Hermione whickered nervously as the Potions Master loomed over her. “Miss Granger, transform back immediately!”
She shook her head, causing her forelock to flop in her eyes again.
“Miss Granger…” his voice was a velvet purr now, “if you do not transform back immediately, I will be forced to recommend your expulsion.”
She neighed desperately, wishing anyone but Professor Snape had found her. There was a sound of rushing footsteps, and Minerva McGonagall burst into the room. The Transfiguration Professor took in the situation at a glance.
“Congratulations, Miss Granger! We’ll have to get you properly registered, but that shouldn’t be any problem.” She turned to her colleague. “Severus, were you behind this?”
“I assure you, Minerva, that I had no idea that Miss Granger was foolish enough to attempt an initial transformation alone.” He glanced at the nervous pony. “I believe she’s having some difficulty regaining her natural form.”
Hermione nodded energetically and pawed the ground, forelock flying every-which-way.
“Well, we can’t have that. Now, Miss Granger, calm down. Transforming is a perfectly natural process. If you’re agitated, it makes it much more difficult.”
Hermione took a long breath. Everything would be all right now. Professor McGonagall would help her transform, and maybe they could practice it.
“Now close your eyes. Clear your mind of everything. Visualize your true form in your mind – that helps initially. Got it?”
The pony nodded, eyes still closed.
“Now concentrate very hard on becoming you again.” Minerva studied the pony as dispassionately as possible under the circumstances. There was no sign of the rippling that marked an Animagus transformation. “Severus, what do you think?”
He folded his arms across his chest. “You may be going about this the wrong way. Miss Granger, did you use Transfiguration or a Potion to achieve your current state?”
Hermione snorted, and he amended. “Did you use Transfiguration?”
Now she shook her head.
“That’s why she can’t change back using Transfiguration techniques. Her form was unlocked with the potion, and it requires a different process to reverse it.” He stared down at the Shetland for a moment. “I’m tempted to leave her that way as a reminder of folly.” Before Minerva could do more than take a deep breath, he continued, “But I won’t. This time.”
He turned his attention completely to the pony. “Miss Granger, cease this prancing about immediately. Good. Now, mentally visualize your current form. You do know what you look like, don’t you?” At Hermione’s nod, he continued. “Every detail is important. Hold that picture of yourself firmly in your mind. Now, this first time, you have to help the process along. Slowly now, begin merging that picture in your mind back into your true form. Start with the hair.”
He watched, expecting to see… something. Instead, he continued to see an unchanged pony. Alarm bells began ringing in the back of his head. “Miss Granger, you did brew the potion yourself?”
Hermione nodded desperately. She was long past the stage where she believed teachers were infallible, but surely these two could help her.
“There’s naught for it then.” His wand moved like lightning, “Conformate Veritas!”
There was a terrible wrenching sensation, as if she was being pulled into a million pieces. It lasted only a moment though, and when it faded she found herself on hands and knees in front of her Head of House and her Potions instructor. “Ow.”
By the time Lucius got to the seventh floor, he could hear Severus’ angry voice halfway down the hall, punctuated by McGonagall’s less strident tones. Miss Granger had obviously been found. Rather than thrust himself between Scylla and Charybdis, he decided to go flying again. He stopped by his room to change; he was still wearing the formal attire he preferred for dinner.
He had just hung his outer robes up in his wardrobe when someone knocked on his door. He turned, puzzled. No one had ever done that before. “Enter!”
Xiamora Hooch opened the door. “Lucius – if you hadn’t heard, they’ve located Miss Granger.”
He decided not to mention that he’d been the one interrogating the various portraits. “Thank you. I hope she is… undamaged?”
“I’m not sure, exactly.” Xia casually leaned against the doorframe, studying him appraisingly. “But I heard Severus bellowing in that tone that means everything’s really fine, and he’s just out of temper.”
“An apt description, I admit.” He flexed his shoulders, letting his fine cambric shirt flow over his muscles. “Since we are evidently no longer needed, shall we go flying?”
“Perhaps you’d like to try another form of exercise?” She stepped inside and closed the door behind her. Under the bed, two cats – one brindled, one black and white – exchanged satisfied looks.
“That was one of the most foolish things you could do!” Severus almost shouted. “You obviously made some mistake in the potion, or you would’ve been able to change back. Didn’t you even think?”
“I have to agree that this was not a wise decision, Miss Granger.” Minerva said. “While I am pleased that you have successfully transformed, I cannot award you any points due to the circumstances.”
Severus snorted. “One more stunt like that, and Gryffindor will be in negative points for the rest of the year.” He glared at the subdued student standing before him. “Do you understand exactly how dangerous self-transfiguration is?”
“Yes, sir,” she mumbled.
“How, exactly – no, never mind that right now.” His lips pulled back from his teeth in an extraordinarily evil grin. “Your choice, Miss Granger. Two-hundred points from Gryffindor,” he ignored Minerva’s gasp of outrage, “or a month of detention with me.”
Her head came up sharply. “I’ll take the month’s detention, sir.”
“Very well then. Seven o’clock every evening in the Potions Classroom. Including weekends.” He saw a muscle at the back of her jaw twitch, but she simply nodded.
“Yes, sir.” Then to Minerva, “I’m sorry to have caused you trouble.”
“How very, very Gryffindor,” Snape murmured just loud enough for Minerva to hear. He glanced at the clock. “I shall see you, Miss Granger, in exactly twenty-two minutes.” He turned and swept out of the room, feeling quite pleased with himself for some odd reason.
Down in the Potions classroom, he propped his chin on his hands and considered the situation more seriously. Miss Granger had to be made to understand that one did not experiment on one's self, unless the situation was completely dire. If she did not learn that lesson, well, the results could be unfortunate. And the pity of it was, she was a strong witch. No female Einstein, but certainly above the norm.
So, what to do? He still hadn’t come to a definite decision by the time she knocked gently on the door.
Ivy and Argus were searching the last of the greenhouses when Albus came by with the news that Miss Granger had been located and was undamaged. He didn’t tarry; he had yet to track down Firenze and Hagrid.
“Perfect waste o’ time,” Argus grumbled as he helped Ivy tidy up the greenhouse that had been pulled to disarray in their searching. “Spent half an hour out here fer nuthin’.”
“Hssh,” she rejoined, bending to pick up a fallen tray. “Nothing’s ever wasted. It’s just in how you look at it. For instance,” she stacked the tray neatly with the others, “we’ve had a nice talk while we were searching.”
“Well, yeh.” The caretaker shuffled his feet some. “Ivy – yer awful nice. Yer don’t make fun of me fer bein’ a Squib.”
She brushed her hair out of her eyes, leaving a smear of dust and grime on her forehead. “And you don’t make fun of me for spending my time with plants. Let’s face it Argus – maybe Snape’s an exception, but everyone else in this school is convinced that magic only works with wands.”
“I was thinkin’, would yer like to go down t’ Hogsmeade t’night? Have a drink or somethin’?”
“I’d love to, Argus.” She put a gentle hand on his arm. “I’d love to. Let me just stop by my rooms and wash up.”
“Meet yer at th’ front gate in, say, fifteen minutes?”
“Come in, Miss Granger.” Severus put on his most forbidding scowl. “Have a seat.” He folded his arms across his chest and stared down at her as she sat. She wasn’t meeting his eyes; her gaze was locked firmly on the floor, as if the secrets of the universe were written on it.
“Miss Granger, you are not stupid by any definition of the word. You do, however, lack a certain amount of common sense, and your penchant for impulsive action must be checked if you are to continue doing research under my direction.”
Hermione’s head came up in shock. “I… I was expecting…”
“…that I’d cancel your project entirely. I did consider that, but I think you have learned something from your experience. I assume there will be no repetitions of this.”
He relaxed his stance, and let his scowl ease. “Excellent. Let us start by determining what went wrong with your potion.”
“I haven’t any idea what happened. I did everything according to the book.”
Snape sat down at his desk, and flipped through his copy of Double, Double until he came to the section on the Animagus potion. “You did all the stirring and mixing yourself, correct?”
“Yes, sir – and it changed color properly – as described.”
“What about the ingredients? Are you sure you prepared them properly?”
“Yes – that is, I made sure they were correctly prepared.” She reddened as enlightenment set in a microsecond ahead of her professor’s knowing look. “For this potion, the brewer must prepare the ingredients as well, isn’t that so?”
“Exactly. And you didn’t.”
“It doesn’t say that in the book,” she protested half-heartedly.
“There are many things that aren’t in books,” Snape returned. “This is what I meant about common sense. In the absence of clear direction, you must always prepare your ingredients yourself.” He took a long breath. “Let me make one thing plain, Miss Granger. I will not tolerate another piece of idiocy like the one you performed today. You are old enough to understand the consequences of disobedience. I will have you expelled from Hogwarts if you choose to ignore my instructions.” A long pause. “If, however, you successfully create a potion to allow Animagi to communicate, I will write you a recommendation for the apprenticeship of your choice.”
“Where?” Fawkes tilted his head to the left and looked at the toad in astonishment. “You want to hold the meeting where?”
Trevor sighed and repeated himself for the third time. “Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom. It’s an excellent place for a meeting. No one ever goes there.”
“Well,” the phoenix looked dubious. “I did say you could decide. I’ll let the other Familiars know.”
Trevor waved a webbed foot at him, and hopped off, heading for the stairs. Fawkes shook his head. “Somehow,” he muttered to himself, “I don’t think the cats are going to approve.”
A couple of hours later, he was proved right. The toads were comfortably settled beneath a leaky pipe under one of the sinks. Every other Familiar there was wearing expressions of dismay or disgust. Even Topper looked a bit put out. No sooner had the phoenix landed, then he was assailed by increasingly vocal complaints.
“A bathroom, Fawkes! No place to get comfortable!” Swift’s lips pulled back from his teeth in what looked like a grin, but wasn’t. “This isn’t going to do.”
“And it smells bad,” Gambit contributed.
“That ghost is watching us,” Chang warned.
“I’ll deal with the ghost,” Duster growled. He sprang into Myrtle’s stall and flushed the commode. Myrtle disappeared down the pipe with a horrified wail.
Crookshanks’ ears flattened. “You don’t really expect to hold a serious discussion in here? Ghost or no, it’s wet and it smells of dead things.”
“I thought you weren’t going to pick any place damp,” Shadow rounded on the two toads.
“We’re limited in where we can go, you know,” Trevor said.
“And it really isn’t that bad.” Cassandra added.
Topper clacked his beak. “Perhaps the hallway right outside would suffice?”
“Anything’s better than this,” Erasmus sniffed. He hadn’t even entered the room, stopping short in the doorway. Now he moved back into the hall.
“I’ll keep watch,” Swift volunteered. He sneezed twice, and trotted off down the hall. Just before the first intersection, he sat down beside a suit of armor, looking for all the world like a large black statue.
The other cats also withdrew into the hall, and the toads followed. Once they were all settled, Fawkes whistled once, getting their attention. “I’ll make this short. Is anyone having problems with their assignment?”
An echoing silence greeted his question.
“Excellent! Does anyone have any progress to report?”
Thjalfe yawned, showing all his teeth. “I believe that our project is nearly complete, wouldn’t you say, Thunder?”
“Definitely. It’s just a matter of time till they perform the marriage ritual and produce offspring. They’ve already mated.”
“Oh marvelous,” Fawkes said approvingly. “You two are quite ahead of the game.”
“Humans and their rituals,” Shadow groused. “Why can’t they be more like us?”
“It’s easy to get humans to mate,” Erasmus said. “But they can’t produce offspring without the ritual.”
Hermione put her quill down, and flexed her fingers. She’d been furiously writing for the last two hours, making a list of ingredients (and combinations thereof) that could be used to add the desired effects to the Animagus potion. Once the list was completed, she’d have to go over it again and check it very carefully for interaction with the base Animagus potion. Only then would she present her results to Snape.
She looked over at her professor. Snape was brewing something – she studied his desk for a moment trying to determine what he was making by examining the ingredients. It wasn’t easy; there didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to how they were laid out – in fact, it looked like a scoop of beetle eyes had been casually mixed in with the shredded mangrove root. And she didn’t even recognize a few of the items.
“Cantor’s Concealment Potion,” he said, startling her.
“I’ve never heard of that one. And how…?”
“You were staring at my desk so hard that you didn’t hear me ask how your research was progressing.” He picked up the tray of ingredients and dumped them willy-nilly into his simmering cauldron. “This potion,” he almost grinned at her shocked expression, “seems to require lack of precision. I expect your friend Mr. Longbottom would excel at brewing it.”
“Lack of precision?” she repeated, ignoring the comment about Neville. “That seems counter-intuitive.” A thought popped into her head. “That’s how you sneak up on students so effectively!”
“Exactly.” He stirred the cauldron a few times and studied the contents. “It’s never certain if the brewing will be a success or failure until it’s done.”
Hermione propped her chin on one hand and drummed her fingers on the desk. “That doesn’t make sense though – precision allows for duplication. You should be able to record the exact procedure and repeat it.”
“Yes, you should. But it doesn’t work.” He gave the cauldron another poke. “I’ve tried it a dozen times. It either fails completely, or gives substandard results. And since the cost of the ingredients is somewhat prohibitive, I have learned to be… less than precise… when brewing it. Now, that must simmer for some unspecified length of time. How are you progressing?”
She indicated the list – some five feet of parchment covered with notes. “I think that at least half of these will be eliminated in the first cut. The squid ink, for instance, isn’t going to do well with the comfrey of the base Animagus potion. Ground hyssop might work, but we’d have to add something else to neutralize the poisons… and so on. May I borrow Double, Double? I’d like to use it to cross-check.”
“Certainly.” He handed her the book. “Chopped pooka meat would neutralize the hyssop.”
“Yes…” she took the book, “but it doesn’t react well with human hair or blood.” The last sentence was spoken almost absent-mindedly, as she turned the pages to the section on the Animagus Potion, already absorbed. A small paragraph at the bottom of the preceding page caught her eye. Incredulously, she read, “The Animagus potion was developed by Severus Snape while he was still at school.”
The book slowly came to rest on the desk and she stared up at her professor. “You developed the Animagus potion! You!”
“So I did. Does that surprise you?”
She stammered. “No, not that I think about it. I just thought it was a much older potion." There was a pause, and her eyes narrowed appraisingly as she studied him. "Are you an Animagus?”
The left corner of his mouth twitched ever so slightly. “What do you think?”
She thought about it. When she’d looked up Rita Skeeter back in her fourth year, she’d skimmed over the other names just out of curiosity. Snape had not been on the list. She would’ve noticed. So… “I believe you are an unregistered Animagus, though I’ve no idea what your form is. During the war, I’m sure you found many ways to put it to good use.”
“Only rarely, I’m afraid.” He sighed. “As you’ve found out, using my potion means that you have very little control over what you become.”
She nodded wryly. “Yes, a Shetland pony wasn’t what I had hoped for. May I ask… what your form is?”
In answer, his shape blurred and shifted. She blinked at the green and silver serpent coiled in front of her. The snake’s large diamond-shaped head rose level with her own, and an unwinking, glistering black eye fixed itself upon her.
Another blur and shift, and Snape stood there in the serpent’s stead.
“What kind of serpent is that? I’ve never seen one like it.”
“Cadborosaurus willsi – a sea-serpent.”
“I see what you mean about rarely putting it to good use.” She gave him a wry look. “It’s highly impractical for a…”
“For a spy.” Snape returned to his seat. “And for almost anything else. At least it’s amphibious; there are known cases of Animagi suffocating because when they transformed they couldn’t breathe. A most unpleasant way to die, I’m told.”
She shuddered. “Point taken, sir.” Then, “I can see why you didn’t register for all those years while you were a spy, but what’s stopping you from doing it now?”
An elegant black eyebrow rose. “Think about it, Miss Granger, and tell me tomorrow what you think.”
She returned to Gryffindor Tower with her mind spinning. In the Common Room, pandemonium reigned. Neville and Dennis Creevey were playing chess in the only quiet corner. Apparently everyone else was in the mood for socializing. Someone had been down to the kitchen, because plates of sandwiches covered one of the tables, and several pitchers of pumpkin juice stood on the other table. Even Harry was there, though he wasn’t terribly talkative.
Lavender Brown was holding forth on the best way to study for the NEWTs – a subject that caught Hermione’s ear, and she allowed herself to be drawn into the discussion. Several times, though, she noticed Harry staring at her. There didn’t seem to be any malice in it, so she said nothing.
Hermione looked down at her Familiar who was rubbing himself against her legs. It was unusual for the privacy-loving kneazle to come into the Common Room when the Gryffindors were in full cry. She patted her lap in invitation, and the big cat made himself comfortable there. A teasing thread started in her mind, and she noted at some level that virtually all the Familiars associated with various Gryffindors were present. Even Trevor was hopping about next to the chessboard.
It was a late night.
Hermione was greatly relieved when Harry abruptly quit following her around the next day. In fact, other than classes, he seemed to be avoiding her entirely. She let out a long breath and devoted all her attention to her studies. It didn’t surprise her to be summoned to Professor McGonagall’s office after Transfiguration was over; an hour later, she was a properly registered Animagus.
“But you will need to practice transforming,” her Head of House said. “With someone – preferably a teacher – present. Unfortunately, I’m somewhat occupied in the evenings. Perhaps Professor Flitwick would be available?”
“Professor Snape could supervise during my detentions,” Hermione offered. “We’re still in the research stage, and I spend a lot of time waiting while he reviews my work.”
“If he’s agreeable, then that will be acceptable.”
“He seems much more… agreeable… since the war ended.”
“Can you blame him, Hermione? He was a double-agent for most of his adult life. The stress he was under was tremendous.” The older witch looked down at her hands. “We were all so pressured, so frightened even.”
“And we got off so lightly.” Hermione finished with a slight wobble in her voice. “Not to belittle those who died – but it could’ve been so much worse.”
Minerva blew her nose, and her eyes were suspiciously bright. “Yes. If not for Severus and Lucius – to give him his due – we would’ve paid a much higher price. Now get along to detention so Sev… Professor Snape doesn’t have an excuse to take points.”
The week passed in a blur of classes and research. Hermione learned to transform at will, though she lacked the speed of her teachers. “It will come,” Professor McGonagall told her. “I’ve had years of practice.”
“Impatience breeds errors,” Snape said. “Mistakes in self-transfiguration can be fatal.” And he’d glared at her in the way that meant he would brook no argument on the subject.
The first time she transformed without the potion, it had been remarkably easy to assume her Animagus form. Changing back had proved quite troublesome, and Snape was compelled to use the Conformate Veritas spell again. And again. After two days of this, he had her brew a new batch of the Animagus potion and “re-unlock” her ability. Finally, four days after her first transformation, she was able to change back and forth.
The actual research wasn’t going as well as she’d hoped, though Snape said nothing. It was like building a house of cards – each ingredient they added had to be checked and double-checked against the current list. Any unfavorable interaction meant starting over. As the list grew, the number of checks grew exponentially. All too often, she’d had to start completely over, as she ran into a proverbial stone wall. She was currently working on her fifth revision, and thought it looked promising.
Despite the lack of forward progress, she was enjoying herself. Snape, when confronted with someone who truly desired to learn, could be a fascinating teacher. The question of why he remained unregistered was an excellent case in point. She’d mulled the subject over, worrying it like a bone, and had been unable to come up with a suitable answer.
“I doubt you’d fail to register out of inertia,” she told him, “and it’s not because you have issues with the Ministry since Fudge was ousted. So I don’t know.”
He gave her the look that meant she was overlooking the obvious. “Have you never read the laws about registering, Miss Granger?”
“There’s severe penalties for not doing it, of course. That’s how I took care of that reporter in fourth year. But surely those wouldn’t apply?”
“And why not? I am nobody special, from the Ministry’s perspective.”
She winced. “So they’d see it as you deliberately failing to register for over two decades.”
“Exactly. My covert work for the Order is not a part of public record.” His expression dropped into a scowl. “I need not point out that your silence on this point is required.”
Just like the previous Friday, the Gryffindors were whooping it up again when she got back to the Common Room. Even Neville had been dragged into a discussion – how to safely cultivate Devil’s Snare. She shook her head and turned to go up to her room, only to find her way blocked by Harry.
“Hello Harry. I’m not up to a party tonight.”
“I know,” he said sympathetically. “You’ve been in detention all week. What’s Snape got you doing? Scrubbing cauldrons? Organizing the supply cabinet?”
“Research, actually,” she replied. “It’s quite interesting.”
His face fell. “I guess you’re tired then. But… would you go to the Halloween Ball with me?”
“Accio calendar!” She flipped it open to October. “I can’t, Harry. I’m going to be in detention still. Snape gave me a month.”
“A month! What did you do?”
Her mouth quirked in a smile. “Snape said I was being very, very Gryffindor.” She hadn’t told anyone about being an Animagus yet.
“I’ll go to Albus! I’m sure he’ll get Snape to let you off for one night!” Harry’s breathing grew ragged, and his fists clenched. “It’s not bloody fair!”
She hated to see him get upset. “Listen, Harry. My detention ends on the second week of November. We’ll go to Hogsmeade then.”
Conformate Veritas – mangled Latin for “True Form”. Used to force an Animagus to return to human form. Has no effect on non-Animagi.