Disclaimer: Anything you recognise isn't mine.

Thanks as usual for reviews and alerts. Enjoy!

Chapter 18: Transformation.

A perfectly neat line of potions ingredients was laid out uniformly on the desk in front of him. Candles cast flickering shadows all over the room – some would say that this gave the room a slightly creepy, ghostly atmosphere, but to Severus the dim light was calming, and caused less strain to his eyes. Since he was such an expert potioneer, he didn't need the excessive brightness to cut potions ingredients – he could do it in his sleep. His hands raised and lowered repetitively, cutting the ingredients into exactly equal pieces. The sound of knife on wood was oddly therapeutic to him, as he could immerse himself in this menial task and allow his subconscious to wander.

Severus wondered if the war had taken more of a toll on him than he had previously thought. Before the war he wouldn't have allowed someone to embed themselves so thoroughly under his skin. He theorised that it was maybe because of the fact that he didn't have to constantly be on his guard against the Dark Lord, and he was beginning to relax because of it. If Severus had to pick one word to describe himself, 'relaxed' would probably be at the bottom of the list. 'Unapproachable', 'uptight', and 'dour' seemed more apt. Nevertheless, all evidence pointed to the fact that he was indeed softening.

Thinking back to his time with Hermione in the library, he remembered the graphic images that had flashed across the witch's mind. The knife cut roughly through a handful of daisy roots, and nearly gouged into his hand. Laying the knife down on the table with slightly shaking hands, he leaned forward on the table and hung his head. Admitting to himself that those visions had affected him was very difficult for him to do, because it would be to admit that he felt something for the girl, something that was far out of the bounds of a normal student-teacher relationship. Furthermore, he knew that nothing could ever come from it if even if he did admit to those… feelings.

Mentally cringing at the thought of that word, he resumed his cutting of daisy roots. He could not get involved with the girl – he couldn't even believe that he was entertaining the notion of it! The whole idea of it was wrong on so many levels – the age was a significant factor, as was the fact that he was a teacher, in a position of power, and so may be seen to have coerced her somehow into something sinister, which would be further reinforced by his being a former Death Eater. Also, he was just, in general, all wrong for the girl. She was outgoing, friendly, popular, and generally a pleasant person. He was reclusive, prickly, and highly unpopular, and he had a very nasty disposition. Severus could imagine the ridicule they would face were anything to happen between them. Slamming the knife down, he mentally chastised himself. Nothing will ever happen between us! he thought furiously.

Although he was adamant that nothing would happen, it would be wise to decide upon some course of action to take with the girl as a precaution. It seemed that she had – unbelievably – developed some form of attachment to him, and such an attachment should be discouraged, for her own welfare. Discontinuing his tutoring of her did not seem wise, as it would raise awkward questions, particularly from the Headmistress. Treating Hermione with hostility could perhaps damage her academic career – it was true that she was excellent at potions, and she could make great advancements in the field one day. There had to be some middle ground somewhere. Could he perhaps keep her at a distance? Without being openly aggressive to her, the girl would think that he was disinterested in her, and may get over her silly infatuation. Perhaps he could treat her as one of the Slytherins – with respect, but not too much familiarity? Imagining Hermione as a Slytherin drew a snort from him. The girl could not be less of a Slytherin if she tried.

Setting down his knife and nodding to himself slightly, Severus decided that his mind was made up. He would interact with her as he would with students from his own house. This would make it clear to the girl that he had no interest in her other than her academic success, but it wouldn't discourage her from continuing her studies. Having made his decision, he picked up his knife and resumed chopping ingredients.

Hermione was making her way from the library to Gryffindor Tower, her brow furrowed as she dawdled through the corridors and up staircases. Usually, people would assume that she was thinking about schoolwork, or some personal research project that she had embarked upon. Nobody would have guessed that she was considering certain explicit images that had crossed her mind, and they would be even more shocked to find that the object of those images was Professor Snape.

The way he had spoken to her, almost caressing her with his voice, had affected her on a level in a way that was previously undiscovered by her. Nobody had ever made such carnal images race through her mind. The realisation that it was Snape causing these thoughts was even more inexplicable to her. Ron had never made her feel like that – yes, she had loved him, but he didn't have the same sort of intensity whenever he spoke to her. Being relatively inexperienced while she was with him, everything had seemed so raw and new. In hindsight, however, it paled in comparison.

She came to a stop on the landing on the fourth floor, resting her bag on the banister. Leaning her arms on it, she lowered her head into them and breathed deeply, trying to make sense of the jumbled thoughts in her mind. At this particular moment in time she wished that she had access to a Pensieve, so she could sift through her thoughts and examine them one by one. She also wished that she could perform Occlumency – it might only postpone solving her problems, but emptying her mind would give her a small reprieve from feeling that her head was too heavy for her shoulders.

Sighing, she looked at her watch, and realised that she should probably get a move on. It would soon be lunch time, meaning that the corridors would be teeming with students, and she didn't want to be seen resting her head on a banister – it could lead to awkward questions. Lunch didn't seem like something she could face at the moment. She pushed away from the banister with her arms, but suddenly her bag slipped from its perch and, as if in slow motion, fell over the edge. Hermione fumbled for it, her fingers brushing the strap, but it slipped from her grasp.

"Damn! Aresto Momentum!"

The bag's speed significantly reduced – it almost floated down to the ground on the bottom floor with hardly a bump. Hermione was glad that she'd thought to cast the Cushioning Charm. It meant that none of her ink bottles would have smashed, so none of her books would be spoiled. However, the staircase she was currently standing on chose that particular moment to change, and she lost her balance, her wand flying out of her hand and falling down to meet her bag, hitting the floor with a soft clatter.

"Oh, for crying out loud," she fumed. With annoyance, she realised that she now had to walk all the way down to the bottom of the stairs, only to walk all the way back up again to Gryffindor Tower. She started off back down the stairs with a forceful exhale. If she could get to her bag quickly, she could avoid the students leaving their lessons to go to lunch, so she quickened her pace, speeding down staircase after staircase.

In less than a minute she was at the bottom of the stairs. Fortunately, it seemed that none of her belongings were damaged in the fall. Heaving her bag over her shoulder, which was very heavy because of the numerous textbooks she was carrying, she started back towards the bottom of the stairs in the Entrance Hall, gearing herself up for the long climb back up to Gryffindor Tower.

The broom cupboard where she was attacked on Halloween night caught her eye, and she stopped for a second, considering it. Professor Snape really had saved her life. Who knew what sort of horrors may have befallen her, if he had not arrived in the nick of time?

She still found it odd that the perpetrator had not been caught. Hermione remembered distinctly that Snape had told her that the attacker had escaped up the marble staircase. With a small twinge of unease, she wondered whether or not they had managed to sneak out of the castle undetected, or still lying low in the castle.

Behind her, she heard a low growl.

Lowering his knife, Severus admired his handiwork. The ingredients had been chopped quickly and efficiently, and he now had them arranged in piles. Moving to the back of the room, he took several empty jars from the store cupboard there, and brought them back to the table, scooping the ingredients into them with his hands, before casting a charm on them to make their seal airtight.

Putting his knife back into his tool roll, he moved to the gargoyle at the back of the room to wash his hands under the gushing, bitingly cold stream of water that flowed endlessly out of its mouth. When they were clean, he waved his wand and instantly his hands were warm and dry. He picked up his Potion Making kit, and gasped when he suddenly felt a sharp pain in the palm of his hand. Looking down, he saw that the tip of his knife was protruding slightly out of the tool roll, and had lacerated his skin. A dribble of blood oozed out of it, so he took out his wand and healed the small wound.

The wound reminded him of the time he had startled Hermione, causing her to embed her knife into her hand. As he gazed at the now-healed cut, he wished that he had looked into her mind in that moment when their eyes had met while he was healing her hand – earlier that morning he had seen in her mind that it was something that she wanted to hide from him, so, naturally, he was extremely curious as to what it was.

Shaking his head slightly, he Vanished his tool roll, put his wand in his pocket and set off towards the classroom door and his quarters.

A piercing shriek sounded from upstairs, shortly followed by the thundering footsteps of a horde of students running to see what the commotion was. He drew out his wand once more and set off at a run along the dungeon corridor and up the stairs into the Entrance Hall.

It was utter pandemonium.

Students were scattering, storming up the stairs to get away from whatever was in the middle of the entrance hall. As the crowd dispersed, Severus was finally able to see what all the fuss was about.

In the very middle of the Entrance Hall was a sleek, silver haired creature, growling and snapping its jaws at something it had pinned down to the floor - a werewolf. And beneath it, desperately fighting against the werewolf, was Hermione.

Severus felt his heart leap into his throat. "Everte Statum!" he cried, sending the werewolf flying away from Hermione. Without missing a beat, he ran over to her.

"Are you all right? Are you hurt?" he asked urgently. He positioned himself in front of her, a protective shield, his wand trained on the werewolf.

"I'm fine," she gasped back. Severus heard her climbing to her feet behind him, but could not see her, as he still had his wand pointing at the werewolf. It was crouched low, assessing how to execute its next attack. Severus caught it off guard with a non-verbal Stunning Spell, which it narrowly avoided. With a snarl, it made an enormous leap across the Hall, its front paws extended. Before Severus had time to react, a second Stunner shot across the room, which caught the werewolf on its flank and sent it hurtling across the Entrance Hall again. However, instead of falling unconscious, the werewolf rose to its feet again. From the corner of his eye, Severus could see that Hermione had her wand arm extended and eyes narrowed.

Hermione had no time to recover once Snape had saved her. She scrambled to her feet behind him as he shielded her, picking her wand up from where it had fallen when the werewolf had pinned her down. Forcing the shock of the attack out of her mind, she focused on the werewolf just as it leapt towards Snape. Reflexively, she sent a non-verbal stunning spell at it, forcing it away from him. To her utter shock, the werewolf regained its footing straight away, apparently unharmed.

"Stunning spells don't work properly against werewolves," Snape murmured. "Try not to hurt it. It may be a student."

"Okay," Hermione breathed back. Duelling without the intention of hurting was a foreign concept to her – she had never had to do it before. Thinking quickly, she racked her brains for some spells that would repel the beast without causing it pain. Snape had already engaged the werewolf. He was whirling his wand through the air seamlessly, and it seemed as though it wasn't having any effect. However, when the werewolf next lunged at the pair, it seemed to crash into something in mid-air. Hermione realised quickly that Snape was making the air around the werewolf inflexible, to prevent it from causing them any further harm. The beast turned, running out of the open doors of the Entrance Hall.

Cursing, Snape removed the spell, and rushed forward towards the doors. Without realising it, he had fallen into the werewolf's trap, and it bolted back through the doors, springing off of its back legs and bowling Snape over. As it had done with Hermione, it was snarling and baring its teeth at Snape, trying to bite him, whilst Snape pushed it back with his hands. Hermione realised that it was too dangerous for her to use her wand, lest she hit Snape, so she sprinted over and kicked the wolf with as much strength as she could muster. Since it was intent on biting Snape, it never saw the kick coming, and so it absorbed the full force of it on its flank. The pain distracted it enough for Snape to push it off of him and scramble back to his feet, picking his wand up as he went. Snape motioned for Hermione to back off, and they both did, not taking their eyes off of the werewolf. Once again, it had regained its footing with remarkable speed, and had its eyes narrowed as it calculated its next move, panting loudly.

An eerie hush settled over the scene, as both sides considered each other. The silence was punctuated only by the growling of the werewolf as both Hermione and Snape stared at it, poised to strike if it attacked again. So focused were the combatants, it was as though nothing else existed in the world.

That is, until an assortment of spells rained down from above, taking the werewolf by surprise. All of them looked up at the distraction. Professor McGonagall was leaning over the banister on the fourth floor, bombarding the werewolf with an endless stream of spells. Yelping, with its tail between its legs, the werewolf took advantage of Hermione and Snape's distraction, and fled out of the door, running across the grounds. Hermione and Snape looked down just in time to see its tail whip out of sight. Snape immediately set off after the werewolf.

A split second later, Hermione followed.

The werewolf had a huge lead on them. Snape was much faster than her, his cloak trailing behind him as he ran flat out. Try as they might, they couldn't close the distance between them and the werewolf, and soon saw it flee into the Forbidden Forest.

"Professor! It's gone into the Forbidden Forest!" she shouted, gasping for breath.

Snape looked behind him, a furious expression upon his face. Hermione realised that he hadn't known that she was following him, but he had no time to rebuke her, or else they would lose sight of the wolf. They carried on sprinting, and soon the light seemed to fade behind the canopy of the trees as they entered the Forbidden Forest. In the gloom, it was very difficult for them to see much. The werewolf had vanished.

"Foolish girl," Snape panted, leaning against a tree while he got his breath back. "Why did you follow?"

Hermione clutched at a stitch in her side. "I… I thought you might want some help." she said lamely.

"Do you have no regard for your own safety?" he fumed back at her.

"Don't you?" she spat. "It would have been just as dangerous for you to come here alone as it would be for me."

"I think I may have slightly more magical skill than you do, Hermione." Snape's voice was dripping in sarcasm.

"Even so, if that wolf had taken you by surprise-"

A loud howl split the night, shocking Hermione into silence. It echoed around the trees, giving no clue as to which direction it came from. One thing was for certain, however – it had seemed very close by.

Now that she had stopped running, Hermione realised just how cold it was outside. It was getting towards the end of November, and there was a definite chill in the air. Her breath was clouding in a mist in front of her, as was Snape's.

"It would be wise to stay quiet," Snape said coldly. "You don't want to draw attention to us."

Hermione opened her mouth to retaliate, but closed it at Snape's raised eyebrow. She was loath to admit it, but he was right. There would be time for arguing later.

"Where do you think we should go?" she whispered into the gloom.

As he deliberated, he moved around in a circle, wand raised. While she watched him, she saw that his eyes were narrowed in concentration, trying to see beyond the darkness as to where the werewolf had fled. Glancing around, however, she could see that it was futile. The ground was covered in fallen leaves, meaning that no footprints were discernible, and there were no battered bushes around to give them a lead as to which direction the wolf had taken. Sighing loudly, Hermione turned back to Snape.

"Do you think it would be better if we split up to search?"

"No," he said quickly. "I don't believe it would be wise for us to go looking for it. We could end up getting lost, and like you say, it could take us by surprise and bite one of us. There are too many uncertainties. It cannot escape through the gate as it's charmed. I shall escort you back to the castle, where I shall organise a thorough search of the grounds with the Headmistress."

With that, he walked past her to head out of the Forest. Hermione followed warily, looking left, right and behind them as they walked, in case the wolf struck again. Her nerves seemed to lessen somewhat with the return of the daylight. At least she could see clearly now. In silence they walked back up to the castle, Snape stomping with ground-eating strides, and Hermione hurrying along in his wake. He spoke not a word to her while they walked, but kept stoically moving forwards at his brisk pace. Hermione was soon breathless again as they trekked uphill to the castle that loomed above them. After what seemed like an eternity, they reached the Entrance Hall again, where Professor McGonagall was waiting, her lips thin and her expression angry.

"Miss Granger," she seethed. "What on earth did you think you were doing, following Professor Snape into the grounds? Was it not obvious that the werewolf had its sights set on harming you?"

"I'm sorry Professor," Hermione panted, "but there was nobody here to help Professor Snape."

"Even so," Snape chided, "You should not have followed."

"What if you had been killed? That werewolf was making a beeline for you!" McGonagall shouted.

"Not to mention that I would have had to keep an eye on you while I searched, which could put us both in more danger as my attention wouldn't have entirely been on the situation."

"I just acted! I didn't think!" Hermione said, stung.

"That much," Snape said coldly, "is obvious."

There was silence for a few seconds whilst the three of them contemplated each other. Even though her teachers were telling her otherwise, she still thought that it had been the best decision for her to follow Snape. They were both treating her like a child. Had not the events of the past year proved that she was more than capable of looking after herself? Time and time again she had fought in battle, and she was still living and breathing.

A small part of her also realised that, had anything happened to Snape, she wouldn't have forgiven herself. However, she was unwilling to examine that part of her just now, and so put it to the back of her mind so that she could consider it later.

McGonagall took a deep breath. "Well then," she sighed. "I instructed the students to take lunch in their common rooms. I suppose-"

Snape silenced her with a raised hand. The Headmistress stopped talking, and Hermione held her breath, listening intently. From outside came the sound of ragged panting. The wolf was back.

"Get Miss Granger to safety, Severus!" Minerva whispered urgently. "I shall make sure that the beast doesn't follow.

Without missing a beat, Snape took Hermione's arm. She started to utter a protest, but fell silent as he shot a look at her that brooked no argument. With a tight grip on her forearm, he directed her to the door that led to the dungeons, walking at a fast pace with which she had no choice but to keep up with. Just as Snape's hand closed around the handle, however, they heard a yell, and McGonagall fell backwards, the werewolf on top of her. It was salivating above her, breathing heavily. A stab of horror pierced Hermione.

Without thinking, she shouted, "I'm here!" and waved her free arm to get the wolf's attention. Its eyes narrowed as it noticed her, and Hermione heard Snape growl in frustration, before pulling her through the door into the dungeon. The pair of them ran quickly, the sound of the wolf's claws scraping the stone of the Entrance Hall spurring them on.

They had a small lead on the animal, but the beast was gaining. Their footsteps echoed loudly on the ground. Finally, Snape opened the door to the Potion's classroom with a flick of his wand, and they both dashed in. There was another flick of his wand as he tried to close the door behind him, but he was not fast enough – the door bounced off the flank of the beast as it came skidding into the room. It yelped as the door hit it, but otherwise, it seemed unharmed.

Hermione and Snape both started casting spells at the beast, trying to restrain, but not hurt it. It was a difficult task – the werewolf was agile, dodging the spells they sent, and trying to find a way to injure one of them. The benches in the Potions room were both a blessing and a hindrance. While they acted as protection, it was also difficult to navigate the room, and more than once Hermione had to look away from the werewolf to concentrate on where she was going as she slowly backed away from it.

Abruptly, the wolf ducked one of Snape's spells whilst Hermione's attention was distracted as she moved around a bench, and it launched itself across the room. She threw herself to the floor to avoid it, and it went sailing over her head, crashing into the cauldrons on the desk behind her. Scrambling to her feet, she watched warily for another attack from the animal. However, it was still disentangling itself from the cauldron – its back legs were stuck in it. A pull on her arm forced her sideways, before she realised that Snape was, once again, pulling her along towards a door at the back of the classroom. Hermione turned back in time to see the wolf manage to disengage from the cauldron, and take one last leap towards her.

Two arms settled around her waist, and suddenly she was being pulled into a dive to the floor. Snape covered her body with his, pinning her to the floor. A bang sounded above her, with a sickening crunch after it. Then silence.

Both of them lay on the floor, trying to catch their breath. None of them moved for a few minutes. Then, Hermione felt Snape moving above her as he shifted his weight to look down upon her.

"Are you hurt?" he said roughly. "Hermione, open your eyes."

She had not realised that she had her eyes squeezed tightly closed. Hesitantly, she opened them to look up at the man in front of her. Eyes narrowed in concern, he scrutinised her critically.

"I'm fine," she gasped. "Are you hurt?"

"I am not."

They stared at each other for a moment or two, and suddenly the atmosphere around them changed. Whereas before, it was one of exhaustion, of relief, it was now charged, and Hermione was suddenly hyper-aware of how Snape was pressed against her in a most intimate way. Her breath quickened and her skin was tingling. Unwillingly, she thought back to the thoughts she'd had earlier that day in the library, and she couldn't help but squirm slightly under Snape.

He froze, and abruptly moved off of her. Colour rose to Hermione's cheeks, and she got to her feet inelegantly.

"Foolish girl." he snapped suddenly.

Hermione looked at the floor, mortified, and said nothing. Of course it was foolish of her to be imagining such things about her Professor.

"Why did you distract the werewolf's attention? Did we not make it perfectly clear to you that it would stop at nothing before it killed you?"

The sudden turn the conversation had taken took Hermione by surprise. Snape wasn't talking about her inappropriate thoughts at all. There was a split second of silence while she caught up, before she could thing of a reply.

"I couldn't just let it bite Professor McGonagall! I had to do something!"

Apparently Snape was so angry he was incapable of speech. He stood before her, arms crossed, a livid expression on his face and his dark eyes boring into hers.

Finally, he spoke in a deadly voice, "We had just finished telling you that it was idiotic for you to have followed me into the Forest. Not one minute after, you put yourself in further danger!"

"I didn't want it to hurt you!" she shrieked.

Her pronouncement was followed by a heavy silence while they stared at one another. Once again, Hermione felt a blush stain her cheeks, but still stared resolutely at her Professor.

"I couldn't stand it if you – or Professor McGonagall – got hurt protecting me from that thing."

Again, there was silence.

Tentatively, Hermione approached her Professor. "If you're waiting for me to say I'm sorry, you're going to be waiting a long time. I think that I did the right thing. Besides… you… you saved me. Again. What kind of a person would I be if I didn't try to return the favour?"

"One who valued the attempts I made to save your life, perhaps?" he replied coldly.

Something in Hermione snapped. "Well in case you didn't realise, Professor, I wasn't entirely useless whilst we were fighting. I seem to remember that I saved you a few times back there. Try showing a little gratitude, why don't you?" she spat.

There was a rap on the door. "Severus?" Minerva called. "Are you in there?"

Shooting a glare at Hermione, Snape walked to the door and opened it. "Are you injured, Minerva?" he asked, concerned.

"Not at all," McGonagall said crisply. "It'll take a lot more than that to hurt me. Where is Miss Granger?"

From her current position, she was out of the line of sight of her Headmistress, and so she stepped into view.

"Miss Granger. I take it you are unharmed?"

"I'm fine, Professor. I'm glad you're all right, too."

"The wolf escaped," McGonagall said bitterly. "As I was on my way down here, it bolted past me and into the grounds. We could organise a search, but I feel that it would probably be futile. If a werewolf can transform during the day, then it is most likely that it can transform back to its human form at will. Are there any specific injuries that we could look for – cuts, abrasions?"

"We were wary of hurting the beast in case it turned out to be a student. Any injuries that it will have sustained will be minimal." Snape said.

McGonagall sighed. "I thought as much. We still should search, in case the werewolf hasn't transformed yet. Severus, can I count on you to alert the other teachers as to what has happened, and to help organise a search?" He nodded silently. "Would you also escort Miss Granger back to her dormitory? It would be unwise for her to go alone in case the wolf somehow manages to launch another attack on her." Snape gave another nod, but Hermione noticed the muscle in his jaw clench.

"Miss Granger," McGonagall said, with a small smile. "While I still think that your actions were unwise today… I would like to thank you. I might not be here if it weren't for you."

Hermione blushed. "It was no trouble, Professor."

There was a pause while the two women looked at each other, then McGonagall said, "Well. There is work to be done. Severus, I shall see you soon. Good afternoon, Miss Granger." With that, she turned and briskly walked through the Potions classroom.

Standing awkwardly, Hermione avoided Snape's eyes, looking everywhere but at him. She realised suddenly that they were standing in his office. She had never been inside it before, and her curiosity was instantly piqued. Naturally, there was a chair and desk, the latter piled high with countless pieces of parchment, no doubt the homework assignments that he set his students. In the corner, there was a more comfortable looking armchair, and the walls were obscured by thousands upon thousands of books. Though she couldn't see the spines, Hermione had no doubt that they would be filled with knowledge on a range of different subjects, and she had to prevent herself from walking to the nearest shelf and examining the tomes there. She wondered if her Professor had read every single one of them.

Suddenly, she remembered where she was, and looked back at Snape. He had moved not a muscle, and was watching her drink in the surroundings, with a speculative look upon his face. It was a relief to see that he no longer looked angry.

"Come. I shall take you to your dormitory." He murmured quietly.

Feeling her face colour at the thought that he'd been watching her avidly – and slightly rudely – examining his office, she followed him meekly through the Potions classroom. Without breaking his stride, he took out his wand and put the room to rights, eradicating any evidence of what had recently happened.

They traipsed through the Entrance Hall, and started up the marble staircase.

"I assume that all of today's afternoon lessons will be cancelled," Snape said. "It wouldn't be prudent to allow the students to wander around the school while we are searching. As such, it is my wish that you remain in Gryffindor Tower for the rest of the day, for your own safety. Do not venture out of it. Even with Potter's Invisibility Cloak, you are not invincible to attack."

"Yes, sir."

A door suddenly banged close by them, startling them both. Snape grabbed Hermione's shoulders and pushed her behind a tapestry, pinning her against a wall. He pulled his wand out and listened intently. The sound of running footsteps and giggling floated past the entrance to the passageway, and then there was silence once more.

Once again, Hermione was very much aware of the way he was pressed against her, and cursed her libido. Today must just have been one of those days. Every time she had been in close proximity to her Professor, some inappropriate thought or another had crossed her mind. It was stupid – both to think such thoughts about her professor, and – she felt pathetic for even entertaining the notion – hoping that somehow, he would feel the same.

Snape turned back to look at her, and suddenly seemed to realise how close he was to her. Hermione fervently hoped that what she was thinking wasn't written all over her face, and then remembered that it wouldn't matter anyway. If he wanted to, he could just enter her mind and know exactly what she was thinking at that moment.

Moving away from her, he muttered, "My apologies."

"It's fine." She murmured back.

They continued walking through the castle, up numerous flights of stairs and down extensive corridors, until finally, they were on the seventh floor corridor where Gryffindor Tower was located. Hermione turned to Snape.

"Well, thank you for everything today, Professor," she said. Turning around, she started to make her way towards the common room.

Halfway down the corridor, a hand grabbed hers. "Wait."

Severus registered the coolness of Hermione's farewell as she walked away. He was loath to admit that his behaviour had been appalling. The girl had gone out of her way to help him – something that very few people had done before – and he had disregarded it completely.

Something else he was loath to admit was that he didn't like the girl being so aloof with him. Their… association was something which he actually enjoyed, and he didn't want to break the temperamental bond that they had made.

He had only been so abrupt with her in his office because of his reaction to the thoughts in her head. Without her knowledge, he had slipped into her mind to make sure that she was all right, as she had not opened her eyes, making him wonder if she had gone into shock. However, he had got more than he had bargained for. Coupled together with how her body had writhed slightly beneath him, he had been affected on a primal level. As such, he had moved away from her as fast as possible, so as to prevent her from seeing the physical evidence of his thoughts.

There was no excuse, however, for the way he had stayed pressed against her as he had her pinned against the wall. It was something he had done on instinct, but even so, it was inappropriate.

It seemed that he was letting his control slip, letting the girl in further than was wise. But then, there was no reason for him to prevent it from happening. He was no longer working as a double agent, and so he was perfectly free to live his life however he so wished.

On a whim, he started forwards and reached out to stop her. His hand encircled hers. "Wait."

The girl turned around, confusion in her eyes.

"As Minerva said earlier – your actions today were most unwise. However," he said quickly, at the impatient noise she made, "it would seem… appropriate… that I express my appreciation for… for… helping me today," he finished somewhat awkwardly.

Waiting anxiously while she regarded him, he was relieved when a smile broke out over her face. "You're welcome… Severus," she said hesitantly.

Severus realised that this was the first time that she had actually called him by his given name. What was strange though, was that he actually liked it.

"Well… I'll be going," the girl said, looking pointedly down at their still-linked hands. Severus let go, and they stared at each other for a long moment before they set off in opposite directions. At the end of the corridor, Severus looked back, to find her looking back at him. After another moment, they both simultaneously continued on their path.

Any comments are appreciated. Thanks for reading!