Author's Note: This story was completed in May 2003, one month before the release of Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix. For that reason, there are elements to this story that are not in keeping with the latest canon, although they are minor points (and they're rectified in the Sequel to this story). So please bear that in mind as you read this.

Disclaimer: I do not own the Harry Potter universe, I'm just visiting. I only own the plot.

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Prologue: Tired

Severus Snape was very, very tired.

In fact, he was so tired that he couldn't be bothered to disguise it from the rest of the staff. If it hadn't been for the fact that he was currently attending a mandatory Staff Meeting, he would have stayed in his rooms in the dungeons. As he looked at Madam Poppy Pomfrey with bleary eyes, she clucked at him, "Really Severus . . . shouldn't you be resting?"

He gathered together enough of his old-self to glare at her. "Why stop there, Poppy? Why don't I go on holiday and get a nice suntan while I'm at it?"

"That's my boy," Poppy chuckled.

She turned back to Professor McGonagall. "As I was saying," she said in a faux-loud voice, "I think we should speak with Albus about Severus. He can't hold out much longer. The Death Eaters' revels are getting more and more violent and I fear for his life. Last night I had to pull out every bag of tricks I know, just to get him in relative working order again."

"There's no need to talk about me as if I wasn't here." Snape growled. "And I'm not deaf."

"I'm sorry, we didn't notice," Minerva stated dryly. "However, if we could ever count on you to be halfway civil, we would have included you in the conversation. Face it, Severus. Last night took a lot out of you and you're of no use to us if you're half a cripple and exhausted, to boot. It will only make you vulnerable to mistakes and we all know that a mistake at this stage of the game could prove fatal."

"True, true," he reluctantly conceded. They were seated in Albus Dumbledore's office and Snape had commandeered his favorite chair by the fire. It was overstuffed and a bit worn, but so comfortable that Severus was having trouble staying awake. His mind began to wander and he thought about the events of the previous evening.

The meeting with Voldemort had been particularly odious. The Dark Lord had been in a celebratory mood, which meant death and mayhem all around. He had begun the evening by bringing in two young muggle men and, after casting an Imperius, had chuckled while watching them perform fellatio on a very well-endowed Lucius Malfoy. Snape had fought to keep the bile from rising in his throat, but things only got worse after that. By the end of the evening, he'd been forced to rape a young Muggle girl and had watched impassively as Malfoy had tortured and mutilated her before killing her. It had taken all of Snape's fortitude not to step in and mercifully cast the Killing Curse on her. When Voldemort became bored with the muggles, he turned his wand on his Death Eaters. He had been particularly hard on Severus, most likely because Snape had a high tolerance for pain and had refused to cry out, despite his Master's demands. While the Dark Lord admired his mental strength, his impertinence had been punished and Snape had been found outside the dungeons by Madam Pomfrey. She had almost depleted her potions stores, trying to heal the various physical and magical wounds that had been inflicted upon him.

He was so very, very tired of it all.

Albus kept assuring him that it was important to The Cause that he continue with his activities as a Double Spy, but Severus felt a sense of hopelessness that threatened to overwhelm him. If only he could get a good night's sleep, not that it would have really improved his situation. In his deepest fantasies, he would leave this place and fly far away, never to be found and never to return.

He snorted.

'Fat chance, Snape', he thought. Voldemort would hunt him down to the ends of the earth before killing him in the most drawn-out, painful way imaginable.

Not for the first time, he wished for a different life.

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Her alarm went off with a nerve-wracking shriek and Hermione bolted upright in her bed. Damn! Why was it that only the most insistent, obnoxious alarm clock could wake her up in the morning? Her mother had once gotten her a wind-by-hand alarm clock with a gentle sound, but that useless contraption had only lasted a week before her mother had resorted to standing in the doorway and screaming at her to wake up. Mum always said that heavy-sleeping was unladylike.

It was a good thing that being ladylike was not the least bit important to Hermione.

Stumbling out of bed, she stopped short and realized that she had fallen asleep in her clothes again. She had been on call last night and she'd barely been able to make it through her door, before falling into a deep, hard sleep. Since graduating from Edinburgh University of Magical Medicine six months previously, she'd kept up a grueling schedule of patient rounds and clinical research. She rented a small flat in London, but really, she only slept there every other night. Other then that, she spent little to no time in her apartment.

She staggered to her kitchen and conjured a mug of hot, black coffee. She knew that making it the old fashioned way tasted better, but she was too exhausted to care.

She was so very, very tired.

Sitting on her living room couch, Hermione gazed upon the photographs perched upon her bookshelves. They were a mixture of muggle and wizard photographs, some of her parents, a couple of Ron and Harry in Quidditch uniforms and her very favorite- the three of them on the It had been their last day at Hogwarts. She smiled as she gazed upon their images. She was in between the boys and they'd just looked up from reading their certificates when Colin Creevy had snapped the picture. The photo caught them in a spontaneous moment of carefree joy, probably the last they were to have for a very long time.

Voldemort had become more active and more vicious after they had graduated, prompting both Ron and Harry to become Aurors. Molly Weasley had been beside herself, but the Dark Lord took it even worse. It had been his fervent dream to kill Harry before he left Hogwarts as he knew that the longer The-Boy-Who-Lived actually lived, the stronger his powers would become. He'd lashed out and his Death Eaters had gone on several killing sprees. One day, despite the fact that Harry's Hogsmeade house was heavily warded, he'd found a handwritten parchment and black rose sitting on his bed. The note was a basic warning to enjoy the good times while he could because The Dark Lord was coming for him. Harry said it was only a matter of time before he had to face Voldemort again. He had argued with Cornelius Fudge that they had to take the initiative and strike first, but the Ministry of Magic would not acknowledge Voldemort's threat, despite all the outward signs. To Harry, they were just a bunch of yellow cowards who were only interested in maintaining their own power. Sometimes, he told Hermione, he wondered who the enemy really was.

The last time Hermione had seen Harry, she had been struck by the profound change in him. While he had always carried the weight of wizard-world responsibility gracefully, it was as if he'd completely run out of will. He didn't seem to have any life at all, although Hermione wasn't one to judge. He'd once told her that he could never fall in love, get married and have children while Voldemort was still in the world. Hermione suspected that he was deeply depressed, but because of her own ball-breaking schedule, she didn't have the time to look after him as she had at Hogwarts. Without her constant nagging and tender loving care, Harry seemed to withdraw further and further into himself. Ron, who despite his temper was amazingly mentally healthy, tried to help, but was powerless against the tide of Harry's innate despair.

Hermione picked herself off the couch to get ready for work, then remembered it was Saturday and she had the first day off she'd had in over two months. She sighed, wondering how she was going to spend her "free" time. 'Might as well go back to sleep,' she thought. Merlin knew how long it would be before she'd have the freedom to sleep in again.

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Despite his fatigue, Snape found himself making up a list of potion ingredients for his lab and for Poppy's depleted stores. Frowning, he looked at his pocket watch and calculated that he had about two hours before his private meeting with Albus. It was early November and the air had begun to chill. He pulled on a thick wool cloak to go over his robes, walked over to the fireplace and throwing a pinch of floo powder, he said, "The Three Broomsticks".

He found himself walking down the familiar quaint main street of Hogsmeade and noted with disgust that several of the Hogwarts students were running around, wreaking adolescent havoc on his quiet afternoon. Sneering, he opened his mouth to take away house points, only to shut it when he realized that he really didn't have the energy. He listlessly made his way down the street to the apothecary.

As he rounded his last corner, he was mildly surprised to see Professor McGonagall and Madam Pomfrey coming out of what appeared to be a women's clothing shop. He smiled discreetly to himself. Despite his very snarky exterior, he had always had a very soft spot for Minerva and Poppy. Professor McGonagall had stuck by him professionally, when parents and students had complained about his "teaching methods" and they had taken to insulting each other for pleasure sport in recent years. They'd both enjoyed pretending that they disliked each other, it was a fun game in front of the students. And Poppy had fussed over him like a mother since he'd been a young boy at Hogwarts.

"Oh how The Dunderheads would be surprised to know I actually have friends," he thought to himself.

Minerva and Poppy didn't see him and as he made his way across the street to greet them, he froze in his tracks.

With several loud, audible pops, a group of twelve to fifteen Death Eaters had Apparated into the middle of the street. People began running and screaming in all directions.

The Death Eaters seemed oblivious to the chaos around them. They merely pointed their wands at Professor McGonagall and Madam Pomfrey.

Then all hell broke loose.

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Hermione was sitting in a half lotus position in her flat, facing the large picture window, which looked out to the West. After years of studying transcendental meditation, she was still amazed at the feeling of her mind disconnecting from her body as she began her deep, slow breathing. She had begun the practice years ago, because she'd read that people who meditated needed less sleep and had better concentration. She thought it would help with her school performance. What she hadn't counted on were the wonderful side effects, the feelings of love and belonging and an understanding that her mind was limitless. She'd also discovered that it nurtured her spiritual self, but first she had to discover that she had a spiritual self! Not that many people noticed.

She was so deep in her concentration that she didn't hear the soft sound emanating from around her front door. Had she opened her eyes then, she would have been amazed to see a small black snake slither from under the door and make his way across the hardwood floor, pausing at her left hand. He coiled himself tightly, and raising his small head, he regarded her with what could only be described as a thoughtful look . . . thoughtful for a snake anyway.

The darkness in Hermione's mind had just yielded to a vortex of multiple colours when she felt a smooth, slick rope curling around her left arm. While her mind jolted completely back to her body in an instant, it took a few seconds for her to open her startled eyes. A black snake, about twelve inches long, had coiled himself about her arm and was looking up at her, straight in the eye. Her first thought was that this snake projected some sort of higher understanding. Before she could wrap her mind around that silly thought, she blinked, and as she did so, she found a thin, elegant hand clutching her arm where the snake had once been.

"Dr. Granger."

Looking into the bottomless black eyes of Severus Snape, she felt his warm breath on her face.

"You are urgently needed at Hogwarts."

Before she could reply, he stood her up, held his hands to her shoulders and with a soft popping sound, they were gone.

To be continued . . .

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Author's Note: This is the first fan-fic I ever wrote. I hope you like it.