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Chapter 30: A Special Birthday Present
“Enter” Dumbledore said from his office chair. He looked up from a half unwrapped sweet in his hands. “Severus, what can I do for you tonight?”
Severus Snape swept into the office, black cloak billowing behind him. “I cannot do it anymore, Albus.”
Dumbledore gestured toward a chair. “What are you talking about?”
“You know damned well what I’m talking about, your ridiculous scheme you’ve caught me up in.”
“You promised to help me, Severus, I need you.”
“And I need to protect my family. I made all these promises when I had nothing to lose. I can’t keep being your pawn anymore.”
“I do regret that she has got caught up in the roles you have to play, Severus, I really do.
But you agreed to help me because you wanted to insure the future would be better. You should be more devoted to that cause, not less, now that you have Herm-“
“Don’t say her name!”
Dumbledore looked over his half-moon spectacles at Severus. “Are you really that paranoid?”
“This office isn’t secure,” Severus looked around the room at the portraits, some were asleep, some were obviously faking, and one or two were staring right at him. “I have to protect her, and you don’t know who could be listening!”
“I’m not saying don’t protect her, by all means, do everything in your power to protect her. But don’t give up on the mission.”
Severus came closer to Dumbledore’s desk. “How did Lily do it?”
“I know you know how she did it. Tell me!”
“It isn’t that simple, Severus, she sacrificed herself for Harry out of love.”
“I would do that! I would do anything!”
“Of course you would, but unless you are literally standing between her and Voldemort, choosing to die in her place, it isn’t going to work.”
Severus Snape closed his eyes and breathed out deeply. Then he turned on his heels and strode out of the office.
“Severus, where are you going? Severus?”
Hermione moped around Friday during her afternoon break. Saturday would be her seventeenth birthday, and a sinking feeling in her stomach told her she may very well spend it alone. Her dad still wouldn’t talk to her in person, there was no hope of seeing Draco, Ron would likely only remember it was her birthday around dinner. If she spent the day with Harry, he’d just spend it like he spent all of his time with Hermione now, moaning about how Draco is up to something, or moaning about how Severus is up to something. She’d rather spend the whole day alone than put up with any more of it. She sighed and looked up from her ancient runes textbook and noticed an owl tapping on the window. She hadn’t heard a thing. She got up and opened the window for it. It dropped a letter in Hermione’s hands, then flew off, not waiting for a reply. She hesitated, recognising her dad’s handwriting, and decided to dart up the stairs to read the letter in the dormitory alone.
It was a tiny piece of paper, hardly a sliver. All it said was “meet me in my office 7 AM Saturday.” He hadn’t addressed it or signed it, still on his “safety in secrecy” obsession. Still, it lifted her spirits to know he was willing to take the risk to see her on her birthday.
“Be careful.” Harry said when she told him later that night.
“I don’t know, he might be up to something.”
“For the zillionth time, Harry...”
“Why are you going so early? It must be something he doesn’t want anyone else to know about, something-where are you going?”
Hermione had stood up and turned her back on Harry. “Just shut up, Harry. He’s my Dad. My Dad wants to see me on my birthday and you turn it into some doomsday plot. Just stop it!” With that, she stormed out of the room.
She couldn’t get Harry’s worries out of her head the next morning when she made her way down to the dungeons. The circumstances were a little abnormal, yes, but their relationship had never been quite normal. And now with Snape’s paranoia on overdrive, it wasn’t that hard to believe he’d drag her out of bed this early just to avoid being seen. Entering Snape’s office gave her no reassurances. The lights were all turned off, and there were no windows. Instead, there were dozens of huge pillared candles about the room casting an eerie red glow around the room. All his usual things, his desk, chair, scrolls of homework to mark, had all been moved and replaced with one tall round sidetable in the middle of the room, where Severus was hunched over now. He looked up as she entered and barely acknowledged her, engrossed in the magic he was doing. She closed the door and approached the small table, where a huge stone basin sat. Snape was swirling a viscous red liquid with his wand, concentrating and mumbling incantations under his breath. The red liquid splashed a little, but never left the bowl.
“Is that blood?” Hermione whispered. Severus made no move to answer her. “Dad, what’s going on?”
Severus stopped his incantations and looked to Hermione. She saw something in his eyes then. Determination and a force she had never seen before. He took Hermione’s hand in his and she saw a wide gash across his palm, still oozing blood. Hermione tried to pull her hand away but he held strong. He lifted his wand from the bowl, blood still dripping off of it.
“Daddy, you’re scaring me.” Hermione tried to pull away again.
Snape touched his wand point to Hermione’s hand. It cut into her, not deeply, but droplets of blood blossomed on her skin. Snape turned her hand over the bowl and held it there firmly. As the blood dripped into the bowl, the liquid began to swirl and Snape began to chant.
“Blood of my blood, flesh of my flesh, the bonds are strong, the strength is next.”
Severus let go of Hermione’s hand now and she held it to her chest. “What are you doing? Blood magic is illegal! It’s banned!” Hermione wanted to run away, or back into the wall at least, but some part of her curiosity held her there.
The liquid was swirling faster and faster, it was collecting in the middle, forming a dense ball floating in the middle of the bowl. Soon, the motion stopped and a red stone fell into the bowl. Snape took the stone and dropped it into Hermione’s hand. She flinched, expecting something, but it felt cool to the touch, normal. It was small and teardrop shaped, smooth as a pebble, but the colour and shine of a ruby. She felt entranced by the stone, somehow calmed just by looking at it.
Hermione was so distracted, she missed Snape raising his wand toward her. She only looked up when he shouted “stupefy.”
Hermione went flying across the room, her back slammed into the opposite wall and she fell to the floor, her hands still clutched around the stone.
Snape rushed to her, leant and took her face in both of his hands. “How do you feel?”
Hermione looked into his eyes, brow knit. “I didn’t feel a thing.”
Severus smiled, stood and turned on the lights. Hermione stood up too, shaky more out of bewilderment than from the flight across the room. She hadn’t felt anything: not the spell, not the wall, not crashing to the floor. She touched the back of her head. No blood, not even a bruise. Severus took her hand in his, the one he had cut open earlier. She had forgotten about it, the cut didn’t seem to hurt much either. She opened her hand to reveal the blood stone, and the cut which was already healing. It had been a shallow cut, not much deeper than a bad paper cut, but this was ridiculous. Severus healed Hermione’s hand fully with his wand, then healed his own gash, much deeper. The majority of the blood in the ritual must have been his.
“Blood magic is illegal.” Hermione said.
“There are many kinds of magic, Hermione. Yes, you-know-who used it to create an unbreakable bond between himself and his followers, and it can be extremely powerful, but that doesn’t make it evil, only someone’s intentions can be evil. But after the war, the ministry put a blanket law over all blood magic, like they did with many things loosely rooted to you-know-who. What you hold there is different, it is ancient clan magic from Scotland. The difference is that we already share a bond, you are the blood of my blood. And there is no deeper natural drive than to protect one’s own kin.”
“Should I hide it? Would the ministry arrest me if they found it?”
“I doubt any of them would recognise what it is, or care. Ministry officials are often short sighted, or choose to look the other way if no damage is being done.”
“It will protect me?” Hermione asked.
“So long as it is physically with you. I don’t know how much it can protect you from, not the killing curse, and stronger spells it may just deflect partially. It’s the best I could do,though.” Severus took the stone from her and laid it back on the table in the middle of the room. With his wand he attached it to a thin silver chain. Then he took a sealed letter from his pocket and cast a spell that made the letter dissolve into the stone, like it was being poured into the stone. The jewel glowed crimson for a few moments, then lay still again. Severus picked it up and clasped the chain around Hermione’s neck.
“What was that you put into the stone?”
“Some things you will need when the time comes.”
“How will I know when the time comes?”
“It will know.” Severus said. “I want you to keep this on you at all times, even when asleep, even in the shower, it won’t be harmed by anything, and it cannot harm you. But you never know when you could get into trouble.”
Hermione was sitting in the common room with Ron. She had just unwrapped the leather-bound day planner he had gotten her and set it next to Harry’s usual pile of sweets and chocolates, as well as Mrs. Weasley’s usual sweater, this year in chartreuse.
“Do you like it?”
“It’s wonderful, Ron. I keep magically adding new pages to my old one, but it’s getting rather tattered.”
“It’s supposed to warn you too, if you’ve missed something to do that day.” Ron smiled. “Not that that would ever happen to you.”
Ron had been flummoxed for a week trying to get the right present. He didn’t want to get her the usual best friend, not thinking gift like Harry, but he wasn’t ready for Ginny’s suggestion of jewellery or a candle-lit dinner or anything. It’s not like they were dating. He had thought about books she might want to read, but she always seemed to own everything. Her mom had bought her a new quill at the start of the year. Her potions instruments were getting a bit dingy, but she’d probably be touchy on the subject after Harry’s performance with the Hald-Blood Prince’s book. Then, Wednesday, she tried to pencil in when she thought their pop quizzes would be, and half a dozen pages fell out and she spent 20 minutes trying to magic them back in.
“It’s beautiful, Ron, thanks so much.” Hermione giggled and played with her necklace and Ron began to blush.
Around her neck was a new silver chain with what looked like a large ruby. She stroked its smooth surface and Ron realized he’d never seen it before. His stomach turned but he tried to act casual. Ginny was right, he should have bought her something else. Is that what she meant, had Hermione told his little sister about some other boy who was chasing after her? By the look of it, he was rich, and Ron couldn’t have ever afforded something like that anyway.
As calmly as he could, Ron asked, “That’s new, was it a present too?”
“Oh, yeah.” Hermione smiled. “My Dad got it for me.”
Ron smiled. “That’s great. It’s good to hear things between you two are working out well.”
“Yep.” Hermione held the jewel out. “I mean it’s not real or anything, but it’s pretty, and he didn’t have to get me anything so that was nice.”
“Beautiful.” Ron said, staring at Hermione. He reached out and touched the necklace, theirfingers brushing each others. His smile faltered. The moment his skin touched the gem, he felt awkward, unwanted, like he shouldn’t be touching Hermione like that, he shouldn’t be anywhere near her at all.
His hand dropped. “We should get back to studying, I guess.” Ron said, sliding to the opposite end of the couch. He took up his parchment and quill and pretended to be immersed in his work. In a few minutes, Harry rejoined them and sat between the two.