*warning: HBP Spoilers*
*~*~*~*~* Chapter One â€“ Back to Hogwarts ~*~*~*~*~
The morning sun was rising just over the lake as Hermione Granger started on the path up to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. It was a place she called home up to eleven years ago and it felt like she was finally coming home, even if it was only for a year. Just as she got about ten feet from the front door of the ancient structure a voice spoke from her right side. â€śWell, well, well. Hermione Granger has come back to Hogwarts. I shall strike up the schoolâ€™s choir at once.â€ť
A smile formed on her lips as Blaise Zabini started making his way from the direction of one of the greenhouses to her. She and the handsome black wizard had befriended each other during the war but their animosity was dropped during the old Slug Club parties. He had joined the side of the light after Dumbledoreâ€™s death and had been a real value to the winning side of the war. He had recently became the schoolâ€™s Defense Against the Dark Arts professor and managed to stay in the position for three years so far. It was a record.
â€śOh, behave yourself,â€ť she chided and began walking side by side with him towards the castle, â€śYou know you are glad to see me again, Zabini.â€ť
He faked a gasp as he said, â€śIâ€™d never admit it.â€ť
Her laugh brought a smirk to the young manâ€™s aristocratic features. They were not close friends but enjoyed jabbing at each other. Actually, he preferred to be snarky and she gave as well as she got, which made them friends all things considering. â€śOf course not, youâ€™re a Slytherin to the core.â€ť
â€śTrue and you have the word â€“Gryffindor â€“ tattooed to your left-arse cheek.â€ť
â€śYouâ€™ve peeked?â€ť She stopped and gave him a questioning look but then when he appeared to be stunned that his kidding was true, Hermioneâ€™s playful smirk told him that she was kidding. He looked very relieved as she said, â€śWell, it is good to see you again, even if you wonâ€™t admit it.â€ť
He opened the door for her as he replied, â€śI shall inform the Headmistress that you are here.â€ť
Before she could respond or step a foot in the castle, the voice of Headmistress McGonagall came from about two feet in front of them. â€śThat will not be necessary, Blaise.â€ť
Hermione smiled as she held out her hand to her former Head of House but was pulled into a hug as the older woman spoke, â€śIt is good to see you again, Hermione. You look well.â€ť
â€śI am doing quite well. Thank you.â€ť
â€śAre you sure I can not talk you into taking the position for more than a year? Good Potions mistresses are hard to find,â€ť McGonagall stated as the three stood just in the door of the school.
She shifted the weight of her heavy bag from one shoulder to the other but was stopped as Zabini took it from her. He may have been a Slytherin but he was always a gentleman to the people he liked and she considered herself lucky to be one of the few that fell into that category. Hermione sighed as she responded, â€śWhen I got my Mistress status, I did it as part of my dual degree from the university. I had not planned on actually using it. I am in the middle of a re-evaluation of my career.â€ť
That was only partly true. She never thought she would teach Potions at Hogwarts and she was quite happy as an Unspeakable, but not many knew her real job. The headmistress did but was putting up a good show because she was one of only three that knew why she was really at Hogwarts. Teaching children was not the reason nor was it her true job.
â€śSo, we are actually stuck with you a full year? Rumors in the staff room were it was only for six months.â€ť
Hermione smiled and fought back the urge to stick out her tongue at her friend, as she knew he was starting to get snarky again. Many things about him reminded her of Snape but that was not necessarily a bad thing, even though most would think it was an insult to his part. After Dumbledoreâ€™s death, the wizarding world wanted Snapeâ€™s head on a platter, but it had been shown that he had some role in the fall of Voldemort. Most thought the worst of him for killing one of the most powerful and loving wizard(s) the world had ever seen. But a few were unsure what to think of the whole situation.
She turned to him as she said, â€śDonâ€™t always listen to the rumor mill. But yes, I will finish the year off.â€ť
He dramatically rolled his eyes and stated, â€śThen I shall make sure my stock of Firewhiskey is filled then if I get another Gryffindor to deal with for a full year.â€ť
â€śYou keep this up and I might take it personal, Zabini,â€ť she snipped but he simply smirked as he walked towards the stairs the castle with her heavy bag on his shoulder.
Before he got two steps up, McGonagall said, â€śYou are going in the wrong direction. She will be staying in Sev- Snapeâ€™s old rooms.â€ť
That bit of information made the man freeze almost in mid-step but he turned to face them as he asked, â€śWouldnâ€™t it be more comfortable up near Gryffindor Tower than in the dungeons?â€ť
â€śIt would, but it would make being your new Co-Head a lot harder,â€ť the headmistress replied and turned to lead Hermione outside again. The part about being in Snapeâ€™s old quarters had been Hermioneâ€™s bossâ€™s suggestion but being Co-Head of Slytherin House was McGonagallâ€™s suggestion. The two women quietly walked away from the front door to enable them to talk freely about her true reason for being assigned as the new Potions professor.
As they walked along the perimeter of Hogwarts, Hermione started their new conversation. â€śThank you for letting me take the position for the year, Headmistress McGonagall.â€ť
â€śPlease call me Minerva now, Hermione. I have absolutely no problem with you teaching Potions for the year. I am sure you will do fine. Slughornâ€™s decision to really retire was not unexpected but he did lack in certain areas. I have no doubt that you will be the best since -â€ť
â€śSince Snape,â€ť Hermione finished her sentence for her. â€śYes, Snapeâ€™s teaching style was harsh but many learned a lot from him, even if they would never admit it. Teaching the art of Potions can be very stressful with a classroom of children not knowing how dangerous the items they are handling are. But in my last year here with Slughorn teaching, there were more accidents than I ever saw while Snape was teaching.â€ť
The older woman nodded her head as they continued walking. â€śYou are right. There was only about an average of three accidents in the labs a year compared to Horaceâ€™s usual eight.â€ť
Hermione felt the warmth of the sun on her back as the sun rose higher in the sky and changed the hues of the clouds from blue to white. She spoke, â€śI was surprised to learn that Blaise had not taken Snapeâ€™s quarters when he began teaching here and took the role of Head of House.â€ť
â€śYes, but I had offered it to him for him to be closer to the common room but he is off the first floor and not that far from them. I think he was a secret passage down to there to keep an eye on them. He said he had spent enough years of living underground and I can understand that.â€ť
â€śOf course, I can too. But still it seems a little odd for him not to take them. I mean to us as Gryffindor I can fully appreciate that but is that understandable for a Slytherin? Hmm.\"
McGonagall said, â€śWell, during your investigation you can look into that, if there is anything more to it.â€ť
Hermione nodded in agreement as she pondered over it but responded, â€śThank you for keeping all this quiet. It will be necessary due to the circumstances.â€ť
The walked around the back of the huge castle side by side and enjoyed the peace and quiet the morning before the students were to arrive the next day. Minerva replied, â€śI must admit that I would like to know the truth myself. Itâ€™s been a hard pill to shallow. Very hard, he was almost like a son to Albus and I.â€ť
After Dumbledoreâ€™s death, it became common knowledge that the former headmaster and the current headmistress had once been in love but were working together as close friends. â€śYes, I am sure it was for most of the teaching staff. Even for me as his former student, it was hard. But I was chosen for this job as being the best-unbiased opinion the Ministry could find without announcing that they were looking. The Prophet would have a field day if they heard about the investigation.â€ť
They were coming around the castleâ€™s front doors again as McGonagall replied, â€śTrue, most strongly believe the worst, especially Mister Potter. But I know you will find the truth no matter what it is.â€ť
â€śYes, Harry does not know that I am doing this investigation. He knows that I am an Unspeakable but thinks I am re-evaluating my career, which is the best option at this point. I am not sure which way I want this to turn out. But I have not doubt I will know by the end of the year where Severus Snape true loyalties laid.â€ť
~*~*~ To Be Continued *~*~*
Dark Mask of Truth by granger2ss