*** Anything you may recognise belongs to JK Rowling, with thanks for allowing us to play with her characters for a while. This story is a non-profit making work of fanfiction ***

Chapter 1

Wake me up inside, wake me up inside,

Call my name and save me from the Dark.

Bid my blood to run, before I come undone,

Save me from the Nothing I've become ...

(Evanescence, Bring Me to Life)

Severus Snape swept around the dank dungeon classroom brandishing his ebony wand in a clenched fist as he vanished and cleared the detritus from his final Potions lesson of the day; second-year Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff. Despite the students ostensibly having tidied up after their practical session, to a perfectionist like Snape the room was still unbearably out of order.

Discarded and dropped ingredients lay carelessly under work benches, with no thought given to what reactions may occur if two incompatible items were to accidentally combine. Cauldrons had been given a cursory scrub but the congealed remains of the second-year shrinking solution the students had been attempting clung solidly to the pewter bases of many of them. He would endeavour to hand out some detentions that evening, having miscreants scrub cauldrons without magic was a personal favourite punishment of his. He waved his wand and sent the cauldrons spinning over to stack in the large sinks at the back of the room to await their dishwasher. Textbooks had been left behind on the benches and on stools; at least these were named so he could identify the forgetful culprits and deduct an appropriate number of housepoints from the errant students.

Worst of all was the disarray that the store cupboard had been left in; the professor's usual strict alphabetical ordering system had been plundered by thirty pairs of adolescent hands with no regard for anyone else who may need to procure their own ingredients. He rolled his eyes and swept his wand over the storeroom, and curled his mouth in satisfaction as the bottles began to rearrange themselves to his exact specifications.

Stalking through the classroom that was now tidy to his own exacting standards, he watched as the early evening gloom that preceded a cold December night threaded its smoky fingers through the small windows at the top of the wall. These windows were the only source of natural light that permeated the dungeon, and the early darkness that fell at this time of year meant that the candles in the wall sconces were often lit halfway through the afternoon classes.

He caught sight of his wraith-like reflection in one of the large jars along the eye-level shelves around the room, jars that drew repulsed glances from his students and contained such delicacies as pickled newt intestines, frog's eyes, scarab beetles and gutted flobberworms.

He met the own eyes of his reflection and mused that he looked just as creepy as some of the contents of the jars.

The months following the end of the war earlier that year had not been kind to him as he had struggled to recuperate from what should have been a fatal attack from Voldemort's snake, Nagini. The Battle of Hogwarts, as it had become known, had seen him chased from the school by the Heads of House, summoned to the Shrieking Shack by Lucius Malfoy on Voldemort's order, where the Dark Lord had turned on his 'faithful servant' Severus Snape in an attempt to gain mastery of the Elder Wand, of which he had incorrectly presumed Severus to be the master.

Voldemort had encased Snape's head in a golden sphere that contained the wretched snake; who had ripped his neck and throat to little more than shreds. Not waiting to see Snape struggle for his final breaths, the barely-corporeal Dark Lord had left the shack taking Nagini with him. Potter, Granger and Weasley had rushed in following his departure, all seemingly at a loss to what to do.

He had very little speech or life blood left, but he managed to communicate to Potter to take his memories and view them immediately in Dumbledore's pensieve. He remembered vaguely clutching Potter's hand, followed by blackness.

And that should have been it. He should have bled out on the dusty floor of the Shrieking Shack, ironically where he nearly met his end years earlier at the mercy of a transformed Remus Lupin, the memories would be viewed and his pathetic obsession with Lily Evans Potter would be revealed to all. Dumbledore's stored memories along with his own, just passed to Harry, would have been enough to grant him a post-humus exoneration of his war crimes, and he would take his own personal guilt to his grave.

He had not counted on the loyalty of Draco Malfoy, his favourite student and not just because he was the Slytherin son of a death eater, who upon hearing that his father had brought Snape to his death before the Dark Lord, refused point blank to leave Hogwarts after Voldemort had been defeated without retrieving the body of his professor from the shack.

Lucius, Narcissa and Draco had hastened to where Severus lay to find not his dead body, but a barely-breathing, heavily-bleeding but definitely alive Professor Snape. Narcissa had been trained in healing before her marriage, and immediately shed her outer robe to transfigure into magically-weighted gauze pads to stem the flow of blood in his neck.

Draco had searched his teacher's cloak, convinced that Snape would not have gone before the Dark Lord without protection and was proved right as he discovered the bespoke antivenin that Severus had created specifically for Nagini after Arthur Weasley was attacked, and a bottle of blood replenishing potion.

Lucius had used Severus' own Vulnera Sanateur spell to knit together the wounds in his neck enough so that the potions could be administered.

Between them they worked to restore enough life to their former friend to allow him to be side-along apparated to Malfoy Manor. Apparition had been possible within Hogwarts once Snape had been chased from the school by the other teachers, as Headmaster he had officially deserted his post, leaving Hogwarts without a Headteacher. Without a Head to command them, the wards fell. Many death eaters were able to escape justice by apparating away from Hogwarts following the fall of Voldemort to Harry Potter's wand.

Once ensconced in a guest suite of Malfoy Manor, Severus was treated by hired healers from St Mungos, paid in galleons by the Malfoys. House elves fed and attended to him. He began to heal. Physically, he began to heal. Mentally and emotionally, well, that was another matter entirely.

Draco told him the full story of how they had been able to rescue him from the Shrieking Shack, and brought him updates from Ministry trials of war criminals and copies of the Daily Prophet to keep him abreast of the current news.

Any witch or wizard not killed in the final battle who was branded with the dark mark was sent immediately to Azkaban. For this reason there were many uncaptured death eaters still at large. Severus Snape was acquitted on a unanimous vote from the Wizengamot on the testimony of Albus Dumbledore, and awarded an Order of Merlin for his audacious contribution to the Light during the Second Wizarding War.

Lucius and Draco Malfoy, despite both bearing the dark mark, were spared Azkaban. Draco on account of his age, he had been only sixteen when Voldemort had branded him, considered a child in the wizarding world and therefore considered incapable of either accepting or refusing the dark mark. Lucius kept his liberty largely due to his efforts to save the life of Severus Snape, and also due to the actions of his wife Narcissa, who in lying to Voldemort directly resulted in saving the life of Harry Potter. Lucius was bound to wear a magic-suppressing cuff for five years, which was proving appalling, but better than incarceration on a large rock in the North Sea.

Severus looked upon his reflection in disgust. His unkempt, long black hair was still hanging in thin, greasy strands around his shoulders. Eyes as cold and unfeeling as black ice stared back at him. The lines around his forehead, eyes and mouth had become more pronounced with the extreme stress of the preceding few years of being a redoubled agent, walking a thin, precarious line between the puppet masters of Dumbledore and Voldemort.

He still favoured an all-black style of dress, topped off with his customary billowing teacher's robes, although he had now added a permanent glamour to his routine, to cover the abhorrent scarring to his neck left by Nagini's attack. The majority of his other scars, souvenirs from his years as a death eater, were mostly hidden beneath his restrictive clothing, and the visible ones on his hands could easily be explained away as Potions accidental injuries. Nothing would ever be seen. At least his shagging days were over, he thought, wryly, he had no reason to disrobe in front of another.

Not that there had been much of a sex life to speak of. He had lost his virginity to his then-best friend Lily Evans in the sweetest encounter one summer back in Spinner's End. That was the summer before he lost her friendship forever. Shortly after he made the worst decision of his cursed life and joined the brave new ranks of Voldemort's death eaters.

At nineteen, the depraved debauchery of a death eater revel was a carnal delight to Severus and those young Slytherins like him. He'd had more sex that year, both consensual and ... not so consensual, than the rest of his life in total. Even now his cock would stir at the thought of the free and easy copulation that Voldemort delighted in insisting upon, publically and with many partners.

Two years later it had become less fun and more of an ordeal. Raping muggle girls did not appeal, and he spent most of the time avoiding their eyes, ignoring their screams, and concentrating on the quickest possible orgasm so that he could stop.

At thirty-six he saw revels for what they were – torture. Voldemort had grown ever more inhuman after his reincarnation in the Little Hangleton graveyard, and his lack of a fully corporeal body to participate in the revels himself meant that he commanded his loyal followers to commit acts of further and further depravity. Death eaters had not only raped and abused muggles but had also been required to copulate with each other for the Dark Lord's pleasure. He fought back the vomit rising in his throat as he remembered fucking the squat Alecto Carrow from behind as the crowd of death eaters jeered them on.

The vile Alecto clearly enjoyed every minute, screeching like a pig at market, her skirts held up over her head by other death eaters. Severus had forced his mind and eyes elsewhere to achieve his required orgasm, before turning his heel out of the room to lose his dinner in one of Narcissa Malfoy's rosebushes.

The next time Alecto had been offered to him, and her squinty little eyes had glittered at him, already making to bend over, he had suffered Voldemort's wrath rather than stick his cock in her again. He still bore the stripes of the magical lash across his back. It had been worth it.

He pulled his eyes away from his depressing reflection in the large potion bottles, and walked, slower than his usual pace, across his classroom and sank down in the large leather chair behind his desk; he had essays to mark before dinner.

As he picked up his vicious red quill, his favourite for annotating dunderheaded essays with scarlet vitriol, the fruitlessness of his task assaulted him so hard between the eyes that he had to quickly pinch the bridge of his large nose in protection. What the hell was he doing? Why was he back here? Where was the red blood that used to pump like fire in his veins and flow as easily as his crimson ink? Why was he continuing to lie to himself?

He had no business being back here at Hogwarts. The magical rebuild had been completed during his recovery and convalescence at Malfoy Manor over the summer; the Ministry had actually done something right for once and expended all available resources to repair the school and have it re-open for the first day of the new term on 1st September as always.

Aside from the re-build, and re-stocking, new staff had had to be recruited. Minerva McGonagall had taken her rightful place as Headmistress with Filius Flitwick as Deputy. Severus was not asked to return to the Headship, nor would he have wished to. His year of tenure would be nought but an ugly inkblot on a footnote in history. He would have no portrait in the Head's office as he neither retired nor died in role – he was a deserter.

Angrily thinking that his year as Headmaster, protecting the students from the death eaters rampaging through the castle, costing him mind, body and soul was more than most Heads had had to cope with, he grabbed an essay parchment from the top of the pile, hoping to distract himself from the path his thoughts were currently taking.

Minerva had visited him at Spinners End the last week in August, where he had just returned, practically fully recovered. She had begged him to return to his position as Potions Master. Horace Slughorn had taken the opportunity of a peaceful retirement and McGonagall did not have enough love for the man's teaching to persuade him to stay.

Snape had made her tea and listed all the reasons why it would be impractical and insensitive for him to return to Hogwarts, but the Scottish harridan was having none of it. She had looked around the dingy old millworker's house, thick with dust and little furniture or comfort, and left him with the offer he could never refuse;

"Where else are you going to go, Severus?"

She was right and they both knew it. The evening of 1st September found Severus at his seat at the teachers table, clad in his familiar black robes, scars covered, glaring at the returning students and showing no apparent interest in the new ones. He had felt even more hated than before. The students who had been at Hogwarts during that last final year of the war, despite being fully informed of all the facts and circumstances (excellent, more people who knew of his crush; that had become love; that had become his obsession and life purpose) eyed him with mistrust and open dislike. He resolved not to care. He would close himself off and feel nothing.

He felt that he himself was less than nothing. Nothing, apart from the man who should have died. A man who had no business being still alive when so many had breathed their last at his hand, directly or indirectly. A man who had made, and was still making, all the wrong decisions.

He leaned back against the leather back of his chair and closed his eyes, breathing deeply. He rested his large hands upon the desk and felt them grow heavy. He was tired, so tired, tired of everything.

He heard a sharp rap upon the classroom door but opted not to respond. Whoever it was could just sod off. It was almost the last day of term before the Christmas holidays, why would anyone be seeking him out? He remained sat in the same position, his eyes resolutely closed as the unmistakeable noise of the heavy dungeon door being opened creaked across the room.

His innate spy's instinct kicked into effect and he opened one eye the tiniest crack to indentify the disturber of his peace and quiet. He inwardly sighed. Granger. That mad hair and the fact she was not dressed in school uniform was immediately familiar to him. He shut his eye fully again, and feigned a deep sleep. It was a little childish, but preferable to engaging the insufferable know-it-all in conversation this late in the day, and out of lesson time.

Hermione Granger had returned for the first term of the school year, along with many of her cohort, to finish and sit the NEWT exams they had missed during their final year, due to the war and their prominent roles in it. All of them had been offered complimentary NEWTs which many, lazier students such as Potter and Weasley had accepted, but a large contingent had opted to return to the rebuilt Hogwarts and sit the exams properly. Since the school numbers were down due to the many young lives lost in the war, there was space to house these extra students. The NEWTs had been now been taken the previous week, and this last week of term those older students were moving back home.

His natural keen sense of hearing (one of his many bat-like qualities) meant he heard Granger tread lightly across the room towards him. He sensed her stand in front of his desk for a short while, she did not speak, perhaps out of fear of disturbing him, but she was definitely looking at him. He remained still.

He heard papers move on his desk, and the scratching of a quill. Was she leaving him a note? He decided not to ask, but to continue his pretence of being asleep. Reading her note was liable to be much easier than have to talk to the annoying girl. He could still hear the continued scratching of the quill, and also sensed some regular light bursts of magic waft across him with her signature attached to them. Merlin, was she writing him a bloody essay? However, he could not 'wake' now without appearing ridiculous.

At length, the writing stopped. Surely she must leave now? But no. He felt her move around to his side of the desk, and step extremely close to him. She was standing next to him, he presumed just watching him sleep. He could hear the soft inhale and exhale of her light breaths. All of a sudden, he felt a feather light touch between his eyebrows, where he had a deep furrow, a gentle pressure there, and she was rubbing softly, as if trying to ease the crease from his skin.

At his lack of response or protest, she added another finger, and then another, massaging his tense brow, moving up until her fingers were gently soothing in small circles and pressing upon his stressed, lined forehead.

"Professor Snape." She whispered as she ministered, as if she knew he was awake but did not want him to open his eyes or move, "Professor I am leaving this evening. I have visited all my professors to give my thanks before I leave Hogwarts for good, and you are no different." She paused.

"Actually, that is not entirely true. You are different. I have never felt so utterly protected by someone as I have by you, Professor. You threw yourself before every danger for us, and we never realised, we never knew."

She moved even closer, added her other small, cool hand to his forehead, and slid her fingers up to rake through his long hair, pushing the black strands away from his face. It felt utterly divine. When had he ever been touched with such tenderness? He had no idea why he was permitting this chit of a student to take such liberties with his person, but at that moment he was struggling to care. All he wanted was for her to continue, and he was damn sure she wouldn't if he was 'awake'. As she pushed his hair back in rhythmic strokes, her full breasts brushed against his face, she couldn't have any idea what she was doing to him, could she? He thanked the gods for his voluminous robes wrapped around him, concealing the slight straining at the front of his trousers.

"I am sorry that we did not give you the respect you deserved, and I thank you for every sacrifice you have made." Her fingers continued to rub with hypnotising pressure on his forehead and scalp.

"I can see you are tired, Professor Snape. I can only hope that one day you find the courage to live the life you desire, rather than what you feel is expected of you."

She slid her hands slowly, and almost reluctantly, from his face, before leaning down and placing her lips close to his ear.

"Be happy, Sir."

He heard her walk back across the room, and the heavy clunk of the door as it closed behind her. He waited a few more seconds before he risked opening his eyes. She had gone. What the buggering fuck had that all been about? Why had she touched him in that manner, and more importantly, why had he allowed it?

He reached under his robes to cup his trousered erection, which was hard and interested, and exhaled at the ridiculousness of his own appendage. As if a shag with a student was ever on the cards, he castigated himself, and his inappropriate bodily response.

He sighed deeply, and pulled the essay parchments towards him again. To his surprise they were all marked, clearly and concisely in his favoured red ink. Flicking through them, she had even matched his handwriting and sarcastic style of commentary. That must have been the little bursts of magic he had felt. He chuckled in spite of himself.

Granger, though he would never tell her, was already an outstanding witch; subtle and talented with the brightest future ahead of her. She'd done all his tedious marking for him, and done it perfectly, in a fraction of the time, using a spell he wished he knew. She had relaxed and quieted his mind with just her fingertips. Oh, and not forgetting; she had also just given him a top-class erection and walked out of his life forever.