A Maid in the Devil's Manor Part 1

Twenty-four year old Hermione Granger sat at her kitchen table, quill in hand and parchment spread before her. For maybe the first time in her life, she wasn't sure what to put down on paper. She had graduated Hogwarts with honors eight years ago, gone through University and received her degree as a Spells Mistress. Afterwards, she landed an entry level job working for the Ministry in the Spells Department, developing defensive and detective spells for Aurors, the wizarding equivalent of muggle police, and had moved up in the ranks nicely in the past two years. She was making a decent salary, and had a nice flat in lower Hogsmeade.

Her love life however, wasn't great. She had dated several wizards over the years, but the relationships fell through. They were too nice, too clingy, too dense or too something. The longest relationship she had lasted about eight months, with a wizard named Galen. It had ended on an ugly note when she caught her beau exiting a brothel while on a rare journey into Knockturn Alley to acquire some rather risqué potions ingredients. His argument was that Hermione made him feel inadequate in bed, and he needed to be with a woman that made him feel like a man. The fact was he was inadequate in bed as far as Hermione was concerned. He wasn't demanding enough, or thorough enough for her. In the beginning, he was quite promising and took a little time with her. She thought she could improve him over time, teach him what she wanted. But as the relationship wore on and Galen got more comfortable, his idea of foreplay became a peck on the cheek and then shagging like a bunny. A very quick bunny. He was also rather prudish, not willing to do things to Hermione that she really wanted done. So not only was he weak in the hips, but non-existent with the lips.

Hermione's initial attraction to Galen had been his intelligence. She soon found out his cerebral nature and his animal nature were entirely out of sync. She stuck with him as long as she did because she wanted it to work out, and thought maybe she could bring him around, or change him. A mistake many women make when they decide they can mold a man, rather than find the right man. So now she was alone, and had been for the past year.

Last week however, when she was in the apocathery store, picking up some supplies for a personal project she was working on, she bumped into a person she hadn't seen in years. Literally. Her arms were full of packages and she was trying to leave the store, when she ran into someone. Someone quite solid. She peered over the bags and looked right into the deep black eyes of Professor Severus Snape. He hadn't changed a bit.

"Watch where you're going," he had sniped at her, before his eyes widened in recognition, then narrowed in his trademark snarkiness.

"Well, well Miss Granger. I see the years have done nothing to improve your clumsiness," he purred at her.

Hermione jostled the packages around so she could see him more clearly.

"It's wonderful to see you too, Professor Snape," she said sarcastically, "I see your sweet disposition hasn't changed much either."

The Professor had snorted. He peered into one of her bags.

"Potions ingredients?" he asked her, "I heard you had received your degree as a Spells Mistress."

Hermione scowled at him slightly.

"Yes, but I minored in Potions. I am working on a private project and required these supplies in order to continue my experiments. Do you mind that?" she retorted.

"You blowing yourself up pursuing some asinine theory is not my concern, Miss Granger. Of course I do not mind," he replied smoothly, smirking at her.

Ooh, he was still a snarky, greasy bastard.

"Well, my 'asinine theory' has some powerful implications, Professor. I am moving toward developing a combination of potions and spells that could protect a person from the Avada Kedavra Curse," she replied huffily. Normally she would not disclose what she was working on, but the Professor always brought out this sick need in her to try to impress him. It rankled her that after eight years, she still had the urge to do this. He never was impressed.

But Severus' eyes widened at this revelation. Hermione Granger had been an aggravating know-it-all, goody-two-shoes with a sneaky penchant for rule breaking, but the girl had never been a liar. And he had to admit, she was brilliant. Even in the last days of the Dark Lord, some of her early spells played a large part in defeating his forces, and opening him up to attack and final destruction by Harry Potter. Severus' eyes swept over her consideringly.

"Where is your lab?" he asked her, interested now. If the witch really had made some breakthrough in creating a defense against the Killing Curse, it might well be worth looking into.

Hermione's arms were starting to tremble. The packages were heavy. Severus noticed this and with a sigh took some of the packages out of her arms and set them on the floor. She would have probably stood there suffering until she dropped them rather than ask for assistance. She was still a stubborn chit. Now he could see her clearly.

Her bushy hair had lengthened, and now hung in manageable curls. She must have been ecstatic about that. She had looked like a bottlebrush for most of her time at Hogwarts. Her face had thinned too, the cheekbones now accentuated, and had lost her 'little girl' look. Her muggle clothing of jeans and a pullover sweater left little to the imagination. She had filled out in all the proper places. Her amber eyes were still wide and inquisitive. All in all, she had turned out to be a rather attractive young lady.

"Not that it is any of your business…" Hermione began a bit sharply.

Severus scowled at her. He was not used to being addressed in such a manner. His eyes hardened as he looked at the witch. Hermione could give two knuts how pissed he got.

"…but my private lab is in my flat."

Severus considered this.

"And you find it adequate for the kind of dangerous and exacting work you are attempting to do?" he asked her.

Hermione shuffled her feet a little uncomfortably. Severus noticed this and already knew her lab was not all it could be.

"It's what I have to work with," she said, "and I utilize it to the best of my ability."

"I see," he said shortly, his eyes sweeping over her. He seemed to hesitate a moment.

"Perhaps you could use some assistance. Better facilities," he said thoughtfully.

Hermione looked at the dark Potions Master. Was he offering to help her? Professor Snape was a marvel in the field of Potions. His assistance could help her find the defense against the Killing Curse much quicker. Even though Voldemort was dead, there were still instances of rogue deatheaters trying to continue in his footsteps, and utilizing the Unforgivable at every opportunity. Hermione was not yet at the level in the Ministry to pursue this particular endeavor. There were a lot of politics involved, and despite the wizarding community supposedly being less prejudiced than in earlier years, there was still some residual bigotry against muggle-borns. They rarely attained high positions in any Ministry Department.

Actually, Hermione was the best Spells Mistress the Ministry had. She was bright, and thought outside the box. But there were several other witches and wizards who had seniority, and were unwilling to let her show them up. When she had petitioned to work on finding a defense against the Killing Curse, she had practically been laughed out of the department head's office. They were not going to waste Ministry resources on something that was impossible to attain.

Severus was aware of the narrow-mindedness of the Ministry, and immediately divined that Hermione was working on this project privately because she had been turned down when she attempted to use Ministry resources. It had to be an expensive project as well. He looked at the witch study him. No doubt remembering all the cruelties she had suffered at his hands as a student. Well, she needed to get over that. Somebody had to keep her in her place at Hogwarts, or she would have turned out to be another pompous chit, instead of the dedicated young woman she appeared to have become. Imagine, trying to develop a defense for the curse on her own, and making progress against the odds. He was impressed, though he wouldn't say so in a thousand years.

Hermione studied the dour Potions Master.

"Are you offering me assistance, Professor?" she asked him.

"I wouldn't say that exactly," said Severus, "I would have to see your research notes to determine if what you are doing is actually feasible. Great minds have been trying to tackle it for years, unsuccessfully. How do I know your head isn't just swollen up with grand delusions of your own capabilities?"

Hermione's petite five-foot-three frame visibly swelled with indignation. Severus smiled inwardly. She was a little spitfire still. It was good working in the Ministry hadn't cowed her spirit. She sputtered for a moment, so angry she couldn't put her words together.

"I'll have you know, Professor, that I have checked and rechecked my research numerous times to insure that it is solid. And I assure you, sir, it is as solid as the stone that's wrapped around your black heart!" Hermione shot at him as she attempted to pick up the packages he had placed on the floor, unsuccessfully because of the ones she already held. Severus watched her in amusement.

"My stony black heart notwithstanding," he said, bending and picking up the packages, and resettling them into the irate witch's arms, "I am willing to read over your research, and if I find it as solid as you say, maybe offer some assistance. I have several potions laboratories at Snape Manor, as well as endless resources. I am rarely there, since I reside at Hogwarts for the majority of the year, and the labs are for the most part lying fallow."

He stared at the witch for a moment. Hermione was still trying to calm herself, her breasts heaving with the effort as she listened to his proposition.

"If you can put your dislike of me aside, and think about this opportunity rationally…you might actually accomplish something worthwhile on your own, instead of as the hired dupe of our illustrious Ministry. Think about it, Miss Granger and owl me if you decide you would like me to peruse your research. Good day," Severus said, sweeping past her and disappearing into the shop's depths without another word.

So now, after several weeks of struggling with the project, she admitted to herself she needed better facilities, and she couldn't afford to purchase all the equipment she needed to continue her research and development. She had decided to ask Professor Snape to look at her research. If he found that it was worthy of further exploration, he would become for all intents and purposes, her patron.

Professor Severus Snape as her patron? Good gods. She could imagine the horror on Harry's and Ron's faces as she told them the 'bastard from below' was helping her out and had opened his home and his labs to her. They would say she was stark, raving nutters to accept any help from him. True, Severus was a hero in the destruction of the Dark Lord, and had suffered much to free the wizarding world from his influence, but he was still a dark, brooding, somber pariah, who they didn't fully trust. Hermione had never shared their view of Severus to that extreme, but she did consider him a cruel, heartless son-of-a-bitch. She was sure his offer to be her patron had more to do with sharing credit in the discovery, than any goodness of heart. But receiving partial credit would be only fair.

Hermione's quill hesitated over the parchment. She felt a bit as if she were giving in. But the research was too important, too promising to just let die because she couldn't afford to continue. As Snape said, he had labs in his manor that were doing nothing but gathering dust. It was a waste. She stuck her tongue out the corner of her mouth, leaned over the parchment and started writing.

After much consideration, I've decided to ask you to take a look at my research on creating a defense against the Killing curse, and if you find it worthy of continued exploration, to accept your offer of the use of the laboratories available at Snape Manor. I would like to arrange a convenient time and place to show you the research I have compiled thus far. As you know I work for the Ministry during the week, and a weekend would be the best time to meet. Please contact me at your earliest convenience if your offer still stands.


Hermione reread the parchment and was satisfied that she didn't sound as if she were groveling or begging him for his assistance. She didn't feel completely comfortable with this. It felt a little like making a deal with the devil. If he did agree to let her use his premises, she would want the details of the arrangement in writing. That way, the situation would be clear.

She rolled up the parchment, and sealed it with a bit of wax. She would send it to Hogwarts by owl post in the morning, and wait to see how the Potions Master responded. She set the parchment on her desk, yawned, stretched and walked slowly to her bedroom. It had been a long day today. She had once again been passed up for an open higher position in the Spells department, the job going to a pureblood that had been hired after her. She put on a brave face, but she was very disappointed. Well, if she managed to develop this defense…she wouldn't have to worry about the Ministry any longer. She could write her own ticket and work anywhere, or even for herself.

She divestoed her clothing and fell on the bed. She lay there a while, listening to the silence, before rolling over and sliding under the covers. She looked at her bed, and sighed. It was a king-sized four-poster. She had purchased it when it looked like her relationship with Galen was going someplace. Now it was empty, lonely and just too big for her. She hadn't had a man in it for over a year. Fingers were a sorry substitute for a good, strong erection. But fingers were all she had, so…

She closed her eyes and imagined her ideal lover. She managed to do this quite well, but he never had a face, or spoke. He was tall, lean, shadowed and rather menacing, but he could do things to her body that he should go to Azkaban for. He would stride to her bedside and look down at her for several moments, before falling on her and having his way.

Hermione worked at herself desperately, arching her back and perspiring, finally bringing herself to a whimpering climax. She lay there gasping, her amber eyes staring at the ceiling. She hoped she wouldn't spend the rest of her days like this, dreaming of someone she would never, ever meet.

Severus was at lunch in the Great Hall when he received Hermione's message by owl post. He removed the letter from the owl's leg and gave it a piece of his poached fish. The owl snapped its beak appreciatively and took off, sailing under the rafters and out a window. Severus broke the seal on the rolled parchment, and opened it. His black eyes slid from left to right several times as he read her short and to the point message. He'd send her a reply after he finished his meal.

Severus entered his Potions office, walked around his desk and sat down. He pulled open a drawer and retrieved a piece of parchment. He picked up a quill and paused for a moment before he began to write.

I will meet you at your flat this Saturday precisely at noon. I would like to see your lab as well as read over your research notes. Please send your address ASAP

Severus rolled up the note, sealed it and whistled sharply. A resounding caw answered him, and a large black raven flew down from the rafters and settled on the back of his chair, preening the Potions Master's hair affectionately. Severus opened his drawer and retrieved a bit of ribbon. The raven hopped down to the desk and stuck out its leg.

"Raucous, I need you to take this to a Miss Hermione Granger. Can you find her?" he asked the familiar. Raucous looked insulted at the question. Severus petted the bird soothingly.

"Of course you can," he said gently. The bird cawed again, cocking his head and looking up at the Potions Master with one black shiny eye. Severus gave the bird a small grin as it hopped on to his shoulder. Severus opened the office door.

"Go on now, deliver the message," he said with false gruffness.

Raucous cawed once more, then flew down the corridor, toward the main hall. Severus closed the door. He walked over to the bookshelf, pulled out a tome and the shelf swung inward, opening on his private study. He entered and pushed the secret door closed. He walked over to his liquor cabinet, took out a glass and opened the glass door. He looked over the bottles, and selected a smooth brandy. He poured himself a couple of fingers, replaced the bottle and walked over to the armchair in front of the fireplace. He sat down and took a sip of the brandy, savoring its taste before swallowing it. Then he turned his mind to Miss Granger's project.

He wondered what her research would reveal. He didn't doubt that she had found some new approach to dealing with the Killing Curse. When attending Hogwarts, she could always be counted on to find some original, completely unthought of method to find a solution to a problem. Severus believed her muggle upbringing had a lot to do with this ability. Muggles had no magic, so were forced to use their minds in order to create non-magical items that worked just as well as magic. Their world was full of such technologies. Cars that moved great distances by burning liquids inside them. Boxes that showed images by sending invisible waves through the air. Great metal bird-like monstrosities that flew faster than any broom, carrying hundreds of muggles to all parts of the world. How they managed to create such things was a source of constant wonder for him. And Miss Granger was the epitome of that creative ability. Coupled with her magical talent, she was a force to be reckoned with.

It was true that many wizards and witches had tried to develop a defense against the Avada Kedavra curse, but they lacked originality of thought, using the flawed theories of those that went before them. Miss Granger most likely had studied the failures, then found some other totally different approach. He was looking forward to reading her research. He wanted to see what that brilliant mind had come up with. He took another sip of brandy, relishing it before letting it slip warmly down his throat. Miss Granger.

It must not have been easy for the witch to write him and ask him to come read her research. Even more difficult to admit she needed help. She had always been rather self-contained when it came to work, spending hours alone in the library, rather than in big groups as the other students did, socializing more than studying. Pairing her up with other students for assignments was quite a chore…everyone wanted to work with her simply because she usually did the entire assignment herself and just shared it with her partner when done. No one learned a thing working with her. Severus always took points from her grade in those situations. He would simply ask her partner exactly how the assignment was done, and no matter how hard Hermione coached them, Severus would always prove they did no work. How she hated that. He chuckled, remembering how often she would storm into his office, demanding he fix her grade, and how he would only make her angrier by being snarky and dismissive, usually ending up shaving a few house points from her for her impertinence in the process. Those were the days.

As much as he had enjoyed torturing her until she was practically foaming at the mouth, he had also enjoyed her quick mind in the later years, after she had toned down a bit, and stopped trying to take over the class and let others answer his questions. She used to watch him attentively as he lectured, hanging on to every word as if it were wisdom she received at the feet of a Master. Which it was, but hardly ever appreciated. She had been the kind of student that made teaching worthwhile, a sponge for whatever knowledge was shared, and always ready for more.

She would irritate him to no end by asking for extra credit work, and he would scour his libraries to find difficult assignments designed to stump her. But she always managed to get the assignment in on time, and usually the quality of her work was excellent. Her researching abilities were formidable even then. Of course, this didn't stop the Professor from giving her a lesser grade than she deserved. As a result, she was always reaching higher, constantly perfecting her work, hoping one day he would give her the grade she deserved. It was her last year when he finally gave her perfect marks in Potions. She had been speechless. If he had known that was what it would take to shut her up, he might have done it sooner.

But really, it worked out well in the end. She was a hard worker, exacting and a bit of a perfectionist. Anything the witch put her mind to, she gave one hundred and ten percent. And she had the tenacity of a chimaera when it came to solving a problem. Many times she had walked into his classroom utterly exhausted from studying and researching some obscure magical theorem, her bushy hair looking like a rat's nest, dark circles under her eyes, her skin pale from lack of nourishment, and jumpy from lack of sleep. He would always find some way to dismiss her from class on her worst days, picking at her until she exploded, then deducting points, giving her detention with Filch and ordering her to her house for the remainder of class.

Yes, Hermione Granger probably still despised him for his treatment of her, but he was used to being despised. It meant he did his job well. Now was the big payoff, possibly. She might be the one to end the horror of the Killing Curse forever, with his help.

Severus finished his brandy with an appreciative smack. His thoughts turned toward the manor. If Hermione's research proved promising, she would have the run of his lab and stores, and he would provide whatever she needed. The house elves would take good care of her as well, provided she didn't try to convince them to take wages. Hopefully she was past that foolishness and see the house elves were perfectly content with their lot.

He would like to see the labs put to positive use. The last time they were used was during the Dark Lord's reign. The horrible experiments that went on there during that time were too awful to bring to mind. But he brought them to mind anyway. Human subjects were used to test the terrible elixirs Voldemort required to sustain himself, all administered by Severus. The grotesque results were carefully recorded and used to further research. He had been heartless then, looking on the poor witches, wizards and muggles as if no more than lab animals. He was deaf to their pleas, and immune to their suffering. He was a seeker of knowledge, and then, no sacrifice was too great to further his goals. It was only after he sought to leave the Dark Lord's service, and was turned to spy for the Order, that the horror of his existence was made plain to him. He still had to create and administer elixirs, but a little more of his soul was lost each time he forced the poisons down another's throat via the Imperious Curse, each time he disfigured a child, or killed a young woman, or bled some poor wizard dry in the name of research and development for the greater glory of a Lord he hated. Even though he was working for the greater good, damnation itself was in every act he performed to keep his cover. If anyone in this world were bound for hell, it was Severus Snape.

He shook himself. This was not the time to sink into his dark reverie. There was work to do…work that might help redeem him somewhat. Those labs had to be cleaned. The manacles and shackles and instruments of torture removed and destroyed. The blood had to be cleaned from the floors. He only hoped all the stains would come up. If not, he would paint them, cover them in several thick coats, bury the lost lives beneath a bright white coating. Then Hermione could come, and with her brilliance, scour it clean with redemption. Yes, he liked the thought of that. No more lives lost by the Killing Curse, and he having something to do with it. Something to do with the preservation of lives, and not the destruction of them.

Severus looked at the time. It was a quarter to three. He had a double potions class soon. He pushed himself up from the armchair, scourgified the glass he drank from and returned it to the liquor cabinet. Gathering his robes about him, he left the study and headed for the Potions classroom.

Hermione had made a quick dash home to retrieve some paperwork she forgot. She had brought it home to finish. It had to be turned in to the department head before she left work. She was hurriedly gathering the papers together, when she heard a tap on the living room window. She looked up and saw a large black bird glaring in at her. It had a parchment tied to its leg. She knew instantly that the bird had to belong to the Potions Master. It seemed to have his personality. Since the living room window didn't open, she walked to the front door and opened it. The bird was bright, and flew in the front door the minute it saw she opened it.

Raucous flew in and landed on the back of her sofa. Cawing loudly as if rushing her, he stuck out his leg, his beady black eyes glittering at the witch approaching him cautiously.

Hermione was a bit put off by the bird. She saw it was a raven, and it seemed very unfriendly. She looked at its beak. It was long and wickedly sharp. She got within five feet of it and decided to address it.

"Now bird, I need to take that message off your leg. If I do it, will you peck me?" she asked it. She knew it understood her. All birds that delivered post understood human speech. Raucous cocked one eye at her. He liked menacing gullible people. He clipped his beak at her nastily, and gave a little birdie grin. Of course Hermione didn't discern any change in the bird's expression as she scowled at it. Only another bird could see the grin.

"Fine," she said through gritted teeth. She didn't have time for this. She had to get back to the Ministry. She pulled out her wand and pointed it at the bird, who fluttered nervously at this disturbing turn of events. Raucous knew what a wand was, and the nasty things it could do. He ducked his head apologetically and stuck out his leg.

"A little change of tune, eh birdie?" Hermione said as she pulled at the ribbon with one hand, the other holding the wand steady on the bird. The parchment slipped off. Hermione expected the bird to fly the coop, but it just stood there, looking at the tip of the wand and her.

"Waiting for a reply?" she asked it. The bird seemed to nod, still looking at the wand. Hermione lowered it and keeping one eye on the raven, unrolled the parchment. She read it and frowned.

"Saturday? That's tomorrow. Shit," she said, looking around the flat. She had to straighten it up. Hermione didn't have much company, and like a lot of brilliant individuals, had clutter everywhere but where she worked. Pieces of discarded clothing, wrappers from candy, coffee cups and plates were everywhere. Well, she had meant to clean soon anyway.

Hermoine sighed and walked over to her cluttered desk, opened a drawer and took out a piece of parchment. Picking her quill up out of its ink bottle, she hurriedly scribbled down her address, blew on the ink and rolled the message up, sealing it with a bit of wax. She walked back over to the bird and set the wand down next to it in easy reach.

"Now, I'm going to tie this on your leg. If you peck me, I will turn you into a roast squab before you can get airborne. Got it?" she said to Raucous. The raven shuddered. "Good." Hermione said as the bird stuck out its leg a bit nervously. She tied the message on.

The moment she did, Raucous took off out of the open door, leaving a large bird turd on the couch as he departed. The raven let out a series of caws that sounded suspiciously like gloating laughter as it winged away. Hermione let out a little curse and scourgified the couch. What kind of wizard had a familiar like that? One like Professor Snape, obviously. She looked at the time. Shit, she had to get back.

Hermione set the parchment down on the coffee table and apparated back to the Ministry. There'd be no quiet restful night for her tonight. She had to prepare for her possible patron's arrival.

At exactly twelve o'clock, a heavy knock sounded on Hermione's front door. Hermione, who had been sitting nervously on her couch, her research piled neatly on the coffee table, swallowed, took a deep breath and walked over to the door. She opened it and found herself face to face with the Potions Master.

Severus let his eyes sweep over her in a precursory manner, taking in the muggle clothing she wore. Obviously, she liked wearing jeans. She had on a button up white blouse and her hair was pulled back in a bun. She looked a bit apprehensive. Good.

"Please come in, Professor," she said formally.

"Thank you," he said shortly as he swept by her, a slight scent of sandalwood lingering behind him. She sniffed it appreciatively. She had always loved that scent. The Potions Master made a beeline for the neat stack of papers on the coffee table. He scooped them up and walked into her kitchen, situating himself at the kitchen table and setting the pile before him. She followed him and stood uncertainly at his shoulder. She started to explain what he was reading.

"Miss Granger," Severus snapped, "I am perfectly capable of comprehending what it is I'm reading if you have compiled your information properly. Now, please go and occupy yourself with something other than hovering over my shoulder like some chestnut-haired vulture. I shall tell you what I think when I am finished."

Hermione's mouth opened and closed several times as she fought with herself not to say anything rash to the snarky bastard. She realized that even if Professor Snape became her patron, there would probably still be a lot of clashes with him. No matter, she was up to it. She wasn't his student anymore and didn't have to hold her tongue. And if he thought becoming her patron would give him any kind of control over her, he was sadly mistaken. She spun on her heel and walked back into her living room, sat down on her couch and pretended to read "Spells Weekly."

The waiting was awful. The Professor read slowly and deliberately, often picking up two papers at a time as if comparing them, before setting them down and going on to the next page. Hermione surreptiously watched his facial expressions. Sometimes he scowled, then the next moment his eyebrows would lift in surprise, then they would furrow. There were long moments when he sat with his lips pursed, eyes sliding from left to right and returning to the next line. He grunted on a couple of occasions. Hermione was a nervous wreck, and stood up and started pacing, stopping every few minutes to look over at the dark wizard furtively, before starting again. Finally Severus sighed loudly and shot her a black look. She sunk back down on to the sofa again.

After about an hour and a half, Severus picked up all the papers and knocked them against the table to straighten them neatly, then set them back down. He moved the chair he was sitting in back a ways, and stretched out his long legs, bringing his fingers to his chin and stroking it thoughtfully as he looked down at the papers. Then he turned his head and met Hermione's eyes with his own. His gaze was penetrating. Hermione felt that he was reading her every thought. But he wasn't. He was simply marveling at her brilliance. Of course, he didn't show it. Finally, he spoke to her.

"Interesting," he said shortly. "Plants? How in the world did you ever come up with using plants to study the effects of the Killing Curse?"

Hermione colored. "I couldn't afford to keep buying animals," she said. "Neville Longbottom has his own flower shop, and gave me plants at a discount. The Killing Curse works on all living things, so I figured using plants wouldn't make that much of a difference. Then I discovered that the plant material held the effects of the curse much better than flesh. The effects were easier to study."

"I see, but that isn't the most exciting part of your experiment…" he breathed, trying not to show his excitement.

"No, it isn't," Hermione said, trying to hold back her elation. "While using the plants, I discovered one that the Killing Curse did not kill. I couldn't believe it. I cast the spell several times, and nothing happened other than the plant wavered a bit under the power of the blast."

"And what is the name of that plant?" Severus asked her. Hermione looked at him.

"That is privileged information, Professor," she replied evenly, "I won't divulge that to anyone not involved in my research."

Severus smirked inwardly. Good girl. She knew the importance of her discovery and to protect it.

"Have you discovered the properties of the plant that keep it from being affected at least?" Severus asked her.

Hermione dropped her head a bit. "No…I don't have the necessary equipment to discern that yet. It is the step that stumped me." She looked up at him. "That's why I contacted you. I have moved to the point where my lab is no longer sufficient to continue my research and experimentation."

She took a deep breath and looked at the Professor steadily.

"I need your labs and your resources to continue," she said, her chin lifted, determined not to seem as if she were pleading for his help.

Severus approved of her dignified way of putting the ball in his court. She didn't ask him for his assistance. She simply stated what she needed, leaving it up to him to respond. He liked that very much. Miss Granger was no beggar. She knew what she had to offer was a powerful incentive. A brilliant witch, but shrewd too. Severus let his black eyes settle on her.

"Well, Miss Granger, your research seems quite sound. However, I will need proof that this plant actually exists and has the attributes you claim. It would be foolish to grant you access to my labs without having witnessed your claim," he said a bit acidly.

Hermione had been expecting this. She knew the Professor would insist on seeing the plant throw off the Unforgivable. But he would have to give her something first.

"In order to do that, Professor…I will need a wizard's oath from you that you will not share this knowledge or research with anyone, until such time as a feasible defense is found and I am ready to share it with the world," she said, her amber eyes meeting his black ones.

"I take it my word is not enough, Miss Granger," he said silkily. She was right to insist on an oath, but he still wanted to make her feel uncomfortable. He expected her to be a little apologetic. But she wasn't.

"No it isn't," Hermione said flatly. "No oath, no demonstration."

"Miss Granger, I am pierced to my heart," he replied, his eyebrow arched at the sober-faced witch. She snorted.

"You must have used a diamond tipped drill to get to it," she shot back. "Now, the oath?"

Severus made a vow not to disclose any information pertaining to her project until it was completed and she were ready to share it with the wizarding world. A stirring of magic in the air sealed the oath. Satisfied, Hermione turned.

"Follow me," she said.

Severus rose from the kitchen table and followed the petite witch down a short hallway. He noticed how small in stature she really was. He had always viewed her with an eye for her mind and not her body. Intellectually, she was a giant, and he perceived a bit larger than she really was until now. Her head would fall a bit short of his chin if they were standing face to face. He let the thought pass idly out of his mind as she opened a door to her right and walked in. He followed behind her.

It was a second bedroom she had converted to a small lab. A very small one. She had utilized the space well however, creating a counter that wrapped around the walls with shelf space beneath it. Every inch was covered with lab equipment.

She had a small centrifuge, a rotary shaker, several meters of varied purpose, a tiny incubator, three sets of distillation stills and the various glass implements, burners, instruments, cauldrons and so forth. She must have spent quite a bit of money on the few items she acquired. They were all set so closely together that she had to be extremely careful not to cause an accident or contamination.

In one corner, under a fluorescent lamp stood several plants. Next to them a small box of earth in which shoots were pushing up from. The soil looked extremely wet. The room itself was quite small, twelve by fourteen feet. But then again, Hermione was small, so it probably caused no problems for her, but Severus gathered his robes close to him, so as not to knock something over. She had gave it a good effort, but the Potions Master could see that the lab was far from adequate for her needs. Hermione walked over to the plants and selected one and set it on the floor. It had leaves that looked lidded, like a container of some sort.

Hermione turned to the Potions Master and gestured toward the plant.

"This is a species of the North American pitcher plant. It's a member of the genus Sarracenia, which belongs to the family Sarraceniaceae. Sarracenia are carnivorous plants. All Sarracenia trap insects and other prey without the use of moving parts. Their traps are based on lures including colour, scent, and nectar. Typically the entrances to the traps are one-way by virtue of highly adapted features.

As you can see, this plant's leaves form tall lidded pitchers. It also produces enzymes to digest its prey. Sarracenia usually inhabit permanently wet, low pH, regions where nutrients are continuously washed away by water. They gain an advantage from the substances and minerals they extract from their animal prey."

She looked at Severus excitedly.

"All species of this family that I have experimented with, have survived the killing curse. I just need to find out why," she said. She was breathing heavily, her face flushed and eyes dancing with excitement as she shared this knowledge with the Potions Master. Now he saw in her the reflection of the young girl she used to be, who became excited at a new discovery or bit of knowledge. He looked at her a bit sardonically.

"As much as I would like to rely on your estimation of this plant's supposed properties, Miss Granger, I really need to see it for myself," he said, eyeing her.

Hermione caught herself, sobering. "Of course,' she said.

The witch made an intricate pattern with her wand. Severus was aware of the room suddenly seeming close and constrained. He felt as if he were trapped. It was very uncomfortable. He loosened his collar a bit, scowling at Hermione.

"Miss Granger, what did you just do?" he asked her, his dark eyes focused on her face.

She looked at him as if he were thick as pudding.

"Professor, I just can't go about casting Unforgiveables. The Ministry Aurors would be on me in a flash the moment the spell's signature was detected. And I know this since I am the one who did the most work on the Unforgivable Detector Spell. I have created a containment field around the room to keep the signature from being recognized," she said.

Severus scowled at her.

"No containment spell can be used in this manner. Only small items can be contained," he stated flatly.

Hermione looked at him smugly.

"Maybe that's how it used to be. But my containment spell can be whatever size I need it to be," she said with a bit of pride.

Severus looked at the witch trying to digest the fact that she had adapted a spell that others had not been able to manipulate at all. He knew she was telling the truth. He could feel that he was surrounded by some magical force. Hermione pointed her wand at the pitcher plant. She frowned, obviously thinking of some past memory that made her feel murderous. He hoped that he wasn't the impetus for her spell.

"Avada Kedavra!" she shouted, the horrifying green light of death blasting from the end of her wand and enveloping the plant.

Severus felt his heart catch at the display. He had used this curse so many, many times to bring a merciful end to the shuddering, suffering bodies of his victims, and the those of the unfortunates taken in the Dark Revels. His reaction to the curse was a soul reaction, and guilt slammed into him as if he had been blasted himself.

Hermione held the curse on the plant for over a minute. Her ability to sustain the curse so long made Severus wonder how much anger and hatred she had stored inside her to maintain such a powerful blast. Obviously there were deeper, darker aspects to the witch than he was aware of. He never thought of her as being one to hate.

Finally, Hermione ended the curse. Severus looked at the plant, expecting to see the equivalent of a burnt matchstick in the pot. But the plant stood there, healthy as ever. Completely unaffected by the curse. In a burst of rare spontenaity, the Professor grabbed the potted plant, lifted it close to his face and examined it thoroughly, his mouth partially opened. He turned it around in his hands in amazement, his brows raised.

"This…is…amazing!" he gasped, setting the plant down on the counter and actually having to catch his breath.

"I told you," Hermione said crossing her arms with satisfaction.

She was not prepared for what happened next.

Severus strode to her, invading her personal space, and grasped her by both arms, his body inches from hers. His black eyes stared down at her intensely and passionately. Suddenly she felt all knotted up inside, as he shook her rather roughly.

"Do you know what you have here, Miss Granger?" he asked her, his voice low. "You have within your grasp the answer the wizarding world has been looking for for centuries. You are on the verge of a monumental discovery. You figure this out and you will become an icon," he hissed. He held her there, staring at her for several moments before he realized he was probably hurting her. He released her. Hermione just stared at him.

"I'm sorry Miss Granger. As you can see, there are times when even I can lose my composure when moved by great emotion," he said shortly, turning back to the plant again.

"It's…it's quite all right," Hermione replied, a bit dazed at cold, unfeeling Professor Snape's momentary lack of control. The Potions Master turned back to her.

"You shall have the use of my lab, my resources and anything else you desire, Miss Granger. You simply tell me what you need, and I will give it to you," he said, grasping her hand in his sincerety. This was the second time the Professor had put his hands on her unconsciously.

"I want the terms in writing," she said to him, still a bit unsettled by his showing of actual human emotions.

"Yes, of course," he said, "Whatever makes this more comfortable for you."

He looked at her and began to scowl a little as he released her hand. This research was much more important than her current employment at the Ministry. But to suggest she leave her job to focus entirely on finding the defense for the Killing curse would start a terrible row between them, he was sure. She was an irritatingly independent young woman. She would never consent to staying at the Manor. As long as she was employed, that is. That could change. Quickly. With a little artful manipulation on his part. Hm.

Severus' selfish nature was beginning to assert itself. The Potions Master developed a serious lack of conscience when it came to acquiring the things he wanted. And he wanted Hermione to devote her time to finding out why the pitcher plant was unaffected by the Killing curse, and how that ability could be transferred to a human subject. It was not the kind of problem that could be solved over several scattered weekends. The problem needed focused, intense study. He had his duties at Hogwarts, so could not devote his time to the pursuit of this knowledge. Yes, he had to find a way to make Hermione move the development of this defense to the primary position of importance in her life. And soon.

Severus suggested that they go out to an early supper, where they could hash over the details of their arrangement while enjoying a celebratory meal. Hermione countered his idea with making a meal at her flat, but after Severus perused her meager supplies in the cooler and cabinets, he vetoed the idea. Plain spaghetti and canned sauce was not his idea of a decent meal.

"Miss Granger," he said with an edge to his voice. "I happen to like meat and vegetables, neither of which your poor stores have in evidence. Plus a glass or two of good wine wouldn't hurt my palette a bit."

Hermione was mentally counting the few sickles she had on hand. She really couldn't afford to go out to eat. She had been spending quite a lot of money on her project. Her account at Gringott's only had the exact amount of galleons in it to keep the goblins from closing it completely. She looked at the Professor.

"Well, where would you want to go to eat?" she asked him tentatively.

Severus instantly determined what the problem was. She assumed she was going to have to pay for her meal.

"Miss Granger," he said tersely, "I need to make one thing clear to you right now. This meal and any other we share will be purely under the heading of business, and considered an investment in the future of our association. Since I have much more money than you, I shall cover the costs of these occasional outings. So there's no need for you to hedge."

Hermione blinked up at him. How had he known what was going through her head? Was her situation that obvious? Well, he had looked through her cabinets and noticed the lack of food. He probably just put two and two together.

"Besides," he added, "I have never, ever taken a woman out to eat and gone 'Dutch' as I believe the muggle term for splitting the cost is termed. Though your independence is admired by some, in this case, Miss Granger, I must insist you curb your desire to handle everything on your own concerning how we deal with this project and our interactions, otherwise we will have a difficult association. We are partners, but the brunt of the costs will fall to me. So please, let's just go. I'm famished."

Hermione conceded. She asked the Professor to wait for a moment while she changed into more traditional garb. He sat down on the sofa to wait. While Hermione changed, he thought about her obvious financial difficulties. With him now covering the costs of her project, she would have a little more money to work with. Until he got her fired, that is. Once she was situated in the Manor, she wouldn't have to worry about meeting monthly bills. Though he would have to find some way to give her some spending money for her personal needs. He didn't want anything to distract her from the work. Perhaps she could 'oversee' the running of the Manor while domiciled there, though the house elves were quite adept at it. There was an idea.

Hermione returned from her room, her hair brushed out and shining, wearing a nice set of dark blue robes. Yes, she looked presentable. She walked over to her desk and plucked out a few sheets of parchment and a couple of quills. She reduced them and stuck them in her robes pocket. She turned to the Professor.

"Ok, I'm ready," she said.

In response, Severus offered her his arm. She hesitated.

"Miss Granger," he said tiredly, "Please take my arm so we can apparate to the restaurant. Really. I'm not going to bite a hunk of flesh out of you…unless you continue to irritate me."

Hermione scowled at him, but took his arm rather stiffly. Severus stifled a smirk. She really didn't like him in control of the situation. She had no idea how controlling he could be when he wanted his way. He pulled her arm tighter against him, knowing it would aggravate her. It did. Her amber eyes flashed up at him angrily.

"Must you hold my arm so tight?" she asked him, tugging a little bit.

"Yes," he replied, smirking. Then they disapparated.

Severus brought her to a nice little restaurant where they were immediately seated. Hermione looked around. It seemed like a place where business was conducted. Many of the patrons had papers spread out on the tables, and were conversing in muted tones. As the waiter brought them water and menus, Hermione removed the parchments and quills from her pocket and returned them to proper size. She placed the parchment in front of her and looked at Severus expectantly.

The Potions Master had his large nose firmly pressed into the menu, his black eyes scanning it. He must have felt Hermione's gaze on him, because he looked up at her. He noted the parchment.

"Would you mind terribly if I ordered our meal first?" he asked her, "As I told you in the flat I am famished. After I order and we have a glass of wine, we can get down to details."

Actually, Severus wanted Hermione to have several glasses of wine, in the hopes that he could slip something past her in the contract.

"Fine, Professor," she said, picking up her menu and looking at the prices. She swallowed. The atmosphere might be relaxed, but the prices were phenomenal. Severus noticed her eyes widen as she scanned the menu. He plucked it out of her hand.

"Miss Granger, I will read you the selections and you can tell me what you want," he said evenly. Hermione screwed up her mouth to protest. He waved a long finger at her in negation.

"You will eat what you want based on your desire and not the cost," he said tightly. "I will not have you ordering a salad because it is the cheapest item on the menu. By the sad state of your cooler, I can tell you need a decent meal. How you manage to keep that busy brain of yours functioning properly on such a terrible diet is beyond me. Now, listen to what they have here…"

Severus read off the menu. Hermione listened carefully and selected what she wanted.

Spaghetti. With meatballs.

Severus glared over the table at her.

"What?" she said, her eyebrows raised, "It comes with a side order, salad and garlic bread. That's meat and vegetables, plus a grain. It's what I have a taste for."

Severus continued to glare. The young woman was insufferable. He silently prayed to the gods for the strength to get through this arrangement without ending up in Azkaban for killing her out of aggravation before she concluded the project.

Hermione on the other hand, was delighted she had pissed him off. His insistence on controlling the situation rankled her a bit, and she was glad to have at least struck a winning, if underhanded blow for her independent streak.

Severus continued to scowl as he placed the orders with the waiter. He was having a rib-eye steak with potatoes and green beans. He also ordered a never-ending carafe of Coteaux du Layon, a sweet French wine from the Loire Valley. The wine arrived first, with two glasses. He poured both of them a healthy glass.

"This is normally a dessert wine," he commented as he inhaled the contents of his glass, "but I find it delicious at any time." He sipped the wine and savored it a bit, before swallowing and giving a small sigh of approval.

Hermione sniffed her glass, then downed it. She smiled. It really was good.

"Sweet," she said, as Severus refilled her glass. He nodded.

They sat there a while, enjoying the wine and waiting for their food to arrive. Hermione was beginning to relax.

"So, Professor, tell me about these labs," she said.

Severus stiffened a bit, but managed to hide it as he looked at Hermione, trying to decide what to reveal about them. He immediately decided not to tell her the horrible history of the laboratories, and to give her the short version.

"Well, my father had the labs built for me when I was in my fourth year at Hogwarts, so I could continue my studies when school was out for the summer and over the holidays. I used them quite a bit until I became Potions Master at Hogwarts. Since I have an adequate lab at the castle, I simply stopped utilizing the majority of them. I have one lab I use at the Manor. The other three are just there, unused," he said diffidently.

"I see," Hermione said. She would like to know more about the kinds of experiments he conducted in his youth. She knew he had been a deatheater, and had left out a lot in the telling. Those labs were probably used for dark purposes. But she wouldn't call him on it. If he wanted to share more later on, he would. But somehow, she doubted it. That kind of sharing was between close, trusted friends. What they had right now was an uneasy alliance. It would in all probability remain that way.

Their meals arrived, and they both tucked into it, not saying a word until they had finished their plates. Hermione was much hungrier than she realized, and Severus watched her as she swiped up every bit of sauce with her garlic bread, and unashamedly suck her fingers afterwards.

"Your table manners are atrocious," he commented, watching her pull each digit from between her pursed lips with a small pop. Not a very lady-like act at all…

"Thanks," she replied. Hell, the food had been good. She poured herself another glass of the sweet wine.

"Would you like dessert?" Severus asked her.

"No, I'm good. I think we should get started on this agreement," Hermione replied. Severus dabbed at his mouth with a napkin, poured himself another glass of wine and settled back in his chair, scrutinizing her.

"All right," he said, "I think that you should work on the project in the evenings and on weekends at the Manor. I will set the wards so you can apparate directly to the labs from your flat."

"That would give me no free time!" Hermione responded, "I would rather work on the project on the weekends, with the option of doing some work during the week, when I feel up to it."

Severus looked at her.

"You know this project is very important Hermione. It will be a great accomplishment. I would feel better if you would at least dedicate one night a week to its pursuit. I think the perfect night would be Friday," Severus countered.

Hermione frowned. "How do you know that I don't have my Friday nights tied up. I might have a date or two to go on," she said challengingly. She hadn't had a date in over a year, but there was no need to let the Professor know that. Severus looked taken aback. He hadn't thought about her having a social life, much less her possible involvement with a man. Shit. This could make things much more complicated.

"Ah, I'm sorry Miss Granger. I hadn't thought about your personal life. Are you currently involved with anyone?" he asked her, his black eyes meeting hers intently. He held his breath.

Hermione thought about lying, but eventually he would probably find out the truth anyway.

"No. There's no one right now," she said, a bit glumly.

"Good," he breathed, then realized his error as Hermione's eyes hardened.

"I meant good that your private life won't be disturbed by your working on the project, Miss Granger, not that you aren't currently involved," he said a bit lamely.

Hermione sighed.

"It's all right, Professor," she said. He noticed her eyes lost a little of their shine. Obviously not being in a relationship bothered the young woman.

He himself hadn't been involved with anyone seriously since his youth, and that ended up rather badly. On occasion he would visit the brothel in Knockturn Alley to relieve his carnal needs, but he was used to being alone, and couldn't imagine himself in a relationship. What woman would have a man like him, with his past, his dark nature and his baggage? No woman. He had given up on any hope of happiness years and years ago. All he wanted was to redeem himself in some way for his crimes. Miss Granger was his best hope at doing that. Still, he felt he needed to say some words of comfort, if just to get her back on track with the project.

"Miss Granger, I am sure that you will find someone in time. You have always kept your priorities in order, not allowing yourself to fall into the errors other young women make, and that is marry the first wizard that…er…attracts them," he said uncomfortably. Then with more conviction he said, "Miss Granger, you have great things to do in this world. Of that I am sure. To be burdened with sentimental nonsense would only deter you from your path right now. When you have done what you are meant to do, I am sure you will find happiness."

Hermione looked at the Professor. She fought to keep her lip from trembling.

"I'll probably end up an old maid, snuggling up to my bunson burner," she said dejectedly.

Severus was tempted to laugh. The young were so dramatic.

"I doubt that," he said reassuringly. "Now, back to the issue at hand. How about that Friday?"

After a bit of haggling, Hermione did give up her Friday to the project.

"I also think you should have personal rooms at the Manor, so you can spend your weekends there and not have to apparate back to your flat each night. This way you can work later. There are plenty rooms available near the labs."

Voldemort used to stay at the Manor in close proximity to the labs. Those rooms were available. They too would have to be thoroughly cleaned.

"My own rooms? That seems a bit much, Professor," Hermione said.

"Not at all. It will be good time management. You can keep a wardrobe there, eat, sleep, bathe and be entirely comfortable, able to work at your leisure…not too much leisure mind you. The rooms are already there and empty. It makes perfect sense to utilize them while you are at the Manor. You can apparate back to your flat on Sunday night or early Monday morning," he said persuasively. It really didn't sound that bad, but Hermione wanted to have some say.

"All right, let's keep that as an option," she said.

Try as he might, Hermione would not make staying at the Manor on the weekends a condition, so Severus accepted the option, for now.

They continued on, Severus adamant about establishing an account for her needs, so she wouldn't have to request funds from him whenever she needed supplies or equipment. The amount of money he would make available to her made her gasp.

"That's way too much money, Professor!" she cried, causing patrons to look around at them.

Severus scowled and said in a low voice, "Miss Granger, are you trying to ruin my reputation? You make it sound as if I am offering you large amounts of money for some unknown reason. Most will put their own spin on that…no doubt a rather lecherous one, so could you…would you lower your voice please?"

Hermione noticed the patrons looking at them and whispering.

"Sorry," she said, taking a sip of wine.

"Now, the amount may sound excessive to you, but I assure you it is not. It won't put a dent in my holdings. I want to be sure you can get the very best of supplies and equipment. That requires money. And when you find the defense, the resulting residuals we will share will more than make up for any expenditures I put out, so no more gasping over the amount I am willing to invest," he said, his brow furrowed.

Hermione never realized how rich the Professor was. He was a Lord after all. He lived simply at Hogwarts in the dungeons, but he didn't have to. He preferred to. She didn't realize that the Manor held so many bad memories for him, it was easier to live at Hogwarts than his ancestral home. He had less nightmares, less impetus to drive his mind back to reliving those evil times spent in the service of Voldemort. His modest rooms at Hogwarts were clean of blood, devoid of death. He could sleep for most of the night.

"Very well," Hermione conceded. That fact that he would recoup his money in the event she was successful made the large expense account bearable.

"But I will not use those monies for personal purposes," she said. "I want that clearly in the contract, to assure you the expenditures will be for the project only."

Drat her Gryffindor sense of fairness. Severus wouldn't have minded if she used some of the money for her personal needs. He wanted them covered so she could concentrate on the work. He didn't want her worrying about anything. The wine wasn't doing the job he'd hoped.

"Fine," he conceded.

Hermione wrote down the terms they'd agreed on.

"I want to leave this contract open for addendums," she said, "in case something comes up we haven't covered."

Damn it. How did she get so shrewd?

"Agreed," he said, having no suitable reason to disagree with this request without eliciting her suspicion.

She wrote it down, and looked over the agreement. She signed it and passed it to Severus. He read it over and also signed his name. There was a blue flash as the contract was finalized. He slid it back over to Hermione, who quickly duplicated it and gave him the original.

"It's done," she said.

Severus slowly stuck out his hand, looking at her intensely. Hermione looked at his long, pale fingers, those fingers that were so precise when chopping, cutting and brewing.

"It is customary to shake on a deal, Miss Granger," Severus said softly

Hermione looked at him, then slowly reached out and grasped his hand. His fingers closed around hers. The Professor had a masculine grip, but it was not a harsh one. In fact, she instinctively knew that this hand was capable of great gentleness when moved to do so. She could feel the slight calluses from his years of Potions work.

Severus in turn, noticed how warm, soft and small Hermione's hand was in his own. There was some slight callusing on the palm and fingertips, but that didn't take away from its femininity. This was a hand that was going to do great things for the wizarding world. Indeed, great things for him as well.

Severus apparated with Hermione back to her flat and bid her good night. They had agreed that she would visit the Manor this coming Friday to examine the labs. The Potions Master had given her a parting bow, wrapped his robes about him dramatically and disapparated in a clap of thunder.

"Show off," Hermione snorted.

She sat down on the couch and took out the agreement she and the Professor had agreed to. She read it over several times, dropped back against the couch and smiled broadly. Her project would continue. Of course, she would be sequestered in the Professor's Manor, which she was sure would be dark and creepy. His pale skin color was probably hereditary, but it brought to mind images of him being locked away from the sun as a child. He had said that the labs were located in the lower levels of the Manor, but didn't say how far down. Most likely dungeon level, she decided. The Potions Master seemed to like the subterranean.

She sighed, stood up and headed for her rooms. It was still early, but she was tired after the food and the wine. She divestoed her clothing and fell on the huge king-sized bed as usual. She wasn't feeling particularly randy, so she just lifted the covers and crawled under them. She was sound asleep in minutes.

Hermione might not have been consciously randy, but her subconscious seemed to have needs of its own. She slipped into her familiar fantasy, but in the dream state. Once again she lay naked on her bed, and her tall, shadowed dream lover approached her, striding to the bedside and looking down at her. Only this time, he did not drop on her, but sat on the side of the bed. He extended a hand and placed it gently on her belly, caressing her gently. A beam of moonlight streamed through the window, falling on her midsection. She looked down at her lover's hand. It was pale and long fingered…

Hermione woke up with a start, shaking and covered in perspiration.

Severus returned to the Manor feeling good about the way the day's events had gone. He had perused Hermione's research, witnessed the amazing properties of the pitcher plant and made an agreement to be the young witch's patron and assist her in developing a defense against the Killing Curse, the most feared spell in the wizarding world. Who would have dreamed that the annoying, bushy-haired buck-toothed little know-it-all that walked into his world thirteen years ago, would become the possible answer to his eternal quest for redemption? Of course, destroying the power of the Unforgivable would not redeem him of every wrong committed, but it would go a long way towards easing the burden of guilt he carried with him day after day. And who knew, maybe Miss Granger could be persuaded to find defenses against the other two Unforgivables, the Cruciatus Curse, and the Imperious Curse. Maybe he could set up his own Spell lab, and set the young witch over it, with a salary. The possibilities for the uses of Miss Granger were endless. She could better the world, and he could be a part of it, just as he was part of its destruction when he served under Voldemort. He could not replace the lives he'd taken, but he could help preserve and protect the lives that remained. Make it so the horrors of the past could not happen again.

As he walked through the vast, dark corridors of his ancestral home, for the first time in a very long time he did not feel his belly tighten with regret. Soon it would be a place of hope, rather than a place that once extinguished all hope. The blood would be washed away. He glanced at the tall, shuttered windows as he passed under them. He had them nailed shut years ago at the orders of the Dark Lord, who was paranoid about being watched, although the Manor sat far from any other domicile. He decided that it was time for that to change. It was time to remove the stench of Voldemort's presence from the halls of his home.

He walked to his study, pushed open the tall wide doors and bellowed for his house elves. In a blink, he was surrounded by almost seventy bobbing, cringing little creatures, all with their eyes to the floor, raising them on occasion to look at him swiftly, before dropping them again. The elves were a bit out of sort. He hadn't summoned them en masse since the time of the Dark Lord, and every time he had, there was some badness to do, like cleaning up after a Dark Revel, or nailing out the sun, or bringing bad nasty instruments down to the labs, which always smelled of blood and fear.

Severus looked at his cringing servants.

"I have an assignment for you," he began.

The house elves all raised their heads and looked at him attentively, although a few ears remained flatten in nervous fear that the assignment would be a wicked one, like in the old times.

"It will be a challenge. But you all have always been good elves and followed my instructions to the letter in good time," he continued.

The house elves visibly swelled at this rare praise from their Master.

"I want the Manor reclaimed," he said. "The shutters opened, the windows washed and raised so fresh air can permeate these dank, damp halls. Every shutter and every window in the Manor."

There was no need to have the Manor cleaned. The elves kept it spotless. The small creatures began to smile and jump about in glee. Severus stilled them with a sharp motion of his hands.

"I also want the labs cleaned thoroughly, and every evil instrument of torture removed and destroyed. I want every trace of suffering erased. They are going to be reopened, but this time they will be used for good, not evil. Also all the rooms on that level are to be cleaned, and the furniture replaced," he continued.

The ears of every single elf were raised in elation, their wide eyes wheeling with joy at their Master's orders. They had suffered in darkness too, these long, long years and longed for sun-streaked floors and fresh air.

"But," said Severus, "here is the difficult part. This must be accomplished by Friday morning at the latest. It is a large job to do in a short span of time. Do you think you can accomplish this?"

Answers of "Aye, Master. We can," rang out from the small creatures surrounding him.

"Then go and reclaim the House of Snape," Severus said.

Bobbing and dancing with happiness, the elves winked out one after the other. Severus could hear them scampering up and down the halls. Normally they were quiet as mice. The noise was oddly comforting. Severus had a thought.

"Eli!" he called out. A small green elf appeared, bowing low.

"Yes, Master?" the creature piped.

"Eli, I need a few of the rooms down by the labs to be outfitted for a young witch of the age of twenty-four. Every possible need is to be met, from décor on. She will need an area to study in as well. You will oversee this for me. I want no trace of the evil that dwelled there to remain. You have my permission to do whatever is necessary to accomplish this. Am I understood?" Severus asked the elf.

"Very well understood, my Lord," the elf replied, an open smile of pleasure on its face. Severus couldn't remember the last time he saw a smiling elf in Snape Manor.

"You may go, Eli," Severus said, dismissing him. The elf stood there, nervously clasping his clawed hands together.

"Is there something you wanted to say, Eli?" Severus asked the elf, half-astonished it did not leave.

"Y..y..yes, Master. Eli wants to say the elves are most happy you are taking back the Manor, sir. The walls have been crying for light for many years, and the blood has been crying too. It is good what you do, sir. Bringing hope back to Snape Manor."

Severus looked at the house elf in surprise. He had never heard one speak so poignantly before. He nodded.

"Yes, it is good, Eli. Very good. You may go," the Potions Master said to the elf.

The creature bowed, then disappeared.

Eli reappeared in the rooms below. The elf's ears flattened to his head as he remembered the evil that dwelt here. The stink of him still remained. With a wave of his hand, Eli illuminated the room. There was the dark four-poster bed, emblazoned with open-mouthed serpents, surrounded by black curtains. The floor was still stained with the blood of women tortured and killed here. Eli made a face and extended both his hands toward the cursed bed. It began to shudder violently, and a dark green glow appeared around it. The elf increased the power, and the bed began to fold in upon itself, cracking and groaning like a living entity. Eli watched as it folded in upon itself, becoming smaller and more compact until it disappeared into nothingness and the glow ceased. The elf lowered his hands for a moment, took a deep breath, then raised his arms in a wide arc. Every item in the room began to glow in the same manner as the bed, even the bloodstains on the floor. Once again the folding began, furniture, paintings, knickknacks all collapsing upon themselves until there was nothing left but an empty room.

Calling on the old magic of his people, Eli extended one clawed hand, bowed his head and muttered what sounded like a blessing, then stood looking at the center of the room expectantly. Slowly a white light filled the space, radiating from a bright winged being that floated at the center. The ethereal creature resembled a fairy with sad golden eyes as it spun in place. The elf fell to his knees as the summoned being emitted a golden light, bathing the room in its glow, a serene smile appearing on its angelic face before it faded away.

"Thank you, Ancient," Eli whispered, rising to his feet. The decorating of the room could wait until tomorrow. The main cleansing had been done. This room would be suitable now. Eli moved on to the next room, determined to have the lower levels expunged of the lingering evil by morning.

Severus spent the next two hours wandering Snape Manor, watching the house elves joyously pull the great shutters back from the windows. This they did from the outside of the mansion, climbing the great coverings, magicking the nails away and swinging like monkeys on the parted wood until they swung back, letting in the evening light. On the inside of the mansion, house elves floated in front of the windows, magically cleaning the years of buildup from the panes. They were singing as they worked. Severus had never heard them sing before. They had shrill voices, and sang in harmonies. It wasn't beautiful, but their happiness was infectious. Severus could hear noises coming from the levels above, and knew the house elves were in the rooms, opening those windows as well. He knew they would work tirelessly until they accomplished what he had asked of them.

It was still relatively early, but the Potions Master decided to retire. It had been a full, and most satisfying day. Normally, he hated sleeping at the Manor and would apparate back to Hogwarts and the comfort of his private rooms, but tonight he felt compelled to stay. The house elves had obviously divined he would be staying…he found his bedroom ready for him, fresh sheets on the bed, fresh towels in the loo and his shuttered window wide open to the night air. A nightshirt was laid out neatly on his four-poster. Even here his bed was covered in Slytherin colors.

Severus undressed and indulged himself in a nice, hot bath. After filling the marble tub with the sandalwood spigot, he sunk his lean, pale body slowly into the foamy, scented bubbles, leaned his head back and closed his eyes, soaking luxuriously in the steaming water. He was so comfortable, he dozed. And dreamed.

He was in a strange place. Someone's home or suite. He walked through what appeared to be a study, drawn inexplicably down a long hallway and through an open door at the end. In the room, there was a bed. And in the bed, a woman. A lovely, naked woman. He could see nothing of her facial features but her eyes, which were wide, expressive and focused on him longingly. The Potions Master strode toward the bed without a moment's hesitation, desire pulsing through his body. He wanted this woman, badly. He stopped beside the bed, looking down at her, knowing he could take her. But, instead of disrobing, he sat on the edge of the bed looking down on her beautiful body. He still couldn't see her face no matter how hard he looked. It was permanently shadowed. His eyes swept over her. Her breasts were large and well formed, with dark, puckered nipples, her belly smooth, tight, with a perfect navel that he would have loved to dip his tongue into. But he didn't. He continued to look at her. The strange woman's thighs were also smooth, creamy and a fine patch of hair covered her sex in a perfect vee. Her legs were long and shapely. Severus reached out his hand, lowered it to her flesh and caressed her belly gently. She moaned sweetly at his contact. Her skin was soft and warm…

Severus awoke with a start and a huge erection. It had been ages since he had an erotic dream, and in his dreams he normally was engaged in wild, robust sex, burying himself in some screaming, raging hellcat. This was the first time he had ever had a dream where he simply touched a woman, and went no further. It had been a mild dream, but his organ was as hard as iron and refused to go down, even after he had extricated himself from the tub, dried himself off and donned his silk nightshirt. Now he lay in his bed, his nightshirt tented by his stubborn hard-on. He didn't feel like wanking off.

"Eli!" he bellowed. After several moments, the house elf appeared by his bedside.

"Yes, Master?" the elf said, dropping his eyes and grinning slightly when he noted his Master's arousal.

"Please bring me a deflating draught from my lab stores," Severus said tightly.

"Yes sir," Eli replied, disappearing.

A few minutes later the elf reappeared, a vial in his hand. He handed it to Severus, who thanked him, uncorked the vial and drank it down. In a moment or two his erection crumpled and fell. He sighed in relief and handed the bottle back to Eli.

"Master is better now?" the elf asked, still hiding his grin.

"Yes," said Severus. "You may go, Eli."

"Yes, Master," the elf said, bowing and winking out.

Eli reappeared in the lower rooms.

"I thinks that hope will not be the only thing coming to Snape Manor," the elf said to himself, smiling. And humming a little elf work tune, he continued cleansing the rooms on the lower level.

Severus lay in his bed, his mind taken from the dream he had by the reality facing him concerning Hermione Granger and her job with the Ministry of Magic. He knew the witch was not getting the recognition or opportunities she deserved at the Ministry. The bigotry against muggle-borns was well ingrained in their policies. Certainly they had given her a few initial promotions and raises in salary, but as a junior Spells Mistress, she had reached her peak as far as the department head was concerned. He had seen it many times before. He knew Hermione's need for independence and the relative security of the position would keep her in Ministry employ for years…unless of course she solved the mystery of the pitcher plant's resistance to the killing curse. And if she worked on it only on weekends, it could be months or even years before she found the secret and utilized it into a spell, potion or charm.

He sighed. The proper thing to do would be to approach Hermione directly and ask her to leave her job, and devote her time fully to developing the defense. But Hermione would not consent to living at the Manor, he was sure of it. She was too stubborn and too independent to want to count on Professor Snape to provide for all her needs, even though it would be a fair exchange. Her mind was worth millions. More than that. It was priceless. He could never repay her for the wonders she could create, or the sense of redemption helping her would afford him.

He could try to set up his own Spell design company, but that would take months to do, and with his background, and those at the Ministry who still felt that he should be in Azkaban despite serving the Order, he knew that he would have difficulties in getting the necessary licensing and permits approved. A thorough background check would be required, and even though he was considered a hero, his role as a servant of the Dark Lord was a factor that was never overlooked or forgotten. He had joined Voldemort of his own free will initially, no matter the change of heart he had later on. That is what they would focus on. Setting up a company that produced spells was unlike other businesses. You could not create it under another name or incorporate it. Everything had to be up front. The projects, the research, everything made available for perusal by the Ministry, who could seize the work at any time. He would hate to have Hermione's project taken from her, especially since the Ministry would not support her work when she asked for permission to pursue it. So that was out of the question as well.

There was no other way for it. He would have to find a way to get the witch released from the Ministry, and have no other options than to move into Snape Manor. How could he do it insidiously, without his complicity being discovered? Now would be the perfect time to sabotage her job, since her resources were low because of the money she had paid out to keep working on her pet project. In a few weeks, she will have saved enough money to carry her over until she found other employment. He would have to get on this immediately. He didn't want to use anyone to do the damage for him. They could always confess or try to blackmail him later. Severus trusted no one. This was something he would have to handle himself. What he really needed was to find someone of influence who disliked Hermione, and plant a bug of some type in his or her ear in a manner that could not be traced back to him.

There was Lucius Malfoy. He had a position in the Ministry after convincing everyone he was under the Imperious curse the entire time he served Voldemort. Severus knew that a lot of galleons exchanged hands to get that lie accepted. Lucius had paid his way out of Azkaban and wriggled his way into the Ministry, serving on the board of Magical Licensing. Another reason applying for a business license to create spells was out of the question. Lucius hated Severus with a passion, blaming him for the ultimate downfall of the Dark Lord. If Lucius got wind of anything possibly untoward concerning Miss Granger, he'd run with it. He knew she created many of the spells that took out the deatheaters and left the Dark Lord vulnerable for Potter's attack. He'd love to cause her grief and get her tossed out of her position on her ear.

There was also Rita Skeeter, who despised Hermione with a vehemence that rivaled Lucius'. The young witch had bested the reporter on a number of occasions. Severus knew she would love some dirt on Hermione. She would make it public instantly, publishing a scathing story in the Daily Prophet that would send ripples through the Ministry, which was well-known for booting out employees embroiled in controversy.

All right. He had two possible foils. Now, what could he possibly leak about Hermione that would cause either Lucius or Rita to act to ruin her? The young woman lived the life of a saint. She had no sordid relationship to exploit. She lived a relatively calm, sensible life. What association could she have that might make the Ministry let her go? He thought a moment.

There it was. The answer. Clear as a bell and right in front of him.

Her association with a known deatheater.


Given her sensitive position as a Spell Mistress for the Ministry designing clandestine spells for Aurors, associating with Severus despite his hero status would be considered a grave conflict of interest. To reasonable, thinking people, this association wouldn't make a difference. He was, after all a respected Professor at Hogwarts and had been so for many years, as well as a recipient of the Order of Merlin, First Class for his part in bringing down Voldemort. But these weren't reasonable, thinking people. This was the Ministry. A government body. One moved to action by politics and flitting public opinion, which could easily be swayed by a scathing newspaper article that brought Hermione's loyalties into question. It wouldn't matter if the accusations were true. Just that they had been made. The Ministry would feel obligated to remove her. He had it. All he needed to do was send Rita Skeeter an anonymous tip…

The next morning Severus awoke early, feeling fully rested and in good spirits. The house elves sent him up a light breakfast of bread, jam, fruit and coffee. He consumed this repast quickly, donned his clothes and informed Eli he would be returning to Hogwarts immediately, but would stop back on Wednesday night to see the progress that was made.

When Severus walked down the staircase to the main hall, he was forced to stop in his tracks and simply stare. The mansion was airy, and full of sunlight, bright rays streaming through all the open windows bringing color to a place that had seemed monochromatic, consisting only of shades of black and gray for many years. The Manor looked as it had when he was a child, and his parents' marriage was still happy. Memories of running nude, through the brightly lit corridors, pursued by smiling house elves intent on making him bathe returned to him, and he half smiled. He would get filthy exploring the grounds and digging up interesting plants to study, examine and store away. Even as a child he showed a love of harvesting, drying and storing things, almost before he could even talk. He had received a very bad spanking for pulling up all of his mother's prized roses. The ruined plants had been discovered in his room, spread neatly under his window in full sunlight. He was trying to dry them out. After being punished severely by his father, who was a hands-on kind of man, Severus hated the fragrant flowers from that day to this.

Oh, but those had been such days of happiness, and his heart actually swelled to see the Manor bright again. He swept down the stairs and walked slowly to the main doors, enjoying the revived beauty of his home. The oppressive feeling was gone, and house elves, who had always been notably absent, now walked the halls with small rags, wiping here and there until every object was gleaming. They even waved at their Master, who nodded soberly in return, though he was extremely pleased with his servants. He opened the doors leading out to the grounds, and hesitated for a moment, looking back, his black eyes sweeping the shining hall with satisfaction. Then he apparated to Hogwarts.

Once Severus was in his study, he wasted no time gathering parchment and quill, sitting down at the small writing desk and penning a letter to Hermione.

I have found it necessary to change our plans to meet at the Manor promptly at six on Friday evening. I will instead pick you up at your flat at six and we will have a light supper before heading for the labs. I assume this slight change in plans should not cause you any additional difficulties, since you were going to leave at six to visit the Manor originally. Please send a short reply via Raucous. I will see you on Friday.

Severus read over the missive. Yes, it was good. It didn't give her any choice to back out of supper. He whistled and Raucous dropped down from the rafters, landing on the back of his chair, preening Severus' hair. He had learned long ago not to caw at the Potions Master indiscriminately. Severus rolled up the parchment, and Raucous hopped to the table, sticking out his leg helpfully. The Potions Master tied the message to the Raven's leg.

"I need you to take this to Miss Granger immediately," Severus said to the bird. If Severus were able to read bird expressions, he would have seen a look of distaste on Raucous' face. The bird dutifully hopped to the Potions Master's shoulder as he opened the study door, walked through his office and opened the door to the corridor.

"Fly, Raucous," he said to the bird, who took off, soaring down the corridor to the main hall, where he winged out into the open air.

Severus closed the door and returned to his study. As soon as he received Miss Granger's reply, he could act on the second part of his plan.

Hermione was sitting at her kitchen table drinking a large cup of black coffee. She didn't sleep well last night. She kept waking up inexplicably, in a cold sweat. She had no idea why. She thought it could be the excitement of the day. So much had happened. She had received an agreement of sponsorship from her heretofore nemesis, Professor Severus Snape, an agreement her friends would consider tantamount to signing a contract with the devil. She could imagine Ron asking,

"Did he make you sign it in blood?"

She smiled. Both Ron and Harry were married now, and had a child apiece. She would meet up with them at the Ministry cafeteria for lunch at least once a week. They were both Aurors. Normally, she listened to them talk about Quidditch of course (some things never changed), their children, their wives and the latest news. Once in a while they would share some tale of excitement concerning Auror work. Hermione rarely had anything interesting to add to the conversation concerning her life. It was monumentally dull. Harry and Ron were always after her to find a nice wizard, settle down, and make a baby or two, never understanding that Hermione wanted more out of life than to be barefoot, pregnant and blissfully domesticated. She loved both of them dearly, but the fact was, they never really understood her.

The two wizards had even gone as far as to set her up on a couple of blind dates a few years back, which either ended on a low note or in one case, disaster. One wizard, she had to hex. He felt that his spending a couple of galleons on dinner gave him the right to expect a favor of a sexual nature in return. He got quite physical when Hermione refused to let him into her flat, trying to force his way in. She turned him into a stinkbug. He was lucky she didn't crush him to boot.

Ron and Harry exacted their own painful revenge on the wizard when they found out what he had attempted to do to their friend. The wizard was also an Auror. They had never dreamed he was such a beast, and that was the last time they tried setting up a date for Hermione. But they still kept after her.

"You're a decent looking sort, Hermione," Ron said, looking at her with a critical eye, "There's no reason you couldn't land a bloke. Maybe you need to tone down the braininess a little…and show a bit more leg."

Harry had winced at this comment, and bit into his sandwich so his mouth would be full and he wouldn't be required to add to the statement. He was fervently hoping Hermione didn't miss Ron and hit him when she threw whatever hex she felt would meet her purpose. But Hermione simply gave Ron one of her scathing lectures about his idiotic insensitivity and left it at that. Poor Ron. His ears were actually smoking when she finished with him. The passing years had made the redhead no wiser when dealing with women. Luckily, his wife was the understanding sort. Ron was so sweet, she could overlook his many blunders as she patiently worked at correcting his misconceptions.

When Hermione heard the tapping on the living room window, she just knew it was that damned bird again. She turned her head, and sure enough, there was Raucous, glaring balefully at her from the other side of the glass. She rose and walked over to the front door, opening it. The bird sailed in, landing on the sofa. Hermione put her hands on her hips and looked at the bird, her eyes narrowed.

"Last time you were here, you shit on my sofa," she said.

Raucous looked at her as if he had no idea what she was talking about. He stuck out his leg, anxious to get out of there.

"I should really turn you back into an egg," she said as she walked over and removed the message. "Then, when you hatched, there'd be a chance you'd develop a better personality."

Raucous clipped his beak at her, quietly. Hermione read Professor Snape's message. She frowned a little at the fact he didn't ask her if she wanted to go to supper. But at least he had written her instead of suddenly apparating there without forewarning. She grabbed a quill, and using the same parchment scribbled:

She rerolled the parchment and tied it to the raven's legs. Raucous was looking longingly at a half-eaten piece of muffin on a plate on the kitchen table. Hermione noticed this and glared at the bird for a moment. Then sighing she said, "Go and get it."

Raucous cawed a thanks and flew over to the table, picked up the piece of muffin in his beak, and flew out the door…leaving no gifts behind this time.

Hermione returned to the kitchen table and finished her coffee.

An hour or two later, Raucous returned to the dungeons and the Potions Master with Hermione's reply. Severus quickly removed the message, scanned it, and allowed himself a slow, rather evil smile. He went over to his desk and retrieved another parchment. He sat down and put the quill to work.

There is a situation happening that I think you would like to investigate. It concerns a Ministry Spell Mistress consorting with a known deatheater. The wizard has been cleared of all charges publicly, but there are those who believe he still maybe loyal to the cause of the Dark Lord, and is merely biding his time while enjoying the protection of Albus Dumbledore. His name is Professor Severus Snape, and the Ministry employee is Miss Hermione Granger. Miss Granger creates spells for Aurors and I am worried that she may be leaking information about what is being developed to Snape, which he may be passing on to rogue deatheaters. As I am also a Ministry employee, I am loathe to report this apparent conflict of interest out of fear of repercussions. She is quite a powerful witch. I was hoping your sense of duty would have you look into this matter, and if you find anything untoward occurring, report it. Miss Granger and Professor Snape will be meeting at the Crowdag Restaurant in Hogsmeade at six this Friday evening. I hope I have been of assistance.

Severus grinned at the letter. It was chatty and badly written enough not to be linked to him, and contained all the accusations necessary to start the ball rolling. Once Rita got this missive, she would make it a point to be at Crowdag's on Friday to snap a picture of them together. She would probably write the article beforehand without a single question. This was Hermione Granger, the bane of her existence. Smearing her name in the mud would bring the reporter orgasmic pleasure.

Raucous hopped nearer to Severus, sticking out his leg. Severus looked at him.

"No, Raucous. Not this time. Someone might recognize you. I have to use the owl post to send this parchment," he said softly to the bird.

Raucous was not mollified. With an insulted squawk he flew up to the rafters and sat there for the rest of the day sulking. Severus rolled up the parchment, charmed it to open only for Rita Skeeter and deposited the missive in his pocket.

Severus left the school grounds and apparated to Hogsmeade. It was Sunday and the normal owl post was closed, but special deliveries could be made for a slightly higher fee. Severus paid the cost, and the owl delivered the message to the Daily Prophet

Rita Skeeter happened to be in her office that morning, bemoaning the fact that she hadn't had a juicy story in weeks. When the owl arrived, she half-heartedly removed the parchment and shooed it away. She unrolled the parchment, adjusted her jeweled spectacles and scanned the message. The heavy jawed blonde raised her even heavier penciled eyebrows, and gave her head a disbelieving shake. The rigid curls didn't move. Her eyes lit up.

"Bozo," she called, turning the parchment over in her large mannish hands, "Bozo!"

Her photographer snapped awake. He had been dozing in a chair set in a corner of her small office.

"Yeah, Rita?" he said, yawning.

"It seems we've gotten an anonymous tip…yes. Concerning the going-ons of one Hermione Granger. You remember her, don't you Bozo?" Rita asked in a low voice.

"Sure I do," Bozo replied, sitting up now, "She made you quit the Prophet for a while, didn't she?"

"Yes," Rita snarled, "She blackmailed me, the little chit. Almost ruined my writing career. Good thing I managed to get my job back, after registering myself with the Ministry and paying that huge fine. Set me back for months, it did."

She tapped one long red fingernail against her temple.

"Keep Friday evening open, Bozo. We have a story to investigate," she said, her eyes glittering with malice, "and a life to ruin."

At precisely six o'clock Severus apparated to Hermione's flat. He used a silencing charm to quell the accompanying thunder of his arrival. He looked around the flat and didn't see Hermione. The witch was running late and was in the shower.

"Miss Granger?" Severus called. There was no answer.

He walked down the hall.

"Miss Granger? Are you here?" he asked, turning into her bedroom. He looked around. Hermione's bedroom looked like a bomb had hit it. Clothing was flung everywhere, there were several plates and coffee cups piled on her dresser, a number of books on the floor and her bed was unmade. Severus shook his head. He would have never suspected that she would fling her things about in this haphazard manner. His eyes fell on the bed. A pair of green lacy panties lay there. They were quite pretty. And quite sheer. For a moment he thought about picking them up and inspecting them closer, but decided that wouldn't be a good idea. Suddenly the loo door open and Hermione walked out, holding a towel against her naked body. Her breasts and thighs were covered, but parts of her were sticking out. Severus froze, his mouth falling open at the sight of her.

Hermione looked at him and let out a startled shriek.

"Professor Snape! What are you doing in my bedroom?" she gasped, trying to cover herself better, and only succeeding in making more flesh show. She backed up against the wall.

Severus managed to close his mouth.

"I…I was looking for you. You didn't answer me when I called you. I thought you weren't here," Severus replied, his black eyes trying to focus on her face.

Hermione scowled at him.

"Obviously, I AM here, Professor. Could you please leave my room so I can get dressed?" she demanded.

Severus backed out of the room.

"I am so sorry, Miss Granger," he said as he exited.

He walked back down the hall and into the living room. He sat on the sofa and rubbed his hand over his brow. That had been awkward. But Hermione certainly was a curvaceous young woman, from what he saw of her.

After a moment or two, Hermione appeared, her hair brushed and shining and dressed in a simple green robe. She looked lovely, in an understated kind of way. Hermione looked at the Potions Master, her amber eyes a bit narrowed.

"You had no right to enter my bedroom," she said flatly.

Severus knew she was right, but didn't like her tone.

"It was not my intention to intrude on that disaster area you call a bedroom, but the state of it led me to wonder if something untoward happened to you. It looked like a bomb went off in there. You could have been injured, and trapped under all the rubble." he replied snarkily.

Hermione drew her brows together.

"Well, from here on out, please limit your explorations of my flat to the living room and kitchen," she said, adjusting her robes a bit self-consciously. The wizard had practically seen her naked. The idea of the Potions Master seeing her like that gave her the willies.

"After seeing the state of your bedroom, Miss Granger, I have no desire to explore the rest of your flat, believe me," Severus replied, "now, because of your tardiness, we are late for supper and I actually had to make reservations. So let us go."

He held out his arm, scowling at Hermione. He didn't want to miss Rita Skeeter. Hermione hesitated, then took his arm, deciding not to continue exchanging words with him. Severus covered her arm with his other hand and they disapparated.

Rita Skeeter and Bozo sat in a booth at Crowdag's, watching the door intently. Professor Snape and Miss Granger were supposed to have been here at six. But they could have been held up. Rita nursed a firewhiskey, and drummed her red nails on the table restlessly.

"Where is the little chit?" she muttered.

Bozo shrugged. "She's probably running late."

Rita leaned toward her photographer, a nasty look on her face.

"Even if she doesn't show up, I'm going to write this story, Bozo. I'll write I received an anonymous tip that there is a possible leak in the Ministry that may be located in the Spells department. And that my sources say an employee in that department is associating with a former deatheater, who is still under suspicion. That isn't slander, is it, Bozo? I'm not exactly naming names."

The photographer shook his head.

"No, of course it isn't slander," Rita said, sipping her firewhiskey and grimacing a little. "But the Ministry will do an internal investigation, and if Miss Granger is associating with Professor Snape, that little bit of doubt as to her loyalties will be all they need to boot her little ass right out the front door."

Rita smiled delightedly at the outrageous thought of Hermione, collapsed and bawling on her knees in front of the Ministry building, preferably in mud and the pouring rain.

Just at that moment, the restaurant door opened and in walked Hermione and Severus. Rita could have creamed herself.

"There they are, Bozo!" she hissed at the photographer, "Get your camera ready!"

Rita was crouched in a predatory position. Then she caught herself.

"No, I have to wait until they look cozy. Drink some wine, eat a meal. Then I'll hit them with an impromptu interview about why they are out together. Are they an item? Are they intimate? Or is it some other kind of arrangement? Professor Snape is quite well off, yes. And Miss Granger doesn't have a pot to brew in. Has she set her sights on the Potions Master's wealth…hmm? Are they doing the horizontal waltz? And is there a little pillow talk going on about the work she does for the Ministry? Nothing bad, just the names of the spells she's created and what they do. Little things like that. Yes," the reporter mused.

She watched as the couple took their seats, and Professor Snape plucked the menu out of Hermione's hand. Rita was making a running commentary, her quick quotes quill jotting down her thoughts.

"Ooh, she isn't allow to place her own order! How controlling is that, Bozo? Looks like this could be some kind of Master/Slave arrangement…yes. He could order her to tell him Ministry secrets, couldn't he, Bozo? Yes…that's a possibility."

After a while, the waiter returned with a carafe of wine. Rita continued to observe the couple. Severus pulled a package out of his robes pocket. It was rather flat. The reporter's eyes narrowed as she peered to see what the Potions Master was unwrapping.

Hermione watched as Professor Snape pulled a small package out of his robes.

"Miss Granger, since we will need to be in contact over the coming months, I have procured these…"

He unwrapped the package and revealed two small mirrors.

"…two-way mirrors. Owling each other is too slow. This way we can speak to each other directly."

He handed Hermione one of the mirrors.

"Carry this with you. If you need to speak to me for any reason, simply invoke it by saying my name. I will receive your message. These work like the equivalent of muggle cell phones, but they are only geared for conversations between us," he said, looking at her for reaction.

Hermione turned the small mirror over in her hand. She looked at it.

"Professor Snape," she said to the mirror. His face appeared in the mirror.

"I see how this could be convenient," Hermione said.

Suddenly there was a bright flash. Hermione almost dropped the mirror in surprise as she looked up and saw a grinning Bozo lowering his camera.

Severus rose out of his seat.

"What is the meaning of this?" he said, taking a grab at Bozo, who, used to being attacked, deftly scuttled out of reach. Rita Skeeter materialized seemingly out of nowhere.

"Well, well, Professor Snape," she said, smiling ferally. She turned towards Hermione.

"And Miss Granger. It's been a long time. Out for a bit of nosh I see, how nice," she said, her eyes sweeping over the young witch with dislike.

"Not long enough," Hermione retorted. "What do you want, Rita?"

"News, what else?" the reporter replied as Severus took his seat, scowling at her. He may have set this up, but he had a dislike for the reporter and it showed. Rita pulled out her quick quotes quill. The pen poised over the parchment notepad, ready to write.

"So, are you two an item? Doing a little wining and dining, Professor? How long have you been seeing each other? Is it serious? Are there wedding bells in the future?" she asked rapid-fire.

"Miss Skeeter, Miss Granger and I are having a simple business dinner," Severus said evenly.

"Business eh? What kind of business? Have you gone into some kind of partnership? Our readers are interested in knowing what a hero like yourself does in his spare time. You're big news, Professor," she purred.

"Our business is none of your concern," snapped Hermione.

"Oh really. It couldn't be Ministry business, could it Miss Granger?" Rita said, moving in for the attack.

Hermione sputtered. "What the hell are you talking about?" the angry witch demanded.

"Well, no offense to you, Professor…but a few people believe you maintain ties to rogue deatheaters…not that I necessarily do, but there it is. And Miss Granger is privy to sensitive information about Auror defense and detection spells. It seems a good way to pass on information," she insinuated. Hermione turned bright red.

"How dare you suggest I am passing information!" she cried. Now she was drawing the attention of other patrons.

Rita looked at the mirrors in her and Severus' hands.

"Hm. Two-way mirrors. Small enough to fit in a pocket. Instant contact. You could reach him at any time with that. Say, during your lunch hour?" Rita grinned at her nastily.

"Miss Skeeter, I assure you that Miss Granger is doing nothing untoward. The mirrors are simply to make contact concerning our business easier for us," he said. He appeared calm but inwardly he was seething. This was ugly.

"Well then, what kind of business arrangement do you have? You shouldn't have to hide it, if it's above board. Most wizards would love the free publicity," the reporter said, looking at Severus intently. The quick quill was going to town.

The Wizard's Oath came down on him.

"I'm afraid I cannot divulge that information," Severus said, looking at Hermione.

"How about you, Miss Granger? Any comment about the nature of your association with Professor Snape?" Rita leaned in toward Hermione as if she were going to kiss her. Hermione shoved her chair back.

"No," said Hermione, seething. She couldn't tell Rita about the project. It would be plastered all over the Prophet in the morning. "All I can say is it is clandestine in nature."

"Clandestine, eh? Doesn't sound good, Miss Granger. You work for a public office, in a sensitive position. Yet you are hiding things. Well, well. Our readers will want to know what you are up to," she said, standing up straight again.

"I have a right to my privacy," Hermione retorted.

"And the public has a right to know what your dealings are with a former deatheater," Rita snapped. "Particularly since you can identify the spells that can thwart the rogues that remain." Rita sneered at the witch. Hermione longed to slap the woman. Her hand trembled. Severus noticed Hermione losing it.

"Miss Skeeter, this conversation is over. Please leave our table or I will forcibly remove you from our presence," he growled. He meant it.

Rita looked at the black look on the Potions Master's face and withdrew.

"Ah, threatening me. Nice, Professor. Very well, I'll leave. I've gotten everything I need to know," she said. She walked away, then turned. "Be sure to pick up the morning edition of the Prophet tomorrow. There's going to be quite a story in there."

Rita and Bozo exited the restaurant.

"Shit," Hermione said. "She's going to rake us over the coals."

Hermione picked up her glass of wine and drained it quickly.

"Yes," Severus agreed, "This might get rather nasty. Maybe we should dissolve our arrangement for the time being," he suggested, knowing full well Hermione would not accept that as an option.

"No, the damage has been done already. Dissolving our agreement won't stop what Rita is going to write. All we can do is hope the readers see that it is trash reporting," the witch said, pouring herself another glass of wine, trying to calm down. She was worried, but didn't want it to show. She looked down at the mirror in her hand. Severus was still in it.

"How do I shut this off?" she asked him, holding up the mirror.

"Just say 'connection closed' and it will turn back to a normal mirror," he replied.

"Connection closed," she said to the mirror. Her own face appeared in it. She placed it in her pocket. The waiter brought their meals. Severus tucked into his braised chicken, wild rice and peas, while Hermione just pushed her steak and potatoes around her plate. Her appetite was gone, but she continued to drink wine. Severus looked at her with some concern.

"Miss Granger, you must put something on your stomach if you are going to continue to consume wine in that manner," he said.

Hermione took a bite of a potato and chewed it as if it were made of cardboard. She swallowed it down with some effort. She looked at Severus and said, "It's just our luck to come here when that horrid woman was present."

Severus looked at her levelly.

"Quite unfortunate," he responded.

Hermione returned his gaze.

"The Ministry isn't going to like this," she said to him.

"No, I imagine they wouldn't," Severus replied, then added, "Hermione, maybe it would be best to put the project on hold for a bit…"

"No!" she said, a bit louder than she intended. Again the patrons looked at the couple. Hermione looked around at them, then turned her amber eyes on Severus pleadingly.

"Professor, can we just go to the Manor?" she asked him in a low voice.

Severus looked at her. She seemed ready to cry.

"Certainly, Miss Granger. Just let me pay the bill," he said, motioning to the waiter.

Hermione drank one more glass of wine before the Potions Master settled the bill. She had a little buzz…nothing major. But it calmed her somewhat. Severus rose, walked around the table and pulled her chair out. Hermione rose and took his arm. Together they left the restaurant, not noticing the cold, gray eyes that followed them with open hatred.

Once outside, they apparated directly to the Manor.

Hermione and Severus appeared on the Manor grounds. Hermione looked around. All she could see was rolling landscape and hills.

"Where is the Manor?" she asked Severus, disengaging her arm from his.

"Just over that rise," Severus said, nodding in the direction of a hilly portion of the grounds. He began to walk, Hermione hurrying to catch up to him. They climbed the hill and came to the top. Hermione gasped.

Snape Manor was huge, brightly lit and set amidst a slew of large formal gardens. Hermione could make out a grotto and an ornamental lake to the west of it. On the right, close to the building was a large well-lit pool surrounded by boulders and foliage. The exterior of the mansion was made of alternating bands of rough and smooth finished black and gray stone, embedded with a great number of noticeably leaded and beveled windows framed by the massive façade. A great portico with a roof supported by great columns led to the main entrance. The Manor was over four stories high.

"My gods, Professor," Hermione whispered in awe at the beauty of his elaborate domicile. Severus drew in a deep breath of pride as he surveyed his home. Indeed, it was back. He continued toward the Manor, Hermione right beside him.

"How do you stay at Hogwarts when you have this?" she asked him, "It is so beautiful I couldn't imagine living anywhere else if it were mine."

Severus looked down at the witch when she said this, but her eyes were glued to the Manor. She had no idea that only a week before the Manor had been cold and dead, not brimming with life and light as now.

"Well, I have my duties at Hogwarts, and it would be an inconvenience to have to cross the grounds and apparate back and forth daily," he said by way of explanation. He couldn't very well tell her that the mansion had held too many evil memories for him to stay there comfortably, so he found solace in the dungeons of Hogwarts.

They walked up the portico and to the main doors. Just as they reached the entrance, the great wooden door swung open, and a crowd of house elves stood in neat rows awaiting the arrival of their Master and his guest. They all bowed in unison when Severus and Hermione entered. There was a smile on every single face.

"Good evening, Master," they said as one, bowing together.

Severus stopped and surveyed them.

"Good evening, servants," he responded. He gestured toward Hermione, who was staring at all the house elves with wide eyes "This is Miss Hermione Granger. She will be utilizing the laboratories and rooms in the lower levels."

"Hello Miss," the elves intoned, bowing low. Hermione noticed a few of the older elves' ears flattening against their heads at her name. So did Severus.

"For those of you who recognize Miss Granger's name from years back, have no fear. She will not attempt to give you clothes or make you take wages, will you Miss Granger?" he asked her, his eyes glittering with mirth.

Hermione looked at the elves. Did they really fear her because of her early attempts to get them rights? A few of them looked at her apprehensively.

"No," she said in a soft voice, "You are all fine. I realize you love to serve. I will not interfere with that choice."

The relief that spread through the elves was almost palpable. They smiled up at her.

Hermione couldn't ever remember seeing a happier looking bunch of elves in her life. They seemed more content than those who served at Hogwarts. Could they really be this happy under the thumb of dark, dour, snarky Professor Snape?

Severus clapped his hands to get the elves attention.

"All right. Enough standing about. Go back to your work," he said, not unkindly.

"Yes, Master," the elves replied and one by one winked out.

"That was impressive." Hermione said, looking at him a bit strangely as they walked down the corridor.

"What was?" he asked her, meeting her eyes.

"How your elves responded to you. They weren't cowed or frightened," she said.

Severus stopped.

"Why would they be?" he asked her, frowning slightly.

"You are such a hard man, that's why," she replied, "I've never seen you show anyone a smidgeon of kindness in all the years I've known you."

Severus looked at Hermione with a cold light in his eyes.

"Miss Granger, for many years I suffered at the hand of the Dark Lord for the good of the wizarding world, risking life and limb to provide information to keep him from overthrowing it. Not only was I forced to endure pain, but to give pain for the greater good, losing my soul in the process. As you saw tonight with Miss Skeeter, my sacrifices meant little to those who now live in a Voldemort-free society. But what I endured, I endured to help save a world that I knew would be ungrateful in the end. What greater kindness could I show, Miss Granger? Even you do not recognize what I have given for the good of others, without a thought of reward. I am still reviled, still hated, still seen as a cold and heartless man. A deatheater."

He leaned closer to Hermione, his black eyes burning into hers.

"Tell me, Miss Granger…how do you think your disposition would be, if you were me?" he asked her. "Would you be all sunshine and laughter? If you dipped your hands in blood up to the elbows to save people who would spit on you as easily as they could hiss your name? Would you smile and dance through your days? I think not, Miss Granger. I think you would find what comfort you could in your own counsel, peace in living your own cloistered life away from those who hate you for the sacrifices you made. Just as I have. Kindness, Miss Granger? I have blackened my very soul for the wizarding world. Can you tell me of a greater kindness than damning yourself for the sake of others?"

He looked at her, waiting. There was nothing she could say.

"I knew even with your great brain, you couldn't give me an answer," he said softly.

Severus began to walk up the corridor again, his robes billowing. Hermione stared after him, speechless for a moment. Then followed, catching up.

"I'm sorry, Professor," she said quietly.

"Yes, I imagine you are, Miss Granger," he replied coldly.

Severus stopped in front of a suit of armor, and lifted the right arm. To the right of him a section of wall moved back, then slid to the right, creating a doorway that led to a torch lit stairwell.

"Please follow me, Miss Granger," he said, descending the stairs. Hermione followed.

They walked down for quite a long time.

"I am going to have a lift installed within the next few days," Severus said as they finally reached the lower levels. They faced a stone wall. Severus pressed the stones in an intricate pattern, and the wall faded away, revealing a short hallway with doors on either side.

"I shall be simplifying that entrance as well," he said as he walked through, Hermione on his heels. She had an idea why the way into the labs was so elaborate. Because of who they were originally used for. Lord Voldemort.

The labs, Miss Granger," he said pushing open a door on his right, and gesturing for her to enter.

Hermione walked into a huge, white, empty room. There was a doorway leading to another room, just as white, just as empty.

"There's nothing here," she said, looking about.

The Professor shook his head in negation and said, "Oh, there is something here, Miss Granger…Hope."

Severus looked around the large empty room.

"These rooms are not empty, Miss Granger. They are full of potential. I had everything removed so we could have a clean start. I brought you here so you could get a look at the rooms and then make your list of equipment with which to fill it. This will not be a dream or wish list, Miss Granger. Every item of equipment that can further your research you will purchase and place in this room, from counters on.

Hermione's eyes began to glaze over. Severus gave the witch a smirk.

"Now you see it, don't you?" he purred.

"Yes," Hermione said, her eyes shining. She was to fill this space with lab equipment. Any type that she needed. She began to walk around the room, the Professor watching her as she mentally calculated the area with which she would have to work. She strolled into the other open space, slightly smaller than the first and walked the perimeter, dragging her hand across the wall as she made her rounds. Severus watched her, his black eyes glinting. She was being seduced by what he was offering her. This was good. She walked back to him.

"I don't know what to say, Professor," Hermione said, looking up at him.

"Then it is best you say nothing," he responded, "Now come, I want to show you the rest."

They returned to the hall and opened another door on the left. It also was a huge room, but it was rather humid and a huge pile of rich, black earth was in the corner. The room was illuminated softly, but Hermione could not see the source of the light.

"I would like to turn this room into a kind of terrarium, of great size. Here you can breed, nurture and harvest your plants. The light and temperature can be adjusted to create the ideal conditions for growth, and it can be divided if necessary, to form different types of environments which can coexist side by side. If you need a swamp-like environment you can place it where you like, and an arid environment next to it, separated by magic if that is what you need. Sort of an inside greenhouse or garden. You will have house elves to help you tend to this area. If you like, I can employ Mr. Longbottom as a consultant in the setup of this part of your lab," Severus said.

Hermione stared at the room. It was a fantastic idea. She could grow her own pitcher plants and test them at different cycles, find out if they had the resistance to the killing curse their entire life cycle or did the ability develop over time. If it developed over time, then she could isolate the enzyme that caused the resistance at the proper stage of growth and…

Severus watched as Hermione slipped into her contemplative mode. Her amber eyes glazed over as her internal dialogue emerged. When she was like this, the outside world ceased to be. It was like the world of thought absorbed her, and only a living, breathing shell remained. Severus remembered this aspect of her in Potions class. It would often happen during a lecture she found particularly interesting. Hermione would latch on to a thought and run with the possibilities it contained, tuning out everything else until he'd swoop up silently and slap her desk loudly, startling her back to the matter at hand.

He smirked at the memory of her looking at him, wide-eyed and out of sorts, then scowling as if he had interrupted some important work. He probably had, but it had been his class, and he demanded her undivided attention when he spoke. Now he was witnessing it again. The inquisitive girl inside the young woman making herself apparent once more. He let her continued this way for a few minutes before clearing his throat. Hermione turned her eyes slowly on him, her eyebrows raised as if surprised to see him.

"Are you back, Miss Granger?" he asked her with a smirk.

"Back?" she responded, looking a bit confused.

"Yes, back, Miss Granger. Ever since you were a student you would zone out into your own little world when an idea hit you. I see that aspect of you hasn't changed much over the years," he said. There was no disapproval in his voice however.

Hermione blushed a bit. Yes, she did have a tendency to become very focused on her thought processes…to the exclusion of all else. She would do it at work sometimes, accidentally walking into others like an absent minded professor, or spilling her coffee as she apparently stared into space. Her coworkers thought her a bit daft at times, and it was a source of conversation among them. They thought she might be a bit shell-shocked from when she participated in the final battle. She was one of the few employees of the Ministry who had actually participated in the battle that finished Voldemort. Harry, Ron and Lucius being a few of the others. The Ministry did not send Aurors until the battle was almost over, not believing Dumbledore's assertion on when the battle would occur, and dismissing the information provided by Severus as untrustworthy. The Professor's Order of Merlin First Class Medal had been given grudgingly.

Hermione blinked up at Severus. "Yes, I guess I do have a tendency to zone out once I latch on to an idea or train of thought," she admitted.

"You are welcome to zone out as much as you like, Miss Granger," the Potions Master replied, walking through the door and back into the hall. Hermione followed him. There was one more area to show her, and here Severus' belly tightened. He walked down to the final door on the left and opened it, gesturing for Hermione to enter. There was a small foyer, with a stand on which to hang cloaks and other door. Hermione hesitated.

"Go on, open it," Severus breathed, standing close behind her.

Hermione placed her hand on the door and opened it. She gasped as she walked into a brightly lit study. Books lined the walls from floor to ceiling. There was a large desk and swivel chair in one corner, a fireplace with two comfortable armchairs, and a well stocked liquor cabinet in the other corner.

"Is this the library?" Hermione asked, trailing her fingers across the book spines and gasping a little at some of the titles on the shelves.

"Actually, no. This is your study," Severus replied, staring at her to see her reaction.

She turned to him wide-eyed. "My study?" she repeated.

Severus nodded and pointed to several doors off the study.

"And over there is your kitchen, your spare room and …" Here he faltered a bit. "Your bedroom," he concluded.

Hermione disappeared through the kitchen door. Severus remained in the study. She came out of the kitchen, smiling a little.

"There's a lot of spaghetti in the cabinets," she said, "and canned sauce."

Severus rolled his eyes. The house elves obviously knew her preferences.

"That was not my doing, believe me. Thank the elves for that," he said. "But I will be having a word with them. I distinctly told them to stock healthy food. Obviously, they went for what you ate the most," he said, frowning a bit.

"Even if they had put healthy food there, I would have eaten the spaghetti. They are very perceptive," Hermione replied as she walked into the spare room.

"This is very spacious. I have no idea what I will use it for," she said, looking the room over.

"I'm sure you will find something," the Potions Master replied, a little tense as she approached the bedroom.

Hermione peeked into the bedroom.

"Oh my," she said.

The bedroom walls were made of stone, but richly appointed with lacquered wood trim moldings. The four-poster bed was king-sized, obviously hand carved and painted with gold leaf accents on crackle paint. Cupids were carved in the posts.

Hermione looked at Severus.

"Cupids?" she asked.

"My house elf Eli decorated this room, Miss Granger. Do you really think I would have cupids carved on your bed?" he asked her, raising one eyebrow in distaste. He looked at the opulent bed. "Actually, it is highly inappropriate…"

"It's fine," she chuckled. "I guess Eli figured I needed all the help I could get. The cupids are fine."

Severus scowled a bit as he looked at the bed and considered her words. He hoped she didn't plan to entertain any wizards in her rooms while she was here. Of course, it would be her right, but still…the thought disturbed him. But she was a young witch. He imagined she had her needs, just as he did.

Hermione surveyed the rest of the room. A small end table with a drawer sat next to the bed. Against the far wall was an elegant hand hewn French chest made of walnut, with bronze pulls. A mahogany bench with a sateen cover sat against another wall. A wardrobe stood next to it. Hermione opened the wardrobe. It was stocked with robes of varying colors, all in her size and there were several white lab coats as well. She pulled open the drawer and found several pairs of denim jeans, an assortment of tee shirts and pullover shirts. In the lower drawer was lingerie, bras and panties, all in her size. Hermione held up a lacy little sheer number in red that had a matching bra attached to it. Severus' eyes went wide.

"That Eli has some taste," she commented, smiling broadly, "I would have bought this for myself at a shop if I had seen it."

The lingerie was quite pretty. What a color, red. Severus tried not to imagine Hermione wearing the bra and panty set as he looked at her. Why didn't she put the items back in the drawer? He cleared his throat.

"Miss Granger, as pretty as your ah…delicates are, I think it would be better if you would peruse them at another time," he suggested as she pulled some black lace panties out of the drawer. These had garters attached.

"Oh my gods," she breathed, then burst out laughing, "what in the world does your house elf think I'll be doing down here? Putting on a burlesque show?"

She opened another drawer. In this one there were nightgowns. A few sensible flannel ones, but also some short silk varieties, and even a negligee. This she held up too, inspecting it, much to Severus' discomfort. The negligee was sheer and green and silver. It had matching crotchless panties. Slytherin colors. Hermione frowned at it a bit and turned to the Potions Master.

Before she could speak, Severus cut her off.

"Miss Granger, I told Eli to furnish this room with everything a young, twenty-four year old woman could need and left it at that. I guess he took me at my word," he said, clearly embarrassed at the intimate, erotic items the elf provided her.

Hermione wanted to laugh, badly at the Potions Master's discomfiture.

"It's fine, Professor Snape. It seems Eli has high hopes for me," she said, folding up the garment and replacing it in the drawer, closing it. Next she opened the closet. There were three cloaks there. An everyday cloak, a waterproof cloak, and a very elegant dress cloak. There were also several dresses in varying colors. In the bottom of the closet, were several pairs of shoes, ranging from low-heeled to high heeled. They were matched to the dresses. There were also three pairs of trainers and two sets of rubber boots, one pair thigh high. Obviously the elf had provided these for her work in the terrarium.

There was also a dressing table with a chair and a mirror. She walked up to it.

"Hello dear," the mirror said, "You have the most beautiful eyes."

A talking mirror. Hermione wasn't sure how she felt about that. Talking mirrors could be quite critical. Well, she could spell it to silence if it annoyed her. She wandered into the loo. It was decadence itself. A beautiful sunken marble tub that could easily hold four people was the main fixture. Several scented spigots surrounded it. She noticed the jasmine scented one right away. On the shelves was a large assortment of washes, shampoos, lotions and oils. There even was a loofah. She picked up one of the bottles of oil and read the label. Hm. Supposedly it heated up when applied to the skin. This Eli was a hoot. An assortment of candles were set in strategic locations, ready for lighting. There were two marble washbasins topped by a long lighted mirror, and a closet full of soft fluffy towels and washcloths. A shower large enough for four people with a sliding glass door was cut into the wall, tiled with marble. And of course there was the loo itself. Hermione looked up at the ceiling. Her jaw dropped. There was a replica of Michelangelo's painting from the Cistene Chapel. She drew the line there.

"Professor Snape, that has to go," she said firmly, pointing upward.

Severus stepped in the door of the loo, looked up and smirked. He pulled out his wand and removed the painting, leaving a white ceiling behind.

"Thank you," Hermione breathed.

"You're welcome," he replied, backing out of the loo. Hermione followed him into the bedroom and back into the study. She looked around once more. Severus watched her, waiting for her overall reaction.

She looked at him thoughtfully.

"You certainly went all out, Professor," she said.

"I want you to be comfortable while you are here, Miss Granger. If you are at ease, you will be able to focus on the work. It is all about the work. You will have the best so you can do your best." He hesitated. "So do you like your rooms?" he asked her, the tenseness returning to his belly. This was so important.

Hermione looked at him again with those shrewd amber eyes, as if trying to read him.

"The rooms are beautiful, Professor. A little overstocked for the time I shall be here, but they are more than adequate. Who wouldn't like them?" she replied, looking at the study again.

Severus sighed in relief. Good. She approved of her rooms. He walked over to the desk, opened the draw and retrieved a parchment and quill, setting it down on the desk and pulling out the chair.

"I think this would be the perfect time for you to begin on your equipment and supply list, Miss Granger. Tomorrow morning we will go into Hogsmeade and make our purchases, and have them ready for delivery. As soon as the lift is completed, the labs will be set up and stocked according to your specifications," he said.

Hermione walked over to the desk and sat down. Severus went over to the liquor cabinet and removed a bottle of wine and a glass. He sat these on the desk beside her.

"I will have some food sent down. What would you like?" he asked her.

Hermione pulled the parchment towards her, her eyes glowing.

"Oh, a couple of sandwiches," she said absently as she started writing.

"Any particular type?" he asked her.

"Ham with lettuce and tomato. Mustard," she said shortly. She was in mode again.

"I will leave you to it then, Miss Granger. Use the mirror to contact me when you are finished," he said.

"Um hmm," Hermione responded absently as she wrote.

Severus smirked. She was settling in nicely.

"I will be back," he said. Hermione didn't respond.

Severus walked up the hall and back to the wall that led to the staircase. He performed the spell that would let him out and climbed the staircase back to the Manor's upper levels. As he walked, he thought about the provisions Eli had made for Miss Granger. Obviously, the elf felt the young woman would have a need for pretty underthings, nighties and so forth. Was she going to be sexually active while staying at the Manor? She said she had no current love interest. Did this mean she would be bringing casual lovers to the Manor?

He was disturbed. House elves were noted for their ability to anticipate what was needed before their Masters realized what was needed. That Eli felt such…erotic items should be a part of Miss Granger's wardrobe was a cause of concern. He had never thought of the young woman's sexuality, only her intellectual attributes. Now that his mind was forced to face the reality that Miss Granger was more than a brain, he realized that she was … well ….quite lovely. Even desirable. His mind went back to the incident in her bedroom when she had exited the loo covered by nothing but a towel. She certainly was well proportioned. He had got a glimpse of hip…softly rounded, flaring from her small waist in a perfect curve…

He wondered how long it had been since Miss Granger actually had a sexual encounter. He knew how focused she became, tirelessly applying herself to her projects to the almost total exclusion of all else. Her love life must have suffered because of this. He pursed his lips as he remembered her saying she would probably end up an old maid. With her drive for knowledge, that was a distinct possibility. That she would spend all her time pursuing new discoveries. Yet she had shown an obvious delight in the items Eli had selected for her, so that showed she had some interest in the more carnal aspects of life. He found himself wondering if she applied herself to sex with the same intensity she applied herself to research. If she did, she would be truly amazing…

Severus caught himself. He shouldn't be having such intimate thoughts about the woman who was going to help him find peace, help him make progress in his search for redemption. Plus, Miss Granger was much younger than him. There was an eighteen-year age difference between them. Hm. He remembered Albus telling the staff one evening that there was a twenty-one year age difference between Miss Granger's mother and father, who were still happily married.

Severus was forty-two. He was still rather young by wizarding standards. Wizards could live to the age of two hundred, if they took care of themselves. In ratio to muggle years, he would be considered to be in his early to mid-twenties. It was his association with the Dark Lord that added years to his appearance and demeanor. He thought a little more about the witch in the lower levels of his Manor. When she had attended Hogwarts, she was more concerned with her studies, than the hormonal young wizards that surrounded her. But then again, she had been considered an odd duck, and hadn't yet grown into her own. Now she was lovely. Then, she had been…well in muggle terms, a nerd. By her seventh year however, she began to attract the notice of the young wizards, but they had treated her so dismissively in the earlier years, that she was not the least bit interested in their advances.

Miss Granger always had a formidable mind, and would require a mate of equal or greater intellect to be truly happy. Sex was a great incentive to make a connection, but a meeting of minds was necessary to maintain that connection beyond the confines of the bedroom. Severus really couldn't imagine a young wizard of Hermione's age able to feed her need for knowledge and growth. Perhaps that's why she remained unattached. For his purposes, however, unattached was good. She could devote her time to finding the solution to the killing curse. But still, Eli's treatment of her wardrobe was disturbing. It implied that Miss Granger would be actively engaging her libido while at the Manor. And this could detract from her work. He would have to find a way to discreetly observe her while she was there, and if necessary, find a way to keep her libido in check. Then he smiled evilly. He already had the means to observe her. He reached in his pocket and pulled out his mirror.

"Observe Hermione Granger," he said to it. The mirror showed Hermione sitting at the desk, writing. A glass of wine sat beside her. The witch paused, took a sip from the glass, and then continued. Severus smirked. When he had the mirrors made, he had a spell placed on his that would locate Hermione anywhere, and let him see was she was doing. It was a bit underhanded, but he had to protect his interests.

He pushed on the wall in front of him. It moved back and slid to the side. He entered the corridor of the Manor.

"Eli!" he bellowed. Quick as a flash the elf was in front of him, bowing deeply.

"Yes, Master?" the elf asked.

"Have a plate of ham sandwiches with lettuce, tomato and mustard brought down to Miss Granger. She is in her study."

"Yes sir," Eli said, bowing again. Then the elf looked up at him inquisitively.

"Yes Eli?" Snape asked him, knowing the elf would not speak without permission.

"I was wondering sir, if Miss approved of her rooms?" the elf asked meekly.

Severus arched his eyebrow at the elf.

"Miss Granger approved of many things you provided, Eli," he responded. The elf did a little dance of joy.

Severus considered the creature, then said, "You provided her with quite a few…personal items. Very personal."

The elf gave him a rather self-satisfied look.

"I gives her what she be needing, sir. That is what house elves do," he replied.

"I see," Severus said, "and how do you know what she needs, Eli?"

"It is part of our magic, sir. It helps in our service," the little elf replied, bowing a little.

"Do you know exactly when she will be needing those things you provided?" Severus asked, trying to pump the elf for information.

"Not exactly sir. I only knows she needs them, sir," Eli said, his ears flattening slightly at being unable to answer his Master's question satisfactorily.

"All right, Eli. You may go," Severus said turning to go. Then he remembered something. He turned back to the elf, who had been on the verge of disappearing. He looked up at the Potions Master as he spoke to him.

"Eli," Severus began, frowning a bit, "I know Miss Granger has a liking for spaghetti and canned sauce, but I want some good food placed down there for her. Meat, fish, vegetables, breads and the like. Do I make myself clear? And take away most of that spaghetti, so she'll eat something else."

Eli bobbed nervously before his Master's displeasure.

"Eli will see to it personally, sir," the elf replied.

"Very well, you may go," Severus said, walking up the hall and turning into his study.

The Potions Master walked over to his liquor cabinet and poured himself a firewhiskey. Carrying the glass he sat down in the armchair in front of the fire. He took a sip of his drink and swallowed, enjoying the burn of the liquid going down. He had started the ball rolling tonight. Rita Skeeter was sure to blast them across the pages of the Daily Prophet's early edition. He felt no particular anger about this. He was used to the periodic accusations made against him. Every few months his name came up whenever there was some spectacular rogue deatheater action, as if to remind the wizarding world that there was one deatheater who got away. Then that article would be softened by some slight remembrance of his sacrifices, his Order of Merlin, and being considered a hero.

He was also the subject of constant debate. Did his role as a spy absolve him of the cruelties he inflicted on others while in the service of the Dark Lord? Publicly, he was absolved, forgiven. But he knew in his deepest soul that he was not. The acts he committed were atrocious and not able to be washed away by the public presentation of a medal, and the weak absolution the Ministry reluctantly provided. Even the death of the Dark Lord did not free him. As far as he was concerned, he was a cursed man, cursed to have survived the death of Voldemort, and forced to live with himself. Then, he bumped into Hermione, and an opportunity to abolish the most deadly spell ever created in the history of the wizarding world. This would give his continued survival meaning and purpose. He would not just be a man who tortured, murdered and got away with it. He would be someone who helped put an end to a nightmare that had existed for centuries. And this was the reason he put Hermione on the chopping block. This was the reason he had to take away her world and insert her in his own. Redemption. She would be serving the greater good.

He took another sip of firewhiskey, swallowing reflexively. He hoped the witch was strong enough to face what was coming Monday morning. He had a feeling she was. The Ministry would probably convene a meeting of department heads and board, call her in, ask her a few questions, then fire her despite her answers. He didn't think she would take it lying down. She would most likely have a few choice words for them. She still was a spitfire. He wasn't looking for sympathy or pity from the young witch when he told her of how meaningless his kindness had proven to be, but he felt he might have reached her. At least, he hoped he did. She did not yet have time to consider his words, but he was sure she would when she had a quiet moment. She would probably figure out also that his part in this arrangement was an act of repentance for the lives he had taken with the blessings of Dumbledore and the Order. No doubt she would bring his service and sacrifice up to the Ministry officials when she was accused of consorting with a deatheater. But they would still let her go.

But the repercussions wouldn't stop there. Hermione would most likely be blacklisted and unable to find work in her field. Until she cracked the Killing curse, at least. Then she would be considered a hero, and they would suck her back into the machine as fast as possible. But maybe, she wouldn't go back. Maybe she would retain her sense of outrage at the unfairness of it all and reject them. Maybe she would continue her private pursuits, and allow him to help her.

Severus finished his drink and set the glass down on the small table beside the armchair. His black eyes caught the flame of the fireplace as he stared morosely into the glow.

Three hours later, Severus was awakened by the sound of Hermione's voice.

"Professor. Professor Snape?"

He reached into his pocket and pulled out the mirror.

"Yes, Miss Granger?" he said, stifling a yawn. He had fallen asleep in front of the fire.

"I've completed the initial list," she said, yawning herself. Severus adjusted his mirror's view so he could see her surroundings. Ah, the bottle of wine was two-thirds empty, and both sandwiches were gone. No wonder she was yawning.

"Very good, Miss Granger. Why don't you retire and we will go over the list in the morning before we depart for Hogsmeade?" he asked her as he stretched a bit.

"Retire? Well, I was going to apparate back to the flat," she said haltingly.

"Miss Granger, according to our agreement, you agreed to devote your Friday nights to the project as well as the weekend," he said rather sharply.

Hermione's eyes flashed.

"The project hasn't started yet, Professor," she retorted.

"It started the moment you walked through the Manor doors, Miss Granger," Severus replied scowling at the frowning image in his mirror.

"You didn't tell me that," she said.

"Miss Granger, you are an intelligent woman. I assumed you realized that I would not invite you to the Manor unless I was ready to begin our association," Severus responded, deciding to soften his attempts to make her stay. She looked like she wanted to hex him at the moment.

"Besides…it is late and I couldn't allow you to return to your flat unescorted. I merely thought since you do have the rooms there and are furnished with fresh clothes, it would be simpler for you to sleep here and accompany me directly to Hogsmeade in the morning. But if you feel I did not adequately inform you of the start of our association, and want to go back to your flat, I will take you."

Hermione scowled down at the Professor…then yawned again. She really was tired. The room was right here after all.

"Fine, I'll stay…tonight," she said.

Severus smiled inwardly.

"Very good, Miss Granger. Is there anything you need before you retire?" he asked smoothly.

Hermione stretched.

"No, I'm fine. I'll see you in the morning," she said.

"Breakfast will be at nine," Severus responded, "Good night, Miss Granger."

"Good night, Professor," Hermione said. "Connection closed." The Potions Master's image faded out.

Hermione stood up, picked up the remainder of the wine and returned it to the liquor cabinet. She left the glass and plate on the desk. The house elves would get them, no doubt delighted they could be of service. She stretched again and ambled toward the bedroom.

From his study, Severus continued to watch Hermione through the mirror. As she approached the bedroom, he knew he should turn it off and give her privacy. But for some reason, he didn't do it. He watched her unbutton her robes and remove them. She hung them in the wardrobe. Good, at least she didn't fling them on the floor, he thought, remembering the catastrophic shape of her own bedroom at the flat. She pulled her shirt over her head, revealing large, firm breasts encased in a rather lacy bra.

Severus shifted uncomfortably in the armchair, as she reached around to unsnap her bra. Suddenly, the Potions Master turned off the mirror and sighed. What was he doing? He looked down at his tented robes.

"This is not a good turn of events," he said to himself as he rose and pocketed the mirror, making a beeline for his bedroom and a cold shower.

"She is a brilliant witch. Not a brothel whore," he muttered to himself as he strode up the corridor and mounted the stairs. "Here to do a job. Find an answer. Her purpose is to help redeem me, not add yet another mark on my soul for the seduction and defilement of a former student."

Severus walked into his bedroom and headed directly for the loo. He reached into the shower and turned on the cold-water spigot. Pulling out his wand, he divestoed his clothing, and taking a deep breath, plunged himself into the freezing water. Black hair plastered down to his head, teeth chattering, he looked down at his now flaccid member, and breathed a little sigh of relief. He then turned on the hot water and stood under the stream. He'd have to visit the brothel soon.

Hermione awoke early the next morning. She had slept well in the four-poster. The mattress had the perfect amount of firmness to it, and she felt invigorated. She rolled out of bed and made use of the loo, then took a nice, hot shower. She wrapped a towel around herself and walked over to the wardrobe. She opened the lingerie drawer and looked over the selection. She found a nice white lace bra and panty set. She put it on and admired the fit in the mirror, which said,

"Don't you look delicious!"

Hermione grinned. Maybe she'd let the mirror keep its voice after all. Too bad she didn't have anyone to show her underthings off to. Ah well. She pulled on a pair of the jeans. They fit her snugly, but not too snugly, hugging her curves just right. She chose a blue pullover shirt, plucked some socks out of the drawer and donned them. She then went to the closet and put on a pair of trainers. They were the perfect fit. She was going muggle today. The Professor would just have to deal with it. She brushed her hair out quickly then flung it back. She decided she'd like to wear it in a ponytail. She looked in the top drawer of the dressing table and sure enough there were an assortment of ties there. She selected a rather wide blue tie and wrapped it around her hair. She looked in the mirror. Yes, she was ready for this excursion. She grabbed her list off the bedside table, folded it and stuck it in her pocket. She also retrieved her mirror from the robes she wore last night and put that in her front pocket.

Satisfied she had all she needed, Hermione exited her rooms, walked down the hall and came to the wall leading to the stairs. She stopped, realizing she didn't know how to get out. Pulling the mirror out of her pocket, she said, "Professor Snape."

Nothing happened. She tried again. Still there was no response. That could mean only one thing, he didn't have his mirror with him. She sighed and put the little device back in her pocket and stared at the wall a moment. Finally she called out, "Help! I need some help here!"

In a moment, Eli popped in right beside her.

"How can I help you, Miss?" he asked, bowing.

"Oh. Hello," Hermione said. Eli bowed again, waiting for instructions.

"I need to get upstairs to the Manor," she said.

"Yes, Miss. Please take Eli's hand, Miss," the elf said.

Hermione looked at the elf.

"So you're Eli, eh?" she said as she took the elf's hand.

"Yes, Miss. You might want to close your eyes," the elf said holding Hermione's hand firmly.

"Why?" asked Hermione as she suddenly was hurled through space then stopped abruptly. She felt as if she left her stomach in the lower levels. She looked around. She was in the main corridor. The trip had been almost instantaneous. Eli let go of her hand.

"Is there anything else, Miss?" Eli asked her.

"Yes, where is your Master?" she asked the elf.

Eli gave a slightly wicked smile as he pointed to a window.

"You can see my Master if you looks out there, Miss," Eli said, winking out.

Hermione walked over to the huge beveled window. It overlooked the pool area. Hermione gazed out of it and didn't see anyone. Then she saw the Professor in a robe, climbing up the largest boulder. What was he doing?

Hermione watched as he reached the pinnacle of the stone, and removed his robes. Oh my gods! He was naked. Hermione flushed, but…she didn't leave the window. She could only see the back of him, but the Professor was surprisingly…fit. His back had a number of scars, but he was wide shouldered and sported a lean, well-muscled, if pale body. She could even make out the definition of the muscles in his ass and legs. Whoa.

Suddenly he swung his arms in an arc, dove off the boulder and disappeared. Hermione remained in the window. Then he reappeared, climbing up the boulder again, his muscles flexing as he gripped the slight handholds. He stood on top of it again, hands on his hips, looking up at the sky, water dripping off him. Then he dove off it again.

Hermione watched as the Professor did several more dives, her eyes locked to him. Who could have imagined he had a body like that hidden under his robes? She watched him climb back up the boulder. He was certainly in good shape. He stood on top of the boulder, but this time he turned around. Hermione gasped and ducked to the side, peeping at him as he leaned and picked up a towel and began drying himself off. She could see all of his attributes. The man was hung like a horse. Hermione pulled back from the window. Good gods. She peeped back out, but he was gone. Gone? Shit, he was coming back to the Manor! He couldn't catch Hermione by the window or he'd know she'd been watching him swim naked.

Hermione fled down the hall, having no idea where she was going, just trying to put some distance between herself and that window. She turned into a side room whose door was open. It was a small library. Panting, she sat down in an armchair and tried to catch her breath.

Severus pushed open the main door, still toweling his hair. He was barefoot. He walked down the hall, mounted the staircase and returned to his room. His morning swim had been invigorating, and he felt ready to face the day. He wondered if Miss Granger were up yet. He picked up the mirror from the bedside table.

"Miss Hermione Granger," he said.

Hermione started as she heard him speak her name. She looked around wildly for a moment.

"Miss Granger? Are you awake?" she heard the Professor say, and pulled out her mirror.

"Yes, Professor, I'm awake," she said, trying to sound calm. The Professor looked at her rather oddly.

"You look a bit flushed, Miss Granger. Are you all right?" he asked, concern on his face.

"Yes sir, I'm fine," she replied.

Severus paused. Sir? She hadn't called him sir since she was at Hogwarts. Suspicious he adjusted the mirror so he could see her fully. She was dressed in muggle clothes, and apparently sitting in the small library off the main hall. What was she doing there? And how did she get out of her rooms?

"Miss Granger, where are you?" he asked her sharply.

Somehow Hermione knew not to lie entirely.

"I'm in a little library," she said, "Eli brought me from the lower levels and I decided to explore a bit when I couldn't reach you by the mirror." There that should cover her.

"I see," Severus said, still feeling suspicious. She looked flushed, as if she had been exerting herself in some manner. He now wished he had the rewind spell placed on the mirror as well. He would have been able to see everything she had done up to an hour in the past.

"Well, wait there for me, then we can go have breakfast on the veranda overlooking the gardens," he said.

"I'll be here," Hermione replied, relieved he hadn't asked her any more questions.

Severus nodded and disappeared out of the mirror. Apparently he closed the connection at his end. Hermione sighed and put the mirror back in her pocket.

Hermione massaged her temples briefly, then leaned back in the armchair to digest what she had seen. She had never thought about the Professor as a man before. She certainly had never dreamed he would be as well built as he was, or as well endowed. Now that she had seen him naked, water streaming off his lean, wet body, would she be able to get the image out of her head? She had to. A thought came to her. He was built very much like her fantasy lover.

Hermione shuddered. Oh gods…how could she even make that comparison? Professor Snape was a cruel, snarky obstinate bastard. Her dream lover was gentle, sensual, passionate and loving. The complete opposite of the Potions Master. But then again, when he shook her hand the night they signed the agreement, she distinctly remembered having the feeling that he could be gentle…

Gah! This was terrible. It was early but she felt like she needed a drink. She stood up and looked around the library. Sure enough, there was a liquor cabinet with glasses. She bet every room in the mansion was stocked with a private bar. She walked over to it, picked out a small shot glass, opened the glass doors and perused the bottles. There was some firewhiskey. Good.

Hermione poured herself a small shot of the deep amber liquid, put the bottle back, and closed the doors. Lifting the glass, she put it to her lips and gulped the firewhiskey down. She started coughing immediately as the burn hit her. Her eyes watered as she gasped for air.

"A bit early for that, isn't it Miss Granger?" a silky voice behind her commented.

She turned and saw the Professor leaning against the library door, his head cocked and arms folded, looking at her steadily with those black eyes.

"Um, I was feeling a bit apprehensive about our trip today. I thought a drink might calm my nerves," she said, looking at him with reddened eyes, her voice sounding rather scratchy.

"By the sound and look of you, Miss Granger, it seems a drink might have brought about your demise," the Professor replied, lifting an eyebrow.

He didn't buy the 'nervousness' claim a bit. And Miss Granger didn't appear to be a lush. There must have been something else that disturbed her. But what? He studied her. She was in jeans again. Obviously she intended to wear them to Hogsmeade. Ah, well…he wouldn't say anything since they were only going to purchase equipment and supplies. He straightened.

"Come along, Miss Granger. Maybe some coffee will help take the edge off your 'nervousness'," he commented shortly, disappearing out of the doorway.

Hermione sighed and followed him. They walked down the corridor a distance, then the Professor stopped and opened a door that led to a veranda that was covered in roses. A small circular table with two chairs sat there. A small spread of cold meats, fruits, cheese and breads were laid out. There was a pot of coffee, a quart of milk and a pitcher of pumpkin juice as well. A folded newspaper was also in evidence.

"Roses, Professor?" Hermione asked him, her eyebrows raised in surprise as the fragrance washed over her.

"My mother loved roses," he replied, "This was her favorite veranda to breakfast on. I dislike the flowers but thought you might appreciate them.'

He walked over to the table and pulled out a chair for her. Hermione walked over and sat in it. She saw the folded newspaper, and froze.

"Is that this morning's Prophet?" she asked, a quaver in her voice.

The Professor sat down, picked up the newspaper and unfolded it. His black eyes scanned it quickly, then looked over the table at her soberly.

"Yes, it is," he said.

"Are we in it?" she asked him.

"I'm afraid so," he responded, handing her the paper and settling back, his hand stroking his chin as he watched for her reaction.

Hermione's amber eyes raced left to right as she read.

"Oh gods," she breathed, "Professor, this is horrible."


Possible Leak to Deatheaters by Ministry Employee…Page 2

Snape hands Granger two-way mirror.

Photo by Bozo Baggins

Daily Column by Rita Skeeter

Possible Leak to Deatheaters by Ministry Employee

Dear Readers,

We have all been made painfully aware of the spectacular and successful attacks by rogue deatheaters over the past few months, despite the best efforts of Ministry Aurors to thwart them. They manage to escape time and time again, almost as if they know what to expect.

Several days ago I received an anonymous tip from a concerned citizen concerning a Ministry employee currently working in the Spells Development Department, who is in close association with a former deatheater. The source was concerned that rogue deatheaters may be receiving sensitive information on the latest defensive and detection spells created for use by the Aurors due to this association.

Upon investigation I found a muggle-born employee, Hermione Granger does indeed have a clandestine association with Hogwarts Potions Master, Professor Severus Snape, an admitted servant of the Dark Lord.

The two were sharing an intimate dinner at Crowdag's restaurant, imbibing large amounts of wine when I approached them for an interview. Both denied being intimately involved and claimed to be business partners only. When questioned about the nature of their business, both refused to reveal any details, citing a right to privacy.

I witnessed for myself the strange nature of this so-called business relationship, when the Professor would not allow Miss Granger to order her own meal, plucking the menu out of her hand as she perused it. I have never seen mere business partners conduct themselves in such a manner. Miss Granger submitted to this public indignity without protest, which only led me to wonder what other areas of her life this former deatheater controls and to what extent?

Professor Snape was caught on camera providing Miss Granger with a very small two-way mirror. This mirror is small enough to fit in a robe pocket and can be used anywhere at anytime to pass private communications. The interview ended when my own person was threatened with bodily harm by Professor Snape if I attempted to continue to question the couple. I discretely withdrew and immediately retired to my desk to report these strange going-ons to the public, who have the right to know. Am I the only one who is suspicious here?

Readers, the Ministry has not always been on point concerning the activities going on within its own walls. Several years ago, Voldemort personally wreaked havoc inside the Ministry building, right under the officials' noses. I assume they are unaware of the new potential danger that is in their midst at this very moment. While there is no concrete evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Miss Granger and Professor Snape, the man's history and his close association with an employee that has access to defensive secrets should invite at the least an inquiry, and at best a full-blown investigation.

It is my hope that in reporting these little-known facts, a fire will be put under the Ministry, and they will investigate this matter before more lives are lost to rogue deatheaters. I remain,

Rita Skeeter
Daily Prophet Columnist/Reporter

"This is pure garbage!" Hermione said, scowling, "This isn't news. All this column is, is rumor, conjecture and speculation with a nasty personal spin on it. Rita practically calls you a practicing deatheater. She makes no mention of your sacrifice, hero status or Order of Merlin medal!"

Severus looked at her calmly.

"I'm used to it, Miss Granger," he said, pouring himself a cup of coffee.

"She can't get away with this," Hermione growled, looking as if she would like to tear up the entire paper.

"It is a column, Miss Granger. It is written based on her view of things. Her opinions. See the disclaimer at the bottom that states the views of the author are not necessarily the views of the Prophet? It absolves the newspaper of any complicity.

"But they published this shit, Professor!" Hermione said. She took a vicious bite out of a piece of cheese and chewed angrily.

"Be that as it may, there is nothing we can do about it except answer any questions that are put to us by the Ministry. They will try and force you to disclose the project," he said, looking at the witch.

"Can they do that?" she asked.

"Technically, no. You do not have to tell them what you are working on. But, they will probably fire you for not cooperating. If you do tell them, and tell them of your advances, they will most likely take your research and try to develop it on their own, and take all the credit, since you are an employee," he said, taking a sip of coffee before buttering a slice of bread.

"This is so unfair," Hermione said, popping a grape into her mouth. She looked at the Professor. "Especially to you. Rita makes you look like a common criminal in that column, and anyone that associates with you, suspect."

"Yes," Severus said quietly, "Which is why you do not see me socializing. Most are afraid to associate with me, Miss Granger, for fear of being accused of being in collusion with deatheaters. I fear I have cost you your job."

Hermione sat in silence for a moment, looking at the dark wizard. She hadn't realized what a miserable existence he lived because of what he had done for Dumbledore, the Order and the wizarding world. She always thought he was cold, and cruel because it was his nature, but in all actuality, it was his lot in life. It was all the world allowed him because of his choice to battle evil the only way he could, by immersing himself in it, and dragging himself out of the mire of it day after day, month after month and year after year to bring vital information that could be used to one day destroy it. And after he accomplished this, the world he helped save despised him. He had to be the loneliest man in the wizarding world. Did anyone ever show him any kindness?

Hermione felt her heart tugging in her chest as she looked at the Potions Master.

"No, it isn't you that cost me my job, Professor. Ungratefulness, fear, distrust and hatred are the culprits here. Not you," she said quietly. "If Rita hadn't gotten hold of this, someone else eventually would have."

"Yes," Severus thought to himself, "But not this soon."

"Plus, as of right now I am still employed at the Ministry. I imagine I will have a chance to repudiate these accusations," she said, buttering a roll.

"A chance, yes," Severus intoned. Lucius would be at that meeting. He'd make sure she was fired. He hated the young woman with a vengeance.

Lucius Malfoy rolled off his panting wife and sat on the side of the bed, cooling off. He had ridden her hard this morning, as if taking her violently would make her conceive any faster. Since the death of his traitorous son Malfoy, he had made Narcissa get off the patch and back in his bed, determined to impregnate her with another heir. They had been at it for several years now, and gone to countless fertility wizards. Both were deemed fertile, but for some reason, she just wouldn't get pregnant. He couldn't divorce her. Divorce was unheard of in the wizarding world. He had several bastard children, but he wanted a true heir, acceptable through marriage to inherit his name and fortune.

"Leaf Ear!" he bellowed.

A small green elf with ears the shape of maple leaves appeared before the bed and bowed low, shaking.

"Y…y…yes, Master?" Leaf Ear squeaked weakly.

"Bring me the paper," Lucius said. The elf immediately winked out, and reappeared a moment later with the folded Prophet in his hand. He bowed and handed it to Lucius, who dismissed him. The elf sighed with relief that he had gotten out of his Master's room without receiving a kick or a blow.

Lucius opened the paper, and scanned the front page. His eyes widened with interest when he read the headline about a ministry employee possibly leaking information to deatheaters. Hurriedly he turned to page two. His cold gray eyes raced across Rita's column. A nasty smile played around his lips as he read the accusation against Hermione. He knew she was innocent of any wrongdoing, just as he knew Severus would never give any aid to deatheaters. But he hated them both, and would take great joy in his role in getting Hermione thrown out of the Ministry on Monday.

He always believed it was that mudblood who turned his son away from the Dark Lord, and from him. And the damned girl never believed his story of being under the Imperious curse the entire time he served the Dark Lord, and was very vocal about this at his trial. Luckily galleons speak louder than words, and he managed to extricate himself nicely from the shadow of Azkaban, even landing a place on the Ministry board. She had witnessed Draco's death at his hand, when he used the boy to block a killing curse. His son had been pleading with him to stop fighting and turn himself in when Lucius saw a wizard about to cast the deadly curse at him and swung the young wizard in front of him to block the spell, killing Draco instantly.

It was Hermione too, who cast the binding curse on him, taking him down. He was actually surprised she didn't cast the killing curse. The hatred in her eyes was evident. The little bitch told him she would have killed him, but that would have been too kind, and it would do her heart better to know he would rot in Azkaban for the rest of his life. Well, she never saw that day.

When Voldemort died, and all the marks were annihilated, Lucius began to blink rapidly and ask where he was as the Auror's came to take him. He pretended to see Draco's lifeless body for the first time and went berserk with grief. He was quite convincing to everyone but those who really knew his evil. Severus, Hermione, Harry and Dumbledore at the fore of them all. But his donations to the Ministry, coupled with his acting ability and vast resources delivered him from his just due, and even their testimonies could not send him to Azkaban. Unlike Severus, he had no regrets about the evil he'd done. In fact, he missed it. The power. The sense of feeling like a god every time he raped a pleading woman, cast an Unforgivable or took a life.

Removing Hermione from her position at the Ministry, and blacklisting her from other Spell creating employ would be a bit of revenge, though in Lucius' twisted mind, he would love to get his hands on her and have his own private Dark Revel with the mudblood witch, brutally raping and beating her until blood freely flowed from every orifice of her dying body. It would never happen now, but a wizard could dream, couldn't he?

Lucius rolled back into bed, and on top of his protesting wife. His thoughts about Hermione had aroused him and he needed to work it off.

He couldn't wait for Monday morning.

Severus and Hermione finished their light repast, and Hermione fished into her pocket and pulled out the folded list of equipment and supplies. She handed the creased paper to Severus, who looked at it distastefully.

"Really, Miss Granger. A list of such importance shouldn't be folded like some fifth year's love note," he commented as he read over the list.

Hermione didn't respond. She was deep in thought about what he had told her yesterday, when she accused him of never showing anyone kindness. She was as guilty as anyone of judging him harshly. And it disturbed her. She had always thought of herself as fair-minded. True, he was a nasty wizard, sarcastic, sharp, cruel and hurtful, but he was brilliant and dedicated as well. What he had gone through showed he had a rare strength of character and even nobility. A nobility that went unrecognized. He didn't show kindness? She had never met a man more in need of kindness than the Potions Master, even if he did not encourage it. Why would he when he knew it would be transitory, and that the next burst of anti-snapism would drive that kindness away as well as those who purported to offer it? It had happened before.

She looked at the pale wizard, his long black hair framing his face, his black eyes moving downward, intense, focused. She realized he would look odd without that prominent nose, and he wasn't as ugly as she thought he was. She just never really looked at him before. Then she remembered a few girls at Hogwarts who had the hots for him. They said his voice, his eyes, his hands and his command would make them wet, and they would gladly submit to him. She had thought they were crazy. Yet there were other things about him that those witches didn't know, things she had learned about him this morning. Yes, as much as she hated to admit it, Professor Severus Snape was a sexy beast. And a tragic, untouchable one. Hermione found herself wondering when he last had the pleasure of being with a woman. She couldn't imagine him making love to anyone. Fucking a woman…yes…she could see that. Thorough, meticulous and calculating, with great attention to detail, just like he was when brewing potions. No emotional connection. Just the need for release. So why was she getting a little warm inside?

Suddenly, Hermione realized the Professor was looking at her, his black eyes locked to her amber ones, concern on his face.

"Are you all right, Miss Granger?" he asked her with his smooth voice. She looked at him blankly.

"I said, are you all right, Miss Granger?" the Potions Master said again, leaning forward a little.

She snapped out of it.

"Yes. Yes I'm fine, Professor," she replied, blinking her eyes a little rapidly.

"Have you eaten enough?" he asked her, looking at her plate. It still had half a roll on it.

"Yes. I'm full," she answered him, pushing the plate away slightly. She finished her milk.

The Professor rose.

"Well then, I think we should be off to procure your equipment," he said, walking around the table and pulling out her chair. Hermione realized how much of a gentleman the Potions Master was. Even this she had taken for granted. Not many wizards were so attentive. Gods, she didn't like where her thoughts were going. Maybe she had been alone too long when her snarky ex-professor started looking like beefcake.

"What did you think of the list?" Hermione asked him, trying to clear her head of the disturbing thoughts she was having concerning the Potions Master.

"I thought it was adequate," he replied, heading for the door.

Together they entered the corridor and walked to the main door in silence.

Severus surreptiously cut his eyes over at the young witch walking beside him. She had been staring at him, lost in some internal dialogue. Somehow he felt it wasn't concerning the project. Her body language was all wrong. She had a tendency to tap her right index finger when she was thinking something cerebral. This time she was rubbing her right thumb over the back of her left hand in a slow caressing motion. At one point, her eyes went a bit liquid, a little like molten gold. The effect had been…well…a little arousing. It was as if she were looking at a lover. He had been tempted to delve into her mind, to see what she was thinking about so intently. He was quite an accomplished Legilimens, but knowing Miss Granger, she may have felt his intrusion. He would hate for her to catch him prying into her mind. She'd probably explode.

Severus opened the main doors and they walked to the end of the portico. He offered Hermione his arm. This wasn't necessary for them to apparate, because both knew where the supply shop was, but Hermione took his arm anyway. With a crack of thunder, they were gone.

A/N: Hm. Hermione is starting to have some pretty hot thoughts about the Potions Master, as well as coming to terms with her previous perception of him. She is beginning to intrigue him as well, and not just for her brain. I'm working on it ya'll. Be patient. I hope you liked that little Lucius interlude. He's pretty hot too, but just too damn twisted. Sounds like he puts his wife to work doesn't it? Well, on to the next chapter. Please review.