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Severus, 10/20/97, Part One

Severus stood in the circle with the other Death Eaters. On this occasion, he wa
s grateful for the silver mask covering his features and the heavy robes. It was
after midnight and the temperature had dropped considerably. Standing in one pl
ace for hours at a time listening to a megalomaniac rant did nothing to keep him
warm, nor could he bring out his wand to cast a warming charm without someone i
nterpreting it as a hostile act. He was grateful that he had taken the opportuni
ty to sleep this morning after Kelly left. He was tired and hungry and only self
-discipline and a sense of self-preservation was keeping him on his feet.
The circle was quite large tonight. Easily forty Death Eaters were present. Vold
emort stood in the middle of the circle. He spoke with great animation, his arms
waving as he emphasized important points in his speech about racial purity. The
Dark Lord had been at it for hours, praising his Death Eater team for striking
a blow against the Muggle menace. Bellatrix and Rodolphus Lestrange struck a var
iety of heroic poses as they basked in Voldemort's praise as the leaders of atta
ck team.
Muggle menace. Five families. One senior citizen and eight middle-aged Muggle pa
rents with absolutely no means of defense. A teenaged girl and a seven year-old
boy. Oh, and as Bellatrix boasted earlier, two pet dogs and an aquarium. A great
Death Eater victory against the Muggle threat. Only a self-deluding madman like
Voldemort could see it that way. Only a psychopath like Bellatrix could boast a
bout it.
She did enjoy sharing the details. Voldemort ordered the five families to be exe
cuted in a four-hour time span from midnight to 4 AM. One family lived in Edinbu
rgh, three in London, and one in Birmingham. The Grangers were the first victims
, which may have been a blessing for them. On a tight schedule, no time was spen
t torturing them. A quick Avada Kedavra for each of the dentists, the Dark Mark
cast over their house, and Bella and her cohorts were on their way. The last fam
ily, Mathew McAllister's divorced mother in Edinburgh. Well, there was time ther
e. The family dog was tortured, the mother gang raped and sodomized, and more fu
n with Crucio until the deadline was at hand. Avada to finish them off, the Dark
Mark cast, and Rodolphus, Bella, and their team were off to Knockturn Alley to
celebrate.
Perhaps it was just as well Severus had an empty stomach. It kept him from retch
ing.
Severus was certain Lucius was standing two places over from him. Perhaps when V
oldemort was done, there would be an opportunity to tell Lucius about visiting A
valon. He had not considered it before, but as Severus considered the events of
the previous evening, the name Avalon was auspicious. It could be a magical have
n where a few of his students might go to be safely away from this insanity. Dra
co would certainly go. He hoped Granger would as well.
In spite of the murder of her parents or perhaps because of it, Granger would be
best away from all of this. Severus did not think she would be impulsive enough
to seek revenge, but her two idiot friends certainly were. Harry Potter had not
done well against Bellatrix before in the battle at the Ministry of Magic. He d
id not think Potter had it in him to be as brutally ruthless as it would take to
bring down Bellatrix in a duel. She had no sense of honor. She would do whateve
r it took, using the darkest weapons in her arsenal to win. A woman who could en
courage her husband to rape and sodomize a victim in her presence was no one to
trifle with.
Severus wished again that Voldemort would just finish. Then he could go home and
make his report to Dumbledore and go to bed. Dreamless Sleep would be a good ch
oice for tonight, were it not for the fact that he had to be up no later than se
ven in the morning to be ready to teach classes today. At least the classes were
First and Second Years. He could substitute busy work for today's lesson plan i
f he was too tired to stay focused. Damn. First Year Gryffindor and Slytherin to
day. Mary Ellen Whitcomb would not be in class. He would have to be alert to att
empts by Gryffindors to seek revenge on Slytherin. Severus decided to hold a Hou
se meeting tonight. Gryffindor saw three of their Housemates lose their families
and would be primed for revenge. Slytherins would feel the backlash from it, in
nocent and guilty alike. They would need his support and he needed to build thei
r support for each other. Politics. The damn House system fostered it and it was
the last thing these children needed.
Voldemort appeared to be winding down. He called Bellatrix and Rodolphus forward
to take another round of applause from the circle. Severus went through the mot
ions, trying to look enthusiastic. Voldemort thanked his loyal Death Eaters, pro
mised that the world would one day belong to them; they would all be richly rewa
rded, and dismissed them for the evening until their next glorious victory.
Severus breathed a sigh of relief. He had no wish for an audience with Voldemort
tonight. There would certainly be one this week and he was grateful for the rep
rieve. Severus began to walk away. Another Death Eater, falling into step with S
everus, joined him.
"Tonight was most inspiring, was it not?" said Lucius, loud enough to be heard b
y any eavesdroppers. "It has been some time since the Dark Lord authorized such
a public strike against Muggleborns."
"Indeed," answered Severus. "It is an equally public strike against Dumbledore,
the old fool. I daresay there will be students withdrawn from Hogwarts over this
."
"Only those who never belonged at Hogwarts in the first place will be affected,"
Lucius hand went to Severus' shoulder for effect. "Our world will be a step clo
ser to the purity we have striven for all these years."
"Under the Dark Lord's leadership, may that day arrive soon."
By this time, most of the other Death Eaters had apparated away. Severus and Luc
ius were standing at a considerable distance from those who remained.
"The future is looking brighter, Lucius," added Severus.
"I am most pleased to hear that. With activities picking up, perhaps we should h
ave another dueling practice?" suggested Malfoy.
"I believe I will be free next Sunday."
"Then Narcissa and I will expect you to stay for dinner."
The two men vanished beneath the moon.
-------------
Severus tossed his Death Eater's robes and mask onto the sofa in the sitting roo
m. Tossing powder into the fireplace, he stepped in, "Headmaster's office," and
stepped out into Dumbledore's office.
Dumbledore sat at his desk, with McGonagall, and Lupin sitting in two of the thr
ee chairs in front of the desk. Severus took the third. Dumbledore's desk was li
ttered with parchments. Apparently, the owls had been quite busy delivering mess
ages.
"I am quite famished, Albus. May I request something from the house elves before
I begin my report?" sighed Severus.
"Allow me, Severus," interrupted Minerva. "Would a couple of sandwiches do?"
"An excellent start. You know what I like, Minerva. I will trust your judgment."
She smiled at Severus and rose to go to the fireplace to order the food. Remus o
ffered Severus a cup of tea. Severus nodded his thanks.
"What do you have to tell us, Severus?" asked Dumbledore.
"Bellatrix and Rodolphus Lestrange headed the mission. The Dark Lord gave them f
our hours from start to finish to complete the raids and report back to him. The
y began with the Grangers and other two families in London, then went on to Birm
ingham, and finished in Edinburgh. I presume you have gotten reports about cause
s of death for all of the victims?"
"Yes, we have," answered Remus. "It looks like Avada Kedavra for the first four
families. There was unspeakable violence against Mrs. McAllister."
"There was enough time at the end for Bellatrix to encourage Rodolphus and the m
embers of their team to brutalize the woman before killing her. She boasted of i
t." Severus shook his head in disgust. "She has the sickest mind of any human be
ing I have ever met. Her time in Azkaban seems to have only served to make it wo
rse."
"Do you know why these particular families were chosen, beyond the obvious point
of being parents of Muggleborns?" asked Minerva. The house elf arrived with a c
overed plate. Minerva removed the cover, took the plate with two roast beef sand
wiches on it and placed it before Severus. He gave her a grateful look as he dug
into one of them. He chewed, swallowed, and answered.
"From what the Dark Lord said, the parents were chosen because of their own affl
uence or success in the Muggle world. His intent is to frighten the families of
Muggleborns into withdrawing their children from Hogwarts and the wizarding worl
d. The message is essentially; if prominent Muggles cannot defend their families
against Death Eaters, they had best stay out of the wizarding world."
Dumbledore shook his head sadly. "Riddle may have achieved some success with his
plan. Miss Andropolous' grandparents have been contacted. They have directed us
to return her and her possessions on the Hogwarts Express tomorrow. They will b
e traveling to London tomorrow to transport their family members' remains back t
o Greece for burial. They will be taking her back to Greece with them."
"Their response is not surprising," said Severus between bites. "How are the oth
er families responding?"
"Miss Whitcomb has virtually no family left," responded Minerva. "Her mother has
a brother, but he is in prison for selling illegal drugs."
Dumbledore nodded. "We may be able to make provisions for Miss Whitcomb. A few t
rusted families have already stepped forward to make offers to take her in, whic
h we will explore over the next few weeks. I am confident the Wizengamot can be
prevailed upon to give us temporary guardianship while it is settled."
"Mr. McAllister is a different case in point," said Minerva. "He is still in the
hospital wing under sedation. He has been quite violent in his expression of gr
ief. We have communicated with his oldest sister, who has asked us to keep him f
or a few days. Because of the extremely violent nature of the crime, the police
are heavily involved. He already suffers from depression. I fear for Mr. McAllis
ter's mental health when he learns of how his mother and their dog were killed."
"What about Woodville?" asked Severus.
"He has grandparents still alive on his father's side. They are quite elderly an
d distraught by what has happened. They are keeping Woodville's sister and broth
er with them. As with the Grangers, the determination has been made that the par
ents died of carbon monoxide poisoning due to a faulty furnace," answered Dumble
dore. "There will be limited police involvement under the circumstances. Mr. Woo
dville has expressed a strong desire to stay at Hogwarts."
"How is Miss Granger?"
"Your Dreamless Sleep potion has her right now. She was quite shaken by the news
, but she is a strong young woman. Arthur and Molly came as soon as word got out
of what happened. Arthur broke the news to her, for which I am grateful," Dumbl
edore's shoulders slumped. "I believe I have broken enough children's hearts for
one day." Minerva reached over and took his hand, giving him a gentle look.
"We do the best we can, Albus. We will be here for these children as we have bee
n here for the others before them," counseled Minerva.
"We share too many such memories, Minerva," answered Dumbledore. He shrugged his
shoulders. "Miss Granger has good friends. They are watching over her in Gryffi
ndor Tower, even as we speak. I believe a blind eye is being turned to the infra
ction of two young men camping out in the Seventh Year girls' room."
"For tonight, at least," Minerva responded.
"Albus, you must speak to Potter and Weasley. They must not attempt to seek reve
nge for this. It could only end in disaster," emphasized Severus.
"I quite agree, son. We will meet with them tomorrow to discuss it." Dumbledore
took a sip of his tea. "We have made changes in the regular schedule for tomorro
w. Everything is in such disarray with students, families, and faculty tied up i
n dealing with all of this. I have cancelled regular classes. Tomorrow morning,
breakfast will be served in the common rooms of each of the Houses to be followe
d by House meetings. I know our Slytherins are going to be badly in need of the
counsel of their Head of House." Dumbledore inclined his head respectfully to Se
verus. Severus nodded agreement.
"Minerva, Filius, Pomona, and myself will be quite busy dealing with arrangement
s for our five victimized students. Hagrid will take responsibility for the Firs
t and Second Years, with help from our current roster of apprentices. He has ass
embled a veritable petting zoo of magical and non-magical animals to keep them b
usy. Professors Sinistra, Trelawney, and Binns will take Third, Fourth, and Fift
h Years. They are planning academic contests and games for them. Severus, I was
hoping you would be willing to work with Vector and Bill Weasley to manage the S
ixth and Seventh Years. A day of intensive Defense Against the Dark Arts and due
ling practice may help them expend excessive energy and emotion."
Severus raised an eyebrow in surprise. "Of course, Albus. I would thoroughly enj
oy the challenge. But, where is our esteemed Defense Against the Dark Arts Profe
ssor?"
Albus, Minerva, and Remus exchanged meaningful looks. Dumbledore answered, "Prof
essor DaVinci is in the hospital wing. He had a bit of a run in with a centaur i
n the Forbidden Forest. Madame Pomfrey is helping him to regrow the bones in his
left leg."
Severus raised both eyebrows in emphasis and shook his head in disgust.
"I believe all of us are overdue for sleep. Breakfast will be at 8 AM, so I sugg
est we try to get what rest we can until then," advised Dumbledore. "Remus, than
k you for your efforts throughout today. Your contacts with the Muggle police de
partments were invaluable."
"You're welcome, Albus. I'll stay on top of things and expect to be in London an
d Edinburgh tomorrow. Will there be an Order meeting tomorrow evening?" asked Re
mus.
"I believe one is in order. It will be a chance to pull our intelligence togethe
r," answered Dumbledore.
Good evenings were said and the four went to their respective quarters for the n
ight. In his gray nightshirt, Severus eyed the Dreamless Sleep potion for a mome
nt. Setting temptation aside, he turned over and closed his eyes.
Severus 10/20/97, Part Two
Morning arrived all too soon, accompanied by breakfast with his House in the Sly
therin common room. Later, when Severus reflected on the events of the day, he d
ecided it was a wise decision on Dumbledore's part to keep the Houses separated
first thing in the morning. Several of his students complained about treatment t
hey received Sunday from other students, particularly from the Gryffindors. Seve
rus gave them a chance to vent and then presented them with the realities of the
situation. He pointed out that there was clear evidence of Death Eater involvem
ent in the murders of the families and regardless of the political leanings of i
ndividual Slytherins and their families; five of their classmates were now orpha
ns. Severus reiterated that Gryffindor was most devastated by the attacks and Gr
yffindors tended to paint all Slytherins with a single brush. "Carry yourselves
with dignity," counseled Severus. "Do nothing to provoke your classmates on this
matter, no matter how they behave. It will only start a cycle of retaliation th
at could result in the other three Houses aligning themselves against one. Three
against one are a fool's odds and Slytherins are never fools."
Severus further advised them to think in terms of the internal politics of Hogwa
rts in their behavior and the long-term effects of what they might do now. In ty
pical Slytherin fashion, he suggested his students show respect in word and deed
to the victims. "To give the impression of empathy is not a weakness when demon
strated in the right time and place. It costs you little, can gain you a useful
ally later on and gives your enemies nothing to criticize you for. It is to your
political benefit to show courtesy and consideration to the victims."
Fortunately, most of the Slytherins were sufficiently astute to understand Sever
us' point. The ones who were not, such as Crabbe and Goyle, were controlled by M
alfoy and a few of the more influential Slytherins who would keep them in line.
Severus sent his students off to their special classes, feeling that damage cont
rol had begun.
The special classes started at 9:00. Severus took the lead in the special Defens
e Against the Dark Arts program. He knew Arithmancer and scholar Alan Vector wou
ld be little more than a live professorial body in the room, but Bill Weasley co
uld carry his own weight and had much to contribute given his years of experienc
e as a Gringott's curse breaker. As Severus surveyed the Sixth and Seventh Years
gathered in the Room of Requirement, he noted the clusters. The Slytherins were
isolated from the others. Malfoy held court as the current alpha male of Slythe
rin, his minions gathered around him. The other notable cluster was from Gryffin
dor. Their friends surrounded Potter and Weasley, with Granger noticeably missin
g from the group. They were much more subdued than usual. Interestingly, several
Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs were standing with Potter's group. All of them were
former members of Dumbledore's Army, the DADA club Potter had started during Umb
ridge's reign of terror during their Fifth Year. Severus would have to be very c
areful in assigning partners for dueling.
Severus introduced Bill Weasley to the crowd. He snorted when he saw the highly
predictable reaction of the female portion of the student body to the handsome y
oung man. Hormones would be raging tonight. He noticed some of Ron Weasley's fri
ends elbowing him and teasing about his older brother functioning as a professor
for a day.
Professor Snape walked over to a large wooden chest sitting on a table at the fr
ont of the room. He opened the chest and removed a blue badge, shaped rather lik
e the Hogwarts' crest. Holding it out where the students could see it, Severus b
egan.
"This is a dueling badge." Severus, always a master at manipulating a crowd, kep
t his voice low and compelling. The room quieted immediately. "I daresay most of
you have never had the opportunity to wear one. A dueling badge is a part of th
e ancient wizarding dueling tradition. It is a training device, allowing dueling
practice without actual lasting harm to the participants. The dueling badge is
activated by a charm and by opponents tapping wands on each other's badges. It w
orks because the dueling partners have consented to have it work and will work o
nly between them. Once activated, partners using paired badges may duel using he
xes short of Unforgiveables without being injured. The badge provides both shiel
ding and dampening to spells to prevent injuries. The badge counts the strikes,
including the type of hex and the amount of damage that would have been done if
the hex had actually connected. Each of you will take one of these badges and pu
t it on. Professor Vector, Mr. Weasley, and I will assign you partners. We will
then begin drills.
Severus stepped back and called Vector and Weasley over. The three discussed ass
ignments and moved through the crowd, passing out badges. Partners were assigned
from within houses, pairing up friends to take no chance of inter-house conflic
t breaking out during the drills.
Bill Weasley took the lead during the drills, much to the delight of the female
population. He ably demonstrated and coached the students as they practiced cast
ing hexes and shielding against them. Using his experience from Egypt, he demons
trated a few curse detection spells he had learned or modified for his own use.
The charismatic young man held the attention of the class right up until lunchti
me. Bill stood at the front of the room and addressed the class.
"This morning, you have practiced standard attack and defensive moves. This afte
rnoon, we will move practice to the outdoors. Most formal dueling actually occur
s outdoors. There are few buildings large enough to hold actual duels, let alone
keep from being badly damaged in the process. Professor Snape, Professor Vector
, and I are going to set up protective shields around the Quidditch pitch. We ex
pect you to report there after lunch. It is chilly outside, so I suggest warm ja
ckets and layers you can remove if you get too hot from all of the running aroun
d you're likely to do. Don't eat a heavy lunch if you're at all prone to puking
up your guts when things get physically strenuous." Weasley gave them one of his
charming grins. "Class dismissed." The crowd headed out the door in the general
direction of the Great Hall.
Bill Weasley turned to Severus and laughed. "I always wanted to be able to say t
hat."
Severus gave him an amused look. "I am glad we were able to fulfill one of your
life ambitions." He paused. "You did a very good job this morning, Bill."
"Thank you Severus. This was fun."
Vector approached to the two men. "Shall we go get some lunch and then do the wa
rds?"
"By all means, Alan. Please lead the way," answered Severus.
At 1:00, the class reconvened on the Quidditch pitch. Severus and Bill had spent
the last of the lunch hour setting up protective wards around the structures to
protect them from stray hexes and careless students. Vector transfigured sand f
rom the field into boulders and imitation trees to set up obstacles and protecti
ve cover.
Professor Snape cast a charm on himself so he could project his voice throughout
the stadium.
"Your attention, please."
The students crowded around the three instructors.
"This afternoon, we will engage in actual dueling. Your badges will provide you
with protection from damage from hexes cast, but will count all hits. As you com
plete your dueling run with your partner, you will report to Professor Vector wh
o will record your results." Severus continued. "As you can see, an obstacle cou
rse has been set up. The beginning of the course is over by the Hufflepuff stand
." Severus pointed to two boulders. "Each pair will start at those boulders. You
r task is to run the obstacle course and prevent your partner from reaching the
end of the course as represented by the tree at the Ravenclaw stand. Prevention
is defined by scoring enough hits to incapacitate your opponent as determined by
your dueling badge. You will have five minutes to complete the course. It is no
t a running race. If you simply outrun your partner without scoring hits, you wi
ll lose."
"I will refresh your memories on a few important points Mr. Weasley gave you thi
s morning. First, never turn your back to an opponent. Second, it is easier to d
uck a hex than to set up a shield against one. Third, never assume because an op
ponent is down that he is out."
"We will begin with the Sixth Years. Hufflepuffs, please line up with your partn
ers. The rest of you may go into the stands and watch. There will be no yelling,
coaching, booing, or any other distractions from the sidelines. I expect good s
portsmanship from everyone. Take your places, please."
The three instructors watched as the students took their places. Vector headed o
ver to the finish line. Weasley and Snape looked over the crowd. Severus nodded
to Bill who held out his hand.
"Accio Nimbus 2000," said Bill. Severus' broom, which had been lying to the side
of the pitch, flew into his hand. Bill mounted and took off, circling over the
obstacle course. Severus walked over to the starting position. The first two Huf
flepuffs for the obstacle course were in place. Pulling a whistle out of his poc
ket, Severus waved at the crowd in the stands, which immediately quieted. He ble
w the whistle and gave a 'go' hand signal. The two Hufflepuffs were off.
An hour and a half later, Severus concluded that he had never seen such uninspir
ed dueling in his life. Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw performed no better than he had
anticipated from those Houses. They engaged largely in running races, shooting
basic hexes at each other and casting simple protective spells. There were a num
ber of "kills", just by virtue of contestants failing to cast protective shields
or physically avoid the hex. Gryffindor did better, especially among the boys.
At least there were some athletes among them. Slytherin disappointed him. With s
tudents coming from Pureblood traditions, Severus had hoped to see more skill, m
ore of the art of dueling. He saw little of the elegance he had hoped for in his
own House. Once again, Severus bemoaned Dumbledore's inability to choose a dece
nt DADA instructor. Bill Weasley had done a good job of coaching from above, but
clearly the basic knowledge of dueling was not present among eighty percent of
the students seen so far.
With the Sixth Years done, Professor Snape called for a break. House elves deliv
ered drinking water to the participants. Vector stayed at his station, tallying
results. Snape and Weasley walked the obstacle course and shared their observati
ons. They agreed to go ahead and finish running the Seventh Years through the ob
stacle course. For a finale, they would give them a demonstration of real duelin
g. After discussing candidates, they agreed to hold back Draco Malfoy and Harry
Potter. This would mean teaming their partners, Blaise Zabini and Ron Weasley ag
ainst each other.
After the ten-minute break, the Seventh Years were ordered into place and the Si
xth Years took to the stands. Bill Weasley stood at the starting line as Snape f
lew over the obstacle course. Hufflepuff went first; again showing limited skill
s in dueling, except for a few who had belonged to Dumbledore's Army. Ravenclaw
showed the same level of accomplishment. Things began to get interesting when th
e Gryffindors took the field. The natural athleticism of some of girls and some
of the boys showed the kind of dueling Snape expected. Dodges and feints were pr
esent and the hexes cast were more creative. Aim could have been better. Were it
not for the protective shields cast around the stands, the stadium would have t
aken considerable damage from stray hexes. When the Seventh Year Slytherins took
the course, Snape took pride in his House. Oddly enough, Crabbe and Goyle seeme
d to get it. Because of their size, they had a certain quality of hippos in a ba
llet, but they fired potent hexes at each other and managed to dodge most of the
m, scoring relatively few hits.
At this point, Potter and Weasley as well as Malfoy and Zabini were fuming becau
se they had been denied their turns without explanation. Snape and Weasley appro
ached the four young men and explained their plan.
"The four of you have consistently demonstrated a higher level of Defense Agains
t the Dark Arts skills than any of your fellow students," explained Professor Sn
ape. "As you have observed your compatriots, you must have seen how most of them
lack any idea of what dueling really is. Mr. Weasley and I invite the four of y
ou to provide them with a real demonstration." Snape looked pointedly at Ron Wea
sley. "Mr. Weasley and Mr. Zabini. Would you be willing to duel with each other?
"
Ron Weasley looked at Blaise Zabini. The two young men grinned.
"I'm for it, Weasley," said Zabini. "How about you?"
"I'm always ready to hex you into the ground, Zabini," challenged Weasley.
"In that case, if you two gentlemen would take your places," invited Bill Weasle
y.
"Make us proud, Zabini," urged Malfoy.
"Kick arse, Ron," called Potter.
Snape took off on the broom, assuming his position over the obstacle course. The
two contestants took their places. The crowd noticed the change and cheers and
catcalls were heard from the stands.
Bill Weasley called for quiet in the stands. He blew the whistle.
Weasley got off the first shot, coming around the boulder at a run. The athletic
Zabini ducked and rolled out from behind his boulder, coming to his feet and fi
ring back. Weasley threw himself below what looked like a slicing hex and Zabini
used the opportunity to dash on ahead of him. In an instant, Ron was back on hi
s feet and hurled a Tarentella, which hit Zabini in the shoulder and was absorbe
d by the badge. Cheers were heard from the Gryffindor stand. Zabini pulled a fei
nt to the left and then came back around a transfigured bush, sending another sl
icing hex towards Ron. Ron did a spin to his right, casting a shielding spell ju
st in time to avoid being hit.
Now, one half of the way through the course, Zabini was ahead, hidden behind a s
tand of bushes. In avoiding the slicing hex, Ron lost sight of where Zabini had
gone. Ducking behind a boulder, Ron balanced his wand on his hand and did a Poin
t Me charm. The wand pointed towards the bushes. There was easily 25 yards of op
en space in between Ron and Zabini, if Ron moved forward; he'd be a sitting duck
for Zabini. Ron smirked as the idea came to him. Moving to the side of the boul
der, he cast a flamer charm on the bushes, which was not protected by the dampen
ing effect projected by the badges. The bushes burst into flame, driving Zabini
out from behind. Zabini countered by sending a freezing hex at Ron, which caught
him in the leg. This time, the cheering came from Slytherin. Both men were back
on their feet, running and dodging. Ron's long legs gave him an advantage as he
pulled ahead of Zabini coming around the last leg of the course. Zabini dove be
hind the cover of a tree and proceeded to fire one hex after another at Ron, pin
ning him down on the ground. Ron looked up the tree and sent a hex into a large
branch, sending it crashing down towards Zabini. Zabini took a leap out of the w
ay, landing behind another tree. Ron took the advantage to head towards the fini
sh line, crossing it before Zabini could get back on his feet, making it in just
under the five-minute time limit.
Cheering was heard from Gryffindor, along with a few choruses of "Weasley is our
King."
Professor Vector took their badges and tallied the scores. He announced, "Mr. Za
bini scored 21 points against Mr. Weasley. Mr. Weasley scored 24 points against
Mr. Zabini. Mr. Weasley is the winner by three points."
Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw joined the cheering.
Ron stepped forward and held out his hand to Zabini. "You gave me one helluva fi
ght, Zabini."
Accepting the hand and shaking it in response, Zabini said; "So did you, Weasley
. I'll have to remember that trick with setting fire to the landscaping.
Severus was pleased with the duel. The two students were very equally matched.
Bill Weasley landed and he and Snape set about transfiguring the burned bushes a
nd the tree back into their original condition. When the task was completed, the
two men walked back to the starting line meeting Draco Malfoy and Harry Potter
who had moved into the starting positions at the boulders, looking anxious to st
art. The crowd was cheering for the grudge match to begin.
Grinning, Bill stood with his hands on his hips, looking at Severus. Professor S
nape signaled for Malfoy and Potter to come over, then crossed his arms and wait
ed, wand dangling casually from his fingers. The two young men reluctantly left
the starting positions and stood in front of their instructors.
"Gentlemen, we have something different in mind for the two of you. If you feel
you are up to the challenge," drawled Severus. At that moment, Bill Weasley stra
ightened up and assumed the traditional challenge pose; head straight, shoulders
squared, arms straight down at his side. Looking at Malfoy, he gave a slight bo
w and said, "Mr. Malfoy, I challenge you to a duel."
Malfoy was taken back a moment and then responded to assuming the same posture d
emonstrated by Bill Weasley and giving the traditional response, "Mr. Weasley, I
accept your challenge."
This left Harry looking surprised and then pleased. He turned and looked at Prof
essor Snape, who inclined his head. Harry took the lead, standing straight and l
ooking at Professor Snape. He bowed as he had seen Bill do and addressed his tea
cher. "Professor Snape, I challenge you to a duel."
Snape immediately straightened and gave his formal reply, "Mr. Potter, I accept
your challenge."
Bill produced a galleon for a coin toss and called it heads, resulting in winnin
g the toss. Draco Malfoy and Bill Weasley would go first. It was agreed that Pot
ter would give the go signal while Professor Snape patrolled the course on broom
. After donning a pair of dueling badges, Draco and Bill assumed the starting po
sitions on the course. On a count of three, Potter blew the whistle and the cont
est began.
Bill threw the first hex of the contest, blasting a chunk off Draco's boulder. D
raco was already off and tossed an icing hex behind him, turning the sandy surfa
ce slick with a coating of ice. Bill realized what Draco had done, took a runnin
g start and dove onto the ice. He cast a shielding charm ahead of him and skimme
d along the slick surface towards the bushes, which would provide him with cover
. Draco shot a heat charm, which reflected off the shield and hit the surface of
the ice, melting it instantly. Bill tumbled over into the watery sand, still pr
otected by the shield. A muttered curse and some fancy wand-waving and wet sand
balls rose up and headed in Draco's direction. Draco took off, casting the shiel
d behind him but too late as three of the sand balls pelted him, hitting him in
the back of the head and shoulder blades.
Cheering was heard from the Gryffindor contingency as groans were heard from Sly
therin.
The sand balls, which knocked Draco to the ground, gave Bill time to get on his
feet and shake the worst of the wet sand off of him. He followed up with a body
bind in Draco's general direction, which Draco rolled to escape. Both men were o
n their feet and running, firing and dodging hexes as they went. Halfway through
the course, both ducked behind trees to catch their breath. Bill took off first
, drawing Draco's fire, which bounced off an invisible shield Bill cast while st
ill behind the tree. The stunner bounced off and rebounded towards Draco who dro
pped beneath it. His wand raised, he fired a bright blue stunner back at Bill wh
o didn't make it behind another boulder fast enough to dodge it.
Cheers came up from the Slytherin box.
Now both men were coming into the last quarter turn of the course. The copse of
trees where Ron Weasley caught Blaise Zabini was straight ahead. Bill did a leap
and roll to miss a stunner shot in his direction, just enough of a delay to let
Draco get ahead of him. Bill fired a stomach cramp hex at Draco, close enough t
o drive him behind the trees. Draco grabbed a tree trunk and swung around, inten
ding to run out from behind it and nail Bill with another stunner when his foot
caught in a root extending up from the sand. He went down, twisting his leg as h
e fell. He felt a pop in his knee followed by a tearing feeling and excruciating
pain. Draco howled as he hit the ground.
Bill, who had rolled up to a kneeling position with his wand extended for the ne
xt hex, got to his feet and ran to Draco who was white with pain and trying very
hard not to move his leg. Professor Snape landed the broom and came running at
full speed. By the time Severus reached them, Bill disintegrated the tree root,
freeing Draco's foot. Severus dropped to his knees besides Draco and ran a quick
diagnostic charm.
"Shit, shit, shit," moaned Draco. "It's my goddamn knee."
"Hold still," said Severus. Bill bent over and read the sigils forming over Drac
o's knee.
"Torn cartilege. It looks like his knee cap is out of place," said Bill.
"We cannot attend to this here," pronounced Severus, "We have to get you to the
hospital wing."
"Oh shit," groaned Draco, "I finally get the chance to thrash a Weasley and I bl
ow my knee out."
Bill and Severus looked at each other and burst into laughter.
"I owe you a rematch, Draco," Bill chuckled, "But right now, I'm going to have s
ome of your friends levitate you to the hospital wing.
"No way," grunted Draco as he pushed himself into a sitting position. "You think
I'm going to miss watching Professor Snape use Potter for toilet paper?"
"You would do well to restrain yourself from being vulgar," sneered Severus.
"I'm in pain and don't know what I'm saying," smirked Draco.
"I could arrange for that," retorted Severus.
Before the verbal duel could continue, a contingency of Slytherins including Zab
ini, Crabbe, Goyle, and Bulstrode came running up.
"Geez, Draco," said Goyle who looked genuinely worried, "You look hurt."
"Thanks, Goyle," muttered Draco to himself, "You're good at the obvious."
"Knock it off, Malfoy," ordered Millicent Bulstrode, "We're going to get you to
the hospital wing."
"He has torn cartilege in his left knee and his kneecap is out of place," explai
ned Professor Snape. "I am placing a cushioning cast around the knee and freezin
g the position of his leg. Miss Bulstrode, your levitation skills are the best o
f your compatriots, so I will entrust you to take responsibility for the levitat
ion. You other three will ensure Mr. Malfoy does not get bumped on the way to th
e hospital wing."
"Sir, I would really like to wait until you finish your duel with Mr. Potter," p
rotested Draco. "The charm is holding off the pain and my leg is immobilized. Ho
nestly, Professor, I can hold off ten minutes."
"It's a bad idea," said Bill. He looked at the Slytherins and gave orders. "The
longer you wait, the more you risk permanent damage to the knee and watching a d
uel isn't worth it. You'll have to hear the replay from your classmates. The fou
r of you will take him directly to the hospital wing right now, no detours."
"Yes, Professor Weasley," said Crabbe.
Bill didn't bother correcting him.
Bulstrode cast the Mobilocorpus and Draco was floated into an upright position.
"Does it feel better straight up or on your back?" asked Bulstrode.
It was obvious that only the presence of Professor Snape kept Draco from making
a very smutty response, which left the men of the group grinning.
"I believe Mr. Malfoy will feel better on his back," suggested Severus with a sm
irk.
"On my back is fine," muttered Draco, getting annoyed that he was not going to h
ave his way about staying for Potter and Snape's duel.
"Take him away," ordered Bill.
Millicent Bulstrode levitated Draco in front of her. The other three formed a pr
otective wing around Draco and the five of them headed off the Quidditch pitch.
As Draco was magically frog-marched off to Madame Pomfrey, the crowd applauded,
cheered, and shouted encouragement. For once all four Houses were united in thei
r display of good sportsmanship in recognition of the injured duelist. Bill and
Severus agreed that Draco had done very well in the match, showing creativity, s
trategy, athleticism, and skill. He did well enough to give Bill a true contest,
which was unexpected by everyone except Severus. Now the crowd was waiting to s
ee what would happen next. After the injury to Draco, would Professor Snape and
Harry Potter go through with their duel?
Harry kept back while Malfoy's injury was tended to, figuring the last thing he
needed was to see his arch nemesis standing over him while he was down. The two
of them had battered each other enough times; both fair and foul, on and off the
Quidditch pitch that his sympathies or assistance might not be welcome. Watchin
g the contingency of Slytherins come to Malfoy's aid, Harry guessed his hovering
presence wasn't needed.
Besides, he wanted to keep ready for his own duel with Snape. He waited patientl
y. Surely it wouldn't be cancelled just because Malfoy busted up his knee while
dueling with Bill?
Severus was satisfied that Draco was being taken to Madame Pomfrey and not secre
ted in a spot where he could watch the next duel. He nodded to Bill and the two
wizards walked the course, making repairs to boulders, trees, and drying out the
wet sand. The two rejoined Potter at the beginning of the course.
"So what did you learn from observing the last duel, Mr. Potter?" asked Professo
r Snape.
"Keep my feet away from the tree roots for one thing, Professor," quipped Harry,
"As for the rest, keep my eyes on my opponent, be prepared for anything, and du
ck a lot."
"Adequate, Mr. Potter," sneered Severus. "I do hope you plan to give me a contes
t?"
"I'll do my best, sir," answered Harry, not rising to the bait.
Bill held out the box of dueling badges. Harry and the Professor each selected o
ne. Professor Snape removed his teaching robes and pinned his badge onto his fro
ck coat. He spelled the coat to make it more flexible at the seams and in the fa
bric for purposes of dueling. The badges were paired and activated as each touch
ed his wand to his opponent's badge.
Severus did not doubt that Potter would do his best. He had six full years of ho
stility towards his teacher to work off and this was likely Potter's only chance
to get a shot at Professor Snape that would not result in exceedingly nasty det
entions until graduation. However, Severus fully intended to teach the little pr
at a lesson. The only other time Potter had seen Severus engaged in anything vag
uely resembling a duel was when that idiot Lockhart started the dueling club dur
ing Potter's Second Year. The whole notion that he served as Lockhart's assistan
t during that debacle was absurd. Severus could have his wand snapped in half an
d still have left pieces of Lockhart all over the dueling stage. Of course Sever
us assured himself he was above holding onto six years of annoyance with Potter
and seven years of anger at his bullying father. As a mature adult, there was no
possibility Severus was looking at this as a grudge match. It was his obligatio
n as a teacher and a member of the Order to wipe up the obstacle course with Har
ry Potter's sorry self. If Potter learned a littleâ ¦. learned a lot of humility f
rom the experience it would be entirely for the better.
"Are you two ready?" asked Bill.
"Ready, sir," answered Harry.
"Quite so," answered Severus.
"In that case, I'll mount up and whistle your start from overhead," said Bill, s
ummoning the Nimbus 2000. He mounted his broom and grinned, "Keep it clean gentl
emen, I'll be watching."
Harry laughed and Severus grimaced. The two separated and assumed their starting
positions at the boulders.
The audience silenced.
The whistle blew.
Harry got off first, sending a slicing hex at Severus. Professor Snape dove for
a clean miss and shot off a stunner at Harry. Harry, who was on the run towards
the bushes, cast a Protego behind him to protect his back followed by a body bin
d. Severus rolled to the side for another miss and came up on his knees and to h
is feet breaking into a run, garnering applause from the Slytherin box. He cast
a flamer and took out the bushes as a cover for Harry. This forced Harry to come
out from behind and into open territory. Severus hurled a tickling charm his wa
y and clipped his right leg with it, the distinctive yellow orange color recogni
zed by most of the crowd, which set them to laughing. Harry, getting very annoye
d at being toyed with by the professor, shot off an exceptionally strong stunner
that bounced off Snape's shielding charm and hit a banner at the foot of the Sl
ytherin viewing box shredding it into pieces. Severus got off a few Batbogey hex
es, grinning nastily at Harry. Harry cast a shield and the hexes bounced off har
mlessly. At this point, Harry was angry at having First Year hexes tossed at him
by Snape and used a flamer to set fire to the bushes behind the professor, who
felt the heat through his dragonhide boots as he dove and rolled.
Now things were getting serious. Harry and Severus were a third of the way throu
gh the course and had already cast twice as many offensive and defensive spells
at this point as any team other than during the Weasley/Malfoy duel. Severus dec
ided to stop toying with Harry and cast a Petrificus Totalus, which caught the h
eel of Harry's left foot as he dove beneath it. The hex was absorbed by the duel
ing badge, which recorded the hit with a red glow. Harry, twenty-one years young
er than Severus and with the reflexes that made him the best Seeker on the Gryff
indor team in a generation, rolled and with the speed and grace that would have
made a gymnast proud, came directly to his feet and into a full run, parallel to
the professor. The two traded slicing hexes, one catching Severus on the should
er and showing a strong hit on his dueling badge. Harry pulled slightly ahead, o
nly to be slowed when Severus transfigured the sand, creating a pit of quick san
d. Harry cast a freezing charm, solidifying the pit sufficiently for him to skid
bumpily across. Severus pointed his wand at his boots, adding cleats to the bot
tom for traction and ran after him at full tilt.
Harry and Severus were only yards apart at this point when Harry yelled "Expelli
armus," forgetting for a moment that the badges dampened the effects of the spel
ls to the point of ineffectiveness. Severus was startled to feel the strong tug
on his hand and had to tighten his hand to a white knuckle grip to hold onto his
wand. Harry was back on his feet and heading down the course shooting Stupifies
behind him. Severus decided to narrow down his repertoire of spells to those th
at would score as strong hits and the necessary defensive spells. Potter might r
each the end of the course first, but winning depended on the hits recorded by t
he badge. He fired off a rapid series of stunners and slicers, one after the oth
er, battering the shield Harry projected behind him. In response, Harry dove beh
ind the trees where Malfoy had been injured and fired off alternating flame and
ice hexes. Snape cast a shield and he could feel it bending under the power of t
he hexes.
'This should not be happening,' thought Severus. 'The badges should be dampening
the power of the spells and Potter is going to break through my shields.' Sever
us cast another shield just in time to protect him as the previous one fell. The
two men were now pinned down as each cast powerful offensive spells one after t
he other. Both had shields in place, but Severus could feel alternating waves of
cold and heat pummeling him through the shield. He cast a third shield as he fe
lt the second crumble.
Above him, he heard the whistle blow, bringing the duel to a halt. Both men rose
as Bill Weasley landed the broom between them. With their focus so intent on ea
ch other, they had not heard the shouts of the crowd up in the stand.
"Something has to be wrong with your badges," shouted Bill. "Potter's spells are
n't being dampened."
"No wonder I could feel the heat and cold coming through my shielding spells," c
alled Snape. "Take off your badge, Potter."
Potter complied, walking forward to join the other two. Professor Snape held bot
h badges and compared them.
"Look at the signs of burning around the edges of Potter's badge," observed Seve
rus, "I've never seen the like before."
"I've never heard of a dueling badge failing," commented Bill as he took the bad
ge from Professor Snape. He turned it over and examined the back. There were sig
ns of singeing there as well. "Where did the badges come from?"
"Standard Ollivander's," reported Severus.
"He makes the best," muttered Bill.
"Potter," asked Professor Snape, "Did you feel any heat or burning from the badg
e?"
"Yes, sir," answered Potter, "But I didn't know that was unusual. It started fee
ling hot when we were almost halfway through the course."
"I wonder," said Severus pensively. He had never heard of badge burning out, but
Potter had put a lot of energy through the badge and it had taken a beating wit
h the force of the spells Severus had cast. "We should take a new set of badges
and set these aside for further investigation, unless you wish to concede the du
el now, Mr. Potter?"
"No way, sir," retorted Harry. "I had you pinned down before the badge failed."
"As I recollect we had each other pinned down, Mr. Potter." Severus summoned two
fresh badges and examined them.
"These should be satisfactory." The professor handed a badge to Harry. "When we
are done with the duel, I would like you to return your badge to me so I can com
pare it with the damaged one."
"Of course, Professor," said Harry, pinning on the badge. The two exchanged wand
taps on their badges to activate the paired protection.
"As I recall, Potter was over by the trees and Professor Snape was opposite of y
ou by the pile of rocks," said Bill. "Would the two of you care to resume those
positions, though I think you could be standing, if that is agreeable?"
Both men recognized an advantage to not restarting the duel while lying on their
bellies and agreed to a standing start. Bill kicked off again and hovered over
the playing field. The whistle blew and the two men were off. Severus took the f
irst shot, aiming a Stupify at Harry. Harry countered the Stupify with a Protego
and added a leg-cramping spell for good measure. Severus shielded successfully
and shot a rapid growth spell at the bush directly ahead of Potter. Harry was lo
oking behind him to fire off the next spell instead of watching what was ahead o
f him, crashed into the bush and was knocked onto his back. A mad scramble and h
e was back onto his feet, but Professor Snape was only three or four lengths beh
ind him, wand extended for the next hex. Only a dozen yards away from the finish
line, Harry did the unexpected and dropped to the ground. He rolled back toward
s Severus, who had to leap over him or fall. Still on the ground, Harry aimed an
d fired off a body bind, which barely missed the professor's back when Severus t
ucked himself down and in and landed in a roll. Years of practice with Lucius Ma
lfoy paid off as Severus came gracefully out of the roll with his wand arm exten
ded, firing off a Stupify before Harry was completely back on his feet. It regis
tered on the dueling badge as a major hit. Had this duel been the real thing, it
would have been over. Instead, Harry got to his feet and fired back with a fest
ering boils hex, an uncontrolled sneezing hex, a blue polka dot skin hex, and th
e ever-popular prehensile tail growing hex, each of which was countered by Profe
ssor Snape before Potter finished mouthing the words.
There was shouting, cheering, and laughter from the stands.
Harry Potter was grinning as he dropped his wand arm and walked over to Professo
r Snape, who was still on one knee on the ground with his wand carefully pointed
at Potter's head.
"I think you won, sir," said Harry. He held out his hand to Professor Snape.
Severus dropped his wand arm and took Harry's hand and allowed the younger man t
o pull him up.
"Good feint, Potter," replied the Professor, his eyes narrowed. "You surprised m
e when you rolled back at me."
"That was a pretty athletic roll you did when you nailed me with that Stupify. I
didn't expect that from a schoolteacher," smirked Harry.
"You would be surprised what this schoolteacher is capable of, Mr. Potter."
Harry's face turned serious.
"You're probably right about that, Professor," said Harry.
Professor Vector joined the group as Bill Weasley landed with the broom.
"Good dueling, Harry," said Bill. "You gave the Professor a pretty decent workou
t for someone without formal training in dueling."
"I have had few opportunities to see classical wizards' dueling, but it was inte
resting to watch," said Vector. "It is far more athletic than I ever realized."
"This obstacle course is just a beginner's level," replied Severus, "Advanced du
eling takes place in the natural setting and no badges are permitted. Of course,
Unforgiveables are not allowed, but virtually everything else is."
Harry gave a low whistle. "I take it there are a lot of injuries in advanced due
ling?"
"A Mediwizard is usually standing by in advanced dueling contests," remarked Bil
l.
"I have the point totals for you," said Vector, producing a parchment with lists
of names in pairs and points."
"Thank you," replied Severus, accepting the parchment. "Bill, perhaps you could
dismiss the students after a few remarks?"
Bill grinned. "Why not? I've enjoyed playing professor today." He moved towards
the center of the course.
"Sounds like you have him primed for the Headmaster, Severus," smiled Vector.
Harry looked surprised and pleased. "You mean the Headmaster is going to ask Bil
l Weasley to take over the DADA position?"
"Quiet, Potter," said Severus.
Bill cast a Sonorous so he could be heard through the stadium.
"I want to compliment everyone on the energy and effort you put into today's due
ling exercises," said Bill, his voice echoing around the Quidditch pitch. "For s
ome of you, this was your first experience with dueling and for others; it was a
chance to stretch your skills. I hope you will take what you've learned today a
nd the good examples you've seen and commit yourself to developing new skills. Y
ou will never know when you'll need them. Your final scores will be posted in th
e DADA classroom. Thank you all, class dismissed."
It usually took a Quidditch match to get the kind of roar of applause and cheers
heard from the students.
"I would say the students appreciated the activities of the day," observed Sever
us.
"Do you think we could do this again or get a dueling club going, sir?" asked Ha
rry.
"I will pass on your request to the Headmaster, Mr. Potter."
The crowd had worked its way out of the stands and onto the pitch. Harry nodded
to the two Professors and joined Ron and Ginny as they headed back to the castle
. Considerable backslapping was exchanged between the students.
No one was surprised that evening during dinner when Headmaster Dumbledore annou
nced that Bill Weasley would replace the unfortunate Professor DaVinci as the De
fense Against the Dark Arts Instructor.
Hermione, October 24, 1997
From: Roberta Wilspoon
Admissions Department
Avalon College
Administration Building
Chicago, Illinois
United States of America
To: Ms. Hermione Granger
Gryffindor Tower
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
Hogsmeade District
Scotland
Date: October 22, 1997
Dear Ms. Granger,
I received correspondence from Professor Minerva McGonagall of Hogwarts explaini
ng your situation and the need to cancel your visit to our campus this coming we
ekend. Please accept our most sincere condolences on your loss.
Be assured, we would be pleased to reschedule your visit for a later time. An in
-person visit to the campus is not a requirement for admission, if you find you
are unable to do so. We have received your application for admission, including
copies of your transcript. Our admissions committee will process this and we ant
icipate sending out notifications of tentative acceptances (pending graduation a
nd NEWTs scores) in February.
Again, we regret the circumstances that prevent you from visiting us this weeken
d.
--------------
Hermione put the letter in a folder with her other correspondence from the colle
ge. At least this wasn't something she had to deal with right now. Hermione lean
ed back in the desk chair and sighed. Looking for something to make herself at l
east appear to be productive, she pulled out her Arithmancy textbook and made it
look like she was reading.
Lavender was gone, but Parvati was sitting on her bed, reading a novel. Harry an
d Ron were off at Quidditch practice, which was kind of a relief after having th
e two of them acting like virtual bodyguards since Sunday. They'd been a wonderf
ul support to her, especially at the funeral, but being someone who needed her t
ime alone, it had gotten a bit much.
The week was a blur. Sometimes, time seemed to crawl by with excruciating slowne
ss. At other times, things happened too fast for Hermione to process. Her emotio
ns were on a roller coaster. There were moments when she wanted to scream and ho
wl in pain. The worst of those was when Molly and Arthur went home with her to p
ick out clothes for her parents to be buried in. She'd dreaded the very thought
of setting foot in the house where her parents had been murdered. Using every re
laxation technique she'd ever heard of and every ounce of self-discipline she ha
d, Hermione managed to stay calm at first. She made it upstairs to her parents'
bedroom. All it took was opening the wardrobe door and seeing her mother's bathr
obe hanging on the hook where she always kept it to send her into hysterics. She
remembered clutching the robe, which still smelled like Mum's favorite lavender
body lotion, and sitting on her parents' bed with Molly wrapped around her. She
cried herself out on that one, taking a good half hour before she could get bac
k up and finish the tasks they'd come for. After that, there was the horrible tr
ip to the mortuary to select the caskets and to give the undertaker photos of he
r parents so he'd know how to make them look. Arthur stood with his arm around h
er shoulders as she listened to the undertaker wax eloquent on the features of d
ifferent styles of caskets and their linings. By the time Hermione had to sign t
he contract, her hands were shaking so badly she could barely hold the pen. At l
east they already owned graves in the cemetery near the church Dad had attended
since he was a boy so she didn't have to make any decisions about it. Her parent
s would be buried only a short walk away from her grandparents.
Then there were visits to the lawyer. Mr. Kinslow, the Headmaster's friend, was
very kind. He had already gotten a copy of the will and insurance papers and was
filing them on Hermione's behalf. With a little magical furnace tinkering by Re
mus, the police concluded that her parents had died of carbon monoxide poisoning
; there was no problem with getting their bodies released to the mortuary so the
funeral could be held.
Hermione remembered the funeral in a kind of haze. After the bad experience at t
he mortuary, she asked Madame Pomfrey for a calming draught to help her get thro
ugh it. Madame Pomfrey was concerned, but Hermione explained there would be a lo
t of people there between her family's friends, patients, and professional assoc
iates. Hermione just wanted to be able to keep her dignity and not break down in
front of them. She assured Madame Pomfrey that she was dealing with her feeling
s and was now crying on a fairly regular basis. Somehow that reassured Pomfrey,
so she gave Hermione the draught.
She would be eternally grateful to Ron, Harry, Ginny, Molly and Arthur. Now on a
first name basis with Ron's parents, they were truly a support to her through t
he funeral. The six of them arrived early. The caskets would be closed during th
e service, but family and close friends were to come beforehand to say goodbyes.
Ron and Harry had to hold her up when she saw her Mum and Dad lying there, look
ing so artificial, like sleeping mannequins. Hermione didn't know if it made it
better or worse that they really didn't look like themselves. It was easier not
seeing them during the funeral. With the caskets closed, she could just pretend
it wasn't them. Between that, the calming draught, and having one of the five of
them with her at all times, she was able to make it through. She listened to he
r parents' professional colleagues offering condolences and made the right respo
nses. Patients shared little stories and she was able to listen and thank them.
Her parents' friends gave her hugs and she retained her composure.
She listened to her parent's best friends offer eulogies and did her best to tur
n off the voice of guilt in her head. Her parents were in those boxes because th
eir daughter was a witch.
It's all my fault.
Dumbledore and McGonagall were there. They dressed like Muggles and somehow Dumb
ledore's hair and beard were shorter so he didn't look so much like Father Chris
tmas. Remus Lupin arrived, along with Nymphadora Tonks and Kingsley Shacklebolt.
It comforted Hermione to know they were there as a support to her, but she wond
ered if they were there to provide security, too. She couldn't imagine that Deat
h Eaters would show up at a Muggle funeral looking for trouble, but there were a
lot of other things she could never have imagined either that turned out to be
true.
She was exhausted when it was done. The Order members took her back to the Londo
n townhouse where they ate and talked. It was a relief to have that part of the
ordeal over. She remembered sitting on the sofa with Arthur on one side and Ron
on the other. The next thing she knew, Arthur was waking her up so they could go
back to Hogwarts. Emotionally and physically worn out, she'd fallen asleep on h
is shoulder. One more hug each from everyone who was there and Hermione, Harry,
Ron, Ginny, and Professor McGonagall portkeyed back to the school.
Hermione spent as much time as she could with Mary Ellen. The two girls had take
n a few meals in the Great Hall and Mary Ellen sat by Hermione's side whenever s
he was around. The second night after the murders, Mary Ellen asked if she could
sleep with Hermione. Hermione enlarged her bed to fit both of them. It was actu
ally comforting to have the little girl curled against her. Harry and Ron went b
ack to their room that night, making her promise that if she needed them she wou
ld send Lavender or Parvati to get them. The night of the funeral, Mary Ellen cl
imbed into bed with her in the middle of the night. Last night, Mary Ellen had s
lept in her own bed. Mary Ellen had not gone to her parents' and sister's funera
l and everyone was shielding her from the Muggle news. Somehow, the authorities
concluded that the family had been poisoned accidentally by exposure to lawn che
micals. More magically manipulated test results, Hermione assumed. She guessed t
hat four families from all over the U.K. dying on the same night of carbon monox
ide poisoning was too much to be believed.
She appreciated the help she got from Molly and Arthur, Remus, and Professor McG
onagall. They ran a lot of interference for her with the legal issues. Having Mr
. Kinslow handle the estate took a lot of pressure off of her. Molly and Arthur
offered to go back to the house with her and help her go through her parent's th
ings. Hermione was glad that she didn't have to do that alone. She admitted to h
erself if that were the case, the house would probably sit a few years before sh
e could bring herself to do it. Just the thought of returning to the house for o
ne last time made her want to curl up in her bed and hide. Molly and Arthur sugg
ested they go the weekend of Halloween.
The oddest thoughts kept going through her head. She kept thinking things like '
A week ago, Mum and Dad were alive.' Or she'd think of something she needed to t
ell them next time she saw them and had to make herself remember it wouldn't be
happening. She had some extra toothbrushes from her parent's dental practice. Th
is morning, she took one of them out of the wrapper and sat staring at it, runni
ng her fingers over their names imprinted into the plastic. She put it gently in
to a box she started that held odds and ends from her parents. There was a small
stack of notes from them, reminders about upcoming events, neighborhood news, a
nd reminders to floss. Hermione was grateful she hadn't gotten around to throwin
g them out. It wasn't that she wanted to look at them, it was too painful, but i
t comforted her to know she had them.
There were moments when it seemed the universe would never be right again, and o
thers when she could laugh and see humor in things around her. Then she'd start
to think how she would never see them again, and the gates of hell would open.
It's all my fault.
Hermione went back to classes today. She had Potions in the morning and History
of Magic in the afternoon. Being back felt weird and natural at the same time. H
er classmates treated her differently. It was obvious some of them were uncomfor
table around her, maybe not knowing what to say. Others were being sympathetic a
nd attentive. Hermione had always been a loner, except for Ron, Harry, Ginny, an
d a few others she was close to. All of the attention, hugs and pats were discon
certing. Worst of all, the other Muggleborn students whose families were not att
acked seemed to be avoiding her. Hermione wondered it if it was because she remi
nded them of the vulnerability of their own families.
It was a relief to get back to Potions class. They were working on an interestin
g chapter on antidotes for different classes of poisons. Professor Snape didn't
treat her any differently, other than his voice wasn't quite as sharp as usual w
hen he told her to get her hair out of the way. The really odd thing was Draco M
alfoy. When they went to the cabinet to get their supplies, Malfoy handed her th
e tin of chimera bone meal. When he did, Malfoy looked at her and she thought sh
e saw a fleeting expression of sympathy in his eyes. He didn't say anything to h
er. Harry asked her about it later and he didn't know what to make of it either.
He did say that if Malfoy said or did anything cruel, to let him know and he'd
take care of it. She didn't doubt Harry would. Ever since the dueling contest, H
ermione had the impression Harry was itching to take on Malfoy in a real duel. O
f course Harry and Ron had given her the full description of the contests. Hermi
one wished she could have seen Malfoy and Bill Weasley dueling and Harry and Pro
fessor Snape on that obstacle course. Harry said Professor Snape was brilliant.
Maybe some good might come out of all of the horror after all. Right now, all He
rmione wanted was for life to begin to seem a little bit normal again. She just
didn't see how it possibly could.
Severus, October 26, 1997
Narcissa Malfoy was one of the most exquisitely beautiful women to be found anyw
here. Of average height, she was beautifully curved and had impeccable taste in
clothes. She preferred robes that showed her cleavage to advantage, her narrow w
aist, and the swell of her hips. Her face was a perfect oval, with high cheekbon
es, a delicate nose, rosebud mouth, and deep blue eyes framed with perfect eyebr
ows. Her hair was a soft gold, swept up on the sides and held in place with sapp
hire clips, an exact match to the color of her gown. Narcissa sat to Lucius' rig
ht at the table in the informal dining room, looking the part of the perfect mat
e, perfect hostess.
Many years ago, Severus made the observation that Lucius Malfoy once looked into
a mirror, fell deeply in love, and then went out looking for that image in a wi
fe. He found it in Narcissa, who bore such a close resemblance to her second cou
sin Lucius that people often mistook them for brother and sister. The truth was
that theirs was an arranged marriage, not unusual among society Purebloods. None
theless, there was genuine love and partnership in their marriage.
Of course, it did not equate with faithfulness on the part of the male partner,
another common arrangement among wealthy Purebloods. Lucius was discrete, but he
enjoyed the fine art of seduction and had no intention of allowing his skills t
o deteriorate just because he was married. In their younger days, Lucius and Sev
erus had enjoyed the attentions of a few women who liked the dangerous type. Han
dsome, rich, and well spoken, Lucius would attract them first and then coax them
into a ménage a tois with his best friend. Those rather exotic and adventurous
women were usually drawn not just by the danger, but the contrast of Lucius' an
gelic beauty and Severus' midnight looks that reminded them of the darker places
. Those times were fairly short-lived. Once Lucius married and had to pay more a
ttention to his reputation as he built political influence to be used in the ser
vice of Voldemort, he became far more discreet in his sexual escapades.
Stories and rumors circulated for years that Death Eaters regularly participated
in orgies. This was patently untrue. First of all, there were only a few female
Death Eaters to go around which would have left most of the men standing withou
t much to do other than watch and wank. Secondly, when those women were like Bel
latrix Lestrange, a smart man did not let his sensitive bits get anywhere near a
ny of her three usable orifices. One was known to have teeth and Severus was not
willing to bet she did not have some sharp objects hidden in the other two.
There were times when rapes took place, but those were during special celebratio
ns hosted by Voldemort or opportunities seized during raids. The gang rapes were
always of Muggles and never of Muggles from the country where the celebration t
ook place. The women were kidnapped from other countries and brought in for the
event. One missing Muggle from Germany, another from Sweden, a third from Spain,
and so on were unlikely to attract the kind of attention five or six missing wo
men from a single country could.
In the stupidity of his youth and much to his regret, Severus participated in on
e of the gang rapes. There was considerable peer pressure to do so at the time.
The Dark Lord was watching and suggested that as a loyal Death Eater, he should
sample this particularly erotic treat. As a "suggestion" from the Dark Lord, Sev
erus had no choice and took his turn. The woman was Spanish with dark hair and e
yes, crying and pleading to him in a language he did not understand. The writhin
g and screams of the unwilling woman beneath him were revolting. He was very muc
h aware of how many other Death Eaters had the woman before him and just how muc
h semen he was wallowing in at the time. His erection failed and he received con
siderable harassment from the other Death Eaters for it.
The only good part of the experience was Voldemort's assumption that Severus had
problems with performance anxiety in public settings and did not insist again.
Severus allowed the other Death Eaters to conclude he had problems with impotenc
e. During a few raids when he was offered first choice of victims, he alluded to
lacking a potion he required for full enjoyment of the experience. Over time, S
everus was designated as sexually incapable and left alone while others reveled
in the experience. Only Lucius thought differently, having witnessed his friend
suitably engaged during their threesomes. Severus appreciated that Lucius kept t
hat bit of information to himself.
The one Muggle rape equated with months of nightmares and self-loathing. It was
just one of the many factors that drove him to Dumbledore and his double life, o
ne of the factors that led to Severus leading a celibate life for years at a tim
e.
As he looked at Narcissa and Lucius, he felt a moment of genuine envy. Not of th
eir beauty, social connections, or obvious affluence. It was the intimacy betwee
n them. The little touches they shared, meaningful looks, and the shorthand of c
ommunication between two people who had loved and lived with each other for twen
ty years. Part of him longed to have that kind of connection with a woman, but t
he other part of him screamed it was utterly impossible. The kind of woman he wa
nted would never be attracted to him. Even if the impossible happened, he had no
reason to believe he could be successful in making the relationship work. One n
ight with Kelly was fun. It was all play and no commitment, no work on his part,
no chance for him to destroy it with cruel words and a fist to the face.
My father with his hand on mother's throat.
Severus shook himself. There was no point in going down that path where the scen
es replayed in his head. His reverie was interrupted by a question.
"Severus, do you think Draco would fit in at this American school?" asked Narcis
sa.
Severus swiftly took his thoughts in a different direction.
"He will be challenged by it. The wizarding world in the United States is very d
ifferent than here in Britain." Severus lifted his hand and waved at the elegant
furnishings of the Malfoy dining room. "In very many ways, he has lived a pampe
red and sheltered life. It is different there. He will be dealing with wizards w
ho care nothing about Draco being a Malfoy. He will be his own man there and wil
l have to learn the skills to make his own way. I spent a good part of the day w
ith one of the Charms faculty members. I was impressed with him. They have much
to offer to Draco."
"I believe Narcissa would be interested in hearing what the Dark Lord says about
this plan," interjected Lucius.
"The Dark Lord will send him there without the Dark Mark. He views it as a disad
vantage for blending in. What Draco learns about American culture will be useful
in his very long-term plans for world conquest." Severus' voice was urgent. "Dr
aco could be there for at least four years. There is even the possibility that A
valon will expand the Charms program into six years."
Narcissa leaned back, a surprised and relieved look on her face. She looked mean
ingfully at her husband. "Then it is our duty to support this?"
"It is indeed."
Narcissa rose and stepped around the table to stand beside Severus. He looked up
and smiled affectionately.
"Severus, I am more grateful to you than I shall ever be able to express," said
Narcissa. "To have gained this special arrangement for Draco, for as long as it
can lastâ ¦." She leaned down and kissed Severus' cheek. She moved behind her husb
and and placed her hands on his shoulders, leaning down and resting her cheek ag
ainst his. Lucius reached up and placed his hand over hers.
"I have already discussed this with Draco and he will give his full cooperation
to the plan," said Lucius. "Now that you tell us the Dark Lord has agreed, we wi
ll submit his application immediately."
Severus leaned back, swirling thebrandy in his glass. "I have given the faculty
a verbal recommendation for Draco. Once the application is mailed, I will send t
hem a written one. I believe Professor Flitwick can be prevailed upon to do the
same."
"Would it be of benefit to send a generous gift with the application?" asked Luc
ius.
"I do not believe so. However, once Draco is actually enrolled, I believe you wi
ll receive regular solicitations for donations," Severus laughed. "I met with Da
niel Schuler, the school's chief financial patron. He will not hesitate for a mo
ment to ask you to sponsor the Malfoy wing of the Charms Building someday."
"If this accomplishes what we want, I will not hesitate to give it," said Lucius
with a rather superior smirk.
"Be careful, Lucius," advised Severus. "Avalon spent over six million American d
ollars just on the potions laboratories. Who knows what they might have in mind
for Charms?"
"Will you speak to Draco tonight when you get back to Hogwarts?" asked Narcissa.
"I will."
"In that case, I believe I will leave you gentlemen to your cigars and brandy."
Lucius tipped his head up to meet her lips in a gentle kiss. Another one of thos
e meaningful looks passed between them. Narcissa walked gracefully over to Sever
us and held out her hand. Severus took it and kissed it gently. "You must grace
our table more often, Severus."
"The pleasure is always mine, Narcissa."
Narcissa departed with her elegant robes swishing around her. Malfoy followed hi
s wife with his eyes.
"She grows lovelier every year, Lucius."
"She does indeed my friend," smiled Lucius. "And I believe I shall reap the bene
fits of having a very happy wife tonight." Lucius refilled Severus' glass. "Woul
d you care for a cigar?"
"You have some I have not yet won?"
"Yes, a pitiful few left," answered Lucius. "Pudding, bring my humidor."
The elderly elf appeared with the humidor in his wizened hands. He bowed to Snap
e and offered him first choice. Severus made his selection and the elf offered t
he humidor to Lucius. The cigars were fondled, rolled, sniffed, and lit. Both me
n inhaled deeply, enjoying that first satisfying draw. Lucius dismissed the elf.
Severus exhaled first. "Lucius, do you remember when we both learned the basics
of Occlumency?"
"Of course. It gave me some of the worst headaches of my life," remembered Luciu
s with a wince.
"In the years since, I have learned some refinements to my technique. May I teac
h you what I have learned?" Severus looked intensely at Lucius.
Lucius leaned forward. "Yes, Severus. I do believe the time is right to learn so
me new skills."
The two friends spent the next hour as student and teacher.Hermione, November 8,
1997
Hermione tried to pretend life was returning to normal. At least she pretended f
or five minutes here, ten minutes there. The routine of classes, homework, and s
tudying did add a certain amount of sanity to her days. Her teachers treated her
no differently than they ever did, other than Professor McGonagall seeking her
out every few days for private conversation to see how she was faring emotionall
y. It was considerate of her and Hermione trusted Professor McGonagall, but some
how she couldn't bring herself to talk about the things that troubled her deeply
, the thoughts that haunted her in the middle of the night.
Mary Ellen continued to cling to Hermione like a security blanket. There were ti
mes when it was comforting. Looking after Mary Ellen kept Hermione from dwelling
on her own loss. Tina, Mary Ellen's sister had been sixteen years old and Hermi
one wondered if at some unconscious level, she reminded the girl of her lost sis
ter. The Whitcomb family's funeral had come and gone without Mary Ellen's presen
ce. Using Dumbledore's resources, an effort was being made to erase Mary Ellen f
rom the Muggle world. Connections were used and favors called in to revise legal
records. Memory charms were used with those most likely to recall the little gi
rl. Little by little, Mary Ellen Whitcomb was vanishing into the closed society
of the wizarding world. Professor McGonagall assured her that the Headmaster was
looking into families who were interested in adopting a child. Before long, arr
angements would be made for Mary Ellen to begin spending time with the most like
ly candidate.
On the other hand, providing emotional support to the child added to what felt l
ike never-ending demands on Hermione's energy and emotions. While classes provid
ed some sense of normality, dealing with the necessary aftermath of her parents'
death drained what resources Hermione had left. At an intellectual level, Hermi
one knew she had to go through the things at the house. At an emotional level, s
he would have preferred to be anywhere else. She didn't know whether to be grate
ful to Arthur and Molly for making her follow through or if she should resent th
em for it. If allowed, Hermione would have let the house sit for years before do
ing anything about it. But, with Arthur and Molly structuring this part of her l
ife, she was not allowed to ignore it.
The three of them decided to use a service to auction off most of the furniture
and many of the possessions. The service would organize all of it, once Hermione
and the Weasleys had gone through the house and removed the things Hermione wan
ted to keep. That was a chore they completed last weekend.
While the other students were busy preparing for the Halloween Dance to be held
that Friday evening, Hermione was getting ready to leave for the Burrow. Hermion
e spent much of her lunchtime reassuring Ron and Harry that she wanted them to h
ave fun at the dance with Lavender and Ginny. She didn't want them to feel the l
east bit guilty. If anything, Hermione was relieved to get away to the quiet of
the Weasley family home for Friday night and Saturday. She didn't want to be aro
und while her friends were partying and celebrating. The idea of having fun seem
ed completely inappropriate when her parents were dead. She did not confide to t
hem how much she was dreading returning to her own home.
Halloween night was spent with Molly and Arthur at the Burrow. It was a chance t
o talk about the status of the legal process. The lawyer filed the Granger's wil
l, so the estate could be settled. Death certificates had been filed with the in
surance company, so the money should be coming in soon. Mr. Kinslow was working
with the professional dental association to put the Granger's dental practice up
for sale. During the week, Hermione had taken the information she received from
Avalon College and put together a tentative budget for the next six years. Even
considering inheritance taxes, she would have enough money for the six years of
tuition, dormitory costs, fees, books, and other living expenses. She'd have to
be careful not to be extravagant, but she could make it comfortably and still h
ave nest egg to start her career with. Molly and Arthur offered their home for h
olidays and time between terms, which Hermione gratefully accepted.
The three apparated into the backyard of the Granger's home early Saturday morni
ng. The plan established the night before called for them to work systematically
through the house from top to bottom. Some of the furniture could be used at th
e Order's headquarters and be designated to go there. Her own bedroom furniture
would be moved into Percy's old room. Hermione offered Molly and Arthur anything
they would like to have. She knew Arthur was thinking about getting his hands o
n a few electrical appliances to tinker with. She thought Molly might like to ha
ve the sofa and chairs from the den. There were some things Hermione knew she wo
uld want to save, such as her mother's china cabinet, good china, and the silver
inherited from her grandparents. Those would go into long-term rented storage.
The painful chore of sorting through her parents' belongings sent her into an em
otional tailspin. It wasn't the large items that got to her; it was the small th
ings. Somehow it didn't seem right that her parents' possessions should have sur
vived them. Why couldn't her father's favorite jumper simply have disappeared of
f the coat tree in the front hallway when he died? How could her mother's cosmet
ics still be there in the drawer of the bathroom vanity? Her mother's purse sat
in the same spot on her dresser where she had set it down every day after work f
or thirty years. Hermione sat down on the bed and opened the handbag. Inside was
a comb, powder compact, tube of pink lipstick, a wallet, half finished roll of
sugar-free breath mints, tickets from a movie torn in half, and even a wad of us
ed tissues. Hermione felt tears on her cheeks and realized she could not bring h
erself to throw away those used tissues.
It's all my fault.
And then, there were the morbid thoughts. This house had been her home since the
day she was born. She had eighteen years of happy memories of birthday parties;
help with her homework, watching her father cook, raking the leaves, her parent
s cuddling on the sofa, and all the bits and pieces of daily life in a family. H
ermione had known genuine love and security in this house, now shattered by the
images in her head. She was acutely aware her father's body was found in the kit
chen and her mother's body in the living room. She didn't know exactly where in
the rooms, but her imagination went to work on it. Scenarios played in her head
of how those final minutes might have been. Which of them did they kill first? D
id the other know what was going on? Were they terrified when it happened? Altho
ugh it was rumored that Avada Kadavra didn't hurt, how could anyone really know?
At moments, her thoughts seemed bizarre. Did her father fall face forward or wa
s he lying on his back? Did any of the Death Eaters touch her mother in any way
before they killed her? Her own imagination was a source of torment.
She had all these questions to which she would never know the answers. Hermione
wasn't sure she really wanted to know. The worst part was the feeling of guilt.
Her parents died because they were Muggles who had the misfortune of having a ch
ild who turned out to be a witch. The Death Eaters came after them because their
daughter was a witch, a witch who wasn't even home at the time to try and defen
d her family. If Hermione had been a Muggle child, her parents would still be al
ive. If Hermione had been home, her parents might still be alive. If Hermione ha
dn't been so determined to be a success at Hogwarts, a Muggleborn overachiever s
howing up Purebloods, her parents might still be alive. Scenario after scenario
of what-ifs played through her mind. In all, her parents would still be alive ex
cept for something she did or failed to do.
Molly stayed with her as she went through her parent's bedroom. Going through th
e dressers felt like such an invasion of privacy. Things that were inappropriate
to sell or give to charity, Molly disposed of with a wave of her wand. Other th
ings, such as framed photos from the walls and albums Hermione wanted to keep wi
th her were reduced and put in a box to take back to the Burrow. The furniture w
ould be sold. Molly levitated the boxes stacked on the closet shelf onto the bed
for sorting. Most of these things were mementos of her parent's lives, to be pl
aced in storage. In one box were her maternal grandmother's journals; another he
ld her mother's wedding veil. A box contained photos from her father's military
service along with brass buttons, a nametag, and ribbons, which held significanc
e Hermione did not understand. These were the bits and pieces of her parent's li
ves. As an only child of only children, Hermione always knew this would be her r
esponsibility one day. She had hoped that day would be far off, but instead she
had to deal with it here and now.
These thoughts raced through her head at one level, while her hands sorted throu
gh her mother's jewelry box. Most of the costume jewelry would be sold. She woul
d keep the diamond pendant and earrings her father had given her mother for thei
r thirtieth wedding anniversary, along with the other gold, silver, and gemstone
pieces. In one drawer, she found a silver locket. Opening it, she saw a photo o
f herself as a baby on one side and a tiny lock of her hair on the other. She sa
t on the side of the bed, turning it over in her hand. She ran her thumb over th
e satiny surface. It was worn and the tiny closure was loose. Her mother must ha
ve worn it many times, an expression of love for the daughter born as a surprise
long after her parents had given up hope of ever having a child. Guilt and pain
swept through Hermione once again.
It's all my fault.
The day wore on. More possessions were reduced and put in the box. A few more th
ings were tagged to go to headquarters. Molly did want the sofa and chairs from
the den. Hermione offered her the coffee table and bookcase to go with it and Mo
lly accepted with a delighted smile and the two women shared a hug.
Hermione found Arthur in the kitchen carefully examining the electric can opener
. He held a can of corn, which he was trying to open by pushing it against the s
ide of the appliance. Hermione lifted the lever and showed him how it worked. Fi
ve minutes later, enough canned vegetables were opened to make quite a pot of so
up. Molly shook her head and vanished the whole mess. Arthur took the can opener
with him, along with the electric knife, a small television with a remote contr
ol, and a mixer.
There was no need to go through the garage. Everything in there, including her p
arents' cars would be sold. Her father's power tools and yard care equipment wer
e to be part of the auction. The cellar had always been too damp to use for stor
age, so there was nothing to go through down there.
By this time, Hermione was emotionally and physically drained. The Weasleys were
worn out. Fred and George volunteered to come and help Remus remove the designa
ted pieces of furniture to headquarters and the Burrow, so there was nothing lef
t to do. Hermione took a last look around, mentally bid her childhood farewell a
nd the three apparated away. She did not expect to return to the house where she
had grown up and where her parents had died.
Hermione returned to Hogwarts on Sunday. She was behind in her work and spent mo
st of the day in the library and writing essays due the beginning of the week. H
er eyes read the words on the pages before her. Her hand held the quill that mad
e scratches on the parchment. It felt like she was going through motions. Harry
and Ron came and got her from the library when it was time for lunch. If they ha
dn't she probably would have forgotten about eating, something she had done seve
ral times of late. She never seemed to be hungry anymore.
Hermione took her regular place at the Gryffindor table. Harry sat on one side a
nd Ron on the other. Lavender, now designated as Ron's new girlfriend, sat acros
s the table next to Ginny. Hermione's spoon went mechanically from the bowl of v
egetable soup in front of her to her mouth. Her friends were laughing and tellin
g stories about the Halloween dance. The band was good, Professor Snape caught N
athan Fleming from Hufflepuff trying to spike the punch, Fifth Year Kate Parker
flirted outrageously with Seamus, and Nearly Headless Nick and The Gray Lady tau
ght several of the students how to dance a quadrille. Hermione nodded where she
should, frowned when it was appropriate, and even laughed once or twice. She was
getting better and better at faking it.
Her mind wandered. She had a major project due in Arithmancy, which had to be fi
nished by Tuesday. Professor Snape expected an essay on Friday about identifying
poisons from the physical symptoms they caused. At least in Potions, Hermione d
idn't have to pretend interest in the material. For a few hours a week, standing
over a steaming cauldron, or pouring through references on different magical in
gredients and herbs, Hermione felt like a real person again. She could lose hers
elf in her work. At other times, she found it impossible to concentrate. The wor
st was during History of Magic. Even though it was an advanced class, Professor
Binns kept going over material covered in previous years. Her boredom led her mi
nd to wander and her mind kept wandering down darker and darker paths. Her first
reaction to the murders had been sadness, depression, and disbelief. As time pa
ssed and she had more time to think, she found herself becoming angry.
There was no further news on who killed her parents. This morning, Professor McG
onagall told her all the intelligence the Order had indicated Voldemort was oper
ating the Death Eaters differently than in the past. He was using teams in a mor
e secretive way so only the task force members involved knew what operations wer
e planned. He was not informing his inner circle about his plans until after the
event. This meant Professor Snape, in his role as a double agent, no longer had
advanced warning of raids. There was no possibility he could have prevented the
families from being killed.
Hermione knew all along there was no chance the Death Eaters would ever be caugh
t, let alone punished for their actions. She was not the only one who suffered f
or that knowledge. Matt McAllister left Hogwarts to go stay with his oldest sist
er, withdrawing from the wizarding world. She had seen him twice since the day t
hey sat in Dumbledore's office and learned of their families' murders. Both time
s, he was withdrawn, pale, and silent. Rumor had it he tried to take potions he
found in an unlocked cabinet in the hospital wing, attempting to kill himself.
An article from a Muggle newspaper describing Mrs. McAllister's murder found its
way around the school. The horror of what was done to Matt's mother fed her fea
r of what the Death Eaters might have done to hers if the order of the murders b
een different. Her continual exposure to Mary Ellen's pain added to her own. In
some of the darkest moments, her thoughts turned to fantasies of revenge. She st
opped herself after a few of those; they only resulted in frustration and more a
nger.
Harry and Ron talked about retribution, but after the first few days, Hermione t
alked them out of it. As she told them, if there was justice to be found it woul
d be the day of Voldemort's defeat. She did not want to risk losing anyone else
she loved and it would not bring her parents back.
She had nightmares now. Three or four nights a week, Hermione dreamt about looki
ng for her parents. She saw herself walking through the house, looking in every
room and calling for them. Sometimes she dreamt they were just ahead of her and
if she could run faster, she'd catch up with them. In other dreams, the house wa
s empty and all the furniture gone. Her parents had gone to live somewhere else
and forgot to tell her where they were going. In her dreams, she begged and plea
ded with God to let her find them, to please bring them back. In her dreams, no
one was listening and no one cared about her fear or pain. Those were nights whe
n she woke crying. The pillowcase was wet with tears when she woke, she had been
crying silently in her sleep.
Hermione had never been religious in the conventional church-going sense. Her pa
rents were Anglican and attended church on an irregular basis. Living in the wiz
arding world, she encountered a myriad of religious beliefs. Some of her friends
were agnostic, with no belief one way or the other. Others believed in multiple
deities or a single God. Many followed the Wiccan traditions, honoring nature a
nd worshipping the Goddess and God aspects of the creator.
Hermione believed in a power and a consciousness that created all things. In man
y ways, she thought of God like a benevolent grandfather who lived too far away
to come and visit but who had very good intentions. Instead of praying, Hermione
preferred to have conversations with Him, albeit rather one-sided. It felt more
like talking things over and sorting things out with a power who cared about th
e beings He created.
After the murders, the more she thought about her image of God, the less faith s
he had in the benevolence she relied on. In this time, prayer seemed a meaningle
ss exercise and a waste of words on someone who probably wasn't listening anyway
. Without the names and faces of the Death Eaters to attach blame to, Hermione f
ound herself blaming God. She felt like she had been sold a bill of goods during
those years of Sunday school. She found it hard to believe God had any interest
in her at all if he could allow this to happen.
Her doubts mounted, her anger built, and the nightmares continued. Surrounded by
friends, Hermione felt isolated and alone. In this, there was no one to talk to
, not even God was listening.
Severus, November 14, 1997
The expected summons arrived Friday in the late evening. Severus grabbed his Dea
th Eater Robes and made haste down the path to the Hogwarts' gates where he coul
d escape the anti-apparation wards. Pressing the Dark Mark on his arm, he vanish
ed into the night.
Severus looked around, recognizing the building off to the west. He had been sum
moned here once before and was surprised the Dark Lord had returned. Severus ant
icipated being summoned to some unknown location in Russia, where the Dark Lord
was rumored to have been since the end of October.
The manor house once belonged to Tom Riddle's father, the man who rejected Riddl
e's mother because she was a witch. When she died shortly after childbirth, Ridd
le was consigned to a Muggle orphanage, engendering the bitterness that ultimate
ly led to the rise of Lord Voldemort. Rumor among Death Eaters had it that short
ly after Pettigrew returned to the Dark Lord, the two settled into the empty man
or along with Nagini, the giant magical snake that was something in between a fa
miliar and a food source for Voldemort.
Treading up the overgrown path, Severus was greeted by the familiar site of Pete
r Pettigrew, his silver hand reflecting the light from the moon.
"I understand you had quite the duel with Potter," said Pettigrew, the squeaky r
at-like voice irritating like nails on chalkboard.
"Yes, Pettigrew. I look forward to discussing it with the Dark Lord." Severus ma
de it quite clear he did not intend to discuss it with Pettigrew.
Severus despised Peter Pettigrew from the first time he met him. Back when they
both attended Hogwarts as students, Pettigrew was one of James Potter's hangers-
on. Not particularly intelligent or magically powerful, a sycophant's personalit
y, and genuinely ugly, Pettigrew latched onto the Marauders out of self-preserva
tion. Potter, Black, and Lupin adopted Pettigrew out of a certain sense of pity.
Pettigrew ultimately paid them back for their kindness by betraying his role as
Secret Keeper for James and Lily Potter, turning them over to Voldemort for exe
cution and framing Black for the crime.
Severus Snape did not consider himself an attractive man by any means, but by co
mparison to Peter Pettigrew, Snape felt downright pretty. The years Pettigrew sp
ent hiding in his animagus form as Scabbers, the Weasley family's pet rat did no
thing to enhance his looks. Even in human form, Pettigrew retained rat-like feat
ures. His face was round with small beady eyes. His teeth protruded from his mou
th like a beaver's and his fingernails were misshapen, looking like thick claws.
Pettigrew twitched constantly, wiggling his nose as he continually sniffed the
air. He had only one natural hand, having sacrificed his other to help Lord Vold
emort reconstitute a physical body. The other hand was magical, bright silver an
d graceful in appearance. The fingers of his paw-like hand twitched nervously.
Pettigrew's close association with Voldemort seemed somehow fitting. Voldemort s
eemed to be morphing more and more into a snake-like image. Pettigrew was very m
uch a rat. Severus wondered if Pettigrew realized that snakes ate rats.
Following Pettigrew into the manor, Severus was led to a parlor. It was furnishe
d in the manner Voldemort seemed to prefer, in imitation throne room. One chair,
usually a very large comfortable wingback was situated like a throne. Other far
less comfortable wood chairs were stationed nearby. There was always room in fr
ont of the throne for a kneeling supplicant. Voldemort was not in the parlor, so
Severus stationed himself near the fireplace to await his arrival. A swish of r
obes could be heard in the hallway and Voldemort made his entrance. As soon as V
oldemort swept into the room, Severus bowed and stayed in that position until Vo
ldemort was seated.
"Come forward, Severus," invited Voldemort.
Severus stepped forward and dropped to one knee. Voldemort held out his hand wit
h the skull and snake ring. Severus leaned forward and kissed the ring as expect
ed.
"Rise, Severus. Be seated." Voldemort waved towards the nearest chair.
Snape took the chair and sat.
"According to the message you sent through Pettigrew, you engaged in a duel with
Potter in front of the senior students at Hogwarts."
"I did, my Lord. May I elaborate?"
Voldemort inclined his head.
"It was the Monday following the Muggleborn family raids. Dumbledore and several
of the other staff were occupied with dealing with the mudbloods. Those of us w
ho were not involved split up the students among us and provided special classes
. I was given responsibility for the Sixth and Seventh Years. It seemed an oppor
tune moment to assess their skills in simulated battle."
"And the results?"
"Overall, dismal. We need have no concern Dumbledore has an army of students rea
dy to take on Death Eaters. I can say with some pride that Slytherin acquitted i
tself quite well. Crabbe and Goyle can be quite proud of their sons, as can Luci
us Malfoy. Blaise Zabini, Adrian Pucey, and a few other students demonstrated th
e kind of dueling skills which could serve you well, master."
"What of Dumbledore's favorite Gryffindors?"
"Potter is the only one we need be concerned about. Zabini was careful to lose t
o Ronald Weasley to keep him over confident." Severus paused. "You are aware tha
t Bill Weasley dueled with Draco Malfoy?"
"I was surprised you allowed it."
"Weasley was bragging about his membership in a dueling club in Cairo. I thought
it an opportunity to assess his skills, which are quite good. It is to Draco's
credit that he fared as well as he did, until he injured his knee. Weasley is po
werful, in excellent physical condition, and showed genuine skill in dueling. Dr
aco needs to learn strategy, but only age and practice can provide that. Potter
is a different case in point."
"What is your opinion of his capabilities?"
"He lacks technical skill and experience. Those were the only factors that allow
ed me to defeat him, given the dueling badges. We were half way through the cour
se when the raw power he was sending out overwhelmed the dueling badge, taking d
own the dampening spells. We stopped the duel to replace the badges. Were it not
for the dueling badges, the level of power he displayed would have defeated me.
"
"This is most disconcerting, Severus. I heard through Goyle that you defeated Po
tter. I was unaware of the incident with the dueling badge. For a dueling badge
to fail is most unusual."
"Most unusual indeed, my lord. Ollivander himself made these badges, so it is no
t an issue of the quality of the badge. I can attest to the fact that the badge
did fail. Potter was casting a series of freezing and flaming hexes at me and I
felt the effects more strongly with each casting until Weasley realized what was
happening and stopped the duel. Potter's badge was singed at the edges. Once th
e badge was replaced so the dampening affects were in place, we restarted the du
el. With less power, Potter's lack of finesse makes him vulnerable. With full po
wer, I believe you alone may have the power to defeat him, regardless of Potter'
s mediocre dueling skills."
Voldemort leaned back, pensive. His red eyes caught Severus' and the invasion be
gan. Knowing what the Dark Lord wanted, Severus allowed him to travel to the pla
ce in his mind where an edited version of the duel replayed for Voldemort to wit
ness. Completing that, the Dark Lord moved onto other memories. Severus, brewing
Blood Replenishing potion for the hospital wing. Dumbledore and McGonagall disc
ussing Potter's rebelliousness. The woman with curly brown hair and her wrists t
ied to the headboard wrapping her legs around him as Severus pounded into her. D
raco nodding assent as Severus explained the plans for his attendance at Avalon
College. After seeing what he wanted, Voldemort withdrew from Severus' mind.
"It is as you say, my son. The power is certainly there, but he lacks knowledge
of dueling strategy. At the point you pinned him down; he showed the impulsivene
ss I have seen in him before. You made him angry and he was losing control. The
same thing happened when Bellatrix taunted him in the Ministry of Magic. We must
keep that in mind and use it. He can be provoked into errors," Voldemort paused
, thoughtful, "Fatal errors."
The red eyes returned to Severus. "You enjoyed yourself with that woman in Chica
go, did you not?"
Severus looked away in apparent embarrassment.
"There is a potion I use on occasion that allows me to do so. As long as I have
all night to make use of it and no other responsibilities until the effects subs
ideâ ¦." Severus lifted his head and looked at the Dark Lord. "It cannot be used f
or just one single experience. It creates a compulsion and need to repeat the ac
t multiple times. I cannot use it to join my brothers in their occasional pleasu
res during raids."
"I know you prefer privacy for your encounters, Severus," said Voldemort, his re
d eyes glowing but his face expressionless. "You are a valued member of my inner
circle and I will not make you an evening's entertainment. If there should be a
Muggle woman you find of interest during a celebration, I will grant you privil
ege to take her elsewhere and enjoy her. You need only make your preference know
n."
Voldemort rose to his feet. Taking the cue, Severus stood.
"I congratulate you again on your ability to take advantage of situations as the
y present themselves. You gained useful intelligence on our enemies and proved y
our worth once again. Continue to monitor the situation at Hogwarts and keep me
informed." Voldemort held out his hand. Severus dropped to one knee and kissed t
he ring as expected.
"It is my honor to serve, master," replied Severus. At Voldemort's signal, Sever
us rose and backed out of the room with a final bow. He was pleased to see Petti
grew was nowhere in sight, allowing him to leave without further sniping at the
little wretch.
The November air was chill as Severus apparated back to Hogwarts. He pulled his
cloak tighter about his lean frame and took the path by Hagrid's hut. Looking at
the position of the moon, it looked to be after midnight. He was halfway to the
secret entrance to the dungeons through Astronomy Tower when he heard a woman's
voice screaming from high above him.
"We had a deal, you bloody bastard!"
Severus broke into a run.
Hermione, November 15, 1997
"We had a deal, you bloody bastard!" Hermione screamed at the moonlit sky. Her h
and shook as she waived a fist in the general direction of the moon. Her voice b
roke into sobs as she sank to the stone floor of Astronomy Tower.
It's all my fault.
She drew her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them, dropping he
r face onto her arms. Hermione rocked back and forth as sobs shook her frame. A
few minutes passed and the sobs quieted. The shaking ceased. Hermione lifted her
tear-stained face and wiped at it with her hand. She began to fish around in he
r jacket pocket where she found a handkerchief. She wiped her face and blew her
nose.
The distinctive creak of the Astronomy Tower door opening was followed by the so
unds of soft footsteps.
"Damn. I'm busted," she muttered. Hermione rested her chin on her knees and wait
ed to be apprehended. The footsteps stopped in front of her. A pair of black boo
ts peeked out from beneath a heavy black cloak and robes. Hermione looked up.
"Good evening, Professor Snape."
"Good evening, Miss Granger. May I inquire where your companion is?" Severus' fa
ce was shadowed as he stood with his back to the moon.
"My companion? I'm alone, sir."
"You were shouting at someone. I believe you referred to him as 'you bloody bast
ard'," replied Severus, looking around for the missing companion.
"Oh, him. That would be God, sir." Hermione shrugged her shoulders. "I'm not sur
e if He's here, but if He is, please feel free to give Him detention. May I sugg
est Mr. Filch, a toothbrush, and a lot of bedpans?"
"Ah. Well, in that case perhaps we could sit on the bench by the wall where it i
s warmer. You may explain to me exactly what it is you are doing up here." Sever
us stepped back as Hermione got to her feet. He walked over to the bench, where
he cast a warming charm. With a wave, he indicated she should sit down. Hermione
took a seat and the Professor sat down beside her.
"As you were saying, Miss Granger?" asked Severus.
"I came up here to have a few words with God. I thought there might be some shou
ting going on and I wanted to get outside the castle where I could yell at Him a
nd not be overheard."
"You were overheard anyway. I could hear you at half the distance from here to P
rofessor Hagrid's hut." Severus looked down at the young woman sitting beside hi
m. Her bushy hair was loose and hid most of her face from him. She raised her he
ad and her hair fell back, moonlight shining on delicate features.
Hermione turned to him and asked softly; "Professor Snape, have you ever made a
deal with God?"
"I do not believe so, Miss Granger."
"I did. Or at least I thought I did. It was after Fifth Year and all that mess a
t the Ministry of Magic. That whole year was horrible. Umbridge was running thin
gs; Harry kept going back and forth between being an emotional basket case and b
eing furious with everyone around him. Then when he got tricked by Voldemort..."
"Stop!" hissed Severus. "Do not say that name around someone who bears the Dark
Mark. It can trigger his awareness. Do you understand?"
Hermione looked up at him, surprised. "Is that why I've only ever heard you refe
r to him as the Dark Lord?"
"That phrase is safe to use. It does not trigger the Mark," emphasized Severus.
"I apologize, sir. I really didn't know. That's fascinating." Hermione shook her
head in amazement.
"I am pleased to have added to your education tonight, Miss Granger," replied Se
verus, his voice rich with sarcasm. "Please continue."
"Oh, right." Hermione looked back up at the moon. "Anyway the whole year was ter
rible and then we got manipulated into that battle at the Ministry. If it hadn't
been for you getting word to Dumbledore, we'd all be dead. I know you never had
much use for Sirius Black, but he loved Harry. His death, combined with all of
us getting hurt tore Harry to pieces. Everything that happened made me rethink e
verything I believed in or thought I knew. I realized I needed to do things very
differently." Hermione looked down at her hands, clasped on her lap.
"It changed everything. I understood a lot more about my relationship with Harry
and Ron and what they needed my role to be. They needed me to do a lot more lis
tening and a lot less talking. Then, maybe I could anticipate when one of them w
as likely to go off and do something impulsive. I could make them slow down and
help them think things , I needed to do it without it sounding like bossing. It
wasn't easy to learn to do it differently, but things have gone better since. Fu
ndamentally, they both need to be loved by someone who will love them no matter
what."
"To be honest, I still judge them. After all, someone has to decide when they're
about to be impulsive or stupid. But, I handle it differently. I ask them to ex
plain what they're thinking and how they came to the conclusions they did. Then
I offer alternatives. Usually, if I can get them to stop and listen, they'll mak
e a better decision."
Hermione looked back at Professor Snape. "That was the start of the deal with Go
d. I offered to make changes. I promised to do things differently, if He'd just
protect the people I love. I knew the smart thing for Harry, Ron, and everyone e
lse was for me to take a low profile and attract less attention for being a Mugg
leborn overachiever. So, I took myself out of the running for the Head Girl posi
tion. I'll own to having enough of an ego that I couldn't bring myself to give u
p being a Prefect."
Hermione met Snape's eyes. He was looking at her closely and she began to feel a
little intimidated. She straightened up and squared her shoulders.
"I decided to behave differently in class. I stopped trying to answer every ques
tion and waited until I was called on. I figured I could continue to put the wor
k into my homework, projects, and studying while attracting less attention in cl
ass. So I wouldn't attract attention from the children of Death Eaters or the De
ath Eater wannabes."
Snape looked down at her. "I noticed a difference in your behavior in class, as
did the other teachers. I believe it was a topic of discussion during a staff me
eting where the consensus was essentially that Miss Granger was growing up."
"Maybe growing up was a part of it," Hermione replied. "At the time, it was a co
nscious decision. I thought it would make things easier on Harry and Ron and kee
p my parents safer. I realized the bigger the target on my back, the bigger the
target on theirs. I was doing so many things to attract attention to myself. I w
as Harry's friend, a Muggleborn, aspiring Head Girl, and determined to get the b
est grades of anyone in the history of Hogwarts. I wanted to show I could do it,
even though I hadn't been born to any of it. But there were too many people who
thought of it as a Muggleborn showing up Purebloods."
"That's when I really understood the danger my parents were in without any means
of defense. It's one of the reasons I decided to go to Avalon College. It would
get me out of the limelight, which could only be safer for Mum and Dad."
Hermione's voice started to choke. "It didn't work very well, did it? They went
after them anyway."
"Miss Granger." Professor Snape's soft voice interrupted.
"You don't understand, sir. My parents gave up so much for me. Did you know my m
other was 41 when I was born? My father was 54? Among wizards, that's no big dea
l, but among Muggles it's very late to start having children. They'd tried to ha
ve a child for years and finally gave up. That's when I came along. There's prob
ably not a child anywhere who was wanted more desperately by two people than I w
as."
"Because of their ages when I was conceived, the doctor told them my mother shou
ld have tests to make sure I wasn't going to be born with Downs Syndrome or othe
r disability. Mum could have an abortion if I was going to be born 'defective'.
Mum and Dad would have no part of it. They wanted a healthy baby, but if God was
going to give them a child with a disability, they were fine with it. They coun
ted themselves lucky to have any child at all."
"Then things started happening when I was little, like the times things would br
eak when I got angry. They knew I was different. When my Hogwarts letter arrived
, it started making a lot more sense to them. I was different, but I was given s
omething extra, something special. They were thrilled for me. They encouraged me
every step of the way, even though it meant I was going to live in a world they
'd never really understand or be a part of. They approved of it because I wanted
it so badly."
Tears started to pour down Hermione's face.
"And what did it get them? It got them killed. All they did wrong was make the g
enetics come together in a way that produced a witch instead of a regular Muggle
child and they were murdered for it."
Hermione's shaking hands went to her mouth. "It's all my fault. Why wasn't I the
re? If I were there, at least they would have had a fighting chance. Why couldn'
t the Death Eaters have come a week later? We would have been at Avalon for pare
nts' weekend. We wouldn't have been home. They'd still be alive."
She choked on the words, the anger combined with pain and tears filling her voic
e. "He's supposed to see all, know all, and be so damn powerful. How much would
it have taken for God to rearrange things just a little so they didn't have to f
ucking die?"
Hermione's voice fell to a whisper, "The final part of the deal was if the Death
Eaters came, they were to come for me. For me, I'm the witch. Never for them."
Hermione buried her face in her hands, her shoulders shaking as she wept. She fe
lt a hand rest on her shoulder and she realized at some point she had allowed he
rself to lean into the body beside her. As the tears began to subside, she dropp
ed her hands from her face and opened her eyes. A hand held out a plain white ha
ndkerchief embroidered with a black 'S' in the corner. Hermione took it and wipe
d her face and hands.
"Thank you, sir. I'm sorry I cried on you," she whispered.
"The left side of my cloak is quite damp, but a drying charm should take care of
it," Severus answered gently. "I have never been a parent, Miss Granger, but I
have been dealing with them for quite some time. I know with absolute confidence
the last thoughts your parents had were something along the lines of 'Thank God
, Hermione's not here. Thank God she's safe'."
"Perhaps in those final moments, whatever deities there may be decided to answer
their prayers and not yours."
He paused for a moment, "As terrible as it is to be the survivor with all of the
guilt that goes with it, your parents would not want for one single instant to
have you be there and die with them. Because that is exactly what would have hap
pened. You could never have stood alone against the Death Eaters who attacked th
em. You simply would have died, too."
"In the last few years, I have dealt with parents on both sides of this issue. W
ith few exceptions, the feelings expressed by those parents have been a desire t
o keep their children out of this conflict. The parents would prefer to face wha
tever danger there is alone and not expose their children to a problem they cons
ider to be not of their making."
"What is more, Miss Granger, your parents were not targeted because of who and w
hat you are. They were targeted because of who and what they were. The five fami
lies who were attacked that night were parents of Muggleborns, but the parents w
ere all successful, prosperous, upstanding citizens. Nicola Andropoulus was a Th
ird Year of no particular skill, intelligence, or merit as a witch. Her parents
were targeted because her father was an attaché at the Greek Embassy. Stephen W
oodville will be an average wizard, at best. His family was targeted because his
mother was a barrister and his father a prominent businessman."
"Your parents were targeted not because of you, but because they were dentists,
professional people who were well respected in the community. The Dark Lord's me
ssage was to the parents, telling them not to send their children to Hogwarts be
cause it will get their families killed. His intent is to frighten Muggle parent
s into withdrawing their children."
Severus took a breath, "I deeply regret that I was not in a position to learn ab
out what was planned before the families were attacked. I was unable to prevent
any of it."
Hermione straightened up and wiped her eyes again. "Professor McGonagall told me
that Vol, erm, the Dark Lord kept his plans a secret from anyone except the mem
bers of the strike team. It's hardly your fault," replied Hermione, shaking her
head.
"Regardless. The night of the attacks, I was in Chicago visiting the campus." Pr
ofessor Snape shook his head when Hermione offered to return his handkerchief. "
I would say keep it, but it would be wiser to destroy it. A Gryffindor witch can
not be walking around with a handkerchief easily recognized as belonging to the
Head of House of Slytherin. If I take it back, the house elves will be gossiping
about why Professor Snape's handerchief was soaked with tears."
Hermione gave a watery chuckle, "I guess it would be suspicious, sir." Hermione
put the handkerchief in her pocket.
"You visited the campus? What did you think of it? Professor McGonagall passed w
ord to me that you approved of the Potions Program, but she didn't mention you'd
actually gone to the campus."
"It was impressive. I wish there had been something like it when I was your age.
After meeting with some of the faculty, seeing the facilities, learning about t
he international cadre of students, I am impressed. I believe the grand experime
nt has potential to be very successful. The concept of the wizarding college may
one day provide serious competition to the apprenticeship system."
"Do you agree with my decision to go?" asked Hermione.
"Yes. For the reasons you already mentioned and others. You will have an opportu
nity for a good education. The manner in which Muggle science is integrated into
the curriculum will give you an edge. When I took my apprenticeship and decided
to supplement it with Muggle science classes, it was a completely radical notio
n at the time. Knowledge is knowledge, wherever it comes from," replied Severus.
"I've submitted an application to the college," explained Hermione. "My parents
already put the money for my first year of college into my Gringott's account, s
o I can afford it. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley are helping me with settling the estate.
I'm selling the house and most of the furnishings. Between that, the insurance,
and selling my parents' dental practice I can afford the six years and then som
e if I'm not extravagant about buying books."
"I can assure you, purchasing books will be only one of the temptations you will
find in Chicago. It is quite cosmopolitan and the campus is right in the middle
of one of the most commercial areas in the city. It will be very different from
having the temptations of occasional Hogsmeade weekends and biannual trips to D
iagon Alley," snorted Severus, thinking back to his weekend in the city.
"I'm usually pretty sensible about things."
"Then I suggest you use your good sense. Sitting alone at the top of Astronomy T
ower at 1:00 in the morning is foolish. Consider if some of the Death Eater 'wan
nabes' discovered Harry Potter's best friend was here unattended. You would be v
ulnerable to all forms of mayhem. If you feel the need to shout at God again, I
recommend you use the Room of Requirement," suggested Professor Snape.
"No. I think I've gotten the need to yell out of my system, sir."
Severus looked at her gently, "Then what is the lesson you have learned from thi
s?"
"God doesn't make deals," said Hermione sadly as she looked back up at the moon,
"And outcomes are not negotiable."
"You cannot take responsibility for the actions of the Dark Lord and the Death E
aters," added Severus, "And if thoughts of revenge should come to mind, I will s
peak on your parents' behalf. They would not want you to seek revenge that would
cost you your own life. I guarantee that seeking revenge for them will get you
killed. Your parents would want you to live, to pursue your own future, and make
a life for yourself."
"Thank you Professor. You've helped me clarify some things in my head." Hermione
looked at Professor Snape, her expression serious. "When I leave, I'll be prett
y far away most of the time, but I plan on coming back regularly. We've still go
t a war going on, I'm a member of the Order, and my friends are in the middle of
all this. I realize I'm not a fighter the way they are. If I'm working towards
the equivalent of Potions' mastery and can be of assistance to you in developing
or brewing potions for the Order, I hope you'll allow me. At least I can contri
bute in that way."
Snape stood and looked down at Hermione. "I will consider your offer, Miss Grang
er. However, I believe you need to graduate first and you have classes starting
in about six hours. I will escort you back to Gryffindor Tower."
Hermione stood and followed Professor Snape towards the door. "What time should
I show up for detention for being outside after curfew?"
"Will I find you out past curfew again?"
"No, sir," replied Hermione thoughtfully, "I did risk making myself a target. I
won't do it again."
"In that case, a detention will not teach you anything you do not already know,"
stated Severus. "I will take you at your word. However, if I catch you again, I
will deduct House points and send you to Mr. Filch with your toothbrush in hand
."
Professor Snape opened the door and stood aside so Hermione could precede him. S
he looked up as she walked by him into the stairway.
"You have my word, Professor."
Severus followed Hermione down the stairs. "Then I believe the matter is resolve
d, Miss Granger."
Hermione, July 3, 1998
Hermione sat at the kitchen table in the Burrow, nursing a cup of tea and nibbli
ng on a piece of dry toast. The graduation party had run late last night and she
'd had too much to drink. She wasn't the only one -- Ron and Harry were still sl
eeping it off. At least she hadn't gotten nearly as pissed as the two of them, t
hough to be honest, it was mostly because if she'd had any more alcohol she woul
d have gotten sick. Ron, on the other hand, spent a portion of the evening prayi
ng to the porcelain gods, after which Bill and Charlie poured him into bed. The
last she'd heard from Harry, he was arm-in-arm with Fred and George singing the
Hogwarts school song, badly off-key.
At least she hadn't done anything too embarrassing, other than telling every mem
ber of the Weasley family how much she really, really loved them. There would pr
obably be some harassment over that one from her adopted brothers, especially Fr
ed and George, but fortunately, she didn't make nearly as good a target as Ron a
nd Harry. She could expect some mercy from Molly and Arthur, though Bill and Cha
rlie seemed to think she'd been pretty funny at the time.
Percy wasn't there, of course. His estrangement from the family was now virtuall
y complete. Arthur ran into him now and then at the Ministry where Percy worked
in the Department of Magical Imports. Ever since Arthur noticed Percy wore only
long-sleeved robes, even in midsummer, they'd had nothing to say to each other.
Hermione knew that Ron and his brothers shared a fear that one day they would co
me face-to-face with their own brother who was fighting for the wrong side.
Several Order members stopped by the party in the course of the evening. Tonks a
rrived early with a bottomless pitcher of a Muggle drink she called a Mudslide.
Hermione discovered she really liked Mudslides, tasty concoctions with the textu
re and flavor of a chocolate milkshake and a kick of something extra.
Remus arrived shortly after, along with two large bottles of Firewhiskey that he
shared liberally with Ron, Harry, and the Weasley men. The boys were being quit
e manly about the whole thing, drinking stuff that tasted to her like rubbing al
cohol mixed with road tar. Professor McGonagall and Headmaster Dumbledore even j
oined in the celebration for a while. Professor McGonagall had a few glasses of
firewhiskey, while Headmaster Dumbledore shared the pitcher of Mudslides with To
nks, Molly, Hermione, and Fred who decided he liked the sweeter drink. Ginny gru
mbled loudly at being restricted to butterbeer.
Hermione suspected it was Dumbledore who got Harry singing the Hogwarts song.
She didn't mind in the least when everyone raised their glasses and toasted her
for graduating at the head of her class.
Her stomach settling down, Hermione contemplated whether or not she could tolera
te a little of Molly's homemade strawberry jam on the toast. She decided to be d
aring and take the risk.
Hermione sighed as her mind traveled back through her time at Hogwarts. She and
her two best friends made it through the challenges of the Philosopher's Stone,
a confiscated Firebolt, staying awake during Binns' classes, OWLs, the Tri Wizar
ding Tournament, homework, puberty, a Deathday party, the Ministry of Magic, dem
entors, insults from Draco Malfoy, Fluffy, sneaking into the Restricted Section
of the library, Umbridge, brewing Polyjuice in a bathroom, dances, a basilisk, a
nd even surviving Potions.
At the beginning, the wizarding world was an utter mystery. It was like finding
the most wonderful birthday present, wrapped and waiting to be opened. Harry saw
it the same way and was just as eager as she was to explore every nook and cran
ny. Born into a large magical family, Ron was their guide through much of it at
the beginning. He took magic for granted and understood wizarding culture in a w
ay that only someone immersed in it since birth possibly could. Hermione liked t
o think she'd helped Ron to learn to appreciate the bits and pieces of the Muggl
e world she brought with her.
Their classroom experiences taught them about the magical world in a formal way,
but their illicit adventures revealed the darker side the teachers would have p
referred remain undiscovered. Yet, it was those painful and frightening experien
ces that solidified their friendship and forced their magic to evolve beyond the
formal lessons. The three of them could not be who and what they were now, if n
ot for those experiences. Still, it was hard to see their school days pass. She
would miss the moving staircases, the library, tea with Hagrid, and all the litt
le things that had become such an important part of her life.
The last two weeks of school were tense. As if Newts weren't bad enough, everyon
e expected Voldemort to launch some kind of attack against Harry. With a pattern
of attempts occurring at the end of the school year, the Headmaster persuaded M
adame Bones to post Aurors at the school. The Leaving Ceremony saw red Auror uni
forms liberally interspersed with the dress robes of graduates, families, and te
achers. Voldemort must have taken it seriously,because the Death Eaters stayed a
way.
A year ago, NEWTs and the Leaving Ceremony seemed so far away. Now, it was done
â history - and Hermione, Harry, and Ron were getting ready to move on to the next
phases in their lives.
Harry and Ron received their acceptance notices for the Aurory. They had three y
ears of training ahead as apprentice Aurors and were scheduled to report to the
Academy on July 20. Ron was going to live at the Burrow while Harry was going to
move into the Order's Headquarters with Remus. Hermione had a sneaking suspicio
n Ron planned to move into the Headquarters before too long, making it the offic
ial Order of the Phoenix bachelor pad.
She felt good about the arrangement. It would allow her three friends to spend t
ime together and look out for each other. The last survivor of his parents' clos
e friends, Remus was the next best thing to an uncle Harry had. Hermione knew he
would be a steadying influence for Ron and Harry. With Hermione heading off to
college, she wouldn't be around to keep them from doing those stupid and impulsi
ve things she'd talked to Professor Snape about. She was counting on Remus to ta
ke over that responsibility.
Hermione was scheduled to leave in a week to begin class at Avalon College. Her
acceptance letter arrived in February and she'd been preparing herself for the i
nevitable separation from her friends. After all, they were growing up and it me
ant they would go in separate directions to train for their chosen careers. Duri
ng Sixth Year, Harry and Ron tried to persuade her to apply to the Aurory with t
hem. It took a couple of heart-to-heart talks before they gave up on it. Hermion
e knew her strengths lay in research and strategy rather than fighting on the fr
ont lines. She believed she could contribute far more to the cause by developing
weapons than by wielding them.
On July 13, Hermione would begin her first class at Avalon College. It was an in
tensive six-week course on computers targeted at students who had little or no e
xperience with them. Hermione felt she was a little ahead of the game. Unlike ma
ny of the wizarding students who had never even flipped on a light switch, her M
uggle background gave her some exposure to computers. Her parents had one at the
ir dental office and Hermione had played around with it. At least she knew how t
o use a mouse, play Solitaire, and do some basics.
It was exciting and frightening to think of leaving. She was ready for a complet
ely new experience in her education. She hoped her classes would be difficult. H
ermione was ready to be challenged. The frightening part was the prospect of liv
ing in a foreign country.
She'd be alone there, starting over with making friends and learning her way aro
und. The last time she was in that situation was when she first came to Hogwarts
. Her initial efforts to make friends and fit in had been an absolute disaster.
It wasn't until Harry and Ron bonded with her over knocking out the troll in the
girls' bathroom that Hermione made any real friends at all. Hermione was reason
ably certain there weren't too many mountain trolls in downtown Chicago, so she
couldn't rely on one to facilitate friend making. She'd probably have to use her
own social skills and that idea didn't make her feel entirely secure.
Hermione knew how important it was to feel connected to other people. Her friend
ships with Harry and Ron were the foundation of her emotional life at Hogwarts.
She and Harry were both only children in the true sense of things, but between t
he three of them and the welcoming arms of Ron's family, they had found the sibl
ings and friends they lacked. Molly and Arthur seemed to have unlimited resource
s when it came to love.
They took to orphaned Harry right from the start. Hermione remembered how happy
Harry was after the short time he spent with the Weasleys before the start of Se
cond Year. They looked after him, took him shopping for school supplies, and tre
ated him just like one of their own brood. From everything he'd told her, Hermio
ne knew Harry sorely lacked that kind of acceptance growing up with the Dursleys
. Every year during the long lonely summers, Harry counted the days till he coul
d rejoin the Weasleys and be a part of their family.
Hermione's situation was different. She was close to her parents, but they were
much older than her peers' parents tended to be. When she left for Hogwarts, her
father was sixty-five and her mother was fifty-two. Her relationship with them
was far more sedate than that of the rambunctious Weasleys. In some ways, it was
like being raised by grandparents rather than parents.
Hermione had always felt secure in their love and unconditional acceptance. With
their loss, that foundation was gone. If the Weasleys hadn't stepped in, Hermio
ne knew she would have foundered much more than she did. Not only did they take
her step-by-step through the legalities and clearing up the estate, but envelope
d her with the same kind of welcoming love they'd given Harry. It had helped her
cope and gave her a sense that she still belonged somewhere.
Molly and Arthur even offered her a home. Hermione would live in the dorm during
term. Even if she took classes every summer, there would be holidays and time b
etween semesters when she couldn't live there. Her bedroom furniture from home f
it nicely in Percy's old room and gave her a sense of home. She promised herself
she would contribute to the household expenses whenever she stayed. If they wou
ldn't accept money, she'd at least bring home food and help with cooking and cle
aning.
The wizarding world held a different attitude towards the chastity of young wome
n than the Muggle world. If Remus, Harry, and Ron were living at the Order's hea
dquarters, Hermione couldn't. It would be an absolute scandal for a young woman
to live with three single men. Living with the Weasleys was the equivalent of li
ving with her parents. It had the added bonus of giving her more time with Ginny
, who felt alone now that she was the only Weasley student left at Hogwarts.
There was another reason to be happy about going to Avalon College, one Hermione
hadn't mentioned to anyone. It was a chance to meet men.
At Hogwarts, Hermione Granger was relegated to the status of spinster-in-the-mak
ing. She was Harry and Ron's best friend, always ready to help another student w
ith their homework, and occasionally good as an agony aunt, but to think of Herm
ione as first choice for a girlfriend, a date for the dance, or a potential love
r? Never.
Granted, there'd been the Yule Ball with Victor Krum during her Fourth Year. Tha
t was a complete surprise to the school when plain bookworm Hermione Granger man
aged to be the date of a Quidditch superstar. They'd corresponded for a while, b
ut there was no chance a relationship could work between an eighteen year old ma
le and a fifteen year old girl when the male had groupies offering lots and lots
of sex and the girl wasn't so inclined. Victor appreciated that she had a mind
and she enjoyed their non-Quidditch discussions, but Hermione wasn't the least b
it interested in becoming the flavor of the month.
Hermione and Ron had a bit of a flirtation for a while, but all it took was one
kiss with tongue included to convince them both it would never work. Hermione di
d not have a brother, but she was certain kissing Ron felt as wrong as if he wer
e one. From the perspective of two years later, Hermione knew they'd both called
that one right.
Every other date she had ever had was to the obligatory dances at Hogwarts. She
went with Neville once when neither of them had anyone else to go with. Seamus t
ook her another time right after he broke up with his steady girlfriend. Todd Br
imley from Ravenclaw took her once and then left the party with Parvati when it
became obvious how well they suited each other. Hermione was the spare date, the
fill-in, and the reasonably nice girl who could be counted on to help out in a
pinch.
Everyone in school knew if they tried to put the moves on Hermione, they'd be an
swering to Harry and Ron. She knew the two of them felt there wasn't anyone good
enough for her. With those two guarding her virtue, she might as well take the
veil.
That was the total of Hermione Granger's romantic experience. She'd like to thin
k she hadn't topped out during her Fourth Year, but the well had pretty much run
dry after that. Hermione knew she scared the hell out of most boys. She couldn'
t think of a single boy at Hogwarts who was as smart as she was. Add the persona
l intimidation factor to the Harry and Ron factor and you have a lot of dateless
Saturday nights.
America was called The Land of Opportunity and Hermione intended to take full ad
vantage of it. Avalon College would have over a thousand students this fall with
a high probability half of them would be male. If she discounted the ones who w
ere gay, generously estimating ten percent, that left about four hundred and fif
ty heterosexual males. If half of them were committed to girlfriends already, th
at left two hundred and twenty-five available men. If she restricted herself to
considering only those who were well above average intelligence, were reasonably
ambitious, and magically capable, there had to be a pool of males who would be
interesting to Hermione Granger.
She was tempted to run the Arithmancy on it and determine exactly how many likel
y candidates there were.
She had no intention of going boy crazy like she'd seen Lavender, Parvati, and s
everal of her female classmates do. That sort of behavior seemed absurd and ridi
culously immature, but it would be nice to have a date on a Saturday night. If i
t were the right guy, it would certainly be nice to be touched for a change.
Sharing a room with other girls at Hogwarts had been both educational and inhibi
ting. She knew 'things' went on, but had too much pride to engage in that kind o
f behavior when other women were around. This left her with the bathtub as the o
nly place she could explore her own body. She listened to the conversations that
Lavender and Parvati had about how they fingered themselves into orgasm and she
read what little was available in Hogwarts library, but it left her woefully un
educated in the area of self-gratification. She used her own hand, but couldn't
quite get it right and ended up leaving herself frustrated every time she tried.
She understood there were devices available in both the wizarding and Muggle wo
rlds that could accomplish the task, but she didn't have access to either, not e
ven factoring in the privacy issue.
At Avalon, she would have a private room and share a bath with one other person.
While she couldn't imagine herself walking into an adult toy store, she knew th
ere were catalogs where such things could be purchased and shipped through the m
ail. She had every intention of locating one of those catalogs and getting herse
lf a nice vibrator. She didn't think she'd want to use it internally. After all,
there was something very romantic about the idea of being intact during her fir
st sexual encounter with someone she loved. But she knew it could be used extern
ally to achieve a climax and boy, was she ever ready for one of those. It would
be her graduation present to herself -- the gift that keeps on giving.
She already knew the fantasy she wanted to use. It had been building in her mind
for a while when she unsuccessfully tried to bring herself to orgasm. She could
never see his face, but she could see his hands. He had graceful probing hands
with long slender fingers. She could imagine being caressed and stroked everywhe
re with those hands, even invaded by those fingers. She tried to imagine his coc
k, but didn't have a good sense of what an erect one would really look and feel
like. She had a difficult time imagining how one could be hard enough to get ins
ide her, move in and out, and stay that way. It might be the kind of thing you c
ouldn't understand without actual experience. Meanwhile, she thought she could d
o just fine with imagining his fingers and how they would work. She just needed
some help to bring the fantasy to the proper conclusion.
Of course the best possibility would be to find The Right Wizard, the man she co
uld love and who would love her. She'd had little opportunity to find him as of
yet, but she believed she had the capacity to love someone. She imagined sharing
academic interests and studying together. Perhaps he'd enjoy science and potion
s as much as she did.
Maybe the best way to evaluate prospective Mr. Rights was to assess their person
al libraries. She couldn't imagine wanting someone who didn't own a lot of books
and at least eighty percent of them had to be non-fiction. Hermione smiled as s
he thought about running a personal ad. Single witch seeks long-term relationshi
p with intelligent wizard with long fingers and an excellent non-fiction library
. Now that would bring the relationship down to the fundamentals!
Meanwhile, she had a full week of vacation to spend with Harry, Ron and the Weas
leys. She could sleep late and have some fun. There wasn't much packing for her
to do. She had packed everything when she left Hogwarts and intended to live out
of her suitcase for the next week. She didn't plan to do much shopping before s
he got to Chicago, figuring she might as well buy new clothing in the city as to
fit in with the other students.
There were a few things she wanted to get in Diagon Alley. She needed some new r
obes for home visits. She wanted to get some things to fit her new adult status,
rather than the typical schoolgirl garb she'd always worn. Adult witches wore d
resses to their ankles and their hair up. Hermione thought she would look good l
ike that and intended to visit a hairdresser and Madame Malkin's.
Finishing her toast, Hermione poured another cup of tea. She heard someone stirr
ing upstairs and figured she'd have company before long. She felt a pinch at the
nape of her neck and reached up to pull a bit of her hair loose that was caught
in the clasp of the chain she wore. She slid her fingers along the fine chain d
own to the pendant that rested below the hollow of her throat. She pulled it out
and looked down to see the triple moon in silver and moonstone. Silver surround
ed a moonstone cabochon in the center of the pendent, flanked by slivers of the
waxing and waning moons on either side.
The silver chain and pendent were a graduation gift from Professor McGonagall an
d Headmaster Dumbledore. Minerva, as the Professor had asked to be addressed by
the newly designated adult, selected the pendent because it represented the Godd
ess. The three phases of the moon represented the three phases of a woman's life
: maiden, matron, and crone. Professor Dumbledore's gift was to charm it as a tw
o-way portkey. One password would transport Hermione by portkey to the Avalon Co
llege campus. A second password would bring Hermione to The Burrow. It was diffi
cult and complex magic to charm one object for two destinations. It was a very c
onsiderate and practical gift that would make her travel back and forth to Ameri
ca much easier.
The Goddess pendent was a very deliberate choice on Minerva's part. After that n
ight in November when Hermione had her confrontation with God, Hermione found he
rself increasingly drawn to the Goddess aspect of the Creator. She wasn't sure s
he believed God and Goddess were two separate entities, but she could easily per
ceive them as different halves of the Creator force. She talked to Minerva about
her crisis of faith and learned about her teacher's belief in Wicca. Minerva fo
und her own comfort in the Goddess and provided Hermione with books to read and
time to ask questions and discuss issues of faith.
Hermione was still rather angry with God and initially turned to the Goddess as
a rejection of Him. Over time, her relationship with the Goddess was less about
rejecting God and more about cherishing the nurturing aspects of nature. Hermion
e viewed the Goddess as supportive and gentle, cherishing all life as the mother
of all things. She identified with these qualities and in doing so, identified
with the Goddess. The conversations she had had with God before now took place w
ith the Goddess. Hermione felt she had reconnected with the sacred and treasured
the symbol her mentor had given her.
She set up a small meditation altar on her dresser as she'd seen some other stud
ents do. A tiny vase held one single fresh flower from the garden. She kept two
candles, one in red for wisdom and one in white for purity of purpose. Two quart
z crystals represented her parents. She often held them in her hands as she held
her conversations with the Goddess. She hadn't found an appropriate statue to r
epresent Her, but she intended to look for one in Diagon Alley or Chicago.
Her conversation with Professor Snape had helped her to cope better with the los
s of her parents. He was the last person she would have predicted able to help h
er. As she thought back to that chilly night on the top of Astronomy Tower, she
realized he had actually said very little, but she knew he listened intently as
she laid her soul bare and did not mock or taunt her for anything she said.
Professor Snape had spoken to her about how her parents would not have wanted he
r to be there the night the Death Eaters came. His words got through to her more
than anything anyone else's had throughout the whole ordeal. She remembered the
hand on her shoulder and how he allowed her to cry herself out. There was genui
ne and unexpected comfort there. After that night, the horrible nightmares that
plagued her had diminished for a while. The dreams tended to come back when she
was tired or stressed. The last two weeks of school had been dreadful and the ni
ghtmares had returned. She reached the point where she was functioning on three
or four hours of sleep a night. It was better since she returned to the Burrow.
Hermione knew the reason Professor Snape did not behave like a sarcastic bastard
towards her that night was because they were alone. If anyone else had been pre
sent, even Dumbledore, he would not have resisted playing the role, perhaps out
of years of habit. If she learned one thing about the professor from the night o
n Astronomy Tower and the evening when she first discussed Avalon College at the
Order's headquarters, it was that part of being the sarcastic bastard was an ac
t. Not that he was at risk of turning into a nice person, but he was not as nast
y as he portrayed in front of a classroom.
Professor Snape had complimented her talent for potions, even with the disclaime
r. He even visited the college to see if it could provide her with a good educat
ion in potions. A complete bastard wouldn't have done any of those things. The P
rofessor Snape who took House points because of a hair on the side of her cauldr
on was not the man who handed her his handkerchief when she wept.
She wondered if he knew she that she figured out what he was doing with House po
ints. The more House points he took from Gryffindor for some fabricated failing
on her part, the more he was complimenting her work. Within the next few days, P
rofessor McGonagall would award her, Harry, or Ron an equal number of points to
replace what he'd taken. Now that she was gone from Hogwarts, Hermione would mak
e a point of thanking the Professor sometime when she saw him.
She wasn't going to tell him she kept his handkerchief. It would probably annoy
him to think a silly little girl from Gryffindor found it comforting. It didn't
look the same. Hermione charmed the embroidered black "S" into white so it blend
ed in with the rest of the handkerchief. She carried it with her in her book bag
, taking it out and holding it when the feelings of loss got to her. She was gla
d she hadn't destroyed it as he had asked.
The noise she heard upstairs was now working its way downstairs. Hermione looked
over her teacup to see Charlie in his bathrobe, looking tousled and just a bit
hungover. She poured another cup of tea and held it out to him. Charlie worked h
is way over to the kitchen table and sat down, accepting the tea. He sat quietly
for a moment, warming his hands around the cup. He gave her a bleary look, lean
ed forward and said, "We really, really love you, too Hermione."
Hermione dropped her head in her hands and groaned.
Severus, July 4, 1998
Severus sat at the small table in his sitting room, nursing a cup of tea and nib
bling on a piece of dry toast. The graduation party ran late last night and he h
ad had too much to drink. He was not the only one -- Severus was certain Draco a
nd Lucius were still sleeping it off. There were moments when Severus especially
appreciated his own talents as a Potions Master. After stumbling out of bed thi
s morning, he had rummaged through a potions chest he kept on his dresser, pulle
d out a vial of hangover remedy and tossed it down. He had then selected another
vial, a potion to settle his stomach, and swallowed the contents. He could have
taken a sober-up potion last night, but why waste a really good buzz?
There is nothing in the world like an Old Ogden's Special Reserve buzz. One hund
red fifty-year-old firewhiskey aged in oak casks made from trees cut in the Forb
idden Forest and prepared with a recipe and charms more closely guarded by the O
gden family than the vaults in Gringott's Bank. If one could combine the finest
silk and velvet in a liquid form, that concoction was Special Reserve. It was sm
ooth and rich to the tongue, a warm burn sliding down the throat, and then a qui
et rush of magic and intoxication moving directly to the brain. Severus suspecte
d he was one of very few guests at the party to have the privilege of being serv
ed Special Reserve. Whenever his glass neared empty, Pudding showed up carrying
a crystal decanter to refill it.
Other guests commented about the extravagance of being served Old Ogden's Silver
Reserve, the fifty-year-old version of the drink he enjoyed. Leave it to the Ma
lfoys to serve nothing less than eighty-galleon a bottle firewhiskey to the mass
es. His own liquor cabinet held two bottles of Old Ogden's Bronze Reserve, aged
twenty-five years. An indulgence on a schoolteacher's salary, it was mellow enou
gh to be palatable and still offered the legendary Ogden's kick.
Severus guessed there were plenty of other graduation parties being held this we
ekend where Ogden's five-years-fermented version was served. Severus had not tou
ched that particular drink since he was in his early twenties. The closest he co
uld come to describing the taste was rubbing alcohol combined with road tar. Dri
nking five-year-old Ogdens was more a rite of passage into young manhood than an
ything else. The sole purpose of the drink was to get blind drunk and then survi
ve the hangover.
The Malfoys knew how to throw a society party. Lucius and Narcissa had pulled ou
t all the stops to give Draco a graduation party that would set the standard in
Pureblood circles for years to come. Guests included high society: old Pureblood
names with money, old Pureblood names without money, wealthy newcomers, the pol
itically important, and the Death Eater upper crust. Mulciber and Avery were pre
sent as sophisticated members of the inner circle, but not Crabbe and Goyle who
were considered too gauche to be worthy guests.
Of course, the Lestranges were not invited given their legal status as escaped c
onvicts. Bellatrix might be Narcissa's sister, but she was hardly acceptable to
society. Even if dear Bella was not persona non grata, she was too macabre since
her time in Azkaban to be anything but a wet blanket at a party. Two years ago,
Cornelius Fudge would have been present, but having lost his post as Minister o
f Magic, he had been kicked off the 'A' list. These days, Fudge could not get an
invitation to clean leaves from the gutters at Malfoy Manor.
The Manor was exquisitely decorated, as always. The party was held in the solari
um and spilled out into the garden, taking advantage of the warm weather. The fl
owers of the formal garden were in full bloom and Narcissa placed fairy lights i
n the trees. The enchanted fountain featured life-size figurines of three exquis
ite and barely dressed witches who danced a graceful ballet as water poured from
pitchers held in their hands.
Soft light combined with the scents of jasmine and roses. A string quartet playe
d in the background as guests mingled in conversation or clustered at tables art
fully scattered through the garden and the solarium. A buffet of expensive delic
acies was set up in the solarium and house elves moved among the guests carrying
trays of champagne flutes or finger foods.
The guests were as elegant as the setting. Wizards dressed in their most formal
robes walked arm-in-arm with witches in silk gowns. Diamonds competed with rubie
s, sapphires, and emeralds for attention at the necks, wrists, and fingers of th
e ladies. The Beautiful People were even more beautiful tonight for the use of c
osmetic glamours and attraction charms. Dancing couples moved in carefully rehea
rsed movements, reflecting years of ballroom dancing classes in their youth.
The obligatory table of gifts sat at one end of the solarium. It was piled three
and four layers deep with brightly wrapped boxes, doubtlessly representing thou
sands of galleons of value. It was expected everyone would show the level of the
ir respect for the Malfoy family through the extravagance of their gift.
The guest of honor performed perfectly in his role as the newly designated adult
heir of the Malfoy line. Dressed in finely tailored robes in a soft summer gray
, Draco looked like the hero of a romantic novel. He moved confidently among the
guests, conversing comfortably with well wishers and sycophants, accepting cong
ratulations as was his due.
Lucius announced early in the evening that Draco was going to the United States
for advanced training in Charms. He portrayed the decision to take this unpreced
ented move as based in a desire to expand the Malfoy circle of influence and inv
estments into new territory. The news was received with mixed reactions. Many co
ngratulated the Malfoys on taking a bold move and urged Draco to do well in his
new venture. Others reacted as if Lucius and Narcissa were sending their only ch
ild off to live with cannibals.
Severus watched the reactions around him with amusement. The guests had no idea
that there were layers and layers of strategies built into the decision to send
Draco to Avalon College -- and another decision, which no one present knew, to s
end a young woman there as well. The Malfoys did not know Hermione Granger would
arrive in the dormitory the same weekend as Draco. Both were to start the compu
ter training program on July 13. Severus made the decision not to tell them, kno
wing it would fit well into his strategies.
Severus intended to use Granger's presence to Draco's advantage. That it would a
lso benefit the Order was a happy coincidence. He was confident the woman, as ki
nd-hearted as she was, could be manipulated into doing what Severus needed.
Severus Snape was capable of mingling in Pureblood society when he absolutely ne
eded to, but that did not mean he enjoyed it. Essentially a loner, he was uncomf
ortable in large social groups and did not enjoy gatherings where he knew relati
vely few people. Draco's graduation party met both these criterion. Early on, Se
verus stationed himself near the string quartet at the same table as Rose and Gu
y Parkinson, Pansy Parkinson's parents. He suspected they felt as out of place a
s he did. They were middle class shopkeepers of a very old Pureblood name. Sever
us Snape was a schoolteacher with a very old Pureblood name. Professors and shop
keeps were not exactly considered the movers and shakers of society, as it were.
Instead, they enjoyed the music and discussed the prospects of Slytherin having
a good year in Quidditch with Gryffindor's best players having graduated. Pansy
, along with Blaise Zabini, Adrian Pucey, Daphne Greengrass, and a few other new
ly graduated students stopped by and joined them in between sets of dancing. In
the gaps in conversation, the three adults put on a good front of being fascinat
ed by the string quartet. It gave Severus a chance to think.
He felt certain Granger could be talked into it. Genuine kindness ran deep in th
e girl. She certainly showed that to be the case with Mary Ellen Whitcomb. The c
hild virtually attached herself to Granger after they both lost their families.
Granger looked after her, in spite of her own emotional devastation, though the
situation improved after friends of Dumbledore adopted the Whitcomb girl. She ha
d gone to a middle-aged couple who found their empty nest too empty after their
children grew up. He understood that the girl was settling in and doing reasonab
ly well.
Severus was more impressed with Hermione Granger than he ever expected to be. Sh
e had grown up instantly that night in October. She handled her loss with a surp
rising amount of dignity. The night they had talked on Astronomy Tower had not c
hanged his opinion of that. He was surprised the Gryffindor opened up to him as
she did. Professor Snape was not the kind of person one shared confidences with.
He surprised himself by his own response to her. He could hear the potential fo
r her to turn bitter over her loss of her parents combined with a loss of faith
in God. As one who was bitter about many things, he did not like to think of her
ending up the same way. Perhaps that is why he found words that seemed to help
her, remembering what that kind of loss was like.
"Keep it up and you will get a reputation. The next step will surely be writing
an advice column in the Daily Prophet," Severus snorted to himself.
Overall, Severus's own machinations on behalf of the Order were progressing well
. Lucius' capabilities as an Occlumens had grown. Draco started his lessons a fe
w weeks ago. Over time, their abilities to block the Dark Lord from seeing selec
ted memories would allow him to take the final step with the two of them, a crit
ical step in undermining the Dark Lord. He would discuss it with Dumbledore soon
.
Severus realized the party was winding down. The music stopped and elves were co
llecting empty glasses from the tables. Bidding a good evening to the Parkinsons
, he rose and sought out his hosts who were sitting in the solarium. Lucius wave
d him over and offered him a seat. He signaled Pudding, who was instructed to br
ing the good professor a glass of refreshment. Narcissa took a plate of cold shr
imp and set it before Severus, knowing how he favored it with horseradish sauce.
Severus decided to indulge himself. As they spoke, he accumulated quite a pile
empty of jumbo shrimp tails.
"Draco is looking forward to leaving for Chicago next weekend," remarked Narciss
a. Whatever these 'computers' are, he seems intrigued by them. He insists he wil
l certainly have to buy one to keep at the campus."
"When I visited, every classroom had one of the devices. The library had dozens
and a room they called the computer lab must have had forty or fifty of the thin
gs. They may be a Muggle device, but apparently American wizards are quite taken
with them," answered Severus.
"If it will give Draco an advantage, he must certainly have one," said Lucius. "
When the Dark Lord and I discussed it, I made the point that to understand Ameri
can wizards, Draco would have to live like one, even if it meant doing things an
d using things we would disapprove of. He agreed we would have to trust that Dra
co was raised with an understanding of the natural superiority of our own ways.
The Dark Lord agreed, but Draco will need to be very careful and very discrete."
"Well," sighed Narcissa, "This morning, Draco had his nose buried in a book call
ed Personal Computers for Dummies. He's spoken of nothing else since. He says he
has to have access to this thing that allows computers to communicate with each
other. I really do not understand what he is talking about."
"The instructors I spoke to called it the Internet," replied Severus. "I am unce
rtain of the appeal, but it seems to be popular. It would not be a bad idea for
Draco to experiment with it."
"I suppose we must be prepared to tolerate radical ideas from our son," said Luc
ius smiling affectionately at Narcissa.
"As long as he is careful," she replied. Narcissa reached over and took her husb
and's hand.
The topic of conversation strolled into the solarium. Draco smiled as he saw his
former Head of House sitting with his parents. Swiping a flute of champagne off
a tray, he joined them.
"Professor, I am glad you were able to join us tonight." Draco eyed the now empt
y plate of shrimp and pile of empty shrimp tails. "May I get you more of those?"
"No thank you, Draco," laughed Severus, "I have overindulged as it is. And I bel
ieve it is now appropriate for you to address me as Severus."
"I am honored, sir. Addressing you in a way that would have resulted in losing H
ouse points might take some getting used to," teased Draco.
"You know I rarely take points from my own house, so you need not be concerned."
"Will I see you this week, Severus?" inquired Draco, his voice studiously casual
.
"Severus is joining us for dinner Tuesday evening," interrupted his mother.
"I look forward to seeing you then. If you will excuse me, I will see the rest o
f our guests off." Draco rose and gave a respectful bow to the Professor and his
parents.
"Good night, Draco," said Severus, "Congratulations on graduating with high hono
rs."
"Thank you, sir. I will bid you goodnight," nodded Draco. Taking his champagne,
Draco strode down the solarium towards the hallway that would take him to the fr
ont door of Malfoy Manor.
"You can be proud of him," remarked Severus, "He has matured a great deal in the
last year."
"I believe the realization that adult expectations were about to be visited upon
him had a great deal to do with it," observed Lucius.
"My compliments to both of you on an excellent party. I believe it is time for m
e to take my leave," said Severus, rising.
Narcissa laughed, "Do not think we failed to notice you hiding out with the Park
insons. It was good of you to come. I know how you dislike crowds."
Lucius stood and offered Severus his hand, which Severus clasped.
"Until Tuesday evening, my friend," said Lucius.
"Until then," responded Severus. He released Lucius hand and bent over Narcissa'
s touching it with his lips. Within minutes, Severus was outside of the anti-app
arition wards, disappearing as he returned to Hogwarts gates.
Severus leaned back in his chair, returning to the present from his reverie. His
stomach was sufficiently settled and he addressed the rest of his breakfast: eg
gs, sausages, and apple juice. Everything had gone well with his plans. Tuesday
evening, he would continue his Occlumency lessons with Lucius and Draco. There w
as much both men would need to hide from the Dark Lord if Severus' plan was to m
ove forward.
Hermione, July 12, 1998
Arthur and Molly were sitting in the kitchen enjoying a last cup of tea before g
oing to bed. The nest was empty at the moment, since Ron and Ginny hadn't come h
ome yet. Harry was treating the both of them to a Weird Sisters concert in Dubli
n so they wouldn't be home until very late.
There were advantages to being young and unemployed. The children -- and Molly c
ouldn't think of them any other way -- didn't have to be up first thing in the m
orning, unlike Arthur who needed to be in bed. Molly looked over at the magical
grandfather clock to check the location of her brood. Bill was at Hogwarts, Char
lie was in Romania, George and Fred were in Diagon Alley at their shop, and the
clock hands for Ron, Ginny, and Harry showed they were having fun. The newest ha
nd, Hermione, showed she was at school.
As for Percy, his hand never moved anymore to show where he was, what he was doi
ng, or if he was safe. He had cut the magical connection at his end.
Arthur scooted closer to Molly and began to nuzzle her neck. After all, a vigoro
us man with a household full of young people needed to take advantage of an empt
y house whenever he could. Molly, never one to miss an opportunity herself, star
ted making little moaning noises when they heard the chiming sound the clock alw
ays made when one of the children apparated or portkeyed to the Burrow. Their he
ads went up simultaneously to look at the clock. Hermione's hand had moved to "h
ome". Molly looked at Arthur with alarm. They got up and went to the kitchen doo
r, looking out into the yard where they saw Hermione running up the path. Arthur
opened the door and caught Hermione in a hug as she dashed up the stairs, her d
istress clearly on her face.
"Hermione, whatever is wrong?" he asked, concerned.
"You will not believe this," Hermione fumed, "You absolutely will not believe th
is. Draco Malfoy is at the college."
"Malfoy?" quizzed Molly, concerned. "Is he a student, too?"
"I was coming back to the dorm after visiting the library this afternoon and the
re he was walking down the hallway. He's living in the same dorm I'm in. We're o
n the same floor and his room is five doors down on the opposite side of the hal
lway from me. What the hell am I supposed to do?" Hermione was clearly in a pani
c. "I'm going to school in America at least in part to get away from the Death E
aters and now I find I'm practically living right next to one!"
"Calm down, Hermione," soothed Arthur, "We'll floo Albus and find out what to do
." He released Hermione into Molly's arms and tossed the powder into the firepla
ce. "Headmaster's office, Hogwarts," he said. The flames turned green and Arthur
stuck his head into the fireplace. "Albus?" he inquired, "Its Arthur. Are you t
here?"
Headmaster Dumbledore's face appeared in the green flames.
"I am here, Arthur," answered Dumbledore. "Is something wrong?"
"We've got a situation with Hermione. She just portkeyed back from the college.
It seems Draco Malfoy is there, too. He's living in a dorm room just a few doors
down from her," said Arthur, "Needless to say, we're very concerned about her s
afety, Albus."
"Arthur, is Miss Granger there? May I speak to her?" requested Dumbledore.
"I'm here, Headmaster," replied Hermione.
"Miss Granger, are you all right? Did Mr. Malfoy approach you in any way?"
"I'm fine, sir. Just startled and scared. Malfoy didn't come near me. I came out
of the elevator on my floor and saw him walking down the hallway. He looked at
me and I know he saw me. He turned and went into a dorm room five doors down and
across the hall from mine."
"Arthur, Miss Granger, are you alone?" asked Dumbledore.
Arthur answered, "Molly is here with us. Everyone else is gone for the evening."
"Good. Then there is privacy. If you will give me a moment." Dumbledore's head d
isappeared for a moment and then reappeared. "I have Professor Snape here and I
would like to send him through to speak to the three of you, if I may?"
"Of course, Albus," answered Arthur, stepping back from the fireplace.
The green flames shot up as Professor Snape appeared in the fireplace. He steppe
d out, brushing soot out of his hair and off his clothes. He wore his usual laye
rs of black robes, even on a warm summer night.
"Good evening, Molly, Arthur, Miss Granger," Severus muttered, picking at a chun
k of soot stuck to his hair.
Molly gave a soft hmph. "Severus -- let me get that for you." Molly reached up a
nd caught the piece between her thumb and forefinger, pulling it out along with
a couple strands of hair.
"Molly," protested Severus with a grimace, "I appreciate the help, but I would l
ike to keep my hair attached to my head if you please." Severus straightened and
looked at Hermione. "You have seen Draco Malfoy, Miss Granger?"
"Yes, Professor. He has to be a student. His room is right down the hallway from
mine," she answered.
Molly interrupted. "Why don't we all sit down and I'll get some tea." She direct
ed everyone into the parlor. When everyone was seated, she bustled about with a
teapot and cups.
"Thank you, Molly," said Severus, accepting a cup. He turned to Hermione. "Draco
Malfoy has been accepted into the Charms Program at Avalon College."
Hermione's eyes were wide with anger. "You knew Draco Malfoy was going to attend
Avalon?" she accused, "You knew and nobody thought to warn me he would be there
? I thought one of the ideas behind my going there was to be safe and now I've g
ot Malfoy to worry about, right down the hallway from where I sleep?"
"You have us quite to rights, Miss Granger," replied Severus calmly, "The Headma
ster and I both knew of Mr. Malfoy's plans and deliberately did not tell you. We
needed your reaction to seeing him for the first time to be absolutely genuine.
"
"What are you getting at Severus?" asked Arthur, disapproving.
"Miss Granger, you are a poor actress," remarked Severus, "Whatever you are thin
king or feeling tends to show up on your face. The more genuinely appalled you a
ppeared to be upon encountering Mr. Malfoy, the safer for both of you."
"The safer for both of us?" quizzed Hermione, confused.
"Do you remember a conversation we had some months ago when I said I had been de
aling with families on both sides of the issue?" asked Severus, "When I said par
ents on both sides wanted their children kept out of this conflict which was not
of their making?"
Hermione looked stunned as the idea dawned on her. "Professor, are you saying th
e Malfoys sent Draco to Avalon College to keep him from becoming a Death Eater?"
"I must be very careful in what I say and how I say it, Miss Granger," drawled S
everus, "Can you imagine a scenario where it might be to the advantage of the Or
der to help the Malfoys get their son out of the country to a relatively safe pl
ace, where he would be a non-combatant?"
Molly and Arthur looked at each other in surprise.
"Severus," said Arthur, shaking his head suspiciously, "I am very concerned abou
t any plan you and Albus might have involving Lucius Malfoy. Not for one minute
can Molly and I forget he placed Ginny at terrible risk when he planted Tom Ridd
le's journal in her books when she started at Hogwarts. How can you possibly pla
ce any trust in anything the man says, especially regarding the safety of a chil
d?"
"You may find this difficult to believe, but Lucius Malfoy did not intend for Mi
ss Weasley to be harmed by the journal." Arthur started to interrupt, but Severu
s held up his hand to stop him. "He told me he intended that the journal end up
in your hands, Arthur. He believed your daughter would hand it over to you. Malf
oy wanted to embarrass and ultimately cost you your job at the Ministry by plant
ing it on you and using innuendo and suggestion to send the Aurors your way. You
would have a difficult time explaining how the Dark Lord's journal came to be i
n your possession."
"That's a pretty poor plan," snorted Molly, "He was relying on a child to turn o
ver a blank journal to her father after she found it in her cauldron? He really
thought the Aurors would believe Arthur was dabbling in the Dark Arts?"
"It was a poorly conceived plan," admitted Severus, "Malfoy had the journal in h
is possession and was on his way to Gringott's to store it in his vault when he
saw you and impulsively decided to go after you. The two of you had some sort of
fight, did you not?"
Arthur winced. "Malfoy baited me and I lost my temper. It was idiotic on my part
to let him get to me."
"Lucius Malfoy can be arrogant, impulsive, shortsighted, petty, and those are so
me of his finer qualities," said Severus, "But he is also a father who loves his
son."
"Professor Snape?" Hermione tapped her lower lip with her index finger. "If Drac
o is at the college to keep him out of the Death Eaters, the Dark Lord must have
approved this as a strategy for something. A strategy for what?"
"The Dark Lord considers himself immortal. What do you think his strategy might
be?
Hermione was thoughtful. "Long term intelligence gathering about the United Stat
es? Making wizarding contacts? Sizing up the culture and technology?"
"Very good, Miss Granger."
"Did Draco know I was going to be there?"
"No, he did not -- nor did his parents. When Headmaster Dumbledore and I realize
d this might be a way to get both of you away from the Death Eaters, albeit for
different reasons, we decided to encourage both of you to go to the college. The
decision to tell neither of you about the other was mine."
"At some point," he continued, "Draco Malfoy will face the Dark Lord who will pr
obe his mind. Although he has some skills as an Occlumens, the more actual memor
ies he has that are safe for the Dark Lord to view, the safer he is."
Severus looked at Hermione intently. "I imagine Draco will be communicating with
his parents about your presence. I expect to be consulted and I will advise the
m to encourage Draco to view your presence as an opportunity to solidify his sta
tus with the Dark Lord."
Severus paused and looked distinctly uncomfortable. This next topic was one he w
ould have preferred not to discuss with Granger and the Weasleys.
"Please understand the Dark Lord equates your close friendship with Harry Potter
and Ronald Weasley with promiscuity. If neither of them comes around, he will a
ssume the relationship you have with them has diminished along with your influen
ce over them. Draco can claim to be monitoring your actions."
Hermione was incensed. "I'm supposed to be promiscuous? Where did that come from
?"
"The Dark Lord expresses the belief that Muggleborns are morally, culturally, an
d magically inferior to Purebloods. Death Eaters are expected to believe that no
nsense. Riddle has proposed on several occasions that your friendship with two y
oung males must be based in a sexual relationship."
Hermione was disgusted. "Well, he's dead wrong about all of that. Just because m
y two best friends are guys I'm supposed to be sleeping with both of them?" She
threw up her hands. "Why am I even concerning myself about having the good opini
on of the Dark Lord? This is ridiculous." She looked at Arthur and Molly. "Surel
y other people don't think that way, do they?"
Arthur patted Hermione's hand. "Of course they don't. Anyone who knows you would
never believe such a thing."
"Does that mean that mean people who don't know me well would believe it?" Hermi
one shook her head in aggravation. "Never mind, it might irritate me to no end b
ut it's irrelevant."
"Miss Granger, you and Draco Malfoy have something in common right now. You are
both strangers in a strange land," suggested Severus.
"You've read Heinlein, Professor?" Hermione was intrigued.
"A part of my misspent youth. Do you understand my point?"
"We're both living in a foreign country. Malfoy is at more of a disadvantage tha
n I am. From what I've seen, there's much more Muggle influence at the college t
han there was at Hogwarts. At least I've got a clue about technology. He won't."
"Precisely, Miss Granger. Again, can you imagine a scenario where enlisting Drac
o Malfoy as an ally rather than an enemy would be to the Order's advantage?" ask
ed Severus.
"If he's already trying to avoid becoming a Death Eater, there might be some way
he could help us, perhaps in a way we can't foresee."
"Is there something you could do to help that happen?"
"Help him adjust to the college. He's proud and accustomed to being successful a
t what he does. He'll be a fish out of water, so if I help him he'll owe me."
"Severus, this is all well and good," interrupted Molly, "But Malfoy has always
treated Hermione horribly. He's called her terrible names and treated her like d
irt. Why should she do anything for him when there's no reason to expect he'll t
reat her any differently?"
"There are reasons Draco Malfoy might respond very differently than in the past,
" responded Severus. "Can you tell me what those might be, Miss Granger?"
"Malfoy doesn't know anyone at the college. When he started at Hogwarts, he arri
ved with Crabbe and Goyle as pre-packaged friends." Hermione looked horrified. "
Professor, please don't tell me any of his minions have come along with him?"
"No, Miss Granger. I assure you there is no one else from Hogwarts or any of Dra
co's acquaintances from other schools attending Avalon College."
Hermione looked relieved. "If I am at all friendly towards him, it will give him
at least one person he knows. I could help him with technology and some of the
cultural issues. As for the Dark Lord, Draco could claim he was only being frien
dly to get information out of me about Harry."
"I believe you have it, Miss Granger. Draco could benefit from a friendly face r
ight now, more so than ever before in his life. All of the supports he has had t
o build his confidence and his arrogance are gone. You could make inroads no one
has had a chance to make to before." Severus added extra sincerity to his voice
.
Hermione looked at Professor Snape suspiciously. "You don't expect me to date hi
m, do you?"
Severus gave her a miniscule smirk and shook his head. "Miss Granger, I believe
I have upset you by telling you the Dark Lord's opinion of Muggleborns."
"No -- it was telling me that other people might believe that kind of nonsense."
Severus looked at Hermione, his eyes unreadable. "Miss Granger, I most definitel
y do not want you to date Draco Malfoy. It would increase the danger to you both
." He leaned back and crossed his arms. "Why would I say that?"
"Because Draco is still a Pureblood and needs to be thought of as an aspiring De
ath Eater. To date a Muggleborn would be dangerous. Besides, if he is supposed t
o be gathering information about American wizarding culture, he could best do th
at by dating American witches. It would be especially dangerous to both of us be
cause I'd certainly kill him at some point and wind up in Azkaban.
Severus snorted. "Very good, Miss Granger. I believe you have a solid grasp of t
he situation. May I rely on your good judgment in this matter?"
Hermione examined Professor Snape's face for a moment. She wished she could read
this man. Severus Snape was a spy, Death Eater, member of the Order, and the te
acher who had been kind to her when she was wracked with grief on Astronomy Towe
r. She knew full well he was manipulating her into seeing the situation his way
by taking her through his series of questions. It was a very Slytherin tactic. A
t the end, it simply came down to a feeling, an intuition that she could trust h
im, regardless of his obvious attempt at manipulation.
"I will help Draco, sir. But, one 'mudblood' out of him and that's it."
"Most reasonable, Miss Granger. If he calls you names, you have my permission to
hex him," replied Severus with a perfectly straight face. Mentally, he was cong
ratulating himself on his deft handling of the situation. The little Gryffindor
had been guided one step at a time into doing exactly what Severus needed her to
do. And she never even realized what he was doing.
"I can't tell him you said that, can I?"
"No. You most certainly may not." Severus turned to the Weasleys, "Molly, Arthur
, are the two of you satisfied with what I have said?"
Arthur shook his head reluctantly. "Severus, I'm willing to give you the benefit
of the doubt, but I find it very hard to rely on a Malfoy for any kind of good
will towards Hermione. If, at any point, she feels threatened by him we will nee
d to revisit this discussion. Molly and I won't have her threatened, mistreated,
or harmed by him or his kin."
"I agree. Miss Granger, will you make certain I stay informed about anything sig
nificant you encounter with Draco Malfoy?"
"I will, Professor Snape. Thank you for coming tonight and explaining what is go
ing on." She looked at him wryly. "You don't have any more surprises up your sle
eve, do you?"
Severus was tempted to reply "Only my wand, Miss Granger," but realized it might
be interpreted as a risqué joke -- something that Professor Snape could never
utter to a young woman only two weeks past being one of his students. Instead he
answered; "No other surprises tonight, Miss Granger. One never knows what a new
day might bring."
Severus looked at Molly and Arthur, "In that case, I will take my leave. Tomorro
w is a work day for us and your first day of class, Miss Granger."
Hermione nodded. "I'd better get back to Chicago. It's 5:30 there and I'm going
with some of the other students for pizza."
Severus stood, black robes rustling about him. "If I may avail myself of your fl
oo, I will bid you all good evening."
Arthur stood. "We will see you at the next Order meeting, Severus."
Professor Snape disappeared into the green flames.
Hermione gathered the empty teacups and put them on the tray to take back to the
kitchen.
"Hermione, do you feel safe about this?" asked Molly.
Hermione thought for a moment. "I feel reassured that Malfoy probably isn't a th
reat. I can't believe Professor Snape would try to mislead me about that. It doe
sn't change the fact that Malfoy is a real prat with a superiority complex," she
sighed, "I will make an effort with him, but if he behaves like he did at Hogwa
rts I won't try again. He'll be taking the computer class for the next six weeks
. That will be more than long enough to test Professor Snape's theory."
Arthur joined the women in the kitchen.
"Do you want us to tell Harry and Ron about this?" he asked.
Hermione looked up and speculated, "I don't know that it's a good idea to tell t
hem right now. They're liable to overreact when we don't know for certain how Dr
aco will behave. Give me a few days and I'll decide."
"We'll leave it between us for now," said Arthur.
Hermione dried her hands on a dishtowel and gave Molly a hug.
"Thank you for helping me sort through this mess. Quite honestly, when I saw Mal
foy walking down the hallway it scared me half to death. I was afraid I'd have t
o withdraw from the college and I could just see all my plans going right down t
he drain."
Molly gave Hermione another squeeze. "Well thank goodness it doesn't have to be
that way."
"I'd better get going," said Hermione as she gave Arthur a hug and headed for th
e door. The Weasleys watched as Hermione took out her triple moon necklace and d
isappeared.
An instant later, Hermione appeared in the small transportation room on the firs
t floor of the dormitory. She leaned against the wall for a moment to let her st
omach settle and then headed for the elevator. She got off at the sixth floor an
d walked towards her room. Entrance required both the use of a Muggle key along
with a magical password.
"Honeydukes's finest," she whispered and the door opened.
Crookshanks was sitting on the window seat Hermione brought for him. He was star
ing out at the street and she could tell he missed the freedom to wander outdoor
s he had had at Hogwarts and the Burrow. Tomorrow, wards would be set up so fami
liars could safely wander the hallway and the floor's common room. Each was to w
ear a charmed collar to prevent it from leaving the floor. Yesterday, half a doz
en other students moved in with cat carriers, so Crooks wouldn't be lonely for l
ong. She hoped there wouldn't be too many territorial disputes. The dormitory co
uldn't begin to compare with Hogwarts for size.
Of the twenty-four dorm rooms on the sixth floor of St. Germain Hall, students w
ho moved in over the last two days already occupied twenty. Students from foreig
n countries were given the option of moving in on Saturday so they could adjust
to the time difference before starting class on Monday. As a foreign student enr
olled in a program for the fall with tuition and room and board already paid, He
rmione could move in and keep the same room for the regular term.
Harry and Ron came with on Saturday to help her move. Everything she needed for
the school year was shrunk and put in a couple of suitcases. It was nice to have
their help and company. Hermione was all too aware that once they left, she'd b
e completely on her own. She wouldn't see them again for four weeks, planning fo
r a home visit in August.
The Avalon College student handbook, which Hermione had read cover-to-cover twic
e, said each dorm room came equipped with standard issue furniture: a single bed
with mattress, dresser, desk, desk chair, spare chair, and bookcase. Students w
ere allowed to transfigure them into whatever form they preferred as long as the
y returned them to their original and undamaged shape when they moved out.
Harry and Ron were more than delighted to help Hermione reconfigure her furnishi
ngs. The standard metal bed became a day bed, occupying one wall. The dresser an
d desk were fine, but institutional looking. Within minutes, they looked like ch
erry wood antiques. The desk chair was redesigned to match the desk and a comfor
table cushion added. The extra chair was now overstuffed and comfortable. The bo
okcase grew to the ceiling, changing from four shelves to eight and doubling in
width.
Hermione purchased new bedding in shades of blue (no more Gryffindor gold and re
d, thank you very much), and the linoleum floor now sported a lovely dark blue a
rea rug. Harry helped unpack her books. Only the most important references were
resized to normal. The others were left in their reduced size in decorative boxe
s with an inventory of their contents displayed on the outside. Even so, Hermion
e filled five of the shelves. She imagined by the end of the school year, the ot
her three shelves would be filled.
Once the work was done, Crookshanks was turned lose in the room and his cat carr
ier shrunk and stowed. Hermione set out the new litter box with a tall cover to
keep the kitty litter in the box. Crookshanks inspected it, stuck up his nose, a
nd settled on the day bed. Ron said he hoped there wasn't about to be a disagree
ment about where one's cat business was to be done.
Moving in accomplished, the trio decided to take a walk around the campus. Avalo
n's campus consisted of several converted office buildings in downtown Chicago,
not too far from DePaul University. As such, there wasn't a campus that could be
distinguished from the surrounding area. It fit in with Avalon College's "hide
in plain sight" philosophy. The Muggle students attending DePaul and the wizardi
ng students attending Avalon were indistinguishable as they mingled on the stree
ts.
There were a multitude of shops and restaurants in the area, along with bars, co
ffee houses, movie theaters, comedy clubs and other forms of entertainment. The
streets were crowded with traffic and pedestrians. Harry and Hermione had to giv
e Ron quick training on the use of traffic lights in crossing streets. After spe
nding seven years at Hogwarts completely isolated from the Muggle world, it was
overwhelming to be around so many people. The buildings were enormous and packed
close together. There was a park nearby, but in other areas there were only sma
ll patches of grass and trees. Harry called it the anti-Hogwarts, especially sin
ce there was no Quidditch pitch in sight.
By the time they found the library and the building where Hermione's computer cl
ass would be held, it was suppertime for Ron and Harry and lunchtime for Hermion
e. The six-hour time difference between England and Chicago already affected the
m. Hermione planned to stay up until 8 PM local time, which would be 2 AM in Eng
land. She hoped by Monday she would be sufficiently adjusted to the time differe
nce to cope. Hermione offered to treat for lunch as a thank you. Besides, she wa
s the only one with any American money.
The three decided to indulge in the classic American experience and went to a Mc
Donald's Restaurant to eat. Ron flirted with the pretty girl behind the counter
who advised the three Brits to try the Quarter Pounder with cheese, french fries
, and Pepsi. There was considerable discussion about who decided chips were a Fr
ench invention. Ron ended up eating his Quarter Pounder, finished Hermione's fre
nch fries, and went back for a Big Mac. At Ron's invitation, Hermione tried a bi
te and decided she liked it better than the Quarter Pounder. Hermione felt it ne
cessary to explain that one hundred years ago, Pepsi and Coca Cola had cocaine a
s one of the original ingredients in their soft drinks. They agreed it was an in
teresting way of getting repeat business. Harry topped off his meal with an ice
cream cone.
Feeling quite Americanized, they walked back to the dorm. By this time, the hall
way was crowded with students and parents carting and levitating possessions. Th
ey returned to Hermione's room, where investigation showed Crookshanks had used
the new litter box for its intended purpose, which was a great relief to Hermion
e. The three of them sat and talked about their plans for the year. Harry and Ro
n were to report to the Auror Academy in a week.
They would, as Harry put it, be working slave labor hours and couldn't count on
weekends being free. Hermione planned to visit home in four weeks and they were
determined to find some time together, even if it was at the Order's Headquarter
s so they could talk about their experiences. It was going to take a lot more ef
fort for to make time to spend time together.
Eventually, it was time for Ron and Harry to leave. Hermione walked them down to
the transportation room on the first floor of the dormitory. Long hugs and "goo
d lucks" were exchanged. Hermione sniffled a little. Harry pulled out a charmed
key chain with the Hogwarts crest and the two men portkeyed for home.
Hermione was alone, except for Crookshanks. She headed back to her room where sh
e planned to camp out for most of the rest of the day. She had a copy of The Com
plete Idiot's Guide to the Digital Magic Operating System, which she intended to
read.
Hermione finished putting her clothes into the closet and dresser, set up her de
sk, put out towels and toiletries in the bath she shared with the person rooming
next door and settled in with her book. She was fighting to stay awake. Crooksh
anks saw no point to it and settled in to sleep. It was almost 6:00 when she hea
rd noise from the room on the other side of the bathroom. Hermione was burning w
ith curiosity, but waited to meet the person moving in next door. The noise quie
ted about half an hour later, so Hermione decided to knock on the bathroom door
leading to the adjoining room. A pretty brunette answered.
"Hello, I'm Hermione Granger from the room next door," said Hermione, "Looks lik
e we'll be sharing a bath."
"Hello, Hermione. I'm Anita Schuler," she said with an American accent. The girl
opened the door wider and stepped back. "Why don't you c'mon in? I've almost go
t my room done."
Hermione walked in and looked around. Anita transfigured her room's furnishings
into an ultra modern style with lots of chrome and steel done in black and white
. Prominently displayed on the desk was what looked like a brand new computer.
"You're English aren't you? I just love your accent," said Anita.
"Yes, I'm originally from London, but I went to school in Scotland," said Hermio
ne.
"That sounds so interesting. I'm just a standard issue American witch." Anita pu
lled out the desk chair, a marvel in leather and chrome, and offered it to Hermi
one who sat down. Anita sat on the bed. "I attended St. Brigit's Academy in Oak
Park. That's one of the suburbs to the west of here. Where did you go?"
"I went to Hogwarts. It's a boarding school used by most of the wizards in the B
ritish Isles, though some do go to smaller day schools in England. There's a few
English students attending Beauxbatons in France or Durmstrang which is somewhe
re in northern Europe. They keep the location a secret," confided Hermione. "I d
ated a student who attended there and he wouldn't tell me where it was, though o
wls get there just fine."
"I've heard about Hogwarts. You have your dormitories split up based on the pers
onalities of the students." Anita rested her chin on the palm of her hand. "How
exactly does that work?"
"It's done by a magical hat once owned by one of the founders of the school. The
first thing you do when you arrive at Hogwarts is getting sorted. You sit and t
he Deputy Headmistress puts the hat on your head and it quizzes your brain. It a
nnounces which House you'll go in. Each of the four Houses has a reputed special
ty; Hufflepuff for loyalty, Ravenclaw for scholars, Gryffindor for courage, and
Slytherin for ambition," explained Hermione.
"That's really amazing. Which House did you get placed in?"
"Gryffindor, but the hat really considered putting me in Ravenclaw."
"So you're gutsy with brains?" laughed Anita.
Hermione joined in the laughter. "Well, I suppose it's probably true. One of my
friends describes me as 'brilliant, but scary'."
"I'm majoring in Charms," said Anita, "How about you?"
"In England, we'd call that reading Charms." Hermione pulled up one leg and wrap
ped her arms around it. "I guess I'd best learn the local language. I'm majoring
in Potions."
"Two year or six year?"
"Six. I want to do research."
"Good for you," said Anita, "They're talking about expanding Charms to offer a s
ix year program. If they do, I'll take the two additional years. My big brother,
Adam, is here too. He's in the Arithmancy Program, Third year.
"How does he like it?"
"He loves it. He's really got the knack, just like our Dad. He's going to join t
he family business when he graduates."
"What's the family business?"
"Computers and software."
Hermione nodded to the computer sitting on Anita's desk. "So that's why you've g
ot a nice shiny new one here?"
"Yeah. Mom and Dad insisted I had to have a new one for school. It's really a go
od one and I'll be able to do all kinds of things with it." Anita crossed her le
gs and pulled up a couple of pillows behind her back. "Did you bring one with yo
u for computer camp?"
"No," Hermione shook her head, "I don't know enough about them to know what to b
uy. I figured I would learn more about them first."
"I can help you with that. I'm here because I've been hired as an aide for compu
ter camp. In my family, you get computers along with mother's milk. I did some f
ast-talking with Dad to get him to let me stay here in the dorm. I promised I'd
help you newbies with computer shopping and homework back here in the evenings.
It's easier to talk Dad into things if you put it in business terms. He's always
in favor of giving the customer 'added value.'"
"It's great that the college offers a six-week program to help those of us who h
aven't had a chance to use computers get caught up with the other students who h
ave. Hogwarts has such a strong magical environment that nothing electronic will
work there. The school is better than a thousand years old. There are such stro
ng traditions, like using a quill and parchment for written work; it's difficult
to get the teachers to even think about doing something different. I can't tell
you how many times I wished I could use a ballpoint pen instead of having to di
p a quill in an inkpot every few words and getting ink all over my fingers."
Anita looked fascinated. "The United States is such a new country by comparison.
I can't imagine how neat it must be to have gone to a school that old with such
tradition and history. St. Brigit's is only about 75 years old and it's one of
the oldest wizarding schools in the country. Before that, everybody got home sch
ooled or attended little parent-run schools for wizarding skills. Rich families
used to send their kids to European boarding schools like Hogwarts."
"I was overwhelmed when I first got to Hogwarts. My parents were both Muggles an
d I'm the first witch in the family as far as they knew," offered Hermione. "The
sheer amount of magic surrounding everything is amazing. Things the wizarding w
orld takes for granted, like moving stair cases and the castle being able to red
esign itself, portraits everywhere with their occupants moving around and talkin
g, and the Great Hall with the magical ceiling that looks like there's open sky
above your head, its like something out of a fairy tale. On top of it, the teach
ers dress like they stepped out of a Charles Dickens' novel, except Headmaster D
umbledore who looks like a cross between Merlin and Santa Claus."
Anita gave a delighted laugh, "I've seen pictures of him. I take it his chocolat
e frog card doesn't do him justice?"
"Not at all. He comes across like he's all grandfatherly and cheerful, but he's
really powerful and brilliant. He is always offering these lemon sweets to anyon
e he meets. It's very deceptive and makes it hard to believe he's the wizard who
defeated Grindelwald," confided Hermione.
Anita took a look at the clock. "Are you getting hungry?"
"Yes," Hermione replied. "Two of my friends helped me move in and we went to McD
onald's for lunch, but that's been a while."
"Do you like Mexican food?" asked Anita, "There's a place right down the block t
hat makes the best tacos and chimichangas."
"I like tacos, but I've never had a chimichanga," admitted Hermione.
"How about we go get something to eat? I'll tell you my life story and you can t
ell me yours."
So far, Hermione liked this genuinely friendly American. "I'd like that. Let me
go back to my room and get my purse and we can go."
Anita got up and grabbed a tiny purse off her desk. "I'll come with and you can
show me what you've done to your room. Wasn't the furniture appalling?"
Yesterday evening, Hermione had made her first American friend and got indigesti
on from her first experience with refried beans. All was well until today when s
he saw Draco and went into a complete panic. Hermione was grateful to Minerva an
d the Headmaster for gifting her with the two-way portkey that allowed her to ge
t home quickly to Arthur and Molly. As manipulative as Professor Snape was in ge
tting Hermione to agree to help Draco Malfoy, she could see potential for benefi
t to the Order. She could also see where trying to be nice to Malfoy could come
back to bite her.
It was almost 6:00. At 6:15, Hermione was supposed to meet Anita and two other s
tudents to go to a restaurant for pizza. Hermione decided to tackle the problem
head-on. Checking to make sure her wand was in the special pocket she transfigur
ed into all her jeans, Hermione squared her shoulders and walked down the hall.
She knocked on Malfoy's door. Hermione had the pleasure of seeing the surprised
and dismayed look on his face when he answered it.
"Hello, Malfoy."
"Hello, Granger."
"I didn't know you were planning to come to Avalon."
"I didn't know you were planning to come to Avalon, either."
There was dead silence. Hermione squared her shoulders again.
"They don't do Houses here, so there's no Gryffindor or Slytherin to contend wit
h. Just a lot of college students and we're all on our own," Hermione looked at
Draco with a question in her eyes. "We're back to being First Years and there's
no sorting hat. We can go through the next couple of years ignoring or avoiding
each other or we can start over."
Draco leaned casually against the doorway and crossed his arms. "What do you mea
n by starting over?"
"No name calling, no baiting each other, no nasty remarks from either of us. We
try to get along," offered Hermione, "I don't see Crabbe, Goyle, or Parkinson ha
nging around you. You won't see Potter or Weasley hanging around me. That could
make it a whole lot easier."
"We're the only two from Hogwarts here," shrugged Malfoy. "At least it is you an
d not Potter or Weasley," he spat.
"Can you honestly see Harry Potter or Ron Weasley signing on for at least four m
ore years of school?"
"No more than I can see Crabbe, Goyle, or Parkinson doing four more years."
After a moment's indecision, Malfoy straightened up and held out his hand. "Hell
o, I'm Draco Malfoy from England."
Hermione looked down at the proffered hand. "No tricks or practical jokes?"
"I wouldn't think of it, Granger."
"My name's Hermione." Hermione took his hand shook it.
"I'm Draco."
Both of them kept their expressions carefully neutral.
"A few of us are going out for pizza. Would you like to join us?"
"What's pizza?"
"Its bread dough rolled flat into a crust topped with a tomato sauce with Italia
n spices and mozzarella cheese. You can get different things on top of that, lik
e crumbled meat, sliced onions, green peppers, or mushrooms. It's really good. O
ne of the students who's going is an American and she says this place called Lou
Malnati's has the best pizza in Chicago."
"Muggle food?" queried Malfoy.
"Muggles invented it. I think there are plenty of American wizards who eat it. I
've had it lots of times in London. Good food is good food."
"Sounds like an adventure. Let me get my wallet and lock up here." Draco ducked
back into his room and returned in a minute.
"We're meeting up by the elevator." Hermione nodded her head in the direction of
the elevator. The two started walking down the hallway. Hermione spotted Anita
with two other students waiting by the elevator.
"Hi, guys," said Hermione, "I'd like you to meet Draco Malfoy. He and I went to
Hogwarts." Hermione made the rounds of introductions. Draco responded with the u
sual Malfoy charm, which had Anita gushing over his accent and cultured tones.
The evening went surprisingly well. The pizza really was as excellent as Anita s
aid it would be. Draco was polite, if a little aloof. The other two students wer
e from Chile and majoring in Arithmancy. They were friendly, but spoke little En
glish and relied on translation charms. Fortunately, Anita spoke enough for ever
yone and no one made an arse of themselves. The group went back to the dorm earl
y so everyone could make a fresh start in the morning.
For a first evening around Draco Malfoy, it had to be called a success.