Hermione graduates Hogwarts, officially and technically, on a Saturday in very early June. She takes her diploma and her belongings and she leaves the castle with no immediate plans to ever return. She is angry and hurt and, most importantly, perhaps, unforgiving.

At first, her parents are delicate and kind to her. They speak quietly and walk softly down the hall outside her room. She has come home for an undetermined amount of time. She has several job offers, many acceptances to wizarding universities all over Britain, Europe, and one from the States. She has ignored these and instead gone back to the muggle world. She comes home and gets into bed and for the rest of June and one week of July, she rarely leaves it.

Still, her parents are only so understanding. Soon they inform her that the least they can do is fill in for the receptionist in their dental office who has recently gone on maternity leave. She does this for her family out of a sense of duty and little else.

In the morning she puts on a skirt, a button down white oxford shirt and sensible black shoes with a mild heel. It is a variation on a Hogwarts uniform – all she has worn in seven years and perhaps all she knows how to wear any more. The jacket instead of a cloak feels incorrect and foreign, even the light summer one meant only for early mornings. Her arms feel trapped – there is no pocket for her wand.

The job is easy. She answers the phone, schedules appointments and takes checks from those without proper insurance. It is mindless and not nearly distracting enough. She is sad all of the time.

The summer ends. Hermione is pale and underweight. September brings heavy rainstorms and there is lightning when her father calls her into his study. He tells her that she is no longer welcome to stay with them.

"What?" She is disbelieving – she has heard wrong. But her father is a stoic, serious man who rarely says what he does not mean.

"You have been grieving and I respect that, but now you are only wallowing," he says. "You take a job or you go back to school, but you can't stay here."

As mad as she is, she can almost understand this. Her mother cries but she doesn't fight for her daughter to stay.

Hermione takes a minimum wage job in a bookstore in London. It is a muggle bookstore and the wage they pay her is small. She takes a room above The Leaky Cauldron because it includes a meal each day and is surprisingly inexpensive. She sits the first night at a table alone. All she can hear are whispers.

"Poor girl, all alone. Lost her best friend and her boyfriend, you know."

Hermione doesn't want their pity and takes her supper in her room from then on.

She is stocking shelves when Neville Longbottom enters the store. She is alerted to his presence by the tinkling of a bell attached to the door. She isn't happy to see him.

"Hello," he says. She knows exactly how he found her. An owl to her parents – a response on lined paper with a ballpoint pen. It feels slightly like betrayal.

"I'm working," she says.

"Haven't you heard?" Neville asks. She tries not to be curious but she doesn't stay in touch with anyone anymore and she knows there is much she doesn't hear. "I guess not…. I guess that's why they sent me after you."

"What?" she snaps, impatient.

"The portrait, he's asking for you, Hermione."

At first, she doesn't understand. There is no painting of Harry, and of course none of Ron.

"Who?" she asks, setting the book she is holding back onto the cart.

"Dumbledore," he says. "He woke up."

Hermione quits her job and shrinks her things. She checks out of her room and apparates to Hogsmeade. It is November; it is cold. It threatens to rain and begins to snow. She walks slowly – she can see her breath. By the time she makes it to the main gates, she is shivering. It is the middle of the day and she can see students rushing to and from the greenhouses. The snow is sticking to her hair and her clothes and by morning, the grounds will be covered.

She enters the castle through the main doors. There are students, some she recognizes. She thinks numbly for a moment of Ginny Weasley who is most likely in the castle as well. Ginny who lost just as much as Hermione, Ginny who lost more.

No one speaks to Hermione. She doesn't meet any eyes on her way up the stairs. Her cloak is wet and heavy; it drags a little on the floor. She is tired when she reaches the gargoyles. She is too skinny, too alone. She doesn't know the password and is made to wait.

Soon, almost in no time, the staircase emerges and she takes one last climb. In the antechamber, Professor (Headmistress) McGonagall is waiting for her. She tries to smile but the sight of Hermione is jarring.

"Miss Granger," she says. "Thank you for coming."

"Hello," she says. She removes her cloak and leaves it on the bench outside. She will come back later to find it warm and dry, the work of the elves. She doesn't allow McGonagall to touch her; she evades the intended hand to her forearm and enters the heated office. She knows exactly where the portrait is hung and seeing the face of her once beloved Headmaster threatens to break her resolve. Still, it is not really him. It is paint and magic and memory at best.

"Miss Granger," he says, looking down from on high.

"Yes, Sir," she says. His face is relaxed and he looks younger than his real life counterpart was.

"How are you doing?" he asks. Not well, she thinks. But she doesn't answer. She lifts her chin slightly, she sets her jaw, she holds onto her anger and ignores her grief. "I have to say that I was surprised when I asked to speak with you and your whereabouts were unknown."

"I graduated, sir, and moved on," she says. "That is quite normal."

"You are a war hero," he says.


"I am sorry about the loss of…"

"That is something I am unwilling to talk about. Please, why am I here?"

"Professor Snape has gone on sabbatical," he says, conversationally.

"Has he?" she asks. She is bored now, and increasingly desperate to leave the round office.

"I think you should stay in the castle for a while," Dumbledore says.

"You expect me to follow orders from a painting?" she directs the question to McGonagall who frowns.

"Severus has asked that you tend to his classes," McGonagall says.

"Me?" she asks.

Hermione has no job, no room, no home, and no idea how to tell them no. They give her quarters – a single room with a bathroom. She has one set of proper robes – high necked and long sleeved, black robes. She tries not to question anything for the night. She lays in bed, in the darkness, and she lets the pillow quietly absorb her tears.

She doesn't speak with the portrait again. In the morning she showers and appears at breakfast. She is severely pale against the dark wool of her robes and she doesn't smile or wave at those she knows, even Ginny or Luna. It occurs to her that she is not happy about being summoned, about having to stay. Snape's classroom is the same – his office unlocked to her. The only notable difference is the lack of personal items. It is subtle – there were not many to begin with. The book of lessons is sitting neatly on the desk, lined up with the blotter.

During the last battle, Severus Snape had saved her life and she had saved his. He had shielded her body from a spell with his own. She had, in turn, pulled his body to safety, effectively taking them both out of the fight.

She'd left Ron and Harry without her protection, and they had both died. But so had Voldemort.

Now, Hermione opens the book of lesson plans and sees his handwriting – her name on top of the page. She cannot decide if she has no debt to Snape or if she owes him for the rest of their lives. Maybe he owes her too. They are both angry at being alive.

It isn't proper for her to be substituting for him. She is too young and too undereducated though perfectly capable of performing the task. Her first years look relieved upon seeing her but that quickly fades as she barks orders and fails to tolerate mistakes. She has thought about teaching but never like this. Still, she cannot seem to change when the next class comes. She is mean.

After lunch, the older children already know what to expect. They enter solemnly and call her Professor Granger. The name hangs heavy and uncomfortable in the air. She averts one smoking disaster, banishing the contents of a hot cauldron. The fourth years leave vials of sludge on her desk – a potion for nothing.

After dinner, she returns to the dungeons and tries the handle of the door that leads to Snape's living quarters. The door opens easily. She has never been in here, but it is obvious here too that he is gone. The bookshelves are bare, the bed stripped of linens, the closet full of empty hangers. Even the bar is not stocked; the inkwells on the desk only empty jars.

The bathroom is so far superior to the one in her rooms that she moves into his quarters that night without telling anyone. She makes up the bed, hangs her few clothes, and sets wards. Her parents owl her the final paycheck from the bookstore and she, rather frivolously, spends it on robes. All of them are dark colored, all demurely cut.

Ginny is in her class twice a week. Hermione cannot and will not show her favoritism but after one of the classes, they sit in Hermione's office and have tea. There isn't a lot to say in the end.

"Why are you here, doing this?" Ginny asks.

"Snape asked for me," she responds.

"My family says hello," Ginny says, dutifully. Hermione nods her acknowledgement.

After a week, Hermione inquires as to how long Snape is going to be on sabbatical. The standard amount is to the semester, or perhaps a full year but he has left mid term, an unusual absence that coincided with the return, in a way, of Dumbledore. McGonagall can give her no concrete answer, no finite timeline. Hermione assures her that she'll stay on until his return. They pay her well and she is home, in a sense, though uncomfortable. She thought she could escape the castle, that life.

She asks McGonagall if there is a way to contact Snape, if she knows where he is. Again, there is no answer but Hermione is not surprised. She doesn't know what she would say to him anyway, except to ask why. She can already hear his answer in his head, a silky, condescending "Why not?"

At Christmas, she stays in the castle and coolly declines the invitation home – they had, after all, asked her to leave. She had done what they asked – gotten a job and gone back to school. She concedes, however, to go to the Weasleys on Christmas morning, skipping the customary Christmas Eve celebration. The morning of is only family. Any other year, Harry would have been included in that group. Now, Hermione is the only non-Weasley. Even Fleur fits in better than she does. They eat breakfast and they exchange gifts but it is somber and difficult and every second she is there, Hermione wants to be gone.

"Professor Snape was here last night, for the party," Ginny informs her, as she is putting on her cloak to leave. No one begs her to stay. The mention of Snape perks her interest.

"Did you ask what he was doing, where he was staying?" she asks, but Ginny shakes her head.

"He barely said one word," Ginny says. Hermione shrugs and winds her scarf around her neck. She thanks Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, nods to the rest of the Weasleys.

"Happy Christmas," she says to Ginny and walks out the door.

The castle is decorated for the holiday but she encounters no one. She enters her quarters quietly, half expecting Snape to be there, waiting for her, but the rooms are quiet and dark and cold. She runs a hot bath and spends the day and the night alone.

Snape's private lab is clean and well organized and Hermione spends the rest of the vacation there. She makes advanced potions for the infirmary and experiments with recipes of her own. She finds a book filled with Snape's writing – notes on his potions, his work. She reads them all, picks one, and continues his research. At the end of the day, her skin is dry, her hair greasy, from leaning over cauldrons all day.

The year swims along. She is caught up in the ebb and flow of time passing – of meals in the great hall, of nights grading papers, of staff meetings in which she stands away from the group near the window, watching the seasons change. She feels untethered. She doesn't know when Snape will return, she doesn't know if she will be asked back to teach for another year. If she is not, she does not know where to go. She is thinking of reapplying to some schools; thinking of majoring in potions.

On the Friday before Easter Sunday, a holiday not celebrated at Hogwarts – a holiday even the muggle children forget about over time – many of Hermione's questions are answered. She is mid-lecture. She recites the lecture bored, holding notes but not bothering to glance at them. The lecture is embedded wholly into her memory, it is a lecture she's heard Snape give and she repeats it word for word. When the door to her classroom opens, she falters only for a moment, but keeps going. When heads begin to turn she snaps, "Pay attention," fiercely and all the heads snap back around to face her. She does not let his presence rattle or intimidate her. She finishes and gets everyone started on the brewing before she walks to the back of the classroom where he is standing with his arms crossed.

"I'd appreciate it if you would no interrupt my class," she says coldly. He actually smirks at this.

"Who's class?" he asks, softly. The students are uncharacteristically silent, straining to listen to the conversation between them.

"I'll speak to you at lunch," she says, reaching around him and pushing the classroom door open. A few students gasp – her behavior is rude but he merely walks through the door, shutting it behind him. When she turns back around, all the students appear to be working studiously.

He reappears at the toll of the bells, calling everyone to the next meal. She is erasing the chalkboard with an eraser and he clears his throat.

"I suppose you'd like your job back," she says, turning around.

"You sound disappointed," he says, matching her stiff posture, hands on hips.

"I have a couple of questions," she says.

"I'm sure," he says. "Don't you want to eat lunch?" She is indifferent either way, but he obviously does so they walk to the great hall. At the high table, there is only one empty chair left. She takes a seat and he conjures up another one, sitting at the end, several seats away from her. They cannot talk for now.

She eats but she doesn't enjoy it. The once decadent food now seems frivolous and unsatisfying. She doesn't talk to the people on either side of her and they don't expect conversation. Everyone has made the adjustment to this new Hermione – sullen and unyielding in so many ways. She is tainted with loss. It is plainly visible and even Snape can see it in her.

Snape walks with her back to the office in the dungeons. He knows she has a free period after lunch because it is, after all, his schedule. She is unforgiving toward him; she makes him sit in the guest chair, facing his own desk.

"You're mad at me," he says. She can see that he is surprised at this.

"Yes," she says. "I suppose I am."

"I suppose I have a myriad of reasons to choose from," he says. He does not seem alarmed – at best, amused. "But for posterity, which is at the top of the list?"

"Why did you want me to take over your classes?" she asks. He rolls his eyes. This is what has her most upset and most perplexed.

"I thought you would like it," he says. She smiles then, the first in nearly a year.

"Really?" she asks. He nods.

"I had to go away; I had to take care of a few things. I honestly thought that you would enjoy the experience," he reinforces.

"We aren't friends," she reminds him.

"You saved my life," he says.

"Only after you saved mine," she replies. This lodges them somewhere between enemy and friend. They are trapped in a no-man's land, their relationship hazy. Hermione is brilliant, nineteen, and on a very narrow path of becoming the next Severus Snape. At least, the version of him that she is used to. She doesn't know this Snape who gives her an opportunity because he thinks she would enjoy it.

They are both transported to St. Mungo's, filtered through triage. At the castle, the battle still rages but they are in a clean, brightly lit hospital. Hermione's wounds are superficial. Her arm is bleeding and she is bruised. Snape, however, is dying. Hermione is pushed aside and he is whisked away. She tries to follow but someone holds her back. She gets fixed up – they bandage her arm because it is difficult to heal a magical wound with more magic. She watches her blood seep through the white gauze, staining it pink. Finally, someone bothers to tell her that Snape will live. Only then does she return to the castle. But by then, it is too late. It is over.

She is the only one in Snape's hospital room when he opens his eyes.

"Voldemort?" he asks. She nods. He is dead. But he can, perfectly well, read her expression and he knows not all is well. She recites him the list of dead in a gravelly, monotonous voice, her two friends at the top of the list. He can no longer bear to listen half way through, but she keeps going, speaking for herself.

In the office now, they sit in silence.

"I don't know what to do, anymore," she says. It slips out before she realizes that she has started to speak. He looks interested in the statement. He is interested in Hermione because she is broken. He wonders if she can be fixed.

"You can do anything you'd like," he says. "Go to university or whatever it is that you enjoy,"

She nods, an expected answer. One that is of no help. She stands, tired, hoping for some tea and reaches for a thin book from the shelf. It his journal, full of research and she hands it to him.

"You left this," she said. He takes it, opens it, sees her handwriting mingled with his but doesn't say anything. "I've also been living in your quarters; I hope you'll allow me a day to relocate."

"Of course," he says. She has not only taken over his lessons, but his life.

"Would you like me to finish teaching the day, or would you rather start immediately?"

"By all means," he says. She nods, once, and excuses herself from the office into his chambers. He cannot follow and so he doesn't. He leaves her alone for the rest of the day.

That night she spends some time filling out all the same applications again and sending them late, by owl. She isn't sure about deadlines, about when the spring or fall or summer semester starts but she hopes they will let her in again. She is not worried. Her name is easily recognized, her name precedes her.

She folds her things and puts them into her trunk. All of her robes are meant for this school and will look off-putting and anachronistic on her anywhere else. In muggle clothes, she blends right back in with the students. She is still herself. Smart, short, wild hair. She still has the clumsy habit of keeping her wand in her back pocket. But she is not a child.

It is late when Snape comes for a visit. She lets him in and he looks around the rooms that were his for so long and that would be again, she assumed.

"You haven't changed anything," he comments.

"I am a guest," she reminds him. She is temporary in every place she goes. She feels that she belongs nowhere and it is not a good feeling.

"You have been working on my potions," he says, foregoing the small talk.

"I figured if you didn't want me to see them, you would have taken that with you," she motions to the book in his hands, the book she has become familiar with. She is almost sad to see it go. When she was working on the potions, the research inside, she didn't think about anything else. She left parts of herself inside the book – her thoughts, her writing, a coffee ring on one of the pages.

It is nearly an hour past curfew and most of the castle is sleeping. Hogwarts has early mornings, but Hermione didn't have anything to get up for, tomorrow, on the weekend. Finally, she offers him a seat and watches carefully where he goes. He, instinctively, she thinks, sits in the most comfortable chair closest to the fire. It is the chair she would have picked. She sits across from him on the over-soft sofa, dark and leather. She doesn't like it, it isn't her style. She has nothing to offer him except water, so she doesn't bother.

"I have to say that there are some additions in here I was surprised by," he says, stroking the spine of the book.

"I have no secondary potions education, you know that," she says defensively.

"I mean," he says, "you made choices I wouldn't have made, intriguing ones," She realizes he is not condemning her, that perhaps he is trying merely to engage her in conversation that they both might find interesting.

"Fresh eyes," she says. He tilts his head. "I wish you could have spent more time on experimental potions in class, but after several months with your students, I understand why you never attempted that,"

"Yes," he says, dryly. Most of the students believed that there was nothing left to invent. "Miss Granger, if you didn't want to take this job, why did you say yes?"

She considers this though the answer is immediate and obvious in her mind. She has never said no to him.

"I would have been angry anywhere," she assures him. He stands and she does as well.

"Where will you go?" he asks. She shakes her head, that is a puzzle she has yet to solve. At least now she has some money saved – a slight buffer against sleeping on the street or slinking back to the family home with the promise of a more productive life. "Stay a few days," Snape says. He doesn't offer her any explanation as to why, but she finds herself nodding along.

"All right," she agrees. She doesn't offer to move from his rooms and he doesn't mention it at he leaves.

In the morning, the table in the great hall has been adjusted for both of their presence. Hermione is on time, to the minute, suddenly unaware of her place in the castle. She eats quietly and no one speaks to her. She rises to leave as Snape appears, tardy, but fully the professor once again. He looks angry, aloof, and he pours tea slowly into a white, china cup. She excuses herself to her rooms and when the bells ring over head to chime the hours passing, she feels utterly useless.

Two days of this. Two days, she thinks, isn't really that long, but hour after hour of drifting, purposeless existence wears on her and by the morning of day three, she begins to pack her things and prepare for her departure. She doesn't attend lunch and ten minutes into the meal, Snape comes to her rooms. He knocks three times in rapid succession and she lets him in.

"I thought you were staying," he says, looking at her open trunk, her tote bag spilling with books and rolls of parchment.

"For what?" she asks tiredly. "I'm a bump on a log, here,"

"Well, you didn't give me a chance to even tell you," he says, in his own dark version of exasperation. She looks at him, his arms crossed, her hands on her hips.

"Tell me what?"

"I've found you a program, if you're interested."

"Program?" she asks, curious despite herself.

"You were accepted into The University of Magic and Casting, London," he says.

"I was accepted a lot of places," she says. She doesn't ask how he knows. "I didn't feel it was the right time for me to enroll in a full time University."

"While you would obviously excel at any program, I think this one will suit you. It's an independent study course. You meet with an advisor on the campus once a week and the rest of your time is spent under independent tutelage of a master. In your case, potions." he says.

"You mean you?" she asks.

"Of course, unless you have befriended any other potions masters without my knowledge in the last few months,"

She almost laughs at his joke, but doesn't want to betray her intrigue, her excitement.

"It sounds… appealing," she says. She is reluctant to show him her cards, that her hand means nothing.

"I've set up a meeting for you in the morning," he says. "I hope you'll go."

"I'll go," she says, looking at her nails. "I'll see,"

In the morning, she puts on her dark robes, and pins back her hair in an attempt to tame the beast. She puts on black shoes and takes a cloak thought it's warm at the castle and out on the grounds. She leaves through the front door and Snape is in the foyer harassing some young Gryffindors. He watches her leave but doesn't offer her a smile or a nod. She steps out into the sunshine. In her hand is a piece of paper with his careful script on it. It is an address, a name, and a time. She's meeting with the head of the potions department. She isn't sure if it is an interview or if Snape has arranged it all beforehand. She goes in with low expectations in order not to be disappointed.

The office she ends up in is cramped and filled with mostly books and files stacked precariously on filing cabinets. It seemed the Dean needed a secretary more than anything else. Still, she tries not to judge and waits patiently for him to enter. He does, a few minutes later, in brown robes with glasses sliding slowly off the back of his bald head.

"Miss Granger, please forgive my tardiness," he says. She stands and shakes his hand and he beams at her. "What an honor it is to meet you,"

She is still not used to the praise from the more liberal members of wizard society and all she can do is lift one shoulder.

"Thank you for meeting with me," she says, seating herself again. "I know it's unorthodox,"

"Not at all," he says. "We're happy to have someone like you attending our institution," She can tell that he knows he's said something wrong. Her face has fallen a little, only slightly, because of the realization that she is getting this opportunity because of the war, not her transcripts. "You'll make a fine potions mistress,"

"Professor Snape has been awfully kind," she murmurs. This is not an interview at all. She signs her name on several rolls of parchment and when she inquires about payment, he waves his hand in his air.

"Hogwarts is more than happy to sponsor you," he says. "Here is all the information you'll need to begin next week," She looks down at what he has given her. The name of her advisor, the books she will need, the minimum amount of hours she'll need to spend with Snape each week to continue to qualify for the program.

"This looks fine," she says, now anxious to leave the office.

"I must say, Miss Granger, that we've been trying to get Severus Snape involved in our out student program for years and he has always declined. You're the first student he has ever agreed to teach."

"He saved my life, once," she says. She isn't sure why she has admitted it to this old, boring man but he looks uncomfortable and forces a smile.

"Welcome to UMCL," he says.

Back at the castle, she orders all the books she'll need by owl post instead of going out. It is a somewhat extravagant expense that will take several owls but she doesn't care. At least now she has a plan, a lighted path away from the dark place that she has been living in. She doesn't check in with anyone. She doesn't inform McGonagall of this new plan, of her intentions to stay. She goes back to Snape's quarters where she is still sleeping and lets herself in, tired and a little hungry. It is only a little past noon, but she has missed lunch and will have to go down to the kitchens to eat anything. She can hear Snape lecturing when she passes his classroom and she feels a little pang. She might end up missing teaching after all. She resists the urge to poke her head in, instead entering her rooms. She changes, she feels a little stifled in her proper robes and she puts on, for the first time in a long time, muggle clothes. Denim pants and a t-shirt, and a sweater with a hood. She looks critically at herself in the mirror. She doesn't look like a grown woman in many ways but she does have heavier breasts and wider hips – a gradual and mostly unnoticed change. Maybe she would blend in as a normal student, if no one knew who she was. What she felt least like was a hero. Heroes did not leave their friends to die.

Feeling sullen – guilty that she was even considering moving on, she pulls her photo album out of her trunk, pulls off the clothes she just put on, and climbs into bed intent on doing nothing but wallowing in her misery.

She is asleep when Snape comes to her door. She gets up and puts on a robe. She is groggy, unsure of the time. He doesn't comment on her state of undress, her messy hair, her red and puffy eyes.

"I've written out your schedule," he says, handing her a folded piece of paper. She takes it tentatively. Unfolded in is a perfect square on which he has drawn a grid to represent each day of the week. Sunday is the only empty column. She studies it, bringing it closer to her face.

"Teaching?" she asks.

"An easy way to acquire hours," he says, shrugging. "Only the first and second years,"

Horrible classes, she knows, but she is a little pleased. Saturday is filled with lab time as are many of the evenings.

"I'm sure it will be fine," she says, unwilling to complain.

"Minerva is glad you're staying," he offers benignly.

"I'll have to thank her," she says, refolding the paper and placing it in the pocket of her robe.

"I will see you in the morning," he says and leaves.

"Professor," she calls, and he turns back around. "I can… I mean, your rooms are yours whenever you are ready to move."

"Keep them," he says. "I find I'm enjoying the change of scenery,"

This is surprising but she just closes her door and looks around. She puts a few books on her shelves and takes down a landscape painting that she hates, sliding it inside the closet. She sleeps through the night.

Hermione has begun to notice that McGonagall is actively avoiding her. She cannot tell if she is respecting Hermione's need for space or if there is something wrong, something McGonagall doesn't like. Maybe Hermione serves as the last living remains of an era since passed – maybe Hermione is a beacon of sadness for others as well as for herself.

Hermione teaches two classes each day – none on Fridays or the weekends. At nights, she works on the assignments that Snape has left for her. She meets with him on Saturdays and he takes her work, looks over her progress, and gives her new assignments. He does not over manage her; does not look behind her as she works. In turn, she does not disappoint him. They fill out her weekly evaluation together and walk quietly to the owlry together to send it off to the university.

In the hallways, the younger students call her professor and the seventh years call her Hermione. The in between years avoid her because of her status as a hero, because she is always alone or with Snape, because she is not the same girl they once looked up to.

Soon, the year is over. Another class ready to move on, the last Weasley out of the castle for some years. Hermione sits with the staff and watches with a somewhat bored expression. She is hot in her robes, sitting in the sunshine. Her hair is damp closest to her neck and she can feel sweat pooling between her toes.

She claps demurely when the Gryffindors rise and she can see the Weasleys in the crowd – Bill and Molly and Arthur. Percy is dead now, Ron and Charlie, too. Fred and George are abroad and did not come back to watch their sister. Afterwards, Molly will hug Hermione and invite her to the burrow for iced tea and cake. She doesn't want to go but she can't figure out a way to say no.

Ginny's face is sunburned bright pink and she does not smile as she crosses the stage.

The burrow looks the same. Still narrow and teetering, still filled with dishes and people and throw blankets. Arthur congratulates Hermione on her job at the school, for furthering her education. She likes Arthur so much and he takes a moment to remind her that she is part of the family.

Hermione sneaks away up the stairs to go sit in Ron's empty room. There is a bare mattress and several stacked boxes. Pig's cage is empty – Ginny has forgotten to gather him from the castle's owlry. Hermione makes a mental note to send the owl home.

No one finds her in Ron's room. She goes back downstairs, leaves her gift for Ginny and leaves with few goodbyes.

Though it is summer, her studies continue. She has more time without teaching classes. She spends more time in the lab – sometimes while Snape works as well. It is hot, hotter than it has been in years. Hermione wakes up early before the heat really sets into the castle. She wears shorts and t-shirts; she puts up her hair in high pony tails and sometimes forgets about shoes when she isn't brewing. Madame Pinch lets her check out as many books as she wants.

"Are you going home at all this summer?" Snape asks her.

"I hadn't thought about it," she says, stirring a batch of dreamless sleep – dull to brew but meant for the infirmary.

"Do you plan to leave the castle at all?" he prods.

"If I'm in your way, sir, let me know," she says pointedly. He rolls his eyes. She sees him but doesn't care to start a fight.

"Minerva believes you need a vacation," he says. "Please make my life easier and take a few days,"

"Fine," she says. In the morning, she takes a small bag and leaves without saying goodbye. Her parents, she knows, are on holiday in France and so the house is empty. Mostly, she sleeps and watches television.

She does go to see where both Harry and Ron are buried. She leaves flowers and her face is as set as stone. In the morning, the morning she returns to Hogwarts, her picture is on the front page of the Daily Prophet. Survivors Still Grieving, the headline reads. Though it is a wizard photograph, Hermione's likeness hardly moves. At lunch, no one can quite look at her. McGonagall touches her shoulder and Snape reads it right in front of her, holding the paper open and wide. Hermione and Snape do not speak of the war, of their time together in hospital, of the smell, the nightmares, of the loss.

Still, he comes to her quarters later. She's left the door ajar mostly due to laziness and the fact that almost no one but her comes down this far. It is always dark and for once, Hermione wishes for windows, for sunlight.

"Knock, knock," Snape says, but he makes it sound sarcastic somehow.

"Yep," she says, emerging from the back bedroom.

"So, what did you do on your holiday?" he asks.

"Shut up," she says, feeling brave. He almost laughs.

"I'm going to the apothecary," he says. "Would you like to come?"

"Yes," she says. She does. It's nice outside and she is already bored. She puts on some sandals, gathers her wand and some money. They walk to town and it takes almost 30 minutes. Halfway there, he breaks the news.

"I think you should know, the first 'unauthorized' biography of Potter is about to be published," he says.

"What?" she asks. "By who?"

"Rita Skeeter," he says and she groans. "I can only imagine the inaccuracy, but I would…" he pauses, searching for words.

"I'm going to be in it," Hermione supplies.

"Yes, and probably not well,"

"How do you know all this?" she asks. He says nothing. "I guess there isn't much to be done,"

"You could write your own," he offers. But the thought of this makes her chest grow tight, makes color rise in her cheeks, makes her vision swim.

"I can't," she says. He doesn't argue. They have stopped walking and he produces and handkerchief from somewhere. She takes it and presses it against her face; breathes out slowly. "Sorry,"

"Don't be," he says. She offers him back his handkerchief but he shakes his head and she tucks it away. "I wanted you to know,"

"Thanks," she says. "I shouldn't be surprised,"

"Death is always surprising," he says. "Even when it is the most imminent thing in the world,"

The apothecary is cool inside, so cold it makes Hermione shiver and she wraps her arms around herself. It is poorly lit and Snape hands her a basket. She trails him, staying close so he can place items inside. When the basket gets heavy and awkward, he takes it from her so she doesn't have to struggle. She doesn't buy anything – she imagines he gets a budget from the University where she is concerned. He pays and they step back out into the sunshine, and the heat.

"Let's walk," he says. There is always apparating, or a floo from the pub but she doesn't mind being outside. The whole summer is stretched out in front of them. Taking the long way home seems almost mandatory. Still, she is underweight and tired and the walk makes her a little breathless by the end.

"It's nice out," she says. Maybe to make conversation or maybe to avoid headier subjects.

"A little warm," he says, though she knows he means for the raw ingredients in his paper bag.

"I went to the states in the summer once," she says. "When I was a little girl. It was the hottest place I've ever been,"

"Where?" he asks.

"Arizona," she says. "We had relatives out there,"

"What was it like?"

"Dry," she says. "Not like this. Everything was red and barren. We went to see a giant hole in the earth,"

"And which do you prefer? Here or there?" he asks. There were a few months, after the war, where she thought about that giant hole, the canyon, a lot. She thought about going there, crawling inside, letting the earth swallow her.

"I prefer here," she says. "This is the only place left that feels like home,"

H does not seem particularly impressed by her statement but she thinks he probably can't remember what home feels like; perhaps never had such a feeling. She decides to be quiet and there is silence until they reach the castle. She wishes he would say something encouraging, like that she belonged or that she would find her place in the world, but those things are not him, and she tries not to want things she cannot have.

They spend the next few hours sorting out ingredients. Potions is a slow, often tedious process that requires precision but Hermione is all about details so she doesn't mind. They write tiny script on small labels, the chop and funnel and put stoppers into glass jars. Snape does not let Hermione climb high on the ladder in his storage closet, instead she hands him the jars and watches him move up and down, side to side. His hair is getting long and he pushes it out of his eyes several times. She has a bad habit of tugging on her own curls when bored and she is doing it now, waiting for him to climb back down the ladder.

She isn't paying attention, and doesn't see him miss one of the rungs on the ladder. She hears him cry out and then hears the breaking of glass and he comes down on her, hard.

She has lost her wind, and though he scrambles up quickly, she can't move except to gasp.

"Miss Granger, I'm sorry," he says, offering her a hand, but she doesn't take it, just closes her eyes and concentrates. Soon she can breathe again and she sits up.

"Ow," she says.

"I know, I…"

"No, my back," she says. "It's burning," He steps around the debris and peers behind her.

"Merlin," he says. There is glass in her back, cut through her t-shirt and bleeding slowly.

"Ow," she says again. "Ow, ow, what is it?"

"You're cut," he says.

"It burns," she says, a little desperately.

"I can't tell which bottle you landed on," he says. Her skin is reaction to whatever is inside. He pulls her up by her forearms, unwilling to wait for her to accept his help. "Let's go to the infirmary," he says. She walks a little unsteadily, hunched over and struggling to keep up with his long strides. By the time they reach the stairs, her face is bright red and she is sweating, glassy eyed. She is dimly aware of him picking her up, and putting her over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes.

The infirmary is bright, clean, well-stocked, and empty. Madame Pomfrey is not there, not in her office and Snape curses. He sets Hermione down on the bed, her face into the pillow. She is awake, but quiet. He runs the tip of his wand from her collar, down past her right shoulder blade and to the bottom. He has cut the shirt and he peels it back, careful not to upset the glass. Underneath the fabric, her skin is angry, raw, and blistered. He is not a medic and doesn't know quite what to do. He floos Minerva who comes through the fireplace and inhales.

"Where the hell is Poppy?" he asks. "What do I do?"

"She's gone," McGonagall says. "We have to get that glass out,"

"So she can bleed to death?" Snape says. They both turn, Hermione is trying to speak.

"What?" Snape leans down, closer to her mouth.

"Hospital," she says again. Snape stands up and feels slightly foolish.

"Are we connected to St. Mungo's?" he asks. McGonagall nods and activates the floo. Hermione is lifted and they step through. The other side is bright and Snape's sleeve is scratching against her skin. She feels naked, bared, and the t-shirt hangs limply from her. She closes her eyes.

When she wakes up, the skin on her back feels tight and itchy. She is wearing a soft, blue gown and is lying in a bed. The sun is bright through the window. She is alone in the room. When she sits up, the skin on her back stretches uncomfortably – it needs lotion, a few more days to reach normalcy. She isn't exactly sure where she is, though she remembers Snape falling, she remembers feeling hot.

She gets out of the bed, find the bathroom. She can't find her clothes, her wand, anything. As soon as she opens the door, though, a nurse comes in and forces her back into bed.

"Where am I? How did I get here? How long?" she asks.

"Why, Professor Snape brought you in from Hogwarts," The nurse is young, and Hermione thinks she may vaguely recognize her, maybe they had briefly gone to school together. Hermione thinks Hufflepuff but she isn't sure.

"He fell," she says.

"I'll let the mediwitch know you're awake," she said, and left. She was poked, prodded, pronounced recovered. Her healer was a tall, narrow woman who smiled down at her.

"Let's get you all checked out," she said. "I'll send the nurse in,"

"I don't… I mean, my wand," she says, confused and feeling hurried.

"Don't worry, dear," she says, and leaves Hermione alone. When the nurse comes in, she is holding a stack of clothing. Hermione takes them.

"These are mine," Hermione says.

"Yes, Professor Snape is waiting for you outside." she says.

Snape says nothing to her when she finally exits her hospital room. She feels sheepish, like the accident was her own fault. And he was going out of his way to fetch her. She signs several forms and they exit the hospital into a narrow alley that leads, she can see, to an abandoned street.

He reaches into his robe and pulls out her wand. She takes it.

"Thanks," she says. She has nowhere to put it – she has been supplied with pants with no pockets and a shirt that covers her back completely, and her arms. She looks at him, about to ask her question, but he answers before she can get the words out.

"You fell onto a bottle of sap from the whomping willow," he says.

"Sap?" she exclaims? "That's hardly dangerous,"

"Sap plus whatever was on the floor," he says. "It's not the cleanest floor and I'm not sure what was there, exactly, but it did a number on you,"

"Scary," she says.

"I've since mopped," he says, dryly. She shakes her head and he stepped closer to her. "Have you ever done a side-by apparation?"

"I can apparate my self," she says.

"You've had a rough couple of days," he says. "I would prefer it this way," She wants to say no, to show that she's fine, an adult, now, but she can't find the energy to argue so she nods. He puts his arm around her shoulder and says,

"Close your eyes,"

It makes a chill rise up her spine but she follows the orders. It is a different sensation than apparating alone. She still feels compressed, as if she were being squeezed through something small, but she knows that she is not alone; she can still feel the pressure of him touching her, the warmth his body radiates. She can smell him.

The feeling passes and when she opens her eyes again, they are just outside Hogwarts and he has already let go of her.

"You should rest," he says. He reaches into his robes and pulls out a paper bag.

"What is this?" she asks, taking it.

"For your back, from the hospital," he says. Inside the castle, he goes upstairs and she goes down. She takes a lukewarm shower and puts on a loose tank top without a bra and some shorts. In the mirror she can sort of see the freshly grown skin, the thin, red lines from where she was cut that will fade in a few days. The lotion helps sooth the discomfort though there are patches she can't reach herself. She tries not to think about how Ron would have gladly done it for her. She misses him, she misses them both. They would have chewed Snape out for causing this mess. If they had been alive.

At her meeting with her weekly advisor, he notes a missing assignment. She asks to see the sheet.

"Professor Snape never gave me this," she murmurs, looking at the dates. "I was in the hospital,"

"Are you all right?" her advisor asks.

"There was an accident in the storeroom, I'm fine," she says. "I can do it this week,"

"Professor Snape is required to inform the University of any accidents for insurance purposes," her advisor says, reaching for her quill.

"It was unrelated to my studies," Hermione says quickly, and maybe it's the truth. She didn't have to go with him to the apothecary, or help him shelve ingredients. "Honestly," she adds.

"Well," her advisor says, unbelievingly. Hermione stares at her unwaveringly until she signs the report and drops it into her outbox where it disappears with an audible pop. "Other than that, your progress is just fine, Miss Granger,"

At the castle, she finds him in the lab.

"You skipped an assignment," she says, and he looks over his shoulder at her. She's back to normal – robes and shoes.

"Did I?" he asks, sounding unconcerned.

"Why didn't you report the accident?" she pushes. He seems reluctant to answer.

"You… are, in many regards, a celebrity, Miss Granger. I tell your advisor, who tells a student or a co-worker, who tells the Daily Prophet who runs a story. You are in the front page, again, and made to relive yet another painful memory," he says.

"Oh," she says. "Thank you, I suppose,"

"You're welcome," he says. "I'll get that assignment,"

The anniversary of the final memorial service, of death, passes and no one says a word. Hermione hardly breathes all day and is on edge, dropping things and knocking over cups of hot tea. She is prone to tears, to anger, to crippling bouts of loneliness. She skips the meals and does her work in silence. Snape doesn't push her, doesn't ask her if she wants to talk, but he doesn't leave her alone. He stays in the lab, he follows her outside to gather, or to the storage room. When she needs to get something from her quarters, he waits outside.

"I'm not going to kill myself," she says, finally.

"Good," he says. "That would be stupid,"

"That's what you think, isn't it? Why you've been hovering all day?"

"No," he says. "Maybe, I don't know what you think about, Hermione."

"What I think about? I think about potions, mostly," she says, angrily.

"You don't ask any questions, you do the minimum." he points out.

"I don't have any questions," she says, low and dangerous.

"Why are you even doing this, then?" he says loudly.

"You asked me!" she says, and then the truth is out. He raises his eyebrows, both of them up toward his hairline. She regrets saying it, regrets giving him any more power.

"You could have said no," he says, very quietly.

"I don't know," she says. She doesn't think that she could have said no because it would have left her in limbo, floating around with no purpose, with nothing to do. "I didn't, so, let's forget about it,"

"If you need to take the rest of the summer, start up again in the fall…" he begins.

"I don't need time!" she says, her voice loud in the dark hallway. "I've had time, time doesn't… it doesn't help,"

"Doing a half-assed job won't help you either," Snape says. Hermione is surprised at the harshness of his words. She feels like he has slapped her. Her cheeks are red.

"I know," she says, chastised. "I just… this wasn't how it was supposed to be,"

"It never is," he says. "Come on,"

They walk back to the lab together and she feels tired, drained, unenthusiastic.

"Can I ask you something?" she says. It is a question that has been floating around her mind for some time now, something she has yet to openly ask.

"Honestly, I'm beginning to wish you would… though I don't doubt the possibility of regret," he says.

"Why did you… you know?" she says. She is hoping that he does know because she doesn't want to say it.

"Take an extremely painful curse meant for you?" he asks. She nods. "Well, why did you abandon your post to make sure I lived?"

"Because you saved me," she says, simply.

"And I saved you because you were my charge," he says.

"Your charge?" she asks, surprised and a little offended. "You were assigned to me?"

"Each order member was to look after a student," he says neutrally.

"What did you do to get saddled with me?" she asks. He shakes his head. "So bad it cannot be uttered?"

"No. I chose you," he says, holding open the door for her. She stopped and he had to nudge her through.

"Why?" she asks. He ignores her and moves to his cauldron that has been left unattended for too long. It is overheated, too thick, and he banishes the cauldron. "Professor,"

"Enough, for today," he says, his back to her, his shoulders hunched like their conversation has drained him. She doesn't argue; she leaves him.

School starts again. Hermione receives letters from her parents weekly, one from each of them, and her father's have become apologetic. She has not seen them since he asked her to leave – a year and some days. They beg for a visit, even if on neutral ground and so on the first weekend after the term begins, before she is inundated with papers to grade and work of her own, she agrees. She does not punish them further, though. She apparates to Diagon Alley and takes the underground and they meet her at the station with the car. It is Saturday morning, before the real first chill and people are everywhere. She struggles to find them in the car. She has worn jeans, and a thin sweater and her hair whips around her in the wind.

She sees them, at last, with pinched faces and beige clothing. They look plain, drab, and she realizes that she has outgrown them. It was, ironically, what they had wanted in the first place but her reluctance to meet them has blinded them to this fact. Her mother hugs her loosely and her father smiles, but does not touch her. They see her as a rare bird that they do not want to startle into flight.

The car ride is terse and they take her to a restaurant that is close to the station. She feels underdressed but doesn't argue. She has not brought any extra clothes because she does not plan to stay. They know about her studies, and the teaching. She writes tersely about meeting with her advisor every week, about her responsibilities at Hogwarts, but never about Snape.

She orders a salad and listens to her parents try to fill the silence with stories of patients, of their last vacation, of the neighbors. Finally, her father says what he has wanted to say.

"We just wanted to you to get back on your feet. We never meant to hurt you," he says.

"I am on my feet," she says. "I've done what you wanted," Her voice is cold, even to her own ears. She loves them, but she can no longer relate to them. They look like a wizard photograph when she leaves them – waving the same wave over and over again.

End of Part One

a/n: thanks for reading. part two to come... eventually.