Severus' deep grey eyes roamed over the drawing in his hand before flicking to Hermione and finally coming to rest on the young girl in front of him.

Her daughter.

Hermione had a daughter and she had never told him.

Narrowing his eyes at the glaringly obvious Weasley looking girl, he was impressed to see she did not flinch from his stern gaze even though he could feel the fear radiating from her. Stories from her father no doubt, Severus thought resentfully. He knew Hermione well enough to know she would never speak ill of him in front of anyone let alone her own child. His distaste for his business partner's ex-husband rose in his chest like bile.

"I wanted you to like me, Professor Snape, so Mum said I ought to draw you something. Do you like it?"

Severus' thoughts snapped back to attention when the child spoke. He raised an eyebrow at the girl, but did not break her gaze.

"I believe it would serve you well in the future Miss Weasley if you simply used yourself rather than relying on tactics to make people like you, as that never bodes well in my book, however your drawing is rather detail oriented especially for someone of your age. It is…..most impressive. Thank you." The last part came out a little rougher than he had intended, but then again he had not been expecting Hermione to show up with a child, let alone one bearing a gift. Nobody other than his former colleagues ever gave him gifts, and those were sent only out of obligation during the holidays. He knew better than to believe anyone would willingly give him something to seek his favor, yet the child was doing so.

The fact that it was her daughter who gave it to him, made the situation even more discomfiting. If Hermione wanted to continue this partnership, she was going to have to give him answers. He had trusted her thus far, but the same was not given in return, and it hurt him more than he wanted to admit.

He carefully shrunk the drawing as not to smudge it and tucked it into his robes before sitting down at the small table. His potions hamper was neatly tucked under his chair out of the way.

Rose sat between the two glancing from one to the other and trying her best not to fidget in the uncomfortable silence that hung in the air. Finally, not knowing what else to do, she reached for her drawing tablet to start another picture. Art was her escape, and she relished in it.

It was also a good way to watch them without either noticing.

Severus fingered his crystal cut goblet of water as his charcoal grey eyes observed Hermione pouring out his tea. Most people would not have noticed the slight tremble in her usually deft fingers, but he did. He had watched her chop and slice enough potions ingredients with exact precision as a student, to know when her hands were trembling.

She was nervous, and by the judge of it, extremely so.

"Well," he intoned silkily, as he reached to take the fine Wedgewood cup from her hands. "Are there any more surprises I should be aware of before we continue this delightful conversation Miss Granger?" He knew he had not used her formal name in some time, but Merlin help him, he was hurt, and he wanted her to know it.

Well, at least he seems to like… or maybe that is, to approve of Rose. Hermione smiled quickly at the crown of her child's head now studiously bent over her drawing tablet. Rose's curls tickled her cheeks that were plump with a child's health, and contentment.

Sooo… Hermione faced Severus. Wait, did he address me as Miss Granger? Still nervous she sipped at her tea too quickly and burnt her upper lip. Her gasp of annoyance was a soft one as her tongue darted out to soothe the small burn. Grasping the goblet of water she drank greedily then put it down.

"Rose, mummy needs to speak to Professor Snape in private for a little bit. Madame Pillot set up a chair and table in the corner for you near the finches. Would you mind sitting there for a bit?" Hermione stretched out a hand to lightly caress one pale red curl from the little girl's forehead.

"Can I…" Hermione frowned in silent correction, and Rose smiled. "May I have a pastry, mummy?"

Hermione smiled. "You may."

"Brilliant!" Rose slipped off her chair and gave her mother a quick hug; she then turned to the somewhat foreboding man. He liked her drawing and even tucked it into his robes, so he was not as scary as she had worried about. "Please be nice, Professor Snape. My mummy doesn't like anyone shouting at her anymore." Severus nodded slightly, but cast the barest of questioning glances at Hermione. Rose snatched her drawing tablet, and started to turn away from the table when she stopped, and addressed Severus again.

"Professor Snape?"

"Yes, Miss Weasley?"

"My drawings are me." Without waiting for any reaction, Rose darted over to the child size table and chair that waited for her by the tall, ornate cage of brightly polished brass, that held a dozen noisy finches of various colours.

"I'm sorry, Severus… er, Sir?" Hermione took a sip of her cooler tea as a saving grace for her tongue tripping over what to call her ex-professor.

Why did he call me Miss Granger? You're in trouble, silly thing, for bringing your daughter to this meeting, for not telling him sooner!

Drawing in a breath to settle her nerves, Hermione put down the pretty teacup. "Severus, I know that Rosie is a surprise, but I had hoped she wouldn't be a terrible one. She is a good girl, and if you don't mind I'd like to bring her to Vienna." Briefly she closed her eyes, waiting for the chastising to begin. "Ron will not take care of her, and as much as Molly loves her granddaughter she overindulges Rose, with sweets. The last time I left Rose with Molly I thought a polliwog had taken my child's place."

Hermione chuckled softly. Severus was about to speak, but Hermione held up her hand, and he noted she still was shaking; ever so slightly.

"Ron has… Rose doesn't know, but Ron doesn't believe she is his." Tears threatened, and her throat tightened, not with sorrow, but with anger restrained. "I received… this morning…" she paused and began to rummage in the old school bookbag. Giving it a cross look she wondered to herself why she had not the sense to bring her beaded bag instead. Putting that thought out of her mind she withdrew a formal looking piece of parchment, and shoved it across the table.

"That thick-headed ex-husband of mine," she spat with sudden viciousness, "severed all parental rights to Rose this morning!"

Schooling his face into its usual mask of indifference, he reached across the table and picked up the folded parchment. His lips tightened into a thin grimace as he scanned the contents with distaste.

Wisps of memory wrapped around him like black tentacles as he recalled his own father often accusing his mother of infidelity, insisting he could not have possibly fathered a child that was such a freak to society. His father had never accepted his magic and loathed the very nature of his existence, never failing to remind him on a daily basis what a mistake of nature he was.

He knew only too well what it was like to feel unwanted, and it was something he did not wish on anyone, especially a child who had no control over her circumstances.

Refolding the letter, he slid it back across the table and for the first time that day, pushed all hurt aside to scrutinize the woman in front of him with new eyes.

She was visibly exhausted. Now that he was looking for it, he could clearly see the signs of a faint glamour usually used when trying to hide sleepless and tired eyes. Her robes that had once accentuated her soft curves now hung on her more than they should have. Severus frowned. Had it only been a month since he had last seen her? What could possibly have transpired in the last few weeks that had reduced this once proud woman to the nervous and fatigued sight in front of him?

His dark grey eyes darted to the young girl who was happily eating her pastry while trying to appear absorbed with the colorful finches. Her ploy would have been more believable had she not kept risking small glances in their general direction. The girl was far more attuned to what was going on around her than he knew Hermione wanted to believe, and her words had already proven that.

"Please be nice, Professor Snape. My mummy doesn't like anyone shouting at her anymore."

His gaze traveled back to the figure in front of him and he came to a decision. He could argue that he was doing it purely for business purposes, after all making sure the health of one's work partner was tantamount in a productive business; however he knew he would be lying to himself. Hermione was his business partner, but she was also a…friend. He had finally accepted that somewhat shocking fact the morning she had assaulted him with chocolate croissants and confessed that she cared about his well being and considered him a mutual friend in return.

Perhaps it was about time he returned the favor.

Setting his napkin on the table, he raised his hand and signaled the server to bring the cheque

Hermione looked startled.

"Severus, I am sorry for bringing up my personal problems. It…it was probably a mistake to bring Rosie. I am sure I could have left her with Molly. I only thought…please…don't leave. We can," Hermione said, as she twisted the napkin in her lap in desperation, but was cut off by the Potions Master's quiet voice.

"Tell me Hermione, how long has it been since you have had a proper meal?"

Her eyes locked with his and widened in surprise. This was the last thing she had been expecting.

"Do you not think I can see past a glamour? I am sure your daughter can as well. There is more to this than you are telling me Hermione, however this is neither the time nor place to discuss it further. You are in need of rest and a decent meal. I have a pot of stew simmering on the stove and a loaf of rosemary peasant bread I baked earlier this morning. I made an abundance, so you and your daughter may share it with me. We can continue this discussion afterward," he replied curtly but with an underlying tone that told her this was not a request.

Hermione opened her mouth to reply just as the server appeared and laid the cheque on the table.

Both parties reached for it at the same time and their hands brushed against the other. Severus inhaled sharply at the contact and looked up in surprise at the large fallow eyes staring back at his own with equal confusion.

"Mummy, are you alright?"

Both pairs of eyes turned and saw Rose standing beside the table watching them with curiosity.

Hermione quickly cupped Rose's cheek in the palm of her hand. The little girl caught her mother's wrist, smiled, and then cast a wary glance at Severus.

Gosh he's tall!

"I'm fine sweetheart. Professor Snape has invited us to his home where we're going to have some…" Hermione glanced upward at Severus, slightly unsure, but deep down there was a desperate part of her that wanted a home cooked meal, and rest. Oh my, did she want some peace, some time to sleep.

She could not let Severus know that, though, could she?

Severus nodded once; an assurance that his invitation was sincere, but the Slytherin was not finished with his questions. He knew there was more to this than met the eye.

"Do you want to go, Mummy?" asked Rose gently, protectively. She grasped her mother's hand in both of hers and squeezed as she tugged. It was an indication that Rose wanted to be on a more even level with the adult.

Scooting the bookbag over with her foot, Hermione knelt down on one knee, and kissed Rose's forehead. She was now eye to eye with her daughter.

"Yes, Rosie?" Hermione asked quietly.

Rose whispered, but the ex-spy's keen senses allowed him to hear the compassionate voice say, "If you're scared, Mummy, we can go home. It's all right."

Hermione cupped Rose's face between her hands. Her smile was one of great love, of pride in her daughter. "My little warrior Rosie Athene. I trust Professor Snape with my life, and you can, too." She kissed both of Rose's cheeks, making her giggle. "He made bread, Rose. You love bread!"

As Hermione rose to her feet, with the helping hand of Severus, Rose turned to the wizard. Her eyes were sparkling. "You cook bread?"

"I… bake bread, Miss Weasley," Severus smirked, raising an eyebrow at the young girl.

Rose shook her head. "That's not right. Men aren't s'posed to cook."

"Rose!" Hermione gasped in shock. "What did I tell you about that nonsense your father told you?"

Rose fingered the binding of her drawing tablet. She did not like being scolded in front of someone else. She did reply, though. "You said it was nonsense."

Severus, with thirty-two years of teaching in his background, knew such discussions could go on indefinitely so he interrupted, "Hermione, Miss Weasley, as fascinating as this is, I think we ought to return to my home where we may continue our meeting."

Having taken care of the cheque, Severus picked up the potions hamper from under his chair and gestured for mother and daughter to follow him. The three left the little tearoom and stepped out into the cold February afternoon.

"Come," Severus called as he pulled up his hood to ward against the chill air. He set out walking briskly to gain some warmth. The alley they needed to use for Disapparation was unfortunately a good five street blocks away in the Muggle part of London. Why Hermione chose to meet here was beyond him, especially when Diagon Alley or Hogsmead were closer to his home and more efficient.

Severus had walked a good distance before he realised he no longer felt the presence of Hermione or her daughter beside him. Stopping in his tracks he turned sharply on his heel to see the pair had fallen behind a good half block away. Hermione had picked up her daughter and stopped to wrap her cloak around them both for warmth, before once again trudging through the icy street to keep up with the Potions Master. Sighing, he made his way back to meet them half way.

"You could have waited you know." Hermione said sullenly upon reaching him. How dare he get angry at her!

"It is not my fault that you walk with the pace of a nematode," he sneered to hide the concern he felt at the hollows now visible beneath her eyes. It was obvious she was now too tired to maintain the glamour. Worry spread through him, though he refused to show it

"Yes, well you try walking fast when carrying a little one." Hermione said as she clutched Rose tightly against her. It was cold, and in her haste to be on time, she had failed to grab her daughter's cloak. Hermione swayed a little under her daughter's weight, but still glared at the man in front of her, trying to maintain her dignity.

"Mummy, I am not a little one!" Rose piped up, but snuggled closer against her mother's chest. She wished they could get to the Professor's home already. She was cold and her stomach grumbled in hunger. The thought of a home cooked meal made her mouth water. She remembered when her mummy use to cook, but even then, it wasn't often. When she had worked at the Ministry, she was always coming home late with bags of greasy take out. After her daddy left them, her mummy didn't seem to have the energy to do the things she use to, so the few home cooked meals they did have, stopped altogether and they came to rely completely on take, or microwavable food unless grandma Molly visited and brought them meals, which wasn't often.

"I'm cold," Rose whispered as she wrapped herself more firmly around her mother. Tears threatened her eyes.

Severus watched the pair and knew unless he stepped in; Hermione would undoubtedly collapse before reaching their destination. He could see she clearly did not have the strength to hold her daughter while walking the next four blocks to the Disapparation point.

Using Slytherin tactics, as well as his years of working with children, he moved his potions hamper to the crook of his arm before speaking.

"I wonder Miss Weasley if you have ever wondered what it is like to see things from a higher vantage point?"

Rose turned around to look up at the Severus with keen interest, her hunger suddenly diminished. The Professor fascinated her in a way she could not explain. He was quite tall after all, even taller than her father! She had never met anyone taller than her daddy.

"How tall are you?" She asked shyly.

"6'1," Severus responded, a slight quirk on his lips. This little imp was a strange one indeed, inquiring about height of all things when it was freezing outside.

Rose's mouth formed a little pink 'o' in awe.

"If your mother is willing," Severus continued with a wave of his hand. "You may switch places and see the world from a higher perspective. We would probably arrive at our destination quite faster as well," he added eyeing Hermione sternly. He knew the woman was proud, and would also be somewhat reluctant to ask him for help if he did not offer it first.

Hermione gave her daughter a tired smile. Though she was grateful to Severus, Hermione realised he probably saw how exhausted she was to make such an offer.

That meant her glamours were failing.

Sighing in resignation, she only hoped he would not begin drilling her with questions until she was able to rest for a bit.

"Sweetheart would you mind if Professor Snape held you until we reached the Disapparation point? It is too cold to let you down without a proper cloak. Besides, I bet things are more interesting from that high up," she said as she rubbed her cold nose against her daughter's equally cold one. Ron had rarely picked Rose up after Hugo's death. The girl had been so young the last time her father had actually held her; she probably didn't even remember it.

Rose glanced from one adult to the other before remembering her mother's words.

"My little warrior Rosie Athene. I trust Professor Snape with my life, and you can, too."

That was good enough for her.

Taking a deep breath, she turned around, stretching small hands to the dark wizard in front of her. She was surprised when unexpectedly gentle arms lifted her up, and placed her snugly against a lean hip. A blanket of warmth cascaded over her as he closed his thick woolen cloak around them both.

He smelled like newly cut grass and the fresh linen grandma Weasley hung outside on breezy summer days. Feeling protected and warm, she wrapped her small arms around the Professor's neck and closed her eyes feeling drowsy. His ebony locks tickled her cheek and made her smile. Rose was so comfortable, she forgot about the view around her.

Severus had been surprised when he felt her plump arms encircle his neck in trust. It was not an unpleasant feeling, but certainly one he was not used to.

At least the girl had sense enough not to chatter away.

He saw Hermione regarding them with an expression he could not quite place, and suddenly felt extremely self conscious. Inclining his head, he motioned for them to continue walking, but this time he made sure to slow his pace to match that of the tired woman beside him.

Finally upon reaching the covert shadows of the darkened alley, the Potions Master tucked the sleeping girl more securely against him before extending his arm to Hermione. Slowly, she covered his hand with her own, and for a brief second something flashed in Severus' dark eyes that made her breath catch, but it was gone as quickly as it had come, and before she realised what had happened, he Disappareted them to Spinner's End.

Author: Master Severus Snape & etherian