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Chapter One

She moved to Scotland during a heatwave, and not even the modified cooling charm she developed as part of her apprenticeship project stayed effective for more than twenty minutes before needing to be recast. It had just gone eight o'clock when she arrived at the Hogwarts gates, but it was already sweltering. Wiping the back of her hand over her clammy forehead, she then cast a Patronus to signal her arrival. The silver otter danced around her, rubbing its little head on her shoulder before bouncing up towards the castle.

Discreetly pulling the top of her dress a little ways from her body, she sent a wandless cooling charm down her cleavage and then let out a little sigh of contentment.

She startled when a loud crack resonated through the air, and a black-clad figure appeared before her. Hand on her wand, she took a calming breath and forced a smile on her face. “Good morning, Professor.”

Snape looked unimpressed to see her. “Miss Granger.”

“I thought Professor McGonagall was meeting me?”

“The Headmistress has unfortunately been called away to London, so this joyous task was delegated to me.”

He's Deputy Head, then. Hermione's smile faltered slightly at his biting tone. “Oh, I see.”

A wave of his hand and the gates opened to admit her. Without another word, he turned and walked briskly back up towards the castle. Taking this as a sign to follow him, she picked up Crookshanks' carrier and half-ran a few steps to catch up.

“Is that all your luggage?” Snape asked without looking at her once they'd entered through the front doors.

She gripped the beaded bag slung over her shoulder in pure reflex. “I've got all I need, sir.”

His eyes wandered to her bag, and his eyebrow arched. “An Undetectable Extension Charm?”

“And a modified Lightening Charm.”

“Hmpf.”

Hermione followed him up the stairs to the third floor, past the Charms classroom and into a small corridor she'd never seen before. The end of the corridor held a large stained glass window and a spiral staircase going in both directions. Three doors lined the corridor, two on the left and one on the right. Snape stopped in front of one of the first door on the left.

“These are your quarters. Ward them how you see fit. Your office is through this door,” he gestured to the door on the opposite wall, “and connects to the Charms classroom.” At her silence, he huffed. “Have you any questions?”

“No, sir, not at this time.”

Snape rolled his eyes and let out a huff. “You are no longer a student, Miss Granger. Stop calling me sir.”

“In that case,” she said, “you may call me Hermione. If you wish.” She swallowed the urge to add a 'sir' to the end of her sentence.

He looked at her as if she'd grown three heads, then blinked twice and turned to leave, black robes billowing behind him. How could he stand to wear that many layers in this blistering heat?

Crookshanks letting out an annoyed meow shook her into action.

“I'm sorry, Crooks, I know you don't like the carrier. One moment and we'll sort you out.” Finding the door unlocked, she entered with anticipation. “This is your new home, old man.”

Putting the carrier down, she opened the latch and watched as he sniffed around the room. “Do you like it?”

He didn't answer, only flickered his tail as he continued to explore, and Hermione decided to do the same.

On her left was a large fireplace with a sofa and two matching armchairs gathered in a semi-circle around it, the dark plum upholstery complementing the ochre rug and dark walnut coffee table. The wall behind the sofa was covered completely in floor-to-ceiling bookcases, and the wall opposite the door held a desk under wide windows. The morning light spilling into the room made the space feel cosy and cheerful.

Crooks had disappeared through the open door next to the fireplace, which she assumed was the bedroom. Crossing the room, she poked her head through the door and almost squealed in delight. A four-poster walnut bed with cream bedding and matching nightstands on either side took up the majority of the room. A tall wardrobe and a chest of drawers in the same walnut wood completed the bedroom, and the two windows overlooked the Great Lake.

The bathroom was accessed through the bedroom and put the dorm bathrooms to shame. The sunken bathtub could fit at least three grown people comfortably, and there was an equally generous separate shower. Per request, the mirror above the sink was not a talking one. She'd had quite enough of talking mirrors during her NEWT year, thank you very much.

Back in the bedroom, she threw herself on her back on the bed with a happy sigh. She'd missed the Hogwarts beds. She couldn't believe this was actually happening. After taking her NEWTs, she had been unsure of what path to pursue. That she would do an apprenticeship was a given, but not in what field. After weeks of anxiety and endless pros and cons lists, she'd finally decided on Charms. Professor Flitwick was more than happy to take her on. As an apprentice, she'd had a private room, sat at the High Table at mealtimes and was in charge of marking the first and second years homework.

There was a soft trill, and the bed dipped as Crookshanks joined her. Settling into her side, he rested his head against her armpit and started purring.

“Are you happy to be back at Hogwarts?” she asked, looking down at his little face. He rubbed his head against her side, and she chuckled. “I'll take that as a yes.” Burying her hand in his soft fur, she looked up at the canopy. “I think we'll be all right here, Crooks.”

He had no objections to give.

As it turned out, being at Hogwarts during the summer wasn't very exciting. Many of the other professors weren't there; the only ones she saw on any sort of regularity were McGonagall (she'd been invited to call her Minerva, but that felt strange so she didn't), Snape (who'd never in a million years invite her to call him Severus), and Hagrid (whom she met with for tea regularly). Hermione had no trouble finding things to occupy herself with. She went over her lesson plans several times, tweaking them here and there until she was satisfied. Then she woke up in the middle of the night to re-write them again. She unpacked and took great pleasure in filling her bookcases and recategorizing her collection from alphabetically to by subject and back again. When she was finished there was still about half a shelf empty, which she took as a sign that she needed more books, so one afternoon she went to Hogsmeade to pick up a few new volumes. Whilst at Scrivenshaft's she also stocked up on several pots of ink (black for writing, red for marking), as well as new quills and parchment. She fretted endlessly on what type of teacher she wanted to be and what kind of robes to wear.

She also took up walking the grounds and exploring the castle quite a bit. Her favourite discovery was a small grassy courtyard, accessed to by the spiral staircase near her quarters, and she spent plenty of days out there with a good book and a cooling charm. Her skin turned golden and her hair lightened and she felt quite content with her life.

One afternoon in the middle of July, she entered the courtyard to find an intruder.

Snape was sitting on the stone bench she usually occupied, left foot resting on his right knee and an open book in his lap. He was without his usual layers, dressed only in black trousers and a white lawn shirt, of which he had rolled up the sleeves. The most disarming thing (besides seeing the Potion Master's forearms), was his hair tucked behind his left ear. It felt strangely intimate, seeing the curve of his ear and his neck.

“Oh. Hi.”

He blinked once. “Hello.”

Hermione suddenly felt very exposed in her shorts and vest top (was she imagining his gaze lingering on her legs?). “I can go if you prefer to be alone?”

He shrugged and turned back to his book. “As long as you won't pester me with endless questions, I see no reason we can't share the space.”

Sitting down stiffly on the bench next to him, she cracked open the book and tried to read. Seeing him out of the corner of her eye was distracting her, as was hearing him turn the pages and even the sound of his breathing and she couldn't concentrate enough to take in a single word. Get a grip, Hermione!

His presence had always made her slightly on edge. First, it was because of his intimidating persona in the classroom, then the knowledge that he'd been a Death Eater. Not because she'd believed he still was, even her 15-year-old self had been persistent about Snape being on the Order's side. No, it had been because he'd once held the belief that Muggles and Muggle-born were filth that made her on edge. After the war, it was because she now knew too much about him, things that were so private she felt guilty for knowing them. Harry had shared fully what he saw in the Pensieve with Ron and Hermione, but the Minister of Magic had got only the information necessary for Snape's trial. It was with a chill she recalled how he'd screamed and raged at them once he woke up from the magical coma to find himself not only alive but exonerated and considered by many as a hero. It seemed he had not counted on surviving the war. Since then, he'd largely settled on ignoring her whenever possible.

“Is something the matter?”

Hermione looked up, surprised to hear him speak, and even more surprised it was directed at her.

Snape rolled his eyes. “You've been staring at the same page for ten minutes. Either you find it extremely fascinating, which I find doubtful, or you've forgotten how to read.”

She closed her book and sat up straighter. “Those are your only guesses?”

“I care little either way.”

“Then why did you ask?”

His black eyes glittered. “Because your impression of a statue is distracting when one is trying to concentrate.”

“I was thinking about my lesson plans,” she said, looking away from his eyes so he wouldn't catch her lie. “There are a few things I want to tweak before term starts.”

He scoffed, and as he looked back to his book she caught a glimpse of the scarring on his neck. It sent a shiver down her spine. “You're a terrible liar, Granger.”

On the last day in July, she Apparated to 12 Grimmauld Place for Harry's birthday. The party was already in full swing when she let herself in, and she straightened her dress before going into the dining room. The Most Noble and Ancient House of Black was unrecognisable from how it had looked when it was Order Headquarters. Once Harry and Ron moved in permanently after the war, they did a complete remodel. The house was now light and bright, and they'd even managed to get rid of Mrs Black's portrait.

“Hermione!” Harry crossed the room in a few long steps and hugged her tightly.

“Happy birthday, Harry,” she grinned when they parted.

He grabbed her hand. “Come, you're just in time for cake.”

Before she knew it, Hermione was swept up by the Weasley clan and hugged to within an inch of her life. After she and Ron split a few months after the war ended, there had been some tension between her and the matriarch, which in turn had made her not being invited to the Burrow for holidays. It had taken Ron giving his mother a stern talking to for her to start talking to Hermione again. She'd accepted the unsaid apology, but had not forgotten the pettiness the older woman had shown during her fourth-year.

“I've barely been gone a month,” she said to Ginny when she'd been handed a big slice of chocolate fudge cake (Harry's favourite).

“We've missed you, that's all,” the younger woman smiled. “It feels weird you're away at Hogwarts, and as a Professor too!”

Harry nodded. “How does it feel, being on the other side?”

Hermione laughed. “Ask me that again in two months. Right now, my head is filled with lesson plans and enjoying the Restricted Section of the Library.” She nudged Harry playfully. “Also, who's the swot now having a Hogwarts professor at your birthday party?”

“You didn't teach me, so it doesn't count,” he replied. Then his grin faltered slightly. “Although I did invite Snape, so I'm not sure what that says about me.”

The forkful of cake she was about to eat fell back on her plate. “You invited Snape to your birthday party? What did he say?”

Harry frowned. “Well, he's not here, is he? He sent back a lovely owl saying he'd rather get attacked by that bloody snake again.” He tried, and failed, to keep the hurt out of his voice.

Hermione sighed. “Oh, Harry.”

“I know, Hermione, but I had to try.”

Ron, who had been busy eating, said something that was lost due to the amount of cake in his mouth.

Hermione rolled her eyes. Some things never changed. “Pardon?”

He swallowed the cake and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “I said, he's mental for trying to reason with that git. I feel sorry for you, 'Mione, that you have to share a castle with him.”

Harry's hand tightened around his plate, but he said nothing as he and Hermione shared a look. This wasn't the first time Ron had spoken his less than favourable opinion about Snape, which had resulted in arguments many times before. Strangely enough, it had been Ron who'd had the hardest time reconciling what they found out about Snape from Harry contra the persona he'd had while their Professor. Even Ginny, who'd actually been at Hogwarts during Snape's tenure as Headmaster and had been tortured by the Carrows more than once had formed some sort of reluctant acceptance regarding the former spy.

“Don't be a berk,” Ginny said. “Snape's not my favourite person but he did a lot of good things. Besides, everyone deserves a second chance.”

Ron snorted his disagreement and went over to talk to George and Charlie. Harry opened his mouth to speak but was interrupted by Arthur making a toast. As they cheered for the birthday boy, Hermione couldn't help but feel proud of her friend. He was almost a brother to her, and she was happy that he'd managed to put everything about the war and Voldemort far behind him. It had taken a long time, but he was finally all right. The way he looked at Ginny, and she at him, made her heart swell even more. If anyone deserved to be happy, it was them.

As the days of August thundered on without reprieve, Hermione found herself eagerly anticipating the start of term. She still spent almost every day in the courtyard near her quarters, and much to her surprise she was more often than not joined by Snape. They rarely engaged in conversation, and when they did it was often a heated discussion (once they argued so fervently about the uses of Gillyweed that Snape didn't return for three days), but mostly it was blissful silence.

She organised and re-organised her classroom and office space until she settled on a layout and welcoming feel she was satisfied with. The students who entered her office should be able to feel relaxed and welcome. She also took care not to have any Gryffindor paraphernalia lying about; the teachers should be impartial as to House alignments. It was something the Headmistress had stressed on since the school was rebuilt. It seemed Hermione wasn't the only one who didn't agree with Professor Dumbledore's blatant show of favouritism.

The week before the start of term, the rest of the teachers started arriving. The roster wasn't dissimilar to how it'd had been during her school years; there were only a handful of new hires in the past years and she knew all them in passing from her apprenticeship.

The first Staff meeting of the new term was giving her anxiety sweats. She wore her new light green robes, wrestled her hair into a chignon and even added some makeup to make herself look older and more professional. Despite this, and the knowledge she was both a capable witch and an adult, she felt woefully out of place.

McGonagall called the meeting to order, and Hermione looked around for an available seat. Remembering the seats were unofficially assigned, she waited until everyone had found their seat before sinking into the empty one.

“Firstly,” McGonagall said with a warm smile in Hermione's direction, “I wish to welcome our newest member of the faculty, Professor Hermione Granger.” There was brief applause, and many encouraging smiles thrown in her direction. “Most of you know Professor Granger from her student days, and I hope you'll do your best to make her feel welcome.”

Beside her, Snape snorted. Hermione's face flushed.

As the meeting continued, Hermione found herself relaxing. Sitting there as a Professor was not unlike being there as an apprentice, only now she was part of making decisions and principles. The patrol schedule was sorted, and she was pleased to have every other weekend free of patrols.

After the meeting, Professor Sprout intercepted her before she had a chance to leave. “It's a pleasure to have you here, Hermione,” she said with a wide smile. “If you're ever in need of a nice cuppa or some advice, my door is always open. Also,” she added slyly, “once the semester starts we have a standing poker game on Tuesdays after rounds, in my office. You are most welcome to join.”

“Oh, thank you,” Hermione said blankly, feeling quite stunned by the invitation.

Sprout patted her hand before leaving the room.

A snort made her look up.

Snape was looking at her with a dubious look. “Pomona invited you to poker nights?”

Straightening, Hermione nodded. “She did.”

He scoffed. “Hooch cheats, so unless you're unattached to your Galleons I'd advise you to skip it. There's usually a healthy amount of Firewhiskey present, and the stories those hags tell are enough to scar you for life.”

She raised her eyebrows. “You've been involved in these poker nights I gather?”

Snape smirked. “When I first started teaching. I went once, and then never again.”

“Are the stories that bad?”

“One of them involved Hooch, a jar of Marmite and half the Holyhead Harpies team.”

Hermione's jaw dropped.

Snape laughed, a rich low sound that caught her off guard. “I've seen that look many times on a former student's face. It's not very becoming.”

“What look?”

“Finding out your former teachers are, in fact, human.”

For the first time, Hermione allowed herself to really look at the man in front of her. Tall and lean, he seemed different now that she wasn't looking at him through the eyes of a child. He wasn't handsome by any means but had rather a striking appearance, and looked healthier than he did when she was at school. His hair, long enough to brush the shoulders of his black teaching robes, was still oily but she suspected it was inclined to just as hers was frizzy. Standing over Potion fumes all day couldn't help the matter either.

She raised her eyes to meet his. “What might I find out about you that proves you're human?”

She thought he'd reply something biting and sarcastic, as was his norm, but instead he gave her a look she couldn't decipher and stormed out of the room.

“Strange man,” she muttered as she left the room.

On the night before term start, a knock on her office door made Hermione look up from the enrolment list in front of her. “It's open!” she called out, closing the binder and straightening up.

Professor McGonagall pushed the door open with a smile. “I hope I'm not disturbing you?”

Hermione stood. “No, not at all. Please, come in.” She gestured to the armchairs by the fire. “Would you care for some tea?”

“Yes, thank you.”

Hermione went over to the silver tea set and prepared a fresh pot Earl Gray, and plated some cranberry biscuits before taking the tray over to the Headmistress.

“Please, help yourself,” she said, sitting down.

“The House-elves are perfectly happy making us tea,” McGonagall tsked as she poured herself a cup.

“I know, but I prefer doing it myself.” Hermione poured herself a cup, added a splash of milk and snagged two biscuits from the tray. “I find it soothing.”

“Of course.” McGonagall took a sip and then cradled her cup in her lap. “How are you feeling, Hermione, about tomorrow? You did do a fair bit of teaching as part of your apprenticeship, but it's different being the actual Professor.”

“I'm a bit nervous,” Hermione admitted, stirring her tea, “but mostly excited.”

“You'll do great, lass. Filius said you were the brightest apprentice he's taken on in over twenty years.” McGonagall winked. “And we both know Mr Potter and Mr Weasley would not be where they are today without your help.”

Hermione's face flushed. Merlin knew she'd probably read more of their homework than the teachers did.

“If you find yourself in need of a sounding board, I'm happy to help,” McGonagall said with a smile. “I daresay all the Professors would lend a helping hand, should you require it.”

A ball of nervousness sank deep into Hermione's belly. “Thank you, Professor.”

“I insist you call me Minerva. It's a tough habit to break, addressing ones former teachers by their first name. It took me nigh on five years to stop calling Albus 'professor'.” She laughed heartily, then looked at the clock on the mantelpiece. “I shall leave you to your planning,” she said as she stood, “I have some last minutes letters to answer before it gets too late.”

Rising to her feet, Hermione put her cup on the low table between the armchairs. “Thank you for stopping by, Profess- Minerva,” she finished after a pointed look from the older woman.

After McGonagall left, Hermione sank down in the chair behind her desk again. Ready or not, tomorrow would undoubtedly come.