A/N: Hello darlings :D Here you go, a long one-shot that was done for the WiKTT Mardi Gras/Masquerade themed contest. And guess what...I won! I'm so psyched, I get to pick out a gorgeous mask from goddessmasks and I'm just beside myself. So thank you to my friends that voted! By the way, if you're ever in need of some more SSHG fics and fanart, ahem, that go up to the highest rating that you like, check out the WiKTT website. If you can't find it, pm me so I can send you the link :) the mods are amazing and they're always looking for people to post their stories and artwork! AND there's a place for original fic as well.

There was no point in lying to herself—Hermione had an itch, and there was only one person that she wanted to scratch that itch. Too bad she was met with a problem; the only place on her body said person would touch below the neck was her hands, maybe her arms.

After a few years of friendship, Severus Snape expressed his desire to 'court' Hermione, as he'd phrased it. Hermione thought his wording to sound somewhat archaic, yet she was still endeared by the notion. It certainly beat the offers from young men her own age, who were more inclined to share their genitals before bothering to find out her name.

Hermione acquiesced, and she and Severus became an item. She worked at the Ministry, and he worked as an adjunct brewer for private apothecaries. As of late Severus had also been filling in for an ill professor at Hogwarts. However, in spite of their busy schedules, the two always found time for one another. Nearly every weekend Severus spent time at Hermione's flat, or she came to his home. However, he never spent the night, and Hermione was never invited to spend the night at his place. At first, Hermione thought it sweet, assuming that Severus wanted to take his time before beginning the deeper physical aspects of a relationship. That was understandable. He had explained that he did not have much experience by way of dating, and Ron was the only person Hermione had seriously dated. Yet when almost four months passed and she still hadn't been asked to share his bed, Hermione began to get suspicious.

"I won't get upset Severus, I promise. OK, that's a lie, I will be upset but I'll try to remain civil. Is there someone else?" she had asked him.

"Of course there isn't. Why would you think that?"

"Because you barely touch me, that's why."

"I'm touching you now, aren't I?" he'd asked, punctuating his question by pressing his lips to her forehead.

"That's not what I meant, and you know it."

Severus chuckled at Hermione's exasperation.

"What is it, then? Are you not attracted to me?" The look on Severus' face plainly stated that he thought Hermione was being ridiculous. "Are you a virgin? Is that it?" she had gone on to ask."Because if you are, I promise I don't mind."

"No, I am most definitely not a virgin," was Severus' wry answer. "If I were, do you think I could make your eyes roll into the back of your head just by kissing you?"

At that moment, his mouth captured Hermione's, engaging her in a slow, thorough kiss that left her tingling from head to toe while clinging to his lapels.

"Are you ever going to do more than just kiss me?" Hermione asked breathlessly once they had pulled apart.



"When the time is right."

"And when will that be?"

"When I say so, you cheeky bint. And believe me, when I do make love to you, I promise that you'll not be left wanting."

Those salacious words were purred into her ear and held a promise of many things to come, Hermione was sure. After that day, she did her best to keep her libido in check, but that still did not stop the images of her and Severus, sweaty and naked and tangled up in bed sheets from forming in her mind.

That conversation had taken place two months ago. They still hadn't slept together, and it didn't help that they spent many of their evenings in close proximity, snogging on the sofa like a teenaged couple whose parents had gone away for the weekend. Severus hadn't been lying about making Hermione's eyes go to the back of her head; he knew how she liked to be kissed. He knew that the nape of her neck held a tender spot, and all it took was a mere flick of his tongue on that spot to send her writhing. At times he got her so worked up that all he needed to do was gently blow across her saliva dampened skin, and Hermione's back took on a sharp curve as the intense pleasure rushed throughout her body.

To be brought so often to those small heights, only to receive a chaste kiss at the end of it all before Severus left her flat, or him personally escorting her back home, left Hermione anxious and sexually frustrated. Never in her life had she masturbated so much, but after a while, even though she reached climax, she remained unfulfilled. Hermione wanted Severus to bring her to completion. She wanted the full length of his lean body against hers, pressing her into the mattress. She wanted his long, graceful fingers clutching onto her hair while his hips roved against hers, firmly embedding himself within her over and over again. She longed for that deep, sinfully rich voice of his to murmur naughty things in her ear as their bodies joined, beginning her to come for him.

How would he sound in the throes of ecstasy? Loud? Feral? Or perhaps he was the passionate but silent type. Hermione thought it terrible of Severus to make her wait so long, and then not even give her a hint as to when they would consummate their relationship. Her wrist was getting tired, and her vibrator was on its last legs. Not to mention that she had gotten short with many of her co-workers, who had been shocked by her uncharacteristic snappish behaviour.

Hermione didn't mean to be, but she knew she was being difficult. But it was Severus' fault that she felt like some sort of deranged, love-starved harpy, and if he didn't soon put her out of her misery, she would explode. Therefore, she had been shocked when he told her that Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy had extended an invitation for them to stay a week at their chateau in the Côte d'Azur.

"The French Riviera?" Hermione repeated, stymied. "For a week? And you want me to go with you?"

"Who else would I ask?" Severus replied, frowning. "There's to be a masquerade ball, and some silly game I'm sure. We have to wear masks and remain anonymous until the end of the ball. I have no idea why those two insist on this damned thing every year, but I wager Narcissa is behind it all."

"And Lucius knows better than to say no," Hermione laughed.

"I think you're right," Severus smirked.

"Alright, I'll go," Hermione agreed slowly. "But...I have nothing to wear and no idea where to start for this sort of thing."

"Narcissa figured as much and offered to make you an appointment with her dressmaker. Take it from me—just go along with whatever she says."

Keeping that bit of advice in mind, Hermione was amenable to all of Narcissa's suggestions the day they went to the dressmaker. An elderly witch in pristine, powder blue robes greeted the two, ushering them inside the quaint, yet lavish shop. Narcissa immediately rattled off what was needed to the elderly witch, Madam Winnerope. Hermione barely had a chance to shrug her cloak off when she was ushered onto a small dais set before a three way mirror. When all was said and done, with the promise that the new wardrobe would be delivered by noon the next day, Hermione was swept out of the shop while Narcissa gaily announced that they were going to lunch.

"Mrs. Malfoy?" Hermione began after taking a sip of wine.


"You never mentioned how much I need to give you for my dresses."

"You don't need to pay me back, dear. They're a gift for you and Severus."

That comment piqued Hermione's curiosity. "Excuse me?"

"Listen...Hermione. May I call you Hermione?"


"Very well, then, Hermione. Severus is a dear friend of ours and if I might be frank, Lucius and I have noticed a change in him since he's met you. Meeting you in that sense, if you may."

"I hope you mean a change in a good way."

"Very much so," Narcissa replied, delicately picking up her glass and taking a sip of the pale liquid. "Getting him to admit it is, well, quite difficult, but believe me when I say that he is completely enamoured with you."

That left Hermione floored. She was still wary about openly speaking about her relationship with Severus, but Narcissa seemed trustworthy.

"Sometimes I get the idea that he is," Hermione admitted, "but then...he seems a bit...standoffish. You know...slow to warm up."

"Well he is a bit old-fashioned in that aspect. Most wizards from his time are, but don't let that cool, composed exterior fool you. Let's just say I remember when Lucius began courting me when we were teenagers... Once you get them started there's no going back."

The blonde became a bit flushed at the memory of her husband, and looked as if she were fighting back a small, knowing smile.

"Do pardon me; it seems I've become a little carried away. As I was saying, there's a reason I wanted to offer my assistance before you two attend our ball. Madam Winnerope is a bit stuffy, but she knows her way around damask and brocade. By the time she's finished with your dresses, Severus won't be able to take his eyes off you!"

Hopefully his hands are included in that equation, Hermione told herself.

"Yes, that as well," Narcissa added loftily, which caused Hermione's cheeks to further redden. "Your blush gives away your thoughts, dear. Don't worry: your secret is safe with me."

Their first evening at the Malfoys' chateau was, in Hermione's opinion, almost perfect. The small group shared a sumptuous dinner in a lavish dining room. There were a plethora of dishes to choose from, as well as puddings, and Hermione tried everything. That left her contemplating a nap when Severus asked if she wanted to go for a stroll in the gardens.

"Well this is romantic," Hermione murmured as they slowly ambled along the moonlit path. "I once thought that you enjoyed blasting rose bushes apart with your wand; never did I think you would fancy merely taking in their sight."

"I noticed that you appeared a bit sluggish after dinner and thought a bit of fresh air would allow you to sleep better."

Hermione had been walking while holding onto Severus' arm, and she gave him a slight squeeze.

"I know what will make me sleep better, and it's not a walk," she hinted suggestively. Severus' reaction was not what she hoped for; instead, the wizard smirked, yet continued walking. "It's horrible of you to laugh at my predicament, not to mention rude."

"I apologise," Severus replied, although his tone still held a trace of amusement. "Perhaps it will appease you to know that I find your enthusiasm refreshing."

"I'd rather be physically placated than mentally appeased, if you don't mind," Hermione grumbled. "I honestly don't understand why you're intent on torturing me."

Severus stopped walking, and gently pulled her into him until her nose was inches away from his chest. Cupping her face between both palms, he brushed his lips across Hermione's before kissing her hard.

"I promise it's not intentional." Hermione exhaled in frustration and he chuckled against her mouth. "Do you think you can hold off for just a little while longer?"

"It's not like I have a bloody option. If you want me to wait then maybe you should stop kissing me senseless. I can only take but so much, you know."

At that comment, Severus lowered his arms to his side and stepped back from Hermione. That made her complain, and she grabbed hold of his hand and laced her fingers tightly through his.

"Will you at least see me off to bed?" she asked.

"I will."

Their bedrooms were conveniently placed at the other end of the chateau, yet not far from one another. Upon arrival, Hermione felt a tad petulant that they hadn't been placed in the same room but did her best to hide her disappointment. Her bedroom was lovely; it was large, larger than her bedroom at home, yet decorated in a way that made things cosy and welcoming. Dark wooden furniture and deep golden tapestries were illuminated by a low burning hearth, but at the moment Hermione's focus was on the large, raised canopied bed in the centre of the room.

"Aren't you going to tuck me in?" Hermione asked teasingly after pushing open the bedroom door. Severus was stood in place at the threshold, peering down at Hermione's outstretched hand that beckoned him inside.

"Is that what they call it now?" he queried, smirking down at the impatient witch as she grabbed his wrist and urged him to move. "I am not spending the night, Hermione," he continued as she shut the door with a firm snap.

"As if I need reminding," she muttered under her breath, leading him further into her room. "I know. I just thought perhaps we could talk for a bit."

Hermione toed off her shoes, all the while keeping her eyes on Severus. He'd taken a seat in one of the plush, brocade-covered armchairs before the hearth, unblinkingly looking on as she proceeded to slip both hands beneath her dress and remove her tights.

"Gods, that feels so much better," she sighed, lifting one bare foot to scratch the back of her other leg. "Now, where were we?"

"I believe we were getting around to your true reason for yanking me into your boudoir."

Narrowing her eyes, Hermione padded across the room until she stood before the smirking black-haired wizard.

"I didn't yank; I used the gentlest of persuasion. And besides it isn't as if you put up a fight."

"I may be a lot of things, but daft isn't one of them," he conceded, extending one slim hand. Holding onto him, Hermione gathered the long skirt of her dress before sitting on Severus' lap. "So besides tucking you in, what else would you like? A bedtime story? A cup of hot cocoa? Or perhaps you would like me to check beneath your bed for any lingering monsters."

"Horrible man, you know full well what I want," Hermione replied huffily, running her hand over his clothed chest. Severus still had a penchant for all black, and if he wasn't in robes, then he wore high-collared jackets that drove her mad, purely because it kept her from seeing more of him.

"Wicked, impatient girl. We are not making love tonight."

Hermione had been in the middle of pressing feather light kisses to the underside of his jaw while running her fingers through his hair. But when she was reminded once again of what she could not yet have, she sat up and gave Severus a frosty glare.

"You know, I'm beginning to think you don't want me."

Severus remained straight faced and said nothing for a moment. Finally he pulled Hermione's hand down from his cheek and pressed it to the front of his trousers.

"He begs to differ."

The unmistakeable feel of a solid erection beneath her fingertips in fact let her know that she was wrong. Mild anger diffused by surfacing lust, she curved her palm over Severus' erect cock, desperate to take it out and see it up close and in person. Yet when her caresses became firmer, which unerringly caused the wizard beneath her to sharply exhale, her hand was pried away.

"Enough, Hermione."

"You are the worse tease ever!"

"Believe me, teasing you was my last intention," Severus chuckled. "You were the one who decided to keep going. I was merely attempting to prove a point."

"And what a point it is," Hermione snapped, using the hand that she'd just touched him with to clutch onto a handful of her dress. "First you make us sleep in separate rooms. Then you get me all worked up to push me away. If I explode then you'll be the one to blame."

"I'll hit you with a freezing charm should it come to that," Severus replied dismissively, tapping Hermione's side and waiting for her to stand up. "Come along; I promised to tuck you in."

Balking the entire way over to the bed, Hermione stomped up the three, short steps. She was in disbelief that she had become so aroused just from that fleeting caress, but it had been enough to set a low throbbing between her legs. Months of pent-up sexual tension, along with a seriously long bout of no sex... Any more provocation and she would surely flip over the small writing desk in the room.

Hermione had just reached behind her to unzip her dress, roughly tugging her wild curls out the way while reaching for the small tab, when a steady hand nudged hers out the way and smoothly brought down the zip.

"Thank you," she murmured, holding completely still until Severus was finished.

"You are welcome."

Severus' calm somehow managed to smooth over her fury, and Hermione felt shamed by her little outburst. Just as she was about to apologise, she felt her dress being slipped off her shoulders and pushed down the length of her body. Stepping foot by foot out of the garment when it was around her ankles, she paid little notice to it being tossed onto the chaise at the foot of the bed. Standing in nothing but her slip and knickers, Hermione half held her breath while waiting to see what was going to happen next.

A slim arm wound itself around her waist, followed by Severus' hand pushing her hair to one side. She was then pulled close until her back was to his chest; he was still hard, and his erection pressed through his trousers and against her behind. The fingers at her waist rubbed and teased; teeth and lips were suddenly at the back of her neck, biting lightly and sucking, and Hermione cried out as her entire body went rigid and then completely limp.

Was this it? Was she finally going to get what she had been waiting for all this time?

There was no time for further ruminating; Severus nudged her forward until her knees touched the mattress. Looking down, she saw the counterpane and sheets had already been turned down.

Clever man.

"Lie down," he ordered quietly.

Hermione turned around to face Severus. She was slightly disappointed to find that he was still dressed, but did as he told her. Perhaps he planned on undressing later; did that mean she should undress herself now?

"Leave that on," he replied, as if able to hear her very thoughts.

"No peeking into my thoughts!" Hermione whispered, making room for Severus by moving further to the middle of the bed.

"That was not Legilimency, that was merely reading your face."

"Well...no reading my face!"

"I'm going to end your whinging tonight one way or another."

"Try if you like, but if we don't do what I think we're going to do, then expect to hear a lot more of my whinging."

Raising a challenging eyebrow, Hermione fought to keep the gleeful grin off her face when Severus moved next to her on the bed.

"Don't ever think you can out-Slytherin a Slytherin," he whispered huskily into her ear. "Lest you forget who it is you're dealing with."

"Oh, Severus, let's not start with that. Don't forget you were the one who said I had some cunning in me. Anyway that's not important right now. What I'd like to know is why you are still dressed."

"Don't ask questions you don't want the answer to."

Needing to know what the hell that meant, Hermione opened her mouth when Severus covered it with his. As they kissed, the upper half of body moulded itself to hers, just like she had envisioned so many times before. Little breathless sighs came from her parted lips whenever his were busy with the delicate skin of her throat. A few times the bulge at the front of Severus' trousers grazed the apex of her thighs, but for the most part he was keeping that part of him away from her. Hermione attempted to draw him closer by slipping both legs around his, an effort that was easily thwarted. Her arms were even held down; Severus had slipped his hands into hers, palm to palm, leaving her limbs splayed across the soft sheets.

Hermione's slip was becoming hitched up further on her thighs each time she moved. That was fine with her, so long as it entailed Severus pulling that off and her knickers as well. However, there was no way he could undress her or himself so long as he was holding onto her wrists. Unfortunately, the moment she was drawn into an even deeper kiss, her hands were freed and she felt Severus shifting to the side. Thinking that he meant to finally undress her, Hermione opened her eyes, only to see him reaching for the counterpane and pulling it over her body with him on the other side.

"Severus!" Hermione yelped, sitting upright and causing the sheets to slip down to her lap.

"Goodnight, Hermione."

One final kiss was pressed to her lips, then forehead, before Severus stalked down the three steps and glided across the room.

"Goodnight, what do you mean, good night?! Severus? Severus!"

It was too late; he was out the door and already on the way to his bedroom.

Caught between a heightened state of arousal and fury, Hermione muttered angrily into her pillow for the next fifteen minutes until she managed to fall asleep.

Hermione felt marginally calmer the next morning when Severus came knocking at her bedroom door to walk her to breakfast. It was difficult to keep a straight face as she nibbled on her poached egg, as her mind kept flashing back to the night before. Severus, however, seemed to have no problem with eating his breakfast, and was doing so with relish. Lucius and Narcissa were also engaged with their meal and unaware of the furtive looks Hermione was shooting her beau, although there was a great chance both had already picked up on the strained silence and merely decided to not call attention to it.

Once breakfast was done, Narcissa whisked Hermione off to some other part of the chateau, claiming the need for a second opinion on the decorations.

"I have to be honest with you, Mrs. Malfoy, this really isn't my area of expertise," informed Hermione as they walked through the expansive halls.

"That's fine, dear. Actually, this was my way of getting you away from my nosy husband and your gentleman," admitted Narcissa. "I noticed things were a bit tense between you two over breakfast. Is everything all right?"

"If 'all right' means me being OK with being given a few measly kisses before bed and then sleeping alone, then yes, I suppose."

Narcissa demurely lifted one hand to her lips, covering a smile. "I suppose I would be a bit touchy if I were in your shoes," she managed to get out. "But I wouldn't fret long if I were you. Let's just say the dress I chose for you has magic of its own."

"Really?" asked Hermione dubiously.

"Oh yes, dear. Sometimes men need a little...push. I have no doubt that after tonight, you'll get just what you want."

Hermione's mind immediately went south as she took in Narcissa's words. The blond witch, on the other hand, was now gesturing towards the drapes or chandeliers, Hermione wasn't really focused on which, as she was too busy thinking about what that night would hold for her.

"Mrs. Malfoy wasn't joking," Hermione mumbled to herself as she looked at her appearance in the full-length mirror in her bedroom.

After her little chat with Narcissa, Hermione had returned to her room only to find a note left on her dresser which stated that her new wardrobe had been delivered. A gorgeous array of new dresses was found in the closet, among them her gown to wear to the masquerade ball. Fashioned in turquoise silk and lace, with delicate beading adorning the collar and bodice, Hermione was unable to contain her gasp of surprise. The neckline was low enough to show off her collarbone and just a hint of cleavage, yet not so low that it would make her feel self-conscious. Then there was the issue of her lingerie to contend with; not once had Hermione worn anything so... enticing was the only word that came to mind to describe it. Black silk stockings, a black satiny garter belt, a black corset and the tiniest of black lace knickers completed the ensemble. Hermione had seen pictures of a corset and garter outfit, but never did she have the inclination to wear anything like so. Yet Narcissa seemed to know what she was doing when she had the items sent along with her gown, therefore, she would wear them. Hermione then wondered if the older witch wore such garments beneath her prim robes, and if that was the reason for her husband's perpetual smug yet pleased countenance.

Ugh. She did not want to think about that.

An early supper was had by all hours later in anticipation of the ball. Severus was still annoyingly quiet, yet this time Hermione was able to rein in her temper, knowing what she had up her sleeve. After indulging in a long bath with fluffy, fragrant soap bubbles, she took her time in rubbing a sweet-scented body crème into every inch of her skin. Come hell or high water, she was going make sure that Severus made love to her that night if it was the last thing she did.

The pièce de résistance to her outfit was a carefully constructed mask that hid much of her face. It matched her gown and had plumage that went surprisingly well with her curly updo. In her opinion, the best bit of her outfit was the skirt of her ball gown. It was enchanted to remain full without the use of crinolines or petticoats, as Narcissa explained both felt dreadfully uncomfortably and tended to be a bit cumbersome. With the charmed dress standing out on its own accord and not touching her skin, Hermione's legs felt naked in spite of the silk stockings covering them.

At half past eight, Narcissa knocked on Hermione's door. Severus claimed that he would meet her at the ball, and to not wait for him. That left her feeling a bit slighted, but at least she had the excuse of walking into the ball with Narcissa.

"I knew that colour would become you," the older witch greeted when Hermione opened the door. "Madam Winnerope has talented fingers, doesn't she?"

"Yes," Hermione agreed, carefully walking alongside Narcissa, who was clad in an ornate deep green and grey gown that also exposed the tops of her slender shoulders. A coordinating mask was held by two fingers of her left hand as she steered Hermione down the hall. "Do you really think all this will make a difference with...you know...?"

"Hermione, believe me, Lucius isn't married to me purely for my good looks and charm," Narcissa replied loftily. "Well, there are charms and then there are charms, but you understand what I mean, don't you?"


The damnably knowing smile that Hermione was now familiar with reappeared on Narcissa's face.

"Tell me, is clairvoyance a trait that's synonymous with your lot?" asked Hermione.

"Well, we do have the ability of looking further than most people," Narcissa admitted, "but I daresay you possess the same ability, considering that you're with Severus. Not many would be able to look past his prior life, but you seem to have done so. Unless I'm wrong?"

"No," Hermione admitted quietly, briefly glancing at the full moon that shone through one of the high windows in the dimly lit corridor. "I refuse to hold his past against him; he is a good man, and I love him. He doesn't know that yet, but there's no way I would be acting this crazy if I didn't love him. Gods, I'm sure I sound completely daft."

"Not daft, just like a woman who knows what she wants," assured Narcissa. "Don't worry about it; everything is going to work out perfectly. Now, a few things before the ball—leave your mask on. Yes someone might be able to tell who you are, but we leave ours masks on purely for enjoyment. If someone should call you by name, play coy in lieu of saying yes or no. Also, should Lucius get a bit out of hand, you have my permission to pinch him. He's planning on bedevilling you purely for sport, but I assure you he's harmless. This is just his way of behaving like a sixteen-year-old. To tell you the truth, Hermione, sometimes I wonder how it is I'm able to put up with him."

"Because you love him," Hermione pointed out, smiling. "I've seen the way you two are with one another; both of you are utterly smitten, and I think it's wonderful."

"Yes, well..." Rare was the time that Narcissa was speechless, but Hermione's words seemed to have done the trick. She finally recovered with a smile. "I hope you enjoy yourself tonight."

Moments later, Narcissa slipped on her mask before gliding off to greet her many guests, and Hermione found herself standing alone at the entrance to the ballroom

Most of the time when Hermione attended a party, it was with a group of her usual friends and she stuck by them in the beginning. The present time was different as Narcissa had gone off, and Severus was nowhere to be found. Thankfully a server wearing a white jacket and gloves came around with a silver tray of champagne, and she immediately grabbed a flute, desperate to look as if she wasn't bored.

The ball was already in full swing; as expected, Hermione knew none of the guests. Earlier that day she briefly hoped that no one would single her out as a foreigner, considering that she had never been present for any of the previous parties thrown by the Malfoys. However, it only took a few minutes before Hermione realised that one, she was in a mask, and two, no one seemed to be concerned with the 'who are you and what do you do' bit. The entire room was too busy with drinking the unending supply of wine and champagne, dancing, and nibbling on the trays of delectable nibbles that were being circulated, and laughing and chatting with one another.

Too nervous to eat anything and too keyed up because she still hadn't set on eyes on Severus, Hermione kept to one corner of the room, watching the other party-goers. Whenever the tall doors to the ballroom opened, her eyes immediately swung in its direction.

Pitiful, Hermione. Really, you are pitiful.

Another white-jacketed waiter came by to collect her empty flute, replacing it with a full one. Hermione was in the middle of berating herself about her Pavlovian response to the ballroom door while mournfully starting on her second flute of champagne when a brash yet charming wizard waltzed in her direction and towered over her. He was clad in a burgundy brocade jacket and a hideous mask with a grotesque nose, and there was a cat-that-ate-the-canary grin on his face as he plucked the flute from her hand, grabbed hold of her and tugged her from her hidey hole.

"You are entirely too beautiful to remain in the corner and play the wallflower," he purred, whisking her onto the dance floor and gracefully spinning her around.

"Thank you," Hermione averred, frowning beneath her mask and wondering what she had done to warrant such attention. The other dancers had immediately given them wide berth when they moved further onto the floor, a few pausing completely to watch the two.

"I do hope you haven't attended this soiree on your own," the grinning, hideous mask-wearer told her in a slightly familiar lilting voice. "'Tis unseemly to think that another man would leave you unaccompanied and vulnerable to the lurking wolves. Or perhaps he's around and is gaining enjoyment from the other vultures drinking you in by sight alone."

"I don't know how much champagne you've had, but I know that no one else is breaking their neck to peek in my direction," Hermione told him, putting more focus into the next spin she was being guided into.

"Hmm, if you choose to believe that," the wizard replied.

At first, Hermione was positively sure she knew who she was dancing with. A glimmer of doubt pierced her sureness, as this man's mask seemed to have somehow altered his voice. She would have continued to try and suss out his identity, but he was silent for the remainder of their dance. Just as the orchestra was starting up a new song, her dance partner stopped and peered at something over her shoulder.

"Ah, excuse me while I retract my former statement," he said loftily. "Thank you for the dance."

Lifting Hermione's gloved hand to his lips, he pressed a kiss to her knuckles. He then turned on his heel and gave a curt nod to the person that had caught his attention. Hermione swore that she heard a muffled guffaw just as he walked off; it was that moment when she caught a glimpse of pale, pale blond hair that had been tied into a queue with a black ribbon, disappearing into the crowd.

Hermione wondered who sent Lucius Malfoy, who glided rather than scampered, off in the opposite direction. A second later her unspoken question was answered, and her new dance partner stepped in front of her. Like Lucius, he wore a mask that concealed the majority of his features, only he also wore a black top hat. The rest of his body was covered in an immaculate black tuxedo; a bit of white shirt peeked from beneath his black brocade vest, and right above his collar was a sliver of smooth, pale skin. Whatever fragrance this man wore, Hermione deduced that it must have been spiked with pheromones or lust potion, because the sweet, woodsy scent wafting from his throat immediately left her heady.

The unspeakable happened next; the man slipped one arm around her, as if he had done so a multitude of times before, and rested a hand on the bare skin of her upper back. His other hand caught hers and even though the music was mid-song, he immediately caught the rhythm of the violins and led her into a waltz.

One of Hermione's favourite guilty-indulgence films was Labyrinth; she had watched it so many times that many parts had been memorised. The scene that now came to mind was Sarah finding Jareth at the ball. The young girl was obviously out of her depths, and had been at a loss for words with Jareth finally plucked her from the crowd and swept her off her feet. Right now, Hermione told herself that she was Sarah (minus the annoying, whinging, spoilt-brat bits), because the more she danced with this enchanting stranger, the further she felt herself falling in. Each of his movements were fluid, seductive even, as if he was intentionally trying to woo her merely by his dance prowess. Yes, there were a slew of men who were just as dapper in the room. Outside of their fancy robes and tuxedos, they might have been plain as a dry piece of toast, but dressing up to the nines tended to put even the most ordinary into a favourable light. Regardless, something told her that this man, whoever he was, was nothing like the other men in the room.

They danced for three songs. A few times his lips came precariously close to hers, and Hermione was tempted to lean in closer. Yet each time when she was close enough to practically breathe in his air, she was turned into a spin. Perhaps this was some sort of unconventional, mental foreplay and she was simply unaware.

Whatever his method was meant to be, it was working.

Hermione truly had no idea who she was dancing with. She still had no idea where Severus was, but what she did know was that she wished for this stranger to whisk her off to some unoccupied area of the chateau where they could perhaps remove one another's masks. But how would she go about discreetly informing him of her desires? Even if she were to be forthright, there was the risk of appearing hoyden, which would surely be frowned upon.

Oh...sod it! Hermione told herself. Life is short, and I may as well enjoy myself.

When the song finally ended, Hermione politely excused herself, exclaiming the need for a bit of fresh air. Her silent dance partner merely tipped his hat and kissed her hand before walking away. Cheeks burning and heart racing, Hermione carefully wove her way through the throngs of partygoers, taking extra care to notice those who were holding glasses filled with liquid.

It took a minute of roaming the length of the ballroom, and Hermione was relieved to find a set of double doors that had been hidden behind a large tapestry. An odd place for such a piece to be hung, but at the moment the only thing she cared about was clearing her head.

After stepping out into the bracing night air, Hermione inhaled deeply a few times while basking in the cool breeze that was a boon to her sweat-dampened skin. The temperature outside was perfect, and Hermione decided to stay on the balcony for a little while longer, knowing that her absence would go unnoticed. She crossed over to the curved balustrade surrounding the balcony, peering down into the garden where she and Severus had taken a walk the night before. The white rose bushes looked preternatural and seemed to glow beneath the light of the full moon, and Hermione found herself captivated.

Suddenly, she knew that she wasn't alone. Even if she hadn't heard the quiet snap of the door being shut or the almost completely silent footsteps, there was an abrupt charge to the night air that could not be ignored.

"Beautiful," said the voice, which was very close to her ear. Strange; she knew the person was walking over, but she didn't realise just how near they were to her.

"Yes, they are," replied Hermione, staring at the roses once more. "Whenever I think about starting a garden of my own, I remember that I have an inclination to kill plants and then the whim passes."

"Hmm, I see. Although I didn't mean the roses."

"Oh? What did you mean?"

Holding her breath as she waited for an answer, Hermione exhaled shakily when a strong, sinewy arm encircled her waist and pulled her against a firm, jacketed chest.

"I must confess, I am surprised to find you out here on your own. Shouldn't you have a slew of suitors crumpled at your feet, ready to pander to your every whim and desire?"

"If you'd like the truth, there's only one man I'd like to pander to my every whim and desire," Hermione admitted, feeling her breath coming short as the mystery man held her tighter. His breath was warm at the back of her neck, and it sent chills tumbling down her spine.

"Then why, pray tell, is he not out here with you?"

Long fingers were creeping along the edge of her bodice, and one fingertip swept over the small, rounded swell of her left breast. Hermione knew that she was completely mental for allowing a total stranger to touch her in such an intimate manner, but his caress was so tempting and left her aroused beyond belief that she found it difficult to make him stop.

"I suppose he has some other agenda," she blurted out, releasing an unwilling moan when his fingers slipped beneath her bodice, into her corset, and found the fleshy mound of breast along with a small erect nipple.

"Judging from the way you keep pushing your lovely little arse into my cock, I'd venture that your gentleman has yet to slake your thirst," the man suggestively whispered, nuzzling the curve of her neck with his nose before gently capturing her earlobe between his teeth. That sent another shudder down Hermione's spine, causing her back to arch sharply.

"That's none of your business," Hermione hissed, letting out another unwilling moan when a set of teeth delicately sank into the sensitive side of her neck. "Oh god, your hands feel amazing, don't stop..."

"Let me give you what you need," the man urged in a deep, lascivious tone, pulling his hand from her corset and running his palm across her sternum. "No one ever need know...it will remain between you, me, the roses, and this balcony. I promise."

"But we barely know one another," Hermione unconvincingly protested. Mystery man's hand delved further south and was now cupping her sex through her gown, the heel of his palm unerringly massaging her clitoris. Hermione might have been touted as sensible, but right now her hormones were racing and there was no way she could turn away from what was about to happen.

"Allow me to please you," the man continued. "I wager my entire life savings that your quim is hot and ready for me; ready to be touch, stroked, and licked until your legs tremble; ready for me to slide my cock deep inside and fuck you until you forget your name. Tell me you don't want that and I'll leave you alone."

"Please...oh please..." Hermione begged, feeling as if she could climax by his words alone. Her breath was hard and fast now, and she grabbed onto the wrist that was splayed across her waist, digging her fingers into his sleeve.

"Is that a yes? Say 'yes, I want you' and you shall have it all."

"Yes, I want you."

Mystery man wasted no time; he pressed Hermione's hands to the balustrade, beckoning her to hold on. He then stooped down behind her, slipping both hands beneath the slippery, voluminous folds of her dress. With the absence of traditional undergarments, her knickers were easily found. Slightly callused fingertips grazed her skin as they hooked beneath the elastic and slowly, her knickers were lowered down her thighs.

" Right foot," he directed, plucking them from each ankle. "Now the left. And I'll hold onto these, if you don't mind."

"OK," Hermione told him, sure that he'd just slipped her black lacy knickers into his pocket.

"Now...let me see if my theory is correct."

A pair of strong, warm hands encircled both ankles before smoothing up her calves. When the man had his front pressed against her back once more, Hermione let out a deep sigh when the skirt of her dress was hiked up high on both thighs. One hand then easily manoeuvred beneath her garter belt and stroked her naked sex, gripping with just enough pressure to make her tremble.

"Oh yes, my darling, you are so very wet for me," he purred, delicately slipping one finger between her folds and landing right on her tender clitoris. "So very wet; I wager my cock would slide into you like a warm knife into butter. I could take you here and now and undoubtedly you'd leave my trousers drenched in your sweet juices. Tell me I'm wrong."

"You're not," Hermione moaned, greedily pushing her hips back, desperate for him to touch her clitoris again. "Harder, touch me harder..."

Two adroit fingers traced small circles around her clit, in turn causing Hermione to grip the marble balustrade. It was hard enough maintaining balance on the two skinny heels attached to her shoes, but when coupled with a man who clearly knew his way around her bits...Hermione knew it wouldn't be long because she took off like a rocket.

No matter how hard she tried to convince herself that letting a virtual stranger shove his hand up her dress to touch her so intimately was unsavoury, not to mention horrible when thinking about Severus, Hermione was too aroused and too far gone to tell the man to desist. A few more turns of his fingertip around her clit and her lower half exploded into fierce, sweet spasms that nearly made her collapse.

Hermione had to bite the inside of her cheek to keep from screaming outright. Never could she remember coming so hard or so swiftly, be it by her hand or another's. But fact remained—whoever this person was, they knew what they were doing.

"I love the way you tremble in my arms, knowing that my hand brought you to climax," he murmured, planting his lips over the back of her neck and swiping his tongue over her flesh. "May I make love to you? I promise you will not regret it."

"You want to make love to me even though you barely know me?"

Her question was answered by a sinister chuckle. "But what if someone comes out here?" Hermione pressed, secretly telling herself that her excuse sounded utterly flimsy.

"I assure you, no one will disrupt us, although I should warn you to keep the noise to a minimum," the man told her. "Is that a yes?"

Hermione paused for the briefest of seconds before emphatically nodded her head.

There was a slight flurry of activity ensuing behind her. Moments later, Hermione felt her dress being bunched into a tight fist. Holding tightly onto the balustrade once more, she bent over and inhaled softly when the feel of a slightly damp, warm erect cock grazed her behind. There were a few strokes against her core, merely an attempt to collect moisture, followed by the large mushroom tip spearing her still throbbing folds, easily seeking her sopping entrance and pressing against her intimate flesh. Another sharper inhale of hers became lost to the night as that rigid cock moved forward, spearing her tender channel.

Oh fuck, it felt so good to be penetrated. The head of the man's cock; the increasing width of his shaft the further he slid into her: Hermione was able to feel every bit of him as he slid into her balls deep. Just as he was able to go no further, he gripped onto her hips and slowly pulled back, only to slowly slide back into place.

Each carefully measured thrust took Hermione's breath away. Slowly, so very slowly he moved, maintaining the same easy pace, allowing his balls to press tightly against her cleft and clitoris with every stroke. At first Hermione tried to contain her outcries, biting on her bottom lip and digging her fingers into the unyielding marble. Eventually her efforts proved fruitless, and little cries began spilling from her lips as her passion escalated.

"Yes...yes..." she quietly moaned over and over, hoping no one would hear her. There was no doubt about it: this was the shagging of her life, and Hermione could not remember being turned on as much as she was at the moment. It was a miracle that she hadn't come already; the moment mystery man pushed his way into her, her body welcomed that delicious pressure, and her walls tightened around him on their own accord.

Chances were Hermione would have experienced release with half a dozen thrusts; it had been far too long since she'd been intimate with another. Then there was the long session of mental foreplay she'd had to endure at Severus' behest. Yet whenever she was on the verge of orgasm, the man would slow down, bringing her right back to the cusp, and it left her trembling from head to toe with need. Incomprehensible babble soon escaped her lips, although Hermione was so incoherent with need that she noticed little else.

Each calculated, passionate thrust was enough to render her senseless, and before Hermione could gather her bearings to remember where she was, a strong orgasm slammed into her, leaving her incapable of all thought. Party attendees might have been lingering in the garden; Lucius and Narcissa could have wandered out to the balcony and taken a seat to feast their eyes on the festivities, but Hermione was so far gone that she almost wouldn't have cared. The only thing she could focus on was the intense shivering that had taken over her body, along with the strong, masculine grip upon her form and the velvety voice at her ear, urging her on. Her spindly heels scraped the ground as she struggled to keep balanced; a mingling of their juices coated the insides of both thighs, trickling down and most likely permanently ruining the expensive silk stockings. None of that mattered. The only important thing was the sweet, lingering waves of release that left her weak and swooning in the stranger's arms.

"Wicked lass," he breathed heavily into her hair while idly stroking her hip. "You've made me come too fast. I do hope you allow me to make up for it."

Hermione chuckled weakly. "So long as you allow me a moment to sit down first. I can't feel my toes, or my legs for that matter."

After removing his weight from hers, the man arranged Hermione's dress back over her thighs. There was a fainting sofa a few steps away, and he led her by the hand over to it.

"Do you think anyone's noticed that we've gone missing?" she asked as he began smoothing and tucking a few stray curls back into her ornate style.

"They're all most likely so deep into their cups they won't know their own names," he assured, now readjusting his top hat and mask. "I confess to having a more pressing question."


"Your bedroom or mine?"

That decision was easy for Hermione to make.


"Very well. I'll give you a head start. I believe you are familiar with that hideous painting that is supposed to resemble a bevy of swans."

"It is hideous, isn't it?" Hermione giggled, remembering her horror when she first came across the painting. "Was the painter drunk or what?"

A stoic smile showed beneath the man's mask. He pressed one lingering kiss upon Hermione's lips, then her hand, before she rose from the sofa and slid through the balcony doors and back into the busy ballroom. She had walked all of five paces when a recognisable lilting voice was heard next to her ear.

"Ah, Miss Granger, lovely to see you again," the wizard drawled. "I notice you were gone for some time. Is everything in here not to your liking? Or perhaps you sought further enjoyment elsewhere?"

"Oh, Lucius, leave her alone!"

It was too late, for Hermione's cheeks were already suffused with colour at Lucius' suggestions. She peered at Narcissa, who was now slipping her arm through her husband's, attempting to draw him in the other direction.

"Enjoy the rest of your evening, Hermione," Narcissa told her. "We'll see you two tomorrow."

Oh hell. Was Narcissa also in the know?

Wait a minute, was that a wink?

Yes, she was definitely in the know. What else would that 'you two' remark explain?

That's what you get for keeping company with a bunch of Slytherins!

Hermione could not get away fast enough. Her heels tapped a brisk rhythm as she hurried out the ballroom and into the empty corridor, eager to make it to the ugly swan painting. Whilst waiting for her partner to show up, she took in the rest of the artwork that was hung every few steps, frowning at nearly every piece. The Malfoys were all right, that was certain. They also knew how to throw one hell of a party, but as for their tastes in art? Abysmal.

"Arse-ugly and ostentatious, aren't they all?"

"You took the words right from my mouth. So...your bedroom, yes?"

"Yes, if you haven't changed your mind."

Turning around, Hermione found her gentleman friend, still wearing his mask and proffering his right arm. Small talk was made as they strode calmly to the other end of the chateau. When they reached his bedroom, the man politely held the door open for Hermione, waiting for her to walk inside.

"Would you like anything?" he inquired, pulling off his top hat and setting in on a table. "Water? Wine?"

"No, I'm fine. Thank you."

Hermione had no idea why she suddenly felt nervous. They'd already had sex, and really, that reason in itself was enough for her to not be shy. It soon dawned on her that the butterflies in her stomach were a mixture of not only bashfulness, but also anxiety. Anxious to snatch off her mask, her dress, and her corset which suddenly seemed too tight. Anxious to rid this tall, dark stranger of his suit and mask, and feel his naked skin upon hers.

"Has anyone ever told you that you have a decipherable face?"

"Yes, actually," answered Hermione. "Just yesterday, if you must know. Why, what does my face say now?"

Mystery man stood in the centre of the lavish bedroom, gazing into the smouldering fireplace to his right. Finally he focused his attention on Hermione, and his lips were curved into a half smile.

"Many, many things," he replied, shrugging out of his black jacket and setting it aside. "I see a woman who knows what she wants; one who will not stop until she gets it."

Long, pale fingers were now undoing the row of buttons lining the front of his vest.

"I see fire...passion...and a deep hunger that you only want one person to fulfil."

His vest was off and lying atop his jacket. The man now rolled the sleeves of his crisp, white shirt to his elbows, while walking over to her.

"So, now that you're here, are you going to take what you want?"

That question was asked with him standing in front of her, his lips inches from hers. He never got a verbal answer, because Hermione threw both arms around his neck and drew him lower, sealing her mouth over his.

It was awkward moving to the bed while still wearing the floaty, slippery dress, as well as the pair ridiculously of high heels. At the same time, she did not want to stop their kiss, but her partner seemed to have a better grip on multitasking. It only took him a second to bend down and remove her shoes, leaving them on their sides in the middle of the bedroom floor. Hermione was then swiftly lifted from her feet and rushed over to a large four-poster bed with lush, velvet bed hangings.

"I still have your knickers in my pocket," she was reminded as the man set her atop the counterpane.

"You can keep them if you like," Hermione told him, turning over onto her stomach and allowing him to unfasten the long row of pearl buttons on her dress.

"I would use magic, however..." he trailed off, even though his fingers were nimble and soon touching her lower back. "I prefer taking my time this go around."

"I don't mind."

Her corset was slowly untied in the same fashion, and that along with her dress was slipped down her body and flung into an armchair.

"Turn over for me."

His words sounded like an inflection, yet Hermione did as she was asked. The man started out with cupping her right foot between both hands, his strong fingers pressing deliciously into the aching sole of her foot; heaven help her, if his fingers could do that to her foot, she longed to find out what more he could do to the rest of her. The ache was soon massaged out of her left foot, and once he was done, Hermione felt completely boneless.

"These are...very nice," she heard him murmur appreciatively, tracing one finger over her silk stocking covered knee. "What a quandary; should I leave these on or off?"

"Whatever you prefer."

"Hmm. On it is."

If Hermione had been in a joking mood, she would have asked if he had some sort of silk stocking fetish. His hands roamed over every inch of her legs, gripping, squeezing, caressing, never moving higher than her thighs, until she was wrought with need. Just as she arched further into his touch, one large, warm hand smoothed over the soft skin of her belly, sometimes running over the garter belt that was still around her waist. This was undeniably the sweetest form of torture, and Hermione was sure that it was just the beginning.

Her breasts were soon handled in a way that she never knew she liked; cupped in his palms, with both nipples being gently pinched at the same time. Those little pinches sent a jolt between her legs, and Hermione had no idea that she clutching onto the man's back, attempting to grind herself against him.

"I see you like having your tits played with. And what pretty tits you have. I could lie here all day and suck on your rosy little nipples."

"Oh hell, do it," Hermione groaned, blindly reaching for his head and urging him towards her breast. Her entire body gave a sharp jolt at that first touch of his warm, wet tongue on her sensitised flesh. Just before moving to the other breast, he paused to lay a trail of kisses along her throat and collarbone. They both still wore their masks, which most likely looked silly, but Hermione found herself in no position to complain. She was then treated to one more kiss before his mouth moved lower.

"You are intoxicating," he murmured as his burning lips moved across her stomach. "Utterly and thoroughly intoxicating."

Hermione was too on edge to respond. However, she did wonder why she was unable to feel the man's mask against her skin. A quick glance down showed that he had removed his mask some time in between kissing her and travelling down the length of his body. The mask now lay next to her outstretched hand, and the only thing she could see was the top of the man's black-haired head and faint traces of blue running throughout the length of his pale, wiry forearms that rest to either side of her body.

One leg was drawn over his shoulders, and the other bent at an angle that left her completely exposed. Soft hair touched her inner thigh, and she knew that he was resting his head against her leg.

"I've been wondering what you taste like for the longest." One digit traced along her outer lips, carefully prying her delicate flesh apart and briefly touching her entrance to collect a bit of moisture. "Sweet; that much I do know. I might have tasted you on my fingers when we were on the balcony. Now, I'd rather drink directly from the source."

Before Hermione could gather her thoughts, his weight shifted further down on the bed. Two fingers separated her nether folds, and a tongue that felt almost searing came down and licked her from hole to clit. A short scream erupted from her chest as she nearly jumped out her skin; none of that made the man stop. In fact, it spurred him on, because all of a sudden his mouth was everywhere. His tongue dipped inside her snug entrance, before gliding up to lap and swirl around her clitoris. He even caught her labia between his lips and gave a light tug, and Hermione was surprised to feel a rush of wetness seeping from her and trickling down the tight, trembling cleft of her arse.

One finger sank into her rippling channel, and Hermione was barely able to suppress her moans when another was pressed inside. She needed to come so badly that her walls were squeezed tightly around him. Even with her gripping him, his hand continued a rhythm that threatened to leave her screaming. Every bit of her felt like one big nerve centre being continuously stroked and prodded, sending her higher and higher with each push. Finally she was no longer able to handle the combination of the flickering tongue and pistoning fingers, and Hermione never noticed her hand creeping down to grab onto a fistful of jet black hair. Her breathing was hard and fast; then she forgot how to breathe as her orgasm came crashing down upon her. A feral scream that hurt her own ears tore from her lips as her world shattered; her hand wound tightly in the man's hair, as she was intent on riding his face until the blissful waves of her orgasm subsided.

Hermione had no idea how long it lasted, but gradually she was able to breathe again. Now she realised that she had been gripping onto the poor man's head, most likely giving him a headache.

"Sorry," she apologised in a weak voice, curving her hand over his cheek.

"Don't be sorry," he replied, turning his head and pressing a kiss into her palm. "I don't mind going bald for the sake of your pleasure."

"You really are a charm, do you know that?"

"A charm. Never heard that one before. Slide up a little more, I don't want you to fall off the bed."

Raising herself on both elbows, Hermione scooted back until her head was touching the pillows. She continued watching her bed partner who was looking down, focused on removing his white shirt and trousers. When he was finally lying next to her, wearing nothing but a smug grin, he removed her stockings and garter belt, kissing his way along each leg as it became revealed.

"I think I can take this off now," he said, covering her body with his and using one finger to catch the bottom edge of her mask.

"Yeah, I think you're right."

With all the beading and plumage, the mask had to be carefully removed so as to not snag Hermione's hair.

"That's much better," she sighed, inhaling deeply. "Now, let's finish what we started on that balcony."

Their first session of lovemaking had been slow, almost calculated, and while they had both found release, it also left them wanting. However, this one was frantic just as much as it was passionate. Hermione held onto him as tightly as he held onto her. Each time she reached climax, her arms and legs ensnared him, but all that did was allow him to flip over onto his back, slip his arms around Hermione's waist and continue thrusting up into her.

Never in her life could Hermione remember having sex in so many positions, not to mention coming hard so many times. Their last position found them lying sideways and facing one another, Hermione's leg securely held back by one arm. The tip of his cock tapped her g-spot perfectly, almost too perfectly, with each thrust. Her throat was raw from crying out so many times, and one more scream would surely leave her unable to speak the next day. Instead she bit down hard on her bottom lip, and her final orgasm took the form of tremors that left her shuddering from head to toe.

"Severus?" she asked drowsily when they were done. The sheets were tangled, their legs were still tangled together, and a good portion of the mattress was damp. Severus used his wand to dry the damp spot, as well as fix the mangled bedding, all without them having to move. Hermione was now draped over him, using his chest as her pillow. She could hear his heart still beating fiercely against his chest, but the longer they lay together, the slower it became. While she ran her fingertips ran over his narrow flank, his thumb traced small circles into her bare shoulder.


"Are we going to share a bedroom for the rest of our trip? Or am I going to be sent back to my room?"

Severus chuckled and pressed a kiss into the top of her hair.

"Of course we're going to share a bedroom—and bed. Narcissa only gave you your own room to be polite. I'm sure she knew that we would be sleeping together."

"No idea how she would prophesise that," Hermione mumbled into his chest. "It's not as if we were sleeping together before. It was always 'no, Hermione,' 'not yet, Hermione'."

"Funny how that sounds like a complaint, even as you lay in my arms, purring like a cream-fed cat on its way to sleep."

"Honestly, do you really blame me for wanting to be in your arms?" she asked, nuzzling her face against him. "I just don't understand why you made me wait for so long."

"If you must know, I had a short holiday planned for us. I thought our first time together should be made memorable; I even asked that idiot friend of mine for suggestions, as this is not my area of expertise, and next thing I know, he's going on about us visiting the chateau."

"I think we were both had by Lucius and Narcissa. She all but made it her goal to help me capture your attention."

"I would say it worked, although you've had my attention for quite some time. But you did look lovely tonight."

"Thanks; so did you. But good heavens, Severus, I love you but you've left me knackered with your kinky 'dark stranger on a balcony' routine, not to mention the past hour. I can't stay awake another minute."

"You already know I love you, so I won't take offence if you snore like a grizzly bear. Now go to sleep."

There were a million things that ran though Hermione's head when she heard Severus saying that he loved her. She also wanted to playfully kick him for that snoring remark. She did not snore. Well, maybe only sometimes. However, not a single word passed her lips when his arms tightened around her, and almost immediately, Hermione drifted off to sleep.