"When the time comes to die, make sure that all you have to do is die!"
"Where's Severus?" Harry called as he came in to the room.
"Upstairs brewing the last of the potions for Poppy," Hermione told him, taking in Harry's serious face with concern. She set down her book and followed him up the stairs as he went to find Severus.
They paused when they entered the room. Both of them knew better than to speak or interrupt without invitation lest they ruin hours worth of work by botching up a stir count.
Severus finished decanting the potion he was working on and looked up. "What is it?" he said with a crease between his eyes as he took in Harry's face.
"It's Spinner's End. Looks like one of the Death Eaters at large tried to burn it down. Kingsley said they'd been keeping an eye on it in case any of them showed up there. They missed whoever did it, but they were able to put out the fire before it did too much structural damage. The protective spells on your books and your lab look like they held," Harry said.
Hermione walked up to Severus. His eyes held a mix of emotions until they went calm again. She touched his arm, "I'm sorry, Severus. It's where you grew up, isn't it?"
"Yes," he said simply.
"Bit of a mixed bag, then? Kind of like this place?" Harry asked looking around.
"You could say that," Severus answered.
"Why don't I get Kreacher and we'll go check it out and bring back your books and lab stuff until we figure out what needs doing?" Harry asked.
And that's what they'd done. Hermione was afraid Severus would resort to occlumency to lock it all down, thereby locking them out, and while he did to some extent, he didn't completely. She was thankful for this, both for his sake and their own - glad that he, to at least some extent, let them see and share his burdens, and saddened by what had happened.
The first day, they spent boxing up what could be salvaged and soon set about plans to reconstruct and restore the place. Hermione was put in charge of setting up Severus' impressive library at Grimmauld Place and sorting out the expansion of the upstairs lab with the influx of ingredients and equipment. She was thrilled by the prospect and began the task with great enthusiasm.
Meanwhile, Harry recounting how it had felt to dig Dobby's grave with the strength of his hands and the sweat of his brow had talked Severus into gutting and redoing the place with as much hands on manual labor as possible. Hermione inwardly shook her head. It was a good thing that Severus had recovered as much as he had. She couldn't balk at it too much. They both seemed enlivened by the prospect of their own project and who knew, it might do them some good. When George and Ron got wind of it all, George counted it good timing that he'd recently hired more help at the shop and they settled between them that they would trade days helping at Spinner's End.
Hermione had the foresight to brew sun block potion while they were in the planning stages, and followed that up with the muscle relaxing, and pain reliever potions she had an inkling they would need. She hadn't been wrong.
Kingsley came over to check on Severus the day they started demolition. Her own day had been long and arduous, sorting and shelving books and potions ingredients after creating more storage space. She'd had to force herself not to stop and read everything she came across, but the result was that she'd made excellent headway. She was a bit of a sore mess when Kingsley showed up, but nothing like the bedraggled, barely-able-to-move mess that was Severus, Harry, and Ron when they dragged themselves home.
"Overdo it a bit, did we boys?" Hermione asked sweetly.
Kingsley chuckled. They glared at her. Until she handed out the potions and the bath salts. Then she got a kiss on the cheek from all of them, even Severus.
Due to their fatigue and the gusto with which they consumed food, conversation at dinner was minimal. Severus, apparently so hungry that he didn't think a milkshake and nutrient potion would do the job, ate more than he had done since the attack, despite the pain. Kingsley, George and Hermione carried on what conversation there was, talking about the reconstruction at Hogwarts and the goings-on at the ministry. When the other three fell practically dead at the table after hasty consumption, she was thankful that Kingsley and George were there to help her maneuver the three lumps toward bed.
No nightmares haunted them that night.
A few days later, when she had finished her own project, Hermione decided to go check in at Spinners End. Her moment of shock gave way quickly to amusement when she saw they were embarrassed at being caught shirtless – well mostly this was George and Severus – she'd lived in a tent with Harry for nearly half a year, after all.
Inwardly, she noted that Severus had gained back to a healthier weight since she'd last seen him sans shirt and that Severus working shirtless in jeans was a whole different matter to Severus laid out shirtless in a sickbed. Outwardly, she chuckled. "I suppose cooling charms would negate the spirit of the thing?" she asked.
"Of course," Harry smiled. Severus made to reach for his t-shirt.
"Oh, it's just me, leave them off. It's the end of June and hotter than the sun today. If I could take my shirt off, I would too. Have you left anything destructive I can do?" she asked as she passed out lemonade.
They quirked eyebrows at her, gulped the lemonade gratefully, gave her a sledgehammer and pointed her at a partially burned upstairs wall. She had at it with gusto, laughing and enjoying herself immensely. 'Harry has a point about physical exertion after all,' she mused. They kept an eye on her and called a stop to her fun when sweat ran and her arms started to shake and swing wild.
"Whew," she said mopping her brow. "I imagine you'll be quite fit by the time you're done. I don't think I'll be able to move my arms tomorrow."
It wasn't just her arms. It was her back and her neck and everything. And the potions and the bath didn't begin to cover it.
"Overdo it a bit, did we?" Severus teased the next evening in his deep voice, which was beginning to regain its smooth texture. He smirked at her glaring grimace, but earned his place firmly as one of her most favorite people when he gave her a massage with his wonderfully talented hands.
Her moans of pleasure drew George's attention. "I feel left out. Why haven't I gotten one of those?" he asked.
Harry and Severus snorted. "Repayment for all the potions she's been brewing for us," Severus explained.
"There is that," Harry grinned.
As the days went on, Spinner's End began to transform from dark, damaged and dreary to light, clean and comfortable, and their stamina increased. Before they were half done, Hermione's men folk were in talks of transforming Grimmauld Place to lightness in the same manner.
Now, much more empathetic to their plight, she had begun trading massages with the boys, but her absolute most favorite thing ever was massage a la Severus Snape. His fingers, beyond a doubt, were the most skilled of the bunch. And she was the only one who got them.
Severus had given her the run of his library and Hermione divided her time between researching ways to restore her parents' memories and working herself to exhaustion at Spinner's end. Well, and brewing the pain and muscle potions – the supposed barter for the massages she loved so much.
When she stumbled across a reference that indicated a form of reverse legillimency was helpful in memory restoration, Severus began to tutor her in occlumency and legillimency.
Harry kept a wary proximity to the proceedings. Hermione wasn't sure if he was interested in learning or afraid she would suffer Severus' method of teaching. Severus wasn't quite as brutal with her, but it was rough to start. He at least proffered more help with meditation techniques than he had given Harry in his fifth year.
Harry both grumbled and seemed glad for Hermione's sake.
Severus didn't quite apologize to Harry. He admitted he could have handled it better, but also explained, "It's the emotional response that gets in the way. If you can master getting a handle on it when your emotions are at a peak, you catch the flavor of it, so to speak, and it becomes much easier and automatic to do after that."
"Yeah, I think I finally got that when Riddle was on his way to Dumbledore's tomb and I had to decide between Hallows and Horcruxes," Harry said. "Useful in battle and highly charged situations, but I don't know that I'd want to go around that emotionally detached for long. Sort of takes the human out of you, doesn't it?"
Severus looked steadily at Harry for a moment then said. "You do have to be careful, yes. It doesn't just help you hide your emotions and memories, it also makes it easier to sort through and store your experiences and memories in a meaningful way, improving logical processing and memory recall. But there is a danger of getting stuck in a dead, unmoving place if it is used wrongly or actively for prolonged periods of time." He looked at Hermione, "It can make things harder in the long run if you use it to put off dealing, as you said, and you do not take the time to process them."
His words and the look he gave her recalled the night that she sat next to him talking to him about occlumency after her flashback and nightmare. Hermione had the feeling that for all Severus' experience with occlumency, he was just learning the extent and pitfalls of the 'dead, unmoving place' himself. It was easier for her to lay aside her fears and get the hang of it after she was apprised of the dangers to avoid. Her tendency toward logic and organizing information in her mind helped. Her temper did not.
Hermione didn't like to practice when she was by herself and was thankful that Severus practiced with her when he was home. He told her it was helping him process and rebuild the shields that had been damaged when he had almost died.
She grabbed his hand. "I'd wondered...I'm glad it's helping," she told him "but I hope you don't take to retreating behind your shields. It's been nice getting to know you on this side of them."
Severus gave her his half smile. He didn't say it, he rarely did, but she read a mutual response in his eyes.
She was amazed when, after having gotten a decent start on occlumency, Severus let her begin to practice legillimency on him. He shielded most things carefully away when he did this, but still, he allowed her to see inside his mind. It was hard, much harder than occlumency, and the images that flashed by were confusing at first, but it was him, and to her, it was beautiful.
It was toward the end of July when Minerva and Kingsley came round for dinner with the objective of persuading Severus to take back up the mantle of Headmaster and the Trio to return for an 8th year that was being offered last year's 7ths. Severus was adamantly against resuming his post as Headmaster at first, and Ron and Harry were unsure of returning for an 8th year, but this lead to discussions of what they wanted to do with their lives. Such had already begun to crop up as the summer progressed. They had passed nearly three months with a primary purpose of regaining their footing, but now that they were beginning to do so, the need for some other purpose was beginning to reassert itself.
Hermione talked Ron and Harry round by asking, "Do you just want to get by on the merit of your fame or do you actually want to rightly earn and prove your worth to take up your chosen profession?" Ron remained ambivalent, but Harry was swayed. Ron followed along when Kingsley mentioned he would be happy to take them on as Aurors but would prefer them to finish their last year first.
When it came to Severus, they couldn't negate that he would likely face anger and ill-will, but they vowed their support. It wasn't until Minerva asked tartly, "So you want last year to be your legacy as Headmaster and you have no wish to re-write it?" that he began to cave. When Severus brought up that he and Harry had promised to take Hermione to Australia to find her parents, Minerva promised to keep the reins on things, the reconstruction and the preparations, just consulting with him until the week before school started so that he could have the rest of the summer to recuperate and help Hermione. He finally agreed.
They went to dinner in Diagon Alley that night to celebrate…or take stock. They were all still a bit in shock over what they'd agreed to.
"It's gonna be weird after this summer," Ron said.
They all nodded. "We'll have to go back to calling you Sir and Professor, at least when we're not alone with you," Harry told Severus. "Same as with Poppy, Kings, and Minerva, I guess,"
Hermione placed her hand over one of Severus' on the table and looked at him with anxious eyes. "It'll change, at least in public…can we all still be us with each other?"
Severus sighed and offered a rare bit of open honesty. "Yes. I have a feeling it will be necessary to keep my sanity."
They all nodded in relief and Hermione smiled at him.
George lifted his glass in a silent toast – silent but the thumb of his lifted hand was touched to his ring finger, sign language for the number seven, and their secret sign. It was a show of continued solidarity that the SevenS all reciprocated. They smiled as they signaled their intent to keep each other with their glasses raised in the silent toast.
It was then that Rita Skeeter found them and Hermione first had occasion to practice reverse legillimency. The foul woman had heard about Severus accepting the Headmaster appointment, but opened with her usual nasty insinuations to no one's surprise.
"It's a new year, and I think you've forgotten who you're messing with," Hermione said with a quiet but clear warning. This statement was augmented by Kingsley returning to their table at that exact moment. Hermione could see the wheels turning in Rita's mind. She stood to let Kingsley re-enter the booth and took the opportunity to make sure the meddling menace understood her, "Consider everyone at this table mine and watch yourself. I won't take any measures if you stick to the facts, but keep your lying, poisonous quill off us. I haven't forgotten certain things, and I have a letter you left at Bathilda Bagshot's, proving that you were the last person meddling with her before this happened…." Hermione projected the image of the great snake pouring itself out of Bathida's body.
Rita blanched then ran just outside the door and heaved everything out of her stomach.
Hermione staggered to her seat, exhausted by the effort of the reverse legillimency.
"Did you just show her what I think you showed her?" Harry asked. "I didn't think you'd seen that."
"I saw it and now she's seen it too." Hermione replied.
"You've managed reverse legillimency, I take it?" Severus asked. "It appears you'll need more practice before Australia. That nearly wiped you out. What did you project?"
Harry pushed away his plate. "Don't answer that while we're sitting at the table."
Hermione looked at disgust at what was left on her own plate and shook her head, "I'll explain later," she said.
Kingsley grimaced then smirked. "I was away from the table just now and heard no evidence of blackmail whatsoever. Still," he dropped his voice, "if you've the means to keep that woman curbed, you have my unofficial and wholehearted approval. It's hard to rebuild the world with the lies and furor she spreads to tear it down again."