Disclaimer: It goes without saying of course, but I do not claim to own any of the Harry Potter characters or their magical universe created by J.K. Rowling. I'm writing this story purely for fun and not for profit.

What to expect from this story

It's frustrating to start reading a story only to realise several chapters later that it's not at all your cup of tea. So here is some information to help you decide if this is what you fancy. You'll find plenty of fantasy fodder to have a pleasant time swooning over the dark Potions Master, a portrayal of Snape that is fully in character, while focusing on his noble side (dark, brooding, acerbic - yes, but more a tragic hero than a bad guy), an adult OC (not a teacher), a plot that is largely a vehicle for the various romantic / sexy situations, but consistent and interesting in its own right, staying meticulously true to canon. There will also be a fair bit of lemons (quite detailed but never vulgar - if you're here only for the smut, you'll find it in chapters 4, 9, 12, 18, 19), a small amount of violence and angst (but not gory), a sprinkle of humour, a happy ending, and significant appearances of other characters, including Dumbledore, Hagrid, Lucius Malfoy, Madam Pomfrey, Narcissa Malfoy, Bellatrix Lestrange, Gilderoy Lockhart, Professors Slughorn, McGonagall and Flitwick. Do you like horses / animals? Then read on!

Very special thanks to Mark Darcy / Trickie Woo for beta reading!

Thanks also to semperadreamer, who has done a wonderful job of translating this story into Italian:http: / www. efpfanfic. net /viewuser. php? uid=44538 (remove spaces)

I have been drawing FanArt for some chapters of the story. Check it out at http: / herbologist. deviantart. com /favourites /# Flying-With-The-Raven (remove spaces)

1 Fateful Encounter

Samara Ravenhood sat at her desk in her office at St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries, writing up some case notes on a patient. The old lady who had sat in the chair opposite her just minutes ago was suffering the effects of a potions accident, which had left her with such badly blurred vision, that she was almost blinded.

The Healer and famous Potions Mistress of St. Mungo's had patiently listened to the elderly witch's story, who had told her about attempting to brew a potion to cure her short-sightedness. She had questioned her about every detail of the ingredients used and the method of preparation. From there she had a very good idea where the potion had gone wrong, and was now writing down instructions for her apprentice potion maker to brew up an antidote.

She had taken the old lady back to the waiting area, where the woman's daughter took care of her. On the way back to her office the receptionist had stopped her.

"Miss Ravenhood, there is a visitor from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry who would like to see you, a certain Professor Snape. He says Albus Dumbledore sent him."

"Oh... Just give me a few minutes to write up my notes, and send him in when I ring the bell."

Samara was intrigued. She had heard of Severus Snape, but never met him in person. The Hogwarts professor was well-known in the potion-making world, a man of such outstanding skill, that one wondered why he had gone into teaching at all, especially as he had a reputation of loathing all but the most talented students.

Samara put away her quill, and slipped the parchment into a folder. Then she rang the little brass bell on her desk, signalling the receptionist that she was ready to receive the next visitor. Moments later, the office door opened and a tall man entered. He was slim, but broad-shouldered and angular, and dressed entirely in black. Samara placed him in his late thirties.

"Miss Ravenhood?" His voice was a deep baritone.

"Yes - please take a seat," Samara said, waving towards the visitor's chair across her desk.

Samara sensed immediately that the professor was an unusually powerful wizard. His presence was imposing, the air around him seemed to be charged with energy, and he portrayed a haughty self-confidence that bordered on arrogance. He stood by the door for a moment, before closing it quietly behind himself. As he strode towards the chair, he fixed the Healer with a penetrating gaze that made her stomach lurch.

He sat down, and leaned back in his chair, folding his long-fingered hands in his lap. He had full, black, shoulder-length hair that was parted in the middle, framing a face of harsh features, with a hooked nose, prominent cheekbones, and strong jaw line. His pale skin tone betrayed a person who received little exposure to sunlight. A disapproving frown was permanently etched into his forehead in the form of deep vertical lines between his eyebrows, making him appear older than he actually was.

His eyes were so black that it was impossible to distinguish the irises from the pupils. Fathomless and stern, they looked Samara over with uncomfortable intensity, yet she held his gaze for a few moments before asking politely, "Professor Snape, can I offer you a cup of tea?"

"No thank you, this is not a social call."

She was taken aback by the coldness with which he refused her friendly offer. Apparently, it wasn't just less than brilliant students he loathed. She wondered whether he objected to people in general or just to her in particular, but decided to ignore his uncalled-for rudeness.

"Very well, I suspected as much. Would you care to explain what brought you here then?" she replied calmly.

He looked at her hesitantly, as if unsure whether it was worth bothering, and his lip curled disdainfully.

"Professor Dumbledore had a little Dark magic accident, involving a cursed ring which he tried on. I have managed to contain the curse to his right hand so far, but we seem to be losing the battle. Professor Dumbledore has unfinished business in this world, so he sent me to enlist your help."

"Which you believe is a waste of time, am I right?"

Her directness seemed to irritate him slightly, and narrowing his eyes, he replied, "Well, what do you suggest?"

Samara laughed. "Professor, I'm a Healer, not a seer. Finding any cure is often a lengthy process of experimentation and research. I will need as much information as possible regarding the accident, not to mention that I must see the patient."

"If you were at all acquainted with the Dark Arts, you would know that truly Dark magic rarely has a cure," he sneered. "I believe this one to be no exception, but maybe you know something that I do not?"

Samara ignored his snide remark and just smiled at him.

"Perhaps. Unless you claim to know everything there is to know about healing potions, it is quite possible. What have you tried so far?"

"Vigor Ignis," Snape replied in a deliberately bored tone.

"Not a bad idea," Samara mused, "and a potion few people would be able to brew satisfactorily. Harnessing the power of phoenix tears, perhaps it is not surprising that, like the phoenix, its effect is rather short-lived."

Snape was scowling. "Do you have anything useful to add?"

"There may be better alternatives than Vigor Ignis, especially for the elderly, but I have to think it through. In any case, as a last resort, there is the possibility of using unicorn blood."

At those words Snape's eyes seemed to light up with sudden interest. "Are you suggesting-"

"I'm not suggesting anything illegal or immoral, Professor. I'm just saying that you are far from having exhausted all avenues, and that should all else fail, the Healers of St. Mungo's have access to powerful restricted substances."

After a long moment of silence, during which he looked at her with a measuring glance, Snape said, "If that's the case, then there may be some benefit in your help."

Samara couldn't believe this; he was making her feel as if she were interviewing for a job. She had not been the one to come asking for help.

"This is a last resort only, when all other avenues have been exhausted. I would be very pleased to help Professor Dumbledore. If you would like to try out some other medicines, you can come here on a Saturday, and we can work together," she suggested, trying to sound cool, but nonetheless hoping he would accept.

"I will consider your offer," he replied.

His arrogance was infuriating. She had volunteered to give up her free time to help him, and he didn't find so much as a single word of thanks or appreciation. Instead, he just gave her a curt nod, got up, and walked out of the room with elastic strides, his long black cloak billowing behind him.

What a saturnine man, Samara thought as she was left alone again. Surely his poor first-year students would be truly terrified of him. But she was not going to be intimidated. In fact, despite his rudeness, she was somewhat intrigued by the Potions Master. She suspected that there was much more to Severus Snape than his unpleasant demeanour. If there was one skill she had developed as a Healer, it was a profound understanding of human nature, and her instincts told her that beneath the rough surface, there was a decent and upright man. But there was also something else, something she could not put her finger on at all, something that made her look forward to next Saturday with much more excitement than a day in the lab would have warranted.

He had given her no indication that he would come back, but Samara very much hoped that he would take her up on her offer to work together, as much out of concern for Dumbledore's health, as out of a desire to meet this fascinating wizard again. He obviously preferred to work alone, something she could sympathise with, but she also suspected that she had aroused his interest.

Her thoughts dwelled on the brief conversation for a little longer, before she cleared her mind and got on with her work. She had no more patients to see today, but instead went through a thick pile of treatment records.

Samara loved her job. She had always had a passion and aptitude for Potions, Herbology, and Spells, right from her first year at Hogwarts. She had been a diligent and eager student, always top of her class. Professor Slughorn doted on her, delightedly awarding points to Ravenclaw for almost every one of her Potions assignments.

Unfortunately, being a bit of a nerd and bookworm had also meant she was always rather lonely at school. Nobody liked to hang out with the teachers' favourite. Now however, as Healer and Potions Mistress at London's famous magical hospital, she was able to live her vocation.

With her talent and intuition she had several times found a cure where others had failed, and had soon made a name for herself. Another aspect of her work was seeing patients, something that still often felt like a challenge to the shy and withdrawn woman. But she did have a calm, compassionate manner, which helped patients feel at ease with her.

As she had no family, and hardly any friends, she didn't mind the often long hours her job required. In fact she spent much of her free time at the hospital, too. She had long ago adopted the habit of coming to work on Saturdays to spend a few hours in the staff library, catching up with recent developments in the field, or experimenting in the lab, trying out ideas for new potions. She relished this time; St. Mungo's was quiet at the weekend, and she was usually the only person in the lab and library.

When she finally got to the bottom of the pile, it was already getting dark outside. Time to go home, she thought. Home for her was far away from London. After her parents' untimely death, she had inherited the Ravenhood family home on the Devonshire coast. Ravencroft was a traditional country manor surrounded by acres of land, magically concealed from the outside world. Her only companions there were Trixie, her faithful house-elf, and two magical horses. This was where she spent her Sundays in complete solitude. Taking her gorgeous black stallion for a ride was the closest she had come to happiness.

Severus Snape Apparated outside the main gates of Hogwarts. Striding up through the grounds towards the castle, he recalled the curious conversation he had with Dumbledore the day before.

Professor Dumbledore had looked tired and weary, when Snape had entered his office. His blackened hand was lying limp in his lap, and he seemed to even have lost his appetite for sweets, as there was only a glass of water on his desk instead of the usual jug of pumpkin juice and biscuits.

"Severus," the old wizard had said, "I have to ask you a favour."

Severus had sat down opposite the Headmaster, and given him a concerned look, waiting for him to continue.

"My powers are fading, Severus. The potion you brewed has saved me so far, but its effect is declining. I can't complain, as I have my own foolishness to thank for this, but for the sake of our cause, I need more time."

"I am working on it, Albus, but it is not an easy task."

"I know you are doing everything you can, and much more than I could reasonably expect of anyone, but I'm starting to think that perhaps we should get some help on this."

Snape gave an annoyed frown.

"I would like you to travel to London, and pay Miss Ravenhood a visit at St. Mungo's hospital," Dumbledore explained. "She is an extraordinary Potions Mistress and Healer and may well be able to suggest something. She has successfully treated other members of the Order before. She was the one who found an antidote to Nagini's deadly poison last year and saved Arthur Weasley."

Snape was not convinced. "Albus, Miss Ravenhood may be a celebrity in the medical world, but we are dealing with Dark magic here, not boils, bruises and broken bones. It would be far better use of my time to stay here and continue with my research. I really don't need any help."

"Please Severus, try to be open-minded. Samara Ravenhood was one of the greatest Potions talents that Hogwarts has ever turned out, apart from you, of course. She is an intelligent woman, a true Ravenclaw. In any case I think it is time the two of you finally met." There was a slight twinkle in Dumbledore's eyes as he said this.

Snape realised that there was little point arguing with the Headmaster over this. "Fine," he sighed in resignation, and made to get up.

"Ah, one thing you should be aware of," Dumbledore intervened. "Her family was killed by Death Eaters when Samara was only fifteen. She only survived because she was at school at the time. Keep that in mind, won't you?"

Severus glowered at the older wizard, and got up to leave the office without a word. He was not looking forward to this.

"And Severus-"

He turned again and looked back, exasperated. He was losing his patience. What else did Dumbledore want now?

"It does not do to dwell on the past."

Whatever that was supposed to mean? Dumbledore and his mysterious rumblings usually were beyond him.

Now, despite his initial prejudices, the meeting with Ravenhood had been more interesting than he had expected, and the Healer had made a rather favourable impression on him. She was not at all like the other Healers he had met so far, all self-important dim-wits in his eyes. Instead, he felt intrigued to have made the acquaintance of someone he could actually have some sort of professional respect for. He might even be able to tolerate her as a collaborator, and for him, that was saying a lot.

He normally didn't care about people's opinion of him. But for some reason, he felt an unusual desire to impress this woman. Unfortunately, he had probably failed miserably in that respect, doing his best to alienate her, while coming across as a complete idiot, not only ignorant, but arrogant, too. It was a small miracle that she had offered to work with him, a prospect which he now found rather appealing.

He had always assumed himself superior to anyone else in the field of Potions, but her suggestion of using unicorn blood had come as a complete surprise. He was of course aware of its miraculous powers – the darker and less socially acceptable books made no secret of its potential applications – but even he would never go this far into the Dark Arts. It was easy to see, however, that if there was a way of obtaining the blood without hurting the animal, the possibilities would be boundless. He felt embarrassed that he had not thought of this himself, and even more embarrassed about his lack of knowledge in that particular area of healing potions. It was something he would have to read up on.

What irked him further was that she had criticised his choice of potion, even though he had to agree about the shortcomings of the Vigor Ignis draught. Yes, he decided, he would take her up on her offer, but not until he had made some progress himself. And with these thoughts he entered his office and set out to work.

But there was also something else, something about her that had affected him in a way he could not put into words, or even thoughts. From the moment he had entered the room, he had noticed a warm glow about the woman, and she was not unattractive, even though her features were somewhat coarse, with a fairly large nose and prominent chin. Her hair was the colour of rosewood and fell onto her shoulders and back in unruly, entangled strands. Her pale complexion had a peachy hue, suggesting she spent much time outdoors. But then Snape didn't care about women, hadn't felt the least bit interested in the fairer sex for a long time. And so her appearance should have been of little consequence.

The most remarkable thing about her, however, were her eyes. They were deep blue in colour, and had looked at him with such clarity and brightness that he worried she might be able to see right into his soul in a way that had nothing to do with Legilimency. He had seen eyes like that only once before in his life. As much as he wanted to, he would never be able to forget those eyes, and the memory of them gave him a deep, almost painful sense of longing.

A/N: Like all authors, I do love to hear your views, it makes publishing this all worth while. And I can take (constructive) criticism.

So please, do review generously. I will try not to fish for reviews too much though, as it annoys me too ;-)