Hermione Granger
Drama Romance
Multiple Eras
Philosopher's Stone Chamber of Secrets Prizoner of Azkaban Goblet of Fire Quidditch Through the Ages Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Published: 03/19/2002
Updated: 09/01/2005
Words: 220,150
Chapters: 28
Hits: 163,807

Falling Further In


Story Summary:
The story begins in the summer holidays before the sixth year. After her parents are murdered by Voldemort Hogwarts becomes Hermione's home. She joins the staff in the fight against Voldemort and learns more of the man behind the dark sarcasms of the classroom. Will *eventually* be Snape/Hermione. Lupin is again the Professor teaching Defence Against the Dark Arts, and has a black dog who lives with him - Sirius Black in his animagus form.

Chapter 14

Chapter Summary:
Hermione learns more about the man behind the dark sarcasms of the classroom


Tension locking her neck, Hermione watched Snape disappear from view through the gate leading out of the walled garden. While it was no surprise that he didn't want to be anywhere near her it would have been pleasant to be proved wrong. Although she understood his reaction; if their positions had been reversed she would have reacted in exactly the same way. But that didn't take away the hurt, or sense of loss.

Her instinct was to retreat to her rooms and not come out until the start of the new term; unfortunately that wasn't an option, she had too much work to get through. She had the sinking feeling that by the time she had completed her research Snape wouldn't be the only one avoiding her.

Settling down in a secluded part of the library she feverishly began to make lists of the topics on which she need information, and the professors most likely to be able to supply it.

Professor Dumbledore: wizarding history since the rise of Grindelwald: the function and powers of the Ministry of Magic and the Aurors; and a Pensieve about the years he had taught Tom Riddle.

It might be prudent - and practical - to test to see if Professor Lupin was more vulnerable to the Dark Arts around the time he transformed. Did the fact other werewolves lost themselves in the transformation mean they would be useless to Voldemort? Would Lupin be able to attack as a werewolf yet retain the ability to reason as a human? He wasn't going to like that one... Or if it was true if only a silver bullet through the heart could kill a werewolf.

Mr Black. First, the easy part, life as an animagus. Second, the tricky bit. Azkaban. He must know more than most about the Dementors and how to survive them. And presumably how to focus concentration so tightly they couldn't break through it.

At least there was nothing that could offend Professor McGonagall in practical applications for Transfiguration and life as an animagus.

In a battle there weren't going to be many - if any - of them willing to use the Unforgivables. So how to disable Death Eaters and other allies of Voldemort? That's where quick reactions and something unusual might work - like rooting the enemy to the spot. Literally rooting them in the ground. Shock alone might hold them for long enough for their wands to be removed and strong Binding Spells applied. She needed to discuss that with Professor Sprout. And to ask for her memories of teaching Tom Riddle and whether any plants could be used as weapons such as toxic sprays - or more to the point, would Professor Sprout be willing to use them as such? If the Unforgivables were forbidden... Although the use of poisons wasn't, which meant it was all right to kill someone in the most agonising way but forbidden to use Avada Kedavra which, while dramatic, had looked painless. No doubt the rules made sense to someone but there were times when she felt she was never going to make sense of them.

Sighing, Hermione continued down her mental list.

Professor Flitwick: more duelling practice to hone everyone's response times: the Dementors blocked a wizard's ability to use magic - could this effect be duplicated in some way? Not to mention countered. Voldemort was bound to make use of the Dementors. His memories of teaching Tom Riddle.

Madam Pomfrey and Snape needed to discuss what Voldemort's new physical body might mean with regard to his health - and how adversely to affect it.

Snape was the Golden Goose where information on Voldemort was concerned. On the changes - mental and physical in Voldemort since he'd first known him. How dependent was Voldemort on Wormtail? Could he do wandless magic? Did he summon Death Eaters at his whim or as part of some grand strategy? Why attack the parents of some pupils and not others?

Hermione blinked hard, but forced herself to go on. Susan Bones' family hadn't been prominent or powerful. Susan wasn't linked to Harry or Dumbledore. Her grandparents might have been the same generation as Voldemort. Was he paying back some schooltime grudge? If they could work out who any other targets were likely to be they could protect them.

She added more notes to the section under Dumbledore's name, continuing to scribble furiously as more and more things occurred to her.


"Ah, Severus, there you are."

"I had noticed, Headmaster but thank you for pointing it out to me."

"Have you seen Remus and Sirius?"

"Until recently they were in Serpens Tower. They returned to their quarters a short time ago for a meal and to sleep."

"Don't sound so disapproving. It is almost midnight."

"Ah. No wonder I'm hungry. We've been brewing most of the day. I hadn't appreciated it was that late," Snape admitted, rubbing the back of his neck.

"You never do when you're working. You can eat in my study."

"Oh joy unconfined," murmured Snape, but he gave in with a more or less good grace, even allowing Dumbledore to link their arms without more than a sideways glare.

"Your work with Sirius went well?" asked Dumbledore, as they glided up the moving staircase to his quarters.

"You're being untypically tactful. So far the truce is holding." Snape tensed but tolerated the one-armed hug.

"That's excellent news. I'm so proud of you. And not just for this. Poppy is thrilled at the idea of working with you."

Snape looked surprised. "She told you?"

"She's so excited she's told everyone. When Rakoczi terminated her Pupillage after only three months no other Potions Master would consider taking her on." Dumbledore ruefully stroked his beard. "It never occurred to me before but your talents are wasted on most of our students. Teaching first year Potions must be like - "

"My penance," said Snape, in a tone so dry Dumbledore couldn't be sure if he was joking or not. While the idea seemed in character, it made him uncomfortable. What it did to the first years was quite another matter.

"You never did get that holiday I promised you."

Snape studied the sleeping phoenix where he was balanced on his perch, rocking slightly. "There will be time for fripperies when this is over. If it's ever over," he added tiredly, before he looked surprised, as if the words had escaped of their own volition. "Miss Granger had a point. We are guilty of having fallen into a siege mentality."

"Given the difficulty of knowing who to trust and - "

"It was an observation, not an accusation," said Snape mildly. "I've been too preoccupied with worrying about being turned into Voldemort's lapdog to think around the problem. Didn't you promise me food?"

Dumbledore laughed and summoned a house elf.

Pensively licking his dessert spoon, Snape knew the treacle tart had been a mistake; with that much sugar about to hit his system he would be awake for hours yet. But this had been one of the rare times when he had craved sweetness above his usual preference for savoury.

"Would you care for coffee?" asked Dumbledore, flicking pastry from his beard.

"It's a wonder you haven't strangled yourself in your sleep," remarked Snape, fastidiously dodging flying crumbs.

"Anti-tangle charms," said Dumbledore cheerfully. "I grew my hair and beard to keep warm. At my age I feel the cold."

"I think Voldemort's starting to. Rather than the meetings being held out in the open, over recent months they've been in shelter, underground. In the dark."

"Unless he's become sensitive to the light," said Dumbledore. "Possibly as a result of his changed appearance. Have a word with Minerva - there isn't much she doesn't know about animagi and the effects on a wizard. While he isn't an animagus some of the principles may still apply. Speak to Poppy about the medical implications."

Snape nodded. "There are other points to consider. Until Miss Granger brought the subject into the open it never occurred to me to wonder but Voldemort must sleep, drink and eat somewhere. Living in Britain would make him too vulnerable to attack - not least from those in his own ranks suffering from vaulting ambition. So, does he go back to Albania? And the periods when all is quiet - are those by his choice or because his strength is still limited? The attacks on Muggles stop during the school holidays. It's as if everything is linked to Hogwarts - or to Harry."

"Or simply the fact Muggles move around so much in the holidays. Keeping track of them would be time-consuming and ultimately without profit. Muggles travel all the time. Often outside the country. Voldemort cannot utilise Muggle means of transport for long journeys but must rely on magic. Flying carriages and ships are cumbersome and time-consuming. The Portkey is unreliable over long distances. I suspects he Disapparates between here and Albania, which would be extremely taxing particularly as, presumably, he takes his lackey, Wormtail, with him. He would be vulnerable then."

Snape nodded. "Charlie Weasley will be looking for work since the Roumanians trumped up that ridiculous charge against him. Obviously I can't be seen to employ him directly but you could. The Weasleys might be dull but they're trustworthy to the roots of their red hair. I imagine there's nothing Charlie would enjoy more than travelling around Albania, ostensibly compiling a study of the dragon population. Tell him he can name his fee, plus expenses - the Weasleys are so depressingly honest it's bound to be derisory."

"Molly Weasley won't be happy about Charlie hunting Voldemort."

"You'll persuade her."

Dumbledore raised his eyebrows. "Nice try, Severus."

"You look tired. It might have worked," said Snape philosophically. "I'll survive Molly's wrath - after all these years I should be used to it."

"I must tell Charlie not to take any risks."

"Because that's always been such an effective argument with all the Weasleys - except for Percy, of course."

"I often wondered if that boy was a changeling," said Dumbledore pensively. "Except for his hair, of course."

"I used to feel sorry for him - apart from all his obvious disadvantages," Snape added, ruining the effect. "It can't have been easy following in the footsteps of the infinitely more charismatic Bill, or Charlie. Isn't Bill acting as a Charm-breaker for Gringotts?"

"I believe so. March always said Bill would surpass him one day."

"I knew Bill was good but... Useful. Have you appointed a Professor for the Study of Ancient Runes yet?"

"You saw the applications, what do you think?" said Dumbledore dryly. "While Bill undoubtedly has the expertise, he can't afford to work at Hogwarts. No one can unless they have private means - or a mysterious benefactor. Which reminds me, Remus told me what you've been doing for him - and Sirius."

"The Galleons come in faster than I know how to get rid of them. If I'd known what I was letting myself in for when I took up your ridiculous idea..."

"It worked, didn't it?"

"You know it did. But if word ever gets out I shall be the laughing stock. The Guild of Potion Masters will probably revoke my license," Snape added with gloom.

"Oh, I don't think there's much danger of that," said Dumbledore comfortably. "You would be prepared to sponsor Bill?"

"We need as many powerful wizards as we can muster. However, working for Gringotts sends him halfway around the world and brings him in contact with all kinds of life. Would he be willing to resign for the dubious pleasure of burying himself in Hogwarts?"

"Of course he will. I shall appeal to his better nature. The chance to teach at his old school - "

"Where two siblings are still pupils. His life will be hell," said Snape, looking more cheerful. "Though I quite envy Bill - Ancient Runes is a fascinating area of study."

"You think so? I confess, I rarely managed to stay awake during class myself. You realise you're in danger of sponsoring the entire Weasley family?"

"No need to rub it in," said Snape, looking pained.

"Console yourself with how unhappy the knowledge would make Ron," suggested Dumbledore brightly, before the twinkle faded from his eyes. "I wish Percy wasn't working for Fudge. Percy isn't his father - more's the pity. Do you believe Voldemort has a strategy?" he added abruptly.

"I wish I did."

"Then how do we prepare for a war when we're not even sure who the enemy are?"

"We won't need to," said Snape acidly, "we have Miss Granger to tell us how we are to proceed."


"I know, I know. It's just..." Snape shrugged. "I concede that she's already succeeded in getting us to think beyond maintaining the status quo. We're all tired, stale. We need new blood. The problem is, who to trust?"

"After the number of times I have been taken in I'm beginning to doubt my own judgement," Dumbledore admitted.

Snape offered no comforting placebo. "The Weasleys are one of the few allies we can be certain of," he said after a moment. "As such, they're an obvious target for Voldemort. I'm surprised he hasn't moved against them already. We should pre-empt him, take steps to protect them."

"The Aurors - "

"I wouldn't trust those bloody-thirsty bastards further than I could hurl Hagrid. While Molly Weasley is a powerful witch, she is only one woman. Far too easy a target at the Burrow."

"Go on," said Dumbledore.

"I wondered about bringing her here. Appoint her Assistant Matron. There can't be much she doesn't know about children and after Charlie, Fred and George her first aid skills must be second to none. We've been saying we should offer some kind of formal sex education class for years. Molly would have just the right kind of manner. She could also be trained to assist Poppy. If Hogwarts is attacked Poppy will need skilled help that we don't currently possess."

"It sounds splendid," said Dumbledore, looking impressed. "I wish I'd thought of it myself, though I expect I will in a day or two. But a couple of problems occur to me. Arthur may object to his wife living at Hogwarts."

"Not if he's living here with her. He can Disapparate to the Ministry from just outside the gates. I'm sure March won't object to them setting up home in Ravenclaw tower. He hasn't used it in decades."

"You think Molly will be willing to leave her home?" Dumbledore looked doubtful.

"Before or after I've explained the possible alternatives?" inquired Snape. "With frequent references to the fate of Miss Granger's parents."

"Ah," said Dumbledore pensively. "Perhaps I'd better speak with Arthur and Molly. You, on the other hand, can explain the proposal to Poppy. I'm sure she'll be delighted to learn that you don't believe she's up to the job and requires an assistant. More coffee?"


"Has anyone seen Hermione since breakfast yesterday?" asked Madam Pomfrey.

"She's probably feeling embarrassed and is keeping out of our way," said Madam Hooch as she peeled a peach.

"Even she hasn't stooped as low as Severus and suggested I'm not up to my job," said Madam Pomfrey tartly, glaring at Snape.

Unperturbed, he toasted her with his cup of tea. "Wouldn't you rather talk about me behind my back?"

"Where would be the satisfaction in that? What do you think Hermione has to feel embarrassed about, Freyja?"

"We're all feeling a little defensive right now," cut in Lupin peaceably. "I know I've spent more time considering my own problems than how to defeat Voldemort. We need to concentrate on the larger picture."

"That's all right. Hermione left me with homework," said Professor McGonagall acidly. "At least that's the interpretation I put on the parchment I received from her. She'll have us running around like headless chickens."

"Something of an exaggeration, surely," said Snape, ignoring bacon and eggs in favour of more tea.

"What, she isn't demanding to know all your dark secrets?" returned Professor McGonagall.

Tea slopped over Snape's wrist.

"Minerva," protested Dumbledore as he arrived in time to hear that.

"Thank you, headmaster, but I believe I'm more than capable of dealing with impertinent questions - from anyone," drawled Snape, but he didn't attempt to meet anyone's gaze.

"I'm sure you are," said Professor Sprout. "Besides, I believe I know why Minerva is a little out of sorts," she added blandly.

"Ceres!" protested Professor McGonagall. "I told you that in strictest confidence."

Professor Sprout patted her on the arm. "I'm sure you meant to, dear. Anyway, it's far too good a story not to share. Apparently one of Miss Granger's questions to Minerva was what was the point of Transfiguration, as while turning a teapot into a dormouse and back again was fun, it wasn't of much use to anyone."

Caught mid-sip of tea, Snape nearly choked.

Professor Flitwick wasn't so lucky and it took a minute or so to calm him, hiccoughing chortles escaping him at the most inappropriate moments.

"Well I'm glad you think it's funny," said Professor McGonagall tightly, a spot of colour on each cheek. "I've never been so... And by one of my own students."

"Yes," said Snape dreamily. "She's a true Gryffindor. Her foot down her mouth with every other sentence and all the social graces of a rutting Hippogriff."

"Severus," muttered Lupin urgently.

Snape looked up in time to see Hermione's stricken expression before she backed out of the Great Hall.

"Oh dear," murmured Professor Sprout. "I suppose you wouldn't care to - ?"

Snape raised his eyebrows.

"No, I suppose that was overly optimistic of me," sighed Professor Sprout.

Dumbledore glanced around the table, sighed and got up.

"Albus?" queried Madam Hooch. "You haven't eaten."

"Nor has Miss Granger," he pointed out before he left the room.

"One of us should have gone after her," murmured Professor Sprout, looking troubled.

"Don't look at me," snapped Professor McGonagall. "It's time she learnt to think before she spoke." Too cross to be concentrating on what she was doing, she set a spoonful of marmalade on top of her fried egg.

Most people pretended not to notice.

Professor McGonagall glared across the width of the table. "Severus, I swear if you don't wipe that smirk off your face I'll turn you into a toad. And you know I can do it."

"Good morning, everyone," said Dumbledore, coming into the Great Hall with his hand tucked in the crook of Hermione's arm. "Look who I found in the corridor."

"What an unexpected treat," said Snape, getting to his feet.

"Oh, don't go, Severus. I'd like a word with everyone. Besides, you don't appear to have eaten yet." Dumbledore held out a chair for Hermione, between Snape and himself, and beamed around the table before tucking into the bowl of porridge which appeared in front of him.

Acutely aware of the man reluctantly sitting to the right of her, drinking his appalling tea, Hermione found it difficult to swallow. Pushing melon and strawberries around the dish, she eventually abandoned the pretence of eating. The smell of the coffee made her feel sick. She began to relax a little only when she realised she was being tactfully ignored by everyone - or snubbed again. When she eventually looked up it was to find Madam Hooch studying her with the dispassionate interest of a vivisectionist studying a new specimen.

"You're untypically quiet this morning, Miss Granger. The problem not quite as easy to solve as you assumed the other day?" she asked in her usual forthright manner.

Hermione sat a little straighter in her chair. "I apologise if I gave you the impression I believed I could solve anything by myself. I understand that none of you wish to turn into the aggressors but if we are to survive Voldemort we need to have more than one plan of campaign. We need to know as much about him and the workings of his mind as possible."

"You'll be having a few cosy chats with Severus then," said Black with lazy malice.

"If he will agree, yes," said Hermione hardily, although she could not bring herself to glance in his direction. "Just as I hope to talk to you about Azkaban and the Dementors."

Black flinched and fell silent.

"Sirius?" said Dumbledore sternly. "We are all having to return to uncongenial memories. I might remind all of you that this task we have asked Miss Granger to perform is giving her no pleasure. I've seen the full extent of her inquiries. It's my belief that once we have answered them to the best of our ability the information should be pooled and discussed. There are some fine minds around this table."

"Yes, headmaster," muttered Black, looking subdued.

"Excellent. Remus?"

"I'm at your disposal, Miss Granger," he said, smiling at her.

"Thank you," she said with gratitude, almost overwhelmed to see one friendly face.

"Severus?" asked Dumbledore.

Snape parted the hands which had been linked across his flat stomach. "Nothing I enjoy more than reminiscing about the good old days, Headmaster. Particularly with a pupil."

"That would be a 'yes', then?" said Dumbledore.

Unable to stop herself, Hermione turned her head but Snape made no attempt to glance her way, merely parting his hands and nodding.

"You've raised some interesting points, dear," said Professor Sprout. "I'll get to work after breakfast."

"And I should be delighted to work with everyone again," squeaked Flitwick. "Sirius, you were a fine dueller, as I recall. As was Severus. And Freyja. Yes, I shall have a splendid time."

"Headmaster," said Hermione quietly, "Could you arrange for me to meet Alastor Moody."

"Under no circumstances," snapped Snape, who had obviously been eavesdropping. "He's a dangerous man."

"Severus is quite correct," said Dumbledore. "His time trapped in Crouch's trunk has - understandably - made Alastor very jumpy, which in itself wouldn't be so bad but for the fact that he increasingly sees life in simple terms. Those who think like him are right, the rest of the world is wrong. If he saw your questions as a threat... I'm not prepared to take that risk where you're concerned. Aurors have always had a tendency towards the definite but recently I've begun to think their methods are too reminiscent of Voldemort's. Something which I regard as too high a price for victory. Adopt the methods of the enemy and you become no better than them."

"Lose the battle and it all becomes irrelevant, " returned Hermione, flinching when she heard Professor McGonagall's disapproving sniff.

Dumbledore's expression did not change. "Then we have an impassé. But you will give me your word that you will not speak with, or attempt to communicate with, Alastor Moody. Now, if you please."

She nodded at once. "You have it, of course." Disapproval bearing down on her from all sides, suddenly she could take no more and she murmured her excuses and hurried out of the Great Hall.

"Now that is inconvenient," murmured Dumbledore. "I had hoped to get everyone's agreement to gaining us all a little more time before the start of the new term." He outlined his plan and after a short discussion it was unanimously agreed.

"That's settled then," said Professor McGonagall briefly.

"Hardly," said Professor Sprout. "There are the house elves - and Miss Granger - to consult."

"I'll speak to the house elves," said Dumbledore. "Minerva? You are her Head of House."

Snape gave a derisive snort.

"And what, pray, do you mean by that?" demanded Professor McGonagall.

Tuning out the ensuing 'discussion', Dumbledore poured himself a cup of tea and asked Madam Hooch about her trip to Norway.


Having been discussing theories with Professor McGonagall and Madam Pomfrey, Snape spent several hours in the library following various lines of research. Sitting back to flex his locked shoulders he became aware that the silence was being disturbed by faint sounds of hitching breath, as if someone some distance away was crying. There was only one person it was likely to be - unless Moaning Myrtle had found a way out of the toilets - and she wasn't his responsibility. Collecting up a couple of volumes, he was on the point of leaving when he found Madam Pomfrey glaring at him from the end of the aisle.

"You're going to leave that poor girl crying her heart out?" she hissed.

He looked down his nose at her. "I don't know - "

"Credit me with some sense. Of course you do. Hardly to be wondered at given the pressure we've put her under. Have you sat there all this time ignoring her?"

"I didn't even know she was here until a minute ago," he protested indignantly. "Some of us concentrate when we work."

"And that righteous tone always works so well with me. What are you going to do about her?"

"I'm at a loss as to why you should imagine it's anything to do with me. May I remind you yet again, she is not my responsibility."

"I didn't notice this morning but the child looks as if she hasn't slept for some time. She's in danger of working herself into a state of nervous exhaustion. I doubt if she's eaten and there's a desperation about her that... She keeps muttering something about it all being over when she meets Albus at ten o'clock this evening."

"All what being over?" said Snape irritably.

"She didn't say. But as there isn't that long to go, no doubt we'll find out in due course. Minerva and I have attempted to talk to her but she's obviously not accustomed to unburdening herself to a woman. You're someone she's begun to think of as a friend."

"Don't be absurd," said Snape in instant denial of responsibility. "She's a pupil."

"Over the years there have been a number of pupils I'm proud to regard as my friends."

"Yes, well, you always were rather sentimental."

"Thank you, Severus. Always such a way with a compliment. So you find her dull-witted, unintelligent and a bore?"

"Don't belabour the point, you've won the war."

"Hermione is desperately unhappy about something and I suspect it's to do with you. I know she can be irritating but she has a good heart. She's been a staunch friend to Harry and Ron, often at great personal risk. Also, she's still coming to terms with the trauma of losing her parents in such an appalling fashion. I know that once term starts communication between you, other than in class, will be virtually impossible, but until then if you could see your way to help her..." Madam Pomfrey parted her hands. "Severus, she's crying her heart out back there."

"I've no patience with weeping females."

"You seem to cope well enough with your Slytherin girls."

"They rarely grizzle."

"I haven't noticed that they're much different from the girls in any other house." Madam Pomfrey sighed. "But if you won't, you won't. She'll just have to cry herself to a standstill." Without waiting for him to reply she headed out of the library.

Snape muttered irritably under his breath, his scowl black enough to send a couple of volumes sliding as far back on the shelf as they could get when he stalked passed.

Hermione had taken refuge in one of the rarely used corners of the library - there had never been a great demand for books about Inner Awareness. Such navel-gazing was regarded as the preserve of Muggles, who didn't have anything better to do with their time. Although as Snape recalled Vanda Hemlock's Know Yourself Inside Out had a literal application for anyone stupid enough to still be reading it by chapter nine.

While he dealt ruthlessly with any pupil, whatever their gender, misguided enough to believe that tears could be used to soften him, he could also recognise the genuine article when he saw it. Her face buried in hands which glistened with mucus and tears, Hermione's entire body shuddered as choked noises escaped her. It was some time before she realised she wasn't alone, her look of appalled humiliation telling Snape all he needed to know. She gasped something which a moment's reflection suggested might be an apology for disturbing him.

"I should think so too," he said briskly, pulling out a wooden chair. Sitting beside her, he produced one of the clean handkerchiefs which years as Head of House had taught him to keep about his person. "Blow your nose, Miss Granger."

She gave him a look of watery dislike but did as she was told.

"Now dry your face." He placed another handkerchief in her hand. "That manuscript has survived six hundred years and deserves better than to become water-marked now. The salts from your body..."

"Take the bloody thing and go away," she said in a choked voice, swinging away from him on her chair.

"You're tired, hungry and irrational. You also seem to be in an appallingly bad mood."

"That's rich, coming from you. I'm not obliged to be good company. For you or anyone else. Go away. I don't want you here."

"If only we got what we wanted from life. Enough histrionics. If you wish to be regarded as adult enough to fight Voldemort, kindly start acting like one."

"I... You have no right to..." She paused, only then seeming to become aware of her physical state. She made a wholly feminine gesture before her hand fell away from her hair. There was a pause while she blew her nose and attended to a few repairs.

Snape noted the confident wand use, a murmured "Accio" enough to summon what she wanted. Some witches twice her age lacked that kind of focus. He made a mental note to ask March to set her duelling with someone willing to test her to her limits and beyond. Freyja would be perfect. Particularly as they seemed to have taken an instant dislike to one another.

Hermione was wearing her hair up again, although most of it seemed intent on escaping in little tendrils down her neck. A wave of tenderness swept over him; contemptuous of such maudlin - and inappropriate - feelings, his voice was harsher than he knew as he battled to ignore the lure of her beguiling scent.

"Poppy mentioned you have an appointment with Albus at ten o'clock. You may care to know it's almost ten minutes to the hour."

"What? I must go," she cried, jumping up from her chair. "And I haven't even begun to - Not that it matters."

Busy trying to place the expression he had glimpsed in her pink-rimmed eyes, Snape made no attempt to acknowledge her leaving, or five minutes later to justify his decision to go and see the headmaster.

"Ah, Severus, I thought you might want to be here," said Dumbledore as Snape entered his study after a cursory knock on the door.

Snape looked wary. "Indeed?"

"For when I Obliviate Miss Granger," prompted Dumbledore.

From the corner of his eye Snape saw her flinch. She looked - terrified. "Why would you want to do that?"

"I assumed you're here to see her keep the promise she made to you," said Dumbledore.

"I don't know why," said Snape disagreeably. "You know my views on the unnecessary use of Memory Charms. However, this is nothing to do with me. The choice is Miss Granger's. If there is nothing further?"

"You came to me," Dumbledore pointed out mildly.

"I was mistaken," said Snape, giving him a cold look. His life would be a simpler affair if only Albus would stop trying to manage him. Heading for the door he made the elementary mistake of glancing at Hermione again and was stirred to an unwilling pity.

"Is this really what you want to do?" he asked, going over to her.

Because he was standing so close Hermione had to crane her neck to look up at him. "I'm sorry?"

Snape propped himself against the arm of the chair beside hers. "I concede the memories of what I told you are ugly ones but I find it difficult to believe they merit an Obliviate."

"You think I would choose to have my mind wiped! That is... I promised you that if you would trust me I would...."

"I remember. It didn't occur to me you were serious. Or that the headmaster would contemplate using the Obliviate. Which of course he wouldn't," Snape added, belatedly realising how neatly he had been duped. He gave Dumbledore a glare of exasperation. "It didn't occur to you that you could have simply asked me? Stop shaking Miss Granger, there will be no application of a Memory Charm, tonight or any other night."

"My dear, why are you so afraid of this?" asked Dumbledore

Hermione stared at him in disbelief. "Because it's memory rape. How could I - anyone - ever be certain what was a real memory and which false?" Despite herself, her voice shook. "It's like having a piece of your mind chopped away, wondering all the time how much will be left to you. What you'll be capable of afterwards, whether you're going..." She stuffed her fist to her mouth.

"Miss Granger! Hermione." Warm hands collected her cold, cramped ones as Snape crouched beside her, his intent face compelling belief. "No one is going to Obliviate you. I give you my word. As for those ridiculous assertions about the affect the Obliviate has on the mind... Quite how you've managed to forget everything you must have been taught on the subject is beyond me."

"I owe you an apology, child," said Dumbledore quietly. "I have used the Obliviate on you before. Twice, to be precise."

She stared at him, aghast. "How could you?"

Snape swivelled around to stare up at Dumbledore in exasperation. "Albus," he sighed. "Your sense of timing is appalling."

Hermione held on to his hands as to a lifeline.

"If she feels so strongly about it she deserves to know," Dumbledore said.

Hermione's stomach lurched, blood buzzing in her ears, her skin clammy with sweat as she realised she couldn't even be certain of her own thoughts. A firm hand pushed her head between her knees and held it there.

"Just breathe. You're not going to faint," said Snape prosaically. "You're quite safe, just suffering from shock."

In under a minute she stirred under the light touch at her neck.

"Sit up slowly. Drink this." The glass of water Snape handed her had a slight purple tinge. "Don't try and analyse it yet. I'm hardly likely to poison you in front of the headmaster."

"Sorry, I over-reacted," she muttered, once she had drunk the potion. It tasted faintly of elderberries. Without being aware of it, her hand sought and found Snape's again and as his long fingers curled around hers she began to relax.

"My dear child," said Dumbledore, sitting on a chair a few feet away. "The last thing I intended was to cause you distress."

"I don't understand why you did that to me," said Hermione, looking frightened. "I haven't done anything wrong. Or have I? I don't remember."

"No, of course you haven't," Dumbledore said, offering immediate reassurance. He glanced over her head to find Snape watching him.

"Tell her, Albus," he said quietly. "Tell her everything."

After a moment, Dumbledore nodded. "Yes, I think that would be for the best. Very well. My dear, the first time I had occasion to use to Obliviate you was at the end of your fourth year. Severus had revealed his Dark Mark - and thus the fact he had been a Death Eater - to Cornelius Fudge. There were a number of other people present, including Rita Skeeter in her animagus form - she'd been eavesdropping."

"She was a beetle. I captured her in a bottle and let her loose in London after showing her to Harry and Ron," remembered Hermione, concentrating. "She was on the window of the hospital wing, listening to us. Oh. Listening to you," she added, turning to Snape, her sense of panic receding.

He nodded.

"While Severus spoke from the best of motives - and at no little personal cost - a moment's reflection made it obvious Fudge couldn't be trusted with the knowledge. So I Obliviated him," continued Dumbledore. "Also Ron and yourself - and Rita, of course. Molly and Bill Weasley already knew the truth about Severus. I took no action with Harry because - "

"Of who he is," said Hermione without resentment. "You could have trusted Ron and me. Although you couldn't have known that." Snape's thumb was describing a circle on the inside of her wrist.

"It wasn't that I didn't trust the pair of you," said Dumbledore. "But I know how friends like to talk and I was concerned that you might be overheard."

"I can't believe you told Fudge and Rita Skeeter," Hermione said to Snape, her disapproval plain.

Dumbledore was careful to smile where it wouldn't show.

Snape glared at her, then shrugged, his expression wry. "I spoke in the heat of the moment."

"Because that's so unusual," retorted Hermione with more spirit.

Relieved to see her colour returning to normal as she became less tense, Snape let that piece of impudence pass.

"And you Obliviated the Minister of Magic," she added to Dumbledore. "Should you be telling me this?"

"If I can trust you with Severus' safety, I can certainly trust you with mine," pointed out Dumbledore.

"Oh," said Hermione weakly as it finally sank home just how much trust everyone had placed in her. "I won't let you down," she added, looking from Dumbledore to Snape, the anxiety fading from her eyes when she recognised that the assurance had been unnecessary.

"Drink your tea," said Snape prosaically, abandoning hope of getting his hand back in the near future. "So when was the second time you Obliviated Miss Granger?" he asked, looking up to where Dumbledore sat.

"Ah, that was several weeks ago, in very different circumstances. It was intended to protect Miss Granger from a memory which still haunts those of us who were present."

Snape frowned. "I don't remember any incident."

"You wouldn't. You had just returned from Voldemort. Nothing Poppy could do eased your agony. You nearly died that night. Miss Granger was sleeping in the hospital wing. Suddenly we looked around and she was there, looking as if she believed we had been torturing you. Which given what I had sent you to isn't far from the truth. I used the Obliviate to spare her the memory of your pain. I had never thought of it as 'memory rape' before. Nor had it occurred to me that it was something to be feared."

"That's because you're Albus Dumbledore. The likelihood of it happening to you is remote," Snape pointed out.

"I've always loathed the idea of Memory Charms - of having anyone interfere with my mind. But I thought I was going mad," Hermione whispered. "For weeks I've been having nightmares about faceless men and screaming. There's this terrible screaming and I can't get to whoever's making the noise. Then something's stealing my mind, biting it away, bit by bit."

"I've never heard of anyone having such a reaction to the Obliviate before," Snape said blankly, looking beyond her to where Dumbledore sat.

"Nor I," murmured Dumbledore. "Oh, my dear."

Little by little Hermione eased her death-grip of Snape's hand. "I thought I was going mad," she whispered. "Or that Voldemort was attacking me. I was terrified I was being turned into his creature."

"There's no chance of that," said Snape from beside her, inconspicuously trying to return the blood-flow to his numbed fingers. "Take it from one who knows. You'd be far more likely to lecture him on his poor organisational skills and the inefficiency of his methods.

"'There spoke up a brisk little somebody,

Critic and whippersnapper, in a rage

To set things right.'"

As he had intended, that distracted her and she gave a moist-sounding chuckle.

"I am not that bossy." She rubbed her temples, then jumped as Fawkes landed on her shoulder with a flash of gold and a puff of shimmering feathers. She had never realised how beautiful his eyes were. Sustaining his unblinking gaze as best she could, she felt as if Fawkes saw clear to the heart of her; she could only hope he didn't find her wanting.

"Hagrid must have told you about the phoenix," said Snape.

"Gentle, faithful, doesn't kill, beautiful song, healing tears," she said flatly, resenting being made to feel as if she was the guilty party for resenting the assault on her mind.

"As prosaic a recital as it's been my misfortune to hear," said Snape.

"Sorry about that," said Hermione acidly. "I have other things on my mind. If not as many as I used to." She gave Dumbledore an unforgiving glare, then wished she hadn't when she saw the pain in his eyes. With no surprise she watched Fawkes fly to the older man then looked self-conscious when she realised Snape was still studying her with a disconcerting degree of thoroughness.

"I don't believe your nightmares have anything to do with Memory Charms," he said. "Between the murder of your parents and your fear that someone you know may become a Death Eater you've been under considerable stress. You won't be the first intelligent person to wonder if they're losing their mind while suffering from anxiety."

"Thanks for the sympathy."

"With the amount of self-pity you're wallowing in you hardly need any more."

"That's not fair!"

"Life isn't, Miss Granger. Get used to it."

Staring fixedly at the top of Dumbledore's desk, Hermione traced an abstract pattern with her index finger. "Are you trying to make me feel small-minded and petty?" she mumbled.

"No," said Snape, and she could tell from the tone of his voice that he was smiling. "That's just that inconvenient Gryffindor appendage called a conscience."

Finally daring to look up and meeting the warmth in his eyes, it belatedly dawned on Hermione that he had forgiven her and if he could take that leap of faith...

"Memory Charms have always been a bit of a... They must be my Achilles Heel," she said, hoping no one else could hear her stomach rumbling. "I understand completely about the headmaster using one after you told Fudge about the Dark Mark. As for the other... If one of the first years had been in the situation in which you found me, I would have been tempted to do the same thing you did," she added in a rush, finally managing to meet Dumbledore's eyes again.

When he smiled she felt as if she was swimming in blue. "Thank you, my dear."

Ten minutes later Hermione found herself sharing a late night meal in the headmaster's study, belatedly appreciating just how hungry she was. She couldn't help noticing that Dumbledore did little beyond move some food around his plate.

"We all - including Professor Snape - must seem like first years to you. I can't imagine him as a first year..." She meet Snape's glare with a faint but unrepentant grin. "This is your fault. There must have been a Cheering Charm in that potion you gave me."

"A small one," he allowed. "I think it has more to do with the amount of sugar you've consumed."

"Is that a subtle way of asking if I want that last macaroon?"

"I should have known subtlety would be wasted on a Gryffindor. Yes."

"You can have half," she said generously, offering him the plate.

Disposing of his share it two mouthfuls, Snape fished in his jacket pocket and handed Hermione a parchment. "I prepared this for you. A list of all the Death Eaters I'm aware of, together with their scents."

Taken aback, Hermione stared at him. "I don't understand," she said blankly.

"Professor Snape has an acute sense of smell," explained Dumbledore. "He says that everyone has their own unique scent."

"Really? That's fascinating. No wonder you're such a good Potions master. What does Voldemort smell of?" asked Hermione.

"Nothing," said Snape flatly. "Nothing at all."

"Whereas I, apparently, smell of lemon drops and sunshine," said Dumbledore placidly.

Hermione stared at him. "To whom?"

"Me," said Snape.

"Can you read minds?" Hermione demanded.

"Of course I can't. Why?" Snape added, intrigued despite himself.

"Because that's what the headmaster smells like to me."

Snape studied her with interest. "Really? Fascinating. You're not bad at Potions, of course, but you're not exceptional either."

"Thank you," said Hermione sarcastically. "It's a constant source of comfort how many ways you find to tell me I'm not a good witch."

The line between his dark eyebrows becoming more pronounced, Snape frowned at her. "When did I ever say that?"

"When you told me I would never be great."

"Like Voldemort, or Albus, you mean?"

"Oh. I thought you meant..."

"The curse of the over-achiever strikes again. Average isn't a pejorative, Miss Granger. Besides, your skills are above average."

Her face lit up and Snape sighed

Wearing a benign smile by this time Dumbledore drew their attention to fresh supplies of food. In the tones of one conferring a great favour Snape ate some buttered toast. Becoming aware that Hermione was still staring at him, he wondered if he had a smut on his face.

"What?" he demanded eventually, making her jump.

"Did I say something? Sorry. I must have been thinking aloud. Do all the pupils have their own scent - as far as you're concerned?"

"Yes," said Snape, looking unenthusiastic. "Leaving aside the obvious hell of twenty hormone-laden fourteen year olds infesting my classroom."

"Has Professor Lupin got an equally good sense of smell? Oh, Mr Black and Professor McGonagall too?"

"You want me to approach Minerva and ask...?"

"The headmaster could do it," said Hermione, enthusiasm bubbling from her.

Dumbledore gave her look of reproach, which only deepened when Snape absently ate the last piece of toast.

"And the point of all this is?" asked Snape, licking his buttery fingers.

"The chance to identify pupils the moment they become Death Eaters. You'd be able to recognise them at a meeting by their scent."

"Presuming I'm close enough," Snape pointed out.

Her face fell. "Bother. Um, could I ask you a personal question."

Dumbledore stopped twirling a wisp of beard around his index finger.

"You may ask," said Snape, doors visibly closing.

"There is a good reason," she assured him quickly. "I was wondering if a person's smell changes when they become a Death Eater - and I know we can't test that until it's too late. So it occurred to me..." Hermione took an audible breath. "Your Dark Mark. Does it smell different from the skin of your arm?"

Dumbledore tried to remember the last time anyone had deprived Snape of the breath for speech, just before he tried to predict what the other man's reaction would be.

"I know it sounds impertinent and stupid but it occurred to me that if there is a difference then you would be able to smell the difference in pupils and - "

"You're burbling, Miss Granger."

"I know. Sorry."

It was only when she touched his shoulder that Snape realised she had moved to stand beside him at some point in the conversation. It always surprised him that such a strong spirit was housed in such a slight body. "I can't help you," he said shortly. "Not for the obvious reason of bloody-mindedness. Just that I have no idea what I smell like."

Dumbledore shrugged. "I'm afraid I can't help you. I don't have a particularly good sense of smell."

"Oh, you have a scent," Hermione assured Snape. "Well, at least I think it's you and not your clothing."

Looking wary, Snape just managed to stop himself from asking what it might be. She was going to make him ask Remus or Black to sniff him - or worse, Minerva. And what's more, he would probably let it happen. He gave Dumbledore a brooding look. It seemed there was no limit to the humiliations being heaped on him.

He discovered his mistake when Hermione bent to sniff his neck.


There spoke up a brisk little somebody,

Critic and whippersnapper, in a rage

To set things right.

- Robert Browning: A Death in the Desert