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Pride of Time

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Big thanks goes out to my beta, the lovely SSB!

Anti-Litigation Charm: I do not own!

Please review.


Hermione was accompanied by several Gryffindors as they made their way to Slughorn's office. It was down in the dungeons, which meant the possibility of aggression from the Slytherins, which was why they had all chosen to go together. No sense in getting ambushed alone if they could help it. It was a sad state of affairs when one had to travel in packs to avoid being sent to the Infirmary, but that was simply how it was. Hermione had the advantage of numbers with her as insurance for an alibi, and they had her dueling skills as security. It was a neat little arrangement.

Slughorn's office had once again been magically enlarged and now it appeared that it could hold some fifty-odd people. There was no dancing this time, but people were standing up and talking in little clusters. There were a few tables here and there along with a fireplace surrounded by cozy couches that one could sit on, but it seemed that to start with, everyone was inclined to stand. The Gryffindors immediately dispersed around the room, the excitement and merry festivity of the occasion affecting them almost immediately.

The tables were dressed with white tablecloths, and many were once again burdened with rich and delightful food. Hermione was immediately pulled into a conversation with a group of sixth and seventh years from Ravenclaw over by the fruit bowl, where they began to discuss the influence of Alchemy in different branches of magic. They were kind and gracious enough to include her in their discussion, and Hermione found that they were all quite interested in what she had to say. It was a far cry from the dull and glassy-eyed looks she sometimes received when she began postulating on a subject that genuinely interested her.

Hermione later excused herself to grab a butterbeer, and was about to do just that when she was intercepted by Professor Slughorn, who looked only slightly tipsy on his feet.

"Ah, Hermione," he beamed, "just the lady I was looking for."

"I'll be right back, sir, I'm just going to go grab a drink…"

"Nonsense! There will be time for that later. Right now, I have someone here who I'm certain you'd like to meet—ah, here he is!" He gestured at someone behind her, and Hermione turned around, about to make her excuses to extract herself from the situation when her protest promptly died on her lips.

Severus Snape was smirking down at her, his eyes glittering with amusement at her predicament. "Hello, Hermione."

Hermione gaped at him, completely caught off guard. At least a dozen different answers ran through her mind, and she picked what seemed to be the most urgent one at that moment.

"Am I imagining it or have you grown another inch?" She turned around to ask Slughorn to excuse them for a moment, only to find that the man had left on his own, his attention turned to two students whom he was introducing to another famous ex-pupil. She turned back around to look at him, and then her eyes narrowed in playful suspicion. "Have you been adding height to your boots?"

Severus scowled at her. "I grew another half inch, and the boots did the rest. Is that really the first thing on your mind?"

Hermione grinned at him, suddenly very happy, very delighted at seeing him. It had taken a moment for the shock to settle in, but now he was here again, and she felt lighter than she had in ages. "No, but it was certainly the safest." Her expression softened. "How have you been?"

Severus hesitated, and then placed a hand on her shoulder. "Let's find somewhere else to talk."

Hermione nodded, and they edged their way through the crowd until they found a spot near the corner. A few spells to ensure their privacy and to quiet the space around them so that they could hear each other above the noise in the background, and they settled down.

"To answer your question, I have been busy," Severus responded, folding his arms across his chest. "I took on a six-month arrangement with Arsenius Jigger, and earned money helping him gather ingredients. We went out of the country for a bit." He hesitated for a moment, and then continued. "In addition, I have been spending… a great deal of time in the Dark Lord's presence. He has found my skills as a brewer useful."

Hermione bit her lower lip, and glanced down at his left arm.

"As a result, I either simply did not have the opportunity to write or I was under too much supervision to safely send anything to you," Severus continued. "Or I would have certainly sent something." He looked hesitant for a moment, cautious even, before he added carefully, "I suppose you were not happy about that."

Hermione breathed in deeply. "I rather suspected that it was one of those reasons, yes, although I don't understand how being out of the country would preclude you from writing letters."

Severus's lips twisted into a self-deprecating smile. "Because our time was spent almost exclusively in the wilderness trying not to get killed." He pulled up his right sleeve, where Hermione could see a white bandaged wrapped around his forearm. "Searching for dragonsbane in Romania was more entertainment for the dragons than it was success for us. We tried to bring an owl, but the first time Master Jigger sent a letter, it never came back."

"That would explain it," Hermione agreed.

There was an awkward silence for a moment, and then she added, "My summer job was much less life-threatening. I worked at Flourish and Blotts, and the only risk there was of an aggressive book or a papercut."

Severus smirked. "I'm sure you enjoyed yourself thoroughly."

"Oh, yes. Endless access to books," Hermione joked. "Every bibliophile's dream."

Severus gave her a thin-lipped smile, and then there was a second awkward pause, before he finally addressed the metaphorical hippogriff in the room. Or rather, he tried. "Last year, just before I left… I… well…" he looked extremely uncertain, and it seemed to Hermione that his gaze was entirely on her, trying to gauge her reaction to the minutest detail. "I believe I left before anything could be explained or… or sorted out."

Hermione tilted her chin up to look at him squarely. "Why did you do it?" she asked simply.

In response, Severus slowly placed one hand on her cheek. When she did not pull away or protest, he leaned in slightly so that they were face to face. "Because since that time you and I ended up in that month-long detention, I realized just how much I liked you." This thumb traced the corner of her lips, and he continued, "And I started to notice you as more than just a friend. Everything about you simply… entrances me. But I was too scared—too shy—to say a word about it to you. Until the last minute, when I decided that I had nothing to lose in trying."

"Do you still like me that way?" It was a simple question.

"If anything, having not had a chance to see or talk to you in nearly half a year—gods, yes," he murmured. "But you haven't said a word about how you feel—although surely, at this point, if you haven't already pushed me away…"

On impulse, Hermione brought a finger to his lips to quietly shush him. He fell silent, and she pulled her hand away. And then she leaned in and kissed him.

He was surprised. There was no other word for it. She had taken him completely by shock. If he had been expecting some kind of response, this certainly wasn't it. But he certainly was not complaining—far from it. As soon as he registered what was happening, his hands came to rest on her waist, and he quickly responded, practically taking over in his eagerness. Hermione wrapped her arms around his neck and closed her eyes, as the pleasurable memory of their first and last kiss replayed in her mind, encouraging her to savor this one as well.

If Hermione had any doubts about whether Severus had been sincere, they promptly self-immolated. Passion of this kind could simply not be manufactured. The way he was kissing her, nipping and suckling in a manner that could only be described as him wanting more, and simply not being able to get enough, was self-evident. As soon as Hermione managed to regain her bearings, she responded in kind. That delightfully masculine taste she remembered from last time was still there, and while he snogged her thoroughly, she delighted herself with it.

When they finally pulled away, breathless, Severus gently rested his forehead against hers.

"I take that to mean you like it?" he whispered. His eyes were dark with what could only be described as lust, and Hermione could not help but feel the same titilating thrill that their slow and heavy kiss had left them with.

Something suddenly clicked in her mind, though, and she pulled away.

"Let's go," she said, gesturing at the door.

Severus's eyes flickered toward the others guests in the room, and then back at her. "No one will notice if we're missing," he agreed. "I'd rather find a more private venue for our… discussion."

Indeed, no one did notice them missing. They both slipped out of the office without another word to anyone, and given how preoccupied they all were with the other going-ons around them, it was hardly difficult. Nevertheless, Severus closed the door behind them as quietly as possible, and they walked a-ways down the hall until they were well out of sight of the door. They were in the dungeons still, but none of the Slytherins would be passing by Slughorn's office at this hour, especially during the event going on. Regardless, privacy charms were still cast, and they slipped within the shadow of the walls so that they would not be immediately seen, should someone happen to pass by.

As soon as they did so, Hermione turned around to face him. Two strides forward, and she caught hold of his left arm, and without a word of protest from him, yanked the sleeve up.

A grotesque-looking skull with a snake protruding from its mouth met her gaze. The black, vile thing seemed to writhe and move ever so slightly, as thought it were alive, the putrid thing that it was. Hermione swallowed, and allowed the sleeve to drop back over it.

"You're a Death Eater now," she said, gripping his hand tightly.

"You already knew that," he responded, a bit tersely.

Hermione closed her eyes and bit her lower lip, thinking. "What does this mean?"

"It means that we're trapped into taking opposite sides of this war," Severus told her, taking another step forward until he was towering over her, his presence as dark and intimidating as ever, though Hermione still found it strangely comforting. His intimidation had never been aimed at her in this timeline, and she had grown to see it as a wall of solid protection rather than a rearing threat to her. Others might fear it now, but she no longer did. "But it means little else. I don't give a damn about the Dark Lord other than what he can teach me and the protection he can afford people who are precious to me—and the war will be over soon, regardless."

Hermione gave him a wary look at this. He had spoken the last few words with such surety and confidence that she had to wonder how he knew. "How do you know?"

"The Dark Lord is growing paranoid, Hermione," Severus said silkily, gripping her shoulders. "He knows there is someone out there waiting to dethrone him. He has turned his focus from his followers to his enemies, and it has made their organization sloppy and ineffectual. He is spending his time and effort on discovering whoever is destined to overthrow him before they find him first."

"Yes," Hermione found herself agreeing, her mind wandering off down to another timeline, a timeline she existed in before, and one that had the information she needed to piece this revelation together.

"Our loyalties have never stopped us from being friends, Hermione." He said coaxingly. "What is to stop us from becoming—more?"

"Only the fact that this whole thing has bad idea scribbled all over it in your spiky handwriting," Hermione joked faintly.

He gave her one of those devilishly persuasive, mischievous grins that Hermione knew usually precluded trouble, and repeated, "Has that ever stopped us before?"

Hermione laughed. "It's not like I'm willing to start sneaking out of the school once a week to see you. I don't need to be given a lifelong detention extending Merlin-knows how many generations."

"I wouldn't ask that of you," Severus responded, smirking at the implication of detentions, "but there will be other opportunities to visit Hogwarts. I am loathe to admit it but Slughornis a creature of habit, and given his tendency to invite alumni to his inane suppers… I would be much obliged to thrust the entire holiday into a pit of poisonous vipers, but he always holds a party on Valentine's Day."

Hermione sorted with laughter at this. "I suppose that's not a bad idea."

There was a pause, and then Hermione regretfully steered the conversation into more dangerous waters.

"Don't do anything that will raise You-Know-Who's suspicions," she said, her tone both serious and quiet. "I care for you a great deal, Severus, and the last thing I want to do is to see you killed. Don't be reckless." It was odd, really, to be the one telling the future Head of Slytherin toNot Be Reckless, but she felt it necessary. Severus's behavior in the past made her feel it was distinctly necessary.

To her surprise, his face became smoothly blank.

"The Dark Lord has taught me well, Hermione. You need not worry." His eyes flickered over her face sharply, with the same kind of emotionlessness that she had once been accustomed to seeing on his adult face. "Followers who act rashly are punished quickly. That is, fortunately, a lesson I have only had to learn from observation. The Dark Lord does not suffer fools."

Hermione gazed into his eyes, realizing just how much Severus had changed in six months. Six months in Voldemort's service had brought out what Hermione deemed to be the roots of the Professor Snape persona: darker than ever, unforgiving, cold. She leaned forward and wrapped her arms around him, as though that alone could erase the alterations to his personality that she could see. It couldn't.

"You have my word that I will be cautious, Hermione," Severus said silkily. There was a pause, and he leaned forward to nuzzle her hair, his hands coming to rest on her sides. "Comunication by owl will not be possible until after April. Until then, I will be remaining at Malfoy Manor."

"Why is You-Know-Who keeping you there?" Hermione asked with a frown.

"Brewing. Lucius's place is secure from the interference of Aurors and has everything I require to work effectively. For him, it is the ideal place to keep me while he gauges my usefulness." He caught a lock of loose hair behind Hermione's back, and curled it between his fingers, his expression thoughtful and no longer shuttered. "In addition, I prefer Malfoy Manor to my home in Spinner's End. You've never heard of it, I'm sure, but it has fallen to ruin and I haven't had the time to clean it up. It hasn't been lived in since my parents died."

Hermione nodded, still processing the information he had just given her. "When are you going to fix it up?"

"This summer, in all likelyhood," Severus told her. "You could help me if you like."

"Under one condition," Hermione responded, liking the idea immensely of having both a place to stay, a means of spending time with him, and a project to keep her occupied while she figured out what to do with herself once she left school. "Will there be any of your Death Eater friends visiting?"

"None," Severus assured her.

"Then I'm all for it," Hermione said, smiling brilliantly at him.

His face brightened immensely, and the tension Hermione had not realized was coiled tightly in his body slowly relaxed. He ducked his head forward to steal another kiss and Hermione, laughing, complied.

~o~O~o~

The fact that Hermione could not post mail to Severus was frustrating, to say the least. But now that she had a solid, confirmed idea of what his position was, and the reasons behind it, she was at ease. It didn't make her happier about it, and she still found herself worrying about him, but with the understanding she had of where he was and what he was doing, she had easier ways of convincing herself that he was perfectly alright.

At times like these, she would play with the watch on her wrist, fiddling with the dials without changing the time or activating the portkey. It had become her alternative to biting her nails or chewing on her quills. Severus was not the only one she was concerned about: Alice and Frank were extremely busy, and on top of that, they were being put under enormous pressure. They were being thrust into life-threatening situations on a daily basis that were far more than the average bar brawls junior Aurors had to deal with in peacetime; they were working alongside Aurors who had been in the Ministry for years, fighting for their own lives in addition to those of who they were trying to save, and to top it all off, Alice suspected she was pregnant. She had not had a chance to visit a Healer yet to confirm it, but she wasn't the only one: in late January, just a week after she'd gotten the news about the possible pregnancy from Alice, James had sent her a letter too. At the very bottom was a post-script wherein James wrote down the confirmation that Lily, too, was pregnant.

The news caused Hermione to feel a myriad of things. She still missed Harry and Ron dearly, but she had done her best to move on, to stop feeding the heartache with grief. She could not mourn their loss forever. On the other hand, she was close to seeing her best friend again, but not as she last remembered them, and trying to contemplate it was dizzying. It gave her an uncomfortable sense of vertigo to digest it all at once.

James and Frank were both members of the Order, and from what Kingsley told her on one of his visits to the Headmaster, they had both turned into wrecks. To deal with an impending child while also trying to fight a mad psychopath was a lot of strain on them, and to hear tell, Frank had it the worst, trying to convince Alice to ask for extended leave. But Alice stubbornly refused to do so until she started showing.

I'm pregnant, not made of glass! She wrote in one of her more recent letters. I have a job to do. The war will not fight itself, and there are people whose lives depend on me. I risk my life every time I go out there—knowing that I'm pregnant will just make me fight harder to keep the baby safe. I've asked my boss for permission to take maternity leave in a week's time—I suppose that will make Frank happy. He can't do his best if he's focused on worrying about me.

Hermione wrote back saying that she approved of Alice's decision and understood how she felt. Alice was the kind of woman who didn't like to sit back and let others do the work—she had precisely the attitude and outlook that made valuable Aurors, the kind that made them eager and prepared to do their jobs. Hermione made a mental note to herself that if she ever got back to her own timeline, she would find a way to show Neville—perhaps by using the letters Alice had sent her and removing the name of the person they were addressed to—some insight on what his parents had been like before they were tortured to insanity. He was proud of his parents, she knew, and felt that he deserved some deeper insight on the people they'd been other than a laundry list of their accomplishments in the war.

Lily was still active in the Order, despite her condition. She carried the same sentiments as Alice, and refused to sit at home doing nothing. Instead, she was apparently staying at Headquarters and using her considerable knowledge and intellect to help figure out who was killed where and how, what their strategical weaknesses were, and—above all—try to weed out who was the leak.

Because indeed, there was a leak. Someone had begun leaking information to Voldemort since August, and this state of affairs put them all at risk. They confined their most important meetings to just a few of the most important movers and shakers in the Order, which had prevented some of their most important plans from being disseminated, but it still did not make them much more comfortable to know that someone among them was a traitor. In addition, some of the plans were not leaked immediately, but after the orders were given, long-term ones were most definitely being handed over to Voldemort.

This had made several people suspect. Hermione was sorry to hear that she had been one of the primary suspects-due to her constant contact with Order members despite her lack of official membership-but she was grateful that the suspicions had been immediately dismissed: she did not even know a quarter of their actual plans, nevermind enough to disseminate that amount that had been leaked thus far. In addition, Kingsley—who had been in her mind often enough during Occlumency practice—had vouched for her loyalty and deep-seated hatred of Voldemort, and even Moody had stood up and told them all, loudly, how absurd the idea was.

According to Lily, he had roared at them that "'Constant Vigilance!' does not mean turning on your friends like a pack of dogs!"

In addition, the only ones who had even considered the idea were those who did not know Hermione personally. James and Lily had been outraged at the very suggestion, and Marlene had reportedly been forced to bodily restrain Sirius from taking a swing at the Order members who had suggested it. As soon as they had calmed down, Lily wrote, they were able to rationally explain why it would simply be impossible on several levels for Hermione to be the leak.

There were other suspects, too, but they were either thrown out based on logistical impossibility or pushed aside due to an inability to confirm or deny the allegations. It created a degree of tension among the Order that made it difficult to foster trust.

Hermione was taken aside by Professor Slughorn a week before Valentine's Day to inform her that he had invited Severus, but that the other Slytherin had been forced to decline—and had asked Slughorn to relay that message to her. Hermione was severely disappointed. In the midst of all the bleak news that had overtaken her life, seeing Severus had been one of the few things she had truly had to look forward to. It also caused her no end of concern. Was there a meeting he had to attend? Appearances he was keeping up for safety's sake? Or had Voldemort's paranoia superceded the realities of Hermione's timeline causing him to decide to get rid of Severus?

It caused her no end of worry, and in desperation, she ended up sending a letter of subtle inquiry to Alice and Lily to ask if they knew about any Death Eater meetings that were known to take place on the 14th. Alice knew nothing; Lily wrote back about two weeks after Hermione's letter to say that yes, there was evidence that there had been a meeting, though it was an unusually quiet one. Only a few Death Eaters had apparently been present, and they were still trying to determine its purpose. Lily explained that the Order was confused about this particular meeting because the Death Eaters attending in question were all of different rank, which was very unusual for a closed meeting.

Hermione was much relieved by this. She didn't know why, but she was certain that Severus was among the mixed-rank gatherers at that meeting, although what for, she did not know. But without a means of communication, she remained uneasy. In addition to that, guilt had begun to worm its way into Hermione's mind, not because she was worrying over a Death Eater, but because she was also spending time thinking about kisses—and, more often than not, even more intimacies— from that very same Death Eater.

But she was always careful to keep things in perspective. Severus was her friend and not a true believer of the pureblood supremacy idealogue—and soon, she knew, he would defect altogether. She was not an official member of the Order, but she was loyal to the cause that would bring about Voldemort's downfall. Right now, her concentration was on helping the Order in any way she could while also trying to keep the younger students physically and psychologically intact where the teachers could not. Whatever time she had to herself that was not dedicated to the aforementioned, or had to do with academics, was when she allowed herself those moments of relaxation and musings—and this was usually right before bed.

Sometime around the middle of February, a few Slytherins in particular had become unbearable. It was as though the ones who were budding Death Eaters in waiting had received jubilant news of a sort, and it showed. What that news was, Hermione could not even begin to guess, until she found herself cornered in the library by two people she least wanted to see: Bellatrix Black and Barty Crouch Jr.

"Having fun, Mudblood?"

Hermione didn't even deign to glance up from her book, though she shook her sleeve slightly, wand at the ready to be pulled out from its hiding place. "Enjoying the inferiority of lacking genetic outcrossing?"

"Speak English, Mudblood, and be quick about it."

"Very well," Hermione said, snapping her book shut. "I just called you a bunch of inbred trolls. What do you want?"

She saw Bellatrix's face contort dangerously, but Crouch but up a hand as a subtle signal for her to contain herself. Barely. "Is that any way to thank your messengers, Granger?"

Hermione's face turned stony. "What's the message?"

Bellatrix's face suddenly transformed into a wide, cruel smile, but it was Crouch who replied. "You graduate in four months, Mudblood. As soon as you step foot outside of Hogwarts, you sign your death warrant."

Hermione felt her blood turn to ice, but merely raised an eyebrow in reply. "Is that all?"

The heavy-lidded girl's face, as terrible and expressive as ever, seemed to become almost enraged by this lack of reaction. Hermione was surprised she had not gone for her wand yet.

"The Dark Lord wanted you to be informed personally," Crouch told her nastily, "so that you can get your affairs in order, such as they may be. Unless…" his expression turned thoughtful, and his tone instantly became cordial, almost persuasive. "Unless you would like to offer your services to our side."

Hermione laughed. "I'm sure your lord would kill me on the spot for the insult of it."

"Not so, Granger, not so," Crouch said, waving a hand almost dismissively. "You claim to be Muggleborn, but we have not found any relatives of yours, Muggle or otherwise, to confirm such a story. You have no relatives to speak of, dead or alive. You are also a powerful witch—"

"As demonstrated by your continued adventures as a canary, I suppose?"

She saw a tick pulse in the side of his jaw, but the Slytherin went on talking smoothly. "—and given the possibility that you may, in fact, have some actual magical blood in you that is not merely the result of an abominable accident of nature, the Dark Lord would much rather have you as a friend than an enemy."

"The Dark Lord doesn't have friends," Hermione replied coldly. "He has slaves."

"The Dark Lord offers power beyond your wildest dreams," Bellatrix hissed. "Power lowly dirt like you should leap at the chance for!"

Hermione sighed and leaned back against the wall.

"I'm going to teach you a bit of Muggle history," she said, bringing a hand up to her hair and curling it between her fingers. Her entire body was stiff with a mixture of fear, anger, and confusion, but she disguised it admirably by taking a leaf out of Severus's book and merely looking bored, staring down at the cover of her book. "In the nineteen-forties, there was a mass Muggle-generated genocide. I'm not going to get into the details—you probably wouldn't understand half of what I told you. But suffice to say, an interesting phenomenon occurred where the Nazis would make exceptions for certain people they would otherwise kill. They hired Jewish practicioners into the business of killing and extorting their fellows in order to be spared the same fate, and sometimes gave Aryan-looking people papers that exempted them from being arrested and killed."

She looked up at them now, her eyes burning fiercely with disgust. "What you're asking me to do is pretty much the same thing. Give me an excuse not to be targeted by claiming I have non-Muggle relatives, making me a half-blood at best. Give me an opportunity to work for the Dark Lord in killing other Muggle-borns and so-called blood traitors, and in return I'll be spared." She was smiling now, but it was a stomach-churning one, cold and humorless. "Wonderful deal, isn't it? In short, because I'm deemed useful, excuses will be made for my heritage, and as long as I help murder other Muggle-borns, you'll keep me around like a pet."

The next moment, she was on her feet. She threw her book at Crouch, who was too slow to react, and he sank quickly to the floor when the full force of her five-pound book hit him square in the face. Her wand was pointed directly at Bellatrix, straight between her wide, hate-filled eyes.

"Only cowards throw others in the face of the killing machine to spare their own miserable lives!" she spat. Her wand slashed upward. "Get out!"

Her spell hit Bellatrix, who doubled over in pain for a moment as the muscles in her forehead and ears contracted painfully, and then hissed a string of curses at her as she made a hasty retreat. Hermione stepped over to Crouch's body, and she kicked him where her book had hit, smacking his nose and leaving a shoe-shaped bruise under his eye. Blood trickled down his nose, and his eyes fluttered open faintly as he tried to regain his bearings.

"Don't ever make such an offer to me again," Hermione told him, her voice tight with cold fury. "You can go tell Voldemort—" Crouch's entire body convulsed at the name. "—that he can go stick his offer up his arse. You are hereby warned—Unforgiveables are sanctioned by the Ministry under self-defense, but I don't need a Killing Curse to kill. Any Death Eater who tries to attack me will not be returning intact. Am I understood?"

She saw Crouch's eyes light up with fury, but he nodded faintly.

"Mudblood bitch," he spat, bloodied spittle mixing with the mess of his nose.

Without another word, Hermione retrieved her book and her bag and stormed off.

~o~O~o~

Hermione was called to Professor McGonagall's office later that evening. She knocked on the door, waited until she was bid to enter, and then took a seat on one of the armchairs. McGonagall was sitting at her desk, stirring her tea, and she took an extra moment to add lemon and sugar before moving to take a seat opposite of Hermione.

"Two students made it to the Hospital Wing today with a severe migraine caused by a Pressure Charm and a broken nose," McGonagall said shortly. "Both of them named you the culprit, and before assigning you detention and point loss, I should like to hear an explanation from you, if you care to give me one."

Hermione took a deep breath, letting out the tension in her mind and body, before she sighed.

"They approached me while I was studying," she said quietly.

Professor McGonagall waited patiently.

"They also had a message for me from V—from You-Know-Who," Hermione said, twisting the watch on her wrist.

The Transfiguration teacher's eyebrows rose dangerously at this, and her appearance suddenly became very hawk-like, much sterner than usual, if that were possible.

Hermione swallowed, and then spoke carefully. "You-Know-Who is apparently willing to make the very generous offer of overlooking the issues of my heritage if I would join his cause."

Hermione had never seen Professor McGonagall's jaw drop before, but it seemed there was a first time for everything. She covered her gasp with her hand, and was about to speak, when Hermione interrupted:

"I threw the book I was reading at Crouch and hexed Black," Hermione responded coolly. "I told them that only a coward would accept such an offer—and that they could tell You-Know-Who where he could stick it. In addition," she said, speaking loudly to cover over McGonagall's next attempt to stagger out some words, "before they got to the offer, they told me that the minute I set foot outside Hogwarts, I am dead. So my choice was thus—I either join or die." Her lips pressed into a grim smile. "I pretty much told them to bugger off."

She had never used such coarse language with a teacher, either, but she supposed there was always a first time for her, too. Professor McGonagall stood up for a moment, her hand over her heart, and shakily walked to the window to regain her bearings. Hermione waited there in silence for a moment, wondering what was going to happen next, certain that she had done the right thing. A few moments later, it seemed her Head of House had finally pulled herself back together enough to turn around and speak clearly.

"I must admit, Hermione," she said, addressing her by her first name for the first time Hermione had ever known her in this timeline, "that I always worried—what with the way you spent time with Mr. Snape—that you might be tempted by an offer to join…" she looked quite disturbed. "Albus was always concerned that an offer would be made—he was certain that it would—but now that you've rejected it in such a way that there is no conceivable possibility of it ever being made again…"

Hermione felt a deep pang of hurt in her chest at these words. "You thought—you seriously thought I might consider joining Vol—You-Know-Who?"

"It was a concern," McGonagall said, her hands shaking as she moved to refill her cup. She gave Hermione an odd look at the almost-usage of Voldemort's name. "I didn't believe you would, but it was always a possibility—I never thought you had it in you, but I also knew that with the way Mr. Snape was always able to persuade you into doing things you would otherwise never dream of… you might be lured in much in the same way he himself was."

Hermione suddenly understood where her Head of House was coming from. In a way, she could even sympathise. But it didn't take away the pain entirely.

"I got upset when I realized what they were asking of me," Hermione said quietly. "That's why I lashed out."

McGonagall nodded, and then resumed her seat across from Hermione.

"I need you to relay your conversation in full," she said, her voice soft but stern. She was looking at Hermione as though she had never properly seen the Gryffindor before. "Every detail. Don't leave a thing out, if you please."

Hermione did so. When she finished, the McGonagall sat back in her seat, deep in thought.

"The Headmaster will be informed of this," she said. "And I think… I don't think you will be leaving Hogwarts after graduation."

Hermione shook her head, but kept her mouth shut. She had her own plans, and the person to appeal to here was not her Head of House, but the Headmaster. And once she graduated, she would no longer be a ward of the school. He could do no more than advise her against it, and Hermione rather thought he might even approve of her choice. It would give them a free opening into seeing what was happening in Voldemort's camp, if she could get Severus to divulge to her. Dumbledore feared for her safety, but she also recognized him as a careful, manipulative chess player who took risks that might, in the end, pay off enormously.

She wondered, perhaps, if her stay at Spinner's End would be what caused his defection.


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~Anubis Ankh