March, 1999

Severus sat in one of the stone arches of the Sydney University Quadrangle and idly admired how the afternoon sunlight fragmented through a crystal paperweight. It was the same paperweight he had picked up in Julius Harwicke's study only a few weeks before. After Julius had learnt why the younger man was so fascinated by it, he had laughed and begged Severus to keep it. It represented a choice, he'd said.

To Severus' surprise – there really had been choices, and he hadn't even had to look for them. Roughly a week after Hermione had started attending classes in March, Severus had been approached by one of the university's many academics when he Apparated into one of the classrooms to take Hermione home (all rooms used for practicing magic were only accessible by Apparation). Apparently, Hermione had mentioned to her tutor that she knew someone with potions experience, and before Severus knew it, he had been ushered in to fill a gap in one of the university's research teams. The position had opened up because a witch was going on maternity leave, and it seemed that the university had had trouble finding a replacement who didn't mind working on a contract for three months. Cue unemployed former school teacher.

Across the lawn, adjacent to the arch Severus had chosen to lounge in, a small group of students wandered out of one of old building's many corridors. He could hear them chatter about what they were going to do during the upcoming weekend. One boy seemed to be taking a quick poll to see who wanted to have a drink with him at Manning Bar before going home. Severus' mood lifted when he saw a girl with bushy brown hair among them.

Before he had taken the research position, Hermione had found excuses for him to stay just a bit longer in Sydney every time he had mentioned leaving. Minerva had been right; Hermione was no longer the same girl she had been at Hogwarts. Although the know-it-all, bossy side of her personality had begun to reassert itself with a vengeance almost immediately after their first meeting with Julius, she still had bouts of insecurity and vulnerability. She would Apparate herself to university for two days in a row, overextend herself in one of her classes, then ask him to take her Side-Along for the rest of the week. She was still brave and brilliant, but it pleased Severus to see that she was learning patience and empathy.

As he waited for the group of students to draw closer, Severus flipped the crystal over with his long fingers and peered at the university crest which had been crafted within. There was nothing very special about the insignia itself: a shield decorated with an assortment of things – in Hardwicke's words, 'Argent on a Cross Azure and open book proper, clasps Gold, between four Stars of eight points…' and etc. Severus hadn't bothered to remember the rest. It hadn't been so much the shield as the motto stamped beneath it that had caught his eye.

Sidere mens eadem mutato.

Though the constellations change, the mind's disposition remains the same.

According to Hardwicke, the motto had actually been intended as a sort of homage to the great English universities; it was meant to encapsulate the idea that despite the distance, the English traditions would be continued in the Antipodes. In Severus' mind, however, the words were not merely aspirational or representative of new beginnings far away from home. Instead, for Severus, the words brought into focus the source of his inner disquiet. What he had left behind could not be thrown away or discarded; there was an uncomfortable gulf between what he had been, and what he was now. Australia was a reprieve, not a cure.

Severus knew that it was true enough to say that things such as the pursuit of knowledge and learning would remain the same no matter where they were sought. He would bring the same skills and experience to his work regardless of whether his lab was in London or Sydney. Hermione had told him a few weeks ago that she had decided to study in Australia largely to regain a sense of 'normalcy'. Now, only a couple of weeks into the semester, she was already busy forming new attachments and getting into the swing of her new routine with an ease that Severus envied.

However, even for Hermione, Severus knew that beneath the joy and comfort she gained from life under her parents' roof, she too suffered from a sort of cognitive dissonance. She never said it in so many words, but she needed his presence, and the continuity he provided between past and present. Only Severus really understood why the mere sight of Alexandra's lime-green jelly made her feel ill. Severus was the person she wanted to talk to after she received a letter from home that made her feel guilty for not being there, helping to patch things up.

He knew all of this, because he needed her, too.

After years of scheming and subterfuge, Severus found it completely unnerving to work with a group of people who treated him with ordinary pleasantness. He had felt totally out of his depth the first time one of his colleagues had laughed at one of his snide comments rather than glared with disapproval. More than once, when his co-workers had done something like invite him to eat lunch with them, or asked him out for drinks on a Friday evening, Severus had felt irrational urges to blurt out that he was a murderer.

In contrast, being around Hermione was… nice. It made him feel sane when he barked at her occasionally and she ignored him or snapped back rather than asking him what was wrong. When Hermione smiled at him, it never felt like he was cheating by hiding who and what he was. If truth be told, he was beginning to like the smile for other reasons, as well, but those reasons were much too new and frightening to think about for more than a split second. As far as he was concerned at this point, Severus felt sure that as cathartic as this little stint in the warmth and sunshine was proving, neither of them would resist the pull of home indefinitely. And when Hermione was ready to return to England, he would be clutching the Portal Stone right next to her.

The group of students had finally drawn abreast of Severus' seat. He shook himself out of his reverie as Hermione separated from the rest of the group.

'Severus! What are you doing here?'

He was not about to tell her that he had timed his 'afternoon break' specifically so that it coincided with the end of her class. Nor did he think she needed to know that he had been lost in thought, contemplating how necessary she was to his sanity and happiness.

'I escaped when Elliot brought in the fresh pus.'

Of all things, the series of experiments he'd been brought in to assist with involved super pungent strains of Australian Bubotuber pus. Some of these specimens had been known to penetrate even the most carefully cast Bubblehead Charm when delivered fresh.

Hermione grimaced. 'What time do you finish today?'

'Around half five. Aren't you going out to drinks with your friends?'

She nodded. 'That's what I'll do while I wait for you to finish. We did some Conjuring today - I'm quite tired.' There was strain and worry in her eyes. 'I might need your help over the weekend.'

The Grangers – all three – refused to hear of him moving out of their home, and while Hermione still needed magical assistance, Severus firmly told himself that it was really the most convenient arrangement.

'Meet you at the usual spot, then?' He stood as he spoke. If he was going to finish on time, he needed to get back.

'Thank you,' she whispered, giving him another of her unexpected hugs before hurrying to rejoin her friends.

He smiled slightly as he strode off to find a quiet place to Disapparate.

For now, at least, that was more than enough.

For now, at least, that was more than enough.

AN: 'Sidere mens eadem mutato' is the real motto of the University of Sydney. There may be other or better ways to translate it, but I am no Latin scholar – I merely followed the translation I found on the university website.

Thank you to everyone who has read and reviewed. The prompt, for those who might have been interested was:

'Hermione gets a form of wizarding virus. When she recovers, her magic is erratic and weak. Severus is still not the man he was after Nagini's attack, physically or otherwise. Minerva asks them to work together to try and make life easier for each other and to give them something to occupy themselves.'

Last and biggest thanks to my beta, JunoMagic.