A/N: Like so many, I've been inspired to write by the events of Half-Blood Prince. So here's my first effort solo!

Tea And Sympathy

A quick final swish through the air, and the last of the files and papers placed themselves neatly in the box on the table, which sealed itself and obligingly shrank to the size of a matchbox.

"Here," Hermione Granger said, picking it up and depositing it in the full basket held by the house elf. "That's the last of the lot, Dobby. Go ahead and Floo back to Hogwarts. I'll follow in a few minutes."

Dobby's eyes were widening with apprehension, and his ears twitched. "Oh, no! Dobby should not be leaving Miss alone."

A voice bellowed from somewhere in the building, startling them both. "That's enough! Everyone out of here now!" The cracks of multiple wizards apparating out followed immediately.

Hermione smiled reassuringly at the nervous elf. "See, Dobby? Moody's clearing everyone out. I'll be right behind you."

The house elf gave a faint squeak of protest, but stepped into the fireplace and threw down a handful of Floo powder. "Hogwarts!" Green flame erupted, and Dobby disappeared, his frightened eyes fixed on her to the last second.

Hermione paused in the act of reaching for the Floo powder and turned away to let her eyes move around the kitchen one last time. For a moment, she could see Molly Weasley passing out helpings of Shepherd's pie, the clattering of cutlery accompanying the voices of the twins, Ron, and Harry as they loudly debated the latest Quidditch results, while a tired-looking Remus Lupin smiled indulgently at them. And she would have been sitting there...right there...next to Ginny, watching everyone and cringing a little at the noise. This place, like Hogwarts, had been home to her. A place where she had felt truly comfortable. And now...gone. All traces of the Order of the Phoenix removed, vanished. For the man who had murdered Albus Dumbledore, her Potions teacher and respected member of the Order, would no doubt arrive here shortly with his fellow Death Eaters to search out the place. The security of Grimmauld Place had been permanently breeched.

With a heavy sigh, Hermione turned back towards the fireplace – and the hearth sealed itself shut in front of her. All of her D.A. training took hold, and she had her wand out at ready before she started to turn.

Too late! "Expelliarmus!" and she was slammed into the wall to watch helplessly as her wand flew through the air and into the hands of Severus Snape.

Hermione went completely still, her hands, her back pressed into the wall. It was hard to take a breath in her panic. Would he Crucio her before he killed her...or just give her to the others and let them do it? The man who had killed the Headmaster so coldly could have no qualms about killing a Mudblood student.

"Miss Granger."

Here it comes. Oh hell, here it comes.

He brought up his wand and moved it negligently. Dishes flew out of the cupboard and the pot on the stove began to boil. Raising an eyebrow, he eyed her sardonically. "I would like a cup of tea."

She knew her mouth had fallen open, and she wondered if she was crazy...or if he was. Tea?

"Close your mouth – you look like a simpleton. This is not NEWT-level potions, Miss Granger, just a simple cup of tea." His tone was sarcastic, his arms folded, sneer in place. Somehow, it was all so familiar. "You can manage it?"

"Yes, sir." The response was, after six years as his student, automatic. She moved to the counter, gathered the requisite items on a tray, and carried them over to the table. Snape seated himself, without ever taking his wand off her. He indicated the seat across from him. "You will join me."

The fear and panic of the last few minutes seemed to disappear in an overwhelming surge of outraged Gryffindor sensibility, and she turned on him. "What? You think that I'd just sit down and have tea with you?...a traitor?...a...a murderer?"

"Enough," he spat at her, and belatedly Hermione remembered that she wasn't exactly in the best position to be speaking her mind. "That was not a request. Sit DOWN!"

She sat. He glowered at her. With panic once again gnawing at her inside, she concentrated on pouring a cup of tea, passing it to him, the cup rattling in the saucer, wishing her hands weren't so obviously trembling.

He picked up the cup and took a sip, eyes and wand never leaving her direction. "So, Potter has told his story."

Story? Was he even hinting that Harry hadn't told the truth, that there was some other version of the events in the tower? Startled by the thought, she met his gaze directly. "Are you denying that you killed Professor Dumbledore?"

His response was quiet, resigned. "I deny nothing."

She took a mouthful of tea, swallowed convulsively. The man across from her watched her impassively, saying nothing, his face empty of expression. It was so reminiscent of how he'd appeared so often at Order meetings. And he killed him. His eyes...so empty. Was he grieving at all for the man who had befriended him so long ago? Without warning, a wave of sadness for Snape swept over her.

"Professor," he looked at her inquiringly, "you served two masters for so long. Is it easier to serve only one?"

Surprising her, he laughed – a low, harsh sound. "You are wrong, Miss Granger. I serve two masters – now more than ever."

He rose suddenly, and she came to her feet in a frightened response. "Come with me."

Instead of leading her out of the room as she'd expected, he simply walked over to the fireplace, and with a wave of his wand, the hearth opened.

Hermione's thoughts were racing. He didn't deny the killing, but...still serves two masters...still serves?

"Get the Floo powder, Miss Granger. It is time for you to leave."

Obediently she took a handful, but stopped suddenly in the act of entering the fireplace. He scowled at her. "What is it?"

"Professor, you came here alone...to make sure we'd all escaped before you revealed this place to the others...didn't you?" She couldn't keep the hope out of her voice.

"You'd better leave before I lose my patience, Miss Granger." The voice was cold.

Hermione stepped into the fireplace. Snape handed her back her wand and she knew she was staring at him open-mouthed again. "Now!" he snapped.

She threw down the powder and cried out, "Hogwarts," then as the flames erupted around her and she began to spin away, she heard as from a distance, "Ten points to Gryffindor."

The End

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