“So, are you going to write Ron and tell him, ‘Mione?” asked Harry as he ran a soft brush down Moon Fire’s flank.
Both of the initiates had had a riding lesson that morning, almost right when the sun rose, and Severus had promised Hermione a lesson with the quintain that afternoon. He had conjured up a proper knight’s jousting saddle, with a high pommel and cantle, designed to cup a knight in full armor and keep him in the saddle at a full charge unless he was unhorsed by a better opponent or the whirling quintain. Of course, Hermione wouldn’t be in full armor, only using the Silver Lance, which Selene had assured her did not require any kind of formal training, since it would instinctively know what to do when Hermione pointed it at an opponent. Still, Hermione wanted to practice beforehand, in case the lance made her behave strangely. Magical objects could be quirky that way.
Hermione bit her lip, pausing in cleaning and oiling Moon Fire’s hooves to consider Harry’s question. “I’m . . .not sure. It’s not that I don’t want him to know, but . . . I’m still trying to come to grips with it myself and I don’t really know how to put it into words . . .not to mention the fact that now I’m Severus’ ward too. And you know Ron. Speaking of which, have you told him about being Severus’ ward?”
Harry shook his head. “No. Neither Ron nor Sirius knows about that.”
“Oh?” She tilted her head questioningly. “Why not?”
“I dunno. Part of it was because I was still settling in myself and everything and then I was on my rescue mission and now . . .there just never seems to be a good moment to sit down and just write a letter, plus I suck at writing letters and . . .”
“ . . .and I’m afraid they’re going to go ballistic and I really don’t want to deal with that right now.” Harry finished.
Moon Fire snorted, his eyes rolling. If they can’t accept you for what you are, Harry, then they should leave you the hell alone.
“But Moon Fire, Sirius is my godfather.”
Humph! And a fine one he’s been to you, getting himself locked away in prison for years and then having to go into hiding as well. But then again, Black was never known for his subtlety or his brains, but for rushing in where angels feared to tread. He was like that at school and from what I can see, he’s still that way. Moon Fire shook his head, making his forelock fall over his crescent mark.
Harry said nothing, because he could hear the ring of truth in his mentor’s words. He had only known Sirius for a little over a year and the way he had behaved when he had come to Hogwarts as the escaped prisoner had been rather rash and impulsive. He also did not like the fact that Sirius’ werewolf prank had nearly killed Severus and yet the Marauder didn’t seem to regret it, instead muttering that Snape had deserved it for sneaking about after them. It was that, in fact, which bothered him most of all, that Sirius tried to justify what could have been regarded as attempted murder. Harry knew that there had been plenty of times he had wished Dudley dead, or the victim of a crippling accident, especially after he had gotten Harry beaten or hurt, but even so, he would have never tried to hurt his cousin himself. He simply didn’t have the vindictiveness necessary for that kind of thing, and Severus had never done to Sirius what Dudley had to Harry.
Harry sighed, caressing the stallion lightly. “Maybe you’re right. For good or bad, I’ve made my decision, you as my guardian and Selene as my goddess. They can take it or leave it. Do you know, ‘Mione, if Ron worships Selene?”
“No. We’ve never discussed that.”
Moon Fire stamped a hoof. I know that the elder Weasleys are followers of the Bright Lady. But their children are of mixed faiths, as they each chose a different one upon their majority or upon reaching sixteen. Charlie worships the Celtic god Cernunnos, the Horned One, and the twins are devotees of the Loki, God of Mischief, big surprise there. William worships Apollo, Selene’s brother, the Breaker of Curses and god healing, prophecy, and music, as well as the bow. But I do not know what Ronald or Ginevra have chosen yet.
“So Fred and George are disciples of Loki?” Hermione giggled. “I should have figured that out. They’re perfect for him. I wonder what Sirius worships?”
Moon Fire bared his teeth. Nemesis, goddess of vengeance, I would wager.
“Moon Fire! He’s not evil!” Harry objected.
The stallion looked him right in the eye. Nemesis is not precisely evil either. She destroys, true, but it balances out the other Aspects of Selene, who is a life-giver. She is the goddess’ Dark face, but not pure evil, like Set. She is cruel, yet necessary. Think about it. All of Black’s motivations since adolescence have been driven by revenge. He nearly killed me out of a need to revenge himself on a sneaky Slytherin who dared to be friends with a Gryffindor girl. The night you defeated the Dark One, Black went to avenge his friend James first, leaving you in the care of Hagrid and Dumbledore. She rode him hard that night, and in his rage he almost destroyed himself. It was the same when he broke out of Azkaban. He was driven by vengeance, a need to kill Pettigrew and redeem himself, first and foremost, and secondary was your safety, Harry. Those who follow Nemesis are often creatures of impulse, who act first and think later and are swift to condemn and slow to forgive. And his form is a black dog, often associated with death and doom.
Harry chewed his lower lip thoughtfully. When the facts were presented that way . . .Harry found he was hard put to deny that Severus was right. And he knew himself that Sirius still disliked Severus, and had never really given up the old school rivalry. He had even referred to Snape in a letter to Harry as “Snivellus”.
“Well, okay, maybe you’re right. But I didn’t tell him because I didn’t think he’d understand why I chose the way I did. And I still don’t.”
He put away the grooming supplies, for Moon Fire’s coat now shone gleaming ebony.
Suddenly, the stallion’s form blurred and became Severus. “Thank you,” he said to both of them. “I think we could all do with a bite to eat and perhaps a rest before the afternoon. You especially, Hermione. Practicing with the quintain is not a sport for the fatigued of mind or body.”
The girl nodded and they all headed inside for lunch. Afterwards, Harry took Severus’ advice and took a nap and Hermione did also, after sending Nighteyes with a letter for the woman who had found her that day in the meadow. She hoped that the lady could shed some light on her past. She desperately wanted to know about the family who had given her up for adoption. She found she had forgiven her parents for not telling her the truth long ago, she knew they had meant well and she loved them, they had treated her like their blood and loved her until the day they died. Perhaps it had hurt them to think of telling her and then being afraid she would reject them and go running off to find the family who had left her behind. That never would have happened. Hermione had adored her parents and could never have hurt them that way.
Still, her curiosity was killing her.
Selene had said she would know the truth when it was time. But when would that be? Today, tomorrow, next month? She supposed she would have to practice a little-known Gryffindor trait—patience.
Upon waking, she dressed in her most comfortable pair of jeans and a long sleeved shirt with a Cooling charm upon it and her riding boots and hat. Severus had told her that she needed to be prepared to get knocked off his back while practicing with the quintain, since anything but a direct hit upon the stuffed dummy’s chest would cause it to spin about and the sandbags attached to its arms were designed to smack you good and hard, as a reminder to be quick and accurate. “It might sound cruel and hard, but knights were warriors, and they believed that whatever didn’t kill you made you stronger. So, be warned, girl, because even with a jousting saddle, you can still be knocked sprawling. It took many months for a knight to get proficient with a lance at the joust, so don’t expect it to be easy.” Her new guardian had told her.
She hurried downstairs, and picked up the Silver Lance from its corner. It thrummed warmly in her grasp. Though she had never used a weapon in her life, the lance somehow felt comfortable in her grip, as if it had been made just for her. She wondered if that were more of the goddess’ magic.
A quick glance at the couch revealed Harry still asleep, curled up under a light blanket, one foot sticking out. Hermione walked over and pulled the blanket over his foot, smiling gently at her boyfriend. In sleep, he looked his age, innocent and untouched, though she knew he had endured more tragedy than most men.
“Professor?” she called softly. “I’m ready for my lesson.”
Severus emerged from the basement just as she called, and said, “Perfect timing, Miss Granger. Come, let us see what that lance can do.”
She followed him out to the large spread of lawn and waited until Severus had transformed into Moon Fire. A part of her envied him and Harry their beautiful Animagus forms, but she supposed her own gift of Clear Thought and Vision was just as valuable, as was the lance. She wondered if her newfound gift would let her penetrate Harry’s Invisibility Cloak, like Moody’s magical eye had been able to?
Mount, daughter, Moon Fire ordered, his mind voice clear in her head.
Hermione quickly Summoned the jousting saddle and floated it onto Moon Fire’s back and tightened the girth. The bridle went next and then she swung her leg over his back and mounted. The high saddle cradled her and she found she felt more at ease with it. It was almost like a seat. The stirrups were large and were triangular in shape and had a frontspiece of leather to protect her shins. Carefully gathering her reins as Moon Fire liked, not gripping them too hard, she held out her hand for the lance, the words to another Summoning charm on her lips.
But the lance, which she had laid down on the grass, blinked and appeared in her hand. “Merlin! It just came to me!”
Moon Fire whinnied. It is attuned to you. Ready?
She could feel the great horse gathering himself, and she gripped hard with her legs. Up ahead was a long pole, about fourteen feet high, with a stuffed straw dummy on it with sandbags for arms. “Go, Moon Fire!” she yelled and gave him a sharp kick with her boots.
The stallion whistled and bolted, running hard towards the quintain.
Before Hermione quite knew what was happening, she felt the lance quiver and then she was holding it couched neatly beneath her arm, its point bobbing across her body. Somehow she knew this was the way the lance was supposed to be held. She struck the dummy head on and the quintain spun about in a blur. Then Moon Fire cantered safely past.
“I did it!” she cheered. “I don’t believe it.”
Neither do I. It must be the lance. Let’s try again. Moon Fire spun on his hocks and ran straight at the quintain again.
Once again, the magic in the lance guided Hermione, and she again struck a perfect bullseye.
Five more times she went up and down, and only once did she grow careless and get walloped off the black horse’s back. She landed with a breath-jarring thump and gasped for air. “Ow!”
Moon Fire peered at her. Up, child. You’re all right.
“How do you know that? I could have broken something.” Hermione said, aching and rubbing her posterior.
I can tell. Come on. Back in the saddle and let’s do it again.
Biting back a groan, Hermione crawled into the saddle.
By the end of an hour and a half, she had struck the quintain almost every time she rode at it, though when she missed, it was spectacularly. Still, she was amazed at what the lance could do and felt sure it would prove useful in the coming battle. Tired and sore but happy, she rode Moon Fire up to the house and jumped off.
“Thanks, sir!” she called over her shoulder, then went to take a hot shower so she wouldn’t stiffen.
That same night, Harry transformed into his unicorn form, and went to practice as well. He used his spiral horn much the same way as Hermione did her lance, and struck the quintain precisely in the middle of its chest. Or at least he did when he allowed the unicorn mind control when he charged the dummy. The first few times he tried to skewer the stuffed dummy, he ended up getting his horn stuck in the quintain and skidding on his haunches.
Shaking his head to clear it, he trotted back across the pasture and tried it again. Moon Fire watched from a short distance away, nickering in encouragement. Harry was relieved the stallion didn’t criticize or make fun of his efforts. Sometimes, when he allowed his human mind too much control, he shuddered when he speared the cloth effigy, imagining it was a person. The unicorn mind was much more pragmatic and looked at the quintain only as an enemy to be dispatched.
When he felt his knees start to tremble with weakness, he stopped and turned to Moon Fire. Moon Fire, can I ask you something?
The stallion looked up from cropping the grass. Ask, young one.
Harry joined the older horse, quietly eating the fresh shoots before saying, The first time you . . .killed a Death Eater, did it . . .bother you?
Moon Fire snorted. Yes. I threw up the first time. Now . . .only sometimes. Are you worried about the upcoming battle?
Yes. I’m afraid that when I have to . . .I won’t be able to defend myself. His tail switched against his flank uneasily.
Don’t be. You will find that when you need it, the urge to survive is stronger than your urge to do no harm. Let the unicorn mind fill you and you can do what you must. And afterwards, I will be there to hold your head if you need it. He breathed gently over the tall unicorn colt, his breath misting in the air.
Harry playfully nibbled along the other’s mane, enjoying the closeness, until he nipped too hard, and got a stern bite in return. He whinnied in protest and jumped. Hey, that hurt!
So did you. Mind your teeth, colt!
Harry found himself instinctively bowing his head, accepting his elder’s rebuke. Sorry.
Moon Fire blew at him. They browsed for a few more minutes before the stallion said, The moon is high, and She lights our path. Shall we run, midnight unicorn?
Harry threw back his head and squealed eagerly. Then he raced off across the pasture.
Moon Fire followed, allowing the colt to think he was winning before coming on like an express train and blowing past him. He completed one circuit of the pasture before pulling up beside the fence.
A minute later, Harry pulled up beside him. How did you do that? I was like . . .lengths ahead of you!
Experience, young one. A race is not won by speed alone. With that, Moon Fire shimmered into Severus.
Harry reluctantly released his own form, and followed his guardian into the house, weary yet satisfied.
Over the next few days, Severus concentrated upon learning how to control his own gifts, trying to see how far his range extended with his telepathy, he discovered he could pick up thoughts from as far off as Andromeda’s academy, and he had a feeling that when he needed to, he could contact Albus as well. But picking up thoughts from farther away left him with a blinding headache, so he decided to only do so in extreme circumstances.
He also worked with Hermione, helping her learn to focus her mind in order to use her Clear Thought talent. The girl was willing and eager, and soon mastered the basics of meditative breathing and concentration. But her control over the gift was erratic, and the first time she managed to call it up, she touched some of Severus’ memories. They were old ones, though unpleasant, of his childhood.
One minute, Hermione found herself breathing evenly, the next she saw a small dark-haired boy, clear as day, sobbing while a tall man whipped him with a strap. She stared in horror, and then she recognized the boy. “No!” she yelled. “Stop it! Stop!” The picture vanished then and she jerked upright as if yanked by her hair.
“Hermione! What happened?” Severus demanded.
The girl was white and trembling. “I saw . . .oh, professor . . .I’m so sorry . . .!”
“For what? What did you see?”
She shut her eyes. “I saw you . . .when you were small . . .and you were being beaten by a tall man . . .I’m sorry . . .I didn’t mean to see that . . .it just happened . . .” She was practically in tears, for she knew how much Snape valued his privacy, and she was also sickened to learn that he too had been a victim of an abusive parent, like Harry.
Severus laid a hand on her shoulder. “Hermione, look at me. Your gift is uncontrolled, and I suppose it latches onto strong or very clear memories. My shields were down, and so it picked up on that memory.” He grimaced. “I have long ago come to terms with what happened, child, but some things you never forget.”
Her brown eyes were wide with pain. “How horrible! How could . . .”
Snape’s mouth thinned. “He was a wicked bully, my father. I thank the Bright One daily that he no longer walks the earth.” He took a deep breath. “Let us start again. Breathe . . .one, two, three. . .inhale . . .and exhale . . .”
Hermione struggled to wipe the memory from her mind, and find her center again, though she knew she would always remember what she had glimpsed, and wish to comfort the sobbing child and hex Tobias Snape into pieces. Poor Severus! No one should have to live through that! No one! And poor Harry too! I never realized how lucky I was, to be raised by decent people, until now.
Severus calmly raised his Occlumency shields, for if the gift were that strong, he did not want to risk her seeing other unpleasant memories, especially not those concerning Voldemort.
They had Harry come into the den wearing his cloak, and Hermione concentrated and tried to see if she could find him.
“Well, can you see me?” Harry’s voice sounded slightly muffled, hidden beneath the hood.
Hermione squinted. “Err . . .yes, but you’re hazy, like I’m seeing you through a mist, sort of . . .”
“But you can see me?”
He moved about and each time she could find where he was.
“That’s amazing!” Harry exclaimed. “It’s like you have magical eyes, like Mad Eye Moody!”
“The eyes of Selene see true,” Severus murmured. “Let’s try something else.”
He cast a Disillusionment charm over the fireplace, and Hermione could see right through it. He cast a Glamour Charm over himself, changing his appearance to a skinny blond child, and Hermione could see through that as well.
“It’s like seeing double, sort of. I can see the image of the charm overlaid on your true one, but the illusion is thin and wispy.”
She rubbed her eyes, for they were starting to tear and burn. “Can we take a break now, Severus? I’m getting tired.”
Snape nodded his assent. “Harry, why don’t you go and check the mail?”
Hermione had written to Dee Bristol several days ago, having found her address in her mother’s papers, and was anxiously awaiting a reply.
“All right.” Harry tossed off his cloak and went out to the mailbox at the end of the drive.
There was a single letter inside, addressed to Hermione.
“Guess what?” he teased, holding the letter behind his back when he returned to the house. “You’ve got mail.”
Hermione grinned and said, “Give it here, Harry. Or else I’ll tickle you till you beg for mercy.”
He snorted. “I’m faster with a wand now, ‘Mione.”
“Wanna bet, Potter?” She waved her finger at him.
Severus rolled his eyes. “Children . . .act your age.”
Harry handed her the letter.
Hermione quickly opened it and read it. Then she set it down and sighed.
“Not good?” Harry asked.
The girl looked disappointed. “It’s not bad, just . . .she said that she doesn’t know anything more than what she told my mum. I was a foundling, and nobody knows where I might have come from.” She twirled the unicorn pendant about her finger and released it. “I was hoping that she might have remembered more, but . . .I guess there’s nothing to remember.”
“When it’s time to know, Hermione, you will know,” said her guardian. “Selene always keeps Her promises.”
“I know, but . . .” she shook her head. “I guess I can wait a bit longer, considering I’ve been waiting my whole life and never knew it. I’m just . . .eaten up with insatiable curiosity.”
“Huh?” Harry gave her a blank look.
But Severus, who was familiar with Kipling’s Just So Stories, chuckled. “Like the Elephant’s Child?”
Hermione grinned. “Yes, sir. Though I hope you won’t spank me the way all his relatives did.”
“I’ll try and restrain myself,” her professor smirked.
“What?” Harry’s eyes bulged and he stared at the two of them as if they had lost their mind.
“Harry, haven’t you ever read The Just So Stories?” Hermione asked. “My mum and dad used to read them to me every night when I was seven or eight. They were really interesting, all about different animals and how they were created or came to have different things, like an elephant’s trunk, or a camel’s hump . . .”
“And they had an elephant being spanked by his relatives?”
“Because said elephant asked too many questions and annoyed his relatives to no end,” Severus interjected. “Much like a certain student I could name.”
Hermione blushed. “I guess I was kind of . . .obnoxious, knowing all the answers.”
“It was not your knowledge that I minded, but the fact that you tended to shove it in my face every class period. I wished to have other students participate as well, which is why I did not call on you for answers every time you raised your hand.”
“But, professor, most of the time the others were wrong!”
Severus smirked. “I am well aware of that, but being wrong is also a learning experience.”
“So is being yelled at by you,” Harry put in impudently.
Severus frowned slightly. “One which you never seemed to learn from, Mr. Potter, considering how often I had to repeat it.”
“Oh, I learned from it, Severus. I learned different ways to annoy you,” Harry admitted shamelessly.
“Wretched brat!” He mock-cuffed his ward on the back of the head. “I am sure Kipling based his Elephant’s Child upon children just like the two of you.”
“Uh, sure he did,” Harry drawled.
Hermione laughed. “Well, now I have an idea of what to get you for Christmas.”
“Hermione, I’m not a little kid.”
“Kipling’s not just for kids. It’s a classic. Right, Severus?”
Snape nodded. “The Jungle Books also. Kipling was a very shrewd author, he put morals into his stories disguised as adventure tales.” Before he could say anymore, the wards about his property tingled, warning him of a visitor attempting to cross them.
He concentrated, feeling for the intruder’s magical aura, and discovered Albus trying to use his Portkey, which Severus had not told him was only good for one use. “Well, well. Harry, Hermione, the Headmaster has come calling.” He took down the wards, allowing Dumbledore to enter.
Soon there came a knock upon the door and Severus rose to answer it. “Good afternoon, Headmaster. To what do I owe the pleasure of your visit?”
“Hello, Severus! I hope I’m not disturbing you,” Albus said, his eyes sparkling. “You aren’t in the midst of a delicate experiment, are you?”
“No. Come in.” He stepped back and Albus entered the house.
“I wished to stop by and see how you and Harry are getting on.” Dumbledore said, walking into the den. “Harry, my boy, how are you?” he said genially, then he saw Hermione. “Hermione, dear girl! You are here as well? Thank goodness! We had feared . . .after what happened . . .that you were killed or captured . . .”
“I almost was, sir,” Hermione said. “But Professor Snape saved me.”
“Yes, he is known to do unexpected things like that,” said the Headmaster wryly. “Well, I am very happy to see that you are well. And you have my deepest condolences also.” His smiled dimmed.
“Thank you, sir.” Hermione said politely. She felt tears rising to her eyes but stubbornly blinked them away.
“Would you care for some tea, Albus?” Severus queried, trying to draw the old meddler’s scrutiny away from Hermione.
“If it’s not any trouble,” Dumbledore began.
“It isn’t,” Severus assured. He went into the kitchen to prepare the tea and Harry got up and went to help put together the tea tray.
Dumbledore settled himself next to Hermione on the partially vacant sofa and said gently, “Child, I am so relieved that you are unharmed. When you disappeared like that, I feared the worst. Have you been a guest here since that night?”
Hermione nodded slowly. She was uncertain how much she should reveal to Dumbledore. “I . . .didn’t have anywhere else to go. My parents were only children, you see, and my grandparents died when I was little, so . . .”
“A terrible tragedy. I deeply regret that the Aurors were unable to get there in time to save them.”
“But at least you remain, to carry on their legacy. However, you do know that since you are a minor without parents living, that makes you a ward of the Ministry—”
Hermione shook her head. “Actually, Headmaster, I’m Professor Snape’s ward now. He was willing to claim me as his ward and I agreed to have him be my guardian.”
Albus was speechless. “Severus is your guardian as well as Harry’s?” He managed to say after a long awkward silence. “I never would have thought . . .Severus is not . . .that is to say he does not normally care for children underfoot . . .”
“Not unless they promise to behave,” Hermione chuckled. “He’s really not the curmudgeon he seems around kids, sir. You just have to know how to talk to him. And act around him.”
“I see. You seem to have his measure, Miss Granger.” The Headmaster didn’t seem to be overjoyed about Hermione choosing Snape as her guardian. “He is a good man, if a little overly strict.”
The tea tray floated into the den, followed by Severus and Harry. Dumbledore fixed his tea with a casual gesture, then said to his Potions Master, “I believe congratulations are in order, Severus, on your new daughter.”
Snape coughed. “Hermione informed you, I take it?”
“She did indeed. I wish you all the best. Although, I must confess, I am a bit surprised that you would take another teenager into your home so soon after adopting Harry.”
Severus’ eyes narrowed. “Selene bid me rescue her and I am no stranger to the loss of a parent, Headmaster. Hermione is safe with me, and that is all you need to know.” His tone was curt, indicating the subject was closed.
Hermione leaned forward to take a few sugar lumps from the sugar bowl and her two silver pendants swung free from beneath her shirt.
Albus saw and exclaimed, “Do tell me you have not converted Miss Granger to your moon goddess and Her archaic worship, Severus!”
“I have told you before, Albus, those who come to Her do so freely. I merely initiated her into the Mysteries at her request. As I did Harry.”
Dumbledore coughed. “I have never minded you worshipping Her, Severus, but I thought I specifically asked you not to convert Harry—”
“Then you don’t worship the Lady, sir?”asked Hermione.
“No. I do not believe one needs a goddess in order to give meaning to one’s life. I believe in free will of the individual and no goddess controls my destiny.”
“Selene doesn’t control us, She advises,” Harry told him.
“And yet, you believe in prophecy,” Severus interjected with a faint note of sarcasm.
“That is different,” Dumbledore argued. “That is a magical ability to see the future, it is not something granted by a deity.”
“But Selene is the goddess of magic,” argued Harry. “She gave magic to wizards, Headmaster.”
“Superstition, my dear boy. Wizards and witches were born with magic. It did not require some imaginary being to gift us with it.”
Harry gaped at the old wizard. “Selene’s not imaginary! I’ve seen Her! So have Hermione and Severus! She came to me loads of times, and spoke with me. She gave us both gifts at our initiation. Now I can turn into a black unicorn because of Her—”
“Harry, sometimes we see things because we want to see them,” Dumbledore began. “Your father was a very skilled Animagus, you have inherited that talent from him, no doubt—”
“No! She gifted me with the form, Headmaster, just like She did to Severus. And I’m Her descendant, on my mother’s side.”
“Your mother was a Muggleborn.”
“Yes, but somewhere in her ancestry she had the goddess’ bloodline,” Harry said. “She was descended from Robin Hood, who was Selene and Jack the Green Man’s son, who chose to be mortal.”
Dumbledore looked amused. “Harry, there’s no need to invent some sort of sacred lineage, your own is quite illustrious as it is.”
“I’m not!” cried Harry, frustrated with the other’s obstinate refusal to accept his words as the truth.
Severus touched his arm lightly and shook his head. Then he sent, Harry, calm down. There is no sense in arguing with Dumbledore, he does not believe in Selene, and he refuses to see Her, and therefore will not accept anything we say about Her as truth. It is a waste of breath to argue with him. I learned that long ago.
Frustrated, Harry drank his tea and nibbled upon a scone. He wondered what the Headmaster would say when he heard about what had gone on at Riddle Manor.
Severus then said gravely, “I have obtained new intelligence information. He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named has probably arrived at Riddle Manor by now. Lucius was expecting him by the end of last week. By my best estimation, he is there now with all of his inner circle, plotting to attack us, or gathering his army. Either way, I suggest we gather our forces and strike at him, a surprise attack. He won’t be expecting that, since in the past we have always waited for him to make the first move. But if we attack him, and take him by surprise, we could finish him.”
Dumbledore looked pensive. “You are certain he is there? It isn’t just a ploy to trick us?”
“I was there when Lucius was preparing his entertainment for his master,” Snape said tightly, choosing not to divulge that he was to have been said entertainment. “The Dark Lord is most likely there now, and this once, instead of sitting on our backsides allowing him to get the upper hand, we should attack. I know of a secret way to get to the manor that does not involve Apparition. Gather the order, Albus. Now the hunter becomes the hunted.” Snape urged, his eyes glittering.
Reluctantly, Dumbledore nodded. “Very well, Severus. I shall summon the Order. But I hope you are right, and we aren’t walking into a trap.”
All the time Snape and Dumbledore had been speaking, Hermione had been picking up images and memories from Dumbledore’s mind, which he had not bothered to shield, as he was in the presence of a known ally and mere students. What she saw in the old wizard’s mind horrified her, and it had nothing to do with the current situation with Voldemort. It had to do with a prophecy made by crazy Trelawney and Harry. The prophecy which Dumbledore believed in absolutely as truth. And another, even deeper and darker secret, that had now come to light through her new gift. It took her several minutes to process all the images and then put them together.
“You did it all on purpose!” she burst out accusingly, unable to keep silent any longer. The look she turned upon the Headmaster was one of horror and contempt.
Dumbledore looked at her, puzzled. “Did what, Hermione? Were you talking to me?”
“Yes! You know what I’m talking about . . .I don’t know how I never saw it before . . .you knew!”
“Knew what, dear girl?” he asked, a sudden frission of fear etching its way down his spine. The way Hermione was looking at him, as if she could see into his very soul, was very disconcerting.
“You knew something wasn’t right at the Dursleys and you still sent Harry back there!”
“I had only supposition to go on, Hermione. Not proof. And Harry needed to be with his relatives, because of the blood wards I place upon Privet Drive.”
“So you justify your actions, but that isn’t the whole truth, is it?”
“I don’t understand.” Dumbledore said, still keeping his tone low and reasonable, though his heart was fluttering madly in his chest, wondering how she could have known that. And what else did she know?
“Don’t you?” Hermione said coldly, her eyes glowing an odd silvery color as the Clear Sight took hold. “The truth is that you think Harry is fated to destroy You-Know-Who, and you consider him the only one capable of doing so. But you wanted him tested first. So you left him with his hateful relatives, knowing they didn’t wish another child, Petunia Dursley wrote to you within the month and told you to take him away, but you told her she was bound to care for him and sent her money to keep her happy and quiet. You sent her hush money and left Harry to be abused by them because you wanted a hero. And you didn’t care how you got one. How could you?”
“All the signs pointed to Harry as being the one who could become Voldemort’s downfall. I had to be certain that he wouldn’t break, however. A sword must be tempered in fire before it hardens. I didn’t know that he was being beaten or starved, I merely assumed they were unaccepting of his magic.”
“He’s not a sword, he’s a person!” Hermione snapped, fury bubbling up within her. “But you’ve never cared about him, or anyone, except yourself. And maybe Tom Riddle, whom you mentored and fostered like your own son. Is that why you’ve always been so reluctant to kill him, sir? Because you’ve had plenty of opportunities, I saw them in your mind, you can’t deny it. Yet each time you’ve let him slip away. You let a murdering psychopath run free because you didn’t have the guts to admit he’s gone dark and there’s nothing you can do about it! How many more people have to die before you find the nerve to face the truth, sir?”
The silver eyes burned and scorched him, and he flinched. “And what truth is that, child? That once he was to me what you and Harry are to Severus? That I was proud of his accomplishments—he was a genius, smarter than any other student I have ever had—you included, Miss Granger. It was my biggest regret that his pride and ambition overwhelmed him. I tried to turn him away, but he was willful and disobedient, he thought he could master the Dark Arts without being corrupted, but he could not. He was seduced by false promises and he fell, like Lucifer from the heavens. I tried many times to make him turn away from the dark and come home again, but he refused. Now he is lost to me.”
“He always has been, ever since he murdered innocents. Once he worshipped the Bright Lady, but now even She has turned Her face from him. He is Set’s child now, his Hand of Destruction and Chaos.”
“And you wonder why I do not worship the cold goddess, who abandoned my son to the dark?” Dumbledore demanded, his voice hard and sharp.
“No, Albus!” Severus interjected. “It was not Selene who abandoned him, it was he who abandoned Her. He chose the darkness over the light, and She has given him plenty of chances to recant his decision, but each time he rejects Her. His heart has frozen, he is no longer the boy you found and brought to Hogwarts. I can understand your reluctance to destroy him, but Selene’s breath, Albus, he is causing chaos and turmoil all over! If you couldn’t do it yourself, why didn’t you hire a hitwizard? The Aurors have a whole squad of them! Why pin your hopes on an ambiguous prophecy spouted by a Seer who can barely predict what she will have for breakfast? And then to go and turn one small child into your personal hero, so he could do what you could not? You have gone too far, Dumbledore.”
Harry just sat there, his insides turning and twisting, unable to speak, so great was his hurt and anger and betrayal. He had thought the Headmaster his friend, had thought the old man was well-meaning but oblivious, had thought Dumbledore cared about him. Instead, the harsh truth was that the Headmaster had used him as a means to an end, to kill Voldemort, so he would not be forced to kill the wizard who had once been like a son to him. Harry had been the pawn, a weapon to be unleashed upon Voldemort, and like Dumbledore had said, who cares if a weapon is a bit banged up, so long as the edge is still sharp? A sword must be tempered in fire. Harry felt sick to his stomach recalling those words. But a sword also cuts both ways. He lifted his eyes to the Headmaster, brimming with fury and betrayal and spoke not a word.
“I did what I thought was right. I am sorry if I hurt you, Harry. But you were my only hope.”
“Go to hell, old man!” Harry spat, rising to his feet. “I’m nobody’s pawn. Not anymore. You made the worst mistake of your life by letting him walk away and now you’re paying for it, along with everyone else. I hope you’re happy now! Because all of those deaths, including my parents’, are now on your shoulders! And for your information, I’m going to fight him, not because you want it, or because of some stupid prophecy, but because he needs to be put down, like a mad dog.”
With that, he spun on his heel and stalked from the house, unable to bear another minute in the other’s presence.
After a moment, Hermione followed, shuddering as the Clear Thought and Vision released her.
Dumbledore sat there, looking weary and regretful and somehow drained of his usual twinkling vitality, as if the truth of Hermione’s vision had stripped him down to the bare bones. He gazed at Severus and said, almost pleadingly, “Surely, Severus, you can understand, now that you have two of your own to be responsible for, why I could not kill Tom?”
Severus stiffened. “If Harry or Hermione ever became what he was, Albus, and repudiated everything good within them, I would have no choice but to destroy them. Or, if I could not, I would find someone who could, rather than allow someone of such power and immorality to run amok. Yes, I understand you reluctance to harm the child you once raised and loved, but Selene’s bloody tears, Albus, you should have hired someone else to take him out long ago, and not a mere fourteen year old boy either! Tom is an adult, and a dangerous one at that, he must be faced by another adult, not a child still learning his craft, no matter how powerful he is innately.”
“But the prophecy . . .”
“Hang the bloody prophecy!” Snape exploded. “The prophecy shows only one possibility, the future shifts and changes minute by minute, as choices are made and discarded. Divination is not an absolute. A Seer sees but a possible future, one fork in the road, that will come to pass if things stay as they are, but change one thing and a new possibility comes into being.”
“I believe Sybill saw the truth.”
“I don’t. And that is why I can change it,” Severus said fiercely. He set down his teacup, his face forbidding as stone. “I can forgive you much, Albus Dumbledore, but what you have done in the name of your grand scheme to Harry is not something I am willing to let go. You turned a child into a sacrificial goat.”
“I created a hero!” argued the other, his blue eyes flashing. “Who are you to judge me, Severus Snape?”
“I am his guardian and in the end it is not me you shall answer to, but yourself. Call out the Order and let there be an end to this war. Once it is done, we are through as well.”
“Severus, what do you mean?”
“What I said. When Riddle’s body lies at my feet, all debts are paid. I shall resign my post at Hogwarts and Harry and Hermione shall not be returning for another term.”
“But it’s tradition for a Potter to attend Hogwarts—”
“Traditions can be broken. Blackfriars Academy of Magic is as good a school, smaller and with more focus upon individual areas of study, and they have no foolish House rivalry to overcome, since all students are equal there and judged upon merit and individual ability.” Snape stated coldly. The school he was referring to was a very small one, with about one hundred students, located in the north of Britain, hidden away on the misty Yorkshire moors.
Dumbledore sighed. “You must do as you see fit, Severus. They are your charges and your responsibility. When do you wish us to begin this . . .surprise attack?”
“Tomorrow night. It is a full moon, make sure Lupin drinks his Wolfsbane, but it is also when Selene is at Her strongest. Be ready.” He dug out a fire-hardened clay disk with a crescent moon stamped on it. “This Portkey will get all of you here and then we shall travel the secret way.” He handed it to the Headmaster. “Good afternoon, sir.”
His words were polite, but Albus knew a dismissal when he heard one, and he nodded and said, “Good day, Severus. Thank you for the tea. Where did Hermione get that . . .unusual ability?”
“It was a gift from Selene,” Severus replied.
He saw the old wizard to the door and watched to make sure Albus Apparated away, he did not want the other trying to seek out Harry or Hermione. Then he shut the door and heaved a sigh. It never rains but it pours, Severus. Thanks for being so patient! Don't forget to vote for Harry's unicorn name below! Pick ONE name and include it in your review if you wish to participate in the poll. Name with the majority of votes wins. If a tie, I will flip a coin.