(Highlight to View) Warning(s): Off-camera, minor characters' deaths; AU to the point that the books would've had to be renamed.
(Highlight to View) Prompt: Usually in Time Turner fics, Hermione goes backward. What if a "prank" by the Marauders sent Severus forward, prior to the Mudblood incident. He won't be able to return.
Summary: How important is that butterfly and the flapping of its wings to the coming storm? Severus has been moved out of his time, and we are about to find out.
The dungeons were a dark, musty, deserted place, crammed with impossible corridors lined with unpleasant rooms the functions of which were beyond the imaginations of most children, even Magical children. Grown wizards and witches might hazard guesses, but they, too, were stymied when it came to explaining what the Founders had been thinking when they included such an extensive array of nastiness. Whatever it might have been, with the exception of the Potions classroom, everyone avoided the dungeon levels of Hogwarts.
Severus knew them like the back of his hand—or as much as anyone could when hallways had a tendency to disappear, loop back on themselves, or simply end abruptly. He learned how to kick the second stone on the right just before the portrait of Aethelred the Far-Too-Ready and to spin three times anti-clockwise before passing underneath the Great Axe of Axiom the Lesser. There was the trick stair that turned the landing ahead of you into a swamp and the bit of floor that would shoot you straight into the Merpeople's Council Chamber. And then there was the Perfectly Good Loo just on the other side of a set of floor spikes. (The Founders might not have been heavily into practicality, but even they recognized some necessities. Or perhaps it was one of the ensuing generations that had had enough of random waterspouts and pesky poltergeists when all he or she wanted was a quiet five minutes to freshen up. After everything else, edging along the wall for a few feet seemed a small price to pay.) When it came down to it, Severus thought all of these hazards a small price to pay for the ability to finish his homework in peace. Or to go for an hour together without being twitted on his hair, his nose, his complexion… His favourite room might come equipped with a rack, but it was decidedly without the people who wouldn't hestiate to use it—on him. He found it to be a useful surface to practice potions on.
Though if he had DogBoy, JamHead, Loopy, or PettyGrowth in here, he'd probably give using the rack serious consideration. It could only ever be an improvement.
Severus emerged from the depths of the dungeons onto the Potions corridor shortly before curfew, allowing himself to feel just the tiniest bit smug over the achievements of the past few hours. He'd mastered a mid-level Dark Spell, set his latest poitions experiment—which he felt certain would work properly—in stasis, and perfected a pair of defensive spells. Unfortunately, even perfect defensive spells are useless in the face of distraction, and it was only as he was falling that Severus saw DogBoy Black hovering overhead on a broom, grinning as he dropped something over that looped around Severus's neck. Arms windmilling, Severus banged his fist into something soft-ish and had the tiniest bit of satisfaction on hearing PettyGrowth begin to whinge to JamHead. Then the back of his head hit the stone floor, and everything went all coloured sparks before turning dark and whirly.
Hermione navigated the dungeon levels carefully, keeping her wits about her to avoid not only magical traps but also the simpler piles of stones and rubbish that had littered the ground for the last few years. While much of Hogwarts had been repaired, the dungeons were somewhere at the bottom of everyone's priorities, and that meant that Hermione had to be more than usually aware as she patrolled; disappearing after a confrontation with something was awful to contemplate, but even a sprained ankle had its own set of consequences.
Having stomped twice on a certain flagstone, the young woman skirted a few blocks of collapsed ceiling—only to dash back behind them when she heard… Well, Hermione wasn't quite sure what she was hearing. It was a bit like the pop of Apparation, but where Apparation was the sound of displaced matter, this was the sound of something being displaced that you didn't want to even think about, because it might mean that Something Rather Important had just fractured and might cause Reality to come crashing down around one's ears with a great deal more force than mere stones and mortar. Wand in hand, Hermione peeked cautiously around her shield of masonry.
A boy. A boy sprawled along the floor like he'd just been knocked down by a punch in the face. A student by the look of him, with black robes trimmed in Slytherin silver and green, but Hermione knew every single student in the school (not to mention the ones that were… no longer here). This boy, with his long, black hair, skinny build, and massive nose was not one of them. She couldn't even place a resemblance to anyone she knew or knew of. "Who are you?" she called out.
Severus, muzzy and disoriented from the knock on the head, fought against the sluggishness of his body to sit up. "Who am I?" he echoed. "Who the hell are you?" The voice was female—obviously not one of the Marauding Morons—and not one he knew. It was sort of warm and low, it made him think of the brandied chocolates he'd swiped from Tobias one Christmas; he liked the sound of it, at least. But was she friend or foe? Though if she had to ask who he was, she likely was not involved with the rivalries, House or personal. Maybe she was a Ravenclaw; they tended to ignore such stupidities unless it involved trying to top someone's grades.
"Hermione Granger," she replied after a moment. Maybe he'd gotten his wits addled, not to recognize her, but he ought to know her name, and that ought to elicit his loyalties. With that in mind, Hermione was a bit non-plussed when the response was, "Who?! " Perhaps he was more addled than she thought? Or slow? Or hard of hearing? "Hermione. Jean. Granger!" she enunciated slowly. "Fifth Year Gryffindor. Prefect. Order of Merlin First Class. Beginning to ring any bells?" He hadn't drawn a wand yet, so Hermione emerged cautiously from her spot. She kept her wand at the ready.
"Mahoney," he said rudely.
"I beg your pardon?"
"Mahoney. The Gryffie Fiver is Edith Parne." His eyes were large and black; Hermione couldn't distinguish his pupils from here, so no way to know if he was concussed. He continued, "I know every prefect in the school; not one of them is named 'Hermione'. What're you trying to pull?"
Her wand wavered a little. "Edith Parne's been dead for five years," she said quietly. "Who are you?"
He looked up at her, seeing a cloud of darkish brown hair, a closed face with a hard intelligence and an ordinary sort of prettiness. In turn, she saw a heavy curtain of black hair and a vulnerability that would have disgusted him had he known he was allowing it to show. "I am Severus Snape," he stated with as much dignity as he could muster—which was far less than he would have liked.
She should be used to such shocks, such impossibilities, but somehow, she still wasn't. If it was true—and he certainly seemed to believe it… "You're Severus Snape," she repeated palely. "The Severus Snape. You're the Lost Slytherin."
"The Lost Slytherin?" he echoed incredulously. "What kind of shite name is that?"
The following hours were a jumble of faces and movement and voices talking to him and around him and over him. The girl summoned McGonagall, who brought Poppy, who poked and prodded and bundled him off to the infirmary, never mind that he wasn't tired or sick and all he wanted was a chance to hex the Marauders into the next hell, because what the fuck had they done to him? And that blasted girl who claimed to be a prefect and who looked like she would fit better with a pair of oxen and a plow (except for something in her eyes…) was in the middle of it all, talking a mile a minute with McGonagall and Pomfrey and any one or ten of the different grown-ups. The ones he recognized looked far too old (except for McGonagall, who looked very much the same as she had during class that morning) to be who he thought they were. Severus tried desperately to follow the conversation, but the words all became jumbled somehow, and in spite of his earlier protestations, he dropped deeply into sleep.
When he woke again, the infirmary windows were dark, and Severus wondered if it was same night or if he had slept the clock 'round. Or had everything jolted again so that he was somewhen entirely new? A dim light glowed over one side, and the bedclothes rustled impossibly loudly when he shifted to see what it was. It was the girl with the bushy hair (again? still?), reading something by wandlight. She looked up when he moved. "Hello," she said simply.
"What are you doing here?" he asked baldly. "Where's Pomfrey?"
"Madam Pomfrey," and the words were so obviously automatic that he wondered how many times she'd made a similar correction. "She's getting some sleep in her rooms like she should. She'll have enough to do during the day, and you don't need any more medical attention."
He could hear the emphasis, however slight, on the word 'medical.' "What kind of attention do I need, then?" he asked, glaring.
"Watching over," and he was annoyed at her matter-of-fact tone, as though he were four instead of fourteen. But she continued, "I don't think you're dangerous—not now, at any rate—but I know at least three people who would like to coerce you, several more who would hurt you, and at least one who might want to kill you. I'm far enough ahead that it won't matter if I miss classes tomorrow, so I said I'd stand watch until Madam Pomfrey's up at daybreak."
The why might elude him, but the what (whether she was telling the truth or not) sank in immediately, and before she had begun her last sentence, Severus had groped fruitlessly for his wand, first in his sleeve, then on the bedside table. "Where is it?" he demanded. "Where's my wand?"
She was silent for a long moment, her expression somber. "I don't know, exactly. It… fell. In the cooridor. Back when… when you were lost. I think, after a while… it was given to your mother. I'm not sure after that."
"What happened?" Merlin, he sounded so needy, so weak. But he had to know. "Please. What happened to me?"
Uncertainty washed over her expression, leaving her looking younger than she had, but resolve won out. "Twenty years ago, you… disappeared. All that anyone found was your schoolbooks and your wand. Today, you reappeared."
Disappeared. Reappeared. As simple as that. Simple—for her. Time had moved on without him. People had moved on. Lily had… "Lily! Where's Lily? Lily Evans, where is she?"
The girl—Hermione, he remembered now—frowned. "I—" God, how could anyone not know Lily Evans? Brightest witch in the British Isles. There was no way she could have not made a mark on Wizarding Britain.
"She's gone, Severus." A masculine voice: not exactly deep, a little raspy, tired and hesitant. The wizard emerged from the shadows, and the gaunt face matched the voice. It was a face he just barely recognised.
"Bloody fuck…" he breathed. Unless this was a very bad joke, he was staring at Remus Lupin—a grown-up Lupin who looked every day of fifty. But the girl had said only twenty years had passed. He should be old, but not that old. He dimly registered the girl's greeting; she called the worn-out man Professor Lupin. Severus rallied himself; whatever Lupin might be now, he was not, and had never been, a friend. "'Professor'?" he sneered. "What on earth do they need you to teach: spinelessness?"
Lupin held up a hand, forestalling the protest the girl started to make. He smiled, but there was only ruefulness in it. "Twenty years and you've not changed, Severus."
"Thanks to you and your friends, it's only been twenty minutes for me, Lupin," he snarled. "Twenty years certainly haven't improved Dumbledore's sense of justice, if you lot are still poncing about like you own the place. If I had my wand, I'd Avada you so bloody fast, your head would face your arse in Hades." Lupin said nothing, and the silence gave Snape's mind another opportunity to catch up with itself. "What did you mean," he said carefully, "about Lily?"
"She's gone, Snape," Lupin repeated, and this time he said it with a ruthless finality. "Dead. Buried. Ten years gone."
There was a great cry of "No!" that Severus did not recognise as his own, and the infirmary windows began to shatter as he continued to scream and leapt like a panther from his bed. "No! Don't you dare say that! What did you do? What did you bastards do?!" Bereft of his wand and feral in the surge of grief and denial, Severus took his fists to the older man. Astonished and unused to fisticuffs, Lupin's attempts at defence were largely futile in the face of Severus's fury, whereas Severus, though untrained, had learned from a very early age where one was supposed to aim. It was only the debilitating weakness from his wandless magic that stopped him; he passed out and slumped to the floor.
Hermione rose from her chair, the better to see the boy as she levitated him back into bed. "That was badly done, Professor," she remarked.
"You weren't exactly leaping to my rescue," Professor Lupin returned, wiping a sleeve across his mouth and nose, both of which were bleeding.
"That's not what I meant." Hermione tucked the covers back in. "The boy's traumatised already; you could see it in his face when he recognised you. Lily Evans was obviously important to him—"
"She was his best friend—his only friend," Remus muttered,
"—and telling him that way was deliberately cruel. I didn't interfere because frankly, Professor, I thought you deserved it." She reclaimed her seat and fixed her professor with a stony eye. "Tell me you had nothing to do with this boy's disappearance."
"I didn't, Hermione. I was in isolation at the time, and the others always denied it, to me as well as to everyone else. If they did…" He spread his hands helplessly.
"I see." Her tone was uncompromising. "Well, I think you've proven his identity, however inadvertently, and I think you'd better go. There's nothing good you can do here now. I think someone else had better tell him the story if he asks for it."
"Yes, Hermione; you're quite right," Lupin acquiesced. "I don't feel any more charitable towards him than I did when we—I—was young. Good night."
The ensuing days passed in a haze of grief, shock, and physical debility; Severus was barely aware of being moved from the infirmary to somewhere entirely different, which he only registered as someplace darker, warmer, and with closer walls. More comfortable, to him. More reassuring, though he didn't consciously realize it. Finally, he awoke sufficiently to look about him and notice a fireplace in the far wall surmounted by a mantel with several unremarkable objects on it. There were no windows, but several sections of the walls were covered by woven tapestries. Various bits of furniture.
The girl was still bloody there.
"Are you glued to the chair?" he sneered.
"No. I've been looking after you for the past couple of weeks; I'm in this chair because it's my favourite." She looked up from whatever that mess of yarn was in her hands, and her expression was one of amusement and vivid curiosity. "You couldn't be left alone, and the teachers, naturally, have a myriad of things to do. I don't."
Severus eyed her balefully. "Shouldn't you be in classes? And I think I can sleep very well without you."
"I don't doubt that," she replied, "but you were dead to the world. And to the asp that came into the infirmary. And the nastily intentioned Howler that was sent there. And a few other things that would made sure you didn't wake back up.
"You can meet the asp if you like. He's really rather sweet."
Severus gaped, displaying his full set of poorly matched teeth; Hermione winced at the sight. "Bollocks," he said finally. "That's a load of shite. Potter and Black hate me, but…" It occurred to the boy that the Marauders had come as close as made no difference to killing him, but even so, that was… familiar. Almost expected.
There was a hint of sympathy on the girl's face as she set aside her knitting. "A lot has changed since you left," she began gently. "And your disappearance ended up being about much more than just you. The teachers could never prove what happened, but your House blamed the Marauders and by extension, all of Gryffindor. The Death Eaters used it as propaganda to pull supporters to their side. Gryffindor itself fractured into those who believed the Marauders and those who blamed them. And when the truth of your parentage came to light, you became a symbol for the resistance: justice for all magical folk, pure, half, and mudblood alike.
"Very little to do with you, really, but with you gone or dead or whatever, people could say anything. Now that you're back… Well, Voldemort himself may be gone, but the different factions remain, and a live Severus Snape can upset the apple cart in either direction."
He was fourteen, he told himself, and tough as nails. But he was suddenly feeling very young and very scared. Back in his proper time, he knew where he stood with everyone (mostly as a Nobody, but he'd show them). Now… he seemed to have an enormous target on his back, and there was nobody he could trust to watch it. "So if I'm so bloody important," he sneered, "why'm I 'guarded' by one lousy prefect?"
His derision didn't even appear to make a dent in her demeanour. "Well, you're not, if you want to be technical; we're in one of the most heavily warded rooms in the entire castle, and Madam Pomfrey and Madam Pince take it in turn to watch over you at night. As for why me…"
Her hands were a blur that just barely presaged the sharp retort of a pistol, the heavy clunk of its landing on the rug at her feet, and purple fire that zinged from her wand. A gnomish figurine on the mantel now sported a hole through its belly and a hat that sparked and sizzled. Very deliberately, Severus pushed back his covers, padded over to the mantelpiece, and absorbed its smoking ruin. He turned back to the girl, whose gun—how had ne not noticed that before?—and wand were now back in their holsters and who seemed to be totally relaxed. "Why me?" he asked.
Hermione saw a skinny, drooping figure of a boy, his nose in high relief against the light from the fire. "Because you need it. Because I can." Because there wasn't much in her life now that was this simple.
"Will you teach me?"
That was more complicated. But he was a boy, alone and out of his time. He needed. She could give. "Yes, Severus Snape. I can teach you."
The next few days were more sleeping, but Severus was far more lucid between times and chafed at the inactivity. Madam Pomfrey clucked and fussed and plied him with chocolate; Madam Pince lifted a sharp eyebrow and shoved books at him. Severus preferred the latter—he was more used to brusque, perfunctory attentions—but was uneasy with the constant supervision. He was also essentially being kept incommunicado; he had little idea of what had happened and what was happening outside of the few, sharp shocks he'd been given, and he could not ask either of the two witches for further elucidation.
Hermione Granger… He considered, really considered asking her. She would know things. But she was formidable in her own right, and he wasn't entirely sure…
Sure of what? He asked himself. Sure of her allegiance? Sure she would tell him the truth? He could be sure that she wanted him alive, he reasoned after a long session of devil's advocate. She'd guarded him this long without trying to hurt or kill him. She didn't even make fun of his nose. Or his hair. Or the shabby underwear he was pretty sure she'd seen by now. Would she tell him the truth? That he couldn't be sure of. He didn't know how he fitted in to her agenda and how that would affect what she would tell him and how she woud colour it. But on the other hand, he knew even less about everyone beyond the doors of his 'cell.' He guessed he trusted McGonagall—as much as he trusted anyone—but adults especially would hide things they didn't think you ought to know.
He asked Granger.
She was quiet for a time, staring at the fireplace, before she outlined briefly how Voldemort had gained in power and influence over the years, insinuating himself into the Ministry and the upper echelons of Wizard society. How he had been so strong that by the time Granger was eight years old, Hogwarts was no longer a simple school; it was a haven for Mudblood and Halfblood students and their families.
"I bet Dumbledore had something to say about that," Severus sniped.
"He did," Hermione replied grimly, "but there wasn't much he could do about it. Those who were already students were dragging their entire families—parents, aunts, uncles, even pets—through the barrier at King's Cross by sheer force of will and crowding them onto the Express. The Aurors were a joke, and the ones who were on our side could only do so much to help. I don't know what the truth is, but I've been told that the teachers went out to fetch anyone whose name appeared in the Registry against Professor Dumbledore's specific orders; they'd seen too much of what Voldemort would do to children. Professor McGonagall reached my house a step ahead of the Death Eaters."
"What happened?" he asked, more gently than he might have done.
The girl pulled up the hem of her robes, exposing trainers, short socks—and an ugly swirl of brown and black scar tissue that wrapped around her left calf and knee. "A glancing blow as Professor McGonagall flew off with me," she said bluntly. "And my parents are alive, but my father's been in stasis for the last eight years."
She didn't want compassion; he didn't offer any. "And then?"
She dropped her skirts and shrugged. "We've mostly lived here ever since. So have most of the half- and no-blood families. I learned everything anyone would teach me, mostly combat magic and healing. But that's enough about me." Hermione continued on to Lily Evans—known to Hermione as Lily Sharpe, having married a boy from the class above. Severus's disappearance had turned her forbearance of the Marauders into full-blown enmity, McGonagall had told Hermione, though James Potter had never stopped trying to win her over, even after her marriage. He'd never quite grown up, and his efforts to impress her had become more and more grandiose, culminating in a daring raid on Voldemort and his Death Eaters—a raid that accomplished nothing more than the death of Sirius Black and James's permanent disability. Lily had called James little more than a fool, and they'd fought bitterly. From all accounts, he was now a hermit, wanting nothing to do with anyone. Remus visited from time to time. (The fourth, Peter Pettigrew, had eventually been killed as well, but Hermione could find out nothing more on how.) Lily had involved herself with analysis and had been the one to discover the Horcruxes. Hermione was a little hazy on this, as well, and apologized; many things weren't spoken of, least of all (this time, she sneered) to children. But there had been a spy, and just after Lily'd made her breakthrough… After her death, it had taken several years more to track the Horcruxes down and destroy them. A number of people had died, including, towards the end, Albus Dumbledore. But they had stopped Voldemort, and were now in the process of rebuilding both their school and their society.
Severus sat for a long time in silence, trying to assimilate such massive events and the toll they had taken during a time when he had essentially ceased to exist. "And my parents?" he asked finally. "What happened to them?" Did he really want to know? Did he care? Did he want to care?
"I'm afraid your father died." There was a note of sympathy in her voice, but her words were straightforward, uncompromising. She refused to sugar-coat things for him. "He was killed by a Death Eater a few years after you disappeared. Your mother never stopped looking for you, but she vanished some years later. If any of the professors know what happened to her, they're not telling me."
"Oh." His father—well, that was a relief, wasn't it? No more screaming, no more drunken rages or beatings. No more.
He'd never see his nose on someone else's face again.
Stupid thing to think about, when he should be pleased he'd never have to live with the bastard again. It was something he'd prayed for.
His mother… She'd been a hard woman—hard to please, hard to know, hard to be close to. But she'd taught him to be proud of his heritage, even when he hadn't been proud of her. (Why hadn't she just left, taken him with her? She was a witch; she had enough power at her fingertips.) She'd hunted for him, though. She'd cared. Maybe not the way he'd longed for, dreamt of, but she'd cared.
He'd look for her. Not yet, not until he knew which end was up in this familiar/unfamiliar territory. But he'd look until he found her. They were blood kin by the strongest tie imaginable; he could at least discover her grave and see that she was honoured properly.
But they were gone. His parents were gone, and he was alone.
She said nothing, merely rose, squeezed his shoulder, and left before the first sobs escaped his throat. When he had time to think, Severus was grateful for that little shred of dignity.
But he did not consider that Hermione Granger had said very little about her own role in the war.
There was a great deal of discussion while young Severus was recuperating, with the conclusion that while Madam Pince and Professor Flitwick were tasked with researching the Time Turner that had brought Severus forward in time and the possibility of reversing its effects, there was no guarantee of success, and in the meantime, Severus was to be reintegrated into Hogwarts. He was still just fourteen years old and needed a magical education, and Hogwarts was also the safest location for him. He also, argued Hermione, needed some degree of normalcy. But, everyone agreed, putting him in Gryffindor so that Hermione could keep an eye on him wasn't a good option, much less replacing him in Slytherin on his own. Instead, both he and Hermione were transferred to Ravenclaw, a generally neutral House that would treat the returned student with more curiosity than malice. Hermione had to cede her prefect's status to another Gryffindor—at least temporarily—but if she cared, Severus couldn't see any evidence of it. She certainly didn't lose any of her commanding presence—or bloody bossiness, as Severus sometimes thought of it. To his astonishment, students still jumped when she gave the word, though they stopped just short of asking how high. And this to a Mudblood of no lineage or privilege! Strange, too, that he often noticed her wearing her gun in its holster, and nobody made any objection. He certainly didn't see anyone else with one. His questions about his protector were mounting, but she didn't explain, and there wasn't anyone else he could ask.
He and the other Fifth Years simply stared at each other when Hermione dropped him off at his dorm. (She had her own room as an ersatz prefect, it would seem, to which she had given him the password.) The group was smaller than he'd expected; there were a number of apparently empty beds. Finally, an unremarkable brunet stepped forward. "I guess I'll go." He stuck out an ink-stained hand. "I'm Will Redstone, potions. Miss Granger's told us about you, so we'll try not to be too inquisitive, for a little while, anyway. The rest of the lads will introduce themselves, then you can pick a bed. Any you like, except that one." Will pointed at the third from the door on the right.
"Why not that one?" Severus asked, suppressing the urge to plop down his few possessions on the pillow.
"That was Jerry Hampstead's bed," another boy piped up, his voice hard as granite. "Death Eater bitch killed him." An angry rumble eddied through the collection of boys. Severus guessed that Jerry had been very well-liked or -respected. That trigged some depths of resentment, but if Tobias had beaten anything decent into him, it was a respect for the dead. Besides, it wasn't a good idea to antagonize every single person who slept in the same room as you. Even the personal wards every Slytherin learned to guard his own bed could fall to a concerted effort. "Anyhow," the boy continued, "you're not a Death Eater, so you're welcome here. I'm Johnny Singh. Defense." A slim, dark, intense boy, whose black hair rivaled Severus's for length and lankness.
That seemed to be a cue for the others, and one by one they gave their names and preferred subjects.
"Severus Snape," he said at the last. "Potions and Dark Arts."
The boys threw up their hands and chanted, "Ave, Severe! Ave, Severe! Ave, Severe! Huzzah!" It was something that could have been out of those silly books Severus had read as a boy, and absurdly, it made him feel more welcome than he had ever felt before. It was not a full, nor an easy smile, but it was a smile that appeared on Severus's face.
The following weeks brought with them a myriad of peculiar adjustments. The classes were the same (it was a little earlier in the school year now, so there was an element of déjà vu in the classrooms), and most of the teachers were the same, though they looked older and either harder or sadder. He refused point-blank to even walk into Lupin's classroom; Granger tutored him privately instead. (He was beginning to wonder when, if ever, the girl went to her own classes.) The students were different people, naturally, though many reminded him of those he had known. How many of them were sons and daughters of his erstwhile schoolmates? (A very disturbing concept, when he thought about it.) How many of those schoolmates had survived? Granger had been somewhat vague on that score, and he was beginning to believe it was deliberate; she certainly didn't seem to have any trouble laying her hands on information she really wanted to know.
The power structures and allegiances had changed beyond his recognition. The primary demarcation seemed to be which side a person (or their family) had been on in the war; as a result, Slytherin was by and large in disgrace, and there was talk of it being disbanded and its younger students, at least, dispersed through the three remaining houses. Severus didn't think much of this idea—he still had all of his Slytherin pride—but he had to admit that the situation had changed, and he didn't have all the information he needed by a long shot. But with Granger as his patron and Ravenclaw as his new (temporary?) House, it was assumed that Severus was of her persuasion and supported the Order of the Phoenix and the rights of Mudbloods and Halfbloods. Since this was the winning side, Severus was content to allow this perception to continue until he could make his own decisions. It meant he was accepted into the community at large and into his dorm in particular.
He found it very peculiar to live with a group of boys who, at worst, merely wanted to pick his brain. He still warded his bed and belongings, of course, though the loaner wand he was using did not give him more than minimally satisfactory results. (Ollivander's would have to wait until funds as well as a trip could be arranged. In the meantime, he loathed the unresponsive stick he was cursed with. Why couldn't Mum have left his own wand somewhere he could bloody well find it?) But it didn't seem to be necessary. Without the Marauders around, there was no one (yet) to encourage the bullying and loathing he'd known Gryffindor for (unless Lupin was influencing young minds), and Ravenclaws didn't seem to be interested in the power games Slytherins played. Johnny and Will were nice enough, so far as he could tell, and had some interesting ideas for their respective subjects. Theodosius was a fiend for divination, but had the sense to rely more on his own research than on Trelawny. Max had the bed next to Severus, and was a very quiet, very nervous boy. Gareth, who was the most interested in people and events, had told him that Max had lost all his family except for a sister to a midnight Death Eater raid. Severus ended up teaching the boy the bed wards. Daoud was a bit of an ass, but that was mostly because he preferred books to people, and wasn't above making that clear in some minorly nasty ways. The girls… well, there was no one to hold a candle to Lily as far as he was concerned, though some, oddly enough, appeared to be interested in him.
Outside of the dorm, few people had the temerity to approach him, or perhaps it was Granger they were wary of; she was practically omnipresent and didn't look to have many—if any—friends, unless he was putting them off as well. He finally asked Gareth about it, and it was very weird to ask a question like that straight out, instead of edging toward it sideways.
"Well, mate," Gareth replied comfortably, "bit difficult to feel comfortable with a girl like her, innit? I mean, loads of people respect her and quite a few hate her, but most everyone's a bit afraid of her. Hard to make friends with a girl you're scared of."
"But why? She was in the war like everyone else. What makes her different?" It wasn't that she was a Mudblood, which is what it would've been back in his own time. Here, now, all the zero and half bloods had some sort of special bond that kept them together, watching each other's backs, more often than not. And why was Gareth staring at him like that?
"Didn't you know, mate?" the boy wondered. "Why, Hermione Granger's the girl who went up to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and shot him smack between the eyes."
"You shot him."
Hermione was in the massive room they used for DADA lessons, and she'd been reading some parchments when Severus came in. "What?" It shouldn't have, but the near-accusation shocked her. Had she somehow expected him to remain in ignorance, unaware of the actions which caused everyone, even teachers, to give her a wide berth?
"Gareth said you bloody well shot him," the boy repeated, watching her with that piercing stare.
Hermione smiled, though it was a pale effort. "No, Severus, I did not shoot Gareth Oakwand."
"You know what I mean; skip the bloody pedantry!"
This time she sighed. So few words to change his opinion of her. "Yes. Yes, I shot Voldemort. I didn't kill him, though. More's the pity."
"How—? How could you—?"
She heard the incredulity, didn't really care what it was for. "How do you think?" she retorted harshly. "The same way I shot that damned mantel-gnome. The same way I'm teaching you. I drew, aimed, fired."
"I will not discuss it further, Mr. Snape." Cold, crisp steel. The feel of it in her hands. His horrible, inhuman face. Pulling the trigger…
"I will not discuss it further, Mr. Snape. If that's all, I think you'd better return to your common room for today. Read the next chapter." She kept it cool, impersonal. Teacher and student, never mind that for her those roles had been universally, irrevocably shattered.
Without another word, he turned and left. Hermione spent a long time staring out of a window that hadn't been there ten minutes before.
Severus stalked through the halls, disquieted, perhaps angry, and unsure as to why. So she didn't want to talk about it. So what? Why should she? He was a student, a ward, an obligation to her, not a friend—whatever that meant. And by now, probably an unwelcome obligation.
And face it, he told himself, you wouldn't like her poking her nose into your affairs, either, would you? Would he? Why does it bother you so much, anyway?
Why… Granger fought in a war, one he had in a strange way been fortunate to miss, though it hadn't left him wholly unscathed. Severus remembered the films his da had watched with him, back when they'd had enough money for a telly and Tobias was still 'Da.' Muggles had shot each other all the time in battles and wars: there were the heroes of the World Wars and the Wild West cowboys in white hats. It didn't bother him there. It didn't bother him in theory; he'd asked her to teach him to shoot, after all. Was it because he knew her personally? Because she was a girl? Severus poked and prodded his feelings like a tooth that was on the verge of falling out. After a time, he knew.
It wasn't because she was a girl. It was because she was a witch.
Witches (and wizards) had wands. Hell, if you thought about it, every single student in the entire school went about armed nearly every minute of the day. A little knowhow and some intent, and a ten-year-old was lethal, whether purposefully or accidentally. But… that was magic. Magic was somehow intelligent and elegant.
Guns were not.
Guns were noisy, clumsy weapons. They were crude. For a witch to use one instead of magic… it struck him as more than a little obscene.
But it shouldn't. The whole situation had been obscene; from what he understood, she had been a fourteen-year-old girl—a fourteen-year-old girl very close to being killed herself for being intelligent and born to the wrong family.
That could have been him at some point, if he had grown up normally. He was a half-blood.
It had happened to Lily.
If a gun could have saved her… He would have loaded it and handed it to her himself. He would've used it in her stead.
Would anyone have done the same for him?
Two answers to that question flashed blindingly into his mind, and one of them brought him to a full stop in the middle of the cooridor. But further probing was curtailed by the sound of his name echoing slightly along stone walls in a voice that was both supercilious and whinging.
The whinge was unfamiliar, but not the near-albino colouring. "Malfoy." The older boy could only be Lucius's offspring, as disturbing as that concept was. Set that aside though, and Severus was intrigued to note that the son lacked the supremely unassailable self-assurance that the sire had possessed in spades. A natural state, Severus wondered, or an effect of the war? The boy had started perceptibly at Severus's use of his name and asked, "You know me?" before he regained his aplomb. "Good.
"My father informs me you two were friends back in school," he continued. "I thought you might wish to continue the arrangement."
"That's quite an assumption," Severus replied coolly. This was the game he knew.
Apparently, Malfoy was more used to simple acquiescence. Had Slytherins lost their edge in these last twenty years? "It stands to reason," he said, somewhat lamely. "The Malfoy name can still open doors for you."
Still. That was a telling inclusion. "But are they doors I would wish to pass through?" he riposted. "And would they be worth the entry fee?"
"I think we both have something to offer each other," Malfoy replied. "My father was explicit about his memories of his school days."
"I'm sure we do," Severus muttered, "and I'm sure he was." There was a question there as to what, if anything, this Malfoy could use as blackmail. Matters that were still fresh to him were likely mouldering issues to everyone else, but people could be tricky in deciding what was important. Lucius himself had graduated Hogwarts some time ago (gods, what did he look like now? Probably still handsome, even at his age, because that's the kind of luck he had); would anyone care that for the first several years of their schooling, Severus had subtly helped Lucius to cheat? Also, would the old arrangement have any real meaning for him when he was no longer living in Slytherin and so many of the old alliances had likely tumbled into ruins?
And was a Slytherin friendship something he truly wanted to pursue? It would be a friendship to be better recorded in a ledger-book than a diary, a friendship of favours given and granted, credits and debits all to be tallied up at the end of the day to one or the other's benefit. Aside from Lily, it was the only sort of friendship he'd ever thought to have.
But the world had changed.
Lily had been the one person he'd believed would fight for him; who else would give a damn? Granger did, he realized now, and just before Malfoy had interrupted his thoughts, he had known that Granger would kill for him. She didn't have to say it. And she wouldn't demand anything in return. Maybe it was just because that was the sort of girl she was, but…
…he cared, too. Without even thinking about it, he'd given her his loyalty. Perhaps more. He'd fight to the death for her (not that she needed him to). He'd give, and never count the cost, never care whether the ledgers were balanced.
But could he afford to refuse this particular ledger-book?
"Severus?" Again his name, interrupting a situation, but this was more welcome. Hermione Granger's low tones preceded her appearance around the corner of the hall. When she caught sight of the two boys, she paused, tensed, relaxed. "Malfoy." She nodded tersely.
"Granger," he answered back, not precisely sneering, but sounding for all the world like he wished he could. Severus watched the interchange in fascination. That they didn't like each other was more than a little obvious, but from the way Malfoy was fingering his wand, Severus knew that he either wanted to hex the girl into next week, or was very much afraid that she was going to do that very thing to him. Hermione, on the other hand, was more physically relaxed in her hostility; she despised the blond, but dismissed him as an actual threat. Whether or not it was true, the dismissal infuriated Malfoy all the more, and as the moments passed, his fingers stilled and began to fully grip his wand. "This is Slytherin territory," he hissed, and it was only then that Severus consciously noted that they were in the dungeons. His feet had brought him here—past more than a few obstacles—on their own.
"It's Hogwarts' grounds," she replied sweetly, "and I am permitted to go anywhere I like on Hogwarts' grounds. As you well know."
"You are not welcome here."
"No," she agreed, "but I'm here, and I will be here for some time more, and I will return here when I deem fit. Or shall we leave all Slytherins to their own devices and the mercies of the things your families conjured up? I know you hate to admit it, but even Slytherins need people from time to time, whether or not they actually consider them people."
"You're trying to destroy us!"
Hermione sighed. "I'm not, Malfoy. I even find some of your younger members rather adorable, did you know? But I am trying to destroy this massive construction of unreasoning hatred that your kind have built. Nobody needs it, and all it will lead to is another war. And I am not having that.
"Severus," she continued, turning to him, "I wanted to apologise for booting you out so unceremoniously earlier. You have a right to your curiosity; perhaps someday I'll be able to satisfy it. But for now, I hope you will understand—or at least accept—that I can't."
Astonished, Severus could only nod.
She smiled, and he astonished himself even more by thinking her beautiful in that moment.
But a light-coloured movement caught the corner of his eye. "Look out!" he shouted, even as he drew his wand and cast a Protego. However quickly he moved, she moved faster, and a flash of brownish light shot through his protective spell and hit Malfoy square in the stomach. Whatever spell the boy had been about to cast fizzled into a shower of blue-grey sparks and he collapsed to the ground, heaving. Before Severus could say anything, Malfoy convulsed, and out of his mouth spewed a disgustingly grey river of… slugs. "That is truly gross," Severus said with all the the admiration he'd ever had for anything in his life. Banishing his protective spell, he poked one of the slugs. It was real and alive in all of the glory a slug may be said to have. "Gross," he repeated. He eyed Malfoy, who had managed to get to his hands and knees and was in the process of emptying his stomach of the more usual contents. "Serves you right," he informed him. "Trying to hex an opponent in the back is a dirty trick. Even Lucius wouldn't do that."
Hermione, in the process of conjuring a glass and filling it with water, glanced over at her younger companion. "No," she whispered, almost to herself. "Not even Lucius Malfoy would do that." From the way the Malfoy's eyes rolled in her direction, Severus concluded that there was something much deeper behind the words and behind the two's hostile interaction, but he wouldn't ask. He might, someday, but he had a feeling that such a day would be long in coming. The moment passed, and Hermione, after taking a sip herself, passed the glass of water over to young Malfoy. "Perfectly safe, Draco. Rinse and spit, then drink," she ordered bossily. The blond grimaced but complied. She manoeuvred her wand, and he flinched slightly, but it was merely to send the slugs… somewhere. "Look, Draco, I don't really have anything against you, though I do think your father should be rotting in the bowels of Azkaban and I'm still on the fence about your mother. I just want to get on with things: to fix the school and keep everything from imploding and maybe just be a schoolgirl for five damn minutes together. The only thing I ever wanted to win was to be allowed to bloody well exist. Do you think you could let me get on with it? And before you ask, no, I'm not going to tell anyone about this, and I don't think Severus will, either."
Severus shrugged. "I might, but I don't have any reason to, just yet."
Malfoy's expression was nearly a smile. "Still a Slytherin, eh, Snape?" Severus shrugged again.
"He can be," Hermione remarked to both boys' surprise, "once we're sure it's safe and he wants to." Taking in their expressions, she added, "I told you, I don't object to your House existing, but something has to change. I don't want any more deaths on my conscience—do you?"
Malfoy went a bit green, but it was difficult to see in the dim dungeon light. "No. I guess we agree on something."
"'Something' is a start," she murmured. "Come on, Draco, I'll help you up and we can all get back to civilization, such as it is." He didn't move, but grasped Severus's hand when the boy proffered it. "It's a start," she repeated wryly.
Severus was dragging himself reluctantly from a comfortable chair and an excellent potions article (yes, he was editing his own work, but to call it less than excellent would be to do himself a disservice) to change into dress robes and tidy his hair. Grumbling, he began unfastening the buttons on his worn, potion-splattered at-home robes and shrugged them off his shoulders as he entered his bedroom. Seeing the state of the chamber, he shouted, "Hermione, how many times—"
"—do I have to tell you to pick up your bloody robes?" Hermione's voice joined in laughingly from the direction of the bathroom. "I will, I will! Just let me put my face on!"
"And how many times do I have to tell you that there's nothing wrong with the face you've got?" he grumbled, neatly hanging up his robes and picking up the set she'd left on the bed for him.
"It's a perfectly decent face," she agreed, "but any woman will tell you that special occasions require a bit of paint; it's our social armour. Like all of those layers of buttons you've got on. I'm not going to ask your mother for your hand in marriage looking like a frump who can't be bothered to take five minutes to make an effort."
"She won't care," he shouted back. "She'll be ecstatic to get me off her hands, and besides, you're a brilliant catch to her whatever you look like. Think of the social cachet, being the mother-in-law of a war hero and brilliant Medi-witch!"
The past years, the years of growing up and being young adults had not been uneventful. When the news of Severus's reappearance had been made public, it had set off a flurry of incidents, some of them potentially, though thankfully not actually, deadly. Various attempts had also been made to restore Voldemort's faction to power, but without a strong leader such as he had been, each attempt failed. Hermione went from being a guardian and mentor to being an equal to being a lover in a progression that had felt so natural that Severus had only thought to question it in recent months. Not the rightness of it—Hermione would never allow for that—but that it had been so easy for him—for them—when he saw so many others, including their friends, struggling with romantic attachments or the lack thereof. Draco had gone through nearly all of Slytherin and a good portion of Ravenclaw already, and Johnny was currently moping about after Parvati Patil, who was with Ron Weasley—for the moment, anyway. Padma was eying Cedric Diggory, who seemed to be eternally oblivious to just about everyone. And so on. It made Severus wonder.
He was brushing his hair back in front of the wardrobe mirror when a thought occurred to him. "Hermione," he called again, "do you ever wonder what it would have been like if I'd grown up normally? I mean," he added hastily, forestalling a teasing rejoinder, "if I had gone through my proper timeline."
"Well, you would've been the older man, for one," she said immediately, emerging from the bathroom. Her hair frothed about her face, her lips glistened a dark rose, and her eyes smiled at him. Everything else dropped in importance for a long, happy moment. "You might've been a friend's father, and I don't think I should've liked that. But in all seriousness, I have wondered, and I've given it up. There are too many variables. You would've fought—I've no doubt about that—but would you be alive or dead now? Who else would be alive or dead? Would you have been merely a good fighter, or would you have been the butterfly that tipped the balance? Too many questions to answer, and I rather like the way things turned out. I'm glad you didn't have to fight in the war, glad I could take that on for both of us."
"That's the one thing I regret," he said softly, turning to her. "I wish I could have been at your side, at least, if not in front of you. You shouldn't have had to do it alone." He paused. "But what do you mean, butterfly?"
"It's chaos theory, my love." She fussed a bit over his robes, more for the pleasure in touch than for necessity. He looked so distinguished, his hair tied back in its queue, showing off the sharp bones of his face, his robes trimmed in the green and blue of his double House affiliation. The silver pins that indicated his Potions Mastery. "A Muggle concept. The example is, if I remember correctly, that a butterfly, a single minor element, flaps its wings, setting in motion a chain of events that culminates in a hurricane. Or it doesn't; it's unpredictable. If you had been there, in your proper time, you might have changed everything, intentionally or unintentionally. But we'll never know, because you weren't there.
"And I'm happy with that, because we're alive, free, and together. And that's what really matters, my Slytherin heart."
He leaned forward to kiss her. "Indeed, my Gryffindor soul. Indeed."