A/N I had some help with this story. As such, I'm indebted to the support, beta reading skills, and previewing patience of Sevvy, Nagandsev, Lady Memory, and Snapesgirl21.

Chapter 1:

Accio Hermione Granger

Hermione Granger perched on the edge of a faded leather armchair and surveyed Snape's living room with a combination of approval and dismay. The former reaction was for the veritable library which served as his living space, and the latter was for the dismal atmosphere which the cramped and uninviting room conveyed. The absence of colour, she noted, was not confined to his wardrobe. The room lacked anything more personal than his extensive book collection; it was functional, austere and gave away no clues regarding any hidden personality quirks: no ornamental frog collection, or evidence of an interest in entomology, leapt from shelf or mantelpiece. His private living space was alarmingly predictable, if more impoverished, than she had imagined, though what her expectations had been on receiving her summons from him, she could not exactly say.

Two days previously, Hermione had been engaging in her usual early morning routine – it never varied, and even days off and weekends found her at her kitchen table at 7 a.m., sipping tea and waiting for a disgruntled Tawny Owl to deliver the Daily Prophetand whatever junk passed for the morning post. However, the reassuring tedium was interrupted that particular morning by the delivery, amidst the rubbish, of a large white envelope. Her name and address were written out in a small, cramped and disturbingly familiar handwriting. The note was short, curt, and to the point:

Miss Granger,

I have something which belongs to you. If you wish to claim it, my home address is 49 Spinner's End, Swinton. 8.30p.m on Tuesday would suit me best.

Severus Snape.

Hermione was exceedingly curious by the note and its contents, and even more so by its sender. She was aware that Professor Snape had survived a horrific attack by Voldemort's snake, Nagini, in the Shrieking Shack; she knew that he now worked in some advisory capacity to the Auror office and, along with the rest of Wizarding Britain, had been aware for some time which way his true loyalties had inclined during the war. This particular revelation had been something of a shock to the Wizarding world at large, particularly to Harry, but Hermione had felt only a vague niggling sense of relief, deliverance, and vindication that the man who had taught her a hard lesson in Potions and humility for six years was not, after all, the villain of the piece. She did not, however, understand what he could possibly have in his possession which belonged to her. The thought crossed her mind that it was some forgotten bequeathment by Dumbledore, but she dismissed her only speculative idea as unlikely.

He had gained a little weight in the six years since she had last seen him: a photograph in the Daily Prophet, taken as he was leaving St Mungo's. The photograph had been on the front page and was accompanied by the ludicrously tactless headline:

"Dumbledore's Man Survives Snake Attack."

Snape did not offer her tea or any hospitality more refreshing than his usual aura of quiet irritation. He pointed to a chair as soon as she entered his living room, and sat down wordlessly across from her as if it had been she who had intruded uninvited upon his harmony.

'How have you been, Professor?' she asked, for the sake of breaking the silence and reminding herself that she had a voice.

'You are not here for a progress report,' he replied.

'No,' Hermione sighed, 'I was just being polite.'

He raised his eyebrow a touch. 'I'm well, Miss Granger,' he said. 'How have you been?' His tone conveyed even less interest than his expression, but she ignored the implied indifference and told him that she, too, was well, if a little busy at the Ministry lately, due to the post-war high demand for new laws to eliminate discrimination.

'If I could have guessed that any of my students would have gone on to pioneer The Department for Equality and Wizarding Rights, I would have staked my last Galleon on it being you,' he replied.

Hermione was irritated by the old familiar sensation of needing to please him. It felt like a newly awakened memory: "Missing Presumed Dead". But apparently the only trigger required to prod it back into existence was his mocking stare. Beneath the sneer, she thought she detected a faint trace of approval, unable or unwilling to reveal itself to the irritating overachiever she knew he perceived her to be. His approbation had always been so hard won that every slight nod or murmur of assent was like a ringing endorsement. She had never quite been able to shake off her own regard for him either. There had been times, during those long months of searching for pieces of Voldemort's soul with Harry and Ron, when she had doubted her own sanity. How was it possible that the man, who had forgone any right to respect or admiration that night on the Astronomy Tower, had remained, in her own mind, an uncertainty? The issue of Snape's allegiance and credibility should no longer have been in doubt, yet still she had questioned it. She had never shared her misgivings with Harry and Ron; it was too great a leap to expect them to make, and she knew how much they enjoyed feeling piously right-all-along about him. It had been no great revelation to Hermione, therefore, when Harry exposed the truth about Severus Snape on the evening of Voldemort's demise.

'You said you had something which belongs to me?' Her abrupt return to the reason for their unlikely tête-à-tête invoked a look of slight discomfort from Snape.

'Indeed,' he replied, shifting his gaze from its scrutiny of her to rest on the contents of the side-table, which stood to the left of his chair. A well-thumbed thick black book and a glass tumbler – empty but for the sticky residue of whatever its contents had been – bore the brunt of his absent-minded attention.

It was moments before he spoke. 'But before we get to that, there is something else.'

'Something else?' Hermione noticed, with interest, how very unlike his old self he seemed out of his severe black teaching robes. She could never have envisaged him in anything else, but here he was, wearing a pair of dark trousers and a rather crumpled black shirt. The faded suit-jacket, she decided, was hardly necessary indoors, and she wondered if he had put it on for the sole purpose of receiving a guest.

By way of explanation, he leaned forward suddenly, and raised a hand to the collar of his shirt, pulling down the edge to reveal a long, misshapen scar, circling his throat like a deadly choker.

'Your injury?' she asked, unable to tear her gaze away from the sight of Snape's mutilated neck.

'My survival.'

Hermione lowered her eyes to her carefully folded hands, resting in her lap. 'What has that to do with me?'

She heard him clear his throat. 'You were present, I believe?'

'I witnessed the attack, yes.'

'Then you must have been surprised by the outcome?'

'It was… a brutal attack,' she said softly. 'Survival seemed… improbable.'


'Obviously not. You are here.' It felt as though he was a member of the Wizengamot and she was on trial for a crime he believed her to have committed.

'You are a bright girl, Miss Granger... allegedly,' he replied, and she swallowed the urge to remind him that she was over twenty-one. 'You are surely aware that such an attack should be fatal? There are no Healing spells and no potions in existence to counteract such a ferocious attack. Nagini's poison was more potent than your average deadly cobra; hesaw to that.'

He paused apparently to study her face, so that Hermione felt compelled to continue her diligent scrutiny of her hands until he resumed. 'A single possibility exists which could heal and reverse the damage inflicted.'

Hermione glanced up at him and was discomfited by his continuing observation of her. She turned her gaze to the small table by his side instead and tried to make out the title of the book he was evidently re-reading.

'Do you know what it is?' he asked. Hermione knew that he was well aware of her weakness for answering questions she knew the answer to. It was all she could do to resist raising her hand first. She wished, for once, that denial was in her power.

'Phoenix Tears,' she said. 'Given willingly by the creature and administered without delay. If not, the tears must be collected beforehand in a crystal vial and must be immediately bound by a Stasis charm. The Stasis charm can only be performed by the witch or wizard to whom the Phoenix shows the greatest loyalty.'

'Word perfect, as always. I doubt Newt Scamander himself could have recalled the details so precisely.'

Hermione scowled at his inference that her intellect was nothing more than an ability to remember details from a text-book at will, but she had no intention of giving him the satisfaction of pointing it out.

He looked amused by his own jibe as he continued, 'And the chances of the only Phoenix in Britain flying to the rescue of the wizard who had recently killed its Master?'

Hermione shifted uncomfortably and looked away as Snape continued.

'My survival, therefore, is due to the swift administration of stasis-kept Phoenix Tears. Do you have any idea who that person might be, Miss Granger?'

'How should I know?'

'You were there – fully conscious, I believe. Whereas my attention was shall we say – focused elsewhere. I have studied my memories of that moment in the Pensieve. There were only you, Weasley and Boy Wonder in that Shrieking Shack.' He leaned forward in his chair, and the room suddenly seemed dominated by him. She caught his old familiar scent, and considered the possibility that the man actually sweated potions ingredients; he always had a faint aroma of some herb or other. This time she thought she detected powdered moonstone and wondered if he had been brewing Draught of Peace.

'Did you happen to have a vial of Phoenix Tears about your person that day?' he asked, his voice too smooth to conceal anything but danger.

The silence that followed was broken only by the ticking of the clock on the mantelpiece, until finally, Hermione met his eye and snorted. 'The rarest of all commodities? Priceless even on the black market? How would I happen to have an item that is even harder to come by than unicorn blood?'

Snape's expression faltered. He looked furious at her determined reply, but Hermione did not miss an inconceivable glimmer of admiration, which quickly disappeared.

'A good question. I am not interested in your supplier; however, I wish to hear your account of the event.'

'I'm sorry, Professor, I can't help you.'

Snape scowled. 'You no doubt have some personal reason for denying that you saved my life. Perhaps you regret your Gryffindor theatricals. Well, you should have thought of that before. Saving a life is a serious matter. Whether you like it or not, I now owe you a life-debt!'

'Nonsense! You owe me nothing. You are mistaken.' Hermione took a deep gulp as if she were breathing in courage from the air around her. 'Perhaps your injuries weren't as bad as you thought. You were unconscious when we left you, just unconscious. Someone must have found you and... '

'Someone did find me: Madam Pomfrey who had me sent to St Mungo's where I spent only one day recovering. The Healer-in-Charge was under no illusions that my unprecedented recovery could only have been possible if Phoenix Tears were applied. I take it you know that Potter allowed his own memory of the event to be used for medical analysis? There can be no doubt that I should have been dead. You are committed, then, in your denial?'

Hermione stood up quickly and walked towards the door. 'You asked me here under false pretext, Professor. I'm sorry I can be of no use to you. I wish you success in finding whoever it is you owe a debt to. That person is not me. Do you have something of mine you wish to return or was that just a ruse to get me here?'

Snape remained seated, but watched her agitated leave-taking with a thoughtful expression. 'Oh, yes, I have something which belongs to you, Miss Granger. However, I think I'll hang on to it a little longer until your memory improves.'

'You have no right to deny me what is mine!' Hermione hissed. 'Whatever you have, I'd like it back please!'

'Do not speak to me of rights and what is due,' he replied softly. 'I can assure you that the thing I have was willingly given and will be returned when it is earned. If you have a sudden flash of inspiration, you know where to find me; until then, good day to you – you can see yourself out.'

He picked up the book, which lay at his side, opened it at the marked page, and began to study it closely, ignoring his furious, confused, and frustrated house-guest. Hermione felt an overwhelming urge to take out her wand and hex the book out of his hands with a well-aimed Incendio, but instead, she took out her wrath on the door as she slammed it shut and left him to his dark repressive little house.

The meeting with Professor Snape resulted in broken crockery. Once Hermione had reached her own home, her first thought was to make herself a soothing cup of tea. But as she recalled Snape's parting words, the tea pot, which was mid-Accio, plummeted from its airborne path and landed with a graceless clatter on top of the tea tray and its contents. Beyond Reparo, she Vanished the broken shards and made do with Harry's visiting mug instead. On top of the loss of her favourite cup was a further string of agitation-related incidents. She blamed her inability to perform a controlled Incendio on the sudden and unwanted memory of Professor Snape's angry accusations. The simmering hearth rug required a hasty Obrius Charm to save it from the blaze. The final straw was a careless Aguamenti, courtesy of the unexpected image of Snape's scowling face, which left a puddle of water around Crookshanks' drinking bowl. The ginger fur ball knew when the time was right to go hunting, and Hermione didn't see him again until later that evening.

A pile of parchments from the office required some consideration, but Hermione could barely focus her attention on anything other than the most irritating man in Wizarding Britain. Severus Snape's smug expression, as he refused to return her possessions, invaded her thoughts when she tried to read up on a recent proposal by a rather over-enthusiastic Junior Minister. The new employee wanted to introduce a Charm to disfigure the noses of Ministry employees if they used language of a prejudicial nature. Hermione would normally have found such a ludicrous proposal amusing, but after reading the sentence "resulting in a pulsating purple protuberance" for the fifth or sixth time, without snorting at a word of it, she pushed her Ministry work aside and gave up on her attempts. Cocoa, Crookshanks, and bed were all she could manage that evening.

Hermione made her way up the stairs with a newly returned Crookshanks at her heels and her second favourite mug filled with warm milky froth in her hand. Crookshanks lay at her feet, purring the sleep of contentment while his mistress lay awake, staring at a tiny chink of moonlight, seeping in through a gap in the curtains. She thought of her disconcerting meeting with Snape and of how he still had the power to belittle her, despite the passing of years. Her success and his decline seemed to have made no impact on their relationship. She may rise to become Minister of Magic and he remain a reclusive at the beck and call of the Ministry for his knowledge of dark things and unpleasant events, yet even in that unlikely scenario, she knew she would always feel the need to try harder in his presence.

Thoughts of Snape took her back to a time she hadn't dwelt upon for six years. A particular morning sprang to mind back when she, Harry and Ron had been hiding out at number twelve, Grimmauld Place. Details became vivid again as the darkness, and Hermione's tired brain, facilitated the onslaught of memory.

In the kitchen of Sirius Black's old house, she recalled the brightly burning fire in the hearth. She remembered entering the room and noticing the cauldron on the table centre, still smoking; the smell had erupted from its contents and promised to make reparation of the empty hole in her stomach, which growled appreciatively at the sight. She recalled Harry and Ron who were sitting at the table. Harry had been poring over an open copy of theDaily Prophet, and Ron was sitting back comfortably in his chair as he sipped his tea. Both had looked up as she entered the room. Ron's startled expression as he regarded her was as clear in her thoughts as it had been on the day itself. 'Blimey!' he remarked, 'you look like Hagrid on a bad day.'

'Thanks for that, Ronald,' she replied waspishly. 'I fell asleep in Regulus' old room... I have no idea why.'

'You alright?' he asked. Evidently, the event of falling asleep on Regulus Black's bed was quite the cause for concern.

'Yes. Yes, I'm fine.' She had been unable to explain that she felt like some fairytale heroine newly awakened from an unnatural sleep.

'There's some soup left, Hermione,' said Harry, who had glanced up from his

Daily Prophetand exchanged glances with Ron. Hermione helped herself to a bowl of hot broth and looked around for Kreacher to thank before settling down to her meal.

'He's probably in his cupboard, polishing his locket,' said Ron, noticing her perusal of the room.

Hermione listened to Ron and Harry as they collated the information from their latest reconnaissance mission to the Ministry. She wasn't sure why she was keeping her new, strange piece of information to herself; she only knew that she didn't want to share the fact that, upon waking, she had found next to her bed a small crystal vial with the words "Phoenix Tears" written on the label in handwriting too tiny to decipher. Beside the vial was a piece of parchment upon which was a single sentence, written in her own hand:

Keep Phineas Black's portrait close

The familiarity of her own handwriting and an overwhelming, yet unaccountable, feeling of trust in the treasures had prevented her from declaring a breach of security to Harry and Ron. Hermione had the strongest sensation that there was something benevolent behind the gifts of a potent ingredient and what had appeared to be an essential piece of advice.

Hermione was brought back to this evening's dilemma by Crookshanks, who had stretched out comfortably before settling himself back into a furry, formless tangerine cushion, oblivious to the witch who lay brooding beside him, as far away from sleep as he was from anxiety.

'Severus Snape thinks he owes me a life-debt,' she whispered out loud to her sleeping companion.

'What if he does?'

Hermione was not given to keeping secrets; she preferred openness to concealment, sincerity to discretion. There were few things that she kept exclusively to herself: a birthmark in the shape of a cauldron (or a bowler hat depending on your angle) on her left knee, a propensity for talking out loud to Lavinia, her stuffed rabbit, and the fact that on 2nd May 1998, she had saved Severus Snape's life as he lay dying in the Shrieking Shack. At least, she had assumed not a soul knew about that. However, it seemed that Snape himself was perfectly aware of that detail. He had even guessed at how she had done it, and he certainly didn't seem pleased at the prospect of owing Hermione a big grateful hug. On the contrary, all evidence seemed to suggest that if she admitted her part in his survival, his thanks would very likely be expressed with all the diffidence of a well-aimed Blasting Curse.

She had never even considered the possibility of Snape owing her a life-debt. He had saved Harry's life plenty of times when they were students at Hogwarts, and she was sure that Snape did not now consider Harry to be in his debt. Perhaps he saw it as reparation for his own sins, but Hermione wondered if there was more to life-debt lore than just saving a life and being owed one in return. There had to be other factors to be considered. It was clear that Snape had no intention of returning whatever of hers it was that he held in custody; he was dangling it before her eyes like a surprise birthday gift, forbidden to be opened until she said 'please'. But, he didn't want her to beg for the prize: he wanted an admission—an admission she was even more afraid to make now than she had been for the past six years.

Hermione Granger dealt with her problems with reason and sense. She wanted her unforeseen gift very much; it gnawed ferociously at her curiosity, and if she had to reveal her secret to Snape in order to get it, then she was prepared to do so. But, she had no intention of confronting him without being fully armed this time.

Knowledgeis what she required; she must research the laws pertaining to life-debt magic before she dared to face him a second time. She needed to be in a position to reassure him that he was not, once again, enslaved to a principle.

Reassured by her new strategy of visiting the extensive Ministry library the next day, Hermione finally fell asleep as the first rays of sunlight seeped through her curtains and brought relief to the darkness within.