Just a little smidge of an update...


Gret twitched at the line of Hermione's gown and stepped back, his long fingers spread wide with satisfaction. He grinned at her, all sharp teeth and glowing eyes. "The finest Ribbon-wearer this night."

Hermione frowned at him. "There's another?"

"A Miss Wittahere." Severus leant against the doorframe of her bedroom, a lithe reflection in her cheval mirror. "She took the ribbon three days ago, I believe."

"Alicia Wittahere? Hufflepuff?"

"Indeed."

The witch that had asked Harry to the Yule Ball, so long ago now it seemed. Perhaps she craved attention, and now, well, now she'd have it in spades. And there was a hint of relief that at least a fraction would be taken away from them. A touch. They were still them, after all.

"Am I declared ready?" Hermione looked to Gret and then grinned at Severus in the mirror. That was met with the perfect arch of his eyebrow and her heart pattered. She wanted this wizard in her life. And she would have him—

"Magnificent." It was a murmur of velvet and sin and Hermione's cheeks pinked.

"Thank you, Severus. And you look very…dapper."

Both eyebrows went up with that word and he snorted. He rubbed his hands together and straightened, striding into her room. "The night moves on." He looked to the elf. "Excellent work, as ever Gret, for both of us." The little elf beamed and wrung his hands over the roundness of his belly. "We'll see to ourselves upon our return. I am aware that elves have their own fire festival…"

"Oh, yes, to renew the magic and fortune of this year, much as yours, Master of the Ring."

He jerked a few nods and Severus' mouth twitched upwards at the corner. "Away with you, then."

And with a wide grin and a pop, Gret was gone. Severus shook his head. "He's the serving elf to the first Ribbon-Wearer in decades. Magic and fortune?" He huffed out a breath, half of it dark laughter. "There's a reason every elfling is born on the summer solstice."

Hermione blinked. "He's…?"

"Should I corrupt you with the idea of elf orgies?"

Hermione spluttered a laugh, paused, stared at his quite serious face and her mouth fell open. "No…"

Severus shrugged, but there was that familiar spark of devilment in his eyes. "Elves are quite…voracious."

She drew in a long breath, not quite certain that he wasn't making it all up. "Wicked man." She lifted her chin. "Before those…images sink further into my brain, we should be off to dance, eat and watch things burn."

Severus put out his hand and his long, warm fingers wrapped around hers. Her heart squeezed, the ache there for moments such as these to be hers —theirs— always. "It is. As ever, another ceremony pushed aside by Tom Riddle."

"He didn't honour the Old Ways, only himself."

"Precisely."

Severus brought her hand to his mouth, cool lips placing the softest kiss across her knuckles. That heated gaze held her and a shiver chased all the way to her core. His eyes were molten darkness and she had the very real urge to say stuff the Old Ways, the New Ways and the Sideways and drag him off to her bed. It was right there, after all…

A smirk drew across his mouth. "We will be late, Miss Granger. And I would rather not have to explain that your…lasciviousness delayed us."

"Spoil sport."

"Indeed I am."

Moments later, and in a swirl of green smoke —which Severus wandlessly whipped away— they emerged from one of the dozens of Ministry floos and into a melee of bodies, noise and yet more smoke. Severus' filtering spell eased over them and Hermione drew in a clear and calming breath.

A huge ball of living flame hung high above them all in the centre of the Atrium, its brilliant flame reflected in the stretch of office windows, panelled glass shining gold. Threads of magic chased around it, holding it, containing it and the echoing hungry growl of it itched under Hermione's skin.

"It's not fiendfyre, but it is a close cousin. An ancient, ritual fire, created solely for this night by the Scythians when they manned Hadrian's wall." The trace of a smile lifted his lips. "A dose of bitter, Northern weather can obviously be...inspiring." Severus' long finger stroked her cheek and she almost mewled, the urge to lean in, to luxuriate in his brief and unexpected affection a riot in her flesh. "There's no harm to anything flesh. To anything that doesn't hold the signature."

"But if flesh held the signature…?"

His smile was almost indulgent and she basked in it. "Wicked girl, but if you can accomplish something that no witch or wizard has achieved in almost two millennia, then I will happily kneel before a new Dark Lady."

"You'd look good on your knees—"

Heat —mortification and desire— flashed through her flesh, hummed across her ribbon and deepened with Severus's low laughter. His fingers drew sigils over the warmth in her face. Devotion. Ardour. Care. "Perhaps…later."

Hermione groaned. "Distract me with the ritual before I drag you back through that floo."

He inclined his head. "I live to serve."

Hermione narrowed her gaze. Those words rumbled in that low and delicious voice? "Not helping, Severus."

His smile warmed her, the bright amusement in his eyes something she treasured. Merlin, it shouldn't be this hard to resist him. But it was. Even without the Ribbon and the Ring, she had always…ached for this wizard.

"It's simple enough." He drew back and offered her his arm. Her fingers slipped over black silk and pressed into the iron-muscle of his bicep. "We burn an effigy. Drop it into the living sacrificial flame."

"Like Lewes?"

"It's best not to carve a likeness. Though if the effigy gained blonde curls and crimson nails, I'm sure not many would object."

Hermione smirked, imagining the traditional Lewes parade of painted effigies, with Rita Skeeter at the front of a torch-lined procession, all ready to burn her to ash. The thought of it bloomed in her chest and she blinked. Perhaps…perhaps that what a little too much Dark Lady thinking.

Severus wove them through the crowd, witches and wizards stumbling back, only to stare, sometimes wide-eyed, often hope-filled, or with that rare and disturbing covetousness. Hermione ignored them all. Neither she, nor Severus, were on the market. Never would be.

"Like elves, we banish the evil of winter —of cold and decay— and focus on the renewal of our world and our magic."

"Without the orgies?" She huffed. "Shame."

His dark gaze slid to her. "No orgies for you, my girl."

Hermione's heart squeezed at the endearment. "Or you."

"No, I do not like to share."

She leaned into him and let her head fall to the strength of his arm. "Me neither."