"...hardly a laughing matter. This has never happened to me before - as you well know," added Snape, very much on his dignity.

"Selective memory, too," said Hermione in a choked voice. Her shoulders shaking, her expression was hidden by her tangled bush of hair and the pillow in which she had buried her face.

"If you had managed to stop giggling for more than ten seconds at a time I might have been able to concentrate," added Snape, aggrieved.

All sounds of amusement stopped. After a few moments Hermione's head rose from concealment, her cheeks flushed from laughter; there was no trace of amusement on her face now.

"Since when have I required a special effort on your part?" she inquired, looking every inch the Head of Gryffindor and Deputy Headmistress.

It was at that precise moment that Severus Snape, the cleverest man at Hogwarts - except for a spotty-faced fifteen year old Ravenclaw - made an elementary mistake. Abandoning the habits of a lifetime, he tried a heavy-handed spot of humour.

"Well, you're hardly in the first flush of youth, are you?" he said.

Even the jiggle of her breasts as her spine straightened did not distract him from recognition of the magnitude of his mistake. But by then it was already too late.

Because Charms had always been one of Hermione's many strengths she was packed, dressed and returned to the quarters allocated to the Gryffindor Head of House in under five minutes, watched by a sulky and very much on his dignity Severus Snape.

It was only when Hermione was gone that Snape realised she had transfigured their bed into an oversize and bright pink fluffy rabbit, complete with drooping ears and a winsome expression.

A broken vase and enough bad language to make a house elf blush later, Hermione became aware that she was not alone. She swung around to find Severus' small owl hovering anxiously at her shoulder, one skinny leg kicking in what was obviously supposed to be an encouraging manner.

"And you can take that away," Hermione told him. "You go back and tell that snake in the grass that he can take his apology and shove it where even a house elf won't polish. Further more..."

Archimedes hiccuped and coughed; a pellet composed of mice bones and claws pattered down her - now clad - bosom.

"Oh, Archimedes! There, there," she added, hastily modifying her tone when he gave a series of Camille-like coughs.

Trust Severus to have a neurotic owl. "Though I suppose it's hardly surprising," she told Archimedes. "Living with Severus is enough to drive the most patient woman mad."

Archimedes turned his head one hundred and eighty degrees, the better to study her.

"Don't start with me," Hermione warned him. "This time it wasn't my fault. Now go away. I'm busy unpacking."

It was a bare-faced lie and both she and Archimedes knew it but she had her pride.

Too plump to be capable of hovering with any degree of conviction, the beat of Archimedes' wings became increasingly frantic as he dipped floorwards before regaining vertical lift-off.

"No. I'm not interested in anything Severus might have written," Hermione told him firmly. "If he wants to apologise - and he'd better- he can damn well come and do it in person. A little grovelling will do him the world of good. He might be the new headmaster but if he thinks he can - Oops!"

Hermione saved Archimedes from crash-landing just in time and set him to catch his breath while perched on her wrist.

They were none of them getting any younger, she reminded herself with a pang as she listened to him wheeze.

The prickle of tiny claws intensified as, with a look of pleading, Archimedes balanced precariously on one foot while waving the other one at her in what he obviously took to be a beguiling manner.

She had never been able to resist him.

"I don't know why I fall for this," Hermione grumbled, carefully unfastening the parchment from his leg. "You do it to me every time. You're shameless. Just like your damn master." Enlarging the piece of parchment, she unrolled it and studied her lover's apology.

Come home or the kneazle gets it.

"Typical," sniffed Hermione, absent-mindedly kissing the top of Archimedes' head.

He ruffled his feathers, shook out his wings and made a few gruff-sounding noises but he mellowed enough to accept the vole-flavoured owl treat she offered him. Then he flew to the fireplace and perched on the mantlepiece in a pointed manner.

"Yes, yes. Of course I'm coming. How Minerva stuck these quarters is beyond me," added Hermione, who had never had cause to occupy them except during 'disagreements' with Severus.

"You're back then," noted Snape. His casual tone might have been more convincing but for the incredibly tidy state of the living room, the flowers on the mantlepiece - in the sixty years she had known Severus Hermione had never known him to offer flowers - and the fact he was wearing the crimson robe she had given him last Christmas, and which had stayed in the back of his wardrobe ever since.

Hermione stepped out of the fireplace and brushed ash from the hem of her robe. "Gloat and I'll transfigure more than your furniture."

In the forty odd years they had lived together they had enjoyed some 'lively' debates. It belatedly occurred to Snape that he couldn't remember winning one of them.

"I'll take your bags through to the bedroom," he said, having become something of an optimist in what he still liked to refer to as late middle-age.

"You leave them where they are and tell me where my gorgeous boy is?"

Snape's expression further soured as an exceedingly large kneazle, successor to the much-loved, bitterly mourned Crookshanks, strolled into view and began to wind his ways around Hermione's ankles.

Fazackerly made harsh protesting noises before allowing Hermione to cuddle and kiss him.

A bit like Severus, she thought fondly, before her nose wrinkled. She set Fazackerly down in a hurry.

"You've been bribing that kneazle with sardines again. Really, Severus. You know he'll have sardine-breath for days and..."

Snape tuned out what she was saying and just enjoyed the fact she was saying it in their quarters.

" a word I've been saying, have you?" Hermione realised, more in resignation than in anger.

"I missed you," he said artfully, pitching his voice a little deeper than usual and making sure to maintain eye contact. He still marvelled that such an intelligent woman could fall for such an obvious ploy. Of course, it contained an element of truth but...

Her expression softened and he found himself with an armful of warm, sardine-scented Hermione.

All went swimmingly until they went in the bedroom and she discovered he had blown up the bed she had transfigured.