"To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable."
― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
When Hermione told him why Rita Skeeter was so wary of her, Severus felt twin compulsions to laugh outright and keep a wary eye out. He remembered back to Marietta Edgecombe's permanently fixed SNEAK pustules and decided it was not wise to get on Hermione Granger's bad side. She was the more dangerous for being normally, a rule-following, kind person who wouldn't dream of blackmail, ruthless revenge and imprisoning people in jars. Hermione had depths which were well hidden until one incited her anger. It made it easy to under-estimate her, and Severus counted himself lucky that despite the years of treating her despicably, he had escaped with nothing worse than flaming robes.
Hermione also showed him the memory that had so unsettled the bug reporter, and Severus was glad she had heeded Harry's advice not to show him in the presence of food. He had seen a lot of truly horrible things in the course of being a Death Eater, but he'd never seen anything like that detested snake pouring itself out the mouth of a corpse it had animated to a semblance of life, discarding the rotting body to collapse onto the floor like a sack. And it had been such a close call for Harry and Hermione. He didn't know of many who could have kept their heads and escaped as she had done.
"That probably wasn't the best idea," Hermione said afterward. "Especially as it was that particular snake. You look white as a sheet. Here," she said, handing him a cup of tea followed by a bar of chocolate.
'Yes, it was that particular snake,' Severus thought as he drank the proffered tea and accepted the chocolate. He was sure that little viewing wouldn't improve his nightmares any, but he had known that beforehand, and there was no help for it now. There was no way to un-see it or bury it deep enough that it would never come to mind save obliviation, and he had no wish to go that route. Surprisingly, Hermione's reverse legillimency augmenting his own had yielded a whole other layer of flavor to the memory. He didn't want to see that memory in vivid detail again, but he found he wanted to see others by the same method.
And so, practicing both with the aid of his legillimency and without, she showed him memories of their year on the run, their break-ins at the Ministry and Gringotts, her impersonation of Bellatrix and their infamous dragon escape, their narrow escape at the Lovegoods, Ron's departure, and Ron's return. Hermione refused to show him the memory of his rescue. By the tone of voice and look on her face when she refused, Severus understood that it still upset her, and though it piqued his curiosity, it also made him a bit wary and he decided to employ patience and bide his time on the matter. She did show him memories that he asked about from their years at Hogwarts, their adventures with the Cerberus and the obstacle course of protections, the sending off of Hagrid's pet dragon, brewing Polyjuice potion and the basilisk, their time-turner rescue of Black and the battle of the Department of Mysteries.
It was a good thing they had survived all of that, the foolhardy, senseless little idiots. If he'd have known about any of it at the time, he'd have locked them up, Albus be damned. He threatened to do just that if they even thought about getting up to any adventures during their last year. All three of them assured them that all they wanted was a nice, quiet year; else they'd have never known one the whole of their time at Hogwarts. They seemed excited about the novelty of the idea.
"Yes, please. Let's no one try to kill Harry this year," Ron said with a sigh.
Severus snorted and rolled his eyes.
The reconstruction of Spinners End wrapped up just in time for the trip to Australia in the beginning of August. Hermione had not yet mastered reverse legillimency to the point the desired results would be affected in this one trip. She hadn't enough staying power to project more than one or two memories at a time without exhausting herself completely, but she had mastered a subtlety of projection that could leave you almost thinking you had simply recalled a forgotten memory.
There was some hope of doing just enough to trigger her parent's own memories that were buried and locked up by the obliviation. It did happen sometimes that suppressed memories worked themselves loose if they were strong enough, as had been the case with Barty Crouch, Sr. This was the hope they were riding on. They couldn't risk the damage that might result from more forceful methods.
Harry told Severus he hadn't realized the extent of what Hermione had done until observing all their research on how to reverse it, and Hermione reminding him of Lockhart and what had happened to Bertha Jorkins when Riddle reversed her obliviation. Severus confided to Harry that the obliviates on Rowle and Dolohov at the café had been so strong that even the Dark Lord hadn't been able to break through them without breaking his Death Eaters to the point of uselessness. He and Harry shared a look of concern over that.
Hermione was a ball of irrepressible nervous energy as they made their way to the Ministry for the international portkey that Shacklebolt had secured for them. Severus found it highly irritating, but as he could understand the cause, he tried to curb his irritation.
Harry seemed fairly immune to it. "She get's like this every time exams roll around," he explained. Severus' lip curled at the idea.
Kingsley had been in communication with the Australian Ministry for Magic who had found Hermione's parents and were aware of the situation. This negated the chance of him, Hermione and Harry entangling themselves with a foreign ministry for doing magic in the presence of Muggles. The only worry, really, was first contact and how Helen and Daniel Granger would react to their daughter.
Hermione wanted the first meeting with her parents to be on somewhat neutral ground and not in their home.
"That way it'll feel more like reconnaissance. I just want to get the lay of the land and see if anything has broken through, and if it hasn't it won't be as bad when they treat me like some random person if I'm not home with them," she said. It sounded like she was trying to convince herself of that last bit.
Neither Harry nor Severus had much of a basis for judging this, so they went along with her plan. After checking in with the Australian Ministry person Kingsley had put them in contact with, they traveled to her parent's dental practice and Hermione confunded the receptionist into scheduling her for an appointment the next day.
Hermione fell apart that night after they had eaten and checked into their rooms at the hotel. They thought they had calmed her nerves enough that she would sleep, but just as Harry and Severus were about to settle into their beds, Hermione came knocking on their door. Time alone in her room had evidently done her no good; she looked awful. Barely had she sat on Harry's bed before the fidgets gave way to crying. Severus was incredulous when Harry took that as his cue to get dressed and leave him with a weepy Hermione. He didn't know what to do. It wasn't like he could hand her a handkerchief and send her off to Poppy. He sat next to her and handed her a tissue. When she curled up into his chest he put his arm around her awkwardly. He was ready to throttle Harry when he returned until he realized Harry came bearing a cure of sorts.
"Here, Hermione. Drink up," he told her, handing her an insulated cup that smelled like rich, hot chocolate. "Found a coffee shop round the corner that was open."
When Harry sat down next to her, Severus took the opportunity of extricating himself.
"Why'd you schedule this for this week, anyway?" Harry asked her after she took a few drinks.
She glared at him for a moment. "Are you suggesting I'm incapable of functioning?" she bit out.
"Have I ever?" Harry answered dryly. "I like to keep my head where it is, thanks."
After a moment, Hermione seemed to crumple in on herself. "I didn't even think about it," she said miserably.
Severus didn't understand what it referred to until Harry asked him if he had a pain potion on him.
Harry handed that to her also. "Here, take this too and lay down. Hand me your key, will you?"
Hermione complied. She handed over her key, laid down and curled up into a ball on her side. A moment of gazing around the room must have satisfied her that they wouldn't leave her alone, because she closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep almost immediately.
Harry stepped a bit off to the side with Severus. "She's usually not that bad…unless there's… extenuating circumstances of some sort," he explained. "I'll go kip in the other room and swap her in the morning."
Severus' eyebrows rose. "Oh, relax. She's exhausted – already out of it." Harry was gone before Severus could even offer to make the switch.
He sighed and went over to check on Hermione before crawling into his own bed. He lifted a stray lock off of her face, drew the blankets over her and sighed. She was the most troublesome thing sometimes.
That assessment didn't change the next day. In fact, it gained more dimension. However much their friendship drove him to accept, be patient, and even empathize, witnessing the burgeoning recognition in the elder Granger's eyes brought home to him how foreign Hermione was. The day made it clear that Hermione had been brought up with love and acceptance. Nothing of their differences had ever seemed so alien.
Harry went with Hermione to her appointment with her mother, ostensibly as traveling, backpacking teens; Severus followed under the invisibility cloak.
Severus noted right off a forthright kindness to Helen Jean Granger which had been paltry and beaten into submission in his own mother, much as she had tried.
"I don't know," Hermione said after Helen looked into her mouth. "It was all swollen and painful yesterday; I couldn't even bear to travel to our next lodging." The concern Hermione felt over the whole situation made her lie seem almost plausible.
"Well, it looks just fine now," her mother said kindly. "Before you go, I'll get my husband, Dr. Wendell Wilkins, to double check you just to make sure I haven't missed anything."
Daniel Granger did the same confused double-take that Hermione's mother had done upon first seeing Hermione. There couldn't have been a bigger difference between Hermione's father and his own angry, drunken, abusive one, Severus mused. If anything, Dr. Granger was even kinder than his wife. He engaged Hermione and Harry in friendly banter as he checked on Hermione.
"It all looks good to me too," he said when he finished. "In fact, your teeth look in extraordinarily good condition. You must have an excellent dentist at home," he laughed.
Hermione's smile lit her face. "Oh, I do! Drs. Daniel and Helen Granger are wonderful! They're my parents."
They didn't notice Hermione's look of anxious hope for their own brief moment of confusion. Hermione took the opportunity to project a few memories. At this, they appeared to go wit wandering. Daniel Granger leaned against the counter and Harry directed Helen to a chair when she wobbled. Amongst the overriding looks of confused introspection shot brief looks of bemusement and wonder.
"Hermione?" her mother asked confused after a moment, squinting and moving her head slightly as if trying to get it to work right.
One of the assistants came in and broke the spell with a question.
Hermione's father collected himself and gave a strained smile as he left the room. Her mother started to ask, "Do we...have we met before?"
Hermione smiled. "It feels like it, doesn't it? I know you have clinic to finish, but do you think we could meet you for dinner after...talk some more?"
"I...yes, I think..that would be nice," her Mum said. She invited Hermione and her friends (she and Harry explained Severus as being in the lobby) over to dine and they left after arrangements were made.
Watching the Grangers interact at dinner, it was obvious that Hermione fit well with her parents, she'd had a good relationship with them and belonged in a tangible way. They were kind, not only to Hermione and Harry but to Severus, the oddment of the bunch, as well. Their easy discourse ranged through a wide variety of academic and personal topics, and it was easy to see where certain of Hermione's tendencies came from.
They barely had an inkling that she was theirs, and already there had been hints of love and wonder tossed in with their innate kindness. Even if they never regained their memories fully, Severus had a feeling they would be moved to adopt Hermione as family as Hermione had done with her housemates. The only danger now lay in possible anger once they realized the extent of what had happened.
Hermione decided to let the memories do their slow work. She didn't push any new information but suggested a correspondence, which thankfully, Kingsley had also made arrangements for through the Australian Muggle Liaison Office.
"I've got a friend here who can forward mail without the overseas charge. Here," Hermione wrote out:
1535 Delian Lane
Sydney NSW 2000
Hermione's parents seemed thrilled by the idea of keeping in touch with her. They wished her well on her last school year and bid them all a kind goodbye.
Severus felt at odds with himself. Part of him was glad for Hermione's sake, but part of him was less so. Somewhere along the way he had laid claim to Hermione in some way without even realizing it, and now that part of him felt threatened. Eventually, she would get her parents back and wouldn't need him to lean on anymore. And that would leave him...where he had been. He would never stand in the way of Hermione's relationship with her parents. He would just have to readjust. The prospect already had him backing up figuratively.
Severus caught Harry's speculative look and feared he had read more of his thoughts than Severus had meant for him to. Friends or not, these Gryffindor children were making him entirely too soft. He strengthened his occlumency shields and maintained them on the trip home.