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True North

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A/N: So…this is my first attempt at writing Snamione/Snanger/Whatever Portmanteau You Prefer. I’ve been reading this ‘ship voraciously for a couple of months now, which makes me a complete hypocrite, because I wholeheartedly admit to being one of those people who was all like, “Snape and Hermione?! What the WHAT?!” beforehand. Go figure. Things change. At any rate, please be kind in whatever you have to say, as this is a new ‘ship for me. I am not at all opposed to criticism, so long as it has a purpose. I just ask for basic politeness (it’s the Southerner in me, I swear).

Additional A/N: I am American, though, as a science teacher, I am well-versed in the units of measurement used in other countries. For those who are not, you may wish to know, for conversion purposes, that the English often measure weight in terms of “stone.” One stone is equivalent to 14 pounds, or 6.3 kg. Thus, a person who is 10 stone weighs 140 pounds or 63 kg.

 

True North

 

Monday, August 3, 1998

Headmistress Minerva McGonagall ran a weary hand over her face and shot a glance at Kingsley Shacklebolt. His expression was impassive. One expected nothing less of an auror, she thought.

The last of her faculty members, Severus Snape, shuffled slowly into the staff room. He was still weak from the catastrophic injuries sustained in that last, horrific battle, but with a month yet to go before the start of term, she expected that he would have time to recover fully. She was far more concerned with his potential reaction to what was coming.

She took a breath, cleared her throat, and pushed her worries to the side as she stood to address the room. Having thought long and hard about how to open this meeting and coming up blank, she just dove in, her thickening Scottish brogue betraying her emotions. “Thank ye for being here today. There’s nothing can be said to open this meeting gently, so we’ll just get right to it. We need to discuss arrangements for the coming school year. Ye’ll notice that off to the side are a number of our wee bairns that should have taken their NEWTS in June. As we all know, they did not. I have been in intense meetings with the Ministry to determine exactly how to handle this. Not to mention, we need to consider the fifth years who didn’t get to take their OWLs, and…” she trailed off, rubbing a hand over her face once more. “Frankly, lads and lasses…none of our students received the education they were entitled to last year, and so all needs taking into consideration.” She stopped and took a deep breath. “As I said, I’ve spoken with the Ministry at length, and we’ve come up with a number of solutions. Our students have been through so much. Many are well and truly traumatized. There isn’t to be a single solution that will suit all. Given that, we feel that each student should be offered a number of choices—each of which is designed to meet our strict educational requirements without causing undue trauma. In addition, the Ministry has chosen to add in a few scenarios that are a bit more…unconventional.  Here are the options we are making available. Minister Shacklebolt?” Minerva moved to the side, ceding the floor to Kingsley.

“Thank you, Headmistress.” He faced the faculty and erstwhile seventh years in the room. “Obviously, this is a most unusual situation. It is unfair to punish these students for a situation that was thoroughly out of their control. However, it would be reckless to simply turn loose an entire class of witches and wizards who haven’t received their full education. What to do, then?” He paused, as if contemplating. “Here are the scenarios we have, over many weeks of discussion, agreed upon as acceptable.

“First: At one point or another, all three of the so-called ‘Golden Trio’ have expressed an interest in entering the Auror program after their matriculation. As such, the Ministry has approved a special dispensation in which Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, and Ron Weasley will be offered immediate acceptance into the Auror training program under the following conditions: they must immediately sit and pass their NEWTs in Defence with scores of either Exceeds Expectations or Outstanding. If they do not achieve those scores, they will be disqualified. In addition, they must sit their choice of three other NEWTs. Any scores below Acceptable will disqualify them from the program. Scores of Acceptable will require extra training—remediation, if you will—in that subject until the training instructors are satisfied that the candidate is as well-equipped as any other. This is being allowed not only because these three have proven themselves competent warriors time and again, but also because the Auror Corps has been decimated by this war. Please do not view this as a situation of special treatment; there is a genuine need here, with dozens of Death Eaters still on the run, and we see no reason why these students cannot help fulfill it, provided they are able to prove themselves. Even as trainees, their presence will be valuable.” Shacklebolt paused for a moment, seemingly taking the temperature of the room. He was surprised to see that no one looked particularly perturbed. “Now. Mr. Potter and Mr. Weasley have accepted our offer and will sit their NEWTs next week. Miss Granger has agreed to tutor them in their revision, although she herself has declined our offer.” Severus Snape snorted quietly at this. Of course she had.

McGonagall’s head snapped up. “Do you have a comment, Professor Snape?” she asked, her voice hard as steel. Severus had made remarkable strides over the past two months in healing both physically and emotionally, and had, to her great surprise, opened up to her quite a bit about his years-long nightmare courtesy of Albus. But there was no doubt he was still Severus Snape.

Severus smirked. “Of course not, Headmistress, Minister,” he crooned, his voice silky smooth.

Kingsley, well-accustomed to his fellow Order member’s mercurial personality, fought the urge to roll his eyes and continued. “In light of our offer, Mr. Potter suggested that we might extend the same opportunity to several other seventh year students he knew to be interested in the Auror program. Therefore, we have spoken to Mr. Longbottom, Mr. Finnegan, Mr. Thomas, Ms. Abbot, and Ms. Bones, making each of them the same offer of qualified entry to the Auror program. All have accepted the offer, minus Mr. Longbottom and Ms. Abbot. Are there any questions so far?” Kingsley looked around the room and found none. “Very good. Moving on. The fifth years are being offered the opportunity to sit their OWLs as planned or to repeat their year. Additionally, given the circumstances of this past year, should they choose to sit their OWLs and fail, they will be given the opportunity to repeat their fifth year and sit the exams once more in a year’s time. For all remaining students, we are asking each professor—and we are truly sorry to add to your workload, ladies and gentlemen—to prepare an examination appropriate to each grade level, with the exception of fifth and seventh years, of course, in order to determine whether or not they are proficient enough to move on. In addition, and we realize that this is a bit irregular and confusing, we are proposing that students be allowed to move on as appropriate—in other words, if a second year student should prove proficient in every subject but transfiguration and potions, for example, we would recommend that the student be allowed to repeat the second year’s curriculum for those two classes while moving on to the third year in the others.” This garnered a bit more of a reaction from the faculty, but they were determined to hear the Minister out. None of this was his fault, after all, and there wasn’t going to be a perfect solution, from any point of view. Allowances would have to be made.

“Headmistress?” Shacklebolt nodded toward McGonagall, who stepped forward once more.

“We will meet again in one week’s time to iron out some of the finer details, but we felt it only fair to bring you into the loop as soon as possible on the solutions we have come up with for our student body. Are there questions at this point?”

Snape’s eyes narrowed. “Headmistress?” he ventured.

Minerva’s eyes bored into his and the tiniest bit of dread stole through him; why that was, he did not understand.

“Yes, Professor Snape?”

“The plan you have laid out seems…adequate. However, you have mentioned three seventh year students who have declined to join the Auror program as offered; you did not specify what those three students planned to do to complete their education instead.”

There was silence and Snape had a gut feeling that he’d hit on something sensitive. He was at a loss to suss it out, but it was there.

“Ahh, yes. Excellent observation, Professor.” She took a steadying breath. “As all of you know, no one at Hogwarts has taken on a true apprentice in…well, let’s just say it has been quite a long time since Hogwarts has seen a student or graduate apprenticed to one of its professors. Despite this, apprenticeships are still a highly-valued tradition in the wizarding world. As it turns out, and after much discussion, Mr. Longbottom has requested an apprenticeship with Professor Sprout in Herbology. He has also requested to sit additional NEWTs in both Defence and Transfiguration. Professor Sprout has agreed to take Mr. Longbottom on provided that he passes the Herbology NEWT. I’m sure we are all agreed that there is little doubt he will do so, and as our greenhouses were completely devastated, his assistance will be invaluable in restoring them, both for instruction, as well as food. In that same vein, Ms. Abbott has requested a Healer’s apprenticeship with Madam Pomfrey, and will be sitting her NEWTs in Herbology, Potions, Transfiguration, Charms, and Defence. Ms. Abbott will be waiting several weeks to sit her NEWTs so that she may have more time for revision, given that she is sitting five exams. In addition, both of these students have agreed to serve, as needed or requested, in the role of teacher’s assistant for the lower years for any professor who feels they are qualified to assist. Should you take advantage of this opportunity, it will give these students the chance to hone their skills, get practical experience teaching, should that be an avenue they wish to eventually pursue, and of course, it will lighten your workload.

“Again, as I said, we will meet once more in a week’s time to iron out all of the details. For now, I thank you for your time and you are dismissed.”

Snape’s eyes narrowed. McGonagall had elaborated on the plans for Longbottom and Abbott, but not Miss Granger. As his colleagues filed out of the room, he opened his mouth to speak, but the headmistress beat him to it. “A word, if you please, Severus.”

OoOoO

Professor Snape, obeying the finger the Headmistress crooked at him, proceeded to follow her from the staff room toward the tower office that he had most gladly relinquished to her after Riddle’s defeat and his subsequent convalescence. He silently noted Miss Granger’s presence as she fell into step next to him. He was beginning to have a fairly decent idea of where this was heading and realized that he had…absolutely no idea how he felt about it.

The gargoyle spun open wordlessly at Minerva’s approach and Severus stepped back to allow first Minerva, then Miss Granger, entry to the spiral staircase. “Thank you, Sir,” came the gentle murmur from Hermione’s lips.

Snape took the opportunity to observe her from behind as they ascended, the practiced eye of a spy taking in every minute detail. He noted what seemed to be the last remnants of a limp, the presence of a long sleeved shirt despite the Scottish August heat, calloused hands with more than a few scars, prominent cheekbones, purple shadows beneath her eyes that told him she wasn’t sleeping, and hair that was brittle, dull, and clearly neglected, pulled back into a low knot at the base of her skull. His eyes narrowed. There was so much more than that to it, though. She was markedly different, but it was surprisingly difficult to qualify exactly how. It was down to her very spirit—the way she carried herself. In one way, she seemed smaller; pulled into herself; almost beaten down. She was exceptionally thin—although, he allowed, not as much as she had been on that night two months ago when she’d saved his life. After it was all over, when he looked back on that particular night and recalled her near skeletal frame, he would ask himself how she even had the strength to stand, much less duel nearly nonstop and find the magical energy to start managing his wounds until she could get him to safety and help.

He would find out later—much later—that when it was all over, when McGonagall had assured her that Voldemort was dead, Harry was alive, and Severus was being stabilized—she had collapsed into Minerva’s arms and proceeded to lie in a coma for the next four days. And when he pinched the bridge of his nose and asked with trepidation exactly how much she had weighed when admitted to St. Mungo’s, Minerva would tell him, her face solemn and drawn, that her weight on the night of the battle was just under 6 stone.

But for now, he simply observed with no small interest that the girl he had sneered at and ridiculed in class for her eager and swotty ways—despite his deep-down respect for her sheer intellect—had been through the crucible and had emerged on the other side a tough, fiery, independent young woman. There was a hardness to her now—a steel edge that glimmered just on the periphery of her logical, calm façade; it said, “I will be courteous and respectful so long as you are; however, make no mistake: I will not tolerate your bullshit and I will not back down.” Somewhere along the way, meek and mild, eager-to-please Hermione Granger had died, and like the phoenix, a battle-hardened, take-no-prisoners version had risen from the ashes to take her place. The cub had blossomed into the fierce Lioness at last.

And when Severus Snape realized that somewhere in the very, very back of his mind, he was aroused by that epiphany, he came to a dead stop.

No.

OoOoO

 

Severus and Hermione each occupied a chair across from the Headmistress’ desk, and were waiting expectantly for her to speak. They watched in silence as McGonagall wordlessly prepared tea and served it to them without having to ask how they preferred it. She sat for a moment, as if gathering her thoughts, took a deep breath, and spoke.

“Severus,” she began, “I’ll just get right to it, as I know that’s how you would prefer it. Hermione has requested an apprenticeship in Potions, and has clearly stated that she will not take one from any Potions Master but you.”

There was silence. If she had expected him to blow up in his normal Snape-ish manner, she was certainly disappointed. Snape glanced at Hermione out of the corner of his eyes. She stared straight ahead, stoic, her jaw set in an almost defiant manner. She simply waited for his answer. With his elbows on the arms of his chair, he steepled his fingers beneath his chin and spoke slowly. “But I do not take on apprentices, Headmistress. Surely you must know this.”

“Severus, she saved your damn life!” Minerva snapped.

“Headmistress!” Hermione barked, and Snape was shocked to hear the hint of admonishment in her outburst. “We discussed this.”

Minerva glared at Severus. “Yes, Miss Granger, I am aware. Forgive me.” She took a deep breath and addressed Severus. “Hermione was insistent that I not mention that little tidbit,” she said sarcastically.

Hermione spoke up then, turning toward him. With earnestness in her eyes, she spoke with quiet determination, never breaking eye contact. “Professor,” she said gently, “I would very much appreciate it if you would consider my request; however, at no point do I wish you to allow my actions in the Shrieking Shack to factor into your decision. I am happy I did what I did, and I would do it again. There is no debt; you owe me nothing. You have spent enough of your life beholden to others,” she finished, a shadow of darkness coloring her features.

He would never have admitted it, and he certainly did not allow it to show, but Snape was stunned. Somehow, despite her youth, she understood. She got it. He was tired of being a slave. What’s more, she seemed to share his very mixed feelings about the late Headmaster.

He was further stunned to realize that he was actually considering her request.

He looked at her appraisingly, his eyes narrowed.

“All right,” he intoned. “I will consider your request.” Hermione broke into a grin and murmured her thanks. “However, I do have some…concerns…about your…fitness.” He paused at the confused look she gave him. “Miss Granger,” he drawled, “I say this in the kindest way possible, please understand. But… you look like shit.”

“Severus!” Minerva hissed, before looking over in shock as Hermione let out a great belly laugh.

“Professor,” she chuckled, holding up a hand to indicate she took no offense. “I have in fact looked in a mirror lately, and believe me, I’m well aware that the past year has not been kind to me.” She gave him a genuine, almost indulgent, smile, and added cheekily, “However, I’m sure you are observant enough to see the difference in my appearance now versus three months ago…? I can assure you that after a year of constantly being on the brink of starvation, I am working very hard to regain the weight I’ve lost, and in fact, I expect very soon to be as big as a house,” she laughed.

Snape gave her a small smile, surprising her. His eyes narrowed in contemplation, and he looked at the headmistress. “Minerva, would you be so kind as to give me a few moments alone with Ms. Granger?”

The headmistress, sensing victory, acquiesced easily. “Of course, Severus. I’ll just go and check on the workers.”

OoOoO

Snape and Hermione were now alone in the headmistress’ office, and Snape remained in the chair he was occupying. He steepled his fingers and gazed at her appraisingly once again.

“Tell me, Miss Granger, why did you insist to the Headmistress that you would apprentice only under me?” He swallowed and ignored the inadvertent double entendre. “There are a handful of other Potions Masters across Europe, all of them much more pleasant than I,” he said dryly. “Why would you request, or rather, insist, on studying with the one person who has made your life miserable for seven years?” His voice had its usual air of feigned indifference, but the truth was, he was actually curious.

She paused, gathering her thoughts. “Multiple reasons, Sir. I’m a big girl now—I wouldn’t be here if I couldn’t take it. And you just might find I can give as good as I get,” she smirked. “But more importantly, you are the best. I would rather study with the best and take the barbs than learn from an inferior teacher who coddles me.”

“Wise and mature,” he murmured without meaning to. His face colored slightly, but she continued as if she had not heard him.

“But even though I’m confident in my ability to handle your…foul temperament,” she smirked, “to be honest…” she paused for a moment. “May I speak freely, Professor?” Snape nodded silently. Hermione hesitated, then plunged ahead. “To be honest, Sir, I’m not that worried about you making me miserable, because I don’t think that man was real.” She halted, waiting for the inevitable explosion, but Snape only raised his eyebrows. Emboldened, she continued. “Knowing what I know now, I have looked back over the past several years and attempted to place myself in your shoes, in the role you had to play, and as I considered it, I could come to no other conclusion but that you played the hand you were dealt, to the best of your ability. Of course you couldn’t give an inch of slack to Gryffindor, and indeed, you had to appear openly hostile to us. Anything else would have run the very real risk of blowing your cover.” She swallowed, wondering if she’d gone too far. “No, sir, I think you did what you had to do in the name of maintaining what must have been an exhausting double life.” She sounded pained now, and Snape was shocked to realize that her sorrow on his behalf grieved him. Before he could formulate a response, she quietly added, almost as if talking to herself, “…and besides, even if you meant it, I should think it would be a transgression worthy of forgiveness, considering the pressure you were under.”

“Very good, Miss Granger,” he spoke softly, surprising even himself. “Your assessment is, as I have come to expect, both shrewd and accurate. I applaud your mettle and resilience. I do, however, hope that this war and your experiences in it have not dulled your empathy and compassion.” Hermione stared, gobsmacked. Snape seemed to look into the distance. “Such rare traits these days.” He snapped back to himself, clearing his throat. “If I accept you as my apprentice, I will have a few conditions.”

Hermione nodded at him to continue.

“We will start out with intensive revision so that you may pass your NEWTs. I will require you to receive an O in the Potions, Herbology, Arithmancy, and Defence NEWTs to begin your apprenticeship. If you should score an Exceeds Expectations—because I think we both know that is the lowest score that you would ever possibly receive,” he added with a wry smirk, much to her pleasure, “then I will require you to continue revising with me until you are ready to sit your NEWTs once more—and that will be your final chance. Let me be clear—I do not expect this to be an issue that we will actually encounter, but I feel the need to make my expectations plain.” Hermione nodded her agreement.

“When would I sit for my NEWTs, Sir?” she interjected politely.

“That depends on you, Miss Granger. Were you already planning on taking all of the NEWTs I just listed?” Hermione nodded. “Were you planning on taking any additional NEWTs?”

“Yes, sir. Transfiguration, Ancient Runes, and Charms.”

Snape allowed a low whistle. “Seven NEWTs is quite ambitious, Miss Granger. However, if anyone can do it, it will be you.” He gave a smirk at her pleased look and decided to tease her. “I have to admit, though, I’m a tad disappointed in you, Miss Granger.” He nearly laughed at the shocked look on her face. “I find it hard to believe that you would neglect to sit for a NEWT in Divination.” He smirked once more and Hermione let out a laugh of relief and genuine mirth, knowing that Snape viewed Divination with much the same attitude of skepticism as did she.

“All right, Miss Granger,” he continued, a small smile upon his face, “I anticipate that you will be best prepared to sit your NEWT exams by December.”

Hermione nodded. “And your additional conditions?” she queried.

Snape nodded. “During this first semester, I will require only that you devote yourself to revision for the NEWT exams, along with assisting me in cleaning the lab or marking papers. I suggest that on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, I tutor you for your Potions NEWT during my free period, and in return, you will assist me by marking the first, second, and third years’ papers during my free period on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Assuming that you pass all of your NEWTs successfully, which of course I anticipate you doing, then after Christmas, you will take over the instruction of the first, second, and third year Potions pupils. I will oversee your instruction for at least the first month, although of course you will be welcome to seek my guidance at any time, should you need it.”

Hermione nodded. His conditions were eminently reasonable. “What else, sir?” she inquired.

“I will ask that you keep office hours—you may use the Potions classroom to do so—for two hours, two evenings a week, so that the younger students may seek your assistance outside of class. I will not require that you take on patrol duties on a regular basis, but I reserve the right to ask you to do so if needed.” Hermione nodded. “When teaching class, you will wear teaching robes, but when we are working together for your apprenticeship, you may wear what you choose, so long as you adhere to lab safety standards. Acceptable?”

Hermione nodded and looked down, her face flaming in embarrassment. She had no idea how to bring up the only remaining question she had. How on earth would she—

“Miss Granger? Something on your mind?” His voice was unexpectedly gentle, and she jerked her head up in surprise.

“Umm,” she whispered uncertainly. “There’s just—“She stopped and swallowed hard, steeling herself, before looking back up into his face resolutely. “Are you aware of what happened with my parents?”

Snape paused and looked at her carefully. She looked so fragile, so vulnerable. “I…have heard murmurs here and there, but I do not know the whole story, I admit,” he answered.

“I…” She looked back down to her hands for a moment, seemingly fascinated with picking at a bit of cuticle. “I knew they would be targets.” She looked up again, and Snape was shocked to see her eyes brimming with tears. “…I mean, obviously, right?” She huffed out a mirthless laugh that seemed to be just on this side of hysteria. “The parents of the Mudblood best friend of Harry Potter.” At this, Snape winced visibly, but Hermione didn’t seem to notice. “Why would they not be targets?” She drew a deep breath, trying to calm herself. A note of compassion crept into her voice. “And of course, they just don’t understand anything about our world. They’ve been wonderful from the start, trying their very best to understand and absorb all of the intricacies of our existence…” She huffed that humorless laugh again and said under her breath, “and I thought I had it hard.”

At this, Snape paused. He knew, of course, that she was Muggle-born, and he had always assumed he understood what that was like, having had a Muggle…sperm donor (because a man like that could never be called a father, he told himself). But the truth of it was, he had always known of his magic, and his mother’s, regardless of how much his dear father detested it. But Hermione was different. Unlike Harry, who at least had magical heritage, however much it had been hidden from him, Hermione truly hailed from a completely Muggle existence. Harry had been flying on a toy broomstick by his first birthday; Hermione had simply thought she was a freak until she was nearly twelve years old. This bore further consideration on his part, he realized. He tuned back in as he realized Hermione was speaking once more.

“At any rate, there was no possible way I could explain to them the danger they were in—not in a way that would make them take it seriously.” At this point, Snape’s curiosity and fear were getting the best of him. What had she done? He decided to interrupt her and give voice to the thought.

“Miss Granger…what did you do?”

She looked up at him then, and her face crumpled.

“I obliviated them.”