A/N: Ok, boys and girls, here's an update. It's kind of lengthy, but I didn't want to split it up.

I will update again in approx. two weeks or sooner if time allows.

Thank you for reading, and remember: All mistakes are my own and I love helpful reviews.

All characters belong to JKR and I am making no money at all WHATSOEVER from this tale.

Chapter 5


Snape readjusted the overstuffed plastic bags in either hand to allow for circulation to his fingers while Miss Granger continued her trivial historical narrative of the area. Half listening to her, he reflected on the events of the evening, and struggled with his conscience. He was very much aware that he was old enough to be her father, and he knew he would have to come to terms with his attraction to her and put her out of his mind, but she had felt so good underneath his hands. I wish this night would never end, she'd said. Stealing another glance of her, he felt a slight pang of covetous need ascend from somewhere in his abdomen and travel through his chest all the way to his throat. Swallowing hard, he assumed the feeling was the guilt he carried of being attracted to the young witch. He didn't want the night to end, but he knew his reasons were different than hers. Ridiculous old wizard, he yelled in his mind, she has been accepting because you are her former teacher, you imbecile. He wanted to resent her for conjuring desires in his body he had suppressed long ago, but he found that he rather enjoyed the sensations, and for the first time since he was a very young man, he enjoyed being alive.

The thought of being tortured by another unrequited romance was out of the question. Miss Granger was simply too young for him and he would most certainly destroy anything beautiful with his proven history of insensitivity. He had blamed himself for ending the friendship with the only true friend he had ever held dear. The Daily Prophet's sneering face of Lily Evans came to the forefront of his mind and he realized the pain of her memory did not haunt him in the usual way. Perhaps, he thought, he had been successful in suppressing his feelings for her, as well as the pain of losing her. On the other hand, his debt to her had been paid in full, and he was liberated by the epiphany that he had actually done everything in his power to repair the damage he had caused between them. He almost stopped walking when the thought hit him that Lily had been extremely unfair in her judgment of him, despite his constant pleas of forgiveness. She had already fallen in love with Potter, and he never stood a chance against the cruel, self-centered prat.

Snape felt physically lighter after having put to rest his worst memory. Taking in a long, deep breath through his nose, he exhaled a relieved breath of air that he felt he had been holding for an eternity. Despite the sagging plastic bags of groceries he carried in each hand, he was certain that if he knew her address, he would be able to sprint to Miss Granger's flat with little or no effort. The young witch walking next to him had no idea what had just happened inside of him, and he wanted to scream it to the top of his lungs, but he maintained his quiet demeanor with a smug grin.

"Professor, please! I can hardly walk another step in these abominable shoes!" She gasped, half joking, but half serious.

Snape had not intended to walk faster than his companion. He had become so lost in his in his newfound peace that he had not noticed she was practically running to keep up with him. Falling back in step with her, he smiled at the ground as his face dealt with the flushing of his cheeks. Miss Granger hobbled along, picking up the conversation where she had left off, and he stole another glance at her face, careful to not turn his head as to reveal the glow he knew was radiating from his skin.

His sense of euphoria was heightened when he thought the name, Albus Severus Potter. If Potter were alive today he would be a grandfather. Once more grateful for Minerva's silencing spell, he would have been heard laughing out loud at the mere thought of James Potter holding the child on his lap with that particular name. Glancing at Miss Granger, she had become aware of his smiling facial expression, but she thought it was because he had found humor in something she said. He played it off as such. However, his grin disappeared when he realized that he and James Potter would be the same age, making the snarky professor old enough to be a grandfather, as well. Damn.

Miss Granger stopped walking and became silent. She motioned to the massive building in front of them and gloomily sighed, "Well, here we are. Home sweet home."

He wasn't sure if she was bruised because she knew he had not been listening, or if she was not pleased with her home. Perhaps she had grown weary of him. He simply could not interpret her facial expression, and he could not physically ask, so he assumed it was a conglomeration of all three.

His line of vision started at the formal entrance of her heavy front door and continued upward to see three darkened floors of renovated architecture that probably dated to the 1700's. Looking around, he realized that she lived in the most upscale, antiseptic part of the area, but her building looked more like a forgotten mausoleum. Hers was the only house without a small, neatly groomed landscape on the grassy patches. Instead, she had a large urn on the step next to her front door that contained a dead plant he could not identify. He thought it out of her character to not maintain living things under her care and he began to worry that she had lost some of the zest for life she once had as a student. Her success as an author had brought her vast wealth, but he was saddened that she was no longer being challenged intellectually. For a moment, he wished he had been listening.

He watched her lackadaisically climb the five steps to the elegant front door of her building and fumble through all the shrunken items in her handbag for her keys. He thought she looked out of place against the monastic backdrop of the commodious, archaic vault and he blamed himself for the direction her life had taken. Although she had become an efficacious writer, she was not fulfilled. He believed his influence could have led her to a more gratifying occupation, but he had instead selfishly chosen to castigate her for his own idiotic misery.

Her sheer wrap drooped over her wrist while she continued digging around in her purse. "I purchased the entire building so I wouldn't be bothered by noisy, nosey neighbors. I needed to be able to work in peace. Everyone in this area keeps to themselves. I hardly ever see anyone." She clicked open the door, and stepped inside, where she immediately kicked off her shoes, and punted them forcefully into the corner.

He was somewhat perturbed that she had not used her wand to spell open the door and was quite unsettled that she had not placed a single protective ward on the place.

She looked at him with a slightly scolding expression and crossed her arms defensively. "I recognize that look on your face, Professor. I've seen it since my first year at Hogwarts. Honestly! There are more policemen in this area than in all of London. I'm perfectly safe here!"

He looked the cobblestone street up and down and did not see a single inhabitant, much less any members of the local law enforcement, and he scowled at her. Standing at the bottom of the steps, he tried to comprehend the information she had just conveyed to him. He believed it irresponsible of her to live in alone a house twice the size of Grummauld Place in an area so densely populated with strange Muggles without protective wards. She seemed so small compared to the space surrounding her and he was overcome with concern that she was living with a subconscious death wish.

However, he had surmised that since she had to search the bottom of her bag for her scarcely used keys, she had perhaps not used her wand on his behalf. After all, she was present the day the Ministry confiscated his wand and restricted his magic to the castle grounds, but he would certainly speak to her about her reckless lifestyle once his speech was returned. For the time being, he decided to play along and make no more protest. The evening had been too perfect and he would do nothing to ruin it. His scowl turned into a lifted eyebrow that insinuated he was leery of her decisions.

She stood on the landing and lifted her hands with exasperation when she saw him standing on the sidewalk, still eyeing her with suspicion. Rolling her eyes, she asserted, "I assure you, Professor, that I normally employ the use of very substantial wards. However, there are no dangerous Death Eaters lurking about now that Vol…" She stopped before she could say his name and huffed, "Just come inside, Professor. Let's eat."

Once inside, she flipped on the lights and led him through a large cavernous room with vaulted ceilings and freshly polished hardwood floors. It was scarcely furnished and minimally decorated, leaving a small acreage of floor space. He had never known her to be materialistic and her almost vacant living quarters proved that she only cared about having the basic necessities. Her priorities were clear in that she had a small library of bookcases stuffed with books of every genre, magical as well as Muggle. The only mentionable seating in the room was a comfortable chaise lounge she had placed in front of a large French window, and judging from the stack of books and empty food containers littering the floor around it, he was led to believe she spent most of her time sitting in that single spot just reading.

"I practically live in this room," She said in a matter-of-fact way as she quickly gathered up several empty pizza boxes from Dan's Pizza Palace. She looked at him apologetically with her arms full of rubbish. "I'm sorry about the mess, Professor. I do not have a lot of visitors and I certainly didn't expect to have you here." She blushed as she disappeared into the next room. He could hardly hear her, but the live acoustics allowed her voice to easily flow through. "I never use the upper levels anymore. I bought this place about a year after the war. There was talk at St. Mungo's about several patients who still needed rehabilitation, but the staff went on strike because of work overload and low wages. The remaining patients were well, for the most part, but they had nowhere to go because their homes had been destroyed during the Final Battle." She came back into the room and scanned the area to be sure she had cleaned up the mess. "I volunteered to take them in since I had the space. And of course, I had been given the credentials of Medi-Witch to tend to you while you were…" She did not complete her sentence, but looked away, saddened. She retrieved the stack of books from the floor next to the chaise lounge and quickly replaced them in the bookcase. "At one time I had fifteen witches and wizards staying here, but they eventually moved out."

From the corner of his eye, he saw Crookshanks emerge from sleeping behind the computer on the roll top desk Miss Granger had strategically placed in the far corner of the room. The hefty orange tabby stretched out his paws in front of him and yawned lazily, knocking a stack of parchments to the floor. He meowed brokenly in Miss Granger's direction, and he carelessly stepped on the keyboard with both fluffy front paws, waiting for her to greet him. As soon as the first key was pressed, the bright screen next to him to come to life, and revealed an image Snape recognized as himself and Miss Granger. In the frame, she was standing next to him at the Yule Ball, smiling at the camera while he stood miserably aloof.

She turned around as soon as she heard the cat rustling in the corner, and she panicked when she saw the computer had been left on. Sprinting across the room, she grabbed the cat and slammed shut the roll top cover, hoping he had not had time to see the picture.

He didn't remember the photograph being taken and he never knew it even existed. At that moment, he was most grateful to Minerva for hitting him with a silencing spell because he would have remonstrated loudly and insisted she destroy the offending image immediately. He did not like to be photographed; much less have his image stolen by…Why would she have a photograph of me? Why in Merlin's name would she want one in the first place?

She gave Crookshanks a few strokes before setting him on the floor and she motioned for Snape to follow her into the kitchen, silently chastising herself for leaving her computer running.

The circulation to the tips of his fingers was being withheld by the heavy, stretching plastic handles he had been carrying and he was ready to rid his hands of them. The walk to her kitchen seemed endless and he followed her into a brick scullery that was almost as large as his potions laboratory. The appliances were modern and new, but mostly unused, and he found the layout to be quite satisfactory and convenient for working. There was plenty of empty counter space and he approved of the island that was strategically placed in the middle of it. Tucked underneath, opposite the sink area were two sturdy barstools she had obviously acquired from the Leaky Cauldron.

She watched the older wizard place the bags on the island countertop, analyzing his expression for any clue as to whether or not he had seen the picture on her computer. She hoped she had hidden it before he had caught a glimpse, but the grim expression on his face confirmed that he had indeed seen it, and he was not at all pleased. Although her explanation of having the photograph in her possession was a simple one, she struggled with the right words to say so she would not stupidly reveal her true feelings for him. Still, his scowl had always intimidated her in the past, but it now made her shiver with an emotion she recognized as a need that only he could fulfill.

Stalking to the cooler, he opened the door, and frowned at what he saw. The only items inside the barren space were a half eaten container of fuzzy yogurt and a decaying piece of moldy cheese. Placing the milk and eggs on the middle shelf, he removed the other offending substances, and grimaced.

He approached her with the repelling remnants from her cooler as to reprimand her for having no proper nourishment in her stores to eat. Holding them over the rubbish bin, he dropped them on top of the pizza boxes she had carefully stuffed inside. She was oblivious to his concern about her poor nutrition and she assumed his annoyance had been the result of the picture on her computer screen.

She proceeded to unload the tomatoes from the first bag, but she stopped working, and exhaled audibly. "Colin Creevey," she rasped.

Towering over her, he folded his arms and waited for her to explain further what she meant about the deceased young photographer.

"I'm sorry about having the picture, Professor. Colin's parents asked me to collect his things after he…died." She looked away, fighting back tears from the memory. "In fact, a lot of other parents asked I do the same for their dead children." She closed her eyes to the horrific memories. Tears leaked helplessly from the inside corners of her eyes and her voice broke when she spoke. "I found that roll of film among his things and I selfishly kept it. I returned his camera and his other belongings, but I developed those photographs out of curiosity. There were mostly images of that horrific band at the Yule Ball, but I kept that one." She continued unloading the last of her bag and noisily smashed it into a ball. As if trying to bury the memories, she stuffed it forcefully into an opening between the pizza boxes, and roughly wiped the tears from her face with both hands before turning back around to rinse the vegetables in the sink.

He thought it cruel for those parents to have selfishly asked a child to tend to such business and it angered him that she had been charged to perform the duties of an adult undertaker. However, it stood to reason that she be placed with the task. She had been the most mature student of her age, as well as the constant voice of reason among her peers. Such a brave young witch, he thought.

The sparkling of her dress from her backside held him captive and he found himself standing closer to her. Tears fell from her eyes faster than she could wipe them away with the backs of her hands and he felt a strong need to comfort her. His hands hovered over her shoulders, remembering how soft her skin had been under his palms as they danced, and he thought it inappropriate to touch her with empathy when he only wanted to feel her skin once more. He had no experience with such matters and he felt inadequate when it came to romantic notions, so he nervously retracted his hands and placed them at his sides. He spotted an unopened bottle of Elf-made wine and moved to retrieve it from under the cabinet just before she turned around.

Picking up the bottle, he wiped away the light layer of dust that had collected on it, and berated himself for being the cause of her current state of mind. He considered taking his leave so she could go back to managing her life without his presence to remind her of events that would be best forgotten, but when he turned to walk away, the image of the Creevey boy's face came to the forefront of his mind, and he could not move.

Snape remembered how the boy carried that confounded camera everywhere he went. Snape had confiscated the offending contraption in his second year potions class because the flash had ruined a fresh shipment of rare Gillyweed when the young wizard snapped a picture of it. Shaking his head, Snape tried to rid his mind of the memory, and an urgent sense of remorse washed over him. Although he had struggled to deal with Dumbledore's death, he had successfully avoided thinking of the ones who had fallen during the war, especially the students.

He placed the wine bottle on the counter and began opening and closing cabinet doors in search of glasses, slamming them with more force than was needed. Miss Granger realized what he was looking for, and she pulled two clean vessels from the dishwasher, and placed them in his hands. She also pulled out two clean plates and habitually closed the appliance with her knee, thinking how exceptional it was to be working in the kitchen with Severus Snape.

She sliced the bread and began preparing the tomatoes. From the corner of her eye, she saw him admiring the elaborate etching of the Hogwarts crest on the outside of the goblets before pouring the wine.

"They were a housewarming gift from Professor McGonagall. I had four originally, but Crookshanks met with two of them while prowling on the mantle in the den. I often neglect my domestic duties, I'm afraid, and I do not wish to have a House Elf constantly cleaning up my messes."

Snape glared at the orange beast who was sitting in the corner of the room with one leg straight up cleaning his testicles. He stopped for a moment when he heard his name, and studied the wizard, but he quickly returned to his gratifying task when he saw he had not been called to eat.

Thankful to be thinking of something other than deceased students, Snape filled the goblets, rolling his eyes, amused with the cat. You should be so lucky. Dreadful beast.

He handed one to Miss Granger and held up his own. She raised her glass and clinked hers against his, exchanging a silent toast to memories of the past. Their eyes locked for a split second, and there was a mutual understanding of contrition regarding the war, but they both looked away at the same time, quietly trying to avoid thinking of lost acquaintances. Most of all, they tried to suppress the heavy space of the last five years. Draining the burgundy substance, the flavor brought to mind the green grass of Hogwarts grounds, and they both closed their eyes to allow the soothing liquid to enter their bodies.

The wine instantly penetrated her empty system and she welcomed the tranquil feeling it brought about. Glancing at her former professor, she wondered if it had the same effect on him. He sat on a stool across from her and pinched the bridge of his nose with his eyes closed. His usual pallor had taken on a pinkish glow, and the rims of his eyes were reddish in color. She noticed for the first time that his eyelashes were very long and she quickly looked away. She assumed he was dealing with his usual personal hell, but she was concerned that she had never seen him show sadness before now, and she eyed him more closely. Catching her watching him, he exhaled, and refilled their glasses, motioning to her full glass to divert her eyes away from his tearful ones. She graciously reached for the stem and decided to say nothing about his emotions.

She returned to her task of preparing the sandwiches and he sipped his wine while peering at her through the glass. The Chinese stick in her hair was no longer doing its job effectively and long strands of her wavy hair fell to the sides of her face, framing the lonely, lined eyes of his former student. The woman's hands that now carefully prepared their meal had been the very hands that had pulled him from the icy fingers of death in the Shrieking Shack and then again to freedom while fleeing through the parking garage. He had yet to understand her motives for saving him, and he mulled over every possibility. She should have hated him, but she did not. Perhaps she saved me because she loved me. He snorted into his glass and almost choked when he laughed. Preposterous! The wine is certainly doing its job, he thought as he reached for the bottle to pour another glass.

Needing to make conversation, she glanced in the rubbish at the discarded contents of her cooler, and she began to explain. "I live alone and I order in a lot." Throwing down the knife, she grabbed her finger, and yelped, "Damn! Damn! Damn!"

He was up before she could swear another time, and he trailed his finger along the small cut, carefully closing the wound. Taking a nearby towel, he gently wrapped it around her finger to wipe up the blood, and he held it firmly between both of his hands.

"Thank you," she gasped. "I'm such a…" Her sentence was interrupted by the sudden realization that he had performed a healing spell with wandless, silent magic. Her pupils dilated with admiration and her mouth gaped open. She gasped, "You are certainly full of surprises tonight, Professor!"

Holding onto her recently healed hand with his left, he quirked an eyebrow, and placed the forefinger of his right to his lips.

Leaning her forehead on his chest, she whispered, "Your secret is safe with me."

He could hardly breathe under the slight weight of her head resting on his chest and he had no idea why she was so astounded by a simple healing spell. He knew he could trust her with his secret, but he felt guilty for having acted upon his impulse. His actions had put her in a position to potentially lie on his behalf should the small spell be detected. At the moment, he didn't care, but he appreciated the closeness of one who had walked through the grips of hell alongside him. Closing his eyes, he reassured his mind that her feelings for him were purely platonic, and that her actions were merely out of gratitude for healing her finger, and nothing more. It had felt good to help her in some small way after all she had done for him.

His arms encircled her and drew her closer to his chest. She smelled of faint Muggle perfume and sweat from the humid night air. It was a fragrance he would not soon forget.

She withdrew from his embrace. "I'm sorry, Professor! It's just…I'm just hungry and the wine has gone completely to my head. I don't know what came over me!"

The warmth of her body leaving his made him suddenly feel cold and alone. He wanted to take her in his arms and never let go of her again, but he took her by the shoulders and led her to a stool, instead, and motioned for her to sit. Holding up his hand, he signaled for her to stay put as he backed away, removing his tuxedo jacket. He hung it on a hook on the back of the door and unbuttoned another small black button of his white shirt. Rolling up his sleeves as he returned to the countertop, he took his goblet, and drained the remaining wine left inside of it.

She was satisfied that the fine, masculine hair she had seen when they danced seemed to grow thicker down his chest and she could not remove her eyes from it. She had never seen him in anything but his conservative teaching regalia and she reveled in his relaxed attire. Her attention went immediately to his forearms and she watched his skilled hands prep and slice exactly as she had seen him do many times in his potions laboratory. She had admired and manicured his apt hands while he had been in hospital and she noticed that he had maintained them over the past five years. Her mind began to wonder what the rest of his body looked like underneath his clothing and she regretted not having taken a gander while she had been his nurse. Cleansing spells had served her well, and she had been tempted on many occasion to peek, but respect for his privacy and fear of his waking while in the process had kept her from doing so. She distracted her mind by inspecting the pink scar on her finger that he had healed, and she reflected on the events of the evening.

Knowing that Miss Granger had always demonstrated excellent skill and precision with a knife during potion making, he believed her accident was the result of nerves. She had not coped with the post traumatic stress she had suffered from the Final Battle and he was concerned that she had not lived as full of a life as he would have liked for her. She appeared to be as reclusive as he tended to be, and he felt kindred to her, but he was angered by the thought that her best friends had abandoned her.

The wine in her empty system was making her sleepy, but when he placed the plate with the beautifully constructed extra-large roast beef sandwich in front of her, her stomach rumbled louder than ever before, and she fell into a fit of giddy laughter.

He could only smile as he joined her on the adjacent stool.

Picking up the sandwich, she held it in front of her face, and gushed, "That is the most perfect work of art I have ever seen come out of any kitchen! I am almost sad I am going to eat it." Closing her eyes, she filled her mouth with a bite bigger than she could easily chew. Somehow she managed to swallow and attacked the rest of it in a manner that demonstrated she was famished.

Snape ignored her use of poor table manners, and devoured his own meal, appreciating the fact that he didn't have to be on his guard around her. He knew the alcohol had taken away some of their inhibitions, but he had never seen her eat that fast before, and he licked the spicy mustard from his fingers that dripped from between the layers of his sandwich. She had always been one to pick at her food and he was satisfied that he could please her with something as simple as a sandwich. He could not understand how she had managed to keep her slender figure with the poor eating habits she had acquired over the years. In his mind, he began to plan meals that he would enjoy preparing for her if given the chance. However, he knew his evening with her would soon come to a close, and he was uncertain if the opportunity to cook for her would ever be possible.

As she picked the last crumbs from her plate, she exhaled. "That was delicious, Professor. As many times as I have seen you preparing ingredients for Potions, I never imagined you as a master chef. Isn't that funny?"

He nodded and took the last bite of his food.

"After your trial, I took a few months off to spend with my parents and then I went to University. I got my Masters of Potions in two years and I wrote a book, which I am proud to say is a smashing success." Licking her fingers, she joked, "And I am now fabulously important for being something other than Harry Potter's friend!"

He raised his glass to her and smiled briefly. Ahh there it is. The spark. The smile. She has found her niche, after all. She clinked her goblet to his and they drained the wine as quickly as they could swallow it up. She poured the rest of the bottle, evenly distributing the last drop, and rested her elbow next to her empty plate. Propping her chin on her hand, she studied him, and her facial expression went from being elated to somber. She had his full attention.

"I'm sorry I didn't let you die as you wanted." Her voice was sad and sincere as she twisted the stem of her wine glass in circles.

He had not expected her to say such a thing so easily. In fact, he had forgotten for a short time that any of that part of his life had ever occurred. The evening had been a fresh start with only shadows of characters from his past life and he had actually enjoyed being alive since he had seen her exiting the ladies room in the lobby of the theatre.

He put his hand on top of hers to stop the infernal twisting of her glass and she looked at him with surprise. Placing his forefinger over her lips, he did not want her to speak anymore of that dreadful night Nagini had almost claimed his life. He simply wanted his life to continue as it had for the past few hours.

She closed her eyes and kissed his finger before pulling his hand to cup her cheek. She kissed the inside of his palm and pressed his hand to the side of her face. "I have missed you so very much," she breathed.

He realized that he had missed her, as well, and he quivered under her touch. Confusion overtook him with the unfamiliar feelings of desire for the young witch and he was further distracted by the fact he had never before allowed anyone close enough to touch him in such a gentle manner. She held a power over him that he could no longer deny, and the guilt of being completely alone with her clouded his conscience. Panic began to set in when he lost all sense of time and place and he was certain he should soon return to the theatre. He stood rigidly in front of her, preparing to take his leave, and she rose from her stool to softly touch his face with her fingers. Every nerve in his body was aflame with uncertainty and need. The tenderness she displayed was foreign to him and he thought he might faint. She had shown him a glimpse of a life he knew he could never have, but he was in a trap that he had no desire to escape.

Her moistened eyes held him captive and she whispered softly, "I've waited for five years to see you to thank you for everything you've done. You have sacrificed every aspect of your life for the light and I wanted you to know that I didn't want you to die because I cared for you." Inhaling a deep breath, her face contorted into a full blown cry and she wiped the falling tears with the backs of her hands. Her voice became louder the more she spoke each syllable. "And Dumbledore…He asked too much of you…He asked too much from all of us…And he manipulated…I'm angry with him, Professor, and I hate him for it!"

The guilt from years of chastising and loathing her overtook him and he could only take her in his arms and clutch her to his chest with silent apology. Although Minerva had given him permission to be angry, the young witch in his arms held the key that unlocked the vault to his most guarded regrets, yet she did not hate him for his past transgressions. Her forgiveness had been immediate in the desolate, creaky shack that should have been his grave, and even then she had offered him absolution. Now she had so easily said aloud the words he had never been able to utter and he felt kindred to her for those words alone. In that moment, he knew she was the only person in the world who had the intelligence and fortitude to truly comprehend the depth of his lifetime of silent agony. He had been held prisoner, not only by the Ministry, but by his own cantankerous mind, and now he was free from the chains of self-loathing.

Pulling the Oriental stick from her hair, he dropped it beside her plate, and stroked her silky locks, returning the gentle affection of her touch. He felt obligated to rid her of the emotional scars she had suffered from the twisted evil that had plagued their world. She had paid more than her share of the price, even after the war had been won.

When he touched her, she felt as though she had been broken into pieces, and put back together in the matter of a second with a glue that could not be mitigated. His mere presence had been like an elixir for her soul, relieving her of having to constantly be on guard from fleeting memories or recurring nightmares, and her relief spilled out all at once. Her arms went around his waist before she could think better of it and she pressed her face against his chest. She didn't hear it, but she felt an unexpected gasp of air fill his lungs, and flurry her hair with his warm breath when he exhaled. She sighed openly and wet his shirt with her tears.

"Oh, Professor! I'm s-so s-sorry! It's just…" Her pent up emotions overwhelmed her to the point that she gave up speaking to just cry and hold onto the only wizard in the world who had ever made her feel truly safe. "Nightmares…" She squeaked. "E-every time I close my eyes Professor Dumbledore is crying tears of blood!" Hermione took in a deep, gratifying breath in preparation for the tears to follow.

He became frustrated that he could not whisper to her that everything would be ok or speak softly to her until she regained her senses. Her hot breath penetrated the tight weave of his tuxedo shirt, and he could feel her heart beating fast against his chest between rasps of sobs that shook her body. She reaffirmed her clasp around his waist and he enfolded her tighter in his arms in an attempt to absorb some of her pain.

She clutched the back of his shirt with her fists and he felt her hands close to his flesh, making him tingle in ways he never had before. Resting is chin on the top of her head, he stroked her silky hair, and rubbed small circles with his fingertips on the smooth skin of her back between her shoulder blades. He knew well the dream and he found it ironic that hers was very similar to his. They fought a mutual war to survive the memories of dark timesl while hanging on to their remaining threads of sanity. He wanted to ask her for more details about her dream, but that would have to be a topic for another time, should there be another time.

From the way she was shaking and crying, he believed she had not spoken of her feelings until this moment. He did not want her to carry the burden of hating anyone, even Albus. The fine lines deepening her eyes proved she had seen more death and battle than any other witch her age, and it had probably ruined any chance of happiness she may have had otherwise. She had fought valiantly to save her world and her friends, and had also been used as a decoy in Dumbledore's strategy to bring down the Dark Lord. The war had taken her innocence, and he wanted to give it back. He knew exactly how she felt because he carried the memories and the guilt around with him every moment of every day and he didn't want such a vibrant young woman to completely shut herself away from feeling as he had done. Closing his eyes, he took refuge in her embrace, and she in his, recovering from a mutual enemy, and he fought to hold back his own tears of rage. She had given him absolution from the transgressions of his past and he needed for her to be the inquisitive know-it-all he had come to…love.

Hermione broke the hug to reach for a napkin. She covered her face with the flimsy white paper and blew her nose into it. Balling it up in her hand, she exhaled a long sigh, and managed a slight smile. "I'm sorry, Professor. I didn't mean to…"

Placing his finger on her lips, he silenced her once again, and gently turned her face to look at him. He gave her a reassuring glance, and wiped the last tear from her eye with his thumb.

She leaned forward and placed a slow kiss between his cheek and the corner of his mouth. He was shocked and frozen. As beautiful as she was, she is still my student, or was, or well, not anymore, but technically I taught her at one time. He parted his lips in preparation to tell her to stop, but he could only close his eyes and let the moment absorb into him. His rational mind believed it would be inappropriate for him to stay any longer, but the rest of him thought differently, and he never wanted to leave.

She drew back and looked up at him with trusting, watery eyes. Her gaze remained fixed on his, like she had just found something valuable she had lost. He allowed her to take advantage of his unguarded moment, and he found refuge in her understanding, as well as her intellect. She was the only positive token from his past that still regarded him as a strong, needed wizard, and he appreciated the reprieve from the life of being a loathed felon.

Caressing her cheek with his thumb, he could no longer deny his feelings for her, and he was certain he could drown in the wide pools of amber staring up at him. He had a pressing need to immerse himself in her ocean, and become anointed with the nectar of everything he knew to be good and right. Abandoning all reason, he closed his eyes, and inhaled through his nose on his descent to her lips. His kiss landed full on her soft, flawless mouth, and was surprised by her audible sigh of acceptance. Her hands snaked up his chest and locked around his neck while she melted her body to his. Fisting her hair in his left hand, his right hand explored the soft, bare skin that covered the slope of her back, and their hearts savagely pounded in sync with the other.

She parted her lips, and his breathing became erratic when he felt the tip of her tongue graze his bottom lip.

They did not hear the 'pop' of Apparition when Harry arrived in the front of her flat in search of her.

"Hermione!" Harry gasped, grimacing. "What the bloody hell are you doing?"

She let go of Snape while drawing her wand from between her breasts and pointed it at Harry's head before screeching at him. "Merlin's balls on a fucking stick, Harry! I'm trying to have a fucking life! Can't you knock before you violate my privacy! You're lucky I didn't fucking blast you!"

Throwing his hands in the air with surrender, he lowered his voice to a more apologetic tone. "I'm sorry, Hermione! I tried calling your cell, but you didn't answer. McGonagall sent me to fetch Professor Snape."