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Chapter One

She moved to Scotland during a heatwave, and not even the modified cooling charm she developed as part of her apprenticeship project stayed effective for more than twenty minutes before needing to be recast. It had just gone eight o'clock when she arrived at the Hogwarts gates, but it was already sweltering. Wiping the back of her hand over her clammy forehead, she then cast a Patronus to signal her arrival. The silver otter danced around her, rubbing its little head on her shoulder before bouncing up towards the castle.

Discreetly pulling the top of her dress a little ways from her body, she sent a wandless cooling charm down her cleavage and then let out a little sigh of contentment.

She startled when a loud crack resonated through the air, and a black-clad figure appeared before her. Hand on her wand, she took a calming breath and forced a smile on her face. “Good morning, Professor.”

Snape looked unimpressed to see her. “Miss Granger.”

“I thought Professor McGonagall was meeting me?”

“The Headmistress has unfortunately been called away to London, so this joyous task was delegated to me.”

He's Deputy Head, then. Hermione's smile faltered slightly at his biting tone. “Oh, I see.”

A wave of his hand and the gates opened to admit her. Without another word, he turned and walked briskly back up towards the castle. Taking this as a sign to follow him, she picked up Crookshanks' carrier and half-ran a few steps to catch up.

“Is that all your luggage?” Snape asked without looking at her once they'd entered through the front doors.

She gripped the beaded bag slung over her shoulder in pure reflex. “I've got all I need, sir.”

His eyes wandered to her bag, and his eyebrow arched. “An Undetectable Extension Charm?”

“And a modified Lightening Charm.”

“Hmpf.”

Hermione followed him up the stairs to the third floor, past the Charms classroom and into a small corridor she'd never seen before. The end of the corridor held a large stained glass window and a spiral staircase going in both directions. Three doors lined the corridor, two on the left and one on the right. Snape stopped in front of one of the first door on the left.

“These are your quarters. Ward them how you see fit. Your office is through this door,” he gestured to the door on the opposite wall, “and connects to the Charms classroom.” At her silence, he huffed. “Have you any questions?”

“No, sir, not at this time.”

Snape rolled his eyes and let out a huff. “You are no longer a student, Miss Granger. Stop calling me sir.”

“In that case,” she said, “you may call me Hermione. If you wish.” She swallowed the urge to add a 'sir' to the end of her sentence.

He looked at her as if she'd grown three heads, then blinked twice and turned to leave, black robes billowing behind him. How could he stand to wear that many layers in this blistering heat?

Crookshanks letting out an annoyed meow shook her into action.

“I'm sorry, Crooks, I know you don't like the carrier. One moment and we'll sort you out.” Finding the door unlocked, she entered with anticipation. “This is your new home, old man.”

Putting the carrier down, she opened the latch and watched as he sniffed around the room. “Do you like it?”

He didn't answer, only flickered his tail as he continued to explore, and Hermione decided to do the same.

On her left was a large fireplace with a sofa and two matching armchairs gathered in a semi-circle around it, the dark plum upholstery complementing the ochre rug and dark walnut coffee table. The wall behind the sofa was covered completely in floor-to-ceiling bookcases, and the wall opposite the door held a desk under wide windows. The morning light spilling into the room made the space feel cosy and cheerful.

Crooks had disappeared through the open door next to the fireplace, which she assumed was the bedroom. Crossing the room, she poked her head through the door and almost squealed in delight. A four-poster walnut bed with cream bedding and matching nightstands on either side took up the majority of the room. A tall wardrobe and a chest of drawers in the same walnut wood completed the bedroom, and the two windows overlooked the Great Lake.

The bathroom was accessed through the bedroom and put the dorm bathrooms to shame. The sunken bathtub could fit at least three grown people comfortably, and there was an equally generous separate shower. Per request, the mirror above the sink was not a talking one. She'd had quite enough of talking mirrors during her NEWT year, thank you very much.

Back in the bedroom, she threw herself on her back on the bed with a happy sigh. She'd missed the Hogwarts beds. She couldn't believe this was actually happening. After taking her NEWTs, she had been unsure of what path to pursue. That she would do an apprenticeship was a given, but not in what field. After weeks of anxiety and endless pros and cons lists, she'd finally decided on Charms. Professor Flitwick was more than happy to take her on. As an apprentice, she'd had a private room, sat at the High Table at mealtimes and was in charge of marking the first and second years homework.

There was a soft trill, and the bed dipped as Crookshanks joined her. Settling into her side, he rested his head against her armpit and started purring.

“Are you happy to be back at Hogwarts?” she asked, looking down at his little face. He rubbed his head against her side, and she chuckled. “I'll take that as a yes.” Burying her hand in his soft fur, she looked up at the canopy. “I think we'll be all right here, Crooks.”

He had no objections to give.

As it turned out, being at Hogwarts during the summer wasn't very exciting. Many of the other professors weren't there; the only ones she saw on any sort of regularity were McGonagall (she'd been invited to call her Minerva, but that felt strange so she didn't), Snape (who'd never in a million years invite her to call him Severus), and Hagrid (whom she met with for tea regularly). Hermione had no trouble finding things to occupy herself with. She went over her lesson plans several times, tweaking them here and there until she was satisfied. Then she woke up in the middle of the night to re-write them again. She unpacked and took great pleasure in filling her bookcases and recategorizing her collection from alphabetically to by subject and back again. When she was finished there was still about half a shelf empty, which she took as a sign that she needed more books, so one afternoon she went to Hogsmeade to pick up a few new volumes. Whilst at Scrivenshaft's she also stocked up on several pots of ink (black for writing, red for marking), as well as new quills and parchment. She fretted endlessly on what type of teacher she wanted to be and what kind of robes to wear.

She also took up walking the grounds and exploring the castle quite a bit. Her favourite discovery was a small grassy courtyard, accessed to by the spiral staircase near her quarters, and she spent plenty of days out there with a good book and a cooling charm. Her skin turned golden and her hair lightened and she felt quite content with her life.

One afternoon in the middle of July, she entered the courtyard to find an intruder.

Snape was sitting on the stone bench she usually occupied, left foot resting on his right knee and an open book in his lap. He was without his usual layers, dressed only in black trousers and a white lawn shirt, of which he had rolled up the sleeves. The most disarming thing (besides seeing the Potion Master's forearms), was his hair tucked behind his left ear. It felt strangely intimate, seeing the curve of his ear and his neck.

“Oh. Hi.”

He blinked once. “Hello.”

Hermione suddenly felt very exposed in her shorts and vest top (was she imagining his gaze lingering on her legs?). “I can go if you prefer to be alone?”

He shrugged and turned back to his book. “As long as you won't pester me with endless questions, I see no reason we can't share the space.”

Sitting down stiffly on the bench next to him, she cracked open the book and tried to read. Seeing him out of the corner of her eye was distracting her, as was hearing him turn the pages and even the sound of his breathing and she couldn't concentrate enough to take in a single word. Get a grip, Hermione!

His presence had always made her slightly on edge. First, it was because of his intimidating persona in the classroom, then the knowledge that he'd been a Death Eater. Not because she'd believed he still was, even her 15-year-old self had been persistent about Snape being on the Order's side. No, it had been because he'd once held the belief that Muggles and Muggle-born were filth that made her on edge. After the war, it was because she now knew too much about him, things that were so private she felt guilty for knowing them. Harry had shared fully what he saw in the Pensieve with Ron and Hermione, but the Minister of Magic had got only the information necessary for Snape's trial. It was with a chill she recalled how he'd screamed and raged at them once he woke up from the magical coma to find himself not only alive but exonerated and considered by many as a hero. It seemed he had not counted on surviving the war. Since then, he'd largely settled on ignoring her whenever possible.

“Is something the matter?”

Hermione looked up, surprised to hear him speak, and even more surprised it was directed at her.

Snape rolled his eyes. “You've been staring at the same page for ten minutes. Either you find it extremely fascinating, which I find doubtful, or you've forgotten how to read.”

She closed her book and sat up straighter. “Those are your only guesses?”

“I care little either way.”

“Then why did you ask?”

His black eyes glittered. “Because your impression of a statue is distracting when one is trying to concentrate.”

“I was thinking about my lesson plans,” she said, looking away from his eyes so he wouldn't catch her lie. “There are a few things I want to tweak before term starts.”

He scoffed, and as he looked back to his book she caught a glimpse of the scarring on his neck. It sent a shiver down her spine. “You're a terrible liar, Granger.”

On the last day in July, she Apparated to 12 Grimmauld Place for Harry's birthday. The party was already in full swing when she let herself in, and she straightened her dress before going into the dining room. The Most Noble and Ancient House of Black was unrecognisable from how it had looked when it was Order Headquarters. Once Harry and Ron moved in permanently after the war, they did a complete remodel. The house was now light and bright, and they'd even managed to get rid of Mrs Black's portrait.

“Hermione!” Harry crossed the room in a few long steps and hugged her tightly.

“Happy birthday, Harry,” she grinned when they parted.

He grabbed her hand. “Come, you're just in time for cake.”

Before she knew it, Hermione was swept up by the Weasley clan and hugged to within an inch of her life. After she and Ron split a few months after the war ended, there had been some tension between her and the matriarch, which in turn had made her not being invited to the Burrow for holidays. It had taken Ron giving his mother a stern talking to for her to start talking to Hermione again. She'd accepted the unsaid apology, but had not forgotten the pettiness the older woman had shown during her fourth-year.

“I've barely been gone a month,” she said to Ginny when she'd been handed a big slice of chocolate fudge cake (Harry's favourite).

“We've missed you, that's all,” the younger woman smiled. “It feels weird you're away at Hogwarts, and as a Professor too!”

Harry nodded. “How does it feel, being on the other side?”

Hermione laughed. “Ask me that again in two months. Right now, my head is filled with lesson plans and enjoying the Restricted Section of the Library.” She nudged Harry playfully. “Also, who's the swot now having a Hogwarts professor at your birthday party?”

“You didn't teach me, so it doesn't count,” he replied. Then his grin faltered slightly. “Although I did invite Snape, so I'm not sure what that says about me.”

The forkful of cake she was about to eat fell back on her plate. “You invited Snape to your birthday party? What did he say?”

Harry frowned. “Well, he's not here, is he? He sent back a lovely owl saying he'd rather get attacked by that bloody snake again.” He tried, and failed, to keep the hurt out of his voice.

Hermione sighed. “Oh, Harry.”

“I know, Hermione, but I had to try.”

Ron, who had been busy eating, said something that was lost due to the amount of cake in his mouth.

Hermione rolled her eyes. Some things never changed. “Pardon?”

He swallowed the cake and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “I said, he's mental for trying to reason with that git. I feel sorry for you, 'Mione, that you have to share a castle with him.”

Harry's hand tightened around his plate, but he said nothing as he and Hermione shared a look. This wasn't the first time Ron had spoken his less than favourable opinion about Snape, which had resulted in arguments many times before. Strangely enough, it had been Ron who'd had the hardest time reconciling what they found out about Snape from Harry contra the persona he'd had while their Professor. Even Ginny, who'd actually been at Hogwarts during Snape's tenure as Headmaster and had been tortured by the Carrows more than once had formed some sort of reluctant acceptance regarding the former spy.

“Don't be a berk,” Ginny said. “Snape's not my favourite person but he did a lot of good things. Besides, everyone deserves a second chance.”

Ron snorted his disagreement and went over to talk to George and Charlie. Harry opened his mouth to speak but was interrupted by Arthur making a toast. As they cheered for the birthday boy, Hermione couldn't help but feel proud of her friend. He was almost a brother to her, and she was happy that he'd managed to put everything about the war and Voldemort far behind him. It had taken a long time, but he was finally all right. The way he looked at Ginny, and she at him, made her heart swell even more. If anyone deserved to be happy, it was them.

As the days of August thundered on without reprieve, Hermione found herself eagerly anticipating the start of term. She still spent almost every day in the courtyard near her quarters, and much to her surprise she was more often than not joined by Snape. They rarely engaged in conversation, and when they did it was often a heated discussion (once they argued so fervently about the uses of Gillyweed that Snape didn't return for three days), but mostly it was blissful silence.

She organised and re-organised her classroom and office space until she settled on a layout and welcoming feel she was satisfied with. The students who entered her office should be able to feel relaxed and welcome. She also took care not to have any Gryffindor paraphernalia lying about; the teachers should be impartial as to House alignments. It was something the Headmistress had stressed on since the school was rebuilt. It seemed Hermione wasn't the only one who didn't agree with Professor Dumbledore's blatant show of favouritism.

The week before the start of term, the rest of the teachers started arriving. The roster wasn't dissimilar to how it'd had been during her school years; there were only a handful of new hires in the past years and she knew all them in passing from her apprenticeship.

The first Staff meeting of the new term was giving her anxiety sweats. She wore her new light green robes, wrestled her hair into a chignon and even added some makeup to make herself look older and more professional. Despite this, and the knowledge she was both a capable witch and an adult, she felt woefully out of place.

McGonagall called the meeting to order, and Hermione looked around for an available seat. Remembering the seats were unofficially assigned, she waited until everyone had found their seat before sinking into the empty one.

“Firstly,” McGonagall said with a warm smile in Hermione's direction, “I wish to welcome our newest member of the faculty, Professor Hermione Granger.” There was brief applause, and many encouraging smiles thrown in her direction. “Most of you know Professor Granger from her student days, and I hope you'll do your best to make her feel welcome.”

Beside her, Snape snorted. Hermione's face flushed.

As the meeting continued, Hermione found herself relaxing. Sitting there as a Professor was not unlike being there as an apprentice, only now she was part of making decisions and principles. The patrol schedule was sorted, and she was pleased to have every other weekend free of patrols.

After the meeting, Professor Sprout intercepted her before she had a chance to leave. “It's a pleasure to have you here, Hermione,” she said with a wide smile. “If you're ever in need of a nice cuppa or some advice, my door is always open. Also,” she added slyly, “once the semester starts we have a standing poker game on Tuesdays after rounds, in my office. You are most welcome to join.”

“Oh, thank you,” Hermione said blankly, feeling quite stunned by the invitation.

Sprout patted her hand before leaving the room.

A snort made her look up.

Snape was looking at her with a dubious look. “Pomona invited you to poker nights?”

Straightening, Hermione nodded. “She did.”

He scoffed. “Hooch cheats, so unless you're unattached to your Galleons I'd advise you to skip it. There's usually a healthy amount of Firewhiskey present, and the stories those hags tell are enough to scar you for life.”

She raised her eyebrows. “You've been involved in these poker nights I gather?”

Snape smirked. “When I first started teaching. I went once, and then never again.”

“Are the stories that bad?”

“One of them involved Hooch, a jar of Marmite and half the Holyhead Harpies team.”

Hermione's jaw dropped.

Snape laughed, a rich low sound that caught her off guard. “I've seen that look many times on a former student's face. It's not very becoming.”

“What look?”

“Finding out your former teachers are, in fact, human.”

For the first time, Hermione allowed herself to really look at the man in front of her. Tall and lean, he seemed different now that she wasn't looking at him through the eyes of a child. He wasn't handsome by any means but had rather a striking appearance, and looked healthier than he did when she was at school. His hair, long enough to brush the shoulders of his black teaching robes, was still oily but she suspected it was inclined to just as hers was frizzy. Standing over Potion fumes all day couldn't help the matter either.

She raised her eyes to meet his. “What might I find out about you that proves you're human?”

She thought he'd reply something biting and sarcastic, as was his norm, but instead he gave her a look she couldn't decipher and stormed out of the room.

“Strange man,” she muttered as she left the room.

On the night before term start, a knock on her office door made Hermione look up from the enrolment list in front of her. “It's open!” she called out, closing the binder and straightening up.

Professor McGonagall pushed the door open with a smile. “I hope I'm not disturbing you?”

Hermione stood. “No, not at all. Please, come in.” She gestured to the armchairs by the fire. “Would you care for some tea?”

“Yes, thank you.”

Hermione went over to the silver tea set and prepared a fresh pot Earl Gray, and plated some cranberry biscuits before taking the tray over to the Headmistress.

“Please, help yourself,” she said, sitting down.

“The House-elves are perfectly happy making us tea,” McGonagall tsked as she poured herself a cup.

“I know, but I prefer doing it myself.” Hermione poured herself a cup, added a splash of milk and snagged two biscuits from the tray. “I find it soothing.”

“Of course.” McGonagall took a sip and then cradled her cup in her lap. “How are you feeling, Hermione, about tomorrow? You did do a fair bit of teaching as part of your apprenticeship, but it's different being the actual Professor.”

“I'm a bit nervous,” Hermione admitted, stirring her tea, “but mostly excited.”

“You'll do great, lass. Filius said you were the brightest apprentice he's taken on in over twenty years.” McGonagall winked. “And we both know Mr Potter and Mr Weasley would not be where they are today without your help.”

Hermione's face flushed. Merlin knew she'd probably read more of their homework than the teachers did.

“If you find yourself in need of a sounding board, I'm happy to help,” McGonagall said with a smile. “I daresay all the Professors would lend a helping hand, should you require it.”

A ball of nervousness sank deep into Hermione's belly. “Thank you, Professor.”

“I insist you call me Minerva. It's a tough habit to break, addressing ones former teachers by their first name. It took me nigh on five years to stop calling Albus 'professor'.” She laughed heartily, then looked at the clock on the mantelpiece. “I shall leave you to your planning,” she said as she stood, “I have some last minutes letters to answer before it gets too late.”

Rising to her feet, Hermione put her cup on the low table between the armchairs. “Thank you for stopping by, Profess- Minerva,” she finished after a pointed look from the older woman.

After McGonagall left, Hermione sank down in the chair behind her desk again. Ready or not, tomorrow would undoubtedly come.

Chapter Text

Chapter Two

She spent most of the next day in a slight panic.

Two hours before the students were due to arrive, she left the library and went back to her quarters to get ready for the Welcoming Feast. On her dresser was a large bouquet of Peruvian lilies from her parents, which had been delivered by owl earlier that day. The accompanying 'Kiss the teacher' Muggle greeting card had both made her laugh and a bit teary-eyed when she opened it.

Standing in front of her wardrobe, she ran a hand down the length of her new robes. With Ginny's help during one stressful afternoon in Diagon Alley, they'd settled on a style that was professional but not stuffy. She wore Muggle clothing underneath; the tradition of not wearing anything underneath your robes wasn't something she particularly cared for. The actual robes were navy with a high neck when worn closed, and tiny buttons on the sleeves. It wasn't until she came out of the changing room and Ginny had snorted that she realised it was similar to the robes Snape wore. Face flushing, she'd found this didn't bother her as much as it probably should.

Her footsteps echoed as she headed towards the Great Hall, wand tucked securely in her sleeve. The antechamber by the Great Hall was empty, save for one man. Snape looked every part the strict Potions Master in his full teaching robes, arms folded over his chest and eyebrow arched.

“Cutting it a bit close, Granger?”

Refusing to let herself be intimidated, Hermione shrugged. “Not at all. You haven't gone inside either.”

Snape scoffed. “As Deputy Head, it's my duty to make sure all staff are on time for the Welcoming Feast.” He cast a hand to the door, which opened.

“Show off,” Hermione muttered.

Reaching her seat at the High Table, she noticed there were still a few seats empty. She folded her hands in her lap and huffed. She wasn't even the last one there, why was Snape acting as if they were all waiting for her? Professors Swannage (Defence Against the Dark Arts) and Moore (Muggle Studies) were the last ones to arrive and were given a stern look by the Headmistress. Minutes later, the doors to the Great Hall opened, and the students entered. As they divided into their houses, Hermione could feel the stares. She was used to it, but it never got any easier. Looking out over the student body, some students were pointing at her before turning to their friends.

“You're big news,” Vector, seated on her left side, said cheerfully. “The students will be pleased you're back, I'm certain.”

Hermione smiled slightly and fiddled with her sleeve. “I hope so.”

The doors opened again, and Snape came striding through followed by a hoard of wide-eyed first-years. At first glance, Hermione counted at least thirty. Attendance had been on a steady rise the past few years, though some parents had been wary of sending their children to Hogwarts straight after the war.

Snape stopped in front of the Sorting Hat, and his cloak billowed as he turned to face the new students. Hermione bit her lip to stop herself from smiling. The Great Hall was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. The Sorting started, and she clapped enthusiastically for each new student. Around the 'M's, her stomach rumbled loudly. Vector covered a laugh with a cough, and Hermione's face flushed. Come to think of it, she hadn't eaten any lunch.

Once the last student had been sorted (Willows, Lisa to Hufflepuff), McGonagall stood.

“Let the Feast being!”

The cheer that went up from the students made Hermione nostalgic. After sitting on a train all day, the Welcoming Feast had always been a blessing. Snape sat down to her right, the sleeve of his robe swishing against hers.

“I hope you didn't frighten the first-years too much,” she said casually as she put a piece of Shepherd's Pie on her plate. “If the parents write to complain, I bet the Headmistress will make you write the apology notes.”

Snape scoffed. “Give me some credit.” He drank deep from his goblet. “I do my bullying in the classroom, thank you very much.”

The snorting laugh came from nowhere, and Hermione covered her mouth with her hand. Snape looked amused as she tried to pull herself back under control.

“Are you quite done?”

Putting a hand on her flushed cheek, Hermione smiled. “You're funny, Severus. Has anyone ever told you that?”

His eyebrow arched so much it almost disappeared into his hairline. Two months ago, the look on his face would have scared her into silence. Now, she fancied she knew him enough to know when he was truly angry and not just miffed. It was the reason she grinned cheekily before turning back to her food. Why she'd used his first name, she wasn't sure. Anything to distract from her own nerves, she supposed.

Once pudding had been cleared away, McGonagall stood and addressed the Hall. Hermione hung onto every word – anything to get her knees to stop shaking. As McGonagall informed the students about Quidditch tryouts, Hermione felt a warmth press against her thigh. She froze.

“Breathe,” Snape said quietly, moving his leg away from hers.

She took two deep breaths and regained focus just as McGonagall called her name.

“Please give a warm welcome to Professor Hermione Granger, who is taking over Charms due to Professor Flitwick's retirement.”

Hermione's face flushed as applause and cheers rung in the air, and her cheeks hurt from smiling.

“Congratulations, Granger,” Snape said. “The hard part is over, now all you have to do is teach the dunderheads.”

Hermione's first class as a Professor was the sixth-year NEWT class. From her stance leaning against the desk, she watched the students find their seats and felt strangely nostalgic. The last time she'd seen these students, they had been fresh-faced second-years. Now they were almost adults. When the last student had found their seat, she pointed her wand at the door and closed it wordlessly before standing.

“Welcome to your first NEWT class in Charms. I am Professor Granger, and I hope at least some of you remember me from when I did my apprenticeship with Professor Flitwick.” Seeing that the students at least seemed to be paying attention, she continued. “Now, Professor Flitwick is an amazing Charms Master and I will do my very best to not let him or you down. If there are any uncertainties, feel free to let me know. Are there any questions so far?” She was met with scattered 'no's' and the shaking of heads. “Right then, let's begin the class. Who can tell me the advantages of non-verbal spells?”

There were several raised hands, and Hermione smiled. This seemed to be off to a good start.

Unfortunately, her luck ran out sooner than she anticipated. Her last class of the day was fourth-year Gryffindor and Ravenclaw, and it was clear from the start she did not have their respect.

“Settle down, please!” She called out. For all the effect it had, she might as well have been talking to herself.

Huffing, she cast a non-verbal Silencio. Twenty pairs of eyes turned in her direction as the students found themselves mute. “That's better!” she said cheerfully as she lifted the spell. The silence that followed was a slightly stunned one. “While I am a big fan of discussion in the classroom, I expect you to be silent and pay attention whilst I am speaking.”

A girl with dark hair and a Prefect's badge raised her hand. Hermione glanced at the attendance sheet. “Yes, Miss Walker, do you have a question?”

“I just wanted to take the opportunity, on the behalf of all Gryffindors, to say how pleased we are to have you as our teacher. I know you are a role-model to many of the younger students and it's a pleasure to be given the opportunity to learn from you.”

Hermione would have been touched by the gesture, had she not shared classes with Draco Malfoy for six years and recognised when someone was brown-nosing. The smirks on the other Gryffindor students faces was also an indicator.

“Thank you, Miss Walker. While I don't think I'm a good person to have as a role model, the sentiment is appreciated. However,” she channelled her best McGonagall voice, “I want to make it clear that just because I was a Gryffindor, it does not mean there will be any sort of preferential treatment. I care about your performance in my classroom, not your house affiliation.”

She half-smiled as the Gryffindors seemed to deflate, and the Ravenclaws perked up. Now she had their attention.

“Right, now that we've handled that I think it's time to start the class. Today we'll be focusing on Summoning Charms. Please open your textbooks on page 14, please.”

Turning to the blackboard, Hermione let out a shaky breath.

Practically collapsing on her sofa after dinner, Hermione closed her eyes. She was exhausted. Crookshanks meowed softly, then jumped up to perch on her chest. He sniffed her chin and gave it a lick before settling down.

Hermione smiled. “Hello, old man.” She scratched behind his ear, and his purring vibrated on her chest. “What have you been up to today?”

He chirped and butted his head against her hand.

Lifting her head to look at him, she laughed. “Really? I'm not sure what Mrs Norris thinks about that. You're going to have to learn how to share.”

Crooks' ears folded back and he jumped down to the floor, eyes fixed on the door. The knock that followed didn't surprise her. When she opened the door, however, she was surprised.

“Good evening, Severus.” His eyebrow twitched at the use of his first name, which greatly amused her. “What brings you here?”

“I wanted to make sure you'd survived your first day.” He smirked. “It would be bad press if the Brains of the Golden Trio fell victim to the little dunderheads on the first day of term.”

Hermione laughed. “Yes, all that paperwork would not be fun. Would you care for some tea?”

“I have rounds.”

“Oh.”

Crookshanks stepped out from between her legs, bushy tail swishing. He walked up to Snape and sniffed his leg. He then looked up at Hermione and meowed, as if to say 'not impressed', before turning his butt to Snape and wandering down the corridor.

“That was rude!” She called after him and got a tail swish in response.

Snape looked amused when she turned back to him.

“He's a half-Kneazle,” she explained, “so he's very clever. He figured out Peter Pettigrew was an Animagus months before the rest of us did.” He was also a good judge of which boys were unworthy of her time, but she wasn't about to divulge that information to a former teacher.

“Did he now?”

The pointed look he gave her made her blush. Remembering how she, how they all, had treated Snape was mortifying. She hoped he'd never find out about the other things she was responsible for, like setting him on fire and stealing from his private stores.

Snape snorted. “See you tomorrow, Granger.”

It was strange, she mused as she sipped her tea a while later. Unlikely as it may seem, Snape was the person she felt closest to of her new colleagues. Who would have thunk it?

The weeks passed quickly; between classes, patrols and grading homework Hermione was surprised when she realised her 25th birthday was only a few days away. She had plans to meet up with Harry and Ron at the Three Broomsticks, and she was looking forward to spend some time with her friends.

On Sunday, she spent hours getting ready. Using half a bottle of Marlene's Magical Curl Crème, she managed to do an updo that hopefully looked elegant and not like she'd been dragged backwards through a hedge. Her eyeliner was only slightly uneven, but she knew better than to try applying it with magic. Still in her dressing gown, she took out the new lingerie she'd bought as a present to herself. Not usually one for fancy undergarments, she'd splurged a bit for the occasion. The bra and matching knickers were black lace with a delicate floral pattern making up the fabric.

Her favourite purchase though was the dress. It had short, flowy sleeves, a neckline that was lower than what she was usually comfortable with, and the maroon colour made her feel sexy and very grown-up. Fastening her necklace and spritzing perfume on her neck, she did a final mirror check. Biting her lip, she smiled. She looked good, and more importantly, she felt good. Her black pumps were transfigured into flats for the walk, and she donned her cloak before leaving her chambers.

It was a beautiful evening, with the slight chill of approaching autumn in the air. The sun was just setting, casting Hogwarts and the grounds in a golden glow that made her stop for a second and just look at the beauty of it. The walk down to Hogsmeade, which was usually a rather long one, felt much shorter.

The Three Broomsticks was quiet, only a handful of patrons were scattered around the room.

“Evening, Hermione,” Rosmerta said, putting down the glasses she'd been cleaning.

Hermione smiled and removed her cloak. “Good evening, Rosmerta. Have the others arrived yet?”

“No, you're the first one. Would you like something to drink while you wait?”

“A glass of white wine, please.”

Taking a seat, Hermione adjusted her dress and checked the time. She was ten minutes early, which surprised no one and least of all her.

Rosmerta came over with her wine and placed it on the table with a smile. “It's on the house.”

Sipping her wine, Hermione waited.

Watching a few patrons come and go, she sighed. Where were they? Casting a Tempus, she frowned. They were supposed to be there 45 minutes ago. Neither of the boys was known for the punctuality, but they weren't usually that late. Now she was getting worried.

Just as she was about to go ask Rosmerta to use the Floo, there was a whoosh of green from the fireplace and Harry's head poked through.

“Hermione, are you there?”

Rushing to the fireplace, Hermione scanned his face for any sign of distress. “I'm here, Harry. What's wrong? Where are you?”

Harry looked guilty and ran a hand through his hair. “I'm in Surrey – it's a bad situation, Hermione. I'm sorry.”

Hermione's stomach sank, and she ignored the bitter stab of disappointment. “Oh, that's fine. Is Ron there with you”

“Yeah, we were both called in.” Someone in the background wherever Harry was shouted something at him, and he glanced over his shoulder before turning back to her. “I'm sorry, I've got to go. We'll meet up soon, okay? I'll owl you! Happy birthday, Hermione.”

Harry disappeared and the Floo went dark, and her “be safe!” got lost in the ether. Staring into the empty fireplace, Hermione's vision blurred. Blinking furiously she pushed back to stand and wiped away the dirt from her dress.

“Hermione? Are you all right?” Rosmerta looked worried, her brow creased and lips downturned.

Clearing her throat, Hermione forced a smile. “Yes, I'm fine. Some change of plans, that's all.” Going back to her table and the half-empty wine glass, she put on her cloak. “Thank you for the wine. Have a good night.”

Hermione started the long trek back to Hogwarts. It was fully dark now, and the wind was cold. She shivered. Not bothering to cast a Lumos, she stumbled more than once on the unlit path up to the Hogwarts gates. The lights from within the castle, which usually felt warm and inviting held no appeal to her. Something wet hit her hand, and it took her a few seconds to realise she was crying. Stubbornly wiping her eyes, she took a few deep breaths. This wasn't exactly how she envisioned spending her 25th birthday. Her stomach knotted itself. She should have taken her parents offer to go to London, but it was too late for that now.

She took out her wand when she reached the main doors, feeling the wards recognise her and allowing her to enter. The Entrance Hall was mercifully empty, and she took a deep breath to centre herself for the walk back to her quarters.

“Granger?”

Hermione's head snapped to the doors to the Dungeons. Snape stood there, looking confused.

“Oh. Hello.”

He crossed the Hall in a few long steps. “What the devil are you doing out at this hour?”

She wanted to argue, to remind him she was no longer a student and therefore allowed to be out at whatever hour pleased her, but she didn't have it in her. “I was going to have dinner with Harry and Ron, it's my birthday, you see. But they couldn't make it. So now I'm going to curl up in my pyjamas with some wine and maybe a slice of cake.”

Snape blinked, seemingly shocked by her outburst. “Come with me.” He turned towards the stairs to the first floor, and Hermione looked after him in confusion. Sensing she wasn't following, he stopped and looked back. “Now, Granger,” he barked.

The demanding tone triggered a lifelong habit, and she scurried after him. He led her up the stairs and down the east corridor. “Where are we going?”

He stopped in front of a nondescript door. “My quarters. Hold out your wand.”

Hermione did as told, and watched as he altered his wards to admit her. “I thought your quarters were in the dungeons?”

Snape scoffed and opened the door, ushering her inside. “The Head of Slytherin has not always been the Potions teacher, and thus proximity to the dungeons is not necessary. It's sufficient that my office is close to the Slytherin dormitories. Sit.” He lit a fire and stalked over to a glass cabinet.

Sitting on the forest green sofa, Hermione removed her cloak. Quickly transfiguring a galleon in her pocket into a mirror, she checked the status of her makeup. Her eyes were a bit glassy, but her eyeliner looked as uneven as when she applied it and there was no smudges on her cheeks. She returned the galleon to its original form and put it away.

Snape joined her by the fire, occupying the armchair across from her. Two wine glasses were placed on the table between them. Hermione reached for a glass, and as she sat back, Snape spoke.

“I can't say I'm surprised Potter and Weasley managed to muck up. It seems to be their speciality, no?”

“It's not like they forgot about it, there was an emergency at the Auror office. It's fine, I'll see them another time.” She tilted her head. “When's your birthday?”

“None of your business, that's when.”

“Spoilsport.”

Shifting, Hermione fingered the pendant around her neck. Snape's gaze drifted down before snapping back to her face.

His black eyes seemed to draw her in, and how had she never noticed before how long his lashes were? The skin underneath his eyes was pale, with a slight purple hue that was evidence he was not getting enough sleep. Him clearing his throat made her look away, her cheeks flushing slightly.

“I'm not well versed in birthday celebrations, but I do believe some sort of cake is customary. Tolly!”

The crack made Hermione startle, and then there was a tiny House-elf standing in the sitting room.

“Master Snape called for Tolly?”

“May we have some cake, please?”

Tolly bowed and then disappeared with another crack. A few seconds later two plates with generous slices of carrot cake appeared on the coffee table.

There was a lit candle stuck in the frosting of one of the pieces, and Hermione chuckled.

“The House-elves really do know everything.”

Snape smirked (or was it a smile?). “I'm sorry your evening didn't end up as you envisioned it.”

Hermione smiled shyly. “This wasn't a bad substitute. I'm with a friend, I have wine, and there's even cake. What more could a girl want for?”

Chuckling, Snape raised his glass. “Happy birthday, Granger.”

Grinning, Hermione blew out the candle.

Chapter Text

Chapter Three

Something changed between them after that night, although Hermione had a hard time putting her finger on what it was. He was still dour and frequently looked at her like she was a complete idiot, but he also made sure the seat next to him at staff meetings was always available to her and they sometimes graded papers together. He barely even flinched anymore when she called him his given name, though he never used hers.

The first Hogsmeade visit of the year came on the third weekend in October, and by some cosmic power (also known as Headmistress McGonagall) Hermione found herself appointed chaperone. Snape hadn't escaped from the duty either, and had grumbled about it for an entire week.

The day of the outing arrived with sunny skies, and Hermione found herself in a good mood as she sauntered down to the Great Hall for breakfast. Snape was already in his seat, as per usual, and looked incredulously at her as she sat.

“Is there a reason why you're trying to imitate a Cheshire cat?”

“No,” Hermione smiled, piling scrambled eggs onto her plate. “I'm just in a good mood today.”

Snape muttered something that sounded like 'bloody Gryffindor' as he turned back to his coffee. One thing she'd learned in the past months was he was not a morning person.

They gathered in the Entrance Hall after breakfast, and Hermione adjusted her scarf as Filch checked the students' permission slips.

“Where do you want to go first?” Hermione asked. “There are a few Charms texts I want to get, but other than that I'm open to suggestions.”

His brow arched. “And you just assumed I'd have nothing better to do than follow you around all day?”

“Exactly. So, Tomes and Scrolls first?”

Snape sighed. “Fine.”

They followed the throng of students down the path to Hogsmeade. Hermione inhaled deeply, feeling the crisp air fill her lungs. Days like these were her favourite time of the year. September had bled into October with exemplary Autumn weather: the trees in the Forbidden Forest turned so many shades of red, yellow and orange that Hermione rather felt she was looking into an inferno. She indulged in plenty of hot apple cider and spent her evenings cosying up underneath a blanket with a cup of tea and a good book.

When they reached Hogsmeade the students dispersed into different shops faster than you could say 'Cauldron Cakes', and Hermione and Snape continued up the High Street until they reached Tomes and Scrolls.

“Try not to purchase the entire store,” Snape smirked and pushed open the door.

She chuckled. “I've seen your library; the same could be said to you.”

Stepping inside the shop, Hermione unbuttoned her coat and said a quick hello to Mr Leveret, the owner. She took her time migrating over to the Charms section. She loved coming here, browsing the volumes and seeing what would catch her interest on that visit. It was particularly nice to be accompanied by someone with a similar love for books, who wouldn't rush her in her browsing. Whenever she was with Harry or Ron, they'd grow bored within ten minutes and ask endlessly if she was finished yet.

Once she'd found the books she'd been looking for she went to track down Snape. She found him in the Potions aisle bent over a thick tome. His brow was furrowed and his finger traced his tightly pressed lips. Clearly whatever he was reading was giving him some sort of emotion. Before she had a chance to speak, he looked up and shut the book.

“Did you find anything interesting?”

He shoved the book underneath his arm. “Quite. Are you finished?”

Hermione nodded. “Sure, let me just ring these up.”

She left the shop quite the few galleons poorer, but was satisfied she'd limited her purchases to three books. Shrinking the bag, she put it in her coat pocket. “Where to now?”

“The apothecary. You needn't follow if you've somewhere else you want to go.”

“Don't be silly, of course I'll come with.”

The apothecary was located at the end of the High Street and had a gleaming sign swinging in the wind proclaiming it to have been established in 1806. The bell chimed when they entered, and a small white-haired wizard stood behind the counter.

“Good day, Professors,” he said kindly, eyes moving from Hermione to Snape. “What can I do for you today?”

Snape stepped forward and produced a list from his pocket.

Hermione hung back, looking at the contents of the store while Snape did his errand. Shelves filled with glass jars lined the walls, and labels with neat cursive writing identified both the ingredient and the price. She was almost sorry she hadn't pursued an apprenticeship in Potions. She was well aware, however, that she lacked the intuition and instincts in the subject required for further studies in the subject.

Tilting her head, she took in the profile of the Potions Master and wondered what being his apprentice would have been like. Assuming he wouldn't have said a firm 'no' and thrown her out of his office, that is. He was a good teacher, particularly to those wanting to learn, but his temper would probably made it difficult. She could handle it fine now, as an adult and a colleague, but the Hermione from five years ago would have been wrecked by his cold demeanour and sharp tongue.

Once Snape had finished with his purchases and they left the shop, Hermione eyed the rather large bag in his hand.

“Have the students already depleted your stores?”

Snape scoffed. “Hardly. I've been teaching Potions for more than two decades, I know how to ration ingredients. These are for my private research.” He held up a hand. “Before you can bombard me with the endless questions I've no doubt you've got, might I suggest we sit down somewhere?”

Hermione blinked twice. “Sure.”

She had a hard time keeping up as he stalked down the street towards the Three Broomsticks. As was usual for a Hogsmeade weekend, it was practically packed with students. A few looked at them strangely as they entered. Hermione's cheeks flushed slightly, then she swiftly reminded herself that she was a Professor and therefore had nothing to be flustered about. There was absolutely nothing eyebrow raising about two colleagues having a warm beverage on a chilly day.

Snape led her to a small table near the stairs and pulled off his cloak.

“What do you want?”

Hermione's stomach dropped. “Huh?”

He rolled his eyes and scoffed. “To drink, Granger,” he enunciated slowly. “What do you want to drink?”

“Oh. Hot cocoa, please.”

Removing her scarf and cloak, Hermione sat and quite failed to keep her eyes off his dark form. She flushed and looked away when he returned, two steaming mugs in his hands. He put them on the table before sitting, folding his arms on the table.

She waited until he'd settled in before asking about his research (and was quite proud of herself to have waited that long).

Snape cleared his throat before speaking. “I am currently working on an antidote for effects caused by the Cruciatus curse.”

Hermione's jaw dropped. “Are you serious? You could do that?”

He nodded and sipped his drink. “That's the idea, anyway. It's a project I started on years ago, when the Dark Lord first, ah, reappeared. I was never able to finish it due to circumstances,” the words 'almost dying at the jaws of a ruddy snake' hung in the air, but neither was willing to say them, “but a recent breakthrough at St Mungo's regarding regenerating nerves has given me hope an antidote could be achieved.”

Drink forgotten, Hermione leaned in. “How would it work exactly?”

“Hopefully it will rid the person of all and any symptoms from the curse. My findings from before showed some difference in the effects of a freshly cast curse versus long term effects. Having the curse cast any longer ago than that, and it will merely aid the symptoms rather than rid the person of them completely. With this breakthrough at St Mungo's though, I hope to produce a full cure for long term effects as well.”

As Hermione took in the information and the tone of his voice, something clicked in her brain. “You tried it on yourself.”

“I did.”

“How did you-”

“Come on, Granger, I thought you were the brightest witch of your generation.”

Brow furrowed, her eyes flickered around his face. He looked tense, fingers flexing slightly around his mug and his eyes were downcast.

When she connected the dots, she gasped. “You made someone Crucio you to test the effects of a newly cast spell versus long-term effects?”

He smirked sardonically. “20 points to Gryffindor.”

Her stomach rolled. Unbidden, memories of writhing under Bellatrix Lestrange's wand at Malfoy Manor came to mind. Her voice, whispering all the vile things Greyback would do to her once she was finished. “Who? Who did it?”

Snape shrugged. “A friend.”

Hermione sipped her cocoa, trying hard not to imagine Snape's body writhing under the Crucio curse on a cold stone floor in the name of research.

“You're joking?”

“I swear I'm not!”

There was a gagging noise. “Ugh, I hope it's not true.”

Hermione stopped, hand resting on the book she'd been about to pull from the case. She was hidden between the stacks, the students had no idea she was there. Her pulse was racing.

“I wouldn't touch him with a ten-foot pole.”

“Of course not, he's ancient. I bet he's never even had sex. I mean, who'd voluntarily see him starkers?”

“He probably doesn't even shower, I mean, have you seen his hair? Gross.”

“They don't call him the Greasy Git for nothing.”

The collective giggle made Hermione's blood boil, and she stepped forward from behind the stacks. The three seventh-years looked alarmed to see her.

“Thirty points each will be taken from your Houses.”

“For what?” Miss Rosewood objected, mouth gaping.

“Disrespecting a teacher. Be on your way, you've officially been thrown out of the library for the rest of the evening. I want you to return to your common rooms and think about how you talk about people who spent their lives making sure others could be safe.”

Grumbling and dragging their feet, they gathered their books.

“She's as much of a berk as he is,” Miss Whyte muttered to her friend.

Hermione saw red. “You just earned you and your friends detention for a month, Miss Whyte. Report to Mr Filch, immediately.”

Arms folded and eyes steely, she waited until the students had disappeared and then pulled her wand and cast a Patronus to warn Filch of the incoming troublemakers. She sincerely hoped he had something especially mucky for them to clean.

Hermione shook her head in disgust and left the library. She'd almost forgotten how vicious teenage girls could be.

Settling into her office, she pulled out the essays on Severing Charms that needed grading before the second-year class tomorrow. Glancing over the first one, she sighed. She was going to need plenty of tea for this.

Four cups of tea and half a packet of chocolate digestives later and she was finally finished. Scribbling an 'Acceptable +' on the top corner of the last essay, she put down her quill and rubbed her hand. The ink stains never seemed to want to come off properly. She stifled a yawn and looked at the clock over the mantelpiece. She had ten minutes until she was to meet Snape for the night patrol.

Rubbing her tired eyes, she straightened out the office: the graded essays went into the locked drawer in her desk, the tea set was cleaned and put back where it belonged and she made sure the caps on the ink bottles were sealed properly. She locked and warded the door on her way out, and went into her quarters quickly to fetch her winter cloak. The castle was notoriously bad at keeping the temperature at night during the colder months.

When Hermione reached the fifth floor she found Snape in front of a portrait of Norvel Twonk, hands clasped behind his back as he studied the painting. She didn't bother announcing herself; his skills as a spy hadn't diminished and she knew he'd heard her coming.

“All right?”

He turned his head towards her. “Evening. Shall we?”

They fell into step, and they polished off half the fifth floor before Hermione spoke.

“How's your research going?”

“Adequately. I've found an infusion of Cowbane is most likely the next step in the process.”

“Really? Cowbane is a poison, how would that work?”

They rounded a statue of Meinir the Malevolent, beyond which was a hidden alcove. Snape waved his wand, and the tapestry flew open. The alcove was empty and quiet.

Snape sheathed his wand. “Soaking the Cowbane in crushed Fluxweed leaves for a week before adding it to a potion counteracts its poisonous properties and allows it to act as a binder, of sorts.”

“I didn't know Cowbane could be used like that.”

“Not surprising. It's only ever taught at Master level.” He gave her a pointed look. “Much like that Extension Charm you're so fond of. Last I checked, it was highly regulated by the Ministry, no?”

Hermione's cheeks flushed. “Well, the ends justified the means in this case, don't you think?”

They continued their patrol, finding two half-dressed seventh-year Ravenclaws in an unused classroom on the sixth floor. They sent them off with detention and lost house points. The castle was cold, and Hermione renewed the warming charm on her cloak.

“I'm disappointed,” Snape said once their patrol was done for the evening and he'd walked her back to her quarters, “that we only found two students out of bed. I almost feel cheated.”

“Feeling trigger happy with house points?”

“It's my only source of joy, Granger, don't take that away from me.”

Hermione snorted. “There'll be more chances to take away house points, I assure you.” She tilted her head. “Have you ever actually awarded someone house points?”

Snape smirked. “Where would be the fun in that? Good night, Granger.”

“Good night, Severus,” she smiled.

Later when she was in bed, she would think about the way his lips shaped around her name and try to ignore the way it made her pulse quicken.

Chapter Text

Chapter Four

Hermione hurried into the staff room and said her apologies to the Headmistress before sliding into her usual seat. A disagreement between two students had made her late for the staff meeting, and if there was one thing Hermione hated it was tardiness.

McGonagall acknowledged her apology with a nod and continued talking.

Stealing a glance at the empty seat to her left where Snape usually sat, Hermione frowned. He'd been behaving oddly for the past week or so, even more than usual. He barely said two words to her–or anyone–during meal times, and the times she'd went by his office for a chat he hadn't answered. Despite her better judgement, she'd carefully inquired what was the matter but was met with such a scathing comment she had to excuse herself to her office before breaking down in tears.

“...I wish to remind you of the extra patrolling scheduled for tonight; we all know from experience that Halloween brings out the mischievous spirit in the students.”

The staff meeting concluded, Hermione rose and approached McGonagall. “Excuse me, Headmistress.”

McGonagall scoffed. “Merlin's beard, lass, there's no need to be so formal.”

Hermione blushed. “Sorry, Minerva. I was just wondering if you'd seen Professor Snape today?”

A pitying look appeared on the older woman's face. “He's...indisposed today, Hermione. I'm sure whatever it is can wait until tomorrow.”

McGonagall's words stayed with Hermione all afternoon, and as she sat down for the Halloween Feast the words were still on her mind. There had to be a connection to his strange behaviour and him being absent. It wasn't until halfway through pudding, when Sprout casually inquired how Harry and Ron were doing, that it clicked.

The Potters died on Halloween, and Snape had been in love with Lily Potter. The day was a cruel reminder of all he'd lost. It explained everything. What Snape wanted most was probably to be left alone to wallow, but unfortunately for him Hermione had other plans.

As soon as the Feast was over she steered her steps to the first floor.

The secluded corridor which housed his quarters was empty and cold, and Hermione shivered. Walking up to his door, she laid her hand flat on the wood. His wards hummed underneath her palm. Her hand curled into a fist and she knocked hard three times.

There was no answer.

She knocked again. “Severus, I know you're in there.”

His wards buzzed slightly, but she was otherwise ignored.

Hermione huffed. “I'm going to keep knocking until you answer me, so you might as well-”

The door crashing open startled her, and she met the furious eyes of the Potions Master.

“Did it ever pass through your thick skull that my not answering you was, in fact, a conscious decision and a sign that I wanted to be left alone?” his voice was low and full of bitterness, and his breath on her face smelled like alcohol.

She raised her chin, refusing to let him intimidate her. “It did. And I don't care. I was worried about you.”

He let out a sharp laugh. “Worried? Whatever for?”

“Because you've been drinking, and are clearly hurting. You lost the woman you loved, I can't imagine how painful that must be,” she finished softly.

Eyes widening, his mouth gaped. Then he stepped aside. “Inside,” he barked.

Hermione complied, and flinched when the door slammed shut behind her.

His look was murderous. “Explain yourself.”

“You've been behaving oddly lately, but it wasn't until McGonagall said you were indisposed today that I put two and two together.”

Snape pinched the bridge of his nose. “Harridan,” he muttered. “So your know-it-all brain concluded that I am grieving the woman I loved, and this being the night she was killed has rendered me a wallowing berk who's drowning his sorrows in cognac?”

“Yes?”

He sighed. “Sit down, Hermione.”

She sunk down on the couch, half in shock that he'd used her name.

There were an open bottle and a half-empty glass on the table. Snape took the armchair opposite her and reached for the glass. Downing the liquor, he made to refill it.

He tipped the bottle in her direction. “Care for any?”

“No, thank you.”

Snape poured more cognac into his glass, drank it down in one swoop and then leaned back in his seat. He fastened his gaze somewhere over Hermione's right shoulder. “I suppose I've got Potter,” he practically spat the name, “to thank for the world thinking me a lovesick fool over a married woman.” He met her eyes straight on. “The truth isn't nearly as interesting.”

“The truth?”

Snape leaned forward, resting his forearms on his knees. His bowed head hid his face from her view, which no doubt was his intention.

“I met Lily Evans when I was nine, and she soon became my best friend. My situation at home was...difficult, and she was the first one who believed I was actually worth something. Even when we stopped being friends, I didn't stop caring about her.” He turned his head slightly sideways, and their eyes met. “Would you stop caring about Potter or Weasley even if you had a falling out?”

“No, I wouldn't.”

He chuckled dryly. “No doubt you are aware that I was the one who delivered the prophecy about the Potters to the Dark Lord. By my actions, they were killed. Lily was killed. For all I had wronged her, I never stopped caring.” He sat up straight. “So I did it all for her. For the memory of the little girl who befriended a boy no one cared about.”

Reaching across the table, Hermione placed her hand on his. The skin of his knuckles was rough underneath her palm. “What happened to Lily and James was not your fault. There are only two people responsible for their deaths: Voldemort and Pettigrew.”

His hand had gone still underneath hers, and his eyes were fixed on the back of her hand. Slowly his pinky moved on the outside of hers. A shiver ran through her entire body, and her breath hitched.

Snape cleared his throat and sat back, letting her hand fall from his. “I know plenty of people wouldn't agree with that.”

She curled her hands into her lap. “And I know plenty of people that would.”

He looked away, clearly uncomfortable with her sentiment.

“How did you bear it?” she asked at length. “Being a spy for so long. It must have been lonely.”

A look came onto his face which she couldn't decipher. “I had little choice in the matter. It was either turning spy for the Order or spending the rest of my miserable life in Azkaban. Since I was desperate to leave the Death Eaters, the choice was easy.”

Hermione's heart was pounding in her ears. She now had the opportunity to ask something that had plagued her for years. “Why did you join him?”

Snape refilled his glass and took a swig before answering. “There were many things I wanted as a teenager, Hermione. Power, acceptance, knowledge, respect. I thought the Dark Lord could give me all those things; all I had to do was pledge my loyalty and I would have everything I ever wanted.” He chuckled darkly. “I was a fool.”

“So you didn't join him because you hated Muggles?”

“No. The only Muggle I hated was my father, but it was because he was a drunken, abusive bastard.”

“Where is he now?”

“My father? He died in prison in '94.”

“I'm sorry.”

“Don't be.” He titled his head. “Your pendant, what does it do?”

She froze. She hadn't even realised her fingers had risen to wrap around the smooth silver of her pendant. “What do you mean?”

“I can tell it's a magical object, and you're always wearing it. So, what does it do?”

“It's spelled to hold a strong, permanent glamour when worn. It was part of my final project as an apprentice.”

His brow furrowed. “What sort of glamour?”

She licked her suddenly dry lips. “I have...scars. From the war. They are a bit difficult to hide with regular clothing, and I don't feel comfortable having them on display.”

His eyes flickered down to her collarbone, and she could almost tell what he was thinking. Dolohov's hex, inflicted on her in the Department of Mysteries, which he himself had spent hours trying to remove and several more hours brewing the potions required for her recovery.

“Some scars are easier to bear than others.”

Unbidden her gaze wavered to his neck. His hair and the collar of his shirt hid the scarred skin she knew was there, and she had an impulse to reach out for it.

She was about to speak, to excuse herself from his presence because all she could think about was tracing her fingers over the skin of his neck, when he beat her do it.

“Would you care for some tea? Or do you have patrol?”

Sinking back in her seat, Hermione smiled. “Tea would be lovely.”

“I want you to write ten inches on the Banishing Charm to be handed in on Monday.”

A collective groan went through the class.

“But Professor,” Alexander Boyd said, “the first Quidditch match is this Saturday.”

Hermione laughed. “You have Friday and Sunday free, so I don't want any excuses on why you haven't done your homework. Now run along, Professor Swannage will be cross if you're late.”

As the students gathered their books and went off to their next class, Hermione waved her wand at the board to erase today's lesson. Turning to straighten her desk before the next class, she started at the sight of Snape's dark form leaning against the open doorway.

Putting her hand over her racing heart, she walked around the desk. “Severus, you scared me.”

“Sorry,” he said while managing to not look sorry in the slightest. “Your cubs think they have a chance to win on Saturday? I've seen the Slytherin team practice, I've no doubt they'll be victorious.”

She raised her chin. “Brianna Jacobs is the best seeker Gryffindor's seen since Harry, so I wouldn't be too cocky if I were you.”

Snape snorted and pushed himself off the doorway to enter the classroom fully. “You don't know that, you know nothing about Quidditch.”

“I do too.”

His eyebrow arched.

Hermione sighed and leaned back against her desk. “Fine. I heard Hagrid and McGonagall discuss it at breakfast yesterday.”

Snape gave a short laugh, and her stomach flipped. In the days since Halloween, she'd come to the unfortunate realisation that she quite fancied the Potions Master. A lot. In a 'climb him like a lamp post' sort of way.

Snape stepped around the first row desks so they were now face to face. “Since you're so confident, how about a wager?”

“I didn't know you were a betting man.”

“I'm feeling optimistic. What do you say, Granger?”

Smiling, she crossed her arms. “What do you propose?”

“If Slytherin wins, you take my Friday night patrols until Christmas and the next Hogsmeade weekend.”

“And if Gryffindor wins?”

He shrugged. “Name your terms.”

Hermione bit her lip. “Go with me to Harry's Christmas party at Grimmauld Place.”

Snape hesitated. The silence seemed to stretch between them, then finally he nodded. “Deal.”

Hermione stuck her hand out. “You always seal a deal with a handshake,” she explained at Snape's quizzical look.

Taking two steps forward, he grabbed her hand with his larger one. Hermione felt a shock go through her and had to stop herself from pulling back. After a few seconds that felt both too long and too short, Snape dropped her hand.

She cleared her throat. “Don't you have first-years to bully?”

“I do, actually.”

The first students in her next class arrived, but stopped in the doorway and glanced from one professor to the other.

Snape smirked. “Nice chat, Professor Granger. Until later.” He turned, robe billowing, and the students practically flung themselves out of the doorway to let him pass.

Hermione rolled her eyes and took her place behind the desk.

Saturday morning arrived, and Hermione wrapped her old Gryffindor scarf around her neck before going down to breakfast. There was an excitement in the air and among the students that was often the case when it was time for Quidditch.

Snape was already mid-breakfast when she sat down, and she glanced at the contents of his coffee cup. It was three-quarters empty, which meant it was safe for her to speak.

“Good morning, Severus. A beautiful morning for Quidditch, don't you think?”

The look he shot her was a mixture of scalding and amused. “Feeling sure of yourself this morning, are you?”

“I am,” Hermione smiled, digging into her breakfast. “Mostly I'm picturing the look on everyone's faces when you show up at Grimmauld Place at Christmas.”

Definitely a scalding look now.

Looking away, Hermione bit her lip. The sound of the morning post arriving was a welcome distraction, and she scanned the ceiling for a familiar owl. She smiled when she spotted her parents' eagle-owl heading in her direction. The owl landed gracefully next to Hermione's teacup and held out her leg. Stroking its feathers, Hermione offered the owl a piece of bacon before untying the letter. The owl, named Latona, affectionately bumped Hermione's hand before flying off.

Hermione smiled at her mother's handwriting on the envelope and put the letter in her robe pocket. She would read it tonight when she had more time. Since being reunited a few months after the war, the Grangers' had become closer than ever. The reversal of the memory charm she used had borne no side-effects, but Hermione knew it was more due to sheer luck than her skills at memory charms. There had been some tension once her parents had been caught up on all they'd missed in the twelve months they were unaware they had a daughter and plenty of screaming and crying from all parties before they could sit down and talk. Once Hermione had taken her NEWTs, Jean and Martin Granger decided that Australia was too far away for their liking, and had moved back to Britain.

Finishing her tea, Hermione stood. “Walk with me to the Pitch? I want to make sure I get a good seat.”

Snape snorted, but downed the rest of his coffee and stood. “Arrogance is not a good look on you, Granger.”

“I would call it confidence, thank you very much.”

It was a typical November day; cold and bleak, the sky a colourless canvas. At least it wasn't raining. Once they'd found seats in the staff section, Hermione felt a warming charm wash over her. She sent Snape a grateful smile.

The other teachers started to arrive, with McGonagall and Hooch taking the seats right behind Hermione and Snape.

“This is our year, I can feel it,” Hooch said.

McGonagall harrumphed. “Nonsense. Have you seen Brianna Jacobs? She's the best seeker Hogwarts has seen since Harry Potter!”

Snape snorted.

Face flushing, Hermione elbowed his arm. “Shut it.”

It didn't take long for the section to become full, and a portly man Hermione vaguely recognised from the Ministry jostled her whilst sitting down so hard she had to grab Snape's leg to stop herself flying off the bench.

Straightening up, she hastily removed her hand while looking anywhere but where her hand had been. She also tried very hard not to think about how the wool of his trousers had felt against her palm, nor about the firmness of his thigh.

The announcement for the start of the match came, and Snape smirked.

“May the best team win.”

Hermione had listened to plenty of Quidditch talk in her lifetime, so she felt confident she could follow what was happening in front of her. It was easy to see that the two teams were fairly well matched, and after 30 minutes Slytherin was in the lead with 80-70. She cheered loudly when one of the Gryffindor chasers evened out the score.

She bumped her shoulder to his. “You'd best pick out your dress robes, Severus.”

His glare was instantaneous. “The match isn't over yet, witch.”

“You're just worried you're going to have to spend an evening in the same room as Harry. Don't worry, I'll protect you.”

His gaze softened.

The crowd cheering wildly pulled Hermione's attention back to the game just in time to see the two seekers diving simultaneously. Her breath hitched, and she reached out to grab Snape's forearm. Her eyes tracked the two players, but she couldn't see the Golden Snitch.

“Jacobs catches the Snitch! Gryffindor wins the match with 230 to 80! What a game!”

In an instant Hermione was on her feet, clapping and cheering alongside the students and staff. She clapped until her hands hurt, then turned to Snape. She didn't quite know what to make of the look on his face: he looked halfway between pleased and alarmed.

“Harry will be so pleased to see you,” she teased.

“Spending an evening shovelling owl dung sounds more enticing, but I am a man of my words. I will go to,” he shuddered, “Potter's undoubtedly sentimental Christmas party, and I shall endeavour not to kill or seriously maim anyone. Unless they're being berks.”

She laughed. “I ask for nothing else. I've some marking to do, join me for a cuppa?”

Snape nodded. “I'll join you in a bit, after I've spoken with my students.”

“Great. It's a date!”

It wasn't until she'd reached her office and pulled out the essays for marking that Hermione realised she'd used the word 'date'. It would take her until Snape was there and pouring her a cup of tea to realise that he hadn't said anything in return.

Chapter Text

Chapter Five

Hermione rushed into the Three Broomsticks, earning her strange looks from both the patrons and Madam Rosmerta. She paid them no mind though, scanning the space for a freckled redhead. The movement of a waving hand caught her attention.

“Hermione, over here!”

Pulling off her soaked scarf and hat, Hermione joined Ginny at the table near the stairs.

“Sorry I'm late, I was caught in a snowball fight between two first years.” She unbuttoned her coat and pushed back her sodden hair from her face. “They showed no mercy.”

Ginny looked amused. “It's no problem. I already ordered for us.”

“Thank you. How are you? I feel like we haven't spoken in ages!”

Laughing, Ginny flicked a strand of straight hair out of her face. “You're a Professor now, you've got plenty of things to keep you busy.”

“That's not an excuse,” Hermione protested. “I promise I'll do a better job at balancing work and prioritising you all in the future. How's training going?”

Ginny, who had started playing Quidditch with the Holyhead Harpies, launched into an enthusiastic telling of the past months of training. Hermione listened with a smile. She hadn't realised how much she'd missed Ginny until now. Being at Hogwarts felt like being in a bubble where the rest of the world was just on pause.

In the middle of the re-telling, Rosmerta came with their drinks.

“Oh, there's another thing,” Ginny said. “Harry and I are engaged.”

Hermione almost spit out her Butterbeer. Covering her mouth, she looked at Ginny with wide eyes. “You're engaged? When did this happen?”

“A few days ago. I wanted to tell you in person so you wouldn't find out from the Prophet.” Ginny lifted what was most likely a very strong Notice-Me-Not Charm and Hermione saw the simple gold band on her ring finger.

Reaching out, she took Ginny's hand. “Congratulations, Ginny. I'm so happy for both of you.”

“We've not set a date yet, but we're not in any rush.” Ginny sipped her Butterbeer. “By the way, I hope you're still coming over for the Christmas Party? Harry is taking it very seriously, it's adorable.”

Oh.

The Christmas Party.

Hermione raised her tankard of Butterbeer and took a sip to buy herself some time. She knew she had to let Harry and Ginny know that Snape was coming, but she hadn't yet figured out how.

Ginny misread her hesitance. “You are coming, aren't you?”

She curled her hands around the tankard. “Of course I am. Uh, would it be all right if I brought someone?”

Ginny's eyebrows rose on her freckled forehead. “You're bringing someone? Like a date? Hermione Granger, have you got a boyfriend and not told us?”

Flinching at Ginny's raised tone, Hermione cast a quick Muffliato. She did not want this conversation to be overheard.

“It's neither a date nor do I have a boyfriend.” Hermione looked down at the foam in her tankard and tried to keep a neutral expression. “Severus and I had a bet, and my stipulation was that should he lose he would go to the Christmas Party with me.”

Ginny said nothing.

Hermione looked up. Ginny's brow was furrowed, but her eyes were kind. “How long have you fancied him?”

Hermione's mouth opened, then closed again. “How did you know?”

Ginny grinned. “By the look on your face. And the fact that you called him Severus.”

Cheeks burning, Hermione chuckled. “Am I that transparent?”

She shrugged. “To me you are.”

“You don't disapprove?”

“Why should I?” Ginny leaned forward, resting her chin on her hand. “I won't say I understand it, but I'm not averse to the idea. Does he know?”

Hermione shook her head. “Merlin, I hope not! That would be mortifying.”

Tilting her head, Ginny studied her friend. “Because you don't think he fancies you back?”

“I doubt it. I'm a former student,” Hermione said. “And a Gryffindor.”

Ginny rolled her eyes. “Snape's been teaching for so long that it would be nearly impossible for him to find a woman who hadn't been his student. Unless he moved abroad or started dating Muggles.”

Biting her lip, Hermione fiddled with her pendant. “I don't know though, Gin. We're friends, but I've no reason to think that he sees me as anything other than that.” She sat back in her seat and huffed. “This is all just very confusing. You won't tell Harry or Ron, will you?”

“Of course not! This stays between us.” Ginny grinned. “For what it's worth, I think you should just tell him. What's the worst that could happen?”

Wincing, Hermione sipped her Butterbeer. She'd never admit it, but she had a heavily warded pros and cons list in her desk. The con side ranged from 'gets laughed out of the room' to 'castle catches on fire.'

“Thank Merlin,” Hermione sighed as the last Thestral drawn carriage rolled down towards the station. “Was the term always this long? I could have sworn it went by much faster when I was a student.”

Snape chuckled. “Welcome to the joys of teaching. Where you need the winter holiday to recharge, or else you'll be burnt out by March.”

“Very funny.”

They started walking towards the staffroom.

“Are you spending the holidays here?” Hermione asked as they approached the stone gargoyles that stood watch at the door. “Besides from the magnificent Christmas Party, of course,” she added with a grin.

Snape rolled his eyes. “The magnificent Christmas Party, of course. Can't forget about that.” He smiled wryly. “I've no other plans for the Holidays than continuing with my research and making sure the dunderheads who are staying here behave.”

Hermione stepped aside when the door opened. “How is your research coming along? You've not mentioned it in a while.”

“The Cowbane infusion didn't work, and I'm not certain as to why. There are some other things I plan to explore now that I have the time.”

Walking over to the tea station, Snape plated the last custard tart and handed it to Hermione, before taking a plum tart for himself. Tea was poured into fine china teacups, and Hermione added a splash of milk in first her own and then his.

“What are your plans?” Snape asked once they were seated in the armchairs near the windows, as was their custom.

Hermione stirred her tea. “I'll be with my parents for Christmas, but other than that and the party on Boxing Day I'll be back here. I've got plenty of marking to do, and some research projects I'm thinking of taking up again.”

“Where are your parents?”

“Sutton.”

“Ah.”

Munching on her pudding, Hermione looked out the window. It had been snowing on and off for two weeks, and both Hogwarts and the grounds were covered in a thick blanket of snow. The castle had been reinforced with an extra layer of warming charms to protect both students and staff from the biting chill. Crookshanks wasn't a fan of the cold weather and had taken to sleeping on her chest during the night, his wet little nose buried in her neck. He spent most of his time nowadays in front of the fire when he wasn't haggling over territory with Mrs Norris.

“There you are!”

Hermione looked away from the window to Sprout, who'd just entered the room. Her round cheeks were red, as though she'd just come inside, and her hat was slightly askew.

“What can I do for you, Pomona?” Snape asked.

“I come bearing orders from the Headmistress. Tomorrow at eight o'clock there's a celebration at the Three Broomsticks, and it's mandatory, Severus, so don't you try to pull a fast one.”

Hermione giggled at Snape's glower. “That sounds wonderful,” she said. “Is there a special reason for celebrating or just plainly because it's the season'?”

“Bit of both.” Sprout clapped her hands excitedly. “Filius is back from his travels so he will be joining us. Remember, it's eight o'clock. Don't be late.”

Once Sprout had left, Hermione nudged Snape's leg with her foot. “Cheer up, Severus. I'm sure it will be lovely.”

Snape snorted. “You clearly haven't taken advantage of Pomona's offer of Poker nights, otherwise you wouldn't be saying that.”

Hermione smiled. “I'll buy you a pint tomorrow if you promise not to glower at everyone.”

The corners of his mouth twitched. “That sounds acceptable.”

It was still snowing when Hermione wrapped her coat around her and walked down to Snape's quarters the following night. She was wearing the maroon wrap dress she'd bought for her birthday; it was festive enough and it was one of her favourites.

Once she reached his quarters, she didn't even need to knock; he was already waiting in the corridor. Heavy black coat wrapped around his lithe frame, he made a stark contrast against the soft colours of the wall.

“Hello,” she smiled, trying to calm her racing heart. “Are you ready to go?”

He nodded sharply.

“I don't fancy walking down to Hogsmeade in this weather,” Hermione said when they reached the entrance hall. “It's practically a blizzard out.”

Snape stopped. “We don't have to.”

Hermione's brow furrowed. “What do you mean?”

He smirked. “I still have some privileges from my time as Headmaster. Such as Apparating on school grounds.”

“And it allows Side-Along?”

He offered his arm. “It does.”

Stepping in closer, Hermione wrapped her arm tightly around his right one. “I'm ready.”

The unpleasant feeling of being squeezed backwards through a rubber tube came over her, and when Hermione opened her eyes they were standing at the Apparition Point in Hogsmeade. The snow was falling thick, and Hermione blinked furiously as it melted into her eyelashes.

Both their coats and hair were white from snow when they entered the Three Broomsticks, and Hermione pulled out her wand and cast a drying charm over them both. Pulling off her now dry coat, she smoothed down her skirt.

“Hermione, Severus! Come join us!” Came Flitwick's voice from a table where he was sat with Hagrid and Vector.

Goosebumps broke out on Hermione's skin when Snape placed his hand lightly on her lower back.

“I'll get us drinks,” he spoke close to her ear.

She felt physically cold when he dropped his hand and moved towards the bar, but took a deep breath before heading towards the table. She slid into the empty seat opposite Hagrid, which meant she had a good view of the bar. Snape was leaning against the bar top, forearms folded as he spoke with Rosmerta. A burning sensation ran through her chest when she saw the casual way they interacted.

“It's good to see you, Hermione,” Flitwick said, pulling her attention back to the table. “Hagrid tells me you're doing a marvellous job teaching. I never had any doubts, of course.”

“I'm doing the best I can, and I hope the students are happy with my teaching. I've had big shoes to fill.” Hermione's cheeks flushed when Flitwick laughed.

“Figuratively, of course. Ah, Severus! How are you?”

“Can't complain, Filius,” Snape said, putting down two pints on the table and pulling out the chair next to Hermione's. “I trust you are well? How were your travels?”

Hermione sipped her pint as Flitwick told them of his travels across South America. There was a large Charms department at the University of Lima where he'd spent a few weeks as a guest lecturer. They all laughed when he described a prank done to him by some of the other faculty which involved a faulty Translation Amulet.

As the night progressed, and other members of the staff joined them, the space between Hermione's and Snape's chairs seemed to diminish. Once Hooch and Sinistra joined the group, space was so tight Hermione's arm brushed against Snape's every time she lifted her glass. During a discussion about computers with Selina Moore, the Muggle Studies Professor, she felt his leg gently rest against her own. Breathing suddenly became very difficult, and she chanced a glance at him from the corner of her eye. He had his full focus on Hooch and McGonagall's conversation, but his fingers flexed around his empty glass.

McGonagall had bought them all a dram of whisky sometime earlier and combined with the pint it had left Hermione feeling warm and a bit daring, so she turned to Snape and touched his arm. Being this close, she could see the beginnings of a five o'clock shadow on his jaw and just how long his eyelashes were. The black of his eyes made it almost impossible to look away.

“You want another pint?” her voice came out breathier than intended. “I said I'd buy you one.”

One corner of his mouth curled up. “Sure, Granger.”

She smiled. “Coming right up!”

Due to the proximity of their chairs and being boxed in by other people it was trickier than Hermione thought to navigate her way out from the cluster of chairs and people. She'd almost succeeded when her foot got caught in her coat hanging on the back of the chair, and she reached out for the nearest surface to catch herself. Feeling warm and scratchy wool underneath her fingers, she realised she'd grabbed Snape's shoulder. Face flushing, she pulled away and made her way over to the bar.

Whilst she waited for Rosmerta to draw up their pints, Hermione hoisted herself up on a barstool and observed the group of people that were her colleagues. Hooch and Sinistra were angled slightly away from the group and leaning into each other in a way that spoke of intimacy. Hermione wasn't surprised by this in the slightest. Hagrid was well drunk by now and was objecting to Sprout's and Poppy's insistence that he get some fresh air. This made her chuckle.

“Something funny?”

Hermione startled at Snape's voice near her ear. She'd not seen nor heard him approach. Grabbing the bar top, she turned to him. “Merlin's beard, Severus. Don't do that.”

He leant against the bar, angling his body towards her and smirking. “I didn't know you were so easily spooked.”

Hermione chuckled and crossed her legs. “Only by you, it seems. Are you sure you're still not a spy?”

He laughed, and the way it transformed his face made Hermione's heart race and stomach clench. “Can't slack off now just because things are peaceful. How am I supposed to sneak up on unsuspecting students after curfew if I don't make sure my skills are up to par?”

Hermione grinned. “In that case, you can practice your skills on me anytime.” She didn't realise how it had sounded until his eyebrow arched, and her cheeks flushed. “It would be a shame if the students went unpunished is what I mean.”

His black eyes glittered in the low light. “Is that so?” His voice was low and silky, and did things to Hermione's core she wasn't expecting.

Only then did she notice that Rosmerta had brought their pints, and she took a large gulp to stop herself from saying anything stupid.

“Do you usually spend the holidays at Hogwarts?” Like that. She could say something stupid like that.

Cradling his glass, Snape tilted his head. “I do. Being Deputy and a Head of House that is, unfortunately, my lot. Why?”

Hermione averted her eyes, looking instead at the condensation on her glass. “Oh, I don't know. I thought you might spend it with friends.”

He cleared his throat. “It turns out spending most of your adult life spying for two Machiavellian lunatics doesn't do great things for your social circle.”

She looked up and met his eyes. “What about the Malfoys?”

He let out a bitter chuckle. “I've not heard a word from them since the trials. I don't blame them though.”

Hermione reached out and put her hand on his. “I'm sorry, Severus. I didn't mean to bring that up.”

He didn't answer, but rather his attention was on her hand laying on top of his. His brow furrowed as he lifted his free hand and lightly caressed her knuckles. Hermione's breath hitched, and her core clenched with desire. This was too much, and if she didn't get some space she might do something she'd regret. Such as jump him.

She wet her dry lips. “I need to go to the loo. Watch my drink?”

Snape pulled his hand back. “Of course.”

Standing and making her way to the bathroom, it was clear to Hermione that she was tipsier than she'd thought. She did her business and then took an extra moment to check her reflection in the mirror. Her eyes were a bit glassy, but not overly so, and her cheeks were pink. Her hair still looked okay, and her makeup wasn't out of place. That was good. She washed her hands and then braced herself for going back out. If she wasn't completely mistaken, and she hoped she wasn't, Snape may have been giving her signs of his interest all night. This forwardness was unusual for him.

Walking back out into the pub, she put a bit of extra swing in her hips and hoped it didn't make her look deranged. Gods she was terrible at flirting. There. Snape was definitely looking at her appreciatively. It made her feel desirable and very sexy. Once she reached the bar she realised the pub was now quiet and almost empty.

“Where did everyone go?”

Snape looked amused. “They've gone back to the castle. It's past midnight, Granger, pub's closed.”

Hermione's stomach dropped. “Already?” She didn't want to go back to the castle, she wanted to stay and drink and flirt. Well, attempt to flirt.

He helped her with her coat. “If you promise not to get sick on me I'll Apparate us back.”

Snorting, she pulled her hair up from the collar. “I never get sick from Apparating.”

“Even when you're drunk?”

“I'm not drunk!”

They said goodnight to Rosmerta and walked outside. Hermione shivered. It had stopped snowing, but it was still freezing outside and their breaths came out in little huffs. When they came to the Apparition point, Snape spoke.

“You'd best hold on tight, Hermione.”

He reached out and wrapped his arm around her waist, pulling her snug against his body. Hermione inhaled sharply. His body was warm against his, and the smell of herbs and cedar filled her nostrils. She fisted her hands in the lapels of his coat and looked up. Their faces were so close she could feel each exhaling breath against her forehead and if she moved slightly up and to the right their lips would align.

“Ready?” his voice rumbled through her.

“Ready.”

He Apparated them to the corridor outside her chambers. Hermione's head spun, and she grabbed his coat tighter between her fingers. To compensate the shifting in weight, Snape's other arm also came around her waist and his leg moved slightly between hers. Exhaling softly, Hermione relaxed into his body.

For several seconds they didn't move.

Hermione moved first, tilting her head back so she could see his face. The look on his face was a mixture of trepidation and something she couldn't quite put her finger on. Her gaze drew down to his lips and then back to his eyes. Her hand was shaking slightly when she reached up to tuck his hair behind his ear. On its way back down, her thumb caressed his jaw.

He sighed (or was that her name?) and ducked his head slightly. His breath fanned across her face, and her eyes fluttered closed. The moment stretched. Her heart was pounding so fast and loud she was sure he could feel it, and her core was tight with desire.

Then the warmth was gone as he stepped back. Hermione opened her eyes, disbelieving. Weren't they just about to –

“It's late,” Snape said, voice flat. “You should get some sleep. Night, Granger.”

Hermione watched disbelievingly as he swiftly stalked down the corridor.

Stepping inside her quarters, she slid down against the closed door. Hot tears of anger and rejection fell down her face, and she stubbornly brushed them away. What had she been thinking? What was worse than rejection was that she'd probably lost his friendship now too. This made her cry harder.

There was a meow and Crookshanks appeared, climbing into her lap and butting his head against her chin. She wrapped both arms around his body and buried her nose in his fur where she allowed herself to properly cry.

Chapter Text

Chapter Six

The morning after the Night That Didn't Happen, Hermione had dreaded going down to breakfast. She wasn't sure if she wanted Snape to be there or not, so when she spotted his black-clad form in his usual seat she didn't know how to behave. Snape had been distant but perfectly cordial and it had hurt Hermione more than if he'd ignored her. It was enough to make her leave for Sutton earlier than planned, and she had arrived in her parents' garden shed just after lunch. Some Gryffindor she was, running away.

Christmas morning saw Hermione walk bleary-eyed down the stairs, the sound of Christmas music echoing through the house. Martin was in the kitchen, singing along off-key whilst he cooked their traditional pancakes for breakfast.

“Happy Christmas, dad,” she said, reaching up to kiss her father's cheek.

“Happy Christmas, love. Breakfast is almost ready, go fetch your mum, will you? She's in the sitting room.”

Hermione found her mother in the midst of lighting a fire.

Standing up, Jean straightened her robe. “Good morning, Hermione. Happy Christmas!”

Hermione returned her mothers hug tightly. “Happy Christmas, mum.”

When they parted, Jean gave her daughter a concerned look. “Are you all right, darling? You've been quiet these past few days.”

She smiled weakly. “I'm fine, just tired.”

Jean chuckled and wrapped her arm around Hermione's shoulder. “The joys of adulthood. Come, let's have some breakfast.”

As was their tradition on Christmas, breakfast stretched far longer than what was normally deemed acceptable, and it was nearly noon when the dishes had been cleaned and dried and they went into the sitting room to open presents.

Before Hermione could sit down, there was a pecking sound from the kitchen. As she entered the kitchen she saw three owls outside the window carrying parcels of different sizes; Harry and Ginny's owl, Pig and one of Hogwarts' barn owls (which was most likely carrying a parcel of rock cakes from Hagrid).

Going back into the sitting room with her parcels, she found her parents waiting patiently on the sofa. Presents were opened and enjoyed, and the last present Hermione opened was the one from Hogwarts. Tearing the wrapper, she was confused for a second. It weren't rock cakes, but a book. A book on the use of Ancient Runes in combination with Charms that had been on backorder at Flourish and Blotts for weeks. As she turned the book around to read the back, a note fell out. She recognised the spiky handwriting in an instant, and her stomach clenched. The message was simple; a 'Happy Christmas, Hermione' signed by his name.

She exhaled shakily.

Good. This meant he didn't hate her.

She hoped he liked his Christmas present, which she'd asked one of the House-elves to deliver to his quarters right before lunch. Her knitting really had improved a lot since S.P.E.W.'s days, and the forest green yarn she'd found was very soft.

“Who is that from, Hermione?” her mother asked, and Hermione looked up.

She quickly slid the note back into the book. “Oh, it's from one of my colleagues.” She gathered her pile of presents. “I'll just put these away.”

Placing her other presents on her desk, she kept hold of the book from Snape and sank down on the bed. Cracking the spine, she ran a finger over the note and wondered how Snape was spending the day. Was he locked away in his lab, working on his research? She had no doubt Hagrid would invite him over to tea, and it made her smile to imagine Snape politely sipping tea inside Hagrid's hut and sneaking rock cakes into his pockets. They made lovely paperweights.

Hermione looked up when her mother's voice came from the open doorway.

“There's something you're not telling us.” Jean entered the room fully, a knowing smile on her face. “Your father may be oblivious, but I'm not. Is this about a boy?”

Under different circumstances, Hermione would have laughed at Snape being called a boy. “I'm sorry mum, I don't want to talk about it.”

Her mother's brow furrowed. “Did something happen? Am I going to have to tell your father to get out the cricket bat?”

Hermione closed the book and chuckled. “It's nothing like that, I promise.”

Jean sat down on the edge of the bed, and Hermione scooted over to make more room. “Then what is it? We promised there'd be no more secrets between us.”

Hermione smiled wryly. “That's not fair.” Her mother kept that patient look that never failed to make Hermione talk. “I've become...close to someone. And I thought it could have been more, but-” she trailed off and shrugged.

Jean stroked her back. “It will work itself out, love. Either which way. If it's meant to be it will happen.”

“Thanks, mum.”

Jean stood. “If things go your way, I hope you'll bring your young man around here for dinner. I'm not getting any younger, you know. I'd like to change a nappy or two while I still can.”

“Mum!”

Jean's laughter trailed behind her as she left the room, and Hermione laid down on her back with a huff. It wasn't as if she was risking becoming a spinster. Her mind went to Snape. It probably would be best to just talk to him at the party. She was sure they could sneak away to the library to get some privacy.

She sighed. All would be fine.

At 8.30 the next night, Hermione Apparated from her parents garden shed to Grimmauld Place. Lights shone through the front windows and a holly wreath hung on the black front door.

She knocked twice, and let herself in. “Hello?”

Neville stuck his head out from the dining room. “Hermione!”

“Happy Christmas, Neville,” she smiled and removed her coat. “Am I the last one to arrive?”

“I, uh, think there are a few people who aren't here yet. I'm not sure though, you'd have to ask Harry.”

The dining room was full of people; from fellow Hogwarts students to Harry's Auror friends and even a few Quidditch players. She chuckled when she spotted Ron, awestruck look on his face, as he conversed with the seeker from the Holyhead Harpies. She shook so many hands and kissed so many cheeks she wasn't even sure who she was greeting.

Hermione finally spotted Ginny, and excused herself from the conversation she'd been roped into. Ginny looked nervous, eyes flickering around the room, but she visibly relaxed when she spotted Hermione.

“Where's your date?” she asked when Hermione reached her. “I told Harry you might be bringing someone, but not who and I'm starting to think that was a bad idea.”

Hermione's heart sank. “He isn't here?”

Ginny shook her head. “Didn't you arrive together?”

“No, I've just come from my parents. You're sure he isn't here?”

Ginny lowered her voice. “I think I would have noticed if Severus bloody Snape was in my house, 'Mione.”

She winced. “Yeah, sorry.”

Ginny touched her arm. “I'm sure he's just late. Have some eggnog, mingle. He'll turn up.”

Hermione gave a weak smile. “You're probably right.”

Almost two hours later, Hermione found that Ginny had most certainly been wrong. With every knock on the front door, her skin had tightened, and with every new face that wasn't Snape, her disappointment ran deeper. It was still a lovely party, but she found her mind wandering every few minutes. The disappointment turned to sadness, and then anger. How dare he? She'd thought he would at least have the decency to let her know that he wasn't planning on showing up.

Making up her mind, she set out to find Harry and Ginny. Unsurprisingly, she found them snogging against a bookcase in the drawing-room. She looked away, trying to burn the image of Ginny's hand down the back of Harry's trousers from her mind and cleared her throat loudly.

The couple practically flew apart, and Harry turned as red as Ginny's hair. “Hermione!” he squeaked. “Been, uh, standing there long?”

“No, just wanted to say I'm leaving.”

Ginny detangled herself from Harry and smoothed down her dress. “He didn't show?”

Hermione pushed down the sadness that crept up and shook her head.

Ginny embraced her fiercely. “I'm sorry. He's a berk and I hope you tell him so. Otherwise, I'll come up there and strangle him myself.”

Chuckling, Hermione pulled back. “That won't be necessary.”

Buttoning her coat on the stoop, she felt conflicted. The most adult and logical thing to do would be to Apparate back to Sutton and go to sleep. She was due back to Hogwarts in a couple of days anyway, she could talk to him then. On the other side, she was still mad as hell and had the urge to scream at him. Closing her eyes, she focused hard on the gates of Hogwarts and Disapparated with a pop.

It was colder in Scotland than in Islington, and she shivered as she pushed open the gates. They closed automatically behind her and she walked briskly up towards the castle. The wind whipped her hair around her like crazy, and she cussed while trying to keep most of it out of her face.

In the Entrance Hall, she hesitated. Where was he most likely to be; in his quarters on the first floor or in his office in the dungeons? She took out her wand and placed it in her open palm. “Point Me,” she said and watched as the wand spun and stopped in the direction of the door to the dungeons.

Right, office it was then.

In her rush, Hermione slipped halfway down the stairs and hissed in pain when she scraped her hand on the rough stone wall. This only added to her temper, and she was fuming when she finally stopped outside his office door.

She knocked hard with her uninjured hand. The wards reached out, recognising her, and the door swung gently open. It caught her off guard, and she hesitated for a second before entering.

“Severus?” she called out, pushing the door closed behind her as she looked around. The office was empty; the only evidence that someone had been there was an empty teacup on the desk. Her anger faded slightly and was replaced with worry. Had something happened to him?

“Hermione?”

She looked sharply to the left, where Snape had materialised from a hidden door. He was without his usual layers, just a plain shirt and trousers, and looked shocked to see her.

He stepped further into the office. “What are you doing here?”

She chuckled dryly, anger returned. “What I am doing here? I'll tell you what I'm not doing, Severus. I am not at Grimmauld Place having a lovely time with friends, because my date stood me up! I waited for hours, and you couldn't even bother to let me know you weren't coming? After I got your gift I thought that things were fine between us, but obviously I was mistaken since you couldn't even show me enough respect to send word!” She was panting now, and she could feel her hair crackle with magical energy.

Snape looked even more shocked, not an easy feat, and stood blinking at her, mouth slightly agape.

Unbidden, tears started forming on the corner of her eyes. “Say something,” she said through clenched teeth.

When he finally spoke, his voice was soft. “It was a date?”

Hermione's mouth opened, then closed.

His gaze drifted lower. “You're hurt.”

With the reminder, her hand started hurting again. “I slipped.”

He motioned to the open doorway behind him. “I've got some Bruise-Healing Paste in the lab.”

Wordlessly, Hermione followed him. Why was she following him docilely? She was still angry for Merlin's sake. Maybe it was the open expression on his face when he'd questioned if it was a date.

In all the months they'd been friends, she'd never been in his private laboratory before. Long wooden workbenches in several rows were each set up with cauldrons of different sizes and materials. One wall was fully lined with shelves of jars and another set up with a series of cabinets and a tall walnut sideboard.

He tapped the seat of one of the stools closest to them. “Sit.”

Complying, she followed his form as he walked over to one of the cabinets. He opened one of the doors and took out a jar of bright orange paste. As he turned back to her, she averted her gaze. He pulled up a stool next to her and sat, putting the jar on the worktop and opening it.

“May I?”

Looking up, she saw his outstretched hand. Without quite knowing what she was doing, she put her injured hand in his. He scooped out a small amount of paste from the jar and applied it to her hand. She flinched as the paste stung on her torn skin.

Snape's eyes darted up to hers. “I'm sorry.”

“It's all right,” she said, voice low. “I know the sting can't be helped.”

He sighed. “That's not what I meant.” His eyes were fixed on the task at hand as he spoke. “I wasn't aware the time had got away from me this much. I've had a breakthrough in my research, and I've spent the past ten hours brewing. I just finished cleaning up. I've barely eaten today, let alone checked the time.” Her hand was now healed, but he didn't let go of it. His thumb drawing circles on her palm made her skin tingle. “It's not an excuse, but it's the truth.”

Hermione blinked twice. “Oh.” That was not what she was expecting. “Now I feel foolish for yelling at you.”

“Don't be. Perhaps you'll join me in my quarters? It would seem like we've got things to discuss.”

“It does.”

Snape stood, and tugged lightly on her hand so she slid off the stool. He didn't let go of her hand as they left the lab, the wards sealing themselves shut as the door closed. Instead of heading to the door leading to the dungeons, he led her to a door next to the fireplace she hadn't noticed before.

Walking through it, she was surprised to find that they were in his sitting room. He let go of her and walked over to the fireplace, lighting it wandlessly.

Hanging her coat on the back of the couch, she sat. Snape stood facing her, hands crossed behind his back. The dim light cast most of him in shadow, but for the glow from the fire which made his eyes glitter.

Her heart started beating faster. “Severus, please sit down.”

He took the seat next to her and leaned forward to rest his elbows on his knees. When he spoke, it was to his clasped hands. “I wish to apologise. Not only for this evening but for my behaviour before the holidays. It was inexcusable.”

Hermione shifted so she could face him, and pulled her legs up underneath her. “You've already apologised for tonight, and I accept your apology. As for Sunday night... that's what we've got to talk about, don't we?” She sighed. “Severus, won't you look at me?”

He sat up straight, and his face spoke of caution as he shifted his body towards hers. His knee brushed against hers. His mouth opened, then closed again.

“I am not well versed in these things,” he finally said. “Things of a romantic nature.”

Her heart was racing. “Nor am I.” She hesitated. “But, we're in agreement there is something romantic to talk about?”

Snape smiled, and it transformed his entire face. He reached out to caress her cheek. “Yes, Hermione.”

She closed her eyes and leaned into his hand. “Thank, Merlin. I thought it was just me.”

“It's not just you.”

“Well, that's good.” Hermione sank down further on the couch, her earlier anxiety lessened. She put her hand on top of his and brought them down to intertwine on her lap. His hands were strong with long, elegant fingers. It made her flush to imagine what those fingers were capable of doing. She wondered if he was as nervous as she was. They knew each other well, but this was uncharted territory and she wasn't sure what to expect.

“Hermione?”

She met his gaze, and her breath hitched in her throat. His eyes spoke of such longing and desire it made her toes curl. “Kiss me,” she breathed.

The moment stretched, then he surged forward and his mouth was on hers. His hand tangled in her hair, tilting her head to get better access and she moaned. Her fingers gripped his collar, using it as leverage to pull his body closer to hers as she made to lie back. His teeth knocked against hers as her movement caught him off balance and she cried out when his fingers tore through a knot in her hair.

Fuck. Are you okay?”

Hermione opened her eyes to find him half crouched on top of her, one arm on the back of the couch to steady himself. His cheeks were flushed and he was panting.

Her grin was wide and her arms reached for him. “Yes. Kiss me again.”

Snape's smile was soft, but he shook his head and made to sit up fully.

Cheeks flushing for a less pleasant reason, Hermione sat up and folded her hands in her lap. The sting of rejection struck her hard and fast.

He caressed her cheek. “Please do not doubt my feelings, Hermione. I am exhausted, and I've not done this in a long time.” His thumb lightly traced over her lips. “It may seem trite or old fashioned, but I want to take my time. It's been a long time since I was in a position to woo someone, and I don't want to rush this. Will you indulge me?”

She kissed his finger and smiled. Who would have thought that Snape was a closet romantic?

“Of course. Although, you need not do any wooing. You've already got me.”

The corner of his mouth twitched, and his hand dropped to caress her wrist. “Whilst that is a reassuring thought, you deserve to be wooed and cherished. I also owe you an explanation.”

Hermione titled her head. “For what?”

“My behaviour on Sunday night. Truth be told, you scare me, Hermione Granger. The years since the war have been adequate, but lonely. Then you came along with your sentient hair and your sharp wit and your smiles.” He exhaled a chuckle. “I didn't realise how enamoured I'd become with you until you came to me on Halloween. Then on Sunday night, you looked so lovely and I could barely keep my eyes off you all night. I convinced myself that you couldn't care about someone like me. I'm too old, too dark, too scarred.”

Leaning towards him, she cupped his face in her hands. “That is not true, Severus. You are funny, and intelligent and brave, and I fancy you very much.” She kissed him softly, tenderly, making it clear she was respecting his wishes and not asking for more. He groaned and slanted his mouth over hers, deepening the kiss for a moment before pulling back. Hermione giggled and sat back. “Perhaps it's best if I leave before we forgo the taking it slow?”

Snape looked smug. “That sounds wise. Perhaps we might have dinner together tomorrow?”

Hermione grinned. “I'd like that a lot.”

She decided to stay in her quarters at Hogwarts that night, too tired and wound up to Apparate back to Sutton. Staring up at the canopy, her mind wandered back to the feel of Snape's lips against hers and her nipples tightened underneath her camisole. Fingers trailing down her stomach and into her knickers, she brought herself to orgasm, biting her lip as to not cry out his name.

Chapter Text

Chapter Seven

After sleeping longer than was deemed acceptable, Hermione returned briefly to Sutton, tired but full of a joyous energy that had her mother give her a knowing smirk. With hugs and kisses and promises to write soon, Hermione Apparated back to Hogwarts with a disgruntled Crookshanks. He hated Apparating, and gave her hand a swat when she opened his crate, before disappearing into the castle.

When she thought of her upcoming dinner with Snape, her stomach fluttered. Running a hand through her hair, Hermione decided a shower sounded good before doing a few hours of grading. Stepping into the bathroom, she reached into the shower to turn on the water. She turned her back to the large mirror and disrobed, sending the dirty clothes to the hamper, before reaching up behind her neck to remove her pendant. Sticking her hand under the spray, she deemed the water sufficiently heated up to get in.

She took her time in the shower, shaving her legs and even using the deep conditioner that was only used on special occasions and made her hair smell like pomegranates. Once out of the shower, she refastened the pendant around her neck and turned to face the mirror. As she was squeezing the water from her hair, there was a sharp knock on her door.

“Just a second!” she called out, pulling her dressing gown from its hook and fighting to pull it over her damp skin before rushing to the sitting room. She made sure the front was fully closed before opening the door.

When she saw who was on the other side, her face flushed, and her hand rose to clutch the front of her dressing gown. “Oh. Hello.”

Snape's mouth opened and then closed. He swallowed audibly. She didn't miss the way his eyes roamed over her body, and she became acutely aware that she was naked underneath her navy gown.

“Hello,” he finally said. “Did I catch you at a bad time?”

She shook her head, and felt water drip from her hair. “I was just finishing up.”

“Ah.” He swallowed audibly. "I wanted to inquire about dinner. Does 7 o'clock sound acceptable?”

Hermione smiled. “It does. Are you free this afternoon?”

The corners of his mouth twitched. “Alas, I've promised my time to Minerva. The Board of Governors have some qualms about the budget, so we've got to wrangle them back into place.”

Laughing, Hermione leant against the doorpost. “That's a daunting task. Good luck.”

Snape chuckled. “We will probably need it. 7 o'clock, then? Meet me in the Entrance Hall, and wear your coat.”

Hermione nodded. Her heart pounded like crazy when he reached out to touch her cheek with the back of his knuckles. She leant into his touch for a second before he pulled back.

He backed away, eyes glittering in the light from the sconces on the walls. “Until later, Hermione.”

“Bye,” she smiled, and it wasn't until he'd disappeared down the corridor that she remembered that she was standing in her open doorway in only her dressing gown. She hastily closed the door and leaned against the sturdy wood.

That man was going to be the death of her.

After a few hours of increasingly frustrating grading (she was beginning to think Snape was right when he called the students dunderheads, though she would never admit it), Hermione doused the candles in her office and quickly went into her chambers to get her coat. She'd thought briefly of putting on makeup or trying to tame her hair, but decided against it. He'd seen her in her natural state before, and she had no idea what he was planning, other than that they were obviously not dining in the castle.

The large clock in the Entrance Hall showed a few minutes before seven, and Snape was already waiting. He stood in front of the four giant hourglasses which displayed the House points, hands clasped behind his back. He didn't turn until she was almost directly behind him. Hermione's eyes flickered up, and she felt warmth from within when she saw the slightly crooked green scarf around his neck.

“You like it, then?” she breathed, putting her hands in her pockets to stop herself from reaching for him.

Snape nodded. “It was the most thoughtful gift I've ever received, Hermione. Thank you.”

“You're welcome,” she grinned. “So, where are we going?”

He smirked. “It's a surprise.” He jerked his head towards the hourglasses on the wall. “Do you think Gryffindor has a chance for the cup this year?”

Hermione looked at them, noting the different levels of gems. Gryffindor was only a little ways behind Slytherin, who in turn was almost caught up with Ravenclaw in the lead.

“Nothing is impossible. Are you feeling like doing another bet?” she added teasingly.

He snorted. “Not likely.” His gaze softened. “Although, it did turn out rather well the first time.”

Hermione smiled. “It did.”

They walked closely down to the gates, arms brushing against each other with every step. If Hermione's stomach hadn't been fluttering with nerves, she would have reached for his hand. Once outside the gates, Snape stopped. Hermione turned to face him.

“We need to Apparate.” He held out his hand. “Do you trust me?”

“Yes,” she said without hesitation. His eyes widened slightly. She took his offered hand and stepped in close. Nose practically buried in his chest, she inhaled deeply and clutched her other hand in his lapel. His arm gripped her waist tightly.

“Ready?”

Closing her eyes, she nodded.

Once they were back on solid ground, Hermione looked around. A dark city skyline with glittering lights stretched out before her. The snow and the chill in the air let her know they were still in Scotland. She looked around and saw sandstone buildings. In the distance, she recognised the castle situated high on the hill.

She looked up at Snape. “Are we in Edinburgh?”

The corner of his mouth curled upwards. “We are. I thought it would be nice to get out of the castle, have fewer distractions.”

She smiled. “That's a wonderful idea.”

The tips of his ears, poking through his inky curtain of hair, pinkened slightly. “I've made reservations. It's nothing fancy,” he reassured her, probably seeing the panic in her eyes, “just a place with good food.”

They started walking, Hermione following Snape's lead through the streets of Edinburgh. It wasn't terribly busy, and the people they met paid them no mind, dressed in Muggle clothing as they were. Snape lead her down a narrow pathway and onto a small side street, where he stopped in front of a blue door. The lights from the restaurant shone out into the dark winter night, and when they entered the heat enveloped them like an embrace from someone you cared deeply for.

They were shown to a secluded corner of the noisy restaurant, and the maître d' placed their menus on the table. Snape took her coat for her and hung it on the coat rack behind their table. Once seated, they discussed drinks before deciding on a light white wine.

“Have you any recommendations?” Hermione asked, eyeing the menu.

“The cod is very good,” Snape said, finger tracing his lower lip as he studied the menu. His eyes rose to meet hers.

She put down the menu with a smile. “I'll have that then.”

Their order was placed (cod for her, chicken for him), and once the maître d' left their table, Snape cast a wandless Muffliato.

Hermione grinned. “You're such a show-off.”

Snape chuckled. “Just confident in my abilities.”

She leaned forward, crossing her arms on the table. “How did the wrangling with McGonagall go?”

He shrugged. “Adequate. They've got opinions on the plans to open another greenhouse for advanced students.”

Hermione scoffed. “That doesn't surprise me in the slightest. If it doesn't affect them or their children, they don't think it matters.”

Snape hummed in response. “Pomona has voiced a request to take on an Apprentice next year, but for that to happen there needs to be more space for projects and rare plants.”

“Agreed.” Hermione studied him for a moment. “Why haven't you ever taken an Apprentice?”

Snape looked pensive. “When I first started teaching after the war I had no interest on taking in any extra responsibilities, and since then...” he smirked sardonically. “Let's just say the requests have been few and far between. As I put great weight in personality compatibility, I've not found an Apprentice I felt would suit the arrangement.”

“That's rubbish! Why would anyone go to another Potions Master if they had the option to Apprentice with you?”

His eyes were soft. “You flatter me, Hermione. You forget that while the majority of the wizarding world largely accepted my role in both wars, there are plenty who think I attached my allegiance to whichever side was the winning one.” He shrugged. “Once a Death Eater, always a Death Eater.”

Hermione reached out to grasp his forearm. “Those people are wankers. They don't know you and they don't deserve to.”

He laid his hand on hers, and gave a discreet wave with the other. Hermione realised a waitress stood behind her with their food, and was silently thankful to Snape for having the foresight to cancel the Muffliato.

They ate mostly in silence, the kind of silence that felt comfortable because they knew each other well. Several times their eyes met over their wine glasses, and Hermione's cheeks felt permanently flushed. She respected that he wanted to move things slowly, found it endearing even, but dear Circe did she want him.

At the end of the meal, Hermione sat back and sipped the last of her wine. “That was delicious. Thank you for bringing me here.”

“I'm glad you accepted my offer for dinner.” He looked down at the empty glass in his hand. “It has been some time since I courted anyone.” At Hermione's giggle, he looked up sharply. “What?”

“I'm sorry, Severus, I'm not laughing at you, I promise.” She wrinkled her nose. “It's just the word courting. It makes it sound very dramatic, don't you think? As if the future of a small country is dependant on our relationship.”

Snape chuckled. “I suppose so.”

Hermione smiled. “There's no pressure. It's just you and me, nothing else matters.”

The bill came and he paid it before standing and helping her with her coat. He walked slightly behind her out of the restaurant, one hand gently resting against the base of her spine.

“I hope the evening isn't over yet,” Hermione said as he once again led her down a narrow pathway between two buildings.

He stopped and held out his arm. “It is not.”

Hermione didn't hesitate to step in close, fisting her hands in his lapels and preparing herself for Apparition. His jaw rested against the side of her face for a moment before there was the telltale tug at her navel.

When she opened her eyes, they were standing on a walkway next to a quiet river which was half frozen over. Large elm trees stood bare on either side of the river and snow-covered stone walls bordered the walkway as far as Hermione could see in either direction. Even in the middle of winter it was a beautiful place, and she could imagine how splendid it would look in the summer in full bloom. She looked up at Snape for clarification on where they were.

“These are the Dean Gardens,” he said as he (unfortunately) let go of her waist. “Whilst they are technically a private space, I didn't think the Muggles would mind.” He unsheathed his wand and cast a Muggle Repelling Charm on them both. “They won't even know we're here.”

Hermione laughed. “How very Slytherin of you.”

They walked leisurely, talking about all things big and small. They talked about their upbringings, of feeling like outsiders and spending most of their time on their own. Snape shared just how bad the bullying by the Marauders had been, and Hermione took the opportunity to lace her arm through his as an act of comfort. She'd never known how bad it had been; when Sirius was still alive it had seemed no more serious than the animosity between Harry and Draco. She was appalled to learn the truth about the night when Sirius had almost got Snape killed, and Dumbledore's lack of action. It explained many things; from Snape's obvious dislike of Lupin and his behaviour on the night in their 3rd year by the Whomping Willow.

Hermione talked about the year they had been on the run, of how food had been so scarce it wasn't unusual that they only ate every other day, and how she still couldn't be anywhere near the woods without getting a panic attack.

“This is fine, Severus,” she reassured him when his lips tightened. “We're on a walkway, and I can see other things than just trees everywhere.”

They didn't only discuss grim things; they shared their favourite authors and favourite foods. The feeling when they held their first wand, and did their first spell. How he'd got an impressive six Outstandings and one Exceeds Expectations on his NEWTs. Hermione was surprised to learn Snape had read all the books about James Bond, but not at all surprised he didn't enjoy them.

Snape snorted. “He was a lousy spy; he made no efforts to hide his identity or his missions. Everyone he met knew his name and his motives, and he spent more time wooing women than actually gathering intelligence.”

Hermione laughed. “You could certainly show him a thing or two.”

They met no one else on their stroll, only the odd bird flying away from a naked tree top. A large bridge towered over the walkway in the distance, and every few seconds came the yellow light from the headlights of a car.

“I never thanked you for the Christmas gift,” Hermione said, glancing up at Snape.

His cheeks were pink from the cold, and the corners of his mouth twitched upwards. “It was nothing.”

Stopping, she laid her hand on his arm. “It was a lovely and thoughtful gift, Severus. I don't even recall when we've talked about it, but it must have been ages ago because it's been sold out for all of December.”

This time, she was certain it was her words that caused the flush on his face. “I purchased it after the article on healing charms in combination with runes came out. We discussed it at lunch.”

Hermione's mouth dropped open. “But that was at the start of November!”

“It was.”

Her heart grew three sizes and then exploded. “You are a wonderful man, Severus, and I feel very fortunate to have you in my life.”

Snape twisted his body to face her, and his hand was cold when he touched her face. His black eyes seemed to bore into hers, and the darted down to her lips then back up again. “May I kiss you?”

“Yes,” Hermione breathed, then her eyes fluttered closed as his mouth descended on hers. They were cold and firm but her body was humming with life and warmth and she pressed against him, wanting him to enfold her body into his and never let her go.

Snape's arm held a steady grip around her waist which she was thankful for when she felt his tongue on the seam of her lips and her knees threatened to give out. A moan vibrated through their lips. She was unsure of who had made it and frankly she didn't care.

Hermione raked her fingers through his hair, causing him to gasp and buck slightly against her. She smiled against his lips and took a mental note of that reaction. His hair was greasy, but not excessively so and it certainly made no difference to her. Not when lips and tongue and the feel of the hard planes of his body against hers was making her both warm and terribly aroused.

When they finally parted, they were both panting. Snape's hair was mussed, and his lips wet and swollen. Hermione smiled. He looked well snogged, and she was fairly sure she looked the same.

“If that's your definition of taking things slow, I've got no complaints,” she grinned, smoothing down his hair and tucking one side behind his ear.

Snape laughed, eyes shining, and reached out to coil a finger around a springy curl. “You're turning me into a bloody randy teenager.” He pulled on the curl, watching it grow in length a good few inches before letting it go and allowing it to spring back up.

“I hope you're not complaining.”

“Never.” He pressed a swift kiss to her lips, and she groaned in frustration when he pulled away too quickly for her liking.

Something wet and cold hit her, and Hermione looked up at the sky with a frown. “When did it start to snow?”

Big snowflakes were falling on and around them, and she giggled when one landed square on his nose.

“Perhaps this is a sign for us to return to Hogwarts?” she said, brushing it off. His nose was cold underneath her fingers.

“So it would seem.”

He wrapped his arms around her, and she closed her eyes tightly in preparation. They landed smoothly in the deserted corridor outside her quarters.

Regretfully, Hermione stepped back from his embrace. “I don't suppose you want to come in for some tea?”

Snape smiled and pulled on one of her curls. “As tempting as that sounds, I better not.”

Hermione chuckled. “Tease.”

He touched her lower lip lightly. “Only for you. Good night, Hermione. This evening has been wonderful. More so than I could imagine.”

“It has.” She stepped forward and pressed a soft kiss to his lips. “Good night, Severus.”

When she entered her sitting room, Crookshanks was perched on the sofa. He looked at her as if to say 'young lady, do you know what time it is?'.

Hermione laughed. “Come on Crooks, let's go to bed.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Eight

“Hermione, we missed you at dinner last night,” Hagrid boomed as she sat down for breakfast in the Great Hall.

Her eyes darted to Snape for a second, whose only reaction was the slight flex of his fingers as he read the morning paper.

“I was at my parents',” she answered, not quite meeting the half-Giant's eyes.

“How are they faring?” McGonagall asked kindly, pouring milk in her tea.

Hermione grabbed a piece of toast. “They're both well.”

“Lovely to hear,” McGonagall smiled. “Might I request your company for a game of chess later today? Severus is refusing to play with me, and I fancy a game or two.”

“I refuse to play with you because you cheat,” came Snape's drawl, though his eyes were still glued to the Daily Prophet.

McGonagall scoffed. “I do not. You're just a sore loser, lad.”

Snape snorted, and looked up at Hermione. “Don't let her fool you, she's sly as a fox.”

Hermione chuckled and poured herself a cup of tea. “If you say so.”

Poppy sat down at the table, looking tired and harried. “Severus, could you be a dear and brew a double batch of Pepper-Up? It seems all the Hufflepuffs who stayed behind have caught the same cold, and they've almost depleted my stores.”

Snape nodded. “Of course, Poppy.”

“Do you need an extra set of hands?” Hermione asked casually as she buttered a piece of toast.

His eyebrow arched and the corner of his mouth twitched, but the rest of his face was impassive. “If you won't ask me idiotic questions every five seconds. I've no patience for insufferable know-it-alls, even ones who are half-decent at Potions.”

Underneath the table, his leg pressed against hers.

Hermione hid her smile behind her teacup.

After lunch, Hermione made her way up to the Headmistress' office. After speaking the password to the gargoyles, she rode the staircase up. The door opened at her knock, and she entered silently.

“Ah, you're here. Good.” McGonagall rose from her place behind her desk. “I imagine you don't mind if we play with a Muggle chess set? I find the Wizard kind moody at the best of times and mutinous at the worst.”

Hermione chuckled. “I don't mind at all. I never had any luck playing Wizard chess, anyway.”

They sat by the burning fire, where an antique chess set had been placed on the side table. The pieces were discoloured with old age and use. Hermione did her best not to look up at the portrait of Dumbledore hanging behind the desk. After what she'd learnt about him the previous night, she wasn't sure she could be trusted not to yell at him, portrait form or not.

They played in silence for a few minutes before her former Head of House spoke.

“How are you finding life at Hogwarts, Hermione? I feel as if we haven't spoken properly in a while.”

“It's taken some adjusting, I'll admit,” Hermione said. “But I feel like I'm getting settled into a routine now.”

McGonagall moved her rook, taking Hermione's pawn. “That makes me happy to hear.”

“Are you this concerned about every new Professor, or just me?” Hermione teased, moving her bishop three steps and taking one of McGonagall's rooks.

McGonagall chuckled. “I do like checking in once in a while, but you are a special case. Not only because I taught you myself, Lord knows I've taught many students who became my colleagues, but because of who you are.” A slightly pained marred her face. “Much has been asked of you since you were only a child, things that no child should have to deal with. You've fared well, and even though you've grown up to be a remarkable young woman, I fuss.” She smiled. “Sometimes I can still see the little girl who swore that she had gone looking for a full-grown troll all on her own.”

Hermione laughed, cheeks flushing. “I felt guilty for days afterwards for lying to a teacher.”

“We all knew you were lying, of course,” the Headmistress said casually as she moved her knight, “and it caused quite a discussion in the staff room.” She chuckled at some distant memory. “I remember Severus and Filius being in agreement that your friendship with Messrs Potter and Weasley would lead you down a slippery slope. Can't say they were wrong.”

Hermione smiled, but something felt off. Glancing up, she met the painted blue eyes of Dumbledore. He looked amused, but stayed silent. Small mercies.

They were fairly matched at the game, but after about an hour McGonagall came out the victor.

“Thank you for indulging an old woman's fancy,” McGonagall said, waving her hand and making the chessboard reset itself.

“I enjoyed it,” Hermione answered. “I should head down and see if Severus wants my help with any of the Potions for the Hospital Wing.”

“You and Severus seem close,” came Dumbledore's voice from the wall, causing both women to look up.

Hermione tried to look unaffected. “We're friendly.”

“Good.” Dumbledore's eyes twinkled. “He could use a friend, the boy spends far too much time on his own.”

She squared her jaw, an insult on the tip of her tongue. Not wanting to out herself in front of McGonagall though, she bit her tongue. After saying goodbye to the Headmistress, Hermione stalked down several flights of stairs towards her quarters. She'd almost managed to forget about Dumbledore's portrait altogether. It was perhaps fortunate that he rarely seemed to venture outside his frame. She grinned wickedly. What she could do with a cloth and some turpentine.

Once in her quarters she splashed some water on her face to try to calm herself down. After drying her face, she took a second to look at her reflection. Pale pinkish skin, a pert nose and plain light brown eyes. Her hair looked a right disaster, and she knew Snape would kill her if her hair contaminated the potions. Finding a hairband in a drawer, she pulled it up in a tight knot.

Before leaving the bedroom, she hesitated. Should she put on something more flattering? Shaking her head, she sheathed her wand. There would be brewing, nothing else. Gods, this taking it slow was frustrating.

Snape must have changed his wards to allow her entrance because the door swung open at her knock. His office was empty, but the door to his lab was open and she heard the sound of chopping and the simmering of potions. She shrugged out of her robes and hung them on the back of one of the wing-back chairs in front of the desk, leaving her in Muggle jeans and a long-sleeved shirt.

As she entered the lab Snape looked up from where he was cutting ingredients and carefully put down his sharp knife. “I thought I heard you arrive.”

She approached his bench, eyeing the workspace. “I am here and ready to help. Just tell me where you want me.”

His eyebrow arched, and the corner of his mouth curled upwards.

Face flushing, Hermione looked away. He wasn't making this taking it slow easy for her. “You know what I mean. Where can I begin?”

“The Invigoration Draught should be finished any minute now, so you may start on the Pepper-Up Potion.” A shrill bell rung, and he waved a hand in the direction of the large sideboard on the far wall. “I've a recipe for a modified version in a drawer somewhere, feel free to help yourself.”

As he tended to the finished potion, Hermione attempted to find the recipe. It wasn't easy; the walnut sideboard was taller than she was, and there were eight drawers as well as four glass doors. She checked two drawers, but they were so overflowing with parchment she quickly gave up and instead called out, “Accio, modified Pepper-Up recipe!” Seconds later, the parchment was in her hand, and she reviewed it as she took the work station next to Snape's. It didn't look much different from the recipe she knew, other than the method of slicing the Mandrake Root instead of adding it whole.

As she was crushing the Bicorn Horn in the mortar, Snape returned to her side.

“How did the chess game go?” he asked, grabbing the Mandrake Root from her station with long practiced fingers and began to slice it evenly.

“McGonagall won,” Hermione said, putting down the pestle on the worktop. “But not because she cheated!”

Snape snorted.

Hermione watched his experienced hands as he thinly sliced the Mandrake Root. She'd missed watching him brew. His movements were graceful and sure, the movements of someone who had spent most of his life perfecting his craft. Even when she was still a student, she could appreciate his knowledge and expertise. Now, seeing those dexterous hands at work was oddly arousing.

“You can put in the Bicorn Horn.”

His words pulled her back to the task at hand, and she felt her cheeks flush as she took two pinches from the mortar and added them to the cauldron. Snape added the Mandrake Root and checked that the flame was on medium before stepping back.

“Would you care for some tea while we wait?”

Her eyebrows rose. “You've already finished the other brewing for the Hospital Wing?”

“I have.” He set a timer for thirty minutes. “So. Tea?”

“Please.”

They went back to his office and Hermione sat while Snape fixed the tea. He put the cup and the saucer on his desk in front of her and fetched his own before sitting in the chair next to her.

“I can tell something's on your mind, Hermione.”

Hermione smiled, reaching to grasp her cup. “Am I that transparent?”

Snape shrugged. “Is it something you wish to talk about?”

She sipped her tea before answering. “Does it bother you that I was your student?”

If he was surprised by her question, he didn't show it. “No. Should it?” He sighed. “I've been teaching for over two decades, Hermione. I accepted a long time ago that it's impossible to view every former student as just a student. Did I think you anything other than an Insufferable Know-it-All during your time as a student? No. Therefore, it does not bother me. You are an adult witch so that is what I see you as.” He titled his head. “Does it bother you that I was your professor?”

Hermione shook her head. “It's like you're two different people. There's Professor Snape, the strict but brilliant teacher. Then there's Severus, who is...just you. A man, flawed and wonderful in his own ways.”

His eyes softened, and he put down his teacup before leaning over and kissing her softly. “How fortunate I am, to have someone like you,” he murmured against her lips before kissing her again.

She sighed in contentment, and raked her fingers through his hair. He pulled back and she followed until she was practically sitting on his lap. His hands left traces of fire as they ran up and down her back and she gasped into his mouth when his fingers met the skin of her lower back, where her shirt had ridden up. Barely resisting the urge to rub against him like a cat in heat, she gripped his shoulders tightly.

The shrill sound of the Magical timer cut through the air, and they pulled apart.

“We need to tend to the potion,” Snape said breathlessly, “or Poppy'll have both our heads.”

Hermione nodded. “Right.”

Reluctantly rising to her feet, she straightened her shirt and followed Snape back into the lab. Circe, they were acting like horny teenagers!

Snape proved to excel at compartmentalising as he added the rest of the ingredients to the potion with a steady hand. It was infuriating and deeply arousing at the same time. “Can you hand me those jars?” he asked, not looking up from where he was adding the last of the Fire Seeds.

Hermione obliged, and had a hard time looking away from his hands as he bottled the potion.

He cleared his throat, attracting her attention, and her eyes snapped up to his. He looked unsure, and his fingers flexed on the worktop. “I'm terribly out of practice with this.”

It took Hermione a few seconds to understand his meaning. When she did, her core clenched. “So am I.” She put her hand on his. “We'll figure it out, yeah?”

Raising their joined hands, he kissed her palm. The touch went through her body like an electrical current.

Snape tugged lightly on her hand. “Come.”

They walked side by side out to his office, then through the door that led to his quarters. They bypassed the sitting room, and Snape opened the door to his bedroom.

Hermione drew in a ragged breath. Her field of vision seemed to narrow down to only the man in front of her. They moved at the same time, his hands finding her hips and hers going around his neck as their lips met. She raked her fingers through his hair, nails meeting scalp.

Snape groaned and pulled her tight against him, opening her lips with his tongue. His fingers flexed against her hips, finding the sliver of skin between her shirt and her jeans. The groan could have come from either of them, vibrating through them as it did. Hermione felt his arousal throb against her navel, and she pressed against him more firmly. Her body felt tight and aching and she wanted him now.

She pulled back, and bit her lip. She felt awkward and unsure, fumbling like a teenager. Then she looked up into his face, and saw only desire. The knowledge that he felt as unsure as she did was comforting, and she slowly reached up to undo the top button of his shirt. He gripped her hips tighter, and his hands slid around to cup her bottom. Stretching her body, she placed a soft kiss on the scar tissue on his neck. He trembled beneath her touch. Emboldened by his response, Hermione turned her attention to the other buttons on his shirt. Pressed together as they were, though, she didn't get far.

With a frustrated huff, she moved away from him slightly and dropped her hands. “You have too many buttons.”

Snape chuckled. “I thought a slow undressing was half the fun?”

“Next time?” She held her breath as they both stilled.

Then Snape reached for the next button himself. Hermione took a deep breath and reached for the hem of her shirt, pulling it over her head swiftly. Their eyes stayed locked together as they undressed down to their underwear. Hermione exhaled a shaky breath and squared her shoulders before finally letting herself look at the man in front of her.

He was thin but not malnourished, and there was a wiry strength in his arms and the set of his shoulders. A small smattering of black hair was dusted on his chest bone, as well as a dark trail from his navel which disappeared underneath his pants. There were fewer scars visible than she'd imagined; the biggest ones were a thin one stretching over two of his ribs and an oddly shaped white scar on the side of his hip. She counted a half-dozen smaller scars on his arms and torso, and the faint outline of the Dark Mark on his arm as he reached out towards her. His hand settled on her waist and her skin broke out in goosebumps.

“You're so lovely,” he breathed.

“So are you,” she managed to get out, hands coming up to rest on his chest. His skin was warm underneath her fingers, and she could feel the steady beating of his heart. Her hair came tumbling down around her shoulders, and she realised she'd been so distracted she hadn't felt his hand reach for her hairband. Then she felt him lift the chain of her pendant, and froze.

Snape stopped. “Too fast?”

Hermione exhaled shakily. “No, it's just...I don't like showing them. My scars.”

His hand left the necklace, and instead laid his hand on her neck. “I won't push you if you're not ready.”

Her fingers curled into his chest. “I'd rather leave it on, this time. If that's all right?”

Snape nodded. “Of course.”

Twisting his hand in her hair, he gently pushed it out of the way and fastened his lips on her neck. Hermione's knees just about gave out, and she gripped his shoulders tightly. His body was warm as it pressed against her and his erection throbbed against her. She had never been so aroused in her entire life.

“Severus,” she moaned, feeling like she might explode any second. “Bed. Now.”

They made for the bed. Once under the covers, Hermione unclasped her bra and shimmied out of her knickers. They were almost embarrassingly wet. She didn't look at him until she heard his pants hit the floor.

“Are you sure?” he asked as his hand slid up her ribs towards her breast.

Her “Yes,” came out as a moan when his calloused fingers found her nipple. She reached for his hip and scooted closer to him. His erection bumped against her and she spread her thighs in response. He groaned and pinched her other nipple, making her gasp.

“Severus,” she moaned. “I want you.” She grabbed his hand off her breast and guided it between her legs.

“Fuck,” he spoke through clenched teeth, his hand sliding through her folds.

When she reached for him, he shook his head. “I won't last.”

“It's okay,” she breathed. She didn't care about anything other than the feel of his skin against hers.

Grasping his shoulders, she rolled onto her back and pulled him on top of her. They both moaned when he settled fully between her open legs, arms resting by the side of her head. Legs coming up on either side of his body, she flexed her hips, and his cock nudged her entrance.

“Yes?” she moaned, hands finding his sides.

“Yes,” he breathed, and then he was buried deep inside her, stretching her and it had been so long she'd forgotten how lovely it felt.

Hermione rolled her hips, and her clitoris pressed against his sharp pubic bone and she keened. “Oh Circe, that feels so good.”

He pressed his chest down against her breasts, burying his nose in her neck and his breath was hot as he groaned. “Fuckfuckfuck,” he choked in her ear, and his hand gripped her hip to stop her movement. “Don't move.”

It was difficult for her to stay still, feeling him twitch inside of her. His name came out as a whimper, her inner muscles fluttering around him as she clutched at him frantically.

Snape grunted against her skin and lifted his head to look down at her. His eyes were wild, cheeks flushed and teeth bared. “For fuck's sake woman, stop moving!”

Hermione giggled breathlessly. “You feel– oh, God –so good.”

He twitched inside her. “Are you close?”

She licked her dry lips and nodded. He bent his head and kissed her fiercely as he began thrusting inside her. Whimpering against his mouth, she rubbed herself against him shamelessly. Her back arched, and the change in position made his pubic bone hit her just so and then she clenched and exploded around him without warning. She threw her head back and shattered and chanted his name like a prayer. Distantly she heard him curse and she came to her senses just in time to see his face twisting, and he cried out as he came.

Snape made to roll off her, but she clenched her thighs around him. “No, stay.”

Rising to his elbows, he looked down at her adoringly. “You are amazing.”

Hermione grinned and reached up to push back his hair behind his ear. “So are you.”

They kissed languidly, then Snape groaned and pulled back. “I can still feel you – fuck...” He pulled out and covered her mouth in a searing kiss before lying down by her side.

Chuckling, Hermione rolled to her side and kissed his shoulder. “I'd say we managed that quite nicely.”

He ran a hand up and down her arm. “Only quite?”

She pushed her hair out of her face. “Okay, that was bloody amazing. Can we do it again?”

Snape laughed. “Control yourself, witch. This old man needs a breather.”

“You're not old,” Hermione protested. Stretching her legs, she winced. “I need to use the loo, but I'm not sure if my legs are working properly yet.”

He perked up. “Really?”

She playfully shoved his shoulder. “Yes, really. Don't look so pleased with yourself.”

Snape scoffed. “I've earned that right, thank you very much.”

Giggling, Hermione scooted closer and wrapped her arm around his torso. She tucked her head underneath his chin and sighed in contentment. His fingers traced light circles up and down her spine and she relaxed further into his embrace.

“I'm sleepy,” she murmured, rubbing her nose against his collarbone. He mumbled something she couldn't quite hear, voice rumbling through his chest, and she smiled. His chest rose and fell steadily against her, and she wasn't sure which one of them fell asleep first.

Chapter Text

Chapter Nine

For the third day in a row, Hermione woke with a firm arm draped across her chest and the hardness of a morning erection poking at her arse. Well, that wasn't strictly true, as she'd woken the day before on her back and with Snape's head buried between her legs.

Rubbing her heels against his shins, she stretched her body. She was perfectly relaxed and sated, which was no doubt due to the countless orgasms she'd had these past days.

“Morning,” came Snape's low voice behind her, and he kissed the back of her shoulder.

Hermione twisted to face him. “Mmm, morning.”

She rubbed at the crease mark on his cheek before leaning in to kiss him. He hummed against her lips and trailed a hand down to caress her waist.

What started as a slow morning snog quickly turned heated when Hermione threw her leg over his hips. She pulled her mouth away from his with a moan when his fingers found her wet centre and pressed firmly on her swollen nub. Searching blindly for him, she guided him to her entrance.

He cursed low in her ear as he slipped inside.

They were pressed so tightly together as two people could be, breaths hot in ears and skin sliding over skin. Hermione splayed her fingers over his arse, encouraging him to go deeper. The hand that wasn't stroking her nub fisted in her hair, pulling her head back and exposing her neck.

Hermione's eyes rolled back and she spasmed around him. “Oh, Gods.”

Snape's mouth fastened on her neck, and that combined with the other sensations coursing through her body sent her over the edge with a cry. His orgasm closely followed hers, and she felt him pulsate inside her.

Rolling over on her back, she threw an arm over her eyes and tried to control her racing heart. She turned her head to the side, smiling. “That's what I call a good morning.”

Snape rolled his eyes, but his lips curled upwards. “Indeed.”

“I need a shower.” Hermione sat and swung her legs over the edge of the bed. Walking naked to his bathroom she felt their combined fluids start to migrate down her thigh and wrinkled her nose.

As she stepped into the shower, she felt him behind her. She looked over her shoulder, and her skin flushed at the sight of his naked body. “What are you doing?”

His grin was wicked as he backed her against the cool tile. “I decided I also need a shower. How convenient.”

Hermione shrieked when his lips attacked her neck.

As Hermione stepped out of the fireplace into her sitting room, she had never been more glad that professors could Floo freely throughout the castle because anyone who saw her in the corridors in her current state would know exactly what she had been up to. Changing into a fresh pair of robes, she brushed her teeth and pulled her half-dried curls into a plait.

Crookshanks was nowhere to be seen; he'd made himself scarce since she and Snape had christened her sofa the day before yesterday. She supposed she was glad her half-Kneazle hadn't caused Snape any harm; Ron had gotten the full feel of Crookshanks' claws in his arse once.

The wards on her office sounded, and she frowned. Who could that be? She stuck her head out into the corridor and was met with the sight of a wild-eyed student outside her office door.

“Miss Crane?”

The blonde looked near tears, and she was clutching an overflowing book bag in her arms. “I'm sorry to bother you, Professor, I know it's the holidays and you don't have office hours but I'm really stressed about the OWLs.”

Stepping fully into the corridor, Hermione closed the door to her quarters behind her. “Calm down, Melinda. Why don't we step into my office?”

Hermione couldn't stop herself from smiling as she conjured a pot of tea and sat the frazzled Gryffindor down in the armchair by the fire. Over the months, she'd come to recognise herself in the young student; the same eagerness to learn, the same overachieving tendencies. Her essays were always much longer than the required length and Hermione felt sorry for ever having done the same, now that she was on the other side of the parchment.

“Now,” Hermione said, sitting down and handing Miss Crane a teacup, “which part of your OWLs are stressing you out? The revising?”

Two hours later, Miss Crane was decidedly calmer and in possession of a new revising schedule that Hermione had helped her construct.

“Thank you so much, Professor,” the Gryffindor said as she carefully folded up the parchment with her new schedule and put it in her book bag. “Things seem less daunting now.”

Hermione vanished the empty teapot and cups. “I'm glad to hear that, and that you came to me for help. There's no shame in asking for help, remember that.”

Miss Crane nodded. “I will. Oh, and in case I don't see you more today; Happy New Year, Professor.”

Hermione smiled. “And the same to you, Miss Crane.”

When she became alone in the office, Hermione's fingers rose to clasp her pendant. She hadn't even realised it was New Year's Eve; she and Snape had been so wrapped up in each other that time had ceased to have any meaning. Wincing, she realised she hadn't talked to Ginny since the Christmas Party on Boxing Day.

Whoops.

She cast a quick Tempus. Good, it was barely noon. Grabbing a pinch of Floo powder, she knelt by the fire and called out, “Number 12, Grimmauld Place!” The familiar drawing-room appeared before her, lit by sconces but empty. “Harry? Ginny? Is anyone there?” She was met with silence, and she waited a few seconds before calling out again.

There was a rustle, and Ginny came rushing in. “Sorry, I was in the loo,” Ginny said as she knelt by the fire. “How are you? I've not heard from you in days.” She gave her a pointed look. “I'm dying to know what happened after you left the party!”

Hermione's cheeks flushed, which had absolutely nothing to do with the roaring fire, and Ginny laughed. “I suppose things worked out then?”

“They did,” Hermione smiled. “Better than I could have imagined.”

Ginny pushed a piece of hair behind her ear. “I haven't told Harry who it is yet. He's been asking though, and he's not being very subtle about it. Should I tell him?”

Hermione hesitated. “I think it's best I tell him, and Ron, myself.”

Ginny laughed. “Better you than me. I suppose you're not coming over tonight then? Since we're being all secretive, I mean.”

For the past years, since the war really, they'd always gotten together and had take out and worn silly hats and rung in the New Year together. Last year Hermione had hosted and this year it was Harry's and Ginny's turn. “I'm not sure, I'll need to talk to Severus. I'll send you a Patronus later.”

“Sounds good. I'm off to the Burrow; Charlie is home for the holidays, so mum is in full overbearing mode.” Ginny rolled her eyes. “I'll tell them you said hi.”

Retreating from the fire, Hermione brushed ash from her robes and sat back on her heels. She had a suspicion she already knew what Snape's answer was going to be regarding this evening. She sighed. On one hand, she didn't blame him; they were her friends, not his, and his feelings towards Harry were problematic at the best of times. On the other hand, she had no intention of cutting her friends out of her life. They would just all need to learn to get along.

Snape wasn't at lunch, but she spoke with Hagrid (“They're shooting fireworks from Hogsmeade at midnight, and I reckon the Weasley shop won't miss the chance to show off their stock.”) and promised to come by for tea soon.

Hermione found Snape some time later at a table in the Restricted Section, bent over a book that looked almost as old as the castle.

She let her fingers rest against his back as she turned to face him, and leant against the table. “You weren't at lunch.”

Snape carefully closed the book and looked up at her. “I didn't realise it was already lunchtime.” His lips quirked upwards as his hand reached over to caress her thigh. “I had a filling breakfast.”

Hermione blushed- He looked amused at her as she cleared her throat. “Apparently, it's New Year's Eve today.” When his eyebrows shot up, she laughed. “I know, I was surprised too. We have an invite to Grimmauld Place.”

Snape's face darkened. “No.”

“Severus, just-”

“No,” he repeated, and his hand fell from her thigh as he sat up straighter.

Hermione sighed. “And what if I want to go?”

“You are free to do as you wish, but do not expect me to come along.”

Hermione squared her jaw. “You're being completely unreasonable!” Her voice was shrill, and she was glad when he slashed a Muffliato through the air.

He stood, the chair scraping against the floor as he loomed over her. His knuckles were white from gripping the table. “I've no wish to spend the evening in the company of those idiotic dunderheads.”

“They're my friends. Don't make me choose between you,” her voice was low, and she tried to keep the hurt from her face.

“Why? Because you'll choose them?” He chuckled darkly. “No surprises there, Potter always seem to come out on top, doesn't he?”

Hermione gasped, hurt spreading through her body. “You're a fucking prick, Severus Snape.” Before she could do or say something she'd later regret, she stalked out of the library.

Minutes later saw her stomping into her quarters, slamming the door behind her. It was juvenile but deeply satisfying. Throwing herself face first on her bed, she buried her face in the pillow and screamed. He was such an infuriating berk!

Hugging her pillow, she turned her face to the look out the window. An unruly strand of hair escaped the plait, and she blew it away from her face. Then she sighed. That had gone to absolute shit.

The sound of paws alerted her of Crookshanks' presence even before he jumped on the bed. She smiled at his tiny meow and felt, much to her chagrin, her eyes beginning to water.

“I'm not crying over Severus bloody Snape,” she announced to the room, and to Crookshanks, who had curled up by her chest and was blinking up at her.

But she was crying, and she hated herself for it. A small part of her, the part she usually managed to keep quiet, was telling her this was a sign. That they weren't meant to be together, that she had brought this on herself by pushing too hard. That she would always be alone.

Hermione woke up with a start, eyes stinging and heart pounding. She must have fallen asleep. Rolling onto her back, she stared at the canopy. Crookshanks had deserted her sometime during her sleep, probably when he felt she was sufficiently calmed down. Glancing at her alarm clock, she was shocked to see it was almost six o'clock. Groaning, she sat up. She had to let Ginny know about tonight, but she also needed to talk to Snape.

Stumbling into the bathroom, she resolved to talk to Snape first. They were going to talk this out like the adults they were supposed to be. She removed her hair from the now messy plait and splashed her face with cold water.

She had just picked up a pinch of Floo powder and was preparing to Floo to Snape's office when there was a soft knock on her door. Hand pausing in mid-air, she felt her pulse quicken. She dropped the powder back in the jar and approached the door. After hesitating for a second, she threw it open.

Snape stood on the other side, hands folded in his robes and head bowed. He looked unsure, a hesitancy clouding his face.

“May I come in?” his voice was soft.

Wordlessly she stepped aside.

He stalked to the middle of the room then turned to face her, as she was leaning against the door.

“I wish to apologise,” he said quickly, as if he was afraid to lose his nerve if he didn't get the words out as fast as he could. He scrubbed a hand over his face. “I overreacted, and I am sorry.”

“I'm sorry, too,” Hermione said, pushing away from the door. She stopped a bit away from him, but still within arms reach. “I shouldn't have pushed.”

Snape shook his head. “It was a simple request, Hermione. The fault lies entirely with me. I said things that were hurtful and untrue, and I should not have said them.”

Hermione raised her chin. “You're right, you shouldn't have. I won't tolerate you speaking that way about my friends.” She sighed. “Can we just accept that we both were to blame, so we can move on?”

The silence stretched between them.

Then his arms reached for her and she reached in return, arms going around each other tightly. Hermione buried her nose in his throat, inhaling his scent and feeling herself calming down with every breath.

He sighed against her hair. “I told you I wasn't good at these things. I'm bound to make mistakes, but please advise me of them.”

Her arms tightened around his back. “Likewise.”

Hermione relaxed against his frame. There was nothing quite like being in his arms, whether their touch was sexual or not.

At length, he spoke. “I believe, there is still the matter of tonight to discuss.”

Hermione pulled back slightly so she could look in his eyes. “We don't have to go, if you don't want to. No, let me finish,” she said when he opened his mouth to speak. “They are my friends, and I don't want to have to choose whom to spend time with. You are all important to me, and I want you to get along. However, I think they're going to need some time to get used to us, so springing us on them tonight probably isn't the best idea.”

“That sounds...acceptable.” Snape's hand came up to cup her cheek. “Does that mean I get you all to myself tonight?”

Hermione smiled. “Yes.” Then she leaned up and kissed him.

It started slow but quickly became heated when his hand slid down to cup her arse, pulling her against his body. His kisses rained down to her neck, and she groaned.

Her mind was conflicted; she pushed at him whilst pressing herself closer. “Severus, wait.” Her voice came out more like a moan, and she felt him smile against her skin. “I need to – gods – send a Patronus to Ginny about tonight. She's expecting an answer.”

Reluctantly, he pulled back. “On with it then, witch,” he spoke, voice low and velvety. His words shot straight down to her core, and she shivered.

Closing her eyes, she tried to focus on a happy memory. Her go-to memory was her parents' first embracing her after regaining their memories, but something else bubbled up on the forefront of her mind. Snape, snow-covered and looking well snogged in a park in Edinburgh and smiling at her with adoration.

Opening her eyes, she raised her wand. “Expecto Patronum!” The otter came dancing from the tip of her wand, bright enough to almost hurt her eyes. It danced around her whilst she relayed her messaged to Ginny, then rubbed its head against her shoulder and disappeared through the wall.

Hermione barely had time to put down her wand before Snape's mouth smashed against her. Smiling against his mouth, she wrapped her arms around him and steered him towards the bedroom.

The rest of the holidays passed too quickly for Hermione's liking. On New Year's Eve they'd stood atop the Astronomy Tower and watched the fireworks being shot from Hogsmeade, and they'd spent practically the entire first day of the year in bed. These feelings were all new to Hermione; the need to spend as much time as they possibly could in each other's arms.

On the Sunday night before the start of term, they discussed the best way to go about their days now that the bubble of the holidays was over. Both were in agreement that their relationship would be kept private.

“I'm not ready to share you yet,” she said, tucking her feet under his thighs as they sat on her sofa. Her back was against the armrest, dressing gown only half tied over her naked body.

His hand reached out to caress her leg. “I feel quite the same.” The corners of his mouth curled upwards. “But unfortunately, life must carry on.”

The first week of classes was rough. Between the students being rowdy from having been on holiday and her finding it difficult to be sleeping alone again, Hermione struggled to keep it all together. She and Snape still spent plenty of time together, but the unspoken rule was they slept in their own quarters during the week.

The weekends, however, was a different matter.

On the morning of January 9th, Hermione woke up before Severus with a plan. She had learnt the date of his birthday from Hagrid weeks ago and she wanted to make the day special. The gift she'd purchased, a self-indexing journal, was shrunk and hidden in the pocket of her robe, but she had something else planned.

She started by pressing light kisses on his neck—the scarred side was particularly sensitive—and waited for him to stir. It didn't take long, and she felt his Adam's apple move underneath her lips as he swallowed.

“Hermione?” his voice was rough with sleep, and his hand came up to rest on her hair.

Lifting her head, she smiled. “Happy birthday, Severus.”

“It is,” he rumbled before kissing her softly.

She let herself get caught up in the feel of his lips on hers for a few seconds, then pulled back. “I wanted to give you something,” she said, scooting down a bit and swinging her leg over his torso so that she was straddling him. His hands came to rest on her thighs.

Ignoring—for now at least—his morning erection against her backside, she sat up fully. Trailing her hands up over her torso, she took a deep breath and reached for the clasp on her pendant. Even though he'd seen every inch of her body over the last week, he hadn't seen all of it. Her pendant, glamoured to hide her scars, had stayed firmly on at all times.

His eyes softened. “Hermione, you don't have to-”

She smiled, fingers halting on the clasp. “I want to.”

Releasing the clasp, Hermione let the necklace slid off her neck and put it on the nightstand. The Glamour tingled as it faded away, and she kept her gaze on his sternum as she felt his eyes roam her body.

She knew exactly what he was seeing.

The scar on the side of her throat was a reminder of Malfoy Manor and Bellatrix' cursed knife, as well as the word Mudblood carved into her left forearm. The scar bisecting her chest, starting at her left collarbone and running between her breasts before ending right over her ribs, she owed to Dolohov in the Department of Mysteries. Snape had already seen that one, healed it even, but that didn't make it easier to show. There were other, smaller scars littering her arms and torso which were a reminder that she had grown up during a war.

She tried to keep from flinching when his finger lightly ran over the scar on her chest.

“I remember this,” he said, voice filled with emotion. “You were so small, lying in the Hospital Wing with your chest split open. It made me sick, knowing someone would do that to a child.” His eyes snapped to hers as his hand curled around her shoulder. “I feel very fortunate that you trust me enough to show me these.”

Hermione flexed her fingers against his chest. “I'm still trying to accept that they're a part of me. I know it's not important..."

Shaking his head, Snape pulled her down to lie fully on him. “As it is my birthday, I decide what is important and what's not.” Rolling them over, he settled between her legs. “And I decide that what is of uttermost importance right now, is that I find out exactly how each of your scars tastes. All right?”

Biting her lip, Hermione nodded and her eyes slid closed as he started with the scar on her throat.

Chapter Text

Chapter Ten

Outside the privacy of their respective quarters, they behaved like colleagues. It wasn't always the easiest, as eyes tended to linger and fingers longed to touch, but they did their best. As far as Hermione knew, no one was the wiser to what the Potions Master and Charms Mistress were up to behind closed doors, and she preferred to keep it that way for a while longer.

One night after rounds Hermione pulled Snape into the alcove behind the tapestry of Beatrice the Benevolent on the fifth floor and sunk to her knees. His ragged breaths were loud in the small space and the stone was cold beneath her knees as she brought him off with her mouth, hands gripping his thighs.

“Bloody hell,” he panted when she rose, brushing the dirt from her robes. “Are you trying to kill me?”

Hermione chuckled and ran a hand over her hair to smooth down where his fingers had clenched. “Not quite.”

Snape let out a chuckle and rested his head back against the wall. He opened his mouth to speak, then froze. Footsteps echoed in the distance, coming closer. Faster than she'd thought possible, he had his wand out and had cast a myriad of spells. The footsteps came closer still, and Hermione held her breath as they passed right on the other side of the tapestry.

Neither moved until the night was once again silent.

“You can't fault their timing,” Hermione said, leaning her shoulder against the wall next to him. “A few minutes earlier, and we'd have a very traumatised student on our hands.”

Snape tucked himself back into his trousers and straightened his robes. Apart from the flush in his face, he didn't look like he'd been in the throes of an orgasm only minutes earlier. “I wouldn't let them remember it for long enough to be traumatised.”

Hermione snorted and rubbed his upper arm. “Wonderful, then you'd gone to Azkaban for Obliviating a student. Do you think they allow conjugal visits now that they Dementors are gone?”

His eyebrow arched. “You'd sell me out to McGonagall?”

“In a heartbeat.” Hermione giggled. “In all seriousness, though. I've been thinking-”

Snape snorted. “When aren't you?”

She shoved his shoulder playfully. “Very funny. It's time to tell Harry and Ron about us. There's no use in putting it off any longer, and I don't like lying.”

He looked aghast. “That's what you were thinking about when your mouth was wrapped around my-”

“Severus!” she laughed. “I wasn't thinking about it now.

His hand reached out to rub her inner forearm, something he'd started doing after she revealed her scars. It was a casual movement, and half the time she wasn't sure if he was even aware he was doing it. “What are you going to tell them?”

“The truth?”

“Which is?” If she didn't know him so well, she wouldn't have caught the slight hitch in his breath.

Pushing herself off the wall to face him fully, Hermione tilted her head. “That we're in a relationship?”

“Is that a question or a statement?”

She huffed. “Merlin's beard, Severus, why do you have to be so difficult? I know we haven't talked about it, but this is more than just shagging. Isn't it?” She hated the way the uncertainty made her voice waver.

His hand came up on either side of her face, and the corners of his mouth curled upwards. “It is. Though I've no experience with them, it feels like a relationship. If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck...”

Hermione's smile was wide as she grasped his forearms. “It does, doesn't it? I suppose that means you're my boyfriend.” Her nose wrinkled. “No, that sounds weird.”

Snape snorted. “As long as I don't have to be there when you tell them, I don't care what you call me.”

Hermione gave him a look. “Charming. You don't actually, I thought it would be best that I go alone.” She smiled sweetly. “There'll be plenty of time for you to bond once I've told them. Maybe we could even double date with Harry and Ginny?”

Snape rolled his eyes. “Insufferable Know-It-All.”

Leaning up towards his mouth, Hermione chuckled. “Shut it. You adore me.”

He smiled, and right before their lips met he muttered, “Oh, I do.”

The next Sunday, Hermione Apparated to Grimmauld Place with butterflies in her stomach. She wasn't very concerned about Harry's reaction, to be honest, but rather about Ron. His feelings about Snape hadn't changed much since they were in school, and it had taken him the longest to actually admit that Snape had been on their side all along.

Hermione let herself in, ever thankful that Mrs Black's portrait was permanently silenced. “Hello?” she called out, glancing into the dining room and finding it empty.

The aroma of a roast dinner was making her stomach rumble, and she went down to the kitchen. Ginny and Ron were sitting at the long table, talking with Harry at the stove. In a surprising twist, Harry had found joy in cooking after the war and was now an excellent chef.

Ron noticed her first, and he flew up from his seat. “'Mione!” He rushed over to hug her, smiling like an overeager puppy.

Laughing, Hermione returned his embrace. “Hi, Ron.”

He kept his arm around her shoulder as he led her to the table. “We've missed you, you haven't been around for a visit for absolute ages.”

“I've missed you too,” Hermione said, embracing Ginny and Harry before sitting down at the table. “I'm still figuring out how to balance work and life,” she chuckled. “Dinner smells amazing, Harry. Do you need help with anything?”

“No, it's all finished,” Harry said, pulling the roast potatoes from the oven and putting them on the table.

As they ate and talked and laughed, Hermione felt a warmth spread through her that had nothing to do with the food. She had missed them more than she'd realised. She'd known it would be hard to stay in touch like they used to with her all the way up at Hogwarts, but she swore to do better from now on.

Once dinner and pudding were out of the way and they were all sipping tea, Hermione knew she couldn't put it off any longer.

Putting down her teacup on the table, she cleared her throat. “I've some news I wish to share.”

Ginny looked unsurprised, but Harry's eyebrows shot up. “Is this about the Christmas bloke?”

“Christmas bloke?” Ron questioned.

Ginny rolled her eyes. “Honestly Ron, don't you ever listen when we discuss things around here?”

“I do too!” he defended himself. “There's just been a lot going on lately.”

Hermione smiled. “That's all right, Ron. Yes, this is about the Christmas bloke.”

Ron huffed. “Well, isn't anyone gonna fill me in?”

“Hermione's date for the Christmas party who didn't show,” Ginny snapped. “Keep up, will you?”

Harry ran his hand through his hair and gave Hermione a look that made her giggle. “If you two are quite finished, maybe Hermione could finish telling us?”

The Weasley siblings gave a chorus of “Sorry, Hermione.”

Hermione smiled. “It's all right.” She faltered for a moment, wondering what the best way to share the news was. Blurting out 'I'm shagging Severus Snape' probably wasn't the best one, although it was looking more and more appealing. “Well, long story short; Christmas was a misunderstanding, all is well and we're now in a relationship.”

“Oh,” Harry said. “That's good, right? I'm happy for you, Hermione.” His eyes darted to Ginny for a second. “Who is it, though? Gin's been all secretive, saying that it's your business and you'd tell us when we're ready. Is it someone we know?”

Unbidden, Hermione's cheeks flushed and she took a sip of her tea.

“Ah, so it is,” Harry grinned. “Let's see who it could be...” He looked pensive for a moment, and Hermione's eyes met Ginny's. The younger woman rolled her eyes and smirked. Harry really didn't have a clue. Suddenly, Harry's green eyes went wide. “Hermione, it isn't Hagrid is it?”

Hermione choked on her tea, coughing and sputtering. “Hagrid?” She said, eyes watering and rubbing her chest. “Whatever made you think it's Hagrid?”

“I don't know!” he defended himself. “You seem reluctant to say who it is, but it's someone we know! It's the most absurd one I could think of!”

Ron, who had been silent up until now, snorted and elbowed Hermione in the side. “Yeah, apart from Snape.”

Hermione froze. Her wide eyes met Harry's, who frowned in confusion before a look of clarity came onto his face.

“It's Snape?” his voice was low.

She nodded mutely.

“Wait, you're shagging Snape?” Ron sputtered, a look of utter disgust on his face as he pushed his chair away from hers. “He's old! And a Death Eater!”

“He's not a Death Eater!” Hermione's voice was shrill.

Ron rolled his eyes. “Reformed, whatever. You can't honestly say that you like that greasy git?” he looked disgusted.

“I do, and don't call him that.” Hermione sighed and pushed a piece of hair behind her ear. “I didn't expect it to happen,” she said, voice low to try to calm the situation down, “and I don't think he did either. But it did. We're together. Partners.” It was the first time the word crossed her lips, and she found she liked the way it felt.

Ron pushed away from the table, fists shaking as he stood. “He's a disgusting murderer and a fucking bully. Don't come crawling to me when he dumps you on your arse.”

Hermione sat speechless as Ron stormed upstairs, her whole body shaking with adrenaline. The kitchen was so quiet you could hear a pin drop.

Ginny cleared her throat. “He's a prat, Hermione. He'll come around, even if it takes me cobbing him over the ear to do it.”

Taking a shaky breath, Hermione tried not to cry. She was used to Ron being a prat, but it had been a while since he was this much of a prat.

“I'm sorry, Hermione,” Harry sighed, running a hand through his hair and making it stand up in every which direction. “I'm not saying Ron wasn't out of line, but it's a bit of a shock. You and Snape?” He glanced down at his hands. “Are you sure it...that he feels like you do? I'm not saying he doesn't,” he was quick to add, “but I thought he was in love with my mother. I just don't want you to get hurt!”

Hermione chuckled. Oh, sweet Harry. She reached over the table to grab his hand. “It's all right, Harry. I expected this would be a bit of a shock. As for Lily...” she trailed off, not knowing quite what to say. She took a deep breath. “All I'm going to say is that we've talked and it's not an issue. As for what that exactly means, I'm sorry, Harry, but that is none of your business.”

Harry visibly relaxed. “Okay, then. Good. It's good?” Ginny snorted, and Harry's face flushed. “I mean, he's good to you?”

She smiled. “He is.”

Harry turned to Ginny. “So you knew all this time it was Snape, and you didn't tell me?”

Ginny shrugged. “It wasn't my place to tell.”

He grinned. “Minx.”

Hermione smiled at the exchange. “This has been lovely, but I should be getting back to Hogwarts.”

Harry's face fell. “Oh. We'll see you off, then.”

Once Hermione's coat was on and they stood inside the front door, Harry hugged her fiercely. “We'll write more often, yeah?”

After saying goodbye, Hermione Apparated to the gates of Hogwarts. It was much colder and windier in Scotland, and she cast a warming charm as she trudged up towards the castle. Unwelcome thoughts of Ron came up, and she sighed against the wind. She would be lying if she said his behaviour wasn't hurtful, and she had enough experience dealing with him to know that this could turn into a grudge lasting months.

Feeling very drained, she steered off the stairs on the first floor and made her way to Snape's quarters. He opened the door before she even had a chance to knock, eyeing her.

“So?” he inquired.

Much to her chagrin, she felt tears form in the corners of her eyes. Concern flooded Snape's face, and he led her inside.

His eyes were hesitant. “It didn't go well?”

Hermione let out a dry laugh as the tears fell down her face. “Oh, it went just fine. Ron disapproves, naturally, and didn't mince words on what he thinks.” She brushed away the tears. “Ginny and Harry approve though, which means you'll actually have to spend time with them.”

“We'll worry about that later.” Snape took her hand in his. “Your hands are cold. Come.”

“Severus, I'm tired,” Hermione sighed.

He snorted as they entered the bedroom. “Get your mind out of the gutter, witch.”

He led her past the bed and into the bathroom. Releasing her hand, he bent over the bathtub – which was practically identical to hers – and opened the taps. Standing, he turned to face her.

Wordlessly, he reached for the buttons of her coat, undoing them one by one whilst never breaking eye contact. When it pooled around her feet, his hands found her waist. They slid down to the edge of her jumper, and he pulled upwards.

“Raise your arms.”

She complied, and her jumper joined her coat on the floor. Piece by piece, her clothing met the floor until she was standing before him naked. Lastly, he reached for the clasp on her pendant. Carefully taking it off her, he placed it on the counter and then gestured to the full bath.

“Get in.”

Hermione pulled her hair up in a knot on the top of her head and stepped into the bathtub. Her eyes slid closed as she sunk down fully and the hot water surrounded her cold body. This was bliss. Hearing the rustle of clothing, she slowly opened her eyes. Snape was disrobing, and she allowed her eyes to shamelessly roam over his body. Raising her eyes, she realised by his amused expression that he'd been watching her watching him.

She scooted forward as he stepped in, letting him occupy the space behind her. As she felt his legs come up on either side of her she moved back until she felt his chest against her back. She relaxed against him with a sigh. His arms wrapped around her middle, softly stroking her skin.

“This is nice,” she said at length, turning her head slightly so she could look at him. “You are just full of surprises, Severus Snape.”

Chuckling, he nuzzled her ear. “I aim to please.”

They stayed in the bath until the water turned cold, by which Hermione was so tired it was difficult to keep her eyes open.

“Go to bed,” Snape said as he pulled the plug in the bath.

Hermione all but stumbled into the bedroom and got into bed still naked. Burrowing under the duvet, she closed her eyes. Footsteps alerted her of Snape's presence, and the bed dipped as he laid down. She smiled when he moulded himself against her back, and grabbed his hand as he slung it across her waist.

“Night, Severus,” she mumbled, already half asleep.

He pressed a kiss to her curls. “Good night, love.”

Had she not been almost asleep, his words would have caused more of a reaction. As it were, they settled somewhere beneath her ribs and spread warmth throughout her body. She was his love.

Chapter Text

Chapter Eleven

Hermione walked between the rows of desks and every once in awhile stopped to give an encouraging word or to adjust a student's grip. The second-years were practising the Engorgement Charm on glass marbles, and she was delighted to see various sizes of marbles on each desk. They were picking her instructions up very quickly, which sent pride through her body.

When the bell rang Hermione made her way back to her desk at the front of the room. “Wonderfully done, all of you. I want you to keep practising over the weekend–on inanimate objects only, not on each other or someone's familiar–and I want ten inches on the uses and misuses of the charm on my desk by Tuesday. Have a lovely weekend.”

While the students practically piled out of the classroom, Hermione tarried. It was her last class of the week, and she was very much looking forward to the weekend. Tentative plans had been made to meet Harry and Ginny in Hogsmeade, and if she played her cards right she might even be able to convince Snape to tag along.

Hermione was gathering the homework she needed to grade over the weekend when the floor shuddered. Frowning, Hermione put a hand on her desk to steady herself. Why was the castle shuddering? Her stomach sank. Something was wrong.

All but throwing the parchment in her hands down on the desk, she hurried out of the classroom. She ran into a frazzled looking McGonagall on the main stairs.

“What's happened?” Hermione asked as they continued downstairs, weaving through students.

“I'm not sure, Hermione. Out of the way, please!” McGonagall barked, and the students practically jumped out of their way to let them through.

The Entrance Hall was packed with students, all talking in raised tones. The tension was palpable, but no one seemed to know what was going on.

“Move out of the way, please!” Hermione called out, but no one was paying attention. The clump of students in front of her finally separated enough so she could push her way through.

Then the door to the dungeons opened.

Something broke inside Hermione's chest, and her knees suddenly felt too weak to support her as Poppy appeared in the doorway. On the floating stretcher trailing behind her was Snape. He wasn't moving. Blindly, she reached out to grab hold of something – anything – and felt her hand collide with another's.

“I've got you, lass,” McGonagall's voice sounded from far away, but her strong arm kept Hermione on her feet. “Mr Bailey, what happened?”

“It was an accident.” The boy sounded near tears. “Jamie pushed me as I was adding the hellebore to my cauldron, and I added too much.” He sniffled. “Professor Snape put up a Shield Charm, but the cauldron exploded. I'm so sorry, Headmistress, I didn't mean to!”

“Go back to your common room and wait there until someone sends for you,” her tone was sharp.

The world came back into view as Hermione blinked. Poppy was hurrying up the stairs towards the Hospital Wing, Snape still floating along behind her. As she hurried after the Mediwitch she heard McGonagall bark orders to the Prefects.

She entered the Hospital Wing just as Poppy was moving Snape from the stretcher to a bed. The closer she approached, the faster Hermione's heart pounded. His eyes were closed, and his breathing shallow and laboured. She watched helplessly as Poppy removed his teaching robes and frock coat, leaving him in just his shirt and trousers, before waving her wand over him. A complex set of runes appeared over his body, some red and some purple. Poppy studied them with a frown.

The doors slammed open and McGonagall swept into the room. “How bad is it?”

Poppy looked up and startled when she noticed Hermione before turning to the Headmistress. She sighed as she raised privacy screens about his bed. “There are some broken bones that won't be too difficult for me to mend, but they're not what concerns me.”

Poppy started working as she talked, rolling up her sleeves and running her wand over Snape's form once more. “He was partially inside the Shield Charm when the cauldron exploded, so his body absorbed a lot of the force from the explosion. His skull is cracked from hitting the floor, and my biggest concern is to stop the swelling of his brain. The longer he stays unconscious, the better.” Her voice wobbled slightly. “He's very lucky to be alive.”

Tears filled Hermione's eyes, and she covered her mouth with her hands as a sob broke free. This was not supposed to happen. They were supposed to be safe.

She felt a hand on her shoulder. “Come, let's leave Poppy to her work,” McGonagall said, voice surprisingly calm.

Pushing down her tears, Hermione straightened up. “No. I'm not leaving,” her voice sounded weak to her ears.

“I don't think Severus would want any of his colleagues to see him like this.” McGonagall's voice was sterner now, much like if she was chiding a child.

Hermione shrugged off the heavy hand on her shoulder. “He would want me here. With all due respect, Minerva, I am not leaving until I know that he'll be all right.”

Understanding flooded McGonagall's features. “Very well. Come find me at your earliest convenience. It would seem we have plenty to discuss.”

As the Headmistress left the Hospital Wing, Hermione pulled up a chair and sank down. Closing her eyes, she pushed at the tears that were threatening to come up.

At length, Poppy's voice broke the silence. “You and Severus are an item then?”

Hermione's eyes snapped open, and she focused on the Mediwitch who was standing next to Severus' bed. She nodded. “We are.” There was no sense in hiding it now; that choice had been taken out of their hands.

Poppy smiled. “I think that is wonderful, dear.”

Hermione's smile came out more like a grimace. “Thank you.”

She didn't move from the chair as Poppy removed Snape's clothes, but she couldn't stop the wince going through her at the sight of the extensive bruising that covered most of this chest. Poppy waved her wand, and Hermione could both see and hear his broken ribs knitting themselves together.

“It's a fine match, the two of you,” Poppy said as she started spreading bruise-healing paste with rigorous movements over Snape's skin. “You are very much alike.”

Hermione, who was curled up on the chair with her head resting on her hand, smiled tiredly. “I suppose we are.”

It was hours later that Poppy stepped back from Snape's still form and wiped her brow.

“I've managed to stabilise him.” She kept talking as she put notes in the chart by his bed. “His brain has stopped swelling, and the broken bones are nearly healed. He'll most likely sleep through the night, I've given him a mild sedative.” She looked up at Hermione. “I assume you're going to stay the night?” At Hermione's nod, she continued. “Good. I'll put out some pain relief mixed with a sleeping draught and a healing potion for his head. If he wakes in the night, he may have them both.” She patted Hermione's hand in a grandmotherly fashion. “Don't hesitate to Floo me if there are any changes to his condition. We'll reevaluate in the morning when he's awake, but I think he is going to be all right.”

After a few minutes of Poppy straightening out the Hospital Wing and getting her papers in order, she left and Hermione was alone. Alone but for the sleeping man in the bed in front of her. Rising, she pulled the chair up closer to the bed and sat. Hesitantly she reached out to stroke his forearm. His skin was cool to the touch, so she pulled another blanket over his frame. Hermione glanced at the clock mounted next to the door to the Mediwitch's office. It was almost 9 o'clock. She'd missed dinner.

Looking down at her sleeping lover, she huffed as the tears once again spillt over. “Get a grip, Hermione,” she said, furiously wiping the tears away. He was going to be fine, Poppy had said so.

She had realised in the past weeks, since she'd come back from Grimmauld Place feeling drained and betrayed, that she loved him. Hermione Granger was in love with Severus Snape. She loved everything about him, from the way he always stirred his tea precisely three times clockwise and once anticlockwise to the way his mouth would twitch as if to smile whenever they were debating the ethical complications of using living beings as potions ingredients. She loved his snark and the sound he made when her tongue met the scars on his neck.

Hermione sniffed. She hadn't worked up the courage to tell him yet. She had never loved anyone romantically before. Once she thought that what she felt was Ron was love, but it had only taken them a few weeks to realise they were better off as friends.

Shifting, she leant forward to rest her head on the bed beside him. Her hand was still wrapped around his forearm, and she traced the skin with her thumb. His breathing seemed easier than before, and she let it guide her to sleep.

It was still dark when Hermione awoke, and she winced as she straightened out her sore back. Glancing around, she saw the first light of dawn coming through the large windows. She looked down at Snape, who was still sleeping. His head had turned towards her sometime during the night, and a strand of hair had fallen into his eyes. When she reached out to push it back, he stirred.

“Severus?” she said softly, leaning in.

He blinked twice before his eyes opened fully to look at her. They were clouded with pain. “Hermione?” he croaked. “What happened? Where am I?”

“There was an accident in Potions class,” she said, stroking the side of his face. “You're in the Hospital Wing, you've been here since yesterday afternoon. You don't remember?”

He shook his head, then winced when his head hurt.

“Poppy said you could have some pain relief potion if you woke. Would you like some now?”

His eyes were slightly unfocused as he looked at her. “Please.”

She helped him hold his head up while he drank down both the pain relief potion and the healing potion, as well as a class of conjured water. When he made to pull away, she put the glass down beside the bed and made sure he laid down slowly.

“Sleep, love,” she hushed when he made to speak. “Let the potions do their job.”

“You'll stay?” His voice was slurred, and his eyes were already closing.

Hermione smiled slightly. “I will. Sleep. I'll be here.”

His breathing deepened as he fell back asleep, and Hermione leaned back in the chair with a sigh. It was only a couple of minutes later when the Floo activated and Poppy came through.

After a glance at the sleeping Snape, Hermione rose to meet the Mediwitch.

“How's the patient?” Poppy asked, unwarding her office and stepping inside.

“He was awake a few minutes ago,” Hermione said as she leant against the doorframe. She filled Poppy in on his condition, and couldn't stop the big yawn that crept up.

“You should go get some food in you,” Poppy chided. “You already missed dinner last night. I'll keep an eye on him.”

Hermione hesitated. “Breakfast and clean clothes do sound amazing. You'll let me know if there is any change?”

Poppy clucked her tongue. “Go ahead, I can manage here just fine. I'll take good care of your young man, I promise.”

Blushing at the referral to Snape as her 'young man', Hermione left for her quarters. Before stepping into the shower she cast a quick Tempus, and finding it to be just after 7 in the morning, she decided that she'd eat and then go see McGonagall. She had no doubts that the Headmistress was already up and about.

The hot water pelting down on her felt wonderful, and she stood an extra ten minutes just soaking before getting out. Putting on clean clothes, she wrapped an elastic around her wet hair and went into the sitting room to Floo down to the kitchen for some breakfast. A tray was waiting for her on the coffee table, with a pot of tea and her usual breakfast of toast and porridge with fresh berries. Her stomach growled. Thank Circe for House-Elves.

Once she was full, Hermione walked up to the Headmistress' office feeling nervous. She had reread her contract several times since New Year's, and there wasn't anything in there forbidding relationships between professors. Still, she didn't want her former Head of House to disapprove.

McGonagall looked tired as she let Hermione into her office. “I take it Severus' condition is stable?”

“It is, he's been awake once already this morning,” Hermione answered, then declined the offered cup of tea with a wave of her hand. She sank down in the plush armchair by the fire.

McGonagall sat down opposite from her and crossed one knee over the other. “Good, that's good.” She eyed Hermione and cleared her throat. “I think you have some explaining to do.”

Hermione raised her chin. “I am here as a courtesy, and because I have always admired and respected you. But my personal life and relations are frankly none of your business.” McGonagall's eyebrows rose. Hermione sighed. “Due to the nature of working and living in a place like Hogwarts though, it is difficult to keep things private. It would have been made public sooner or later.”

“You and Severus are together then?” At Hermione's nod, McGonagall laughed softly. “Oh, you can calm down, Hermione. I have no objections to your relationship with Severus.”

Hermione looked puzzled. “You don't?”

“No, why should I? You are both adults, and he holds no power over you as Deputy Head; he neither signs your paycheck nor does your evaluation. As long as it doesn't interfere with your ability to do your jobs, you'll hear no protest from me.”

Leaning back in the chair, Hermione couldn't help the relieved sigh that escaped her.

McGonagall looked amused. “You thought I would disapprove? My dear girl, I've known you both since you were wee bairns and I've always marvelled at how similar you are. I always thought you could be friends, of sorts, but I didn't imagine it would lead to this.”

Hermione smiled. That was the second time she'd heard that today. “Have you talked to the students responsible for the explosion?”

McGonagall pursed her lips. “I have. Mr Bailey and Miss Thomson will serve weekly detentions with Argus for the rest of the term, as well as have their Hogsmeade privileges revoked.”

Hermione nodded. She was glad it was her and not McGonagall giving out their punishment; she would not have been so lenient.

Pushing open the door to the Hospital Wing a while later, she was met with the sound of Poppy and Snape arguing. Despite herself, she smiled. Him arguing with Poppy was a sure sign that he was feeling better. She rounded the privacy screen and saw Poppy standing with her hands on her hips by the foot of the bed, eyes narrowed and fixed on Snape. He was sitting up in bed, arms crossed over his chest as he tried to stare Poppy down. It was quite amusing to watch.

Poppy huffed. “Don't think that look will work on me, young man. I've been healing your aches and bruises for nigh on thirty years, and if I say you will remain here then that is what you'll do.”

Snape sneered. “Harridan. If I wish to leave I'll bloody well do so, with or without your blessing.”

Poppy was the first one to notice Hermione standing there. “Oh, hello dear. Perhaps you can talk some sense into him. Merlin knows he doesn't listen to me.” She turned and went into her office, closing the door behind her with a bit more force than necessary.

Hermione looked at Snape and tilted her head. “I would ask you if you're feeling better, but after what I just witnessed I think I know the answer.”

Snape snorted, but uncrossed his arms. “I feel fine, only a slight headache. Poppy is being difficult on purpose.”

Sitting down in the same chair she'd occupied the night before, Hermione put her hand on his arm. His hand immediately covered hers. “She's just cautious. It was a bad accident, Severus, and one that could have ended much worse than it did.” She looked down at their hands. “It was really scary, seeing you lying there unconscious.”

“Hermione, look at me.”

She complied, and saw that his eyes had softened.

“I'm deeply sorry for making you worry.”

Reaching out, Hermione stroked the side of his face. “If you wish to repay me, then I want you to rest and take it easy. All right?”

The corner of his mouth twitched. “That was positively Slytherin of you.”

Hermione laughed. “Whatever it takes, love.”

“Right,” Poppy said as she approached the bed. “I am releasing you, Severus, under the condition that you spend the remainder of the weekend resting. I know it's too much to ask that you remain in bed, but please; no brewing, and try to limit your reading, all right? You brain needs to rest as well as your body.” She turned to Hermione. “I trust you will make sure he behaves?”

Hermione nodded. “I'll Stupefy him if I have to.”

Poppy laughed. “That's my girl! All right, get out of here before I change my mind.”

Snape blinked twice. “What on earth did I just witness?”

Poppy patted his leg. “Hermione will fill you in, dear.”

Snape rose and got dressed slowly. Hermione could see his head was hurting more than he let on as they walked slowly to his quarters, but she kept silent. Once inside his sitting room, she wrapped her hand around his arm.

“How is your head?”

“Fine,” he answered, pulling off his teacher's robes and frock coat and throwing them on the sofa. He glanced over at her. “Does Poppy know about us?”

Hermione bit her lip and nodded. “McGonagall knows too.”

He exhaled hard through his nose. “Harridans. Still, it was only a matter of time.”

“You're not mad?”

Turning towards her, Snape caught her waist and pulled her against his body. “No. If I hear one joke or inappropriate word, though...”

Hermione wrapped her arms around his shoulders and smiled. “I'll help you hex them.” Reaching up, she kissed him softly. “I'm glad you're all right,” she murmured against his lips. She pulled back when a sudden yawn overtook her face. “Sorry, I'm a bit tired. Why don't we rest for a while?”

Snape arched an eyebrow. “Is that your idea of subtle?”

Hermione laughed. “I swear it wasn't. I'm exhausted; the chairs in the Hospital Wing aren't the most comfortable to sleep in. You should rest too.”

He rolled his eyes. “Fine. I succumb to your will.”

Hermione spelled the curtains in the bedroom shut against the weak winter sun as Snape undressed, and it wasn't long until they slid into bed. Hermione shifted closer to him, and he parted his legs slightly so she could put hers between them. Their faces were only inches apart, and she wrapped an arm loosely around his middle. He closed his eyes with a sigh and slightly tightened his grip on her waist. Hermione's eyes remained open, watching him. The dark circles below his eyes were stark against his pale skin, but the lines between his brows and on the sides of his mouth were softer when he was relaxed. This snarky, wonderful, dour man was all hers, and she felt so blessed to be a part of his life. Her breath hitched.

“Severus?” she whispered, and he hummed in response. “I love you.”

His eyes shot open, pools of onyx in the low light.

“You don't have to say it back,” she added quickly. “Not if you're not ready. But I needed you to know that.”

His lips parted, breath warm on her face. “Say it again.”

Hermione smiled and brought her face closer to his. “I love you, Severus. Very much.”

His kiss left her breathless, fingers clutching the t-shirt he wore to bed. When he pulled back, his eyes were filled with so much emotion it almost made her cry.

“What I ever did to deserve you,” he murmured, “I'll never know.”

Smiling, she tilted her head to kiss his forehead. “Sleep, love.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Twelve

The second Tuesday in February came with a snowstorm unrivalled by any that Hogwarts had seen before; it was so bad that the classes in Herbology and Care of Magical Creatures were cancelled for the rest of the week after one of the smaller first-years almost blew into the Forbidden Lake.

Hermione and Snape weren't much bothered by the cold. Since their relationship was common knowledge now amongst the staff, they felt no need to stay apart during the week and spent every night in each other's arms. Their behaviour outside their quarters didn't change much though; they were both private people and felt no need to flaunt their relationship in front of their colleagues or students. The first time Snape's hand lingered on Hermione's lower back in the staff room, Hooch choked on her biscuit.

Friday evening of that week they were down in Snape's private lab as he continued to work on the antidote for the Cruciatus curse. Hermione sipped her tea–from the desk in his office as Snape refused to allow her near the lab whilst having tea–and turned a page in her leather-bound book. It was the one on Ancient Runes and Charms that Snape had given her for Christmas; she was already on her second reading. She found the steady sound of Snape chopping ingredients and the clang of instruments soothing, and she was so lulled that she didn't hear him approach until he was standing next to her.

“Enjoying yourself?”

Hermione startled, tea almost spilling over the rim of her cup as she looked up. “I am. How is it coming along? Is the Fluxweed behaving as predicted?”

Snape's eyes glittered and he smirked. His finger reached out to trail up and down her arm. “It is, for now. It needs to simmer for an hour before I can do the next step.”

His touch ignited fires underneath her skin, and she closed her book with a smirk. “Whatever will we do with ourselves until then?”

In a second his wand was out and both her book and teacup were banished to the table by the fireplace, tea gently sloshing onto the saucer. She stood at the same time he pulled her up and their lips met in a frenzied kiss. Her fingers clenched in his hair, keeping his mouth firmly on hers as she shamelessly rubbed against him. They hadn't been intimate since the explosion in the Potions classroom, and though it had barely been two weeks it felt like a lifetime.

Hermione gasped when he cupped her arse and hoisted her up to sit on his desk. She spread her legs to accommodate him and they both groaned when their bodies pressed more tightly against each other. Snape abandoned her mouth, instead trailing kisses down the column of her throat as he palmed her breasts through her robes. Her head fell back and she frantically tore at his robes.

“Off, off, I want them off,” she panted.

Snape smiled against her throat, then there was a muttered spell and she found herself naked and pressed up against his equally naked body. The sound she made was almost embarrassingly loud as she touched and grabbed every inch of skin she could reach. His mouth migrated lower, sucking on her nipples before placing a hand on her sternum and encouraging her to lie back. Her elbow collided with something that fell to the floor with a clang. Possibly his inkwell.

The cold wood against her back was a sharp contrast to the heat left by his mouth, and her entire body broke out in goosebumps. She moaned his name, then his breath was on her inner thighs and oh, God, his tongue... her mouth opened, desperately gulping in air that didn't seem enough, it was never enough. Her fingers tangled in his silky hair. She felt one finger, then two, enter her, reaching deep, curling until they found the spot that made her back arch and her toes curl. She was climbing, fast.

“Severus,” she panted, the last 's' hissed out between clenched teeth, and pulled on his hair. “I want you inside me, now.”

His mouth and fingers retreated, and she sat up and smashed her mouth to his. He groaned and pulled her off the desk, holding her up by her hips when her legs threatened to give out. He pulled back and the look on his face was almost demonic.

“Turn around,” he rasped, clearly as turned on as she was.

Hermione complied, resting her forearms on the desk and arching her back. His hands ran up and down her back and she felt him place soft kisses down the length of her spine. She groaned when he grabbed her arse and bucked against her a few times, and it turned into a keen as she felt him part her folds.

Snape entered her in one swift thrust, and Hermione saw stars. He set a rapid pace, tightening his grip on her hips and grunting every time he bottomed out. Hermione's eyes were closed and her mouth open as she tried to hang on to the desk and push back against him at the same time. The sharpness of the edge of the desk against her hips only heightened the sensations rushing through her. One of his hands left her hip and instead lodged between her legs, making her legs shake. The feeling was overwhelming, her brain was short circuiting and all she could do was chant his name and trust him to keep her from floating away.

“Fuck,” he swore, one hand coming up to run up and down her back.

Hermione pressed back against him as much as she could, feeling her orgasm build up inside of her. Her moan turned into a whimper and she buried her face in her arms as her body contracted and shook against his. She lay panting as his hands found her hips and his thrusts got harder. Not long after, he held himself inside of her and came with a deep groan.

Pushing her hair away from her sweaty forehead, Hermione looked over her shoulder. Snape's head was tilted back, mouth open as he tried to catch his breath. Pulling out, he sank back in his office chair.

He chuckled. “Bloody hell, Hermione.”

Standing on shaky legs, Hermione turned and leaned back against the desk. “Feel free to do that anytime.”

“Duly noted.” Smiling, Snape reached out to caress her thigh. Hermione covered his hand with hers.

Hermione shivered, and glanced around the office. “Uh, Severus. Where did you vanish our clothes?”

At lunch in the Great Hall the next day a discussion rose between Hermione and Vector regarding the possible cross-subject projects for seventh-year NEWT students.

“What do you think about a Charms and Arithmancy merger?” Vector asked.

“I don't think it's a terrible idea,” Hermione said, spearing a roasted potato with her fork. “I'd be happy to meet up and research the idea more thoroughly.” She glanced at the man at her side. “Perhaps we could take Potions into consideration too for the projects? Not a merger between all three, that would be excessive, but one of the two.”

Snape shrugged. “I'm not averse to the idea. Charmed potions are extremely complex though, it's typically only taught on an Apprenticeship level. I can only think of a handful of students with the skills and talent to accomplish that.”

“It could be a good opportunity for those wanting to seek an Apprenticeship in Potions,” Hermione said. “Gives them a taste of what they can expect once they're an Apprentice, or if they want to apply to a university for further study.”

“Why didn't you? Apply to a university, I mean,” Vector asked. “I'm sure with your NEWT scores you could have taken your pick of them.”

Hermione sipped her pumpkin juice. “I felt I could get more out of an Apprenticeship, since I already knew what I wanted to specialise in.”

“An Apprenticeship is comparable with a university degree, especially when done under a well respected Master,” Snape said, voice distinctly cool.

Vector didn't seem to catch the change in his tone. “You did your Apprenticeship under Master Cerbus, did you not? How was he as a Master?”

Snape sneered. “I did. He was brilliant, but also a Death Eater.”

Vector paled slightly. “Oh.”

Hermione touched Snape's leg underneath the table, and his hand covered hers. She and Vector made plans to meet the next day after breakfast to work on the proposal for the student projects, then the Arithmancy Professor excused herself from the table.

“Do you have brewing to do later?” Hermione asked.

“No,” Snape answered. “The Fluxweed infusion was successful, so the potion has to rest for 48 more hours until I can start the next step.” He glanced at her empty plate. “Are you finished?”

“I am.”

They walked out of the Great Hall through the antechamber, and Hermione stopped just outside the door. A familiar redhead stood by the four hourglasses, looking up at the glittering jewels with a pensive look on his face.

“Ron?”

Ron turned to her, a sheepish grin on his face. His hands were stuck in his pockets, and his shoulders were hunched. “Hi 'Mione.” He quickly glanced to Snape, then back to her. “Can, uh, we talk?”

Nodding, she took a step forward. “Yes, of course.” She turned to Snape. “I'll come by later?”

Eyes not diverging from Ron, who was starting to fidget, Snape nodded. “Of course.” He finally looked down at her, and his gaze softened slightly. “I'll keep the Floo open.”

Hermione smiled and touched his forearm, stroking her thumb over the coarse fabric. He covered her hand with his for a moment before stalking past her, robes billowing behind him.

Hermione stifled a chuckle.

Ron visibly relaxed.

Gaze turning to her friend, Hermione smiled. “Come on, we can talk in my quarters.”

“I was sorry to hear about Snape's accident,” Ron said as they climbed the first staircase towards the third floor. “Honestly!” he added when Hermione gave him a look. “I'm not completely heartless, you know.”

Hermione paused on the stairs. “I know, Ron.”

The rest of the walk to her quarters were made in silence, and it wasn't until they were in her sitting room that Ron spoke. “This is nice.”

Hermione chuckled and waved her wand to light a fire. “Thank you. Would you like some tea?”

“Nah, I'm good.” Ron sat, and Hermione had to avert her eyes as she thought of what she and Snape had done on that sofa.

She sat opposite, and waited for Ron to start talking. He looked uncomfortable, fingers coming up to scratch at his neck. She knew him well enough to know that he would start talking if she kept quiet long enough.

Sure enough, after a while he sighed and looked directly at her. “I'm sorry for the way I acted the last time we spoke. When you told us about you and Snape,” he managed to only look a little disturbed by the notion, which Hermione thought was a step in the right direction.

“You really hurt me,” she said, voice soft. “The things you said...” she shook her head. “I didn't deserve that.”

“I know!” he said fiercely. “I know you didn't, but I let my bloody temper and my mouth take over. I'm not saying it's an excuse,” he was quick to add, “because it isn't. I'm a grown man, and I need to act like it.”

Hermione couldn't help but smile. Oh, Ron. Sweet, loving Ron who always meant well but sometimes let his mouth run away with him. “That makes me happy to hear.”

Ron sighed. “Good. It's just hard, you know, to separate how he acted when we were in school with what we found out about him after the war. How do you do it?”

Hermione tilted her head. “I've gotten to know him. I certainly don't condone his behaviour and he can still be a bully, but it's different when you know why he acted as he did. Does that make sense?”

Ron nodded. “Yeah, it does. Kind of like with Harry; being regular Harry versus the Boy Who Lived.”

Nodding, Hermione smiled. “Exactly.”

“Do I have to like him?”

Hermione laughed. “You don't. Merlin knows he doesn't like you. But you need to accept each other, because you're both important to me.”

Ron scratched his nose. “I suppose I can do that.”

They talked a while longer, and Hermione rejoiced in the feeling that she had her friend back. It was almost dinnertime when Ron finally looked up at the clock on the mantle.

He stood. “I should get going, I'm meeting a few friends at the pub.”

Hermione nodded and said, “I'll follow you down,” as she stood.

Ron grinned. “That's okay. I might take a detour; it's been bloody ages since I've been here. Maybe I'll go down to the kitchens too, just to make sure it's still in the same place.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. Some things never changed.

Stepping forwards, Ron wrapped his arms tightly around her. “I love you, 'Mione. You know that right?”

Squeezing him back just as fiercely, Hermione nodded against his chest. “I love you too, Ron. Even when you're being a berk.”

He laughed. “That's a relief, since I'm a berk about half the time.”

Hermione stepped back and smiled. “We'll talk soon? And tell Harry and Ginny I said hi.”

“Will do.” He rubbed his neck. “Eh, tell Snape no hard feelings, all right? I don't want him to come after me.”

Hermione snorted. “I'll tell him to stand down.”

After Ron left, Hermione went over to the Fireplace and picked up a handful of Floo powder. Seconds later she was brushing the soot off her robes in Snape's sitting room. The man in question was half-reclining on the sofa, a book in his hands. When their eyes met, he put it down and sat up properly.

“Did he apologise?”

“He did, so you can't hex him.”

Snape smirked. “Shame.”

Hermione rolled her eyes and sank down next to him. “You two are more alike than you'd think.”

Snorting, Snape wrapped an arm around her back. “I think not.”

Hermione allowed him to pull her down until she was effectively lying on top of him on the narrow sofa. Taking care not to put her knee someplace sensitive, she scooted up so she could rest her head on his shoulder. His hand languidly traced up and down her arm, and the motion combined with the steady rises and falls of his chest relaxed Hermione to near sleep.

“I assume we're having a late dinner here tonight?” he said at length, voice rumbling through her body.

Hermione blinked her eyes open slowly, tilting her head up. “Oh, did I fall asleep?”

His smirk was an amused one. “Just a bit. At least you didn't drool this time.”

Giggling, she buried her face in his neck. “I do not drool.”

“So you say.”

“Severus!” She lifted her head to look at him and found he was gazing at her with a peculiar expression. Her stomach fluttered. “What?”

He sighed softly, right hand coming up to caress her face. She smiled and leaned up to kiss him softly. His lips were warm and soft against hers, and she felt the tingle from it all the way down her spine. She would be perfectly happy spending the rest of the weekend exactly like this.

Snape pulled back just a fraction, their breaths still mingling and lips barely touching. “Hermione,” he breathed, and she opened her eyes. “I love you.”

Eyes widening, she pushed back so she could look at him properly. “You do?”

He nodded solemnly. “I do.”

Her eyes widened, her pulse loud in her ears. “Say it again.”

The corners of his mouth twitched. “I love you, Hermione Granger.”

She kissed him swiftly. “Again.”

“I love you. Very much.”

Smiling, she traced a finger over the line between his eyes and down over his nose, then across his lips. “I love you too, Severus.”

Pulling her to him, he kissed her deeply.

They would have a late dinner after all, it seemed.

Chapter Text

Chapter Thirteen

The weeks passed in a blur. Between classes, grading and the student projects she was working on with Vector, Hermione barely found time to take a breath. Her refuge became Snape's quarters, where she now spent more time than in her own. Crookshanks wasn't very impressed but had reluctantly given in to spending an evening or two a week on the sofa in Snape's sitting room. She wasn't sure who was more displeased with the arrangement; Crookshanks or Snape (although she had come back from patrol one night to find Snape asleep with a book in his hands and Crooks on his lap).

Being with Snape, Hermione thought, was much like breathing; effortless and feeling like the most natural thing in the world. They often discussed, but never argued, about everything between heaven and earth. More often than not a heated discussion would turn into a snogging session or a fast and hard shag against the wall (or couch, or desk). She simply couldn't keep her hands off him, and vice versa. Her favourite time together though, was when they both would sit in silence, either grading or reading. There was something very soothing about sitting in comfortable silence together. When they were curled up on the couch, his hand would always rest against the bare skin of her ankle, which never failed to make her smile.

On her mother's birthday in early March, they Apparated to Sutton for dinner. Snape's hand was slightly damp in her own and his other was clutching the wine bottle a bit too tightly. His fears were unfounded as her parents welcomed them into their home with open arms. Cake was eaten, presents given, and Hermione had almost choked on her coffee when her father had asked Snape about the virility of Wizards because “we'd very much like a grandchild or two before we're off to the nursing home.”

When they returned to Snape's quarters later that evening, Hermione hesitantly brought up the subject. “We haven't discussed it really, where we stand on having children.”

Snape's lips curled up slightly, and he pushed back a piece of hair from her face. “Getting tired of practising already?”

Hermione chuckled. “Not in the slightest. But it's something one should discuss when one is in a relationship, is it not?”

He shrugged and caught her waist so he could pull her closer to him. “I wouldn't know. If you want to have this conversation, then let's have it.”

Tilting her head to look up at him, she grasped his upper arms. “Don't you have anything to add to this conversation? This affects you too. What are your feelings about having children?”

Snape sighed. “I never thought I'd be in a situation where such a question would be relevant. Do I like children? Not particularly, though I've heard one is more inclined to be fond of their own offspring than other people's.” He looked pensive for a moment. “I suppose I'm not averse to the idea of having children, if it's something you want. What are your feelings on the matter?”

In her mind, Hermione pictured a little girl with brown curls and onyx eyes reading Hogwarts: A History on Snape's lap. The girl grinned, showing off two missing front teeth as Snape stroked her hair. Biting her lip, she looked up at the man in front of her and nodded slightly.

“I think I want that. Children, I mean. Your children. But not now,” she added quickly. “I'm not ready for that. Maybe in 5 years? Or even 10? I don't know when, but not yet.”

Snape's face softened, and he reached up to caress her face. “Do you have any idea,” he said, voice full of emotion, “how much I love you?”

“About as much as I love you.” Then she leaned up and kissed him deeply, pressing her body as much against him as she could and running her tongue over the seam of his lips. He granted her access with a groan, sliding his hands down to her arse to pull her closer. Her mouth left his and instead travelled down to his neck.

He shivered when her lips traced the scars there. “No time like the present to continue practising, don't you think?”

“Yes, please,” Hermione giggled against his neck as they stumbled towards the bedroom.

Hermione rolled her neck and winced when pain shot up from the right side. She'd been doing long hours all week – working on the student project proposal every night between dinner and patrol. It was coming along nicely, but there was still so much work to be done. She'd conducted interviews with a lot of the other teachers to get their input on how to best merge their respective subject with her own. Then she had the idea for more projects, as subjects like Potions and Arithmancy also could be combined to a great outcome. This meant more writing, more researching, and by the time she finally went to bed each night she was practically comatose.

On Sunday night that week, she put down her quill and sat back in her chair. “I think it's done.”

Snape looked up from the homework he was grading. There were dark circles underneath his eyes, and his cheeks held the faint trace of stubble. He'd been just as busy as her the past week; another big breakthrough in the brewing of the antidote for the Cruciatus meant he'd held longer hours than she had, and he'd survived mostly on Pepper Up potion and sheer willpower. “Really?”

Hermione huffed a laugh. “Yes, I actually think so. Wow, that feels strange.”

“What's your plan now?” Snape asked.

Rising, Hermione stretched her body. “Showing it to Vector, I think. I want to make sure I've not left anything out.” She covered her mouth with her hand as she yawned. “But that can wait until morning, I'm exhausted.” She held out her hand. “Sleep?”

Smiling slightly, Snape shook his head. “I've got to finish grading these tonight. Go to bed, I'll join you when I'm finished.”

Leaning down, Hermione kissed him softly. “Mm, okay. Don't stay up too long.”

He caressed her waist with a smirk. “When I know I've got you waiting for me? Not bloody likely.”

Hermione chuckled and touched his face. “Good night, love.”

The next night after dinner, Hermione returned to Snape's quarters to pick up the binder and change out of her teacher's robes. More and more of her clothing had seemed to migrate down to his wardrobe over the past weeks, and his bathroom was littered with her products.

Snape was in the lab, as he had been during dinnertime the entire previous week, and she poked her head through the open doorway on her way out.

“Don't forget to eat, Severus. You missed dinner. Again.”

Putting down the knife, he looked up at her, his lips curled in a smirk. “Yes, dear.”

Rolling her eyes, Hermione stepped further into the room. “Very funny.”

“Are you meeting Vector?”

Hermione nodded. “I'm showing her the proposal. I'm nervous though. What if I've missed something? Or the whole premise is unclear and it'll all go to shit?”

Rolling his shoulders, Snape stepped out from behind the workbench to approach her. “Sit,” he said, gesturing to the stool to her left. She complied, putting the binder carefully on the worktop. “Explain the premise of the projects to me.”

“You've heard it plenty of times before,” she protested.

He gave an impatient wave of his hand. “I don't care. Explain it to me again.”

Hermione took a deep breath. “The plan is to offer the seventh-year NEWT students a project that will combine two subjects. This project will run for the length of the spring and summer terms.”

“Will all NEWT students be able to participate in this project?”

“Provided that they have at least an Exceeds Expectations in one or both subjects they wish to do a project in, yes.”

He was smiling now, onyx eyes shining with mirth. “How do they choose what subjects they want to take on as a project?”

“After the October half term a list will be handed out with the approved subject combinations, and the students will have until before winter holidays to decide if and what they wish to take on.”

“The premise is not unclear in the slightest,” Snape said. “I see no reason why you wouldn't be ready to show this to Vector.”

Exhaling deeply, Hermione smiled. “Thank you, Severus.”

“It's nothing. Now go on.”

Feeling decidedly more confident than she'd been a few minutes ago, Hermione made her way up to Vector's office. The closer she got though, the more nervous she became. Not because she thought Snape would be dishonest about her work; he'd not sugarcoat it if something was strange or unclear, but because this was a big deal for her. Vector had been her favourite professor, and she both admired and respected the older woman greatly.

Vector opened the door at her knock with a big smile. “I was just wondering when you'd stop by. Come in, come in. Tea?”

“No, thank you,” Hermione said, clutching the binder. They sat down in the comfortable armchairs that seemed to be located in all the professors' offices, and Hermione handed over the binder. “I'm excited to know what you think.”

Thirty minutes later, Vector closed the binder and smiled. “This is great, Hermione. Truly. Your hard work has really paid off.”

Relief flooded through her, and Hermione rubbed at an ink stain on her thumb. “I can't take all the credit. You have an equal part in this, Septima.”

Vector waved a hand. “This is your brainchild, I merely helped to facilitate the process. Are you ready to take the proposal to Minerva?”

Running her hand over the cover of the binder, Hermione shook her head. “I think I want to work a bit more on it, make sure it's in ship shape.”

“While there's nothing wrong with making sure your work is a high standard, it doesn't need it,” Vector said, sitting back in her chair. “I would suggest you show the Headmistress sooner rather than later.”

Hermione bit her lip. This project had become special to her, and the thought that it could actually become a reality was staggering. She'd taken this on like the Gryffindor she was, and it had paid off. Looking up at Vector, she smiled. “I suppose I'm off to see McGonagall, then.”

Due to classes, the upcoming Quidditch Game, and a massive brawl between the fifth-year Prefects about the patrol schedule it wasn't until a few days later that Hermione had the chance to speak privately with McGonagall. When she returned to Snape's quarters she was bright-eyed and a bit dazed.

“Well?” he asked, standing from behind the desk to meet her.

Stopping in front of him, Hermione exhaled deeply and smiled, a grin so large it almost hurt. “She said it was great. She's going to take the proposal to the next meeting with the Board of Governors for approval, but thinks it looked promising. If the Governors approve, it could be implemented as soon as this autumn.”

Snape's shoulders relaxed, and his face broke out in a smile. “That is amazing news, Hermione.” Cupping her face, he kissed her gently. He kept his eyes on hers when he pulled back, thumbs caressing her cheekbones. “I am very proud of you, love.”

Hermione's fingers clenched in his shirt. “You gave me the idea, actually.”

Snape tilted his head. “I did? How?”

“The book you gave me for Christmas. It got me thinking about how I would have loved to have learnt something like that when I was still at school.”

He chuckled. “My little know-it-all.”

“I suppose this means I may get some free time back.” Hermione sighed. “I'm very thankful Easter break is coming up, I'm in desperate need of a break. I propose we spend the first days sleeping.” Something flickered in Snape's eyes, and Hermione's brows knitted together. “What?”

Snape's hands dropped from her face and instead grasping her waist. “I'd been meaning to talk with you about that. What would you say to spending the Easter break away from the castle? Specifically at my house. With me.”

Her heart was pounding, and she nodded vehemently. “Yes, yes, of course. I would love that.” She chuckled. “I just realised I don't even know where you live when you're away from here. Are you still at Spinner's End?”

Snape snorted. “Merlin, no. I sold that hellhole years ago. I've got a house in Cornwall, by the coast.”

Hermione smiled. “I can't wait to see it.”

A few days before Easter break, Hermione knocked softly on the closed door to the lab. At the muffled 'come in', she gently pushed the door open. He was hunched over the self-indexing journal she'd given him for his birthday, brows knitted together as he turned the pages, and didn't look up as she entered. The two lit cauldrons on the workbench behind him emitted fumes that smelt slightly of liquorice.

“Do you have any headache potion left?”

“No, I took the last one yesterday,” he answered dismissively, still not looking up. She knew him too well to take it personally.

“Do you mind if I make one?”

He glanced up, and the corner of his mouth quirked. “Not at all.”

Hermione started preparing the potion and Snape went back to his research. She enjoyed brewing with him; he had a tendency to mutter to himself whilst working, which she found utterly adorable. Of course, she'd never tell him this. She was halfway through the potion when Snape suddenly let out a high laugh. It startled her so much she almost cut her finger instead of the valerian root she was preparing.

She spun to face him quickly, scanning both him and his surroundings. “What's happened? Are you all right?”

Snape looked at her as if he'd forgotten she was there; eyes wide and cheeks slightly flushed.

Walking around the workbench, she approached him carefully. “Severus, you're scaring me.”

In two long strides he was in front of her, then he scooped her up by the waist and swung her around. Shrieking, Hermione grabbed his shoulders tightly for balance. He was still laughing in her ear, and when he put her down they both lost their balance and almost went down.

“What on earth has happened?” Hermione said once they'd regained their balance.

“It's working,” Snape said, face lit up in the brightest smile she'd seen on him. Gods, he was beautiful. “The antidote is working.”

Hermione gasped. “You did it? You did it!” Grasping his face, she kissed him swiftly. “I knew you could!” She kissed him again, longer. When they broke apart, their foreheads stayed touching. “You are a brilliant, brilliant man, Severus Snape, and I am so very proud of you.”

His hands tightened around her waist as he pulled his head back so he could look at her properly. “Imagine what this can do for people, Hermione.”

She could barely contain her grin. “Walk me through how you did it.”

Grasping her hand, he walked her back to the workstation where his cauldrons were set up. His back was straight and voice sure as he explained how he'd started the research all those years ago, and the changes he'd made over the years. Most of the reasoning behind his choices went completely over her head; there was plenty more to Potions that was taught at Hogwarts, and not for the first time did Hermione marvel at his skill and talent in the field.

“The last step involved using charms to counteract the poisonous effects of the Hellebore.”

“I thought you'd discounted using Hellebore?”

Snape nodded. “I had, until I remembered reading in a journal a while back that charms could be applied to various poisonous ingredients to change the way they interact with the rest. It was a simple matter of applying Arithmancy to tweak the formula.”

Hermione's mouth dropped open. “That is brilliant! I knew charmed potions existed, but not that it could be used in such a way. What is the next step?”

“Contacting St Mungo's,” Snape said, bottling the finished antidote. “There will likely be extensive human trials before it can start being used, but it actually works.”

Hermione laid her hand on his arm. “I'll finish cleaning up; I still need to do the headache potion. Go and contact St Mungo's. I'm sure they will be thrilled.”

The corner of his mouth quirked up, hand touching hers. “I suppose I better. Come find me when you're finished?”

“Of course. Go, be brilliant.”

He kissed her fiercely before leaving the lab. Hermione couldn't stop smiling as she cleaned the cauldrons. Oh, how she loved that wonderful, brilliant man.

Chapter Text

Chapter Fourteen

After breakfast – once the students who were leaving had all gone down to Hogsmeade – Hermione picked up her beaded bag (which she had packed the night before), said goodbye to Crookshanks (whom Hagrid had promised to look after when she was gone) and went down to Snape's quarters. They wouldn't be able to spend the entire break in Cornwall – Snape's presence as Deputy Head was required at the end of the week as McGonagall had business elsewhere. They would get five days, though. Five glorious days away from students, patrolling and anything that didn't involve each other.

“Have you got everything?” he asked as he let her in.

Hermione held up her bag. “I'm all packed. Are we Apparating?”

“No.” Snape gestured to a blue plastic flower pot sitting on the desk. “Portkey. It's not time-activated but is good for two uses. We tap it when we want to leave and when it's time to return.”

Hermione took a steady hold of his robes, and he wrapped his arm tightly around her waist in return. Pulling out his wand, Snape glanced down at her. “Ready?” At her nod he tapped the flower pot.

Both it and them materialised on a green hill. The sun was shining, but the wind that whipped Hermione's hair around her face was cold. They were standing on a narrow country lane. In the distance, she saw the Celtic Sea, vast and blue.

“Let's get inside.” Snape picked up the Portkey and they started walking. A little ways up the road was a break in the tree line, where Hermione spotted an even narrower road merging with the larger one.

As they turned onto the new road, where she assumed Snape's house was located, she felt the outer wards reach out to her magic. They buzzed slightly before settling down. “You have anti-Apparition wards?”

Snape smirked. “It's warded almost as heavily as Hogwarts.”

Laughing, Hermione bumped his shoulder. “Why doesn't that surprise me.”

They rounded a bend in the road, and suddenly a house appeared, set back a bit from the road.

The two-story house was partially stone-clad and surrounded by shrubbery and several large alder trees. A low stone wall that looked centuries old stretched out around the house. Snape led her to the blue front door, situated on the left side of the property. There were more wards there, and he dismantled them quickly before ushering her into a tiled entranceway.

“I'll get a fire going,” Snape said, shrugging out of his outer robes, “then give you the tour.”

After hanging her coat on a hook in the entryway, she followed him through a hallway into a large kitchen. Leaning against the kitchen table, she took in the room while he started the fire; the space was bright, with dual aspect windows and a set of glass doors that led to a small conservatory. The decorating was modestly done but with rich, warm toned wood on the kitchen cabinets and dining table which made it feel warm and welcoming.

Straightening from where he'd been bent over the fire, Snape put his wand back in its sheath. “Come, I'll show you around.”

He led her through a sitting room filled with bookcases and up a flight of creaky stairs. The first floor housed three bedrooms; one furnished as an office (with more bookcases), and the other set up as a guest room (“Not that I've had any guests,” he pointed out). The master bedroom had views towards the coast and an en suite.

“This is beautiful,” Hermione said once he'd shown her the potions lab in the basement and led her outside. Green rolling hills surrounded them, and in a large flat area close to the house was several gardening beds. If it was this beautiful in late March, she couldn't wait to see this place in the turn of the seasons when everything was in bloom.

By her side, Snape hummed in response. “It's a shame I don't get to spend as much time here.”

Hermione leaned her head against his shoulder. “I know what you mean. I'm thinking of subletting my flat for next term; I'm hardly there and it's just sitting there costing me money.”

Going back inside, Hermione started unpacking while Snape made the house habitable. It was a Muggle house, and as such needed to get the heat and water turned on to be liveable after being empty for months. The biggest shock of her life, though, came when Hermione stepped out of the bathroom to see Snape drawing back the curtains dressed in jeans and a rust coloured jumper.

Once she could speak again, she smiled. “You look good. I didn't know you owned Muggle clothing, I've never seen you wear any at Hogwarts.”

Rolling his eyes, Snape stepped forward and caught her waist. “Of course not, I've a reputation to uphold. Here my usual attire would be more hassle than its worth with the locals. Hence the Muggle clothing.”

Putting her hands on his chest, Hermione tilted her head back. “I'm finding out new things about you every day, it seems. I suppose next you're going to tell me that you know how to drive?”

His eyebrow arched, and her jaw dropped.

It turned out, not only could he drive; Snape actually owned a car. The nearest Muggle village was ten miles away, and he couldn't well Apparate there to buy groceries. There were appearances to uphold, after all. Food was next on the list since the only thing in the cupboards were a few cans of baked beans and one lonely tea bag.

Hermione got into the old car apprehensively. Her fears were – mostly – unfounded as Snape proved to be a competent driver, and they made it into the village and back without incident. The village itself was quaint and quite sleepy, with a narrow high street that seemed to rely heavily on the business from summer tourists.

The next morning, Hermione had decided that she loved being there. Waking up with Snape's body wrapped around her and seeing the sunrise over the hills filled her with contentment she'd not felt in a while. Detangling herself from his limbs with some difficulty, she padded across the room to the loo. The floor was cold and the room chilly, and her flesh broke out in goosebumps as she sat down on the toilet. As she washed her hands she caught a glimpse at herself in the mirror above the sink. Her hair looked atrocious, and the small love bite on her neck made her flush. She didn't remember him putting that there.

Snape hadn't moved from the position she left him in, but he stirred when she climbed into bed, opening a bleary eye and lifting his arm so she could snuggle into his chest. “Morning.”

“Good morning.” Hermione kissed his shoulder. His body was warm, and she pressed closer and put her toes on his shins.

Hissing, he recoiled. “Bloody hell, woman, you're freezing.”

Giggling, Hermione wrapped her arm around his torso to keep him close. “Yes, and you're not. How else am I going to get warm?”

A wicked grin spread over his face. Then he dug his fingers into her sides, and she exploded in laughter. Rolling on top of her, he pinned her legs with his lower body and upheld the attack.

“No, Severus, stop,” she managed to wheeze out between laughs, pushing at his hands.

Snape relented, resting his elbows on either side of her head and brushing back the curls from her forehead. He smirked down at her. “There. You're all warmed up.”

Hermione ran her hands up his torso and tucked his hair behind his ears so she could see his face properly. “Wanker.”

Snape's eyebrow arched. “Don't mind if I do.” He lowered his head and kissed her deeply.

Her chest arched into his, and she parted her legs to he could nestle closer. The warmth of his morning erection pressed against her thigh, and she moaned into his mouth. The coarse hairs on his chest brushed against her sensitive nipples when he trailed kisses down to her neck and collarbone. Her head fell back and her mouth opened as Snape kissed down the valley between her breasts. Her stomach clenched when his tongue dipped slightly into her navel, and her hips started moving on their own against him.

“So soft,” he murmured, tracing his fingers over her wet folds.

Hermione panted his name, back arching and fingers reaching out to grasp the sheets tightly. He touched her slowly, almost reverently, exploring every part of her until she was almost sobbing with need. She bit her lip to stave off her whimper when his mouth finally, finally, descended on her. She was so close already. He took her to the brink, then backed away, planting wet kisses on her inner thighs until she urged him back where she wanted him. She was losing her mind as her release again, and again was denied her. Her legs were shaking, breaths heavy and she thought she might die if she didn't come soon.

When he backed away yet again, she let out a sob. “Severus, I need to come.” She lifted her head and found him looking at her, dark eyes clouded with lust. “Please.”

“Soon, witch.” He pressed a kiss to her trembling stomach and moved up her body.

Grasping his face, Hermione kissed him fiercely, moaning as she tasted herself on his lips. Her hips snapped up against his, and she felt his cock nudge against her entrance. “I need you,” she mumbled against his lips.

Snape pulled back from her mouth, lifting up on his elbows to regard her. “Now?”

She groaned. “Yes, now!”

He pushed in slowly, and her eyes fluttered shut. She was so close. Her knees drew up around him. Once he was buried to the hilt he flexed his hips, once, twice and it pushed her over the edge. Fingers gripping his shoulders, her body shook and she was vaguely aware that she was chanting his name over and over. Her body was weightless, floating away, and only his weight was grounding her.

When she could finally breathe, she opened her eyes. His face was twisted in pleasure, and she could feel him twitching inside of her.

“You are breathtaking,” he breathed as he started moving.

His pubic bone was brushing against her clit with every thrust and Hermione whimpered, still sensitive from her earlier release. She touched every inch of him she could reach, running her hands over his shoulders and torso and down to cup his arse to encourage him deeper. She raked her nails against his skin on her way up, making him groan and bury his face in the juncture between her neck and shoulder.

She lifted her legs higher on his hips, and the change in position made them both cry out and her dig her nails into his shoulders. Snape lifted his head and she could have wept at the look on his face. His lips were parted, cheeks flushed and he looked glorious.

“I love you,” she moaned, reaching up to capture his mouth. She was going to come again, she felt it building deep within her.

He tore his mouth from hers. “Are you close?” he panted, hips snapping faster and harder against hers. “Fuck, Hermione. You feel –”

She nodded, clenching against him. “So good.”

Seconds later, his thrusts grew erratic and she felt his release. Another deep thrust and she followed him over the edge, drawing her legs tighter around him and crying out. He collapsed on top of her for a few seconds before rolling them over and slinging his arm around her waist. Once she'd caught her breath, she lifted her head and rested her chin against his chest.

Snape flexed his lower body with a grimace. “I think I pulled a muscle.”

Hermione laughed. “I'd feel sorry for you, but your teasing almost drove me insane so I'd say that's fair.”

He chuckled, reaching out to tuck her curls back behind her ear. “Minx.” His thumb stroked her jaw. “I love you.”

Leaning up, she kissed him lightly. “Don't think I won't get my revenge,” she grinned wickedly when she pulled back. “I'll get you when you least expect it.”

Snape snorted. “Whatever you say, dear.”

True to her word, Hermione did get her revenge. The very next day whilst lounging on the sofa, she pulled down his trousers and teased him until he was a dishevelled puddle of need under her touch. Only then did she let him come, taking him deep in her mouth and feeling him spurt down her throat. Once she resurfaced, he glared at her. She only grinned and patted his knee.

For all that they'd had an active sex life before, something about being away from the castle and having no obligations made them more desperate for each other than before. They experimented with mixed results – it turned out trying restraints was a very bad idea – and Hermione was grateful there weren't any close neighbours (she didn't know she could be that loud).

The rain that had started chucking down their first night didn't let up, which suited them just fine. They sauntered around the house in Muggle clothing and thick wool socks, reading and drinking tea and making love all hours of the day. They played chess (which Snape was superior at) and drank wine and stayed in bed until noon, just because they could.

On their last night before they were due back, they were sitting in the conservatory after dinner. Curled up by Snape's side, Hermione looked out over the green hills. The rain had finally let up, and the sun was starting to set. She sighed and burrowed closer.

Snape tilted his head to catch her eyes. “What is it?”

She smiled slightly. “I just can't believe we're already going back to Hogwarts tomorrow. Don't get me wrong, I love my job. But this has been so lovely and I don't want it to end.”

“What if it didn't?”

Hermione's brows knitted together, and she pushed up from her reclined position to better look at him. “What do you mean?”

Snape shrugged. “This house is frankly too big for just me, and I'm sure your orange furball would prefer roaming the hills chasing rabbits to being stuck inside a flat all summer.”

Her heart was racing. “You're asking me to move in with you?”

“You said it yourself; you're paying a lot of money for a flat you're never at. It's the logical thing to do.”

Hermione chuckled. “You realise that my moving in would also mean the chance of Harry or Ron stopping by? And Crookshanks sheds, a lot.”

“I'm aware.”

She blinked twice. “Wow, you must really love me.”

His gaze softened. “I do. Very much. My reasoning for you moving in is purely selfish. Having you here these past days has made me realise how empty it felt before.” He cradled her face in his hands. “I want you with me, always. I can no longer imagine this house, or my life, without you.”

Tears pooled in the corners of Hermione's eyes. How she adored him. This wonderful, snarky man who had come into her life in a way neither one of them had anticipated.

He frowned, thumb catching an escaped tear and wiping it away. “Why are you crying?”

Hermione let out a short laugh. “I don't know! I'm just happy. You make me happy.” She leant in and kissed him softly. “And yes,” she murmured against his lips. “I want that too. This house, and you. Always.”

“I'm going to regret giving Potter and Weasley access to my home, aren't I?”

Hermione touched his face. “Don't worry, love. I'll protect you.”

The corner of his mouth twitched and he leaned in to kiss her again.

THE END