a/n - I own nothing. The twists and turns maybe, but nothing else. Don't sue me. Reviews welcome! Thanks for reading.

Chapter 1

Chicago was good for Hermione. Even though Apparition was easy enough, she was glad for the miles of separation that Chicago provided from the London wizarding scene. After graduating from Hogwarts, she found work almost immediately with a product development company in London. She worked testing charms and potions that they developed for sale on the wizarding market. Working mostly from home, she analyzed them, fixed them when necessary, and made them ready for sale to the public. The success that she enjoyed in her professional life while in London did not extend so easily to her personal life.

Hermione worked with the company for four years before moving to Chicago, leaving London shortly after Ron Weasley left her at the altar. As though that were not bad enough, Harry had taken Ron's side in the matter, making her not only suddenly single, but also extremely lonely. She found out through Harry, a few weeks after the failed wedding, that Ron had decided that they were not right for each other. If only he had felt compelled to tell her that before she stood in that church like an idiot, in front of her family and friends, the Headmaster, and most of her former Professors. Harry felt it was for the best because Ron was right, they were completely different people. Harry thought Hermione and Ron's relationship had lasted so long after the fall of Voldemort because they felt safe with each other. Ron had realized that he wanted more--needed more--from his wife. Hermione made him feel stupid--if not completely incompetent--and Harry agreed. Ron needed someone that could support him emotionally--not just financially--and Harry agreed. Ron thought she needed someone who was closer to her intellectually--less prone to mucking things up--and Harry agreed.

Ron's family was so sweet after Ginny had relayed the news that day, telling Hermione everything would be all right, and that Ron would eventually come to his senses. It was not long after the botched ceremony that they started avoiding Hermione in Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley, and it was not much longer before they stopped returning her owls all together. Hermione assumed that they blamed her, but no matter how many times she thought about those days, she couldn't figure out how anyone could think that it was all her fault.

Hermione didn't make Ron fail the Auror exam. He did that on his own. She didn't make him go into business with Fred and George. That was his own stupidity. It was upon expressing those very thoughts that she knew Ron was probably right, though that didn't make it hurt any less. Hermione had these thoughts about six weeks after Ron had stood her up on their wedding day, except she made the mistake of saying them aloud. Ron refused to speak to her face to face after that conversation, as did Harry. Harry said that she was being selfish and that she should grow up. This assessment came from the boy who could not keep his invisibility cloak in his trunk for more than a day, she thought. Grow up, indeed. Hermione was so glad Voldemort was gone. At the very least, she did not have that tribulation hanging over her head any longer.

As it turned out, Dumbledore had worked to fake his death with Snape, allowing Voldemort to think he had the upper hand. Dumbledore helped Harry destroy the remaining Horcruxes, leading him to the final battle. Hit with a stunner, Hermione was unconscious when Voldemort fell, but Harry and Ron told her that it was beautiful. Harry lured Voldemort to the locked door in the Department of Mysteries. This time, the door opened easily for Harry. Pushing Voldemort into the room, Harry merely allowed the love inside to destroy him. Beautiful Phoenix song had filled the air while swirls of rainbow lights sparkled in the dark, circular entrance room. They were lucky enough not to suffer any more casualties. Ron and Harry had relayed the story after she woke up the next morning while she lay in bed in the infirmary at Hogwarts. Hermione was once sad that she missed it, but now she was glad that she didn't have that memory to add to the others of Ron that she had tried so very hard to forget.

Maybe she should have given everyone more time, yet she knew that there would be no staying in London. Her parents had retired and moved to Australia. There was no reason left for her to stay. Six months after the failed wedding, she moved to Chicago. The isolation allowed her the luxury of rarely looking back. Harry still wrote her from time to time and she always returned the favor, but the separation created a rift that nothing--save time--seemed able to bridge.

Hermione continued working for the London based company at their Chicago location. By the time she found herself sitting in the bar on Ledbetter Street sipping a glass of dry merlot, she had been with them six years. Within the last year, she had received a promotion to Chief Supervising Officer, which gave her the freedom to do her own experiments. She could now create her own charms and potions for sale, instead of only testing them. The promotion provided her with an office, a potions lab, and the freedom to work all the hours that she wished. Just a few hours before she arrived at the bar, she had received an owl at her lab.

Miss Granger,

Please meet me at The Demiguise at 8pm. Do not be late. Thank you.

S. S.

Bewilderment didn't quite cover the full range of emotions Hermione felt upon reading the terse note. When Voldemort was defeated, Snape had immediately resigned from Hogwarts. He had removed himself almost entirely from public life, not that he had been too terribly public in the first place. There were still families, such as the Malfoys, that would like nothing more than to see him dead. To them, Snape was the reason for their friends and family's incarceration. Hermione thought he would be safer at Hogwarts, but it appeared that Snape disagreed.

Over the years, Hermione had run into a few problems with various concoctions. In a letter to Dumbledore, who wrote her often, she mentioned that she would love to ask Snape some questions. The Headmaster suggested she ask the questions of him so that he could forward them on to her old Professor. She had sent the first letter roughly a year ago and she had been nothing less than astonished to receive a reply back within two days, directly from Snape.

Miss Granger,

Your calculations are correct. Two grams of asphodel and one drop of dandelion juice will rectify the deficiency.

S. S.

Though the letter was not drenched in warm greetings, the fact that he responded at all was heartwarming. His advice was spot on. Hermione finished the fairly complicated potion weeks earlier than she anticipated. Over the course of the last year, she asked only two other questions. Both were answered swiftly and concisely, both lacking any kindnesses. This was what made the note she received a few hours before that much more intriguing. Firstly, Snape wanted to meet with her. Secondly, he had said please and thank you. Hermione could not shake the thought that something must be horribly wrong.

There Hermione sat, five minutes before eight on her twenty-fifth birthday, waiting to meet her old potions master. She had not seen him in six years. They were meeting at a bar, in Chicago, in the United States. This was certainly a set of circumstances Hermione would never have thought she would live to witness.

Of course, a couple of years ago, she thought that she would be Mrs. Ronald Weasley as well. Sniggering wryly to herself, she again checked the clock. This time her eyes fell upon the mysterious man who had just entered the bar.

Tall and lean, he was wearing a heavy, black trench coat, probably to protect against the stinging September wind of the city. He swung it from his shoulders as he entered, walking toward the table at the back of the bar where Hermione was sitting. Black leather boots matched the black jeans that matched the black t-shirt he wore beneath a long-sleeve, ivory dress shirt that lay unbuttoned. As her eyes made their way to his face, she was stunned to find that she had just been checking out her old professor.

His face was set as she remembered it, a blend of world-weariness and strength. She noticed a bit of tiredness in his eyes as he stepped up to her table. She also noticed that her jaw was slack and that she was still staring.

"I must apologize for the late hour, as well as the abruptness of the letter," he said with remarkable sincerity. "Thank you for meeting me on such short notice."

His deep voice that she hadn't heard in so long shook her to her senses.

"Professor, it is so good to see you," she said as she put out a hand to shake his. Ignoring her proffered hand, he sat in the chair directly across from her.

"Miss Granger, I assure you that this is not a social call." There was that old nastiness. He shook his head as he put both hands up to rub his face. "I am sorry, this has been an awful day," he added, sans sarcasm. That made two apologies from Snape in less than a minute. Hermione was beginning to panic.

"What is going on sir?" she asked. "And what does it have to do with me?"

Looking him square in the eye, Hermione saw pain and uncertainty staring back. After a moment of hesitation, Snape answered, "There has been a tragedy. A few hours ago, four Death Eaters escaped from Azkaban."

Hermione interjected, "Who?"

He replied quietly, "Fenrir Greyback, Theodore Nott, Draco, and Lucius."

Fear spreading quickly through her nerves, she waited for him to continue. Much to her surprise, he seemed to be tentative, clearing his throat and fidgeting. Certainly, the fidgeting was barely noticeable, although she had never seen the man even as much as twitch in the face of danger.

"What is it sir?" she asked.

After a deep sigh Snape said, "Immediately after reaching the mainland, they Apparated into Hogsmeade." He paused again, appearing to be searching for the right words. Finally, he continued. "Miss Granger, the first person that they saw was Minerva McGonagall. They attacked her from behind. There was nothing she could have done."

Shock and horror replacing the earlier fear, Hermione sat stock-still, processing the news he had just given her. She asked the only question that she could form at the time, "Is she dead?"

He answered with a weary nod of his head. "I am so very sorry."

There was that word again. Sorry. This was surreal. Professor McGonagall could not be dead. She was too strong and too intelligent to be taken so easily. Hermione thought surely this was some kind of mistake.

"Are you sure it was Professor McGonagall?" she asked, her voice shaking with encroaching grief.

"Unfortunately, yes. Albus is currently focusing on finding the bastards. That is why he sent me to you." His voice was so quiet that she had to strain to hear him. The man had never seemed so upset.

"Thank you," she said. Instinctively, she reached across the table to touch his hand in comfort, but he hastily yanked his from the table.

"That is not all," he said.

Confused, she whispered, "What else could there be?"

"You are in danger," he advised. "You are safer here than in London, I am sure of that, but it is best you are not left alone until they are captured."

"Why would I be in danger?" she asked. She knew it was a stupid question as soon as she asked it. To her surprise, Snape answered with compassion in his voice.

"Your association with Potter clearly makes you a target. Aurors have already been stationed with Potter and at the various Weasley residences." Snape flinched, almost imperceptibly. "Albus thought you should be warned--and protected--as soon as possible."

"Thank you, but I think I can defend myself," she said with impatience. The mention of Harry and the Weasley's had distracted her. Now, all she wanted was to go home so that she could cry for her fallen mentor, something she could not do while sitting with Snape.

"Miss Granger," Snape said, some of the usual acid seeping into his voice, "you obviously do not realize the magnitude of the situation. These men have been in prison for a very long time. They are no longer rational. No matter your prowess with a wand, it would still be four against one. Albus wants you protected and I will not take no for an answer."

In resignation, Hermione reacted more severely than she intended, "Fine, where is my Auror? If you don't mind, I would really like to be getting home."

Snape cleared his throat, squirming ever so slightly. "I am going to have to do."

She laughed faintly before she said, "Let me guess, all the Aurors are busy trying to catch the convicts, hence you have been recruited by Dumbledore to keep a steely eye on me."

Raising an eyebrow, his face resuming its customary scowl, Snape nodded.

"Fine," she said. "Let's go."

Dropping a couple of galleons on the table, she brushed past him toward the door, not wanting him to see the tears rising in her eyes that she had worked so hard to contain. Wordlessly, he followed her.

Hermione was about to hurry into the street when Snape grabbed her by the forearm. Just as he pulled her back onto the sidewalk, a car went speeding through the intersection. Looking up at him, she thought she saw pain on his face as he released his grip on her arm. She quickly dismissed the thought when he spoke.

"As much as I would love to shorten this visit, I would rather not have to tell Albus you were killed in a traffic accident moments after our meeting. He might presume I pushed you."

After glaring at him, she made a point to look both ways before huffing across the street. To think, she had felt sorry for him for a second.

> > > > > > > > > >

Snape watched warily as Hermione rushed across the street. He had seen the glimmer of tears in her eyes and understood well what she was feeling. The isolated part of him was resolute to show no emotion, but that long suppressed empathy that he felt for his star pupil was ever so real. Allowing her to get a few yards head start, he followed.

He had not seen her since the fall of Voldemort. Six years had not changed her much. She had the same frizzy mane of hair around the same large, caramel-colored eyes and pale complexion. Snape wondered if she spent as much time working as he had always assumed she would.

The questions she posed to him over the last year had been the only contact between himself and any of his former students. Research taking up most of his time, he did not have anything that could be mistaken for a social life. Albus and Minerva stayed in touch over the years, but Hermione's interest in him was surprising to say the least.

Her questions were always well thought out--and explained in full--within an inch of reason. Dumbledore smiled knowingly at him, a few months ago, when he brought Snape her last letter.

"She isn't one to overlook much," Dumbledore had said.

Four pages of parchment--and an hour later--Snape had finished reading. His answers were always short, but he always tried to add something nice at the beginning. He would point out that she was right about something or that her research was thorough. That was about as close as Severus Snape ever came to actually being friendly to any student--past, present, or future.

The future--that was a dastardly thing. When he finished his research, he planned to return to teaching. Snape knew, deep down, that if six years had not solved the problem then another six would not change anything. However, he kept going, hoping that the next book or potion would do the trick. That was until earlier that day.

Albus had contacted Snape by patronus, something that had not happened in six years. Snape promptly Apparated to Hogwarts. Minerva's death was an awful shock. Albus and Minerva were Snape's only friends, the only people he had ever managed to fully trust over the years. They had stood with him to the very end and never doubted his loyalty. Snape panicked for the first time in almost two decades. Albus did what he always did when confronted with a problem--he offered Snape candy. Immediately after Snape declined, Albus said that he needed Snape's help. Someone had to contact Hermione Granger in Chicago to deliver the news. They also needed to find someone to stay with her until they had averted the crisis. Perhaps because Snape was in shock, or because he was vaguely curious as to where her life had taken her, he volunteered. Albus readily accepted the offer.

Snape was seriously reconsidering his decision as he followed Hermione's angry form down the streets of Chicago. The shock of the news that he brought was probably causing her to vent her frustrations on him. Besides, he really was not very good at comforting, especially in his current condition. He also thought that, perhaps, she was not enjoying the sudden return to memories of Mr. Weasley.

When Snape mentioned the Weasley's earlier, he remembered her estrangement and promptly stopped before elaborating further. Albus had indicated that both Potter and Weasley inquired to Hermione's safety. Albus told Snape that it was at his discretion whether he relayed the information. Snape told Albus that if they were so concerned about her well-being then they would not have abandoned her, as it were, and that it was up to Albus whether he relayed that information. Albus only nodded wisely. Snape knew what it was to be abandoned by those that you loved. It had a lot to do with who he was to that very day.

On Albus' request, Snape had attended Hermione's wedding. On their way to the ceremony, they discussed the pairing. Albus agreed that they were not a match, but added that love does not always play fair. Snape thought it was a waste of a bright and very talented witch. Weasley was not right for Hermione and she would grow to regret her decision in time, or she would settle for less than she deserved. He had always respected her, much more than anyone except Albus and Minerva ever knew. Exceptionally smart, she matured in her last two years at Hogwarts. She was no longer the hyperactive know-it-all. She had developed a quiet confidence in her abilities and subsequently excelled even faster.

Sitting in the very back of the church on what was to be Hermione's wedding day, he felt saddened for her as he watched her stand visibly confused and distraught in front of all those expectant muggles and wizards. When Ginny Weasley ran up the aisle and whispered in Hermione's ear, Snape could not help wanting to hunt down Weasley to put him out of her misery. That was humiliation at its nastiest, even compared to what Snape had endured at the hands of James and Sirius. However, Snape also knew it was for the best. She deserved better and better would find its way to her someday.

When Hermione left London, Snape was not surprised. Albus told Snape where she had gone, mentioning that she was handling the breakup well. The Headmaster also imparted the story of the breakup of the trio, how Harry and the Weasley's blamed Hermione for Ron's cold feet. How they could blame her, Snape did not know. She, at least, had the courage to show up for her own wedding.

When he had opened the door of the bar that evening, Snape wondered why he was so curious about this woman. He taught other exemplary students before, but none of them had fought along side him with the conviction or the strength that Hermione had. He carried her from the Atrium at the Ministry after the stunner struck her, Apparating with her back to Hogwarts. Madam Pomfrey had assured Snape that she would be fine, but he sat with her through the night anyway. When word arrived of Harry's success, Snape whispered in her ear that they had won. He told her that her friends were alive. He said that there were no other casualties on the side of the Light. He could have sworn that her body relaxed and that her breathing leveled out at his words. He held her hand even though he was exhausted and talked to her so that she might know someone was there. He would not leave her until someone else made it back. It was well into the wee hours of the morning when he left her with Albus. Snape left hoping that she would be all right and that he still had that bottle of scotch in his rooms. He needed a good stiff drink to celebrate the end of his enslavement to the cause. That was when everything changed. He gave Albus his resignation the next day.

> > > > > > > > > >

Hermione reached the door to her apartment building in record time. She should walk home fuming more often, she thought. Up the stairs and through the foyer, she could hear Snape's rhythmic footfalls still behind her. She finally stopped when she reached the elevator. Pressing the up button, she turned to acknowledge Snape.

Hermione tried to speak pleasantly, "I live on the seventh floor. People don't notice the owls as much."

Snape nodded curtly.

"Look," she sighed, "I'm sorry. This is all a lot to take in. I'm just a little overwhelmed right now. I promise I'll be less irritable in the morning."

Snape nodded again.

She added, "Well, maybe not in the morning either. I don't like mornings much. I should be approachable by midmorning, or maybe early afternoon if you're lucky."

Looking up with a weak smile, she was surprised to see the corners of his mouth twitch in recognition of the joke before returning to the regular glower. Same old Snape, she thought.

After a silent ride to the seventh floor, and an even quieter walk to her apartment, Hermione was feeling badly about her treatment of her old professor. He was just trying to help. Besides, she was sure Dumbledore had forced Snape into it somehow. Taking off her coat as soon as they entered, she rushed around picking up the clothes, food wrappers, and books that she had left strewn about the place. She wasn't used to having company. Snape stood like a statue in the foyer, looking around anxiously. She had never seen so many different faces displayed by the man that she thought only possessed the one.

"Would you like a cup of tea?" she asked politely.

"Please," he said evenly. "I take it black." Snape remained perfectly still.

"Well, sit down. You know, you're the first visitor I've had since I've lived here. To be honest, I barely remember the procedure." She giggled nervously before adding, "Please, forgive me." She smiled and then disappeared into the kitchen to prepare his drink, wrestling with the rising guilt.

> > > > > > > > > >

Snape was dumbfounded by Hermione's apartment. The living room was enormous, big enough to fit his entire house. The vaulted ceiling was dramatic, creating sharp angles that formed a unique architectural effect. There was a large arched doorway to his left. The doorway led to a room containing no furniture. From what he could see from the foyer, the room held a small fireplace as well as a sizeable window that provided a spectacular view of the city.

Every bit of wall in the living room, except where the couch sat against it, held rows of bookcases. No less than ten feet high, each bookcase was full to capacity, every inch of shelf space filled with volumes of every conceivable size. Still, there were piles of books stacked precariously around the room on the floor. Snape could not help but smile at the thought that she must have burgled Flourish and Blotts.

Snape reluctantly followed Hermione's order to sit. This was not comfortable for him at all. He did not know how to visit. Moreover, he had never made a habit of visiting his former students, no matter the circumstances. Was she kidding that he was the only visitor she'd had to her apartment? Certainly not, he thought. The wizarding community in Chicago was large enough. There would have been plenty of opportunities to make new friends.

Emerging from the kitchen with two steaming cups of tea, Hermione sat one down on the table in front of Snape and sat in the armchair directly across. They sipped their tea for a moment, neither one speaking. Snape was just thinking of asking how her work was going when she broke the silence.

"I take it that I won't be able to return for the services," she said.

"No, I am afraid it is too dangerous," he answered.

Another hushed moment passed. Snape was about to ask the question again when she spoke.

"I had just written to her," she said softly. "She must not have had time to reply."

Snape nodded, "She had been busy with the start of the school year."

More silence passed. Snape was beginning to wonder whether even to attempt to speak when she asked, "Have you returned to Hogwarts?"

He snorted. "No, but I have stayed in contact with Albus and Minerva. They were the only people I trusted with the knowledge of my whereabouts."

Her brow furrowed, "How is Dumbledore doing?"

Snape snorted again, "You know that old man. He is extremely heartbroken, but he accepts what death is. He will miss her enormously." He paused before adding, "He is a wiser man than any of us will ever be able to truly appreciate."

Hermione nodded. "He was good to me after…" she hesitated grudgingly, "…after what happened."

Snape wondered if she meant Weasley. "Yes, he does always seem to know what to say."

She stared broodingly into her cup, curled into the chair with her legs pulled up beneath her. He sat stiffly on the edge of his seat, watching her. There was obviously something she wanted to say.

"Have you seen Harry or Ron at all?" she asked, suddenly adding, "Of course you haven't."

"No, I have not. Albus has told me that Mr. Potter is busy doing what an Auror does." He shook his head before going on, "Mr. Weasley is still employed by his brothers, Fred and George." He stopped when he saw the tears threatening to spill onto her cheeks. "Miss Granger, we have both had quite hectic days. Perhaps you would prefer to retire for the evening?"

Shaking her head, she said, "I'm sorry." She laughed before adding, "We really need to stop apologizing to each other."

Snape nodded. Another silence rested between them. This time Snape managed to ask his question.

"How has your work been recently?"

"Oh," she looked surprised. "Its fine, I guess. I develop my own products now. Basically, it's hideously boring."

Choking on the tea he was drinking, Snape laughed. He could see her smile peek around the rim of her cup as she took a drink.

"That is fascinating," he said, still chuckling.

"It's a job. I wouldn't be able to afford this place without it. And I can't go back to London so…" Again, she stopped abruptly, but this time she did not finish her sentence. Instead, she looked right into his eyes. He was transfixed by the shimmer of tears that remained and by the determination that had suddenly appeared. "Professor, were you at the wedding?"

Again, he choked on the sip of tea he had just taken. She must be tiring of the small talk as well, he thought.

"Yes," he answered.

Shock flashed across her face for only a second before she continued, "Does anyone still gossip about that?"

"Do you honestly think that I am inclined to gossip?" he asked, eye brow raised.

She laughed semi-hysterically, "No."

"Thank god," he replied.

She laughed again, "I just--when I left--"

He felt compelled to help her out of the verbal ditch she was digging. "I know. Albus did communicate parts of the story, in his infinite wisdom." He paused to give her a meaningful look that she returned, "If you do not mind me saying, I think it was for the best."

The knowing look she had faded into consternation. "What do you mean?" she asked.

Realizing his mistake, he fumbled to correct it. "Before you hex me, allow me to explain."

She nodded slowly, still gawking at him.

"I know you do not need my advice, but you obviously want it." She raised a questioning eyebrow as he continued. "If you are still dwelling on the events of two years ago, then it is time you heard a lecture on why Mr. Weasley's mistake was the best thing that ever happened to you."

Her consternation turned into blatant bewilderment.

Snape cleared his throat before speaking his mind. "I may not be your professor anymore, but that does not mean that I am stupid. You are fishing for something Miss Granger, and I am going to try to provide it, if I can." He paused to form his next words very carefully, wondering how he had managed to get himself into this. "You know what you are capable of--and what Mr. Weasley has managed to do with his life. Perhaps if you wished to waste the rest of your days cleaning up after him--and the predictably innumerably children--then you should feel some semblance of loss. The way I see it, that day was a gift to you. You were not preordained to be his wife. You were never destined to be Harry Potter's friend. However, you were destined to be a magnificent witch, whose talents far exceed those of her peers, and most everyone else for that matter. Do not let yourself feel inferior for one second considering those people whom you thought were your friends. They deserted you when you needed them most and that is reprehensible. I would tell you what I personally think of Mr. Potter and Mr. Weasley individually, but that would take far too long and to be honest, I really do not like to speak ill of the stupid. Actually I do, but they have yet to invent words to describe the ineptitude of that lovely couple."

As he finished talking, he realized that he was reclining against the back of the couch, a voice in the back of his mind asking him what in hell he had just said. He looked at her face staring back at him, blank with shock and amazement. Suddenly, he knew what it was that she had done.

"Veritaserum," he said calmly.

She nodded slowly, tears welling into her eyes again.

"Please, do not cry. I am inept at some things myself and one of them is dealing with a crying woman. You wanted honest answers to your questions. I might have done the same thing myself." He smirked at her, his mind gradually reeling itself back into its usual state. "I would suggest you go to bed now. You will want to be rested in the morning for our conversation."

"What conversation?" she asked meekly.

"The one we are going to have about putting substances in unsuspecting people's drinks." He smiled benignly, still looking into her eyes. "I know that I volunteered for this, but I guarantee you Miss Granger, I am going to be very angry in the morning."