Disclaimer: none of the characters are mine, they belong to J.K. Rowling. This roughly follows the plot of the Half-Blood Prince so if you recognize it, it's not mine. Thank for reading!

Chapter 1. Poison

"Miss Granger," Severus sneered, staring down at her over his nose as she sat with her hand straight up in the air. She articulated the correct answer to the question he'd posed the class. Unfortunately, he was forced to let the know-it-all have yet another go at house points when she was the only one to offer an answer. No matter how he loathed giving Gryffindor points, he couldn't help but admit she was a brilliant young witch. It was his first term teaching Defence Against the Dark Arts and the female of the trio was quick to sign up for the class, begrudgingly followed by the rest of the group, Potter and Weasley. With a flick of his robes, he turned to walk back to the front of the class, grumbling, "5 points to Gryffindor" before dismissing the hoard of students.

The shuffle of people quickly packing up their books and parchment followed by the scuff of shoes on the classroom floor filled the dead silence that had clung to the air after he and Granger finished speaking. He pinched the bridge of his nose as the tension rose in his back to settle on his shoulders. Groaning, the wizard flashed his eye open when he sensed a student was straggling behind.

"What do you want, Miss Granger?" Severus seethed as he returned his gaze to the classroom floor. She was fidgeting, her feet unable to find a comfortable position beneath her as if she was eager to leave but forcing herself to stay back. The discomfort he caused the witch made him smirk inwardly.

"Sir, I had a question about that defensive spell we were talking about… Langlock," she began, planting her feet on the floor when she uttered the name. There was a pause which Severus deemed appropriate to fill and rush the girl through her question.

"Get on with it Granger." He demanded in a low tone, continuing to pinch his nose as though it pained him to continue the conversation. His dark mark was burning, and he knew he would soon be answering to the Dark Lord about Draco's progress.

"Well you see, I haven't read about it any of my defensive spell textbooks, but Harry found it in one of his textbooks. It was written by hand, but I haven't found any other information on it, and I was just-" Hermione was rambling, her anxious energy causing her to once again move in place. She took a moment to compose herself when her professor shot his glance back up to her amber eyes. Her hair was more frazzled than normal, likely a side effect of confronting the professor she dreaded even seeing in the halls. "Who invented it, sir?" She posed sheepishly, looking back at his dark eyes with wonder and confusion.

Me, he thought, but knew better than to give that detail to the know-it-all. "I don't know, Miss Granger, now if you will excuse me," he spat. "I have more important matters to attend to than your incurable curiosity." He dismissed the witch with a flick of his wrist and stood, striding to the teacher's exit and into his new office. Not stopping to assess if the witch had left his classroom, he threw open the heavy wood door to the staircase that led to his office.

The room was lined with books of potions, spells, and the wonders of herbology. It was above ground, unlike his previous home in the dungeons, which he still had not gotten used to. There was no longer a chill in the air that kept him uneasy and it felt far too effortless to relax when he finally had the chance to be away from the grovelling students who had no idea the power that he held back. Had they known, they would not irritate him so, stay in their place more, not ask stupid questions. His brow furrowed more than it normally did as he thought back to the young witch who hung back after class. The sting of his forearm came back to the forefront of his thoughts, tearing away the image of Hermione's wild locks.

In one fluid movement, he made it to the door to his chambers on the opposite side of his office. He threw open the door and stepped through the threshold. Conjuring his death eater robes, he dressed before stepping into the floo to the Malfoy residence. Grabbing the floo powder in his fist, the green flames enveloped him as he uttered the address.

"Ah, Severus, so kind of you to join us." The breathy voice of the Dark Lord hissed as Severus stepped through the fireplace, banishing the soot from his robes. He immediately bowed before Voldemort and nodded quickly to Lucius who stood over his wife, Narcissa, as she sipped tea in the grand chair that faced the fireplace. He felt his body being pulled towards the dark wizard as he watched his childhood friends force themselves to appear relaxed in the dark wizard's presence.

"Of course, my Lord, I was simply finishing my class with that insufferable Mudblood, Granger." He gritted his teeth at the slur that fell from his mouth to please one of his masters. "She kept me otherwise I would have…" he paused a moment, his eyes flicking to Lucius who was holding his wife's shoulder and staring intently at the professor, "been here sooner. Pray tell, why have you summoned me during school hours, my Lord?" Once again looking back at the wizard, whose face was smooth and pale as his corpse reflected his fractured soul inside, Severus steadied himself.

"We need an update on Draco, we're growing impatient as the year progresses." The Dark Lord hissed, readying himself to stand from his grand armchair. "You see, Dumbledore is still alive and that we cannot have if you are to take your place as Headmaster of Hogwarts, dear Severus." The room seemed to get darker and the air, heavier as Severus prepared to clear his mind. "The ministry is nearly completely overturned, and we must have you take the place at the correct moment, Severus." Voldemort continued when his spy did not reply quickly enough. The dark wizard cast Legilimens, pointing his wand feverishly at his spy's skull. Severus focused on the bookshelf opposite him and brought forth the memories the Dark Lord was allowed to see while hiding away the words of a double agent.

Flashes of his coaching Draco and demanding he let Severus help him in his quest fluttered behind his eyes as he guided the dark wizard through his mind. The young Malfoy was determined, however, and made a second attempt at killing the Headmaster, the results of which had yet to be realised. Poison was a valiant attempt, but the current Positions professor was not someone Draco should have manipulated into committing the deed. Severus kept his doubts hidden, however, as to give The Dark Lord something to cling to.

"I see," Voldemort spoke, breaking the connection from his follower's mind. "Thank you, Severus, you may return to your duties. I hope to see what comes of this new attempt soon." With a nod, the professor glanced over at Narcissa who was holding her teacup at the same distance from her lips as she had been when he first arrived. She was white, looking intently at the stone fireplace, and likely worried about her son. Hopefully, the unbreakable vow that Severus had committed to would help her put her mind at ease. He hated to see what little family he had suffer, blood or otherwise.

He turned swiftly on his heel and made a step towards the floo. Half expecting to be called back into the room, he hesitated momentarily before throwing the powder into the fireplace and returning to his chambers at Hogwarts. As he stepped back into his room, he felt, yet again, someone was hanging about his space.

"Good evening Severus," purred the voice of the Headmaster.

"Dumbledore." Severus seethed, dusting the powders from his robes, and banishing his death eater attire to his wardrobe. He moved to his desk across from which the older wizard was standing, fiddling with his wand, one hand slowly turning a deep shade of black. Severus sighed, knowing that no matter how it happened, the man who had an unwavering faith in the potions master, was going to die. Even more likely it would be by Snape's own hand.

"There was an incident with the Weasley boy, he's in the infirmary with Potter and Miss Granger. He'll live but I highly suspect he wasn't the intended victim in this attack." Albus strode forward, towards the current dark arts professor who was leaning against his oak writing desk. Severus knew that Draco's latest attempt would be a failure and unknowingly shrugged at the idea. At least his young charge was safe and had yet to be the cause of death. "Accompany me, would you? You are the Dark Arts teacher after all, and this was the work of dark magic."

Upon arriving at the infirmary, Snape noticed Hermione sitting at the bedside of her friend, staring at him as he groaned quietly in his sleep. Her hair was more subdued than normal, and she was in plain clothes: a grey jumper and relaxed blue jeans. He was beginning to hate the way he could look at her and see the beauty and intelligence she often exhibited. She was an insufferable know-it-all, he reasoned, and he knew had no time for feelings during such uncertain times, but likely, he mused, these dark times are what brings forth the emotions, the will to live. For once in his adult life, Severus had begun to value his life, if only to see what becomes of the brightest witch of her age, although he knew the most he would see of that future would be from a portrait if anyone chose to honour him as such. That was even more unlikely. Bringing his attention back to the present, he stared purposefully at the golden trio.

Hermione stood from her friend's side when a dramatic rush of footsteps rounded the corner into the room. A girl, with equally frizzy hair to the muggle-born witch, gripped the end of Weasley's bed tightly, uttering a pet name that sounded more insulting than endearing. Hermione gave way to the girl who took the advantageous spot she had been occupying. Oddly enough, the young witch chose to take up the space closer to Severus which allowed him to smell the hints of vanilla and peppermint toothpaste that surrounded her. It did not help that she was intoxicatingly aromatic, but her behind was also directly in his line of sight. If he looked down, he could see her perfectly shaped arse squeezed into her denim trousers.

Student, he whispered to himself, redirecting his gaze to the large windows behind the ginger's bed. The group was discussing the nature of the poisoning. Slughorn guiltily admitting he had intended on giving the alcohol to the Headmaster as a gift sucked the air out of the door. Unfortunately distracted by the muggle-born's assets, Snape was behind on the conversation and hoped he was not called upon for an opinion. To his disappointment, the twinkling eyes of the Headmaster were directed at him as though he was waiting for a response.

"Severus?" The older wizard questioned, unwavering from his stare at the former potions professor. Snape's eyebrows shot up as he pondered the best way to respond to the deafening silence filling the space around him.

"Pardon me, Headmaster, my mind was elsewhere." His jaw set, Severus flicked his glare to the Boy-Who-Lived in hope to cover any vulnerabilities he may have shown by letting his thoughts wander. The dark-haired student looked away quickly to focus on his friend moaning under the hospital bed covers. He fidgeted with the bedpost much like his mother did when Severus had been hexed by Potter's father in a forbidden duel on the school's grounds. Naturally, he had gotten the points taken from his house, and James escaped punishment.

"I asked you if you could tell us what poison it was, exactly, that Mister Weasley here consumed," Dumbledore repeated his question, soliciting a nod from the potions master. Severus took the bottle that the Headmaster was holding out to him and spun swiftly, exiting the infirmary. He had been so distracted by the memory of his school torments that he hadn't noticed Granger slipping out before him. She was waiting on the corner closest to the infirmary doors.

"Miss Granger." He sneered, looking down at her as he passed by her, his robes billowing behind him. She pushed herself from the wall as he moved to walk past her and hurriedly kept up a step behind. With little energy to devote to losing her trail, he kept on his rushed pursuit to his labs for a diagnostic on the poison of which he was already certain of its origin.

"I'm curious, Professor," she started, nearly out of breath as the two rounded a corner to a staircase that led them down to the dungeons. "There are notes, in this book that Harry has, the potion's textbook, and it's been helping him be better at potions than even me." She bit her tongue as she realised her insecurities were beginning to drip down lips. "I mean, I want to know if there are certain techniques that the textbooks don't teach us. Something I could maybe learn from you?" The young witch's query stopped Severus just before he reached his office door. She nearly fell into him at the abrupt change of pace and her palm grazed his arm. He held himself tense to avoid shivering at the touch.

"It may have escaped your notice, but I am a particularly busy individual." The potions master turned to face her, forcing her to take a few steps back as she shrunk before him. "I don't have time to help you get ahead in your petty competition against your peers." He was quickly reminded of his young self in her, always looking for ways to improve his marks, impress his professors, and beat out other students in his studies. His goal was to show off for Lily and have her see him for more than the hateful words people called him. He flinched as the memory of hissing the awful word, he had only uttered a handful of times since, at his only best friend when he found out she was dating his walking nightmare.

"Professor, I just…" Her voice trailed off as she attempted to hold eye contact with the wizard, to prove her worth, her confidence. His eyes were darker these days, and he looked like he was in more pain than usual now that Voldemort has returned. Her sneaking suspicion that he was a death eater had been confirmed and she was constantly worried that she would return to class and he would be dead, or worse: have turned against Dumbledore and the whole of Hogwarts. But, she reasoned, if Dumbledore trusts him, I should too. "I'm thinking of becoming a healer, and if I want to get into a good University for my potions mastery like you did, I need to be the best. And you're the best. Please, tutor me, professor." Her begging made him wince, her amber eyes looking sad at his reaction.

Just when he was about to give in, a thunder of footsteps came rushing down the staircase they had previously descended and the Headmaster rounded the corner to see the two of them. "I think you should do it, Professor Snape, maybe she could help you in your brewing for Madam Pomfrey or Saint Mungo's, you'll certainly need the help in the coming months," Dumbledore warned, eyeing the younger wizard over his half-moon lenses. Severus sucked in a sharp breath and glared once more down at the student, who was doing little to hide her excitement at the proposition.

"Fine." He hissed, spinning around, and opening his office door and motioning for Hermione to follow him. Hurriedly, the barely-of-age witch puttered in behind him, her hair crinkling with electricity.