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Essay: Personal Shielding spells - describe at least three variations and specify their strengths and weaknesses. Give examples of appropriate situations in which to use each type.

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REJECTED - Your Defense Against the Dark Arts essays are as boring and tiresome as your Potions essays have always been. In future, when I specify a length for an assignment, you will consider this to be the MAXIMUM length. I will no longer waste my time marking your ridiculous attempts to show off. - SS (23-Sept)

REJECTED AGAIN - Writing so small is a direct attempt to cheat your way into meeting the requirements. 

Ten points from Gryffindor for wasting my time. - SS (25-Sept)

ACCEPTABLE - SS (28-Sept)


Essay: Use of the Wellesley-Warburton method for increasing the speed of casting during dueling

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ACCEPTABLE - An essay does not need to include every piece of information you are able to find about a subject. Demonstrate that you are capable of discerning between relevant information and unhelpful minutiae. - SS (25-Oct)


Essay: Non-verbal jinxes - Explain the theory behind these types of spells and explain why you failed or succeeded in class. By referencing the theory, explain how you can improve your performance.

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EXCEEDS EXPECTATIONS - Finally, a piece of work in which you demonstrate an ability to interpret facts instead of simply regurgitating them. - SS (1-Dec)


Essay: Explain why the Hirquus spell is the most effective defense from attack by the Chupacabra. Give examples of situations where this defense has been effective. Explain the limitations of the alternatives suggested by Yadiel Warbek, Pinkleton-Pince and Kamila Burgos

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EXCEEDS EXPECTATIONS - Your detailed analysis of the relevant information is concise and well-written. You consider the problem from all angles and present your arguments clearly. It is a pity that your final conclusion is entirely wrong. - SS (19-Jan)

Sir, I stand by my arguments. I have included further evidence from the texts I referenced above. - HG (20-Jan)

You present a convincing case for your viewpoint, but you are failing to consider other more important and more practical limitations. We will continue this discussion in person. See me after class. - SS (22-Jan)

OUTSTANDING - Very well, Miss Granger - taking your new arguments into account (even though your revised essay is now almost a foot longer than allowed) I will concede the point.

It is surprising for me to be argued into changing my opinion and unheard of for me to review the same essay three times. Do not count on either again. - SS (25-Jan)


Essay: Offensive spells - give three non-lethal offensive spells and explain the mechanics, including the incantation and movement, and the effect of the spell. Discuss the use of these spells and any methods of defense, from the point of view of the attacker and the defender.

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EXCEEDS EXPECTATIONS - Too much irrelevant information. Concentrate on what is important to the point you are attempting to get across. - SS (15-Feb)


Essay: Vampirism - Outline the various myths regarding vampirism in the muggle and wizarding worlds.  Explain why certain myths remain prevalent.

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OUTSTANDING - Your comment about the deliberate misinformation disseminated to muggles in the sixteenth century regarding vampirism is interesting.

Do not attempt to be humorous in your essays, Miss Granger.  I once tried telling jokes about potions in my lessons, but there was no reaction. - SS (23-Mar)


Essay: Defense against the dead - Give a detailed description of Inferi and at least two other types of reanimated beings. Include information about how they are controlled, where their magical energy comes from, their strengths and weaknesses. Give, with examples, two methods of defense against each.

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ACCEPTABLE - Once again, you are wasting my time with ridiculous amounts of unnecessary information. - SS (7-May)


Essay: Dementors - Explain the effects of the dementor’s kiss. Discuss in detail the variance of effects on different witches and wizards, and the various theories as to why the differences occur.

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NOTE: I have not included Cornelius Cornelius' book 'Lost Souls' in this bibliography because although I studied it for my research, I disagreed with almost everything in it. - HG

OUTSTANDING - I agree about ‘Lost Souls’. I have considered borrowing it from the library and 'accidentally' damaging it beyond repair. Only the bibliophile in me prevents me from shredding it. Cornelius Cornelius is clearly an idiot. SS (5-Jun)


Hermione Granger set down the last of her Defense Against the Dark Arts essays, her eyes red with tears.

It had been an enjoyable year for her, academically. Alongside everything that had been happening with Harry’s obsession with the Room of Requirement and the Half-Blood Prince, she felt that she had grown in her studies.  While most of her professors had always praised her long essays because they showed how well she knew the subject and how much effort she was putting into her work, Professor Snape had always been the exception. Despite her best efforts, she had never before received an Outstanding in any of her essays for him.  During that year, despite the initial horror of having him refuse even to read her over-long essays, she felt she had finally understood.  His brief notes on her work had provided guidance that she had never known she needed.  Some of his comments had been irritable and severe; others had taken on an almost friendly tone. His appalling ‘joke’ had left her gobsmacked, but on the very next essay he had been back to his usual acerbic self. Gradually, her essays in Defense and every other subject had become shorter but more focused, and she found herself wishing that Snape had started rejecting her essays much earlier.

She gazed at the pile of papers.  She had read through his comments several times in the last two days, desperately looking for something she might have missed.  Something that might have told her that the teacher was a double-crossing murdering bastard. Nothing.

She replaced the scrolls in their box and picked up the final item, which was a small neatly-folded note in an envelope with a broken seal. She had found it waiting for her on her bedside table when she had finally needed sleep after many hours of crying, following Dumbledore’s death.  Recognizing the writing, she had initially been suspicious of it and had cast several spells to detect curses and jinxes. Finding nothing, she had tentatively picked it up and broken the seal. After she had read it, she had considered ripping it up, but instead had stored it safely in case it would be useful for the aurors.

She stared at the spiky letters on the envelope.  Miss Hermione Granger.  All those months, the Half-Blood-Prince’s book had been right under her nose, and she had not recognized the writing.  It had been cramped - crammed into the margins between the text - and had been forced into tighter, more controlled lettering.  The letters on her essays and on the envelope before her had similar shapes, but were under no constraints and free to expand into the flourishes that tipped certain pen strokes. She couldn’t blame herself for not recognizing the writing, but how could she have been so wrong about the man himself?

It had been two days since Dumbledore’s murder, but whenever she thought of it, the shock seemed to hit her anew. Dumbledore had trusted him with his life and had been betrayed.  They had all been betrayed.  Hermione had believed him to be trying to kill Harry and steal the Philosopher’s Stone during their first year, but Dumbledore’s faith in him had convinced her of his trustworthiness.  While Harry’s trust in him had ebbed and flowed, and his personal dislike of him had grown, Hermione had defended him and treated him with respect.  This year, he had remained as irritable, snarky and unpleasant as ever in person, but his feedback on her essays had given her a hint of something more to his personality.  His guidance of her had been a revelation in her academic work, and her respect for him had grown.

How could she have been so wrong?  How could Dumbledore?

Her chest tightened and tears began to fall again from her exhausted eyes.

Dumbledore was gone.

Dumbledore was dead.

She pulled the letter from the envelope in misery, anger and despair, reading it one more time, even though every word was already seared into her mind.

 

July 1st, 1997

Miss Granger,

This note is charmed to be delivered once I have left the school, and by the time you receive it no one will have any doubt of my allegiance to the Dark Lord. I wish you to know that I have found it satisfying to see the progress you have made this year. Please keep learning and striving for excellence.

Severus Snape

Bastard.

Chapter Text

 

May 21st, 1998 - St. Mungo’s

Miss Granger,

It was necessary for the wizarding world to hate me for the past year. Do not feel guilty. 

Severus Snape 


“Six hours!” Hermione exclaimed. “It took me six hours and about ten re-writes to figure out what I wanted to say to him, and I get one line in response!” She shook her head, torn between annoyance and amusement.

Harry shrugged.  “That’s more than I got from him.”

She gave a sigh. “Well, at least he doesn’t sound angry.  To be honest, I’m just relieved he can write at all.  It’s amazing he’s even alive.”

A gnome stuck its head out from under a bush and ran across the grass, dragging a stick behind it. From inside The Burrow, the brief sound of yelling drifted out to them, then went quiet again.  Sadness and anger seemed to be the only emotions anyone could feel right now.

Her shoulders slumped and she sat next to Harry on the bench. “I’d always thought that defeating Voldemort would mean parties and happiness,” she said softly.

Harry nodded. “There’s just been so much loss. So many good people.”

They sat in silence for a while until they heard the door open and Ron and Ginny come into the garden. Ginny immediately sat beside Harry and placed her head on his shoulder.  Ron stood awkwardly, watching the gnome who was dragging another stick across the lawn.

“Mum wanted us to ask if anyone was hungry,” he told them.  “She’s insane. Even I’m not hungry.”

Harry and Hermione managed smiles.  “That’s a first.”

“You got an owl?” asked Ginny.

“It’s from Professor Snape,” Hermione told her.

Ron had looked momentarily interested, but scowled and turned away when he heard the name. “What does that git want?” he asked, angrily.

“He was replying to my letter,” she explained calmly, “saying that we shouldn’t feel guilty for not trusting him.”

“I don’t!” he replied, and stalked off back towards the house.

Harry put his arm around Ginny as she began to cry, and reached out to grasp Hermione’s hand. “It will get better,” he promised.  “Everyone is just so emotional right now, and having all of us in one house is difficult. We all need time to heal.”


 

May 30th

Dear Professor Snape,

Thank you for your letter. I hope that you’re recovering well.

Arthur said that the healers have been doing some tests on him, to help with using the same methods they used to heal him from Nagini’s bite.  Healer Jones took some blood from him, to try something new, and Arthur was very excited to be part of a ‘muggle-ish’ experiment. It sounds like you got far more of the venom than he did, though. Were you already taking potions as an antidote, expecting an attack?

Harry and I have been staying at the Burrow since the battle, but we moved into Grimmauld Place, yesterday.  Things at the Weasleys’ are very strained.  They’re taking Fred’s death very hard.  Percy rarely leaves his room, and barely speaks when he does. Charlie and Ron are angry about everything. Ginny is very quiet.  Arthur, Bill and George are the ones coping the best. They’re at work most of the time - even George. He managed a laugh when Molly accidentally called him Fred the other day, but Molly went into hysterics and needed a calming draught. Mostly, she just cooks. Harry and I figured they might need some space.  Even though we’re kind of family, we felt as though we were intruding on their grief, somehow.

Harry’s house elf, Kreacher, has been taking care of all our post, and there has been a lot of it. We’ve had Ron’s diverted here, too.  Mostly letters thanking us, apparently.  We’ll respond to them all in time, but we’re not ready to do it yet.  We told Kreacher to pass on any letters from members of the Order, or from people from school, for now.

If it’s okay with you, Harry and I would like to visit you.  If there is anything you would like us to bring you, please let me know.

Hermione Granger


 

June 1st, 1998

Miss Granger,

I do not wish for visitors during my recovery, but letters would be acceptable. I am unaccustomed to confinement and would appreciate the distraction.

Please limit all letters to a maximum of three feet.

Severus Snape


Life at Grimmauld Place was busy but enjoyable.  With no horcruxes to hunt, Hermione set herself the task of researching and fixing the dark magic that permeated the house.  The Order had managed to dismantle many hexes, but she still often found nasty surprises when investigating the less-used areas of the house.  She found a hidden door next to Regulus’ old bedroom, which gave her what felt like an electric shock when she touched it, leaving her arm painful and tingling for several hours.

Kreacher was a helpful resource, but even he was not aware of some of the older hidden hexes.  In the end, she enlisted Bill’s help. Where she had managed to counter certain spells, he was able to remove them completely.  The most significant dark magic he found was a general anti-muggle spell. It had been twisted and warped so much that instead of repelling muggles, if one had ever managed to get into (or been brought into) the house they would have been drawn in completely.  They would have suffered pain and terror, unable to escape its pull. Eventually, they would have been driven insane.

“It’s strong enough to affect muggle-borns, too, but not to the same extent,” Bill told her.  “Have you ever just ‘felt’ that something was wrong about the house?”

Hermione thought.  “Yes, but it’s kind of in the background.  Just a feeling of unease the whole time.  I always thought it was the pressure from the war or from hunting horcruxes, but it’s still there.”

Bill nodded.  “Well, this curse is your culprit.  Give me a couple of days to do some research, and I’ll deal with it.  It’ll probably need two of us.  I could bring in a colleague, or I could teach you the counter-curses.”

Of course, Hermione could not pass up the opportunity to learn something new.  Two days later, she and Bill collapsed, exhausted, into chairs in the library. “That curse went deeper than I’d expected,” he croaked.  “I think it would even affect pure-blood squibs. Well done for managing to keep up the holding spell.”

She sighed, relieved.  “I was so used to it that I didn’t realize how much of an effect it had on me.  The whole house feels ‘friendlier’ already.”

Kreacher brought them tea and fresh scones on a silver tray, with a white tablecloth and neatly-folded napkins.

When Hermione thanked him and told him what a wonderful job he did of looking after them, he blushed but didn’t meet her eyes. “Miss Hermione is kind and Kreacher likes her.  Kreacher hopes that she and Master Harry will be very happy together and have many children for Kreacher to care for.”

Bill spluttered, but managed to wait until the elf had disappeared before speaking.  “ You and Harry? I thought that you and Ron … ?”

“No,” Hermione said firmly. “On both counts.”

He raised his eyebrows in question.

“Harry and I … definitely not, despite Kreacher’s ideas.  Even if I was interested, your sister would kill me.” She smiled.  “As for Ron … I had such a crush on him for ages, and I thought things might go somewhere, but it would never work.  I love Ron as a friend, but he’s just so …”

“Immature?” Bill interrupted, with a smile.

“Not, exactly,” she commented.  “Well, maybe. It just never would have worked out.”

Bill gave her a half smile.  “Pity.  I’ve always thought you’d be good for him. Though I suppose that doesn’t necessarily mean he would be good for you.”

“How’s everything at the Burrow?” Hermione asked, hoping to steer the conversation away from her non-relationship with Ron. “How’s your mum?”

He put down his cup and ran his hands over his face.  “Better,” he said.  “A bit, anyway.  She’s calmer, but not wanting to let any of us out of her sight.  I should probably spend more time with her, but it hurts so much. George is doing okay.  He has periods where he’ll spend a couple of hours crying his eyes out, but other times, he’s managing to joke a bit. I think he copes better at the shop than he does at home.

They talked for a while before Bill needed to get home for dinner.  He hugged Hermione before he left, telling her that he’d better get an invite, if Kreacher was planning a wedding for her and Harry.

Hermione smiled as he left, and put her hand on the wall of the hallway.  The house really did feel different to her - as though there had always been a rumbling just out of her range of hearing, and even though she’d never heard it she felt relief when it stopped.

Knowing that she had a little time before Harry would be home, she pulled out pen and parchment and started another letter to Professor Snape. She had sent one already but he had not replied. She wasn’t sure if he would get irritated at her for writing too much, but he had said he’d appreciate the distraction, and she was certain that he would be interested in the spells that she and Bill had used to cleanse the house.


 

June 23rd, 1998

Miss Granger,

The potions I am taking make it difficult for me to write much. Do not take the briefness (or absence) of my replies to mean that your letters are unwelcome.

Severus Snape 


In the last week of June, the date was set for Severus Snape’s trial for war crimes, including the murder of Albus Dumbledore. Wednesday July 8th, 1998. When she wrote to him, she told him that Harry had been asked to testify and was determined to use all his influence to make sure that he was exonerated.

Not that it will be necessary, of course.  It’s ridiculous that the Wizengamot are even insisting on a trial. I’ve read everything I can about court proceedings and they could have just dropped all the charges as soon as they had Harry’s evidence.  I don’t know why they haven't!

She went on to talk about the Daily Prophet’s coverage, which she assumed he’d read.  Rita Skeeter had, strangely, been offering a relatively fair assessment of his actions during the war.  She had little information to go on, and seemed to be waiting for the trial before she decided to firmly raise her standard in the camp of hero or villain.

Skeeter’s assessment of Hermione herself was more decided.  Miss Granger, apparently, was of little help to Harry Potter during his heroic underground mission.  She had caused disruption to Harry and Ron by playing both of them while on the run, and had abandoned them when the going got tough. She had only returned in order to help with a daring break-in to Gringotts by being promised her pick of the spoils.  Harry and his faithful friend Ron, of course, had taken nothing but the mysterious ‘weapon’ they were searching for, in order to bring down You-Know-Who.

Accustomed to the lies of Rita Skeeter, Hermione laughed as she wrote about it to Professor Snape.

Apparently, she’s been having some problems with boils that St. Mungo’s can’t seem to fix, since she wrote that article, and I have my suspicions about the culprit.  Kreacher was very upset when he told Harry that some of the owl post for me has been getting unpleasant, but the day afterwards, he was looking very pleased with himself.  Harry tried to get him to tell him what was going on, but Kreacher refused to talk about it and said that where he went and who he hexed in his spare time was his own business. He did try to punish himself for being rude to Master Harry, then remembered that he’d been forbidden from punishing himself, so tried to punish himself for disobeying the order not to punish himself. He was in quite a state about it. I eventually helped him resolve the dilemma by pointing out that not being allowed to punish himself was punishment enough.

He’s a strange elf.  He’s taken to setting up romantic dinners for myself and Harry, complete with candles and violin music, and asking if we’ve picked out names for our children, yet. Harry’s tried telling him that we’re just friends, but he takes no notice.  I think Ginny is going to kill him.  Or possibly me.

The end of her latest letter was about her N.E.W.T.s and how worried she was about them. Professor McGonagall had agreed to allow students to return to complete their final year and take their exams if they wanted to, but Hermione was worried about how much she had forgotten, having not studied for a full year.  She had worked out a plan of reading through all of her notes from her sixth year over the summer, before returning to school in September. She just hoped it would be enough and that she wouldn’t feel too far behind after such a long break. When Professor Snape sent his brief reply, this was the only part of her letter on which he chose to comment, other than the stack of potions magazines she had found at Flourish and Blotts.


 

July 1st, 1998

Miss Granger,

I find it unsurprising that you are planning to return to Hogwarts. Despite surpassing the knowledge of most students who have already completed their education, I realize that you could not be satisfied without official grades. I had hoped, however, that after last year you might have learned to trust yourself without requiring outside assessments of your abilities.

Thank you for the potions journals.  

Severus Snape 


 

July 7th, 1998

Miss Granger 

Your last letter asked of my plans. It had not occurred to me that I might survive the war, so I never gave it a moment's thought. Given that I did not formally resign as Headmaster of Hogwarts and, as far as I know, have never officially been fired, perhaps I could simply turn up and continue my job. I wonder whether they are still paying me.

In truth, I would not wish to return to the school in any capacity. The memories would be extremely intense for both myself and everyone who suffered under my regime as Headmaster. I will give the matter some thought after my trial, but the idea of considering what I wish without deference to either Dumbledore or Voldemort is a new concept for me. Perhaps, tomorrow, I will be sentenced to a life in Azkaban and the decision will be taken out of my hands.

Severus Snape


Hermione’s question about the reason for Severus Snape being sent to trial was answered by the Minister of Magic.  Kingsley Shacklebolt stood tall in the courtroom and addressed the Wizengamot and the limited number of spectators permitted to attend.

“The charges against Severus Snape are serious and his actions have had a profound effect on our world.  The death of Albus Dumbledore was a shock to the whole of wizarding society and the public outcry and vilification of his killer was swift and strong. I, myself, was outspoken about the need to track the perpetrator down.  If not for Voldemort’s hold on our government, working against the Order of the Phoenix, it is likely that he would have been killed without trial.  We were at war, and given the opportunity, I would have carried out his execution myself, without a moment’s hesitation and without remorse.

“The wizard before us deserves this trial.  Instead of having the charges dropped through the office of the Aurors, which could have resulted in claims of cover-ups and subterfuge, he deserves an opportunity to present his defense in court and on public record.  I, myself, have no doubts of his loyalty to Albus Dumbledore and Harry Potter, and his diligent and dangerous work to help bring down Voldemort.  I think it important for our world to know the truth about what will be brought to light through this trial.”

Throughout his speech Hermione’s eyes, along with everyone else’s in the courtroom, remained fixed on Severus Snape. He had been escorted to the defendant’s stand by aurors and if she had not known him to be severely weakened by his injuries, his bearing would not have betrayed it. He stood firm and impassive, regarding Kingsley but showing no hint of a reaction to his words. He was dressed in his usual black frock-coat and robes and looked every inch the powerful, intimidating wizard she had known since she was eleven years old.

The trial lasted for the full day and into the evening.  Professor Snape was questioned at length by several members of the Wizengamot, including  the head of the Auror office, Gawain Robards, Minerva McGonagall, and Kingsley. His voice was hoarse and quiet, but the room was so silent during his testimony that no-one missed a word.

Harry and Draco Malfoy were called to answer questions about what happened on the astronomy tower. Harry was also questioned about Snape’s actions on the day of the final battle, along with Ron and Hermione. Even Lucius Malfoy was brought from Azkaban, questioned at length by Kingsley about Snape’s actions with the Death Eaters.

The elder Malfoy’s testimony was terrible to listen to.  He described atrocities carried out by Voldemort and on his orders that made even the most battle-hardened aurors cringe.  Everyone except Snape, whose face remained as impassive as ever. But even Malfoy could not, under veritaserum, point to any actions by the spy that were beyond his role as Dumbledore’s spy.  He had a reputation amongst the Death Eaters as preferring to watch rather than engage in ‘sport’ with muggles.  He had killed only on Voldemort’s direct orders, except for the occasions when he had put a muggle to a quick death instead of joining in a prolonged torture. On occasion, he had spoken in favour of considering the use of the Imperius curse as an alternative to killing an auror or member of the Ministry of Magic, even at the cost of the Dark Lord’s displeasure and punishment when he disagreed. It seemed clear that Lucius Malfoy was becoming dangerously unhinged.  Even while describing how Voldemort had beaten him down in his own manor, taken his wand and almost destroyed his son, Malfoy clung to a deranged adoration of him. He blamed Snape for his failure to retrieve the prophecy at the Ministry and for his subsequent downfall in his status with his master. On occasion, though, his defiance seemed to crack, and he seemed to crumple in on himself, speaking of the horrors he himself had committed, and his regret of ever believing Voldemort’s lies.

One thing that remained firm in his words was his love for his son. Hermione almost felt her heart break at the look of despair on Draco’s face as he listened to his father’s rants. His mother, sitting next to him and not far from Hermione, merely looked disgusted, as did many of the faces in the room.

Draco, in his own testimony, thanked Snape for his protection and for what he had done for him on the night of Dumbledore’s death.  When he was dismissed as a witness, a tear ran down his face as he quietly asked if he would be allowed to hug his father before he was returned to Azkaban. Hermione was relieved that the two were allowed some privacy outside the courtroom. Narcissa did not join them.

Hermione’s testimony was brief and concerned Snape’s command to look after Flitwick on the night he killed Dumbledore, and what they believed to be his dying words after his attack by Nagini. Snape watched her coolly as she testified, as he did with all the witnesses, but when she turned to give him a smile of encouragement after being dismissed, he returned her gesture with a small nod.

Ron’s answers confirmed her own, but he also insisted on responding to Malfoy Sr.’s description of the attack on Harry, the night he was moved from the Dursleys’ house to the Burrow. He argued that a wizard of Snape’s supposed skill would never had made the mistake that he claimed resulted in George’s missing ear. He was convinced that it must have been deliberate hatred for the Weasley family due to Ron’s friendship with Harry. Hermione merely sighed.

It was a long day, with only brief recesses for lunch and dinner.  She had hoped to be able to speak with Professor Snape during these recesses but he was immediately escorted from the room each time, and she did not know where he had been taken.

When testimony finally came to an end, and none of the Wizengamot had any further questions, a vote was taken.  It was clear to see, without a specific count, that almost all the court wanted to acquit Snape of all charges.  Only three dissenting votes were cast, and Kingsley Shacklebolt spoke sympathetically of those who lost family to the Death Eaters. He thanked Snape for his service with obvious sincerity, and dismissed the court.

Hermione hurried from the courtroom, hoping to speak with Professor Snape, but by the time she made it out of the door, he and his escort were nowhere in sight.

Chapter Text

July 10th, 1998

Miss Granger,

I apologize for not speaking with you at my trial. The toll that my injury and its treatment have taken on my body was very apparent to me on my first excursion from the hospital. My throat held up better than I expected, but the overall exhaustion was intense and frustrating.

The vehemence with which Mr. Potter defended me was unexpected. I suppose I am lucky that I was able to give him my memories while 'on the point of death', although had I suspected that I might survive, I may have been more selective in what I chose to share. I am thankful that the Wizengamot agreed to keep the more personal memories private.

Severus Snape


“To the Ministry of Magic’s newest Trainee Aurors!”

Hermione raised her glass and drank to Harry, Ron, Neville and Susan. It was strange to be having friends over to Grimmauld Place. In many ways, despite fighting in a war, she felt like a child.  Having a dinner party seemed like such a ‘grown-up’ thing, but it almost made her feel like she was a child playing at being an adult. Perhaps it was simply that part of her wanted to remain a child, and she was confused.

Harry had a job, his own home, and had secretly confided that he was planning to ask Ginny to marry him. Hermione was the oldest of those around the table, but was returning to school. She was staying with Harry for the summer, but had no official home to return to after her NEWTs. Susan Bones was sharing a flat with a qualified auror. Neville was living with his grandmother, but planning to get a flat of his own when he had saved enough. Ron was staying at home to be with his family, but she suspected that he might have wanted to move in with Harry had it not been for the awkwardness between him and Hermione. Some people from their year were independent, with jobs and flats of their own, while others were returning to school and still officially living with their parents. Her parents were gone - she had known that her memory spell would be irreversible - and she was independent, but she didn’t know where in the child-adult picture she fit, or where she wanted to fit.

The war was over and life was supposed to return to normal, but she had no idea what ‘normal’ was any more. Kingsley Shacklebolt had practically given her carte blanche to pick where she would like to work at the Ministry, without needing to finish her N.E.W.T.s, and even Minerva McGonagall had encouraged her to take advantage of the offer, but she had been determined to finish her education ‘properly’. Perhaps she was just afraid to move on.

She internally gave herself a shake, to temporarily banish her internal musings, and smiled around at her friends.

“So,” she said brightly, “let’s hear all about your first week.”


It was quite late when Neville and Susan left Grimmauld Place, as none of them had to get up in the morning. Harry and Ginny had disappeared for some alone time before the two Weasleys had to leave, which left Hermione and Ron alone in the kitchen.  It was exactly what she’d been wanting to avoid. She was glad that their other two guests were nothing more than friends, as she had not wanted the three witches and three wizards to be paired off, but Ron did not seem opposed to the idea.

She knew Ron well enough to know that his offer to help with making tea was only a ploy, and she sighed when he moved in close and slipped his arm around her waist. Saying nothing, he awkwardly maneuvered her to face him, and bent to kiss her.

“Ron,” she said, quietly, placing her hand on his chest to keep him away, “we agreed that this wasn’t a good idea.” He smelled of wine, but she knew he was far from drunk.

“Just a kiss, Mione,” he murmured. “It doesn’t have to mean anything.”

“No,” she said, more firmly.

He frowned, sullenly. “Why not? You’ve fancied me for ages.” His hands were on her upper arms - not tightly, but firmly enough to resist her gentle pressure on his chest. “I thought after the battle … I know you said you didn’t want to be an item, but there’s no reason we can’t just have fun.”

“I don’t want to do that, Ron,” Hermione said, decisively.

Ron’s expression turned to anger. “I don’t know what’s wrong with you, Mione. You lead me on, then turn me down, you go back to school when you could be doing something useful at the Ministry, and you turn your back on our family when we need support!”

It was Hermione’s turn to get angry now.  She pushed him away and moved back to create more space between them. “Firstly, I did not lead you on.  We both got carried away in the heat of the moment and it was a mistake. Secondly, I have not turned my back on your family and I never will. And finally, for Merlin’s sake, STOP CALLING ME MIONE!”

It was clear that he had no intention of backing down.  “You haven’t turned your back on our family?  Fred was killed by Death Eaters, and more of us could easily have died, too!  Our family is in pain and you and Harry are in court telling everyone what a great bloke that bastard Snape is. You don’t think that’s turning your back on us? Or maybe ‘stabbing us in the back’ is more like it.”

Hermione felt tears of pain and anger rolling down her cheeks.  At the same time, Harry burst into the kitchen, with Ginny on his heels, with their wands drawn. “What the hell is going on?” Harry demanded.

“Ask ‘Mione’,” Ron snapped, and headed for the floo, barking out his destination and disappearing in a flash of green.

Harry and Ginny stared at her in silence.  She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, then forced a fake cheery smile onto her face.  “I just put the kettle on,” she chirped. “Who wants some tea?” 


When Hermione next wrote to Professor Snape, she told him of the four new Trainee Aurors and mentioned Ron’s blowup.

Maybe the training will give him something to focus on and help him with his anger. Ginny says he can go from fine to angry at the drop of a hat, lately. I don’t think he really blames you - he has a tendency to lash out under stress, and you’re just a convenient person for him to blame for everything. I know that the rest of his family don’t feel the same way.

I spoke to Kingsley yesterday, and he says that you’ve been getting even more post since the trial (and Skeeter’s awful story).  I asked Kreacher, and he says he’d be happy to sort through your letters and just forward anything personal or important, like he does with us. He has promised that he will treat all post confidentially.  He’s excellent at dealing with howlers, too;  I’ve had a few of them.  Not Harry, of course, but he’s had a few over-zealous marriage proposals with concealed binding charms on them. Kreacher seems to have come around to the idea of Ginny being the one to marry Harry, and has been letting her help destroy all the proposals.

I’m enjoying the summer, but looking forward to going back to Hogwarts.  Professor McGonagall says that the repair work is going very well.  Apparently, a lot of the old knowledge about the castle’s magic has been passed down through generations of house elves, so they’re taking the lead in the restoration.  Professor Flitwick has brought in three extra Charms Masters and they’re working together to repair and restore the wards.  There’s also a painting expert working on fixing the damage to the portraits.  I’m glad that the Head’s office didn’t get damaged - the gargoyles managed to shield it very well.  I’m curious - will your portrait already be there, or do they only appear when the Headmaster or Headmistress dies? That would be strange, having a sentient portrait of someone, while they’re still alive.

So far, I’ve heard of two other people who are planning to return to school in September - Dean Thomas and Padma Patil. I wonder who else will be returning.  I would have expected Neville to go back - he spent most of last year getting turned into a bloody mess, from the sound of things, so I doubt he did much learning. I don’t mean to make you feel bad, bringing up what happened at Hogwarts last year. He says he’s realized that looking back, you overruled the Carrows on their punishments as much as you could.  He thinks they might have killed him if you hadn’t kept warning them about not spilling too much magical blood.  Anyway, the usual requirements for getting into the auror training program have been modified, and they’ll be having extra academic classes to help them catch up with what they need, alongside the regular auror training.

There were times, when she was writing, that Hermione wondered if Professor Snape would get tired of her letters.  She could almost hear his voice, criticizing her ‘incessant prattling’.  It was interesting that when she had spoken to Minerva McGonagall, she had been under the impression that the former Headmaster was ignoring almost all letters to him.  She had sent him several owls and had received a single terse and coarsely-worded line back, telling her to stop bothering him. He had completely ignored all other letters except for hers.

Cautious of pushing her luck, she was careful to limit the amount she wrote about Harry, and also avoided too many words of praise and thanks.  Based on a comment Kingsley had made, she avoided the word ‘hero’ at all - it had not gone well for the Minister.

Checking over her letter, she sealed it and went to find Kreacher.  Maybe it was about time that Harry got himself a new owl.


Over the next few weeks, Hermione concentrated on her studies.  She had never felt comfortable about throwing away her work, and had stored every essay from her entire time at the school.  In a fit of worry, she had altered her revision timetable to include reading through all of her notes and homework from her O.W.L.s, as well as from her sixth year.  The final year was going to be the most difficult of all, and she needed to be prepared. She had also got an advanced list of any new textbooks she would need, and had scheduled time to read them all at least twice.

In between her revision, she continued to write to Professor Snape. His replies gradually became longer and his writing appeared more steady. She also began to see more of his acerbic sense of humour coming through, as well as his irritation at being confined to the hospital.



July 21st, 1998 

Miss Granger,

The offer of your elf’s services is appreciated. My healer has been diverting all owls except for Hogwarts staff and ‘The Golden Trio’, as he doesn’t want me to over-exert myself.  He was furious that my trial was done in one long day, but it was my choice.  Shacklebolt tried to convince me to take a break, but I wanted it over with and made him continue. I haven’t told Jones that, though - I want to know if he’ll follow through on his threat to hex the Minister of Magic for ‘endangering a patient’.

I have been giving more thought to your question of my future plans. My first priority is to get out of this damned hospital. Eventually, I may enjoy brewing healing potions. Whoever is supplying St. Mungo's is little more than passably competent. Unfortunately, it may be some time before I am able to take on this task. Yesterday I was able to walk to the hospital cafeteria and back with only one rest break along the journey. I am sure you can imagine my excitement at this accomplishment.

Severus Snape



August 2nd, 1998

Miss Granger,

My health is improving slowly but noticeably. Despite Healer Jones’ insistence that I may bleed to death if I move too quickly, I considered making a break for it, yesterday. Unfortunately, the devious prick has had my clothes removed from my room and placed a charm on the whole corridor to prevent me from summoning any. I refuse to break out of this prison wearing hospital robes. Perhaps you could assuage your guilt about losing faith in me by sending me something more appropriate by owl post.

Severus Snape



August 9th, 1998

Miss Granger, 

If Minerva Bloody McGonagall thinks she can persuade me to return to Hogwarts by getting the brains of the 'Golden Trio' to submit essays to me, she can forget it. Did she believe that I would read your commentary on the article about brewing the Wolfsbane potion and suddenly discover that I miss teaching? Your work is hardly typical of the type of dunderheaded drivel that plagued my teaching career, and I have no wish to subject myself to incompetent students again.

Incidentally, I agree with you on most of your comments, but you are ridiculously naïve  if you believe that even most Master potioneers prepare their ingredients to such exacting standards. I am happy to argue the point with you but if you expect me to give you a grade, you can jump in the lake and take the Gryffindor Hag with you.

Severus Snape



August 17th, 1998

Miss Granger,

If you insist that you are not in league with Minerva McGonagall, I will believe you.

Her letters are getting more and more tiresome. The fact that Horace Slughorn wishes to retire (again) is her problem to deal with. The names she gave me as possible replacements are hopelessly inept, but she will simply have to keep looking.  Have you considered applying for the job, yourself, instead of returning to school as a student?  You still have a lot to learn, but I can guarantee you would do a better job than those whom she might end up stuck with.

On a happier note, the concentration of poison in my blood has now reduced to the point where I can take an asphodel-based pain reliever. I am finally able to stand without feeling like my chest is on fire.

Severus Snape



August 24th, 1998

Miss Granger,

The Scottish Harpy has now conscripted my healer into supporting her plot. I have been informed that the only way he will release me from this Merlin-forsaken hospital within the next six months is into the care of Poppy Pomfrey. 

Against my better judgment, I have caved to the tenacious badgering. Horace Slughorn has agreed to stay on part time for this year if someone will take on half of his classes. My healer says that working part time would be appropriate therapy to aid my recovery and I have reluctantly agreed to the arrangement for one year. I am sure I will regret the decision within a week of term starting. Of course, your news that Longbottom will not be return to finish his Potions N.E.W.T. may have swayed my decision.

One benefit is that I will be well fed during my recuperation; having spent three months eating St. Mungos’ food, I am amazed that anyone makes it out of here alive. Please tell me that you are not still attempting to free the house elves.

I hope that my reflexes have not become dull after my injury. Although the truth about Dumbledore's death is now public knowledge, the Daily Prophet seems determined to sow doubt about the verdict.  The Headmistress has assured me she will ensure that the staff are aware of the truth, but some of them have been known to hold grudges, and my treatment of them last year was particularly unpleasant. I may have a few hexes to dodge. Perhaps Dumbledore's Army will be prepared to act as bodyguards for their beloved Potions Master?

Severus Snape


Reading this last letter gave Hermione mixed feelings. Having Professor Snape back at Hogwarts seemed right.  In her mind, he was supposed to be at the castle - it was where he belonged. But he had made it clear that he would be there under duress, and she felt selfish for being pleased about it.

She had enjoyed their letters, and having him as her professor again would make continuing them impossible, she was sure.  Not that they would need to write to each other when they were in the same castle, but would it be appropriate for them to talk much outside classes?

Would he even want to talk to her?  The man at the other end of the quill seemed far removed from the professor that she had known.  Perhaps in person, he would return to being the sour and irritable bully he had always been in class.  She had never disliked him the way that Ron and Harry had, but he had hardly been pleasant and approachable, even during her sixth year, when his comments on her Defense Against the Dark Arts essays had been so helpful.

If she had seen him anywhere but at the school, she would have greeted him warmly, but how would she greet him at school as her professor, after they had corresponded for so long?

She sighed.  Their letters would need to stop, and when she saw him at school she would treat him respectfully, as she would any of her other professors. Beyond that, she would follow his lead.  He was returning to the school to help out Professor McGonagall, and she would do anything she could to make the year run smoothly for him.  If it were not for him, there might not be a Hogwarts for her to return to.

Chapter Text

The new Hogwarts eighth years were given the option of either traveling to school on the Hogwarts Express, or flooing directly to the Headmistress’ office.  All but two chose the train.  Dean and Seamus were excited to see each other, even though they had met up several times during the summer. Terry Boot and Michael Corner were obviously good friends and immediately launched into tales about their summers.  Leanne Heatherington was the only Hufflepuff returning, and appeared quiet and rather nervous.  She had always been quite shy, and witnessing her friend Katie Bell being cursed during their sixth year had affected her strongly. Hermione sat with her and they chatted for most of the journey, along with Ginny and Luna, who had joined them.

Only Mandy Brocklehurst and Padma Patil, both Ravenclaws, were missing from the train.  Hermione could understand why; Mandy had always traveled to school with her friend Anthony Goldstein, and Padma with her twin Parvati, both of whom had been killed in the battle four months ago.  While Hermione felt the absence of Ron and Harry, she could not imagine the pain of the journey without them if they had been killed. When she thought of Padma, her mind went to George, who had also lost his twin, and her heart grieved for the two survivors.

Reaching the Great Hall, they found that a separate table had been set up for the eight of them, instead of them sitting with their houses. She suspected it would take a while to get used to the idea.

Hermione looked around at the staff table, making eye-contact and exchanging smiles with some of the teachers. There were three whom she did not recognize - two wizards and a witch - but the main focus of her search was absent. Mandy and Padma joined them at the table just before Professor McGonagall led the new first years into the hall, and Hermione gave them both warm smiles.

As tempting as it was to speak the cliche that the first years got smaller every year, she managed not to voice it out loud.  She couldn’t help but think it though. She watched as their looks of fear changed to relief as each of them was sorted into their houses, then turned her attention to the headmistress.

“I would like to wish every one of you a warm welcome,” she smiled.  “This is a new beginning for Hogwarts and for all of us.  We have all gone through terrible things in recent times, and I’m sure there is not one of us who has not been affected by that.  Last year was the most troubled school year of my experience, and likely in the history of this school.  I would like to see our school return to its normal operations quickly and smoothly.

Before we eat, I have some announcements.  Firstly, as a result of the disruptions to our school last year, many students had their education cut short.  We have eight students who have chosen to return to Hogwarts to complete their N.E.W.T.s. The eighth years will be attending classes with the seventh years. Each one of them fought to protect this school against Voldemort and his followers, and I would like to welcome them all back.”

There was a smattering of applause for the group before Professor McGonagall spoke again.  “Secondly, we have three new members of staff. Professor Aulus Savage will be teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts, Professor Athena Verto will be teaching Transfiguration, and Professor Jeremy Williams is our new Muggle Studies teacher. Each stood up as their name was called, and received polite applause. Professor Williams, in particular, received some strange looks, with his jacket and paisley tie.  Hermione had never seen a Hogwarts teacher look so much like a muggle.

“Finally, there is one teacher who will be returning to us after serious injuries sustained while working to bring down Lord Voldemort.  Professor Severus Snape.

There was a brief moment of shocked silence, then uproar.  Angry shouts mixed with boos and gasps of horror. At the Ravenclaw table, which was closest to Hermione, she could see horrified looks, and at least two students crying. Beside her, Leanne gripped Hermione’s arm in fear and looked like she might be sick. Terry and Michael did not look much better. The rest of the table looked furious, Seamus most of all.

“SILENCE!”

The noise quieted, and everyone turned to look at the headmistress with anger, fear or distrust.

“I am well aware of what has been printed in the Daily Prophet.  Some of what has been published is true, but most is not. The most important pieces of information have been left out entirely.

“Albus Dumbledore had been injured almost a year before his death. He was slowly dying, and would not have lasted the year. Dumbledore ordered Professor Snape to kill him in front of witnesses, to make Voldemort truly believe he was loyal to him. Dumbledore gave him no choice.  Professor Snape killed Dumbledore so that he could remain as a spy, knowing that it would mean he would be hated and that everyone would believe him a traitor.

“Last year, Severus Snape was Headmaster under the orders of Voldemort, and not one of us - staff included - knew that he was working to protect us all.  The Carrows were the ones doing the punishing.  He took every measure he possibly could to reduce punishments and keep the harm done by them to a minimum.  I don’t believe there is anyone here who can say that they received severe punishment directly on his orders.

“As a member of the Wizengamot, I was at Professor Snape’s trial.  He was cleared of all charges related to the death of Albus Dumbledore and any Death Eater activity. I heard all the evidence, including that of Harry Potter, and I have absolutely no doubt of his innocence.

“Professor Snape is returning to Hogwarts for one year as a personal favour to me, until I can find another permanent Potions Master or Mistress. He will share classes with Professor Slughorn. He will likely not be joining us for meals for a few days, due to the severe injuries inflicted on him by Voldemort. He has only just been released from hospital and is recovering slowly.

“I will say one final thing. Professor Snape is a hero. Without him, the war may have ended very differently. I expect each and every one of you to treat him with respect.” She regarded the students with a determined glare, daring any of them to defy her. “And now, as I am sure you are all hungry after your long journey … Let the feast begin!”

The chatter at the tables was of a different tone than Hermione had heard before.  It was muted and felt more serious than in any previous year.  Clearly the students had much to talk about. Gradually, the volume increased, and the mood seemed to improve, but it didn’t quite revert to its usual start-of-term excitement.

At their own table, the eighth years were somber.

“Well,” said Seamus, “I totally believed the Daily Prophet when it was calling Harry and Dumbledore crazy liars, and it turned out to be a load of rubbish.  I don’t trust anything Skeeter says.  If McGonagall says we should trust Snape, then I’ll do it. I must say, though, I’m glad I’m not taking potions any more.  He might be a hero, but he’s probably still a git.”

The others laughed awkwardly.  Mandy Brocklehurst spoke up.  “There’s no way I’d be taking Potions this year,” she said.  “Whatever Professor McGonagall says, I still hate him.  There has to be something to all the stuff in the Prophet.  There’s no smoke without fire.”

“But she’s right about Snape protecting people from the Carrows last year,” Seamus reasoned. “When Ginny, Luna and Neville got caught sneaking into his office, I thought they were dead.  If the Carrows had punished them, they would have needed at least a week in the infirmary afterwards.  I should know - I ended up there four times, myself.  Snape just sent them into the Forbidden Forrest with Hagrid.”

Leanne Heatherington spoke up, nervously.  “I just don’t know.  I want to trust Professor McGonagall, but I spent most of last year terrified.  I lost a lot of weight because I couldn’t eat properly and I hated going to classes because of the Carrows and the Headmaster.  Madam Pomfrey had to give me lots of calming draughts because I wasn’t coping very well." Hermione could hear tears threatening her voice. "I just don't know if I can do this."

Padma had been very quiet so far, but now spoke up. “I think we should just wait until we see him in classes. He might be totally different now he’s not spying on V … Voldemort. Who else is taking potions?”

Of the eight of them, four were finishing their potions N.E.W.T. - Hermione, Padma, Leanne  and Terry. Hermione hoped that Professor Snape would be able to put people's minds at rest quickly, once they saw him in classes, but she had some worries about Leanne. She seemed fragile.

She looked at the mixed emotions on the faces around the table and decided to speak up.

"I was at Professor Snape's trial," she told them.

They all turned to stare at her.

"I had to testify about the night Professor Dumbledore was killed, and about the battle. I heard all the evidence and it was overwhelming. He's innocent."

Mandy frowned. "The evidence wasn't that good, according to The Daily Prophet."

“It was,” Hermione stated firmly. “I don’t know why the Daily Prophet is publishing all those lies, but Professor Snape is innocent and everyone who was in that courtroom knows it.”

Mandy did not look convinced, but said no more.

They finished the meal discussing their subjects and the new teachers, then headed upstairs with all the others once they had been dismissed.

It was strange not to be heading to the Gryffindor Tower, but the separate wing on the fifth floor that had been set aside for them was pleasant.  Each had their own room, and the common room was airy and comfortable. She didn’t have the energy to think too much about it, though, and it was only a short time before she was asleep in her comfortable four-poster bed, happy to be back at Hogwarts.  She felt like she was home.


Of all the eighth years, Hermione was taking the most classes.  As Professor McGonagall handed out timetables at breakfast the next morning, the others seemed unsurprised to see how full her days would be. Every day except Thursdays, she had three classes and only one study period.  “I don’t know how you manage it, Hermione,” Dean commented. “I have enough problems with four subjects - I couldn’t cope with seven!” She merely smiled and shrugged.

Their first class was Defense Against the Dark Arts, and all of them were interested to find out what the new teacher was like.  Professor Savage was in his sixties and gave an air of calm strength and power. He had been an auror for over thirty years, and had been involved in training many of the younger recruits like Tonks.  He had a direct, no-nonsense approach - not as friendly as Remus Lupin had been, but pleasant and obviously skilled.  They all found that they liked him, and wondered cautiously if the curse that had been placed on the position had died with Voldemort. It would be good for the school to have a Defense teacher that would last longer than a year in the post.

The following morning, those of them taking Transfiguration met their second new teacher - Professor Verto.  She was almost a younger clone of Professor McGonagall, but with a slight hint of a French accent in place of the Scottish. She was serious and exacting, but fair, handing out both praise and criticism as warranted.  Perhaps she lacked the warmer side of Professor McGonagall’s personality, but Hermione had a feeling she would be an excellent teacher.

But it was the class after Transfiguration that Hermione was most keen to attend.  She had not seen Professor Snape at all since arriving at the school, and she was looking forward to seeing him in person, hoping that his recovery had continued to go well. At his trial, he had still projected his formidable image of strength, but she had begun to see it waver imperceptibly at times, particularly towards the end of the long day.  She hoped that he would continue to present that power.

She did not have long to wait. The nervous mumblings of the class ended abruptly as the door swung open and the tall figure of Professor Snape strode in.

He headed straight to the front of the classroom and turned to face them. His face was impassive as he regarded them, slowly allowing his eyes to rest on each of them in turn. When his eyes met Hermione’s, he gave her a brief nod, then moved on. 

“Professor Slughorn has informed me of what his various classes were doing at the end of last year and the year before,” he said, in his calm, slow voice. “Some of you missed large amounts of the sixth-year curriculum. You will be expected to work particularly hard to catch up.  I may provide extra tutorials, should you fall behind.”

He turned to flick his wand at the board, and instructions appeared there for a wound-cleaning potion. “You know where the ingredients are.  This potion is to be completed by the end of the lesson.”

He sat down behind his desk and the class began retrieving their ingredients from the storeroom. As Hermione watched, she noticed that almost every student walked with their head down, not looking at the teacher. Only Luna seemed unaffected by the situation, and wore a dreamy expression on her face, as though she were wandering through fields rather than in a dungeon classroom. Other than Luna and herself, every student in the room was clearly afraid of him.

Potions classes under Professor Snape had always been quiet, but the silence in the room felt oppressive.  Snape circled the room only twice, checking on progress.  He corrected a few people, but unless he asked them a direct question they remained silent. She wanted to say something to reduce the tension, but struggled to find anything.

“Professor?” She ventured, finally. “Your instructions say we should cut the rose roots into five millimetre lengths, but the books I’ve read say they should be minced finely.  Is there a reason for the difference?”

He looked at her, expressionlessly.  “Yes, Miss Granger. The larger volume increases the time it takes for them to stew, which allows more time for the other ingredients to react before the potion thickens.”

She gave him a smile but he had already turned away. At the end of the lesson, he walked around to collect samples from each student as they packed up their things, and left the room into his office as soon as he had dismissed them. Hermione briefly considered knocking on his door, but decided that he obviously did not want to be disturbed.  Perhaps he was more tired than he had seemed.


After lunch, both Hermione and Ginny had a free period and, despite Hermione feeling guilty about not starting on her homework, they went for a walk around the lake. Hermione told her about the way everyone had seemed so scared of him during potions.

“I’ve heard the same thing from lots of people in Gryffindor,” Ginny told her.  “He and Slughorn are taking one class each for years one to five. Professor Snape’s teaching Gryffindor and Slytherin for second and fourth years. Some of the Gryffindors who have him are really upset. A couple of people have asked to switch to Slughorn’s class with the Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs. Richard Woodhouse wants to drop potions if he can’t switch classes. He’s in fourth year, and it’s compulsory, though.  Professor McGonagall says that no one will be switching classes. Henry Fullarton was supposed to be in your class this morning, but he’s already told McGonagall that he’s dropping potions because he’s teaching it.”

“I thought he wanted to be an auror?” asked Hermione.

Ginny shrugged.  “He does, but he had a rough time last year and he says he can’t face having Snape as a teacher, even if it means he can’t be an auror. There are two Hufflepuffs who should have been in your class who’ve dropped potions, too.”

Hermione’s heart sank. This was not how things were supposed to be.  Severus Snape was a hero and had been through so much.  Having to kill Dumbledore and being hated by everyone who had trusted him must have been hell for him.  He didn’t deserve another year of being hated and feared.

“Damn that Bloody Rita Skeeter,” she snarled angrily. “How is she getting away with so many lies in The Prophet? Surely she has to be accountable to someone!”

“The editor?” suggested Ginny.  “He’s allowing her to publish it.  He must agree with her.”

“I suppose so. Maybe Kingsley knows why,” she mused. “Although he can’t interfere with what they publish. I should ask him.”

Ginny laughed.  “It must be nice to have the ear of the Minister of Magic,” she joked. “Does he still want you to work for the ministry?”

“Yes.” Hermione couldn’t help her grin. “He says that once I’ve finished my N.E.W.T.s, he’s not going to take ‘no’ for an answer!”


By the end of the week, Hermione was more frustrated than ever about the situation.  Luna had told her of a Ravenclaw who was supposed to be doing 7th year potions who had also dropped out of the class, and the large number of younger students who had requested to change to Professor Slughorn’s classes. “Some of them are quite upset,” she told them. “And some say that their parents will be pulling them out of school if Professor Snape continues teaching.”

Hermione had heard the rumours from the other houses, too, and was worried.  Despite Professor McGonagall’s insistence that Professor Snape teach for the year, if the parents got the governors involved he might not last more than a week.

Potions was the final class on Friday and the atmosphere was similar to that of their Tuesday lesson; the students were subdued and keeping their eyes down.  One of the seventh-year Ravenclaws was missing. Hermione wondered if he had dropped out of the class, or if he was ‘sick’. Apparently, something had been affecting students in Professor Snape’s classes, and there had been an unusual number of students heading for the hospital wing instead of the dungeons at class times.

The Potions Master himself had been remaining more calm and less inclined to shout or sneer at students than he had ever been in her earlier years, but it did not seem to make the students any less on edge. Towards the end of Friday’s lesson, Hermione thought she could detect a strain in his demeanor, whether it be from stress, frustration, tiredness or all three. As he dismissed the class, Hermione caught his attention before he could leave.

“Professor Snape?” she asked, “could I speak to you for a minute?”

He paused as he was turning towards his office, as though reluctant to be held up.

Hermione waited until the others had left the classroom. “I just wanted to ask how you’re feeling, Sir. Are you still in any pain?”

Snape pursed his lips and frowned at her.

“My health is my own business, Miss Granger,” he snapped. “I do not require your concern.”

At that, he continued on his way into his office and slammed the door behind him.

Chapter Text

September 12, 1998

Miss Granger

I wish to apologize for my manner of speaking to you, earlier today. It will come as no surprise to you that lashing out at the closest person has always been my natural way of expressing myself, and it has been a trying week.

Last year, as Headmaster, it was essential that every student in the school be afraid of me. The younger ones needed to be too afraid to step out of line, and the older ones needed to be cautious when they rebelled. It was the only way to keep everyone safe - or at least alive. I kept myself apart from most people and rarely had to deal directly with students. This week, I have been face to face with students in classes and their reactions to me have been acute and disturbing.

In the words of certain friends of yours, I am a ‘miserable git’, and have always felt it appropriate to encourage a healthy amount of fear in students, but this is anything but healthy. They are not merely nervous that I might give them detention - they are truly terrified that I will blast them with the Cruciatus curse for a careless brewing error.

The headmistress believes that things will improve, but I am not convinced that it is right to inflict my presence on the students until then. Unfortunately, if I choose to leave she will be forced to offer the post to one of the unqualified fools who applied during the summer. With the amount of disruption students have already faced, I do not wish to leave them to face their O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s under the guidance of an incompetent fool. I find myself stuck between a manticore and a dragon.

I am angry at Professor McGonagall for forcing us all into this situation, and my frustration at my continued physical weakness does not help my temper. I am limited to one or two classes per day, followed by a prolonged nap. I feel like either a child or a tired old man.

It was not my intention to share my troubles with you. During my recovery, I seem to have developed a habit of expressing my thoughts on paper, and you were the only person with whom I chose to correspond. Somehow, writing things down is therapeutic. I hope that you do not object, despite the unusual situation of a correspondence between student and teacher.

Severus Snape

When Professor Snape snapped at her after class, Hermione had been saddened but had not taken it too much to heart. Although she had seen a different side to him through their letters, she hadn’t expected to see a completely different character from how he used to be. Finding a letter waiting for her in her room after supper had been a pleasant surprise and she had smiled at his apology. The rest of the letter confirmed what she had felt he must be going through. She had spent part of her fourth year as the subject of Rita Skeeter’s lying quill, but it had been nothing compared to what was being written about him.

She thought about what Ginny had said - that the editor of the Daily Prophet must be allowing her to write it - and wondered what could be done. Was the editor encouraging Skeeter in her lies?  Did either of them have a specific grudge against Professor Snape or was it just that wild stories of traitors sold more newspapers than stories about heroes?

A letter to Kingsley Shacklebolt might seem like she was asking him to interfere, but perhaps Harry was in a good position within the Ministry to find out more. They had discussed the Prophet’s reasons for treating Snape that way over the summer, but had hoped Skeeter would get bored of it soon. Now that he was back teaching, and the stories continued, there was much more urgency. She sat at her desk and reached for parchment.


With her letter to Harry ready and sealed on the desk, she pulled more parchment towards her and began writing to Professor Snape. It was not a long letter, as she wanted to get it to him as quickly as possible. It saddened her to think that he was so dejected about the situation. She had always been horrified by the idea of him being hated by everyone and having no one know the truth. She didn’t think she could stand that, no matter how noble the reason. At least now he had people who understood and she was glad that he felt he could turn to her for support.

She assured him that she understood his situation and his temper, sympathizing with his health situation and the situation with the students.

 

With everything that Skeeter woman is writing in the Daily Prophet, it’s not surprising that the students don’t trust you. But I think with time they will realize that you’re not about to curse any of them. I’m sure Professor McGonagall will deal with the parents quickly; from the sound of things she really doesn’t want to lose you as a teacher.

Please don’t make any hasty decisions about leaving.

She asked him how the staff were treating him, hoping that things in that quarter, at least, were promising.

With an assurance that he would continue to get stronger, she wished him a good weekend, and signed her name “Hermione Granger’, as always.

Now that both letters were finished, she realized that she didn’t know how Professor Snape’s letter had been delivered. It had been on her desk when she returned, and had obviously not been delivered by owl.

She had found out the name of the house elf that looked after the eighth-year wing on her first morning back at the school, and she called him now.

“Loopy?”

Immediately, he popped into her room with a nervous expression on his face. “Yes, Miss? How can Loopy help you, Miss?  You is not going to try to give Loopy clothes, is you, MIss?”

Hermione sighed, regretfully. She would free all the house elves if she could, but she had learned enough to know that freeing them against their wishes would do more harm than good.

“Do you want to be free, Loopy?”

“No, Miss! Loopy loves working at Hogwarts, Miss.”

“Then I promise I won’t try to free you. But if you ever change your mind or need any help I can give you, you only need to ask. Okay?”

The little elf looked awkwardly at her, obviously puzzled at the idea of asking a witch for help, but he seemed to agree out of politeness. “Yes, Miss. Loopy understands, Miss. Now, what can Loopy do for Miss?”

“Well, I found a letter on my desk, earlier, and I was wondering how it got there.”

Loopy beamed. “Loopy delivered it, Miss. Loopy’s friend Poppy asked Loopy to deliver it, Miss, and so Loopy did, Miss.”

Hermione smiled. “Thank you, Loopy. That was very kind of you. Would you mind if we did it in reverse, please?  I have a letter that I’d like to deliver. Maybe you could give it to Poppy and she could deliver it?”

The elf frowned momentarily, then smiled. “The elves are not supposed to do this for students, Miss, but it must have been a teacher who sent it to you, so I can do the same, Miss.”

Setting off for the owlery a few minutes later, Hermione couldn’t help feeling a little guilty at using the house elves for doing her errands, but she couldn’t think of a better way to send it. She picked out a school owl to deliver her letter to Harry, then headed back to her room. She had a lot of homework to finish.


On Saturday afternoon, Hermione, Ginny and Luna went for a walk by the lake. Luna was filling her friends in with what she and her father had been doing over the summer. After the visit that Harry, Ron and Hermione had paid him while on the run, he had been put in Azkaban, then released after Voldemort's defeat in the final battle. After a brief stint in St. Mungo's, father and daughter had taken a trip to Spain, to recover.

"It was quite lovely," she told her friends. "We went in search of the Spanish Sand Dragon. They're friendly creatures, only about ten centimetres tall, and they will only appear near humans when the humans are particularly quiet and relaxed. We spent all our time on the beach. We didn't actually see any, but we could sense they were near."

"That sounds amazing," Ginny smiled.

"It was very pleasant," Luna agreed," but we wanted to come home to get the house rebuilt. We were living in a tent in the garden while the work was done. We moved back into the house just before the start of school. Now Dad's working on getting the printing press repaired. He thinks he should be able to start publishing again in a few weeks.”

Hermione was about to speak up, but it was as though Luna heard her thoughts. “Dad plans to do some stories about Professor Snape, to tell the truth about him, as soon as the press is up and running. He says that if Harry Potter says he was on our side, he believes in him one hundred percent.”

Ginny broke into a big grin. “That’s great, Luna.”

“It will be good to see the truth written about Professor Snape,” Hermione agreed. Then she smiled slyly at Ginny. “Although, I think Ginny is more interested in anybody saying anything about her beloved Harry!”

“Well, maybe you should get a boyfriend of your own to moon over,” Ginny laughed. “I happen to know that Ezekiel Emmett fancies you rotten.”

“Is he the one with the long blonde hair in your year?” Hermione asked. “I’ve never really talked to him.”

Luna’s voice was airy as she gazed at the clouds. “I think he may have some veela blood in him. He’s lovely. But we should be getting indoors. It’s perfect weather for wrackspurts.”


Breakfasts at the weekend typically had fewer students than during the week, and food was available over a longer time period. Hermione liked to get some studying done before breakfast, but she still arrived earlier than most students.

Ginny was already there, though, and Hermione chose to sit with her at the Gryffindor table. She hadn’t noticed until she sat down, that Ezekiel was sitting on the opposite side of the table.

“Morning, Hermione,” Ginny yawned. “Have you met Ezekiel before? He’s in Transfiguration with us.”

“Hi,” Hermione smiled. “Yes, and Ancient Runes.”

He smiled shyly at her, but said little more than a muttered “Hi”. Hermione agreed with Luna that he was good looking, but he didn’t seem to have much personality, as far as she could see. But maybe he would improve when she actually heard him speak a full sentence.

It was at that moment that she heard a gasp from some of the people around her, then the hall fell momentarily silent. Looking up to see what was going on, Hermione saw the dark figure of Severus Snape walking behind Professors Sprout and Babbling to take a seat next to the headmistress. A seventh year girl who Hermione knew as Hazel leaned forward from next to Ezekiel and whispered “I had to leave the country with my parents last year, but I’ve heard lots of stories about what was happening here at school. I want to trust Professor McGonagall, but that man still scares the hell out of me.”

Looking around the room, Hermione could see that most people were watching him as he talked to the headmistress and began to put food on his plate. Some were openly staring, while other watched out of the corners of their eyes. It was the first time she had seen him outside the classroom since the return to school, and she knew that about half the students - those who either didn’t take potions or had Professor Slughorn as their teacher - had not seen him at all. 

He looked the same as he always did - black-robed and sour - but when Professor Sprout leaned across the empty chair to speak to him, he nodded and seemed to answer her civilly enough, and she saw the herbology professor give a slight smile. Professor McGonagall seemed happy to see him at breakfast and handed him a cup of coffee before she poured her own.

As more people wandered into the Great Hall for breakfast, many stopped and stared before heading to their house tables. Some groups of friends seemed to pull closer together, as though for protection before nervously taking their seats as far away from the staff table as possible.

The post owls arrived with their usual flurry of wings. A letter dropped in front of Hermione and she recognized Harry’s writing at once.

“Hey, why is my boyfriend writing to you?” Ginny demanded in a mock-angry voice.

Hermione laughed and opened her envelope.

Dear Hermione,

Thanks for your letter. It seems really weird that you’re back at Hogwarts, but I suppose you’re enjoying being close to your precious library again. I know being apart from it last year was tough for you!

I talked to Kingley about Snape and the Daily Prophet, but I didn’t mention that you’d asked me about it. Kingsley has already been looking into it, but there’s a problem. He spoke to Snape a couple of days before the beginning of school and Snape insisted that he drop it. He said that even if the exact details of what Skeeter is publishing aren’t true, she’s not saying anything worse than he’s actually done. She’s putting her own spin on events and making the verdict sound dodgy, but she’s not really making stuff up. Snape doesn’t feel that he has any right to complain about what anybody writes about him and that everyone is entitled to their own opinions. Kingley tried to argue him out of it, but he was really insistent about it.

Kingsley says he suspects the editor, Barnabas Cuffe, is taking bribes from someone  who has it in for Snape, to allow Skeeter to publish it all, but he told Snape he wouldn’t interfere. I think he’s trying to find a way to dig into what’s going on with Cuffe without involving what’s being said about Snape. Anyway, the main thing is Snape doesn’t want people to get involved, so Kingsley said to leave the Daily Prophet alone, unfortunately.

He talked to McGonagall on Thursday, and he's personally spoken to every parent who's complained. There have been about twenty of them. Hopefully things will get better.

Training is going well, but the stuff we're doing to cover what we missed on our N.E.W.T.s is tough. Want to become an auror so you can help us study?

Tell Ginny I'll send her a letter in tomorrow’s morning post.

Harry

Hermione sighed. Somehow, Professor Snape's attitude didn't surprise her. In the same way that he evidently hated being thanked for what he had to do during the war, it made sense that he wouldn't want anyone to interfere with his problems. It was as though he felt he deserved to be hated. The thought made her incredibly sad.

She looked up at the staff table and saw that the new muggle studies teacher had sat next to Professor Snape, and the two appeared to be exchanging a few words. She was relieved to see that the staff seemed to be treating him well, even if the students weren't.

Ginny had read the letter after Hermione and handed it back to her. “Well, if Kingsley Shacklebolt has spoken to the parents, that should make things a bit easier for Professor McGonagall,” she said.  “People seem to trust him.”

The two girls stood up.  “Will you take a look at my Defense essay that’s due, tomorrow, Hermione?” Ginny asked. “I’m not sure about the conclusion.”

“If you were Ron, I’d say ‘no’, because that would be code for ‘I haven’t started and I need you to do my research for me’,” Hermione laughed, “but as it’s you …”

“Bye, Hermione,” Ezekiel managed from behind her, as they left the Gryffindor table.


Professor Snape began appearing in the Great Hall for breakfast and dinner, but not for lunch. Some students were getting used to the idea, especially as he seemed to ignore all of the students in the hall. Some, however, looked worriedly at the staff table every time they entered, and sat at the opposite end of the house tables.

Michael, Terry and especially Leanne, at the eighth-year table, were still clearly scared of him.

Mandy Brocklehurst appeared more suspicious than afraid. “It’s not like he can get away with using Crucio on us any more, with McGonagall in charge, but that doesn’t mean he’s trustworthy.”

“What difference does it make to you, anyway?” asked Dean. “You’re not doing potions, and it’s not like he’s patrolling the corridors giving out detentions. You only see him at meals, so don’t worry about it.”

Mandy shrugged. “I suppose,” she muttered.

Seamus changed the subject.  “Has anyone met the new muggle studies teacher, yet?”

Nobody had, other than Seamus and Dean.

Dean grinned. “We met him yesterday, when we were watching some third years practice on the quidditch pitch. He’s a squib.  Lived as a muggle most of his life, but he still spends time with his family so he knows all about magic. He’s a Newcastle supporter.”

Padma, Terry and Leanne all looked blank.

“It’s a muggle football team,” Hermione explained. “I’ve never been much of a quidditch fan, but it’s still more fun than football.”

Seamus laughed. “Me dad’s not into football, so I’d never seen much of it, but I’ve been to a few games with Dean. It’s not bad.”

Mandy obviously knew something about the sport.  “It’s a good thing Professor Wilkins isn’t a Millwall supporter, or we’d have a muggle war here at Hogwarts.”

Dean nodded enthusiastically.


The first thing Hermione did when she and Leanne got to potions on Tuesday morning was to look around to see who was missing. The two seventh years who had said they were dropping out of the class were still missing, as was a Ravenclaw called Jeremy Fletcher. Hermione had seen him at breakfast that morning, and wondered if he had become mysteriously ‘sick’ in time for potions. It was still a concern in other classes, she had heard. Or perhaps he had also decided to drop the class altogether.

Professor Snape entered with his usual billowing robes, but seemed to have forgone his habit of slamming the door open with a bang.

He glanced at Jeremy’s empty space, but said nothing about his absence.

“Today you will be brewing the potion for dreamless sleep.  Those of you who were in Professor Slughorn’s seventh year class last year will remember that this potion is particularly difficult to brew correctly, due to the complex stirring patterns.” He paused and looked at the four eighth years.  “Miss Patil, Mister Boot and Miss Heatherington - you have all brewed this before, so you will partner with the seventh years.  Miss Granger, I assume that you are familiar enough with the theory to partner with Miss Merrills?”

Although his inflection sounded like a question, he seemed to have no doubt that Hermione had studied the theory, and scarcely needed her reply of “Yes, Sir.”

The four eighth years paired up with the seventh years and began collecting their ingredients.  Andrea Stafford and Thomas Dagwood were both Slytherins and appeared to be the least nervous in the class, but even they were still subdued.

Harriett was nervous but gave Hermione a smile as they headed for the store cupboard.

“Did you do potions last year?” Hermione asked her.

She shook her head.  “I … I had to go to Switzerland to my grandparents’ last year,” she said softly, as though afraid that Professor Snape would hear her, “so I missed my whole sixth year.”

“I suppose it’s going to be difficult for you to do two years’ worth of work this year,” Hermione answered, surprised.

They headed back to their desk and set up their equipment.

“For those of us who missed the whole year, Professor McGonagall gave us the option of entering sixth year or seventh year classes.  She said she thought I’d be able to manage the seventh-year potions class, but I could move down if it was too difficult.  She said there’ll be an eighth-year class offered next year, for people who don’t manage to catch up.”

Hermione smiled at her. “I’m sure Professor Snape will try to help everyone.”

The seventh-year looked at Hermione as though she had lost her mind, nervously flicking her eyes to Snape then back, and Hermione laughed softly.

As they worked, Professor Snape wandered around the room, observing. He had always seemed to enjoy sneaking up on unsuspecting students and startling them with a cutting remark, but she noticed that he was not doing that in this class.  He still managed to make Leanne almost jump out of her skin when he spoke to her, but his words of “Good work,” Miss Heatherington. Miss Lovegood,” seemed to surprise her even more.

He was similarly polite to the other students, correcting when necessary, but also praising good work. When Leanne looked over to Hermione, puzzled, she simply smiled encouragingly.

 

September 19th

Miss Granger,

In answer to your question, the situation with the staff is better than I had expected. Of course, Minerva had prepared them for my arrival and made sure they knew the truth behind my reign as Headmaster, as she did with the students. I am even making an effort to spend time in the staffroom, 'being sociable'. Given that my private quarters are currently in the hospital wing, the staffroom is actually a lesser evil than being under Poppy Pomfrey's overprotective fussing. It is bad enough that after my morning classes I am forced to rest for an hour or two. I have never slept so much in my life. The potion that I take twice a day is gradually repairing the damage done by the snake venom, but it will still take several months. I detest being so weak.

I am getting along well with most of the teachers, but I think Filch preferred the tight regime when I was Headmaster. I've heard him muttering about how last year the students had more respect. The main problem I have with the staff is Sybil Trelawney. Of course, she claims to have foreseen all along that I was fooling V, and talks about how we have a 'special bond' as being the only ones who knew the truth. Twice, she’s invited me to her room for a sherry. I think I may need protection from Dumbledore's Army after all.

I suppose that you are right about the students. They need time before they can trust me. As you have seen in your own lessons, I am making a point of being less harsh in my criticism of mistakes and spending more time helping students who are doing poorly. I still believe that a stricter approach leads to better academic results, but I agree that there are more important needs for the students right now.

Severus Snape

Hermione rolled her eyes at the idea of Professor Trelawney claiming to have known the truth all along, but wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cringe at the idea of her chasing Professor Snape. Even Dumbledore’s Army might find that image too horrible to contemplate.

She placed the letter on her desk and smiled at the birthday cards and gifts she had received from her friends.  Thoughtfully, she picked up her pen and the unspillable ink Ginny had given her, and began a new letter.

Dear Neville,

Thank you for the birthday card...

 

Chapter Text

Hermione hung back as the rest of the class left the dungeon classroom. Professor Snape had continued his efforts to be gentler in his teaching style, and she felt that the more nervous students were gradually beginning to be less afraid of him. After missing two classes, Jeremy Fletcher had been talked into returning by Luna, and had seemed a little reassured by the Potions Master’s altered manner.

Watching him during the class, Hermione was sure that Professor Snape seemed to be in some pain, but was hiding it well. She was one of the few people who knew just how serious his condition had been, and that he was still being treated for the effects of Nagini’s venom, so the other students would be unlikely to notice anything. She hesitated as he collected papers from his desk, wondering whether to ask him how he was feeling, then decided against it. In his letters, he had spoken of his continued pain, but she was sure that he would not appreciate her ‘fussing’ added to that of Madam Pomfrey. He looked like he simply wanted to rest, so she merely gave him a half smile before leaving.


“You’re up to something," Dean commented as she arrived at the eighth-year table for dinner two days later.

Hermione smirked but did not try to deny the accusation.

“What is it?” Seamus demanded.

She couldn’t help laughing. “You’ll find out in a few minutes.”

By now, the whole table was watching her curiously. “Don’t tell us,” Mandy said, rolling her eyes, “Professor McGonagall is about to announce that the library has some new books arriving.”

“Ha, ha,” Hermione replied. She glanced over to the Gryffindor table, where Ginny was also looking excited, and they shared a conspiratorial smile.

By now, the Great Hall had filled up and everyone was in their seats. The sounds of surprise and excitement, when they came, started near the door and spread over the room like a wave.

“Merlin! Look who it is!”

People were standing up, trying to get a better look at the tall figure striding confidently between the long tables. Food suddenly appeared on the long tables, but it was ignored by all.

Shouts of “It’s Neville Longbottom” could be heard from all the tables, along with many calls from the Gryffindor table of “Hi, Neville!”

Neville took no notice of the excitement his entrance had elicited. His face was serious, and his gaze fixed on the staff table.

From the nearby Hufflepuff table, Hermione could hear the breathless exchange between a group of third years. 

“He’s an auror, now.”

“Do you think he’s here to arrest Snape?”

“Maybe he’s going to kill him!”

Hermione snorted and rolled her eyes.

By the time Neville had reached the staff table and walked around it towards where Professors Snape and McGonagall sat together, Snape was on his feet. He appeared calm and completely unfazed as he waited for the former student to approach.

Neville stopped directly in front of him and fixed his gaze as though in challenge, then held out his hand to Snape with a smile. Snape regarded it for only a moment before smirking and taking the offered hand. The two men stood there, shaking hands like good friends. Snape’s calm expression did not match the warmth of Neville’s smile, but the respect between them was clear.

Raising his other arm, Neville moved forward towards Snape, but the older wizard was faster. Before anyone could notice what was happening, Snape’s wand was pointed at Neville’s chest. His voice was not loud, but his low warning carried throughout the room.

“Do not attempt to hug me, Longbottom.”

The hush that had descended on the room as everyone watched the exchange now disappeared. A mix of laughter and exclamations of amazement came from every table. Neville laughed the hardest as he went around Professor Snape to hug the headmistress instead.

Gradually, the students returned to their seats, talking animatedly, while a space was made for Neville next to his former nemesis.

Of course, Professor Snape did not smile, but there was definitely a hint of amusement at the corners of his mouth as the staff all began talking and laughing with Neville. Throughout the meal, laughter could be heard from the table. Snape remained his typically taciturn self, but Hermione had the distinct impression that he was enjoying the conversation.

At the eighth-year table, the others stared at her.

“Did you plan that?” asked Padma.

Hermione gave her a sly smile. “I might have suggested to Neville that paying the school a visit would be nice,” she remarked.

Surreptitiously, she glanced at Leanne, Terry and Michael, who had still seemed to hold a tremendous fear of Professor Snape. The three of them were watching in wonder as he was talking to Neville.

The feeling inside her chest was one of warmth and happiness that maybe Severus Snape would begin to get some of the appreciation he deserved.


Harry was laughing so hard that he almost spilled his butterbeer.

“I wish I’d been there,” he said, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.

“And stolen Neville’s spotlight?” Hermione retorted. “No way!”

“He looked so calm when I walked up to him,” Neville said, “but he’s bloody fast with his wand.”

Ron frowned, not sharing in the fun. “You seriously tried to hug him? After everything he’s done?”

“Give it a rest, Ron,” Harry told him, irritably. “Everything he did was to help defeat Voldemort.” He turned back to Neville. “So what did you even talk about?”

“Mostly about stuff that happened last year,” Neville said. Apparently, the Carrows were using spells that made it more difficult for injuries to heal. When Snape found out, he modified some of the potions and salves that Madam Pomfrey was using, to counteract the effect of the spells. The problem was, he couldn’t tell her or Slughorn. So she was getting the regular stuff Slughorn made for the hospital wing, then Snape had to steal them, modify or replace them, and put them back in the supply cupboard without her finding out. He says he nearly got caught a couple of times. He’s convinced Madam Pomfrey never slept for the whole year.”

“It must have been some year,” Harry said. “I almost wish I’d been there.”

Neville sighed. “I can laugh about it now, but it was Hell at the time. Getting back at Snape and the Carrows was the only way to avoid just giving up.”

“At least you got to eat well, here,” pointed out Ron. “I would have killed for some food from Hogwarts, or my mum’s cooking.”

Harry laughed. I would have liked warmer clothes. I felt like I spent the entire winter frozen.

The three wizards looked at Hermione. “What did you miss most while we were away?” Harry asked.

“Apart from the library, of course!” added Ron.

“I think a bath,” she smiled. “I didn’t feel completely clean for months.”

During the years that Harry had been at Hogwarts, the residents of Hogsmeade had become used to seeing Harry Potter in their midst during weekends, but it had been a long time since he had been seen there. It was also only four months since his defeat of Voldemort, and Hermione noticed that the four of them were getting quite a bit of attention in the pub. There were some stares and whispering around them, and three people came up to shake hands with them all. They were a little hesitant when looking at Hermione, but Harry assured them that anything about her in the Daily Prophet was untrue and that he could not have defeated Voldemort without her. He was so defensive of her that she couldn’t help reaching out to squeeze his hand.

“Don’t let my sister see you doing that,” Ron teased. “Where is she, anyway? I’m surprised she didn’t come with you to see Harry.”

Harry shrugged. "She's not allowed to leave the school except for Hogsmeade weekends. I got an owl just after I got here."

Hermione laughed. “She tried, though. Eighth years are allowed out whenever we like, as long as we inform Professor McGonagall. Ginny tried to get permission, but the headmistress wouldn’t bend the rules - not even for Harry Potter's girlfriend!”

Ron smirked. “That’s good, actually. It means I don’t have to put up with Harry snogging my sister all night.”

“Well, I think I should be getting back,” Hermione said, eventually. “I have classes in the morning, and you all have work.”

They walked outside and were about to set off for Hogwarts when Neville spotted three figures heading towards them. Professors Sprout, Flitwick and Williams greeted them, saying they were just heading back from the Hog’s Head.

Hermione introduced her friends to the new Muggle Studies teacher, who shook hands with them all.

“Are you heading back to the castle, Miss Granger?” asked Professor Flitwick. “Why don’t you walk with us?”

Ron, Harry and Neville had planned on walking Hermione back to the school, but instead they said their goodbyes in the street. Neville gave Professor Sprout a hug before disapparating with the others.

“Ah,” she sighed, as they began walking out of the village. “I was hoping Mr. Longbottom would carry on with his herbology, but I suppose becoming an auror isn’t too much of a waste.”

Professor Flitwick chuckled. He began telling Professor Williams more details about the events of the previous year, and the squib was amazed. “I really need to learn more about this war of yours,” he said. “I only know what I’ve read in the paper.”

“Don’t believe anything you read in the Daily Prophet,” Professor Sprout snorted. “I would call it dragon shit, but dragon shit is actually very useful, which is more than you can say for anything Rita Skeeter writes.”

Professor Williams shook his head, thoughtfully. “Minerva definitely thinks so, especially about anything written about Severus,” he commented. “She was at his trial, I understand.”

Hermione felt a little out of place among the professors, but spoke up. “I was there, too. Harry, Ron and I all testified, as we saw him attacked by Voldemort’s snake and when he gave his memories to Harry. I trust him completely.”

Flitwick beamed. “I’m glad to hear it. He’s well-respected amongst the staff. It took a while to get used to the idea, but we all trust him, even after last year. He's a good man.”

“He’s a lot less foreboding this year,” Professor Sprout agreed. “He’s really making an effort to be pleasant!”

"It's difficult to believe," said Professor Williams. "He's polite enough, from the little I've seen of him, but I wouldn't exactly call him pleasant.  I can't imagine him being more scary and dark than he already is."

"You have no idea," Professor Sprout told him.  "Even when he wasn't thought to be Voldemort's right hand, he was capable of making first years piss themselves just by glaring at them."

Hermione laughed. “He seems to want to change that. I don’t think I’ve heard of him giving out a single detention this year, or even taking away house points.”

“Well, I’ve been trying to give him some pointers on how not to terrify students,” said Professor Sprout. “I told him he should smile more, because people who are smiling at you rarely try to kill you. He said, ‘That has not been my experience.’.”

Professor Flitwick laughed. “I can believe that. But don’t encourage him to smile, Pomona. That really would scare people!”

As they reached the school, the charms professor flicked his wand at the doors and they swung open to let them in. The three teachers cheerfully wished her a good night, and she headed up to her room, happy to hear the potions master being spoken of in such friendly terms.

She was happier still, when she saw an envelope on her bedside table, with her name written in his familiar hand.

 

September 27, 1998

Miss Granger,

Who would have thought there would be a day when Neville Longbottom would stride into the Great Hall and shake my hand so warmly. He may not get the same publicity as Potter, but I believe his hero status as the leader of 'The Resistance' will be the stuff of Hogwarts legend for many lifetimes to come.

The look of amazement on the students' faces was highly amusing as he sat beside me at the staff table. It was the first time I have had a conversation with him in which he was not shaking in fear, which was quite refreshing. I learned about several incidents happening last year that I had not been aware of, which prompted some of the staff to share their favourite 'Undermining Headmaster Snape' anecdotes. If you noticed laughter at the high table, I can assure you that it was all at my expense.

It seems strange to be welcoming Longbottom to the high table as a visitor to Hogwarts, while you are older than him but have returned as a student. How are you and your fellow eighth years managing? Those of you in my NEWT class seem to be doing well, but I know there are others who are not taking potions. You are all adults studying amongst those who should no longer be your peers, returning to complete an education that should never have been interrupted. It must be a strange year for you.

It will be interesting to see if Longbottom's show of friendship will alleviate some of the students’ fears of me. In the meantime, the evening’s events have left me exhausted and I must sleep before my annoying nursemaid tries to follow through on her threat to banish my pen and parchment.

Severus Snape

 

Chapter Text

As October hit, the weather turned colder, but Hermione liked it.  The feeling of wrapping up in a warm jumper and enjoying the crisp air on her face, then returning to the castle for hot chocolate always gave her a pleasant glow.

Strangely, she found that when not being eternally badgered about quidditch by Ron, she actually didn’t mind the game, and occasionally enjoyed the walk to the pitch to watch practices.  She spotted Dean and Seamus sitting with Professor Williams while the Hufflepuff team were practicing one Sunday morning, and decided to join them.

“Hiya, Hermione,” Seamus welcomed.

Professor Williams smiled and greeted her with a polite “Miss Granger”

“Hello, Professor,” she smiled. “I think you may be the only person in the school who knows less about quidditch than me.”

He laughed. “But I’m learning.  You’re not a fan?”

“After years of hanging around with two boys who wouldn’t shut up about it, I developed a deep aversion to it.”

“How’s Ron?” Dean asked. “Still supporting the Cannons?”

“Of course,” Hermione told him, “but with his auror training I’m not sure he’s even had time to make it to matches, lately.” She turned to Professor Williams. “Who will you be supporting in the inter-house quidditch? You’ve never been sorted.”

He gave a wry smile. “Well, one of the first things I was told about quidditch when I joined the school was that the staff are supposed to be impartial, except for the heads of houses.”

The three students laughed.

“I hope you didn’t actually believe that!” Seamus snorted.

“I did, until I found out how much betting happens in the staff room over the house cup. The only person who seems independent is Madam Pomfrey, and she says that’s because she has to patch up all the injuries.” He frowned. “Are there really so many injuries?”

“Yes,” said all three students together, and proceeded to give the teacher a list of the worst injuries they had seen during previous seven years of house matches.

“Of course, the worst injuries always seem to happen to whoever is playing against the Slytherins,” Seamus mentioned. “Snape, McGonagall and Slughorn are the worst for being biased towards their own houses.”

Professor Williams frowned. “I’m not sure that I’ve ever even had a conversation with Professor Slughorn,” he said. “It’s almost as though he doesn’t see me, even if he’s speaking to someone standing next to me. Do you think it’s because I’m a squib?”

Hermione shook her head. “Not directly,” she said. “Probably just that you’re not useful to him. You have to be socially or politically well-connected, or have the potential to be, or he doesn’t even think it’s worth learning your name.”

She was surprised by the teacher’s laugh. “I get it. I’ve met that type before.”

“He has private dinners for his favourite students. He calls it the Slug Club. I made up an excuse to miss the first one, but there’s one next weekend. I wouldn’t bother going, but I think it would be good to build some bridges with more Slytherins. He’ll probably have a Christmas party, and you should definitely try to get an invitation. Lots of interesting people go, and the food is really good.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” he smiled. “Anyway, the rest of the staff are great, so it’s no skin off my nose. Even Professor Snape. He has quite a sharp sense of humour when he opens up a bit.”

Hermione simply smiled. Dean and Seamus, who had been discussing the merits of various brooms for a while, began explaining the various features to the squib teacher, and she excused herself to wander back up to the castle.


“Miss Granger.” The voice came out of the darkness as Hermione headed back to the eighth-year common room. Despite its softness, it made her jump in the silence of the night.

She had her wand drawn before she realized it, but tucked it away immediately, recognizing the voice.

Professor Snape gave a huff of breath that might almost have been a laugh. “What is the point of being quick with your wand if you don’t take notice of your surroundings?”

She smiled. “I suppose not all of us are cut out to be spies.”

He was leaning against a statue, half sitting on the base, and he still hadn’t moved, but she could now see his outline in the faint moonlight that came through the high windows.

“What are you doing wandering around the castle at close to midnight?” he asked, but he sounded merely curious rather than interrogative.

She coughed. “I … erm … needed a book from the library.”

“At this time of night? It must have been a real emergency.”

She sighed, and laughed. “I get irritated sometimes, when people joke about me loving the library so much, but I suppose I’m not really in a position to complain when faced with the evidence.”

“Sneaking around the castle at night for a book does point towards an obsession.” She could hear the humour in his voice now. “Perhaps losing house points would help you to curb the compulsion?”

“Actually, Professor, you’re more likely to be in trouble than me,” she quipped, cheekily. “I don’t have a curfew any more. You, on the other hand, would probably be in big trouble with Madam Pomfrey for being out at this time of night.”

At this, he snorted. “Fair enough. I will keep your secrets if you will keep mine.”

He still hadn’t moved, and she wondered why.

“I'm surprised to see you here, Sir,” she commented. “This is the first time I’ve seen you anywhere except your classroom or the great hall.”

“I’m exercising. I’ll never get my strength back if I stay in the hospital wing, but I’m damned if I’ll let the students catch me looking so weak.”

Not for the first time, Hermione noticed that when he spoke or wrote of ‘the students’, he didn’t seem to include her. She liked that. When she was speaking to him, she really didn’t feel like a student — it was more like they were friends. She would keep that thought to herself, though.

“You stopped here to rest?” she asked him, and saw him nod.

“I have been up and down the staircase between the third and fourth floors three times,” he told her. “Perhaps I was overambitious, but I find …” he paused as though not sure whether to continue, “... I find that exercise helps me sleep. It is often difficult to avoid being …  overwhelmed by my conscience at night.”

Hermione sighed, remembering the terrible things she had heard from Lucius Malfoy during his trial.

“Professor Dumbledore asked a lot of you,” she said, softly. For a brief moment, she wanted to reach out to touch him. If he had been a student, or even another member of the Order of the Phoenix, she would have touched his arm or taken his hand in an attempt to provide comfort and reassurance. The idea merely flitted across her mind, though, not as something she would actually do. It made her feel sad.

They stayed quiet — thoughtful — for a long moment, then Professor Snape pushed himself away from the statue and stood.

“It is time that I returned to the hospital wing,” he said, “and you, evidently, have some urgent reading to do. Goodnight, Miss Granger.”

“Goodnight, Professor,” she said.

Despite his ‘weakness’, his stride looked firm and confident as he headed further into the darkness. It was not the intimidating billow that had always sent students scurrying out of his path, but he did not look weak by any means. Instead of reassuring her of his continued recovery, it gave her a pang of sadness to think that he felt such necessity to be seen to be strong, even under such conditions.

She watched him disappear then carried on her own way to the eighth-year quarters.


It was one afternoon almost a week later that Hermione received a message from Professor Snape via a first-year Slytherin.  The young girl knocked on the door of the eighth-year common room about an hour after the last class of the day, and told her that she was to report to Professor Snape’s office immediately.

“He seemed pretty angry,” she told her in almost a whisper. “What did you do wrong?”

“I have no idea,” Hermione replied, puzzled, “but I suppose I’m about to find out.”

She knocked tentatively on Snape’s office door five minutes later, and heard his angry order to enter. He was standing behind his desk, looking foreboding, and waited until she had closed the door behind her before speaking again.

“I do not need you or anyone embarking on a crusade to fix my reputation, Miss Granger,” he began vehemently.

Hermione reeled in surprise at the statement, but he only gave her a moment to process it.

“Do you think of me as a ‘project’ to champion? Am I going to start seeing people wearing badges that say Support Severus Snape on them? I am not a bloody house elf.” He rested his knuckles on his desk and leaned forward, angrily. “You think you are helping, but you are stepping way beyond your bounds. I do not need your help and you need to stop interfering in my life!”

She was at a loss. “What are you talking about?” she demanded, puzzled and becoming angry.

“Telling Flitwick about you being at my trial and how you know I’m innocent. Arranging for Longbottom to come to my defense to show the students that I’m not as bad as they think. Potter asking the Minister of Magic about why Rita Skeeter is allowed to publish what she does. Don’t try to tell me you weren’t behind that. And now Miss Lovegood and Dagworth! You are interfering with things that are none of your business!”

Hermione folded her arms in front of her chest and glared up at him.

“First of all - yes, I talked to Harry about the rubbish in the Daily Prophet. He is just as bothered by it as I am, and Kingsley Shacklebolt was already concerned about it before Harry spoke to him. If you haven’t noticed, my name gets dragged through the mud by that woman, too. I care about the truth whether it’s about you, me or anybody else.

“Professor Flitwick is filling in Professor Williams about the war, and all I did was confirm what he said about trusting you.

“You’re right that I asked Neville to come to the school, and he was happy to do it. He’d wanted an opportunity to put the past to rest between you, and it was entirely his idea to let the whole school know how much he trusts and respects you. That’s what people do when they see someone they know and like being treated badly; they stand up for them. They want to help and to set things right. There’s no campaign. It’s just standing up for what’s right.

“As for Luna and Thomas Dagworth, I have no idea what you’re talking about. I've only met Thomas once outside the couple of classes I have with him. I barely know him.”

Snape sat down, heavily, behind his desk, still looking angry but perhaps not so much at her.

"Miss Lovegood and Mr. Dagworth wish to interview me for The Quibbler," he stated, irritably.

Hermione smiled. "That's great, but I had nothing to do with it. She and her dad have been fixing the printing press and he said he wanted to tell the truth about you and about your trial."

Snape sighed and put his face in his hands. "Why does everyone want to interfere?" he growled.

She sat down opposite him. "I told you — it's because they care about the truth. We think that someone who did so much for us during the war shouldn't be vilified."

"It's my business."

"Yes," Hermione agreed, "but it's our business too. Rita Skeeter shouldn't be able to use the Prophet to spread her own personal thestral shit about anyone she takes a dislike to. And you said yourself that the students shouldn't be terrified to be at school: it affects all of us.”

He shook his head. “Rita Skeeter is writing nothing about me that isn’t basically true. She may have some of the details wrong, but there’s nothing there that’s worse than what I have actually done. You heard Malfoy’s testimony. You know of the things we did.”

“She’s taking atrocities that were committed by the Death Eaters and making it sound like you were in the thick of it. Are you saying you were? Are you saying that you willingly took part in the torturing and the killing? That you weren’t forced into staying there by Dumbledore?”

“I was in the thick of it at first. Dumbledore may have made use of me once I wanted out, but he didn’t force me to join the bastards in the first place. I was one of them.”

“Then say that,” said Hermione, angrily, rising to her feet. “Let the wizarding world hear the truth and make up their own minds about it, instead of listening to Skeeter’s insinuations. Let the Quibbler print the truth. You told Kingsley not to interfere, so he will probably refuse to talk to the Quibbler when Luna asks, and so will I if you want me to, but there are plenty of others who would love the chance to speak up. Harry told me that some members of the Wizengamot have written to the Prophet, but they won’t publish the letters. They’re only writing the stuff said about you by the three people who dissented, and they're making it sound like half the court was against you. You deserve the truth to be out there.”

The wizard opposite her let out a long breath. His anger seemed to have deflated, leaving him tired. Hermione sat down again and studied him, wondering how much of his tiredness and pain he was hiding - even from her.

Eventually, he said softly. “I will think about it.”

He stared at the desk for a long moment, then looked up at her. “Miss Lovegood missed a lot of her schooling last year,” he commented, in what was clearly a deliberate change of subject. “She seems to be managing well, though. What do you think?”

Hermione had realized, during her first week back at school, what a huge range of levels there were in some of the classes. Some of the seventh years, such as Harriett Merrills, had missed their entire sixth-year because of being muggle-born, and were attempting to complete the entire N.E.W.T. course in one year. Others, including the two Slytherins, had completed their sixth year without interruption, while Luna had been taken from the school after completing less than half the year. Professor McGonagall had told the O.W.L. and N.E.W.T. students that the eighth year would likely be available for the next two or three years, for those students whose education had been interrupted and could not catch up.

They talked about Luna and some of the other students in the class. Hermione felt awkward in expressing her opinions about their work, but knew it would help him in teaching such a disparate class. They also spoke of the various potions they were studying, and the reasons they were included in the N.E.W.T. curriculum. Despite his anger when she had first arrived at his office, he gradually seemed to be relaxing and opening up a little, though he still looked very tired.

“When I was taking my N.E.W.T.s,” he told her, “I wanted to get in some practice with certain potions. They were beyond the usual level taught at the school, and used some rare ingredients that I wouldn’t be able to afford on my own. I let myself into the classroom when I thought Professor Slughorn was out of the castle for the night, and broke into his stores to get the ingredients. Unfortunately, he came back early and caught me.”

She gasped.  “Did you get into much trouble?”

“None at all,” he smirked. “What I was making was a troublesome potion to brew, but could be sold on the black market for a good profit. Slughorn let me finish it, then pocketed the results. Later, there were two others he got me to brew for him.”

"You got the practice and he got the money."

"Yes, until I almost blew up the classroom. There are some potions that shouldn't be attempted, even by advanced students."

Hermione laughed. "I'll bear that in mind."

"Well," Snape said at last, "I should get back to the hospital wing while I still have the strength to stand up."

He pushed himself out of his chair, wincing slightly. "Thank Merlin for my floo being directly connected with Poppy's office. Good night, Miss Granger."

Hermione stood and turned for the door. "Good night, Professor," she smiled, warmly.


October 19th, 1998

Dear Miss Granger,

I apologize for my anger towards you, yesterday. I know that you have good intentions, but I am unaccustomed to having people consider my welfare. I have never asked for help and I find it difficult to accept, when offered. I do appreciate it, and I will consider what you said.

I enjoyed having the opportunity to talk with you. We are in the unusual position of having formed a friendship of sorts when I had no intention of continuing to teach, then unexpectedly finding ourselves as student and teacher once again. The fact that we both conceal our connection behind formality in the classroom shows that we are both aware of how inappropriate it might appear to others. As we both know that there is nothing untoward about it and we are both sensible, however, I do not believe this is a problem.

It was pleasant to discuss the N.E.W.T. level potions with you. You have a clear insight into the reasons certain potions are included at that level, while others are left out. If you are interested in the next steps, beyond N.E.W.T.s, I would be happy to lend you one of my more advanced books, as long as you promise not to follow my example by attempting to brew them yourself.

Severus Snape 

Chapter Text

“Okay. How about Henry Fullarton, Ezekiel Emmett and Ben West?”

The evening was chilly and the breaths of the group of girls could be seen in the air as they walked back to the castle from Hogsmeade. The group of sixth years were ahead of Hermione, Ginny, Luna and Leanne, but their voices were loud enough to carry easily.

“Erm … Kiss Ben, marry Ez, kill Henry,” said one.

“Same.”

“No, I’d definitely have to kiss Henry and kill Ben, but I agree about Ez. He’s gorgeous.”

“Harry Potter, Neville Longbottom, Ronald Weasley.”

The group behind had almost caught up with the loudly-talking girls, and listened with interest.

“Kiss Neville, marry Harry, kill Ron.”

“I think Ron’s cute,” said the shortest of the group. “Still, it’s a tough choice with Harry.”

“Kiss Harry, marry Neville, kill Ron.”

“Hey, that's my brother you’re talking about!” Ginny’s voice made them turn around. They relaxed when they saw Ginny laughing.

“Are you more bothered about them killing your brother or kissing your boyfriend?” teased Leanne.

“I’m not completely sure,” Ginny shrugged, “but given the alternatives of kissing or marrying him, I suppose I’d have to kill Ron, too. What about you, Hermione?”

She laughed. “Well, I’ve already kissed your brother, so I suppose I’ll have to marry Neville and kill Harry.”

“I wonder what would happen if you tried,” said Luna. “Voldemort hit him with an Avada Kedavra twice and it didn’t work either time.”

Several of them winced as she spoke the words of the killing curse - or maybe still at the name of Voldemort -  but she took no notice.

They continued to walk together, with the older girls joining in the game.

“What about some of the eighth years?” one girl asked. “Michael Corner, Seamus Finnigan and Dean Thomas?”

Amongst the three, Dean was a clear favourite, while Michael and Seamus were an even split for being sentenced to death. Ginny was the voice of authority, though, when she insisted that Michael was a better kisser than Dean.

“Okay,” Leanne asked with a sly smile, “how about the teachers? Professor Savage, Professor Snape, Professor Williams?”

“Definitely kiss Snape,” said a sixth year. “Marry Savage. Kill Williams.”

“No way! Marry Snape, for me. Savage has no sense of humour and he’s much older.”

“Professor Snape is still grumpy, even though he turned out to be a good guy. And Professor Williams is way better looking.”

“But Snape is all tall, dark and mysterious. Not to mention a seriously powerful wizard. I’m sure I could find a way to make him smile more.”

Hermione listened in amazement as the other students discussed their teachers, giggling loudly. Even Leanne now considered him good looking and chose to kiss him, marry Professor Williams and kill Professor Savage. Most of them agreed that in a duel between the former auror and the former spy, Savage wouldn’t stand a chance.

She refused to give an answer when asked her choices for the three, stating “I chose to marry Neville, remember? I’ll just stick with him.”

She was too lost in thought to join in the rest of the conversation very much, even when the rest shared their views on who to kiss, marry or kill between Professor Flitwick, Professor Slughorn and Hagrid. Instead, she found herself thinking about how Professor Snape would react if he knew that he was being spoken about in such a way by students - not that she would ever tell him, of course.

When she entered the great hall with Leanne later that evening, she couldn’t help but blush slightly as she determinedly avoided glancing at the staff table.


November 2nd, 1998

Dear Professor Snape,

Luna told me that she and Thomas have arranged a time to speak with you about their article this week. Try not to hate it too much - remember that they just want to tell the truth about you. Thomas is very keen on journalism, and I think he’ll do well. I’m really happy to see some of the Slytherins mixing with other houses. Andrea and Padma have become good friends since starting to work together in potions. Apparently, there’s a group of Hufflepuffs who are really going out of their way to include the Slytherins in things, which is great.

There’s a big difference in how the students talk about you now. The people who were scared of you seem to have got over it, and most of the students seem to like you. I think the title of strictest teacher in the school has now gone to Professor Verto. She dishes out detentions a lot for work not handed in on time, but I think she’s a good teacher.

I met up with Harry and Ron in Hogsmeade at the weekend. Ron had a great idea that after I finish my N.E.W.T.s the three of us should go camping for a couple of weeks. We’ve been making a list of things that we wished we’d had with us last year, and we’re going to take everything with us that we missed. Ron’s priority is the food - he always complained about having to eat whatever we could find. Not that he made any attempts to be the mighty hunter and provide anything better. Harry said the main thing he wants is warm clothes. Well, the first thing he put on the list was Ginny, but we told him he’s not allowed to bring anyone else! I haven’t put much on the list yet. I don’t think there was much that I wanted in terms of ‘things’, though I agree that we were cold and hungry most of the time. The main thing I wished while we were gone was that I’d done a better job of preparing by learning more healing spells. Ron getting splinched was a nightmare. I think the only thing I might add to the list is a better bathroom with an actual bath. I’m sure that being able to have a relaxing soak would have made dealing with horcruxes a walk in the park.

Hermione Granger


November 7th,1998

Dear Miss Granger, 

I am happy to hear that the students are more comfortable with me. I see a difference in classes, but it sounds like the biggest change is in how students speak *of* me, rather than *to* me. I find myself having difficulty knowing how to take this knowledge; I have always been a hated teacher and this is new territory for me.

For the first time, I am also beginning to see some of the staff as friends. As headmistress, Minerva is no longer supposed to show partiality to her former house, and I think she puts on a better show of neutrality than Dumbledore ever did, but our house rivalry continues. In the past, there was considerable irritation between us over the house cup, but now it feels to be merely for fun, with genuine friendship between us. She’s a formidable witch and I like having her as a friend much more than an enemy!

I hope that despite your unusual 8th-year status in the school, your friendships remain strong. The idea of the camping trip sounds utterly insane to me, but you sound excited about it. Much as I dislike the dunderheaded duo, I hope that the three of you are able to continue your friendship for a long time. My own school friendships tended to sour when I realized that most of them were murderous bastards.

I find that socializing with the staff becomes easier, the more I do it. My first instinct is still to refuse invitations to spend time with them, but I occasionally regret having to say no due to my health. It may be a long time before I am strong enough to take Filius up on his offer to buy me a drink at the Three Broomsticks. It is much further than I have managed to walk so far, though I continue to exercise in the corridors at night whenever I can slip from the clutches of Poppy Pomfrey.

I meet with Lovegood and Dagworth tomorrow. I am not looking forward to it.

Severus Snape


“Hermione, you’ve got to hear this!”

Still having permission to enter the Gryffindor tower, Hermione had gone to find Ginny. They had arranged to practice some of their transfiguration work together, but the younger student seemed preoccupied with something else right now. A group of fourth-years were talking, with a crowd around them.

“It was amazing!” one of them was saying, with a huge grin on his face.

“What happened?” Hermione asked.

The loudest of the fourth years, who Hermione seemed to remember was called Richard, was quite happy to repeat the story, excited to be the centre of attention.

“Our potions class. Snape went full-on SNAPE on Matthew Chalmers and Emily Smith.”

Full-on Snape?

“They were messing about and Emily dropped some beetle eyes down the back of Matt’s shirt because he’d thrown an octopus sucker at her. He shrieked like a first year girl and dropped too many porcupine quills into his potion and it started to bubble really loudly. They both got splashes of it on them, but Snape used a spell to put like a bubble around the cauldron. He shouted that they were a couple of dunderheads and were lucky that he got to the cauldron before it exploded. He gave them both detention then sent them to the hospital wing because they were getting blisters where the potion splashed them.”

Hermione frowned. “Well, it’s not really that unexpected. He’s always been tough on people messing about in class.”

Richard shook his head, gleefully. “That’s not the best bit. When they’d gone we were all nervous because he’s not shouted at anyone this year, but he looked like he was trying not to laugh! I’m serious! He said just because we know now that he’s not going to use the cruciatus curse on us doesn’t mean he can’t have a good yell at someone.”

“He was laughing?” she asked, surprised.

“Almost. And like he found it funny, not like he was being evil, or anything.  Oh, and he said there was too much paperwork if anyone actually died in his class.”

Hermione laughed. “I would imagine that’s true. The class isn’t quite so scared of him any more then?”

“I was never scared of him,” huffed Richard.

“You said you were going to drop potions if Professor McGonagall wouldn’t let you change classes!” Ginny snorted.

Richard blushed. “Well everyone thought he was going to kill us all,” he blustered. “Anyway, he’s alright, Snape is.”

“You don’t want to switch to Professor Slughorn’s class, then?”

“Nah.”


The Quibbler article came out the following Saturday and Hermione was surprised to see that the story was so long that it took up almost the entire publication, which was much thicker than usual. It was written in the form of an interview, with Luna asking the questions. 

As well as interviewing Professor Snape, Luna and Thomas had spoken to Professor McGonagall, Kingsley, Harry (with Snape’s grudging approval) and Neville.

Luna’s announcements that the Quibbler was back in production had caused quite a few students to subscribe again. When the owls arrived at breakfast, Hermione looked up at the staff table. Professor Snape was already leaving through the staff entrance, and she suspected that he had timed his exit to avoid the post. As it was the day of the first quidditch match of the year - Gryffindor vs. Ravenclaw - many people stowed their copies away to read later, but Hermione was already deep in hers as everyone started heading down to the quidditch pitch. Walking slowly, she kept her nose buried.

Professor Snape had made it clear that he did not consider himself a hero. He was someone who had made devastating choices early in life and who wanted to do what he could to set things right. He had pledged his loyalty to Dumbledore and had never regretted that pledge, even though he believed he would not live through the war.

He talked about the allure of the charismatic and persuasive Voldemort to a teenager who desperately wanted to belong. His main experience of muggles was a vile and abusive muggle father, so it had not been difficult for him to believe the rhetoric of muggles hating magic and being a danger to the wizarding world. He had never felt the same thirst for blood and pain that some Death Eaters, such as Bellatrix Lestrange or Antonin Dolohov, but he was by no means innocent of crimes committed against muggles and muggle-borns. When asked what had made him realize he had made the wrong choices, he said that there were certain incidents that led him to see Voldemort’s true evil nature and his own wrongdoings. He chose not to elaborate on what those incidents were.

The most difficult part of the interview to read was when he was asked about his time as a spy for Dumbledore. He had lived under the constant threat of torture, death, and the knowledge that a mistake could jeopardize the lives of others. Voldemort had been a powerful Legilimens, and if Snape's defenses had slipped for even a moment he could have discovered enough information about the Order of the Phoenix to be devastating to them. Worse was the fact that he had to behave like a true follower of Voldemort to be convincing. This included following Voldemort's orders, no matter how horrific. He had done worse things to muggles while under Dumbledore’s command than he had ever chosen to do when he was loyal to Voldemort. There had been many times when he had been desperate to openly declare his loyalty to Dumbledore, but that very loyalty prevented him from doing so.

He spoke about the pain of having to kill Dumbledore. He had lived for months knowing what he would have to do, and had argued several times with the headmaster about it, but had been given no choice. The worst part was that he had to use the unforgivable killing curse, which required him to draw on every negative thought he had ever had about Dumbledore to create enough hatred to power the curse. The hatred he had had to draw out for his mentor still plagued him.

When speaking of his recovery in St. Mungo’s, he expressed his gratitude to Arthur Weasley for assisting with the development of his treatment due to his bite from the same snake previously. Luna, in her typical straightforward manner, had asked whether there had been any times when he would have preferred not to have survived, and Hermione felt tears form in her eyes as she read his reply that there had been many such times. Finding himself still alive, he had decided that in a world that had lost so many, life was not something he had a right to wish away, but it had been difficult at first, when he had been so weak and in so much pain in the hospital.

Although he explained that he was still not fully recovered from his injuries, he gave no details and gave the erroneous impression that he was much stronger than Hermione knew him to be.

Neville spoke about the previous year’s events at Hogwarts and his subsequent ‘reconciliation’ with Snape in front of the whole school. Harry talked about witnessing what he thought was Snape’s death and receiving the memories that helped Harry finish his task. Kingsley spoke of his trial and acquittal. Each one of them expressed their heartfelt appreciation for everything he had done during the war, especially when it had to be done under the guise of a traitor. 

Reading Professor McGonagall’s words made her feel the sting of tears again. The headmistress was effusive in her praise of him as a loyal member of the Order of the Phoenix, a teacher and a friend. She spoke sadly, however, about the position of Potions teacher, explaining that Professor Snape would only agree to teach for the year, then leave the school. Hermione’s breath caught when she read that there had been another potioneer whom she would have happily taken on, but she, her husband and her children had all been killed by Bellatrix Lestrange in her attack on the apothecary in Hogsmeade two years ago.

She finished reading as she reached the quidditch stands, and looked at the photograph of the article’s subject that took up a large portion of the front page. He was standing tall, as she had seen him many times, folding his arms across his chest. He was gazing straight into the camera, his face calm and open but otherwise expressionless.

She was happy to have the truth about his story out to the public, but saddened by the pain he must have gone through, and by thinking about the losses in the war. So many had been lost, but she wondered how many more would have died if not for his loyalty and bravery.

The Quidditch game had already begun by the time she had climbed up into the stands. She spotted Ginny and Luna sitting together, and gave Luna a big smile as she tucked the Quibbler away and joined them.


Loopy vanished with a soft pop, taking her letter to Professor Snape. She had wanted to say so much to him, but knew he would not want to hear her thanks for what he had done, and certainly not her belief that, despite his protestations, he was a hero. Instead, she said she knew how difficult the interview must have been for him, and how she felt that it was worth it to have the truth available to people. She told him how much she liked the result, and hoped that he did, too.

With her letter gone, she sat on her bed and looked at the photo that Thomas had taken. The way he held his robes to keep them straight as he folded his arms was a familiar gesture to anyone who had ever sat in his class. His dark eyes blinked as he stared back at her. Although his face was expressionless, she knew that there was much more to his emotions than he ever showed. In his letters, he had shown her his wit, pride, caring and even vulnerability. He had opened himself up in his interview, but she felt somehow special to feel that there were still things he had revealed only to her, such as his worry over the stress of students having to face him at the beginning of the year, and the true extent of his injuries.

She thought of the things he had done as a Death Eater and shuddered. She couldn't decide which would be worse - the remorse of knowing what he had done while willingly following Voldemort, or the anguish of being forced to continue doing them under Dumbledore's orders. In his interview, he had spoken of feeling the need to belong and it made her chest tighten in pain and made her want to wrap her arms around him. She fervently hoped that he felt more of a sense of belonging now that he was able to consider his colleagues as friends. And her. She was proud that he thought of her as a friend.

Unbidden, the game she had played with the other girls while walking back from Hogsmeade came into her mind. Kiss, marry or kill? She closed her eyes as an image of kissing Professor Snape floated across her thoughts. She pushed it away in surprise and put the Quibbler on her bedside table before slipping between the sheets of her bed. Despite trying not to think of the way his lips might feel on hers, there was a soft smile on her face as she drifted off to sleep.

Chapter Text

Nov 15th

Dear Miss Granger,

Thank you for your comments about the article last night. Miss Lovegood gave me an advance copy of it, and I had not really intended to read it, but she requested that I did.

I shared much more with her and Dagworth than I had ever intended. If I did not know better, I would have suspected they had slipped me veritaserum, but I think it is simply her unique manner that makes people be open with her. She has a guileless honesty that invites trust and a knowledge that she will take your words with a complete lack of judgement. Dagworth was more focused on the facts, but Lovegood drew out thoughts and feelings that I was barely aware I had.

I feel I should be angry at myself and them for how much of myself I revealed, and I am unable to explain why I am not.

Mr. Potter sent me a note this morning telling me that his house elf was half buried by an avalanche of owls addressed to me. He is continuing to sort through them for me, but I suppose I will have to decide what to do with all the letters I have been ignoring.

I simply hope that I am left in peace about the interview at school. I welcome your thoughts and opinions, but I have no wish to review the details with any of the staff, and certainly not the students. I stated facts. I do not require sympathy, praise or any other misguided emotions foisted upon me. Horace Slughorn has been very cautious about associating with me until yesterday. I suppose he didn’t want to be seen to consort with me while public opinion was still so much against me. Now, I have been assured of an invitation to his Christmas party, which he is already planning. Obviously, I am thrilled.

On a (mostly) good note, Poppy has been conferring with Healer Jones and they have decided it is time for one further treatment to finally purge the last of the venom from my blood. It will enable me to stop taking one of my potions, which should mean I will have more energy and be able to stay awake for longer, thank Merlin. The downside is that the spell used is extremely painful, but I must bear it as best I can. I have had it twice before, in St. Mungo’s. I will wait until Friday, so that any negative symptoms can be dealt with over the weekend.

Severus Snape


Within two days, it was obvious that everyone at the school had read the article in The Quibbler. It was a subject of much talk in the common rooms, and almost everyone now seemed wholeheartedly to respect and trust Professor Snape. Luna and Thomas had become very popular, too.

“I just asked the questions,” Luna told people. “It was Thomas who wrote the article itself, and I agree that he did a wonderful job. Daddy has offered him a job as a full-time reporter, but we can’t pay him very much just yet.”

Professor Snape, of course, ignored the awed stares he got from students, and carried on as normal.

At the end of Friday’s class, Hermione hung back to speak to him.

“Will you be having your treatment after dinner, Professor?” she asked him, gently.

He shook his head. “No. As soon as I get back to the hospital wing,” he told her, his face grim. “It is best on an empty stomach.”

“I’m so sorry you have to go through this,” she told him. “Will this get rid of the rest of the poison completely?”

“Yes. A version of a potion called Venenum Relligo was developed to assist Arthur Weasley, tailored specifically to Nagini’s venom. I have been taking it to draw the venom from the organs into the blood, then it binds it to prevent it from doing any further damage. This evening’s treatment will remove the venom from the blood.”

Hermione made a mental note to look up the potion in the library.

She felt helpless. He would be going through a painful treatment, and there was nothing she could do to help. She wanted to say something or do something that would make a difference, but she knew nothing would. What she really wanted, she realized, was to hug him. For a moment, she almost considered it, but knew she couldn’t.

“Is there anything that can help with the pain of the treatment?” she asked, finally.

He shook his head. “Unfortunately not, but thank you for your concern. “ He turned towards the door to his office, then seemed to hesitate. “Miss Granger,” he said, awkwardly, “there was one thing that helped last time, when I was in the hospital.”

She looked at him and waited for him to continue, wondering why he wasn’t quite meeting her eyes.

“Last time, I found reading your letters helpful in taking my mind off the pain.” He looked uncomfortable, and Hermione felt a strange fluttering in her chest.

“Were they so boring that they acted as a sedative?” she asked, smiling.

He gave what sounded like a small chuckle. “That was exactly the reason.”

“Then I think I can manage to write more, if it will help.”

His eyes flicked momentarily up to hers. “Thank you,” he said quietly. Again, he hesitated, then entered his office, closing the door silently behind him.


November 20th

Dear Professor Snape,

I had a talk with Thomas Dagwood, yesterday. He’s had such great feedback about his story in The Quibbler, that he and the Lovegoods have been trying to decide where to go from here. They think that it’s time for the wizarding world to have a new newspaper to rival The Daily Prophet, and they had talked about Thomas working full-time for them. But Xenophilius has decided he doesn't really want to take The Quibbler in that direction. He knows people mostly read it for its ‘alternative’ viewpoints and he doesn’t really want to stray from that. It took on a more serious role during the war because someone had to publish the truth, but he doesn’t want The Quibbler to become so serious permanently. They’re talking about setting up a completely new newspaper, with Thomas as the main reporter and Xenophilius acting as editor until Thomas knows the business well enough. They’re worried that it would be too much for them, though. They’re going to need a permanent editor and finances to make it work. They’re still throwing ideas around. I suggested they talk to Kingsley, who might have some ideas about who would be able to help them. I hope they can make this work, but they’ve a long way to go, yet.

Harry, Ron, Neville and Susan Bones say that their auror training is going well, though Ron is struggling with the potions sections. I suppose that’s partly my fault. He was never good at buckling down to do the work himself, and I let him read my homework far more than I should have done. I thought at the time that I was helping, but to be honest, I did it mostly because he was such a pain in the neck whenever I didn’t let him. I’m sure you knew that, but I regret unintentionally sabotaging your efforts to make him learn. Not that either of them would ever have done particularly well in your classes, with the way you hated each other. They both learned much more in Professor Slughorn’s potions classes than yours, but mostly because of the ‘Half-Blood Prince’. You were a great teacher for Harry, as long as he didn’t know it was you!

But, anyway, I’m supposed to be distracting you from your treatment, but instead I’m talking about your least favourite person. Sorry.

There’s a Slug Club dinner that I’ll be going to tomorrow evening. I have to say that I don’t really like the whole idea of the club. Professor Slughorn likes to feel like he has influence with all the right people, but I naively wish that who you know had no impact on how well you do in life. I suppose it’s easy for me to say that, being friends with Harry, but I like to think that I earn things on my own merits. I think the thing that bothers me most about it is not that Professor Slughorn helps people who he has a connection with, it’s more that he ignores people who don’t have anything to offer him. Still, I suppose there are a lot of people like that, but he’s more open about his motivations than most people. The reason I still go to the dinners is mostly because I get chance to spend time with people I wouldn’t usually interact with. I really want to make more of an effort to mix with the Slytherins in particular. Besides, he’s very persistent and I get tired of making excuses. Ginny is in the same boat. It’s easier to give in and just enjoy the food.

I’m heading to the library in a little while. I have essays for Ancient Runes, Arithmancy and Herbology to get done this weekend, and I’ve made a list of research I need to do. I don’t spend as much time actually working in the library any more. It used to be the only place I could find without distractions, but having my own room this year is much better. I like working in the eighth-year common room, too. It’s far quieter than it ever was in the Gryffindor tower.

I will write to you again, tomorrow,

Hermione Granger


November 22nd

Dear Miss Granger,

Thank you for your letters. My treatment went well, but my body has not reacted well to stopping taking Venenum Relligo. Nobody has ever taken it for so long before. I should be fine in a day or two. I have enjoyed your letters so far.

Severus Snape


Hermione had not expected Professor Snape to be at meals for the weekend, but she was saddened to see that he was still not present by Tuesday morning. During the Slug Club dinner on Sunday evening, Professor Slughorn had told them that he would be taking all potions classes on Monday, but he wasn’t sure how long he would be doing it for.

She knew that it would take a lot to force Professor Snape to miss work.

Terry Boot and Maria Reynolds were new additions to the Slug Club, and both seemed nervous. That now made four of them from their potions class - two eighth and two seventh years. They sat together and Hermione smiled to see them surreptitiously holding hands under the table.

Ginny rolled her eyes when she saw it. “Maria was going out with Frederick Fortescue until two weeks ago,” she whispered. “Professor Flitwick docked ten points each off Hufflepuff and Slytherin for finding them kissing behind a statue. Neither of them seem very upset about breaking up, though.”

On Tuesday morning, Professor Verto gave them a challenging test on the theory of the universal laws of matter, and afterwards, Hermione rushed to the dungeon hoping that Professor Snape would be there for her potions lesson. She was disappointed to be met by Professor Slughorn at the doorway.

"Good morning, Miss Granger," he smiled. "I'm afraid you're stuck with me this morning. Professor Snape is still unwell."

She managed a smile and sat down, with the rest of the class following soon after.

Although Hermione thought that Professor Snape was a much better teacher, she would have found it interesting to hear a different approach to the task they were set if it had not been for her concern. She worried about how much pain he was in.

“Are you okay?” asked Padma, who was sitting across from her. “You seem very quiet, today.”

“I’m okay. Just feeling a bit tired. I was up late finishing the essay for Professor Savage.”

Padma frowned. “The one on the strength of protection spells? It’s not due until next week.”

Hermione faked a small laugh. “Well, you know how I like to leave things to the last minute.”

They continued working for a while before Parvati said, “I hope Professor Snape is okay. It’s not like him to miss class. It’s funny how I was so scared of him at first, and now he’s one of my favourite teachers.”

By the end of the lesson, Hermione was considering asking Professor Slughorn how he was doing, but she didn't want to draw attention to her concern. As far as anyone knew, she had no connection to Professor Snape, other than being at his trial during the summer. It would seem odd for her to be asking about him. Luckily, she was not the only one interested.

“Sir,” Thomas asked, “do you know how Professor Snape is?”

“Ah, Mister Dagworth,” Slughorn smiled, “are you asking as a reporter or a concerned student?”

“Just as a student, Sir. I wouldn’t ever write about him without his permission.”

“Then I can tell you that he was looking better when I spoke to him yesterday evening. I believe he will be back teaching lessons tomorrow.” He smiled at the student, then turned to the others. “I believe that you have an essay due for Professor Snape on Friday. I am sure that his indisposition will not alter his timeline, so remember to have them ready to hand in. Miss Reynolds and Mister Boot, please remain behind for a moment.”

Hermione left the classroom with Thomas and Luna.

“I was sure he’d be back soon,” Luna said, serenely. “I sent him some Salvia Divinorum to keep by his bed.”

“Well, if it doesn’t heal him, at least it’s hallucinogenic properties will keep him entertained,” said Hermione, wryly.

“That’s what I thought,” said Luna.

Hermione laughed, thankful that both the patient and the two healers would recognize the plant and know to keep it well protected from wayward spells.


November 25th

Dear Miss Granger,

As you saw, I was back in the Great Hall for breakfast, today, and I was able to teach my class this afternoon. Now that the binding potion and the venom are gone from my blood, the healing potion can do a better job of healing my body, without the venom constantly working against it. Because of the nature of the poison, it will still take weeks or months to fully heal me, but I can already feel myself having more energy. I feel better than I can remember feeling for a long time.

Miss Lovegood sent me Salvia Divinorum on Sunday, and I have just sent her a brief note to thank her. What I didn’t tell her was that Poppy Pomfrey attempted to banish it because of its less helpful properties. I only managed to persuade her to allow it to remain once I had placed it in an impermeable bubble charm. I have plans to preserve it for my stores in a day or two, as it is quite a useful ingredient for many potions, even though many books now substitute other, less troublesome, ingredients in its place.

I plan to return to my nighttime exercise tonight.

Severus Snape


Hermione read the letter over and over again, unsure.

What was happening between them?

She wanted to see him; she knew that much. She’d been concerned for him and had had difficulty focusing on anything else since Friday. How much pain was he in? Had he read her letters? Should she write again?

She had been so happy to see his writing on the envelope on her bedside table when she returned to her room after classes that afternoon. Her slight disappointment at the shortness of the letter disappeared when she read the last line.  He was going to be walking in the corridors again, tonight. Why would he tell her that, unless it was intended as an invitation?

When he had left the potions classroom on Friday, he had specifically asked her to write to him. Their parting had been awkward, as though neither was quite sure what to say, or had wanted to say more but didn’t know how. Had he felt as unsure as her? If it had been any of her other friends about to experience a painful treatment, they would have hugged each other. Had he been thinking the same thing?

And now, this. Was it simply because they were friends and he enjoyed her company, or could there be more happening between them? She wanted more: the way her heart beat faster at the thought of seeing him made that all too clear. But was she reading too much into it, by hoping that maybe he felt the same way? If he had not intended his last line as a hope to meet, she would look like a fool, showing up in the corridor with the obvious hope of meeting him. 

Ugh. Stop it, Hermione, she told herself. You’re overthinking everything, as usual. You’re friends, even if it could lead to more later. Just go and talk to him.

With this internal rebuke, she forced herself out of the eighth-year common room.

She spent only ten minutes in the library. The book she chose was not really something she needed, but her pride would not allow her to simply wander about the corridors without at least some pretense of an excuse.

“Good evening.” His voice was low and she smiled as she heard it.

“Hello, Professor. It's good to see you. How are you feeling?”

He stood from his position leaning against the statue - the same statue where they had met before.

“I am feeling well. Tired after a rather trying few days, but it feels as though a weight has been taken from me.”

“I’m so glad,” she told him. “It was awful to know that you were going through that and not being able to do anything to help.”

“You did help,” he assured her. “Your letters gave me something to focus on.”

He began walking along the corridor, and she fell in step beside him. She didn’t know where they were going, but was happy to follow his lead. It seemed that he had a regular circuit that he took - up the east staircase to the fourth floor, past the History of Magic classroom as far as the staircase that led up towards the owlery, then down the west stairs and back past the library. They walked quite slowly, more interested in their conversation than anything else.

Hermione asked about Luna’s flowers, and what he was planning to use them for, and he began to outline his plans for an experiment he wanted to try. “I have a theory about why certain substitutions of ingredients work in potions and others don’t,” he explained. “The Divinorum is a variety of Salvia that can be replaced easily with an alternative, but others, even a closely-related variety like the Dombeyi, cannot be replaced. Attempt any substitutions of the Dombeyi in the Sedula elixir, for instance, and the potion congeals before the snail shells can be added. The Divinorum will be useful to experiment with because it’s so rarely used. I am surprised Miss Lovegood even managed to find any.”

“Luna manages to do all kinds of unexpected things,” Hermione smiled. “I’ve learned not to ask how. Her explanations rarely explain anything.”

They were on their fourth lap of their circuit, talking quietly all the time, when a sudden movement in the corridor in front of them caught their attention, followed by the low yowl of Mrs. Norris. Filch was not far behind her.

“A student out of bed at this time?” he chuckled. “You’re in big trouble. And caught by the headmaster, I see.”

“Good evening, Filch,” Professor Snape said, with a sharp tone in his voice. “The eighth years do not have a curfew, but of course Miss Granger is abusing that privilege by being out at this ridiculous time. I am escorting her back to her common room to ensure she stays out of further trouble. And please remember that I am no longer the headmaster!”

Filch scowled at this and muttered that there would never be students out of bed at night if he was. Then he called to his cat and headed up the stairs towards the owlery.

Professor Snape turned with an embarrassed cough. “I will see you to your common room.” They had been walking side-by-side, but had moved apart when the caretaker’s cat had arrived. They stayed this way up the two more flights of stairs to the eighth-year wing.

“I’m glad to see that you’re feeling so much better, Professor,” Hermione smiled. “I was worried about you.”

In the dim light, she saw what she was certain was the first genuine smile she had ever seen from him. “Thank you, Miss Granger. Good night.”

She gave the password to the small statue standing next to the doorway, then turned to see him striding away.

Chapter Text

 

November 28th

Dear Miss Granger,

If today’s display is anything to go by, the Quidditch Cup will be back where it belongs by the end of the year, and Minerva McGonagall will owe me a lot of money. I heard that Gryffindor and Ravenclaw were fairly evenly matched this year, but the Slytherin team played flawlessly against Hufflepuff. Not that it was difficult - some of the Hufflepuffs could barely stay on their brooms. I don’t know how Pomona Sprout can hold her head up in the staff room.

It seemed suitable that my first adventure out of the castle was to watch a Slytherin quidditch victory. I walked there quite slowly with the headmistress, then back with Professor Williams and Flitwick, and did not feel overly tired by it. I noticed you there with Miss Longbottom and Miss Weasley. I know that you have been trying to build friendships with Slytherins, but I assume that does not extend as far as the quidditch pitch.

Williams has decided to support Hufflepuff - he says he often likes to root for the underdog. He was even willing to put his gold on the table and bet me five galleons that they would win. I suppose that in itself is a very Hufflepuff attitude. Apparently, Minerva had suggested that he try asking the sorting hat which house he would have been in, but the hat couldn’t feel anything from him. When the hat spoke aloud, he could hear it, but it couldn’t communicate silently with him, the way it does with witches and wizards. It had never even occurred to me to wonder how it would deal with muggles and squibs.

I have agreed to join Williams and Flitwick for a drink in Hogsmeade once I can make it that far, but I will have to work up to walking that distance.

Enjoy your weekend,

Severus Snape


Hermione wrapped her heavy robes around her, thankful for their warmth. She was walking with Ginny, Luna, Leanne, Ezekiel and Thomas towards the Three Broomsticks. They hadn’t talked much on the way, as their scarves were wrapped around their faces against the strong wind.

They reached the warmth of the pub eventually, and headed towards an empty table.

Madam Rosmerta came over towards them with a smile as they unwrapped themselves.

“Well, this is a sight I don’t think I’ve ever seen before this year,” she said. “Let’s see… three Gryffindors, one Ravenclaw, one Hufflepuff and a Slytherin.” She gestured towards their house scarves. “Things certainly seem to be changing at Hogwarts.”

The six students smiled around at each other.

Rosmerta took their drink requests and went back to the bar.

“It is strange,” agreed Leanne, looking at Thomas. “Especially so soon after the war. I’d expected a lot of the Slytherins to be angry, but you mostly just seem really quiet.”

“I think many of the Slytherins are ashamed of what happened, and are scared of how other people will blame them.” Luna’s analysis was straight to the point, as always. “But, remember, a lot of the Slytherins lots family members - either killed or in Azkaban.”

Thomas sighed, his face serious. “I’m lucky that I didn’t lose anyone very close. My family agreed with the… with Voldemort early on, but gradually changed their minds. We’re mostly purebloods, but my parents have never really cared much about that. I lost an aunt and two uncles, but I didn’t really know them very well. There are still some die-hards in Slytherin, but you’re right, Luna. Most of us are ashamed and scared of being hated.”

“I noticed that the numbers were down at the sorting this year,” Ginny commented quietly. “Only two girls and three boys sorted into Slytherin.”

“I think there were quite a few who would have been in Slytherin but really didn’t want to be, otherwise the hat would have distributed them evenly, like it usually does,” said Thomas.

They were all quiet for a moment, then Luna spoke up.

“We all became very sad and thoughtful for a while,” she said. “Let’s cheer up and talk about something more fun.”

They all smiled, thankful for her ability to say what nobody else wanted to.

Rosmerta arrived with a tray of drinks, and they brightened up as they distributed them.

“So what’s new on the newspaper front?” asked Hermione.

“I wrote to Kingsley Shacklebolt, like you suggested,” Thomas told her. “I’m waiting to hear back from him.”

“And Daddy is going to talk to someone he knows about getting more equipment,” added Luna. “We could manage with just one printing press for a little while, but ours is old. The new newspaper would probably be published monthly at first, but later it would need to be weekly.”

“And eventually daily.”

Hermione smiled at the way Thomas and Luna were working together so well. She didn’t think there was anything other than friendship, but it was nice to see.

She was surprised when Ezekiel spoke up. He was so quiet she had almost forgotten he was there. “How would you manage that, while you’re at school?” he asked.

“It would only be monthly until then, but we want to start planning for when we leave.”

“What will you call it?” asked Ginny.

Thomas laughed. “That’s a good question. Any suggestions?”

“The Wizarding World?”

“Magical News?”

“The Magical Chronicle.”

It was an enjoyable afternoon. They talked a lot about the newspaper, and everyone had suggestions for future stories as well as names. There was some discussion about the Snape article, but in the two weeks since its publication, it had been thoroughly discussed and the conversation quickly veered onto other topics.

They visited Tomes and Scrolls, where Hermione could have spent many hours but forced herself to hurry so as not to bore the others, then Honeyduke's. Walking towards Dervish and Banges, they passed the old, boarded-up front of Zonko’s Joke Shop, now with a banner hanging over the front door, saying “Coming soon: Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes”.

The wind had died down considerably since they had reached the village, and they had a much more pleasant walk back to the school, with Ginny telling them all about George’s plans for the shop.

The only problem with the afternoon was the fact that Ezekiel seemed to be at Hermione’s elbow every time she turned around. In the sweet shop, he handed her a sugar quill with an end shaped like a rose. Not wanting to be rude, but definitely not wanting to encourage him, she thanked him and offered him a liquorish wand, acting as though the quill was nothing more than sharing politely. When he worked up the courage to speak to her, she replied pleasantly but briefly and immediately brought other people into the conversation so it was not simply the two of them. She thought he was nice enough, but he was just not her type. Not that she really had a ‘type’, but she knew that Ezekiel wasn’t it. Neither Victor nor Ron, the only two boys she had gone out with, had been what she had been looking for either. She appreciated intelligent conversation about interesting subjects, a sense of humour, and depth of personality. She liked dark hair and dark eyes… She shook her head. He's a professor, Hermione, she told herself as they reached the castle. You're just friends.


“Professor, Doesn’t this go against the usual rules for temperature in class B potions?” Hermione was finding the class interesting, but the potion was not behaving the way she expected it to. “Using a higher temperature for potions that have a larger content of insect than plant material usually means it will thicken early. I don’t understand why this is acting differently.”

Several of the other students seemed puzzled, but she had a feeling that they were puzzled by her question, rather than by the potion.

Professor Snape raised an eyebrow. “You are correct, Miss Granger, but the Asian Long-Horned Beetle is one of several types of insect that defy the rule and create a specific sub-group of the class B potions. It is not necessary to understand this for N.E.W.T. level, but if you wish to understand the reasons for it you may stay behind at the end of the class.”

Hermione’s partner, Harriett, gave her an amused smile, then looked at Snape. “You mean we don’t all get to hear this new complicated knowledge that won’t help us in our exams?” she joked.

Snape smirked. “You are welcome to stay behind to learn more, too, Miss Merrills,” he commented. “I wouldn’t want you to feel left out.”

Harriett pretended to consider. “On second thoughts, no thanks, Professor. I think it’s knowledge I can live without.”

There was a murmur of laughter in the room and Hermione smiled. It was such a change from the beginning of the year, and he was so different from how he had ever been before. He was still stoic and strict, but he had built a rapport with his students more quickly than she would have thought possible.

As the class began to pack up at the end of the lesson, Professor Snape pulled an old book from a shelf behind his desk and brought it to her.

"This chapter should explain why this potion is an exception," he told her. "Many early potions books list the potions which break the rule, but it was not until 1923 that Alfred Pilkington proposed his theory as to why they behaved differently. Until then, the exceptions were believed to be random anomalies."

The rest of the class had, by now, left the classroom.

"Could I borrow this book, please?" she asked, and he nodded with a small smile.

"And perhaps Miss Merrills would like to read it after you," he suggested, making her laugh.

"It’s good to see things going better for you with the students," she said. "You're even joking with them."

"It has been hard to change my attitude in the classroom, but I am glad I made the effort. When Voldemort fell, the first time, Dumbledore practically forced me to continue teaching. I hated and resented everyone and everything, and I took it out on the students. Old habits die hard.”

Hermione was still perched on her high stool, and Snape leaned against the bench in front of hers, looking relaxed, despite the seriousness of his comments.

“Didn’t you ever enjoy teaching?”

“I did, in fact. It took me a few years to realize it, but I actually enjoyed teaching the few students who wanted to learn. Then Potter showed up at the school, and I was right back to hating it again.”

“You hid it so well!” Hermione commented with a smirk.

“Now that Voldemort is gone and I’m not being forced into a double role, I am enjoying teaching more than I ever thought I would.”

“I suppose the fact that Harry didn’t return adds to that enjoyment,” Hermione laughed.

“I can’t say that I’m saddened by his absence, no. But at least I have learned to tolerate one of the Golden Trio!”

He smiled at her and their eyes held for a moment before Hermione looked away, nervous that her feelings would be too easily read on her face.

After a moment, Snape coughed and stood a little straighter.

“Speaking of the Golden Trio and their many adventures,” he said, “what, in Merlin’s name, is a disco ball?”

Hermione was caught off guard for a moment, then raised her head and laughed heartily.

“That is what happens when Harry and Ron drink too much and start getting ridiculous.”

In her last letter to Snape, she had told him more about the things she, Ron and Harry were planning to take with them on their camping trip. She had met them in The Hog’s Head earlier in the week, and they had been adding to their list.

“It’s … well, it makes lights reflect around the room, like they’re flashing, and it makes it more fun to dance to.”

“Dancing?”

“Yes! Last time, we had a terrible radio, and Ron said we should take a better one this time, so we could listen to music, and then Harry said we needed a disco ball.”

“And the ‘fuzzy slippers’?”

“They were my idea - they’re funny and they keep my feet warm. I used to have some with cute little bunny ears!”

“I’m sorry I asked,” said Snape, shaking his head. “I had thought you were going camping in the summer.”

“Yes.”

“Then why do you need a Christmas tree?”

Snape’s face was a mixture of amusement and confusion, but this question made Hermione’s thoughts turn to more serious memories.

She sighed.

“Last Christmas was pretty horrible,” she said, eventually. “We went to Goderick’s Hollow to find Harry’s old house. We saw the statue of him and his parents, and their grave. Then we met Bathilda Bagshot, or what was left of her.”

Snape stayed silent, waiting while she took a deep breath and continued.

“It was one of the worst things I’ve ever experienced,” she said, softly. “It was my first Christmas without my parents, we were tired and stressed and cold. Then we were faced with the snake and then Voldemort was there … and Harry’s wand was broken. It was all just horrible.

“So we decided that during our camping trip we should have a Christmas tree, decorations and presents. We’re hoping Ron’s mum will deliver a Christmas dinner for us, too.”

She managed a smile at this last part, and glanced up to see him gazing at her, sadly.

“What are your plans for this Christmas?”

“I’m going to stay with Harry at Grimmauld Place, but we’ll be at the Weasleys’ for Christmas day. I’m not looking forward to it, much. Things are gradually getting better, there, but Christmas is going to be hard without Fred. Poor Molly is still a wreck, and it’s going to be tough for George, however much of a brave face he manages to put on most of the time. Harry and I talked about staying away on Christmas day, but Arthur said they’d all really like us to be there. What about you?”

“I will be spending Christmas here. The school’s staff are the closest thing I have to a family. There are several of the teachers who always stay here for Christmas, as well as Poppy Pomfrey, who has forbidden me from leaving the castle anyway.”

Hermione smiled at him. “Maybe you’ll be able to make it as far as Hogsmeade with Professor Flitwick and Professor Williams.”

“That would be good,” he agreed. “Poppy has said that she thinks by Christmas I will be able to move out of the hospital wing and back into the dungeon. I have spent over six months in a hospital bed and would like to get back to my own. I have even had the house elves make sure that it is back in my old rooms. I am counting the days, and considering making myself such a troublesome patient that she considers banishing me much sooner.”

She laughed. “I wouldn’t push her, if I were you. I bet she can be quite fierce when her patients misbehave.”

Hermione looked down at the book Snape had loaned her, and began stowing the last of her things into her bag.

“I need to get going,” she told him. “I need to get some lunch, and then I have some work I want to get done before Charms this afternoon.”

Professor Snape raised an eyebrow. “Have you left your Charms homework until the last possible moment again, Miss Granger?” he demanded. “You really must learn to take your work more seriously!”

“I’ll try, Sir,” she said in mock contrition.

Hermione reached the door and looked back. They smiled at each other before she turned to head for the Great Hall.


 

~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~

Miss Hermione Granger

and guest,

You are invited to

Professor Horace Slughorn’s annual Christmas Party,

to be held at 7 pm on the Eighteenth of December

in Professor Slughorn’s office

~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~





Chapter Text

The two weeks leading up to the Christmas break - and to Professor Slughorn’s Christmas party - were busy at Hogwarts. Professor Flitwick’s newly-formed Charms Club had done an excellent job of decorating the castle, including the Christmas trees that Hagrid had brought in to fill the Great Hall. In an attempt to ward off the usual ‘Christmas shenanigans’ (as Professor McGonagall put it), the professors were assigning lots of homework. One of Professor Snape’s letters told her that this was also a way to keep students’ minds occupied, at a time when the losses during the war would be particularly felt.

The eighth years had an evening where they chose to put aside all school work and sit together in their common room to share a drink and memories of those they had lost. It was an evening of tears and laughter, with hugs and sympathy shared liberally amongst them. Padma, in particular, had a bad time, but appreciated the support of her friends. Several bottles of elf-made wine helped the evening along, but Hermione wondered if perhaps Michael and Mandy had imbibed a little too much when they retreated first to a couch in a corner of the room, then to Michael’s bedroom.

“It’s not the wine,” Seamus told her confidently. “I went to Michael’s room to ask about Transfiguration homework one night, and Mandy was there, all giggly. He asked me not to say anything, but they seem to be pretty much in the open tonight, so I suppose it doesn’t matter.”

“They seemed to be quite happy about it,” Hermione smiled.

“Of course they are. They’ve been shagging like rabbits. The wards still stop boys going into girls’ rooms, so Mandy has spent most nights in Michael’s room for the past week. At least it’s easier for them than Terry. He’s going out with a seventh-year Hufflepuff. He can’t get into the Hufflepuff common room and she can’t get in here, so they have to find places around the castle. It’s too cold to go into the forest or anywhere like that.”

Later that night, with her head still buzzing from a little too much wine, Hermione lay in bed and considered what Seamus had said. She was aware that some of her friends had been having sex, and it seemed like more were pairing-up all the time. Ginny and Harry were almost certainly doing it, judging by the way they were all over each other whenever she saw them together. Ron had had several one-night-stands, according to Harry’s letters, and Neville was seeing someone from the Department of Magical Law Enforcement.

She was behind many of her peers in that respect, having engaged in some heavy petting with Ron, but nothing beyond, apart from a few kisses with Victor. She thought of Professor Snape and her stomach gave an excited lurch. Images formed in her mind of kissing him, and feeling his hands touching her body. It was a delicious feeling. Slowly, she moved her hands to her breasts over her pyjamas, rubbing and squeezing.  Would it feel the same way, if it were him touching them?

Feeling foolish and self-conscious, despite being alone, she brought one hand up to her face and kissed the back of it, pretending it was him she was kissing. She didn’t do this kind of thing very often, but had been feeling more and more of an urge to, thinking about him so much, lately.

Her hand slid inside the shirt of her pyjamas to touch her breast directly. It made her feel tingly. She started to move her hand downwards to her pyjama bottoms and touch her crotch, but it felt strange. Forbidden. Not that she thought there was anything wrong with sex, but the idea of… masturbating… felt awkward. She sighed and let her hands fall to her sides on the bed.

She couldn’t get him out of her mind.

Was there any chance that he felt the same way about her, she wondered.  He definitely seemed to enjoy talking to her, both in person and through their letters. He smiled at her when they talked, and even laughed occasionally. It wasn’t the excited laugh of Professor Flitwick, or the pleased beaming of Professor Slughorn; it was a calm and soft smile that made his eyes seem warm as he looked at her. She thought he liked her more than just as a friend, but she didn’t want to get her hopes up and feel like an idiot. Was she just a silly schoolgirl with a crush on her teacher?

But he doesn’t think of me as a student , she told herself.

Suppose he did like her... what then? They could hardly have a relationship with him as a teacher and her as a student, even though she was above the usual age of students. He would probably be fired, and when the Daily Prophet found out, his reputation would, once again, be destroyed. Anything that happened between them would have to be in secret, but it would be dangerous. There would be too much risk of being discovered. No - nothing could happen while she was still at school.

If he even liked her, that way.

Ugh. Her head was still fuzzy from wine, and her thoughts were spinning. She was getting nowhere, and needed to sleep. Missing an evening of study meant she would have more to catch up on the next night.

She rolled over and snuggled into her blankets, imagining a warm body spooning behind her, with a strong arm wrapped around her as she drifted into sleep.


Hermione looked down at the gift she was about to wrap. It had taken her a long time to decide on an appropriate Christmas present for Professor Snape, but she knew she had found the perfect item in the end.

The quill was not gold plated or from an exotic species or anything extravagant; it was a simple raven feather. The black ink was smooth and quick-drying, perfect for his spiky script. But it was the stand that she loved. It was made of a rich mahogany, with a space for an ink pot and a stand for the pen.

It had been tricky to learn to control the engraving spell well enough to write his name neatly across the wood. She wanted it in her own handwriting, but using the spell was not as easy as writing with ink. Several pieces of scrap wood lay on the desk, each bearing the name Severus Snape, evidence of her gradually improving practice. Only once she could write it perfectly every time did she risk writing on the stand itself.

The shopkeeper in Hogsmeade had offered to engrave it for her, but this was better.

She vanished her earlier tries, then pulled out the paper and ribbon she had bought. Running her fingers one last time over the engraved letters, she placed the ink, pen and stand in their box then waved her wand and watched the paper fold itself into a perfect package. The ribbon pulled itself into an elegant bow, and she attached the neat label.

To Professor Snape

From Hermione Granger

Merry Christmas

x


“Miss Granger,” boomed Professor Slughorn’s voice as she stepped inside his office, “and Miss Weasley! Welcome.”

As it had been at the previous Christmas party she had attended, Professor Slughorn's office was draped like a tent. It was a little gaudy for her tastes, but very festive, with sparkling decorations hovering above, and tinsel looping all around. It seemed considerably larger than last time.

At the sound of their names, Harry and Ron appeared, rushing over to hug them. Hermione turned to smirk at Ron, as Harry and Ginny kissed each other, but she was stopped by the slightly hopeful-looking expression on his face. She frowned and rolled her eyes slightly, hoping to let him know that it wasn’t going to happen. He merely shrugged.

Hermione looked around to see who was already there. She immediately noticed Kingsley talking to Professor McGonagall and Professor Williams. Neville was nearby, holding hands with a tall, pretty woman, and they were talking to a witch who looked vaguely familiar to Hermione - she had a feeling she was a quidditch player, but she couldn’t remember her name. At the far side of the room, Terry Boot and Maria Reynolds were looking uncomfortable, talking to a stout, balding wizard and a tall witch with sharp, angular features.

Many of the faces were people she didn’t recognize, and the room was getting more crowded as Professor Slughorn welcomed more guests. She recognized a man who had tried to persuade Harry to let him write his biography at the last party. Didn’t he have a vampire with him last time? she wondered, nervously.

Harry took her arm and led her and Ginny to meet his boss, Gawain Robards. She had seen him at Professor Snape’s trial, but had never actually met him. He was a pleasant man, who obviously thought highly of Harry. “It is a pleasure to meet you, Miss Granger,” he said, warmly. “And Miss Weasley, it’s good to finally meet you. I feel like I already know you, from Mr. Potter’s descriptions.”

They chatted for a while, then Neville came over to them.

“Hermione, you look amazing,” he said. “I want you to meet my girlfriend, Alison.” Hermione liked her immediately, and was happy to see the way she and Neville held hands the whole time. They seemed very suited to each other. She seemed a little shy, but warmed up quickly as they chatted.

Hermione saw two dark figures out of the corner of her eye, and turned to see Professor Snape nearby, talking to the lead singer of the Weird Sisters.

She felt her heart flutter as she saw him. He caught her eye and she was sure she saw pleasure on his face, at seeing her. She had spent hours getting ready for the party and, while she usually felt very self-conscious, she knew that she looked good.  Her robes were perfect in a royal blue that looked great with her hair, and her wild curls had been tamed into smooth waves. It was so rare for her to put much effort into her appearance, but tonight she felt beautiful, and it was all for the wizard standing in front of her.

“Good evening, Mr. Longbottom,” Snape said, shaking Neville’s hand. “Miss Granger.” He smiled at her, then turned to Neville’s date, Alison. “Miss McCormack,” he said, with a nod. For a moment, Alison looked like a mouse peering up in fear at a cat, but then she smiled and greeted him politely. Hermione was puzzled until she realized that Professor Snape would have taught Alison potions not too many years ago. No wonder she looked scared, but she was pleased to see that Snape’s expression was friendly and not the intimidating visage she would remember from school. “Have you met Mr. Wagtail?” he asked them.

“Myron, please,” the singer smiled. Then he stepped forward to kiss Alison on the cheek. “Hey, Al.”

Everyone else looked surprised until Alison explained. “My cousin Kirley is in the band,” she told them, her face flushing slightly at everyone watching her. “Hi, Myron.”

Myron looked at Neville, appraisingly. “So, this is why you haven’t been to watch us, lately,” he winked. “Kir said you were shagging an auror.”

Alison and Neville both blushed and Hermione’s jaw dropped in shock.

“I see you still possess the subtlety of an erumpent, Wagtail,” Snape drawled.

“Erm… Myron, this is Neville,” Alison stuttered, “and this is Hermione.”

He shook Neville’s hand, then turned to Hermione in surprise. “Hermione Granger?” he asked. “The photos in The Prophet always make you look like a frump.”

Hermione laughed. “I’m sure Rita Skeeter picks them out especially. She hates me.”

“I’m surprised any photo of you can look bad,” he told her, looking her up and down approvingly. “You look gorgeous. Would you like to come with me to get a drink?” He nodded towards the bar.

She smiled, but shook her head. “I should be getting back to my date, soon,” she said.

Myron sighed, exaggeratedly. “Oh, well. I had to try,” he said. “I’ll see you later.”

He gave the group a wave and headed towards the bar. Neville and Alison wandered off, still looking extremely embarrassed at Myron’s words, leaving Hermione and Snape together.

“You are here with someone?” he asked quietly.

She smiled at him, feeling suddenly almost shy. “No, but I didn’t want to get a drink with him,” she said. “I… I thought about asking someone, but I decided it’s better to be alone than with the wrong person.” Their eyes met and a moment of understanding seemed to pass between them.

“Indeed,” he agreed.

A house-elf passed them with a tray of drinks, and he scooped up two glasses of wine, handing one to Hermione. “To the right person,” he said, raising his glass. She mimicked his motion and took a sip, her eyes not leaving his.

“Professor, I…”

“Ah, there he is,” came Slughorn’s loud voice. “Severus, my boy - just the person we were talking about.”

Slughorn arrived with Luna Lovegood, Thomas Dagwood and Harry’s would-be-biographer in his wake. “Eldred and I were just saying what a wonderful article that was about you in The Quibbler. Mr. Dagwood and Miss Lovegood are going to do great things with their newspaper.”

Snape nodded to them. “It was excellently written,” he agreed, “and far more accurate than anything published in The Prophet.”

“Mr. Worple was saying that he’d like to do a biography on you, Professor Snape,” Luna said, brightly, “but I told him you probably wouldn’t like that very much.”

“Quite right,” Snape agreed. “I agreed to be interviewed by Miss Lovegood and Mr. Dagworth in order to set the story straight. That has been done, and I feel that enough has been written about me.”

Worple laughed. “Not shy, are you, Snape?” he asked. “Well, you can always change your mind. It would be a best-seller, and we could make a fortune. I’ve been collecting all the information from The Prophet and The Quibbler about you. You’d make a fascinating subject!”

Hermione spoke up. “Any information you've got from the Daily Prophet isn’t worth the parchment it’s printed on. I think we’ve all had enough of the rubbish it publishes.”

“Speaking of which,” Thomas said, “someone told me that the editor of The Prophet would be here tonight. It would be interesting to meet him.”

Slughorn shook his head, sadly. “Alas, I owled Barnabas two weeks ago and he said it would be unlikely that he could make it tonight. He has been quite ill. Still, he’s not been doing well for some time. His wife died during the war, you know, and he’s been in a bad way ever since.”

Hermione wondered if this was why Rita Skeeter had been able to publish whatever she wanted. During the war, The Prophet had been under the control of the ministry, and therefore Voldemort, but before that it had seemed to be relatively unbiased. Of course, Rita had never liked Hermione, but there had been nothing like the vendetta that she seemed to have for Snape. She wondered how she could find out more. Still, that wasn’t something she could think about tonight.

She turned her attention back to the others. Professor Snape was asking about how the other two students were doing with setting up their newspaper, and she listened with interest as Luna explained that her father might have a lead on a used printing press.

It was an enjoyable evening. She talked with many people she knew and met many others. Melinda Bobbin was a student who had been two years ahead of her, whose family owned several apothecaries. She had been a member of the Slug Club when she had been at Hogwarts, and was introduced by Thomas. Melinda seemed hesitant to meet her at first, but obviously knew Thomas quite well and Hermione found that she liked her, once they were chatting. Kingsley came over to talk to her, but didn’t stay long as he was in constant demand. He reminded her that her place in the ministry was waiting for her as soon as she was ready to take it. She gave him a bright smile and thanked him before he was pulled away into a discussion on the current state of relations with the Magical Congress of the United States of America.

A chat with Professor Williams proved to be very interesting. “Are you here as someone’s guest, Professor, or did you manage to get your own invitation?” she asked him.

He gave her a sly smile. “I did a little name-dropping with Professor Slughorn, and he suddenly decided I was worth inviting.”

“And I thought you had decided you were a Hufflepuff,” came Snape’s voice, joining them. “That sounds more like a Slytherin tactic.”

Williams chuckled. “Well, Miss Granger told me once that it was worth the trouble to get an invitation,” he said. “She wasn’t wrong.”

“She rarely is,” smirked Professor Snape. “So whose name did you drop, to get on the guest list?”

Professor Williams nodded across the room, to where the minister of magic was talking to Slughorn and three witches that Hermione didn't recognize. “Kingsley’s,” he said. When both Hermione and Snape looked surprised, he explained “My half-sister is married to Kingsley’s cousin. I’ve only met him once before tonight, but I didn’t mention that to Slughorn. I might have exaggerated the closeness of the family connection, too.”

Hermione laughed. “Definitely part Slytherin,” she said.

“Actually, it was Flitwick’s idea, so maybe the deviousness isn’t only a Slytherin trait.”

“Or maybe it’s just that when dealing with Slytherins, you sometimes have to resort to their own tactics.”

“Perhaps, Miss Granger. Perhaps,” commented the former head of the house in question.

“You’re enjoying yourself, then?” she asked Williams.

“Very much. A group of my second-years played some Weird Sisters music for me a few weeks ago, and I liked it. I’ve actually met some of the band members tonight. And the lady talking to the Headmistress over there is a werewolf. She seems so tiny and dainty it barely seems possible. She said she takes a potion to control the wolf at the full moon.”

Snape grunted an affirmative. “Slughorn is brewing it for her and several others right now, but after Christmas I believe I will take over the brewing. Without it she would have to be locked up at the full moon. There have been too many incidents of werewolves escaping and injuring people, so taking the Wolfsbane potion is essential.”

Hermione turned to look at the grim expression on his face, and remembered, with a shudder, the time that he had placed himself between the transfigured Lupin and herself, Harry and Ron. 

At one point during the evening, Hermione found herself stuck in a conversation about muggle medicine with two wizards who were confident in their expert knowledge, but actually knew almost nothing about it. The taller of the two had introduced himself as Jonas Appleyard, and the other as Titus Shaw. Titus was a healer and started out by talking about some of the latest developments in wandless diagnostics, but had wandered off the topic to talk excitedly about muggle surgery. She was torn between irritation and amusement about the amount of misinformation that two wizards had about the subject. Hermione was hardly an expert, but she knew enough to know how ridiculous their ideas were. When he had learned that she was muggle born, Jonas had begun to ask her questions and prompt her to confirm what he was saying, but he was so busy talking that he rarely let her speak and didn’t listen to her when she did.

Nodding and trying to look vaguely interested, while searching for an excuse to edge away, her eye caught sight of Professor Snape, standing alone by the table of food. She followed his gaze to see that he was looking at Ron, under the mistletoe in the far corner of the room, locking lips with a witch who she was fairly sure was on the Wimbourne Wasps quidditch team. She glanced back at Snape, whose eyes were now on her. Was it possible that he was thinking the same thing as her? Was he wishing it could be the two of them under the mistletoe, thinking of nothing else but each other, or was she fooling herself in thinking that she could see desire in his eyes?

Her attention was pulled back to the two annoying wizards by a question about the use of alcohol to put patients to sleep, and by the time she was able to look back towards Snape, he was talking to Gwenog Jones.

She was thankful that Harry and Ginny rescued her soon afterwards. Harry was going to walk Ginny back to the Gryffindor tower, and asked if Hermione would like to walk with them as far as the eighth-year common room.

“Thanks, Harry, but I want to say goodnight to a few people before I leave. I’ll apparate to Grimmauld Place tomorrow from King’s Cross when the train arrives.”

Hermione went to wish Neville and Alison a Merry Christmas, then went to find Ron, to say goodnight.

“If you are looking for Mr. Weasley, Miss Granger, I believe he left a few minutes ago with his ‘friend’.” Professor Snape smirked as he approached her. “I do hope they don’t try to apparate after drinking so much. I wouldn’t want either of them to get splinched.”

“I don’t think he would risk it,” she said. “He’s been splinched before so he knows how unpleasant it is.”

“Are you leaving?” he asked her. When she nodded, he added “As am I.”

They walked towards the door... not together, but as though they just happened to be leaving at about the same time. Hermione left first and walked slowly along the dark corridor, allowing him to catch up with her.

She turned as he approached, and handed him the gift that she had pulled out of her beaded bag. “Merry Christmas.”

“Thank you, Miss Granger. Mr. Potter’s elf brought me my post a few days ago, and I gave your Christmas present to him. It should be already under the tree at Grimmauld Place.”

She smiled. “I hope you have a good Christmas, Professor.” Feeling suddenly brave, she moved towards him, meaning to kiss his cheek, but stopped as they heard voices coming towards them. More people were leaving the party.

She stepped back, inwardly cursing the timing of the other partygoers.

“Good night, Miss Granger,” said Professor Snape, softly, “and Merry Christmas.”

Chapter Text

December 21st

Dear Miss Granger,

Today I finally moved back into my own quarters in the dungeon. I am not entirely sure whether I am happiest to be in my own rooms or to be out of the reach of Poppy Pomfrey. She said she would come to check up on me every day, but I made it clear that my rooms will be warded against her. I have agreed to visit the hospital wing twice per day, instead, because Minerva threatened to use her authority as Head to override my wards if I didn’t agree. I would say that it is like having two mothers fussing over me, but my own mother never showed any such concern. I remind myself of your words about accepting that people do things because they care, but it is still an unfamiliar feeling and I struggle not to get annoyed with them both.

I hope you enjoy your time with the Weasleys, despite your concerns that you and Potter will feel out of place at a family event. I am sure it will be a difficult Christmas for many families after such terrible losses over the past year. However, they have assured you that they wish for your company, and I believe you should take them at their word. They will accept and support your grief for your parents as well as appreciate your presence in their own mourning.

Last Christmas, the staff could not get out of the castle fast enough. Some even apparated directly from Hogsmeade as soon as they had seen the students safely onto the train. This year, more staff than usual will be staying at the school. Aurora Sinistra lost her only brother in the war, so no longer has family to visit. Pomona’s family is, apparently, horrible, so she always stays for Christmas. Williams is staying, despite having a large family, to experience a Hogwarts Christmas.

The headmistress has made it very clear that attending Christmas lunch and the various staff get-togethers are not optional, although I suspect that the rule applies only to traditionally-anti-social dungeon dwellers. I believe Dumbledore's portrait has been encouraging her in her festive preparations. I have been amusing myself by planning which hexes I will use on anyone who attempts to make me wear a paper hat.

Severus Snape


December 24th

Dear Professor Snape,

I’m feeling a bit down right now.

On Tuesday, Ginny and Ron came over to Grimmauld Place, along with some people from the auror office and others that Harry and Ron have met at the ministry. We all had a great time, although I drank more than I should have. The hangover potion Harry had in his cupboard was very effective but tasted awful - I found a recipe in “Everyday Magical Ailments” that would probably be just as bad, but I was wondering if substituting the newt eyes with South American Horned Toad eyes might improve the taste. What do you think? Not that I’m planning on getting drunk again for the rest of my life, but I’m sure it will happen again sometime. Charlie Weasley swears, every time he gets drunk, that he’ll never drink again.  It usually takes him less than two weeks to forget how bad he felt.

Although I got rid of the hangover pretty quickly, the rest of yesterday didn’t improve much. We went to The Burrow for lunch, and Percy got into a big argument with Arthur. Arthur asked me how you were doing, and Percy was furious at the idea that he would care. I think Percy feels so bad about siding with the ministry for so long, he gets angry at anyone else who didn’t support the Order one hundred percent. He’s sticking to the Prophet’s version of events (again) and says the Quibbler just prints a load of rubbish. Arthur was really hurt, and George and Bill got mad with Percy, who ended up going back to spend the rest of the time in his room. Ron stayed out of it, thank goodness. He seems to have changed his mind about you, but still can’t quite bring himself to openly defend you. It’s about as much as I could hope for from Ron.

But the thing that really upset me yesterday was talking to Kreacher. Last night, he was pestering Harry about when he’s going to propose to Ginny and start a family. Harry said they wouldn’t be having kids for a few years, and Kreacher got upset. It took a long time of Harry and me talking to him before he finally admitted what’s wrong. It turns out that about forty years ago, the Rowle family was visiting the Blacks at Grimmauld place, and their house elf, Melly, came with them. Kreacher and Melly hit it off, and got married without their owners knowing. According to a book I found about house elves in the Black library, humans have never really taken much interest in the lives of their elves, and couples are just separated if they have different owners. A baby house elf is valuable, though, and ‘legally’ belongs to the owner of the mother elf. Kreacher heard about a year later that Melly had had a baby, but that the baby had been sold. Wizarding law says the Blacks should have been given first chance to buy it, but they never were, for some reason. Maybe the Rowles found they could get more money elsewhere.

Kreacher is now approaching his 75th birthday, which is a big milestone for an elf, and he’s worried about what’s going to happen to continue the lines - both for the elves and the humans of the Black family. He doesn’t know what happened to his child or his wife, but he wants to be certain that the human line continues, even though Harry is not a Black by blood. Because Sirius and his brother are both gone, he’s desperate to see Harry with a family.

I’m determined to find out what happened to the baby. The ownership of house elves is worse than I thought. I realize that they don’t want to be freed, but maybe there is something I can do to make their lives better. Perhaps with many old pure bloodlines dying off in the war, house elves might be prepared to accept more rights. Not necessarily wages, but at least the right to see their own families and not be separated from their children. Kingsley still wants me to join the ministry and says I can pick wherever I want to work, so this might be what I choose to do. I’ll write to him after Christmas. Hopefully he can also point me in the right direction for finding out who Kreacher’s child was sold to and where his wife is.

I’m sorry that this letter has been pretty miserable. I’m feeling a lot better, though. Writing things down helps, as though I’m actually talking to you, and you’re a good listener. Not that you can get a word in when I’m rambling away in a letter!

I’ll try to be positive about Christmas being better than yesterday’s lunch at the Weasleys’. I’ve always loved Christmas. I’m sure that you’ll have a good Christmas at Hogwarts. Good luck with avoiding a paper hat.

Hermione Granger


December 26th

Dear Miss Granger

Thank you for such a thoughtful Christmas present. I have temporarily placed it on my desk, but over the next few days I plan to set up my lab to take over the school’s brewing from Slughorn, and I will place it in there to use for my brewing notes.

Your information about Potter’s elf is interesting but disturbing. Although my mother came from a very old pureblood family, who presumably had their own elves, I know little about them. Even when I used to spend time with families like the Malfoys and Rosiers, the elves are intended to be unobtrusive. It would be considered in bad taste to mention them, and no visitor would ever speak to one unless they needed their service. I am saddened to hear of Kreacher’s story, but not at all surprised to hear that you wish to help him. You have such a kind heart that I know you could never turn your back on someone in need of a friend.

I hope your Christmas at the Weasleys’ managed to pass relatively peacefully. We held a small memorial gathering in the grounds on Christmas morning, where Minerva listed the names of everyone who died fighting against Voldemort. It was particularly difficult to hear the names of the members of the Order and the staff and students who died. Pomona cried through most of the list, and even the headmistress sounded like she would break on the name of the Creevey boy. The most difficult for me to hear was the name of Charity Burbage. I think it was an excellent idea to do that, and it seemed to help many of the staff. Back at the castle, we drank a toast to them, and shared a few stories.

Other than that, I had a surprisingly pleasant Christmas, and Christmas lunch was not quite as nauseating as expected. There were about a dozen students who stayed in the castle for the holidays, and they were not entirely ignorant. Since Mr. Longbottom's show of friendship, the students' attitudes towards me have continued to improve. In fact, their fear of me seems to have lessened to the point that I may need to revert to my traditional intimidation techniques to swing the pendulum back the other way. Some of them are turning into real smart-alecs.

Sybil Trelawney was more irritating than usual on Christmas Day. She carried around a sprig of Mistletoe and kept trying to corner me. Luckily, she was drunk enough to be easily avoided. Eventually, she gave up on me and cornered Flitwick instead, who had to charm one of her shawls to start strangling her any time she tries to kiss someone.

I think your idea of improving the taste of a hangover potion would be very effective, although it would triple the price. During my first month of teaching, one of my seventh-year Slytherins tried to make the same improvement by the simple method of adding mint. He was lucky that another student found him and alerted me immediately. I managed to get a bezoar into him, but it was close, and he spent two days in the hospital wing. I saw him several years later and he swore that he had never drunk alcohol again since that day. Your approach is definitely the better option.

Severus


December 28th

Dear Severus

The gloves you gave me are beautiful. Thank you! When I go outside, they adjust to the temperature so that my hands are always warm and comfortable, and they even stay dry in the rain. I love how soft they feel. I’m sure I’ll be wearing them every day through the winter. They’re perfect.

Christmas Day went much more smoothly than I expected. After Harry and I left, there was a big blowup between Percy, George and Bill. George said that if anyone had a right to hold grudges, it was him, but he doesn’t. It sounds like there was a lot of horrible stuff said, but in the end Percy just broke down completely. He feels so guilty about leaving the family during the war, and especially about how Fred died. Percy was right there, joking about something. He said that if he hadn’t been joking and had been paying more attention, he might have seen whatever killed Fred and been able to stop it. Ginny came over and told us about it on Christmas Eve, to reassure us that it was safe to come back to the Burrow.

I know you probably don’t like the fact that your name keeps getting pulled into all this drama. It’s not really about you, though. Percy had kind of latched onto you as a focus for his anger to try to push down his guilt. Arthur and Percy had a long talk about what you did, and your recovery, and Percy seems to accept that you couldn’t be blamed for what happened in the war. Voldemort was the cause, and you were fighting just as hard as any other member of the Order of the Phoenix, but using different methods and without any support. I think if it hadn’t been you, Percy would have found someone else to bear the brunt of his anger, like Professor McGonagall or Harry.

Before we went to the Burrow for lunch, Harry and I had a nice time opening our presents together, although I opened your gift before I even went downstairs. I had taken a photograph of Kreacher and Harry together the day I arrived, and I put it in a lovely frame to give to Kreacher for Christmas. I’m hoping that he’s stopped crying by the new year, but i’m not hopeful. He has placed it in his ‘nest’ (Harry offered him a bedroom, but he refused), and he keeps going back there every couple of hours during the day, to check that it’s safe and to look at it.

Ginny has been spending a lot of time here with Harry. She’d probably stay overnight if it wasn’t for the fact that Molly would kill her. Molly is desperate for grandchildren, but not that desperate! I’ve been making sure I give them time in the house alone. I visited Neville’s new flat one day, and also enjoyed spending some time alone, shopping in muggle London. I even went to the pictures, which I haven’t done since I last went with my parents.

We haven’t quite decided what we’re doing to see in the new year. I usually like to have everything planned, so it's actually nice to be unsure and spontaneous. I’m still not ready to drink alcohol again, though.

Hermione


 

Jan 1st

Dear Hermione,

Happy New Year.

I finally made it to the Three Broomsticks, a few evenings ago. I talked to Poppy Pomfrey about walking as far as the gates, then apparating, but she said my body is not strong enough to withstand apparition. I can’t say I disagree with her - there were occasions when I was severely injured by Voldemort or one of my Death Eater ‘colleagues’, and had no option but to apparate to return to Hogwarts. It was not pleasant, and often exacerbated my injuries.

Instead, the Headmistress connected her floo to the pub. Minerva has loosened some of the floo restrictions I put in place as Headmaster but kept others. She is the only one who can open up a floo for travel. Sadly for her, that meant that when Flickwick, Williams and myself returned, her office was re-decorated with Williams’ vomit as soon as he stepped out. He looked a little green after flooing to the pub, as it was the first time he’d tried it: evidently, flooing back after several drinks was a bad idea. 

Hagrid, Slughorn and Pomona joined us at the pub. I enjoyed having a drink with them all, but I will never be the life of the party. I have no intention of ever imbibing too much and singing drinking songs with Hagrid and Slughorn.  After about five buckets of mead, it took a while to persuade Hagrid not to try to force himself into the floo to return to the castle. I disliked the attention I got in Hogsmeade, even though it was almost entirely positive. It is a good thing I have had practice at being less of a bastard with the students, because otherwise I would not have been able to prevent myself from hexing certain over-enthusiastic well-wishers. Luckily, a good scowl can still scare away the most persistent, when necessary.

Last night, the staff had another get-together to welcome the new year, and even some of the teachers who were not here for Christmas came to join us for the night. Aulus Savage brought his wife and Bathsheda Babbling brought her annoying husband.

Sybil had already been drinking before she arrived, and she was not happy to discover that the charm Filius had placed on her shawl was still in place. She tried to corner Williams, but was almost strangled. Apparently, though, Filius had only charmed the scarf to react to kissing men, and Athena Verto didn’t seem to have any objection to Sybil’s advances. It seems that our new Transfiguration professor is not quite such a clone of her predecessor after all. Neither Verto nor Sybil have been seen since shortly after midnight. 

Going to the pictures is one of my few pleasant memories of childhood. From being about nine, I would go whenever I could, with the little money my mum could spare from the pittance my father allowed her. Occasionally, I would manage to sneak in if I didn’t have any money. Later, I went with Lily a couple of times. My favourite film was “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”, which I saw the summer before I started at Hogwarts, and was the last film I saw. I assume they’ve changed a lot in almost thirty years.

Whatever you decided to do for the new year, I hope you enjoyed it and did not have to resort to the unpleasant-tasting hangover cure again.

I look forward to seeing you in a few days, when school starts.

Severus

Chapter Text

Hermione looked up at the staff table as she arrived in the Great Hall but was disappointed. It was only a moment later, though, that he arrived, and his eyes immediately flicked in her direction. His face remained neutral, but he gave her a tiny nod as he turned his attention to the rest of the staff.

Looking at the faces of the other professors, she couldn’t help but inwardly smirk, knowing something of what had been happening over the Christmas holidays. Several of the staff were giving sideways glances to Professor Verto and Professor Trelawney. Professor Sprout leaned over to say something quietly to the transfiguration teacher, making her blush. It was strange to see such a flush on the face of the usually stern and unflappable professor.

Severus was in discussion with Professor Slughorn. Hermione smiled at the thought, and determinedly removed her gaze back to her goblet of pumpkin juice.

Severus .

When she had first seen the end of the letter where he had omitted his last name, a warm glow had come over her, and it was still with her. Part of her had wondered if it had been an oversight, but she knew he would never be so careless as to do anything without meaning to. Writing his name on a letter for the first time had felt like a monumental shift. How could such a tiny change mean so much? But what exactly did it mean? Were they still just friends, but a little closer, or was there something more happening? She had done some thinking over Christmas, and come to the conclusion that if anything were to happen between them while she was still a student, it would have to be at his instigation. He was a teacher, and although he didn’t want to be doing that job, getting fired would be devastating to him and his reputation. As the older of them, and in a position of authority over students, he would bear the worst of any repercussions if things went further and it became known. He had far more to lose. So any moves from friendship to something more would have to be his, and she would accept whatever he chose to make happen - or not happen.

“Hermione?”

She looked up as Padma spoke her name. Padma and some of the others around the table were looking at her - curiosity tinged with amusement.

“You were away with the pixies,” Seamus commented.

“Just daydreaming,” she laughed, self-consciously.

Leanne leaned forward, conspiratorially. “Anyone we know?” she asked, in a mock whisper.

Hoping that her laugh would cover her embarrassment, Hermione shook her head. “It was nothing like that,” she lied.

“Sure,” said Mandy, skeptically.

“So,” said Hermione, hoping for a change of topic, “how was everyone’s Christmas?”

It started a discussion about what everyone had done over the holidays. It was mostly pleasant, but Padma was obviously struggling. Hermione reached out to squeeze her hand and her friend gave her a sad but grateful smile. Most of the eighth years had spent time with family. Dean and Seamus had visited each other at their homes.

“I had a great Christmas,” Terry said, excitedly. “My cousin got a new broom and gave me his old Firebolt.”

“What type did he get?” asked Mandy.

“A Thunderbolt V. He wouldn’t let me ride it, though. We played most days, but my aunt was annoyed when we went to play on Christmas Day. But even better than that, I got to meet with Jeremiah Scrimshaw on Saturday - he’s head of the Committee on Experimental Charms at the Ministry.”

“Why did you meet with him?” asked Michael.

“Well, I've been doing pretty well at charms, and I wanted to find out about working in that area. So Slughorn set up a meeting with him for me. He’s wanting to change the way they do the testing on charms experiments because of an accident where someone was testing a shrinking charm on a pair of boots and almost ended up losing their feet. He’s waiting to find out how I do in my N.E.W.T.s, and as long as I get an O in charms I’ll have a job!”

“That’s amazing,” said Padma. “It must be nice having Slughorn putting in a good word for you with the right people.”

“Benefits of the Slug Club,” Terry grinned. “You should get him to help you, too, Hermione. He’d probably put in a good word at the Ministry for you.”

She frowned. “I always feel a bit uncomfortable with things being decided on who you know, instead of what you know,” she said awkwardly.

Mandy snorted. “Says the best friend of Harry Potter! You won’t have any problems getting a job with your connections.”

“Hermione won’t have any problems getting a job,” said Leanne, “because of her brains and skill. She doesn’t need to use her connections to get ahead.”

“Well, I haven’t decided what I want to do, anyway,” said Hermione, choosing not to mention the fact that the Minister of Magic had practically promised her any job she wanted. “What about everyone else?”

By the end of dinner, Hermione was, once again, struck by the strange feeling of being in a world between childhood and adulthood, but now she was definitely feeling that she was heading more firmly towards the latter. They were all still at school, but all of them were looking toward the future. As she left, she glanced at the staff table to see Severus still in conversation with Professor Slughorn. She could not hear any of the words, but she got the sense that it was a discussion of potions theory. She felt happy that after so long of being ostracized and alone, he finally seemed to fit well with the rest of the teachers - most as colleagues and some also as friends. He seemed relaxed and comfortable.

She left the Great Hall, happy to be back at Hogwarts.


It was Tuesday’s potions lesson before Hermione saw Severus except at meals. Although he still rarely smiled, his expression was no longer glaring nor his tone biting when he talked to students. Students who had previously been terrified of him now felt comfortable enough to ask him how his Christmas had been. His response that he had had a very pleasant Christmas was relaxed and genuine.

At the end of the productive lesson, he asked a question at which Hermione had to hide her laugh.

“As all of you managed to complete today’s brewing satisfactorily, there is no homework other than to finish writing up your brewing notes if you need to. I do, however, have a challenge for you. Some years ago, a student decided that the standard potion for relieving hangovers tasted unpleasant and chose to ‘improve’ it by adding mint. In Friday’s lesson, anyone who can hand in a brief note satisfactorily explaining why this decision nearly killed him will receive five house points.”

The class began to leave, some already discussing the challenge.

“Professor?” Hermione asked, loudly enough for the others to hear, “I wanted to ask you about Phineas Bourne’s approach to potions bases.”

“Certainly, Miss Granger.”

He pulled up the high stool that had just been vacated by Andrea Stafford and sat opposite her with the workbench between them.

“You haven’t been brewing illegal Polyjuice again have you?” he asked, as the last of the class left the classroom.

“Not today,” she laughed, “but I’m sure I could find some other fun stuff to brew in Bourne’s book. I’ve only ever seen Moste Potente Potions; did he write any more?”

“None that have survived,” he said. “There was a rumour that he wrote another collection and that it was destroyed about three hundred years ago, but there’s no way to be sure.”

Hermione’s reason for asking about Bourne had simply been to give her an excuse to stay behind to talk to Severus, but she was still genuinely interested.

“Some of the potions in the book are pretty gruesome,” she said, “but I wouldn’t really describe them as ‘dark’.”

He nodded. “I agree. The magic used for them could not really be classed as dark magic. The reason a potion such as Polyjuice is considered so dangerous is partly that, even though the purpose of the potion is not inherently bad, it is often used for dark purposes involving deception and crime. Also, it is incredibly difficult to brew and the slightest error can make it lethal. So many people suffered permanent deformities or death from it that the recipe and the potion itself were designated as ‘restricted’.”

“The library at Grimmauld Place has lots of very old and dark books,” she told him. “Bill Weasley helped me identify any that were actually cursed, and Harry took them in to the Ministry, but there are others there that have horrible contents. Harry wanted to just get rid of them all, but he agreed to let me look at them first. He’s warded them all to keep them safe until I can review them. I didn’t have time over Christmas, though. There was too much going on.”

“I am glad that you enjoyed your time with your friends, even though some of it was stressful.”

Hermione smiled at him. “You seem to have enjoyed your Christmas, too.”

He nodded slowly. “I didn’t really think about it until the end of the holiday, but this has been the most pleasant Christmas I can ever remember. I felt that I was surrounded by friends for the first time.” His hands were clasped on the bench in front of him, and he looked down at them as he spoke. “Christmas at Hogwarts was fairly good when I was a student here - for the first few years, anyway - but at home it was a nightmare. Something about the Christmas spirit brought out the worst in my dad.”

Tentatively, Hermione reached out her hand to place it on his. “I’m sorry that your Christmases in the past haven’t been pleasant, Severus,” she said softly, speaking his first name aloud for the first time. “It’s good to see you so much happier now.”

She squeezed his hand then pulled back. For a moment, his fingers twitched as though he had been about to take her hand, but she couldn’t be sure.

“You seem to be good friends with Professor Flitwick and Professor Williams,” she commented, quickly, to cover up her uncertainty.

He nodded. “I enjoy spending time with them. And McGonagall and I have been spending some time together, too. We’ve had drinks in her office several times, so that, in her words, ‘all of the heads of Hogwarts can be together’. Throughout the history of the school, there have been only half a dozen other instances of a living head either stepping down or being forced out, so it is unusual for there to be two living heads. Usually it is considered a life-time appointment, even if the head devolves into senility and the deputy has to take over.”

“I suppose if people were only headmaster or headmistress for a few years, Professor McGonagall would need a bigger office for all the portraits,” Hermione agreed.

He smirked. “There are a few that she keeps in the corners or behind furniture, to keep them quiet.”

They fell silent and smiled at each other.

“Well, if I do not attend lunch, Poppy will chase me down and force me to eat,” he said. “And you need to eat before your next class, too.”

She finished putting the last of her things in her bag and stood up.

“Enjoy your lunch, Hermione,” he said, softly.

She smiled at him and left the classroom.


6-Jan-1999

Dear Miss Granger,

I have received your letter regarding the house elf belonging to Mr. Harry Potter. 

I was able to find the records of the female known as Melly of the Rowle Family. Unfortunately, this included a statement listing the elf as deceased, dated November 1973. The elf was listed as having given birth to a daughter in 1958. No name was assigned to the child and the only record of her is that she was sold. The law requires that all transfers of ownership relating to house elves must be registered with this department, but none of the required information was recorded.

Legally, if the child was to be sold, the family of the mate of the mother should have been allowed to purchase it for the standard transfer fee, as set by this department. It is not uncommon, however, for elves to change hands for much higher prices by avoiding using official channels.

While the laws regarding house-elf sale and relocation are still in effect, in practice they have not been rigorously followed for many years. Most sales are carried out without the ministry’s knowledge, and records are rarely kept, except by the families themselves.

I am afraid I can offer no further assistance in tracking down this missing elf.

Sincerely,

Percival Pinkerton-Smethwick

Office for House-Elf Relocation

Being Division,

Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures


Hermione fumed over the letter. Percival Pinkerton-Smethwick was officious and bigoted and the way he spoke about house-elves was appalling - talking about them as property and referring to Melly as 'the female' instead of by name. The fact that the department didn't seem to bother much with keeping track of elves was obviously not because they thought the laws were wrong - it was because they didn't think the elves were worth bothering about, and that their 'owners' should be allowed to do with them as they pleased. Old, pureblood attitudes at their worst.

Poor Melly - to have her daughter taken away from her and sold. As for poor Kreacher, being alone for so long in the Black house after being separated from his wife, and finding out later that he had a child but not knowing who or where they were - it was no wonder he had gone a little crazy. He was such a nice elf, when cared for and treated with respect. Well, house-elves may not want to be free, but there had to be things that could be done to improve their situations.

She had received the owl at breakfast on Thursday morning and was glad she had no class first thing, to give her time to write some letters - one to Harry and Kreacher, then one to Kingsley Shacklebolt. She posted the letters on her way to Professor Babbling’s class, hoping that Harry would be tactful when talking to Kreacher about his daughter.

When a small brown owl tapped on her window while she was studying in her room during a free period that afternoon, she let it in and quickly closed the window against the cold wind. She immediately recognized Harry’s writing, and was surprised he was replying to her letter so soon.

January 7th

Dear Hermione,

This is my new owl, Persephone. Kreacher picked her out. She likes to destroy shoelaces.

I found out something interesting this morning. Barnabas Cuffe, the editor of the Daily Prophet, is missing. Apparently, nobody has seen him since before Christmas, and the Investigation Department is trying to find him. You said that Slughorn said he was ill before Christmas? It sounds like he’s been behaving strangely for a while, but no one realized he was missing at first because his wife died during the war and he has hardly any family left. Something seems very suspicious. I heard, unofficially, that they’re looking into what Rita Skeeter is up to. She seems quite happy to have free reign at The Prophet with Cuffe missing, and surely she should have reported him missing when he wasn’t showing up for work. I’ll let you know if I hear anything else.

Hug Ginny for me,

Harry


Hermione bent to push Persephone away from her shoelaces, and gave her an owl treat. The owl leaned into her hand when she stroked her feathers, then flew to the window and waited for Hermione to open it again for her.

With the owl gone, Hermione sat down on her bed. Two letters and two pieces of important news in one day. What could have happened to Barnabas Cuffe? Had he had an accident somewhere, or was there something more sinister at play? Well, she was glad that someone was looking into Rita Skeeter’s activities. Despite the article in The Quibbler and the fact that those at Hogwarts had come to accept Severus, there were still a lot of people who believed what she wrote. Although the nasty reports in The Prophet were now infrequent, they were still there - personal stories of Death Eater attacks, with families certain that Severus Snape had been one of the masked and hooded perpetrators. Severus had not changed his position on taking action against the vile reporter, but Hermione was happy that there was now an excuse to investigate her on what was, presumably, an unrelated matter.

It was definitely time for a new newspaper to be available to the Wizarding population of Britain. Having only one source of news was dangerous when that source had been proven to be unreliable at best. It had been the Ministry’s mouthpiece during the war, and now appeared to be under some other unknown influence.

She wondered if Luna and Thomas had heard anything about Cuffe’s disappearance, and that’s when the idea struck her about the other letter she had received. She desperately wanted to find out what had happened to Kreacher’s daughter, and she wanted to make the Wizarding World more aware of the lives of house-elves. If Kreacher agreed, she thought she might have a way to do both. She looked at the clock on the wall. She had to be in her Transfiguration class in ten minutes, but right after that, she needed to find Luna and Thomas.


January 7th

Dear Severus,

I have written to Kingsley, telling him that I think I’ve decided what I want to do at the ministry when I’ve finished my N.E.W.T.s. I got news about Kreacher’s family, but it’s not all good. I’ve also taken a huge dislike to the wizard supposedly in charge of the Office for House-Elf Relocation.

I’m planning on another night-time visit to the library tonight, to do more research into house-elves.

Hermione


It was a little past eleven when Severus arrived in the library. She had been sure he would come.

She was sitting at a desk in the restricted section, reading a very old book on pure-blood customs, and he sat opposite her.

“Out so late again, Miss Granger?” he asked, raising an eyebrow. “Just because you do not officially have a curfew does not mean Madam Pince would be happy for you to be in the library at this time.”

“Then she should probably put stronger wards on it,” Hermione answered, cheekily.

“You have decided to carry on the crusade for the rights of house-elves?” he asked. She could see his smirk in the low candle light.

“I’m not planning to try to free them, if that’s not what they want,” she said, “but I do think something needs to be done about the way they’re treated. Kreacher had no way to know what happened to his family, and poor Melly had her child taken away from her.”

She told him everything she had found out about the elves, and about her dislike of Percival Pinkerton-Smethwick.

“So you told the minister of magic that you want to take over his department so you can fire him?” Hermione wasn’t completely sure whether Severus was joking or not.

“No,” she insisted. “But I do think the whole department needs to be changed into something that benefits elves, rather than controls them. Of course I wouldn’t just fire him, but he definitely shouldn’t be in that position. Anyway, before then I’d like to raise awareness about the way house-elves are treated. I talked to Thomas and Luna about doing an article about elves. If Kreacher agrees, I’d like it to include his story, because I don’t think most people know that kind of thing happens. And as part of researching the story, Thomas and Luna might be able to ask questions and find out what happened to his daughter.”

“It sounds like you have everything planned,” Severus observed. “You never fail to amaze me with your determination to help others.”

Hermione blushed and looked down. “I don’t like seeing injustice,” she said, firmly, feeling flustered. “Look at what else I found out in this book about old families.”

To hide her embarrassment at his compliment, she pushed a large book across the table towards him, turning it to face him.

He reached out and their fingers met. Hermione was desperately torn between wanting to pull away and wanting to grasp Severus’ hand. Instead, she simply left her hand where it was, with their fingers gently touching. Slowly, one of his fingers rubbed against hers, gently tracing from her knuckle to her fingertip, first down one finger, then another. Then his fingers curled under hers and his thumb began to stroke the back of her hand.

She could barely breathe, but she forced her eyes up to lock with his. His face betrayed no hint of the nervousness or uncertainty that she was certain were displayed clearly on her own. Instead, he looked calm and peaceful. He reached out with his other hand, and a moment later, both her hands were joined with his. Gazing into his face, she felt the same certainty that he seemed to express - a knowledge that this was right. But that certainty did nothing to stop her heart from beating fast and hard in her chest.

“There is no point in denying any longer that we have feelings for each other, Hermione,” he said softly. “I think we have both known it for a while, now.”

Hermione nodded and squeezed his fingers. She wasn’t sure she would be able to speak if she tried.

Severus continued. “I tried to tell myself that we mustn’t acknowledge it until after you finished school, but that seems to be impossible for us. I have admired your mind and valued our friendship for a long time, and my feelings are growing deeper with every conversation and letter.”

“I don’t want to do anything that puts you in a difficult position, Severus. If anyone found out how we feel, it could make things very bad for you.”

“For both of us,” he agreed.

She nodded. “But … we’ll both be leaving the school in June.”

“I think that what we could become is worth waiting for,” he said. “In the meantime, we mustn’t do anything that would be inappropriate between us.” He squeezed her fingers. “I think our letters can continue, and our occasional conversations, but even touching like this is wrong for us, right now, and we must not do this again.”

Hermione’s heart was torn between joy at the thought that he really did feel the same way as her, and frustration that they would have to wait. She had told herself that she would not push for things to happen between them, but at the same time she wanted so much to kiss him.

“You’re right,” she said, softly, “but I’m glad that we've talked about it. I wondered if I was just fooling myself that you felt the same way about me.”

“I have never known you to doubt yourself.”

His comment made her laugh. “About facts - no - but about feelings; that’s completely different.” She looked down at his hands, holding her own. “June seems like a long time away, but I agree - we’re worth waiting for.”

He gazed into her eyes, smiling the smile that she only ever saw when he was looking at her.

“We should go,” he said, eventually. “Holding hands in the library, close to midnight definitely falls into the category of ‘inappropriate’ between a student and teacher.”

She nodded and they, regretfully, released each other’s hands. Hermione tucked a bookmark into the library book and replaced it on the shelf. “Eighth years are allowed to sign out books when Madam Pince is not here,” she explained, “but not ones from the Restricted Section. I’ll have to come back for it tomorrow.”

“I tried to take a book from the library without signing it out, once,” Severus told her. “I was in detention with Mr. Filch for a week.”

“Well, you’ll be happy to know that your younger self also once got Harry in trouble with Madam Pince,” she told him. “She saw The Half-Blood Prince’s book and threw Harry out of the library for defacing a book so badly.”

His expression mirrored her own smirk, then turned somber.

“We must be resolute about this, Hermione,” he said, seriously. “We cannot act this way, even in private, while we are at the school.”

She took a deep breath and nodded. “I’ll be thinking about it, though.”

“As will I.”

A long moment passed between them before Hermione forced herself to turn towards the door.

“Goodnight, Severus.”

“Goodnight, Hermione.”

Chapter Text

January 8th

Dear Hermione,

It feels good to have told you how I feel, and to know for certain that you feel the same way. After so many years of deceit, having to hide everything I was feeling, I value honesty and openness. Letting go of your hands and watching you walk out of the library last night was difficult. When there are other people around, such as in today’s class, it is easier for me to behave appropriately.

I am amazed by how much I have changed over the past few months. I have made a determined effort to be more pleasant to people, and to enjoy the company of others. It has been hard work, to change the habits of a lifetime, but having you as a friend has made the process much easier.

In the newspaper article by Mr. Dagworth and Miss. Lovegood, I was asked whether I had ever wished that I had not survived, and I said that I had wished that many times. The truth is that I came close to carrying out those wishes on several occasions. The one thing that helped the most was your correspondence. Even though you first wished to apologize for not trusting me, you did not appear to be writing to me to assuage a guilty conscience. I felt that your letters were down to your genuinely caring nature, but not out of pity. You were open and sincere, and you offered your friendship without wanting anything in return. I did not think of it as friendship at first, but I came to realize that was what it was. You were a light in the darkness that made me want to give life a chance. I would not be here, if it were not for you.

I do not often express my emotions, but I want you to know how much your friendship means to me, especially as we are now venturing beyond friendship. I look forward to exploring what we have between us.

Good night,

Severus


Hermione pulled the letter to her chest and wiped tears from her cheeks. Everything she knew about Severus Snape led her to believe that he was a man of deep feelings and emotions, but that they had always been tightly controlled and hidden. Since the final battle, he had been much more open - with her, if not with others. She was sure she was the only one besides his healers and possibly the headmistress who knew the full severity of his injuries. He had been much more forthcoming in his interview with The Quibbler than she (or, apparently, he) had expected, and now he was sharing things with her that she was sure he would never share with anyone else. She was not sure whether her tears were more for the pain and despair that he must have been feeling early in his recovery, or for the absolute trust he was clearly showing in her by divulging such personal feelings.

She knew that he would not want her to feel sorrow at what he had been through, but she could not help but indulge herself in a good cry. She woke later, momentarily disoriented at finding herself fully clothed on top of the covers of her bed, still clutching his letter to herself. Straightening out the slightly crumpled parchment, she placed it on her bedside table and undressed to climb between the sheets. 


“Hermione!” Thomas called out as she was leaving the Great Hall after breakfast, and she turned to see him just arriving. “Luna and I were looking for you, yesterday evening, but Michael and Padma said you must have gone to bed early. We have some news.”

She turned back and headed to sit with him at the Slytherin table. Several other Slytherins gave her curious but not unfriendly looks, and two members of the Slug Club gave her cordial nods.

Thomas started talking at once. “You know that we were looking for a used printing press? Well, Xeno had a contact who found us one for a great price. It turns out that Barnabas Cuffe bought new equipment and sold off his old stuff. The thing is, it wasn’t that old, and the ones he bought were new but not such good quality. I couldn’t figure out why he would have sold it until I heard a rumour that it was a back-handed deal that involved having some of his debts paid off. I don’t know why he would be in debt, though - it’s not like The Prophet has much competition.”

Hermione was puzzled. “That does sound strange. Does the ministry know about this?”

“I wasn’t sure who to tell about it, so I sent all the info I have to Harry Potter, and asked him to pass it on to whoever needs to know about it.”

As if on cue, an owl flew over their table and dropped an envelope in front of Thomas. Luna arrived just at the same moment, and sat down.

“Good morning,” she said, then, “that’s Harry Potter’s writing.”

Thomas nodded. “It’s addressed to both of us.”

He read it quickly, then passed it over the table, where Hermione and Luna read it together.

9th January

Dear Luna and Thomas,

I just spoke to my boss, Gawain Robards about your info on Barnabas Cuffe. He says that someone from the Investigations Department will want to speak to you about it. There’s still no news on his whereabouts.

Kreacher is a bit nervous about the idea of speaking to you, but he says he will as long as I’m there. I suggested that we meet at Hogwarts, but I think he’d be more comfortable here at home, so we’ll have to talk to Professor McGonagall about permission for both of you to floo here.

Ron and me are going out for a drink tonight. Want to meet up at the Three Broomsticks? Ask Hermione if she’d like to come. And Ginny, of course!

If I don’t hear from you, we’ll meet you there at seven.

Harry

Luna smiled, brightly. “Did you know that today is Professor Snape’s birthday?” she asked, out of the blue.

Hermione blinked at both the information and the sudden change of subject. “Erm, no. How do you know that?”

“Oh, I asked him when we were interviewing him. I thought that maybe some of the teachers could bring him to The Three Broomsticks, this evening, too.”

Thomas smiled. “Great idea, Luna. He needs to know that he’s appreciated.”

Hiding her glee at the idea, Hermione suggested “You could ask Professor Flitwick or Professor Williams. He’s friends with them, I think.”

“We’ll have to get permission from Professor McGonagall,” Thomas said. “Not all of us have special eighth-year privileges.”

Luna stood up as she saw her head of house leaving the Great Hall. She pulled Hermione with her to catch up with him, and it was not long before everything was arranged. Professor Flitwick was happy to arrange to bring Severus to the pub and to speak to Professor McGonagall on their behalf. “I am sure she will be eager to allow it,” he beamed. “Especially as you need to speak to Mr. Potter about a story for your newspaper. She is quite vocal about her dislike of The Daily Prophet and has said more than once that she is happy to support a rival.”


When Harry and Ron arrived at the pub that evening, they stopped in surprise at seeing several members of staff as well as the four students they were expecting. Ginny immediately jumped up to hug her boyfriend, then gave Ron a perfunctory hug before returning to Harry’s side. Professors Flitwick, Williams and Sprout were there, as well as Hagrid, all smiling.

Hagrid waved to them from the reinforced chair Rosmerta kept especially for him.

“Harry! Ron!” he called. “It’s good to see yer back here. It’s like old times, seein’ the three of yer together.”

“It’s good to see you too, Hagrid,” Harry smiled. “We weren’t expecting to see all of you.”

“Well,” said Professor Sprout,” Miss Lovegood here told us that today is Professor Snape’s birthday, so we decided to come down for a drink with him.”

“He’ll be here in a few minutes,” Flitwick explained. “Minerva is bringing him by floo as he’s still not quite recovered.”

Harry looked a little surprised but not unhappy at the news that Snape would soon be arriving, and Ron made a passable attempt to hide his frown. Staff and students were mixed around the table, and Harry sat in the empty space between Ginny and Professor Williams.

“Harry, did you meet Professor Williams at Professor Slughorn’s party?” asked Luna.

Professor Williams smiled and held out his hand. “We didn’t actually meet, but someone pointed you out to me, Harry. It’s nice to meet you. And you must be Ron Weasley?”

“Hello, Professor Williams,” said Ron.

“Call me Jeremy,” the teacher insisted. “I was never your professor. I knew very little about the war, but Flilius and the other staff have been giving me a crash course in recent wizarding events, so I’ve heard all about you both. And Miss Granger, of course - The Golden Trio!”

Harry winced. “I’m happy to call you Jeremy as long as you don’t call us by that name,” he said.

Hagrid chortled. “He prefers ‘The Boy Who Lived’. Right, ‘Arry?”

Ginny giggled as Harry covered his face with his hands, in embarrassment. “Or ‘The Chosen One’,” she teased.

“I can think of a few names for him!” The voice of Severus Snape made them all jump. He was brushing soot off his robes as Professor McGonagall stepped through the floo behind him.

Harry gave a wry smile and stood up. He leaned over the table to offer his hand to the Potions Master.

“Hello, Professor,” he said.

“Potter.” Severus nodded as he shook his hand.

Ron looked awkward, then seemed to steel himself. He stood. “Hello, Professor,” he said, stiffly. “Erm. Happy Birthday.”

“Weasley.” They shook hands and Hermione felt a flash of happiness at seeing Severus and her friends getting along, despite Severus’ austere expression. She had seen Severus and Harry greeting each other very briefly at the Christmas party, but not Ron. Of course, she had known that Harry respected Severus and considered him to be a hero, but that didn’t mean they liked each other. As for Ron, it had not been long since he had been parroting the vile accusations of The Daily Prophet. To see them shaking hands and being civil was a relief to her.

An image flashed into her mind of herself and Severus in the future, openly together as a couple and spending time with friends. Quickly, she pushed the image away. It was far too early to be thinking about that.

Severus sat down almost opposite from Hermione. His face wore its usual impassive mask, but she could sense his discomfort at being the center of attention.

Professor McGonagall sat next to him after greeting Harry and Ron.

“I should warn you all,” she said, speaking to the group at large, “that when I told Severus there would be a few people here for a birthday drink, he threatened to poison us all if anyone attempted to sing Happy Birthday to him.”

Pomona Sprout chortled over her butterbeer. “We’ll keep that in mind.”

Professor Flitwick, who had taken the newcomers’ orders and headed to the bar now returned, leading a hovering line of drinks behind him. Madam Rosmerta wandered over to the table, smiling around at them all. Hermione hid her grin at Ron’s faint blush. “Happy Birthday, Professor,” the landlady said. Severus gave her a nod, and raised his beer in thanks.

Conversations split into smaller groups, and Harry began telling Thomas, Luna and Hermione about Kreacher.

“He’s nervous about speaking to you. I think he’s worried he might say something about life as a house-elf that would reflect badly on me or the Black family. I told him I’m happy for him to talk to you, and I’d really like him to be able to find out what happened to his daughter.”

“Maybe we can find a way to make him more comfortable,” said Thomas.

Hermione had not noticed that Professor Sprout was listening to the conversation until she suddenly leaned towards them and spoke up.

“You won’t have anything to worry about with the elf you’re talking about,” she said, decisively.

“Why not?” asked Harry.

The teacher looked at Severus with a sly grin. “Not long ago, Mr. Dagworth and Miss Lovegood interviewed the most snarky, obnoxious, bloody-minded bastard I’ve ever known, and got him to open up in a way I never would have believed possible.”

Professor McGonagall rolled her eyes. “Language, Pomona!”

Professor Sprout ignored her. “Do you really think your elf will be more of a problem than him ?” She gave a jerk of her head towards her colleague.

There was silence around the table as the students stared at her, then glanced awkwardly towards Snape. The wizard in question raised an eyebrow.

“She has a point,” he said with a shrug.

Ron was the first to begin to laugh and Harry and Ginny followed. Luna smiled and nodded in agreement, as though the Herbology teacher had merely commented on it being a nice evening.

Among the staff, the headmistress shook her head with a look of long-suffering patience, Flitwick giggled into his gillywater, and Hagrid clapped Professor Sprout on the back, spilling her beer and almost knocking her off her chair. Thomas and Professor Williams were staring around at the rest of the group, seemingly uncertain at what had just happened.

Hermione looked around at the scene, not knowing quite what to think. It surely had to be the strangest conversation she had ever been a part of. Despite trying, since the moment he had arrived, not to look directly at Severus, she regarded him in amusement. The frown on his face could not quite fool her, and when he glanced at her she was sure she could see a twitch of a smile at the corners of his mouth.

It was an enjoyable evening. Hagrid got into a friendly debate with Professor Sprout about the best fertilizer to use for growing vegetables, which ended with Hagrid challenging the Herbology teacher to a growing contest in the spring. Ron shared some funny stories about auror training, and Harry and Hermione exchanged tales of muggle upbringings with Professor Williams.

The Muggle Studies teacher’s family was mixed blood and when it became clear that he was a squib he had moved to live with his mother’s muggle sister so he could go to a muggle school. He spent his summers with his parents, two brothers and half-sister, though, and knew enough about the wizarding world not to feel out of place when surrounded by witches and wizards.

“It was my sister’s idea to apply for the job here,” he told them. “I was teaching science at an inner-city school, and she knew I was tired of the drugs and violence in the area. I’m very glad she suggested it. I love it here.”

“How do you manage at Hogwarts, without magic?” asked Harry.

Professor Williams smiled. “Some of it is difficult. The door to my private rooms had to be charmed to open with a key instead of magic. Filius has been a great help, and there’s a house-elf called Flopsy, who helps me a lot. Whenever I visit my parents, their elf Mopey looks after me. He’s convinced I can barely manage to feed myself without magic, and coddles me like he used to when I was a baby.”

It was late when Professor McGonagall announced that it was time to return to the castle. There were a few smiles at her ‘motherly tone’, but no-one argued.

Harry kissed Ginny goodbye outside the pub, and he and Ron apparated away.

“Are you sure you feel up to walking back to the castle, Severus?” the headmistress asked.

“I’ll manage,” he insisted.

As the six teachers and three students set off, Hermione wished she and Severus could walk together. A night-time walk, holding hands under the waning moon would be lovely. He gazed at her as she pulled her cloak around her, and smiled as no-one was looking their way. She had a feeling that his thoughts were along the same lines as hers.

Instead, Hermione walked with Hagrid and Professor McGonagall a little way ahead of the rest of the group, setting a gentle pace for the Potions Master. She could hear Severus behind her, in quiet conversation with Luna as they walked.

“How are the new foals doing, Hagrid?” the headmistress asked.

“Don’t think I told yer yet, Hermione,” Hagrid said. “There were two new unicorn foals born at Christmas. They’re doing great, Professor. They’re a male an’ and female, an’ they’re the most beautiful foals I’ve ever seen.” Hagrid sniffed, as though overcome by the beauty of the creatures. He blew into his over-large handkerchief. “The mother of the female is a bit skittish ‘cos it’s her first foal, but she’s doin’ fine. I’ll be lettin’ my classes see the male this week, if his mum lets me.”

Professor McGonagall seemed very happy at the news. “It feels like a good omen for the school,” she said.

“How often are foals born?” Hermione asked.

“‘Bin about four years since the last one,” Hagrid told her, happily. “We haven’t had two in the same year since prob’ly before you were born. And both at Christmas, too.”

Hermione found his excitement very endearing. He loved his magical creatures, and he was always especially emotional about them after a few buckets of ale.

She heard a giggle from her right, and saw Professors Flitwick, Sprout and Williams walking close by. She couldn’t help but overhear part of their conversation.

“With Rosmerta?” asked Professor Sprout. “If he wanted to ask her out I’m sure he’d be capable of asking her himself. He’s not shy.”

Professor Williams was trying to speak quietly, but she still heard him. “Lots of men are awkward about women, even if they’re not shy about anything else.”

Professor Flitwick was still giggling. “Well, if you try to set them up, leave me out of it.”

They moved out of earshot. They had not mentioned Severus by name, but she had no doubt that that was who they were talking about. She felt a momentary twinge of jealousy but internally laughed it away. Even if the other teachers did try some matchmaking, Severus was hers. The one thing she could feel a tiny bit jealous of was the fact that if Severus and Rosmerta had been a couple, there would have been nothing making their relationship ‘inappropriate’. They would have been able to sit together in the pub, and even kiss goodnight as Harry and Ginny had. She sighed. Still, it would be fun to find out what Severus’ reaction to the idea of being set up with Rosmerta would be.

She looked around to where Severus was walking. He was discussing something with Thomas, while Luna and Ginny were giggling amongst themselves. It was difficult to see more than shadowy outlines in the dark night, but she was happy that Severus appeared to be having no problems with the long walk back to the castle. She hung back to join in their conversation, wishing once again that she could take his hand.


January 9th

Dear Severus,

I heard something interesting and funny on the walk back to the school, tonight. There may be a plot by certain members of staff to set you up with Rosmerta. Should I be jealous?

It’s frustrating that when we’re with other people we can barely even say ‘Goodnight’ to each other without it seeming odd. But even though we couldn’t really talk, it was good to spend time with you, especially on your birthday. You seemed a bit uncomfortable at the beginning, but I hope you mostly enjoyed the evening.

I wish I had been able to get you a present, but I only found out it was your birthday this morning. What I really wanted to do, in lieu of a present, was to kiss you. I know we can’t do that, but it’s still nice to imagine it.

Goodnight,

Hermione