A/N: Thought I'd try something a bit different, for light relief. This is not HBP compliant, so quite AU although I'll try to keep the characters canon up to a point. Updates will be weekly/twice weekly and complete this will probably be 8-10 chapters long. Please drop me a review and let me know what you think.

I don't own Harry Potter, am making no money from this and no infringement is intended.

Happy Birthday, Hermione

Chapter One: The Request

He who is ashamed of asking is ashamed of learning – Danish Proverb.

"You cannot be serious, Miss Granger?" Professor Severus Snape's pale face betrayed none of the incredulity that his voice accomplished so well, and he settled instead upon a faint sneer. Hermione Granger shifted awkwardly in her seat in front of his desk, looking everywhere but at her professor before finally turning slightly wounded eyes upon his. She had nervously knocked upon his office door and walked in not two minutes previously. After struggling with pointless niceties she had abruptly sat herself on the hard wooden chair before him and made her outrageous request with an astonishing amount of aplomb.

"Of course I'm serious, sir," her voice held a curious mixture of defiance and deference, as though she could not decide which would be most effective, and she was rewarded with a frown which replaced the sneer. Snape leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers beneath his chin.

"Tell me then, Miss Granger, why you wish to pursue such a course…and with me of all people?" He invited fractiously, not unaware that he was the most unapproachable Professor that Hogwarts had to offer.

"Well, sir, I've always thought that learning from the finest master in any particular field was the best way to become excellent oneself…" her expression was thoughtful, but it was clear that she had thought up that particular answer hours, or perhaps days, earlier. Snape was dismayed that Granger would underestimate him so spectacularly.

"Flattery, Miss Granger," he told her lazily, "will get you nowhere."

"But sir," she protested, "It's not meant to be flattery!"

"Watch your tone, Miss Granger. It would be tragic to lose house points so very close to your graduation, would it not? An affront to your status as Head Girl, hmm?"

"Yes sir," she looked slightly dismayed. "What I meant is that you are considered one of the best Potions Masters in Europe…at least, according to the potions journals in the library and I've sent owls to Durmstrang and Beauxbatons as well and their Potions Professors agree too."

Snape unsteepled his hands and folded his arms across his chest.

"How very like you, Miss Granger, to research so thoroughly." He made it sound like an insult and the young woman in front of him flinched slightly. "I presume that you would also know then that I have never taken an apprentice in nearly twenty years of teaching?"

"Yes sir."

"Why would I make an exception for you?"

In the half-light of his office, he saw her eyes flash.

"Because in those twenty years you've never had a candidate as capable as me, Professor." She betrayed no false modesty, and there was no conceit in her voice.

"Miss Granger, it is not enough that you merely be capable. Potion making is such a fine art that it requires standards which are nothing short of impeccable."

"Yes."

"And are yours?"

She bristled a little, but then seemed to steel herself against a foolish course of action that would lose her house points.

"I believe that with the right training, Professor Snape, that they would be."

"You do not consider yourself perfect, Miss Granger? I confess myself surprised," he told her silkily.

"Of course not!" She exclaimed, shaking her head so vehemently that large amounts of frizzy brown hair escaped from the ponytail tied at the base of her neck. Impatiently tucking the hair behind her ears, she flashed her eyes at him again. "Nobody is perfect, sir. We all make mistakes once in a while."

"Indeed? Of course you know that a mistake in potions making can have very serious consequences? It would be wrong for me to ask for anything less than complete dedication when considering an apprentice."

"Yes sir. I believe that my school record shows that kind of dedication across all of the subjects that I've taken."

He snickered softly.

"Even Divination?"

She reddened.

"With respect, sir…"

"Never mind, Miss Granger," he waved her protest away. "As it happens, my opinions on that subject are much the same as your own. Divination is innate to individual witches and wizards. Potion making is not. Tell me why you want to undertake an apprenticeship in this subject. Your grades are as high in Transfiguration and Charms as they are in Potions, are they not? I'm sure Professors McGonagall and Flitwick would accept you in an instant, should you approach them."

"I want to be an experimental potions brewer, sir."

"But why?" He could not remember the last time he had had such a long conversation with a student, and especially not a student as irritating as Hermione Granger. Her apparent refusal to give him a straight answer for anything was a trait that he considered almost Slytherin in its evasiveness.

"It's mostly such an unexplored field, Professor!" She was a least beginning to display some enthusiasm. "There are so many potential things…good things, that potions could do that simply haven't been explored or discovered yet. I can't even begin with experimental potions until I'm well versed in the ones that already exist!"

"Do you have any idea how hard a potions apprenticeship is, Miss Granger?" Snape leaned forward over his desk. "You would have to commit yourself to four years of working with me for hours at a time almost every day. I am not a pleasant man and I do not take kindly to excuses or for that matter, failure. You would be quartered here, in the dungeons and can expect no pay, no benefits and certainly no favouritism." He leaned back again, observing her stony expression. "Take my advice, Miss Granger. Find yourself an excellent wizarding university and learn your higher education there."

There was a long silence, during which her facial expression did not change.

"Are you telling me 'no'?" She finally asked him.

"I am telling you, against my better judgement, that you would be better off elsewhere. I could not refuse someone of your talents the opportunity of an apprenticeship but you would be a fool to take it, Miss Granger."

The scraping of her chair against the flagstones was both loud and abrupt. Satisfied that he had said enough, Severus Snape smiled nastily up at her but recoiled slightly at her expression of determination.

"Good luck, Miss Granger." He sneered at her.

"Thank you, Professor Snape. I'll be needing it. When do I begin?"

"Begin? Begin what?"

She looked quizzical.

"My apprenticeship of course."

"MISS GRANGER!" Snape bellowed at her. "Have you heard NOTHING that I have said?"

"On the contrary, sir. I've listened very carefully to everything that you've said." She was remarkably unmoved by his shouting, he thought. Damn Gryffindors and their courage. "You said that you could not refuse someone of my talents the opportunity. You also said I would be a fool to take it but I think I can live with that if it's all the same to you, Professor."

"Twenty points from Gryffindor for impersonating a teacher and for such audacity, Miss Granger!" He snarled.

Hermione Granger's expression became aggrieved.

"That's unfair!" She protested.

"It is not for you to say what is fair and what is not! You will present yourself to me, in the correct attire for a potions apprentice, at the door to this office, at 9 o'clock in the morning on the first of August. If you are so much as one minute late your apprenticeship will become null and void." His voice had dropped to an angry hiss. "Do I make myself clear?"

"Perfectly, sir." She was struggling not to smile, he saw with a further surge of annoyance. Little chit, he thought as she quickly covered her upturned mouth with her hand.

"Good. Now get out before you lose your house any more points."

"Yes Professor."

She whirled to the office door, he caught the very edge of her smile as her face turned away from him, and then she was gone and the door was closing quietly behind her.

He stared at the space in the room where she had been for a long time.