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Fate Set Right

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September 1, 1992

 

“Snape, Aurora,” Professor McGonagall called. The Great Hall was silent for only a moment before harsh whispers started. The eleven-year-old looked at her father sitting at the high table; he gave the faintest of nods as she walked to the stool with the Sorting Hat.

They’d had a pep talk about this just last week. He’d warned her that life at Hogwarts might not be as fun as she had hoped because of his reputation. His double life meant he had to pretend to be the nastiest of people; he instilled fear in and out of the classroom, and he favored his house for more than just loyalty.

Her father had also warned her that he had to pretend to be the way he was for many other reasons, ones she was still too young to fully understand. Reasons that had him and her mother in such a state over the summer that they had considered sending her to Beauxbatons, or even Ilvermorny. She wasn’t sure who talked them out of it, but she wanted to thank them.

She clutched the stool with a white-knuckle grip and willed her heart rate to slow.

“Ah, now you are an interesting one,” the Sorting Hat said in her mind. “A Slytherin father and a Gryffindor mother. But it’s you we need to worry about now, isn’t it? So, let’s see, who are you more like? Oh! And there’s the answer, deep in your heart. You are so young, yet you know exactly what needs to be done. I see where you’ll be needed most.” And then out loud, it shouted with absolute certainty, “Gryffindor!”

The hat was removed from her head, and she glanced back at her father.  

Severus Snape gave a resigned nod and a hint of a smile, and was the first in the entire room, staff included, to applaud.

His clap was a demand, and instantly, the whole room was applauding alongside him

She made her way down the table, eyeing the few remaining students in hopes of finding the little red-haired girl whom she’d sat next to on the train. Ginny wasn’t looking at her. Then again, Aurora noted that pretty much everyone at the table was avoiding eye contact with her. Chewing her lip in a habit she’d learned from her mother, she looked around the rest of the hall, hoping for someone— anyone —to offer her a friendly smile.

Her eyes met another pair across the room, grey locking onto brown, and her heart sank.

Draco looked resigned, more so than even her dad. She could already feel him pulling away, prepared to ignore a lifelong friendship because she would be wearing red and gold instead of green and silver.

“Welcome to Gryffindor, Aurora,” a high, affected voice said. “And don’t worry about what anyone says, my friends and I will look after you. I’m sure they will, once they get here.”

Aurora turned and was startled by the person speaking.

“Wow,” a round-faced boy across from them said with wide eyes. “You two sort of look alike.”

“Maybe we’re related,” Aurora answered easily.

“I don’t think so, I’m Muggle-born,” said the wild-haired girl, raising her chin as if daring Aurora to comment on it.

Aurora shrugged. “Doesn’t mean anything,” she said with a grin. She watched as a smile lit the features she shared with this young version of her mother, glad that she didn’t look too much like young Hermione Granger.

And so began what Aurora would come to understand as a complex life in the halls of Hogwarts.

 

—————H—————

 

June 9, 1994

 

“We’ve got exactly ten minutes to get back down to the hospital wing without anybody seeing us. Before Dumbledore locks the doors,” Hermione warned Harry, and with that, they took off.

  Along the way, they had to dive into an alcove as Fudge and Professor Snape passed them by.

  “The Kiss will be performed immediately?” Professor Snape asked. Hermione noted that for all his desire to have Sirius in custody, he didn’t look very enthused about the Dementor’s Kiss.

Fudge continued to blather, and as they passed, Hermione swore that Professor Snape’s eyes met hers in the shadows. It had been like that since she’d arrived at Hogwarts: with every scathing remark and sneering insult, there was something like regret in his endless black eyes. Quiet apologies that she didn’t understand and no one else saw. She justified it with the fact that she was one of the few Gryffindors who was kind to Rory, though that didn’t explain first year.

When he and Fudge passed, they continued their route to the hospital wing. There was a moment of panic when Professor Dumbledore locked the doors, but when he turned and smiled, Hermione was sure it would be all right.

“Well?” he asked quietly.

“We did it!” Harry let out breathlessly. “Sirius has gone, on Buckbeak.…”

Dumbledore beamed, then flicked his wand. His Patronus came out of the tip and hovered in the air in front of him. “Events have occurred as they should, go to the safe house, he’ll meet you there.” The phoenix took off and Dumbledore turned back to them. “All is as it should be. Now, get inside, I’ll lock you in.”

Once inside, Hermione and Harry returned to their beds, allowing Madam Pomfrey to fuss over them and feed them chocolate, needed now more urgently than hours before.

“What do you mean, gone!” Fudge bellowed through the door, and Madam Pomfrey frowned.

“What do they think they’re doing?” she grumbled.

“I can assure you, Minister,” -Snape’s sneering grew louder- “if anyone knows what happened, it would be Potter.”

A moment later, the doors to the hospital wing flung open and an angry Cornelius Fudge followed a displeased Potions master.

The latter may have accused Harry of knowing something, but his eyes fell accusingly onto Hermione. She felt herself shrink into bed, absently holding the Time-Turner, careful not to jostle it.

“You’ve caused trouble in the past,” Fudge was saying to Harry. “I forgave that business with your aunt, and we knew there was something going on last summer. We know that Sirius Black is your godfather, boy, it would—”

“Cornelius, I think you’re forgetting a very important fact,” Professor Dumbledore interrupted, eyes twinkling. “The door was locked when we came in. From the outside, no less. How could he have helped Sirius Black if he was here under Madam Pomfrey’s care?”

Professor Snape snorted and the Minister frowned in confusion.

Hermione clutched the Time-Turner tighter.

“The Daily Prophet’s going to have a field day,” the Minister lamented, shaking his head. “We had Black cornered and he slipped through our fingers again ….”

Dumbledore placed a hand gently on Fudge’s shoulder and steered him toward the door. Hermione caught snippets of the conversation: Dementors removed from the school, maybe bringing in dragons instead.

“Do not think for one moment that I believe a locked door would stop you from aiding in Black’s escape,” Snape declared in a menacing tone. “And believe me,” –his eyes held Hermione’s while he faced Harry- “there will be an extensive conversation about this later.”

He turned in a swirl of black robes and followed Dumbledore and the Minister out the door. Madam Pomfrey shook her head, a wistful smile tugging at the corners of her mouth before she headed back to her office.

Harry got off his bed to sit beside Hermione. “Why do you think …?” he started, then trailed off. He looked at her hands, easing the Time-Turner out of her grip and examining it. Unlike before, she did not smack his hands away, letting him have a look at the device that helped save Sirius.

“Why do I think what?” she asked, looking at her lap.

There was another pause and a gentle whirring sound. “Why do you think Sirius was so … awestruck by you?”

Hermione chewed her lip, unsure, just as confused as she had been during her first interaction with Professor Lupin.

“Granger, Her … Hermione.” Professor Lupin was calling roll when he stumbled on her name, slowly looking up at Hermione with wide, misty eyes. His mouth opened and closed for a few moments as he struggled to say something. “I thought you looked familiar. Named for your mother, are you?”

Hermione frowned. “No, sir. My mother’s name is Helen.”

Lupin frowned as well, studying her more closely. “Adopted then?” She shook her head. He nodded once more, frowned, and continued calling roll.

Hermione heard Malfoy grumble something about her wishing she was adopted, causing a few snickers among the Slytherins, but she ignored it. Professor Lupin hadn’t asked her about her family or name again, though for the first couple of weeks, he looked wistful and heartbroken. Sometimes, when he would catch her in passing, heading back to Gryffindor Tower from the library without the boys, he would stop and look as though he wanted to say something. Hermione would stop and wait, but he would only bid her a good evening, afternoon, whatever time of day it happened to be, and continue on his way.

She’d nearly forgotten his strange behavior until they encountered Sirius Black in the Shrieking Shack.

“Harry,” Hermione warned when he started taunting a murderer. A man who had their friend’s wand and was more powerful than the two of them combined, even if he was out of practice. “Be quiet.”

Black turned to look at her, his eyebrows rising to his hairline.

“Kitten?” he whispered. “No, I’ve gone mad, alone in the dark all these years. Now I see… is it really Prongs? Am I hallucinating?” He glanced at Ron. “But if I’ve gone mad, why would I see Lily as a boy?”

The door opened then and Professor Lupin came in, taking in the scene before turning to Black.

“If I’ve truly lost my mind,” Black said, his voice much stronger, “then you would be a lot younger, Moony.”

“I know the truth, Sirius,” Professor Lupin said calmly. “I saw him on the map and then I Flooed”-he glanced at Hermione-”someone who would know. She confirmed.”

Black looked at her. “Then who—?”

They were interrupted by Professor Snape, who immediately moved to stand between them and the adults.

They argued between themselves about whether or not Sirius was the real reason Harry’s parents were killed. Professor Lupin begged Professor Snape to see reason, to put it all together like he had upon discovering Peter Pettigrew on the map. Professor Snape declared there wasn’t anything Black wouldn’t say or do to get his way, murder included. Sirius responded that he wasn’t the one who would do anything for something. Professor Lupin started to say something that Professor Snape cut off with a hiss, something about where hearts really lie.

Before Hermione could stop him, Harry pointed his wand at Snape and cast a Disarming Spell. Incidentally, so did Black. It threw Professor Snape against the wall, knocking him out.

The truth, in the end, was as Black had tried to explain. He was supposed to be the Secret Keeper, and had tried to convince the Potters to use someone else, someone who they all knew would not only keep them safe, but would be able to hide the information from anyone who tried to find it. In the end, they had chosen Peter because he was the least likely to come into contact with Death Eaters. But they had been wrong.

There was a binding spell, a conversation, Professor Snape rousing from his unconsciousness. They left the Shack and there was another argument between the men. This time it was about Black’s prison sentence, and whether or not he should be held in custody until they could get his name cleared. Professor Snape was adamant that they should take Sirius back and hold him while pleading his case to the Minister.

Then Professor Lupin stiffened and chaos ensued.

“I don’t know why he looked at me like that, Harry,” Hermione replied. “Why did Professor Lupin, and Pettigrew?”

“Snape never does.”

Professor Snape,” she corrected automatically. “And speaking of, if tonight taught you anything, Harry, it’s that you should be able to trust him.”

“Because he actually listened to reason?” Harry questioned with a snort.

“Because he stood between us and danger not once, but twice. He thought Sirius was a murderer as much as you did when he placed himself between us. And again, when Professor Lupin transformed. Had you not gone after Sirius ….”

“I know.”

“You don’t, though. You didn’t see the panic and fear in his eyes. He was harsh with us, yes, but justifiably.”

Harry said nothing and when she looked over, she noted the whirring she’d heard was the Time-Turner.

She snorted. “How far back are you planning on sending me?”

He grinned ruefully. “How far back can you go?”

“It’s only safe to go back a few hours. Wizards who meddle with time could destroy timelines. It helps that it can’t be activated on its own. And besides, I think I’m quite done with this thing. In fact,” -she gently took it from Harry’s hands- “I should see if Professor McGonagall will take it back before the end of term. If I miss classes, so be it.” She hopped off the bed and headed toward the doors. “I’ll only be a moment.”

Hermione held up the device as she exited the hospital wing, studying the golden gleam and the grains of magical sand. Such a beautiful little thing, though most dangerous things are.

She heard a warning yowl and only had enough time to glance down to see Mrs. Norris in front of her. She tripped over her own feet and the cat. As she moved forward, she felt one of her fingers catch on the Time-Turner, activating the very thing that Harry had been flicking and spinning for who knew how long.

“How far back can you go?”

Before the world completely faded, Hermione glimpsed Filch rounding the corner and wondered how he would explain this to the headmaster.

Chapter Text

The world sped past Hermione as she fell forward in slow motion. She hit the ground abruptly, her nose and forehead cracking on the stone floor, her elbow dislocating as it caught her weight, and her chest burned where the Time-Turner dug in. Her vision blurred and she had a hard time staying awake. There was no way she could pass out now, not knowing where or when she was. She was in denims and the only school paraphernalia on her body was her Gryffindor cardigan. She’d discarded her tie when she’d changed out of her skirt before dinner, and now she could be near a group of Slytherins.

“Oh dear,” she heard a startled gasp. Somewhat familiar, a woman, though not one she had frequent contact with. “How—”

“Help,” Hermione managed to croak, catching sight of two robe hems before she blacked out. It was oddly comforting that one of them was such an awfully bright shade of yellow.

—————H—————

She awoke in the hospital wing, confused and far sorer than she should be considering all she was being treated for was a run-in with dementors. Then she remembered Harry playing with the Time-Turner as he sat on her bed. Mrs. Norris. Falling.

Oh.

Oh.

She tried to sit up, but found her right arm in a sling and her fingers wrapped. She turned her head to the right, noting the sunlight streaming through the windows, then turned to the left.

Her heart leapt in her throat at the sight of Professor Dumbledore smiling warmly back at her.

“Hello,” he said softly. “We were beginning to wonder if you planned to wake up.”

“I’m sorry, sir,” she said automatically, her voice dry and cracking with disuse. “I didn’t mean to worry anyone.” Hermione attempted to sit up again, this time using her left arm. It was a struggle, but she managed to sit up. Now with her back against the headboard, she could see the top of the bedside table. It hadn’t occurred to her that her wand could have been lost or broken, but seeing it unharmed within her reach brought a sense of relief.

“I would ask how you came upon this particular Time-Turner.” Dumbledore caught her attention once more, and she turned toward him so quickly that a throb spread throughout her head. He was holding up the Time-Turner by the chain, showing the broken hourglass with no sand, a bit of red staining the jagged ends of what remained. “But I suspect I gave it to you.”

She cleared her throat. “What was special about it?”

Dumbledore set the Time-Turner on the table near him and poured her a cup of water.

After she’d taken a few sips, Dumbledore took a breath. “It’s special in that it is one of the few Time-Turners without limitations. It is thought to be one of the first of its kind and was used by a couple of wizards before it was deemed too dangerous. Terrible things happen to wizards who meddle with time, especially when they cannot return to where they came from.” At this, Dumbledore peered at her over his glasses in a scolding manner.

She knew this. There was a reason she’d hidden from herself throughout the year, why she and Harry had waited to save Sirius. But having this affirmed to her moments after waking, speaking to a man whom she knew but who clearly did not recognize her, had tears springing to her eyes.

“There’s no possible way?” she sniffed. When Dumbledore shook his head, she let out a mirthless laugh. “Then I wonder how long I need to wait before I kill Harry for playing with it.”

“This was an accident?” Dumbledore asked, and she peeked to see his puzzled expression. She nodded and looked up at the ceiling. “I see,” he said solemnly.

“Sir?”

He tried to muster a smile, but it didn’t quite work. “You are from the future, obviously. These are dangerous times, young lady, and I had hoped … given your house, I had hoped you were sent back to provide us with some important information to use against Tom Riddle.”

“Tom—” she choked the name out in confusion before she remembered something Harry had mentioned. “You-Know-Who? ”

“Lord Voldemort, yes. I see that people still fear his name. And you cannot tell me anything?”

She frowned. “Should I? Isn’t it dangerous to share what I know, even with you? It’s not much anyway. I imagine most of what I know has already happened.”

“Why do you assume that?” Dumbledore asked.

“I … well, er.” Hermione looked around, trying to find something in the decor that would give her a clue about the time period. When nothing specific stood out, she looked at Dumbledore. “What’s the date?”

“It is July third.” When she continued to look at him expectantly, he added gently, “Nineteen seventy-four .”

Her breathing grew shallow and her stomach churned; she did her best to keep the tears at bay.

Twenty years. Harry bloody Potter flicked and spun the blasted Time-Turner so much she had gone back twenty years.

Twenty years. She’d know all the teachers, at least. All except ….

Professors Snape and Professor Lupin. They were only in their thirties, though precisely how old, she couldn’t quite recall. But they would most likely be students. With Sirius, because they all went to school together. As did ….

Harry’s parents.

At that thought, the dam broke. Not only did Hermione barely manage to turn her head to vomit on the floor instead of on her sheets, she started sobbing. She couldn’t meddle, she couldn’t. It was against the laws of nature. She could damage the timeline, wipe herself out, wipe Harry out. And then what would happen? Voldemort would rise to power because there would be no baby Harry for Lily Potter to protect and die for. No way for a curse to rebound if it was never cast.

“I can’t,” she choked out, sobbing as she leaned back against the bed. Her nose and head ached, but she couldn’t stop. “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.”

She had to get control of herself. This was not her. She was a Gryffindor. She was Hermione Granger. She was prone to bouts of panic, yes, but not like this. But so many things could go wrong now. So many things ….

“Miss …?”

“Granger. Hermione Granger.”

She turned toward him, and he held out a vial. “Calming Draught,” he explained and with a nod, Hermione stopped herself from shuddering long enough to swallow it. “You’re in shock, and it is quite warranted, all things considered.” The scent of her sick disappeared from the air just as Hermione caught her breath. “Now, Miss Granger. How far back did you go?”

“Twenty years.”

He smiled calmly. “That’s quite the distance. I wish I could offer some kind words or assurances. But you know the outcome of the next twenty years and I do not. Nor, I think, do I want to. You know you cannot change what will happen, but you are a Gryffindor. We do try to fix all the wrongs we perceive.”

“It won’t be easy.”

“No, it won’t be,” Dumbledore agreed. “So, in the meantime, I must ask something of you.”

—————H—————

 

July 10, 1974

“Thank you for this, Bob,” Professor McGonagall said to her brother.

She was kind, kinder than Hermione had expected, considering that Professor McGonagall had no idea who she was. But after Dumbledore’s ultimatum, he had called in her Head of House and explained the situation.

Well, he’d explained after the professor had been coerced as the bonder for Hermione’s Unbreakable Vow. 

She wasn’t sure if it was perfectly legal for her to make one underage, and McGonagall was fairly certain it wasn’t, but Dumbledore had insisted.

It was that or a very strong Obliviate. Hermione had opted to keep her mind intact. After that was sorted, they’d organized a place for her to stay and falsified her records. Hermione would tell people that she had lost her parents in a magical accident but wouldn’t elaborate for fear of repercussions. She would claim they had moved abroad a year or two before she was eleven and had attended Ilvermorny.

“It’s no problem, Minnie,” Robert McGonagall Jr. assured his older sister with a gentle smile, reaching out and giving her arm a squeeze. “You know how happy this will make Delia, and we don’t need to know the details.”

“Hermione?” a soft voice with a delicate brogue pulled her attention away from the siblings.

Cordelia McGonagall was a thin, dainty woman too pretty for Hermione to process. Her clear blue eyes, porcelain skin, and flawless red hair made her resemble a china doll. It was especially jarring when compared to Bob, who shared the professor’s dark hair and grey eyes, his skin like tanned leather.

“I have your room ready upstairs.” She gestured, Hermione nodded and followed her up. “It’s a bit small, but I’m sure it’ll be cozy enough for you.” She opened the door, and Hermione peeked inside before entering.

There was a twin bed with a pastel-colored quilt and white sheets. There was an oak dresser and a small writing desk crammed against the far wall, the latter under the window overlooking the greenhouse and back garden. There was a small night table next to the bed.

“Minnie told us you lost everything, so I thought we could go to Hogsmeade tomorrow to get you a few things.”

“Oh, you really don’t have to,” Hermione protested, only to be waved off by Cordelia.

“We have a couple of nieces a bit older than you, who have some clothes they can give you, as well as some of their old schoolbooks. But there are some things a girl needs all her own.”

Hermione smiled, but her heart ached at the same time. Tears sprung to her eyes against her will as she recalled her mother taking her bra shopping just last summer. Despite being a dentist and an intellectual, Helen Granger still managed to blush and sputter when discussing undergarments with her daughter. Knickers had Dr. Granger claiming hot flashes instead of discomfort.

“Did I …?” Cordelia sobered, worry replacing embarrassment.

“No,” Hermione reassured. “You didn’t upset me, really, Mrs. McGonagall.”

Cordelia nodded and bowed her head, then they both heard the others coming up the stairs.

“Well, Miss Granger,” Professor McGonagall said, “if you’re settled, I’ll take my leave.”

“Thank you again, Professor.”

“It’s no trouble. And I’ll see you Sunday for dinner?” she asked, glancing at her brother. They agreed, and the adults left Hermione in her room.

Hermione moved to the window, taking in the back garden. It was so different from the one she’d looked at all her life. But then, it wasn’t as though she would ever go back to that life. She’d spent her days in the hospital wing crying for her losses: being separated from her parents and her friends, knowing it would be twenty years before she would see any of them again. She had to start anew. She’d nearly told Dumbledore to Obliviate her initial opinions of people but had thought better of it.

With a sigh and a heavy heart, Hermione opened the window and let in the fresh summer air of the Scottish countryside and allowed a few stray tears to escape before stepping away and heading downstairs.

—————A—————

 

November 2, 1992

 

Aurora did not like Hogwarts much. First, aside from her mother, Ginny Weasley, the Weasley twins, and Neville Longbottom, most Gryffindors avoided her. She heard whispers that everyone feared she’d rat them out to her father. Many hissed and wondered why she wasn’t in Slytherin where she “belonged.” And Draco….

When he shouted, “You’ll be next, Mudbloods!” after Mrs. Norris’ was found Petrified , she wanted to smack him. How stupid could he be? Couldn’t he see that his Aunt H. was the same person he so willingly threw the derogatory name at? They hadn’t really been avoiding each other, but now she was purposely distancing herself from one of her oldest friends.

Well, one of her oldest friends aside from Harry Potter.

She’d grown up in the wizarding world, but her mother had sent her to primary school in Surrey. She’d been considered a little strange and knowing that none of the kids were magical made her feel like an outsider. She had a few girls her own age that thought her weirdness was cool, but she felt more like an accessory to them than a friend. In truth, sometimes she liked hanging around with the lonely boy. The boy who wore oversized clothes and no one approached because his cousin was an obnoxious and grotesque bully. She liked him, and they had a sort of friendship.

At least, they had until she came to Hogwarts and he learned who her father was. He wasn’t mean to her, but he kept his distance. And after Halloween….

“Miss Snape,” she heard her father’s voice behind her as she walked briskly to lunch. She paused and turned, and despite the sneer he constantly wore these days, there was a glint of worry in his eyes. “A word.”

She nodded once and followed him down to his office. Once inside, he moved to the Floo , called for lunch, and then headed for his desk. He turned one of the wooden chairs into a plush armchair similar to the ones they had at home.

“How are things, Rory? Better?”

Aurora shook her head.

“I thought not,” he sighed. “How many…?”

“Too many,” she mumbled. “Since Saturday, I’ve been accused of being the Heir of Slytherin too many times to count. Harry, well, he’s tried to reason it’s Draco, and Mu—Hermione says it’s not either of us. But…”

“You’re my daughter and therefore the ‘logical’ heir. Their stunted little brains can’t think past that.”

“Are you always this mean?” she grumbled as she shifted.

“Here? Yes. You know why that is. Things might change year after next, when your … when Miss Granger is gone, though I make no guarantees. Merlin knows the magical florists will be sad to see my business go when I no longer feel the need to send your mother an apology for every degrading comment or insult I throw at her younger self.”

Aurora giggled as their lunch popped up on his desk between them.

A smile flickered across his face as he took a cloth napkin and flicked it open, setting it on his lap. As her giggles subsided, he sobered and cleared his throat. “I want you to go to Aunt Minnie if anyone threatens you. Be extra cautious and try not to travel alone. I mean it, Rory.”

“Yes, Dad.”

“Good. Now, it’s not much of a birthday meal, but this is the only time I had. So, tell me about your classes, and then we’ll have cake.”

 

—————H—————

 

August 9, 1974

 

“I’m sorry, you took how many courses last term?” Minerva demanded incredulously, setting her teacup and saucer down at Hermione’s declaration. Cordelia, or Delia as she insisted Hermione call her, giggled at her sister-in-law’s wide-eyed  expression before trying to hide her amusement behind her teacup.

Hermione blushed.

“All of them,” she repeated. “Though I dropped Divination, it was a load of codswallop. And while I’m sure there are witches and wizards capable of making accurate predictions, I’m certain the woman was a fraud.”

“Well,” Minerva sputtered, patting the bun at the nape of her neck. “You won’t be taking them all this year, I assure you.”

“Believe me, Professor . I have no desire to repeat the circumstances which allowed me to do so,” Hermione replied, watching Delia drop her gaze to her cup as she lowered it to her lap.

Over the time Hermione had spent with the McGonagalls, her Muggle heritage had become quite evident to them all. The McGonagall siblings were half-bloods as it were, and Delia was a Muggle-born from another village. She’d met Bob in school and when the time came to settle, the youngest McGonagall decided to settle in the very village where his parents had raised them. In a Muggle village Hermione had had no problem navigating or blending into.

She also had no problem blending in with the clan. While their father had passed, Mrs. McGonagall was still close by and frequently visited her youngest child and his wife for tea. She took a liking to Hermione and shared tales of her children and the ways their accidental magic caused humorous problems. Malcolm McGonagall’s children and wife were no less kind, though the youngest was older than Hermione and already out of school. The girls were thrilled to find a good home for their school uniforms and old clothes, their mother never allowing them to part with them for whatever reason. Hermione imagined it was in the hopes of a miracle for Delia and Bob.

“Good. Now, Transfiguration, Charms, Potions, Defense Against the Dark Arts, Astronomy, Herbology, and History of Magic are core courses, but you should take another two. And only two,” Minerva emphasized sternly. “What should I put you down for?”

“Ancient Runes and Arithmancy.”

“Good. Delia said that you’ve been helping Bob in the gardens?”

Hermione nodded. “It started as something to pass time, but he insisted he pay me a small wage since I’m technically harvesting for apothecaries.”

“She’ll have top marks in Herbology, and the best quality potions kit in all of Hogwarts,” Delia mused. “Bob’s been setting some ingredients aside for her, so she has less to buy in Diagon Alley at the end of the month.”

“Keira still had all her texts, I trust?” Minerva asked.

“And what she didn’t have, Malcolm Jr. did. Though you can tell he took far less care of them,” Hermione replied.

“He was very Quidditch-driven,” Minerva said just as the clock chimed three o’clock. She sighed heavily, setting her cup down. “I have to get back to the castle. Much needs to be done in preparation for the school year, and I’m afraid Albus will start to wonder where I’ve been going so frequently.”

“If you must, Minnie,” Delia said as she and Hermione set aside their tea and stood. The redhead embraced her sister-in-law. “We’ll see you Sunday.”

“Certainly,” Minerva assured, stepping back before embracing Hermione. “Let me know if there is anything else you need for the school year, and I’ll make sure the shopkeeps in Diagon Alley have them ready for you to pick up.”

“Oh, you don’t have—” Hermione began to protest as Minerva placed a finger on her lips to silence her.

“Family look out for one another,” she scolded with a smile. “And if there is one thing you have become over this month, it’s family. I will see you at dinner.” And with a wink, Minerva left.

“You should probably know she appears quite stern at school,” Delia commented after Minerva departed. “All our nephews and nieces have said so. They thought, especially if they ended up in Gryffindor, that she would favor them over others. She was stricter with them than anyone else.”

Hermione’s lips quirked as she remembered the Professor McGonagall of her time. Strict indeed, but she would never forget the tight embrace the older witch had given her when she was cured from her Petrified state.

“I imagine so.”

“Well, enough of all this school talk.” Delia waved her hand as if she could clear the conversation with the gesture. “Why don’t you help me with the washing up while we talk about Jane Eyre ? I finished the book last night, just couldn’t put it down!”

It wasn’t home, but with the McGonagalls, she was beginning to think it was the closest she would ever get to the feeling again.

 

September 1, 1974

 

 

“And you’re sure you have everything?” Delia asked Hermione for the half-dozenth time since Flooing into the Leaky Cauldron.

Bob sighed and made a show of rolling his eyes. “Delia, I’m sure that even if she didn’t, we’d be able to get it to her.”

“I know.” Delia sniffled, and she dabbed her eyes with her handkerchief as they made their way to platform nine and three-quarters . “Just, well, I never thought we’d be doing this, you know?” she muttered, a watery smile on her face.

“Hold it together a bit longer, dear,” Bob said, placing a gentle hand on her back. He then nodded to Hermione, who nodded back. She turned to the wall and took off at a run, cart first. She lost her breath in awe as she passed through the barrier and emerged in front of the Hogwarts Express. Immediately, one of the men working the platform collected her cart to load her trunk into the cargo hold.

It felt strange not having a familiar with her. Crookshanks hadn’t been in her life for very long, but there was still an empty spot in her heart where the half-Kneazle  had been. She wondered from time to time what would happen to him but seeing as how he had a mind of his own and a thing for Sirius, she assumed he’d find his own lot in life (again).

So, this year, instead of clutching a cat carrier, she held her bookbag.

“All right,” Delia’s voice hitched behind her. Hermione turned to see the couple who took her in, gave her a home, and treated her as their own looking quite forlornly at her. “Give our love to Minnie, when you can. And … and it’s been quite fantastic having you stay with us, Hermione.”

She furrowed her brow. “Oh,” she gasped, her heart heavy. “I thought … well, I mean … it sounds as though this is more than seeing me off to school. Are you … is this goodbye, then?”

Delia and Bob looked at one another in surprise. “Not if you don’t want it to be,” Bob answered slowly. “We assumed, once you found a friend or two, that you would try to spend your time away from Hogwarts with them.”

A lump formed in Hermione’s throat. “Oh.” She was at a loss for words. Instead, she launched herself at them and hugged them tightly. “I promise to write. And I’m sure if I’m not back for Christmas it’s because—”

“Min,” Bob said, pressing his hand into Hermione’s back just above where Delia’s rested. “We understand. Know that you are more than welcome to leave with her whenever you can for a family function. It’s only been a short time, but we think … well—”

“We think of you as a McGonagall,” Delia finished for him. “If not a daughter, then a very beloved and favorite niece.”

Unable to find words, Hermione merely nodded.

“Now, go on,” Delia encouraged as firmly as she could while sniffling. “Always easier to find an empty compartment and let people come sit with you than to find one and have to introduce yourself.”

“You’re right.” She willed herself to step away from the McGonagalls, walking backward and waving until it was too hectic for her to continue, then quickly boarded the train.

She moved past a few compartments with people in them until she found an empty one. She sat close to the window, gazing out at the students bidding farewell to their parents. It was such a stark contrast when compared to her departure the year before. Everyone had been worried about a murderer on the loose. What’s more, even the clothing indicated a difference in decade. Robes were the main fashion, of course, but even the cuts and colors were more psychedelic than they had been when Hermione left for her third year.

And she had been different. She had parted ways with her parents in new Muggle clothes and had been secretly smug about taking all available classes and felt she was above her friends because she had already read through the textbooks. She’d been so certain they would have no trouble that year, because while Sirius Black was on the loose, there was no way any danger could come to Hogwarts.

Now, she sat alone in her hand-me-down uniform, her second-hand robes folded neatly beside her as she read through the battered fourth-year Charms  book for the first time. She made a vow to herself to not draw attention to herself like she had before. She would not be the Muggle-born know-it-all, insufferable or otherwise. At minimum, she would pretend to be a half-blood. She would not try to prove she was worthy of her magical education; she would simply receive it.

She wasn’t sure how much time passed before the compartment door opened and the sound of a girl chatting broke through the silence.

“And so, I told Tuney that she was being absolutely ridiculous, but she just turned up her nose at me and said—oh! Sorry, er.”

Hermione looked up into familiar green eyes and did her best to keep her face neutral as her heart twisted. She hadn’t even arrived at Hogwarts and already the thing she feared the most was happening.

“Do you mind if we join you?”

“Go ahead,” Hermione replied, catching a glimpse of dark hair behind her. She returned to her book, not wishing to disturb their conversation.

“I … I don’t mean to sound rude, but you’re wearing my house colors and I don’t recognize you. And you’re not a first year. I mean, you wouldn’t have been sorted by now if you were. So, er, do you mind … I mean, my name’s Lily. Lily Evans. I’m in fourth year.”

Hermione looked up at the earnest redhead and couldn’t help but smile a little. “I’m a fourth year, too. Hermione Granger.”

“Hi!” Lily said again, and then as if she’d forgotten, she turned to the boy beside her. “This is Sev. He’s a fourth year too, but he’s in a different house.”

It only took one look at the boy for Hermione to see that she should have known precisely who he was the moment they entered the car. His nose was a bit bigger than she remembered, and his hair a bit longer, but it still had that lank, greasy look to it. And his eyes. If none of the other factors were obvious, his eyes were a dead giveaway.

He sent a dark scowl at Lily, then turned to Hermione with his chin raised slightly. “Severus Snape,” he said, his voice not yet the deep baritone she was familiar with, but certainly deeper than Ron’s or Harry’s had been.

“Pleasure,” she said, hoping that she hadn’t incurred his disdain in this decade already.

She noted that his eyes scanned over her and her belongings, though it was done with as much subtlety as a fourteen-year-old boy could muster. He did so while Lily spoke, obviously using Hermione’s perceived eye contact as a distraction.

“So how are you a fourth year and I’ve never seen you? You didn’t get resorted or bumped ahead, did you? Well, not like you look like you could have been bumped ahead, but….”

“I’m a transfer student from Ilvermorny,” she told them. “I was sorted when the Ministry  brought me to Hogwarts to register me.”

Severus frowned. “The Ministry?”

Hermione nodded. “I lost my parents in an accident. I was orphaned,” she explained, swallowing the lump that formed each time she said the ‘o’ word.

“And Ilvermorny is … where?” Lily asked.

Hermione cleared her throat. “Massachusetts.”

“In the States ?” Lily shrieked with wide-eyed amazement.

“So how did you end up here?” Severus asked, eyes narrowed.

“We were there for my parents’ work,” she lied, and she found she couldn’t maintain eye contact as she did so. She ran her finger along her Charms book. “They were finishing up a four-year project abroad. I came with them and we were exploring Diagon Alley when something … happened.”

“What?” Lily asked as if it was the end of a long, breath-taking story.

Hermione shook her head.

“You can’t tell us,” Severus stated, and Hermione shook her head with a sad smile.

“Why not?” Lily pouted.

The train jolted as it began to move, and Lily scrambled over Severus to the window. She stuck her head out and yelled out farewells while waving her arm. She did that until the station was well away from view, and Hermione felt as awkward and uncomfortable as Severus looked.

Lily let out a puff of air, smiling serenely before turning back and looking between the two. “What were we talking about? Oh, right, so you went to school in the States. A magical school in the States, how unbelievably wicked is that. So, do they have houses there, too? Are their rivals? Which one were you in?”

“Er,” Hermione stalled, curling her legs beneath her on the seat. “There are houses, of course. And rivalries, I mean. Quidditch, right? And, er, I was in … the Horned Serpent.”

Severus snorted, and Lily shot him a glare before smiling at Hermione. “Well, I think it’s very interesting that you were in an entirely different magical school. There can’t be that many of them, can there?”

“Well, there are three in Europe,” Severus mumbled.

“About five in North America,” Hermione added thoughtfully.

“Two in China.”

“Actually, I think there are about six in Asia altogether.”

“And let’s not forget that there are probably half a dozen in Africa and South America.”

“All right!” Lily shouted, stopping them. “Geez, and I thought Sev was bad for knowing everything.”

Severus blushed and looked at the wall, and Hermione ducked her head to hide the grin threatening to erupt. Ha! Who’s an insufferable know-it-all now, Snape!

“Well, I think you’re going to love it,” Lily continued. “Because no matter how many magical schools there are in the world, Hogwarts is obviously the best.”

“Except for the school song,” Severus mumbled.

Hoggy-hoggy-Hogwarts,” Hermione sang under her breath. When all that did was make Severus smirk, but Lily looked upset, she sighed. “I’m sure that I will feel more at home at Hogwarts than anywhere else.”

“Of course you will. And you’ll be with me, in my dorm. I can introduce you to Alice and Marlene. It’ll be nice to have another Gryffindor girl in our year.”

There was something about that statement that made Severus shift nervously.

Before Hermione could begin to wonder why, the door to their car slid open, and she turned to see the spitting image of her best friend.

Chapter Text

September 1, 1974 (continued)

 

“Hey, Evans.” The boy who could only be James Potter leaned against the door frame and smiled a smarmy grin that Hermione had only ever seen on Cormac McLaggen and Draco Malfoy. Such a display on that face instantly disconnected James from her Harry. Harry, who was somewhat shy and didn’t want to draw attention to himself, would never look at a girl the way James looked at Lily: as if she were a conquest.

Knowing the future as she did, Hermione expected only one response from Lily.

She was terribly surprised to see the opposite.

“Go away, James,” she replied immediately in genuine exasperation. “I was looking forward to a peaceful train ride.”

“So why are you in here with Snivellus?” a handsome dark-haired boy asked with a chuckle, causing a short pudgy blond  boy to laugh.

“That’s awful,” Hermione said, glaring at the group of boys.

It drew their attention to her for the first time. The dark-haired boy, who was truly a bit too handsome, smiled broadly as he slowly looked her over. “Well, well, well. Who do we have here? I haven’t seen you around the common room before. What’s your name, Kitten?”

“Kitten?” Sirius Black had whispered upon seeing her in the Shack. “No, I’ve gone mad, alone in the dark for all these years.”

Hermione’s jaw dropped, not only at the audacity, but at the fact that Azkaban had changed Sirius so much.

“She’s Hermione,” Lily said, much to Hermione’s displeasure. “She’s a transfer student.”

“Well,” Sirius said as he slid into the car and sidled up beside Hermione. He draped his arm over the back of the seat and grinned with obnoxious self-confidence. “It’s great to see you were sorted into the best house of Hogwarts. But what Evans can’t accept is that one should never hang around with snakes. Those are the Slytherins, by the way, and they always go dark. Bit obsessed with the Dark Arts, really. That’s what Snivellus over there is.”

There were chuckles from the boys who didn’t notice the way Hermione’s hair started to crackle as she raised  her chin. “I, for one, know that not all Gryffindors are good,” she spat, fighting the urge to look at the chubby blond she guessed was Peter Pettigrew. “It’s said that Merlin himself was a Slytherin, so tell me how your logic works? And quite honestly, in the very short time I’ve been on this train, I have found his company far superior to yours and he’s barely spoken.”

“Maybe that’s why you think his company is superior,” James commented.

“Perhaps. At least he hasn’t opened his mouth and revealed himself to be a pompous arrogant moron who honestly believes the color of his dormitory bed sheets makes him better.”

“Actually, I believe that’s demonstrated by the new robes and clean hair,” James retorted.

“My robes are second-hand. And if you think your hair is considered ‘clean’ with the amount of products in it, then we certainly need to find you a dictionary. Maybe that will also help in our next conversation. By then, I’m sure you’ll understand big words and understand that the ones I would use to describe you in this moment are not very flattering.” She then turned to Sirius. “Kindly extract yourself from my personal space, you were neither invited nor wanted.”

Sirius lifted his hands in surrender, standing and backing away toward a scowling James and Peter. “All right, but don’t be surprised if in a week or two you find yourself changing your mind. I have a way with people like that.”

“I doubt that,” Hermione sneered.

Sirius merely chuckled as he turned, gesturing for the rest of them to follow. James glared at Severus before turning away. Just before the door closed behind them, Severus flinched and hissed through his teeth.

“What is it?” Hermione asked, trying to quiet her thoughts screaming that this was not at all the story Professor Lupin had painted for Harry about his parents.

“Nothing,” Severus scowled, tucking his left hand in his sleeve.

“Did he hex you?” Lily asked, yanking at Severus’ hand.

There was a small welt forming just below the first knuckle of his thumb.

“Of course he did,” Severus gritted out. “Do you really think they would just pop in for a chat and leave without trying something?”

Hermione glared at the door before reaching for her backpack and digging through it. Once she found the burn salve Delia insisted she carry, she chucked it to Severus without a word. He caught it with his good hand, frowning at the jar before looking at her with suspicion.

“It’s just something to heal it,” she said with a shrug.

“I didn’t ask for it,” Severus growled, tossing it back to her.

Hermione caught it and rolled her eyes. “I’m aware you didn’t, but I thought it would be useful,” she retorted before chucking it back with a bit more force.

“I don’t need your help,” he snapped as he tossed it back. It collided with the back of the seat but didn’t break or spill.

“Fine,” Hermione huffed, taking the jar and stuffing it back in the bag. “Enjoy the discomfort for the next couple hours.” She grabbed her Charms book and opened it pointedly.

She was aware that Lily and Severus were conversing, but she didn’t hear a word of it.

Instead, she mulled over what she had witnessed.

She could believe that Sirius had been like this all along. But James? She simply couldn’t understand how Harry’s parents were married and in love if this was how they interacted heading into their fourth year at Hogwarts. She did the math in her head: they died at about twenty-one, and Harry had been just over a year old. Lily would have been pregnant at nineteen, meaning that, if she was turning fifteen, she’d have to have changed her mind about James Potter enough in four years to conceive with him. Unless, of course, it was more a marriage of honor. Hermione knew enough about sex and relationships to know they didn’t always coincide with one another. She had a cousin who was a product of a one-night mishap, and his parents were together only to raise him as a unit. But she just couldn’t help but remember the pictures she’d seen of them. They looked happy and in love. Maybe it was an act, maybe….

“Do you find Charms that difficult? Is the material more advanced than you expected?” Severus’ jeering tone brought Hermione out of her reverie , and she turned to him in surprise.

“What? No, not that. My mind wandered.”

“A daydreamer, then? Typical more of Hufflepuffs than Gryffindors.”

Hermione snorted, wanting to comment on the daydreaming numpties in her own house, but she felt her throat closing before the words escaped. “Wasn’t daydreaming,” she managed to say, though her voice was a bit raspy. “Just … amazed by first impressions, is all.” She looked at him. “Why do they dislike you, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“I do mind,” he grumbled. “But since Lily scolded me for not being nicer to you … I have no idea. Because I exist? Because I’m Slytherin? The reasons are endless.”

Hermione took in this thin lanky boy with bad hair and a bad disposition. “The Sorting Hat wanted to put me in Slytherin but wasn’t sure it was a good fit.” She offered a truth not even her two best friends had known. “It considered Ravenclaw as well but thought I would never reach my true potential there. Gryffindor was the only place left. So, really, disliking someone simply for their house is ridiculous, as some people shouldn’t or wouldn’t fit in any other than the one they were placed in.” She glanced at the door and frowned. “And if they dislike you simply for existing, well, it’s hardly like their presence is going to make the wizarding world a better place.”

He gave the barest of smiles, a tiny quirk of the lips, but she knew he knew she’d seen it. So, she smiled back, and decided then and there that if James Potter was an arse of the biggest kind, then maybe Severus Snape wasn’t the man she thought he was.

 

September 3, 1974

 

It took a full day of classes for Hermione to notice one thing about Lily Evans: she was a bit of a flake. It wasn’t that she wasn’t smart, Lily was quite good in Charms and Transfiguration, and had a decent, comprehensive knowledge of Astronomy. But the moment they arrived at the school, Lily had taken off with the girls of their year without so much as a ‘see you later’ for Severus. Hermione had offered him a smile and a wave, but he hadn’t returned it. His eyes had been on Lily, sad and disappointed but not at all surprised.

She thought that maybe it was the rush of being back at school and seeing the friends she hadn’t spoken to all summer, but while Lily let Severus wait for her and walk her to class, she was quick to sit beside and partner up with either Alice or Marlene. Both were nice enough, Hermione supposed, but far too interested in boys and beauty for her taste.

She’d sat next to Severus when it was clear no one else was going to, not even his own housemates. He’d sneered at first, especially for the first two classes. But when Lily left them for Divination and the two had Ancient Runes together, he seemed to understand that she sat with him because he was an ally of sorts. She didn’t really know anyone else, and the other options were far less than palatable.

Therefore, it wasn’t at all surprising that as the three of them walked into Potions the following morning, Lily went to join the other girls. Hermione stayed with Severus as he made his way to the back bench. She frowned as Alice went with Frank Longbottom, leaving Marlene with Lily.

“Has Lily partnered with you before?” Hermione asked as she noted that there was an even amount of Slytherins.

“Only in first year,” Severus replied. “I’ve worked by myself the last two years.”

She rolled her eyes. “Believe me, Severus, I wouldn’t—” The grip on her heart prevented her from saying the rest of the sentence. I wouldn’t dream of disrupting you in your subject.

He frowned, noticing her abrupt and obviously unintentional stop, but wasn’t able to comment on it because the professor walked in.

Professor Slughorn was like day to Professor Snape’s night: short, fat, and utterly ridiculous. Hermione could only shake her head in disbelief.

“Good morning, good morning. How have you all been? How was your summer? I hope it was all quite well. I thought perhaps we could start with a simple practical, ensure you all haven’t forgotten how to brew a basic hair-raising potion?” He smiled jovially, twitching his elbow toward a nearby Slytherin as if giving a ribbing.

“He’s not at all what I expected,” Hermione commented as she and Severus pulled out their kits before moving to retrieve their cauldrons.

“And what were you expecting?” Severus asked.

“Intimidating. Tall and much more … looming. I expected presence, magnetism.”

“Your previous Potions master, I expect?” he queried as he got his cauldron.

Hermione stretched on her toes, her fingers grazing the rim of her cauldron but not quite grasping it. It shouldn’t have surprised her when Severus reached up and grabbed hers as well, handing it to her, but it did. He didn’t smile when she thanked him, he merely nodded, but it was another un-Snape-like gesture that reminded her that he had yet to become the man she had known.

“Yes,” she finally managed to say. “My last Potions professor was exactly that.”

“Oh,” Professor Slughorn said behind her, and before she could turn, she felt his arm drape around her. Hermione grimaced, turning away from him as much as she could while he held her. “And you must be Miss Granger. I was told in the staff meeting to expect you. I was actually surprised when Albus did not have you sorted with the first years.” She kept quiet, feeling everyone’s eyes on her as Professor Slughorn kept her beside him. He was the first teacher to draw attention to her. “Tell me, you wouldn’t happen to be a relative of potioneer Hector Dagworth-Granger?”

Her immediate instinct was to tell the truth, but as she glanced around to see the Slytherins eyeing them with interest, as well as a few Gryffindors, she murmured, “Distantly, I believe.”

“Splendid, splendid. You should give our young Mr. Snape a challenge, then, with potioneers in your family tree.” He finally let her go, and Hermione all but ran back to their work station.

“I imagine there are potioneers in many families,” she mumbled when Severus joined her.

“None quite of that caliber,” he retorted as they opened their potions kit. His eyes immediately fell on Hermione’s ingredients. “And I’m sure not all families have resources like that.”

Hermione looked between him and the kit before she understood what he was saying. Her ingredients would have cost a fortune this fresh from an apothecary. No student, save those from affluent families, would have a kit like this. “One of my guardians is a Herbologist. He let me take what I needed for my kit, so I didn’t spend my money unnecessarily.”

Severus’ cheeks reddened, and he immediately turned away and focused entirely too hard on his potion and taking notes in the margin of his textbook.

After about halfway through brewing, she felt his gaze dart to her while waiting for the next step. She peeked at him, but he immediately averted his eyes and tried to appear nonchalant.

“All right. Let’s bottle those potions and bring them to the front of the room,” Professor Slughorn called out at the end of the first hour. “And now that I’m sure you are all awake, we will discuss what to expect this upcoming year, and go over some of the properties of Draught of the Living Dead .”

Hermione had already decanted her potion, as had Severus, and before she could move, he took her vial and took it up to the front of the room with his own.

When he returned, she nodded in thanks and he nodded once in acknowledgment. Still, she couldn’t help but notice how his shoulders weren’t so tense anymore.

 

 

September 21, 1974

 

 

Dear Delia, 

 

First and foremost, I’m sorry for taking so long to write. It was never my intention to wait this long. I spent the first week adjusting to how different things are compared to what I’m used to. While many of the professors are extremely similar to my previous professors, some are vastly different. Professor Slughorn, for instance, is quite lax compared to my previous Potions instructor. Thankfully, my lab partner, Severus, is as studious as I am and has no interest in slacking.

I met him on the train, along with our mutual friend Lily. We’re civil and I may even go so far as to say we are kind to one another, but it’s quite obvious that the only reason he even bothers to hang out with me is because of Lily.

She and I are in Gryffindor together, and that’s why she’s the person I’m closest to at the moment. Though, if I’m honest, I don’t feel a true connection with her. Lily is outgoing and vivacious and draws people to her like a moth to flame. She’s friends with all the girls in our year, and while I do find Alice Diggory to be tolerable, Marlene McKinnon leaves much to be desired. There was a girl in my dorm at my previous school who I thought was the most vapid and self-obsessed girl who ever lived. Marlene could easily have been this girl’s inspiration.

All that to say, I don’t care much for most students in my year and house. The boys, with the exception of Frank Longbottom and Remus Lupin, are horrid. The former seems content enough to keep to himself until he can socialize with those in other houses, the latter … he needs to find new friends.

I haven’t told Minerva this, since I’m sure it wouldn’t make a difference. If the glares she sends them are any indication, she shares my opinions anyway.

I wish I could give you a reason for not writing the other two weeks. I’ve had a difficult time, and I’ve been so caught up in my studies and adjusting to life away from the village and Bob’s greenhouse that I lost track of time. I’m sorry. I promise to write more often and won’t wait until Halloween to give you an update.

Hope the warm weather has reached your neck of Scotland.

Yours,

Hermione

She finished the letter in her quiet dormitory before heading up to the Owlery. The weather really was quite fantastic for late September, it was a nice walk to drop off her letter.

It was Saturday, so most of the students were sprawled around the grounds, soaking up what may be the last of the warm sunshine before autumn set in. Her journey through the castle, then, was mostly devoid of people. She passed a first-year Ravenclaw on her way up the stairs to the tower, but that was it.

Until she got to the Owlery and discovered Severus sitting on a ledge that looked relatively clean. He was looking out one of the arrow loops, eyes cast to the ground below.

“Come hang around the owls often?” she teased as she entered the room, looking for a school owl she could send her post with.

“No,” Severus said simply. After an owl fluttered down to Hermione and offered its leg, he added, “Lily said you would be up here.”

“You were looking for me?” She frowned, glancing quickly at him over her shoulder while she tied her letter to the owl’s leg.

Severus snorted. “No, not really.” She turned toward him as the owl took off through another window. He scuffed his foot against the stone floor, avoiding her eyes. “I thought maybe you’d join her after you sent your letter. And that she might leave the others to spend some time with you.”

“Alice and the Harpy?” Hermione snorted as she went to lean on the wall beside him. She crossed her arms. “I wouldn’t hold your breath for that, I heard the Harpy was quite excited to spend the day charming each other’s nails while gossiping about the idiot boys in our house. Fourth year and above only, of course.”

“And you aren’t down there because?” he asked without making eye contact.

“Do I strike you as someone who would engage in such inane conversation?”

“Your hair could benefit from their attention,” he retorted, and she gaped at him in indignation.

“And yours is the epitome of perfection,” she shot back. He stiffened and his jaw clenched, but he said nothing. “Regardless, I have no intention of joining them. I’m heading to the library to work on my Charms homework.”

“That’s funny,” Sirius’ voice came from the doorway, and Severus was instantly on his feet, facing the four newcomers with his wand out. “We thought we’d do the same thing.”

“What do you want, Sirius?” Hermione sighed.

“Why, something to practice on, Kitten,” he gloated.

“You were going to come up here to charm owls?”

Sirius, James, and Peter laughed, not moving from the doorway. “Hardly,” Sirius taunted, and before either she or Severus could react, he pointed his wand at Severus and said, “Engorgio .”

Severus’ already large nose began to grow.

As all the Gryffindor boys began to chuckle, Hermione withdrew her wand … and hesitated. Magic in the halls was strictly forbidden. Except, well, this wasn’t really a hallway, was it? And besides, it was four against one. Against two.

Before she could second-guess herself, Hermione whispered, “Slugulus Eructo!”

She doubted the boys heard or saw her cast it, but when Sirius was jostled by the impact, they stopped laughing and looked at one another in confusion. A moment later, Sirius turned sallow and green before doubling over and retching heavily. The amount of slugs that poured from his mouth and over James’ shoes was almost enough for Hermione to join in.

“What the hell, Granger?” James grimaced.

“I don’t need your help,” Severus snapped while clutching his nose.

“Maybe he just needs to be a bit ug—” Sirius started to say before forcefully vomiting again. He coughed, sputtered, and rasped out something.

The moment Hermione saw him raise his wand, she bumped a stubborn Severus out of the way. It did, however, result in her getting hit with whatever Sirius had cast.

She felt her front teeth, already bigger than she’d like, growing. The sensation was uncomfortable as it was but feeling them move along her chin was quite disconcerting. And upsetting.

“Ha! Nice one, Padfoot,” James said, giving Sirius a hardy pat on the back.

She glimpsed through the tears in her eyes that the pat caused Sirius to spew more slugs.

Severus flicked his wand and all of James’ hair slid off his head and fell into the pile of slugs at his feet.

He patted his head, and Hermione couldn’t help but snicker at the panic and desperation on his face.

That didn’t stop him from flicking his wand, making Severus’ legs collapse under him, his foot connecting with Hermione’s and taking her down with him. Her long teeth smacked against the stone, making her see spots as pain filled her skull.

“What in Merlin’s name is going on here?” Professor McGonagall demanded.

“We were just up here to send off some post,” James said quickly.

“Yes, I see the post you intended to send,” she responded sharply. “As well as two students on the floor with some … enhancements.”

Severus snorted, and when Hermione shifted her gaze, his eyes met hers. “I see no difference.”

“Neither do I,” she hissed, the pain in her mouth and skull superseding his harsh commentary. His lips curled as he sneered, then he grimaced and held his nose again.

“Okay, Miss Granger, Mister Snape, Mister Black, hospital wing. Mister Potter, well, your hair will grow back.” Professor McGonagall stood sternly at the door, gesturing for Hermione and Severus to get off the floor and do as instructed.

“You’ll pay for this,” James threatened under his breath as they passed. Neither Hermione nor Severus acknowledged him.

 

—————H—————

 

“What were you thinking, Sev?” Lily scolded as he lay in the hospital bed next to Hermione’s. He was staring at his hands on the blankets. “It’s one thing that you always get into it with them, but dragging Hermione into it with you? I asked you to find her and talk to her, not to—”

“Talk to me about what, Lily?” Hermione asked, her words still muffled from the elongated teeth. Apparently vomiting slugs was more concerning than enlarged teeth, but not quite as serious as an enlarged nose.

Lily finally looked up to Hermione, her eyes immediately going to her protruding teeth before looking away again. “Nothing,” Lily replied, her cheeks coloring. “I just thought that, well, since Sev was lonely, he could find you. Better than hanging around with them.”

“They’re my housemates, Lily. What do you want me to do, ignore them?” Severus protested.

“Yes!” Lily snapped. “You hear what they call me, Severus. They aren’t nice.”

Hermione could guess what the Slytherins called her. Severus’s eyes shifted toward Hermione but did not look at her.

After a long pause, he swallowed and said, “I can’t ignore them. I have to watch my back everywhere else in this school, I won’t do it in my own dormitory. And just because I spend time with them doesn’t mean I agree with them!”

“Sirius cast the first hex,” Hermione interjected, watching Lily tense, preparing to say something. “We were in the Owlery, talking. Just like you asked him to. He found me, we chatted. Those idiots came and started everything.”

As the words tumbled out of her mouth, Hermione could only think of the troll in the girls’ washroom. How she lied for Harry and Ron’s sake, and how they became friends after that. She wasn’t sure why, since she wasn’t lying, and Lily was hardly anyone of authority. She felt Severus’ eyes on her, and she looked at him as she continued.

“I have no idea why you’re snapping at him, especially when he didn’t get to defend himself before I got involved. Really, me hexing Sirius made things worse. So honestly, if you’re going to berate someone, berate me. And don’t you dare growl at him for dragging me into anything.”

Lily opened and closed her mouth a few times before saying, “This isn’t the first time it’s happened, you know.”

“I deduced that for myself.”

Before Lily could say anything else, Madam Pomfrey came over to the bed and smiled down at Hermione. “All right, Miss Granger. Now, I can’t say your teeth will return to their original appearance,” -she placed a gentle reassuring hand on Hermione’s shoulder- “but at least you’ll be able to talk and eat.”

“And close your mouth,” Severus added. “You’ve been drooling.”

“At least there may be an improvement when she’s done with me,” Hermione replied, forcing herself to keep the smile off her face when she noticed Severus’ eyes held a twinkle of amusement.

“Honestly, the pair of you!” Lily flung her hands in the air. She growled as she stormed out of the hospital wing.

“Yes, well, shall we get started, then?” Madam Pomfrey said with a sigh. At Hermione’s nod, the matron began to perform the counter-charm.

It was disconcerting to feel her teeth shrinking, more so than their growth. Hermione shut her eyes tightly, balling her hands into fists to not fidget from the uncomfortable sensation. She felt them move past her lower lip, then her upper, and then stop. Blinking open her eyes, she ran her tongue along the top row. Her eyes widened as she felt how perfectly even they were. Madam Pomfrey conjured a mirror, and then walked away with a knowing smile.

Examining her reflection, Hermione involuntarily reached up to touch them.

“My parents wouldn’t let me fix them before,” she muttered to herself.

“Why?” Severus asked.

She merely shook her head, knowing there was no way she could explain it without giving away that she wasn’t a half-blood. “Doesn’t matter,” she managed to whisper. “I suppose … maybe I should thank Sirius.”

Severus snorted. “I don’t think his ego needs any more inflating.”

“Hmm, probably right.” After a time, she set the mirror down and turned to Severus. “How long do you think before James tries the Hair Growth Charm?”

“I think the question would be whether or not he can find someone competent enough to cast it.”

“I know it.”

“Of course you do.”

“And can cast it.”

“Of course you can.”

“And why do you say it like that?”

“Because you’re a bloody know-it-all,” Severus said with an exasperated chuckle. His hand then shot in the air and waved around. “This is you every class, without fail. Before you showed up, people were called on, and we got a good laugh at their idiotic answers. It’s only been three weeks and I’m sure I’m not the only one who wants you to go back to where you came from.”

From the moment the words left his mouth, Hermione knew he regretted them.

But it hurt. She would never get back to where she came from, and the painful reminder of turning fifteen two days ago with no one the wiser still lingered.

Without a word, Hermione got off the bed and left the hospital wing. Severus didn’t try to stop her.

 

—————H—————

 

“I’m going to have to give you detention, you understand?” Professor McGonagall’s voice pulled Hermione out of her reverie in the library.

It looked like her solitude was about to come to an end.

She set her book down on the table and looked up at the professor.

“I figured.”

“I heard the story from Messrs. Black and Potter, and Mister Snape won’t say a thing. He never has. Will you give your account of the incident?”

“Severus was in the Owlery when I arrived to send some post. We’d barely begun talking when the lot of them interrupted us. Sirius said they came up for Charms ‘practice.’ And he even confessed that he wasn’t there for the owls, which only makes me think they used the Ma—” she coughed violently, and then groaned in frustration. “Apparently I can’t tell you.”

“Hermione—” Minerva began gently.

“Maybe I should,” Hermione said with a set jaw. “Maybe I should just resist the blasted Vow long enough to tell you something. Then I would be put out of my misery, wouldn’t I?”

“You don’t mean—”

“I’ve lost my family and friends. And let … ugh! I can’t even say more than that. And really, how horrible does that sound? I lost my family because I tripped over a bloody cat!” She huffed, a couple of tears escaping her.

“Five points from Gryffindor for language,” Minerva said gently. “But I do understand the frustration. I understand why Albus asked you to make an Unbreakable Vow, especially since he knows what happens in the future—”

“What do you mean?”

“Well.” Minerva frowned. “You told him, didn’t you? There’s the problem with You-Know-Who and his followers, he mentioned that you had information—”

“He said he didn’t think he should know,” Hermione interrupted. “He said that it wouldn’t be wise. That’s why he made me take the Vow, so I couldn’t say anything to anyone.”

“Hm,” Minerva said, still frowning in confusion as she looked around the room. She took a breath and turned back to Hermione. “Either way, I’m sure it will get better. And I would like to think that Bob and Delia have made you feel like family.”

Hermione bowed her head. “Right now, my parents are … finishing dental school. They married last year, I think. They won’t consider having me until it’s nearly too late. They’re out there right now and I can’t see them. I may never see them again. By the time I see my friends again, I’ll be old enough to be their mother. God knows I’ve always nagged them like one.

“I’ve told myself time and time again, from the moment I arrived, that this would be a fresh start. But I only just really remembered to write to Delia, and when I went to sign it … I didn’t know what to do. And I haven’t made any real friends here.”

“There’s Miss Evans and Mr. Snape—” Minerva said, but Hermione shook her head.

“Lily isn’t really a friend, but she’s more than any of the others, since I don’t have any patience or anything in common with the other girls. And Severus, well, he only tolerates me because Lily asks him to.”

“I see,” Minerva consented with a sigh. “Well, you’ve missed dinner, and I cannae have you avoiding meals. Delia will have my hide if she catches wind of it. Let’s head to my office and I’ll have the house-elves bring tea for you.” She rose, offering Hermione her hand. “And then we’ll discuss your detention on Monday night.”

Hermione couldn’t help the chuckle that escaped her as she followed Minerva out of the library.

 

 

September 23, 1974

 

 

She stayed out of sight for the rest of the weekend. Lily had said nothing more than a “see you around” when Hermione had left for the library.

She went down to breakfast alone Monday morning. She ate her porridge with her head bent over a book, feeling eyes on her but ignoring them. When she finished, she packed up, noticed that Lily wasn’t ready, and moved to leave on her own.

“Hermione,” she heard Remus call, and she stopped as he jogged up to her. Glancing past him, she noticed Sirius watching them with interest, James (whose hair was decidedly too long now) was distracted by Lily. Peter was staring beady-eyed at Sirius. “Er, about Saturday—”

“What about it?” she asked, her attention back on Remus.

“Well, er.” He wrung his hands. “The thing is, they didn’t mean to get into it with you.”

“No,” she said, crossing her arms against her chest. “No, they meant to get into it with Severus.”

“Look,” he sighed, glancing over his shoulder. She guessed she wasn’t supposed to have noticed the encouraging gesture Sirius gave him. “Snape … isn’t exactly a nice guy.”

“I’m well aware of that.”

Remus furrowed his brow. “You are?”

“Yes. Since I’ve known him, he finds a way to insult me at least once in a conversation, and I’m blatantly aware that he would much rather I disappear than be in his presence.” She huffed, thinking of the future Professor Snape as much as the words Severus spoke on Saturday. “But he doesn’t seek out people for the sole purpose of hexing them. He doesn’t intentionally hinder others from learning. And most importantly, at this moment, he would never send another person to make his apologies.” At this she looked purposely at Sirius, who smiled smugly at her. She glared and looked back at Remus. “So, forgive me if I choose the lesser of two evils. I’ll see you in class, Remus.” Hermione gave a curt nod and headed toward the doors.

“You were supposed to get her to come with us,” she heard Sirius complain, and shook her head in disbelief that he could think that she would join them after Saturday. But then again, he had been in another section of the hospital wing and just out of sight on Saturday. He certainly hadn’t left before she had, so he must have heard her and Severus.

That gave her pause, but only for a moment. The Marauders had seen an opening, and they had attempted to exploit it to either hurt Severus (which wouldn’t have worked) or sway Lily (which also wouldn’t have worked).

“Bloody fantastic,” she grumbled, picking up speed and storming out of the Great Hall.

Shortly afterward, Severus fell into step with her. “You’re a pain in the arse.”

“I believe we’ve already covered you would rather I not exist, I don’t need further insult from you,” she said in a clipped tone, picking up her pace in a vain attempt to get away from him.

“I didn’t … fuck, would you stop?” he snapped quietly. She stopped, but she didn’t turn around. “I’m sorry for what I said on Saturday, but only the part where I said that … I meant every word about you being an insufferable know-it-all. It drives me absolutely spare and the Slytherins mock you constantly.” Hermione peeked at him to see him run his hand through his hair. She hadn’t noticed that it wasn’t quite so greasy in the mornings. Limp, yes, lank most certainly, but that greasy look wasn’t there. He glanced over, seeing he had her attention. “I may have also still been a bit defensive about the Owlery. I don’t need someone defending me, and I certainly don’t need someone willing to patch them up to do so.”

“I said I could perform the charm,” Hermione said, turning a bit toward him. “I never said I would.”

Severus frowned. “He has hair now.”

“Astute observation. However, it’s far too long. I, as an insufferable know-it-all, would have stopped before it got to that point. What’s more, I was in the library all weekend.”

“Right.”

“And as for defending you, whether you wanted or needed my help doesn’t matter. I was there, and I certainly wasn’t going to stand by and let you get hexed by those idiots.”

“They’re from your own house.”

She shrugged. “That’s right.”

“I’m a Slytherin. I’m a rival and am going to turn Dark and do all sorts of wicked things when I grow up.”

She considered what the Vow would let her say. “I set a teacher on fire,” she stated, only feeling the slightest of flutters in her heart. “I also stole from one to brew Polyjuice.” Nothing worse than flutters. “And I punched a boy in a rival house in the face for the sheer pleasure of shutting him up. Not as delinquent as the first two, but still not what one would call good. Other than hexing a few arseholes back in Defense, what’s the worst thing you’ve done?”

As she spoke, a slight smile began to pull on his lips. “You know, I believe I’ve misjudged you. You’re more likable than I originally thought.”

Hermione twisted her mouth in an effort not to laugh, wondering if Professor Snape sat at his desk after that fateful Quidditch match and realized who it was. Or if he laughed more when she’d turned herself into a cat. Perhaps, moments after she disappeared, Draco Malfoy finally found him and complained he’d tell his father about what happened. She wondered if Professor Snape would remember it all with fondness or annoyance.

 

—————S—————

 

December 25, 1992

 

“Severus, pull yourself together!” Poppy scolded as she dragged him into her office, but it only made him laugh harder. He hadn’t meant to laugh in front of her, truly, he hadn’t.

Only, once he noticed some of his inventory starting to go missing, he remembered Hermione’s confession from their fourth year. He knew, without a doubt, that she was the one who was stealing, and he knew what she was doing with it. He’d remembered the confession after he’d returned to his office after last year’s first Quidditch match and found a new set of robes with a note from his wife saying “sorry”. 

Hermione had warned him not to get too comfortable after the children were settled, an embarrassed flush to her cheeks as she gazed into her wine, refusing to look at him. He was curious, to say the least, but knew she couldn’t say anything.

When Poppy Flooed, saying there had been a Polyjuice  accident, curiosity morphed into panic. He plucked up the antidote along with a bezoar from his own personal stores, assuming she had somehow brewed it wrong and he would have to save her life.

When he’d seen what the accident entailed, he’d lost it.

“You realize H. is down in the sitting room right now, fully aware of what I’m up here seeing.”

“Yes, but Hermione Granger is terrified and in need of some comfort.”

“When have I ever been comforting?” he asked, wiping away a tear of mirth.

“I can think of quite a few times, actually,” Poppy countered, crossing her arms. “Be nice to Miss Granger, as nice as you can be, anyway. Get her fixed up as best you can, and then go laugh at your wife to your heart’s content. Though I imagine you will be transfiguring the sofa this evening, if that’s the case.”

“I’m afraid Miss Granger’s problem is more complex than simply giving her an antidote. There’s a reason one does not use animal hair in Polyjuice.”

“But you can fix her, can’t you?”

He raised an eyebrow. “I don’t recall being married to a furry, so yes, Poppy, I can fix her.”

“Good.” Poppy nodded once. “Although if I were you, I would avoid any phrases with your wife that involve making her ‘purr.’”

If such words had left the matron’s lips at any other time, especially with that smirk, Severus may have become indignant or offended. He hated that the intimacies he shared with his wife were speculated upon, especially so crudely.

But this was not a normal situation, and Severus immediately resumed his laughter, leaving the hospital wing to brew the potion to fix the girl who, in two years, would become his best friend. And also to put off seeing his wife as long as possible.

The sofa really wasn’t that comfortable, even when Transfigured.

 

Chapter Text

—————H—————

 

October 31, 1974

 

“I would be more excited if there was something more substantial than apples for dinner,” Hermione told Lily, who was bouncing with glee as they sat out under a tree by the Black Lake with Severus. They had decided to head out there after Charms, seeking some quiet before the Halloween feast inevitably brought all of the students from hyper to intolerable.

“And I guess Ilvermorny had a Halloween feast without candy?” Lily asked. “And it’s enchanted candy, anyway. It’s not like you’d feel ill after eating it.”

“Digestion-wise, no,” Severus said from where he sat on the ground beside Hermione. He picked up a stone, flicking it so it skipped across the lake surface at least a dozen times before it sunk. “But what about the headache, the fatigue that will set in tomorrow? You may only have to worry about listening to the proper way to muck a Thestral stall, but some of us have real subjects to study,” he teased, the corner of his lips twitching as Lily became indignant.

Hermione giggled quietly, still not sure what to think of this Severus Snape, even over a month since he decided she was worth getting to know. He still didn’t talk much when Lily wasn’t with them, but that suited Hermione just fine. She didn’t know him like she had known Harry or Ron a month into their tentative friendship, but she had found something in Severus that she never had with them: a study companion. Lily had found a balance between them and the girls, and when she wasn’t with them, Severus and Hermione retreated to the library. They would spend their time together pouring over books or finishing essays, and while it didn’t sound like much, it was perfect for Hermione. He never spoke a word of Quidditch, he never complained that she spent hours in the library, and he never spent the whole time sighing heavily in boredom.

“So don’t overindulge!” Lily shrieked, crossing her arms and standing with her hip jutted out.

“But what if you don’t have a taste for sweets?” Hermione asked. “That’s the problem I have with it. I was never given sweets growing up. Maybe a piece of cake on special occasions.”

“Why weren’t you given sweets?” Lily asked. “Just too expensive or …?”

“They’re terrible for your teeth,” she replied

Severus narrowed his eyes at her, but Lily spoke before he could say anything.

“I suppose there’s that. But this is the wizarding world. Surely they have a potion to fix your teeth?” Lily asked, looking pointedly at Hermione’s mouth.

Severus drew his legs up slowly, resting his arms on his knees and hid the lower half of his mouth behind them.

“You don’t need it, Evans,” James’ voice cut in.

She groaned, and Severus immediately sat up straighter. It was reflex, really. Hermione had noticed that unless they could be incredibly discreet and had the benefit of the doubt if caught, the Marauders never did anything to Severus in front of Lily. Or her, now that she thought about it. She knew they still got in some shots now and then: there had been times when Severus limped into class when Hermione or Lily hadn’t been with him, and there was one night he’d spent in the hospital wing, though he wouldn’t say why. Sirius and James had been a bit too peppy that evening for it to be coincidence.

“I was having a lovely afternoon, weren’t you?” Hermione asked Severus pointedly.

“How could you be enjoying the afternoon if you’re with Snivellus, Kitten?” Sirius asked, coming around from the other side of the tree.

“It’s quite simple, really. His company is infinitely more enjoyable than yours.”

Severus snorted quietly, rolling his eyes before watching James and Lily.

“No, I will not go to Hogsmeade with you!” Lily huffed, tossing her hair over her shoulder before crossing her arms. “Why would I want to be seen with a toerag like you?”

“Oh, come on,” James replied, putting on a charming smile. “You’re willing to be seen with Snivellus but not me?”

Severus sneered but said nothing as Lily glared and repeated her previous answer.

“Poor Prongs,” Sirius said with an exaggerated sigh and a shake of his head. “Looks like he’ll be going solo. But then again, maybe Lily could be persuaded if we were to, say, double?”

“I didn’t think Severus was your type,” Hermione replied.

Severus whirled around and shot her a nasty glare that rivaled his older self. Sirius seemed to be choking on air, gasping and coughing with the shock while an out-of-sight Pettigrew laughed. Hermione met Severus’ gaze and mouthed, ‘sorry.’ It softened his glare, but only somewhat.

“I think you’re mistaken, Kitten,” Sirius finally managed to say.

“I can’t see how I would be,” she replied, standing and grabbing her bag. “I can’t possibly imagine why you would think I would ever agree.” She shouldered her bag as Severus stood as well, grabbing his bag and Lily’s. The last member of their trio stepped away from James with a growl of frustration, stomped past Severus, snatching her bag from his grip along the way. He and Hermione set off after her without a word to the three Gryffindors.

Which made Hermione pause.

“What is it?” Severus asked, glancing over his shoulder but continued following the aggravated redhead.

“Where’s Remus?” she asked. “He wasn’t—” Hermione stopped as she realized why he was missing. “Never mind.”

Severus frowned, looking around to spot the fourth member of the Marauders before calling for Lily and jogging to catch up.

As Hermione slowly moved to meet up with her companions, she wondered if maybe the other boys already knew of Remus’ condition. She supposed she would find out during the feast or if they weren’t in the common room afterwards.

“Of course I’d like to go with you,” Lily was saying, and Hermione stopped a few feet away from them. Her eyebrows shot to her hairline, though she turned her head to hide her surprise. They were still talking, probably discussing the particulars of what Hermione guessed was a Hogsmeade date. Her thoughts drowned out any details that they were discussing.

It had, oddly enough, never occurred to her that Lily may have dated someone else before James Potter. And it had never occurred to her that that person could have been Snape. Severus. Harry was always going on about how Snape looked at him oddly, creepily. Wistfully. Which, well, that was weird, because there was Aurora. So it wasn’t as if Snape had hoped for children and had none. And it wasn’t as if Harry’s paternity could possibly be questioned, not with the way he was the spitting image of ….

“Hermione!” Lily shouted, and Hermione jolted from her thoughts and turned to her companions, who wore matching grins of amusement. “Gee, where did you head off to?”

“Sorry, just got a bit sidetracked thinking….”

“Something from your old school?” Lily offered when Hermione took too long to answer.

“Yeah,” Hermione agreed. Without another word, she followed them back to the castle. And if she noticed Severus standing a little taller, well, who was she to say anything?

 

 

November 2, 1974

 

 

Snow fluttered down around her as she walked the streets of Hogsmeade and window-shopped. Hermione had gone to the village with Lily and Severus, but promptly excused herself so she wouldn’t be the third wheel. She’d felt that way sometimes with Harry and Ron, and she certainly wasn’t eager to find out what it felt like with an actual couple.

Though that thought did make her wonder if there would have been a day when Harry felt like the third wheel.

She hadn’t really had a chance to have a proper crush on Ron. It may not be the way crushes and love work, but after being as distracted by Lockhart as she had been, Hermione had decided that she wouldn’t let herself feel that infatuated unless it was convenient. And Ron had been an utter prat last year (nineteen years in the future?), going on about Crookshanks attacking Scabbers. He was a prat the year before as well, with his unwavering resolve that Aurora Snape was the Heir of Slytherin and his subsequent hostility whenever she approached Ginny. Still, on their first Hogsmeade visit, before Malfoy came and ruined it, she had pretended for a moment that it was a date. The idea had been nice at the time. Now, she knew that by the time she returned to 1994, she would have no romantic interest in him.

“Hermione?” She stopped at Remus’ questioning voice. “I’m sorry, but I lost the others, and I was wondering if you’d seen them?”

“I avoided Sirius twice already, once by Zonko’s  and near Spintwitches about five minutes ago. James was with him, sulking.”

“Thanks,” Remus said. He was about to leave when he stopped, turning back toward her. “Are you … are you here alone?”

“Yeah,” she said, stuffing her hands in her coat pocket.

“And that’s … I mean, I see you around with Lily and Severus, I just thought ….”

“Oh, well, they had a thing, so.” She looked at the road, watching the gathering flakes.

“Well, er, we could always spend our day together,” he offered.

“And once Sirius and James see you’re with me? Thank you Remus, but I’ll pass.”

“Yes, probably for the best,” he agreed sheepishly.

“Remus.” She stopped him as he was about to run away. “I know you don’t like what they do to Severus or the other students they pick on. Why do you stay with them?”

Remus shifted uncomfortably. “I have reasons.”

“I imagine you do. I know what it’s like to get friends where you can get them, even if it means lowering your standards.”

“You mean with Severus?” he asked, not unkindly.

She narrowed her eyes. “I meant the friends I had before coming here. They weren’t exactly rule-abiding, nor were they particularly dedicated to their studies.” Remus had the decency to blush as he averted his eyes. A tiny niggling of guilt gnawed at Hermione and she mentally rolled her eyes at her own conscience. “Look, what I was getting at is, well, with an apology, Severus may … well, I don’t know about forgive you, but he might tolerate you. And I’m fairly certain Lily doesn’t mind you, and, well, I think you may not be too bad. So if you want to … not hang around those idiots, we’re here. At least two of us are,” she added with a bit of a smile, and Remus grinned.

“I’ll consider it. Thank you, Hermione. But for now, I think it best I find the id—er, James and Sirius before they cause trouble.”

She waved goodbye and watched him disappear in the direction of Spintwitches before turning on her heel. She was just contemplating a more thorough browse of Tomes and Scrolls when she heard familiar laughter behind her. She caught sight of Lily, Marlene, and Alice giggling as they came out of Curl Up and Dye, all clutching bags and turning down the street, probably heading to Madam Puddifoot's .

Hermione frowned, eyes darting about to see if she could find the familiar head of greasy hair.

She didn’t.

Maybe the girls were walking Lily to meet Severus for lunch? It wasn’t as if she had heard their plans, maybe that had been their arrangement.

In either case, Hermione decided that it might be a good idea to grab a butterbeer and warm up from her stroll before heading to the bookshop.

She tried not to peek into the window as she approached the Three Broomsticks , but her eyes kept flickering to the panes. It was hard to see inside, and what she could see told her absolutely nothing. Once she entered, it felt like nearly half the Hogwarts student body was crammed inside, it was so loud and boisterous.

Hermione maneuvered her way through the crowd, and when she spotted him hunched over the table, her heart dropped. Severus’ hair was hiding his face and both hands gripped a mug of butterbeer as if it were a life preserver.

There was a group of older Gryffindors a few tables over snickering and looking at him, a group of Hufflepuffs shooting him pitying looks. She hoped the Slytherins nearby really weren’t paying attention to their lonely housemate. She honestly couldn’t imagine what Severus would be like angered and embarrassed, but she was certain he wouldn’t be a pleasure to live with if someone brought it up.

Taking a breath, she pushed her way through the crowd with more determination.

“I’m so sorry I’m late,” she declared loudly as she removed her scarf and plopped down in the chair across from him.

His head snapped up, and he let his confusion show for only a moment before he gave her a nasty glare. “And what bloody kept you?” he demanded.

“I was held up by Sirius and James. And then Remus. Not to mention I got lost on my way back from J. Pippin’s . Honestly, you should have just come with me, maybe then I wouldn’t have wandered into the wrong tavern. But I suppose you had the right idea, this place did fill up quite fast, didn’t it?” She took a breath, having rambled without properly inhaling once.

Severus still glared at her, but behind his dark eyes was the slightest hint of gratitude. As Rosmerta set down a butterbeer in front of her, one obviously meant for Lily, Hermione’s stomach twisted further into knots. She gave a shy grin in thanks to the beautiful barkeeper and wrapped her hands around the mug but couldn’t bring herself to drink it just yet.

“I suppose it didn’t occur to you to ask one of them for directions. Or Lily, for that matter. I imagine you’ve seen her?” he asked casually with a sneer, turning his head away as he took a hearty drink.

“Trust those fools to get me here? Hardly. I’d have ended up in the Shrieking Shack.” Severus raised a brow but said nothing. “As for Lily, I only saw her at a distance, with Alice and Marlene.” His eyes shot to hers at this. “They were heading back toward J. Pippin’s after coming out of the salon.”

His shoulders dropped infinitesimally, the curl of his sneer faltering, his eyes looking down at his drink.

“Since I was so late, how about I buy us lunch?” she offered, already mentally counting the few Galleons  she had earned over the summer. Galleons that would have to last.

“A butterbeer doesn’t cost that much.” He waved it off, but Hermione shook her head.

“At least let me get some pasties to share.”

He turned back toward her, eyes harsh. “I don’t need your p—”

“Oh hush up,” she snapped, cutting him off. “It’s hardly like it’ll do you harm to eat something, and you already bought me a butterbeer when you really didn’t have to. So shut up and let me get us something to eat.”

He looked like he was about to argue but sighed heavily instead. He rolled his eyes and gestured for her to head to the counter.

Hermione went up and ordered some Cornish pasties for the two of them. Rosmerta smiled kindly, eyes dancing between her and Severus, but never said a word.

“I’ll bring them over when they’re ready, love,” she said, and Hermione thanked her before returning to her seat.

Severus didn’t say anything while they waited, and Hermione hadn’t the slightest idea as to what she could say to him at this point. A dozen questions danced on her tongue: was this the first time Lily stood him up or was this a reoccurring thing? If the latter, why did he keep doing it to himself? It was obvious he had a crush on her and really, Hermione couldn’t blame him. She was absolutely stunning. But knowing what she did of the future, she wondered how long he would pine after someone who didn’t see him the same way. And if, perhaps, all those years later, he still pined for Lily Evans despite being married (or attached) himself.

Rosmerta came by again to set down the pasties and promptly returned to the bar.

Just as both of them went to reach for one of the savory pastries, the doors to the bar opened and drew their attention. Lily and the other girls, accompanied by a couple others Hermione didn’t recognize, came inside and went right to the bar.

“Do you want me to leave?” she asked Severus really quietly, but he either didn’t hear her or chose to ignore her to see what Lily would do.

The girls ordered drinks and once they had them, they headed to the opposite side of the bar to find a seat.

Severus looked back at the table, his eyes darting around as if he was calculating something. “Sorry,” he said, standing and grabbing his cloak off the back of his chair with a flourish he would perfect in adulthood. “I don’t really have much of an appetite right now. You’ll excuse me?”

“Of course,” Hermione said, though she doubted he heard.

She refused to see if he went to Lily for an explanation or if he left the Three Broomsticks. Instead, she ate her lunch on her own, wondering if maybe she should say something. She doubted Severus would appreciate it, but he was obviously quite upset about it.

“Hermione!” she heard Lily call from the bar, and she looked over. “Come join us! No sense in sitting alone.”

She stared at the ginger, probably for only a moment, though it felt like an eternity. Confusion shadowed Lily’s expression, but nothing else clouded those clear green eyes.

Hermione inhaled deeply through her nostrils as her lips clamped shut in an effort to not lash out. Smashing the last half of her second pasty with her fingers, she tossed the remains down on her plate before she stood up and grabbed her jacket. She stormed out, only glancing at the side of the room Lily was at. As expected, Severus wasn’t there.

As she tramped through the streets back to the castle, Hermione realized that one of the traits Harry had obviously gotten from his mother was his obliviousness.

 

 

December 10, 1974

 

 

She could see him out of the corner of her eye while she feigned complete and utter concentration on her Defense essay. Hermione had to admit Severus was incredibly stealthy. If it wasn’t for the fact that the homemade candy Delia had sent her was disappearing faster than Hermione was eating them, she wouldn’t have known her friend was stealing the chocolate morsels. He would rest his hand near the bag, just out of view and without looking, then reach in with his long fingers and pluck one out. And the way he read, with his hair hiding his face, he only needed to feign tapping his lip thoughtfully in order to sneak the candy past his lips.

By the fifth instance of this, Hermione couldn’t stop the giggle that had been threatening to overwhelm her since she first noticed.

Severus’ eye darted in her direction, just visible through the curtain of hair, and his jaw was set in just such a way that it was quite obvious he was chewing something. It only made Hermione laugh harder.

An older student shushed her with a glare, and she blushed as she choked back the laughter.

“What’s so funny?” Severus ground out, and the venom in his voice gave her pause.

She cleared her throat before replying, “I just find it amusing that you’re sneaking candy I offered to share with you.” And while his glare would later instill fear and obedience, it only made her lip curl in humor now.

Severus continued to glare, but there was no heat behind it. “Perhaps I didn’t want to draw attention to it? There are others in the room, others who were not invited to partake.”

“Is that why so much of it is gone? You’d rather there not be any to share by eating it all? And since I get so easily distracted with work, you’re helping me, is that it?” She arched a brow, and while Severus continued to glare, his lip twitched.

“It’s the best possible solution, isn’t it?” he asked, plucking another candy from the bag and holding it between his long dexterous fingers. “From my experience, these can be addictive. And if someone else tried them, someone with less self-control than me, they may go so far as to hurt you to get them.”

“Are you protecting me?” Hermione asked, grinning a little wider.

Severus scoffed. “Hardly, I’m protecting myself. Regardless of what house would attack you for these little temptations, I’m a Slytherin. I’m sitting next to you, a Gryffindor. I get in enough trouble from the prats in your house, I don’t particularly want further detentions I don’t deserve.”

“Well, when you put it that way.” Hermione shrugged, grabbing a candy and popping it in her mouth. She could feel Severus studying her.

He’d been doing that now and then ever since she’d pulled her little stunt in the Three Broomsticks. She wasn’t sure what to make of it.

When she’d seen him the next day, she’d almost expected him to tell her to fob off and mind her own business. But Severus had pretended nothing happened.

At least with her.

With Lily, it was another story altogether.

He didn’t tell her to fob off either or bring up Lily’s mistake. But there was a shift that Hermione just couldn’t put her finger on.

She watched as Lily flittered into the study hall, smiling to herself without a care in the world as she made her way over to them and plopped down across from Severus. He’d noticed her walk in and for a moment, he’d tensed before casually placing the sweet in his mouth and looking down at his parchment.

“I’m so glad you’re still here, Sev. I still have to write my essay for Slughorn, and I wanted to ask you why you need dried instead of fresh onion root in the appetite enhancer.”

Severus nodded slowly. “I just need to finish my Charms essay and then I can help you,” he said, finally lifting his gaze to hers. Lily beamed, but Severus didn’t react.

And that was what Hermione was having a hard time processing. She’d been friends with both of them for about four months now, and Severus had always abandoned his work to help Lily without fail, up until about four weeks ago. And when she flashed him that perfect smile, he would blush a little or smiled to himself. But that had stopped, too. He was not unkind to her and it was clear he still thought of her as a friend, but there was a shift. It was as if he was holding himself back from saying something to her, and maybe he was since their failed date, but he didn’t feel it was important enough to say it.

“I can help if you want,” Hermione offered.

“Thanks.” Lily’s smile faded a bit. “But Sev is a genius at potions. No offense, Mione.”

Severus’ lip curled briefly at the nickname. “Must you call her that?”

“What? She said her friends at her old school called her that all the time. We are her friends too, aren’t we?” Lily argued, tilting her head up a bit before reaching across the table and snatching a candy from the bag.

As Lily popped it in her mouth and started digging through her bag, Severus looked at Hermione. He raised his eyebrows and gestured to Lily as if to say, ‘I told you,’ and Hermione snickered before returning to her Defense essay.

“I think I’m writing this essay from memory,” she said a short time later, once Lily had her books out and was settled. “I learned about Boggarts last year.”

“So did we,” said Lily. “But Professor Jones doesn’t care or listen. He’s quite set in his ways, even though the whole school knows he started off all the classes a year behind and now just refuses to correct himself.”

“There are second years who have mastered a Vanishing Spell for a particular colored ink in my house,” Severus said without looking away from his paper. “I won’t say where they learned it from.”

“Severus!” Hermione hissed. He turned to her with an arched eyebrow but said nothing. “You’re letting them cheat!”

“Is it really cheating when they’ve already done the work? And when, may I ask, have you seen me actually working on a Defense essay?”

“Well, if you haven’t been working on that when you’ve said you were—”

“Never once have I said I was working on my Defense essay, merely my defense. If you haven’t noticed, I’m a particularly popular target.”

“They’ve stopped, haven’t they?” Lily protested.

Severus shrugged, diverting his eyes, and Hermione frowned as she saw the tension in his shoulders.

“Severus,” she said quietly. “I thought they had.”

He continued writing for a while before he spoke. “They’ve been catching me when you aren’t around or aren’t looking. Even better, just after we’ve parted ways and we won’t see each other for the rest of the day. There are moments, after all, when the pair of you are not with me.”

Hermione swung her head around and glared at the Marauders across the room. Three of them were laughing, Sirius throwing a crumpled-up paper at Peter’s head, James trying to flatten his hair and glancing toward the door. Remus was trying to bury himself in his book.

“Let it go,” Severus said quietly, and Hermione turned her glare on him. He shifted his eyes quickly from her face to her hair, and she reached up to feel how frizzy it was. “They’ve toned it down. For now.”

After a moment, Hermione nodded, though she vowed to keep a closer eye on the troublemakers.

“Hey!” Lily said, getting their attention. “Did you guys hear about the Yule Ball?”

 

—————A—————

 

November 8, 1992

 

“Rory!”

The hissing of her name stopped her dead, and Aurora glanced around to make sure no one else was around. Ginny had gone off again, mumbling something about a diary that Aurora didn’t quite understand, leaving her alone to head back to the tower.

Once she made sure that no one else was around, Aurora turned around and headed back to the alcove she knew he was in.

“Hi, Draco,” she said quietly.

The blond smiled, not smarmily, like she’d seen more often than not this year, but genuinely.

“I heard Creepy-Creevey  became the next victim. Least he won’t be following you around because Pottie talks to you.”

“It’s not funny, Draco.” Aurora glowered, crossing her arms and looking at the floor.

“Oh, come on. You can’t really like him that much, can you?” Draco whined. When Aurora didn’t say anything, he added in a disgusted tone, “You don’t fancy him or anything, do you?”

Aurora shot her gaze back up to Draco, scowling at his wrinkled nose. “I don’t. But if I did, what would it matter?”

Draco looked taken aback. “He’s inferior. He’s a Mud—”

Before he could finish the word, Aurora slapped him across the face with all the force her twelve-year-old body could muster. Draco’s head snapped to the side, most likely as much in surprise as from the force of the impact. He raised a hand to his reddening cheek, turning to her with a look of utter betrayal.

“Don’t use that word.”

“How can you possibly be offended by it?” he demanded.

“Use your head, Draco,” she sneered. “Think! Observe! You used to be so clever, but maybe being the ‘Prince of Slytherin’ has made you so pompous you’ve forgotten how to think. Daddy always said he had to be different while at school, but he never told me it was the case for all Slytherins. Or maybe that’s just you.”

“You’re not making a lot of sense, Snape.”

“And you’re being a prat, Malfoy.”

He seemed taken aback for a moment and then he grinned smugly. “Oh, I get it. You’re offended because of the company you chose to keep. Granger.” He spat her mother’s maiden name with disgust. “Blood traitors, the Weasleys. And Potter, though at least I don’t see you mooning after him like Weaslette.”

“And who was it that went on and on about him over the summer?” Aurora challenged. She felt her hair getting bigger as he riled her up. Her father’s genes may have helped reduce the frizziness, but her emotions and her magic wreaked havoc over her locks like her mother’s.

Draco, at least, had the decency to blush. He said nothing as he shoved past her and out of the alcove and Aurora watched as her childhood friend stalked down the hall.

She had no idea how long she’d been staring when she heard a dreamy voice say, “It’s okay. He’ll get it in time. Not everyone has the sense to see what’s right in front of them. But then again, I suppose you were warned to take care what you say for the next couple of years.”

Frowning, Aurora turned to see a pretty little blonde with snap peas in her ears. She wasn’t quite sure if she should say anything about the odd earrings or the necklace of oddly-shaped rocks.

Noticing Aurora’s gaze on her accessories, the blonde smiled. “It’s to make sure the Nifflers don’t steal them. They love shiny things so much, they’ll take it right off your neck. I’m Luna, by the way. And you’re Aurora Snape.”

“Rory,” she corrected.

“Is it weird, seeing your mother only a year older than you?” Luna asked, tilting her head and worrying a rock on the string around her neck.

Aurora’s eyes grew wide and she whipped her head around to see if anyone, even a portrait, was listening.

“Don’t worry,” Luna said. “We’re alone. There aren’t even any Wrackspurts around.”

“Any what?” Aurora shook her head. “Never mind. How did you know about …?”

“You two look quite a bit alike, really. I’m surprised no one has noticed. But I suppose it’s hard to imagine when you’re twelve and she’s thirteen. Her accident hasn’t happened yet.”

Aurora gaped at her, blinking.

“Oh, don’t worry,” Luna soothed, her voice never wavering. “I won’t say anything. I quite like Professor Snape, even if he is a bit mean sometimes, and I wouldn’t want to do anything that would hurt him or his family.” And without another word, Luna skipped down the hall.

Aurora continued to stand in the middle of the hallway, completely gobsmacked and uncertain if she should mention this to her parents.

She ultimately decided that if Luna said anything to anyone, they would think she was positively loony.

Snickering to herself, Aurora made her way to Gryffindor Tower. She needed a nap or a good book. Maybe both.

 

 

November 29, 1992

 

 

“Rory!” Hagrid exclaimed as he opened the door. “What are ya doin’ down ‘ere?”

“Hi, Hagrid. Thought I would stop in for some tea,” she said, and he stepped aside to let her into his hut.

“No Ginny this time?” he asked, looking around outside before shutting the door.

“She’s … preoccupied,” Aurora replied, not really wanting to get into Gin’s Harry obsession or her writing hobby.

Hagrid studied her, his bushy brows furrowing. “Ain’t seen you with anyone aside from her,” he observed. “You makin’ friends up there, ain’t yer?”

Aurora shrugged. “I have Gin.”

“What about Harry, Hermione, and Ron? They good people, Gryffindors ta boot.”

“I knew Harry from school,” she admitted, and at Hagrid’s confusion, she clarified, “Muggle school. And Hermione, well, it’s complicated with her.”

Hagrid nodded, though she knew he didn’t know. Her mother had said she made it a point to not go anywhere near Hagrid’s hut when she joined her father in the past, and merely offered a smile and a hello when in passing. It wasn’t until after her father started teaching at Hogwarts that her mother introduced (or reintroduced) herself to Hagrid, but as Professor Snape’s wife. And with a slightly altered appearance.

“Ron hates me,” she added with a whisper.

“Why’d ya think that?”

“He doesn’t like me around Ginny. He gets quiet and glares when I walk into the common room, muttering things like ‘go back to Slytherin.’ I swear he really believes I’m the heir, even if Harry is sure it’s someone else.”

“And wha’ does yer father say?” he asked, concern coloring his voice.

“Make sure I’m not alone. Watch my back. Remember that not all Gryffindors are my mother, and that they can be the worst if they hold a grudge against you. And Draco, well, he certainly hasn’t been my friend these days.”

“Draco?” Hagrid repeated. “Oh, the young Malfoy. Didn’t realize you were friends.”

“My dad’s his godfather.”

“Right,” he said, his voice darkening a bit.

There was a story there that Aurora didn’t understand, but she knew it had something to do with Dad’s tattoo. He didn’t talk about it much, though she remembered seeing it as a young child and asking about it. It had scared her, and he’d told her there was a reason for that. She was aware that it represented dark, evil things that he didn’t believe in but pretended to.

“Like when you told Draco that you liked his toy broom, when you actually thought it was quite rubbish.”

It was a childish explanation, but she understood it at the tender age of four. She’d never asked about it again, though as she had gotten closer to attending Hogwarts, her parents had further explained why her father acted differently around certain people. She knew that there were Slytherin students that he had to amp his pretense for, that he had to pretend to like people he didn’t and vice versa.

“Sometimes I hate it here,” she admitted quietly. “I wish I’d gone to Beauxbatons or Ilvermorny. I wish I’d gone somewhere where it doesn’t matter who my dad is and what he does.”

“Yer dad’s a good man,” Hagrid said kindly. “Brave man. It’s why yer Gryffindor, I’d wager. Got his bravery, yer did.”

“Mum was a Gryffindor,” she reminded him with a wane smile.

“Brave she was, too. Choosin’ yer dad with all the stuff he had to do, his work for Dumbledore, gettin’ in good with You-Know-Who.”

“Getting in good with who?” Aurora nearly dropped her cup of tea.

Hagrid blushed. “I shouldna ‘ave said that.”

“Is that ….” She’d heard about Voldemort, though any passing mention in their home or at the Malfoys had always been as ‘The Dark Lord.’ She knew Harry had survived an attack as a baby and that was the reason he was famous. She knew her dad had to pretend to strongly dislike Harry, and sometimes honestly did. She knew her father had been in Azkaban for a few weeks, but the charges were dropped, and his name was cleared. Was that why…?

“Rory,” Hagrid said nervously. “Appreciate it if you didn’t go rootin’ for more on that. Yer dad won’t like it, and yer mum might not let yer brother come down if she’s worried I’ll tell ‘im stuff he ain’t ready to know.”

“I won’t,” she said, meaning it. Though that didn’t mean she wasn’t going to learn a bit more about Voldemort to understand how her father was involved.

 

Chapter Text

—————H—————

 

December 23, 1974

 

Dearest Hermione,

 

I’m sorry to hear that you won’t be spending the holidays with us, but I’m glad it’s for such a good reason. I always found it hard adjusting to home after being at school for some time, and it was always wonderful when a friend chose to stay with me. I’ve included a second bag of candy for your friend in hopes that this one will last until you come for Christmas Eve dinner.

 

She told me about the Yule Ball, and I’m sorry I didn’t prepare you before you left. It slipped my mind until your letter.

 

I hope this dress will do. I had to go to Kiera, and since the matter was of some urgency, she didn’t have time to find a more fitting piece.

 

I look forward to seeing you again, Hermione. Christmas Eve cannot come fast enough.

 

Yours,

Delia

 

Hermione pulled the black dress from the box. There were no frills to it, no embroidery. There were no sleeves, and the sweetheart neckline wasn’t too revealing. It was lovely for such a last-minute find.

 

Lily had eagerly regaled to a barely-interested Hermione and Severus about how the Yule Ball was a tradition at Hogwarts. As if quoting Hogwarts: A History , Lily recited how it had once been part of the Triwizard Tournament, held on Christmas by whichever school was hosting. Once the tournament was cancelled, the ball was moved to December 23rd as a holiday send-off.

 

Hermione wondered what she would have done for the Yule Ball in 1994. Would she have desperately wanted to go with Ron? Would she have gone with Neville because he would be the one to ask, instead of Ron? Would she have bothered or spent the night in the library?

 

With a shake of her head, Hermione stood from her bed and gently laid the dress out.

 

“Oh, that’s nice,” Marlene said, eyeing the garment. Her hair was pinned in magically-heated rollers, and she and the other girls had been walking around in their dressing gowns since classes had finished. “If you start now, you can get your hair pinned up.”

 

“Start what now?” Hermione asked.

 

Marlene rolled her eyes. “Getting ready?” she said, putting her hands on her hips. “Honestly, you have such potential, Hermione, but your hair …. Well, it needs the full two and a half hours to be tamed into anything appropriate enough for the ball.”

 

Lily walked into the room then. Her hair was also up in curlers, and she had clearly finished doing her makeup before dashing over to her bed where she’d left a book open. She plucked up her wand and tapped it against her lips, furrowing her brow in concentration. “Should I charm my nails pink or silver?” she asked the room at large, and this started a debate between Alice and Marlene.

 

Rolling her eyes, Hermione stripped off her uniform and pulled on her borrowed dress. It fit nicely, since Keira McGonagall was of a similar build to Hermione, only slightly taller. Accio ing her wand from the bed, Hermione did a quick spell to make the dress a little shorter.

 

Her hair was atrocious, though it could have been worse if she had had Potions during the day. Wrangling the sides back, she tied them back away from her face while having the added bonus of looking somewhat nice. She had no jewelry to go with the dress, but if she were being honest with herself, she didn’t really care. She was only going because Lily had begged and Severus had outright refused, and somehow Hermione got dragged into going in order to keep the peace. She imagined the peace was silence, as opposed to Lily’s incessant nagging.

 

Plucking up the bigger of the two bags of candy, Hermione headed for the door. “I’ll see you there,” she called over her shoulder, though the heat of the great nail debate was still going strong. She doubted anyone heard her.

 

Hermione left Gryffindor Tower without a hassle. The girls weren’t the only ones who had already gone to their dorms to prep.

 

She made her way through the corridors, offering a smile or a nod of acknowledgment to those she passed as she made her way to an abandoned classroom in the East Wing. If the Slytherin who had taken residence in there had tried to be discreet, he was failing miserably. She could smell vegetation and smoke in the air as she neared the closed door. She didn’t bother knocking, just slipped in quickly.

 

Severus didn’t even look up. “You aren’t going to try to convince me to go, are you?” he asked as he stirred a potion.

 

“Why would I? I barely want to go. You realize I would much rather spend the evening like you will be. Well, maybe not exactly like you. Studying, perhaps. Maybe in the library.”

 

“And what’s stopping you?” he asked with a sneer. “Or are you afraid to let down your suitor?”

 

“What suitor?” she asked, crossing her arms. “I’m only going because Lily is concerned James will shadow her all evening.”

 

“And what exactly would you do to deter the idiot?” Severus asked, withdrawing the stirring rod carefully and setting it aside. He did not pull his eyes away from the potion.

 

“I’m not sure. Honestly, I’m concerned that Sirius will shadow me all night. I’m almost certain they’ll try to tag-team it.”

 

“Hmph,” was all Severus had to say as he leaned against the desk behind him and crossed his arms.

 

Hermione waited, making sure he didn’t say anything else before she ventured closer. “What are you brewing, anyway?”

 

“I’m testing out a new brewing procedure for a basic pain relief. It would decrease brewing time while increasing potency. I only need to switch the fennel for Devil’s Claw and stir eight times counterclockwise instead of four clockwise.”

 

“And you thought it was okay to brew, then? On your own? Without supervision? And how can you be sure that the changes won’t result in an explosion or poisoning yourself? You understand that there’s a reason it’s been published in a textbook the way it has for a reason.”

 

“By the book, of course. Because if it’s in a book it must be right. Honestly, Granger, have you never had an original thought in your life?” he asked, turning to look at her for the first time.

 

With his hair greasier and lankier with oil build-up and cauldron fumes, his posture somehow commanding for a fourteen-year-old, Hermione immediately remembered that this was Severus Snape , who would one day be Potions master Severus Snape. How would he become the youngest master in the last two centuries if he didn’t experiment? She was starting to forget that her peers now had been adults not six months before. She knew at least something about their futures, but even that had slipped her mind.

 

Severus looked her over, his brow furrowed in confusion. “You look ….” He paused. “Your hair is still atrocious,” he blurted out eventually, and Hermione couldn’t help but laugh.

 

“Because yours is so much better right now,” she replied, moving her hands to her hips, the bag of candy hitting her thigh.

 

Severus’ eyes zeroed in on it. “I don’t intend to socialize.”

 

Hermione’s lips curled and puckered in her attempt to not smile. “Yes, well,” she said when she got herself under control. “I hardly see the point in doing anything with my hair. Everyone knows what it looks like, and I don’t care about the event.”

 

Severus looked back at the cauldron, deep in thought. He opened his mouth to say something, then frowned as he thought better of it. He then pushed off the desk and peered into his potion.

 

“I brought these for you.” Hermione broke the silence. “I doubt very much that you will eat them while you brew, but the whole thing is for you.” She placed the bag on the desk as far from the cauldron as she could. “I may have mentioned to Delia, my … guardian, that you liked them.”

 

Severus nodded, but he seemed too deep in thought to say anything.

 

“I’ll leave you to it, then,” Hermione said, and she headed toward the door. Glancing back, she could see Severus staring at the wall as if it held the answers to everything he wanted to know, and she left the abandoned classroom without another word.

 

—————H—————

 

“Severus Snape, you bloody idiot!” Hermione screeched, barely holding in her tears as she wiped his uninjured arm with a towel.

 

She’d barely lasted an hour at the Yule Ball, having endured one dance with Remus before deciding she liked her toes and wanted to keep them. She ignored Sirius’ attempts to lure her back onto the dancefloor, and Lily and the girls were too popular and too enthralled by it all to stay still. So after an hour, Hermione had decided to make her way back to the unused classroom.

 

Panic had filled her the second she’d stepped inside.

 

His cauldron was shattered, some pieces embedded in the walls and the desk. There was the iron smell of blood and a splatter on the floor big enough to let her know that he’d bled profusely.

 

She’d left immediately to run to the hospital wing, hoping beyond hope that the reason she hadn’t seen a blood trail was because Madam Pomfrey had been close enough to discover him.

 

Severus frowned, yanking the towel from Hermione’s hands and tossed it onto the table on the opposite side of the bed. “It’s your fault.”

 

“How could it have been my fault? You’re the one experimenting with potion alterations.”

 

“You brought me the thrice-damned candy! I got distracted because I wanted to keep eating the bloody little addictions.” He tried his best to cross his arms, but his sling made it difficult. “I lost count stirring, which is the only reason it didn’t work.”

 

“And where was your self-control?” Hermione huffed, crossing her arms and glaring.

 

“Perfectly intact. Otherwise, I’d have abandoned the potion altogether with the temptation you brought.”

 

“And here I thought you two got along,” Madam Pomfrey tutted as she approached Severus’ bed. She turned her attention to her patient. “Try not to move around too much, the fracture will heal overnight.”

 

“Fracture?” Hermione asked, confused.

 

“Yes,” Madam Pomfrey said, turning to look at her over her shoulder. “Severus’ arm broke with the impact of the cauldron. He was lucky nothing more happened.” She directed this last comment to her patient with a sternness that suggested it wasn’t the first time they’d had that conversation.

 

“It exploded faster than I anticipated,” he grumbled. He peeked at Hermione and added, “Too far gone to Vanish. I jumped behind the desk and tipped it to use as a shield. Didn’t pull my arm away fast enough.”

 

“Well, either learn to be faster or talk to Professor Slughorn about what you can use to keep yourself safe when experimenting,” Madam Pomfrey suggested kindly, and Hermione and Severus both snorted and rolled their eyes.

 

Madam Pomfrey shook her head. “You’ve convinced her about the professor, I take it?”

 

“Didn’t need to,” Hermione retorted. “I noticed the man hardly touches a cauldron. He never demonstrates, and whatever he puts in the cauldrons for us to examine is clearly poured in. And I suspect he buys most of the more advanced potions.”

 

“So you are capable of an original thought,” Severus taunted.

 

Just as it appeared Madam Pomfrey was going to scold him, Hermione replied, “Are you sure I didn’t overhear it from a sixth year?”

 

“I can’t, except I know most of your house is incapable of thought.”

 

“Should I inform Lily of your esteemed opinion?”

 

She expected him to blush or snap at her. Instead, he shrugged.

 

“Well, Miss Granger, while I do appreciate your concern for my patient, if you aren’t going back to the Yule Ball, you should head back to your dormitory.”

 

“Yes, ma’am,” she agreed with a nod. Turning to Severus, she said, “I’ll come see you tomorrow before I leave for the afternoon.”

 

“Spare me,” he sighed heavily, head falling back against the pillow.

 

Hermione stuck her tongue out as his eyes half-rolled toward her, and he then rolled them fully with a shake of his head.

 

But Hermione was quite certain she saw the subtle upturn of his lips before she rounded the corner.

 

—————A—————

 

December 17, 1992

 

Aurora kept looking over her shoulder to where her mother stood in the shadows of the Great Hall, Aunt Min whispering to her. She wasn’t sure if it was a Glamour that made her mother look different, or if the straight blonde hair was enough to change her entire appearance. Either way, when Aurora looked at thirteen-year-old Hermione Granger swooning to her left, she knew without a doubt that no one would ever think they were the same person.

 

Well, except Luna, but she wasn’t here.

 

So Aurora turned her attention to the dueling stage where Professor Lockhart stood, looking quite dreamy. And while she loved her father dearly, he was not ‘pleasing to the eye.’ The professors were complete opposites: white and black, blond to black, dashingly handsome to … a charming personality around a very select crowd.

 

“He’s just brilliant, isn’t he?” Hermione Granger sighed, and Aurora felt nauseated as she watched Hermione’s eyes follow Professor Lockhart.

 

She turned slowly over to give her mother an exasperated look. But her mother was biting her lip, her eyes locked on her husband. It was just as stomach churning.

 

Aurora looked away, focused on the two wizards bowing to one another and drawing their wands. They headed to opposite ends of the stage.

 

“On the count of three,” Professor Lockhart commanded, looking at the crowd of students, “two, one!”

 

Expelliarmus ,” her dad said casually, flicking his wand lazily. Professor Lockhart was tossed across the stage as his wand flew to his opponent. There were shocked gasps all around the room, including from Hermione, who looked the most disappointed of all.

 

“Are you honestly that surprised?” Aurora asked her quietly. “After what he did to Harry after the Quidditch match?”

 

“But … he’s a best-selling writer!” Hermione exclaimed. “He’s famous for so many amazing things. And Professor Snape—”

 

“Into pairs, all of you,” Professor Lockhart called out to the room, gesturing with as much composure as he could.

 

“I have to go,” Hermione said, moving around Aurora and immediately heading for Millicent Bulstrode.

 

“I’ll pair with you,” Ginny said as she came up beside Aurora.

 

“All right,” she agreed, watching Ginny glance over at Harry and Draco, who were starting to duel before the signal was given. In fact, Aurora noticed one by one, everyone was starting to get into it. She and Ginny moved closer to one another as if they could somehow protect one another from the chaos around them.

 

“Enough!”

 

Aurora whipped her head toward the stage as her father’s voice cut through the room, making everyone freeze.

 

“Yes, well.” Professor Lockhart smiled nervously, eyes darting to the corner of the room where Aunt Min and her mum were standing. “Perhaps we should have another demonstration? This time between students? How about Aurora Snape and … Ronald Weasley?”

 

“Weasley’s wand causes devastation with the simplest spells,” her father cut in. Much to Ron’s disappointment, she was sure. “Don’t believe for a moment I will allow Miss Snape to be on the receiving end. Might I suggest someone from my own house?”

 

“I’ll do it, Professor.”

 

Aurora stiffened as she heard Draco volunteer. They hadn’t been on the best of terms since the incident over Colin, and she doubted it would suddenly get better.

 

“She’s younger than you, and less experienced.”

 

“It’s fine, Professor Snape,” Aurora said with a nod, heading toward the stage with Draco. She tried her best imitation of her mother’s chin tilt and she caught Draco’s amusement from the corner of her eye.

 

“Very well,” her dad assented, rolling his eyes and waving it off. He moved to stand off to the side with an air of utter boredom, though she knew he would be watching every little move.

 

“On three, disarm only,” Professor Lockhart said. “One, two, three!”

 

Aculeus !” Draco shouted, and the bite lashed against Aurora’s wand hand like a hundred bee stings.

 

She cried out in pain, collapsed on her knees and clutched her hand to her chest. She couldn’t let go of her wand, the swelling keeping it locked in place.

 

“You were supposed to disarm her, Malfoy!” Harry shouted.

 

“What are you going to do about it, Potter?”

 

“Perhaps,” Professor Snape interrupted coldly as he came toward her, “Mr. Potter wishes to defend his housemate’s honor? We all know how much he enjoys being heroic.”

 

The malice in her father’s words was a direct contradiction to the gentleness of his actions. As he spoke, he knelt beside her, placing his hand softly over hers. Wordlessly and wandlessly, he healed her hand, his magic washing over her soothingly. Once healed, he helped her stand, then brought her over to the side.

 

“What do you say, Potter?” he asked Harry, who had remained glaring at her father from his place in the audience.

 

It was a challenge as much as it was a hidden request. Her dad’s hands were still on her arms, she felt his muscles tensing as he looked at Draco’s smug face. A smugness that momentarily faltered as he met his godfather’s gaze.

 

Without a word, Harry took the stage.

 

“Remember, disarm only !” Professor Lockhart reminded them with emphasis, looking more and more nervous as the two young wizards stared at one another.

 

Draco barely flicked his hand as he whispered something, and a large snake shot from the end of his wand.

 

She would later blame the effects of pain and fear for not recalling what happened after that. Professor Lockhart, against her father’s better judgment, attempted to Vanish the snake. Instead, it got larger. It turned toward her, and she shifted behind her father. A strange hissing sound made her peek out from behind him, and she saw Harry speaking to the snake as it found more interesting prey in a Hufflepuff.

 

It hadn’t occurred to Aurora before that Slytherin’s Heir could be in a different house. After all, the way Draco had been acting after the incident with Colin, the whispers she had heard from Harry, Ron, and Hermione when they didn’t notice her in the common room, she’d begun to think Draco really was some kind of Slytherin Prince.

 

But Draco didn’t talk to snakes, not like that. And he was terrified of Harry, much like everyone else at that moment.

 

Including, from what she could discern, her father.

 

—————A—————

 

“Just tell me, Hermione!” she heard her father’s exasperated plea from down the hall, and the sound of it brought Aurora to the door of her bedroom in her father’s chambers. She opened it softly so she could hear the conversation. The sitting room wasn’t far away, and the conversation became clearer.

 

“Severus, you know I would if I could,” her mother pleaded, desperate and upset. “I can only tell you that you don’t have to worry about Harry.”

 

“He spoke to the snake! The bloody snake! Merlin knows what he told it to do …”

 

“I think … it’s been ages, but if memory serves me right, he told it to back away. To not hurt anyone. And honestly, if you should be upset with anyone, it should be Draco!”

 

“Oh, don’t you worry about that.” Her father was clearly sneering, that tone could mean nothing else. “I’ve already had a lovely Floo conversation with Lucius and Narcissa about his behavior. I’m sure he’ll put on a show for those who ask, but he’s been barred from returning home and accompanying them on their little vacation to Venice. And he’ll be getting a letter, a strongly worded one, about making amends to her.”

 

“You’re still convinced they’ll be discussing marriage when she’s of age,” her mother said, sounding more amused than before.

 

“Without a doubt. Three more years and Lucius will be doing his utmost to convince us it is the best way to raise our status amongst purebloods.” Her father scoffed. “As if that is actually something that matters.”

 

“But we aren’t considering it, are we? Rory should be able to choose for herself, and I’m fairly certain that Draco…”

 

“I agree, but if the Dark Lord returns, we’ll need to keep up appearances. Dumbledore has always believed it will happen. Though he may have other motives for how he wants us to live.”

 

There was silence, save for what sounded like soft footsteps.

 

“He’s always done what he thinks is necessary. With me, you, the Order. And not everyone agrees. He’s a great man, a wise man, but that doesn’t mean every decision or thought he has is great and wise. And aren’t we lucky that those who really matter see that as well as we do?”

 

“We are,” she said, and Aurora tried not to cringe when she heard the smacking sound of a kiss.

 

“The Heir of Slytherin is not in Gryffindor,” he stated. Silence. “Good. At least I can rest a little easier for now. Having Rory in another house is harder to deal with than I thought, even with Min as her Head of House. Merlin help us if she’d ended up in Hufflepuff.”

 

“We still have another child to be sorted, you know.”

 

“Don’t tempt fate, witch!” he scolded, and her mother laughed heartily.

 

And then she wasn’t laughing and Aurora’s instincts told her that the sounds that came afterward were not ones she wanted to understand.

 

—————H—————

 

January 9, 1975

 

Hermione bit her lip as she headed to the classroom Severus had nearly destroyed before Christmas. She knew he would be there this evening, knew he was giving another go at his pain relief adaptation, since he had made some very pointed comments about not bringing him distraction. But she’d barely seen him outside of classes today and she was hardly going to slip him his present while taking notes.

 

Lily had told her about the day by accident. No sooner had term resumed had Lily complained about her birthday being on a Thursday, and how the previous year James had accidentally ratted out her own party in the Divination classroom. She also mentioned how she had wanted it to be a dual celebration with Severus, whose birthday was exactly three weeks before her own, but always too close to the start of term for them to have planned anything.

 

Basic math did the rest for Hermione.

 

When she was with the McGonagalls over the holidays, she’d asked Bob if there was any chance she could take some potions ingredients and work them off over the Easter hols. He’d smiled, waved her toward the greenhouse and teased her about not taking too much.

 

If she didn’t know any better, she’d wager that he knew who she was getting them for. But then again, Professor McGonagall—Minerva—had been writing them as much as she had. Perhaps they all behaved as grown-ups typically did about opposite sex friendships. Merlin knew her own parents, intellectuals though they were, were always taunting her about whether it was Ron or Harry that was her boyfriend.

 

The ingredients weren’t meant to be a birthday present, but she couldn’t resist the timing. But now, timing was her problem, and she wasn’t sure just when she should do it. Or how. Or if she even should at all.

 

“Oh suck it up, Hermione,” she scolded herself in a whisper. “This is Severus, not Professor Snape. The worst he can do is call you a mean name or berate you. And even if he does, it’s not like it should bother you. He can’t take house points.” And with that, she summoned a little Gryffindor courage and headed inside.

 

“I was beginning to wonder if you were ever coming in,” Severus greeted her. “Lurking in the hallway as you were.”

 

“You knew I was there?” Hermione felt her cheeks color, and was thankful Severus was still focused on the cauldron in front of him. His face was hidden behind his hair, only the tip of his nose visible.

 

“I have a warning system, yes. I need enough time to Vanish everything if need be. It has not happened yet, Madam Pomfrey has long suspected what I get up to here and won’t rat me out unless I’m doing something too dangerous. Any other professor ….” He didn’t need to finish the sentence.

 

“Professor McGonagall wouldn’t say anything,” Hermione said, wondering whether or not that was true. She hadn’t gotten in trouble for her own recreational brewing, and what she’d done was technically illegal. Somehow, she doubted the staff remained ignorant of it after the way Professor Snape laughed upon seeing her.

 

“Can’t take the risk,” he said, slowly withdrawing the stirring rod and setting it aside. “You actually came at the perfect time. I only have to wait for the color to shift so I know I have it right, and then I just need to wait for it to cool so I can bottle it.” He leaned on the desks behind him. “I doubt you want help with History or Charms, so why have you graced me with your presence?” He looked up at her then, and Hermione noticed the black eye he sported.

 

“What happened?” she demanded.

 

“This?” He casually gestured to his face. “A birthday gift from your exalted housemates. I can’t prove it was them, of course. I couldn’t see them. I was heading to dinner when I tripped, then Stupefied. I imagine they would’ve done more damage, but Lestrange came by. He’s a prefect, he could easily deduct points and report them to McGonagall for detention. I imagine they didn’t want to risk it. If Black hadn’t laughed when kicking me in the face, I wouldn’t have been so sure myself.”

 

“And you didn’t bother to go to Madam Pomfrey?” Hermione asked.

 

Severus glared and turned away. “It’s letting them win, isn’t it? She’d report the injury to Dumbledore, and he’d sweep it under the rug, as always.”

 

Hermione wasn’t sure that would’ve been the case, but then she considered that nothing had been done to set the Marauders straight before. She shook her head and sighed, frustrated that her friend was getting bullied and no one was stopping it.

 

“Hermione,” he said, a touch exasperated. There wasn’t any malice in his eyes. “Let it go. You already know I’m more than capable of taking care of them, so long as they don’t play dirty. And this has been going on from the moment they entered our compartment our very first year. Nothing, absolutely nothing, is going to stop them now.”

 

Her shoulders drooped and she diverted her eyes, lest he mock her for being emotional.

 

“You came for a reason,” he said again.

 

She nodded. She shifted the box in her hand and gave it to him. “Happy birthday.”

 

He took it gingerly, glancing at her uncertainly as he turned and placed the box on the desk and opened it. His eyes bulged, which had to hurt, though he didn’t show it. “Hermione,” he breathed, his hand running along the jars. “There are … easily … twenty Galleons worth of ingredients in here.”

 

She blushed again. “I have an arrangement with the Herbologist who grew them.”

 

He arched a brow. “Do I want to know?”

 

She stepped forward and smacked his arm.

 

“Git,” she said while resisting the urge to laugh. “He’s a stepfather of sorts. That’s a horrid thing to joke about.”

 

“You didn’t say what the arrangement was. Anyone else would assume the same thing.” She merely huffed, knowing from their short acquaintance that he could continue twisting her words to his heart’s content if she tried to explain.

 

“Thank you,” he said after a short silence. She peeked at him, and she could see how grateful he was by the glint in his eye. “Truly, it’s … it’s honestly the most meaningful gift I’ve ever been given.”

 

That made her heart soar and ache all at once. For potions ingredients to be meaningful, despite there being only one or two more expensive or difficult to acquire within the box, was both wonderful and terrible. It reflected his passion for brewing, but it also revealed how little he’d been given.

 

“You’re quite welcome,” she said, meaning it deeply. Even if it meant working the entire hols without any other reward for her efforts.

 

—————A—————

 

December 24, 1992

 

Never would a Snape admit they were lonely, and Aurora was a Snape. That had been made abundantly clear to her.

 

“Exactly what do you think you’re doing, following us?” Ron Weasley demanded, stopping on the stairs that led to Gryffindor Tower. Harry and Hermione stopped as well, the latter crossing her arms and glaring at Ron while Harry shifted sheepishly.

 

“I need to get a book,” she replied, having forgotten her Potions book in her trunk upstairs. Her very special Potions book that had once been her father’s and had the very start of his corrections scribbled in the margins. And while she would never, ever be stupid enough to use his notes on an essay for his class, she did like the reminder that not everything written was sacred.

 

“Right, so you just happened to be following us. Waiting to see if we’re up to something to rat us out to your father.”

 

Ronald !” Hermione hissed.

 

“I don’t trust her,” Ron said firmly. “She shouldn’t have been put in Gryffindor. She belongs in the dungeons with the other snakes.”

 

“That’s enough, Ron,” Harry snapped. “I’ve known Rory longer than I’ve known you.”

 

“And you never talk to her. I don’t see you asking her to tag along.”

 

“You don’t ask Ginny, either,” Harry countered. When Ron’s flared nostrils and the wrinkled bridge of his nose did not soften, Harry sighed. “Think you could give us, like, a three-minute head start, Rory?”

 

She looked at Hermione, but her eyes were on the floor, her cheeks puffed as though she were ready to explode. Harry pleaded with his eyes, begging her quietly to keep the peace.

 

“‘Kay.” Aurora even backed down the stairs and waited at the bottom.

 

“Sorry, Aurora,” Hermione said sincerely as the boys took off. “But, well ….” She shrugged, glancing at the boys before turning back at her.

 

Yeah, Aurora understood. She was a Snape, Snapes had a hard time making friends, including the ones who married into the name. And while this Hermione Granger was not the witch Aurora looked up to and admired, she knew full well that those two were the only friends she had at the moment and wasn’t willing to lose them.

 

Aurora was sure she had some of her mother’s fierce loyalty, if only she was given a chance to show it. Ginny was nice when she wanted to socialize, but she was also the only one from their year who had made any effort to talk to her. Not that that mattered much at the moment, with the majority of the school gone for the holidays.

 

Aurora had always spent Christmas at Hogwarts, though in her father’s rooms, with her mother and brother. But they hadn’t arrived yet, and with Draco forced to stay for the holidays, his cronies had to stay with him and that meant her father had to appear much more available.

 

So no hiding there.

 

No, she had to stay in the Gryffindor common room, sitting by the cold window, keeping as much distance between herself and the “golden trio” as possible. She didn’t even bother with the pretense of a book, she merely stared out the window and watched the snow fall outside.

 

“Not much fun over here by yourself,” Fred Weasley’s voice caused Aurora to yelp, and twin laughter surrounded her as each brother squeezed in beside her.

 

“Keep this up, people will think you’re a bat like your dear ol’ dad, won’t they, Gred?”

 

“You said it, Forge.”

 

“And exactly what am I going to do instead?” she asked.

 

“Play Gobstones with us,” said Fred.

 

“Though they might be a trick set,” George teased.

 

“Much worse than putrid goo may come out.”

 

“You do know that my grandmother was the captain of the Hogwarts team?” Aurora asked, feeling stupid for mentioning her family at all.

 

“All the better!” George exclaimed.

 

“You may take it seriously,” Fred said formally.

 

“And not just think it child’s play.”

 

“Which it is.”

 

“But what’s the fun of life—”

 

“—if you can’t act a bit childish?”

 

Aurora smiled. The twins had always been kind, but they had never gone out of their way to speak to her before. “Sure you wanna play with a firstie?”

 

“Better than playing with that git,” Fred said as he threw a thumb toward Ron who happened to be looking.

 

“Always whines when he loses.” George shook his head.

 

“And maybe Ginny might come out of her room if she knows you’re playing too.”

 

Aurora took a deep breath. “All right,” she relented, feeling shy and nervous and unsure all at once. “Let’s play.”

 

“Brilliant,” the twins said together in such a way that Aurora wondered if the whole thing was a setup.

 

Bully for them, she had only ever lost a couple games to her grandmother. Aside from that, she was undefeated, and she wasn’t going to lose that title now.

 

—————H—————

 

February 14, 1975

 

“It’s so pretty!” Lily exclaimed as she and Hermione entered the Great Hall.

 

“It’s ghastly,” Hermione replied, taking in the pink walls, the fluttering hearts that (thankfully) disappeared before they made their way to the tables. She swore that she could hear birdsong as well, chirps and tweets as if it somehow made everything more … something. Romantic? Disgusting was more like it.

 

“God, you sound like Sev.” Lily rolled her eyes. “Well, come on. The mail will be here sooner than we think.”

 

“Well, yes,” Hermione agreed as she allowed Lily to pull her along. “Though I’m not quite sure—”

 

She didn’t continue as she realized why Lily was so thrilled about the morning post. Having been friends with Ron and Harry, as well as years of being ignored before Hogwarts, had decimated any and all expectations Hermione could have had for the holiday.

 

She sat at the table between Lily and Alice, both already eagerly chatting with Marlene and a third-year named Mary about the post. Hermione thought to wait them out, breakfast the only time she really spoke to her dormmates. She grabbed her toast, a bit of fruit, chewed on a piece of bacon, and prepared a cup of tea, and still the conversation hadn’t changed. With a sigh, she removed her Ancient Runes text from her bag to brush up on the assigned reading.

 

“Getting in some last-minute homework, Kitten?” Sirius asked from his seat a few people away.

 

“No, merely refreshing my memory.”

 

“She can’t annoy Snivellus if she doesn’t have the answer ready before him,” James added, and Hermione peered at him to see his attention was entirely on a grinning Sirius. “I think he downright hates being second best, if he was every really best to begin with. It’s the best thing about Granger.”

 

I’m right here, you know , she thought to herself, rolling her eyes and shaking her head. Some days the differences between James and Harry made her question her friend’s paternity. Maybe Harry was fathered by someone under the Polyjuice Potion? Well, no, that couldn’t be it … unless it was James who took the potion and somehow tricked Lily into sleeping with … someone. What would the characteristics be under such circumstances? She’d have to ask Severus, maybe he would know or would be interested in finding out.

 

“Oh, look!” Marlene gushed, and Hermione lost her appetite from the sheer sweetness of it. She didn’t even look to see the various shades of red and pink fluttering down. A regular post owl landed in front of her, offered her a letter, and then left.

 

It looked as disgruntled as Hermione felt.

 

“Oh! That’s a boring one. Did Sev make you one, too?” Lily asked, and Hermione glanced over to see the ginger resting her hand on a small pile of papers.

 

“Er, no. It’s a letter from Delia,” she replied, frowning. All of the envelopes beneath Lily’s hand were bright Gryffindor red. “Did he make you one?”

 

“He always has, though it hasn’t come yet,” Lily insisted, a near pitying smile replacing her genuine joy for a moment. “It’s probably because he doesn’t know you well yet.”

 

“And you’re new,” Marlene added distractedly from behind a card.

 

“I don’t really care,” Hermione lied.

 

No, she didn’t care about her lack of cards, with that sole exception. She didn’t want to dwell too much on why it mattered, but she was sure it was because they had developed a true, honest friendship. And while he and Lily were friends … well, he did have a crush on her. Probably still did. Maybe more of an infatuation. Pretty girls like Lily were hard not to fall for.

 

“I made you one, Kitten,” Sirius pointed out smugly, pointing in front of Hermione. She looked down by her plate and noticed the single red envelope, as well as the glare from Marlene.

 

She picked up the Valentine and tossed it back to Sirius. “I’d actually rather take Lily’s pity.”

 

Lily stammered out a protest but was cut off before she could try to deny it.

 

“I’m ready to head to Runes if you are.” Severus’ voice was more welcome than Hermione wanted to admit, and she barely held in her sigh of relief.

 

“Oh, let the lady have a day without you and your beak butting in,” James groaned. “Slither back to the dungeons, and maybe Granger could enjoy some proper company.”

 

“I thought that’s what I was about to do,” Hermione said as she shouldered her bag. She gestured toward the door with her head, and Severus nodded.

 

“Sev?” Lily caught his attention. He arched a brow, and Lily bit her lip, glancing toward the Marauders. “Did you have something for me?”

 

“You can’t be worried about missing notes from Defense? It’s the same class as last year,” he replied.

 

“You wouldn’t want his notes anyway,” James said, earning a scowl from Lily. “There wouldn’t be anything about Defense in them.”

 

Everyone except Sirius and Peter ignored James’ terrible shot at Severus while Lily turned back to him.

 

“No, I meant … something else … pertaining to the day?”

 

“And what would that be?” he asked, not at all cruelly.

 

“Oh, please.” James slammed his hands down on the table and got to his feet, sneering at Severus. Hermione noticed his wand was in his hand and that Sirius was no longer laughing but was watching for the right moment to intervene. “You’ve given Lily a Valentine every year for the last three years. Cheap. Handmade. Some parchment with your grease prints all over it. You rambled about her silken hair, her shining eyes, and her glowing smile.”

 

“James,” Lily growled, and he paused.

 

“You’re absolutely horrid, James Potter,” Hermione sneered, taking advantage of his silence.

 

“I don’t need you defending me,” Severus snapped out, but Hermione continued.

 

“Honestly, if you were half the man—”

 

“Granger!” Severus growled, his cold black eyes meeting Hermione’s as she turned toward him. But it wasn’t him that silenced her. Enraged by the cruelty of absolutely no one, not even the prefects, was stepping in to stop James, Hermione had forgotten about the Vow. It stopped her from saying anything about Harry, but her mind was in a loop even as her airway closed off. It kept looping the comparisons between father and son and she wanted to point them out even as her heart started racing and stuttering. Her lips tried to form words that the Vow prevented, and she couldn’t stop it.

 

It was probably because his eyes were on hers that Severus was the first to notice something wrong. The cold anger gave way to concern and then to fear as she clawed at his arm.

 

“Hermione?”

 

She’d seen that look in his eyes before when he, Sirius, and Remus had been arguing, and the werewolf had transformed under the light of the moon. As Remus’ anguished cry had suddenly changed into a growl, terrified obsidian eyes had locked onto hers before he’d spun around and flung his arms out to the sides in a futile attempt to shield them. He was Professor Snape then, but she couldn’t help seeing how they were the same man.

 

It was the last thought she had before her tunneling vision faded to complete darkness.

 

—————S—————

 

Heart hammering, Severus lurched forward and caught Hermione before she hit the ground. Instinctively bringing her head to his chest, he turned to the Marauders. Eyes wide, nostrils flaring, teeth gritted, he hissed, “Aim a little off now, Black?”

 

“What are you on about Snivellus?” Black sneered, eyes showing concern as they darted between Severus and Hermione.

 

“Potter, then?” he asked, changing his target. In his peripheral, he saw Lupin moving cautiously toward him, as if approaching a wild animal. It made Severus want to hold Hermione closer and protect her; they’d already done enough damage.

 

Potter’s cold demeanor didn’t ease his suspicions that they had done something.

 

“Me … what?” Potter asked through clenched teeth.

 

“Cursed her,” Severus hissed as shadows came over him.

 

“Now, now, Mr. Snape. I doubt very much that Messrs. Potter and Black cursed her,” Professor Dumbledore said with that annoyingly kind smile. It did nothing but make Severus’ blood boil, that gentle condescending grin used too often when the bullying and vicious attacks led by the Princes of Gryffindor were excused as ‘boys will be boys.’ It was always used when the headmaster told him ‘don’t provoke them’ or ‘are you sure that’s how it happened, Mr. Snape?’

 

“But she was fine!” Lily spoke up, her voice shrill as she stared at Hermione with absolute horror. “She was perfectly fine before she started calling James out on his behavior!”

 

“Her pulse is erratic, Professor,” Lupin commented softly, and Severus hadn’t realized he had taken Hermione’s wrist.

 

He looked around him, realizing now that all the Gryffindors nearby were on their feet and craning to have a look. Even students as far as his own house were trying to get a peek, though they were sly enough to not stand or blatantly crane their necks. Around him were Dumbledore, Professors McGonagall and Slughorn, and Madam Pomfrey.

 

McGonagall and Madam Pomfrey were the only ones who expressed real concern, though there was something strange in McGonagall’s eye that made Severus think she knew exactly what happened to his friend. Slughorn just looked confused and had probably only left his breakfast because he believed he needed to act as Head of House.

 

“Let me take her up to the hospital wing, Severus,” Madam Pomfrey said quietly, placing a hand over Severus’, where he held Hermione’s head. He nodded, and once Madam Pomfrey conjured a stretcher, he released his hold on her so the matron could levitate her onto it. Hermione’s hair tickled his hand as she was lifted away, and he ignored the sharp pain that clenched his heart when he noticed her pale skin and purple lips. “You can come see her after classes.”

 

“She’ll be happy to get the notes she’ll miss,” Lupin commented quietly as Madam Pomfrey guided her out the door, and Severus couldn’t help the snort that escaped.

 

Yeah, she would be thrilled to have the notes she missed. He didn’t doubt for a moment that her first thought upon waking would be classes. But the fact she was missing them in the first place reminded him that someone was responsible. He turned back to Potter, glaring as his hands balled into fists to prevent himself from pulling his wand out. He was sure a Gryffindor was responsible for Hermione’s condition; he just wasn’t sure which one.

 

“I assure you, Mr. Snape,” Professor McGonagall said, her brogue thickening with each word, “she wasnae cursed. Go to class, you can see ‘er after.”

 

He nodded once and left the Great Hall.

 

“Sev!” Lily called, and Severus stopped. He waited but didn’t turn to watch Lily run toward him, bag dangling off her shoulder, scraps of obnoxiously-colored parchment clutched to her chest. “Hi.”

 

“Hello,” he replied, confused by her approach. He glanced over his shoulder, having sensed others behind them, and noted Lupin not too far away.

 

“So.” Lily cleared her throat. “Did you miss the owl post?”

 

Severus blinked. “For what?”

 

“You know.” Lily bumped him in the arm with her shoulder.

 

Yes, he knew.

 

And maybe if things had been different, he would have once more waxed poetic about all of Lily’s best features, physical or otherwise. He didn’t doubt that he would have forgiven her without pause and continued to worship her for standing him up at the Three Broomsticks. And he would have still been quite infatuated with her.

 

But things were different.

 

Lily was not the only light in his life anymore. Nor the brightest.

 

Hermione Granger was one of the biggest pains in the arse he’d ever met. She had a haughty way of regurgitating textbook information, only these days she waited to be called on before reciting the answer. She had an annoying habit of following things so strictly that it sometimes made Potions exasperating when he knew his way was better and she still mumbled about the instructions under her breath. And, like this morning, and in the Three Broomsticks, she had this terrible Gryffindor streak of barreling into a situation. She would defend him in any way, shape or form she could, even though he didn’t want her to.

 

But she was also more loyal than Lily had ever been. Her sticking up for him was annoying, and often unnecessary, but he couldn’t forget the tears in her eyes when she visited him in the hospital wing to yell at him after his cauldron exploded. And as much as he felt his pride was wounded, he did appreciate how she had stepped in and pretended it was her he was meeting at the pub. She allowed him to save face in front of the housemates he knew already thought Lily beneath him. And while he had some suspicions about Hermione’s true blood status, he didn’t care. And what the purebloods of his house didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her.

 

She was also more interesting to converse with than Lily. She was an intellectual, and Lily was swept away by the typical teenage fantasies and fancies of students their age. Seeing her enter the abandoned classroom with no extra pomp for the Yule Ball had actually cemented for him just how little she was like other girls. Like anyone else, really.

 

He’d been determined to hate her when he’d first met her, but nothing he said seemed to lessen her opinion of him. And once the insults stopped holding weight, once it was clear she wasn’t around out of pity or because of Lily, he couldn’t help but like her. Reluctantly.

 

So, after everything that happened, when the day came closer, Severus couldn’t bring himself to put quill to parchment for Lily’s sake. And he thought that Hermione would find the whole holiday as insipid as he did. So, he’d skipped it entirely, hoping the former wouldn’t notice, and the latter would share his opinion.

 

One for two was clearly as good as he was going to get.

 

“You have at least a half dozen in your arms. You know what you are to me, you don’t need to add to the written flattery you already have.”

 

She smiled coyly, chin raising. “And what am I to you, Sev?” she asked with a flutter of her eyelashes.

 

He was quite impressed that he didn’t blush. At the same time, had things been different, he knew he would have been blushing furiously and stuttering out what she was. What he once thought they might be.

 

“Lily,” Lupin’s voice came from a slight distance. “You’re going to be late for Care of Magical Creatures. It’s the other way, and if you keep following Severus—”

 

“Right,” she said, smile fading. “See you in Charms, Sev. Remus.” She darted back the other way, and Severus tensed when he realized he was alone with Lupin.

 

“Couldn’t wait to get me alone so you could get in the shot you and your friends missed earlier?” Severus said to him over his shoulder, slipping his wand into his hand.

 

“Making sure James, Peter or Sirius doesn’t try to get you on the way to class,” Lupin replied. Severus turned just a bit toward Lupin, seeing his stalker had stopped when he had. “I agree with you that Hermione was cursed,” Lupin continued, “and she looked … whatever she was hit with, it wasn’t good.” Lupin shifted nervously. “And she said something to me back in November and, well … it stuck with me.”

 

Severus sneered. “Was it not to follow around the Alpha idiots like a good little dog?”

 

“Something like that.” Lupin smiled ruefully, and Severus actually managed not to roll his eyes.

 

“I’m heading to Runes. Don’t hex me in the back, I doubt you’d be able to handle me on your own,” Severus said as he walked away.

 

“I don’t doubt it,” Lupin replied, and Severus let out a groan of distaste at the cheerfulness in his voice.

Chapter Text

—————S—————

 

February 14, 1975 (continued)

 

“I can’t imagine how you’ve managed to hold this in all morning, Minerva,” Severus heard Dumbledore faintly out in the main ward of the hospital wing.

 

Hermione had been placed in a private room, away from anyone who could come up for a sudden onset of stomach cramps or unbearable headache. From the exasperated look Madam Pomfrey had greeted him with when he arrived at the beginning of lunch, it had been happening quite a bit since she brought Hermione into the hospital wing that morning. The matron had directed him to her room, warned him that Hermione still hadn’t regained consciousness and promptly forgot he was there. Which was fine by him, as he intended to stay until he had to leave for Arithmancy later in the afternoon. And even going to that was debatable.

 

As a result, he doubted the supposedly omnipresent headmaster had any idea there was a student within hearing distance, listening to their conversation.

 

“I’ve been holdin’ it in ‘cause you’ve been avoiding me, Albus. I agreed to the Vow, but I didnae think ye’d be so vicious with it,” Professor McGonagall shouted.

 

“Not vicious. Thorough. If Riddle were to learn what she does—”

 

“Donae start with that,” McGonagall cut the headmaster off. “How’d he’d ever get holda her?” Whatever Dumbledore said after that was too soft to hear through the closed door, but the sharp clap of a palm against skin made Severus sit up straighter. McGonagall said something else too low to make out, but there was a hissing quality to her voice that led Severus to believe the headmaster was being lectured.

 

He was also satisfied with the thought that the Transfiguration teacher had slapped the headmaster.

 

Shadows blocked out the light under the door and Severus cleared his mind so he could pretend he hadn’t overheard their conversation. It always helped him lie. He turned his attention entirely on the Arithmancy book in front of him, blocking out the quiet grumbling on the other side of the door.

 

A snort had his act shattered in an instant. Turning toward the bed fast enough to pop something in his neck, he took in Hermione’s groggy smirk with a surge of relief.

 

He immediately put on his best scowl. “Exactly what did you think you were doing, falling unconscious as you did?”

 

“Did I ruin your day?” she taunted with a scratchy voice.

 

“Lupin has been shadowing me from a distance all morning,” he sneered. “What exactly did you say to him to get him to follow me around like a lost puppy?”

 

“I didn’t say anything to him,” Hermione said as she tried to sit up.

 

He placed a hand on her shoulder and firmly pushed her back down. “It’s not what he said.”

 

“Then I don’t remember,” Hermione replied as she weakly tried to resist him. “Why won’t you let me up?”

 

“Probably because you came so close to death this morning you made my complexion look downright radiant. You aren’t getting up until Pomfrey says you aren’t going to keel over.”

 

There was a gentle rap on the door and it opened to reveal the headmaster and a harried-looking Head of Gryffindor.

 

“Mr. Snape, shouldn’t you be in class?” Dumbledore asked.

 

“I have a free period, sir,” he replied, doing his best to be civil.

 

“Ah, well, perhaps you should—”

 

“Albus,” McGonagall hissed as she went to Hermione’s side.

 

Dumbledore stared at her, then conceded with a nod. He looked at Hermione. “Miss Granger, I trust you understand what happened?”

 

“Yes, sir,” she croaked.

 

“Good. Perhaps, in the future, you will be more careful to not trigger your condition?” He arched a brow and Severus noted Hermione’s eyes darkening.

 

“Of course,” she said, a bit too sweetly.

 

Dumbledore nodded once more. “I will have Poppy come and check on you.” And with a sweep of his disgustingly bright pink robes, he left the room.

 

“Miss Granger, Hermione, let me assure you that if I thought, for a moment, that what—”

 

Hermione’s hand shot out and gripped McGonagall’s wrist with surprising strength. “I know,” she rasped. “But let’s not—”

 

“Right.” McGonagall put her hand over Hermione’s and nodded. The professor then turned to Severus with a gratitude and kindness he’d never seen from anyone in his life. “Mr. Snape, twenty-five points to Slytherin. I’d hate to think of what might have happened had Hermione actually collapsed during … her attack.”

 

Severus couldn’t do more than blink for a full minute. He’d been awarded house points. Outside the classroom. For being there for his friend.

 

“Thank you,” he managed to get out. It was the only thing that came to mind. And before he felt the need to search for something more, Madam Pomfrey came in and looked Hermione over.

 

“Whatever happened doesn’t seem to have any lasting effects,” she stated. “And I’m sorry, Minerva, but I can’t find the reason behind it. I have a suspicion, but I can’t imagine the reason for it.”

 

“Thank you, Poppy,” McGonagall said, letting go of Hermione. “We should go to your office and have some tea. We can discuss your suspicions there.”

 

The two women left the room, Madam Pomfrey closing the door only part way before she and McGonagall disappeared.

 

“I assume I missed classes; did you take notes?” Hermione asked once they were alone.

 

Severus laughed. Out of relief, and because he’d been right to assume that would be what she focused on after her ordeal. He laughed because, after being at death’s door, Hermione Granger was so steadfast that her studies were still her priority.

 

“I have notes, you bloody swot. But maybe wait until you don’t rival the Bloody Baron in complexion before diving into your studies.”

 

She stuck her tongue out at him, and he merely shook his head. And if he felt a twinge of fondness for her, well, perhaps one of those annoying flying cupids had nicked him in passing.

 

—————A—————

 

February 14, 1993

 

Aurora looked at the disgusting scarlet pieces of paper in front of her that she’d yet to open. If she had to guess, the majority of them were attempts at buying her father’s favor. Give Aurora Snape a Valentine and maybe Professor Snape will go the day without saying anything mean or excuse a lack of homework. As if that would work.

 

“Well,” Ginny asked morosely, pushing her peas around her plate. “Are you going to open them?”

 

“I’m not sure I should,” Aurora replied.

 

Ginny huffed. “You’re one of the only first years who has any.”

 

That wasn’t exactly a reason, but Aurora had noticed a few of the other first years looking at the envelopes that had been following her around. She’d even tried to leave them in her father’s class, hoping they would suddenly find themselves on fire, but they had continued to float behind her after class. The sheer number had him scowling upon her entrance, and she could hear the sneer in the scoff when the little envelopes followed her out the door.

 

Plucking the first one from the stack, Aurora looked at the writing on the front. She didn’t recognize it, nor did she recognize the next three. She thought the fifth might be from Seamus Finnegan, but that wasn’t comforting or reassuring.

 

“I don’t know anyone’s handwriting.”

 

“Are you sorting them, then?” Hermione Granger asked from a few seats down. Aurora nodded, and Hermione gave her a knowing grin. “Move your wand like this.” She showed her the movement. “And say Amicus Revelare.”

 

Amicus Revelare,” Aurora repeated, following the wand movement before tapping the cards. They shook, then sorted themselves out into two distinct piles: three cards, and then the rest. It didn’t take much of a guess to figure out which pile was the one of genuine Valentines.

 

She picked up the first card.

 

Aurora,

 

Perhaps on this particular day, we can bury our animosities and focus once more on strengthening a union sought since our birth.

 

With warmest regards,

Draco

 

Aurora snorted. “Honestly,” she said, looking over at the Slytherin table. Draco was laughing at something, and from the way they were carrying on, she’d wager that Ginny’s musical Valentine (one Aurora tried so hard to convince her not to send) was still being mocked. Shaking her head, she tossed the card onto the brownnoser pile.

 

She pulled the next one out.

 

Rory,

 

Happy Valentine’s Day.

 

Harry

 

The boy in question wasn’t around, so she thought she’d thank him for it later the same way he thanked her for hers: a slight grin and a nod. She quickly slipped the card into the middle of the pile before Ginny saw it and became more downtrodden or wanted nothing to do with her. She grabbed the last letter.

 

Your mother and I were not big fans of this holiday during our school years, so if it fills you with a bit of nausea, know it’s a familial trait.

 

Aurora laughed at that one, her father’s spiky handwriting a welcome sight. She knew why he’d done it, though he would never admit it: he didn’t want her to feel left out.

 

She glanced up at the head table and smiled fondly at her father. He was deep in a conversation with Aunt Min, both glancing at Professors Lockhart and Dumbledore, who smiled much more broadly than necessary.

 

She tucked the envelope into her robes. “Anyone know a Vanishing spell or can control an Incendio ?”

 

“I’ll do it!” Seamus jumped up excitedly. There was a commotion of people clamoring to get him to sit back down, and during that, the pile disappeared.

 

Startled, Aurora looked around to find who did it. When she looked at the head table, she realized her father wasn’t there anymore. Turning slightly, she caught him on his way out through the staff entrance, a slight smirk curling his lips.

 

But not a second later, something in her mind clicked. It had niggled her mind all day, she was sure there was something really strange about Ginny’s Valentine, aside from comparing his eyes to a pickled toad. Watching her father leave made her remember why she had felt such unease.

 

“Ginny,” she whispered, looking around as she leaned in to ensure no one was listening. “Why did you refer to—to You-Know-Who as the Dark Lord?”

 

Ginny blushed to her roots, her brown eyes going wide. “I just read it somewhere. And it rhymed.”

 

A bad feeling curled in Aurora’s gut and she averted her eyes as she started to speculate.

 

 

March 27, 1993

 

 

Aurora watched Ginny watch Harry eat his dinner with an intensity that screamed of fear more than childish admiration. It was almost as if at any moment she thought that Harry would hex her. She wasn’t quite sure why, Ginny hadn’t been talkative or friendly since Valentine’s Day.

 

With a heavy sigh, she finished her homework and thought it best to head up to the dormitory. There wasn’t anything else to do. No one to talk to.

 

Well, except Hagrid, she was sure he would still welcome her with open arms. And if that’s how she would survive her Hogwarts education, she supposed there were worse things than hanging out only with adults.

 

She was just outside of the main doors when she stopped suddenly at the sight of a blonde girl laying on her back, arms out to the side, legs splayed awkwardly. Aurora’s heart stopped and then sped up to a painful speed. She glanced around, seeing no one else around. She thought of turning back around and getting her father, but a little voice in her head told her to suck it up and check things herself. She didn’t need to run to daddy for everything; she wasn’t a little girl anymore.

 

At first, Aurora was shaking when she saw that the girl’s blue eyes were open, but when the girl blinked, Aurora understood that she wasn’t another victim of the Slytherin monster. She paused, wondering if maybe she should get Aunt Poppy.

 

“Have you ever noticed there’s a map of the stars and planets on the ceiling?” the girl asked suddenly, and Aurora recognized her as Luna Lovegood. “I imagine you spent a lot of time here as a child. Did you ever just look up at the ceiling?”

 

Aurora came a little closer, looking around again before awkwardly sitting on the floor beside Luna. “Er, just in my room. I mean, the room in my dad’s—Professor Snape’s—chambers. It, er, well it didn’t have a map of the stars or anything.” She frowned. “It was … a raven. A glowing image of a raven and a lioness. The raven flew, making a figure eight around the lioness and she played with it, trying to bat at it or catch it in her mouth. They were always blue, like a—”

 

“Like a Patronus,” Luna said, a dreamy smile coming over her petite face. “That’s actually quite lovely. Probably a representation of your parents.”

 

“Yeah,” Aurora said. After glancing around again, she decided to join Luna on the floor.

 

She was right: engraved in the gold stone ceiling were clear images of the solar system. It was massive, showing the sun in the center, the planets around it, the position of all the constellations.

 

“It’s enchanted,” Luna said. “The planets have shifted since I first noticed. I’m always too sleepy to go to Astronomy and really pay attention, so sometimes I come down here and look up to have a better understanding of what Professor Sinistra talked about.”

 

“You would think it would be the founders up there. Or the house symbols,” Aurora said thoughtfully.

 

“This is much better, I think,” Luna said serenely.

 

Aurora heard the distinct steps long before the person came close. She tilted her head and shifted her eyes as much as she could to see her father looming over them with a scowl on his face.

 

“Miss Lovegood, Miss Snape, why are you laying on the floor?” he asked.

 

“We’re studying the planets and the stars,” Aurora replied, and then added a hasty, “Sir.”

 

“And how does one do that in daylight, inside, in the Entrance Hall?”

 

“The ceiling, Professor Snape,” Luna said without a care, pointing upward. “But I suppose it’s not the best thing to do when people are bound to come by.” She got up, and Aurora quickly moved to do the same.

 

Professor Snape scowled. “Ten points from Ravenclaw and Gryffindor.” Aurora’s cheeks heated at the loss. “You can explain to your housemates why you lost points. I imagine that’s punishment enough without adding detention.”

 

“Yes, sir,” Aurora said, bowing her head.

 

“Of course, professor. Given what has transpired this year, it was unwise to do it,” Luna conceded, though she didn’t sound the least bit contrite. She then turned to Aurora. “Would you like to come with me on a walk around the grounds? The Wrackspurts really don’t like the coolness lingering on the grounds, so the walk will clear your head.”

 

Aurora shrugged and allowed Luna to lead the way. At this rate, a friend was a friend.

 

She glanced over her shoulder to say something to her dad but didn’t dare to when she saw him looking up at the ceiling as though he’d never seen it before.

 

 

May 8, 1993

 

 

“Harry.” Aurora kept her voice low, trying not to draw attention now that she finally had a moment with him without Ron at his side. She was shaking, though tried to hide it. “I … er … I was wondering if maybe I could, er, borrow your, ah, cloak.”

 

Harry frowned. “My cloak?”

 

“Yeah,” she said, pulling at one of her loose curls. “You know the one that makes you, er, not noticed?”

 

Harry’s eyes went wide, and he looked frantically around while leaning in and asking, “How do you know about that?”

 

Aurora arched a brow in such a perfect imitation of her father that Harry visibly flinched. “Ron isn’t very good at keeping things to himself. Ginny told me about it, said she heard all about it from Ron, who told Fred and George. Or something like that. I didn’t tell Dad,” she rushed to add when Harry looked apprehensive. “But I just … I want to go see him.”

 

“Rory, it’s not safe,” Harry said, though she could tell by his tone that that was not at all the reason he was saying no. He shifted as she continued to stare at him, and then eventually sighed. He leaned toward her. “Promise me this won’t get back to your dad.”

 

“Of course,” she said immediately.

 

“Ron and I … we’re going to go see Hagrid after dark.”

 

“Hagrid?” Aurora frowned. “Why? It can’t be for his rock cakes. I lost my first two teeth trying to eat one of those.” The memory of her two front teeth missing made her shift uncomfortably. The Muggle kids had teased her relentlessly for it.

 

“We think … we think he knows something about the Chamber of Secrets,” Harry confessed, glancing around again to make sure they weren’t listening.

 

Aurora snorted. “Doubtful. Hagrid was a Gryffindor, and—”

 

“He was expelled fifty years ago; around the same time the Chamber was last closed,” Harry hurried to explain.

 

Aurora paled at the thought, refusing to even entertain the idea. Yes, Hagrid had a thing for ‘misunderstood creatures,’ but he wouldn’t unleash something that caused so much damage.

 

“I don’t want to believe it, either,” Harry assured her. “But it’s all too coincidental.”

 

“Yeah ….” A heaviness settled in her chest before she took in a deep breath. “I won’t be long, an hour at most.”

 

He sighed, then smiled. “All right. Give me a moment, but don’t put it on in here, slip it on outside.”

 

—————A—————

 

Once Aurora had the cloak in place, she ran for the hospital wing. She met no one on the way and while she was terrified of what could be lurking around the corner, she didn’t slow down for anything. The door to the hospital wing was open just a crack and after a quick glance around to make sure no one was there, she took off the cloak and went inside.

 

She wasn’t at all surprised to see her dad sitting beside the bed with a Petrified Hermione Granger on it.

 

He didn’t glance up as she approached, but he opened his arm for her to come and tuck herself into his side like she used to when she was younger.

 

“I can’t think of her as your mother.” His voice was barely above a whisper, as though he were worried he’d disturb the girl. “There’s a disconnect. This Hermione is an entirely different one from the girl I met my fourth year. But she looks enough like you … it’s as though she’s a relative, a niece or a cousin. But it’s moments like this …”

 

“But she’ll be all right. She came to you.”

 

“She did, does, will.” He was quiet again. “Lucius has managed to get Professor Dumbledore fired. Avoid Draco, if you can. Between that and this happening to Hermione, he’ll be insufferable.”

 

She nodded, and they remained quiet, drawing comfort from each other.

 

“I’m worried about Ginny,” she said after a while.

 

He frowned. “Miss Weasley? I’m afraid I don’t know Ginevra Weasley well. Why are you worried about her?”

 

“She’s always been sort of quiet,” Aurora explained. “Ron Weasley likes reminding her that he’s older and friends with Harry. She sort of just … lets him do it. The twins, they tease her too. Well, not tease really, but they don’t help. They’re nice, really, but—”

 

“Rory,” her father interrupted her rambling, a glint of amusement in his eyes.

 

“Right. Well, Ginny had this diary that she would write in every night. But I think it’s cursed. It feels weird to me.”

 

“Weird how?” The glint of amusement was starting to fade as he processed her words.

 

“Like the locked bookcase in your study,” she said quietly. “Only it’s one book that feels like all of yours. Not long after the start of term, she got rid of it. But she isn’t… better. She was nervous and distant. And she watches Harry like a hawk. I don’t know how, but it’s like she was addicted to it. She spent all her free time writing in it, and—I can’t explain it.”

 

“Albus, what are you keeping from me,” he mumbled under his breath. He was lost in thought for a moment, and then looked at Aurora. “Five points from Gryffindor and detention with me Monday night.”

 

“But—but—what did I lose points for now?”

 

“For leaving the tower when I know Min told you not to. I know you wanted to see Miss Granger, and I wager you knew I would be here, but it’s extremely dangerous for you to be wandering the halls. Miss Clearwater is a half-blood like you, and she’s in the same state as the Muggle-borns. Your mother got lucky, as did every other person in this room.”

 

He didn’t have to say anything else; she knew what he wasn’t saying.

 

—————H—————

 

March 26, 1975

 

“You know you’ve worked off what you owe for your boyfriend’s ingredients as of Tuesday night, right?” Bob asked with a smug smile as he stood opposite the plant box Hermione had been working in.

 

“Severus is not my boyfriend,” she said absently, having already heard about a half dozen veiled taunts from Delia since getting off the train Saturday.

 

“Right. So, you give potions ingredients to all your friends?” he asked, the grin growing.

 

Hermione snorted. “If my other friend had an interest in potions aside from what they can do for her hair and skin, maybe I’d consider it. As it is, Lily was quite happy with the perfume I made her from some of Delia’s lavender.”

 

Bob’s shoulders shook before he stopped and looked thoughtful. He glanced down at the other end of the greenhouse, making sure that his apprentices were occupied and well out of earshot. Hermione followed his gaze, curious why he suddenly looked so concerned.

 

“Friend. Singular. So, it’s just you, Severus, and this Lily, is it?”

 

“Yeah, for the most part. I mean, there’s this other boy, Remus. Ever since my, er, incident, he hasn’t really hung around with us, but he’s hovered. With Severus and me, anyway. And it’s just in the classes he doesn’t share with the idiots he’s friends with.”

 

And around full moons. But she knew with absolute certainty that he hadn’t lifted his wand once to assist in any hexing or jinxing since she was sent to the hospital wing. And he’d been more vocal about their bullying in general. It hadn’t stopped them from harassing other students, but it was a start. She remembered, vaguely, saying something to him about them in November, but she hadn’t expected him to actually act on it.

 

But she didn’t feel the need to tell any of this to Bob as the furrow between his brows deepened. “And … is that all right? I mean, I know Delia would be better at this than me, but … I mean, is it fine only having two friends? It’s better than none, I know, but …”

 

“I only really had two friends before,” Hermione replied, focusing more on the moly she was attending. “It’s quite like before in that way. Dark-haired boy and a ginger for best friends, and I don’t have much in common with the ginger. I get along with the others in my house. I’m adjusting well, if that’s what you’re worried about. Perhaps more than I thought I would.”

 

“Good. Minnie was worried about you early on. So was Delia. But the more you wrote, the better you sounded.” He paused, seeming to consider something. With a heavy sigh, he said, “We lost another baby, just before you came into our lives. We’ve been trying since we married and nothing magical or Muggle has worked. She just … won’t stay pregnant. And it’s hard for her, having all these nieces and nephews. So, when Min said you needed a place to stay … she knew you were older. Knew you’d already had a mother and a father, but she hoped for a relationship at least stronger than a niece. And if you don’t … if you don’t feel quite as close to us, it’s fine. But we do think of you as a daughter. Been a really short time, but …”

 

“I understand.” Hermione smiled. “You’re right, I do have parents and I was really close to them. But I never had siblings, and sometimes it feels like Delia is the sister I never had. I know it’s not the relationship you hoped for, and maybe in time we’ll get there. But I do feel like we are family.” She lifted her chin. “I’m quite proud to be an honorary McGonagall.”

 

Bob grinned devilishly. “Well, perhaps we can pull you away from your Severus and convince you to marry one of Mal’s boys. They’re all still single.”

 

“Not a chance,” Hermione said firmly.

 

“Not a chance at marrying you into the family proper or pulling you away from your Severus?” he taunted, and Hermione felt herself blush to her roots in spite of herself. “You make it too easy, my dear.”

 

“Apparently. Though Severus is not my anything, other than a friend. And there isn’t anything for me to be pulled away from.”

 

“Hermione,” Delia called out. “I’ve got a letter from Hogwarts for you. Not the neatest writer in the world. Barely made out the scrawl.”

 

Hermione closed her eyes and groaned, head dropping as Bob burst out laughing.

 

“Speak of the Devil, as the Muggles say?” Hermione lifted her head to glare at him before taking the letter from Delia as she came up beside her.

 

“Oh, is that from Severus?” Delia asked as Hermione stood up and brushed her hands on her jeans. “Didn’t go home for the hols?”

 

Hermione shook his head. “Lily said he never goes home for the holidays. He spends most of his summers away from his house, too.”

 

Delia looked at Bob with wide pleading eyes, and Hermione looked between the two in confusion as Bob’s amusement shifted to affection. He gave a nod and Delia turned to Hermione with a wide grin.

 

“Invite him here! For part of the summer, anyway. I imagine he would like to have some time to see his parents.”

 

Hermione was abruptly reminded of Harry and how much he had dreaded returning to the Dursleys. In fact, come to think of it, she wasn’t entirely sure Severus wasn’t in a similar situation. She’d never heard him speak of his family, and Lily hadn’t said anything to her about it.

 

“I’ll ask him,” she said, running her fingers over the letter in her hands.

 

Bob rolled his eyes. “Already said you worked off what you owed, didn’t I? Go take a break. Let Prewitt and Scamander work for once.”

 

“Robert,” Delia warned, but Hermione could tell that even she thought Hermione’s urge to read the letter was due to some imagined romance.

 

“You’re both impossible,” Hermione said in a sing-song voice as she left the greenhouse and headed to the main house. She took the stairs to her bedroom two at a time and flopped onto her bed.

 

As she opened the letter, a Galleon smacked her on the face.

 

H.,

 

Lavender

  Moly

  Asphodel

Mint

  Flux weed

  Thistle

  Thyme

 

Don’t waste your time getting it all fresh if you don’t have to, I’m sure Mr. McGonagall has stores he can connect me to. And no, it’s not for an experiment.

 

It’s been blissfully quiet without you constantly mumbling to yourself as you go over notes or textbooks, and I have had more space to spread out books on the desks in the library since making your acquaintance. It has, however, been a bit dull with no one to mock for being so keen on absorbing the written word.

 

Until Sunday,

Snape

 

Hermione snorted as she set down the letter. She missed him too, though she would have just told him. And exactly what was he thinking, using her as an apothecary? Did he have any idea the taunting she was about to get from Bob over this?

 

Git.

 

 

June 1, 1975

 

 

“Hermione, stop studying,” Lily whined, throwing the flower and grass chain she’d just made at her friend’s head. It got caught in her curls and Severus snickered as he pulled it out of her hair.

 

Hermione, firmly panicking over the exams starting the following day, didn’t bother to look up from her textbook. “I can’t. What if there’s something on the exam I don’t know? Or forgot?”

 

“Much as I loathe to say it, if it’s something you don’t know or have somehow forgotten, it won’t be on the exam,” Severus replied from where he sat beside her. It had become their usual position at the start of the year, but especially over the last two months. Whenever the trio left the castle to lounge on the grounds to enjoy the warming weather, they would head for the birch tree beside the Black Lake. The wide trunk provided a back rest for Hermione and Severus, who preferred to have the support while they read or write. Lily would either stretch out on the grass in front of them or sit on Severus’ opposite side.

 

“You don’t understand.” Hermione’s voice raised an octave. “I haven’t had a proper indication of my magical educational progress in two years.” Her heart was pounding, whether from anxiety or the Vow, she wasn’t sure.

 

“How do you not know?” Lily asked with a chuckle. “You’re passing, obviously. But are your parents not showing you your marks or something?”

 

Hermione paled, the reminder of her parents causing her stomach to turn and a lump to form in her throat. It wasn’t that she hadn’t thought about them, but the more time she spent in her new present, the more she accepted she would only see them much further in the future. She was comforted by the fact that they were alive and well, getting on with their life. But the realization that she wouldn’t share exam results with them again, that the last moment of academic accomplishment they got to celebrate was the end of her first year of Hogwarts, made her heart ache.

 

“Her accident, Lily,” Severus said quietly, and Hermione was grateful he voiced the reminder so she wouldn’t have to. It gave her time to ease the lump in her throat and settle her stomach.

 

“Oh.” Lily blushed and bit her lip. “Right, sorry.” And then added in confusion, “But that was only last year. What about the year before?”

 

Hermione contemplated how to answer, knowing that when the time came, Severus would know the truth even if she couldn’t say it now. “Reptile problem,” she said with a shrug. “Sort of … prevented the results from being released that year.”

 

“But it couldn’t have prevented it for everyone. What about O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s?” Lily demanded. “I mean, you need those, don’t you? To go on to do stuff in the wizarding world?”

 

“They are important,” Severus replied. “I’m sure there were exceptions made.”

 

“Probably right. Oh! There’s Marlene, I wanted to ask her something about Divination.” And with that, Lily took off.

 

Whether he realized it or not, Severus let out a sigh that sounded dangerously like relief at the same time Hermione did. Lily had been around them more and more as of late and while both enjoyed her company, the loom of pending exams and her carefree nature about studying had grated on both their nerves.

 

Hermione had expected Severus to pull his book back onto his lap once their friend had taken off, but he didn’t move. What was more, Hermione could feel his eyes on her as though he were trying to read her mind.

 

“I won’t faint,” she said with as much mirth as she could muster. “Honestly, I get like this all the time when it comes to exams. I’m a wreck. When we’re done, I’ll have a lie-in and you’ll find no book in my presence that isn’t for leisure.” She attempted a smile as she looked at him, but noticed his narrowed eyes, and a curious but tentative expression. “What?”

 

He tilted his head, eyes shifting to look at the lake while his body remained turned toward her.

 

“I’ve noticed,” he said after a pause, bending one knee and resting his elbow against it, “that there are certain behaviors of yours that are … off.”

 

“Oh?” she breathed, mouth going dry. Hermione attempted to clear her throat, but her voice was still barely above a whisper. “Like what?”

 

Severus seemed to debate answering, tapping his finger in the air by his leg. “You’re Muggle-born,” he stated.

 

“Why do you say that?” she asked, not willing to admit or deny at this point.

 

“Your clothes,” he started. “When my housemates began to wonder about that, I pointed out that you lived in the Americas. One of the reasons so many purebloods don’t frequent the States is because they are forced to live with Muggles, at least in the more metropolitan areas. There’s a magical community, of course, but witches and wizards dress as the Muggles do. Also, how you talk: ‘my God,’ instead of Merlin. Your ‘magical education,’ whereas even a half-blood would simply say ‘education,’ myself included.”

 

“So my clothes and the way I speak led you to that conclusion?”

 

He suddenly looked more nervous than before. “You mentioned, back in September, that your parents … with your teeth. I found that odd. A magical parent wouldn’t think twice about letting their child change something so mundane. Also, the way you speak of your … accident. You are ‘essentially’ orphaned and were placed with a magical family. You never once mentioned your parents were dead, only that you lost them. Which makes me believe the accident was magical, it involved only you and this nonsense of you in Diagon Alley is a cover. I’d guess an accidental Obliviation, but it could be something simpler or far worse. Either way … your parents are alive, and Muggle.”

 

Hermione stared at him, heart hammering, and it wasn’t because of the Vow. Severus Snape had become an important part of her life in the last nine months: going from the younger version of her snarky, mean-spirited Potions professor, to snarky acquaintance, to one of her dearest friends.

 

She could deny it, say she was a half-blood and raised Muggle. She could really push the idea about American wizarding world being more Muggle-oriented. She could pretend that her use of certain phrases was also a result of her upbringing. Or she could trust him and let him know he was right.

 

Slowly, conscious of every breath and beat of her heart, she nodded.

 

Severus took in a deep breath and turned toward the lake. He stared at it, unfocused, and Hermione’s heart dropped into her stomach.

 

“And now you hate me,” she said quietly.

 

“No.” Severus whipped his head back around, strands of hair catching the corner of his mouth as dark, cold eyes bored into hers. They weren’t cruel. Cold though they may be, the fury that tainted them was not meant for her. The desperation, however, was. “Don’t ever think I would hate you over your heritage,” he said softly, his tone one that warned to proceed with caution. “I don’t hate you. But my housemates…”

 

“There’s a reason,” Hermione supplied, more quietly than even Severus had spoken, “why I haven’t corrected anyone’s assumptions. I know how dangerous it is to be Muggle-born. I was warned when I came to Hogwarts, though I already knew from personal experience. Believe me, Severus, I don’t want the truth to get out. I’m not ashamed of who I am or where I came from, but—”

 

“I understand. Being a half-blood is still a stigma in Slytherin. And as much as I dislike the notion, having you as a friend has raised my worth in their mind. Granger is a very old name and rare these days, but still respected. Now that my social circles expand beyond a…”

 

“Mudblood,” Hermione offered.

 

“Yes.”

 

“Well.”

 

“Indeed.”

 

“So it’s settled. You know my blood status and nothing has changed,” she said with a nod, though she was still mentally crossing her fingers.

 

Severus smirked. “I’m not sure about that.”

 

“Oh?”

 

“Yes,” he drawled. “Because you see, now I feel as though I have an advantage. Not on you, but dunderheads who believe that all purebloods are superior. It was mildly amusing before, when I had the highest marks in our year. But now, it’s even more so.”

 

Hermione chuckled, bumping him with her shoulder. “I was the top of my own year the last three years.”

 

“You won’t be here.”

 

“No?”

 

“No.”

 

“There’s a Ravenclaw I can strive to outdo, then?”

 

“Several, I’m sure, but I have a feeling they aren’t the one holding the highest marks.”

 

“I doubt anyone in Slytherin is, either.”

 

“Witch.”

 

“Git.”

 

They fell silent with similar smiles, and Hermione was both pleased and baffled by just how much she enjoyed their petty bickering. How much she simply liked being in Severus Snape’s presence. How had she put up with all the Quidditch talk and the endless procrastination? How had she been able to function without a friend like Severus in her life? A tiny bit of guilt wiggled its way in, but she would not allow it to take root. Harry and Ron were great friends, at least when they wanted to be, but she would never be able to have a relationship with them as equals again.

 

Severus pulled the book he had been reading toward him, using his propped-up knee as a bookstand. And Hermione, feeling closer to him than she ever thought she could be, shifted to lay on the grass with her head on his leg. He stiffened at the contact but Hermione ignored him. She grabbed her textbook and refocused on studying her Charms text.

 

“Do you find Charms that difficult? Is the material more advanced than you expected?” he teased, repeating the same words he’d said on the train all those months ago.

 

“Of course, it’s why I’m resting my head against you. I intend to absorb your Charms knowledge through osmosis.”

 

“From my lap? I don’t believe the Charms I know involving that area of the body will be on the exam, though it may make for some interesting reading for Flitwick.”

 

Hermione snorted a giggle and then laughed when she noticed Severus blushing.

 

That was how Lily found them. And while Hermione couldn’t see her properly through watery eyes, she got the impression that Lily did not find it at all amusing.

 

 

July 2, 1975

 

 

H.,

 

I apologize for not sending word sooner. I’ll be a week longer than expected. Tobias has found himself in prison, lucky me, and has been there since May. He will continue to be there for another week, which means I’ll be free of him until the fifth.

 

While I appreciate your invitation, I feel I should spend some time with my mother. It’s rare to find her in such good humor and she has shown an interest in my life, so I think I’ll indulge her for now.

 

Forgive me,

Snape

 

 

July 3, 1975

 

 

Hermione had seriously questioned her sanity when she asked Delia and Bob if they would mind terribly if she took the Knight Bus to see Severus and return with him. She hadn’t mentioned that he had no idea what she was doing, or that she only knew where he lived because of the return on the Muggle post. And when they agreed, believing it would be a good idea (with plenty annoying winks and a not-so-well-hidden bump of the elbows), she had thought herself a bit barmy for boarding the mode of transportation that Harry James Potter, boy-who-dangled-from-a-broom-by-his-leg, called ‘a bit rough.’

 

And now that she stood at Spinner’s End, facing the row of brick terrace houses that were stained with soot and looked like they had seen far better days, Hermione wondered what exactly had happened to her brain.

 

Thankful that Scotland’s rain hadn’t made its way to Cokeworth (though maybe it would have dulled the smell of the river), she made her way to the house that matched the post address. She gripped the bag Delia had loaned her, one with an extension charm that allowed her to carry a couple pairs of clothes and basic toiletries.

 

She glanced around as she approached the door, noting that though she heard children in the streets and the sound of a radio, no one was in sight. She knocked and heard nothing.

 

She was about to either knock again or turn and run when the door cracked open and a pair of black eyes peeked out at her.

 

“Can I help you?” a soft feminine voice asked.

 

Hermione’s lips twitched in an effort to smile and she wrung her fingers. “I’m here to see Severus. He didn’t know I was coming.”

 

The woman on the other side of the door frowned. “You’re here … to see Severus?”

 

“I’m a friend,” she said with a nod.

 

The door opened a bit more and the lean woman with dark hair and pale skin looked Hermione over. She didn’t want to admit it, but the woman sort of reminded her of Neville’s Boggart, just with a smaller nose and not as outrageously dressed.

 

“Hermione?” Severus’ confused tone came from behind her and she turned to greet him.

 

Words died on her tongue just as her lips parted.

 

He was … nothing like she expected him to look like outside of school. Lily had confessed late one night, when it was just the two of them, that she had met Severus when he was wearing his mother’s blouse and what might have been a man’s suit jacket. He had explained his looks by stating that wizards wore robes and he was a wizard. And while she hadn’t expected a fifteen-year-old Severus to dress the way he had when he was nine, she wasn’t quite expecting something so blatantly Muggle.

 

He was in a worn black t-shirt that was a bit too loose on his thin frame and jeans ripped at the knees. His hair was tied back and resting against his neck, a lank oiliness to it that was never quite so bad at school. Clutched in his arm was a paper bag of groceries, his grip growing tighter the longer she stared. His surprise had also faded, though it didn’t look as though he was about to welcome her.

 

“Hi,” she said shyly. “Er, well, when I got your letter I thought … well, now that I’m here I’m not quite sure what I was thinking.”

 

“Obviously,” he sneered.

 

“Is this the friend you’re going to be spending the summer with?” Mrs. Snape asked.

 

“I was, yes,” Severus ground out.

 

“Well, let me get to know her,” she said, and Hermione heard the door creak behind her. She turned, and while Mrs. Snape was not smiling, there was a kindness and welcome to her eyes and posture that Hermione wanted to give in to.

 

“I don’t want to impose.”

 

“Too late for that,” Severus snarked, pushing past her and heading to the kitchen.

 

Mrs. Snape made no apologies for her son and Hermione was kind of grateful for it. She only gave the matriarch a nervous smile before entering the house.

 

She hadn’t been sure what to expect when she came in. The house was well-organized and clutter-free, but there was dust coating nearly every flat surface and the print of the threadbare sofa looked as though it had been bleached too often. It was small and not very cozy, but it didn’t feel terribly cramped. There was a television and electric lights, but there was also the slightest feel of magic in the air.

 

Mrs. Snape gestured for Hermione to take a seat on the sofa, and she sat in the armchair.

 

“So,” she started, “Severus told me your name, and that’s about all.”

 

“Oh, well, I’m surprised he told you that much,” Hermione replied, and she heard his snort from behind her.

 

Mrs. Snape arched an eyebrow. “I was led to believe by that simple bit of information that you were close to him.”

 

“Er, well, uh, we’re friends. He’s one of the very few I have. I had an accident, you see, and it left me all alone, except the people who took me in. And I was never one to get along with others my age. I met Severus on the train with Lily, and while we weren’t friends right away, I would like to think that we’ve grown closer since the term began.”

 

“Breathe, Granger,” Severus taunted, and she flicked her eyes to see him leaning in the doorway to the kitchen, his arms crossed against his chest.

 

“Sorry,” she said, and he rolled his eyes.

 

“Gryffindor, isn’t she,” his mother observed. He hummed in agreement. Mrs. Snape’s lips twitched slightly. “Explains her coming here uninvited. With an overnight bag, at that.” As Hermione blushed, Mrs. Snape looked over her shoulder at her son. “A ‘friend,’ is it?”

 

Severus glared. “Don’t.”

 

“I won’t. Have you seen that girl you went to Muggle school with? Diane, I think her name is. Due in a couple months, I think. A couple of boys in the neighborhood are waiting to see what it looks like.”

 

“Enough,” Severus said, his cold black eyes fixed on his mother.

 

“It’s not like I’m implying it was you. She’s due in October, you were in school when she conceived.” Mrs. Snape shifted and straightened in her chair before turning to Hermione. She looked her over with a scrutiny that reminded Hermione far too much of Professor Snape. “You’re not one for boys, at least not worrying about catching their attention. And if Severus calls you friend, you must be bookish. It’s the only reason I can think of for why he would willingly cross house lines. Well, except for that other girl, the one who lives around here.”

 

“Er, yes. I’m … bookish,” Hermione replied, her cheeks a Gryffindor red. She turned to Severus for help but he merely smiled smugly.

 

This is what happens when you show up unannounced , she could hear him saying in her head.

 

“What subjects do you like the best?” Mrs. Snape asked.

 

“Transfiguration, Charms, Arithmancy.”

 

“Not Potions?” Mrs. Snape arched a brow.

 

Hermione swallowed. “Well, I, I enjoy brewing, but I … I think I preferred … the professor I had before.”

 

“Slughorn was always a good man, but too interested in ‘collecting’ people.” Mrs. Snape nodded approvingly. She then narrowed her eyes as if something had occurred to her. “Previous professor? You didn’t always attend Hogwarts, then?”

 

Hermione noticed Severus straighten out of the corner of her eye. “No,” she replied simply.

 

“Beauxbatons?”

 

“Ilvermorny.” Hermione’s voice cracked.

 

“Then wh—?”

 

“That’s enough,” Severus cut in, striding into the room. He looked at Hermione. “If you’re going to stay here, then we should figure out a sleeping arrangement.”

 

Mrs. Snape’s lips twitched. “I trust that you’ll be able to share a room without issue?”

 

Severus frowned, glancing at Hermione uncertainly.

 

“I have no problem sleeping on the floor,” Hermione offered quickly, wanting to ensure Severus knew she had, in no way, expected him to be put out.

 

Mrs. Snape pulled out a wand from her sleeve. “Transfiguration was never my favorite subject, but I’m certain Severus won’t need his desk chair for the next couple of days.” She looked at her son, who appeared unsure. “ He won’t be around to know it happened. And be thankful, you can only imagine what he might say if he knew you had a girl in your room.” And with that, Mrs. Snape headed up the stairs.

 

Severus watched her with a sigh. “Come on,” he said, gesturing toward the door. “We’re leaving,” Severus called up the stairs as they passed them.

 

“Good,” Mrs. Snape called back, and while he didn’t smile, there was one glinting in his eyes.

 

Severus led her out of the house and around the back, waving her along without looking over his shoulder before stuffing both hands in his pockets and walking down the street. Hermione jogged to keep up and was thankful she had when they passed a group of rough-looking boys who nodded at Severus as they passed.

 

He led her to a park where there were no children playing. Hermione eyed the swing set that Severus headed towards and understood why. There was more rust than paint, and the chains creaked horribly as he sat on the rubber seat that looked ready to disintegrate. She approached it with caution, choosing not to grip the chains.

 

She looked out at the rest of the equipment, observing that it was all in a state that any proper committee would deem unsafe.

 

“You haven’t said a word,” Severus spoke after several minutes. “Regret slumming it in the north?”

 

“I live in Scotland, I’m quite a bit farther north than you are,” she quipped, watching a plastic bag blow past and stick to the rail of a roundabout.

 

“You didn’t always. And I’m willing to bet you are just eager to run back there now that you’ve seen the in-between.”

 

“Only because it’s quite clear you don’t want me here,” she replied, twisting her fingers. “I am sorry. I got a bit excited about the prospect of spending the summer with a friend.” At this, Severus scoffed. “Mock me all you want, but I never … never got to spend time with any of my magical friends over the summers. And I never had Muggle friends.” She smiled self-deprecatingly. “I was the weird girl who liked books and whose hair did strange things when she got angry. No one spoke to me, either because they had nothing in common with me or were afraid of me. I spent my summers in the library around the corner from my parents’ job. I spent hours in the dusty research room with ol’ Mrs. Noble.”

 

Severus didn’t say anything and Hermione felt worse.

 

“I should go,” she said, getting to her feet.

 

Severus reached out and gripped her wrist, his hold strong but not painful. He looked at her apologetically. “Where would you go?”

 

“I could stay at the Leaky until you’re ready.”

 

“Don’t waste your Galleons,” he sighed, letting go of her wrist. Hermione hesitated, then cautiously sat back down. “Lily lives over that way.” He indicated across the park. “I wouldn’t recommend going there, though. Her sister will call you names and throw tantrums the whole time. At least the worst my mother will do is interrogate you.”

 

Hermione grinned at that. “I think I like her, actually.”

 

“Of course you do.” He rolled his eyes.

 

“You don’t like her, but you were spending more time with her?”

 

“I never said I didn’t like her. I wanted to make sure she was okay. With Tobias locked away, I wanted to make sure she wasn’t using the money she was making to make his bail or his booze.”

 

“She doesn’t strike me as the kind of woman who would.”

 

“She does what needs to be done to keep him from turning physical. They hate one another, my mother for his drinking, his womanizing, his inability to support us. He for her magic. Oh, he likes it enough when it can heat the water in the bath so he doesn’t have to pay for hot water. Or when she used a Confundus to get the contractor to include our house on the renovation list so we didn’t have an outhouse anymore. But he doesn’t like that it won’t conjure money or liquor, and he certainly didn’t like that it was passed down to me.”

 

“Oh.”

 

“I scare the shit out of him, but he also knows that I can’t do magic outside of school. When it was accidental, before the Trace started, he couldn’t come near me for fear of what happened the first time he tried to beat me.”

 

“Severus,” Hermione said quietly.

 

“You can imagine why I wouldn’t want you here.”

 

“I didn’t think—”

 

“No, you didn’t,” he snapped, turning cold eyes on her for a moment before looking away.

 

“You know I don’t think less of you?” she asked when the silence passed. He gave her a suspicious glance. “I can’t possibly think less of you than I already do.”

 

“Don’t hurt yourself, it’s not in your nature to be sarcastic.”

 

“And what makes you think I was trying to be sarcastic?” she asked, lips curling at the sparkle of humor in his eyes.

 

They were so expressive, and she wondered how she hadn’t noticed before. Perhaps he was better at hiding his emotions as an adult.

 

“Sev!” Lily’s voice came from the direction he’d pointed out earlier. Hermione peeked behind him, seeing their friend dashing toward them in a blue summer dress that made Hermione’s denims and blouse appear positively frumpy. “I’ve been trying to catch you here for days, but it seems you’re nev …er … around….” Lily slowed as she approached, her smile fading as she caught sight of Hermione.

 

Chapter Text

—————S—————

 

May 30, 1993

 

She was the last one to have the Restorative Draught administered, so he lingered over her as the rest of the victims began to stir. He ignored Argus blubbering while he clutched his cat and wept. Creevey drew his attention for a moment with his exclamation about his missing camera, but Severus promptly turned away with an eye roll.

 

He watched as limbs grew limp and unseeing brown eyes regained focus. His son had those eyes, and that’s what was the most annoying thing about young Miss Granger: Severus was able to see his own children in her because she would eventually become his Hermione. But unlike seeing young James through Harry, he couldn’t see his wife through this annoying little chit. Not even the one he’d first met had been as irksome as this girl.

 

But when those brown eyes peered up at him, he couldn’t help but give the slightest of smiles.

 

“Welcome back, Miss Granger,” he whispered.

 

“Thank you, sir,” she mumbled.

 

He nodded and stepped away. It was only when he was out in the corridor that he let his exhaustion sweep over him.

 

When Pomona had announced that the Mandrakes were ready, he’d started the base he would need for the Restorative Draught. When that had been prepared, he’d readied himself to venture out of his lab to fetch the vital ingredient. Before he could leave the dungeons, Minerva had demanded all students return to their dorms and teachers meet in the staff room.

 

“It has happened,” Minerva said to them, her voice shaky and her gaze averted. “A student has been taken by the monster. Right into the Chamber itself. The Heir of Slytherin left another message: ‘Her skeleton will lie in the Chamber forever.’”

 

Severus’ heart nearly stopped, and no one said a word. There were gasps and squeals of panic, of course, but no one asked the question he was sure everyone wanted to know the answer to.

 

“Who?” he asked softly, gripping the back of a chair. When Minerva didn’t answer right away, his stomach churned. “Who was taken, Minerva.” His knuckles turned white as he demanded his knees not to give out.

 

“Not Rory,” she assured him at once. “Ginny Weasley.”

 

The relief was not as overwhelming as he’d have liked. His daughter liked the girl and if he were honest, she was also one of the Weasley children he actually liked. Percy was the terrible combination of Slytherin ambition and Gryffindor brashness, and Charles and Ronald were a bit too similar in their academic mindsets. While the twins were not scholars, they were clever and creative. They and the eldest, William, were amongst his favorites. Ginevra and the twins had the added bonus of being kind to his daughter, and he had never been able to overlook kindness.

 

He’d had too little of it before he’d met his wife.

 

It was then that the pompous Lockhart came swaggering in.

 

Perhaps this is how we lose this Defense teacher, Severus thought to himself without guilt. The man had vexed him from the moment he had joined the staff. He’d gotten the job Severus had asked for since the Dark Lord had first fallen. There had been plenty of professors who had stepped down, neither killed nor wounded. But no, Dumbledore had gone through the list of experienced, knowledgeable applicants a few years back and still insisted that Severus should not leave the Potions classroom. And the result was this: a pretty face who thought it was an honor to be the youngest professor on staff, who believed that young girls fancying him was something to brag about.

 

And for the love of Merlin, Nimue, and Salazar, if he had a Galleon for every time Lockhart flirted or blatantly hit on Hermione when she visited, they could afford to expand their personal library in not only space, but books as well. Thank whoever was listening that his Hermione thought Lockhart an idiot. He’d worried when he’d noticed the ridiculous hearts and “Hermione Lockhart” written in the margins of practice essays Miss Granger wrote in study hall.

 

Severus would have outright murdered the idiot if he’d seen “Aurora Lockhart” written anywhere in his daughter’s neat script.

 

And he was an idiot, if the tales Potter told of what happened in the Chamber were true. The man didn’t know his own name when they emerged. All the better.

 

But it was all over now, and Severus was finally able to slink off to his chambers to get some well-deserved rest. A nagging, bossy little voice in his head insisted that he should thank Potter for ridding them of the Basilisk, but he ignored it. He’d not thank Potter but give Dumbledore a good tongue lashing when he saw him again. Lucius removing him as headmaster was one of the few smart things the blond had ever done. Even if it was only temporary.

 

Severus slipped into his sitting room.

 

It was early, or late, he wasn’t sure anymore. But when he saw the top of a curly brown head, he sighed with relief. Moving to the sofa where his wife was perched, he sat beside her heavily. She’d been reading and didn’t look up when he joined her.

 

“Where’s Leo?” Normally, if their son was not in the rooms, he was with Hagrid. But with the half-giant in Azkaban, he wasn’t sure.

 

“Spending time with his grandmother. She dropped by unexpectedly,” Hermione replied, turning a page. “She also mentioned that he’s much less cuddly at seven and she’s not getting any younger. She’d hate to only have teenagers visit; they’re quite obnoxious at that age. I may have misunderstood, but I think she wants us to have another.”

 

“Not tonight, too bloody exhausted,” he said as he lay his head on Hermione’s lap, closing his eyes. She giggled and ran her fingers through his hair. Often, he wondered if it ever bothered her that it was nearly always greasy. But she’d never said anything, and he knew she never would. So, he kept silent, allowing her touch to graze along his scalp in long, relaxing strokes.

 

“Not ever, as far as I’m concerned.” Hermione sighed, and Severus wasn’t surprised to hear the pain in her voice. “It was … too much, the years between Rory and Leo. Too much … that I don’t really want to experience again.”

 

He reached out and caught her hand, bringing her palm to his lips to place a kiss before letting go. “Two is fine. Two is more than we hoped for, and two it will be. And with all that has happened this year, two at Hogwarts at the same time will shave decades off my life when the time comes. Having another one pass these halls with all that could happen will send me to an early grave.”

 

“Next year … well, there’s no Basilisk,” Hermione said tentatively. Severus groaned. “One more year, love. One more year and I will be as in the dark about it all as you are.”

 

“I know you meant that as a comfort, but it’s not.”

 

“Sorry,” she mumbled.

 

“Of course you are.” He grinned. “At least tell me this, if you can without dropping dead. Will next year’s Defense Against the Dark Arts professor at least be competent?”

 

He waited, not enjoying the silence that followed, peeking through his lashes enough to see her. He watched her grin.

 

“You’ll like them more than you’re expecting to,” was all she said, either in an effort to be cryptic or because she was oathbound.

 

She continued to caress his hair and he relaxed once more before an irritation on his left arm distracted him. He stiffened, then reached for his sleeve, unfastened the plethora of buttons and pushed it up to bare the Dark Mark.

 

Hermione stilled.

 

“It was darker earlier,” he said absently, running his finger along the snake. “I noticed as I was brewing and thought it was a trick of the light at first.”

 

“Darker,” Hermione repeated. “But that would mean …”

 

“The Dark Lord was on the verge of returning,” he confirmed. “It was only a few shades darker than it is now, like a worn Muggle tattoo, but it was returning. He was returning.”

 

He shifted his eyes to his wife and watched her brow furrowed in concentration. So this wasn’t something that stuck out as a big event, she had to dig deep for the answer.

 

“I vaguely remember Harry mentioning the diary belonged to Tom Riddle and … and that he was using Ginny to find a more corporeal form. But he said Riddle was a young man, not much older than a seventh year.” She frowned again. “He was handsome, as I recall, but certainly didn’t look that young.”

 

Severus shook his head and frowned as well. Potter had faced a young seventh-year Tom Riddle in the Chamber, not yet Voldemort, apparently. That was strange. And of course, Hermione had been busy with motherhood and studies in the last year before the Dark Lord fell. He’d kept her away when he watched the man becoming more manic, not wanting to put her or Aurora anywhere near him. Even Narcissa had quietly retreated shortly after Draco’s birth and hadn’t returned to the social circles until after the Dark Lord’s fall. Voldemort had changed slowly over the years, but the madness of the blasted prophecy had driven him off the deep end. His dark brown eyes had changed into a deep red. They’d grown narrower, too. His magic was shifting, something within him changing beyond repair.

 

Severus was certain he’d even win a beauty contest against Lord Voldemort in those last days.

 

“I don’t understand how he could come back. Or how he could have done so through a diary,” Hermione said as she resumed stroking his hair.

 

Severus snorted. “I’m sure you’ll figure it out, dear. I also think Rory needs to know more about the current state of events.”

 

“Right,” Hermione agreed. “But it can wait, can’t it? At least until summer? My innocence died my first year at Hogwarts, I’d like her to live a little longer with her innocence.”

 

“I think that’s fine,” Severus conceded, wanting to hold on to his little girl just a little longer himself. But he knew she was growing up and doing so in a time that was far more dangerous than before.

 

But the Mark had faded, Potter had won the day, and his family was safe. The danger was over for the time being and with that thought, Severus drifted off to sleep.

 

—————H—————

 

July 3, 1975

 

Hermione grinned and waved.

 

“Hello,” she said. She hadn’t cocked things up with Severus but now, she felt an unwelcome vibe from her other friend.

 

“Hermione,” Lily said, shaking her head a bit before plastering on a grin. Hermione knew that grin, she’d seen it often directed at Sirius in the common room. “What are you doing here?”

 

“She invited herself,” Severus answered, walking himself backward on the swing and using the taut seat as a leaning post. He crossed his arms and peered at Hermione with mirth in his eyes. “Apparently, she was really eager to see me.”

 

“Was she.” Lily didn’t try to hide her condescension very well. “Well, that’s sweet. It’s only been a week and September is a long way away.”

 

“September?” Hermione looked at Severus, seeing the mirth was gone and was replaced by the vacant stare of being caught in a lie.

 

“Well, I suppose you might have managed to run into us at Diagon Alley. We’ve gone the last couple years to get our school supplies, haven’t we Sev?”

 

Severus kicked the ground with his toe. “I imagine we still can, if you let us know ahead of time when you’ll be going. Though, I imagine we won’t need to stop at Slugs and Jiggers.”

 

“I guess that depends on if you’re willing to muck around in the greenhouses and garden. Bob has two set aside for the more dangerous plants, so you wouldn’t have to worry about a Mandrake or Venomous Tentacula while trying to get your potions ingredients,” Hermione said as casually as Severus.

 

She was quite certain that Lily had been around when Hermione asked Severus about spending the summer with her. More so, she was fairly certain that Lily had heard Severus say he’d spend a couple days at home to ditch what he didn’t need and get some Muggle clothing before catching the Knight Bus.

 

Severus shrugged a shoulder. “I’m willing to work daily spreading fertilizer if it means quality potions ingredients.”

 

“Wait,” Lily said, lifting her hands with palms toward them. “You make it sound as if you’re going to go stay with Hermione.”

 

“Because I was. Am,” Severus amended. “She invited me and I accepted. You know what it’s like here, Lily. You understand why I wouldn’t stay when given another option.”

 

“But what about me?” Lily asked petulantly. “Stuck with Tuney all day, every day, rambling about what a freak I am and how she goes to a normal school.”

 

“You have other friends, which is something I can’t say,” Severus replied calmly. “Present company excluded, of course.”

 

Lily’s eyes turned cold. “So what do you call those you hang around with from your house, Sev? Avery and Mulciber?”

 

“Acquaintances,” Severus sneered. “And as I’ve said before, Lily, time and time again: if I don’t make nice with my own housemates, I wouldn’t be safe anywhere.”

 

“They say and do awful things, Sev. To me, to other Muggle-borns, to anyone they don’t think live up to their ideals.”

 

“And what about Sirius?” Hermione interrupted. “What about James? How are they any different than Mulciber and Avery? They do the exact same things to others. They target anyone who doesn’t have the so-called ‘Gryffindor ideals.’ They take house rivalry to an entirely different level, especially with Severus.”

 

“It’s not like he doesn’t fight back,” Lily protested.

 

“I would be surprised if he didn’t,” Hermione retorted. “Hell, look at you getting bent out of shape over who Severus has no choice but to live with. I highly doubt he has the same feelings toward Muggle-borns as they do, given who he spends his time with, but that doesn’t mean he can openly contradict those who think you less than them.”

 

“But he should.” Lily stomped her foot.

 

“Why? So, he has to sleep with one eye open at all times?”

 

“How did we get from me staying with Hermione for the summer to this?” Severus ground out.

 

“Because Lily felt as though you were abandoning her before I came along,” Hermione replied, standing from the seat of her swing and walking a few paces away before turning to Lily. The hurt in her green eyes instantly pierced Hermione with guilt, and she glanced at Severus to see he looked uncertain. A little niggle of something told her not to be surprised. Lily was beautiful and smart, and wanted his attention. And it wasn’t all that long ago that he’d hoped she would, so why shouldn’t he be uncertain about leaving her?

 

With a sigh, Hermione looked at the ground. “And probably thinks the same thing now. I keep throwing things out of balance. You two have a tradition, and I’ve disrupted it.” She glanced at Severus, seeing his wide black eyes staring at her in disbelief. “I’ll go back to your house, apologize profusely to your mother, and head home. Or at least to the Leaky, and then home. If you want to stay, don’t feel like you have to take me up on the offer. The invitation stands, of course, but I don’t … I don’t want to ruin your friendship.” She turned, heading back to Severus’.

 

She should have known, deep down, that this wouldn’t be different than before. She knew full well that Harry spent at least half his summers with Ron, and she was a third wheel. She should count herself lucky that she had friends at all in this era.

 

“Hermione.” Severus didn’t need to shout, and it startled her when his hand came down on her shoulder. She turned. “You can’t bloody well come all the way here and honestly believe I would drop you because Lily threw a tantrum?”

 

Hermione’s mouth opened and closed as she struggled to understand.

 

“Blimey, you can be incredibly stupid for a such a brilliant witch,” he mumbled, but not quietly enough to go unnoticed, and she scowled at him. “Lily and I used to spend summers together before Hogwarts, but because she’s away most of the year, she spends most of her summer with her Muggle friends than with me. She may have tried to catch me for days, but that wouldn’t have lasted long. We would have gone to Diagon Alley together, yes, but mostly because her parents feel bad that my mother and I have no way into London.”

 

“I should go apologize for leaving.” Hermione tried to move toward the playground, only to have Severus’ hand hold her firmly in place.

 

“I don’t think so. For one, the moment I went after you, Lily probably stormed back home. For another, you have done nothing that warrants an apology.” Here, he hesitated. “Lily and I have not been as close as we were before Hogwarts. Think about how often she leaves with her other Gryffindor friends without a second thought.”

 

She did, and it barely took a second for her to accept that Lily left them quite often.

 

“Come on,” he said, gesturing back to the park. “Ma probably thinks we’ll be gone a bit longer.”

 

Hermione gave a nod and followed him back to the park.

 

To their surprise, Lily was still there, only now she was on the swing that Hermione had occupied.

 

“I thought you were going back?” she asked, her voice holding no malice, but her eyes were narrowed.

 

“I told her she was being ridiculous,” Severus replied, plopping down next to Lily but facing the opposite direction. “We could arrange a time at the Leaky. If you still want to get our supplies together, we could plan it.”

 

Lily took a deep breath, her gaze shifting between Severus and Hermione as if she were weighing her options. “All right,” she finally agreed. “We can do that.”

 

—————H—————

 

The afternoon spent with Lily was stilted. Hermione still felt like a third wheel; but at the Snape residence, with only Mrs. Snape and Severus, Hermione felt much more at ease.

 

Eileen Snape took a liking to her that the young witch couldn’t quite understand. And Hermione thought the older woman the ideal Slytherin. Eileen wandlessly and wordlessly lit a wood-burning stove after transfiguring an old newspaper into proper firewood.

 

“What Tobias doesn’t know,” Severus commented, a glint of amusement in his eye.

 

“Tobias has never noticed,” Mrs. Snape replied.

 

As she went about preparing potato hash, Hermione pitched in without asking. And in turn (and true motherly fashion), Eileen Snape told tales of Severus’ childhood.

 

“His first incident of accidental magic happened when he was about one, just before the holidays, I think. Tobias’ beer kept vanishing, winding up on top of the fridge where I often put things I didn’t want Severus to get to.”

 

Severus’ eyes narrowed. “You always said it was when I lit the chair on fire in a temper tantrum.”

 

“Oh, I’m fairly certain that was your first intentional bit of magic,” Mrs. Snape replied, a similar smirk on her face to the one Severus often wore when amused.

 

“Exactly what was so terrible that you lit a chair on fire?” Hermione asked him.

 

“He wasn’t allowed to climb the bookshelf,” Mrs. Snape replied, and Hermione bit her lip to stop herself from laughing.

 

“And what was your first bit of magic, then?” Severus snapped, his eyes narrowed, and his arms crossed firmly over his chest.

 

“I made my dolls move while pretending to have a tea party,” she replied. “I was about three, I believe. That was the earliest I can remember, and the only truly unusual thing my parents witnessed.” Her smile faded. “They were petrified. I remember my mother screaming in terror and my father pulling me from the room. I didn’t understand. And of course, neither did they.”

 

The room was quiet but for the sounds of dinner preparation.

 

“I never understood why the Ministry doesn’t investigate those bursts of magic where there haven’t been any before,” Mrs. Snape eventually said. “Life would be easier, I’m sure, if Muggles knew what was going on. But no ,” -she sliced through a potato with more vigor than she probably intended to, the knife hitting the board with an echo- “the Statute of Secrecy dictates that no witch or wizard shall inform Muggles of what they are. You can marry them, build a family, but heaven forbid you reveal that important piece of yourself before it becomes necessary. But perhaps it’s different in the New World?” She turned to Hermione, nostrils flaring and eyes cold, but no malice directed at Hermione.

 

“Er, well, it’s a bit worse, actually,” Hermione said. “There’s not supposed to be any evidence of the wizarding world. They aren’t even allowed to marry Muggles, really.”

 

“Then how did your parents keep you?” Mrs. Snape asked.

 

Hermione opened her mouth to reply but couldn’t bring herself to answer. She glanced at Severus and he looked truly nervous for the first time since Hermione’s arrival. His stance was slack, and his eyes darted between her and his mother. So, Mrs. Snape hadn’t known, at least not for certain, that Hermione was Muggle-born.

 

“Er…” Hermione swallowed the lump in her throat only to have it rise again. “We’re British.”

 

Eileen Snape raised a single eyebrow then turned back to the vegetables. “Tell me she hasn’t been passing as a pureblood.”

 

“We blame it on the State-side upbringing,” Severus replied casually.

 

She snorted. “And they believe that?”

 

Severus shrugged. “Most have no inclination to travel to a world where they need to dress and act like Muggles, and therefore have no interest in learning about it. And it’s not common to discuss first magical incidents.”

 

Eileen shook her head. “I will show you some common pure-blood etiquette requirements during dinner. While you may have gotten this far by saying you were raised outside of this society, eventually something will come up that you can’t excuse.”

 

“I-I appreciate that, thank you,” Hermione replied demurely.

 

“Just don’t wave your hand around if you have questions,” Severus muttered. He caught the potato Hermione threw at his head without even looking. “Gryffindor.”

 

Hermione merely huffed in response.

 

—————H—————

 

Hermione’s head was positively spinning by the time she went to bed. She lay on the Transfigured bed, studying the cracks in Severus’ ceiling, baffled by the sheer amount of information that Mrs. Snape had shared during dinner.

 

House-elves were slaves. Willing slaves who would die if they did not serve. And they didn’t get paid! It was horrible, terrible, inhumane.

 

They aren’t human,” Eileen reminded her. “And how would forcing them to change their ways be any different than us going to another country and forcing our ways onto the indigenous people?”

 

“But we have!” Hermione replied.

 

“And how well did that turn out?”

 

“Slaves demanded rights and wages,” Hermione retorted, “as was their right as humans!”

 

“And house-elves have no desire for those rights,” Eileen pointed out smoothly.

 

“But what if they’re abused?” Hermione asked, vaguely recalling what Harry had said about Dobby. “What if they’re punished for something beyond their control?”

 

Eileen’s eyes darkened. “Only the worst kinds of wizards do such things. A house-elf will punish itself over lesser transgressions, any wizard who feels the need to add to an elf’s pain is detestable.”

 

Hermione had to let it go, and while she still wanted to protest for elves’ rights, a swift reminder from the Snapes that no pureblood would ever do such a thing convinced her to not dwell on it. Etiquette was simpler to follow, and by the end of dinner she had the dining part down. She absorbed other things, such as courting rituals and escorting procedures, though those seemed kind of useless. Eileen also talked about the emphasis on lineage and marriage, delivered with such a sadness in her eyes that made Hermione ache for the woman. It was obvious that she broke the ‘rules,’ and Hermione couldn’t help but wondered why, and what it had cost her.

 

“You think too loud,” Severus said from the couple feet that separated them. “It’s already unbearable in here from the heat, but adding those gears turning makes it worse.”

 

“How could you possibly know that I’m thinking?” Hermione asked, turning her head toward his form on his bed.

 

“The way you breathe,” Severus replied. “When you’re deep in thought, when you’re studying or doing homework or trying something new in class, your breath comes in short spurts. Quick and slightly nasally.”

 

“You’re one to talk about nasally,” Hermione quipped with a quirk of her lips.

 

Severus whipped his head around, frowning at her before rolling his eyes. “Ha bloody ha. The jokes about that particular appendage get old.”

 

“Well, you know what they say about people with big noses,” she said cheekily. Severus lifted his head slightly and lifted an incredulous brow. “They have a fantastically well-developed olfactory sense,” she finished with a giggle. She saw that Severus was trying really hard not to smirk, which only made her giggle more.

 

“That had best not be some strange form of foreplay,” Mrs. Snape shouted from down the hall, which made Hermione laugh harder.

 

“Exactly what would we be doing with the door open?” Severus yelled back.

 

“Same thing teenagers have been doing in the alcoves of Hogwarts for centuries,” she countered, the amusement in her voice clear.

 

Severus shook his head, smiling for a moment before it faded.

 

“What’s wrong?” Hermione asked.

 

He shook his head before glancing over his shoulder as if he could see his mother down the hall through the wall. “She’s a different woman when Tobias isn’t around,” he said so softly that Hermione had to strain to hear him. She shifted toward him, perching on the edge of her bed to hear him properly. “This is the mother I remember from my earliest years, before she had to find work. She never smiled, not really, but there was joy in her voice. There was playfulness. When he wasn’t home, at least. We were quiet, otherwise.” Severus looked at the bed beneath him, a long finger running along the edge of it. “He’s been locked up five or six times, all for assault, but he never learns. He was locked up once for hitting Ma, because one of the blokes down the road noticed the marks he left. Tobias was back in jail a month after getting out for beating the bloke bloody. I imagine, had I not had magic, I’d have ended up like him.”

 

“I don’t think that,” Hermione said softly, reaching out and stilling his hand. She held it with her own and met his eyes when they shot up to meet hers. “You’re not a saint and you never would have been. But you know what your father does isn’t right. You would have found a way out because you’d have been determined to do so.”

 

He studied her in the moonlight, his black eyes more intense than she’d ever seen them. “You truly believe that, don’t you?”

 

“I may not know everything about you, Severus, but I know this: you do what’s right, you do what’s necessary. Even if there is no thanks to be had, even if it means putting yourself at risk. You may not like doing it, you may be bitter and angry towards those you helped, but you do it because it’s who you are, and you are good.” She smiled at the widening of his eyes. “You would’ve gotten up to all sorts of mischief, but not gotten caught or let it get too far. And you’d have gotten away because it was the smart thing to do, and I firmly believe you’d take your mother with you. “

 

“Do you ever shut up?” he asked her softly.

 

“Only when I sleep,” she replied with a shaky grin. He was still staring at her and those eyes were still too intense.

 

“We’ll see about that,” he murmured.

 

And did he just look at her lips? Of course he had, lips were attached to the mouth, and the mouth was where words came out of, and he would quite like the words to stop. Though there were better ways to stop talking than sleeping, and where did that thought come from? Severus Snape did not want to kiss her, and she certainly did not want to kiss him. Probably. Maybe. Right.

 

No, it was simple proximity and chemistry, helped along by darkness and having a bed very close to his, and—

 

“You had best have placed a silencing charm on her or knocked her out,” Eileen warned from down the hall.

 

“Oh, would you stop!” Severus yelled back, flopping back on the bed. “Merlin, woman, just because we’re teenagers of the opposite sex does not mean we will be snogging or any other such nonsense!” Severus pulled on his hair before shifting slightly away from the edge of the bed closest to Hermione. He closed his eyes then, either willing sleep to come or to signal the end of the conversation.

 

He was still holding her hand.

 

—————A—————

 

June 2, 1993

 

Aurora sat with her back to a tree beside the lake, a book open in her lap, watching the Giant Squid playing and splashing. Exams were canceled, Harry had faced Voldemort again and lived, and now everything was back to normal. Except, it only served to remind her that she didn’t understand something important. Draco had stalked the halls, sulking. She was sure she heard her father trying to placate Uncle Lu, though he put up a silencing spell shortly after she entered the room. She knew that there was something going on and she would demand an explanation.

 

But not right now. Now, she wanted to relax and enjoy the day sitting in the sunshine.

 

Gryffindor had celebrated well into the evening and Aunt Min had pointedly ignored Percy Weasley’s reports of what was happening and his bids for help to stop it. She didn’t quite understand why he didn’t just go up to his room and let the older prefects (and the younger ones, for that matter) supervise if he didn’t want to bother with it. He even kept looking pointedly at her as if she was somehow going to summon her father to end the nonsense. As if that was going to happen.

 

“Hey,” Ginny said as she plopped down beside her. Aurora shifted slightly to give her some room, and the ginger smiled shyly. They were quiet for a while, both watching the squid, before Ginny spoke again. “I’ve made a bit of a mess of this year. I don’t know what was going on with that diary, but it did awful things to my head.”

 

“I think I know what you mean,” Aurora said, unable to shake how uncomfortable the diary had made her.

 

“I don’t know if you do, but thanks anyway.” Ginny bent her knees and rested her chin against them. “Can we start again? Being friends, I mean? It’s just, I bollocked everything up, and I haven’t really made any friends. I know most of our year think of me as nothing more than Ron’s sister. Not even Fred and George’s, or Percy’s, but Ron’s . Because he’s best friends with Harry.”

 

“I thought you adored Harry?” Aurora taunted lightly.

 

She rolled her eyes. “I can’t believe I thought I was in love with him or something,” Ginny admitted. “He’s just a bloke, an average bloke. I mean, yeah, he saved me, and it was great of him and I appreciate it, but … he was terrified. I could see it in his eyes when I woke up. And … I don’t know, I just…”

 

Aurora watched as Ginny struggled, getting frustrated when she couldn’t find the right words to explain her thoughts.

 

“Well, I understand how it feels to be judged for being someone’s relative, rather than being yourself. I’m Professor Snape’s daughter. You have to deal with being Harry Potter’s best friend’s little sister, I deal with people asking if I’m half vampire.”

 

Ginny laughed at that, head thrown back and eyes closed with mirth. “He’s not as bad as all that. Can be a right git sometimes, no offense, but nothing like Ronniekins makes him out to be.”

 

“Ronniekins?” Aurora repeated. “Oh, I quite like that. Do you think I could call him that the next time he looks as though I crawled out of a hole?”

 

“I don’t get why he hates you so much,” Ginny sighed. “Harry’s nice to you, so’s Hermione.”

 

Aurora shrugged. “He can’t treat my dad that way, so he takes it out on me.”

 

“It’s not right.” Aurora just shrugged again. “You should come to the Burrow this summer. Spend some time there where my mum can whack him whenever he’s a git.”

 

Aurora snorted. “We could ask my dad. Maybe he’d let you come by as well…” The words were out of her mouth before she realized what a monumentally stupid idea that was.

 

“You mean now?” Ginny asked, a mix of hope and fear in her voice.

 

Aurora stood, determination and uncertainty warring within her because she had no idea how her father would react.

 

Ginny looked nervous as she got to her feet, but she followed Aurora back inside and down into the dungeons without a word. A couple of Slytherins were poised to launch an attack or a snarky remark, but then kept their mouths shut when they realized who exactly was encroaching their territory. Aurora knocked on her father’s office door and heard him command them to enter in the cool, controlled tone he reserved for his professorial duties.

 

She opened the door and waved Ginny in first.

 

“Miss Weasley,” he drawled, mouth still open as if to say something else when Aurora stepped in. He looked surprised and uncertain, his mouth moving once as if to address her as Miss Snape, and then again as Rory. “Aurora,” he finally said. “To what do I owe this pleasure? It’s unlike you to come during school hours.”

 

“I realize it could have waited,” Aurora began nervously, feeling a light prod of her father’s mind against hers. She gave a mental invitation and he was in and out quickly. “But I was hoping I could visit Ginny at the Burrow over the summer, and maybe she could visit us?”

 

“A visit to our residence is completely out of the question,” he replied immediately, not dropping the professor tone. “Your mother has research in the coming months and as it stands, you are not to disturb her. Having company over would do just that. Perhaps next summer. As for your visit to the Burrow, should Mr. and Mrs. Weasley agree, you may stay for a couple weeks after the end of term.”

 

Aurora was sure that Ginny only saw a stiff but civil conversation between father and daughter, to the point and blunt. But Aurora could see the amusement in her dad’s onyx eyes, the twitch of a smile at the relief that must have been in her own when he came up with the excuse to not return the invitation, and the slight release of his rigid posture as he slipped subtly into father mode.

 

“Thank you, Professor Snape,” Ginny said nervously. “I’ll, er, owl my parents right away. Ah, meet you in the Great Hall, Rory.” She took off.

 

The second the door was closed, Professor Snape laughed. “Well, she certainly is living up to that Gryffindor bravery.”

 

“You aren’t that scary.”

 

“Not to you, perhaps, but I’m not exactly known for kindness. Especially with Gryffindors, and Weasleys in particular have been known to take a lot of my ire,” he admitted. “I’m sure Molly and Arthur will welcome you with open arms. Just make sure to behave, write your mother, and return before July 31st.”

 

“Why then?” Aurora frowned.

 

“I have a feeling it’s when trouble will start up again.”

 

—————H—————

 

July 31, 1975

 

Hermione absolutely, positively refused to believe that she was attracted to Severus.

 

They’d slept in the same room for two nights at Spinner’s End, though they only drifted off holding hands the first night. Hermione didn’t put too much stock in it, choosing to believe it was because it was an overly emotional day. The handholding was simply a comforting gesture, and they had drifted off before either of them could pull away. At some point during the night, their hands untangled and while they woke up facing one another, they were not touching.

 

And waking up with a direct view of the other sleep-rumpled person meant seeing each other at their absolute worst. Hermione knew she drooled in her sleep and that her curls were always a wild bush in the mornings. Severus sweat in his sleep, resulting in clumps of greasy hair stuck to his forehead to go along with the pillow tracks on his cheeks. They were a right mess and yet, Hermione remembered it with a warmth in her heart and a quiet longing to see it again.

 

He did look a bit improved once they made it back to Scotland. At least in the mornings and the evenings after a second shower to wash away the work of the day. But for the majority of the hours they spent together, Severus was sweaty, his oily and lank hair tied back. He’d be on the opposite side of a plant box, neither of them able to turn down Bob’s offer of earning money and the plant portion of their potions ingredients, and Severus would have dirt on his cheeks and nose, under his nails. There were spots blossoming on his forehead and chin, the red a stark contrast to his pale skin. And he’d be so completely lovely to Hermione that she seriously began to question her sanity.

 

She knew that his appearance wasn’t what was intriguing, but the little things past the grease and the pimples. Like his crooked cocky grin as they traded barbs over the garden beds. The strength of his jaw, now visible with his hair out of the way. His eyes: so expressive and magnetic like the hematite they resembled; Hermione could stare into them all day if she thought she could get away with it. And while lean, verging on malnourished, she wasn’t opposed to him going without a shirt. Yes, she could see the shadow of his ribs and the vertebrae in his back when he bent over, but the shape of his arms hinted at the strength he was building from lifting cauldrons …

 

“I’d say you were undressing ‘im with your eyes, but he’s already part way there.” Delia startled Hermione out of her reverie, causing her to give a soft yelp that thanked God, Merlin or anyone else who cared, that the young men and Bob hadn’t heard.

 

Severus had volunteered to help him and the apprentices deal with a particularly difficult branch of Bowtruckles that didn’t like being moved. It was the hottest day of the summer, cloudless and humid beyond reason. The men hadn’t taken long to discard their work shirts and while Bob was still in his undershirt, the apprentices and Severus had removed their undershirts. It was a bit distracting and it wasn’t until Delia arrived that Hermione realized she hadn’t finished with the mint she’d started a half hour ago.

 

“You know, Elroy and Mathew have asked about you a couple times,” Delia commented casually as she handed Hermione an ever-chilled glass of pumpkin juice. As if they heard her, the two apprentices both glanced over at Hermione. “Don’t suppose either of them have tickled your fancy?”

 

“None of them have,” Hermione said too quickly to be truly believable. “It’s the hormones that make me want to watch. I’m entering the height of puberty, have passed the threshold of ‘blossoming’ and terrible skin, and am settling into a woman. Hormones are a part of that and since I find men attractive, I observe the opposite sex. Perfectly normal.”

 

“Never said it wasn’t,” Delia said gently. “But you were staring at least five minutes. Pretty much from the moment it was clear you weren’t goin’ to get caught.”

 

“And I suppose you’ve drawn conclusions by that?”

 

Delia smiled before taking the tray of chilled glasses to the men. Hermione watched as she handed Bob two and he offered one as a peace offering to the Bowtruckles. The apprentices were still animated, bowing and gesturing grandly in thanks at the refreshments Delia gave them. Severus simply took it with a nod before he turned and headed toward Hermione.

 

If she sat up straighter, it didn’t mean anything. And if she brushed her hands on her denim shorts, well, she was just making herself more presentable for company.

 

But Severus wasn’t really looking at her, focused on the thin green creature on his arm as he sat beside her. He placed his glass of pumpkin juice on the edge of the plant box, never taking his eyes off the little living twig.

 

“I think he likes me. I think it’s a he, anyway,” Severus said as he turned his arm, palm up. The Bowtruckle walked to it, then looked at Severus expectantly. “This is my friend. She’s nice, even if she is a nuisance. And no, her hair is not a place for you to live in, so don’t think about it.”

 

“It’s not that bad.”

 

Severus glanced at it before looking at her. “Avoiding mirrors will not make the lie real.” He brought the hand containing the Bowtruckle to her shoulder.

 

It crawled onto her, its tiny feet tickling her skin as it moved over her shoulder and tucked itself under her hair.

 

“I see it listens as well as you do,” Severus mused as he shifted to grab the t-shirt he’d had bunched in his back-jean pocket. He pulled it over his head, nose wrinkling. “I can think of at least three housemates I’m quite thankful I don’t spend any time with during the summer right now.”

 

“It’s ghastly, isn’t it? I don’t remember it being this bad last year.”

 

“I’m sure you had other things on your mind at the time,” he said before taking a hearty gulp of his pumpkin juice. “I imagine the day has come and gone.”

 

“It has,” Hermione acknowledged. “It was the day I showed up uninvited on your doorstep.”

 

Severus turned to look at her, studying her face. “I suppose it’s good I didn’t tell you to leave.”

 

Hermione’s lips twitched. “It wouldn’t have bothered me.”

 

“Liar.”

 

“Honestly, I didn’t … I didn’t think about it at the time. I … woke up on that day a year ago. It wasn’t when it happened.”

 

“Does it bother you?” he asked curiously. “Your parents are out there right now and don’t know who you are. Had it been me, I wouldn’t have thought much about it. A slight pang of loss for my mother, I suppose, but if Tobias forgot my existence, I’d be happier for it. But you strike me as someone who would miss it. Them.”

 

Hermione furrowed her brow as she thought of a way to answer him without revealing anything. “It’s hard only because if there comes a time they know who I am, I’ll have changed from what they knew. And I miss them. Delia and Bob are great, but they aren’t my parents.”

 

Severus nodded and took another drink.

 

The Bowtruckle took that moment to stretch and peer around Hermione’s head to look at her. She snorted at its tiny expression of worry. “I’m all right.” It reached out a hand and swiped at her cheek, bringing away a small ball of moisture. “I hadn’t realized,” she said softly.

 

The Bowtruckle examined the tear in its hand, its tiny little tongue darting out to lick it. It shuddered, sticking out its tongue as if spitting. Hermione chuckled. “Well that was a bitter lesson for you, wasn’t it? I hope you don’t get sick.” She held out her hand for it to climb onto, but it shook its head. It then looked at Severus, tapping its little foot in impatience.

 

“I’m not going back over there until I have to. If you want to return to the others, you can head over yourself.”

 

He chuckled as the Bowtruckle flopped onto Hermione’s shoulder as though the very idea of waiting filled it with despair.

 

Severus snorted. “I didn’t know they had such strong personalities.”

 

“He’s quite the character.”

 

When neither of them made a move to get up, the Bowtruckle scooted along Hermione’s shoulder before sliding down her arm and hopping off her palm. She tried to follow its progress across the lawn to rejoin its branch, but it was difficult once it was far enough away.

 

“If you tell anyone this, I will not only deny it, but I promise retribution when you least expect it,” Severus said, getting Hermione’s full attention. He looked every bit as grave as he would in his adult years just before handing out the worst punishment. “I sort of want a Bowtruckle now. I would call it Bowie.”

 

“Bowie?” Hermione asked, trying her absolute best to keep the smile from her lips.

 

“Oh yes. It would be a shame to miss out on such an obvious name, one Muggle-borns would question the origin of and one that purebloods would believe was lazy.”

 

“Wouldn’t it be cleverer to name him Ziggy?”

 

Severus nearly smiled, and his eyes lighted with joy. “If I ever get a Bowtruckle, I’ll consider it. Just for you.”

 

Her heart did not stutter. Her mind did not go blank. And she was positively, absolutely not attracted to him.

 

But as Severus had pointed out, she was a liar.

Chapter Text

—————S—————

 

August 2, 1975

 

Severus debated for at least thirty minutes if he should check if Hermione was awake. Yes, it was five-thirty in the morning and yes, he might miss waking up next to her and seeing her dreadful hair and her open mouth. But regardless, he was bored, and he missed her, and while he would never enter her room to watch her sleep, he was nearly to the point of going in and waking her up.

 

So he got dressed and headed downstairs. Maybe he could run around the property or see if Mr. McGonagall was already up and ready to start the day. He may have put in enough physical labor to cover the Herbology part of his potions ingredients, a new set of robes, textbooks, and still have more spending money than he had ever had at any other time in his life, but he wasn’t about to stop if he didn’t have to. He wanted the experience, knowing that working with a Master Herbologist would count towards part of a Potions Mastery. He wanted the reference for when the time to apply came.

 

And damn it, he wanted to actually stand a chance with Hermione.

 

He knew heading into his fourth year that he and Lily were drifting apart. She was such a Gryffindor, righteous and bold. She had allowed her housemates to convince her that any knowledge of the Dark Arts instantly meant a Dark wizard, that the lure of it was only strong for someone already down that path. And Slytherins were the worst. Never mind that the house stood for creativity and cunning, its defining trait of ambition twisted into power-hungry.

 

It didn’t help that she was growing more beautiful, while he was merely growing into his nose and hoping puberty would pass soon so his hair and skin wouldn’t be quite so oily. She made friends as easily as breathing, while even within his house he was considered nothing more than an acquaintance or a tutor. He was a survivor and he was doing what he could to survive.

 

But he would have given it all up, risked his neck every day, had Lily Evans said she wanted to be with him.

 

Going into their fourth year, she was everything.

 

And then they’d met Hermione.

 

When she had collapsed on Valentine’s Day, he didn’t want to admit he was scared. When she went to the McGonagalls’ for the Easter hols, he didn’t want to admit he missed her desperately. The invitation to join her during the summer felt too good to be true. He was absolutely sure he’d lose her when she showed up unannounced at Spinner’s End. But she had stayed and didn’t say a damn thing about the way he lived. There was no pity, no disgust, no … anything. She was just there, talking to his mother, sleeping in a bed next to his, allowing him to lead the way up and down the disgusting river without a word of complaint.

 

He knew then that she was different in more ways than he had expected. He was infatuated with her. Maybe more than that: he was pretty sure he was being a complete idiot and falling in love with her. And while she may not have been much to look at on the train the year before, he’d have to be blind not to see she was becoming a beauty in her own right. She’d never be a Lily, but that just made her better in his eyes. And puberty wasn’t becoming his friend any time soon. Severus feared Hermione would not give him a second look, that she’d fall for Lupin or some Ravenclaw. Maybe even one of the more attractive Slytherins.

 

He made sure to never intentionally introduce her to any of them.

 

He doubted affluence mattered to her, but he couldn’t argue that money to buy things to woo her with couldn’t hurt, even if it was only quills and parchment. Or flowers that doubled as potions ingredients.

 

Severus stopped short as he made it to the kitchen, seeing Cordelia McGonagall standing in front of a cauldron, ingredients laid out to her left and a book to her right.

 

“What are you brewing?” he asked, startling her so much she jumped off the ground.

 

Eyes wide, hand over her heart, Cordelia’s lips twitched in a grin. “Scared me there, Severus. Bit early for you ta be up, innit?”

 

He shrugged. “Early riser.”

 

“I’m brewing Bob some pain relief. Not as young as he used to be, and bendin’ over all day gets his back in a right twist. Takes more of it than he should, I say, but he’s too young to retire still.”

 

Severus smiled to himself as he came over and inspected what she had out. Cordelia was following the book to the letter and he resisted the urge to sneer. “I know a better way to brew it,” he said as he picked up a vial of flobberworm mucus. “Faster, more potent, lasts longer, and I don’t think one would build up a tolerance to it quite so fast.”

 

Cordelia frowned before her expression softened. “Hermione said you were a bit of a whiz with potions. She also said you blew up a cauldron brewing something like that.”

 

“Only the first time. I was quite successful the second time, as well as the third. And I’ve tested the results personally.”

 

“When?”

 

“I used it after I had to pop my own shoulder back in place,” he said nonchalantly, remembering the tripping jinx that made him fall down the dungeon stairs not long after the Easter hols. He remembered the echo of Potter and Black’s laughter, Pettigrew’s cackling, and the searing pain that ripped through him. Had he not been meant to meet Hermione and Lily, he may have had the time to have it set properly. But as it was, knowing they would worry and eventually find him in the hospital wing, he opted to just bite the bullet and get it over with. He’d popped it back into place against the dungeon wall, swallowed the potion, and gone off to study.

 

Cordelia considered it for only a brief moment before she stepped aside and gestured to the cauldron. “Tell me what you need. Can’t believe I’m lettin’ a fifteen-year-old boy show me how to brew something, but I’m the one still using a book.”

 

Severus quirked his lips at that, not daring to laugh in case he offended her.

 

They worked quietly, Cordelia acting as an assistant and fetching Severus what he needed as he played Master. Brewing his own variation was exciting and nerve-wracking. He was terrified he’d mess up, prove himself just a stupid kid, but he knew in his gut that he could do this.

 

As the final stages approached and the sun began to rise, Cordelia cleared her throat. “You’re good at this, altering potions?”

 

“I’ve been doing it since my third year. Not to this degree, mind. This was my first experiment gone right.”

 

“But you know how to … change things? Make them better?”

 

Severus frowned as he watched the color shift to the slate blue hue it was meant to. “Yes. I started with methods of preparation and now I look at the recipe. I want to become a Master in the field, and it’s difficult to do so without having a knack or will to experiment.”

 

He heard her step away, open and close a cupboard, and then return to his side. She handed him a slip of paper. “Do you see any way of making this better?” she asked softly.

 

Severus read it over and his gut twisted. A Fertility Potion. He noticed during the Sunday dinners he’d gone to with the McGonagalls that there were many young adults there. He hadn’t realized until that moment that none of them were Bob and Cordelia’s. He’d assumed they had children who’d grown and left. He’d noticed they all called Professor McGonagall “Aunt Min,” but …

 

“Fennel is frequently used in … contraceptive potions,” he said, pointing to the ingredient. “Change it for thistle, and perhaps add fluxweed as well.” He shrugged, bowing his head to hide his blush behind his hair. “I could look into it more, but only if you …”

 

“Thank you, Severus,” she breathed with absolute sincerity. “That simple suggestion alone—”

 

“Think nothing of it,” Severus cut in, gesturing that no more needed to be said on the subject as the sound of light footsteps came tromping down the stairs.

 

“Does potion-making count as magic outside of school?” Hermione asked as she stopped in the kitchen doorway.

 

“There’s no wand-waving in potion-making,” he replied, and he watched her eyes widen comically, her focus shifting as though she were seeing someone else.

 

“No silly wand-waving,” she murmured. “Well,” -her eyes came back into focus and a smile played on her lips- “I suppose you have a point there. And how exactly would they know for sure? Delia is right there.”

 

He smiled, holding eye contact with her and watching the spread of the blush that started at her cheeks and traveled down her neck. Merlin, he hoped it meant something more than embarrassment.

 

“Hermione,” Delia said, breaking their eye contact. “Think you and Severus could pop out to Hogsmeade for me later? I’ll make a list of what I need from the apothecary, and you can Floo into Minerva’s cottage to get there.”

 

“I don’t think Bob needs us today,” she said, glancing at Severus in confirmation.

 

He shrugged, torn between wanting to work and wanting to spend a few hours away from the McGonagalls to be alone with Hermione.

 

“Excellent,” Delia beamed. “I’ll get started on breakfast, and then you two can head off. And I wouldn’t rush back. You’re so used to exploring the village with your classmates all around ya, you should experience it without all the noise and hustle.” She looked at Severus and there was a slight twitch to Cordelia’s eye that very well might have been a wink.

 

Hogsmeade suddenly sounded like a much more appealing option.

 

—————A—————

 

June 19, 1993

 

Compared to the start of the year, when Ginny entered Aurora’s compartment on the Hogwarts Express and made extremely awkward small talk, this was perfect: practicing disarming charms with the four youngest Weasleys, Hermione, and Harry. There were also the fireworks of Exploding Snap, which she wasn’t very good at but was getting better at with each round. And then, just as they were nearing the station, Harry’s eyes widened, and he hastily searched for a quill and some parchment.

 

“This is called a telephone number,” Harry explained to Ron. “I taught your dad how to use one last summer. Er,” -he looked at Aurora, a slight blush coloring his cheeks- “does Sna—er, your dad know how to, ah—”

 

“I went to Muggle school, Harry. Remember?” she teased, and his blush deepened.

 

“Right, yes. Sorta forgot since we, uh … anyway. This is how you can reach me at the Dursleys’,” he said as he jotted down his number three times, ripping the paper and handing one to Hermione, Ron, and Aurora. “I don’t think I could stand another two months with only Dudley to talk to.”

 

“Won’t they be proud after hearing of all the heroic things you’ve done?” Hermione asked, perplexed.

 

“Proud? All those times I could have died and didn’t? They’ll be furious,” Harry answered, and Aurora was the only one to snort in response. Hermione gave her an incredulous look and Ron glowered, but Aurora simply shrugged.

 

When the train came to a complete stop, they all filed out and headed to get their trunks. Eagerness welled in Aurora, and it had her giggling with Ginny every time they glanced at one another as they remembered that they would be spending the next few weeks together reconnecting. Aurora’s mother had let her know that she should follow Ginny off the train.

 

Trunks loaded onto carts, the girls headed for the queue forming for students to leave.

 

“Rory,” Harry called, causing both girls to stop. Ginny looked confused, but there was no hint of jealousy. Harry looked shy, shifting from one foot to the other. “I wanted to say I’m sorry. When we were in school together before, you were one of the few people that didn’t care what Dudley and his gang thought, and you spent time with me. And well, I should have done the same for you when you arrived. I guess, I didn’t think at first. And then all the other stuff happened, and …”

 

“It’s okay.” She shrugged. “Fresh start next year, yeah?” He nodded and turned around and went to fetch his trunk.

 

Aurora glanced at Ginny nervously, trying to look for signs that she’d screwed up their friendship already.

 

“Are you sure you don’t—?” Aurora started to ask as they pushed the cart together.

 

“Yeah,” Ginny replied. “It’s … he’s … I just … I really liked him more when he was a celebrity I built up in my mind. Like Ron with Gwenog Jones. He refuses to admit he fancies her because she’s not a Chudley Cannons player, but he does. But if he were to meet her, to see her in real life, I think the shine would wear off.”

 

“I don’t know how he can like that team. They’re terrible.”

 

“Don’t let him hear you say that,” Ginny snickered.

 

The two approached the wall and the guard had them wait a moment before letting them pass through.

 

On the other side, a woman with curly red hair and a warm smile greeted them. Aurora wasn’t quite sure what to think of her, though by the way Ginny headed right for her, she knew this was Mrs. Weasley. She’d heard of her from both her parents, of course. But for some reason, this was not at all how Aurora had pictured her.

 

Her own mother dressed mostly in trousers and modern-cut robes that wrapped around her torso and stopped at the knee. Her hair was always in a braid or a bun, only down on special occasions. She wore boots like her father and looked every bit the scholar she was and the young pure-blood witch she pretended to be. Lady Malfoy was always put-together, every detail from her hair, to her robes, to the day’s accessories planned just so. And her grandmother dressed like a wealthy Muggle woman.

 

Aurora had never seen a witch who looked so comfortable and casual before, nor had she ever seen one so much the poster woman for motherhood.

 

And she loved it.

 

“Aurora Snape.” Molly Weasley smiled, reaching out and cupping Aurora’s cheeks and looking her over. “I haven’t seen you since you were a baby; look at how lovely you’ve grown. I’m so glad you and Ginny are friends. I’d hoped it would be you and Ron, but I suppose the age difference—”

 

“Mum,” Ginny groaned, and Mrs. Weasley gave her a grin before she turned back to Aurora.

 

“You’re just like your father: a bit thin. Then again, your mother was a little lean herself, best I can remember.” She frowned, but then shook her head, smiling warmly again as she looked over Aurora’s shoulder to the wall behind them. “About time you boys came through.”

 

“Bye, Harry,” Ron called, and Harry waved and went off to where a very fat, very strange-looking man was standing, glaring.

 

Ron stopped short upon seeing Aurora. “What’re you doing here?”

 

“Now, Ronald, that’s no way to talk to our guest,” Mrs. Weasley scolded.

 

“Guest!” Ron gasped.

 

“Rory’s spending the first few weeks of summer with us.” Ginny smiled.

 

Ron groaned. “But that means Snape! I don’t want to see the great greasy git on my summer vacation. I don’t even want to see him during the school year.”

 

“Ronald,” Mrs. Weasley warned. “You will show respect to your teachers. And I already got a letter from Mrs. Snape, she’ll come by the Burrow to collect Aurora when the time comes.”

 

“She will?” Aurora frowned.

 

It was odd even without the cover of her mother’s research. She’d noticed her mother would wander outside the dungeons less and less as Aurora’s start at Hogwarts grew closer. She understood now it was to not use her disguise often, and to not draw attention to herself. So, it was strange that she was willing to come to a place where so many people would recognize her.

 

Mrs. Weasley gave her a warm smile. “Your little brother has been feeling left out and your father has agreed to spend the few weeks you’re with us with him. Father-son bonding.”

 

“You have a brother,” Ron gaped as the twins and Percy came up behind him.

 

“You have three,” Aurora pointed out.

 

“There are more Snapes? Bloody hell.”

 

“Ronald Bilius Weasley,” Mrs. Weasley said through her teeth. “One more word.”

 

“And actually, I have six brothers,” Ginny butted in. “Charlie and Bill live abroad.”

 

“Ah,” Aurora replied, giving a nod. “I’ll remember never to complain when Leo crowds my space and never leaves me alone.”

 

“Probably for the best,” Ginny agreed as Molly began to lead them all out of the station.

 

They were all quiet until they were nearly out the front doors when Ron mumbled, “There are more of them.”

 

Mrs. Weasley didn’t have to do anything, one of the twins smacked him for her.

 

 

July 3, 1993

 

 

Aurora adored the Weasleys. She loved Arthur, who upon hearing she knew Harry through Muggle primary school, started asking all kinds of questions about the Muggle world. She loved Molly, who cooked the best meals Aurora had ever eaten. She could do without Ron, but the twins made up for his bad attitude, and while Percy was a prat, he kept to himself. And there was Ginny, of course, who she learned shared a lot of the same interests as her.

 

And one of the things they both loved was Quidditch.

 

“My mother never lets me play,” Aurora said as she and Ginny walked to a clearing past the trees surrounding the Burrow. Each had a broomstick slung over their shoulder; Aurora had her own Cleansweep Seven her father had sent not long after her arrival at the Weasleys’, and Ginny had Charlie’s old Nimbus 1700. “She’s terrified of flying and had a fit when Dad taught me how to fly when I was four.”

 

“Terrified of flying? Like Hermione scared?” Ginny asked.

 

Aurora snickered. “Exactly.”

 

“So, your dad, Professor Snape, is actually the … cool parent?” Ginny asked with a frown. “Like, he sent you your broom, but that’s probably because your mother wouldn’t. And it was sorta like he was, I dunno, teasing her?”

 

“Dad has always thought her fear is silly and teases her relentlessly about it. He made it perfectly clear to her that no child of his was going to go to Hogwarts without knowing how to fly. And growing up around Draco, well, Quidditch came naturally.”

 

“I think you grew up in a parallel universe,” Ginny said as they jumped over a particularly thick root. “Professor Snape is this cheeky bloke who likes a bit of fun, and you make Draco out to be a decent human being.”

 

“Since starting at Hogwarts, it’s felt like I left another world.”

 

They entered the clearing, the morning dew still clinging to the grass. They’d come out early, having rolled out of bed long before the boys even stirred. The balls they’d been using the last few mornings were damp from being left outside, which would make it harder to grip for the first little while. The two goal posts they’d made with a couple hula-hoops attached to branches on opposite sides of the clearing were still secure.

 

Both girls mounted their brooms and kicked off, going as high as the top of the trees before stopping. They made laps in the blinding sunlight, getting a feel for being in the air again.

 

“Think he’d let you try out for Quidditch?” Ginny asked. “I mean, not this year. There won’t be any openings. But there should be in the next couple years.”

 

“Dad?” Aurora asked as they came to a stop. “Only reason he wouldn’t would be because I might be better than the Slytherin players, but I doubt that’ll be the case. And either way, Aunt Min would just tell him to fob off.”

 

“Your life is so weird,” Ginny laughed. Then Gin frowned, her gaze shifting in the direction of the Burrow. “Company coming.”

 

“What?” She turned in time to see two heads of red hair come hurtling toward them.

 

“So, this is what you two have been up to,” Fred said as he and George came to a stop just past them.

 

“You’re going to get us all in trouble if Mum catches you kicking off on the other side of the trees,” Ginny scolded.

 

“No Muggles for miles,” George replied.

 

“Not anyone for ages,” Fred said sagely.

 

“And besides, she’s too busy gushing over Percy for making Head Boy.”

 

“Of course.” Ginny rolled her eyes.

 

“So how about a game then?” George asked, darting down to the ground and grabbing a ball. “Us against you.”

 

Ginny looked at Aurora. “I’m the better Keeper.”

 

“Yeah,” she agreed. “Okay.”

 

They turned to the twins and nodded. Matching smirks appeared and they flew away, George throwing the ball to Fred.

 

“Ready for an easy win, Fred?” Fred called to George.

 

“Forget who you are?” Aurora asked, her eyebrow arching in a perfect imitation of her father.

 

“What are you talking about? I’m George,” Fred replied with a sincerity that was nearly believable.

 

“No, you’re not,” Aurora scoffed.

 

“How can you tell?”

 

“George is better looking,” Aurora stated bluntly.

 

Before Fred could fully get out the indignant “Oi”, she’d zoomed past him and snatched the ball, laughing as she zipped toward the real George keeping score.

 

—————H—————

 

August 16, 1975

 

Diagon Alley was surprisingly quiet as Hermione and Severus went from shop to shop getting what they would need for the school year. Their first stop was for new robes, both having grown throughout the school year.

 

“You’ve grown another four inches, Mr. Snape,” said Madam Malkin as she stood upright, hands on her hips. “One can certainly not get by on lengthening charms with that big of a difference.”

 

“Quite,” he said as politely as he could.

 

With a flick of her wand, the robes that would fit him hovered slightly off the various racks around her shop. “Have a look, then, whilst I get your friend sized up. Not sure I’ve seen you around.”

 

“No,” Hermione acknowledged. “I had robes passed down to me last year, but this year that isn’t an option. I’m either too short or …” She blushed, glancing at Severus and hoping he was as absorbed in choosing a new set of robes as he appeared to be.

 

“I understand,” Madam Malkin replied, measuring Hermione discreetly. “All right, my dear,” she said, flicking her wand again. “The hovering robes with a purple aura will fit you with just the slightest bit of alterations.”

 

Hermione thanked her and moved to the rack nearest Severus to see what was available. She glanced over at him, seeing him holding the sleeve of one robe in his hand with a slightly stunned look on his face.

 

“What’s wrong?” she asked. When he didn’t answer, she moved to his side. “Severus?”

 

His eyes were moving ever so slightly from side to side, and then he glanced at her. His cheeks went pink. “Nothing.” He turned abruptly and headed to another rack entirely, one closer to the counter.

 

Hermione frowned, picking up the sleeve he had just had in his hand and studied it. Nothing looked off about the robe, though it was not quite as vividly black as the ones nearest the counter. But those were new, awaiting to be tailored, so it made sense. Shrugging to herself, Hermione allowed Severus his mood, and went back to the rack she was looking at. She picked up a robe, pleased to see the length required little changing, though whoever owned it before appeared to have very short arms. She could buy new robes, but she would prefer to have her own books instead of the borrowed texts from the McGonagall children. That, and she wanted to make sure that she had enough for good quality quills, her habit of chewing them and her ability to wear them down still strong. And ink, well, she went through enough pots, that much was true. And while she had earned a decent sum of Galleons from Bob, she didn’t want to waste them.

 

The thought struck Hermione like a Bludger and she swung her head around to look at Severus before she could stop herself.

 

She wasn’t the only one who had earned a decent amount of Galleons over the summer, but she was also not the one frequently made fun of for her appearance. She smiled to herself as she watched him pluck three brand new robes off the rack and hand them to Madam Malkin for tailoring. He also gestured to the white collared shirts and she didn’t doubt at all that a new cardigan or two would find its way into his pile.

 

In the month that he had stayed with them, he hadn’t bulked in anyway, but he certainly looked healthier. The physical labor, time in the sun, and Delia’s tendency to feed him more than he was probably used to outside of Hogwarts softened how much his ribs and spine showed, and helped his face fill out so he wasn’t quite so gaunt. He appeared more graceful now.

 

Before she got too carried away studying his lithe form, she quickly reapplied herself to finding robes and other pieces of her school uniform for Madam Malkin.

 

“I’ll have them owled to you,” Madam Malkin said after ringing up Severus’ purchases second.

 

“Actually, if you could send it to the same address as Hermione’s, I would be grateful,” Severus said swiftly, and Madam Malkin altered the delivery address before they left.

 

“If you don’t mind my asking,” Hermione said cautiously as they reemerged onto the sunny streets, “how did you get deliveries before? From what you’ve said of your father …”

 

“It would be sent to my grandmother first and she would use Muggle means to get it to us,” he answered, stuffing his hands in the pockets of his trousers and tilting his head forward. She waited, hoping he would say more, and he eventually obliged. “My mother was disowned by her father, but her mother refused to follow suit. She was their only child. She’s forbidden to send any money to us, which has made it difficult, and aside from helping my mother with purchasing my wand, she was unable to purchase any items in my name. But Tobias never bothers with the mail, so if packages turn up for me during the summer, he doesn’t notice.”

 

“I suppose that makes sense.”

 

“And you?” he said much more softly. “Lily would have her stuff delivered, but from the way you asked, you … did not?”

 

Hermione smiled fondly. “No. My dad would just lug it all around. Even the cauldron. He never complained that it was heavy, but his fingers were a bit purple by the time we got home.”

 

Severus snorted softly, the light grin still playing on his lips as he removed his hand from his pockets and lifted his head. “Speaking of cauldrons, we should visit the apothecary for our non-herbal ingredients.”

 

They moved along to Slugs and Jiggers, getting only half the Hogwarts list and thoroughly confusing the young wizard working the counter. After that, they popped into Flourish and Blotts, where they got lost for at least an hour before remembering that they had to buy school books. Hermione selected pristine new copies while Severus hunted down near-perfect copies from the second-hand portion of the shop.

 

“You know full well I will be writing in them anyway,” he said as she cringed at the thought.

 

They left the bookshop, debating stopping to get something to eat, when Severus paused. He stood taller, chin up and shoulders back, and Hermione was terribly confused for a moment until she saw why.

 

Having only met the man once and in passing, it took her a moment to discern that she was not looking at an older version of Draco Malfoy, but a quite young Lucius Malfoy. He was dressed in a tailored suit that had far too much embroidery on it, most likely in an attempt to differentiate it from Muggle attire, and his robes were elegantly cut to appear more like a very long, flowing blazer. His hair only just went past his shoulders.

 

On his arm was a beautiful young woman, her hair a mix of black and blonde, her eyes so much like Draco’s that there was no mistaking that this was his mother. She was dressed impeccably, extravagantly, and in perfect complement to her escort. The pair was heading directly toward them and Hermione instantly became nervous.

 

Her dress was cut in a wizarding style, and she recalled all the pure-blood etiquette Eileen Snape had mentioned during her brief stay at Spinner’s End. But in that moment, Hermione was sure she would be revealed as a fraud.

 

“Lucius,” Severus greeted, his voice slightly deeper than normal.

 

“Severus,” Lucius greeted with a smile. “You look well, far better than you did when I ran into you a couple summers back. How is Hogwarts?”

 

“Improved,” Severus replied simply.

 

Lucius smiled. “Glad to hear. I’m sure you remember Narcissa, though she goes by Lady Malfoy these days.”

 

“Congratulations.” Severus bowed, taking Narcissa’s hand as she offered it and kissed the air above it.

 

“Thank you, Severus,” she replied with sincerity, her eyes darting to Hermione.

 

Lucius noticed and began to extend a hand toward Hermione. She robotically extended her own, allowing Lucius to take it lightly in his grasp. “And who is your lovely friend?”

 

A glance at him told Hermione that Severus was calculating something quickly.

 

“Hermione Granger-McGonagall,” he said smoothly and without hesitation.

 

Part of her was elated that Severus had added just enough of a differentiation that in the nearly twenty years when she would start school with Draco, her name wouldn’t match up quite the same. At the same time, she wondered why he thought it a good idea to do so in the first place.

 

“McGonagall? A relation to the professor?” he asked with an arched brow.

 

Hermione licked her lips and cleared her throat. “My adopted aunt.”

 

“Adopted? How strange,” Lucius commented.

 

“My parents—there was—”

 

“Hermione lost her parents last year while returning from the Americas,” Severus explained easily.

 

“And no godparents?” Narcissa gasped, a hand pressed to her chest.

 

Hermione shook her head. “I was meant to be a ward of the school, under Professor Dumbledore’s care, but Minerva, Professor McGonagall, thought it best I was placed away from where I would spend most of my year.”

 

“How lucky for you that you were at least given a … different option.” Lucius’s lips curled slightly. “But Granger is an old pure-blood name, not one heard often.”

 

“Most of my family was in France,” Hermione replied, and it was made easier because it wasn’t a lie. Her father’s family was quite French, and while he didn’t have much of the accent by the time she’d disappeared, all of her relations did.

 

“Ah, yes.” Lucius nodded. “Purebloods from the continent do not often mingle with British society.”

 

She wasn’t sure if this was a Slytherin way of asking after her blood status or not, but Hermione thought it best not to be Gryffindor about it. “No, they do not,” she said, going for another stretched truth. “Had my mother not spent a few years there studying, it is quite unlikely my parents would have ever met.”

 

“What did they do?” Lucius asked.

 

“I was never allowed to know,” Hermione replied, making a conscious effort to hold eye contact.

 

“Ah,” Lucius said knowingly. “I understand.” He then turned to Severus. “You’ve certainly moved up in the world since we last spoke. Perhaps I will see you in the Slug Club this year? Horace has been asking old favorites to come back, a sort of alumni venture.”

 

“Perhaps.”

 

Lucius made a gesture as though he were handing Hermione over to Severus, and she was surprised when he took her hand and tucked it into the crook of his arm. Lucius seemed to approve of the gesture. “We should be heading back to the Manor. Good day, Severus. Hermione.” And with a slight bow, Lucius led Narcissa away.

 

“That was …”

 

“Indeed.”

 

“You were brilliant.”

 

“Aren’t I always?” he said smugly.

 

“Shut up, you know exactly what I mean.” She gave him a playful swat, getting closer to him in the process. Her heart pounded as she realized quite suddenly that she desperately wanted to kiss him. On the lips, the nose, the cheek, the neck, everywhere. She bloody well wanted to kiss Severus Snape and her Gryffindor sensibilities demanded she do so. Because he was brilliant, and she was grateful. Because he was Severus, and she damn well wanted to.

 

“I don’t believe I do,” he said arrogantly, an eyebrow cocking and just adding to the desire to shut him up with her lips.

 

Do it. Do it, do it, do it. Bravery, be brave, do it.

 

“Shall we go to the Leaky Cauldron, then? If we don’t save at least a small amount of shopping for when we meet Lily next week, even if it is only of the window variety, she’ll be intolerable our entire time out.”

 

Cowardice won out, and Hermione stepped back from him. “But not insufferable?”

 

“No,” Severus said with a laugh. “That title is meant only for you.”

 

She blushed at the half-insult and couldn’t think of anything to say in return.

 

He was still holding her hand against the crook of his arm and she very nearly couldn’t think.

 

—————A—————

 

August 31, 1993

 

“Shit!” her mother swore, and Aurora was so startled that she nearly tripped over her own feet, her book bag slipping on her shoulder. She looked up and around, seeing nothing in the immediate vicinity that would cause her mother to swear. Even Leo staring at her with wide eyes and a slack jaw.

 

“Mum,” he gasped, but Hermione ignored him

 

Whipping out her wand, she gave it a flick and the silver wisps that preceded her beautiful raven Patronus swirled around the Snape children before the majestic bird formed. It landed on the mantel, its head tilted in a way that always reminded Aurora of her father.

 

“I need you here in Diagon Alley,” she told it, and the bird flew out of a window.

 

“Mum, can’t we—” Leo started to say, but he was hushed quickly.

 

“Do not draw attention, Leo, darling,” her mother said gently. “I can’t be seen right now.”

 

Aurora frowned and peered around the corner while her mother ushered Leo behind a beam. She caught a head of red hair and understood immediately: the Weasleys were here.

 

She remembered when her mother had come to the Burrow to collect her. It was early in the morning, too early for anyone but Mr. and Mrs. Weasley to have been up, even though the excitement of their big lottery win hadn’t died down. Molly Weasley had frowned and stared at Hermione Snape, mouth moving a little as though trying to form words.

 

“I know we’ve met before,” she said. “But I feel as though I’ve seen you again more recently and I just can’t put my finger on why.”

 

“Maybe we’ve seen each other in Diagon Alley without realizing it.” Her mother smiled that knowing grin whenever she encountered someone whom she’d met as a girl. Hagrid had a similar reaction the summer before Aurora began at Hogwarts. Shopping in Diagon Alley for school supplies had that grin nearly permanently plastered on her mother’s face.

 

Aurora watched the Weasleys and Harry for a moment before realizing that Hermione Granger was with them. And she had a cat.

 

Aurora put her hands on her hips and scowled. “You said we couldn’t have one!”

 

“Have one what?” her mother asked absently as she anxiously watched the fireplace.

 

“A cat.” That got her mother’s attention. “You have one, right there, in the Leaky. It’s ugly and orange, but you have one, so why couldn’t we?”

 

She instantly regretted asking as a wistful pain crossed her mother’s face. “Maybe we will,” she replied just before the flames flared green.

 

Brushing soot off his robes, her father scowled. “I was finishing a vital stage of a delicate potion, this had best be important.”

 

“I’m here,” her mother said through her teeth.

 

“Yes, as am I. I would like to know why.”

 

“No, you great bloody git. I’m here.”

 

At this, Aurora’s father sobered, glancing in the main area before turning back to his wife with an arched brow. “You didn’t remember you’d be here?”

 

“It’s been twenty years, Severus. Allow me some forgetful moments.”

 

“You have a cat.”

 

“Yes.”

 

“It’s quite ugly.”

 

“Why is everyone dwelling on that?”

 

“It would appear as though you have a soft spot for ugly things.”

 

Her mother’s tension melted away and a tender smile lit her eyes. She reached out and touched her husband’s cheek, and Aurora was overcome with the mix of romanticism and nausea that always accompanied seeing her parents’ affection these days.

 

“You know perfectly well I don’t think you’re ugly in the least,” Hermione Snape said softly before standing on her toes and placing a kiss on her husband’s cheek. His lips twitched in a facsimile of a grin, and Aurora rolled her eyes toward Leo, who looked utterly disgusted.

 

“Go,” Aurora heard her father say. “Take Leo to Hogsmeade. I’ll join both of you there for lunch once I get our daughter through the crowd.”

 

“Sounds lovely,” her mother said, turning to Leo with a hand extended.

 

“You said that we could go for ice cream.”

 

“I believe they have ice cream in Hogsmeade, love,” she replied with a grin.

 

“Not as good as Fortescue’s.” Leo pouted.

 

“Perhaps not, but we’re not staying here today, and I promise we’ll come again on Friday when your sister and dad are at school.”

 

“All right,” Leo said with an exaggerated sigh that would have been more believable had he not been grinning like a loon. He took their mother’s hand and let her Floo them to Hogsmeade.

 

“What did you forget?” he asked her once they were alone.

 

“I didn’t,” Aurora replied. “Mum had to have my robes resized. Apparently I had a growth spurt in the last month. She sent them ahead to Madam Malkin but couldn’t bring me around for the fitting until now.”

 

“Unlike your mother to cut it so close,” he observed as he put a hand on her shoulder and guided her through the Leaky Cauldron.

 

“She got caught up with that book …”

 

“Say no more,” he said with a smile, and Aurora couldn’t help but notice how quiet the room got.

 

“Oi, Snape,” she heard George call, causing both of them to stop. George paled a bit at the attention, and Aurora could only imagine the cold sneer her dad was wearing. George visibly swallowed. “Rory. Rory Snape, I mean. Not you, Professor.”

 

“Quite.”

 

“See you lot in a bit, yeah?” she said, returning Ginny’s little wave before her father guided her out.

 

“You were planning on staying here this evening? Going with the Weasleys and Potter to the train?” he asked as they neared the entrance.

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Your trunk is in my rooms; I will have the house-elves take it to the tower this evening. You have what you need in there?” he asked, gesturing to the bag on her shoulder. She nodded. “Good. If you forgot anything else, your mother will have to deal with it, damn the consequences if they recognize her.”

 

“You’re in a right mood,” Aurora risked a tease, looking up at her father.

 

“Just practicing for the coming term,” he said, and Aurora snorted, shaking her head, and tried to keep it at just that as she watched other students move out of their way as they walked down the street.

 

 

September 1, 1993

 

 

“The pyramids were awfully boring, really, but watching the sunset over the village was just gorgeous,” Ginny sighed, and Aurora felt a pang of jealousy at hearing about the Weasleys’ trip to Egypt.

 

“Furthest I’ve been is Italy where my grandmother lives,” Aurora replied before taking a bite of her cauldron cake.

 

“Hope I’ll get to see Charlie in Romania one day. And maybe Percy will move to France or some other place,” Ginny mused as she nibbled on her pumpkin pasty. “Though I don’t know if it would be worth visiting the prat just to see the sights.”

 

“He’s my least favorite of your brothers and considering how Ron still looks at me like I’m flobberworm mucus on his shoe, that’s saying something.”

 

Ginny laughed, nodding her head as the train slowed down.

 

The girls’ mirth left them, and they looked out the window. It didn’t do much good, with fog on the inside pane and the rain pelting on the outside.

 

Neville, who was reading quietly beside Ginny, looked up from his Herbology book. “We aren’t there already, are we?”

 

“I don’t see the village lights, so we can’t be,” Ginny replied. A shadow moved by their window, and suddenly the lights went out.

 

Panic seized Aurora so strongly she found it hard to breathe.

 

“Rory?” she heard Ginny’s worried voice beside her. The daylight from the window wasn’t enough, not even close, and Aurora fought back tears as she reached into her bag and grabbed her wand. It was hard to focus while nearly hyperventilating, the screaming in her head made it hard to think. “Lu-Lu- Lumos .” She finally managed to light the tip, and while it wasn’t bright enough, it eased the urge to scream.

 

“Oh,” Ginny gasped as she caught sight of Aurora’s face. “That’s why you never mind the jar of flames.”

 

A blush suffused her cheeks, shame mixing with embarrassment that was only tempered by the fact that Neville didn’t understand what Ginny was saying.

 

“Think I saw Hermione in the car next to us,” he said, getting up and heading for the door. “She always knows what’s going on.”

 

Yes, Hermione. She wasn’t precisely the version of her mum the little girl inside her wanted at the moment, but she was a near thing. Why hadn’t her mother warned her about …

 

“I’m coming with you.” Aurora sprang from her seat, her eyes barely adjusted to the dark.

 

“Wait, I’m not staying in here alone,” Ginny said, and Aurora felt her hand clutched tight in Ginny’s as they managed to navigate their way out the compartment and down the corridor.

 

Someone collided with Aurora just as they were reaching for the door and caused her to stumble back into Ginny.

 

“Who’s that?” Hermione asked.

 

“It’s Rory and Gin,” Aurora replied.

 

“Neville?” Ginny asked.

 

“I’m here,” he said, sounding winded.

 

“Come in,” Hermione said, and Aurora felt her hand ushering her inside.

 

The tip of her wand was utterly pointless to see with and as a result, Aurora’s foot made contact with someone else’s. She fell ungracefully into a lap.

 

“You can’t sit here, I’m here,” Harry replied, clearly having had enough of the situation already.

 

“It’s not like I knew you were there.”

 

“Sorry,” Harry said, and she felt his hand guiding her into the spot next to him.

 

“Quiet,” a hoarse voice commanded, and everyone in the car fell silent.

 

There was a crackling noise and a blue fireball lit the room, easing the tension Aurora had been repressing since the darkness fell. The man’s face was scarred, and he looked downright haggard, but there was something about his presence that reminded Aurora vaguely of her father, and she felt more at ease. Despite desperately wanting to ask who he was and why he was on the train, Aurora kept her mouth shut and watched as he maneuvered around everyone’s feet to the door. “Stay where you are,” he said as he reached for the door handle.

 

Before he could reach it, the door opened, and something slunk inside.

 

Cold unlike anything she’d ever felt overcame her and a sadness settled in her chest to the point that she couldn’t breathe. Ginny was shaking terribly beside her, and Harry slid off his seat onto the floor.

 

Expecto Patronum !” the man said firmly, and the silver wisps Aurora had seen many times in her life brightened the room before a mighty wolf emerged and gave a silent howl before chasing off whatever was in the doorway.

 

Moments later, the lights came back on, and the man was panting furiously. He pushed his hair from his face before turning back to them. He looked at Aurora as she wrapped her arms around a sobbing Ginny, and he reached into his pocket and pulled out a large bar of chocolate. Unwrapping it hastily, he broke off a piece and handed it to her sobbing friend.

 

“Eat that, it will help,” he instructed, eyes lingering on Aurora a moment.

 

“Harry!” Hermione shouted, and she was down on the floor beside him in a moment, Ron behind her. Neville stood to position himself beside the man, who looked at Hermione in confusion.

 

“Bollocks,” Aurora murmured under her breath.

 

He was her father’s age, which meant he was also her mother’s age. And here she was, twenty years younger.

 

“Professor?” Ron asked just before Hermione gave Harry a hearty slap.

 

Harry startled into awareness, and after a quick explanation from Professor Lupin, everyone settled in for the last leg of the journey. No one spoke and Aurora was fairly certain Ginny drifted off at one point. The whole time the same thoughts circled in Aurora’s mind: the new professor knew her mother, and Hermione was about to enter her last year at Hogwarts in this decade. All they needed now was that crazed mass-murderer from the posters to come near the castle and cause mayhem, and the year would just be an absolute breeze to get through.

 

—————S—————

 

September 1, 1975

 

“Welcome, once again, to another year at Hogwarts!” Professor Dumbledore greeted the students at the start of the feast.

 

Severus tried his absolute best not to roll his eyes. Yes, welcome. Maybe if you were in one of the three other houses. As it was, while the headmaster addressed the school, he barely looked in the Slytherins’ direction.

 

“I would like to remind everyone that the Forbidden Forest is out of bounds to students—” Dumbledore continued.

 

“Unless you have detention,” Rookwood grumbled. “Then you get to watch the great oaf lumber.”

 

“That was once,” Mulciber replied.

 

Severus smirked as the others chuckled, but his heart simply wasn’t in it. He didn’t want to be with his Slytherin brothers, no matter how much he appreciated the mockery they made of Dumbledore or the Gryffindors.

 

Where he wanted to be was on the other side of the Great Hall, beside the girl who had her back to him at the moment. It wasn’t with Lily, who kept catching his eye and smiling.

 

“Mr. Filch has added to the list of items banned from the castle, which has been posted in all your common rooms. And also, as Professor Jones has not returned to us this year due to a change in career …” Dumbledore rambled.

 

“More like from embarrassment,” Regulus chimed in, earning some snickers from the others.

 

“… it is my pleasure to introduce your new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Professor Alastor Moody.”

 

“Fuck,” Avery said as the school applauded. There were a handful of Slytherins who didn’t join in and another handful who looked at those who didn’t and clearly wondered if maybe they shouldn’t have either.

 

“What is it?” Severus asked, watching Mulciber and Rookwood exchange uneasy looks.

 

“Alastor Moody is an Auror, and a damn good one,” Rookwood replied.

 

“But he has a vendetta against anyone with even the slightest interest in the Dark Arts,” Avery hissed. “And he especially doesn’t appreciate what the Dark Lord is trying to do to make our world better.”

 

“He’ll have it out for all us Slytherins,” Mulciber stated, the other seventh years nodding. “Rumor has it that he’s a close friend of our illustrious headmaster and trusts in his opinion. And we all know how Dumbledore feels about Slytherin. You most of all, Snape.”

 

That was all too true and with a glance at the Marauders, who had blissfully left him, Hermione, and Lily alone on the train this year, reminded him exactly how blatantly Dumbledore favored his pet lions. They were already rowdy and obnoxious, and Severus could see the tension in Hermione’s shoulder blades.

 

But as Severus glanced up at the head table, he nearly snorted at the sight of Minerva McGonagall with pursed lips and a tight grip on her fork. She must have felt eyes on her, for she turned toward him and upon catching his eye, gave a subtle shake of her head and an eye roll before she remembered herself and where they were.

 

Oh yes, this year was going to be different. A competent Defense teacher, even if he was going to have it out for the Slytherins, and an adult ally among the Gryffindors.

Chapter Text

—————H—————

 

September 2, 1993

 

“Severus!” Hermione heard Remus shout through the closed unwarded door from where she sat in her husband’s office chair. They’d had a feeling that this would happen when Albus had announced who would be joining the staff before the start of term.

 

Hermione watched the knob turn and waited.

 

“Severus,” Remus burst in, not yet looking to the desk as he closed the door and set up silencing charms. “I need to ask you some questions I already know you’re not going to like.” Remus turned and froze.

 

“Hello, Remus,” Hermione greeted him with a gentle smile.

 

He remained stunned, staring at her. “Hermione,” he breathed as she got to her feet. She moved around the desk and he instantly wrapped his arms around her. She returned the embrace, though not as tightly or with as much feeling. She’d missed Remus, of course. His years after the Potters’ death were a bit of a mystery since he barely kept in touch with anyone. But to Remus, this was more, and she was aware of it.

 

He eventually loosened his grip and pulled back, taking her in while holding on to her loosely. “The years have treated you well. Though I admit I … I’m surprised to see you here.”

 

“Because of—”

 

“Yes.”

 

“You know I wouldn’t have left because of that. I knew the truth, and even if he had stayed longer than a couple weeks, I would have waited,” she said, stepping further away from Remus now that she knew what he hoped for.

 

“It would have been your right to leave him,” he said, not unkindly. “Azkaban does things to a wizard, and you had a small child.”

 

“Which, I’m guessing, is the reason you’re in my husband’s office,” she replied, gently extricating herself from Remus’ hold.

 

His eyes flashed hurt at the mention of what Severus still was to her, his empty arms hanging at his side a moment before he nodded. “I … I didn’t think you had two children.”

 

“I do,” Hermione said. “But Leo is only eight, he won’t be a student for a few years yet.”

 

Remus frowned; melancholy completely wiped away by his confusion.

 

“Leo,” he repeated.

 

“Yes.”

 

Remus’ brow furrowed further. “Aurora Snape. She’s—”

 

“My eldest.”

 

“So, who is Hermione Granger then?”

 

Hermione took a deep breath, feeling out her body for the physical warnings as she thought of making the confession. There was nothing more than flutters, so she answered with a simple, “Me.”

 

Remus laughed. “Yes, that was you. But who’s this girl in my Defense class who has your name and looks so much like you?”

 

Her lips curled.

 

Me ,” she repeated with emphasis.

 

Remus opened his mouth and then stopped. He dragged a hand over his face, his eyes calculating.

 

The door opened and Severus walked in, followed by Leo. He took one look at the scene and then turned to his son. “To my rooms or Aunt Min’s.”

 

“Can I see Rory?” Leo asked hopefully.

 

“Only if she happens to be in the halls. We talked about this last year, you cannot go chasing after your sister while she’s at school. Now, my rooms or Aunt Min’s. And no, you cannot see Hagrid, there was an … incident earlier, and he’s a bit occupied at the moment.”

 

Leo pouted. “I’ll be in your rooms,” he sulked before dragging his feet to the concealed door in the office. He went through and shut it behind him, the door to vanishing after him.

 

“He looks exactly as you did as a child.” Remus gaped after the boy.

 

“Yes,” Severus said. “But with luck, my reputation and his sister’s will prevent anyone from tormenting him simply because he exists.” Severus smoothly moved to stand next to Hermione, and she nearly rolled her eyes as she felt Severus’ arm slip around her waist and clutch her possessively. “Now, what heartfelt reunion did we interrupt?”

 

Remus blushed. “I was enquiring about Hermione Granger.”

 

“I married her fourteen years ago, I’m afraid you’re too late,” Severus stated.

 

“No. I don’t mean … I mean the one in my third year Gryffindor/Slytherin Defense class.”

 

“Yes, I’m aware,” Severus said. “And again, I married her fourteen years ago. And seeing as how, for her, this is before she meets us in our youth, anything you say or do will not affect the outcome of those years. She’s already lived them.”

 

She smiled at him, her heart swelling with gratitude and love that her husband interceded and told Remus what she probably couldn’t. Oh, she’d played the scenario out in her mind countless times, really believing she would tell Remus the details. But unless she pictured telling him after Hermione Granger vanished from Hogwarts, she still risked breaking her Vow. And here was Severus, her partner and best friend even after all these years, telling Remus what she couldn’t.

 

Remus stared at them as though hit by a Stunner before he burst out laughing, doubling over with the effort.

 

“I very nearly believed you,” he gasped out, but slowly sobered when he realized they weren’t joking. “But it’s not possible. How?”

 

Severus looked at Hermione, and she bit her lip with indecision.

 

He turned to Remus. “Exactly as she’s always told us: an accident. Any more than that and I fear your Gryffindor brashness may try to stop her using the means by which the accident occurred. If you do that, who knows what will happen. Bad things happen to wizards who meddle with time, even if they did not travel through it themselves.”

 

Remus focused on Hermione. “So, she’s really you.”

 

“Yes.”

 

“And you went back in time knowing … knowing us. Knowing everything that was going to happen,” Remus stated.

 

“You have to understand, Remus,” she pleaded as she stepped out of Severus’ hold. She placed a hand on Remus’ arm, getting him to look at her even as his eyes glittered. “I couldn’t do or say anything that would change the past. Lily, James, Sirius, all those things … I was bound not to say anything. I couldn’t warn them about …” Her heart gave a mighty stutter and her breath caught so suddenly her knees gave out.

 

Two sets of arms caught her before she hit the ground.

 

“Easy, H.,” Severus said gently. “Watch what you say.”

 

“Right,” she gasped, seeing understanding replace pain in Remus’ eyes.

 

“A Vow. So, you couldn’t even hint.” She shook her head, and Remus nodded, stepping away. He paced as Severus straightened Hermione and held her against him, running a hand soothingly up and down her spine as her breathing evened out and her heart steadied.

 

“There is still one thing that’s troubling me,” he said, and when he faced them once again, she could tell the storm had passed and whatever he was about to say was in jest. “If you knew us all as we are now, then what in Merlin’s name made you choose Severus ?”

 

—————H—————

 

September 2, 1975

 

She wondered if she would always feel like this at the beginning of every September, or if there would be a reprieve from feeling her loss so acutely. Hermione had been fine when she and Severus met Lily in Diagon Alley a couple days before, and Lily had announced she’d been made prefect.

 

But it hadn’t sunk in, not really, not until they were on the train and Lily proclaimed she had to go to the prefect car for a while, and then do her rounds before coming back. Until, of course, they got to the school and she would have to ride in the prefect carriage.

 

It should not have made her feel as though everything she had ever done was for naught, but when faced with the reality that she would never actually achieve the goals she’d hoped for at Hogwarts: prefect, Head Girl, top marks all seven years, Hermione crumpled. What was the point, really? Yes, a magical education was important. But now, well, she didn’t have the reputation to give her the titles she’d longed for from her first read through of Hogwarts: A History .

 

And her birthday was coming again. Sixteen. But how does one mention that in a conversation? Lily had managed last year through a self-absorbed conversation, and Hermione could never blatantly blurt it out. She was still quite certain that Delia and Bob hadn’t found out when it was. Not that Hermione didn’t think they cared, but they hadn’t asked, and after the previous year …

 

“So, I was thinking since we’re the Gryffindor prefects this year,” Lily said to Remus as she tossed her hair over her shoulder, revealing the shiny prefect badge pinned to her collar, “we should do our rounds together. I don’t feel like we know each other well.”

 

“You could always hang around with us instead of the greasy git,” James suggested. “You know you want to, Evans. You can even bring Granger along, if you really want to.”

 

Hermione didn’t even have the gumption to roll her eyes at him. She’d been pushing porridge around in her bowl, trying not to fall prey to her own pity party and failing spectacularly.

 

“I’d personally love it if she came along,” Sirius said, but Hermione still didn’t bother lifting her head.

 

Instead, she dropped her spoon, picked up her bag, and slid off the bench. Without a word or backward glance, she left the Great Hall.

 

Defense was the first class of the day and while she had no desire whatsoever to face the grisly-looking man who she’d heard barking at students on her way to breakfast, it was better than being surrounded by reminders of what she’d lost.

 

A hand closed on her shoulder and she stopped.

 

“You have been moping since we got on the train. I’m well aware my company is not that riveting, so our being separated cannot possibly have you so morose.”

 

Her lips curled involuntarily. “Actually, I quite enjoy your company,”

 

“Yet we both know that’s not why you’re like this.” He gently turned her to him to study her face. “It’s the accident, isn’t it? Something has brought it to the forefront.” Hermione nodded sadly, eyes dropping to the floor. “Why didn’t you say anything?”

 

“You would think it’s stupid,” she said, sniffing.

 

“I might. But that’s a risk you’re going to have to take, isn’t it?” he said with a shrug.

 

She considered it, peeking at him through her lashes. “I should have been a prefect,” she mumbled, her heart beating uncomfortably. “I was working to it. I would have gotten it, I’m sure, but—” she gasped, her breath hitching as her heart gave a mighty lurch. It had been so long since she felt the Vow restrict her that while they were only warning signs, they still took her breath away.

 

“Hermione, look at me,” Severus commanded, and her wide eyes shot to his. He put his other hand on her shoulder, tightening the grip he had on them. “Breathe. It’s not worth it. All it would have done was eat into your time spent in the library or with a book, so you could go around and catch idiots sneaking food. Or as my mother suggested, shagging in open alcoves. And yes, there is a fancy bathroom, but what of it? Would you really want to share a bathroom with twelve pubescent wizards and eleven witches who will spend all morning in there applying their charms? Do you really want to get stuck with firsties asking inane questions or getting lost for the dozenth time?”

 

“Well, when you shine such a negative light on it,” she grumbled.

 

“What else would I be besides the eternal pessimist?”

 

She snickered. “Severus Snape and a positive outlook. Yes, I can see how well those two would blend.”

 

He quirked a brow, amusement glinting in his eyes, but he never cracked a smile.

 

“Hey, Sev!” Lily came up behind him quite suddenly, dropping her arm around his shoulder and startling both him and Hermione. She noticed that as his left hand slipped from her shoulder, his wand appeared in it as if a Finite had been cast and canceled a concealing spell. Lily hadn’t noticed any of this, studying his head as she was. “Did you do something with your hair? It’s different.”

 

Severus sidestepped away from both of them, his right hand raised slightly as if he was about to touch it before he stopped himself.

 

“No,” he said gruffly.

 

“Are you sure? It looks so good.”

 

Hermione actually looked at it, brow furrowed even as Severus’ looked at her with a hint of panic in his eyes.

 

“I honestly don’t see anything too different,” she said with a shrug. “It looks like it has since—” She suddenly understood it looked less greasy like it had each morning while he was staying with her. By lunch, it was oily again because of the work and the summer heat, but each morning and even most nights, his hair had a silken look to it after his shower.

 

“Since when?” Lily asked, reaching out and fingering a raven lock.

 

“What are you doing?” Severus hissed, stepping away from her again.

 

Lily looked hurt, and a little confused. “Sorry, it just looked so soft.”

 

“I never gave you permission to touch it,” Severus said through his teeth.

 

Lily laughed. “Since when do I need permission to touch you, Sev?” She stepped up to him again, bumping him with her shoulder.

 

“We’re going to be late for class,” Hermione interrupted. “And I’m not sure about you two, but I really don’t want to begin our year on the wrong side of Professor Moody.”

 

“Yes, it would be particularly unwise for me to do so,” Severus said, adjusting his new leather messenger bag before setting off.

 

The three walked into the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom with more than a little apprehension. Professor Moody was a bit scary-looking, if Hermione were honest. There was a bit missing from his nose and his hair looked like it hadn’t seen a brush in a decade. He stared at the students as they filed in, focusing more on the Slytherins. He narrowed his eyes on Severus, flanked by two Gryffindors.

 

Hermione looked around the room, noticing a couple Slytherins were looking at Lily as if they pitied her, though Hermione didn’t quite understand why. She’d seen them direct looks of loathing at Lily, especially the older Slytherins. But not pity.

 

“This is Defense Against the Dark Arts,” he said in a clipped tone. “Defense starts with knowledge. Who can tell me why the Dark Arts are so addictive?” He looked around the room, and for the first time in her academic career, Hermione had absolutely no desire to raise her hand. She could feel Severus look at her from the corner of his eye.

 

“You,” Professor Moody said, looking straight at Severus.

 

Severus stiffened.

 

“Well?” Professor Moody snapped, staring Severus in the eye without blinking.

 

“The Dark Arts can be seductive,” Severus replied. “Its power can lure even the strongest wizard.”

 

“There’s a high.” Professor Moody nodded. “Makes a witch or wizard feel stronger than they are.” His eyes shot to Hermione, and she felt a niggle in her mind as though she’d forgotten something. “So how do we stop it?”

 

Hermione pulled her gaze away and looked around the room. Everyone was riveted, awaiting the know-it-all’s answer.

 

“We can’t,” she whispered.

 

“Why not?”

 

“Because it is ever-changing,” Severus answered for her. He was confident, more than he usually was in class. “Once someone believes they know how to put it to rest, a great darkness comes along.”

 

“So how do we defend ourselves?” Professor Moody asked, a hint of intrigue to his voice.

 

“As you said: knowledge.”

 

Professor Moody smirked, and it was a sight that made Hermione squirm uneasily.

 

“We will learn to think like Dark Wizards and through that, we learn to defend.”

 

Professor Moody snapped his wand toward the blackboard and words began to appear in an unsteady hand.

 

Hermione took notes and did her best to keep her head down and not draw attention to herself. She still felt Professor Moody’s eyes on her.

 

“Of course Snivellus knows all about the Dark Arts,” she heard Sirius whisper behind them. “He knows more hexes and curses than most seventh years.”

 

Severus stopped writing, his body tensing.

 

“He just hopes its powers of seduction are transferable to him. Merlin knows he’d never get anyone’s attention otherwise,” James added, earning a quiet snort from Sirius and Peter.

 

“You lot,” Professor Moody snapped, the room startling at once. “What are you gossiping about?”

 

“Just the accuracy in which Sniv—Snape described the Dark Arts and their … tempting wiles,” Sirius said with a roguish grin that caused a few of the Gryffindors to chuckle uncomfortably and the Slytherins look angered and confused.

 

“Oh. Believe yourself immune to them, do you?” Professor Moody asked. Before Sirius could answer, the professor continued. “Because let me tell you: it doesn’t matter what house you were placed in at school. Great Aurors have come from all of them, but so have Dark wizards.” He turned, looking at each person in the room. “Doesn’t matter what color tie you wear, it’s what you do that matters.” He looked at Sirius, squinting. “You’re a Black.”

 

“I am,” Sirius replied, chin raised.

 

“Haven’t known a Black yet that wasn’t a little Dark,” Moody shot back.

 

“I’m also the first to be sorted in a house other than Slytherin in centuries,” Sirius boasted proudly.

 

“Just means you aren’t sly enough to know when to keep your mouth shut.” Professor Moody turned his back, ignoring the snickers from the Slytherins.

 

The rest of the class continued smoothly, even if the man was a bit abrupt and loud at times. Hermione was eager to escape and head off to Runes with Severus when the professor stuck out his arm and caught her before she made it to the door. “You’re Granger?” he asked, and she nodded. “Stay after class.” He then looked at Severus. “You can go.”

 

“Can he stay?” Hermione asked quickly. Lily passed, looking confused but didn’t stop. Care of Magical Creatures was too far from Defense to risk being late.

 

Professor Moody looked unsure for a moment and glanced at the door as the last student left. “Wait outside,” he ordered gruffly. Severus did as he asked, and once he was past the threshold, the professor flicked his wand and the door slammed shut.

 

“Dumbledore told me about you,” he cut to the chase, “about your knowledge of the future.”

 

“Oh?” Hermione asked, chewing the inside of her cheek to stop herself from lashing out.

 

“Sometimes the things in your head aren’t as safe as you want them to be. Like how much you fancy that Slytherin friend of yours.”

 

Hermione blushed to her roots. “I—”

 

“It’s in your head, girl. I’m a shit Legilimens, but even I could poke around enough to pick up on that.” He then flicked his wand at the door, and revealed Severus standing in the doorway, arms crossed and eyes narrowed. “You. In,” Moody said, and Severus did as instructed. The door slammed shut again. “I was telling Granger here how her mind isn’t safe. You, though, you got some walls up. You’re a natural, and I think you might be able to help.”

 

“With what?” Severus asked uncertainly, looking more than a bit off-put by the idea of someone rooting through his mind.

 

“Occlumency.”

 

—————A—————

 

September 1, 1993

 

“Rory,” Harry said from a few seats down, and Aurora turned her attention to him. “Why does your dad hate Professor Lupin?”

 

If Aurora were quite honest, she hadn’t really been looking at her dad. In fact, she’d been trying really hard not to think of the possibility that her dad did know Professor Lupin, and therefore the possibility of everything going sideways when it came to Hermione Granger’s presence.

 

“He doesn’t, but he’s not happy about him being here,” she said, and when the confused looks of all the nearby Gryffindors were suddenly turned toward her, she chuckled again. The food appeared, but no one reached for it just yet. “If my dad really, truly hates someone, he doesn’t even acknowledge their presence. You may have noticed how he pretended Lockhart wasn’t here at all last year? Unless it was necessary, like dueling club.”

 

“Perhaps,” Hermione mumbled, looking at her plate with a light blush. Of course she noticed anything pertaining to Lockhart.

 

“Yes, well, that’s how Dad hates someone. I would say that, if anything, his presence is not as welcome as it could be. Aside from that, I don’t know.” She shrugged and started helping herself to the food in front of her.

 

Harry and Ron looked apprehensive, but Hermione gave a swift nod in understanding.

 

Aurora glanced up at the table, and saw her dad poking at his food and watching Professor Lupin suspiciously. Feeling eyes on him, his gaze shot to hers, widening ever so slightly. “‘Come see me,” he mouthed, and Aurora nodded.

 

—————A—————

 

Aurora made her way through the castle to her father’s rooms in the dungeons. It was past curfew, but since the feast went to curfew, it was kind of hard to see her father beforehand.

 

She was just approaching the staircase leading to his room when someone rounded the corner and gave a mighty yelp.

 

“Aurora!” Madam Pomfrey clutched her chest.

 

“Sorry, Aunt Poppy,” Aurora whispered.

 

“What in the blazes are you doing out of bed?” she demanded, hands on Aurora’s shoulders as if she didn’t know whether to pull her closer or shove her back in the direction of the Gryffindor common room.

 

“Dad said he wanted to see me,” she replied, keeping her voice low. “Sounded like it was important.”

 

Poppy gave a sharp intake of breath and frowned. She mumbled things under her breath that didn’t sound too pleasant, and then let her shoulders sag. “Let me walk you to his rooms, then.”

 

One hand came off Aurora’s shoulder, the other gliding along Aurora’s back so that her arm was secured around her shoulders. Aurora allowed Poppy to guide her to the door and even knock for her. It was probably because of Poppy’s firm knock that her father’s deep voice rumbled a neutral ‘Enter.’

 

Poppy gave Aurora a gentle push inside and then followed before passing her to stand in the sitting room with hands on her hips.

 

“Severus Tobias Snape!” she said sternly.

 

Oh, well, this was going to be interesting. Even her mother never used her father’s middle name when she was angry with him. Aurora scooted to stand just inside the room.

 

“I know exactly why you have called your daughter down here, and I know full well you were told not to reveal that information. Were you willing to kill yourself to tell her or were you going to hint around it?” Poppy scolded an unaffected Severus Snape, much to Aurora’s amusement.

 

“I was only going to warn her to be extremely wary of our new professor, particularly around the time when it’s best to pick most potions ingredients.”

 

“Why do I need to be careful around Professor Lupin on the full moon?” Aurora asked with a tilt of her head as Poppy huffed and crossed her arms.

 

“No reason,” her father said as he stood and moved to the bookshelf, running his fingers along the spines. “I never did take Care of Magical Creatures.”

 

“Severus,” Poppy warned again.

 

“Dad?” Aurora said.

 

He turned toward her. “You’re nearly as voracious a reader as your mother. I’m sure if you were to ask her younger counterpart if you can glance through the third year Defense textbook, she would gladly let you. So long as you handle it with the utmost care. I think you would find a chapter in the book quite … enlightening.”

 

“‘Kay,” she said, glancing at Poppy who still looked annoyed but satisfied that her dad didn’t say what she clearly thought he was going to.

 

“Now, get to bed,” he said, shooing her away. She was just at the door with Poppy behind her when she heard, “And three points from Gryffindor for being out of the tower after curfew.” When Aurora whirled around to argue, he smiled. “I said come see me, I never said it had to be tonight.”

 

—————A—————

 

September 2, 1993

 

“What are they going on about?” Ginny asked as she and Aurora entered the Great Hall for lunch. Hermione, Harry, and Ron were going at it in hissing tones.

 

“Professor Trelawney predicted Harry’s gonna die,” Seamus replied.

 

Aurora snorted. “Trelawney has predicted my parents’ divorce for as long as I can remember.”

 

“Sorry, know he’s your dad and all, but still find it hard to wrap my brain around the fact someone actually married the great bloody bat,” Seamus said before nervously glancing at the head table.

 

“What else did she say?” Ginny asked.

 

“Said that Hermione had no future,” Seamus replied, and Aurora froze.

 

“She couldn’t have possibly said that,” Ginny said with a snort. “Hermione? Lauded as the brightest witch of her age? No future.”

 

Aurora shifted, appetite lost.

 

“Said that Hermione would not see the end of the year.”

 

Aurora let out a mirthless laugh, then resumed eating. While Ginny shifted uneasily, she said, “My parents have been together for something like sixteen years. Trelawney may get the odd prediction right, but for the most part, she spouts utter delusions. Hermione will probably drop the course and therefore, not see the end of the year.”

 

“Suppose that makes sense,” Seamus agreed just as Hermione slammed a book open, sending bits of food flying at Ron.

 

“We have a free period after this,” Ginny said, pulling Aurora’s attention away from the trio. “Want to pop up to the common room? Play some Exploding Snap with me and Colin?”

 

Aurora groaned. “Fine, just don’t brag too much when you annihilate me, all right?”

 

Ginny grinned wickedly. “No promises.”

 

—————H—————

 

September 2, 1975

 

“It’s… complicated,” Severus said as he and Hermione huddled under the birch tree by the Black Lake looking over the book they borrowed from the library. Madam Pince was not too pleased to see the loan happen, as she was whenever a book left the library. But since it was them, she let it go with only half the annoyance she usually had.

 

“It seems nearly impossible.”

 

“And why does Professor Moody want you to keep your mind hidden?” Severus asked with only the slightest inflection. It was almost as if he knew the answer and was only checking if Hermione would tell him the truth. Which, really, she couldn’t if she wanted to.

 

“Probably because of the reason I’m here now,” she answered. The mixture of truth and vagueness guaranteed her friend would not detect deceit while preventing even the slightest symptoms of the Vow.

 

Severus hummed in acceptance. “That I can believe,” he mumbled, and Hermione’s lips twitched with satisfaction. “It’ll be a challenge, that’s for sure. But it’ll be a useful skill. Imagine being able to control your every reaction to every stimulus?” He turned to her, his black eyes locking onto hers. “One could appear calm and in control in a situation that may have left them a stuttering, blubbering mess. You could feel deeply for someone and they would only know if you let them. Imagine never having to worry about having your feelings hurt because they were tucked away behind a wall where no one could touch or manipulate them.”

 

Hermione hoped that the sun was at the proper angle for her to explain away the slight reddening of her cheeks. Her heart didn’t know if it wanted to soar or shrink, burst with the affection she had for him or drop down to her feet to hide everything she felt.

 

“It would certainly …” She found herself at a loss for what to say, and his steadfast gaze on her certainly didn’t help. “It would prevent a lot of heartache, I think.”

 

Severus snorted, finally looking away and breaking the spell he had over her. Hermione blinked rapidly, hoping he didn’t notice the slight heave to her chest as she caught her breath.

 

“And what are you two up to?” Lily asked as she sat on Severus’ other side.

 

Severus shifted to sit up straighter, bowing his head and hiding behind his hair. “A task Moody assigned us.”

 

Ah yes, of course. How could she have forgotten? Who had hurt Severus the year before by standing him up? Yes, he seemed to have lost his romantic interest in Lily, but if he was a natural, as Moody pointed out, he’d have already been able to control that, wouldn’t he? He’d be able to repress all the strong emotions she’d caused.

 

Jealousy welled in Hermione unchecked and she shifted away from the pair.

 

“To you both?” Lily asked. “I thought he only asked Hermione to stay.”

 

“He did. She asked if I could join her. After a brief conference, he allowed it.”

 

“So, whatever it is Professor Moody is asking, he doesn’t think she can do it alone. He thinks she’ll need your brilliant mind.”

 

“Why are you doing this, Lily?” Severus asked with annoyance. The tone caught Hermione’s attention, and she turned her head to hear them better.

 

“Doing what?” she asked.

 

“The compliments to my looks and my intelligence? The latter which you haven’t done in a while, and the former which you never have.”

 

“Oh, well, can’t I just notice when my friend does something to make himself more … interesting?”

 

“Interesting?”

 

“Attractive.”

 

“Attractive?” The condescension in Severus’ tone had Hermione shifting back to where she’d been before so she could see what was going on.

 

Lily had stretched across the grass in such a way that she was propped on Severus’ outstretched legs at the knee. She was smiling coyly, her long hair cascading behind her and pooling on the ground.

 

“You can’t say that you haven’t made an effort. You look healthier, your clothes fit better,” she said, gesturing to him.

 

“And that makes me worth your attention now, does it? I have come a modicum closer to the likes of Potter and Black, so now I’m worthy of notice.”

 

“Don’t be like that, Sev,” Lily said, her smile fading entirely. “You were always worth my notice. We’re friends, best friends, and have been since we were kids. But you’ve changed, and it’s for the better.”

 

“Well, miracles happen when one can afford things for the first time in one’s pitiful existence,” he sneered. “And I believe the health you are referring to comes from hard work away from the slums.”

 

“What did you do all summer, anyway? I never got the chance to ask you on the train. You were missed, you know. It wasn’t quite the same without you. Tuney was nearly impossible to deal with, and apparently she’s got a boyfriend now.” Lily smiled up at Severus, waiting as he remained silent for a while.

 

“I worked,” he said.

 

“You went to stay with Hermione to work?” Lily finally looked at Hermione. “When you ask someone to your house for the summer, you’re supposed to have fun, not put them to work.”

 

“What makes you think it was Hermione’s idea?” Severus asked. “Mr. McGonagall offered we work for the vegetation portion of our potions kit and if we did more than that, we were paid. It would be foolish to turn down such an offer, especially when it comes with free knowledge.”

 

“And a Bowtruckle,” Hermione interjected.

 

“I didn’t keep Bowie, and we both know it.”

 

“I thought you said you would name him Ziggy?”

 

“I said I would consider it if I got one. I did not.”

 

“All right, fine. Wait, free knowledge?” At this, she sat on her knees, hands on her hips. “Exactly how did you acquire this?”

 

“You were the one who chose to work on the flower beds and the cooking herbs. I, however, went with Bob into the more potions-oriented areas. I asked, he answered. You live with him; you could have done the same thing yourself.”

 

“Well forgive me if I didn’t want to ply him with questions about his job when he comes home to relax,” she said with put-on petulance, and Severus let out a snort.

 

“Anything you could share with us, Sev?” Lily asked.

 

“I could,” he replied with a single nod. “But it was more or less ingredients or uses beyond what we’ll have here.”

 

“Ah,” Lily said, a knowing glint in her eye. She smiled smugly, glancing briefly at Hermione before she got up off the grass. “I wish I could stick around, but McGonagall wanted to see Remus and me for something, so I’ll catch up with you in Potions.” She looked down at Severus as she brushed off her robes. “Would you like to be my lab partner today?”

 

He tilted his head to meet her gaze. “No,” he said bluntly. He didn’t elaborate.

 

Lily turned her hurt gaze to Hermione, mouthing the word ‘please.’

 

Hermione understood what Lily wanted instantly.

 

“I’ll partner with you, if you like,” she said while holding back the grin that tugged at her lips as Lily’s eyes widened. “Though that means that Marlene or Alice would have to work on their own, since I doubt that Severus would be able to put up with them. Or worse, one of Marauders. Can you imagine one of them working with him?”

 

“Remus isn’t all that bad,” Lily said hopefully.

 

“It won’t happen,” Severus said firmly, returning his attention to the book in his lap. “We haven’t been lab partners since first year. I can only imagine that you want to pair up because Slughorn will notice that you aren’t quite the natural you seemed to be the first two years.”

 

Lily’s jaw dropped. “That was cruel, Sev,” she managed to say after a time.

 

He glanced up at her. “If you say so.”

 

Lily’s face pinched as her hands turned to fists. In a flash, she stormed off, red hair trailing behind her.

 

When she was out of hearing range, Hermione said, “It was quite mean.”

 

Severus sighed, his shoulders dropping and his body relaxing as if he’d been incredibly tense. “I am … uncomfortable with how she’s acted since the end of last term. The way she behaved in the park, the way she clutched my arm in Diagon Alley, her insistence on cramming into the space next to me on the train. She’d been distancing herself from me for the past two, three years, and suddenly it’s as though we are first years again.”

 

“But …” Hermione chewed her lip, glancing to where Lily had taken off, debating if she should say anything. She glanced at Severus, seeing him watching her intently, and she blushed. “Never mind.”

 

She wanted to offer an out, to say that he could go with Lily, that she wanted a new partner. She wanted to offer him a chance to say no again, to affirm that he wanted to be with her . But Hermione couldn’t, she simply couldn’t. The fear of his rejection was simply too great to overcome when her feelings for him were still so new and raw. And he would reject her, she was sure. He’d liked Lily, was infatuated with someone so much prettier, warmer, friendlier than her.

 

Her only advantage was her brain, and she knew it.

Chapter Text

—————A—————

 

September 2, 1993

 

Aurora stomped up to the hospital wing after supper without a single care about who saw or what they had to say about it. She could feel her curls sparking and growing tighter, nearly a copy of Hermione Granger’s curls when she wasn’t angry. Aurora’s eyes were narrowed, the deep brown growing black like her father’s. And the scowl on her face was such a perfect combination of both her parents that even seventh years stepped aside as she passed.

 

Without hesitating, she entered the infirmary and marched straight to Draco’s bed. The prat was awake, a book opened on his lap, one leg propped up to help keep it open. He was angled in such a way that he couldn’t see who was coming in.

 

“It’s about time dinner got here,” he started to say with that Malfoy sneer. “You wait until I tell my father—”

 

He never finished the sentence. The very instant he turned his head, Aurora threw a punch hard enough that Draco went tumbling over the other side of the bed.

 

“You stupid, arrogant prat,” she spat, and Draco scrambled as best he could with one arm, pain mingling with surprise as he did his best to face her. “Do you realize what you’ve done? Has your head been jammed so far up your arse that you really have no common sense, no human decency left?”

 

“What are you talking about, Rory?” Draco asked, finally managing to get to his feet. It had been the first time he’d referred to her in a familiar manner since Colin Creevey’s Petrification the year before. It had been Snape or Aurora until that moment.

 

“I’m talking about your belief that you’re superior to everyone and everything because you’re a bloody Malfoy. I know you know how to bow to a Hippogriff because of that time we ran into one in the wild. Remember? With Mum? And I know she warned you very, very thoroughly the kind of damage it can do if you don’t show it the respect it deserves. But no. No, the mighty Draco Malfoy had to risk his neck, which Buckbeak easily could have ripped open, all to show up Harry Potter. Or maybe show off for him, because frankly I’m beginning to wonder.” Draco paled at the implication, and while it registered, Aurora continued, “And bragging to your imbecilic housemates about how you could get Hagrid fired—”

 

“What do you care about the bloody oaf?” Draco demanded.

 

“I care because Hagrid has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember! I spent the first five years of my life living at Hogwarts. I’ve walked these grounds more than any seventh year, and Hagrid is practically an uncle to me.”

 

“He’s a half-blood,” Malfoy sneered, spitting the words.

 

“So am I!” Aurora shouted.

 

It felt like all air left her lungs and her heart stopped. She hadn’t meant to say it. She’d known her blood status since she was four years old and had heard the dreaded ‘M’ word tossed around by Uncle Lu when he hadn’t realized she could hear.

 

Her father had noticed, though. He’d spotted her in the shadows of the hallway heading to the washrooms from the playroom down the hall. He acted like nothing had happened, not giving even the slightest hint she was there. He had explained afterwards what that word meant. “It’s a terrible word for people like your mother,” he said. “Muggle-borns. The people that use that word are typically of only wizarding blood and believe that they are better for it. Daddy has to pretend to like them and agree with them. But I do not.”

 

“Why do you have to pretend to hate mummy?” she asked, confused and a little hurt.

 

“I don’t,” he said, tapping her nose. “Mummy pretends she has only magical parents, so no one tries to hurt her. But we must not tell. Remember what I told you about secrets?” Aurora nodded. “I am a half-blood.”

 

“Because of Nana?”

 

“Yes. My father was a Muggle. Mummy’s mother and father were both Muggle. She is Muggle-born, and you are a half-blood, because you have magical and Muggle blood,” he explained. “But we must not tell.”

 

She never had to say she was a pureblood, it had always been assumed. It hadn’t really even occurred to her that her blood status mattered until last year, and she intended to keep it a secret.

 

But now she’d blurted it out.

 

Draco was utterly confused, stuttering and stammering as Aurora shook with fear and adrenaline.

 

“How?” Draco finally asked. “I know Uncle is a half-blood, but he renounced his filthy Muggle heritage. And besides, to be a half-blood, Aunt H. would have to be ….” The pieces finally fell into place. “She’s a Mudblood.”

 

“Is she?” Aurora asked with a shaky voice. “Is she really? Because until two minutes ago she was your pure-blood aunt with a great family heritage. A witch you looked up to and admired.” Draco frowned, looking away as if trying to reconcile the idea as much as he was trying to separate his aunt into two people. “I’ll leave you that to think about,” she said in a clipped tone as she tried to hold herself together.

 

The Aurora Snape that made her way from the hospital wing to her father’s rooms was a much less terrorizing one. No one paid her any mind as she went down to the dungeons.

 

She opened the door to her father’s office, finding it empty but the door to his rooms appeared and opened a crack. Laughter was coming through it, but the sound didn’t register as she approached the door and pushed it open. It led immediately into the sitting room.

 

Her brain told her she should be surprised to see Professor Lupin sitting in the armchair, an empty plate near him on the coffee table and a goblet of wine in his hand. She also realized she should be surprised her mother was on the couch next to her father; she never visited this early in the year. She vaguely registered Leo reading in the corner.

 

“Rory?” her father’s deep voice cut her reverie, and seeing his gentle, questioning gaze on her and the concern on her mother’s face, made Aurora’s own visage crumple.

 

“I made a terrible mistake,” she choked out as the tears sprang free.

 

“What happened, poppet?” her mother asked gently, and she saw the blurred image of her mother approaching through her tears. “Anything that happened, you can say in front of Remus,” her mother said gently as she wrapped her arms around Aurora’s shaking form. “He’s a friend, and he knows I’m here at Hogwarts as a student. I’m sure it’s fine for him to hear as well.”

 

So Aurora told them, as much as she could between sobs. And while it wasn’t a long story by any means, it felt as if it were.

 

“I’m s-so s-s-sorry,” she hiccupped. “I d-d-didn’t mean … it’s just …”

 

“Calm, Aurora,” her father said, sternly but not unkindly. Aurora tried to take a deep breath that turned into a shudder. “Hermione, I think it’s time that we ….”

 

“Why don’t you tell her, love,” her mother suggested. “She should hear it from you without us.”

 

“I can leave if this is a family matter,” Professor Lupin offered.

 

“Stay. You and H. have a lot to catch up on, I’m sure. And I’m afraid Leonidas is still too young to hear this.”

 

“I’m eight!” Leo declared indignantly.

 

“And your sister is older, and this is the first time she’s hearing it,” her mother chided with a hint of amusement, while Aurora felt her father put his arm around her shoulders and guide her to the lab.

 

He shut the door behind them and guided her to a stool. Her father sat beside her, facing her. The first thing he did was produce a handkerchief, handing it over so she could dry her eyes.

 

With a resigned sigh, he placed his left arm on the workbench with the palm of his hand facing up. He opened first his frock coat and then the cuff of the shirt beneath. She knew what was coming as he rolled up his sleeve, but she still flinched at the sight of the skull on his skin.

 

“You are a very smart, brave girl,” he said. “But much like your mother, your emotions get the best of you. It’s human. It’s normal. You, I believe, do have some of my innate ability to hold things in, but even I erupt once in a while, so do not blame yourself for what happened.

 

“But now it is more important than ever that you have a full understanding of why your mother hid her Muggle heritage when she fell through time, why it’s still necessary for you to pretend you are pure-blood, and why you should really attempt to sway Draco’s opinions while he is away from his father’s influence, and before Hermione Granger disappears from Hogwarts.”

 

“What’s that got to do with your tattoo?” Aurora asked in a small, quiet voice.

 

“It’s the Dark Mark, Rory. It is the symbol of the Dark Lord, and a sign that I am one of his most valued Death Eaters and a member of his inner circle. It is the mark of a man who believed in blood supremacy and Dark Magic.”

 

“So why do you have it?”

 

“Because I was—am—a spy. Because when I was only a few years older than you, I caught the attention of all the wrong people, and someone sought to use that for the greater good. I was sorely tempted to join them, just so I could have a place to belong, very early on in my fourth year. It’s not all good, but it’s not all bad. Are you ready?”

 

Aurora nodded.

 

—————H—————

 

September 9, 1975

 

“Snape, Granger, stay back a moment,” Moody barked as the class began to pack up after class.

 

Lily frowned briefly before her lips curled into a smile. “Picnic by the tree,” she said, touching Severus’ arm briefly before giving Hermione a wave and following the rest of the class out the door. Moody watched them until the last one hurried out of the room, then a flick of his wrist slammed the door shut.

 

“You read the book?” he asked in his typically snappy tone. Hermione and Severus both nodded. “Good. We meet after dinner, seventh floor corridor.”

 

“Professor?” Hermione asked, face crinkling in confusion.

 

“And make sure no one sees ya,” he said briskly, then gestured toward the door. “Go.”

 

They left.

 

“Why does the seventh-floor corridor ring a bell?” Hermione asked, speaking to herself and asking Severus.

 

“I’m sure at some point you read something about it. Now that mental index of yours is running through the library you’ve no doubt absorbed and retained, trying to find the answer.” Severus glanced at her, a slight twitch of his lips.

 

Hermione grinned back at him, about to say something equally backhanded when she found herself suddenly falling to the ground. Her bag, open without her realizing, launched her books across the stone floor, her ink pots and quills following suit.

 

She felt magic surround her just a moment before she felt Severus’ hand on her shoulder. Turning her head and shifting slightly, she noticed he had his wand out, pointed in such a way that it made her think of holding an arm out in defense. She was about to ask what he was doing when a flash of light dispersed in front of Severus as if ….

 

“A shield,” she whispered, shifting around and finding her legs stuck together. Pulling out her wand, she whispered the counter-curse before getting on her knees beside Severus. “Where are they?”

 

He indicated in the direction they came from just before another blast of light flashed at them.

 

“Snivellus is being a bloody coward,” Peter laughed. “Hiding behind a shield.

 

“Come on, Snivellus. We know you’re just itching to fight back,” Sirius taunted.

 

“Oh no, he’s gone soft.” James jumped in on the taunting, all of them still unseen. “New robes, actually clean hair? I think he’s trying to assimilate into human society.”

 

Hermione shot her wand out, sending the first hex that came to mind in the direction of James’ voice. It hit the wall, making a loud cracking sound on impact.

 

“What’s going on here?” Remus’ voice came from behind them, and Hermione glanced over her shoulder to see his confusion as he looked at where she and Severus were crouched.

 

“Ah! Moony!” Sirius cheered. “Just in time to join the fun.”

 

Remus’ confusion vanished, replaced by shame as he came forward and stood in front of Severus.

 

“What sort of fun were you thinking of, Padfoot?” he asked, crossing his arms and looking around the corridor.

 

Seeing an opening to leave, Hermione reached for Severus’ hand and tugged it lightly. Eyes still trained on where Remus and the other Marauders were, he nodded once. They got to their feet slowly, walking backward a couple steps before turning.

 

“Remus, they’re getting away!” Peter whined.

 

“Good,” Remus said, and then added just before they turned the corner, “Wait for me outside class. I’ll explain to Professor Babbling why you were held up.”

 

Once out of sight from the Marauders, Hermione hissed in pain. Adrenaline and being on the ground had prevented her from realizing how hard she hit her left knee when the Leg-Lock Jinx hit. Now, trying to walk on it, she limped painfully.

 

Without a word, Severus shifted his messenger bag to reach in and grab something. Hermione took it.

 

“I don’t think I need your extra-strength pain reliever,” she replied.

 

“You’re tugging my hand violently with every step. Weak as your knee may actually be, you won’t limp quite so badly if there is no pain,” he said, gesturing to the bottle. “Take it.”

 

Reluctantly letting go of his hand, Hermione paused and leaned against the wall so she could uncover the potion and swallow it. Like so many potions, it tasted vile.

 

“Tweaked the formula but couldn’t make it more palatable?” she asked through a grimace.

 

“Adding anything to make it taste better would compromise its effectiveness,” he replied, taking back the bottle. “Bob never complained.”

 

Hermione snorted, about to retort, when Remus rounded the corner. He took in the scene, glancing between Severus and Hermione, then to the bottle in Severus’ hand, and the way Hermione was holding her leg.

 

Hands balling into fists, Remus said, “I should have done more than take away points.”

 

Severus snorted. “Yes, well, I don’t think there’s that much power behind a prefect badge,” he sneered, offering his arm to Hermione so they could get to Runes. She took it, ignoring the happy lurch her heart made when she slipped her hand into his elbow.

 

“I should talk to them,” Remus said, falling into step with them. “Tell them they need to stop. And not just with you, with everyone. But especially you.”

 

“That may have been helpful five years ago,” Severus said. “But you were too busy silently following them and getting in a pot shot or two.”

 

Remus didn’t have time to answer, since they arrived at the classroom door at that moment.

 

As Severus escorted Hermione to their seats, Remus made good on his word to explain to Professor Babbling what had happened. What was more, his annoyance hadn’t faded from his tone as he spoke, causing a murmur of interest through the fifth-year class. It wasn’t just Gryffindors and Slytherins, but Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws as well. And with the Marauders having picked on people from all the houses, one breaking rank earned some attention.

 

—————H—————

 

While James, Peter, and Sirius were still busy interrogating Remus over his perceived faux pas earlier in the day, Hermione and Severus slipped out of the Great Hall and made their way to the seventh-floor corridor.

 

“How’s your knee?” he asked her as they climbed the stairs at a pace that was probably slower than he’d like.

 

“Well, I’m still not feeling any pain,” she replied with a wry smile. “But I can feel it’s weakened and bruised.”

 

“And you haven’t gone to Pomfrey because …?”

 

“Exactly when would I have? Our day is not exactly leisurely. Runes, Potions, and Transfiguration after lunch. Though I suppose I could have gone up to the hospital wing during that break, it’s not like Lily would have missed me.”

 

“No, I don’t believe she would have,” Severus replied, and Hermione could not tell from his tone if he was pleased or annoyed by that.

 

They continued up the stairs, and the silence continued comfortably until they reached the seventh floor. They paused and looked around before advancing a bit further.

 

“I don’t see Moody anywhere,” Severus noted. “And I doubt he wants us to do these ‘lessons’ in the open, as it were.”

 

“I swear I know something about the seventh-floor corridor!” Hermione said, annoyed at her own brain for not pulling forth the information she wanted when it mattered.

 

“As we established earlier,” Severus said, looking up and examining the tapestries. He did so with a scrutinizing gaze. Hermione turned away as best she could, pounding her forehead with her fist in a pathetic attempt to bring the knowledge to the forefront. She paced, slowly, and only for a short time as her knee felt like buckling.

 

She looked up and saw a door that hadn’t been there before.

 

“Severus,” she called, gazing at the door as a smile pulled on her lips and the answer came tumbling to the front of her mind. “How could I have been so stupid?” she asked with a shake of her head as he came up beside her. “ Hogwarts: A History. I’ve read it more times than I can count, and I still forgot about the Come and Go Room.”

 

“The what?”

 

“The Come and Go Room,” she repeated. “Also known as the Room of Requirement. The room is supposed to pop up where it’s needed most and provide the person or persons in need exactly what they require. A bedroom if exhausted, a medical room if injured.”

 

“A loo when one has too much pumpkin juice at breakfast,” Severus added in a slightly mocking tone. “Can you explain anything without sounding like an utter swot?”

 

“Insufferable know-it-all, remember?”

 

His smirk made her chest tighten. “You make it impossible to forget.” He turned his attention back to the door. “So, do you think Moody is behind this door, or do you think the room has simply decided we need something?”

 

“I say we find out,” Hermione said, reaching for the door.

 

“Yes, let’s just walk right into a room that popped out of nowhere, and could reappear somewhere else entirely, if it reappears at all,” Severus grumbled.

 

“Don’t want to be stuck in a room alone with me, Severus?” Hermione said without thinking. Her hand was on the doorknob, twisting and pushing the door open before her words sank in, and she blushed horribly as she realized how it could be misinterpreted. She was incredibly thankful, then, that Severus did not reply when they saw Professor Moody, looking quite annoyed.

 

“Took you long enough,” he said gruffly.

 

“It was a bit hard to locate a room that apparently pops up where it wants to,” Severus replied, stilted but not completely disrespectful.

 

“That’s a myth,” he said, and Hermione’s face crumpled. “The Room of Requirement is always right here, on the seventh floor. While we’re here, no one can find us unless we want them to. We’re undetectable.” He then pointed to two chairs that appeared, each turned to face Moody. “Sit.” He gestured, and both did so. “You read the book, I don’t need to tell you the particulars of the ‘what’ or ‘why.’“

 

“Actually, Professor Moody, I would quite like to know the why,” Severus interrupted smoothly. “Hermione has reason. But why teach me such a skill?”

 

“You’re a natural. Would be stupid to waste. And you’re friends with her, she trusts you. You can help her if she gets stuck,” Moody replied casually. “Now, both of ya, clear your mind. Picture a wall. Don’t let me break it.”

 

Without warning, Moody flicked his wrist and his stare bore down on Hermione.

 

She felt that niggle in her mind she had on the first day of his class, but much, much stronger. It was verging on painful as he ate away at the feeble attempt of a wall she put up. Like a dam breaking, all her thoughts and emotions of the last twenty-four hours were there for Moody to peruse.

 

“Knew those bastards were lying,” he grumbled before he shot his gaze at Severus.

 

Hermione blinked, the pain easing slowly as she watched Severus’ and Moody’s mental battle. There was a slight crease between Severus’ eyes and knuckles were clenched tightly. His cheeks began to pink before he grunted and turned away.

 

Moody chuckled. “You basically got it down, but that wall needs to be impenetrable.”

 

“Why do I need one to begin with?” Severus asked through gritted teeth.

 

“I was just in your head, boy,” Moody replied. “You know as well as I do why it would be wise to keep what you know locked up.”

 

Hermione frowned, glancing between Severus, who refused to look at her, and Moody, who looked altogether too pleased with himself.

 

“Not gonna go after your mind again tonight,” he said. “Best thing you can do is meditate. Don’t scoff, boy. Not enough wizards sit in silence and focus on what’s inside. You focus on your mind, you focus on building something up, it happens.” He hoisted himself up. There were cracks and pops as his body shifted. “Stay here, focus, no chit chat.” He limped stiffly to the door.

 

“You’re leaving?” Hermione asked, glancing at Severus to see a matching furrowed brow.

 

“Dumbledore’ll wonder where I’ve been.” And without another word, Moody ambled out the door.

 

They were both silent for a long while before Severus said, “He doesn’t want Dumbledore to know.”

 

“Hm.”

 

“Why?” Severus looked at her and locked eyes with her as Moody had, though there was no niggling in her mind. “Why hide this from the headmaster? Especially if it involves you. He didn’t deny that he felt you had a reason to want to hide whatever’s in your mind, but why not involve the headmaster? Why bring us to an unplottable room when he was just going to leave us?”

 

Hermione’s mouth opened as her throat threatened to close. No, she couldn’t mention the Marauder’s Map. She didn’t even want to try the truth. So, in the end, her shoulders sagged as she shook her head. Severus’ eyes narrowed as he turned his head away with a thoughtful tilt.

 

“We’re supposed to be meditating,” she said, shifting in her chair.

 

Severus scoffed. “Do you see him here to ensure we do?”

 

“Severus,” she warned.

 

But he didn’t hear her. Getting to his feet, he walked over to a desk that had appeared, a stack of newspapers on one corner, and a small collection of books on another. “Meditate all you like,” he said as he shifted through the papers.

 

“Severus, what are you—?”

 

“The room gives the occupants what they need, so it should have provided me answers when this desk popped up.”

 

Hermione swallowed the panic that threatened to overtake her at the thought of what kind of answers the room would provide. She sat, closed her eyes, and willed her heart rate to slow before she focused on trying to build some mental defenses.

 

She had no idea how long she’d been in her own mind before she felt a gentle touch on her shoulder. Opening her eyes, she took in the frustrated and thoughtful Severus before her. His tie was askew, his hair had a stronger sheen and was thoroughly disheveled.

 

“We should go. It’s nearly nine.”

 

“That long?” she asked as she took the hand he offered and let him pull her to her feet. “Did you find any answers?”

 

“Not particularly,” he replied, dropping her hand.

 

“Well?” she demanded as he offered nothing further.

 

He chuckled, shaking his head. “No, I believe I will keep what I learned to myself for a little bit.”

 

With a huff, Hermione stormed over to the desk, looking at the papers spread out there. A quick glance at the dates she could see revealed that none were from the future. There were quite a few from the past, around the twenties and thirties, and even a few from the fifties, but most were recent.

 

“Are you willing to risk losing house points and getting detention for a few articles in the Daily Prophet ?” Severus asked in a teasing voice, and Hermione’s frustration mounted.

 

She caught a glimpse of a photo of a much younger Dumbledore and a man on the cover of a paper, his name jumping out at her from the partly covered caption beneath. She wanted to peruse the pages, to read what Severus had, but the idea of detention with Filch for being out past curfew deterred her.

 

With an irritated growl, she turned and stomped out the door, knowing Severus was close behind her. It didn’t matter that her left leg dipped with every step as her knee gave out, she still made her way through the door and down the corridor while radiating frustration.

 

Severus kept pace with her, saying nothing and not trying to steady her. But he was there, hovering, and Hermione did appreciate it even if she was a bit annoyed at him. How hard would it have been to just tell her? To say what he read instead of keeping it to himself? Was it that important? And why hadn’t she just taken the bloody newspapers with her?

 

That made her stop, huffing in frustration at herself this time as she realized he distracted her with the possibility of detention.

 

He came to a stop on the stop in front of her and she had to tilt her head back to look at him. He had that calculating look in his eyes, one that brought a fleeting image of Professor Snape to the forefront of her mind before it faded.

 

“What I learned …” he began to say, trailing off to look around. His eyes narrowed on something down the stairs and to the left, and he took out his wand. “ Muffliato ,” he whispered. A slight buzzing surrounded them before he spoke again. “What I learned is a reason why Moody doesn’t want Dumbledore to know he’s training us, though I think it’s me in particular that could pose the problem. Given my house and the rate with which Slytherins find questionable company post-Hogwarts, I think I understand why Moody would rather I not know more than I should. I’m not sure I have the answer to why Moody wants to train me. What I do know is that the headmaster is casting stones in a glass house when he ought to be coddling the Gryffindors less and supporting the Slytherins more.”

 

“You’re not making very much sense,” she admitted, and he quirked his lips.

 

“I wasn’t trying to.” When she smacked his arm, he gave a genuine grin. “I do know this: whatever reason Moody has to think that you need to learn Occlumency, I think he’s right.”

 

“And what idea is that?”

 

“I never give an answer I am not a hundred percent sure of,” he retorted.

 

“And you call me insufferable,” she grumbled.

 

Severus chuckled, and with a flick of his wand, the buzzing faded. He moved slowly down ahead of her and then led her back to Gryffindor Tower, where he stopped with her outside the portrait. Hermione ignored the painted woman as she gaped at them like a fish.

 

“I’ll see you in Potions tomorrow morning,” he said with a bow of his head before leaving.

 

Hermione watched him, unable to pull her eyes away from him until he rounded the corner. She sighed involuntarily.

 

“He’s not what one would call a looker,” the Fat Lady remarked. “Not to mention that I’m fairly certain he has a thing for the pretty redhead.”

 

“Me too,” Hermione sighed, looking at the woman who regarded her with sympathy. “Incipite Matura.”

 

 

September 19, 1975

 

 

It’s just a day, just a normal day. There’s nothing special about it. It’s Friday, it’s just past the middle of September. It’s a normal day. You’re just a bit older now, is all.

 

Hermione had been looping the monologue in her head from the moment she woke up. The normalcy of the last couple of weeks had nearly made her forget. While the first day of classes had brought a surge of sadness, the repetition of classes, meals, and time spent with Severus and Lily had pushed it away. Even the day before had been normal and she’d nearly forgotten what the morning would bring.

 

But once her eyes opened to the sunshine coming through the window, to the sounds of Lily, Marlene, and Alice getting ready for the day, she had to remind herself to not feel too sad. She pulled herself out of bed, gathered her things and headed for the girls’ bathroom. She showered mechanically, dressed with her average amount of care, and gathered her things to head to the Great Hall. The girls caught up and surrounded her, Lily holding firm that they include her in their entourage even if she didn’t speak and Marlene still didn’t like her all that much.

 

They sat down for breakfast and Hermione chose her toast and fruit with a heavy sigh that went relatively unnoticed. Lily glanced over and frowned, but was distracted by the Marauders coming in.

 

Hermione, then, did what she’d always done at meals when the obnoxious trio and their friendly, shy werewolf friend attempted to draw attention to themselves: she pulled out a book and read.

 

She’d wanted to read a classic as she usually did to treat herself, but keeping up appearances as a pureblood, she wasn’t sure if Austen would be acceptable material. So she read her Herbology text.

 

Owls swept over the hall, and Hermione heard the squeals and giggles from her female housemates as the latest Witch Weekly was delivered, the slightly elevated chatter of fellow students receiving letters, and she turned the page.

 

“Hermione,” Remus said, and she looked up to see what he wanted. He pointed to a familiar little owl perched just in front of her plate next to a tawny owl resting on a small rectangular parcel.

 

Her stomach twisted as she tried to tame her excitement, the urge to smile barely suppressed. No one knew last year, and she had said nothing. So why should she expect anything this year?

 

She took the envelope from the McGonagalls’ little owl before giving it a piece of her toast, and then gave another piece to the tawny owl that hooted happily before taking off. Just as he took off, another envelope landed on top of the small parcel, but no owl landed for a treat.

 

“What’s the special occasion?” Lily asked.

 

“Not special at all,” Hermione replied, opening the letter from the McGonagalls. A small, slim box fell on the table, narrowly avoiding her fruit.

 

Hermione,

 

My darling, sweet girl. I wish I had all the excuses in the world for not having found out your birthday in time last year. It wasn’t until you returned to us for the summer that it occurred to Bob and me that the occasion would have to be coming soon or we had missed it. Minerva had to look into the school records, and I can’t tell you the shame we all felt for letting it slip through the cracks, especially given how soon after losing your family it was.

 

As you were raised in the States, I am aware that sixteen is a pivotal age there, as seventeen is here. Not knowing which one would have been celebrated as such by your parents, we didn’t want to fail you in the possibility that this would be it for you. Tradition, I was told, is a ring. We decided to do something a bit different.

 

Happy birthday, Hermione. We have loved having you in our lives and look forward to all the days to come together.

 

Warmest wishes,

Delia

 

P.S. Bob felt horribly excluded and wanted to say he adores you too.

 

Hermione was trying very hard not to let a tear slip down her cheek as she finished the letter and set it aside. With a deep breath, she picked up the box and opened it. Inside was a pair of teardrop earrings, silver on the stud and gold on the rest.

 

“Oh, those are lovely,” Marlene said, leaning over the table for a better look. “Not overly expensive or anything, I would say. Do you have a boyfriend?”

 

Lily looked quite interested in the answer and Hermione blushed and vehemently shook her head. “No, it’s my, er, birthday,” she barely spoke the last word out loud.

 

“Oh! That’s … wow, that would make you the oldest in our house for our year.”

 

“I think it makes her the oldest in our year, period,” Alice added in a quiet voice.

 

“Who are the earrings from?” Lily asked suspiciously.

 

“Delia and Bob,” Hermione replied automatically. At their confused stares, she added, “My foster parents.”

 

Lily sagged with relief while Hermione moved on to the letter on the package.

 

Hermione,

 

Forgive me for not finding the information earlier, not only as your aunt, but as your Head of House. September is always a busy time with so many things going on as everyone gets settled. It wasn’t until Delia asked if I knew when it was that I discovered that I missed it entirely. I knew, for it stuck out in my mind that you would have just missed being in the year ahead.

 

I cannot make up for my mistakes last year, but I would like to this year. Have tea with me this evening in my office, if you’d like. Bring Severus and Miss Evans with you, if you’d like to extend the invitation to them. You can simply let me know after Transfiguration today.

 

Have a happy birthday,

Professor M. McGonagall.

 

Hermione gave a watery chuckle as she finished the letter. She looked at the head table and caught her Head of House’s eye. She smiled and gave an enthusiastic nod, causing Professor McGonagall’s stern expression to falter for a moment as her lips twitched upwards.

 

Finally, Hermione reached for the package on the table.

 

Pulling off the paper revealed a beautifully bound, slightly worn copy of Jane Eyre. She ran her fingers lovingly over the deep blue leather where the title was embossed in silver, before opening the cover. A tiny slip of paper was tucked into the binding, barely big enough to hold the spiky scrawl of familiar writing.

 

The Bronte sisters were average witches, except when it came to words.

 

Thumbing through the book, she noticed it was littered with Severus’ scrawl. He pointed to passages he liked, made comments on parts he found funny or inane, and once in a while, there was an herb or flower pressed between the pages. A small stem of lilac, a sprig of mint, a vanilla bean, a few other small bits that were not poisonous or would not stain the pages but added a subtle and lovely fragrance that wrapped around her heart and held tight. In a strange way, it was very Severus . She put her nose to the pages and took a deep breath, her thumb lightly caressing the edge of the page where his writing rested.

 

“Someone gave you a used book for your birthday?” Sirius asked in mild distaste. Then he snorted. “I’m sure I know who. But then again, there are no grease marks on the pages.”

 

“Shut up, Sirius,” Hermione said without looking at him.

 

“Well, I suppose it’s appropriate for you,” Lily said thoughtfully. “For my birthday, he enchanted a paper lily to smell and feel like a real one. Well, a bouquet of them.”

 

“How cheap,” James remarked. “But I suppose anyone who wears raggedy old robes probably wouldn’t think that a girl as lovely as yourself deserves more than paper, right Evans?”

 

“Severus has new robes,” Remus remarked, sounding bored. “Not that it matters either way.” He then looked up as Hermione began to rise from the table. He gave a shy smile. “Happy birthday.”

 

“Thanks, Remus,” she replied as she stuffed her letters and earrings in her bag. Once she had it shouldered, she hugged her book to her chest. “I’ll see you in Herbology.” And with that, she left the Great Hall.

 

Overwhelmed, she glanced around, wondering if maybe she should have seen if Severus was at the Slytherin table before she left. But if he wasn’t, she’d have no idea where to look for him. The library, maybe? Or his brewing classroom? He hadn’t been there yet this year, that she knew of anyway, and she couldn’t imagine he’d be there before classes.

 

She paced, a few short steps, then a couple long strides, and repeated this three times until she saw him leaving the Great Hall alone just as she turned to face the doorway. He looked morose, hands in his pockets and head down with his hair curtaining his face.

 

Without stopping to think why this was or what the repercussions would be for doing what she was about to do, she moved swiftly toward him. Colliding with him, she wrapped her arms as tightly as she could around his shoulders, holding him to her body fiercely.

 

“Thank you,” she said softly, her fingers caressing the stands of his hair at the nape of his neck. “Thank you so much, I cannot tell you what it means to me.”

 

“It’s just a book,” Severus sneered, and she pulled back to look at him. His eyes were hard, cold, with a hint of pain.

 

“No, it’s—it’s more than I can possibly explain,” she said, unsure why he seemed so distant. “The earrings from Bob and Delia? A lovely gesture should I ever find the occasion to wear them. But the book … It’s a favorite of mine that I lost. And what’s more, you read it and have given me a … well, I’m sure it’s riddled with comments worthy of your disposition. And yes, you wrote in it, and that normally drives me spare, but I know why you did it and it’s wonderful, and …” She embraced him again. “Thank you.”

 

She hadn’t realized he hadn’t hugged her back until she felt his arms come around her, light at first and twitching, as though he would pull back any moment. But after a moment, Severus relaxed, his arms tightening a bit more, and he very quietly said, “Happy birthday.”

 

“I don’t even know how you found out,” she said as tears trickled down her cheek.

 

“I asked Delia one morning. I suspect she hadn’t known for long herself, given the way she blushed,” he replied, and Hermione chuckled against his shoulder.

 

She didn’t want to pull away, reveling in the feeling of being in his arms for the first, and possibly only time. This in itself, the reciprocation of physical affection, even if it didn’t mean quite as much to him as it did for her, was the best thing she could have received for her birthday. Because Hermione had known herself too well from too young an age and knew this for absolute certainty: she was in love with Severus.

 

It wasn’t an infatuation like with Ron. Ron had been boyishly charming and one of her first friends ever. Severus was caustic, moody, sometimes cruel in the present and his future. He was not what one would call handsome, though to Hermione, he’d become something beautiful. And he was loyal, more fiercely so than Ron ever was. He was smart, he was her equal, and he was the dearest person to her.

 

Hermione loved him and she was prepared for the consequences of it.

 

When he stepped back, Hermione smiled genuinely, if not a bit sadly. Severus smiled back, wiping the tears from her cheeks with a caress of his thumb, his eyes darting over her face.

 

“Aunt Min wants me to have tea with her this evening. She said to invite you. And Lily, which I imagine you would want,” she said, her fingers caressing the pages of the book still in her hand.

 

Severus shrugged. “It is entirely up to you. Personally, I think it might make things a bit stilted, with how we’re allowed to call her by her first name, and Lily doesn’t have the same privilege. But then again, she is our friend. I don’t think it would go over too well to exclude her.”

 

“Probably not,” Hermione agreed.

 

She wanted to throw her arms around him again, to kiss him soundly, but she didn’t. “See you after you’re done with Charms, and I’m done with Herbology?”

 

“I’ll meet you at the doors, with Lily.” Severus nodded. He looked, for the briefest second, like he wanted to say something else. But he turned and headed to Charms quickly, his head held high and shoulders squared.

 

—————H—————

 

“Why are we going to Professor McGonagall’s office when we can have a perfectly fine celebration in the common room?” Lily asked from the other side of Severus as the three of them made their way to the Transfiguration Mistress’s wing.

 

“Yes, I would be warmly welcomed in Gryffindor Tower, treated as if I were a lion myself,” Severus said sarcastically.

 

“Fine, then. We could have had a quiet one in the library or snuck up to that classroom near the hospital wing that you …” Lily trailed off, peeking around Severus just as Hermione glanced over.

 

She rolled her eyes at the knowing glint in Lily’s eye and the exaggerated way she clamped her mouth shut.

 

“Right,” Hermione said. “Because Severus would want us to be around his experiments.”

 

Lily’s jaw dropped. “You know!”

 

“Of course she knows, Lily,” Severus sighed with boredom as they turned the corner. “She’s my friend as much as she is yours. Perhaps more.” Lily narrowed her eyes at this. “She may be your housemate, but you spend more time with Twiddle-dee and Twiddle-dumb than you do with her.”

 

“What did you just call Alice and Marlene?” Lily huffed.

 

Hermione snorted. “That’s actually quite brilliant, especially giving the name of the former.”

 

Severus looked pleased with himself as Lily huffed and shook her head.

 

“Right, so instead of finding a different unused classroom, ‘cause I’m sure there are actually quite a few in the castle, we’re going to a teacher’s office. Yes, this will be quite wild. Are we doing homework while we’re there? Turning turtles to teapots?”

 

Lily’s complaining did little to dampen Hermione’s mood. She wore her new earrings as a novelty for the day, and she hadn’t had a birthday tea since before she started Hogwarts. She still clutched her copy of Jane Eyre in her hand. She hadn’t parted with it since receiving it that morning, only setting it down during classes, and when she changed from her school uniform to a simple dress. She had read it during meals, always moving the clippings Severus had included to the previous page so she wouldn’t lose them. She’d even read it after dinner when the three of them had met up by the Black Lake. She’d read with her head resting against Severus’ leg, much like they had done just before the summer had begun. It would have been perfection if Lily hadn’t insisted on copying her position against his other leg.

 

“If it’s anything like Sunday dinner—” Severus started with a slight curl to his lips, which only grew when Hermione smacked him.

 

“I doubt very much that this will be Sunday dinner,” she replied as they came to the door. She knocked, and on McGonagall’s call to enter, she was the first to step inside.

 

“Surprise!” came Bob and Delia’s voice along with Professor McGonagall’s, and Hermione’s heart stopped for a moment. She noticed the glasses of firewhisky in Minerva’s and Bob’s hands.

 

“Not like Sunday dinner at all,” Severus mumbled quietly, and Hermione gave him a second smack before running over and embracing her foster parents.

 

“What on Earth …?” she asked after giving Bob a quick embrace before moving on to Delia.

 

“I may have invited them after you accepted my invitation,” Minerva said as she opened her arms and welcomed Hermione into her embrace. “I’d have invited the clan, but I’m sure even Albus has his limits.”

 

“It’s more than I was expecting,” Hermione replied as she stepped back.

 

“Probably best for your office that you didn’t,” Severus commented, moving to the small table off to the side and plucking up two goblets of what looked like wine but was probably only sparkling cider.

 

“Oi, watch your tongue, lad,” Minerva mock-scolded before smiling.

 

Severus handed Hermione a goblet, then glanced at Lily. He hesitated for a moment before handing it to their friend, turning and heading back to the table to grab a third one.

 

“Oh!” Hermione said, shaking herself. “I’m so sorry, I’m being terribly rude. Bob, Delia, this is Lily Evans.” She took Lily’s arm lightly and brought her closer to them.

 

“It’s a pleasure,” Delia greeted warmly, taking Lily’s free hand. “Hermione’s spoken well of you. Severus too, when he happens to catch part of the conversation.”

 

“You talk about me, Sev?” Lily asked with a grin, ribbing him when he came up beside her.

 

“When you are the topic of conversation,” he replied.

 

The door to the office opened, and all of them turned to look to see who was coming in.

 

“Min. Been wondering if maybe we could—” Professor Moody stopped abruptly, eyes scanning the room. “What’s this?” He then looked at Bob. “What sorta trouble you tryin’ to cause?”

 

“Can’t a man come and give birthday wishes to his …” Bob trailed off and his brow furrowed.

 

Before he could think of what to say, Moody looked at Hermione. “Your birthday, is it?”

 

“Yes, sir.”

 

“Explains the teacher drinkin’ in front of students,” he said, gesturing to Minerva.

 

“Right this moment, Alastor, I’m her aunt, not her professor.”

 

“Still didn’t think to invite me, now, did ya?”

 

“Well yer here now. Scotch and firewhisky in their usual spots, help yerself,” she said, waving to a simple cabinet in the corner.

 

“Didn’t bring a gift,” Moody said as he hobbled to the cabinet.

 

“Wasn’t required,” Minerva countered. “We gave her ours this morning.”

 

It was then that a soft pop announced the table was now covered with food, most of Hermione’s favorites.

 

Moody glanced at the table, took a quick look at the mostly French cuisine, and snorted. “Thought you were English?”

 

“Oh, hush it, Al,” Bob teased. “More to life than bangers and mash.”

 

Minerva went about quickly Transfiguring her desk to a dining table and various objects for the table, among them comfortable dining chairs Delia and Bob had in their home. Hermione sat at one end, Severus to her right, and Lily to his. Bob and Delia chose her left, sandwiching Moody near the end with Minerva.

 

Dinner was, much to Hermione’s amusement, like Sunday dinners. Professor Moody took Malcom’s place in the banter between the McGonagall siblings. There was talk of various politics in the wizarding world, though more conversation about the Aurory than would normally happen.

 

“It’s the fact that the Ministry won’t bloody do anything about these attacks when we all know who’s causing them and why,” Moody grumbled.

 

“Always had a stick up their arse and you know it,” Minerva said with a dismissive wave. “The fact you still keep goin’ back for more….”

 

“You just couldn’t handle the heat, could ya?” Moody teased. “Or maybe it was Urquhart that kept you away all this time?”

 

“Oh, let’s not bring that up,” Bob grumbled between bites of his duck l’orange.

 

“What I don’t understand is what these ‘Death Eaters’ want,” Delia said, brow wrinkling. “And why they keep making shows of themselves.”

 

“They believe in blood supremacy,” Severus said, and Hermione watched nervously as Lily chewed her lip and Moody scowled at Severus. He, for his part, kept speaking calmly. “They think that we should not hide our nature, that the Muggles should fear us. They believe anyone not of a pure-blood background is weak and needs to be dominated. All rot, really, considering.”

 

“You don’t agree?” Moody asked darkly.

 

“You think I would because of my house?” Severus asked.

 

“You’re the only non-Gryffindor here and you seem to know a lot about them.”

 

“You’re the only pureblood and the same could be said for you, Professor,” Severus countered. “However, my knowledge, like yours, comes from my life circumstances. You’re an Auror, teacher though you may be now, and understand their motives because of that. I’m a Slytherin; I live with those who wish to join the Dark Lord. I, too, have acquired my knowledge through my position. It hardly means I agree with it any more than you do.”

 

Moody studied him severely for a moment before a smirk broke the sternness. “Well played, boy.”

 

“Shall we change the subject, then?” Delia asked after a moment of tension.

 

“I noticed you haven’t been indulging in spirits,” Severus said nonchalantly as he returned to his plate.

 

Hermione and Minerva both stared at Delia as she blushed nearly as red as her hair. “I hadn’t wanted to say anything, given the day.”

 

“You’re not!” Minerva said, more harshly than she’d probably intended.

 

A shy grin came over Delia, and Bob beamed as he gazed at her lovingly. “It’ll be three months in two days. I didn’t—it’s the longest we’ve—and if something happened…”

 

Hermione choked back a sob, hands flying to her mouth to try to contain the joy threatening to burst, but not a moment later she was out of her chair and running around the table. She embraced Delia at the same moment Minerva did, both holding her loosely as if they were afraid to hurt her.

 

“I hope you don’t think this means you won’t be welcome for the holidays or during breaks,” Delia said as she started to sniff.

 

“Of course,” Hermione said, turning then to Bob and holding him much tighter. “I’m so incredibly happy for you two.”

 

“Thank you, Hermione. It means the world.” He pulled back, smiling down at her before turning to Severus. “And you, boy,” he said, making Severus startle. “We will be having a discussion, you and I.”

 

Severus’ cheeks turned red, but he nodded once before turning back to his plate. Lily leaned in toward him and began whispering. Their conversation was quiet and much as Hermione wanted to know what was going on, she was too distracted by the conversation the McGonagalls were having. As the conversation turned toward work, she drifted back toward her friends.

 

“They’re her family, Lily,” she heard Severus hiss quietly.

 

“Not really,” Lily snapped back in equally hushed tones.

 

“Don’t,” he warned.

 

“But this is boring. And uncomfortable,” Lily protested.

 

“Then leave,” Severus countered.

 

“What? Are you honestly telling me you don’t want to run back to the dungeons? You really want to stay here?”

 

“I like Bob and Delia,” he replied. “And I would not be so rude as to walk away when he wants to talk to me. Regardless of the topic.”

 

“Well, yeah. But can’t you just, you know, pull him aside and ask what he wants so you can go? Do you really want to hang around here all night? We could go out by the lake and hang out by the tree or sneak up to the Astronomy Tower.”

 

“I don’t mind,” Hermione interjected. Both parties looked slightly guilty at being caught, though Lily quickly recovered and looked smug. “I can understand if you want to go, truly. Neither of you have to stay here on my account.”

 

“I’m enjoying myself,” Severus said, leaning back in his chair and running a long finger over the cover of the Jane Eyre on the table. He looked at it as he spoke. “And I’m sure Minerva still has dessert in mind. I’d hate to miss that.”

 

“You’re just full of cheek tonight, aren’t ya?” Minerva said to him as Lily flushed at Severus’ casual address of a teacher. “I’ll let it slide tonight, given this is a family affair.”

 

“Then what the blazes am I doin’ here?” Moody said as he stood up.

 

“You aren’t leaving before cake?” Minerva crossed her arms as she turned to her colleague.

 

Moody made a face of utter disgust before turning to Severus and Hermione. “You two, same place as before, tomorrow at eleven.”

 

“Yes, sir,” they replied simultaneously. He nodded, then hobbled out the door.

 

“In case you lot do head out, Severus, we should have that conversation now,” Bob said, beckoning Severus to join him on the other side of the room.

 

Severus rose, trying to maintain a calm exterior though his face betrayed how nervous he was.

 

Hermione had half-expected Lily to make excuses to leave, but she sat firm, watching Severus like a hawk. Hermione sat in the chair he abandoned, twisting her fingers. “I’m sorry,” she said, barely capturing Lily’s attention. “Severus didn’t think you would enjoy yourself but didn’t want to exclude you either.”

 

“Sev said that?” she asked with such hope that Hermione’s heart clenched.

 

“Yeah,” she said, unable to look at the joy in Lily’s eyes. Her gaze fell to her book, and she picked it up and held it to her chest like a shield.

 

“Cake’s here,” Minerva announced, and Hermione shifted out of Severus’ seat and back into her own.

 

She kept quiet for the most part, smiling and thanking them after they sang “Happy Birthday” to her, her ear picking up Severus’ deep melodious voice even as he tried to make it the quietest of the bunch. Conversation was still easy, though Lily took up the mantel while Hermione was quiet, speaking a great deal to the former Gryffindors about the goings on of their Quidditch team and anything else that may catch their interest.

 

When the night came to a close, the three students said their farewells and headed out after Hermione was given another round of hugs.

 

“So, what did, er … you know?” Lily asked, making circles with her hands as she raised an eyebrow at Severus.

 

He glanced at her, then Hermione. “I would rather not say right now.”

 

“Oh,” Lily said, glancing around him to Hermione for a moment. “How about I meet you at our spot?” she asked, stopping. “You can take Hermione to the tower and meet me in fifteen minutes.”

 

Severus raised an eyebrow, and Lily smiled before turning abruptly and jogging away. They paused and watched her until she disappeared around the corner.

 

“She’s going to land herself in detention,” he said as he continued toward the Great Hall.

 

“Why? Where’s your spot?” Hermione asked.

 

“It’s the tree where we all go when the weather’s nice. It is, however, nearly nine o’clock. Curfew, which she will break only by trying to get there.”

 

“Maybe she’ll realize and ask you to meet her there tomorrow,” Hermione suggested, tightening her grip on her book.

 

Severus snorted. “I still won’t tell her. I don’t plan to tell either of you, not yet anyway.” He shifted nervously. “It’s an opportunity that a student doesn’t happen upon often, and it would be utterly foolish of me not to take Bob up on his offer. I will not, however, say what it is until I’m sure it will happen.”

 

“You do love being cryptic, don’t you?” Hermione couldn’t help the turn of her lips, for even in a somewhat glum mood, she couldn’t help but enjoy banter with her best friend.

 

“It does have its moments of pleasure,” he said as they came to the top of the stairs leading to the dungeon. “I would walk you to your dormitory, but I don’t want an encounter with Filch.”

 

“It’s all right.” Hermione shrugged.

 

He scrutinized her. “You were happier earlier, what changed?”

 

“Nothing,” she replied quickly.

 

“You’re a terrible liar,” he retorted.

 

“It was just something Lily said, is all. She didn’t mean anything by it. In fact, it was actually completely innocent. It simply reminded me of something.”

 

Severus nodded grimly. He then reached out, putting his hand on her shoulder and giving it a squeeze. He looked as if he wanted to say something but didn’t know what. He turned, and the loss of him made Hermione panic.

 

“Severus!” He stopped and turned around. Chewing her lip, she took the three steps needed to close as much distance as they could. “Would it be … I mean, would I be able to … a hug. Can I hug you again?”

 

He swallowed, and she hadn’t really noticed that his Adam’s apple was so prominent until she watched the movement of it. He twitched, and then shifted closer.

 

She wrapped her arms around his neck and placed her nose as close to his skin as she thought she could get away with. The citrus from the duck lingered, nearly covering all those wonderful Severus scents that normally clung to him: parchment and ink, herbs from potions class. There was also his hair, which might get greasy as the day wore on but had a masculine scent that made her heart flutter and sigh with contentment.

 

His arms did not hesitate to come around her this time around and held her with exactly the same ferocity as she held him at the moment. There was a gentle, barely noticeable tug to her curls that she realized meant he was playing with them. It made her hyperaware and numb all at once.

 

They parted when they heard noise from the dungeons, the prefects were heading off to do their rounds. Neither said anything but waved to one another. Hermione looked over her shoulder every third step, even though he was gone after the first. She wasn’t sure if she was looking to see if he would risk Filch to meet Lily or just trying to catch a glimpse of him.

 

Lily hadn’t been long returning to the tower after Hermione and was quickly followed by the Marauders. She said nothing to Hermione other than goodnight and one last “happy birthday” before turning in for the night, offering a genuine smile before closing her curtains.

 

Hermione stretched out in bed, reading a bit of her book before deciding to skim through. She smiled at Severus’ more acerbic commentary, as well as his humored observations, until she came across one of her favorite parts.

 

“Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! — I have as much soul as you — and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you.”

 

The passage was underlined, drops of ink splattered and nearly blotted out the words on the edge of the page. Hermione skimmed the remainder of the chapter, sure to find a snide comment on how Jane should have known what Rochester was hiding. She was positive he would mock the strange romanticism. And yet, there was nothing through the whole proposal, nothing about Jane’s disbelief of Rochester’s strange reaction to her acceptance. In fact, the only note for the rest of the chapter had been at the end.

 

The brat gets her out of bed because a tree was struck by lightning? Teaches her not to lock the door.

Chapter Text

—————H—————

 

October 1, 1975

 

“Mr. Snape, Miss Evans, would you mind staying back?” Slughorn asked with a wide grin, hands behind his back as he gave a little bounce on his feet.

 

“You don’t think?” she heard Sirius mumble to James as they gathered their stuff.

 

She glanced over, seeing James contemplating the question.

 

“No,” he said, shaking his head. Without another word, James and Sirius gathered their things, gestured for Peter and Remus to follow, and headed out the door.

 

Hermione glanced at Severus and was taken aback by the resignation in his eyes.

 

“I’ll meet up with you later,” he said.

 

Hermione nodded, gathered her things, and left just as Lily bounced to join Slughorn and Severus at the front of the room.

 

Despite knowing full well that it was likely they wouldn’t come out soon, she kept glancing over her shoulder for them. She noticed Remus waiting alone at the end of the hall, and she found herself drifting toward him while still checking.

 

“Slug Club,” Remus said with a sad sort of smile. “It’s reasonable to assume. James and Sirius got invited a couple days ago, but you three hurried off to Transfiguration before he had a chance to say anything. Then again, they were moving rather slow. Apparently those two and Peter cast a singing and dancing jinx on a young Hufflepuff and were caught by Professor McGonagall.”

 

“What for?” Hermione demanded. “What did the Hufflepuff do?”

 

Remus shrugged, shamefaced. “Nothing,” he admitted. “They were bored and their, uh, usual target couldn’t be found.”

 

Hermione figured they’d been in the Room of Requirement, and that’s why they hadn’t found them. Though now she wondered why they hadn’t managed to sneak up on Severus while he brewed. Either way, since her birthday, he’d been spending more time in his abandoned classroom than anywhere else. As a result, Hermione found herself, often with Lily, tucked away with him. They Transfigured a table into a somewhat comfortable couch, and a chair into a low coffee table. It wasn’t often that Severus wasn’t at his makeshift station, going over notes and brewing, but when he wasn’t, the three of them could easily sit side by side without too much discomfort.

 

Of course, Hermione much preferred the times without Lily, even if she did feel bad about that. She liked being able to lay her head against Severus’ leg, the both of them on the sofa and discussing whatever tickled their fancy.

 

“You didn’t get invited with them? Or Peter?” she asked.

 

Remus shook his head glumly. “Slughorn only invites those he thinks will go places in life. Don’t, don’t look like that,” Remus begged when Hermione froze abruptly. She could feel how wide her eyes were, her lip trembling. “What he means, mostly, is fame or prestige. Affluence plays a big part, but so does skill.”

 

“And Lily Evans is more skilled than me?” The incredulous statement tumbled out of her mouth before she could stop herself.

 

“Not necessarily,” Remus said cautiously. “But, well, she’s Muggle-born.”

 

“So?” Hermione asked, trepidation pushing aside the anger that had started to brew.

 

“So, as ridiculous it may sound, she’s a bit of a novelty to Slughorn. He has the potential to brag about her later on.”

 

Hermione’s shoulders sagged. Was she really so worthless in this era? Was she really seen as having no potential? It was a petty thought, but Hermione briefly considered that if she revealed she was a Muggle-born, she may be as lauded and praised as Lily.

 

Oh, she couldn’t deny that Lily had talent in Charms and Transfiguration. They were probably up to par in those, as well as Potions. But Lily had no mind for difficult topics. Arithmancy confused her and Runes bored her. While Hermione could concede it was the same for her with Care of Magical Creatures and Divination, they certainly weren’t going to give Lily any life or academic advantage. And what did Lily even want to do? She never spoke of pursuing a particular mastery or career. They’d take their O.W.L.s this year, and yet the only thing she’d ever mentioned was maybe trying to write for Witch Weekly. Yet Slughorn saw her as having more potential.

 

“Hermione,” Remus said, putting his hands on her shoulders. “You’re bloody brilliant. You’re easily the top of our house, if not the year. Not being invited by Slughorn does not take that away from you. And really, do you want to have to endure James and Sirius?”

 

“I suppose not,” she said with a wry grin. “And I suppose I can’t be too jealous of Lily, considering she’ll be their sole focus.”

 

“Exactly,” Remus replied, stepping back slightly. “And maybe, on the nights that they’re there, we could spend time together?”

 

“I’m not sure you could handle my study habits.”

 

“I think I could try,” Remus replied, bashful and … blushing?

 

Hermione’s heart sank as she considered what it could mean if Remus was asking to spend time with her. She didn’t want to hurt him or assume, but she had to wonder if he fancied her a bit.

 

“We get to go to Slug Club!” Lily’s exuberant voice preceded her, and Hermione turned to give her friend a smile and a hug in congratulations.

 

“I have no idea why you’re so thrilled about it,” Severus said with a roll of his eyes. “Uncomfortable dinners with people whom Slughorn collects and boasts about for his own benefit.”

 

Hermione glanced over her shoulder as Remus pointedly cleared his throat, and Hermione shook her head as he gave a satisfied grin.

 

“Still,” she said as she stepped around Lily to Severus, “it’ll be good for you.” She didn’t dare hug him, not now, not over something he wasn’t excited about. Instead, she took his hand and gave it a squeeze.

 

“I have better ways of getting where I need to be,” he replied, and she knew better than to ask. He swiped his thumb over her knuckles twice before he dropped her hand. “Lunch is halfway over and I cannot sit through History of Magic on an empty stomach. We should go.” And like that, the four of them headed to the Great Hall, mention of the Slug Club forgotten.

 

—————S—————

 

October 25, 1975

 

Severus headed for the library, trying his absolute hardest to ignore the slight churn in his stomach and his clammy hands. He had not made extra sure his hair was as clean as possible nor did he purposely wear an untucked white oxford with his casual trousers in an effort to look nice but not too formal. He carried his satchel with a grip far too tight for something holding only two textbooks, a bit of parchment, a quill, and some ink.

 

Occlumency had at least taught him how to control his heart rate, so instead of it pounding in his chest, it remained steady, if slightly elevated.

 

Hogsmeade weekend had been officially announced for next week, and he still had strong memories of this time last year. Memories of being nervous to ask Lily to accompany him, of his elation when she agreed, of his bitter and gut-wrenching disappointment when she didn’t show. He also remembered how he’d raged internally when Hermione stepped in to cover for her, for allowing all the blame, the anger to fall on her when she barely knew him. She hadn’t even realized how she’d helped him; he’d only endured a good-humored ribbing from his housemates. He should have joined her like a proper wizard instead of leaving her alone.

 

Hermione was not Lily, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t going to try to ask her to go with him. He wanted to secure her company, and perhaps gain some insight to her thoughts about their friendship.

 

He couldn’t stop reliving the hugs she’d given him on her birthday. Despite initially feeling jealous because of the expensive gift he thought Black or Lupin had given her, he’d shivered when her fingers grazed his neck. When she’d cleared that misunderstanding, when she’d hugged him tight once more to express just how much she appreciated his present… he’d tried using Occlumency for the first time to suppress his reaction. It only partially worked because he couldn’t help but enjoy the feeling of her in his arms, the way her curls tickled his chin. And the last hug of the day, when he threw caution to the wind and twirled her curls around his fingers, he had found a level of bliss he hadn’t felt since he first started brewing in the abandoned classroom. He was not proud of how often he remembered their physical contact. The hugs she had given him were more affection than Lily had ever shown him. Lily had given him some awkward half-hugs in the last few years, clearly not meant to be reciprocated. She hadn’t held his hand since coming to Hogwarts.

 

Severus was sure that if Hermione said yes, she would not stand him up. She may even hold his hand as they walked through the village, perhaps to pull him along to Tomes and Scrolls or to Scrivenshaft’s.

 

He entered the library, nodded to Madam Pince, and headed for his and Hermione’s usual table.

 

Just as he was rounding the bookcase that blocked it from view, he saw Lupin heading toward Hermione. She was already deep in textbooks and parchment, her hair pulled back in a sensible knot that held one quill (or was the quill holding the hair?). She was clearly not aware of her surroundings, so it didn’t surprise him when Hermione startled terribly at Lupin’s quiet inquiry.

 

“Yes, Remus?” she said, looking up at the Marauder with a small smile, her chest heaving from the effort to control her breathing.

 

“I was wondering,” Lupin began, wringing his hands while squaring his shoulders, “I was wondering if I can escort you to Hogsmeade next weekend?”

 

Hermione physically recoiled with surprise; her eyes wide as she blinked owlishly at him. Severus wanted to flee, to hide and lick his wounds, because of course Hermione would catch the eye of not one, but two Marauders. And why wouldn’t it be the most intelligent of the bunch, the one who actually stood a chance? But it was her still-shocked visage that kept him from moving, wanting to see what she would answer.

 

“Sorry, Remus,” she began, “but I’m going with Severus.”

 

What?

 

She … what?

 

Had she just …?

 

“I assumed as much.” Lupin tried to mimic the smarmy grin Black always wore, only it was a pale imitation. “And Lily, I wager.”

 

Hermione blushed. “I hadn’t considered Lily’s plans,” she mumbled.

 

“But,” Lupin continued, perhaps not hearing her remark, “I thought that maybe you wouldn’t mind leaving the two of them to their own devices for a bit. We don’t have to be together the whole time, and if you want to stay with them the entire time, we could as well. I’m sure James—”

 

“Remus,” Hermione said with gentle exasperation, and Severus found himself using the break in Lupin’s tirade to round the bookcase completely.

 

Both of them looked up at once, both blushed, but Hermione gave him a warm, welcoming smile.

 

His lips twitched upward in response.

 

“Am I interrupting something?” Severus asked, keeping his tone neutral.

 

“I, er ….” Lupin fidgeted, looking at the floor before peeking at Hermione.

 

“She already told you who she’s going with,” Severus replied, a frosty undertone to his politeness. “I understand that those you acquaint yourself with have a difficult time understanding rejection, so perhaps you can show them how to accept it with grace.”

 

Lupin scowled but nodded once before leaving.

 

Oh, Severus knew he was going to pay for that later. Once Black, Potter, and Pettigrew heard about this, he was going to need a semi-permanent shield up to make it through the next week. But it was worth it, so very worth it, to have an upper hand over at least one of those idiots.

 

“So, h-how much of that did you hear, exactly?” Hermione asked with more than one clearing of her throat.

 

Severus pulled his gaze away from where Lupin had disappeared and sat down.

 

“Enough,” he replied, taking out his textbooks.

 

“Right,” Hermione said, chewing on a fingernail. “I suppose I probably just … never mind.”

 

“Just what?”

 

“It’s nothing.”

 

“Hermione.” He stretched out the syllables of her name in warning.

 

She sat ramrod straight. “I probably just ruined any plans you had.” She bit down hard on her bottom lip, and Severus was surprised he didn’t see blood.

 

It was funny how she did that sometimes; when he made his voice a touch deeper, she sat at attention like she did in class. Not so often these days, at least not when it was directed at someone else.

 

“My plans … involved you,” he said, suddenly finding the ink stain on his thumb very interesting.

 

“They did?” she asked. And why did she have to have such a hopeful lilt to her voice? Maybe if Remus hadn’t asked first, he could believe that it was because she truly wanted to go with him.

 

“Indeed,” Severus replied.

 

He peeked at her through the curtain of his hair; Hermione was chewing her lip, her eyes sparkling. “Well, er, I suppose that means you planned on Lily joining us.”

 

“Not … particularly,” he said cautiously, shaking his hair out of his face to get a good look at her.

 

Hermione was just so … happy. And why that scared him …

 

He suddenly remembered Lily’s expression when he asked her to go with him a year ago. She’d been happy, too. Happy for a scapegoat, happy for someone to latch onto if the other girls ditched her.

 

“She does come and go as she pleases.” Hermione nodded, sobering. He frowned, studying how her shoulders straightened and she tensed. “I suppose you wouldn’t expect her to be around, as she usually isn’t.”

 

“True,” he said, frown deepening.

 

“So just you and me, then. Almost like the summer.” She glanced at him, and he relaxed when he caught the joy in her warm brown eyes.

 

“Only we will be surrounded by more dunderheads than we were then,” he deadpanned.

 

And she laughed, warm and wonderful. He wished Pince hadn’t shushed her, because Hermione was downright breathtaking when she abandoned everything to her mirth.

 

 

November 1, 1975

 

 

He’d never felt rage like this before. Rage at the sodding bloody Marauders for how they always escaped trouble, and at himself, for dropping his guard. He’d been right, he’d been targeted by the trio after they heard about his exchange with Lupin, who assured him he didn’t repeat his less-than-kind words. He’d only told them that Hermione had already made plans and who she’d made them with. The pathetic part was that Severus believed him. In fact, one time when Severus had been cornered, Lupin fought alongside him, declaring “That’s enough!” But the laughs that followed the ceasefire weren’t very reassuring.

 

And here he was, laying in the hospital wing with a broken leg from falling down the stairs on his way up from the dungeons to meet Hermione at Gryffindor Tower. Had he not been so bloody eager, he’d have stuck with the plan to meet her in the Entrance Hall. He’d have headed up with his housemates, surrounded by too many students and teachers for them to do anything.

 

He could picture it now: Hermione looking around the Entrance Hall, straining on her tiptoes to search for him. She’d wonder if she missed him, ask Lily if she’d seen him. Lily would say no, perhaps lure her out the doors with a promise to look for him in the village. And Lupin, well, he would notice and probably not ask too many questions about how fortune shone on him.

 

Severus sighed, pounding the hospital bed hard three times before pulling on his hair with both hands. It was greasy from being touched so much, and it only made him hate himself more.

 

“Severus,” Madam Pomfrey chided gently. “There will be other trips to the village.”

 

He didn’t say anything to that because he was not, under any circumstances, about to whine over his lost chance with …

 

“Miss Granger, what are you doing here?” Madam Pomfrey’s greeting made Severus sit up and turn to the door so abruptly that he jarred his leg. He went from wide-eyed wonder at the possibility that she had actually come, to eyes clamped shut and chanting every curse word he’d ever learned in Cokeworth.

 

“That sounds promising,” Hermione said, a touch of worry in her voice.

 

“He broke his leg,” the matron informed her. “He was brought up here by a quartet of young Slytherins who were quite good at levitating charms.”

 

“How did you break your leg?” Hermione asked, and he felt her hand on the thigh of his injured appendage, just above the knee.

 

“Guess,” he gritted out as the pain eased.

 

“I should hex them in their sleep,” Hermione mused thoughtfully. “I know for a fact that the girls can make it up to the boys’ dormitories, it’s only the other way around that it becomes an issue. I could sneak up there and get creative just before dawn.”

 

“I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear any of that,” Madam Pomfrey said as she gently tapped Severus on the shoulder. He looked at her, seeing her holding a familiar flask. He grimaced.

 

“Must it be that?” he asked. “Couldn’t I just have the bone set and the leg put in a splint?”

 

“It’s only one dose, Mr. Snape,” she scolded.

 

He groaned, took the flask and downed the potion. Skele-Gro wasn’t pleasant, but this was much worse. He quickly used his wand to conjure some water in the flask to rinse his mouth.

 

“There. A few hours, and you’ll be all right,” she reassured, patting his shoulder before taking the flask and leaving.

 

The second she was gone, Hermione gently got on the bed next to him.

 

“Why are you here?” he asked as she took his hand in both of hers. Her touch was warm, gentle, reassuring. Did she know she traced the space between his fingers, the movement absentminded?

 

“Do you want me to go?” she asked quietly.

 

“It’s not going to be pretty,” he warned her. “My language skills get worse, and if you were ever curious if I had the Cokeworth accent, you’ll find that it is buried deep inside under all the good breeding my mother tried to inculcate in me when Tobias wasn’t around.”

 

She snorted. “I can only imagine. And as long as you don’t mind me being here, I’ll endure it.” She grinned, and he couldn’t help returning it even as he felt the potion kick in.

 

“Surprised you didn’t just go with Lupin,” he hissed, hand clamping around hers while the other curled into a fist.

 

“Why would I do that?” she asked, her voice quivering a little. “I wanted to spend my day with you.”

 

He growled as the pain increased. “You spend every bloody sodding day with me.”

 

“I always want to spend my day with you,” she said very softly as he screamed at the sharp splintering pain of bones connecting. She took one hand off his and smoothed back his sweaty, disgusting hair. “It’s okay, squeeze my hand if it helps.” This she said louder, meant to be heard.

 

“And have your hand break? Want to suffer with …. Ahhh, fucking cocksucking motherfucker!” He kicked at the bed with his good leg just to make sure he didn’t actually break Hermione’s hand. The vibration went up his bad leg and caused a few more words to spill out that would have lost Slytherin any chance at winning the House Cup if anyone but Madam Pomfrey was within hearing range.

 

Hermione was giggling, and through the pain and the sweat, he took in her smile. He was a foolish, pathetic idiot, but if he wasn’t sure he loved her before, he was now. Her smile, a bloody upturn of her lips that involved nothing more than muscles and a trigger in her brain, had a doping effect on him.

 

“Enjoying yourself?” he huffed out, managing to ignore the pain in his leg for a moment.

 

She giggled again. “Enjoying your pain? No. Your creative terms for the potion inventor, however, are highly amusing.”

 

“I live for your amusement.” He managed to roll his eyes with a sneer, but her laugh warmed him inside and made him giddy. Or maybe that was the potion? Except he’d taken it enough over the years to know that giddy was not a side effect.

 

But then, even her touch and her smile were not enough, and he felt close to vomiting before everything went black.

 

He blinked, trying to will away the dry ache that was always a stupid aftereffect of the potion. His mouth was dry too, as was the inside of his nose. His head ached, whether because it hurt more than his leg or because there was just no pain elsewhere, he wasn’t sure. He was never sure. But he did know that water and a pain relief potion would fix him up and he would be out in no more than an hour. At the same time the students would be returning from Hogsmeade.

 

He sat up, missing the girl who had been with him as he endured the potion’s effects. Or maybe she had never been there and it had all been a wonderful hallucination. No, he was sure she was there before he’d taken the Skele-Gro. He was relieved to find plenty of evidence when he looked around. The wrinkles in the blankets on one side of the bed, the long curly hair on his pillow, his wand sitting neatly on top of a piece of paper with his name scrawled out in her neat hand.

 

Beside it was his water and a pain potion. He drank the latter before taking a sip of water and opening the note.

 

S.,

 

I’m sorry I couldn’t stay. Professor Moody somehow found out we didn’t go to Hogsmeade and while you were certainly in no shape for our lessons, I was. I’ll try to make it back before you’re released, but I have a feeling he wanted to keep me occupied until the students returned from Hogsmeade. You may be up by then. Either way, we can meet in the library, if you’d like. As soon as I’m free, I’ll be there until dinner.

 

Yours,

H.

 

He stared at that note until Madam Pomfrey came to check on him about an hour later, his fingers running over the words, fixed on the one that terrified him. Thrilled him. Gave him hope and made him so cautious all at once.

 

Yours .

 

—————A—————

 

September 10, 1993

 

Neville Longbottom’s boggart was her father. Somehow, it was a justifiable fear to have, though Aurora knew her own reasons were not at all what other people thought. Oh yes, he could be right mean when it came to teaching, but that was nothing compared to what else he had done.

 

Her father had done horrible things, things that would send any wizard to Azkaban. Actually, he’d been to Azkaban, though she’d been too young to remember the two weeks he’d spent there. Aurora now thought of him simultaneously as the scariest and bravest man she’d ever known. She knew Uncle Lu was pretty vicious as well, but somehow knowing he did it because he truly believed in it was less frightening than doing it to keep a cover.

 

She’d walked through the halls the last week in a bit of a fog. It was just too much. Too much in a short amount of time. Draco knew her mother’s truth, she knew her father’s.

 

“Rory,” Ginny said gently, putting a hand on her shoulder and getting her attention. “What’s wrong? You’re starting to remind me of me last year. You aren’t carrying around any cursed stationary, are you?”

 

Aurora laughed, though it was weak and hollow. She stopped poking at her lunch with her fork, turning to her friend.

 

“I’ll be all right,” she said. “It’s just I learned something about … something that I can’t talk about. It was a lot to take in.”

 

“Seems so,” Ginny agreed. She looked sympathetic for another beat before brightening. “So, I heard the twins say they wanted to go up to the Quidditch pitch later and have a bit of a fly. They were getting McGonagall’s permission. ‘Magine Ron and Harry might join, too. Whaddya say?”

 

Playing a mini-game of Quidditch sounded both wonderful and terrible. But Aurora knew if she didn’t focus on something else, she would sink into a hole of despair.

 

“Right. Sounds great,” she said, glancing up at the head table.

 

Her heart went out to her father, and as had happened every time she looked at him after his story, she felt terrible for thinking any of this was about her. Because as reality stood, no one except perhaps three people at the head table and a smattering of Slytherins knew of the Mark on his arm. And only those at the head table knew his true reasons for having it.

 

“Snape.”

 

Her chest clenched when she realized that having Lupin around was making it worse. Or the threat of what was out there with that escaped inmate.

 

“Snape.”

 

He carried his burden for years, and with the whole threat of the possible return of the Dark Lord, and Harry right here, he was only going to become more stressed.

 

“Bloody hell, Aurora, don’t ignore me!”

 

Her head snapped up and noticed Draco standing across the table, glaring at her with his teeth clenched. He checked over his shoulder, before meeting her eyes.

 

“Yes?”

 

“Your father’s classroom.”

 

“What of it?”

 

“Be there.”

 

“When?”

 

“Five minutes.”

 

“All right.” She nodded once, watching him leave the Great Hall.

 

“You aren’t really going to meet with the smarmy git, are you?” Ron asked, leaning across the table a bit.

 

“What’s it to you if I do?” she snapped.

 

“He’s a Slytherin,” Ron noted.

 

“And you’re a Gryffindor.”

 

“Yeah, but Gryffindors and Slytherins … we’re enemies. House rivals.”

 

“My mother was a Gryffindor,” she told him.

 

This made Ron fall silent, his mouth working as he frowned.

 

“Was she really?” Neville asked, eyes wide.

 

For a moment, her eyes darted to Hermione Granger, too absorbed in her Runes textbook to have heard what was going on. As she stood, Aurora looked at Neville.

 

“She was the brightest witch of her age, more than any Ravenclaw. But she earned her red and gold tie by facing … the scariest thing I think could happen to anyone, and that was after getting involved with things that no student in their right mind ever should.”

 

“Like fighting basilisks and following crazed teachers through puzzles?” Harry grinned cheekily.

 

Aurora smirked. “Something like that.”

 

With that, she turned and headed out to meet up with Draco. She knew better than to go to the Potions classroom. It wasn’t at all what Draco had meant, and anyone who was nosy enough (like a scarred boy with glasses and his freckled sidekick) wouldn’t know where to go to eavesdrop.

 

Instead, Aurora made her way to the hospital wing, taking a rarely-used staircase she’d known about since she was three.

 

The wards from nearly twenty years ago had vanished. When Aurora approached the door, it was like any other abandoned classroom in the castle. Except, of course, for the inside.

 

There were dings in the walls and in some spots, there were even bits of exploded cauldron. Any blood that was spilled would have long been cleaned up, but there were still stains from various ingredients on a few surfaces. In the corner was a sofa, greyed with age, and a low coffee table that had once been scattered with papers. Abandoned bottles and jars with long-expired potions ingredients sat on the back tables, hidden from view, but she knew Draco was looking at them now.

 

As she got closer, she could see the faded ink of her parents’ initials. There was no heart around them, like most teenagers drew to declare their love, but a beautiful filigree scroll beneath the SS & HG. He had written his initials and the scroll beneath, she her own initials and the ampersand.

 

Draco was tracing the lines of the ampersand and scroll in a repetitive motion, his face unreadable. Aurora waited, waiting for him to start the conversation.

 

“I’ve looked at your mother’s writing multiple times throughout my life,” he started, no arrogance, no haughty tone. His words were not clipped or spat but spoken in a way that made Aurora wary and hopeful. “On my birthday cards, her papers in her office, letters to my mother. I always thought it quite lovely, especially compared to your father’s.” He lifted his eyes from the markings. “My father said she came from an old pure-blood family, one that most thought had died off or left Britain entirely. I never knew the name, never thought to ask. Aunt H. was a Snape and that was that. But after the hospital wing, I thought I’d do a bit of research. Funny thing about the Hogwarts library: it has yearbooks dating back to the 1800s. Had Potter ever bothered to use his brain, he could have found pictures of his parents. It may have confused him to see Granger among them.”

 

Aurora took a few steady breaths, fighting for her mouth to open so she could speak.

 

“Hermione Granger. HG,” Draco continued, now running his finger over the letters. “I remember being two, trying to call her Aunt Mione because Hermione was just too long. ‘H.’, Uncle Severus said. ‘Call her Aunt H. It’s easier.’ Though now I wonder who it was easier for.”

 

“Draco,” she said, but nothing else came out.

 

“How? Oddly enough, that’s my biggest question right now: how. Because once I saw her horridly bushy hair in the 1974 yearbook, I couldn’t stop comparing the two of you. And now that I see it, I think all of the Gryffindors are idiots for looking at you both every day and not seeing it.”

 

“You grew up with her around you all the time and you never put the two together,” Aurora pointed out, crossing her arms and jutting out her hip.

 

“An older version of her.” He grinned boyishly. “And really, you aren’t even going to try to deny it? Maybe Granger had an aunt who was a witch, maybe she was actually a half-blood all this time. Daughter of a Squib who was tossed aside and given to the Muggles.”

 

Aurora huffed. “You already said you figured it out.”

 

“I said I didn’t know the how, you could have made up a bunch of excuses or reasons why my assumptions were off the mark.”

 

“So, what are you going to do now?” she asked him softly, her anger morphing into something defensive. “You must know you can’t stop her from going back. So, are you going to tell your father? I’m sure he would have some choice words about it. And you can be sure if Uncle Lu does anything to my mum, Dad won’t hesitate to retaliate.”

 

Draco sobered. “I don’t know what I’m going to do about it. I mean … it’s Granger, a Mud—a Muggle-born.”

 

“And she’s your aunt, whom you love.”

 

“Not blood,” Draco noted.

 

“True, but you don’t know either of your blood aunts, do you? One’s rotting in prison, the other was disowned for marrying a Muggle-born. Are you ready to lose your uncle, even if not by blood, for the same reasons? Are you ready to toss aside your relationship with him, me, and Leo?”

 

Draco flinched, turning away. “I said I don’t know what I’m going to do about it,” he said more forcefully, whipping his head back around to look at her. “You’ve no idea what could be at stake. No idea what might happen if—”

 

“If the Dark Lord returns?” She shut him up, raising her own voice to speak over him. “You think I don’t know what they did to people like my mother when the Dark Lord was gaining power? I probably know a hell of a lot more than you do. I know the meaning of that bloody Dark Mark, I know the things they did, the blood they spilled. You think you know, but you don’t ! Innocent people, Draco! Killed or maimed or worse because they didn’t come from a family of inbreds! Because Merlin, or God, or whatever higher power or trick of evolution, granted them the abilities to tap into magic and use it. Do you know how much my mother has suffered because of your father’s stupid beliefs? How much pain and suffering she has endured?”

 

“She’s been passing off as a pureblood,” Draco argued.

 

“And so, she wasn’t affected? Her friends, Draco. Her family. The first people who accepted her in the era she wound up in! She may have remained physically untouched, but you have no idea what she’s been through.”

 

As Aurora caught her breath after her tirade, Draco frowned thoughtfully. She could see him processing.

 

“Rory,” he said, and the nickname caught her by surprise. He turned and there was something considerate and apologetic in his eyes. But before he could say anything, the door to the classroom opened.

 

Startled, they both whipped around to look at Professor Lupin.

 

“Am I interrupting?” he asked with a kind smile, hands behind his back as he made his way to them. “I’m sorry, I just sm—sensed someone down this way, so I thought I’d check.”

 

“Everything is fine, Professor,” Draco replied with a stiff but polite grin. “My arm was bothering me, so I thought I would see Madam Pomfrey for a pain potion. I happened to see Rory on my way and thought she looked distressed. I only pulled her in here to make sure she was okay.”

 

Professor Lupin smiled, though Aurora knew he wasn’t fooled.

 

“All right, Mr. Malfoy. Best go see the matron then, before the pain gets worse. I can speak to Aurora.”

 

Draco nodded to Professor Lupin, then caught Aurora’s eye for a moment. He was stoic but there was weight to his gaze, and she felt at peace. For now, all was well. She didn’t need to worry just yet. She watched as he walked out of the room, noting the swagger and the bent head. She wished she could read minds like her father, just to have an idea what was going through his.

 

“Professor,” she said, ready to explain. She stopped short as she saw Professor Lupin looking wistfully at the table where her parents’ initials lay. His hand reached out and his fingers caressed her mother’s initials.

 

“What were you doing with Mr. Malfoy?”

 

“Talking. Just talking.”

 

He nodded.

 

“Professor …” She twisted her fingers.

 

He smiled sadly.

 

“It’s quite strange to see you and Harry,” he commented as he leaned against the table. “Out of all of us, back then, there are only … you two. Well, I suppose Neville counts, because his parents were fellow Gryffindors. But out of the seven of us in that year, connected in one way or another, there’s only you and Harry in the next generation.”

 

“You count my mother as your generation?” she snorted.

 

Lupin chuckled. “Well, she was until last Thursday. She was … your mother was just …” He shook his head, eyes taking on a far-off look before they darted back to her. “I wasn’t as close to your father in the early years, and in the later years I was….”

 

“Jealous?” Aurora offered, glancing swiftly at the SS & HG on the table.

 

“I may have been, yes,” he conceded with something like grace. “But regardless of what happened, I want you to know that if there’s something you would like to talk about, anything at all, my door is open. I’m here for you, in case you want to talk to someone other than your parents.”

 

“Like my godmother, who’s also my Head of House?”

 

Professor Lupin laughed.

 

“I forgot about that.” He put a hand on her shoulder, giving it a squeeze. “I simply feel a need to look after you and Harry, more than I should because of my relationship with your parents.”

 

“I’m quite capable of taking care of myself.”

 

He gave her shoulder another squeeze. “Yes, I believe you are,” he replied a touch proudly.

 

“What is this?”

 

Aurora turned to the doorway where her father loomed, eyes darting between them, to the hand resting on her shoulder. He judged the space between them, which was acceptable but a bit closer than a student would be to a teacher.

 

He entered the room in that slow dangerous stride she’d seen in the classroom just before he informed someone they were making either poison or a bomb.

 

“I was informed by a student that my daughter was meeting a questionable party in my classroom. Wards are set for when I am not there, so I knew that she had not, in fact, gone to the dungeons. Few people know of my other classroom.”

 

“Dad,” Aurora tried to interject.

 

“Remove. Your appendage. From my daughter,” he ground out, ignoring her altogether.

 

“Severus,” Professor Lupin hurried to say, immediately removing his hand, raising both in a sign of surrender. “I swear, whatever you think …”

 

“What I think is that if you believe for one minute—”

 

“Dad!”

 

Aurora saw his wand sliding from the holster in his sleeve into his palm and panicked.

 

Without thinking, she produced her own wand much more quickly. “ Expelliarmus !” she shouted, and she watched the red beam shoot at her father’s wand. Before he could register what happened, his black ash wand was landing in the hand opposite her grey beechwood.

 

She’d never seen eyes so cold turned on her. “Aurora Eileen Snape,” he gritted out.

 

“I was here to meet Draco!” she shouted before he could say anything else. “Draco wanted to talk! He … figured things out.” Her father’s coolness changed to confusion and she lost most of her bluster. “Honestly, if Professor Dumbledore or anyone else in the know really wanted mum kept a secret, he should have removed the yearbooks from the library.”

 

“They were here when I came in, Severus,” Lupin insisted.

 

“And how exactly did you find them?”

 

“I may have picked up on something coming up to see Poppy about getting medicinal chocolate to keep in the classroom,” he replied, tapping his nose.

 

Her dad rolled his eyes before turning to her again. He extended his hand, looking down his nose at her.

 

Aurora shuffled forward, handing him back his wand.

 

“Magic on a teacher, Miss Snape, is an automatic minimum of a week’s detention,” he said. “You will start the week this evening, seven o’clock. I will inform your Head of House and let her decide who will supervise.”

 

“Yes, sir,” she said, eyes cast down to the tips of his dragonhide boots.

 

“Go,” he said, and she didn’t argue.

 

—————S—————

 

“Severus,” Remus said as the door shut behind Aurora.

 

“I have never been more simultaneously proud and pissed off at one of my children,” Severus said thoughtfully. “On one hand, she is showing the brashness her house is known for. On the other, one cannot disregard that she executed that perfectly.”

 

Remus laughed and Severus allowed a slight upturn of the lips before he sobered and looked at his oldest … friend? Enemy? He’d never been sure with Lupin.

 

“Chocolate for the classroom? I believe that almost as much as I think Minerva will be strict in her punishment.”

 

Remus floundered for a moment before his shoulders sagged. “I saw her coming this way,” he admitted. “And when I lost sight of her, I followed her scent. Children can be funny like that, bearing signatures of both parents as well as something uniquely their own.”

 

“I dislike that you know my daughter’s scent more than I can say. Bear in mind, Lupin, she is not yet thirteen, and she is not Hermione.”

 

“I’m aware,” Remus swore. “Believe me, Severus, I’m in no way tying my feelings for Hermione to Aurora. But as I was saying to her, I feel an instinctual need to protect her as much as I do Harry. That part of me that longs for a pack acknowledges them as cubs that belonged to the pack I once had.”

 

Severus stared at him for a long time, wanting to find more fault he could shovel onto the werewolf’s shoulders. But like many things in life, Remus could not be blamed for his instincts.

 

“Keep your paws off my daughter,” he warned again, this time more calmly.

 

He turned, feeling his robes billow around him as he did (he bloody loved that feeling), and promptly left his old haunt.

 

He was halfway down the hall when he remembered why Aurora had been there in the first place. They were standing by the table, so when she had mentioned the things about the yearbooks…

 

“Shit,” he hissed to himself. He had to find Draco, and he had to do it soon.

Chapter Text

—————H—————

 

November 24, 1975

 

“What exactly do you and Sev learn from Professor Moody?” Lily asked over breakfast, and Hermione didn’t know what to say. Lily never asked her, preferring to ask Severus, and he always answered in his Slytherin way.

 

“I shouldn’t say,” she managed, though she knew it wasn’t going to satisfy her friend’s curiosity.

 

“Does it have to do with Auror training? I mean, I know Sev doesn’t want to do that, but—”

 

“Oh, Merlin, can you imagine Snivellus as an Auror?” Sirius blurted from where he sat on Remus’ other side. The werewolf blushed, giving Hermione a sheepish and regretful smile.

 

“I can’t imagine Snivellus contributing to society in any worthwhile manner,” James replied, snorting unattractively. “It’s more likely he’ll be one of those Death Eaters until the good guys off him.”

 

“That’s a terrible thing to say, James,” Remus admonished. “Severus is quite intelligent. I think he might actually do some impressive things.”

 

James’ gaze shifted briefly to Hermione, lingered a bit on Lily, then asked, “Like what?”

 

“I know for a fact that Severus’ ambitions don’t include the Death Eaters,” Lily said haughtily.

 

“Right, because the Death Eaters don’t hold day jobs or anything,” Sirius countered. “Snivellus is Dark. He knows Dark Magic; he’s in a Dark house. He’s practically a Death Eater already.”

 

“And you lot are made of pure light,” Hermione snipped, pushing the remainder of her food around her plate.

 

“And mischief.” Sirius smirked. “You can find out just how much, Kitten. All you have to do is dare to take a walk on the wild side.”

 

“Padfoot,” Remus grumbled, exasperated.

 

“Oh, lighten up, Moony,” Sirius said, giving Remus a firm smack on the back. “Kitten knows we tease. Well, her anyway. I’m quite serious about Snivellus.”

 

“And I’m quite done with this conversation,” Hermione said, shifting off the bench and grabbing her bag.

 

“Me, too,” Lily said, doing the same and giving Hermione a nod that she probably thought was some sign of solidarity for their friend. Hermione paused as Remus stood, shouldering his bag.

 

“Moony?” Sirius asked, a smile on his face, though it had lost its weight.

 

“I’m also done,” Remus countered, “but do continue.”

 

“It was just a bit of fun, Remus,” Peter said, looking more hurt than James or Sirius.

 

“Is it?” Remus asked. “Because I’m not finding it terribly amusing.” And then he nodded to the girls, gesturing for them to go ahead.

 

Lily and Hermione looked at one another, and then headed for the entrance. What in the blazes was happening? Severus had mentioned that Remus had come to his aid from time to time, even standing by him in a couple of small skirmishes in the corridors when she and Lily weren’t around. She was certain, but … she supposed she didn’t know the entire story behind what happened to them, except Peter’s eventual betrayal. She frowned, trying to remember what happened in her third year. Professor Snape and Professor Lupin were amicable. Harry was sure the former was trying to poison the latter at one point, but Lupin had found the idea amusing. And Professor Snape did substitute nearly every full moon.

 

But the Shrieking Shack memories were the most telling, even though they were the foggiest. Professor Snape was livid until the truth came out. And Remus had whispered something to him that she didn’t think either Harry or Ron heard either. And whatever it was that Remus had said, it had eased the tension. From that point on, they’d worked well together until the moon came out.

 

“You are very deep in thought today,” Severus observed, and Hermione startled, looking up at him and then their surroundings. They weren’t in the Great Hall anymore, but a quarter way to the Defense classroom.

 

“I suppose I am,” she replied, shaking her head, trying to clear the thoughts racing in her head.

 

“Lupin,” Severus said with a cordial nod and a suspicious eye. “Breaking off from the pack, are we?”

 

Hermione saw him stiffen, and she cringed at just how accurate Severus’ words were. He didn’t suspect already, did he?

 

“Yes,” Remus replied. “I wasn’t … thrilled with the breakfast conversation this morning. Or many of the mornings lately, actually.”

 

“You should come hang out with us!” Lily piped up enthusiastically, clutching his arm. “I’m sure Hermione would love it.”

 

“Would she?” Severus ground out.

 

“Well, she is kind of a third wheel with us,” Lily said, and Hermione blushed. Yes, third wheel. Right. Because she really needed that reminder.

 

There was another Hogsmeade weekend coming up, and Severus hadn’t mentioned going with her again. She wondered idly if perhaps she’d misunderstood the closeness they had developed for something more. He didn’t push her off or say she was too close in the hospital wing after his accident, and he didn’t seem to mind her holding his hand. Or stroking his hair. But he hadn’t said anything afterward, when he met her in the library. Or at all. She certainly hadn’t gotten a hug since September. Maybe he truly meant to spend time with her in Hogsmeade as they had during the summer: as friends.

 

“Nothing I’m not used to,” Hermione said, offering a self-deprecating smile at Severus’ frown.

 

“Well, I’ve often felt like a third wheel with James and Sirius, even a fourth. As long as no one minds, I’ll feel right at home with you three.”

 

“Thrilling,” Severus said, shifting his bag as they headed for the staircase.

 

They were quiet as they headed to Defense class. As some of the first students to arrive, Hermione and Severus both gave Moody a nod as they took their seats, which the professor returned. They had managed only two more Occlumency lessons since Halloween, and while Hermione didn’t feel she was making much progress, Severus was excelling. The nod, while a sign of a deeper level of intimacy than Moody had with most students, was also a show of respect from the Auror.

 

Remus sat in the row behind them, where the rest of the Marauders would join him when they made their way to class, but he sat behind Hermione instead of putting the usual three seats between them. Hermione gave him a quick grin before taking out her books. As she did, she noted Lily beaming at her, grinning broadly and twitching her eyebrows from Severus’ other side. Hermione’s nostrils flared as she quirked an eyebrow, not nearly as elegant or expressive as Severus, but Lily still laughed as though she’d just heard the most hysterical joke.

 

People began filing in and Moody watched them all with a critical eye. When the Marauders came in, laughing and goofing off, those sharp eyes narrowed and followed them.

 

With everyone settled, he took in everyone in the room. “Why are the Dark Arts considered Dark?” Moody asked gruffly.

 

“Because they’re used by slimy gits,” James replied. Sirius and Peter chuckled as he grinned smugly.

 

Moody snorted, but did not smile, and said nothing.

 

“The Dark Arts were named because of their nature,” Severus said.

 

Moody’s gaze shifted to him, losing their cold gleam. “Why are they Dark in nature?”

 

“Because they are meant to cause harm.”

 

“They are meant to cause harm,” Moody repeated, looking around the class. “Many wizards hear Dark Arts and think the most gruesome. Blood sacrifices, the Unforgivables. Why?”

 

Hermione chanced a peek at Severus, but he wasn’t saying anything. No one was. She raised her hand.

 

“Granger.”

 

“The narrow-minded are unable to take the term out of the box they have put it into.”

 

“And what’s the box?”

 

“Evil. But there’s a difference between a Dark wizard and a wizard who uses Dark Magic.”

 

“No there isn’t,” James butted in. The whole class shifted its attention to him. “A wizard who uses Dark Magic is Dark by definition.”

 

“Think so, Potter?” Moody asked. He looked around the room. “Who here has used a jinx? Come on, don’t be shy. Forget I’m your bloody teacher for a moment. Who’s used a jinx? Stinger? Jelly-Leg?”

 

Hermione raised her hand first; Severus gave her a side-eye glance and a slight grin before he did the same. Nearly everyone around the room raised their hands, the Marauders doing so only after the majority of the class had.

 

“Then by your definition, Potter, this whole room’s full of Dark witches and wizards, yourself included,” Moody said.

 

“No.” James shook his head. “No, jinxes are stupid. Child’s stuff.”

 

“Jinxes are, by definition, Dark Magic,” Hermione retorted, turning in her seat to face the pompous arse. “There are three kinds of Dark Magic, ranging in severity. The Unforgivables are, of course, the worst, and carry an automatic life sentence in Azkaban for non-wartime use. Hexes, considered mild to severe Dark Magic, are intended to cause a major inconvenience to their target or victim. And jinxes, considered mild Dark Magic, cause minor inconvenience to the person they are cast on.” She knew her voice had taken on that haughty, know-it-all tone that annoyed most people, but she couldn’t stop. The confusion on Sirius’ face, the uncertainty on Peter’s, and James’ ashen expression was worth slipping into it. “The Dark Arts do not equate evil. It is not the spell, but the intent behind it. A severing charm was created to help a seamstress cut fabric, but it can easily be used to remove an appendage. It’s Dark Magic, but only because of what it can do should the user intend it for such an outcome.”

 

“Well said, Granger,” Moody said. “By Potter’s definition, the whole Aurory is corrupt. Your assignment and homework: twelve inches on intent in Dark Magic and how it affects the outcome. Get started.”

 

James hadn’t moved, Sirius was trying to get his attention, and Peter moved slowly but thoughtfully.

 

“Do you memorize textbooks, or do you just always manage to sound like one?” Severus asked under his breath.

 

Heat suffused Hermione’s cheeks. “Bit of both, I think.”

 

Severus snorted but said nothing more as he started on his essay.

 

The rest of the class passed without anyone saying much of anything.

 

Remus, at the end, hung back to speak to the rest of the Marauders as James still looked like he was in a stupor.

 

“You know what I realized?” Lily said as they were leaving the classroom. “This upcoming Hogsmeade weekend is the last before Christmas.”

 

“Yes,” Severus said. “What of it?”

 

“Well,” Lily said with a coy smile, flipping her hair. “Not only is it the last chance to shop for presents without doing it through owl order, but the last opportunity to find a dress for the Yule Ball. I, being a prefect, was in the know of its pending approach. I’ll have a few duties that night, of course. I’ll have to do rounds, but other than that, I’ll get to enjoy the dance. Do you think you’ll go this year, Sev?”

 

“Maybe,” he said, keeping his gaze straight ahead.

 

“All right,” Lily said, a light blush covering her cheeks. “I should head to Care of Magical Creatures. See you at lunch?”

 

“We’ll be there,” Severus said with a nod, gaze not diverting in the least.

 

Lily glanced at him, then at Hermione, who could only shrug. The girls waved, and Lily left with them.

 

Hermione shifted her grip on her book bag, wanting to say something. Ask what was bothering him. Apologize if she’d somehow upset him. Maybe crack a poorly executed joke.

 

“Are you planning on going to the Yule Ball this year?” Severus asked as they turned the corner to head to Runes, pausing to wait for a staircase to shift in their favor.

 

“I, er, haven’t really thought about it. Maybe. I dunno, I didn’t really enjoy myself last year, but, er, I could, maybe.” She wanted to hit herself for stuttering. Taking a breath, she squared her shoulders, turned to Severus, and said, “I might enjoy myself if I went with someone.” It was as far as her courage would take her, her heart pounding as she watched his expressionless mask shift ever so slightly.

 

“Perhaps we could go together?”

 

Hermione’s knees nearly gave out. She was dizzy with giddiness and relief. “W-we could, yes.” Her voice cracked and pitched, and her blush deepened.

 

“Would you want to?” Severus asked conversationally, turning to face her for the first time since before class started.

 

With her hair in a sensible bun, there was nowhere to hide her face. His magnetic gaze drew her in and kept her focused even though she wanted to crawl into her robes and hide. “Yes,” she said. “I would like that. Very much.”

 

“Indeed,” Severus said, studying her face. After a moment, he nodded. “Then maybe when we go to Hogsmeade next week, we should each take an hour or so to buy some dress robes. We could meet at the Three Broomsticks afterwards, and maybe spend some time in Tomes and Scrolls.”

 

“That sounds wonderful,” Hermione replied as she clutched the banister with a white-knuckled grip, her lips involuntarily turning upward despite her desperate attempt at emulating Severus’ cool calm.

 

“It does.”

 

“Severus, Hermione,” Remus called. “Wait up!”

 

Severus shifted closer as he turned to see Remus coming toward them. So close, in fact, that Hermione could feel a wonderful electric aura dancing on her skin from his proximity. As the three of them went to Runes, Severus remained close, a buffer between her and Remus, and she couldn’t have been happier.

 

—————S—————

 

Fuck, fuck, holy bloody shit, fucking, buggering fuck! She agreed! She bloody actually agreed!

 

Occlumency was by far Severus’ new favorite skill, for while he was calmly walking beside the intelligent, wonderful, beautiful, perfect Hermione, inside, he was dancing. He was screaming. He was downright elated and laughing, and unsure how he managed to get so lucky. The tides would turn, he was sure. There was no way a day in which James Sodding Potter sunk himself into the very category he’d been trying to place Severus in from the moment the Sorting Hat announced him a Slytherin, and Hermione Granger agreed to be his date for not just Hogsmeade, but the Yule Ball as well, without something going wrong.

 

But until then, he was going to ride the high.

 

 

September 17, 1993

 

 

It took Severus entirely too long to corner Draco. The little bastard had avoided him and done his absolute best to not stick a toe out of line around him so he wouldn’t assign him detention. But he’d messed up when he’d hexed Mr. Crabbe in front of Professor McGonagall. He got a week’s detention for making his crony’s toenails grow through his shoes and locking his tongue so he couldn’t complain. Severus had hoped since Minerva was supervising his daughter’s detention, that perhaps she would pass Draco off to him. Sadly, Hagrid was forced to take him.

 

“Mr. Malfoy,” he said at the end of potions for the day. He flashed a glare at Potter and Weasley, who looked a bit too gleeful at the prospect of Draco in trouble. Granger gave them a shove as he ordered, “Stay.”

 

Draco sighed, resigned, darting looks at the trio as they left, but didn’t sneer in disdain like he normally did.

 

When the last of the nosy stragglers left, Severus flicked his hand towards the door, wordlessly slamming it shut, putting up wards and silencing charms. He shifted around his desk, keeping his eyes on his godson. Draco didn’t move even as Severus gathered his robes and crossed his arms, trying to appear as imposing as possible. But maybe that wasn’t the way to go about it, maybe he needed to not be the professor, but the uncle. Not his uncle the Death Eater, just the man who swore he’d be Draco’s guardian should anything happen to his parents.

 

“I have been informed,” he said smoothly, watching for any shift in his stoic nephew, “that you know a certain truth about my family.”

 

“I may.”

 

“You’ve been avoiding me, purposely, for a week. Aurora told me you know; I believe we need to discuss it.”

 

“Right,” Draco said, then after a few seconds, he shifted forward in his seat and met Severus’ gaze with sheer befuddlement. “How could you marry Granger?”

 

Severus arched a brow. “I believe you’re referring to the one who just left the room?”

 

“They’re the same person, aren’t they?”

 

“Yes and no,” Severus conceded, shifting his arms so he could unclasp his robes. He dropped them on the desk behind him, then sat on his desk so he could stretch out his legs and cross them. “Bear in mind, Draco, that the Hermione Granger you know as a student, I did not know until you did. Not really. My Hermione was just as much of a know-it-all and could be just as insufferable. But what sent her back in time caused her to … re-evaluate, as it were. When I first knew her, she was much less eager to not draw attention to herself. Of course, she couldn’t do so completely, she was always a Gryffindor. But she was … tamer.”

 

“Okay, fine. I suppose that makes sense, and it’s not like you really knew what a pain in the arse she would be. But she married you . She knew who you were, I’m sure. Not any other wizards with the last name Snape. You’ve never been nice to her, and yet …”

 

“I cannot be nice to Hermione Granger, Harry Potter’s friend. My position is delicate, I cannot be seen showing kindness to any Muggle-born, especially her.”

 

“What position?” Draco yelled. “What is going on? Father has always said you were one of the most loyal, trusted follows of the Dark Lord, and I find out you married a Mu—Muggle-born who just happened to be friends with sodding Potter.”

 

Severus studied the boy and saw, for perhaps the first time, the beginnings of the man he would become. Like so many male teens, he was angry and confused, unsure if he should follow in his father’s footsteps or chart his own.

 

Severus had wondered, often, how many young Slytherins he had saved from following in their father’s, and sometimes mother’s, footsteps by blindly believing the nonsense about blood supremacy. Not long ago, with Nymphadora Tonks, it had been easy to subtly point out how the Hufflepuff was magically superior to her peers, despite being a half-blood. Clumsy she may be, but she was talented beyond her Metamorphmagus abilities. He knew there was some family brainwashing that was impossible to undo, but he wondered how many graduated from Hogwarts with a different way of thinking.

 

Draco was showing signs of change. Muggle-born? Yes, the word was clearly new on the boy’s tongue, but it was the word he chose . It was said without disdain, without condescension. Perhaps it was time to enlighten the boy, though maybe not to the degree he had done with Aurora.

 

“I didn’t know then who your Aunt H. would be friends with. Ironically, she tolerated Potter’s father at best, and loathed him the majority of the time. I did, however, know she was a Muggle-born from nearly the beginning. As was our dearest mutual friend. Professor Lupin and I were not as amicable as he and Aunt H. were, but he and I share a similar blood status, and it never phased me. I was, before she came into my life, admittedly curious about the Dark Lord and what he had to offer. The other boys in my year wanted to keep their heads down and get out, but they had the blood status and the wealth to do so. Some of the older students: your father, Crabbe, Goyle, the Lestranges, among others, spoke of respect and power that could be gained in his inner circle, should you earn a spot. Powerless and nearly friendless, it was … enticing.”

 

“And Aunt H. changed that? What, she spouted off about righteousness and justice?”

 

“No,” Severus replied with a bit more acid than he intended. “She never once said anything of the sort. As pathetic as it is, she showed me kindness, understanding. I did not have to give up Lily for her, nor did she demand I shove aside my interest in certain types of magic because she feared corruption.”

 

“That sounds disgustingly warm and fuzzy,” Draco said with a curled lip.

 

“Yes. But regardless, meeting Hermione, having her take me in, accept me, opened different doors and avenues to me. I quite imagine that, had I not had the advantages she gave me, I would’ve done anything the Dark Lord asked me to, simply to have my apprenticeship. To feel even a modicum of power.”

 

Draco glanced at his left arm. “You still gave yourself to him.”

 

And Severus couldn’t help but smile, even if it did feel more like a sneer. “That’s precisely what I want everyone to think,” he said, watching Draco’s confusion grow. “You have not earned the right to the story, and if I had even an inkling that you might run to your father and repeat everything you heard, I wouldn’t have told you as much as I have. So, I will give you this: the war against the Dark Lord was not easily won, but it was. Why do you think that is?”

 

“Because Potter somehow took him out.”

 

“That’s how he was stopped , but not how his followers were sent to prison or forced to bribe their way out. What would it take to ensure the inner circle, and those who fanatically believed but did not bear the Mark, would not continue doing harm?”

 

Draco sat thoughtfully for a moment, and Severus nearly laughed when the puzzle pieces fell into place and Draco’s eyes nearly popped out of his head. “But you were sent to Azkaban!”

 

Severus’s sneer turned into a true smile. “I was. So, how could I have possibly been able to relay any information? How could any of the arrests be blamed on me if I was in solitary confinement for two weeks, awaiting trial? I certainly couldn’t have known what they were doing.”

 

Draco had always looked up to him, he knew. He was a different type of father than Lucius, using Tobias as a model of what not to be, and doing all he could to never act like him. While Lucius was cold and distant, Severus wasn’t to his own children or his godson. As he watched his godson, Draco’s admiration morphed and grew. His grey eyes widened and a new-found respect was forming in those orbs. He had grown up just a little bit during this conversation.

 

“Now that you have information you undoubtedly felt missing from your recent discoveries, it’s up to you what you wish to do with it. I am not asking you to go out and hug all Muggle-borns and declare yourself their protector. All I ask is that you examine for yourself your options. There may be a day when the Dark Lord is resurrected. When that happens, you can either stand with those who blindly follow for a misguided and ancient notion or …”

 

“I’ve much to think about, Uncle Severus,” Draco said as he stood, shouldering his bag with his head held high. “If you speak to my aunt, please give her my love. Sincerely.”

 

“And in the meantime?”

 

Draco merely smiled, smugly of course, but said nothing. Severus was sure he caught a chuckle as he opened the door and left the classroom.

 

He stared at the door for a moment, wondering what gave the boy so much hope. The stomach-churning realization made him groan.

 

“I’d hoped he’d have better taste than that,” he grumbled to himself as he grabbed his robes before tea with Minerva.

 

 

December 6, 1975

 

 

“Delia?” Hermione was taken aback by her foster mother’s presence in the dress and robe shop. Hermione had parted ways with Severus not long ago so he could head to the other side of Hogsmeade to find his own dress robes. Lily, flanked by Marlene and Alice, as usual, joined her, excited to choose a new dress for herself. She’d given Delia a wave but was quickly pulled by Marlene to a rack of gowns and robes far too formal for a Hogwarts event.

 

Delia darted her gaze to Lily before she came up to Hermione with a bashful, guilty look. “When I got your letter, I may have been a bit … excited. My emotions get the best of me these days, it seems.”

 

Hermione smiled fondly at the little lump. “For very good reasons,” she said, hand hovering over her stomach.

 

Delia gave a fond, exasperated snort and snatched Hermione’s hand. She placed it on her belly just when the baby gave a firm kick. “So anyway, given the what and the who,” she said, eyebrows twitching as her tone got giddy, “I wanted to help you choose a dress. Though I suppose I should’ve thought about your girlfriends.”

 

“I would love your input, honestly,” Hermione said, feeling a weight lift from her shoulders as she glanced at where the girls were plucking gowns with plunging backs and giggling. “You know me better than they do. You did, after all, manage to send me the perfect gown last year. And you can’t tell me it was the only one Keira had; I’ve seen her closet.”

 

Delia gave a musical laugh and had the decency to blush. “Well, then I’m happy to help my sorta daughter.” She turned, taking the hand Hermione had resting on her belly and placing it in the crook of her arm. “What color were you thinking? Red seems a bit much, even if it is your house color. You’d look best in green or blue.”

 

It was Hermione’s turn to blush. “I was thinking green,” she said, just loud enough for Delia to hear.

 

Delia hummed a happy approval, bringing Hermione to a rack near the back of the store. The two had barely been there a minute when Delia let out a soft gasp and pulled out a dress. “Whaddya think of this one?”

 

“Oh, that’s gorgeous,” Marlene said, and Hermione looked over her shoulder to see the other girls staring and nodding in approval. “It would go wonderfully with your hair, and the gold will bring out the gold in your eyes.”

 

“It’s festive,” Alice noted with a shrug.

 

“It is,” Lily agreed. “And it’s dark enough that no one will think it’s a house color.”

 

“Well that didn’t take long,” Hermione chuckled. “I expected to really hunt one down.”

 

Delia brought it over to the saleswitch, who then ushered Hermione into a changing room to alter the gown.

 

The bodice was snug and felt like satin. It had a similar sweetheart neckline to the dress of the previous year, but this one was off-the-shoulder. Just below the waist, the material shifted: the skirt fluttered in silk layers, gold peeking out from beneath the green more clearly when she twisted and turned. It needed very little altering, and the dress was arranged to be delivered to Hogwarts by the following weekend.

 

“Come with us to the salon!” Marlene said after Hermione finished paying a hefty sum of Galleons. “We won’t be much longer here.”

 

“Oh, I can’t,” Hermione replied.

 

“Severus can wait,” Lily insisted, “and I’ll go meet him with you.”

 

Was that how he ended up alone a year ago? Hermione wondered.

 

Before Hermione could reply, Delia said, “Actually, girls, I planned to take Hermione to The Treasure Trove, to pick out a necklace. Perhaps she’ll catch up with you later?”

 

The girls seemed to hate how they hadn’t thought of that before and waved Hermione off without much thought. Once outside in the falling snow, Hermione let out the frustration Lily’s words caused her.

 

“We don’t actually have ta, ya know,” Delia said cautiously. “Just thought you’d like the excuse so you could go see your Severus sooner.”

 

“It’s not that,” Hermione assured. “Honestly, I’m not even sure how long dress robes take to choose. It’s Lily. ‘ Severus can wait? ’ I know I told you about what I did for him last year.” She glanced at Delia, who nodded thoughtfully. “Was that how it happened? She just got so self-involved that she determined he could wait, and then somehow forgot? Or decided he didn’t feel like waiting for her longer? If she had just—”

 

“Hermione,” Delia stopped her, putting a hand on her shoulder and forcing her to face her. “I don’t know Lily well. She sounds nice enough from what you’ve said in your letters, and from what I saw at your birthday dinner. But she strikes me as someone who is quite used to being the center of attention. Knowing Severus as I do, I don’t think he tolerated that for long.” She smiled. “You can’t go on a crusade against something that requires no aid.” Something caught her eye in the distance, but when Hermione turned, she didn’t see anything. “Don’t you worry about The Treasure Trove. I know Minerva’s one of the chaperones, I’m willing to bet she’d be more than happy to accompany a pregnant lady shopping. You trust me to pick something out for you?”

 

“You picked out my dress,” Hermione pointed out. “Just let me give you a couple Galleons.”

 

“I don’ think so. Think of it as an early Christmas gift.”

 

“You don’t … you don’t have to do that,” Hermione replied, not wanting to offend her, yet feeling she had to protest.

 

Delia’s eyes twinkled mischievously, and she leaned in just a bit. “You are probably my only chance at ever buying things for a daughter.”

 

“Oh, a little boy!” she gushed, putting her hands on Delia’s belly briefly.

 

She laughed, the sound of a woman who had finally gotten everything she wanted. Draping an arm around Hermione’s shoulders, she steered her to the end of the road, toward the Three Broomsticks.

 

Minerva was lingering nearby, a knowing smile on her face as she spotted the pair of them.

 

“I’ll take over from here, Hermione. I’m sure our Cordelia would find it greatly amusing hindering a few liaisons at Madam Puddifoot’s with me.”

 

“Indeed I would,” Delia agreed. “Give my best to Severus.”

 

Hermione waved as they took off, then headed inside. A part of her was quite nervous that she was too early and that he wouldn’t show up, or that she would somehow find herself having greatly misinterpreted everything. Yet it took her only about half a minute to spot Severus in the corner, his face a mask of indifference while he fidgeted with a pepper pot. Droplets from melted snow clung to his hair and his cloak on the back of his chair had damp spots.

 

She had barely moved toward him when he looked up, his fingers stilling a moment before he rose from his chair. As she removed her cloak, Severus took it from her, draping it over the back of her chair he’d started to pull out.

 

Oh yes, this was more than a mere meeting between friends. Either that, or he was practicing his etiquette.

 

“I expected you to take much longer. I was under the impression that girls fuss about these things,” he said as he glanced in the direction of the bar and nodded.

 

“Well, I had a pleasant surprise. Delia sends her regards, by the way,” she said, happy to see a quirk of Severus’ lips at the mention.

 

Madam Rosmerta came by and sat down two butterbeers and a plate of sandwiches, winking at Hermione before she headed back to the bar.

 

As Hermione blushed, Severus said, “She’s well, then?”

 

“Delia? Positively glowing,” Hermione replied, taking a ginger sip of her butterbeer. “It’s a little boy. I don’t know if they’ve thought of a name yet or not, but ….”

 

Severus nodded, seemingly pleased with something as he took a sandwich from the plate. He studied it, looking it over, not taking a bite.

 

“I want to tell you something,” he started, and Hermione suddenly lost her appetite. Letting go of her butterbeer, she rubbed her hands on her trousers, hiding the nervous twisting of her fingers underneath the table.

 

“Oh?” she choked out.

 

Severus nodded, remaining silent for a long moment. “I believe I had a hand in the achievement of the healthy pregnancy.”

 

Hermione stopped breathing. She was pretty sure her heart stopped beating as well. She didn’t blink to the point it was painful. Time meant nothing to her in the span it took for Severus to look up, see her, and laugh. Great, loud, boisterous guffaws that actually drew attention from students who appeared either perplexed or scared. It jumpstarted her vitals and made her blink, but she didn’t tear her eyes away from him.

 

“Bloody hell, Hermione, is that really where your mind went to?” he asked as he calmed down, wiping a tear from his eye as that gorgeous, boyish smile lingered.

 

“What else am I supposed to think?”

 

He chuckled. “I suppose I could have phrased it more eloquently. What I mean is, I suggested some changes to Delia’s fertility potion. When you came down that morning and saw us brewing, she had asked if I knew something to make it better.”

 

“Oh,” Hermione said, embarrassed but relieved.

 

“Yes. She obviously told Bob. And Bob, who was knowingly taking my altered pain potion and knows of my interest in potions, informed a friend of his who’s an editor at a very prominent potions journal. As a student who isn’t an apprentice, this isn’t too likely, but the editor is willing to take a look at an essay about my improvements for the pain relief potion, as well as a commentary on the fertility potion. I sent the essays to Bob yesterday, who is acting as a middleman.”

 

“Severus,” Hermione gasped. “That’s … that’s amazing. And, oh, the doors it will open to you when you apply for an apprenticeship!”

 

“I know,” he said, showing a smugness he usually hid.

 

Elated, she leapt out of her seat and moved around the table, throwing her arms around his shoulders and squeezing. His free hand came up, gripping her arm as if to hold her there, and without thinking, she planted a kiss on his temple. He stiffened, and Hermione wanted to die.

 

“That’s wonderful,” she managed to say, pulling away to give him space. “I’m so, so proud of you.” She took her seat, face flushed and eyes darting around to make sure no one saw her make a fool of herself.

 

“Thank you,” he said quietly. She dared to peek at him and was amazed to find he was a bit red-cheeked as well. Severus cleared his throat, finding his sandwich very interesting once again. “Of course, this means that I’m a bit more academically advanced than you. Even interest from a journal editor is better than nothing.”

 

“You would jump to that, wouldn’t you?” she said, picking up a sandwich and taking a large bite.

 

He hummed, following suit and eating lunch.

 

They finished their meal without interruption, talking about academics between bites. The conversation carried as they left the tavern, emerging onto the cobblestone that was slowly being covered by snow.

 

“If I could alter the bone-mending potion to not be so bloody vile or painful, that would be one of my favorite personal achievements as someone who’s taken it more than they’d like.”

 

“Right, the potion you take on occasion should be more palatable over the pain potion that could help those who have developed a tolerance for the original,” Hermione said sarcastically, looking up at him.

 

“We do not want people to become addicted to it because it’s easier to take, now do we?”

 

“You tout that there are no—” she stopped talking with a gasp as her foot made contact with a slippery stone. Before she could fall in either direction, Severus’ hand caught hers, steadying her.

 

She huffed, catching her breath before giving him a smile. “Thank you,” she said, squeezing his hand but refusing to let go until he did.

 

“You cannot be so desperate to determine if the bone-mending potion is as vile as I say. And if you are, kindly wait until after the Yule Ball. Wouldn’t want to risk something going wrong and have you not attend. I’d have wasted precious Galleons on a set of robes.”

 

Hermione laughed, and Severus grinned with satisfaction before leading her down the road to the bookstore, still holding her hand.

 

—————A—————

 

October 31, 1993

 

“Rory,” Hermione called to her as she and Ginny entered the common room, and Aurora froze with panic. “Could you come here for a moment?”

 

Aurora glanced at Ginny, who didn’t seem to be experiencing the same levels of trepidation, then turned to join the trio in front of the fireplace. Of course, Ginny would never think that Hermione Granger’s tone would be one to worry about. After all, she didn’t grow up with that tone and inflection, one that indicated her mother already knew the answer to her question. One that usually preceded inquiries of damaged furniture, injured plants in the garden, or why the plate of cookies was suddenly half-empty.

 

“What’s going on?” Aurora asked, clearing her throat and smoothing her trousers as she sat next to Harry on one of the couches.

 

Ron was leaning back on the sofa beside Hermione, tucked into the corner and looking smug. Hermione, however, looked curious, and a quick glance at Harry told her nothing as he affected the appearance of a neutral party.

 

“You know Draco well, don’t you?” Hermione asked as Ginny squeezed into Aurora’s other side.

 

Aurora chewed her lip as she wondered how this was going to bite her in the arse. “We grew up together,” she admitted.

 

“So, you could tell when he was up to something?” Harry asked.

 

“Er…Yeah, maybe,” Aurora replied, looking at each of the trio once more. “What happened?”

 

“Well, we were taking a peek at the Shrieking Shack,” Hermione started, and a wave of nausea overcame Aurora that manifested on her face. “Don’t worry, we didn’t get close, or anything,” Hermione reassured.

 

“Oh good,” Aurora deadpanned.

 

“Anyway, we were there, and Malfoy came up to Ron and me.”

 

“The prat started going on about how I may be able to live in a slum like that, but, and I quote, ‘Granger’s too good for that,’” Ron butted in, face going red as he spoke.

 

“Right,” Aurora said, eyeing Ron and wondering if he’d somehow gone a bit mad. It wasn’t something to get into a big huff over.

 

“But why would he say something like that?” Harry asked. “How did Hermione go from ‘Mudblood’ to being ‘too good’ for something?”

 

“And if that was the only thing he’d said, we might have brushed it off as just mocking Ron,” Hermione added.

 

“He was mocking me, Mione,” Ron insisted. “He asked why it was just the two of us when he ‘knew for a fact’ that you preferred blokes with black hair.”

 

Aurora suddenly found herself choking on her spit, hacking and coughing, wondering why Draco was being so bloody obvious. Harry reached out to smack her back, trying to help her catch her breath, and eventually she righted herself enough to see the looks of concern on everyone’s faces.

 

Waving them off, she managed to croak, “Didn’t think he was just saying that rot to egg you on? Given your best friend and the savior of the wizarding world has black hair?”

 

“Maybe,” Hermione agreed. “Except that, when Harry showed up, he didn’t go down that route.”

 

“Of course he didn’t,” Aurora grumbled to herself.

 

“And we just wanted to know—”

 

“Should we be worried or something?” Harry interrupted Hermione. “Is he, like, crushing on Hermione in a Romeo and Juliet sorta way?”

 

“In a what?” Ron asked.

 

“Oh, Merlin, don’t make me retch,” Aurora replied, feeling a lump in her throat. “Believe me, that is the very last thing Draco is doing.”

 

“You’re sure?” Hermione asked with a desperation that would have been funny had the very idea of Draco crushing on the girl who would be his aunt not been so nauseating.

 

“As you pointed out, I grew up with him. Yes, I’m sure he doesn’t fancy you. You’re not his type.”

 

“Because I’m Muggle-born?” Hermione mocked.

 

“No, that is very much not the reason you’re not his type,” Aurora chuckled, and Ginny gave an unattractive snort before covering her mouth to contain the giggles. “Look, was he alone or did he have Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dum with him?”

 

“Tweedle-who?” Ron asked.

 

“He was alone,” Harry asked, his mouth twisting in a wry grin.

 

“Then he was being genuine,” she told him. “Look, we all have parts of ourselves we hide, or parts that we create for certain people. Draco is no different. And while he’s here, he’s sort of, I dunno, putting on a show for the other pure-bloods, especially the Slytherins. It’s what’s expected of him. But the Draco I knew didn’t act like some prince; he was a boy who liked Quidditch, camping, a good book, and hot cocoa.” Ron snorted, and Aurora flashed him a glare before continuing. “We’ve been talking recently, so if he approaches you alone, chances are—”

 

“Chances are he’s up to something,” Ron insisted before getting to his feet. “Now come on, the feast is about to start, and I’m starved.”

 

—————A—————

 

In the crowded Great Hall, no one noticed when Draco Malfoy decided to be near a group of Gryffindors and one Ravenclaw. His own house, Aurora noticed, were all either packed together on the other side of the room or dispersed casually among other houses. He didn’t speak to them but listened intently as they discussed the slashing of the Fat Lady with Luna. Positioned as he was behind Ron, he was out of view of the one person who would object to his presence the most. The twins had been a bit perplexed, but when the rest of them weren’t phased by his presence, they’d said nothing about it.

 

“Maybe Mr. Black was just trying to talk,” Luna offered an opinion. “I imagine it would get very frustrating having no one listen to you for twelve years.”

 

“He killed thirteen people, Luna,” Ginny reminded her.

 

“Perhaps, but there was never any proof.”

 

“What do you mean no proof?” Hermione asked, her chin high and her tone condescending. Her mother could be right annoying in her youth. “There were twelve bodies and only pieces left of the thirteenth.”

 

Meeting her eye from behind Ron, Draco squared his shoulders and pulled his sleeping bag around and wedged it between Aurora’s and Luna’s, surprising Ron and Hermione. Just as Ron opened his mouth, Aurora quickly withdrew her wand and murmured, “ Muffliato .”

 

“Oi! You can’t be here! Go back to Slytherin, ya git!” Ron demanded, pointing and gesturing in a way that must have looked funny to any prefect watching from where they couldn’t hear.

 

“Would you settle down?” Aurora hissed. “He’s been behind you the whole time.”

 

Ron was about to say something when the candles suddenly went out. Aurora took a deep, gasping breath and focused on how clear the moonlight was through the windows. She forced herself to acknowledge that there were candles around the edge of the room, barely aglow, but marking the walls and doorways. The prefects were walking around with small lanterns of blue fire, allowing them to see their charges. Draco’s hand reached for hers and squeezed, but Aurora found she wasn’t as frightened as she expected. She glanced at Ginny, who was looking at Draco with a new kind of respect, and Draco, she noted, kept his mask up except for a hint of understanding in his grey eyes.

 

“Malfoy,” Harry whispered, even though he didn’t need to. “You said before that I should want revenge on Black. You were surprised I didn’t know.”

 

“I thought Dumbledore told you, at least,” Draco mumbled quietly. He was civil, with just a touch of the superior tone he’d honed over the last three years. “Black wasn’t just a murderer. I overheard my father say once that Black was the one who told the Dark Lord where to find your parents.”

 

“I don’t understand,” Harry said, confused.

 

Aurora looked at the pillow beneath her, observing the threads fraying at the edge. It was her pillow from the dormitory, and she suspected the headmaster had somehow summoned everyone’s personally.

 

“There’s an album my mum keeps in our living room filled with pictures from their Hogwarts years,” she said, barely able to look at Harry. “He’s changed, Sirius Black. The wanted posters make him look scary and grotesque, but in the pictures, he was handsome.”

 

“Wait,” Ron said. “Your dad was friends with Sirius Black?”

 

“No,” she said. “But my mum was. Sort of. She was friends with Professor Lupin and Harry’s mum, and as a result, she knew …”

 

“She knew Sirius Black.” Harry nodded. “So Black betrayed my parents to Voldemort somehow? But why did he have to tell him where they were?”

 

“I imagine your parents used a Fidelius Charm,” Luna said. “It’s a charm; someone keeps a secret in their soul. They’re the Secret Keeper, and no one can find what’s being hidden unless they’re told by the Secret Keeper.”

 

“If Sirius Black was a friend of your parents, then they probably asked him to keep the secret,” Hermione suggested, reaching out to comfort Harry.

 

“And how do you know all this, Malfoy?” Ron demanded.

 

“My father works for the Ministry, Weasel. And despite what he thinks, just because I can’t be heard doesn’t mean I can’t hear,” he spat back, and Aurora chuckled as she remembered finding Draco in some strange spots listening in on boring conversations his parents were having when she came for a visit. “Despite what many wizards like to think, they gossip more than witches do.”

 

“We should probably pretend to sleep soon,” Luna said. “A few of the prefects have noticed we’re talking. I’m not sure what Rory did to make sure they couldn’t hear us, but they’re growing suspicious.”

 

“Probably think we had something to do with it,” Fred said.

 

“As if we would ever cause trouble,” George agreed.

 

Aurora canceled the spell, and while the nine of them settled down and did their best to look like they were sleeping, she knew none of them were. Ron whined quietly about Draco being nearby and Ginny and Hermione alternated hushing him. Harry tried to ask Draco what more he’d heard about Black, and while Draco did his best to tell him what little he knew, it wasn’t much, and it wasn’t long before Ron snorted and scoffed. Hermione tried asking Luna a question about Ravenclaw, and Aurora could tell that she wasn’t sure how to react to Luna’s whimsy. The twins cracked jokes every time something creaked or someone coughed, startling the rest of them.

 

Hours passed before Aurora saw Dumbledore enter the hall, coming toward them just as Percy began to. After a brief counsel, Percy left and was replaced by the greatest comfort Aurora could hope for.

 

“The castle has been searched, Albus. There is no sign of Black.”

 

“I didn’t expect him to linger,” Dumbledore replied with a sigh.

 

“Do you suspect how he got in?” her dad asked, his tone suggesting he already knew the answer.

 

“I suspect many possibilities, all more unlikely than the last.”

 

“Quite. I’m sure you don’t suspect he got in without help. And we know very well that there is someone here—”

 

Two someones, I would say, Severus.”

 

“Hardly,” Severus gritted out.

 

“Oh, come now,” Dumbledore said in that kindly way that always made Aurora uneasy. “You always said you didn’t suspect—”

 

“I don’t. I never have. For a man who appears to know so bloody much, you often miss the obvious. And while you continue to believe that Black coveted my wife, his attentions were always … elsewhere. Which is why I ask again, are we sure that the appointment you made—”

 

“Is trusted. And as concerned about Sirius Black entering the school as you are.”

 

“I doubt that. He is not the one who has a child in the dormitory that was attacked.”

 

Dumbledore bowed his head. “Quite right, Severus. You have a point.”

 

There was silence as the two had a standoff. “I’ll ask H.,” he said softly.

 

“She won’t be able to tell you,” Dumbledore said gently.

 

“Outright? No. But marriage allows an intimacy that few people can achieve. And there have been times over these last two years, Albus, that you have kept me in the dark and H. has offered just enough light for me to see.”

 

“Well,” Dumbledore said, tensing, “I suppose something can be said for that. I assume you’ll want to Floo her now?”

 

“It’s three in the bloody morning,” her father grumbled. “I’m not about to risk waking her or Leo. And I can assure you, Headmaster, that in this situation, I will be as much a father as I am a professor and Head of House. I will stay here, in this room, keeping watch.”

 

Dumbledore chuckled, nodded, and left.

 

Aurora watched her father watch Dumbledore as he left. Once he was through the doors, her dad looked around. He then looked down, studying each of their forms, confused to find Draco near them, but offered a hint of a smile when he noted her looking back at him. He flicked his wrist and walked away, and Aurora suddenly realized that something had been different while he was talking to Dumbledore.

 

“What was that about?” Ron asked quietly.

 

“H. is your mother?” Hermione asked instantly.

 

“Aunt H. has always been insightful,” Draco answered for her.

 

“What, like Trelawney?” Hermione asked with disgust.

 

“No,” Aurora chuckled. “She’s an Arithmancy Mistress. She specializes in calculating outcome.”

 

“Oh.”

 

“But why can’t she say anything?” Harry asked.

 

“She’s bound by an oath,” Aurora said, leaving it at that.

 

After a pause, Draco said, “You lot realize we’re the only ones in this room, aside from Dumbledore, that heard that conversation.”

 

“I doubt we’re the only ones awake, Malfoy,” Hermione said.

 

“Maybe so. But whatever was happening, Snape wanted us to hear.”

 

“Why?” Ginny asked.

 

The question lingered, but no one knew the answer. Aurora certainly didn’t. And if there was further talk of it, she didn’t hear it before she drifted off.

Chapter Text

—————S—————

 

December 19, 1975

 

Severus wanted to be anywhere else. The Slug Club Christmas Dinner was boring, but more importantly, exclusive. Slughorn had pulled Severus toward him and tugged him along to show him off as a very promising potions student.

 

“Can’t tell you why, though. Hush, hush,” he’d say in that sickening jolly way that just elevated him to new levels of sheer pompousness.

 

Lily was in her element, socializing with witches of high standing and speaking with them as much as she could before her eyes glazed over in that way that always indicated the subject matter no longer interested her. Gifted as Lily was, natural with magic though she may be, she was not an academic.

 

Not wanting to hinder his friend, Severus stayed to the sidelines where he could observe.

 

“Severus,” Lucius greeted him, and he turned from watching Slughorn dribble food down his front. Lucius’ smile was genuine and his handshake friendly.

 

“Lucius,” Severus greeted with a tilt of his head. “Narcissa couldn’t accompany you this evening?”

 

A quiet sadness bled into Lucius’ eyes. “No. Narcissa, I’m afraid, is under the weather.”

 

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Severus said honestly, suspecting the truth. A part of him wanted to tell Lucius of his fertility potion modifications, but he tamped it down before he could make an arse of himself.

 

“And you? Your Hermione is not with you this evening?” Lucius asked, eyes darting around the room and momentarily lingering on someone. By the slight curl of Lucius’ lip, Severus suspected it was Lily.

 

“Hermione wasn’t considered special enough by our Head of House. She was unable to accept an invitation to accompany me due to a previous engagement.”

 

Occlumency lessons, as it were. Moody wanted to help her build better walls to get her to Severus’ level. And since she didn’t earn an invitation from Slughorn himself, they’d all thought this would be the best night to go ahead with the lesson.

 

“I suppose it can’t be helped. You must be counting down the minutes until you can get back to her.”

 

“As you are with Narcissa?” Severus quipped, and Lucius chuckled. “Unfortunately, Hermione is not a Slytherin. I won’t see her until tomorrow.”

 

“Not a Slytherin?” Lucius seemed genuinely perplexed by this.

 

“Unfortunately, she is a Gryffindor.”

 

“Is she?” Lucius frowned. “Is that why she was taken in by McGonagall?”

 

“No. I believe that the familial assignment came before the sorting,” he lied smoothly. He knew it was very, very likely the other way around.

 

“I see,” Lucius sneered. “She was quite a pleasure to meet in Diagon Alley, I was hoping to do so again.”

 

“Perhaps you will,” Severus replied. “There will be more of these insipid dinners, I’m sure. She won’t be busy through them all.”

 

“Too true,” Lucius agreed. He then groaned, his shoulders dropping slightly. “I’m sorry, Severus. I must cut one of the most pleasant aspects of this evening short. I am being waved over by the bumbling fool.”

 

“Good evening, Lucius,” Severus said with a slight bow.

 

Lucius returned it. “And you, Severus.”

 

He watched Lucius approach Slughorn, snickering as the aristocrat cringed when Slughorn put an arm around him.

 

Severus scanned the room again, catching sight of Lily with another group of female students. She flipped her hair and laughed with her whole body, looking as if she were genuinely enjoying herself. He was glad to see how thrilled she was to be a part of this. He moved along the wall, creeping closer to the door, hoping to get away undetected.

 

He stopped when he realized that Black and Potter were near the door, groaning because his escape was thwarted. He slowed his movements, willing himself to blend in with the crowd as he crept closer. Maybe he could dart out with someone else, he just needed to stay out of sight of the bloody Marauders. Just because they had kept to themselves since Hermione’s little speech in DADA didn’t mean they were going to continue to do so.

 

“There are other girls, mate,” Black was saying.

 

“No. It’s Lily or no one,” Potter insisted. “Moony will ask Granger, and when she says yes, Lily will want to stay close to her friend. If she doesn’t go with me directly, I at least want to be able to be there for her every whim.”

 

“Prongs,” Black sighed. “Listen, mate. Remus may ask Granger, but there’s no knowing she’ll say yes.”

 

“Why wouldn’t she? She likes him, she can’t be so vain that she would be bothered by the scars. She hangs around Snivellus, for Merlin’s sake.”

 

“Yes, but that’s my point. She seems fond of him.” When Potter scoffed, Black added, “More so than Evans was. And man, it pains me to say it, but I think Moony actually likes that Slytherin greaseball, too. I don’t think he’d stay around Kitten if he couldn’t stand the company she keeps. Even Peter is worried we lost him somehow.”

 

“No,” Potter said firmly. “No, Snivellus won’t be there, I know it. Moony will ask, Granger will say yes. You already have McKinnon in the bag, and Wormtail said Diggory was going with him, so once Granger gets her head out her arse and accepts Remus, it will be a perfect match.”

 

Severus was openly gaping at them, though they didn’t notice him. Was that how Potter saw the women of Hogwarts? How he saw Hermione, Lily, and her friends? Accessories? He shook his head, finding it increasingly hard to believe that Potter was from a respected pure-blood line.

 

“Just … try not to get your hopes too high, all right?” Black tried to warn him, but Potter just chuckled.

 

The door opened, ushering in a new crowd of people Severus didn’t want to be bothered with, regardless of who they were, and took the opportunity to slip out.

 

He was near the Slytherin common room when he heard a whistle. He turned around, watching a group of fourth years heading toward him. Regulus Black was the one who’d caught his attention.

 

“Hey, Sev,” Regulus said with a cheeky grin. “Your bird was down this way earlier.”

 

Severus frowned. “Hermione?”

 

“That’s the one. Was curious if you’d left the Slug Club early and come back this way. I told her no, but she left me this to give to you,” he said as he handed Severus a folded bit of parchment. “Quite the witch. The enchantments on it, well,”–he gestured to one of the fourth years with blue fingertips—”let’s say that whatever she had to say is certainly staying with you.”

 

“Thank you, Regulus,” Severus said, clutching the letter tightly. “I’ll pass your compliments on to Hermione when I see her.”

 

Regulus nodded and the entire group continued down the corridor.

 

Severus entered the common room as swiftly as he could without looking like he was rushing. No one paid him any mind, which was typical, and he made it to his dormitory uninterrupted. Once inside, he found himself alone and flopped onto his bed. He ran his thumb over the seal, wondering how to break the enchantment.

 

“‘ What’s in a name? ’ Blimey, Hermione. Shakespeare?” he sighed. “Severus. Snape. Severus Tobias Snape.” Nothing. At least his fingers didn’t turn blue with the failed attempts, meaning the numpty had just tried to open the blasted thing. “Hermione, Granger, McGonagall. H. I don’t bloody know! Ziggy!”

 

The seal popped open. He let out a mirthless laugh before he unfolded the letter.

 

Severus,

 

A letter would suggest that I’m unable to survive an evening without you. However, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to catch you this evening and I would rather give you this information sooner rather than later, as we’ll leave the school soon for the holidays. I know you’re planning to stay at school. So am I, but I plan to leave with Minerva for the McGonagall family dinner on Christmas Eve. You’re invited, and not just by Bob and Delia, but by Nan McGonagall.

 

You don’t have to come. You are and have been spending so much time with me, and by extension the family that took me in. However, if you’re at all indifferent to the notion, I would very much like to have you there. We all would, but I would especially.

 

Yours,

H.

 

Severus set down the letter, feeling uneasy. He hadn’t spent a holiday away from Hogwarts … ever. The Evans had never invited him into their home. They were always happy to help by taking him to the train station or Diagon Alley, but aside from that, they never bothered.

 

He liked the McGonagalls. He loved Hermione. He didn’t really see a downside to this.

 

Except in the back of his mind, he feared what would happen at the Yule Ball. What if he’d completely misread Hermione’s acceptance? She may be physically affectionate, but that did not equate a reciprocation of feelings. So, what if when the evening came, Hermione was surprised by …

 

“You’re being an idiot,” he chided himself.

 

So instead of dwelling on what may or may not happen, he re-read her letter and decided long before he put it down that he would go regardless of what happened at the ball.

 

—————H—————

 

December 23, 1975

 

Hermione looked at herself in the mirror one more time, nervously shaking her hands as if it would somehow make them less clammy.

 

She was perfect. Her dress fit and flowed, and her sensible black flats would let her dance all night. Or flee, if needed. And she certainly didn’t need to pretend she was taller than she was.

 

Her hair was far from straight, but it was now in perfect silky curls that tumbled down her back. The sides were pinned up, held in place by emerald and gold hair clips that resembled holly. Her earrings from her birthday paired well with the simple chain and emerald drop pendant Delia had acquired for her. Her makeup was subtle, nearly non-existent. She looked exactly how she always hoped she would for her first formal event with a distinguished gentleman.

 

And she wanted to vomit.

 

“You look utterly flawless, Hermione,” Marlene reassured, coming up behind her and giving her shoulders a squeeze.

 

“Do I?” she asked, chewing her painted lips. There was no taste of lipstick, a simple charm allowed the color to stay on without smudging. “I wonder if flawless was the right angle.”

 

Marlene frowned at Hermione’s reflection. “You aren’t going with Remus, are you?”

 

“What would give you that impression?” she asked Marlene through the mirror.

 

She shrugged, her towel wobbling enough she had to let go of Hermione to steady it. “Lily said. I thought it was weird because Remus certainly wasn’t acting like he was going to be there on a date, and Sirius kept asking if I would mind dancing with him so he wouldn’t feel left out.”

 

“Well, I’m not going with Remus.”

 

“Then, if you’re this anxious over who I think you are, you have nothing to worry about. If anything, he should be seriously concerned that he’s out of his league, because he is.”

 

Hermione gave her a grin; she figured it was meant to be some strange sort of compliment.

 

“Right,” she said. “Well, I’m off. Have fun.”

 

“What, really?” Marlene asked. “Lily hasn’t even finished her bath, and you’re heading out?”

 

“I told him I’d meet him at seven,” she said over her shoulder as she headed for the door. Marlene snorted and rolled her eyes, turning to her bed where she had everything laid out, calling something to Alice, who was still in their bathroom.

 

Hermione forced herself to regulate her breathing as she half-ran, half-skipped down the stairs. She caught a glimpse of the boys near the window: James and Sirius in their modern dress robes, Peter and Frank in something a bit more old-fashioned, Remus with something in-between. She had to admit, if she were going with him, he’d have made for a dashing partner.

 

She stole through the portrait hole before anyone saw her, making sure to shut it behind her.

 

“You look lovely!” the Fat Lady complimented, attempting to hide her surprise behind a fan.

 

“Thank you,” Hermione called before heading to the abandoned classroom.

 

She tried to calm down, to relax, and while she wasn’t doing a good job listening to herself, it helped her not notice anything or anyone as she made her way there. She paused outside the door, trying to collect herself, reassuring herself that she was, in fact, perfect.

 

She opened the door and nearly tripped over her feet at the sight.

 

Severus looked up at her from where he leaned against the far wall. His hair was pulled back, silky instead of slick, showing off his strong jaw and proud forehead. His robes were immaculate, modern, cut almost like a tailored tuxedo. His shirt was a near-match to the green of her dress. His cravat, a choice she should have expected and was thrilled he made, was dark gray with a gold clip to keep it in place.

 

His nose did him no favors and he was never what one would call handsome, but, oh, did he take her breath away. Hermione wanted to cry from the joy of being on his arm.

 

“You look … different,” he said, his eyes taking in her form.

 

“Well, it’s a special occasion,” Hermione replied a bit too quickly. “And … and I wanted you to be proud. Happy. That you, er, chose me. And you are … so—”

 

He scoffed, shaking his head as he moved toward her. “You don’t need to pay me a false compliment.”

 

“I’m not. Wait, was ... was that what you were doing?”

 

“No.” Severus stiffened, stopping a few feet away from her. “No, I was … that is to say, I know I’m not much to look at. You … you’re—” He gestured vaguely to her.

 

They stood awkwardly for a minute until Severus finally straightened and took in a deep breath. “I would like, very much, if we would consider this to be … more than friends at a school function.”

 

“You mean ….”

 

“A date. Yes,” he said, swallowing as he raised his chin. “If you are agreeable.”

 

“I sort of thought that’s what this was already. At least, I was hoping.”

 

Severus’s whole body sagged, and he stumbled against a table. “Oh, thank Merlin,” he said, and Hermione giggled as a similar relief came over her. He gave her a crooked smile. “Anyone else laughing at me would get hexed.”

 

“I’m not laughing at you,” she said as she came to stand directly in front of him. She took his hand and held his fingers against her palm. “It’s just … for two people who claim to be extremely intelligent and perceptive, we’re quite oblivious sometimes.”

 

“Indeed,” he agreed, clasping her hand in his, his thumb stroking her knuckles.

 

“You look wonderful,” she whispered.

 

“As do you,” he replied in that same hushed tone. “I’m glad you didn’t magic away your curls. I’m quite fond of them.”

 

“You frequently call them horrid,” she reminded him, not able to speak normally for fear that whatever bubble they were in would burst and take their happiness with it.

 

“They are. That doesn’t make me any less fond of them.”

 

They were so close, and now that she knew, now that they were sure …

 

They leaned in, her nose caressing his as his eyes fell shut.

 

Then they sprang open. “Shit.”

 

“What?” Hermione asked, and just as Severus straightened, the door opened.

 

Madam Pomfrey leaned against the doorframe, an amused grin on her face. “You two look quite fine, but if you don’t get down to the ball instead of lingering up here like a couple of miscreants, I’ll alert Professor McGonagall.” At their surprise and confusion, she giggled. “I saw Miss Granger pass the wing not long ago, and I’ve been listening for the door since.”

 

“We’re heading down now,” Severus said, giving Hermione’s hand a light tug. They headed to the door, passing by the matron and heading for the stairs.

 

“Oh, you two!” she called, and they turned together just in time to be blinded by a camera flash. Madam Pomfrey smiled approvingly. “They may take your photo as you enter, but sometimes it’s nice to have a less posed reminder of the night.”

 

Severus rolled his eyes, but he didn’t seem bothered in the least.

 

—————H—————

 

She entered the Great Hall on his arm, stunned at the sheer beauty of the decorations. She hadn’t really noticed them the year before, and perhaps it was the same, but it mattered this time.

 

There were couples dancing, though not many, and a few of the tables had already been claimed.

 

“I must confess that, while I’ve been taught to dance, I’ve never had a proper partner,” Severus said as Hermione noticed a few students do doubletakes in their direction.

 

“I know how to dance the Muggle waltz, but I’ve only read about wizard waltzes. I practiced… alone,” she admitted, feeling incredibly stupid that she hadn’t sought proper practice before now.

 

“Well, while there aren’t too many people here to see us make fools of ourselves,” he suggested, leading her to the dance floor.

 

She discovered quite quickly that he was graceful, much more than she was. It made sense, a voice in the back of her mind reminded her, considering the way he moved once grown. How his hands handled ingredients, how swiftly he moved during patrols. It was quite obviously a natural skill, and while she had moments of feeling awkward or clumsy, his confidence and nimbleness guided her through and masked any blunder.

 

When the song ended, he led her through into the next, the corner of his mouth rising with each minute. When the second song ended, it was clear the band was going to take a break. She was pleased he didn’t seem to want to stop.

 

“Shall we … get refreshments?”

 

“Sounds lovely.” She paused, glancing around. “So long as James and Sirius haven’t shown up. I heard they planned to spike the punch.”

 

Severus snorted. “They wouldn’t be the first to try. I heard a couple of older Slytherins hinting at the same thing. There are supposed to be enchantments to prevent that, but in case there aren’t.” He reached into the inner pocket of his dress robes. “A drop of this in our drinks and it will neutralize the alcohol.”

 

“I’ve never heard of such a potion.”

 

“It’s Mastery level,” he replied with a pleased gleam in his eye.

 

Hermione just smiled up at him, letting him lead her to the refreshment table while he held her hand in his. He thumbed open the bottle and added a drop of the potion into two glasses.

 

“And what exactly do you have there?” Moody asked, snatching the bottle from Severus’ hands quicker than it seemed possible for him to move. He eyed Severus critically before taking a sniff. “Not much fun, are you?” he asked as he handed the bottle back to Severus.

 

“Would like my wits about me,” Severus replied. “And hers.”

 

“Know any reason why a simple monk fruit punch might take ‘em away?”

 

“I’ve heard rumors it might. From multiple houses.”

 

“Good to know. Carry on.” Moody hobbled a few feet away, keeping a keen eye on the students.

 

Severus shook his head before he ladled punch into their cups. “We spend more time with that man than any student outside detention, and I still have no idea what to think of him.”

 

“I kind of like him,” Hermione said thoughtfully as he handed her a glass. “He’s gruff and abrupt, and terrifying sometimes. But I feel like I’m learning from him, truly learning, which is more than I can say about any Defense teacher I’ve ever had. Even the last one I had before I came here. He was nice enough, practical, by-the-book, but I didn’t feel challenged.”

 

“By-the-book and he wasn’t your favorite professor? No wonder you accepted me this evening. Clearly, I’m in some alternate world and you’re not the Hermione I intended to accompany.”

 

She laughed, maybe a bit more than necessary, but she was riding a high from the reminder that this was everything she’d hoped for.

 

“Sev! Hey, Sev! Over here!” Lily called from halfway across the room, nearly standing on the chair and waving him over. Remus was with her, looking like he wanted to crawl under the table and hide. The table next to them held Sirius and Marlene, Peter and Alice, and James. James was glaring sullenly at Lily, rolling a glass of punch between his hands.

 

“We should probably head over,” Hermione sighed, her mirth fading as the gorgeous ginger smiled broadly and continued waving them over. “And just so you know, if you wanted to dance with her…it’s okay, I don’t mind.”

 

“Is this your way of saying you want to dance with someone else?” Severus asked as he started to slowly head toward their friend.

 

“No,” she said, squeezing his hand. “But I know … I know you fancied her at one point. And—”

 

“No,” he said firmly, gently squeezing back. “The night is yours. Entirely.”

 

“Wow, look at you!” Lily said as they neared the table, running and standing in front of Severus, ignoring Hermione altogether.

 

She was so beautiful that Hermione felt the old insecurities bubble up inside her, even though Severus had just assured her she had nothing to worry about.

 

Lily’s dress was dark gold, cut similarly to Hermione’s. Her ginger locks were in a chignon, gold pins holding it in place, braids along the side of her head leading into the roll. Her makeup was soft, noticeable but tasteful. It was obvious she was wearing heels.

 

“You’re quite dashing, Sev. Would you dance with me when the band starts again? I just missed them before,” she said, starting to reach for his lapels.

 

Severus took a step back. “I’m afraid my dance card is full this evening,” he said through his teeth. He took a deep breath. “However, I will pay you the same compliment: you look lovely this evening.”

 

Lily blushed, bowing her head demurely. She glanced at Hermione, then really took her in. “That dress looks great on you. It was an excellent choice.”

 

“Thank you, Lily,” Hermione replied quietly. She offered a similar platitude, and she was sure Lily would have tossed her hair over her shoulder if she’d left it down.

 

“Would you like to sit before the next set?” Severus asked, lifting their joined hands and bringing them near his chest.

 

“Sure,” she agreed and thanked him as he promptly pulled out the seat next to Remus before taking the next one over. He retook her hand beneath the table immediately, and she had to fight the blush from completely overtaking her. She looked at Remus. “You came alone?”

 

Remus gave a quick sad grin. “There was no one available that I wanted to ask.”

 

Hermione frowned. “Not even Lily?” she asked, the ginger hearing her name and finding interest in the conversation.

 

Remus glanced at Lily, then slightly over his shoulder before shaking his hand. “I wouldn’t have dared.”

 

“And why not?” Lily asked as she twisted in her chair to look at him.

 

“Would you have said yes?” he challenged kindly.

 

“Well … no. But that’s only because I expected Severus to ask me.”

 

“Why on Earth would I do that?”

 

“Well, you said you might go. I just figured it was on the condition of a date.”

 

“It was.”

 

A quiet awkwardness fell around them, seeping into the table next to them. Remus shifted nervously while Lily sat with her jaw open, staring at Hermione as if she’d done a great wrong. James was listening keenly, and Sirius was ignoring his date entirely as he looked between James and the table, clearly having missed what was said.

 

“I see,” Lily finally said.

 

“Lily …” Hermione started, but Severus stopped her with a tug to her hand. He shook his head ever so slightly.

 

After another beat of silence, Severus set his drink down. “Maybe we should find a spot on the dance floor.” Hermione nodded and allowed him to pull her to her feet. But where before she’d felt light and happy, now she was unsure what to feel.

 

They got into position just as the band started playing. She looked at the floor, watching their feet, noting absently that he was wearing dragonhide boots. He was watching her; she could feel it.

 

When the song ended, he stopped. She’d been expecting him to carry on into the next song, and in her confusion, she forgot how she didn’t want him to see the chaos of her thoughts as they played out on her face. She looked up.

 

“Would you take a walk with me?” he asked, gesturing to an exit that wasn’t normally part of the Great Hall. There was a garden alight with fairy lights gleaming from rose bushes and a few non-Whomping Willow trees just outside.

 

She nodded and he once more took her hand as they followed a few other couples outside.

 

The noise from the ball was muffled the moment they crossed the threshold. It was also clear that the garden had a warming charm, as it felt like a June evening instead of December. Severus followed a path straight from the doors, not deviating as the other couples did, giggling as they headed away. He didn’t speak until they were beneath the branches.

 

“I did fancy Lily,” he cut to the chase. “Though I haven’t held those feelings for her since about a year ago. In that time, she’s reverted back to my childhood friend, perhaps with a touch of sisterly affection.”

 

“She’s going in the opposite direction.”

 

Severus shrugged. “I don’t believe that’s what it is. I think that, until you came along, she was my sole focus. She feared my growing acquaintance with those in my house and lashed out in a strangely protective way. And when you and I started to grow closer,”— he stepped closer to her, making her grin—”I think she just assumed everything was going back to how it was at the beginning. But then—”

 

“Then suddenly you’re spending your summers with me, and know my family, and want to spend more time with me than her.”

 

“Right.” He took a deep breath and reached a slightly shaking hand up to cup her cheek. “I didn’t want to be here with anyone else.”

 

“And if this hadn’t been a date?” she asked playfully.

 

“I’d have been surly company, admittedly,” he said, and she giggled. “But I would have respected your decision. And more so, as long as I didn’t think it would ruin our friendship, I’d have simply tried again.”

 

Hermione didn’t even get a chance to reply before Severus was forcefully torn away from her and hurled into the air upside down. His wide eyes went from surprised to livid, but before he could get his wand, it flew away in a flash of red light.

 

Before the same could happen to her, Hermione’s wand was in her hand and a shield was around her. The spell bounced off. She saw James Potter marching down the path not far from where they were, wand out, fury and righteousness in his eyes. Sirius was following, eyes darting from Hermione to Severus to James in quick succession. And just up the path, the rest of their friends hurrying toward them.

 

“Look at Snivellus,” James sneered, tilting his head as if he were trying to see Severus properly while he dangled upside down. “All dressed up and pretending to belong amongst humans.”

 

“End the spell, James,” Hermione demanded.

 

“No. He made Lily cry.”

 

“James, you’re being ridiculous!” Lily shouted, hurrying over to stand by Hermione. “Let him down, he didn’t mean to! He didn’t even know!”

 

“You really think he went with Granger because he wanted to?”

 

“I did,” Remus said, wand out, calmly joining his fellow Marauder. “I wanted to go with her, so why wouldn’t he?”

 

“Because Snivellus has been panting after Evans for ages.”

 

“Like you?” Remus asked, moving to stand on Hermione’s other side. He flicked his wand and Severus fell a little roughly to the ground.

 

She’d process her shock and surprise later, because as much as Remus’ gesture took her aback, she needed to focus her shield more widely to protect all four of them now.

 

“Moony, you’ve changed,” James whined.

 

“Yes,” Remus replied. “It’s called growing up.”

 

“It’s just a bit of fun, Remus,” Sirius said. He was not as pompous as he normally was, nor as confident. Marlene was hanging back with Alice, the pair looking perplexed.

 

“No. It’s not,” Remus sighed. “I’m a prefect, I can’t keep looking the other way for you two. And what’s more, one day, if you don’t stop, one or both of you will do something monumentally stupid that could ruin you. More importantly, you risk taking Peter and me down with you. You’re my brothers and I love you, but this has to stop.”

 

“That scum hurt Lily,” James roared.

 

“I hurt myself, you toerag,” Lily ground out, fresh tears forming in her eyes. “ I’m the one who started seeing things that weren’t there. Severus did nothing! If I’d asked, I would have known he was with Hermione, and I would have been happy for them.”

 

“But …” James deflated. “You wanted to date him ? You wanted to date him over me ?”

 

“No.” Lily sniffed. “I didn’t want to date either of you. I just wanted to have a nice night with my friends.”

 

Remus nudged Hermione, and when she looked over, he gestured behind them. Severus was gone.

 

“You ruin everything, James Potter!” she growled. “Everything! You’re an evil, awful boy!”

 

“Kitten, that’s cruel,” Sirius said, though all the fight had left him.

 

“So’s he,” Lily spat.

 

There was a silent standoff, Peter looking ready to hex the first person to twitch, when James suddenly shook his head and turned away.

 

Peter looked at Remus, then at Sirius, confused.

 

Sirius came up to Remus, eyes locked as he gave Severus’ wand to him. “Come on, Wormtail,” he said, turning and beckoning him. They rejoined their dates as they headed into the Great Hall.

 

“I’m going to report this to McGonagall,” Remus said, head bowed. “I should have done this from the beginning.” He handed Hermione Severus’ wand. “Give this to him when you see him. Hopefully, it’ll be before the night’s out.”

 

“Do you want to come in with me?” Lily asked her, putting a hand on Hermione’s shoulder.

 

Hermione shook her head, numb as the adrenaline ebbed from her body. “I think I need some air,” she said without looking at her friend. A moment later, Lily’s gown shifted in her peripheral vision, and she heard them heading back inside.

 

A tear slipped out as she tried to understand what had happened. He’d left. She wiped at her face roughly, a stray thought about smear-free charms and how no one would know if she fell to her knees and wept her heart out. She shuddered, forcing herself not to give into the emotion.

 

A touch on her hand made her gasp and rear back, both Severus’ wand and her own drawn. A resigned and slightly disheveled Severus raised his hands.

 

“I wasn’t gone,” he said, voice wavering. “I was on the other side of the tree. With blood pounding in my head, and the vertigo, I would’ve been useless even with a wand. I don’t want to think what they would have done if Lupin chose his friends, or if Lily decided she wouldn’t be supportive. I didn’t want you hurt trying to defend me. I don’t need you defending me.”

 

She took her time to catch her breath, and quell the heartache and the anger, and focus on what he said. She stepped forward, re-sheathing her wand as she handed him back his. He put it up his sleeve, straightened his robes, and looked at his feet.

 

“I suppose this means our date is over. If you don’t object, I’d like to escort you back to Gryffindor Tower.”

 

Hermione swallowed, the lump in her throat barely dissipating. “Does it have to end now?” she asked quietly.

 

“I would very much like it not to,” Severus said, a touch of hope in his voice. “I … I would like it to be the first of many. But if tonight’s events have made you reconsider—”

 

“Shut up, Severus,” she said, and he did just that. Her lips twitched and the lump was suddenly gone. “I’m fairly certain I started fancying you before the Easter hols last year. I’d be a bloody idiot to pass on the opportunities to exploit your stupidity.”

 

“My what?”

 

“What else would you call a fondness for hair like mine and a willingness to put up with my bossy, insufferable personality?”

 

“Oh, the bossy I can handle. Nothing says I have to listen to you,” he said, daring to come closer to her. “And you’ve been insufferable right from the beginning. It’s one of your less charming traits, but one I knew of beforehand. And your hair …. There are no words for it. Except, perhaps, that while it gets all over everything unless you tie it up, and anyone with Polyjuice would have a field day, it’s probably one of my favorite textures in the world.”

 

“Your favorite texture?” she asked, raising her chin so she could keep looking at him.

 

He hummed. “Yes. Silk, new grass, and your curls.” He threaded his fingers through the strands at the nape of her neck, and her breath caught. “Wait,” he said, breath against her mouth as her eyes shut.

 

The first peck was very, very tentative. The second was a solid, though brief, press of lips on lips. The third was a real kiss that made Hermione’s knees buckle before her arms went around his neck. His other hand came up and touched her back very lightly between her shoulder blades.

 

“As I thought,” he said as they parted. “Another favorite.”

 

“How old are you again?”

 

“I’m an old soul.”

 

“Right. I suppose that would explain your silver tongue.”

 

“We haven’t gotten that far yet,” he said and laughed as she stepped back to smack him. She couldn’t fight off a grin, and she didn’t want to. “Shall we start this night again? Or pick up from where we left off?”

 

“Did you have any intentions of kissing me before?” she asked, already knowing the answer.

 

“Long before this evening.”

 

“Well,” Hermione said, putting on her best haughty tone and chin tilt. “I suppose, then, if it was always your intention to, then—”

 

She was cut off by Severus’ mouth on hers.

 

“Can I get away with doing that more often?” he asked when they parted a brief time later.

 

“Maybe sometimes. You can’t always interrupt me.”

 

“I wouldn’t want to,” he said, and Hermione knew he meant it. “May I have another dance?”

 

“All of them,” Hermione affirmed.

 

They returned to the Great Hall arm in arm.

 

 

December 24, 1975

 

 

There was a shift in the air that Hermione could feel as tangibly as the cold.

 

Not long after they returned to the Great Hall, Severus had pointed out that Remus and Lily were dancing together. Perhaps not well, but they looked like they were having fun. When they took a break, the four took it together, eventually joined by Alice, who said Peter had abandoned her to follow a bitter and moping James. Frank Longbottom joined them not long after, and they passed the evening happily.

 

Severus walked her back to the tower, as was his intention before, but it was almost sunrise when he did. The ball, it turned out, didn’t end until there was no one left or the band was too tired to continue. Hermione suspected the band used a few illicit-but-not-illegal potions to keep them going without any sleep, and she and Severus were on the dancefloor with another Ravenclaw couple and a Slytherin and Hufflepuff duo.

 

“Many of my housemates didn’t attend,” Severus mused quietly so only she could hear. “There was talk of having a party in the common room only for the pure-bloods and upperclassmen, for those who didn’t want to mingle with … inferiors.”

 

“You can’t be the only half-blood in Slytherin,” Hermione whispered back.

 

“I’m not, but he’s one.” Severus gestured to the other couple. “And the other two that I know of are too young to be in the common room at that hour. A few fourth years were here early on, but they probably only came to see what the Yule Ball was about.”

 

It was the last of their conversations aside from asking each other if they wanted to leave, which resulted in them not leaving. They only left because they needed to go to their dorms to change and grab what they’d need to leave with Minerva. And they did so with kisses, quick and slightly drawn out, murmurs of how ridiculous they were on one another’s lips until the Fat Lady cleared her throat and glared at them with too much amusement to be serious.

 

As Hermione entered the common room, she was startled to see Professor McGonagall coming from the stairs leading to the girls’ dormitories.

 

“Ah, Hermione. There you are,” she said, coming toward her. “The girls said they hadn’t seen you since last night, so I was just going to check …” She paused, looking Hermione over. “You had a pleasant evening?”

 

Hermione touched her hair, feeling it had lost a bit of its silky smoothness. Her lips felt swollen from her parting with Severus, and she remembered that his own thin lips had been a bit puffier than normal. “I did,” she admitted, blushing.

 

“Not too pleasant, I hope,” McGonagall chided.

 

“What sort of witch do you take me for?” Hermione asked, grinning as the older witch shook her head with an affectionate grin.

 

“I didn’t think you would, but one never knows with those drinks. Which reminds me: you and Severus will have to take the train back to London, as I’m not getting to dinner until quite late. I already owled Bob, he’ll meet you two there. Aside from the spiked drinks and a couple inappropriate couples, I have two very serious matters to deal with as Head of House.”

 

Hermione was sure she knew what one of them was, but instead of asking about it, she simply nodded. She hurried upstairs and grabbed a change of clothes, scurrying to the bathroom. She didn’t go unnoticed.

 

“Did you two stay at the ball all night?” Lily’s demand came just as Hermione closed the curtain to her stall.

 

“We may have,” she said, unfastening her dress and letting it fall to the floor. She barely had her feet out of it before Lily’s hand darted beneath the curtain and snatched the dress, making Hermione yelp. “Oh, sneaking back in in the clothes you wore last night!”

 

“We know what that means!” Marlene singsonged.

 

“It means we were there until the band stopped,” Hermione said as she finished undressing and darted into the shower stall. She turned on the water, hearing the outer curtain yanked open as she did.

 

“I don’t exactly picture Sev being the party-all-night type,” Lily said.

 

“You mean you can picture him as the shagging type?” Marlene asked with a hint of disgust.

 

“He’s a male, of course I can,” Lily replied. “Well, was that what you were really doing?”

 

Hermione huffed as she lathered her hair. “We didn’t shag, we danced! We talked. We …”

 

“You what?” Marlene asked.

 

“Might have …” Hermione started to say but found putting it into exact words felt wrong. “One doesn’t simply approach the person they fancy and …”

 

“They kissed,” Alice’s voice joined them, but she was much farther away. “Frank said he saw them by the willow tree around the time Peter stalked off with James.”

 

“Hey, could you guys give us a minute?” Lily asked as Hermione rinsed her hair and started cleansing her skin. She wasn’t sure if the girls agreed, though they must have as Lily began to talk. “Why didn’t either of you say anything to me? You fancied him, he fancied you, and yet neither of you said anything and let me carry on flirting with him like a twat.”

 

“I didn’t want to,” Hermione confessed. “It was nothing against you, I just didn’t see the point.”

 

“Hermione,” Lily said, sounding a bit unsure. “If you told me you fancied him, I would’ve backed off.”

 

Hermione shut off the water, and after a shuffle on the other side, a Gryffindor towel was thrown over the top of the curtain. Hermione pulled it down and wrapped it around herself before opening the curtain and seeing a forlorn Lily on the other side.

 

“I didn’t think he would see you like that. He’s changed since you’ve come around, I just didn’t think it was because of you.”

 

“I’m not sure it’s only about me,” Hermione confessed. She wanted to tell Lily about thirty-four-year-old Severus, or at least the things she knew about him. But how would she explain it, even if she could. Especially when Lily wouldn’t see thirty-four herself.

 

And that thought made Hermione’s heart heavy.

 

“I haven’t known him as long as you have, I know. But I don’t think he’s really changed at all. I think that Severus is just Severus, with new clothes and a slightly brighter outlook. Maybe, it’s only a medium grey instead of the pure black of awful.”

 

Lily chuckled. “Maybe you’re right. I know, though, that if you hadn’t come along, Sev would have just drifted off with those awful Death Eater wannabes. And I guess that’s sort of my fault. Sirius and James, they said something on the train our very first day: Slytherin’s the house of evil. If a witch or wizard knows any kind of Dark Magic, they’re going to be bad. I never thought of it the way you said it, about hexes and jinxes, and I don’t think I ever would have. But I think that, despite they’re unpleasantness, the words stuck with me.”

 

Hermione nodded, though she couldn’t think of anything to say.

 

Lily nodded, too, seemingly satisfied with how things had gone, and left Hermione to finish getting ready.

 

After grabbing what she’d need for a couple days with her foster family, Hermione hurried down to catch the train.

 

Severus was waiting for her in the Great Hall with his own bag slung over his shoulder. In his basic trousers and a dark sweater, his hair still wet from a recent shower, he was the complete opposite from the put-together Severus the night before, though a no less welcome sight.

 

“Ah, there she is, with her hair atrocious once more,” he said in a bored tone. “Am I to be suffocated with it on the train?”

 

“Yes,” she replied as she took his arm. “I intend to use you as a pillow, even if you’re bony and lumpy.”

 

“Wonderful. Smothered and suffocated,” he said, and she peeked to see that telling glint in his eye.

 

“You adore the thought,” she mumbled to him.

 

“I do,” he confessed, pulling her closer to him.

 

They boarded, finding a car to themselves, figuring that Lily and maybe Remus would find them later if they wanted to. Severus tucked away their bags and then sat in the corner against the window, turned slightly with a bit of a recline. Hermione sat beside him, tentatively laying so her head rested on his chest. It was the correct move, for his arms came around her and held her to him.

 

That sense of change niggled at her again. A distant thought whispered that the Time-Turner was the catalyst, as though there was a whole other time and place where none of what had happened took place. Or that maybe some of the things that did happen were done differently.

 

But it made no difference, for as much as Hermione could tell, she was always meant to be here. On the train, in Severus’ arms, four years before she was born. And if she had somehow altered the universe, she did it in a way that Hermione strived to do everything: for the best.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 13

 

—————S—————

 

November 3, 1993

 

Severus Snape felt old.

 

He was stiff, injuries from his youth aching with the Scottish dampness. There was also the stress of having had a mass murderer near the dorm of the boy he swore to protect, and his own beloved offspring.

 

And it was that offspring that was causing him to feel exceptionally old; he didn’t feel he was ready to be a teenager’s father. He couldn’t process that his little girl was turning thirteen years old today.

 

Severus was not the type to be maudlin. He did not sit in his desk chair and stare at the top of her curly head bent over a cauldron and think of her days as a babe. He did loathe how much she was like her mother, far too mature for her age. He missed the days when she was small, brave, and wise, but quite cunning. Her at five years old, brewing a simple first year potion with only minimal assistance; her first solo flight on a real broom at six when Hermione was too busy with toddler Leo to realize what he was doing. It had been fifty-fifty on which house she would be sorted into, both he and Hermione agreed that those were her only two options, and they’d only know when she was sorted. She could easily convince them she hadn’t eaten the cookies despite the crumbs on her face, and yet was willing to dive headfirst into something that would give Draco pause.

 

And here she was, thirteen, in a red and gold tie, still brave, wise, cunning, but no longer small. There would be boys trying to court her now, in just three years they would need to discuss what she wanted to do after Hogwarts. There were talks of possibly hosting the Triwizard Tournament and a Yule Ball next year for the first time in fifteen years. She would be a year too young to go on her own, but she’d probably attend as someone’s date.

 

“Professor Snape,” his daughter’s voice brought him out of his reverie, and he realized he had gotten a bit maudlin after all. She was handing him a bottle of her completed potion, the first in her class, as always.

 

“Thank you, Miss Snape,” he said as he collected her bottle and set it in the wire basket with the others. She’d been brewing Sleeping Draught since she was nine, he knew it would be perfect.

 

Standing abruptly, he swept the room to inspect her classmate’s cauldrons.

 

It was the disgusting shade of green of one young Slytherin boy’s potion that made him pause. Green meant that the lavender hadn’t been put in at the right time, and it was nearly too late to fix. Severus looked from the cauldron to the boy, then followed the boy’s half-glazed eyes right to …

 

He snatched the boy’s book from the table and smacked him on the ears with it.

 

“Ow,” the boy whined, rubbing his ear as the class gave an unsure giggle.

 

“Pay attention, Mr. Devon, or you will find that instead of a Sleeping Draught, you’ve created a disgusting, foul-smelling potion that would put you in a coma from poisoning. Either way, you will be taking a sample of it tonight before bed. Hope you merely find yourself well-rested come morning rather than haunting the common room.”

 

He swept away, watching another Slytherin and the Creevey boy suddenly spring into action. He rolled his eyes and shook his head. Idiots, the lot of them. If they really thought he’d make them drink poison, then he knew his momentary wistful remembrance was not about to ruin his reputation. The potion would make them ill, of course, and make them wish they’d followed instructions, but it wouldn’t kill them.

 

He sighed to himself, realizing that one of his greatest fears as a father of a pretty girl was already beginning. At the same moment, he felt his right knee buckle.

 

Old. He felt way, way too old.

 

—————A—————

 

November 6, 1993

 

“Rory,” Draco greeted as he came up beside her on the Quidditch stands. He glanced around at the others watching the match with her. “Luna, Weasley, Granger, Weasel. Where’s Longbottom? Isn’t he usually around you lot? Or does Weasel prefer the girl chat?”

 

“Bugger off, Malfoy,” Ron retorted. “Slither away, now.”

 

“Don’t be rude,” Ginny chided before leaning against Rory. “Neville’s with Seamus and Dean in the main Gryffindor stands. We wanted to watch with Luna, so…”

 

“Third-wheeling, is he?” Draco commented, making a face as if he were impressed by the idea before adjusting his cloak to better shield him from the storm.

 

“Whaddya mean, third wheel?” Ron asked before getting distracted by the game.

 

“What are you doing over here, Malfoy?” Hermione asked, having so little interest in the game that she seemed to find the prospect of talking to Draco appealing.

 

“I gave Crabbe and Goyle the slip. Thought a change of scenery would do me good, not to mention the level of intelligent conversation. Well, when I don’t factor in Weasel.”

 

Ron flipped him off but was too caught up with Quaffles and points to really mean it.

 

There was silence in the stands for a moment, and as the Weasley siblings shifted closer to the rail to watch the action, Hermione shifted away from between them and weaved her way to stand next to Draco.

 

He was watching the Seekers, following their paths as they zigged and zagged.

 

“I want to know something,” Hermione said.

 

“Not surprising,” Draco retorted, keeping his eyes on the sky.

 

“What are you doing? I get being nice to Rory, you grew up with her. I even understand being kind to Luna and Ginny. But why are you being nice to me? And Harry. You haven’t said a rotten thing about either of us all week.”

 

At this, Draco looked at her, sizing her up. He glanced briefly at Rory, but the movement was so swift that Hermione missed it.

 

“I was told my opinions and beliefs needed a reevaluation. You and Potter are a part of the people I was taught to hate, as is Weasel. So far, the latter has been about what I expected, but aside from that, I think there may be something wrong with what I’ve been taught.”

 

“About pure-blood superiority?”

 

“Among other things,” Draco conceded. “I can’t say I won’t mock Potter or you if the situation calls for it. People are watching, I need to maintain an image. But I’ll choose my words more carefully. I’ve thrown around terms and insults in the past that are too vulgar to be repeated. I disgust myself just thinking about saying them,” he sniffed, turning his attention back to the game. “Where the blazes did Potter and Diggory go?”

 

“Oh, bloody hell!” Ron gasped, and Aurora turned back to the game just in time to watch Harry fall limply from the clouds without his broom.

 

She noted a half dozen teachers, her dad and Aunt Min among them, throwing their hands out in time with Dumbledore. They all shouted something, and as they did, Harry stopped with a mighty jerk before slowly lowering to the ground.

 

“What happened?” Ginny asked.

 

“Dementors,” Hermione said, pointing to the sky.

 

Their shadows could just be made out through the rainstorm. A chill ran down Aurora’s spine, and she put an arm around Ginny as she shuddered.

 

“Tell Potter I’m sorry,” Draco said.

 

“Why?” Hermione asked.

 

“Because I’m going to need to make fun of him for this,” he said with great regret, and Aurora got the distinct feeling that the change in the wind wasn’t only caused by the Dementors moving away from the school.

 

 

December 6, 1993

 

 

“Hello, Rory,” Aunt Minnie greeted as she closed the door. A beat later, she was wrapped in the older woman’s arms. “I see you all the time, and yet I never get to spend much time with you. I think I saw more of your mother as a student than I do you.”

 

“Something tells me that life at Hogwarts wasn’t quite as eventful in the seventies,” Rory replied with a cheeky grin, earning a chuckle.

 

“Perhaps in a different way. Now, what brings you to my doorstep and not your father’s?” Her smile faltered. Despite being alone in her office, Aunt Min lowered her voice, “He told me you know . Is there something you want to discuss? I doubt many others have, but we’ve both noticed Draco Malfoy hanging around you and your friends. Including when you’re with Mr. Potter.”

 

Aurora shifted, unsure how to ask. “Well, there is something I want to discuss. And it does have to do with us and Draco, but it’s not about … that. Not really. Maybe a bit—”

 

“Rory,” Aunt Min cut her off, a softness to her stern scowl that gave away the tender affection she always exuded when her niece rambled.

 

“Right. Draco’s staying here for the Christmas hols, and Dad may have hinted that he’s the only Slytherin staying, except for a few seventh years. I was wondering, in the spirit of Christmas and house unity, could Draco stay in Gryffindor Tower during the break?”

 

Aunt Min looked thoughtful, a bit put out, and extremely intrigued. She gestured for Aurora to sit, and then took her own seat on the other side of the desk. She folded her hands, looking more interested in the stack of papers than her niece, though Aurora knew better. She also knew that this was not the time to talk, so she waited patiently for her aunt to come to a conclusion.

 

“Rory, your proposition is very noble. Admittedly, no Gryffindor has ever asked me if a student from another house could stay in the tower. It is a wonderful suggestion, and I know it comes from an honest want for inclusion. But it’s not so simple. However,” –here, she gave a cat-like grin—”if Mr. Malfoy were to find himself in the tower after curfew, and his Head of House does not demand he return to his dormitory, the house-elves may need to conjure an additional bed with the other third-year boys. We can’t allow Mr. Filch to catch him, can we?”

 

 

December 18, 1993

 

 

As Aurora came around the corner near the hunched witch, she was brought up short by a sight that would have Mr. Filch cursing: the Weasley twins snickering. She moved slowly and quietly, looking around to make sure no other students were coming, and then tried to sneak up behind them.

 

“What are you two doing?” she asked, though neither twin looked particularly worried that she’d caught them.

 

“Giving a good friend some valuable information,” Fred replied.

 

“We’re sure he’ll repay us for it,” George added.

 

“He had better.” They nodded to one another, sobering as much as they could.

 

“And you’re missing out on Hogsmeade to do this?” She arched a brow.

 

“Bit scary when you do that,” Fred pointed at it.

 

“Look like your father.” George nodded.

 

“Only not as beak-like.”

 

“Or greasy.”

 

“No offense,” they said together.

 

Aurora shook her head.

 

“And what are you doing up here?” Fred asked.

 

“I was looking for Luna. Sometimes I find her just wandering around.”

 

“Bored, are you?” George asked.

 

“Anyone else up there bored to tears?”

 

“Why?” Aurora asked slowly. “What did you have in mind?”

 

—————A—————

 

The wind was cold and biting but exhilarating. With the Quaffle tucked under her left arm, right hand gripping her broom, she zipped off toward the goal posts where Colin Creevey was shaking on his broom. She doubted he wanted to be anything like Harry at the moment, with her barreling toward him with the twins behind her.

 

They couldn’t play with all the balls. Her father, when asked if they could play some Quidditch, had not let them use the Snitch or Bludgers. He didn’t want the game to last forever, and he also didn’t want to have to talk to Poppy if there were broken bones.

 

He was watching from the stands, along with Professor Lupin, though she was sure both were more concerned with the papers they were marking, since the end of term was the next day.

 

It was quite amusing how the twins had managed to round up a good number of second years who had brooms, and then went around to ask the other houses if there were any youngsters who wanted to play, and yet were too scared to ask one of the only available teachers to use the pitch. Out of seven Gryffindors, two Hufflepuffs, three Ravenclaws, and two Slytherins, the only one willing to ask was the Potions master’s daughter, and she didn’t chalk that up to bravery.

 

Still, despite his snarl and his grumble about wasting time, he let them have their fun. Professor Lupin, who was heading to her dad’s office just as they were having the conversation, suggested Transfiguring a couple of items into soft rubber balls in lieu of Bludgers. Her dad had sneered at the suggestion but had done it.

 

They rounded up a Hufflepuff fourth year that hadn’t gone to Hogsmeade to act as a Snitch. He had to be tagged three times for it to count as a win.

 

So far, he’d only been tagged once. By the girls. The twins had insisted on a battle of the sexes.

 

“Bludger’s coming your way,” she heard Fred warn teasingly.

 

“You aren’t going to get me with it,” she called back, keeping her eyes on Colin as he weaved unsteadily, unsure where to go.

 

She shifted her arm, gave the Quaffle a mighty toss, and watched as it sailed past Colin and one of the Slytherin boys. A moment later, a soft springy ball bounced against the back of her head. Turning, she saw Fred give her a cheeky grin and a wink before following his brother.

 

She shifted, unease and something else making her want to crawl out of her skin in the best way possible. She hated it.

 

—————S—————

 

December 25, 1975

 

They walked through the thin forest on the edge of Nan McGonagall’s property, pinky fingers linked. The house was too full for his and Hermione’s liking, and the conversation was all about babies. Two of the oldest McGonagall grandchildren had announced their expected arrivals, and Delia’s pregnancy was still a novelty.

 

So, when it was clear that no one was going to miss them, he and Hermione left the house.

 

It was snowing lightly, the ground covered and the trees lightly dusted. The sun was cutting through the clouds, and alone as they were, Severus almost wanted to call the whole scene romantic.

 

“We haven’t really had a chance to talk since the train,” she said when the house grew small in the distance.

 

That was true. But he wouldn’t trade having her fall asleep against him and in his arms for anything. No one had ever trusted him like that, and he wasn’t sure anyone else would.

 

“Was there something you wanted to discuss?” he asked, not letting his nerves show.

 

There were so many things she might want to discuss. She might not want to continue their physical intimacy. They’d only kissed, but maybe she’d been caught up in the wonder of it that night and had fallen prey to typical teenage hormones. Maybe she was scared of what the idiots would do in retaliation.

 

“Well,” she said, stepping away from him to lean against a thick, slightly curved tree, “I’d like to know your thoughts.”

 

“On?”

 

“Us.”

 

“Us?” He didn’t want to assume he knew what she meant.

 

Hermione wrung her fingers and chewed her lip, and he had to stop himself from taking her hands and kissing her senseless to stop the nervous habit.

 

“ I know you said you were hoping for future dates, and we kissed. A lot. But I want to know where we stand.” She paused, wondering if he was paying attention.

 

As it was, Severus was distracted, forcing himself to look away lest he spring himself on her. He’d heard everything she’d said, but he was distracted by what was growing on the tree just feet above her head, and its appearance made him wonder if tradition would be acceptable.

 

“I mean,” she continued, “are we only friends who are experimenting? Or are we more?”

 

“More.”

 

“Ar—”

 

“My answer was more. So long as you agree, Hermione Granger, I wish to court you.” He pulled his eyes away from the plant and locked them on her wide brown eyes. “I will not adhere to the tradition that dictates doing so will end in marriage. It’s archaic, really. I would never want to hold you to a promise when we don’t know how this will end. But, in all other aspects….”

 

“Every school event, every Hogsmeade weekend, is automatically you and me. And if one of us is invited somewhere that requires a guest,” she replied.

 

“Yes.”

 

“Then I agree.” She beamed. “Though I’d have been happy just knowing we were more than friends.”

 

Severus smirked and stepped closer to her, putting one hand on the tree beside her head. “There’s another thing about courtship that’s a guarantee.”

 

“And that is?”

 

“I’m the only one who gets to kiss you under that ,” he said, tilting his chin and bringing her attention to the mistletoe she’d stepped under.

 

She looked up, blushed, and let out an elated giggle. She took his lapels in her fists and pulled him closer. He relaxed his arm, allowing his body to fall closer to her, and found Hermione’s arms circling his neck, bringing him closer still. Slowly, tentatively, Severus allowed his hands to make their way to Hermione’s hips. She responded by putting her fingers in his hair.

 

Logically, he knew they had only been somewhat together for two days, that there was no way anything was going to happen. But logic was pushed aside by teenage hormones and was very quickly silencing all other thought and reason.

 

Hermione took a breath, her mouth remained open just a bit, and he couldn’t resist. She pulled him a bit closer when his tongue lightly touched hers, a noise coming from the back of her throat.

 

They sprung apart in an instant at the sound of a twig snapping, Hermione with nowhere else to go but around the tree. Severus had his wand in hand, no magic outside of Hogwarts be damned, and pointed it towards the noise.

 

A bunny hopped out and froze, nose twitching and its head darting around, looking for danger.

 

Severus relaxed, and a beat later, Hermione giggled as he sheathed his wand.

 

“I suppose it could’ve been worse,” Severus said as he moved a step toward her and reached for her hand. “It could have been Bob or one of the others. Then we’d never hear the end of it.”

 

“I think Minerva already knows, but it’s nice not to reveal too much,” Hermione agreed as she took his hand.

 

“So, we won’t be too obvious,” he said, ensuring his face showed none of the amusement he felt at the idea of sneaking around like a proper teenager. “We’ll be mysteriously unreadable for the next few hours until we can get back to the school.”

 

“Agreed,” Hermione said with a nod, and they continued making their way around the property. “And when we’re back at school, we’ll be on our best behavior. Honestly, snogging in alcoves is ridiculous. Not to mention hardly the place for privacy, since everyone knows about them.”

 

“I agree.” Severus nodded, his lips twitching with the urge to smirk. That sofa in the lab was ridiculously comfortable, and if Moody left them in the Room of Requirement to meditate, well, he’d certainly find a form of inner peace.

 

—————H—————

 

January 9, 1976

 

There was a sense of déjà vu as Hermione stood outside the Great Hall after finishing her breakfast, impatiently waiting for Severus. She’d wanted to meet up with him before breakfast but found Lily had somehow beaten her to it. He hadn’t looked thrilled with Lily following him up from the dungeons; the glower he wore reminiscent of his older self. It had only softened a tiny bit when she’d smiled at him.

 

That was actually the reason she was waiting, worried that she’d somehow made him angry or upset him. She couldn’t fathom how, but she didn’t want to chance it. And when she noticed he’d gotten mail, that had made her more nervous.

 

He emerged with a group of younger Slytherins, Sirius’ younger brother and his mates, and they waved at Severus as they headed to the stairs, leaving them alone in the corridor. He turned to her and gave her a whisper of a smile as he came toward her. She put her arms around his neck as he got closer, pulling him in for a hug that he returned instantly.

 

“Happy birthday,” she said, placing a kiss just under his jaw as she gave a slight tug on the hairs at the nape of his neck. He tightened his hold fractionally.

 

“Thank you. Thus far, it has been truly happy indeed,” he said, pulling back to gaze at her. His smile faded to something thoughtful the moment their eyes met, and then there was a bit of distaste. “Well, except when I was told there was a Gryffindor waiting for me in the dungeon corridor and I didn’t find you on the other side.”

 

“I’m sorry,” she said instantly. “I wanted to meet you, and I noticed Lily was gone when I woke. But I thought she’d gone to the prefects’ bathroom.”

 

“Yes, well, due to recent events, she was safe. Aside from that, there was absolutely nothing about the experience that gave me even a modicum of joy.”

 

The reminder of recent events and everything surrounding them made her smile waver, bringing to mind the war that was waging outside the school and was only getting worse.

 

Donovan Mulciber was expelled, though he hadn’t lost his wand. At some point during the Yule Ball, he and a few other Slytherins had left the dungeons in search of a laugh. Mary McDonald had apparently wound up the source of their humor. A compulsion charm was placed on her for the worst reason, and while no one ever said what she was forced to do, she looked a mess when it was all over. Since Mulciber was the one caught in the compromising position, he’d been given the strongest punishment. Avery and a few other sixth year Slytherins were suspended and only allowed to return under heavy restrictions.

 

Severus had told her and Lily the evening of their first day back while he worked on improving the recipe for the Blood-Replenishing Potion, having heard the details in the common room. Dumbledore had given a very brief announcement and had followed it with a stern warning about malicious magic in the school and its consequences. She hadn’t missed the disappointed gaze he’d shot the Marauders.

 

The influx of noise from the Great Hall made her and Severus step away from each other, and as Severus stepped out of her line of sight, she caught Lily and Remus walking towards them.

 

“Lily tells me it’s your birthday. Many happy returns,” Remus said with a smile.

 

“Spare me,” Severus sneered. “I’m older, not much more than that.”

 

“Sixteen, Sev!” Lily exclaimed.

 

“Yes. Though technically it won’t be until six this evening.”

 

Lily huffed and shook her head with a grin as she stomped past them toward class.

 

“Not one for birthdays, Severus?” Remus asked.

 

Severus slipped his hand into Hermione’s, one of the only displays of affection they let anyone see.

 

“No more than I am for any other day, to be honest. It’s easy to get Lily in a snit; she feels everyone should want attention, especially on their birthday.”

 

“Yes.” Remus smiled. “I’ve noticed that before.”

 

They didn’t say anything else on their way to class, nor did they discuss anything aside from classwork. Severus walked Hermione (and Remus, by proximity) to the side door that led out to the greenhouses for Herbology, and that was the last she saw of her boyfriend until lunch.

 

He was the one waiting outside the Great Hall this time, and while Lily and Remus followed Hermione, he didn’t seem terribly perturbed by it. He looked Remus up and down, sizing him up.

 

“If where I’m about to take you ever gets invaded by your little friends, know that I will find a way to do absolutely terrible things to you after I’ve relocated everything, are we clear?”

 

Remus frowned. “Yes?”

 

Severus nodded, shifted his bag, and took Hermione’s hand. They went up to his abandoned classroom, avoiding Madam Pomfrey’s hospital wing entrance.

 

Remus paused in the doorway, momentarily stunned as he looked around the room. Lily went over to the sofa and immediately plopped down, patting the spot next to her with a smile at Severus.

 

“Don’t gape,” Severus said over his shoulder to Remus before pulling out his wand to Transfigure a chair into a second sofa. He then plopped down onto it, looking expectantly at Hermione. Before she moved, Lily leaped across the space and sat next to him.

 

“Oh, this one is much comfier than the other one,” she said as she wiggled into the corner a bit more. “Did you bring lunch?” she asked Severus as she folded her hands on her lap.

 

Instead of arguing, Hermione moved to the other sofa, dragging it closer so she could be close to Severus.

 

He surprised her by getting up and moving to sit beside her the moment she sat down.

 

“Yes, I did,” he said as he began to pull sandwiches wrapped in paper from his satchel.

 

“Why the impromptu lunch away?” Hermione asked him, her knee bumping his as they adjusted their seating position.

 

Severus looked at Remus for a long moment.

 

“I received a letter from my mother this morning,” he started, turning back to Hermione. “She sends her warmest regards, by the way, and says you looked lovely at the ball.”

 

Hermione blinked. “You sent her a photograph?” she asked in disbelief.

 

“No, I sent it to my grandmother,” he replied before taking a bite of his sandwich, knowing his pause would drive her spare. “Mother’s letter was actually two, one clearly sent by Muggle means and the other by owl. The first simply said, ‘Don’t come home.’ If it was meant to be for Christmas hols, it was moot. I’ve never gone home for the holidays. However, the second has led me to believe it was a general warning. My grandfather, Severus Prince, has passed away.”

 

“I’m sorry for your loss,” Remus said, and Lily nodded.

 

Severus waved it off. “I didn’t know him; he disowned my mother and never acknowledged my birth. But his death is a blessing for my mother, as it has allowed my grandmother to welcome her back home.” He turned to Hermione, meeting her gaze. There was pride in his black eyes, as well as joy and relief. “She left Tobias. My mother waited until he was blackout drunk, packed everything of value to her and me, and left him and Spinner’s End. She never has to go back.”

 

Hermione’s sharp intake of breath was all the warning he had before she launched herself at him, holding him tightly and laughing with him.

 

“I’m so happy for her, for you,” she said into his shoulder.

 

“I don’t understand,” Remus said.

 

“Does this mean you aren’t going to be around during the summer?” Lily’s comment ended their mirth.

 

Hermione and Severus both looked at the slightly petulant ginger who stared at Severus and ignored a very puzzled Remus.

 

“Yes,” Severus replied. “Though I doubt I would have been around at all unless Tobias ended up in prison again.”

 

“Who’s Tobias?” Remus asked Hermione.

 

“His father.”

 

“Oh,” Remus said, nodding. In a cold tone, he added, “I can understand that sort of joy, then.”

 

Severus shot Remus an intrigued glare before looking at Lily.

 

“So, you’re just going to leave me, then? Alone with Tuney.”

 

“Don’t start,” Severus said sharply.

 

Lily turned away, facing the wall and pressing her cheek into her hand.

 

Remus cleared his throat. “We should start heading to Defense,” he said, getting to his feet. “I hear Professor Moody is much less tolerable in the afternoons.”

 

No one said anything as they got up to leave the room, and Hermione wondered why Lily had acted so selfishly.

 

—————S—————

 

He decided to wait for her on the sofa, facing the door, going over the letter in his hand again.

 

Dear Mr. S. Snape,

 

After reviewing both your academic commentary on the Fertility Potion, as well as your essay on improvements in both technique and quality of the basic pain relief, we wish to inform you that your work has been accepted into our periodical, Potions Quarterly. Your commentary will be featured in the spring edition, your essay in the summer edition.

 

We thank you again for your interest and look forward to seeing more entries from you in the future.

 

Sincerely,

  Hicklepunk

Editor

 

P.S. Robert and I have filled out the forms and have placed a patent in your name for the new recipe.

 

He hadn’t lied to Hermione about the letter from his mother or about its contents. But they were two of four, the third one in his hand, the fourth from Bob and Delia, wishing him a happy birthday. He imagined the patent registration fee was meant to be a gift, and he’d already written and owled his sincere gratitude.

 

But this letter was everything, this letter was his golden ticket to getting an apprenticeship with a Master. He may even be asked by one or two, if he were lucky. He’d duplicated it a half dozen times and hidden them away in his trunk, but this was the original.

 

He was just about to reread the short missive once more when the door opened and closed promptly.

 

There she was: his Hermione. His. The letter in his hand, the smile on this girl’s face, he’d never had luck like this in his life, and he was partially terrified of the moment the other shoe dropped.

 

“I feel awful for not giving you your present earlier in the day,” she said in greeting, joining him on the sofa with a small slim box.

 

He eyed it suspiciously.

 

“I expect nothing, and you bloody well know it.”

 

She shrugged.

 

“Well, I got you something anyway, and you bloody well know that ,” she said as she handed him the box. He dropped the letter in his lap to take the box.

 

“Not another sweater?” He raised his brow and allowed a crooked smile just to see the way she blushed.

 

“You like that sweater,” she grumbled.

 

He did. She’d given him a warm expensive-feeling black sweater. It was one of the nicest things he’d ever owned, and he wore it whenever the occasion called for it. Most of the Christmas hols were spent with that sweater on his person or near him. It was certainly better than the quill and ink set he’d gifted her, and he had immediately vowed to gift better.

 

He’d forgotten she’d have the chance to give him something else so soon.

 

He pulled on the deep green ribbon that held the lid to the black box, and his heart stuttered when he read Rowl and Sidney’s Fine Instruments embossed in silver on the top. He took a moment to take in the magnificent sight and braced himself for what might be a terrible joke. His breath whooshed out of him at the sight that met him when he opened the box.

 

A pure copper stirring rod. It was not one of the most expensive pieces of equipment she could have bought; it was top of the line, and worth more Galleons than she should have ever paid. He ran his fingers over it, back and forth along the length, when he felt a flaw near the top of the handle end. Rolling the rod around revealed S. Snape engraved on the surface.

 

“Do you like it?” Hermione asked tentatively. “I know I got you ingredients last year, and it looks like I can’t think of anything else you would want, but….”

 

“I am … speechless,” he said, putting the cover back on the box and setting it on the nearby table. He shifted toward Hermione and took her hands in his. “I don’t really care what the gift is, I feel privileged that you even thought about me enough to buy me a gift. But this is … much more than I deserve.”

 

“I’ll be the judge of that,” she said with a touch of superiority. She grinned, but it faded as she spotted the letter on his lap. “Is that from your mother?”

 

“No, it was what I was going to share with you and Lily this afternoon, but Lupin followed us,” he said, handing it to Hermione for her to read.

 

He found it annoyingly adorable that her lips moved silently as she read the letter, and he was charmed by the way her eyes lit up even though she couldn’t pull her eyes away from the letter until she’d read every word.

 

“Severus!” she gasped joyfully. “I’m … this is amazing. I’m so proud!” She grabbed his shoulders and half pulled him and half propelled herself into him until her warm, soft lips were pressed against his for a brief moment. “I’m also a little jealous, but mostly proud.”

 

“You will do great things as well, I’m sure. Perhaps not as quickly or with as much brilliance.”

 

He chuckled, deep in his throat, as she kissed him to stop him talking. And soon the simple kiss became an outright snog.

 

Oh, he loved snogging, though he’d never admit it to anyone but the girl in his arms. Since Christmas, they’d done so nearly every day, though this first week back in their school routine had certainly caused the sessions to be much, much shorter.

 

He felt Hermione pull on his shoulders, and he followed her, only realizing halfway down that they were far from upright. But since she was doing the leading, and he was willing to follow her wherever, he was careful to keep as much of his weight off her as possible. She shifted her hands so that one was around his neck and the other rested on his back, holding him exactly where he wanted to be. As it always did when he was with her, time slowed and sped up all at once. It felt like they’d been snogging for hours, and yet when his hips accidentally shifted and caused her to moan softly, they’d barely been at it five minutes.

 

Something primal awakened in him, and he forced it to shut up and get behind his Occlumency shields. He was not an animal, and he did not want to jump in at the first opportunity like he’d witnessed too many young men do.

 

Growing up in Cokeworth had provided Severus a sex education at an age when most children still think babies spontaneously form inside a womb. He remembered seeing a couple about their age now rutting in an alley on his way home from school. He’d watched them in morbid fascination, not quite understanding what was happening. His mother had explained it, and so he had known how that girl had gotten what most children perceived as fat, and then suddenly was a mother herself. Most of the boys he’d gone to school with had lost their virginity before their third year of secondary, and many were already fathers.

 

Hogwarts was much the same in some ways, though magic helped with the possible consequences. He knew he was considered behind the other boys in his year in that respect, but he had no desire to conform.

 

Well, he did. But he wasn’t going to rush things with the one girl he felt actually understood him. The one person he was terrified of losing.

 

His hips flexed just as hers did and her whimper stopped him, allowing him to take a moment and clear his head. To get blood flowing back to his brain where it belonged.

 

“I’m … I’m not ….” Hermione panted.

 

“Nor am I.”

 

“Good. I mean, the chemical cocktail of hormones and endorphins are certainly trying to make a persuasive argument to go ahead, and I certainly care for you a great deal. Enough that, were we to do … that, I wouldn’t regret it, but….”

 

“Hermione,” Severus panted. “I agree. No need to explain.”

 

“Well,” –she blushed—”I wasn’t exactly objecting to what was happening. It was quite pleasant, actually, and I admit I would like to continue doing that. But when it comes to … doing ….”

 

He smiled as she stammered.

 

“I’ll keep my hands out of your skirt if you keep them out of my trousers until we’re both ready to explore that aspect of our relationship,” he said confidently. Just hope you last long enough to get to that stage , that pessimistic voice in his head grumbled, but he shoved it behind his shields.

 

“Good,” Hermione sighed. “Now, shall we resume the snogging or are you planning on … no, that would sound completely wrong given our conversation.”

 

“What were you going to say?” he asked, too curious to stop himself from asking.

 

Her blush deepened.

 

“Planning on playing … with your rod.”

 

Severus took a moment to process what she’d said before throwing his head back and roaring with laughter. She giggled beneath him before laughing outright herself, and when they settled, he stroked her cheek before kissing her again. And then the snogging resumed.

 

He wanted to experiment with the rod, he knew the perfect potion with which to test it, too. But he had so little time with Hermione like this and would most likely not find time with her again for a while, that he said “sod it” to himself and let the best thing he could have gotten for his birthday to carry on.

 

Her leg snaked around his, keeping their bodies pressed together in a pleasant way. She made soft mewling noises in her throat that were driving him spare and would stay in his dreams that night. His fingers were grazing her ribs, happily coaxing more pleasant sounds from her, when a tickle in the back of his mind told him he ought to move away. Physically still engaged, he tried to reason with little cognitive processing why he should pull away from Hermione.

 

The door opening explained why.

 

“Sev! I brought—oh! Oh, my, well,” Lily stammered.

 

He didn’t exactly scramble to get off of Hermione, seeing as how they weren’t doing anything too unseemly; he felt no need to be embarrassed. Not to mention it amused him that Hermione looked more annoyed than flustered by the interruption.

 

Lily cleared her throat. “I didn’t mean to intrude,” she ground out. “I thought I would bring Sev his gift. Thought he’d be brewing.”

 

Severus glanced at the clock on the wall. An hour. They’d been entwined for roughly an hour, which was longer than any session they’d had during the hols.

 

He cleared his throat. “I will be, in a moment.”

 

“Distracted?” Lily asked in a sickly-sweet voice that dripped with disdain. He caught the glare she flashed Hermione, though he wasn’t sure if he was meant to.

 

“Momentarily. I meant to thank Hermione for my gift. My gratitude got out of hand.”

 

“Oh, that wasn’t your gift?” she said, gesturing to the sofa.

 

“We’re sorry you had to see that,” Hermione said, straightening her top and skirt before standing. It hadn’t occurred to him that she was so disheveled, and he wished he’d had a chance to actually appreciate the state. “Severus was right.”

 

Lily scoffed, and Severus glared.

 

“Don’t think for one moment that you can claim any sort of moral high ground. Your escapades last year with a seventh year Ravenclaw are no secret,” Severus said, watching Hermione’s eyes widen. “Just because it didn’t get back to Gryffindor Tower doesn’t mean that no one knows. I believe it was a Slytherin prefect who caught you in the west corridor?”

 

Lily gaped like a fish. “He told you?” she managed to get out.

 

Severus shrugged. “He relayed the story with a few choice words that don’t bear repeating.”

 

Lily had the decency to blush and look at her feet.

 

“Well, enough comparing experiences. I did, after all, come bearing a gift. And cake, though I don’t think it’s big enough to split three ways,” she said, gesturing to the small bag dangling from her fingers and the cake resting in her palm.

 

“It’s fine,” Hermione said as she returned to the sofa. “I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, anyway; more for you two.”

 

Lily seemed pleased by this, though Severus didn’t understand why. He took a seat on the sofa, and then had to budge over to make room for Lily as she leapt to sit next to him.

 

They spent the rest of their time making stilted conversation until Lily left for rounds. Lily’s gift of a journal was thoughtful and useful and placed next to the stirring rod, which earned a bitter compliment from the ginger. Polite as ever, Severus stood with her when she rose to attend her duties and was caught off-guard by a full-on embrace, something Lily had never done. It was awkward.

 

She pulled back and kissed his cheek.

 

“Happy birthday, Sev!” she said, then turned and skipped out the door without so much as a ‘see you later’ for Hermione.

 

“What in the bloody hell was that?” he asked when the door was closed, furiously rubbing his cheek to remove the uncomfortable sensation of her mouth on him.

 

“She thinks I’m a slag and that all it took to get your attention was physical affection,” Hermione said, tilting her head thoughtfully. “What did she get caught doing with that Ravenclaw?”

 

“In short, Lily wasn’t precisely standing, or fully clothed. And considering said Ravenclaw was found bound with antlers a few days later, I highly doubt it was kept as quiet as she thinks.”

 

“I hadn’t heard,” Hermione countered, crossing her arms and titling her chin.

 

“It was around exams; I’m surprised you had attention to spare for anything but notes. You probably sat in the room while it was openly discussed and were none the wiser,” he said as he threw himself onto the sofa. He watched her face change from thoughtful to concerned, her teeth digging into her kiss swollen lips. “What is it?”

 

“Is that why you lost interest in her? She was a touch promiscuous and was willing to meet with boys outside her house, just not with you?”

 

Severus quickly weighed the possible cons in revealing a bit of truth to Hermione and knew that perhaps it was worth the chance of looking a fool.

 

“By the time I was made aware of Lily’s explorations, I had lost interest in her. I was already trying to figure out how to … hide what I felt for you.”

 

“Why? Why hide it? I certainly wasn’t.”

 

Severus gave a tiny grin.

 

“The best mask of all, for I had a hard time believing it would ever be possible.”

 

She smiled contentedly, then snuggled up against him before summoning her Arithmancy text to read the next chapter.

 

Severus took a moment to marvel at her. A small part of him still worried that whatever Lily was up to might end up tearing him away from the best thing that had ever happened to him. But that worry paled in comparison to the way Hermione reacted. Her lack of cattiness, her failure to fall for the bait, made her even more attractive than he already found her. She could have easily lashed out in jealousy, Merlin knows he had and likely would if the tables were somehow turned, but she hadn’t.

 

Was it possible to fall deeper in love with someone? He was willing to find out. Though maybe not tonight, he had a new potion to analyze if he wanted to test out his new birthday gift.

 

—————A—————

 

December 25, 1993

 

“Rory!” Aurora heard Draco’s voice from the boy’s dormitory. “Get up here.”

 

She rose from her chair, hearing Ginny and Hermione follow her as she made her way up to the dormitory.

 

Draco had made a bit of a nuisance of himself in the best way possible. It had driven Ron mad.

 

It started with surprising the trio by tagging along with them, Aurora, Ginny, and Luna down to Hagrid’s hut. When the gentle half-giant let them in and told them why he was so upset, Draco surprised everyone by apologizing for his part in the mess. He had since dedicated himself to Buckbeak’s defense, including writing a statement where he took the blame for the hippogriff’s actions.

 

“I doubt father will allow it,” Draco had confessed when Hermione read it to him, but merely shrugged and continued helping her with the legal books.

 

He’d spent every night in the Gryffindor Tower since then, conveniently staying past curfew. Rumor was that Filch was waiting right outside the portrait for Draco’s exit.

 

When she and the girls entered the dormitory, the boys were still in their pajamas, some of their gifts still not open, and a Firebolt rested on Harry’s lap.

 

“Blimey!” Ginny gasped.

 

“That’s impressive,” Aurora admitted, a pang of envy in her heart.

 

“Have any idea who might give Potter this?” Draco added, a hint of jealousy in his tone.

 

“Why would I know?” she asked, only to realize why they were asking. “There’s no way it’s who you’re thinking.”

 

“Positive?”

 

“Why would Rory know?” Harry asked, caressing the handle reverently.

 

“It wasn’t, Draco,” Aurora insisted.

 

“So, you have no idea who sent you a broom like that?” Hermione asked. “It’s supposed to be quite good, isn’t it?”

 

Draco eyed her suspiciously.

 

“The best,” he said.

 

“Harry, can I have a go? After you, of course,” Ron asked a bit too eagerly, then tried far too hard to appear calm.

 

“I don’t think anyone should ride that broom yet,” Hermione said immediately.

 

“It’s not that cold out,” Ginny protested, eyeing the broom like she used to eye Harry the year before. “And the snow will add cushion.”

 

“Granger’s right,” Draco said, causing the entire room to fall silent. He shrugged, then looked at a confused and put out Harry. “You don’t know who it’s from. What’s more, it’s not as though you haven’t been bucked off a broom before. Some might find that suspicious, but most may just think you don’t know how to handle anything with speed.”

 

“That was Quirrell,” Harry retorted, looking down at his broom and frowning. “You think someone may have jinxed it?”

 

Draco shrugged, looking bored as he glanced at his own pile of presents.

 

“He just doesn’t want to have to fly against you in the next match,” Ron grumbled.

 

“Potter will need more than a new broom to beat me,” Draco shot back, and Aurora caught the grin Harry tried to hide. “But before he goes for a spin on that thing, someone ought to look it over.”

 

“I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I agree with Malfoy,” Hermione said, glancing at the door as Crookshanks came sauntering in. “We should give it to Professor McGonagall.”

 

“Or Professor Snape,” Draco offered.

 

“Right, ‘cause it’s not gonna come back worse or anything,” Ron countered as Crookshanks weaved his way between his mistress’s legs, then Rory’s, rubbing himself up against her before stopping and staring at Ron.

 

“He’s not going to do anything, you git,” Aurora snapped.

 

“Right, says you,” Ron said before noticing Crookshanks and sneering. “Bloody evil thing. Get him out of here, Hermione.”

 

Crookshanks started hissing at Scabbers on Ron’s shoulder.

 

Pandemonium ensued. Crookshanks dove for Ron, which caused the ginger to try to kick the half-Kneazle and wound up nearly breaking his toe on Harry’s trunk. Something fell, tumbling out a pair of old, awful socks when the trunk tipped. It made an awful noise that paralyzed all of them with its shrieking.

 

“I forgot about that,” Harry said as he picked up whatever it was and stuffed it back into the socks. He righted his trunk, and piled everything back in.

 

“What the bloody hell was that?” Aurora asked as a deafening silence settled over them.

 

“It’s a Sneakoscope. Let’s you know when someone is untrustworthy,” he said, giving Draco a pointed glare.

 

“I’m the most trustworthy person in this room,” Draco boasted.

 

“You?” Ron snorted.

 

“Slytherin’s aren’t liars or cheats. We have better ways of getting what we want,” Draco said haughtily.

 

“Right,” Harry said as he finished packing away the last of the trunk’s contents. “Well, if Hermione and Malfoy both think it might be jinxed, we’ll take it to McGonagall. Sorry, Rory, but while I don’t think your dad would actually hex it, I wouldn’t put it past him to hold onto it well past our next match with Slytherin.”

 

“I already told you, Potter,” Malfoy said as Harry grabbed the broom and started to lead them out the room, “you’re going to need more than a fast broom.”

 

“Dream on, Malfoy,” Harry said, flashing the blond a grin over his shoulder.

 

Aurora said nothing when she saw the faint blush color Draco’s cheeks, and if anyone else saw it, they kept quiet as well.

Chapter Text

—————H—————

 

January 20, 1976

 

“Why don’t they just cast a Patronus?” Adrian Brown asked Professor Moody as they discussed Azkaban in their lecture period. The class turned to him, and he went red as he sank into his seat.

 

“Did you just ask me a stupid question, Brown?” Moody asked, and Hermione felt the second-hand embarrassment as strongly as if it were her own. Hermione heard Severus snicker beside her and resisted the urge to shoot him a scowl.

 

“Well,” the young man said with a shrug.

 

“Because if ya think anyone in Azkaban has a wand aside from a guard, you got some brains missing. A Patronus charm is highly advanced magic. Not even taught here, it’s something you learn on your own or as part of a mastery. More so, if you’re in Azkaban, ya aren’t pure enough to cast it,” he explained, pounding against his chest in a way that probably hurt. “Anyone know what happens to a wizard or witch who tries to cast a Patronus who isn’t pure enough?”

 

The room was quiet, and no one moved. Just before Hermione raised her hand to answer, a tiny timid voice said, “Maggots.”

 

“Speak up, Pettigrew,” Moody spat gruffly.

 

Peter cleared his throat. “They get eaten by maggots. My mum used to tell me the story of a little mouse Patronus that scared off a Dark Wizard’s hoard of dementors. And when the wizard was angry, he tried to chase it away with his own Patronus. Only, well, that’s not how they work.”

 

Moody nodded once, satisfied with the answer.

 

“Gotta use your happiest, purest memories for a Patronus. Yer a Dark wizard, your happiest memory probably isn’t pure.”

 

—————H—————

 

“How hard do you think it really is?” Remus asked before popping a crisp in his mouth. He was sitting sideways in a chair with his back propped up against a desk.

 

Severus had three potions resting in his makeshift lab and didn’t want to risk anything at all messing with them. And since Lily was glued to them, and Remus was a frequent fixture, Hermione and Severus gladly found another abandoned classroom to spend some time in when the other two insisted they all spend it together.

 

“Advanced magic? Mastery level?” Hermione snorted from where she sat against the wall on a desk next to Severus. “I say it’s pretty difficult.”

 

“And what constitutes a pure happy memory?” Lily asked. “What’s considered pure?” At this, she shot a sidelong glance at Hermione.

 

Cold unfiltered annoyance with just a touch of anger shot through Hermione, and she ground her teeth to stop herself from commenting.

 

Lily had tried to spread a rumor about what she found Hermione and Severus doing on his birthday. It hadn’t really bothered her that Lily walked in on them. If anything, Hermione was a little miffed that Severus hadn’t stopped in time, considering he was the one who set up the warning system. She let it slide though, wondering if he’d let it happen on purpose to send Lily a message. Unnecessary, she’d thought, until the next morning when Marlene cornered her.

 

“So, Lily said you finally caught some action,” she said, blocking Hermione’s exit from their dorm.

 

“I don’t believe snogging is what most call action, and it’s no one’s business but ours.” She made to move past her, but Marlene shifted.

 

Eyes narrowed, she studied Hermione critically.

 

“Lil said she caught you two doing much more than snogging.”

 

Hermione blushed. “It went a bit horizontal, but that was it. Nothing even remotely interesting.” She forced memories of the pressure of Severus against her in just the right spot, and how very, very close she’d gotten to something she certainly wasn’t ready to explore.

 

Marlene scoffed, shaking her head. “The little bitch,” she muttered and stormed away.

 

As the day progressed, Hermione understood what Marlene meant. She doubted it made it beyond Gryffindor Tower, but the looks of disgust and intrigue burned through her at the start of the day. At one point, Remus tried to ask something, but blushed and stuttered so terribly he couldn’t speak.

 

It was just before lunch that Marlene yelled, “Oh would you stop! You’re a bigger slag than she is, and even if she did do what you’re telling everyone she did, at least she did it with her boyfriend.” Lily went very, very red, looking around the room until her eyes landed on Hermione. Hermione only raised her eyebrows, but it was enough to send Lily running up to the dorm.

 

Her heart pounded in her chest, blood roaring in her ears, and she was a mix of rage and embarrassment, but Hermione managed a cool, “Well, if nothing else, I suppose I should be happy most of you didn’t think me a prude for a few hours.” She earned a few chuckles, and she stuck around long enough to not make it seem like she was running away before she found Severus in his lab and sobbed against his back.

 

If Lily knew the things Severus called her as he held Hermione once he was able to, she doubted Lily would want to be around him, let alone vie for his attention.

 

They let her spend time with them to keep the peace and give her a safe haven, as Marlene, Alice, and the rest of their clique were giving Lily the cold shoulder. Marlene had confided to Hermione that Lily was terrified of what would happen to her reputation if word got out about what had happened with the Ravenclaw. And if she had so little consideration for another girl’s reputation when she feared for her own, what kind of person did that make her?

 

“Pure, as in it’s not brought on by bloodlust. If your happiest memory is causing someone pain, it’s hardly pure, is it?” Severus said levelly, but Hermione felt him tense beside her.

 

“What’s your happiest memory, Severus?” Remus asked.

 

“Tell you mine, if you tell me yours.”

 

Remus hesitated, then lowered his head.

 

“Hogwarts, I think. Coming to Hogwarts for the first time. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to.” He said the last part softly.

 

Severus remained silent, looking at his feet.

 

“Mine is Severus telling me I’m a witch,” Lily spoke up. “We were, what, eight? Nine? He’d seen me doing magic. My sister always called me a freak, but he showed me it was just another kind of normal.” She flashed him a warm, tender smile that he didn’t see. “What about you, Hermione?”

 

“Yes, Kitten,” Sirius’ voice came from the doorway, and Severus hopped off the desk and stood between her and the Marauders before she could blink. “What’s your happiest memory? Meeting me, is it?”

 

Hermione gave a loud “Ha!” as she recalled vividly when she’d met Sirius Black.

 

James came into the classroom and leaned sullenly against the wall, and it was only then that Hermione realized that neither he, Sirius, nor Peter had his wand in hand. It seemed Severus noticed this too, as his stance relaxed.

 

“Mine is when the four of us went to the Quidditch World Cup a couple years back. You remember what it was like, the four of us?” This, Sirius directed at Remus, who turned away and said nothing.

 

“Mine, too, I think,” James said glumly. “I know what mine would be, but it hasn’t happened yet.” He then turned his attention to Severus, who tensed again. “I’d have said I knew what yours was, but I was told it was a lie. Which makes sense, since I doubt even Granger would let you touch her long enough for you to even make it up her shirt, let alone her skirt.”

 

“Watch your tongue, Potter,” Severus said through clenched teeth.

 

“Don’t let the blowhard get to you, Severus,” Remus said roughly. “See, he’s just annoyed that you’ve found a form of happiness he hasn’t. And he’s being watched so closely that he can’t entertain himself like before.”

 

James’ nostrils flared as he turned his head away from everyone, hands curling into fists.

 

“Not like he’d be able to conjure a Patronus, anyway,” he spat out. “After all, you heard what Wormtail said. He’d be maggot meal, Moody even said so.” He looked at Severus then, cold, calculating, and daring.

 

Severus stood tall, shoulders squared. She watched his wand arm extend, the three Marauders moving to grab their own as Severus’ hand moved.

 

Expecto Patronum!” he said in a booming voice so very similar to the deep baritone she’d known before her accident that the two versions of him were interposed for a moment. With his back turned to her, she could picture the older version, though slightly less careworn.

 

Silver wisps came out of his wand, and she knew she wasn’t the only person in the room watching in wide-eyed wonder. Legs formed, and while not completely there, it was easy to determine that if his Patronus was fully corporeal, it would be a large feline. A panther or ….

 

“There’s no way your Patronus is going to be a lioness ,” Sirius said in shock, and Hermione thought she heard a bit of panic in his voice.

 

“Of course, it is,” Lily said as she flipped her hair. “They’re supposed to be guardians, aren’t they? And who looks after him better than lions?”

 

“It’s true,” Severus said in a bored tone as the not-quite corporeal lioness circled him, rubbing against his legs like a cat. “In the last year, I’ve had three strong Gryffindor women take me in.”

 

“And you’ve had one from first year, too, right?” Lily said.

 

He spared her a glance. “Perhaps.”

 

“So, what’s your happiest memory?” Peter asked.

 

“I believe that’s personal, and hardly something I would share with those who have given me nothing but the worst,” he said as he sheathed his wand in his sleeve. He hopped up on the table beside Hermione, and she flinched when his arm went around her only because it took her by surprise. He had been far more conscious of when he touched her since his birthday, and she hadn’t expected the open affection or possessiveness. She leaned into him, letting him know it was welcome without being too obvious.

 

“So, Kitten,” Sirius said. “Are you going to share?”

 

“I have too many happy memories to choose just one,” she said smoothly.

 

“Are you three here for a reason, or did you just want to annoy us?” Remus asked.

 

“Not you, Moony,” James said.

 

Sirius looked at his feet, then took a deep breath and headed towards Remus. “Well, we can change the topic of conversation, can’t we? How about—”

 

You can. I have something that needs attention,” Severus said as he slid off the table.

 

“Is it Hermione?” Peter asked with a snorty chuckle.

 

Severus glared. “No,” he said simply, heading for the door after only a moment’s hesitation.

 

“Did you two argue, Kitten?” Sirius asked, frowning as he looked at where Severus had disappeared. Lily perked up, turning to Hermione.

 

“No. He’s still irritated that someone he trusted lied about him and our relationship.” Lily lowered her head, much to Hermione’s pleasure. “If you’ll excuse me, gentlemen, I have an assignment for Professor Moody that I need to finish.”

 

“What is it you two do with the guy?” James asked, fidgeting. “Gives me the willies; hate to spend more time with him than I need to.”

 

“It’s to do with how I lost my parents,” Hermione said as she headed to the door. “Severus is helping.” She said no more, leaving the room and heading to the seventh floor.

 

Professor Moody had grumbled “You two, seven, usual” on their way out of class that morning. She understood Severus’ hesitation, as they were going to the same place, but with the Marauders around, she could understand he didn’t want to be followed. There were so few places that weren’t on the map, and she wanted to keep it that way.

 

She didn’t get very far before a hand yanked her into an alcove, then covered her mouth as she was about to yelp. When she saw who had grabbed her, she frowned.

 

“I didn’t think we were ‘hiding in the alcoves’ kind of people?” she asked when Severus removed his hand.

 

“We aren’t. I wanted to see if …” He paused, and Hermione watched as five shadows passed by, two splitting off in one direction. A beat later, they caught a glimpse of the three Marauders heading toward Gryffindor Tower. “As I thought, you left, Lily Lupin would follow. I wanted to make sure they assumed Lupin and Lily would go do rounds and not try to find us.” He led her out of the alcove, heading to the seventh floor.

 

They were alone in the corridor, not a soul to be seen, and it gave Hermione the courage to ask in a quiet voice, “What is your happiest memory?”

 

Severus’ grip tightened for a moment, and he looked down at her briefly. “Christmas day, when you said you were willing to court me. Before that, I’d have said the Yule Ball, and before that, when you hugged me on your birthday.”

 

Hermione smiled.

 

“That’s mine, too. I was so terribly worried I was just someone safe to … pass the time with.”

 

“You are, but that is hardly why I … why I chose you. Pursued you,” Severus replied before frowning. “Your happiest memories aren’t with your family?”

 

Hermione shook her head.

 

“I can never get my old life back, and that certainly dampens the joy. Here, I’m happy with the McGonagalls. But the most surprising bit of perfection has come from getting to know you,” she confessed, her heart fluttering in contentment and warning, making her adrenaline spike. Still, she pressed on, “I hadn’t expected to like you, let alone care so deeply for you.” She left it at that, her heart fluttering hard because she was on the cusp of saying too much.

 

“I’m glad,” Severus said sincerely. “For a while, as I’ve confessed before, I had little intention of liking you. I would never give this up.”

 

Hermione smiled brightly at him, but it lost some of its brilliance as she got lost in her thoughts.

 

It was utterly foolish to think about what could be when she was still young and there was still so much to come. So many things could happen, but she still considered the possibility of never breaking it off with Severus. Many youths had such delusions; it was natural to feel your first love was your only love.

 

Only, it wasn’t really their first love, was it? Infatuation was so similar to love that she figured a first love was exactly that. Hers was Ron, she knew. It would always be Ron, despite how much he disgusted her and what an utter git he was. And it wasn’t like Severus was an angel, now or then. It comforted her to know he had fancied Lily beforehand and had been as infatuated with her as she had been with Ron.

 

So, wondering in idle moments if she was the future Mrs. Snape, mother of the bright, beautiful girl she barely got to know, wasn’t utterly ridiculous. Draco had referred to his aunt as H., hadn’t he? She hadn’t considered that it could be her. But knowing that Severus was so serious about them, though he’d made it clear he didn’t expect this to end in marriage, a wave of giddiness swept through her at the possibility.

 

But that still left the question why Severus had always been so callous and cruel as a professor, though admittedly not as cruel as he was with others. And there had always been a touch of regret in his eyes after saying awful things to her.

 

“Are you still with me or have you drifted off?” Severus asked, and she realized that they’d made it to the seventh floor. “You’re becoming more Hufflepuff as of late. Best be careful.”

 

“It’s your fault, you know,” she said as the door came into view.

 

“Oh no, you won’t put this on me,” he countered as he stepped ahead to open the door. She snickered as he waved her through, seeing he was amused despite his stoic appearance.

 

Moody studied them, and Hermione felt the tickle in her mind as he tried to get in. She knew what he was looking for, and she projected some recent memories to the forefront, making sure to hide all the moments alone she’d shared with Severus. Moody gave the tiniest smirk of approval before turning to Severus. Within seconds, he gave a snort.

 

“Noticed that, did you?” Moody asked.

 

“He’s been trying to poke around in my mind since the holidays,” Severus said, sounding bored. “I’ve never seen the headmaster so often in all my years at Hogwarts.”

 

“He’s using Legilimency on you?” Hermione asked incredulously.

 

“Trying to,” Severus replied, deadpan. “I imagine he wants to know what’s been happening with Potter, Black, and Pettigrew. Lupin turned them in, and they were accused with a list of evidence that may have gotten them suspended or expelled if they were Slytherins.”

 

“Yer keeping him out, though. Both of you could, I think, at this point. But you gotta keep it up. Never know when someone will try to slink in there. Constant vigilance is key.”

 

“Yes, sir,” Hermione said as Severus nodded.

 

“Now, you, boy. You’re a natural at Occluding, wanna try your hand at Legilimency?” Moody asked, getting up from his chair.

 

“I doubt there would be any point. I hardly think I could get in your mind or even want to see what’s there,” he said, and Hermione gawked at his rudeness.

 

Moody barked a laugh. “I wouldn’t let you in. I was thinking Granger.” He smiled nastily. “All wizards wish they could read a witch’s mind, especially their witch. Granger don’t want you seeing something, she’ll just have to keep it to herself, won’t she.”

 

There was eagerness and trepidation in Severus’ eyes, and Hermione wasn’t sure which one was winning. She trusted him, of course, but there were things she hadn’t told him yet. There were plans she hadn’t discussed with him and desperately wanted to when the time was right. But if she were truly skilled at Occluding, he wouldn’t see any of it, right?

 

Taking a breath, she turned fully to Severus, meeting his eyes with a tilt of her chin and her shoulders straight.

 

He was taken aback, eyebrows shooting for his hairline. He unsheathed his wand with a flick, fingering his wand and rolling it back and forth between his fingers. He would still have that wand eighteen years from now, but she tried not to think about that.

 

Legilimens ,” he said, and she felt him enter her mind.

 

It was different from Moody, very different. Stronger, more pleasant. She could feel his reactions, though only distantly, and tried to ignore how heady it felt to have him in her mind. She didn’t need his ego getting big.

 

She felt him pull on strands of memories, things she had let Moody see. Boring class moments, spending time with Remus and Lily, them in the abandoned classroom. He moved swiftly to her happiest memory and watched it for a moment from her perspective. Suddenly he was back in the room they had just left, watching as he cast his Patronus.

 

That’s when it began to go terribly, horribly wrong.

 

He saw himself. Only, he didn’t see himself as he was in the room, with his Slytherin tie and cardigan. He saw how she’d seen him, the older him. He saw the proud, intimidating, powerful wizard he would become. Her heart lurched, both from fear of what he would think and the Vow. Before she could stop him or herself, a memory slipped out from behind her wall, linked as it was to her impression of older him, and he latched onto it. His back to them, arms spread out, blocking them from a fully transformed werewolf. She was thankful his face was faced away from her in the memory, but it did show her latched on to his robes, glancing at Harry and Ron. She sensed his curiosity at the green-eyed boy who looked like James Potter, but she felt her breath stop suddenly, her brain screaming for oxygen.

 

Those weren’t yours to see! she screamed in her head, trying to push him out with the little strength she had. Something else slipped by, a cat’s howl and pain, but she was blacking out and the memory faded.

 

—————S—————

 

Severus yanked himself from her mind so abruptly it felt like his brain split in two. Ignoring his own pain, he slid off the chair and crawled over to her even though Moody had moved quickly to Hermione’s side.

 

He was smacking her face gently, listening to her breathing.

 

“What happened?” Moody asked gruffly.

 

“I—I don’t know. I did as I read, I found a memory and followed a string, a pattern. I didn’t want to look at anything she didn’t want me to see, but … there was something laid over a memory she must have thought safe. That I thought was safe.”

 

Moody stood back, pointed his wand at her, and barked, “ Rennervate .”

 

Hermione took a breath, but that was all.

 

“Albus, you didn’t,” Moody grumbled under his breath.

 

“A Vow,” Severus said without thinking, terrified. “Last year, she was lashing out at Potter,” -he swallowed- “and she collapsed. I was in the infirmary with her, waiting for her to wake. I heard Minerva mention something about a Vow.”

 

“Fuck,” Moody swore, hobbling away from Hermione a moment.

 

“She needs Madam Pomfrey,” Severus said immediately.

 

Moody looked at him, to Hermione, swore again, then nodded. He began to levitate her. He said nothing as he walked Hermione out of the room, and Severus couldn’t bring himself to follow.

 

He remained slumped beside the chair Hermione had been in, his head pounding and reeling. She’d known a boy who looked like James Potter, nearly identical to James Potter. She had been friends with him, which would explain why she had lashed out at him last year over the mess that was Valentine’s Day. At least, it fit his theory as to why she had, his suspicions about her and how she came to be with no family.

 

He saw himself, or how Hermione saw him. Was it him? An … no, he didn’t want to think of it. Impressive as the idea was, he wasn’t pleased with how little he would change if it was what he thought it was. But what if….

 

Those weren’t yours to see!

 

Her mental voice, strong despite her weakening state, had screamed at him with such vehemence and fear that it had helped propel him out of her mind even while he was trying to escape. He felt she was fading, and yet she was so bloody angry with him for his curiosity.

 

Or was it his greed?

 

He was curious why her happy memories weren’t of her past. He hadn’t been satisfied with just sensing the awe and attraction, he had to dig deeper, he just had to keep pulling threads to validate his love for her.

 

And he’d nearly killed her in the process. Put her in a coma, probably, and pissed her off and broke her trust in a way he wasn’t sure he’d be able to repair.

 

“What have I done?” he said to himself, looking around the room, feeling it spin as he began to hyperventilate. A month, it had barely lasted a month, and he had thrown away the one good thing that had happened to him because he was so starved for what she had to offer, he glutted himself on it the first chance he got.

 

Absently, he was impressed that the room provided him a bucket to vomit into exactly where he turned his head. But as the agony of his head and heart overwhelmed him, he found he would rather be covered in his own sick just to have the reminder of what an utter failure he was, and how much he deserved to suffer.

 

—————H—————

 

January 21, 1976

 

It took a moment for Hermione to remember why she was in the infirmary when she awoke. Even without opening her eyes, she knew precisely where she was because of the smell, and could guess time of day by the sun shining through her closed eyelids. Her head was pounding and her chest hurt, the symptoms much worse than any other near-breaking of the Vow.

 

Except you didn’t nearly break the Vow, it was nearly broken. He saw, he saw himself. And Harry and Ron.

 

Rage washed over her a moment, at him, at Moody, at herself. At Dumbledore. She rubbed her eyes, though whether to stem the tears or pain, she couldn’t tell.

 

“It’s good to see you made it through the night, Miss Granger,” she heard the headmaster’s voice and chose to keep her eyes closed until she was able to restore her mental shields.

 

“Was there really a chance I wouldn’t?” she asked, her voice raspy.

 

“It was questionable, according to Madam Pomfrey,” he replied, and she could just picture that damn twinkle.

 

“Sir, if you don’t mind, I lived. I understand my Vow, sir, and it was an accident.”

 

“Was it?” he asked, and she could detect a hint of condescension in his tone. “Professor Moody said that he has been teaching you and Mr. Snape Occlumency. I think it’s actually a brilliant idea for you, and I wish he had told me sooner.” He took a deep breath. “But I must say that I am not thrilled that he let Mr. Snape access your mind as he did.”

 

“Severus knows everything else about me,” Hermione groaned out, rubbing her forehead. “And now, I suppose, a bit more than he should.”

 

“Yes, well, I may need to selectively Obliviate him.”

 

“No!” The very idea had Hermione shooting upward, opening her eyes and glaring furiously at the headmaster. Her walls were up, though there was no elegance to them, no distracting thoughts to make it look like she wasn’t hiding anything. Her fury eased her agony long enough for her to tear into the surprised headmaster. “His mind is brilliant and you will not tamper with it! He did not mean to do what he did, and as angry as I am with him, I do not blame him for his curiosity. Anyone with feelings for someone who has to keep so many secrets would do the same if given the opportunity.”

 

“Are you sure that’s why he did it? Curiosity? It wasn’t, perhaps, for another reason?”

 

Hermione had to repeat what he said to herself a few times before his words made sense.

 

“What other reason could he have?”

 

“He is a troubled young man, Miss Granger, who associated with the gentleman who was recently expelled.”

 

“He also associates with a Muggle-born Gryffindor,” she retorted. “And every Gryffindor currently in Hogwarts has associated with a trio that purposely sets out to harm others.”

 

He gave a heavy sigh.

 

“Miss Granger. Hermione, if I may. You have a unique advantage of knowing what’s to come, at least for a certain amount of time. Think of the man Mr. Snape will become. For while I did not have a good look, it is, admittedly, a habit of mine to slip into a mind from time to time. I may have glimpsed that you know Mr. Snape when he is an adult. I do not believe he had any kind words or feelings toward you.” Hermione started to protest, but he raised a hand, smiling once more. “Think, Hermione. You know there are other upstanding young men who treated you well in the future. Think of them and maybe allow Mr. Snape his freedom. And perhaps, remember that you yourself have a brilliant mind, and it would be a waste to lose it because someone ‘accidentally’ snooped around when they shouldn’t.”

 

He got up from the chair next to her bed and headed toward the exit, giving a kind greeting to Madam Pomfrey as she passed him on her way to Hermione.

 

“You must be in agony,” she said in a soft voice. She produced a pain potion, and Hermione was suddenly hit with a wave of sadness when she realized it was the basic potion and not Severus’.

 

“Has he …?”

 

“No,” the matron said softly, shaking her head. “No, he hasn’t been by, but it’s early yet. I would like you to stay here for the day, then you can go down the hall and see if he’s there.”

 

Hermione nodded and took a swig of the potion. “He didn’t mean to,” she said, as much to herself as to the matron.

 

“No, I don’t think he did,” she agreed, and while Hermione wasn’t sure if Madam Pomfrey knew what she was agreeing to or not, she felt a bit better either way.

 

 

January 23, 1976

 

 

Severus had come to see her on the twenty-first with an entourage and didn’t speak the entire time. She noted he was avoiding eye contact with her, sitting closer to Lily than he had in a long time, and it tore her up inside.

 

Madam Pomfrey announced after an hour they needed to go, and when Hermione went to get up, she shook her head.

 

“I think it may be better if you stay longer. You’re not as strong as I had expected you to be by now, and I can tell you still have a headache.”

 

She had been right, and much as Hermione hated to admit it, it was for the best that she stay in the infirmary at least another night.

 

The following day, she barely saw Severus and noticed he put more distance between them and less between himself and Lily in class. He watched her, she noticed, and she wanted to believe it was out of concern, but he never asked about her health. He never touched her. He barely spoke to her.

 

She’d have gone to the lab before Astronomy, but she wasn’t sure if she’d be welcome.

 

Oh, she was still angry he saw something he shouldn’t have, but it had been an accident. She was just as angry at herself for not pushing him out.

 

And now he’d seen….

 

She couldn’t imagine what he thought of her now.

 

The end of Defense came, the last class of the day, signaling the start of the weekend. Severus rose, looked as though he were about to say something, then fled. Lily looked at her with a glare, gathered her books and chased after him.

 

Sighing, Hermione rested her head on her desk, certain that Moody would at least find enough humanity to leave her alone.

 

“Hermione,” Remus said gently, a hand on her shoulder. “Are you all right?”

 

“As much as I can be.”

 

“Did you and Snape split?” Sirius asked, startling her enough to lift her head and see he was on her other side. She glanced around, realizing that they were the only ones left in the room.

 

“Not officially,” she said, picking at her index finger with her thumb. “Though I suppose it’s a matter of time.”

 

“What happened?” Remus asked. “I thought you two were getting on well. Especially with what Lily said.”

 

“We were, but … he found out something about my past that I don’t think he liked. It wasn’t much. In fact, it was barely anything at all. But it seems it was enough that he’s already regretting dating me. We haven’t spoken since.”

 

“Kitten, if I may make an observation? I think he’s scared.” She looked incredulously at Sirius, and he shrugged. “You don’t believe me?”

 

“There was nothing … well, I suppose there was something terrifying to it, but nothing that would stop him from talking to me.”

 

She turned to Remus, catching him looking at Sirius with uncertainty.

 

“You could try to talk to him,” he offered, voice heavy with doubt. “But know… just know I’m here. We both are. If you need someone to talk to, let us know.”

 

She sat for a long while at her desk after they’d left, wanting to get up and face the situation, but also wanting to stay in the bubble where she and Severus were both still together and entirely through. Schrodinger’s bubble, as it were.

 

Severus would have understood the reference.

 

She wasn’t sure how long she sat in the classroom before she got up and headed to the kitchens. She gave the pear a tickle and kindly requested a meal from the house-elves, who happily obliged her. She ate at the small table in quiet contemplation.

 

You don’t do this. You don’t not get answers. You have to know. Go talk to him. You are not Ronald Weasley, and neither is he. You will not allow this silent treatment. If he wants to end it, he should do it face-to-face. And you’re a Gryffindor, you’re supposed to be brave, chivalrous. You can face the end; you can give him the end he wants. If he wants it.

 

She left the kitchens and headed to the third-floor classroom with determination.

 

She turned the corner and nearly smacked into Lily. A disheveled and pleased Lily with a smug grin.

 

“I was just popping back to Gryffindor Tower,” she said, flipping her hair over her shoulder.

 

“Right,” Hermione said. “He’s there then?”

 

“Should be exactly where I left him,” Lily replied with a nod. “Though I’m pretty sure he isn’t expecting you.”

 

—————S—————

 

He should just suck it up and find her and get it over with. Her words had been circling in his head in an endless cycle for the last three days, only serving to fuel his belief that he didn’t deserve her. If his blatant invasion of her privacy wasn’t enough, he’d nearly killed her.

 

She just looked at him in the hospital wing while she talked to those idiots.

 

It drove him spare to see the spark of hope in Lupin’s eye, though he was still kind and polite to Severus. It grated on him, knowing that Lupin saw an opening. And if Severus were honest with himself, Lupin had more to offer Hermione than he did. He looked put together, properly cared and provided for, and he had a modicum of intelligence to satisfy her intellectual side. Lupin may have a few unsightly scars, but he was still leaps and bounds more handsome than Severus ever hoped to be. So, what if he always looked a bit sickly? Severus was skinny, ugly, and often foul-tempered. Plus, Lupin hadn’t almost killed Hermione. One point for Moony.

 

He sighed heavily, looking down at the Dreamless Sleep in the cauldron, perfectly brewed with a half hour shaved off the normal time, and knew he’d be swigging it back tonight to stave off the nightmares.

 

“Why the long face?” Lily asked, even though she really couldn’t see what expression he was wearing. If she had, she’d have seen him roll his eyes.

 

She insisted on being glued to his side from the moment she heard of Hermione’s stint in the hospital wing. He found he couldn’t bring himself to admit he was the reason, only saying she wound up there after an attack like the previous year.

 

When it was clear Hermione wasn’t speaking to him, or coming around, or bothering with him at all, Lily kept vigil over him. Or, as he was beginning to consider, hovering over him like a predator over injured prey.

 

“Just tired,” he said. “The fumes of this particular brew do that.”

 

“Really?” she asked, and he looked at the heavens and hoped that this phase of teenage stupidity would leave his friend soon.

 

“Oh yes,” he said, turning to face her where she was sprawled out on the couch. “Fumes from any potion can affect your brain. Doesn’t matter how long after they were brewed.”

 

“Really?” she asked, frowning as she sat up for a moment.

 

“No,” he sighed.

 

She chuckled and flopped back with her Transfiguration text. He watched her skirt slide dangerously close to her waistline, but she made no move to fix it. Her tie was on her bag, and her shirt was a bit more open than it needed to be.

 

“Have you been seeing anyone?”

 

She smiled wickedly at him, pleased with his question.

 

“I’m not. I’ve been interested in someone, but they were taken.”

 

“Were?” Severus frowned.

 

“Mmhmm. I don’t think that’s the case anymore. I’m just waiting for the official word to get out before I make my move. I don’t want it to look like he left her for me,” she said, wiggling into the cushion.

 

He shifted uneasily, not liking where this conversation was going.

 

“Crap,” Lily said, the book flopping down on her stomach as she turned to him again. “I should go grab my Divination text. I need to read a couple chapters before Monday, and this can wait another day.”

 

“Can’t you just divine what the text will say? Isn’t that the point?” he quipped.

 

She laughed more than was called for, hopping up from the couch and bouncing toward him. She touched his arm.

 

“I’ll be back,” she said.

 

“I wait with bated breath,” he deadpanned, but she still smiled like he waxed poetic, and dashed from the room.

 

The reality of his life grated on Severus, and he rubbed his hands down his face as he moved to sit on the sofa in Lily’s absence. He didn’t believe for a moment that Lily had been pining away for him all this time, or even had an interest in him. He didn’t want to understand why she was acting this way, but if this was the end of his relationship with Hermione, he wanted to make sure Lily understood that it did not mean he was going to go crawling after her.

 

His wards warned him someone was coming, and in his misery, it took a split second for his brain to process that it was Hermione and not Lily. He removed his hands from his face and sat on the edge of the sofa, watching the door with anticipation. He both hoped and feared what she would say.

 

The door opened and she slipped in. She seemed surprised then resigned to see him where he was, nodding once before moving toward him, stopping by the tables.

 

“I passed Lily on my way,” she said, her voice quivering. “I just came to say….”

 

He swallowed the lump forming in his throat.

 

“Go on, say it. I know whatever it is, I deserve it.”

 

“I hope you can forgive me one day,” she said quietly, tears welling in her eyes.

 

“Forgive you?” he asked in a rush of breath. “What for?”

 

She sniffed. “For even letting this happen,” she said, wiping at her face. “I wish I could explain; I wish I could explain what you saw in my mind, but I don’t … I can’t, and—”

 

“I nearly killed you. I can completely understand why you would want nothing to do with me because of that. But why in Merlin’s name would you need my forgiveness?” he asked, inching closer to her. He nearly had her within his reach when she stepped back.

 

“I can’t explain.” She took a deep breath, squared her shoulders and raised her chin. “I’ll leave you be. Lily won’t be long, and—”

 

“What does she matter?”

 

“She hasn’t kept things from you and she’s brought you comfort,” Hermione said, looking him in the eye for the first time since entering the room. “I’ve left this room wearing a similarly disheveled look before, and I remember quite clearly how I got it.”

 

“If you think … if you think that I would …” he said, nostrils flaring as his hands balled into fists at his side. “Do you really think that I would find any sort of comfort, physical or otherwise, from anyone but you? After what I did? I nearly killed you. I…” he huffed, his arms dropping like a puppet with its strings cut. “I deserve … nothing. I deserve every hateful, vile thing you can possibly come up with. I knew, in some way, what I was doing, and did it anyway. But I swear I had no idea….”

 

She took a step closer, and he closed his eyes, waiting for a slap. When her hand touched his cheek, a strangled sob escaped him. Instead of the hard sting of her skin on his, her touch was tender, and her thumb stroked his cheek and brushed away a stray tear.

 

Despite the overwhelming shame at his weakness, Severus reached up and covered her hand with his, pressing just enough to silently beg her to keep it there. Her other hand threaded into his hair, and the shame increased as he realized how little he’d cared for himself in the last few days; it was lankier and greasier than it should be.

 

“Severus,” she said quietly, and he sensed her moving to her knees. “Please look at me?”

 

He willed his eyes open and was taken aback by the pain and fear in her warm eyes.

 

“You deserve better than me,” she said, and when he went to argue, she quickly pulled her hand from his hair to place a finger on his lips. “You saw that I have secrets I can’t tell you. I can’t explain why I have them. There are nearly fifteen years of my life that I can’t share with you, not like someone should with people they love. And you … I can only imagine what you must think, how your opinion of me has changed. And I can’t explain or justify what you’ve seen.”

 

Her voice broke with grief and he wanted to hold her to him.

 

“You were angry with me,” he said as her finger slid away.

 

“Yes,” she said, sniffing again.

 

“Are you still?”

 

“No,” she choked out, shaking her head. “But does it matter?”

 

“Entirely.”

 

“You wouldn’t talk to me. You avoided me.”

 

“I did.”

 

“Why?”

 

“I didn’t want to face the end,” he confessed, refusing to be a coward now. “I wanted to be able to say, for just a little longer, that you were mine.”

 

“After what you saw, I’m surprised you want me anywhere near you.”

 

He snorted. “Considering what I saw, I’m baffled you bothered in the first place.”

 

“Well, you certainly…” she stopped short, gasping as her eyes went wide. He quickly held her head gently, a flutter of panic and warning in his mind.

 

“Don’t,” he said, firm but quiet. “Whatever you think you need to say, it’s not worth it.”

 

“You deserve an explanation,” she said in a raspy voice

 

“No, I don’t. Hermione, I …” he stopped, realizing that there was someone listening at the door. Lily? Lupin? Either way, he didn’t want to risk Hermione in any way, or have rumors of his suspicions spread around the school. It was bad enough most people hated him for existing, he didn’t need to add crazy on top of it. “Point your wand at me. Please,” he added when she hesitated. She dropped the hand on his chest and allowed her wand to appear in her hand. She shook as she lifted it, pointing it at him just as he asked. “Look into my eyes. Say it.”

 

Legilimens ,” she whispered, and he felt her enter his mind very tentatively.

 

He quite liked it. It was very different from Moody, gentle and caressing, and nothing at all like what he’d come to know as the headmaster’s needling attempts.

 

When he sensed her confusion and mild amusement, he offered her the aftermath of their Legilimency attempt. He let the theories that had swam through his mind overlay the scene, and then the agony of realizing that he’d almost broken her Vow. When he sensed her surprise at his knowledge, he scoffed and showed her the conversation he’d overheard the headmaster and McGonagall have the previous year.

 

She slipped from his mind and closed her eyes. He stroked her cheeks, startling as a broken, pained sob escaped her before she collapsed against him. She grabbed his shirt, fisting it in both hands as she sobbed into his shoulder. He took his hands from her face and wrapped his arms around her, holding her tight while his heart pounded.

 

What was happening? Why was she crying?

 

After a moment, she sat back on her heels and gave the tiniest, relieved smile.

 

“I can’t explain.”

 

“I know.”

 

“And you’re okay with that? There is so much you didn’t see, and….”

 

“It doesn’t matter. If you still want me, I’m yours.”

 

He remained perfectly still as she leaned in, pulling him by the shirt she was still grasping. Severus sighed with relief, the air rushing through the nose he would never grow into, as her warm soft lips pressed against his thin dry ones. She asked for more with her tongue, and he gave her what she wanted.

 

“Was that a clear enough answer?” she asked against his mouth.

 

“No. I think you’ll have to try again.”

 

“Slow on the uptake, are you?” she asked, and she was still close enough that he felt her brow arch.

 

“I want to make sure I have a thorough understanding. This is not the time for assumptions.”

 

She hummed happily before kissing him again, deeply, making a pleased sound as he threaded his fingers through her awful hair and held her firmly against him. At least until it became impossible to hold her and follow her lead as she encouraged him further onto the floor.

 

By the time Severus declared himself thoroughly educated, their ties were missing, shirts untucked, and he was certain the feeling of her torso would constantly tingle against his fingertips. Her hair was tamed in a knot at her neck, and his was flattened, stuck in awkward angles around his face.

 

It was close to curfew, and if he wanted to escort her back to Gryffindor Tower, they couldn’t stay much longer.

 

He left the Dreamless in the cauldron untouched.

 

And if Hermione noticed the door was already opened when they left, she didn’t say.

 

—————A—————

 

January 15, 1994

 

“I can’t believe I’m rooting for Slytherin,” Harry said as he watched Cho Chang and Draco look for the Snitch. “I can’t believe that I’m standing here, hoping Malfoy wins.”

 

“I can’t believe you are, either,” Ron grumbled from his other side. “Ravenclaw flattened Hufflepuff, and so did Slytherin. We’re down because of … well, you know. And if Slytherin wins this match, they’ll be up a lot. Makes it really hard to win against them.”

 

“It’ll be hard either way,” Aurora pointed out, much to Ron’s displeasure. “Ravenclaw is our next match, and if they win this one, they’ll be up a lot as well. Either way, the chances of us winning are quite slim. We can strive for second overall, if nothing else.”

 

“Shut it, Snape,” Ron growled as Harry looked increasingly downtrodden. “You’re supposed to be rootin’ for us, not your boyfriend and the snakes.”

 

Ginny snorted. “If you think Draco is Rory’s boyfriend, you need your eyes checked,” she said, earning a musical giggle from Luna.

 

“What’s that mean?” Ron demanded of his sister, leaning over the rail to look past Harry and Aurora to look at her. “He only hangs ‘round us ‘cause of her. And why Harry insists that we stick ‘round her—”

 

“Ron,” Harry warned, and Ron stopped his tirade. After a few seconds, Harry looked at her with his face screwed up in thought. “Why does he hang around you?”

 

“Same reason you come by these days, I’d imagine. I’m one of his oldest friends.”

 

“You’re not his best friend, though,” Ron got in just before getting distracted by a Ravenclaw goal. He and Luna were the only ones thrilled about it.

 

“She’s tailing you, Malfoy!” Harry shouted just as the two Seekers zoomed overhead, though there wasn’t any way to know if Draco heard.

 

From the teachers’ stands, she noted her father staring at them instead of the game. She doubted Harry’s voice carried that far, so she assumed he was looking because of the odd group they made and whom they were cheering on. She gave him a wave and smiled.

 

“Do you mind it?” Aurora asked.

 

“Huh? Mind what?” Harry asked, barely taking his eyes off the game to look at her.

 

“Draco? Hanging around us?”

 

“No. It’s a bit weird, mind. And the fact that he still mocks me from time to time when he’s surrounded by other Slytherins makes me wonder.”

 

“It’s because he’s not really ready to break off on his own yet,” Luna said serenely, smiling gently. “He’s starting to see that what he was taught is ridiculous, but he’s scared of what would happen if he renounces his house altogether. He’s terrified we’ll reject him and he’ll have nowhere to go.”

 

“Good,” Ron said bluntly. “Smarmy git deserves it.”

 

“Did he tell you that?” Harry asked Luna.

 

“No. But it’s obvious.”

 

“To you, maybe,” Ginny said. “Have you thought of going into Divination next year?”

 

“I don’t believe Professor Trelawney would want me to. She never liked my mother. They were cousins, you see.”

 

Aurora didn’t see, and a quick glance around told her that she wasn’t the only one.

 

“I can’t believe Mione’s missing this,” Ron said as Slytherin scored just as Draco and Cho dived for what might be the Snitch.

 

“She’s happier in the library,” Ginny said. “You know that.”

 

That was true even to this day. Just before Draco started at Hogwarts, the last World Cup had been in Germany. Uncle Lu had taken her, Leo, and her dad along, Aunt Cissy and her mother both passing for something more entertaining. She was fairly certain Aunt Cissy found fewer academic ways to pass the days.

 

There was a large uproar from the Slytherin stands; Aurora spotted Draco just in time to see him snatch the Snitch.

 

“Wooo!” Harry yelled and applauded just as Draco flew past, catching his attention.

 

“Merlin, don’t do that,” Aurora said. “You’re just giving his ego a stroke.” She turned to her father, who now looked positively disgusted. She snickered, glancing at Draco to see him looking back at Harry, then to her father, just in time to see him shake his head. Aunt Min looked like she was laughing as she gave him a pat on the back.

 

“Maybe next time, show your support a bit less exuberantly,” she suggested to Harry, her amusement at her father’s expense still visible as she turned to him. Harry blushed just a smidge but chuckled.

 

“Yeah, what Snape said,” Ron said with a scowl before paling. “Blimey, that sounds weird.”

 

“What do you think Draco’s dad would do if he found out he’s been spending time with us? He hates my family,” Ginny asked thoughtfully, looping her arm with Aurora’s while everyone prepared to leave.

 

“Honestly, I have no idea,” Aurora said as the crowd began to disperse.

 

She wondered if there was anything he would actually do to his only child. He certainly couldn’t disown him; it would be the end of the Malfoy line. Punishing him was a possibility, but she had a feeling that Draco was already down an irreversible path that led him away from Uncle Lu, and no amount of lost privileges would sway him. And if Harry kept showing him positive attention, it was nearly a given that nothing anyone said was going to pull Draco from his side, Weasleys or no Weasleys.

 

“Just remember that he’s the reason Hagrid is facing the board. Buckbeak might be killed. He’s the reason Mione’s holed up in the library researching legal stuff.”

 

“And you’ve never done anything stupid in your life,” Ginny scoffed.

 

“What have I ever done that’s stupid?” Ron asked as they made it to the grass behind the pitch.

 

“Lots of things,” George said, smacking him upside the head.

 

“Like cursing yourself with slug vomit,” Fred said, ticking it off on his fingers.

 

“And flying Dad’s car here from London,” George added.

 

“Believing me that the Sorting Hat would hurt.”

 

“Believing you could turn Scabbers yellow.”

 

The twins went on for a bit longer, Ron’s face turning more and more red before he finally burst, “Never nearly got myself killed by a hippogriff, though!”

 

“You didn’t dare go near it,” Harry taunted.

 

Ron paused. “You did not just … just … Malfoy is a stupid git and screamed like a girl.”

 

“You would, too, if you saw Voldemort drinking blood like a vampire,” Harry snapped.

 

“Don’t say his name,” Aurora said softly just as Ron shrieked. Harry didn’t pay the warning any mind, and she doubted that Ron fully understood how dangerous it could be. She looked over her shoulder, seeing her father and Aunt Min talking far enough away that she doubted that the casual use of the name had any effect on his Mark.

 

“Come on,” Harry said to Ron. “Mione’s probably wondering where we are.”

 

Aurora watched them head off with a sad smile, wondering what the pair would do come June when Hermione disappeared.

Chapter Text

—————H—————

 

February 14, 1976

 

“Hermione,” Marlene said with a blush as they crossed paths in the common room. “Er, I was on my way up to see you.”

 

“Your way up?” Hermione asked, brow furrowed as she glanced at the clock on the mantle. “At seven-thirty in the morning?”

 

Marlene blushed more deeply.

 

“Well, I may just be getting back myself. Anyway, doesn’t matter. Snape was by, asked me to give you this,” she said, handing a piece of parchment to her with the very tips of her fingers. Marlene held it as far away from herself as she could, and Hermione caught how she rubbed her hand against her thigh.

 

“Thanks,” she said, barely able to hide her annoyance at Marlene’s ridiculousness. She unfolded it, smiling as she read his harsh scrawl.

 

H.,

 

I won’t be in the Great Hall this morning. It’s the weekend, I don’t have to nor want to deal with the sickening display of red and pink parchment. I’m taking my breakfast in the lab.

 

Yours,

S.

 

She rolled her eyes, smiling fondly at the note before tucking it in the front pocket of her messenger bag and leaving the common room. She heard the Fat Lady giggle but chose not to say anything and headed straight for the lab. She had a book for him tucked in her bag. Nothing terribly special, just a collection of short stories she thought he might enjoy. They’d sworn to one another that they wouldn’t go overboard, that it was a day like any other, and there was no need to shower one another with ludicrous gifts. It was a Hogsmeade weekend, and they’d planned to get butterbeer and sandwiches, go to Tomes and Scrolls, and perhaps stop by Honeydukes. Their simple plans and lack of lavishness made their first Valentine’s as a couple palatable.

 

She stopped outside the lab door and groaned, rolling her eyes as Lily’s voice came through the crack in the doorway.

 

“She broke your heart, Sev!” Lily argued impatiently. “She dragged you around for three days, left you in utter misery, and then decided that she wanted to keep you after all. I thought you were better than this. Stronger.”

 

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Severus spat, and it was another moment when, without the visual reminder of his age, she could easily picture Professor Snape. She honestly didn’t mind the reminder, having started to see the older version as equally attractive.

 

“I know that no matter how good a show you put on, you were miserable,” Lily countered, and Hermione came close enough to the door to be able to see their friend fold her arms and shift her stance as if there was no way she could be wrong.

 

“I was absolutely miserable, but that was because I caused the attack that sent her to the infirmary. It nearly killed her. I can’t imagine anyone could feel a modicum of joy after nearly killing the one they … care for.”

 

“Right,” Lily scoffed, not seeing or hearing Hermione enter the room.

 

Severus’ eye shot to her immediately and they softened a fraction. Lily turned, her face draining of color before she straightened and shifted her clothes.

 

“Morning,” Hermione greeted as though she’d heard nothing. “Marlene said you were looking for me.”

 

“I wasn’t—” Lily started.

 

“I’m glad she gave you my message,” Severus cut her off, moving toward Hermione. “I thought she would drop the parchment on your head and risk it getting lost in the sheets, judging by the way she tried so vehemently to not touch me.”

 

“Why would it do that?” Hermione asked as his hand fell into hers.

 

“I know how you sleep, and it certainly isn’t with the elegance of an angel. Nor the beauty. You drool.”

 

“You sweat, copiously, and you snore,” she countered, tapping him playfully on the nose, making him scowl.

 

“And this doesn’t suffocate you in your sleep?” he asked, giving a tug on one of her locks.

 

“I’m immune,” she countered with a tilt of her chin, pleased by the way his eyes darkened.

 

“So, will you two be going to Hogsmeade?” Lily asked, leaning against a table. “Or are you going to take advantage of an empty castle?”

 

“What could possibly be advantageous about it?” Severus asked.

 

“Empty library,” Hermione answered immediately. “Like during Quidditch matches.”

 

Severus hummed in agreement before turning to Lily. “Leave.”

 

“Seriously? You’re kicking me out of your lab but letting her stay?”

 

“I invited her here, the invitation did not extend to you.” And then much more gently, “Lily, please. I appreciate your concern, but it is not needed. The incident truly was my fault, we’ve worked it out and agreed to move past it.”

 

“Fine,” Lily said with a nod before heading for the door. She slammed it behind her, and Hermione’s heart sunk.

 

“I feel terrible,” she said, turning to Severus as she chewed her lip. “I’m tearing you two apart.”

 

“No. She is,” he replied. “Don’t worry about her, it’s not worth your time. You haven’t eaten, have you?” He changed the subject as he gave her hand a tug and brought her to the sofa.

 

“Do I need to remind you how early it is? I doubt you and Lily were here very long before I got here.”

 

“You’re right,” he said as he pulled a small basket out from behind the sofa. Clearly packed by the house-elves and not Severus himself, there was a small dish of out-of-season berries, and a plate of crepes peeking out from beneath a bowl of crème anglaise. There was a thermos of what Hermione guessed was coffee, and a small pitcher of pumpkin juice. As Hermione took in the lovely spread, Severus continued explaining as he Transfigured a napkin into a picnic blanket.

 

“I think Lily was on her way back from the Owlery, based on the direction she accosted me from. I’d just given McKinnon my note and had barely gotten to the stairs when she started following me, assuming that I was looking for her for whatever reason.”

 

“We both know the reason,” she said as she sat on the blanket.

 

He started unpacking their breakfast.

 

“We do,” he agreed. “But she can’t go on like this forever.”

 

“She won’t,” Hermione said as she stole a strawberry from the dish. Severus’s eyebrow twitched, the corner of his mouth lifting slightly, but he said nothing. “Is it awful of me to say that this is very much not something I would expect you to do?”

 

Severus snorted. “No. And in the interest of honesty when possible, I confess that the idea came from Lucius Malfoy.”

 

Hermione stiffened.

 

“You write to him about me?”

 

“No,” Severus replied. “When I was a first year, I was in the common room while Narcissa Black regaled the tales of Lucius’ picnic in the courtyard, where he proposed. I remember seeing the girls swooning. It stuck with me as an example of romance, as I have little to draw upon.”

 

“You hardly need to romance me,” she retorted.

 

“No? I’ll keep that in mind for the future,” he said. He then poured each of them a glass of pumpkin juice, raising his in toast. “To an unromantic courtship, as the lady requests.”

 

She laughed, lifting her glass to his.

 

“I’d expect nothing more from such a grumpy git.”

 

Breakfast was delicious, though eaten much more messily near the end as Severus’ playful side made its appearance. He also thanked her for the book, his appreciation much greater than Hermione had anticipated.

 

They were nearly late to leave for Hogsmeade. Their first stop, however, was not the Three Broomsticks or Tomes and Scrolls. Not even Severus could brew a bruise paste in less than an hour, and both agreed it was completely unseemly to have visible hickeys at any time, let alone Valentine’s Day.

 

—————S—————

 

February 12, 1994

 

“So, let’s see if I understand,” Severus said with annoyance, exasperation, and just a touch of disgust. “Messiers Crabbe and Goyle saw Potter’s head in Hogsmeade because they ate something of questionable quality from Honeydukes ?”

 

“Actually, sir, I believe I said it was from Zonko’s,” Draco replied smoothly, so much so that, had he not seen Potter near the humped witch, he may have believed him.

 

He had the map, confiscated from Potter the moment he’d brought the boy into his office. He knew the boy had been to Hogsmeade, he was sweaty from the run back. And if Severus were honest with himself, he may have been willing to pretend he didn’t know about the witch, or the tunnel, or even about the bloody map, if it weren’t for Black getting closer and closer.

 

And this was not the time for Draco to start making excuses for Potter. It was not the time to prove that he wanted to be friends with the boy.

 

Warning Potter ahead of time about the foolish Dementor prank was one thing. He’d seen Draco slip Potter a parchment, even if the boy had been too bloody obvious and opened it before the Slytherins were even three feet away. But this, this was just….

 

“And what, pray tell, was the questionable item that would make two young men see Potter’s head floating in the village? While admittedly filled with so little, I doubt it could wander off on its own. So, either Potter’s whole self was in the village or I will need to assign Messiers Crabbe and Goyle a most foul detention. Which is it, Mr. Malfoy?”

 

House loyalties or Potter? He hated putting Draco in this position, for as much as the boy-who-lived-to-drive-him-mad could use a Slytherin influence, he could use his life more. They all could.

 

Draco took a deep breath. “I’m not sure if you’ve ever been to Zonko’s, sir. Quite frankly, it’s filled with common rubbish, but there’s a section that’s supposed to be for those of age. Crabbe and Goyle saw a seventh-year purchase something from there, then pilfered a little sample. Diamond Drops, I think they’re called. Clear little balls that taste a bit like grass. They also claimed to see a big black dog lurking around and following Weasley, as well as someone looking remarkably like Hermione Granger with a redhead and a little boy.”

 

Severus gritted his teeth and tried very hard not to rip into the little shit.

 

Diamond Drops were a popular hallucinogenic the Death Eaters had partaken in during some of the “sophisticated” and “classy” gatherings. Lucius, he knew, still brought them out from time to time when he and their acquaintances got together. Draco, ever the little eavesdropper, had most likely seen and heard what they were at some point. And Severus knew that some seventh years had purchased them and snuck them in despite the school ban. He also knew that Hermione was supposed to meet Delia in Hogsmeade at some point with Leo, though it had slipped his mind to warn her to change her plans after Black’s attack the previous weekend.

 

Had he not known that Draco was lying through his teeth, Severus would have given him the benefit of the doubt.

 

“There’s still the matter of this suspicious bit of parchment that Potter was carrying around.”

 

“Just a bit of scrap,” Potter said, appearing nonchalant except for the tension in his face.

 

“Well, then, I suppose I could just burn it then,” he said, moving slowly to the hearth.

 

“No!” Potter shouted, and Draco flinched at how desperate he sounded.

 

“Ah, something of sentimental value, then? A secret, perhaps? Well, it might just need a little coaxing.” Severus desperately wanted to shock the little git by using the proper pass phrase. But revealing too much too soon would be a bad idea. “Reveal your secrets.” Nothing. Damn. Well, if there was one way to get a reaction, was to get Lupin in here and explain it. “Severus Snape demands you reveal yourself.”

 

Words slowly appeared.

 

Mr. Moony would like to congratulate Severus Snape on his great display of idiocy.

 

Mr. Prongs agrees with Mr. Moony and wishes to inform him he is still a great greasy git.

 

Mr. Padfoot is astonished that an intelligent little Kitten would find her way onto such a moron’s lap.

 

Mr. Wormtail would also like to remind Severus Snape to wash his hair, the slimeball.

 

Well, good humor with the exception of Pettigrew. They never did make peace.

 

“So, we’ll see about this,” he said for effect, watching both boys go sickly pale. Severus activated the Floo and called for Lupin, who promptly appeared.

 

“You called, Severus?” he said, darting a confused look at Draco and Potter.

 

“I did. After receiving a distressing report, I asked Potter to my office, where I asked him to turn out his pockets. Aside from a bag of tricks from Zonko’s, he had this.” He showed Remus the original Marauder’s Map, and saw his eyes widen a fraction before they went cold and closed off. “This bit of parchment is clearly full of Dark Magic, which is your area of expertise. Where do you think Potter got it?”

 

Lupin glanced at Draco. “Perhaps it was given to him to get him in trouble,” Lupin suggested.

 

“By Mr. Malfoy? A worthy attempt to blame a Slytherin for a Gryffindor’s foolish endeavor. However, Mr. Malfoy came to Potter’s defense. He claims that those who reported seeing Potter in Hogsmeade were not seeing things clearly. Have you ever seen this parchment before, Mr. Malfoy?”

 

“No,” Draco replied, glaring at Potter suspiciously. Ah, so not so close that Potter would tell him about his father’s legacy.

 

“So, what do you think, Professor? Where could Potter have gotten such a trinket?” Severus turned back to Lupin. “Direct from the manufacturer, perhaps?”

 

Before Lupin could reply, Weasley came bursting into the room with little regard for who might be on the other side of the door, or even the simple politeness of knocking first. Through his wheezing and huffing, he claimed to have purchased the joke bits for Potter, stopping short when he saw Draco standing beside his friend. He glared at Malfoy, and Severus didn’t show an ounce of the amusement he felt inside him at the sheer animosity between the ginger and Draco.

 

“Very well,” Severus said through his teeth. “It would seem that you are in the clear this time, Potter. However, I will remind you that your head or any other part of your body, is not permitted off castle grounds. And should they be discovered floating around again, the consequences may be worse than detention, am I clear?”

 

“Yes, sir.”

 

“Mr. Malfoy, I ask you to pass along a warning to Messiers Crabbe and Goyle that the products they sampled this afternoon are detrimental to their health, and they have little in the way of mind to waste away on such things.”

 

“Yes, sir,” he said with a nod, the tiniest of smirks on his face before he gave Potter a nudge, and they both headed for the door. Weasley was still pouting and glaring, upset that he hadn’t been the one to save the day, and the strange trio left.

 

When the door closed, Severus turned back to Lupin, who looked terrified.

 

“How did he get this?” he asked shakily.

 

Severus studied him. “From you, I assumed.”

 

Lupin shook his head. “Filch confiscated it from Peter our seventh year. Hermione and I were able to make a replacement, but it was burned after we graduated.”

 

Severus sighed. “And what name did H. choose for her pseudonym?” he asked, feeling the familiar pang of regret at the reminder of the year he’d missed with her, Lily, all of them.

 

“Prince,” Lupin replied. “Messrs. Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs, with Misses Prince and Petal, are proud to present…She wanted to include you in some way; Sirius argued for Kitten.”

 

Severus sneered. “That would have been atrocious. Miss Kitten? Sounds like someone you would find in Knockturn Alley.”

 

“I think I said the same thing,” Lupin replied wistfully. It was replaced by sadness. “It was foreshadowing in a way. She took your name then; she took it again later.”

 

“Yes, she did. But we aren’t here to discuss Hermione. I need to know how Potter got a hold of this.”

 

“I wish I knew. And given that Neville left the list of passwords lying about…”

 

“I heard that. Min was utterly furious. I hadn’t heard her brogue come out that deep since … it was a McGonagall event. ‘89, I believe?”

 

Lupin became thoughtful.

 

“Has Hermione said if she intends to see her parents when the time comes?”

 

Severus nodded. “We’ve discussed it, and while she claims she is undecided, I suspect I’ll be meeting my in-laws this summer.”

 

Silence descended upon them for a moment before Lupin cleared his throat.

 

“I’ll keep this with me.”

 

“Can I trust that it will not find its way into the wrong hands?” Severus asked

 

Lupin looked at him severely. “He killed our friends, Severus. James and Lily by betrayal, Peter in cold blood. I promise you, if I see Sirius, I will not hesitate to do whatever it takes to stop him.”

 

“Will you not?”

 

“None of it matters. I’m not sure it ever did.” And with that, he left Severus alone in his office.

 

He itched to Floo the cottage, to call his wife and ask for a hint. But he wouldn’t. He’d promised himself that he would not rely on Hermione’s knowledge to give him an advantage, especially when her time as a student under his tutelage was nearly over.

 

—————A—————

 

She, Ginny, and Luna came across the boys bickering in the corridor not very far from her father’s office. Draco and Ron were face-to-face, while Hermione and Harry stood behind them, looking unsure.

 

“What’s going on?” Ginny asked tentatively, looking between her brother and Draco. “Who said what now?”

 

“Buckbeak is being executed,” Hermione explained. “Hagrid sent a letter. And—”

 

“It’s this great git’s fault!” Ron spat.

 

“I did what I could!” Draco countered. “I apologized to the great oaf; I wrote a letter.”

 

“And how do we know you didn’t switch it out?” Ron challenged. “Maybe you went on with that great sob story of yours. ‘It killed me, it killed me.’ You cry like a girl, Malfoy.”

 

“Oi!” Ginny and Rory snapped together, and Hermione glared at Ron, though he paid little mind to them.

 

Draco smirked. “Is this another way of trying to make yourself look good for Granger? She throws her arms around you in gratitude for something you should’ve done from the start without whining, and now you want to seem superior to me?”

 

“All right, enough, both of you,” Hermione huffed. “The only way we’ll know what happened is to ask Hagrid. And we can’t go down to his hut because of all the security measures in place.” At this, she eyed Harry critically, and Malfoy snickered.

 

“We could just ask someone to escort us,” Luna suggested.

 

“What professor is going to walk us down to see Hagrid, and then wait for us to walk back?” Harry asked. “I’m fairly certain Lupin won’t do it; I think he’s already covered for me once today. And I know Professor Snape is just looking for a chance to accuse me of breaking the rules.”

 

“Which you did do,” Hermione chided.

 

Harry ignored her. “So, who else is around that we can ask?”

 

At that moment, Professor Trelawney came swaying down the hall, looking confused.

 

Aurora looked at Draco, who smiled charmingly at the professor and approached her.

 

“Professor,” he said with his best worried voice. “I’m afraid I need your help. You see, I was drinking tea this morning, and when I got to the bottom, I thought I saw a hippogriff in my leaves. Professor Hagrid had his hearing today about my accident. I’m terribly worried that they relate, and I want to confirm that all was as it should be. But with the restrictions….”

 

Professor Trelawney blinked rapidly behind her overly large glasses before becoming solemn.

 

“Yes, I foresaw you would need me. Come, come, I will take you to Professor Hagrid, as the spirits foretold I would.”

 

Aurora glanced at Luna and Ginny, who seemed amused and completely on board with following the quartet and the sloshed professor. Trelawney obviously had no idea where she was going, starting to wander down a different path before stopping suddenly, putting her hand to her forehead, and stumbling to get ahead of them. On occasion, the professor would look over her shoulder and scowl at either Aurora or Luna, depending on which way she turned her head.

 

When they got to the hut, she nearly fell into the pumpkin patch when Hagrid opened the door quite suddenly.

 

“Thank yer, Preffesser,” he said in a shaky voice. “Much appreciate yer bringing ‘em.”

 

Trelawney nodded but said nothing, and started stumbling back up the path to the castle as Hagrid waved them in. It was a tight squeeze, and after he offered the awful tea and rock cakes, Hagrid got into the sad tale.

 

“S’all my fault. Got all tongue-tied. Kept droppin’ my notes and forgetten’ all ‘em dates ya looked up fer me,” he sighed. “An’ then Lucius Malfoy stood up, said his bit.”

 

“What about my letter?” Draco asked.

 

“Oh, they had tha’, too. But yer father jus’ waved it off. Said it was a sign a proper breedin’ that ‘is boy took the blame. Said he didn’ think you wanted to make the family look bad. But ‘cause you did say Buckbeak attacked ya, even if ya said ya provoked ‘im,” he sniffed. “Pointed out how I got kicked outta Hogwarts, he did. Said I don’ know when a creature’s a danger or not.”

 

“Father played them right into his hands, didn’t he?” Draco sneered.

 

“‘Fraid they did exactly what he told ‘em.” Hagrid shrugged.

 

The room was quiet for a moment before Ron growled, “Proud of yourself?”

 

Draco turned, tensing as Ron got up.

 

“You think you’re so great, better than anyone. Ignore Hagrid when he says what you need to do and get yourself mauled. But no, not your fault. Not the great Draco Malfoy’s fault, is it? It was Buckbeak’s. And now that you went running off to daddy before you developed a tiny bit of a conscious, it’s all dad’s fault Buckbeak’s getting executed!”

 

“I never said that it wasn’t my fault, Weasel,” Draco shouted back.

 

“Yet you’ve never said it!” Ron yelled.

 

“Fine! Want me to say it, Weasley? Can’t use your brain to figure it out? It’s my fault. For a moment in my life I went barging in like a ridiculous Gryffindor and acted like I had less brain cells than you do!”

 

Crack!

 

The room went still as everyone processed what just happened. No one had noticed Hermione get up during the yelling match, as it looked like the two wizards were about to do some serious damage to one another in the crowded hut. It certainly took everyone by surprise when her fist landed on Draco’s nose, the sickening sound of cartilage snapping ending the row.

 

“Don’t insult the house of Gryffindor in a room full of them,” Hermione said.

 

“I’m not a Gryffindor,” Luna pointed out, a gentle smile on her face. “We should probably heal Draco’s nose. The Wiggumworts will be particularly drawn to it, and he’ll feel the need to sneeze constantly.”

 

She got up and fixed his nose with a quick tap of her wand and a soft “ Episkey .”

 

As Draco got to his feet, he gave Hermione a crooked smile.

 

“You land a good hit, Granger. Muggle, but effective.”

 

“Maybe one day I’ll teach you to fight like that,” she offered, shifting uneasily.

 

“Maybe one day you will,” he said, glancing at Aurora with a slightly wider grin.

 

 

April 16, 1994

 

 

It was early morning, and while most Saturdays Ginny would gladly sleep in, the Quidditch-crazed didn’t subscribe to that notion when the biggest game of the year was about to take place. And when it was essentially between two very tentative friends, with the Quidditch Cup at stake, it was apparently exciting enough for her to drag Aurora out of bed as well.

 

They were eating with the team, the Great Hall without a soul aside from the two teams, the Heads of House for those teams, Professor Hooch, and a small smattering of followers.

 

“Remember Harry, don’t catch the Snitch unless we’re fifty points up,” Oliver reiterated for what had to be the seventh time since they’d all sat down, and a glance at Harry told Aurora he was about to lose his mind.

 

“Yes. I know,” he said through his teeth.

 

“We all know,” Fred said before taking a bite of his breakfast.

 

“Sure, even the Slytherins know by now.” George nodded.

 

“And the little blondie hasn’t even been over here to see his girlfriend,” Fred pointed out.

 

“Not his girlfriend,” Aurora muttered absently.

 

“We know,” George gloated.

 

“Wasn’t talking about you,” Fred said with an equally amused smile. His eyes flickered down the table, but since the trio was there, Aurora didn’t know if he was saying that Draco’s infatuation was obvious or if they thought he was around for Hermione.

 

Word of the punch made it around Gryffindor Tower, though with a slight change to the location (the courtyard). Many thought it was stupid of him to confront the trio alone, others found a new respect for Hermione and were quite careful not to antagonize her. If it made it around to the rest of the student body, the Slytherins made no note of it. In any case, those who had seen Draco with the trio thought that when Hermione’s hand hit his face, he’d found her suddenly attractive.

 

“I just want to make sure Harry understands how important this is,” Oliver explained. “Gryffindor hasn’t won the Quidditch Cup since your brother Charlie was Seeker.”

 

“What if the Snitch appears as soon as the game starts?” Luna’s dreamy voice came from behind them, sliding onto the bench between Aurora and Harry. “Or, perhaps, if luck is on Draco’s side, the Snitch goes directly to him.”

 

No one said anything, and because she had grown up with such a mix in her own home, it took her a moment to realize that Luna was sitting at the Gryffindor table wearing a Slytherin scarf.

 

“Whaddya think you’re doing wearing that here?” Ron demanded.

 

“Oh, this?” Luna asked as she fingered the scarf. “I wore it out of solidarity, of course. Most of our friends are in Gryffindor, so it’s not as though you lot will sport green and silver. I had the idea of a matching head piece, but I couldn’t get the snake to coil just right. Shame, really.”

 

The table was entirely baffled. Except for Ron.

 

“So, go and slither over there if you want to support them.”

 

“Oh, I’d planned to, but when I was going over, Draco shook his head. I don’t think he’s ready to admit he’s got real friends outside of Slytherin. And they can be a bit cruel with their taunts, far worse than some of the other houses, including my own. He doesn’t like it when people call my Loony, and I think he was afraid of me hearing what other names they come up with.”

 

Harry looked shame-faced, as did Hermione. The twins just shared a sad smile.

 

It wasn’t long before the Slytherin team got up from the table, Draco lagging behind just a bit as they approached the Gryffindor table.

 

“See you out there, Potter,” he spat, making it sound like the heaviest insult.

 

“No, you won’t, Malfoy.” Harry grinned. “I’ll be too quick for you.”

 

Draco scoffed, eyes crinkling, and his mouth twisted in an effort not to smile. He left, glancing over his shoulder one last time before he followed his teammates out the door.

 

“Right, you lot. If Slytherin is on their way out, we should be, too,” Oliver declared, and the team headed out.

 

With nothing else to do in the meantime, the other five followed.

 

 

June 9, 1994

 

 

During breakfast, Aurora found a strange sight: her mother’s owl flying toward her father at the head table. He took the parchment from the beautiful bird, scratched its head and gave it a good-sized portion of bacon before it took off. She watched him read the note. He raised his head, but instead of looking at her, he looked at Hermione Granger. He stared for an abnormally long time before he rose to his feet. Instead of heading out through the teacher’s entrance, he walked down the length of the Gryffindor table, silencing everyone as he passed.

 

He stopped in front of her, glancing at Hermione briefly before he met his daughter’s gaze.

 

“Good luck, Aurora,” he said simply, patting her shoulder.

 

She felt something slip under her robes but did her best not to react.

 

“Thank you, Professor Snape,” she said, and he gave her the closest thing to a smile he ever gave at school.

 

She waited until she and Ginny got up to head to their exam and made to adjust her bag cover, retrieving the slip of parchment as she did so. She kept it clenched in her fist until they made it to the Transfiguration classroom. Before she had to tuck everything else away, she unfolded the note.

 

In her mother’s hand, it read, “It’s time to say goodbye, but I think goodbyes are sad and I’d much rather say hello. Hello to a new adventure.” *

 

She looked up at Professor McGonagall as she walked into the room, and watched her slow down as she, too, read a piece of parchment. She came to a stop, put her hand on her mouth and froze.

 

“You’ll have one hour,” she said, a slight catch to her commanding voice. “Begin.”

 

 

June 10, 1994

 

 

Aurora couldn’t sleep. Hadn’t slept, she supposed, now that she saw the sun rising.

 

There was a tangible absence she hadn’t expected when she realized Hermione Granger was gone. She figured that it had happened at some point last night after her father bolted from the sitting room after looking out the window, demanding she remain where she was. When he returned, he was exhausted, annoyed, and was mumbling about Flooing her mother over what she could have possibly been thinking three hours and twenty years ago. She took that as her cue to leave.

 

But in the common room, waiting for people to notice that she was gone, she sort of wished she’d stayed with her dad. She didn’t know what they planned to tell people.

 

“Rory?” Ginny said as she came down stairs, rubbing her eyes. “What are you doing here?”

 

She shrugged.

 

“Have you seen Ron, Mione or Harry?”

 

She shook her head.

 

Ginny shrugged as well and then plopped down beside her. “At least we don’t have exams today. I imagine your dad will be really busy, marking and all. Probably wouldn’t want to supervise a match or anything, do you think?”

 

“Ever feel like all we ever do is schoolwork and play Quidditch?” Aurora remarked.

 

“Sometimes. But who knows, maybe next year will be better. I mean, I wasn’t possessed by a book, and we didn’t almost bring back You-Know-Who. Gotta be a record for Harry.”

 

Aurora snorted at that, and then agreed to a game of Wizard’s Chess with Ginny once the latter was showered and ready for the day.

 

Time passed more quickly than Aurora expected, her mind already adjusting to the fact that she no longer had to watch everything she said about her mother. She was nearly smiling when the portrait hole opened to reveal Harry and Ron, looking around the room with worry and confusion.

 

“Has anyone seen Hermione?” Harry asked. “We haven’t seen her since last night.”

 

—————H—————

 

It was just past midnight when she heard the thud outside, the strange squawk of a hippogriff and then silence outside the backdoor. Some safehouse, Hermione thought, considering it was in a Muggle neighborhood. How did Albus think he could explain a convict wanted for murder riding on the back of a giant bird? She rolled her eyes and shook her head before taking a sip of her tea.

 

She waited for the door to open, adopting a bit of her husband’s flair for the dramatic, and then wandlessly and wordlessly lit the candles in the kitchen.

 

Sirius froze, taking the stance of a duelist despite not having a wand, but he appeared too weak to do more than shoot sparks even if he had had one. Hermione took another sip of her tea as she let Sirius process what he was seeing. He frowned deeply.

 

“Kitten?”

 

“No one’s called me that in thirteen years,” she replied, getting to her feet. “Or some four hours ago. Hard to recall, really, and I doubt Severus is going to want to go into details. He’s quite cross, though I’m not sure why. It’s been about twenty years since I did what he’s accusing me of.” She smiled, feeling a freedom she hadn’t in so long. Speaking about whatever to whomever was wonderful, even if there were still slight flutters.

 

“I’m not sure I’m ready for the explanation. It’s been … there’s been too much that’s happened tonight.”

 

“Sit,” she said, moving toward him. “I have food for you, that should—”

 

Sirius cut her off by throwing his arms around her and holding her tightly.

 

“It’s good to see you,” he said, placing his head on her shoulder.

 

“You’ve looked better.”

 

“Maybe,” Sirius said as he leaned back. “But I still look better than your husband.”

 

“And you still won’t win me over.”

 

“And I still have no interest in you,” he said with a wink before stumbling over to the table. “So, Severus still believes I tried to kill him back in the day?”

 

Hermione shook her head. “Probably not at this point. He didn’t truly believe it until … well, when you were sent to Azkaban and they all thought you were the Secret Keeper.”

 

“And you didn’t?” he asked as she opened the icebox and took out a plate of leftovers from her own meal with Leo earlier in the day. “You knew it was Peter and not me?”

 

“I knew a lot of things,” she said, putting the plate in front of Sirius and casting a quick warming charm over it. “You must recall the ‘attacks’ I would have now and then? I was oath-bound to not say a word of what I knew.”

 

He was nearly done with the food before he asked, “And now you’re not?”

 

“No. At least as far as I know.”

 

“So, you can tell me how I saw you in the Shack, but you’re here all grown up and still lovely?”

 

“Yes, but you already said you weren’t ready for it tonight.”

 

“That I’m not,” he said, taking another few bites. “So, what happens now?”

 

“Now,” she said with a grin. “Now I do something for you and Harry. And, truth be told, for Lily and James as well.”

 

“Which is?”

 

“Now I do a bit of paperwork, make things official, and ensure that Harry Potter never steps foot in the Dursleys’ home again.”

 

—————A—————

 

June 12, 1994

 

“I’m worried,” Harry said as they sat under a tree, staring at the Black Lake. “It’s been three days since anyone has seen or heard from her.”

 

“But didn’t Dumbledore say not to worry? That she was right where she needed to be?” Ron asked.

 

“Do you trust everything the old codger says?” Draco asked, lobbing the grass he’d been plucking at Ron. “‘Where she needs to be’ almost sounds like a threat, considering what you knuckleheads were up to.”

 

“That’s right! I didn’t see you going to see Hagrid when he needed friends,” Ron countered.

 

“Probably because I wasn’t able to leave the Slytherin common room,” he shot back. “Post-exam party going on, would have looked odd if I didn’t attend.”

 

“He has a point,” Ginny said.

 

“How so?” Ron asked petulantly.

 

“We all knew you three were up to something when you didn’t come by for our own party last night,” she explained. “Neville sort of just rolled his eyes when we asked where you were. ‘End of the year, out doing something dangerous,’ I believe were his exact words.”

 

“He wasn’t wrong,” Harry mused.

 

There was a chirp from an owl, and they all looked up to see a small brown bird land by Harry’s feet, followed by an even smaller grey one. The brown one looked quite pleased with itself as it held out its foot to Harry. The grey one waited patiently, then took off when Harry gathered its bit of parchment. The brown one remained.

 

“This one’s from Sirius,” he said, a mix of happiness and disappointment in his voice as he unrolled the scroll. “‘ Harry, it will be out in the Prophet soon, but with the help of a few friends, I was cleared of the murder charges. They’re considering the twelve years I spent there as time served for the crimes I could not be absolved from. I will not be able to walk the world in quite the manner I did before Azkaban, but to know I can without looking over my shoulder, it’s wonderful.

 

“‘ There’s another aspect of my freedom that I think we’ll both enjoy: my guardianship over you. A will must be honored whenever possible, and Lily and James left dictated that I was to take you in in the event of their death. As I am no longer considered a criminal in the eyes of the Wizengamot, that wish will be honored. Your aunt and uncle have been informed, and upon your arrival at the station, you will come home with me.

 

“‘ I look forward to seeing you under better circumstances, and to hear how you like the Firebolt I sent you.’

 

When Harry finished reading, he was beaming.

 

“Who would be helping Sirius that he wouldn’t want you to know about?” Ron asked. “Lupin? ‘Cause, yeah, he’s a werewolf, but he’s also a great guy otherwise.”

 

“Does it matter? I never need to go back to the Dursleys again. Brilliant!”

 

“Well, what about the other one?” Ginny asked.

 

“I don’t know. But there’s a P.S. Here, Ron. He says you can keep the owl since, well, you know,” Harry said. The little bird hopped over to Ron.

 

“Is it actually a bird, though?” he asked, eyeing him up.

 

“What are the chances it’s another Animagus?”

 

“We’ll know if that mangy orange cat that Granger has starts trying to kill it,” Draco said as he laid back on the grass, hands behind his head. He tensed a moment, glancing at Aurora. She looked at the others. Ginny, Harry, and Ron all looked uneasy again, sad and worried.

 

No one mentioned how Crookshanks was still in the castle, and only Aurora knew he was a resident of her father’s chambers. The sight of the half-Kneazle only reminded the others of what was missing.

 

“Well, what about the other letter?” Ginny asked, trying to lift the melancholy with forced enthusiasm. “I mean, it’s great you get to be with Sirius, but still.”

 

Harry set aside his missive from Sirius and picked up the other. He stilled, staring at the address with something like panic. Ron looked over his shoulder, and his eyes widened.

 

“Mione! It’s from Mione!” he exclaimed, reaching for the letter.

 

Harry moved it out of the way.

 

“It is, but the writing is a bit different.” He opened it, scanning it before reading it out loud. “‘ Harry, I assume you’re with the others when you read this, so please feel free to share it with them.

 

“‘ I’m okay. I understand that I gave you quite a fright after disappearing so suddenly. When I went to turn in the Time-Turner to Professor McGonagall—’

 

At this, Draco bolted up, looking at the letter with something akin to horror.

 

Harry kept reading.

 

“‘— there was someone from the Ministry’s Department of International Relations in her office. My parents were relocated to the States and since I am underage, I have to go with them. They waited until after exams to tell me that they’ve arranged for me to attend Ilvermorny. My parents didn’t want me to stress more than necessary.

 

“‘ I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you sooner. It was all such a rush, packing my things and leaving so quickly. I will write often, as much as I can. Hedwig knows where to find me, so you can keep me up to date on everything.

 

“‘ Tell Draco that if he’s serious about this tentative truce, he’ll need to be the voice of reason. Don’t look like that, Ron. While you can both be quite intelligent when you try, you need someone more logical, and someone who won’t let you copy their homework. Tell Gin, Rory, and Luna I will miss them, and they can write me when they need to. I will miss you dearly. Sincerely, Hermione.’

 

There was silence.

 

It stayed that way until Ron’s stomach grumbled, and the five of them headed in for some lunch. And perhaps a trip to the library, because that’s what Hermione would do.

 

* * *

 

*Quote by Ernie Harwell



Chapter Text

—————H—————

 

June 11, 1994

 

The headmaster’s office had never been the Order of the Phoenix’s headquarters, or even one of its meeting places. But the remaining members of the original Order were still crammed in there.

 

Molly and Arthur sat on a sofa with Minerva beside them. Sirius was in a chair with Remus standing behind him, the former still not quite recovered from his ordeal. Alastor Moody stood with his back to the window, walking stick in hand.

 

Her husband stood at the mantel, turned away but listening attentively. Just beside him was Kingsley Shacklebolt, looking out of place. But there were so few of them left after the first war...

 

“Mrs. Snape,” Albus said in his kindly, condescending way. “While I think it’s fantastic that you’ve managed to get Sirius down to—what did you call it? ‘Time served’? As brilliant as that is, Harry cannot be allowed to go to Grimmauld Place when the school year is done.”

 

“Sirius is Harry’s legal and rightful guardian according to the Ministry,” Hermione argued, fighting the urge to pull the papers from her bag and shove them in his face. “And since he’s a wizard, it’s the best option to relocate Harry with him.”

 

“For the best, but not the greater good.”

 

“How so?” she challenged. “Sirius has done no wrong except try to avenge his friends. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that I’m not the only one in this room who knew Sirius was not Secret Keeper before Lily and James were killed.”

 

All eyes went to Severus and he sneered.

 

“I thought Black was a traitor as much as any of you. I think my wife is referring to our esteemed leader,” he said casually, and Hermione was quite close to snickering.

 

All eyes swiveled to Dumbledore, who had the good sense to change his grin to appear contrite.

 

“I confess Lily and James did consider changing their Secret Keeper and taking Sirius’ suggestion to appoint Peter. However, I did not feel the need to inform the Order of the change, as their location was to be unknown by all.”

 

“And yet with a bit o’ disclosure, Sirius coulda had a proper trial,” Minerva pointed out. “He’d have gone to Azkaban, but not for so long.”

 

“And maybe Harry could have gone with him when he was released,” Molly added.

 

Dumbledore shook his head. “No. It is imperative that Harry return to his aunt’s home.”

 

“And why is that?” Sirius asked bitterly.

 

“Peter has escaped and is no doubt already trying to find a way to bring Voldemort back,” Dumbledore explained, and Severus hissed at the name, clutching his left arm. “Pardon me, Severus. Tom.”

 

Severus rolled his eyes, massaging his arm, as he drifted closer to his wife.

 

“I hate to point this out,” Remus started, “but there have been others who’ve tried before him. In this very school. I must confess that Harry has told me much during our evening chats, and this was his only year at Hogwarts that he didn’t encounter You-Know-Who in some way or another.”

 

“Thank you,” Severus murmured from over her shoulder, and Remus gave the slightest of nods.

 

Dumbledore sighed. “It is true, unfortunately. But that was not what we were discussing. It is imperative for Harry to return to the Dursleys because of the blood ward, the protection Lily Potter cast when she jumped between Harry and Tom.”

 

“Blood ward?” Severus said condescendingly. “As in the bond of blood?”

 

“Indeed.”

 

“Then you’re a fool if you think that has protected Potter all these years. It’s the fact that he’s been in the Muggle World that has kept him safe, and now that he has been reintroduced to our world, it’s null.”

 

“Severus, you know that magic like that cannot be so easily broken,” Dumbledore said as he glanced at Severus’ arm. “The bond of protection is carried through Lily’s sister. She took him in, and so the charm took.”

 

“But she did so unwillingly,” Hermione reminded him.

 

“He is her sister’s child, left on her doorstep. She took him in willingly,” Dumbledore said with certainty.

 

“No, I’m quite sure she didn’t,” Hermione retorted.

 

“I’d have to agree with H., Albus,” Minerva said. “I was there. I watched her open the door, shriek and curse as she realized that the milkman had already been by.”

 

“But she took him in,” Dumbledore said with that twinkle in his eye.

 

“Just because we do something does not mean we do it willingly,” Remus noted.

 

“Petunia Dursley has always been about her image,” Severus said. “In fact, I believe the only reason she let me into her home was because the sight of me on the doorstep would make the neighbors talk.” He caught Hermione’s eye as she frowned. “Yes, dear?”

 

“When did you go to the Dursleys’?” she asked.

 

He bowed his head.

 

“It was … after the funeral,” he said softly. “I took Aurora. You were ...”

 

“I remember,” she said softly, recalling how James and Lily were not their only losses that night.

 

Severus nodded. “She was not pleased to see me, less so that I hadn’t come for Potter, and that I had my own child with me. I went to warn her that Potter had best arrive at Hogwarts healthy and well-cared for. I doubt she listened, considering he was as small as I was when I started.”

 

Molly was gearing up to rant on Harry’s need for a good filling out when she was cut off by an eerily calm, “How did you get in?”

 

Everyone turned back to Dumbledore. There was no glint in his eye, no smile on his lips. His hands were flat on the desk instead of folded, his back straight in his chair.

 

“I knocked, she answered,” Severus replied.

 

“Your Dark Mark shouldn’t have allowed you near the threshold,” Dumbledore said, his voice deepening with rage.

 

“Ah, he finally gets it,” Severus said, taking one step away from Hermione’s chair. “Blood wards, unless laden with Dark Magic, are not guaranteed. They rely a great deal on intent, and Petunia Dursley had no intention of keeping Potter.”

 

“There was a letter left with Harry, explaining it all.”

 

“And that was your way of sneaking him into the house? A letter? And did you think your words were suddenly going to soften that cold heart and make her love him as her own? She despised her sister because of a fluke of nature. Lily and I were freaks at every turn, and she refused to attend Lily’s wedding because she was marrying a wizard. She’d have been surrounded by them. Has anyone asked Potter what his home life is like?” He turned to Hermione. “You can speak freely now. Do you remember?”

 

“Why do you think I was so intent on working Sirius’ case?” she asked, not wanting to test her newfound freedom in front of the man who took it away.

 

“The boys said that they were starving him, put bars on his window,” Molly said, wringing her hands. “And last year, when we met up with him in Diagon Alley, I overheard him telling the children why he ran off.”

 

“Best that we go through with H.’s plan, Dumbledore,” Alastor said, nodding in her direction while he looked at Albus. “Grimmauld’s Secret-Kept, and it woulda kept working for the Potters if Pettigrew weren’t the rat he is.”

 

“Literally,” Sirius grumbled.

 

“And I trust, Albus, that you aren’t going to share its location with anyone of questionable nature?” Minerva asked, and Hermione nearly giggled at the way she arched her brow and crossed her arms, staring down at the older wizard.

 

“No, my dear, on that you can trust.” Dumbledore’s placid smile returned, and he eased back into his chair. “It appears that I have been overruled. I will concede that, perhaps, the blood bond was not as strong as I thought. Harry may go with Sirius so long as it is kept to those in this room.”

 

“No,” Arthur said. “I believe his friends should know as well.”

 

Dumbledore hesitated.

 

“What’s the matter?” Alastor asked.

 

“Why, it’s the same issue he had twenty years ago: a snake amongst the lions,” Severus growled.

 

“Oh,” Remus said with a hint of bitterness, Sirius looking between the two men before looking at Hermione with confusion.

 

“A snake?” Arthur asked.

 

“Draco Malfoy has been making nice with Potter since the beginning of the year. When he can, anyway,” Severus replied.

 

“You realize that Harry’ll tell them anyway,” Sirius pointed out. “Regardless of who they are, he’s going to tell his friends he’s living with me. How else will he keep in touch with them over the summer? And wouldn’t his aunt and uncle give up the information the second one of them tries to contact him? That will just make them panic.”

 

“And without Hermione’s influence, they’ll charge off looking for him.” Molly sighed. “I’m going to miss that girl; she was good for them.”

 

“Can’t miss her too much,” Sirius remarked, receiving a cuff on the head from Remus

 

“So long as the exact location is not disclosed to the children, would that suffice?” Severus asked the room in general. “Letters addressed to Harry Potter, Grimmauld Place will still arrive, and he may Floo to and from the Burrow without issue, I’m sure.”

 

“What of Malfoy?” Arthur asked.

 

Severus smirked. “He’s not foolish enough to extend or request an invitation.”

 

“Then I think we’ve settled it,” Alastor said.

 

“I believe we have, so long as those in this room are completely comfortable with the changes. I would hate for something to happen and we come to find out someone does not agree with the changes we’ve made to Harry’s life.”

 

No one said anything. No one even flinched. Hermione was pleased to know that Harry’s choice in friends was not going to overshadow or sway the popular opinion that he needed to be away from the Dursleys.

 

“Then since we all agree, we should have some refreshments. The elves made a splendid lemon cake for dinner, I’m sure there should be plenty left over.”

 

—————S—————

 

April 4, 1976

 

“We should schedule it,” Hermione said thoughtfully as she sat on the floor with her head against Severus’ leg. She was surrounded by parchment, textbooks, her planner, and various colored inks, her disaster far too great to be contained to the couch where he was content to simply sit and make notes in his books, his ink floating off to his left, a second textbook doing the same near his head.

 

“Schedule what?” he asked absently, trying to figure out a downside to crushing a sopophorous bean rather than slicing it.

 

“The day you take my virginity,” Hermione said, and he nearly struck through the entire page with his quill. He gaped at her, watching as she continued with her exam prep as if she had only asked him when he’d like to stop for tea.

 

“Shall we color-code it as well?” he asked, testing to see if she realized how absurd she was being.

 

“I don’t think that’s necessary,” she said, before huffing. “No, I can’t study Arithmancy at the same time as Runes,” she muttered to herself, making a quick scratch with her quill over the first draft of her schedule.

 

Severus continued to stare at the back of her head, wondering if maybe the pressure of exams had gotten to her head.

 

Admittedly, they’d been getting closer to that happening than either of them had anticipated. While time alone was scarce with not just Lily, but Lupin and Black always finding their way to where they were, the time they did have together was used well. Hogsmeade was always a date, and there were times when Severus would rather brew or Hermione would rather read. But when they were feeling very much like normal teenagers deeply in love (though it had yet to be voiced), they were quite physical. It was about two months after Severus’ birthday when the first article of clothing was removed, and two weeks after that when they mapped one another’s bodies with a full view of the landscape.

 

He’d hated the experience, and hoped he never had to do it again with anyone else. Not because he didn’t like what he saw, he was pretty sure that there was nothing better in the world than the sight and feel of Hermione. It was his own unveiling that he loathed. She may have seen him without a shirt over the summer, but it had been hot and miserable, and he didn’t much care when he was certain she had no attraction to him to begin with. But fearing losing her attention when he bared himself, the scars on his legs and back from a rough childhood, had had him ruining most of the moments they had together. They would get to his disrobing and he’d find himself hiding behind his Occlumency shields. An argument would always ensue, same things said on both sides, and then they would redress and focus on academics while pointedly not speaking to one another.

 

It was always during these moments the others would find them, Black only gaining access to the lab when he’d sworn he wouldn’t breathe a word to the other two.

 

But after each encounter, the subsequent was easier, and now if they were naked, he no longer thought of what she might think, he merely thought of her.

 

Intercourse was the last thing they had yet to broach, and while he admittedly initiated some of the activities beforehand (by her agreement only), he wasn’t about to ask for that . He was perfectly content with all the other stuff they were doing.

 

Severus tried to fathom why she was trying to control the event, and when he simply couldn’t understand, he said, “Hermione, I’m not sure I understand.”

 

She looked up at him, a wicked grin on her face. “I want you to make love to me. But we should decide the best time to do so.”

 

“Why?” he asked, still not sure he understood why she was so adamant. “All the other moments of intimacy we’ve had have been spontaneous.”

 

“I’ve received dozens of letters from Delia since Oliver was born,” she said, throwing him for a loop. “She carries on about how wonderful he is, how beautiful, and how she’s so pleased to finally be a mother. But there are moments where she spaces out or dozes off. Lines on the parchment or blots of ink. And she tends to repeat herself. As wonderful as I’m sure motherhood is, I’m hardly ready for it. I am, however, quite ready to express my affection to you physically. As talented as you are, I need more.”

 

Severus smirked, straightening his tie and sat a bit taller.

 

“I could ask Madam Pomfrey for the charm, but I’ve researched the best methods of contraception in the wizarding world, and the potion is considered the most reliable.”

 

“And you want me to have adequate time to brew it,” he said with a dawning understanding.

 

She smiled. “I have no doubt that it’s no coincidence that the fourth through seventh year potion kits have all the ingredients to make the potion. And to find the recipe would be easy enough.”

 

“I could just brew it ahead of time. It keeps for six months.”

 

“I suppose that could work,” she said thoughtfully. She sighed, and then looked at the papers around her. “But it would be quite nice to know. I mean, what if we decide to do so in the middle of exam time?”

 

Severus gave a loud “Ha!” which earned him an angry, confused glare. “Hermione, I’m already aware that there won’t be so much as a hug during exams. It’s our O.W.L.s. You were a terror last year with just basic end-of-year testing, I’m fairly certain I will not find you attractive for the first two weeks of June.”

 

Thank you for that, Severus,” she grumbled.

 

He loved it. He loved provoking her in little ways, and it didn’t take him long to realize he always had. From their earlier, barely-existent friendship, he loved goading Hermione just enough to fluster her. It was far too early to think such things, but he thought it anyway: he wanted to fluster her for the rest of their lives.

 

There was a loud knock on the door.

 

“Clothes on! We’re coming in in five—” Black shouted through the door, and Severus waved his wand at it before the idiot could get to four.

 

Black took in the scene and sighed. “Blimey, you two are the most boring people in a relationship I’ve ever seen. You’re always so proper. Where’s the fun?” Black asked as he hopped onto a tabletop, grinning mischievously.

 

“Not everyone feels the need to be naked all the time, Sirius,” Lupin said with a sigh, offering an apologetic smile to Hermione before sitting by Severus.

 

“Lily’s not coming?”

 

“She, er, had a date,” Lupin said, glancing at Black.

 

“Did she finally accept a date with James?” Hermione asked.

 

“No,” Lupin sighed.

 

“Which is precisely why I’m here with Moony and not tagging around with the much more exciting two. James is in a snit. Lily is currently walking the grounds with a Hufflepuff. Don’t know his name, think he’s a seventh year. Looks...” At this, Black got noticeably uncomfortable.

 

“He looks like you, Severus. With glasses,” Lupin said.

 

“And clean hair,” Black added swiftly.

 

“Unnecessary, Padfoot,” Lupin admonished.

 

“Do I dare ask why you call each other such foolish names?” Severus asked, seeing Hermione tense out of the corner of his eye. So, there was something significant about the names. Did she know?

 

“Just names we came up with. Some have deeper meaning than others.” He sized Severus up. “If I were to give you a name, something no one would relate to you, I would pick—”

 

“Padfoot,” Lupin said in warning.

 

“Snake,” Black said with what Tobias would call a shit-eating grin.

 

“How original,” Severus sneered.

 

“Well, let’s see you come up with something better.” Black huffed and crossed his arms.

 

“Prince,” Hermione said. “For your mother.”

 

“I would never associate ‘Prince’ with you,” Black said. He then frowned. “Wait, Prince. That’s an old wizarding name. You’re half-blood?”

 

“Yes. A half-blood Prince, if you will.” Severus rolled his eyes. “Though only if my mother sheds her husband’s name and reclaims hers.”

 

“Huh,” Black said. “Interesting. Wormtail thought you were Muggle-born.”

 

“Does it make a difference?” Severus asked, feeling Hermione’s hand snake up his leg in comfort. “The four of you thought I was less than all of you. Is that why you were so keen on making my life hell? I existed?”

 

“No,” Black said vehemently.

 

“Yes,” Lupin said. “But not in that way. It had nothing to do with blood status.”

 

“Social status, then,” Hermione spoke up. “After all, I boarded the train in hand-me-downs as well, but from a middle-class family. I didn’t have a Muggle name, but a wizarding one that hasn’t been heard in Britain for some time. It never occurred to you lot that I might be poor o—” she was cut off abruptly, and Severus was on his knees in front of her. Her eyes locked on his and soothed her until she breathed easier.

 

“Blimey, are you alright?” Black asked.

 

“She’s fine,” Severus said as Hermione ducked her head and rested it against his chest. “An attack, is all.”

 

“What causes that?” Lupin asked. “This is the second one she’s had this year.”

 

“It’s nothing,” Hermione managed to say, lifting her head to wave them off. “I get them from time to time. Always have”

 

“And there’s no cure for it?” Lupin asked.

 

“Only time,” Hermione replied, and he held her just a bit more snuggly. He wondered how much time she would need, the image he’d glimpsed of himself fuzzy at best, and fading from his memory. He knew he was older; he just didn’t know by how much. He just hoped she wouldn’t have to wait too long.

 

—————H—————

 

June 13, 1976

 

He just needs time, Hermione thought to herself. He just needs time to process, and then things will be fine.

 

And she really, really wanted to believe that.

 

It had been three days since what would have been one of the most special days of their lives, of their relationship, and Hermione hadn’t heard a word from Severus since.

 

They ended up deciding to make love on their last exam day. Hermione had no reason to believe that Severus and she would be a permanent fixture. Sometimes the thought of his sneer or the insults he’d spouted as a professor filled her mind and made her doubt that he would ever look back on their time together fondly. Doubt that whatever his assumptions, he would come to hate her. Yet she could not picture her life without him, didn’t want to. So, the decision to throw caution to the wind and give Severus all her firsts was an easy one. She loved him, she was very certain he loved her, and when she looked back at her first time, that was what she wanted to remember.

 

But they hadn’t actually gotten that far. In fact, they hadn’t even gotten undressed.

 

They met in his lab, pleased with how exams had gone, and they took the time to share what they thought of them. They kissed, and before anything else could happen, he handed her the potion. Pink, slightly glittery, minty, perfectly brewed. She swallowed the whole thing in one gulp and smiled with nerves and giddiness.

 

Then things got fuzzy. The room spun, and Severus panicked.

 

She remembered the sensation of something small and hard being shoved down her throat right before he picked her up and ran to the infirmary. In the daze, two Madam Pomfreys told three Severuses that Hermione had an allergic reaction. There was another potion, and that helped wash down the bezoar, and the world slowly began to right itself.

 

Severus left shortly after seeing she was okay and didn’t return.

 

“He brewed it perfectly,” Madam Pomfrey told her. “Which, sadly, is more than I can say for most. Many just end up coming to me because they’re too worried what might happen otherwise. But I’m afraid that there’s no alternative for you, potions-wise. You’re allergic to something in the potion. You’ve had pain relief, Pepper-Up, and Calming Draught with no side effects, so I guess you’re allergic to the laserwort. The only thing that I can do is teach you the charm. It has to be done beforehand, and only lasts three hours at most. If not done right, it won’t work at all.”

 

She’d been released from the hospital wing after the matron made sure she knew how to perform the charm, and Hermione had returned to the lab only to find him missing.

 

She went back the next morning and again in the afternoon and hadn’t found him. She knew he had been there, as there was a cauldron simmering with something inside that smelled sort of like his pain potion, but with something else she couldn’t place. He’d left his books and his notes lying around, and on one of the desks he’d penned an SS on the surface. She took her quill, adding & HG to it. She then took a bit of blank parchment and drew an arrow, pointing it to their initials before she left.

 

Hermione spent the next twenty-four hours with the Gryffindor girls, Marlene and Lily finally on speaking terms. When she returned to the lab, he still wasn’t there, but beneath their initials was a filigree scroll. Beside it, written on the back of the parchment with the arrow was a simple Sorry in Severus’ hand. She replied with Don’t be and left.

 

Now she was out beneath the tree by the lake, watching the Marauders, Lily, and Marlene try to coax the giant squid to play. She had been to the lab, found no more notes or their missives from the day before, and still no Severus. She wanted to go to the dungeons, but she knew better.

 

Part of her raged, much like she had after their failed venture into Legilimency with Moody. Another part rationalized that Severus just had to work through it on his own.

 

Instead of trying to find him or join the others by the lake, she took out her copy of Jane Eyre. The scent from the pressed flowers and herbs still lingered on the pages, and if she put her nose to the crease and breathed deeply, Hermione could gather them all in a single sniff. She got comfortable, diving into the story, getting lost in Jane’s plight rather than her own.

 

She had no idea how much time passed, but she eventually sensed Severus beside her.

 

She knew it was him without even looking up, with the advantage of knowing him longer than he had her. But instead of talking, she turned the page and kept reading, albeit only with partial attention. She spoke first last time; he would be the one to bridge the silence this time.

 

He sat beside her, and Hermione nearly vibrated with his proximity, yet refused to touch him.

 

“It seems,” he started, hands reaching for the grass and plucking, “that, be it my intention or not, I keep almost killing you.”

 

Hermione snorted, trying very hard not to look at Severus.

 

“You’re not to blame this time, you know,” she said to the pages of her book.

 

“No? It was my potion.”

 

“Which you brewed perfectly,” she explained.

 

“How is that possible if your eyes were rolling to the back of your head and I had to shove a bezoar down your throat?”

 

“Allergy.” She finally looked at him, seeing the dubious expression on his face and nearly laughing at it. “It’s true. Madam Pomfrey figures it’s the laserwort; I have no problem with other potions.”

 

His brow furrowed. “Which means that there’s no known contraceptive potion you can take,” he said thoughtfully.

 

“She taught me the charm,” she said, earning a hum of assertion, but she could already see that his mind was focusing on ingredients and recipes. She shook her head, a swell of adoration and admiration washing over her. Hermione scooted on the grass, saw he was still too far in his mind to really notice what she was up to, and decided resting against his leg was in order.

 

She settled with her book, content with the closeness, wondering idly to herself if she would ever understand the workings of a Slytherin mind. Or, at the very least, Severus’. Eventually, she was focused on the story again, noting absently that Severus had gotten something from her bag, shifting the leg she was not using as a pillow.

 

“Oh, Merlin, they’re made for each other,” Sirius’ voice teased. Hermione peeked over, catching him shaking his head. Remus was smiling, Lily looked a little forlorn, and Peter and James were completely unbothered.

 

She went to look at Severus but was distracted by the book and inkwell floating above her head. He was jotting things down on some parchment propped against his leg, tapping his ink-stained finger against his lip as he frowned in thought.

 

“Perhaps we are,” she mused, returning to her book. She felt Severus’ fingers in her hair.

 

“Atrocious,” he muttered under his breath, but even as he managed to get them out of her curls, he dove right back in. And while it was, perhaps, not a conventional way to make up or reconcile or whatever it was they needed to do, Hermione was pleased with how they were going about it.

 

—————S—————

 

July 3, 1976

 

Severus vaguely wondered what his mother would say if she knew where he was at the moment, considering she’d hounded him relentlessly from down the hall when he and Hermione were in separate beds just last year. He was, after all, sleeping in a tent outside, enchanted so the night sky could be seen through the roof. Hermione was curled against him, head on his bare chest, wearing his t-shirt and not much more. He wasn’t fully clothed himself, and it had nothing to do with the summer heat.

 

In the distance, they could hear the cries of a colicky Oliver McGonagall. It was because of him that Delia had recommended Severus and Hermione sleep outside when they could, and also why he wanted to make absolutely sure Hermione knew the charm that would prevent him dealing with that sound on a regular basis. He was putting his trust in his love’s abilities until he could figure out a potion that wouldn’t send her straight to the hospital wing. At least, Severus thought, he knew she was a capable witch and he could trust her with such matters. Her future was too bright and brilliant to miss out on because of pregnancy, and his was looking pretty good too.

 

In fact, it was looking so well he was often filled with a sense of foreboding when it came to mind.

 

He was in love, and was loved, by a beautiful witch. They never said the words outright, though he was sure they’d both let them slip out in heated whispers earlier when they made love for the first time. That morning, the journal with his essay on pain relief enhancements arrived in the mail. It also contained two notes from Masters praising his insight into fertility potions and wondering how such an adjustment hadn’t found its way through the community before.

 

Severus had friends, even if one of them pined for his Hermione and the other pretended to do the same over him. The bullies that once made his life miserable were at peace with him.

 

It was only a matter of time before the other shoe dropped.

 

He knew it was coming. As sure as the nose on his face, Severus knew that the tide was about to turn against him. Life was too good, too fair at the moment. If there was one thing Tobias had taught him, it was that life was not fair.

 

—————H—————

 

June 17, 1994

 

Hermione stood nervously outside the brownstone she hadn’t seen in twenty years. In a park down the street and around the corner, her husband and two children waited for her signal to come over or leave. At her side, Minerva tried to reassure her with a squeeze of her arm, but Hermione couldn’t settle. She was very close to hyperventilating.

 

“Are you ready?” Min asked, and Hermione shook her head. Minerva chuckled. “Can’t put it off, dear. They’ll go to the station tomorrow, expecting to find you. You’ll cause them more grief if you don’t do it now.”

 

“I know, I know,” Hermione said, shaking out her hands as if it would make a difference. She huffed a breath, then tried to inhale deeply. “I’ve known you longer than I’ve known them. It’s just … I don’t know how this is going to go, and you know how much I hate not knowing.”

 

“Get used to it dear,” Minerva said as she rang the doorbell. “For the first time in twenty years, you’re as clueless as the rest of us.”

 

There was movement inside and Hermione held her breath as a silhouette appeared behind the frosted window, and Hermione turned around before the door revealed her mother.

 

“Professor … McGonagall, wasn’t it?” Helen Granger’s polite voice asked. “What can I do for you?”

 

“Hello, Dr. Granger. I wish I was here with some pleasant news. I’m afraid there’s been a bit of an accident with Hermione.”

 

“Accident?” John Granger’s voice joined in, and Hermione shut her eyes at the familiar worry caused. “What sort of accident?”

 

“Hermione?” her mother asked, and she lifted her head in response, though she didn’t turn around. “Hermione, what happened? Poppet?”

 

A sob stuck in Hermione’s throat as tears tickled her eyes. She had forgotten that her mother called her that and realized quite suddenly that she did the same to Rory.

 

Wiping at her face, Hermione sniffed one last time before she turned to face her parents.

 

They didn’t look so old anymore. But then again, they were physically just over a decade older than her now. In some ways, it surprised her that her perception of them could change so sharply, even though the memory of them was not far off.

 

They stared, shock splayed across their faces.

 

“It’s a bit of a long story,” she said, trying her best to smile. “You may want to sit down for it.”

 

It was her father who nodded first, waving them in as Helen remained stunned for a few seconds longer before running to the kitchen to make tea.

 

As John led them into the living room, Hermione took in her surroundings. It was all very much the same: neat, minimal, nearly showroom in design. But they were never really home, and she no longer took up residence with them (and would never again). She went over to the mantel to look at the pictures. Seeing her younger self, she could confirm that Aurora was a true blend of her and Severus and had been right from birth. She also knew that the only thing Leo had inherited from her was her eyes.

 

“So,” Helen said as she brought a tea tray into the room and set it on the coffee table. She brushed her hands on her trousers and took in Hermione.

 

Hair down, dressed in a thin sweater and trousers, she could pass for Muggle if it weren’t for the dragonhide boots.

 

“It’s a long story,” Hermione said again, gesturing for her mother to join her father on the sofa. She then sat down in a chair next to Minerva as her mother prepared the tea. “And I should warn you now that … that it doesn’t end with me … I won’t be coming ...” She took a deep breath, trying to gather her wits. “I’m thirty-four.”

 

“So … so this isn’t some accident where you, I dunno, drank a potion you shouldn’t have and are just waiting to turn back to your proper age?” her father asked.

 

“No, I’m afraid it’s quite irreversible.”

 

—————H—————

 

It had been a long draining hour. She told them what happened. She told them a little about her life at Hogwarts in the seventies, and of her Mastery and career in Arithmancy, but she noted that they were focused on glaring at Minerva.

 

“So, you knew ,” her father accused when she stopped, waiting to broach the subject of Severus and the children. John Granger stared at Minerva with a coldness she didn’t remember ever seeing. “We let you into this house nearly four years ago, and while you were telling us about Hermione’s magic and the school, you knew she was … that we would lose our daughter? Why didn’t you stop it from happening?”

 

“Doctor Who,” Hermione rushed to answer. “You don’t change time, remember? One of your favorite parts about the show was always how they couldn’t destroy history. I’m part of history now. There were—are—people who knew me as I am now when I started school.” She took a deep breath. “Including my husband.”

 

Helen visibly deflated. “You’re married?”

 

Hermione nodded. “To a wonderful, brave man whom I love dearly. But … but when I first met him, he was my … professor.”

 

Her father’s eyes widened, though he didn’t pull his eyes away from Minerva. “You let a professor marry a student?”

 

Minerva gave a rude snort. “When they married, they were the same age.”

 

“It’s not like he knew it was going to happen that way. I didn’t either. He was just … he wasn’t how I thought he would be when he was my classmate, and we...”

 

“So, you ...” Her mother frowned. “It’s not Professor Lockhart or Professor Lupin?”

 

Hermione felt sick at the thought. “No, it certainly wasn’t either of them. Professor Lockhart is actually a bit younger than I am now. And Professor Lupin … it’s best not to go down that road.”

 

Minerva rolled her eyes. “Hermione and Remus Lupin were friends, but I can assure you, she and Severus are much more suited for each other. And while Professor Snape is not most students’ favorite teacher, he does his job well. We have had fewer potion-related accidents since he joined us than at any other time in the last century.”

 

As she saw them recognize the name, and her own complaints about him, she blurted, “Would you like to meet him?”

 

It stopped any words either of them had started to say. Her mother blinked. “I—I suppose,” she stuttered.

 

“And … your grandchildren. Would you like to meet them as well?” Hermione asked tentatively.

 

Her father dragged a hand down his face before he stood up and walked over to the fireplace mantel. He stood there, bracing himself against it, staring at a photo of Hermione. “Children?”

 

“Yes,” Hermione replied. “I have a son and a daughter.”

 

“How old are they?”

 

She wrung her fingers. “Eight, almost nine. And thirteen.”

 

“Ha,” John said, not taking his eyes off the picture. “Thirteen. Same age you were when we sent you off for the year. And now look at you. You’re in your thirties now. My grandchild was born a year after my daughter.”

 

“I think … I want to meet them,” Helen said, making John spin around and look at her as though she were mad. Helen shrugged. “You heard Hermione. She can’t change what happened. Nothing will get back the time we lost, but how much would we have had anyway? She was already begging us to send her to a private secondary, she’d have gone off to university afterward. Really, we … we wouldn’t have had much time. Yes, we missed out on things. Her wedding,” -Helen’s voice cracked- “her graduation. But she’s alive. She’s here. She has a family.”

 

John shook his head and left the room. Down the hall, the door to the study shut roughly, and Helen bowed her head.

 

“I would like to meet them,” she repeated.

 

Hermione nodded, reaching up for the pendant around her neck, and tapped her wand to it. The response was immediate as the pendant burned in her palm.

 

Be right there.

 

“He’s on his way over,” Hermione said, trying to smile.

 

Helen nodded. “Did you … did you have a crush on him when … when he was your professor? I only remember you saying that he could be cruel and demanding.”

 

“He is, but I know why now. Severus’ subject is quite dangerous, and sometimes the only way to make sure everyone does as they should, he must be strict, and often mean. There are other aspects as well, which I will tell you and Dad about another time, when—when this is all settled and it’s not quite so overwhelming.”

 

The doorbell chimed and they all stood.

 

“As much as I consider Severus and Hermione family, I believe I will take my leave now.” She extended a hand to Helen, and Hermione didn’t hear whatever pleasantries or condolences were passed as she went to the foyer to greet her husband and children.

 

Severus had claimed repeatedly that he felt no need to give a good impression. He reminded her that they had been married for nearly fifteen years and her parents’ opinion was moot at this point. She knew it was all bollocks and refrained from pointing out that she was right when she took in the sight of him.

 

He was in a Muggle suit, black of course, with a dark green shirt and a silver tie with fine green pinstripes. His hair was immaculate, clearly washed the moment she left the cottage to meet up with Min. And if she wasn’t mistaken, she could smell the subtle scent of sandalwood wafting from him. He only wore that cologne on special occasions.

 

Leo looked uncomfortable in his trousers and buttoned shirt, usually happy to run around in corduroy and t-shirts. He grimaced as he pulled on the collar of his blue shirt, fidgeting a bit.

 

Rory was just Rory. Her hair was pulled back, and she was in denims and a nice sweater. She knew from the glance Severus spared their daughter, the way she avoided eye contact with him, and the exasperated look Severus gave Hermione, that Rory had had a moment of teenage rebellion.

 

“You all look lovely,” Min said as she passed Hermione, pausing to place a hand on her arm. “Your mother is back in the sitting room. Your father hasn’t returned yet.”

 

“Thanks, Min,” Hermione said, giving her aunt a hug before she left the brownstone, and Severus and their children entered.

 

Hermione brought them into the sitting room, where her mother snapped out of a sad and wistful daydream to stand and greet them.

 

“Mum, I’d like you to meet my husband, Severus Snape. And our children, Aurora Eileen and Leonidas John. Rory and Leo.”

 

Hermione knew everything could go sideways, but she was greatly relieved when her mother gave a tearful smile as she approached Severus and gave him an awkward hug. Hermione bit her lip as her husband’s eyes flashed to hers, begging for help as he stiffly put an arm around his mother-in-law.

 

“I wish I could have gotten to know you through your courtship,” Helen said as she pulled back and cupped her son-in-law’s cheek. “But I have no doubt Hermione would only pick the best, and while it is much earlier than I ever wanted or thought, you gave me some beautiful grandchildren.”

 

“I can see where Hermione got her penchant for physical affection,” he quipped, and thankfully, Helen laughed.

 

“She overwhelmed you, did she?” she asked, glancing at her daughter with fondness.

 

“She broke down my walls with a single touch. I’ll be honest with you, Mrs. Granger, if you had known me as a teenager, you wouldn’t have liked me around your daughter. I grew up in the wrong part of the north, and my temperament was a product of my upbringing. But I will say this: if it were not for your daughter, I would have had a very different, much less happy life. So, forgive me saying I am grateful you did not get to know me then, but I am looking forward to getting to know you now.”

 

“You treated her well?” John Granger’s voice pulled everyone’s attention to where he stood in the hall, tall and as imposing as possible. Which, for a middle-aged dentist who had trouble carrying a four-liter container of milk from the car to the house, was not very much.

 

Severus, in turn, stood taller as well. “As well as I could, but never as well as she deserved.”

 

“You provided?”

 

“Dad,” Hermione hissed but was ignored by both men.

 

“We were, and are, equals. My inheritance gave us comfort, though it was never something we relied on heavily.”

 

“And now? I remember there were more female professors than men. I doubt all of them are much older than you are. You’re at school most of the year, do I need to worry about your commitment to my daughter?”

 

“Ha!” Aurora said, and she blushed deeply as the adults looked at her. “Sorry.”

 

Severus took a deep breath. “You don’t need to worry. Hermione and Leo spend many evenings in the castle with me. Aurora did before she became a student herself, and often finds her way down to my rooms despite having a dormitory in Gryffindor Tower. My devotion to your daughter, Mr. Granger, is absolute. It is unwavering. A great man tried valiantly to sway both of us away from one another, but he didn’t succeed. A powerful man tried to make my loyalty to him more important than anything or anyone else in my life, and he didn’t succeed. You are asking if I am worthy of your daughter, I can tell you that I am not. But the fact of the matter is that she chose me, foolish of her as it was, and then proceeded to make a home, life, and family with me. That will not change, and while I’m unworthy of her and everything she has given me, I will try to be with every breath I have until I die.”

 

John Granger studied his son-in-law for a few heartbeats before appearing satisfied. He stepped forward, offering Severus his hand.

 

Hermione nearly cried with relief, the worst of the storm was over and all she had to do was rebuild the unused bridges between them and encourage her parents’ tentative acceptance of reality.

 

Chapter Text

—————H—————

 

July 17, 1976

 

“We’re here to see Alastor Moody,” Hermione told the witch at the reception desk of St. Mungo’s. Severus clutched her hand, and the two did their best to not appear overly concerned.

  It had been so close. They were so very certain that Alastor Moody would return for a second year of Defense. When the term had concluded and they had all boarded the train, he’d been among the teachers. He had even graced them with a small smile, telling them he’d see them next year.

  Then the Prophet had reported an incident on Thursday. Dark wizards had terrorized a village in Wales where many Muggle-borns lived. There were five casualties, three Dark wizards all bearing a mark on their arm the Prophet did not disclose. Another was a Muggle-born witch who was barely hanging on to life. Moody was the last one.

  The witch nodded, then frowned. “His file says he has no living relatives.”

  “We’re former students of his. Proteges, if you will,” Severus offered, and while the nurse still looked uncertain, she stood and let them follow her.

  They were led down the hall, away from many of the closed doors. The witch knocked and didn’t wait for an answer before opening the door.

  “There are a couple of kids here to see you,” she announced into the room.

  “Who’re they?”

  “It’s Severus and me, Professor,” Hermione offered.

  Moody barked a laugh. “Not your professor anymore, Granger.” And then when the witch didn’t move to let them through, he added, “Well, let ‘em in. They’re gonna see worse than this if they go where I think they will in life.”

  With a sigh, she stepped aside, mumbling something about needing something stronger than tea.

  The pair entered the room. They stayed close to one another as they approached their mentor, though they refrained from showing their concern as they took in his injuries without gawking.

  His face had obviously been hit directly. The red jagged lines on the left side of his face were angry and fresh. There was a bit of his nose missing, and the way his eye was bandaged, Hermione could only guess he’d lost it.

  “Take a good look,” Moody said calmly. “This is what happens when Dark wizards get the drop on you.”

  “Constant vigilance,” Severus recited with a nod.

  “You, especially. Keep your head down, don’t make a show of being around those Gryffindors.”

  “What’s wrong with Gryffindors?” Hermione asked.

  “Nothing. I’m a lion myself. But Gryffindors tend to be Dumbledore’s favorites, and Dumbledore is very much the enemy of the Dark Lord.”

  “Like he was Grindelwald’s?” Severus challenged, confusing Hermione.

  Alastor gave a smile of approval, but it looked more like a grimace. “Glad you did your homework. But the Dark Lord, he’s doing what Grindelwald did, but going much further with it.”

  “But Dumbledore supported Grindelwald in the beginning,” Severus said with a furrowed brow, and Hermione’s eyes widened.

  “Which just goes to show that Gryffindors dive into things headfirst, damn the consequences. Won’t take much for one of them to challenge one of your housemates, then you’ll have to choose. Pick your fellow Slytherins, ya lose the Gryffindors, and you’d have to fight to regain the ground you gained in the last year. I noticed, don’t think I didn’t. But you pick the Gryffindors, you’re sleeping with more wards around you than the castle has, and that’s with your eyes open.

  “Constant vigilance. Constant, constant vigilance. Keep your eyes open for everything and anything.” With that, Moody closed his eye and fell right to sleep with a loud snore.

  The pair stared for a moment before quietly leaving the room.

  “You’re going to explain what you two were talking about.”

  “I will. But not here. Tonight, once we leave Delia and Bob to settle Ollie.”

 

—————A—————

 

August 25, 1994

 

As Aurora followed Draco and Uncle Lu up the stairs to their seats, she felt guilty. The invitation to join them at the Quidditch World Cup had only come that morning, and only for her. Leo had thrown a fit, understandably.

  “Why does she get to go!” he shouted while twitching in an effort to not scratch his body. “Rory always gets to do things, and I never do.”

  “Leonidas, stop,” her father chided while reading the paper. “Your sister is older, which means she is allowed to do more. Also, you are ill. Even if Uncle Lucius had extended the invitation to you, you wouldn’t have gone.”

  Leo growled, thrashing on the couch. “It’s not fair! Why do I have a Muggle sickness? I’m a wizard.”

  “You’re a half-blood.” Her father turned the page of the Prophet . “You will get Muggle illnesses while you attend a Muggle school. Just as I did, just as your mother did, and just as your sister did. The advantage of being a wizard is you are able to take potions to combat the worst of the symptoms and shorten its duration. So, settle, and you can have your first dose of potion soon.”

  Aurora had tried to give her brother a sympathetic smile, but he’d sneered at her and mouthed ‘I hate you’ while trying not to scratch through the magical barrier their mother had placed on him. She had stopped feeling bad about going after that, but as the day went on, Leo was less temperamental with the worst of his symptoms taken care of, and she started to wonder if she should have stayed home.

  They made it to the top, and before they could follow Uncle Lu into the box, Draco stopped short in front of her.

  “Shit,” he whispered, and Aurora peeked over his shoulder to see what the matter was.

  The Weasleys, Luna, and Harry were all in the front row, and they’d all noticed them coming in.

  “Ah, Lucius,” a man greeted as Draco finally moved into the box and slowly came up next to his father. Aurora joined him, folding her hands in front of her as her eyes darted to the others watching them carefully.

  “Minister Fudge,” Lucius greeted, clasping the man’s outstretched hand. “Have you met my son, Draco? And this is Aurora Snape, she’s an honorary niece of mine.”

  “Snape?” Fudge enquired after shaking Draco’s hand. “Mistress H. Snape, the Arithmancer? And Severus Snape’s daughter, then?”

  “Yes, sir,” Aurora replied with a slight bow.

  “Good Potioneer, your father. What he’s doing wasting his time teaching, I will never understand, “ Fudge said.

  “Telling me,” she heard Ron grumble, followed by the sound of a smack, and his whiney, “Ow!”

  “You know Arthur Weasley, I’m sure,” Fudge continued the introductions. Draco nudged Aurora to the empty seats nearest to the youngest Weasleys, Harry, and Luna.

  With Uncle Lu safely seated on the other side, chatting to the Bulgarian Minister and Fudge, Aurora was almost positive they wouldn’t pay them any more attention.

  Still, Draco leaned forward and, in the most superior tone he could muster, said, “And how was your summer, Potter?” It wasn’t terribly loud, but she was sure that if Uncle Lu heard, it would sound antagonizing.

  “It’s been great, Malfoy,” Harry said, sounding partly sarcastic, thankfully catching on to the ruse, while Ron glared. “Best one I’ve ever had.”

  “Really? Living with your godfather is actually a good thing.”

  “Shove off, Malfoy,” Ron grumbled.

  Harry looked quite exasperated, and Aurora snickered. She’d been writing Harry and knew from his letters that living with Sirius Black was everything he’d hoped for. Harry wrote paragraphs about cleaning the house with his godfather, which was not the only thing they did together. He also wrote how Professor Lupin was a frequent visitor and essentially lived with them. He never mentioned missing the Dursleys.

  She also knew that Draco knew how great things were for Harry, as the two had also been writing. Draco regaled her with tales of how utterly amusing it was for his father to hand him a letter from his ‘little friends,’ completely unaware that he was handling letters from the boy he so loved to loathe.

  “I don’t think I will,” he said, shifting to sit taller in his seat. “I think I’ll stay here, Weasel. Especially because it bothers you so much.”

  The match started, and they were all on the edge of their seats with anticipation. She remembered the Galleons Uncle Lu laid down against Ireland, and while Draco and she both refrained from reacting with the same exuberant joy that their mates did with each Irish goal, there was always a twitch of a smile or a tensing meant to replace a leap of joy.

  It felt like it wasn’t long before the match ended, and while everyone else filed out, Uncle Lu remained where he was. He held his walking stick aloft, the serpent looking ready to strike anyone who disturbed him, and he looked out over the stadium as though he were trying to find his lost Galleons. The sneer on his lips was both malicious and anticipatory, and it made the hairs on Aurora’s neck stand on end.

  “Draco,” he said, just as someone entered the box but remained in the shadows, “take Aurora and entertain yourselves.”

  “Yes, father,” he agreed, taking Aurora’s hand and tugging her along. The shadow made Aurora’s skin crawl, though she forced herself not to look back and find out who it was.

  She and Draco moved down the stairs, the last stragglers from other boxes not far ahead of them. Once on the ground, Draco pulled out his wand, laid in his palm, and said, “Point me.”

  Aurora gaped.

  “There’s no magic outside Hogwarts! The Trace!”

  “We’re at the world’s biggest sporting event, surrounded by thousands of wizards and witches. Tell me, how are they going to know it was me and not you, or some other underage rebel using a ‘point me’ spell? One that I might be using to find my neglectful father.”

  “But you aren’t,” Aurora pointed out as he took her hand once more and led her through the crowds to a campground.

  “And are you going to rat me out?” he asked with a smirk as they moved through the crowd.

  Aurora thought she saw Cedric Diggory near the tent Draco was pulling her into, but she didn’t get a chance to have a good look before she was pushed through the door.

  “Aurora,” Arthur greeted warmly, the chants and shouts from the Weasley clan and guests quieting. Arthur’s smile faded into confusion as Draco followed behind her.

  “Hi Malfoy,” Harry greeted.

  “What are you doing here?” Ron demanded.

  “Forgive our barging in, Mr. Weasley,” Draco said, and Arthur seemed genuinely taken aback. “I was able to slip away with Aurora, and we thought it best to find some friends.”

  “Friends?” Ron sputtered.

  “He’s my friend,” Harry said with a shrug.

  “Mine, too,” Ginny agreed.

  “Mine as well. It’s wonderful to see you, Draco,” Luna said with a smile.

  “Well, it looks like Ron’s a bit outnumbered here. Welcome, Draco. Help yourself to some snacks. You too, Rory.”

  They joined Ginny and Luna near the wireless, which was still playing a commentary on the match. The girls were sitting on cushions on the floor, Harry and Ron on the sofa, and the twins on the chairs. Percy was off in the corner, ignoring everyone, including the two eldest in the kitchen area, who were conversing quietly.

  “Fizzy drink, Malfoy?” Harry offered, extending the glass bottle with the dark contents.

  Aurora wanted to roll her eyes at the way they all waited with bated breath, anticipating Draco’s rejection of the Muggle beverage. The Snapes never had it on hand, but how prejudiced did they think Draco was? Even at his worst, she doubted he would have thought much about the drink.

  Draco frowned as he took the bottle, examining it before twisting off the cap. He took a swig, then coughed and sputtered, rubbing at his nose.

  “Interesting,” he choked out.

  “Muggle,” Harry said with a cocky sort of smile.

  “Really?” Draco asked, arching a brow and looking at it. He took a more measured sip this time, almost as if he were tasting a fine wine and analyzing the bouquet. “How do they get it to fizz like that?”

  “Science,” Harry said, and as Malfoy’s frown deepened, he laughed. “Muggle magic.”

  “I’ve heard of science, Potter,” Malfoy snapped back.

  Harry merely shrugged. “Krum was impressive out there,” he said, and that had the two Seekers off on a conversation, one Ron forced himself into.

  “Surprised dear ol’ daddy Malfoy let you two come see us,” Fred said as he took a drink of his orange fizzy drink.

  “He technically didn’t,” Aurora replied, accepting the crisps bowl from Ginny. “He just told us to entertain ourselves.”

  “And you two came down here to find us?” Ginny frowned. “How did that work? There are hundreds of tents.”

  “Bet one of you used magic outside of school,” George said, wagging his finger. “Naughty, naughty Snape. Ten points from Gryffindor when your dad finds out.”

  “He’s not going to take points from her.” Ginny rolled her eyes.

  “Even if he did, it wouldn’t be Gryffindor losing points,” Aurora explained. “How did you two do on your O.W.L.s?”

  “Mostly E’s”, George replied.

  “Except an ‘O’ in Charms,” Fred said.

  “And an ‘A’ in Runes,” George added.

  “But overall, not bad.” Fred shrugged.

  “Mum’s been going on and on about it,” Ginny said with a smirk. “The first Weasleys not to get prefect twice over. But Ron’s marks are what really got her. Mostly A’s, with a couple E’s.”

  “My father didn’t really look at my marks,” Luna commented. “He said that the talent and power of a witch or wizard can’t be measured, so there’s no reason to look.”

  “Speaking of powerful, that reminds me, Rory, did you hear—”

  “Quiet!” Arthur cut Ginny off, making the entire tent go silent. While it was quiet inside, they could hear screams from outside. Arthur popped outside with the two older Weasleys and ran back in almost immediately. “All of you, go. Run, hide in the woods. Come on, up you get. Your brothers will be out there, they’ll keep you safe, go.”

  “What’s happening?” Luna asked.

  “Dad, what’s going on?” Ron asked.

  “Don’t worry about it, just run,” Arthur said, pausing as he looked at Aurora. He then darted his eyes to Draco. “Young Mr. Malfoy, I trust you will take care of Rory?”

  “I can take care of myself.”

  “She’s like a sister to me, Mr. Weasley,” Draco replied.

  “Good, because I think you shouldn’t be seen with the others. Just in case.” And with that, he left the tent.

  “What do you think?” Aurora asked, but Draco grabbed her hand and gave her a tug before answering.

  The screams grew louder once they were outside, and it felt like a stampede surrounded them, causing Draco to pull her closer as they looked for some clue as to what was going on. She thought she heard Harry call for each of them once, but since she didn’t hear it again, Aurora figured it was witches and wizards calling for loved ones.

  There were explosions and fires, adding to the mayhem and chaos. And then, before they could move to the woods, they saw them.

  Death Eaters.

  They knew the mask: Draco’s dad had it in his study, her father used to keep it in a trunk that once sat at the end of her parents’ bed at the cottage. It was now at Hogwarts.

  And between the half dozen of those masked hooded terrors were four people, two of them children.

  A pained expression came over Draco as he watched the scene, laced with confusion and disappointment.

  “We’re supposed to be better than Muggles,” he said quietly. “ We’re supposed to … to teach them why we’re superior. But this… this is not—”

  “Let’s go.” Aurora tugged on his arm, and when he didn’t move, she hissed, “Your father is probably with them. If he sees us here, he’s going to figure out why we came. Are you ready to explain making nice with the Weasleys and Harry Potter?”

  He looked back at her as if he’d suddenly realized where he was and who he was with. Just as he started moving, the Death Eaters stopped and looked at the sky. The atmosphere grew colder and the world was tinged green.

  Up in the sky, just below the clouds, a large skull with a snake slithering out of its mouth appeared, curling and twisting.

  “The Dark Mark,” Aurora said, barely louder than a whisper.

  “You don’t think … it’s not possible for him to be back. Potter wiped him out.”

  And Aurora looked at Draco, confused at first, until she understood.

  “He’s already nearly returned twice,” she told him, and Draco looked ready to be sick. “We should go. We’ll let Harry, Gin, and Luna know we’re okay when we can. But we can’t stay here.” She watched as the Death Eaters Disapparated, leaving the Muggle family a traumatized heap on the ground.

  Draco nodded and started heading to the stadium’s entrance. He glanced over his shoulder and after a second, nodded.

  Aurora glanced over as well, catching sight of the twins and one of the older Weasleys wave. They’d tell the others, and when they all saw one another again in a few days, they would talk about what had happened.

   

September 1, 1994

 

 

Aurora had heard Alastor Moody’s name countless times growing up and had even seen a photo of him at her parents’ wedding. But there was something about seeing the grizzled man in person that made a shiver shoot through her spine. He was quite terrifying to behold.

  It was only really Hagrid and Dumbledore who greeted him, her father and Aunt Min both taking in the ex-Auror as though they couldn’t quite place what was wrong with him.

  When the disruption his sudden appearance caused died down, Dumbledore turned back to the Great Hall with a smile.

  “As I was saying, we are to have the honor of hosting a very exciting event over the coming months. An event that has not been held for over a century...”

  Aurora tuned out for a moment, already aware of this bit. Her father had ranted and raved about how ridiculous it was to hold the Triwizard Tournament that year, with the rat out. She knew from Harry that this ‘mad, murderous man who was always too willing to be a follower’ her dad shouted about was Pettigrew. Her father didn’t understand why, with all the things that had already happened to Potter, Dumbledore would host the tournament and provide a prime opportunity for more danger.

  She rolled her eyes just thinking about it. Her mother had sat down and started doing the Arithmancy calculations as a side project, trying to figure out what the outcome might be, and that placated her dad.

  “I’m going for it,” Fred said, a glint of determination in his eyes that George didn’t quite share.

  “Are you now?” Aurora asked, and he turned that intense gaze on her.

  “Damn right I am, Snape.”

  She smirked, aware of the restrictions they would place. The one thing that her father approved of in the whole blasted thing.

  “The heads of the participating schools, along with the Ministry of Magic, have agreed to impose an age restriction on contenders this year. Only students of age, that is to say, seventeen years or older, will be allowed to put forward their names for consideration,” Dumbledore announced, and she snickered as both twins, along with many others, looked positively offended.

  “They can’t do that!” George said after Dumbledore dismissed everyone after one last announcement about the arrival of the other schools. “We’re seventeen in April! Why can’t we have a shot?”

  “They’re not stopping me,” Fred swore.

  “And how, pray tell, are you going to do that?” Aurora asked as they finally moved to stand.

  “A few drops of Aging Potion might do it,” Fred said as a smirk crossed his face. “I bet you’re right good at brewing potions.”

  “And you think Rory’s going to help you fool Dumbledore?” Ginny asked as they headed up to the Gryffindor Tower, the rest of them some ways ahead, and growing further away still as the Weasley siblings, Harry, Neville lingered.

  “Technically, we don’t need her to. We can do it ourselves,” George boasted, earning a nod from Fred.

  “Think about it. The champions’ll get to do all sorts of stuff you’d never be allowed to do normally.”

  “These things once led to a lot of students’ deaths,” Aurora reminded them.

  “You knew ‘bout it all ahead of time, didn’t you?” Ron asked her with a frown, and she shrugged. “Why didn’t you say anything?”

  “And spoil the surprise? No. Besides, like Dumbledore said, there’s a minimum age. I wasn’t about to tell you anything when I knew none of you would be able to enter.”

  “You know who this impartial judge is, then.” Fred elbowed her, and Aurora was terribly disconcerted when she actually felt herself blush.

  “Not really, no. But I heard it was … not what you would expect.”

  “Oh, come on. Give us a hint,” George teased, copying his brother’s earlier motions.

  She huffed. “Think along the lines of the sorting hat.”

  “Brilliant,” the twins said as one.

  “How is that brilliant?” Harry asked, more amused than anything.

  “It’s not a person,” Ron said as if it were completely obvious. “The judge might not realize we’re not seventeen if it doesn’t have eyes. What do you reckon? Be cool to enter, wouldn’t it? But I suppose they might want someone older. Dunno if we’ve learned enough.”

  “I definitely haven’t,” Neville spoke up, startling the twins. “Though I expect my gran would want me to try. She’s always going on about how I should be upholding the family name. I’ll just have to...”

  Neville lurched as though he were about to fall but stopped, his foot caught in a trick stair. Aurora reached out and grabbed his arm as Harry went to his other side, and the pair of them pulled an embarrassed Neville up from the step while Ron yelled at the laughing suits of armor.

  “If it makes you feel better,” she said as she held onto Neville for a few steps while he got over the worst of his embarrassment, “ I missed that one, too, when I was five. I sunk up to my waist.”

  “Yeah, but … you were a kid,” Neville tried to argue.

  “Maybe, but at that point I’d lived here most of my life. I knew about it and still didn’t think to avoid it.”

  Neville gave a small grin but still looked unconvinced.

  “I bet Hermione would have known plenty to enter the tournament,” Ron said wistfully.

  “Bloody hell, she’s not dead,” Ginny grumbled as they approached the portrait. “And Hermione would never do something as stupid as trying to enter a tournament that she was explicitly told not to.”

  Aurora couldn’t argue, tilting her head and nodding as she remembered some things her mother had told her about her first year after her “trip.” Her fourth and fifth years were utterly uneventful.

  It was her sixth, she knew now, when things had started to get … complicated.

 

—————H—————

 

September 3, 1976

 

As they walked to their first Potions class of the year together, side by side, hand in hand, Hermione couldn’t keep the hint of a smile off her face. Severus hadn’t been this openly affectionate before summer began. Their wonderful, blissful summer.

  They’d spent their days helping Bob in the gardens, earning a few Galleons and learning things they would never get to at Hogwarts. They spent their evenings with the McGonagalls, sometimes giving Delia a break and watching Ollie while she and Bob went out, even if they only went for a walk. Nights were spent in their tent, talking about anything and everything, and making love before falling asleep against each other.

  It had been a lonely couple of nights, Hermione had to admit. She’d gotten so used to having him near that she tossed and turned, unable to get comfortable in the luxurious four poster bed in her dorm.

  And by the amount of coffee she’d seen him drink the last couple of mornings, not to mention his less-than-sunny disposition to most, she was willing to bet Severus had the same problem.

  “And how are the grump levels today, Sev?” Lily asked as she came up beside him.

  Severus merely turned to look at her, and from the way Lily laughed, Hermione would guess he’d given her a glare worthy of his future self.

  “Was he this bad over the summer?” Lily asked.

  Before Hermione could answer, Severus snorted. “Why would I be? I wasn’t waking up in a dank dungeon after spending the night trying to sleep without being suffocated by a mass of curls.”

  Lily stopped so suddenly that Remus ran into her, holding her shoulders to keep them both from toppling over.

  “You … you slept in the same space. Bed?” Lily stammered.

  “Tent, actually. It’s nearly impossible to sleep with a five-month-old baby down the hall, screaming at every hour.” Severus said all this nonchalantly, not waiting for Lily to get her wits about her and move again. She did so quickly, clutching her books tighter to her chest.

  “So, you two just—”

  “Lily,” Sirius chided as he came up on Hermione’s other side, wiggling his finger at the ginger, “you should be a good friend. A supportive friend. And given the things you’ve done...”

  “Why does everyone bring that up?” Lily said, her face heating. “Sex is different. It’s not so intimate.”

  At this, Severus stopped dead.

  When Lily noticed, she waved her hand as she explained, “Well, I mean, yeah, you’re naked and… connected. But sleeping with someone? Actually sleeping ? You’re vulnerable. You’re putting so much of your trust in this other person that you’re willing to fall unconscious around them.”

  “A person who is also unconscious?” Severus deadpanned. He then turned to Sirius. “You should let Potter know that Lily might be easier than anticipated.”

  “Sev!” she shrieked.

  He said nothing as they continued toward class, and neither did Lily, though she still had her mouth open in offense. She only snapped it shut when James and Peter rounded the corner from the other end of the hallway, joining them as they waited outside the classroom for Slughorn to let them in.

  A wave of memories crashed over Hermione as she took in the utterly cold glare Peter gave Severus, then Sirius, before it turned neutral, like James’. It was often easy to forget that Peter was the same man who in just a few years would sell out his friends and get them killed.

  At the sight of the pair, Sirius snickered, elbowed Severus, and then moved to join them. Sirius whispered something to James that made him perk up and smile. Just as Lily started hissing under her breath, James threw his head back and laughed. Sirius then whispered to Peter, who shook his head and turned away from them, suppressing a smile. Or a grimace.

  The door opened and Slughorn waved them all in with a wide grin, offering a wink to Severus that made Hermione do a double take. She felt Severus’ hand tighten around hers as they moved to their usual table.

  Lily plopped down at the table next to Severus, still scowling, earning a confused look from Marlene and Alice. James quickly sat down next to Lily, giving her a smile that caused her to roll her eyes and set her books on the table. She then proceeded to bury her face in her arms.

  “Where am I going to sit?” Peter asked as Sirius joined Remus at Hermione’s side.

  “Frank could always use a competent partner,” Sirius replied, looking over at their classmate. “How Longbottom got in this class, I will never know.”

  “Fine,” Peter grumbled before going over to join him.

  Once everyone settled, Slughorn looked around with a proud smile. “N.E.W.T.-level Potions. I’m pleased, very pleased you have all made it here. The best and brightest.”

  Sirius snickered at this, and Remus elbowed him to stop.

  “Now, I have four cauldrons here. I want you all to come up and examine the contents, take a whiff, and return to your tables to discuss your findings. We will start from this side of the room.”

  It was a pair of Ravenclaws first, then another Ravenclaw and a Hufflepuff. Sirius and Remus went, and then her and Severus.

  The first cauldron made Hermione smirk to herself, glancing up at her boyfriend, who would definitely be able to identify it. His eyes glinted with the upturn of his lips, but he said nothing as they moved on to the next cauldron. Clear, odorless. They moved on to the third in sync, joining a bickering Remus and Sirius over what it smelled like.

  From the way the steam rose in spirals from the cauldron, Hermione already knew what it was. She was also oddly worried about what the scent would be. Taking a whiff, she smiled and nearly shuddered with pleasure. Herbs, earth, ink, parchment, and the heady masculine scent that clung to Severus’ skin.

  She glanced at him, and found he was staring at her. He seemed nervous, and it suddenly hit her that she should have been more worried about what the scent was for him.

  They stepped around Remus and Sirius, each glancing into the last cauldron before heading to their seats.

  “That was terribly easy,” Severus grumbled.

  Hermione could do nothing but nod in agreement, still wondering what he smelled.

  “And,” Severus said slowly, “parchment, lavender, earth, tea, and your hair.”

  “Herbs, ink, parchment, earth, and your skin,” she said softly, relief washing over her as he relaxed.

  He then shifted toward Lily, who had just flopped down in her seat and was trying to ignore James. She brightened immediately when Severus turned to her.

  “Tell me, Lily, what was it you smelled in the third cauldron?”

  “That one is giving people a lot of trouble, isn’t it? I thought it smelled like fresh air, grass, and butterbeer. Maybe something else.”

  “Interesting,” he said, tapping his lip as he narrowed his eyes at her.

  “What?” she asked, paling. “What does it mean? Sev?”

  “Okay!” Slughorn stopped Severus from answering, but judging from his smirk, Hermione doubted very much he would have. “Now that you all have your guesses, how about we have someone who is well on his way to a Mastery share his answers. Come now, Mr. Snape. What was in the first cauldron?”

  Severus cleared his throat, his face becoming a mask of indifference. “Polyjuice.”

  “We all know what Polyjuice does, don’t we?” Slughorn rolled on his feet as he fingered his lapels. “Now, the next one?”

  “Veritaserum.”

  “Yes, which does?”

  “A mere drop or two and the person who ingested the potion would be unable to tell anything but the truth until it wore off.”

  “Excellent, excellent. Now, the third?”

  “Amortentia. A love potion, strongest in the world, and smells only of whatever attracts the person smelling it.”

  “I won’t ask what you smelled,” Slughorn mused with a chuckle. “And the last, Mr. Snape. I know it’s a tricky—”

  “Felix Felicis. Liquid luck.”

  “Quite right, Mr. Snape. Good show. Now, I have a bit of a contest in mind for all of you. Draught of the Living Dead. Whoever can brew it perfectly within the hour will receive a small vial of Felix Felicis. Bit of a tradition I do with my first N.E.W.T.-level class. If you’re the lucky winner, bear in mind that it cannot be used for exams or Quidditch. And, please, let’s keep this between us, shall we? I do like the surprise of it each year. Prepare your stations, and … begin!”

  On one hand, brewing next to a man she knew was going to become a great Potions master was a bit daunting. On the other, Hermione couldn’t help but smile at the thought of such a challenge. And wouldn’t it be something to outdo Severus Snape?

  He glanced at her with a knowing smirk, and she understood the silent challenge.

  They began working, not in tandem, but in synchronization. They started, worked, and completed nearly every step in time with one another. Until they got to the sopophorous bean. The tricky thing was tough, smooth, and incredibly hard to put a knife through. She noticed, out of the corner of her eye, that Severus was crushing it. She smirked, giving her head a tilt and feeling superior. He was taking a shortcut, experimenting with something he probably shouldn’t be. And besides, she was sure there was a reason the book said to cut and not crush. It didn’t matter to her that his methods seemed to put him a couple steps ahead of her, Hermione was sure that this would be the time she would beat Severus at his own subject.

  She brewed, worrying about her own potion, ignoring the way her hair was growing bigger by the moment, and was three steps away from the end when Severus said, “Complete.”

  Everyone froze, and Hermione glanced around to see many people looking at Severus in confusion. Slughorn even seemed uncertain as he came over to inspect Severus’ cauldron.

  “It’s …” Slughorn smiled. “Perfect. Well done, lad. And in less time than expected. Really, you must...”

  Slughorn trailed off as thick black smoke spewed from Frank’s cauldron, sending Peter a few steps back before he disappeared from view altogether. Hermione quickly cast a Bubble-Head Charm over herself and then to Severus, while he stared at the smoking cauldron like he couldn’t understand it.

  It took a few moments for Slughorn to get the smoke cleared away, and most of the class was coughing from the inhalation. Peter, Hermione noticed, wasn’t one of them, despite being so close to Frank.

  “Alright, alright, those of you coughing, head up to the hospital wing. The rest of you are dismissed. Mr. Snape, come see me first.”

Severus nodded before he placed a hand on Hermione’s shoulder.

“I’ll wait for you outside,” she said, and he nodded.

Lily came up beside her as they exited the classroom, and Hermione noticed James joining Sirius and Remus in the group heading to the hospital wing.

Hermione smirked. “You cast a charm over yourself, but not James?”

“Git had it coming,” Lily said as she raised her chin, a smug smile on her face. “He kept trying to smell me and nearly made me ruin my potion twice.”

“Smell you? Oh, yes. He wanted to see if you smelled the same as the potion.”

Lily waited with her despite needing to head to Magical Creatures. She shifted from one foot to the other, playing with a lock of her hair.

“What did … I mean, did you and Sev?”

“Yeah.”

Lily deflated.

“I was a bitch last year. I just didn’t like the idea that maybe Sev would … I always sort of knew he had a thing for me. And I knew it faded. I just didn’t want to admit it. I wanted him all to myself. But he’s better with you. And as much as I don’t like it, I can see that, at least. He’s better with you because you can give him something I couldn’t. Or wouldn’t.”

Severus came out then, eyes locking on Lily in suspicion as he claimed Hermione’s hand.

“I was just leaving,” Lily said, turning to head to class.

“See you at lunch?” Hermione called.

Lily smiled, not quite as brightly as she normally would, but it lacked the condescension and superiority from the year before.

“What … was that about?” Severus asked as they headed to Arithmancy.

“She apologized,” Hermione said, laughing when she glanced at Severus. “Don’t be so suspicious.”

“Pardon me for not really trusting a Gryffindor.”

“Excuse me, I’m a Gryffindor.”

“I’d say you’re the exception, but I’m fairly certain that when the McGonagalls gave us a tent to sleep in, they didn’t mean for you to take my virtue.”

“Your virtue!” she gasped out, seeing his smirk grow wider, and knew he was doing it on purpose. “You’re awful, Severus Snape.”

“And you love it,” he said, tensing as soon as he finished the sentence.

Swallowing her heart back down into her chest and summoning all of the bravery she was supposed to possess, Hermione haughtily replied, “Perhaps it’s one of the reasons, but certainly not the one I’m fondest of.”

She yelped when he pushed her up against a wall, and gave her a hard, quick kiss.

Severus smiled, and neither said anything as they headed up the stairs to class. They took their seats just as those from the hospital wing came in, Severus sitting just a touch closer than normal, and Hermione felt like she was flying without a broom. And she liked it.

 

Chapter Text

September 2nd, 1994

 

—————S—————

 

“Have you discovered anything in your calculations?” Severus asked as he gave Hermione a large plate holding a bowl of soup and crusty bread brought to his rooms by the elves.

“There should be nothing for you to worry about, Severus.” She replied, taking the plate and casting a charm to allow it to hover over her lap. “With Harry not being old enough to enter the tournament, there should be no cause for alarm. It looks as if the year should proceed, unusually, as normal. Well, except for having a bunch of foreign witches and wizards, but that’s hardly going to affect any possible poor outcomes.”

“Good,” He replied as he discarded his robes. He began to work on the buttons of his frock coat when he realized Hermione was watching him very attentively. He cocked an eyebrow, his lips barely stopping the smirk. “Yes, wife?”

“Just enjoying the show.” Hermione replied casually.

“I was your professor dressed like this.” He reminded her, slipping the top few buttons out.

“You were my professor twenty years ago. And not for all that long. You’ve been at least my lover most of the time I’ve known you. And the buttons are quite sexy, considering I know what they conceal from the rest of the world.”

“Awe, yes,” He said, pausing in the buttons to loosen his collar and cravat. “Curse and battle scars, the ultimate in sex appeal. The wizarding world is missing out, aren’t they?” He glanced to his wife as she gave a snort of a giggle, just beginning to wonder if maybe soup could wait for something far more satisfying, when the wards around his office tripped. “Bloody hell.” He said, re-tightening everything, and re-doing his buttons as he headed for the door to his office. “Start without me,” He called, hearing Hermione say something though not catching what it was as he was already through the door.

As he entered the room, so did Moody and Draco.

“Alastor, this had best be bloody important.” Severus snapped, looked at Draco sternly.

“Got a date or something, Snape?” Moody hissed.

Which was … odd. Really odd, now that he thought about it. Alastor was never the teasing sort, per se, but he always did have a knowing twinkle and a touch of innuendo to his voice when he spoke of Hermione to Severus. Always had. And he knew that Draco was friends with Harry, so the need to act like the auror who caught him was entirely unnecessary.

A tingle like spiders crawling up the back of Severus’ neck reminded him of a time nearly thirteen years ago, when it was absolutely critical to wear many masks while walking the tightest of ropes. Something wasn’t right.

“My wife has come to have lunch with me.” He said simply. “What is it?”

“This one attempted to curse Potter in the back. No greater coward, I say. McGonagall reminded me I needed to speak with you ‘bout it.”

“He turned me into a Ferret!” Draco screeched, his voice cracking.

“Hush.” Alastor snapped.

McGonagall. It was never McGonagall. Min or Minnie, maybe Minerva, but never anything less than casual. Student or not.

“Interesting.” Severus said slowly, eyes darting between the two. “Thank you, Moody. I’ll take it from here.”

“A word later, Snape?” Alastor asked, a coldness to his tone that made Severus narrow his eyes.

“We shall see.” He said. It took a moment for Alastor to leave, be he did so, and closed the door behind him.

Severus took out his wand and immediately cast wards, silencing charms, and a few spells he created in his spying days to misdirect anyone trying to break them.

He then turned to Draco who looked utterly petrified.

“I was under the impression that you and Potter were friends.” He asked his godson while crossing his arms.

“We are!” Draco screeched. “But I can’t exactly shake the blubberworms off first day in! I need to distract them first. So I had handed Harry a not in Hagrid’s class saying I was going to be a foul git to him and Weasley at lunch time. It was pre-planned, a show. I mean, Weasley took it a bit serious, but I think the first five off spring likely got all the male brain cells and only left him brawn, anyway.”

Severus arched a brow and demanded his lips not to twitch.

“So they knew. They knew I was going to get into it with them. I was going to miss them, and even if I didn’t, it was a bloody jelly-leg jinx. Worse that would happen is Potter’d fall on his face, and Rory or Luna would need to fix it. Then Moody showed up and turned me into a bloody ferrat! Then proceeded to bounce me all about.”

Severus nodded, finding that a bit odd, too. Even if Moody had got after Draco for show, he’d have pulled the boy aside and asked what was going on. Moody was mad after everything that had happened to him, and a more than a bit paranoid, but he wasn’t as bad as the rumors led people to believe.

“Draco,” Severus asked slowly. “First of all, are you injured in any way?” When Draco shook his head, Severus nodded. “Second, do not let that man even get a hint that you and Potter are close. Be weary. I don’t trust that all is well.”

“Unc-Professor, what … does this have to do with …?”

“The revel you and Aurora ended up witnessing? I don’t know. Nor do I know if it has anything to do with why Arthur had to go assist Moody. Just keep a cautious eye out, trust no one.”

Draco nodded, and headed for the door.

“Oh, and Draco.” Severus stopped him. “Should anyone ask, you’ll be having detention with me this Saturday evening in my classroom.” He said the word heavily, hoping the hint would drop, and it would seem it had.

When Draco was out the door, Severus headed back towards his rooms, checking his pocket watch on the way. Plenty of time left, thankfully.

Hermione was on the sofa, still, a book in her lap, soup untouched.

“Didn’t take quite as long as I was expecting.” She remarked, not looking up from her book right away.

Severus came toward her, kneeling at her feet, waiting for her to finish and mark her page before speaking.

“I may need you to run another equation.” He said as her warm, brown eyes met his.

“I expect you’ll have me doing so frequently, and was already prepared to try a few with different factors. What do you need this time?”

“For you to run the equation factoring in Alastor Moody not being quite himself.” Severus said as he reached up and began to undo the buttons on his frock coat once more.

He allowed the smirk when Hermione’s eyes darted to his hands. “How so?” She asked.

“I will explain later. However, first, I need to devour something quite decadent. And then, time permitting, enjoy the lunch that was brought to us.”

“Well if it wasn’t the soup you planned to devour, then what was … it….”

Hermione didn’t get her answer, but Severus was fairly certain she understood precisely what he was thinking of by the time she headed back to her office at the cottage. Her soup was taken with her.

Severus barely had time to finish his.

 

September 5th, 1994

 

—————A—————

 

“Bloody psychopath, is what he is,” Draco ranted, and Aurora, Ginny, and Luna allowed him to as they took a stroll through the grounds on a decently fine day.  “That thing could have bitten and killed any of us. And then to show us the bloody curses. If my father hears about this-”

“Are you really going to tell him?” Luna asked.

Draco shrugged. “It’s against the ministry, isn’t it? Showing the curses.”

Aurora could hear the uncertainty in Draco’s voice, the old habit of wanting to run to daddy so he could fix everything, and the broken trust that took place when he realized his father had been among the men to torment a family of muggles, children included, and burn the tents of witches and wizards for merely staying on muggle grounds.

“Maybe so,” Ginny said. “But remember the whole Buckbeak thing last year.”

“Shove it, Weasley.” Draco said with a grin, elbowing Ginny for good measure.

They continued on talking about classes in general, walking about when Aurora noticed Neville sitting by the black lake, seeming to be staring off into the distance. She paused, frowning, glancing around to see if Dean and Seamus, or even Harry and Ron were anywhere nearby, and found Neville alone.

“Rory?” Ginny called, and Aurora looked to see the other three had paused.

“You lot go on, I’ll catch up.” She waved them off, then headed over to the bench Neville sat on. She came around, plopped down beside him, and studied him before he really snapped out of his stupor.

Prior to realizing she was there, he looked … sad. Pained. When he noticed her, he still did, but now his cheeks were turning as red as his tie.

“Hi.” He said quietly.

“Hi,” She said back. “You alright?”

“Yeah, yeah.” He said, sounding automatic in his response.

He started to look distant again. “Draco told me about the lesson. It sounded horrible.” She added.

“It was.”

“Do you want to talk about it?” She asked, and he looked at her as if she were a Cerberus. “You don’t have to if you don’t want to….”

“You know your dad is my boggart, right?” He said suddenly.

“I’m … yeah, I did.” She said, face pinched in confusion. “But what has that to do with me?”

“You aren’t … you aren’t going to tell him so he can use it against me in class?”

At this, her jaw dropped. “Why would you think I would do anything of the sort? I don’t exactly tell him every little detail of everything I hear. I hardly talk to him throughout the year of anything but my studies and asking if he’s heard from mum. You can trust me, Neville. I promise, I’m not some sort of spy for him.”

She felt her face color at the phrase, and vaguely wondered if he ever would have asked it of her. She doubted it.

Neville nodded sheepishly, looking out to the lake again. “It was … it was the cruciatus curse.” He said quietly. “My Gran, she told me that’s how ….” He darted his eyes to her a few times before he spoke the words barely louder than a whisper. “It’s how they lost their minds.” When Aurora frowned, Neville cleared his throat, and seemed to find some courage. “They were aurors. Went into training together, got married, had me. She always said my mum working while pregnant was what made me not be so magical.”

“What rubbish,” Aurora smirked, seeing a very faint smile pull on Neville’s lips at her opinion.

“Not so sure about that. An Uncle tossed me out the window just to make sure I wasn’t a squib. Anyway. They were … they were rounding up the last of the Death Eaters when … when they found some. The worst ones, those who were really loyal to You-Know-Who and really believed he was still out there. They were outnumbered. And ….

“Moody showed it to us. You said Malfoy told you about it, so I won’t go in the details. He showed … showed Harry how his parents died. And, I was actually jealous of him. His parents didn’t suffer. His parents were given an end. Mine? They don’t speak. They don’t do anything. I doubt they remember anything. I’m not even sure they know who each other are, let alone me.”

She wasn’t sure if he realized he was crying through his anger, and she didn’t want to draw attention to his tears. But Aurora still acted on the overwhelming need to hug him, wrapping one arm around his back and clutching his shoulder while she wrapped her other arm around his front in a vain attempt to reach her other hand.

Neville half surprised her when he reached up and clutched her arm, holding it tight.

“I get it.” She said softly. “I can’t understand, but I empathize.”

She allowed Neville the comfort, which he didn’t seem to need as long as she expected him to. Eventually, he let go of her arm, allowing her to withdraw.

“Moody gave me this fascinating book.” He said, gesturing to the one on his lap. “Magical Water Plants of the Mediterranean. It’s quite an interesting read, really. It’s got a whole section on -”

“Neville,” Aurora cut him off. “Much as I don’t mind lending you an ear for your woes, I’ve had quite enough Herbology for the day.” She said as she got up, satisfied he was calm.

Neville frowned. “But herbology and potions … they go together.”

“So?” She asked, and when he sat silent a moment longer, she rolled his eyes. “Just because I’m Professor Snape’s daughter doesn’t mean I like potions, you know.”

“What do you like, then?” Neville asked, turning to watch her as she backed up the slight slop.

“I quite like Transfiguration. And I’m very interested in Charms and Runes.”

She left out the part that included how she actually did like Potions. It was hardly the point, was it? And it was worth the tease, seeing Neville brighten up. She could almost get used to it, putting a different idea to the name of Snape. Maybe they would all think warm and welcoming and cheerful instead of dungeon bat.

But, then again, her father’s reputation preceded her. Perhaps she’d settle for just expanding her circle of friends.

 

September 18th, 1976

 

—————S—————

 

He sat on the step, caressing the broomstick. His broomstick.

Severus had nearly bought himself one the year before, spending money such a foreign concept that he wanted to purchase just about anything that would make him one of the purebloods. But he withheld, a hope in his chest that maybe he would need new dress robes, and counting all the opportunities there would be to possibly impress Hermione or turn his favor with a gift.

He should have known she wouldn’t have been materialistic, though he’d never have guessed she’d have barely required much pursuing. Admittedly, her mutual attraction to him had certainly aided in boosting his confidence.

But after knowing her heart was as much his as his was hers, that Hermione wouldn’t need to be kept with gifts like he noted many of the girls in Slytherin were, he spoiled himself.

Was the broom top of the line? Hardly. A Cleansweep five, it was significantly cheaper than most of the others to make way for the newer model. But it was brand new, black and silver, and everything Severus dreamed of having when it came to a broom. It had arrived at breakfast, just after Hermione had came (nervously) toward the Slytherin table to inform him she had to go deliver a couple letters to the owlery, and she’d meet him in the courtyard nearest the lake as soon as possible. She had no idea he had it.

Which reminded him.

Reaching in his cloak pocket, he pulled out the small vial of shimmering gold liquid. Oh he would love to be able to brew it, and Slughorn had actually offered to allow him the opportunity if he so chose. But there was something about the glimmer in Slughorn’s eye that made Severus weary enough to decline, citing never having a social life should he attempt such a long term and monumental project while still a student.

He watched the gold liquid roll around inside before glancing about, ensuring no one else was around to see, and taking three drops on his tongue. After all, he knew he needed a small bit of luck for his plan, but certainly not enough for a true dose.

He’d just recapped and tucked away the vial when he sensed her coming toward him.

He liked that, that since their first becoming physically intimate, he could sense Hermione when she was relatively near.

Hermione wrapped her arms around his shoulders, her curls tickling his skin as she frowned at the broom on his lap. “Is that yours?”

“It is.”

“When did you get it? It seems like this is something I would remember you carrying about.” She smirked.

“You had slipped into a more … feminine shop.”

“Ah,” Hermione said with a nod. “So ….” She chewed her lip, looking distrustfully at the broom.

“Have you ridden with someone else before?” He asked.

“Well … not a broom.” She mumbled.

Severus reared back a moment, grinning slightly, “Not something I can know about, I take it?”

“No.” She smirked.

He stood, something telling him to assert some authority in this case. He held out his hand to her, and Hermione took it, first as leverage to get to her feet again, and then to hold on to as they headed toward the quidditch pitch.

She made no protest, and he was sure that, with the Slytherin try outs to take place in an hour, no one would really question why a Slytherin sixth year was heading that way.

“Did your friends play quidditch?” He asked, curious if she would be able to answer. He shifted the broom slung over his shoulder as he took in the rings peeking over the walls of the pitch.

“Two of them were seekers.” She said, taking a deep breath. He squeezed her hand, and she pressed on. “Two were beaters,” She added easier. “The rest were just hopping to get on a team eventually.”

Severus nodded. “And you were not one of them.” He smirked.

“I am ashamed to say that flying was likely my only merely acceptable grade ever.”

“Well,” He said as they came to the field. He swung the broom down, mounted, and kicked off.

Oh he did so love to fly. He was a natural at it, and from time to time, the young flying instructor had taken pity on the poor half blood and allowed him to fly about and escape, well, everything. He hadn’t done so much in fourth year, and even less last year.

He darted around the pitch, feeling the wind rush through his hair, against his face, wanting to close his eyes for the pleasure of it. But there was another sort of pleasure he sought, so he darted down, and hovered near Hermione.

“You want me to ride, don’t you?” She asked in a half whine.

“With me. I’ll hold you, or you can hold on to me, but I would prefer it the other way around, if I am to be frank.” He said with a grin, holding out his hand toward her.

“Severus.” She groaned.

“Where’s that Gryffindor bravery now?” He taunted, knowing it would be precisely the thing to incite her indignation enough to get her to come up with him.

She groaned, stomped her foot, but held her hand out to him. He hoisted her up and on to the stick in front of her, allowing Hermione to hold on to the handle with both hands, and for him to put his arms around her.

There was a bit of extra direction needed of course, but the balance was pretty much there. He took off a bit slower than he had before, and he could feel how utterly terrified she was merely by the stiffness of her spine, but she never made a peep of fear.

In fact, he had thought flying with Hermione would have been heady for the physical aspect. He never would have expected that the greatest pleasure he would get from it was from how much it showed that she trusted him. Eventually, after about the fourth lap around the pitch, she even relaxed a fraction.

He almost said it up there, just after making a quick divergence, Hermione yelping before letting out a peel of laughter as they flew through the center ring on the far end of the field. He almost told her he loved her. That he wanted to marry her. That sixteen or not, he was never going to want to be with anyone else. It would have been simple, but he couldn’t.

The liquid luck had left his veins, and he no longer felt like he could do anything.

 

 

October 31st, 1994

 

—————A—————

 

Aurora, Luna, Ginny, and Neville were perched on the floor next to a pillar in the Great Hall, watching the comings and goings of those putting their name in the Goblet of Fire.

“It’s really quite interesting to see, isn’t it?” Luna commented. “I thought the Durmstrang lot looked quite fierce, confident. And all of the Beauxbaton contestants were quite graceful. Hogwarts doesn’t seem to have either.”

“Except Cedric,” Ginny said with a sigh. “Did you see the way he smiled? He was confident, fierce, graceful.”

“I sense a crush,” Aurora noted as blasé as she could while Ginny smacked her on the arm.

“I do not have a crush on Cedric Diggory.” Ginny grumbled.

“I would have thought you had,” Luna said. “You were swooning an awful lot when we joined he and Mr Diggory at the port key.”

Ginny turned red and glowered at Luna while Aurora laughed. Neville merely smiled, remaining silent as he had been most of the morning.

Aurora had noticed he hung around quite a bit as of late, especially if Draco wasn’t around. Well, unless Draco wasn’t around or he was, but so was Harry and Ron. Ginny had teased him from time to time, saying he was the honorary Hufflepuff of the group as he had more of their traits than Gryffindor’s most of the time. He didn’t seem to mind.

“Anyone put their name in yet?” Ron asked as he and Harry came up to them.

“All of Durmstrang and Beauxbatons.” Aurora replied. “There’s only been a couple from Hogwarts though. “

“Bet some of them put it in last night after we’d all gone to bed,” Harry said as he leaned on the nearby pillar. “I would’ve if it had been me. Wouldn’t have wanted everyone watching.”

“’Magine you wouldn’t,” Aurora agreed. She then frowned. “Would you have entered? If you’d been old enough?”

“No,” Harry replied with a snorty kind of laugh. “Had enough attention to last me a life time. Famous enough for a scar on my head, don’t need to be famous for anything more.”

Aurora had to agree with that.

“Would you have? I mean, would your Dad have even let you?”

“If I were old enough, it wouldn’t really be a matter of ‘let’ would it? I’d be of age. And to be honest, I’m not sure.”

“I would.” Ginny said at the same time Luna and Neville said, “I wouldn’t.”

Laughter drifted down the corridor, and Aurora turned her attention to it just as the Weasley twins and Lee Jordan came around the corner. The twins looked pleased with themselves, and when Fred caught her eye, he looked just a little bit smug, “Done it.” He said.

It took her a moment to remember their ploy. “It’s not going to work.” She countered, smirking and shaking her head.

“Have faith, Snape.” George teased.

“Faith in what?” Ron frowned. “Telling bloody Snape things and not your own brother.”

“We took an aging potion, dung brains.” Fred said to his brother.

“We discussed it before.” George nodded.

“But you were obviously too busy day dreaming to hear the scheme.”

“Which we hatched. One drop each, only need to be a few months older.” George nodded.

“And we’re going to split the galleons if one of us wins.” Lee said. “We ready, gents?”

“Ready!” The twins said together. As one they jumped over the age line, and raised their hands in triumph as they stayed there. The onlookers around them applauded, and when Fred caught her eye again, tilting his head as though to say, “I told you so” Aurora merely smiled and shook her head.

She watched with baited amusement as, just as the twins were about to put their names in the Goblet of Fire, they were violently expelled from the circle. As they landed on their arses, the twins grew a set of long, white beards.

“I did warn you,” Dumbledore said as he laughed from the other end of the hall, sending the twins and their fine beards off to the hospital wing before entering the great hall for breakfast.

Aurora and the others did the same, waving to Luna as she skipped off to the Ravenclaw table. Aurora noted Harry catching Draco’s eye and giving him a slight nod in greeting, and Draco turned to her and offered her at least a small smile before pretending he was above the Gryffindors.

“I heard Warrington got up early and put ‘is name in,” Dean said as the five sat down near him.

“Can’t have a Slytherin champion!” Ron protested immediately.

“Depends on who it is.” Harry countered.

“Don’t start,” Ron frowned. “And even if that were a possibility, I’d still say no.”

“All the Hufflepuffs are talkin’ about Diggory.” Seamus grumbled. “Surprised he’d have wanted to risk his good looks.”

Whether she meant to or not, Ginny blushed again. “He’s above that,” She said. “He doesn’t exactly strut around like he knows he’s pretty.”

“Like Professor Lockhart?” Aurora suggested, and Ginny nodded emphatically.

As breakfast passed, Angelina Johnson, a beautiful girl who was one of the best chasers Aurora had ever seen on a school team, had come to the table with the backing of cheers as she’d put her name in the Goblet.

There were a few more cheers, each heralding a different member of each house as they’d returned from submitting themselves as champions, and for once, no one seemed worried about house rivalries. Well, except Ron, who refused to applaud for any Slytherins.

“Do we want to hang around and find out who all the possible champions are?” Ginny asked after Harry and Ron declared they were going to meet up with Draco (with much grumbling from Ron) and visit Hagrid.

“No,” Aurora said, shaking her head. “We’re going to find out tonight who’s selected, and I would rather not spend the whole day inside if it can be helped.”

“We could walk the lake,” Neville suggested.

“Sounds great! I’ll go get Luna.” Ginny said, bolting over.

“What was that about?” Aurora asked, finding it odd how quickly her friend took off.

“No idea.” Neville said, eyes shifting about as he fidgeted. Weird.

 

——————S——————

 

There were so many emotions bubbling and raging through Severus that only years of occlumency had kept him appearing completely calm.

Fear was the most predominate. Potter was not that much older than Aurora, and he looked utterly terrified. Anger, because he doubted very, very much that the little twerp got past the age line on his own. That meant he either got someone else to put it in, or Albus decided the Chosen One should appear so powerful that he could override anything. Confusion, for his wife’s calculations were never wrong, and he knew now that the low possibility of danger for Potter she predicted was very, very off. And then there was unease, because really, he knew this was a bad idea.

As soon as the boy disappeared through the side door, the Great Hall erupted in protest. Not only were the Hogwarts students rightly pissed off that Potter was stealing Diggory’s spotlight, but the guest students from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang were indignant over not having a second champion themselves. Let alone a younger one.

“Silence!” Albus called out as Barty Crouch slunk toward the door to the anti-chamber where the champions were waiting. “Your Heads of House will escort you back to your dormitories, where you will remain for the rest of the evening. The house elves, I’m sure, will be very willing to arrange some refreshments.”

As soon as Albus turned to him, Severus was ready with a sharp remark, but it died on his tongue. Albus was … scared. Oh he still had the placid smile of a loony old man who was not quite all there, but his eyes had always bore his true emotions, and right now, the fate of Potter was not at all one he designed himself.

“As soon as you have your Slytherins where they need to be, join me in my office, please, Severus.”

“Yes, Albus.” He said, appearing all the world like he was utterly calm and not at all affected. He turned to the Slytherins, mixed with the Durmstrang students.

He beckoned as he came off the dais, marching down the length of the table in long strides that demanded compliance. He caught Draco’s eye briefly, and knew the young man wanted to speak to him once they were all in the dungeons. He’d likely have a moment before Albus would require him, and he didn’t doubt for a moment that Minerva would want to have a say in what ever they were about to discuss.

Once down in the dungeons, he stood by the entry to the common room, watching as the Slytherins and Durmstrang students filed in together.

“Prefects,” He said, silencing the room before it hardly got started. “Kindly show our guests to their quarters.” He made no other remarks as he turned to leave, noticing Draco out in the corridor. He arched a brow.

“Harry didn’t ….” He said very, very quietly. “I know he didn’t.”

“How are you so sure? He seeks attention and fame, much like his father.”

“He doesn’t,” Draco snapped, and that had Severus raise both eyebrows in surprise. Draco took a breath, and then used that voice that grated Severus the most. “Potter is actually quite boring. You would think a wizard who had that much fame and recognition attached to him would bask in it. Instead, when asked if given the chance, he said he’d gladly let someone else have a go.”

“And you believe him?” Severus asked.

“He’s a bad liar.” Draco countered.

Severus nodded once. “In.” He pointed over his shoulder, and Draco obeyed without another word.

With Draco among the other Slytherins, Severus made his way to the Headmaster’s office.

Much as he hated to admit it, Severus was starting to think that maybe Potter wasn’t like his father after all. Oh, he and James may have gotten along in the end, a necessity for the order as much as it was for the fact that he was Lily’s husband. But James had always been pompous, bragging how he was wanted for a professional quidditch team, how he was an heir to something that wasn’t blood stained, old galleons of old blood purists. He would always smirk and put his arm around Lily when he was near as though they were still fourteen, and Lily was still the girl Severus longed for.

Yet Hermione, Aurora, and now even Draco boasted Harry was nothing of the fame seeking sort. Hermione had said he had always just tried to keep his head down and escape his life with his aunt. Aurora had said he was actually less arrogant than Draco on a good day.

He didn’t like the shift in perspective. He didn’t want to hate Potter when he first arrived at the school, but when he opened his mouth, his personality too much like James and not enough like Lily, and with all the excitement and attention swirling around him…. He tried, subtly, of course, but it seemed that no matter what he did, Potter was set on despising him.

Perhaps this will be the year it changed.

He gave the password, and took the steps two at a time, and opened the door to find Albus appearing pensive by the pensieve.

He waited, quietly, watching Albus as the frown deepened, and then relaxed on his old face. He noted Alastor creeping in, and noted how he seemed to stay in the shadows, watching them both.

Minerva did not come in quietly, nor did she hold back, not that Severus had expected it.

“This cannea go on, Albus!” She declared, coming to stand by Severus. “First the dark mark, now this!”

“What do you suggest, Minerva?” Albus asked, seeming more exhausted than Severus had seen him in a while.

“Put an end to it, don’t let Potter compete.”

“Barty said the rules are absolute. The name emerging from the Goblet of Fire is a binding, magical contract.”

“The devil it is,” Minerva hissed. “He didnea put his name in there, and ye cannea convince me he did.”

“Albus, while I agree with Professor McGonagall, if we are to truly discover the meaning of these events perhaps we should, for the time being, let them unfold.”

Minerva looked at him like he’d just announced that not only would he offer Potter up for bait, but he’d sell Hermione and the children for potions parts in Knockturn Alley. Flabbergasted, she looked rapidly between all three wizards in the room.

“Do nothing!” She finally managed. “Offer him as bait? Potter is a boy, not a piece of meat.”

“I agree with Severus.” Albus said, and Minerva physically recoiled. “Alastor, keep an eye on Harry, will you?”

Alastor agreed, and Albus made some remark while pulling threads of memory from his mind and flicking them into the penseive. Severus felt nails digging through his layers of cotton and wool, attempting to pierce his skin through his shield, and he turned a bored gaze to the very angry witch beside him.

Without a word, he swept from the room, Minerva being kind enough to remove her grip as he made his exit clear, and she followed with a hard click of her shoes.

They just left the stair case when she started in on him.

“You are like a son to me, Severus Snape, so donea think for one moment I won’t tear you limb from-”

“Something’s not right.” Severus cut her off instantly, quietly, and all her anger washed away. “Alastor is not himself, I know he isn’t. That, and Potter’s name being added? There is something going on, and with Pettigrew out there….”

“You think he could be Alastor?”

“I believe we need to be suspicious. Hermione was kind enough to run numbers, and had none of this happened, Potter would have had a relatively uneventful year. Factoring in Alastor not being himself, the rate of trouble and danger increased. When she hears of this….”

“It will likely come out that Potter is in grave danger indeed.”

“Isn’t he always?” Severus half quipped before sighing. “Until we know who Alastor Moody is, if there is something wrong with him, then I believe we need to … be less familiar in his presence.”

“But Hermione….” Minerva started before Severus shook his head.

“He didn’t seem to remember I was even married.” Severus said quietly. “And what’s more, should he be imperiused, or someone in disguise, it was believed that Hermione was … glad to be free of her guardians. To what extent anyone would know or remember.”

“Right, yes,” Min said, eyes down cast as she began to wring her hands. “And Aurora, should I…?”

“No, let Aurora be treated the same. At best, she is merely a student keeping out of trouble and has the respect of her teachers. At worse, they will believe Hermione likely left me during my stint in Azkaban, and my daughter does not know me.”

“And when Hermione comes as your companion to the Yule Ball?” Minerva challenged, her mood brightening a fraction.

Severus grumbled. “Bloody hell, I’d forgotten the resurrected that nonsense.”

“That nonsense earned you your wife.” She challenged.

“No, I won her before hand. It simply afforded me a safe way to engage her feelings. Now I have a daughter to deal with.”

“Who is in third year.”

“Who would be permitted to go if she is asked and accepts.” He ran a hand down his face. “I will need to think of a plan to handle the brown nosers and opportunists before it’s announced.”

“You’re juggling again.” Minerva noted.

“Yes,” Severus said. “Though I don’t know if I ever truly stopped. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have guests to attend to.” He sneered at the word, earning a chuckle from his sort-of in-law, before he headed down to the dungeons.

It was all wrong, all of it wrong, and he was so uncertain as to how things would play out, a letter to Black was looking very much like a good idea. A note from a guardian had to be worth something.

 

 

Chapter Text

—————H—————

 

October 30, 1976

 

“Where are you taking us, Black?” Severus demanded as he, Hermione, and Lily followed the Marauders through Hogsmeade and into the residential area.

 

“Wait,” Sirius said, turning and walking backward with a mischievous grin on his face. “You’ll see, Snape.”

 

“I’m not sure this is a good idea,” Remus said, standing beside the trio. “The chances of us getting caught—”

 

“Relax, Moony,” James said over his shoulder. “Slughorn and Baxter are chaperoning, and they never pay attention to who leaves and who comes back.”

 

“Not to mention that no one saw us come this way,” Peter chipped in.

 

“But where are we going?” Lily asked, looking at the cottages with a frown.

 

“Peter’s aunt left not long ago for Italy,” James said.

 

“And my parents are away in France,” Sirius said with a twitch of his eyebrows.

 

“And what does all this have to do with where we’re going?” Severus asked.

 

“Because, Flooing doesn’t count as magic,” Sirius said, as if that explained everything.

 

“Because Peter’s aunt has a home here in Hogsmeade and Sirius’ parents live in London,” Remus elaborated, eyeing Sirius in warning.

 

“So, wait. You want us to Floo to London?” Lily asked, quickening her step to grab James’ arm and pull him to a stop. “Why? What’s the point?”

 

“Why not?” James asked, his smile brightening. “It’ll be fun, right? Getting away from the school? Properly away?”

 

“And what if we get caught?”

 

“We won’t, Evans,” James reassured, moving so quickly to take her hand that Lily didn’t have time to pull away. She looked surprised by the maneuver, but only tried to pull away slightly. “Come on.” And with that, James gave her hand a firm tug and pulled her quickly to a house on the left, Peter rushing to keep up.

 

“If you want to turn back now, it’s probably for the best,” Remus said sheepishly.

 

“You’re a prefect, Remus,” Hermione said, watching as Sirius took off after the others. “You can follow them all you like, but I don’t think this is a good idea.”

 

“Much as the idea of getting away from the castle appeals to me, Hermione’s right. While Slughorn and Baxter don’t pay much attention to those who come and go, I’m afraid there are other professors that do. And while they may not be in the village today, they might just notice if a group of students commonly seen around the school is nowhere to be seen.”

 

“Not to mention that London is not exactly small, and it’s quite easy to think you’re only going to be a short while and then find yourself three hours gone on the other side of the city,” Hermione said. “And with the Trace still on all of you, if something happened...”

 

“Sirius is only a few days from his seventeenth,” Remus hedged.

 

“And a few days still matter!” Hermione argued, letting go of Severus’ hand and going up to grasp Remus by the shoulders. “Please go get them, bring them back.”

 

“I doubt I can convince them to come back,” Remus sighed, rubbing his forehead. He looked so unsure and torn; it broke Hermione’s heart. “I can’t … I put too much distance between me and James and Peter, and I need them. I … I’m going. I’m sorry. I have to.” He then reached into his pocket, pulling out a thick bundle of parchment. “But you staying behind is good, in case something happens. If we aren’t back by, say, six o’clock, let McGonagall know.”

 

“And how will we know? What if we don’t see you?” Severus asked.

 

“You will with this,” Remus said, pulling out his wand and placing it against the parchment. “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.”

 

“What is this?” Severus said with intrigue, taking the parchment from Remus as the map appeared.

 

“Our way of causing mischief and mayhem. And for finding you in our earlier days. Your lab doesn’t appear on here, it’s close enough to the hospital wing that we always assumed it was part of it.”

 

“We’ll take care of it,” Hermione said, shifting from foot to foot. “Are you sure you want to go?”

 

“No.” Remus grinned. “But I think I need to.”

 

With that, he took off into the house, and from the chorus of cheers that erupted the moment he entered, it was safe to say they were waiting for him. She doubted they would wait for them, though Hermione wasn’t sure she minded.

 

Severus ran his hand lovingly over the map, his face contorting between awe and pain. Putting her hand on his shoulder, her chin against his arm, Hermione asked, “What’s wrong?”

 

He said nothing for the longest time.

 

“It’s a wonderful piece of magic,” he admitted quietly. “Think of the work that went into this, the charms. Loath as I am to admit it, Potter and Black are good with charms. But this … this is how they tormented me for so long. It’s why I had to find refuge in the lab or my dormitory. They thought I was in the hospital wing, Hermione. They left me alone because they thought I was already a kicked dog. All those times I avoided Madam Pomfrey, healed myself, just so they wouldn’t feel like they’d won, and they thought so anyway. All these years I thought that nothing would make them stop, and all these years … it might have.”

 

She hugged him and heard him groan in displeasure.

 

“Bloody hell, witch.”

 

“You’re having a moment.”

 

“I’m having a revelation, not an emotional breakdown.”

 

“For you, they’re often one and the same, or at least closely related.”

 

“Would you stop?”

 

“No, you like it,” she snarked against his sleeve.

 

“Whether I do or not is beside the point,” he grumbled, and Hermione chuckled before kissing his cheek and letting him go.

 

He shifted his gaze to the side and studied her. “You knew about this beforehand, didn’t you?” he asked, gesturing to the map. She knew how guilty she must have looked, because his whole demeanor softened. “I’m not angry. I know you wouldn’t be able to tell me. Unless, of course, you could?”

 

“I knew about it,” she said carefully. “But not … not because they showed me.”

 

“Interesting,” Severus said to himself. He then gave a mighty huff and straightened. “Well, we’re in Hogsmeade sans entourage. What would you like to do?”

 

“I’m not sure,” she said, gently removing the map from his hands and withdrawing her wand. “Mischief managed.” The map vanished.

 

“Oh, you have intimate knowledge of this.”

 

“First time really handling it myself, though,” she explained. She then tucked the map into her bag and took his hand. “Let’s just walk. I have no real desire to be anywhere but with you.”

 

“You’re just full of sentiment, aren’t you?” Severus said, giving her hand a tug as they walked from the residential areas and into the village proper.

 

“I do have my moments, you know. Which are perfectly acceptable.”

 

“In moderation, I suppose.”

 

“Did you slip yourself some Syrup of Snark or something today?” she asked, and he threw his head back and laughed, loud and boisterous as they rounded the corner.

 

“If I ever invent a potion, regardless of what it does, I will name it that just for you,” he said.

 

“Will this be before or after Ziggy the Bowtruckle?”

 

“We’ll see what comes—”

 

“Severus!” Lucius interrupted them, and Hermione paled at his voice. She managed to put on a smile just as she caught his attention, and he smiled warmly in return. “And your lady. Hermione, a pleasure to see you again. I had hoped to see you again at Slughorn’s party, but you were apparently snubbed.”

 

“Well.” Hermione shrugged, blushing as she tried to think of something. “I suppose I wasn’t interesting enough. Nor, I suppose, did I seem particularly skilled.”

 

“It is an utter shame, considering the … underlings he invites. “ At this, Lucius glanced around. “Come, I had hoped to see you, Severus, considering it is a Hogsmeade weekend.”

 

“How did you know?” Severus asked as he squeezed Hermione’s hand as he started following Lucius.

 

“Old Sluggy himself, actually. He mentioned chaperoning this weekend in a letter inviting me to the dinner.”

 

Severus said nothing and Hermione was too terrified of saying the wrong thing.

 

Lucius led them to the Hog’s Head, stopping a few feet from the door.

 

“Hermione, my dear, are you of age?”

 

“Y-yes,” she said.

 

Lucius smirked. “Good.” Without another word, he led them into the pub nearly never frequented by Hogwarts students.

 

It was dark, hardly anyone inside. A young man, gaunt and pale, tended the bar and merely nodded at them as they entered and headed for a corner table, tucked far away from the entrance.

 

“I do hope I am not taking you away from your plans,” Lucius apologized.

 

“We had none, as it were,” Severus replied. “Merely wanted to escape the confines of the castle.”

 

“I heard you have an American professor this year. That must make you feel quite at home, Hermione,” Lucius commented as the bartender set three Firewhisky glasses on the table.

 

“To be quite honest, I never really felt at home stateside,” she said while looking at the slightly smoky liquid with apprehension.

 

Severus, much to her surprise, picked up the tumbler and took a swig.

 

Lucius seemed to approve of both of them. “Yes, I heard they are indecently Muggle there. But it’s good to see at least their influence hasn’t tainted your good breeding,” he said, gesturing to her outfit.

 

When the Marauders had initially asked them to join them for the day, they did so with a warning to dress Muggle. Severus, with no real Muggle clothes at Hogwarts, had donned trousers and a green oxford, untucked, sleeves rolled up in an effort to look casual. They had teased them at first for showing up similarly dressed, as Hermione had chosen trousers and a blouse, though her top was blue and worn beneath a plain brown cardigan.

 

It was young, and perhaps quite modern for wizarding wear, but not considered outright Muggle in origin.

 

“I can’t say I was one for the fashion in the Americas,” Hermione said smoothly, making Lucius smirk before turning his attention to Severus.

 

He lifted his tumbler to his lips, grey eyes locked onto black. “Your article is gaining attention.”

 

“I had no idea you read such things.”

 

“Normally I do not. However, it was brought to my attention by a member of my … circle. He was quite annoyed, having dabbled in potions and working to achieve his own Mastery. He’s a couple years older than you. Bulgarian, I believe. A fine gentleman, I must say, but he lacks… something. Either way, he brought it to our attention and of course, none of us thought anything of it until your name was mentioned. Really, I couldn’t help myself and had to mention that you were only sixteen. That , dear friend, raised some eyebrows.”

 

Severus remained impassive, but Hermione noticed the spark of pride in his eyes.

 

“I’ve been talking to people, Severus. I know a couple Masters who are quite interested in the talent you’re showing.”

 

“Much as I appreciate the sentiment, Lucius, I’m afraid I can’t afford it.”

 

“Who said anything about that? I am, after all, quite wealthy.”

 

“I cannot ask you to sponsor me.”

 

“And you wouldn’t be.”

 

“Nor do I wish to be indebted to you,” Severus replied, and Lucius chuckled.

 

“Perhaps the debt wouldn’t be to me,” the blond said before taking a drink of his whisky. He turned his attention to Hermione. “Do you often stay with Severus during the holidays?”

 

“Er, well, yes. We’re together for them, if that’s what you mean.”

 

Lucius bowed his head. “I will be hosting a party before the New Year. A ball, if you will. I was hoping to extend the invitation to Severus and by extension, you. I would have hated for you to have to choose between him and … what do you call them? Certainly not your parents.”

 

“My guardians.” Hermione swallowed the panicked lump in her throat.

 

“Excellent. I hope to see you both there,” he said as he checked his pocket watch. He scowled. “I am afraid I have to cut our visit short. It was a pleasure to see you again, Hermione. You are as exquisite as I remembered. Severus, I will see you at Slughorn’s soiree.”

 

“Until then, Lucius,” he said with a nod