"Next up. Sex questions. So…who was your first?"
Ginny Weasley –soon to be Mrs Harry Potter— refilled the glasses with yet more of the sweet, elf-made wine. She smirked and Hermione didn't resist the urge to roll her eyes at the younger witch.
Why did she have to find that stupid pile of ancient and dog-eared Witch Weeklys? And then demand that they answer a plethora of inane questions.
So far they they knew which Celestine Warbeck song to play at their wedding, and dear gods, that had been painful. Then the wizarding world's favourite cake. And oh, how coud she forget what a wizard's wand size truly meant.
They'd been in the cottage for two hours. It was beginning to make camping look fun again.
Hermione had agreed to the 'witches' weekend' to mark the celebration of the last few days of Ginny's freedom before she tied herself to Harry. Not that the witch wasn't stampeding to bind herself body, blood and soul to the Saviour of the Wizarding World. The weekend was supposed to be a time with overflowing wine and food in a little cottage somewhere in the wilds of Cumbria. A place to relax. But Hermione had forgotten what Ginny was like with the rush of alcohol in her veins.
A fact others seemed to have remembered as there was only herself and Luna Lovegood in the cosy little sitting room with the already tipsy witch.
Ginny flapped the much-creased magazine at her. "You have had sex, haven't you, Mione? I mean, besides my thick-headed brother." She smirked and swirled the pale liquid in her glass. It sparkled in the firelight. "Him I don't want details about. But who else?"
Luna was frowning. "But you haven't slept with Ronald, Hermione."
Hermione blinked and Ginny was gaping. How did Luna know? And then she dismissed the question. Luna simply did. She'd say it was all manner of strange and imaginary beasts and clouds and sprites, when the truth was Luna was scarily, scarily brilliant.
So Hermione shrugged. "True."
The magazine slipped from Ginny's fingers and she pressed them to her lips. "But, but, Harry said that Ron said…"
Hermione shifted on the wide chair and tucked her bare feet under her. She sipped her wine. Yes, she was sure Ron had said something to cover the fact that she'd turned him down. Flat. More than once. "One kiss." She took another sip and let the sweet hint of vanilla and blackberries linger on her tongue. Something pleasant to cover the memory. "It was enough."
Ginny was staring. "So you've not…?"
Luna accio'd a cooled chunk of chocolate from the centrepiece decorating the long coffee table around which their deeply cushioned chairs were set. "Kingsley Shacklebolt. At the second Battle of Hogwarts' ball. I didn't have sex with him right then. Though I wanted to…because he looked so beautiful. His aura… " She gave a happy little sigh into the heavily silent room. "He made me wait a whole month. Silly man. Then I turned up naked in his office. So he knew I was serious. He fucked me on his desk. And he was so sweet afterwards about healing the papercuts on my bum…"
Hermione bit her lip, fighting back the surge of joyous laughter. "Oh, Luna…"
Ginny leant forward, practically hanging off her chair. Her wine sloshed. "Only this summer. So are you still…?"
Luna smirked her blue eyes dancing. "A very happy seven months together."
Hermione grinned. "He is a wonderful man. He deserves you."
"He seems delightfully free of wrackspurts these past few months. And they did plague him. It's important, I think, for the Minister of Magic to have a clear mind." She sipped her wine. "Me being naked in his office seems to act as a rather brilliant wrackspurt siphon." Her eyes twinkled. "It's an important duty."
The thought that the Minister for Magic often had his witch naked in his office forced Hermione to shake her head. She wanted to say be careful. But this was Luna. Brilliant Luna. If this was the first anyone knew of the relationship —and Hermione had not even heard the faintest of whispers about it— then Luna was more than adequately protecting her lover.
"I'm happy for you both."
"Thank you, Hermione."
"So you've never had sex, Hermione?"
Ginny really was a crup with a bone. Hermione let out a sigh and sank into the soft cushions. They'd vowed that nothing would leave the little cottage. No tales to poke at each other in fun. "You're wand-bound, Ginny, this goes no further."
The younger witch sat up on her chair, her interest piqued. Luna, Hermione noticed, still wore the same vacantly polite expression she always did. And Hermione didn't doubt that the truth was already known to her.
"Spill. It's not Ron. So who could it be?" A frown marred Ginny's smooth brow and her mouth pulled down. A hard edge cut through her voice. "It's not my Harry is it?"
Hermione shuddered. "Ron and Harry are more like brothers. Neither are appealing. So no, not your Harry."
Ginny's lips pursed together and Hermione knew she didn't quite believe her. Harry was irresistible in her eyes. Hermione's own thoughts turned bitter. Harry Potter was rich. Famous. Lauded. Rich.
"Then who?" She pressed a finger to her lips, tapping. "Viktor?"
Hermione barked a laugh. "I was fourteen, Ginny!"
"Fifteen. And it's possible. Also possible after he left. A summer fling in Bulgaria. Or post war. Rekindling the flame of first love…"
Hermione gagged. "Merlin, Ginny are you channelling Rita Skeeter?" She dodged a hurled cushion. "No, it wasn't Viktor."
Brown eyes narrowed on her and Hermione lifted an eyebrow. She doubted Ginny would guess. Ever.
The next ten minutes had Ginny listing every boy she could think of who would catch Hermione's eye. Then she twisted into an all-too-expected direction. Her other brothers.
"A pre-Phlegm Bill?"
"Ginny you know very well he's gay! And if you say 'Percy' I will pour that wine on your head."
"Fred? George?" Ginny smirked. "Fred and George?"
The witch waggled her fingers at Luna. "A pre-Luna Kingsley?"
Heat suffused Hermione's cheeks, not with an admission of guilt, but that their friend would even suggest it—
"Gods, Ginny, no!" Anger burned in her belly. The witches' weekend was taking on the appearance of a weekend even deeper in hell. And fast. She looked to Luna and winced. "I'm sorry, Luna."
Ginny frowned. "Why are you apologising if you haven't slept with Kingsley?"
And there was the sometimes staggering Weasley ignorance that had made anything more than friendship impossible with Ron. And some days even maintaining a friendship was a strain.
Luna's smile was its normal kind self. "Kingsley is a wonderful lover. He made my first time…magical. And a first time should be magical, shouldn't it, Hermione?"
Ginny was frowning again, her darkened gaze moving between the two. "Luna knows?"
"Hermione has never told me anything." Luna sipped at her wine and let her gaze drift to the great hearth and the fire crackling there. Her gaze drifted back to the red-haired witch. "Who was your first, Ginny? You had the pick of so many, how did you ever decide?"
Hermione could've kissed Luna for the attempt to distract Ginny. Not that it would. And soon she'd have to reveal the wizard who'd taken her virginity. No, not taken. She'd more than gladly given it to him…
"Dean Thomas." Ginny stared into her glass. "I mean Harry was miffed that I didn't wait for him. And why should I? It's not as if he waited for me."
And there was Hermione's unease in their rush to marry. They'd fought and won a war, but Ginny and Harry were both still so immature and childish. Especially with each other.
Ginny took a gulp of wine. "Enough Hermione. Spit it out."
Her spine stiffened against that sharp tone, but she caught Luna's mild gaze. Calm. Reassuring. Luna at least, had no qualms about the wizard she had slept with. Well, not slept with. There had been very little sleep in those three, sex-fuelled days…
Ginny's jaw dropped. Her mouth moved, but no words came out. Her gaze swung to Luna and back again. She pressed her palm to her lips. "Your…your…"
"My Master, yes. It's a ritual for an apprentice, if he or she is still a virgin at the time the contract is made, for that master to…relieve said new apprentice of their virginity. Some magics cannot—"
"Oh, Hermione, I'm so sorry!"
Hermione blinked. "Sorry?"
"Have you at least been with someone else…after? Wash the taste away, sort of? I mean four months. You should've more than jumped another wizard or two by now? And why wait so long? Merlin, Hermione, you're what, twenty one? Even you should've—"
"I'm sorry to leave you, Luna. But I can't stay."
Hermione stalked to her room and slammed the door shut. She slashed her wand to pack everything into her case —swirling clothes and toiletries from drawers and shelves— as she flopped back against the heavy, wooden door.
She dug the heels of her hands into her eyes and forced her heaving chest to find slow breaths. To calm. Before she screeched like a banshee at the youngest Weasley. Did every single one of them have their sensitivity removed at birth?
Chance —and teenage wizards' ignorance— had kept her a virgin. Who really had any interest in a plain and bushy-haired bookworm? Besides Viktor Krum. But then he'd only trailed after her as she wasn't interested in him. A dare. A novelty. And she provided a handy screen for the vapid girls hounding him.
And Ron. No, Ron didn't count. Not at all.
Then, in her resat year at Hogwarts, as she investigated what it would involve in being an apprentice, she'd stumbled across the ancient rite…and her chest had tightened. Sitting under the shade of an oak with warm, June sunshine spilling around her, one thought had pushed through her mind.
She could have him.
Severus Snape. He'd returned to teach potions in her final term as a favour to Minerva. And the old and forbidden wants had risen at seeing that returning long-limbed stalk up to the High Table. The power of him. A pale and stern-mouthed, utterly delicious wizard. Her mouth had dried and her long-dormant libido proceeded to smack her about the head like a rogue bludger.
Hermione waved her wand and another simple curl of magic secured her case.
But…the memories swamped her again. The heat of August, of golden light on pale, hot skin. Of those clever, clever fingers playing her, tormenting her, chasing utter pleasure into her flesh. He'd mapped every inch of her body. Stroked and plucked, and his mouth, gods, his mouth…
She drew in a breath and pressed a hand tight to her chest, her heart thudding under her palm. It'd been bliss. Three whole days lost to the joy of his touch…
And then it was over.
Hermione closed her eyes and took another breath. Her throat tightened. The pain of wanting more twisted around her heart. Of aching for the brilliant man who could whisper such wickedness into her ear as he fucked her. The one who'd curled around her, holding her through the night as something, someone precious. And that devilish smirk, his black hair wild as he threw her legs over his pale shoulders—
Hermione scrubbed both hands over her face.
But the knowledge of him since those three hot and sticky days and nights, of his brilliance, his wit, his patience had only deepened her want. Her need for him. And it wasn't against the Guild's rules for an apprentice to…dally with her Master.
Yet…she wanted to be more than a dalliance.
Her case bounced at her feet, a reminder of the magic that still held it.
Right, she was leaving. A twinge of guilt caught her for abandoning Ginny on her witches' weekend, and worse leaving Luna to deal with the fall out…but she couldn't suffer another minute of her disparaging Severus. He was a good man. If not a nice one…
Hermione huffed a laugh, picked up her case and opened the door.
Luna stood in the shadow of the passage. Her smile was warm and sure. She silently handed across Hermione's boots and she stamped into them.
"I'm sorry. I can't—"
"Go to him, Hermione. Get naked on his desk if you have to." Luna grinned as she spluttered. "Though a Potion Master's desk is liable to be…perilous. My advice? Best leap on him in his chair."
"Oh, Luna!" Hermione hugged her friend hard and wished she could be as brave in chasing after her wizard as Luna had been. But even though he was the Minister of Magic, Kingsley Shacklebolt was no Severus Snape. And Luna's future wasn't smashed to pieces if he hadn't returned her interest. "I'm sorry again—"
"Pfft." Luna stepped back and tilted her head, her large eyes gleaming. "Go. Ginny has her own troubles to sort. You? You have fun."
Hermione nodded, sucked in a steadying breath and disapparated…
Landing on the path that lead up to the sprawling Cumbrian manor that Severus called work and home, Hermione staggered and straightened. No lights shone out from the myriad windows and the front was almost lost to the shadows of a darkening sky. Was he even home?
She caught her fingers in the wild bush of her hair and pressed her lips together. Her heart drummed. She said she'd be away two nights. If he was home, would Severus be…entertaining someone in her absence?
She wanted to believe it was impossible, but he was a war hero. And…and a man. Rumours chased him in the press of this or that night spent with a beautiful witch. Yet…she wasn't aware of him seeing anyone. Though this was the wizard who'd fooled Voldemort to the bitter end. Obscuring…liaisons from a bushy-haired apprentice wouldn't be much of a stretch.
Her gut soured at the thought and she pushed it back. Down. Away.
Picking up her case, she willed herself forward. The chilled wind whipped around her and she shivered. The air was damp with the threat of more rain. Already spits of it wet her face, and hissed to steam as the manor's wards inched over her skin with familiar warmth.
Wherever he was, Severus would be aware of her return. The need to run and hide in her rooms burned. But that was cowardly. She had to face him, she wanted to see him…and if had company then she would be as polite and respectful as an apprentice should be.
Then she'd down herself in chocolate in the privacy of her room.
The front door creaked open and the hallway beyond was silent. No murmur of voices or other sounds.
Hermione winced and padded along the shadowed passages to Severus' library. An echoing rumble of thunder rolled around her and the first, heavy splashes of rain coated the windows.
The library door was ajar, thick wood limned with gold from the fire that crackled in the silences between the low rumbles of the approaching storm. She rapped her knuckles against the jamb, her heart in her throat, and pushed the door open. Hinges whined. "Master?"
The warm rumble of his smooth voice wrapped around her and eased the tight burn of her chest. Leaving her case in the passage she slipped into the room and closed the door. Shadows pressed into every corner, losing the deep rows of too-many books to a softened brown.
Severus sat in one of the wingback chairs set before the heavy fireplace, his pale skin and sharp profile gilded by the flames. His sock-covered feet rested on the metal fender, toasting in the heat. The infamous buttons gleamed against his ankles and Luna's words darted through her brain. Of leaping on him as he sat oh-so-casually in his favourite chair…
"Did you not have plans this weekend, Hermione?"
His question pulled her back into the moment. "Yes, with Luna and Ginny." She winced and shrugged out of her coat. With a flick of her wand, she banished it to the understairs cloakroom. "Her witch's weekend."
Severus waved for her to sit in her usual chair and she sank into the deep cushions. A smile twitched at the corner of his lips. "I have noticed that Ginevra becomes a tad more…Weasley with the addition of alcohol."
Hermione snorted. She leant back in her chair and shook her head. "They're still too young to marry. Immature. Childish. Even after everything Harry has done."
She closed her eyes and let out a slow sigh. The need, the want of the wizard before her twisted in her flesh, but she couldn't throw away her future, her friendship with him. Severus had been nothing but professional since their interlude and gave no sign that he wanted anything…more.
Hermione glanced to the window as another rumble of thunder was chased across the sky by a crack of lightning. The fresh lash of rain pelted the panes of the library's three long windows. She drew in a breath and turned her gaze back to him. Gilded with golden light, his long fingers were steepled and pressed to the perfect, perfect bow of his lips… She darted her eyes back to the hearth. "Things were said. I left before I hexed her." She scrubbed at her face. "Poor Luna."
A shimmering-silver rabbit patronus burst through a book-lined wall of the library and skipped around Hermione's chair. "Hermione. Professor Snape. Ginny decided it best to go home. Harry is escorting her. Hopefully that strange shade of purple his face went fades." Luna's light, ethereal voice held a smile. "I think I shall hunt wrackspurts."
The magic flittered and dissolved and Hermione shook her head. "Well, she'll have the best weekend of all of us."
Severus lifted an eyebrow.
"Not my secret to tell."
"Her…relationship with the Minister?"
Hermione stared at him. Her mouth fell open. "How…?"
Severus smirked at her and her chest tightened, a scroll of illicit memories unfolding in her mind and heart. She crushed them.
"I was a spy. I'm observant."
"He told you."
His smirk deepened. "He did indeed."
Hermione huffed a laugh and the warmth of affection wrapped around her heart. No, she didn't want to risk this. Not for anything—
She almost swore. Harry. Harry going purple. Their wand-oath had only stretched to the cottage. Damn Ginny Weasley. A bloody pox on her.
She held back a groan. And of course the very observant former-spy had caught her mid-realisation. And now…now she'd have to tell him what the cause of her running from Ginny was. Because Harry Potter would burst upon them, wanting to know the exact truth.
"I…" She did groan then and let her head fell back. She stared up in the shadows of the vaulted ceiling, wisps of firelight dancing over ancient beams. "It was a yet another round of Witch Weekly questions…"
The air stilled and Hermione's heart squeezed.
Oh Severus was obviously aware of the nature of the foul magazine. And what secret she'd spilled. Though they'd never agreed to keep it secret, but had simply…remained silent.
"You spoke of the ritual."
His voice was low and quiet. Dulled.
Hermione closed her eyes. "Yes. And she…she was insulting. As if it wasn't perfectly natural. That I would be horrified. Tainted. That I would regret—" She bit off the words that threatened to pour from her. For her to tell him precisely how wonderful he'd been.
She dragged her hand over her mouth and her eyes burned. Taking a deep breath, that did nothing to ease the tightness in her chest, she straightened in her chair. Severus stared, not at her, but into the bright glow of the fire.
"You believe Mr Potter now knows?"
She jerked a nod. "Yes."
Severus closed his eyes, his eyelashes a black fan against his pale cheeks. Had he not wanted anyone to know? Was he embarrassed —oh gods, ashamed?— by what they had done?
"I'm sorry, Hermione."
She pressed her and to her mouth, fingers biting into her jaw. Her chest ached. He was. He was ashamed.
"It was never to come between us, casting a shadow over your time with…here." He glanced, unseeing, around the storm-heavy darkness of his library, his gaze not once landing on her. "No one was ever to know."
Hermione blinked. Cast a shadow? Wait… What? Did he think she was ashamed? A curl of hope grew and its warmth eased her shaking hand away from her face. "I don't regret it. I don't. Haven't. Not…not for one second. There's not even a hint, a wisp of a shadow." She huffed a laugh, her face hot at the rush if words. "I was…aware of what an apprenticeship with you would mean. How it had to be begin. I wanted…"
Her mouth, her words dried.
Severus was staring at her, his endless black eyes sharp and lit with gold. "You wanted, witch?"
That look. That sinful growl. It gave her courage.
It was a whisper almost lost to the low roll of thunder. She swallowed. "You. I wanted…you."
His chest lifted with a heavy breath. "I could not risk your work, and later our…friendship. I would not."
Hope pulled her onto her feet. "Will not?"
The tick of a smile tugged at his perfect mouth and a spark of devilment warmed his eyes. She was grinning, hard, her cheeks aching at the pale, fire-lit hand he held out to her.
Her fingers slipped over his and her breath caught. To touch again. The magic of it chased through her flesh. Gods… "Luna said I should fling myself at you as you sat in your favourite chair."
Severus laughed and she squealed as he pulled her onto his lap. "Miss Lovegood is so very wise. I've always thought so."
Hermione let out a long breath, banished her boots—where she hadn't the first idea—and curled into the warmth, the strength of him. She wriggled her bare toes against the warm wool of his trousers, the iron-hard muscle of his thigh utter temptation and her heart soared at his answering low run of laughter. She pressed her face into the line of his neck, the scent of wool and silk, hints of spices and herbs and the tempting heat of his skin wrapped around her. He held her, tight, so blissfully tight with his chin pressed to the ravening bush that was her hair.
"Gods, I've ached for this."
It was her whisper against his throat and Severus sighed. "As have I, sweet witch. As have I."
Her heart squeezed at his admission. "I didn't want to see it only as the ritual, Severus. I…"
He eased back and his dark eyes were warm with affection. "At most, the ritual is a single act of penetration. Not…"
"Every act of filth and debauchery played out over several days?"
His smirk was wickedness itself. "Not every act, witch."
Heat bloomed in her chest and slide heat lower. Much lower. Oh… Oh… "What—?"
A surge of magic chased over the library walls, the familiar lightning flare of Severus' impossibly strong —almost-but-not-quite-illegal— wards as some imbecile attempted to breach them.
Hermione groaned. Damn it, he could never keep his nose out of anything. "I think…I think that's Harry bouncing off the wards."
Severus' thumb teased over her parted lips, the whisper of a touch and his wicked smile caught her breath. She forgot all about Harry Potter and the very real possibility he'd now be be dumped on a railway siding in Crewe.
Her heart drummed. Hers. Severus Snape was hers. Her wizard. Hers.
Severus' smirk deepened. No, he was not a nice man at all. And she did so love that about him. "My, this day simply keeps getting better and better doesn't it? Now, where to begin? I think…here."
It was a murmur, a delicious hum of sin and velvet as he dipped his mouth to hers.