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A Chance For Happiness

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Chapter 1: Graduation

While most of the remainder of the seventh year class did not return to Hogwart's, Hermione remained to finish her official education and take her Nastily Exhausting Wizarding Tests. Whispers and rumors flew as to why only one of the Golden Trio had stayed, while the famous Harry Potter, Ronald Weasley, and others had been given a reprieve from the formalities of graduation to go directly into their respective careers. They had survived the final battle. What greater test could any one of them not face after such a feat?

Unlike the years before, Hermione kept to herself, studying until the wee hours, and save the times the younger students saw her speaking with her professors and walking with Hagrid out by his shack, she did not deviate from her studies. It seemed as if she was either studying furiously or impossible to find. It was as if she was driven by some outside force to complete her objective without distraction and without fail. When graduation finally came, everyone knew she had received nothing less than an "O" on everything that mattered as well as things no one really wanted to believe mattered.

As the majority of Hogwart's packed and left for the summer break, Hermione met with Ron on his break from Auror's training and walked through the swarming construction crews that were starting to trickle in for the construction, or rather repair, of many of the wings of Hogwart's that remained damaged from the war. Such things seemed strangely trivial in comparison to their lives. Buildings could be repaired, shelves restocked, classrooms refurnished, and lollygaggers docked points any time, but the lives that remained were precious.

"I'm sorry, Ron," Hermione apologized as she looked out over the bridge overlooking the damaged remains of Hogwarts's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. "It's not that I don't love you. I do. I just… cannot think of you that way anymore."

"But 'mione," Ron protested, his eyes filled with emotion. "I thought after all this…"

Hermione turned to look Ron in the eyes. Her brown eyes that had once held the sparkle of light and the possible future had darkened. For a moment, Ron saw something in her gaze that was viscerally familiar. Cold, emotionless tunnels that seemed to take the place of the warmth she once had for everyone. It was the same dark glare that he had seen countless times before in the eyes of the late Master of Potions that caused his legs to shake and his resolve to flee into deep corners of his mind. Even her mouth was a flat line, only slightly curved up in an almost snarl, as if any patience she may have had evaporated from her mind. Behind her piercing gaze was an almost tangible fire.

Ron instinctively back-peddled, reliving every horrible moment under the tutelage of Professor Snape, unable to fight back the wave of gut-twisting fear. He saw his hated Professor like a boggart overlay over his old friend. It didn't matter that the truth about Professor Severus Snape revealed his true allegiance and his role through the war. It didn't matter that Snape had protected them from as much as he could. His memories of the old Potions Professor were so ingrained it was like a deep-rooted phobia.

And suddenly, like a change in the wind, Hermione was looking at him with her normal tolerant smirk. She had her hand out to help him up off his bum where had fallen over himself in the most undignified manner possible. Her eyes were their familiar warm brown as he had always known them to be. "I am sorry, Ron," she said softly. "I think of you as my best friend and my brother. Please, don't let me lose you like that."

Ron took her hand and swung himself up. He searched Hermione's face for some sort of visual tell to a lie. His face softened and he hugged her, noticing how his touch caused her to stiffen slightly but her arm went around him like it always did in a mutual hug.

There was the distinctive crack of sound as someone apparated in nearby and Ron stepped away as if being caught after curfew by a patrolling Professor.

Familiar dark robes billowed behind the distinctive figure of the Potion Master of Hogwart's as he glided towards them with silent footsteps. The dark wizard's appearance had not changed in the decade he had known him. His expression even more so the same, his lip curled in a half sneer as he eyed Ronald Weasley.

"I would have thought you had enough of this place, Mr. Weasley," the Potion Master droned lowly, his voice holding no less scorn than Ron's memories of him.

"Hello… uh… Professor Snape," Ron stumbled over himself. Seeing the Dark Wizard face to face was no less nerve wrecking than his reminder of him only a few minutes before. "I was just… discussing plans for the future with Hermione, that's all." He finished his last gush of justification with the same rushed and nervous tone that came when stammering an excuse to Snape's intimidating inquiry during the past years as his student.

The dark wizard scowled at him silently and then turned his attention to Hermione. "Apologies for the interruption, Ms. Granger, but Minerva insists I fetch you for help moving and transfiguring the debris on the west side. The bungling construction dunderheads do not seem to have the aptitude for following instructions to not touch the glowing debris or stay out of the transfiguration areas." His voice was annoyed, as usual, and it seemed that not even near death had cured him of that. "Leaving… us… to pick up the pieces." His last words came with his habitual and characteristic sneer.

Ron fidgeted. He had no idea that Professor Snape had survived the Dark Lord's snake attack. Seeing him there had confirmed that he had, but seeing him standing there in his dark robes caused a shiver to go down his spine. How had he missed seeing him at the graduation ceremony? Snape wasn't exactly hard to miss with his characteristic black robes. Harry insisted that Professor Snape was to be regarded as a hero after the war. Somehow Ron didn't think the greasy git of the dungeons would want to be regarded at all. Hold on a tick. Why would Headmistress McGonagall request Hermione to help clear the debris at Hogwart's?

"Have the wards been adjusted for my apparition?" Hermione asked as if commenting on the weather.

"No," Severus replied matter-of-factly. "Minerva has been distracted lately. You will have to suffer me." He raised his arm up, opening his side to her for a side-along.

Hermione made a harrumphing sound and stepped closer to him, placing her hand around Severus' waist and pressing close to him to allow his arm and cloak to curve around her back. "I'll owl you later, Ron," she said in the cheery tone he remembered her for. "Thanks for coming to my graduation."

"Don't gawk, Mr. Weasley" Severus growled lowly, in the same tone he remembered him for. "This is not a zoo."

With a corresponding crack, they were gone.

Ron wasn't sure which part he was more stunned by: Hermione sharing a side-along apparate with the infamous dungeon bat or the fact that the Potions Master had pulled her against him in an almost protective embrace before they had disapparated in front of his eyes.

 

Chapter 2: Potion Delivery

 

"Mr. Weasley!" Minerva greeted from the middle of the swirling construction site. "I have not seen you in quite some time."

"Hello, Headmistress McGonagall!" he greeted automatically, dodging a man carrying lumber on his shoulder. "Construction still ongoing?"

"Oh, yes," Minerva huffed, brushing the dust off her robes without even bothering to use a cleansing charm. "We are able to run the school without the damaged wings, but each one we repair gives us more wiggle room for the students and the teachers without tripping over each other. Last I heard you were studying to be an Auror! Are you on break?"

Ron knew the older wizard missed little. "Yes, I took a small break to visit Hermione on her graduation night."

"Oh, I do apologize, Mr. Weasley," Minerva sighed softly. "I had to pull her away to help with the transfiguration of the far hall. She and Severus both know the old layout of how things need to be and all of this mess needs to be completed before she starts her formal apprenticeship. Everything has to be in order by last week, and the graduation celebration planning just put everything on hiatus."

"Formal apprenticeship?" Ron questioned.

"My goodness," Minerva dodged a man carrying buckets. "Yes, she will be apprenticing under myself and Severus after summer. She's been informally apprenticing under Severus since she came back to Hogwart's. She's already passed all of her accreditation exams, so it is just a formality and adjustment period really. You know how she is. Always striving to be better than she thinks she needs to be and ends up being better than anyone ever thought she needed to be. She will make a wonderful teacher here at Hogwart's."

Ron couldn't help but notice the pride in the older wizard's voice despite the frustration of the construction. "Looks like you could use some help around here," Ron noticed amidst the chaos.

"Ha!" McGonagall laughed as she flicked her want to remove one of the larger pieces of debris from the collapsed hallway and piled it to the side to make room for movement. "All of the staff are on mandatory debris management for now. Every wand we can spare to keep the construction crews from stumbling over magically charged flagstones." She stopped a moment and seemed to be lost in thought. "Considering how much we lost during the battles, I am glad that some things did survive it."

Ron nodded. "Is there anything I can do to help?"

Minerva's brows furrowed as she contemplated his question. "Well, all the staff could probably use some invigoration potions at this point. Could you take them around and make sure they all get a few before they collapse in exhaustion? Mind the regular construction crews, please, they are on thin ice as it is with Severus, and the last thing we need is them to run into the transfiguration area and bump into him."

Ron considered what his own reaction to bumping into the old Potions Master would be and nodded in agreement. He picked up the crate of invigoration Potions and set off to bring relief to the staff of Hogwart's.

 

Chapter 3: Debris Becomes Arch

 

Hermione pointed her wand at the debris and concentrated carefully on what she wanted it to resemble, forming the image in her mind of the old archways she had passed under countless times before. Sending her energy out with a whisper of her intent, flicking her wrist to remake the object she remembered. Concentrating, she whispered again, making the archway feather-light, and moved it into place on the support pillars Severus had already placed.

Just as she set the arch down, a crash caused her to spin around towards the closed doorway. The pillar Severus had been setting in place crashed to the ground as a lost construction worker bumped into him, spouting apologies. Severus Snape towered over the fallen construction worker as though he would turn the man to flames by his very willpower alone. "Do you not know what a closed door means, you thick-headed ignoramus?" snarled Severus' voice in the same tone he used to patronize many a student. "Get. OUT!" he said with the steely tone that implied many horrible things he could and would do if his orders were not followed to the letter, causing the man to do what any self-respecting person facing the wrath of Severus Snape would do: flee with his tail between his legs so quickly that he forgot his tool belt and scattered tools all over the floor.

"And take these useless tools with you, you lazy good-for-nothing dolt!" Severus snarled, clenching his hand in a fist and flicking his hand out in a sharp wave, soundlessly and wandlessly sending a hurricane of tools chasing after their terrified owner.

Hermione Granger let a small smile and a giggle loose as Severus grasped the top of his nose and pointed his head up, closing his eyes. It was so very Severus Snape. She found it strangely calming. His reactions to interruptions and annoyances had not changed. "I think it's time to sit down for a bit anyway, Professor," she said calmly, waving her wand towards the table as a teapot and cups came to her call. "Tea?"

Severus took in a deep breath and sighed, storming towards the table as if he intended to kick it over. He sat, gruffly, sagging into the seat like he would his old teaching desk, wearing the most irritated expression he could. Hermione poured the tea silently, placing a sugar into the cup, stirring it, and handing him the cup and saucer before pouring her own.

"I wish you would teach me how to do that," she said softly as she sipped her tea.

"Yell at idiots? It's quite easy, Ms. Granger," Severus said dryly as sipped his tea. The tension in his expression seemed to fade after a moment, and he eyed her curiously. His depthless black eyes seemed to be searching hers for a subtle tell only he knew to find.

Hermione snorted into her teacup as she sipped. "I meant casting spells without a wand or your voice, Professor Snape."

"Hrmph," he replied in a dismissive tone. He seemed thoughtful. "It takes more energy than using a wand, but usually when you are angry enough, that is hardly an issue." He spoke conversationally, all signs of his earlier hot tempered malice was gone.

"So, you're saying I just have to be angry enough," Hermione replied, raising a brow over her teacup. Severus made a scoffing sound, his eyes glaring at her like a flippant student, but there was strangely no heat to it.

He stood suddenly and faced one of the piles of rubble. "Come here, Ms. Granger."

Hermione set down her teacup and obeyed.

"This may be a little…unorthodox," Severus said softly. "Will you… trust me?"

Hermione furrowed her brows in confusion, but nodded silently. Severus had proven he could be trusted time and time again. To mistrust him now would seem petty.

He moved behind her and guided her hand up with his, his pale hand closed around hers and splayed her fingers into the proper position. He placed his ear next to hers and whispered "Imagine what it is to hold that piece in your hand. Think of it as clay. It is yours to command and yours to control. Will it to be what you desire. Think of the power word in your mind and cast it forward through your hand."

Hermione felt a tingle in her head, and for a moment she saw herself as Severus crafting his pillar, molding his will into power and his power into form. He was teaching her by example, right into her head.

"Your will is your wand. Your will is power. Feel it inside and channel it into that piece of stone. Now flick your will with your hand and guide it forward," Severus spoke softly into her ear. His low rumble in his voice reverberated in her mind and she felt what she needed. "Now release it. Be the power word. Be the power. Send it forward. Focus."

She saw the image in her head of what he wanted her to do and felt how it felt. Hermione let her energy cast in front of her like she had a wand in her hand and let it smash into the stone debris she was focusing on. The stone trembled and shuddered for a moment and then solidified as a support pillar. She beamed brightly, excitement written in every line of her face. "That was brilliant!" She bounced a little on her heels, and turned to face Severus. "Thank you, Professor Snape!"

"Insufferable know-it-all," he scowled at her, dark eyes meeting hers. Hermione looked up to him, chin up and proud. He met her gaze and the corner of his mouth twisted up slightly. "Since we will be working together now, Ms. Granger, you may call me by my name," he said evenly.

Hermione's eyes widened in surprise. "Thank you… Severus," she replied.

His scowl softened and he nodded silently, turning to return to his tea.

"Severus?" Hermione asked to his back.

"Yes, Ms. Granger?"

"You may call me Hermione."

He stood silently a moment as if mulling over what reply would be best. "As you wish, Hermione," he said before returning to his seat to collect his cooling tea.

She returned to her seat as well and drank the last of the tea in her teacup with one long gulp. Severus had his hand to the bridge of his nose again, eyes closed as he contemplated whatever hidden thoughts came to mind.

"Severus?" Hermione asked again.

"Yes, Ms… Hermione," he corrected himself.

"Thank you. For teaching me."

He dropped his hand from his face and moved to pour more tea into her cup and his. "You are welcome."

 

Chapter 4: Wrath of a Gryffindor Witch

 

"Are you completely DAFT?!" roared Hermione's voice from around the corner right after a crashing noise clattered in the ruined hallway. Chaos greeted Ron as he carried the box of invigoration potions around the corner.

Ron started to hurry forward thinking that Hermione was having an argument with the grumpy Potion Master and was going to get herself killed by collateral backlash.

"It isn't enough that you plow into him earlier, you come back to cover me in THIS, you gormless arse-faced muppet!" A young man was sprawled in front of her, his tools scattered around as though it were a game of pick-up sticks. His eyes were wide with fear as the young woman, now dripping in some sort of construction cement, towered over him like an angry Hungarian Horntail. "Get…. OUT!" she hissed, her eyes darkening with a growing tangible malevolence. She put her hand out as if to cast something but had no wand.

"CLEAR OFF!" she raged with a hiss that seemed to come straight out of parseltongue. Her hand shook and the offending construction worker tumbled forward as if shoved by an invisible force along with his tools and his now half-empty buckets. The heavy iron gate into the next area shut with a slam.

The frightened young construction worker plowed out of the area in such haste that he bowled over Ron, sprawling them both in a spill of wet construction compound, spilled invigoration potions, and abused tools.

Hermione stood shaking as the construction cement dripped off her entire body, the rage that filled her body refusing to quell itself immediately. The cement was running down her face and into her eyes and it only managed to make her angrier.

"Be still," Severus' voice commanded, expecting obedience.

Hermione froze in place and heard Severus whispering a soft cleaning charm. The cement vanished off her face and her hair and then worked its way down to her feet. The heat from her outburst finally began to diffuse slowly. She took in a deep breath and sighed deeply. "Thank you, Severus." The cold of being drenched, however, was going to be harder to remedy.

Silently, Severus removed his outer robe, and held it out for her. She slipped her arms into it gratefully, gathered it around her, and pulled it against her like a blanket. Shuffling back to the table, she slumped into the chair and sagged as if she were melting into the chair itself. Irritation radiated off her that Severus recognized all too well.

Severus leaned down and picked up Hermione's wand that had flown across the area thanks to the bungler's idiocy. He scowled back in the direction the dolt had been forcibly removed in. A quirk of a smile rose from the corner of his mouth. She learned fast, this witch. He expected no less. He sat back down at the table with her, setting her wand in front of her. She hardly looked human wrapped in the folds of his outer robe. It was as if some dark entity had fallen upon her and swallowed her up. Why had he given her his robe? A warming spell would have provided relief.

As he stared expressionless at the dark mass of cloth that had become Hermione, he knew why. She needed to brood and wrap herself in something that protected her from the outside world. He understood that well enough as well.

A shuffling at the gate caused Severus to clench his teeth. He flicked his wand over his shoulder and the gate opened. "Come in, Mr. Weasley."

 

Chapter 5: Impatience

 

"Hello… Professor Snape," Ronald greeted tentatively, seemingly oblivious to the flecks of construction plaster that had splattered over him during his collision with the fleeing construction worker. "Hey, Hermione. I brought you some invigoration potions from the Headmistress." He shuffled up to the table the two were sharing.

Snape's black eyes moved from Ronald to the potions. "Do you plan on setting them down, or are we to simply stare at you until they hop out of that crate by themselves, Mr. Weasley?"

Ron was distracted by the sight of the Potion Master without his normal flowing robe and Hermione slumped at the table wrapped in it.

One of Hermione's hands snaked out of the warmth of the robe and opened, palm up.

Ronald continued to stare in confusion.

"Oh do stop being such a berk," Severus snapped, reaching over to grab a potion out of the crate, unstoppered it, sniffed it to confirm its contents, and placed it in Hermione's open hand. He then took one for himself, took out the cork, sniffed experimentally, and drank it down. He watched with slightly less annoyance as Hermione brought the potion to her nose, sniffed it experimentally, and then drank it down. She remembered his lessons to never drink something before confirming it was what it was supposed to be. Clever girl.

Snape turned his gaze back to Ronald Weasley and stared at him malevolently.

"I uh…" Ron stammered. "Guess I'll talk to you later, 'mione!"

Hermione grunted something unintelligible as Ron carried the rest of the potions off to the rest of the waiting work staff.

Severus took a deep breath as Ronald scrambled back out the gate. Taking his wand out, he began to ward the zone they were in, freezing everything into place, and making sure the gate remained locked to the construction crews. Staring down at the crumbled figure still draped in his robes, he smirked slightly. "Come," he beckoned. "Let us get dinner before we are both covered in construction plaster."

Hermione gave a snort and stretched, standing up. Severus opened his arm for her, and she stepped in without question, allowing his arm to wrap around her and pull her close.

Crack. They vanished.

 

Chapter 6: Dinner

 

"Oh, Mr. Weasley," Minerva welcomed him back from his rounds with the potions. "Thank you for getting those potions out to the staff."

"You're welcome, Headmistress," he said automatically. To be honest, he had no clue what to call his former Headmaster. She still called him "Mr. Weasley," so it seemed perfectly normal to lapse into what he would have called her before graduation.

Minerva smiled. "We're having dinner in the Great Hall. The students are gone for the summer, so we opened it for construction folk. You are welcome to join us tonight.

"That would be great, thank you," Ron smiled back at her.

"No thanks necessary, boy," McGonagall tutted. "I'm sure you can remember the way?"

"Yes, Headmistress," Ron replied.

Minerva smiled and excused herself to clap her hands and announce that it was dinner time to the rest of the site.

Ron attempted to clean the rest of the plaster remains off his clothing before heading towards the Great Hall.

-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-

"Honestly, Severus," admonished McGonagall as she sat down with her plate at the High Table. "As if terrorizing the construction boy wasn't bad enough, your temper has been rubbing off on Hermione. I'm not sure if that boy's poor mind will ever be the same."

Severus gave a bored sigh. "Really, Minerva, it's not like the dolt didn't know we were there. Twice."

Minerva shook her head and scoffed. "The boy came running through the ruins like you had plans to kill him, raise him from the dead, and kill him a second time."

Severus picked some fruit off the serving platter, some meat, and a few pieces of cheese. He placed it all on his plate, cut the meat up finely, and slid it in front of Hermione. "Eat," he said simply before pulling another plate to him and filling it up for himself.

Minerva watched as hands and then Hermione's head peaked out from Severus' robes and she ate quietly. "Hermione, dear, what happened that has you bundled up like a Samhain present in Severus' robes?"

"I've been having a really bad day with construction workers, Minerva," she replied softly, eating a strawberry from her plate. ".. and construction cement."

McGonagall shook her head. "Oh, my dear, it will get better. I promise. How is it coming in that area?"

"We should be done within a few days. The arches are almost finished. Severus had all of the pillars in place before I was accosted by a cement carrier," Hermione huffed a puff of air to blow a strand of her hair away from her face. "Tomorrow we'll probably have all of the windows set, provided I'm not attacked by a stained glass carrying wagon."

Severus growled, "I should hope not."

Minerva watched the interaction with some interest. To most, Severus was the same cantankerous, surly, and curmudgeonly man he had always been, but there were strange and subtle deviations since his return. His students would probably say differently, but she noticed a strange softening in Severus in regards to his apprentice. More subtle than the allowance of Hermione to keep warm in his outer robes or even watching him silently prepare a plate of food for her and shove it in front of her with a curt command to "eat," she was noticing smaller tells. His willingness to apparate with her as a side-along, teaching her advanced potion work far into the night even before she technically graduated, and the softer edge to his growls as he called her insufferable seemed to point to something was changing between them. He spoke with Hermione. She called him Severus. That was recent.

Severus slid his eyes to glare at the older woman as she watched Hermione eat her dinner. The woman was always sticking her nose into things that didn't concern her. He would have to teach Hermione occulumency just to keep the old bat from sniffing around in her head if the older witch was dabbling in legilimency. She was always entirely too close to Albus. He couldn't keep his nose out of things either. He poured a glass of juice and put it down in front of his apprentice. "Drink," he said sternly.

Minerva smiled as Hermione clutched the glass a few moments before starting to drink from it. Well this was a curious change indeed. She could tell Hermione was suffering from an extensively taxing day between her graduation and being waylaid by construction materials.

"Severus," Minerva said softly, "Perhaps you can escort Hermione to her new quarters. I had all of her old things moved there after the graduation formalities. Construction woes we can save for tomorrow morning."

Snape looked at Minerva with a bored expression. "As you wish." He stood with Hermione and she smiled weakly at the older witch. "Thank you, Minerva."

"You are welcome, dear," she replied. "Get some rest for tomorrow."

Severus and Hermione walked side by side out of the Great Hall with Severus slowing his normally long strides for his tired apprentice. Minerva watched from afar with a raised eyebrow.

She smirked in amusement as some of the construction workers scurried out of the way of the dark wizard. His demeanor lost nothing even without his outer robe. A few people looked down the aisle to stare at the woman with dark flowing robes pass by them. Snape's posture stiffened as he missed nothing and he shot a glare at them as well without breaking stride, making them turn around and go back to eating with the same response as an admonished student.

The fall semester was going to be different indeed.

She saw Ron Weasley walking up the aisle as if trying to find a seat, and she waved towards him to come join her at the long table up front. He sat down awkwardly, as if sitting at the designated staff table would cause lightning to strike him down.

"Have a seat, Mr. Weasley, and tell me about your Auror training," she welcomed with a grin. "I'm afraid you just missed Hermione. She was looking exhausted, so I asked Severus to show her to her new quarters."

Ron smiled sheepishly and began to fill Minerva in with the latest Auror gossip.

 

Chapter 7: Gritting Teeth and Bearing It

 

Severus stood before the portrait that guarded Hermione's new quarters in the dungeons. It had made sense to have his apprentice quartered near him for the duration of the apprenticeship and strangely, he did not feel the same amount of need to drive off the impending interloper like he drove out his students from class once the class time was up.

He took a deep breath and gathered his resolve. "Gryffindor is the one true house. Huzzah." His last words came through clenched teeth as though saying the words were painful.

The portrait swung open, and Severus rolled his eyes as he guided Hermione into her new quarters. Her things were already placed as promised, and it appeared that the older witch had already seen to gifting Hermione with Gryffindor themed curtains and bed linens. Aggravating witch.

"Welcome home… Hermione," he said quietly.

Hermione smiled as she saw the themed bed linens and curtains. "What would I do without Minerva?" she chuckled tiredly.

"Use more green, obviously," Snape answered her dryly.

Hermione gave him a genuine smile. "I don't have anything green, Severus."

"Easily remedied, witch," he said deadpan, flicking his hand to turn her bed linens and curtains to Slytherin colors.

Hermione gave a barking laugh, her eyes sparkling with mischief. She pulled herself out of Severus's loaned robe. She held it out for him to take. "Thank you, Severus."

He took back his robe in a smooth movement, readjusting it around his shoulders and arms until he regained the look every first year student learned to fear. "You are welcome." He turned and left through the portrait, waving his hand dismissively at the portrait as it shut behind him.

Hermione changed into her nightclothes and sank into the comfortable yet Slytherin colored sheets. "Minerva is going to hex you into next week for changing the colors," she whispered into the air as sleep claimed her.

Severus Snape looked up from the potions he was brewing in the laboratory and smirked.

 

Chapter 8: What Day Is It Today?

 

Hermione stirred from her sleep in the early morning and groggily slid out from under the covers. She sat on the edge of the bed a moment and tried to gain her mental inventory of her graduation day. "Eugh," she groaned, putting her hands in front of her face and rubbing her eyes. "Who needs fire whiskey when you can have a day like yesterday?"

She stood up and mumbled her way into the bathroom to shower and brush her teeth. As she exited, she flung her bed clothes onto the bed from afar, and opened the wardrobe. She picked out a plain robe in anticipation of the construction work.

She picked up her discarded robe from the night before and hung it in the wardrobe. She smelled his scent upon her robes. The Potion Master's scent of musk and herbs was strong over it. Why had he given her his robe to wear? She had expected at the most a grumbling warming charm after he had cleaned the plaster off her. Instead, he offered her his robe for warmth in a gesture that seemed so simple and mundane. He had allowed her to wallow in it as her irritation and weariness threatened to swallow her whole. It was as if he understood that she had needed that meltdown. Understanding? When had that started?

Attempting to shake of the grogginess that clung to her, she reached out her hand for her wand and felt a tug before it slammed into her open palm as if guided there by opposing magnets. Hermione blinked. Staring at her wand as if it had grown multiple heads of Cerebus, she tucked it into her robes. Brushing her hair and pulling it back, she set it with a clip and walked out of the quarters with a grunt.

A crate of potions sat on the Potion Master's desk with a piece of parchment laid upon it. "Pomfrey" was the only thing on the parchment. Severus' distinctive writing flowed across the parchment. There were no instructions, but Hermione didn't require any. He had obviously been brewing into the night after seeing her to her new quarters and his absence meant only he had other obligations somewhere.

She lifted up the crate and carried it off with her.

 

Chapter 9: Breakfast

 

Madam Poppy Pomfrey happily relieved Hermione of her crate as she spewed a chain of thanks and scurried off into the hospital wing to attend her patients. "Do thank Severus for me, will you, Hermione?" she said as she scurried off.

"Yes, ma'am," she answered automatically.

"Call me Poppy, dear," she said over her shoulder.

"Yes, ma'am." Hermione made a face and shook her head as she realized her habitual reply was not doing as the woman had asked. Pomfrey chuckled and disappeared deeper into the hospital wing.

Hermione yawned again and heard her stomach growl to remind her about other obligations in the morning she had to take care of, so she turned on her heels and walked back in the direction of the Great Hall.

The Great Hall was already full of people, giving Hermione the impression that it wasn't as early as she thought it was. As she walked up the aisle to find her expected seat, she couldn't help but crack a smile as she passed the Gryffindor tables. Her smile faded somewhat as she recalled how some of those she sat with for most of a decade didn't get to see what life would be like outside of Hogwart's.

I few of the workers stumbled over themselves to move out of her way as she walked, and when she turned to look at them curiously, they immediately turned around to avoid her gaze. Raising an eyebrow at them, she continued to walk up towards the High Table. What was their problem, anyway?

She was, apparently, later than she had realized. The High Table was almost full of dining people. Hagrid beamed at her when he saw her, waving for her to come have a seat. Minerva smiled and waved her fork at her with a slightly off kilter grin, caught in the middle of devouring a piece of toast. Ronald waved to her from the other side of Hagrid, having obviously stayed over the night. She winced slightly upon remembering how the previous day's conversations had gone.

Hagrid stood up and gave Hermione a hug that almost squeezed the breath out of her. She smiled, leaning against him as his unquestioning warmth chased some of the more painful memories away. Minerva had apparently pulled up a few guest chairs on the opposite side of the table, one of which was occupied by Ron who was stuffing his face with a mouthful of bacon. She rose an eyebrow. Some things definitely did not change.

Hermione sat in her now expected seat next to where Severus normally sat. No one sat in his seat during his absence. Sometimes she wondered if they were afraid that something might rub off on them or if they were more worried what the Potions Master would do to them if they did.

Hagrid passed her a muffin he had filched off the top of a stack for her and grinned at her. She laughed, allowing a hint of her younger and happier self to peak through.

Ron chatted excitedly about his adventures with Harry in Auror training. There were some things he seemed to dance around, as if he was protecting trade secrets or some other such peculiarities. Hermione listened as though it were the most interesting subject in the world while attempting to caffeinate herself. Hagrid mentioned he was running out a particular salve he used when working and asked her about informing Severus about it. She nodded silently in agreement. Flitwick leaned in and asked Ron a series of questions, giving Hermione a moment to stare into her tea in a moment of contemplation.

Quiet hushed over Ron's voice and she blinked. She looked over to him and he was frozen in mid-sentence. Dark flowing robes billowed as Severus stormed into the Great Hall with the presence that caused the random workers to stumble out of the aisle and turn around to stare at their plates as he passed. He walked as if his feet never touched the floor and hidden currents of wind propelled him along. His face was expressionless, his mask firmly set upon him.

Hermione kicked Ron on the foot to turn him around and stop gaping. "Honestly, Ron. We aren't twelve anymore."

The dark wizard came to his place at the High Table and sat with a grunt. Ron averted his eyes as Hagrid greeted him.

"Hagrid," he said evenly. "Flitwick." He inclined his head in a short bow.

"Ah, Severus, good morning," McGonagall welcomed cheerily from down the table.

"Minerva," he said with a rumble, his lips pursed in a line.

Hermione grabbed a plate and filled it with sausage, bacon, an egg, and a half a waffle. She dumped some fruit on top of it, placed a pat of butter in the mix, and set the plate down in front of the Potions Master. "Good morning, Severus," she said softly in greeting.

Snape turned his head and inclined it slightly in greeting. "Good morning, Hermione."

"I delivered the potions to Madam Pomfrey this morning," she commented. "She sends her heartfelt gratitude as it were."

Severus harrumphed and shook his head. His gaze narrowed as he raked it across Ron, who was trying to meld into the table. "Mr. Weasley." His voice rolled the "s" in manner that made him sound as if he were contemplating the taste of a good steak.

Ron didn't reply until Hermione gave him a swift kick under the table. She inclined her head in a jerking motion.

Ron tentatively raised his head. "Professor." He attempted a small smile.

Severus rolled his eyes and focused on his breakfast.

Hermione poured tea in a few cups and distributed to Ron, Hagrid, herself, and Severus. Severus lifted his hand closest to her, palm up, and she placed a sugar cube on it automatically, which he in turn, dropped into his tea and stirred.

Minerva chuckled to herself as she watched Hermione indulge the older Potion Master with his idiosyncrasies. Her apprenticeship had tuned them well to each other, as all successful apprenticeships should. While she hadn't expected it to happen quickly by any means, it seemed that it was working out just fine.

 

Chapter 10: Insert Foot Into Mouth

 

Ron realized he had put his foot into it the moment Hermione's eyes went dark. The cheerfulness in her face was replaced by something that seemed to fill her eyes and slide across her face, and then her entire demeanor shifted.

"Excuse me, my friends, but I need to prepare a batch of potions so we can continue working on the west wing today," she said flatly. Her voice held no warmth. "I will see you all later at the construction site." She tilted her head and bowed it to Minerva, turned on her heels, and walked out of the Great Hall, her robe moving behind her like a flag in the wind.

"What did you say to her, Ron?" Hagrid asked with his eyebrows furrowed.

Ron held up his arms in a shrug. "I just said we should go camping one of these days like we used to."

Severus sipped the tea he was holding, his dark unwavering eyes smoldered within his stoic expression.

Hermione had five cauldrons going at once. She eyed them as her mind slowly counted the time even as she cleaned the silver knife she was using and the cutting board. Stirring one, then another, stirring another counter-clockwise, and dropping a leaf into another, her mind told her which one to stir and which one to wait upon.

The color changed on one, and she lifted it off the fire, letting it cool as the dark emerald color turned clear. Another began to change color, and she did the same, placing a pinch of ground root as it cooled and waved her wand over it. The other cauldron burbled and she cooled it slowly with her wand until it settled into a pale blue liquid. The other two cauldrons would have to wait, and she whispered the charm over each cauldron to place the timer over them. Pointing her wand at a nearby stool, she turned it into an easy chair and flopped into with sigh, grasping the bridge of her nose as she slumped into the chair. Her mind attempted to wrestle with her about what it refused to let go of.

A pale hand moved in front of her, dangling a small potion. She eyed its crystalline bottle and the sapphire blue liquid inside. "Drink it," Severus said softly. "You will feel better."

She opened the bottle and sniffed it. It didn't smell like anything she had taken before. She looked up into Snape's dark eyes and then quaffed the potion quickly in case it was foul tasting. She swallowed the last of it with a squint and held her hand back up, offering him back his bottle. He took the bottle from her hand, his fingers lightly brushing against hers before he turned and walked towards her simmering cauldrons.

Hermione closed her eyes a moment as her head began to clear. Thoughts that refused to dissipate only a few minutes earlier, were retreating back into the corners of her mind she normally shoved them. She felt herself relax, and the encroaching fury that was threatening to consume her faded.

Inhaling deeply she stood up, waved her wand to restore the lab stool, and walked over to the cauldrons. Severus had already bottled the potions he had completed for her. His hand flicked outward as a dozen or more written labels flew onto the various bottles written in his elegant script.

She approached him from behind, brushing her shoe against the stone floor in the customary and courteous hi-I'm-here-please-don't-blow-up-a-cauldron-on-my-account shuffle. It came instinctively after working in the same laboratory with Severus. Even if he knew you were already there, it was like knocking.

Severus had already removed her cooking potions off the flames and had bottles set out for filling. He handed her a ladle silently as he wrote the rest of the labels with his practiced quill. She carefully measured doses into the waiting bottles, put a stopper onto each one, and cleaned the cauldron and the ladle with a flick of her wand. A flurry of more labels flew by her, wrapping themselves around the potions with a gesture from Severus' hand.

"Sometimes I think we waste our time labeling them," Hermione said with a small chuckle. "It's not like most of the people out there today are going to read it before they drink it. They will just take our word for it."

"Their funeral," Severus droned, his voice rumbling. "Their laziness will ultimately give them reason to be more careful in the future… if they survive their mistakes."

Hermione smirked as Severus turned around, flicking his wand to vanish the remnants of the cauldron remains and sent all of the bottles they had filled and labeled into a crate. He tucked his wand back into his robe and shook his head.

"Maybe they just have faith in their Potion Master, Professor Snape," Hermione said in return as she watched him pick up the crate into his left arm.

He regarded her with slight upward tilt of his chin and lifted his arm for her to attend. She stepped into his space until his arm folded around her, bringing her close to him as the CRACK of their disapparation filled the laboratory.

 

Chapter 11: Arches and Quizzes

 

"I am going to miss being able to do that during the fall when the students trickle back in," Hermione admitted as she leaned into Severus as the disorientation cleared.

Snape gave a small chuckle as he set down the crate of fresh invigoration potions. "It does make things… convenient," Severus admitted as he lifted his arm from around Hermione, and she stepped away from him tentatively.

"I'm feeling a bit whoozy after that one," she admitted. "Not sure why."

Snape's black eyes met hers. "The potion I gave you settles the mind, but can also dull the senses somewhat for a short time after drinking it. Disorientation can happen if you are say… apparated to a different location soon afterwards."

Hermione chuckled. "Serves me right for being so… angry before noon. What I would have given for one of those before final exams," she admitted softly.

The corner of his mouth lifted in amusement. "Which is why it is a private brewing recipe."

Hermione lifted an eye brow. "Thank you, for indulging me."

Snape's stoic expression softened slightly and he nodded. "It seems we have still beaten the masses to the area. Perhaps we can get some work done before the imbeciles start throwing building materials around our heads." He strode forward towards the wing they were working on after giving a flick of his head in the direction he wished to go.

"If only," Hermione smirked as she walked beside Severus to their work area.

Without the random interruptions, placement of the replacement archways and pillars went quickly. The rubble started to clear enough that the area started looking familiar again. Severus began to lay the foundations of the window casements, and Hermione set in the frames. Together they rose up the buttresses and settled in the support walls, readying the structure for the future floors and work for the construction crews.

As they set one of the keystones in place with their wands, Hermione wobbled on her feet slightly. "Just in time for a break, I think," she confessed, accio'ing the chair and table to them. She flopped into the chair with a relieved sigh and lay her arms in front of herself and placed her head down.

Severus sat down in the opposite chair and had leaned back in it with a book he pulled out of his pocket. "List the ingredients of an antidote to common poisons."

"Two mistletoe berries, a pinch of unicorn horn, one bezoar, and two measures of standard ingredient mixture," Hermione mumbled into her arms.

"How many times do you stir the potion after adding asphodel to a draught of living death," he asked, flipping a page in his book.

"Twice," she murmured. "Clockwise."

"And how many times after you add sopophorous bean juice?"

"Seven times," she replied with a yawn. "Anti-clockwise, then once clockwise."

Severus smiled as he read his book. "Good."

 

Chapter 12: Painful Recollections

 

Ronald had left her.

He left her as she cried after him, begging him to come back.

He accused her of being with Harry Potter and turned his back on her, leaving his two best friends to fend for themselves in the wilderness.

It didn't matter that it was the Horcrux that had influenced him. It didn't even matter that he came back to redeem himself. The damage was done. The pain of that particular betrayal curled around her heart and crushed it.

Even once the war was done, and Ron had kissed her in celebration, her heart was no longer filled with unconditional warmth. She had celebrated with everyone, flashing smiles to the survivors and her friends, but in reality she felt betrayed. She would never truly trust him again. She would never trust him to stand by her when his insecurities wrapped around him. She could never trust him because he could not fully trust her when it had mattered the most to her tortured heart. And just like the scars left by her physical torture, the wounds on her heart had left scars.

So when Ronald had stood there on the bridge overlooking Hogwart's asking to be in a real relationship now that she had graduated, her warmth had run out. What remained was emptiness and the coldness that came every time she looked upon the face of Ronald Weasley.

She no longer had what he wanted her to give.

He could be her brother. He could be her friend. He would never be anything else.

-O-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-

Hermione woke from her dreams unsettled. She lifted her head from the table and saw Severus looking at her curiously with his dark unfathomable eyes. He inclined his head to the table where a cup of tea waited for her. Smiling slightly, she claimed the tea and cradled it in her hands before sipping it.

"We seem to be ahead of schedule on our end," Snape commented as he flipped a page in his book. "Miracles. Can. Happen." He made the last words extend as if no one was more surprised that he was.

"Such a relief," Hermione confessed. "I haven't really had time to think with all the tests, potion orders, and … whatever all this is we're doing."

"Organized chaos," Severus responded wryly.

Hermione snickered into her teacup. "Quite." Something flickered across her eyes that hovered between cold and warmth. "I didn't even tell him about the apprenticeships. I think I was too hard on Ron the past few days."

Snape met her eyes with his own, his face somber. "He is a Weasley. He will rebound as oblivious as ever; of this I am certain. I think Minerva has been running interference for you in her own way."

"She is so good to me," Hermione let out her breath in a sigh. "He's still terrified of you."

The corner of his mouth twitched upward, "Mission accomplished."

Hermione almost choked on the last of her tea and then vanished the cup and saucer.

Severus closed his book and tucked it into his robes. "You are due for a fitting for your teaching robes anytime this week. If you wish, you can mix business with seeing off your," he paused as if pondering which word would either be more insulting or less, "friend."

Hermione cracked a small smile, impressed with Snape's control over himself to not use yet one more opening to reinforce his true opinion of Ronald Weasley. "Thank you. I think I will do that."

"Hermione," Severus called to her as she had turned to leave.

Hermione turned back and looked at him expectantly.

"Your apprenticeship sigils," he said, holding out his hand to her. Two ornate medallions made of goblin silver shone in his hand. One had the form of a snake wrapped around Severus' personal mark. One had the form of a lion curled around Minerva's mark. The snake had deep emerald eyes. The lion had deep red rubies for eyes.

Hermione closed her hand around them. A warmth seemed to pass into her from Severus' palm. "Thank you, Severus."

"You are welcome," the Potion Master said as he closed her hand over the medallions with his. He stared into her face a moment before he turned from her and walked out of the hall towards the rest of the construction crews, his black robes swished behind him to mark his silent passage.

 

Chapter 13: Fittings and Farewells

 

"Don't fidget, dear," the shopkeeper tsked as she waved her wand. Measuring tapes, scissors, pins, needles, and thread swirled around her in a cloud of activity.

Hermione stood still as instructed, pulling on the patience she called on to watch over a simmering potion cauldron. Cloth swirled around her, twisting, tightening, and moving into place. "Patience," she remembered Severus admonishing her. "Clear your mind."

She closed her eyes and let her thoughts blank.

"Think of nothing," he had told her. "Slow your mind until nothing is the only thing that remains."

Gradually, the sound of the scissors and the feel of the fabric swirling around her faded. The chatter around the store faded into the back of her mind and then disappeared. The sound of the door opening and closing disappeared. Footsteps disappeared. The sound of screaming socks disappeared. There was nothing left to distract her.

"Ah, there we are!" the shopkeeper exclaimed, snapping the two sigils onto her collar. "Perfect."

Hermione opened her eyes suddenly and blinked.

"Blimey, Hermione," Ron stared at her. "You stood perfectly still there for over an hour."

"I must say, Professor Granger," the shopkeeper addressed her. "I rarely have someone who can literally stop fidgeting so completely when I ask them to. I've made the patterns and will have duplicates made in the standard assortment of colors sent back up to Hogwart's for you. You can wear that one out with you today."

"Thank you, Seamstress," she replied softly.

"Oh, love," the seamstress chuckled, "You can call me Anna. It was no trouble at all. I've made a few variant patterns off you since you were so still, so you will have some ability to mix and match for colors and seasons. I do say, you look striking in that shade of emerald. Have a look, dear." The seamstress conjured tall mirrors around her.

"Wow, 'mione," Ron said as he took in her full robes.

Dark fabric made up her corset down to her ankles. Satin emerald brocade formed a colored vest that buttoned up the front. A crisp black collar rimmed in silver encircled her neck, each end adorned with the two sigils of her mentors. A black outer robe hung from her shoulders, flowing off her arms with a graceful fall of fabric with the inner edges trimmed in emerald and burgundy.

Hermione touched the silver medallions at her neck and gave a small smile.

"I have all your measurements, dear, so if you need anything else, don't be afraid to owl me special requests in case you need something formal for those crazy events up there at Hogwart's." Anna clapped her hands together. "I'll also send you some better fitting working robes for all that construction up there, my dear. Do give Minerva a hug for me, please. I haven't seen her in over a month."

Hermione nodded her head in agreement and smiled, taking her wand from her old robes and pocketing it in her new one.

"Good, good," Anna cooed. "Off with you now. I'll send your old robe up with the new ones."

Hermione stepped off the platform Anna had her standing on for measuring and eyed Ron who was staring at her wide-eyed. "Ron, it's a robe."

"Well yeah…" he began a response. "You look like a Professor."

Hermione slapped him upside the head as she channeled her inner Molly. "Come on, let's go get a drink before you go." She spun around towards the door and walked out, her robes fluttering behind her.

Ron rubbed his head where it smarted and followed behind her with a lop-sided grin on his face.

-O-o-oo-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-

"How long have you been apprenticed under Professor Snape?" Ron asked as he took a sip of his drink.

"About a year now," Hermione replied, "not officially until now."

"So you were studying for your N.E.W.T.s and apprenticing at the same time?" Ron's eyes widened.

"Not for teaching, just potions," Hermione clarified. "Teaching starts in the fall because of all the construction drama. Minerva and Severus get to dump on me at the same time once the students return."

"That sounds awful," Ron confessed. "I can't even imagine working under Snape for any length of time. They couldn't even pay me to do that."

"You two do have a well-documented history of disagreeableness," Hermione poked fun at her friend.

Ron shook his head to clear the rush of horrible memories. "How'd you do it, 'mione? I mean… he wasn't exactly kind to you… ever."

"I believe Minerva said 'You will work with Severus until we get you situated the fall semester after you graduate. Severus, stop scowling at me. It's rude, and stop scowling at her, too,'" Hermione quoted humorously.

Ron half-choked on his beer. "That sounds like him. I didn't even know he was alive until a few days ago. It seems so surreal."

"To be honest," Hermione began, "I think I was so glad to see a familiar face that survived the war that a lot of the old misconceptions I held onto as a child didn't mean anything anymore. Harry called him a hero. I really didn't know him at all. None of us did. At some point it just didn't matter to me. I was there to learn. He was there to teach. He does know his potions. You have to admit that at the very least, Ron."

Ron gulped down the last of his beer. "Yeah. The old bat knows his stuff. He just scares the ever living shit out of me."

"Dumbledore trusted him, Ron" Hermione reminded him. "You have to trust that Dumbledore was no fool, either. Neither is Harry."

"Yeah," Ron said, shaking his head. "I'm going to take a while to digest that though." He stood up and smiled. "Time for me to go back to work before Harry gets me canned."

Hermione stood and gave him a hug. "Take care of yourself, Ron. Thank you for coming to my graduation."

Ron wandered over to the register to pay for their drinks. As he walked out the door, he saw Hermione standing under one of the streetlights with Severus Snape. The snowflakes were falling thickly in the light, covering their dark robes. Hermione brushed flakes off his head and shoulders with a laugh as more fell to take their place. Snape scowled at her, shaking his hair and covering her with more flakes.

Ron couldn't help but watch them as Snape showed her a cauldron he had stored under his arm. He could see the cauldron was filled with countless smaller cauldrons, knives, beakers, measuring spoons, and cutting boards - undoubtedly replacements for the ones blown up and abused by the students of the previous year. Hermione picked up one of the smaller cauldrons and laughed, pretending to chuck it at someone's head. She placed it back in the larger cauldron and giggled. The sound of her laughter reminded him of nights long past sitting at the Gryffindor table in the Great Hall.

They looked eerily similar as they stood under the lamplight. Their black robes fell off their shoulders in a smooth cascade of symmetry. Ron had to admit that they did match the mental image he had of how similar a Master and their Apprentice would look.

Snape reached over to Hermione's neck, fingering the two medallions at her throat. He stared down at her with calm expression. Lifting his arm for her, she stepped closer to his body, allowing his free arm to fold around her.

Severus' dark eyes met Weasley's from across the street, boring into him. His eyes were cold and his face was expressionless.

There was a crack, and they were gone.

 

Chapter 14 : Letters

 

Harry Potter lifted his head as an owl flew over him with a brush of wings so close that he practically felt them touch his head. Another owl flew by on its way to someone else before one dropped an envelope on his desk with a rustle of parchment. The owl rocked back and forth on its talons, wings half folded, slightly ruffled from its landing. He was reminded of a certain owl that liked to crash land into the Gryffindor table not so very long ago.

He opened a tin on his desk that held suspended tidbits meant to thank the owls for their service, holding it out gingerly for the owl's sharp beak to clasp onto it. The piece of frog leg disappeared within a few seconds, and the owl hooted softly in appreciation. Harry smiled, missing Hedwig fiercely. The owl spread its wings and flew off, wing drafts scattering the papers on his desk in an owl-induced hurricane.

He touched the wax seal on the envelope with curiosity. The outer edge was the snake of Slytherin house coiled around the lion rampant of the Gryffindor house. There was something he didn't see every day… if ever. He flipped over the envelope to see the handwriting that was as familiar as his own. Hermione's.

Quickly breaking the seal, he pulled out the parchment and smiled at the finely penned script.

Dear Harry,

It's been such a horrendously busy last semester here at Hogwart's, and I scarcely have the time to breathe let alone write. I am so sorry about that. I know I promised to update you on how things were going.

Ron showed up unexpectedly during my graduation. I hadn't expected him at all. I know you two are practically buried like a tick into Auror's training and duties, so I didn't expect a visit from either of you. Ron jabbered on about it in a flurry of excitement during dinner, but can I admit to you that my eyes kind of went cross-eyed, and I stopped paying attention half way through?

Minerva and Filius kept him busy answering questions most of the night. I was just so overwhelmingly exhausted. N.E.W.T. concerns aside, we've been trying to rebuild here at Hogwart's.

I've been taken as an apprentice under Minerva and Severus officially starting during the fall return. Minerva has the utmost confidence in me, even if I don't. I'm not sure where all that faith comes from, but I really love that woman for everything she's done to make me feel at home here. It's not that I've never lived here before, but the feel of Hogwart's is a bit different after the war. So many things remind me of our adventures as children, which leads me to remember some of our friends who never made it. The melancholy is hard to resist wallowing in at times.

Minerva gave me my new quarters down near the potions classroom, so I'll be near Severus for my official apprenticeship. I'll be splitting my time between him and Minerva, technically, but she knows that most of my work will be with him as it's been since I came back to finish my studies here.

You should have seen Severus' face when he had to say the temporary password to my quarters the first time. "Gryffindor is the one true house. Huzzah." If I hadn't been so exhausted, I'm sure I would have died laughing. He would have hexed me into next month, I'm fairly certain. He got back at Minerva for setting the password, though. She had given me Gryffindor bed linens and curtains for my new quarters. He turned them all into Slytherin colors before taking his leave for the evening. Minerva is going to make his life miserable if she ever finds out.

Ron wanted to get back together after my graduation. I tried to let him down easily, but I have a feeling he'll never understand the real reason. The war changed something in me. I just can't be there for him like he wants me to be. It's not fair to him to be stuck on me. He needs to find someone who can be there for him unconditionally… something I can no longer do.

Severus tells me that he'll bounce back like he always does in that tone of voice that reminds me that some things will never change. You should have seen Ron's face when he realized the Potion Master was still alive. I think his entire history at Hogwart's flashed before his eyes.

I've missed you and Ginny a lot as well. It just wasn't the same around here without you guys in the Common Room with me. I think a lot of the newer students thought I was a recluse, hiding myself away from everyone. Hagrid sends his regards, by the way. He's managed to get his hands on an egg. I have no idea what it is, because hides it away when he realizes I'm there. I can't get close enough to it to identify the markings. It can only mean trouble later, I'm sure, but for now I'll just let Minerva deal with it when she's ready to.

I made Ginny some lip balm in the lab the other night. Severus was showing me how to mix herbs and sweet oil with salve for various purposes. I owled it to her the other night with a brief note. I know you don't' give a flying fig about lip balm, so no lip balm for you, Harry. I'm sorry, I couldn't help it! Please send my apologies to her for such a short and formal message. This has been such an exhausting time for me.

I was fitted for my teaching robes the other night, Harry! Can you believe it? Minerva sneaked a photo of me standing with Severus in the hallway. I swear she's figured out a way to hold a camera as a cat, because I never saw her until she gave me the picture with that laugh of hers. Oh Severus gave her that glare of disgust that just made it all the better. I was so embarrassed. I'm enclosing one of the pictures she gave me. Don't make fun of me, Harry. I was set up!

Well, I need to go and brew up the next batch of invigoration potions before I start taking inventory of how many cauldrons were melted last semester. Severus picked up a bunch of replacements down in Hogsmeade the other night, but I'm starting to suspect we'll need more cauldrons than we previous thought. No wonder he's so grumpy when we melted a cauldron! I think I'm really starting to understand the frustration.

Please hug Ginny for me! She needs to come and visit sometime. Well, you too, but I don't expect it until all your training is completed. I know you're working hard!

All my love,

Hermione

p.s. Please make sure Ron isn't wallowing in self-pity somewhere in a pub. He left a few days ago, so I am presuming he went back to work. If he's not back at work, slap him upside the head for me. You might want to kick him in the shins too.

Harry grinned as he finished reading the letter. It had been too long since his old friend had written, and he truly missed her. Ginny had missed her too. He should let her know to go visit her before the fall semester started up.

He frowned when he realized Ron had left Hogwart's already. He had planned for an entire week off, so he didn't expect him to be back until next week. Where had he gone off to? He vaguely recalled Ron mentioning he was going home to visit his family as well, but maybe he should check, just in case.

He picked up the envelope and saw the photo stuck inside. He pulled it out and examined it. His eyes widened. Severus Snape stood beside his best friend as they stood in the hallway. Snape's lips were pursed together in a thin line as he made some sort of silent commentary, and Hermione clutched the book she was carrying close to her as she laughed. Her dark robes, accented with a splash of color down the front, gave her a look similar to her colleague's. She seemed more at ease than he remembered her as being before she had left to return to Hogwart's.

Harry laughed, imagining Professor McGonagall stalking the pair as a cat with a camera. He wasn't sure if it was possible, but he wouldn't put it past the wiley old animagus to find a way.

Harry tucked the photo and the letter back into the envelope and stuffed it into his pocket before continuing to read through the scattered papers on his desk.

 

Chapter 15: Dueling For Hysteria

 

Ginny bounced excitedly as she zoomed over the bridge leading to Hogwart's. She ran her hand down the stone railings with fondness, recalling all the happier times running with her classmates to Hogsmeade. A part of her regretted not returning to Hogwart's to finish her course studies with Hermione, but after the war, she didn't have the drive to return. Embracing life playing Quidditch with the Holyhead Harpies was exciting enough. She was perfectly happy to settle with Harry in a life outside memories of the war.

The sight of Hogwart's took her breath away as usual, even with the signs of reconstruction swirling around the ancient castle. It was like coming home again. Hermione had owled letting her know she would be waiting for her in one of the outer courtyards away from the hustle and bustle of the construction workers.

She caught flashes of magic down in the courtyard and quickened her step to investigate. The familiar crackle in the air indicated the spells even without the visual signs of energy and light being flung back and forth from the two duelers.

Duels? It was summer. No students would be flinging spells at each other yet.

Swirling black robes moved in the familiar dance of give and take. Hexes flew from one to the counters of the other.

"Do you call that a hex, Ms. Granger?" Snape's voice taunted her.

"I'll show you a hex, Professor Snape, and you will LIKE it!" Hermione snarled back.

Zing. Another hex. Shield. Hex. Counter-Hex. Shield. Ginny blinked in disbelief.

A chair appeared out of thin air and flung itself at the woman draped in dark robes. She started to say "Aresto Mome…" and interrupted herself in preparation to dodge. She hissed, "Aqua Eructo." Water spewed forth from her wand in the direction of attacker, breaking his concentration long enough that the conjured chair crashed to the ground with a clatter.

"Colloshoo!" Snape yelled back at her, sticking Hermione's shoes to the ground, tripping her.

Falling over, but not about to be undone, she coughed out a string of words in rapid succession. Random silverware appeared over Snape's head and fell on him.

Both of them glared at each other, pointing their wands at each other. "Expelliarmus!" and the dark wizard and his opponent went flying backwards from each other, wands flying in opposite directions. Snape slammed into the far wall with a thud and his apprentice against the other.

Ginny squeaked as Hermione crumpled in a heap next to her, her body shaking in what could only have been rage.

Hermione's shoulders shook and she cleared the hair out of her face with one hand, reaching her hand out for her wand, which slammed into her palm without a word from her. She stared up at Ginny and busted out laughing uncontrollably. "Hi Ginny!" she cackled, doubling over again with laughter.

Ginny gaped at her, dumbfounded, and then gasped as the Potion Master stood up from where he had been flung, called his wand to him, and stormed over to where his cackling apprentice was losing her marbles. His face was half covered in his dark hair, swirled in disarray around his face, framing his trademark scowl and pale skin. There was a swath of something sliding down one side of his face. Swallowing her instinctive need to back pedal, she took a few steps backwards to make room for the intimidating dark wizard.

Severus used a finger to wipe a part of whatever was sliding down one side of his face. "Lemon Meringue, Ms. Granger? If you are going to fling pies at me, you should at least throw something more palatable."

He vanished the remains of the pie on his face and tucked his wand away. Reaching down towards her, he offered his hand, palm up.

Hermione giggled as she placed her hand in his, allowing his fingers to close around hers and pull her up. "Yes, Professor Snape," she said, closing her eyes in a bad attempt to keep from laughing.

The Potions Master scowled down at her, eyes dark and unreadable as usual. "Be still," he commanded in a tone that did not accept refusal. It was the tone that caused Ginny to stand still herself.

Ginny saw Hermione freeze instantly as she engaged her controls over her mind and body to respond to his command. She was strangely calm, accepting his command without offense.

Severus waved his wand over her, vanishing pieces of leaves, stone, debris, pie filling, and ectoplasm from her hair and robes. He smirked at Hermione with a slightly upturned lip. "Hello, Ms. Weasley," his low voice rumbled in the quiet pause.

Ginny tried to respond and found herself tongue-tied. "…Hello.. uh, Sir.. Professor Snape… Sir."

Hermione grinned in good spirits while Severus fussed over her, straightening her robes and turning her collar back out to expose her apprentice sigils.

Severus grunted. "Far be it for me to let my apprentice be seen in public looking like you went rolling around in the kitchen with the elves." He straightened her robe over her shoulders in a brushing movement, giving her back some of her dignity. He stared down at her, face unreadable but calm.

"Thank you, Severus," she said softly, a genuine grin creeping back into her expression.

Snape harrumphed, waving his hand over her in a dismissive gesture. "Go. Remove your gleeful giggling from my presence at once." He eyed Ginny with a deadpan expression, "and take Ms. Weasley with you."

Hermione stared up into his black eyes, silently meeting his gaze for a few heartbeats. "Yes, Professor," she replied, grabbing Ginny by the arm and dragging her back out of the courtyard.

Severus conjured a chair, sat down, and pulled a book out to read.

 

Chapter 16: Lemonade on the Lawn

 

"Merlin, Hermione," Ginny hissed at her friend as Hermione sat down with her on the lawn. "I was sure he was going to hex you into next year! And you just… glared right back at him!"

Hermione chuckled and waved her wand, making a cold pitcher of lemonade and some glasses appear. She poured Ginny a glass, gave it to her, and then poured herself one. "It was just a duel, Ginny," her voice had a drone to it that seemed terribly familiar.

"A duel with …P…Professor Snape!" Ginny managed to get out in a flood of emotion.

"We were just letting off steam, Gin," Hermione replied, her face losing some of its mirth. It's been pretty frustrating with the construction and preparation for the students coming back."

"Guaah," Ginny breathed. "I didn't even recognize you at first. Look at you! You're looking so... intimidating!"

Hermione quirked one brow and turned her head to eyeball Ginny. "Wha?"

"You know… teacherly!" Ginny squeaked.

"I'm not sure being 'teacherly' is always connected in the same breath as 'intimidating,' Ginny." Hermione drank up the last of her lemonade and vanished the glass.

"No, but," Ginny attempted to express what she was tripping over. She stared into her lemonade for a moment. "You just seemed so focused. Scary focused. Like you really wanted to do something horrible to him. Until you started laughing, I thought you were angry!"

"I wasn't trying to do anything horrible to Severus, Ginny," Hermione watched the clouds pass by over their heads.

Ginny's train of thought promptly derailed at the use of Snape's first name. "When did you start calling him that?"

Hermione closed her eyes and counted slowly backwards from ten. "By his actual name?"

"Well… yeah," Ginevra replied.

"After he gave me permission to."

"Oh." Ginny shook her head. "I guess I thought since you were calling each other 'Professor Snape' and 'Ms. Granger' that it was still awkward between you two. I mean I'd be really awkward for me! I don't think I could ever…" She shuddered.

"Ginny, you goof," Hermione poked at her friend. "You're as bad as your brother. He couldn't' even look Severus in the eye the entire time he was here."

"Ron was here?" Ginny perked up. "He didn't tell me!"

"He was here for my graduation, stayed a couple days, and went back to his Auror's training from what I understand," Hermione detailed.

"Huh," Ginny replied. "He came to visit us a few weeks ago, but he didn't say anything about your graduation. I'm sorry I didn't get to make it to your official graduation, 'mione. We had a really big game that night. Harry told me the date a while back, but it totally slipped my mind with the game."

"Naw, it's okay, Gin," Hermione comforted. "You didn't miss anything. I ended up on transfiguration duty the entire evening after we graduated. Minerva was a bundle of nerves. I wasn't much better. I blew up on this poor bloke on the construction crew. I think I scared the life out of him."

"Well you definitely learned Professor Snape's presence, from what I saw today," Ginny giggled, shoving her friend in the arm.

"Psh," Hermione replied. "Talk to me later when I can part crowds with a look."

"You'll get there!" Gin encouraged. "Practice makes perfect, right?"

Hermione scowled at Gin.

"See! You've got that down perfect!" Gin giggled and shoulder bumped her friend. "You'll be teaching Potions class in no time!"

Hermione rolled her eyes, which just set Gin off into another giggling fit.

"What's with those?" Ginny poked the medallions on Hermione's collar. "They're beautiful."

"Apprenticeship sigils," Hermione explained. "So everyone knows whose apprentice I am."

"Wow, I didn't realize they still did that kind of thing," Gin admitted. "Seems so formal. They're so beautiful too."

"Most students probably won't even notice them or know what they mean if they do," Hermione chuckled. "I don't even remember there being any teaching apprentices while we were in school together." Hermione's eyes cast down as she attempted to search her memories for apprentices.

"I don't remember anyone," Ginny said with a pondering tone. "I mean, we changed around some professors, but they just showed up the next year with no explanation. I'm still wrapping my mind around you apprenticing with Professor Snape. He's so… Professor Snape."

"How eloquent," Hermione commented dryly.

"See!" Ginny squeaked. "We NEED to get you out of here for a few days. You're even sounding like that old dungeon bat! It's creepy."

"Ginny," Hermione sighed. "I love you, but you need to shut up."

Ginevra giggled uncontrollably for a few moments.

"We might as well go to dinner," Hermione said as she stood up. "You can catch up with Hagrid and Minerva. I need to go check some things in the lab before dinner, but I'll come meet you in the Great Hall in a few minutes, okay?"

"Okay," Ginny agreed with a nod.

Hermione's expression was strangely subdued. She inclined her head in agreement, turned on her heels, and walked in the direction of the dungeons, her robes wafting behind her.

 

Chapter 17: Potion Musings

 

Hermione stirred the line of potions in the laboratory in the proper directions, adding ingredients as she went. All of them would have to be simmering for a few hours before Severus would come and add what he needed to them. She charmed each one with the proper timer.

She closed her eyes in thought. Seeing Ginny again was wonderful, but she felt terribly old in comparison to her friend that had nothing to do with birth age. She could talk with her as she used to, laugh with her, and tease her, but it didn't bring with it the sense of peace she expected. She didn't feel as connected as she did before. It wasn't as if Ginny hadn't lost people she cared about too. There was just some missing connection that seemed to be missing.

A shuffle of a shoe across the stone floor warned her that Severus had returned to the lab. She turned and smiled slightly in greeting. He nodded to her, looking over her potion cauldrons, and handed her a notation notebook. She grabbed the quill off a nearby desk and scribbled a few notes into it on what she was working on and handed it back to him.

He tucked it away in his robe for later, knowing from experience that she would have written down all the information he needed on which potion was which and what step she was on for later. "Minerva tells me that Ms. Weasley wishes to stay and watch us raise the arches up tomorrow," he rumbled.

Hermione lifted a brow. "I had no idea she was interested, to be honest."

"She probably wishes to rescue you from your duties afterwards so you do not transform into a vile dungeon bat upon the next full moon," Severus speculated with a deadpan expression.

"Severus!" Hermione couldn't help but chuckle, her mood lightening.

His lips curved up into an amused smirk. "We should probably make an appearance for dinner before she sends the Auror's after me for abusing you as slave labor."

Hermione met his gaze and nodded. "We can't have that. Who would drill the proper use of aconite into the helpless masses?"

"Apparently, you," Severus said with a bow of his head. "Shall we?" He inclined his head and held his arm out in front of him in a forwarding gesture.

Hermione did a small curtsy and went ahead of him with a bemused expression on her face.

 

Chapter 18: What Was That All About?

"I've always wanted to know what it would be like to sit up here!" Ginny laughed as she swiped a dinner roll off the stack. "Oh how I've missed meals in the Great Hall."

"Whatever have you been doing, Ms. Weasley?" Minerva asked over her drink.

"I play Quidditch with the Holyhead Harpies," Ginny said, trying to see Minerva over the pile of grapes.

"Oh! That sounds exciting, dear," Minerva commented with enthusiasm. "I'm glad you found something you love to do in life. I remember you being very passionate about Quidditch."

Ginny smiled broadly. "So many people here in the summer!"

"Well the staff is the same mostly, but the construction folk need to be fed too, so it only made sense to allow them in to dine with us," Minerva nibbled on a cookie and chuckled. "The hard part is getting the construction folk to stay out of the transfiguration areas. We had a poor boy go and bump into Severus the other afternoon. It did not go well."

"Really? What happened?" Ginny leaned in to hear the story.

"Boy went running through the construction site screaming like a banshee, with all his tools chasing him!" Minerva shook her head and then closed her eyes a moment.

"At least he learned his lesson!" Ginny exclaimed with a laugh.

"Ah… no," Minerva made a face. "He ended up running into Hermione shortly after and covered her in construction cement."

Ginny's eyes grew wide. "Did she… uh.. help him up?"

Minerva laughed silently. "Let's just say the apprentice learns from the Master."

Ginny chewed on McGonagall's comment, trying to figure out what she meant. Hermione had told her that she had scared some poor construction bloke. Oh dear. "Are you sure it's okay for me to stay the night, Headmistress?"

Minerva tutted. "It's not a problem, dear. We have plenty of guestrooms, but I have a feeling you'd probably be more comfortable on a guest bed in Hermione's quarters." The old witch's eyes twinkled. "Just don't giggle too long into the night. We unfortunately have much work to do tomorrow."

"Yes, Headmistress," Ginny replied automatically, winning a chuckle from the older witch.

A tremor of hushed voices fell across one side of the room, and Ginny turned around to see Hermione and Severus entering the room side-by-side. Severus was talking to Hermione and she was nodding and gesturing. The effect was like the coming of a storm front. People scrambled out of the way of the dark wizard and his apprentice as if proximity alone would condemn them to some horrible fate. Much like the students of Hogwart's, many kept their heads down to avoid eye contact, praying perhaps that the cold eyes of the Potion Master or his apprentice did not have reason to seek their gaze.

"Really, Severus," Pomona Sprout tsked as the two sat down at the table. "You should give the poor girl some time with Minerva so she doesn't end up stuck with your reputation as well as your dreary fashion sense."

Snape's dark eyebrow lifted into his hair as he poured a drink and placed it down for Hermione. "And that would be?"

"Striking the fear of Merlin into everyone you pass," Sprout chided.

Severus's countenance was completely expressionless. "I don't see how this is a problem." He took a sip of his own drink and raised his eyebrow at her again.

Sprout made an exasperated noise. "You wouldn't."

"Oh leave him alone, Pomona," Septima scoffed from down the table. "He's as likely to change as you are to wear hot pink."

Pomona mumbled to herself and she ate a slice of pineapple. "He may be too old to change, but she still can," she added after a pause.

"I'm here you know," Hermione said with a wave. "Listening to you talk about me like I'm not really here."

Pomona shook her head. "Brightest young witch in every class and she goes off apprenticing to Severus," she muttered under her breath.

Hermione bashed her head against her palm and rubbed the bridge of her nose.

"Ignore her," Severus said to Hermione softly. "She's just a jealous old hag."

Hermione laughed silently, her shoulders quaking. Ginny made faces at her and widened her eyes. What was that all about? She gestured crazily.

Hermione leaned towards Severus a moment and whispered, "Ginny needs some moral support, Severus. Do you mind if I sit with her tonight?"

Severus nodded to her and inclined his head in a shooing motion.

Hermione grabbed her plate and moved to the opposite side of the table and sat next to Ginny with an amused grin on her face. The conversations began again in earnest.

 

Chapter 19: Unspoken Words

Hermione woke with a start, panic causing her entire body to shake. She breathed in deeply, attempting to steady herself, but the feeling of unease did not leave her. Flashes of Bellatrix's face flashed into her mind and unsettled her. She couldn't even remember all of the nightmare that had jolted her awake, but remembering anything about Bellatrix was traumatic enough.

Ginny snored softly on the guest bed on the far side of the room. She let her breath out a little slower as she remembered where she was.

Grabbed her outer robe and threw it over her shoulders and exited, automatically feeling for her wand in the inner pocket as she slipped on a pair of slippers and exited, waving her hand as she left to close the door and reset the wards.

She had no destination, but her feet carried her swiftly through the corridors of Hogwart's. She kept walking until she ended up looking at the moon partially hiding behind the clouds. A ring shown around the moon like a rainbow adding some ephemeral extra beauty to the area. She shivered despite it not being cold, still feeling the pounding of her own heart.

Her hands went under her robes to finger the scar lines formed after Bellatrix's torture. She clutched her head, the memories came back to her with a flood of phantom pain. She heard her mocking voice, the pressure of the knife at her neck, and the memory of pain as her body twisted under every cut by Lestrange's merciless hand. She winced, sinking to the ground as her back slid down the retaining wall. She clutched her knees and curled into a ball, her body shaking as she recollected everything Lestrange had done to her in an unending stream of agonizing mental and physical pain.

"Clear your mind," she said into the air, starting the mantra of Severus' instruction... She forced the blackness to swirl inside her mind and cover everything; it filled in the cracks and drove back the waves of pain.

"Think of nothing," she said through gritted death. She focused on the space that existed beyond her pain. She ground her teeth as she struggled to wrestle herself and her mind under control. She forced her breathing into controlled inhales and exhales with sheer strength of her own will.

"Slow your mind until nothing is the only thing that remains."

She pulled herself up off the ground and stood again. "Focus."

Hermione closed her eyes as she pointed her head up as if to look at the stars. She stood completely still, her lips pursed into a flat line. Her face lost all trace of expression. Her shivers disappeared and her eyes opened. Her brown eyes had darkened into a shade so deep they could have been black. They stared out into the night reflecting everything and revealing nothing.

Hermione pulled her robe around her shoulders and closer to her chest and walked back towards Hogwart's, her robe swirling behind her like a flag in the wind as her feet glided across the flagstones.

As she walked back towards the dungeon corridors, she saw Severus standing in the candle light of the upper hallway, looking out the hall window. He turned towards her as the sound of her footsteps neared.

His black eyes met hers and she looked into them with her own. He breathed in sharply as he saw her and stood up straighter; his controls snapped into place in an instant, obscuring his face with its accustomed impassive countenance.

She approached him, standing in front of him, with her head tilted to look him directly in the eyes. In that moment, they were the same. Their eyes were impenetrable and emotionless.

They stood utterly still with not a word being said between them.

No words were needed anymore.

 

Chapter 20 Awakenings of the Snape Kind

 

Hermione stirred awake with a yawn. She pulled the dark green sheets around her as she sat up, rubbing her eyes in an attempt to shake the last of her sleep off. She stood and shuffled towards the bathroom.

Ginny was sitting up in the guest bed as she came out. Her hair was spiked in multiple directions as if she had rubbed up against a bearskin rug in her sleep. Hermione smiled smugly, pulling on one of the working robes Anna had sent up from Hogsmeade. The cloth was thicker, yet it remained light against her skin. While there was none of the ornate trimmings her teaching robes had, she noticed the seamstress had added splashes of darker earth tones on the inner robe. She slipped into the layers with a shrug of her shoulders and pulled on her outer robe, hand automatically checking the inner pocket for her wand.

Ginny was still looking disheveled when Hermione was preparing to walk to the laboratory. "I'll be in the laboratory, Ginny. You can come get me when you are ready for breakfast, ok?"

Ginny mumbled something that was only half coherent.

Hermione's lip curved up slightly before she turned and walked out the door, waving her hand back towards the door and portrait, closing them both behind her.

Ginny stared off into space and sagged back against the bed with a thud.

-O-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-

"I think Ms. Weasley may require more motivation in order to liberate herself from the confines of your guest bed," Severus commented acerbically as he sipped his tea. With the potions for the morning done, each of them had time to relax.

"You are probably correct," Hermione conceded, sipping her own tea. "Somehow I don't think she's ever had to get up this early for Quidditch practice. She always half asleep during morning classes too."

"I remember," Severus shook his head. "She dipped her hair into her half brewed potion and turned it purple."

"That is how her hair changed colors?" Hermione stared at Severus in disbelief. "She told me it was a wand accident! I spent 2 hours trying to change it back before Harry and Ron saw her. I couldn't figure out why none of my counter-charms were working on it."

Snape's black eyes met her. "There must have been quite a few wand accidents that semester you helped her deal with."

Hermione thought a moment, trying to recall all of the strange hair emergencies that came after Potions class. "Crackers… you're right." She chortled into her hand with an amused expression. "How did I not see that?"

Severus waved his hand dismissively as if to explain it all. His eyes went to the adjoining hall. "Perhaps I may assist you in motivating your friend in joining us for breakfast before it becomes lunch."

Hermione caught a slight sparkle in his eyes. "Oh? What do you have in mind?"

Severus leaned in towards her. "What is your password, Ms. Granger?"

Hermione told him with a curious look upon her face. Snape stood up, walking out of the laboratory and down the hall towards their separate quarters. She was itching with inquisitiveness and was about to stand up when Severus' voice boomed down from the hallway.

"Get UP, Ms. Weasley!" his voice snarled. "We have a long day planned and a hundred more things to do than sit around and miss breakfast waiting for you to coagulate yourself into a representable form!"

Hermione's eyes widened as Ginny's screech of terror pierced the air as the sound of rustling and thumping came shortly after.

"Y..y…..yes, SIR!" Ginny's voice stammered.

There was the sound of a door closing a bit harder than usual as Severus glided back into the laboratory, his robe twirling behind him. He sat back down, raised his teacup to his mouth, and sipped. His expression was completely calm.

Hermione felt her shoulders shaking, and she tried to hold back the laughter. She placed her head on the table, covering her head with her fingers. Her bubbling chortle into her robes rose and fell like the babbling of a brook. She raised her head after a moment, a tear running down her cheek. She wiped it away with a sniff and busted into laughter again. After a minute or so, she managed to compose herself, cradling her forehead against her palm as she asserted some semblance of control over her mirth. "Severus," she began, her voice broken up by a half laugh.

"Yes, Ms. Granger," he replied smugly.

"Thank you." Hermione looked into his dark eyes with a genuine grin on her face, light dancing across her eyes.

His eyes met hers as they heard the frantic shuffling coming from the direction of the living quarters. "You are welcome."

 

Chapter 21 Breakfast and Blueprints

 

The remainder of Ginny's stay went much smoother than her Snape-induced wake up call. The results of it, however, had Hermione stifling a giggle often throughout the day. Ginny spent the rest of the morning staring down every time the Potion Master breathed in her direction. Minerva questioned Ginny's muggle shirt being on backwards, which caused her to blush furiously, stammering something about being in a hurry to get to breakfast with the others. Minerva arched her brow and shot a glance at Hermione, who in turn pointed at Severus, who arched a brow back at the older witch with his impassive expression.

Rolanda Hooch broke up the blushing session by interrogating Ginny about Quidditch, thus distracting her for the rest of the breakfast. Hermione, who never really developed a passion for Quidditch save to root for her friends, took the opportunity to enjoy her breakfast without interruption.

Minerva broke her contemplation with a nudge. "Hermione, dear, may we speak in my office before you start working on that archway project?"

Hermione shook her head as if to clear it. "Of course, Minerva."

Minerva walked out of the Great Hall. Hermione nodded to Severus, smiled at Ginny, and nodded again to the remaining staff at the High Table. She turned and trailed after the exiting Headmaster.

Severus's gaze followed them as they left, but refocused on his eggs and toast shortly afterwards.

-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-

"How have you been settling in, dear?" McGonagall asked as she fussed with a pile of scrolls in her office.

"Not much time to breathe in between everything, to be honest," Hermione admitted. "Thank you for the wonderful quarters, by the way. I haven't had much time to enjoy them save to fall flat into bed at night, but I plan to enjoy them much more when I have time for it."

The older witch chuckled. "It is no problem at all, Hermione. I'm sure it will be strange for you sleeping somewhere other than in the Gryffindor tower for a change."

"I did wake up wondering where I was, I admit," Hermione confessed.

"Oh, here it is. I'm not sure where my head is these days. However did you keep this all straight, Albus?" she muttered into the air.

"I just made it look like I did, Minerva," the portrait replied to her.

Minerva scoffed and handed Hermione the scroll. "Here is what the archways in that area are supposed to look like. I'm not sure how much time you spent on that side of the castle, but hopefully between you and Severus they will go in without a hitch, so we can bring in the construction folks to do their parts."

"Thank you," Hermione said, taking the scroll. "I think Severus is more familiar with the structure there than I am. I'll be glad to have a crib sheet." She grinned at the older witch.

Minerva laughed, some of the stress lining her face faded. "It's really good to have you here, Hermione. Albus would have been so proud. I know I am."

Hermione smiled sadly, feeling the familiar sting of remembrance of the old Headmaster.

"Hopefully once we can leave the majority of the shuffling to the craftsman, I will have time to officially take you under wing and show you the things I should be teaching you," Minerva said, shaking her head. "I am glad Severus is not shirking his duties in that department."

"I don't think Severus has ever shirked in his life, Minerva," Hermione laughed softly.

The old woman's eyes sparkled. "You are probably right." Her face became serious. "I am glad you are both more in tune with each other, Hermione. I know we had our doubts last year who would survive the apprenticeship."

Hermione laughed, her hand going to the sigils on her neck, fingering them as she remembered her return to Hogwart's.

"We haven't had a true apprenticeship here at Hogwart's in… I can't even remember how long. I think Pomona wishes you'd chosen herbology. She sees how in sync you both are now-a-days," Minerva pondered. "Well, all of us do."

"She makes it sound like I've caught a fatal disease, Minerva," Hermione added. When I go to her greenhouse to pick up herbs, she hands them to me like touching me will confer the magic wasting disease."

The Headmaster laughed wholeheartedly. "I think she's just a little jealous, dear. She wants someone to take her place that is as passionate as you."

"She could always chase after Neville," Hermione said dryly.

Minerva looked at Hermione with amusement. "Perhaps she should, but I do not want to think of what may happen if Severus and Neville have to work together, even from a distance. And with the way you two have been teaming up, Neville will have to watch out for both Severus and you at the same time."

Hermione laughed silently. "I cannot help it. It just happens."

Minerva shushed her. "It's a natural thing, dear. It means you are working together the way you should be. I doesn't mean you won't disagree at whatever time. It's just a very close thing."

Hermione smiled, realizing something. "You apprenticed under Albus?"

Minerva smiled at her warmly in reply. "Well you should go and meet Severus with the plans. Hopefully you can get the arches up and have some time to spend with Miss Weasley before she leaves tonight."

Hermione nodded and bowed her head, turning to go.

"Oh, Hermione?" McGonagall said to her back.

"Yes?" Hermione turned around to face the Headmaster.

"Why did Miss Weasley have her shirt on backwards?"

Hermione grinned widely. "Severus had to go wake her up."

The sound of Minerva's laughter echoed out of the Headmaster's Office as the swirl of fabric marked Hermione's exit.

 

Chapter 22 Ribbed Vaulting & Clerestories

 

Hermione growled as the ribbed vaulting she transfigured looked complete, but was undoubtedly missing something. She snatched up the drawing Minerva gave her and tried to remember the old ceilings correctly. The arches between the aisles and naves had come more easily. She remembered staring up at them as she passed this hall many times. She remembered the windows and even the small chip in the stone near one window where she had found a coin hidden in the crack. But the vaulting was set high above the clerestory, which she couldn't quite remember.

She tried to remember how many columns made up the triforium windows and pressed her fingertips together as her digits arched in front of her face in a steeple formation. She looked up, hoping to be reminded of what she needed to make the framework. The artisans would do the placing of the glass in the windows, but she still had to create the spaces for them. The rubble around her was practically up to her waist and was in no condition to offer clues as to their original shape or purpose.

Severus watched her growing frustration from afar as he picked through a pile of shattered colored glass. The old window panes that had depicted glorious dragons, magical creatures, and grandiose wizards and witches were nothing more than small fragments of indistinct glass. Shriveled plants, no longer tended with either magic or care, scattered the floor with browned leaves, vines, and withered flower petals. He had once studied here in this corridor, back against the wall as he absorbed every book he could get his hands on. His memories of this corridor were laced with the people of the time, but not all of them were neutral.

He watched Hermione attempt to form a workable image in her mind using the scroll Minerva had given them. She hadn't burned the image of this corridor into her mind as he had

"Hermione," Severus called to her with a rumble in this voice.

She turned and met his gaze and let out a frustrated sigh.

He beckoned to her wordlessly, and she closed the distance between them, letting the scroll she was clutching in a death grip fall onto the rubble pile near her.

His dark eyes met hers, transferring some of his calm to her. "Are you willing to learn?" his dark hair fell about his face as he looked down at her.

Hermione took in a deep breath and lifted her chin. "Yes."

Severus offered his hand, his pale palm face up. She placed her hand in it until his long fingers curled around them. With his other hand he pressed their hands together in position, placing their wands side by side between them. "Clear your mind."

Hermione called upon the place inside her that was deathly still. Think of nothing. Slow your mind until nothing is the only thing that remains. Her expression relaxed and became devoid of emotion.

Severus placed his forehead against hers and she felt a warmth rise up around them like a wind. She saw his memories of the wing in vivid detail. She saw a younger Dumbledore walking the halls. James Potter and Lily Evans walking arm and arm as James pointed and laughed in her direction. She saw the etched detail of every stone on the floor as his memory of looking down became stronger. Then, he looked up, and she saw the hanging plants on the clerestory, the color of the pillars, the facets of the stained glass, and the high vaults above. She saw the bricks, one brick missing on the far left.

Power flowed between them, swirling around them like a personal tornado. Light danced out from their combined wands and swirled around them. Rubble rose from the ground, moving, changing, and falling into the places only their combined will understood. Pillars moved and set in place, Window sets formed up the sides, plants hung from the window settings. Metal scraps merged together into liquid, moving to the command of their combined will, filling the window frames and solidifying.

Countless pieces of colored glass spun around them and then flew the next moment towards the towering triforium and clerestory, setting themselves into place as metal filled in the cracks to make the stained glass panes complete. Bricks collided in midair, swirling around them, then flung upwards, forming the ribbed vaulting high above them. The flagstones below them rippled like water, shuddering, and changed in a wave of movement, becoming the shiny polished floor tiles that had been tread upon by many an aspiring witch and wizard. Vines grew up the arches as tiny aged cracks formed along the pillars. And as the last of the remaining debris lifted off the ground and swirled around them, they flew outward, forming the buttress and the flying buttress above, connecting to the ribs of the vaults above.

As the magical vortex around them calmed, their robes settled to the floor once more, yet Severus and Hermione remained perfectly still, bound together by a magic would only release them when it was ready.

Suddenly, they both took in a ragged breath and straightened. Severus released her hands and moved his head away from hers. Hermione looked up and around her with wonder. Her eyes widened in amazement. Her face, no longer emotionless, began to grin broadly. Joy was written across her face as the wonder of what they had done settled in. Everything was in place, down to the crooked potted plant in the corner.

"Severus, this is amazing!" she gasped. With a genuine smile, she embraced the Potion Master, wrapping her arms around his waist with a wave of heartfelt gratitude. "Thank you!" she murmured into his chest.

Severus staggered a moment, shock passing across his face as though he had just been struck by lightning. He seemed to wobble a moment before he decided on the best plan of action to the unexpected embrace. He took in a ragged breath and slowly, like a rusty gear being forced to move again, his pale hand moved to press her head against his chest. His chin pressed against her wavy hair as his eyes slowly closed. "You are welcome," he whispered.

 

-=-=-=-Chapter 23: Hangover -=-=-=-=-

Hermione groaned as she sagged into the chair, feeling the backlash of the combined effort of transfiguring an entire corridor of Hogwart's in one fell swoop. Now that the adrenaline of the situation was tapering off, she felt the weariness that came with overtaxing her magic for a prolonged period of time.

Severus was rubbing the area between his eyes with his fingertips, obviously feeling just as drained as she was.

"Eugh," Hermione groaned. "My kingdom for an invigoration potion or eight."

"I will admit to having not quite thought that part through," Severus said dryly. His pale face seemed even paler now that the backlash was settling in.

"Just leave me here," Hermione mumbled into the table. "I don't even have the strength to think about what walking will do to me, let alone apparating."

"What makes you think I'm in any better condition, witch?" Severus grumbled, sagging deeper into the chair.

"We could just sit here and grumble together until Minerva realizes we've missed lunch, dinner, breakfast, and lunch tomorrow," Hermione said as she rolled her forehead against her crossed arms.

"Forced to bear your company, you insufferable know-it-all," Severus hissed.

"Bloody dungeon bat," Hermione mumbled into her arms.

Severus made a soft groan as he attempted to sit up and decided better of it.

"Severus?" Hermione said softly.

"Yes, Hermione?" he answered in a quiet voice.

"It was worth it," she said, going limp in the chair as the exhaustion claimed her.

Severus' eyes closed slowly. "Yes."

-=-=-=-Chapter 24: Minerva Intervention -=-=-=-=-

"Severus," Minerva's voice broke the silence in the newly remade hall. "Hermione!"

"Eaughhh," Severus moaned sourly. "Leave us to die in peace, Minerva."

Hermione groaned, raising her head from her arms. Minerva thrust a potion bottle into her hand. She prodded Severus with one until he had to take it just to stop the swaying motion.

Like two choreographed dancers, they popped the cork, sniffed, quaffed the potion in one motion, winced, and set the potion down on the table.

For a minute or two, the dark wizard and his apprentice did not move. Then, as if a switch had been flipped, they both inhaled and exhaled deeply and straightened up in their seats.

"Thank you, Minerva," Hermione said softly.

Severus mumbled something unintelligible.

"You did this all this morning?" Minerva's voice echoed in the empty hall.

Hermione stretched in the chair, trying to unkink herself from the pretzel her spine was trying to twist into. "Yes."

"You even… replaced the plants," Minerva said in a surprised voice. "I always loved that plant in the window there."

"How are the other wings coming along?" Hermione asked with a yawn.

"Not as well as this, I can tell you that, dear," Minerva chuckled. "But I didn't have to force invigoration potions down their throats either."

Hermione grinned, rustling her own hair to pull it back away from her face. "I'm fairly certain it will not happen again anytime soon."

"It will be so much like it was with this corridor open again," Minerva reminisced. "I guess I will inform the gardeners instead of the stone workers that they can work on the gardens now that this corridor is done." She smiled. "Well done."

Severus made a motion like shooing a fly.

Hermione beamed and twirled around, looking up towards the ceiling vaults. "Oh," she said suddenly. "Is Ginny still waiting for me?"

McGonagall made a shooing motion. "Go. Go. You have the rest of the day off."

Hermione beamed and turned to look at Severus, their eyes meeting. They kept the contact for a few heartbeats before he inclined his head toward the door. "Remove yourself from my sight."

Hermione turned and excitedly ran down the corridor towards where Ginny waited for her.

"No running in the hallways, Ms. Granger," Severus snapped.

Hermione slowed down to a fast walk, her robes falling about her as she forced herself to walk. "Yes, Professor Snape!" She disappeared down the corridor and out of sight.

"How did you do this, Severus?" McGonagall asked as she sat down across from him.

"We did it together, Minerva," Snape said candidly.

"This is the result of something more than just the drawings I gave you," Minerva said knowingly.

Severus straightened his chair and locked gazes with the older witch. "I shared with her my memories of this place. We built it together." This face was expressionless, but there was a flicker or something that flitted across his dark eyes. Minerva saw it like a cloud moving across the sun.

Minerva waved her wand, making a tea set appear. She poured tea out for herself and Severus. She sipped her tea quietly for a few minutes before speaking. "Without a pensieve?"

Severus looked upward towards the ceiling vaults. "Without a pensieve, Minerva." He grasped the teacup close to him and drank it down.

Minerva said nothing more as the two of them finished their tea.

-=-=-=-Chapter 25: The Return Home -=-=-=-=-

Hermione yawned and waved goodbye to Ginny as she took the train out. She had made sure her friend had a good send-off, though she made a metal note to bring a detox potion or something similar just in case Ginny got inebriated again. Once Ginny was out of sight, Hermione let her face return to a more stoical expression. The social chatter from the pub had been like flies buzzing around her head. Being social was becoming more wearisome. It had been good seeing her, but there was a part of her that would have preferred to sit out on a bench somewhere and talk with her friend than surrounded by a crowded tavern. Realizing that once the fall term started again, she would be surrounded by hundreds more chattering bodies than the tavern, she sighed.

Turning back towards Hogwart's, she started her walk home, amusing herself by admiring the patterns in the larger snowflakes. Why Hogsmeade had snow in the middle of summer used to baffle her, but she accepted it now. You could blame it on geography, but that took a little of the mystery out of guessing.

Movement under a light ahead of her caught her attention. Severus's robes flickered back and forth in the wind as he waited for her. How he always seemed to know just when to appear was a little mysterious as well, but like the snow… knowing the real reason just took the enjoyment out of pondering it.

"I must be better at lying now," Hermione said softly as she stood next to Severus. His dark eyes met hers. "She never saw anything but a happy face."

Snape nodded silently, opening his arm for her.

Hermione stepped in close to him, leaning on him slightly as his arm folded around her and the crack of his disapparate signaled their departure.