Thank you to JKR for letting us play with her toys so nicely. And apologies to her for making them do things she never intended them to do. (I think they rather enjoy it, though).

The usual disclaimers applies: non-profit making, blah blah.

Regarding Severus Snape:

The Potions Master: Part one.

Pretty little blondes with pert breasts and pouty mouths did not usually make eye contact a second time with Severus Snape. If the unthinkable happened and a pair of unsuspecting eyes were caught in his black glare, the owner of the blue ones, or brown, or green, would be sure to look anywhere at all but in his vicinity. That was one of the depressing unwritten givens of Snape's life. He hardly even noticed it anymore, and sometimes he didn't even feel a stab of regret. He was therefore moved to study the daring young woman in more detail from the shadowy recess of his quiet little table located at the back of a very depressing and overpriced Muggle town centre drinking hole.

He was not mistaken; she was coyly glancing in his direction now and again. He hardly dared to move as he watched her, took in every detail of her face, figure and clothes. It seemed difficult to imagine that a woman with her obvious assets was sitting alone in a pub, buying her own drinks and shunning the male populace with what appeared to be several irritable put-downs. Her hair was straight and long, hanging like thick satin drapes around her face and shoulders. She wore it loose, and her fingers sometimes ran through it distractedly as if she was enjoying the feel of its luxury as much as her admirers, the male clientele, were enjoying the sight of her in all her loveliness. Her face was almost angelic in its perfection – huge blue eyes framed by dark lashes peered in his direction. But it was her flawless little nose that held him spellbound; next to his monstrous beak it was practically exquisite in its precision. She wore a tightly-fitting dark red blouse, with tiny black buttons which seemed to enhance her high round breasts, small waist and curvaceous hips. Her tight black skirt stopped short at the knees, revealing a pair of very shapely calves and ankles. He could see only one leg from his position, but for all her physical attributes, the revelation of a foot encased in a four inch high black stiletto shoe was the thing which set Snape's pulse racing. This woman was splendid to behold, yet Snape was the only man since her arrival an hour ago to whom she was giving a second, third and fourth shy glance. He allowed himself to glory in the rare treat.

The bar was relatively quiet; it was a midweek evening, after all, and unlikely to draw in the surplus punters expected on a Friday or Saturday night – he would never dream of setting foot in the place then. However, a Wednesday evening could be endured without too much distaste: the beer was bearable, the food acceptable, and the clientele restricted to after hours office workers, unwilling to face whatever awaited them at home.

A wine bar is how the blurb on the menu and on the coasters described it, but Snape paid no attention to the abstract art adorning the walls, the chrome bar stools or the chocolate brown leather couches. He was only interested in the silent empty booths dotted around the sides, and the distinct lack of magical patrons. Snape revelled in the anonymity offered by Muggle pubs. In them, no one knew that the dark stranger drinking alone in the corner was a former wizarding triple agent, a vindicated murderer and the survivor of a hard-fought war against evil. Obscurity amongst the non-magical population was his reward, and if he never clapped eyes on a fellow witch or wizard again he would feel himself fortunate.

Snape's mouth curled itself into a smile, rarely seen, as he observed a suited dark-haired man approach her table. The man had the kind of confidence which came with a life-time of good looks and rare rejections. He flashed her a self-assured grin before issuing the chat-up line which should have been received with pleasure and gratitude. His smile faded a touch when the rebuff came, but he was evidently not in the business of giving up easily. A second attempt was delivered, and once again, he was spurned. But it was when Snape noticed her hand slipping furtively into the pocket of her jacket, and saw the slight jerk of her hidden fist, that his interest really piqued. The woman stared directly into her would-be-suitor's face and spoke a single word. The handsome man's retreat was quick. He stood and turned, so that Snape saw the dazed look in his expression – it was almost as if he had been…


She was a witch! Shit! He should have guessed. Why else would a thing of beauty be playing cat and mouse with a dour-looking, big-nosed recluse? Her interest in him could only be professional.

As he walked over to her, the tiny shake of her hand as she placed her empty glass on the table fuelled his confidence. This was not going to be an unpleasant task. He made sure that he held her in his gaze for a little longer than comfort could endure. She dropped her eyes to the table and back again at him, too terrified, or so it seemed, to ask what he meant by standing there, intimidating her with that dark look.

'Can I buy you a drink?' he said at last. It was more of a statement than a question; he had no doubt of her answer.

'Thank you, yes,' she replied. The little croak in her voice betrayed her anxiety. 'I'll – um – have another ... gin and tonic please.'

He nodded once and made his way to the bar. The handsome man with the expensive suit was now propped on a bar stool fingering a tumbler of some undefined amber spirit. The man stared at his usurper with incredulity as Snape ordered a gin and tonic, along with his own pint of bitter. Snape felt the waves of resentment coming from two feet along the bar, and counted this among one of his better days.

'Thank you,' she said, picking up the glass which he had just placed in front of her, 'would you care to join me?'

Well, he had not intended to buy her a drink only to bugger off and enjoy the sight of her drinking it alone. He swallowed the sarcastic reply, however, and pulled out the opposite chair, placed his pint glass on the table, and took a seat. Her voice sounded familiar; something about the way she had pronounced the last phrase had him rifling through his memory of long-forgotten students, ex-colleagues and even the paid tarts in Knockturn Alley. He remained in the dark, though, as he continued his assessment. The northern accent was a fake. He had been simulating an educated one for years – he knew the real thing when he heard it, and this was not it.

She was attempting to hide her apprehension but Snape did not miss the shake in her voice or her dilated pupils. He could sense fear and vulnerability in an adversary as easily as a fox senses an injured bird. Moments passed, and she seemed on the verge of breaking the silence, but apparently trepidation got the better of her and she chose to remain silent instead.

'I'm Heather,' she finally went with, 'Heather Gunn.'

'Severus Snape.'

'Is that your real name?'

'Why would I make up a name like Severus Snape?' he snorted.

'To sound exotic?'

'I have always found it to be more of an affliction than anything pertaining to glamour.'

'I like it,' she said softly. 'It suits you.'

The air around her had a faint aroma of sweet lemons; the combination of that and her chocolate-box prettiness was a heady blend. He would not allow himself to be lost to her charms; it would be so easy. Snape forced himself to stare at the table in front of him to remedy her intoxicating presence.

'And what would a woman like you be doing drinking alone?'

'A woman like me?' she replied.

'Don't play coy; you understand my meaning perfectly well. Women who look like you do not have to buy their own drinks, nor do they sit alone waiting to be approached. Are you a prostitute?'

Her cheeks turned pink in response to his insult, and she looked as if she would quite like to slap him across the face with a perfectly manicured hand.

'Is that why you bought me a drink?' she replied, affecting calm, 'you thought I was a whore?'

Snape shrugged. 'A rational conclusion given the circumstances. You are dressed to entice, you were trying to get my attention by batting your eyes at me with all the subtlety of a street-walker. Why should you be surprised if I naturally conclude that you expect to be paid for your services? If you are a prostitute, perhaps you would be so good as to name your prices then we can be done with this charade and get down to business? I presume you have premises?'

He sat back in his rather uncomfortable seat and waited for the indignant explosion which would surely follow his contemptuous slur on her virtue. He was under no illusion that the intention of this witch, whoever she was, was not to sell her body, but he was buggered if he was going to let an opportunity like this slip away. Oh yes! This was the most fun he had had in years.

'I'm not a fucking prostitute,' she replied through gritted teeth. 'Who the hell do you think you are? How dare you speak to me like that. And if I was, don't you think I would have chosen the good looking guy with the normal-sized nose drowning his sorrows at the bar, instead of the weirdest looking man in the entire fucking city?'

'Two "fuckings" in one sentence? Are you sure you are not a hired slut? You certainly have the vocabulary of one. I wonder what else you could do with that mouth.' This time he was sure she must react with violence; at the very least he expected to feel the ice-cold splash of a gin and tonic in the face. She remained seated, however, and though her cheeks were still crimson and her chest heaved with the effort of remaining composed, she did nothing more than glare her outrage at him.

It was the outraged glare that nudged his brain into realisation. The combination of her expression, and the way her accent had slipped when she berated him, pointed to a name he had never expected to hear again. Who else would make the journey across Britain to locate her hateful ex-teacher?


What in Merlin's name was the insufferable know-it-all doing looking him up? This could only be some misguided Gryffindor mission-of-mercy. Emancipating House Elves had clearly lost its charm. Was she now looking up former Death Eaters to rehabilitate? He remembered the badges she had made as a fourteen year old at Hogwarts, oh so many years ago, emblazoned with the word "S.P.E.W.": the Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare. Perhaps she could have new badges made up for her latest project: "S.D.E.N.A.H": Society for Death Eaters in Need of A Hug.

She interrupted his self-indulgent amusement, and this time the voice was unmistakably Granger.

'You, Severus Snape are a vile, malicious, foul-mouthed creep. No wonder you're sitting on your own like some pathetic loser. Who would want to spend more than two minutes in your disgusting company?'

'You! Apparently,' he replied with a smirk. 'You have been sitting here for at least ten minutes now, and although I have done my best to offend you, you still seem intent on staying for more. I really am at a loss to know how to provoke you to leave.'

'Fine,' she said, standing up and wavering slightly on the heels which she was evidently not used to wearing, 'I'll go then.' She snatched up her bag and jacket and tottered to the door as quickly as her stilettos would allow her.

Snape followed her outside. He was not yet done with her, there was a great deal more mileage to be gained from this liaison.

'Wait!' he shouted, as she rounded the corner which led away from the bar and towards the quieter district of town. 'Heather!'

She stopped at the sound of her name and whirled around to face him.

'Why are you following me? I told you, I'm not a prostitute! she hissed.

'Allow me to apologise,' he said, assuming a contrite tone, 'I'm not used to company as you so bluntly pointed out. You can't blame me for suspecting ulterior motives when the most attractive woman for miles seems interested in me. May I at least walk you to wherever you are going?'

"Heather Hermione" seemed suspicious of his sudden change of heart but not unwilling to accept his apology with a begrudging shrug.

'Well, alright then. I was just going to walk to the bus stop,' she replied, 'walk with me if you want to.'

He fell into step beside her and the unlikely pair walked in the direction she had pointed out as her destination.

The street was full of shoppers and office workers on their way home. Snape noticed how many eyes followed her as they passed through the crowds, away from the commotion of town centre life and towards the relative calm of the outer reaches of the city. Neither spoke as they walked: he was not inclined to, and she seemed to need to focus all her concentration on staying upright. Eventually, the road became so quiet that the side streets leading off it were quite deserted – dirty alleyways reeking of vomit and piss and littered with Muggle overindulgence. It was as they passed one such grime-hole that Snape acted. He grabbed her by the arm so forcefully that she let out a shriek of fear as he dragged her into the alley, shoved her ruthlessly up against the wall, one hand around her exposed white throat and the other against the brickwork. His body pinned her fast.

'Twenty-points to Gryffindor for brewing a very fine Polyjuice potion, Miss Granger, but fifty points off for your abysmal attempts at stealth,' he growled, squeezing his fingers around her throat.

'Fuck!' she managed to expel.

'And a further ten points awarded for your charming new vocabulary.'

'You're hurting me. Stop it, professor, please.'

He relinquished his hold on her and took a small step backwards, watching intently as her hand flew to her neck protectively.

'An explanation if you please, Miss Granger,' he said softly, 'and make it a good one or I'll be forced to use an Unforgiveable on you, and I haven't decided which one yet.'

'You wouldn't dare! she retorted.

'Really? Are you sure about that? I'm certain you are well aware that I am well practiced in all three, and I am equally sure that not a soul from the wizarding world knows where you are.'

'Yes, alright,' she said, hastily, 'I know you can, I'm just not sure you would.'

'But there is always an element of doubt.' He reached into the inside pocket of his shabby black jacket and took out a long black wand, drumming it ominously against his palm as he waited for her to react. 'What do you want, Granger? Why the ridiculous disguise?'

She sighed, as if the game was so up she had no option left but to confess.

'I wanted to see you.'


'I wanted to… check on you.'

'Why would you give a flying fuck about my current whereabouts? You need to do better than that, or do I need to Imperio you?'

'I had to see you because… because… my life is a mess. I can't make it work, any of it. I don't sleep, I can't concentrate on work, I can't concentrate on anything,' she said, biting her lip and fiddling with the zip on her bag. 'I can't get you out of my head, you see.'

'Are you serious, Granger?' He was taken aback. He didn't know what he had expected her to say, but an admission of failure from the star of Gryffindor was somehow disconcerting. He had imagined her to be some rising success at the Ministry by now.

'The last time I saw you… ' She broke off and stared at his booted foot.

'I was lying in a pool of blood on the floor of the Shrieking Shack, where you left me for dead,' he finished for her.

'Don't!' she wailed, 'Don't! I can't get rid of the image from my mind. We did! We left you to die, all alone in there. We didn't even try. We didn't know, didn't know you were on our side all along, were trying to help us, gave us the Sword of Gryffindor, saved Harry's life, risked your own and… '

'Yes, yes, enough of the theatricals,' he interrupted, impatiently, 'I know my own history, I had it rammed down my throat at my trial often enough. Are you telling me that you are here because somehow my tragic history is preventing you from… making a go of it?'

She nodded slowly, and Snape was amused to see that she was struggling to prevent the fall of tears which had formed in the big blue eyes that belonged to someone else.

'In that case, get out of my sight. I need your guilt like I need a dose of spattergroit. Go and find some other maligned Death Eater to snivel at.'

He tossed her a look of contempt as he turned to stride away, but it seemed that she had finally become mistress of the shoes.

'Please, professor!' She grabbed his arm, preventing him from taking any more steps away from her. 'Just hear me out.'

He turned back to face her, curious and surprised at her tenacity, and raised his eyebrows in anticipation of her tale of misery and remorse. Her expression had relief emblazoned across it, but she seemed unable to know where to start. Rehearsal of this moment had apparently been forgotten or omitted.

'Hurry up, Granger, I haven't got all night,' Snape said.

'Really?' Hermione replied, 'because that's not how it looked to me.'

'I haven't got all night for you.' His sneer earned him a petulant pout, and if this had been the real Heather Gunn, he would have liked nothing better than to shove her back up against the wall and taste those perfectly formed lips for himself. But Hermione Granger was under there and from all he had heard so far she had not come here with kissing in mind.

She leaned heavily against the wall and looked directly ahead, waiting for the couple taking a short-cut down the quiet side street to pass them before speaking.

'Like I said,' she said at last, 'I've been having trouble concentrating on anything.'

'It's been ten years. Get over it,' Snape replied, impatiently.

'I can't. I have tried, really I have. I even went for Therapy. It's a Muggle thing,' Hermione said in reply to the quizzical look. 'It didn't help. They thought I was mad, wanted to give me drugs to stop the hallucinations. I nearly took them.'

'Muggle drugs? Merlin, Granger, things must be bad!'

'Yes. They are,' she replied with feeling. 'The nightmares have got worse recently. They always include you in some form or other… usually dying horrifically.'

'You think you're the first to be cursed by terrible visions instead of sleep?.'

'You have them too?' she asked.

He nodded. 'If I don't dose myself up with dreamless sleep potion. What would you expect with my melodramatic past? You should do the same, instead of resorting to primitive methods.'

Hermione glanced at him, and then seemed to find a great deal of interest in the plastic drinks carton recently discarded on the floor next to her foot. 'I don't really think I should,' she replied, softly.

'Why not? If it stops the horror, and allows you to go on with your life, and more importantly stops you from harassing those you feel you have wronged… '

'Only you.'

'What?' Snape replied, irritably.

'You are the only one I feel I need to put right a wrong,' she said. She paused, and seemed to gather herself before continuing. 'I won't stop the nightmares, because I don't deserve peace.'

'Oh! Spare me the fucking Gryffindor histrionics, Granger! I refuse to listen to any more of your drivel. Take the potion and leave me alone!'

'I'll do anything!' She called after him as he began his familiar stride down the alleyway, anxious to put distance between them. The desperation in her voice evoked something within his conscience – it wasn't pity, he had experienced precious little of that in his forty-eight years to recognise the emotion, even if it presented itself gift-wrapped. It was something more akin to comprehension. Snape knew what it was to desire forgiveness. The sensation had been his constant companion, his motivating influence, for the greatest part of his life. He hardly knew what it was to live without it.

What he would not give, even now, to hear the words, 'I forgive you, Severus' from Lily. But the dead cannot forgive, they continue to point the finger from the grave, and those they accuse have no choice but to bow their heads and wait for their own end – elusive as even that paltry act seemed to be for Snape. It was recognition and curiosity, therefore, which prevented him from leaving her to her torment.

'That is quite an undertaking,' he replied, and turned to face her, slowly making his way back to her side.'"Anything" requires some careful thought.' He tapped his mouth with a long, pale finger, giving the impression that he was giving her proposal his fullest attention.

'Within reason,' she added, apparently regretting her wild assertion.

'Ah! Now that changes things considerably, Miss Granger, as I cannot possibly know what, to you, seems reasonable. You have taken infinity off the table and replaced it with a set of restrictions from which I am now required to work out your level of acceptance.' He stowed away his wand as he spoke. 'For instance, I presume we are talking in terms of you doing something for me?' She nodded cautiously and waited for him to elaborate. 'That could involve practically anything. Were you thinking along the lines of baking me a cake? Sexual favours? Perhaps you would be willing to risk life and limb for me should I require it?'

'Do you require it?' she asked. They eyed each other in equal measures of intensity and wariness.

'Not particularly,' he answered at last, 'but I notice no reaction to my suggestion of sexual favours.'

The features were Heather Gunn's but the determined raise of the chin was all Hermione Granger. 'If that would make things right then I don't see it as an unreasonable request,' she answered.

Her reply took Snape by surprise, though he remained impassive. He had expected righteous indignation at the very least; perhaps even a humiliated tear or two, followed by a vow to have nothing more to do with him. Her resolve to prostitute herself, if he wanted it, was the greatest proof yet of her earnest belief in her own guilt. He was almost lost for a retort in the face of his former-student's willingness to comply with whatever outrageous suggestion he deigned to ask of her.

'I would rather pay for a professional, Granger,' he finally answered, 'I doubt you have the skill or the experience to satisfy my needs.' He suppressed a smirk as he noticed the flush of embarrassment suffuse her cheeks in the failing light of the warm September evening. 'I doubt Weasley has the imagination to prompt you to excel in the bedroom.'

He expected her infuriated huff to be followed by a magical reprisal. She had reached in her pocket for her wand, but apparently, it was comfort and familiarity she needed from the object, not retribution.

'That, professor, is none of your business. But as you brought it up, you may like to know that I have no idea what Ron's imagination entails (although I doubt it has much of a capacity) as I am sure that he and Lavender Brown, or rather Weasley, keep that aspect of their marriage strictly behind closed doors.' Her expression was pure Granger as she showed him the fury and resentment in Heather's enormous blue eyes.

Snape was taken aback by the revelation. 'If not Weasley then who? Not Potter?'

'Ron and Harry are not the only suitable males in the wizarding world,' she replied. 'Besides, Harry is married to Ginny. He and I were never like that with each other. He is my friend, nothing more. And haven't you listened to a word I've been saying? What part of "my life is a mess" would lead you to conclude that I have made a success of romance? I can't hold down a job, I can't keep a boyfriend, I don't have many friends and I can no longer sleep without you appearing in some wretched and bloody state accusing me of cowardice and betrayal.' She paused, seemingly to get her breath, but had evidently not done yet, as she held up her hand to prevent his reply. 'I want to make amends, professor,' she continued with a forced calmness, 'I want you to tell me what to do to take the horror away. I don't want to see you on the floor of the Shrieking Shack anymore.' She stopped again and looked him full in the face. 'And if you don't require felatio, what do you want?'

Snape had the grace to show his astonishment at her heartfelt candour. He folded his arms across his chest and drummed his fingers contemplatively against his elbows. He was almost tempted to take her up on that last proposal. Heather's lips would look extremely fetching wrapped around his cock. But the image of Hermione Granger, aged eleven, eager and enthusiastic, waving her hand irritatingly in the air to get his attention, spoiled the pleasant reverie. He wondered what twenty-eight year old Hermione looked like. Was she still all teeth, hair and Gryffindor decency? She had managed to have the teeth charmed to a less than unsightly appearance in her fourth year, as he recalled, but he doubted even her prodigious ability would be enough to charm the riotous nest on her head to order - now that would require considerably skilled wand-work.

Voices could be heard above the noise of city traffic. A group of three or four men rounded the corner, obviously on their way from one pub to the next. Young, confident and exuberant, their shouts and accompanying laughter as they made their way up the side street towards the dark alcove, inhabited by the witch and the wizard, were too much of a distraction for Snape to make his reply.

They passed by the dubious pair, and Snape's fist tightened instinctively around his wand in anticipation of the jibes and taunts which would surely follow once they had been noticed. He was not disappointed.

References were made to Heather's assets as well as to her choice of "shagging partner". Suggestions were also forthcoming regarding what a good time a "real man" could show her. It was the reference to the big nose, however, that did it. The nearby skip, overflowing with coke cans, chip wrappers and all variety of Muggle excess, seemed suddenly to leap into life. Four bemused and terrified grown men ran the length of the alley as fast as they could in a bid to escape the Burger King boxes and beer bottles which were hurling themselves out of the skip, apparently intent on inflicting bodily harm upon the fleeing men.

'Whoops!' said Hermione, grinning at the sight of the disappearing transgressors.

'You are aware, are you not, of the laws concerning the use of magic in the presence of Muggles?' said Snape, raising an eyebrow.

'They were very rude. And also drunk. Besides, who's going to believe they were attacked by the contents of a rubbish dump?' replied Hermione. She threw him the defiant look he remembered from her childhood days. 'Who's going to report me? You? The Ministry think you're in America.'

'I couldn't give a shit about the Secrecy Statute,' replied Snape, 'but that does raise yet another intriguing point, along with the other one you have yet to answer: how did you find me? And why the absurd attempt at deception?'

Hermione smiled, and Snape noticed how breathtakingly beautiful Heather's features appeared when pleased. 'Harry is an Auror. Did you know?'

'I'm not following Potter's career particularly closely, no.'

'Well he is. And pretty senior, too. Like me, he had a feeling you were still around. Auror work brings forth a lot of contacts, most of them make Mundungus Fletcher seem as honest as the day is long, but they are the useful ones. We scoured underground wizarding society to try to locate you. It wasn't easy. I've been trying to find you for the best part of a year. You did a good job of hiding.'

'Not good enough, it seems.'

'I was determined,' she replied almost apologetically.

'And what Miss Granger wants, Miss Granger gets.' Snape glared at her. 'And Heather Gunn's form?'

Hermione's self-satisfied expression faltered. 'My plan was to appear like a woman who no man could resist. I found Heather in a Muggle hairdressers, she was having her highlights done. It was easy enough to Accio the hair from the brush.' She paused and threw him another rueful look. 'I wanted to make sure I got your attention without you realising who I was. I knew you wouldn't have anything to do with the real me. I thought I would get to know you for a bit… '

'And then reveal yourself to be, not the exquisite Miss Gunn, but the woeful Miss Granger?'

Hermione winced, 'No, I thought… it seems silly now… I thought by getting to know you I could work out what needed to be done.' She fiddled with the silver heart chain around her neck, and clutched her wand tightly. 'I thought if I could just work out the part of your life which I could influence for the better, and have a positive effect on you without you knowing it was me, I could stop feeling responsible, and move on, knowing that I had done something good for you for once.'

Snape did not know whether to laugh or curse her for her deluded admission. Did she really think that repentance was as easy as doing a good deed and walking away? If she truly felt responsible for leaving him to die, then the feeling of remorse would never leave her; not for all the Victoria sponges and blow jobs in the world. If it were that easy he would have been a free man years ago when he had first saved Potter from professor Quirrel's dismal attempts on his life.

He knew what the honourable course of action should be: he should send her packing accompanied by several insults, a humiliating put-down and a lecture on expiation. He didn't hate his new, and unexpectedly alive, post-war life, on the contrary, he liked seclusion and anonymity - it wasn't that. But he did see this as fortuitous; a chance for something he could not yet name or understand to occur. He did not intend to let it pass. He was still a Slytherin at heart: a misanthropist, allegedly; an opportunist, undoubtedly.

Snape pointed his wand at the marauding debris caused by Hermione's spell, now scattered indiscriminately about the neglected alley-way. There was a sweeping motion of his arm and a muttered word, then the cigarette packets, drinks cartons and discarded food-stuffs sprang back into life, rose into the air and flew obediently back to the skip. Hermione mirrored his wand movement and the stragglers joined their comrades in the rusting old container, leaving the street cleaner than it had been when they arrived.

Snape stowed away his wand once more and turned to Hermione. 'I see no reason for your plans to change,' he said, 'you may continue. With my consent.'

Hermione looked as if he had just given her permission to jump in the skip along with the rest of the rubbish.

'What do you mean?' she asked, 'how can I do that? I meant to spend time with you, work out what I could fix for you. How can I do that now? Can't you just tell me what I can do for you?' She rubbed her forehead furiously, as if that would help her to make sense of him. 'Do you still make potions to sell? I could help you with that… take some of the burden… '

'I do not need an assistant, and if I did I can't imagine that working in close quarters with you in my cellar would be tantamount to enhancing my life.' He did not ask how she knew of his underground potion-making activities.

'Then what?'

He took out his wand and took a step nearer to her. 'Give me your hand.'

She wore the expression of a woman about to relinquish her soul, but she held out a trembling hand and allowed him to grasp her wrist with his so that her palm was facing upwards. Snape knew it was taking some effort for her to allow her hand to remain in his possession without yanking it back, but he did not have physical pain in mind as he tapped the fleshy part of her thumb with his wand. Slowly, as if an invisible quill were writing across her smooth pale skin, several rows of ink-formed words appeared in spidery-black script. He let go of his hold once the spell was complete, and Hermione held her hand up to her face to read the message inscribed on her flesh. She looked back at him enquiringly.

'It is the address of a coffee shop I visit from time to time on Saturday mornings. You will meet me there this Saturday,' he said.

Hermione looked back at her palm. 'Why?'

He threw her a chilling glare.

'Perhaps there is some aspect of my life which could benefit from your… input, perhaps there is not,' he began. 'But that is for you to uncover. I give you one month to put those celebrated brains of yours to use and work it out, Granger, starting on Saturday. I have not yet decided where we will meet after that, or how often, but I expect you to comply with wherever and whenever I decide.'

'You mean,' she clarified, 'we are to meet up and… chat until I work it out?'

'If I feel like chatting. I may not.'

'You're not planning on making this easy are you, sir?' she replied.

'Achieving repentance is never easy, I do not know if it is even possible, but it must be attempted, nevertheless.'

Hermione stared into his cavernous black eyes.

'Have you achieved it, professor?' she murmured, bravely.

He returned her gaze coldly. 'Ten o'clock. Do not be late,' he answered, before turning and Disapparating on the spot.