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 16

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


Snape was less than thrilled to find himself dry-humping the mattress like a randy fifteen year old; his temper wasn't improved when he realised who had been fuelling his pre-waking fantasy. While it was an undoubted improvement on his usual line in dreams, he had yet to recover from the humiliation of lusting over a pupil when he went down to breakfast. Entertaining as his discussions with Miss Granger were it was time to draw back before he crossed that invisible line, he decided, brisk so he wouldn't have to think beyond that yet.

"There you are!" said Black, a broad gesture almost sending Madam Pomfrey's glass of apricot juice flying.

"So it would seem. What do you want?" Snape added, braced for insult.

"I've been reading those books you suggested and I can't reconcile what Funicula Nettlesting says about the use of lacewings with the commentary in - "

"Later," said Snape, sinking on the first free chair and reaching for the teapot which appeared in front of him, the contents already stewed and half-cold.

"But - "

"You'll get more sense out of him once he's had his first cup of tea. Or three," added Lupin realistically.

Snape glanced up just as Hermione leant forward, unconsciously offering the most delicious view of her breasts - way past the freckles, he noted. Overly aware of his erection, he drew closer to the table and wondered why he had been stupid enough to choose the empty chair beside hers.

It occurred to him that there was something to be said for impotence - apart from the obvious swearing and moaning about malign fate.

Having helped herself to some raspberries, Hermione licked the tart sweetness from the corner of her mouth and gave a friendly smile when she saw Snape looking in her direction. There was something endearing about discovering he wasn't an early morning person. Of course, there were those who would claim he wasn't a day, evening or night person either.

His elbows on the table, his hand wrapped around the large cup, Snape slowly drank his first cup of tea, glaring when he noticed the beams Professors Sprout and Flitwick were sending his way as they seated themselves opposite him.

"Better?" asked Professor McGonagall, who was a morning, noon and night person and who, after twenty six years as Head of Gryffindor, missed very little of what went on around her.

"Than what?" asked Snape disagreeably.

"There's an obvious answer to that," said Black.

"Which you're not going to make because we're all trying to behave like adults," said Lupin pointedly.

"Something which will be more of a struggle for some of us than others," said Madam Hooch, an amused glint in her eyes as she fanned the flames.

"Freyja, behave," said Professor McGonagall, quenching a grin. "So, about this smelling business," she added briskly. "Tell us the worst Severus."

Snape forgot his sense of humiliation to glare at Hermione.

"Um," said Lupin apologetically.

Snape redirected his glare.

Lupin shrugged. "I was simply discussing the various ways we have of processing sensory information. Your primary source of identification is associated with food and drink, mine is emotions while Sirius has no such distractions."

"My sense of smell is poor," said Professor McGonagall, as she neatly removed a tiny bone from her kipper. "Miss Granger's is vastly superior to mine and like yours is geared to food or plants. Unlike you, her ability only seems to manifest itself when she's in close proximity to people. So, what do we all smell of, Severus? If it's something disgusting, lie."

"No one smells disgusting - except too many teenage boys in a confined space." Snape added cream and brown sugar to his porridge but his enjoyment of the dish was marred by discovering his every mouthful was under surveillance. He set down his spoon with a clink of annoyance.

"For pity's sake! You're like children, only even more irritating because none of you are likely to grow out of it. Minerva - apple brandy, a good brand. Sirius - lime peel. Remus - Earl Grey tea. Poppy - buttered toast. Ceres - Christmas pudding. March - elderberries. Freyja - peaches and ginger. Now, if there's nothing else, I'd like to eat my breakfast in peace."

Of the view that the various associations revealed more about Snape's feelings for the individuals concerned - particularly the female members of staff - than he would be comfortable realising, Hermione decided not to comment on them.

"What do Harry and Ron smell of?" she asked, pursuing another train of thought.

"So much for peace," muttered Snape. "Potter of unripe gooseberries, Weasley of basil and cranberries."

"Did Fred and George smell the same to you?" pursued Hermione.

Snape's murderous look faded to resignation when he recognised the intent expression of the dedicated seeker after truth. If this summer had taught him nothing else he had learned it was quicker just to surrender to the Granger-Thirst-For-Knowledge. He was obviously paying the price for ignoring all her arm-waving in the classroom.

"All the Weasley males have a trace of basil in their scent. That aside, the twins smelt very different. Which is why I had no trouble telling them apart, much to their chagrin."

"They only fooled me once," said Professor McGonagall, a reminiscent edge to her voice before she smiled at Hermione with a familiar warmth and approval.

The change had been gradual but Hermione had been thankful to realise she had been forgiven for what some members of staff had taken as a personal criticism of their teaching methods.

"I suppose there's no chance...?" she asked hopefully. It wasn't often anyone had got the better of the twins.

"I'm afraid not," said Professor McGonagall, with what looked like regret.

"Any more than you would tell us about your activities," said Madam Hooch.

"Oh, I think we know about most of them," said Snape in his silkiest voice.

Hermione ventured a glance in his direction, saw the amusement in his eyes and said, "I was sorry about stealing from your stock cupboard."

"Before or after your weeks in the hospital wing?" he returned, but without any real bite.

About to reply, Hermione paused. "You're trying to distract me from your sense of smell," she realised, looking outraged by such deviousness.

"And it was working," he said wryly. He used to be better at this. "What else do you want to know?" he added with resignation.

"As Professor McGonagall said, I need to be really close to someone to smell them. For instance, I can't smell you even though I'm sitting next to you. How close to people do you have to get? Oh. Is that why you're always looming over us in Potions?"

There was an abrupt silence around the table before muffled explosions of amusement could be heard. Still as a cat at a mouse-hole Snape stared at her, dark eyes unblinking, mouth thinned and unsmiling.

Hermione rushed back into speech. "I didn't mean to suggest you're some kind of pervert who goes round sniffing his students..." Her brain catching up with her errant tongue, she ground to a halt.

Black laughed so hard she thought he would be sick, Professor McGonagall got hiccups, Madam Pomfrey was crying and Flitwick toppled off his chair.

"Sorry," muttered Hermione unhappily, staring at Snape's second shirt button.

"Think nothing of it, Miss Granger," he said blandly. "I've received many insults over the years but this is a first. Note the heart-warming response of my supposed colleagues." Reaching into a pocket, he handed Dumbledore a clean handkerchief. "'A despairing man should have the devotion of his friends.'"

Wiping the smears from his spectacles, it occurred to Dumbledore that a year ago Severus would have savaged them verbally before stalking off to his chambers to sulk for a week. Now... Now he looked as if it had required all his training not to betray his amusement. Patting him on the arm, Dumbledore steered the conversation to the ability of animagi to process the input from the heightened senses of their animal forms, enabling Snape to eat the rest of his breakfast in peace.

The owlpost arrived when everyone had reached the toast stage. Post was always heavy on Mondays and there was a positive cascade of items, the air ghosting with the eerie silence of owl wings. Far from being cut off from the wizarding world at Hogwarts the professors maintained extensive correspondence with specialists in their fields all over the world; Hermione's was by far the smallest post.

The inevitable cup of tea in one hand, Snape was flipping through parchments, periodicals and parcels, only to pause, his eyebrows rising when he came to a red envelope.

"Well, that's a first," said Madam Hooch, looking up from a catalogue of broomstick accessories. "Some irate parent has finally sent you a Howler."

"Very possibly. But who - and why have they waited so long?" Twirling the envelope in his long fingers Snape looked faintly amused.

There was a gentle cough to his left.

"Why am I not surprised," sighed Snape, looking at Dumbledore with resignation. "You told Molly."

"Given what you proposed, it would be difficult to keep her in the dark. She didn't seem too pleased," Dumbledore added pensively. "Still, if you wait to open it until you're in your chambers most of what she has to say should remain private."

"I like an optimist," murmured Snape. "You had to tell her it was my idea?"

"Credit where credit's due. It was you or me," added Dumbledore, his eyes twinkling.

"Then you should share this," said Snape, slitting open the envelope.

The wrath of Molly Weasley reverberated around the Great Hall. It quickly became clear that she hadn't taken kindly to the suggestion she leave the house she had occupied all her married life, let alone that she should become a teacher whose salary was paid for by Severus Snape. She had taken the news of Charlie's jaunt to Albania even less well. Wincing under the onslaught, Snape gathered that Molly had no intention of living anywhere but her own home, or of teaching.

As the Howler came to an end Professor Sprout gave an affectionate smile. "Only Molly could ruin the effect of a good Howler by hoping you weren't still looking peaky. I must say, you do look better than you did at the start of the summer."

"Not difficult," sniffed Professor McGonagall. "I've seen dead fish who looked healthier."

"I think I've lost my hearing in one ear," complained Black. "Remus, are you still eating?"

"I'm hungry," said Lupin, placidly dabbing mustard on a piece of sausage. He gave Professor Sprout a shrewd look. "You and March are looking very pleased with yourselves this morning."

"That's because we are," said Flitwick in his fluting voice, levitating off the raised seat of his chair in his excitement. "It's always gratifying when hard work bears fruit but - Ceres, you should be the one to tell him."

"Not at all, March. If it hadn't been for your - "

"Tell who?" Dumbledore asked gently.

"Why, Severus, of course," said Professor Sprout comfortably. "You mentioned Hermione's idea about Severus taking Voldemort a gift. Something highly prized, yet nothing which could be used against us. Something that will demonstrate the regard in which Severus supposedly holds him."

"Is there any chance of you getting to the point in the foreseeable future?" asked Snape.

"Even Voldemort wouldn't find it easy to get a Centennial Lily. I managed to coax one of the seeds to germinate. With a little nurturing it's coming on splendidly, thanks to the Accelerated Growth Charm March has perfected."

There was a chorus of congratulation; this was a charm Flitwick had been working on for some years. Having undertaken some intensive research about the Centennial Lily in his quest for the seed, Snape knew enough to be able to make an educated guess about how many hours they must have spent working on this.

"The lily was intended for you," he said, wondering if he had failed to make that sufficiently clear.

"As if any flower, no matter how rare or precious to Ceres, could compare to your well-being. You always were a foolish boy," chided Flitwick

At a loss how to respond to the open affection in his voice, Snape scowled and muttered his thanks. He glanced up as a chair scraped back, Hermione jumping up to kiss first Professor Sprout, then Flitwick, on the cheek, murmuring something to them he couldn't hear before resuming her seat, her eyes glowing with pleasure.

"Thank you, my dears," said Dumbledore. "Hermione and I have been worrying about what gift Severus could make."

Snape shot him a look of surprise and tried not to bristle at the idea of anyone worrying about him, while feeling absurdly gratified. These holidays had rotted his brain.

"Pish," dismissed Professor Sprout, but she looked so pleased and so happy that Snape felt ashamed of his failure to make the ungrudging response which came so easily to others.

"Of course," she continued, giving him a mischievous look from across the table, "if you really feel under an obligation to me there is a small task you could perform."

Knowing that tone of old, Snape looked resigned. "I'm not going to like it, am I?"

"You never have yet," she admitted cheerfully.

He groaned. "Not harvesting the water lilies?"

"There now. You remembered."

"It would be hard to forget. Last year a Grindylow took a lump out of my side. Tell me what you need," he added.

"Thank you. At least the water will be warmer this year."

Snape grimaced. "Which means that bloody squid will be livelier than ever. You know it always - " Remembering Hermione's presence beside him, he stopped abruptly.

"Gropes you," completely Professor Sprout, beaming. "It's just being playful."

"A squid's about the best you could hope for," added Black.

Snape gave him a considering look but opted to keep the moral high ground and remain silent. He rubbed salt in the wound by then referring back to the query Black had raised about lacewings. He was amused to note that while Lupin took that at face value, Black knew exactly what he was doing. So, he was disconcerted to realise, did Hermione. Maybe there was hope for Gryffindors yet. But he was obviously losing his touch.


"Madam Hooch, I wonder if I might have a word?" asked Hermione, nervous because this was the teacher she knew least and who seemed to disapprove of her the most.

"Certainly. What do you want?" asked Madam Hooch, in her usual direct manner.

Hermione willed herself not to fidget under that unblinking stare. "It occurred to me that while everyone is training to hone their skills... I've never been good at flying."

"No," agreed Madam Hooch, with a faint, reminiscent grin. "Although I can't fault your perseverance. You'd like a refresher course?"

"Failing a miracle," nodded Hermione, grateful it had been made so easy for her.

"There's no time like the present. I'm always glad of an excuse to get my leg over a broomstick."

Hermione blinked, checked Madam Hooch's bland expression and assumed she must have misheard.

Dismounting, Hermione staggered, righted herself and caught hold of the nearest support, which happened to be Madam Hooch's arm.

"No one's ever going to accuse me of being a natural, are they," she mumbled, feeling too air-sick to care how much she had humiliated herself.

"Not in my hearing. And I'm not convinced practice is going to make any difference," Madam Hooch said frankly. "Let's get you inside. Would you like some advice?"

"Only if it contains the words 'you need never get on a broomstick again'," said Hermione with a wan smile.

"Miss Granger, your wish has come true. Seriously, you could kill yourself. Or me. Or anyone watching you. I thought you were going to crash into Serpens Tower at one point. No, stick to the ground. Given your application, if you haven't mastered the basics by now you never will. Don't look so downcast. There isn't a wizard alive who's good at everything."

"In that case I'm never going to look at a broomstick again," said Hermione with obvious relief. "Thank you - not least for being so patient."

"I admire guts," said Madam Hooch, steering her into the main hall. "Both in the air, and on the ground. I believe I misjudged your motives and I'm sorry for it. What can I do?"

Uncertain of Madam Hooch's academic abilities, Hermione thought quickly. "I've been wondering about Voldemort's attacks on Muggle and Wizarding families. Whether some of those might be him getting his revenge - or some other motive - on old classmates."

"Book work," sighed Madam Hooch. "No doubt it will be character building. Leave it with me. And I'll have a word with Albus to see if he'll let me start you on Apparation. You're level-headed, physically mature, strong. We'll see. Ah, here comes Poppy to ensure I haven't bruised her ewe lamb."

"Nonsense, Freyja. Although I confess there was a moment when I feared she was about to crash through a window of Serpens Tower. Here, take this, my dear. It will soon settle your stomach," Madam Pomfrey said to Hermione as she steered her into the Great Hall and on to a chair.

"Too late," said Madam Hooch cheerfully. "She lost that somewhere over the Forbidden Forest."

The potion was cool, smooth and with just a hint of ginger. Hermione began to feel better almost immediately. "Is this a new recipe for Antiquease? Only it tastes much better than I remember."

"You really like it?" asked Madam Pomfrey, looking faintly anxious.

"Yes. And you were right. My stomach is settling down already. You made this!" Hermione recognised, giving the older woman a quick hug. "I knew you would be able to brew potions. You must be thrilled to bits."

"I can't tell you. I was so nervous I almost made an excuse not to work with Severus today," Madam Pomfrey confessed

"What changed your mind?"

"Severus. He seemed to think it was his teaching reputation which was putting me off."

"So naturally you had to prove him wrong," said Madam Hooch. "You really must have been nervous not to spot that old chestnut. He played you like a fish on a line."

"That's what he told me - afterwards," admitted Madam Pomfrey ruefully, before she beamed at the empty glass which had contained the Antiquease. "I know it's one of the simplest potions around but that's the first really good potion I've made since my Pupillage over fifty years ago. Poor Severus. I was so excited, I kissed him."

Madam Hooch chuckled and gave the older woman a quick kiss on the cheek. "Well done. Will you be brewing again tonight?"

Her eyes sparkling, Madam Pomfrey shook her head. "Severus threatened me with bodily harm if I didn't go away and leave him in peace until tomorrow. I admit, I hadn't appreciated how many hours we'd been working. He started me off with cough mixtures - the Ticklebegone and Hackitup. Cleaning the snails is such tedious work that I suppose I forgot to worry."

"I don't think I know the Ticklebegone," said Hermione, frowning.

"It couldn't be simpler. In fact it's not a real potion. You place clean, live snails with equal quantities of moist brown sugar and suspend in a muslin bag for twenty four hours, letting the ensuing juice drip into a container. And there you have it," shrugged Madam Pomfrey. "I made a years' supply. Tomorrow Severus said I could try the Easiheal and perhaps the Pepper-Up if all goes well."

"We should celebrate," said Hermione. "The headmaster said he wants us to relax as well as work during this extra time. May I take you to Hogsmeade tonight?"

"Thank you, my dear. I should like that. Although don't let me over-indulge on the sloe gin. I don't want a hangover tomorrow morning. Severus hasn't mellowed that much," Madam Pomfrey added, her eyes twinkling.

"Speak of the devil," said Madam Hooch. "Severus! It's no good trying to head in the other direction, we've seen you now."

"Just so." Coming over to join them Snape gave Madam Pomfrey a wary look.

"Hermione confirms the efficacy of the Antiquease," she said proudly.

"My judgement being suspect in such matters," said Snape, but Hermione noted that he looked quietly pleased with himself. "You did well today. As I expected."

"All due to you, of course," teased Madam Hooch.

"Did you doubt it? How did you enjoy your flying lesson, Miss Granger?"

She eyed him with resignation. "You saw me?"

"We all saw you. Though the screaming alerted us." He had the ruined potion to prove it.

She shook her head. "I might have known you'd kick a person when they're down."

"One would have thought," he agreed, only the gleam in his eyes betraying him.

"Madam Hooch is going to ask the headmaster if I can learn to Apparate."

Snape glanced at Madam Hooch, one eyebrow raised. "Rather you than me."

"Just because I can't fly - " began Hermione hotly.

Madam Pomfrey patted her on the arm. "Hush. Don't let Severus provoke you. Minerva's never learnt not to rise to his baiting about Quidditch."

Hermione looked chagrined. "I should have spotted you at it," she said moodily.

"So one would have thought. But Gryffindor simplicity stands little chance against Slytherin guile," said Snape, his expression bland as milk.

"Which is just a polite way of calling Gryffindors stupid," said Hermione, prickling with irritation.

"Severus, stop teasing. No Gryffindor worthy of the name could refuse the bait, so where's the sport? Don't look to us for support, Miss Granger," added Madam Hooch, smiling. "Poppy and I are Hufflepuffs."

"Which reminds me," said Snape. "Albus was asking after you. Something about the new girls' dormitory in Hufflepuff."

"I'll go to him now," said Madam Hooch. With a mischievous grin she held out one hand, summoned her broomstick and flew up towards the ceiling in a dizzying series of loops.

"That's forbidden," said Hermione with a disapproval that was tinged with envy. "She's a fantastic flyer."

"Yes," agreed Snape. "She was offered a place on the England reserve team but chose to work at Hogwarts instead."

"Most people would kill for an offer like that," said Hermione, thinking of Harry's rarely spoken of ambition to play for England.

"Most people don't have Albus Dumbledore asking them to do him a favour," said Snape dryly before he looked thoughtfully up the main staircase. " It's years since I've flown the corridors."

"You flew in the corridors?" said Hermione incredulously.

"I'm not that decrepit," snapped Snape.

"I can see that for myself. I meant... Never mind," said Hermione, seeing dangerous waters ahead.

"Probably as well," said Snape, under no illusions.

"Absolutely," said Madam Pomfrey with decision. "I hope you're not planning to work all night again," she added, studying Snape's face with a professional eye.

He gave her a sour look. "Thanks to the ward Albus placed on the door of my laboratory - and the work room in the dungeons, no. Not brewing, anyway. He wants me to 'frivol' for a few hours each day."

Hermione grinned at the wealth of meaning with which Snape imbued the simple word. If only...

Glancing at Madam Pomfrey, she saw they had both had the same thought.

"I suppose flying the corridors would qualify," Madam Pomfrey said. "Would you object to a passenger? I've always longed to but I don't have the skill."

"Now?" said Snape, and for a moment Hermione glimpsed the boy he could have been in the man he was.

"Now," agreed Madam Pomfrey.

It took a little time for Snape to summon his broomstick and make the necessary adaptations for tandem flying and then they were off, leaving a disconsolate Hermione feeling ridiculously like Cinderella on the night of the ball - only without the Fairy Godmother. She would have liked to have seen Snape frivol - but on the ground.


Oblivious to the fact he had been working for six hours with barely a pause, Black was squinting with concentration, his hands shaking as he stirred the mixture in the copper cauldron, monitoring the minute changes in temperature required for this, the penultimate stage in the Skele-Gro Potion. He gave a sudden groan of despair.


But Snape was already at his side. "I smell it. Stand back. There's nothing to be done but let it go."

"I lost concentration," muttered Black, furious with himself and resentful of Snape's effortless expertise.

"Skele-Gro fools many a wizard by its deceptive ease. Given the short length of time you've been studying, you did well."

"Don't patronise me," snapped Black.

"Very well. You're a careless bastard who keeps his brains in his prick most of the time. Now can we get on?"

A Cooling Charm reduced the temperature of the ruined potion, a Containment Charm ensuring no fumes escaped as it was safely disposed of.

"I can't believe I screwed it up so close to - " Black began to pace in his frustration.

"Save the histrionics for later. First, clear the area, then start work on the Shrinking Solution. It's more efficacious if made in small batches - no more than four applications. Once bottled, it will require a Preserving Charm. Don't forget to date each batch."

Black was pacing up and down. "I must have been mad to think I could do this. A first year could do better."

"Well I've yet to meet one who could, but no doubt you know best." Snape handed him a parchment. "A suggested reading list. If you wish to discuss anything with me, do so."

Black twitched it from him with a grudging grunt of acknowledgement, hating the feeling of being in Snape's debt for the hours he was spending with him. Not that he seemed to be enjoying it much either.

"Why are you doing this?" he asked abruptly.

Snape looked up from the cauldron he was cleaning. "Despite all Ceres hard work no gift is going to keep me alive indefinitely. And Hogwarts needs a decent Potions master. Lupin can teach. You'll need to do the brewing."

"But what about the Wolfsbane?" asked Black.

Appreciating the other man's priorities, Snape gave a sardonic smile. "March is working with me to refine a Preserving Charm to enable it to last longer than twelve months before it begins to degrade. I'm going to begin brewing the new batch tonight."

They had been working long hours together for over a week now but this was the first time Black had really looked at the other man as anything but a source of information - and irritation. He belatedly recognised that for Snape the extra two weeks just meant fourteen extra sleepless nights until the Initiation Ceremony on the twenty fifth. Albus' insistence that they all spent a few hours 'frivolling' out of every twenty four made more sense in Snape's case - although what Snape did to relax didn't bear thinking about...

"Is there anything I can do to help?" he was appalled to hear himself ask.

Snape turned in obvious surprise.

"I meant what I said about that truce - even if I don't always remember it."

Snape shrugged. "There's a lot of tedious preparation work."

"I'll be here."

In the event, Snape ended up giving a virtual Master Class when everyone, with the exception of Madam Hooch and Professor Sprout, turned up. While Hermione and Black began to collect up the lengthy list of utensils and ingredients and Lupin wrote the potion ingredients on a board he had manufactured, Snape gave the background and development difficulties of the Wolfsbane, drawing in Madam Pomfrey and Lupin to discuss the medical side.

"Is Snape all right?" whispered Black, as they chopped giant leeches from Sumatra at a precise forty five degree angle. "He looks as if he's going to be sick."

"So would you if you were giving Albus Dumbledore a Potions lecture - not to mention others who've known you since you were eleven," returned Hermione. "Now be quiet, I don't want to miss any of this."

The first stage completed just after one in the morning, Snape looked heavy-eyed but quietly pleased with himself as he and Flitwick sat in a sea of parchments down in Snape's study, ignoring the food everyone kept trying to press on them in favour of their discussion.

"If it wasn't for Voldemort the Seventh years would be able to sit in on sessions like this," said Professor McGonagall crossly. "The compromises Severus has had to make. And their education is suffering because of it. I hear you went off to the House of Mirth with Poppy and Severus to listen to Miniver Cheeve the other night. What did you think of him?"

"Not a lot," said Hermione frankly. "In fact in some ways he reminded me of Gilderoy Lockhart. Madam Pomfrey wiped the floor with him. Politely, of course. Then Cheeve made the mistake of talking about the use of wands in potions-making."

"Oh, I wish I'd been there. I assume Severus didn't bother to be polite," said Professor McGonagall, amused.

"It was wonderful. If you weren't Cheeve, of course. But listening to him made me realise I need to do some more reading," Hermione added wryly.

"Severus has that effect on people. Mercy, look at the time. You should be in bed."

"I'm not that tired," said Hermione with truth. "I've learnt so much, heard so many discussions this last week that my brain's buzzing. It's only another week to the twenty fifth," she whispered, her gaze on Snape's bent head as he and Flitwick studied a faded text written in a mixture of Latin and one of the more obscure Goblin ancient languages. "I keep worrying about how many classmates..."

His hearing acute, Flitwick glanced up. "Why? Surely you've been told that Voldemort rarely picks anyone until their eighteenth birthday. He often waits far longer than that."

Hermione stared at him. "But on the twenty fifth there's no one from our year. I checked and I'm the oldest and my birthday's not until the nineteenth of September - although there's a whole rash of people after me. So it will be those who left last year," she said with relief.

"So no one you need worry about," said Snape, an unpleasant sneer on his face.

Dumbledore studied the pointed toes of his orange slippers and McGonagall sucked in her breath but made no attempt to intervene.

Flinching, Hermione didn't try to defend herself; there had been an uncomfortable amount of truth in that bitter statement. Her main concern was for her friends rather than former pupils, many of whom she hardly knew or who were faceless strangers. Except that for many of the staff they were far from faceless. While they had been careful not to discuss pupils in front of her - for obvious reasons - it was impossible not to be aware of how seriously they took their responsibilities towards them - all of them.

"I'm sorry," she said quietly. "I spoke without thinking."

"Something you should avoid making a habit of during term time," Snape said acidly.

"Yes," she conceded, prickles of humiliation stinging her face because she knew he was right.

"We all have to make adjustments for term time," said Professor Flitwick, giving Hermione a smile of such sweetness that it shored up her shaky confidence to the point where she felt able to ask a question which had been bothering her for some time.

"Professor Flitwick, do you know if Harry's spoken to Professor Sprout - about Cedric Diggory, I mean?"

"I know he hasn't," he said. "And - for obvious reasons - Ceres has been reluctant to approach him."

"As have we all," said Dumbledore. "Except Severus, and I over-ruled him."

Despite the gravity of what they were discussing Hermione gave a tired grin. "I didn't think anyone could do that."

"You'll have remembered that I'm sitting ten feet away?" said Snape idly, stretching out his long legs as he made himself more comfortable.

"Oh, yes," said Hermione, trying not to notice the close fit of those black trousers - the length of thigh and soft swelling of his genitals. He dressed to the centre right. Realising what she was doing in full view of half the staff - not to mention Snape himself - she slid her gaze to the table leg before slowly allowing herself to look up. To her relief, no one seemed to have noticed her previous preoccupation.

"Harry still thinks about Cedric?" asked Dumbledore.

Abruptly it was all too easy to concentrate on something apart from Snape. "He doesn't say so. But then he doesn't usually talk about the things that bother him the most. I think he still blames himself for Cedric's death."

Dumbledore glanced at Snape. "You were right."

"He's Lily's son," Snape shrugged. "And Potter always had an over-active conscience."

It was a moment before Hermione appreciated he was speaking about Harry's father - his classmate. Which made Snape, technically, old enough to be her father. Which was absurd.

Making her excuses a few minutes later Hermione went to bed, but it couldn't be said that she slept well.


'A despairing man should have the devotion of his friends.'

- Job 6:14

The recipe for the snail and sugar cough mixture is genuine - apparently it's an old Channel Islands remedy. Presumably very old . Afraid I can't cite the source as I lost my notebook containing the details and haven't been able to track them down again.