"Hermione Granger…?" When Hermione turned around, she looked into the smiling face of a young woman. "The Hermione Granger...?"

Hermione sighed exasperatedly and rolled her eyes. She had forgotten to count the numerous encounters of this kind during the past months. Everywhere she was questioned about her role in the final battle, and of course about her friendship with the famous Harry Potter, whether she was more than just a friend and… and… and...

People had tried to make her acquaintance because she was the famous heroine who had killed Lucius Malfoy and had saved the Wizarding world along side her friends. Girls were talking to her because they wanted to meet Harry or Ron. Young men had asked her out just to make it to the cover of the Daily Prophet. Soon she had discovered that there was no real interest in her as a person, but only in what she represented. One day she had overheard a conversation. "Oh, I know, she is a heroine, but nevertheless, not the kind of woman I would like as a lover. She is pretty enough, but too bookish. I haven't understood half of the stuff she talked about. Well, and a woman who has cast the Killing Curse, that is a bit scary."

'What do they expect? A model from Witch Weekly, dressed in the most expensive robes, all nail polish, make-up and lipstick; the next moment turning into a house-elf, cooking them a meal and giggling at their Quidditch jokes? Ah, yes and then casting the Killing Curse, because without that I would not be famous!...And otherwise I am too scary...No, I have bloody well enough of it!'

Her friendship with Harry and Ron had continued, but they had different interests and never really understood her thirst for knowledge. Few people did, at least no one of her own age. But this was not her most serious problem. Everyone expected her to go on with her life as if nothing had happened. She had not led the life of a normal young girl. There had been attacks, there had been a war, and not only the final battle and she had grown up amidst of it. Had anybody an idea what it had been like casting the Killing Curse, though she had known it was necessary? Sometimes, she was still haunted by nightmares. Everyone thought her strong and said so. She was tired and she was tired of being strong.

Sometimes she would have given everything not to be famous and not to be recognised everywhere, to have the chance to get to know someone who would share her thirst for knowledge and who would be interested in her. Probably that wish would never be fulfilled.

She would concentrate on her career instead. She had decided to become an Auror, which included several fields of magic, she would spend some months with Minerva for advanced fields of Transfiguration. Afterwards she would continue with Potions and Defense Against the Dark Arts. Hogwarts had become her home after the war and Minerva was not only a good superior, but also a good friend. Hermione could talk to her about things she could not discuss with her parents though, she loved them dearly. They did not know anything about the war in the Wizarding world as Hermione had concealed everything about Voldemort. Her parents would have taken her out of Hogwarts immediately had they known. Hermione spent most of her leisure time in the library.

It was at the beginning of the vacation and Hogwarts was nearly empty. Hermione stifled a yawn. She had been sitting in this chair too long and rose stretching. Magazines were piled on the floor around her chair. She had read publications on new Transfiguration Spells and on Animagi and was about to put the magazines away, when her eye was caught by a little ad. A forty-one-year-old wizard was looking for an intelligent female pen-friend, someone he could talk with about science, art and literature. Some day, a personal encounter could follow and, in case of mutual affection, a relationship could be developed. No names would be exchanged first but only pennames.

Maybe this was solution, though forty-one seemed a bit old. On the other hand, what discussions could be expected with twenty-year-old boys? In the Wizarding world, age differences did not matter that much. She summoned the Quick Quotes Quill, the equivalent to the Muggle Dictaphone, which she appreciated greatly, and wrote under a friend's name – Catherine.

Severus was bored and he felt useless. He had put his life in danger countless times as a spy for years. Everybody had considered him a traitor when he had killed Dumbledore. In the final battle, it had turned out that everything had only been a fake to deceive Voldemort; Snape's name had finally been cleared. After the war, he had been awarded the Order of Merlin, Third Class. 'You could not really expect them to give the Order of Merlin, First Class to a former Death Eater, can you?' he sneered inwardly.

Severus Snape was not the smiling good-looking hero the newspapers liked on the covers, but an ill-favoured sour and sarcastic man with a not-too-good reputation, and so he remained in the background. His name was well known, but many people asked themselves whether he had switched sides just in time, when it had become clear that the Light would win. Some women who liked to be seen with famous men had asked him out, but that had ceased soon enough. He did not like superfluous chatter and had said so in very plain terms.

His job as a teacher did not satisfy him either. He had never really liked teaching. Tormenting the students had brought him a certain relief for the pain and stress he was put under by his role as a spy. He was haunted by the memories of his past, by the horrible things he had done in his youth as a Death Eater and was plagued by nightmares regularly. Voldemort had liked torturing his followers and Severus had endured the Cruciatus Curse, Slicing Hexes and other curses countless times. All this was over now. He should be glad, but he only felt numb. His role as a spy - dangerous and disgusting as it had been - had fulfilled a certain purpose and had filled the emptiness in his life. Now he was useless, the shell of a bitter man.

'I have never been more than a useful tool, at first for Voldemort and then for the Order. Only Albus has seen a human being in me,' he thought, embittered. He had tried to convince himself that it had not mattered. But it had and it still did. It was not easy to admit to himself, but he was lonely. He had always been a solitary man, but had reached certain contentment with his books and his research. Now he felt that this was not enough. He wanted friendship in his life, something he had not allowed himself over the years as a spy, because that would have meant he had to trust someone. He wanted someone he could lead an intelligent conversation with and, yes, he wanted a woman in his life. He had buried his feelings inside for years. Sometimes he wasn't even sure if there were feelings inside, perhaps permafrost was all that was left. In his youth, there had been one girl he had liked, more than liked and become guilty of her death, a fact he had been trying to atone for years. Would any woman want him now?

When he looked in the mirror, he saw a sallow face, uneven yellow teeth, an overlarge crooked nose, greasy hair and a deep scowl, none of which something women liked. He had to face the facts. He was no handsome man, would never be, and even in his youth no woman had paid him a second look. Severus sighed and grinned at his own reflection. The only thing he could improve would be his hair. It was limp and the fumes of the potions did not improve that, yes and maybe a whitening charm for his teeth. Not that any decent woman would have kissed you with glossy hair and white teeth! You look like the perfect bad guy: ugly, scowling and always clad in black. Well, and you are not really famous for your charming personality, are you? No fluffy bunny! Oh yes, the Byronic hero, the dark brooding type, whatever that means; that is definitely not you! Women were not interested in him, but in their own imagination of him. Could they imagine what he had done as a Death Eater and later on as a double agent?

But, at one point, there was no doubt: He was an intelligent, even brilliant man. In this case he had no reason to be self-conscious. Maybe a pen-friend would be the right way to get to know someone. He would put an ad in the newspaper. He would offer intelligent conversation, no real names or personal background would be mentioned, no photo sent. In his past, he had never received letters and he did not want his colleagues to ask questions. So he made sure that they would not be delivered in the Great Hall but to his private quarters.

When the first letters arrived, he was disappointed. Some of the witches were married, some were only looking for company, and the orthography and style of some letters were of a sort that he shuddered and asked himself what kind of conversation he could lead with such a person. Only one letter seemed to be interesting. As to the handwriting, he could not say anything because she had used a Quick Quotes Quill. But she was only twenty; what should he do with such a chit? He had to admit that her style was intriguing and in lack of other interesting letters, he decided to write back. Yes, the use of a Quick Quotes Quill was definitely a good idea; his cramped, spidery handwriting could not be read by most people.