7th July 1998

She panted with exertion, jumping over a broken tree branch as she sprinted across the street and finally slowed down, pausing to stretch her pleasantly sore muscles and catch her breath. Two months since the Final Battle and the nightmares continued to disrupt Hermione's sleep, her body unused to being still after so many months on the run. Her muscles ached and she was still unable to eat a full portion, her stomach still too small for a hearty meal after half-starving in the woods. But they were all recovering, and she could feel her body slowly catching up and starting to fill in a little bit. And so she started going for runs, something to help her body stay healthy and help her mind clear of the blood and death that weighed it down each night.

It was a miracle, truly, that most of them survived. Tonks and Remus were lost to them in the final battle, and Luna's father unfortunately didn't make it alive either. But they managed to save Fred, and the Weasley clan was once again united in full force. She leaned against the nearby gate as she recalled how one of the most valuable lives was saved that night…

"We can't leave him here! You two go, I'll follow," she promised and barely noticed as Harry and Ron ran towards the castle, ignoring all their protestations.

Blood, oh God there was so much blood…

She applied firm pressure to the gaping wound on the Headmaster's neck and summoned several potions from her beaded bag. "You will not do this. You survived two decades of wars, you will live to see peace and live in freedom," she panted resolutely, pouring potion after potion down his throat. General anti-venom, blood-cleanser, blood-replenisher, a few drops of dittany on the wound…anything she could get her hands on in her beaded bag and thought might help save his life.

They were all exhausted, but the biggest battle yet awaited them, and she needed to pull herself together before her emotions got the best of her. "Did you hear me? All those years of being a bastard and saving our asses will not be for nothi- dammit Severus Snape, don't you dare!" she hissed, feeling his heart weaken and struggle. Her hand balled up into a fist and she struck him firmly across the chest with a grunt of effort and anger. It was a muggle instinct, something she remembered from first aid training, but she couldn't care less as long as it worked. And work it did, as the heart stuttered only for half a second before picking back up much steadier now that it was forced into action and had more blood to pump with the blood-replenishers. "That's it, and don't you dare do that again," she warned, rubbing away at the moisture falling down her cheeks. With a last incantation the wound on his neck closed up but there was a lot of work that needed to go into stabilising him properly and getting all the venom out. Thinking quickly, she cast a statis charm over his body, stopping any potential spread of the poison while giving the potions time to stay in the body along with it.

She checked his pulse, holding onto his wrist firmly and nodding to herself. Not as strong as she would have liked but it was there and it was steady. She needed to get Madam Pomfrey. Her bright otter erupted from her wand and nuzzled her cheek affectionately, awaiting instructions. "Please find Poppy Pomfrey and relate a message," she said before flicking her wand once more, the spell that recorded her message and would hopefully persuade the nurse to trust her and heal the Headmaster as he deserved. With one last look at the pale wizard, she took off running towards the castle, knowing they needed to prepare for the last battle...

Hermione took a deep breath and shook her head, ridding herself of the bleak memories. There was another mile back to Grimmauld place, so she turned South and began her trek through the little alleys and shortcuts that saved her a good half an hour now that she's had enough. As one of the secret keepers, the house appeared to her immediately before she hopped up the stairs and slipped in quietly, the sun barely up yet and most of the house asleep. She quickly made a fresh pot of tea and carried a tray up to the room next to hers on the second floor of the dusty London townhouse. She levitated the tray ahead of her as she quietly slipped into the room and offered a small smile in greeting to the man already awake and observing her every move in the soft light of the bedside lamp.

"Good morning," she greeted softly, knowing he was not always a morning person. At least there was one thing they had in common; neither could stand the usual English breakfast or Earl Grey tea the rest of the household drank in litres. Darjeeling and Ceylon were their shared preference, so Hermione alternated between the two depending on her mood, much to his apparent contentment.

She watched as the man carefully pulled himself up into a sitting position and ignored the burn of his gaze traveling the length of her body as she prepared their tea. Hermione knew she was a right mess, wilful curls escaping her messy bun, all sweaty and probably red-cheeked from the exertion in her sweatpants and ratty strap-top. She usually ran in the early mornings before anyone woke up, so no one ever saw her. But she had to apparate back mid-run one morning about a month ago when the wards alerted her that something was not right with her patient, and he saw her all her morning run sweaty mess glory. Ever-since, she wasn't shy around him again about her attire or appearance in the mornings.

Nice and crisp, no sugar for either of them, so she just handed over his cup silently as he still hasn't spoken to her. She did receive a nod in acknowledgement and smiled, sipping on her tea as she sat back in her chair and looked out of the window. The skies were going to colour in pink hues very soon. Perhaps she'll have enough time to shower and make breakfast undisturbed before anyone got up again. With Harry sleeping as little as herself, and the whole first floor occupied by the Weasley clan while the burnt down Burrow was being repaired, the dusty Black house was crowded far too much for her liking.

A raspy clearing of an injured throat brought her focus back to the Potions Master and she raised an expectant brow. He leaned his head to the side and blinked. She understood what it was he desired and closed her eyes for a moment, lowering her occlumency shields down enough for him to slip in and communicate as they have been doing for the past six weeks. She opened her eyes again and held his gaze, feeling the precise moment he slipped into her mind gently and caressed her thoughts. It used to be rather painful when they communicated at first, exhaustion and completely useless vocal cords forcing them into short mental communications. It should have surprised Severus that the chit knew how to occlude her mind and communicate with mind magic, but really she was the bloody brightest witch of her age. Of course she would have gone through those books as well, and picked it up so quickly. It was however surprising that she managed so well without much practice on another human being, perhaps a natural ability.

Hermione shuddered a little as she felt the professor getting a feel for her emotions for a moment before his silky baritone disturbed her mental peace softly. Miss Granger, forgive me saying so but you might wish to resort to the use of a sleeping potion. Your peaked appearance is rather uncomely.

Hermione chuckled at the snarky words, seeing right through the light barb to the concern behind his suggestion. She focused on their mental connection and grasped the thread, able to focus on projecting her words. Why good morning to you too, sir. And while I appreciate your concern for my well-being, I assure you I'm better off without sleeping potions. They would apparently interact with the residue of one of Avery's curses and I would rather not risk the consequences.

She could have responded verbally, but it seemed impolite and one-sided to have only her words spoked between them. There was something intimate about communicating mentally, and it was a little trying before they agreed to do it this way, so no one would know they were actually communicating.

A sort snort sounded in her mind. Drink your tea, Miss Granger. You have a long day ahead, it would do no good for my nurse to be incapacitated just as I am.

There it was, the cutting sarcasm. She was used to it by now, the soft changes in his emotions sometimes still gave her a whiplash but she managed the best she could with how stubborn and infuriating the man was. From concern to a pouty hissy fit in 0.5 second.

Hermione sighed and tapped her foot on the floor until he fixed his unimpressed gaze back at her and she pressed forward, the mental link between them opened at least partially and she knew he could hear her. I realise you are not enjoying my company or being taken care of to this intensity. You will get out of the bed soon, just let me help you get there and then you can be forever rid of me again, professor. Her reply was perfectly stoic and she sensed his realisation that he won't get a rise out of her with his snarky comments, so they looked away from each other and she refilled his tea cup before getting the tray ready to be taken downstairs.

"One last check," she said out loud this time, as was custom.

The potions master rolled his eyes but unfolded his arms, offering the right one to her. Hermione's petite hand gently grasped his wrist and her fingers pressed in a little to find the vein and his pulse. She looked down at her muggle watch and counted for 15 seconds. "16, times 4 that is 64. Getting better every day," she offered a small smile before picking up the tray again. And it was indeed a good resting heart rate for a man of the professor's age. He should be fine to get out of bed and take care of himself for the most part in about a week or two at this rate.

She was about to leave before she heard a gentle rap of knuckles over the wooden bedside table to get her attention. She turned around once more and lowered her shields when she felt his touch upon her mind, asking permission to enter. Thank you, Miss Granger.

He rarely thanked her for anything, it was only in the last two weeks that he became much more civil. Perhaps it was an attempt to get through the last weeks with her in peace before getting far far away from her side. Nonetheless, she appreciated the words of gratitude. Of course, sir. Let me know if you need anything during the day, she replied at last before exiting his rooms and heading downstairs for the kitchen to get some breakfast before getting ready for the day.

"You alright, 'Mione?" Harry asked, watching with concern as she sat in the dingy living room, several pieces of parchment spread over the ugly coffee table.

Hermione just nodded and neatly folded the documents, arranging them in what used to be her mum's art folder. Despite her efforts and the pain of being a stranger to her parents after she obliviated them, no one could have predicted that Monica and Wendell who quickly settled into a friendly neighbourhood in Sydney would die of something as mundane as a traffic collision. And only two days after the Final Battle at Hogwarts. Hermione didn't have any strength to deal with everything properly at the time, but knew her childhood home and her parent's practice were sitting gathering dust. All that she ever had and wanted from her home she had in her small beaded bag to be a reminder of where she came from and how much her parents always loved her. So without any further thought, she put both the London house and the practice on the muggle real estate market along with the Australian house that they bought a few months ago, and was notified last night that she had to deal with the final sales and accounts.

Her day was spent at Gringotts, but thankfully the goblins held no grudges as they were repaid by the Ministry for the damages they caused on their horcrux hunt. The manager of her vault informed her that if she transferred all her money into the vault, she would be gaining a pretty hefty interest every day as well, and they would provide a cheque book and a Gringotts card that worked like a debit card in the muggle world. It was really a no-brainer. Hermione was rather surprised at how much money she had despite how much she knew she cost her parents each year in fees and books. It was a good start, but knowing the money came from her parents' investments and family inheritance made the total sum somewhat bittersweet.

"Can I ask you something, Harry? Orphan to orphan?" she looked at with a wry little smile on her lips, but her eyes were tearful.

Harry just sat next to the woman he considered his sister and wrapped an arm around her shoulder, holding her close and letting her know she was not alone. "We're not orphans. Well, technically I guess. But I know that my best friend who never left my side over the years is not really my best friend. She's my sister," he said gently, even if a bit awkwardly. Dealing with crying women really wasn't his forte…

Hermione pulled herself together and wiped her cheeks dry. "You're right, you'll always be my family, Harry. No matter what," she hugged him tight for a moment before picking up her folder briskly, ready to put it out of her mind for the moment. "Were you coming in to tell me something?" she asked.

"Oh right, yeah. Dinner is ready. Will you be eating with us or with the bat?" he grinned rakishly, the once demeaning term now more of a cheeky nickname. Harry actually apologised to the Potions Master and thanked him for saving their lives a few weeks ago. He received a nod of acknowledgement which was probably the best he would get as far as an acceptance for his apology. He wasn't delusional, the man probably still found him annoying, but at least the animosity was gone. Mostly. On the better days anyway...

Hermione just rolled her eyes and sent the folder up to her room as they headed to the kitchen. "I'll take my meal up and see if he's up for company. Everything alright today? Did he need anything?"

"Not that I know of," Harry shrugged as they entered the busy and rather loud kitchen. All the Weasleys were already seated around the table and chattering loudly, Molly bustling around with pots and pans.

Harry and Hermione just shared a quick amused look before Harry went over to join the Quiddich discussion with the twins and Hermione quickly readied two bowls of the delicious beef stew along with some freshly baked bread on a tray.

"Are you off, Hermione dear? Do you have everything for Severus?" Molly asked while handling three different dish bowls and a desert at the same time. How she did it, no one wagered a guess.

"Yes, Mrs Weasley. Thank you," she smiled and levitated the tray ahead while she carried another one with a pot of tea and two cups.

"Best be on your way then, dear girl. And do call me Molly, I keep reminding you!" she heard before the door closed after her soundly, the noise suddenly considerably quieter.

Hermione sighed in relief and made the peaceful trek up the empty stairways, content in the moment to herself before she faced the man in Merlin-knew-what mood. As it turned out, she had little to worry about. The Potions Master was contentedly sitting up in his bed and reading the latest edition of the Potions Weekly she left for him on the bedside table yesterday.

"Good evening, professor," she greeted with a smile, setting the trays down on the desk nearby and prepared him a cup of tea. "Would you mind company for dinner? The kitchen is awfully loud tonight. Fred and George brought Katie Bell and Angelina Johnson with them and it's all Quiddich talk," she sighed.

She looked up as she handed over the cup and he nodded for her to join him as he closed the journal and prepared himself for dinner. She handed the bowl over carefully and set the basket with the sliced bread beside his duvet-covered legs so they could both reach it. After seeing he was good to start eating, she picked up her own bowl and transfigured the rigid wooden chair she usually occupied into a softer armchair that she could sink into comfortably.

He raised a silent brow but did not make a comment just yet, holding her gaze until she lowered her occlumency shields for their communication.

Good evening, Miss Granger, he surprised her and she smiled, nodding.

How was your day, professor? Did you manage to get to the article on the benefits of sea water over spring water as base for burn salve? she inquired, a spark in her eyes telling him she already knew every word on the pages.

I did. And I suspect you have an opinion. Let us hear it then, he inclined his head before taking a sip of his stew carefully so he could keep their eye-contact.

Well, I guess it has some merit but you have to admit the methodology appeared a little bit flimsy at best… and off they were, arguing back and forth over the value of the presented research.

If anyone was his intellectual equal, it was the brightest witch of her age. It started as something to distract him from the pain. She would read the latest research to him, or discuss the merit of whatever law was reported in the prophet to have passed that morning, prattling on about one thing or another until one day he glared at her hard enough that she snapped her mouth shut and opened the mental connection between them so he could actually put his thoughts in rather than just listen to her stream of thoughts and arguments. And Severus had to admit that their discussions, occasionally academic arguments even, turned into something he considered the highlight of his day. It was distracting, her points were sometimes utterly flawed, but instead of decimating her completely as he would have before the war's end, he actually turned to logic to persuade her of his points. Seeing her analytical mind, and sensing her feelings through their mental link as they shifted from contemplation to firm resolve or curiosity on the subject was a wonder he didn't really have a privilege to experience in a long while.

Occlumency was a necessity in his years as a spy, from both the Dark Lord and Albus with his meddling schemes, and Legilimency was a pain due to Potter's absolute ineptitude. But telepathy, a real mental connection, he hadn't had a chance to practice that since his youth when Albus taught him the skill. She has been evasive about answering his questions with regard to how she learned, only smiling when he inquired and changing the subject. Perhaps it was time to push again.

They finished their meal after agreeing that the sea water experiment was utter bollocks and he nodded in gratitude when she took his bowl, and sent the tray downstairs while she brought the tea over and refreshed their cups. He caught her gaze again and she smiled, opening the connection up.

Yes? she asked, sensing his curiosity as her mental voice caressed his mind.

How did you learn? he queried again, wondering whether it would be his lucky night. Their talks occasionally took a personal turn but they were still both somewhat guarded.

And it appeared that for a change it really was a lucky night. You wouldn't believe me if I told you.

Severus' gaze narrowed. Presumptuous on your part, don't you think, Miss Granger?

She chuckled, perfectly amused at his dour expression. Oh, alright. But promise not to laugh.

He raised an imperious eyebrow. Have you ever known me to…laugh in all the years that we have been…acquainted?

Touché, she grinned. Well, I'll hold you to your word. It happened in my sixth year. I was taking a walk around the lake before venturing toward the forest, to clear my mind. Hagrid was just going in with Fang to gather some pixies for his class, she shuddered but continued, and agreed to take me with him.

What pray tell made you so desperate for a distraction that you agreed to accompany Rubeus into the Forbidden Forest? he drawled, actually perfectly amused by the beginning of the story despite having no clue as to how this would inform him of her telepathy skills.

Hermione shrugged. I don't think that would interest you, sir.

Oh, but it would. You forget, Miss Granger, that I am currently living vicariously through your tales. So do amuse me, he grinned.


He wanted to be cheeky, fine. I just wanted to get away from the Gryffindor common room. Ronald and Lavender Brown were having dinner from each other's tongues, she deadpanned and watched him grimace.

I asked to be amused, Miss Granger. Kindly do refrain from sharing details that make me inclined to loose my dinner, his silky voice cut through her mind but she just chuckled.

You asked sir, I merely answered, she replied nonchalantly.

That little- he frowned and his gaze hardened. Telepathy, Miss Granger, I am still waiting…

But Hermione merely grinned when she sensed the lack of animosity and underlying amusement, buried rather deep under disgust at the mention of Ron and Lavender, of course. How impatient of you, sir, she commented impishly but saw she was pushing it so just continued with the story, but as I was saying, we headed into the Forbidden Forest. And I might have…perhaps wandered off a little because Merlin knows I don't want to be bitten by one of those little blue monsters.

Quite, Severus quipped.

Hermione poured them another cup of tea before settling back, connecting their gaze again, sensing his impatience. I came to a clearing, and was about to turn back but I managed to stumble upon a unicorn. I've never seen a live one before, only once in my first year and that one was badly injured. This one was rather small, like a foul. But I didn't dare approach it. It noticed me of course, and just stared at me for a long moment before nodding, as if asking me come closer. So I did.

Severus raised a brow at the information she unequivocally provided along with the main story. Unicorns were beautiful but fickle. They would often not let any human approach them unless they were women, and virginal at that. Something to do with purity of body and heart affecting the purity of the magical core. Utter tosh if you asked him. He certainly never was allowed near one, but for a good reason. Being a murder didn't exactly lend itself for a good unicorn-buddy candidate.

Hermione seemed to have realised what she did and blushed a little, clearing her throat as she sipped on her tea. I believe it found my heart pure enough for me to approach it. Great, she just keeps digging...

As a man, Severus had to admit that the young woman before him grew into her features rather well. Long gone was the untameable frizzy tangle of hair, overbite, and waifish figure. Instead he was now facing a young woman, still on the rather slim side but with gentle curves that she wore well, comely features, and still wild but glossy chestnut curls. It was no wonder she was not pure both of heart and body at the age of sixteen. But still, entirely too much information…

Hermione patiently waited for him to set his cup down again and look at her before continuing. Anyway, I petted its mane, it was so beautiful and I admit being nearly in tears. Unicorns are such pure, loving creatures, it was fascinating. I was standing there, wishing I could just tell it how I felt and then it just…happened. It was the happiest feeling in my life when I felt its presence in my mind, like being caressed by the gentlest of touches, leaving a trail of goodness and love in its wake… she trailed off a little, sighing at the peaceful memory. It sounded a bit trite and ridiculous, but she honestly didn't know how else to describe it. And its voice was like a song, asking me what weighted on my heart. And I was just thinking the words, not sure how to do express them but when I focused on the presence in my mind, it just happened. I just spoke to the the unicorn.

Severus stared. He just…stared. And then he wasn't able to contain the sound. The chuckle that tore from his throat was raspy but it was a chuckle nonetheless.

See? Told you you'd laugh at me, Hermione shrugged.

Will wonders never cease? Only you, Miss Granger. Only you… he replied, amusement clear in his obsidian eyes.

Hermione shrugged and finished off her tea, getting the tray ready for departure. "It's getting late, I should leave you to your rest," she said aloud this time before transfiguring the armchair back to its former wooden state and perching on the edge, extending her hand towards him. He placed his hand in hers and she quickly checked his heart rate, nodding in satisfaction. "Same as in the morning," she commented, noticing he rolled his eyes at her compulsive checking of his well-being before settling back against the pillow and catching her gaze again. Thank you for your company, Miss Granger.

Hermione smiled and nodded. Thanking her for the second time in less than 24 hours, what a day. Thank you, professor. She picked up the tray and headed for the door before a swift rap of his knuckles against the wooden bedside table startled her once again into turning back and looking at him.

You do realise that I am no longer your professor, Miss Granger, he suddenly commented, the tone in her mind crisp but she could sense a resolve settled over his mind.

I do, yes, however I find myself at a loss as to how to address you without the title, sir, she admitted.

He looked at her for a long moment before his voice entered her mind again, this time less crisp and more..gentle. I do have a name, Miss Granger, I suggest you use it to address me.

She was momentarily stunned at being afforded such a privilege but nodded formally and offered a smile. Thank you, but only if you do me the same courtesy…Severus.

He shuddered slightly at how intimate her pronunciation of his name in his mind sounded, thankfully unnoticed by the witch. Very well, Hermione, he responded in kind, his voice caressing her mind and nearly making her loose the connection.

She straightened however and supported the tray on her hip. I will come back in the morning with tea and breakfast. Good night.

Good night, he nodded and broke the connection, letting her slip out quietly.

What a curious night indeed, he thought to himself before settling down to catch a few hours of sleep. He had to admit to himself that despite his earlier objections, he grew rather used to, if not a little fond of the time spent in the witch's presence….