A/N: Alright, so I know I'm absolutely horrid for making your wait SO long for this chapter. I completely lost inspiration on this, and skipped ahead to a whole bunch of scenes from when they're older, but I'm back and I'm going to try and get better at updating in a more timely fashion. This has been added to my rota of the fics that MUST be completed soon because I'm trying to smash out as much of my WIPs to completion before posting new novels, so fingers crossed it works. I hope you like the chapter.

xx-Kitten.


Of Ticking Clocks and beating Hearts

By Kittenshift17


Chapter 14: A Slight Problem.


"Um, Hermione?" Lily Evans said tentatively, almost three weeks later.

Hermione looked over at the redhead and raised her eyebrows. Lily looked a little bit nervous. They were both sitting in the library working on the essay they'd been given by Professor Sprout on the proper planting procedure for Devil's Snare and the most important aspects of how to deter the plant should one end up being strangled or restrained by it; something Hermione had intimate knowledge with already.

"What is it Lily?" Hermione whispered, leaning towards the girl to speak when she spotted Madam Pince stalking by intent on shushing people.

"I, er… well... it's about Christmas," Lily replied in a murmur, watching as Madam Pince stomped away to rouse on some rowdy second year boys.

"What about it?" Hermione asked, her brow furrowing.

Lily had already confirmed that she would be coming to Hermione's place for Christmas, though she wasn't allowed to until after spending two nights at home first. Hermione had been in contact with Eugene and Miranda to get them to link Lily's parent's fireplace to the Floo Network and to have them introduce themselves so they would be able to collect Lily.

"It's just that…. Well… I was wondering, we were wondering…" Lily looked uncomfortable.

Hermione frowned.

"You see, Black mentioned that he'd have to go about trying to find something to give you and everyone else for Christmas, telling Potter they'd need to stop by Diagon Alley with Potter's parents. I know he, Remus, James and Peter are doing the same as me and coming by a few days into the break… It occurred to me that with everyone spending Christmas together… well, the done thing is to exchange gifts, isn't it? You do that in the wizarding world?" she looked very nervous, biting her lip and looking like she was loathe to even bring the topic up.

"Yes, we exchange gifts as Christmas time," Hermione nodded before the realisation suddenly dawned on her.

With so many people attending her house for Christmas, they would all be together and they were all friends. Hermione herself had been thinking about all the gifts she needed to buy for the many new friends she had made. Hermione had been thinking in terms of how she would buy something for everyone without doubling up on gifts and without getting generic type gifts. She wanted to buy something for everyone that would be personalised to them.

It hadn't even occurred to her until that very moment that not everyone had people doting on them and giving them more money than they could spend. That not everyone had a bank vault they could dip into to buy everything. People like Severus and Lily didn't have any money. Their families were poor. They wore second hand robes – Sev especially. Things might be cheaper in this time than they were in the one Hermione had come from, but inexpensive to some was still more than others could afford.

"Oh, Lily, I didn't even think," Hermione said clapping her hand over her mouth, her face filling with remorse. "I'm such an idiot! How could I forget that inviting everyone together would mean we all need gifts for one another and not everyone can afford it?"

Lily's cheeks turned crimson at her rather blunt way of putting it.

"It's not your fault," Lily muttered, looking down at her notes awkwardly.

"Oh, it is. What a stupid thing of me to do! Not to mention that not everyone is as close a friends with one another as others. I mean obviously James, Sirius, Remus and Peter are close, but they don't like Sev very much most of the time. And Sev doesn't like anyone, generally speaking."

"He likes you," Lily said softly and Hermione thought she might be detecting the faintest hint of bitterness in Lily's tone.

When her parents had insisted she spend a few days with them for Christmas, Lily had tried to convince Severus to come with her back to Spinner's End. Severus had informed Hermione that Lily was a bit put out that he'd refused to do so when returning to Spinner's End for the holidays meant he would either have to stay at his house where his father was, or with Lily, where he parents and her sister stared at him like he was a freak.

"I've been planning to get something for everyone who's confirmed they'll be at our place on Christmas day, since it seems a bit rude not to," Hermione said, ignoring Lily's words. "And then I was going to send gifts to those others like Bass who I number among my close friends."

"That's a wonderful idea," Lily muttered, "But… erm… well… it's not like I can…"

She bit her lip, clenching her fists and clearly frustrated at the idea that she couldn't afford to buy everyone gifts.

"Make them something," Hermione smiled at her slowly. "You know you're very magically gifted. Transfigure something or make something out of something else."

"I…" Lily lifted her head, her green eyes suddenly full of wonder at Hermione's suggestion.

"Why didn't I think of that?" she breathed, frowning. "That's a wonderful idea."

"All you need is something small that can be transfigured or charmed into something else."

"What are you getting everyone?" Lily asked, suddenly looking much happier. "I have no idea what to buy for the likes of Potter and Black. To be honest I've never really had to buy anyone a gift before. Severus and I never exchanged them in the past because neither of us had any money, and my parents just always let Tuney and I pick something small each for one another."

"I'm trying to personalise the gifts I'll be giving," Hermione admitted. "Things people might want or need, or something that I've overheard them mention they'd like one of. Just try to think of something that each person could use or might appreciate. It doesn't have to be fancy or expensive or complicated. Like, Neil… I heard him saying the other day that he needs a new quill because his got broken. So I'll get him a new quill. And I heard Molly talking about some kind of skin product she wants to try from the Wonder Witch collection that's good for removing the visibility of freckles."

Lily shook her head at Hermione slowly. "You're always so organised and so attentive to little things like that…. Actually, you make me feel like I must be really self-involved. I have no idea what to get anyone. I didn't even know Molly was embarrassed about her freckles, and I'm her dorm-mate."

Hermione smiled. "You're not self-absorbed Lily. You're just… busy. You've been working really hard to catch up on everything about the wizarding world that purebloods and half-bloods learn from the cradle. I get it. You've spent more time combing through books on wizarding culture and etiquette and things than almost anyone I've ever known. While you're doing that I ask people probing and invasive questions about their interests, their families, and their appearances."

"I know," Lily giggled. "It drives Sev bonkers when you ask him about whether he prefers peas or corn; or whether he'd rather have to slow-dance with a girl every day for the rest of his life, or be forced to eat raw beetle's eyes for a week straight. He gets this look on his face like he's seconds away from hexing you."

"It makes me giggle when he does this," Hermione pointed to her own face before curling her lip away from her teeth, like a dog baring its teeth.

Lily giggled again, covering her mouth as she nodded, knowing the expression well since he tended to pull it at Lily whenever she laughed at the things James and Sirius had to say.

"What are you getting him for Christmas?" Lily asked when she got herself back under control.

"I've been thinking really hard about that," Hermione admitted. "There are a lot of things that I've noticed he might like to have, and even more that I know he needs or ought to have, but doesn't… I don't want to just get him something serviceable though. I want to get him something he'll treasure."

Lily smiled at her softly.

"You really care for him, don't you Hermione?" she asked softly. "Even when he's cruel. Even when he's grumpy, and sarcastic, and downright mean to people or mean to you, I never see you actually get offended by the things he says. You just shrug them off and needle him into a rage or butter him up with affection until he stops being such a git."

Hermione shrugged her shoulders. "I enjoy his company too much. All of his company. Even when he's being positively wretched about something, I enjoy his moods, and his temper, and his stubbornness."

"Even when he says mean things like that you're defective or dim-witted or… oh, what did you call you the other day?"

"And oblivious, overreaching, obstinate ogre," Hermione supplied, chuckling. "Mastering wicked insults in alliterative form. No, that didn't bother me. I was too impressed by the alliteration to even mind."

"He also shoved you off him and stomped off in a huff," Lily reminded her.

"I know," Hermione shrugged again. "But have you seen the way he walks when he's in a huff like that? It's fabulous. His robes billow around him and he stalks like an angry panther. He was in a foul mood with me the whole night when that happened."

"What did you even do that set him off?" Lily wanted to know.

"Correct his homework," Hermione smirked.

"Oh, he hates it when anyone does that," Lily covered her mouth to supress her giggle when Madam Pince appeared at the end of a row of shelves across the room.

"He hates being wrong and having me pointing it out, yes," Hermione nodded, lowering her voice to a whisper once more. "He doesn't like it when I make him feel like he's stupid."

"He's the furthest thing from stupid I've ever seen," Lily admitted. "You both are. I feel like I have to spend all my free time with my nose stuck in a book just to keep up with you. Remus isn't far behind, either."

"You keep up fairly well," Hermione comforted the other witch. "We have you at a disadvantage knowing things about our world that you didn't grow up learning, but you still keep up with us."

"I don't surpass you though," Lily sighed.

"You could though," Hermione assured her. She'd seen how clever Lily could be. She might put her foot in her mouth a lot and be a bit ignorant about certain things, but she'd been catching up as quickly as she possibly could.

"Maybe, one day," Lily chuckled. "Where is Sev anyway?"

"He's in a strop again," Hermione grinned. "Which I'm suspecting after our discussion just now about gifts for Christmas, has entirely to do with not wanting to admit to not being able to afford anything for anyone. He got upset with me for sharing chocolate with Remus."

Lily rolled her eyes.

"He got annoyed with me yesterday when I helped Molly fix her hair too," Lily sighed. "I don't understand why he's like that. He's always been that way. Even with Tuney. He doesn't like it when Tuney and I get along too well."

"He doesn't like the idea that you're having fun without him. I think he thinks that if you have other friends, you won't want to be friends with him anymore and he's such a mean little sod that he doesn't make other friends easily and has a harder time keeping them."

"He wouldn't if he wasn't such a git about everything," Lily pointed out. "I don't know why he's like that. I know some of it's bravado, especially when he's had a bad night with his parents. He always used to be extra mean when he was hurt and trying to hide it. But he does it here too, even where his dad can't get him."

"It's a part of who he is. He's blunt, but most of the time he's honest. He's cruel about it, but he doesn't sugar-coat the truth."

"He could try to be nicer to people," Lily argued.

Hermione sighed.

"Why should he have to?" she wanted to know. "Is it really friendship to ask someone to be something they're not just so you're more comfortable being their friend? You wouldn't ask me to be meaner to people. I wouldn't ask you to be less inquisitive. Why should Sev have to be less honest about his opinions?"

"He doesn't need to be less honest about them, but sometimes it would be nice if he kept them to himself when they're unkind opinions about things," Lily told her. "Marlene isn't very fond of him because of what he said to her in our first day of classes."

"Admittedly, she was acting like a bloody idiot."

"Yes, she was," Lily agreed. "But it would have been nicer to pull her aside and tell her so, rather than blurting it out in front of the whole class, making her feel two feet tall and embarrassing her like that."

Hermione smiled ruefully at the memory of Snape cutting Marlene down to size when she'd gotten a bit too big for her britches and attempted magic she wasn't ready for. She'd been showing off and she'd messed up quite badly. Badly enough that poor Peter had been sent off to the hospital wing for the afternoon. There had been no teacher around at the time of the incident, and Severus had been only too willing to rub Marlene's nose in what a stupid thing she had done.

"I know someone who would say that he's unnecessarily cruel like that because sometimes people don't understand their own limits and refuse to acknowledge their own faults. Public humiliation sticks out in the mind more than a quiet talking-to," Hermione chuckled. "They are personal weaknesses that people need to overcome, not be coddled for."

Lily raised her eyebrows at Hermione's words as she quoted Professor Snape – the adult version of the same boy they currently discussed.

"You think it's alright that he's so mean to people? That he rips them to shreds in front of others when they mess up or say something incorrect?"

"I'll admit, Sev lacks tact at times," Hermione sighed. "But to be honest there are some people in the world who need to be cut down to size before they can be helped. Take James for example. He's brilliant in many regards, but there are some areas where his ego makes him think that even if he messes up and endangers lives, that it's all just good fun. A joke. A prank or something to laugh about. Now is a stern talking-to in private going to pull him into line? Or is being publicly shamed more likely to make him reflect on what he's done and how others might be judging him for his actions?"

"Potter is an isolated case. His head is so inflated with his own arrogance and self-importance that he does need to be pulled into line by the masses. But what about someone like Molly? She cried herself to sleep after what Sev said to her last week," Lily told her in a whisper.

Hermione winced at the idea. Poor Molly had been trying to help one of their Hufflepuff peers – Sally Jenkins – with her Potions homework. She'd been telling Sally to write on her essay that Starwort was used in many potions as a balancer. Something that happened to be incorrect. Startwort was a stimulating agent. And Severus had seen fit to point out, rather loudly, that she was wrong and that had she used Starwort in the potion they'd been attempting to stabilise – a Shrinking Solution – it would have had the effect to shrink the object touched by the solution to such a small size that it would cease to exist in the blink of an eye.

"He was a bit out of line there, I'll admit," Hermione sighed, recalling how Sev had told Molly that someone had clearly already done the very thing she suggested and must have used that solution on her brain since it clearly no longer existed.

"A bit?" Lily scoff. "She cried, Hermione. He told her she had no brain at all. He might as well have told her she should just pitch herself off the Astronomy Tower. In fact, I believe he said he was surprised she'd ever mastered independent breathing."

"Okay, yes, he was needlessly cruel to Molly, but admittedly, she'd talked over the top of him the first two times he'd tried to correct her more politely, refusing to listen to him when he explained that Starwort was a stimulant," Hermione argued.

"Sev isn't always right about everything," Lily pointed out.

"He is in potions. It's his best subject. Even I don't challenge him when it comes to potions because he's always right in Potions."

"Yeah, well, he makes it hard to be his friend when he's so horrible to everyone all the time," Lily pouted at her argument. "The girls were really upset about it and thought maybe we should avoid him from now on. They got annoyed with me for sticking by him. And he didn't even apologise the next day."

"Sev never apologises. He might be a nasty git when he loses his temper, but he doesn't apologise because at the time he says the words, he means them. To apologise for them would be lying and saying he didn't mean them."

"He doesn't have to apologise for meaning them or even for saying them. He needs to apologise for being so cruel and hurting her feelings. He went too far and Molly cried, Hermione. She cried. He literally made another person so upset with his words that they cried. That's not ok and he should apologise for making her feel so crummy!" Lily snapped. "And now we're fighting! Look at us! You're my best friend and we're fighting because Sev was mean."

Hermione nodded her head.

"Look, I can talk to him, but I don't think he's going to change, Lily," Hermione shrugged. "You know how he is. He'll just be all the more sullen. He's of the belief that everyone should accept each other for exactly how they are. You don't have to like them, but you do have to accept a person for who they are. I am highly logical, pushy, touchy-feely, inappropriately cuddly, bossy, a know-it-all and doggedly persistent. You are giggly, a bit naïve, prone to bouts of bossiness and irrational bouts of kindness in addition to being self-absorbed at times, and even a bit shallow. Severus is cranky, moody, cruel, cutting, acerbic and downright mean. He's also a right prick when he wants to be."

"Did you just call me shallow and self-absorbed?" Lily demanded.

"The very question provides the answer, Lily," Hermione pointed out. "Those are our personal flaws. Those are the things each of us has to put up with when associating with each other. But those things don't – shouldn't – detract from the fact that we have good qualities too. You're exceedingly kind and you always look for ways to be nice to people and to help others, when it occurs to you. Severus is doggedly loyal to those he numbers as his friends and underneath that layer of spitefulness he's the funniest person I know. I'm self-sacrificing and willing to alter my entire life to make the lives of others better."

Lily opened her mouth, looking rather offended at having been so baldly informed of her flaws but Hermione didn't let her interrupt.

"My point – Sev's point – is that in spite of our flaws or our good qualities, we're still friends. He knows he's a git most of the time. To him, everyone else is an idiot and he puts up with it anyway. He believes everyone should put up with him even though he's a git."

"That's not how people work," Lily argued.

"Why can't it be?" Hermione asked. "It's how I handle him. We get along so well because he is unrepentantly himself with me. He's a downright bastard to me, sometimes. And I'm almost always a complete pain in his arse. I know I annoy the snot out of him. I know it drive him nuts when I don't let him push me away because he's striking out to keep me at a distant. I know he hates it when I snuggle into him and get inside his personal space. I know he can't stand it when I correct his work or when I point out if he's made a mistake. He knows he's rotten to me and says cruel things to me that do sometimes hurt my feelings."

"And you're okay with it?" Lily demanded.

"Of course I am. Because at the end of the day, the things I like about him far outweigh the things he says and does – most of which are tools to push others away and keep them at a safe distance where they can't hurt him like his family hurt him. The fact is that he is unapologetically Severus Snape. We get along so well because with him, I'm unapologetically myself, too. Everyone else gets their wands in a knot because they conform to the rules of society that say you can't call a stupid person 'stupid'. Or that you can't tell an idiot that they're being an idiot."

"So you're not going to ask him to apologise?" Lily sighed.

"I'll ask him to, but I don't guarantee it won't have the opposite effect and make him more sullen. He'll be cranky and he'll write Molly off as being friend material and won't associate with her unless he has to. He'll still be mean when he feels it's justified, but the rest of the time he probably won't even acknowledge that she exists."

The look on Lily's face said she knew that Hermione was right.

"I just... sometimes I wish I didn't have to spend half my day apologising to other people for his rudeness," Lily admitted softly. "I wish I didn't have to deal with Marlene nagging me and saying she doesn't want to go to the study session on Wednesday night, or doesn't want to go to Potions because she doesn't want to see Severus."

"Marlene's a little bit dramatic and needs to get over herself," Hermione retorted without thinking, annoyed to learn the girl was so against Severus.

"Did you just...?" Lily asked, her eyes widening in surprise at Hermione's rudeness and her attitude.

"Yes, I did just say that. Marlene's been being a snot because she's decided she doesn't want to associate with someone who will tell her what a stupid thing she did when she made a mistake. Yes, it's preferable to learn from mistakes, move on and not have them thrown in one's face. But the fact is that Marlene could have killed Peter with that spell and she could've seriously hurt herself, as well. And she'd not have felt half as bad about it as she does now if Sev hadn't rubbed her face in what an idiot she was. So I'm not taking back what I said. Sev was right, Marlene was wrong, and she only has her nose out of joint with him because she knows she was wrong and can't stand it."

"Maybe this is why people from different houses avoid each other," Lily suggested. "Different opinions and clashing personalities mean it's harder to be friends."

"You say that as though you're unaware that James, Sirius and Remus are still plotting the revenge they mean to exact from Marlene on Peter's behalf for what she did to him," Hermione replied dryly.

"They're planning to do something to her?" Lily asked, her eyes wide with concern.

"Of course they are," Hermione rolled her eyes. "Marlene could have killed Peter. The rest of them will get revenge for that. Likely in a similar manner."

Lily looked alarmed by the very idea, as though suddenly fearing for Marlene's safety but also wondering if Hermione could be right. Hermione knew she was. She knew enough of Sirius and Remus from the time she'd left behind to know that while they'd been at school the four of them had been notorious in their ability to prank people and get away with it. They were also known for having each other's back, no matter what. Marlene would pay for what she'd done to Peter, and they'd leave it just long enough for her to think she was in the clear an could forget about it.

"You really think they'll hurt her?" Lily whispered, leaning closer.

"Oh, Lily," Hermione sighed pityingly, eyeing the young girl and suddenly feel a terrible pang of condescension common in the more experienced talking to the green-horn. "If there's one thing I know about the Marauders, it's that they don't take slights upon those they'll call Pack, lying down. They won't hurt her in the sense of, you know breaking her arm or something. But they'll scare her and rough her up and probably make her look a right fool, too."

"Shouldn't we warn her?" Lily asked.

Hermione shrugged her shoulders. "Warn her that they're planning something if you want to. It won't help her. If they've set their sights on her, you can count on her being pranked. Telling her will only prolong the torture until she's paranoid, waiting for the quaffle to drop, and all the more fragile when it finally does."

The idea and Hermione's attitude about it seemed to concern Lily even more. Her left eye twitched when Hermione's lips pulled up into a mean little smile that she'd picked up from Severus before she turned her attention back to her homework once more.

~O~O~O~O~O~O~O~O~O~O~O~O~O~O~

"Get off!" Severus Snape growled at her later that evening when Hermione strolled into the boy's dormitory and crawled onto his bed while he was trying to read in bed. He was obviously still pouting.

"No," Hermione replied, crossing her legs up like a pretzel and picking up one of the books he'd discarded.

"Yes. I don't want you here," Severus insisted.

"Yes, you do," Hermione said without looking up from the book, pretending to be focused on it even as he began trying to kick her. Not an easy feat with her sitting squarely on his feet and trapping them in place under the blankets.

"I don't. Why must you always invade my space?" he demanded.

Hermione smiled to herself.

"I enjoy your company."

"You're a rotten liar," he said rudely.

"I am not," Hermione smirked. "And if I were lying, I'd have said I hate you and I never want to see you again."

"Not a liar, then. Just delusional. Sad, really," he muttered.

"Sad that I'm extremely fond of you, Severus?" Hermione asked, tipping her gaze to meet his through her fringe. He narrowed his dark eyes on her suspiciously.

"What have I done?" he asked. "You never call me Severus unless you're upset with me. Why are you in bed with me if you're upset with me? And why should I care? I'm annoyed with you."

"You're in a strop," she corrected.

"I am not in a strop. I don't pout and if you laugh, I'm going to kick you off the bed and onto the floor. You might even hit your head on the way down and I'll laugh at that, too."

"Mean little boys make the most interesting friends," Hermione said condescendingly.

"Little?" he hissed, snapping his book closed and looking extra mean as he reached for his wand. "Witch, I'll show you 'little' when I shrink you and feed you to Essy!"

"Essy wouldn't eat me, no matter what size I was. She adores me," Hermione insisted, smirking now and eyeing his wand with amusement, rather than fear. She didn't doubt he'd hex her. He'd done it before.

"You doubt my threats?" he asked, eyes narrowed, expression pinched.

"I doubt you'd dare," Hermione smirked.

She paid for it when he called her bluff, hitting her with a Shrinking charm. Rapidly decreasing in size, Hermione leapt to her feet, pleased when he had the presence of mind to shrink her clothes along with her body. Darting across the suddenly huge-seeming bed, Hermione raced up his legs and climbed his chest. She was smaller than a fairy by the time he stopped shrinking her. Hermione swung from his long hair like a tiny, pixie-sized monkey.

"Get off me, would you?" Severus laughed when she purposely kicked his neck, his chin and his chest, pretending a tantrum. He tried to grab hold of her and Hermione let go of his hair, falling the short distance to land on his stomach on top of the blanket before darting underneath them, intent on tickling him.

"Bloody hell, Hermione!" he exclaimed when she pinched him with tiny little fingers, like nasty, stinging ant bites. "Stop it! Stop it and hold still, you wretched little pixie of a witch, so I can change you back."

Hermione pinched him again in response, burrowing further under the covers and biting him.

"Ouch!" he hissed, digging for her and snatching her up in his grip. Hermione clung to his thumb, small enough to stand on the palm on his hand like Thumbelina. "Did you bite me?"

Hermione grinned evilly.

"Change me back!" she insisted, glaring at him and hating the high pitched squeak of her voice as she spoke in this tiny body.

"No," Severus smirked. "You're less annoying when you're this size because you can't fight back. I might leave you this size. I'll carry you around in my pocket like I do to Essy and everyone will ask where you've gone and I'll just grin."

"You're mean," Hermione informed him, putting her hands on her hips. He laughed at how adorable she expected she must look.

"You like me mean," Severus insisted and Hermione couldn't hide her smile. It was true. She did like him mean. He smiled back at her. "Alright, you little devil. Hold still and I'll resize you before you look so adorable that I actually get mistaken for having a heart."

Hermione was laughing even as he shifted his book and his knees, drawing them to the sides and setting her on the quilt between his knees. He aimed his wand at her.

"Finite Incantatum," he pronounced and Hermione experienced the dizzying effect of rapidly retaking her proper shape. Severus jerked back slightly, having miscalculated the amount of space she would need and finding her very much in his personal space, seated between his bent up knees on the bed.

"That was fun," Hermione told him. "But don't think I won't repay the favour of hexing you, Sev."

"You bit me in retaliation," he shrugged. "It counts as payback."

"It doesn't," Hermione insisted. "I'm going to wait until you've forgotten about this and then I'll spring the attack on you when you least expect it."

"You won't," he smirked. "You'd never hurt me."

"Sure of yourself, aren't you?" Hermione pretended to taunt.

"I am, actually," he admitted, tipping his head to one side and regarding her carefully for a moment. Hermione just watched him as he watched her, enjoying the little slice of colour that appeared on each of his cheeks as though he'd just realised what he'd said.

"You're put out with me about the presents, aren't you?" Hermione asked, changing the subject before he could go getting mean and defensive.

His brow furrowed in surprise before he looked away.

"I…"

"Don't deny it, I know that what's gotten your wand in a knot. You don't like the idea of the gift exchange for the holidays because you don't have the money to afford anything for anyone," Hermione said.

Severus blushed, obviously unhappy about the way she put it so bluntly.

"And, as I said to Lily, there's no reason you could make gifts for people."

"Do you imagine me creative enough for arts and crafts?" he sneered.

"I expect you're very aware of you potion brewing abilities," Hermione retorted. "And I'm certain that I know a few people who might appreciate a well-brewed potion as a gift."

Severus looked back at her, his eyes going wide.

"You think I should… brew things for people? That would be… acceptable?" he asked.

Hermione smiled gently. "The presents we make for those we care about are worth more than material things, Sev. You put your heart and soul, your magic, into making them. That will always be more valuable than some store bought trinket that is mass produced merely to celebrate commercialism at this time of the year."

His dark eyes darted between both of hers, searching her face and her eyes for something. A very small smile pulled at one corner of his mouth. Hermione had come to know it as an expression that meant he was extremely pleased with her. That little half-smile meant he was pleased that he would be able to save face whilst still finding a solution to a problem. It meant he was pleased with her and that he wanted to hug her, most of the time, but that he didn't dare, lest she push him away. He'd sought affection too many times in the past – with his parents – only to be rejected.

Crawling closer, Hermione leaned into him, burrowing against his bony chest and rest her cheek there while she dug her arms under his back in an embrace. She felt him stiffen for a moment before he wrapped his arms around her, too.

"Why is it," Bass's voice intruded on the moment as Hermione cuddled into Severus, her eyes closing with contentment. "That every time I come in here, I find you two in bed together without inviting me to join you?"

Hermione smiled against Sev's shoulder.

"Because you're a git," Severus told him.

"You know, just for that," Bass said before racing over and diving on top of the pair of them. Severus huffed as the wind was knocked out of him and Hermione whined in protest at the heavy lump upon her back when Rabastan flopped on top of her, burrowing his arms around her and Severus and insisting on getting in on their hug, as he so often did.

"Git," Severus grumbled by Hermione's ear.

"See, now isn't this nicer?" Bass argued, sounding pleased. "Honestly, I don't know why you two insist on suffering without me. I'm always available for snuggling."

"You're always available with moronic nonsense," Severus argued. "I'm going to enjoy not having to put up with you over Christmas."

"That's just cold, Snape," Bass huffed. "And a complete lie. You'll ache with missing me. We both know it And Hermione will, of course, have to console you by inviting me over more frequently than just the ball, sparing me the ridiculousness that will be Rodulphus's engagement party."

"I already invited you and you declined, remember?" Hermione huffed.

"As though I had a choice?" Rabastan complained. "Believe me, I'd rather not watch my brother be stuck with that bitch. She's bloody barmy, I tell you. Roddy's been writing to me and he's seriously considering skipping the country just to avoid her."

"Well, you'll have to take it up with your parents if you want to be allowed to visit," Hermione told the boy when he propped his chin on her shoulder while Severus squirmed beneath her, clearly being squished.

"I already tried," Rabastan sighed glumly. "They said no. Other than the Ball, I'm to spend time with the family. Bloody bollocks, that's what it is. But I want you both to know that when I arrive for the ball there will be much snuggling just as soon as we're out of view of my parents. They'd probably kill me if they could see me acting so inappropriately with two lowly commoners such as yourselves."

"Lowly commoners this, Bass," Severus said before kicking the other boy and bucking under Hermione in such a way that Rabastan was dislodged and rolled to the side so that he wasn't crushing Hermione or Severus.

"Why do you insist on making me feel unappreciated?" Rabastan pretended hurt.

"Of course you're appreciated," Snape retorted. "From a distance. Where we don't have to smell you. Or listen to your whiny voice."

"I think he's in love with me, Hermione," Rabastan said, tugging on Hermione until she was sandwiched between the two of them, all three spooned sideways across the bed.

"How could he not be?" Hermione laughed. "Isn't everyone?"

"See, this is why you're my favourite witch," Bass smirked.

"If she's your favourite, could you two take your adoration for one another somewhere else before I vomit?" Severus complained.

"We'd miss you too much, Sev," Hermione assured him. Severus grunted doubtfully in reply, back to being in a strop and Hermione sighed. He was always in a strop, it seemed. She couldn't wait to get him to her place with the Lyalls simply to have him away from everyone else for the sake of avoiding issues like this when someone said something to rub him the wrong way.

"It's probably true," Rabastan agreed. "Even if you are a sour little sod. How did I end up being friends with the grumpiest bloke in our year and the perkiest witch I've ever met? More importantly, how are you two even friends?"

"Just lucky, I guess," Hermione grinned at Rabastan over her shoulder.

"Maybe I need to figure out what I did wrong to end this bad karma I'm suffering," Bass smirked.

Hermione kicked him lightly and he laughed. She laughed too and even Severus chuckled just a bit. Hermione couldn't help but feel the warm glow of happiness to know that just maybe, if they kept on like this forever, she might be able to rescue them both from the Dark path they were otherwise doomed to walk.