I know, I know - it isn't as if I wouldn't have another story pending, but I had already finished this one and since I got somewhat stuck with the next chapter of my story (Black Phoenix Witches) I figured I would upload this to make myself feel better.

Not owning any of the characters, I still hope that you like my story.

At first he thought it was a hallucination. He was so sure of it because there was no way in heaven or hell – or both together – that this could be real in any dimension known to him.

But when he arrived in the middle of the Forbidden Forest his crack of apparition still resounding through the woods, and he saw her, he knew that, hallucination or not, she would lead him where he needed to go.

The animal, despite the usual shyness of her kin, had not even batted an eyelash when he'd appeared out of nowhere, nor at the loud sound he had created by unleashing his anger through his magic. No, the doe had not hesitated to come near him, despite his bleeding and him being a human.

Instead she silently stepped next to him and, nudging him carefully into the side, urged him to place his weight on her – and she was stronger than she looked. After a night of living through Tom's sick amusement at seeing him twitch on the floor in agony, the animal carefully made her way through the Forest with him, and guided him safely to the secret entry directly to his labs. She left him at the door-step and then bounded away.

He was not so surprised anymore when she came to collect him the second time around. She was shaking though and jumpier than the last time, but he knew that he had apparated on Aracnomantula territory and she was easy food – just as he was, but strength came with numbers he supposed, and she was there, once again, leading him back safely to the castle.

This one year before the war took everything of him.

He had not one ounce of dignity left in himself – not one drop of self-respect. He was the least, he was the bottom and he was sure that there was no salvation for him, no matter how hard he would look else-where.

The Dark Lord nearly killed him night by night just for sports and laughter, the Carrows made him go mental with their constant cursing and harming students, the students though equally grated on his nerves with their resistance and their naïf beliefs that they would be useful in a war against horror itself.

What frayed him most, though, was the fact that not even Miss Granger was at the school anymore. No, she'd left it, trudging alongside Mister Potter and Mister Weasley, who were hell-bent on fulfilling Albus' last wish: destroying the Horcruxes of his second, not-yet-completely-dead, master.

Would anyone have told him before this year that he would have missed the Know It All, he would have scoffed, offered them a drink and laced it with something… However, now the headmaster found that while the school was notoriously filled with dunderheads, she had raised the level of intelligence by millions.

It would be wrong to say that her incessant questions hadn't annoyed the living daylights out of him, but then again – he'd never had a student that was so dedicated to anything she did, none of the teachers had.

Yes, he'd been a good student, but he'd never been much interested in Charms or Magical History or Transformation – but Granger; she'd been an entirely different story. She'd strived to excel in each and every class available.

If his memory served well, then she had been using a time-turner since her third year to cover all of her classes even… which would now make her… two years older than she originally should have been, which meant that by now she was twenty. He shook his head – still too young to go hunting dark objects and taking down a megalomaniac.

Nevertheless, he found his thoughts straying towards the young woman more and more often recently. It wasn't because he missed her that much, but there was a rational reason why he suddenly found her amiss – there was a reason why he wanted her near and under his eyes.

Just a week ago Miss Granger and The Cohorts had broken into the LeStrange's vault, filching Huffelpuff's Cup – of which they of course had no idea, Bellatrix was convinced that they had been looking for the Sword and Rodolphos really had no opinion on it – and had made a spectacular escape on a dragon's back.

However, they had been caught and until now he was not exactly sure how that had happened.


Hermione convulsed on the wooden floor, her screams echoing of the walls around her, filling the room, the hallway even and through his unlocked door entered his room as well.

He'd been trying to write a letter, to no one (Lily) and only to keep his mind busy (to stop thinking about his former student being tortured) but he could not help it. Five minutes into the torture, he crumpled the faux-letter and charmed his ears to hear better.

Sitting there, on his stool in front of the large window and the mahogany table, he listened with growing pride and compassion as his former student went through her first bout of interrogation à la Bellatrix LeStrange. There was no mercy left in the woman, no reason, and hardly any other thought other than to serve her lord.

Hermione said nothing of value, kept talking without saying anything, if she talked. He could hear her ragged breathing and the hoarse howls of agony when Bellatrix started to entertain herself by carving patterns into the supple body of his former student.

He was still not sure what exactly had happened that evening, but ever since he could not stop thinking of her. There was no way that she had been tortured before, he'd have known of it – at least he liked to think that he would have – and yet she had managed to resist the temptation of talking just for the sake of not getting hurt anymore. She had held up like a warrior, like someone who understood that this was war and that only one word could change it all.

Perhaps she had earned his respect for that, perhaps it was something more.

The doe waited for him just outside the castle gates, as if it knew that he had something to do tonight. It appeared as though she was his only friend anymore.

Minerva would not talk to him anymore and none of the other professors had ever truly trusted him before. Albus' portrait issued orders only and even in his after-live he was an old codger who arranged people as if they were chess-pieces.

Tonight though, he needed to take a look at the Bothersome Three, simply to make sure that there was a reason for his suffering and his sleepless nights. He needed to know that he did the right thing, that there was a reason for his actions.

He surprised himself though, when he neared the doe without hesitation, placing a large hand into her delicate neck in a way of greeting – in return, the animal nudged her nose against his chest in an affectionate move. He did not let go either when he spun them away to his destination.

He had not thought about apparating the animal – he was aware that animals could be transported that way, but normally they reacted ill to it.

Not the doe though.

She had been unsteady on her four feet at first, but her disorientation had lasted mere moments, before she headed off into the other direction than he intended to go. He had followed her, without a clear idea why he did so, but it turned out that the animal had a better sense of where he wanted to go than he had – she led him directly to the tent of the three brats.

Only one of them sat outside, Weasley, apparently keeping watch while the other two were sleeping. It was a good idea, no doubt, but he needed to see for himself that they were well up. He knew though that the trio had erected security wards around their tent, setting up perimeters – there was no way he'd get in there undetected.

He thought about sitting down and waiting until each of them had appeared for their shift, but realized that doing so would probably take the whole night and he could not afford to stay away that long – he simply couldn't; not even at night. The Carrows could think of things so vile not even Voldemort would contemplate them.

Carefully pulling his wand beneath his disillusionment spell, he cast a few spells, indicating that three people were in the tent at the moment, all of them were well, even though undernourished and in need of much sleep, as well as some healing potions.

As he apparated away again, the doe at his side, he had a clear plan of action for the first time since months.

She appeared on his apparition spot again, this time not alone. A stag stood next to her, though a safe distance away from her as if scared that she would hurt him. However, he was in too bad a condition as to care a lot.

Upon sight the animal bolted towards him, just in time when he fell to his knees, the blood spurting out of his chest. A soft nose nudged his wand hand.

Vulnera Sanentur

The blood stopped spurting – at least. Tremors still shook him and not even the gentle coaxing of the doe could make him stand up as soon as his body had hit the ground. When the animal realized that they would not make it to the castle tonight, she lowered herself next to him, pressing her warm form against his, and he gratefully wound his arm around her warm body.

Before he fell asleep he heard the soft steps and the grunt of the stag as it lowered itself to the ground behind him.

He saw her on the day of the battle.

Hermione, as he'd grown to think of her, had matured even more, making it near impossible for any of her peers to catch up with her train of thought, while her body had hardly developed at all – she was scrawny and underfed, which was no surprise; a year on the run could do that to you, even though he'd made sure that his nutrient potions reached them via the doe whom they came to trust almost as much as he did.

As he watched her through his veil of disillusionment, he felt his heart beat faster and stronger. There was a reason there, of course. He knew that Hermione would survive this day – she would survive it and he would die for witches like her. He would die knowing that the future would be in the hands of witches and wizards like her, who had grown in a world of war and who strived to make peace.

When he woke next, he was surprised to feel pain surging through his bones. Gritting his teeth, he seethed – he was sure that death did not include pain. Pain was uniquely known by living beings.

How come he was still alive?

He was sure he had died in the Shrieking Shack, on that horrid floor, looking in the eyes of Hermione Granger as she lost tear after tear for him.

Silence settled in his stormy mind. She had cried for him.

Hermione Granger, the one student he'd put down more often than really and truly necessary even for his cover had cried for him – cried because he had died.

But what was this? Where was this? His stiff neck allowed no movement of the head, but he was apt at moving his eyes, taking in the rustic furnishment of what he would judge to be a cottage in the middle of nowhere. His room had two windows, one opening to the outskirts of a forest, the other window allowing him to take in the vastness of land that he probably saw from uphill.

His door opened – a blond witch entered without a word, taking him in with a thin mouth. He quirked his eyebrow – this was his saviour? She certainly didn't look happy to have saved him…

"Don't make mistakes, wizard,", she snapped, "I am repaying a debt that she thought was spent well on saving your hide."

She checked him quickly, with deft but careful fingers and hands, before she left without a word. An hour later an elf appeared with a tray of soup – it left before he could ask anything. His first day spent in freedom left him knowing less than before.

The witch, Samantha, was a healer as it appeared and owed another witch a Life Debt for being saved after a raid. The Cottage, he learned, did belong to his saviour but he could not discern just where he was or who had saved him. However, he was at least already a bit farther after a week.

Samantha was apt and had his major issues sorted out within no time at all, soon starting to have him walk around his room.

"You are healing nicely,", she stated one evening, "and your body recuperates sooner than I had anticipated. But the real reason I am starting to move you is because I want you out of her house as soon as possible."

His saviour, it appeared, was at least as wounded as he was, even if not as lethal. It appeared that while Neville Longbottom had decapitated the monster, he had not taken care of the teeth and a Death Eater seemed to have used them against the proprietress and had sent them at her – one of them had reached their target and had temporarily set her out of order; Samantha had told him that the fang had embedded itself in her side. It was a wonder she was even still alive, but then again, Samantha was not just any healer – she'd made it sure that he knew.

A month into his stay at the Cottage, the elf – Peetey – delivered a Ministry Letter to him.

"Mistress has received it, has not opened it,", the elf professed, "Minister knows where Sir is, but has not told, no, no."

According to the letter he was free. Completely free, released of all charges – calm washed over him as he read through Shacklebolt's message. The 'Golden Trio' had apparently made it clear that he was not guilty though anyways the Ministry had not known where he resided until this morning, when his saviour had appeared to gather the letter to get it to him.

Sure it smelt foul, because since when did Kingsley hand over a letter of such a magnitude to just about anyone who claimed to be housing Severus Snape? But then again, who was he to complain.

His saviour, the mistress of this house, had not once tried to show up, even though he could hear her rummaging about the cottage on some days and Samantha had made it clear in lieu of her friend that as soon as he was declared healthy, he was free to leave to wherever he wished.

And now, he understood that he could.

It was Samantha who saw him off. She did not smile, she did not show any emotion at all for that matter. But Severus was pretty sure that he would always remember the midnight-blue robe that was wrapped around her, her pale-blond hair whipping in the fresh morning breeze – but he would mostly remember the landscape set out before him, the doe waiting for him at the edge of the hill where the slope slid downwards.

Italy he'd certainly never seen before, but then again he'd hardly even seen Great Britain. He knew it had to be Italy, the light, the vineyards, mostly though it was the vast scene of green before the flat coast vanished into the delicate movement of the Mediterranean sea. The first rays of the sun peaked over the mountains in the East, illuminating the mass of water and the adjoining land in a soft orange hue.

"You're free to go.", Samantha said, her voice steely as the first day she'd talked to him, he needed not to turn to see her, he stood next to her, seeing her in the periphery of his sight, while instead he trained his eyes on the doe; the animal stood at attention, flapping her ears as if to say 'hello'. "I do not understand why she saw it fit to save you… nor why she'd use up my Debt for you. But you have survived and you are here. I suggest you go… there's plenty of things for you to see."

It was the nicest thing she'd ever told him – and with only one last backward glance at the (he had to admit) lovely cottage, flexed his new-mended muscles and wandered out.

The doe, surprisingly enough, did not leave his side.

She went with him to Europe – visiting Dragons in Bulgaria and fetching Potion's ingredients, she accompanied him to America (from North to South), Russia and even Japan. She warmed his side by night when he hadn't the money to buy a room or a tent and when he did, it felt almost barbaric to leave her out.

He had never heard of deer-familiars but her intelligence far surpassed the one of an ordinary deer. She understood the difference in plants – he found out when she would lead him to patches of rare plants in the middle of nowhere, she understood her own instincts much better than any other animal – he found out when she wouldn't move as they neared a troll that was technically invisible (she saved his hide, again), and he realized somewhere along the way that she had a strange understanding of the human workings (knew he had to eat meat…).

What was interesting though was the fact that whenever they would cross a herd of deer – which happened quite often as they travelled mostly through dense and humanly void forests – and the stag would start to try and woo her into his herd – which happened each and every single time – she would not even bat an eyelash, before she returned to his side, stubbed her nose against his side and then left without a backwards glance.

Even familiars mated.

However, in the three years they travelled together, not once did she give in to any of the animalistic courting – it made him wonder.

"Athena.", he called her lightly, waking her up in the morning. The doe flicked her ears, raising her head to indicate that she was awake as he rolled up in his hammock. The orange tissue of the tent was illuminated by the first rays of sun and as usual they had woken up early.

Since a few weeks they had been back in Scotland, travelling the Highlands and picking up rare potion ingredients found only in the high perimeters. His three years of travelling were coming to an end – he could feel it.

He was feeling like returning, having tasted his freedom, having seen what he'd always wished to see and what he'd never seen because of his liaisons with his two masters. But now he knew it was time to return, delve into his research, perhaps open an apothecary or a potions store, whatever was possible for a man in his circumstances.

Athena, after yawning cutely and licking his cheek in a manner of good-morning, she left the tent, letting him dress in privacy – as she'd always done. He joined her when he'd dressed in his trousers, ready for their morning exercise of running a few laps. She was always the faster runner, even in the wee hours of the morning, but that never stopped him from trying to catch up with her.

Today she was in an especially playful mood and hopped tauntingly over the stones calling out for him joyously and just when he was about to catch up with her, she would hop away again. Finally though, after what was probably hours, she stood as he reached her, letting him twist her head lightly until she went down on the ground, sitting complacently in front of him, watching him with her big doe eyes.

This was always the way they ended their laps, him twisting her into a sitting position, before he would sit down himself, do a few sit-ups, or other exercise he felt he needed. The doe always diligently sat next to him, waiting until he was finished, before she would stand up with him and walk back to the tent – as they did today.

It was not even five days later that they found themselves at the gates of Hogwarts. The doe would not move past the gates though and when he realized that this was goodbye, he stalled.

They could always come back later, but at the proposal the doe shook her head in what was a clear 'no'. Then, she neared him once, stubbed her nose against his chest as she'd always done when she had greeted him, and butted her head against him as she'd always done when she wanted him to go. It was all the encouragement she could give him.

Hermione smiled softly at her former professor.

He looked better, a lot better ever since he had left the school, ever since the day Voldemort had been finally vanquished one and for all. Minerva smiled gleefully at his side, the ball-gowns twisting and twirling around the odd couple.

"Hermione!" her former head of house gushed, abandoning her companion to rush over to her, encasing her in a big hug. Hermione reciprocated in kind, winding her arms around the elderly woman, glad to finally be home again.

"My!", the woman smiled broadly, "I didn't even know you had returned from Australia! You never wrote! What a lucky incident! Severus!"

"Calm, woman," he smiled good-naturedly at the headmistress, "I've seen her and heard you. Miss Granger, a pleasure to see you." He extended his hand and Hermione took it – resisting the urge to but her nose against his chest. It was bad enough what she had done, she mustn't let him know too.

"Professor Snape.", she greeted in a warm manner. He did look good, but so did she.

After three years of travelling in the form of an animal she had exercised muscles she hadn't even known of and had been surprised to see her human form in the mirror. Her legs and arms were most taut, followed by her stomach which she was really glad for – blame female insecurities. Nevertheless having fed as she pleased and as she needed, she had filled out as well, her straight figure disappearing to give way to generous curves and a rather big chest that she had never possessed while still in school. Her years of travelling with Severus had allowed her to let all those thoughts go and simply enjoy being herself. It showed.

"How was Australia?", Minerva asked excited – Hermione resisted the urge to cringe.

Australia had been her cover-lie in order to keep people from suspecting anything while she would travel with Severus. The adventures had done her good and being with a man who didn't talk much had done her good as well, being outside and elsewhere, seeing things she'd never seen before and learning things she hadn't known had broadened her horizon. But people had thought that she was searching for her parents in Australia. Which was useless – she knew that they were dead.

"I'm… um…", she smiled bashfully, "It took me so long because… at first I didn't have a clue where I sent them and… well… when I decoded my own riddles I found them to have found… peace." She finished, not sure how she should go about this one.

She had come to terms with her parents decease, even if it had hurt like hell before – it was one of the reasons why she had decided to travel with Snape. Letting go of everything while concentrating on healing the strange man had done her better than she could even have calculated.

"Oh." The headmistress looked put out for a moment, but Hermione was aware that it was not because of her – rather than the fact that she had spent three years searching for someone who was no more, because of the war. It was a lie, but still.

"My condolences.", her professor said and she was surprised just how much he had changed over the three years. They had rarely met people on their trip and she was surprised at just how cordial he was now that he had returned.

"Thank you, sir. It was… not easy at first but I then decided to stay down there for some time and I have to admit that… it did me some good, being outside I mean."

Minerva could tell that the young witch had hit the right road. Severus himself was still all excited about his travels and once started could hardly stop to talk, which was a nice, if new, side of him. Hermione though, kept herself admirably at his side. Her attention truly never wavering and when Minerva extracted herself carefully from the situation, observing the couple from outside, she was surprised at how well the two of them fit.

Hermione was a jewel tonight – the bronze sheath dress with slits up her legs hung loosely on her shoulders by straps so thin they looked as if they would snap any minute and yet the softly falling tissue promised on hidden curves beneath it, whenever the witch moved. Her back was completely free showing to all and sundry the scars she had carried from her little dalliance with Bellatrix LeStrange.

It was strange seeing the jagged patterns of scars on her back exposed so voluntarily and she could tell that people were whispering about the strawberry-blonde, curly haired beauty so outrageously comfortable in what was quite obviously a marked body.

It was strength and pride at its most beautiful.

It was Gryffindor through and through and Minerva's heart soared just a little higher when she thought that only three years prior, hardly anyone would have looked at her pupil – too much brain, too little figure they'd have said – but now she stood with her head tall and showed off what should have been a reason to hide in high-collared garments. Hermione Granger had grown in these last three years, so much actually that neither Ron nor Harry had yet dared to approach her. Which, if she thought clearly of it, wasn't that much of a surprise – they had met, of course, before Hermione had set off to find her parents, to clear Severus' name but this had been so much on Hermione's account and the boys had not wanted anything to do with it that they had conveniently broken contact quickly afterwards.

To see her now, restored and proud, without the two of them as sidekicks, she imagined was quite the shock for the two wizards.

Severus was surprised at how easy he was in the presence of Miss Granger, who'd been nothing but a disturbance during his years at Hogwarts. However the woman in front of him had nothing of the little, frizz-haired, buck-toothed, hand-waving child she had once been.

No, the developed curves, the gentle smile and truly attentive eyes of the woman before him showed him just how much Miss Granger had actually grown in the years of his voluntary exile. She had matured beyond the scholar to a woman comfortable in her body. He'd seen the scars earlier that evening and had wondered who would display them so naturally, but now faced with his former pupil, he could easily see how she would simply not back down from dressing into a nice gown only because her back was scarred.

There was nothing left of the sometimes shy girl in the woman that now stood before him, there was no fear of him left surprisingly, and suspiciously enough, there was also no companions left at her side.

"Miss Granger, if I may be so bold, but I couldn't help but realize that Messers Potter and Weasley have not once been at your side this evening.", he inquired softly, the woman's smile never faltered, although he could see by her eyes that it gained a sad quality.

"Well, sir, I had not expected them to be at my side tonight. We have forgone communication the last few years and they have not been very understanding of my plan to clear a few names."

Severus admired the tact with which she had circumvented putting her conversational partner into a lower position. He was well aware that the only name she'd ever cleared was his, and was surprised that she hadn't just said so – it was off her otherwise Gryffindor qualities.

"For which I have yet to thank you.", he offered instead, hoping to trigger something in her, waiting for her reaction. Her honest smile returned.

"There is nothing to thank me for, trust me. You have done all the possible for us – it was a small payback, sir."

He inclined his head. "Then the reason why your colleagues are staring at you is because they did not expect you to show up?", he returned to their earlier topic of conversation – she quickly eased into it, as glad as he was to leave the subject of the past behind them.

"Oh I would suspect it comes as something of a surprise. Additionally I am talking to you, sir, who hasn't been seen since the battle. They are probably dying of curiosity – if their snooping penchant has not subsided, and I guess that as Aurors it has not."

Her comment made him smirk, which she responded with a gentle smile as she emptied the contents of her champagne-flute, placing it on an empty tray that gently breezed by. He grabbed the opportunity and did away with his glass of whiskey as well, before offering her his hand.

"Indeed. Miss, let me save you from what appears to be an Inquisition hot on your strappy heels in favour of a dance?"

She didn't need to look over her shoulder to know that Harry and Ron had started in on her, intent on destroying what was so far a rather nice evening – even if it wasn't 'destroying' by their understanding. They simply wanted to ask her about everything that had passed the last few years; but they would test her to the bones and she was not sure if her cover-story would be able to keep up with it.

His hand was callous but warm and gentle as it enclosed hers, directing her towards the dance-floor, already littered with a few swaying couples. Hermione knew that he was a good dancer – an excellent dancer actually.

She'd watched him enticing a few women now and then – mostly though only when he needed something from them, which, she thought, was a bit base, but Severus had explained 'Athena' when she'd acted crossly towards him that he thought it as a kind of payment. He needed something and they had it; sex for intellect – quid pro quo.

Hermione knew that she had nothing for him, she'd travelled the world with him for the past three years and her name had never fallen, she knew that there was nothing for him that could belong to her. So she let herself be melded against him and twirled into a Slow Waltz.

Her feet kept up with him surprisingly easy, even though she hadn't danced for years. Circe, a week ago she'd still been walking on fours. But Snape took the lead expertly and she regained memory of the steps rather quickly. Snape seemed surprised.

"You dance surprisingly well, Miss."

She smirked. "Didn't expect that, did you, sir?" At his responding twitch of the lips which she knew by now to interpret as smile, she admitted that she'd been taking classes when she was a child. Like driving a bicycle, she had not unlearned the knowledge.

"Well, I have to compliment your memory then, Miss. It has been years since I have had a dancing partner as..." he twirled her and then smirked, "... competent as this. It's quite a pleasure."

"I can assure you, sir, the pleasure is all mine."

Hermione enjoyed their easy dialogue and was glad to have evaded Harry and Ron, who looked defeated although all the more intrigued. She could almost hear the wheels turning in their heads. Why would she prefer Snape to them? Why would she dance with him? Since when did she know how to dance? Snape could dance? Their image of the world was probably crumbling at this very moment. She chuckled.

"Something is amusing you, Miss?", Snape smirked down at her.

She smiled. "I just thought about our poor Investigation Squad. Their whole world must be crumbling seeing you dance."

"Ah, yes. It must be quite a revelation to see a bat develop feet and encounter graceful gait." He smirked – it was nice to see his eyes glitter with humour, she'd missed it this past week.

"Indeed. And when have you lastly seen a Snake dance with a Lion?"

"Must have been centuries ago.", he murmured. "Perhaps they fear I will swallow you whole?" Their covert glances towards the duo had now turned to open looks, which were answered by the Aurors. Could they read lips? Hermione smirked – in a twisted way, she hoped they could.

"Trust me, sir, my mane would suffocate you."

"Then I start at the feet.", he shrugged.

Harry stood next to Ron. "Trust me, sir, my mane would suffocate you.", he translated Hermione's moving lips.

"Then I start at the feet.", Ron whispered back – the two Aurors gave each other a glance, before returning their eyes to their designated targets. Hermione had escaped them before they'd been able to greet her and ask how and where she'd been. Kidnapper Severus Snape now had her on the dance-floor, where neither Harry nor Ron could follow them.

So they had set up camp by a table next to the dance-floor and whenever they could followed the conversation of the couple. Their latest translation made them somewhat uneasy – was there something going on between them?

"But, sir!", she exclaimed pouting. "What about my strappy heels?"

She was mocking him and he loved every second of it. Where had Hermione Granger been during the years he'd travelled the world? Why couldn't he have encountered her on the way – he was sure he'd have taken her with him.

"Oh, I assure you those must stay, Miss.", he smirked flawlessly ending the Waltz and setting them up for a Tango – Miss Granger did not seem to mind him pulling her closer. "It would not do to encounter death dressed incompletely. Trust a man who has met him already."

He was rewarded with a smile and gleaming eyes, before he pushed her away from him, starting the dance. She was an excellent dancer and he adored pushing and shoving her, having her come back, come near, get away, twirl, feet entangling, detangling, bodies close, apart. Again he asked himself why he hadn't met her on his travels.

"Why should the reaper care about whether I'm dressed or not, sir?" she asked him breathlessly, he had pulled her closer and her leg was gradually rising higher on his outer thigh before snaking around his hip – he dipped her before standing her up and twirling her away, he was enjoying this too much.

"Trust me, Miss, anyone would care – especially if it's you."

He had not noticed before, but her cheeks were flushed and judged by the broad smile, she enjoyed this as much as he did – which eased him, not having been sure before if it was truly alright to enjoy this particular dance with a former student.

"Then, sir, I must insist that you help me. It is quite obvious that I am not prepared for blackness to come – and should it come then what would I do, undressed and clueless? What are your suggestions?"

Just at the last note he pulled her closer, towering over her as she made a large step, lowering her hips and bending her back, foot between his legs.

"My suggestions?", He was aroused – he knew it. His heart was beating fast, and everything in his body pulled him toward the sweet body of this woman. This was his chance, blow it or take it. "My suggestion – my verdict, Miss: you are wearing too much."

She was still breathless when his quiet timbre reached her, but was not to be outdone when he gently stood her up, still holding her hand. "That can be changed, sir." She answered in a voice as quiet as his. In answer his thumb caressed her knuckles.

Hermione was hardly able to process the happenings around her, but was almost immediately spun on the spot, away from the party.

Harry and Ron groaned in frustration. They had been following Snape and Hermione the whole evening and just now they'd been so close. So close to finally questioning Hermione and then the bat just takes her away!

Ron looked at him uneasily and Harry knew where this was heading. Their lip-reading had unveiled things they could have done well without knowing. "Do you think they'll... you know." Ironically his best friend, bachelor as could be, could not bring the words 'sex' over his lips, no matter how many females he'd already bedded.

"I would rather not think about it at all, Ron.", Harry admitted openly, sickened by the thought of his old potion's master in bed with his best friend doing... ugh. He swallowed. "I think, mate, we should get something to drink."

Ron agreed.

She silently applauded herself when she managed to land gracefully. Her years of spinning on fours alongside with him seemed to have improved her balance, that and his steadying hand in her back was an additional stabilizer.

"May I offer you something to drink?", he asked smoothly, the heat still in his eyes – unlike her he was not at all fazed by their sudden change of location, well, she guessed not. After all they had just apparated into the Snake's Lair, this had to be Spinner's End.

She thought a little on the proposition – she would seem desperate, and a little impolite and ill-educated, to negate the offer. But what to choose? She hadn't drank any alcohol for three years straight. "If there is such a thing in your house, sir, I would very much prefer something... light. For a woman's metabolism.", she said lightly.

Severus smiled at her – the open smile that she'd last seen when they had arrived in the Scottish Highlands, he had not directed it at anyone this evening, she answered his mimic with one of her own.

"What the lady commands, Miss Granger; might I excuse myself for the mythical quest?"

She down-out laughed at his sentence. The three years of travel had of course done wonders for her understanding of the man, but never had she seen him interact with any of the women quite as liberally as this. He must either want something from her very badly or he felt so well with her that he dropped his last mask as well. Severus' eyes lit up at her boisterous laugh and he quickly kissed her hand, before he turned to enter the kitchen.

Hermione turned to his book-shelves. It was paradise. Full shelves against the walls and where shelves were not pushed against the wall, books still lined it, stacked over each other, title clearly read-able, with only a millimetre of space between the rows indicating a levitation spell.

Eager to reach out, she reminded herself that the master of the house was a private person and as dark as he was light – she did not know many of the books even though they did call out to her. Plus, it would be so much like the young and inexperienced Hermione to stupidly reach out and grab any book, consequences be damned. She did not want to look like the girl he'd once known... she'd wished for some time now to be a woman he'd want to be with. She'd wondered if she ever could be.

"Go on,", a gentle voice behind her urged. "I sorted them out earlier that month when I returned and handed the... purely dark tomes in. Though I might have kept a few down in the basement... simply for the intellectual pursuit, I assure you."

Hermione shot him an understanding smile over her shoulder, before she rose to her tippy toes and reached for a book she'd heard so much about, she simply had to leaf it through once.

"Ah.", he was behind her now. "Medlam's Theorem.", his body was warm, especially against her bare shoulders – he was emanating heat it seemed. "Have you read it?"

She shook her head. "I have only read about it, but until now have never managed to find an exemplary of it." Carefully she opened the cover, mindful of the age the book seemed to posses. A huffed smirk puffed warm air on her neck, she smiled at the soft tingle it started.

For Carrol, there stood in a spiky writing, resembling much that of the professor, despite everything everyone else will say.

Hermione looked up at him, hoping for some kind of explanation, genuinely surprised when she found him looking fondly at the writing, as if remembering someone precious. Carefully he reached up to gently put his warm hand to her neck and even gentler lead her to the comfortable-looking – surprisingly vermillion – couch, before which their drinks were placed on a glass-table.

"My family was, for a long time, supposed to have been of pure blood and my great-grandparents were by all means the stuck-up purebloods you nowadays have in Narcissa and Lucius Malfoy." A wry smile wrestled itself on Hermione's face. "For all intents and purposes, my grandfather would have pleased them, wouldn't, back then, a Gypsy woman have cured my grandfather from what she called his 'mental illness'. He often told me that story."

She did not need to ask him to continue, he seemed to sense her eagerness. "They were on vacation of sorts, in Romania. There was a discussion going on amongst the purebloods, concerning Grindlewald, but my grandfather, seventeen years old, was too young to participate.

So he strolled down into the city to take a look at the Wandering Gypsies there. He found them atrocious and made his distaste quite known. A Gypsy woman, a sorceress, came forth then, and with a gentle smile cocked her eyebrow at him and said: 'Still didn't find the one who will turn you around, have you?' He had no idea what she was talking about, but no matter what vitriol he found, it did nothing to incite her anger.

Instead she taunted him, danced in front of him, smiled and sang Romanian, a language that he didn't understand but in mere moments she had made him the centre of attention – something he didn't like. Especially since he had no idea what she was talking off.

When they returned, the words and the melody of the song of the Gypsy sorceress stuck with him and he wandered around aimlessly during his last year at Hogwarts. And one day, he stumbled upon a young woman, sitting up on a unicorn.

He had never seen her before, he said, though I think he simply didn't notice her. Carrol, my grandmother, was a muggle-born witch, which, back then, had been as hard a business as it had been in your last year at Hogwarts. My grandfather watched her ride, letting the animal go where it pleased, let it guide her rather than the other way round. He followed her when it carried her into the Forest, and watched her.

Since that time, he always said, he'd never seen another woman who could captivate him quite as she could. He could single out her voice from thousands in a room, as could she. When I was younger those two were my role models in what a relationship should be like. When the two of them were old, he needn't even talk any more, he was blind, and she was deaf on one ear, but they always understood one another.

Fact is, that she was a muggle-born witch and while he set on courting her and fell in love with her, his family distanced himself from him. Medlam's Theorem came up about then and my grandfather, all fire for a realistic theory that would defend his dearest, bought it. My grandmother received it with a wedding ring."

Hermione smiled softly at the book she held in her hands now with a renewed understanding – it was practically a family heirloom, and it was probably one of the first prints. She put her hand on the cover and looked at her companion, smiling broadly.

"Your grandfather seemed like the type of man to have influenced you quite a bit.", she said, earning herself a loud laugh from him.

"You have no idea!", he grinned. "He taught me boxing when I was ten, because it was a gentleman's sport!"

Hermione grinned, placing the book aside when he went to play with her hair – instead she took a sip of the drink he'd brought her. It was wine, and if she remembered correctly, then he'd sent a barrel of wines to Spinner's End from almost every country he'd travelled to. She hummed.

"What is that – it tastes... good."

He smiled proudly, pleased to have pleased her which became obvious, when she cuddled to his side so he could drape his arm around her more comfortably. "It's French, a Chardonnay – they make the best of it over there."

"I have to quite agree there.", she murmured happily, curving her arm around his torso to play with his buttons.

While he sat there, he had to admit that he was quite content with her right where she was. There was a deep satisfaction spreading within him, something deeper, more gratifying that sexual satisfaction. He'd had plenty of that during his trip, but Hermione at his side was different.

He knew that she was intelligent, and she had very much matured since the last time he'd seen her; from the know-it-all sidekick to a young woman with a mind of her own.

"Hermione, could we not... go that far tonight?", he asked silently – hoping that his calculation of her had not been wrong, that she was different from her adventurous peers, that she would agree to this.

Next to him, she sat up, cocking her head at him, smiling. "Why not? It might not be such a bad idea – I feel quite fine just next to you."

Opening his arms, he was rewarded with the pliant yet light body of Hermione melding against his as she came to him; he was indeed quite pleased to have her in his arms, spread gloriously over him, covering him. As soon as the light went out, she snuggled closer, sighing satisfied as he covered them with a thick blanket – he was out as soon as she was, his arms curbed around her scarred back, still completely dressed.

She was a sight to behold – he smiled softly; her long hair which had been pinned up for the night, now tumbled over the blanket and spilled over his clad chest, her mascara and make-up, carefully applied for the night, was smeared partly over her face, partly over his shirt, which made him smile even more. Even though she wasn't, she looked thoroughly fucked.

Closing his eyes again, he enclosed his arms around her once more and fell back into a state of semi-sleep. He'd gotten used to standing up early, Hermione apparently enjoyed sleeping in.

"Up.", she murmured moments later, shaking her head once, before raising it, blinking owlishly at him – he grinned unabashedly, she looked like a mess; it was strangely endearing. "I'm up.", she said again, this time stretching her sinuous body against his. He could not deny what the friction did to him.

He, too, was up.

Hermione either wanted to spare him the humiliation or she did not notice as she shook her head, trying to somewhat regain control over the mess of tumbling curls. She was absolutely breathtaking and it was only when she sat down – right on his problem – that he realized she was not sparing him humiliation, but she had also not not noticed it; she simply played ignorant.

Silently the wheels in his head turned. Why would she play ignorant? Surely she couldn't be that naive – sooner or later every girl became curious, and he could hardly imagine Hermione Granger not becoming curious about something her peers talked about.

She stretched on top of him, lifting her arms over her head and stretching her back, it created a wonderful, if strange, friction. "Mhm.", she moaned silently, as she looked down at him, cocking her head. "Breakfast?"

No way she could not realize what she was doing to him. "I'm hungry, witch, but I don't think food is going to sate me."

A slow, but broad, smile blossomed on her face when he realized what she was hoping for: him making the first step. It was so old-fashioned and out of character for the usually so in control Hermione Granger that he hadn't been completely sure before, but the way her eyes glittered with mischief and expectation he knew he'd hit bull's eye.

"Why, sir, whatever could you be hungry for?", slowly she leaned forward, bracing her hands on his chest, he could feel his own heartbeat speed up. Smeared make-up or no, she was breathtaking, even in this moment.

"I'm not so sure myself, Miss Granger, but perhaps a taste will allow me to ascertain what I would like to start with first..."

It was this moment that she bent down and he up and their lips met. He loved her lips, soft, succulent and warm against his. Sitting up fully, he pulled her closer, holding her head as he ravished her mouth, relishing in the feeling of her hands and arms around him, travelling across his body.


The loud bang startled even him, but he never got to react to it. Hermione, more startled than even he was, jumped up from his lap and before he realized it completely, had transformed in front of him and fled through the open door, past the two Aurors.

Harry and Ron stared after the doe that had just fled Spinner's End towards the nearby woods – Snape still stared at the empty spot in his arms. And then finally it clicked.

Holding her head in her hands, Hermione stared at the floor. Samantha had been true to her word and had kept the Cottage in mint condition, even after she'd left when the war had ended.

At least now she had a place to stay – away from Severus.

Her heart ached. Again. It did that a lot lately.

A week after the incident at Spinner's End still had her hiding away in Italy. Of course Minerva was aware of that, but it was Minerva only and until now the witch had successfully kept Ron and Harry off her heels.

Sadly though, Severus had not even asked for her until now.

Which was probably a good thing, she kept telling herself. If he would have come looking for her it would have been in a right state and she probably wouldn't see the day after that.

She sighed, lifting her head she stared at the scenery laying itself out before her as the thoughts continued to turn in her head.

It had been a good time at the time. Three years travelling with a potion's master and a master spy had taught her a lot of things that she would have never gotten to learn no matter what career she would have chosen. She was now knowledgeable about his past, dark spells, ancient spells and rituals, all sorts of potions and ingredients, spying, higher majiks and whatever people could have thrown at her.

Hermione was fluent in vanishing in a crowd by now, having watched Severus often enough when he would leave Athena in the woods to go to the village nearby. She knew how to enter a conversation with a total stranger who knew the polyjuiced you and not be discovered. She'd studied Severus Snape.

She had garnered an inordinate amount of knowledge and power – that was her side of the bargain, company for knowledge. Wasn't that what Severus had always told her when he'd gone off to sleep with one of the witches he wanted something from? Well, she hadn't slept with him, but three years of company could perhaps account for the same thing.

Standing up, she stretched, seeing the land before her for the first time since days.

That particular chapter was now done. Severus Snape was unlikely to forgive her for invading his privacy and then having the impertinence to try and insert herself in his life for a longer period of time – he'd see it as a violation of all sorts of privacies. And he'd be right probably.

She could mope now, or she could stand up and do something with the knowledge she'd gained. And practical girl that she was, she knew she would do the second.

Still, even as she made up her mind, she couldn't deny the silent pang that her now sealed heart sent out one last time went through her whole being and one solitary tear slid down her cheek. Secretly she knew that not only would she miss the man he'd become, but also would she miss the man he had been.

He was in a right state.

Minerva, no matter how often he visited her and asked her for the whereabouts of their former student, would never even drop a hint of where he could find the young woman and repeatedly failing tracking spells had him believe that she was currently hiding away in a Secret Kept place.

Which was completely understandable.

He had to admit that his first intention had been to seek her out and demand her to explain herself and then take a Wizarding Oath.

However, three weeks after the incident without a thing leaking out had him rethink his intentions. Hermione Granger in the form of Athena had been good company. She'd been by his side in his direst of times, had brought him back to the castle, had accompanied him over the globe without an utter of complaint, had saved his life repeatedly and had not once asked anything in return.

Thus Severus stopped asking Minerva for the whereabouts about Hermione Granger, but even he had to admit that his heart ached silently when he thought about the years of company and the possibility of a true relationship gone awry.

Headstrong as he was, he shoved the thoughts and heartache to the back of his mind, focusing instead on his idea of a potions business.

Harry and Ron were unrelenting and annoying. She was having a hard time at keeping them ignorant of her business with the Ministry as well as doing her job without interruptions.

Three months into her apprenticeship as an Unspeakable finally saw her finishing her course of secrecy. Having successfully kept the imminent world around her ignorant of what she really did, plus two Aurors hot on her heels, had the authorities agree to grant her schedule as passed and allow her to 'level up'.

Research was by far her favourite course. Being assigned several cases for which to find valuable book and field material was the one thing she excelled at monumentally. She readily dove into the work, never minding the pangs of her heart when she yet again got hold of another potions book.

Kingsley watched the Golden Trio closely.

After Hermione had resurfaced from Australia he had noticed the slow separation of the three of them. Being Minister he knew of course that Hermione's choice of profession did not leave a lot of alternatives. He was surprised though that Harry and Ron had not yet deduced that she could not say what she worked as due to her status as an Unspeakable.

Though he also had to hand it to Hermione, who was being surprisingly evasive and apt at vanishing from sight when she needed it, hence successfully staying undetected – it reminded him a lot of Snape who was now sitting in his office.

"A spy, Severus?", he didn't need to add the again, to his question.

The dark-haired man sighed, standing at the window. "Kingsley, I am forty-five. Since I am eighteen it's all I do. Save for potions there is nothing else I am good at and seeing as the first alternative just literally went up in flames, I am offering my services to you exclusively. Not the ministry, not anyone else – just you in your position as Minister. Old habits do die hard and being a wizard I have yet some long years ahead of me. I do not demand a lot of money, just something to do, really."

He listened up. Not so long ago Hermione had asked for the same thing – and he'd suggested she would try out as an Unspeakable, and now she was quickly climbing ranks. Something was... foul about the two of them. Hermione suddenly acting like spy-Severus, Severus giving up his idea of living freely and instead going back to the master-spy identity he'd built up for himself. There was a clue he was missing, but he was sure that the two of them were somehow connected.

"Well Severus... I have to admit that, well, it would be very unlike the Ministry of Magic to not need a few spies here and there." Severus snorted amused, Kingsley even allowed himself a small smirk. "And as it is, I am having an eye on one of my Unspeakables who shows a lot of promise, but she's not yet ready. To come to the point... I would very gladly employ you as a spy for the Minister only."

Hermione, of course, never knew what hit her.

One day she was researching, swallowing the information like a sponge, when she overheard the whispered conversation. She did not intend to, naturally, she was an Unspeakable in training and very fine with that, but she could not unhear what she had heard.

And what she had heard sounded a lot like mutiny – a riot amongst Unspeakables.

She knew she could discern the voices, she'd seen the two before: a witch and a wizard. The first time she had crossed paths with them, she had immediately disliked them. Not only were they practically flashing their status as Unspeakable, but also was there something to their faces that screamed 'untrustworthy' at her.

Now, however, she knew that she had to act.

"...Kingsley. I mean it, he sits there all day, like a duck. He's definitely ready for the shooting.", she strained her ears.

"But he is minister. How do you suggest we go about it? We cannot simply walk in and shoot the sitting duck as you so elaborately put it. There are guards. You know that as well as I do."

Hermione held her breath in anticipation. "Potter has been missing his Magical Cloak have you heard of it yet?"

The young witch rolled her eyes. It was the talk of the whole department – the holy Potter losing his valuable cloak. If she could have done so without giving up her status, Hermione would have walked up to her former friend and slapped his head so hard he'd be spinning like a ruined compass. But the implication did not go to waste on her.

"You mean..."

There was a silent snort. "Piece of cake. The Bolt Dolt was so occupied with running around all day he didn't even notice when it was gone until the next day." The urge to hit Harry got stronger. She resisted it yet. He would have his. "And the grand thing is that the cloak exists only once." The voice continued.


"So people will think it could have been him... You know he was a Horcrux once. Blame it on the black energy residing within him..."

The man followed her drift. Details were hatched out – Hermione noted them.

Of course there were guards. There were always guards. But even those could be confounded – and as a good Unspeakable she had ways around the magical devices, even under a disillusionment charm, following the two into the office of the Minister for a report.

Kingsley would only welcome one, of course, the other one was under Harry's cloak. She had not found a possibility to warn the Minister beforehand and the Secretary had not found a way to put her on a meeting before today. So she had to resort to other tactics.

Stretching out her hand, she wandered towards the man under the Cloak. By now proficient in wandless and silent magic, she petrified him once her fingers came in contact with him – nobody noticed a thing.

"Madame, please, take a seat."

Ah, the alleged Allergy Attack. Hermione took a close look at the woman who now fumbled in her coat for the supposed remedy, in reality finding her wand. Hermione had hers at the ready in the second.


"Expeliarmus. Confundo. Stupefy."

The witch was gone in an instant. Hermione took off her disillusionment charm, looking at a very estranged Kingsley. "Hermione?"

"I'm sorry, Minister.", she gushed. "I overheard them earlier this week, I wanted a meeting, but your Secretary would only have given me one after this day and I couldn't risk them succeeding."

"Them?", he asked slowly. She realized that the man was still under the cloak – she pulled it off with gentle ease, handing it to her Minister.

"You might want to give it back to Harry, along with a good tongue-lashing about taking care of his things. He didn't notice it was gone until the next day."

The Minister said nothing at first – nothing at all and Hermione kept silent as well. It had been pretty foolish of her to act like this, but at the time going per authorities hadn't been such a good idea, who knew who else was in on the plot? Kingsley then smiled at her, shaking his head.

"I might have assigned you the wrong post, Hermione." And that was how she found herself here – again.

She dared not knock. She knew she should, but she really didn't. She knew what lay behind, she knew all the glories of this home, she'd explored it that one night she'd been willingly invited in. That had been a year ago now.

Slowly she raised her hand, knocking once holding all her breath.

He'd watched her since the moment she'd arrived, patiently. The year that had passed had done her good. She was still beautiful, growing more so with each passing minute in fact, and he could not deny the way his heart beat faster.

So often he'd thought of her, so often he'd resented Potter and that dunderhead Weasley for barging in at the most inappropriate moment – the moment he'd held the one woman in his arms that had helped him over Lily. Although by the time he hadn't known it.

Athena had been compassionate while he had cried his heart out over his lost love, she'd licked the tears off his cheeks, had offered him a warm body to cuddle up to when the nights were cold and even when he'd tried getting rid of her, she'd always come back, butting her head against his chest. Three years she'd been his sole steady companion had not judged him quickly, had readily accepted his excuses and had made of him a better man in a way.

Hermione had been a beacon of light that night a year ago. So strong, so much what he had wanted to be, unapologetic and happy – he had been sure he'd be able to teach her things while silently learning from her through observation. Of course the two idiots had ruined it.

But now she was back. Here, at his door. He'd of course received Kingsley's memo earlier and there was no doubt in his mind that Hermione was the apprentice he was supposed to mentor from now on.

His heart, however, was entirely different matter. He bolted when she knocked and had opened the door before his brain had gathered its wits about it.

Hermione stared at him in silence.

He looked good, pale but in good health. His hair was still feathery and his eyes still the same profound charcoal she'd grown to like.

The moment hit her like a ton of bricks. Nothing had changed.

She was still hooked on Severus Tobias Snape.

"Sir...", she tried weakly, unsure of how to address him. "I am the new... apprentice." He did not seem to hear any of it.

And then she was engulfed in strong arms, yearning lips and a warm body. Nothing in her resisted.

There you go, sweet little nothing. I put the rating up just because of the small little snippet... and perhaps I will continue it at a later date, but that is not sure. For now I want to continue with my unfinished story...

I hope you liked it, review please!