Albus looked up in surprise at the unannounced invasion. “Ah, Filius, Miss Granger, what can I do for you?”
Filius Flitwick ushered Hermione into a chair and then shut the office door firmly before turning back to the Headmaster. “Albus, I couldn’t find Swift this morning so I cast a Locating Charm. It told me he was in southeast England. I Apparated there and found him, along with Miss Granger and Poppy’s Familiar. Miss Granger then told me a very disturbing story, and I believe you need to hear it.”
Hermione took a long calming breath as the Headmaster turned his attention to her. “Sir, last night I was walking out by the Quidditch pitch and was hit by a Stupefy hex.” She went on to detail waking up in the house, the meeting with Harry, and her subsequent escape with the Familiars. “I wasn’t sure what to do, so I started following Swift.” She rumpled the borzoi’s ears. “We walked for a few miles, and then Professor Flitwick appeared.”
The Headmaster looked very grave. “I think we must have Harry in and see what he has to say.”
“He isn’t entirely sane, Professor Dumbledore,” Hermione said. “He may try to grab me and leave.”
“Very well then. This is what we shall do. Filius, please stay here with Miss Granger while I locate Minerva and have her bring Harry to my office.”
“Yes, Headmaster.” The diminutive Charms professor had never looked more serious. As Albus left the office, he drew his wand and cast several quick spells. “Wards, Miss Granger,” he replied to her inquiring glance. “To absorb the energy from hexes and curses.” His tone shifted to lecture mode for a moment. “I dueled often in my youth, and I learned the value of proper preparation.”
He was showing her the wand movements for one of the wards when Albus returned. “Minerva will be here shortly. Is there anyone else you would like here?”
Hermione gave that some thought. “Harry will almost certainly accuse Professor Snape of improper behavior,” she said slowly. “And possibly Professor Malfoy as well.”
“Have either Professor Snape or Professor Malfoy behaved wrongly toward you?” The question came from Professor Flitwick.
“No, sir!” Hermione was definite on the point.
“In that case, we should have them here to address any accusations.” The Headmaster rose and went over to his fireplace. “Professor Malfoy’s quarters! Ah, Lucius, would you please find Severus and both of you step this way?”
“Certainly, Headmaster.” Lucius cut the connection and Albus returned to his desk.
“Miss Granger, perhaps it would be better for you to sit over there, so that Harry doesn’t notice your presence immediately.” He gestured to the corner behind the door.
Hermione nodded and changed her seat. Swift went over and sat beside her. His head was level with her own, and she got the impression he was making himself look larger than he was.
Filius nodded at the dog. “You’ve another champion there, Miss Granger. Swift will protect you also if need be.” He moved to stand next to her chair on the other side.
A sharp knock on the door heralded the arrival of Professors Snape and Malfoy. Albus offered them lemon drops and asked them to please take seats. A black blur shot through the door and into Snape’s lap where it turned into Duster. The tomcat planted his forefeet on Snape’s chest and looked into his face for a moment before curling up on the chair beside him.
Hermione bit her tongue to keep from laughing. She’d never seen the Potions Master so discomfited.
Professor Malfoy snickered outright. “I’ve always wondered what they mean when they do that. Thunder’s done it to me a few times.”
The door opened again to admit Professor McGonagall. “Albus, I’m sorry for the delay. I’ve just been informed that Mr. Potter has had an accident. He’s fallen down the stairs.”
It’s nice to be able to bring Trevor to breakfast now, Neville thought as he entered the Great Hall. His faithful toad had developed a taste for people-food, particularly scrambled eggs. Neville dished up a serving for himself, and another, smaller, serving for Trevor. Seating himself, he looked around. The room was virtually deserted; most of the students were having a lie-in.
“Mind if I sit here?”
Neville looked up at Millie who was carrying a large bag. “You… you want to sit with me? Why?” He gripped his wand, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Even though the fighting was over, he still found it hard to trust Slytherins.
With deliberate casualness, she sat down across from him keeping her hands in sight. “Because there’s no one else here, and I hate eating alone. Macavity doesn’t count as company.”
“I’m finished.” He made to get up, ignoring the fact that his plate was still more than half-full. Why is she here? What does she want?
Millie jerked her head at his plate. “On a diet? Listen, Neville – I… I don’t bite.”
“What do you want then?”
“Company for breakfast. Talk, like at the dance. That’s all.”
He studied her for a moment, with the wary disbelief of a lamb asked to sit down with a lion. “Oh.” Then he eased back down into his seat.
She returned his look for an equally long moment. “I can’t make you like me, I suppose, but I hope you’ll quit thinking that I’m out to get you. I’m not Malfoy, you know.”
The contempt in her voice as she uttered the name suddenly made Neville feel better. “I’m not used to…”
“… to Slytherins being civil?”
Millie sighed. “I’m all too used to Gryffindors running away like I’m going to sacrifice them to some unknown god.”
The Slytherin helped herself to ham and eggs, not forgetting to fill a plate for Macavity as well. “That your toad?”
“Yes. His name’s Trevor. He was a present from my Uncle Algie.”
“Algernon Bleckwhittle? He and my Dad used to be business partners ‘way back when.”
“Really? I didn’t know that.”
“They split up - your uncle blamed my Dad for what happened to his sister.”
“But your Dad didn’t have anything to do with that!” Neville dropped his fork in surprise. It was the Lestranges who had tortured and killed his parents.
“I know, but you can’t prove a negative.” She shrugged. “Ancient history. Listen, you said you were good at Herbology, right? Do you know how to grow aconite?”
“I know the theory of course, but haven’t ever tried it.” Neville thought for a moment. “It likes a warmer climate than we have here.”
“Ahh, that might be the issue. My Dad wants to hand over the family business to me after I leave school. It’s a herbology supply farm – three hundred hectares. I frankly stink in Herbology, so I’m looking for a knowledgeable partner. Interested?” She gave him an expectant smile.
“Your grades aren’t that bad,” Neville protested. “You seemed to always do fine.”
“But you – you excel at Herbology. You understand it. I know how to memorize what’s in the books, but you can make things grow.”
“I’d like to give it a try if you’re sure,” Neville replied slowly. “I don’t want to be an Auror.”
“I don’t blame you at all. Too much work.” Millie thought a moment. “Wasn’t that your grandmother’s idea anyway?”
“Yes. I mean, it just seemed like the right thing to do and all.” He trailed off.
“It’s not the most important job in the world. Not any more. We – our class – should be focusing more on rebuilding and getting on with life now that You Know Who is gone.”
“That sounds better than worrying about who the next Dark Lord is going to be.” Neville shoved his empty plate away. “Want to go out to the greenhouses? We can look at what Professor Sprout has on hand, and what she’ll be likely to need.”
“Ah, you’re thinking ahead. I like that!” She scooped up Macavity and stuffed him back into the bag. The bag emitted a series of irritated noises, and the gingery tom stuck his head out of the top so he could see. Neville tucked Trevor into a pocket, and they left the Great Hall.
A shout and a scream drew their attention, and they turned around just in time to see Harry Potter tumbling down the marble stairs. He bounced twice and crashed to a stop in a bruised and bloody heap.
Neville went white, and would’ve fainted except for Millie’s grip on his arm. “Go get … someone!” she commanded. She gave him a gentle shove. “Neville, go!”
He nodded and ran off toward Professor McGonagall’s office. Behind him, Millie knelt beside the motionless form. A snapped shoelace on his left foot was a potential clue. Perhaps he’d stepped on it and tripped. She shook her head ruefully and hoped Neville would be able to find one of the teachers quickly. Neither noticed the satisfied smile on Macavity’s face as he poked his head out of the bag.
A harried-looking Madame Pomfrey chased everyone out of the infirmary so she could “work on the poor boy” in peace. Even Albus was banished to the corridor outside, where the fading scent of “eau de skunque” kept them company.
“We shall reconvene when Mr Potter is less indisposed,” the Headmaster said after a few minutes. “There’s no reason for us all to wait here.” He made shooing motions. “Minerva, please escort Miss Granger back to her dorm.”
“Wait, Headmaster!” Hermione interrupted. “I don’t want to be there. Not alone.”
Albus raised his eyebrows. “Mr Potter is incapable of harming you now.”
“I know that, sir. It’s that I need something to do.” She twisted her hands together. “I can’t just sit in my room.”
“Perhaps Miss Granger would prefer to work on her research project,” Flitwick suggested. “That would keep her out of trouble.”
Hermione brightened. “Could I, Professor Snape?”
Snape scowled thoughtfully. “I need to speak with Miss Bulstrode and see if she can shed any light on Mr Potter’s accident.”
“I can do that for you, Severus,” Lucius said. “And I can also speak with Mr Longbottom, if Professor McGonagall wishes to remain in the vicinity of the infirmary. Go take your protégée off to your lab and continue your research.”
The Potions Master shot him a rather dirty look. “If you insist, Lucius. Miss Granger, I assume you will need to retrieve your books and notes from your room?”
“Then I shall escort you to Gryffindor Tower, and thence to our lab. Please do not dawdle.”
Hermione opened her mouth to retort that she never dawdled, and thought better of it. “Yes, sir.” She turned on her heel and strode off toward Gryffindor Tower. Snape looked after her for a moment in surprise, and then followed.
“Perhaps I should speak with Mr Longbottom, Lucius,” Flitwick said, looking after the departed pair. “He might find me a little less threatening.”
“Longbottom must learn to face that which he dreads,” the DADA teacher replied. “I shan’t bite him. Voldemort may be gone, but there is no guarantee that another would-be-king won’t emerge.” Filius looked dubious, but made no further objections as Lucius went down the staircase and approached the shaken pair of students.
They must’ve heard the clicking of his bootheels on the marble staircase, because they looked up as he came near them. Longbottom turned even paler, if that was possible. Lucius sighed mentally and put on his most charming and affable expression. “Mr Longbottom, Miss Bulstrode – I realize you’ve had quite an unpleasant shock, but I need to ask you a few questions. Would you please accompany me?”
Instead of taking them to his office, he led them back into the Great Hall and summoned tea for the three of them. “I find that a cup of tea is often soothing.”
Longbottom stared at him, and finally reached for his teacup. “I didn’t see much, Professor M-m-malfoy. I heard Harry scream, and I turned around and saw him fall.” He swallowed hard. “Then Millie told me to get a teacher, so I ran and found Professor McGonagall.” He set the cup down with shaking hands. “She told me to come back here and wait.”
“That she did,” Lucius said, putting strong approval into his tone. “You did exactly the right thing. Miss Bulstrode, what did you see or hear?”
“The same as Neville, sir. We were on our way outside, so our back was to the staircase. We heard a scream – I didn’t recognize the voice – turned around, and I saw Mr Potter falling down the stairs.” She took a sip of tea, the trembling in her hands belying her matter-of-fact tone. “While Neville was looking for Professor McGonagall, I noticed that one of Mr Potter’s shoelaces was snapped off, as if he’d stepped on it.”
“It wasn’t just a scream we heard,” Neville said slowly. “There was another shout – I don’t know who – right before Harry screamed.”
“That’s right!” Millie said. “I heard it, but I didn’t recognize the voice either.”
“A shout? What did it say?”
“It was more of a noise type of shout – a ‘hey!’ rather than words,” Neville answered after a moment’s thought.
Lucius rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “I expect that there will be some sort of formal inquiry into this business in the near future. You may discuss it between yourselves, or with any of the staff, but not with anyone else. Is that clear?”
“Go then,” he gave them his most charming smile. “You said you were on your way outdoors. I’m sure you had plans. We shall find you if we need you.”
“How on earth did Harry come to fall down the stairs,” Hermione wondered aloud.
“He probably annoyed one of the castle ghosts.” Snape replied, without looking up from the cauldron he was stirring. “Forty-nine. Fifty. Good.” He moved the cauldron onto the waiting fire and crossed over to the sink to wash the spoon.
“One of the ghosts? Really?” She’d paused in her task of paring the mugwort roots. “It must’ve been the Baron. I don’t think it’s possible to annoy the Friar, and I hardly ever see the Grey Lady. And Nick – he wouldn’t push anyone from Gryffindor down the stairs, especially not Harry, even if he deserved it.”
“The roots aren’t going to pare themselves,” Snape pointed out as he sat back down at his desk. “What did Mr Potter do to deserve being pushed down the stairs?”
“Besides kidnapping me, you mean?” She reached for another root and began paring it with savage, economical motions. “He took my wand too. And he wasn’t going to let me go. He thought it was me who’s off my head.” She looked up to see her professor regarding her with a thoughtful expression. “Sir?”
“Potter kidnapped you?” Snape’s voice wasn’t the roar she’d expected. Instead it was soft and venomous, like the hiss of a giant snake. “Is that what that meeting was about?”
“Er, yes, sir.” She bent her head over her work so she didn’t have to look at him and tried to swallow the lump that had suddenly risen in her throat. She heard him rise, heard his footsteps cross the room to the bench where she was sitting. Then one of his hands closed over hers, taking the paring knife and setting it gently on the table.
“Tell me.” His voice was still soft, but the venom was gone.
“I feel stupid,” she said slowly. “Like it was my fault. I knew he was angry about my dancing with you at the Halloween Ball, but I thought he’d got over it. I was walking out by the Quidditch Pitch, and he hit me from behind with a Stupefy hex.” She shuddered at the memory. “I woke up in a house…” she detailed the encounter with Harry and her subsequent escape. “It just strikes me as too convenient that he fell down the stairs. Does that make sense?”
“Of a sort, yes.” He put a hand under her chin and lifted it so she met his eyes. “It is not your fault that Mr Potter has become dangerously obsessed with you. Nor is it your fault that you did not recognize the signs. You have not had training in such matters, true?”
Her doubts fled in the face of his certainty. “True, sir.” Then, “what do you think will happen to Harry?”
Snape folded his arms across his chest. “That will depend on you, Miss Granger. Should you press formal charges, Potter will almost certainly be involuntarily committed to St. Mungo’s for some time. If you choose not to, then it will be up to the Headmaster.”
“I need to press charges,” she replied slowly. “If I don’t, he’ll probably try again.”
“Almost certainly,” Snape agreed.
“So why do I feel like such a bitch for pressing charges?”
“Because he was your friend for several years, and you think you’re betraying him – the more so because he cannot defend himself at the moment.”
She gaped for a moment, and then her eyes narrowed. “How do you know what I’m thinking? Are you using Legilmency on me?”
He snorted derisively. “Hardly. Use that fine brain of yours for a moment. Spies must be astute students of human nature. That is how we learn to be what we are not.”
“I don’t believe you...sir.”
“Two points… to Gryffindor, Miss Granger. One for having the courage to speak your mind, and one for recognizing what I was doing.”
She opened her mouth and shut it again, obviously thinking hard. “You want me to press charges against Harry.”
The flat affirmative fell on her ears like stone. “Why?”
“Why do you think?”
Hermione considered this for some time, as she pared the mugwort roots. Finally she looked up again. “It’s not just because you don’t like him. You wouldn’t be that petty. You want him committed because he’s dangerous.”
“Yes. The Headmaster’s only recourse would be to expel him from school. This wouldn’t necessarily prevent him from attempting to kidnap you again.”
“An experience I’d as soon not repeat,” Hermione muttered as she set the last of the pared roots aside and carefully measured a tenth of an ounce of beeswax into a clean bowl. “I can’t find it in me to be mad at him any more, but that’s not going to stop me from doing the right thing.” She added three drops of liquidized rat and set it aside. “That needs to sit for two hours.”
“Yes, and you have an errand to do in the meantime.”
Her brow furrowed. “I don’t recollect any errands.”
“Do you wish to attempt to attend a week’s worth of classes with no wand? I’m sure Professor Flitwick would find it amusing for you to cast NEWT level Charms without one.”
That brought her head up with a jerk. “There aren’t any wand shops in Hogsmeade, and I don’t have permission to go to Diagon Alley.”
He let out a long-suffering sigh. “Must you be so dense? I shall escort you to Ollivander’s and back.”
“Oh.” Hermione rose and went over to the sink to clean the knife. “I’ll need to go by Gringott’s first.”
“Very well.” He opened the door for her as they left the lab, an old-fashioned courtesy that pleased her at some level. “We shall Apparate to Diagon Alley, perform our errands, and return to Hogwarts.”
“Yes, sir.” She grinned inwardly. “No dawdling.”
As they reached the front gates, Duster appeared out of nowhere and began winding around their ankles, effectively bringing their progress to a halt. Snape reached down and rubbed his ears, but the cat refused to be placated.
“I think he wants to come with us.”
“I think he’s trying to cadge a second lunch,” Snape returned without rancor. He settled the cat on his shoulder. “I’ll feed you when we return, miscreant.”
They Apparated into Diagon Alley, near Ollivander’s. Hermione took a moment to get her bearings, and headed toward the white marble bank at the end of the street, Snape following her silently. The presence of the Potions Master seemed to have an electrifying effect on the goblins of Gringott’s, for they fairly rushed to summon a cart for her.
They rode down to her vault, Hermione too busy concentrating on quieting her stomach to make conversation. When the cart clattered to a stop, she had to take a few deep breaths before she could get out. Snape raised an eyebrow but said nothing. She opened the door and looked inside. The monthly stipend from her parents had added up over the years. She counted out twenty galleons and closed the vault again.
“I hate these carts,” she said to Snape as she climbed in again. The cart took off with a jerk, effectively ending the conversation. By the time they reached the main floor again, her head was pounding and she was completely miserable. She leaned against the wall, and closed her eyes.
“Miss Granger?” Snape looked at her closely. A fine sheen of sweat covered her face, and she was much paler than she should be.
She grimaced as she battled against the waves of nausea that were sweeping over her. “Sorry, sir. It’s the carts.”
“Motion sickness?” He felt some sympathy for her; only as an adult had he outgrown the overwhelming urge to throw up when he rode the Gringotts’ carts. “Here, sit down for a moment.” He transfigured a chair for her and settled her into it competently. Duster transferred himself to her lap and began purring.
Her stomach calmed after a few minutes, and she took a long breath and looked up. “I’m sorry, Professor. It’s never been that bad before.”
“Usually motion-sickness goes away with age…” he thought for a moment, “unless… you’ve never ridden those infernal contraptions soon after Apparating.”
She rose, taking Duster in her arms. “You’re probably right – I usually take the Floo –“ Without any warning, the cat twisted in her grasp and lunged away. Hermione flailed wildly for a moment to keep her balance, and stumbled into Snape. Only his quick reflexes kept her on her feet. They both froze at the contact, his hands still on her arms, her hands on his chest.
The Potions Master reacted first, releasing her and taking a step backwards. Hermione dropped her hands and took a long shuddering breath. By mutual accord, they turned and slowly left Gringott’s and made their way back to Ollivander’s.
The wand-maker’s shop hadn’t changed at all over the years; even the old dusty chair was still the same. Mr Ollivander, his strange silvery eyes just slightly faded now, expressed his condolences for her loss – and was more than happy to sell Hermione a new wand. Finding the right wand was as quick and easy as it had been six years previously.
She flourished the sixteen inch piece of vine-wood, with its dragon heartstring core proudly. “It’s marvelous, sir. Sirs. It feels better than my old one!”
“Interesting,” the wand-maker intoned. “I remember every wand I’ve ever sold, as you know. This one is one and one-half inches longer than your previous wand. Has anything changed in your life recently?”
Snape snorted. “Plenty, Aristabulus. Now, are we quite finished? I have one or two more stops to make.”
He sighed as the door closed behind them. “Never let him get started, Miss Granger. He will talk your ear off.”
“Where are we going now?”
“Flourish and Blotts. They have finally procured a copy of Phials of Mystery: The Potions of Atlantis for me.”
Hermione looked up. “There’s only supposed to be half a dozen copies of that in existence! Could I…read it sometime?”
“Indeed you may, Miss Granger. There is an entire section devoted to Animagi.”
It wasn’t until after dinner that Madame Pomfrey pronounced Harry fit to be questioned. Hermione retraced her way to the Infirmary with a sinking feeling in her stomach, all her doubts spinning through her mind again. When she reached the Hospital Wing, she saw everyone waiting for her.
“We thought it best to enter en masse,” Professor McGonagall said. “That way we can all hear everything.” The Transfiguration professor studied her prize student. “Hermione, are you up to this?”
“I need to be, Professor.” She erased the quaver in her voice by sheer force of will. “This has to be done.” Out of the corner of her left eye, she caught Snape’s approving nod. For some reason, that made her feel much more confident. “I’m fine,” she repeated.
“Then let us go in to Mr Potter,” Albus said.
They entered the Infirmary, the Headmaster leading the way. Harry was propped up in his bed, looking a little miffed. He almost smiled when he saw Dumbledore, but his expression faded to a scowl as he caught sight of Professors Malfoy and Snape.
“Hello, Harry.” Dumbledore sat down beside the bed. “You’ve had quite a day.”
“What are they doing here?” Harry lifted a bandaged hand in the direction of the two Slytherins. “I don’t want to see them.”
“Rest assured, Mr. Potter, that I would rather not look upon you either,” Snape almost purred. “I am here solely at the behest of the Headmaster.”
“Harry, did you Stupefy Miss Granger last night?”
The young man gave the Headmaster a sidelong glance. “No.”
Hermione couldn’t stand it any longer, and pushed her way to the bed. “You liar! You did Stupefy me, and you locked me up in a house in Godric’s Hollow!”
“Hermione! What… How’d you…” Harry ground to a stop and stared. Surprise flitted over his face for a moment. He turned to the Headmaster. “Headmaster, Hermione is either ill or under some sort of curse. She’s been acting very oddly for most of this term.”
“I see,” Albus said seriously. “Please go on.”
“It’s Snape’s doing – ever since he convinced her to do that research project, she’s been spending all her time alone with him. She doesn’t even need to do that project to finish school! I told her this, but she wouldn’t listen to me. She never listens to me anymore.” Harry’s voice became nervous and panicky. “Please, Professor, you’ve got to believe me – Snape’s done something awful to Hermione!”
Only Minerva’s firm grip on Snape’s wand arm prevented the Potions Master from exploding during this soliloquy. Albus shot them a warning look and turned back to the bed. “Why didn’t you tell me this earlier, Harry?”
“I didn’t think you’d believe me,” he whispered. “You’ve stuck up for Snape every time I’ve tried to tell you what a bastard he really is. Him and Malfoy both – it’s Malfoy’s fault that Ron’s dead! He’s the one who should’ve sacrificed himself!” Harry pulled himself together with an effort. “She wasn’t going to get better as long as she was around Snape and Malfoy. I had to do something! I had to get her away from here!”
“I see.” Behind the Headmaster, Flitwick quietly began casting wards.
“I wasn’t going to hurt her – I was just going to keep her safe until I could break the curse. Then we’d get married and put it all behind us.” He grinned up at Dumbledore. “Now you can send her to St. Mungo’s and she’ll get help – and once the curse is broken, everything will be all right again.”
“Harry, did you cast a Stupefy hex on Miss Granger?”
“Well, yes – I needed to take her someplace safe.” He looked pleadingly at the Headmaster. “You understand, don’t you? I bought my parents’ old house in Godric’s Hollow and had it all fixed up for her. She told me she didn’t want to live at Grimmauld Place, so I thought this would be a nice surprise for her.”
“So you Stupefied her and took her to Godric’s Hollow. Then what?”
“I put her in a room in the basement – and took her wand away from her. Then I came back to Hogwarts. I didn’t think anyone would miss her till Monday.” The last was said a bit petulantly. “I snapped her wand just in case. The next morning, I brought her a good breakfast, and told her what I was doing and why. She’s all I have left; I have to take care of her!”
Albus shook his head sadly. “Harry, Hermione isn’t under any sort of curse, and she’s not sick.”
“She’s got to be! She would’ve agreed to marry me otherwise!” Harry looked around frantically. “Professor McGonagall, you know Hermione! Don’t you think she’s been acting oddly this term?”
“She’s been acting like any other normal Seventh Year student, Mr Potter. She’s very focused on her studies, and her schoolwork has always been important to her.”
“You’re in it too! You all are!” He tried to rise only to be held down by the mediwitch. “Hermione! I’m the only one you can trust! They’re going to hurt you! Aaauugh!” He collapsed as Poppy Pomfrey’s quietly spoken Somnulus spell took effect.
“I think we’ve all heard enough, Albus,” Lucius said slowly.
“Yes, I’m afraid we have.” The Headmaster turned to Hermione. “What do you want to do about Mr Potter?”
The moment of truth. Hermione took a long breath. “Sir, he kidnapped me and stole my wand. He is obviously in need of help. I will do whatever needs to be done to make sure he gets that help.”
“I thought you would do as much. There is an Auror in my office waiting to take your statement. Once that is done, he will take Mr Potter into custody and deliver him to St. Mungo’s.” He gave her a sad smile. “I have a few things to attend to, and I’m sure everyone else does also. The password is ‘chocolate frog’.”
She nodded and left the Infirmary, slowly making her way to the Headmaster’s office. “I hate it when the Headmaster does that,” she muttered to herself. “It’s like he’s reading my mind.”
“As much as I respect Albus, I have to agree with you,” said a voice from behind her.
She spun about, her wand out and a hex on her lips, relaxing as she identified Professor Snape. “Sorry, sir.”
“I would prefer you to err on the side of caution, Miss Granger.”
“I thought that ‘Constant Vigilance!’ was over now,” she replied glumly. “I suppose not.”
“Not ever. Not if you wish to live out your allotted span of days.” With that cheerful statement, he turned and vanished in the direction of the dungeons.
While Hermione gave her statement to a grizzled Auror in Dumbledore’s office, Snape entered his quarters feeling more and more elated. Potter would be out of his hair for some time. In a celebratory mood, he ordered a sumptuous dinner from the kitchen. “Yes, Duster, this has been a good day.”