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A Touch of Death

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Beta Love: The Dragon and the Rose, Dutchgirl01, Flyby Commander Shepard

A/N: Inspiration is a strange creature. Why is it that it's so easy to start a story but a hundred times harder to finish it?


A Touch of Death

If you don't deal with your demons, they will deal with you,

and it's gonna hurt

— Nikki Sixx


As Severus Snape looked at the gore-soaked lavatory, he knew the troll had had his day—

A crumpled, bushy-haired body lay underneath the remains of a shattered sink, her wand still clutched in her small hand.

The troll had died, his innards expulsed with a messy, advanced level spell driven by panic and pain, but not before the brave little witch had paid the price for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

He knelt beside her, cradling her as she struggled to breathe. Her breaths came in short gasps as her eyes closed in pain.

Her time was nearing—

He could feel it in his bones.

The air chilled as his true form emerged— twisted talons and wings so large that they touched each side of the room. A wolf-like skull replaced his human one.

Time slowed.

Stopped.

She was looking at him, her eyes very wide.

Fear, most likely.

No—

Her tiny hands touched his skull-like face, wrapped around his mane of oily hair.

"Professor," she whispered. "You're so beautiful."

Beautiful?

"Will it hurt?" she asked, her head resting against his chest.

"No, child," he said quietly. "Not while you are with me."

"I'm glad you're with me, Professor," she said. Her breaths were coming slower, her diaphragm struggling to exchange the air she needed by force.

"I'm scared."

"You were very brave," he said, touching her cheek lightly with his thumb. What a waste of a young life, a soul. He truly regretted having been unkind to her. He regretted a great many things.

His vigil over Albus Dumbledore had led to one regret after another since the day he had died—

Tearing, scraping, biting—

Bleeding out of every orifice.

"You may pass into the next life, Severus, or you may serve a different sort of purpose— something lacking in the life you were given. This choice must be yours. I can only point the way. You must step toward it or away."

His master— his true master— would approve of Miss Granger.

Her soul was bright, her magic powerful. She was untrained, yet magic answered her call in her most desperate moments, even when her peers could not.

She had no peers.

She was alone— an island.

She tried desperately to fit in only to stand out among them as a swot and a know-it-all.

For all the good it had done her—

"You wish to save this soul?"

"It would be a great waste, Master, to let her pass."

A dark chuckle filled his mind. "Compassion from you, Severus. How rare."

The presence in his mind solidified. "You know the way. You know the words. But she  must  choose it herself—our Dark, underappreciated memory of life."

Severus pressed his skull-face to the small witch's pale face. "Death is no end, child, but it is not the path that all must choose. For some, there is Oblivion. For some there is the next life. For others there is the between, a place neither living nor dead. For a very few, there is one more option: to choose service to Him— the Great Balancer. He-Who-Walks-the-Lonely-Path."

"You may choose what Path you wish to take. The path beyond. The path to another life. The path to the End. The path where all choices remain— or the Path of Service to my Lord and Master."

Hermione's eyes were half-lidded, but a strange sort of calmness settled about her. "You chose Service."

Severus cocked his head. "Yes, child."

Her expression was serene.

"You're far older than you appear."

Severus frowned. How could she know?

She touched his bone-face, the warmth of her hands like the sun's radiance. "You're not alone anymore." She closed her eyes as she pressed her head against his. "I choose the Path of Service— with you."

A low, rumbling chuckle filled the lavatory as a dark mist began to seep out of the floor and walls.

"Breaaaathe in, my daughter," the voice rumbled. "Breaaathe it in… Your. New. Life."

The Dark vapour shot up her nostrils even as she breathed in. Her eyes rolled back into her head as her small body convulsed. Blackness spread swiftly throughout her veins and arteries, painting her pale skin black.

"For you are now the daughter of Death," the voice rumbled. "And none shall steal you away from me again."

Severus' ear twitched. Again? Surely he had heard that wrong.

He held Granger's body as the tendrils of the Underworld claimed every cell, every bit of energy, every spark of life and made it anew.

Her body shook violently and exploded into particles—

And the wisps of the Beyond wrapped around them and drew them back together, reforming, tightening, joining—wings, claws, fangs, and so many things not human—things that lived in the Hereafter and the low-and-below.

Things that twisted in the place between worlds, between spaces, between lives—

And Hermione Granger took her very first breath— reborn anew. "Severus," she whispered, the howls of the great hounds of the Underworld baying in whispers of her voice.

"Hermione," Severus replied, his eyes so very black. "Welcome Home."


Poppy called it attachment disorder.

Minerva called it a traumatic imprinting.

Albus kept trying to affix Hermione Granger back onto Gryffindor— to place her with the imbecilic Potter and Weasley, right where he had originally wanted her to be—

But none of them knew, not really.

There would be no return of that Hermione Granger— the impressionable, hand-waving, naive, little swot.

That Hermione Granger was dead.

Hermione— and it was so much more in the name than any of them could possibly say with a human tongue— had been reborn in blood into the Get of Death.

And Death was not letting her go.

All attempts to separate her from Snape's side and return her to Gryffindor made her lapse into a catatonic state—

But they could hardly know the truth.

Every time she was parted from his side, she lapsed back into the Realm of Death— learning, growing, evolving.

At his side, she was allowed a bit of her childhood returned.

It had been much the same for him back in the day after Lupin had murdered him.

He had laid for many long months in the Hogwarts infirmary where he was believed to be "almost dead."

But when he woke, Severus Snape had not been the boy he once was. He had lived years untold, learning the trade of his Service and how short-sighted he had been for so long.

They feared he would be a werewolf.

They feared he would die.

Most of all, Albus had feared that Lupin would be outed as a werewolf and that he would be blamed for it.

They feared Snape would rise as a werewolf and tear the school apart—

But Severus Snape the troubled boy had died, and death cures all ills.

What woke up in the infirmary bed had not been the same Severus Snape.

Dumbledore had managed to sweep it all under the rug, somehow, but at that point Snape didn't care anymore. He now served his true Master— and had a whole new purpose.

And a clueless Albus had played right into it— swearing Snape so easily into becoming his spy, his agent, his— slave.

And the Dark Lord only cared for power, and he hadn't lived long enough to do much else.

No, the true manipulator in the game was Albus, and his Lord and Master knew him as He-Who-Would-Control-Death.

That was what Albus truly wanted, after all— to bend time to his will and rewrite that which had once gone so horribly wrong.

Crash!

Severus looked over to find Hermione looking terribly guilty.

The gaudy old red vase that Albus had given him lay shattered to bits on the flagstone floor.

"Ten points to Slytherin, my dear, for ridding me of that Merlin-forsaken eyesore."

Hermione smiled toothily, all fangs and utter sheepishness as she folded up her wings.

It was really hard getting used to wings. He remembered taking out more than a few vases in his time.

And planters.

And bookshelves.

A few owls.

Nothing was safe, really.

At least Hermione had a safe place to learn such things— with him.

Oh, the irony of it all. Him as a safe place— hah.

Yet, he would make it so for her, for she was as bound as he was to their Lord and Master. Only she—

Was free.

Unbound to the petty whims of Albus Dumbledore and the Dark Lord, she could do what he could not—

She could DO what he could only dream of while forced to live out the life of Severus Snape, the ex-Death Eater—

She leapt into his arms and laughed joyously, her wings flapping madly as she mastered teleportation, appearing and reappearing in a wisp of smoke.

She looked into his eyes with such wonder and eagerness.

A knock at the door sent her flapping away into her chambers, her wings taking out an antique silver candlestick on her way out.

Severus pinched his nose and sighed, opening the door.

"Minerva— how very expected of you."

"Severus," the feline Animagus greeted calmly. "How is she?"

"In her room, Minerva. Probably sticking her nose into a very large book," Severus said, gesturing to her quarters with a dismissive gesture.

Minerva sighed, sitting down uninvited.

"By all means, do make yourself at home," Severus snarked, his lip curling. Nosy old cat.

"Albus is still hoping she recovers enough to return to Gryffindor with her friends."

"What friends?" Severus asked, eyes narrowing.

Minerva's eyes widened. "Surely she does have some friends amongst her fellow housemates, Severus!"

It didn't take a mind reader to know that wasn't true, Severus knew. He'd seen that in his potions classes, as clear as daylight.

"Albus pushing his dreams upon you, Minerva? No, she does not," Severus said irritably. "She herself told me as much."

"I—" Minerva stared at her hand which was clawing absently on the chair's much-abused arm. "I had no idea, Severus."

Snape's lip curled. "Gryffindors are a mob, Minerva. They think quickly, rampage quicker, and make their decisions like a squall. Only the exceptional stand out in Gryffindor, and those tend to be the like of bullies or ostracised thinkers— which do you think she was? Or you, Minerva?"

Minerva, to her credit, was no fool. She had often had her eyes clouded by Albus, but he was an exceptionally practiced hand at such things. The elder witch seemed to slump in the chair. "I've failed her."

"No, Minerva," Severus replied quietly. "The house system failed her. The Sorting Hat failed her. Bigotry failed her. Expectation failed her, but not you. However, where the system has failed her, I will not. I will teach her everything she needs— one on one where she will flourish."

Minerva shook her head. "Surely you see that she is unnaturally attached to you, Severus."

"Are you implying I would do anything inappropriate with her?"

"No! Gods—" Minerva shook her head, aghast at the very idea. Then she slumped again. "I'm just saying that it was totally out of the blue. I mean—"

"No one affixes themselves to Severus Snape," he finished her thought, his voice heavily laden with bitterness.

"Severus, I didn't mean—"

"Get out, Minerva," he said stonily. "Come back when you no longer feel sorry for yourself that one of your beloved cubs actually might have chosen to be under my care."

"Severus, please," Minerva pleaded.

"Get. Out."

Minerva fled the room with heavy footsteps.

Severus sank down into the armchair, utterly weary of the fact that his accustomed role always seemed to place Minerva in a difficult position.

"Severus?" Hermione bounced back in, his name— his real name— singing with her real voice.

"Hn?" He turned, unable to keep the smile off his face as she held a lovely Hel-flower in her hand. It was gloriously fiery bloom that twinkled with magic.

She thrust the flower into his hands. "I made it for you!"

Something deep within his soul melted. "How about we go for a fly, hrm? We can plant it where no one will bother it."

Hermione brightened. "Okay!"

There was a time, so very long ago it seemed, when another bright, trusting witch wanted nothing more than to show him everything. But even she—

Lily had never touched him.

Hermione's simple yet generous touch was enough to heal something deep inside himself that he hadn't realised was still bleeding.

"I choose the Path of Service— with you."

Had he placed his faith in the wrong young witch? Was one so young able to make such critical decisions so early in life?

Soon, her childhood would fade, and the lessons she learned in the Netherworld when her eyes closed would seep into the here and now. She would be as he was— a Mortefilii— one of Death's "children."

But for now, he could give her a childhood— things he was never allowed. Protection he never had in life. Shelter that he was never given—

For Death had been the one to give it to him in the place between worlds as his body had lain on the edge of death, so he would in turn give it to her: a taste of mortality's gift before it was burned away.

Childhood for those like them was fairly short, but that didn't mean it couldn't be meaningful or memorable.

As her small hand clasped his, he realised that trust was real, and he had it at last.


Flying had two key points to instill in the learner: getting aloft and staying there.

Their wings were built for catching the wind and keeping their mass aloft. Once there, it was easy— getting there took some work, much like a goose trying to use a body of water as a runway to get itself aloft— or an albatross.

drunken albatross.

Fortunately, magic helped them fling themselves off high places, and their magic was not squelched by jinxes and other such mortal rot.

At first, Hermione nervously clung to him like a baby bat, holding tight to his body as though one false move would send her tumbling off into the lake.

By the time an hour had passed, however, she was easily flipping and twirling around him, brushing her wings against his as she frolicked in the air— always making sure to touch him with a wing as she went by.

Hermione had learned how to cloak herself with an almost eerie ease— the tendrils of the Netherworld wisped around her at her beck and call with a natural grace he had lacked. He had had seven-odd years of experience with human magic to limit his boundaries, but she did not.

He told her she could, and she believed him.

Had he been anyone else, it would have been foolish, naive.

She trusted him, even before binding her fate to the Get of Death. How precious it was— how extraordinary.

She learned like no one he had ever taught. She was so eager, needing only the tiniest bit of approval to send her soaring into enthusiasm. There was no limit she heeded if only he would ask it of her.

How refreshing— such a soothing balm to his very soul.

And it wasn't that Death did not trust him, for of course He did. It wasn't that Death did not give fairly to him, for he gave much more than anyone could possibly believe. But Hermione gave something unexpected: faith.

She believed in him, even when his past was as checkered as it came, and by the gods above and below he would strive not to disappoint her.

She crowed and zoomed by him, her wings brushing against his with the lightest of touches. He smiled and gave chase.

Two could play at this game.


"Severus?"

"Hn?"

"Why does the Headmaster keep trying to get me to go back to Gryffindor Tower?"

Snape sighed, rubbing the space between his eyes. "He believes you are the key to keep Potter and his side-kick alive."

"If they'd stop breaking all the school rules, maybe they'd be in less danger."

Snape snorted. "There is that, but the Headmaster seems to think he needs your influence."

"They hate me."

"Hn. It happens."

"Did people hate you too, Severus?"

"Often if not always."

"I don't hate you."

"You are— an exception to the rule."

Hermione frowned. "The rules are stupid."

"Tut. There is nothing wrong with rules— some of them are simply inane."

Hermione smiled.

"Severus."

"Hn?"

"Do you think Father is happy with me?"

Snape snorted. "Of course He is."

"He hasn't told me what he wants of me."

Snape sighed. "Come here."

Hermione snuggled into him, sighing contentedly as his wings wrapped around her.

"Enjoy what life has for you for now, Hermione. Our Father's Will can wait until it is the right time. He allows you this. It is a gift. You will have a long time in His Service but only one childhood. You needn't rush it."

Hermione snuggled in closer. "You'll be here, right?"

Severus combed her bushy mane with his talons. "Always."


He found her cradling a dead owl near the owlry, and he felt her grief that the owl was so young and barely even fledged.

She sniffled, using her claws to dig a grave by hand, forgoing the use of wand or magic. She dragged the earth until it was in a neat pile and lay the poor owl in the hole, placed a small bunch of wildflowers over it and used a smooth stone from the shoreline for a marker.

"Honoured Lord Father," she whispered. "Please take this brave young owl into the beyond, for he has attempted flight far too soon. May his path to Your Domain be swift and peaceful."

She bowed her head, her talons moving across the owl's body, and the blue-white soul gathered there. "Peace be upon you, little friend," she said, and the ball of soul zoomed into the beyond with a soft whoosh.

She gently moved the earth into the hole and patted it down.

She said nothing more, but she walked right into his arms, trembling as her emotions flared. "It hurts."

He held her close. "You did very well."

She clung to his robes as his wings moved around her, pulling her tightly against his body.

He said nothing more, but she did not either. By the time they walked back to Hogwarts, her tears had dried but her grasp of her hand around his fingers remained like steel.

If anyone noticed, they did not dare say anything about it.


Flying lessons, at least on a broom, did not go well.

As hard as he tried to ease her into it, Hermione's unease with straddling a broom was already deeply seated.

The irony was thick considering how natural she was when using her wings.

She heard the snickering coming from the castle windows as they watched her, and she flushed with shame despite how hard she was trying to get the hang of it.

Bloody Gryffindors.

Why was it always Gryffindor that were the first to heckle?

Perhaps, he admitted, Slytherin would have been first had they not feared for their lives.

Apprenticeships were a sacred bond, and even the lowest Slytherin would never dare to insult the apprentice of a master— for to do so would bring the wrath of the master down on them.

That was something no one in Slytherin wanted, for it would have been completely and utterly sanctioned by the Ministry to magically wipe the floor with them.

And he would have— if he even suspected that any of her tears were because of a member of his house.

To take on an apprentice was to take them into your magic— to adopt them on a level where their magic was united with your own. Oh, but she was far closer than that— but none of them knew it, no. Let them believe it was some ancient human magic. Let them fear for his wrath for all the wrong reasons.

He wondered what the best approach to dealing with the hecklers—

Human ears would not have heard them.

Well— they wouldn't have heard the words quite as clearly as they did. He could hardly quote back what they whispered to each other ten stories up—

Bother—

He couldn't very well comfort her out here in front of Merlin and everyone, either. Too many eyes watching—

Just as Hermione was trying again to hover on her broom, Minerva's fury-filled Scottish tones echoed down from the high windows.

"You think that this is proper behaviour?" her voice seethed. "Standing around, whispering your petty little judgements to each other as you ridicule another student? Did you think that I would not notice? Do you think it is perfectly acceptable if they are not of your house? You would be wrong."

Minerva's voice took on the tone that was unmistakably furious. "Every single one of you loses ten points each for your ridicule and spite, and every single one of you will serve detention with Professor Snape for the next week, and if I hear even one more spiteful whisper like I heard today, I will add another week to everyone's punishment. Now all of you will immediately march yourselves back your dormitories until your next class. Get. Moving. Now,"

Hermione gave a whoop of glee as her broom took off like a jet, and she went shooting off over the lake.

Well, then, Snape thought with a knowing smirk. Nothing like a little justice to inspire her to fly.

He summoned his broom with one hand and took off after her.


Severus tried very, very hard not to cast a number of unforgiveables when Sybill Trelawney groped his arse as she proclaimed him to be the only one worthy of her attention.

"Remove your hand from my posterior at once, Professor," he hissed at the ridiculous shawl-swathed witch. Her bug-eyed amorous look was enough to curdle his dinner, and his dinner had been digested hours before.

"Oh, Sevvie-rus, don't be like that!" Sybill gushed drunkenly. "No one else is here. You don't have to pretend anymore!"

"You smell like the bottom of a sherry bottle," Snape snarled, jerking her hand off his rear with a sharp yank. "You're disgusting."

"Aww, Shevruss, you know I'm the only one who truly undershandsh you!" She fell upon him, her hands groping his arse from both sides.

"PROFESSOR TRELAWNEY!" Severus roared.

"Yessssshhh, my LOOOOVERRRR! Say my name with your shenshual Shyfferin voish!"

Suddenly the floor began to seep billowing clouds of black smoke, and it swirled and twisted around their feet. Dark canine shapes pulled themselves out of the floor, growling, snarling, seething—

Tendrilly shapes coagulated right on top of the snarling hell-beasts, eight legs and far too many eyes glowing, glowing an eerie yellow-green in the shadowy dark hallway.

Trelawney screamed in terror, falling flat on her arse as she scrambled backwards on her hands and rear. She rolled onto her belly and pushed herself up, struggling to rise and run—

Failing.

Flailing.

Shrieking at the top of her lungs

Pissing herself.

She ran, slamming into walls in her haste to flee as the hell-beasts bayed and their hell-spider jockeys gave chase.

And she ran.

And ran.

And kept on running far into the night.

Severus turned and walked into his quarters and closed the door behind him. Hermione stood there in her flannel pyjamas, toothbrush in hand and her mouth full of toothpaste suds.

"Too much?" she asked, her voice somewhat muffled by the toothpaste.

Severus tilted his head back and laughed out loud—

And laughed…

And laughed.

"No, my brilliant little witch," he purred. "You were absolutely perfect."

Hermione beamed at him, her mouth still full of suds, and then she scurried off to finish her nightly hygiene.

He neatly caught the poor candlestick that she had smacked with her wing and sent flying across the room.

Snape's smile was pure wicked satisfaction. "Oh, Albus. You have no idea what you have inadvertently unleashed upon the world with your twisted little schemes and manipulations. But for one loosed troll you let wander about a bit too long—my Lord and Master has gained both a daughter and a means to your own end. I do hope you're ready."

Severus extended his talons, petting one of the returned hell-beasts on the head. "I know I am." His tongue slid along his fangs.


End of Chapter One


A/N: Back to work *cry* Don't wanna! The Dragon and the Rose is back to slap me around and make my grammar heel. Praise her!

Chapter Text

Summary: [HG/SS] AU:Crack, Hermione wasn't supposed to get murdered by a troll. She was supposed to spur on Harry Potter and Ron Weasley and become their friend and thus keep them alive through multiple trials. All of Dumbledore's carefully laid out plans tank as Hermione Granger embraces a new life, thanks to none other than Severus Snape.

Beta Love: The Dragon and the Rose, Dutchgirl01, Flyby Commander Shepard

Trigger Warning: Discussion of sensitive topics such as suicidal ideation.


A Touch of Death

Chapter Two

We thought that we had the answers, it was the questions we had wrong.

Bono


Trelawney didn't show up for the morning meal, and Severus was far too amused to be concerned. Albus, of course, was worried since he'd gone through so much trouble to try and save her life only to have her sod off into the night and not return.

Her track record, however, was inherently poor, so most if not everyone else believed she was sleeping off a drunken sherry-laden stupor.

Hermione still believed she might have overdone the hell-beasts just a touch, but Snape thought it was about time the batty witch finally had a reason to keep her hands off his bum and her manky sherry breath out of his face.

Still, it was far more heartening that the young Mortefilii was coming into her own with such stylish flare.

The Gryffindor table was eerily silent, but Severus knew better than to believe that even Minerva's formidable Scottish wrath could keep them silent for long. It was far too ingrained in the children to pick on whoever and whatever was different, and nothing was more different in their immature minds than a former Gryffindor apprentice to a scowling Slytherin wizard notorious for hating everything that breathed.

Minerva's anger was, to her credit, quite refreshing, but sadly futile.

She couldn't keep them from thinking the thoughts, after all, and free will was something the light was pretty adamant about defending— not that you could actually tell that from Albus' constant manipulations on behalf of that ever-elusive "greater good."

The light was pure deception in his mind— just a label for a side that opposed the darker grey areas of magic. It wasn't that the "light" had any difficulty casting spells that were very harmful indeed yet were not on the list of Unforgivables.

A slicing hex or a freezing spell followed by a shattering hex wasn't any less fatal than the good old Avada— and any tool could be potentially fatal in the wrong hands. Gods knew that children tried to kill each other every single day by blowing themselves and their fellows up in Potions class…

Albus tried again to separate Hermione from his side, and as predicted, she went catatonic as the pull of Death's Domain called her Home for education.

You'd think you learned better after my own death, you insufferable old bastard, Severus thought.

Albus seemed horrified that even a little time away from Snape's side seemed to cause the inevitable reaction when it was obvious that while in Severus' company she could at least stand away from him for a time.

Chew on that revelation, old man.

Poppy had begun sharply warning Albus not to keep attempting to force the issue, and Severus was waiting for her to get frustrated enough to bring it up to the Board of Governors.

Hermione was his apprentice, after all.

Even his Slytherins kept their fingers well out of that sacred bond.

Albus had even tried to "strictly" enforce that Hermione's chambers be entirely separate from Snape's due to the gender difference, as if Snape was going to jump his young apprentice's bones the moment she was alone and unwary.

Idiot.

For now, Hermione was young. Whatever bond they had would remain regardless of what she decided for herself in the future— and if Albus kept bloody making her go catatonic, she'd be mature far sooner than he ever thought possible.

Time in Death's Domain passed very quickly— hence why only the dead could reside there and not turn to dust.

Quirrell was limping badly, and Severus couldn't help but notice.

What was that infernal man up to?

Even better, Potter and his ginger tumour were both sporting casts and an impressive number of nasty-looking contusions, which made him all the more suspicious that the three of them had, perhaps at different times, run afoul of a certain three-headed mutt.

Dumbledore had apparently tried to encourage Potter and Weasley to hang out with some of the members of Ravenclaw, but the the Ravenclaws (quite understandably) shunned the two when their interests in Quidditch and all things not involved with studying interfered with what Ravenclaws did best: study.

They were obviously not studying if they had been tangling with Hagrid's raging sociopath of a dog.

Imbeciles.

The next Quidditch game was in less than a week, and Snape idly wondered if the casts would be off so the Gryffindor Seeker could win the day— at any rate, Ronald Weasley was eating more than enough to heal the both of them by proxy.

Poppy was, if anything, the very definition of efficient.

Albus seemed even more determined to find ways to get Hermione to take an interest in Potter and his moronic best mate.

Hermione, on the other hand, was far more interested in soaking up anything and everything Snape could throw her way. It was almost unnatural how much she wanted to learn, could learn, and did.

Dumbledore had tried to encourage the forming of a study group and lure Hermione into it, but that went about as well as Severus figured it would: another bout of catatonia and even more ridicule from Potter and Weasley, who sneered about what a little freak she was.

The Headmaster seemed at his wit's end— still utterly convinced that Hermione Granger had to befriend Harry Potter for success to happen. Success in what precisely, however, remained to be seen.

As it was, most if not all of Gryffindor hated Hermione purely out of principle— they had decided that she was a traitor and Slytherin spy, as well as the apprentice to the much-hated Greasy Dungeon Bat and Bastard Git Extraordinaire.

No good ever came out of Slytherin was a commonly-held belief, and it wasn't just in Gryffindor where such thoughts flourished.

"That's complete rubbish," Hermione said, frowning as she overheard the ugly whispers.

Snape just shrugged. "They will choose to think it, regardless."

"Hrmph," she scoffed, sitting beside him as she read her book. "More warm wings for me."

Snape chuckled lowly but kept his expression schooled into a dark scowl designed for public consumption. "Only you have that privilege, my dear."

Hermione smiled, kicking her legs as though she were paddling water. "I'm not complaining."

She leaned into him without making it obvious that she was doing so, sheltering against him with such ease that it was easy for forget that less than a few months previous he would have had to verbally tear her to pieces for the sheer audacity of daring to touch a teacher.

It seemed so pleasantly familiar, now.

She was every bit as bound to him as they were to their Lord Father— to quibble over the issue of personal space seemed utterly ridiculous.

"Severus," she whispered.

"Hn?"

"If we sense that someone is going to attempt to kill themselves, are we permitted to interfere?"

Severus looked up, sensing what she was referring to. He stared up into the Astronomy Tower. "Only if it would have been natural for us to be there and intervene as a human peer." He tilted his head. "Knowing about it from down here— that would not be natural. We cannot interfere in the natural course— and you will find that people often think of death and their own death only to realise they are a coward more than anything else. Somewhat ironically, being a coward saves their lives. It is not to say those who choose life are cowards either… Just that some realise death can be painful to themselves or those they care for. It is our fate to bear witness and send their souls on to our Lord Father. We do not meddle in the lives of mortals unless we are righting an imbalance."

The sense of the person who was contemplating their own death suddenly eased, and a young witch fled the Astronomy Tower shortly after, sniffling and crying but very much alive.

"You will find that many believe that death is the only solution until they actually face their own. They will be utterly convinced until that last, crucial moment. Sometimes, a friend will intervene. Sometimes their own conscience will. There are so many factors. The end of the world happens so often for the young and inexperienced. That you will find often in such places as this. And next week or next month, that person who saw nothing to live for may infact find that they instead have everything to live for. To interfere in this cycle is to steal the gift of mortality— finding value in the moment of finite life."

"Not all of them find it, do they?" Hermione asked.

"No," Severus answered quietly. "Some spend an entire lifetime searching for the answers that slip through their fingers like water through a sieve."

"We walk the lonely path with our Father. We have each other, but our attachments to the earthly world must remain ever— fleeting. In but the blink of an eye, whole generations come and go. We will usher in the young and the old, the innocent and the guilty. For us, time becomes relative. We stand on the shore as time flows by around our toes."

Hermione sighed deeply and her hand curled around his fingers under the cover of his woolen robes. "I'm glad you're here with me."

Severus looked into her eyes. "I am quite gratified you are here with me as well."

Hermione beamed as she absorbed the new word and meaning even as she went back to reading her book. Her aura flared brightly with her happiness.

Snape shook his head.

Such an sufferable little know-it-all.


Snape watched the odd hell-spider thump into one of his spare cauldrons, a small, shiny pail stuck to his head. He sighed, plucked him up, removed the impromptu helmet, and sent the spider on his way. The spider zoomed off in another direction and disappeared with a pop of nether-vapour.

"Summoning directionally challenged minions?" he asked dryly, his eyebrow arching.

Hermione slumped. "He came that way."

"Outstanding," Severus replied, deadpan.

"He's quite sweet," Hermione defended. "He's just prone to navigational problems."

"Obviously," Severus replied.

Hermione plucked a strange octopus-like beast out of her cauldron and cuddled it. It wriggled its many tentacles and closed its one glowing yellow eye in obvious pleasure at her attention. "Classes are coming in. Time to go, little friend."

The creature seemed to sulk, pouting as best as a floating tentacled creature could manage.

Hermione kissed it on the head and sent it on its way, and it poofed out in a wisp of nether vapour.

Severus shook his head and then straightened, pulling his public persona around himself as the first of the first-year students trundled in for double potions.

His Slytherin firsties filed in first, rarely late for a class taught by their own Head of House.

Hermione carefully wrote the instructions on the board with disgustingly neat handwriting, just as meticulous as he was. Snape had to admit that people seemed to follow directions better with her writing out the instructions, but what that said about his own questionable handwriting was rather unflattering to say the least.

She never complained, but he wondered if he should at least try to be a bit more legible for her sake, if no one else's.

The Gryffindors trickled in slowly as per usual, rarely early to something as universally hated as potions. The science and art of potion making was something that exceedingly few had the taste or talent for, and he had no doubt that many would just do as little as possible to pass and then flee into the night.

It wasn't a "fun" class like charms or transfiguration. There was no spin that made potions entertaining to those who did not find such precise brewing techniques to be totally fascinating. If anything, most of them would or should be able to brew a basic poison antidote for commonly found toxins or the healing potions such as Wiggenweld or the cure for boils, but for the most part, few wizards and witches remembered anything beyond such basics. Basics were all most magicals needed in life— or else they went to an apothecary to buy pre-made potions or to Mungo's to be treated.

At last most antidotes were easier to brew than the potions and poisons they countered— usually.

The standard curriculum didn't adequately prepare a student to deal with those substances of a more malicious nature— such people tended to be much more focused and goal-oriented— the kind of people who wanted a career as Aurors or healers. Those persons who brewed the more malevolent potions, however, were a different matter altogether.

The nightly detentions with Gryffindor's obnoxious hecklers had left most of them grimly determined to at least not tempt his wrath deliberately, but that didn't mean they didn't perform acts of utter idiocy on a painfully regular basis.

"You're late, Mr. Finnegan," he hissed. "Five points from Gryffindor for your tardiness."

The boy flushed and paled in rapid succession, hastily sitting down at his desk as he frantically tried to get his books and notebook out of his bookbag.

"Today you will be learning the herbicide potion— a dangerous sort of tincture made from the spines of a lionfish and containing both horklump juice and one of your favourites, Mr Longbottom— Flobberworm mucus. I understand that you have some personal experience with collecting it thanks to your prankster friends."

A pale and trembling Neville Longbottom looked about ready to hurl into his own cauldron under Snape's ever-intimidating scrutiny.

"Now, before you begin, I want you to mix your standard ingredient mixture and crush it into a fine powder. If you cannot do this, no potion you ever attempt to make will succeed. The instructions are on the board. Follow it exactly. If you have any questions you will raise your hand. Silently."

"Concentration is everything, and if you disturb your fellows, mayhaps they will blow you up in their surprise— how terribly… unfortunate for you. Now, gather your ingredients and make your standard ingredient mixture. You have thirty minutes. Those whose potions pass muster may continue to follow the potion instructions on the other board. Those who fail to get to this point will be writing me three feet of parchment detailing the evolution of the standard ingredient mixture."

Snape curled his lip. "Get moving."

The students scrambled to set up their work areas and, much to their credit, remained silent as they did so.

Perhaps, he mused, Minerva's wrath did have lingering effects, after all.

Frustrated whispers came from the back where the youngest Weasley male was attempting to grind his standard ingredient mixture with limited success. A cloud of fine particles were floating in the air, and it caused the unlucky students all around him to cough and sneeze violently.

Hermione placed a bowl of freshly pulverised mixture in front of him and he looked it over.

"It is passable, but try to grind it a bit more finely over here, where it is clumping somewhat."

She smiled at him and went back to work with her mortar and pestle.

No complaints. No questions. Simply obedience.

The irony was that her first attempt was adequate enough for basic potions— but he knew she would want her work to be acceptable for him. His bar was higher, and she wanted to reach it.

Her second attempt was slid next to him before the rest of the class had figured out their first, and this time the mixture was perfectly powdered and almost fluffy light.

"Acceptable," he said with approval. "You may continue with the potion."

Hermione beamed at him and set to work, her silver blade flashing quickly over her ingredients.

Snape could feel the resentful gazes aimed in her general direction even before he looked up. The gazes quickly went back to their attempts.

Hermione had all of her ingredients separated into small bowls, and she had wisely used a secondary mortar and pestle to grind the lionfish spines to avoid contamination. She had the mixture burbling in her cauldron within minutes, and she looked at him for permission to move around as she waited.

He nodded to her before standing and checking on the progress of the other students.

Longbottom's familiar, a toad of all things, startled as he walked past, and tried to commit suicide by jumping into Finnigan's burbling cauldron.

Of all the foolish choices in familiars—

It wasn't as if half the school's familiars, owls, and various natural predators didn't want to eat the damnable toad out of sheer principle—

Worse, if it was truly a familiar bond, and if the toad did kick the lily pad, Longbottom would be rendered catatonic as the breakage of that magical bond sorted itself out.

Snape's hand lashed out quickly and captured the squirming amphibian in a grip of fingers. "Mr Longbottom. You will suitably contain and control your familiar, or I will not be so magnanimous the next time."

He dropped the creature on Longbottom's head, and the boy had to smack himself to capture the toad so it wouldn't dive into the cauldron— again.

It was small pleasures like that—

Snape stifled a chuckle as he swept by just in time to hear Finnigan's cauldron blow up and cover the entire Gryffindor side in purple slime.

Severus' eyebrow twitched as he summoned his magic to clean up the mess.

"Bloody hell, Ron, why did you flick your bogey in my cauldron?!"

"Whut? I didn—"

"I saw you!"

"You could have killed us!"

As a slime-covered brawl descended upon the potions classroom, and Snape contemplated saving the memory for a future date when someone, anyone, questioned how utterly stupid a child could be in potions class.

PLOOF!

RIBBIT!

Trevor became the size of half the room and flattened the classroom.

The afternoon just kept getting better and better.


The first years in Gryffindor had been banished to the furthest end of the Great Hall by— everyone.

They all reeked horribly of toad pish, and no amount of natural and potion-derived help seemed to be able to dispel the unholy stench.

Dumbledore had performed some sort of architectural magic to redesign the Great Hall and add a vent to flush the odor out of a few strategically placed windows, but it didn't really solve the problem of them stinking to high heaven. Minerva's nose was practically twitching in protest of the stench that filled all of Gryffindor tower and rendered it practically uninhabitable.

Gryffindor's points were now at an all time low—

If that didn't chafe Albus' ideals, well, he was sure that even more idiocy would happen to make it even worse.

Trevor the giant toad menace was now living out on the green next to Hagrid's hut, as no spell or potion seemed able to restore him to normal size.

Accidental magic, the Department of Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures determined, had radically altered the toad.

If it wore off, it could take days, weeks, or even months.

Or— it might end when the stench finally did.

If it did.

He pitied poor Minerva and her sensitive feline nose.

Quirrell had the smelly little blighters next.

Snape smirked evilly under his hand. Let the DADA professor spin his craft to save his nose.

If he could.


"Severus?"

"Hn?"

"You're really enjoying this, aren't you?"

"Hn."

Hermione smiled at him, her wing tucked comfortably around his back as she studied her book.

She yawned, snuggling into his side as she continued to read until she couldn't keep her eyes open anymore.

Shhh… thud.

She slumped over into his lap, her book still clutched in her hand.

The nightly call to their Lord Father's domain had caught her at last.

He brushed her hair aside with his talons, the gentle tug of a smile on his face.

The liberties she took on his person—

He couldn't even be offended.

She trusted him implicitly, and he could tolerate a lot of things for that alone.

He could only hope that Albus' machinations didn't force her to spend too much time in their Lord Father's Domain.

She deserved a childhood, after all.


Harry Potter, student celebrity, and all-around maker of bad decisions, had a problem shaped like a nasty bite from a very large and angry canine on his bum.

Ronald Weasley, moronic enabler of said bad decisions, had a few problems of his own shaped like angry strangulation marks from a highly brassed-off Devil's Snare.

The door to Fluffy's room had been completely blown off its hinges by none other than Mr Explosion-Prone Finnigan, who was now missing his hair and eyebrows.

Mr Longbottom had the remains of a music box embedded in his sternum.

And Quirrell—

Quirrell had… problems.

How to even begin?

Two faces?

Possessed by a Dark Lord?

Multiple personalities didn't quite cover it.

Maimed by an angry, brassed-off three-headed canine monster was a good start.

Then, there was the small matter of Hermione's latest pet project: the fake Philosopher's Stone that she had "accidentally" left hanging from Fluffy's collar.

Cursed, of course.

Netherworld-cursed, obviously.

Hermione hadn't quite tweaked the details as it had been a work in progress. She hadn't expected someone to actually try to take the collar off a massive three-headed dog. Who does that? Really?

That idiot, apparently.

Severus frowned.

"I didn't mean— I'm so sorry!" Hermione apologised, wringing her hands in distress as she watched the chaos descend upon the hospital wing.

"Whatever for?" Severus asked, amused as the Aurors and Ministry officials swarmed over the Hogwarts infirmary.

"I didn't finish the conditional escape clause on the stone!" she exclaimed. "I— I was tired and thought I'd work on it later today!"

Severus looked down at her, peering into her frantic eyes. "I do not think the Aurors are quibbling over the lack of an escape clause," he replied. "I think they are far more concerned with how our DADA instructor had two faces and our headmaster hadn't thought it a bit strange that a man who never showed any history of turban proclivities suddenly decided to wear one."

Hermione frowned. "Did you ever suspect—?"

"I merely suspected that he wanted the stone," Snape replied, "but I did not specifically suspect that he might be possessed. The turban had many enchantments placed upon it that did not become obvious until Fluffy tore it to pieces— and off of Quirrell's head. Perhaps, they were so great that even our headmaster could not sense the two personalities, either."

The Aurors were swarming around them like bees as they tried to simultaneously keep an eye on Quirrell while the healers attempted to patch him back together and contain the Dark Lord's angry spirit that wanted desperately to escape Quirrell's shredded body.

"What was in that stone, lass?" gruff old Alastor Moody asked, not bothering to beat around any bushes before diving straight to the point. "Did you curse it?"

Hermione leaned into Snape, taking comfort from his intimidating presence as she stared back at the crass Auror. "I made the stone to look like the picture in the library book, and I tried to make it very appealing to anyone who desperately wanted the real Philosopher's Stone for selfish purposes."

"Why did you put it around the three-headed-dog's neck?"

"It seemed like the safest place to put something I didn't want another student to accidentally stumble across it."

"How did you get it around the dog's neck?"

"I asked him to lower his head."

"You… asked him?"

"My father said you should always ask politely when needing a favour."

Moody was clearly thinking Hermione had gone round the bend as he regarded her with no little astonishment. "And how, exactly, do you have a rapport with a giant three-headed dog?"

"My master was required to check on Fluffy three times a day by the headmaster, Auror Moody," Hermione answered. "We bring him food when Mr Hagrid is otherwise occupied doing the headmaster's tasks. I read to him from my homework while my master patrols."

"I think you're lying to me, miss."

Hermione scowled. "I am not."

"No one tames a three-headed dog that belongs to another person." Moody said. "They bond for life."

"Maybe he didn't really belong to anyone, then." Hermione glared at the Auror. "Maybe he's still making up his mind."

An older witch walked over and put a hand on Moody's shoulder, silencing whatever it was he was going to spout. She held out her hand to Hermione. "My name is Amelia. I work in the Ministry in place called the Department of Mysteries."

Hermione looked up at Severus for permission and then slowly took the woman's hand. "Hullo. I'm Hermione."

"I hear you are an apprentice."

Hermione nodded. "Professor Snape had been very magnanimous to share his life with me."

Moody snorted and said, "What a bunch of crock—"

Amelia shot the man a hard look.

"You know what? she said kindly. "I would really like to meet your canine friend. Would that be okay?"

Hermione looked up to Snape.

Snape nodded silently.

"Okay, but, it's Mr Hagrid's dog, so you have to ask him first."

Amelia smiled. "And so I shall."


"You can't trust him, Amelia," Moody hissed angrily.

"And what does that have to do with checking to see what the girl has to say is true, Alastor?" The woman was eerily calm as though it was completely natural to want to see a monstrous three-headed dog.

"That's bloody Snape!"

"Obviously," Severus said, his eyes sliding to the side to peer at Moody. "Why not blame me for Krakatoa as well while you're flinging blame around?"

"This is me dog," Hagrid complained. "Not that 'e dun trust Perfesser Snape, but he's a guard dog, see."

Dumbledore just stroked his beard, trying to remain neutral over the entire ordeal.

As they opened up the door, growling Fluffy promptly lunged at them, all three heads and mouths full of sharp teeth first. Gobbets of foam flicked everywhere as the great dog strained on his chain, his huge paws clawing against the stone floor with an unnerving scraping sound.

Severus stood just outside his range, not a change in his dour expression. "Idiot, smell first."

Hermione, however just walked right up to the dog and bonked the middle head with her hand right across the bridge of his muzzle. "Oi! Manners!"

Browl?

Fluffy immediately sat down, his heads hanging in shame and his tail beating the ground in hopeful appeasement.

Hermione draped her arms around the middle head and rubbed his muzzle and upper lips from both sides. And the dog's tail beat ever harder against the ground. "Hey, you. Someone wants to meet you. Can you hold yourself together?"

Hermione held out three very large biscuits in her hand.

Fluffy eyed them hopefully.

She gestured to him, and he lay his head down obediently, watching intently as she placed a biscuit over each head right on top of his nose.

"Steady. Steady now. Wait."

The great dog whined but stared cross-eyed at the tasty biscuits.

"Okay."

SNAP!

All three heads promptly made the biscuits disappear and then attacked Hermione with nuzzles and licks of appreciation until she giggled hysterically.

Snape sighed, waded in, pushed heads one and three out of the way and eyed head number two as Fluffy nudged Hermione between his legs and set his middle head over her possessively. "No one is going to steal her away from you, dog. Attend, now."

Fluffy wagged his tail happily as Hermione pushed his head up so she could see. "Sorry, Master. I think he needs to go for a walk. Father always said that a stir-crazy dog is a destructive dog."

Amelia was laughing in delight even as Alastor was frowning.

Moody took a single angry step toward Snape, and Fluffy snarled at the Auror, his teeth clicking together mere inches from Moody's face.

Hermione's voice yelled, "Leave it!"

Fluffy immediately froze in place, growling lowly at Moody, his teeth slowly pulled back from his lips in clear warning.

Snape stood still, his expression unchanging. "Peace, let the Auror by— for now."

Fluffy sat down, still warily eyeing the grumpy Auror.

"Say hello to Madam Bones," Hermione said, patting head number two.

"Browl!"

Three noses snuffled Amelia interestedly, making her strawberry blonde hair fly about every which way.

"Perhaps, you could take your very large friend out for that walk, Miss Granger. Out on the green, since all of the students are still in their common rooms at the moment."

"Would that be okay?" Hermione asked.

"He don't go for walks," Hagrid said truculently.

"Don't be silly," Hermione said, frowning. "Of course he can go walk."

At the word walk, Fluffy perked up at once.

"Want to go for a walk, boy?"

Brwolllll!

"Headmaster, sir!" Hagrid protested.

Dumbledore frowned. "Rubeus, the dog obviously wishes to— go for a walk."

Hagrid whispered far too loudly, "But, Headmaster, sir. Ye know I dun haff a leash!"

Clink.

Three chains fell to the ground as Hermione clipped a tiny dog leash and collar on "Fluffy" that (had it been on a horse) may have been standard sized but looked awfully small for a dog his size. "Ready to go, boy?"

Fluffy barked in triplicate, wagging his tail like mad.

"Keep your teeth to yourself, now. Okay?"

Fluffy whined and wagged his tail in assent.

And Hermione Granger, know-it-all swot, proceeded to walk Fluffy right out the door, down the hall, and outside as Dumbledore hastily made the trap door the great dog was sitting on vanish into thin air.

Snape's eyes narrowed as he thought, Why didn't he just vanish the bloody door from the start?


Madam Bones was trying very hard not to laugh out loud as Fluffy sat on top of Hagrid and passed gas, utterly unimpressed by the half-giant's attempts to get him to mind.

Meanwhile, Hermione and Severus were off to the side, occupied as one of the representatives from the Department of Regulation of Magical Creatures both interviewed them about "Fluffy."

"I call him Bastiaan," Hermione said. "He seems to like it better. It means venerable."

"His name is Fluffy!" Hagrid protested, trying to push the dog off himself but failing in every way.

"Yes, that name is obviously working for you," the official snorted, scribbling away on a parchment. "There is the small matter of the registration fee and permits as well as a licence fee for this animal," he added, eyeing Hagrid with nothing short of highly tread-upon nerves.

"Um, well, I er— that won't be necessary," Hagrid said.

"It is," the official said slowly. "Necessary. Especially considering the age of the animal is long past due for such paperwork as well as the safety tests, minding, and handling commands."

"That's not right," Hagrid protested. "He's just a dog."

"A three-headed gargantuan dog that isn't even fully grown yet," the official pointed out. "If not properly socialized could endanger this entire school."

"He's not here to be social," Hagrid said. "He's here to guard—" He trailed off. "I shoudna said tha'."

"Guard what, precisely, Mr Hagrid?"

"Stuff. Me stuff."

"It's a dangerous animal, Mr Hagrid."

"He's not dangerous!"

"I suppose you would guard your— things— with a perfectly harmless animal, hrm?"

Hagrid didn't answer as his face was currently being smothered by a massive dog's posterior.

"Bastiaan!" Hermione cried. "Please get off Mr Hagrid! He can't breathe!"

The dog stood up and bounded over to her, tail wagging.

Hagrid lay flat on his back, face beet red as he gasped for air.

The official scribbled madly on his parchment. "Registration, licence, back fees, late fees, fines for having a dangerous beast without ever attempting to inform the DRMC—"

"Headmaster, sir—" Hagrid pleaded. "We need 'im!"

Albus, who had remained silent until then, sighed. "We have utilised the dog to guard our off-limits areas in Hogwarts. He is a working animal."

The official seemed somewhat dubious. "That may be so, but that does not excuse the fees, Headmaster. Even beasts in service at a school must be properly registered in such a capacity."

The man stroked his chin with his fingers. "That does not even touch upon the fact that the animal in question has obviously bonded to someone other than his original owner."

"He jus' needs ta remember who his daddy is," Hagrid said bluffly. "Been busy is all. He'll come 'round."

"We will, of course, pay the requisite fees," Albus said, shooting Hagrid a look that wasn't particularly friendly.

"Sit."

The huge dog promptly sat down.

"Roll over!"

The dog rolled over and then jumped up, tail wagging.

"Good dog, Bastiaan!"

Browl!

The cerberus panted and tail wagged happily.

"Severus, I believe you have a class to teach about now," Albus said, dismissing him. "We'll take care of getting Fluffy back upstairs."

Snape narrowed his eyes. "Would that be wise, Headmaster? The dog requires firm handling." He eyed Hagrid with a distinctly dubious expression.

"He's my dog. I can handle 'im," Hagrid boasted.

Albus gave Snape a look.

Snape sighed. "Miss Granger. Time to go."

"Yes, Master," she replied, giving head number two a hug on the muzzle. "Be a good boy, Bastiaan."

Bastiaan whinged, sensing her preparing to leave.

"Miss Granger can stay here and ensure that Fluffy remains on his best behaviour," Albus said.

Snape stiffened. "Headma—"

Albus gave him a warning look.

"I can do it!" Hagrid said immediately. "Don' need her to stay!"

Albus gave Hagrid an equally scathing look.

Snape's fist clenched, and Moody took that moment to gloat, happy that Snape was not getting what he wanted.

"Give me some time to finish questioning her," Moody said.

Hermione hugged the cerberus' leg, frowning as she looked to Snape for instructions. He looked at her, a curl of his lip turning his expression to scorn.

"As you wish, Headmaster," Snape bit out, his jaw tightening as he whirled and left, his black woolen robes billowing behind him.

As Albus regained the twinkle in his eyes, Amelia Bones couldn't help but notice how the bright, outgoing young witch seemed to quickly transform into a shy, withdrawn girl who kept her hand on the dog for comfort.

Bastiaan herded her between his front legs and corralled her there protectively, growling softly.

Alastor was busy asking the girl lots of questions— questions that seemed moot to her as it was abundantly clear that the dog was well and truly bonded to her rather than his so-called "owner."

What that meant for the likelihood of Hagrid's continued ownership remained unclear, however. Such animals were notoriously in need of both firm boundaries and proper socialisation, and Hagrid was hardly a master of providing such things. In Greece, she knew, the dogs rarely if ever left their owner's sides or family. They were needy in the way a wolf preferred to have a pack, and leaving them alone made they hyper-vigilant and extremely territorial with regard to their home. It wasn't hard to see why the stories of the great dogs being used in the Underworld to both guard and protect the gates featured greatly in the old myths.

If they were myths, she thought with a chuckle. Muggles surely believed they were purely stories of fiction, but they weren't exactly allowed to realise that real magic was more than someone moving balls under cups and then picking your pocket while you were distracted.

Hermione clearly did not care for Alastor's continual probing questions; the man had a dreadful bedside manner even on a good day. It usually took a number of years for him to grow on most people, if at all.

Gods, as if she didn't know that from personal experience.

"I hardly see how that is an appropriate question, Auror Moody," Hermione said. She sounded so tired, utterly weary. "Master Snape has been nothing but accommodating in his teaching style for me and always does his best in providing for my needs. He has never pressured me to do anything I was not comfortable with and I find your accusations quite offensive."

Damn, if she didn't sound just like an adult, Amelia thought. It was truly unnerving just how much so when her body was still very young and so she would be easily underestimated. Yet, Amelia could feel the girl's emerging magic smouldering under the cover of her youth— strong and vital. She would undoubtedly be a force to be reckoned with when she was older if her magic was already so strong that she could clearly sense it.

"He's a ruddy Death Eater," Moody hissed.

"That's enough, Alastor," Amelia interjected.

"She needs to know!"

"Not like that, she doesn't!"

"What is a Death Eater?"

"They're—"

"Alastor, enough!"

"They're Muggle-hating murderers. Blood bigots. Evil Dark wizards, the lot of 'em sworn to serve the Dark Lord."

Amelia caught Moody with a swift silencing charm, but the damage had already been done. Hermione went deathly pale, and she trembled. At first she braced herself on one of the dog's massive forelegs, but then her eyes suddenly rolled back in her head and she slid down onto the ground, her body twitching slightly and then her face went slack and vacant— her eyes like the dead.

It was all she could do but stand there as the great dog's teeth snapped together mere inches away from Hagrid's face as he tucked the catatonic girl between his forelegs and fiercely protected her from all comers.

"Hagrid, control your dog!" Moody barked.

"Now, come on 'ere, Fluffy. You know your daddy, don't ya?" Hagrid attempted to placate the agitated canine.

Green hel-fire started to flame off the dog's smoothly furred skin as his drool turned shiny and caustic. Tendrils of blackened magic swirled around him and the girl's body. The dog's eyes began to glow an unearthly bale-fire yellow-orange. His short fur stood on end and his fangs seemed even larger and sharper. The cerberus' tongue slithered out like a viper coated in caustic drool that steamed and sizzled as it hit the ground. Obsidian claws jutted out of his paws, as if his original ones were somehow not intimidating enough.

RRRRRrrruff!

RRUF!

RRRRRRRRRRUFFFFF!

Deep, menacing-sounding barks issued an unmistakable warning.

Thick tendrils of magic slashed around the dog's massive body— angry like hungry tongues of fire.

Yet—

Even as it smouldered and pitted the ground, the fire and acid pooled on the girl's body, sinking into her flesh and simply disappearing.

For a moment, she could see the dog's three skulls, twisted, half stretched in dessicated flesh— the very image of the dead.

Lo, this was not just a three-headed dog. This was a hound from the depths of the Underworld.

Smoke trickled from the dog's mouths, flames flickering around the teeth.

"Get Master Snape back here right now!" Amelia yelled.

"That won't be necessary," the headmaster said grimly, his wand already out and aimed towards the demonic hound.

Snap!

Head number three shot out and struck like a viper, and Dumbledore stumbled backwards—

The hound had Dumbledore's wand clenched between its teeth.

CRACK!

The wand sizzled and crackled as the fire and acid did its work upon it even before the hound's teeth did the rest with an unsettling crunch.

"Get away from the dog!" Amelia ordered. "Step away! NOW!"

The dog didn't move away from the girl, refusing to budge so much as an inch, just as she suspected.

"'Ere now, Fluffy!" Hagrid's voice called.

RrrrrrrrrrKKKK!

Head number one whirled around and snapped, taking Hagrid by the arm and savaging him, shaking him back and forth like a ragdoll and then flinging him towards the lake, where he bounced off the head of an unsuspecting giant squid.

"What part of "step away" do you people have problems understanding?! No one approaches this dog until Master Snape returns!"

Hurried footsteps from the direction of the school came down the path. A blur of black against the green—

He didn't even seem to see the dog, running straight to Hermione's side, pushing the dog away from her body as easily as one would open a door.

The hellhound whined, gently nosing the young girl's still body as Snape cradled her to his chest.

"As master to apprentice I call thee back," he intoned, his voice deep. "By bonds of blood and soul, I call thee back. By the right of the master, I call thee back. By right of the magic which we share, I call thee back. Apprentice. Hermione. I call thee back."

The dog's body glowed brightly in a wreath of fire and smokey magic. Ancient, primordial magic flared and flowed between the beast, the master, and the apprentice.

Hermione's eyes opened as she took in a deep ragged breath. "I heard your call."

Snape's expression was eerily set like stone as he looked up. "I'm taking my apprentice home." He stood, cradling her to his chest. He walked up the path. "And our dog," he added as the cerberus bounded after.

It was only then that someone realised that no one had bothered to check on Hagrid, who was painfully crawling back to shore, nursing his injured arm.

"Headmaster, I believe we need to discuss the fees for keeping a dangerous animal here at Hogwarts," the pale-faced Ministry official said. "As well as the licence and transfer of ownership."

Albus, attempting to regain some semblance of dignity after having been taken to the cleaners by a giant dog, could only nod his head in resignation. "As you wish."

Amelia narrowed her eyes. "Then we can discuss why you would separate an obviously fragile apprentice from her master and the stability that brings as well as a matter of having not noticed a possessed member of your faculty in a position around children."


End of Chapter Two


A/N: And back to work again. Working weekends *sob*. I need a hug.

Chapter Text

Summary: [HG/SS] AU:Crack, Hermione wasn't supposed to get murdered by a troll. She was supposed to spur on Harry Potter and Ron Weasley and become their friend and thus keep them alive through multiple trials. All of Dumbledore's carefully laid out plans tank as Hermione Granger embraces a new life, thanks to none other than Severus Snape.

Beta Love: The Dragon and the Rose, Dutchgirl01, Flyby Commander Shepard

Trigger Warning: none that I can recall


A Touch of Death

Chapter Three

If you're not getting older, you're dead.

Tom Petty


"Bastiaan," Hermione complained, pushing head number three and one out of the way. "It's really hard to study when you're being so protective."

The canine's tail thumped against the ground in a cadence.

"Would you like some tea, Madam Bones, or do you plan to simply stare at my apprentice until she is old and grey?"

Amelia startled and looked up. "I'm sorry, Severus, I'm just very glad she isn't showing any signs of a relapse."

"She will not while she is with me," Snape said.

"Any idea why that would be?"

Snape tilted his head. "One could presume it was because our combined magical auras stabilise hers— something she requires to remain conscious."

"How long does she have outside your influence?"

"Minutes, perhaps an hour, I have not really been attempting to test it." Severus handed Amelia a cup of tea and sniffed.

"What happened?"

Severus narrowed his eyes. "There was a troll set loose in the castle. She was injured. I assisted her. A bond formed. I took her on as my apprentice shortly after."

"A troll? How?"

"That remains unknown," Snape replied grimly. "I suspect that it was Quirrell who let the creature in— trying to distract everyone so he could get by our then-Fluffy. He was limping afterwards. His leg was clearly injured."

Amelia steepled her fingers. "The headmaster has informed me of what the dog was guarding. I can't say that I agree with his decision, but Hogwarts does have the reputation of being the safest place in Wizarding Britain."

"Doesn't say much for the rest of Britain, does it?" Snape commented, sipping his tea.

"Albus has paid up all the back fees and registrations as well as the new licencing fees," Amelia said. "Bastiaan is now officially familiar-bound to the both of you. There was a bit of questioning over that. Sharing a familiar is hardly the norm."

Severus shrugged. "Cerberi have been family protectors for centuries. It shouldn't really surprise them all that much."

Amelia chuckled. "People do tend to forget that. We are not in Greece, so knowledge of cerberi lore tends to slip through the cracks. No great temples to guard. No ancient places that require an extra high layer of security. Then again, maybe we should, but we don't."

Snape snorted.

Hermione placed a cushioned mat between Bastiaan's legs and set up to study there, a warm blanket draped over her back and shoulders as she quietly read aloud to the dog from her textbook.

Amelia chuckled. "She's quite a special young witch."

"Hn. Much more so than most can even fathom."

"Hagrid was not pleased—losing "his" dog," Amelia observed.

"He's never happy unless he's surrounded by a horde of dangerous beasts. One less surely means thrice more to make up for it."

Amelia frowned. "If he'd bonded to Bastiaan properly, it would never have happened in the first place."

"Hagrid doesn't bother to take the time. Too busy collecting other things to give any one creature the focus it requires. That might work well enough with a regular dog, but not for a powerful magical beast that needs constant attention and companionship."

Snape sighed. "I suppose I should thank you for pressuring the headmaster into providing us new quarters large enough for the beast to live with us."

Amelia waved her hand dismissively. "It was something he had to do if he didn't want the Department of Regulation of Magical Creatures to come breathing down his neck— or the Grecian authorities. Seems that a cerberus pup went missing from one of the breeders awhile back. Pretty clear where it ended up, but all Hagrid could say was he got the dog from a 'nice Greek chappie at the Leaky', which is hardly helpful. Someone from America wanted a cerberus to guard their magical casino— I can only imagine how well that would go. As for Hagrid— it seems like he was in the right place when the smuggler realised he couldn't get it on a boat like he planned."

Snape rubbed his neck. "I fear if you are trying to make sense of Hagrid, you are doomed to certain failure. He has no agenda— simply a collection of unwise decisions and an unquenchable need to collect misunderstood creatures. In his mind, I am quite sure, be believes this to be a noble cause."

"The headmaster said the reason he is trying to "wean" Hermione off you is because she belongs in Gryffindor— that she has friends there that miss her."

"That's a load of rubbish," Snape answered, eyes dark and even voice darker.

"I have no friends," Hermione said quietly. "Not in there." She looked up from her studies. "Not even one. That's why I was crying in a girl's lavatory when the troll stumbled in and found me."

Amelia's eyes widened. "I see."

"Off to bed with you," Snape said. "If you are finished enough to eavesdrop, it is time for you to sleep."

Hermione flushed, caught. "Yes, master."

She gathered her things and rushed off to brush her teeth, Bastiaan following behind her with his thumping footfalls.

"Bastiaan seems very happy here," Amelia observed with a smile. "I'm glad you are okay with having an apprentice and an unexpected dog as well."

Snape snorted. "Well, we could hardly have said dog pining away for her elsewhere in the castle, now could we?"

"What a thought," Amelia said, chuckling. "Was it truly so easy to tame him down?"

"For her, yes," Severus said, his head tilting as he heard the distinctive sounds of teeth being brushed. "I think underneath it all, he was lonely and she was also lonely."

"And you, Severus? Are you lonely?" Amelia asked.

Severus' dark gaze settled on Amelia as his lips curved upward in a wicked smile. "Not anymore."


The Board of Governors had apparently laid down the law with Albus after the discovery of Quirrell, and all new hires were now to be interviewed by the existing staff together to prevent any further unfortunate oversights. While it did not guarantee success in finding all such aberrations, it would at least allow other questions to be asked such as "why the change in personal style?" or at least outright ask "why a turban?"

Poppy Pomfrey was already pressuring the Board to consider special commendations for Hermione given her track record of health outside of Snape's immediate influence, and the demonstration of their bond in calling her back to consciousness had been witnessed by many ministry officials.

One of which was Auror Alastor Moody, who didn't like it but had to admit that Snape had calmed the "beast" and roused his apprentice from her seeming faint. While he still advocated for them to formally bind her to "any bloody else but him" the other Aurors were hardly as adamant after having seen Snape unceremoniously shove aside a cerberus after it turned into a literal hound of the Underworld just to get to his stricken apprentice.

Snape had to admit, it really was a grand show, and it couldn't have happened in a more public venue or in front of anyone better than Madam Bones, Director and Head Boss of You of the Department of Mysteries.

Snape's relationship with Madam Bones had been civil, unlike many other un-relationships he'd cultivated over the years— Alastor Moody, for example. Moody was convinced he was the Darkest of the Dark Wizards second only to the Dark Lord himself and unfit to be around children in any capacity— or other people for that matter.

Nothing Albus could ever say would convince him otherwise—

Mind you, Albus hadn't exactly confessed to anyone that he'd bound Snape to a Vow, either.

Amelia suspected— she had always been very good about sniffing out Vows and their distinctive signature in the magical aura. She read auras like Hermione absorbed books— a talent that did her credit in hiring for the DoM. The only one she hadn't hired herself was Augustus Rookwood— that order had come down from above her. While Snape couldn't say anything himself, he had a feeling that she knew something was amiss; she just couldn't quite place what it was.

Amelia was one of the few people who trusted him and never made him feel like a pariah when speaking with him. She treated him like she treated everyone else— with respect until you proved you weren't worthy of it. It was something exceedingly rare in the Ministry where political gains were often far higher on the list than common decency.

Perhaps it was for the best, as the DoM housed some of the world's most dangerous beings— those like Master Manfred Morgan, the infamous dragon-bat who could either heal you with his breath or destroy you with it. He knew him because it had been Master Morgan that had roused him from his sleep of the dead after Lupin's attack— and had he not been Mortefilli already, he'd probably have pissed his pants at the very sight of the dragon-bat's terrible visage.

Poppy had apparently brought Master Morgan in under the cover of night in her desperation to heal him— even while those like Dumbledore seemed content to let him stare blankly at the ceiling in a seemingly almost-dead state.

Those in the Order believed him to have been sworn in solely because of Lily, but very few knew the truth.

The Vow had been taken so he could continue his studies at Hogwarts and not "ruin a good future" for Remus Lupin.

Was it really any wonder that he loathed the mere sight of Remus Lupin?

And now— he was sitting in the faculty lounge, his apprentice nestled close to him as possible, staring Lupin in the eyes as the new DADA teacher to take over for Quirrell.

Oh, but the good news was the jinx on the position had been dismantled by Quirrell— since the Dark Lord would hardly want his own agent jinxed out of an idea position.

Glorious.

Lupin was eyeing Hermione with wide, disbelieving eyes.

Oh, just forget the huge hound in the room— an actual hellhound of the Underworld— let's just stare at the young witch who seemed to prefer Snape's company, hrm? Why not?

Bastiaan, of course, went everywhere they went, so they got the couch to themselves, squished between heads number one and three. Two, on the other hand, sort of curved over them like a mobile dog-headed outcrop in a protectively menacing manner.

The rooms in Hogwarts seemed to agree with it, as all the doors had all become appropriately taller and wider to accommodate the canine's impressive bulk.

Gryffindor, ever the home of brave individuals, stayed as far away from Hermione as humanly possible. If there was any bravery there to be had, it surely dwelled very deep beneath the surface.

Severus had so many things he dearly wanted to say to Lupin, but Albus' continual glares kept him in check. At least, however, Minerva and the other teachers had no such restraints on their own questions.

See, it's not just me, Albus, Severus snarled in his head while his facial expression remained perfectly serene.

"You're a werewolf," Hermione said, meeting Lupin's startled gaze. Her lap held the book open to where it detailed how to identify werewolves.

Lupin paled significantly, and Albus glared even more fiercely at Severus.

"Do not look at me, Headmaster," Snape said, his black eyes narrowing. "She has her own mind and is quite observant as well."

"You have lots of scratches all over your body. You're visibly tired, fatigued. The scratches look like they were made by animals, but they weren't." She made claws of her hands as if they were weapons. She drew them across her face. "They look like a beast's, but they are not. You have a certain peculiar stench about you. It is neither human nor wolf, but something somewhere in-between. He can smell it." Hermione pointed up to head number two. "He can see you."

If there was any fear in Hermione, she did not show it. Her analysis was completely matter-of-fact. She pet head number one and wrapped her arms around him, laying against Bastiaan's smooth fur. "Perhaps that might help you— sniff out troublemakers, yes?"

Lupin blinked. Perhaps he was expecting ridicule, but Snape knew that ridicule was hardly Hermione's style. If anything, she was succinct and to the point, weighing out strengths and weaknesses like a general planning an attack and moving soldiers out on a field of combat.

"I've never thought of it that way, but—" Lupin said carefully. "Perhaps it would help, yes."

"Do you take your potions?" Hermione asked, completely oblivious of speaking out of turn. Yet, she was his apprentice, so she had the right even when he could not. Clever girl.

"I—" Lupin trailed off. "I cannot afford them."

Hermione tugged on Snape's sleeve, and he lowered his head for her to whisper in it.

Snape's lips curved upward in an amused, wicked smile. "You may," he rumbled.

"I could brew it for you," Hermione offered. "If the Headmaster could only provide the ingredients. You would be—safe. Around everyone."

Lupin looked like he was going to burst into tears.

How utterly Gryffindor.

"Severus, is this true?" Minerva asked, frowning slightly.

"She knows the technique. She has brewed it successfully before," Snape replied, his eyes narrowing.

"In her first year, Severus?" Pomona asked with no little astonishment.

"Who do you think brewed your advanced slug and weevil repellent, Pomona?"

Professor Sprout blinked and stared at her lap. "Oh."

As if any apprentice of mine would not be able to brew such potions blindfolded, in the dark, and completely by memory. Idiots.

Hermione caressed Bastiaan's ears, and the dog's tail thumped in appreciation. "Your arguments have all centered around safety, and perhaps you were all trying to spare me the truth of what Mr Lupin is, but if he is on the potion, then all you need ascertain is whether he is fit for the role and able to teach the subject. The other matters are moot, provided Mr Lupin is not the forgetful type who would forget his potion doses the week before the full moon."

Minerva seemed amused by Hermione's ruthless logic.

Others seemed taken aback by such candor from a mere "child."

You are the one who let her lapse into a comatose state, Albus. She is learning far more than you can possibly imagine.

"Miss Granger is correct," Dumbledore said, acquiescing. "Our questions should not be circling around his safety to teach but whether he is fit for this role. I believe he is, and I will provide the ingredients necessary to ensure he is properly on the potion each month he is with us— however long he chooses to remain in the position. Now, are there any further questions that pertain to his teaching ability?"

The dickering then began in earnest, but Snape watched as Lupin seemed to eye his young apprentice with much more respect than before.

Good.

No one noticed how Hermione's slender tail sneaked under his robes and corkscrewed around his waist for comfort.

Snape's smile was subtle as she casually leaned up against him, making it look like she was simply reading her textbook again.


"I wouldn't, if I were you," Hermione said, not even lifting her head from watching her cauldron burble away.

Lucius Malfoy was there visiting with Severus, and they were having a bit of tea and sympathy together out of human earshot. What he didn't know and all that—

Yet the room was empty, save for herself, Severus, and Lucius.

Well, and Bastiaan.

Bastiaan knew better than to stick his nose around the cauldrons, and he was laying by the far wall, content to watch from afar as long as his people were in sight.

Lucius was a strange wizard to her. Tall, arrogant, always looking down on people— yet he treated Severus with civility, which was unexpected.

Lucius peered at her with veiled suspicion, but the moment Snape had pulled the cord of their apprentice bond on purpose (making is seemingly sing in the air), he had curbed his skepticism and dismissed her from thought as one might a servant whose main purpose was not to be seen while performing their chores.

It was fine with her, really. It was far better to be unseen by the likes of Lucius Malfoy than to attract his attention. She could tell that just by the few minutes she had interacted with him.

Hermione added a few leaves to her mortar and carefully ground them with her pestle before adding a pinch to her cauldron.

"Most will not see you, but he can," Hermione said, stirring her potion until it turned a brilliant golden colour and a swirl of multi-coloured fish leapt up out of the potion and splooshed back down. She sighed in satisfaction, bottling it into a multitude of small phials that glowed with the swirls of coloured light trapped within the potion.

She stared at the remainder in her cauldron and sighed. Picking up the racks of phials she had filled, she walked off to place them on Snape's desk. It was a close to perfect brew, she knew. Everything had fallen together as it should, the ingredients just fresh enough to be at peak potency. She just hadn't expected that the perfection coming together would give her more potion than she had bottles for.

She yawned, covering her mouth with a hand as she walked over to the cabinet where Severus kept the finer bottles and phials. The bottles she wanted were for clients only, and the potion she made would likely garner her master a significant commission.

Appearances were everything with potions—

Shiny, magical-looking brews always sold much better than the dark (and even more effective) potions.

No one was making money off brewing, say, the Wolfsbane potion—

That was for sure.

It looked every bit as foul as it tasted— and she could taste it without even putting it on her tongue. It was like drinking turpentine with a chaser of burning tar.

Not exactly the most appetising of concoctions, to be sure.

Severus had told her that no one had ever bothered to try and make it palatable to human taste buds.

Werewolves were hardly popular enough—

She wondered if she could make a personal project, or—

Maybe even devise a cure.

Wouldn't that be thumbing their noses at the non-believers who thought Severus was just a dark, brooding wizard who played with potions because no one else would hire him?

The thought pleased her.

Severus deserved respect, not scorn.

Well, she was probably a minority in such thoughts.

She sensed movement again but saw nothing. She resisted the temptation to shift and see what was really there. It was tempting, but— it was probably not the wisest decision she could make.

She grabbed her phials and moved back toward the cauldron.

Just as it exploded, sending a rain of multi-coloured potion debris everywhere.

Hermione opened her eyes to find Severus beside her, a shielding spell glimmering as glowing slime dripped off the shield.

Lucius stood in the middle of the room, glowering as a trail of rainbow streaks slid down his once-pristinely-white clothes. A splotch of bright rainbow hair fell in front of his face as he glowered down at two squirming figures trapped beneath one of Bastiaan's great paws.

The hellhound, striped with rainbow streaks where the potion had exploded over him, wasn't moving.

"Mr Potter. Mr Weasley," Lucius enunciated carefully, his voice dripping pure venom. "You owe me a new suit."

Head number two savaged a piece of cloth in his mouth, his caustic drool destroying it even as head number one and three took turns tearing it to pieces in a joint venture of mutual mauling.

"Good puppy," Severus praised the cerberus, his eyes narrowed as he glared at his uninvited guests. "That will cost you twenty points from Gryffindor apiece. You will also serve detention with Professor McGonagall— and you will explain to the headmaster the specifics of why and how you managed to get past a very intentionally complex portrait password."

Two sets of fearful eyes stared up at them.


"Are Howlers always so, so—"

"Howly?" Severus asked, amused.

"Yes," Hermione replied, rubbing her ears. "I've never been so unhappy about having really good hearing."

She placed the tattered remains of the caustic acid-smoking cloth and the bits of shrapnel that was left of Dumbledore's wand on a small altar, lighting a few candles. "Lord Father," she said, bowing her head. "We return to you two of your Hallows, slightly abused, with our sincere apologies."

Bastiaan whined softly, hanging all three heads.

"No, they are not always quite so shrill, Hermione," Snape said, bowing his head to the altar. "Molly Weasley is— rather talented in that area."

"Is Lucius' suit really worth seven thousand galleons?"

"He was never known for underdressing for any social occasion, even if just for an evening tea," Snape replied. "That was his fifth best suit for evening casual wear."

Hermione blinked, more amazed by that revelation than by the fact the wand and the fabric instantly mended themselves and then vanished into the twisting nether.

You have done well, my children. It pleases me. You have my gratitude. Enjoy the chaos you have wrought. I am sure it is— rich.

Their Father's presence withdrew, and Severus and Hermione sighed together. Hermione looked up at Severus with a smile, happy to have been of service.

"How could our Father's cloak have ended up with children?" Hermione asked. "I'm pretty sure that mum and dad aren't hiding magical artefacts in the attic to give me—"

"I do not know," Severus admitted. "Of all the Hallows, that one is the most obscure, its very nature is in the concealment from Death because of Death in spite of Death. The third brother, even as he was dying, hid the cloak from Death, giving it to his child."

Hermione pat Bastiaan over the head. "I suppose hiding treasure is something that is no surprise throughout history. The first great dog of the Underworld guarded a treasure of souls, protecting the dead from the living."

Hermione snorted. "If I was given the gift of invisibility— erm, well, you know before— the first place I'd go would not have been here."

"My library us not good enough for you? Severus asked dryly.

"I wouldn't have known about it!" Hermione protested. "I would have known about the restricted section, though."

"Cheeky," Snape replied, a tug of a smile on his lips. "I suppose I can allow you that."

"Tea, Severus?" Hermione asked, smiling.

"Of course," he replied. "I am a proper British wizard, after all."

Hermione laughed as her tail untangled from his, proving that neither of them were properly human to go along with the British part. Tea or no tea. She itched one wing idly as she hurried off to fetch the kettle and make the tea.

Perhaps, Severus thought, it was good that it had happened when it did— that Potter and Weasley didn't have to be Obliviated of what they may have seen in the intimate home life of two Mortefilli. Had they caught Hermione or him in their true forms, it would have most likely broken their minds or made them wish that were so.

There was a reason Snape had put so many wards on his domicile— the only reason the wards hadn't zapped the children had been that he was entertaining a guest. Frying Lucius Malfoy would not have made the man very happy with him, after all.

Lucius Malfoy was already quite— perturbed.

It didn't take very long for the news to reach him that the Dark Lord's face had graced the back of Quirrell's head. It made people like Lucius uneasy, for he had done what most all of them had done and did his best to bury his past in the hopes the Dark Lord stayed well and truly dead.

Few people, save those in Azkaban, truly threw themselves body and soul into the Dark Lord's fervor, and even those that did often simply used his banner as an excuse to commit violence and murder. The Dark Lord knew this, but he hardly cared. All that mattered to him were results, and results he got in spades.

Until his unfortunate unintentional suicide—

Lucius was— complicated.

He loved his family as much as a pureblood wizard from a long-lined list of purest of the pure could love one's wife and son. He was, in that regard, rare—

He just had many problems showing it, and it did his son few favours. His wife wasn't speaking of how he was in their marital bed, so if there was passion there, no one knew of that, either.

Lucius had an image to preserve to protect his family from all comers. It did not make him a kind man or even a compassionate sort under the cover of night, no. Lucius was a cruel, self-serving sort who happened to have a weakness: actual love for his wife and son.

Severus saw the man as being at odds with himself often, torn between the protection of his family and changing with the times. His friendship with the half-blood potions master was—conveniently veiled in Slytherin loyalty. It made it safe to be associated together. It made Snape less damned than those other Muggleborn infestations to Lucius' well-crafted world.

Lucius also knew of Dumbledore's duplicity— even if he didn't know the specific details.

Whether Lucius was someone to be trusted was moot at best.

He was a player on the field just as Snape was—

But Severus knew he had an ace in the hole: Hermione.

Hermione was free of so many ties, obligations, expectations—

As he took the cup of tea from her hands, he nodded in thanks, and she sat beside him, sipping her tea. Her wing wrapped around his back and she leaned into him. He unfolded his wing and curved it around her, pulling her close.

"You did very well today," he said, sipping his tea.

Hermione said nothing, but she snuggled into his side with a happy sigh.

Bastiaan whined and snuffled him from three sides.

"And you too, dog."

Bastiaan's tail thumped against the floor making the side table rattle.


"You will, Severus."

"I will not!"

"It is time this little charade ended, Severus. It is time for her to go home to her family. She cannot stay here, and you can hardly take her home with you to where? Spinner's End?"

"How dare you! Do you really think I cannot take care of her? I am her master, and I swore to take care of her. Letting her go home is not taking care of her!"

"Her parents are there. THEY will take care of her," Dumbledore said, standing tall as he glowered at Snape.

"She will catch that train, see her parents, and forget all about her unhealthy infatuation."

"That is what you see this as? An infatuation? Are you mad, old man? She almost died in that lavatory just as I—"

"You will not speak of that!"

Snape's face turned red as he struggled against the command, feeling the magical force of the Vow upon his body.

"Listen to me very carefully, Severus," Dumbledore said. "You will put her on that train and you will send her home to her parents, and when she comes back in the Autumn, you will see she is more than well without you."

Snape snarled, his body fighting the compulsion. "She is bound to me you insufferable old man! I could no more harm her than I could harm myself!"

"Well, you definitely did enough of that on your own, Severus," Albus said. "How could you even begin to protect her from herself. From you?"

Molten rage simmered and flared to life in Snape's eyes. His fists clenched as he struggled against the vow."Do as I say, Severus," Dumbledore commanded. "You will remember your Vow. Hermione Granger must return to Gryffindor Tower"

"You will regret this, Headmaster. You will regret this day, for I have warned you. Begged you. Pleaded for you to see reason."

"You will not hurt me, Severus."

"I won't have to," Severus hissed. "There are greater powers than me, Headmaster, and you will meet them sooner now than ever before." He spun on his heels, his robes billowing behind him as he left the Headmaster's Office.


Infernal Howling From Hogwarts Keeps Citizens Awake All Night

No one in Hogsmeade has been sleeping since school let out for the summer hols. The howling hasn't stopped since the train left the station.

Talk of the cursed howls of the Underworld are spreading— far worse than the screams of the Shrieking Shack— and people who live nearby are convinced that the Headmaster is torturing his animals at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

"I know Hogwarts is closed for the summer and all, but—" one citizen said, holding her ears, "but I can't help but think they might've forgotten something very important!"


Child Collapses at Kings Cross Station

A young girl collapsed shortly after arriving on an incoming train from a Scotland boarding school. Her frantic parents immediately called 999, and she was rushed to the nearest hospital where she remains in intensive care while doctors search for the cause of her condition.

Attempts to contact the school to inquire about what she could have been potentially been exposed to have not been successful as of yet. Strangely, no record has been found for her in any of the known Scottish schools. Authorities are concerned that the girl was taken in by a fly-by-night for profit school that lures in children, takes their tuition, and then doesn't meet their educational expectations, but none of the interviewed headmasters have any record of the girl ever being registered at their school.

Investigations are still ongoing.


Memo

From : Amelia Bones, HBOY

To: Obliviators, London agents

I need you to get Miss Hermione Granger out of that Muggle hospital and Obliviate each and every person involved in that investigation. I want those parents squelched at once. I want Albus Dumbledore in front of the Wizengamot for separating a known apprentice from her master and her registered familiar (which is still howling up a storm at Hogwarts and apparently took out half the Astronomy tower in the midst of a rampage). I want him investigated to determine precisely how he managed to order Master Snape to let her out of her sight when I know for one hundred percent certain that he didn't do it willingly. I want the Vow-Negation Team on this as well. I want heads rolling, and I want them on my desk in the morning gilded in goblin silver and strung with apples between their teeth next to my teacup.

And I want a wellness check performed on Master Snape. There is a good chance that if she's down and out for this long that he's also collapsed somewhere too.

Get out there and fix this NOW before we have to Obliviate the entire city of London!


To: Amelia Bones, HBOY

From: Master Healer Manfred Morgan

I have placed Master Snape and Apprentice Granger together in a secured healing room. The Unspeakables found them just in the nick of time. Both were very near death, but they are now recovering and stable. Having their familiar brought here certainly helped, and I'm sure Hogsmeade is far happier for it.

I've done what I can for healing. It is up to them to pull through in the peace and quiet of the recovery rooms.

I thank you for dealing with the Grangers and sorting out the mess with explaining the magical nature of apprenticeships so this doesn't happen again. A fledgling bond such as theirs should not have been tested so soon, and it is only the strength of it that saved them both— especially after what you described upon the re-ownership and bond to Bastiaan (very cute hellhound, isn't he? I want one too.)

I highly recommend that you recruit these two so they don't have to go back to Hogwarts, Amelia. There is an obscene amount of talent between them that could be nurtured here in the DoM that would totally be wasted teaching children who just can't help but blow themselves up. It's obvious that the so-called Headmaster doesn't give a lick of care for the pair or their familiar or this would never have happened.

Break the Vow and I will heal them through it.

Consider it a favour for tolerating my bullheadedness all these years.

Anyone who can tame a sodding hellbeast doesn't belong at Hogwarts. Let them make their home here amongst us, Amelia, before some other idiocy happens and someone ends up dying.


To: DoM, all

From : HBOY

I'm sure you heard about Augustus Rookwood being mauled to death by Bastiaan the other night while he guarded the healing rooms, and I want to clear something up before the rumours start.

He had no authorised to be there.

He had the Dark Mark (albeit faded) on his arm.

He had every intent of killing Master Snape and his apprentice.

We know nothing else, yet, so please stop the rumours. I know Rookwood was no favourite to anyone here at the DoM, but for now let us focus on the fact someone sent him to us. We should worry about that even before we do anything else.


Memo

To: Board of Governors, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

From: Marigold Dwight-Hewliss, Scribe of the Wizengamot, First Class

Headmaster Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore has been released to his position at Hogwarts under the condition that he release Master Severus Snape and his Apprentice to the care of Master Healer Manfred Morgan, DoM. The fines for having forcibly attempted to separate an apprentice from their master as well as a bondee from their familiar will be taken directly from Mr Dumbledore's Gringotts account. Damages to his reputation as well as a number of other charges unlisted here will be garnished from his salary. Damages to Apprentice Granger's life and body due to forced, traumatic aging from her ordeal cannot be addressed save in momentary support to be paid for the term of twice the amount of years taken from her, totalling approximately fifteen years. This does not include damaged that must be paid to Mr and Mrs Easton and Hazel Granger, who have not only had the trauma of having a child almost die on them but also saw their child stripped of the remainder of her childhood as she dramatically aged right before their eyes.

We must inform you that any attempt to force Master Snape back into a position at your school will be considered a continuance of what amounts to unlawful coercion and assault, and we will be forced to deal with it with by sentencing you to a term of no less than twenty-five years in Azkaban.

An Auror escort will be sent this Friday to pick up and remove any and all items that belong to Master Severus Snape and his apprentice.

Any contracts that were signed while Severus Snape was under the terms of his duress are now null and void.

Master Snape has stated that he will honour the contract to supply potions for the infirmary for the agreed compensation as before, as he will not in good conscience deprive an institution of health of vital potions and elixirs.


Owl Post

To:  Headmaster Albus Dumbledore

From:  Minerva McGonagall

What do you  mean  Severus is gone and you have to find Horace Slughorn? What about Remus' potions? No one has seen or heard from Horace in over ten years!

Albus, what in Merlin's name is going on here?!


From: HBOY, Amelia Bones

To: DoM agents, all

I'd like to officially welcome Master Severus Snape and his apprentice Hermione Granger into our fold here at the Department of Mysteries. I know a lot of you are still reeling from Jerome Ackerley falling into the brain tank last week, but the good news is he's made a full recovery and will be attending the welcome party for the newest recruits to our DoM family.

Oh, and thanks to everyone who pitched in to make Bastiaan a right fine dog house in the DoM arboretum. We'll be doing official meet and greets with our latest hound at the party so no one has to be greeted like a stranger.

Sally will be bringing her (in)famous double chocolate brownies and glazed cherry pasties. You  know  you want to be there for that alone!

Make sure to get there early before Master Morgan (name scratched out and changed to Amelia) eats them all.

(scrawled after) Dammit, Manfred! How the hell do you keep hijacking my owls?!


End of Chapter 3


A/N: Was on call all night (yawn) and work tomorrow. My pillow is being rude and insulting me from afar. *eyedarts* Thank Dragon and the Rose for betaing this chapter past her pumpkin time. Love her! I do!

Chapter Text

Summary: [HG/SS] AU:Crack, Hermione wasn't supposed to get murdered by a troll. She was supposed to spur on Harry Potter and Ron Weasley and become their friend and thus keep them alive through multiple trials. All of Dumbledore's carefully laid out plans tank as Hermione Granger embraces a new life, thanks to none other than Severus Snape.

Beta Love: The Dragon and the Rose, Dutchgirl01, Flyby Commander Shepard

Trigger Warning: none yet


A Touch of Death

Chapter Four

Who wants to live forever?

Freddie Mercury


"Turning them into dragonbats is not a viable option to break the Vow, Manfred," Amelia said, frowning.

Master Morgan looked disappointed. "They would make such good ones."

Amelia sighed. "Being a dragonbat doesn't solve everything."

"It solves quite a lot of things," Manfred said with a sniff, itching one funnel ear with his wing-thumb. "We're survivalists."

"And insufferable."

Manfred grinned, all fang. "Added benefit, love. Added benefit."

Amelia snorted, crossing her arms across her chest.

Master Morgan yawned. "They're here and doing fine, Amelia. Stop pacing and looking like you want to commit bloody murder."

"Dumbledore's back on his throne at Hogwarts, Manfred," Amelia sighed gustily. "It really chafes me. Back where he can pretend that everything is just sodding perfect. He can move his people around his personal chessboard while looking so damned pristine and omniscient, the wise old grandfather."

Manfred flapped his wings and then folded them neatly. "His seeming perfection is slipping, though. Severus was hardly an easy person for him to replace. Children always talk— they spread rumour and innuendo every bit as effectively as that horrid Skeeter witch and that gossip-drenched rag she works for."

"I have a feeling that Albus was trying absolutely everything he could to force Miss Granger into becoming a guardian of sorts for Harry Potter. As part of some grand master plan that no one knows but him— but something happened that he didn't count on. Some random variable that he couldn't plan for. It's really unsettled him. Rattled him even."

"Potter is just a boy," Manfred sighed. "With as much potential to succeed or fail as any other boy— to hoist the fate of an entire world upon his young shoulders for the sacrifice of his parents in the heat of battle is terribly unfair."

"Sacrificial magic is an exceptionally powerful protectant," Amelia said, nodding,"but at a great price. He did not just lose his parents that night, but a family and a chance to have at least some semblance of a normal life. From what I understand, his remaining blood family is— well, let us just say that his rebelliousness and proclivity for finding trouble is hardly unexpected under the circumstances."

Manfred sighed. "As I understand it, his chosen best mate is a bit of a temperamental loudmouth."

Amelia snorted. "From what I've seen firsthand, Ronald Weasley was spoiled rotten as the youngest Weasley child, but then he found himself dethroned by the one thing Molly Weasley wanted more than anything else: a daughter."

Manfred curled his lip, fangs flashing. "One must truly feel for poor Arthur— tirelessly slaving away in the bowels of the bowels of the Ministry. He was never the type to accept our kind— far too interested in Muggles and their fascinating techno-magics."

Amelia placed a comforting hand on Manfred's wing. "You saved his life, old friend. I'm sorry he could not accept you for who you are."

"It was very foolish of me to think that anyone outside the DoM could accept— this." Manfred used his wing to gesture to himself.

Amelia shook her head, adamant. "No, old friend. It was not mere folly. We did not all start life in here. We found here. We made here. Most of us did come from out there, in the wild, unaccepting world."

Manfred sighed. "Let's just let them sleep tonight. The Vow is broken, and now we can focus on what Snape remembers— what he knows of Dumbledore's plans. It may not be much as I understand he was not exactly generous in sharing details and yet very generous with his demands."

Amelia nodded, quietly closing the door to the healing room, giving Bastiaan scritches under the chins as they left.

No one noticed the whorl of time magic as a blur of gold, red, and orange feathers swirled upward in a miniature vortex of magic.

A lone phoenix shuddered above the sleeping forms of Severus Snape and his apprentice, their bodies pressed together as the magic of their bond healed them through the neutralisation of Severus' Unbreakable Vow.

His colourful wings spread wide, he released a cloud of shimmering dust formed of activated time sand even as his entire body spontaneously burst into flame.

A tiny phoenix chick sneezed, shook himself free of dust and ash and then quickly disappeared into a whorl of fire and time magic.

A large, shiny beetle crawled over the bed, kicking extra dust over onto the sleeping figures so a cloud of it swirled around them. It scurried over to a small wrapped lemon sherbet and as its legs touched the piece of candy, both it and the beetle disappeared in a poof of magic.


From:  Amelia Bones, HBOY

To:  Healing room ward team and all security personnel

WHO THE HELL took the wards down yesterday without informing anyone? I don't care if it was in the name of maintenance, sick leave, rampaging basilisks, or a case of virulent penile doxy pox! I want your explanations on my desk as of yesterday, and I want a very, very damned good reason not to station you in Antarctica in perpetuity!

I want traces on every single speck of dust in that healing room.

I want to know who, what, and precisely how something got to Master Snape and his apprentice and I want to know  NOW!


To:  Amelia Bones, HBOY

From:  Master Healer Manfred Morgan

I've successfully arrested the deaging cascade on Master Snape and Apprentice Granger, but they are most definitely under some very sinister sort of magical effect. No potion I'm aware of could possibly do this, and I fear had I not done what had to be done immediately, they would have both been deaged into nothingness.

I have no idea what else to tell you, Amelia, other than what I did was consensual. It just didn't take until more years had been erased.


"Bloody hell," Kingsley breathed in awe as he walked into Manfred's artfully-hidden lair— a mixture of cave and jungle blended seamlessly together.

The air was both cool and damp in the shade but warm and almost oppressive outside where magical sunlight trickled in through an impressive canopy of great trees. It was like one was stepping into one of the ancient primordial forests—directly out of a time machine.

Shaking his head in bemusement, Kingsley walked into what could have been a cave, but as the cavern opened up it transformed into a comfortable set of chambers filled with everything from shelves of books to a number of strategically placed roosting spots. Deep gouges made by sharp talons decorated the most favoured places with the distinctive sign of well-loved wear.

He approached what appeared to be large bowl thickly lined with multiple layers of soft mosses and lichens. A black shape moved within. A bright green mouth opened exposing many sharp pointed teeth. A tiny, completely adorable squeak came from its mouth.

A chocolate brown shape moved against the black one, barely distinguishable in a mane of crazy curls that threatened to take on sentience and strangle her nestmate. She— and there was no doubt at all it was a she— yawned with an equally toxically glowing green mouth and squeaked, snuggling into her black-furred companion.

A large (relative to size) black and scaled wing curled around his smaller nestmate, and they snuggled in together with a contented cyclone of squeaks, long, scaled and plated tails wrapping around the others in undeniable comfort.

"Don't wake the batlings," Manfred said softly, tutting as he bared his teeth at Kingsley before yawning widely. "It took me hours to wear them out."

"So, it's true then."

"How terribly vague," Manfred said, sniffing. He pulled a warm, fluffy blanket over the nesting bowl.

Kingsley sighed. "You corrupted them already."

Manfred snorted. "I saved them. Consider the rest to be a few upgrades on a genetic level. Dragonbats are born survivalists."

"They're sodding immortal."

"That too, and hush. Don't wake them, or you'll be the one winding them down for the next five hours."

Kingsley glared at the dragonbat. "That was one hell of a risk you took with them! Not everyone can survive that noxious vapour of yours!"

"You'd rather I let them sod off to the Underworld?"

Kingsley wilted.

"You're just jealous," Manfred said, scratching his funnelled ear with one wing spur. "If you really want to be one, I could always breathe some mutagen down your throat, too. You know it has to be consensual or the mutagen has this unerringly fatal quality to it."

Kingsley rubbed his temples and sighed. "I know, it's just— Merlin, haven't they been through enough?"

Manfred shrugged. "I have a feeling that becoming a dragonbat is hardly an inconvenience for these two. They take to it like naturals, as if wings and tails were something they were originally born with. Besides— I have to wonder if maybe being deaged actually did them a favour."

"How so?"

"Second childhood without suffering the indignities of dementia," Manfred answered. "I'd imagine neither of these two really had much of an opportunity to enjoy life. Now, they can enjoy it together. Grow up. Have all the time in the world. Think of what such brilliance could come of that."

"You can't say that part of you isn't happy about it," Kingsley accused. "You finally have someone that won't die on you."

Morgan curled his lips back from his teeth, ears flicking slightly. "Not everyone can handle immortality, Kingsley. Some need a finite life to find true meaning in it. Some of the very finest people in the world lived terribly short lives."

"You think these two can?" Kingsley asked, arching a brow.

Morgan gave him a bestial smirk. He flicked his eyes back to the nesting bowl where a dark bat-like creature stood over the bowl— dark as the depths of space and black flames surrounding like an aura of the eternal Void. It picked up the two snuggling batlings and gently rocked them against His chest.

Kingsley immediately had his wand out, but Morgan held his wand arm back with one wing, shaking his head.

"That would be most unwise, my friend," Manfred said, his dark eyes holding great amusement. "Unless you have some hidden desire to take on Camazotz Himself."

"You're joking."

"Does this look like the face of joking?" Manfred asked, pointing to his chiropteran face.

"And you're just calmly standing here?!"

"Losing my mind would hardly help the situation."

Kingsley stared at him. "You've seen Him before—"

"Obviously."

Kingsley glared at him.

"Long ago, when I was young and still a man— the world was a much darker place. Uncertain. The gods were beings to be appeased. Sacrifices were made to placate the divine. The greater good was simply to survive another day, another season, another year. The sacrifices were not always willingly made, but they were still necessary. This is what all people believed— they just often hoped that they would not be the one chosen that year."

"I was considered especially potent as a sacrifice— my magic was but one more sign of just how well my blood would feed the Earth. Surely I would appease the great God L, God of the Underworld, jaguar of sorcery. But as I lay there bound, destined to feed the Earth, I was given another choice. In sacrifice, I could become more if I willingly let go of my life and embraced my one true God: Camazotz. I turned away from God L and embraced Camazotz, and so He did embrace me. It is a lonely path, yet—"

Manfred looked back, watching as the two batlings snuggled closely to the neck of the Dark God. "Not so lonely anymore."

Kingsley sat down. "All this time, you never told me."

"Would you have believed me?"

"No."

"Then it is good that I never did."

"We grow up on the tales of gods," Kingsley said, "but we usually don't see them."

"When you are making eternity's choice, old friend," Manfred said, "sometimes it is best to have more than faith to base your decision. Theirs was made long before I met them, Kings. They were already claimed long before my breath touched them. What they have now is a gift. Time— to grow up again. Together."

Kingsley sipped the tea that appeared before him as if by magic. "Albus did this— set this all in motion."

Manfred shrugged. "Regardless of whose fault it is, it will be finished," he replied. "And sometimes—" He looked to where the Camazotz cradled His children. "Sometimes, big things come in tiny, adorable packages. I am going to enjoy the chaos they bring in their wake, won't you?"

"I fear for the world," Kingsley said. deadpan.

Manfred's smile was wicked. "As well you should."

Kingsley looked back to the nesting bowl and saw nothing out of place. The batlings were curled up together, seemingly unmoved and undisturbed.

As if he had simply hallucinated it all.

He swallowed hard. Faith was a cruel master when even visual proof was so easily doubted. Had he seen it? Had he truly had such a conversation with Manfred? Had he truly seen the avatar of Camazotz cradling the batlings?

He looked at the bottom of his teacup and saw the screaming face of a bat.

Maybe, he should go get some sleep.

Lots of sleep.


Albus paced his office restlessly.

Things were falling to pieces.

Hermione Granger was supposed to be friends with Harry potter and Ronald Weasley. She was supposed to temper their antics and help them with problems— keep them on task.

Something had gone horribly wrong.

Then things had kept going horribly wrong.

Everything was going pear-shaped and he couldn't even pinpoint precisely what had set it all in motion.

She was supposed to be rescued by her future best friends.

She was supposed to be part of an inseparable trio.

He'd seen it; Fawkes had shown it to him.

It wasn't supposed to be like, like— this!

She wasn't supposed to collapse after being separated from Snape.

Severus should not have been right about that!

She wasn't supposed to age like that!

He'd sent Fawkes to correct the issue, promising Rita Skeeter an exclusive story if she could sneak the bird in with her. Fawkes would do the rest— correct his mistake, bring the Granger girl back so the situation would be salvageable.

It wasn't too late to get her together with Harry Potter.

He just had to get her away from Snape—

Blast the Wizengamot and Amelia Bones for forcing him to renounce the Vow. How had they known? They couldn't have known! They were grasping at straws. They must have!

He was supposed to be the Chief Warlock, the one who oversaw court procedures not standing in front of it and to be placed under scrutiny!

How dare they!

He was busy trying to save the world from Tom's villainy. Surely that was worth a little push to make things happen the way they were supposed to?

Right?

The only saving grace to having his wand taken from him by that damnable dog was that they couldn't run a trace on it. They didn't know about all of the questionable things he'd cast with it—

They had let him go back to his job—

Still—

The Dark Lord was going to return, and Harry Potter had to be ready for him!

Harry Potter, Ronald Weasley, and Hermione Granger had to be the best of friends— Gryffindors, all.

So why hadn't they?

At least the well-timed Obliviate on Skeeter would ensure that nothing could be traced back to him. Now, he just had to get the Granger girl back to Hogwarts where she belonged and somehow convince the Board and the Ministry that it was for her own good— for everyone's greater good.

He just had to get them to forget about that inconvenient limitation on doing anything to influence Snape—

Snape owed him.

There had to be away. He just had to figure it out— somehow.

He paced the office restlessly.

He just needed to come up with a new plan while he waited for the news to hit the Prophet about Granger being deaged after her unintentional aging.

He would have to speak with the Granger parents. There was no limitation preventing him from doing that, after all.


"Congratulations, Manfred," Amelia said as she sealed the document in wax and ribbon. "You are now officially— daddy."

Kingsley snorted as Manfred grinned, all fang and venom. His two batlings clung to his chest as many a bat pup had done since time immemorial.

"I should feel sad that the Grangers were so eager to let their daughter go, but—" Kingsley sighed, trailing off. "To be fair, they have been through a hell of a lot of bullshite in regards to their daughter, and now she's not exactly recognisable as their daughter anymore unless you count the wild mane of hair."

Severus had somehow gotten hold of someone's sandwich and now had peanut butter and blackcurrant jam smeared all over his muzzle. Hermione was busy trying to help him clean up by assiduously grooming his muzzle with her bright green tongue. They squeaked at each other, but Severus tolerated her shenanigans even as he continued to eat the sandwich in hand— or wing as it were.

"Hey, is that my—" Kingsley glowered at the stealthy sandwich-stealing batling. "Little thieves."

"Resourceful, aren't they?" Manfred beamed proudly, all too happy with his batlings' antics.

"Not sure that is the word I'd use," Kingsley said, pouting.

Hermione held her wings out to Amelia, and Amelia picked her up and cuddled her. Hermione snuggled against her and squeaked happily.

Severus, jealous of Hermione getting all the attention, hopped over and clung to her too, snuggling into her other side, smearing a little jam onto Amelia's chin as he tucked himself in.

Amelia seemed to melt on the spot, getting utterly protective and supportive all at once.

"You have jam on your face," Kingsley informed her.

Amelia didn't seem to care as she cooed over the adorably cuddly batlings.

Manfred smiled, showing fangs. "Soon you'll be craving wings, fur, and scales of your own, Amelia," he said smugly. "If not for me, then them."

The Head Boss of You didn't seem to hear him as she was utterly smitten by the batlings cuddled against her, their tails linked together behind her back like human children might lock pinkies.

Kingsley looked concerned. "She's doomed. I've never seen her being so motherly."

"Don't be silly," Manfred said archly. "She's been mothering everyone in the DoM for years. They just gave her a title for it and a pay raise to cover all the bases."

Shacklebolt just shook his head. "We've had babies of so many different species here in the DoM," he said. "How is it that your adopted spawn end up being the ones to seduce our HBOY into considering casting her humanity to the winds?"

Manfred smiled from ear-to-ear, his tongue flicking over his fangs. "We're irresistible."

"You're a bloody demon in disguise," Kingsley accused.

"The very best you will ever see," Manfred crooned, his bright green tongue sliding over the side of his muzzle. "Just wait until I have a mate and we fill the skies with our batlings."

"I don't want to think of you having— no," Kingsley shook his head violently. "Just no."

Manfred gave him a pouting expression made all the more disturbing when on the face of a dragonbat. "Am I not the most glorious specimen of dragonbat you have ever seen?"

"You're the only specimen of dragonbat I've ever seen until those two showed up," Kingsley pointed out.

"Soon," Manfred said with an eerie little smile. "We shall be Legion."

Kings scoffed at that, waving his friend off as he stormed off to finish some task elsewhere.

Manfred looked over to see Amelia's blue eyes looking far away as she cuddled the batlings in her protective embrace.

"Sooner than you might think, old friend," Manfred said with a smugly satisfied smile. "All it takes— is consent, and I have waited more than four thousand years to find the one who would willingly step into my embrace. And my children— they know a good mummy when they see one."


"Ahh, Doctors John and Helen Granger," said a clean-cut, distinguished-looking man as he sat with them at a small table in their back garden. "How good it is to meet you both at last."

"Mr Ptera," John Granger said. "I'm afraid that you arrived here too late. We have relinquished our rights to our daughter after her—"

Helen Granger gasped, sniffling.

"Accidents." John placed a comforting hand on his wife's shoulder. "She needed more specialised care than we could provide."

Ptera sat, unmoving in his seat. His black eyes followed them, not missing how Helen Granger protected her belly— a slight, yet distinct rounding that stretched the front of her normally well-fitted dress. "I am very sorry to hear that you were forced to make such a difficult decision," he said, his deep voice pitched low and quiet. "It is truly unfortunate when we cannot provide for our children in the ways we would wish, guide them successfully through all trials, be there for them at every fall."

"You have children of your own?" Helen asked, sniffling.

"Yes," he said, nodding. "They are very important to me. Special. They have been through a great many trials in a very short time, but every trial keeps bringing them closer both to each other and to me."

"We couldn't be there for her—" Helen said.

"What we could do wasn't enough—" John added quietly. "The stress—" He clasped his wife's hand in both of his. "She almost lost the baby."

"We gave her to this Department of Mysteries because— because they promised to take good care of her. They promised—" she sniffled again.

"It is my understanding that the Department of Mysteries is a very good place, a safe place for your daughter."

"Do you really think so? You're not just saying that?"

Mr Ptera nodded firmly. "I'm not. It is very true. You can rest assured that she is receiving the very best care there is and that she will want for nothing. I can promise you that."

The Grangers seemed to lose a great weight from their shoulders. "Thank God," Helen said fervently. She rubbed her abdomen gently. "Thank God," she repeated, closing her eyes.

"I'm so glad," John said. "We still love her dearly. I hope—"

"She knows that, I'm sure," Mr Ptera replied kindly. "One day, perhaps, you will ready to remember all the things that moved you without the associated pain. Until then, know that she is in very good hands."

He met their gazes unflinchingly, and for a moment, his eyes glowed a baleful, eerie green. A smoke-like mist swirled around him and around them, and they remained still, frozen in place.

Death stood, shedding his human guise as easily as one would cast off their cloak, his gleaming skull-face shining in the afternoon sun. "I take from you your pain, for you have given me a gift beyond measure, if unknowingly. She was taken from you by fate but given to me by her own choice. One day, when you are ready, you will meet again. Until then, leave in peace, raise your son to be a doctor who saves the lives of countless people, and be safe and happy in your lives. This, I give you for the gift you have given me. This I swear."

He waved one skeletal hand, and a flaming hellhound popped out of the ground, dripping lava. He cast his hand over the beast, and it turned into a beautiful black dog with shining brown eyes and a white star on his chest. "Protect them," he commanded, his eyes glowing in their sockets of black.

The hell-dog wagged his tail and barked as Death disappeared in a swirl of blackened robes.

The Grangers startled, looking about.

"I— suddenly feel so much better," Helen said, rubbing her stomach. "I don't know why, but— I'm ready. This baby. Me. You. A family."

Mr Granger took his wife into an embrace. "I'm ready too, love. I'm ready too."


Crazy Old Man Dressed as Gandalf Alarms Local Dentists

An unknown elderly man frightened a local couple who were returning home from their dental practice to find someone they identified as "some crazy Gandalf wannabe" at their front door.

After a heated altercation that caused the neighbours on either side to call 999, the man fled the area.

Police searched for the man, who the couple said "had a long white beard and hair and wore violet spangled robes" but he could not be found.

Doctors John and Helen Granger said nothing was stolen from the premises, but they remained shaken that a crazy man they'd never seen before claimed to know them and wanted to know about their daughter.

"We don't even have a daughter," John Granger said, obviously still disturbed by the exceedingly strange encounter. "Yet, maybe. Well— we'll see in a few months."


"Merlin, Amelia! Did you even think about drastic life-changing decisions before— before—"

"Don't be daft," Amelia said, baring her teeth in a wide grin. "I've never been happier in my life." She adjusted the baby batlings as they clung to her, and she gave them a tender lick. They settled on her with happy squeaks.

"You've known Manfred for years, and you never once showed any inclination to sprout fur and wings," Kingsley protested mildly.

"Doesn't mean I didn't think about it often enough," Amelia said, snorting in amusement. "He's always been rather… mmmm. Delicious."

"I'm not hearing any of that, la la la," Kingsley said, hurriedly covering his ears with both hands.

"Bah, it isn't anything worse than we hear in the break room," Amelia said bracingly. "And you are often the target of some rather… scandalous gossip yourself."

"What? No! I'm not even in a relationship," Kingsley protested weakly.

"That just makes you an even better target," Amelia said, chuckling wickedly.

Kingsley rubbed his temples and quickly changed the subject. "Any sign of their original memories surfacing?"

"From time to time I catch them brewing over a cauldron like it's the most natural thing to do, but the rest of the time they are just as you see them— or doing their best to ride the Nundus around the arboretum."

Kingsley sputtered. "Really?"

"Batlings have no fear," Amelia commented. "And Nundus have no shame."

Kingsley slid his eyes sideways, clearly somewhat dubious.

"Bastiaan seems ultimately happy to give them rides wherever they so desire."

"But they can fly—"

"What better fun than to let someone else do the driving?"

Kingsley sat down and sighed. "I feel like I missed out on a really great childhood. Mine was never so exciting."

Amelia smiled, her fangs glistening. "Wait until the wedding party," she said.

Kingsley eyed his boss with suspicion. "Who's invited?"

Manfred landed next to them with a flurry of wings. "Just a few people we know," he purred.


Bastian's tail thumped the ground wildly as people milled about him. Every so often someone would offer him one of the "dog safe" biscuits, and he would do tricks for them.

The entire DoM had shown up for the event, and quite a few outside it .had decided to come too. It was the second part of great "fuss" right after the welcoming party for Severus Snape and Hermione Granger into the DoM. This time, however, everyone was dressed to the nines, and there were wedding gifts piled in the back.

A veiled gorgon chatted politely with a number of young Unspeakables near the central fountain. Centaurs milled about with some of elder witches and wizards. Centaur foals played with the DoM children. Peace seemed almost easy in comparison to the outside world— a world only a few floors up and over.

"Manfred, you old bat," Alastor Moody greeted, shaking his wing thumb. "You finally got a ring on her, eh?"

"It took a few years of seductive crooning, but I think I finally got her to see the light," Manfred said smugly. "With a little help from my talented batlings."

"Batlings must be the key to your success, my friend," said John Savage, walking up to greet them. "They are, I must admit, rather freakishly adorable."

Randall Proudfoot shook his head and chuckled as he approached them. "Wickedly mischievous little buggers too. I saw them sneakily relieving poor Edinborough of his slice of strawberry pie just a few minutes ago."

Manfred grinned. "Excellent."

"You're encouraging them?" Moody asked, clearly disapproving.

"Of course I am," Manfred said, proud and unashamed. "Someone has to keep the DoM remembering to "stay frosty" as they say in the Muggle world. Aren't you the one always saying "constant vigilance"?"

"You cannot trust bloody Snape."

Manfred narrowed his eyes at the grumpy Auror. "Of course, I can. And you had best watch your tone when speaking of my son."

"He is a Marked Dark wizard, Manfred!" Moody hissed furiously. "You cannot erase that stain from the soul!"

Manfred's expression grew dark, smoke trickling from his nostrils. "I know a young, stupid boy who tried to summon a demon to solve his problems after he drank too much and believed he was immortal." Manfred snorted in Moody's face. "And look how you turned out, boy."

Manfred's teeth glinted. "Do not speak to me of stains on souls, forever damnation, and sins that can never be forgiven— lives that can never change, people who never waver. The bravest and wisest people in this world realise that they are both light and darkness, and they strive with all their might to walk the middle line where no side truly reigns supreme. One cannot truly live without the other. You would do well to remember that the next time you would condemn a child or a man for some ultimate sin that you didn't live through yourself."

Master Morgan loomed over Moody, his caustic saliva dripping from his teeth. "People murdered each other to make the crops grow, Alastor. Who has the right to judge them when it was all they knew— all they feared to be true?"

"That's not the same—"

"Isn't it?" Manfred curled his lip. "What is war but two sides of the same coin struggling to erase the other? Who writes history? The winners? The losers? We may all be fighting for our families. Whose life is more important? Or is all life sacred in itself? Who do you kill when all life is worthy of living? Who do you blame?"

"Dumbledore is trying to end the war," Moody insisted stubbornly.

Manfred snarled, baring his teeth. "So is You-Know-Who, Alastor. We are all trying to end a war. Will you stand next to the man who spurs on the oldest families in the magical world to fear for their livelihoods? Will you stand next to the man who would send a child to her death to set the scene for a heroic rescue that never happened? Will you stand by those like my son who saved her life with his own and almost died along with her when your sainted Albus Dumbledore forced them apart in a selfish attempt to break their bond?"

"I do not care what you choose, Alastor. Who you stand by in the end, for that is between you and the gods," Manfred said. "But if you should ever harm my son or daughter with your bigotry, I will tear your beating heart out of your chest and eat it in front of my children, and I will teach them to do precisely the same."

Manfred let out a loud screeeeeeee, and two batlings promptly flew out of the shadows and clung to him like burrs. "Come, my children. It is time for your bath."

The great dragonbat beat his wings and took off, carrying his batlings home with him—

Alastor Moody sat down hard on a bench to contemplate a great many things, not the least being his own set of assumptions, biases, and prejudices.


"Dad is scary."

"Mmhmm."

"Will we ever be that scary?"

"Mmmhmm."

Hermione snuggled into Severus. "I had a dream about a stone."

"You too?"

Hermione nodded. "It's in a house in the woods. It looked like that closet Mr Bartleby says we shouldn't go into."

"I dreamed about it too."

"I think Father wants us to go get it."

Severus pulled his wing around her as they cuddled, dangling from the branch together. "Dad won't like us leaving without him even if Father wants us to get it. Mum will get cranky."

Hermione seemed to ponder. "What if we tell them and they come with?"

Severus thought a moment. "That seems a logical solution."

"Severus?"

"Hn?"

"The Auror. Moody. I don't like him."

"Me either."

"He wants to take you away from me."

"I'm not going anywhere."

"Promise?"

"Promise."

Hermione snuggled into him. "We have a great Father, and our dad is great too."

Severus chuckled. "Our mum is pretty great as well."

Hermione smiled against him. "I'm glad."

"Me too."

Hermione snuggled into Severus and closed her eyes.

Severus wrapped his wings around her as sleep carried them both off.


"I can't believe you questioned Manfred about his choice in kids, mate," Kingsley said. "He's— well, he's Manfred!"

Alastor rubbed his temples as he took a deep swig from his flask. "I just— Albus has always been there when I needed him."

Kingsley sighed, rubbing his shoulder. "Look, he's a healer. He's the kind of healer the world needs more of. Don't you think he would recognise a futile cause in a person? He can read people faster than a Legilimens. He waited how long to find the right mate? I mean, I thought it was a bit fast for Amelia, but— I guess that was more about me clinging to this image of her as being this strong-willed witch who needed no one."

Alastor snorted. "No, more that no one but Manfred could tangle with her and survive to tell about it."

Kingsley laughed. "Point." Shacklebolt rubbed his head. "Look, no one wants to see their heroes dragged through the mud, but you need to know." He sighed deeply. "There were traces of phoenix ash in the healing rooms when Severus and Hermione were deaged. Do you know of anyone else in the entirety of Britain with a phoenix?"

Alastor was silent, his brows furrowing.

"Here."

"What's this?" Alastor peered at the folder he was being handed with suspicion.

"A copy of Severus Snape's and Hermione Granger's medical records from Hogwarts. Poppy Pomfrey sent them over in case something happened to her."

"Did something happen to Poppy?" Alastor asked, suddenly very concerned.

"Yes and no."

"Be clear, man!"

Kingsley sighed. "She doesn't remember ever sending it. She's just fine, otherwise."

Alastor stared at the folder as if it was a deadly viper. "What the hell is in here?"

"Read it, Alastor. Trust me, you really need to."

Moody took the folder with no little trepidation. "Fine. But I want plenty of time to look it through."

"Take as much time as you need," Kingsley said calmly. "The batlings are safe here, now."

Two excited batlings chittered and squeaked excitedly as a large Nundu zoomed by at full tilt, the batlings clinging like jockeys to the great cat's back.

Alastor sniffed. "Who keeps us safe from them?"

Kingsley chuckled. "That, my friend, remains to be seen."


"Dad, what's that?"

"That, my loves, is batbane— a plant much like wolfsbane and used in the same manner, but it cures chiropthropy— werebatism."

"There are werebats?"

"Of course. There are werecats and weresharks, even werekoalas."

The batlings looked at each other with wonder. "Really?"

"Really. Such things are rare though— lycanthropy is far more common or at least more infamous because it is tied directly to the phase of the moon and the people that have it cannot control themselves."

"What about chiropthropy?" Hermione asked, curious.

"Depends on the hair of the bat that bit them," Manfred said. "Fruit eaters are quite docile. Insectivores and fungivores too. The vampire bats, however, have a bad reputation. They were often entangled with vampires, and many of the old legends were blurred together. Muggle myth says the vampire can become a bat or a bat-like creature, but really it was a werebat of a vampiric nature."

The two batlings listened intently, fascinated. "Oooooo."

"When I was young, werebats were considered the high priests of Camazotz— the most blessed of the blessed. They had no reason to prove otherwise because being a high priest gave you certain benefits— a substantially longer life, for example."

"Is it true that they sacrificed people?"

"They sacrificed their blood, my loves," Manfred said. "Blood was considered the most potent offering of nourishment to the gods. None more potent than human blood— even greater was that of children, who were considered the most pure. Now, to be fair, when your people are starving amidst a famine— all of them dying, the sacrifice of a dying child was believed to be necessary to bring about an end to the suffering of the masses, for the survival of an entire people."

"In that time, captured prisoners were often sacrificed, high status enemies from warring clans, or the lowest of the low. Often, it depended on what great boon they required of the gods, thinking that the more desperate prayer required more desperate offerings."

"By our standards today, this is considered an unspeakable act. Barbaric, even. But these are very different times, my loves. It is important to know the difference. The gods do exist, this we know. We feed them with our faith, our service. And who is to say that faith is but another kind of blood to feed the gods? But if we were to run into a culture today that still believes in such things, we cannot judge them by our modern rules. We must judge their choices within their own."

"Ethics are sooo complicated," Hermione said, sulking a bit.

Manfred chuckled. "Yes, my love. They can be quite— frustrating and difficult to understand."

A long screeee carried on the wind, and the batlings perked up.

"Mummy is calling!"

"Fly to her, my loves. You don't want to keep her waiting."

Severus and Hermione snuggled up against Manfred and then leapt up into the air, flapping frantically to get aloft before gliding off to answer their mum's call.

Manfred smiled, fangs glinting. "They are growing up so fast, Lord Father," he whispered. "But I thank you for gifting me with their faith for a time."


The batlings clung to their mum as Amelia's wings flapped. The moon hung almost full in the sky, casting the world in soft greys and whites. The chilly air caused them to cling a little tighter even as they let out big yawns.

Aurors and Unspeakables milled about below as Manfred loomed over them all, his great bulk seeming too large for the clearing between the trees. One twitch of his great tail caused a few trees to go off kelter, and Manfred's expression seemed slightly perturbed that the space was not big enough for him, let alone the people trying to move around him without slamming into his body.

A younger Auror trainee, who had thought himself ready to face working with the elite squads, had a very nervous expression on his face as Auror Savage grabbed him by the shoulders and pointed him in different directions and setting him to tasks hoping snap him out of his oogling at the monstrous beast supervising the operation.

"I thought he was a healer!" the young Auror protested. "The reports said he was a healer!"

"He is, idiot," Moody barked. "More searching, less slack-jawed staring and guppy mouth."

"But—"

"Don't make me Obliviate you, Gibson," Alastor snapped. "You said you were ready."

"But—"

"ACT READY!" Moody roared.

The young Auror startled and set to work, perhaps realising that the dragonbat was not the most pressing concern— at least in that moment.

"Mummy, why do they always stare at daddy?" Hermione asked.

"Daddy is rather intimidating."

"But, he has warm wings."

"That too."

"People are more concerned with daddy's teeth," Severus said.

"But, he brushes every day!"

Severus thumped Hermione with one wing. "Shh. Let them work."

Hermione sulked, hating being muffled and forced to hold in her thoughts.

Amelia gave her a few grooming licks to distract her, and Hermione settled, quickly forgetting her grudge.

"Ma'am," Savage called from down below.

Amelia focused on the Auror. "Yes, Auror Savage?"

"I think we've found it."

"Let the Unspeakables make sure there are no traps or curses before you go on in."

"Yes, ma'am," Savage said, calling out orders to his squad.

The Unspeakables moved in, their white robes seemingly glowing in the dark.

"This place looks even gloomier in reality than in my dream," Severus commented, peering out from under Amelia's wing.

"It is a rather dreary place," Amelia admitted, keeping her wings around the batlings to keep them close.

The batlings didn't show any sign of wanting to wander, however, which helped curb the HBOY's anxiety about bringing her children to a mission site.

"Mummy is probably glad we asked before coming out here," Hermione whispered.

"Indeed," Amelia rumbled. The poor tree she was dangling from creaked under carrying the weight of an adult dragonbat and her batlings, but short of the audible protest of creaking, didn't seem like it was going to tilt or break. "It is always a good idea to inform others before going somewhere dangerous, even when it's your job to do so."

"Clear!" voices called from down below, and the Aurors moved in unison to search the inside of the run-down, barely standing place that could have once been a home, shack.

The "house" itself was practically buried in nettles and tree trunks, and it had taken some time to clear away the brush and overgrowth safely, as every inch of the area had to be thoroughly checked for traps, jinxes, and curses as they advanced. The walls were heavily covered in a coat of ivy and thick mosses, and the roof was barely even recognisable as being a shelter from anything, let alone the weather. Broken clay tiles lay in disarray on the ground, having been dislodged long ago by a series of storms, time, and neglect. The windows were dark and lacking any transparency, having developed many layers of grime from years of woodsmoke as well as exposure to the elements. Melted candle wax coated the windowsill, and trails of blackened smoke remained on the windows like someone with a filthy, greasy hand had smeared it all over the panes.

"Mummy?"

"Yes, Hermione?"

"Why is this place so run down? Weren't the people that lived here magical like us?"

"Being magical doesn't always mean people take good care of where they're living, pet," Amelia said gently.

"This place is a real pit," Severus said, his nose wrinkling in distaste. "Even the wild animals don't want to live here."

"Maybe there is a spell over this p lace," Hermione said. "Like a repelling charm. Otherwise, wouldn't the Mugles that live around here have come here?"

Severus shrugged. "I suppose."

Hermione hrmed, itching her ear with her wing.

Their ears simultaneously flattened against their heads as a loud female voice erupted from the hut. "Hahahhahahahhah! You'll never keep this secret! Everyone will know!"

"Don't open that bloody box!"

"You think your little secrets are going to stay secret? Hah! Everyone is going to know all about your little freakshow, and this little treasure here is going on display for all to see!"

"That box is rigged, girlie! Don't—"

"Ooooo! All this fuss over a silly little ring. Rather gaudy thing if you ask me. Still, it's something to take and show the masses that you're all out here wasting the Ministry's time!"

"What's wrong with her arms and legs, sir?!"

"Don't put on that ring!"

"You think I don't know power when I feel it?" the female's voice cackled. "Well, you'd be wrong!"

"That ring is badly cursed," Manfred's voice called out.

"I can hear it calling to me," the female voice said.

The batlings clung to Amelia, who kept them wrapped in her wings. They trembled as they felt Manfred's roll of power sweeping the area. "Don't do it, Ms Skeeter."

"That's Rita Skeeter?"

"What happened to her arms and legs?"

The batlings watched as a woman— at least most of her was a woman, walked out of the shack with the ring grasped tightly in her child-like fingers. Her fingers, hands, even her arms and legs were strangely stunted, as if they belonged to a young child. Her adult body seemed out of place, as if she had been put together with spare parts, and the parts didn't match.

"You were in the healing rooms," Manfred rumbled, eyes narrowing. "You touched the time dust."

"All will be restored," Rita cackled madly as she let the ring slip upon her finger.

"NO!" Manfred screeeeeeched, a magical cone of pure sound forming in front of him. Aurors grasped their heads, hastily covering their ears. Unspeakables stumbled, holding their heads.

SNAP!

Bastiaan's third head moved quickly, his mouth clamping around Rita's arm to sever it like a guillotine. He shook it violently, throwing the arm onto the ground even as Rita screamed, clutching at the stump of her arm.

Yet people could not focus on her—

Instead, they looked at the childlike arm that had been severed— its skin blackened as a withering curse consumed it. The ring shone pristinely on an ashlike-skeletal finger. The flesh turned to ash; the bone charred to black.

Manfred had Rita pinned with one wing, his lips curled back from his dagger-like fangs. The tip of his wing touched her stump of an arm, and she screamed as his magic cauterised it instantly, stopping the bleeding and sealing the wound. "That could have been you, Rita Skeeter. Now, you owe the beasts your life and the Wizengamot your penance."

True fear flickered in Rita's eyes as her arrogance fell away and a stench rose around her as urine trailed down her legs.

"And you will wish yourself dead long before I am done with you, witch."

"Contain that cursed arm and ring," Amelia snapped, hugging her batlings close. "Put a suppression collar on Skeeter and get her into a holding cell. Move!"

"I want to know every spell this woman has cast in the last year, and I want it on my desk before she hits her cell!" Moody raged.

Unspeakables and Aurors instantly swarmed into action.


(posted in the Quibbler)

Daily Prophet Under Investigation After Arrest of Infamous Reporter Rita Skeeter Found Guilty of Multiple Crimes

Rita Skeeter, one of the Daily Prophet's most well-known reporters was found guilty of a myriad of crimes from spying, using an unregistered Animagus form, assault with time-magic, unauthorised use of time-magic, use of illegal Portkeys, bribery, and many more.

Skeeter's memories, some of which had been Obliviated to the point of no return, still unveiled a shockingly long list of crimes against the people of Wizarding Britain.

Meanwhile, The Daily Prophet is being investigated to see how much it knew of Rita's activities yet turned a blind eye in favour of stories and profits.

But the question is, dear readers, is what could she have possibly forgotten if her crimes were already so extensive?


Potions Explosion at Hogwarts Leaves Teacher at Mungo's

The famous Gilderoy Lockhart has been taken to Mungo's after a chain reaction potion explosion in his classroom that contaminated a number of potions meant for the infirmary.

The unfortunate explosion not only injured both students and the teacher, but also a visiting teacher, Remus Lupin, who was transformed into the world's first were-cassowary along with three other students whose names are being withheld out of respect for their minor status.

Damages to persons and the castle are being investigated by the Ministry, and any potential fines and additional punitive damages to be assessed may be paid out by Mr Lockhart's personal assets.

The Ministry is currently seeking a Potions Master that can if not cure at least make a sort of Wolfsbane potion that works on cassowaries, but since the resulting potion explosion involved a number of different potions and unknown factors, it is not looking like a cure will be found anytime soon.

Hogwarts continues to search for a new potions teacher, but hiring a certified master of potions remains extremely difficult as their highly advanced level of training puts them well out of reach of Hogwarts' defined budget. Finding a teacher who is not a master is possible, but there are few, it seems, that are willing to risk being in charge of so many children around volatile cauldrons. The remaining teachers are unable to pick up these classes as they have a full load already as well as a contract that specifies only the subjects they currently teach.


Hermione spread her wings out and nudged Severus behind her,placing herself between him and Alastor Moody. "I won't let you insult him again!" she screed, her voice taking on both her mum's shrillness and her dad's deadly sonic pulse.

Her mane of curls rose up straight as if electrically charged, and venom dripped from her fangs in her fervour to protect Severus from all comers— even Alastor Moody.

Alastor struggled to stand up and cover his ears, and a trickle of blood leaked out his nose as Hermione's sound-weapon scrambled and bruised his capillaries.

In the bursting flare of wild elemental magic, dark vapour swirled around her body, linking both her and Severus, and they seemed to get bigger and more ferocious with every beat of their hearts. Hermione's protective wrath spilled over her skin in a tidal wave of power as the baying hounds of the Underworld seemed to echo in her voice. Her eyes burned like twin suns, and she kept her tail wrapped around Severus' waist to keep in physical contact with him.

Their bodies seemed to jerk and twist— reforming, changing into something taller, bipedal, and unmistakably Darker.

"I'm sorry!" Moody cried out, still trying to both cover his ears and stand upright while attempting to staunch the bleeding.

"You're sorry?!" Hermione screeched furiously. "You follow us at every turn. You wait for him to make even the slightest mistake. You stalk us like we are irredeemable, criminal, evil people." Hermione's mane of hair writhed like a cluster of serpents. Her eyes glowed brightly as Dark aether dripped from her claws. "You haven't even seen— true evil, and you. Are. Sorry?!"

Bastiaan tossed his heads back and bayed as fire consumed him with a burst of black and green flames. Flesh fell off his skull-like heads as acidic slobber dripped from his teeth.

Utter rage poured from every single pore of Hermione's body, and she clenched her new set of hands into fists. Alastor's body jerked as pressure seemed to hold him in the air and choke him at the same time. "I've had more than enough of your spite. Your hatred. Your biases. Your slinking around the edges of the rules so you never quite hurt us but never leave us alone, ever."

Fear pooled in Moody's belly as the childlike innocence fell away. Childlike anger matured into vengeful wrath, and what he thought had been a brave show of bravado on Snape's part to protect Hermione was nothing, nothing even close to the terrible wrath of one Hermione Granger.

SCREEEEEEEEEE!

Manfred's echoing call boomed through the DoM, and suddenly Alastor Moody found himself landing face first in the arboretum dirt. As he looked up, two young batlings were flying off to answer their father's call as if nothing had happened.

Their bodies small again.

Their tails entwined as they flew.

Footfalls approached, and Alastor groaned as he held his ribs, rolling over.

Kingsley looked down at him, his face impassive. "You didn't read that record, did you?"

Alastor said nothing.

"Why?"

Moody had no answer to give— it was as if every time he thought of it, he found some reason not to, some reason to delay it. As he tried to open his mouth to say something, he couldn't even articulate his reasons.

Kingsley's eyes narrowed.

"That's what I thought." Kingsley wrinkled his nose as he pulled out a bright blue gem. "I'm sorry, Alastor."

He slammed the gem into Alastor's sternum, and everything Alastor Moody saw went black.


"It's a Dark geas," Amelia said grimly. "Insidious. I wouldn't have known to look for it— it was carefully woven into his anger, his emotions. Most things sit upon the Aura, but this one did not."

"How long has it been attached to Alastor?" Kingsley asked, struggling to support a clingy batling that was hanging on his back.

Amelia poked the gem in Alastor's sternum, and darkness swirled in the blue depths, drawing out whatever spell into itself in a slow drag. "Hrm, a very long time. The gem still hasn't fallen off yet."

Kingsley sighed. "We won't know who did it either until it falls off?"

"If," Amelia said. "Geas are insidious, taken as promises given at one time or another, often never meant to be life-time vows yet they're ensorcelled on a technicality."

"But a compulsive geas require reinforcement, almost constant—" Kingsley said.

"Yes, there would be something he'd have to do almost daily that reinforced it."

Savage frowned at Alastor's restraints, and then he seemed to realise something. "Boss is always taking a swig out of that old flask he has, yeah?"

Proudfoot snapped his fingers. "Bob's your uncle. It's the only thing he does every single day. Gods knows it isn't take a shower."

Amelia wrinkled her nose. "Bring in the Vow breakers. They're going to be working overtime on this one."

"Mummy."

"Yes, love?"

Hermione peeked out from behind Severus' protective wing, their combined weight making Kingsley oof and stagger. "Does this mean Auror Moody isn't really a rampaging arsemonger?"

Amelia glared at Savage.

Savage paled. "I— I'm really working on the language, ma'am, I swear!"

"No, pet. He may still be kind of a jerk— but his obsession with Severus may no longer be a problem after this."

Hermione seemed dubious. "Okay, mummy, we'll give him a chance but only because daddy says mortals make epically stupid choices."

Amelia glowered at Manfred.

Manfred bared his teeth in a big, unrepentant grin.

"It's a good thing I love you, Manfred."

The elder dragonbat's eyes shimmered with fond amusement. "I love you too, my lovely winged queen."

Amelia seemed to melt a little before pulling herself back together. "Manfred?"

"Yes, my love?"

"Don't bite off his head if he tries to punch you during detox."

"Joy-killer."

"That's me."


Manfred sniffed after Moody's fist slammed into his face and bounced off his armoured scales.

Moody clutched his broken hand, groaning.

"Feel better, now?"

"Not particularly, no. Fuck, this hurts."

"I recommend punching something less damaging to your bones, Alastor."

"I wasn't exactly planning on punching you. I just— I need— I want a drink so damn badly, and I hate the taste of alcohol."

"The compulsion is tenacious, tied to your geas."

"When can I leave this bloody hellhole?"

"Your comfortable, well-furnished room that is actually clean?"

"Hell."

Manfred snorted. "You're just aggravated that you were bathed and they removed about twenty-odd years of grime that you were holding onto out of sheer spite."

Alastor grunted. "Can you do something about this sodding hand, or do I have to nurse it until it gets infected?"

"Now, even my batlings know how to ask properly."

Moody rolled his eyes. "Can you please do something about this sodding hand?"

Master Morgan flapped his wings and folded them. He touched Alastor's hand with one wing spur, and Moody hissed as his hand both glowed and knit back together quickly.

"Ow."

"Next time, don't punch a dragonbat in the face."

"Don't punch a dragonbat at all, more like."

"Words for life, old friend."

"You still call me "friend" after all this?" Alastor sat down, sighing.

"If I held onto a grudge for every slight given me in my long life, Alastor, the world would be burning, and I would be very, very tired."

Moody snorted. "I'm sorry— I'm sorry that I couldn't shake this thing off myself. Didn't even suspect. I should have. I may have just told the old man everything. Every ruddy thing we know."

"Not quite everything," Manfred said, his fangs glistening.


Meanwhile, back in the dragonbats' family cave-home…

Hermione and Severus placed the golden box on a small, makeshift altar. Severus lit the candles, and Hermione lit the sticks of incense.

"Lord Father," they prayed. "We give you back your stone, unfortunately, cursed, that you may take it far from the reach of human hands."

Dark tendrils of mist rose up from the altar and consumed it, making the ring and stone disappear.

A bat of the infinite blackness of space rose slowly from the ground, his great wings unfurling to touch one side of the room and the other. "Ahhh, my beloved children. Give your Father a hug."

The batlings clung to the Dark form of Camazotz, squeaking happily as he pulled them close.

"I give you the gift of youth for a while longer, my loves," the bat god crooned, stroking their bodies with his wings. "Childhood is a gift, and you have both earned a little pampering from your doting parents, hrm?"

Camazotz' muzzle twisted into a smile. "Nothing is scarier than the protective wrath of a parent," he whispered into their fur. "And you needn't be a god in order to be— scary."

"Father, will you stay for tea?" Hermione asked. "Daddy says it's the fluid that lubricates the soul."

"And how, my dear love, could I possibly decline such a charming invitation?" Camazotz said as his form changed into one with hands and arms, his wings folding against his body and disappearing. "Shall you join me, my little loves? Do you remember how to have hands again?"

Hermione and Severus looked at each other with embarrassment.

Camazotz laughed. "Lesson time. Then tea. Come, let the lessons begin anew."

The batlings eagerly joined him in the lesson while Bastiaan looked on, his tail thumping on the floor with a gentle rhythm as a small clutter of nether-spiders swarmed over the table and began to set it for their tea.


End of Chapter Four


A/N: Happy Author Appreciation Day (the 21st of August)! And my congratulations to the A03 community and supporters who won a Hugo! How spectacular! My thanks to everyone who has supported me throughout my journey. I may not be the kind of popular (let's face it, I'm a bit niche in my stories, LOL) that has people drowning my stories in reviews, but I value each and every one that I get. I may not be able to reply to them all (and ff dot net SUCKS for replying to things and remembering who you replied to, let's be real) but I seriously love all of you who have taken the time to read, review, and generally give me reasons to keep writing whenever I'm not working. Those of you who understand that my muses are fickle beasts, wait patiently for my stories to finish regardless of where my muse takes me, love on my betas (because dang it, they deserve it), and generally provide the air we fanfic authors need to thrive— thank you. It seems like a long time ago, forever it feels, when I posted my nerve-wracking, terrifyingly scary first story on ff dot net: A Chance for Happiness. How could I ever have known that it would have started what it did? Now, over 100 some plus works later, eeking out my little monster-loving niche within the fandom (see what I did there?) I feel like I and my most beloved betas have added something unique as well the classic things we all love in our cherished Severus and Hermione fandom. Not everyone can understand it, and some will always prefer canon to my level of crack-fiendishness-Cthulhu-infested-beast-hugging-karma-punting writing, but it's been a fun ride, and I hope I've brought smiles to my readers. For you, my friends, have definitely brought smiles to me. I thank you for that.

(And praise The Dragon and the Rose and Dutchgirl01 (and her elusive Flyby Commander Shepard) for always finding the time of day to slap my words around and make them not sound like they just came out of Master Cthulhu's mouth— unless they did, which of course is totally intentional).

Chapter Text

Summary: [HG/SS] AU: Crack, Hermione wasn't supposed to get murdered by a troll. She was supposed to spur on Harry Potter and Ron Weasley and become their friend and thus keep them alive through multiple trials. All of Dumbledore's carefully laid out plans tank as Hermione Granger embraces a new life, thanks to none other than Severus Snape.

Beta Love: The Dragon and the Rose, Dutchgirl01, Flyby Commander Shepard

Trigger Warning: none


A Touch of Death

Chapter Five

Everything is scary if you look at it. So you just got to live.

Mary J. Blige


"She's dangerous," Moody said, sipping his tea.

"She's my daughter. Of course, she's dangerous," Manfred said, his wing itching his ears. "We're not dragonbats because we're cuddly. Well— we are cuddly. We just don't look cuddly."

"I happen to think you look very cuddly," Amelia said with a purr.

Manfred growled lustily. "Mrrr."

Moody coughed. "Can we discuss the fact I remember that your daughter seems to command the fabric of the Underworld?"

"What? Not Severus too? Surely if one can do it the other is not so far behind? They do share everything, after all."

"I'm serious, Manfred."

"So, too," Manfred said, "am I."

Moody sighed. "I'm just saying that I don't think I was dreaming about it when she almost handed me my face."

Manfred shook his head. "Alastor, the one thing you need to realise is that nothing is stronger than the bond between those two— and if you nurture it, they will show you nothing but love in return. If you threaten it, they will become as terrible and terrifying as their magic allows— and they have a lot of it."

Alastor wilted. "How do you even discipline something like that?"

Manfred tilted his head. "Fairly."

"Could it really be that easy?"

"I'm not saying that being a fair parent is easy— just that it is the best way to deal with two highly intelligent batlings. I would never lie to them as to why they are being punished, nor would I withhold from them the reason why. Punishment must be fair and transparent— and the reason for it must be justifiable and easily explainable. If you can't explain why you did it, then you're probably not being rational."

"Somehow I don't think you could sell that philosophy to Molly Weasley," Moody said.

Manfred snorted. "She wouldn't even survive tea time in my home."

"Somehow, I don't think she would survive long enough to reach the front door," Moody mused.

"Daddy!"

Thump.

Two excited batlings landed and clung to their father.

"Hmmm? Yes, my loves?"

"Can we play find the naughty Auror?"

Moody blinked.

Manfred grinned from ear-to-ear. "Of course. If you can find one, I'm sure our friend here would be very interested in seeing for himself."

"But he can't fly," Hermione protested.

"He's too heavy to carry," Severus complained.

Manfred slid his eyes over to peer at Moody.

"NO!" Moody yelped.

"ThreetwooneGO!" Manfred yelled.

The batlings whooped gleefully as they took off in a flurry of wingbeats and Manfred grasped Moody with his feet and tore off after them.

"AHHHHHNOOOO!" Moody cried, flailing about helplessly.

"Don't make me drop you, Alastor," Manfred said.


Moody scowled as Manfred dropped him off on the roof of one of the DoM shoppes as the great dragonbat folded his wings and peered over the side.

The batlings silently whooshed past, gliding towards the bakery where a young Auror trainee dressed in light brown robes was clearly dozing off in his chair.

Alastor tensed, preparing to yell down at him, but Manfred promptly stuffed a tasty sausage roll into his mouth.

"Be silent, mate. My children are practising."

Moody seemed rather torn between indignance and deliciousness.

Deliciousness won, and he chewed on it contentedly.

The baker was moving around, stocking the stalls, setting out a wide variety of pies, biscuits, loaves of bread, muffins, and pastries.

Hermione landed in plain sight, spinning on one of the stools. "Hallo, Master Berrycloth!"

"Well. hello there, Miss Hermione! No classes today?"

Hermione shook her head. "Homework is done already."

"Already? I suppose that's about right for you, hrm?"

Hermione grinned. "What are you making today?"

"Standard fare, but I made a double chocolate fudge cake for the meeting this afternoon. Hey— would you be willing to help me deliver it?"

"Okay! Is it heavy?"

"I will charm it so it will be small and light."

"Mmm, okay!" Hermione spun on the stool.

Berrycloth packed up the cake in a box and placed it in a red gingham carry sack. "Take this up to meeting room fifteen, pet. Freki will be expecting it."

Hermione took the handle in her mouth and flapped experimentally. She took off in a flurry of wingbeats.

"Oi! What about your payment?" the baker called out after her and then turned to find half of his goodies had been absconded with. A small pile of gold coins sat in their place.

Berrycloth bonked the sleeping Auror trainee over the head and scoffed, "Some guard you are."

The Auror fell back in the chair and landed on his back. "Ow."

"Good thing the best thieves aren't really thieves at all," Berrycloth tutted, collecting the coins. He leaned over the counter and called up to yell, "I owe your family a sickle for the delivery!"

Manfred chuckled, poking his head over the awning. "My best to your wife, Master Berrycloth!"

Alastor was beside the Auror trainee, grabbing him up by the scruff and giving him a solid shake. "We need to talk about constant vigilance."

"Y-yes, Sir!" the young Auror blurted.

The baker laughed as he went back inside to gather more product to put out. "Be fair, Alastor. Even if he'd been awake, he wouldn't have seen them, either."

Moody grunted, giving the trainee a withering scowl. "Outdone by a pair of batlings, Winchester. You should be ashamed of yourself."


Moody watched the two batlings sharing a large cherry-filled pastry between them, each of them taking one end and working towards the centre with enthusiastic chewing. They met in the middle and licked the sweet fruit filling off the other's muzzle, their bright green tongues flicking like a hummingbird drinking nectar from a flower.

"Doesn't seem right to reward them for thievery, Manfred."

"It wasn't." Manfred chuckled, lapping at his tea with interest. "They spent their own hard-won allowance and errand-running monies for these tasty rewards."

Alastor frowned.

"Did you not notice Severus so carefully placing the coins upon the counter when he took the baked goods?" Manfred chuckled as Alastor's eyes widened in surprise.

"Even acts of mischief must be fair," Manfred said, grinning. "The baker makes his livelihood upon his trade. The batlings know this, but the challenge of removing things while remaining entirely unseen is just too much fun for them to resist. There is always a compromise. They get to practice their stealth. The baker gets what is due to him. No harm is done. Also— I think think that Master Berrycloth is quite amused by how often he is pilfered despite how hard he tries to remain scrupulously attentive. He and so many others."

Moody's brows furrowed. "So all of this—" He stared at the room full of pilfered trinkets, toys, baubles, and even preserved food. "They paid for it all?"

"Or traded. Haggled. Sometimes even charmed. Amelia is certainly not above rewarding them when they complete their studies and get high marks from the other masters."

The batlings pounced, squeaked, and tumbled with each other— a playful tangle of wings, scales, fur, and claws. Severus ended up on top, victorious, and Hermione made a sad little squeak of protest.

Bastiaan chomped Severus and pulled him off. The batling squeaked in protest as Hermione promptly escaped, crowing in victory.

Severus freed himself from Bastiaan and tore off after her, squeaking vengeance.

They tumbled together again, thumping into some moss and vegetation, sliding down, and then ending in a pile of panting and lolling bright green tongues. They snuggled together, yawning, and were instantly asleep.

Alastor boggled as his eyebrow twitched and his mouth curved upward without his permission.

"Gotcha," Manfred said smugly, and a startled Moody shook off the batling cuteness overload with a sputter.

Moody sighed. "Why are they so ruddy adorable?"

Amelia thumped down a mug full of strong Scottish tea. "They are dragonbatlings," she said. "Comes with the territory along with Nundu cubs, Nifflers, baby rabbits, kittens, puppies, and otters."

"Otters?"

"They're naturally adorable."

"If you say so."

"I do."

"And it's true," Manfred said proudly. "All the above."

Amelia sniffed. "You know, Alastor. You should just employ our batlings to test your Aurors' proficiency."

"What?"

"You keep trying to preach constant vigilance, but if they can't even defend themselves against a batling, what chance do they really have out there in the real world?"

Moody scowled. "They aren't that good. They're just lucky."

"Oh?" Manfred said, grinning madly. "Then where's your wand?"

Moody went to pull out his wand, his smug smile fading as he realised he didn't have it.

Amelia pointed over to the batling pile where the two snuggly examples of adorable had a wand laying beside them.

Moody flushed. "Okay, I'm listening."


Twelve defeated Aurors sat slumped dispiritedly on the ground sipping ice-cold lemonade, their bodies covered in marks made by the colourful glowing paintballs the batlings had gleefully tagged them with.

Two of them were doing well, having had evaded the batling's antics or at least taken advantage of the chaos to escape unscathed.

"Two out of fourteen," Moody bemoaned. "How depressing."

"So not fair, boss," one of the Aurors protested. "They have that echomation going for them."

"Echolocation?"

"Yeah, that."

"Back to basic biology for you, Mavins."

A sigh. "Yes, boss."

"Listen up, people," Moody barked. "If you can't dodge a batling, you don't belong out in the field. They're not even trying here, and you're all covered in paint."

The batlings clung upside down on a nearby perch, sharing a huge jackfruit between them— victory's great reward.

Bastiaan whined, tail thumping, all three heads hoping for a share.

The batlings placed pieces of fruit on the dog's tongues and went back to picking apart the fruit between them. Bastiaan tail thumped with approval.

"What about us, boss?" the two survivors asked.

Thump.

Two batlings landed on them, clinging to their bodies like backpacks.

"You lucky sods get to be batling sitters for the night."

The batlings squeaked cutely.

The Aurors instantly melted. "Yes, sir!" they cooed.

Manfred chuckled. "Another two bite the dust."

Moody rubbed his temples.

"This is hardly fair," the other Aurors complained.

"Dodge better next time!" Alastor roared.

Amelia chuckled as she watched her batlings charm a bite out of the Auror's fruit-filled pudgie pie.

"Where did you learn to make those, Edwin?"

"My Da taught me," the young Auror replied with a grin. "We'd go camping on summer hols and make them over the campfire. "Mum calls them campfire paninis."

"They're really good," Mae said, turning the pie iron over the makeshift fire they had conjured. "I had Walkerton make us a few irons."

"Hnn," Moody said thoughtfully. "Don't ever show those things to Arthur Weasley. You'll never get them back."

"No way, sir!" they protested. They cradled their pie irons possessively.

Moody grunted. "Show me how they work."

The young Aurors grinned. "Yes, sir!"


Severus popped his head over the wall, and his ears flattened against his head.

He came back down as Hermione peered at him.

"Well, what's in there?"

"I'm not quite sure."

"Is it werewolves?"

"Definitely not."

"Then— what?"

Severus wrinkled his nose.

Hermione sighed and poked her head up over the wall then, she too, sank back down and wrinkled her face. Her bright green tongue flicked across her teeth. "Okay, I'm not sure either."

They both rose up and peered over the wall together, ears swivelling as they attempted to make sense through hearing what their eyes were failing at.

"Well, it is the full moon."

"Maybe this is one of those were-creatures that dad told us about," Hermione pondered out loud.

"They look angry."

"That one is plucking itself bald."

"Well, that would make me angry."

Hermione and Severus exchanged glances.

"But what are they?"

They flattened their ears against their heads together.

"Keep your body parts away from those cages, Booker!" a voice barked. "If the beak doesn't get you the claws on the feet will make you wish you were dead!"

The batlings' ears perked forward.

"Are they contagious?" the man near the cage yelled back.

"No idea. Do you really want to risk it and spend three days a month as a cranky almost-cassowary?"

Booker seemed dubious. "Not really, boss." He threw food into the feeding troughs using his wand. "How long are they going to come here?"

"Three days a month until they are either cured or dead."

"Harsh, boss."

"Truth, Booker."

"DoM working on a cure?"

"I think they are in holding until they are pretty sure the potion won't wear off. Treating a potion with another potion could turn them into something—"

"Worse?"

"Bizarre."

"Sorry, boss, but aren't they already pretty bizarre?"

"More bizarre."

"Sweet baby Merlin, they already sound like something out of my worst nightmares."

The low rumbling calls from the cage seemed to boom raucously and even vibrate the ground around them.

"Were—" Hermione began slowly.

"Cassowaries?" Severus completed her word, his eyes very wide.

The almost-cassowaries started picking fights with each other, doing their very best to beat the living daylights out of each other until each of them finally went away to a different corner.

"They're kinda scary-looking." Hermione opened a sling bag that was strapped over her shoulder and waist and pulled out a very large book from the small opening. She flipped through it with her wing thumb and stopped at a particular page. "Real cassowaries live in tropical forests in Australia, New Guinea, the Maluku Islands, and— East Nusa Tenggara."

She frowned, flipping more pages. "East Nusa Tenggara is a cluster of islands in southern Indonesia."

Severus peered at the pages as she flipped through them. "Hn. Are they normally a were species?"

Hermione shrugged. "I don't think so. It wasn't in any of our magical beast books."

"We're not in our magical beast books," Severus noted.

Hermione frowned. "But we exist!"

"Doesn't mean that anyone survived to write about it," Severus pointed out.

Hermione pouted, not liking the possibility that her go-to source for information might be lacking in some way.

"Oi, what are you two doing here squeaking away?" A gruff elder wizard asked, looming over the wall at them.

Severus and Hermione looked up at him, eyes wide, noses twitching.

"This is no place for curious little batlings," the elder wizard said. "You fly yourselves back home before our Head Boss of Us takes it out on all of our hides."

The two batlings squeaked shrilly in alarm and promptly tore off, wings flapping madly as they hurried to gain altitude and zoom off towards home.

The elder wizard chuckled. "Oi there, Booker. Make sure the wards are extra tight tonight. We have some curious batlings on the prowl."

"Again?" Booker complained, moaning at the prospect of more work.

"Think of how your sorry backside will smart if you don't and one of those wee batlings gets hurt."

Booker immediately began reinforcing the wards in earnest. "Yes, boss!"


Winter holidays brought a guest to the House of Morgan, with shy batlings hiding in the giant tree roots that grew around their cave-like home. No amount of coaxing, fruit, pastries, or even pasties could get Hermione and Severus to come out from hiding, and when their guest finally arrived, Amelia and Manfred began to wonder if they had hallucinated having batlings at all, had it not been for the fact that they were both dragonbats.

The proof was rather hard to deny in that area, at least.

The mystery on why the outgoing and even downright gregarious batlings would suddenly become terribly shy at the prospect of houseguests remained a subject for serious contemplation, however.

"Oh my— Merlin's beard!" a feminine voice cried. "I leave you alone for a few months to stamp out fires in Tibet and you go and get yourself married and— and— well, just look at you, I can't even wrap my arms around you anymore. How do I hug this?"

"Hello to you too, Louisa," Amelia laughed.

The witch threw her arms around Amelia's neck and hugged her, and the new dragonbat snuffled her deeply, using her head and wing to wrap around her guest.

"Susan, love, stop oogling at the front door and come in and properly greet your aunt!"

"Yes, Mum!" Susan ran in and then skidded to a halt, her eyes going very wide. "Auntie Amelia?" she rasped.

"Hello there, love," Amelia said, grinning. "Surprise!"

Susan looked unsure as to which approach was best considering her aunt had gained quite a bit of mass and intimidation factor.

Amelia curved her wing around the young witch and pulled her in for a hug. Susan yelped and then relaxed as the dragonbat's warmth soothed her nerves.

"Wow, that's really you, Auntie?"

"In the flesh, dear," Amelia said with a chuckle.

"I really wish I could talk about this place," Susan complained. "Not that anyone would believe me. Ever. All my friends think I'm spending the holidays at a Divination seminar in Yugoslavia, being bored out of my mind."

"Well, there are just some things the majority of the world is not quite ready to handle, pet," Amelia said kindly.

"But you would be so wicked to bring to class," Susan complained.

Louisa tutted. "Hush, Susan. I don't imagine that would end very well."

"wouldn't be bored," Susan said with a cheeky grin.

Amelia just rolled her eyes, a surprisingly disturbing look on a dragonbat.

"This place is huge," Susan said, looking around the main room with awe. She tilted her head. "I guess that makes sense. You're pretty huge too."

"Susan!"

"It's true, Mum!" Susan protested as her mum gave her a very unfriendly glare.

"To be fair," Manfred's low voice rumbled. "We are both absolutely huge." The much larger male dragonbat wing-walked in with a slow, almost feline sort of slink, his tail carefully moving so to not knock over the guest furniture they had moved in for their fully human guests' comfort.

Louisa's eyes nearly bugged out of her skull as Amelia's muzzle parted with happiness and she gave him a tender nuzzle.

"Sis, this is my husband, Manfred."

"A true plllleaaassure," Manfred drawled.

Susan practically bounced out of her skin. "WICKED!"

Manfred smiled at her, all fangs and tongue-flicking. "Absolutely." He looked around. "Where are our batlings? It's not like them to be— shy."

Amelia sighed. "They're refusing to come out, love. They've never been so— ill-mannered before."

Manfred itched his ear habitually. "Hn." He shuffled over to the cave entrance and let out a low, ground-shaking scree.

No response.

Manfred used his tail to scratch his head. "This is— rather unlike them."

His ears swivelled, attempting to catch the slightest sound that might indicate distress or the presence of nearby batlings.

Manfred's ears moved as he homed in on something.

Skkirrrrrrrck…

The sound of something heavy sliding down a tree caused Manfred to move over and take a closer look.

KrrrrrrrrTHUMP!

A groggy-looking mahogany-hued male dragonbat slid down the tree on his belly and landed with a thump at Manfred's feet. Two wide-eyed batlings sat on his back, looking rather startled.

"Hi Daddy," Hermione squeaked.

"Hey dad—" Severus squeaked.

Manfred's expression was deeply amused. "My beloved children. I see that you have assimilated Kingsley into our most glorious family."

Kings opened his eyes groggily, letting out a low squeak. "Resistance is futile."

Manfred took his batlings under wing and snuggled them. "Well done, children. Very well done, indeed."

Amelia looked down at the slightly flattened, belly-sliding Kingsley. "You're forgiven for being late to introductions."

"I want—" Susan started.

"No!" Louisa said immediately.

"But—"

"No! I am not going to explain to your father why you got expelled from Hogwarts!"

Susan sulked. "Fine."

The batlings peered at the guests with curiosity, squeaking to each other.

Susan's lip quivered. "You're so adorable!"

Hermione perked as Severus shook his head.

Hermione held out her wings as Susan scooped her up and carried her off.

Severus frowned, his muzzle crinkling.

Manfred lay a comforting wing over Severus' back. "It will be alright, my son. "She will not forget you so easily."

Severus sulked, unconvinced.

Hermione flopped down on top of Severus, startling him. She tugged him by the wing and dragged him off to pounce Susan together.

Sulking instantly forgotten.

Manfred chuckled as he helped Kingsley upright. "Welcome to the family, brother."

Kingsley gave a soft, bewildered squeak.

"Welcome to the Department of Mysteries full time," Amelia added, grinning smugly.

Manfred tilted his head. "I suppose we should make him a connecting cavern."

"Mum! Can we stay here forever!?" Susan called happily from the adjoining room.

"Just for the holidays, love!" Louisa called back.

Manfred's expression was totally smug.


Amelia scowled across her desk. "How long has this been going on?"

Moody shook his head. "Unsure, but I have a feeling far longer than Hogwarts wishes to admit."

"Petrification? Truly?"

"Partial," Moody said. "The indirect gaze of something— a reflection, perhaps. Something pretty sinister up there. Rumour says it's in the Chamber of Secrets. Salazar Slytherin's parting gift to Hogwarts to supposedly cleanse the Mudbloods from his school."

"It's so hard to believe they were all friends once… the Founders, that is."

Moody grunted in agreement.

"My niece tells me there are a lot of rumours going around, but the truth— she just doesn't know. No one seems to have any real idea. Lots of fear. Speculation." Amelia frowned. "She says Harry Potter talks to snakes. Professor Lockhart— that dandified buffoon whose class got turned into were-cassowaries—set up some sort of duelling club to 'help instil interest in DADA for his colleague's class'. Potter went up against Malfoy's boy, Draco. Something about him conjuring a viper. Potter insists he was only asking the snake not to hurt anyone, but the other children swear he was trying to get the snake to attack them. There have been threatening messages painted on the walls as well."

Moody frowned. "No one has contacted the Auror department about it."

"Somehow. I rather doubt Dumbledore would wish to have more Auror entanglements at Hogwarts."

"These are children being endangered not to mention the teachers and staff."

"So, why is this case on my desk, Alastor?" Amelia asked. "It's pretty rare for school affairs to show up here."

Moody cricked his neck. "The were-cassowaries suddenly went missing. All but Lupin, who reported in for his moon night as scheduled."

"Tonight is a full moon," Amelia said, eyes narrowing.

"Aye, ma'am," Moody said.

Amelia stood. "Get a team together right now. I want Aurors in every single hall until the moon isn't full anymore."

"Ma'am," Alastor said, sweeping from the room in a smooth movement.

"What the hell is going on over there, Albus?" Amelia snarled to the empty room.


Hogwarts Custodian Stumbles Across Basilisk Massacre

Hogwarts caretaker, Argus Filch, was cleaning up messes in the hallways of Hogwarts the other night when he found himself in the midst of a bloody mess: a corpse of a basilisk torn to pieces by what seems to be the schools very own were-cassowaries.

"I never thought my child being a were-anything would save their life!" Noreen Hollingsworth exclaimed as the Aurors swarmed the halls.

Aurors, having been posted at the school due to the missing were-cassowaries, came running to Mr Filch's yells only to find him covered in gore and the mutilated body of a basilisk painting the hallway leading to the Potions classroom in the dungeons of Hogwarts, half of it partially wedged in a hidden passage within the wall.

The passage led down into a hidden chamber deep within Hogwarts— the infamous Chamber of Secrets, which also happened to be where the unfortunate were-cassowary students had become trapped while trying to find a suitable place to hide during the full moon without having to report to the Ministry for their moon-night incarceration.

How they managed to find the chamber, to begin with, seemed to involve the harassment of the Boy-Who-Lived, Harry Potter, for allegedly attempting to attack a fellow classmate with a conjured snake. His yells accidentally caused a passage to open, and the students descended only to become trapped themselves.

Harry Potter was later found nearby with a broken leg, half-pinned by rubble that isolated him from his fellow classmates— a lucky break, as it turns out, for they transformed that night and took on an enormous basilisk that was living in the chamber, driving it up into the school, destroying a wall, and subsequently tearing the deadly creature to pieces.

And, in an even stranger twist, apparently, the call of the male were-cassowary seems to be a reasonable equivalent to a cock crowing, which ensured that the basilisk was well and truly dead.

Investigations are ongoing as to what had brought Mr Potter into the isolated lavatory in the first place, and the boy reported hearing crying coming from the lavatory. When Aurors attempted to investigate the lavatory, a ghost of one Myrtle Warren threw a water-logged, leatherbound journal at them. How this connects to or if it does connect to the Chamber of Secrets remains unknown.

As for Mr Potter's case of bullying, the Headmaster has taken a stand against it stating that despite the unintentional heroism of the were-cassowaries in defending the school, the students will be punished for their treatment of Mr Potter as befits their offence.

"Being heroic in one moment does not erase having picked on and ostracised a fellow student on rumour and hearsay. Mr Potter is not a murderer."


"What a bunch of hypocritical bullMMMPH!"

"Please don't curse around my batlings, Alastor," Manfred said, having stuffed Moody's mouth with a plum. "Sit down, have tea, and throw that rag into the fire where it belongs."

The two batlings looked up from their study books, eyes wide, ears flicking.

"I cannot believe he can stand there crowing about how picked on students won't be tolerated when it was the same ostracising that—"

Manfred shook his head. "Ranting about it here will hardly help, old friend. We know the situations that surrounded some of his students, and we also know that it was more than one occasion that it did."

"What do you think he's up to?"

Manfred shrugged. "Dumbledore has always been a difficult read," he said. "What he wants, he eventually gets, but it is rarely ever the straight and direct approach. Thing is, he often thinks himself the great saviour— sacrificing of himself for an elusive greater good."

"But what is that greater good?"

Manfred sighed, itching his chin with his wing thumb. "A long time ago, Albus was on a mission to save the innocent. He visited orphanages in Muggle areas, trying to save those who needed saving. Many of us at the DoM did clean up duty— sweeping up the bursts of accidental magic that inevitably flared up in his wake— proof, he said, demonstrating that the children needed to be educated at Hogwarts, not a Muggle institution."

Manfred yawned, baring all his teeth. "But not all of the children he saved were grateful. Some of them had to be Obliviated— magic suppressed to prevent explosions of dangerous power— emotionally tied and uncontrollable. He made quite a game of it— saving these children before we had to deal with their aftermaths. Fires. Tragedies. Horrible accidents. Of course, what the DoM sees and deals with cannot always go in front of Wizengamot for all to hear."

"So, Albus comes out smelling like a rosy hero, and we end up cleaning up his messes and missteps," Moody grumbled. "I just never realised it until—

"So it would seem," Manfred said. "He is, of course, not the only one we have had to clean up after. He is just— the most prominent one. I do have my suspicions, of course, that the Dark Lord was once one of those children he supposedly saved."

"So, that's his obsession then," Moody said. "The reason he's been so focused on the Dark Lord returning. Being ready. Do you think he knew about Quirrell?"

"No, and I think that chafes him," Manfred said. "It's not being able to see the forest through the trees as the Muggles say. I think, though, that we've figured out why the Dark Lord was able to come back at all. That journal that 'Moaning Myrtle' threw at the Aurors was seeped in Dark magic. As the ring was before it was destroyed."

"Wait, soul magic?"

"The most twisted kind, yes," Manfred said. "Horcruxes."

Manfred wrinkled his nose. "He had to murder for every one he made, and if he made at least two— I'm willing to bet he made more. We have a team on the journal to trace the magic to trace what others may remain. One can hide an object, but one cannot keep the pieces of the soul from being traced once you know what to search for. That was the downfall of those who originally made Horcruxes to begin with— they captured the would-be immortal, kept them alive, and used what remained of their soul to track the other pieces."

"Those pieces would always want to be reunited," Moody speculated.

Manfred nodded. "Aye. It is not natural for a soul to be fractured let alone preserved in such a state. And— being preserved on a soul-level did not guarantee a body. Quirrell is proof of that. He was possessed."

"So, you compared the signature of the soul in the journal book to the essence trapped in Quirrell."

Manfred nodded. "It is the same."

"Daddy, does that mean you have him?" Hermione asked as she placed her completed homework on the table with Severus'.

Manfred drew his batlings to him, pressing them under his wings to his body. "Yes, my batlings. We have a way to put an end to his unnatural state. We must find his remaining Horcruxes and ensure they are destroyed. Then, and only then, will anything be done to separate Quirrell from his possession."

Hermione and Severus snuggled tighter to Manfred.

"What is it?" Manfred asked, sensing a tremor in his batlings.

Hermione and Severus linked their tails tightly.

Severus spoke up. "We've had dreams."

"Dreams?" Manfred asked. "What sort?"

Severus wrinkled his muzzle and looked at Hermione. Hermione pulled out some parchments from her enchanted bag and placed them on the table in front of Manfred and Alastor.

There, drawn in ink, were detailed sketches of a locket, a cup with a badger on it, and a jewelled diadem. Each was drawn with both Hermione and Severus' hand, but the look was the same— the location the same.

"What are these?" Moody asked, poking the parchments with his finger.

Manfred's smile was feral as he hugged his batlings close. "The path to victory, old friend."


End of Chapter 5


A/N: Back to work tomorrow. *whimper*

I decided to publish this where it was instead of waiting until it was longer since longer could take a while with my crazy schedule.

Thanks for your reviews and support. You all make my day with every one.