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An Old Acquaintance

There was a knock on the door. He paused, looking up from his parchment. Perhaps if he ignored it and pretended he wasn't there, it would go away?

Alas, no. Only a moment later, there was another - brisker and louder - knock.

Snape clenched his teeth, sighing in exasperation. What did it take? What on earth did it take?

"Enter," he snarled.

Snape glanced up briefly as the door to the Headmaster's office opened slowly, and a woman stepped in, looking around her as she entered. He didn't recognise her.

"Good... evening sir," she said, looking nervously at the formidable man sitting in front of her.

Snape sighed again, and put his quill down on the parchment he had been writing on only a few moments ago.

An unknown witch... probably from the Ministry... she doesn't look like she's going anywhere in a hurry, he thought, leaning back in his chair as a consequence of this thought. "Yes?" he muttered.

The witch standing in front of him blinked several times, and then said: "Don't you recognise me Professor?"

"No," the Headmaster said without looking at her for any subsequent length of time. He had better things to do than to try to spot young students from his bygone teaching days, wishing to obtain an autograph from one of the heroes of the war.

"Really?" The witch was surprised.

Snape ground his teeth together. If it had been one of the pupils, they would have been running away as fast as possible. "Madam, if you have business to discuss..." he trailed off, his implications all too clear: Talk business... or get out.

The woman breathed deeply. "Professor Snape... my name is Hermione Weasley..."

For a moment there was a stunned silence. Snape froze, without absorbing and analysing what he was hearing. And then he awoke from his reverie and took a moment to glance up and down his visitor's body.

Time had changed the bushy-haired young girl into a rather fascinating woman. The flamboyant hair was gone - replaced by short, dark brown curls. Gone also was the timid air that Hermione Granger - the student - usually wore around her old Potions Master. Instead, the years had instilled into her a confidence, a certain strength of character that shone through into her speech, her expressions and her actions - subtly yet persistently. Her eyes contained an intelligence that was characteristic of her former days as a student at Hogwarts. However, where before there was the usual innocence of teenage girls, now shone through a woman who had undergone significant experiences in life - good and bad.

For a moment Snape was undecided how to treat her. Should he talk to her as his student?

The hesitation, however, was momentary. He was no longer her teacher. She no longer his student. They were now simply two adults, happening to meet after a few years.

"Ms Weasley, have a seat." He folded his hands in front of him, composed himself and stared at her, waiting for her to speak first.

Hermione appeared a bit nonplussed by his formal greeting, but that inner strength of character shone through once again, and shaking off any hesitation she sat in front of the large Headmaster's desk, and regarded the man she hadn't seen face to face for almost a decade. Age had somehow mellowed Severus Snape. As Potions Master, he had always worn a sneer that was on the verge of turning into a frown and from thence into an icy glare that could send even a seventh year pupil scurrying for cover. No more. Perhaps it was because he was so busy now - having been promoted to Headmaster of the infamous school two years ago. Instead, there was a serious expression about his face and eyes - the latter of which were still as black as night and as keen and piercing as the eyes of a hawk. There were streaks of grey in his temples - giving him a rather distinguished, educated look. He wore it shorter than she remembered. His sallow, pallid look had been replaced by a fuller - albeit still pale - complexion. He still wore his trademark black robes, and as Headmaster, he had further perfected the potency of his withering stare, which many claimed, could immobilise you faster than you could say "potions."

She found the change pleasing. He had a much more pleasant air about him; and though he still possessed the same formidability of character and countenance, he also had a new - more refined - air about him that expelled him from the "top ten thoroughly nasty wizards" list.

Not to say that he was a very nice person.

He cleared his throat. "Ms Weasley... unless you have come to stare at me - which I perfectly understand, devilishly attractive as I am - " there was a dry, sarcastic tone in his voice, "please do explain what your business is, as I have rather a lot to be getting on with at the moment." He made a sweeping motion over his desk which was stacked neatly with piles of parchments.

Now that Hermione was here, she didn't know where to start. She hesitated for a moment, and then decided to plough straight on.

"Professor Snape," she began. Feels so strange calling him that, she thought, and then continued: "I have come here to apply for the Transfiguration post."

Snape sat back, intending to fully enjoy this rare opportunity. Well, well, well... he thought, with a bemused smile.

Professor McGonagall had taken over as Headmistress of Hogwarts some seven years ago, at the death of Professor Dumbledore. The latter had died because of old age, and after having insured that the threat of Voldemort was gone once and for all. The stern Transfiguration teacher - perhaps for the first time in the history of the school - had served two roles: that of Headmistress and Transfiguration professor. However, she had resigned from first the former - about two years ago (at which time the governors approached Snape and asked him if he was interested in becoming Headmaster, to which Snape had rather grudgingly agreed) - and then the latter only a few weeks ago - at the end of the summer term - rightfully insisting that she was too old to teach and was rather tired and wanted to retire to spend the rest of her life in relative peace and quiet. Snape had missed the old woman more strongly than he could ever have anticipated.

Anyhow, the Transfiguration post now needed to be filled. And Ms Wealsey here was one of the first ones to apply. It was approximately one week into the summer holidays, and Snape had been doing some paperwork.

"You have?" he asked, non-concernedly inspecting his fingernails.

Hermione nodded.

"And you didn't see fit to owl me first, for what reason may I inquire?" he said, looking straight at her. Hmm... a mind block. She's an Occlumens...

Hermione flushed. Oh Pig... she thought wistfully, remembering Ron's owl, which was approaching its golden years. He had probably botched the delivery. The fact that he had nearly flown into her bowl of soup a few days ago with exhaustion should have alerted her to the fact that he was getting too old for big mail. And her Curriculum Vitae were big.

"I... did," she finished rather lamely, the old Hermione shining through for just a few moments.

Snape smiled grimly. "Of course you did." Normally, if anybody else were sitting across from him, he would – at this point – have asked them to kindly excuse themselves (and shut the door gently, thank you very much), but this time something held him back. Face it, he told himself, she's the best out there. You'd be a fool to turn her down, references and CV or not.

Hermione forced herself to keep cool and calm. "If you wish Professor," she said coolly, "I shall excuse myself, borrow an owl from the school owlery and mail you asking for an appointment? Of course... you may have to wait a few minutes for my owl..."

Snape was amused. A sense of humour... albeit not a very good one. Externally, he projected nothing but calm and cool efficiency. "There will, of course, be no need, Ms Weasley."

"Mrs Weasley," Hermione corrected him.

He glanced at her briefly, saying nothing. For the first time, he realised what that meant. She married? And Weasley at that! "I am sure you have a copy of your qualifications, references, and achievements – etcetera – on hand?"

Hermione nodded, relieved that at least something was going to plan. An instinct had told her to make sure she had an extra copy... just in case. She was glad she had listened to that instinct. She placed a sheaf of parchments on the desk in front of her, pushing the papers towards Snape. The latter picked them up and proceeded to thumb through them.

He paused at one point. "You worked at the Department of Mysteries, Potions Lab at one point?"

Hermione nodded, puzzled at the flicker that had temporarily passed Snape's face. "Yes, about five years ago."

Snape continued reading. "For only four months? Why so short a time?"

Hermione squirmed. "Some of the potions I was asked to brew..."

Snape nodded briefly. Almost as if he knew what she was saying.

Has he worked at the Department as well? Hermione thought to herself curiously.

"Such as?"

She was brought out of her reverie. "I beg your pardon?"

Normally, Snape was annoyed when he had to repeat himself. His belief was that if someone wasn't listening to him the first time around, they really were not worthy of his limited time. This time however, he shrugged off the unknowingly-committed offence. "You said some of the potions you had to brew were the reason you left the Department so soon. I was asking what these potions were."

"I'm sorry, Professor. I'm not authorised to tell you that," she replied firmly.

Snape sneered. Of course... the Department can still be extremely... persuasive when they want to be. He waved his hand. "No matter. It is insignificant." He continued his perusal of the documents she had placed on his desk a few moments earlier.

In the meantime, Hermione glanced around the room. The office was different. The beautiful old instruments and personal effects of Dumbledore were no more. Fawkes was missing; as was his perch. The same beautiful furniture was still there. But as far as she could see, there was nothing personal there. It could have been any number of offices in any number of locations. She turned her attention towards the distinct portraits on the walls, showing the previous Heads.

The portrait of Dumbledore smiled at her, winking mischievously. Next to him was a portrait of McGonagall - with her legendary stern expression playing across her face. Hermione smiled at them both, her hearts going out to both of her former Professors. They were both truly great, she thought.

She had been in the Head's office very few times. It was Harry who had been here a good few times. Thinking of Harry brought a fond smile to her lips. She still remembered when Harry and Ron and- She shook her head. She should have known; thinking of Ron always made her overwhelmingly sad. Whenever she thought of him, tears sprang to her eyes. Hastily, she sniffed and wiped her eyes with her hand before Snape could notice. And why was Snape taking so long? She looked up to see him already regarding her.

"Something the matter Ms Weasley?" he asked.

She shook her head, choosing to ignore his deliberate mistake over her title.

The Headmaster placed the sheaf of parchments on his desk, and then leaned back to see more of her. "Impressive. I see my old..." he paused, trying to find suitable words for what he was trying to express, "... friend, Mr. Slughorn has only the highest praises for you; while Charms Professor Wolf has gone so far as to call you "truly talented;" an extraordinarily high level of praise from her. I believe she had higher standards than I myself do. I was rather surprised to find a comment from Professor McGonagall: 'She is one of the most talented pupils Hogwarts has ever seen; scoring one hundred and forty percent in her NEWT Transfiguration.' Impressive. "

Hermione blushed at the compliments.

Snape, in the meantime, continued. "I see you have experience in nearly all fields of magic. I find that necessary for all good wizards. However, it seems that you have rather neglected Muggle studies - understandable of course, given your heritage - and Divination. Why the latter may I ask?"

"I don't believe Divination is any requirement for a good wizard, Professor. It's an obscure, unreliably branch of magic and very few possess the gifts to use it successfully."

Snape snorted. "Come Miss Gr-" he stopped, in mid-sentence. I almost called her Miss Granger, he thought, rather surprised at his mistake. It was a momentary lapse however. He recomposed himself almost immediately. "Ms Weasley... it is a rather shameful characteristic of many good wizards and witches to dismiss Divination as nothing but barely legitimate drivel. A rather foolish mistake, if I may have the liberty of saying so."

Hermione was once again shocked. "But, Professor, surely you don't believe Divination-"

Snape interrupted her. "I believe that all fields of magic should be given equal respect and attention, Ms Weasley. Simply that. Dismissing a subject because of your own incapability or inability to be particularly adept at it is rather foolish, do you not think?"

Hermione flushed again. He had just insulted her. Five minutes after years of not seeing her and he was already back to his usual arrogant ways! Changed indeed! she thought fiercely. But amid her indignation there was a certain acceptance of what he said. It was, after all true, that one of the reasons why she detested Divination was because of her own inability to be any good at it.

Snape had looking her up and down again, and she had the uncanny impression that he could see right through her. Shivering rather uncomfortably, she made sure her mind block was up and as strong as she could make it. There were definitely things in her memories she would never share with anyone else, nor did she wish to recall them herself.

"Of course Professor." She was using one of the tactics she had picked up years earlier. When in doubt with authority figures who were asking you awkward questions... just agree with them.

Snape nodded, almost instantly realising what she was doing. Keeps on getting smarter, this one. "I see you had excellent marks for both your OWLs and NEWTs - the latter of which were taken several years after the intended time?"

Hermione nodded.

"Why? Snape asked.

Hermione was nonplussed. Why was he was asking her this? He knew the answer very well. "Hogwarts was closed down Professor-"

For the second time that day, Snape interrupted her. "Ms Weasley, you know as well as I that Hogwarts was open for the fifth and seventh years to allow them to complete their OWLs and NEWTs respectively."

Hermione remained silent.

"Then why did you not attend school?" Snape persisted.

She sighed. "I was helping Harry and... and Ron to destroy Voldemort's horcruxes."

Snape didn't flinch or show any reaction to her alarming statement. "Ah," was all he said.

There was an intense pause.

And then: "Miss Gr-" for the second time, Snape nearly made the inexcusable - for him - mistake of slipping in concentration and calling her by her maiden name. "Ms Weasley, this is one of the biggest reasons why I hesitate to employ you."

She was alarmed. "What do you mean Professor?"

"With all respect," began Snape in a tone that implied anything but, "we both know, Ms Weasley, you have a slight problem with following rules."

The first thing that entered Hermione's consciousness was extreme indignation. The next a rather alarming amount of anger. She would have said something that would have definitely rid her of any chances of this job had her self-control not quenched the scorching retorts on her tongue. It was a moment before she could control herself. Problems with rules! Who does he think he is?

Snape looked like he was enjoying himself.

"Headmaster, I hardly think this is just."

He held up a finger. She flushed. He's treating me like a child!

"First of all, Ms Weasley, I hold the rather enviable position of Potions Master, and thus would care to be addressed as Professor at all times, despite my current employment as Headmaster of Hogwarts."

Another finger joined the first.

"Secondly, I am anything but unjust-"

Despite herself, Hermione snorted. Surely he can't believe what he's just said? Severus Snape... just?

There was an annoyed look on the man's face. "Yes?" he said curtly.

Hermione flushed, and chose to remain silent.

"As I was saying," he continued, choosing to dismiss the temporary lapse of politeness on her side, "I am hardly anything but unjust. You - along with Misters Potter and Weasley - hold the current record for breaking more major rules than anyone else."

That was hardly fair. What about Fred and George? "Sir- Professor, once again, I think you might be-"

"Do not interrupt me Ms Weasley. I find rudeness abhorrent."

Hypocrite! Hermione thought vehemently, the colour pooling indignantly in her cheeks.

"As I was saying," he repeated, "you and Potter and Weasley broke more major rules than anyone else. Entering the Forbidden Forest heaven knows how many times-"

"We were with Hagrid each time!" she protested.

"Not if my memory serves me; and I assure you it serves me rather well," he sneered. "At the end of your fifth year, you and a group of your friends were in the Forbidden Forest - after having encountered a herd of particularly aggravated centaurs.:

"How did you know-"

"That information, Ms Weasley, is for me to know and you to not. Let me continue. Entering the Forbidden Forest - which is against one of the school's foremost rules; you not only flouted this rule, but also put yourselves in danger."

"But we were only trying to rescue Sirius."

Snape was quiet. Only for a moment. "And a fine job you did didn't you? Your recklessness was the indirect cause of Black's death."

Hermione opened her mouth to protest, thought better of it and remained silent. This is not the time, she told herself.

"You brewed illegal potions, and while we're at it, we'll add stealing to the list: you stole from my personal stock."

"But Professor..."

"Yes?"

What excuse could she give? He was right on this occasion. "I apologise Professor."

Snape inclined his head. "You apologise?"

She nodded.

"Your apology was not asked for Ms Weasley. As such, I could not care less that you decided to descend to the level of petty crime." He shrugged. "It means nothing. The ingredients in themselves were not too expensive."

Hermione was ashamed. She hadn't thought about what she was doing when she had broken into his office and taken those ingredients. All she was worried about then was finding out if Malfoy was the Heir of Slytherin. But he was right. She had stolen from him. She hung her head. "If you want me to pay you back-"

Snape waved his hand. "As I said, Ms Weasley, I do not care. However, let me get back to what I was saying. You frolicked among the corridors of the castle at all hours, again putting yourself in danger and directly opposing - and thus ridiculing - those rules which had been put there for your own safety. You helped Mr. Potter commute illegally to Hogsmede - a measure, once again, put there for his own safety. You went to the Ministry of Magic traveling on the backs of Thestrals to mount a rescue attempt without having the correct information-"

"But Kreacher told Harry that Sirirus had-"

"And I suppose you thought coming to me was forbidden to you?" he raised an eyebrow.

"Professor, we were only in our fifth year. We can't be held responsible-"

Snape leaned forward, his eyes glaring at her. "But you can Ms Weasley. You can. Don't feed me that drivel. Everything you have ever done since your time at Hogwarts and from then on till this instance comes into account. Do you think I shall hire you because you are highly qualified and have good references?"

Hermione clenched her hands together, and looked down, breathing deeply. Don't say anything! After all, she realised she wasn't going to get a job by arguing with her future could-be employer.

Snape in the meantime, continued. "Not only that, but you opened a secret society teaching magic and spells more advanced than its members ever should have known."

"But Professor, Umbridge wasn't teaching us properly-"

"As a consequence of which, Professor Dumbledore was forced to take the fall for Potter and leave the school, when really, we needed him here every minute of every day. There are about fifty other things, but I shall refrain from mentioning all of them. From thoughtless actions on your part to their terrible consequences... you never learnt. Why am I mentioning this, you are in most probability wondering?" Snape leaned back in his chair with a thoughtful expression on his face. "As your teacher, I had a responsibility to protect you from your own misbehaving natures."

Hermione gritted her teeth.

"As Headmaster of this school, I now have the responsibility to ensure the safety of my pupils. Tell me: would you hire someone who had a rather... well-documented history of misbehavior and rebellious nature?" There was smugness about his tone that Hermione would brain-numbingly irritating. If only she could do something to deflate that ego a few notches!

"Well Professor, you have every right to ask me that question. But I also have the right to defend myself. I shall admit that as a pupil, I - along with Harry and... Ron - broke quite a few-"

This time, he snorted in disbelief.

She ignored him and continued. "... quite a few rules. But you must realise that I am much older now. Surely, you can understand that I have matured somewhat?"

He remained silent for a few moments, regarding her. "The trouble with you - and nearly all Gryffindors - Ms Weasley is that you are impulsive. Self-control can only go a certain way towards controlling impulsiveness. I do not have the guarantee that you will not, one day, let your impulsiveness override your self-control and commit acts that are contrary to the code of this school, and that will put pupils - and perhaps yourself - in danger."

Hermione frowned. "Professor, if you're suggesting I would ever hurt-"

He held up a hand. "You misunderstand. A perfect example of your impulsiveness. Have you even thought about what I just said? I think not. You listened briefly to what I said, interpreted it - wrongly of course - and without thinking, accused me of doing something that was never my intention nor my implication – based on that wrong interpretation – secure in your self-righteous and indignant knowledge that you were right and that there was no other possible outcome to the situation."

Hermione breathed deeply. This was harder than she could ever have imagined. What on earth is wrong with the man, she thought to herself. Can't he ever be nice?

Snape smirked in triumph. "I think you realise that I am saying the truth?"

Hermione shook her head, not trusting herself to speak.

"What I was trying to say was that at some time in the future your impulsive side could perhaps lead you to do things you might regret. A perfect example is when you punched Mr Malfoy on the nose."

Despite herself, Hermione was somewhat surprised. "He told you?"

Snape shook his head. "As chance would have it, I observed the whole thing."

She was puzzled. "Why didn't you punish me?"

Snape leered. "Circumstances beyond your knowledge and my power forbid me to stop and disciple you."

After a few moments of silent reflection, she stood up. "Good day, Professor."

Snape looked up despite himself. "You have no further interest to pursue this job?"

She shook her head.

"And why may I ask?"

"Because I realise that our past history will lead to... unwanted personal problems."

"Very well. You may go."

Her hand was on the door, when Snape felt that he couldn't let her get away. It was an instinct. "Ms Weasley?"

She paused.

"Sit down."

Hermione smiled, despite herself. It always worked. Well nearly always. She resumed the seat she had left just a few moments ago, and looked straight at Snape. He wasn't perturbed.

"I would have let you go Ms Weasley. Very willingly. I am not the sort of person who begs anyone to do anything."

She could all too well have guessed that. Severus Snape didn't seem to be the grovelling type.

"However, I have also acknowledged that with your qualifications and references, it is unlikely that I shall meet another more suited candidate for the post. You shall start work when term starts. Good day." And with that she wad dismissed.

Of course, now that it came to it, she decided she had a few things to say.

So when she remained seated, Snape glanced up with a glare that threatened to burn her to a crisp if she didn't leave... now.

Hermione gulped but remained where she was.

"Yes? I am sure you recall my saying I have rather a lot to be getting on with Ms Weasley?"

Hermione nodded. "I have a few things I wish to say Professor."

"You do?" said Snape in a tone that suggested that he really did not care.

"Yes. I'd like to talk about my authority when disciplining pupils."

"Your authority?"

"That's right. I shall only accept this job if I am allowed to discipline the pupils as I see fit - within the law of course - without any interference from you and any other teacher."

"Conditions? Woman, you've not even started working yet, and you're giving me conditions?" His upper lip curled in contempt. Silly, self-righteous, arrogant Gryffindors... always convinced they're right!

Hermione maintained her firmness. "Yes. If you don't mind my saying, Professor, I remember the days when I was a pupil here. And you were more than a little partial to Slytherin House."

"What nonsense, Ms Weasley. I treated every one of my pupils with the same fairness and equality."

"Respectfully digressing sir, you didn't." Hermione took a deep breath. She was in deep water here. If Snape took offence, she would be searching for another job before sunset.

However, the Headmaster appeared to be... amused! He cocked an eyebrow, and showed a few teeth in a most threatening manner. His version of a grin, she supposed. "And any example for this unfounded accusation?"

"Professor, please. I hold enough respect for you to not tell you about every single injustice you committed against Gryffindor. You preferred Slytherin above all others and showed startlingly large amounts of biasness towards the pupils from your own house." There was an all too palpable accusation in her tone.

"Why I suppose I did Ms Weasley." Snape's tone was offhanded and non-concerned. "Anything else?"

Hermione hesitated. Why was he taking this so calmly?

"Yes. One more thing. I have honoured your respect and have called you Professor. Could you please honour mine and henceforth call me Professor Weasley?"

Snape thought for one moment and then - rather grudgingly - nodded. Hermione was relieved. She stood up to go, but then almost immediately sat down.

"Professor, may I ask something?"

Snape clenched his teeth. The infernal woman.

:"But of course, Professor."

"Why were you so hostile and mean towards Neville?"

Snape laughed, despite himself. "Mean? Come now. We are hardly children in school, and accusations of being mean are no longer taken very seriously in adulthood."

Hermione didn't smile. "The truth is Professor. I've often wondered this. I mean, I always knew you were working for Professor Dumbledore but I-"

"How?" his tone was brusque.

"I beg your pardon?" Hermione said for the second time that evening.

"How did you know I was working for Professor Dumbledore? After all, all the signs pointed to my being a traitor. Especially after I hurled a Killing Curse at him."

Hermione thought a moment. "I don't really know Professor. I suppose it was because I trusted Professor Dumbledore completely, and so ultimately I trusted his faith in you."

Snape sneered. "And you didn't think I was working for Dumbledore simply because of the purity of my character and the nobility of my disposition?"

"No," she had already said it, before realising what she had done.

"Awfully blunt are we not, Professor?" Snape drawled, amused.

Hermione blushed. "I'm sorry-"

He waved a hand. "It is insignificant."

"Anyway, I knew you were good, but I couldn't help thinking why you were so prejudiced against the Gryffindors and especially Neville."

Snape sighed, and then steeped his fingers together. "Professor Weasley. Do you really wish to know?"

Hermione nodded.

"Then listen. The truth is much simpler than you would imagine," he paused a moment before continuing. "The crux of the matter, Professor, is that life in unfair. Slytherin teaches this. Gryffindor most certainly does not. While assets such as loyalty and courage and friendship are certainly significant, you must always remember that there are going to be times when you do not have any friends waiting to help you through the next crisis, and that life will not always deal you a fair hand." Snape paused a moment, a faraway look on his face. "I simply wished to instill into my Gryffindor pupils this concept. Longbottom, as such, was rather a unique case. Believe it or not, I felt that the boy had rather more ability than he cared to dream of. The key was to unlock that ability."

Hermione was sceptical. "By shouting at him?"

Snape shook his head. "Of course not. By making him realise that the only time I would ever be 'easy on him' - as the expression goes - was when he significantly improved his, rather abysmal, grades and results. Longbottom thought he was trying his best. I knew he was not. The reason he was so terrified of me was because he thought I was deliberately prejudiced towards him despite his trying his best. The real reason, in fact, was that I knew that Longbottom was not trying his level best and by that not shouting at him - as you so aptly put it - he would be lulled into a false trap that the current - abysmal - results he was producing were his best and that I recognised this fact. Do you follow?"

Hermione was puzzled. "No."

Snaoe sighed again. "Simply put Professor, Longbottom needed all the encouragement he could get to make him realise that he was capable of doing far better. I provided this encouragement. Simply that. I don't have a kind and loving nature, thus this encouragement often took the form of less pleasant means of stimuli... the amount of times I put the boy in detention..." Snape shook his head in disbelief.

Hermione was still doubtful. "But surely Professor, saying a nice word to the Gryffindors once in a while wouldn't have done any harm?"

"As I have already said Professor, I do not have a 'nice' nature." He shrugged. "It is the way I am. And besides, you accused me of being prejudiced, when really you and your friends were also guilty of that crime."

"How so?" Hermione asked, genuinely curious to hear Snape's reasoning behind his accusation.

"Oh come now, Professor. Throughout your full six years at Hogwarts, whenever something went wrong, you tended to blame me. The Philosopher's Stone, Mr. Potter's Occlumency lessons, my allegiance to Dumbledore and his apparent death... somewhere along the way, I was somehow always the butt of your accusations."

Hermione hung her head. It was after all true. "I beg your pardon Professor. I'm sorry."

"Too little, too late," Snape snarled. "And how do you imagine that feels?" he continued, with venom laced in his silky sneer. Hermione looked up at him.

"Can you imagine being wrongfully accused of doing something terrible? Mr. Potter called me a coward for doing what Professor Dumbledore had explicitly told me to do earlier in your sixth year, when I was anything but. He broke several rules and overheard me saying things that he should never have known about. Little information is almost as bad as no information or misinformation. It was Potter's own over-curious nature that landed him into most of the trouble he wanted to avoid. I risked my life to provide Dumbledore and the Order with secret information against overwhelming personal risk and the little brat calls me a coward.":

Hermione squirmed. "You know Professor, this all goes back to what I was saying just moments ago. Sometimes saying a few nice things can make a lot of difference."

"Tell me, have you ever stared Voldemort in the eyes?"

His question was blunt. Hermione shook her head.

"Then you won't understand what I'm saying. To face those pairs of eyes every day - with your own free will - to help others, and then to be called a coward is rather a grave sin do you not think?"

Hermione remained silent and regarded him. There was more to this man than met the eye.

There was a quiet moment.

"Thus you will well understand if I do not appreciate your apology."

"What do you want me to do?" Hermione asked desperately.

Snape smirked. "I want you to be sincere."

"But I am!"

"No you're not, woman! No you're not. You apologise to me because I have offered you this job. What about the wrongs you committed against Mr Malfoy or Professor Umbridge or Mr Flich?"

"They are none of your concern Professor," Hermione said vehemently. "As far as you should be concerned, I've apologised to you and that should be enough."

Snape looked at his fingers and then lowered them and regarded her. She squirmed. "Very well."

"And now I wish for an apology from you!"

"What for, may I ask?"

"In the fourth year, when I was cursed by Malfoy, and my teeth grew to several times their size, you said you saw no difference. I don't suppose you imagine how much that hurt."

Snape thought back to the occasion. He had said that. "Surely, you were not offended by something that someone you disliked said?"

Hermione shook her head. "You don't understand Professor. If it was a pupil I wouldn't have minded. But to hear it coming from a teacher – who was supposed to be neutral and fair and... and understanding - did offend me."

Snape sighed. "Very well," he repeated. "I apologise."

And then: "Where is Mr Weasley?"

The question was so startling and abrupt that Hermione barely had time to register it before she found herself answering. "He died."

"Oh?" Snape's voice was quiet.

Hermione nodded, gulping back a tear. "Yes. In the war. In the last few weeks."

"My sympathies." That's why she had been hesitating when saying Ron's name, Snape thought to himself.

"And Mr. Potter? Is he still in the Ministry? I have not had contact with him for a few years."

"Harry?" Hermione nodded, managing a smile. "He decided Ministry life wasn't for him, and decided to travel a bit. He's somewhere in North Africa at the moment."

Snape nodded, his eyes half-hooded.

Harry Potter and Severus Snape had finally learnt to accept each other. They would never like each other - wouldn't even come close, but as they had fought side by side in the final battles, they had developed a wary acceptance.

Thinking of the final battles made Hermione's eyes widen. Snape had been incredible. She had seldom seen people move that fast. He had been whirling and spinning so quickly that he appeared to be almost a blur, issuing curses and counter-curses all the time, apparating to where he was needed.

"And yourself Professor. What are your plans?"

Hermione was surprised. Snape asking her personal questions... Snape being almost... nice?

"I'll work here for a few years - five at the most - and then with the money I gather, I'll open a business."

"Relating to what?"

"I haven't thought about that yet."

"Ah."

There was an awkward pause. Hermione stood up. "I think I better get going Professor."

Snape nodded, dismissing her.

She moved towards the door.

"Professor Weasley?"

She paused, her hand on the door.

"You knew I didn't kill Dumbledore didn't you?"

Hermione nodded. Snape smiled.

"You knew that I had a way of bringing him back, didn't you?"

She nodded again.

"As such, I am sure you would be interested in taking some highly advanced Potions classes with me?"

Hermione paused and turned to face him.

"You mean you-"

Snape held up his hand. "When the time comes."

Hermione nodded. "Yes, I'd like that Professor," she breathed excitedly.

Snape laughed shortly. "As I knew you would. Let us see if I cannot pass on some of my own secret inventions on to another. I shall inform you about the specifics. Good day."

Hermione turned and slipped through the door.

It was going to be an interesting year, the Headmaster thought. In more ways than one.

FIN