behind them.

“Fuck!” she screamed again.

“Agreed!” he called back.

That was Rabastan.

Hermione grabbed Harry and looked around. The other students were doing a very good job of dodging and hitting the giants with the firebombs, and the huge swarms of inferi were now huge, flaming swarms of inferi. That was a little worrying, but the silver-black fire was burning them to crisps almost as fast as it spread. Crooks was intent on the forest, his eyes practically glowing with ferocity.

Releasing Harry with one arm, Hermione reached for her fire resistance potion. She just managed to swallow it down when Harry shouted something and then they were upside down and then she was no longer on the broom--she was instead headed towards the ground.

Instinctively, Hermione’s magic pushed off of the ground and she was floating more slowly, landing harmlessly on the back of a prone, flaming giant. She stumbled a little on its massive ribs, then stood up and looked around.

Inferi were trying to approach her and getting swallowed up by the silver flames. With a grin, Hermione grabbed her wand from her hair and felt her braid fall down.

With a broad swirl of her wand, Hermione gathered the fire around her. Silver and black pooled and danced around her form, coalescing into a roiling ball above her head. It was like controlling her bluebell flames, but more powerful, and she could feel the fire straining against her control.

Flinging her hands apart, she let the ball of fire wash down on her and explode outwards in a wave of flames that flung inferi into the air as they were hit. The scent of scorched flesh suffused her lungs, and for once, Hermione didn’t mind.

Turning, Hermione gathered another smaller ball of the silver-black flames and let it hover over her shoulder as she looked into the forest.

He was right there.

Rabastan snarled, raising both his hands and his mouth forming words that Hermione couldn’t hear or discern. A moment later, an orange blur signaled Crooks’ appearance beside her.

“Hey, Crooks,” she greeted him, not taking her eyes or her wand off of Rabastan. A moment later she swung her wand and shouted, “Stupefy!”

Rabastan twisted out of the way and a moment later the ground shifted beneath her.

Hermione’s mind went to both ‘earthquake’ and ‘probably dying’ at the same time and she tucked and rolled to the side as the flaming inferi giant that she was standing on pushed itself up and began to limp, still flaming, towards a sudden surge of inferi at the middle of the battlefield.

She could hear Harry screaming.

The monster began to form, and she realized almost immediately that it was the beast from their dreams. A moment later, she realized that she’d been picked up by the tide of inferi and was being pulled towards the creature, like the worst crowd surfing you could ever imagine.

“Oh, so this is how we’re gonna do it.”

Harry was still shouting. She twisted to yell back at him, threading her wand into her hair firmly.

“Remember the fucking polyjuice recipe!” And then she chugged another fire resistance potion.

The world went black as the inferi swallowed her into their masses.

Chapter Text

They were crawling.

Everywhere.

They were gnawing.

Everywhere.

Hermione came to in a suffocating world of darkness. Thousands of bodies moved around her, bones chittering from the multitude of inferi. Smothering. She would’ve vomited, but she couldn’t. It seemed like the air was so close and pressurized that it was physically repressing her body’s attempts to throw up. The air was thick with blood and stench and they were pushing her, moving her in concerted undulations like muscles.

She fought to get a hand through the swarming throng of bodies to find her bandolier of explosives. Grabbing one, she brought it to her lips and whispered a charm to it. It would be broken when she signalled. She let it go into the throng. Four more times she repeated the procedure, planting them as she moved up the creature.

When she saw light, she knew what it would be before they hoisted her into position.

Hermione grabbed her final bomb and held it close to her chest as the leech-like mouth opened. Jagged bones undulated in front of her. They were pushing her towards it, seeking to chew her from the inside out.

Once they lifted her to the back of the beast’s throat, she clenched the vial in her hand.

Clay shattered and shards bit deep into her flesh. A moment later, silver and black exploded in front of her eyes.

The resistance potion protected her from the heat, but not from the force, of the explosion. Fire poured around her and she was shoved out the back of the beast’s neck. She managed to trigger her other explosives and cast a slowing charm on herself as she was thrown towards the canopy of the Forgotten Forest.

Midair, she watched as the explosives detonated within the creature’s back, sending shattered pieces of undead flesh everywhere. There were more bombs dropping, detonating on its sides, and then there were leaves.

She hit branches on the way down. A lot of them. A lot of twigs, too. By the time she finally clutched a network of branches against her chest and gently lowered herself down a vine, she was covered in slices and cuts and she could feel that her cursed scar had reopened. It was throbbing now, like the knife was carving it anew, which was probably how the curse worked anyway. Her legs were numb, probably from shock and pain.

Biting her lip, Hermione transfigured a bandage from the lace of her hoodie, and wrapped it around the wound tightly. As she was finishing tying it off, Crooks appeared, trotting over and rubbing against her with terrifyingly loud purrs.

“Hey, hey, hush,” she said, cradling him as he purred against her, rubbing her with his face. “I know. I know. It was scary for me too.”

And now she was in the Forbidden Forest with very little idea of where she was.

She paused to cradle her cat for a while, just needing an ounce of comfort, which Crooks was happy to provide. Then, drawing in a throbbing lungful of free air that didn’t smell like inferi, she stood, Crooks at her side.

Hermione gripped her wand tightly and pulled it from her hair. “Let’s finish this, boy.”

Crooks meowed and looked around, then hurried off in a direction. Hermione wasn’t sure whether it was deeper into the forest or heading out of it.

After a minute of running on throbbing legs, she heard the chanting.

His voice was instantly recognizable, even if she’d only heard it a few times before. Those memories were so deeply imprinted on her that she couldn’t forget them no matter how much she wanted to.

His back was to her. She could start the fight. Honor was not a factor here. Gripping her wand, Hermione wordlessly hurled a stunning spell at him. At the last second it rebounded off of a ward, and he whirled, grasping an ebony wand as he screamed a spell back at her.

She tumbled to the side, and green light ricocheted off of the tree she’d ducked behind, sending shards of bark flying. She could hear his footsteps coming towards her, and she decided on her favorite tactic.

Grabbing her last remaining firebomb, she threw it at him.

It hit. Fire splattered across his form, and as he screamed and writhed, Hermione hit him with a series of counters, removing his protections one by one. Finally, he shouted, “Aguamenti!” and water cascaded over him. The phosphorus in the flames sparked lighter for a moment, but then was extinguished by his magic.

“Stupefy!” met “Avada kedavra!” and light erupted from their wands. Hermione ducked to the side as the green lightning crackled past her, her stun landing harmlessly on his shoulder.

He raised his wand and she reacted instinctively, screaming out “Protego!” as he wordlessly threw a Cruciatus at her. The magic lit upon her arm for a moment before she wrenched herself out of its path, but the curse seared her scar anew into her skin, sending burning sparks through her hand. The world fizzled with white light as the pain overwhelmed her, and her knee hit something--the ground, maybe?--as she forced herself to scream out another protego and clutched her wand with her other hand.

Her scream came out without words, but his next curse-- “Expulso!” --dissipated when it hit the invisible shield. With a growl, she shoved her hands at him, and he was flung backwards as her spell caught his feet, tumbling him to the ground.

He twisted midair, sending another flash of blue light at her. She deflected it with a wave of her wand, backing up until her body slammed against a tree, the bark rough and jagged against her torn back.

Hermione whirled her wand, and a mimblewimble flew from it, hitting him firmly in the chest. As he moved to strike with a growl, she sliced her wand back and, without thinking, screamed out the incantation of Dolohov’s curse.

Purple fire rushed in a line from her wand, catching his leg and eagerly devouring up his torso. Rabastan shrieked and fell backwards, a wordless snarl splitting his face as he shoved both hands at her, fiendfyre pouring from them.

“Protego!” It was a moment too late, but the fire washed harmlessly over her save for a gentle tingle where it touched. She was about to hit him again when another expulso, weakened by his mispronunciation but still present, cracked her head back against the tree.

The world shuddered with darkness and Hermione stumbled against the tree. She looked up and down the length of his wand.

A figure in black stepped from the shadows.

Severus, Hermione realized. Fuck.

“S-S-evvverus,” Rabastan managed, still recovering from the tongue-tying. “I am-m… res-urr-ek-ting him.” Rabastan’s eyes glimmered with malice. “J-Join me. We will b-bring aboot th-the next g-great reign of darkness.”

“You survived,” Severus said, his voice cold.

“Yes.” Rabastan twisted his arm, showing the still-bloody Dark Mark on it. “He will return. Join me. We will kill the girl.”

“Indeed he will. Did any other of his loyal servants-” the words dripped with venom, and Severus cast a pointed gaze towards Hogwarts “-make it out alive?”

“None. The Chosen One and his cronies made sure of that,” Rabastan spat. “Some of us are in Azkaban. We are the last free Death Eaters left.”

Brilliant. Severus was brilliant. Hermione had just started hurling spells with reckless abandon, but Severus? Severus was squeezing Rabastan for information, to make sure Voldemort’s cult was well and truly gone. He was a spy through and through.

Severus paused, then approached Hermione. There was no recognition in those dark eyes, no comfort as she lay panting and bloody on the roots of the tree. And then he stepped between Rabastan and Hermione--between her and danger.

Apparently assuming he was safe, Rabastan relaxed, dropping his wand.

Hermione reacted instantly, screaming out, “Harry, now!”

Rabastan twisted towards the forest behind him. Hermione lunged to the side, around Severus, twirled her wand and screamed out “Expelliarmus!”

Something came flying towards her. Rabastan whirled. Green light arced from him. Severus made a swift, silent slice of his hand, and blood erupted from Rastaban’s back.

The killing curse sparked uselessly, discharging rather than completing as the pain of Dolohov’s curse wrangled his ability to focus his magic, and he crumpled. A moment later, Rabastan’s wand clattered to the ground in front of Hermione. She giggled.

Severus reached down and helped her up, grabbing Rastaban’s wand while he was at it. “Fucking hell, Hermione, never do that again.”

She laughed, leaning heavily against him and letting her head fall on his shoulder. He lead the way over to Rastaban. The cutting curse had severed his spinal cord. She could see it, clean and bloody, right between two vertebra.

“You’re good,” she panted, stuffing her wand into her belt so she could hold onto him with both arms. The world was starting to spin, and she wanted the support so she could catch her breath. Also, it was fun to watch him not know how to react. “Fuck, you’re good. Spy-smart, that’s what you are. So that’s how you fooled Voldy, is it? Was that the sectum--thing that was in your potions book? How’d you even find me?” She grinned, reaching up to pat his hair. “I think I’m delirious. Am I delirious?”

“You’re definitely delirious,” he replied, only answering the last question, true to form. “Probably from the mental trauma, magical exhaustion, and blood loss. Can you walk?”

“Mm.” She thought about it, wavered on her feet, and flopped against him. “No. I could take a nap, though.”

Severus sighed and pinched his nose. Hermione laughed again.

“You’re cute when you’re trying to be mean. Cute spy,” she told him, then a realization hit her and her face fell. “I think I’m about to pass out.” She looked up at him, searching for recognition in his eyes. “You won’t leave me here, will you?”

“Minerva would neuter me if I did, Hermione.” He bent over a little, and picked her up, bridal style, leaving Rabastan bleeding out on the ground.

“I like it when you say my name.” She rest her head on his shoulder, wincing a little as the scar on her forearm continued to throb. “Sev. Sev. Sev. Sevvy.”

“No ‘Sevvy,’” he said. “Or else I’m going to drop you.”

“Fine,” she mumbled, only pouting a little.

He stopped in a slight clearing, looked up, and a moment later they were in the air.

Hermione squeaked, throwing her arms around his neck and ignoring the sudden and sharp pain in her forearm, or the way that he Looked at her when she tried to wrap all available limbs around him. “Oh fuck oh god.”

“I see,” he mumbled. “Not a fan of flying. Very well, just… hold on.”

She whimpered, and he wrapped an arm around her, lowering them to the ground. A moment later, they Apparated.

After the world stopped spinning, Hermione found herself curled up in the courtyard, clutching very tightly to one of his arms.

“Hermione,” he said, gently. “Can I please have my arm back.”

She shook her head.

Another trio of faces appeared in her view. McGonagall, Harry, Madam Pomfrey. Not long after, Harry enveloped her in a tight hug. She held on to Severus’ hand with one arm, clutching his forearm between her knees too, and grabbed on to Harry with the other hand.

Severus rolled his eyes. “Greedy,” he said, but it held no venom.

“It’s alright,” McGonagall said, soothingly, smiling at her. “You’re safe now.” She looked over at Severus. “What’s Rabastan’s status?”

“Probably dead,” Severus replied with a shrug. “I might’ve cut his spinal cord open.”

“Noted.” McGonagall nodded to Pomfrey. “Let’s get Miss Granger to the infirmary, and Severus, if you wouldn’t mind retrieving the body.”

“I need my arm for that.”

Chapter Text

Hermione was in the Forbidden Forest again.

This time, it was foggy, a dark grey mist that shuffled away as she took each step and twirled upwards in the gaps between the formidable tree trunks. Hermione looked to her side, and found Crooks there, the only spark of color in an otherwise greyscale world. In front of her, there was a clearing. She hesitantly approached.

The body of Rabastan was there, his blood blackened and dried. Leaning over his corpse was a hulking figure in a blackened shroud that trailed away into the mist. Skeletal hands were working over the corpse, turning Rabastan’s head to see his face.

- So you are the one I owe for stopping this man’s machinations. -

Hermione paused, looking at the figure closer. “It’s okay,” she said. “You don’t owe me anything.” There was something eminently familiar about their bearing, and about their voice, which reverberated deep into her being. “Pardon, but do I know you from somewhere?”

- You know me from everywhere. - The figure stood, unfurling upwards, a hood obscuring most of their identity. The inside of their cowl was as dark as the nothingness beyond creation, and their skeletal grin implacable.

“Ah,” Hermione said, mustering all of her British stiff upper lip. “Noted. What… is there something I can do for you?”

They stepped over the body of Rabastan, hovering up to her. - You already have. - One skeletal hand indicated the corpse. - Had his ritual completed, he would’ve been able to pull souls back to your world… away from me. I do not suffer thieves. -

“Understandable.” Hermione swallowed hard, resting a hand on Crooks’ head for support. “Glad to be of service then, I guess?”

The empty sockets of their skull gave her a Look that radiated displeasure. - I rarely grant boons to… your kind, but I find myself in your debt. Ask, and I shall give. -

Hermione hesitated. If this was real, and not just a sort of trauma-induced vision, then she was not about to be responsible for the next Deathly Hallow. Neither was she keen on pissing off Death. They seemed very touchy about their things.

“If it’s alright, I think I’ll pass,” she said. “No disrespect intended, of course. I just, uh… people seem awful obsessed with the Deathly Hallows we already have, I’m not keen on having future blood on my head.”

The skull tilted to the side, as if curious or thoughtful.

- Very well-- -

“Oh!” Hermione realized suddenly, then recoiled. “Shit. Sorry for interrupting. There’s, uh, one thing, I suppose.”

Death hissed. - You try my patience. Yes? -

Hermione leaned down and gathered up Crooks, kissing his scrunched up face firmly. “I love you, boy,” she whispered. “Thank you for helping me.” Her cat licked away the tears from her cheeks, and purred his jet-engine purr, bumping his head against her. She held Crooks to her for one last time before looking up to Death. “I know he only came back as part of the ritual, or something,” she said. “But he was a big help. And I love him a lot. Please…”

- Do you wish for your cat to be returned to you? -

She shook her head, brushing her tears off on her shoulder and sniffling a little. “It was his time, sir--ma’am--er, I don’t know how to properly address you, apologies. But, uh, anyway. If you could just… take care of Crooks, for me? Please? He’s a wonderful cat.”

Death was silent for a moment, and then Hermione could’ve sworn the smile grew, impossible as it was. The aura of anger dissipated, replaced by... was that amusement? Amusement and something else. Hermione would've called it 'respect' if she were anyone noteworthy and this was anyone besides Death. Two bony hands gently took Crooks from her, lifting him up and away. Crooks scrambled up to perch on Death’s shoulder. - It would be my pleasure and honor. -

Hermione managed a smile, brushing away tears with both of her sleeves. “Thank you. Sorry for all the blubbering.”

- It is hardly the worst I have seen. - Death reached up a hand and brushed it down Crooks’ length. - Miss Granger… I think that, if you research into it, you will find that a number of ancient mortal cultures revered cats as the gatekeepers of the afterlife. They are correct about that. - They lowered their hand, looking down at her from their terrifying height of black swirling smoke. - Crookshanks was not resurrected by Rabastan. He returned as my emissary to stop this ritual. He has been successful, and will be rewarded appropriately. I promise you that he will be well-cared for. -

“Thank you,” Hermione whispered. “I really appreciate it. I’ll… see you again, someday.”

Death nodded. - And you shall greet me as an old friend. Send your Potter my regards. He has also done me great services. -

“I will. See you around, er. Sir? I’m sorry, I don’t…”

- I do not have gender. That is a mortal concept. You may address me by whatever you wish, so long as it is said with respect. -

“Thanks. See you around.”

- Farewell, Hermione Granger. I will make certain to bring all of your past and future cats when we meet again. -

Hermione grinned and laughed. “That would be absolutely wonderful.”

***

When Hermione awoke again, it was in the infirmary.

It was sunny and warm and Harry was at the bedside, scratching his head at what looked like arithmancy. He was healthy and whole.

“Need my answers?” she croaked out.

He looked up and his face lit with a smile. “Hermione! You’re awake!”

“Yeah,” she managed, pushing herself into more of a sitting position with her healthy arm. The one with the cursed wound was still throbbing with pain. “How much did I sleep?”

“Oh, just a few hours. Severus’ll be so happy to see you!”

“Severus now, is it?”

Harry laughed. “Yeah. I started calling him that after he nearly throttled me for ‘dropping’ you.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Yeah, right.”

“I’m not kidding. He said that if he hadn’t just spent the last two decades of his life trying to save my ass, he would’ve murdered me on the spot.” Harry paused. “I am sorry for that. Truly. I can’t believe I nearly killed you. It was stupid of me.”

Hermione shook her head. “Don’t worry about it. It was bound to happen at some point. Honestly, I planned for it.”

“Hermione!”

“What? What goes up must come down!”

Harry laughed, although he still looked guilty.

“Oh, by the way. Death told me to tell you thanks for dealing with Voldy or whatever.”

Harry paused, blinked, and arched a brow. “That’s a ‘by the way’ statement, huh?”

She shrugged, adjusting herself on the mound of pillows provided. “I don’t know if it was actually Death. Might’ve been a hallucination.” Relaxing back, she grabbed a glass of water with her good hand and took a sip. “Given the nature of our recent dreams, though, I think I feel comfortable putting a little stock in this one.”

“Huh,” said Harry. “Well, it’s not the weirdest thing I’ve heard today.”

“And, pray tell, what is the weirdest thing you’ve heard today?”

“Probably Severus Snape yelling at the Aurors that showed up for not responding to the distress signal and instead letting the brightest witch of our age go and nearly get herself killed. Oh, and then he made them mop up the battlefield. He made Forwit participate in that, too.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “You’re just being silly now.”

“I’m actually completely serious. McGonagall didn’t even try and stop him, except for when he tried to take their wands. She just poured herself firewhiskey and watched. Let me have some, too.”

“You are lying, Harry Potter!”

Harry shook his head. “Kingsley’s here. He’s really pissed, going to look at the behavior of the current DMLE leader. Apparently I also might be graduating early with you, to start on Auror training so I can serve as a liaison between the school, Auror office, and Kingsley.”

Hermione paused. That seemed plausible. “You’re… serious, aren’t you?”

Harry nodded. It suddenly struck Hermione how tired he looked.

“Fuck,” Hermione whispered, drawing her aching legs up to her chest and hugging them tight. “I… I mean, it sort of feels like an overreaction, but I also don’t know what a proper reaction for the ministry is, given that up until now all they’ve really done is posture.”

“Yeah, same here, honestly.” Harry rubbed his face with his hands. “I appreciate the fact that they’re taking these threats seriously. It seemed like before they were content to let kids constantly endanger their lives. I hope Kingsley manages to change that, or at least pave the way so that we can change it when we get old enough to hold office.”

Hermione sighed. “I trust him. Either way I’ll probably end up running for Minister for Magic to make sure progress continues. Unless you want to.”

Harry snorted. “That’s the least surprising news ever. And I don’t. I don’t have a head for politics, not like you.”

“Unfortunately,” Hermione murmured. She swung her legs off the bed and carefully stood up, Harry darting to her side to help her. “Okay… yeah. I think I can walk. Grab my hoodie, will you? I’m keen to give some of those Aurors a piece of my mind.”

With a chuckle, Harry grabbed her hoodie and helped her put it on. “That’s my sister.”

The hallways weren’t bad, but the stairs were. Apparently her body did not appreciate getting tossed around so much. She kept one hand on the handrail, the other arm supported by Harry, and it took all of her focus to get down the stairs without stumbling.

When she looked up, she found the Great Hall silent, with almost everyone looking at her.

There were hardly any students, she realized. Neville and Luna were there, along with Ginny. All three of them looked absolutely livid. They were squaring down with a handful of Aurors. Forwit was seated in a corner, pale and doing his best to camouflage with the mortar of the walls. McGonagall was seated at the front of the room, a glass of firewhiskey in one hand and her wand in the other. Kingsley, standing at her side, wore a thunderous frown.

Severus, for his part, was looming over the Aurors, and Hermione nearly giggled at how similar he looked to Death. He was tall, but not that tall, but it seemed like he easily dwarfed each of them.

McGonagall was the first person to speak. “I’m glad to see you’re awake, Granger,” she said.

Severus’ focus snapped over to her. The looming stopped immediately, as if it had been turned off by a lightswitch. “Hermione!”

“See?” Harry muttered beside her.

Hermione shot him a look, then turned her attention back to Severus, who was billowing over. He put his hands on her shoulders, and looked her up and down, as if checking for injuries.

“I’m alright,” she assured him.

Severus made a sort of unsatisfied, sharp exhalation of air, then twirled around to loom from behind her. That was actually faintly reassuring. “This is the girl who did your job for you,” he snapped at the Aurors. “From discovering the plot of Rabastan Lestrange, to defeating him.”

“I would actually like to discuss that,” Hermione said with the sweetest smile she could muster. “Seeing as how the Auror Department seems to enjoy employing child warriors, I believe that they should either begin paying Hogwarts for the use of its students in averting nationwide magical crises, or begin to do their fucking jobs.”

The Auror who looked like the head of the party held his chin up a little. “I understand that you’ve been given the Order of Merlin. Isn’t that glory enough for you?”

Hermione couldn’t help it. She laughed at him. “Glory is a lie. The only words that politicians mean are the ones that they say when they wave their wands. ‘Thank you’ and ‘sorry’ are both meaningless without action. I can name all of the Aurors who have risked their lives for Harry Potter on both my hands. Less than ten! That is despicable.” She lifted her chin defiantly. “What I did pales in comparison to the past seven years. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Harry Potter went alone into a forest overflowing with an army of Dark Wizards, knowing he would die. He walked to his death. He died for all of you, after seven fucking years of you and your system failing to keep him safe.” She took a step forward, unaided by Harry or Severus. “You are all complicit.”

***

Severus marvelled at the girl as she glared at the backs of the retreating Aurors. They hadn’t even given her a response, just got up and left. Kingsley, for his part, was writing up the documents to dishonorably discharge them.

She was a little beast. Terrifying. And beautiful.

Okay, he should definitely focus on something else right now.

The door slammed shut behind the Aurors and a moment later Hermione collapsed backwards. Both he and Potter caught her instinctively, Potter grabbing at her arm and Severus just stepping forward to catch her against his chest.

“Fuck,” she muttered. “Sorry. Can I sit down?”

Severus just nodded, helping her hobble over to one of the table’s benches. “Are you certain you shouldn’t be resting?”

“No,” she admitted as she sat down with a huge sigh. “But I needed to tear them a new one. God, I haven’t done anything so cathartic since I filled Ron’s mouth with those feathers.”

With an exhale that might’ve constituted laughter, Severus sat down beside her, pulling several potions from his robes. “Here.” He leaned his back against the table, propping one arm on it behind Hermione so that he could half-turn and look past her to Minerva and Kingsley. Also so that he felt more like he was able to protectively hover around his apprentice.

Potter sat on Granger’s other side. “That was great, Hermione.” He glanced at Kingsley. “I’m just saying, Minister, Granger would make a great successor.”

“That she would,” Kingsley said, looking up and stacking the parchments he held. “Alright, all of those Aurors are dismissed. Potter, I’ll send my ideas and schedule for when you can begin your training, and we can discuss with Minerva to see how it fits in. I’d be happy to take Longbottom on, too, although I hear you’ve got an interest in Herbology?” Kingsley arched a brow at Neville.

Neville nodded. “That’s, uh, very flattering of you, sir. I’ll definitely think about it. Herbology is my love, though.”

“Sprout requested my assistance on the apprenticeship paperwork last week,” Severus intoned, ignoring Neville’s surprised flush. “I sent her a copy of the base that I used for Hermione’s apprenticeship, so she need only adjust a few things and then they should be ready. There isn’t another student as talented in or as driven to pursue Herbology as Longbottom, so I expect they’re for him.”

Thunk.

Hermione laughed quietly. “Sev, you made him faint.”

“What?” Severus looked over and realized that the noise he’d heard must’ve been Longbottom’s head hitting the table. “Oh, heaven’s sake.”

She giggled, leaning against him and whispering into his ear. He ignored the way that her hair tickled at his skin or how her breath was warm against his neck or how big and golden those eyes were when they were this close. “You were his boggart, Sev, I think it’ll take him a bit to get accustomed to you saying nice things about him.”

Fuck, that was right. He swallowed guiltily. “I probably owe him a toad, don’t I.”

“Dunno, that toad never worked out for him. At least now you know how to make him pass out on command.” She withdrew a little with a wicked smirk.

“You’re evil,” he told her, unable to keep the pride from his voice. That was his apprentice. His. He was so proud of her and her incredibly evil plans to make him be nice to Neville.

He didn’t even mind when her smile turned smug. “I know.”

Kingsley sighed, drawing Severus’ attention. “I have a meeting to make. Expect invitations to another…” His lips thinned and he stood. “Ministry Celebration of Victory soon. Odious as they are, I anticipate certain factors will be eager to re-state how effective the Ministry is.” He paused, looking to Hermione and Harry specifically. “Although I cannot encourage it, of course… I would say that this may create opportunity for some statements to be made.”

Minerva also stood, shaking his hand. “Thank you, Kingsley. I may hate the rest of the Ministry, but you are excluded from that.”

Severus had to agree. Kingsley was smart, driven, and reliable. Not like literally everyone else in the Ministry.

“I appreciate that more than you know, Minerva.”

“Potter.” Minerva gestured to Harry. “Will you see the Minister out? I’m certain he’d enjoy more time to get to know you.”

Severus gave a supportive nod to Harry as he left. This was basically a job interview for the position of Auror, and Harry looked like he knew it.

After they had gone, Minerva turned to Hermione, coming over to sit on her other side and patting Hermione’s knee in a very motherly way. “How are you feeling?”

Hermione shrugged. “Tired. But I’ve been through worse.”

Minerva sighed. “That is… well, I am glad to hear you’re alright.” She shook her head. “As for the rest, I… am sorry. I know Hogwarts has definitely contributed to that, and it kills me.”

“Headmistress.” Hermione leaned forward, grasping Minerva’s hand between hers. “Please. Understand that you were the only teacher who was always there for us. Flitwick was the only other one who was even close. This wasn’t your fault, and you were the one person that we could rely on at any time.”

Severus’ gut cinched tighter. He was definitely part of the problem. And not at all part of the solution.

Brushing away a tear, Minerva nodded. “I appreciate your trust. I spoke with Kingsley and Severus, and we both agree that after you are recovered from your wounds, your N.E.W.T.s will be scheduled. Your conduct during the battle, while risky, demonstrates your thorough understanding of multiple fields of magic, and I can see no reason to delay it any further.”

Hermione tensed immediately. “O-Oh,” she said. “I… I appreciate the vote of confidence, I just…”

“Your professors will be assisting you in reviewing,” Severus put in, keeping his voice quiet. “I expect there will be very little you don’t know, but the N.E.W.T.s will not proceed until all the professors of the subjects you’re testing in have given their approval.”

She nodded, albeit still a little slowly. “Okay,” she said. “I just, I always thought I’d have more time.”

“I could give you the exam tomorrow and you’d be fine. It’ll be alright.”

She looked between him and Minerva with wide eyes. “If you’re sure,” she said, nibbling at her lip again. His fingers twitched in a desire to take it back from her before she could do any more damage.

“We are,” Minerva said.

Hesitantly, Hermione nodded. “Okay. I’ll start studying.”

That wasn’t the point. “No,” Severus said, as gently as he could manage. “You’re going to go rest. And then you can study when you’re awake.”

She whirled to face him and glared at him, pouting. Those golden eyes got wide and sorrowful and her lip pushed out in a way that made him want to bite it--aaaand he was not going to continue with that train of thought. “You can’t just tell me that I’m going to have my N.E.W.T.s soon and then not let me study!”

“I can, actually,” he said with a shrug, not about to let on how much that pout was affecting him. “I’m mean that way.” Smirking at her, he stood up, offering her a hand. “Now back to the bloody infirmary with you.”

Groaning, Hermione let herself be picked up, clutching at his arm as she began to walk back towards the stairs. He let her wrap herself around his arm as a support, as she continued to pout. “You’re awful.”

“Yes. This is a known truth, Hermione.”

Minerva was chuckling. “Luna and Ginny, dears, can you make sure Neville wakes up alright? I’m going to go talk to Sprout about his apprenticeship.”

They nodded and chattered, so Severus occupied himself with helping Hermione up the stairs. She was not doing too great, and by the third step she already had to stop to catch her breath.

“Fuck,” she muttered between gasps, leaning against the railing. “I wasn’t even this beat up after the final battle.”

“To be fair, you fell from the sky at least three times.”

She rolled her eyes at him. “I wish I could walk.”

He arched a brow at her, earning another eye roll and a breathy laugh.

“I meant better. We’re not going to make any progress at this rate.”

Severus shrugged. “Take your time.”

“No, I mean-” She shut her eyes, and gritted her jaw. “It bugs me, Sev.”

“Maybe that’ll prevent you from doing such inadvisable things as attacking an entire army of inferi on your own in the future.”

She swatted him lightly on the arm, looking like she was doing her damndest to hide her smile. “Meanie. Aren’t you supposed to be nice to me when I’m injured?”

“Mm. I must’ve missed the memo.”

Hermione paused, chewing on her lip. “Sev?”

“What.”

“Could you--I mean, would it be too much to ask for…”

He waited, knowing she’d keep digging until he could figure out what she was trying to say.

“...Maybe could you carry me? Just up the stairs, it’s a lot, I don’t know why I’m having such a hard time.”

“Your ankle was sprained.” He bent over and gently hoisted her in his arms.

She squeaked, holding on to him tightly before relaxing a little. “Oh.”

“And the other leg was fractured.”

“O-Oh.”

“I’ll carry you under the condition that you try and not tip us over,” he said, already beginning to march up the stairs. “If you do, I’m going to catch us with magic and make us fly, and I don’t know if you remember, but you hate that.”

She stared at him. “You got me in the air without me trying to climb you?”

His lips pressed into a thin line, trying to ignore both the implications of that phrase and the memory of how it had felt to have her clinging so very tightly to him. “No.”

“Oh.” She flushed. “Sorry. I get clingy whenever I’m in the air.”

“Trust me, I noticed.” They reached the top of the stairs and he continued to breeze down the hallways, not putting her down. He’d expected her to protest, but instead she was quiet, curled against his chest. He could’ve sworn she was playing with his hair, too.

When he stepped back into the infirmary with his bundle of Granger, Poppy immediately came over, clucking like a very worried mother hen. She let him carry Granger back into the bed that she was staying in, then chased him off, citing Hermione’s need to sleep.

Severus decided he needed to go do something very angry and mean in order to get rid of the annoying smell of Hermione on him and that inexcusable tingling she always produced in his stomach.

Chapter Text

His hands explored further down her body. One traced feather-light across her chest and played with one of her nipples before grasping the entire breast in the warmth of his palm, while the other slipped lower, trailing fingernails down her spine and between her legs, to play with the wetness it found there. A finger slipped inside her.

“Fuck, Sev,” she breathed out against his lips, before retaking them with her own. His laugh rolled out beneath her, the vibrations of his baritone voice making her shiver as he pulled her closer with the hand still outside her. She could feel his bare skin warm against the length of her body, and pressed against an entirely different sort of length of his, and--

The sound of her alarm startled Hermione awake.

She waved a hand to shut it up and rolled over in bed, clutching her pillow against her. She could still remember the feeling of warmth against her skin and inside of her, and all she knew for certain was that she was absolutely mortified. Sure, everyone had a crush on a teacher, but she had never, in all of her crushes, had a dream… like that… about them. Yes, sex dreams had happened before. But always with indistinct men (or sometimes women) that didn’t correspond to anyone in her life, or corresponded with someone in looks but not in personality.

Hermione was suddenly very glad of Severus’ dislike of peering into her mind. Could he have found some indication of her crush there? Oh, god, did he know?

She would never be able to face him if he figured it out. She’d probably end up tossing herself off a parapet.

Terrified, Hermione went over his recent behavior to her. He’d willingly picked her up to help her back to the infirmary, which probably would not have happened had she given him any indication when he was reading her mind--or when she was delirious. Shit. Had she said something while she was delirious? She couldn’t remember. She just knew, vaguely, that he had arrived in time to help finish Rabastan off, and it was only after the Dark Wizard’s death that her adrenaline had faded and the shock and pain had taken over.

Fuck. She’d definitely said something stupid while high on pain. He was probably just being nice and ignoring it, and at some point it’d come up again and then she’d just die of shame on the spot. It was fine. Everything was fine.

She started the shower freezing cold, but the goosebumps it produced just reminded her of an entirely different sort of goosebumps, neither of which were helpful. So she turned the water scorching hot and just dealt with everything in her best imitation of someone who wasn’t helplessly enamored with the school’s actual grouchiest professor.

After she was done with her shower, she headed to breakfast.

Ginny slid right next to her almost instantly. “Hermoine,” she whispered with that terrifying twinkle in her eye. “You have to tell me everything!”

Hermione blinked at her. “About?”

“Everything!” Ginny repeated. “I haven’t seen you since you got out of the infirmary last night! Snape said that you had pretty much single-handedly defeated the necromancer behind that entire army, and that his assistance was just a formality, and that you were so cunning about how you did it, and that you must’ve brewed a fire resistance potion without his knowledge! And then what happened when he brought you back to the infirmary? I saw him pick you up!”

“Oh my god, Ginny.” Hermione covered her face with her hands, ignoring the burning of her cheeks and ears. “He hauled my sorry ass to the infirmary and then Madam Pomfrey smothered me alive. I haven’t seen him--” well, except in very embarrassing and awful and inappropriate dreams, and Ginny was certainly not about to hear about those “--since then, and he probably hates me for being useless and delirious. Because I probably said some stupid shit when he was rescuing my dumb ass from the Forest.”

Ginny rolled her eyes. “Hermione, are we talking about the same person here? Are you kidding? He is absolutely smitten. Did you see how quickly he stopped being terrifying when you walked in? He just went from full vampire to the sweetest man in the world! Around everyone else he’s a normal grouch, except maybe a little nicer, but then you walk in and he turns into an absolute puppy.”

Did he? No. There was no way. “Ginny, you’re reading too far in to things.”

“No, you’re just oblivious,” Ginny retorted. “Even McGonagall noticed. You should’ve seen the looks she was shooting my way while you and Snape were there--she kept winking and smiling and even rolled her eyes a couple times when he loomed extra scarily to emphasize your points.”

“Amusing an image as Sev looming behind me might be, I don’t think it’s what you think it is. He’s probably just… passively looming. Not, you know, actively.” That would be cute, though. And something he’d do, if it were anyone but her he was doing it to.

“Sev? Hermione, I love you deeply, but you are so dense.”

“I’m not! I’m just not irrational.” Close. She nearly said ‘irrationally hopeful.’

Ginny rolled her eyes, and seemed about to continue, but thankfully Harry arrived, which distracted her enough to drop the subject.

Hermione ate quietly, noticing that Harry seemed withdrawn. He was giving Ginny just monosyllabic responses, and after breakfast, she pulled him aside and into a quick hug.

He sniffled into her shoulder. “Was it that obvious?”

“Probably not to most people, but I happen to know you.” She released him to look closer at his face. Now that she was able to examine him, she noticed the puffiness of his eyes. “Harry, I love you, okay? I’m here for you. If you’re not ready to talk it’s alright, but I’d love to listen.”

He drew a very deep breath. “I love you too, Hermione. I… I know I’m gonna need to talk about it, but I’m not sure I’m ready to fully face it yet.”

She squeezed his hands. “Take your time. I’ll still be here.”

“I know.” He tipped his head forward, resting it on her shoulder again. “God, I don’t know how Ginny’s going to take it.”

That bad, huh? “We’ll cross that bridge when we get there. Come on, I’ve got to hobble over to the tower to grab my books, and then we can head to class together.”

“Okay.”

***

The next few weeks passed in a blur. Hermione and Harry were both scheduled to take their N.E.W.T.s at the same time, and their shared studying time let Hermione keep a close eye on how he was feeling. He was stressed, that much was clear. At least the tests seemed to distract him from whatever was bothering him.

For the week of the N.E.W.T.s, McGonagall had created a special room that they would test in, overseen by the Auror sent to perform the exams. Thankfully, the Auror introduced herself quite kindly and both of them agreed that she was one of the decent ones.

Hermione was taking a total of ten: Potions, DADA, Arithmancy, Astrology, Charms, Herbology, Transfiguration, Ancient Runes, Magical Theory, and Magical Beasts. Harry was slightly less insane, going for a more reasonable seven: DADA, Potions, Astrology, Charms, Herbology, Transfiguration, and Magical Beasts.

DADA and Potions were the two that required practicums in addition to written tests, and while DADA was mostly waived, they had to do the Potions practicum in full (despite Severus’ ranting about “Polyjuice in second year, in a bloody lavatory!”). Instead of a full DADA practicum, they were simply required to duel Professor Flitwick, who--being a famous champion dueller--was more than happy to have a new challenge.

After the week was up, Hermione was about to collapse on her bed when there was a knock on her door. She groaned and rolled over, checking who it was with her wards. Harry. She flicked the door open with magic.

“Hey,” he said. He was not in pajamas. He was in muggle street clothes. “Are you… up for a talk?”

“Harry, I love you but I’m bloody exhausted.”

He began to withdraw. “It’s okay, I’m--”

“Shut up. I’m just saying I’ll hassle you about this forever. I’ll be a minute, grab me coffee.”

A relieved smile broke across his face. “Okay. Uh… wear muggle clothes.”

“You are so lucky I love you.”

“Love you too!” he called as she shut the door again, and rolled out of bed.

In five minutes, she was hurrying down the stairs to the common room, braiding her hair. “Okay,” she said, twisting a tie around the end and pulling on a leather jacket. “Let’s go.”

He stood up and wordlessly lead her through the silent hallways towards the entrance of the school. As they pushed open the doors to the courtyard, someone cleared their throat.

Hermione jumped and whirled, and there were suddenly two wands pointing at Severus Snape. She sighed, and put her wand down. “Jeez, Sev, you scared me.”

“Sorry, Professor,” Harry said, putting his wand up his sleeve.

One imperious brow raised. “And where are you two headed?”

Harry hesitated, so Hermione went for it.

“We’re exhausted and need a little time to just unwind after the week of testing,” she said. “Harry’s also got some recent… personal news that he’s been stressed about, and we just wanted to go somewhere that…”

“Somewhere that I wouldn’t be recognized,” Harry finished.

It was honestly the truth.

Severus didn’t react, and for a moment Hermione wondered if she’d lost whatever strange hold she had on the man. Then he glanced over his shoulder.

“Be careful, and be back before the patrol switch at two. I can cover for you until then.”

Harry’s face lit up with relief, and Hermione flung herself forward to hug Severus. She squeezed him tight as he made a brief noise of panic. He was awful cuddly for such a menacing figure. All the cloaks and robes added some padding that insulated the heat from his body, but Hermione found him surprisingly comfortable.

“Thanks, Sev. We’ll be careful, don’t worry.”

He just nodded as she pried herself from him, then turned and walked off.

Harry slipped out the door, followed closely by Hermione. Once they were outside, Harry turned to her with saucer-plate eyes.

“Holy shit, Hermione,” he said. “You do realize that we just managed what we’ve been unable to manage for the past eight fucking years?”

“Sneak past Sev? I mean, we still didn’t succeed.” She laughed quietly, and he joined her.

“Yeah, he just lets you do literally whatever you want. For some reason, which someone won’t admit.” He poked her firmly in the ribs.

She rolled her eyes. “Shut up. I’m not getting my hopes up.”

“Oh, so there are hopes?” He grinned.

“God, I don’t even know.” Hermione sighed, stuffing her hands in her pockets. “Let’s save that talk until after we exit the grounds, because I’m pretty sure that he can hear literally everything on this campus.”

Harry snorted, and as they stepped outside of the bound of Hogwarts, grabbed her for them to side-along Apparate.

Hermione found herself in an alleyway in what looked like muggle London. As they stepped out of the alleyway, she realized they were in a nightlife district. Harry lead the way to what was clearly a gay bar. They left their jackets at the door. Harry gave a nod to the person checking them in, and they were given a disposable wristband each--purple, Hermione noticed, as opposed to the rest of the patrons’ red. Harry continued to lead the way up to the second floor.

While the lower floor was a dance floor, the second floor was a balcony around the dance floor which was somehow considerably well-insulated from the sound of the music.

“You go grab a table, I’ll get drinks.”

Hermione nodded, picking a tall booth at the very corner of the room, right by an emergency exit. As she looked around, she noticed a few other patrons with the purple wristbands. She couldn’t tell any distinction between purple and red, but the purple wristbands were all clustered together. That was, until she recognized a student who had graduated a few years ago.

Oh. So all the purple wristbands were secret signs for wizards. The reds must be muggles.

Harry arrived not long after, sliding her a Long Island Iced Tea. He waved his hand and cast a muffliato around them, following it up with a charm to detect if anyone was listening in.

“Purple wristbands are wizards?” she said.

He nodded. “The place is run by a witch and her squib relatives. There’s an unspoken code of silence about the wizards that visit the place. Everybody here just wants to have a good time. It’s a really nice set-up.”

“How’d you find out about this place?” Hermione asked, taking a sip.

“Over the summer, when we were being hounded by the media, I got a bunch of fliers. This place I kept because it was just a little note, saying that they ran a place that allowed peace and anonymity.” He took a swig of his drink. “It was so unlike the rest, which were all capitalizing on my fame and visibility, that I remembered it. I checked it out earlier this year.”

“Brilliant. I like it.”

He smiled. “I thought you would.”

Hermione glanced around, and noticed another group of wizards. One caught her eye and lifted their glass just a little, then turned back to their friends and continued to converse.

“The drinks are good, too,” Harry said with a chuckle.

“That is essential, obviously.” She grinned at him, taking a sip. “Now, what’s up?”

He sighed. “Give me a little bit to let the alcohol hit. I might need liquid courage to talk about this one.”

“Just as long as you’re not in love with me, we’re fine.”

Harry’s laugh relieved her. “God, no.”

“Thank fuck.”

“I know, right?” He grinned, and took another drink. “Tell me about ‘Sev’-” she could hear the quotes “-while I work up the nerve.”

“Harry James Potter, if this is a trap to get me to talk--”

He laughed again, and she joined him. “Am I that conniving?”

“No, although sometimes I think you could use a little more subtlety.” She stirred the Long Island with the colorful bendy straw provided, thinking. “I mean, I don’t even know what to say.”

“I mean, do you like him?”

“Obviously.” She rolled her eyes. “I mean, okay. I definitely have a crush, alright? But I can’t tell if it’s any more than that.”

“Full offense, but you’ve been preeeeetty starry-eyed.”

Hermione lightly socked him in the shoulder, which just made him laugh. “Boy Who Is So Lucky I Love Him,” she muttered, which got another laugh. “Ugh. It’s more than I’ve felt before, okay? I mean Viktor was nice, but I didn’t feel like it could last, and Ron… I love Ron, honest to goodness still do, but that was a mistake. Clearly.”

“Ugh, Ron,” Harry sighed, leaning against the wall. “Do you miss him, sometimes? I do. Not how he is now, but how he was… you know, before.”

“Yeah,” Hermione admitted, slumping forward a little against the wooden table. It had that slight tacky feeling that all nightclub tabletops did. “I miss him when we’re hanging out, like this. But I don’t miss the way he treated me, especially towards the end.” She grew quieter. “Or how his mom treated me. Arthur was always very nice, but…”

“Whenever Molly thought we were together, she ignored you,” Harry finished. “It killed me. What an absolute bitch.”

“Ugh, I know. And she was so awful to Fleur, too, just because Fleur was pretty. I mean I didn’t like Fleur at first because I found her stuck-up, but I mean, you can’t blame someone for being pretty.” She sighed. “But yeah. I miss Ron. I wish that things… didn’t go so poorly between us.”

Harry nodded. “It sucks. But that’s on him, not you.”

With a sigh, Hermione used her tongue to catch the straw of her drink and took another sip. “Anyway, given that those two are the extent of my emotional expertise, it’s kind of difficult for me to judge. Especially given everything else that’s gone on. I don’t think the crush is a rebound, it’s like… I knew Ron was wrong for me for a long time, and I was over him a while ago.”

“That honestly doesn’t surprise me. It was what I kind of guessed, actually.”

Hermione nodded. “You remember what he saw in the Mirror of Erised?”

“It was him, wasn’t it? Separate and above his brothers.”

“Yeah. I… wasn’t there.” Hermione sighed, trying to ignore how much the idea made her want to cry, even now. “And he was in mine. I mean… maybe it was a matter of maturity, but…”

“I could never picture you in a happy relationship with someone who wasn’t your equal in both independence and devotion, honestly.”

It was like he’d finished her sentence. She nodded emphatically. “Exactly. And I knew that if I wasn’t a priority for him, we wouldn’t work out in the long run.”

“You deserve to be a priority, Hermione. I hope you know that.”

She reached over and squeezed his hand. “Thanks.”

“If Ron’s not going to do that, it’s his own mistake. But anyway, back to Severus.”

She chewed at the straw, a decent substitute for her lip. “I’ve never had a crush on someone like Sev. Snape? Fuck, I don’t know what to call him. ‘Sev’ was mostly an accident, it just slipped out and he didn’t hex me on the spot, so I just kind of rolled with it after what McGonagall said.” She rubbed at her temples, and sipped more alcoholic tea. “I mean obviously he’s not interested, and obviously he’s way out of my league, but it’s just--”

“Okay, disagree on those two points, but continue.”

“...Is everyone going to contest me on the fact that he probably does not have feelings for the twenty-one-year-old insufferable know-it-all chit that made him live through hell?” Hermione rolled her eyes. “I mean, the man has taste, okay? Anyway. I just haven’t…” She trailed off, suddenly very bashful. “I just haven’t met someone as smart as him before. And he’s nice to talk to.”

“I mean, if anyone can keep up with your brain, it’s him.” Harry shrugged. “It makes sense.”

“...Does it?”

He glanced up at her, as if ready to give a snarky retort, but noticed the question was honest. “Yes. Like I said, equal.”

“I hope he sees me that way, too,” she murmured. “Like, fuck whatever romantic feelings I have, I just hope that I’ve proven myself worthy.”

Harry rolled his eyes as he took another drink. “Dumbass. He needs to prove himself worthy to you, especially after all the shit he put us through.”

“...Okay, that’s fair. He’s doing a good job of it, though.”

“Oh, I agree. Did I hear him right when you two were whispering? Was he going to get Neville a toad?” Harry laughed.

Unable to suppress a satisfied smile, Hermione nodded. “Or something along those lines, I think. I did tell him that the toad did not work out well.”

Harry snorted. “Unfortunate, given that the toad was probably the only decent thing Algie ever did for him.”

Gaze darkening, Hermione glared through the table, wrapping her hands a little tighter around the glass. “Eugh, if I could I’d poison that man.”

“Let me help.”

“With pleasure. We’ll start a mob.”

They faded into silence for a little bit, and Hermione was content to drink her alcohol and watch the goings-on of the dance floor.

After a few more sips of alcohol, Harry straightened up. She smiled at him encouragingly, but didn’t let her gaze linger for too long, not wanting him to feel pressured. She was in the middle of being very fascinated with the DJ’s setup when Harry drew a deep breath.

“I think. That. I’m.”

He sighed, then inhaled again.

“B… i…” Pause. “Sexual.”

Hermione took a sip of her drink. “Bisexual? Nice. Me too.”

“Really?” His eyes were big and scared.

She nodded. “I mean, I guess I might be more pansexual? I don’t know, I haven’t thought about it a lot recently, given the whole war.”

Harry let out a huge pent-up breath, collapsing forward onto the table. “Oh, thank fuck. I thought you were going to say I was crazy or something or try and convince me otherwise.”

Ah. Put it to the Dursleys and the conservative wizarding world to fuck up Harry’s self-image. “My parents were very accepting,” she explained, turning to face him again. “They were always willing to talk to me about that sort of stuff and listen to me, too. My dad’s brother was gay and he was always my favorite uncle, so that helped too.” She beamed a little. “He’s the one who introduced me to my first cat.”

To her great relief, Harry’s smile was growing once again. “That’s… incredible,” he breathed.

“It was very good. I’m sorry you didn’t have the same support system.”

Harry shrugged. “You know how it is.” With a sigh, he swirled his drink, watching absently as the ice cubes clattered around. “I… didn’t even think about it until a couple weeks ago, really. You remember when McGonagall had me escort Kingsley out?”

Hermione nodded.

“It was then. Kingsley mentioned that he had a boyfriend and something just clicked. It was like… suddenly I realized that this was something that was possible and that I was maybe even allowed to be.” With a sigh, he let his glass clatter back to an upright position. “And then everything started to make sense and I realized that those feelings towards Draco were definitely not just hatred.”

“Draco?!” Hermione laughed. “Oh, Harry, I always used to joke about that to myself. I could never tell you ‘cause the one time I did you looked confused and Ron started spouting some shit that, in hindsight, was super homophobic, but it makes so much sense.”

Harry rolled his eyes. “Fuck, I knew you’d tease me about this.” He ran a hand through his hair. “Look, let me make one thing abundantly clear. I love Ginny. I might even be in love with her. Draco was just attraction, he was always insufferable. I mean I guess now he’s less insufferable. But my point is, that I love Ginny, and I was completely serious when I said I wanted her to be with me for the rest of my life.”

Hermione reached across the table and squeezed his hand. “I know, Harry. Just because you’re realizing things about yourself doesn’t mean you don’t care less about the people you knew beforehand.”

“Yes. Exactly. Thank you.” He slumped against the wall and table, kicking his feet up on the rest of the booth. “I’m just so, so worried about how she’ll respond.”

Hermione nodded, but remained silent, waiting for him to continue.

“I mean, after seeing how Ron was with you…” He sighed and shut his eyes, scratching at the infamous lightning-bolt scar. “I realized just how very traditional the Weasleys are. Sure, they’re accepting of muggle stuff, and they’re not blood purists, but they’re still a long way behind, say, your family. Or even the Dursleys, to a degree.”

Leaning forward, Hermione propped an elbow up and rested her chin on her palm. “Gay wizards have existed before and had great renown, Harry. Like Dumbledore. They loved Dumbledore, even if he was an asshole, and they’d probably still accept you.”

“I know,” he sighed. “I just… I have this horrible feeling that Ginny isn’t going to get it, that she’s not going to understand that you can like both, and that it doesn’t… you know, that it’s not weird. Or that it won’t change the way she looks at me.”

He flopped his hand onto the table, palm up, and she took it as an invitation to put her own hand in it and squeeze.

“You know I’ll always be there for you. I have faith in Ginny, but I might be wrong. Do you plan on telling her?”

Harry nodded. “I don’t want to live a lie again. If I’m going forward, I’m going to be honestly me, no matter what.”

“And I’ll be right there with you.”

“You’re the best sister.”

She chuckled. “And you’re the best brother. Now, do you have a specific plan, or…?”

“God, do I ever have a plan?”

Laughing, Hermione shrugged. “Okay, that’s very fair. A girl can hope though.”

“Asshole. Honestly my only plan was tell you and then talk until you basically gave me a plan.”

Hermione rolled her eyes.

“I’m a lucky asshole with a great sister whom I love very much.”

“Oh my god, Harry. Okay. Well, I can tell you right now that Luna’s not gonna give a shit, and neither is Neville. Would you want to tell them first, before Ginny, so that you have a support network?” She tapped her fingers along her cheek as she thought. “If she’s going to be supportive, she might be hurt, but would understand your fear. If she’s not supportive, she’d… well, she’d react poorly either way.”

Harry sighed, flopping their still-clasped hands around on the table. “I might tell them,” he said, after a long minute. “I think it would help me if… I knew that there were people ready to support me, should everything go wrong.”

Hermione nodded. “Okay. I think the timeline is best left up to you, I don’t feel comfortable deciding that for you.”

Nodding, Harry took a deep breath. “I’ll ask them to meet us tomorrow, then. I want to get this over with.”

Once more, she squeezed his hand. “Alright. Then you have a plan.” She paused. “And if Molly goes to fucking Rita Skeeter, I will murder one of them and it’ll be a coin toss which one.”

Harry groaned. “Don’t remind me about that bitch.”

Chapter Text

It turned out that Ginny did not take it well.

As she rushed out of the room, shrieking and tear-streaked, Hermione sprinted to Harry, grabbing him in a hug before his first tears could even hit the ground. She held him as he sobbed for a long time, massaging his scalp and whispering calming noises that seemed to do very little.

After what must’ve been twenty minutes, a tentative knock on the door heralded Neville, who brought with him a very wide-eyed and worried Luna, each of them with a whole stack of tissue boxes.

“I grabbed every tissue box I could find,” Neville said.

Harry managed a laugh through his tears. “Thanks,” he mumbled, as Hermione gratefully swapped out the empty box for a new one.

“I’ll go talk to the Headmistress,” Luna said. “I bet we can get dinner in your rooms tonight, Harry.” She squeezed him in a brief hug, then left.

Hermione called a “thank you!” after her, silently glad for the pure, sweet heart of Luna.

Neville sat down on the table across from Harry’s couch, looking almost as defeated as when they found out Harry was dead. “I’m sorry,” he said. “Is there anything else I can do?”

Harry shook his head. “It’s okay. Thanks, Neville.”

“Can’t believe both the Weasleys turned out to be gits,” he muttered as he stood up and left. “Let me know if you need anything.”

They ended up watching a muggle movie on the enchanted TV that Harry had smuggled in. Luna showed up with dinner for both of them and, entranced by the moving images, decided to stay.

She left just before curfew, and Hermione decided to just sleep over on Harry’s couch.

Come morning, Hermione was awakened by the form of a glowing silvery-blue raven perched on the edge of the sofa. The patronus tilted its head to look at her when she sat up with a gasp.

Harry awoke at that point as well, staring down the patronus. “Who the fuck…”

The beak opened and out came the familiar baritone of Severus. “The ginger ones are both at breakfast now, so your exit is clear. Minerva has instructed the elves give you breakfast in the kitchen should you so desire.”

“Thank you.” Hermione burst out laughing as the raven took off, flying through the window to destinations unknown. “Ginger ones!”

Harry managed a smile. “No longer a doe, huh?”

“So it appears.” She smiled to where the raven had gone. “Damn, he’s been unusually thoughtful lately.”

“Even if he’s not in love with you yet,” Harry jerked his head towards the exit path of the raven, “He’s clearly smitten.”

She rolled her eyes. “If you insist. I’m going to go change, then I’ll meet you in the common room.”

Harry snorted. “Let me put it this way: he isn’t being this accommodating for me.”

Ignoring his extremely good point, Hermione left the room, and changed quickly.

It was a Monday, but they didn’t have classes. Part of the bonus for graduating early, Hermione supposed. With that in mind, she pulled on some weekend clothes. Black dyed jeans, brown boots, and a maroon blouse, all of which weren’t uniform but were nice enough to be within dress code. She pulled on a little black shrug sweater on top of it, just in case, then yanked her brush through her hair enough times to make the curls settle down into smooth chestnut waves.

Maybe she was putting a little more effort into her appearance. That wasn’t necessarily because she had a crush (although it definitely was) and it also wasn’t a crime.

She hurried down to meet with Harry, who had put considerably less effort into his appearance. He offered a shadow of his old smile and a wink at her.

“Go get ‘em, tiger.”

“Shut up, Harry,” she laughed as she opened the door and they nearly ran into Draco.

Speak of the devil. Hermione arched a brow at him. “Malfoy. How’re you doing?”

Draco shifted uneasily. “I… I’m alright. Is Potter there?”

“Hang on.” Hermione glanced back into the room, arching a brow at Harry, giving him the option to duck out.

To her slight surprise, Harry stepped through the opening to stand next to her. “Yeah, I’m here. What’s up?”

Draco cast a glance down each way in the corridor. His frame was still entirely too thin, and Hermione realized how limply his clothes hung on him. His eyes had bags beneath them. She exchanged a look of concern with Harry.

“The Weasleys are telling everyone,” he said, finally. “Well, Ron, mostly. And he’s not using… polite words, either. McGonagall’s in a state defending her golden child, and I think my godfather’s about to kill somebody.” He shrugged a little, twisting his ankle to fiddle with the magical cuff that marked him as an offender, like a muggle ankle monitor. “They’re punished, and Longbottom’s challenging everyone for your honor, but just… watch your back, yeah?” He paused, and licked his lips.

“I… I will.” Harry swallowed. “Thanks, Draco.”

Draco’s eyes shuttered closed for a moment, and he drew a deep breath. “Yeah. Don’t worry about it.”

“Want to come eat with us?” Harry offered.

Hermione felt a small warmth in her chest. Draco’s eyes flew open and he glanced between them, as if waiting for it to be a trick.

“McGonagall set aside food for us in the kitchens,” she explained, trying to figure out how to give him a way to accept their invitation. Draco was a Slytherin, he wouldn’t be able to accept unless they could let him claim that it was beneficial to him. “Way less shouting and honor-defending, I bet.”

She could practically see the light go off over Harry’s head as he realized what Hermione was doing.

“Yeah,” Harry seconded. “Besides, I bet the food’s fresher, too.”

Draco hesitated, but then he nodded. “I guess,” he said, looking fairly nervous about it.

Harry took up the lead with Draco at his side, and Hermione hung back, using her position to wonder at what the hell had happened to the swaggering and braggadocious Draco from before the war. Azkaban, she knew immediately. Azkaban, not just for him, but also for his entire family, and the shame of being forced into a cult of blood purists.

It seemed to go deeper than that, though.

Once they were in the kitchens, Hermione made a big show of not being that hungry, in order to foist more food on Draco and Harry. Harry ate like he normally did--which was way better than what she could’ve hoped for, given that he normally stopped being hungry when he was sad.

Draco basically devoured whatever she put in front of him. She ended up excusing herself to thank the elves for all their hard work and request an extra pile of pancakes, which they were absolutely ecstatic to give.

As Draco demolished the stack, Hermione met Harry’s eyes. She could see the same question in him as she had herself: had Draco been eating at all?

Their conversation eventually drifted towards the reason for Harry’s current predicament.

“I just never realized it before,” he said, munching on some berries. “I told Ginny I loved her and I wanted to be with her and it was just a part of me I didn’t know… but she wasn’t hearing it.”

“My parents were pretty much the same way when I told them I was gay--” Draco said it thoughtlessly, then seemed to realize it and nearly chocked on his pancake. Well, pancakes, plural. Hermione wouldn’t be surprised if he had six of them in his mouth.

“Oh?” Hermione said, just as casual as before. “I guess everyone at this table isn’t straight, then? I’m honestly really glad, I thought I was the only one at Hogwarts.”

Draco blinked at her. “Granger, you’re gay too?” he said around a mouthful of pancakes, and Hermione didn’t have the heart to admonish him for it. The genuine hope in his eyes was too much to crush.

“Pansexual,” she replied. “Or bi. Haven’t exactly figured it out yet. Much like Harry.”

“Oh,” he said, then took the time to swallow. She was scared he’d make a run for the door, but instead he just sat there thoughtfully for a bit.

“Yeah, I knew for a while but never made it public because, uh.” She jerked her head towards the Great Hall.

“Does my godfather know?”

“Who, Sev?”

“Y--” Draco’s jaw dropped. “He lets you call him SEV?”

“I fucking told you,” Harry hissed.

Hermione shrugged. “Yeah.”

“Fucking hell, Granger, when my dad tried to call him Sev--” Draco gestured emphatically, as if unable to find the words. “Dad lost all of his hair,” he finally managed. “And you know how Malfoys are about their hair.”

Harry snickered, snorted, and fell into a coughing fit. “Sorry, sorry, sorry,” he said, looking very guilty. “I just. That’s a really great image.”

“That is a really great image,” Hermione seconded. “Sorry.”

“No, it’s literally one of my favorite memories. I’ll give you guys a copy for the pensieve if you want.”

“That would--” Harry wheezed a laugh “--be fucking incredible, Draco.”

Draco grinned at them, and for the first time all day, it didn’t look fake. “The more the merrier.” And then he paused, and the smile fell. “Maybe I can start making up for being such a little bitch all these years.”

Harry shook his head. “Draco. You don’t have to apologize, okay?” He reached across the table, taking Draco’s hand in his, and realizing a moment too late the closeness of the gesture. Draco looked about to start screaming. “Look, I know it was probably really stressful dealing with your parents, and yeah you were awful to us, but I’d like to think that we’ve all grown up a little and fuck knows I’m happy enough to put shit behind me.” He released Draco’s hand, rather awkwardly.

Draco was bright red.

Hermione, up until then silent to let the two of them hash out their beef, spoke up. “Draco, I saw you when we thought Harry was dead. You wouldn’t cross to their side even though your parents were calling you. I know how much courage that must’ve taken. I knew then that all of our petty kiddie squabbles were over, because you understood, and trust me when I say that both Harry and I forgave you a long time ago.”

Harry nodded emphatically.

Draco cleared his throat. “I--appreciate it,” he said, his voice breaking a little. “But I don’t know if I can forgive myself as easily. But… I’d like to try to make it up to you both, if that’s okay.”

“No pressure, honestly,” Harry said. “But hey, if you want to start?” Harry leaned in as Draco eagerly awaited orders.

“Help me finish this pile of pancakes,” Harry whispered.

It was a moment before Draco registered what was said, and rolled his eyes as he leaned back in his chair, trying his best to look exasperated. “Potter, you’re awful at this emotional manipulation thing,” he groaned, as he shoveled a few more pancakes onto his plate. “You’re supposed to be an asshole, not tell people to eat breakfast like a worried mother!”

***

Since they didn’t have classes anymore and technically were not yet apprentices--or, rather, apprentice and whatever-the-fuck-Harry-was-doing--the two of them had the day off.

Hermione grabbed some raw meat from the kitchens, and after they walked Draco to his first class (Potions, and Severus did not miss the fact that Draco was burping and also smiling), they went out to feed the thestrals.

Harry crouched down with a foal, feeding it little snippets of raw meat while Hermione fed its mother. “So the other thing that Kingsley mentioned, besides making me have a life crisis about my sexual orientation, is that he actually wanted us to take the upcoming Ministry ball to take shots at the ineptitude of the Ministry. Even if it included him.”

“Really? Damn.” Hermione moved to gently stroke the mare’s neck, which she snorted appreciatively at.

“Yeah.” He reached over to grab another tidbit, tossing this one in the air. The foal snatched it easily. “We’re each--you, me, Neville--going to get a chance to give a speech. So I was thinking that we should plan out what we wanted to do.”

Hermione nodded, focusing on keeping her fingers out of the thestral’s sharp beak. “What are you thinking for yours?”

“I wanted to go with a theme of inter-House cooperation,” he said. “And I mean, more generally, cooperation between pureblooded and non-pureblooded wizards.”

“So what you’re saying is that it’d be best if you took Draco as your date.”

Harry was silent for a moment.

“Fuck,” he said. “That… that would communicate it really well, huh?”

Hermione nodded, grinning at him. “Yep.”

Having run out of meat, they said their farewells to the thestrals, scourgified their hands, and walked towards Hogsmeade.

“Shit, I can’t believe I set myself up for that one,” Harry said with a sigh, kicking rocks out of the path as they walked.

“What, you don’t want to?”

“No, no,” he replied hurriedly. “Look, New Draco? I like him. It could definitely work. Definitely the ball, maybe other things. It will not earn me points at all with Ginny. And I… I really don’t want to hurt her.”

Hermione glanced at him. He was crestfallen. Clearly hurting still, even if their morning had been fun. “I know,” she said. “It’s fucking rough.”

“I suppose I could try and tell her.”

“Mm.” Hermione glanced around at the snowy surroundings. Even if it was early October, Hogsmeade was always snowy. “I don’t think that’d go well, but if it’s important to you, it’s worth a try.”

Harry sighed. “God, I don’t know anymore. I think… I think I’ll at least write her a note. Kingsley said the ball would be, what, in two weeks? I have time to let her cool down before I make everything awful again.” He winced a little. “Also before I ask Draco to a fucking dance, holy shit.”

Hermione snorted. “Yeah, who would’ve ever thought.”

Harry muttered something suspiciously like ‘me.’ She laughed at him, and he just flushed redder.

“I think for my message I’ll go with ‘Ministry ineptitude’ and ‘stop making us act as child soldiers.’” She paused while he snorted. “I think…” Hermione bit her lip, and pulled up her sleeve. “I think I want to show them this.”

The word, MUDBLOOD, forever carved into her skin.

Harry stopped in his tracks. “Are you certain?”

To her surprise, she was. “Scars are what started this fight for your life. But now there are others with scars, and I want them to realize that children with scars are not things to be worshipped. They are a sign of a great evil.”

“You’re brilliant, Hermione.” Harry threw her in a hug. “I have the perfect idea,” he said. “You up for visiting Diagon?”

“Sure.”

They made it to Hogsmeade and then floo’d to Diagon, where Harry pulled out his wallet. Hermione had given it to him as a present for surviving the war, but also mainly for storing all of the promotional offers he kept getting. It was charmed, just like her beaded bag. He’d absolutely refused to throw any of them out--growing up poor had imbued him with the need to hoard coupons. As they walked, he rifled around in what looked like several filing cabinets worth of stuff.

“Aha!” he said, finally, pulling out a letter with a voucher attached and holding it out to Hermione.

DEAR ESTEEMED MR. POTTER,

My name is Esthel Erglemay and I am writing to you on behalf of myself and my sister Emily. We have recently founded a store called THE WITCH OF TODAY, which specializes in dress robes and gowns for formal occasions which integrate muggle fashion sensibilities. My sister and I are both muggleborn and as such appreciate your commitment to equality in the wizarding world. As such, we would be happy to offer a large discount on any pieces you would like to be made for yourself or any acquaintance.

Sincerely,
ESTHEL & EMILY ERGLEMAY

Hermione’s jaw dropped. “You realize that they’re not just giving you discounts on premade robes, right? They’re offering to make clothing for you.”

“Exactly,” Harry said. “I’ve seen some people wear their stuff, and it’s really nice. I mean, that’s what Ginny said, anyway. Can you imagine what they’d do if they got a chance to dress you, the most famous muggleborn witch ever?”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “You’re exaggerating. But I see your point. It certainly doesn’t hurt that I’m now legally your sister.”

He grinned. “Yes. And here we are!”

Harry lead the way into the store. It was a cozy little boutique, and Hermione was immediately struck by the numerous gorgeous pieces on display. Dresses that looked sleek and modern, but whose fabric sparkled with images of stars over night clouds; a piece with gorgeous train, the inside of which was decorated like a nebula that spun and exuded stardust; a tuxedo with fine gold trim that was stitched in the form of a running river, with fish jumping in and out.

There was a massive gasp as they came into view.

The two ladies working the store--clearly the sisters, were staring at them with bug eyes, as was the lady they were dressing.

“Oh! Oh my dearie me! Goodness! Emily, Emily--” The lady serving the other witch grasped her sister firmly. “Go check in with our esteemed guests while I finish up with Miss Privet! We must never leave a guest unsatisfied!”

The sister that was apparently Emily hurried over. “It is an honor, Mr. Potter,” she said, shaking Harry’s hand. “And Miss Granger! Oh, you’ve given my sister and I so much hope. We’re muggleborn, see, and it’s so good to see that you’re really showing those blood purists that a witch’s merit isn’t in her blood.” She sighed, eyes sparkling with tears. “Sorry, excuse me, I know you must get these sorts of things everywhere. What can I do for you? Anything.”

Harry grinned and gestured to Hermione. “Miss Granger has a special request.”

Hermione smiled as demurely as she could while constraining her desire to smirk at the evil little plan that was forming in her head. They would see her scars--all of them. “Yes. You see, I’d like to make a statement, and I believe that you and your sister are the perfect people to help me.”

***

Hermione and Harry were finally able to take their breakfast in the Great Hall after a week, and it was a lucky coincidence that their N.E.W.T.s came in that day.

Golden envelopes sealed with red wax were deposited by two magnificent birds directly into their laps. The post didn’t typically come until the evening, so the focus of the room was suddenly on them.

Hermione stared down Harry as all of the blood rushed out of her body and the world fell away from her. “Oh fuck,” she whispered. “I thought--I thought they’d take longer.”

“I did too,” he breathed. “You think it’s cuz we’re the only ones?”

“Fuck you’re probably right.”

Hermione was distantly aware that people were shifting around them. Luna plopped into a seat on her side, and Neville slid beside Harry. Even Draco seemed to hover closer to the Gryffindor table, and Harry beckoned him over, patting the spot across the table. Hesitantly, Draco sat down, as if waiting for reprisal, but Luna just beamed at him.

McGonagall was suddenly seated across from them, next to the very terrified Draco, looking very eager.

“Well?” the Headmistress asked.

“You go first,” Hermione told Harry. “I can’t. I need to… have some time.”

Harry nodded. He broke the seal and pulled out the folded paper within.

Hermione leaned over, eager, hugging him tight to her with one arm. She could see immediately the official seal of the Minister for Magic, alongside Kingsley’s signature. Holy shit.

Hermione read down the list of Harry’s scores. DADA, Charms, Transfiguration, and Magical Beasts were all Outstandings; Potions, Astrology, and Herbology were all Exceeds Expectations.

“Holy shit,” he whispered. “I’m going to be an Auror.”

“You’re going to be an Auror!” yelled Neville, and the Gryffindor table erupted into applause, the other tables following with degrees of enthusiasm. Hermione couldn’t see through her tears of happiness as she hugged Harry.

“I’m so proud of you,” she whispered, and kissed him on the cheek. “Brother.”

“Sister,” he said, so happy and authentic that she would’ve started crying if she wasn’t already. He smiled at her through tears of his own. “Okay. You ready for yours?”

“No.”

“Want me to open it for you?”

Hermione hesitated, then nodded, handing it over to Harry.

For the second time that morning, he broke the Ministry seal and pulled out the folded paper. As soon as he opened it Hermione snatched it back, too eager to see her results.

The paper was thick and expensive between her fingers. And her results… She clapped a hand over her mouth, tearing up immediately. Happiness, sure, but mostly relief.

“Hermione fucking Granger,” Harry whispered. “You just got all Os on ten fucking N.E.W.T.s.”

“Thank fuck,” she whispered, through tears, aware how perilously silent the room was.

McGonagall reached out and plucked the piece of paper from her hands. Her eyes glanced over the paper, and beside her, Draco let out a squeak of surprise and joy. A moment later, he scrambled from his seat and dashed off towards the door that lead to the dungeons, the echoes of his footsteps fading as McGonagall continued to look the paper over.

“Miss Granger,” McGonagall said, very serious and very loving, and her voice quite loud, “If I am not mistaken, that is a new record. No one in the history of Hogwarts has gotten as many Os as you have just received. You blew moldy old Tommy out of the fucking water. Ten Os, on ten N.E.W.T.s--”

The rest of her words were cut off in a similarly raucous cheer from the students.

Hermione felt like she was dissociating, in a different plane as she sat there hugging Harry and surrounded by the noise and filled with the deep relief that she hadn’t failed, and the growing realization that actually, she’d done pretty well. She might have a chance after all.

Draco returned then, forcibly dragging a very bewildered looking Snape. He pointed towards Hermione and Harry, grinning like he had when they were little kids. He was saying something, but his words were lost in the chaos of the students.

McGonagall looked over her shoulder, waggled the paper, and yelled, “Severus! Get over here, your apprentice just beat your ass on the N.E.W.T.s!”

Severus laughed, the first time he’d done it in public, as the students let up another (even louder) cheer. He came over to the table, behind Hermione, looming over her shoulder as he studied the scores, then leaned over and hugged her. “I fucking told you so, Granger.”

“I think I’m about to pass out,” she confided in him.

“Wouldn’t surprise me.” He pointed to a line in Kingsley’s letter, glancing at her with a gentle grin that, instead of vanishing after a moment, stuck firmly. “Look. He said you didn’t miss a single question on the Potions section.”

Hermione buried her face in his shoulder. “I’m about to pass out.”

As it turned out, she did not.

Instead, she and Harry were cheered for another solid ten minutes until McGonagall managed to calm them down, citing that Argus would get a headache. Some Ravenclaw shouted, “Let him!” and another cheer followed, but it devolved into laughs as McGonagall rolled her eyes bemusedly.

“I don’t think they were cheering exactly for us,” Hermione confided in Harry as they helped the house elves clean up, after everyone had left for classes. “I think they were cheering because they needed something happy after the end of the war, and we represent that.”

Harry shrugged. “You’re probably right, but I don’t think I mind either way. Everyone had a good time and that’s what mattered. I mean, hell, did you see? Both grouchy Slytherins smiled.”

She laughed at that, and continued laughing as she brought a stack of plates to the kitchen.