Disclaimer: All recognizable characters and fictional places do not belong to me; I am merely borrowing them for playtime before I (respectfully) put them back. Thank you JKR, for allowing such things to happen.

Thank You: To the amazing team that is inspiring/cleaning up after me in this project: BSC_AG, Allee, Tom Without, Lauren and Roo. Please remember to thank them if you are enjoying this story.

Story Summary: Hermione must deal with the aftermath of the war and with the other lost souls and broken hearts that have survived it. Life is every bit as hard as war, and growing up has a way of changing both friendships and minds. That's not always a bad thing... Rated M for later chapters. This story is primarily about Hermione, and does include a main pairing with Severus Snape. There is also several non-graphic side pairings, including a m/m slash.

Main Characters: Hermione Granger, Severus Snape, Harry Potter, George Weasley, Ron Weasley, Luna Lovegood, Neville Longbottom, Ginevra Weasley, OC

By: TycheSong

Chapter Twenty: (In which Severus attempts to brew by proxy and Hermione stumbles across an old secret)

"Have you added the Himalayan poppy dew? And four stirs counter-clockwise." The velvety dark of Professor Snape's voice drifted through the open door of the potions lab, stopping Hermione in her tracks. She had been finally cleared by Madam Pomfrey to return to her brewing that morning, and had been on her way to continue down her list of potions, when she heard it.

"Yes, yes. I really do think you should have four drops, however, not five. Overkill, my boy." That was Professor Slughorn, answering. She hadn't realised he had returned to Hogwarts. Minerva must have gotten a hold of him to aid Professor Snape. Perhaps she wouldn't be needed to brew after all, now that he was back.

Professor Snape's voice hissed. "You added all five, did you not? The potion should be a dark navy—nearly black. A level two inspissation."

"Yes, yes. Trust me. I have been a Potions Master for as long as you have been alive, Severus. I do know what I am about." He sounded impatient, and frustrated. No doubt Professor Snape had been "back-seat brewing" and second-guessing his every move. Hermione eyed her two former potions professors with trepidation. She had never heard anyone question Professor Snape's proficiency with Potions before.

"Not in this. This is my potion. I've been working on the compound and its counter for years." Professor Snape's voice rose slightly. "Add the horn next, quickly, in an even stream, while stirring."

"Severus, I can read your notes. Frankly, you're distracting me."

Hermione cautiously peered in through the open door of the classroom, watching the two men. Professor Snape sat, looking sour, clutching his wand in one fist and staring blindly in the direction of the table where Professor Slughorn was brewing. His whole body seemed to radiate tension; it was an odd sight. He was usually so good at hiding the slightest amount of stress.

Professor Snape cursed softly under his breath, but it carried clearly on the room's acoustics. "If you get this wrong, Horace, you will permanently blind me, and if that happens, so help me…" He stopped suddenly, sniffed, and then accused, "It smells sweet. It's not supposed to be that sweet. What did you do?"

"I didn't do anything, and I am not going to blind you!" The older potions master snapped, his patience clearly used up. "Though you may blind yourself. Your notes say to add dehydrated bat eyes, followed by powdered erumpent horn! Severus, have you forgotten that this brew already has a Type A base? Dragons' blood in any form and erumpent horn will make it highly toxic!"

"Not with the modifications I made—not if it's dehydrated. It will not be pleasant, but I have been subjected to far worse, I assure you."

"Severus, I am the one who taught you potions, and am in possession of my own mastery!" Professor Slughorn lowered his voice until it really shouldn't have been within her hearing range, even with the acoustics. "You will not be able to fool me. Poppy warned me that you were not best pleased to find yourself still alive, and I will not be party to helping you end that!"

Hermione frowned. She highly doubted Professor Snape would be creating a complicated potion by way of another Potions Master to commit suicide if that was his aim. Either way, this was clearly a bad time and she should just leave. Unfortunately, at that moment, a galleon worked its way loose from an open pocket on her bag and fell to the stone floor with a clink, alerting both men of her presence.

Professor Snape's head whipped in her direction, and he lifted his wand slightly. Nothing to do at this point but pretend she'd only just arrived and brazen it out.

"Forgive me for interrupting; I've been cleared to work again, and Madam Pomfrey is nearly out of Muscle Relaxant. It's been in high demand with all the heavy lifting."

"No." The single word was strained, and upset, and entirely drowned out by Professor Slughorn's jovial answer.

"Of course, of course, set up right over there, Miss Granger!" Professor Slughorn waved a hand to a couple of lab tables down, and grinned jovially at her as if he hadn't just been arguing with Professor Snape.

Hermione paused and bit her lip. "Perhaps a better time," she started, ready to turn and leave again. She really didn't want to interrupt what was clearly already a tense situation.

"No trouble, Miss Granger! No trouble a'tall! We were just finished here." Professor Slughorn turned and said, slightly disapprovingly, "As I recall, you found yourself more than capable of getting here from your rooms without any help, Severus? Good morning." The elder potions master swept up the stairs and by her, leaving the younger professor and the potion behind.

The potion chose that moment to give off a low hissing sound, and Professor Snape's mouth hardened even further. "Miss Granger." His voice could cut glass, it truly could. Hermione winced, and started down the steps, bending to retrieve her galleon as she did so.


"What colour is the potion?" His voice was resigned; he clearly already knew his potion was beyond saving at this point.

"The top is nearly black and starting to congeal, sir. Bubbles that burst through are a dark blue with paler flecks."

He let out another irritated breath, and with a flick of his still tightly clutched wand, vanished the entire cauldron. "Bloody idiot," he muttered.

Hermione chewed on her lip a moment, before offering hesitatingly, "If you like, sir, I could help you brew your potion."

"Absolutely not!" The vehement response came out as a bark. He glared sightlessly, still gripping his wand, his posture stiff. A brief moment of silence passed, and then he continued scathingly, "Your experience in potions work can be summed up in the entirety of a few hours a week for the six years you have attended basic schooling. You do not have a Potions N.E.W.T., nor have you even attended your seventh year. You certainly do not have any advanced training in the field. Before attending Hogwarts, you were not even aware of magic's existence.

"What makes you believe for even the slightest moment that I would be willing to place my eyesight—something essential to my livelihood—in the brewing hands of a rank student without even a natural affinity for Potions work?"

Hermione felt herself shake slightly, and said in a small voice, "You have repeatedly made the observation, sir, that I am able to follow directions exactly as they are given. Is that not precisely what you are in need of? You have already done the difficult part."

"Miss Granger, you are an arrogant, insufferable child. Britain is not so short of potions masters that I need to resort to your incompetence. It has always been clear that you have thought overly highly of yourself and your talents, but this is crossing the line into delusional at best." The sneering set down was so contemptuous that it actually made her lip tremble with upset.

"I…I was only trying to help."

"I think I have received quite enough help from you." He responded.

Hermione felt her mouth drop. "I'm the one who brought you in from the Shrieking Shack!"

His lips twisted in an ugly grimace. "As I said." He turned his back to her stiffly, reaching out a hand to the table to guide himself as he walked. "You may go," he dismissed casually, his lack of inflection as cutting as his previous words had been.

Tears threatening to fall, Hermione spun and left as quickly as she could short of running. She would not cry because of that horrid man. She would not. She had just been trying to help. Wiping at her eyes rather viciously, she jogged down the labyrinthine halls of the dungeon, taking twists and turns at random, not quite ready to turn about and face anyone else. The worst part about the situation is that she had a sinking feeling that he was right. It was horribly humiliating; not just his acidic refusal but the fact that she had actually run from his presence like a first year. Tears threatened to choke her again, and Hermione shook her head angrily.

Several moments later she stopped short, suddenly realising that she really had no clear idea of where she was. Still in the dungeons, but not in Slytherin territory any longer. She glanced about, a bit unsettled. She had only been to the Hufflepuff side of things a couple of times—this area did not stand out as familiar. There were no portraits on the walls to offer any direction and no tapestries or suits of armor to give a frame of reference; just stark bare walls and an incredibly lonely, neglected feeling. What few doors there were in the hallway were closed and unlabeled. This area was not kept heated either, she noted.

She shivered a little, and rubbed her arms briskly. Obviously, the best course of direction would be to just turn the way she had come and attempt to find her way back to the main halls. She turned to do so, stopping short again when she reached the first intersection. Which direction had she come from? Had she turned or simply barreled straight ahead? She honestly couldn't remember.

Uncertainly, she turned left. She was right handed, she mused, so if she had turned, perhaps she was more inclined to turn right? She wasn't sure that was true, but it made as much sense as any other reason she might have made up to go a different direction, so she might as well. This hallway looked much as the last had: completely unfamiliar and bare of any hints. Perhaps she should just take the right turn each time? That would eventually get her free, unless she ended up going in circles.

Circles. Hermione rolled her eyes, and drew her wand, feeling silly. She really should have thought of this as soon as she realised she was turned around. She really did need to watch her emotions—they constantly seemed to be trumping her sense.

Laying her wand flat on her palm, she directed, "Point me!"

It spun in her palm a few rotations, then defiantly pointed back at her chest. Alright then, back the way she had come again. Hermione sighed, and retraced her steps down the previous hallway for the second time. When she got to the previous intersection, she withdrew her wand and tried again. Thank the founders no one is here to see me like this.

Her wand spun again, pointing this time to the right. Hermione frowned. Again, that was the way she had come, the place she had stopped and realised she was lost in the first place. Her wand should have directed her to either the left or straight. Unless…perhaps there was a shorter route this way? It wouldn't be that odd, if there were. She had been fleeing from the potions classroom for several minutes.

Shrugging, she continued to follow her wand's direction. It took her down several empty corridors, and finally to a dead end. Hermione stared at the blank wall in front of her. Well, clearly this wasn't right. She held out her wand again, and ordered firmly, "Point me!"

Her wand spun and pointed to the left. Not behind her, to the only open corridor, but to the empty wall just to the left of the end of the passage. Hermione lifted a brow at it, glanced down at her wand again, then defiantly turned so that she was facing the only open way—the way she had come. "Point me!" Her wand snapped in a half circle, stubbornly pointing at the wall next to her. Giving up, Hermione sheathed her wand, and studied the empty wall. Sometimes at Hogwarts, the walls mimicked doors. Perhaps this was a door mimicking a wall?

She put her hands flat against the cool stone, feeling to see if it was an illusion. The wall felt…not solid exactly, but it was still a barrier. Like it had a layer of cloth covering it, the wall had just the slightest amount of give. Firmly, Hermione pressed harder, and drew in a sharp breath when her hands actually sank slightly into the wall. If she had leaned against it, or stumbled into it, the wall would have held her weight—she might never have known that there was anything out of the ordinary. As it was, however, a good centimetre of her hands had sunk into the stone.

She had never heard of something like this before. Usually walls were either solid or illusion, not both. Curious, and ignoring the cautionary voice in the back of her head, Hermione pushed more strongly, attempting to force herself all the way through. It was slow, like she was trying to force herself through a thick paste or gelatin. For a moment she couldn't breathe, and had to force herself to not panic, but then she was in open air again, on the other side of the wall.

Now panic suddenly set in. What if now she were on this side of the wall, she wouldn't be able to get back? Whirling to stare at the wall she had just pushed through, she pressed her hands against it, and was relieved to feel them sink a little. That was good then; she would be able to get through that way if she needed to.

She turned about to study her surroundings, and stared in shock.

AN: Duh duh duhhhhhn! Wonder what trouble our nosy Gryffindor girl has gotten herself into now?