Beta(s): reynardo, lederhosen
(Highlight to View) Warning(s): None.
(Highlight to View) Prompt: Snape's body was never recovered from the Shack. Years later, Professor Granger hears strange stories of students in the forest being aided by a Ghillie Dhu....Can she return him to the way he was?
Note: Many thanks to JKR for her wonderful characters and to the mods, without whom this fest would not exist!
Summary: Hermione hunts for the Gillie Dhu and discovers more than she expects!
The wind howled through the trees like a tormented banshee and shook the branches sending shadows dancing like the fey through the undergrowth. Hermione shivered in the torrential rain as she trudged down the path that meandered through the Forbidden Forest. What had seemed like a good idea in the security of her study was beginning to feel like the height of folly.
She wished she dared use a Warming Charm to keep the chill at bay, but that would have ruined any pretence of being a first year student. Instead she pulled the hood of her cloak further forward in a vain attempt to keep the rain from her face. When she got back to Hogwarts, she was going to need several glasses of Pepper-Up potion to ward off the stinking cold that was sure to develop from being out so long in the cold and the wet.
Hermione stopped as an uncomfortable tremor ran through her. At first she thought it was just from the chilly atmosphere, but then a tingling started in her fingers and toes. Alarmed, she grabbed at the flask hanging at her side. She took a deep draught from the golden liquid inside. Almost at once the feeling of slowly blowing up like a balloon faded and her insides settled down.
Hermione sighed in frustration. There had been no sign of any other living thing. Her careful planning had not taken the weather into account. If the Polyjuice Potion she had taken at the start of her search was wearing off, she must have been wandering for several hours. Either the mystery saviour of lost children had enough sense to shelter from the storm, or he had somehow penetrated her disguise and was avoiding her. It was senseless for her to continue, she would be better off heading back to a warm fire and a glass of Firewhisky.
A sharp snap of a twig sent a frisson of fear dancing down her spine. Hermione flicked her wrist, releasing the catch that kept her wand up her sleeve. She felt better as soon as her chilled fingers closed around the slim vine wood.
"Are you lost, child?" A soft, voice came from behind her.
Hermione stifled a shriek and whirled round, her wand held out before her with trembling fingers. She hoped she presented the proper picture of a frightened girl doing her best to be brave. If she was honest with herself, she wasn't really pretending.
A tall, dark figure detached itself from out of the gloom. The exact shape was hard to make out as their hooded cloak made from tree bark blended so well into the background. It was impossible to see their face as the hood shadowed it completely.
"Y-yes," she stammered, belatedly remembering the role she was supposed to be playing. "C-could you show me the way back to Hogwarts? I don't think I can take any more."
The figure studied her silently. The silence stretched for so long that Hermione began to wonder if her disguise had fooled them at all. Suddenly, Hermione was almost knocked off her feet by a violent sneeze.
"Foolish girl!" The voice snapped in a tone that was almost familiar. "I had better give you something for that before you catch your death."
Hermione frowned, trying to recall just where she had heard such a voice before. It was definitely a man's voice. There was something all too familiar with the tone and inflection. It was getting harder to think with a head that suddenly seemed full of cotton wool.
"I'd settle for getting out of this rain."
"That is easily accomplished. Follow me." He turned and strode away with only a single glance over his shoulder to make sure she had done so.
She fell into step behind him. Her head had begun to pound and Hermione just longed for somewhere warm and dry.
After what seemed like an age they came to a halt in front of a tangled thicket of brambles. Her rescuer then made a single imperious gesture with his left hand. With a dry, crackling rustle the spiky tendril in front of them slithered back to leave a narrow passage through to the other side. Hermione watched as he walked confidently through the gap. Just who was her rescuer? A wizard, certainly and one who was adept enough to perform wandless and wordless magic. A slight rustling noise broke into her thoughts and she hurried to catch up before the brambles closed up once more.
Beyond the tangled thorns was a small clearing in which was a small ramshackle hut whose single window gave off a warm, welcoming yellow light.
In spite of its outward appearance the hut was snug and cosy. Hermione turned slowly as she took in the single room. It was sparsely furnished, a simple rough wooden table and chair made from scraps of timber, a rickety single bed curtained off from the rest of the room. Various herbs hung from the ceiling were slowly drying out. A series of shelves along one wall held an assortment of clay pots. A log fire burned in a hearth made of river stones its smoke curling up a chimney made from the same clay that had fashioned the pots.
"Well, does it meet with your approval?" he enquired raspily, reminding her that she was not alone.
Hermione found herself blushing, almost as if she had been caught spying. "It's very cosy. But don't you get lonely being on your own?"
"It seems I get company whether I wish it or not," he responded drily as his long fingers deftly snipped off a sprig here and a leaf there and deposited them into a cup he had fetched from a shelf. He then crossed to the hearth and, using a folded rag, lifted a small iron kettle from where it nestled among the embers. He poured steaming water into the cup and then gestured for her to sit.
"It is best left to steep for a bit." he said as he handed the cup to her. "Now, take a seat and warm yourself. Once the storm has passed I will guide you back to safety."
Hermione sat in the chair and closed her fingers around the clay cup, savouring the warmth that seeped into her. Now that she had finally met the mystery benefactor, she was beginning to feel uncomfortable about her deception. It was not as if he had ever harmed any of the students he had encountered. It was her damnable curiosity that had refused to leave a mystery alone until it had been solved.
The stranger unfastened his cloak and hung it on a peg by the door. He wore a tunic fashioned from leaves and what looked suspiciously like thistledown. Below that was a pair of trousers that were more holes than material. She could see his face, though the long hair, moustache and beard hid most of his features. However the distinctive long, hooked nose was all too familiar.
"Professor Snape!" she gasped in shocked surprise.
"Why do you call me that?" he asked frowning down at her. "I no longer teach at Hogwarts."
The dark scowl reminded Hermione far too strongly of her Potion lessons. "What should I call you then, Mr Snape?"
"Severus." He moved to the fire and stabbed at the logs with a poker. The flames leapt up brighter giving a reddish cast to his features. "Snape died in the Shrieking Shack. Are you all right? You look like you have seen a ghost."
"Haven't I, Prof- Severus? I saw you, lying on the floor, your blood seeping out..." Hermione shuddered. Her last sight of Snape in the Shrieking Shack was etched into her mind like a searing brand. If she closed her eyes she would see again the dark red stain of blood on his clothes as it oozed from his neck and onto the wooden floorboards. The last silver wisps of memory trailing into the bottle she had given Harry.
"You are far too young to have been at Hogwarts then." Severus crossed the room and seized her chin tilting her face upwards. He peered at her closely, his eyes burning into hers like twin fires. "Who are you?"
Hermione swallowed, choking down the fear that gripped her as strongly as his fingers. She had completely forgotten her disguise! Instead of answering his question, she countered with one of her own. "How did you survive?"
"Unicorn blood."Severus released her abruptly and stepped back a pace or two to glower down at her.
"You drank Unicorn's blood, but that is cursed!"
"Not if the bloody beast gives you it freely and they are still alive afterwards."
"But why did it do that? They normally avoid people."
"Because she owed me a life debt. I had saved her foal and that was how I was repaid." He laughed mirthlessly. "I was finally at peace and she had to bloody drag me back."
"Y- you wanted to die?"
"Not exactly, I had accomplished all I was supposed to. There didn't seem to be any reason to carry on."
"Why didn't you let anyone know you were still alive?"
"I had no wish to keep dancing to Dumbledore's tune just to stay out of Azkaban, not after I had heard that the Potter brat had actually killed Voldemort."
Hermione blinked. How could Severus have forgotten that Dumbledore was dead and by his own hand? She studied him thoughtfully, remembering all those thin silver threads of memory slipping away. From what Harry had said, the spinning off of memories for a Pensieve did not change the person's actual memory of the event. However, Severus had been dying. Had that affected how he had loosed them for Harry to see? Or perhaps it was because he had given up so many at once? Hermione sternly brought her mind back to the man in front of her before it went wandering off at a tangent.
"You don't need to worry about Azkaban. You are a hero. Harry made sure that you were awarded a posthumous Order of Merlin, First Class."
"Harry? Why would a student call Potter by his first name?" Severus whirled and a slim wand leapt to his hand from the shelf beside him. "Finite Incantatem!"
Hermione jumped to her feet, reflexively reaching for her own wand. It was only half out of her sleeve when she felt her body go rigid as a plank of wood as Severus hit her with another spell. Severus snatched her wand from her and examined it curiously.
"This seems familiar, yet I am sure I have never seen you before."
"You haven't Prof..Severus. At least not as I look at the moment. It's me, Hermione Granger." She was relieved to discover she could talk and breath, though she could not even twitch a finger.
"Ah, I see. Polyjuice, of course." He studied her for a long moment and then removed the flask from around her waist. He unstoppered it and took a tentative sniff of the contents. "I must say that your brewing skills have improved."
"It certainly tasted better than Bellatrix's."
"You used Polyjuice to impersonate Bellatrix Lestrange! No matter, you can tell me that story another time. Are the other two in on this?"
"No, I am on my own. Harry and Ron don't know anything about this."
"Why do you look all of eleven years old, Miss Granger? I can't say that you have changed for the better."I
"I was hoping to meet you."
"But you thought me dead, Miss Granger. How could you have been looking for me?"
"I was trying to find the mysterious stranger who rescued students. As they only rescued children, I had to disguise myself. I didn't know that he was you."
"Why? I did them no harm, in fact quite the opposite. If it were not for my intervention some of the brats never would have made it out of the Forest alive."
"I know; that was why. I wanted to thank you."
"Thank me!"Severus stared at her for a long moment his mouth working but no sound came out. He turned away from her. Hermione thought he muttered something along the lines of never understanding bloody Gryffindors! The next moment the unnatural stillness that had gripped her limbs ceased. He turned back to face her once more, his brows drawn down into their habitual scowl.
"Well, what are you waiting for?"
"What?"Hermione studied him surprised.
Severus watched her a slight, sardonic smile on his lips. Hermione felt a blush suffuse her cheeks at his intent gaze. Why was he looking at her so intently? Oh yes, of course!
"Thank you, Severus." Hermione felt decidedly odd calling him by his given name. It might be what he preferred, but she still thought of him as Professor Snape.
"It seems an awful lot of effort for such a simple thing."
"Well, I didn't anticipate the storm, or that it would take so long to find you."
"The Forbidden Forest has many traps to trip the unwary."
"I know, at least there aren't any more Acromantulas. I am glad they were all driven out after the Battle for Hogwarts."
"There are other dangers."
Hermione shrugged. "Nothing I couldn't handle. Anyway, Prof- Severus, now you know that you have no reason to fear Azkaban, why don't you come back with me?"
"I prefer the freedom I have."
"But what about your teaching, your Potions, the ingredients in your study?"
"I have no desire to suffer the indignities of trying to stuff knowledge into dunderheads who do not appreciate the finer arts of potion making. Though you are right, there are times when I do miss my supplies. However, even they are not sufficient incentive to induce me to return."
Hermione studied Severus. In spite of his ragged clothes and wild, dishevelment, he still managed to have an air of dignity about him. She could not force him to return, even if she wished to. Nor could she explain why it felt important for him to do so. The thought of him living here in the woods eking out an existence seemed wrong. A poor reward for all he had endured and the sacrifices he had made. Well, she could begin by setting the record straight.
"Dumbledore's gone, Professor McGonagall is headmistress of Hogwarts now."
"So, he's finally retired."
"Dumbledore's dead. He died before the battle of Hogwarts. Don't you remember, Severus? You were there when it happened."
Severus stared at her for a long moment. "Dumbledore is dead!" His face went grey and he sank down to the floor. "I thought it was a dream brought on by Nagini's poison. Oh Merlin, what else have I done?"
Hermione stifled her instinctive reaction to rush forward to comfort him. He might have changed in some ways, however she had a feeling that such an overt demonstration of concern would simply awaken his wrath.
After a few moments the colour returned to his cheeks and he straightened up, getting to his feet once more. Unconsciously he reached down to straighten cuffs that weren't there and then Severus scowled down at their absence.
"You really don't remember?" Hermione hoped her question would not spark off another terrible reaction.
The glare Severus sent her would have had a First Year swooning away in fright. "Of course I bloody don't! "
"We still have them; the memories you gave Harry. At least all the ones we caught. They are at the Ministry."
"Oh fucking marvellous! So everyone can bloody take a look no doubt. 'See the War Hero in action!'"
"No, they are locked away. You have to get permission from the Aurors office to see them. I am sure they will let you in; after all they are your memories."
"Just because they are my own, doesn't mean they will allow me to access them. Besides, I am not sure I want to know which of my nightmares are the conjuration of my own subconscious and which my imperfect recollection."
"Don't they haunt you?"
"An interesting choice of word, Miss Granger. Not as much as they used to. They have dimmed over time."
"Perhaps being at Hogwarts may help."
"I doubt it. Why are you so eager for me to return to that blasted place?"
"I don't really know. Somehow it doesn't seem the same without you."
"I am sure the students will not miss my face glaring down from the High Table, nor the comments I could make on their execrable essays."
"Umm probably not. It's just this..." Her arm swept round to encompass the shabby interior. "Doesn't seem right either."
"Ah, the champion of lost causes rears her head. Thank you, Miss Granger. You will find that like the House Elves, I neither need nor want your help!"
Hermione flinched inwardly as his words stung her. The hot retort that she would have replied with died on her lips as a tremor ran through her, At first Hermione put it down to her reaction to his harsh words.
A familiar tingling started at the tip of her toes and fingers. Frantically she looked around for the flask and then recalled she no longer had need of it. Her face felt decidedly odd. The skin was writhing this way and that as her flesh began to change from the features she had borrowed to her own natural form. It wasn't just her face that was changing now. Her entire body felt like her skin was too tight and that she would burst out of it at any moment.
"Oh no! Professor, my wand!" she gasped.
"Fuck!"Severus grabbed her wand and flung it to Hermione. He then turned his back on her as her school blouse made an ominous ripping sound.
Hermione snatched the slim wand from the air and frantically started weaving transfigurations on her clothing.
"Is it safe to turn around yet?" Severus asked drily as soon as the crackle of the fire became the only sound in the room.
"Yes." Hermione replied, trying to smooth her rumpled clothing. She had not reacted quick enough to prevent some of her uniform from tearing and it had been almost impossible to repair it while her body was writhing under the transformation. Although what she had on kept most of her covered, it was a far cry from suitable. Her robes were a little tattered and far too short.
He turned to face her and stared. "Well, you would earn a severe reprimand for the state of your uniform, but at least it covers the essentials."
Hermione stifled a groan. It was one thing to discover that. without the aid of a mirror, it was very difficult to adjust the size of an item of clothing while still wearing it. Quite another for Severus to critique her Transfiguration.
"If I had a mirror, I could correct it." Hermione sighed.
"Do I look like I posses a mirror?"
"No, not really. Oh well, I'll just have to try not to be noticed. Heaven knows what they would think of the Transfiguration Professor in these!"
"That she needs more practice."
Hermione stared at him for a moment and then burst out laughing. To her surprise, Severus joined in.
"Oh dear, I don't think I have laughed like that for ages," Hermione said once she had managed to get herself back under control.
"Even longer for me."
Hermione smiled at him. "You don't have to come back to teach. However, speaking of clothing, I think some of yours is still at Hogwarts."
"Now that is a more tempting offer. Transfiguring leaves is all very well, but I do miss the feel of cotton and silk."
"So you'll come back with me?"
Snape's gaze switched to the shuttered window. "Once the storm lifts, yes."
Hermione breathed a sigh of relief when she saw that the darkened corridor was deserted. Getting into Hogwarts had been easy enough, though they did have a heated discussion as to which was the best route to take. Severus, in spite of his hazy memory, knew more ways into and around the building than she had learnt in all of her years at Hogwarts. Which, she reflected, explained his uncanny knack of turning up in the most unexpected of places.
"I don't suppose you would care to draw me a map?"
"Didn't Potter have one?"
"Yes, but he's kept it. Besides, I think you know how to navigate Hogwarts better than the Marauders did."
"Undoubtedly, after all I spent most of my school years trying to avoid them."
"I'm sorry I didn't mean to bring up unwelcome memories."
"Miss Granger you have nothing to apologise for. What memories I do retain of them are dim, almost dreamlike. Those ghosts no longer haunt me."
Hermione opened her mouth to enquire if the same was true of Lily, Harry's mother. However she didn't want Severus to beat a hasty retreat to the Forest again. Bringing up her name, Hermione was sure, would destroy the tentative rapport she had with the former Potions Professor. He was like a prickly hedgehog ready to curl up at the slightest provocation. That thought made her smile which earned her an odd look.
"Something amusing, Granger?"
"Just thinking that its odd. Normally when we were sneaking around it was to avoid you."
"Well as we don't have the advantage of Potter's invisibility cloak I suggest you keep your voice down. Have you any idea where they stored my things?"
"No. I was thinking of smuggling you into my rooms and then getting one of the House Elves to fetch them."
Severus came to an abrupt halt and stared at her. "Miss Granger, that would not do at all. The House Elves are not renowned for their discretion. I would prefer my presence to remain a secret."
"In which case..." Hermione hesitated thoughtfully.
Her train of thought was nearly derailed when she realised that Severus was watching her with the same guarded expression that Harry and Ron used to adopt when she was coming up with an idea.
"I know! You can use the Professors' Bathroom. It's bound to be empty at this time of night. I'll just have to fetch you the clothes myself, though I am going to have to ask the House Elves where they put them."
"That sounds an excellent idea, Miss Granger. Don't worry, I can find my own way there."
With that he swept away, leaving Hermione staring at his retreating back.
Severus sighed contentedly as he stretched out in the tub under a satisfying amount of bubbles. A Warming Charm on a pool and a bar of soap could not begin to compare to such a blissful experience as a decent bath. It felt good to be thoroughly clean and able to relax in the warmth without worrying about another denizen of the Forbidden Forest blundering in. In spite of knowing that Miss Granger could arrive at any moment, he felt his eyelids growing heavier and heavier as his limbs seemed to dissolve in the balmy heaven that surrounded him.
"Prof...Severus," Hermione began as she entered the bathroom. Her words ground to a halt as she took in the sleeping figure of Severus Snape. In repose he looked much younger, almost of an age with herself.
His wet hair plastered to his scalp certainly made him look more like the feared Potions Master from her school years, though the shaggy beard was rather more reminiscent of Hagrid. To her relief most of his body was hidden under the bath foam. If he woke now, he could hardly accuse her of trying to satisfy her prurient curiosity. What was on show indicated that outdoor living certainly agreed with him. He was no longer the pale bat of the dungeons/ His skin had darkened from being outdoors so much. The Dark mark stood out as a dull red scar against his tan. Not that that was the only scar that marked his skin. Hermione was quite shocked by the number, each a silent testament to just how much he had endured during the fight against the Dark Lord.
"If you are going to stay, you could at least scrub my back," Severus drawled sleepily.
Hermione felt her cheeks going bright scarlet. Severus had caught her staring at him!
"Umm I'm not sure..."
Severus turned his head and studied her with a slight smile. "What, Miss Granger, not up to the challenge?"
"Of course not! I mean, yes, all right, if you'd like me to." Hermione felt herself colouring up again.
"Not if it would discomfort you too much," Severus said softly taking pity on the blushing Gryffindor.
"It's all right. Only I've never actually done this for anyone else before."
"What, not even Weasley or Potter? After all you spent so long in the woods together."
"Certainly not! Harry's just a friend and Ron... Well lets just say we realised we wouldn't suit each other." Hermione turned her head away as she grabbed for the soap and flannel.
"You could have saved yourself some heartache if you had asked my opinion. It was clear from the start that the two of you were ill matched."
"Of all the..." Hermione scrubbed vigorously at his offending back. "For someone who has a shaky memory you seem to recollect a great deal!"
"Ouch! Miss Granger you are scrubbing me, not the floor! The only points that I don't remember are the ones I gave Potter. Everything else is as clear as crystal."
At that moment the door to the bathroom banged open and Peeves the Poltergeist swept into the room. With a cackle of glee he swept on Hermione Granger lifting her into the air only to deposit her moments later into the bath with Severus.
"Hermione Granger had a ducking. Now with Severus she'll be...."
His words choked off as the bar of soap flew across the room and into the jeering poltergeist's mouth. Peeves spat it out and glared at the pair of them.
Severus smiled nastily and waved his hand. The bar of soap lifted off the floor to hover in front of Peeves. Peeves gave a howl and dashed out of the room again.
"Oh, could you teach me how to do that?"
"If you like. It seems to be a sovereign remedy for foul mouthed poltergeists as well as students."
"Bother! I'm wet through now." Hermione glared in the direction of the door.
"Well, I could scrub your back, if you like."
Hermione turned her gaze back to Severus. What she saw in his eyes caused the breath to catch in her throat. There was a definite fire that lit a warm glow in the centre of her being.
"I think I'm a little overdressed for that."
"I think I can help with that too, Hermione."
Hermione swallowed. The thought of his lean fingers unbuttoning her blouse was making it difficult to stitch a coherent thought together.
She was still trying to come up with a response when his lips brushed softly against her mouth.
"Wait!" Hermione pushed him away slightly and fumbled for her wand.
"What! Don't tell me you are struck by maidenly modesty?"
"No, Peeves barging in like that has reminded me that I forgot to lock the door."
"Good point. I prefer to keep things private."
"Now," Hermoine said once she had locked and spelled the door from any other interlopers. "Where were we?"
"About here, I think," Severus replied as he kissed her once again.
Much, much later Hermione lay on her bed snuggled up next to Severus.
"I could get to like this." She sighed contentedly.
"It's just as well that I'm planning on making this a habit too."
"But you can't keep sneaking into Hogwarts every night."
"Not every night no." Severus smiled slightly at her huff of protest. "Besides, I suppose Minerva will insist on my making an honest woman of you."
"You know, I can't get used to calling her that. How did you manage? I mean you went from being her student to a teacher. How did you get over thinking of her as Professor McGonagall?"
"Several glasses of firewhisky."
"I don't think getting drunk is going to help me."
"Not for you. Minerva. Once you have seen her dancing on the tables it's hard to think of her as Professor anything."
Hermione studied him and then smiled as she saw the glint of humour in his eyes. "You are only joking."
"So, are you going to stay?"
"Hmm... not as a teacher. I only really agreed to that role at Dumbledore's insistence. I have no patience with idiocy and a student who is truly drawn to potions is rare."
"What will you do then?"
"If I have been awarded my freedom, then I will open up an apothecary shop in Hogsmeade."
"I suppose that will do. So long as Headmaster McGonagall won't mind you living here."
"I am sure I can arrange a deal. There will always be a need for Healing Potions at Hogwarts."
"How Slytherin of you to think so. What about your memories? I mean, do you want them back?"
"Not really, if we are planning a future together. I think the past is best forgotten."
"Jealous, witch? I prefer the presence of a warm, living woman, no ghost can compare to this." Severus ran gently caressing fingers down her side.
Any lingering fears as to Severus' affections were soon laid to rest.