Anything you recognise here is not mine. Full references at the end.

'We live, as we dream—alone.'

Pack Clouds Away

She loved teaching; it was true.

And Arithmancy was such a wonderful subject to teach. More often than not, the students who chose to study it were dedicated and applied themselves in a way that pleased her. It was not all plain sailing, of course. She had problem students; she was not immune to that plague, but she felt she was competent enough to deal with them. In fact, she'd been doing it for long enough that she knew she was.

However, she was not in her own classroom today. Hermione was sat behind Filius's desk, covering his first-year Ravenclaw class while he was laid up with a severe cold. She flicked through her own lesson plans while the students scribbled down the answers to questions she had written on the board. It was the last lesson of the term and she was prepared for boisterous children, excited at the prospect of the Christmas break. Periodically, she would glance up, apparently to check the sand timer, but really to check no one was about to try and pull a fast one with her. During one of these glances, she noticed something odd at the back of the room.

A boy sat furiously rubbing the sleeve of his robe over his face as he bent his head low over his parchment. But his quill did not move an inch. Hermione knew it could not be that he did not know the answers—the questions were simple enough. Getting to her feet, she moved up and down the rows of desks, glancing at each student's work, before reaching her intended target.

It was as she thought. The boy had been crying. Knowing she could not do anything for the time being, she waited until the bell rang and the class filed out. Then she spoke to him.

'Anything wrong, Mr Scott?' she asked him kindly.

'No, Miss,' he replied, with only a little wobble in his voice.

Hermione was going to push the issue, but something in his manner deterred her. She did not want to embarrass him further. 'Very well, then.'

She smiled and he scurried out. A straggler, collecting up his bag, stopped before her as he headed for the door.

'Professor Snape gave him a huge row in Potions this morning, after he mucked up his Babbling draught.'

'Oh…' said Hermione, feeling disappointed and resigned to hear it. 'I see. Tell Mr Scott that no doubt Professor Snape has forgotten about it; he should forget about it as well.'

The boy nodded and wandered off, but Hermione knew she would not be forgetting about it. Why did he always have to upset the students? She knew he could be a cordial enough man when he wanted to be. So why did he always have to scare the children witless? It grated on her to no end to see the upset on some of their faces. Oh, she knew that at times such action towards them was warranted, but more often than not the Potion's master's reactions were certainly not necessary.

The incident annoyed her all day, and she couldn't help herself when she saw him in the staff room that evening. She stepped up to him. 'Professor Snape, may I have a word?'

He looked at her expressionlessly. 'If you must.'

Hermione dropped into the chair next to him. 'I had a student today, who you frightened—'

'Oh, not this again,' he interrupted with irritation, referring to previous occasions when she had broached this very issue with him. 'They need to learn that they cannot make mistakes in Potions.'

'They are children. You don't have to shout at them to get them realise that Potions is a dangerous subject! There is no need to terrify eleven-year olds in such a manner.'

He stared at her and it made her rather uncomfortable.

Minerva, who sat nearby, began speaking. 'Hermione, I'm not sure that you should question Severus's—'

'No,' cut in the man himself. 'She is allowed to have an opinion, Minerva. What Professor Granger fails to understand is the necessity of running my classroom with an iron fist. In some instances, one wrong move is all it takes to create chaos. I have only one set of eyes, Granger. How would I manage if I could not trust some way that students will not dare to disobey me? Or, perhaps, you would like to see more accidents occur than they do at present?'

Hermione felt herself flush. 'The boy made a mistake—he did not actively set out to cause a problem!'

'What does the intention matter when the result can be exactly the same?'

Hermione looked away from his hard expression, though she trusted her own countenance let him know exactly what she thought of his argument.

'Excuse me,' he said in the end, getting to his feet, sounding rather vexed.

Once Severus had left the room, Minerva approached to where Hermione sat. 'If Severus were anyone else, I would say you gave him real offence, Hermione.'

Hermione stirred. 'I was just—'

But Minerva lowered her voice and cut off any attempt for her to explain herself. 'And may I remind you that Severus is a senior member of staff at this school? It is not for you to question his teaching methods, especially not in front of a roomful of his colleagues. If you have an issue, please bring it to me in future.'

'Of course… I apologise.' Hermione looked at her hands, feeling her cheeks burn hotly. And when her embarrassment became too much for her to bear, she stood up and hurried out of the room.

She'd made an awful mess of that, hadn't she? She knew there was a reason she rarely pushed herself to speak to the man.

What a great way to end the term, Hermione.

She shut the door to her rooms behind her and rested her back against the oak door for several moments, breathing deeply. So that was it, the students would be going home for Christmas tomorrow, and she, well, she was still here. Not that she had anywhere much else to be.

Sitting down in her armchair near the fireplace, she kicked off her shoes and sighed. It was nice to feel that she had a couple of weeks free of lessons. Not that she had much else to do while she wasn't teaching.

Although, having said that, there was something she was looking forward to and she turned her gaze towards her bookcase.


How she loved her collection of books. And her Muggle collection of classics, she wouldn't mind admitting to anyone, were her very best favourites. Magical books rarely dwelt on the story of living and the trials and tribulations thereof. But the Muggles were so much better at writing books that were just so… enthralling. They spoke to her more completely than any other of her collection of texts.

It was probably her greatest pleasure; what that said about her she didn't care much to contemplate. After her fracas with Severus, she would choose a book to keep her company for tonight and help forget her lousy day.

There was no competition as to her most loved genre. It was romance; specifically those old-fashioned ones. She was sure she was beginning to become the personification of a cliché—impending spinsterhood, unlucky in love, but still, deep down, secretly wishful that her knight would come.

He wouldn't, of course; who the hell would she meet at Hogwarts? She was resigned to it now, but she could still fantasise. And what was wrong with being a cliché? She wasn't hurting anyone. Anyway, she cared not a whit about what others thought of her. People were probably already beginning to think she was shy of a few Gobstones.

If she liked, of an evening, to sink into her armchair and lose herself in a long forgotten world of manners and custom, and of chivalry and romance, well, so what?

And there were so many to choose from!

She got up and passed by her romance collection, running a finger over the worn spines. She didn't just read books—she lived them. She could spend time with the Brontes, running around the Yorkshire moors or teaching in Belgium. She could pick out an Austen and imagine herself the very picture of an English rose in search of her fortuitous, well-made match. But she wasn't always after anything flowery. Sometimes, she liked to indulge in a bit of Victorian grit and lose herself in a multi-layered Dickens novel. She saved the more tragic tales for those days when not even the floweriest of romances could touch the loneliness she felt in her own heart. Whoever said that misery loved company was right, she decided, and she had plenty of novels to satisfy such occasions. She touched one book and sniffed; poor Tess.

No one could judge her while she was lost in a world not of her own creation. No one could snub her while she was being happily whirled around a ballroom or fending off unwanted marriage proposals!

Oh, she was sure her colleagues would think her batty if they discovered the enthusiasm with which she utterly consumed a book. She was sure they would think her sad—without a life. But absorbed in a book, nothing else mattered.

Anyway, who were they to decree what was normal? She lamented that so few people had her imagination. Imagination gave life colour! She allowed herself to get vividly swept away by the written word and that was where her happiness lay. Dreamland was just so much more satisfying than everyday drudgery.

Her finger paused on a volume, the spine of which betrayed the frequency of its perusal. Merlin, she loved this one. It was a story that took her through a whole host of emotions, from real sadness to bright happiness, and while she knew it off by heart, it was never old.

She touched the cover fondly. This was one of those books that left her feeling achingly bittersweet at its conclusion. It was one that had the strongest ability to lament her own existence. When the last page was finished, and the haze of the world she had been temporarily inhabiting had dissipated, she would replace it onto the shelf and think, why not me?

Why couldn't it ever happen to her?

It's fiction, that's what they'd say. Stories in books don't happen in real life. But why can't they? She looked at the array of books before her. Most, if not all, were perfectly within the realms of possibility. They were not works dealing in impossibilities and false realities.

So, she did not live in Regency England in a house of splendour, taking tea with the gentry. And so Dickensian London did not exist anymore. But why couldn't her Mr Rochester have come along in a different guise? Where was her Captain Wentworth to rescue her from her impending spinsterhood?

But for others, others luckier than herself, she was sure these events happened. Happily ever after; she was sure it existed, in whatever shape or form, for some. It was her sincerest hope that it did.

Though, she realised that as much as she had never been personally touched by it, she had seen it with her own eyes. Her friends seemed to have found their happily-ever-afters.

At one time, she might have worried herself over what she had done to make herself undeserving of such luck. She would have wondered what it was that was wrong with her; what faults she had that were a barrier to her finding her happiness. But time and events had changed her outlook. She believed in concepts such as fate and destiny. And maybe, she was just not destined to find her one true love. She thought she might have found her happiness once, but years had waxed and waned many a time since and he'd passed her by. She imagined some man, her soul mate, somewhere, thinking the same thoughts as she—fate and circumstance conspiring to keep them apart. It appealed greatly to her sense of drama.

She looked at the book she held in her hand. Yes, North and South was certainly one of her top favourites and would do well for her now. She curled down into her armchair and adjusted her reading glasses. This one was due for another re-read.

Margaret Hale was one of her favourite heroines. Proud, intelligent, and down-to-earth. she admired the qualities that she liked to think she also possessed. And Mr John Thornton was, naturally, one of her favourite heroes. Indeed, one of the reasons she liked him so much was that she secretly felt she could know such a person. But in what guise Mr Thornton could come to her in the current day and age, she did not know.

Sometimes, during dinner, for instance, she would look around and imagine which of her acquaintances would fit into the roles of certain characters. Filius was always Mr Woodhouse, for instance, whenever she thought of Emma. Filius was a hypochondriac to rival that of the fictional character. But she was often woefully limited in her casting of characters. She could not include the students, and without them, there was rarely anyone in the castle young enough. Conversely, she was spoiled for choice when it came to potential overbearing matriarchs or old maids!

And there was certainly no one to do justice to a Mr Darcy. She was prepared to think that she must consign him as a product of a bygone age, never to be seen again. She would be more than happy to be proved wrong, however.

And what of Thornton? Again, her potential candidates were deplorably narrow.

Secretly, Hermione rather considered herself a fit for Margaret Hale. She was one of the few genteel heroines Hermione felt she might qualify for.

Of course, there were many differences. She was not a young girl anymore with nothing better to do than poke her nose into other people's business—she was a teacher. Neither was she constrained in a society of manners and custom, but these were just minor details, really.

Still, life was far different from her books, of course. But it was her secret hope that she might one day see such a story unfold before her very eyes. If she couldn't have it for herself, she'd be satisfied with seeing it happen to another. It would be a comfort to know that she was right to think true happiness was attainable. It would be a comfort to know it was out there somewhere.

She sighed and opened the book in her hands. There was no reason why stories had to be just fiction; couldn't they be possibilities, as well?

But she was always cautious. She would never raise her expectations too high.

'Off into book-land we go,' she muttered to herself.

'Edith!' Margaret cried…

The staff room was filled with a warm glow and a large Christmas tree stood in the corner of the room. Hermione chose the armchair nearest it to curl into and, when she was settled, she reached inside her robe and tentatively removed her book. She didn't bother to shield the cover of her book. No one would bother to ask her about her reading material, so often was she seen with a book.

But for the moment, she was disappointed she could not get herself absorbed in the words. She knew why it was. It was everyone talking about Christmas. Christmas was always the worst time of year, she felt. She'd never imagined she would grow to be one of those people who disliked Christmas, having always felt such anticipation and joy in her younger years.

Inevitably she spent all her Christmases at Hogwarts now.

Christmas had become the time of year for her to evaluate her regrets. She allowed herself time to dwell upon them, because it felt right for her to spend the time for reflection, rather than joyous celebration. What did she regret most? The distance that had gradually come to dictate her relations with her parents? That while her friends had settled down and created families, she had gone in the other direction and become more solitary than she had ever been?

And if she regretted that aspect of her life, then she knew it must mean that she was… lonely. But in what way was she lonely? She was surrounded by people all the time. She might entertain fancies of knights on white chargers, but she didn't really believe in herself having one.

She swallowed and smoothed the page of her page. She didn't necessarily want to dwell on her regrets right now—not in the staff room. They could wait till she was alone, later.

Pomona Sprout entered the room and greeted her quietly. 'Good evening, Hermione.'

Hermione tucked her hair behind her ear so that her answering smile would be seen, and then fixed all of her concentration on her book. No one would disturb her when she had book in hand.

She was at one of her very favourite chapters, one which, in hindsight, wasn't the best for reading in a public setting. She had a tendency to get so embroiled in her imagination that on several occasions in the past she had become entirely oblivious to everything going on around her.

But Margaret was about to rush out and save Mr Thornton from an angry mob, and she didn't want to put that off any longer than she had to.

…The hootings rose and filled the air — but Margaret did not hear them. Her eye was on the group of lads who had armed themselves with their clogs some time before. She saw their gesture — she knew its meaning — she read their aim. Another moment, and Mr. Thornton might be smitten down — he whom she had urged and goaded to come to this perilous place. She only thought how she could save him. She threw her arms around him; she made her body into a shield from the fierce people beyond. Still, with his arms folded, he shook her off.

"Go away," said he, in his deep voice. "This is no place for you."

"It is!" said she. "You did not see what I saw." If she thought her sex would be a protection — if, with shrinking eyes she had turned away from the terrible anger of these men, in any hope that ere she looked again they would have paused and reflected, and slunk away, and vanished — she was wrong. Their reckless passion had carried them too far to stop — at least had carried some of them too far; for it is always the savage lads, with their love of cruel excitement, who head the riot — reckless to what bloodshed it may lead. A clog whizzed through the air. Margaret's fascinated eyes watched its progress; it missed its aim, and she turned sick with affright, but changed not her position, only hid her face on Mr. Thornton s arm. Then she turned and spoke again:

"For God's sake! do not damage your cause by this violence. You do not know what you are doing." She strove to make her words distinct.

A sharp pebble flew by her, grazing forehead and cheek, and drawing a blinding sheet of light before her eyes. She lay like one dead on Mr. Thornton's shoulder. Then he unfolded his arms, and held her encircled in one for an instant…

When, vividly observed in her mind, Mr Thornton had gently deposited the stricken Margaret to safety, Hermione felt herself sighing deeply. It brought her attention slowly back to reality.

But she wasn't the only one who felt loneliness. Hogwarts was full of lonely people; it was not an especially new observation for her to have made, but it was one she sometimes liked to remind herself of. The longer she resided at Hogwarts, the more she came to see that many of her fellow teachers all had one thing particularly in common: they were married to their jobs. She would not try and attest that they all felt like she did sometimes, but she probably wouldn't be too far off the mark if she did. Most had very little family to speak of.

The room was filled up with a few other occupants and she glanced at each of them surreptitiously. There was Minerva, who, as far as Hermione knew, had never married. Pomona was a widow, though she had a sister living in Yorkshire whom she did visit on occasion. Filius had often talked fondly of a brother, but he had passed on only a year ago. There was Severus, and she was fairly sure he had no one in his life.

She was fond of Severus; she blushed sharply to admit it herself, but she felt they had several things in common. If he would only give her the light of day for once! The only time he ever spoke to her was when he had a bone to pick with her. Usually when she had given one of his Slytherin's detention and he did not agree with her decision. Or, of course, when she took umbrage with the treatment of his students. Why she was fond of him, she didn't know. But it was precisely because she was fond of him that she felt such disappointment when he did something she disagreed with.

But yes, Hogwarts was full of lonely people, and of all, she wondered if he lamented his missed chance at happily ever after as much as she did. People, or rather he, might mock her for saying such a thing, but she could see it in him and no one would ever convince her otherwise.

She was often reluctant to include Severus in her casting of her favourite characters and she wasn't entirely sure why. It was probably because he was so serious all of the time that she felt like she was doing him a disservice if she did not take him entirely seriously as well.

But now she thought about it… Well, Severus had that faintly northern lilt to his voice, of course. She did not know exactly what part of the north he hailed from, but Thornton's hometown of Milton was based on Manchester. He also had the requisite dark looks and an impressive scowl.

She chuckled to herself. It was there the similarities surely ended. Severus was not particularly robustly built and she'd never ever seen him smile brilliantly! In any case, he was certainly not her Thornton. Severus would not do for her. No…

Maybe if she…

Severus might not be her Mr Thornton, or her Mr Knightley, or her whomever, but he might be someone's. And she knew, as did everyone, that he was capable of the depth of feeling that her heroes needed to be capable of—he just needed to feel it for the right person.

But what did she know? She was hardly the last word on relationships.

Hermione closed her book and ran her fingers over the cover. Nearly everything she knew she'd learned from books, and she was not stupid enough to believe everything she read, even if she might wish to believe them. But nonetheless, she liked to think it could happen.

Deep down, she was fully aware of the significance that books always come to an end.

So what did that mean for happily ever after?

'Did you hear what some of the Gryffindors are planning for Snape today?'

Hermione paused behind the tapestry marking the end of the hidden passage she often used to get to her classroom from her quarters.

'No—what's going on?'

'You remember how he gave every fifth year Gryffindor detention last week because a few of them wouldn't stop talking during his lesson? They are going to make a stand.'

Hermione strained her ears to listen.

'A stand?'

'Apparently, he told them he'd be demonstrating how to brew a Babbling draught today… So, ah, you know…'

'Ha! I'll be impressed if they get away with it!'

Hermione only stared as the voices drifted away, feeling great apprehension. What kind of joke were they planning to play on Severus? She could not, in good conscience, leave him to be humiliated by a group of rambunctious students! Turning on her heel, she retreated back down the passage and thence down several staircases until she reached the depths of the castle. Her breath puffing slightly, she carried on at an elevated pace to the Potions classroom. What if she was too late to prevent the mischief from happening?

Her shoes clattered loudly on the flagstone floor and she let herself into the classroom without knocking.

All heads turned immediately to her, including that of Severus Snape, who stood before a steaming cauldron, his hand wrapped around a glass stirring rod. His expression was highly displeased and she felt her cheeks sting.

'Professor Snape, I wonder if I might have a word?'

'As you can plainly see, Professor, I am currently otherwise engaged.'

'This cannot wait.'

'Neither can this!'

Out of the corner of her eye, Hermione glimpsed the tip of a student's wand disappear beneath the desk. Forgetting herself, she stepped forward and outstretched her arm. They would not hurt him while she was there, surely?

'Stop!' she cried to the room at large. She turned to him. 'Stop! They are going to jinx your cauldron!'

Severus's expression became suspicious and he glanced at the cauldron in question. 'What—'

Hermione cut him off by grasping his arm and tugging him away from the bubbling mixture.

His eyes widened and he glared. 'I can manage this, Professor. You may leave.'

'No.' Hermione removed her wand and stepped up to the cauldron. 'I will Banish it.'

The next thing she knew was the sting of a spell hitting her on the side of her head and her vision going completely black. When she felt her consciousness begin to return, she tried to plead her assurances of her health, but it was too much for her. Soon, she realised she was being carried in a pair of arms through the castle. Her head throbbed painfully and her eyelids felt like they were made of concrete, but nevertheless, she comprehended the softly spoken, pained words from the man carrying her.

'Oh, my Hermione—my Hermione! No one can tell what you are to me!'

And it was at the sound of those most improbable of words that Hermione awoke with a start and sat up in her bed. Startled, she stared around at her bedroom and tried to get her erratic breathing under control. She was in her bedroom. She had not rushed in to save Severus from a jinxed cauldron.

But it had been such a vivid dream! She nearly felt impressed with herself for it.

What was wrong with her? She should not be dreaming up situations about her colleagues in such a way!

Silly girl, she hissed to herself.

She lay back down and pressed her face into her pillow, endeavouring to forget the lingering images in her mind. Nevertheless, she felt not a little foolish when she turned up for breakfast that morning and found herself seated next to Severus.

'Good morning, Professor Snape,' she said with dutiful courtesy.

All she received was an unintelligible grunt in reply, and she looked at her bacon with amused consideration.

Mr Thornton would never have greeted her in such a rude way.

And to think, he'd only carried her up to the Hospital wing just last night! Hermione bit back a rueful smile as she sipped her tea. Maybe she'd dip into her book again tonight. Her marking for the evening was complete, so she could indulge guilt-free.

She knew what was coming next in the story of Mr Thornton and Margaret Hale, and she felt both a ripple of anticipation and a pang of portent.

She shook her head disapprovingly; Margaret could be such a bitch.

The door to her quarters knocked and Hermione jumped up from where she had been dozing in her armchair. Who on earth would that be? She was rarely disturbed in her private domain. She got to her feet and crossed to the door.

Her throat went suddenly dry when she saw the dark figure in her doorway. 'Professor Snape, I, ah… What may I do for you?'

'Might I come in?' he asked, looking at her with a rather cloudy expression.

She did not have a desire to see him in her private rooms, but for lack of any idea of what to say, she simply nodded and stepped aside. Once he was in there and the door was closed, she felt entirely uncomfortable. She did not offer to sit down.

'I trust you are sufficiently recovered from the wound you received in my classroom yesterday morning?'

Hermione automatically put a hand to her sore temple. 'I am very well, thank you,' she replied stiffly.

'I have demanded the expulsion of those involved. Indeed, I requested that Minerva inform the Aurors…'

Hermione clenched her jaw. 'I see…'

He took a couple of hasty steps towards her and then halted. 'I did not thank you yesterday—'

'You have nothing to be grateful for,' said Hermione hurriedly, looking at him determinedly. 'You need not thank me for what I did—it was instinct which drove my conduct.'

He looked troubled for a moment. 'I will not let you put me off.'

'Speak on, if you feel you must.'

She was vaguely alarmed to see the sudden look of passion within his eyes. 'Professor Granger, I believe that I owe you my very life; I will not let you tell me it is an exaggeration. It is well that it is to you whom I owe my existence.' His voice lowered a degree and Hermione felt herself shiver. 'It is only pride I feel in owing my life to the one whom I… love as man never loved a woman before.'

Suddenly her hand was enclosed within his.

Hermione, when she found her voice, could not help the ice that layered it. 'Professor Snape, I am shocked that you would speak to me in such a way. Indeed, it offends me—'

He flung her hand away indignantly. 'Offends you?'

'Yes!' she cried. 'You seem to feel as though my actions were a personal act between you and me, when I would have done as much for any man!'

All Hermione saw was his wounded expression before she blinked awake with a start, realising that she had actually spoken those last words aloud.

But she was alone in her office; no one would have heard her nonsensical mutterings. What was she doing? What was her subconscious thinking giving her such dreams? The first one had been one thing, but to have another!

Naturally, she often had such dreams inspired by her reading, but though she might playfully cast characters when she was bored, when she slept, faces usually remained indistinct. And she felt immensely put out that Mr Thornton, of all people, had acquired a face! And not just any face!

Although, if Severus was supposed to be Mr Thornton, why did she never call him such in these silly dreams?

Collecting up her exercise books, she stood and left her office with a loud huff. She was sure she must be getting a bit soft in the head.

She headed straight for the staff room. Hopefully, there would be someone in there who she could talk to and keep her mind off her ridiculous fancies.

Still, they were rather fun to have. No one else need know that she secretly liked to indulge in whimsy and flights of imagination. They could continue to believe her eminently logical and practical.

When she entered the staff room, she immediately scuttled to her usual chair, giving only a brief smile of greeting to her colleagues, hoping to avoid any eye contact with Severus. Notwithstanding her recent imaginings, her altercation with him over young Scott was painfully fresh. Thankfully, however, he was absent. It was too late before she realised she'd rashly placed herself next to Sibyll.

'May I read your palm, Hermione?'

'Not now, Sibyll.'

'Would you allow me to cast your stones for you?'

Hermione fought not to sigh. 'Really, thank you, but no.'

She had a lot more patience for the sometime Seer now than she had as a child. Certain aspects still grated upon her, but she endeavoured not to be unnecessarily rude towards the older woman. Hermione had come to feel a certain level of kinship for her, as she had with many of her colleagues. Hogwarts was everything to the Divination professor and Hermione could respect that.

The door opened loudly, pulling her from her musings, and in stormed the Potions master looking very much the wrong side of thunderous. He threw himself down into his chair with a sharp huff of annoyance. Hermione watched, mildly intrigued, but she almost jumped violently when Filius innocently asked, 'Trouble at 't mill, Severus?'

The sly use of the northern colloquialism only served to darken the scowl on Severus's face. For Hermione, meanwhile, the comment had also hit rather close to home and she was secretly re-evaluating things.

Was someone trying to tell her something? Maybe Severus could be a good Mr Thornton after all.

She smiled to herself. In all seriousness though, the more she thought about, the more she considered he was by no means undeserving of taking on the mantle of her favourite heroes.

He was a quiet man, but was able to come alive when a situation warranted it. She knew, because she had seen it. She'd once witnessed a magnificent discussion between him and the Headmistress over the usefulness of end-of-year exams. They'd both expressed their points so eloquently that she had found her own opinion on the matter become confused. Of course, her own discussions with him, the few that she had, never went the same way. Though he might disagree vehemently with the Headmistress on occasion, it never affected their working relationship. Yet whenever Hermione disagreed with him, he seemed, if possible, even more reluctant to speak with her the next time.

But there had been subtler moments, too, when she was sure he had not realised she observed him. She watched him more than she probably should. It was an uncomfortable truth that she did not like to dwell on for any length of time, for she did not particularly want to reason it. It was just something she liked to do when she had nothing better to occupy her.

And she didn't know anyone who brooded as well as Severus did. In some respects, he was a good fit for a Thornton. He just needed those sharply abrasive edges sanding down a tad. Maybe more than a tad, perhaps.

Of course, Severus did not run a cotton mill in a place called Milton, heroically trying to provide for his mother and sister against the odds. Neither were they living in the 1850's, but these were just minor details, really.

It was all whimsy anyway.

When she got back to her quarters that night, there was an owl waiting for her with Christmas gifts from Harry and Ginny. Slowly, she took out her wand and removed the Shrinking charms and placed the presents beside the small Christmas tree she had forced herself to put in the corner of her sitting room.

She sat and merely looked at them for a moment; she hated opening presents on her own.

Rubbing a hand over her tired eyes, she told herself to stop feeling so grim. You could have it so much worse, she told herself.

She knew she was not perpetually dissatisfied with her life, but there was something unfulfilled within her. Why did Christmas have to magnify that part of her, every year? She disliked being miserable and self-pitying because she knew it was all pointless.

It was only she who could rectify her unhappiness, and if she were not prepared to go out and solve what it was that bothered her, then she should not spend time on regretting it.

But the despondency was on her tonight, and instinctively she knew precious little would shift it but sleep. North and South would remain on her bedside table tonight. In the mood she was in, she would only become irritated with Margaret's continuing prejudices against Mr Thornton. Neither did she want Severus Snape popping up in her dreams in the guise of a Victorian cotton manufacturer.

She Summoned her collection of Emily Dickinson poems; tonight, her misery wanted company. She knew which poem she wanted to start with, and she found the page with ease.

I felt a funeral in my brain,

And mourners to and fro

Kept treading, treading, till it seemed

That sense was breaking through.

And when they all were seated,

A service like a drum

Kept beating, beating, till I thought

My mind was going numb…

Sitting on a bench in the middle of the high street in Hogsmeade, surrounded by frosty air and snow, was probably not the best location for her to choose to read her book. But she was wrapped up and she had her thickest gloves on. She needed a breather after negotiating the Hogsmeade shops at Christmas, and she could manage enough to sit and finish one chapter before returning to the castle.

Sometimes, it was just a relief to feel oneself beyond the boundaries of the school; to feel outside... and free.

Hermione carefully opened the book; one of her pet hates was the way some people ferociously broke in the spine whenever they opened a book. It was all she could not to cry out whenever she saw it.

She was not at one of the brightest spots in the book, but rather one of the saddest, and Hermione read slowly to savour every word. She ended up reading more than one chapter, and by the end of the second, there were tears falling unchecked down her cheeks.

… Before the night of that day, Dr Donaldson's opinion was proved too well founded, Convulsions came on; and when they ceased, Mrs Hale was unconscious. Her husband might lie by her shaking the bed with his sobs; her son's strong arms might lift her tenderly up into a comfortable position; her daughter's hands might bathe her face; but she knew them not. She would never recognize them again, till they met in Heaven.

Before morning came all was over.

Her thoughts were suddenly with her own parents. What would she do if she lost them? Why did they spend so much time apart? Why did she not tell her parents that, actually, she did not want them to go abroad for Christmas? Why didn't they ask if she wanted to join them?

Because they'd asked many times before and she had always declined, not understanding the true implications of her desire to be with her friends trumping her desire to be with her parents.

Her desire to be with them now was nearly painful.

'Are you quite well, Professor Granger?'

Hermione snapped her head towards the sound of the low voice, frantically wiping her face. 'Oh, Professor Snape, I, um, I'm…'

She was what? She was sitting on a cold bench in Hogsmeade, crying. Dropping her eyes to the book she still held, the sight of the familiar cover only brought further tears to eyes. Hating herself, she placed the book inside her bag with a small sigh.

'I'm just being silly—nothing more.'

He said nothing for several moments, and Hermione refused to look up to determine what he was thinking. She could not have imagined a worse situation than the one she was in now. He was quite possibly the very last person she would want to catch her in a state such as this.

'I am going back to the castle… Shall you accompany me?' he asked, with an element of reluctance.

Hermione shook her head briskly. 'No… I should like to remain here a moment longer.' With every ounce of willpower, she held in a loud sniff.

'Minerva will not be pleased if she discovers I have left you here while you are clearly… upset…'

'It is nothing—I was just affected by the book I was reading, that's all.'


There was such scepticism in his tone that Hermione got to her feet with indignation. 'Yes,' she said earnestly. 'Yes; I read books and am personally affected by what I read. Is that all right?'

Even as she spoke to him with such defensiveness, she rather thought she must appear slightly nuts.

His eyes narrowed a fraction. 'Perfectly all right.'

She did not imagine the derision with which he now spoke. Stuffing her hands into her pockets, Hermione began trudging back to the school, feeling embarrassed. Her eyes still burned and she determined to get a hold of herself.

There was nothing she could do about her parents now. They were already in Italy. But when she saw them in the new year, maybe she would finally try and say something about how she felt, and maybe they could… They could all try harder to find the time…

Well, they, she, could try, at least.

All she wanted now was to dive under her covers with her book and forget how foolish she must have appeared to the man she was hurriedly trying to leave behind her. She quickened her pace through the snow in order to achieve that end.

By the time she reached her rooms, she was flushed and nearly breathless. Tearing off her scarf, she sat on her bed and grimaced.

Perhaps she really was losing the plot.

She sighed at length and some of tension lessened within her. She felt so sick of herself, sometimes. Leaning back against the pillows, she took out her book.

Book-land was a far better place in which to spend her time.

There were no ridiculous dreams that night, for which Hermione was rather grateful and, also, secretly a little bit disappointed. They were harmless enough, after all, and there was an element of humour to be found within the completely outlandish situations she created with the help of her literary pursuits.

Not all such dreams were full of humour, however. She'd once had a scarily vivid one where she'd been some bleak Miss Havisham figure, sitting in her tower for ever more waiting for some untold event that would never come. That one dream she could never forget and it still chilled her to think on it.

She felt a little more refreshed that morning. Tomorrow was Christmas Eve and she was not going to spend Christmas feeling glum. It was decided.

Leaving her rooms, she headed for breakfast in the Great Hall. She was one of the last to arrive and the table was rather full, mostly with her fellow teachers, though a few students had remained behind. Hermione was glad it wasn't empty, especially as it meant there was no chance of her falling into an awkward situation with the Potions master. She'd been a bit rude to him yesterday in Hogsmeade, but she was too mortified to address it with him.

She wondered what he would say if he knew she'd dreamt he'd come to her, hair swept into a staid side-parting, top hat in hand, and confessed his love for her! She smiled and captured her lips between her teeth to stop a laugh from issuing. She could safely say he would not be amused. Would he like to know how he'd swept her off her feet and conveyed her to the Hospital Wing, fearing she was irrevocably hurt from a ricocheted jinx?

Still trying not to laugh, she ventured a glance towards where he sat opposite her.

Immediately, she darted her eyes back downwards with a slight flinch; he'd witnessed her amusement. That could never be good. Effectively sobered, Hermione picked up her toast and pretended nothing had happened.

Merlin, he really was going to think her nuts, wasn't he?

She found she didn't care overly much. She had a feeling she was already slowly developing a reputation along the lines of that of Sibyll Trelawney or Aurora Sinistra. It was fine.

When she left the Great Hall, she discovered two of her third-year girls were waiting for her in the hallway.

'Professor Granger, we've got you a Christmas present…'

Hermione felt her throat close as they proffered the small gift towards her. She took it with a sincere smile. 'Oh, thank you, girls; this is very lovely of you.'

The girls scampered off, leaving Hermione standing there, running her hand over the wrapping paper as if stroking a cat. Suddenly her eyes were pricking, but for an entirely different reason than they had yesterday. Such thought from her students never failed to move and warm her.

'They never give me presents,' said a familiar voice.

Hermione briefly considered that he seemed to have spoken to her more in the past few days than he had in all the years she had been at Hogwarts. Her eyes remained on the gift in her hand.

'Maybe if you didn't treat them in the way that you do, some of them would have the guts to present you with something.'

In the silence that followed her words, Hermione found time to regret them.

'Ignore me,' she urged with a sigh, putting the box inside her robe. She tried to smile to show she did not want to get into a debate over his method of teaching, but she had a feeling it came out rather pained. In all honesty, she never really knew what to say to him in the moments that there was not some pressing issue to discuss.

'Well, good morning to you…' On that awkward note, Hermione made to walk on.

'The Headmistress has bade me to remind you that we shall be having a—' he grimaced '—little soiree in the staff room tonight, ostensibly, to engage in the Christmas spirit.'

Hermione paused. It was traditional for the staff to have a party of sorts once the students were mostly gone—an attempt, as she saw it, to bring all of the lonely souls in Hogwarts together, for a time. And yet, she felt they were some of the most loneliest times.

'In solitude, where we are least alone…' she found herself murmuring quietly.

She knew he'd heard her. 'I will be there, of course,' she assured.

When she looked to see any acknowledgement from him, she found herself taken with the look on his face. It was a deeply surveying look, and it was only her surprise at it that made her forget to blush.

'You will not be forced to attend, if you do not wish to,' he stated in a cold voice that made Hermione cringe inwardly.

'Forgive me, Professor; I have allowed myself to wallow in an unacceptable frame of mind of late. I will get over it.' She had no desire to get into an argument; it seemed simpler to graciously concede to him for the time being.

But his eyes only became harder with what she would venture to term almost defensive scorn. 'Minerva warned you of this when you took on this position—I made sure she did.'

She looked at him with significant surprise now. 'I don't follow…'

He approached further and lowered his voice so that any passers by might struggle to over hear them. 'You're feeling sorry for yourself, aren't you? You're full of self-pity because, here at Hogwarts, there's no one to fawn over you and—'

'Excuse me!' she interrupted, aghast. 'That is certainly not the problem! I cannot help it if I miss my family and friends at this time of the year! I cannot help it if… Don't tell me you never feel confined in this castle? Don't tell me I am the only one who wonders what my life would be like if I never chose to teach here, because you would be lying through your teeth!'

She was about to storm off, but halted when further words came to her lips. 'And yes, Minerva did warn me about the implications of taking up residence at Hogwarts, and I certainly heeded them—'

'Yet, you regret coming here—'

'Did I say that?' she spat impatiently. 'I took on this job because I wanted to teach children and I do love that, still.' Hermione paused for breath. 'I knew how isolated Hogwarts was from life out there.' She flung a hand towards the nearest window. 'But I have had to reconcile the fact that this was a self-imposed exile—that I might have wanted it as much as I wanted to teach! I can't help it if that realisation disquiets me.'

It caused her untold disquiet, in truth. As a child, she had known a certain amount of solitude, being an only child, as well as being someone who did not make friends with ease. God, that was why she read! Books had always kept her company!

Why had she ever picked up her first book as a child? Because she had been bored and lonely while her parents were in work, and she in the care of her elderly grandmother. And she had found such delight in that first book of pictures, that she had never looked back since.

'I am not struggling with the unexpected consequences of being a teacher,' she said quietly. 'I am struggling because more often than not, this life suits me.' She clenched her hands together and forced the next words out. 'It suits me well, but at Christmas it… frightens me.'

Before her face could crumple, she hurried off down the hallway. Her vision blurred, she headed to the nearest place of safety—her classroom. Sinking behind her desk, she conjured a handkerchief and pressed it to her eyes.

It did frighten her so much. There could be no denying that she did love Hogwarts, but to let that triumph over any desire she had to find love with someone, or to live amongst her very closest friends, or to be nearer her parents, scared her. The truth of the matter was that she would not give up her life at Hogwarts, even though there was something lacking.

Why did she love to read her Muggle romance novels so much? It was to compensate for her subconscious decision that she was prepared to accept that she would likely never meet someone for herself.

She could absorb herself so much in the written word, because at the end of the day, it was just that—written word. She could indulge herself for a time and then return back to her quiet routine of the day, of her lessons, and tasks, and duties… Many would say it wasn't healthy or normal, maybe, to consume herself in false worlds, but it was just who she was—who she had become.

Her breathing hitched as she felt herself begin to calm. Acceptance would not mean her regrets would disappear, but surely everyone had regrets, even if they were entirely content with their lot.

She looked around her classroom, giving particular attention to the walls, upon which she had decorated diligently with bright posters of Arithmantic charts and diagrams she had prevailed upon her students to create.

And this room was the embodiment of what she had created for herself. This was her life now, and though she might not feel entirely fulfilled, she knew she did not want to give it up. If she could bring herself to accept that she had chosen an irregular path and that it was okay, well then, maybe she would be okay, too.

On Christmas Day, Hermione felt better than she anticipated she might. It wasn't only that a hearty meal had filled her, or that the blazing fire had warmed her, it was the feeling that she'd been wrong to think she was alone in the castle. She was sat with her colleagues, friends, even, in the staff room, and though she spoke very little, the quietness she felt within was not a lonely one.

What she felt was gratitude.

Hogwarts was now her home and she could admit it freely. She could sit in silence, observing the others and that was okay because she fitted in. She smiled to think that maybe they were all just a bunch of misfits, finding their place amongst others of their kind.

And as companionable quiet fell over the room, in the after-dinner glow, Hermione pulled out her book, turning almost to the very back. She had only a few chapters remaining and she'd saved them for this time. Bringing her legs beneath her, she turned to the chapter entitled 'Changes at Milton.'

How bittersweet it was to read of Mr Thornton having to give up his mill; having to see all of his hard work and effort reduced to nothing. Hermione felt Mrs Thornton's distress at her son's poor luck as surely as if he was a real person and her own son.

'… Here is my boy—good son, just man, tender heart—and he fails in all he sets his mind upon: he finds a woman to love, and she cares no more for his affection than if he had been any common man; he labours, and his labour comes to nought. Other people prosper and grow rich, and hold their paltry names high and dry above shame.'

'Shame never touched me,' said he, in a low tone…'

Hermione had to swallow down the lump in her throat. Her eyes flitted eagerly through the text, knowing what it was that was to come. In only a few pages, Mr Thornton and Margaret would meet again and all would be well. Hermione's expectation was as acute as ever.


… He came close to her. He knelt by her side, to bring his face to a level with her ear; and whispered—panted out the words: —

'Take care.—If you do not speak—I shall claim you as my own in some strange presumptuous way.—Send me away at once, if I must go;—Margaret!—'

At that third call, she turned her face, still covered with her small white hands, towards him, and laid it on his shoulder, hiding it even there; and it was too delicious to feel her soft cheek against his, for him to wish to see either deep blushes or loving eyes. He clasped her close. But they both kept silence. At length, she murmured in a broken voice:

'Oh, Mr Thornton, I am not good enough!'

'Not good enough! Don't mock my own deep feeling of unworthiness.'"

Hermione stared hard at the page, her eyes stinging with tears yet again, but they were happy ones. She closed the book on devouring the final words and reflected for a moment. She felt light inside. What a relief it was to still feel such joy at the ending she knew so well.

How disappointed she would feel if ever there came a time when reading of such happiness failed to ignite reciprocally within her. She would know then that all was lost for her, that her desire for life was diminished.

The corners of her mouth twitched with the urge to smile, and she smoothed her hand over the book before placing it on the arm of her chair with a sigh of content. She would look forward to giving the story another airing sometime in the future. Now she had the thrilling prospect of picking her next reading of choice.

She blinked and surreptitiously pressed any tears in the corners of her eyes away. But someone was watching her, and for how long he had been watching her, she did not like to think. Neither did he bother to hide his observation when she spotted him.

Hermione raised her eyebrows slightly in acknowledgement and then casually got to her feet, heading to the farthest end of the room, seemingly, to pour herself a drink, but in reality, to remove herself from Severus Snape's line of vision.

No doubt he was still annoyed with her for her rant at him in the hallway the other day. Embarrassment and shame filled her, but she ignored them. She had spoken the truth and she would not regret it. If anything, he had only helped her.

She would not trouble herself over what he might think.

But for several days afterwards, she felt eyes upon her whenever they were in the same room. It left her feeling rather perturbed, and when she thought she could take it no longer, he spoke to her for the first time since that day they'd argued over her grim disposition.

It was New Year's Eve, and the words he did say to her while they awaited the declining hours until the new year, stilled the very blood in her veins.

'I know you despise me; allow me to say, it is because you do not understand me.'

The words, spoken in a subdued voice, were not his own; she knew it as soon as he had uttered them. She turned to see him standing there with a glass in his hand, looking fairly inscrutable, but her own expression she knew would be clear enough. She was stunned.

'How do you—. I mean, how is it that—'

She was tongue-tied, but he saved her further embarrassment, for he suddenly presented her with a book. It was her copy of North and South and her eyes nearly fell out of her head to see it.

'Where?' was all she could say.

'You left it on your chair the other night; I took it and…' He shrugged elegantly.

'You read it?'

He nodded.

Hermione was speechless. He'd taken her book, her most favourite of books, and he'd read it. She hadn't even realised the book was missing!

'Why?' she asked, confused, but realising that she was actually feeling slightly suspicious. She wasn't sure she liked the fact that he had taken her book and read it. It felt almost like an invasion of privacy.

'I noticed you reading it in Hogsmeade; I just—'

'Oh, you wanted to see why it had upset me, did you? Did you want to mock me for crying over the trials of a stupid character that doesn't even exist? Look at Hermione Granger she is so sad she can't just read a bloody book, she has to inhabit it! Well, I'll save you the trouble; I know it's silly and irrational that I allow myself to be swept away by people and worlds that are fictional, but actually, I don't much care what anyone thinks about me.'

With a glare, she spun on her heel and left the staff room, proudly ignoring the curious expressions of the other inhabitants in the room. How dare he take her book and read it! She didn't want him knowing what it was that had the power to set her alight—it was something personal to her.

His footsteps echoed hers out into the hallway. 'Professor Granger, will you stop and consider for a moment? Merlin, you really bloody don't understand me, do you?'

He shoved the book back into her hand and Hermione clutched it tightly.

'Listen, you infuriating woman, I was merely trying to…'

He faltered, and she could see in his eyes that he was being serious. Suddenly her indignation deserted her.

'Trying to do what?' she asked in a small voice.

He blinked and opened and closed his mouth, before glancing at the tumbler still in his other hand. 'I've not had nearly enough of this,' he mumbled to himself. 'Look,' he said eventually to her, 'I will simply show you, instead.'

Severus started heading directly for the dungeons, and Hermione dumbly followed, feeling vexed. What on earth was he about taking her into the dungeons? Did he want to show her a potion? When had she ever expressed special interest in potion-making before? Never, to her knowledge.

But his strong pace stopped not at his classroom, nor at his office, and Hermione began to wonder if…

Yes; he stopped outside his living chambers.

'Professor Snape, um…'

He silenced her with a look. 'Just be quiet, will you?'

The door materialised and he opened it, indicating that she should follow. Candles flared to life and they were standing in a room, obviously his sitting room, in which Hermione only noticed one thing: the bookshelves.

But then she turned her attention to him as he merely stood there. She knew it was the books he meant to show her, but why? That he was a reader was not news to her. She was about to question him, when she saw how hard he was looking at his bookshelves. She felt like he was trying to find his voice and so she stayed quiet.

In time, he stepped further into the room and his voice was measured in a way she had never heard from him before.

'This,' said he, 'is where I read. This is where I sit and am… sad enough that I cannot just "read a bloody book, but have to inhabit it." I know that it is silly and irrational, too…'

Hermione suddenly felt like she might cry, again, but she held it in. 'That's as maybe, but it's not sad…' She did not like to hear her previous words spoken back to her.

She met his eyes and he nodded fractionally.

'Why… ?'

'Why am I telling you this? Because of what you said to me about being lonely, about being frightened… I wondered whether you knew what you'd let yourself in for in coming here. One might say that being here means one misses out on certain things…'

Hermione shifted uncomfortably. No doubt he spoke from experience.

'But you are right; it is a choice, in the end. I noticed the way you read books; I saw that you felt every word. You use reading as a form of company… well, so do I, and I think you understand the luxury of living a life that is not ours, if only for a short time.'

He began to look self-conscious suddenly, so she nodded vigorously in agreement. Words would not come to her damnably choked up throat. She wondered if it were possible to fall in love with someone within a few seconds, because following his words she felt an affection for him so sudden and acute that it stung. And she was sure she had never felt it before.

She could not express what it meant that he would reveal this to her.

'What, um, what books do you read?'

She could hardly see him sitting down here crying over a romance, as she did.

He seemed to sense the direction of her thoughts, for he scowled. 'I read many academic texts…' He hesitated.

'You don't have to—'

'Come,' he said sharply, jerking his head towards the shelves nearest him.

Hermione felt she only had seconds before he changed his mind, so she scuttled forwards and scanned the spines before her. She only had to read two or three titles before she knew what she was dealing with.

'Thrillers? Mysteries?'

He nodded stiffly, as if expecting her to laugh, but nothing could have been further from her mind.

She smiled widely. 'And how many of these plots have you unravelled before the author has had chance to?'

The smirk that appeared around his mouth delighted her. 'A few,' he admitted, without modesty.

She definitely could see him bending his mind around a twisty thriller or getting lost in a crime novel and solving the mystery before the detective did. There were many spy novels, she could see, amongst the numerous tomes.

'They don't hit too close to home?' she ventured tentatively.

He didn't reply instantly, but considered the matter gravely. 'The best ones always do,' he said quietly.

She knew he was right. 'I agree.'

He sat down and she heard him exhale at length, perhaps from relief. She followed suit and perched on the edge of a chair, realising what she still held in her hands. 'Did you like North and South?' she asked slyly.

'A little bit flowery for my taste, but I found it intriguing as an historical novel. It may interest you to know that I grew up in Manchester, and the street was actually called Spinner's End. There are no mills there now, of course, and neither were there when I was a boy, but there is a certain legacy that remains and affects still.'

Hermione was pleased, feeling pride for her favourite book. 'I am glad you found some use in it then.' She wondered if secretly he was glad that Mr Thornton and Margaret had found each other in the end, but she would certainly not ask him!

'A more depressing book, I have possibly never read,' he continued, with a slight glint of humour in his eye. 'I believe I counted in excess of six deaths throughout the course of the story.'

'Oh yes, but that is why I find it such a satisfying read, you know.'

'No doubt you are right.'

Hermione felt her cheeks glow. 'Severus,' she said ponderously (she hadn't ever called him Severus before, but she felt there was no point tripping over it now), 'I have been a teacher here for six years—why have we never spoken thus before?'

She felt it a shame that for so long their common interest had remained hidden.

He only looked at her for a moment, and then shrugged his shoulders in a deprecating manner.

But Hermione understood. 'Me neither.'

There was someone, after all, then. He was not her Mr Thornton, or anything as fanciful as that (she was not Margaret Hale, anyway), but he was someone. He was Severus, and a colleague, and maybe a friend, and someone who understood her.

He might be better than a knight on a white charger.

They were both lonely, but through choice, and maybe they could choose to be lonely together. God, maybe they could start up a book club, just the two of them! Often, when finishing a book, all she wanted was to sit and expound to someone her thoughts on what she'd read. She could just see herself sitting down here having a fierce debate over their opinions on the novels they'd read.

She wouldn't make him read anything flowery, of course. Well, not very often anyway.

It would be fun—wonderful.

It would be… comfort.

The moon bathed the moor in a white glow as they crouched behind a stone wall waiting for their man to arrive. A huge, dense fog was slowly creeping towards them from the Grimpen mire. They had not long to wait now; Sir Henry Baskerville would be along the lane at any moment.

But as they watched the house, awaiting their quarry, an unexpected noise arrested them. It was the rhythmic pitter-patter of feet. Severus turned and glared ominously into the swirling fog from which the sound had emanated. He knew what was about to come and he steeled himself.

The noise became louder, and both he and Hermione reached for their wands. They stood inert, however; aghast at the sight of what appeared through the mists. A terrifying shape emerged; a hound, but it was no ordinary hound. A huge, dreadful, frothing at the mouth, beast that no mortal brain could ever have imagined.

Stunned, they merely watched as the hound tore past them, following in the footsteps of the man they were protecting. The man who, in their shock, they had let past without warning. Severus's instincts flared to life, and he shot out a hex from his wand. The hound howled in pain, yet bounded on. Severus and Hermione took to their heels and they ran towards the cries of horror that rang out from Sir Henry.

Severus's heart pounded in time with his feet. He could hear Hermione running behind him and he resisted the urge to turn and check that she was all right. He wished he had told her to remain behind.

With the hound in sight, pinning sir Henry with its huge paws, they simultaneously unleashed a barrage of hexes and the awful beast yelped and collapsed onto its side.

Panting, Hermione approached the stricken hound in case it should rise up once more, but it was gone, and she gave him a small, lovely smile of relief.

Suddenly, Severus forgot all about the hound. He forgot even about Sir Henry, for that matter, who lay writhing and clutching at his bloodied throat. Instead, he strode towards his companion and reached out to clasp her to him. There was only one thing he wanted and he was bloody well determined to have it.

In the dungeons of Hogwarts, Severus Snape awoke with a sharp jolt.

What the... What the hell had that been about?

He'd never dreamed of her before... He'd never... Oh dear, his Dr Watson had acquired a face.

A rather attractive female face.

Hmm... Interesting.

Maybe he'd go to bed earlier tonight.


AN: Merry Christmas : )

We live, as we dream—alone — Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness.

The passages with Thornton and Margaret, as well as the title, come from Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South—a great read!

I felt a funeral within my brain... is a poem by Emily Dickinson.

In solitude, where we are least alone — quote from Lord Byron.

The Hound of the Baskervilles was written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.