This story takes place on the assumption that Severus Snape did not die in the Shrieking Shack, although he was still bitten and only just managed to survive, having been as near death as it is possible to be. There is more explanation in the chapter. It takes place starting in the September following the war. Hermione has returned briefly to Hogwarts as a world-weary nineteen year old to refresh her knowledge and take her NEWTs. She is trying to maintain the charade of enjoying student life, but in reality is finding herself increasingly disenchanted with routine and regulation. Snape too has returned as Potions Master. Apart from the obvious difference of the survival of Snape, I have tried to be as faithful as possible to JKR's plot and characterisation, following on from the end of Deathly Hallows, but ignoring the epilogue.

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Hermione Granger stood in her private dormitory examining herself in the mirror. As she tied up her Gryffindor tie ready for the day ahead, she questioned briefly why she was doing it.

She was now nineteen and had lived through more in those years than most people experienced in a lifetime. She was a brilliant witch, with one of the sharpest, most intuitive minds of her generation.

Yet she was still at school.

She finished the knot on her tie and sighed deeply.

Admittedly, there was not much longer to go. She had merely returned to Hogwarts for one term to freshen up her knowledge before taking her NEWTs at Christmas.

Clearly, she had a very good reason for having missed the exams at the proper time. She had been busy ridding the world of evil. Not a bad excuse.

And Professor McGonagall had been understanding and accommodating. She had given Hermione her own room, granted her permission to wear her own clothes, and had even offered her a place at the end of high table with the staff.

But Hermione had turned down most of her kind offers, although was grateful for the privacy of her room. With regard to uniform and seating at dinner, she had felt she needed to show solidarity with the other students. It had been tempting to rise above them, she certainly did not feel like a schoolgirl anymore, neither did she look or act like one. She was a fully formed woman. Not only was she nineteen, but she was an achingly mature nineteen, with a world-weariness even she regretted. But she still wanted to get on with the others, and she knew they appreciated her decision to conform with them in appearance and behaviour.

Still, as she sat in the classes with them, she could not help but feel detached. She easily took on board the knowledge that was imparted to her, and felt well-prepared for the exams at the end of term. But the institutional regime was starting to cloy and she frequently wanted to escape to the real world.

Most of her professors regarded her with respect and more or less as an equal. They respected her decision to associate with her fellow pupils, but at the end of a lesson, she often found herself lagging behind, questioning them on a theory, chatting, laughing. She got on well with them, and regarded them as friends.

All except one.

As she looked in the mirror now, she realised why she was feeling particularly dreary this morning.

She had Potions first lesson.

Once again, she sighed deeply, cursing the man under her breath.

Severus Snape had lived despite the odds after that day in the Shrieking Shack. For hours it was assumed he was dead. His body had lost all sign of life, no breath seemed to pass through him, and no heartbeat could be detected. His body had been returned to Hogwarts, and placed in a makeshift mortuary. After talking to Harry, Hermione herself had visited to pay her last respects. It was only then, as she was leaving, several hours after the Battle had ended, that the wizard preparing Snape's body for burial noticed a twitch of a finger. It had taken deep and unfathomable magic to coax his body back to life, aided partially by Hermione's knowledge.

All summer his body had slowly, almost reluctantly recovered. Harry had told Hermione a little of the final thoughts Snape had entrusted to him, believing he was dying. It was not enough to betray Snape's confidence, but she knew of Lily and his love for her.

After the war, he had withdrawn from life for a while, and had been heard of little. Many doubted he would return to Hogwarts again, especially under McGonagall, having been Headmaster himself. It was only late, even after Hermione had announced she would go back to take her NEWTs, which in itself had been a delayed decision, that he had said he was returning, as Potions Master once again.

Hermione had at first been pleased to hear he was coming back. She had obviously had to re-evaluate her opinion of him after the war, and had developed a huge respect and admiration for the man. His survival alone amazed her. He had suffered so much, had been so noble in the sacrifices he had made. Surely, having faced death for her, for her friends, for decency, he would now allow himself to live his life renewed with openness and enjoyment. When she had returned to Hogwarts in September, she had been determined to face him with a new outlook, a new perspective.

But almost immediately, she had found his attitude had changed little. It had pained and wounded her to detect no development in his bitter, cynical, mean-spirited approach to lessons, to humanity ... to her. Any goodwill she had felt towards him had evaporated within two weeks of being back in his classes.

She tried to suppress her antagonism towards him, reminded herself daily of what he had been through, what she knew he felt, for Lily in particular. But it didn't help. One look at the hair hanging over his pale features, the mouth fixed in a straight line of determined misery, and the black eyes set darkly, shutting out the outside world, and any warmth she may have mustered for him was gone. It was frustrating as much as anything. She resented the fact that he did not seem to have made the slightest effort to amend his opinion of her, despite all they had been through together.

The other professors had even gone so far as to allow her to call them by their first names when in private. Not Snape. She had no wish to anyway. She felt so pained by him on a personal level that she couldn't even think his first name in her head. It hurt her to try.

She glanced at the time and groaned. She had been up late studying, and had missed breakfast. She would now be late for Potions and have to sit through the lesson on an empty stomach. Grabbing her books, she rushed out.

She eventually got to the dungeons ten minutes after class had started. Hermione knocked politely, but on receiving no reply after trying a second time, she hesitantly opened the door and crept in. She tiptoed over to a desk at the back of the room, but just as she thought she had got away with it, the voice spoke, cold and abrupt over the heads of the other students.

"Late ... Miss Granger."

She closed her eyes momentarily, then lifted them to meet those of the Potions Master. She should apologise, but as she could detect no humanity in his eyes at all, could not summon the depth to do so. He drawled over to her again, low and measured, before lowering his head to his work, "See me afterwards."

She rolled her eyes, keeping her head down and opening her books. She hadn't a clue what she was supposed to be working on, but did not want to interact with him long enough to find out. She simply read through her notes from last time.

Footsteps approached her, slow and deliberate. Her heart sank. She sat up a little and waited.

He came and stood near her, his robes draping around him. She could smell him, a deep smell of concoctions, cordials, spices, herbs and aromatic plants. It was unique to him and she had long associated it with belittling torment. However, it was not unpleasant. She had noticed this before, and she now strangely found herself breathing it in deeply as he stood there. She did not look round.

"Miss Granger." Her name dripped from his tongue like ice. Her hairs stood up on end. "Could you please explain to me how you seem to be working away fastidiously, when you have not got the slightest idea what on earth it is you are supposed to be doing?" Every word was emphasised with tongue-tip precision.

"I am reading my notes from our last lesson, sir."

He leaned down, his hair falling into her eyeline, and placed a parchment on the table before her, pressing it down hard with his hand. "This ..." he hissed, so softly only she could hear, "is what you are working on today. You do not have much time left. I suggest you apply yourself with some urgency if you do not want to be kept behind after class. Your presumption has resulted in twenty points being taken from Gryffindor."

She glared at him. "Many members of staff ... Professor ... no longer feel that I need to adhere to the normal code of sanctions in this school."

"Many perhaps ... but not I. You are still a student, Miss Granger, no different to anyone else. Do not presume otherwise."

He returned her stare, his black eyes sparking as his voice, still menacing, curled through the air to her.

They stared at each other for a while, both seeming to dare the other to lower their gaze first. Hermione felt her breathing becoming deeper and more rapid. A throbbing ache developed deep inside her. She assumed it was anger. After a time his gaze became almost painful and she dropped her head, closing her eyes as if they had been scorched.

She heard a slight derisive sniff out from him and his footsteps retreated away from her.

Their encounter had been more raw, more intense, than any she could remember, and she wondered why she had been so affected by it. But, resorting to her Granger common sense, she tried to put it behind her, and for the rest of the lesson focused on the task they had been set. Despite being late, she managed to complete her potion well in advance of anyone else, and when it came time to test, showed that hers was by far superior to the others. As usual, Snape could not commend her in any way, and managed to find one meagre thing to criticise which he did with unnecessary vehemence and exaggeration.

His reaction was no less than she was used to, but since the war, she had found it increasingly hard to accept his cold, barricaded demeanour. He had displayed such bravery and humanity at the most dangerous of times, why could he now not let his guard down with her just a little?

After they had tidied away, she remembered regretfully that he had asked to see her at the end of class. She considered leaving and seeing what would happen, but thought better of it. She didn't want to lose Gryffindor any more points. She approached his desk, feeling little but recrimination towards the man.

He knew she was standing before him, but did not look up. She waited. Nothing.

After a while, she had to speak; she had other classes to get to. "Professor Snape ... you asked to see me." She spoke flatly.

Still, he did not immediately respond, but continued writing on a parchment. She noted curiously how easily his hand flowed over the page, producing a fine cursive script. Finishing with a final sharp dot, he at last raised his head to her, once again fixing her with his eyes, the irises almost blending into the pupils within them.

"Miss Granger. What is the reason for your tardiness this morning?"

She sighed. There was no point in being deceptive. "To be honest, Professor, I was tired. I had to stay up late last night preparing an advanced paper for Transfiguration. I must have overslept."

He sneered. "Such lack of discipline and poor organisation are reprehensible. Ensure it does not happen again, or you will suffer the consequences." He returned to his parchment.

"I apologise for my lateness, sir, but, I think you will agree, I produced a potion of remarkable accuracy and efficiency in a shorter time than it took most people to assemble their ingredients."

"I have already given you my opinion on that." He kept his head down.

"Yes," she said with hint of cynicism. "Thank you for that." She saw him tense. "May I go now? ... Sir."

He inhaled sharply in annoyance, still not looking up. "Yes." The word was spat out.

With that, Hermione turned and left the dungeon. She didn't see her Potions Master following her under hooded lids as she walked from his room.

The rest of Hermione's day passed much more pleasantly than it had started. She managed to put the incident with Snape out of her mind. The week wore on, and she threw herself into her studies. It was early October and the summer which had lasted long into September suddenly seemed to have abandoned them. The air became chillier and the nights were closing in.

Hermione missed Harry and Ron, although her relationship with Ron had ended amicably just before term had started. As a couple, they had grown apart. He was increasingly interested in Quidditch and she in intellectual pursuits. Still, they remained good friends. And now she missed his companionship, such a familiar part of her old life here.

Hermione spent much of her free time walking in the grounds. She was allowed free access to all areas now, although her fellow students weren't, and as such, she enjoyed exploring the woods and walks alone.

She would return in time for supper in the Great Hall and sit with Ginny and her friends at the Gryffindor table. Despite the fact that they were only a year younger than her, Hermione often found the conversation juvenile and unengaging.

This is how she found herself the Thursday evening of that week. Ginny's friend Phoebe was extolling the virtues of the latest Gryffindor seeker in a gushing, vapid way. Hermione tuned out. Perhaps she would take up McGonagall's offer of a seat at high table after all. She turned to look up at the row of professors as they sat and ate, optimistic that she may detect in them a kindred spirit. There seemed to be none amongst her fellow students. But on perusing the staff intently, she realised with dismay that their conversation too seemed to be virtually nonexistent.

She continued to scan the line of teachers but she stopped abruptly when she came to one.

Her eyes met those of Severus Snape. He was staring directly at her.

She froze, unable to lower her gaze. He was frowning slightly, not with displeasure, but with an intense interest, as if desperately trying to read something in her face. Her mind told her to look away, but she did not. Neither did he.

After an age, Ginny reached across for the salt and jogged her elbow. It jolted her out of her daze. She looked quickly away from him.

"You alright, 'Mione?" Ginny asked curiously. "You've gone bright red."

"Have I?" she mumbled. "I'm just a bit hot, that's all."

Ginny turned away from her again to listen to more gossip of the seeker.

Hermione could not hold back. Keeping her head lowered as much as possible, she raised her eyes to look once more at his spot on high-table. He had gone.

For a reason she did not care to acknowledge, her stomach flipped.

Hermione continued to sit at the table, picking at her food, but could not focus on it or her friends. She suddenly found herself having lost all her appetite and being quite unable to sit and listen to the giggly chat any longer. She stood up, complaining of a headache, and walked as calmly as she could from the hall.

Once outside she hurried along the corridors, trying not to think too much about what had just happened, or more importantly, her reaction to it. She just wanted to get away, get to her room, shut herself in and sit, read, anything.

She rushed round a corner and collided with someone. It was him.

"Oh god, I'm sorry!" She moved swiftly back, not looking at him.

He did not speak, but made a strange noise, halfway between a sniff and a grunt.

She tried to move past him again, but he had just stepped aside to let her pass and she chose the wrong side, finding her progress once again impeded by his tall black form.

"Sorry," she mumbled again. She could smell his scent once more. Heady, not unpleasant.

This time she moved to the left to try to get past, but again they both moved inadvertently the same way, and she bumped against his solid frame once more. This time he huffed in exasperation.

"Miss Granger." An urgent hiss.

At last she raised her eyes slowly to look at him. He was breathing rapidly, his brows furrowed once again in concentration. Their eyes met for the second time that night. And once again, she found she could not look away.

She was inhaling desperately, trying to fill her lungs with oxygen, but somehow unable to. There was a strange feeling in her body, as if she had a lump of lead in her very centre. He did not move, nor lower his gaze, and his eyes now were somehow different. She thought she could detect in them for the first time ever ... something as yet indefinable.

She wanted to ...

There was a noise behind her as students started to leave the hall.

Snape suddenly lowered his eyes, stepped back and held his hand out to let her pass. She dropped her head and walked, running once around the next corner.

Once she had reached her room, she shut the door hard behind her, flung herself down on her bed and grabbed the largest most boring book on the history of magic she had. She opened it and read aloud, fast and furious, determined to blot out any other thought from her head.


Let me know if you're out there and what you think. I do so love it and it fires my muse! x