AN: Hey there, here is chappie 22.

First of all, sorry for the long wait. Just as I had prophesied, RL had a firm grip on my time and energies. And since my PC went all black smoke and molten chips...well.

Secondly, thank you very very very very much for all the wonderful and inspiring reviews for the last chapter. I appreciated each and every one of them!

Traverse, my dear beta, has been otherwise occupied so that we decided to publish this chapter un-betaed. Please be so kind as to overlook the increase of mistakes and such ;-)

As for Hermione and Severus…let´s see how they cope with their little 'situation'. "Go, Hermione, go!" (just saying ;-))

Chapter 22 – An illicit affair

Hermione could only gape. She looked at him completely flabbergasted, her mouth standing open unattractively, while no word came out of it. Certainly, she had misheard? He had not just said, what she thought he had, right?

No, no, that was ludicrous, completely ludicrous.

"That depends on what you think about having an illicit affair with me."

Funny, the tricks the mind could play on you. He had not said that, never ever had he said that. Hermione watched stupidly as Professor Snape clenched his fists and sneered at her.

"Cat got your tongue, Miss Granger? Merlin, if I had known such a proposal would shut you up so efficiently, I would have asked sooner. It would seem, that it takes a truly horrifying prospect to finally quench your endless optimism."

"I-what?" Hermione mumbled not quite coherently, her hand unconsciously rubbing her forehead while trying to assimilate what he had said. They had been bantering like friends just moments before. What on earth was happening? This was an unusually sudden mood-swing, even for Professor Snape.

"Do you feel alright? Will I need to fetch a Pepper-up Potion or a Calming Draught for the shock?"

His voice had lost its silkiness now, his tone sharp and clipped in stark contrast to his words of concern.

She shook her head slowly and frowned. "Why?" was the only word she managed to formulate.

"I cannot have you swooning on me without even having truly courted you yet, can I?" he spat out.

"Courted?" she repeated stupidly, all the while wishing the initial rush of adrenaline would recede somewhat so that she might be able to think straight again. This was going down-hill, she knew, but, unfortunately, she was incapable of preventing the plunge.

"Yes, of course. I would not expect you to hop into my bed willingly without the modicum of courtship. As much as I, obviously, would enjoy ripping the clothes off of your young, nubile body and ravish you on the spot. Rules must be obeyed. Court first, fuck later. That´s the way."

Hermione blanched at his crude and cruel words, taken aback by how unfitting it was for him. He had joked about men who enjoyed such demeaning manners with the Dark Lord, for God´s sake. That was not him, at all.

He must be feeling really out of sorts to resort to such profanity.

That helped. If he was feeling just as overwhelmed as she was, even while employing Occlumency, well then they had a common ground and Hermione could identify. And that meant she could help, and being able to help meant that she knew what to do and knowing what to do, finally, helped her clear her head. Trust Hermione Granger to deal with the most absurd of situations as long as there was a plan to follow.

Professor Snape, clearly misunderstanding her white face, laughed mirthlessly, his sneer turning vicious afterwards.

"Not so glorious after all, is it? If being in the Order reduces you to nothing but a Death Eater´s wh…"

"Stop. Stop right there."

"She speaks. How unfortunate. How unnecessary."

He pushed himself out of his chair and stalked over to her, cold fury rolling off of him in waves. Hermione, once again, realised that Severus Snape was a dangerous man in his own right. Just because he was not a psychopathic mass-murderer with the wish of world-domination did not mean that he could not harbour vengeful, spiteful or hateful feelings and covet power, as well. He simply decided not to act on them as unrestrainedly as He-who-must-not-be-named did. Still, he posed an intimidating sight and Hermione was immediately reminded of the way he had advanced on her when he had discovered her in his quarters. He had backed off when he had seen how scared she had been of him, then.

This time, however, she would not act the scared little rabbit. She might love him secretly, but that certainly did not give him the right to treat her like this. And today she had no patience for his insecurities, either. If he needed to act out, he could do that with someone else. She had enough to do with getting a grip on herself. It was not every day that the man you fancied the pants off propositioned you, because he was forced to do it and needed to occlude because of his disgust over said proposal. It did not exactly lift her self-esteem. And did he need to be an utter arse about it? Well, that was rhetorical. He was Snape. And Severus Snape lashed out whenever he felt insecure and unwanted.

Not this time, Severus.

He had reached her now. Two quick strides brought him to her chair and he pinned her into it by leaning into her. His hands gripped the armrests in a white-knuckled grip, his legs were shoved between hers, his face was inches away from hers. Hermione, true to her growing anger, refused to be cowed. He needed to get something through his thick head and she would make him understand, even if he was in a major snit.

So, instead of pressing back even more she closed the rest of distance between them, her lips nearly touching his and hissed, "Get off of me, Sir."

Fathomless black eyes bore into hers, the cold veil of Occlumency clearly visible in them. She saw no flicker of recognition there. He did not let up, just breathed heavily against her mouth.

Hermione shoved against his shoulder.

"I said, get off of me, Snape."

He blinked slowly, but did not budge. In fact, he seemed frozen to the spot, his hands still tightly wrapped around the armrests, his eyes still chillingly empty.

Hermione changed tactics. Instead of pushing against him, she slightly relaxed her posture and lightly encircled his upper arms with her hands. Her thumbs automatically started rubbing small, soothing circles into his taut muscles.

"Professor? I need you to step back, please."

He frowned and his eyes dropped away from hers and down to where her left hand was caressing his arm. When his gaze returned to hers, Hermione could immediately see that it was slightly more alert, now. Good.

She quite consciously let her hands wander over his upper arms to his shoulders and finally his chest, where she let them rest on the beguiling row of buttons. She could not believe how daring she was, but damn it, she would not let him get away with whatever this was. If she was to stay sane during their 'partnership', some ground rules would have to be established. She felt his heartbeat underneath her fingertips and let the warmth of her hands seep through the thick material of his frock coat.

"It´s only me, Professor. Can you feel my hands? I don´t want to hurt you."

He blinked and further awareness returned to his gaze.

Hermione felt emboldened and lifted her right hand to his cheek, lightly stroking his astoundingly smooth skin. He seemed to have shaved that very morning, in spite of the mayhem his life currently consisted of. She found that strangely endearing. Impulsively she cupped her hand under his chin and let it rest there. Professor Snape frowned and after a while he jerked his head away, abruptly ending the contact. His eyes were fully alert by now.

So far, so good. Hopefully. His gaze turned darker, but not in a good way.

So Hermione once again planted her hands against his chest and pushed.

"I repeat: step back. Maybe we can talk about this like adults then."

That earned her a raised eyebrow, but he finally acquiesced and pulled back. He remained standing directly in front of her, clearly feeling uncomfortable about the situation. Hermione looked up at him.

"What on earth was that?" she blurted.

He cleared his throat, his dark eyes darting from some unseen object to another before returning to her.

"That, Miss Granger, is what happens when you lose control over your Occlumency."

"But you didn´t lose control. The Occlumency walls were clearly visible to -"

"Exactly. You shouldn´t have been able to see them."

"But, I always thought, that letting slip the shield was the only way to lose control with Occlumency."

"Clearly, you don´t know everything, Miss Granger."

Hermione huffed. How was she supposed to have known that? Mind magics were very advanced, after all. She had spent a few hours reading about them, when Dumbledore had asked Harry to learn Occlumency from Professor Snape. That did not make her an expert, right?

"Fine. There are a lot of things I don´t know. Now that we have established that I would like to understand just why you lost control of your Occlumency just now. I mean, you have successfully fooled Vol-, sorry, You-Know-Who for years."

His face clouded over and he stepped back rather abruptly.

"That is none of your business, Miss Granger."

"It is."

"It isn´t."

"Yes, it is. It happened in my presence and it was quite frightening, if I may say so."

He sneered at her.

"You didn´t appear that frightened, when you decided to invade my personal space."

The nerve of him!

"Yes, well, that was, because I was also quite pi- angry about you. And - wait, what on earth do you mean by invading your personal space? You are the one who has invaded my personal space. Again!"

"I, however, cannot remember me using that opportunity to take liberties with your person."

"What?" Hermione, enraged once more, sprang up from the chair and poked her finger into his chest. "I didn´t take any liberties."

He batted her hand away like an irritating fly. "Says she who once again cannot keep her hands to herself." His sneer turned downright nasty then. "Having a thing for your teacher, Miss Granger?"

She smiled as condescendingly as she could and batted her lashes at him.

"No, just trying to get into role, Sir." She stepped into him and let her hands settle on his chest playfully. "After all, that was what you so charmingly suggested I´ll be in the near future, didn´t you? A Death Eater´s wh-"

"Enough!"

He caught her wrists and pushed her away from him, his sallow colour for once suffused with red, angry spots.

"What do you think you are doing?" he spat.

"I am trying to get through to you, but you are just too thick-headed, stubborn and -"

His grip tightened menacingly around her wrists as he hissed, "Twenty points from Gryffindor."

"Like hell."

Hermione snatched her hands away from him furiously. She, too, was sporting a rather angry shade of red by now.

"I beg your pardon?"

"Stop treating me like a child!"

"You are a child!"

"I am not."

"Yes, you are."

"I am an Order member."

"You are just a silly little girl, who couldn´t keep her nose out of other people´s business."

"I saved you!"

"I did not ask you to!"

"And still you thanked me for it."

"I must have been delusional then."

"No, you are delusional now, if you think you can go back to treating me as if nothing had changed."

"Indeed? One day of civil conversation and you expect everything to have changed? You are still a student."

"I am not talking to you as your student right now."

"Pray tell, Miss Granger. What are you to me then, in this little charade of yours?"

He wore another of his condescending smirks as he challenged her with his question. Hermione withheld from slapping it off his face, barely.

"My charade? Honestly? As far as I understand it, we are both pawns in a Chess game of more powerful people. I just want to come to an understanding. Don´t you see? We are pretty much in the same tight spot and -"

He snorted derisively.

"Goodness me, she is going all Gryffindor again. I want neither your help nor your 'understanding' and I certainly don´t care for having to spend more time with a wilful, obnoxious little know-it-all."

Hermione felt tears gathering in her eyes. She held up her hands in surrender.

"Fine. Fine, I give up. So, I am either a child or a whore to you. I am not in the habit of letting myself be treated either way. So, I´ll be leaving."

Hermione turned around and walked towards the door. Halfway towards the exit she paused and looked over her shoulder at him.

"You know. If you just decided to treat me like a partner in our mission, I would have to be neither. But Severus Snape doesn´t do friends, does he?"

She gripped the door handle and pushed it down. She had to get out before things escalated further and either she or he said something truly unforgivable. She yanked, but the door remained firmly shut. Hermione tried again. Without success.

Furiously she rounded on Professor Snape, who had not moved an inch throughout the whole interlude.

"Release the door, now!"

He frowned. "I am sure I don´t know what you are talking about."

"You used a sealing spell or something."

He shook his head. "I did not."

Hermione huffed and pointed her wand at the door. "Finite incantatem!"

Nothing happened.

"Alohomora!"

The door did not budge even a millimetre.

"Curious."

Hermione chanced a look to her right. Professor Snape was standing next to her, his wand in hand. He moved it in an elegant arc and murmured something in his melodic teacher´s voice. Then he gripped the handle and pulled. Nothing.

Two minutes later his murmurs had grown irritated. He clearly was not pleased about their predicament.

Once again, Hermione found herself stuck in a room with Professor Snape. This whole situation started to remind her of -. Wait. Oh that sneaky, interfering castle. Hermione put her hands on her hips and scowled at the wall.

"You! Stop meddling and release the door."

"As you might have realised, I am trying to open the door, Miss Granger."

"I wasn´t talking to you."

He raised an eyebrow and let his eyes wander through the otherwise unoccupied room. Hermione felt stupid to have made such a blunder, so she hastily babbled on.

"Anyway. Since we do not seem to be able to leave, maybe we could finish our talk in a more, um, civilised manner? What do you think?"

She looked up at him uncertainly. He held her gaze and finally nodded.

"That would be acceptable."

He pointed towards the door Hermione knew led to his quarters.

"Would you mind, if we moved this discussion to a more informal setting?"

Hermione hesitated only a second, but he caught on anyway. He cleared his throat and looked away.

"Only to talk."

Hermione blushed. "Of course. I did not – well, lead the way?"

Professor Snape simply turned around and waved his hand at the other door. This one opened for him and they walked silently into his living room. He gestured towards the sofas and Hermione sank down on the one she had occupied during her last visit.

"Tea?"

"Yes, please."

Professor Snape summoned a House-elf and soon they were both nursing a cup of soothing herbal fragrances. Hermione stayed true to her intent to position herself more clearly and was the first one to speak.

"I´d like to address what I wanted to say before, in your office. It´s not exactly easy, so I´d appreciate it, if you´d just let me get it out."

He nodded and gave her is full attention.

"I find these constant changes of roles quite confusing and – frankly – exhausting. More specifically, I find guessing your current mood and openness towards amenable interaction exhausting. No one, certainly not me, expects you to change overnight. Nevertheless, we will be forced to rely on each other in a way, right? We will have to spend time together and try to keep as sane as possible. Don´t get me wrong. I understand that you have to treat me differently when we are in class or like with Malfoy earlier. But when we are talking Order business, or are alone outside of a teacher-student interaction, the old roles cannot fit any longer. I know that you wished for a clean cut and a simple definition of either teacher or maybe-sometime-friend, but let´s face it, it won´t work."

Professor Snape remained silent, but inclined his head in invitation to continue.

"I think it will not be possible not to get to know each other better throughout all of this. I, for my part, find that to be a positive and challenging part of it all. But I want to feel safe. Um, you know that I trust you, right? I think in order for this to work, however, you´ll need to learn to trust me, too. And, well, I thought maybe it could be useful to establish some guidelines for the both of us."

"Guidelines?"

"Yes, so that the roles do not mix up too much."

"Explain."

"Um, oh, let´s consider an example. You still haven´t told me exactly what your mission is, but it is not exactly hard to guess that it somehow involves me and, um, us. Let´s say that keeping you safe requires a certain amount of play along from me?"

His dark eyes narrowed slightly, but he did not contradict her.

"Well, if we do not want that to make a -" she swallowed nervously, but forced herself to continue the sentence, "Death Eater´s whore out of me, then we will eliminate the possibility. Whenever we come together as Order members, you will be unable to reduct points or assign detention. You will be the senior Order member, but not the teacher. And neither will you be You-Know-Who´s cronie. We will be partners in an Order mission. This way we´ll know that we act as those and not, um, something else."

Professor Snape sighed and set his cup on the table. He leaned back and for a short moment closed his eyes. Then he leaned forward again, his arms resting on his knees in an unusually resigned position. Hermione offered him the same courtesy he had to her and kept quiet, letting him work through his thoughts. He sighed once more and rubbed his forehead with his right hand. When his eyes met hers again they were the saddest Hermione had ever seen them. His voice was soft and bitter at the same time.

"I have once tried to be all those roles at once. Friend, Slytherin outcast, Death Eater and potential lover. It did not end well. You think that you know what lies ahead and what will be expected of you, of us, but believe me, you don´t. You don´t. This war, this feud between two power-hungry men has destroyed more lives than I can count, mine included. Of course, this is not entirely a war between Dumbledore and the Dark Lord, it certainly concerns us all. Nevertheless, acting as spy for them centres everything around them. And now they want you to be swallowed by it, too. And they want me to use you for whatever nefarious purpose will cross their minds. This is my punishment."

Hermione tried not to feel too hurt by his last sentence. She was listening with rapt attention. She knew that he was being completely honest right now, and she felt quite honoured that he would chose to be so, with her. So, she cleared her throat and asked as neutrally as possible, "Punishment?"

He snorted dejectedly.

"Well, you see, I held a bit of power over both of them. I was the valuable spy. And for that they granted me an unspoken boon, alas for different reasons. There were two things neither one of my Masters asked of me," his eyes held hers, "hurting women and students."

Hermione swallowed hard. She intuitively felt what he would say next.

"But then I messed up and now, now I have lost that little power I had, and therefore my free-pass. You, Miss Granger, are a woman and a student. Poetic, wouldn´t you think?"

Professor Snape stood up and walked towards his liquor cupboard. He poured himself a small amount of whisky and returned to his couch. Then he lifted the glass to her in mock salute and whispered, "Let us drink goodbye to the last human part of me, shall we?" He tossed his drink back and slammed the glass onto the table in front of him.

Hermione´s heart was thudding rapidly in her chest. She yearned to comfort him, but somehow anything she could think of felt trivial. Therefore, she kept quiet, desperately searching for the right words to say. In the end, it was not a conscious decision that made her say, what she said next. It somehow simply happened.

"And what do you take me for? A doormat?"

His head snapped up and he stared at her in disbelief.

"Excuse me?"

"Well, you have basically told me, that you and the Dark Lord and our esteemed Headmaster have decided to punish you by hurting me. And then you go all maudlin, because you do not even dare to see that we have ways of coping with this, together. Without either one of us losing their dignity or humanity. You just cast me in the role of victim and I refuse to bow to your medieval, sexist world view. I am me and I refuse to let three men decide what I am or how I should feel. So, go to hell, Professor. If you want to wallow in self-pity, instead of using this opportunity to take back what power we have, be my guest. But I refuse to be a doormat, anyone´s doormat. I am not Dumbledore´s, not You-Know-Who´s and certainly not yours."

Hermione lifted her chin and crossed her arms under her breasts for emphasis. Then she spat out, "Are you?"

Stunned silence greeted her outburst. They regarded each other with wide eyes, both obviously astounded by her boldness. Dark eyes took her measure, searched her, weighed her. And then the most beautiful sound rang through the room, at once filling the bleak moment with warmth and lightness.

Professor Snape was laughing. A full-bellied, open and cathartic laugh that washed over Hermione´s frayed nerve-endings like a soothing headache-potion. Hermione savoured this rare moment and felt herself fall all the harder for him. His whole face was lit up with mirth and he, for once, looked nearly care-free and happy. She smiled at him, sharing her own happiness with him. Maybe she looked like a love-sick moon-calf, but somehow, she could not bring herself to care. She relished the effect her words had had on him and allowed herself this short respite from real life´s demands. Damn He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and damn Albus Dumbledore. For these few seconds Severus Snape belonged to her.

Growing a tad bit possessive, my dear?

Oh, shut up!

Professor Snape´s laughter subsided, morphed into quiet chuckles and finally only a small curl to his lips remained. Hermione had not thought that his dark eyes could express so much warmth. But they did, as they found hers once again. The curl to his lips grew even more pronounced and he lifted his hand in an imagery toast to her.

"Well, I guess I deserved that."

Hermione shrugged non-chalantly and grinned.

"Yes."

He cocked his head and narrowed his eyes at her.

"You are not going to give up your stupid optimism, are you?"

Hermione grinned.

"Nope."

"You will insist on painting our plight in rainbow colours."

"I will insist on not surrendering myself to circumstances others dictate as long as I have a mind, that is able to think, a body, that is able to move, and a soul that is able to feel compassion."

"War destroys all of those in people that are too directly exposed to it. Just look at me."

"I am. And I think you are the perfect example to prove me right."

He snorted disbelievingly.

"You are delusional, Miss Granger. Stop painting me a hero, where I am not. Go running to Potter, if you need a bit of hero-worshipping."

"You are delusional, Sir, if you insist on playing this game with me."

He raised an eyebrow in mock challenge.

"Game?"

"The 'I am the bad big wolf and eat people for breakfast'- game."

His lips started twitching again, but he quickly recovered and glared at her.

"So now you resort to fairy tales to further your argument? Oh dear, you are walking on thin ice."

"No, it´s you who is walking on thin ice. You have been doing so for many years now and still you have neither lost your compassion, nor your physical or magical abilities, nor your sharp mind."

"You accuse me of being compassionate? That is laughable, Miss Granger, and we both know it."

Hermione leaned forward and glared back at him.

"Oh, is it? You were the one who saved me from being exposed during our Pensieve trip."

"Well maybe I just did not want to endure the visual once again."

Hermione just wriggled her fingers at him in a rather condescending gesture. "Nice try, Professor, but not good enough. You are losing your bite. Anyway, I could list many more occasions on which you acted bravely and compassionately."

He lifted his hands in surrender and sighed, "Please, refrain from listing those so-called heroics. We will just have to agree to disagree."

"Fine, as long as you stop trying to be as mean to me as you can in hopes of swaying my opinion of you."

This time his raised eyebrow nearly touched his hairline.

"Quite the conceited little creature you are, aren´t you?"

She smiled serenely. "Oh, I am an obnoxious, insufferable know-it-all. At your service."

Professor Snape shook his head and leaned back into his couch. Then he rubbed his forehead.

"So, Miss Granger, tell me, how exactly you plan on solving our little dilemma."

Finally, now we´re talking.

"Well, first of all, I need to know what exactly you meant by having an illicit affair with you and why that led to you having an Occlumency accident."

He looked displeased at her choice of words, but held back from voicing it. Instead he lazily shrugged and brushed some dust particles of the back of the couch.

"From your reaction I would deduce that you understood perfectly fine."

Hermione dared rolling her eyes.

"Honestly, are we going there again? Did you think you could spring this on me and expect any other reaction? Especially after how Malfoy was acting? Come on, you know perfectly well that I had every right to be temporarily speechless. After that declaration? And then you had to notch up the git-factor and I got no chance to collect myself. And then you were suddenly advancing on me with that look in your eyes. It was scary."

His lips were twitching again. "Git-factor?"

Hermione blushed a bit at her word-creation, but then she shrugged. Well, he had been a git, right?

"You know what I mean."

Professor Snape drew a long-suffering breath, but relented by inclining his head. His tone grew serious when he captured her gaze with his again.

"I was already slipping on my Occlumency and I should not have lost control like I did. I apologise, Miss Granger."

Hermione smiled and nodded.

"Thank you, Sir. But how did you lose control?"

"In contrast to popular opinion there are many ways in which you can 'mess up' mind magic such as Occlumency and Legilimency. The most commonly known with Occlumency is to simply not be able to block out the opponent, thus letting the protective shields slip. In my case, however, they have become second nature. They come to me automatically and instinctively. If they didn´t, I would have been found out long ago. Under the strain of these last days my shields grew too strong. Having to face you then, being made to tell you, especially after we had had that short moment of camaraderie after Lucius left – it was the last straw."

Hermione nodded understandingly. "And you snapped."

"And I snapped."

She tugged her legs under herself and settled back into her couch.

"Okay."

He frowned.

"Okay?"

"Yes. I think anything else would have been inhuman. I cannot even begin to fathom how it must have been like to return to them. Of course, you would use your best way of protection. I would have, as well. I´m sorry for having been 'the last straw'."

There it was again. The quick flicker of warmth in his eyes. Outwardly he sighed and wiped her words away with a flick of his right hand.

"Gryffindor sentimentality."

"Yes, lucky you."

He smirked and let his eyes wander over her rather relaxed posture.

"Feeling at home, Miss Granger?"

She smiled back.

"Feeling safe again."

He once again measured her with his gaze and finally settled on a rather attractive, crooked half-smile. "You are a very strange young woman."

"Thank you, I guess. So, about your mission? What exactly is it that your masters ask of you? Of us?"

"Ah, yes. The mission."

The both of them talked long into the evening, ignoring curfew at 9 pm and only stopping when Hermione´s eyes began to droop. Professor Snape looked at his quickly conjured Tempus Charm and held up his hand.

"That will be enough for today. You are tired. I am, too."

Hermione stiffled a yawn and nodded.

"But you´ll ask the Headmaster tomorrow?"

"Yes. We should waste no time."

"Okay. Not being allowed to know, but having my suspicions, really makes me itchy."

"Still, this memory you saw wasn´t even shown to the other Order members. The information you want the Headmaster to reveal is strictly between him and me."

"But you´ll support my request?"

"Unfortunately, I see no way around it. If I had a choice, I´d do anything from keeping that knowledge from you."

"But why?"

"That is not for me to say, without getting permission first. Please, let it rest for now. It really is enough for today."

Hermione nodded and Professor Snape stood up and gestured towards the door that led to his office.

"Proceed to my office. I´ll be with you in a moment."

Hermione unfurled herself from her couch and smoothed out a few wrinkles from her skirt and robes.

"Of course. I´ll wait for you there."

She turned around and stepped through the doorway, which shut silently behind her. As soon as she was out of sight she faced the large mirror, situated in the short corridor between Professor Snape´s quarters and his office, and scowled at it. She crossed her arms under her breasts and hissed, "We are going to have a talk, you and I. Stop jailing me in. Honestly, you aren´t helpful."

The surface of the mirror began to glow and to Hermione´s surprise and amusement she was shown an image of herself and Professor Snape going at each other´s throat in the office. Then it changed to them talking companionably on their respective sofas.

Hermione huffed. "Fine, yes, we needed to talk."

The image of Professor McGonagall awarding points flashed over the smooth surface.

"Still, you aren´t very subtle, are you?"

Hogwarts from a bird´s view-point.

"Yes, yes, you are big."

A series of images of several trap-doors, secret passages and hidden corners were shown to her.

Hermione laughed. "Yes, alright. You have your secrets. Still, we will have to tell Professor Snape sometime, don´t we?"

Hermione being told she had failed all her exams.

She´d never get used to seeing her boggart over and over again.

"I wished, you´d use another image for a simple no. So, I guess you wish for me to keep our, um, alliance a secret for now?"

Awarded points.

"Fine. I should be going then. He´ll be here soon enough. Until then, you meddling castle. And thank you."

Hermione, Ron and Harry hugging each other in the common room.

The last image brought a smile to Hermione´s face and she shook her head in silent laughter. Cheeky old building. Then she went to the office and waited. Sure enough, Professor Snape entered only shortly after her. He was carrying a large and rather old-looking tome. He approached and held it out to her.

"I want you to read this. Treat it carefully and don´t let anyone see it."

Mind Magic – a comprehensive compendium of the Arts.

Hermione gasped and reverently took the book from him.

"I will be careful."

"Hmm."

Professor Snape walked briskly to the door and grabbed the handle.

"Let us hope, that whatever blocked this damn door has finally gone."

Hermione grinned secretively. "Oh, I have the feeling we´ll be able to leave without a hitch now, Sir."

He pulled and the door swung open.

"I will have to look into this. Later. For now. Let me escort you to Gryffindor Tower, Miss Granger."

Hermione stepped beside him and smiled up at him.

"Thank you, Professor."

Professor Snape whipped around and strode towards the staircase, his cloak billowing behind him and Hermione once again found herself quite entranced with his self-assured gait.

Maybe, just maybe, things would turn out well, after all.