Hermione Granger
Drama Romance
Multiple Eras
Philosopher's Stone Chamber of Secrets Prizoner of Azkaban Goblet of Fire Quidditch Through the Ages Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Published: 03/19/2002
Updated: 09/01/2005
Words: 220,150
Chapters: 28
Hits: 163,807

Falling Further In


Story Summary:
The story begins in the summer holidays before the sixth year. After her parents are murdered by Voldemort Hogwarts becomes Hermione's home. She joins the staff in the fight against Voldemort and learns more of the man behind the dark sarcasms of the classroom. Will *eventually* be Snape/Hermione. Lupin is again the Professor teaching Defence Against the Dark Arts, and has a black dog who lives with him - Sirius Black in his animagus form.

Chapter 09

Chapter Summary:
Hermione learns more about the man behind the dark sarcasms of the classroom


It was only as he materialised in the Shrieking Shack that Black realised panic had brought him to the retreat of their teenage years rather than the dungeon which Dumbledore had arranged to be specially adapted for Remus' use. Heavily protected by wards and a Screening Charm, the unused area was on the other side of the castle from Snape's classroom and official office and uninviting enough to keep even the nosiest pupil away.

With a muttered 'Fuck it', Black stopped dead, concentrated until he was puce in the face and Disapparated again.

He materialised in the dungeon to find it was all over.

The ugly gagging sounds the werewolf was making seemed to bounce off the dungeon walls, filling the space between them with an abomination of noise. Caged, the creature prowled with its distinctive lurching gait along its enforced perimeter, throwing itself at the bars every few seconds, its rasping howls of rage intensifying with each failure.

Snape was slumped on the floor a safe distance away. There was no blood or obvious sign of injury so Black's attention returned to what had been his lover only a few minutes ago.

No one who saw the creature would ever mistake it for a wolf, but nor was it a man. Its malevolent red-eyed glare always on the source of food just beyond its reach, the werewolf was constantly assessing and checking for a means of getting to its prey. The gurgling noise from deep in its throat intensified as Black drew closer.

"Oh, Remus," he whispered. Normally he would have transformed into his animal form and remained with Lupin through every stage, helping to keep him centred so that the most important part of him didn't become lost.

He belatedly remembered his other, unwanted, responsibility.

"Are you all right?" The torches unlit, it was difficult to see much beyond the eyes of the werewolf glowing in the dark. "Lumos!" added Black impatiently, using the light which appeared at the end of his wand to illuminate the torches set around the walls.

The werewolf reacted badly but there was no response from the man racked by tremors as if he had the ague. Staring through him, Snape's eyes were lifeless holes in a kabuki mask, his skin drum-tight over the bones of his face. He held his raw-looking hands out in front of him.

"Severus?" Gaining no reply, Black crouched down. His attempt to grasp Snape's shoulder was deflected by a jarring blow from Snape's forearm as the other man came roaring back to life.

"Don't touch me!"

Black slumped back on his heels. "I wasn't going to hurt you. If - "

"Don't be a prick," dismissed Snape, in something approaching his usual tone. "You were caught by the potion and have open sores. I could contaminate you. While Rem - It - didn't bite me, I got some saliva on me when... Getting out of the cage was difficult."

Preoccupied as he was, even Black could recognise understatement when he heard it. Snape's shredded frock coat confirmed just how difficult it must have been.

"Did it scratch you?"

Snape shrugged. "I don't know."

Black used his wand to cut away the ruined jacket and shirt to bare Snape's torso. There were darkening splotches where bruises would form but no scratches.

"Clear," he said, before he frowned when he noticed Snape's ruined hands. "Did any saliva catch an open wound?"

"I don't know," Snape said again, his expression closed. "Tonight there's a full moon. I could turn at any time. Is there any chance of something warm to wear or do you intend to leave me to freeze to death?"

"Oh. Yeah. Here." Black conjured up one of his robes.

Snape eyed it without enthusiasm.

"It's that or nothing. We can't all afford designer robes."

Snape shrugged it on, his sore fingers clumsy on the small catches. "You'll need to take my wand. Not with your hand, idiot. I'm surrounded by idiots," he muttered peevishly.

"I can't take that," Black protested, taking hope from the fact Snape was still insulting him.

"You'd rather risk one of the most powerful wizards in Hogwarts stalking the corridors, about to transform, with a wand in his hand?" said Snape savagely. "We don't know how much time I have before... For once in your life will you just do as I say without arguing." He had the sound of man close to breaking point.

"All right, all right," Black soothed. "Accio!" Snape's wand slid into his hand: at twelve and a half inches it was larger than his own and a pleasing creamy-brown colour. While it looked different from the wand he remembered hexing him in the first year, he had learnt to mistrust his memory in recent years.

"What wood is this?" he asked, trying to dismiss the disconcerting sense of intimacy that holding Snape's wand gave him.

"Ash, with a phoenix tail feather core."

The wand settled into his hand as if it belonged there. "It feels far heavier than mine." The urge to test it was strong.

"What do you expect, it belongs to a Death Eater." It was impossible to tell if Snape was being sarcastic or not.

That was the trouble with Slytherins, thought Black savagely, they would never give you a straight answer if they could think of a crooked one. Aware of a faint thrumming he changed his grip on the wand when he realised he had been about to use it. He looked up guiltily to where Snape sat watching him, a sardonic twist to his mouth.

"I wouldn't try it out without your permission," Black said, aware of how close he had come to doing just that.

"I wouldn't advise it," said Snape dryly. "Nero Goyle tried to use my wand to inflict the Cruciatus on me a couple of months ago. I don't think he'll be trying that again for a while. The Dark Lord wasn't at all pleased with the result. Fortunately he put it down to Goyle's stupidity."

"You've protected your wand?" said Black, impressed. He'd never heard of that being done before.

Snape gave him a look of scorn. "I wouldn't know how to begin - or even if it's possible. But Goyle's an idiot and..."

"...the wand chooses the wizard. No wonder you're such an arrogant git," grinned Black, but he sounded almost admiring. Taking some care, he stored Snape's wand in the inside pocket designed for such a purpose. "I'll keep it safe for you," he added, beginning to appreciate what Snape was feeling. He wouldn't want Snape looking after his wand if their positions had been reversed.

"You'd better. I've had that wand since I was twenty one. Put me in a full body-bind. Don't use Petrificus Totalus or I won't be able to speak."

"And this would be a disadvantage because...? Sorry," Black muttered, when Snape glared at him.

"Not at all. Just so long as one of us is enjoying this. You do know the other spell, I presume?"

Black's palms began to sweat. "I do if you'll keep quiet and let me concentrate. I'd rather get this right the first time."

Before Snape could offer his thoughts thin rope bindings were whipping around him. He gave a grunt of discomfort as he toppled onto his side. "I wish I could believe that was accidental." He was so latticed with rope that he looked like some bizarre fetish.

"Stop judging everyone by your standards of behaviour."

"You mean you didn't intend this? I knew you were clumsy but if you can't even manage a simple Body Binding Charm without all this rope there's not - "

"Since Azkaban everything's an effort and... I use what works, all right!" Black swung away from him. "Are those ropes too tight?" he asked a short time later.

"No," said Snape, having swallowed the first three retorts which had sprung to mind. "Clear the dungeon next door. If you can't create a cage, see what else there is in there to restrain me."

"Why don't you stay - ?"

"No! Not in here," said Snape, staring into the red eyes that were unpleasantly reminiscent of Voldemort.

Her stomach clenched in a cold knot of misery, her face hot with humiliation as she kept replaying Snape's assessment of her in her head, Hermione wandered forlornly around her new chambers. Rationalise what drove him all she might, all she could hear was the contemptuous bite in Snape's voice as he sent her away.

Every time she thought she had crept through one of his barriers another ten snapped up in her face. He had left her in no doubt of his feelings - not that his opinion had come as a surprise. 'Bossy' was one of the kindest words which had followed her through childhood and beyond. Even Ron and Harry had thought...

But he couldn't have expected her to stand by and watch them duel - or even worse, fight physically. He wouldn't have stood a chance against the far heavier Black.

Despite the familiar items she had unpacked her new home still felt alien. She went and sat beside Crookshanks, who was sprawled over one of the cushioned window seats with only the tip of his tail moving as he watched the falcon hovering a few feet from the open window. Situated on the top floor of the main part of the castle, her rooms were protected by Gryffin and Serpens Towers, which housed the chambers of Professors McGonagall and Snape, although Serpens Tower was screened from view.

Madam Pomfrey had told her that Snape's laboratory occupied the top floor of Serpens Tower, which disposed of the widely held supposition that he had no life beyond the dungeons. Wise after the event, it seemed obvious that he would have his own laboratory for any serious work, far away from interruptions and possible sabotage by pupils. It belatedly occurred to Hermione to wonder if Snape had been as ignorant as she had assumed about her deprivations of his 'private' store cupboard. But it was a relief to know he had a life beyond the dank depression of the dungeons and the bottled horrors which lined the walls of his office. She, along with the rest of the students, had bought the image the staff had conspired to create. A simple pause for thought made it obvious the dungeons were the last place an academic would live because of the potential damage to their books and parchments. From the way she had seen him seeking out the sun, the dungeons would probably be his last choice of location, although it had to be admitted that they certainly helped along the Snape legend. Though with that tongue he didn't need much help.

Her chambers seemed vast by anyone's standards: the living room was larger than the ground floor of her parents' house and there was also a bedroom and private bathroom with fittings so luxurious she could only wonder about the last occupant - and then give thanks. She shared the floor with Madam Pomfrey, Professor Lupin - and presumably Mr Black - and Madam Hooch. While Professors Sprout and Flitwick officially occupied the towers of their respective Houses, they actually shared a cosy set of chambers on the floor below her. What she still wasn't clear about was how any of the staff were accessible to their students.

Feeling very alone, she scooped up Crookshanks, much to his vocal displeasure, and buried her face in his fur as she fought off a wave of self-pity.

The knock on her door sounded so formal that she was certain it must be Snape. Her smile hardly faltered on seeing Professors Sprout and Flitwick, hand in hand and beaming at her with such affection that it was impossible not to respond. It took a moment to disentangle their warm enthusiasm at the idea of introducing her to the House of Mirth.

"Intellectual rigour, that's the thing," said Flitwick happily.

"And laughter, and good company," added Sprout. "You have thirty minutes to dress in your finest clothes. We're going on holiday until Remus is back."

Taken in hand, Hermione was smiling with anticipation as they walked down to the main gates to Disapparate, the bar to Apparating within Hogwarts now back in place.

Using the Mobilicorpus Black moved Snape to the adjoining cell. Feeling as if he had collided with every available hard space, Snape studied his new home. This was half the size of the other cell, and even colder, the far wall running with so much damp that it was supporting a fine crop of bog-mould. The floor was unspeakable and the stink brought him close to retching point.

"I've cleaned it up a bit," said Black, unnerved by the other man's lack of response. His voice echoed in the emptiness. "You can see the manacles embedded in the wall and ceiling. I found you something to sit on." He gestured to a baroque, almost throne-like chair, so elaborately carved that the back and sides looked like lace.

The bindings falling away, Snape just saved himself from falling to the floor. His expression schooled, he sat where indicated. The links of the chains were immense, but the chains were long enough to allow him to walk for several paces yet prevented him from reaching anyone coming through the door. The sheer weight of them meant he wouldn't be moving anywhere he didn't have to; he toyed with the notion of a Lifting Spell but decided against it. Black's skills weren't to be relied upon and he wasn't about to use wandless magic - the temptation to keep doing so would be too great and his record at resisting temptation left something to be desired.

His expression set against betrayal, he closed the manacles around each wrist, then one ankle and was immediately aware of the press of them which came from more than just their weight. "Well don't just stand there, lock them," he said, his tone sharp and irritable to conceal just how much he loathed this.

Concentrating, Black sealed the heavy manacles and then watched as Snape methodically tested each one.

Discovering he was under surveillance, Snape raised his eyebrows. "Satisfied? You should be. This must be a dream come true for you." While his expression was schooled to one of chilly disdain, his body language betrayed his true feelings.

Experiencing more empathy than he wanted, Black scowled. "Not as much as you might think. From the thickness of those links and cuffs they can't have been intended for anything human. Uh. Sorry," he added, when he received a sardonic look. "But they won't hold you when - if - you transform."

"They will if you add a Specific Shrinking Charm to the ward so that it will activate the moment contact with my skin is reduced. Can you do that?"

"I think so."

"Be certain or we'll need to think of some other means of restraining me. There isn't any room for error."

"Don't lecture me. I'm not one of your poor bloody students," retorted Black.

"No, I expect more of them. Can you do it?"

"It won't be elegant, but yes, I can. I've learnt a lot from working with March - Charms have always been one of my strengths. There must be some test for Lycanthropy we can do. Surely you could do it if I put wards on the door of your laboratory, or if you used your classroom?"

"You think I haven't considered that? It's too dangerous. You saw how fast Remus transformed."

Black shivered. "What about Poppy? Can she do the test?"

"Probably. Unfortunately, everyone has probably already left Hogwarts for a short holiday until Remus is back with us. Albus is with the Ministry and Freyja Hooch is still in Norway. Something about Hagrid and a Ridgeback. Ceres and March might be back before Remus transforms to carry on the work of strengthening the wards around the castle. Not that I'd let either of them anywhere near a cauldron. If they do come back don't tell them what's happened - until you need to. They can't do anything useful and their solicitude would drive me mad."

"Lucky you've only got me then," said Black, before he remembered why they were in this predicament. "This is my fault," he recognised dully. "All this is my fault."

Snape gave him a tired look. "Just worked that out, have you? Congratulations, you've finally got your wish after all these years."

"That's a foul thing to say! I've never - ! Well, only for... I didn't think back then."

"And so much has changed. Just get me a bucket."

"What do you want a bucket for?"

"To piss in, what else?" said Snape crudely.

"Oh. Right," said Black, deflated.

"Sirius." Snape slowly inhaled. "If I do escape - kill me."

Black stared at him in disbelief, colour draining from his face when he realised Snape meant it. "I can't do that!"

"Learn fast."

"I mean, I know how but... I won't. I couldn't!"

Snape gave an unsteady sigh. "I forgot Azkaban. Albus would never give you up to the Dementors. There's no one to care if you killed me," he added matter of factly.

About to explode, Black fell silent, chilled to his core when he realised Snape believed that. "You're an emotional cretin," he said brutally. " I admit I could cheerfully strangle you most days but I am not about to murder you in cold or any other blood. Clear?"

"Don't!" said Snape, managing to evade the hands reaching out to shake some sense into him.

Stilling, Black stared down at him, calm now. "If I could change things - this - I would."

Snape just looked up at him. Little by little the muscles of his face began to relax. "I know," he said at last, sounding as if he was having teeth pulled.

"Can I ask you something?" said Black abruptly.

"You can ask." Snape's tone wasn't encouraging.

"That bag of money Remus was holding earlier. He wasn't paying you. We've been living off your charity all these months, haven't we?"

Snape stared up at him in disbelief. "What?"

"We're your pensioners. Charity cases."

Burying his head in his hands, Snape gave a moan of sheer frustration. "Only you would worry about that at a time like this! Who the fuck cares? It's money. I have so much I'll never miss it, so don't waste your time trying to give me any credit - or imagine some masterly plot. I won't be blackmailing you for your body at any later stage - I don't need to, I've already had you. And once was enough." He cocked his head as Black took an impetuous step forward. "You should find it even easier to hit me now I'm in restraints. You want to fight, I'll be happy to oblige you. But not over something so...trivial. Just go away."

"I can't leave you alone."

Snape looked up then, an expression Black wasn't sure how to interpret in his eyes. "You'd rather stay and bond with me? That's what I thought. Go and sit with Remus."

"I'll be back to check on you," Black said gruffly. "It'll be all right, Severus."

The corners of Snape's mouth turned down in a derisive smile. "Of course it will," he said sardonically.

Self-conscious under Snape's hyper-critical eye Black created the necessary wards around each manacle.

"That's done," he said flatly as it finally sunk in that his lover might have transformed Snape into a werewolf. Whether he had or hadn't there was no way Dumbledore could let them stay at Hogwarts after this. Snape had been right all along. "Why didn't you use Stupefy on Remus?" he asked as the thought occurred to him.

Snape grimaced. "Because I never thought of it. Though I'm not sure it would work on a werewolf."

"I'll have to get Remus' permission to find out," said Black, trying not to panic about where they would go when they left Hogwarts. There were so few places where he would be in a position to protect his lover. Where they wouldn't be spotted, captured and where he would be prepared for the Dementor's Kiss while Remus... What would become of Remus?

"Do you still smoke those revolting clove cheroots?" asked Snape abruptly.

His mind elsewhere, Black gave a dispirited nod.

"Leave me a couple of packets and some matches."

Black set about summoning various items: a bucket, two blankets, cheroots, matches, and a tray with a pot of the strong black tea Snape favoured.

"The pot and packet of cheroots will both keep refilling," said Black, hovering. "Do you want any alcohol?"

"No. When... I'd rather be sober."

"It will be all right. It has to be," Black added feverishly. "It would kill Remus to know he'd transformed anyone. And he likes you."

"He always was a fool," said Snape without emotion.

He winced when the heavy door to his cell thudded shut and the lights blinked out. Weighted down by rusty chains, he sat in the dark listening to the terrible sounds coming from the dungeon next door, waiting for his worst nightmare to come true.


Losing two and three hour stretches of time in exhausted, troubled sleep, Black stumbled through the next three days and nights. Because his every overture was rejected he spent less and less time with Snape, who made it clear that the last thing he wanted was company. Snape was unable to use the Beardbegone Charm and his appearance went from the sinister to the frankly scary, his heavy black stubble accentuating his pallor and increasingly haggard appearance. He had yet to eat anything, existing on black tea and honey and far too many cheroots. He had retreated so deep into himself that sometimes he seemed not to notice when he did have company, his hollowed, haunted eyes staring at something only he could see.


Having spent three of the most intoxicating - and educational - days of her life at the House of Mirth, Hermione almost floated up the drive to Hogwarts, oblivious to the indulgent Professors trailing in her wake. She could never remember feeling this relaxed, yet conversely buzzing with energy, while her mind seemed content just to file information rather than needing to process it.

Her silk domino trailing through the dew-damp grass where it dangled from her fingertips, she hummed a stanza of the complicated poem the Pilgrim of Love called Kristoph had composed in her honour. Not that she had ever thought of her breasts as alabaster doves before - or planned to again. It was probably all thanks to that corset she had bought from Harvey Nichols; even Snape had seemed to approve of it. Kristoph certainly had. Strange that some men saw only a bossy swot while others... Her nipples stiffened at the memory of his mouth on them.

Smiling, she ran up the steps of the castle and stood there waiting for Professors Sprout and Flitwick. She had never realised flirting was an art-form - sex, too. It was a pity there would be no one she could practice her new skills on until the autumn term.

"Oh, the energy of youth," puffed Flitwick, as they finally joined her.

"Thank you for taking me with you," Hermione said. "I had the most wonderful time."

"We could tell," said Flitwick, still dryly disapproving of the opportunities she had frittered away in most untypical fashion.

"You forget my dear, education can be found in many places - the wise remain open to it all," Professor Sprout told him.

Flitwick gave her a speaking look as they entered the castle.

"Oh, March, really. Don't you remember what it was like to be seventeen and meeting your first Pilgrim of Love?"

"Not really," he admitted sadly. "I'm getting old, Ceres."

"You're one hundred and twenty four, exactly two years younger than me - and I certainly don't consider myself old," Professor Sprout bridled.

"Breakfast, I think," said Flitwick quickly. "Will you join us, Miss Granger?" Conscious of his ruffled wife at his side, he gave Hermione a look of pleading, before his expression sharpened to one of concern as he looked beyond her.

"Sirius! You look terrible. What's happened?"

Stranded by the stairs down to the dungeon, Black looked as if he would rather be anywhere else. "Ah. You're back."

"And not before time by the look of you. Perhaps you would care to explain," said Professor Sprout.

Hermione was suddenly conscious of the power emanating from the plump little witch.

"Well, there was a bit of an accident in Snape's laboratory," began Black, looking as guilty as Ron when he was caught out in some misdemeanour.

Hermione left for the dungeons at a run the moment she understood what had happened, her full skirts and lace petticoats billowing out behind her.

There was only one other cell left to check in this area of the dungeons. Hermione stood outside, her palm flat against the solid, metal studded oak door as she struggled to control her breathing; corsets weren't conducive to physical exercise, unless it was just terror which had stolen away her ability to breathe. She was afraid to peep through the barred opening, afraid of what she might find. The werewolf in the adjoining cell had fallen quiet and the silence and the darkness were absolute: stiflingly so. Just the atmosphere for a nervy man living out what must be one of his worst nightmares - even for an ex-Death Eater.

Without further ado she opened the door and lit the cell with a flick of her wand.

Startled, Snape lurched to his feet in a jangle of colliding chain links, supporting himself with a hand against the wall as he squinted at the onslaught of light.

Seeing those chains and the way he had to brace himself against their weight, Hermione's only thought was to get rid of them as she headed across the cell.

"Who - ? I should have guessed. Stay there!" Snape commanded hoarsely.

After six years the habit was so ingrained that Hermione obeyed him without question, then scowled as she battened down the various emotions struggling to escape her control.

"You obviously know what has happened or you wouldn't be here poking your nose where it isn't wanted," Snape added unpleasantly. "Spare me any maudlin protestations and go away."

"It's such a comfort to know how consistently you manage to be a bastard," she said, her pulse still racing with the relief of finding him unharmed. "There's never any danger of receiving any taffeta phrases from you, is there. It won't have occurred to you that I'm just here for the pleasure of seeing you where you belong - in a cell. The chains are an unexpected bonus."

For a split second his expression betrayed him before he shrugged. "What a pity it isn't term time. You could make a fortune selling tickets."

She could have withstood his anger but had no defence against his unquestioning acceptance that she had meant what she had said. But she could still see the flash of hurt before he had regained control of his expression. The reminder of his emotional vulnerability while he looked so ill left her fighting every protective instinct. They were wasted on Snape; try and smother him with affection and he'd chop you off at the knees.

"The thought had occurred to me. You look terrible," she added frankly. "And it has to be said, you smell appalling."

Her cut glass voice was like a cleansing breeze, spectres fading to nothingness in the face of her brisk common sense. It occurred to Snape that its value was greatly under-rated, although it didn't stop him from glaring at her.

"The potion became corrupted and exploded. I got covered in the fall-out. What you can smell is three-day-old potion," he told her coldly, although much of the effect was lost when he sneezed several times in quick succession. He was forced to wipe his nose on the back of his hand before sniffing a couple of times.

"Not all of it. Allergy or common cold?" she added without seeming interest. Lacking a handkerchief, she ripped off a portion of one of her voluminous petticoats and used her wand to hand it to him.

"It's the potion," he said, miffed. He had no intention of accepting sympathy but a token show of concern wouldn't have gone amiss. "I can't smell anything."

"Consider yourself lucky."

Forced to make vigorous use of the makeshift handkerchief after another sneezing fit, Snape made no reply except to reseat himself, giving an unconscious sigh of relief when much of the weight of the chains was removed from his cramping shoulder muscles.

Remaining in the shadows until she was certain her expression wouldn't betray her, Hermione took in the blood crusted over his right eye and the raw patches on portions of his face and hands. The rest of his skin was stained purple, something thick and foul-smelling clumping his hair together. Three days growth of beard did nothing to improve his looks.

A rasping howl echoed up the corridor, making Snape flinch, his bloodshot eyes widening, before he thought to control the reaction. Hermione tried not to wonder what the seventy two hours he had spent here must have been like. Wishing fiercely she had the right to comfort him, she moved into the light.

"Right," she said briskly, having to raise her voice against the increased noise coming from the werewolf, "time to make this place more comfortable given that we're going to be stuck here for another twenty four hours.

"We?" he said with hauteur. "You're not staying here."

"Really? I'll be interested to see how you're going to get rid of me. Mr Black said you made him take away your wand. And that you're not using wandless magic for obvious reasons. Given that you haven't eaten or slept since you've been here I can't see you managing much by this stage anyway. Only a masochist would rather stay in a dark, dank hole when he could have comfort, light and warmth. And a bath."

"Will you stop harping on about how much I smell?" he requested coldly. He eyed her small grin of satisfaction without pleasure. "You forget to whom you're talking," he added.

"I wish," said Hermione with feeling. "Now be quiet, I need to concentrate."

Snape opened his mouth to savage her.

Having taken in the horrors of the cell, Hermione's eyes were over-bright as she met his inimical gaze. "I know you think I'm an interfering busybody but I can't bear the thought of you - anyone - spending another second here. Let me do something about this...this hell-hole. Please. I can't bear it," she added in a whisper, faux sophistication falling away under the weight of her distress on his behalf.

"It's fine," he said absently, irritable with the time it was taking him to work anything out. He'd thought her earlier remarks were merely a bluff. She was getting better at the off-the-cuff riposte - for a Gryffindor.

"No. It isn't," she insisted.

"Don't worry about it," he dismissed, distracted by the finer points of her appearance, which were threatening to escape from the top of her bodice.

The evening dress was undoubtedly new - Gladrags Wizardwear in Hogsmeade High Street had a Parisian branch - but he was willing to swear he knew what she was wearing beneath it. Her breasts were pushed deliciously high and her waist was nipped in, the shot silk of her dress shimmering in the light every time she so much as breathed. She had learnt a new way to decorate her eyes that turned them to gold. Studying the sleek perfection of her glossy hair it was difficult to recall the bushy-haired know-it-all of his classroom.

He was aware of a fierce surge of envy for the undeserving recipient of her attentions. Light-headed from a lack of food and sleep, he tried not to stare.

"Mr Black's an idiot for leaving you in this place," said Hermione, her voice beginning to fail her.

That gained Snape's full attention. "You're not going to start snivelling, are you?" he inquired, looking pained.

Her back straightened. "I don't have an allergy."

"I'm glad to hear it. Are any of the staff back yet?" Snape fished for the now soggy handkerchief, while admitting it was preferable to using his sleeve.

Hermione ripped off another portion of her petticoat and gave it to him. "Professors Sprout and Flitwick - they took me to the House of Mirth."

"Ah," he said, understanding more than he was comfortable with. "Would you ask them to have a word with me? Now," he added, when she didn't move.

"I'm not leaving you here alone."

"I won't be alone once you fetch them." Despite himself he responded to the hurt in her eyes, although it didn't change his determination to get her out of harm's way when...if...anything happened. "I'm considering letting you prepare a potion for me."

"Me?" She stared at him in disbelief.

"Well, I can't do it and until Remus returns to us nor can anyone else. It's fairly complicated but I think you're up to it, although it will require a considerable amount of your time..."

Five minutes later he had the satisfaction of seeing her go off to his dungeon classroom to prepare an innocuous but complicated potion that would remove the purple staining from his skin. And with the instructions he had given her it should keep her busy well into the evening.

Having arrived several minutes ago, Professor Sprout eyed him thoughtfully.

"Not a word," Snape warned her, interpreting her expression without much difficulty.

"As if," she said. "Now let's make this wretched cell more comfortable."

Snape glanced at Flitwick, who shrugged. "Never try to fight the nesting instinct. Besides, you smell worse than Hagrid's dog."

Snape gave an offended huff and fell silent, although his expression spoke volumes.

Smelling only of soap and shampoo, Snape donned a clean robe and ate the food bought for him without too much argument. Ignoring his muttered complaints, Professor Sprout performed some basic first aid and the Beardbegone Charm, which had the advantage of making him appear more approachable even if it did nothing to sweeten his temper.

"Now we're all more comfortable you'll enjoy hearing about Rakoczi's lecture," Flitwick squeaked.

Snape looked blank and it occurred to Flitwick how long ago that must seem to the younger man. He persevered and had the satisfaction of knowing he had engaged Snape's mind as the day headed towards evening.

Exhaustion meant that Snape was prone to falling asleep mid-sentence, only to start awake minutes later, the unspoken fear in his eyes saying what he would not. It was a mark of just how tired he was that he failed to notice Hermione sitting on the floor, her back to the door jamb of the cell, where she had been for several hours.

"It's almost dawn," noted Professor Sprout, smudges of fatigue under her eyes.

"Go to bed," Snape said roughly.

Professor Sprout's trenchant reply made Hermione blink in astonishment, although Snape gave his first genuine grin for some days.

Black gave Hermione a look of puzzlement as he stepped over her to enter the cell but he was too preoccupied to comment. "Remus is transforming," he announced tiredly. "As soon as he's able I'll get to him make the potion, though I may have to help him. He's rarely very steady for the first few hours."

"That reassures me," said Snape, fighting not to fidget as tension screamed through him.

"Where should we work?"

Snape tried to concentrate, something which was becoming increasingly difficult as his lack of sleep caught up with him. "You'll need to use my laboratory. The workshop off my classroom doesn't have everything he'll need. Get Miss Granger to help you," he added, as he noticed her for the first time. "Don't forget to clean the room before you step over the threshold - the house elves know better than to go in there without my express permission - there might be werewolf saliva splattered around. Don't break anything."

"We won't," said Hermione.

"It didn't occur to me that you might," said Snape. "You did well with that stain-removing potion."

"Particularly as you didn't need it," said Hermione without resentment. She got to her feet. "I'll start the cleaning so Mr Black can stay with Professor Lupin." She had changed into a simple dress in a shade of green which couldn't be said to flatter her.

"No. There's not that much hurry. Wait for the others," Snape said.

"But - "

"It wasn't a request, Miss Granger. Talented you may be, a student you remain. Wait for the others."

"It would have been quicker to tell her you were worried she might come to harm," murmured Professor Sprout as Hermione scowled at Snape to hide her hurt before leaving the cell.

"I might yet transform but I haven't lost my mind," he retorted, noting that his sense of smell seemed to be improving.

The next two hours dragged, the lines around Snape's eyes and mouth deepening as the minutes ticked by.

There was a noise outside the cell and he got to his feet, propping himself against the wall to withstand the weight of the chains as Lupin walked in, Black and Hermione behind him. Black held the tray on which sat Snape's wand, a container holding three phials of dark brown liquid, a pipette, a silver knife and another phial of dark green liquid.

"I'm sorry you've had to wait so long," said Lupin in his quiet voice. "It would have been even longer without Miss Granger's assistance. Here." He walked up to Snape's side, crouched down and offered him the tray.

The use of the silver knife was the first test - the smallest particle of silver could enter the bloodstream, and so the heart of a werewolf, although given the quality of workmanship the gesture was more symbolic.

His gaze on Lupin's face rather than what he was doing Snape picked up the knife and passed the palm of his right hand across the blade. Lupin wasted no time in collecting the blood on the tip of his wand, depositing a measured amount in the first phial before meticulously adding two drops of the dark green potion, which began to smoke as it made contact. The original brown liquid in the phial turned a rich shade of orange.

Snape closed his eyes, his head bowing until his unbound hair curtained his face from view.

"Yes!" exclaimed Black.

Lupin's hands shook so much that he had to ask Hermione to complete the next two tests.

The second and third test confirmed the first.

"Professor Snape was not infected," said Hermione, enunciating as clearly as she knew how while fighting not to cry or hug him or do any of the other things he would hate.

His heart in his eyes as he stared at Snape's bowed head, Lupin's mouth moved but speech seemed beyond him. Little by little his controls collapsed, his face crumpling, and he began to weep from sheer relief. It was impossible to make sense of what he was saying.

Black gathered him in a fierce embrace, swinging him away to give him privacy.

Broken phrases escaped Lupin as he wept out his relief and joy and there was a hubbub of noise as Hermione and Professors Sprout and Flitwick clustered around to hug and exclaim and celebrate the fact he hadn't condemned anyone else to the hell he occupied.

It was some time before Snape was in any condition to notice anything. Stirring, he reluctantly faced the world again, looking up dry-eyed in time to see Dumbledore enter the cell, open anxiety on his face. He was immediately drawn into the circle of laughing friends, hugging and kissing one another.

Snape sat silent and forgotten on the sidelines, the expression in his eyes growing bleaker by the second. It was interesting how so little changed over the years. Sometimes, in weaker moments, he thought it might be nice to be proved wrong occasionally.

Picking up his wand, he unfastened the manacles at his wrists and ankle and unnoticed by those celebrating left the cell.


Thanks to the three people who wrote to me about Hungarian names and to Monique for the information on werewolves.