Chapter 4: Following Time
The feeling of being followed continued to bother Hermione for the next few days. She had dreams of Snape every night, sometimes waking more than four times. Dreamless Sleep did not seem to be living up to its name, but she did not want to increase her dosage and become reliant on the potion. She was now perpetually sleep-deprived and cranky. She also felt she was being watched at work, which was likely true.
By Wednesday, she was very much looking forward to seeing Ron and forgetting about her growing neurotic tendencies for a few hours.
Work was more enjoyable with Gallus around, even if it sometimes felt that he was breathing down her neck. He insisted that she wear department-issued protective gloves at all times even though so far they had not found anything with even a hint of magic on it.
Gallus was not one for small talk, and Hermione avoided mentioning any subject remotely related to the Department, so they often worked in silence.
Gallus left just before lunch, and Hermione began to feel increasingly uneasy in the storage room. She intended to eat in the courtyard as usual, but decided she needed to get out of the building. She ate a few bites of her lunch and set out for a long walk through the park.
Her uneasiness followed her, prompting her to frequently pause and peer at her surroundings. After about fifteen minutes of anxious walking, she turned back. Halfway out of the park, Hermione began to feel extremely nauseous. She walked faster, trying to ignore the knots and roiling unrest in her stomach.
It did not work. After a few minutes, Hermione dashed behind some bushes and hurled her meager lunch against the base of a nearby tree.
“Ugh,” she groaned, quickly cleaning herself up. She went home early, despite feeling much better after the one episode.
By the time she arrived at her flat she felt better than she had in a week. She opened the door, planning to hop straight into the shower in preparation for Ron's arrival in a few hours.
“Crookshanks, I'm home,” she called as she opened the door and stepped inside. She frowned when he did not immediately show himself.
“Oh, don't be a grump tonight, Crooks. Ron's coming over, and I expect you to be nice to him! Crookshanks?”
Hermione peeked into the closet, where he sometimes liked to hide, but it was empty. Annoyed, she walked toward the kitchen. Crookshanks was probably asleep in his basket.
As she turned the corner, Hermione stopped in her tracks and screamed. Someone was standing in her kitchen – someone who looked exactly like Severus Snape.
Her wand was drawn within seconds and pointed at him. She stammered at him as he stood stock still with his empty hands in the air.
“D-don't you move – don't you dare move!” she said, her voice strangled, her mind clouding with fear and confusion. She was losing her damn mind. Mental illness did not run in her family, but it must be hidden somewhere in her genes.
“Who are you?” she asked, flicking her wand threateningly at him. He opened his mouth, but did not seem to know what to say.
“I am who I appear to be,” he said at last.
“That's impossible,” she hissed. “Snape is dead.”
He held her gaze with those familiar, soul-wrenchingly memorable eyes – pitch-black marbles framed by dark brows.
“No,” he said firmly. “I most certainly am not.”
“I – then what – how? How? I watched you die. You're dead. I mean, not you... you can't be him. Snape is dead.”
“Hermione – ”
She flinched, and he paused.
“Miss Granger. If you do not calm down and listen to me you risk tearing the very fabric of time itself.”
That got her attention, and her wand wavered a bit lower.
“What does this have to do with the fabric of time?” she asked suspiciously, a chill suddenly shaking her. Her arm dropped a bit farther. She felt as if she might float right out of her body.
“Sit down,” he commanded, gesturing to her kitchen table.
He slowly moved to sit in the chair across from her. Hermione felt her arm fall woodenly to her side. She nodded curtly and dropped into her chair like a sack of potatoes. Her legs would have given out soon anyway.
They stared at one another for a few long, eery moments. Hermione could not stop shivering and it seemed that every hair on her body was standing on end.
“Here,” he said, placing something on the table between them. “Eat this.”
It was chocolate. Hermione took a bite.
“Now,” he said, after watching her for a minute. “There is much to discuss.”
Hermione laughed and he gave her a quelling look. She quickly ate some more chocolate.
“Obviously, I did not die that night when you and Potter left me in the shack,” he said. “I have been fully alive ever since.”
Hermione took a deep breath and nodded.
“Okay. That sounds... impossible. But... okay.”
Again he gave her a look that told her she had better get herself together and listen.
“Ah, go on,” she said. “Just tell me everything.”
Snape took a breath and folded his hands on the table.
“I suppose I shall start with the object you've recently acquired from Hogwarts.”
Hermione involuntarily glanced across the kitchen to where it sat, next to a bowl of fruit. He followed her gaze.
“You might have considered actually hiding it,” he said in exasperation, and a short silence followed.
“Before Ron Weasley arrives tonight, you are going to use the Time-Turner Dumbledore left you to go back in time,” he said. “You will return to the night Weasley rejoined your younger self and Potter in the woods – the night Potter retrieved the Sword of Gryffindor and destroyed the first Horcrux.”
Hermione laughed hysterically, and Snape looked as if he was hanging onto the last bit of his patience.
“Oh, am I?” she asked. “Is this another dream? Am I dreaming?”
Hermione began pinching herself. Snape gave her a pitying look.
“I am afraid this is cold, hard reality, Granger,” he said. “As ill-conceived as it seems, you must do this. It is how I managed to survive Nagini's attack.”
Hermione stared at him in silence.
“How?” she asked at last. “How, exactly, does my going back to that night save your life?”
“If you are prepared to pay attention, I will explain everything,” he said. “Finish your chocolate.”
She took another bite and asked, “What have you done with Crookshanks?”
Snape jerked his head toward Crookshanks' basket, which was sealed shut.
“He is safely tucked away for the time being,” he said. “The blasted creature bit me three times before I got him subdued.”
Suddenly aware of the muffled yowls of her pet, Hermione finished her chocolate in silence and took a steadying breath.
“Okay,” she said. “So, you're telling me that I apparently decide tonight that I am going to ignore the massively horrendous ramifications of going back three years in time... and that I find a way to save you, even though Dumbledore warned me only to attempt this task within the safe five-hour time frame. Why would I decide to do that?”
Snape stared at her, unblinking, and said, “Because I showed up today and told you to do it.”
Hermione closed her eyes, brow furrowed, and said, “That doesn't make sense.”
Her eyes snapped open.
“Only, of course it does,” she said. “A closed loop. The only relatively safe way to alter time. You can't pin down what set if off. No beginning, no end... it just is.”
Snape nodded and said, “Indeed.”
Hermione's clarity of mind had returned.
“Tell me everything I need to know,” she said. “We only have a few hours until Ron shows up.”
Snape reached into the pocket of his robe and pulled out a small vial. He placed it on the table and Hermione's eyes examined the simply-cut crystal vessel that contained a silvery-grey potion.
“You will take this potion with you and give it to me that night in the woods. You will find me hiding underneath a large pine tree after I've watched Weasley and Potter destroy the locket.”
“What is it?” she asked, still staring at the potion.
“This potion is what saves my life,” he said, picking it up again and staring at the liquid inside. “It is a my own invention, based on the Draught of the Living Death. It will cause me to appear to be dead shortly after Nagini's bite, slow the spread of her venom, and essentially place my body under stasis.”
Hermione gaped at him.
“How long have you been working on that?” she asked.
He met her eyes and set the vial down again.
“Three years,” he said. “It is not as refined as I would like. I remember its effects to be intensely painful, though effective.”
Hermione continued to gape at him, imagining him slaving over a cauldron every day since the war ended, knowing he must succeed or time itself would be torn.
“But...” She licked her lips. “How do you survive, after that? I remember... you lost so much blood. Your, ah, neck was – ”
Snape slowly pulled his hair back and tucked it behind his ear, revealing a long, jagged and bubbled scar that stretched from his collarbone, up the side of his neck, over his cheek, and ended just below his temple.
“You hide in the castle until the night of the battle. Once Voldemort brings a seemingly dead Potter up to the castle, you come to my aid with the antivenin and Blood Replenishing Potion.”
He placed a handful of filled vials on the table as well.
“You do the best you can with the wound. Thank Merlin you read enough to know the basics of healing already.”
“Well, I did seriously consider going into Healing, you know,” she said. “I... I'm sorry I won't be able to do better.”
Snape let his hair fall back over the scar and blinked at her.
“It is the least of my concerns,” he said. “It causes me no pain, and I never had reason to be prone to vanity as it was.”
Hermione looked away and then snapped her head back to him.
“What about your body? I mean... you were buried. There was a funeral with a body. Who... who was it?” she asked.
“An unknown,” he replied. “A fallen Death Eater you found and transfigured into my likeness, dressed in my bloodied clothes. I believe you exaggerated the extent to which the snake ruined my face, to make sure the identity was not questioned.”
Hermione nodded. “I suppose that transfiguration of that sort would be perfectly safe, er... on a corpse. Makes you wonder how many magical folk have faked their deaths in that manner.”
Snape simply stared unblinkingly at her. Hermione fiddled with the vials on the table, then pocketed them.
“How do I get back? I know this Time-Turner should be capable of bringing me back, but... I've never used one to return to the present. There isn't much in the way of information on that aspect of time travel.”
He gave her a long, silent, unnerving look.
“You will learn more from Dumbledore's portrait while you are hiding in the castle,” he said. “I am not an expert on the intricacies of Time Magic.”
“Dumbledore was, of course,” said Hermione, shaking her head. “I wonder if he ever...”
She trailed off.
“I suppose the question really is, how many times do you suppose he turned time?” she asked.
“That is a subject on which I prefer not to speculate,” said Snape.
He checked the time.
“There is not much time left. Here are the exact calculations you'll need to go back to the proper time.”
He handed her a small, folded piece of parchment.
“You must go to Potter and ask for his Invisibility Cloak,” he said. “A powerful wizard cannot always be fooled by a Disillusionment Charm.”
“You mean, you might kill me if I try to follow you while Disillusioned in the forest,” she said. His gaze told her she was correct.
“There will be other times it will be necessary. You must not be seen by anyone other than myself in the past,” he said. “Potter trusts you fully – he will give you the cloak.”
Hermione nodded and said, “Yes, he will. Ah... shall I go now?”
“Yes. I will wait here,” Snape replied.
“If Ron comes over early...” she said anxiously.
“I am capable of handling Weasley without being seen,” he said calmly.
“Okay,” she said. Hermione sucked in a breath, hands on her hips.
“I'll be back soon.”
She hurried out of the flat and Apparated to Grimmauld Place. She hoped Harry was home. By a stroke of luck, he was, and Ginny was not.
“Hermione?” he asked, opening the door.
“Hey, Harry,” she said, stepping inside. “Sorry to, ah, pop in like this... but I have a favor to ask.”
He shut the door and walked with her to the living room.
“What is it?” he asked.
“Can I borrow your cloak?” she asked quickly. “I can't say why, but it's important.”
Harry grinned and said, “Getting up to some mischief without me? C'mon that's not fair.”
“Harry, this is serious. You know I wouldn't ask if it wasn't – I'm not Ron.”
“I know... I don't think you've asked me for the cloak at all since we were at Hogwarts,” he said.
“It's not to do with work, is it? The Department of Mysteries is not something to mess around with, Hermione. They won't hesitate to modify your memories.”
“I know, Harry. Please just trust me.”
“Okay. Okay... here,” he said.
He pulled it out of his robe pocket. Hermione gave him a curious look.
“I like to keep it on me,” he said sheepishly. “Even though I'm not in the field yet.”
“Harry, I'll bring it back as soon as I can. Hopefully later tonight,” she said uncertainly.
Harry put his hand on her shoulder.
“Hey – it's okay,” he said. “I'm almost a real Auror, I can take care of myself. Whatever it is you're doing, be careful.”
“Thank you, Harry,” she said softly. “I'll see you soon.”
Hermione left and Apparated back to her flat. She turned the corner and froze. Ron crossed the street halfway down the block and walked away from her flat, his head down, hands tucked inside his robe pockets. She watched him go, her stomach dropping. He kicked a stray can as hard as he could before ducking into an alley and Disapparating.
She noticed a balled up wad of parchment on the floor outside her door. She picked it up and un-crumpled it.
Something came up with work – I can't pass up this opportunity. We'll talk soon.
It was a strange experience to read her own handwriting on a note she had not written. She tucked the note away in her robe and opened the door to her flat.
She heard a low chuckle come from the kitchen, accompanied by Crookshanks' yowl. Crooks ran out to greet her and she picked him up.
“Are you laughing about this?” she demanded, confronting Snape, who was still sitting at her kitchen table. “Ron's just left looking like a sad puppy, after reading this – ”
She shoved the crumpled letter in his face.
“What spell did you use to copy my handwriting?” she asked. “It's really good.”
He smirked at her.
“No time for that,” he said. “Do you have the cloak?”
“Of course,” she said. “Are you coming with me to the Forest of Dean? I'll have to turn time somewhere near the lake.”
“If you wish me to,” he said. She shook her head.
“Probably best you don't,” she said. “Where have you been hiding since the battle?”
He did not answer. He checked the time again. Hermione reflexively checked her watch as well.
“You leave the present at six thirty-seven,” he said. “Seven minutes.”
“Does the exact time matter?” she asked. He gave her a serious look.
“Better safe than sorry,” he said. “There's no telling what ripples the smallest of deviations could produce.”
“I know,” she said, her voice pitching higher as she began to panic. “Merlin, what if I ruin everything? What if I forget something... what if – ”
He placed the Time-Turner over her head and grabbed her clammy hands. His palms were calloused and warm.
“Breathe, Granger,” he said. “Think. Prepare yourself. You have everything you need.”
“Take care of Crookshanks,” she said, and realized she was squeezing his fingers with a death grip.
“No need,” he said. “Your blasted orange menace will hardly know you've been gone.”
“You're different,” she said, narrowing her eyes at him.
He dropped her hands.
“Go,” he said.
Hermione nodded and took a step backwards.
“Okay. Ah, goodbye.”
She threw the cloak over herself and left the flat, Apparating immediately to the lake in the Forest of Dean. She glanced at her watch again – five minutes. She scanned the landscape, looking for the largest old pine she could see. There was a leaning pine not far from the lake surrounded by thick underbrush. She ran to it, used her wand to blast some of the brush out of the way, and ducked underneath.
Then her heart stopped. She couldn't be inside the tree! What if she arrived while Snape was still underneath?
She ran back out from under the pine and looked around for a hiding spot that was sufficiently overgrown nearby. She checked the time again – two minutes. She stood uncomfortably in waiting, her heart racing. This was a terrible idea, but she had no choice. Time had been altered and she had to complete the loop. She stared at her watch as the second hand moved – one minute.
What was she going to say to past-Snape? He had not told her – why hadn't he told her? She took a breath and let it out slowly as the second hand completed another lap. It was time.
Her hands shook as she spun the rings in the exact combination written on the paper Snape had given her earlier. Her vision blurred and brightened, the foliage around her shrunk a bit, and time turned... and turned... and then slowed, making Hermione's stomach protest. She wobbled on her feet as her vision cleared.