She can't be Miss Granger, Minerva states flatly.
She is. Severus' tone brooks no argument, but Minerva tries again, less stubborn than observant.
Ignoring for the moment what must surely be a violation of the Novikov self-consistency principle...
'It's more of a suggestion,' Hermione corrects quietly, half-automatically, but the witch doesn't seem to hear.
Severus, however, does. 'Conjecture' would be accurate. Novikov lacked practical experience in the field.
True enough. He was a Muggle after all.
Minerva ignores him and tries again, Even supposing one were to wilfully ignore Professor Croaker's Law for reasons defying logic or...
Trips limited to about five hours? Croaker liked to play it safe. And there's nothing saying this, sub-optimally, he gestures in Hermione's direction to indicate the time travel, but there's something frustrated in the movement that has her wincing and taking it very personally instead, was ever intended to be... safe.
Madam Mintumble's experience clearly shows...
That the cost of returning will be several years of her life, but in this case less than a decade of a certainty. You can see that just by looking at her.
'Assuming I meant to return...' Hermione is still trying to regain some of the ground this unintentional reveal has so clearly cost her.
The point I'm trying to make is even if it were possible...
The proof stands before you. He sounds angry.
Miss Granger is right handed. Ms. Bred wields her wand in her left. That's hardly something one grows out of, Minerva finishes in a huff, glaring at Severus.
The Potions Master, for his part, would very much like to be wrong, which is how he knows he isn't. All well and good, I'm even inclined to agree with some of your arguments, but it doesn't change matters. It merely renders them less probable, not less real.
Miss Granger is standing right here.
And lying in that bed as well, in point of fact. He glares right back at Minerva, relieved for an outlet for his anger.
Albus waits, watching, happy to let them take their frustrations out on one another before he puts himself in the frame. Hermione shifts uncomfortably, unsure how to explain any of this to either of them. They offered her their friendship, had - however unwittingly - helped her make the difficult adjustments to this place, in this time, and realistically (if ungenerously) she's repaid their trust by lying to them both for months. No, she's far from at ease with any of her immediate choices here.
But this she can address.
Silently she puts her now beige wand back into its sheath and then begins to roll up her right sleeve. Professor Dumbledore knows what's coming, but the other two follow her movements closely. She's just bunched the fabric beneath her elbow and extends her arm for the others to see. Severus hisses immediately, a sound of recognition and horror, and - she hopes - perhaps some sympathetic pain. Minerva however, needs to look more closely before she can make out the details, and even then she very clearly doesn't know what it is.
Hermione steps closer to the witch to let her get a better look.
May I? Minerva asks, extending a hand towards the younger woman.
Hermione nods and allows the Transfiguration Professor to take her wrist to better examine her. Gently Minerva turns the arm - first this way, then that - as though the wounds all too visible there were somehow still fresh or might be aggravated by less careful handling. Hermione appreciates the gesture.
There's a ring of deep crimson scarring completely encircling the lower arm, Minerva's closer examination shows it's comprised of letters, carved into the pale flesh. With some trouble, penmanship obviously hadn't been a concern, she's able to make out words which, unconsciously, she begins to read aloud, Vae.
When she gets to the third and last, she pauses, unwilling to speak it.
Hermione supplies it for her. 'Mudbloods.'
But you're a half-blood, Minerva objects as if that might change something, making this in any way less terrifying.
Ms. Bred was... purported to have been. Miss Granger most definitely isn't. Severus answers for her, his features schooled, but there's something thoughtful in his air that's giving Hermione cause to hope.
Not having any more of an Exploding Snap face on, well, this face than the one she's been wearing for months now, some or all of that is visible enough when she turns to him.
It's obviously been some time, and yet the wounds look fresh. Cursed knife? He asks, not unsympathetically. She nods. That wouldn't have been necessary...
She snorts. She has no idea if that was a requirement for the Curse, but her reply explains that all too clearly, 'Bellatrix.
'Bill and I were caught by Snatchers, he was given to Greyback, and I... Well, this was the result.'
What does the Spell do? Minerva asks, cautious.
Initially no one responds. Hermione shifts her gaze to the floor, studiously avoiding the others'. Albus finally looks to Severus and prompts, You seem to know something about it. Would you care to explain?
No, he bloody well would not. He doesn't even bother trying to hide it, but ultimately he answers, unwilling to force the witch to do so.
Dark magic, he finally responds, as though that weren't apparent. I've never seen the Curse performed. Last I knew, it still hadn't worked as intended, perhaps... At some point, in the future, it's conceivable, his eyes tick to Hermione, and he amends that, probable, even, that she begins working on it once more.
She's in Azkaban! Minerva is incensed at the very idea.
And the Dark Lord is dead, he whips back in retort. Which didn't stop Potter from encountering him last year. Why do you imagine a prison would prove a greater obstacle than death?
When Minerva doesn't argue with that - how could she? - he proceeds, The original intention was to bind the subject's magic, to keep them from ever using it again.
Clearly that hasn't worked entirely as designed.
Hermione makes a strangled noise, glances at him and pulls her wand again, switching it to her right hand this time. 'Wingardium Leviosa,' she says with a flick and a swish, pointing to the blanket still lying on the floor. The blanket doesn't move. Instead her wand issues a series of sparks, the colour of which seems less than healthy, and then with a frankly disturbing noise, extinguishes, becoming inert once more. 'A firstie's Charm,' she says with some vehemence, as if all watching weren't only too aware. Her shoulders slump as she resheaths her wand once more.
Severus silently sends the blanket back to cover the... younger version of the woman before them, a peace offering, and Hermione shoots him a somewhat wan but nevertheless grateful smile. He bobs his head minutely in acknowledgment.
'I haven't lost my magic. You know that, you've seen me use it often enough. But I can't perform with my right arm anymore.' No one can hear the witch admit that and remain indifferent; some are better at masking their reactions.
'But her... application of the Curse, the stress or maybe it was the blood...' Minerva blanches. 'There was a burst of wild magic, and it did what we hadn't been able to before. It sent me back in time. Far back.'
Albus happily takes up the tale. She arrived two years ago, in early summer, and presented me with a pretty problem. She would, she insisted, soon become a student of ours. At the time, our present Miss Granger, he indicates the cat-child sleeping in the bed beside them, wasn't even in the Book of Acceptance yet, and Ginger's magic - I'll use the name for clarity, if you don't object - her magic, such as it was at the time, I'm sorry my dear, manifested as little better than a squib's. Hermione shrugs, not essentially disagreeing with the assessment, and now that that handicap has been overcome, seeing it more as a badge of honour. I'm now ashamed to say it took her quite some effort to convince me of the facts.
And those were? Severus asks, his posture still very rigid, and everything about him suggesting he'd very much like to have known any or all of this prior to deciding to kiss the woman. Looking at him, Hermione considers it not improbable that he won't wish to do so again hereafter. She sighs at the thought.
It's your story, my dear. Would you care to take over?
'Am I free to speak?'
Within reason. If you could perhaps avoid revealing too much of the future, it might be wise. But if you're asking if these two can be trusted...
'Oh, I know them both to be loyal members of the Order, that isn't the issue.' Severus stares first at her and then glares at Albus. This knowledge of hers, and such casual mention of it, could prove very risky. Were the wrong people to ever get a look at her thoughts... His first instinct is to class her as a potential threat.
'Right, the highlights then. The war wasn't going well for us. There were... significant losses early on, and things went downhill from there. Professor McGonagall, you had given me a Time-turner at the start of third year that I used through... well, studying for my N.E.W.T.s. Eventually I became obsessed with the possibilities the Turner might have presented had I only had it a year before.'
Your second year, Severus clarifies, looking again to the still little form in the bed.
'Professor Dumbledore, my Professor Dumbledore,' Severus bites back a scathing comment about the witch evidently having a tendre for older staff members, 'later began to work with me on developing what he termed a 'true' Time-turner. We weren't ultimately successful, not as we'd hoped, but there were glimmers, indications we were on the right track, and together with Professor Snape, my Professor Snape,' that does get her a sharp look now, all the more so as, viscerally, he rather likes the sound of it, 'we spent a great deal of time trying to determine what would need changing and when, if we could ever get it to work that is.'
Albus rather cheerily explains, Apparently I felt one instance of interference, and no more, could be countenanced without running the risk of creating far more problems than we'd solved.
Those early losses? Minerva enquires.
Potter, Severus answers, again only too sure.
Hermione looks to the Headmaster who makes no move to stop her and finally nods. 'Gin... someone went missing, and Harry and Ron attempted to find the Chamber of Secrets later this year. We never learnt the details of what happened. What we know is Gilderoy did... something, and he and Ron were later found, injured and addled, Gilderoy irrecoverably, and Harry...' There's sadness at the mention, but then she's had the better part of a decade to become accustomed to the loss, and she'd only known the boy for a year and a half.
So that explains your apprenticeship.
'Why I'm doing my practical here this year and why I pursued this subject, yes. I'm keeping an eye out to see if we can prevent Gilderoy from doing whatever he did.'
Except you still don't know what it was.
'It might be secondary if I can keep the boys from going off half-cocked...'
Severus snorts derisively. They're Gryffindors.
As were you, Minerva thinks to object. So why were you now supposedly sorted into Slytherin?
Because clearly that's the important thing here. A weaker woman might fold under the look Severus gives her. Fortunately Minerva has built up some immunity over the years; her spine is effectively starched. The better question is: why do I remember Ms. Bred attending Hogwarts and living in my House?
'But only vaguely,' Hermione suggests. Severus nods, it's true, and after a moment, Minerva follows suit.
Magnificent spot of magic, isn't it?
Once we established how we were going to proceed - retraining to use her left hand, continuing her education to improve her skills as we marked the time - a new identity was necessary. Having decided status as a half-blood might open more doors for her, we employed the Sorting Hat in a fascinating bit of old magic that left everyone with faint recollections of a past here she'd never lived. Amusingly - possibly because of what we'd planned, but I really shouldn't like to speculate - the Hat felt the best House for her was Slytherin.
Minerva seems about to laugh. Severus crosses his arms and glares once more. It was unquestionably an ambitious undertaking.
Oh, by all means, that will have been the deciding factor, and not, say, the rampant duplicity.
'I'm very sorry about that...' Hermione begins.
Don't be silly, Ms. Br... Miss Granger. What could you have possibly said?
Severus looks like he could provide a list in answer to that question.
A lengthy one.
Hermione sighs again, thinking what a mess she'd made of that. She'd be ashamed to admit it, but the now quite thoroughly broken Time-turner crosses her mind as she considers it.
More than once.
And what do you intend to do to keep Potter alive?
'I eventually figured out what was petrifying the residents of the castle this year, or will do, the tenses get confusing... But I didn't... have time to warn Harry. We think a simple warning, what's causing it, how it's getting around the castle... Professor Dumbledore, mine, came up with a single word on a page from a reference book...'
Because Potter is so inordinately fond of those...
'Which is why it's only a page and not the whole book, Severus. Even Harry's capable of dealing with that,' she fires back, and for the first time since her identity was revealed sounds again like the colleague he's come to know and value and much less like the guilty student caught out he's been very reluctantly seeing her as. It makes some things... easier to stomach.
That was frightfully clever of me, Albus nods, pleased. The others seem less convinced, presumably because they've actually had to teach the boy in question. But between seeing to it he has that information at the right time, and with a bit of luck keeping Gilderoy from interfering...
You never should have hired that preening peacock to begin with.
Severus, Albus chides. I had no choice, because I always had done, don't you see? It was a fait accompli. We have no idea what uses he serves, and I had no willingness to risk changing that.
Severus has his own, strong, opinions on the man's usefulness (next to none), but it's neither the time nor the place, and it's ultimately moot. He's here for the duration.
We have two promising discrete vectors of approach for the same incident we mean to change; both are subtle enough to affect little else.
Beyond the non-trivial difference of saving Potter's poxy hide and the concomitant ripple effects of that.
Albus nods, missing the point, most likely deliberately. I have high hopes it will do the job.
And if not, we can always send her back again... Severus complains. Only armed with more information this time.
Presumably Miss Granger and not Ginger, but yes. That's certainly an option. Quite evidently we are capable of building a device that will eventually work, so there's no need to lose hope, particularly not over things that haven't even happened yet.
The girl on the bed makes a soft noise and their attention shifts to her.
I take it I was right and this comes out well? Severus breaks the slightly awkward silence.
''The proof stands before you',' Hermione quips. His head dips in reply.
I thought as much. Well there, you see, Minerva, no need to worry, he says with feigned joviality, but his tone is nowhere near as light as the words, and Hermione tries not to flinch.
Minerva, would you mind looking after the girl? At least until I've seen to Poppy. I believe Miss Granger is about to wake.
And I suppose I'd best see to Filius and Sybill, too, while I'm about it. Albus doesn't sound nearly as embarrassed about that fact as he should.
We'll leave you to it, Severus tells them and makes to leave. Hermione doesn't quite trust her ears until he pauses to wait for her, holding the Infirmary's door open for her to pass.
She scurries forward to take advantage of the opening he's providing, metaphorically and literally, before he can change his mind.
Ms. Bred... he starts when the door closes behind them.
'We could go with 'Hermione' in private,' she suggests. It may have been too much. The thought renders him temporarily mute, and she similarly holds her tongue, unwilling to antagonise him further.
They walk down a number of corridors in silence. Eventually she recognises he's led her most of the way back to the dungeons. Soon they stop before his office and again he holds the door open for her.
She looks at the lonely chair in front of his desk and decides this sends the wrong message altogether. She's not a Slytherin now for nothing, with years of memories, however vague, to back it up, and so with more confidence apparent than she actually feels, she asks him, 'Couldn't we go through to your sitting room. I'm not one of your students anymore.' As if that would preclude having a discussion between colleagues in his office. But she has a point and he knows it.
Still, he's a stubborn creature and mulishly replies, But you are at present. In second year.
'She is. I'm not.'
He considers for a moment, and then wordlessly he turns to open the door off his office that leads to his chambers. Again he allows her to proceed him into the room. 'Thank you,' she says as she passes, more for acquiescing to her wishes than for the courtesy of holding the door.
She takes a seat on the couch, he eschews the space beside her for one of his wingbacks, the message clear enough. Still, it's the one right next to her, and all hope isn't lost.
Tea appears on the couch table in front of him. She takes a cup and hands it to him before helping herself to the other. She waits, but he doesn't drink from it. Finally she takes a sip of her own, Afternoon Earl Grey, a perfectly lovely blend that bolsters her spirits, inhales deeply and grabs the Erumpet by the horn.
'I'm very sorry, Severus. I didn't mean to deceive you.'
On the contrary, you very much did.
He's not wrong. 'Alright. I didn't mean to hurt you in the process.'
Who says I'm hurt?
'Then I didn't mean to wound your pride?' He doesn't bite at the barb. 'Look you're obviously... not pleased about something.' He snorts, and of course she knows that's understating it. Badly. That was rather her point. 'Just tell me what it is, and we'll address it.'
The Hat was too generous. You're clearly still a Gryffindor.
She chuckles, 'Now, Severus, there's no call to be mean.'
It's possible the corner of his mouth twitched. Just a bit. But he's quiet for a moment before he finally asks, You don't think I should have had a say in whether or not I wished to kiss a student?
And again, there's a young witch in the Infirmary who would tend to belie that point.
'Ms. Bred used to be your student, didn't she? The way you remember her?' They both know that's the case. 'She hasn't been for a number of years. Neither have I. The details remain essentially unchanged. We share enough of a history. And the fact she had been a student... It didn't stop you.' She doesn't need to specify from what. They both remember the kiss clearly enough.
She could swear that's the hint of a blush on his cheeks. It suits him.
What's the point in beginning something, and just there, her heart may have skipped a beat if he's willing to discuss beginning anything, if you'll soon disappear never to be seen again. Or at least not in the foreseeable future?
'As you said, I'll lose a decade if I do so. It makes more sense to live through that time, using it productively instead. And it makes no sense to keep my life on hold while doing so. I'm here to stay. Either way, there's no returning to what was, nor should I care to. That was the whole point of trying to develop a true Time-turner after all.'
His eyes narrow suspiciously and he reaches over so that he's almost touching her hair, hovering, hesitating just before his hand connects. Did Albus suggest the auburn? Mention some supposed partiality on my end?
'No, not at all.' The answer is immediate and convincing. 'I just needed something very different so I wouldn't be recognised.'
And now her eyes widen as she considers it. She doesn't usually define herself by her looks. Lately, for obvious reasons, that's been even further from her mind. She's the person on the inside, not the one whom she sees in the mirror. Now it occurs to her that no matter how she frames this, he hadn't actually been drawn to the woman who currently sits beside him.
'I wasn't trying to... Am I... Did you prefer...' She swallows the lump that's suddenly appeared in her throat and screws her courage to the sticking post. 'Did you like the other version more?'
And now his hand closes the distance after all, tucking one of her unruly, mad chestnut curls tenderly behind her ear. He shakes his head and she begins to hope again in earnest.
He settles the matter once and for all when he softly replies, I see no difference.
Thanks a bunch for reading and sharing my advent calendar with me. ❤️ I hope everyone celebrating had happy holidays. - G. 😊