A/N: I am beyond THRILLED that everyone is enjoying this! And MsAnthrop wrote me and squeed and then I squeed back with her and it was a squeefest and I am so happy. It's cold and snowy and I'm achy so I took a sick day therefore you won't have to wait for me to come back from work to post this :D ALSO...I'm about to update PWS in an hour or so, so... *evil laughter*

Sadly this is the end. I wish it could be longer. If MsAnthrop doesnt mind maybe Ill make it longer or something because I really did enjoy writing it! Thank you SOOOO MUCH for your reviews, favorites and follows! You all are the absolute best.

Oh...this is rated M for a reason *shifty glance*


Hermione told herself that she would sooner eat her own hand than admit to Ginny that she had been right. Working up the nerve to call Snape took thirty minutes of a self-pep talk and a half glass of wine, yet their conversation lasted all of two minutes and went surprisingly easy. She reasoned that he wasn't much of a telephone person, but did not take it personally. Hermione only ever used the phone when absolutely necessary, and that was mostly to speak with her parents.

Friday evening of that week, Hermione hurried home to prepare everything for her guest. When she previously spoke with Snape, Hermione offered the option of him coming to her house for dinner, and when there was a lull in their conversation, she hurriedly added that she didn't mind going to a restaurant. Snape calmly explained that a restaurant meant sitting among a bunch of idiots and was in no way comparable to a homemade meal. He also remembered to include that Hermione owed him for assistance with 'that 'inconvenient, annoying young man she once considered a boyfriend'.

Cooking food that her former professor was going to eat was daunting enough, but the idea of inviting him into her home sent Hermione into a tailspin. Friday morning she felt completely discombobulated by the prospect that evening held for her. She spilt tea on her blouse, and then nearly left the house wearing mismatched shoes. It didn't help when her lunch hour was nearly over and an owl was awaiting her at her desk, a note in its beak that held a single question:

'Do you prefer red or white wine?'

Either one was good to Hermione, but thinking about the meal she had planned, she wrote back 'red' before sending the owl off with her reply. In the end, all her efforts were for naught, because when Hermione finally returned home and began dinner, she became so distracted she left the meat cooking too long, causing it to resemble tough, dried leather. A quick glance at the rice told that it needed to needed to cook for at least another fifteen minutes, and stress made her flat out refuse to check the vegetables, knowing that they were probably cooked beyond recognition. When her doorbell finally rang, she was red-faced, sweaty and irritated, having fussed with the rice and then forgetting to shower.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" she shrilly greeted Snape, grasping his sleeve and pulling him into her house. "The meat's overdone, the rice is mushy, and the vegetables resemble something Hagrid once tried to feed us. I can cook, really, I can! But today's been nothing but one cock-up after the next, and time got away from me. And I still need to shower. But if you wait a minute I can—"

Snape had been agog the entire time, looking as Hermione as though she was seconds away from exploding. Before she could continue with her tirade, he grabbed her by the upper arm and gently steered them further into the house.

"All right, Granger. Firstly, I need you to take a deep breath, or at least pause one minute to breathe. Now where is this so-called ruined dinner that has you so wound up? Surely it can't be that bad."

Shooting Snape a doubtful look, she led him into the kitchen and lifted the lid, displaying the charred meat. "And that's just the meat."

He stared at it for a bit, tilting his head to the side without saying anything.

"Fuck, I was wrong."

Hermione felt wrung out and stressed beyond belief, but watching Severus Snape standing in the middle of her kitchen, still wearing his long black coat, and then hearing him say something graceless as 'fuck' as he stared down at burnt beef, in that dry tone, no less, made her snort.

Hermione held onto his sleeve, laughing until moisture flooded her eyes. "Oh my god! Did you really just say that?"

"Apologies for being so lewd, but to be honest, nothing else came to mind. If any doubt remained about that cow being dead, by now it has been completely obliterated."

"You leave me alone, Severus," Hermione continued, still laughing. "I tried, I really did try, but today is not my day. But now I have no idea what to do about dinner, unless you don't mind beans on toast."

"Perhaps another time," Snape replied, busying himself with taking off his coat. "Where should I..."

"I'll hang it up for you," Hermione told him, stepping forward and holding out her arm. When she returned to the kitchen, Snape was pulling open drawers and rifling through them.

"Where's your bottle opener?"

"In the drawer to your left."

Said drawer was the wrong one, but Ginny had been a bit pissed yet called herself cleaning up after a small ladies' only gathering.

"Wine glasses?"

"Erm..."

"Or a tea mug, either will do."

"No, I have wine glasses, I'm just trying to remember if they're in the dishwasher or in the cupboard."

Hermione's first guess was correct. She handed Snape the glass and watched him uncork the bottle, going through the rigmarole of unscrewing the cork free before filling the glass halfway.

"Do you have a bathtub?" he asked, handing her the glass.

"Yes..." Hermione trailed off, trying to suss out where this conversation was headed. "Why?"

"Take that," Snape pointed to the wine, "and go take a bath. A bath, Hermione, not a shower. Give me thirty minutes and I'll sort out dinner."

"Really? You don't mind?" Hermione asked after taking a gulp, trying not to swoon at the rich flavour caressing her tongue. "I'll try to be quick in case you need help with anything."

"Not even an incantation can restore that beef back to an edible state, but there is such a thing as takeaway. Do you have any dislikes I should be aware of?"

"No, I eat just about anything, except liver."

"Good to know we have that in common. Where did you put my coat?"

"I'll get it—"

"Granger, I am perfectly capable of following directions. Just tell me where the damned coat is and I'll get it myself. Now drink your wine, take your bath, and lay the table when you come back downstairs. I won't be gone long."

Snape's tone brooked no argument—Severus, Hermione reminded herself. He was inexplicably Severus now, seeing that they were fast approaching more personal terms. As she lay back in the bathtub, sipping her wine and revelling in the hot water melting away her anxiety, Hermione mused that her evening had taken a largely weird turn. Severus had always barked some order or another at her back in school, but being made to take a bath whilst drinking wine was outright unbelievable.

By the time her bath was done (regrettably her glass being emptied around the same time), Hermione felt remarkably relaxed. Three days ago she had toyed with the idea of wearing a simple, pale-grey knit dress, but now a pair of jeans and a casual but pretty blouse was settled upon.

Hermione used her to wand to poke out a few remaining wrinkles as she walked back downstairs. Severus still hadn't returned, and she hurriedly set down plates and cutlery on her dining room table. The offending roast meant for dinner was in the middle of being discarded when Severus returned, arms laden with bags that emitted a mouth-watering aroma.

"Indian? That's my favourite."

"I know. You told me."

"I did?"

"Yes."

"Is there naan?"

"Yes, but the plain naan. I thought we could save the trouble of breathing discreetly to save one another from garlic breath for another day."

"Thank you, Severus."

"Don't thank me," he replied, a tad gruffly, although Hermione noticed the faint pink tinge rising to his cheeks. "I'm merely saving us the trouble of choosing between starvation or choking on something charred within an inch of existence."

"Ha ha," Hermione retorted drily. Just then, Snape leaned across her to pick up a serving spoon, and Hermione caught a whiff of cigarette. "You were smoking," she said accusingly.

"Yes. And your point?"

"How do you expect anyone to kiss you with cigarette breath?"

"I've yet to receive a complaint," Snape replied smoothly, causing Hermione to bristle noticeably.

Fortunately, Hermione was too hungry to further dwell on Snape's smoking habit or his kissing partners. Apparently Snape was also ravenous, as there was little ceremony whilst the food was unpacked and set down on the table. Both immediately picked up their forks and very little talk took place during the meal.

"That was very nice," Hermione sighed once she was finished. "I can barely move."

Most of the containers were empty, the bottle of wine nearly gone. Snape had unfastened the top button of his shirt and was now finishing the last piece of naan.

"I'm still debating whether I should consider this dinner, as you didn't prepare it with your own two hands," he mused, "but it will do. This was definitely preferable to going out, I confess."

It was clear that his first comment was made in jest, and Hermione smiled while lazily leaning forward, propping up an elbow and supporting her head on one hand.

"Trust you to split hairs. But this was better than going out to a restaurant. At least my sofa is near. I don't think I would make it much farther."

Eventually they made it to Hermione's sofa, dropping down onto opposite ends.

"We can chalk up my loose tongue to a wonderful dinner and half bottle of wine, but I'm curious to know why you've decided to come out of hiding after all this time," Hermione queried, hoping that Severus wouldn't be offended by her sudden curiosity.

"I've always been around, Hermione. I just preferred to go out without drawing attention to myself. I think you can relate."

"Oh, I'm not the only one who had to threaten others with the wizarding version of a stalking injunction?"

"No, you're not." To her surprise, Snape began chuckling under his breath. "If it wasn't a death-threat being delivered every other day, then it was a marriage proposal or some psychotic proposition of sorts. There are some deranged people in this world. Some twisted soul had the balls to ask if I still had my Death Eater robes. Apparently she got off on being tied and whipped bloody, and assumed that following that megalomaniac arsehole was synonymous with being a sexual deviant."

"She wanted you to wear the robes and hit her?"

"Yes, going by what I gathered from her note."

Hermione shuddered. "That's disgusting."

"Yes, and disturbing. I tossed that note right into the hearth and did my best to forget subjecting my eyes to such drivel."

"OK, change of subject as I do my best to forget hearing about that traumatising scenario. What did you do when you lived abroad, anything interesting?"

Snape idly scratched his cheek, a thoughtful look in his face.

"I don't know if you would consider it interesting, but I liked finding different places to merely sit and read. Sometimes it was a cafe off the less travelled path, other times it was merely a place that could only be reached by magic. One day I spent hours atop a cliff. It looked damned frightful from the bottom but its top surface turned out to be quite comfortable."

Hermione shook her head. She had an intense fear of heights and was unable to fathom Apparating atop a mountain, purely for the view.

"You're mad, do you know that?"

Snape shrugged. "It's not the first time I've heard that."

"Did you meet anyone interesting?"

"Sometimes," he answered, "whenever I felt like blending in with the masses. Many of them were hospitable, very inviting."

A strange look came over his face, and Hermione felt her curiosity heighten.

"Seems like you met someone who was extra inviting, someone who invited you straight into bed."

Snape didn't have the decency to look ashamed. He smirked at Hermione, neither confirming nor denying her statement.

"I'm still a man, in spite of that bitch Skeeter painting me as the picture of a wizard who forever lost his only love and spent his remaining years as a recluse, pining away for what he would never have."

"If it helps, I don't see you as the pining sort," Hermione affirmed. Secretly she was a bit green at the thought of Severus being intimate with another woman, but the knowledge that he didn't spend his hours harping over Harry's mum was consoling. "I think Rita Skeeter tried to make us all look bad. Ron and I were never all that serious, but if you let Skeeter tell it, I left him standing at the altar to run off with his brother. Little does she know he broke up with me, but mostly it was a mutual agreement that we were better off as friends. I won't even mention the articles she wrote about Harry and Ginny, none of which were true."

"You don't have to tell me," Snape replied. "I know what sort of woman that Skeeter is. Just between us, she was the one who sent me that dirty little missive about being whipped. Bint tried to change her name and handwriting but a spell told all I needed to know. Needless to say after threatening to make the letter public, she left me alone."

"Ginny and I wondered why Skeeter had gone strangely quiet after a while. No one could figure out why; I'm guessing that was you?"

A smile threatened Snape's lips. "Perhaps."

"Ron was always so scared of what Skeeter would publish, but she doesn't scare me. Besides, she has nothing on the Muggle tabloids. Although I must admit, it would have been nice to take some time off after everything. Travel, see more of the world, sleep under a different sky. Well, not really different but you know what I mean."

"Yes, I do." There was a hint of wistfulness in Snape's words. "I particularly enjoyed Loire Valley in Chinon, France. There's this bridge that crosses over the Vienne River and the view is breathtaking at night. I took a walk over it every night after sundown. Are you familiar with Val de Loire?"

"I think so. I want to say Mum and Dad went there for their anniversary one year."

"They're known for their wine and since you've an inclination for reds, there are a few I can recommend. But if you go do try the white, as it was also very nice."

"Well if you visit again, maybe you'll let me stowaway in your trunk," Hermione joked, a faraway look in her eyes as she tried to picture the place. "So where else did you go?"

"Barcelona, much of the Catalan region, to be exact. Florence—very good food and art, and the history of it all was interesting. Then there was Greece. Athens also has a history that was fascinating to learn about, but I particularly enjoyed spending most of my summer island hopping. No day went by where I found myself bored."

"And you did all this by yourself?" Hermione murmured, in awe. "I don't know if I could do that."

"Travelling on your own is a good way to know oneself. Sometimes we need to immerse ourselves into the unfamiliar to truly learn who we are."

"Is that so? Tell me, Severus, what did you learn?"

"Perhaps I'll indulge you after we've spent more time in one another's company."

"Does that mean you'll come over again for dinner? Actual dinner this time? Not something that was meant to be eaten but instead turned into one of Seamus Finnigan's failed assignments?"

"Merlin, must you bring up that boy?" Snape asked wryly, rolling his eyes. "But even your dinner wasn't that bad. As for your first question, is that another invitation?"

"Only if you'll say yes."

"Do you think I'll turn down the chance to cook for myself one evening if I don't have to?"

"So basically you'll just let anyone cook for you so long as it means you don't have to cook."

It was no surprise that Snape was able to tell the true intent of Hermione's statement, and he gave her a knowing look.

"You did just hear me speak about the many women as well as the handful of men whose letters I strove to avoid. Do you really think I would remain in the company of 'just anyone', much less ingest anything they put their hands on? I would likely encounter some love draught or poison so strong it would make the potion Miss Vane slipped your little friend look like pumpkin juice."

"I'd forgotten about that."

"I didn't. Not only did I have to brew the secondary antidote, but it was a week that I had been forced to listen to Slughorn ramble on about it. I was tempted to poison him if it meant eating my eggs in silence. But I applaud your attempt at sleuthing. Perhaps next time you'll just ask me outright instead of talking in circles."

"Well despite the risk of potentially angering your fan club, I'm available next Friday if you wanted to do something. Maybe I'll try one of your white wines. It would pair nicely, I think, with this new recipe for fish I've been meaning to try."

"I'll bring the wine," Snape agreed, "and I think it best if I come before the festivities involving you and the kitchen actually begin. I do love fish and I make you nervous. The last thing we need is you setting fire to the cooker."

"I will not burn down my house!" Hermione shrieked, giving an embarrassed laugh and lightly hitting Snape's arm. "And you do not make me nervous."

"So she says."

"Next Friday, you horrid man. Don't forget the wine and if you must, come early and you can oversee the cooking of the fish. And neither of us will re-enact the likes of Seamus Finnigan. Agreed?"

"Agreed."


"Hermione, why didn't you tell us you have a new boyfriend?"

Hermione had barely rubbed the sandy feeling from her eyes when her phone rang, pulling her from a sleep that was meant to last a long time.

"Mum?"

"So who is he?"

Hermione yawned and sat up in bed. She hadn't gone to bed at her usual time, as her and Severus's conversation stretched on until the wee hours of the morning. They were both yawning as Severus put on his coat and walked to the front door, but Hermione felt wide awake when he kissed her on the cheek before slipping out into the frigid night air. The next hour had been spent reliving certain moments from her evening, and by the time Hermione finally fell asleep, the sun was on the verge of rising.

"Mum, you know I like to have a lie-in on the weekends," Hermione groaned, peering over at her bedside clock and pulling a face when she saw that it was five minutes to eight. "Couldn't the interrogation have waited until noon?"

"Don't get cheeky with me, young lady," Mrs Granger fussed. "Now, tell me, who is he? Are you bringing him round for Christmas dinner?"

Hermione wondered if her mum had lost her mind as she tried to figure what the hell the woman was going on about. Then comprehension dawned on her as she knew who her mum meant.

"You spoke to David, didn't you?"

"Well of course we did," Mrs Granger replied.

Hermione could hear her dad shouting in the background, "I didn't! Your mother told me to go away when I tried to take the phone and hang up."

"Tall, black hair, large nose?"

"His nose isn't that big, Mum," Hermione corrected, immediately regretting her blunder.

"A-ha! I knew it, there is a young man. Richard! What did I tell you? Hermione has a new boyfriend and didn't bring him round."

"He's not my boyfriend, Mum! I know him from...school."

"That's not what David says. According to him you two looked very cosy in the cafe."

"Oh for goodness' sake... Mum, we were just catching up over coffee. We hadn't seen one another in close to ten years. That's it, I swear. There is nothing romantic going on between us."

"You know what, Hermione? I'm glad you've met someone new," Mrs Granger continued, ignoring everything her daughter just clarified. "I know you said you don't mind, but you spend so much time alone that it worries me. That boy you dated from school was nice; Ronald, right? I thought he was sweet but to be honest I didn't see you two staying together for long, but of course you were so young. And Jack, oh but he was handsome, but there was something about him that I couldn't quite put my finger on..."

"He was the world's biggest arse, that's what," Mr Granger piped in.

"Richard!" Mrs Granger hissed, pulling away the phone for a second to chastise her husband. "And I know you were never that fond of David, and I know my oldest friend's son, but forgive me for saying, he's a bit dim. And—"

"Mum, if I promise to bring my friend, and I stress the word friend, to dinner, will you cease with the whole 'Let's go through the list of Hermione's bad dates and relationships'?"

"I know it's still November, but same time as every year, five sharp," her mother said hurriedly.
"And we're having goose. Your young man doesn't mind goose, does he?"

"He's not my young man, and the only thing he doesn't like is liver."

"Oh my, he sounds just like you. Couldn't get you to even take one little bite of liver when you were small. I never understood why you refused to eat liver, it was quite nice when cooked just right with the proper amount of onions—"

"Mum, we'll be at Christmas dinner. Now I have to go."

"Why, is he there? Hermione Jean Granger, please don't tell me that you have some man in your bed, a man who you've refused to bring home."

"Mum, for God's sake," Hermione grumbled after pulling the phone away from her mouth to scream into a pillow. "The only thing in my bed right now is me, a very tired me, who would like to go back to sleep if that's OK with you."

Hermione could almost hear her mother clutching her pearls on the other end of the line.

"Well, all right," she replied grudgingly. "Go back to sleep, darling. We'll talk later."

"Bye!" Hermione trilled in a faux-cheery voice, thrilled that her mum finally rang off.


As promised, Severus returned to Hermione's house the following Friday night for dinner. He pretended to be shocked when the fish came out perfectly, and Hermione threatened to take his plate if he didn't behave.

The Friday night dinners slowly became a regular thing. One week Hermione would cook, Severus the next, but each meal always ended with lengthy discussions about some topic or another. The second Friday of December, Hermione went to Severus's house, where she drank more wine than intended. She had been seconds away from curling up on his leather sofa and using its arm as her pillow when he told her to go upstairs and take the first right.

"What's upstairs on the right?" Hermione had asked, yawning and uncaring how daft she sounded.

"The Loch Ness monster," Snape answered, staring down his nose at her. "My bedroom, woman, what else?"

"But I can't put you out of your room," Hermione protested, although she only half meant it. The truth was, she would have kipped on the cold floor if it meant being able to sleep off her pissed state.

"Hermione, either you'll walk upstairs and go to sleep, or I'll carry you and put you to bed myself. Your choice."

"You sure do know how to woo a lady, did you know?" Hermione teased wryly, sluggishly attempting to push herself up from the sofa. Severus was standing before her in an instant and offered a hand to help her up. "I don't suppose you have any pyjamas in your room."

"You may sleep naked for all I care, otherwise feel free to look in my closet and pick out a shirt."

Hermione had been ready to protest again, but the frown on Severus's face made her think otherwise.

"That look means 'Don't you think about arguing with me, Granger'. So I won't. Goodnight, Severus."

"How wise of you. Goodnight."

It had been strange sleeping in Severus' bed, and even stranger to slip out of her clothes and redress in one of his pristine shirts. (Hermione gave up hope looking for something a little more casual, even a worn, holey Led Zeppelin band t-shirt from his youth. Severus once mentioned needing a break from everything and sneaking away to see the band perform when he was nineteen, a fact that left her floored. It had been too hard to picture Severus blending in with Muggles to attend a rock concert, but he hummed a good portion of 'Dazed and Confused', smirking afterwards at the shock on her face.) Yet the moment her head hit the pillows, all thoughts of Oh my God, I'm sleeping in his bed and wearing his clothes seeped from her brain as her surroundings faded to black.

The next morning, Hermione had been ready to burrow beneath the blankets for her usual Saturday lie-in when sunlight began pouring into the room. Then she remembered where she had fallen asleep and jolted upright in bed.

Moving quickly turned out not to be one of her best decisions, but Hermione was then distracted by the scent of something being fried wafting through the cracked bedroom door. After putting on her jeans—she left Severus's shirt on—she went downstairs and found him in the kitchen, his hair tied back and a spatula in hand, pushing things around in a frying pan.

"Hash?" he asked without turning around.

"I'm so hungry I'd eat grit," Hermione groggily replied, sitting down at the table which she noticed had already been laid with plates and cutlery. A glass of juice was just within arm's reach, along with a smaller glass of cloudy liquid.

"For your hangover," Severus explained, again without turning around. "Going by the way you wobbled upstairs last night, I'll wager that your head is not on speaking terms with the rest of you."

"You wager correctly," Hermione replied, chugging the contents of the smaller glass. She then rubbed her temples, relieved to find that the tonic was already working.

Once Severus finished with the hash, he placed a generous amount on her plate along with two poached eggs.

"Beans?"

"Just a spoonful."

Hermione dove into her breakfast after thanking Severus. He sat down across from her, silently putting away his own meal when Hermione spoke, this time sounding livelier.

"I know I should have told you this before," she began after swallowing, "but my mum thinks you're my boyfriend."

"Interesting." Severus seemed more interested in his beans and ate a mouthful before continuing. "I assume there is more to this conversation."

"She made me promise to invite you over for Christmas dinner. Actually she called me the next morning after you and I first had dinner, no less at eight in the morning. The only way I could get her off the phone was by promising to bring you."

Severus remained quiet as Hermione rambled on. He chewed while looking at her, giving away nothing of his thoughts.

"If you don't want to, I'll understand," Hermione rushed on, aware that she was on the verge of babbling. "I can make up some excuse."

"Hermione, I don't mind going to your parents' for Christmas dinner," Severus interrupted. "I think it would be quite enjoyable, considering all the things I've heard about them from you."

"Oh, goodness," Hermione groaned. "Dinner will be at five sharp, but you can meet me there as I usually go early to help Mum with everything. I'll give you the address before going back home."

"Sounds good, but you still haven't explained why your mother thinks I'm your boyfriend."

"David, that idiot. I suppose it was his way of ratting me out to Mum for not returning his calls, but he reported that you and I looked 'cosy', I quote, in the cafe, and Mum gave me an earful for not telling her and dad that I was seeing someone."

"So what am I doing this time, playing the role of your special intended? Shall I dust off my best suit?"

"No, I wouldn't ask you to do that. That first one, I mean. And wear whatever you're comfortable in, even an ugly Christmas jumper if you like."

"Hmm, I politely decline that offer, thank you."

"Now I should warn you, Mum and Dad have this neighbour, Janice. She's also a friend of the family and mostly she comes around on Boxing Day but sometimes she'll come over on Christmas. She's lovely but to be frank, the nosiest woman you ever did meet. She'll give you the third degree about what you do, how did we meet and what are your intentions toward me, but ever the artful dodger you are, you'll know how to avoid said pleasantries so I'll leave it up to your discretion."

"Free rein to misbehave? Oh, the possibilities..."

"You don't have to come if you don't want to. I know it's weird of me to ask you and all, especially since we're just friends, but I thought—"

"Hermione, stop it. I said I would come and I meant it. If I truly did not want to go, I would have never agreed. Now, as it is too early for the hysterics, if you would be so kind as to finish your breakfast."

Hermione's appetite had begun to wane upon considering the possibility that Severus was going to decline her offer. But after he said yes and she actually believed him, she picked up her fork and continued eating her meal with much more vigour.


"So this thing between you and Snape is getting serious, huh?"

It was noon on Christmas Eve. Hermione had stopped by the Potters' to drop off presents, knowing that they would be tied up at the Burrow the next day.

"Thing, what thing?" Hermione asked a tad sharply. "We're just friends, Ginny, you know that."

"Sure, friends who've had a standing date for dinner every Friday for the past two months. Next thing you'll tell me is you two share purely platonic kisses on the mouth."

"For your information, Severus has only ever kissed me on the cheek or hand."

"Ooh, Severus, is it?" Ginny echoed, a wide grin on her face. "What are you giving Severus for Christmas?"

"I hate you, Ginny Potter," Hermione sniffed, forcing her face into a smile as Harry walked into the room, carrying James in his arms. "And how is my favourite member of the Potter family doing?"

"I'm good, Hermione, how about you?" Harry answered.

"I think she was talking to James," Ginny laughed, shaking her head as her son began squirming from the perch of his father's arms, trying to get to the curly-haired witch sitting beside his mum.

"Mynee! Mynee!"

"All right, kid, give me a minute," Harry told his son, stepping over a pile of books and toys to hand his son to his best friend.

"I think Hermione's upset with me for teasing her about her new boyfriend," Ginny explained, bending over to pick up the toys near Hermione's feet.

"He is not my boyfriend. How many times do I have to tell you?" Hermione argued, taking James and planting kisses all over his chubby cheeks, making him squeal.

"Who's not your boyfriend?" asked Harry, stooping down to help Ginny.

"Snape."

"Ginny!" Hermione whined. "The whole world doesn't need to know about the company I keep."

"Hey, I don't care who you date," Harry cut in, "but since when did I become the whole world?"

"I..." Hermione trailed off, visibility flustered. "Well not you, Harry, obviously. But we are definitely not a couple. We just met a few times for dinner, that's it. And we'd like to keep that to ourselves."

"And lunch, and breakfast at least once if memory serves me correctly."

"Be quiet, Ginny."

"Like I said, I don't give a damn who you date, Hermione," Harry reiterated. "No, James, you can't have Hermione's wand."

James had been reaching towards Hermione's handbag, and a smaller pair of green eyes stared challengingly at a bigger, matching pair.

"You heard me," Harry said warningly. James put his hand down and retreated into the safety of Hermione's arms.

"It's all right, James," she soothed, patting his hand. "Soon you'll be big enough for your own wand and you can do all the naughty things your daddy did when he was a boy."

"Now why would you jinx me like that?" Harry asked pleadingly, as though the thought of his son being older and getting into the same kind of mischief pained him. "I thought you were mad at Ginny, not me."

"I have to give you a hard time by default."

"Hermione, you and Snape may not be a couple, but you definitely get this look when you talk about him," Ginny informed her friend, refusing to relent. "And that's fine! You've met someone you like, and it's been nearly two months and he's not pissed you off, asked to borrow money, or tried to shag one of your friends. You should be happy."

"Is that the sliding scale of what constitutes as a suitable mate? If so, excuse me whilst I get up and dance."

"What I think Ginny is trying to say, is if Snape makes you happy and treats you well, then it's a good thing. Mr Weasley told me he ran into Snape a few weeks ago, said he looked well-rested and was actually pleasant. Pleasant for him, that is. I bet you have something to do with that, Hermione."

"Apparently there is no arguing with you two, but yes, I think we've been enjoying one another's company. But no matter what you two and my mum say, Severus is not my boyfriend."

"Protest three times more, Hermione," Ginny told her. "Maybe then we'll finally believe you."

"And here I thought I was only going to be catechised tomorrow. Mum wants me to bring Severus round for Christmas dinner, and it's only natural that I get put on trial for not telling her about our so-called relationship."

"Snape is going to your parents' for dinner?" Ginny didn't attempt to hide the cat that ate the canary grin on her face. "I should call Mrs Granger and have her hang mistletoe throughout the entire house. Maybe you'll actually get a proper kiss."

"Keep it up, Ginny, and I'll Transfigure James's Christmas present into something that makes noise. I know—a set of drums."

"Ginny, apologise now," Harry begged his wife. "You know Hermione and she'll do it. Please, please make nice with her and stop teasing her about her boyfriend."

"Harry! Not you too!"

"Well sorry, Hermione! But I see what Ginny means... You do get this little smile on your face whenever we mention Snape's name, but if you say he's not your boyfriend, I believe you."

"My own best friends," Hermione sighed dramatically. "James, I think you're the only one who understands me."

"'Nape? 'Nape?" James enquired sweetly, patting Hermione's nose with sticky fingers that smelled suspiciously of chocolate.

"OK, you two, you can stop laughing now!"

"Not a chance!" Ginny gurgled, looking at Harry and laughing more loudly when she saw his face.


"Oh dear, I hope your young man isn't going to be late," Mrs Granger fretted the next day. "The starters'll go cold and unappetising."

"Mum, he'll be here," Hermione replied, mustering as much patience as possible. Remembering the bollocking her schoolmates used to receive if they were so much as a second late, she added, "He's very punctual, and besides, it's only ten to four. And he is not my young man."

"Now Janice should be here any minute, and I'm sure she's bringing Louis. Poor thing, her daughter decided to go to the in-laws for Christmas and she's positively torn up about it, so I told her that she would come right over here. Do you mind keeping an eye on the potatoes for a bit? I need to go freshen up before the guests arrive."

"Take your time, Mum."

The moment her mother left the kitchen, Mr Granger came in, poking his head around the corner and scanning the room.

"Your mum in here?"

"No, Dad, she just left."

"Wonderful. I've been hiding from her all morning." Hermione giggled as her dad sat down. "She start in on you yet?"

"No, but I suppose she's waiting for Janice. Maybe you and I should make up some sort of hand signal to stop them before they get too carried away?"

"I'll tell you what: if they get extra annoying, I'll pretend to choke on my goose and you can hurry over to save me. Then I'll act delicate and feeble for the rest of the evening, thus taking the attention off you. How does that sound?"

"You're on," Hermione laughed.

"So who is your new friend?" Mr Granger asked nonchalantly.

"Thank you for saying friend, and he's someone I knew from school."

"Oh." Mr Granger nodded. "A classmate?"

"Not exactly..."

"A teacher?"

"Erm, sort of..."

"Love, you don't need to hide anything from me," Mr Granger told his daughter. "I'm actually not surprised that you have a friend who's older than you. I know you're thirty, far from a little girl, but I can't say the same about some of those boys you've brought around, and I stress boy. I know you ran circles around that bellend David. Why your mum thought you two would be 'cute' together, her words, not mine, I can't tell you, but when he called here last month I wanted to tell him what I really thought of him. But you know your mum, she wouldn't let me."

"You called him back and told him off, didn't you, Dad?"

"Damn right I did. Told him I knew all about the way he got handsy with you, and said that if he bothered you again I'd saw off his bollocks with a dull, rusted knife."

"Daddy! You did not!"

"I did, but don't tell your mother. Anyway, I trust your judgment so I'm not too worried about this new friend of yours. Is he nice to you?"

"Yes, Dad, he's nice to me. Mostly we've spent our time talking, debating over the things we've read and the like."

"Is he a reader like you?"

"He's worse than me. Severus has this amazing collection of old books. My stash is weak in comparison."

"Severus. Now that's not a name you hear every day."

"No, but his mum named him. She was a witch, his father was a Muggle, like you and Mum."

"I see. Well, I look forward to meeting this Severus, especially since he's the man who nearly crunched David's hands to bits."

"David actually told Mum about that?"

"He did, and she told me. Jean wasn't amused but I was and cheerfully let her know it. So you'll know where I'll be," Mr Granger continued, standing up and pressing a kiss into the top of his daughter's head. "When Severus gets here, send him to my study for a drink. I have to hide the good brandy and scotch in there lest that mooch Louis tries to drink the whole damned bottle."

Hermione was still laughing long after Mr Granger left the kitchen when the doorbell rang.

"Hermione! Look how gorgeous you are!" Janice exclaimed, her cheeks rosy from the cold air. "Louis, look how gorgeous Hermione is!"

"Hello, Janice, Louis, Merry Christmas. How are you?" Hermione greeted, taking their coats after they stepped inside. "Would you like a drink?"

"Just a small one before dinner," Janice answered, trying not to look obvious as she rushed into the house and peered into the living room.

Hermione knew what, rather, who, Janice was looking for and resisted the urge to snap, "He's not here yet!"

Once Janice and Louis settled in the living room, each with a drink in hand, Hermione stuck around out of sheer politeness. Mentally she counted down how much time would pass before Janice began her ritual line of questioning.

"Oh, I almost forgot!" Janice cried, setting down her drink and fumbling with the clasp on her purse. Hermione's brow crinkled as she watched the older woman pulled out something with green plastic leaves and a slinky length of coiled metal.

"What is that?" asked Hermione.

"Extendable mistletoe!" Janice trilled, unfolding what Hermione now realised was a handle. Janice then held it over Louis' head yet made a tsking noise when he leaned over to kiss her.

"Oh, how nice!" Hermione said in a forced, cheery tone. "Where did you find that?"

"The pound shop! They had all sorts of Christmasy bits and bobs in there. A lot of it was junk but I couldn't resist this!" Janice held the fake mistletoe over Louis' head again. "I thought it could be fun."

Fun, right. I'd sooner shove tacks beneath my nails.

Hermione was in the middle of trying to drown out Janice's banter about the mistletoe and wonders of the pound shop while pretending that she was listening, debating the level of rudeness associated with hiding upstairs in her old bedroom. Finally she had the excuse of leaving the sitting room when the doorbell rang, and she nearly ran to the door.

"Good afternoon," Severus greeted, his deep voice causing the fine hairs on the back of Hermione's neck to rise. "Five on the nose, as directed."

"Oh, thank Merlin you're here," Hermione exhaled. "Janice is in there and you'll never believe what she brought with her. This hideous fake mistletoe that she found at the pound shop. And it has a handle so she can hold it over your head! Why the hell she didn't leave it at home I don't know."

"I'm sure she has some sort of devious plan in mind," Severus replied, setting down a gaily-wrapped box on a side table to unwind his scarf from around his neck and tuck it into the sleeve of his coat. "That's for your parents," he explained when Hermione glanced down at the present.

"That was thoughtful of you," she replied. "Here, let me take your coat. Dad's hiding in the study with his good brandy and told me to send you in there the moment you arrived. Now you'll have to pass the living room to get to the study, and that's where Janice is, but if you walk fast I can distract them."

"Very good. Where is the study?"

"Go straight until you come across the ugly wreath with the plaid ribbons, and make a left. If you hear the telly on, you've found the right door."

Hermione knew Janice had been lingering by the entrance to the sitting room, because the moment she caught a glimpse of the tall, pale man dressed in sharply creased black trousers and brand-new grey jumper (a present from Hermione, which held a book Severus mentioned he wanted within its folds) rushing past, a loud bang followed by an even louder "Hermione!" rang out into the hallway.

"Run!" Hermione hissed in a whisper, waiting until Severus had turned the corner and was safely ensconced in her father's study before returning to her guests.

"Hermione, I'm so sorry," Janice apologised when Hermione walked back into the living room. "I stood up a bit too hastily and knocked over your mother's figurine."

"It's all right, Janice, there's glue in the kitchen. I'll mend it."

"Oh no, let me," Janice begged, watching as Hermione carefully scooped up the porcelain figure whose leg had snapped cleanly off. "I broke it, I should be the one to mend it."

"No no, don't leave Louis here on his own," Hermione assuaged. Thankful for the happy accident, Hermione hurried to the kitchen with the broken figurine. She didn't bother looking for glue; instead, her wand was used to reattach the leg. Hermione was still holding the figurine when Mrs Granger walked into the kitchen.

"I didn't know anyone was in here. What are you doing with that?"

"Janice accidentally knocked it over and the leg broke."

"Oh no, is it ruined? I think a pot of glue is around here somewhere, but—"

"Mum, it's already fixed," Hermione cut in, pulling out her wand and tapping the butt end against the figurine.

"Well I suppose that's better than glue. Thank you. Now where has your father disappeared to? Hiding in his study I'm sure."

"I'll get him," Hermione offered. She was halfway down the hallway when the unmistakeable sounds of Janice's footsteps hurrying towards the kitchen reached her ears.

"Hello?" Hermione called softly, knocking on the study door. "The game is up, Dad. Mum knows you're in there hiding."

"Every damned year," Mr Granger sighed after tugging the door open. "You'd think I would know better by now. Severus and I were just having a nice chat. You weren't joking when you mentioned his love of books."

"No, I wasn't," Hermione murmured, nervously peeking inside to see Severus sitting comfortably in one of her father's leather armchairs, a brandy snifter balanced atop one knee while his other hand held up one what looked like one of her father's book for perusal.

"Take your time with it, Severus. And leave the glass on my desk when you're finished. If that damned Louis sees you with it, he'll try to drink every drop."

"You can't hide in here forever," Severus murmured after Mr Granger left the study. "Yet with your father's reading collection and his well-stocked drinks cabinet, I understand fully why he was loath to leave."

"Just before you came I was about to hide in my old bedroom. If you weren't here, I'd likely be there right now."

"Your father filled me in on your contingency plan. Very clever, I must say."

"Hopefully it won't have to be used, but something tells me otherwise." With a resigned exhale, Hermione forlornly looked toward the door. "I suppose we should get this over with."

"It's Christmas dinner, Hermione. Really, how bad can it be?"

Hermione stared at Severus in disbelief. "I hope you save room, because you are going to eat those words."

The two walked to the dining room in complete silence. Just as they rounded the corner, Louis could be heard asking, "Richard, where's that scotch you have every year? I look forward to it every Christmas."

Mr Granger turned to surreptitiously wink at his daughter and her companion. "Sorry, old man, I'm fresh out."

In spite of being on edge about this entire evening, Hermione found that it hadn't affected her appetite one bit. She was ready to eat and practically bouncing on her seat as Mr Granger got out his beloved knives that were only used for special occasions. However, he had barely begun to carve the goose when Janice started.

"So, Severus, is it?" she asked, a knowing smile on her lips as she ran her fingers through frosted-tipped waves that had been almost shellacked into place. "How did you and our Hermione meet?"

"Well," Severus began, dabbing his lips with a napkin and placing it down, "it was a lonely, boring afternoon and I found myself trawling the papers. There wasn't much in the way of the Agony Aunt column so I found myself heading to the lonely hearts section. There was one particular advert calling for a sex slave/whipping boy and I found myself curious. So you can imagine the shock I experienced upon finding out that it was Hermione, of all people, who had placed the advert."

Janice's eyes grew wide. Mrs Granger nearly choked on her water, yet Mr Granger was the only one who kept a straight face as though he'd heard nothing, but upon closer inspection, Hermione noticed that her dad was trying hard not to smirk. Severus, on the other hand, had gone on eating as though he'd said nothing out of the ordinary, although he caught Hermione's eyes for a second and it wasn't hard to tell what he was thinking.

There were no more prying questions after that, nothing outside of the usual polite enquiry about work and so forth. After the pudding had been served, Hermione excused herself to visit the bathroom. When she came out, she found Severus in the hallway, leaning against the wall and turning over something in his hands.

"Why do you have that stupid thing?"

"I nicked it from her purse," he explained. "I heard her telling Louis to get it and before he was able to do so, I claimed the need for the loo and stopped in the living room first. I'm pretty sure Janice meant to accidentally on purpose hold it over our heads at some point during the evening when we were standing next to one another."

"I'm going to kill her. That meddling woman, did she actually say that?"

"In so many words, yes. Her intentions weren't terribly difficult to figure out."

"Goodness, what is it about Christmas that makes everyone completely barmy? Just yesterday Ginny threatened to call Mum and have her hang mistletoe about. I told her I'd Transfigure James' Christmas present into a drum set if she even thought about phoning my mother."

"You play dirty, Miss Granger."

"I play to win, Mr Snape. OK, that just sounded strange. I may as well call you 'Professor'."

"Before you get any more strange ideas, I suggest we return to the dining room before Janice and your mother form a search party. Any ideas on where to hide this?"

Severus held up the plastic mistletoe between two fingers. For a fleeting moment, Hermione considered jokingly telling him to hold it over his head, but abandoned the thought, telling herself not to be silly.

"Quickly, in here," she whispered, tugging open the door to the airing cupboard. "They probably won't find it till next Christmas."

The gaudy plastic was shoved inside and the door closed, dashing away the possibility of being put on the spot, and disappointingly, the idea that Hermione might actually get the proper kiss she'd been secretly yearning for.


"Honestly, Mum, what do you expect me to do with all this food?"

"Oh, Hermione, it's not that much," Mrs Granger chided. "You can make bubble and squeak tomorrow morning if you like. You always enjoyed bubble and squeak on Boxing day."

Between the bag of presents Hermione was being sent home with (she'd been surprised to find that Severus had also been given a small parcel), as well as the platter of food and dessert, Hermione thought it a wonder that she could carry it all. Luckily for her, Severus offered to bring everything out to her car.

"Didn't I say it wouldn't be so terrible?" Severus asked, leaning against the passenger door of the car.

"Yes, but only because you shocked the pants off Janice," Hermione laughed. "Did you see her face? I think it landed somewhere between her potatoes and carrots."

"You did give me free rein. I never said I would be polite."

"Bugger polite, what you said was funny. And seeing that look on Janice's face is something I'll never forget."

Hermione leaned against her car next to Severus, both chuckling at the mental image of Janice's flustered state. When their laughter tapered off, a length of palpable silence standing between them, Hermione worked up the nerve to verbalise her next question. "Did you have other plans tonight?"

"Besides reading and going to bed, no."

"Oh. Well, if you don't mind, would you like to come back to my house? It's still early and I wouldn't mind your company. Not that I didn't enjoy your company in there, but it was hard to so much as look at you without Janice looking as though she was seconds away from wetting herself with excitement."

It seemed as though Severus was pondering her question in that deliberate way of his, which always left Hermione second guessing herself. Just as she was about to backtrack, he shocked her with his reply.

"All right."

"Oh... OK. Did you drive here?" Hermione began scanning the street for Severus's car.

"No. I Apparated and walked the rest of the way."

"But it's so cold!"

Severus shrugged. "I like walking. And I was plenty warm in my coat and new jumper."

"Silly man," Hermione smiled. "All right, no more walking for tonight. Get in."

The drive to Hermione's house was somewhat quiet and seemed quicker than usual. Severus volunteered to put everything away in the kitchen while Hermione hung up their coats.

"I know we've just finished eating, but can I offer you anything?" Hermione asked, walking into the kitchen. "Tea? Coffee?"

"Perhaps later."

"All right. I guess we can go to the living room, engage in a rousing round of debate until our eyes beg to be shut."

"You're going to fall asleep first," Severus replied, following Hermione into the living room and sitting down next to her.

"How do you know?"

"You always fall asleep first."

"Shows how much you know." The next second Hermione yawned, and she ignored the smirk on Snape's face. "My dad likes you," she murmured, tipping her head back onto the sofa. "Mum too, which explains why she kept trying to serve you a third helping of pudding."

"I didn't mind."

"Good. I'll tell you what I did mind: not bringing that stupid mistletoe home with us." Hermione spoke that sentence without thinking, and for the fifth time that evening, she regretted not knitting a muzzle for herself that might have prevented her from this horrible case of verbal diarrhoea.

"Why the sudden need for plastic mistletoe? I can easily procure the real thing if you like."

And here it comes again. "Right, I suppose that'll do."

Without another word, Snape withdrew his wand and flicked it over Hermione's head. Sure enough, fresh sprigs of mistletoe appeared.

"Isn't this the part where I'm supposed to be kissed?" she asked in a wavering voice, all the while trying to keep her tone light.

Hermione was fully aware of how shaky her words sounded. She hated feeling completely out of her depth, hated that Ginny had been spot on about her feelings for Severus, and hated the fact that she had made the first move which was likely the reason for the current tenseness between them. She had to force herself to raise her head, and found that Severus was staring at her lips. There was an audible sound as he swallowed hard, causing the knot of his Adam's apple to rise and fall. Before Hermione could think about her next move, Severus moved forward and pressed his thin lips to hers, briefly kissing her once, twice, then lingering the third time.

"I would have done that without the mistletoe, in case you were wondering," he told a dazed Hermione.

"Yes, but the mistletoe was my way of expediting things."

"Hopefully not everything. Some things are worth taking time to linger over."

There was a wealth of suggestion behind those words, and Hermione moved her hand toward Severus's, feeling encouraged when he threaded his fingers through hers.

"Show me."

Those two small words on Hermione's behalf were all it took for Severus to pull her against him, pressing his lips to hers once more.

Apparently Severus meant it about lingering over things. His kisses were deep as they were slow, the entire time during which his hand smoothed over Hermione's hair, neck, and back.

"You realise if we do what I think we're about to do, I'm going to have to go back on my every word about us being nothing but friends," Hermione bit out when Severus shifted her to lie flat on the sofa. He then single-handedly unfastened the first few buttons of her blouse and began suckling on her collarbone.

"I hope you didn't think I merely harboured friendly feelings toward you," he murmured into her skin. "I thought it was obvious that I've grown fond of you."

"You never said anything so I had no idea!" Hermione yelped, digging her fingers into Severus's shoulder when his tongue flicked against the sensitive curve of her neck. "I never like to assume anything."

"If you need to know something of me, all you need do is ask," he replied, unbuttoning more of Hermione's blouse and running his fingers over her trembling stomach.

"I'll keep that in mind," Hermione choked out, biting her bottom lip when his fingers began heading south. "I think I should tell you that it's been some time since I last... you know..."

"I see." Severus moved his hand higher, resting it alongside Hermione's hip. "Did you want to stop here?"

"What? No." Hermione lifted her head to look down at him. "I just thought I'd tell you as I'm not on the pill or potion or anything."

"That's easily remedied," Severus assured, lowering his head to kiss Hermione's neck again. "I can sort us out with the Muggle or magical way, your choice."

Hermione's face glowed at the idea of her and Severus doing something that required condoms, or a spell, at the very least.

"Never thought you would become shy at the idea of sex, but it is endearing."

"I am not shy," Hermione protested, fanning her face with one hand. "I forgot to make my bed. I should go up and make it before you come upstairs."

"Hermione, I don't give a damn if your bed is unmade. We're going to end up rumpling the sheets, unless this is your way of telling me you've changed your mind."

"No, not at all." Hermione sat up and took a deep breath. "I'm nervous. I don't know why I am, but I am. Too bad you stopped smoking; I think I could use one of your cigarettes."

Severus sat up and efficiently buttoned up Hermione's blouse and smoothed down her mussed curls.

"I'd rather you didn't smoke, if you don't mind. Now go upstairs and make your bed. Take a shower, do whatever you need that will help you calm down. I'll come up in ten minutes. If your bedroom door is closed, I'll take it as a sign you want to sleep alone. If not, I'll see you shortly."

Hermione was relieved at Severus's suggestion, and leaned forward to kiss him before rising from the sofa. She slowly walked upstairs, inhaling deeply with each step. Upon entering her bedroom, Hermione felt a tad ridiculous, seeing one corner of her duvet shoved back and a pillow slightly misaligned from the others, hardly the definition of an unmade bed. Sitting down on the edge, she kicked off her shoes and socks, wondering if she should do away with the rest of her clothes or allow Severus the honours.

Or should I put on something lingerie-ish? Do I even own something lingerie-ish?I think I have something black and lacy but it's most likely balled up and hidden beneath a pile of sensible knickers. Besides, who's to say that Severus would like underwear that hides itself up the crack of my arse? I'll look stupid, as though I'm trying too hard and he'd probably piss himself laughing.

Hermione sat there debating with herself, repeatedly going over the pros and cons of rifling through her underwear drawer to pull out the satin and lace affair and talking herself out of it each time.

I bet the woman he slept with on holiday wore lingerie, an ugly voice at the back of Hermione's head tittered. He said his favourite place was Greece, I bet he met her there. She probably had an exotic name and swishy hair that had not a strand out of place and perfect breasts and a tiny waist and legs that went on forever, and I bet she had drawers full of perfectly matched lingerie that had silk stockings and garter belt and heels. She probably walked in a slinky, sexy way that likely came natural to her yet would make me appear as if I were having a fit if I'd attempted such a thing, and I bet Severus was completely enamoured with her and he's polite but I know he's going to try and hide his disappointment when he sees me naked.

Hermione couldn't remember the last time she'd felt so unsure of herself. Actually, she could, but that time had been work-related and as usual, she had been making much ado about nothing. However, right now, these were entirely different circumstances. She was about to open herself completely to a man whom she had become close friends with over the past few months, yet they were still learning things about one another. The idea of revealing herself so completely, allowing Severus to see her at her most vulnerable, left Hermione so jittery that her hands began to shake, and she grabbed onto the duvet to still them.

When the ten minutes was up, Hermione was still perched nervously on the edge of her bed, clutching onto handfuls of duvet, fully dressed and eyes glued to the open bedroom door. There was the creaking of slow footsteps making their way upstairs, and Hermione felt her heart quicken even more when Severus stepped forward and paused in her doorway.

"Feeling better?"

"I was able to breathe properly five minutes ago, if that's what you mean."

Severus gave a half smile as he walked into the bedroom and sat next to Hermione. He covered her hand with his, tracing errant circles against the top with his forefinger until it went slack.

"I knew you were a little nervous, but now you look as though you've been pushed to stand out on a high ledge. Is there something I need to know?"

Hermione cursed the fact that Severus was so intuitive, and she cursed the fact that she would have to give an explanation, potentially making herself sound like a fool.

"It's stupid..."

"Tell me and allow me to decide if it's stupid."

"I was wondering if I should change into something more... appropriate and then I began thinking about the woman you spent time with on holiday and how she was most likely prettier than me and wore something tiny and lacy that covered her perfect breasts."

Her words came out in a rush and once Hermione was done, she wanted to dive beneath her bed. It didn't help that Severus was strangely close-mouthed, and it was torture not knowing the thoughts going through his brain.

"What are perfect breasts?" he finally asked.

"Severus... You know what I mean."

"No, I don't, you insane woman, and you were right: you are being stupid. Stupid to compare yourself to anyone and stupid to worry about the past, especially anyone in my past. And if you must know, lacy underthings can be nice, but I found you most appealing the first morning you stayed at my house. You came down for breakfast, hair all over the place and dressed in my shirt with no brassiere on beneath it and a few times I nearly caught a glimpse of your nipple. You have no idea how tempted I was to ask you to take everything off and walk around in only my shirt, but in the interest of not sounding like a complete pervert, I didn't."

Severus continued stroking Hermione's hand as he spoke. Eventually her panic faded, and her hastened breathing grew more even.

"You're right. I am being silly; I'm sorry."

"Don't apologise for how you feel. You're entitled to feeling any way, no matter how ridiculous the reasons behind it. Now are you feeling better, or shall I further talk you off your ledge?"

"Hush, you."

"Sit back," Severus urged, toeing off his boots and moving to the middle of Hermione's bed. Once she was practically in his lap, two remarkably strong hands began kneading the remaining tension from her neck and shoulders, and Hermione was met with the struggle to not fall asleep.

"That was nice," she purred, tipping her head back onto Severus's shoulder. When she turned her face toward his, it left his cheek pressed against hers, but she didn't mind. The tips of their noses brushed a few times, and slowly their kissing resumed. Hermione soon found herself lying beneath Severus, her blouse once again unbuttoned and the fabric hanging to either side of her torso.

"Lovely," she heard him murmur, and after seeing the look in his dark eyes, Hermione knew that Severus wasn't lying.

Hermione was finally able to relax, and unintelligible noises escaped from her lips as she surrendered to the wonderful sensation of soft kisses being dropped at random along her upper body. A kiss between her bra-encased breasts made her cry out softly, and Hermione arched upward, urging Severus to touch her fully. His hands carefully skimmed along her ribs, then over the cup of her bra, easily finding her erect nipple through the lightly padded material. Just when Hermione thought she would go mad, Severus tugged the flimsy material down and eagerly attached his mouth to her right nipple, sucking hard on it until Hermione twisted underneath the man lightly pinning her to the mattress.

Severus spent a long time focusing on Hermione's upper body, kissing and caressing every bit of soft, warm skin his fingers and lips could reach. His touch left her burning all over, and Hermione nearly growled when Severus paused to pull her up, ungracefully tugging off her blouse and bra. Her jeans and knickers were removed the same way, followed by his own jumper and vest.

"Are you going to leave your trousers on?" she asked, glancing down to see the clothes on the bottom half of his body.

"Trust me, you want me to leave them on for now," he remarked, glancing down at an obvious bulge. "It's either leave them on a little while longer or make a liar of myself when I said that I preferred to linger over things."

That was enough of a hint for Hermione, and she fell silent as Severus hovered over her on both elbows, his black hair falling in curtains around his face as her kissed her again. Those kisses led down to her breasts once more, only this time they went further, and Hermione was close to clawing at her duvet when his lips trailed over the insides of her trembling thighs. The entire time the backs of his fingers grazed the short curls between her legs, and Hermione tried her best to not hump his hand. Yet when a single digit dragged down the length of her slit, moving from clit to hole, Hermione's hips jerked sharply, rising almost completely off the bed.

"Too much?"

"I'm fine," she answered between clenched teeth, both hands now balled into fists.

Severus did that little move with his finger again, and Hermione bit down hard on her bottom lip to keep from shouting. Seconds later her thighs were pushed further apart, followed by the unmistakeable sensation of a warm tongue sliding over her already sensitive flesh, and a word that she rarely used tumbled from her lips.

Eliciting such a reaction from the younger woman seemed to have some effect on the man between her legs, because Severus applied himself assiduously to the task, causing more choice words to come forth, along with a few shrieks and groans.

Severus sucked on her clit nearly the same way he did her nipples, every pass of his tongue causing a thin line of fluid to trickle down to her clenched behind. Hermione was delirious with pleasure, uncaring how wanton she looked, humping Severus's face while both arms remained hooked beneath her knees in an effort to keep herself spread wide. One finger slipped its way into her clenched channel, rubbing against a spot that left her cross-eyed, but when a second one made its way alongside the first, Severus's tongue never stopping, Hermione was barely able to inhale when a forceful orgasm sneaked up and slammed into her.

Hermione had no idea of the way she shouted with each spasm, one hand clutched to the back of Severus' head as he continuously licked her through climax. Only when she became too sensitive did he pull back, dropping a short kiss onto her quivering inner thigh before kneeling upright.

"I think this is the point where I reciprocate," Hermione panted when she was finally able to speak, "and would that I could but I can't feel my legs."

"I'll take you up on that offer later. Now I should warn you, there's no way I'll be able to go slowly this first go round, not after feeling those tight walls around my fingers," Severus warned, digging through his trouser pocket, "and right now I don't trust myself to handle a wand. So the Muggle way it is."

"I don't mind," Hermione replied in a weak voice, tipping her head to the side and watching idly as Severus undressed and dropped his trousers and pants to the foot of her bed. He rolled on a condom in record timing and pulled Hermione against him, turning over onto his back and leaving her straddling his hips.

"You remember what I said?" she began nervously, supporting herself by placing both hands on his chest, "I might not be that—"

"At this point, I don't think you could do anything wrong," he ground out, reaching one hand down to line himself up with Hermione's slick entrance. Once the head of his cock was in position, Severus slipped his hand to the back of Hermione's head and drew her down for a kiss. A gasp was lost to his mouth as she began lowering herself onto his stiffened length, but when the widest part of his shaft began making its way past her snug muscles, the intense sensation of being stretched and filled left Hermione panting and clutching onto Severus's shoulders.

"Oh gods!" she cried out, feeling completely overwhelmed once she had completely lowered herself, leaving his balls resting against the underside of her behind.

"Go as fast or slowly as you like," he murmured, running his hands along the length of Hermione's spine.

Slow was the only thing Hermione could handle for the first few minutes, and the motion of her body remained tentative as she grew re-accustomed to making love.

"I'm not going to last long," she told Severus shakily after the twinge had passed and was replaced with a sweeter ache that left her utterly frantic. She clung to the duvet with one hand, curling the other around his bicep while undulating her hips in uneven circles.

"Then you'll make it up to me later tonight," he replied, making Hermione laugh breathlessly.

Hermione hadn't been exaggerating about not being able to last long. From the moment she fully took Severus into her, her body begged for release. Sweat covered her from head to foot, and trying to keep from shaking was a lost cause. Just as Hermione felt herself on the verge of going over, Severus flipped her onto her back, weaving his fingers through hers and dragging her right arm above her head.

"We'll both make up for this later tonight," he remarked hoarsely. "Wrap your legs around my waist."

Hermione was already arching her hips up against Severus, desperate with the need for him to continue. The moment she wrapped her legs around him and locked her feet at the ankle, his hips began rocking smoothly and steadily against hers. Each measured thrust sent Hermione higher and higher, until she was unable to do anything but scream herself hoarse. Her left hand clamped down onto Severus's shoulder, her nails leaving claw marks behind on his pale skin, but the only thing Severus did was grind harder and thrust deeper until Hermione exploded one last time, gripping his hand until her knuckles were white from exertion.

Their release was simultaneous, making it that much more intense. Hermione's screams had tapered off into a ragged whimpering while Severus groaned into her neck, his own voice going embarrassingly high in pitch a few times. Thankfully Hermione didn't seem to mind, and she mewled softly as Severus thrust unevenly against her, stopping only when he had no more left to give.

The grip of Severus's arm around her waist was a tad too tight, and the muscles in her thighs were screaming from being overused in one evening, having been forced to hold a position that she last utilised three years prior. By now there was a good chance that her hair had completely exploded into ball of frizz, and the inside of her mouth was unbelievably dry, but other than that, Hermione felt limp and completely sated.

After his breathing returned to normal, Severus rolled to his side, bringing Hermione with him. His skin was damp and sticky against hers, but that seemed inconsequential in comparison to what she supposed was afterglow.

"All right?" he asked ten minutes later in a rough voice.

Hermione nodded her head slightly, too drained to do anything more. Part of her wondered if there was something she should say at this point, but Hermione reasoned that Severus would tell her to stop over-thinking. A minute later it became apparent that talking was out of the question, because the sound of Severus snoring softly in her ear gave away the fact that he was fast asleep. Hermione thought sleep was a wise idea by that time, only there was one little problem.

"Severus?"

"Hmm?"

"You're still wearing the condom and I'm cold."

"Sorry."

In record time the used condom was disposed of, the bedroom lights turned off, and the sheets pulled over the increasingly drowsy couple. A couple they were undeniably now, because as Severus slid an arm over Hermione's waist, aligning the length of his body with hers, he murmured, "I suppose you'll have to renege on those words about us being mere friends."

Hermione laughed tiredly, and nudging Severus in the leg with her foot, she pressed a kiss to his chest.

"Just so you know, now that you're my boyfriend it means that we get to do this again"—Hermione paused to wriggle against him—"and we get to make bubble and squeak tomorrow whilst still wearing our pyjamas."

"Naked would be even better."

"You are terrible." Severus chuckled into her hair. Soon after he began placing whisper-light kisses along the back of Hermione's neck. She was on the verge of drifting off from the pleasant sensation when another thought occurred to her. "I just realised that you've stopped smoking."

"I have."

"Any particular reason?"

"I know a little witch who has an immense dislike of cigarettes. Besides, I mostly smoked when I felt somewhat on edge. Now I no longer have the need to smoke. Is that all right with you?"

"Yes," Hermione replied, wondering why Severus picked up the habit to begin with."When exactly did you start smoking again?"

There was a brief moment of silence as he began kissing her neck again. "The day I saw you at Sainsbury's."

"And I drove you to smoking. Well, I'm glad to know that I'm not the only one who was freaked out."

"I was not 'freaked out'. I was merely a tad off kilter."

"You were a little freaked, admit it."

"Hermione?"

"Yes?"

"If you want more of this in a few hours"—Severus paused to do the same wriggling motion Hermione used minutes before—"then you're going to have to let me sleep. That goes double if you want me to make you breakfast in the morning."

"Yes, I want more of that and I will definitely want breakfast in the morning," Hermione giggled. "You win, I'll be quiet."

"Thank you. Merry Christmas and goodnight."

"Goodnight, Severus."

The next morning, Severus and Hermione made bubble and squeak, still clad in their pyjamas. Their third round of lovemaking occurred thirty minutes later (the second having taken place before dragging themselves from bed), on the floor inches away from the Christmas tree. In hindsight it probably would have been better to actually walk upstairs to retrieve the duvet from Hermione's bed instead of Accio'ing it into the living room, because the thing was so big that it nearly knocked over the tree and Hermione in the process.

"That's what I get for being lazy," Hermione said as she and Severus began pushing the fallen tree ornaments to the side.

"Just remember it was you who turned down my suggestion of returning to bed. Although I suppose the floor has it merits."

"Yeah? And what might those be?" asked Hermione, beckoning Severus closer and burrowing into the duvet with him.

"The floor gives great leverage, leverage which can be utilised by a beautiful witch to ride me senseless."

Hermione had done just that, nearly skinning her knees raw in the process. Being lost in the moment, however, she didn't notice, and Severus used his wand to heal her knees once they were done.

"You were the one who pulled me over your face."

"Yes, and you were the one who pinned me to the floor as you returned the favour. If presenting you with perfume warrants such a thing, I wonder what would happen should I obtain every long-desired book on your 'to-buy' list in one go."

"In my defence, it was special perfume, handmade and blended especially for me," Hermione pointed out, dragging her wrist beneath her nose and sniffing it for the umpteenth time that morning. "I absolutely love it, have I told you?"

"Only five times."

"Six times, then, counting now."

Hermione had no idea how Severus knew what sort of scents she was drawn to, but he'd commissioned a personal fragrance from a perfume shop in France and presented it to her for Christmas. Everyone was prone to giving Hermione gifts of a more sensible nature, and the perfume had been an unexpected yet pleasant surprise. Hermione swore that she would only wear it on special occasions, yet being with Severus was a special occasion on its own and she dabbed tiny bits of the perfume on her wrist, swooning each time she sniffed it. The delicate scent had the intended effect, because Severus had been unable to keep his hands off her.

"Mum is going to ring me soon, I can feel it," Hermione sighed, lazily twirling her fingers about in Severus's hair while nuzzling her face against his bare chest. "But to tell the truth, I could lie here with you all day. Well, not here specifically, but my bed."

"Yes, but you told your mother that we would go back over for dinner."

"Please don't remind me."

Five minutes later, the phone rang and Hermione screamed in frustration when she had to wriggle free from the duvet and warmth of her boyfriend's skin.

"Hi, Mum," Hermione answered, rushing back to Severus's side and mouthing 'thank you' when he held the duvet open for her.

"Hermione? How did you know it was me?"

Hermione glanced up at Severus, her expression clearly conveying Who else would it be? "Lucky guess."

"Well I just wanted to make sure that you were returning with your young man. I hope he wasn't too put off by Janice yesterday, I know she can be a bit much at times."

Not only Janice. "No, Mum, Severus didn't mind. And yes, we're coming by later."

"I notice that you didn't deny Severus being your young man this time. Does that mean he's there with you? Did he spend the night? I hope you made him use the Lilo!"

"Mum—" Hermione began, only to hear her father grumbling dispassionately in the background.

"For Christ's sake, Jean, our daughter is nearly thirty years old! She can bloody well shag whoever she wants to in her own house! And it's no one's business except for her and Severus where he slept!"

"Richard! I don't want to think about our only baby girl doing... you know what!"

"Screwing? Shagging? Fucking? We're adults, you don't need to refer to sex as 'you know what'."

"RICHARD WILLIAM GRANGER! YOU GET OUT OF THIS KITCHEN THIS MINUTE!"

"Jean Louise Granger, you put down the damned phone and leave those kids alone!"

The bickering couple's shouting was loud enough to be heard clearly on the other end, and Severus asked under his breath, "Did your father just refer to me as a kid?"

"I'm sorry!" Hermione whispered fiercely, mortified by the entire situation. It was awkward enough to be lying naked in Severus' arms, with him equally naked as she, and both of them wrapped in her discarded bed sheets, but to have her parents casually discussing her sex life with Severus listening in was too much.

"Mum, I'm going to go now."

The hint to hang up was lost on Mrs Granger, because she changed topics and began going into detail about the joint present she and her husband had received from Severus, Louis not believing Mr Granger about not having his expensive scotch on hand, and attempting to sneak into the study, and returning to the kitchen with a sulky look on his face because the door had been locked.

"Mum, I know. I was there, remember?"

"I get it, Hermione, you want to go. Your dad and I will see you later. Severus, too."

Hermione chucked the cordless across the floor when the call ended.

"Well I'll never live that down. Are my ears bleeding?" she asked, lifting her hair and turning her head.

"They're fine," Severus assured, gently pulling on Hermione's earlobe before smoothing his hand over her shoulder.

"Damn. I was hoping to have an excuse to get out of tonight."

"Let's form a contingency plan now before going to dinner. If we leave early enough, I'll do that thing you liked."

"Which thing? There were lots of things I liked."

"Then I'll do them all."

"You know, the only thing you're doing is making me seriously consider telling Mum that we'll see her another day."

"After all your rants about your mother giving you grief over being thirty and single? You will do no such thing. You will take your new boyfriend to your parents' for dinner or else."

"Anything you say, boyfriend."


Prompt (example): After not seeing each other for ten years, SS and HG keep running into each other whilst at the shops. What happens when they see each other fondling fruit and veg, pushing a trolley and taking part in the mundane realities of normal (muggle) life? Who makes the first move? How do they develop a relationship and deal with the complexities of their histories? Lots of snark, nobody is perfect and no pining for other people (Lily, Ron). This quote: "I'd do anything for love. But not that." "Did you just quote Meat Loaf?"