Words aren't flowing for anything...well except this fic. It's going to be about 8k and I have it half done. I know, I'm evil for the constant unfinished fics... Sorry

As a warning, there's darkness in this story.

Inspector Hermione Granger flicked through the file and frowned. She rubbed at her temple, willing away the ever-present headache.

Miss Hortensia Abernathy. 19. Apprentice Auror.

Hermione tapped her finger against the attached picture, watching the few seconds of caught time. A very pretty young woman with dark eyes and hair. There was a blink. An uncertain smile. Her chin lifting and dark eyes fixing with determination. And then a repeat.

Excellent NEWTs. A proud student for Ravenclaw. Her scores in her first year of Auror training were equally excellent. She was diligent and skilled. Precise. Calm. A model apprentice.

So what had sent her screaming through the Ministry atrium that morning?

"Anything?" Harry plopped himself on the edge of Hermione's desk.

Hermione flicked shut the door to her office and recast the warding. Perhaps she should rethink allowing him through. All of her cases were extremely sensitive. Private. She couldn't risk their exposure. "I'm not a miracle worker." She closed the file and tapped her fingers against it. "I've had the file for under half an hour."

"So I should wait until the hour's up, as per usual?"

Harry smirked at her and picked up the round cat's eye moonstone on her desk. He tossed it from hand to hand, till she glared at him, and with a wince, he put it back again.

"We can't resume training until we know what set Abernathy off. She's brilliant. Will be an exceptional auror. It has to be major. And whatever it is, it's enough to have Snape drown her in Calming Draft."

"Master Snape, Harry."

Her childhood friend rolled his eyes. "Master Snape."

"Is she calm enough to give me her statement?"

"He says so. That's why I'm here. Not that Snape is letting anyone near her. You know how he is in his little fiefdom…"

Hermione's lips pursed. Harry did so love to pick at Severus Snape. They were on equal footing now. Harry —though only 25— was a Senior Auror. Severus ran the Forensic Section of the Auror Department, an innovative wonder that Hermione would give her wand to work in. But she'd been shunted into the Ministry's Inspectorate. A place of paperwork and digging through Auror cases when they went sour.

She'd been hand-picked by the Minister himself. But her job made her very few friends. Only Harry ever voluntarily entered her office. And so she put up with his digs at Severus Snape. Even as they formed an uncomfortable curl in her belly.

She sealed the file, pushed back her chair and stood. "I will brave his displeasure."

Harry snorted. "Rather you than me." He stood and straightened his deep red Auror robes. "I'll walk you down."

A fist tightened around her heart. At least with Harry at her side the sneers and hard glares would stop. No auror trusted the Inspectorate. But Hermione could live with the whispers and the glares as she was determined to keep all aurors clean. No dark magic would slip into the Department on her watch.

The Auror Department was a candlelit cavern of desks and zipping memos. Hermione's heels clacked against the stone floor, her chin lifted, every movement smooth and certain. In those moments, with hard eyes on her and mutters quietened by Harry's presence, she drew on her Inner-Snape. His stalking presence through the corridors of Hogwarts, strong and not giving any fucks for who was around him. It was her carapace. Not that she'd ever share her inspiration with Harry, or –Merlin, forbid— the man himself.

Though just once, she wanted to give into the temptation of wearing billowing subfusc.

Harry stopped at the wide, wooden doors of the Forensic Section. He frowned at the wards guarding the department. "I'll leave you here."

"You're old enough to stop these games, you know, Harry."

He shrugged and the edge of pink touched his cheeks. "I can't help myself. I know how he behaved was all an act. I know that."

"But the little Firstie in you doesn't believe it…here."

She poked him in the chest. She didn't want to point out that Severus never started these spats. It was always Harry. And she also didn't point out that he was echoing his father and Sirius in picking on Severus for no reason. She held back a wince. It was cowardly of her, but she didn't want to lose the only person who spoke to her during her working day.

"At least count to ten next time. Then ten more."

Harry held up his hands. "I will. Honest, Mione. But it's the eyebrow. That lifts…and this red mist just falls..."

She slapped him on the arm and ushered him back to his beloved aurors. "I'll let you know if I find something with Apprentice Abernathy." She glanced at her watch. It was approaching the end of her shift. "Unless urgent, it'll probably be in the morning now."

"Whatever you can get, Mione." And he strode away without a backwards glance.

Hermione pressed her wand-tip to the shimmer of the wards. "Inspector Granger to see Master Snape."

Wood groaned and for a moment, the wards slunk back as the doors swung inwards. Hermione quickly stepped through. Everyone permitted to enter Forensics was all too aware that Severus' wards had a nasty kick when they snapped back. She'd heard the tales of those who dawdled and then found themselves half way up a mountain in Wales.

The room beyond was bright and clean, arcane equipment in brass and iron perched on marble topped tables. Fresh air, with the hints of grass and woodland, moved around her, easing the strain in her flesh, the tight tension that always, always gripped her.

Her shoulders dropped and the nagging bite of a headache eased away. It was why she ached to work in Forensics. She felt herself there. She was certain Hogwarts was the last time she'd been anything but a coil of nervous, burning tension.

"Inspector Granger."

Severus' voice –still a warm, velvet bliss despite that thrice-damned snake— flowed through her. Her smile was easy. Yes, he always had such an effect on her. She'd given up fighting it.

Severus Snape hadn't changed down the years. Still the tall, slim man, dressed in form-fitting black. Though his hair now shone and his pale skin gleamed with health. Endless black eyes fixed on her and she fought down the ever present need to blush…

There was a speck of something on his shoulder and her fingers itched to brush it away.

Hermione shoved her need down. The ache to touch him always twitched through her. But he would not welcome anything from her, one of the ignorant Golden Trio. "Master Snape." She gave him a respectful nod. "You no doubt know why I'm here."

"I do. You may have ten minutes with Miss Abernathy. A team from St Mungo's is due to pick her up."

Hermione frowned. "Is it that serious?"

Severus ushered her to one of the side rooms. "Precautionary as to the curse. If that is what it is. I cannot discern what caused her reaction. Which, in itself, is worrying. There is no trace of dark magic. No hint of a hex or said curse. She ingested nothing that caused her symptoms…" He shook his head. "Miss Abernathy has indicated she will talk to you." His fingers caught in his hair and his face tightened. "I also believe…she has been assaulted."

Hermione nodded and followed Severus into the small room. It was comfortable, with soft rugs and deep, leather armchairs, the walls darkened and only the glow of pale candlelit flickering from a single shelf.

Hortensia Abernathy sat in one of the armchairs, her eyes glazed. A slow smile drew across her face. "Inspector Granger." Her blown gaze flitted to Severus and something shadowed there, fighting even the powerful potion he'd fed her. Fuck, Severus was right in his belief.

Hermione twitched a smile to the tall man beside her. "Could you give us a moment, please?"

Severus inclined his head, his expression blank and he glided from the room.

Hermione sat, the file on her lap, and presented the young woman with a sure smile. "How can I help you, Apprentice Abernathy?"

"I can feel it. Under my skin. Something tight, burning. Not fire…but hot and fierce. All week it's been there. It burst over me on the trials today, when, when…" She caught her fingers in her hair, her eyes clearing. Her mouth thinned. "Auror Carrasco cornered me. Said he'd been watching me. That I was…his now. He'd made sure of it."

Hermione's stomach dropped. Carrasco was a thug of a wizard. Old guard. He'd slipped by her twice now on charges of theft and brutality. She'd hoped there'd not be a third time to catch him.

Hortensia pulled in a heavy breath, strain tightening her fingers in her loose hair.

No, he'd not get away this time.

"He pushed himself against me. I felt…I felt his…" The young auror pressed her lips together, but then straightened in the chair. "He…groped me and tried to kiss me. That's when fire flashed under my skin. An inferno. Threw the bastard into the dark. And I ran. But the fire hasn't gone. It's still there. What did he do to me, Inspector?"

"We don't know, Hortensia. But I will find out. I promise you." Hermione dug parchment and a quill from her pocket. "When did your feeling of fire begin?"

The young woman frowned. "Tuesday afternoon. But in the morning briefing, something happened. I was near the front." She closed her eyes. "Carrasco was…behind me. And to my left. Grumbling and hungover. As the briefing ended, my left calf cramped. A deep revelio showed nothing and I didn't give it another thought."

It was a relief to work with a Ravenclaw. The young auror had already fixed the beginning of Carrasco's attack.

"Master Snape did a thorough sweep. Nothing appeared. But I know that was the moment. The fire came only hours after."

Hermione nodded. "It exploded out against Auror Carrasco. Did it flare or ease, this fire, at all over the week?"

A hint of a smile tugged at the young Auror's mouth. "In the new bakery, just off Diagon Alley. I stop in there to grab my breakfast. It's…" She drew in a long easing breath, the tightness palpably fading from her. "I feel as if I can breathe in there."

"You're aware that Master Snape has recommended you stay overnight in St Mungo's?"

Hortensia nodded. "I doubt they'll know more revealing spells than him, but it is procedure."

A knock at the door made her twitch and Hermione moved to answer it. "I'll be right back." She slipped outside to find Severus with two healers. Two women, she was glad to see. She took the senior healer to one said and explained there was a possible curse as well as Abernathy suffering a sexual assault. She watched them leave with the young auror, a protecting shield blocking against any nosy auror or Ministry official.

Hermione let out a long breath and caught her fingers in her wild, end-of-the-day hair. "Bastard Carrasco. I will get him this time."

Severus frowned. "He cursed and attacked her?"

She nodded. "But whatever he cursed her with, rebounded on him."

The Potion Master's lips pursed. "Then it was some form of Tactus curse."

Hermione almost groaned. Shit. "Yes, very probably. And they are impossible to prove in the flesh." But Wizarding law made any proven use of them a mandatory ten years in Azkaban.

"I believe in the case of assault, veritaserum is mandated."

"He's immune." Hermione grated out the two words. "And proud of it."

A dark smile ticked up the corner of Severus' mouth and heat bloomed in Hermione's chest. She couldn't explain the need that often flushed her. Something that had been bubbling deep in her flesh for so long that she couldn't remember a time when she didn't hold an ache for her former professor.

"No doubt Carrasco has been dosing himself for years to gain that immunity. He will not, however, be immune to my recent —patented and severely restricted— new version of the truth potion."

Hermione bit her lip to deny a girlish squeal, and for a moment –a brief, hot little moment— she thought Severus' gaze delayed on her mouth.

Wishful thinking. She'd borne witness to the ridiculously beautiful witches Severus Snape, the brooding and brilliant Dark Hero and recipient of an Order of Merlin, First Class, commanded now with an idle snap of his fingers. A hopelessly inexperienced, still bushy-haired know-it-all had little chance with him.

She shoved her mind back to Hortensia. "How long will it take you to brew?"

"I have a single vial. One dose." His gaze narrowed on the doors Abernathy had passed through. "Secure him, Inspector. I have the authority to administer the potion." His dark eyes grew cold. "And nothing would give me more pleasure."

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