Chapter 6: Threading the Loop
Snape was already sitting in the kitchen the next morning when Hermione entered. She attempted to hide her surprise, wrapping her robe tightly around herself.
“Good morning,” she said, and started to make tea.
He sat silently with his journal closed in his hands, staring out the window. There was another tray of fruit and pastries on the table. Minutes later, Hermione placed a cup of tea in front of him and sat down with her own.
“I think there's more I need to tell you,” she said.
He placed a hand on his cup and watched the steam rise without acknowledging her for a few moments.
“I'm listening,” he finally said.
Hermione stared into her teacup as she spoke.
“You must wait as long possible to tell Harry what he needs to know,” she said. “He will come to you in what he believes are your last moments alive. You will give him your memories, which he will take to Dumbledore's Pensieve.”
Snape cleared his throat. He took a sip of tea, but did not speak. Hermione hesitated, hoping she would be able to finish the conversation before he stormed off again.
“Seeing those memories, being there with you in those moments... it really has an impact on Harry,” she said. “So, I think... I think I have to tell you exactly what Harry needs to see.”
She paused, trying to gauge his reaction, which was impossible since he would not look at her.
“Go on,” he said at last.
“Okay,” said Hermione. She paused, then said, “If you'd prefer, I could write it down.”
“Just get on with it, Granger,” he said, setting his cup down on the table heavily. Hermione flinched.
“You must give him some of your memories of his mum – when the two of you first met, the day you came to Hogwarts together, getting sorted into different houses, the way James and Sirius singled you out from the beginning, her being upset with you for making the wrong sort of friends, your falling out with her...”
Snape had not moved a muscle, his knuckles white as he picked up his cup again.
“Then, ah... how you tried to save her from V- the Dark Lord, going to Dumbledore, turning a spy...” Hermione continued, trailing off as she watched him react to her words.
Snape turned his head away from her even more, his shoulders rising slightly with tension.
“Your, ah, reaction to her death, your promise to keep Harry safe, conversations you had with Dumbledore throughout the years Harry was in school, and... the moment Dumbledore tells you about Harry's fate.”
He looked down, his hair falling completely over his face.
“Anything else?” he asked in a strangled voice.
Hermione licked her lips and took a breath.
“You, ah... you die looking into his eyes,” she said softly.
He made a strange sound that sounded almost like a laugh, and his body shook. The teacup crashed to the floor as he swept his hand off the table and cradled his head. Hermione sat frozen in uncertainty over what to do or say next.
Another strange sound escaped him, this time a strangled cry, followed by a loud gasp for air. Hermione stood quietly, intending to back slowly out of the room.
“When?” he asked, as she got up.
“Not this week,” she said. “But soon.”
Hermione left, and on her way through the living room she heard Snape let out a pained sound. She had expected cold anger or awkward silence, not a complete emotional breakdown. She hid out in her room, giving him as much space within his own quarters as she could. He probably would not speak to her again before the battle.
It was a great surprise to Hermione when later that night he knocked on her door. She jumped off of the bed and cracked open the door to find Snape looking emotionlessly at her.
“It is time for you to talk to the portrait,” he said. “I've moved it to a secure location for this purpose.”
Hermione stared up at him, his face blank and stoic as always.
“Okay,” she said. “I'll be out in a minute.”
She grabbed Harry's cloak and stuffed it into her robe pocket. Snape was in the living room waiting for her next to the door.
“Where are we going?” she asked. “I assume I need to be invisible?”
He nodded. Hermione pulled out the cloak and started to pull it over herself. She grinned as Snape's eyes widened slightly.
“I'm sure you've wondered how I hid from you so well that night in the Forest of Dean,” she said. “This is Harry's... or rather, it was his father's.”
Snape's face grew stonier.
“Two generations of idiotic escapades after-hours, finally explained,” he said dryly. “At least Potter left it in more responsible hands. I'm surprised Weasley wasn't the one to inherit it.”
Hermione did not answer as she pulled the cloak over her head. He led her out of the corner cabinet and then out of his office. They walked to the top of one of the castle towers and entered what appeared to be a broom closet. It was actually an empty office, which must have been unused for many years. There was a thick layer of dust covering the desk, the simple wooden chairs, and the empty bookshelf in the corner.
Dumbledore's portrait frame was propped up in the chair behind the desk. Hermione removed the cloak as Snape shut the door behind them and reinforced the lock with a few spells. The portrait frame was empty.
“Where is he?” she asked.
“He'll be back,” said Snape.
They stood silently watching and waiting together. Finally, the portrait made its entrance.
“Miss Granger?” it asked. “Severus? What's happened?”
Severus sneered at the portrait.
“Don't act as if you have no idea what might bring her here. I'll let Granger explain.”
Hermione stepped forward and pulled the Time-Turner out of her shirt.
“I suppose you recognize this,” she said. The portrait nodded.
“Indeed, I most certainly do... but how have you come to possess it?” the portrait asked. “This is not part of the plan, Severus, and most distressing. This is the first I have seen of Miss Granger.”
“I am not the Hermione from this time,” she said. “I never came to get the tTime-Turner, because I never got your message in the book. It's a long story. I did not find the message or the Time-Turner until years after... er, after Professor Snape died.”
The portrait drew itself up and said, “Then you have ignored my instructions to stay within the safe limits of time travel?”
“No! Well... yes, I suppose I did,” she said. “Only, I had to do it, because Professor Snape never actually died. He came to me in the future, not too long after I found the message in the book and retrieved the tTime-Turner. I wasn't going to use it, but he told me I must come back and give him a potion that he worked on for years after the battle, which will allow him to fake his own death.”
The portrait's eyes gleamed.
“Intriguing,” it said. “And yet, not entirely surprising.”
“Perhaps not to you,” said Snape, crossing his arms. “I was ambushed by this version of Granger in the woods, hiding under Potter's sodding Invisibility Cloak, I might add. One begins to wonder if you ever intended for me to be able to protect him at all.”
The portrait did not address Snape, but said to Hermione, “While this situation is hardly ideal, it is possible to come out of it without damaging time... as I'm sure you've realized, brilliant child.”
Hermione scowled at the portrait's patronizing tone.
“Yes. A time loop has been created,” she said. “If done right, it could be nearly as safe as normal Time-Turner use.”
Severus made an impatient sound.
“We need to know when and how Granger can return to her own time,” he said. “The – event – for which she must be present will happen soon.”
The portrait studied them silently.
“You both should know the answer to that already,” it said. Hermione closed her eyes.
“The only safe course of action is to remain in the loop, ensuring everything happens as it should, until the moment your other self leaves in the future,” continued the portrait. “Jumping back to your present time, even after crucial events have come to pass, is far riskier. For none of us can predict what small, seemingly insignificant outcomes might be the result of your stabilizing presence in the past.”
Hermione opened her eyes, trying to remain calm. She had known what the portrait would say, but the confirmation was hard to hear.
“I have to live out the next three years in hiding,” she said.
“If you do not, you risk marring the fabric of time,” the portrait said.
All three of them were silent for a few minutes.
“Of course, the risk is relatively low in this particular situation,” the portrait mused. “As long as Severus is not discovered after supposedly dying, nothing outside of the loop should be affected.”
“However, time is a tricky thing,” said the portrait. “You have taken your particular thread and doubled back... not an enormous distance, but during a time of great turmoil and complexity, wrapped in prophecy. Once you've made it past these unstable events, I imagine it would be possible, though inadvisable, to skip ahead.”
“Have you ever attempted needlework, by chance?” asked the portrait.
“Ah... no,” she said. “Just knitting.”
“You can't predict when the thread will snag,” the portrait said. “The needle usually sails smoothly through a simple pattern, but sometimes the thread seems to get hung up on nothing at all and quickly creates such a knot that it must be broken. You are the needle, and time will follow you back to the present. If you rush things, you increase the chances there will be a snag. Whether or not that snag will ultimately cause a flaw in the pattern is the question. The difference between needlework and time travel, Miss Granger, is that you cannot go back to rework the design again.”
Snape was silent, but Hermione could hear him pacing behind her.
“I understand,” she said.
“I am sorry I do not have better news for you,” it said.
The portrait grimaced and slipped out of the frame. Hermione turned around to face Snape.
“Well, I suppose you won't have to go into hiding alone,” she said. She pulled the cloak over her head again. He stared at the spot where she stood, then went to release the spells on the door.
When they got back to his quarters, he disappeared into the kitchen. Hermione sat down wearily on the sofa and let reality set in. Snape returned and held handed her a glass. He then lifted his own.
“To our great leader, Albus-sodding-Dumbledore,” he said. “Fucking over those loyal to him long after his death.”
“He didn't tell me to do this,” she pointed out. “You did.”
Snape glared at her and clinked his glass against hers before taking a swig.
“The portrait could have refused to tell you where the Time-Turner was hidden,” he said.
“No, because it already knew that you would come tell me to go back in time,” she said.
“If the portrait had kept its mouth shut, I would have died and that would not have been possible,” he replied.
“Do you want to die?” she asked incredulously.
“Do you want to spend the next three years pretending not to exist?” he asked. “I'm not looking forward to that prospect, either, I might remind you.”
“Fine!” she said. “I suppose I could just return to my own time right now and leave you to die from blood loss after that potion wears off! I'm sorry I broke the rules of time travel to save your sorry arse!”
He laughed and said, “You should have realized by now that risking your life for my sorry arse was a bad deal. Have a drink, Granger, you look like you need it.”
She looked down at the amber liquid and said, “I'm not much of a drinker.”
He threw back the last of his own and set the glass down. Hermione took a modest sip from her glass.
“Why argue?” she asked. “It's obviously meant to happen this way. I never decided to use that Time-Turner. You just happened to live. It's a time loop. Not inevitable, but hard to avoid and impossible to stop happening now that it's started.”
“I understand the theory,” he said.
“I'm not upset about having to stay,” she said after another sip from her glass.
He scoffed and said, “Don't lie to me, Granger.”
“I'm not lying. I've suspected this is what I would have to do since I got here, but it didn't seem real until the portrait said it.”
He looked at her.
“Where will you hide?” he asked.
“I have a few ideas,” she said. “I think... Australia.”
“What's in Australia?” he asked. “The magical community there is small and segregated into isolated groups.”
Hermione smiled and said, “Sounds like the perfect place to hide for three years. Although, I might live as a Muggle.”
He was silent.
“You could come with me,” she said hesitantly.
“I was under the impression that living with me was akin to torture,” he said.
She frowned and asked, “Why would you think that?”
He blinked at her.
“You seem unhappy,” he said. “You do not have a naturally melancholy disposition, thus you must find this situation intolerable.”
“Well, it is dull essentially being under house arrest,” she said. “It's nothing you've done, though.”
“I was unaware that a lack of conversational skills and an indifference to hot meals made one a satisfactory roommate,” he replied.
She laughed and said, “Well, when you put it that way, you're actually an ideal roommate. For me, anyway. I'd rather read than talk most days. No offense, but I haven't been sitting around hoping you'd want to have a chat. Also, I'm a terrible cook. I lived on sandwiches and take-out before I came back here.”
He got up and went to refill his glass. When he returned, he lit a fire and settled back into his chair. It was the first time he had done so since Hermione arrived. The room was generally warm enough without it, but the charmed fire took the mild dampness out of air that was normally present.
“What was your life like before I told you to come back here?” he asked after a while.
“Ah, fairly dull,” she said. “Normal, I suppose. I work for the Ministry. I have my own flat with Crookshanks. I go out occasionally, but spend far too much time as a hermit, reading... or so I've been told.”
“I'm sorry,” he said.
“For what?” she asked.
“For bringing you back to events you've spent three years trying to forget,” he said. “For what I must tell Potter. For making you relive it.”
Hermione looked away.
“It's okay,” she said.
“It's not,” he insisted.
She caught his eyes and tried to reassure him, saying, “I'll be fine.”
He swirled the last of his drink in his glass and said, “You cannot know that.”
Hermione refrained from answering that she could and did. It would be difficult, staying in the castle as the battle raged, unable to save any others who would die that night – but she would do it.
“Who ends the Dark Lord?” he asked suddenly.
Hermione kept her face carefully blank.
“I don't think I should say,” she said. “Unnecessary details.”
“Permit me, then, my predictions. I've had a lot of time to ponder the possible outcomes,” he said.
“Who do you think it will be?” she asked with genuine curiosity.
“Minerva,” he said. “Unless she's taken out first protecting the students – she was an Auror for ten years in her youth.”
“Really?” asked Hermione. “I had no idea. Who else?”
“Molly Weasley. You've never seen her duel,” he said. “She is the definition of fearless in a fight – her children get their recklessness from her.”
Hermione watched him shift positions in his chair.
“Perhaps one of his own,” he said. “There are more than a few who would end him if they had the opportunity.”
Hermione nodded, eyes wide.
“Or...” he paused, and searched her face. “You.”
“All women,” Hermione noted, pointedly looking away. “Any reason for that?”
“The Dark Lord does not believe witches to be as powerful as wizards, so he will not expect it... especially if that witch is a young Muggleborn such as yourself.”
“Well, he's wrong on both counts,” said Hermione. “There's evidence that witches and those with Muggle blood in their veins often have more powerful natural abilities and are more easily able to exercise control over their magic at a young age.”
Snape stared at her.
“Unless nobody kills the Dark Lord,” he said. “You've never said whether he was defeated in your present time.”
Hermione blinked in surprise.
“Well, if he hadn't been defeated, I could hardly have a Ministry job, could I?” she asked.
He did not look entirely convinced, so she softly said, “He dies. It ends soon... here, at Hogwarts.”