Well, this is going to probably be a solo effort on my part. I will most definitely be bouncing most of my ideas off Pia, though, so never fear. Rating may change.
For Pia's Birthday-Jes


"Come back here, Crooks! No, don't…"

Hermione Granger slipped and nearly fell turning the corner; such were the high speeds she was traveling. Cursing lowly at her cat, which was running further down in the direction of the dungeons, she glanced around quickly to be sure no one was watching her before continuing.

Hermione had been looking up a book, any book, in the library when Crookshanks had appeared.

Puzzled by his sudden appearance and wondering how he could have gotten out of her quarters, she been surprised when he began mewling, something she'd never heard him do until now. Oh, he had bouts of something that resembled the sound, but up until yet it had always been more reminiscent of a Muggle car's muffler than any cat she'd ever heard.

"Crookshanks, be quiet," she'd hushed before checking furtively for the strict librarian to be lurking nearby. Madame Pince was just as eagle-eyed as ever, seemingly undeterred by the lack of students in the buildings to keep the library quiet for.

Hermione was still at Hogwarts despite her recent graduation, and it was definitely not the way she would have chose to spend her summer. To be sure, Hogwarts was full of resources that would prove invaluable to her research in mediwizardry, but she would have relished her stay infinitely more if she'd had a choice in the matter.

Directly before graduation, Professor Snape had returned from what was supposed to be a brief stay with Lucius Malfoy that had spanned nearly a week and a half. While there, he'd learned of a new idea that the Death Eaters were toying with—However, he'd told none but Dumbledore, who'd passed the information on only to a select few teachers. He'd informed Harry, Hermione, and Ron to be alert during their celebrations, and to avoid going anywhere alone. He would give no more information than that, and despite the general caution of the students, graduation occurred without a hitch. It was the day after graduation during which pandemonium reigned.

It was a well-known fact that both Harry and Ron planned on going into Auror training after Hogwarts, but Hermione was still undecided on what she was going to do after Hogwarts. She was torn between the desire to be useful in the war and her own feelings about the taking of another's life. When she considered it carefully, the thought of killing another wizard, regardless of their identity, made her stomach roil. No, she could not follow in her friends' footsteps and become an Auror.

Her appreciation for Muggles was another point on which she had strong opinions; however, the job market in such an area was small. Too few wizards and witches understood or accepted Muggles as competent, and even fewer regarded her, a Muggle-born, as a reliable source of information. Hermione accepted this without anger; she'd spent so long defending herself against the views of the overly opinionated, she'd become numb to any insults based on her heritage. She had no desire to go into a career in Transfiguration, despite McGonagall's urging otherwise.

Hermione had seriously considered Potions, thinking of how much she had enjoyed the art. And an art it was, truly, for the making of a potion was a complex and difficult process. There was much more than measuring ingredients; one had be continually wary of any flaws while brewing, from the substance the cauldron was made out of to the oils that could transfer from hand to ingredient. To get the desired result required an incredible amount of precision, and the lack of attention and care to a potion could result in a spoiled effort, or something much worse. Hermione was especially interested in the creations of new potions. She'd never managed a successful one in the past, but through her efforts had accumulated an excess of knowledge of the basics of materials that were commonly used. She knew what would happen if you attempted to brew a minor truth serum in a gold cauldron, and she knew what effect not adding the thyme to a burn salve would have. More importantly, she understood why these things would happen, something many of her classmates had never deigned to wonder. Her thirst for knowledge could be sated through Potions—there was an endless amount to discover.

However, and the discrepancy always caused Hermione to frown, acceptance to any highly selective potions university would surely require a letter of recommendation, something Hermione knew she was unlikely to receive from her refusal. Figuring it was better to be professor. Nevertheless, she'd asked Snape bravely, and was almost comforted by his emotionless negatively answered than mocked, she'd bowed shortly and left, not particularly disappointed in his expected response.

It was Professor Sprout who discovered a solution to Hermione's problem; stopping her after class one day, Sprout had inquired what Hermione thought of Mediwizardry. Hermione was a bit surprised, but upon giving it serious thought realized what difficulty lay in the subject. Discouraged by its complexity, most of her classmates had given the profession a large berth. However, the mixture of Herbology, Charms, and Potions would both satisfy Hermione's mind and give her something constructive to do until the war was over.

Hermione's delight in her decision was short-lived. On the day after graduation, Dumbledore had pulled her aside to speak to her about how her presence was desired for the summer vacation. Harry and Ron would be enlisting early for their training, Dumbledore had explained, and it would be most beneficial to all parties if Hermione would stay at Hogwarts until her internship with St. Mungo's began in the spring of the following year. Hermione had been outraged, to say the least. Why was she being punished, simply because she'd chosen to follow her own path? When she asked as much, Dumbledore had shaken his head sadly, the gesture aggravating Hermione as it never had before. She would not lack for amusement, he'd offered valiantly, and he would make sure she lived comfortably in her own quarters, not in the dormitory. However, the idea of spending an extra year at Hogwarts did not appeal to Hermione in the slightest, and she was not tempted by the offers of one-on-one teacher conversations or endless Library privileges. She longed to join her peers in wizarding society, to share the knowledge she'd gained with others while receiving more. No, she'd informed Dumbledore, but she'd have to decline his generous offer.

Unfortunately, this was not an option. Dumbledore bluntly stated that if she did not cooperate, the Order would have to consider her actions as counter-productive to their own, and while he assured her that his respect for her would not diminish in the slightest, surely she'd understand if some of the other members became a bit guarded with their comments around her? Hermione recognized the veiled threat immediately, and, wondering what could have caused the normally cheery headmaster to even issue such a threat, resignedly agreed to stay at Hogwarts with the stipulation that she was no longer a student. She would not be treated as one.

Hermione thought back to her conversation with Dumbledore only a week before, remembering his hurried assurance that there was little chance of anyone treating her with anything but utmost consideration. Yet here she was, dashing recklessly through the halls, chasing a cat. It was only lucky that there were no teachers around now!

Remembering the only person who would likely be in the area of the dungeons beside herself, Hermione slowing to a jog, blowing hair off her forehead where it had escaped from her ponytail. The bushy brown mass was no more manageable than it had been when she'd been a student, and it got in the way in the most inopportune moments. Twisting her head to check the hall behind her, she did not see the dark figure before her until it was too late and she ran directly into it.

The first impression she got was of a scent of clovers and a spice she couldn't identify, and she caught a flash of color against a dark cloak as the hands within the sleeves of said cloak came up in a smooth gesture, gently slowing her fall but not stopping it.

Hermione gasped as the figure she was leaning on for balance stepped backward, causing her to tumble to the floor. Her hair was now completely loose, her ponytail holder unwilling to stand up to so much excitement, and with an exasperated sigh Hermione brushed the hair clear of her eyes. As she did this, Crookshanks sauntered nearer to her, looking extremely pleased with himself.

Sparing her cat a scowl, she looked up into the face of Severus Snape, who stood passively looking down on her with one eyebrow raised. He made no motion to help her up.

"Miss Granger. I do believe you have forced me to add uncoordinated and clumsy to your list of general faults. Is there any motive for your unexpected and unwelcome presence in my quarters?"

Hermione scrambled to get her feet under her before responding to Snape's acerbic comment. She grimaced as she looked up, as even when she wasn't sprawled on the ground he still towered over her easily.

"Professor, my cat had wandered down here," Hermione began, fiddling with the edge of her robe as she felt Snape's penetrating gaze. However, she didn't look away from his eyes as they bore into her own. "I'd come down here to retrieve him. Believe me, I had no idea that these were your personal quarters." This last she said wryly, thinking of how it was her own attempted avoidance of the man that had caused her to run into him… literally.

"I don't find your ignorance to be any excuse. Fifty—" here Snape frowned, as if just remembering Hermione could no longer have house points deducted. He stared at her coldly, and she returned his stare, thinking of how little things had changed since the days where he would look down on her while she sat before her cauldron. The only true difference was that now, she didn't have to submit to his authority.

With an abrupt movement of his slender hand, Snape motioned in the direction from which she'd come. "Do not let this happen again." With that parting comment, Snape turned and walked away, his dark cloak blending into the shadows in the dimly lit dungeons.

Hermione breathed a sigh, looking down at the now calm Crookshanks. "You're lucky he didn't catch a good view of you. I doubt he's forgiven you from that incident in the third year."

Picking up the cat, who had resumed his car-like noises, she began walking slowly back to her quarters, which weren't particularly far from her old dormitory. As she walked, her footsteps echoed in the hall around her, and the portraits were all still and silent. Is it really that late? She wondered to herself as she moved. Hearing a rustle down the hallway, Hermione felt an inexplicable flash of fear overtake her, her heart quickening and her breath catching. Fighting an urge to dash to her rooms, she took a deep breath then strode forward, more purposefully than before but keeping herself at a set pace. Cursing the events that caused her to be so frightened of nothing, she shook her head, wishing that Voldemort and the Death Eaters would turn out to be nothing more than a bad dream.

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Hermione chose to forego breakfast the following morning in order to avoid Snape. The lack of students made dining at the long staff table relatively pointless; therefore, house elves had brought forth a smaller, circular table that the staff members used for all meals. Normally Hermione enjoyed the conversation that such an enclosed space allowed, but she remembered all too well that it was a possibility that Snape would not have his meal delivered to his room but decide to join the staff. Though it happened rarely, Hermione was unwilling to take the chance this morning, and resolved to venture her rooms only when she was certain it was safe to do so.

Not that staying in her rooms was a problem, of course, she mused as she looked around her lavish quarters. They'd moved her to a set of rooms that she hadn't even known existed. Decorated in neutral colors of a soft lavender and rose pink, the Muggle set-up of the room strangely resembled her home with her parents. The first time she'd seen the couch with its plush throw pillows and swirled patterned, she'd been too choked up to even remember that she was an angry at being forced to stay here against her will. It was almost the same pattern she'd seen for so many years at home, and it induced a bout of nostalgia that lasted for the rest of the day.

Now, looking around her bedchamber at the rose wall hangings, she felt the same nostalgia creep up on her again. She flopped back onto her pillows, unwilling to leave the warmth of her bed. What would she even do today? It had once seemed like there was an interminable amount of knowledge to be gained from Hogwarts, but now Hermione felt as though everything could be put off until another day, as though nothing had any true appeal for her at the moment. She stared blankly up at the ceiling as her mood evolved into a type of melancholy at the idea of repeating this same process of thought everyday for almost a year.

She missed Harry and Ron, missed talking to Ginny at breakfast and between classes. Her mood brightened by a small degree as she remembered that in a few short months Ginny would return for her final year, and she could count on a companion in the evenings and on weekends. Until then, however, she was going to need to find something with which to amuse herself.

With a glance out the window, Hermione determined that she had put off her day long enough. Shaking her head (she would have never let herself waste so much time during the school year), she stood and stretched before taking her clothes for the day and going into her bathroom. She peered in the looking glass in front of her and poking fruitlessly at the dark circles beneath her eyes. They remained from the school year and only just now begun to fade.

Straightening, Hermione admitted to herself that she did occasionally overwork herself. Perhaps if she took this forced sabbatical as a vacation, during which she could study and begin to prepare for her apprenticeship at her own pace, the time would go by much quicker. Humming an optimistic tune, Hermione began to run hot water for her bath. The day was starting to look up.

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"I will do nothing of the sort."

"Oh, honestly, Severus," Dumbledore admonished gently as he watched the man in front of him carefully, "You know that Miss Granger has no relatives of wizarding descent to be sure no harm befalls her. If the plan you've told me is indeed in motion, she will need protection of the highest degree."

Severus Snape raised his eyebrows. "And you don't believe that her very presence at Hogwarts ensures her safety far more than a," Severus paused distastefully in the process of choosing his next words, "a bodyguard ever could?"

"I'm not suggesting she needs a guardian. I propose only that you make sure she stays within the perimeter of the building, and keep an eye on her outside of it. That is all."

"That's all?" Snape asked sardonically. "It would be my pleasure. Would her Majesty also like a masseuse in addition to my other duties?

"No. I have followed your foolhardy plans in the past, but I flatly refuse this time," Snape said calmly, leaning back in the chair before Dumbledore's desk that he currently occupied. "Find a new babysitter."

"You know, Severus," Dumbledore said, mimicking Snape's action and leaning back in his chair, "If I didn't know better, I'd think that there was some reason in particular why you are avoiding Miss Granger."

Snape smiled thinly. "It seems your skills of observation have not diminished with age. I find her continual tendency to show off infuriating, and-"

"Reminds me of a student who used to go here," Dumbledore mused. "As I recall, he's now our Potion's master."

"Regardless. I want nothing to do with her." With this Snape stood. "If there is nothing else you require of me?" Without waiting for Dumbledore's response, Snape gave a short bow and left the room.

Dumbledore steepled his fingers thoughtfully, addressing the empty room. "Do you want nothing to do with her, Severus, or do you fear what she could do to you?"

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Hermione had finally decided the best way to make use of her time. She trudged across the grounds toward the greenhouses, swiping a trickle of sweat out of her eyes as she went.

"Professor Sprout? Professor?"

A thorough search of the unlocked greenhouses proved fruitless, as the Professor was nowhere to be found. Hermione walked along the rows of plants in Greenhouse One, smiling as she easily identified many of the basic herbs and plants she had learned in her first years at Hogwarts. She absently brushed another trickle of sweat, this time from her neck, and thought longingly of comfortable, cool Muggle clothing, rather than hot wizard robes.

"Hermione? Is that you, dear?"

"Oh, Professor Sprout! I was just looking for you," Hermione trailed off. "I'm sorry, did you just come from the castle?"

"Indeed I did," the Herbologist stated, her hair beginning to frizz out much as Hermione's had already done.

"Oh, Professor, I was actually wondering," Here Hermione frowned, "well, hoping, that you would possibly be interested in helping me to further my knowledge of basic Herbology? I'd really wanted to have a bit of a head start going into Mediwizardry."

"Hermione, my dear," Sprout said with a warm smile, "I'm almost positive that you never be without a head start no matter what you choose to do. However, I would be delighted, and in actuality, this works very well."

"What do you mean?" Hermione asked, her brow furrowing.

"Well, dear, Albus had asked me if I could offer you a project of sorts here, just so I could keep an eye—"

But Hermione had heard no more. The minute she'd heard of Dumbledore's involvement, her former anger returned in full, and she immediately regretted all kind thoughts she'd had about the man since the summer hols had started. How dare he manipulate her this way? She was a valuable member of the Order, and she was being used! Clenching her teeth into what she hoped passed for a smile, she nodded perfunctorily to Sprout's polite conversation, agreeing to begin her advanced lessons the following morning before taking her leave.

It took all of Hermione's self-control to prevent herself from storming away. She felt an array of emotions, betrayal being first and foremost in her mind. She'd been lied to, by omission if not outright, blackmailed into spending eight months at Hogwarts, and now she was not even granted the small respect of being notified when she was under surveillance!

Well, Hermione allowed, it was possible that Dumbledore had no ulterior motive in asking Sprout to keep an eye on her… possible, but not likely. Taking a deep breath, Hermione walked slowly in the direction of the castle, threatening a certain boorish headmaster under her breath. It was time to pay him a visit.

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Dumbledore had called Snape to his office directly after his meeting with Professor Sprout, and there was still no sign of him. Settling back to wait for him, Dumbledore allowed himself a small smile at Snape's vehement refusal. There were deeper meanings attached to everything, he knew, and he had plans for both Miss Granger and Severus Snape. For now, though, those plans would remain known only to him.

"You have need of me?"

"Yes," Dumbledore said, wiping the smile of his face. "I just wanted to let you know, I've found another professor accommodating enough to assist the Order in the protection of Miss Granger. You are released from my request.

"I wasn't aware I'd accepted," Snape replied coldly, regarding the headmaster with an expression of distaste. "In fact, I'm near positive that I specifically said that I wanted nothing to do with this."

"Not said!" Dumbledore declared, affronted. "Implied."

Snape rolled his eyes and opened his mouth to respond, but was cut off by a brown haired whirlwind bursting into Dumbledore's office, apparently not noticing the other occupant in the room.

"Professor Dumbledore! I cannot believe that you would—"

Dumbledore cleared his throat, but it was Snape who snapped. "Have the audacity to interrupt a private meeting between the Headmaster and myself?"

Hermione jerked her head around, a momentary look of alarm crossing her face. "Snape?" Hermione said without thinking before quickly correcting herself. "I mean, Professor Snape. I didn't think—"

"Well, that much is clear. It doesn't seem to be as much a strong point for you as others seem to believe."

"Severus," Dumbledore said gently. "Perhaps we should just see what exactly has upset Miss Granger so."

Snape raised an eyebrow, saying nothing and taking the only seat besides Dumbledore's in the room. Hermione scowled at this lack of common courtesy, ignoring Snape and turning to address the Headmaster.

"Did you ask Professor Sprout to keep an eye on me?"

Dumbledore blinked at Hermione's bluntness. "My dear, you really must understand. I only wanted to be sure that no harm would come to you. You must realize what a precarious position I am in."

Hermione sighed, already regretting her harping at a clearly frazzled Dumbledore. But before she could say anything by way of an apology, a silky voice spoke.

"Apparently Miss Granger does not know when to stop and accept the help she is given. Extraordinary, particularly since it is her own life at risk."

Hermione paled in fury. "I am fully aware that my life is at stake! Everyone's is!"

"Yours more so than others, however," Snape said smoothly. "And to think, everyone seems to think you would be such a great loss to the Order. I must admit, this is one of those few times when I fear I can't seem to understand."

"Severus!" Dumbledore said reproachfully.

"No, Professor Snape," Hermione began, fists clenched in anger at her sides. "I'm no longer a student here. I will not listen to your needlessly vicious attacks on my person without complaint. And I don't need the Headmaster to stand up for me!"

"Despite your claims to adulthood, you conduct yourself in an unquestionably immature manner."

Hermione closed her eyes, counting to ten as she'd been taught as a child. The man was infuriating! But she had to remember, rage was the emotion he wanted to see. The best way to beat him would be at his own game.

Severus said nothing further, watching with mild interest as Hermione's face turned several unappealing shades of scarlet. He had to admit, it was enjoyable to elicit such fervent responses from her with so little effort. In fact, she was really no different from the other students. They had no self-control, and would resort to foolish and childish arguments at the slightest provocation. It was a shame, really, because the rest of the Order held Hermione in a high regard that Severus didn't believe she deserved.

It was because of these less-than-optimistic thoughts that Snape was taken aback when Hermione opened her eyes, smiling and inclining her head. "You're right, Professor. That was unnecessary, and I apologize."

Snape kept his expression carefully schooled, narrowing his eyes.

"Well," Dumbledore said, interrupting the staring match between Snape and the now complacent Hermione. "I must say, as members of the same team, so to speak, you two would benefit from some modicum of mutual respect."

"But, Headmaster—"

"Please, call me Albus," Dumbledore said kindly. "We're on even footing now, and it's only fair."

Hermione furrowed her brow, glancing at Snape unconsciously to see his reaction.

"You will not be calling me by my first name, Miss Granger," Snape said unnecessarily.

Hermione inclined her head once more, the polite motion annoying Severus. He sighed dramatically, turning to face Dumbledore. "Are we finished?"

"Well… Hermione is going to need to expand her knowledge in potions if she wishes to build a solid base for her apprenticeship-"

"No," Snape said immediately.

"She would profit from your-"

"No."

"Extensive-"

"No."

"Knowledge in the subject- and will you allow me to actually finish before you respond?"

Hermione smothered a giggle at the closest thing to annoyance she'd ever seen on Dumbledore, despite the fact that it was her person that Snape was objecting to so strongly.

Snape's eyes flicked to her, then back to the Headmaster. "There was no need to finish, I knew the question. My answer remains the same."

"Then I suppose I'll have to stop asking," Dumbledore said.

"No, Headmaster- I mean, um," Hermione swallowed, "Albus, it's not necessary."

"Hush, Hermione," Dumbledore said without ever removing his eyes from Snape. "Severus, I want you to help Hermione, should she wish it. I'm not asking," Dumbledore softened his voice, "but I would consider it a personal favor."

Snape scowled, glaring alternately at Dumbledore and Hermione. Dumbledore smiled benignly, knowing what Snape would do. After a long minute, Snape sighed dramatically and stood.

"If I'm to endure your infuriating presence later, Miss Granger," he said in a voice heavy with resignation, "than I believe it best to remove myself from it now."

With that, Snape gave a slight bow to Dumbledore and swept out of the room. Hermione sat in the seat he had just vacated, staring in the direction he'd gone. Though she'd not said anything, the truth was that she respected him a great deal, maybe not liked, but respected. She knew he was one of the few people in the school who could understand her academically, and she could identify with him in ways she would never be able to with others, not even her closest friends. Certainly Harry and Ron would never be able to have a logical argument about Potions with her, though Percy might, she thought with a laugh.

So engrossed was she in her thoughts that she didn't even realize the questioning look Dumbledore was giving her until he shook his head and spoke. "Well, Hermione, as productive as this day is turning out to be, I really must attend to some matters with the Ministry… They wish to know why I'm holding a former student hostage," Dumbledore said with a smile.

"Oh," Hermione said, flushing a deep red, "I'm sorry if I said anything to offend-"

"Indeed not. Better to say something now than keep it to yourself."

The tone Dumbledore used made Hermione think he was referring to someone beside herself, but then she dismissed the thought as her imagination. "Well, thank you, sir." She stood and left the room, not sure how to feel about the way the afternoon had gone.

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