Notes: New chapter all ready written and ready to go… I'm curious as to see the reaction, however.

Severus Snape waited idly at a back table in The Three Broomsticks for Hermione. She was supposed to meet him here at twelve and it was now twelve fourteen. What could be taking the formerly punctual girl so long?

            He saw her storm in moments later, holding the latest copy of Witch Weekly in her hands. She slid (almost threw) it across the table at him.

            "Read." Hermione said, sitting down in the chair across from him with exaggerated exasperation.

            Witch Gossip?

            A column created and maintained by Luann Skeeter.

Thursday, July 15th

Luann Skeeter saw Hermione Granger, the current librarian at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, dining with Alexander Lockhart who is the summer librarian at Hogwarts. Readers may remember that just a few weeks earlier there were pictures of the presumably happy couple Ron Weasley and Hermione—What happened?

A Source (who wishes to remain anonymous) tells me that Ron and Hermione broke up mainly because of Ron's lack of intelligence. This same source tells me that Ron spat at his ex-girlfriend, saying that he may not be as smart as she was, but he was a much better person.

Any comments? Any rumors? Owl Luann Skeeter please.

Severus looked up at her.

She was shaking her head incessantly. "Ooh. Like mother like daughter. Those Skeeters are no good."

"I agree."

"Oh, and look at this--," Hermione quoted the magazine. "' A Source (who wishes to remain anonymous)'. Don't they always seem to be looking for anonymity? I wish these so called 'sources' would show their faces."

"There may not even be a source . . ."

"I know! Er . . ."

Severus and Hermione had been working together now for about three weeks. Spending almost twelve hours a day in Snape Manor, looking through the dusty, the immaculate, and the plain ugly rooms that the Manor had to offer. And they had slowly become more than colleagues, more than acquaintances, more than enemies—they were now what some would say friends.

Severus didn't make friends easily, and he normally tried to steer away from Muggle-Borns . . . but he realized that doing this, he would be following Voldemort's wishes and that thought made him ill.

And then after Voldemort's return, he realized he had no friends to talk to about how he was feeling . . . he just sat in silence and tried to cope with everything alone. It had taken him five years to decide that he needed to make some changes.

He had slowly begun mending his ways, trying to say some nice things each day. And now instead of being completely incorrigible (except to his pupils—he felt they needed his torturing—it would make them into stronger people. And the world needed strong people), he was now not quite amiable. Maybe that was over-exaggerating. He was now . . . somewhat civilized. But he did, from time to time, make snood and sadistic comments, more out of pleasure than out of habit. And sarcasm would always be a striving virtue of his.

And here he was, at lunch with a young Muggle-born who seemed to enjoy his company.

"Ron's going to read this. And he's going to be miserable."

"I wish I could feel pity for Ron . . ." Severus commented dryly. So he still held some minor grudges. We can't all be perfect, after all, he reasoned.

Hermione paused for a moment, than smiled. "Am I getting too worked up about this, do you think?"

"Just a tad." 

"Good thing I'm having lunch with the voice of reason then."

"And . . ."

"And what?"

"Well, I flatter myself, but I think I'm the voice of more then just reason. Try intelligence, wisdom, humor, sarcasm . . ." Severus smiled wryly.

She just shook her head and it struck him like a bolt of lightning how beautiful she actually was. But it wasn't the kind of beauty that you noticed right away—it was the kind that slowly revealed itself over time—as to enforce that before you saw the outer beauty, you saw the inner beauty first. And he'd seen both. He felt clammy, and then disgusted at himself.

"Uh…"he began, trying to get such thoughts out of his head. New topic, he pondered, what new topic?

"Yes?" Hermione asked sweetly, and it was at that moment he knew he could now be added to the list of her admirers. But he was just going to have to conceal that fact—it was unheard of for Snape to have a crush…

"Oh nothing… just musing aloud…" he responded blandly. Severus felt hollow, especially when he thought of that git, Alexander, whom he'd finally met the other day. Hermione had introduced him—and he recalled now how attractive he was… and Severus felt the deepest detestation.

"When are we working next?" She asked him, her eyes browsing the menu with interest, then they flashed up at him and he felt such an impetus of emotion that he could scarcely breathe. Tears were threatening to surface as the cause of such an intense feeling, but he coerced them back.

"Is that all that's ever on your mind?" he shook his head, trying to act like he always did around her—trying not to betray his mind's admonishes against his heart. "Can't you just enjoy your Saturday and Sundays?"

"I've got this feeling—can't we go this afternoon? After lunch?"

Yes! He thought.

"I suppose. But… let me check my calendar—chock full of social events, you know me…"

She giggled and touched his heart softly.

Ron sat, hidden in the corner, staring at Hermione bitterly. Who would have thought she'd be dining with Snape? What had she become? Someone to be ashamed of, that was what. Yet she tantalized him day and night—he missed her dreadfully, and it was all he could do to keep from walking over to her right now—except the fact that he had behaved so stupidly was holding him back—how could he show his face to her now? Ah… life was crummy.

Hermione followed the man clad in black, curious as to where he was taking her. It was the Friday after the lunch at the Three Broomsticks, and they were heading down a meandering dirt trail that led…? Severus had said that he wanted to take a break, and would she care to join him? She did care, and here she was.

The trail was in the woods beside Snape Manor, and it was enclosed and kept cool by the shade of the tall, multifarious trees. She was enjoying the walk, and was always wondering what the enigmatic conclusive to this sojourn would turn out to be?

Her eyes caught sight of blue, and soon it was revealed to her—a lake. Hermione smiled at Severus, who was looking at her nervously as though this was something dear to him, as though he was expecting her to ridicule his inner appreciation for nature. "It's very pretty—so tranquil!" she said to him, and breathed in the air that was drowsy with moisture.

She saw a fresh white gazebo nearby—with a swinging bench, and she gasped at its quaintness. Hermione pointed at it, and questioned, "Can I go on that?"

He nodded at her eagerly, and took her arm with his—such a gentlemanly gesture that she'd never seen from him. Hermione wondered absentmindedly at the condition of the gazebo—it looked as though it had been painted just yesterday—but that couldn't be so, as Severus would never waste his time on something so trivial.

She smiled at him gratefully, and he smiled back, bashfully. "Do you like it?"

"The lake? It's beautiful." Hermione responded, feeling slightly confused at such a change in behavior. The warmth of his arm was oddly placating—and she didn't want him to remove it, but of course he did as soon as they were situated on the wooden bench.

The bench was short in length however, so she was seated close to him—and that proximity was also comforting—in fact she had an urge to rest her head on his shoulder—but she didn't know how he would take that. She didn't know what her reason was to be doing something like that anyway, and didn't want to discover--- but she discovered nevertheless a latent lust deep within her—and she realized that she felt towards Severus something more than friendship.

Hermione looked up at him, longing to reach out and feel his skin. "It's really nice," she said instead.

"Professor Dumbledore?" Harry Potter asked, arriving at the commodious office of the Headmaster. "Hermione's told me about the potion… But she's been here awhile, how come I wasn't told before? She just told me two days ago—and it's kind of bothering me that no one found it necessary to update—you even said yourself that you would tell me first…"

Dumbledore had given him the password—so he was able to slip in any time he fancied, and right now he was quite angry with the world—he wasn't a child anymore, after all, and he felt he deserved to know all that was going on that involved him. He stared at the old man, and awaited a reply.

The Headmaster looked at him wearily—"Harry… I wish I had a nice reason…there is no good reason for not telling you, other than the fact that Voldemort has and will affect many more people than you…"

"But he's mainly after me!" Harry blurted out.

"Maybe so—by why?" Dumbledore asked him, with a pensive countenance.

"Not to sound arrogant, but maybe because I'm the one who can destroy him. I'm probably his greatest threat!"

"Are you?" Dumbledore smiled knowingly. "Well—Harry, not to sound arrogant, but … Well I'm afraid I will sound arrogant as I have no way to say this gracefully… I'm sure you've heard the rumor many times that I'm the only wizard Voldemort fears? And as he's shown himself to you many times…"

Harry glared. "Why are you being so defensive?"

"Why have you suddenly become so egocentric?"

"Why are you treating me like an adult?"

Dumbledore sighed. "That's what you wanted, I thought."

"I don't know what I want." Harry said, sinking into the red leather chair in front of the Headmaster's desk. "I guess that was what I thought I wanted—but when you talk to me so openly—it's scary! I'm used to you laying things on my mind lightly and at the right times. I don't want to be an adult—I want everything to be taken care of for me, like it was back at Hogwarts."

"I've wanted that many times, Harry." Dumbledore grin sardonically. "Everyone wants to go back once they've left—but what you have to do is keep pushing forward. I hope I didn't sound defensive back there, it wasn't my intention—but Harry, you aren't the only one who is in grave danger. I'm not worrying for you alone—and that's why I didn't tell you—I didn't have the time, and I guess it slipped my mind. Severus came and said he knew all about it… he told me about a potion, and I sent him to deal with Hermione—which was a great move on my part," Dumbledore mused, "as they seem to be friends now… Severus always needed a friend, and I wasn't cut out to be one for him—not the type he wanted."

"If you wanted to…" Harry started, and continued with an encouraging nod from Dumbledore, "Could you destroy Voldemort?"

"I thought I had. Or you had." He murmured. "But I guess he's got a few more tricks up his sleeve yet…"

"I wish he would just go away!" Harry exclaimed, frustrated to no end with everything and everyone.

"Hi, Alexander," Hermione said, grinning at her date—despite the melancholy that had taken over her disposition. "Where are we going tonight?"

He smiled back, and said, "I dunno—thought you could pick?"

It seemed to her that she didn't know him—that she really couldn't name any of his dreams, motivations, traits—he was simply courteous, romantic, and congenial. And that was all she knew. Maybe if she knew him better—maybe she could realize that he was whom she should love, and not Severus--

"Hmm… let's go somewhere where we can talk—let's go…" She muttered, ignoring the exuberating pain she was feeling. Ever since she had discovered that the person she was coveting was none other than the one who would not have her three days ago, she had hardly gotten any sleep as he was weighing her heart down so much. Yet she couldn't force herself to relinquish those daily meetings and their work at Snape Manor—it was the highlight of her life, to see him crouched beside some bookshelf, digging through documents. And some times she felt that maybe he was thinking the same about her—feeling the same towards her—but she knew it was impossible and silly and girlish. "I know where we can go!"

Thinking of Severus had aroused an image of the gazebo—and if that place had evoked romantic feelings towards the Potions master, it could do wonders for Alex—or that was her reasoning anyway. Hermione wasn't superficial, she knew it wasn't the gazebo's doing: but it was worth a try. Sooner she could get past this crush, the better—but she felt it wasn't something meant to get past.

They arrived at Snape Manor, and she avoided looking at the mansion—she felt guilty that she was coming here without Severus, but continued down to the gazebo regardless. He wouldn't mind her occupying his lake without him, she determined. Alexander looked sensational beneath the moonlight—as he looked all the time with that Greek God physique, and she didn't trust that. Hermione liked when beauty had to be sought out, when beauty had to be earned or deserved—for him to be able to share his beauty with the world without the world doing a thing first seemed awfully unfair to his loved ones.

Severus seemed to her the most desirable piece of flesh ever—but she'd never noticed it before. And what was it about him that made her tingle when he approached? It couldn't be his sallow skin, or his sullen expression. Not his unkempt physical appearance or his emaciated frame. But yet…

And Alexander, with his dimples, was being to look more and more utterly disgusting because he did not embody all Severus did—whatever that was and Alexander could never be sarcastic without sounding really moronic. So he was out—he was not even on the possibilities list.

Stop it Hermione, you're not even giving him a chance, she scolded herself and continued to walk.

They came upon the strikingly white building and she climbed in, noticing that Alexander didn't offer her his arm. Everything was wrong about him, everything.

He initiated a frivolous conversation, and she responded with the answers she was expected to give—all the while gazing at the lake and wishing that Severus were the one beside her. If he were there, the conversation wouldn't remain in such shallow waters. They'd discuss symbolism in so and so's classic epic novel, or current events and how society was being reflected and mocked in the media. 

She felt him take her hand, and she allowed it—her lips turned into a smile, because what was she supposed to do, grimace at him? He commented on how beautiful she was beside the scenery, and she did her bashful glance away—and caught sight of a figure standing near a tree. Hermione winced and wondered who it was—and she knew. It was Severus, and he was watching her.

Hermione turned to look at Alexander, and she felt culpable at the new elation that was in her movements—and she wondered if it was that elation that caused Alexander to spontaneously lean forward and kiss her. And as he did, she sat stunned knowing how this must look—her turning away to look at Severus and turning back to kiss Alexander.  

"How dare you." Came the stony, level voice of Severus, now feet behind her—he must have bounded over here instantly. "How dare you use my gazebo as some juvenile, teenage make-out site. Leave my property immediately."

Alexander backed away, and Hermione wondered at the apathy he showed—was he not embarrassed? Ashamed? Surprised? Then it was her turn to look at the Potions Master—to see his eyes, and see the anger stemming up. He held her gaze for many days and nights, or so it seemed, and then retreated with dexterity and pompousness. It dawned on her after he left that there was an emotion other than anger there—it seemed a bit of latent hurt was trying hard to surface. And she mused once again.

Severus Snape didn't know why he'd been moved to visit that spot so late at night—it was a rule that he didn't approach Snape Manor when the sun was down—memories were vivid of nightly sessions of fear. But he was enticed, called, lured by something, some other force that he couldn't title. And a good thing he was—now he could rest his mind because he knew that Hermione was taken—taken by that bastard Alexander of the perfect complexion. How could she fall for someone so … superficial was beyond him. But it was fine with him—it wasn't like he had stood a chance before, anyhow. It wasn't like he loved her or anything. He was just going to have to put some more space between the two of them, so he could brood in isolation like he was accustomed to doing. Severus would get over this—he got over it all, it seemed, eventually, and if he didn't then he ignored it all.

Like with the front door of Snape Manor—he didn't do anything about it, he just let it sit and deteriorate all by itself. Eventually.

He was much too old for her anyway. And she was much too beautiful for him.

Hermione supposed she should feel remorse, and feel silly because of her actions: Severus obviously wanted to evict those emotions from her. But it wasn't going to work—because she saw some insight last night, she saw something in his eyes that made her convinced that he felt romantically towards her. So she felt smug—smug that she had captured this once vile, always hostile man into her trap—she truly felt a woman right now.

But she was also ecstatic—and for a reason not too much less self-centered. Hermione wanted him to love her, and if that were possible—she would try to seize the opportunity and squeeze out what she could. But how could she do that? Was she brazen enough to do that?

She thought it strange how that specific tone of voice he'd used last night was the kind that made her shiver in fear just years before, yet it had hardly any impact on her now. Did that mean she was mature? Or more mature than she had been then? She hoped so.

Monday morning came quickly, and Hermione awoke early—eager to meet him. She wondered if she should try to make her appearance more pleasant today, but disregarding the idea knowing he would see through it. And knowing that he wouldn't care if she were the plainest being on earth—he didn't really have much to choose from after all.

She tried to calm her nerves by reading a few pages of one of her favorite muggle novels, Wuthering Heights, but that resulted only in a comparison between Severus and Heathcliff, who seemed ironically similar. And she fancied herself a bit like Catherine—and then laughed at her foolishness. But Hermione wondered if he perhaps saw her as Heathcliff saw his Cathy?

They always met by the library—the perfect place, the place where Hermione had grown up almost. Who had chosen that as the meeting spot? It had been him hadn't it? Was he looking out for her comfort? She walked down the hall, pondering that possibility.

She was so oblivious to the world that she forgot to be on her guard—especially with Alexander running around. Which was precisely why she ran into that very person—he was smiling at her, and she smiled weakly back.

"Hello, Herm!" He said cheerfully. "Professor Snape was here already, and he told me, rather harshly, to tell you that he was going to work alone today."

Hermione's heart bounced tumultuously—and it hurt. "Just today? Did he say anything else?"

Alexander shook his head, and his eyes, which had once seemed intelligent and compassionated, looked stupid and empty. "No. He told me to tell you he was working alone today."

She nodded slowly. Hermione supposed she could let him off with just this one day. But if he tried it again—she would have something to say about it. Alexander stood there beaming at her, and she felt utter disgust arise in her gut. "Thanks for giving me the message, Alex."

"I was wondering if you were going to be free then today?" He asked her, leaning casually against the stonewall that was Hogwarts.

"No, actually I think I have something I need to do today anyway. But I'll see you later, okay?"

She vanished quickly, heading out to the Forbidden Forest to apparate. That was awkward—and Alex didn't even seem to gather that feeling inside his thickly shelled head. Hermione sighed aloud, and wondered why she'd wasted so much time on that dimwit.

She found herself outside of Harry's house in Godric's Hollow—the place Lily and James Potter had occupied. When Harry had discovered that, he had journeyed to the cottage that was no longer standing, and had fallen in love with the neighborhood. Which was why he'd bought a humble house on the same block.

Hermione walked up the rock path, and knocked gingerly on his quaint, green front door. She waited patiently, and felt overjoyed when his queerly handsome face appeared in the window. He smiled his contagious smile and admitted her into his home. "Hey, Hermione. Not working today?"

She was momentarily disheartened, but recovered hastily—"No. No, not today. Are you practicing today?"

Harry shrugged. "I think so. They don't mind if I'm late though. I'm their, and I quote, star seeker. They don't dare enrage me—they're afraid if everything doesn't go perfectly I might quit."

Hermione gave him one of her admonishing looks—"Harry! You shouldn't take advantage of their allowances… you should be a better man, and earn their respect as a human being, instead of as a Quidditch player."

He beckoned to her to follow him into his dining room, where they sat down after he retrieved her a drink. "Listen—you have a good job—you have a… respectful job, a job where you help people and make a difference… I'm a lousy Quidditch player! What can people gain from me diving to capture the Snitch? I'm pathetic, I have a useless career. I'm still playing the game I played throughout Hogwarts—it's like I haven't grown up yet. I've been on the Cannons for five years so far—and I don't think I can last much longer. I want to make a difference…"

Hermione was stupefied—she didn't know such things weighed as heavily on his heart as they did on hers. She guessed she had always egocentrically thought that she was the only one with integrity—well, integrity in the work force anyway. She knew Harry had plenty of integrity when it came to saving the day.

"Well, Harry, if you're unhappy—get another job! Work at the Ministry… or go talk to Dumbledore—he'd be happy to give you a job at Hogwarts…" Hermione offered.

Harry's face lit up, and he said, "Ever since I visited Hogwarts and bumped into you, I've wanted to go back! Hogwarts was my benefactor, my savior… Without it, I'd be a bum on some street in London. I have this desire to give back what I was given… d'ya really think Dumbledore would give me a job? I wouldn't mind if it was something as minimal as caretaker or gardener or … and we'd be able to work together again… I'd like that a lot, because I miss you. I don't get to see you… I see Ron quite a bit, him always dropping in on me… I'm never surprised to come home and find him laying on my couch listening to the WWN… when are you going to talk to him again?"

"First, I think that yes, Dumbledore would give you a job. And when am I going to talk to Ron again? When he accepts me as his friend. Has he done that yet?"

"Look, I honestly don't know. You're a touchy subject—I do know he wants you to make the first move… can you do that?" Harry asked her, sympathy in his words.

Hermione nodded firmly. "You know, I believe it's time I did… how long has it been, anyway? About a month? I've never gone this long… Is he working today?"

Ron had been working at Fred and Georges' joke shop, Weasley's Wizard Wheezes, since graduation. Hermione suspected he was not enjoying his job either, because he was again in the shadow of his brothers. He did make decent money however, and that was more important to him than happiness.

"Yeah… I think. Until four."

Hermione arrived at the shop, smiling helplessly at the sign proclaiming the name of the store with crude drawings of Fred and George playing tricks on various figures of society—she was one of them, a gesture that had been very flattering. She walked through the front door, sidestepping to avoid a stampede of children with bright orange bags in hand.

She saw Fred standing at the counter waiting on a customer. Hermione strolled over, and leaned against the counter with a smile on her face—Fred was too engrossed in his conversation to take note of her, but when his satisfied customer walked away, he looked at her and grinned. "Hey, Hermione! We haven't seen you in a while… I reckon I know why. That git of a brother I have… but it's nice to see you! Care to buy anything? There's some insulting flowers over there you could give to Ronnie…"

Hermione giggled. "No, that's okay. I'm here to talk to Ron… is he around?"

Fred groaned. "I believe he is… drat. If you really want to talk to him…"

"I do."

"He's in the back room—you're not supposed to go behind the white line, but I'll let you since you're practically family and everything." Fred grinned wickedly at this comment, waving at her as she disappeared into the back room.

Hermione walked nervously, and looked around at all the boxes that awaited her, and the lab tables—Severus would have been amused to know the Weasley's needed lab tables in their line of work… And there he stood, Ron—and she realized how less gangly he was, and how much more of a … well, strange as it was, a man he was. She wondered if this had happened in this last month, or if she had just noticed it until her leave of absence?

His back was to her, and he was in conversation with George about some shipment that had come in of Bertie Botts. Hermione cleared her throat politely, and Ron turned to look at her—she saw a flicker of a smile, but he seemed to realize who she was---the enemy.

"Hi, George, Ron… Ron, can I speak to you privately?"

Ron wiped his hands on his jeans, and spoke nonchalantly, "I guess… sure… George?"

George smiled at her with a nod and went down the hallway she had just exited. Ron held her eyes captive, and asked, "Well? What did you want to talk about?"

Hermione stood there, silent and motionless, and it all of sudden dawned on her how nice it was to see Ron, and how much she had missed him. And how she sought his solace now more than anyone's… and before she could determine what her next action would be, a sob fled from somewhere inside her, some hidden recess of her soul, her heart, and Ron's uncaring, apathetic guise crumbled—he came towards her, and enveloped her with his arms, cradling her head against his shoulder. He didn't seem to mind the flood of tears his shirtsleeve was collecting, and he didn't seem to mind that she was probably crying about someone else and not him. In fact, he seemed to her to be standing there as a friend, and not a potential lover. The way he'd been in their first, second, and third years—until it had all become a huge muddle of hormone-influenced emotions. His hand rested comfortably on her head, and he murmured unintelligible, yet placating words.

When she felt she could speak, she did: "I've missed you…"

"I have too," Ron said in that defeated voice he used so often—as much as he hated admitting he was wrong, he found himself doing just that many times. "And you know… I think I am ready to be your friend. In fact… I met someone."

Hermione beamed up at him—"Did you really? What's her name? Tell me all about her!"

            Endnotes: In the next chapter, a reconciliation between Severus and Hermione because of, ironically, Alexander's actions (not what you'd think).

            Read these authors if you like S/H—these are writers on

            Textual Sphinx—probably the best fanfiction writer I've come across, check out her stuff on schnoogle… Decoding of the Heart…

            KazVL—Another good writer, she writes Falling Further In, which depicts a slow establishment of a relationship between S/H—and I mean slow! She's on chapter 16, and yet Severus … I won't say any more. It's nice.