Atra Fulminis. She may even be able to cast it. I feel somewhat relieved that she now owes me a life debt, but I fear the wisest course of action would be to let the curse take her. Who is she, Potter?"
The younger man's eyes flashed, but he said nothing at first, opting to take his turn at staring into the fire and preparing his thoughts. Snape sampled a petits-four as he waited, raising a startled eyebrow at the first bite and quickly picking up another cakelet.
"She was an Auror before the accident," Potter began. "A damn good one, too. Smart, tough, tenacious... but she was more than that. You might as well know, I suppose; it really isn't a secret anymore."
Potter's eyes flashed again. "No. But close. She was my godchild. You do know her parents, though: Ron and Hermione. They went to Hong Kong after the War, just to get a change of scenery. Ron was wounded pretty badly... Anyway, they both liked Asia, decided to move there for good, got married, Ron started coaching Quidditch, Hermione ended up deciphering a sort of Rosetta Stone that unlocked a rune-language that was thought to be lost... You're not even remotely interested, are you?"
"On the contrary, Potter. I'm just savoring yet another irony, that Miss Gran--pardon me, Mrs. Weasley--revealed the code that I needed to break in my quest for the Atra Fulminis. I should have guessed. Perhaps if I'd been friendlier with the silly cow she would have translated that stone for me while I had it at Hogwarts."
Potter turned a bit green around the edges.
"The written language was stolen from the Inca by Spanish conquistadors," Snape continued, "and it ended up being traded along the Silk Roads. By Muggles, of course; they regarded it as a mere novelty, just another plundered Aztec calendar. It was eventually bequeathed to a temple where, over the following centuries, its origins were forgotten and it became "sacred." Voldemort's signet ring led him to it, undoubtedly trying to help him uncover the Caerula. I'd imagine that the authorities were more than a bit surprised when the tablet turned up in the dungeons of Hogwarts."
"That was why Hermione picked Hong Kong in the first place," said Potter bitterly, "because of all the news articles regarding the 'stolen cultural artifact.' There was a big controversy about whether it belonged in its temple, or a museum, or back in South America. She just thought the pictures of Asia were so beautiful." Potter ran his hands through his hair, a familiar gesture that brought Snape a brief rush of memories of a more youthful time. "She took an interest in the tablet itself after they got settled in. It took years to decipher the thing, because the Wizard Incan was superimposed on the Muggle Incan in a complex way, through palindromes and Spoonerisms and what not--"
"I'm familiar with it, Potter," Snape interrupted, though without malice.
Potter gawked at him for a moment, then nodded. "I suppose you are. Well. She and Ron both slaved over some of the puzzles, and there had been damage to the engravings over time, but you know how Hermione is. When she finally broke it all open, you'd have thought she'd found a new Elixir of Life. She was the hottest topic on the lecture circuit for decades.
"I was so happy when their daughter was born! I even moved to Hong Kong for a while just to get to know her. She came to Hogwarts for one term and I blew two years' salary on her. She got Ron's sense of adventure and Hermione's brains. It was as much fun as having both of them around, without all the bickering. Perfect."
Potter noticed that Snape was peering down his nose at his reminiscences and sighed. "Yeah, well, long story short: She became an Auror. Someone stole the tablet Hermione had worked on for so long. She demanded to take the case and went to South America. She reckoned the thief wanted to translate something in Wizard Incan, so she just went and searched through every single ruin, setting up wards to sound the alarm if the tablet passed them, all that sort of thing. Good, systematic detective work. And then she turned up at Machu Picchu."
Potter pinched the top of his nose as though his head suddenly ached. "She'd lost more than her arm. Her name was gone. None of us can remember it, least of all her--and every single place it had been written down went blank. Most of her memory was gone. She had no idea who I was, or Ron, but she at least recognized Hermione as a familiar face. The only person in her family that she could actually identify was her Uncle Charlie. He was the one that named her Pendragon. Nothing else would stick--we tried to agree on things to call her and an hour later no one could remember. But Charlie managed it.
"Sometimes at night, people can't see her. It's the same as her name--you know she's there, but she's just somehow beyond your perception. And her magic changed. She can't Apparate, can't Transfigure, can't make Potions. She can still belt out Charms like there's no tomorrow, and you do NOT want to be on the receiving end of one of her hexes."
"But the only thing that's exactly the same is her love of music. She was a virtuoso at the piano, Severus; it was so beautiful to hear her play, it was almost unbearable. But now, with only one arm... I can't believe that's a coincidence. That curse deliberately preserved her talent, just to torture her with the fact that she can no longer play."
"She does play, Potter. I heard her last week."
"She tries. She holds her wand in her teeth and spells the keys to play. I think it still sounds wonderful, but she can tell the difference. She gets so angry, but I try to encourage her. If the curse wants her to give up music in despair, then she should do the opposite."
Snape nodded. "I agree. I suspect it will not leave her except by its own will. She should make herself as inhospitable to it as she can."
Potter rolled his eyes. "Yeah, we reckoned as much. The trick is figuring out how to do that, exactly. At first it seemed to weaken when she cast jinxes and curses--almost as though it was draining out of her along with the other 'negative' magic. I used to let her curse me when her scars got really bad, and that would make them go dormant for a few months. But I finally had to accept that it just wasn't working the way I thought. Her curses kept getting stronger and stronger--she can put me under the Imperius, and not even Voldemort could do that! And her Cruciatus... It got to a point where I couldn't bear it, not even for a few seconds. We gave it up, and for a while her scars really punished her, but they eventually settled into a sort of steady background. Then they came back with a vengeance this fall. It's like all her resistance failed at once."
Snape felt a bit like an iron spring had been coiled within his rib cage and suddenly released. He had to wait a moment before he could speak, to be certain his voice would not waver.
"I would like to try to help her, Potter, for reasons of my own. I have already brewed some potions, and after tonight's... insights, I have a few more experiments to carry out. She has told me she will accept nothing from me, and I can appreciate her distrust. If you believe me, Potter, perhaps you can persuade her to take her medicine."
Potter's brows furrowed briefly. "I don't think so. Even without her older memories, she knows I'm no Potions Master." Both men grinned wryly. "It'll be a lot easier for you to convince her of your intentions than for me to do it 'once removed.' She knows you helped her tonight. Just talk to her, Severus." Potter's eyes narrowed in challenge. "She's bitter, but she's no Dark Lord, you know. She won't hurt you."
The spring in Snape's chest went off again with even more force.
"I am no kindly uncle nor gentleman godfather, Potter," he muttered quietly. "It is not my own pain that concerns me."