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Keep Your Enemy Close

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Keep Your Enemy Close

by Leni Jess

She had broken Harry's wand.

This had been anti-Christmas, not Christmas. While they were on this horrid camping trip Hermione had never expected anything like Christmas at Hogwarts, with her friends, and Dumbledore's manic good cheer, and the warm atmosphere and the holiday feast (even when Professor Snape was sitting at the staff table, scowling impartially on the lot of them, Dumbledore not least). Nor had she expected to go back to the Christmases of her childhood, sitting warm with her parents, listening to music, all of them immersed in the sensible presents of books they had exchanged, in real anticipation of each other's pleasure.

The lead-up to Christmas at home had been going up to London to a performance of Handel's Messiah, coming home drunk on the music, singing the choruses all the way home in the train, and in the car from their local station, back to the warm house, then eating a sugar-free, low-fat, low-salt, filling and tasty supper, that Hermione had not had to struggle alone to make.

The lead-up to this Christmas had been Ron walking out on them. She had cried, night after night, over that. And now that he was back she was mad at him. Really, deep-down angry, for abandoning them, for betraying them, not just because he had walked out on Harry's job – and how could you walk away from saving the world? It wasn't possible!

He had come back last night, and even after his saving Harry from being drowned by the strangling chain of the locket Horcrux, and fishing up the Sword of Gryffindor from beneath the water and the ice, and using it to kill the filthy thing – yes, he was sorry, but she still hated what he had done. She and Harry had had weeks of misery, and saying sorry wasn't going to fix that; even the heroic rescuer act wasn't going to fix it. That break would always be there, in their memories.

For their actual Christmas Harry and she had had carol singing from the church in Godric's Hollow, heard from outside, and other people's illuminated Christmas trees, seen from outside, and a long slog through the snow, and a fight with Nagini.

And she had broken Harry's wand.

Talk about "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye", and "we shall all be changed" – not what Handel had been thinking about. How could Harry save the wizarding world without a wand? She had seen how unhappy he was with what hers could do for him.

That was an even worse Christmas present than Ron's.

She couldn't mend it by saying sorry, but maybe she could find out how he could mend it. Hermione's special thing wasn't action, and somehow getting it right, like Harry, or working out the next move in the game and all the moves to follow, like Ron, when he had a clearly defined goal.

Harry couldn't see what to do, though going to Godric's Hollow hadn't been all bad (except, oh God, for the wand): they had Rita's book, and despite the lies and malice it had given them some leads. Ron hadn't been on his game since the moment they had started taking it in turns to wear the Horcrux.

All along Hermione had done her best thing with all her might, and perhaps doing it again would help. She had assembled their travelling research library, and it was a good one. (Harry and Ron had no idea of how many books she had in her beaded bag; they'd never seen them all out at once.) Her research had helped them, but she had never thought about the dreadful possibility of breaking a wand. There was nothing in her books about fixing that; she had looked, in every spare moment, and stealing more from sleep.

So she would go to where the books were.

She had thought about going the night it happened, but she'd have needed a wand, and she couldn't leave Harry both unguarded and wandless. Now, however, Ron was back, and had brought a spare wand Harry could use; he could stand guard. She'd thought about just leaving them asleep, and layering their camp place with even more protective and warning charms, but after the events of the last few months she wasn't going to trust to luck. Or go anywhere near the kind of betrayal that would be.

She pulled on her winter cloak over her robes and layers of jumpers and her thickest trousers, picked up her gloves, and walked over to Ron to tap his shoulder. Then to shake it. Then to nip his earlobe, maybe a bit too fiercely, between finger and thumb. She managed to get her hand over his mouth as he jerked awake, whispering his name over and over until he recognised her, recovered from the shock, settled down and pushed her hands away.

"Hermione? Nothing's wrong, is it?"

He kept his voice low, so as not to wake Harry; he understood there was no emergency.

"No, but you have to get up and stand guard. I've an errand to do."

"Now, look, Hermione –" He had bolted upright, but she pushed him lightly.

"No, you look, Ron. You did your own thing and now I'm doing mine. I'm not going to argue with you, or debate it with both of you for weeks. This needs to be done. So get up, get rugged up, and take over the watch."

She straightened up, pulled her gloves on, and took out her wand. Over her shoulder as she walked towards the tent door she said, "I'll put another alarm charm on the site from further out, before I Apparate away."

"Christ's sake, Hermione, where are you going?" Ron had scrambled out of bed and was pulling more clothes over what he was already wearing.


She walked out, and was soon enough satisfied that he hadn't followed her.

Just in case, she had left her beaded bag on top of her pillow, where they couldn't miss it.

*** !!!! ***

She had thought about taking the tunnel from the Shrieking Shack to the Whomping Willow, but that would still leave her outside the castle.

So Hermione set her teeth and called on memories of shopping for sweets on Hogwarts weekends, and Apparated herself into Honeydukes. At this time of night it was closed and empty, and maybe closed for the duration, indeed, but her wand gave her enough light. She went quietly to the cellar door and down the stairs, finding the tunnel door with no problem.

The tunnel was much better than the one she knew best; that would be so cramped if she had to use it now. She couldn't imagine how whoever had made it – Dumbledore, she supposed – had imagined that Madam Pomfrey could get along it from the Whomping Willow to the Shack without getting cramped, dirty, and breathless.

This one had proper walls, even if some large tree roots had intruded, and a mess of smaller roots hung from the roof wherever the tunnel passed near a tree. Luckily there weren't many trees between Hogsmeade and Hogwarts. This tunnel wasn't going to last for ever. She put aside the question of who maintained them, even to this standard. No doubt the twins, and the Marauders before them, had kept them usable, and other rule-breakers before them.

It was a long walk, and an increasingly unpleasant one. The roots that tried to take the space over, the crumbled roof dirt of ages on the floor, fallen from between the planks that shored up the top, the occasional stone fallen from the side, the narrow walls closing in on her – and the dark, and being alone. That was worst.

She tried singing from Messiah, very softly, to comfort herself – but even the exultant music of "Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill made low: the crooked straight, and the rough places plain" didn't work (though concentrating on transposing a tenor solo up helped to distract her). Her mind turned to another of her father's CDs, songs by an Australian from Scotland who wrote modern folk. She shivered away from the one about the internment camps of the Muggle's second world war, for what else was Hogwarts now? and a killing camp too, perhaps. It was too early to say, "Never again." But the one about the frightened man being marched to his execution, and all his fellow prisoners singing to support him...

She began to sing again, almost under her breath, and by the time she reached the final words her elevated heartbeat was calm again.

Courage, brother, you do not walk alone
We shall walk with you and sing your spirit home

Yes, Eric Bogle had the right idea. She wasn't alone. While she had Harry and Ron, she was never alone, and she could do this.

Soon after, like a reward, she came to the stone passage that led under the castle itself, as safe, as secure, and the narrow stairs up to the exit.

Before she woke Ron she had pocketed the Marauder's Map, which she'd been studying earlier. She had also helped herself to Harry's invisibility cloak. So once she arrived at Hogwarts itself, before she opened the door from the underground passage, she opened the map, spoke the invocation, and examined it by the light of a low Lumos. No moving dots in the corridors. A few dots, scattered around like outliers on a statistical plot, but none moving: the staff who had stayed over Christmas, asleep in their beds, lucky people. No strangers, except those beastly Carrows. Very close to each other. She wrinkled her nose in distaste. It looked as if Mr Filch wasn't patrolling just now. That was a help.

Hermione didn't put the map away again, but stowed it carefully in an outer pocket of her robe, folded so that the route she planned would be uppermost when she took it out again.

She reached the library safely, took another quick look at the map, and checked for warding and warning charms, then made her way safely in. Madam Pince probably didn't like the new staff Voldemort had appointed any more than the rest of the professors would. Even Snape. For all his faults (sharp-tongued, bitter man, who obviously thought children paid more attention to lessons when they were terrified, and taught by intimidation), he had never touched a student, or used his wand to hurt one, and his academic standards were the highest, however deplorable his teaching methods.

Perhaps Snape didn't like anyone, but he would despise the Carrows, even though, like him, they were servants of Voldemort. They were the sort of people who should never be given authority over children, and had no notion of teaching. Muggle Studies and Defence against the Dark Arts, what a disgusting joke, and how appalling the lessons must be. It showed how little Voldemort cared about what the pure-blood students still at school learned, or what they thought of his servants, and service, despite all the talk about pure-blood rule. The school was probably just the easiest way to corral so many hostages.

If it turned out that the Carrows patrolled the castle like Filch – probably the only job they could do properly – she would have time to put on Harry's cloak and hide away out of their path, provided she checked the map regularly.

The library catalogue gave her the names of several promising books. A half hour later, after increasingly frantic search of the library shelves, and not finding what she sought even in the Restricted Section, she turned to Madam Pince's records. She fought her way in past the charms designed to hold off students hoping to conceal that they had lost or damaged books.

At last she found a neat list in the librarian's hand, which showed that all the books that she had held out such hope for had been taken out by "the Headmaster". No date, and Madam Pince's records weren't kept in chronological order, so she couldn't guess whether it had been Dumbledore or Snape who had sequestered all the books relating to wand making and mending. Books covering maintenance were still on the shelves, and some simpler histories, but none of them held the information she was more than ever desperate to find: how to mend a wand whose core was intact, but whose shaft was broken.

What was so special about wands that a headmaster had decided to conceal all knowledge of it? Or had he hidden some other knowledge, and she had just been unlucky in that what she wanted was hidden with it?

Hermione tucked the records away and stood up, breathing slowly and deeply in the attempt to calm herself, to quell the rising panic.

Oh God, how could she do this? But she must.

*** !!!! ***

She put Harry's cloak on before she left the library, and set off for the Headmaster's office, the map clutched in her hand.

If she couldn't guess what Snape was using for the gargoyle's password, though – but giving up on guessing would feel like giving up because she was frightened. And, oh, she was; worse, far worse than in the tunnel. Then, it had been the dark, and the loneliness; now it was the possibility that Snape might be roused, either by the noise she made or, far more likely, by some protective charm. If she could surround their campsite with effective wards, what might Snape be able to do?

She ran through what she thought might be possibilities: words associated with Salazar Slytherin and his house, with potions and their ingredients, with Voldemort and his Death Eaters, with the names of charms and hexes and jinxes...

She was hoarse when she muttered, "Oh, Dumbledore, why did you trust him?"

And the guardian drew back and the stair began to revolve.

Hermione stared, then bolted up the stairs to the office door before she remembered about being careful. What had the gargoyle responded to? That would make even the daughter of dentists grind her teeth in frustration. If there was a next time, though, she might try with "Dumbledore." Or "Trust." Neither seemed a likely password for Snape to choose.

She put the map away and took out her wand, testing as best she could for traps and alarms and barrier hexes, then set her teeth and delicately opened the door.

After all, Neville and Ginny and Luna had been able to enter, in their attempt to steal the Sword of Gryffindor, and hadn't been caught immediately, either. If she was very, very careful, she might manage to search Snape's office and get out again.

She didn't dare wave the torches alight, so she looked about the cathedral-like space with just a Lumos on her wand, and the faint light of the first quarter moon coming through the tall windows. The desk had been moved, though it still faced the door and would have daylight pouring in from behind; Dumbledore's mysterious trinkets had been put in a glass-fronted cabinet; an alcove had been curtained off; but otherwise it looked much the same, even to Fawkes's perch and sandbox.

She cast a quick, furtive look around the portraits, but they were all sleeping. You'd think Snape might have set them to watch, at least on a rota, if only to warn him if any of the school staff came in. They were bound to obey him, whatever their opinion of him was.

When she went over to the desk she realised that the portrait of Dumbledore was off to one side, where someone at the desk would need to turn his head, though not his body, to look at it. What might that mean? Phineas Nigellus's portrait frame was empty. She was glad of that; there was someone who would raise a clamour if he saw her: he certainly knew her, disliked her, and supported Snape.

Hermione shrugged. She had no time to consider Snape's relationship with former headmasters. She began with the bookshelves against the walls on either side of the desk, using wordless magic, as she did all the time now.

"Accio Burnaby Brindle's Wand Lore for Makers!"

Nothing. She'd better test to see if using Accio would fetch her anything at all, here.

"Accio Moste Potente Potions!"

It came flying from somewhere across the room and thumped into her chest with what she couldn't help feeling was malice. Hastily she sent it back to its shelf.

She should try something that Snape was likely to have, but that in the library would be in the Restricted Section.

"Accio Grigor's Yellow Grimoire!" – a nasty piece of work, that. No book came flying, though there was a soft growl somewhere.

Hermione sighed, and tried to call up each of the missing books in turn, working through several summoning spells. As she feared, there was no response. That left manual searching, in the hope that the books were on display and not hidden away.

She had checked the three largest bookshelves by wandlight when all the torches sprang to life and a voice demanded sharply, "What do you think you're doing, Miss Granger?"

She turned, feeling a bit like the Lady of Shalott after she'd taken her eyes off the mirror: doomed for doing something stupid.

There was Snape, in a doorway that wasn't visible before. Momentarily too panicked to speak, she stared at him. He was wearing – she blinked in disbelief – a dull green flannel nightshirt that came to just above his ankles, covered his arms to the wrist, and had two ties at the throat. Also slippers. And, naturally, he held his wand in his right hand, slightly inclined in her direction. Snape wasn't likely to worry that a student could beat him to the draw, but he wouldn't have lived this long by taking chances.

"Kneazle got your tongue, girl?"

Saying nothing was supposed to be a good way to go. Don't volunteer information. She couldn't even placate him by apologising; no one wandered into his office, either innocently, or on a whim. She suddenly felt overheated, even though she had earlier discarded her cloak, and then her robes, because it was much warmer here than in the open – even in a fireless tower room in a stone castle in northern Scotland.

"It seems I have a choice," Snape remarked.

"Sir?" Her voice squeaked. Another reason to keep her mouth shut.

"There's Veritaserum, or Imperius, or ... Tell me, Miss Granger, are you bored with Mr Weasley yet? Do you like older men?"

Hermione disliked all of those alternatives. It also sounded as if Snape no longer felt obligated not to touch or harm students.

As if he'd read her mind, he said, "You're not a student now; you're an adult – we are both free persons."

"And I'm free to say no," she got out.

"Can you make it stick? Can you run away?"

Hermione looked around frantically, but all the portraits were determinedly sleeping.

She hadn't realised she was backing away from him until her hip hit the desk.

Snape stalked towards her, with something that might have been his idea of a smile twisting his lips. When he stopped he was perhaps six inches in front of her, and slowly leaned forward until she could feel his warm breath on her face. One hank of black hair swung loose, its tips just touching her cheek. Hermione instinctively leaned away, then drew back her sturdily booted foot and hacked at his shin. Hard.

His eyes cramped tightly closed, his lips parted, but nothing escaped them, not even a huff of breath to express the pain he must have felt, with a blow like that direct to the bone. Hermione scrambled to the left, but Snape opened his eyes and followed her, brows set in a frown now, and mouth grim. She sidled along the side of the desk, one hand extended behind her, until it touched one of the books on the tall shelf. She didn't dare look away from him, her eyes fixed on his, trying to hold him off with her best glare – pitiful compared to his – and slid once more, rounding the desk corner and stepping hastily back, and back. And into the stone wall in which the window was set. The glass was shockingly cold against her fingers; the stone trapped her for him. She was caught in the angle of bookcase and wall.

"Where will you go next, Miss Granger? Out the window?"

He hadn't actually touched her yet, and she couldn't panic for ever. Her boots ought to be good for something; maybe the thought of them dissuaded him.

She bit the words off. "I'm not a vampire, or a bat – unlike some."

Was that a flicker of amusement in the black eyes, on the slightly relaxed mouth?

"What, you can't fly? I thought you could do anything."

"I can hold off a dirty old man," she asserted.

"Can you?" He reached his left hand over her right shoulder to the wall. Now he had her caged. He moved fractionally closer, until she put up a hand to hold him off, clenching in the flannel of his nightshirt, feeling the solid muscle of his chest beneath her fingers. He didn't lean in against her pressure, but held her eyes and whispered, "Why are you here? What did you want?"

Her worry for Harry, her guilt, and her fear for herself subsided slightly, as the answers surfaced in her mind, and too late she realised he was using Legilimency against her.

She dragged her gaze free of his, looking instead at his throat, then his chest, and the even rise and fall of steady breathing, seeing, at last, how calm he was, how quite uninterested in what he had been suggesting.

The rotten bastard. No doubt he could have used Veritaserum or Imperius, with his wand in his hand already, but for him Legilimency would have been even easier, and she hadn't seen it coming. Better than having the information raped out of her, as some Death Eaters would have done, a cold little thought reminded her. Yes, but he had raped her mind, another thought spoke up indignantly. Didn't hurt, though, did it, the first thought replied. God, anyone would believe he was inside her head, telling her what to think.

She looked cautiously at his face again, trying to avoid his eyes. He knew, now, that Harry was handicapped, but he didn't look pleased. He was scowling much more effectively than before, indeed.

Had he picked up where they were camped? Where they meant to go the next day, only a few hours away now? That another Horcrux had been destroyed? Maybe he was scowling for the Horcrux – if he knew what a Horcrux was. But Slughorn had known, and Severus Snape had been deeply interested in the Dark Arts from a child.

Experimentally, she pushed slightly. It was like trying to shift a boulder; he didn't move, even fractionally. Hermione bit her lip in frustration.

He spoke at last. "Don't do that. Or let me."

What? Involuntarily she met his eyes full on.

"You can't fool me like that again," she said, with more conviction than she felt.

He looked as if he were laughing silently, at a painful joke.

The hand that confined her in the corner fastened on her shoulder and he leaned in. This time he did touch her. His whole body pressed against hers. He was much taller, but he bent his head, bowed his shoulders a little, and kissed her. A surprisingly gentle kiss, though his lips were firm against hers. His lips parted, and his tongue slipped along her mouth. She felt herself opening for him, bemusedly. Ron didn't kiss like that. His kisses were either hasty pecks or wet, with sloppy tongue. This was actually – seductive, she thought in astonishment, her eyes drifting closed.

Snape's tongue flickered into her mouth, retreated, returned, went deeper, and suddenly he was exploring the depths of her mouth, tongue tip flicking against her palate, encouraging her tongue to follow when it retreated. She responded with increasing enthusiasm.

When Hermione surfaced she was leaning forward rather than back, one of her hands was clutching both his shoulder and some of his hair, while the other was set at the base of his spine, pressing him into her, her fingers digging into the hard flesh of one buttock. That might have felt embarrassingly forward, except that he had an even better grip on her, and one knee between her trousered legs, his nightshirt rucked up, his thigh rubbing insinuatingly into the heat there. Each time it lifted to press closer she felt his penis against her belly, warm and solid and encroaching, even through her thick trousers. There was a smug pleasure in the knowledge that he wasn't play-acting now.

His mouth was on her neck, licking and nibbling, delicate little bites that were each a shot of lightning. The hand on her breast was kneading firmly, and somehow it had got through all the layers of pullovers and shirt and t-shirt. His finger and thumb clamped on the taut nipple and began to roll it, then to pull, in time with the movement of his leg and the alternate nips and licks. Her own hands tightened on him convulsively, before she released his shoulder and started to fumble with the cloth ties at his throat. She needed the touch of his skin.

Hermione opened her eyes and saw the light flush on the skin of his cheeks and even his temple, just visible through the fallen veil of his hair as his head moved, nudging into her shoulder like a lamb seeking milk. But this was a man, with a black shadow along his jaw, with very well-educated hands, and a strong determination to have her, she realised in shock, as soon as she signified that she was ready. And she was, more so than she often was for Ron when he began saying her name in that husky voice that turned her on more than his hands, sometimes, just knowing that he couldn't say anything else. But this man wasn't Ron, and wasn't asking her to marry him every few days (nor likely to start, either), and didn't have a family for her to try to bond with, and wouldn't that be nice... That thought startled her out of the last of her trance of enjoyment.

Snape felt it. His hold eased, and slowly his head lifted. He was still flushed – she supposed she was, too – and he licked along her lips one last time, regretfully, she thought, before he said wryly, "You think too much, Miss Granger."

"It's a flaw," she agreed, regretful herself. That demon who so often sat on her shoulder muttering when she was with Ron had been silent until now, but it seemed to have been taking notes – detailed notes. She had a visceral flash of Snape's hand on her belly, earlier, and felt her muscles tighten at the memory.

His hold slackened a little, though the hand on her breast continued to move, but gently, like an echo of itself, and he stopped rubbing himself against her. Her lip drooped a little in unavoidable displeasure.

"You could postpone thinking," he suggested. "If you have time before you must go."

"Oh, I can't…" She saw his face close, and explained hastily, "No, not that! I can't go yet, I haven't found them…"

Snape sighed, and released her, and stepped back.

"Them. Books. You want to learn how to repair Potter's wand." Oh dear, yes, he had picked up quite enough.

She bit her lip again, and found it tender to the touch. She licked it, exploring, and saw his eyes narrow at her.

"Yes, books," she agreed, anxious now to get both their minds off sex. Such a pity she had started thinking before they'd had everything they wanted. She suspected he wouldn't be able to stop thinking now, either, however frustrated he too was.

"Was it you who took them from the library?" She might as well get what she could from this ruin.

"Wand repair texts? No." After a moment he asked thoughtfully, "Did Professor Dumbledore, then?"

"I suppose. I thought, I hoped, he'd have brought them here, but –"

"We can find out fast enough. Authors? Titles?"

No doubt the Headmaster would have an advantage searching his office.

She reeled off the list.

He frowned. "I don't recall seeing them."

She learned two new summoning spells in the next few minutes, since in unexpected courtesy he spoke them aloud, then a surprisingly baroque curse, as Snape expressed himself freely on the subject of his predecessor's secretiveness.

Dumbledore was still ostentatiously sleeping.

"Amen," she agreed sadly. "I'm not going to get them, am I?"

He shook his head. "Potter has a substitute, taken from an enemy, yes?"

She nodded.

"He'll get used to it. Though he should preserve the old one carefully, in case – in case." He stopped there and frowned at her. "You were foolish, coming here, and alone."

Hoping to divert him (it was none of his business to scold her; he was Voldemort's man – wasn't he? even if he protected the students from the Carrows as well as he could), she said, "Harry has it laid away safely."

His lips compressed. "A special wand."

Did he know about the twin phoenix feathers? Or had Voldemort kept quiet about the relationship between his wand and Harry's? Would Dumbledore have told him?

She temporised. "Everyone's wand is special, to them. But if I can't get the books I need, I can't." She thought, but didn't say, that it might be worth searching Ollivander's shop for reference books.

She'd better go. If she didn't, she'd be pressed up against that lean body in its warm flannel and smelling that clean man-smell again, and kissing, and not caring.

Before she could excuse herself, however – better to assume he would allow her to leave, she thought – a low chime sounded. Snape stiffened and turned to the door, already opening. So he had some kind of warning system, even if she hadn't activated it. Or had she? Of course she had. He had just been observing, waiting to see if he could work out her purpose.

He hissed, "Leave this to me," and stepped away from her, snapping his fingers. Suddenly a heavy wool dressing gown was draped around his shoulders, and before the door was fully open he had tied its sash, striding away from her.

Hermione hastily pulled her shirt and over-layers down, even if she didn't have time to tuck them away tidily. Then she flinched as Alecto Carrow came in, followed by her brother.

"Severus, did you know," Amycus Carrow began, then saw her. His eyes widened, then he leered. Hermione managed to suppress that flinch.

"You have a witch friend, Severus?" Alecto cooed.

"Of course I have," Snape snapped at her, "not that it's your business."

"She visits at odd hours."

"She visits when I ask her to come," Snape answered coldly. "My private life must be secondary to the school."

"And to our lord's service," Alecto chided.

Hermione could see Snape holding back his estimate of her intelligence, then he said, "Our lord's service comes first for all of us. He put me in charge of Hogwarts, and I run it as he wishes."

"Severus, you're too lax with discipline. The students must learn to obey, to submit. Our lord's will is everything."

"His, yes," he answered pointedly, "not yours. He expects me to raise up a new generation of servants for him here, and if you two persist in half-killing them, how many will be reluctant to serve, hesitate to give him their whole-hearted loyalty? And not just those you have injured, but all who see or hear of it. But we've had this argument before, and I'm tired of your folly. What did you come to my office for at this hour?"

"You are awake." Amycus looked over at Hermione and licked his lips. She stared him down coldly.

"Answer me!"

Amycus started, though Alecto simply grinned. "Perhaps we couldn't sleep," she suggested.

Snape lifted one hand and pointed a finger at her as if training a wand on an enemy. "This is my school; you are two of my staff. Why did you come to the Headmaster's office at two in the morning?"

"Because there's someone prowling about," Amycus admitted at last. "Someone's been in the library."

"Not Filch, or his cat, on patrol?" They looked uncertain at that, Hermione saw, and Snape went on sharply, "He may consider the students vermin, but his cat is as interested in rats, and you should be aware that Madam Pince is happy for the cat to keep her territory clear of them. They do not patrol only in term-time."

"Oh well, I suppose, as there aren't any students here now," Amycus muttered.

"Not your lady friend borrowing a book to keep her from going to sleep?" Alecto asked, sounding coy. Hermione was astonished at this open rudeness to the Headmaster; the woman was insulting him with both hands.

"My friend came by her usual route, which, like her visit, is no concern of yours. She's not going to waste time in the library, even if she could get in. Madam Pince wards it very securely, you surely remember?"

Snape grinned savagely for a moment, and Alecto looked disgruntled. Hermione wondered if Madam Pince's wards had bitten the woman, and inwardly applauded.

"You'll waste no more of my time. Get out, both of you. Nor do I wish to be disturbed in the morning. This is, in theory, a holiday period." His voice was heavy with sarcasm. "Keep to your own quarters and out of mine, before I ask the Dark Lord to remind you of the nature of your duties here."

That got them out quickly indeed, looking back at him with dislike, but with evident fear, too.

Once the door closed Snape lifted his wand at it to describe a careful path around it; a dark blue spark fled to the door and a darker light limned the gap between door and frame. "No more interference," he said grimly.

He turned back to her. "However, you can't go. If only to satisfy their prurient interest, they'll be hanging about for some time. You don't want to be caught, you're a Muggle-born, remember?"

"I'd hate to be handed over to the Snatchers," Hermione admitted.

Snape's lifted eyebrows clearly conveyed exasperation with her idiocy. "Considering whose close associate you are," he snapped, "you'd rapidly be in the hands of a higher power than a Snatch gang or the Umbridge woman's Muggle-born Registration Commission."

Hermione shivered. Ron had been lucky to get away, and the Snatchers he had met had been pretty disorganised.

"You'll have to stay here, and –" He hesitated.

"And what?"

Reluctantly he said, "That wretched woman – probably her brother too – will check my rooms in the morning. Magically. I could otherwise deny her, but she will be looking for traces of you, of our activities, and she'll find them – or discover their absence, which will make her curious. And suspicious."

Hermione sighed. "Which would be dangerous for both of us," she completed. "Professor Snape, are you sure you didn't organise this whole thing just to ensure that I'd go to bed with you?"

For a moment his temper was on the verge of explosion, probably spectacularly, after the irritations of the Carrows' intrusion, and the frustration he was already suffering. Then she saw him rein himself in. A moment after that he gave her that non-smile.

"So you'll come?"

Demurely she responded, "I am always anxious to gain knowledge."

"It will be intimate knowledge," he answered dryly, then put a hand on her shoulder and led her into the private part of the Headmaster's quarters.

*** !!!! ***

Hermione knew why she was doing this. She and Ron had had their problems, one of them being that Ron didn't recognise the existence of any of them. She had tried giving him books, but he didn't seem to read them, despite that fairly dirty book he had given Harry. She had studied the subject carefully through their sixth year, especially after he finally came to his senses and broke up with Lavender. So she was going to get a practical education, too, from someone who seemed to know what he was doing, and then she could give Ron hands-on training. If he wasn't prepared to learn from that she didn't know what she was going to do, but marrying him – or even sleeping with him often – weren't among the options. Sex hadn't lived up to its promise yet; on what she'd seen so far she could give it up with hardly a blink. Cuddling had been far better than trying to make love.

She didn't know why Snape was doing this – sleeping with the enemy. If Voldemort ever found out Snape would have to talk very fast, and explain the lies he had told the Carrows, too. Maybe he wanted sex. Maybe he just wanted someone to touch him. She knew how that felt. And maybe she'd never find out, but she thought that in this she could trust him.

By the time she came to that decision Snape was removing her top layers, and preventing her from helping. Whatever he wanted, he seemed in no hurry to get it; he was clearly enjoying the sly touches, the pauses to explore with his eyes as well as his hands. Hermione squirmed involuntarily when he ran his fingernail lightly across her newly-exposed belly. That reaction got something much more like a real smile, however slight and fugitive, before he started easing her trousers down. Then she discovered he'd used his wand to unlace her walking boots, so she tried to kick them off. He let her do that, and watched as she determinedly dragged at her thick socks with her toes.

Once she was naked he picked her up, surprising her with his strength: she might not be very tall – she didn't like to say "short" – but she wasn't skinny. He laid her on the bed, where the top sheet, a couple of blankets and a quilt were already pushed down, out of the way. He'd pushed the pillows aside, too, so she lay flat on her back.

Snape came down beside her without taking off his nightgown, so she promptly turned on her side and got back to undoing those ties at his throat. He didn't seem to mind being stripped, but he did wave a hand at the torches to lower the lighting to a point where she thought she could see scars on his chest, but couldn't be sure. She didn't ask him to expose himself further; he might be hiding the Dark Mark from both of them. Instead she reached out to him and hitched herself as close as she could. They didn't have all night, so she might as well let him know she was already interested.

It seemed that Snape wanted her more than interested, though, and after a series of kisses that stole her breath, while his hands roamed everywhere, Hermione decided to take the expert's word for it. She had always admired expertise. She wrapped herself around him and encouraged him to go wherever he would, mimicking on his body his touches on hers as best she could, and getting increasingly satisfying results thereby. It was good to see a master so involved with his research, and so ready to share his findings with a novice.

It was also good to see confirmed in him what she had always hoped for herself: looks had nothing to do with success, and generosity and patience everything.

When Snape pushed her onto her back and kissed his way down her body, starting at her hairline, she revelled in it, wondering breathlessly how far he would go. All the way, it seemed. For a minute or two, after he slid between her willingly parted legs, she wondered if he now thought her ready enough, but then he slid further down, put a firm hand on her belly, and licked between her legs all the way from front to back, in one stroke. She wailed softly, remembering the tickle of magic right through there, earlier, and how it had at once soothed and roused. His tongue was, oh God, so much better. To know that he was tasting her, smelling her, experiencing the whole of her being in that long slide of flesh on flesh, to know that he wanted this, feeling his hands holding her closer than ever, keeping her precisely as he wanted her, was a kind of perfection she had never imagined the body as well as the mind could know.

She sobbed inarticulately, trying to put into words a desire to do for him as he was doing for her, fighting the glorious selfishness of letting him continue like this for as long as he wanted, and he must somehow have understood.

He lifted his head and the black eyes gleamed at her, and something that was more a smile than she had ever seen from him parted his lips, before he said, "Take it all, Hermione. I want to give it to you, to have it from you. You can practise on me later. Now, learn yourself as you have not done before."

He knew about Ron, all right, but she didn't mind. How could she and Ron, from their bases of ignorance and book-learning, have come to this knowledge? The importance of practical lessons, of demonstrations of truth in the laboratory, was impressed for ever on her mind, and on her body.

His head bowed; she felt the big nose nuzzling the curls between her thighs, the lips parting to suck at her lips, tongue probing beneath the little hood, flickering insistently, making her tremble, before his tongue dived into her, exploring, opening the way as she had never believed could be done, illuminating her pleasure starkly. When he did it all again she screamed and clutched at his head to hold him there. He kept it up, even when she gasped to him, "Oh stop, I'm almost – I'm going to –"

"Yes!" he hissed at her, and took her through the final gate of perception and out the other side into a nirvana in which the mind had no place.

At last she murmured to him, as he continued his tongue's journey over her body, a leisurely progress now rather than storm-driven, "That was, oh, there aren't words. Wonderful. I didn't know it was like that. But you..."

That was definitely a smirk of superior understanding.

"You can go there again; I'll take you there again. Whereas I probably only have one such pilgrimage in me."

He didn't refer more explicitly to the strict limits on their time together, and she was grateful.

"Now show me what you like," she demanded.

The dark smile didn't worry her, not even when he purred at her, "You have everything to learn, but you were always an eager student."

"Show me," she repeated, and reached down his body.

He showed her indeed, how to torment him with pleasure, to take him to the edge of the precipice and draw him away, to soothe him and coax him back once more; but at last he muttered, not suave and superior and in control now, but honestly needy, "Now, it must be now!"

"Yes!" she agreed, moving so that he could mount her, onto her back, her legs wide, feet braced on the mattress, until he was in place and she could use thighs and heels to hold him there. He waited no longer but drove into her. She lifted to him and their bodies matched rhythms, as their breathing synchronised, with their heartbeats, their pulses, and at last their penetrating the gates together.

He let them lie entwined for a while, then said, "I can make you a Portkey."

She looked doubtful, but he disclaimed all desire to know her destination. Apparently cooperation in Portkey creation was possible, with him supplying the ability to leave Hogwarts so (and specifically his rooms), while she silently identified the arrival point. It was a single use Portkey, he said, but urged her to destroy it afterwards, as it would carry his magical signature.

Wryly he told her, "I doubt if anyone else would see you still as a student of this school, entitled to my protection. But don't come back."

He hesitated, then went on, "Thank you."

Honestly she answered, "I thank you, too. I shan't forget it, or you, or all you've done for me tonight."

From behind the shelter of her last pullover as she pushed her head into it she asked, "Is there anyone you've shown even this much? Does Professor McGonagall know how much you do to keep the students safe?"

She emerged to find him closing down, like a cactus that had unexpectedly flowered at midnight, and excluded the sun when it rose, too bright, too invasive.

However, he shook his head, answering her that much. He said curtly, "No one must know. Which means Potter and Weasley too, Miss Granger."

So she was Miss Granger again. That was a pity, but she had no intention of discussing any of this with Harry and Ron. She could admit she had hoped to find some way of repairing Harry's wand, because she wanted to suggest a visit to Ollivander's later, but no more.

"How do you stand it? I have company, but you have no one, nothing."

"I have Hogwarts," he corrected. "And the support of – some of my peers." He inclined his head towards the portrait of Phineas Nigellus (still uninhabited). Was it a coincidence that it was set beside Dumbledore's? The late Headmaster had trusted Snape, and she herself had found him tonight to be trustworthy, in matters she had never imagined, even if in the matter of Harry's wand he had been unable to help her.

The late Headmaster was also still asleep. Hermione wasn't sure she believed it, but there was never any point in arguing with Dumbledore. He didn't want to talk to her, even about Harry's wand, and he hadn't commented on Snape's earlier invitation, either. Stubborn old man, pushing them in the direction he meant them to go, without saying a word to help.

She turned back to Snape after she pulled her cloak on and tucked her messy curls into the hood.

"How do you manage, so alone, and not likely to win? If Vo –" his upraised hand, and even more his minatory scowl, halted her. "If he wins, there won't be a Hogwarts. Not as it has been for so long. If he loses, you'll lose Hogwarts."

She didn't say that he would also lose his freedom, if not his life.

Snape said bleakly, "If you have a goal, you go on."

Hermione closed her eyes. If she did that, she should do it properly. Not be angry with Ron. Forgive him, as she knew she would do, but also try to forget his lapse, so they could go on together, be united truly. If she didn't, they would never have that friendship again, never mind the hope she still held of love. What did she have, what did all three of them have, but each other? And hope. Yes. She'd go on.

She looked up at Snape and gave him a gift that might sustain him, too.

"Courage, brother, you do not walk alone.
We shall walk with you.

She wouldn't say the bit about singing his spirit home; she hoped there would be no need for that.

He looked deep into her eyes. She hoped he wasn't using Legilimency, to read that last thought. Whether he did or not, the bleakness lifted a little, his mouth eased, and he bent his head for a last, quick, chaste kiss.

"Fare well, Miss Granger."

She arrived just as the boys were making breakfast in the pre-dawn light, and they fell on her with questions, and complaints, and arguments. She smiled and hugged them both tightly. They were together, and would go on.

*** !! The End !! ***


Courage, brother, you do not walk alone
We shall walk with you...
Courage, sister, you do not walk alone
We shall walk with you and sing your spirit home

Eric Bogle, Singing the Spirit Home