Disclaimer:  Anything you recognize belongs to the goddess, JKR.  This was directly inspired by "Heart of the Wolf" which is written by metallicafangirl.  There may be something like this elsewhere but any similarities are not intentional.  I merely decided to reverse the situation and make this a stand-alone.  No romance.  Dedicated to Valancy, Drusilla, Gabriele, Giulia, Lynn, Tessie, Marek, Rhonda, Anne and Heather – you know why.

Speranza

It was still very new.  In fact, at times she almost forgot that she was padding the corridors of Hogwarts in an assumed form.  A newly acquired form.  She loved the fact that she was able to go out after curfew and not have to resort to borrowing Harry's invisibility cloak.  She craved the freedom.  She craved the solitude and the quiet. 

Her only regret was that she could not tell anyone.  Not yet.  Not until she was registered and she could not do that until her seventh year was complete…a matter of a few weeks.  Until then, it was her secret and she guarded it jealously.

Her only contact tonight had been with Mrs. Norris who seemed to think she was nothing more than an ordinary cat.  Hermione had been nervous that Filch's companion would somehow recognize the Gryffindor seventh year behind those cat-like eyes but it was not the case.  Mrs. Norris merely inquired whether she had seen any mice nearby and Hermione had casually directed her to a suit of armor behind which was a half-eaten pumpkin pasty.  Thanking her fellow cat, Mrs. Norris walked away with a grateful meow.

Hermione immediately pretended to be coughing up hairballs as she imagined Ron's reaction to what had just transpired.

"Oh yes, Mrs. Norris and I spent some quality time together and I pointed her in the direction of several succulent rodents.  We are planning on raiding the kitchen next week and meowing at the full moon tomorrow night," she thought to herself as she continued on.

Hermione made her way through the corridor outside Moaning Myrtle's bathroom.  It was flooded again and the light from the almost-full moon gave her the opportunity to look at her reflection.  She looked like an ordinary housecat.  Nondescript grey fur with a hint of frizz.  Green eyes.  Not too large in size and not too small either.  She was a cat and there was nothing about her that would make her stand out.  Exactly as she had hoped. 

The whole decision to become an animagus had initially started through a conversation with Sirius.  He had explained what was involved and gave her his assurances that she would be able to do it as well.  Hermione imagined that he expected her to wait until graduation before attempting the complicated training.  He did not realize that she could be just as impulsive as him, given the proper motivation.

Padding carefully through the water, Hermione decided to go to the one place she hadn't dared before.  The dungeons.  Taking a deep, cat-like breath (and with a defiant twitch of her whiskers), she turned down another corridor and proceeded to the darker and danker sections of the castle.  This was Slytherin territory and she could be sure to find students breaking curfew here.  She kept to the shadows, wary of any potential danger.  After all, Crabbe was fond of throwing things at Mrs. Norris and why would he treat her any differently?  A cat was a cat.

And she didn't want to have to explain any additional strange wounds or bruises to Madam Pomfrey.  Hermione was already in her debt for having kept her secret regarding the botched polyjuice potion back in second year.

On a whim, she paused to peer into the Potions classroom.  It was quiet…very peaceful.  She could not imagine anyone, other than herself, spending time here willingly.  Class or detention, otherwise it was very empty.

Only this time it wasn't.  She caught the scent of him before she actually saw him.  Trotting quietly into the classroom, she followed the scent of potions ingredients, the sound of splashing, the eerie glow of the cauldron's fire…the quiet mumbling of instructions.   There, standing over a bubbling cauldron in the furthest corner of the classroom, was Professor Snape.  He had his back to her so, feeling adventurous, she quietly padded closer.

"I wonder what he is brewing?" she wondered as she tried to read the labels on the bottles near the cauldron.

She sat down, sphinx-like, and watched him in utter silence.  He obviously was so involved in his work that he had not noticed his feline visitor.  Deft movements.  Precise measurements.  Expert technique.  The incantation spoken at just the right moment.  Expected reactions.  Expected result.

In short, perfection itself.  Not a single mistake…but rather a fluidity that Hermione found rather fascinating to watch.  He was never like this in class.  Never allowed himself to demonstrate just how much he loved his craft.  And, Hermione had the strangest feeling, that he would not be as happy if he ever earned the right to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts.  He just seemed too well suited to this.

And, for the first time she could recall, Hermione felt jealous.  She knew that she had a better grasp of the concepts and theories behind Potions than any other student in Hogwarts but, when it came to technique, she recognized the fact that she had a lot to learn.  While there had never been any serious issues with technique (despite Professor Snape's propensity to deduct points for stirring a potion too well) she suddenly felt that she was clumsy in comparison to these studied motions.

"I suppose that is what happens when you become a Potions Master," she thought to herself, tongue flicking out to clean a lifted paw.

But the most surprising thing was how peaceful he looked.  He moved with ease and there was none of the bitter tension that was so commonplace with Potions classes.  He seemed relaxed and she could not remember a time when Professor Snape was relaxed.

He picked up a ladle, dipped it into the steaming cauldron and proceeded to pour the amber liquid into a nearby goblet.  He put the ladle down and suddenly fished through his pockets, pulling out a piece of parchment.  He read it over quickly, nodded, as if satisfied with whatever was written on it, and put it back in his pocket.  He quickly extinguished the fire and put the various pieces of equipment away.  Hermione crouched in the shadows, not wanting to be noticed.  He took a quick glance around the room and, after picking up the goblet, began to walk out of the room.

Curiosity killed the cat…and Hermione was a cat so she followed the dark figure out of the classroom and through a variety of corridors.  He was not easy to keep pace with as he was a tall man but she did have the advantage of four legs and keen eyesight so it was not terribly difficult.  She could not say with certainty why she was following him but something in his expression compelled her.  Perhaps it was the curious nature of the cat that sparked her into action.

He stopped in front of his office door and, muttering a quick spell, entered.  Hermione quickly followed before the door closed and hid behind a pile of books.

Professor Snape moved to the chair behind his desk and sat down, placing the goblet in front of him.  He pulled out the parchment again and began reading.

Hermione could not keep still any longer.  With a soft meow and a cat heart that was beating frantically from fear of being discovered, she left her hiding place and jumped gracefully onto his desk.

He dropped the parchment in surprise and muttered an expletive, which would have made her blush had she been in her human form.

She sat down on her haunches and gave an innocent meow, trying to look as ordinary as possible.

"How on earth did you get in here?" He asked, glaring at the cat.

Hermione simply watched him.  After all, he did not really expect an answer from a mere cat.

"Well, I suppose it will be all right," he sighed.  " After all, you won't need to bear my company for much longer."

Hermione cocked her head to one side and then cursed herself a Hufflepuff fool.  What if he suspected that the cat was more than it appeared?

Luckily, he did not notice and was instead pointing to the parchment.

"It's all here.  My goodbye to the world.  Think of yourself as lucky.  You will be the only witness to the end of Severus Snape."

Hermione began to wonder what this was all about.  And she started to feel a bit frightened.

"Let me show you something," he reached over to pick her up.  For a moment, she considered struggling against him but she could feel that he was shaking and instead accepted his caresses.  Something was troubling him terribly and she had to find out what it was.  He pointed to the goblet.  "It smells good, doesn't it?"

Hermione stretched her head towards the goblet but he pushed her back.  "No, don't do that.  It is only for me."

"Mrowr," said Hermione, her senses tingling with the scent of the potion.  This was not something they had ever created in class.  It smelled…dangerous.

"Reductus poison.  A most potent form of poison that will kill almost immediately.  Quick.  Painless.  Clean and neat.  Perhaps a better death than I deserve, given what I have done, but death all the same.

Hermione's heart began beating very fast.  Professor Snape was going to commit suicide.  A cursory glance at the parchment confirmed this…it was little more than a goodbye and an apology to the Headmaster for disappointing him.  He was tired of the suspicious glances.  Tired of being regarded as something less than human.  Tired of seeing the hatred in most of his students and the wheedling falsehoods of his own house.

"There is nothing left for me…nothing.  Voldemort is gone and I am still here to what purpose?" the parchment read, the writing surprisingly sure and steady.

Hermione was shocked and saddened at the same time.  While she certainly did not like the melancholy figure holding her, she certainly did not want him to kill himself.  But what could a mere cat hope to accomplish?

He held her close for several minutes.  She listened to his thudding heart.  She felt his trembling.  And she felt, for the very first time, a sense of sympathy for him.  She found it difficult to forgive him for being so cruel to her and her classmates over the last seven years…but she understood something of the man beneath the veneer.  He was still frightening and bitter and wore a perpetual scowl.  But he was a man…not a monster.

And she would be damned to hell if she did not stop him from doing this.  Her Gryffindor conscience screamed at her to do something.

"Well, I suppose I must say goodbye, little cat.  My apologies if I have not been better company," he gently put her back on the floor and scratched under her chin, chuckling slightly when he heard her purr.

Hermione waited.  He folded up the parchment and sealed it with his own personal seal.  Placing it in the exact center of his desk, he smiled grimly and turned his attention to the goblet.  He picked it up and looked at it pensively.  Hermione flicked her tail impatiently, waiting for the right moment and, just when he was about to bring the goblet to his lips, she knew it was time to act.

With a single bound, Hermione landed on Severus' arm and, with a loud meow and a rather vicious snick of her claws, she managed to get him to drop the goblet as he gripped his wrist and cried out in sudden pain.  The poison spilled harmlessly onto his robes and the goblet clattered to the ground.  Before he could grab her, she leapt to the floor and darted behind some books.  She was trapped but he was safe.

"What have you done!?" He got up and roared at her, glancing at his soaked robes in utter disbelief.  "Stupid cat…do you know how long I have prepared for this?"  He began to throw books onto the ground, trying to discover and probably disembowel his little intruder.  He was in a total rage and ranted incoherently as he methodically destroyed his office. 

Hermione ran from hiding place to hiding place, trying desperately to avoid being blasted into oblivion.  The door was closed and there was no way for her to open it…she could not get out!  She paused for a moment, ready to jump behind a broken urn when strong hands suddenly captured her.

Professor Snape was livid.  His normally pale face had splotches of red on it and his hair fell into his face.  It seemed that he was trying to think of something to say but was having trouble speaking past the anger in his throat.  Hermione felt herself growing faint because his vice-like grip was making it difficult to breathe.  She had to do something before he killed her or, worse yet, discovered her secret.

So, she did the first thing she could think of.  She leaned forward meekly and licked his chin.

That immediately got his attention.  He looked at her in shock and, slowly, softened his grip.  She did it again and this time, rubbed her head against his face, purring.

"I don't particularly like you but I don't want you dead either," she thought to herself, hoping he wouldn't throw her across the room .

Suddenly, she found herself being held against his chest as he sobbed brokenly into her fur.  This was very uncomfortable but Hermione knew better than to squirm.  So she continued purring and hoped that he would come to his senses soon.

When at last he pulled away to look at her, Hermione could see that he was calmer but still shaking somewhat.

"I suppose," he muttered, trying to dredge up some of that infamous Snape attitude, "you will want some reward for sparing my sorry life, little cat."

Hermione purred in what she hoped was a wheedling manner.

"Hmph," Professor Snape snorted.  "You are a manipulative beast, aren't you?  I sense a definite Slytherin streak in you.  Wait just a moment."  He put her down on his desk and, pulling his wand out, conjured up a bowl of milk.  Hermione dutifully walked over to it and began to drink.

He continued running his hand along her back and watched as she made short work of the treat. "It has been a long time since I have had a pet…a very long time.  What do you think?  I seem to be in your debt.  It's the least I can do."

Hermione stretched as she deliberately got up and walked over to the envelope that was still on the desk and began sharpening her claws on it.

"You're right, of course.  I should dispose of that," he gently nudged her away before picking up the envelope and tearing it into pieces.

She then jumped down onto the floor and moved to stand by the door.

"I understand.  Many mice to catch before the sun rises?  Very well.  I should try to get some sleep so that I can put up with the Gryffindor seventh years tomorrow," he smirked as he got up to open the door.  "Will I be seeing you again?"

She rubbed against his leg, purring in affirmation.  She couldn't say that she liked Professor Snape but she did want to make certain that he would be all right.  For everything that he had done during the war, he certainly deserved that.

"Until the next time…and I will think of a name for you as well.  Happy hunting," he kneeled down to scratch under her chin briefly and, as he stood up, Hermione bounded away.

Finally reaching her dormitory she jumped up into her bed and changed into her human form.  Listening to the quiet snores of the other girls, Hermione looked out the window and watched the moon as it went to hide behind some dark clouds.  She felt proud and excited.  She had saved a life.  She had done something truly wonderful tonight.

And she had become Professor Snape's pet.

Hermione buried her face in her pillows so that her friends would not awaken to the sounds of her hysterical laughter.

****************************The next morning***************************

Hermione was enthusiastically eating her breakfast when Ron came in, looking rather irritable.  She exchanged a knowing glance with Harry before returning to her scrambled eggs.

"All right there, Ron?" Harry asked innocently, chewing on a strip of bacon.

"I couldn't finish my Potions essay.  I swear Snape's got a vendetta against me.  How do you write 4 feet of parchment on fever-reducing potions?  It's bloody impossible," Ron replied morosely, stacking his plate with waffles.

Hermione decided that now was not a good time to show him her essay, which was 1.5 feet longer than required.

"I wish he would just do us all a favour and take a leap off the Astronomy Tower," Ron grumbled as he speared a boiled egg rather viciously.

"Don't say that!" Hermione yelled, the Great Hall becoming strangely silent at her unexpected outburst.

Harry and Ron looked at her in shock.

"You don't wish that on anyone, Ron Weasley!  Do you hear me?  No one!"  Hermione put her fork down and glared at Ron.  "You don't know him…none of us do!"

For a moment there was an awkward pause before quiet conversations began at the various tables and a sense of normalcy returned.

"She's got a point, Ron," Harry agreed as he munched on some toast.

Hermione hazarded a glance to the Head Table where Professor Snape sat, deep in a conversation with Professor Sinistra.  She quickly returned to her breakfast before he could notice.

She had come to a decision about her future and, in her heart; she knew it was the right one.

*************************Two weeks later************************

"It rather surprises me that you would choose a Potions apprenticeship under my tutelage, Miss Granger," Professor Snape sat at his desk, looking over the application that Hermione had given him earlier in the day.

"Professor McGonagall had hoped that I would choose to continue my studies in Transfiguration but I made it clear that my future was in Potions," Hermione replied politely.  She saw the slight smirk that passed over his mouth before he schooled his expression into casual indifference.  She had felt all along that putting the offer forward as a loss to her Head of House would put it in a more favourable light in his eyes.  She almost smirked herself when she realized that she was really being quite underhanded about it.

"I think that my animagus form has instilled some very Slytherin aspects to my personality," she thought to herself in amusement.

He looked over the application again and shook his head slightly.

"Sir, are you rejecting my application?  I have had the highest Potions marks in all my seven years.  I have completed extra assignments each year…exceeded requirements for essays on a constant basis…you can't…I mean, honestly, I got 127% on our final examination…even higher than Bill or Percy Weasley…"

He raised a hand to stop her and she halted in mid-sentence.

"Miss Granger, I am not rejecting your application," he said.  " I will accept it because I feel it is the right time for me to take on an apprentice.  You do have some appreciation of the subtle art and exact science, which is Potions.  Your technique will improve over time but the basics are there.  The desire to learn is there and I believe you will do an adequate job and not cause me more than the usual number of headaches."

"I will do my best, Sir," Hermione replied dutifully.

"Such a Gryffindor sentiment," he smirked as he took out a quill to sign the application.  He rolled it up and returned it to her.  "Enjoy your summer, Miss Granger.  I expect that I will see you in September.  Try not to waste it by prattling on the fellytone incessantly with Potter and Weasley."

Hermione smiled, thinking of the animagus registration she had heartily shredded and the conversation she had had with the Headmaster regarding the events of two weeks prior.

"No, Professor Snape.  You will be seeing me somewhat sooner than that," she thought as she nodded and left his office.  As she walked down the corridor back to Gryffindor tower, she put a hand in her pocket and felt the object hidden inside.  It was a cat collar, Slytherin green, with a silver name tag upon which was inscribed one word.

SPERANZA

A/N:  Speranza means hope in Italian