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Witch's Sabbatical

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The Hogwarts Express finally pulled out of sight and Hermione stopped waving. Now Hugo, as well as Rose, was off to Hogwarts, and she was alone again. Maybe she should think of that as free again.

Ron shrugged. "Okay, so you have them for the Christmas break, but I get them on Christmas Day and we go to the Burrow, right? I don't want to disappoint Mum."

Hermione repressed her unprintable thoughts about her former mother-in-law. (She thought as little as possible about her ex-husband these days; brooding wasn't conducive to contentment.)

"But you bring them home by eleven, without fail. They're too young to stay up late."

"All right," Ron said agreeably. She just had to hope he'd remember. If not, she'd Floo down to Devon to retrieve Rose and Hugo.

Probably Harry and Ginny had made the same kind of agreement, and all five children, and their cousins, would be exhausted long before going-home time.

Ginny was turning away, digging out her international Portkey. "See you week after next, at the Beginner Trials, Ron," she threw over her shoulder.

"Uh huh, and don't forget Krum's supposed to be there, so don't be late."

"We'll probably Portkey in together, with Slava."

"I'm looking forward to seeing your latest Seeker in action. We'll all have plenty to think about, comparing their performances."

Hermione turned away to Harry. Ron and his sister could talk Quidditch for hours, and analyses of the young players they trained were quite as boring as analyses of Quidditch tactics had ever been, back at Hogwarts. If she talked to Harry, they at least had common interest topics.

She asked quietly, "Your new draft started last week; how do they look?"

Harry had been quiet, with that slightly lost look his eyes got when Ginny was there, but he managed to smile at her and say, "Not bad. We'll have a better idea in a year's time – and by then you'll be back at MLE, in good time to terrify them into using the library and the files before they go out on a job."

She smiled back. "Took you long enough. I may have quite a few more resources for Unspeakables and Aurors alike, by then."

"I'll be dead surprised if you don't," Harry agreed. Then he gave her a proper Harry grin. "You're going to have a wonderful time on your sabbatical. I'm glad the Minister agreed to it."

Hermione replied, "The Wizengamot agreed to it in principle two years ago; Kingsley just wanted to make sure my assistant could cope for a year."

"In principle nothing; it was a perk for one of the Heroes – but I expect the other researchers in Mysteries, and the Auror Division, will be clamouring for the same privilege soon enough."

"Hardly a privilege, when it enables them to do their jobs better, and improves Mysteries' and MLE's capacity to do their jobs efficiently."

Rather hastily Harry said, "You don't have to convince me, Hermione. I've had to listen to Kingsley moaning about losing you for two years now, convincing himself it's for the greater good, however inconvenient he expects to find it."

Hermione laughed softly. "Stand by to vet Peronelle Vaughan's application," she advised. "She has some good ideas about introducing Muggle systems – if not technology – for data management, though she has a lot more prep work to do before she can submit it."

"And she's not even Muggleborn. You have a lot to answer for, Madam Granger." Harry looked sideways to where Lily was chattering with Dean and Katie's Graciella, who would be going to Hogwarts next year too. "Time to go home, I think, and get Lily off to school; she only has a half-day's leave."

Hermione suggested, "Say hello to Draco and Asteria and the girls, why don't you?"

"This reconciliation kick is going too far," Harry grumbled.

"And the more friends people like their daughters have outside Slytherin, the easier it will be to keep it going. I'll come with you, okay?"

Harry gathered up Lily, kissed Katie's cheek, and the three of them moved over to where the Malfoys were standing in conscious isolation with their other children. As they approached Asteria picked up little Evander, holding him against her, above the bump of her latest pregnancy, while Draco put his hands on his twin daughters' shoulders, drawing them closer.

Hermione sighed softly, braced herself, and said pleasantly, "Draco, your girls will be going to school next year, like Harry's Lily, won't they? I've been thinking it's a good idea to try to get children from the same year together every so often, before they go, so they have friends, or at least people they know, from outside their immediate circle."

Draco's sneer was automatic, but low-key, as he responded, "Very polite language, Gr – Hermione. Our children have a proper social circle, thank you. But no doubt they need to get used to the much more mixed society they'll be living in, when they're at school, and later."

Asteria Malfoy put a hand on her husband's forearm, so perhaps she was readier to accept the overture. She had been too young to embarrass herself during the war, and it was probably easier for her to think simply of her children. "What were you thinking of, Madam Granger?"

Hermione shrugged. "Nothing complicated. Visits to each others' homes, with an adult or two present. Afternoon tea, indoor games. Looking at each others' books and toys, playing together. Even pick-up Quidditch, if they have brooms and it's fine, and enough of them want to play."

Asteria nodded, and though Draco frowned slightly he made no objections. That was probably as good as it would get. There was a great deal going unsaid here, and being hinted at.

Hermione was glad when Harry offered, "Godric's Hollow isn't all that far from your place, and Lily's used to having at least one other child around. Your girls'd be welcome, Draco, Mrs Malfoy. I'd probably have Graciella Thomas and Melusine Weasley over, too. Not too big a group, you think? And maybe just girls?"

"Yes," Draco said decisively. "Boys that age –" He broke off, and he and Harry rolled their eyes at each other in unexpectedly shared sympathy.

Hermione patted Harry's shoulder. "You and Draco can take it from here? I must get off, I have an appointment at the British Library."

"Isn't that Muggle?" Asteria Malfoy asked.

"Yes," Hermione said dryly, "but the Statute of Secrecy only dates from the end of the 17th century, and a lot of wizarding-related material is probably in Muggle hands."

Draco frowned again, but she went on, "And wizards have this nasty tendency to Incendio each others' houses, and libraries, and muniment rooms – far worse than anything Muggles were ever able to do! The books and manuscripts are probably much safer where they are."

Memories of the Late Unpleasantness made Draco nod, however reluctantly.

"I'm going to be spending the next year locating as much of that material as I can, indexing it, annotating the list – that sort of thing."

"And then taking it back for our own collections?" Draco demanded.

"What, for some mad wizard to torch?" Harry enquired. "Haven't we had enough of that? How much of Malfoy Manor's library did your dad lose while he had Lord Thingy in residence?"

"The library was the last thing on our minds," Draco said edgily, "but I suppose there's something in what Gr – Hermione says. He didn't leave much for the Aurors to sift through, certainly, though we've retrieved a fair bit of it since. Good luck, then."

Hermione kissed Lily and Harry goodbye and walked out into the chaos of Kings Cross. She turned right for the British Library on the other side of St Pancras, her heart lightening despite divorce, an empty nest, and the strain of being courteous to former junior Death Eaters for the sake of her children and theirs. Today she was truly starting on the rest of her life, after these last years of confusion and unhappiness. It would be wonderful to lose herself in books again.

As she walked across the red-tiled Piazza to the soaring library entrance she couldn't help remembering that neither Ron nor Ginny had said goodbye to anyone but their sibling, though Ginny had given Lily a long hug and a last gentle tug at her loose red plait, so like her own. Weasleys seemed to be better at moving on than the Muggle-raised.

For over fifteen years Hermione had not been permitted to talk about work at home, and only supreme indirection had conveyed its nature to her husband, when she began it. Unspeakables' cautions left Moody's in their dust.

After a few incidents with young Hugo's taking an increasingly hands-on interest in reports of his uncle George's experiments, Ron had stopped talking about work at home too. George had greeted Hugo's transgressions with joy, as news of an heir of the spirit; Hermione had greeted them with a positively Snapean degree of disapproval. Ron had cringed slightly and decided that he had to live with his wife, and thereafter supported her stand.

Perhaps they had not had a great deal to talk about besides the children and the doings of their friends, but each had supposed they were not alone in that. Ron thought it more dignified not to ramble, like his father, about interests his wife emphatically did not share, after she had taught him not to talk Quidditch at the breakfast table – or any other. Hermione imagined that she could not expect to find in her own marriage the comfortable community of interests her parents had in their shared profession, differently though they practised it.

They had been comfortable in bed together, largely thanks to Hermione's persistence and Ron's willingness to learn before, he realised in time, his wife lost interest in it altogether.

They had persisted in working at a marriage that had not the rewards or the joys they had hoped for at its start, and until Rose began at Hogwarts were hardly aware that they were even further apart than they had been as bickering teenagers with an inexplicable lust for each other.

Several years earlier, Ron had found himself, at Ginny's suggestion, coaching the lowest levels of aspirants for the junior Quidditch draft players at weekends. He enjoyed not only the work, but also the company he found there: parents, current and former players, team scouts, and his sister, who had been beginning to work her way up to professional coach, having left her professional playing days behind with her first pregnancy.

Hermione had noticed Harry's bewilderment at being the sole weekend parent for James and Al and Lily until James went off to school for ten months of the year, before she noticed that her own marriage had ceased to exist.

All four might have gone on like that, redefining what contentment meant, except that Ginny had signed on as coach to a European minor leagues team, ferociously intent on regaining her professional standing, and Ron had been offered the job she had held with the British league. By then George had both a little corps of like-minded experimenters and a better grasp of safety standards, so he hardly needed the company of a brother in the shop any longer.

Ginny disappeared into outer Ruritania and adjacent parts. Ron started working a joyful sixty-hour week and socialising for another twenty hours or more, while Harry took on junior Auror training on top of his existing Auror admin and field duties. Hermione started working late again, a habit she had discarded with desperate difficulty in the early days of her marriage, when maturity had still, for her, been spelled "obsessive concentration". She had pulled herself up quickly enough; the children were still at home, and needed her there before bedtime rather than after. Then she was seconded for a year to a special cross-departmental investigation team which reported more to the Minister than to the heads of the Unspeakables and MLE, and started spending too many nights on a bunk in the rooms kept for late-working MLE and Mysteries' staff.

Ron had a pleasantly casual affair with the widowed mother of a promising junior player. At that point Hermione started thinking vengefully, but without much passion, about improvements on magical attack birds that her current magical knowledge and skill made possible; Harry appealed to both of them to consider the children (and tried to bring Ginny to support him); and Ginny, taking a cool look at her own marriage, where the partners were even more separated than Ron and Hermione, had sued for divorce.

As Hermione said bitterly when all the dust had settled, "Pure-bloods one, half-bloods and Muggleborns nil."

After three years, celibacy had lost its charms for her, and she thought it might have done for Harry, too, but consideration of how badly she had chosen last time deterred her from doing anything about it. She hadn't yet brought herself to follow Ron's example of easy affairs (though she suspected that Lavender Brown might be harder to get rid of than some of his women). If Harry was looking about him she'd seen no sign of it, and between his job, his extra responsibilities, and childcare, he had even less leisure to think about it than she had. At least neither of them for a moment considered taking the other as a lover; for each the other was the sibling they had never had.

She still had books.

Inside the Library, Hermione paused for a moment, as always, to admire the King's Library book stacks in their central six-storey glass block – all those beautiful old books in their superb bindings! Then she flashed her pass and cloaked her briefcase and light jacket, before going into the Manuscript Reading room to meet one of the curators with whom she had been discussing her project. It was not officially an annotated bibliography of wizarding books held in the British Library, of course.

Later, after a quick lunch in the downstairs café, she took her notebook computer with her back into the Reading Room and settled down to as much work as she could fit in before throwing out time, which she always considered disgracefully early. At least Madam Pince at Hogwarts had allowed the senior students to work until midnight, and MLE's library was open all night.

By the weekend she considered one particular desk against the balcony wall her own, and every day the library staff delivered the books she had pre-ordered – always the maximum number permissible. She built a little wall of books and went through them with care, occasionally using her notebook to extend her records. This was not a new project, after all, but one that she had worked on for years in her limited spare time. It was delightful to be able to concentrate on it all day long, and she rapidly got into the habit of not having lunch, to give herself the maximum time with the books. She could eat after five o'clock. If she wanted a break she wandered down to the exhibition area, or the Map Room, or leafed through some of the older printed books on the open shelves.

Hermione looked at a great many books which turned out not, after all, to be truly significant; her set of Arithmantic calculations performed on the catalogue were still not as exact in their results as she would like. She had been developing them for years, but they worked better on a printed catalogue such as that of Hogwarts library, than on one held in digital form on an electronic device. She had not shared that information with her sponsors, but had little doubt that the Librarian of Mysteries, at least, suspected it.

However, quite often she found what was emphatically a wizard's book. Most that she investigated were bound hand-written manuscripts, on parchment or very occasionally on hand-made paper. (She did not expect to be able to do much work on early printed books before her sabbatical year ended, but they were less likely to be unique copies.) Some of her finds were compilations, some an individual wizard's or witch's records – frequently extremely disorganised – of work on everything from Arithmancy to Charms. She was delighted to find a book on defining Apparition coordinates, which the Muggle librarians had classified as a wrong-headed consideration of longitude from the time before adequate measuring equipment was available to establish it exactly. That one she indulged herself by reading the whole of.

One day she found a book by a witch clearly influenced by the great Muggle herbalist John Gerard. Some of Phemie Flint's text reproduced his remarks, but almost invariably the writer went on to comment extensively on the use of plant materials in potions; those observations were very different from the occasional reference Gerard made to an assertion based on ill-informed folk wisdom. She learned to distinguish the import of "Master Gerard says" from that of "Gerard avers" and the definitely disapproving "Gerard reports that men say" and "Master Gerard has been told ..., but I know not why he has accepted this." Sometimes, Phemie sounded just like Professor McGonagall.

She smoothed her hand in its protective white glove gently over the page with its elegant Italianate handwriting and exquisite illustrations, in hardly-rusted India ink and beautifully preserved watercolour. She thought that Professors Sprout, Snape and Slughorn would have been thrilled with the book, as indeed would Neville. Astonishing that no one had taken the trouble to get this printed. She had never seen references to its author, either.

Hermione decided that she needed a copy of the entire text. She could apply to the Library for a scanned electronic copy – it might well have been digitised already, as a remarkable amount of the massive collection had been – or she could use magic to create her own copy. Not easy, but possible, with care and discretion, even in an open-plan reading room. Hermione was sufficiently respectful of anyone's library not to consider leaving a fake and taking the original away. In any case, the point she had made to Draco on the first day of her sabbatical was still valid: wizards were not very good at looking after fragile objects. Phemie Flint's precious book should remain in the care of the British Library, which in various incarnations had preserved it for the better part of four centuries already.

In the couple of hours before closing time Hermione managed to make her page-by-page copy using Geminio - using it on the entire book would be less than satisfactory, she had learned before she left Hogwarts. She miniaturised her version, to get it past security, before she took the book to the desk to request a digital copy. It was not going to be cheap, but Kingsley had made sure she had a grant to cover such expenses. If she ran out of money, he had promised to get her more, provided that her initial expenditures were on books and manuscripts which were clearly useful to government officers today, not just of antiquarian interest to people like her – a vanishingly small proportion of the wizarding world's population. Odd to think that she and Lucius Malfoy had something in common.

She decided that she would duplicate her personal copy as a gift for Neville, while the Library's digitised copy could be printed for inclusion in the Ministry's library – unless the Librarian decided it would more appropriately be stored at Hogwarts, as was quite possible.

She spent the evening re-reading her own copy and making notes on the Potions information. It was some years since she had brewed any potion other than those needed by a householder and the mother of wizarding children, but she retained a lively interest in the subject, nonetheless, keeping up with journals and new publications on the topic. At least Ron was no longer able to quarrel with her about her personal library. (She had long ago given up objecting to his collection of Quidditch magazines. It was better than Playwizard, though he certainly had some issues of that, as well.)

She had not long settled at her desk the next morning when a printed slip was placed under her nose, atop the notebook's keyboard, by a long-fingered hand whose fingertips were faintly stained. She blinked at the hand, recognising it as the hand of a potions brewer, then at the slip – recording her as the reader of Phemie Flint's Herball – before she looked up. And up. At a thin severe face, surrounded by a curtain of black hair, atop a lean body dressed – naturally – all in black, though it was Muggle clothing. Severus Snape himself, the Missing Man. Tidier, cleaner, far less worn despite the intervening years, better dressed, but Snape.

After that short time in the Shrieking Shack, where Lucius Malfoy helped her get Snape safely away, and in his former dungeon rooms, where Malfoy had left them and where Winky helped her to ensure that he would live, Hermione hadn't seen Severus Snape again. She respected him; she wanted him to live; but she wasn't anxious to experience his reaction to feeling obliged to anyone, especially to her. Harry had seen him once, after the Malfoys relented and allowed him access, to discuss what was needed to ensure Snape would remain free, rather than being shoved into Azkaban with the key tossed into the North Sea.

The Wizengamot had had the decency to exonerate Snape from all guilt in the matter of Dumbledore's death, on the basis of Dumbledore's Pensieve records, and Snape's own memories that Harry allowed them to view selections from. They also pardoned him for "all acts done under the colour of being a Death Eater" – a fine distinction, that. But it closed off all loopholes to Kingsley's satisfaction and Harry's relief. She had no idea what Snape thought of it. At least there hadn't been a public trial.

Severus Snape disappeared into private life as a potions maker of considerable renown, owl-only service, and high prices, which both the well-informed and the seekers of notoriety were willing to pay. Slughorn went on teaching Potions until Minerva McGonagall recruited a young enthusiast from Durmstrang, and for a while a succession of Aurors had been seconded to the Defence position. Of more recent years, after Harry had spent a month on breaking Tom Riddle's curse on the post, the teacher was an impoverished cousin of the Blacks, from a cadet branch long resident in Holland, educated at Beauxbatons.

Hermione had no idea what Snape had been doing for most of the last twenty years, apart from taking tea with Minerva McGonagall a couple of times a year. But here he was, in a Muggle legal deposit library, wanting a book she had got to first. If he was surprised at finding her there, he had had time to get over it; the slip bore yesterday's date.

"Madam Granger? Not Weasley? Still rushing in where only fools tread, emphasising your Muggleborn origins, expecting the world to be a better place after all your heroism?" Without a pause he swept on, less provocatively, "When do you expect to be finished with Flint's Herball?"

"Granger. I am no longer a member of the Weasley clan, if ever I was." She regretted that bitterness the moment it passed her lips, even before she saw Snape register it. "I have requested a digital copy of the book; this takes from a week to ten days, since it hasn't been previously scanned for the online collection. Not that they give a discount for that, of course."

Snape's lips pressed together in annoyance. Hermione had no intention of mentioning her duplicate copy, nor the second copy she had made last night for Neville. If Snape thought of the possibility, and asked nicely, she might allow him to make his own copy from hers – under supervision. And if not, bloody well not. She wasn't a child to be intimidated any longer.

Snape asked, "Why does it take so long?"

Perhaps he'd never needed anything copied before. Maybe this was his first visit.

She sat back so as not to be so obviously peering up at him, getting a crick in her neck. "Because there is a queue of such tasks, and few staff to perform the work. Because they have a schedule of their own of books to copy, and my request has to be fitted into that."

The man at the desk opposite hers hissed in irritation just as Snape did the same.

Hermione closed the cover on her notebook and attached the security lock to the D-ring the library provided on some desks. She had magical protections on the notebook, naturally – it was precious, irreplaceable, and in the wrong hands would be dangerous – but the presence of Muggle security ensured that no one would wonder why it wasn't possible to steal her computer.

"Let's discuss this outside."

She rose. Even if their talk took only two minutes, Hermione didn't want a reputation for disturbing fellow readers.

Snape followed her out, then down the broad white staircase until they reached the café level. There seemed to be a shortage of tourists, and it was early for regular readers to be taking a morning break. Hermione led Snape over to the café counter. She noticed that he ordered and paid for his pot of English Breakfast tea with no fumbling, so he must be used to some aspects of the Muggle world. He had certainly got his clothing right, if rather formal. They sat at the far end, opposite the glass wall caging the beauties of the King's Library, only a minute fraction of the British Library's holdings. Snape looked up at the thousands of books, not bothering to tip his head back to survey the full six storeys' worth.

"Valuable, or merely ornament?" he enquired, checking the strength of the tea.

"A bit of both, I expect, as some of that collection were bequeathed as a group, inseparable. Most are of historical interest, at the very least."

He was being very civil, for Snape, unless peace had mellowed him extraordinarily. He would want something.

So she should keep her own questions behind her tongue and wait for him to open negotiations. That wasn't as hard as it used to be twenty years ago.

After a slightly too long pause, which he covered by stirring the tea leaves in the pot's strainer, Snape asked, "You are here often?"

She had forced herself to reject that opening, which sounded so much like a pick-up line, and hid her involuntary choke of laughter at Snape's using it.

No harm in telling him. "I have a year's sabbatical, which I'll be spending identifying magical books in Muggle libraries, for use by Ministry staff. And, of course, anyone else who can pass in the Muggle world sufficiently to get themselves library readers' cards."

"So you've found Flint's book. If you find other books relevant to Potions, would you advise me? I trust you aren't going through all those book by book?"

Hermione suppressed her sigh, too. Snape didn’t really think she was an idiot, however readily he implied it. "No, Severus." That was a deliberate choice; they were both adults, and let him remember it. "I use Arithmancy to identify potential books from the catalogue. And yes, if you'll give me an address for my owl, certainly I can send you a list every so often."

No need to be too generous, unless he offered her some incentive; no Slytherin would respect that. She did not attempt to explain her calculations; no one was ever grateful for having an application of Arithmancy thrust upon them.

He nodded, but did not speak his thanks. "Potential?" Trust him to zero in on the weak point.

She shrugged. "The data is all held electronically now, not in those great printed catalogue books the Library used when it was the British Museum Reading Room – not that I ever had the chance to work there. That distance from what magic regards as reality makes it somewhat harder."

"But you get adequate results." That wasn't a question. Nice to have that acknowledgement of her skill, and typical of him to express it so indirectly.

"In two weeks I've found half a dozen valuable books that are not in either the Ministry's or Hogwarts' libraries. That's quite good going."

"So in a year you should be able to extend our resources considerably. Good. Are you copying all of them, as you are doing with the herbal?"

"Not now. That will be a decision for the librarians. Just making detailed notes, to enable wizards to decide whether a book is likely to be of use or interest."

"But of course it's possible to copy all of them, to make multiple copies to ensure they won't be lost again."

She nodded.

After another awkward pause Snape asked, "Would it be possible to amend your request to have a second copy made?"

He really hadn't done this before.

"It will be an electronic copy, Severus. We can print off as many copies as we like, just as we'll be able to copy the file itself for anyone who uses Muggle technology." She added dryly, "The Library tries to prevent that, but their precautions can be got around even by Muggles with the skills; it's no problem for a witch who understands the processes involved."

"That's better," he said.

What the hell had he been doing with anything he found, systematically stealing? Too late to have the Library write the copy off as "Lost due to enemy action", too; the bombs and fires of the Muggles' second world war were three generations past. She doubted if Severus could tinker undetectably with an electronic catalogue – she would have had enormous difficulty doing so herself, and would prefer not to tackle a task with such complex ramifications.

Then he lifted a disdainful eyebrow at her and said, "I'm not stupid either, Granger. I've been duplicating what I found, of course. My only problems have been where the original author put protective charms on his or her book."

Thank goodness for that.

Hermione wanted to know what Snape had found – and for how long he had been doing his research – but if she kept quiet she would get more from him; he wanted more from her.

Sure enough, it came. "How widely are you searching?"

"By subject or by library?" She answered without waiting for clarification. "My remit is to collect useful texts. So almost the full range of current Hogwarts subjects. Though I suppose if I found something on Divination I'd make a note of it, however useless the whole business is. I've been using this library for several years, and I have used several libraries which have substantial collections of early hand-written books – the Bodleian, and some other Oxford college libraries, the older foundations; the same sort of thing in Cambridge. I expect to return to Oxford, at least, this year. Collections held in the older cathedrals.

"Once I manage to refine the calculations sufficiently that anyone can use them," she refused to say 'if ever', "other researchers can check local collections, private libraries. It's a lifetime's work for many scholars, and we don't have the staff anyway."

"You're being very thorough." The tone was cool, but the approval was implicit. Reassuring that observing a man in your childhood gave you the ability to read him when you were an adult.

Now it might be safe to ask. "How long have you been searching? Just for Potions texts?"

Snape shrugged. "I was seventeen when I found a rare Potions text in the Natural History Museum, quite by accident. I stole it, of course – what use was it to them? But I've learned better since – Muggle libraries are far better protected than ours."

"It was a wonder Hogwarts's library survived the battle, with all the structural damage done to the castle," Hermione agreed, "though one doesn't expect the end of the world too often, fortunately, even in the wizarding world. And since then?"

"I began experimenting with charms to identify Potions texts – the charm complex I use on the Issue Desk here took me years to develop, and I have to change it as their technologies change. I decided, after – after Lily took Voldemort down the first time, to search and experiment seriously, but it would have been unwise to extend the search to the Dark Arts, given how closely I was supervised – not just by Dumbledore. In the second war, of course, I couldn't do anything, but the records compiled by the charms remained. When I was free, it made a harmless activity – not even the Auror Division could see anything wrong in reading old books in Muggle libraries, so long as they were only about Potions."

He hesitated. "I could show you how it works – you would need to adapt the charms to cover more than Potions. It would give you an alternative search method, which might turn up additional books."

That was surprisingly generous.

She thanked him appropriately, and they agreed to meet the following evening for a detailed discussion.

He had more than one book to hunt up here, it seemed. Time to get back to work. Hermione set off up the stairs.

Snape asked, "You don't use the lift?"

Hermione didn't mention that she disliked lifts. She just repeated what her mother had told her (frequently) long before she went to Hogwarts, "You can get where you're going by walking up the stairs nearly as fast as by waiting for a lift, and useful exercise as well, without needing to take extra time for that." She smiled. "Hogwarts is good training for that; it was about all the exercise we got, unless we played Quidditch." When she was still at school most of her trips in a lift had been at the Ministry of Magic, and had been filled with apprehension; that hadn't helped. Nowadays she Flooed in to her office.

"No lifts at Hogwarts, but Floo connections, if one's in a hurry." He didn't add, 'or injured'; she heard it, though. With any luck no one had tortured or tried to kill him for twenty years, but he would have been dependent on lifts, or Floos, for quite some time after he had nominally recovered from Nagini's attack.

However long it had taken him, he was clearly fully recovered; he walked up the several long flights as easily as she did, describing a recently discovered Potions Master's day book all the way. She found herself lusting for a copy, but negotiations on that kind of thing could wait until tomorrow.

~~SSHG~~~SSHG~~

In the next couple of months she met Severus Snape several times, usually by arrangement. They exchanged charms, discussing them ad nauseam, and copies of books, and lists, and eventually some social information. She spoke briefly about her children and Harry's, he about his Slytherins and their children. He was well informed on the Malfoys, and apparently approved her attempt to get Draco to expand his children's acquaintance beyond Slytherin.

He was also surprisingly well informed on Ministry affairs, considering that he mentioned no social interactions with former members of the Order of the Phoenix, save for Minerva.

He didn't appear to hold any grudge at no longer being Headmaster of Hogwarts. No doubt the particular responsibilities of his year of it had put him off the job, if he had ever truly wanted it. She was glad, though, that his portrait had eventually shown up in the Headmaster's office. She still remembered Minerva McGonagall fire-calling, in tears, to report that overnight a small head-and-shoulders portrait of her predecessor had appeared, shortly after Minerva herself was officially confirmed, by Ministry and Governors, as Headmistress. Maybe it happened then because the school was at last ready for teaching to begin again. That had been more than a year after the Battle of Hogwarts, a year where the school had remained closed and Kingsley had made it his business, among other pressing concerns, to do away with a vast quantity of Educational Decrees.

Hermione had spent that year in the Muggle world, doing her A-levels, and only afterwards returned to Hogwarts to complete her NEWTS studies, dragging a reluctant Harry with her. It had seemed a worthwhile investment of her time, considering how much she wanted to import from the Muggle world into the wizarding one. Having those credentials had made it easier to pursue a Muggle library qualification during the two years she was on leave from MLE – pregnant Aurors were not permitted in the field. That study had been productive in both worlds.

Hermione had never been a field Auror again. She had thought about that general rule, then about Tonks and what had come of her going back into action, and decided she owed a duty to her children. She had a long working life ahead of her, if she chose; Rose and Hugo would be better off if Hermione stuck with her first love, research. The three years training plus nearly three years' experience gave her enough of a grounding in what Aurors needed from their back-room staff. Kingsley had certainly found an interesting range of things for her to do.

Once she said dryly to Snape, "I'm fairly certain I got interdepartmental transfers after I did something my immediate supervisor couldn't stomach, and promotions after I was proved emphatically right – or righter than my supervisor, at least."

As dryly he responded, with the glint of amusement in his eyes that had been showing more often as they became easier with each other, "That explains your current high rank in Magical Law Enforcement, I suppose."

Frankly she answered, "Kingsley gives Harry and me a free pass on a lot of things – but we don't let him down, either."

Then she asked the question she had been holding off on, expressed as a statement – possibly a better way of getting acknowledgement from Snape. "Kingsley knows about your research, too, doesn't he."

"It might have been difficult, without his explicit approval, to have resumed it immediately after the war, harmless-appearing or not, exoneration or not. Potions is seen as easily blending into the Dark Arts." His tone of voice gave no indication what he thought of that. For him, after all, the subjects had been intimately linked for many years.

Hermione shrugged, and said what she had long ago concluded, "Anything can lead to study of the Dark Arts, in the right circumstances. Especially when the definition of 'Dark' is so flexible, and is so involved with politics." She hesitated before her next question; it could easily be seen as intrusive. "You do still study them, though, don't you - the Dark Arts? Someone has to. Knowledge cannot be buried, nor should it be left only in the hands of those who'll use it to hurt or manipulate others."

"Not so righteous as you used to be, Madam Granger?" After a moment he added, "And readier to believe in my goodwill?"

"Considering that you spent your very life, as you believed, in service to Dumbledore, and the wizarding world's freedom, I should hope so," she answered tartly. "He had faults we weren't ready to acknowledge, and made mistakes he wouldn't acknowledge, but he was the only leader we had in that fight. You and Harry were his tools, and got very little for it from him, whatever Harry once thought."

"He should never have put that burden on a child. I believed that then, whatever I thought of Potter, and believe it still. That prophecy could have been ignored as superstitious nonsense, if he'd been prepared to act..." Snape shrugged too. "But he distrusted himself quite as much as others, and made too much of secrecy, and did too little. Everyone paid for it, including him, and Potter nearly died for it too, as Albus expected him to do."

Hermione said darkly, "Dying is a relatively easy thing to do. It's living that's hard – living, and trying your best to get things right."

"I would have been much happier dead," Snape agreed, then added with bizarre cheer, "but now I find that living has much to offer after all, so it was worth it, in the end, for me as well as for our aims."

He changed the subject abruptly. "Are you collecting material related to the Dark Arts?"

"No. If I find something I think may relate, I make a note of the book, but I don't look at it, and it won't be included in the final – or at least end-of-year – bibliography. I'm looking for useful materials, and some Aurors don't need to be encouraged to use doubtful means, as I certainly don't need to provide them. You, though – would you wish to inspect anything like that I find? If you're doing it on Kingsley's behalf?"

"As well as out of personal interest. Yes, if you would."

~~SSHG~~~SSHG~~

In early December Snape sent Hermione an owl asking if she was interested in looking at a book he had found at the University of London's Senate House Library.

They met inside the more than life-size entrance, not blowy like the street between the wings leading up to it, though still cold, despite the closed glass doors. Twenty-foot ceilings, and doors everywhere, would do that. They headed straight towards the foyer, with its information desk, lifts, and rather warmer architecture and temperature.

Snape cast a Muffliato charm to ensure no one would overhear them as he said, "It's a printed book, as I told you, and therefore possibly outside your remit, but it's by Castor Nigellus – Phineas's great-grandfather, who was a Healer at St Mungo's, until about 150 years before Phineas became Headmaster of Hogwarts. His personal casebook, of interesting medical histories – he specialised in magical maladies, it seems: the sort maliciously inflicted. It doesn’t have much in the way of Potions materials, but you might consider whether to copy it. For St Mungo's, not for your project."

"Don't they have a copy?"

Snape shook his head. "Going by the paper and typeface, as well as the preface, it was hand printed – possibly only a few copies – for use by Castor himself and his students, around the middle of the 18th century. I've checked St Mungo's library, and Hogwarts: there's no copy there."

"Then they should have a copy for completeness, if nothing else," Hermione said promptly, and smiled ruefully as his smirk mocked her passion to make information available, whether useful or not.

Snape halted opposite the bank of lifts, and Hermione frowned. "It's only two flights of stairs up to the library," she objected.

"And their security has the stairs barred," he pointed out.

Damn, but Hermione hated that. She set her teeth and muttered, "Very well, then."

He waved her into a lift whose doors were just closing; they shuddered open again, then closed smartly, almost on Snape's heel, as he followed her in. She stabbed the button with the big "Library" label beside it as the lift set off.

The lifts had been rebuilt since the original building was constructed nearly a century past, even if the lift interiors were still decorated in the Art Deco style that made Senate House of interest to architectural historians. At least the brass wall panels and ornamental grills and pale marble flooring were more cheerful than the brutal giant-size concrete exterior of the building.

The lights above the door flickered promptly past 1 and 2, then past 6 – the last publicly accessible floor – and Hermione stabbed the 2 button again, uselessly, then stood hesitating, not sure what to do. There was no other button that didn't have a lock beside it, locks to which they had no key.

Even as she hesitated the lift shuddered to a halt. The lights flickered again. Hermione suppressed a small moan, and looked frantically over the control panel, looking for a way out, or for help. The "Open Doors" button did nothing.

Snape said, "There's no need –"

She didn't wait, hardly heard him, focussed on getting out of there now, right now. She pressed the red button beside the circular group of holes that signified a microphone.

Snape said something breathtakingly crude, and grabbed her arm. She couldn't shrug him off, but she managed to lean forward. "Help! This lift's stuck!"

"You stupid woman – are you a witch or not?"

He spoke over a slightly tinny voice that asked briskly, "Is that lift number three?"

"Too late now."

She ignored that, focussed on escape. "How do I know what lift it is? It's bloody well stuck somewhere in the tower! Get us out!"

"Yes, miss. If you'll wait a moment – I'll call the engineer, and get back to you. You're quite safe – the cables are very secure."

She muttered, "Fuck the cables!"

Snape said, sounding exasperated, "Since you've condemned us to stay here until they can lower the lift to a door, don't ill-wish the lift cables!"

"Condemned...?"

He sounded really annoyed now. "When did you last Apparate?"

She looked up at him, at the scowl, the lips so tight she could hardly see them, the wrathful black eyes sparking at her.

Oh God. "This morning," she answered weakly. She hardly needed to say it.

"If you're going to panic, Madam Granger," he hissed, "the least you can do is panic as a witch! If you'd kept your hands off that button they need never have known there was anyone in the lift – since it's obvious that someone called it and for some reason your button choice didn't register. We could have Apparated out to somewhere you could sit down and have a stiff drink and get over it without bothering anyone. Oh no. So now we're stuck here for Merlin knows how long, while they get someone in to fix it."

Hermione closed her eyes and moaned and leaned against him. She didn't need to be stuck in a lift again. She had sworn to herself it was never going to happen again, she was staying out of bloody lifts. And instead she was trapped, and trapped with Severus Snape hissing insults to her intelligence – insults which were fully justified. How had she survived even three years in the field? Though maybe she'd been too long away from it; Auror College did train them in mastering panic and in using it constructively. Her supervisor would have penalised her for this stupid, potentially dangerous, error. Instead, she had detention with Snape. On the other hand, at least she had company, however disgusted he was with her.

"Sorry," she muttered. "Really, really, really sorry."

She went on leaning against him, grateful for the warmth of his body when her own was so chilled; he didn't push her away.

"A lot of use –" He stopped, and took a deep breath. "It's done, now." Astonishing; she'd thought he could abuse her idiocy for a good half hour. He had mellowed indeed.

"Do you have any idea how long it will take to summon this engineer?"

Miserably she answered, "They're not likely to have one on staff. Though there may be one from the lift company in the area. Half an hour? Two hours? And then he has to free the lift from whatever's halted it between floors."

She tried to pull herself together, though her mother's voice sounded in the back of her head, 'Shock, Hermione; sit down and have a hot cup of tea with sugar.' No tea, no sugar, and the floor looked chilly. She'd done a lot better the time she and Rose had been trapped by a power cut in Marks and Spencer's Oxford Circus shop. Of course that time, once power was on again, which hadn't taken long, thanks to the emergency generators, the lift had started up again and slid smoothly to the ground floor. Also, that time, she'd had Rose to be calm for, and the strong desire not to infect Rose with her own panic. But considering that was probably what her mother had felt, the time they were stuck in the lift at the local hospital when Hermione was eight years old, her daughter might be scared of lifts too.

Snape interrupted her self-recriminations. "Let's sit down, then."

Then his hand under her chin made her look up again, and he scowled. After that, though, he laid his fingers against the side of her throat, taking her pulse. So she must look like death warmed up, as well as feeling it.

Meekly she said, "I won't lose my head again."

"No, but you're cold, and your pulse is still unsteady. In shock? You've had a bad time in a lift before, or are you really uncomfortable in small spaces? I'd never noticed that."

"Lifts," she answered.

"You need to get warm."

The telephone loudspeaker interrupted to ask how many people were in the lift, to confirm no one was injured, and then to assure them an engineer was on the way. "If you want someone to talk to while you wait, just speak up. We'll check on you every so often anyhow."

During the exchange Snape took his coat off – a long, full-skirted affair, with a high collar and close-fitting sleeves, that probably made him feel dressed almost like a wizard. To the average Muggle it would look dramatic, like something out of a movie, and the fine, close-woven wool and silk lining would look expensive. It was also warm, she realised, shuddering in reaction, as he wrapped it around her. He added a warming charm, and she thanked him quietly.

"You don't want to sit?"

"The floor looks cold."

"Sit anyway."

He drew her down, and sat, but pulled her onto his lap. She fitted well enough, being a good ten inches shorter than he and still quite slim, in spite of a bit of extra weight after two children. He tucked her against his body, and when she pushed the coat open so that she could better feel his body's warmth, rearranged it so that they were both wrapped in it, her arms around his waist, her head under his chin, and his arms holding her close. After a while she sighed and relaxed, feeling somewhat warmer, and definitely feeling safer.

A while after that he pulled a book out of his pocket and started reading. That was good too.

Later still their contact advised that the engineer had arrived, and they should see a bit of action.

That turned out to be an unfortunate choice of words. The lift car started vibrating at unpredictable intervals.

Hermione whimpered, and pressed herself into Snape, not caring a bit that he was standoffish and hated people and had never liked his students and was a very private person.

He said in her ear, "If there's any doubt, if you're in any danger, I'll Apparate us out of here and Obliviate those Muggles afterwards, understand me? So don't let go of me."

"Yes," she whispered, "but we should wait, if we can. I don't like Obliviating people."

"Not even Muggles?"

"They don't even know it's possible. At least a witch or a wizard might guess what's happened, if there's a gap in their memory. They might be annoyed, or frightened, but they won't be afraid they're going mad."

He said nothing to that, but he might well agree with her. Snape didn't subscribe publicly to pity, or even compassion, but she had noticed long ago that he was relatively careful with people's lives and sanity, if not their feelings or self-esteem.

The car trembled on its cables again, then dropped a short way, sharply.

Hermione shut her eyes tight and pressed closer, even as the man behind the telephone said, "It's all right! He says there's a bit of a snarl in one of the cables. He'll have it fixed soon." Rather more dubiously the man went on, "Fairly soon, anyway."

Hermione muttered feverishly, "Oh God, a snarl in one of the cables, he says. I wouldn't think that's possible. I wonder what's really wrong?"

Snape demanded, "Do you know anything about the construction and operation of these things?"

"No."

"No more do I. So stop imagining things that are probably impossible, and wait patiently."

She couldn't stop shaking, though, remembering that broken cable in the hospital lift, and the second one that had nearly broken from the sudden imposition of double the weight it was meant to carry. She managed to tell him about that, that she did know at least one kind of disaster that could strike.

"You need something else to think about. Try this."

Then he was shifting her about so that she straddled his thighs instead of sitting on them, fitting their bodies close indeed, gripping the hair at the back of her head and tilting her head up, and kissing her. His mouth was open, his tongue flicking at her lips. In spite of his firm grip and his not seeking permission, he wasn't forcing her, wasn't even rushing her. But he was warm and close and it had been too long and she needed this.

She lifted a little, so that their bodies were pressed closer, and her lips were against his, and opened her mouth to him. They kissed with silent concentration, lips moulding together, tongues entering each other's mouths, flicking together, twining, exploring, enjoying each other's taste and breath and texture.

Hermione shifted forward a little more, so that her crotch was pressed tightly against him. She rubbed herself deliberately against the rigid length of him and with satisfaction heard him hiss softly. That was good. She slipped her hand between their bodies and folded her fingers over him, then brought in her other hand and began working his trousers open. He didn't object; instead he moved back fractionally, and unfastened his belt and waistband and ran his zip down with the necessary caution. Her hand moved into his clothing and found the warm, hard flesh, easing it out, stroking it, admiring its dark colour and its dampened tip peeking from the folds of skin.

She teased her fingertips over it, and he gulped and thrust against them.

She heard, in a slightly uneven voice, "Silencio!"

Privacy was good, but being able to do this, to look at him, even if she couldn't explore him in detail, was better. Best would be mounted on that eager cock, driving for oblivion, escaping from everything.

She tried to curl forward to get her mouth to it, but he held her back.

"If you do that, I'll never last. Let me get your skirt up..."

He pushed the hem of her straight skirt up, from her knees, up her thighs, and lifted her into an upright kneeling position so he could forcefully shove it above her waist. She reached for her panties' waist hem, but he must have used his wand: suddenly they were gone. Not too far, she vaguely hoped, but couldn't care, especially as they were too damp to be worn again comfortably.

Snape gripped her hip with one long-fingered hand while the other moved between her thighs, quickly, but not roughly. One finger stroked up between her lips, confirming how moist she was already. She had been watching that hand, but a soft noise made her look up at his face. Several expressions flitted over it: pleasure that she was wet for him already, and a sort of tightly reined-in hope that made her swallow, almost as if she was going to cry. Then determination wiped everything else away from his face.

He shouldn't have to feel like that.

"Not a competition," she murmured, and moved to kiss him again, biting delicately at his lower lip, worrying the new fullness of it.

He went quite still, and she slid her hands up his body, flattening them against his chest, then tugging at his shirt buttons, impatiently pulling the shirt open. His skin was very pale, just like the skin of his face and hands, the only parts of his body ever visible. There were marks on his chest as well as the silver scars on his neck from Nagini's bite; some looked like hex marks, others knife-wounds. All healed, but all evidence of past pain. The only marks on her body were from Bellatrix's knife and from bearing her children.

She smoothed her palms over him, lingering over the tiny pink nipples, not so flat when she did move on, and fingered the scars as much as the unmarred skin. He shivered, but said nothing. Willing her to continue, perhaps. She had found a deep well of curiosity about him, and meant to satisfy it, wanting to experience his body as for some time she had experienced his mind. She pushed his shirt off his shoulders, stroking down his arms that showed the lean muscles of years of cauldron-stirring (and maybe Death Eater rumbles, too), until she had him naked above the waist. Then she leaned in to kiss the pulse in his throat.

That ended his passivity. His arms tightened around her, his hands dealt quickly with her blouse, more complex though its fastenings were, and his hands came up to cup and squeeze her breasts. There was more to them than when she had been a schoolgirl; breast-feeding had given her bigger breasts, even after she stopped nursing. As if in echo of that thought Snape moved to suckle on one nipple, teasing, then harder, a strong drawing suction that sent the lightnings through her body, tickling her deep inside, making her shift impatiently and press herself in growing need against his cock, hard between their bellies.

His mouth moved to her other breast, and dealt with it as thoroughly. When his head lifted she rubbed against him, muttering, "Now! Want you now!"

"Yes," he answered fiercely. His hands supported her buttocks, lifting her so that she was high enough to seize his cock in greedy, tender hands and guide it into her. He let her lower herself onto him at her own pace, and shuddered as she did so. She tightened around him, a welcoming hold, before she lifted again, and began to move. Placed as she was, partly supported on his thighs as he knelt on the hard marble, her weight meant he couldn't make large movements, but his responses were convincing. They moved together, faster, harder, their hands gripping, her head thrown back, his bent over her, the sharp teeth nipping at her shoulders, her breasts, and her throat, until she was thrown off the cliff, over the edge, falling and soaring together, freed to take flight, crying out her triumph. She felt him follow her almost at once. Dragons might mate like that, so fierce, so free, so intertwined.

The persistent thumping of the lift ceased to be mere background noise and became communication, but it was an effort to make herself care. Hermione didn't want to come back from that warm, peaceful air where she was afraid of nothing and had everything. She let her head drift to Snape's shoulder and her hands move caressingly up and down his narrow back, searching out the ridge of the spine, and sliding down to the cleft in his arse.

He said huskily, "So small, and so ferocious, burning me alive!" Maybe he had seen dragons too. But no. "Another phoenix," he whispered, "a magical creature."

She would take that. She stretched sinuously, more like a cat than a dragon, and kissed him one last time, before she would let the Muggle world end this.

The Silencing Charm only went one way, so they heard when the speaker announced, "It's fixed! Stand by for the lift to start again, nothing to worry about. Bringing you down to the second floor – that's where you were going, weren't you?"

"Oh God," Hermione gulped, dragon and phoenix no more, but a woman fearful of embarrassment. She pulled herself out of Snape's loose hold, bolting to her feet, jerking her bra into place and fastening it, pulling down her skirt, buttoning up her blouse, wondering what he had done with her panties.

Snape stood too, and let his wand drop down into his hand and waved it at himself. His clothes immediately sorted themselves into impeccable neatness: buttons, zip, belt, tie, shirt collar and cuffs and tails. He made an impatient sound and flicked the wand at her, too, and she felt the voiceless Tergeo clean the slick fluids from her thighs. Then another charm fastened the floppy bow of her collar, slid her suit jacket back onto her body, and restored her panties. A quick Scourgify rendered them comfortable. Her clothes seemed to shimmy into tidiness, a very odd sensation. Then another charm soothed the sting of her swollen and bitten lips and the tender places on her throat and breasts. She felt rather sorry about that, but reached for her shoes and stepped into them before Snape put them back on her too.

He said critically, "You are incorrigibly Muggle when you panic. A good thing you've never had to go undercover."

She couldn't be bothered snarling at him. She was too relieved, and indeed still too relaxed, despite her desire for the Library staff not to know how they had been keeping her fears at bay.

She used her own wand to restore her hair to its customary style, the chignon at the back of her head that was her compromise between neatness and elegance. Then, smiling a little, as the lift jerked very slightly and started to move down, she waved her wand at Snape and tidied his hair. She had clawed it into more tangles than he ordinarily achieved.

Softly she said, "Thank you."

His eyes came to meet hers briefly, then flinched away. "Perhaps I shouldn't have done that."

"Ordinarily I prefer to be asked, but it was most welcome. Having great sex with you certainly beats panicking myself into exhaustion."

He looked at her again, uncertainty lingering, but worry removed.

"Most welcome," she repeated. "And not just because I haven't been getting any, either."

She moved across the foot or so that separated them and leaned up, setting one hand on his shoulder to steady herself. Then she stood on tiptoe, pulled his head down, and kissed his mouth, gently but not casually. She felt the tension flow out of him, and his hands brushed down her back for a moment.

"It was good." His voice was almost inaudible, but the pat on her bottom was evidence that he wasn't feeling shy.

Then the lift slid to a stop, the door opened, and they were out, to anxious enquiries and offers of cups of tea or coffee, or a couch to lie down on, if she felt the need. No one seemed to feel that Snape needed to lie down. They must have been listening to the sound pickup from the lift, waiting with apprehension for her anxiety to turn to full-blown hysteria. Bless silencing charms.

Hermione thanked everyone, and assured them she felt fine now she was no longer trapped.

Then Snape said, "I think I should take you home. However," turning to one of the librarians, "I had a request in for a book from the Rare Printed Books collection. In the circumstances, could it be held for a day or two?"

He was assured that there was no problem, and once his pass had been scanned was able to see the 'hold until' date extended.

Neither of them was anxious to stay in the atmosphere of concern and guilt, and the certainty that they would be closely observed.

Snape murmured, once they had a little privacy, "Are you still interested in Castor's book?"

"Yes, but thank you for not wanting me to look it over today! And S – Severus, can we find somewhere we can just quietly Apparate in without being noticed? I can't face that lift again!"

"We could probably talk Security into letting us walk up – and down, after today. Why don't we ask about that now? Shall I?"

Hermione thought she should do her own asking; Severus Snape had been propping her up long enough. Time to show she could get back to normal without having to be further coddled.

The librarian who had secured Snape's book reservation for him was quite willing to request Security to note her identity and allow her to use the stairs, both now and later.

So after a few more minutes, and more politenesses exchanged, they walked down the miles of staircase to the ground floor, where Snape pulled on his coat again and Hermione took her own charm-reinforced wool coat and pashmina from her briefcase and wrapped up well. It wasn't shock making her cold now. The wind was blowing hard, as it often did in the entrance to Senate House, in the wind tunnel the architect had managed to create. The dull late afternoon sky was full of ominous towering clouds that promised rain, as snow so seldom fell in London. She wanted a cup of tea, since Firewhisky would probably be a mistake. And perhaps she wanted to see how she and Snape got on when they had an adequate horizontal surface, preferably a well-padded one.

~~SSHG~~~SSHG~~

She looked at Castor Nigellus's case record book, and watched while Snape carefully created two copies, giving her one to satisfy her ever-lively appetite for information.

A week later she said to him, "Once the children are home from Hogwarts I shan't be doing much, or at least little that I can plan for ahead of time. I meant to get up to Oxford earlier, but if I do it now, while it's still term time, I can stay in the Bodleian until ten. Once vacation starts, it's get out by seven. I'll stay two or three days; I shouldn't need longer."

"Can you consult the catalogue and run your Arithmantic calculations on it before you go, or must you do it there?"

"Before I go, fortunately, since book delivery can take up to two hours. I've identified a couple of dozen books I want to look at – both bound manuscripts and a handful of early printed books, and'll place requests online tonight. That's just the first cast this year, of course. There'll be more to find later, I'm sure."

"If there's something you want my opinion on, or think I might wish to examine, owl me." He smiled very faintly. "I'd say send me your Patronus from somewhere private, but I still associate seeing someone's Patronus with wartime."

"I know that feeling," she agreed.

She was pleased when he bent and kissed her in farewell. Severus Snape was slowly becoming more comfortable with being her lover, though it was not something they had discussed yet. Hermione was quite willing to wait for him to get used to it. She had already decided that she herself very much wished to get used to it. One of the things she liked about the relationship was that Snape was unlikely to be wanting a housekeeper, or a wife, or a mother of children, but simply a lover who was also a friend and companion. Yet that combination was so rare for him that he treated her – at least in bed – with delightful care. Out of it he was almost as abrasive as ever, which now she thought of as recognition of an equal rather than contempt for an inferior.

~~SSHG~~~SSHG~~

In Oxford, unlike London, it was snowing. Lightly, but persistently. When she left her lodgings Hermione cursed the weather, and Apparated to an obscure corner of the exterior of the Radcliffe Camera, before walking the short distance to the Bodleian Library itself. Something that looked like a baroque birdcage built in stone had plenty of corners convenient for witches and wizards to appear in.

She walked from Radcliffe Square along Catte Street, then through the entryway tunnel under the noble tower, and across the courtyard to the entrance to the Old Bodleian, past the statue of the Earl of Pembroke, who fortunately felt neither the snow nor the isolation of the courtyard he had to himself, and up the staircase to Duke Humfrey's Library, above the Divinity School. A charm had kept her boots dry, and the walk in the open was short enough that shaking snow off her coat and floppy beret ensured they went into the cloakroom dry, along with her briefcase. She thought there wasn't now a library in the world that one entered without arms full of papers and computer and such personal comforts as were allowed in. Her lip salve and hand cream, like her Muggle biro, stayed in her briefcase: pencils only, here, and thank heaven for the power sockets at all the desks.

She always liked to read in Duke Humfrey's, if that was possible. She liked the long room with its coffered painted ceiling, its walls of books (not to be touched save by librarians, except at Selden End), its arcades holding up the gallery with the second storey of bookshelves, and its full-height round-topped windows that let in plenty of daylight, even in winter. By exerting a little undue influence with her wand she was able to settle at a table by herself. A short time after she had her notebook plugged into the Library's power and the online catalogue opened, the books she had requested arrived. She settled in happily to browse. A quick look at each suggested all were relevant to her search, so she immersed herself.

Two evenings later she sent Severus Snape an owl from the local Owl Post office. She had taken a little break and prowled through part of the catalogue of rare, though modern, books, and turned up a bound manuscript that was only about eighty years old, called Nurmengard Tage, written by a Felix Aschenfeld, bequeathed to the Library by one Adalbert Aschenfeld, with a number of books on alchemy. The book was classified as allegorical fiction, which sounded like a librarian making the best of a bad job, bewildered by a peculiar little book that had somehow crept into a specialist collection. The use of the word Nurmengard awoke Hermione's curiosity, and she requested it. She was interested to find, once the memoir was delivered to her desk, that it was written on high-quality paper (not parchment), in the beautiful but difficult-to-read Gothic script still in use in Germany much later than the late 1930s.

Hermione's reading German was very good, by now, and it was not her first encounter with Gothic script; indeed, Felix Aschenfeld had a commendably regular hand. She quickly established he was a follower of Grindelwald, just as the title suggested. A follower who had fled to England, not from his master, but from the National Socialists who persecuted Jews, indifferent to whether they were wizards or not. Grindelwald must have found that inconvenient; Felix found it horrifying, that mere Muggles could so successfully attack wizards, and more horrifying, that a few wizards helped them. Several pages bound in at the start of the manuscript covered that personal history, and his desolation at the loss of his wife near the start of his difficult journey.

Muggles would not have been able to read those pages: they appeared to be blank, but Hermione found it curious that as many as a dozen such unused sheets should be bound in. Some experiments with revelatory charms brought up the hidden text. Those extra pages made it clear to the witch reading them that this was history, not fiction. It was history worth preserving, especially since Felix appeared to be of a moderate disposition; she decided to make a copy of the book tomorrow, reading it today.

There was a letter, too, addressed to his brother and the brother's wife, urging them to leave Oxford and their scholarly pursuits, to go to Nurmengard in his place, to go direct, as he no longer could, to serve Grindelwald. That was an odd thing to ask. If he was persecuted for his ethnic origins, so would the brother have been, and his sister-in-law too, whether she was Jewish or not. And 'go direct'? Hermione puzzled over that letter, obscure in its wording, obviously meant to be a private communication, and finally decided that it might be worth asking Snape what he thought of it. Snape's mind was much more convoluted than hers, and she thought both of them might be interested in something that purported to be an account of ten years in service to that charismatic wizard's version of the greater good. Felix Aschenfeld's memoir was much clearer than his letter, and much calmer than his description of his escape from Germany.

The next morning Snape met her at her lodgings, and shortly they were bent over the book. He didn't need a translation charm either.

All he had to say at first was, "It seems Grindelwald didn't care enough to help a follower in such difficulty. Wasteful of him."

Later, after reading the introduction and then the letter, more than once, Snape commented, "Felix fled from near the border with Switzerland – he might not have escaped, otherwise, hexed as he had been. A long way from Nurmengard. I don't see why 'direct' might not simply mean Apparating in to a point known to Grindelwald's people."

"Then why didn't Felix and his wife go there from where the Nazis caught up with them? Or why didn't he go from Switzerland, after her death?"

"The death of a beloved wife might have left him unable to do any such thing, even if he felt like returning to duty at once, given the grief he clearly felt."

Hermione bit her lip and nodded, remembering how discomposed she had been by her encounter with a disobliging lift: nothing in comparison with being pursued by the men who meant to imprison Felix, and who had, whether they meant to or not, injured his wife so badly that she died in Switzerland.

"Grindelwald might have been as indifferent to personal issues as Voldemort ever was. A grieving man, however devoted to his service, might have been safer staying away."

"For a time, yes, but to say to his brother he couldn't now return... 'Let two who are one join to come and go, to serve and to aid our master' – what does he mean by that? It's not as if he wasted space on flowery language; it's all pretty straightforward, except for those few sentences." She sighed. "He'd hidden the letter, so it just looked like blank paper; he might have been less obscure in his directions."

"So those directions were the most secret part of the letter, the details that it was essential to conceal except from those who knew the meaning already, or could guess at it."

That made sense, but was little help to them.

"Ah well. Whatever he meant by it, the most interesting thing is his years with Grindelwald. I don't need to unravel his private messages, though it would be good to know exactly what he meant, for completeness."

Hermione went to turn the page, but Snape put his hand over hers to prevent her.

Then she felt the familiar hook in her navel and the unmistakable whirling of a Portkey journey. She landed hard on her bottom on unforgiving stone, and Snape landed beside her, successfully twisting to keep erect. Death Eater training school was more effective than Auror training, it seemed. The stone she lay on was freezing cold, and Hermione scrambled hastily to her feet.

Snape had his wand out, and she found hers was in her hand too, so she still had some Auror reflexes.

Automatically they moved so that they were back to back, guarding each other, and turned slowly, examining the place.

A large room built of nearly black stone, with two doorways and a single narrow window naked to the air. It was empty, save for a wooden table that looked too big to go through even the larger of the two doors to the room. It was also exceedingly dusty, and the only marks in the dust were those made by her body and Snape's feet. Felix's book lay open on the floor. She picked it up and stuffed it in the back pocket of her long skirt.

Snape muttered, annoyance mingling with respect, "A Portkey, initiated by something in addition to touch. Clever bastard, Felix Aschenfeld, if he devised that. This will be Nurmengard."

"Are you sure?"

Snape's look was withering, before he asked, "Why would a Portkey to return to Grindelwald go anywhere else? This may be a secure Apparition point rather than the tower of the fortress itself, of course."

"We activated the Portkey by touching the book – or the letter – at the same time."

"Our hands touched, also," he pointed out. Then he shrugged. "We can Apparate out, though perhaps not direct to Oxford – less fatiguing to go to, say, Munich and take the international Portkey to London, then Apparate."

"Yes, but can't we look around first? If this is Nurmengard? I'd like to see it. Who's been here since Dumbledore imprisoned Grindelwald?"

"Voldemort, who murdered Grindelwald for the Elder Wand, uselessly? Whoever fed the prisoner, but did not or could not release him, for fifty years and more?"

Hermione hated the way Severus Snape could make her feel stupid, but he seldom managed it unless she had not thought before she spoke.

"Go cautiously. I don't want you out of my sight."

"No, sir," she muttered, trying for sarcasm that didn't seem to take.

Whether the room they arrived in was, or had been, a regular Apparition point, stairs outside it rose upward into the tower that loomed high above the curtain walls. Beyond the covered space from which the stairs led was a courtyard, the dark stones underfoot heaved about by weeds and even trees that had taken root, though none looked healthy. Not a lot, Hermione thought, for about seventy years free run of the place. Maybe Grindelwald's caretakers had kept the place in order, until he died. The stairs, too, were overgrown. Or had been. Someone seemed to have burned a path upward. Nothing grew between those blackened stones.

"How does it feel," Snape enquired, "treading in Voldemort's footsteps?"

Hermione shivered a little. "Creepy," she admitted. "But he can't hurt us now. And whoever slagged these stairs, it wasn't him: Harry said he flew, and got in the window at the top."

"You realise there may be a desiccated corpse around somewhere? I doubt he bothered to bury Grindelwald, or burn his body, either."

Hermione stood still for a moment, before she recollected that bodies twenty years dead were likely to be less offensive than more recent corpses. She had seen a good many of those, and not just in the last battle.

"Stop that, Severus! If you think we shouldn't explore, say so, but stop trying to creep me out."

"There probably won't be much to see, but I suppose we can make a note of what there is, if only for the records in London."

They mounted the stairs. At the first level there were two large rooms, empty now, save for large sinks and benches built at house elf height into the back wall of one room, and a fireplace. The next floor had four smaller rooms, with twinned fireplaces between each pair. When they reached the second highest level, with only the roof remaining, most of the space was a single room. Two doors stood in the far wall, but there wasn't much floor space available for them.

The left-hand room was empty, like everything else, though it had a narrow window: maybe that was the room where Grindelwald had been imprisoned, where he had died. The other room was also small and square, and had something on a shelf made in the wall by removing a stone, or part of one. Hermione started towards it, wondering what had been left that could have been carried away.

Snape said quickly, "Don't touch it! Whatever it is."

"I won't!"

He stepped into the room after her.

The wooden door slammed behind him.

Hermione spun round, wand in hand, seeing the horrified look on his face. The movement of the door had disturbed the dust a little.

Snape grabbed the iron door handle, and was thrown back. As Hermione knelt over him, relieved to discover he appeared to be all right after having been tossed several feet back from the door, a grinding rumble started outside, and the floor trembled.

Snape got to his feet, rubbing his elbow briefly, and took out his own wand before he said, "That sounds as if the stairs are going."

"And the tower with them; it must go, if they're falling in. We'd better leave."

She glanced towards the little stone shelf, but escape was more important.

"Apparate just outside the walls! Don't go further, we shouldn't get separated."

Mentally she gave the command. Nothing happened. She frowned. She had been Apparating successfully for over twenty years. She glanced at Snape: he was blank faced, rather than scowling; not a good sign.

"Warded against Apparition," he said flatly.

"Wards and door impassable, no window – send a Patronus for aid, then."

"Both of us, together if we can."

After a moment he slashed his hand down. Hermione summoned up the memory of her children playing, and saw her otter leap forward, bouncing gaily for a moment before it headed for the outside wall. And fell back, to vanish abruptly. She saw Snape's Patronus do the same thing, only vaguely aware that it wasn't the doe Harry had described. It looked, in that brief glimpse, like a phoenix.

"That's something I've not seen before," Snape said.

"I've been stupid again, haven’t I."

"I made no attempt to stop you, and am as much to blame. Never mind that. Try again. You alone. Aim for the doorway this time; it might be easier to pass through, being intended for entrance and exit."

Her silver otter propped at the door, touched it, fell back, set its nose to the crack, and faded. This time she had a good view of Snape's phoenix, before it fell back from the crack between wooden door and stone lintel and likewise disappeared.

"Well, rats," Hermione said crossly, to hide her apprehension.

There was a louder rumble, as more of the stone staircase fell away.

Snape crossed the room quickly, to examine, without touching, the object on the shelf. She went to join him. A tarnished goblet, black from neglect, but probably silver.

Snape used his wand to investigate it, then shrugged. "Nothing special that I can detect, just some dried wine lees staining the bowl. Nothing in the wine. Not likely to help us."

"A silver goblet, that no one's taken, though everything else that's moveable has been stripped away."

"Just so. Not as harmless as it looks. Don't touch it."

Hermione had no intention of touching it, and said so. Besides, her curiosity had been replaced by an urgent desire to get out of here. She was tired of being trapped in small spaces with Snape.

She turned to face the door. As he had said, in the nature of magic, it ought to be the easiest way out, barred though it was.

"Go through all the opening charms in turn. But no violent spells, yes?"

The tower shook as the last of the stairs went, but though there was dust everywhere and the ominous grumbling of stone continued, their prison remained intact.

"Indeed," he agreed, letting out his held breath. "You first. Speak the spells aloud."

Hermione started with Alohomora for completeness, and worked through the fifteen or so spells she knew. Snape contributed another four. Automatically she fixed the words and wand movements for those spells in her memory, not willing to admit yet that this was anything other than a temporary problem.

"Incendio? Reducto? Diffindo?"

Before she could add Defodio, as a way of blasting the rock wall, rather than the door, Snape turned sharply. She heard his softly indrawn breath, before he put his hand on her arm.

"The back wall is moving. Inwards."

She stared at it, but couldn't see any difference. Then she pointed her wand at the outside wall, pronouncing the measuring charm aloud so Snape would know what she was doing. Half a minute later she tried again. She hadn't moved, but the distance was less. Very little less, but Snape was right.

This was too serious to allow time for panic, so she fought it back.

Indignantly she said, "Someone cursed this place very thoroughly. Who, and why, for heaven's sake?"

"Voldemort, if it matters, if I had to bet. As for why, perhaps there is yet something useful here that he wanted to protect. Or simply didn't want anyone carrying word of whatever it was he had left behind him. I'll start on the door, rather than the walls: safer."

She nodded, even as he said, "Diffindo!"

No result, not even a scar on the iron-hard wood.

It didn't take long before Snape was trying Incendio. The flames sprang from his wand, but vanished as they struck the door. At least none of these spells had backfired.

Without much hope Snape tried Sectumsempra.

The door looked back at them, untouched, and blank-faced as ever. Malicious sod.

Hermione stuffed her wand down its tube pocket along her skirt side seam and shoved her hands in her pockets to hide the slight tremor they had developed. She didn't want to look at the back wall advancing on them.

Snape took half a minute out to swear creatively. Then he started trying more spells, most of which Hermione had never heard. The room must be buzzing with frustrated magic.

Hermione muttered, "This is so bad cinema."

"What?"

She shrugged. "It was okay the first time, scary but clever: the walls moving in on the heroes on the Death Star, but of course they worked out a way to escape. Copycat is cheap, though."

"Cheap or not –"

She knew Snape was going to say, "It will kill us," and closed her eyes tightly, gesturing his words away. He didn't say them. Nice of him. She took a deep breath to steady herself and wiped her sweat-damp palms on the back of her denim skirt. Her fingers brushed over the shape of Felix's damned book in the rear pocket.

"Severus." Slowly she said, when he looked at her, "'Let two who are one join to come and go'..."

"Smart aleck," Snape growled. "But what is joining? Put the damned thing on the floor and we'll try; we might as well."

Their hands on the same page as before, whether touching or not, didn't make anything happen.

Snape got to his feet and spoke the measuring charm again; the wall was several inches closer. Hermione tried not to panic, but to think. Felix had meant there to be a way out, or rather, away; what was it?

"How were we joined?" she asked. Then, suddenly excited, "Severus! Felix couldn’t go back, he said – and his wife was dead. But his brother was married! And he asked them to go together!"

Disgustedly Snape said, "Bloody fucking sex magic? All we need."

He had a mouth on him in bad moments.

She looked up at him and invited breathlessly, "Fuck me, Severus. We can't think of any more spells to get us out of here. If nothing else, it'll take our minds off the Wall of Death."

"Don’t you believe it," he said grimly.

He wrenched off his coat, all the same, and flung it to the floor. "Don't take off too much," he warned. "If this works, we'll be back in Duke Humfrey, and you don't want to show up naked. Even with a wand to use a Don't-notice-me charm."

Hermione started to pull off her boots, but Snape said, "No."

She shrugged, and hauled up the relatively narrow-fitting skirt that reached to mid-calf, bundling it at her waist. As she skinned out of her panties the skirt crept partway down again. She shoved them in a spare pocket and took hold of her skirt once more.

Snape opened his Muggle trousers and pushed down his wizard–style underpants, then sank down on his coat. "We should make this as quick as we can," he said coolly, "but it may be important that you as well as I come to orgasm. Come here, Hermione."

He pushed her skirt back up again and nudged her thighs apart, then opened her with his thumbs. She hadn't noticed, in the stress of mounting fear, but she wasn't dry, even though she wasn't ready, either. Snape bent his head and licked her, all the way up. His long hair shifted on his shoulders as his head moved, and she rolled her skirt tightly and stuffed the wad of cloth into the waistband so she could watch him.

He began licking her thoroughly, repeatedly, her inner lips and the sensitive flesh between, thrusting his tongue a little way into her slit, while his fingers toyed with her outer labia and then pressed in to brush over her clit. She gasped softly, feeling the sudden jolt. One of his hands slid around to grip her naked bottom underneath the skirt, pulling her close, holding her positioned exactly for his tongue and right hand to work on. Hermione forgot, almost, about the wall, and felt herself softening, becoming moist and plump, eager to be filled by more than his tongue, now. She put her hands on his shoulders and held on tightly, her fingers flexing in time with the movements of his tongue.

When he started licking her clit she whimpered softly, and the hand on her arse dug in for a moment, before it spidered around so that he could run his fingers down her cleft. Then he began to work one finger inside her. After a moment his finger retreated, and his hand fell away; she made a wordless, agitated protest, but his hand went no further than his wand, in its sheath along his trouser leg, gripping the end only, with just his fingertips. She didn't hear him voice the spell, but suddenly her cleft and her arsehole were moist, slick, and easy of access. His finger returned, pressing insistently but not roughly, and finger and tongue alternated, his tongue tip stabbing her, shocking the stiff bud each time, and his finger stroking inside her. She clawed at his shoulders.

"I'm ready now," she said, her voice shaking.

"Come, then." His voice was unsteady too, but his hands were firm on her body as he drew her down to kneel before him, and encouraged her head down to the cock that rose from its nest of coarse black hair.

She set her hands on his thighs to hold herself in place and licked once, generously, up his length, then took the head in her mouth and licked around that repeatedly, her lips moving on it too, like someone working on a lollipop. An all-day sucker. She didn't smile, even internally, at the image. Instead she swallowed him down, and began a teasingly slow rise and fall, so that his cock was alternately sucked into the wet warmth of her mouth, and exposed to the chill air of the tower room.

Snape gasped, "We're both ready. Lie down, Hermione, lie down!"

He twisted his fingers in her hair, lifting her head away from him. She swallowed the saliva in her mouth, then forced her head down again to lick at the pearl already forming once more on his tip, the foreskin folded back to expose the tender red head.

"I want in you now, you want me in you. Merlin, woman, lie down with me now!"

She liked it when Snape was so open about what he wanted.

She wriggled around so that she could lie on his coat, keeping her back from the cold hard stone, and spread her legs wide, lifting her knees, offering herself as a cradle for him. He knelt between her legs and moved forward, supporting himself so that all his weight didn't bear down on her. She felt the tip of his cock at her entrance and pushed up impatiently, then swallowed him once more as he moved down and in. Once fully in he paused for a moment, so she flexed around him, to force him on. He made a guttural noise, then pulled back part way and drove in again. There were no more pauses. He thrust in and she pushed up, gripping him as tightly inside her as she gripped his buttocks in her hands, her legs wrapping hard around his, moving with him as he moved with her, breathing hoarsely in unison.

He bent his head and bit at the side of her neck, clenching his teeth around her flesh as he pumped harder into her. She dug her fingernails into him through his shirt, and her whole body tightened, her inner muscles clamping hard for a long moment, until she gasped, and gasped again, and collapsed onto her back, her hands relaxing. He thrust into her a few more times, then he was pumping furiously, the blood-warm seed flooding her. She managed to tighten around him once more, using her muscles to milk the last of his climax out of him, though all she wanted was to lie in a boneless puddle of satiety.

His teeth released her and his head fell to her shoulder, his breath hot and irregular against her neck, slowly easing, as hers did, even as his body relaxed onto hers. She moved her hands up until she could embrace him, arms around his shoulders, suddenly warmer, suddenly missing the feel of his coat buttons under her bottom, missing the coat itself. Suddenly not in a malevolent tower in Germany any more, but on a parquet floor, lying between desk chairs and the bookshelf in their study bay.

"Oh God," she whispered, "it worked."

Snape grunted something indecipherable, but she felt him relaxing fully, for just a few moments.

Then his body tensed, his head came up, and there was alarm in the black eyes meeting hers.

He didn't say, "Get up."

Instead he fumbled out his wand and cast an Imperturbable charm aloud, so that she should know he had done so, shielding them from anyone outside the bay they had previously had to themselves.

Hermione closed her eyes and let herself get her breath back, let herself enjoy the feel of him, warm and moist against her despite the layers of clothing that separated them except at the loins.

When she was thinking that it might be nice to go to sleep, except that the floor was rather hard and Snape was definitely too heavy, he muttered, "If I ever go to a library with you again..."

She smothered a laugh against his shoulder.

"We haven’t had much luck lately. We'll have to stop looking at each other's toys, that's all."

After another silence he said, "My coat's still in Nurmengard tower. And so's Felix's damned treacherous book."

Hermione sighed and pushed gently at him. They got up and set themselves to rights, thankful for the ability to use wands to clean away sticky fluids and soothe her abraded back and buttocks and his scraped knees.

Snape would have healed the bitemark on the side of her neck but she murmured, "My collar will cover it, won't it?" and flushed.

He seemed to like that.

She lifted one hand to his head and finger-combed his hair, not very effectively, but gently. He bent his head into her hand, like a cat seeking to intensify the power of a stroke.

"That was good," she said, "but I'd rather just have sex, not sex magic. Where possible."

"Yes," he agreed, with unmistakable force.

Soon enough they were sitting at the desk again and Hermione was wondering what to do about the missing Nurmengard Tage.

Hermione muttered, "'I hereby undertake not to remove from the Library ... any volume, document or other object belonging to it or in its custody'... Joy. How am I going to get out of that promise that I solemnly swore to when they gave me a library card? How am I going to get out without handing over the book, but be able to come back here again?"

"You worry too much. Obliviate the librarian who gave you the book."

"And Obliviate the catalogue?" she asked sarcastically.

"Whatever works. Having found out what that book could be used to do, Hermione, you couldn't have left it here. It would have had to be confiscated. I feel no need to fetch it back from wherever it is now, Nurmengard or some other plane of existence. In fact – what time is it?"

Hermione glanced at her watch. "Just after two."

"Very well. I'll Apparate to London, report to Kingsley, and he can send people to do it officially. You have a few hours before you need to leave. We can get it dealt with well before closing time."

That sounded a lot better than trying to clean up the matter herself. Hermione was not a professional Obliviator, and wished not to damage either the librarian or the catalogue.

"Best would be to convince the librarian to record an explanation for its disappearance that no one could quarrel with."

"You work on what that might be, while I go to London. Not forgetting that the catalogue you're so concerned for will have a record of the book being delivered here, to you."

"Catalogues are like holy writ," Hermione said firmly. "They shouldn't tell lies. But that's the borrowing system, not the catalogue, I think."

Snape shrugged.

"If the librarian records that I returned the book... and is encouraged to record its loss in some other way, later on..."

"Up to you, Madam Granger. Face it, you're the only one who'll care."

"I also care – and so should you – that whoever comes to attend to it should be discreet, quiet, and make as little disturbance as possible – either in the library or in the librarian." She spoke very firmly.

Snape nodded in evident agreement. Of course an ex-spy would want things done quietly.

"Take the copy with you. I want the record safe."

"Before you get too intimate with it, some Unspeakable should examine it carefully to make quite sure that in reproducing it you didn't also reproduce Felix's Portkey."

That was a thought and a half. Hermione nodded, and drew the miniaturised copy out of the pocket of the knitted sleeveless jerkin that had been draped over the back of her chair all day. Snape tucked it into his breast pocket.

"Please do not examine anything else at all controversial in my absence," he requested.

Oh, that was sweet, despite the acerbic tone.

"No, Severus," she said, and smiled at him. "I'll stick with Eric Underhill's book on wizarding space," she promised. "I can't imagine what happened to the other copies of that, that we don't have it either at Hogwarts or in one of the Ministry libraries."

Snape ignored that, and demanded, "No spells."

"No experimental spells, no charms, no jinxes, and I won't leave the library," she agreed. "Except that I want some coffee, and something to eat now, not in half a dozen hours' time. I'll come downstairs with you."

There would be time, later, for all the things they hadn't had yet, like a bed with plenty of room, peace with no chance of interruption, and all night long to explore and enjoy each other. They had only just started. They would want many nights, Hermione thought, and then they might like to start all over again. The first thing she meant to do was get his clothes off, so she could see and touch all of him again. And her own, of course. She might never get out of bed again, at least until it was time to go back to Platform 9 and ¾.

~~SSHG~The End~SSHG~~