Hermione let out a long breath she didn't know she'd been holding. Good, it was good that she would stay friends with him. Good...

For the first time, she saw the wild brilliance of the atrium, a lit with myriad Yule fires. A pale smoke wreathed around them, and the scurrying people determined to get home. Wands waved, the glitter of magic fighting back the pall…but she could breathe. Quite easily.

She looked up at Severus. Somewhere in the back of her brain, she'd heard a spell. His spell. A charm she didn't recognise. And as others floundered and choked, they were all calm and ease. Oh, he was a deliciously clever wizard. "Your spell?"

He arched a dark eyebrow, a spark of humour in his black gaze. "You …noticed." A smile was a shadow on his lips. "Spiritus liquet. Something of my own invention. The bubble-head charm…obscures too much. With this spell, I can breathe through noxious fumes –or smoke— and still be fully aware."

She couldn't help herself, she beamed up at him, and didn't care whether the smoke hid her full-on mooncalf expression. "You're quite brilliant."

He smirked down at her. "I know."

She grinned and squeezed his arm. "Modest too."

"Of course."

They joined the snaking queue to the nearest floo and quickly found themselves stepping out into Hermione's morning room. Gret scurried over, his swift magic clearing away soot and ash and the lingering woody scent of the Yule Fires.

"Lunch, Master and Miss. Then you must rest. With the First Night, you'll be up till dawn."

And they ate, something light and delicious and all too soon the clock was swinging around to two. And they would need to find some sleep, though Hermione was twisted tight with nerves and worry…and the need to say more. To explain. For him to know that she wasn't giving any of this up lightly. Not for a heartbeat.

Severus offered his hand and her fingers slipped into his. "I believe that we should add another layer of formality."

He brushed his lips across her knuckles, his dark eyes shining and wicked, and he was aware in that moment, she would agree to anything. Anything.

"You do me the privilege to grace my bed. It will be my honour to escort you there and to…prepare you for bed. "

Hermione pressed her fingers to her chest, her face hot. His manners, his words, his exquisite voice. "You're ruining me!" And he was. No wizard could compare to him.

He smirked. "I should hope so."

Severus drew her from morning room and up the stairs to his—their?—bedroom.

"And what does preparing me involve?"

"You will perform your ablutions…then I will undress you. Slowly. Carefully." An eyebrow rose in a perfect arch. "There maybe kissing involved. With a good chance of licking. And the occasional…bite."

His teeth snapped together over the word and Hermione couldn't stop the grin that escaped her. "And will this new rite be reciprocal?"

He opened the door the bedroom and waved her through. "If you wish."

"Oh, I do wish." And she smirked at him, slipped into the bathroom and closed the door.

Severus scrubbed his hand over his face. He was meant to be preparing her for her life after him. For the wizard who would replace him in her affections and her bed. But, here he was, ruining her. And she was right. He should ease back…but, fuck-it-all, to be so easy with a witch. To tease and to play. It was an unexpected joy.

And one he didn't want to give up. Not at all. Friends. They would be friends after. The word was...insipid. Hollow.

Was it the power of the objects that bound them that churned his heart and mind? His Uncle had worn the Ring for years, bedding one virgin wizard after another. Had he been caught in this…thrall and unwilling to let it go?

Dear Merlin, would he be the same? Severus gut cramped at the thought.


Hermione stood in the doorway of the bathroom, her face shining from soap and water and her wild hair in a bedtime plait. Her lips were pinched together and there was a fleck of toothpaste on her chin.

Ah, his little witch, had been thinking as she brushed and scubbed. His chest tightened. Had she changed her mind about even remaining...friends?

Hermione's hand stilled on her blouse button and she pulled in a breath, wrapping courage around her heart. Severus would undress her. And she wanted that. His attention. His touch.

She'd stared at her face in the brightly mirror, facing the fierce need she had for this wizard. Her wizard. And she knew in that moment, that he had to know how she felt. It had to be spoken aloud. And now. Not in the heat of skin against skin, where nothing could truly be trusted. Not under the power of this distracting magic.

She pulled in a breath and twitched a smile. "I meant what I said before. I want to be your friend, after. If you'll allow it. I know," she winced and her hands tightened, until she willed them loose, "I know that this feeling, this fire, between us is…all consuming." She shrugged and met his dark gaze. Warm and oddly patient. "It has to be. And…yet I would like it to be…real. And I think, I will…regret that when it ends, it will seem as if we were both in a dream."

Her gaze dipped away as she pulled out and exposed the truth that had eaten away at her. "I want —would've wanted— for you to be my first…and last."

"My brave Gryffindor."

Strong arms swept around her. Her eyes closed, pain shuddering through her as he pressed a kiss to her brushed hair. "This feeling, Hermione. It's fire, as you say. And for it to end…" He pulled her tight to him. "I have read that those who wear the Ring chase after this feeling, taking it again and again like an addiction."

Hermione's heart turned over. Was that what he would do? Would she have to see him with other young witches? See them experience his perfect manners and fierce attention, and know that they found so much pleasure at his hands and mouth and-

"I will not."

Severus pressed a kiss to her forehead, slow and sure.

"You will never see me wear the Ring for anyone else, I promise you this, Hermione."

She sought his mouth, rising up on her toes, her fingers in his black hair to kiss him. Hard and deep, the fierce magic that bound them demanding it. And she didn't care that it was…was compelled. It was right. It was needed. She –and it— demanded to be satisfied.

Severus' hands were on her backside, and a fierce heartbeat later, she was up, their mouths level and her thighs around his waist. He smirked up at her. "I was a dunderhead to have us wait till New Year, but I will, we will.

"It will be all the sweeter. When I take you again and again, through the night…and the day. And so many days after. But…" He drew a soft kiss from her mouth, his black gaze hot and everything wicked. "In the time between, I will map every inch of you with my mouth, my fingers, my naked skin hot against yours. And you will scream out your pleasure, my little witch. This might be a dream, but it will be one you never forget."

Hermione groaned caught in the velvet sin of his voice, of the promise there of pleasure. Her brain caught up with his words. Damn him, he was still making her wait. "You're an evil, evil man."

His lips twitched. "We have already established this." He turned her towards the bed. "And to show you yet more of my evil ways, now we will sleep."

"Sleep?" It was a squawk and mortifying heat flooded Hermione.

"As Gret reminded us, the first night of Yule carries on till dawn. We need to rest. We cannot…slope away from this event."

Hermione sighed. He was right. She knew that, but…to lose the afternoon to pleasure was such a temptation. "Naked sleep? I was promised a slow undressing."

Severus' soft laughter warmed through her and a whispered divesto yanked another surprised squeak from her. Every inch of her was bare and pressed up against every hot and delicious bare inch of him. Oh, this was worth the change in his little ritual. So… The hard length of his cock teased her sex, the living pulse of it, so close…

He frowned, his expression tight. "No wriggling."

It was her turn to smirk and she gave him back his own arching eyebrow. "Can I not be evil too?"

"Careful, Hermione, grow too wicked and someone will try to drop a house on you."

She snorted her laughter and was more than happy to fall into bed with him. What was left of the afternoon light from the magical windows, was a bright gleam in his eyes, and gilded his skin. She snuggled close, wanting not even a whisper of air between them and drew her thumb under his bottom lip. He truly was…lovely. "Whatever happens after, Severus Snape, I will treasure this time, and you. Always."

"Always," Severus murmured and tucked her against his body, wrapping himself around her. "Sleep now. And tonight we will be magnificent."

Hermione smiled and pressed her ear to his chest, the solid and steady thump of his heart beating almost with her own. Bliss. She was safe and protected and the ease of it was pulling her under. "Of course we will be. We're…us."

"I am a bad influence."

His rich voice was a smooth rumble and she sighed. "Thoroughly so."


"And will I be debauched at dawn? I have been promised, mapping mouths and fingers, after all."

His lips brushed her temple. "Oh, thoroughly so, my little witch."

Hermione curved a smile against his skin. The prick of loss was a distant pain with him right there, wrapped around her. She had the moment, his heat, his skin, his biting words. She had them now.

It was not a dream. Not yet.

No, fuck it, she was Hermione bloody Granger. She would find a way to keep him.