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Chapter Nine 

The Game is Afoot 

Severus wasted no time taking the vial he confiscated from Lupin to his private laboratory in the dungeons. On his way down into the deep recesses of the castle, several of his students tried to stop him to ask him questions about their recent essay assignment, due next week. Unable to waste any time, Severus blew past the inquisitive students. He couldn't be distracted right now. 

When he entered his lab, the door closed and locked itself behind him. His underground lab had everything one would expect to find in a place of research. Along the east wall there were two large bookshelves full of various books. A large cabinet rested along the south wall and contained all of Severus' potion-making tools and ingredients. After someone had broken into his stores a few days before, he'd felt it was necessary to relocate his private stores. Stacked neatly on the west wall were several lab rats of varying species. 

Severus flicked his wand, and as he approached the large desk where he concocted all of his potions, several books flew from his bookshelves and placed themselves carefully on the desktop. 

As he carefully slipped his wand inside his robes, Severus walked around the desk and opened the largest book. He casually flipped through the pages, coming to a stop on page 327. He read the page to himself. After a few short minutes, he turned around and took a small journal out of a secret cubbyhole in the cabinet behind him. 

Returning to his desk and the book, he took up his quill, opened the journal, and began to jot down notes in it. He stopped writing suddenly and smelled the contents of the vial he brought with him. Then he returned to the journal and wrote, Unknown Potion is Periwinkle in color and has an addictive aroma. 
Severus looked up from his journal and stared off into space for a few seconds. Then, using a small dropper, he took a small sample of what remained in the vial and put it on a glass saucer next to him. He pulled out his wand, pointed it at the sample, and said, "Revelare." 

A silver mist began to form over the saucer. Small bolts of electricity discharged within the silver cloud, giving it the appearance of a small lightning storm. Alarmed, Severus took a step back. He watched as the small storm grew in intensity. Suddenly the glass saucer shattered, forcing Severus to quickly look away. When the glass shards had all settled to the floor, he looked back and saw that the silver mist was gone. 

"Interesting," he said to himself. He returned to his journal and wrote, Unknown Potion is impervious to magic. At 1100 hours I performed a revealing charm on it and a violent reaction occurred. 
He put down his quill once more and looked up from his journal. What has the know-it-all gotten herself into now? he thought to himself. Deciding that he needed to do a more thorough investigation, he waved his wand – causing his books to return to their spots on his bookshelves – and promptly exited his laboratory. 


Severus entered Hermione's dormitory and saw Sirius rummaging through the scattered remains of her room. Severus sneered and coldly said, "What do you think you are doing?" 

Sirius, not reacting to the sudden intrusion of a voice on his solitary prying, said very calmly, "I'm looking for clues, Snivellus. It's something concerned friends do. I wouldn't expect you to understand. You never see past your greasy, overgrown beak." 

"As hard as it may be for a flea-bitten mongrel like you to understand, you are not the only one concerned for Miss Granger," Severus replied with a sneer. 

Sirius stopped what he was doing and got right up close to Severus. Their noses were practically touching. "Is that a fact, Snivellus? When the hell have you given a care for anyone but yourself?" 

"That's just typical of you. So arrogant, just like James. You think that only you are capable of showing emotion and concern. Well, I'm sorry to disappoint you, Black!" 

"I don't have time for you. I have a friend to help." 

"Do you even know what you're looking for?" 

"What's it to you?" 

"Looking around aimlessly will only waste your time and effort." 

"I suppose you know what to look for?" 

"I have an idea." 

Sirius and Severus stared at each other for a very intense moment. Sirius closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He looked back at Severus and said, "Forgive me. I had no right to attack you, Sniv – uh, Severus. Hermione is the last link I have to Harry and James. I shouldn't have said those things. I need your help. Do you think that just until Hermione is better, we could bury the hatchet?" 

Caught off guard by Sirius' sudden reversal, Severus was left speechless. After a moment of reflection, he reluctantly answered, "Fine. Until she's better." 

"Great! The game is afoot!" 

"I beg your pardon?" 

"Sherlock! Sherlock Holmes. Come on, Severus. You have to know who Sherlock Holmes is." 

"I know who he is. What does he have to do with the task at hand?" 

"Never mind. Where do we begin?" 

"We're looking for a potions book. Whatever concoction she's been taking is very advanced. She would require specific tomes to recreate it." 

The two of them spread out and began to look over the many different books Hermione had in her apartment. After looking over the books by her bed, Sirius walked over to the table where her cauldron sat. Sitting on the floor under the table was another book. Sirius bent down and picked it up. He looked at the cover and said, "Here's the book I recommended she get at Hogsmeade." 

Severus walked over and looked at the book. "Why did you suggest she get this?" he asked. 

"She was having nightmares and wanted something to help her sleep. So I suggested she try a Draught of Silent Sleep." 

"Are you completely brain-dead? You don't give someone with nightmares the Draught of Silent Sleep! That potion can be highly addictive to someone with recurring nightmares!" 

"She was determined and confident that she wouldn't be affected by it." 

Severus scoffed and took the book from Sirius. He opened it to a page Hermione had dog-eared. Both of them looked at the page and each had a different expression on his face. Severus looked at the page with curiosity, while Sirius was confused. The page was titled Draught of Silent Sleep. 

"I don't get it. The Draught of Silent Sleep doesn't cause the symptoms we saw in Hermione. Even when taken in excess." 

"That's because she hasn't been brewing the Draught of Silent Sleep." 

"Then what has she been brewing?" 

"I don't know. I'm unfamiliar with this potion. Several of these ingredients you should never mix unless it's for some Dark purpose." Severus stood in silence for quite a while. Sirius was starting to get impatient with him when he finally said, "I think we've found what we're looking for. I must return to my lab. I have work to do." 

"I'll return to the Hospital Wing. I think someone should be with her constantly." 

"You do that," Severus said, and he walked away from Sirius, exiting the dormitory. 


As Sirius entered the Hospital Wing to visit Hermione he saw Rita Skeeter hovering over her bed. Rita had her Quick-Quotes Quill out and it was hurriedly scribbling something on a notepad. At the sound of the doors closing Rita's head jerked up. When she saw Sirius standing at the door staring at her, she packed up the quill and notepad and started for the door. 

Sirius stepped into her path and asked, "What are you planning on writing about Hermione?" 

"I'm sorry, but I can't comment on that right now. You'll have to wait for Sunday's issue," Rita replied, and once again she tried to walk past Sirius. 

This time he grabbed her arm lightly and said softly, "If anything you write comes back to haunt her, I'll make sure you can't bug anyone ever again." 

Rita's face went ghastly pale. "Is that a threat?" 

"It's a word of caution." Sirius let go of her arm and walked across the room to Hermione's bed. He sat down and took her hand in his. 

Rita's face lit up as an idea floated to the surface of her mind. She smiled and scampered out of the room. 

Sirius eyed her as she left. When he was satisfied the vulture was gone, he returned his attention to Hermione. "Hermione? Can you hear me?" he said gently. "I've never told anyone this, not even Harry. After my dear cousin hit me with her Avada Kedavra curse and I fell through the veil there at the Ministry, I found myself floating in a white fog. At first I couldn't see anything past my own nose, but then I saw James and Lily waiting for me. They looked the same, as if we'd never parted. I was happy, the happiest I'd been since before the war. 

"James led me to a well that was sitting by itself amid the fog, and he told me to look inside it. When I did, I saw Harry and Ron and you fighting Death Eaters and Voldemort. 

"'Harry needs you, Padfoot,' James said to me. 

"'I missed you, my dear friends,' I said. 

"James smiled and said, 'We missed you, too. Sirius, I need you to listen to us. Harry can not defeat Voldemort alone. He needs your help.' 

"'I don't want to leave,' I told them. 

"Lily took my hand in hers and said, 'Would you leave Harry to fend for himself against Voldemort? Can you let Harry fight alone?' 

"I looked into the well again and what I saw scared me. Voldemort had you and Ron and Harry held captive and he was torturing you and Ron in front of Harry. I could see from Harry's face that he was going to sacrifice himself to save you two. I couldn't let him do that. 

"'How do I get out of here?' I asked. 

"James put his hand on my shoulder and said, 'I know the way, old friend.' He and Lily led me through the thick fog to a stone archway that appeared to go nowhere. 

"'Where does it go?' I asked James. 

"'Wherever you want it to go,' he said. 

"'Come back with me. Harry would be so overjoyed.' 

"'We can't leave. Our place is here. Know that we will always be right there with you, always.' 

"'Goodbye, Prongs.' 

"'No goodbyes, Padfoot. We will see each other again.' 

"I hugged James and Lily. It took a lot of willpower to let them go, because I really didn't want to go back. Before I left I made a promise to James and Lily that I would do whatever I could to protect Harry. I never had the courage to tell you; now I'm wishing I had. Harry and Ron's deaths weren't your fault. They were mine. I was so eager to end the war and honor my promise that I took the first bit of news about Voldemort and acted on it. 

"After Harry's funeral I discovered that the information had come from Wormtail in disguise. If I had questioned it, if I'd done a little simple reconnaissance, I would have discovered all of this before Harry and Ron sacrificed themselves. I'm telling you this now because I need you to understand. I need you to know…." 

Someone gently rested a hand on Sirius' shoulder, interrupting him. He looked up and saw Minerva standing behind him. Minerva looked from Sirius to Hermione and said, "What happened that night was no one's fault. Harry would have done whatever Harry wanted to do. A trait that you know very well he inherited from his father. Don't blame yourself. Harry and Ron made the greatest sacrifice so we would survive. They wouldn't want you to blame yourself." 

Suddenly Hermione grunted softly, and then she slowly opened her eyes. She tried to focus as she asked, "What happened? Where am I?" 

"You're in the Hospital Wing. Remus and I found you in your dormitory. I thought –" Sirius began. 

"What's the last thing you remember, Hermione?" Minerva interrupted. 

"I remember sending an owl to Ginny, but nothing after that. I think I fell…in the Owlery." 

"Do you remember returning to your dormitory?" 

"No. What's going on?" 

"We're not sure. But I will find out, I promise," Sirius answered. 

There was something in the way Sirius was staring at her that made her slowly sit up. Concerned, she asked, “Are you okay, Sirius?” 

“Yes, I’m fine… now.”

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