Hermione sat alone at a table in the Leaky Cauldron. Her feet ached and her legs were stiff and bruised after yet another day spent pulling and shelving wands for Mr. Ollivander.

When she had enlisted to work for him her mind had been fuelled by fantasies about learning the delicate art of wand making from the old master himself, since it was an art passed through direct apprenticeship.

Each master jealously guarded his or her methods for wand making, and it was this lure of forbidden knowledge that had attracted Hermione to Ollivander when she saw his request for summer help in the work-study opportunity listings at Hogwarts.

Now, after two weeks at the job, Hermione realized that Mr. Ollivander had just wanted a young body at his disposal so that he wouldn't have to waste his time on the more physical aspects of running his business during its peak season.

The summer holidays brought in all of the young students buying their first wands in preparation for starting at one of the magical academies. It also brought in University students looking to upgrade to more specialized wands now that their requirements had changed.

Then there were the tourists, and they were the worst by far. Families full of whiney, bored children who felt the need to touch everything, and parents who felt that just because they were on vacation that they no longer had to rein in those children.

All of this translated into migraine headaches and lots of running for Hermione who found that apart from showing her how he catalogued his merchandise, Mr. Ollivander had no intentions of giving her further instruction.

Back when she thought there would actually be a trade off in knowledge, the pitiful stipend that was attached to the position didn't bother her. Sitting here now, after receiving her first paycheque of thirty lousy sickles, well the thought of all that she had done to earn the money made her meagre dinner congeal in her stomach.

There was loud raucous laughter from the front of the tavern, where the bar was, and Hermione looked up to see Mundungus Fletcher looking as if he had just finished telling a particularly raunchy joke. Tom, the barkeep, was holding his belly, shaking with laughter, as were several others sidled at the bar whom Hermione didn't recognize. They were all enshrouded in the blue haze of smoke belching from the pipe Mundungus was smoking, the stem of which was held between his teeth. Hermione coughed a little as the reek of cheap tobacco had permeated to where she was eating and it was beginning to make her feel slightly queasy.

She got up and paid Tom for her dinner. She went to the tavern's public bathroom, removed her robe, shrunk it with her wand, and wadded it into the pocket of her jeans.

She re-emerged and left the Tavern on the Muggle London side.

Hermione felt her thoughts realign with the Muggle world as she took in the hustle and bustle of traffic on Charring Cross Road.

The evening air was balmy and the sky was just beginning to darken. Hermione guessed that it was sometime after eight o' clock and she cursed her luck.

If Mr. Ollivander had let her finish a little earlier she could have browsed through the stacks at Foyles, which was just next door to the Leaky Cauldron. Ah well, she'd have to settle for what she could see through the windows.

She walked slowly past the windows, looking longingly at the adverts for the latest best-selling novels. Unfortunately she didn't recognize most of the Muggle authors featured there.

Hermione missed the library at Hogwarts. There were no public libraries in the magical world, like there were in the muggle world. It seemed that either you belonged to an institution that possessed such a literary collection, or you amassed one yourself. Both options, it seemed, were reserved for the wealthy.

'Just imagine, what could be done with that knowledge if it were available to the masses. Maybe that's what I'll make my life's goal. Yes, it has a nice ring to it. The Granger Collection, and I'd have a foundation and it will host the brightest minds. Love of learning, and not magical inheritance, will be the only cost of admittance.'

In her imagination she built up an empire as her feet carried her to the Underground station at Tottenham Court Road, where she boarded the train that carried her home.

The first thing that Hermione did when she got home was to kick off her flats and walk shoeless through the carpeting. She loved the nubbly feel of it through her stockings; it was a holdover from childhood, but it soothed her and grounded her and was better for her than say, smoking or drinking.

She padded through the darkened entry hall and into the kitchen. There was a note from her mother on the table. Her parents had gone out for the evening, and would she mind not waiting up for them?

Hermione smiled. It was wonderful that her parents were still so much in love that they made it a priority to go out on dates with each other. Hermione knew that she wouldn't see them again until after she got home from work tomorrow evening.

Their date nights had a tendency of being followed by late mornings.

There was a postscript. A letter had arrived by owl for Hermione, and had been left on the half wall with the rest of the post.

Hermione found the letter sitting on top of the pile. It had a Ministry return address.

It was a form letter.

Dear Miss Granger,

The Department of Matchmaking and Vital Statistics is delighted to welcome you.

Section 23 of the Muggleborn Equality Act (hereafter MEA) requires that all citizens of non magical birth register with the Ministry's matchmaking scheme (hereafter Banns). As a courtesy this enrolment is made automatically for all upon reaching the age of majority, and to participate no further action is required. Should you wish to opt out of Banns please send an owl and self addressed envelope and enclose the coupon at the bottom of this letter. However if you choose to opt out your wand and your place in Wizarding society will become forfeit.

Enclosed you will find an informational packet containing an optional questionnaire and detailed information on the scheme. You are encouraged to return the questionnaires in a timely manner as this gives potential mates the best possible way of making an assessment of your compatibility. We are sure you are as excited to be participating in such a time-honoured tradition as Banns as we are to include you.

Merlin Bless!

Ms. Ambrosia Gannaway,

Intake Director, DMVS

Hermione crumpled up the letter and burst into tears.

She cried from the place deep inside of her where the hopes and dreams for her future dwelt.

She had never imagined this possibility for herself. In her mind the heights of academia that she had aspired to for so long did not come complete with an accompanying husband and a clutch of children.

She felt a furry head butt her calves and then a length of warm body rub along her legs.


"Oh Crooks. . ." Hermione scooped up the bandy legged ginger tomcat and pressed her tearstained face into his furry warm body.

"What am I going to do now?"

Severus Snape awoke at the sound of movement in his living area. He groaned as the sunlight that filtered in through the high porthole windows stabbed at his eyes, and he shut them tightly.

He shifted in the chair and a half empty bottle of whiskey that had been lodged at his crotch clattered onto the stone floor and shattered.

"Oh for fucks sake." He moaned as his gorge began to rise.

He bolted up from the chair he had slept in and ran to the small bath that adjoined his study where he was sick into the sink. He hadn't taken anything but copious amounts of whiskey since breakfast the day before, so all that came up was bile. He turned both taps on full and rinsed the taste of it out of his mouth and then cupped the water in his hands and rinsed his face. He scratched the new growth of stubble. It grew in sparse and patchy, and itched..

Wandering back out into his study he found the breakfast tray that the house elf had left for him. On it sat a carafe of Turkish coffee, and four pieces of buttered wheat toast. He picked up one of the triangles of toast and chewed it slowly, willing it not to come back up again. After a few minutes he began to feel better and sipped gingerly at a cup of coffee. He felt the caffeine hit his nervous system but took little pleasure from the artificial high. Severus decided to forgo a second cup, as it would leave him feeling jittery and knackered and he wanted to look his most intimidating when he met with Remus Lupin.

Thirty minutes later he was washed, de-whiskered, and dressed in a clean set of robes. He checked himself quickly in the mirror, glowered at himself, and then apparently satisfied with what he saw, retrieved his wand and moneybag and flooed over to the Leaky Cauldron.

Severus tapped the sequence to open the arch to Diagon Alley. The bricks rearranged themselves, and presently he was walking down the narrow close bound for Knockturn Alley.

The weather was absolutely stunning. The sweltering heat and humidity that had tormented for the past few days had lifted. The sky was blue and clear and there was a refreshing breeze that carried the smells of the shops to his nostrils as he walked past them. Here was the Apothecary and the enticing scents of exotic spices from the orient and the Middle East. Farther on down was the comforting smell of breakfast pastries from Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour and Bakery. Patrons breakfasted at quaint café tables in front of the shop, some chatting animatedly with each other, their purchases piled in bags and neat packages at their feet.

He looked at the display of the newest fashions in summer robes at Madam Malkin's, and fingered his own wistfully, painfully aware of the scarring that prevented him from wearing anything more revealing than his usual high neck and long sleeved teaching robes.

Moving on he was almost past Ollivander's -- Makers of Fine Wands Since 382 BC, the faded black marquee proclaimed in gilt letters – when he saw a flash of shapely bare calf. Captivated, Severus backtracked for a closer look. She stood high on a ladder her face hidden from his view, her fit body pressed temptingly close to the glass. She was scandalously underdressed, wearing only a blouse and skirt that clung to her lithe body and showed off every lovely curve of her lovely body.

Severus laughed to himself, silently congratulating and thanking the old wand maker for keeping up his tradition of hiring highly desirable young tarts for his summer help. There he was now. Severus watched as he said something to the attractive nymphet, and she climbed down the ladder. Severus felt a pang of regret at the loss of such a tempting view. He wondered if her face was as dazzling as the rest of her and then gasped in dismay as he found himself gazing straight into the eyes of one Hermione Granger.

She startled so badly at the sight of him that she fell off of the ladder with a crash. Severus heard a clatter as a display of wands toppled next to her. He winced but took advantage of the commotion to leave the area as quickly as he could, cursing his luck the entire way to Knockturn Alley.

Hermione landed on her back and her head smacked the floor. She instinctively grabbed out as she fell, upending a window display of expensive wands. One erupted with a shower of green sparks that burned her skin. She cried out in pain. She kicked the wand away from her.

"Girl, if that is broken, it'll come out of your pay," Ollivander growled.

"Sir . . . what else could I do?" she started crying, her leg was bare and the skin smarted.

He shuffled over to her. If he were any closer she'd have a nasty peek up his robes. Hermione heard his knees pop as he squatted behind her head.

"Upsy daisy," he reached under her and hoisted her up off of the floor. She was grateful for the tenderness he showed her despite the ill-tempered comment.

"Thank you, Sir." She used his support to reorient herself while the room stopped spinning. She snuffled and wiped at her eyes, embarrassed that her emotions were so close to the surface. After awhile she felt better, she tried to step away. He did not let go of her. He held her closer to his gaunt body, kneading her shoulder.

Panic rose inside of her. She was confused. How do I get away without offending him?

"If you prefer, we can work out some other method of compensation, hmm?" He spoke directly into her ear. His breath was hot and foul. It smelt of rancid meat and stale coffee. He trailed a rheumy hand down her back, massaging a buttock through her thin skirt. He pinched her and she trembled which only encouraged him to continue touching her down there.

"No, no this is wrong. He can't do this. What is he doing with his hands?" She thought.

With a great effort Hermione stomped on his foot. He swore and pushed her away from him. She was pushed into the shelves, skinning the palms of her hands trying to stop.

Somehow she had also bit her lip. She tasted the blood and it sickened her.

He laughed at her and forcibly turned her around so that she faced him.

She kneed him in the groin and cuffed him on the side of his head. He fell to the floor. She saw angry red scratches rise where she clawed from his ear across his face.

"Letch!" she hollered at him. He writhed on the grimy floorboards. "Don't touch me!" she hugged herself and stomped her foot for emphasis.

"Bitch!" he swore through gritted teeth, his brows knitted. His body contorted with pain.

Hermione felt triumph bubble up inside of her. It was accompanied by a wave of nausea. She backed away from Mr. Ollivander on wobbly legs. She was not obliged to help him up. Instead she attempted to center herself, but she found it impossible to do with him writhing and moaning at her feet.

What if he decided to get up and have another go at her?

"I'm leaving," she said, retrieving her robe and bunching it up in her arms.

"Send me the bill for the wand. It's probably the last money that you'll ever see once news of this hits the Daily Prophet. Pervert." She spat the word at him.

Hermione left the little shop. Behind her Mr. Ollivander groaned and cursed. She tuned him out the best she could, resisting the urge to hurry her pace; once the door closed his voice silenced completely.

The nondescript store front that housed the London branch of the Ministry of Magic's Werewolf Registry certainly didn't look foreboding but Severus couldn't suppress a shudder. It was bad enough that he had to meet with Lupin but to be in such close contact with more of the disgusting creatures revolted him.

Five minutes later Remus appeared, apparently seeing a client out. The client was a scared looking man in his early twenties. The shiny scar tissue of a newly healed bite wound gleamed on his cheek; Severus felt a stab of pity mixed with disgust looking at him. Remus spoke soothingly to him, reminding him to keep his follow up appointment, and then he turned to Severus.

"Ah, Mr. Evans, how good of you to make it, if you could step into my office... "

Severus swept past him down the hall to Lupin's private office, and sat down heavily on one of the shabby little chairs

"Do you take milk or sugar?" Lupin asked solicitously, hovering over the tea service.

"Enough with the false cheer.. I'm in no mood for it today. Have you found Potter?" and indicated for Lupin to sit. which he did, after decanting two cups and setting one before Severus and keeping one for himself.

"Harry is staying at the Burrow with Molly and Arthur Weasley. He stays there every summer, and thankfully that was where he chose to go when he ran off yesterday. Apparently the Knight Bus dropped him off."

"I suppose he'll be safe at the Burrow until school starts. We can step up security around him easily enough."

"Speaking of security," Remus started, "Arabella Figg has been relieved of her watch. She made a serious lapse in judgment yesterday by not alerting the Order right away after Harry ran off."

"Dumbledore was mistaken to place so much trust in her." Severus said. He fingered the rim of the foam cup. It crumbled under his thumb. "How you can stand to drink out of this Muggle trash is beyond me."

"Ah, well we use what the Ministry provides. Our department doesn't exactly draw the kind of clientele that expect china cups on saucers." Remus gave a self-depreciating smile. "As for Dumbledore, where would any one of us be without his trust."

"How it must gall you to be pigeonholed here. Day after day, your talent wasted."

"I could ask you the same, you know," Lupin growled. "How is your master these days? "

"There's something else . . ."

"Isn't there always?" Snape snarled at him.

"The new marriage law." Lupin continued, choosing to ignore Severus. "Is Harry affected by it? The last thing we need right now is to lose him to a Death Eater family."

"What new marriage law?" Snape asked, momentarily stunned.

"You should really pay more attention to current events, old man. The ministry has extended banns to include Muggleborns. The new law has unfortunately removed any parental say, giving custody directly to the pureblood head of family. We need to know if the law is extended to those witches and wizards who have no family, like Harry."

"Bloody Hell!" Severus swore.


"Well, I can't be arsed about it.. Get Figg on it, if you trust her so much."

"Don't be so hard on her, Severus. She's an old woman. She does what she can. However that is an excellent idea.."

Severus felt obligated to apologize to Miss Granger for startling her so badly. He was a coward for leaving her. Despite everything he had done in his thirty-seven years, he had never felt such an intense mixture of shame and attraction as the moment when her startled gaze met his through the shop's window.

He was surprised to find Ollivander's shop shuttered.

He rang the bell. More than a minute passed. Severus considered leaving after ringing the bell a second time with no answer. He stepped off of the stoop and then the door opened a bit. A harried looking Ollivander stared out at him from the crack.

"Professor Snape," he looked warily at him and then at the space around him, obviously looking for someone else. Satisfied that Severus was alone, he said, "We're closed. I lost my girl. Frankly I'm in no state to do business today. Would you come back another time?" Ollivander made to close the door.

"The girl," Severus said, "is she hurt?"

"How do you know she was hurt?" Ollivander's eyes narrowed to slits and once more he looked about to make sure Severus was alone.

"I passed by here about a half an hour ago. Your girl was up on a ladder by the window. I startled her coming down. She fell. I was in a hurry before, but now I'm not. I thought I'd check in on her," Severus said. "So I ask again, is she hurt?"

Ollivander harrumphed. "Hardly. The wretch nearly brought the shop down around her ears and when I tried to help her she attacked me. I sent her home." He rubbed at his ear. "See this," he stepped out of the door onto the stoop, and into the daylight. For the first time Severus noticed that four rows of angry welts spanned the left side of his face from his nose to his ear. "She did this to me." His eyes narrowed and he leaned towards Severus, conspiratorially. "Can't trust Mudbloods, the lot are no better than animals."

Severus glowered at Ollivander, who backed off instinctively, reaching behind him for the doorknob. "Mr. Ollivander. I have had the pleasure of working with Miss Granger over the last six years. I assure you that no one dares to compare her with an animal," he said. "I know the kind of girl you hire for your shop. Should I find that you molested her I will personally see you to Hell." His voice was quietly waspish and the old man winced as if hit by a blow.

"I don't have to take this kind of abuse from the likes of you," Ollivander said. "You have no right to accuse me of such puerile acts when it is you who harbour lust in your heart for her. I saw you ogling her through the window. You think I don't see? You are a sick man, Professor Snape. Maybe it is you who shouldn't be allowed near innocent young girls." He trembled with anger and had developed a momentum. He stared furiously into Severus's eyes, not giving an inch.

They had begun to draw a crowd, and both suddenly became aware of the extra attention. As if by accord they broke their standoff. Mr. Ollivander retreated into his shop, slamming the door so that the glass panes rattled in the sash.

Severus glared at the small crowd that had witnessed his exchange with Mr. Ollivander. He sneered and the effect was like a dash of ice water on the rabble for all at once they began to scatter. He drew his cloak closer to his body and cut through the dispersing crowd like an ebony knife.

Hermione fought back the tears that threatened to overwhelm her, hugging her bundled robes tightly to her chest. Had she really just attacked Mr. Ollivander? How would she ever be able to make anyone believe that he had wanted to rape her? He was a respected member of Wizarding society, and she was just a girl. Not only that, but a Muggle, a second class citizen in a society that wanted nothing more from her than a genetic contribution, a culture that damned her as an individual but prized her as an object. That did it. The tears could no longer be willed not to fall, and her body shook with great gulping hysterical sobs that made passers-by either look pityingly upon her or made them give her a wider berth as they passed.

"Hush child. It can't be that bad," said a kindly voice, pressing a handkerchief into Hermione's balled hand.

Hermione gave a watery sniff and dabbed the scrap of fabric to her eyes. When her vision cleared, she was embarrassed to see a tiny woman, bent with extreme age, dressed in floridly Technicolor robes standing by her side. "Oh, but it is," Hermione wailed, "I've mucked things up so badly, and if I tell on him, I'll be a laughingstock...or possibly be sent off to Azkaban." Hermione was startled to feel the crone's fragile hand cover her own in a reassuring caress.

"Azkaban...now that does sound serious, "the crone said, and smiled. "Come in for a spot of tea and a chocolate biscuit. Can't send such a pretty young lass like yourself off to Azkaban on an empty stomach." She slipped her hand into Hermione's and led her towards an open door.

"Th. . . The Apothecary?" Hermione stammered.

"Mmmm hmmm, dear. My son, Hector is the proprietor. Our family has sold herbs and potions ingredients from this spot since the time Diagon Alley was an open air market," she said. "I'm too old to run the shop now, but my Hector does a fine job."

Fifteen minutes later, and the crone decanted the tea into two chipped mugs.

"I prefer to brew the tea rather than conjuring it. It's a lost art, you know, brewing tea. This is a special blend, chamomile and cramp bark, just the thing for calming the mind and soothing the body."

They were in a back room, a makeshift living quarters with a tiny kitchenette. Hermione carried the tea to a simple wooden table. Greta, Gertie to her friends, took a tin of biscuits from a cupboard and placed them on the table before sitting down carefully. Hermione held the mug in her hands, warming them, and inhaled the fragrant steam appreciatively. Her tears had left her feeling strangely hollow inside, but she was thankful to be sitting here, next to this fascinating woman.

Hermione felt like she could tell Gertie anything, and so she told her everything. She told her about the incident with old man Ollivander, completely and without embellishing the tale. She also told her about the new marriage law, and her fears that she would be bound to a man who would take away her freedom and force her to have as many of his children as her body could bear. When she had finished, they sat drinking tea in an amiable silence. Hermione felt as if a great weight had been lifted from her. To her surprise, the woman didn't look shocked by any of it. Gertie smiled before she spoke, a knowing smile that said she understood exactly where Hermione had come from.

"I'm glad you stood up to him Hermione. Young Mr. Ollivander has been abusing his summer help for as long as I've known him. It's long past time that one of them actually stood up to him.

"You're in quite a pickle though. We are living in dark times and people are scared. The Ministry prefers to dismiss certain things rather than deal with them. And I'm afraid that the same holds true for that horrid new law you just spoke about. I've never seen the point in forcing a marriage on anyone.

"Even with our custom of Banns, the intended usually want to be married--that's why my Hector is still single. He's never wanted to be married, and I won't force him to do it. Sometimes I wish that I had a pretty young daughter-in-law such as yourself, but as you've seen, my son is no longer a prime catch."

Gertie sighed and gave a wry smile, patting Hermione's hand.

Hermione had seen Hector very briefly on their way to the back room. He was very old as well, much too old to be fathering children. Her heart went out to Gertie.

"Who will run the store when Hector's gone?" She asked.

"Not to worry dear, when Hector decides that it is time to retire the store will go to my daughter's children. They live in Hogsmeade. My young grandson, Thomas has a smaller shop of his own there, I expect that he'll take this one on as well when the time comes."

"Ah, so you're Mr. Frost's grandmother then?" Hermione asked, pleased.

She knew the Apothecary in Hogsmeade quite well. The Frosts were a big family, and Tom Frost, the proprietor insisted on treating their customers as an extension of his family. They must have learned their loving attitude from Gertie. "I really wish that I had looked twice at an internship with your grandson, Gertie. This would have been a much more enjoyable summer, I'm sure," Hermione said wistfully.

"Well dear, if you are interested, I'm sure that Hector wouldn't mind the extra help here. And I'd so love to have your company," Gertie said. "It's settled then?"

"Yes," Hermione nodded. "I'd like that very much." Hermione was pleased, and for the first time that day things were actually starting to look up.

"Let's go tell Hector," Gertie said, finishing a biscuit. Hermione helped her to stand, and together they walked through the fabric partition that closed the back room from the rest of the shop.

"Hector," Gertie said, "this delightful young lady is going to be helping us for the rest of the summer holiday. I'd like you to meet Hermione Granger."

"Pleased, I'm sure," Hector said, and he shook Hermione's hand in both of his.

"I'm glad to see that Mother's found a friend," He smiled. "Would you like to start right away, or tomorrow?"

The little bell above the door rang, announcing a customer.

"Right now would be fine. I don't need to be anywhere," Hermione said.

Hector rubbed his hands together briskly, and said, "Good, you'll need an apron."

He retrieved one from a set of hooks behind the counter for her.

"How is your knowledge of ingredients?" he asked.

The little bell above the door chimed as he let himself in. He savored the pungent aroma of spices that permeated the store. Though it was similar to his private stores at Hogwarts, the aromas here were not polluted by the unpleasant undertone of pickled and decaying animal components. The sight of Miss Granger and Hector, the proprietor, took him aback. They stood behind the vast counter. He had two seconds to decide if he would rather slip out unnoticed, but curiosity was already worming its slippery fingers into his mind. The girl was the last person that he wanted to see at the moment. Seeing after her had already taken up too much of his rapidly evaporating time. If he had been thinking with his brain instead of the head between his legs he could have avoided this unnecessary diversion to his plans. What was she doing here now? She should be home crying into her shoes. Thankfully, she didn't appear sad. She was positively radiant, glowing… almost. Her face was blotchy, pale with high spots of red, and shiny with dried snot and tears. He had seen it enough after reducing countless students to a blubbering waste to be able to recognize the aftermath.

"Right now would be fine. I don't need to be anywhere," Miss Granger murmured.

Hector rubbed his hands together briskly, and said, "Good, you'll need an apron then." He retrieved one from a set of hooks behind the counter for her.

Ah so she was working here now? It suited her. He was reluctant to say it, but the girl was brilliant, and working in the Apothecary was probably the best fit for her voracious intellect. He was still unnoticed, and he could leave if he wished, but he found that he could not. It frustrated him; he found that he needed to talk with her, to make sure that nothing untoward had happened to her at the hands of Mr. Ollivander. Severus decided that it was time to interrupt, and he swept up to the counter with as much grace and presence as he could muster.

"I'd say it's excellent, Hector, seeing that Miss Granger has catalogued and alphabetized my entire inventory more times than I care to say," said a silky voice from behind Hermione.

She jumped.

"Pro. . .Professor Snape?" Hermione gasped, her hand to her chest, as if she were trying to stop the racing of her heart.

The gesture was so innocent that Severus's heart fluttered in response.

"Hello Hector, Miss Granger," Severus gave them both a curt nod.

"Hector, I must speak with Gran. Is she in?"

Surely, Professor Snape. Mother is in back. I believe she has tea. Would you like to go back and see her? I'm sure she will be thrilled to see you again," Hector said, placing the apron back on the hooks.

"Yes, thank you Hector, that would be lovely." Snape said, and he held the little fabric partition aside for Hermione.

"Come," he snapped at her.

She looked at him askance with apprehension in her eyes. She didn't move.

"Miss Granger. I find your hesitation tiresome. Either come with me or leave. I personally don't care what your choice is, but as your professor, I am required to inquire about the events of this afternoon."

"I'm afraid I don't understand what you are talking about, Professor…"

"That is a first. Hermione Granger ignorant and afraid. May I quote you?" he quirked his eyebrow at her, his tone earnest.

She flinched and reddened, but only momentarily. He watched her look harden and she ducked through the partition, her curly hair brushing the skin of his hand. The whisper of contact lingered like sticky cobwebs, and he wiped his hand on his robes to snuff out the sensation.

"Hermione? Oh . . .Severus, "

Gertie beamed up at him, rising from her chair, pushing back a half empty mug of tea.

"Oh how wonderful to see you again! How are things at the school? It's been so long. You should visit your old Gran more often. You are a wicked boy. I'd thought you had forgotten all about me."

Gertie patted and primped at her hair, batting her eyes at him.

"Gran, no one could possibly forget about you."

He kissed the top of her head and caressed her arm. She was too thin.

"Now where is my tea?"

"Oh, let me get you a cup," she twittered, and fluttered off.

She looked like a tropical bird in her elaborate robes.

Severus motioned to Hermione to take a seat at the small wooden table in the kitchenette. She looked baffled at the bizarre show of warmth from her normally chilly professor. He glared at her and she blanched.

"Well, what are you waiting for? An invitation? Sit down, Miss Granger. The sooner the better."

His voice was a hiss, too low for Gran to hear.

Stung, she took a seat, and he chose one across the table from her. Gran returned with a mug of tea.

"Chamomile and cramp bark, for young Hermione here. Will you be staying for cards?" she asked.

"Yes Gran, I'll win yet," he said.

They had always played rummy whenever he visited, and he always made it a point to lose graciously to her. Whether or not she knew it was irrelevant. It made her smile, and Severus always felt better for bringing some happiness to her closeted life.

"Good, I'll go get my deck. Hermione, will you be playing as well?"

"No, I'll watch if you don't mind. These are so good," she bit into a bickie and munched it thoughtfully, "I could eat the whole tin, I've had such a trying day."

That small admission gave Severus the opening that he needed to broach the subject of Ollivander.

"Miss Granger, as I have indicated, I have some questions about the events of earlier today at Ollivander's store. Gran, would you give us a few minutes alone, please?"

Decorum required that he not discuss this in front of the old woman.

Surprisingly, Gran waved his request aside.

"I know all about what happened to Hermione at the hands of that goat. I'm sure that she won't mind if I stay."

"It's ok, Professor. I don't mind if she stays. What did you want to know?" Hermione asked, but she was looking down into her tea, refusing to make eye contact, and he sighed.

"I must apologize for startling you earlier, and for leaving so abruptly."

Hermione uttered a coarse bark of laughter.

"Miss Granger," he said sharply. "If you find something entertaining about my apology . . ."

"No, no . . . Professor. I'm sorry. You shocked me. I was not laughing at you. It's just that, well, you've owed me an apology for so many things, and I never expected to hear one for something you had very little to do with. In fact I . . ."

"Miss Granger, you're babbling." He said this as if he were stating a fact, and schooled his face into his best 'approachable but neutral' mask. Sixteen years as head of his house allowed him to do so effortlessly, but the anger he felt toward Ollivander was already simmering near the boiling point.

He was pleased when her mouth snapped shut and she finally appeared to be listening to him.

"If I may continue . . . I should have made sure that you were not injured, but I had an appointment to keep. When I returned I questioned Mr. Ollivander he was evasive and argumentative. Knowing as I do his taste in his summer help, I can only conclude that something untoward had happened," Snape said.

He met her eyes he saw flashes of the truth playing out in her thoughts, and it drove his anger to the boiling point.

Hermione gasped as she felt him enter her mind. She leapt up and smacked him.

"How dare you?" she cried and trembled.

"You have no right to violate me that way!"

Snape grabbed her hand. "That's quite enough, Miss Granger! You forget your place."

He snarled, pressing his thumb into her wrist and twisting as the ghost of her palm burned on his face.

He let go, suddenly aware that he was hurting her, and she stepped back, rubbing her arm.

"Severus! Hermione! Stop it, there will be no fighting in my home!" Gran cried.

Snape sat back in his chair, deflated.

Miss Granger returned to her chair, but she huddled, wrapping her arms protectively around her, and she glared at him.

"Miss Granger, Hermione, I'm sorry. I did not mean to offend you. It is my job to see to the safety of my students. Rape is a very serious matter, and I had to make sure that it had not gone that far."

"Well, you could have asked me, taking the information from my mind like you did is a kind of rape, Professor. I will not have my body or my mind violated like that," Hermione hissed.

"That is irrelevant," he muttered, but then at Gran's warning look he amended, "It will not happen again."

"You're hurt… your leg. In your thoughts… I felt fire."

Hermione winced. "It stings, but I hadn't given it much thought."

"May I please examine it?"

Snape asked, and when she assented he knelt on the floor to have a look at it.

She had a very nasty burn that must have pained her worse than she had let on. "This will need some salve, Gran would you please get me a jar?"

"Surely," Gran said and she disappeared into the store.

Snape looked up into Hermione's eyes, and felt dizzy warmth spread over him, and he scowled, trying to shake it off. She misread him and shrank back in her chair.

Thankfully, Gran returned right away with the ointment, and he carefully smoothed it over the burn.

"Thank you," she said. Her voice was tight and strained. For other reasons no doubt. Her skin was probably crawling with disgust at his touch. She probably felt contaminated by him. He felt disgusted.

"Now how about that game?" Gran said and she plunked down the box, and shook out the deck. She dealt them both a hand, and Hermione got up to refresh her tea.

A few nights later Severus was seated across a chessboard from Minerva McGonagall. His rook muscled past his king as he castled it. He smirked as Minerva cackled with glee, thinking that she had the upper hand. He didn't need to use occlumency to discern her strategy as she had no poker face at all.

They played alone at the high table in the great hall over desert. An unfamiliar owl alighted on the chair next to Severus and dropped a scroll between his tea and clutie. He broke off a piece of the heavy sweet and fed it to the owl.

"It's a little late for the post, isn't it?" Minerva said. "Check"

"Give me a moment and I will," He said, picking up the scroll.

It had a Ministry seal, but it was different than what he usually saw.

He popped open the seal. The words 'Marriage Licence' peaked from the curl of the scroll.

"No, I mean I have you in check."

Snape glanced back at the chessboard. His king was making threatening gestures at her bishop, waving his sceptre.

"And so you have."

He stood.

"I'm forfeiting. Congratulations."

He unrolled the scroll. It was indeed a Marriage License. It was beautifully illuminated with flowering rods and alighted birds. It announced in large gold letters that by the permission of his Head of Family, Albus Dumbledore and the power of the Ministry of Magic that Severus Snape and Hermione Granger were wed to each other from this day onward into perpetuity.

He began to tremble.

"Is it bad news?" Minerva asked from over his shoulder and then he heard her gasp.

Severus swore. "That doddering old gasbag. I'll kill him." He crunched the document in his fist and flew from the room. Minerva following close behind.