Disclaimer: Not mine, of course, JKR and Scholastic and WB and etc. own all rights.

A/N: A quick word of warning: This story completely blindsided me one day recently when I was thinking about my other stuff, so I typed it up, it being pretty short. But there is a character death, and none of the main characters are admirable human beings. The "Mature" label is for violence and themes, and it's actually fairly twisted. So please read it if the content won't bother you, and please don't flame for content or themes. Thank you!

Beheading a Hydra

Harry slammed a black pin through the center of Lima, Peru on a large, colorful map of the world, his mouth twisting into an unpleasant smile as he stepped away from where it occupied one full wall, finality dousing the air.

The map was full of pins: blues, greens, reds – but now mostly black, as each of the other colors was succeeded by this marker of death, the completion of the job.

'Pay your final respects to one Lucius Malfoy,' he murmured, mostly to himself. But he knew Hermione had followed him into the room, and he heard her snort.

'You always did like drama, Harry.'

The raven-haired wizard inclined his head in acknowledgment, and turned to look at his partner.

Hermione was running a hand through the thick, curly hair that fell past her waist as she freed it from the confines of the tight plait she always wore for work. Sheathed entirely in black, skin-tight clothes that allowed her to move with the predatory grace of a large cat, the young witch no longer resembled the book-obsessed schoolgirl she had been.

In her changed appearance, Harry saw only the tortured path to adulthood that they had shared, and the identical burning need to rid the world of the scourge that still strolled without limits through it.

The forces of the Ministry and Order of the Phoenix had triumphed, but the war toll had been high. Too high. Nearly all of the Weasleys had been eliminated in the Final Battle, falling one after another to lie in the blood-stained grass, tumble down steep stone stairs, plummet from towers. Harry had seen Ron's face, eyes holding that terrible blankness and look of surprise that had graced both Sirius and Cedric before him. It was the face branded on the inside of Harry's eyelids while he hunted his quarry.

For instead of filling the cells of Azkaban as the public had expected, the Ministry had started a new program for reintegrating former Death Eaters back into society, including the murderer Harry and Hermione had terminated this morning. Incensed by this failure of justice, the wizarding world's two greatest war heroes had simply vanished, one after the other, never to be heard from, leaving former Death Eaters to find the pattern in the mysterious bodies of the dead that had been appearing all over the planet for the past eight years…

'Sickle for your thoughts?' she asked, hand stopping in the middle of her tangles, as she noticed him watching her.

Harry shook his head to dispel his darkening thoughts and instead responded with a question that had bothered him off and on for years. 'Why are you doing this?'

Hermione blew a sigh and continued to pull out the hair she had painstakingly woven together. After disappearing into the Muggle world with her parents – she had moved them to Australia for the final year of the war – for three years, she had returned to the wizarding world, heard of the Ministry's policy, and immediately walked back out of it when she found Harry. For the past seven years, she had worked with her best friend from childhood to fulfill that which the Ministry refused to do. When she had asked to join him, he had pinned her with a look and wanted to know why. She had never told him. But that didn't keep him from asking, all the same.

'We've been through this, Harry. The reason is personal.'

'More than just Ron?' he pressed. The line of questioning was familiar, but this time, after she had debated for a moment, she replied with a different answer:

'Yes, Harry. It is for more than just Ron.' She shook loose the last of the braid from her amber-and-brown tresses and rubbed her scalp. 'I really should cut all of this off,' she said idly.

Harry smiled. Her long hair was a burden on their missions, being extremely easy to catch or snare, making her more vulnerable. For over one hundred strikes, she had been saying the same thing, and both knew that she would never rid herself of it, her one concession to female vanity.

'How's Astyanax?' he asked cautiously, changing subjects. He knew that she would not be forthcoming with any other details. And he seldom saw Hermione's son, and the subject was often a sore one. The boy was being raised as a Muggle by his single mother, and, as far as Harry knew, understood little of his mother's work or her past.

'Fine. Manifesting magic. Unfortunately, I think he'll be quite powerful. They'll find me when they send his letter.' For a moment, her lip caught between her teeth, a habit she had never broken and the one link between who she had been and what she had become. 'I'll have to move, I suppose, after they send it. It's not like I can't find King's Cross without directions.'

'Careful, or McGonagall herself will show up on your doorstep, so pleased to have the son of her best student at Hogwarts and wanting to know just where you've been all these years,' Harry sneered. Hermione rolled her eyes in agreement.

McGonagall and Kingsley Shacklebolt had been a large part of the now-late-twenties friends' disillusionment with the wizarding world in general. In meetings shortly after the fall of Voldemort, newly-elected-Minister Kingsley had made it explicitly clear that Death Eaters were to serve a stint in Azkaban and then embark on what the Muggle world called "rehabilitation". Even the worst amongst the survivors, Malfoy, Dolohov, Rookwood and Rodolphus Lestrange, were not to suffer lifetime incarceration but only a relatively short sentence of less than a decade before being released to undergo a Ministry-sponsored re-training. McGonagall had firmly declared herself in support of these measures.

Harry well remembered his hours closeted with the Auror, arguing about crime and punishment.

'We cannot match hatred with hatred, Harry.' Kingsley grasped the younger man's shoulder, and Harry wrenched away, fury spiking in his green eyes.

'Hatred? It is justice to imprison a man who slaughtered children for the rest of his life!' Harry spat.

'No, that simply continues the cycle. We have to break it, Harry, we have to be willing to show mercy, to show that we are better than You-Know-Who and those who followed in his path.'

'Lucius Malfoy deserves death for what he did, and he is just one of many. A lifetime in Azkaban seems appropriate. These men willnever change, Minister.'

'We have to give them a chance,' had been Kingsley's firm, and serious response. Harry could see the conviction in the dark man's eyes and the set of his jaw. 'We've never tried this before, Harry.'

Shaking his head, his anger fresh and real as it had been ten years ago when Voldemort fell, Harry touched his scar, a routine gesture when he thought about the man who had marked him in his cradle. He had spent two years doggedly trying to finish the Auror's program at the Ministry, but he had lacked heart, and one summer evening, after a Muggle killing that the Ministry and the papers insisted was purely accidental, he had quietly vanished, to continue the work he had started at age eleven – eliminating Death Eaters. And there were so many of them. Every one struck down seemed to sprout two more, like a hydra.

From looking over the Daily Prophet once in a while, he knew that the first three months after his disappearance had been littered with articles wondering where the hero had gone. But that had tapered off after a short time, and now was limited to a once-a-year nostalgia column. Harry could have laughed, if he hadn't forgotten how, that at twenty-eight years of age, he had already receded into legend.

For everyone but the Death Eaters they hunted. Malfoy had been terrified this morning, but not surprised by the identity of his stalkers.

'Still making up for your failures, Potter?' The old snake had been vicious to the end, knowing that though he had run half the world's distance from his past, Harry and Hermione could not be deterred.

'Bathing in the blood of your enemies, boy? The Dark Lord would have been proud. But then, I suppose you must do something since you failed to save your best friends and darling blood traitor sweetheart from his wand. Is your pet Mudblood here too?'

'Present and accounted for, Malfoy.' The patrician features had frozen in their sneer as the knife kissed his neck, Hermione having slid up behind him like a shadow. Harry and Hermione never used magic to assassinate their victims, knowing that then they could be traced, and knowing that wizards, who always dueled with plenty of space around them, panicked when the sharp metal pressed gently against their bodies. Malfoy had not panicked, but swiftly tried to disarm her. He was quick, but Hermione was faster, and the head of the Malfoy clan had tumbled gracelessly to the floor, vermillion staining his fine Persian rug.

Hermione had approached the map and was staring at it intently. Harry observed her without moving. Her hearing had increased tenfold during her stint as his partner, and he knew that if he moved, he would disturb her. Her thin finger drifted up to settle over Martín, Slovakia, currently marked with the lone green pin stuck in the map, the color indicating that their information was definite, but old, old enough that their target might have moved.

Hermione stared at the small green dot. Severus Snape had always been elusive, as a teacher, as a man, and now as prey. They had been certain nine months ago that he was in this city. But where in the city they did not know, and now he easily might have gone. He had lived in twelve places in the past six years, making a further move more likely than not, which meant they were back at the drawing board.

He was the last holdout of Voldemort's Circle of Pure Bloods, since they had killed Malfoy this morning, the traitor that had crossed all lines so many times they had become permanently blurred together. For services to the Light and following the orders of Albus Dumbledore, Snape had been exonerated, granted full pardon and reprieve, no imprisonment in Azkaban and no rehabilitation required.

But Hermione had seen his true face, the mask dropped to shatter her heart, schoolgirl-turned-assassin all for the witnessing of one act.

It was the reason she would not tell Harry, for her focus was not all Death Eaters, but only this one. Everyone else was small change, irrelevant and unimportant.

Her teeth bared in her private world of loss and pain, she removed her finger from the green plastic head and spun on her heel, not speaking to Harry as she walked up the stairs to retrieve her Muggle garments and leave.

Harry watched her go, exhaling slowly. He had thought once, briefly, that he and Hermione might find comfort in one another, but the work was too violent and too all-consuming. For him, there was only revenge, and for her, revenge was tempered by Astyanax, her decade-old son who seemed so much older.

And this Hermione, this brooding Hermione who obsessed over killing Snape…this Hermione he was afraid of. Her dark brown eyes held nothing of herself when she spoke of Snape, but instead looked at Harry through the prism of another world: madness.

888

The shadow that darkened the office door five days after the execution of Lucius Malfoy was not Harry's, and Hermione spun, knife in her right hand, wand in her left, the dagger ready to fly in an instant.

'Don't!'

Her unexpected guest was heavily cloaked and moved in a jerky way reminiscent of Mad-Eye Moody. She did not drop her weapons, even though the visitor's hands were clearly raised in a gesture of surrender.

'I have information for you.' The voice was harsh and hoarse, and Hermione wondered briefly if it belonged to a human. Her arms remained taught.

'Who are you and who do you think I am?' Her tone was cold and firm.

'You hunt the Death Eaters that the Ministry refuses to control. As for my name…you know me, Hermione Granger.' The man made no attempt to move forward, but his hands raised to drop his hood, and Hermione's eyes widened.

Long accustomed to surprises of the best and worst kinds, Hermione had become an expert at containing her reactions. But this was the face of someone she had never thought to see again. Had not, in fact, known had survived.

'Percy?' she breathed, and the knife lowered a fraction, even as her wand remained firm. The one-time swot still had his full head of red hair and the use of both eyes, but scars laced his left cheek and throat, physical evidence of his gravelly voice. She saw that one leg was now much shorter than the other, and that his hips settled lopsided when he stood because of the difference.

'The very same. I look a little different, but not that much.' His mouth smiled, but his eyes remained aloof, and she could see where metal had replaced the elbow joint of his right arm as the cloak slipped back slightly.

For a long pause, neither spoke, and he finally prompted, 'Well? Am I invited in?'

'Of course. Sit,' she commanded, sweeping away from the table and rolling up her research all in one. 'Tea?'

'Please,' he rasped.

She swiftly prepared a tray, presenting it to him first as she tried to order her thoughts. Percy was the only surviving member of the Weasley family, though that was through no effort of his own. The Ministry's toady had turned completely round and joined his family for that last fight, and spent more than a year in the Reconstruction Ward of St. Mungo's, the same ward that both Charlie and George had died in, their wounds too extensive to heal.

She noticed that he checked the tray thoroughly.

'Afraid I'm going to poison you?' she asked archly.

He gazed at her from hooded eyes – eyes that were, she realized for the first time, the same bright blue color as Ron's. 'No one else may know it, but I am fully aware of your life these past seven years, and I think you would have no trouble – shall we say, neutralizing – me if you perceived I was a threat.'

' "Fully aware of my life"?' she repeated, frowning. 'You could be a prelude to Magical Law Enforcement's arrival at my door.'

'That is true. But I have told no one what I've discovered.' He shrugged his shoulders and a wry smile lit his face. 'Whom would I tell?'

Hermione considered him for a long moment, and made her decision. 'You said you have information. Considering that I am used to doing my own leg work, I wouldn't be adverse to hearing it.' She watched him blithely for a moment, then asked, 'However, the first thing I would like to know is how you entered the house.'

'The right combination of spells to disperse your wards. Remember that Bill was a cursebreaker. His books did not go into his grave.'

Hermione's gaze sharpened. It seemed that, like her, Percy had used his desire to learn to continue his studies, if in a morally grey field.

And he was obviously powerful, more so than she had thought, though she had admittedly spent little time wondering about Percy Weasley's powers when she was younger. To dismantle her wards without alarming her was a rare trick. She doubted there were more than a half-dozen wizards in the world who could do it.

'How did you know I was here?'

'I have been watching you and Harry for the better part of three years, trying to establish what you're doing. Excellent set-up,' he glanced around the bright, cheerful room. It looked exactly like what a middle-class Muggle, suburban home should look like. All their business was in the basement, and that entrance had been fitted with locks by goblins who had once worked for Gringotts. 'Top-notch cover, really. If it weren't for the fact that you seldom sleep here and have a son who never does, I would believe that you and Harry had carved out a nice little Muggle lifestyle for yourselves.'

Her knife had flicked back upwards into her hands, and Percy took silent note of how fast it appeared. 'What do you know of my son?'

'That he is not my brother's,' Percy retorted. 'When I would have assumed he was had I not seen him. That he lands top marks at primary school without trying. That he has no idea that the mother he adores spends her time killing. But I have no interest in your son, only knowledge that you have one.'

'Why have you been watching?' she grated, the knife moving closer to him. Damaged and crippled or no, Percy had been far too observant without being observed.

'To understand,' he replied fearlessly, his eyes never wavering from her face. 'When you and Harry Potter disappeared, you have to understand that the world was baffled. You were the last of the child heroes-' here he paused, and swallowed, the loss of his brothers and sister weighing on him, and Hermione thought, too, of Neville and both Creevey boys, and Ernie Macmillian protecting Hannah Abbott, and Susan Bones…

'I know what we were.'

'Yes. But I don't think you know what you meant. There have been more Muggle killings. The Minister has been talking for six months about repealing the bill offering mercy to the former Death Eaters and simply locking them away. The Auror's Office did a compendium on where they are – so many Death Eaters have moved out of Britain - so that they can know where to go to arrest them if it comes to that.'

Percy arched an eyebrow. 'They found less than one-quarter of those on the lists from the trials after the war still alive. It seems that someone has been hunting Death Eaters and systematically killing them.'

Hermione said nothing, merely watching him. 'I knew it was you. From your secretive work here and the staggering amount of planning that has gone into each murder – I researched them extensively, you know – I was certain it couldn't be anyone else. And the Auror's Office got brand-new information on a Death Eater that I don't know if you've been hunting.'

He sat back in his chair and tossed out the name, part challenge and part mollification. 'Severus Snape.'

Hermione shot to her feet, and Percy recoiled at the loathing that poured from her in waves. 'We have,' she hissed sibilantly, and the man in front of her leaned away in his chair, the woman he knew vanished in the face of this Medusa, vengeance replacing life in her eyes.

'He is the last of the Circle.'

'Apparently he always played both sides of the conflict,' Percy wheezed, trying to breathe through his disquiet and fear. 'He was never one nor the other.'

'I know,' she whispered, and for a moment, revenge departed to make way for a miserable confusion, making her look eighteen again instead of her twenty-eight years. Then it was gone, and her features had smoothed over again, insanity and vulnerability gone instantly.

'How? There is so little hard evidence against him…'

'I watched him kill Ron.'

888

'Where are you going?' Hermione whipped around, reaching for her short sword.

'It's Harry, Miss Paranoid.' Harry took in her black suit, her hair bound with night-dark ties to keep it from going everywhere, the dozen weapons on the table and her body, fitting vials into sleeves and pockets, tucking knives into linings to hide them. She was clearly going after someone important. Harry glanced at the map, saw a new red pin amongst the flurry of black. San Fransisco, United States of America. He frowned. They had killed few Death Eaters in the former colonies of Great Britain, they were too obvious as places to hide.

But it was equally clear from her fervor whom she had found.

'Snape?' he asked, leaning against the doorframe.

'Yes.'

'When were you going to inform me that we were going?'

'We are not,' she replied sharply, sliding knives into her boots, rolling her ankle to test their security and nodding to herself.

'Hermione, this is never something we do alone. Not since you joined me. Wasn't that part of your argument?'

'It was,' she agreed, not looking at him as she continued to methodically pack her slim body with pliable, undetectable weapons. 'But this,' she finally faced him as she finished, looking completely at ease, 'is something I have to do alone. Because only I can do it.'

'Why?' Harry asked.

Hermione paused, seemed to measure him for a moment. At least none of the madness he feared colored her eyes, only determination, and a faint question. Finally, she nodded.

'You always wanted to know why I sought you out to help you?'

'Of course.'

'It was to destroy this man. This is a mission I must complete alone. Severus Snape is Astyanax's father.'

888

Hermione Apparated inside her own house, glanced at the clock, knew that her son would be home in fifteen minutes, and settled down to wait. She had never before allowed him near her work, but to get to Severus Snape, her son would prove essential.

Folding her hands together, she mulled again over the peculiar meeting with Percy earlier that morning. Seeing the last of the Weasley clan had been surprising enough. But the news he brought her had been more amazing still.

Percy worked at Gringotts now, his brother's books and prior service had come to his aid in finding employment there, and he had risen to the rank of one of the best cursebreakers and lock-creators in the entire realm.

The Ministry officials who came through for business often needed his services, and occasionally spoke of their work, which was how he learned both about the process of repealing the bill and the surprisingly short list of Death Eaters that the Ministry had found to be among the living.

From loose-tongued apprentices in the Auror program, he had learned of the true nature of Snape and his supposed whereabouts as the Aurors who suspected his deep involvement with the Dark Arts made him a top priority. Percy's own private sleuthing had given him the solution of Hermione and Harry, or so he had told her.

Hermione wondered briefly what Percy's private vendetta against Snape had been prior to her telling him that Snape had killed Ron. Almost no one knew of that particular sin except for Snape and herself. Ron had been dueling Draco Malfoy, and nearly had him down when the jet of green light had caught him straight in the back. Only Hermione had seen the caster as Ginny screamed, and the look of satisfaction on Snape's face.

Her heart clenched in remembrance, and insanity glittered in her face once more as she recalled her own, furious reaction, the world of castle and lawn disappearing from her vision in a maelstrom of hatred and need for revenge, fury taking the place of the sorrow that would drown her later. Death Eaters and their student sympathizers had fallen to her wand in masses, her innate natural power shielding her without thought from the blasts of magic that besieged her from all directions…

'Mum? What are you doing home so early?'

888

Snape wiped his hand methodically on a dishtowel, his once customary distaste of all things Muggle long gone in the face of his need to survive.

He grimaced as he ran a hand through his short hair, the strands ending long before his fingers were used to losing them after so many years of keeping his hair deliberately long enough to hide his facial expressions behind. But disguise, too, was necessary, as was his fake name and dozen fake credit cards, bank accounts and life stories. His ability to live as a Muggle had improved to the point of perfection in six years. Unlike most of his colleagues, he had seen the pattern early, and after trying to run as a wizard for a year, had surrendered everything belonging to that persona except his wand.

He glanced around the neatened kitchen, mentally cataloging, his mind desiring order instead of the chaos that dishes and leftover food so easily became.

As he finished taking stock, his doorbell rang. At first he did not credit his ears, until it rang a second time.

He frowned, checked his wand in his shirt-sleeve, and started for the door. His single regular use of magic was the wards he placed around his house, wards that no one without significant knowledge of magic both Light and Dark could penetrate or remove.

Likely it was a Muggle – another of those "housewarming" types that he wished he could blast out of existence. But murder by magic was the surest giveaway to those who were hunting the Dark Lord's old crowd, and so he had learned to rein his temper.

On the other hand, it was the ungodly hour of just past seven in the morning. Perhaps he would be within his rights to give the idiot a piece of his mind.

With a deep breath, readying himself to plaster on a semi-convincing smile before tearing his visitor apart, he opened the door.

The smile never even thought about gracing his features.

888

Astyanax fidgeted next to his mother. She had explained very little to him, simply divesting him of his bag and sweeping him into an embrace before Apparating. The Apparition took a longer time than usual, more breaths in the unpleasant between place where his ribs felt as though they were going to crack. And they had emerged in a warm stand of trees, the after-ring of their announcing crack echoing around them.

As soon as they were on the street, the boy had known that they were no longer in England. The air was too warm and heavy, and smelled different than anyplace he had been in his own country.

'Where are we?'

'San Francisco. Do you know where that is?'

Astyanax screwed up his brain. They were taking geography now, and it wasn't in Europe-

'Morning ma'am, son,' a friendly voice with a flat accent greeted them on as a man strolled past them on his way down the street.

'America,' Astyanax told his mother without hesitation as the man continued past.

'You cheated. That man gave it away.'

'It sounds Spanish,' he returned, voice faintly accusatory, as if he felt she were trying to trick him.

'It used to be Spanish. The Americans conquered by force or bought the entire western half of their country.'

'Why are we here?'

Hermione glanced down at her young, serious son. Astyanax had inherited his father's hair and slanted cheekbones. But his easily-tanning complexion, his brown eyes and slim nose were all hers. His voracious love of learning and his quick mind was a trait they shared, and as he aged, had grown problematic as she continued to skirt around telling him why he did not have a father as other children did.

'It's somewhere important, isn't it?' he guessed shrewdly. 'Yes,' she told him simply. They walked a few more steps, and she turned to face him, hunkering down to be shorter than he was so that she looked into his face. In the early morning light, he looked more than ever like his father, the bones of the face that had so fascinated her as a student highlighted by the rising sun.

'We are here to meet your father.' She steadied herself and finished the phrase, wanting Astyanax to fully understand. 'And to kill him.'

Her son withdrew from her swiftly, horror growing in his young, dark eyes. 'Why?' he asked sharply.

Hermione sighed. 'Do you remember the war, with Voldemort, that I told you about? And all the men and women who were on Voldemort's side who were not imprisoned, or else not jailed for long?'

Astyanax nodded. He had been six when he learned his mother was a war heroine, and he had crowed with delight at her importance, unable to understand what the words meant, or how much pain went into them. But now he was older and she had told him a little more. Enough to guess the ending of his family story.

'My father is one of them.'

'Yes. One of the worst. At the battle at Hogwarts – where you will go to school - Snape killed my best friend right in front of me.'

Astyanax's dark eyes hardened and he reached to his mother, slender arms sliding around her shoulders. 'I'm sorry, mum.'

'So am I,' she murmured into her son's hair. 'And he never went to Azkaban for it, either. He has been allowed to live his life, when he has taken so many. It is a perversion of justice, my son, and we are here to correct it.'

Her son nodded, and she stood up. 'Good. Now…' she squinted at house numbers as light shone directly into her eyes. Finally, she felt something, and laughed, a sound somewhere between despair and loathing.

'He's warded it. Well done.' She backed away from the wards and stowed her wand in the rose bush of a neighboring house, knowing she could not enter with an item of magic on her person. 'This is the house.'

888

Snape stared into the face of his ex-lover, his attention so caught by her large, almost luminous eyes, and the slender cast of her body, round breasts and long legs displayed to perfection by the clinging material that he just barely noticed the boy next to and slightly behind her.

His mouth was completely dry. He had never expected her to return to him. She had vanished in the wake of the Final Battle, her Order of Merlin, First Class, had been given to Minerva McGonagall to await her favorite student's return. Snape had spent some months looking for her, but had quickly surrendered his hope of finding her. She had been a pleasant diversion during the last months of the war, something he would not have perhaps minded keeping around for some time – she had been in awe of his skills as a spy, her own status as his only conduit to the Order, and his brilliant mind. Her school-girl crush at the time had been noted and reciprocated...

Perhaps too well, he thought wryly, for as his black eyes locked on the child, he knew it was his own. The black hair, scornful eyebrows and angled face planes gave him away.

'Miss Granger,' he cleared his throat, tearing his eyes from the boy. 'I don't believe I've seen you for a long time.'

'Ten or so years, Professor Snape,' she replied sweetly, making his hackles rise. Hermione's sweet tone warned of extreme danger. Which was to be expected. He was looking into the face of his son.

'Won't you invite us in?' She smiled, and hackles or no, it took his breath away. This older, completely matured and very differently styled Hermione was far more exciting than the decade-younger, emerging young witch he had slept with before. Maybe he would try to integrate himself back into her life – he should get to know his son…

Hermione smiled to herself as she guided Astyanax to enter before her. The boy was the key, as she had known that he would be. Snape might have slammed the door in her face, but his son was a puzzle he had to figure out – and so would always be admitted.

888

Hermione rose silently, bedclothes tapering around her body and pooling at her feet as she reached for her boots. Ten years ago, she could never have risen from his bed without his noticing and pulling her back into him, but in the intervening decade, she had learned stealth and silence, the much-needed means to her end.

Astyanax was well away from the bedroom, ensconced in his father's library. Hermione had skimmed the titles as she settled her son in an armchair and told him she would return for him. Many of the books were rare, in mint condition and highly useful. She knew she would be removing some of them from the private library.

A whispered spell cleaned the bedroom of her fingerprints, the only place in the house where she had touched things without the long black gloves she usually wore, and at her leisure, she could turn back to face her ex-lover, still sleeping, his age beginning to manifest in the light strands that bundled together at his temples, streaking in long lines through the black. She restrained a snort. Heshould be greying. He was forty-eight.

For all his age, it had not diminished his appetite between his silken sheets. As a young woman, she had found the black silk exotic and intoxicating. Now she found it vain and hedonistic, a monument to the same sensualistic sentiment that had allowed him to seduce one of his students without so much as batting an eye.

Although…he had always been an accomplished lover, and to her delight that certainly had not changed. Much as she hated him, her body had welcomed his advances, tender and rough in all the right places. There had been little time in her life for men, only two in ten years that she had felt strongly enough about to sleep with, and for the first time, regret tinged the vengeance that drove her mission. She fit well with Snape. She always had, even as little more than a child. None of the others had really quite…cut it, after her professor…

She shoved that thought firmly to the back of her mind. Fit they might, but he had killed her best friend and felt not one iota of remorse. And after Astyanax's birth and the poisonous desire for revenge coursing through her had faded slightly, she recognized, too, the great breach of trust and significant power imbalance that had been their relationship. She had worshipped him, and he had done exactly the opposite of what he should have.

She drew the knife from one of her boots without looking down, eyes always on his face. A feral grin stretched her mouth. He was getting old, and was without a war to keep him on his toes. His reflexes and senses were slower too. A younger Snape would have been awake, wand pointing at her – if she were lucky. If she were unlucky, he might already have her in a body bind.

But this one slept on, unaware of the young woman wrapped in a sheet that dipped in the back to display the hardened muscles there, knife in hand as she inched around the bed silently, making no more noise than a cat.

Hermione stood over him, and as she readied herself, an animal rose from deep within her and demanded more than death.

It wanted fear. His fear. And his pain.

She leaned over and pressed her mouth to his, calling him to consciousness in the late afternoon light. He blinked as he opened his eyes, rolled over to find her hovering just inches from his face. A lazy smile lifted the edges of his mouth and the animal inside drove her hand, hiding the knife from his sight at her side.

'Hermione…' he started to murmur, reaching for the back of her neck to kiss her again.

'Severus…' she hissed agreeably, allowing him to bring her lips in again. It was a leisurely exploration of tongues, but the knife remained trapped along her thigh. She did not want him touching her when she killed him.

He released her, and she withdrew a scant few centimeters again as his eyes began to drift shut, the very image of sated desire.

Until the knife slammed into him.

She had placed it well, just under the heart. When she twisted it, the blade would sever his aorta, and he would die in less than three minutes. She twisted.

His eyes bulged as he stared at her, struggling to get a breath that would never come. He flipped to his side, air rushing out of him as he gasped in pain, but his wand was no longer on his bedside table. It was rolling between Hermione's fingers as she stood naked before him, sheet crumpled at her feet, the long lines of her body leading to a face that writhed with savage pleasure and cold triumph, a Venus rising not from white ocean spray but from the black depths of Hell.

'That,' she whispered, 'was for Ron.' She lifted his wand, his hope of salvation, and she laughed as his fingers clawed for it, reaching. 'And this – this is for the eighteen-year-old girl you took full advantage of.' She brought the wood down on her knee with a whistle of force, snapping it cleanly in two, tossing the splinters to either side of her.

He tossed a few, violent moments more, red spreading unnoticed on the black silk, but bathing his back and squeezing into puddles on the floor. His mouth gaped open, the body seeking survival even through enormous pain.

She watched until his limbs shook spasmodically a final time, back arching as the hand that had extended so desperately for his wand found the weapon and tugged at it feebly before collapsing altogether, his head lolling off the edge of the mattress.

Hermione wrapped the black around him, his bedcovers creating his shroud, her gloves pulled on and the knife removed from his body. A swift Evanesco cleared her fingerprints from his skin as well, but left the blood, which continued to dribble slowly, making a growing stain on the floor.

After she dressed, Hermione called softly to her son.

Astyanax padded softly up the stairs, his nearly-silent footsteps the result of his mother's unconscious training. He observed the man lying on the bed, the large amount of red soaking mattress and floorboards, and looked to his mother without a shred of disgust or fear.

'He is dead.'

She inclined her head.

Astyanax gave the man, his father, whom he had met only for a few short hours, another glance. This was the man who sired him. Astyanax would not exist without him.

He was a stranger. The boy felt less pity, worry and sorrow for the man lying in front of him on the bed than he would for a bird squashed by an automobile.

'Will we bury him?'

'No. He is for the Muggle police to find and puzzle over,' she replied.

'Ah.'

Silence. Then, 'Are we taking some of the books, at least?'

Hermione smiled, and steered her son out of the room, towards the stairs that would take them to Snape's study and library. She had dreamed of this moment for ages, but the animal had vanished, and with it the feeling of madness and obsession. She was tired and grateful to be finished, but no longer exultant or pleased as she had been watching him die. The storm of hatred had blown itself out, leaving an exhausted and nearly-empty shell behind.

And it was nearly two in the morning where she came from. She would have to tell Harry tomorrow.

'Mum?'

'Yes. We are taking some of the books.'