TWO YEARS LATER….
May 2nd, 2000
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
Pennants flapped in the breeze.
Tables of various sizes and shapes sat under a tent so large only Magic prevented the support poles from buckling.
Temporary wooden flooring protected hems of robes from being stained by the underlying grass.
Hermione Granger sipped at the decent chardonnay that she'd snagged from a tray-bearing house elf as her gaze roamed over one and all.
All for what? Tell me again why I have to play nicely with people who never actually wielded their wand against Riddle or any of his followers.
Wizards and witches, anyone and everyone who could make the journey to the Scottish Highlands, stood in attendance. Or, in the case of those who'd grown tired of standing, sat. All enjoyed the fine food prepared and well-chosen wines served by a small army of house elves as they mingled, reminisced, and supposedly honoured the Fallen.
Wine glass in hand, and currently - blessed be Morgana - mingle-free for nearly twelve whole consecutive minutes, Hermione internally growled as she'd watched the pesky reporter from Wizards Whirl magazine push his glasses further up the bridge of his nose, screw his courage to the proverbial sticking-place, and swan up to her.
He was still ten feet away from her when he'd asked her, "Miss Granger, how would you summarize the state of Wizarding Society in this post-Voldemort era?"
With a grudgingly modicum of grace, she didn't bother to offer any comment about his unimaginative or un-original question. Instead, via her wine glass, she gestured to the throng around her, reminding him that there was an ample number of other witches and wizards to poll.
"As I neither work for the Ministry nor hold a Public Office, I believe that there are others who can answer that question better than I."
He wasn't going to let her go that easily.
Her reputation for being evasive and uncooperative with members of the press was well earned. Further, it was a rarity for her to attend any sort of Ministry-sponsored function. Despite Ron's passive-aggressiveness when it came to her penchant for turning down invitations (mostly having to do with how much Ron was able to charge a paparazzi for any images that contained himself with either her and/or Harry) she 'inadvertently' booked her travels abroad when such events took place. And, for the most part, her work schedule usually sufficed as her 'get out of event free card'. The only reason why she was here today was because today was the second anniversary of the Battle of Hogwarts.
Her anti-RSVP, as she called it, which she'd drafted bright-and-early on May 3rd of 1999, even as her review schedule for her Eighth Year and N.E.W.Ts was well underway, she fully intended to post on May 4th, 1999.
That letter, regretfully I have to decline as I'm scheduled to be in Chad for the first ten days in May, went into her Muggle shredder when she'd received simultaneous owls from the Minister of Magic as well as the Headmistress of Hogwarts at tea-time on May 3rd, 1999. The same missive was found hidden inside the Yule cards she'd received from each of her blackmailers seven months later - just in case she'd forgotten the stakes.
The stakes? Horrid! Diabolical! Molar grinding!
If she didn't present herself and…'behave'…for the commemoration, then Kingsley and McGonagall would make-good on their promises to send two different elves - one from the Ministry and one from Hogwarts - to her flat, hotel room, tent-site, yurt, or abode-du-jour every three days for the next five years to clean and cook and…fetch…for her.
The idea of knowing that so many little hands would be handling her laundry (knickers!), re-arranging her beloved Muggle highlighters, and ordering her coffee from her favorite caffeine-provider was enough to send Hermione to Madame Malkin's for suitable dress robes for today's event.
Her current project was legitimately time-invasive and far-reaching. Components necessary to complete her project were being discovered in the unlikeliest of places. More than once, her travel schedule caused havoc with her personal life. But, there was just so much riding on this endeavour. So many people had invested in her - her skills, her commitment, her ambition, and her ingenuity to create something that hadn't been created before: a Person-to-Person Portkey. Or, as those who knew about her project referred to it: Pee-Three. If she could do this, then she and all her investors - Malfoy Enterprises, Weasley Wizarding Wheezes LLC, Black Holdings International, Prongs Investments, The Delacour Group , as well as smaller, individual investors like Neville and Andromeda Tonks - would 'win' and 'win big'. If the project failed, her investors would certainly 'feel' their individual losses, but the deep pockets each entity possessed would provide plenty of cushioning. For her, her professional career and personal reputation would be annihilated and her epic failure never forgotten.
So say that she felt the pressure to deliver such a significant invention was an understatement.
At least when she was being left alone, excluding the sincere pleasantries she'd shared with persons she was truly genuinely fond of, there was no chance of her 'misbehaving'. As a wall-flower, she could run simulations in her head and jot down formulas on cocktail napkins so that her day wouldn't be a total loss of valuable work-time.
But no - now she had to deal with a wizard who'd thought he'd get a career-making headline by being the first one in a year-and-a-half to successfully interview her. Didn't this person know that she'd cut all ties with all publications in the wake of the libellous persecution she'd endured once the press caught wind of her little tete-a-tete with Death?
Bring four wizards back from beyond the grave and suddenly you're vilified as a Necromancer.
"But as a member of the celebrated Golden Trio -"
"The Golden, what?" She cut him off. And, she was rude about it.
The gleam in her eye and the aggressiveness in her stance at the mention of that particularly distasteful moniker was enough for the reporter to - wisely - stop speaking mid-sentence.
If Minerva didn't have eyes on her, she'd see just how quickly she could make this by-line rent-boy cry.
Wine glass still in hand and brandishing a half-smile that displayed the tips of her teeth, to anyone else she looked like she was having a pleasant conversation with a casual acquaintance. And, for the most part, she was. For the reporter, it wasn't as pleasant.
"Before you get your hopes any higher, listen to me very carefully." She took a sip from her glass, preying on the increasingly intimidated look on his face. "In three minutes, you are going to walk away from me. You are going to tell anyone who asks that you and I shared a delightful conversation - I even asked about how your children are faring, irrespective of whether or not you've actually placed your cock in something other than your closed fist. You're then going to walk up to Kingsley Shacklebolt, keeping in mind that the current Minister is still one of the best Aurors in the nation with an astounding capture record, and thank him profusely for doing such a good job in managing the Ministry and improving the quality of life for one and all."
She flexed her aura, a technique she'd learned from Lucius Malfoy during one of the Pee-Three progress report meetings, and channelled a smidgeon of her formidable magical power into physical manifestations.
Immediately, ice crystals formed along the rim and stem of her wine glass. Her eyes, as she could see her reflection in the reporter's spectacles, instantly brightened from a deep chocolate colour to fire-whiskey gold.
"If you even think of doing anything other than what this witch has just…suggested…then I believe you'll spend the remainder of your, what you'd hoped would be life-long and illustrious, career collecting interviews from chickens about the quality of their feed and considering yourself…lucky."
The smooth baritone of Severus Snape fell down around her like a Warming Charm. For the writer, whose IQ matched his shoe-size and not the length of his wand, it was more of a Warning Charm.
The reporter, face to face with a Resurrected wizard and the witch who'd resurrected him and three others seventeen months ago, did the best thing for himself, his career and his family - if he indeed had one.
He nodded his head, gestured politely to Severus, tucked one foot behind the other as a pathetic attempt at a curtsy to Hermione, spun on his heel, and made for the tall, elegant black man who was standing amid a cadre of former Order members.
"Ladies curtsy; gentlemen bow," Severus sneered at the reporter's back as he corrected the other wizard's embarrassing breach of etiquette.
Hermione stifled the groan that originated from her outer - not inner - independent witch aspect of her personality.
Much the same way she'd cut-off that reporter, Severus stopped her rant before she could even get started.
"Before you embark on another…tedious...diatribe about how you'd had that situation in-hand and didn't require my…assistance…let me inform you that I am well aware of your capabilities. The only time I would ever even think of a situation where I'd step on your toes would be if someone cast an Enlargement Charm on your feet."
He reached forward and smoothly plucked her glass from her hand.
"Oi! I was enjoying that!"
He drained it and then wandlessly and silently Levitated the wine glass to a nearby tray.
"Besides… Knowing that you'd only begun to…play…with that hapless twat would have put me off any future nibbles. And, as you know, I am in attendance for the same reason you are." His suffering was clearly her suffering. "I was here before breakfast without the benefit of actually eating breakfast. I have been looking forward to the duck confit and stuffed mushroom caps since I'd arrived here this morning. I will not be denied because some fool was foolish enough to cross your path with nothing but a fool's hope and a pipe dream." He gave a glance at the older woman draped in green tartan and a sporting a jaunty feather in her witch's hat that bobbed as she moved through the crowd. "It would've been kinder to Transfigure that poor bastard into a gimpy mouse, roll him in catnip, then toss him at Minerva and let her have-at him than allow you to continue."
"It's because of….to use your terminology, Severus, twats…like that I'll need m-a-n-y glasses of wine in order to make sure that others spend the next six hours in the same shape and form as they'd first arrived." Hermione's glare was more directed at the multitude that filled the South Pavilion to capacity than at his audacity in drinking her wine.
As a general rule-of-thumb, Hermione Granger was a 'happy' drunk when she imbibed. And, she was a light-weight. After two glasses of a good white wine, one was more likely to find themselves on the receiving end of workplace and love advice from the tipsy witch rather than learning first-hand why-and-how Potter lived long enough to defeat Riddle and that after an afternoon with her, Death himself restored four wizards to the Land of the Living.
"I don't need to be able to think clearly. You, however, will." He leaned closer to her. His voice low and his head bent towards her ear he murmured, "You'll need your wits about you."
She immediately tensed.
Without any further explanation, he placed her hand onto his arm and guided her through the throng. As she was with him, Resurrected with all his snark and cloak-billowing skills fully returned to him, no one stopped them. It was equal parts his determined stride and her consternation that prevented anyone from slowing them down.
"Where are we going?" Hem of her dress-robe in her hand, she tugged on his arm. She didn't have to tug a second time to get him to pause.
They were halfway to the Great Hall from the South Pavilion, where the Great Tent stood. If he was going to continue at such a quick pace, then he'd have to give her a chance to shed her shoes. She understood that wherever he was leading her, it was important that they get there quickly. However, high-heeled slippers versus the smoothly-laid stone slabs that lined the corridors of a rebuilt Hogwarts? She'd prefer to avoid sprained ankles and shin splints.
She'd stared enough at the ceiling in PoppyLand to know that it probably hadn't changed all that much since she'd last occupied a bed in the hospital wing.
Stooped over slightly, as to pry her fancy shoes off of her feet, she gave Severus a very pointed look.
The wizard actually huffed. He huffed! At her! For daring to ask, sans words, where and why they were going in such a rush.
Then, a wicked smirk bloomed under his hooked nose.
"Young Mr. Weasley has found himself to be…at the centre…at what could be considered a Slytherin Common Room reunion."
Now she huffed. In exasperation. "What did Ron do this time?"
That smirk, the one Draco obviously mastered and then made his own, deepened. "That I cannot answer as I'd been reminded that watching you as you saw for yourself the extent of the current…situation…would be worth enduring any hex. And before you say the words to match the way you've now clamped your hands to your delectable hips, I will share that Phineas Black sought me out to tell me that crass-tongued ginger-haired Gryffindors clash horribly with the green and silver décor in the Slytherin dungeons."
She rolled her eyes. In fact, if her eye-roll was attached to an oar, she'd be halfway across the English Channel with a single pull.
Severus said 'Gryffindors', not 'Gryffindor' - which meant that there was more than one Weasley in the basement.
She once again took his hand. Gaze firmly locked on his black irises, she exhaled loudly. Then, she straightened her shoulders and faced forward.
** *** ****
Severus whispered the password and the portal to the Snakes' Den swung open.
She accepted his hand as he helped her across the wood-and-iron threshold. He continued his grip as she put her shoes back on her feet and resettled the hems of her dual-layered dress robe.
Once re-assembled, she took a look around.
It wasn't a Slytherin Common Room reunion. It was more like a Quidditch Pitch showdown with a few token spectator-athletes thrown in for good measure. If there was ever a reason for Snakes and Lions and a Bulgarian to play nicely with another, apparently one Ron Weasley was the 'how' and 'why'.
Another eye-roll from her had everything to do with the fact that Ron Weasley hung suspended from his wrists over the central fire pit in the middle of the Common Room.
George Weasley brandished his wand in one direction and then the other. From what Severus had shared on their walk to the dungeons, George was in the exact same place as when the former Headmaster left to collect her.
Severus once again murmured in her ear. "Those who have a vested interest in keeping Weasley exactly where he hangs are on the left. On the right are those who have a vested interest in keeping Weasley exactly where he hangs for the next couple of millennium. Those seated on the furniture believe Weasley is breathing good air that they might need later on in life and have proposed…alternatives. "
Apparently, George had taken it upon himself to keep the different factions at-bay. It didn't help matters that George was making a case for Ron to hang in front of his Diagon Alley location.
The Potions Master arched an eyebrow at the unlit pile of kindling heaped in the bowl of the fire-pit.
"What's 'surprising'?" Hermione knew she shouldn't have asked, but she did anyway.
"When I'd left, the group had unanimously agreed to remove Mr. Weasley's shoes and were drawing straws as to see who would be the one to cast the first Incendio."
Lucius Malfoy, one hand folded over the other atop his elegant cane, gave her one of his nods; the nod he reserved for those he genuinely respected and wanted to acknowledge when he couldn't actually say welcoming words due to circumstance.
Standing beside him was Draco. At Draco's elbow was the ever-so-handsome Blaise Zabini. Theo Nott stood off to the side. Next to Theo was an angry-looking Daphne Greengrass-Nott. Astoria Greengrass and her father - Hermione never bothered to remember that wizard's actual given name as she'd renamed that slime-ball 'Rat Bastard' months ago - each glared at the dangling spectacle that was Ron.
Viktor Krum's exotic good-looks were perfectly framed by a black leather club chair. His pose radiated sexy confidence. Hermione was so glad to see him even if she didn't have a frame of reference for her friend's feral amusement at seeing Ron strung-up. She'd noticed him earlier and had exchanged smiles with the striking Eastern European wizard. She'd planned to catch up with him properly later. Apparently, as Ron - not Fate - would have it, 'now' was the new 'later'.
Beside him, much too pretty for his own good and sprawled in all his masculine Black splendour on the matching black leather chaise, Regulus regarded the situation with a calculating eye. The Resurrected wizard subtly twirled his wand. Only a fool would think that the barely-discernable patterns he traced in the air were random or indicative of a harmless or sluggish or hesitant Magical temperament. Regulus Black, repentant Death Eater though he was, was a Snake who very much had his fangs. She'd learned over the past seventeen months that he was her match when it came to talent, intelligence, and vindictiveness.
Harry, Seamus, Oliver Wood, Remus and Sirius were the unlikeliest collection of Lions in the Serpents' Lair. Harry, Remus, and Sirius - that grouping she could understand; they were each joined at the hip, especially since Remus and Sirius were Resurrected.
Hermione didn't know what Harry's thoughts were. He was clearly bewildered and concerned. But as for whatever else he was feeling, or for whom, she couldn't say. For the past nine years, every time Ron had done something inconsiderate or hurtful, Harry had always sided with her once-boyfriend.
Sirius and Remus….well, they looked…well…serious. The older Black gazed up at Ron and was making no noises to defend the chap. Remus had his head tilted towards Harry and it seemed as if Remus was explaining something while conveying his deep disappointment towards Ron.
She had no idea how Seamus and Oliver fit into all this. Though, truth be told, Oliver was definitely a welcomed sight to her jaded eyes. She'd bet a month's worth of cauldron cleaning that Wood could still lace-up his Seventh Year Quidditch cords. It was no hardship to look at Seamus either. He might have the beginnings of a receding hairline, but the tell-tale draping of that wizard's dress robes was nothing short of a promise that there were plenty of available muscles for a witch to hold on to.
Oliver Wood stood in a particularly aggressive stance: arms crossed against his chest, feet just shy of shoulder-width apart and soft knees. She wasn't embarrassed in the slightest that the way he kept tapping his twelve-inch wand against his left bicep drew her…interest. Seamus, bless his soul the wizard currently had both eyebrows, each of which were furrowed in disgust. That disgust was centred solely on his former dorm-mate.
For his part, Ron's red face and derisive expression could have everything to do with the fact that he was strung up, over a fire-pit, without an ally in sight. Or, possibly, Ron could've eaten too much cheese over the past couple of days and was severely constipated. Interestingly enough, he wasn't demanding to be cut down.
Not one word about demanding his freedom. Though he had plenty of epithets for the Slytherin alumni.
Flinging about slurs a-plenty, Ron threw his weight against the ropes at his wrists-
"Huh - anti-Chafing charm?" Hermione wondered out loud, as she noticed that ropes hadn't cut into the thin skin at the base of Ron's hands.
"Half of the wizards present might be dunderheads, but Black -"
"Which one?" She wasn't being glib. To take Sirius Black at face-value meant that one - foolishly - dismissed the fact that underneath that wizard's Gryffindorness was twenty generations of Black-ness.
Severus cut a side-long look at the Black tracing not-so-random-after-all patterns in the air with the tip of his wand. "The one smart enough - clever, too - to make sure that there are no traceable marks. As you'd reminded that twat outside, there are several…capable…witches and wizards on the grounds today."
Ahhh - that made sense. Minerva had threatened more than just her with consequences for 'bad behaviour'.
"What's she holding over your head?" Hermione knew the tall wizard had very few weaknesses that Minerva could exploit. But, being the cunning kitty that she was, Hermione knew that if anyone could find a paw-hold in Severus' all but tangible metaphorical armour, it would be McGonagall.
Severus flexed his cheek as he clenched his jaw. "Re-instating my position as Headmaster."
"She wouldn't!" Reflexively, Hermione inhaled sharply and latched a hand onto Severus' upper arm. "She wouldn't step aside just to make you -"
"I'd said the same thing, when I attempted to call her bluff. She informed me," he ground his teeth as he continued, "that she'd been the headmistress in all but name only since Albus first took up the mantle; she didn't need an honorific to know what she did and accomplished on a daily basis."
His glare at the feather in Minerva's hat, which should've set the thing a-flame when they were underneath the mammoth tent, suddenly made a lot more sense.
"And, seeing as how I was never actually sacked as I'd actually died while in office, she would have no qualms about expediting the necessary paperwork and to resume her place as Deputy."
That was indeed a wicked punishment: to be out-Slytherin'ed by a life-long-well-then-into-the-afterlife Gryffindor! "I am so sorry, Severus."
The black clad wizard held himself too rigidly to actually shrug. "As you'd stated earlier, there are six hours left to today's…events. And, once we're finished here, we'll be all the closer to being able to leave without having to be put on display up there." His wicked smirk returned as he tugged at the cuffs of his shirt. "I shall enjoy watching this."
His shift from admitting to the Damocles Sword that hung over his head to Weasley hanging seven feet off the ground brought her focus back to the issue at hand.
From the looks of things, the group had pronounced Ron's sentence, but had forgone a trial.
Stepping around Severus, patting him on the arm one last time as she did so, she marched forward.
"Anyone want to tell me what's going on here?"
*** *** ***
There was something about the way the very air seemed to…shift…when Hermione Granger walked into the room.
"Anyone want to tell me what's going on here?"
Arms crossed, wand in-hand, Oliver Wood leaned back slightly on his heels as he watched the witch take control of the room.
It was definitely odd to find himself in the bowels of Hogwarts Castle after living for seven years in Gryffindor Tower. But when Regulus Black had made eye-contact with Krum as George Weasley had distracted McGonagall when Ron Weasley was frog-marched by Sirius Black and Remus Lupin out of the far-end of the South Pavilion with Malfoy's cane pressed firmly between the idiot's shoulder blades with Severus Snape as lookout, Oliver had taken Krum up on his invitation to follow.
He was surprised to see the Greengrass family already assembled when he'd arrived at the Slytherin Common room.
Regulus Black was one hell of a crafty bastard. Oliver certainly wouldn't have had the foresight to cast a charm on the conjured ropes.
Eyes on a slowly rising Weasley, Oliver swung his head to the left when he got clapped on the back.
Seamus Finnegan, in mid-stride, gaze fixed on his former Year-mate, proved that the lad had a talent for more than just blowing things up. The chap had a keen eye for observation. "Me Da always drummed into me head: the most important part of enna gud plan is the getaway."
Wood's inner - and outer - strategist agreed whole-heartedly. Even if the thick Irish accent was enough to make his molars itch.
Harry Potter, Draco Malfoy, a tall good-looking black wizard at Malfoy's side, weren't the last to arrive.
George Weasley's entrance definitely lightened the mood. The older Weasley burst through the portal, all but tripping over his feet, looked around, and made it a point to smooth-down his hideously garish dragon hide suit.
"Have I missed anything?" Appraising the situation as a whole, including his brother's predicament, George's boyish smile spread from ear-to-missing-ear. "And here I was, thinking that my little brother would never move up in the world?!"
Malfoy and his - friend? something more? - took up floor space near his Patriarch. Harry gravitated to Sirius Black. Krum settled in the chair and the other Black brother commandeered the chaise. Greengrass and his daughters stood with some dark-haired chap who seemed well-acquainted with the youngest Slytherins.
Once Oliver heard the term 'Magical Poaching', the debate over who was going to cast the Incendio at the kindling in the firepit made a LOT more sense. As did the Potions Master hissing, "Going to get Granger."
Now, the most exacting professor in the history of Hogwarts stood side-by-side the witch he'd left to fetch.
To see her take command of a group of wizards such as the ones in this room made Oliver very grateful that he'd chosen a less austere cut for his dress robes.
*** *** ***