Author's Notes: I feel like I should apologize in advance for the sloppy writing and the enormous holes and lack of detail in some places where there should have been more and the choppiness of all the time jumps, because I just feel very ... bleh about how this turned out. It did not come together at all the way I wanted it to. But that's very negative, so instead I'll just say that I really, really hope it satisfies and that I loved this particular prompt, even ifI think the way I tried to go about it would have been better as a much longer fic. Also, I guess I should mention that the last line is shamelessly stolen from JKR herself, as a quote from Hagrid. It's just such a good closing line.

Hermione Granger did not like to ask for help. In fact, she hated it. Just having to admit to herself that she had messed something up badly enough for help to be necessary caused an unhealthy amount of teeth-grinding and nostril-flaring. It was the universe's cruel joke, therefore, that she was standing in front of the door of the one person who was likely to make her feel even worse than she already did: Professor Severus Snape. She had done everything she could think of to avoid this-there may even have been equations and calculations involved in her efforts-and yet, here she was. Lurking outside his door, wasting time on internal arguments she knew would do her no good, while everyone else was out enjoying the pleasant weather in Hogsmeade.

But she did need help, rather desperately, and she knew Professor Snape was the person most likely to be able to help her, even if not the most willing. So, firming her resolve and calling upon the Gryffindor courage she knew she had in her, somewhere, she took one last deep breath and knocked.

"Enter," he called, sounding neither welcoming nor furious at the intrusion upon his time. Deciding to take this as a positive sign, Hermione opened the door and nervously stepped inside.

He did not look up at her or acknowledge her in any other way, but remained sitting at his desk, head bent low over a parchment and quill moving furiously. She stood uncertainly in the doorway, not wanting to disturb him or take a seat without being invited to do so. Really, was it too much to expect at least a "Wait just a moment, Miss Granger," or a "Sit down, Miss Granger."? She didn't think so, but apparently his views of common courtesy differed from hers.

Just as she was beginning to work herself into a state of real irritation, he finally straightened and fixed her with his trademark glare. "Well?" he said sharply, as though she had been keeping him waiting.

Reminding herself that he was the professor and she the student, and that he was Severus Snape, notoriously unpleasant bat of the dungeons, she chose her words and tone carefully. "Thank you for taking the time to see me," she said, hoping she had done an acceptable job of keeping the bite from the words. "I have ... found myself in a difficult situation, and I think you are the person most likely to be able to give me the help I require."

He raised an eyebrow. "And what, precisely, makes you imagine that I have either the time or the inclination to entertain the troubles of a schoolgirl?" he asked.

Hermione felt her spine stiffen. She was used to dealing with this man, after six years of classes with him and the frequent times over the years when their extracurricular paths had crossed, and she knew this was the tone he took with everyone, about everything. But knowing that did not help to lessen the sting of the words in regard to her current situation. This was not a schoolgirl trouble, no minor inconvenience. She knew she would have to explain it to him fully before he would take her seriously, but she did not relish the prospect. Though he had proven himself to be firmly on the side of the light when it counted most, he could still be an undeniably cruel man, and this was a situation where she could not feel certain of controlling her reactions to the things he might say. But there was nothing for it, so she once again breathed deeply and spoke.

"I am quite certain, sir," she said evenly, "that you are a very busy man. I am also quite certain that no troubled schoolgirl would bring those troubles before you unless they were of the utmost importance and they could find no other alternative. This is the case for me. Before Harry, Ron and I went on the run, I performed a ... charm on my parents. It was for their own good, to keep them safe, and I had every intention of reversing it as soon as the war had ended." She knew she was attempting to justify her actions and that Professor Snape was not likely to care, so she forced herself to stop. "When the war was finally over and I went to retrieve them, I ... I discovered that the charm was not so easily reversed. I have tried everything I can think of, and ... nothing has worked."

She blinked furiously and clenched her teeth, refusing to cry in front of him. She was not a silly schoolgirl and she would not allow him to treat her as one by indulging in silly schoolgirl hysterics. She stood very still, met his gaze directly, and waited for his reply.

"Miss Granger," he said finally, "I generally find that it is easier to assess a situation and decide on an appropriate course of action when all the facts are clearly given. Since you have not told me which charm you performed and what you have subsequently done to attempt to reverse it, I see no reason for you to seek help from me."

She did not want to tell him. She really did not want to. She truly believed that what she had done was for the best and was the only sensible thing she could have done under the circumstances, even that acting alone had been the most sensible thing, but she was not called the brightest witch of her age for nothing. She was perfectly aware that to the majority of the Wizarding world, her actions deserved punishment. The war had forced them all to react in strange ways under extreme circumstances, and she did not really worry that anyone would come down particularly hard on her, except for the man to whom she had been forced to bring this problem. she suspected he would not care about the extreme circumstances or the fear and desperation that had prompted her decision, only about what she had done and the results. But, as she had to keep reminding herself, there was nothing for it.

"I performed a memory charm so that they would forget they even had a daughter and would suddenly find themselves longing to move to Australia where they would be far from Voldemort and the war in general and where I could be sure they were safe until I could go and bring them back," she said in one graceless rush.

He rose from his desk and strode around it, the better to loom over her. "Miss Granger," he hissed, "do you have any concept of rules? Or boundaries? Or the limitations of being, despite what your overinflated ego might tell you, only a child? Can you even begin to comprehend that there are some things you are better off not meddling in, even with that famed Granger brain?"

She didn't suppose it would help to point out that there was really no one else she could have relied on to assist her, and she knew that unless she had a death wish, it wouldn't help to remind him that while he seemed to have plenty of opinions now, he had been very far removed from the situation and was really not in a position to chastise her for things she had done while he was off with the Death Eaters. She also recognized that she was reacting just as she had feared she would, emotionally and irrationally, which was not going to help to distinguish her as more than a schoolgirl.

"I think," she said more calmly than she felt, "that we all made choices we may have regretted later, but now they have been made and the consequences are what we have to worry about."

His lips curled in a very unpleasant sneer. "Is that what you think?" he asked, his tone derisive. "Well, we can clearly see the extraordinary benefits of following your thinking, Miss Granger."

She stepped away from him, feeling as though he had struck her a physical blow. She had known he would be displeased, had expected his unpleasant comments and had even been prepared to accept a certain amount of mockery from him, which she had always received simply for being a Gryffindor and the best friend of Harry Potter. She would have to be far more naive than she was to think time and war would have changed his feelings even the slightest bit. But she had not expected him to treat her quite this cruelly, to use her failure in this most sensitive matter to belittle her. She had no illusions about his character, but she had always believed him to be, deep beneath it all, a fundamentally good man. He was doing a very good job of proving that she was, in fact, more naive than she had thought herself to be.

"I'm sorry to have disturbed you, sir," she said, not looking back at him as she opened the door. "I won't bother you again."

She closed the door softly behind her, refusing to give in to her very childish impulse to slam it, and walked slowly away from his office. He did not call her back.

Miss Granger,

Be in my office at 5:00. Do not be late.

Professor Snape

Hermione wadded the note into a ball, then smoothed it out and read it again, then wadded it into a ball. She did not want to go to his office. She did not want to do anything that would require her to be in his presence for a prolonged period of time, particularly when she was still feeling so upset with him and when the rest of her life also seemed to be in turmoil. She had read his note after a letter from Harry, which was mostly about Auror training and his relationship with Ginny, which was still in the rekindling stage after the events of the war. Hermione enjoyed the hopefulness she could clearly feel in every word he wrote, but she couldn't help feeling a little twinge as well. She was far removed from him here at Hogwarts, unable to be an active presence in his daily life as she had been for so long, and his postscript giving her Ron's love as he was too busy with work at George's shop to write only made the twinge more pronounced. She knew they were not even close to becoming estranged and that their bond was one that could withstand a little distance, but coupled with her inability to fix her parents' memories, it still felt like one failure too many for her to handle.

Sighing, she shook off her melancholy and rose without finishing her breakfast. It was going to be a very long day; best to just jump right in and focus on the things she could control. Professor Snape, Harry, And Ron would just have to wait their turns for her attention.

It was, indeed, a very long day. The clock continually mocked her, inching its way along when she wanted it to speed up and seeming to race toward 5:00 when she found herself growing anxious and hoping that somehow her meeting with Professor Snape would never arrive. But arrive it did, and Hermione, always punctual, was at his door five minutes before the scheduled time. She waited until exactly 5:00 to knock, and his customary sharp "Enter" was immediate, making her wonder if he too had been waiting.

"We will be brewing," he announced before she even had time to close the door. "you will follow every one of my instructions exactly, and you will curb your natural impulse and refrain from asking constant irritating questions. I have already prepared the ingredients we will need today."

And with that unsatisfactory explanation, he gestured her to follow him. Bemused, she did so without comment, knowing better than to challenge him when he was like this and tentatively hoping, although she knew it was likely to lead to disappointment, that he had decided to help her after all.

He led her to his lab, gestured her into a chair, and brought out the tools and ingredients they would need all in silence. When he finally spoke again, it was only to give instructions, which he did very thoroughly. Honestly, if he would just tell her what exactly they were doing, she would surely be able to determine for herself how many counterclockwise stirs were needed and when to add the next ingredient. She was not a first year, after all. She had brewed a fair number of complicated and even dangerous potions in her time as a witch, although upon further reflection, she decided that perhaps it would be best not to mention that. She was never certain what would set him off at the best of times.

"That will be all, Miss Granger," he said after several hours of nearly silent brewing. "Five o'clock tomorrow."

And just like that, she was dismissed. As though she were a disobedient student and this had been her detention. As though she did not deserve even a modecom of respect from him. Which, she knew, was probably exactly how he felt. But she was an adult, she had done nothing wrong, and although he was still a professor and she was still a student, they had fought in the same war and both come out alive, if not entirely unscathed. She was no longer the overeager, uncertain child who had been brought to tears by a cruel comment about her teeth and she would not allow him to treat her as though nothing had changed since then.

"Sir," she said, standing but not moving toward the door, "if I'm going to continue to assist you, I would like to know what it is we're brewing."

He did not turn from the task of cleaning their equipment and putting everything back in order. "I hardly think that is necessary information for you to have in order to assist me," he said.

She ground her teeth and counted very slowly to ten in her head before she spoke again. "Is there any particular reason why you wish me not to know? If you would just tell me, I might be able to be of more help. I could-"

He swept past her and opened the door. "I am very busy, Miss Granger," he said coldly. "I am sure it will come as a great shock for you to know that not everyone fawns over your supposedly exceptional intelligence. I need nothing more from you than what you have provided today."

"But, sir, all I-" she began.

"If you are really so brilliant," he cut across her again, "surely you can determine for yourself what we are brewing. It should be obvious, given the ingredients. Five o'clock tomorrow." And with that, he left the room.

Hermione fumed all the way to her bed, knowing it was a pointless waste of energy but unable to help herself. The man was infuriating. She had long suspected that he enjoyed forcing everyone to do things in the most difficult manner possible for no apparent reason, but this was just silly. She knew she could be of more use to him if he would only tell her what they were doing. And that last comment about figuring out for herself what they were brewing had sounded very much like a challenge. If it was a game he wanted, that was what she would give him, as ridiculous and counterproductive as it seemed to her. She was already caught up on everything else, so she settled into bed with a quill and parchment and listed all the ingredients they had used, then checked off the potions she could think of which did not use all of those ingredients. By the time she put aside her work to go to sleep, she had suspicions, but little else.

Hermione's meetings with Professor Snape fell into a routine after that. She arrived promptly at 5:00, no longer stopping at his office but going straight to the lab. He was always there before her, ingredients and equipment laid out neatly, and he always gave her a look which clearly stated that she was a hindrance to him and he was managing to tolerate her only with the utmost patience. She ignored this, and their time together usually passed in silence except for his instructions. She did not ask again what they were doing, but she noted every ingredient used and every stir made, and after the first few days, she became bold enough to ask him the purpose of some of the things he instructed her to do. Depending on his mood, he would either give her an answer with ill grace or ignore her entirely, but she decided that both of these were far better than what he could do, so she persevered.

One day, several weeks into their work, she arrived at the lab before he did. This had never happened before, and because she never knew what they would be doing from day to day, she was unable to being preparing. She sat down in her customary seat, feeling a bit disgruntled, and let her eyes wander around the room. And that was when she saw the book, lying open on a table. She glanced at the door, but Professor Snape had still not arrived, so she retrieved the book and settled back into her chair to read it. She discovered almost immediately that it was a journal, but not a private one like so many of her peers seemed to keep. It was filled with notes about potions, lists of ingredients, and references to other books. There could be no doubt about who this journal belonged to and she knew she should put it back where she had found it; even if it didn't contain his private thoughts, he would not appreciate her reading it. But she could not resist the possibility of learning something more about the potion he continued to expect her to brew in ignorance, so she silenced the interfering voice of her conscience and read on.

A throat clearing recalled her to her surroundings a short time later, and, jumping guiltily, she dropped the book and looked around. Professor Snape had arrived and he did not look pleased.

"I would have thought," he said as he moved into the room and picked up his book, "that without Mr. Potter and Mr. Weasley you might have lost the constant need to meddle in things that you have no business with."

She shifted uneasily in her seat, knowing that for once she was actually in the wrong and deserving of his unpleasant comments, but feeling the need to defend herself nonetheless. "I didn't know whose book it was," she said.

"And once you figured it out?" he asked, with the raised eyebrow she had come to dislike. "Surely you don't mean to tell me it remains a mystery to you."

"I wanted to know more about the potion we're brewing," she replied, with more defiance than she had a right to. "You refuse to tell me anything useful. And I haven't been able to find anything in any of my books that fits what we've been doing."

She hated to admit this. It was just one more failure on top of all the others she had accumulated this year.

His lips tightened and he turned away from her to begin preparing, but his tone was more mild than she expected when he said, "You won't find this potion in a book."

"why not?" she asked, startled. It was on the tip of her tongue to add that you could find anything in a book, but she bit the comment back, not wanting to give him any more fuel for mockery.

For a long time she thought he wasn't going to answer, but after he had set everything out neatly and taken up his usual position, he said, "Because it is a potion I have been developing on my own."

She opened and closed her mouth several times, unsure of what to say next. She felt confusion, curiosity, but also anger. He had started her on the ridiculous path of searching for the correct potion, he was the cause of all her wasted time spent making lists and checking books and memorizing stirring and simmering, and it was all for nothing. He had to have known what she was doing, had to have at least guessed at the result of his challenging comment on their first day of brewing together. He had just let her continue on, knowing she had many other things occupying her time as well, and for what?

"Why didn't you tell me that?" she finally managed to ask, more angrily than she had intended.

He shrugged. "You didn't ask."

She stared at him incredulously. "You might recall when we first began this," she said angrily, "and I asked you what exactly it was we were brewing. You told me quite clearly that I did not deserve to know."

He did not respond to that, instead beginning the usual routine of giving her instructions and scrutinizing her annoyingly closely as she followed them. She considered refusing to do anything more until he gave her the information she wanted and felt she had a right to know, but as that was likely to end the same way their very first conversation about her parents' memories had ended, she quickly abandoned the idea. She was angry with him, but she had been angry with him before and had still managed to do the work he assigned her. She would not deliberately ruin a potion just because the man she was working with was a complete bastard. With that decided, she proceeded to make this one of the most uncomfortable periods of time she had spent with him, doing only what he asked of her, not asking a single question or volunteering a single comment, stirring with a bit more force than was strictly necessary, and alternately shooting him frequent angry glares and staring sullenly into the cauldron before her. She was fully aware of how childish this was, but it made her feel slightly better.

When he had cleared everything away and she was making to stalk from the room without so much as a goodbye, he put out an arm to block her path.

"I have work to do elsewhere," she said coolly.

"The potion is a memory restorative," was his complete non sequitur. "I cannot be certain of its effectiveness, having never tested it on anyone, but I have done sufficient research to feel confident that brewing it will not be a waste of our time."

She could not speak. She had hoped, faintly, that first day when he had brought her to this lab, but his demeanor and refusal to give her any information at all had quickly crushed any positive thoughts she might have been having. Was this the reason for his tight-lipped manner, because it was really so horrible for him to imagine letting anyone see that he could be a decent human being when he chose to? She felt a slightly hysterical urge to giggle; it actually made a bizarre kind of sense, considering the man in question. And all the miscommunications and tension seemed very insignificant when viewed alongside this new revelation.

She nodded, smiled tentatively at him, and stepped through the door. "Tomorrow, five o'clock," she said over her shoulder, hoping he would be able to understand all the other things she wasn't saying.

Once Professor Snape had finally told her what they were working on, their brewing sessions were much more pleasant. They didn't chat, not at first, but a great weight of tension was lifted and things became more comfortable. He still issued instructions and Hermione still followed them, but now he freely gave his reasons and once or twice, although he did not react as favorably as she would like, she gave her own opinions about things she thought might be tweaked or changed to improve the potion and he did not throw her out. And very gradually, as they continued to work together and nothing catastrophic happened, he began to allow her to see glimpses of the man beyond the greasy Potions professor.

She learned that he liked his tea with an absurd amount of sugar, which amused her, and she was only amused further when he told her sourly that just because he wore black robes and lived in the dungeons did not mean she should assume he would take his tea black as well. She told him of her fondness for cats, and he replied that Crookshanks could hardly be considered a proper cat. She chose to ignore this. They avoided discussing family since all she had were her parents and that was not a pleasant topic for her, and he seemed equally disinclined to discuss his own parents, but she told him about her holidays at the Burrow and he made only a few disparaging remarks. They discussed potions theory and he even offered her a few more details about the memory restorative without her having to ask for them, which pleased her very much. When she arrived early for one of their lab sessions and found him already there, preparing tea for them both before they began their work, she smiled so idiotically that he finally had to snap at her to get her to stop.

She did not question their relationship. Outside of their brewing, he was still Professor Snape and she was still Hermione Granger, bookish brain of Gryffindor, and that was all there was to know. During their brewing, they were still themselves, only slightly better versions of themselves. When she was feeling particularly optimistic she might call them friends, but never out loud and certainly never directly to his face. She would not do anything to jeopardize their tenuous camaraderie, and he always reacted unpleasantly when he was uncomfortable. Demanding a declaration of friendship from him would certainly make him uncomfortable, so she contented herself with silly smiles and happy thoughts. It was nice to have this one area of peace in her life when everything else was still so hectic.

Ginny Weasley was the only member of her family still at Hogwarts, and the only student to whom Hermione felt really close that year. She liked quite a few of the other students, but it was Ginny to whom she went when she wanted advice, or just some friendly company during the times when she was not brewing. She knew Ginny was both intelligent and perceptive, and she accepted that she had probably picked up on Hermione's newfound happiness, perhaps even that she knew the cause. So when the youngest Weasley came to her with an invitation to the Burrow for the Christmas holiday, she did not feel obligated to make up a lot of silly excuses for why she would only be coming for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day.

"There's still brewing to be done," she said, "and N.E.W.T.s are coming closer and I've been ... too busy to study as much as I would like. I thought I would take the holiday to catch up a bit."

"Right," Ginny said, grinning. "And it's N.E.W.T. preparation that has you glowing and practically skipping down the halls everywhere you go."

"I do not skip," Hermione replied, attempting to sound dignified.

Ginny giggled. "You skip," she insisted. "So I'll just tell Mum you're trying to be considerate and keep your study mania to yourself, shall I?"

Hermione nodded.

More seriously, Ginny said, "You could tell them, you know. They would be happy for you. they worry about you, Harry especially."

"There's nothing to tell," Hermione replied, avoiding Ginny's eyes. "And there's no reason for anyone to worry about me. They have their own lives to live now."

Ginny sighed, but didn't pursue the topic, instead pulling Hermione into a hug and then departing to send her mother the message.

Hermione was grateful for her friend's circumspection, but, as Christmas drew nearer, she still found herself dwelling a bit too much on her relationship with Professor Snape. It was true that spending time with him made her feel happy in a way that spending time with Ginny or Harry or Ron did not, and she cared more for his opinions than she did for anyone else's. She wanted to please him, and a great warmth spread through her every time he did something which indicated that he might wish to please her also. She did not know quite what to make of these things, and since she didn't think a discussion of feelings would be at all welcome or even that anything would change if she clarified things in her own mind, she tried to push the thoughts away. This was actually surprisingly easy to do, because she hadn't been lying to Ginny when she said she needed to study more. She had neglected her books, and as the castle emptied, she set her mind on the N.E.W.T.s and began preparing in earnest. She had never grown out of the belief that it was never too early to start and no amount of studying was ever too much.

On the final day before she left for the Burrow, Professor Snape seemed very distracted. He did not give his instructions in the same sharp way he usually did, and more than once she had to prompt him for the next step when his mind wandered entirely from the task at hand. He was almost as obsessive as she was and his focus was usually razor sharp, so this was very strange behavior, but she knew better than to comment on it or ask him if anything was wrong. She took great pains to avoid the reappearance of the scathing man she had come to know so well during her years of being taught by him. The time passed a bit uncomfortably, but not unpleasantly, so she felt safe to offer him the information of her Christmas plans as he was clearing up. He merely grunted in reply and did not offer any information of his own, but he stopped at the door, so she stopped as well, expectantly.

"Have a happy Christmas, Hermione," he said, voice low, something strange flickering in his eyes. He had never called her Hermione before.

"Happy Christmas, Severus," she answered, and fled the room before she could see his reaction to her use of his first name.

Christmas at the Burrow was the same as every other year: loud, festive, crowded, and full of fun. Mrs. Weasley outdid herself and very nearly outdid even Hogwarts with the feast she prepared, and there were piles of presents for everyone, although there was nothing from Severus in Hermione's pile. She had not really expected anything, and she hadn't sent anything to him either, but she still felt a slight twinge of disappointment when the final present had been unwrapped. It would be inappropriate, of course, for the Potions professor to send a gift to a student, even if the student was also a friend, but still ...

Harry and Ron did an admirable job of distracting her from her confusing thoughts, and she was very gratified that they seemed to be as happy to see her as she was to see them. She was pleased that Ron was getting along so well at the shop; she had been unsure, when he decided to take George's offer instead of going to training with Harry, if it would be the best thing for him. But she had to admit that despite her personal feelings toward Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes, Ron was happy, and George, although subdued, seemed to be coping well with the loss of his twin. Harry and Ginny hardly had eyes for anyone else and could frequently be found squashed into the same armchair, heads bent close together. Hermione was impressed with Mr. and Mrs. Weasley's restraint, Ginny being their youngest child and only daughter, but they probably would have given Harry anything he askd for if it was in their power to do so. Ginny couldn't seem to restrain herself from making frequent sly comments about Hermione's happiness, tendency toward daydreams, and her "new friend", but although this aroused Harry's and Ron's curiosity and caused Mrs. Weasley to smile mistily, Hermione did not divulge any information. She still did not believe there was anything to divulge.

She didn't open a single book during her time at the burrow, having promised Harry and Ron, but when she returned to the castle the day after Boxing Day, she felt pleasantly rested and energized rather than worried and behind schedule. Perhaps it was spending time with so many obviously contented and loving people, or perhaps it was the prospect of spending more time with Severus (he was now always Severus in her mind); she could not be entirely sure.

By the time she had unpacked and done a bit of studying to make up for the previous days, it was time to go to the lab. She made her way their without paying much attention to her surroundings, and she was nearly all the way through the door before she registered the sight before her. Severus was already there, brewing, and he was not nearly as buttoned up as he always was when she saw him. Even during all of their brewing he kept his robes on and fully buttoned right up to the collar. She had often wondered why he did this, as it seemed it would be stiflingly uncomfortable, but she had never commented, knowing the likely result. Now, however, she was beginning to regret her politeness, because his outer robe was cast off, his sleeves were rolled up, and his collar was unbuttoned, and there were muscles, and his arms were lightly dusted with hair, and his neck was really quite a nice neck, and she was stopped in the doorway staring like an idiot. She realized this and came a little further into the room, and her movement must have alerted him, because he looked up sharply and automatically reached for his robe, his lips tightening in the way she knew meant trouble.

"Please don't," she said before she could think better of it, reaching out to lay a hand on his arm.

He made a movement as though to push her away, but instead laid his hand lightly atop hers. "It doesn't ... bother you?" he asked.

She was surprised. "What? You without your robe? Of course not."

His lips twitched slightly, making her think perhaps she had been a bit forceful with that statement, but then his face smoothed again. "I would not want to make you uncomfortable," he said stiffly. "I do not mind ... covering them."

She simply stared at him, utterly confused.

"The scars," he said finally, gesturing.

She could tell that he did not appreciate her making him say it plainly, but she honestly hadn't known what he was worried about, and now that she did, she felt a lump forming in her throat. Idiot man. As if she would ever care.

"Severus," she said softly, not missing the flicker of surprise in his eyes when she called him that, "we all have them. The war didn't leave any of us untouched, you know. I would not have you hide who you are." He still looked unconvinced, so she lifted her hand from his arm and placed her fingers gently against his throat, where the scars stood out angrily against his pale skin. "This is a mark of what you've survived. You shouldn't be ashamed of them, and I will never be uncomfortable to look at them."

She didn't even know why he would care about her opinion, but there was a visible release of tension as he once again placed his hand atop hers. "What are your scars?" he asked, surprising her as she had earlier surprised him.

"Sometime," she replied, moving to take her seat, "I'll show you."

Their relationship underwent yet another shift after that day. As before, neither of them spoke of it plainly, but there was an understanding between them. They met more frequently now, not just when brewing required it, and Severus spoke more freely of himself and of the life she had not known when he was only her professor. They both became increasingly busy with N.E.W.T. preparations in their own ways as time passed, but they still managed to find time to meet regularly, and Hermione no longer bothered protesting or avoiding the subject when Ginny teased her about the "spring in her step". Theirs was not a romance, and Severus never bought her flowers or chocolates or made any declarations of feelings. But he did remember how she liked her tea and always prepared it when they met, and he brought her interesting books and journals he thought she would like to read and then took the time to discuss them with her, and he always took off his outer robe and unbuttoned his collar when he was brewing, and she was happy.

They only had one major falling-out in the time remaining before N.E.W.T.s. The potion was simmering, and Hermione was reading through Transfiguration notes while she talked idly to Severus. She made an offhand remark about Luna and the Quibbler, and looked up when he did not reply, to see his gaze fixed sharply on her.

"What?" she asked, uncertain as to what had so caught his attention.

"I just wondered," he said in a tone that was much too casual to be believed, "how it was that you managed to convince Rita Skeeter to do the Quibbler interview in your fifth year."

She looked back down at her notes, resisting the urge to squirm uneasily. She had actually forgotten about that little bit of her past, and she did not imagine it would go over very well with Severus. Considering how he had reacted to learning about the memory charm on her parents, she would really much rather keep the details of her power over Rita Skeeter to herself. But she knew he wasn't going to let it go until he had an answer.

"Well?" he prompted when she was silent for too long.

"You aren't going to like the answer," she said, knowing she was just avoiding giving it.

His lips tightened. "Perhaps you would be kind enough to give it to me anyway," he said.

She sighed and explained to him about the events of her fourth year, how Harry had speculated about bugging and how that had led her to her own suspicions, which turned out to be correct. She hesitated again over the bit where she trapped and blackmailed Rita Skeeter with what she knew, but she felt that since she had begun, Severus really deserved to hear all of it. by the time she was finished, her hands were twisted so tightly in her lap that she had to consciously ease them apart, and Severus's expression had turned black.

"She needed to be stopped," she found herself saying, giving justification she knew he would not care about. "What she was doing was wrong. And the Quibbler interview ... it was really important."

"And, as usual, it did not occur to you that children were not the people who should be making those decisions," he said angrily. "You thought that your own intelligence and judgment were greater than those of your elders, as you have always thought."

"I couldn't be sure that anyone else's choices could be relied on to have the correct outcome," she said, knowing how ridiculous it sounded, but also knowing how things had been at the time in a way Severus did not.

"And who were you to decide what was the correct outcome?" he fumed. "You were a child, Hermione, just a child. Just as you were a child when you cast the memory charm. Did that have the correct outcome?"

She did not stay to hear anymore. Gathering her things in one messy armful, she strode from the room, leaving him to finish that day's brewing on his own.

She did not go back to him for days. This was the second time he had used her failure with her parents' memories to make his point in an unnecessarily cruel way, and this time was worse because this time he should have cared more. Logically, she knew that it was because he cared that he became so angry about these things, but she didn't feel like being logical. She felt like being angry because she had always been acting with good intentions and she had never made decisions recklessly and she had had just about enough of him refusing to acknowledge her as an intellectual equal. And it was at that point in her internal rant that she realized there was still far more of the schoolgirl in her than she wanted to admit, and that she had been spending quite a lot of her time refusing to admit things and it was doing her no good. From there, all that was left was for her to swallow her considerable pride, shore up her not so considerable courage, and go to him. He was certainly showing no inclination to come to her. She hoped it was not always going to be like this, sudden blowups, days of silent unhappiness, and her finally offering the first (and possibly only) apology, but she knew that, as unhappy as she still was about the whole thing, the apology really was her responsibility this time.

He was already in the lab when she arrived, and he did not indicate whether or not he was happy to see her there. She came to stand beside his chair rather than going immediately to her own, and after a few moments of very loud silence, she said, "I know that my judgment is not always perfect."

His lips twitched at this veiled and slightly crooked apology, but his voice was serious when he replied. "I should not have spoken cruelly about your memory charm. I know it is something that hurts you."

She nodded. "But you were right," she continued. "I ... the boys and I ... we have always acted as we thought best. We haven't always done the correct thing."

"You were given a great deal of freedom as children," he said, "freedom I often did not think was wise. I still do not think it was wise. But what's done is done, and I ... I have not always acted with the best judgment either. I have made far bigger mistakes than you ever will."

She was amazed that he had gotten that last out at all, and she wrapped her arms around him in a brief hug. He could be very cruel and he seemed to know instinctively the things that would wound her most deeply, but he was also a good, brave man and in moments like this, she was pleasantly reminded of why she had come to care for him as much as she did.

"Come have tea," he said when she released him. And just like that, their fight was over.

The last few months of school passed in a blur for Hermione. She received regular letters from Harry and even an occasional note from Ron, and in both there were frequent inquiries into the situation with her parents. Both boys knew about her failure to reverse the charm and were well aware of how such a failure would have affected her, both on a personal and academic level, so she hid nothing of the truth from them in that regard and told them about the potion she and Severus were working on. Ron sent his sympathies for her having to work with "that old bat", but she knew it was meant good-naturedly and she didn't protest angrily as she would have done in years past. Ron was never going to be the leader of the Severus Snape fan club, but he knew as well as she did which side he had been on in the end and what kind of man he really was; in fact, he probably knew a great deal more than Severus would want him to. Harry's replies were far more perceptive. He didn't say anything outright, but he took care to tell her he hoped she was happy, mentioning a few things Ginny had said to him when they spoke last, and informing her in no uncertain terms that they were going to have a long chat when next they saw one another and she was going to tell him about all the secrets she had taken to keeping. These letters made her smile; it felt good to know that there was more than one person on her side in this. She was sure not everyone would react so well.

There was not as much studying as Hermione felt there should be, but as this was largely due to her own lack of time and she knew she was not really in any danger of failing anything, she vowed not to cause herself additional stress by agonizing over it. She was more successful in this than anyone would have believed possible, helped largely by Ginny, who came to study with her periodically so she would have a solid excuse to immerse herself in her books. Ginny was not as anxious to do well as Hermione was, but she was a much better study partner than Harry and Ron and she did care about the outcome of these exams. Between these study sessions, the final tweaks and changes to the memory restorative, and finding time to spend with Severus unrelated to potions, exam time had crept up on her without her even realizing it.

She was trying for more N.E.W.T.s than anyone else, but she was also more prepared than anyone else and her entire academic career had been spent absorbing knowledge like a sponge, so the whole thing went off with much less fuss than she had always expected. She didn't know what she actually thought would happen; she was just the sort of person who always expected disasters, and tried to spend all her time preparing herself for them. Perhaps because she had been a little more relaxed than usual this year, and a little happier, all her exams went smoothly and she only forced Ginny to go over the most difficult ones they shared after they had taken them.

And so, suddenly, all other distractions were out of the way and there was nothing left for her to focus on except the potion. She had spent most of the year refusing to allow herself to deeply contemplate the problem of her parents' memories, despite all the time spent working on the potion and the times when Severus had forcibly reminded her of her failure, because life had to go on. If she had let herself dwell on it, she would have spent the year in a ball of misery, refusing to get anything accomplished, and that would have turned her failure into an entire mass of failures. Her parents were happy and not in any danger, and although she missed them desperately and had found herself wishing for their advice and comfort more than once, she couldn't have been any use to them until now. They had a plan, which, although neither of them was entirely happy with it, they thought had the best chance of succeeding, and now all that remained was to put it into action and hope for the best.

They Apparated near her parents' house on a very warm, sunny day, and Hermione found herself hoping that the weather was an omen. She knew such thoughts were silly, but she would take any positive indicator she could get and the sunshine was already making her feel more hopeful. Even so, she stood fidgeting in the street until Severus took her firmly by the arm and led her forward. As they walked up the path to the house, she found herself seized by a sudden panic, a certainty that this was all wrong and it would never work, and what they really needed to do was go straight back to Hogwarts so she could barricade herself behind a cauldron and a pile of books where everything was safe and orderly. Severus was looking very stern, as though he knew just what she was thinking, and as he showed no signs of allowing their progress to cease, she contented herself with seizing his hand and squeezing it. He bore this admirably, without a single word, and she drew enough strength from him that she found herself perfectly able to ring the bell when they at last reached the door.

It was Hermione's mother who answered, and her pleasant but questioning smile upon seeing them, with no hint of recognition, coupled with her polite inquiry of "Can I help you?" tore at Hermione's heart. She held herself very still as she answered, attempting to match her mother's politeness.

"We're very sorry to bother you, it's just that I used to live here when I was young, and since we were in the area, I wondered if it would be terribly intrusive if I came in and had a quick look around. Just ... for old time's sake."

Mrs. Granger seemed to hesitate for a moment, and Hermione felt her heart leap into her throat. But then she smiled, saying as she stepped back, "Of course, how nice. Come in. I hope you'll forgive the mess, I wasn't expecting guests."

The house was spotless. It was so like her mother to fuss when there was nothing to fuss about, a trait she knew she had inherited, that tears prickled at the corners of her eyes. Severus followed her in silently and closed the door, laying a hand briefly on her shoulder in comfort. It surprised and helped her, and she found it much easier than she had expected to follow her mother through this house she did not know, as unfamiliar as every other house here would have been, and listen to her chatter pleasantly about this room or that table and see her familiarity and obvious comfort. She showed them the bedrooms, one of which would have once ostensibly belonged to a younger Hermione, and they took a walk around the little back garden, and then Mrs. Granger offered them tea which they gratefully accepted.

Hermione was surprised, upon entering the kitchen, to see her father seated at the table with papers spread out before him. It was such a familiar sight, his head bent low over what he was reading and his fingers drumming idly on the table, that even in the setting of this unfamiliar kitchen it made her feel immensely warmed and comforted. She had to use all of her self-control not to rush across to him and fling herself into his arms. She could only imagine how that would go over. Mrs. Granger introduced everyone as she prepared the tea and invited Hermione and Severus to sit, and Mr. Granger put aside his papers and told them about how he and his wife had acquired the house, and before she knew it, they were all seated together around the table with steaming mugs of tea before them. She never knew quite how he accomplished it, but while she was busy trying not to leap on her father or exclaim something idiotic about love to her mother, Severus somehow managed to transfer the memory restorative potion from the bottle in his pocket to Mr. And Mrs. Granger's cups, and even to take a sip of his own tea. Hermione didn't even glance at hers; all her attention was riveted on her parents as they lifted their mugs.

They drank, and then Mrs. Granger drew a breath and opened her mouth to speak. But before she could even form the first syllable of whatever she was going to say, she slumped sideways in her chair, her eyes falling closed and the little bit of tea that had still been left in her mouth dripping down her chin. Hermione gave a little cry and made to stand, but her attention was caught by her father, who was doing the same thing. She and Severus, both moving at the same time, only just made it to him before he could topple onto the floor.

St. Mungo's did not have a very comfortable waiting room. Hermione found herself wondering inanely why this was, as she sat in one of the uncomfortable chairs and stared down at a slightly outdated periodical. People who were waiting anxiously to find out the seriousness of the conditions of their loved ones deserved to be comfortable, didn't they? But then, if many of the people were like her, perhaps it made sense after all. She did not think she deserved to be comfortable, not when she was doubly responsible for her loved ones ending up here in the first place. She couldn't just stop with the memory charm, oh no, she had to go and give them a potion which had ... well, it had done something unpleasant, she was certain of that. When your parents passed out in their kitchen after consuming a potion you gave to them, and when even the Healers could tell you nothing reassuring once you had managed to get them to the hospital, you could be pretty sure you had messed things up very badly indeed.

Severus was right, she thought bitterly. She did overestimate her own intelligence. She did have no concept of rules and boundaries. And she really deserved punishment for all the foolish, reckless, thoughtless things she had done, but especially for this. This was unforgivable. She was still just a silly schoolgirl, never mind that school was officially over for her, and she needed to tell Severus he could go. No need for him to have to keep putting up with her and the situations she created. She realized this was ignoring a few important points, like the fact that Severus had been the one to first think of and enlist her help with the potion, and the fact that he had gone along willingly with this plan and even been instrumental in its execution, but if you couldn't beat yourself up in a hospital, where could you?

As though her thoughts had called him, she looked up from the periodical she hadn't actually been reading to see him standing in the doorway, beckoning to her. She rose on slightly shaky legs and crossed the room to him, raising her eyebrows in question, but he did not speak immediately, instead leading her down a hallway and into a secluded alcove. Once there, he leaned against the wall and smiled. Well, a Severus smile, which was really just a slight tilt of the lips, but it was reassuring all the same.

"They're all right?" she asked, needing to be absolutely sure.

"The Healers say they'll be perfectly fine," he confirmed. "There will be some questions, of course, and they don't know what their emotional states will be when they are revived, but there is no lasting damage. No damage at all, really. Their minds simply ... overloaded, you could say."

She felt all the strength going out of her legs and leaned against him, her eyes filling with tears which overflowed and soaked into his shirtfront. He did not protest this and did not push her away, and he even went so far as to rub her back gently and make a few soothing sounds. He was actually quite good at being comforting, she discovered with surprise, and this only made her more curious about all the other things she didn't know about him. She had no doubt that there was a lifetime's worth of these things, but they had a lifetime for her to learn them. And that thought brought her up short, because neither of them had ever spoken of a commitment, or, indeed, even said in words that there was anything to commit to. there was every possibility that he would have no interest in exploring anything with her long-term.

"You are troubled," he noted as she straightened and started to move away slightly.

Reluctantly, she nodded.

"About something other than your parents?"

Another nod. "I was just thinking," she said hesitantly, "that I ... we ... now that my parents are okay and there's no more potion to brew ..."

That Severus smile again, and then his fingers gently beneath her chin, tilting her head up, and then his lips against hers. Gentle, more gentle than she would have imagined he could be, and here was another lovely thing she was learning about him: he was quite as good at kissing as he was at comforting. No fanfare, no fireworks, but she felt everything inside of her melting, and her breaths were coming a little more quickly when he pulled back slightly to look at her.

"there is a great deal of uncertainty in our future," he said seriously. "Your parents, your life after Hogwarts, how I will fit into all of this. I will understand if-"

She cut him off with another kiss, and pulled back again when she nearly began to giggle at the absurdity of a first kiss in a hospital alcove while her parents' were recovering the memories she had charmed from them. It was just so typical of her relationship with this man, and of her whole life, really.

"What's coming will come," she told him, reaching for his hand and leading him from the alcove, "and we'll meet it when it does."