As they sat down for dinner, Mr. Lanning took Hermione's coat. Looking up at him, she gulped at seeing his harsh, aquiline features so very close. "Do I scare you, Miss Granger?" Mr. Lanning asked, his tone deceptively mild and even a trace curious. Studying her intently, his hawkish eyes told the lie in his words.
Hermione Granger considered the question for a fleeting instant. The incident earlier rushed into her head, and filled her thoughts instead. Intentional. He meant to do it. "If I said no, you'd know me a liar. But I never lie if I can help it, and so I'll say - sometimes."
And Severus laughed, his voice rich and dark as buckwheat honey. "An honest woman is a treasure, indeed!"
"Oh, I'm not always this honest, to be sure. But if we're to work together, it seems like we might as well know each other."h
"I can perhaps be persuaded to lay a few masks down, at least for the evening." Severus' eyes were always sparkling, and Hermione found herself wondering what was going on inside his Slytherin skull.
"And what will I find beneath them?" Hermione asked, suddenly burning with curiosity.
"Why more masks, of course. But perhaps you'll like these better. Truth be told, I never liked the bombastic, mordant schoolmaster anyway."
"What lies beneath all those masks, Damien?"
"Oh, if you want to know that question, you'll have to ask someone far wiser than me. It's been twenty years and then some, since I heard my own voice. A mask is quite a comfortable device, I've found."
Still hiding, still the child in the corner, in the cold. "Maybe you'll just have to take them off, one by one."
"I'd be wary of that, were I you. You might find a riddle under the last."
Hermione's laughter was a crystal glass breaking, the irrevocable shards sparkling in the sunlight. "That's the first thing you've told me tonight that hasn't been a blatant lie. And it's the least honest thing you've said tonight."
Severus simply looked at Hermione, raising an eyebrow just a twitch, inviting her to continue.
"You cannot know a man by how he sees himself, else Lucius Malfoy would be a hero and Ronald Weasley the king of braggadicio." Severus' arrogance had always been smaller, his confidence unshakeable and uncertain at once.
"You also cannot know a man by how others see him, else Harry Potter would be some combination of impossible idiot, upstart hero, and lothario." Hermione's voice drawled out the last, in a fitting display of sarcasm. The other ideas were true enough to be possible, but Harry, as some sort of Cassanova - that was pure wit (it was also something Hermione had composed years ago...)
"If all else fails - and it will - you judge a person by their behavior." Hermione looked keenly at Severus, before asking, "What have you been doing these past five years, Mr. Lanning?"
[a/n: Read and Review. This is the moment of truth: if I get 10 reviews (total), I'll go figure out how to do the long version of this story. The short version's already planned, and if you don't review, that's what you'll get. But I daresay you might like the longer version better. I don't like teasing you, after all.]