Hermione cupped the steaming glass vial carefully in her right hand, as she attempted a tricky negotiation through some swing doors in a mid-sector corridor of the Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes. It was odd thinking how things had turned out, about the many events that had led her here, of all places, when the time had come to leave Hogwarts behind. Except, she sighed to herself, she had never really left it behind. She was still left in a perpetual limbo halfway between an obnoxious child who was desperate to prove herself, and the smooth and polished scholar she hoped to become.

She smiled pleasantly as she held the doors open for a thin, but over- loaded witch, tottering beneath an awkward looking column of assorted books and documents.

"Thanks, Miss Granger!"

Hermione nodded a brief acknowledgement before continuing along the otherwise empty corridor. Afternoon was just waning into evening and most of the other employees had scrambled home by now, apparating back to their hot dinners and warm fires. But she had work to do, and, as an apparently insignificant student, the pull of home was a considerably less tangible force. If she were lucky, she would be able to return to Hogwarts just in time for last servings in the Great Hall.

With this in mind, her pace quickened somewhat as she strode purposefully toward the lift, jabbing her finger impatiently at the up button. It had barely begun to illuminate however, when a familiar clanging noise resounded through the steel doors and they parted suddenly with a sharp whoosh of stale air.

She was halfway over the threshold, when she noticed someone else was also working late. Someone else was in the lift, who did not appear to appreciate company.

The young face still carried the same pale and pointed features that gave the impression of flawless, yet mechanical beauty, but the eyes of this urbane young man were unrecognisable. Gone was the malicious dancing glint that had so often partnered a cruel sneer, to be replaced by a cold, unreadable gloss that, irrationally, scared Hermione more.

"Hello Draco." May as well make this as cordial as possible, Hermione reasoned, she had to pass him often enough in the Ministry of Magic.

Yes, it was odd how things had turned out.

"Granger." As usual, he managed to make his greeting sound as though it physically pained him to force her mudblood name through his lips, tainting his thoughts and leaving an unpleasant taste in his mouth. Some things it seemed, never changed. "Working late, I see. Again."

Hermione saw through the transparency of his comment straight away, it was just like all those times at school when he had teased her about staying behind, or rather, being left behind, at Hogwarts over the school holidays. Well, she was older now. She neither cared, nor wished to imply that she cared, about what Draco Malfoy thought of her lifestyle.

"Yes, I'm working on a sample." She shook her head in order to displace a few wisps of flyaway hair from her face, raising her right hand slightly to indicate the contents of the glass vial. His reaction was predictable, but she was still gratified to see Draco move perceptibly forward out of an enthralled curiosity.

Yes, it was a marvellous concoction, she thought to herself. A vivid, bubbling maelstrom of brightest green liquid, which released an intoxicating vapour. While she told herself that she neither cared, nor wished to imply that she cared, about Draco's own particular brand of approval, she saw no harm in merely displaying the fruits of her labour to those who inquired.

She could see an internal battle being played out across Draco's face, as he twitched and grimaced for a few seconds, before finally blurting out the question he was dying to ask.

"W-What is it?" He inwardly cursed himself, Malfoys did not stutter. He cursed himself more for the uncontrollable curiosity that forced him to rely on the know-it-all Miss. Granger for information. Unfortunately, this was becoming rather a habit of late.

Hermione knew she could just sniff, and impatiently explain that it was merely a potion she was working on for her Ph.M. (Professor of very hard Magic), but she saw no harm in sharing her project. In fact, she reasoned, it may even interest him enough to consider investing some of the famous Malfoy galleons into her research. She was nothing if not practical.

"Remember the talk Professor Snape gave at our very first Potions class?"

He looked puzzled, as well he might, she thought dryly to herself. It was awfully hard to think of Snape as capable of inspiring anything, bar fear and loathing.

"What, when he badmouthed Potter, and took points off Gryffindor?"

"I said our first Potions class, not every Potions class. I mean the speech he gave about 'bottling fame,' 'brewing glory', and - "

" - Stoppering death!" Draco advanced forward, the absent glint in his eyes briefly re-ignited, his cheeks infused with more colour than usual. Hermione felt distinctly uncomfortable, as though the small dimensions of the elevator had suddenly shrunk further. Despite his misleading paleness, Draco had grown into a tall and forbidding character, who swept through the halls of the Ministry of Magic with poise and authority. With all the arrogance of youth, he was seemingly unaware the effect his masculinity held over those who equally cowered and fawned around his presence - despite his position of relatively inferior rank.

Hermione, in contrast, was still as slight and ethereal as ever, and she did not like the threatening physical presence Malfoy reminding her of this fact. Never-the-less, she could see that she had hooked him with her bait and a small, very Slytherin, part of her savoured this position of strength.

Before Hermione had time to reply however, the elevator came swiftly to a stop and a smooth female voice announced over the intercom that they had arrived at Level Five: "Please depart for the Department of International Magical Co-operation, incorporating the International Magical Trading Standards Body, the Intern-" but just what else was housed on Level Five was cut off curtly by Draco.

"I should be very interested in the results of this experiment, Miss Granger. Please ensure that the appropriate reports find their way to my desk before the end of the week." And with a flash of black robes, he was gone from the elevator.

Hermione pressed the button for Level Seven and smiled mischievously to herself. It was funny how Draco was capable of resorting to such business- like tones, when he really wanted something from her. Which, she was pleased to admit, was fairly often now she had been appointed an archivist at the Ministry of Magic.

Before she had time for further self-congratulation the lift stopped again at Level Seven "...Department of Magical Games and Sports, incorporating the British and Irish Quidditch League Headquarters, Official Go.." Hermione was so tired of hearing that pitch perfect voice day-in, day-out every time she wanted to use the elevator she thought she would find herself resorting to petty vandalism if she didn't get out of the elevator soon.

Just as she expected, she had barely taken two steps down the corridor before she was greeted by an over-enthusiastic looping red-head. A Weasley of course.


"Hermione! What brings you down to the mad house?"

As if responding to his words, a stray bludger suddenly hurtled past Hermione's left ear, destined no doubt toward a vulnerable patch of bare plaster.

"Oops! Sorry 'Mione!"

"That's okay Seamus, Lord knows, I put up with enough of this nonsense back at the flat."

The sandy-haired youth grinned back, a twinkle in his eye. No doubt remembering one of the many parties he had participated in at number 10a Trilby Place.

"Anyway. we still haven't caught the bastard yet." and with that Seamus and his smaller, jostling companion raced past Hermione and Ron in the direction of the dinner plate sized demolition ball.

"Honestly, you could practically bottle the Testosterone in this place."

"Yeah, I guess it can get a bit much sometimes."

Hermione knew he didn't really mean that, Ron loved his work at the Department of Magical Games and Sport, almost as much as he loved playing Quidditch itself.

"Is that what you've come for then - to add a few of my excellent pheromones to one of your bubbling concoctions?"

"Er sadly not Ronald, I assure you, if I were looking for pheromones, the youngest Weasley son would be my last port of call."

"You do know, that if you weren't hiding behind that rather green potion you'd currently be playing bludger to my beater?" Noticing the steaming glass vial for the first time, he leaned forward for a closer look. "What's this then?"

"Oh, just something I'm working on. That's why I'm here, actually. Youou haven't seen Terry have you? Only I thought, with the match being on this afternoon."

"He's through there, with the rest of those TRAITORS!!!" and here he craned his neck around the nearest door, although his comment was cut by a sudden roar from the group of men crowded around the Visiport - a sort of frameless window cut into the air that showed the viewer a glimpse into the corresponding Visiport, in this case, the Wimbourne Wasp's Quidditch pitch.


"I'll fetch him for you shall I?"

"Thanks." She didn't much fancy trying to jostle herself into a crowd of over-excited and Quidditch obsessed grown men - at least not with an important potion sample in her hand. Still, she was glad Terry had taken the afternoon off, and was able to let a bit of steam off, it was almost unnatural the amount of time he spent tucked away in their laboratory huddled over one of his many on-going projects.

"What is it Hermione? Oh." He broke off suddenly when he saw what she had in her hand, a fresh eagerness breaking out that had little to do with the current Quidditch score. "It's been through distillation then?"

"Yep, just about ready for testing now. You did say to come and fetch you once I'd finished." A new, torn emotion flittered across his face as he eyed the Visiport with open yearning.

"Oh for heaven's sake Terry, just test it when the game's over." She smiled as she handed the vial and it's stopper over to him. A fresh roar - of celebration or protest she couldn't identify - rose up from the room, which seemed enough to persuade Terry where his loyalties lay, and he grabbed the vial with a hurried but genuine thanks before rushing back into the room.

"Fools, the lot of them." Ron tutted, which Hermione thought was rich coming from him, considering his usual behaviour during the Chudley Cannons games. "So, should we be setting a place for you tonight, or are you returning to your natural state of geeking?"

"Don't get me started, my work load is unbelievable; I'm almost tempted to ask Minerva for that time turner back again."

"Please don't; I remember what you were like in year 3 - half-way to St. Mungo's!"

Hermione smiled, strangely warmed by the memory of herself as an overly conscientious thirteen year old.

"I'll be at Hogwarts till next Sunday, there's some texts I need to look into, and of course there's my teaching commitments. I told Harry all this over breakfast, but you'd already dashed off to work."

"Well don't work too hard, we've got the reputation of the House of Fun to keep up." This was the jokey name Harry and Ron used when referring to the flat, courtesy of an impromptu christening from Seamus during their house warming party. House of Mess was what Hermione called it most of the time.

"Don't worry, I won't cramp your style. Anyway, I best be off if I want to make it in time for some food." She leaned forward on tiptoe to plant a kiss on the side of his face. "Take care."

"You too. See you Sunday then."

"Sunday." And with that she stepped into the elevator, still vacant and unclaimed during the off-peak period of calm.

* * *

It was a much less cheerful Hermione Granger who made her way into Hogwart's Great Hall twenty minutes later. She had been looking forward to spending a rare free weekend with the boys, but had been called back to Hogwarts in her capacity as a reserve teacher. Professor McGonagall had never quite recovered from the physical shock of being hit by four stupefy spells in Hermione's fifth year at Hogwarts.

The Hall was mostly empty now, save for a few straggling students scattered along the Ravenclaw and Gryffindor House tables, and of course a number of teachers, too distant for Hermione to make out from afar.

As she neared the table her heart dropped. Her choice of dining companions consisted of a drowsing Professor Flitwick, a small and huddled Witch Hermione had never seen before, and Professor Snape. Half of her was tempted simply to go directly to the kitchens and pay a self-serving visit to Dobby and co., but it was too late to turn around now she was halfway across the hall.

She sighed and steeled herself for another prickly conversation with Severus. She had rather hoped that the Potions Master of her school days had been a hyperbolic creation borne of the great teenage need to feel outrageously persecuted. But no, here was one case, at least, where the childhood apparition had turned out to be every bit as unpleasant to the adult.


He looked up sourly from the small book he had propped against the water jug, making sure Hermione was acutely aware of exactly how unpleasant he found this unexpected disruption to his reading.


She had the feeling he felt every bit as resentful about calling her by her Christian name as she felt awkward doing likewise. For the hundredth time, she silently cursed Albus Dumbledore to eternal damnation, for seating her next to Snape on the high table seating plan - one of the considerable pitfalls of being the 'new girl' she supposed.

She sat down stiffly, and began spooning the contents of the dish onto her plate, too tired to really care what she was eating, as long as it filled the gaping hole in her stomach. Once again, she had simply forgotten to eat lunch. Although to be fair, even Ron would have considered such an oversight forgivable, if he really knew what she was working on - she had the sneaking suspicion than Ron viewed her work at the Ministry of Ministry as little more than a glorified bottle washer to Seamus Finnigan, and part- time librarian.

The food on her plate turned out to be a delicious beef lasagne, and the only thing that prevented Hermione from bolting the dish straight down her throat was the thought of the disgusted looks she would no doubt attract from her dining companion. Companion. Pah.! As usual, he sat in stony silence, his plate long emptied, as he flicked his eyes avidly across the text he apparently found so absorbing.

It seemed a shame to disturb him. Which gave Hermione all the more reason to do so. Besides, she was the sort of person who couldn't even eat a bowl of cereal without reading the back of the packet.

"How is Minerva?" She could have gone for the jugular and asked him what he was reading, but she didn't think even his self-restraint would stretch that far on Friday evening, plus she was genuinely concerned for her old Head of House.

"Minerva is resting. Just a flare-up of an old complaint." The standard Hogwarts approved line on the Transfiguration Professor's health. Snape kept his eyes fixed firmly on the text. He wished she'd get the hint for once and leave him in peace to monitor the last of the diners. A large part of him savagely missed the days when he could just shout at the wretched girl to shut up and go away. However, a larger part of him thanked every star in the sky that bossy-boots Granger and that fool Longbottom were no longer a part of his classroom. As his thoughts strayed to Longbottom, he didn't know whether to laugh or choke at the boy's fortune - the result was a rather ugly grimace that Hermione took as a signal to the end of their 'discussion'.

As Snape sat pondering the strangeness of Neville Longbottom's eventual fate, Hermione shovelled a quick last forkful of food into her mouth before rising to leave.

"Deprived of Miss Granger's delightful presence so soon? Why, I hope I haven't done anything to offend you."

"Not at all Severus, I merely wish to participate in a more intelligent conversation; wiith my cat, or even my hat stand for that matter. Good day."

Snape finally raised his head from his book, watching after Hermione as she left the Hall with a serene sweep of emerald robes. Slytherin colours, he thought wryly.

Quite why or how she managed to rile him so much, where so many others had failed, he simply couldn't say. Such exchanges were usually characteristic of their post-dinner communication once Dumbledore was out of sight. Certainly, he had always maintained a professional stance with all his other colleagues, but Hermione Granger deeply irritated some part of his subconscious. He should be happy that Albus had finally seen fit to employ a young, thrustingly intelligent scholar. Yet all he saw when she opened her considerably large mouth was one half of the Potter Sidekick Association, which seemed to drown out anything else she might say. It was not particularly big of him to bait her so often, nor particularly wise he reasoned, but it was as automatic as breathing, and equally as necessary.

Hermione walked back to her temporary rooms along the ground floor corridor cursing her stupidity. She had ended up behaving like a vindictive schoolgirl again and sounding like a fool. If she were ever to gain any amount of professional respect in this place she needed to control her emotions where it mattered, and that meant no more snapping at Snape - although she secretly thought that he actually enjoyed engaging in such rhetorical duelling. Still, no matter how pugnacious he was, there was really no excuse for her response. Except for the part of him being a complete git. A very greasy git. She giggled to herself.

Time may have changed many things about Hogwarts, but its Potions Master had remained oddly constant. The man she sat next to during socially tortuous mealtimes was little different from the man who had faced her over the teacher's desk. He probably had a few more chips on his shoulder, carried a few more thousand death grudges, and, if Hermione's overall impression of his diet was anything to go by, his cholesterol levels must surely have rocketed, but, other than that, he remained largely predictable. Or wholly unpredictable, depending on your viewpoint.

She carried on along the ground floor corridor, slowing down to a more leisurely pace once she had managed to calm down and regain her sense of dignity. So much for the welcome committee. As the flush slowly crept out of her face and her tunnel vision receded, she reached a hand out and trailed it gently along the oddly warm bricks of the rough, stone walls, enjoying the abrupt change of texture as a glorious velveteen tapestry signalled she needed to turn left at the next junction.

Hermione was no longer lodged in Gryffindor tower - although occasionally after a particularly tiring day she would find her feet automatically carrying her up the well-trodden staircase. The place she called home now, was a set of chambers located in what she liked to call the 'warren', but everyone else referred to as the dungeons. She turned left and walked confidently forward toward a seemingly solid wall. Taking her slim wand out she tapped the 14th brick up and along the wall and muttered the discharming password, "Opal Fruits!" before walking through the wall.

Since the concealed corridor had only ever been used to house Hogwarts' staff, it was more comfortably furnished than the one Hermione had left behind. A sumptuous red carpet paved the centre of the floor, and two impressive suits of armour stood to attention at the gold trimmed edges. The walls were still constructed of rough stone, but the grey monotony was broken up by gold-framed landscape paintings, and some of Hogwarts' more delicate tapestries. At various intervals along the wide passage, sat skinny looking mahogany chairs with rather worn leather upholstery and sagging middles. There were also a few mis-matched cabinets and dressers showcasing ornate carpentry. A rather grandiose example backed onto the end wall of the corridor in the form of a beautiful walnut wardrobe. But what purpose they served as pieces of furniture, Hermione had never been able to ascertain as natural curiosity had revealed only their emptiness. Few Hogwarts staff ever chose to live in this part of the castle - no doubt due to the rather negative connotations 'dungeon' conjured up - which probably explained Hermione's designation. Certainly she never met a soul in this part of the castle, although hers was the only door in the corridor - if that ever meant anything at Hogwarts. As a consequence, she had gradually come to regard the whole passage as her personal door stoop.

Stopping at a wide oak panelled door set halfway down the left wall, she reached forward and squeezed the brass doorknocker by the nose. The gargoyle's eyes flew open angrily.

"Oi! I wuz sleepin' there miss. Whatchoo go an' wake me up for? No need for that."

"No, no need at all," answered the indignant doorknob, which only ever agreed with the doorknocker when it was arguing with Hermione.


"Well, that's not very nice now is it missy?"

"No, not nice at all!" the doorknocker replied indignantly.

"It's the password you nimrods." Hermione was not in the mood for an exhausting performance from Tweedledum and Tweedledee. In her first week, before she had become wise to their tricks, she had spent a full hour pleading with them to be let into her rooms. Now, she found that the direct route seemed to work the best.

"Ooh password, lissen to 'er!" shrieked the doorknob.

"Didn't ask the snotty miss for password now did we?"

"Look, I have better things to do with my time than converse with two intellectually delinquent lumps of scrap metal. Now let me in before I transfigure the pair of you into toe-clippers for the first year bathroom. Codswollop!"

The door remained firmly shut.

"Now we're weeeeally scared."

"The ickle 'lady' wants to play 'Witches and Wizards'."

"Maybe we should tell her wot 'appened to the last ikkle witchy 'oo gave us lip"

"Ooh yes, bet that would wipe smug little smile off miss poshie poo's face."

"Just let me in you morons. Codswollop!" With a few more grumbled mutterings about the state of the world in general and Hogwarts teachers in particular, the door knocker and knob (or Dumb and Dumber as Hermione called them) finally conceded defeat and swung the door open. Hermione had only recently found out that the transfiguration spell that had been cast over the door guardians, forbade them from barring entry after the password had been spoken three times - however, it was entirely another thing trying to get a word in edgewise.

"Lumos!" Light filled the large rectangular room as Hermione used her wand to light the odd assortment of lamps cluttered around the room before turning to the empty grate and magicing a blazing log fire. She sat down in one of the large plush armchairs with a whoomp and kicked her sensible court shoes off with relief.

The dim light cast by the flickering lamps and firelight added further dimensions to an already comfortably sized sitting room. Directly opposite the doorway in the left hand corner of the room lay another heavy door, slightly ajar, that led to a short passage way to her small bedchamber and bathroom. The rest of the wall was covered by a high bookshelf, only half full, and cast into eerie relief by the natural moonlight coming through the long arched window on the adjoining wall. Although her rooms were underground, two gothic windows had been cut into the cliff allowing a breathtaking view of the sea and coast. Along this wall rested yet more bookshelves, and, in the corner, a round wooden table completely covered in sheaves of paper and illustrated manuscripts that had not quite found their way back into the library yet. Somewhere nearby there was a chaise longue, but exactly which pile of documents this lay under Hermione could only vaguely guess at. Having used up all her available workspaces, yet more manuscripts lay in orderly piles across the floor leading all the way up to the two armchairs and coffee table that sat in front of the fireplace, forming a sort of breakwater between mess and tidiness - or work and rest.

Hermione was just pouring herself a generous gobletfull of red wine when a sudden movement caught the corner of her eye. Turning around quickly Hermione immediately saw what had entered her room. Her goblet smashed to the ground as she let out a loud scream, and knew immediately that this had something to do with the green potion.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

ACKOWLEDGEMENTS: [a big thank you to beta Azazello for invaluable advice and general helpfulness ] [and hugs to DMers ( who have put up with my incessant fic whinging]