A/N: Another quick M-rating-worthy scene in this chapter.


A Few Months Later

"Do you have any earrings I can borrow?" Ginny asked in a raised voice.

"In the box on my desk," Hermione called from the bathroom. She was standing in front of the mirror, trying to wrestle one last rebellious curl into submission.

Pinning the wayward strands with a handy sticking spell, she sat her wand on the vanity and appraised her reflection. She was actually impressed with the image that stared back at her. She looked good — older and more sophisticated somehow — with her hair swept up. Understated color on her eyelids and a light coat of mascara on her lashes made her pupils look twice as large as normal. The ruby-adorned antique hair combs that Lucius had brought her back from Paris were tucked into her glossy curls, the jewels shimmering in the light as she turned her head to examine each angle.

Her gown perfectly matched the rubies, a hue somewhere between crimson and burgundy. It was the fanciest thing that she had ever owned and the most expensive that she had ever purchased for herself. The Galleons had been well worth it though, she decided, as she turned to critique her profile. The silky fabric hugged all the right curves and flared at all the best places. The only concession that she had had to make was that the angle of neckline had required her to use a small glamour to conceal the scar that ran between her breasts. Still, she loved it and couldn't wait for her date to see it.

"Can I wear the dangly golden snitch ones?" the redhead asked loudly from the other room. "Why do you even have snitch earrings?"

Hermione smirked at her reflection and went to join the younger witch. She glanced down at the open box on the desk. Its contents were strewn across the tabletop. She picked up the earrings in question and handed them to Ginny. "Ron gave them to me for Christmas the year before last. He was so proud of himself."

Ginny snorted as she looped the gold wire into her earlobes. "What an idiot."

"Yes, but a well-meaning one," the older girl replied as she returned the rest of the pieces to the jewelry box. With a fond smile she slid her retired Head Girl badge back into its velvet-lined compartment. She hadn't worn it since graduation, having officially swapped it for her apprenticeship emblem. Luna had been granted the title of Head Girl this year, a surprising choice that had thus far proved inspired. Meanwhile Ginny, whom everyone had thought was a shoo-in for Head Girl, had adopted Harry's position as Gryffindor's Quidditch Captain instead. Everyone was happy with the arrangement.

Earrings in place, the youngest Weasley turned to look fully at her best friend for the first time since she had emerged from the loo. "Wow," she breathed. "You look amazing, Hermione. Snape's gonna flip."

The curly-haired witch blushed at the compliment but waved it away. "What about you? Draco's going to be all over you."

Unsurprisingly, the redhead was absolutely stunning. Where Hermione was short and petite, Ginny was tall and athletically toned. She had charmed her fiery tresses into waves and pinned up the sides, leaving the bulk of them to flow freely down her back. Her gown was midnight blue. The bodice was bejeweled and the back plunged into a deep V that ended just above her tailbone. Hermione, who would never have the stature to wear such a thing, couldn't help but feel the tiniest bit envious of the girl.

"He bought the dress so he knows what it looks like. I am hoping that seeing me in it will inspire him to take it off rather quickly though," the Chaser replied with a wicked grin. "I've missed him so damn much."

Ginny's parents had flipped out and strictly forbidden her dating a Malfoy when she had first broken the news. After Draco had shown up at the Burrow every day for two weeks though, Molly and Arthur had agreed to at least have dinner with him and Lucius. The meeting of former enemies, though awkward and fairly uncomfortable for all parties, had been enough to convince the Weasleys that the pure-blood family wasn't completely evil any longer. After much debate and a lot of whining, they had finally relented and the mismatched couple had spent the rest of their summer glued together. But ever since Ginny had returned to Hogwarts for her final year and Draco had begun his classes at England's premiere wizarding university, their only contact had been through copious letters.

Before Hermione could reply, there was a sharp knock at the door. The girls exchanged a brief glance and Ginny went to answer it. From where she stood, the Muggle-born couldn't see the Potions Master but his voice was unmistakable as it filtered into the room. Familiar or not, it still sent a pleasant zing down her spine.

"Good evening, Miss Weasley," Snape said in perfunctory greeting. "Are the two of you ready?"

"Good evening, Professor," Ginny replied cordially, still slightly uncomfortable in his presence outside of the classroom. She stepped back and motioned for the wizard to follow her into the room. "I think so."

The man was wearing smart dress robes, a crisp cravat, and had his shoulder-length hair tied back at the nape of his neck with a black velvet strap. For the first time, the seventh-year could almost see why her friend was so enamored with him. Maybe. If she squinted.

"We should be leaving…" His words tapered off as his scanning eyes fell upon the older witch.

If it had been anyone other than her Potions professor, a thoroughly scary man, Ginny would have laughed at the abrupt change in his demeanor and then cooed at the positively love-struck expression on his normally harsh features. Until that very moment, she hadn't truly believed that the wizard was actually capable of returning Hermione's affection but his current countenance left no doubt.

The two stared at each other, neither moving, for what felt like ages until the redhead cleared her throat to remind them both that she was still in the room. The older girl's cheeks colored slightly as she glanced at her but it was Snape that spoke without bothering to turn around.

"Would you be so kind as to wait out in the corridor, Miss Weasley? I need to speak to Miss Granger alone for a moment."

Ginny smirked at the back of his head but bit back the cheeky reply that came to mind in lieu of preserving her Potions grade. Instead she picked up her small clutch from the sofa, scratched Crookshanks behind the ears, and quietly let herself out of the room. She had no interest in watching them snog anyway.

When the door clicked shut, Hermione's chocolate eyes slid back to the dashing wizard in front of her, familiar butterflies twirling in her stomach. With his hair pulled back and his perfectly-tailored robes, he looked like a leading man straight out of an Austen novel. She smiled up at him. "You look very handsome tonight, Severus."

His dark eyes glinted the way that they always did when she complimented him and he stalked towards her, closing the distance between them almost predatorily. Her pulse sped up in response and she tried to step backwards only to find herself thwarted by the bookshelves along the wall. She blinked and the wizard was suddenly standing over her, his long fingers at her waist, his chest barely an inch from hers. She looked up and fell heart first into his gaze.

Not one to waste time, Severus dipped his head and placed his mouth against the delectably bare skin of the witch's neck. The scent of jasmine invaded his senses. "You look ravishing, pet," he murmured into her flesh. Her pulse point jumped slightly at his words and he sucked at it languidly before moving to her earlobe. "In fact," he continued in a throaty murmur, "I'm of the mind to send Malfoy an owl telling him that we aren't coming and immediately Floo you to the dungeons instead."

Oh, but he was so damn good at making her squirm. He had honed it to an art form — his new superhero power, being able to make her wet at the speed of sound. She swallowed thickly and placed her hand on his chest to push him away. "As lovely as that sounds, we have to go. We're pretty much the guests of honor."

It had been a year, nearly to the date, since they had finalized the potion that had cured Lucius. True to character, the wealthy socialite had felt that the occasion required a celebration ball. Hermione had been thrilled when they had received the invitation, having wanted to attend a party at Malfoy Manor ever since Draco had shown her the ballroom on her very first visit to the house. She had even convinced the Headmaster to allow Ginny to leave the school in order to attend with them. The problem was that Lucius had also invited a couple hundred other people involved with the potion, including the other recipients and their families, healers from St. Mungo's, and the entire potions department of the Ministry. After seeing the guest list weeks ago, Severus had been trying to back out, having no desire to be thrust into the center of that attention maelstrom.

The wizard growled low in his throat to express his dislike of her insistence and tried to step in closer to her again. She held her ground, pushing back firmly to hold him in place. She knew that it wouldn't take much of his personal brand of persuasion to convince her to forgo the whole event. "I've been looking forward to this, Severus. Dressing up and spending the evening together outside of the castle," she said with a bit of a pout. "It's almost our anniversary too, you know."

His mouth twitched. Of course he knew that the kiss — the one that had begun everything — had taken place exactly three hundred and sixty-three days ago. That night had completely altered the course of his life; he wasn't apt to forget it anytime soon. He had several well-planned surprises in store to celebrate on Monday, including an incredibly rare first edition of Pride and Prejudice that had taken him ages to procure hidden in his rooms.

"Plus," Hermione added when he didn't respond, a sly grin spreading over her features, "As an incentive to get you to dance with me, I'm not wearing any knickers." She made to move past him, as if she hadn't said a word, but he grabbed her effortlessly and halted her progress.

His free hand roamed questioningly over her bum for a moment, as if to verify her claim, before he responded. "Naughty little witch. Already asking for another detention." His voice lowered to a seductive purr on the last word.

Her pulse immediately quickened and her cheeks grew warm. Since the first night that they had slept together, 'detention' had become a codeword of sorts between them. While still very much in the infamous 'honeymoon stage', their sex life was full of spontaneity and variety. It ranged from emotionally intimate love-making with lots of cuddling and whispered words of adoration to fast and frenzied shagging in the nearest broom cupboard and seemingly everything in between. The former Death Eater had introduced her to the delights of bondage and spanking and had encouraged her to be open-minded and to embrace all her of fantasies and desires, even the ones that scared her a bit. They had jokingly dubbed these sessions 'detention', both in homage to the endless hours of foreplay in disguise that they had shared in the first months of her apprenticeship and to Hermione's fondness for role-playing the misbehaving student to Snape's strict disciplinarian persona. Over the past few months she had developed a near-Pavlovian response to the word's use and he bloody well knew it.

Closing her eyes for a brief moment to collect herself, she slid out of the wizard's clutches and made once again for the door. She added an extra shimmy to her hips for his benefit. "Come on, Professor. It won't do for us to be late." She grinned when she heard him grumble but follow in her wake.

Ginny had been not-so-patiently waiting in the hall for what had felt like years when the chamber door finally opened and the couple emerged. She pushed off of the adjacent wall that she had been leaning against and dropped her hands. In her anxious state, she had been picking at her manicure. She glanced down and made a face; she had ruined two of the nails on her left hand. Without a word she held out her fingers to the older girl.

"Sorry," Hermione said with a slightly chagrined expression, instantly recognizing the tell-tale sign that they had made the redhead sit idle for far too long when she was already 'chomping at the bit' to get to the manor. She wordlessly repaired the girl's damaged polish with her wand.

Severus, who neither understood nor necessarily cared about the witches' exchange, ushered them both down the corridor. The formally-dressed trio garnered several curious glances as they traversed the castle but a few well-aimed sneers kept any comments or questions at bay. Once out in the moonlit grounds, they walked in silence, no one speaking until they were outside the heavy perimeter gates.

"We're due back here at midnight," the professor announced, his voice authoritative. "It was the stipulation that the Headmaster gave for allowing you to leave, Miss Weasley." He pinned his student with an unflinching gaze. He still wasn't sure how he had gotten roped into being a chaperone this evening but had a vague recollection of his sneaky apprentice asking him to do so during a moment when most of his blood had been diverted away from his brain. "If you know what's good for you," he continued with a scowl, "you will behave yourself and not make me track you down when the time comes to leave."

The girl shook her head sharply, sending her fiery tresses flying all around her. "No sir," she squeaked. "I really appreciate you allowing me to go tonight."

He nodded, recognizing that the girl was important to both Hermione and his godson. "Very well, let us be off."

Thankfully they had all been to their destination before and the youngest member of the group had recently acquired her license so side-along wasn't necessary. Three distinct claps of thunder marked their Disapparation and the startled cry of a lone crow and a swirl of dry leaves was all that was left behind.

The group appeared side-by-side in the candlelit antechamber of the Malfoy ballroom a moment later. Hermione had enough time to blink away the unsettling sensation of Apparition before the witch beside her took off in a blur of motion with an elated screech. The seventh-year flew across the polished marble floors directly into the arms of a familiar blond. Had she not been wearing a floor length evening gown, she likely would've jumped up and wrapped her thighs around the boy's slim hips.

"Oomph," Draco wheezed as the enthusiastic girl ran into him full-force, knocking him backwards a step. He smirked and wrapped his arms around her. "Hey Red," he drawled in his patented aloof tone. "Miss me much?"

"Yes, you poncy git," she replied before tackling his mouth with her own.

Opposite the cavorting pair, Hermione snickered and Snape's lip curled in disgust at the highly public display of affection. He didn't necessarily expect better from the youngest Weasley — the family wasn't exactly known for their impulse control — but he was displeased to see that one of his own would encourage such indecorous behavior. "Thank Merlin you've never acted so juvenile," he remarked to the witch at his side.

"Aw, leave them alone," she chided, bumping his arm playfully with her elbow. "It's sweet. They haven't seen each other since school started back."

"It's unseemly."

Two more pops of Apparition sounded as another couple, dressed in wizarding finery, appeared in the middle of the chamber, obscuring the spectacle from view. By the time the newcomers had moved off towards the entrance to the ballroom, the snogging pair had parted and were crossing towards them.

Draco held out his hand to his godfather, a smugly pleased expression on his face. "Good to see you, Severus."

The elder wizard shook the proffered appendage. "You as well. How has Excalibur been treating you?"

"Very well," the blond replied, his smile widening. Thus far his classes had been challenging but utterly fascinating and being able to leave behind all the presumptions that he had lived under at Hogwarts had been incredibly liberating. He had been able to become a new person, his own person — not a Slytherin, not the child of a Death Eater, not Harry Potter's nemesis — and he was thriving. "I'd like to pick your brain about something before you leave tonight, actually, if you don't mind. I'm working on a rather intriguing project."

Snape nodded in assent. He was proud that the boy he had watched grow from infancy was following in his footsteps. The fact that Narcissa hadn't pursued a Potions Mastery due to pure-blood prejudices had never sat well with him.

Draco turned his attention to the second witch and made an exaggerated show of looking her over from head to toe. He smirked. "You clean up surprisingly well, Granger."

Hermione rolled her eyes. "Shut up, Malfoy, and give me a hug."

The pure-blood sighed dramatically, as though the suggestion was an arduous chore, before hugging the petite woman tightly. "I've missed you too," he murmured into her upswept curls. "And you look beautiful tonight."

She pecked him on the cheek in thanks as they parted and then, without further ado, Ginny whisked him away to do gods only knew what. "See you later," the Chaser called amidst her boyfriend's haughty laughter.

"Midnight, Miss Weasley," the Potions Master warned again. "Not a moment later." She waved her hand lazily over her shoulder in acknowledgement. His mouth compressed into a thin line of annoyance.

Hermione turned and gave her escort an amused, lopsided grin. "I guess we should go find Lucius."

Severus sighed and then held out his arm to the witch, tucking her small hand into the crease of his elbow. "I'm sure he is just inside the doors," he answered, gesturing in the direction of the ballroom's main entrance. "As host he's expected to greet everyone as they enter."

The Muggle-born nodded, having no experience with such social expectations outside of old movies that she had seen as a child, and let the wizard lead her towards the small queue that had formed. "Have you been to many parties here?" she asked offhandedly.

"A fair few," he allowed without much enthusiasm or inflection. "The Dark Lord enjoyed holding revels here. He was a fan of grandeur."

The couple in front of them shifted uneasily, having obviously overheard, and Hermione's face fell. She hated when she stumbled across such reminders of his past by not stopping to consider her words before they tumbled out of her mouth. Were those memories partly to blame for his lack of enthusiasm tonight? She squeezed his bicep through his dress robes in support but had no idea how to respond. Hopefully the evening would prove pleasant enough to replace some of those erstwhile recollections.

The line before them gradually dispersed, allowing the pair a wide view of the ballroom for the first time that evening. Over a hundred witches and wizards were already milling about the large chamber amidst the floating trays of champagne and hors d'oeuvres. An odd ensemble of musicians was congregated in the orchestra pit while a woman and two men sang an upbeat but unfamiliar song from the stage. The massive chandeliers twinkled brightly with hundreds of flickering candles and the ceiling itself had been charmed to project a night sky full of constellations and a brilliant full moon.

Hermione gushed at the sight. It looked just as she imagined it would on her first visit. And here she was in the company of the same wizard that she had daydreamed about dancing with. The oddly-perfect symmetry between life and fantasy at that moment was almost too much to comprehend.

The corner of Severus' mouth twitched as he watched the girl take in the grandness of the ballroom. He had seen it all before, so many times and in such unpleasant circumstances that it had lost most of its appeal to him, but she was taking it all in with fresh eyes. Her pleasure and enthusiasm was tangible and infectious. Placing his hand at the small of her back, he guided her forward. "Come, pet. Lucius is waiting."

The pure-blood beamed when he saw them approach and he held out his hands in greeting. "There you are! I saw Ginevra briefly so I knew you must be here somewhere."

Hermione left Snape's side to embrace the blond wizard, as had become custom for them in the past year. "Thanks for inviting us, Lucius."

"Of course, of course. You two are the whole reason I'm even having the ball," he replied, hugging the petite witch briefly and then holding her out at arm's length to appreciate her dress. "You look positively stunning, my dear. Are those the hair combs I gave you?" She nodded and his smile widened even further. "They match your gown perfectly." He spun her around by one hand to see the fabric in motion. She giggled but complied. "Stunning. Just stunning."

"Do stop fawning all over my witch, Malfoy," Snape said in exasperation. It wasn't unusual for the two of them to carry on as such — they tended to be quite flirtatious with each other, often for the sole purpose of annoying him.

"Ah, Severus," Lucius said in greeting, flashing an arrogant grin over the witch's shoulder as if just noticing his old friend. "You're looking well. Though you're obviously still too cantankerous to deserve this beauty."

The younger Slytherin apparently couldn't argue with that assessment. They shook hands and Hermione giggled again. The truth was, yes, the man was now and would always be surly and ill-tempered but gods help her, she loved him that way. He'd be utterly boring without his trademark snark.

"You remember Adelaide, of course," the blond continued, gesturing them towards the statuesque witch at his side.

They had, in fact, only met the woman twice before but neither would ever forget her. The curvy redhead was the self-same that had tested the Vomica Domintor potion in the bowels of the Ministry a year ago. Her name was Adelaide St. Martin, though she preferred to be called Addy — a preference that none of the Slytherin men seemed capable of honoring. Born to half-blood parents in northern France, she had graduated from Beauxbatons Academy of Magic. After school she had moved to London for work. During a trip back to her hometown over a decade ago, she had accidently stumbled across a pair of masked men attacking a Muggle girl in a dark alley. Interceding on the child's behalf, she had been tortured within an inch of her life for her trouble, which had led to the piteous condition that she had been in when they had first encountered her.

After Lucius had returned from his extended Parisian holiday, he had floundered around a bit without anything to occupy his time. One day, while bored out of his mind, an owl had arrived with an invitation to a support group of sorts for those who had been victims of the Cruciatus Curse and subsequently cured. With precious little else to do, he had attended, for a lark if nothing else. He had been pleasantly surprised to discover that the unnamed patient from the potion presentation was the unofficial leader of the program.

Having already deemed her beautiful, he had been quick to become enamored with the idea of courting her. He had even owled Hermione for advice on the matter. Because of her history, Adelaide hadn't been easy to convince and it had taken the pure-blood months to persuade her into cautiously agreeing to a first date. Despite her reservations, they had gotten along exceptionally well and had been seeing each other exclusively ever since.

Hermione had only met Addy one other time, at a private dinner at Malfoy Manor, but had taken an instant liking to her. She was intelligent, opinionated, and strong-willed but also sweet and incredibly compassionate. After spending nearly ten years as a vegetable, the woman had dedicated her life to humanitarian causes, namely the Torture Victims Outreach and Support Network that she had founded. She also was quite adept at keeping Lucius on his toes and was constantly challenging him out of his wealthy and selfish socialite mentalities.

"Of course," Hermione said warmly, reaching out a hand to the redhead. "Hello, Addy. How are you?"

"Incredibly nervous about this evening but also glad that it's finally here," Adelaide replied with a smile. "The planning has been a nightmare." She shook the younger girl's hand and then kissed her on both cheeks. "But it's good to see you again. You look lovely."

"Thank you." Hermione blushed, having reached her tolerance level of compliments for the evening. "It's good to see you again as well. And I love your dress." The garment in question was a shimmery gold strapless number that fell all the way to the floor and hugged the woman's ample curves like it had been painted on. The combination of the gold gown and her long red hair was decidedly Gryffindor and Hermione couldn't help but wonder if the witch's Slytherin suitor had noticed. She glanced at Lucius, who was smiling at the older witch like a lovesick third year, and had to swallow a giggle.

Snape suddenly grasped her elbow, demanding her attention, and she looked up at him questioningly. "A line is forming," he explained in a quiet voice.

A quick look behind her confirmed that there was, in fact, a line of smartly-dressed couples queued up and waiting to enter the ballroom. They were holding up the hosts and clogging the entrance. Oops.

"It was good to see you again, Ms. St. Martin," Severus said with a courteous tip of his head before ushering the younger witch down the steps and into the fray.

Hermione peered around owlishly at the mingling guests. She recognized a fair few of them — nameless faces from the Ministry and familiar Healers from the halls of St. Mungo's — but there were still an awful lot of strangers. The faint stirrings of anxiety bubbled up when the wizard dropped her elbow and she clutched at his arm before he could put any real distance between them. She knew that she shouldn't. Even though they weren't purposely keeping their relationship a secret anymore — everyone important to them, save for Hermione's parents, already knew — they had decided to keep it under wraps for the evening so as not to cause a scandal. Her brain, however, wasn't thinking entirely rationally at the moment.

Snape glanced down at the girl and instantly recognized her distress. They had been working on techniques for months to combat this very problem. "Deep breaths, Hermione," he murmured in a soothing tone and moved his hand to the small of her back to lend his support. "Controlled, calculated. No one is here to hurt you."

She did as he suggested, counting each inhale in a whisper. They had found that this tactic helped to focus her mind and keep the nausea at bay. He was pleased to see that despite her discomfort, she was smiling, albeit insincerely, because their arrival had already drawn attention. While he didn't know everyone in attendance, he was fairly positive that everyone knew who they were.

"I've got a vial of your Calming Draught with me if you need it," the Potions Master offered quietly. After witnessing the episode in the Ministry lobby last year, he had drawn up a recipe specifically for his apprentice in case she found herself in similar circumstances. It was tailored to her diminutive size and strong enough to be effective but not leave her inebriated. Little did she know he had begun carrying a vial with him whenever they went somewhere public.

Hermione turned her smile on him and for an instance it became genuine. "Thank you, Severus. I think I'm okay now."

"Good," he said in a low, suddenly annoyed tone, "because here they come."

The pair was soon bombarded by party guests, each wanting to shake their hands or express their gratitude. It was flattering and irritating and overwhelming all at once. They mingled amongst the crowd, exchanging pleasantries, for what felt like hours before being able to break away. When a lull finally came, they made a beeline for the refreshment table, feigning the need for sustenance. Moving swiftly so as to avoid being snagged into another conversation, Severus led his date into the concealing shadows between the wall and the mounds of artfully-arranged snacks. He shooed away the squadron of fairies that had been hovering over the punch bowl and ladled out two glasses, handing one to Hermione.

"Well that was ridiculous," she commented, taking the proffered beverage.

"Indeed," the wizard replied though his tone was nearly whimsical.

Hermione studied his expression curiously. His smirk bordered on a true smile. He should be cross and grouchy from all the unsolicited adulation but was almost giddy or as close to such an emotion as she had ever witnessed in him. "What are you so happy about?"

Before he could answer, Lucius' amplified voice echoed through the chamber. The blond was up on the stage, Addy at his side, and was calling for attention. They turned in unison to face that end of the ballroom and Hermione felt Snape move in close behind her. Her stomach fluttered with suppressed excitement.

"I had just come to the realization," he whispered, his breath sweeping teasingly across the back of her exposed neck, "that for the first time in my life the most beautiful witch at the ball is on my arm."

The Gryffindor beamed from ear to ear, feeling warmth spread from chest to cheeks. He had gotten so much better at compliments in the past year. Though still not superfluous with praise, it was now spot on when it did occur. She leaned back into his strong frame slightly, wishing that they could be closer than their public locale would currently allow.

Lucius, with the help of the Sonorus charm, called again for everyone's attention and the room fell quiet. He flicked his white-blond hair over his shoulder and beamed at the amassed party-goers. "Adelaide and I would like to thank you all for joining us this evening," he announced, gesturing towards the redhead beside him. "We are here to celebrate an event that has changed the lives of each and every person in this room in one way or another." A low murmur rose from the crowd at these words. "I speak, of course, of the creation of the Cruciatus Vomica Domintor potion." The murmur morphed into a scattering of cheers and applause at the mention of the elixir and the pure-blood paused to allow it to die down. In the interim, the magically floating beverage trays seemed to double in number, doling out glasses of champagne to everyone within reach.

"If you aren't aware, Vomica Domintor translates, most aptly, to curse conqueror, and it was those two words that kept coming to mind yesterday as I tried to formulate what I wanted to say tonight." He paused for a moment, his pale eyes searching the crowd. When he spotted the pair, half-concealed in the shadows, he inclined his head in salute before continuing. "When Severus titled his discovery as such, I'm sure he believed it to simply be a succinct description — it eliminates, or conquers if you will, the effects of the Cruciatus curse."

Hermione felt Severus twitch at the mention of his name and the pure-blood's nod. His hand came up to rest discreetly at her waist, which only served to remind her that she was naked beneath her gown. His long fingers grazed over the delicate fabric covering her hip and she knew that he was rediscovering that tidbit as well. Her lips hitched into a grin.

"What he likely didn't consider at the time," Lucius continued, his tone heartfelt and captivating, "were the multitude of personal demons that his creation would conquer in the process. In eliminating the effects of the Cruciatus Curse, the potion broke a different sort of curse that had many of us in its clutches as well. It quite literally set us free." The crowd applauded again, loudly this time in enthusiastic agreement, and the blond put his arm around Addy. "We'd like everyone to raise their glasses with us to toast the miraculous potion that brought us all here tonight and its creators, Severus Snape and Hermione Granger."

Hermione blushed and squeezed the hand on her hip as the room raised their voices in unison. "To Severus Snape and Hermione Granger!"

Once the applause died back down and the champagne had all been consumed, Lucius summoned the singers to the stage and music quickly filled the air again. Several couples moved onto the dance floor to begin a slow waltz.

"That was interesting," Snape said quietly, reluctantly removing his hand from the witch and eying the multiple platters of food beside them contemplatively.

"Which part?" Hermione questioned, setting down her untouched glass of punch. It had been a little embarrassing to have the entire ballroom chant their names but Lucius' speech hadn't been altogether surprising. She had found it rather touching actually, and the last part — the one about the potion setting them free from a different kind of curse — had been true for her as well. Her life had been irrevocably changed by its creation.

Severus picked up an unidentifiable hors d'oeuvre with a toothpick and gave it a speculative sniff. He made a face and set it back on the tray. "The fact that he had Ms. St. Martin up there with him and included her in his speech."

"Aren't they hosting together?" she asked in reply, watching the wizard pick up and inspect a second bite-sized snack like it was a would-be potion ingredient. "She has more contact with all these people than Lucius does. It seemed perfectly normal that she'd be up there with him."

He scowled and returned the roll of mystery food. "I have never seen anyone play hostess here other than Narcissa. It was a rather demonstrative step for Lucius." He prodded a bowl of suspicious green goo dispassionately with his wand.

Hermione huffed in exasperation at his behavior and circled around to the front side of the table, scanning the contents. She quickly filled a plate with several items that she knew the wizard would eat. Though usually not picky, he had a rather amusing aversion to what he considered fancy food. She handed the plate to him. "I guess I didn't think of it that way. But it's obvious that he's in love with her." She smirked as he sniffed the items on the plate and found nothing repulsive. He popped a meatball in his mouth. "Does it bother you that she's taking Narcissa's place?"

Swallowing the mouthful, he shook his head. "No, not really. She seems to be good for him. I just found it interesting."

Before she had a chance to question him further, the sound of their surnames being called in a raised voice drew her attention in the opposite direction. It was all she could do to keep her expression from visibly falling when she located the source. Adolpho Blackworth was heading straight for them.

The rotund man hadn't changed much since Hermione had first met him in the Potions Patents office. Perhaps his hair was a bit thinner on top. His lecherous gaze sure hadn't been corrected and she felt an irrepressible need to cross her arms protectively over her chest as he approached.

"Snape! Granger! I've been trying to get a word with you two since you arrived," the wizard admonished, huffing a bit in between words from the exertion of crossing the ballroom at a quick clip. "Heck of a fan base here tonight." He thrust his beefy arm over the refreshment table to shake the Potions Master's hand.

Severus completed the gesture reflexively. "How are you, Adolpho?"

"Good, good. Lovely soiree," the wizard replied, greedily eying the platters of food as he picked up a plate. "Quite sporting of Malfoy to invite the committee."

Snape didn't reply, opting instead to pop a small wedge of fresh pineapple into his mouth. Hermione made a face as the chairman began to pile his plate with a disgusting amount of food. There was nothing that she liked about this man. She was an incredibly tolerant person — she had fallen in love with Severus Snape for Merlin's sake — but everything from the way his watery eyes fell too often on her cleavage to be accidental to his habit of calling everyone by their last name regardless of familiarity annoyed her. He was vulgar and rude and a bit of a pervert.

"So Granger," the wizard began, turning a leering gaze on her once his plate had reached max capacity. "How is your research coming along? I heard tale that you have been tinkering with the Cruciatus potion to work on the brain."

Her chocolate-brown eyes flitted to Severus over the squat man's shoulders and back again. The former Death Eater was, of course, listening intently despite his outward appearance of disinterest. She tried her best to smile politely at the Chairman. "Who told you that?"

Her private research was just that — private. It hadn't been made public knowledge and wouldn't be unless it proved successful, which was still months of work away from even being a possibility. The potions community could be quite cutthroat and until an idea had been issued a patent, it was fair game. Protecting one's intellectual property was a big deal. The only people that she had discussed her work with wouldn't have had any reason to tell this wizard about it.

Adolpho chuckled, making his protruding belly jiggle beneath his unflattering dress robes. Hermione failed to see anything humorous in her question. She glanced at Snape again and was pleased to see that a sneer was ghosting across his thin lips. At least she wasn't the only one annoyed by this turn of events.

"You can't expect to repeatedly run diagnostics in a closed hospital ward without gossip spreading, my dear," Adolpho replied jovially in between stuffing his face with caviar and toast points. "Rumor has it that you've been specifically concentrating on the Largebuttons."

The apprentice scowled. She had developed a good working rapport with the private duty Healers in Ward 49 but St. Mungo's was a big place with a lot of eyes, ears, and apparently wagging tongues. "It's the Longbottoms," she corrected waspishly. "Frank and Alice Longbottom. Decorated Aurors from the first war."

The portly wizard nodded as he shoved a greasy-looking hors d'oeuvre in his mouth. "Yes, them." He swallowed and licked his fingers. "Have you made any progress? What avenues are you pursuing?"

"I don't…" Hermione bit her tongue and mentally counted to ten. She had been on the verge of telling him off but thought better of it. This man, as rude and despicable as he was, was a longtime colleague of Severus' and a man of importance in the potions community. Making him an enemy would not serve her well in the future.

"I've been doing a lot of research into neurological synapses and brain cognition," she replied in forced civility, trying not to feel violated by having to divulge her secrets. "I believe that I have narrowed down most of the ingredient changes that will be necessary to alter the original potion. I've also determined that Charms will have to play a role, both in brewing and administering."

Adolpho's bushy eyebrows rose in interest. "Really? What type of Charms? Containment shields? Cohesion spells?"

She shook her head. "I'm not entirely sure yet. I'm hoping to collaborate with a Charms Master next week."

She had discussed her research with Flitwick in depth and he had agreed with her assessment that more than the potion alone would be needed to achieve her means. Unfortunately he had also admitted that the type of magic that she was likely to need was not really his specialty. He had referred her to a colleague of his, one of the leading Charms Masters in all of Europe. After exchanging several owls with the woman over the past few weeks, she had been intrigued enough to agree to meet and discuss the project in person.

"Excellent! As soon as you are at the testing stage, I'd love to be a witness." Another few thousand calories of fried food disappeared down the man's gullet.

Her gaze fell on Severus' yet again and he appeared to be on the verge of laughter, which for him meant a certain glint in his dark eyes and a nearly imperceptible twitch at the corner of his mouth. Oddly she felt her own annoyance slip away at the sight. "We'll see," she hedged with a slight grin that she couldn't quite suppress. "Don't hold your breath, though. Master Snape keeps me on a rather short leash." She heard the Slytherin actually snort at this claim. "He only allows me to work on my research in my free time."

Adolpho gave an explosive, belly-shaking guffaw and looked at the reticent Potions Master reproachfully. The man didn't seem to know what he had at his disposal — a young, nubile beauty that could also be worth her weight in gold. Some bastards got all the luck. "Such the stickler." He turned back to the little witch and flashed an ingratiating smile. "Let's leave Snape to his self-imposed moodiness. Come dance with me."

Hermione's eyes widened, like a deer caught in headlamps. She opened and closed her mouth a few times, trying to formulate a response, but was saved by a small and miraculous stroke of luck in the form of a tall, prissy blond. Lucius glided over to their little group as if he had sensed her discomfort from across the crowded ballroom. He slid his arm around her waist in one fluid motion and she had to swallow the sigh of relief that bubbled up in her throat.

"I'm afraid that the illustrious Miss Granger has promised this dance to me, Mr. Blackworth," he said smoothly. He didn't bother to wait for his words to fully register before leading her swiftly away.

When they reached the dance floor, Hermione reached up to kiss the wizard on the cheek. "Thank you."

Lucius quirked an eyebrow at the girl as he placed a palm at the small of her back and took her hand in the other. "Whatever was that for?" The next song began and he gracefully led her feet in time with the beat.

"For saving me from that wretched, horrible man," she replied with a shudder. "The mere idea of having to dance with him turns my stomach. I can't stand him."

"That much was obvious," the pure-blood drawled and then effortlessly spun them around with the music. He was pleased to find the witch a responsive dance partner. "I was surprised that Severus didn't beat me to your rescue."

Hermione turned her gaze to track the dark wizard in question. He had been drawn out of the shadows behind the refreshment table and was now surrounded by several members of the patent committee, including the loathsome chairman who was still stuffing his face. Snape caught and held her eye briefly, conveying a glint of exasperation, before focusing back on his audience. "I'm not sure that he knew how without looking like the jealous lover."

"Which, of course, is precisely what he is," the blond pointed out. He had already noticed his long-time friend surreptitiously watching their movement across the dance floor. When the wizard's gaze strayed in their direction again, he smirked and pulled the girl tighter to him just to see the younger Slytherin's nostrils flare.

She snickered, having caught the reaction as well. "Yes, but he doesn't want that to be public knowledge. He feels oddly guilty about his jealousy."

Malfoy suspected that he knew the root cause of those emotions but didn't comment. It was enough that the girl didn't seem bothered by it. They were quiet for a moment, moving in tandem to the song being belted out by the performers on stage. The couple dancing next to them, members of the outreach group that he was a part of, smiled and thanked him for the invitation and then practically gushed their appreciation towards Hermione, all while continuing to keep step. The Muggle-born blushed prettily and accepted their praise gracefully.

Once the well-wishers had moved along, Lucius dipped his partner masterfully and she grinned up at him before asking, "Speaking of lovers, how are things going with Addy?"

The Slytherin's pale eyes scanned the ballroom until they landed on the redhead beauty chatting with a group of Healers. An unconscious smile lit his features. "Very well, I believe. We have been taking things rather slow. We both have such complicated histories, as you know." An understatement if there ever was one — he was a former Death Eater and she had lost ten years of her life to his masked brethren. "But each day seems to bring us a bit closer and I find myself caring for her in a way that I didn't think would be possible again after Narcissa's passing."

Hermione's smile widened. He had become such a dear friend and it made her happy to see the man falling in love and moving forward with his life. "That's wonderful. I really like her."

The song ended and another, faster paced one began. The blond made no attempt to disentangle himself from her, instead leading her in a series of slightly quicker steps and turns. After she got the hang of it, she pursued another thread of conversation. "How's the book coming?"

"Splendidly," he replied, adjusting his hold upon her to accommodate the different style of dance. "I've been meeting with Jameson a couple times a week. He believes it should be ready for print by Christmas."

"Oh wow. That was fast."

Hermione had always believed that a book about the wealthy socialite's life would practically sell itself. Not only was his fall from grace and subsequent resurrection a fascinating story but the man could be unquestionably charismatic when he wanted to be. She had suggested the idea to him last Boxing Day when they had all been gathered in the library, strategizing over a chess set once again. The older Slytherin had been adamant against it at first, having no desire to drag out ancient history and expose his life to the public microscope. Despite his fondness for the limelight, there were plenty of skeletons in his past that he hadn't fancied being unearthed.

Being the stubborn Gryffindor that she was, however, Hermione kept bringing the subject up. She was convinced that getting the story out there — everything from being in Voldemort's inner circle to Narcissa's murder to his being rescued from the brink of death — would not only be a wizarding best seller but would be extremely cathartic for the wizard. A well-written book had the power to right a lot of wrongs, change preconceived notions, and clear the air. Theoretically it could enable him to begin his new life on a fresh, clean slate — something that she truly believed he deserved.

After the fifteenth consecutive owl in a two month stretch, Lucius had finally given in, allowing that he didn't have to do any of the actual writing. Rejoicing in her hard-earned victory, Hermione had searched high and low to find a qualified ghostwriter for the project. It had taken quite a bit of legwork and research but she had finally come across the perfect candidate — Brent Jameson, an author who had published a book about Voldemort's first reign of terror that had focused heavily on the megalomaniac's manipulative control over his followers. It had only taken one group luncheon for the man to agree to the proposed contract and come onboard.

"Yes, he's not one for dallying," Lucius replied, twirling her again. "To be perfectly honest, I have enjoyed working with him and will be a bit bereft of a project when we are finished."

A deep, silky voice interrupted their conversation, stilling their feet and making both heads turn towards the sound. "May I cut in?"

The Muggle-born beamed up at the dour wizard in her incomprehensible way and Malfoy smirked. "We have been friends a very long time, Severus, but I doubt that we would make good dance partners. Who would lead?"

Not skipping a beat for his friend's sarcasm, Snape made a blatant show of appraising the pompous blond from head to foot. "Between the two of us? Obviously me."

The older man scowled. "Are you implying that I am effeminate?"

"No need," Severus drawled as the song came to an end and the dancers surrounding them stopped to applaud. "I believe your shoe collection does that for me."

Lucius turned to look at the witch still in his embrace. She was desperately trying to suppress her amusement. "I have no idea how you can put up with him."

Allowing a grin to peek through, Hermione glanced at the man in question, who crossed his arms over his chest dispassionately, then back at the blond. "I don't either most of the time and yet here we are."

"Certainly one of the world's great mysteries." He dropped his hold on the girl and brought her hand up to his lips. "Thank you for the dance."

"Thank you for rescuing me," she replied, blushing ever-so-slightly at his chivalrous gesture.

The pure-blood dropped her hand and inclined his head in salute. "The pleasure was all mine, my dear." He winked and left the pair, purposely smacking the Potions Master with his shoulder as he passed.

Before anything more could be said, two sets of random ball attendees came over to shake their hands and sing their praises. The pair spoke with the guests until the music started up again, a slow sensual tango that seemed to settle in the veins and belly. Once free of the sycophants, Severus took the witch into his arms and began to move them across the floor, his dark eyes attempting to burn their way into her soul.

"Did you and the committee have a nice chat?" Hermione asked with a teasing grin.

A spark of annoyance flashed through his gaze. "Dolts. I paid enough attention to ensure nothing stupid was proposed but ignored the majority of the inane chatter."

"Your typical staff meeting behavior then?" she quipped.

He pulled her into him a bit closer, just enough to make his point. "My mind was elsewhere, if you must know."

She cocked her head to the side slightly, melting effortlessly into his arms. There was still too much space between them for her taste but she adored dancing with the wizard. They were so in sync on the dance floor that no effort was required of her. Her body simply followed his lead without hesitation, like a moth to a flame. She was again reminded of her wistful visions of waltzing with him a year ago. Her grin spread like warm honey. "And where would that be?"

"Malfoy's library actually." He suddenly spun her away from him and then brought her back in, pressing her back against his chest, close enough to purr in her ear. "With you."

Hermione's pulse quickened at the overall sensation that his quick and seductive actions had produced. "The library?" she asked a bit breathlessly. "Fancy borrowing a book or two?"

Severus' lips twitched in amusement but he shook his head. "Not this evening, no. I had a bit less studious ideas in mind."

She feigned surprise. "Surely you wouldn't dream of besmirching such an austere location, good sir. Wouldn't one of the many guestrooms be a better setting for such activities?"

"Definitely not," he answered before turning her around to face him. "In a bedroom, I'd be forced to throw you upon the mattress, which would undoubtedly crease your dress and muss your hair." He leered at her, admiring the way her cheeks colored and her irises grew two shades darker. "That simply wouldn't do for this evening. The library however—"

"Snape!" Adolpho's booming voice called as the rotund man materialized beside them, interrupting the intimate conversation. "Bodley has just arrived. You must come and speak with him. He has been doing remarkable things with mold spores."

The Slytherin had to use considerable effort not to sneer at the interloper. His timing was horrible. "We are in the middle of a dance here, Adolpho," he ground out, already sick of speaking with anyone that wasn't the enchanting vixen in his arms. "I will come and find you when the song is over."

"Don't be silly," the short man chided. "Granger here won't mind. Let the girl go and dance with the wizards her own age." He winked lasciviously at her. "We old men have business to attend to."

What a complete imbecile. Hermione felt the muscles in Snape's shoulders contract sharply and she blanched. She could just about imagine what he was thinking. She tried to arrange her features into a placating smile, lest he murder the Patent Committee chairman. "It's okay, Professor. Perhaps we can dance later."

Severus sighed in resignation before leaning down to whisper silkily into her ear. "I am not finished with you yet."

Her face flushed as he dropped his arms and went to join the other man. She watched the two walk away, becoming almost immediately swallowed up by the swarm of people in the now-crowded ballroom. Feeling vaguely queasy at the sight of so many strangers, she slowly picked her way back over to the refreshment table. She kept her head down and prayed to the gods that no one would stop her to chat. Mercifully she reached the semi-concealing shadows without delay and poured herself a new cup of punch. Leaning back against the wall, she closed her eyes to steady her nerves.

"Alright there, Granger?"

Recognizing the voice but unable to quite place it in this setting, she cautiously looked around. A familiar Slytherin, handsome as always, lounged against the stretch of wall beside her. "Hi Blaise," she said with a smile. They had become friends of sorts during the last few months of school and this chance meeting was a pleasant surprise. "I'm fine. I'm just not a huge fan of crowds. What are you doing here?"

She hadn't seen the wizard in person since they had all graduated in June, but his face and half-naked torso had been making frequent appearances in Witch Weekly, Miss Magic, Playwizard, and several Muggle women's magazines as of late. He had been cashing in big time on his exotic good looks. She had even caught Mrs. Weasley ogling his picture one afternoon, not knowing that the model was younger than most of her children.

"Draco invited me and the prat's not even here," the boy replied with a glower, swirling the dark liquid in the crystal goblet that he held.

Hermione snorted. "He's here but he and Ginny are off shagging somewhere. They haven't seen each other in over a month."

"Lovely," he replied with an exaggerated roll of his eyes. "To add insult to injury, he swore that this place would be crawling with available witches but you're the only attractive one under forty here and it looks like you're already spoken for." He arched his brow eloquently, reminding the girl of his former Head of House. "How long have you been sleeping with Snape anyway?"

She nearly choked on a mouthful of punch. Swallowing carefully, she sat her cup on the table and turned back to the dark-skinned wizard with what she hoped was an innocent expression. "Why on earth would you ask that?"

It was Blaise's turn to snort. "Oh come off it, Granger. I have eyes. I'm sure anyone who saw you two dancing assumed the same thing. The chemistry was rather obvious."

She blushed but had been afraid of as much. Apparently the rightness that she felt while dancing with the prickly Slytherin translated to sexual attraction to the casual observer. It had happened before, the only other time that they had danced together in public, at Remus and Tonk's wedding over the summer. They had caused quite the uproar amongst the guests that hadn't yet known that they were an item. Hagrid had nearly choked to death on his tankard of mead.

Realizing that there was no sense denying it, especially not to a guy who made his living by getting housewives hot and bothered, her grin was equal parts pride and embarrassment. "Guilty as charged, I guess."

His resultant expression was smug. "Normally I'd ask what your angle is, but it was also obvious that, in typical Gryffindor fashion, you don't have one."

She chuckled but conceded. "Nope. I'm hopelessly in love with the bastard." Her gaze automatically cast about the massive chamber in search of the wizard in question but she wasn't able to spot him from her position in the shadows.

"Always knew you were an odd one," was the boy's only reaction before he drained his goblet and sat it on the refreshment table where it was immediately whisked away by magic. He gave her an appraising look and held out his hand. "I'm bored. Let's dance."

Having no reason to refuse, she shrugged, took his hand and let him lead her towards the dance floor. She only made it a few steps, however, before stopping with a grimace. Her feet were killing her. She had already danced quite a bit, not to mention all the standing around, and she wasn't used to wearing heels. She had cast several cushioning charms on the new pumps but the spells obviously hadn't been very effective. Blaise raised his brow questioningly and in a split second decision, she used his shoulder as support in order to pull off the blasted shoes one at a time. Their absence left her several inches shorter and her gown now pooled slightly on the ground, but at least she could move without pain. She ditched the heels beneath the long tablecloth that the refreshments sat upon, made a mental note to retrieve them before leaving for the night, and rejoined the dark-skinned wizard.

By the time they reached the dance floor, a new song was just starting — an upbeat rendition of a Weird Sisters' hit that was more modern than anything she had heard all night. The younger party attendees, lured by the music, crowded in and everyone began to gyrate in one mass. Hermione focused on her former schoolmate and tried her best to ignore the fact that she was surrounded on all sides by bodies. Thankfully Blaise proved to be a more than adequate partner. By the end of the number, she was grinning and winded and glad to hear the tempo drop back into a slow ballad. She took the tall wizard's hand and placed the other on his shoulder as his settled onto her waist.

"So how was your summer?" he asked as they found a comfortable rhythm. "If you're already shagging Snape then I assume that the apprenticeship is going well."

She rolled her eyes at the Slytherin's blunt sarcasm. "It is going well. I've learned a lot. I've even started to supervise the second and third year classes!" she gushed proudly. Of the long list of apprenticeship requirements, teaching had become one of her favorites. The first-years were a bit too unpredictable and the older students were too close to her own age to give her their full respect, but the classes in the middle had been a great fit so far. "And the summer was amazing. We traveled quite a bit. Severus took me all over Europe to harvest potion ingredients."

"Severus is it?" Blaise asked with a smirk and twirled her with an unnecessary flourish. "That's bloody weird, Granger."

"No weirder than random middle-aged witches wanking to your pictures," she countered. Even here, at a private charity ball, she could see at least a dozen pairs of eyes — not all of them female — following his bum across the dance floor. Admittedly, it was a nice bum.

The boy-turned-man laughed, a rich, oddly melodic sound that was totally incongruous with the almost mournful song being played. "Touché." He dipped her. "And how are the other two-thirds of the Platinum Trio or whatever ridiculousness people are calling you these days? Have they tried to murder Snape yet?"

She grinned. "Surprisingly, no. They don't exactly like the fact that we're involved but they've learned to live with it. Out of sight, out of mind for the most part." She paused as he led her through some intricate footwork just for the hell of it. She had a feeling that he was showing off for his admirers. "Ron accepted an assistant coaching position with a triple A Quidditch team. They travel a lot and I haven't been able to see him much. But Harry just finished training at the Ministry last month and is a full-fledged Auror now. We usually get together for lunch or dinner every other week or so."

"You, Snape, and Potter? That has to be helluva awkward."

The Muggle-born crinkled her nose and shook her head. "No, Severus usually skips those outings."

To his credit, he had joined her and Harry the first time that they had met for dinner at a Muggle Thai place near Grimmauld Place. Admittedly, it had been one of the most painfully awkward experiences ever imagined, for all parties involved. She hadn't pressured him to escort her after that and he had been perfectly content to let her go alone. She hadn't even blamed him when he had declined to accompany her to Harry's eighteenth birthday party at the Burrow. She had been downright gob-smacked, however, when he gave her a small gift to deliver to the man of the hour. Severus wouldn't tell her what the plainly-wrapped box contained but Harry had disappeared for nearly thirty minutes after opening it, emerging from the house with suspiciously red eyes. It took some badgering but the boy had finally told her that it was a vial of personal memories featuring Lily when she was young. After that surprisingly considerate gesture, Harry hadn't uttered another bad word about the older wizard.

"I bet," Blaise replied distractedly and then gestured over her shoulder. "Looks like the lovebirds have come up for air finally."

Hermione glanced behind her and saw Draco and Ginny emerging from the antechamber. The blond's expression was ridiculously smug and the younger Gryffindor's hair was significantly less polished than it had been when they had all arrived at the manor. Hermione snickered and turned back to the dark-skinned boy. Before she could comment, though, she spotted Severus striding in their direction from across the room. There was an emotion simmering in his black eyes that she couldn't quite decipher. "I think we're about to be interrupted."

The Slytherin turned his head just as his former Head of House reached them. He immediately stopped dancing and dropped his hands from the witch, not wanting anything to be misconstrued. "Hello, Professor."

"Mr. Zabini," Snape said in greeting, his penetrating gaze still fixed on his apprentice. He didn't so much as glance in the boy's direction but made a shooing gesture with his hand. "Run along now."

Hermione flashed the younger man an apologetic smile as Severus pulled her into his frame and began to move with the music. If he noticed that she was several inches shorter than she had been during their last dance, he didn't question it. The curly-haired witch looked back into the older wizard's smoldering gaze and swallowed reflexively. Blaise, caught off guard by the flat dismissal, watched them for a moment before replacing his expression of shock with a smirk and sauntering off the dance floor in the direction of his old Housemate.

"So…" she began in a tentative voice, attempting to break the heavy tension between them. "Was the mold discussion fascinating?"

"Riveting," he deadpanned, eliciting a small smile.

"Better than the imagined library activities?"

Heat flared again in his fathomless eyes and the corner of his mouth twitched. He closed the space between them as much as propriety would allow and bowed his head so as to direct his response to her ears only. His tone was like the smoothest whisper of silk against her skin. "The things I would do to you, Miss Granger… to that exquisite body of yours amongst the towering shelves of leather-bound knowledge."

Her eyes fluttered shut for a moment and she inhaled heavily through her nose to gather her wits. The only time he used her last name in private conversation anymore was when his domineering side came out to play. He was purposely trying to drive her mad and it was working.

"I would take you the way I wouldn't even allow myself to dream about last year," he continued, pushing their physical boundaries even further. His dress robes skimmed ever-so-lightly against her breasts as they danced, causing her nipples to draw into hard peaks. "That night that you appeared, dressed so provocatively and behaving so cheekily…" His voice dropped another octave. "I wanted to fuck you into oblivion that night, witch, as much for your insolence as your allure."

Hermione couldn't breathe properly. She was suddenly lightheaded and felt as if she was going to hyperventilate. "Severus," she whispered, almost like a prayer. "Let's go. Take me to the library now."

His lips curled upward seductively at the sound and the hand on her hip squeezed her flesh. "Are you wet, Miss Granger?"

She could just barely hear the question over the music and the heavy thuds of her own heartbeat and could hardly believe that he would ask such a thing under present circumstances. She could feel her cheeks burning as she hissed in the affirmative. Without knickers to act as a barrier, her thighs were beginning to feel slick with desire.

"How badly do you need to come right now?" The intensity of his gaze was melting her from the inside out.

It was almost infuriating how the wizard could carry on such a conversation and yet remain so calm and collected. She was positive that she was the only one in the crowded ballroom that could tell the difference in his usually detached demeanor at that moment. It didn't seem fair — she was rapidly turning into a randy mess and he was the picture of propriety. She wet her lips, a feat as her mouth had gone bone dry, and tried to express a sense of urgency with her eyes as her one-word reply came out in a breathless whimper. "Please." He smirked and if she didn't want to snog him so fiercely, she would have hexed him for being such a tease.

"I have a proposition," he drawled. She raised her brows to show that she was listening, not that he could possibly question her attention. "Do you remember once telling me that you thought my voice alone could bring you to orgasm?"

Hermione gulped, her face, neck, and décolletage feeling hot again, and nodded. It wasn't a conversation that she was likely to forget any time soon. They had been lying naked in his bed in the dungeons discussing fantasies, specifically those that she had entertained before their courtship had begun. They had ended up pursuing other avenues of pleasure that night and until now, she had thought that he had forgotten all about the discussion.

"I'd like to test that intriguing hypothesis." There was a pause the length of a heartbeat. "Now."

Her eyes widened dramatically. "Here?" Her voice came out in a strangled sort of squeak. She glanced around them to make sure that no one was eavesdropping. "Are you drunk, Severus?" They were in a room of nearly two hundred people. How could he possibly suggest such a thing? She had never been particularly inconspicuous and was rarely able to keep quiet during the throes of passion.

He flashed her a dark, nearly feral grin that mimicked the one that Crookshanks wore whenever he caught a particularly wily bit of prey. The song that they had been dancing came to an end as she stared up at him, flushed and horrified. Before the next tune could start up, he took her by the wrist and swiftly led her off the dance floor.

She kept pace with the wizard so as not to cause more of a spectacle than they already were. Eyes seemed to follow them regardless of whether they were doing anything noteworthy or not. When they reached the opposite wall, he pushed her through a glass-fronted door that had been partially obscured by an ornately carved potted topiary. There was a deserted balcony beyond and he shut the door behind them before pulling her into his arms and crushing his lips to hers.

When he released her, she breathlessly glanced in the direction that they had come just from. The door was positioned in such a way that anyone could see the balcony if they were specifically looking out the beveled glass but otherwise the landing was virtually invisible. She looked back into Snape's fire-rimmed, coal black eyes as he cast a privacy charm around them and briefly wondered if he had preplanned this whole thing. Sneaky Slytherins.

"Turn around. Face the grounds," he commanded, his lowered voice that panty-dropping combination of silk and steel that drove her mental. "Put both hands on the banister and keep them there."

Hermione did as he ordered; she was powerless not to. Placing her palms on the cool marble rail, she closed her eyes for a moment, took a deep breath, and then reopened them. Even in the dark, the sight before her was beautiful. The entire Malfoy garden was sprawled out below. They were somehow high in the air, at least three stories up, despite the fact that the ballroom was on the ground floor of the manor. This obvious display of magic would have normally piqued her curiosity but now was not the moment for questions. She closed her eyes again and let her fingers curl around the support in front of her.

"I watched you dancing with Zabini," he began, sliding up behind her so close that his breath tickled the nape of her neck. "Half the room was watching the two of you. You made quite the striking pair."

Her brow knitted together. This was not how she had expected him to begin. "Severus, you know I—"

"Silence!" he snapped, though there was no real malice behind the word. He stepped in even closer, his dress robes ghosting across the back of her gown. "You are my witch. You belong to me — mind, body, and soul — and all I wanted to do was pull you out of his arms and remind you of that."

Hermione couldn't stop the quiver of pleasure that shot down her spine, causing her limbs to visibly shudder. Her entire nervous system was coming alive, prickling under her skin in the most delicious way. She wasn't entirely sure if he was actually angry or not. Had he really been jealous of Blaise or was he just using her own perversions against her? He was well aware of the fact that she got off on his possessiveness. Of course at that moment, she didn't much care if his reaction was genuine or not, it was working regardless.

"I'd take you to the library," he continued without remarking on her obvious state, "away from all those prying eyes. I'd light a fire just like the first night we were there together but leave the lamps dark so that the shadows press upon us from every side. Then I'd kiss you hard. I want every last inch of your body to retain my touch, to never forget who possesses it."

She inhaled sharply through her nose. She had long since stopped trying to understand why such masochistic statements turned her to jelly.

"After I've claimed your mouth, I'd turn you around and splay you over the arm of the sofa so that sweet little arse of yours is up in the air." His voice had turned to molasses, thick and slow. "I'd carefully fold your dress up over your hips so as not to wrinkle it, but do you know what I'd find for all my thoughtful efforts?"

Hermione shook her head ever-so-slightly, unable to form any coherent words. She was already desperate for the man behind her to touch her, to hold her, to kiss her. This was torture.

"I'd find your bum completely exposed because you decided to be naughty and come to the ball without any knickers."

She could have sworn that she felt his hands skim down her backside though she knew that his restraint was far better than hers. If he had made up his mind not to touch her, it would take Merlin himself to force the dark wizard to lay a hand on her. His willpower was a thing of legend. She bit her bottom lip.

"Do you know what happens to naughty witches, Miss Granger?" His mouth was so close to her ear that his words barely had to be said aloud. "Punishment is surely in order, don't you think?"

Hermione squeaked in response to what was most definitely a rhetorical question. Her heart was going to beat its way out of her chest soon. It was thudding so hard that she feared her ribs would be bruised and the deep ache at her core was building in intensity.

Severus smirked at the sound that had issued from the diminutive witch. He knew that he had her right where he wanted her. It wouldn't take much to lead her to the precipice. "A sound spanking is called for in such a case, I would say," he murmured, inhaling a hint of jasmine. "If you want to expose your bare cheeks then they should at least match your gown. A nice red would be fitting for such a devious little Gryffindor."

A gentle breeze blew across the balcony, disguising a shiver. She was far from cold.

"I'd fill the silent library with the exquisite sounds of my hand smacking your naked flesh and your moans with every blow. Because you enjoy being punished when you're naughty. You love it when I spank you, don't you?"

Her reply this time was far more guttural than the last. She really could imagine the scene that he was describing, the sensations that would come from such actions felt tangible. Unsurprisingly, she was close to orgasm just from the pictures he was painting in her mind.

"Once your bottom was properly warmed up for your transgressions, I'd spread your cheeks to see just how turned on you are." He leaned into her even further, his lips a hairsbreadth from the shell of her ear. "How wet have you gotten for me, Miss Granger?"

So wet that the slickness was creeping its way down her thighs, nearly to her knees. It was as if a dam had broken somewhere upriver. She gulped at the cool night air.

"The fun part is that the only way to truly measure your desire is to just plunge in," he growled, not waiting for an actual reply. "One quick thrust and I'd know all your secrets."

Hermione moaned again and reflexively tried to rub herself against the wizard behind her. All she needed was a bit of friction to tip the scales in her favor. From the brief contact she managed, she knew that he was nearly as aroused as she was.

"Uh-uh," he chastised, stepping back and putting a foot or more of space between them. "No touching. Little girls that don't follow the rules are going to be punished even more severely."

"Severus… please." It came out as a breathless plea to the heavens, an entreaty to the gods to release her from this hell.

"For your disobedience," he said, speaking over her desperate supplication, "I can either walk away now and leave you so close yet so unfulfilled," he paused for a moment to let this threat sink in, "or I can spank you again, harder this time. Which shall it be?"

She wet her lips before responding, the choice quite simple. "Spank me, sir."

Snape growled deep in his chest, more affected by the witch's response than he should have been, given that this experiment was about her pleasure, not his. She was no longer innocent or naïve. She knew that her words would get to him. He had to clinch his fists at his sides to keep from reaching out to her.

"I will not sacrifice or delay my own pleasure for your punishment," he continued once he had regained his self-control. "I'd continue to take you, hard and unrelenting, against the arm of Malfoy's overpriced davenport. But with every thrust, I'd smack your arse with enough force to sting my hand and make you cry out."

He stepped in closer again, sensing the finish line was near. He placed his mouth behind her ear, letting nothing physically touch her but his breath. "With every stroke, I'd tattoo my name deep inside you until every cell in your body was claimed. I'd ravish you and turn your backside purple until you come for me. Are you ready, Miss Granger? Can you feel me fucking you?"

She had lost pretty much all control over her facilities at this point. It was taking all her disposable energy to keep herself upright. Still, knowing a response was required, she managed a minute nod of her head. It seemed to be enough because his arms came round her, not necessarily touching her but boxing her in as his sinewy hands gripped the banister on the outside of her own. She squeezed her eyes shut, breathing through her nose as her body poised on the brink of ecstasy. The pain was transcendent.

"You are so beautiful, bent over for me, the firelight dancing across your skin. A fantasy I never want to wake from." He paused and let her squirm for a moment before dropping his voice an octave. "Come for me, pet. I want to feel you clench around me and bathe me in your nectar." He allowed his lips to brush ever-so-lightly along the outer rim of her ear. "Come for me, now."

And, as if he had scripted it, the petite witch let out an inarticulate cry as her entire body quivered for a moment, like a mirage in the desert. Then her knees buckled beneath her and he had to wrap a strong arm around her midriff to keep her upright. He could feel the quaking of the internal muscles of her abdomen and the sensation seemed to thrum through his already-painful erection.

He wrapped his other arm around the girl and held her tight against him as her body rode out its release. "That's it, my love," he whispered against her temple. "The best part of my day is sending you over that edge. You are mesmerizing."

Hermione managed a weak sort of chuckle as she sagged into the wizard's embrace. Orgasming without physical stimulation took a monumental amount of energy. Her legs felt like jelly. "I'm pretty sure that you just proved that you are the mesmerizing one. I'm just an easy target."

He smirked. "Perhaps. Your hypothesis was certainly spot on."

"About that," she said languidly, resting her head onto his chest. She'd pay an undisclosed fortune for a bed right now. "While certainly enjoyable, I don't think that it was an adequate experiment."

"And how did you reach that inept conclusion?" he asked, resisting the very strong urge to lift the back of her ball gown and sink into her warmth right there against the railing. "I am positive that you just came, quite hard I might add, simply from me talking to you. That was the challenge, was it not?"

"Yes, but anyone could've succeeded with that story, Severus. It was clearly biased."

The Slytherin chuckled darkly. The girl couldn't stand under her own volition but she was still going to bust his bollocks. "I don't recall you establishing parameters."

She turned in his arms so that she was looking up at him. She flashed him her crooked grin, the one that he had a soft spot for. "I know, but if we are being serious about it, you've got to succeed while saying nothing overtly sexual."

"What is it that I am supposed to say?" he asked, smoothing his palms down her bare arms.

"A true test would be something far more mundane, like reciting from a Muggle telephone directory." Her grin blossomed at the idea. "Now if you could make that erotic, I'd concede victory."

Snape shook his head in amusement before leaning down to kiss the infuriating little witch just to shut her up. Hermione melted into his lips, all her leftover arousal bubbling back up the surface. She still desperately wanted him. She slid a hand between them to caress the sizable bulge that she could feel prodding her stomach.

At the contact, the Potions Master growled and took several steps backwards. "No," he snapped, as if she had been on the verge of adding the wrong ingredient to her cauldron. "Not here." He removed his wand from his sleeve and waved it over his tented robes, muttering the incantation for a deflating charm under his breath. He sighed in audible relief once the magic took effect.

Hermione frowned, temporarily disappointed, but removed her own wand from the hidden sheath on her dress. If they were done playing for the time being, she was desperate to tidy herself up a bit. Her thighs were ridiculously slippery.

"What do you think you're doing?" he asked, the shift in his tone so pronounced that her hand stalled mid-movement. When she looked up, his brow was eloquently arched in question.

She could feel her cheeks flush. "I was just going to clean up before we go back in there."

"Oh no, there will be no cleaning up, Miss Granger." He took a predatory step towards her.

"What? Why?" She backed up a few paces until her back was against the railing. "You can't expect me to go back in there like this, Severus. I'm a mess."

His resulting smirk was arrogant enough to rival the Malfoys'. He halved the distance between them in one long stride. "And whose fault is that?"

She put her hands on her hips and stuck her chin out defiantly. "Yours."

His eyebrow quirked even higher. "I don't recall laying a finger on you."

She made a face, unable to argue with that point. "I am not going back in there without at least casting a cleansing charm."

He took another unnaturally lengthy step and was pressed against her, his hands on the banister on either side of her. She dropped her arms to her sides and bit her lip as she looked up at him, trying to keep her resolve in check.

"You will not erase one exquisite drop of desire until I get you back to the castle," he said in a warning tone. "I want to experience the full measure of your arousal." He stooped to kiss the skin beneath her ear. "As a compromise," he murmured into her flesh, "I promise to clean you most thoroughly once both of our needs have been met."

Hermione whimpered and pushed him back. He was only exacerbating the problem. Bloody prat. "Fine, Severus, you win. Let's get on with it, though, so that we can go."

"May I remind you that I tried to convince you to stay home to begin with?"

She shushed him and they re-entered the ballroom, Snape in the lead and she right on his heels. He was gratified to see that no one had paid much attention to their absence nor had noticed their return. He was quite tired of small talk for one night. They made it nearly halfway across the chamber before anyone stopped them.

It was one of the older witches from the Potions Patent Committee that touched Severus' arm as he passed. His progression halted mid-stride, causing his distracted apprentice to ungracefully collide with the back of him. The girl let out a muffled, agitated grunt that made him internally grin.

"Master Snape!" the silver-haired woman exclaimed loudly to be heard over the din. She was rather stately-looking in her tasteful emerald green robes. Her glasses, a garish shade of pink, brought a touch of whimsy to an otherwise severe appearance and her smile was genuine. "I was hoping to catch you before you left for the evening."

"Hester," Severus greeted cordially, his business persona sliding effortlessly into place. "It is good to see you again. I hope you are well."

Hermione wasn't in the right frame of mind to exchange pleasantries and she couldn't fake interest as effortlessly as the former Death Eater. She was still a bit fuzzy-headed and her thighs were slowly gluing themselves together. She could not just stand here.

As soon as there was a lull in the conversation, she touched the wizard's arm to draw his attention to her. "I'm going to find Ginny and make sure that she'll be ready to go soon, if that's okay, sir." Her use of the honorific was twofold. It expressed respect for his position as her mentor in front of current company but it was also a cheeky reminder of their unfinished business.

With a glint in his eye that only she could recognize, he gave his consent and Hermione nodded politely to the board member before excusing herself and slipping away. Wading through the crowd, she spotted Draco's platinum blond head in the corner and set her course in his direction. Where Malfoy was, so would Ginny be. It wasn't the first time that she found herself thankful for the boy's distinctive hair color.

She managed to cross the room without getting waylaid or her anxiety rising, an impressive feat, but was still relieved when she reached the group of familiar young people. Draco, Ginny, and Blaise had congregated in the corner and seemed to be passing around a bottle of champagne. Hermione rolled her eyes at their behavior. "Hey guys."

"Where have you been, Granger?" Draco asked, holding out the bottle to the Gryffindor. "I've been looking for Severus to discuss that project with him."

She waved away the offering, having no interest in swapping backwash with this motley crew. "We, uh, stepped out on the balcony for some fresh air." She knew that her cheeks were pink-tinged but could do nothing about it.

The blond's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Fresh air, huh? I thought the euphemism was 'business to attend to'.

The increase of heat on her face answered the boy's question for her. He smirked smugly and Zabini chuckled. She scowled at the pair of them. "Anyway. Severus wanted me to find Ginny because it will be time to go back to Hogwarts soon." She looked at the redhead pointedly.

The younger witch pouted. "Don't remind me."

"So where is my godfather?" Draco interrupted, putting his arm around his girlfriend's shoulders to comfort her. He wasn't thrilled about her having to leave either.

"Talking with one of the witches from the Ministry," Hermione replied, pointing over her shoulder in the older man's general direction.

Draco glanced where she pointed then back at his former classmate. He knew better than to pester the Slytherin when he was 'talking shop'. "Well, let's go dance till he's finished." He turned and kissed Ginny on the temple. "You wanna dance with Zabini, love, while I show Granger how it's done?"

The youngest Weasley rolled her eyes but agreed nonetheless and the foursome strode over to the dance floor just as another tango started up. They paired off and began to move with the music. It was quite obvious that neither Blaise nor Ginny had the slightest clue how to tango. Unsurprisingly, Draco did. Hermione grinned at his obvious skill and followed his lead.

"My mother insisted on formal dance lessons when I was younger," he mentioned, noticing her pleased expression. "Even though she didn't let me attend many balls."

"It shows," she complimented, remembering that particular part of the boy's history from her first weekend at the manor. "I danced with Lucius earlier and he was excellent as well."

He nodded and glided them across the polished floor, clasped hands extended out. "So did you and Severus shag out on the balcony? Do I need to send Popkins out there to sanitize the area?"

She scrunched up her nose at his oily grin and extreme lack of tact. It wasn't really surprising. His pure-blood upbringing insured a certain level of decorum most of the time but that had never kept him from asking her whatever the hell he felt like. Nosy sod. "No, we didn't."

His blond eyebrow rose almost imperceptibly, his expression clearly skeptical. "And yet something happened."

It was a statement, not a question, but she nodded anyway. "Yes."

Draco smirked but didn't push the girl any further, instead leading her through a perfect tango routine. He didn't necessarily want the sordid details of his godfather's love life. He just enjoyed giving the Gryffindor a hard time.

And speaking of the devil himself, the older wizard materialized out of thin air beside them just as the song was winding to an end. He was scowling down at the pair of them but there was no malice in the expression. "Go find your witch, Draco. This one is spoken for."

Malfoy rolled his eyes, finished the tango off properly, and then kissed the witch's hand graciously like he had always been taught. Snape did not scare him, especially now that he had no control over his grades.

"We have time for one more dance," the professor announced, looking pointedly at his godson. He took Hermione by the hand. "Better make it count."

"I wanted to speak with you before you leave, remember?" the blond asked a tad petulantly.

Severus spun his petite witch into his arms, his mind already gloriously preoccupied. The corner of his mouth lifted when she smiled up at him, her eyes sparkling. "Go dance with Miss Weasley, Draco," he said distractedly. "She is looking like a lost puppy. Tomorrow is Sunday; you can come and visit at the school. We will sit and discuss whatever it is that you need to discuss over lunch."

From somewhere behind her, Hermione heard Ginny squeak in approval of such a plan but she had already checked out of the scene surrounding her, focusing solely on the pair of black orbs staring down at her. She didn't think that she would ever get used to the amount of intensity that he could funnel into one gaze.

He surprised her by pulling her close to his chest and beginning to sway side to side, slowly revolving on the spot. She was reminded of the Yule Ball back in her fourth year. This was how Viktor had danced to every slow song played, having never been given formal lessons. Severus, on the other hand, had benefited from training of the highest quality and though he didn't do it often, he was a magnificent dancer. In comparison to his usual prodigious skill, his moves now were both crude and incredibly intimate, inciting the stomach-dwelling butterflies once again. The glint in his dark eyes told her that that was precisely his intention.

Hermione let out a slow, controlled sigh to release some of the tension and drug her gaze away to look around them, half-wondering if their closeness was causing a spectacle. Draco and Ginny were dancing on their left, pressed so tightly together that it was a good thing that the redhead was taking a contraceptive potion regularly. Next to them Blaise was dancing a bit more decorously with a slightly older witch that she didn't recognize — a fan, no doubt. Neither pair was paying them the slightest bit of attention.

As she turned look in the opposite direction, Lucius and Addy sashayed their way into the vacant spot beside them. The two made such an attractive couple that it was nearly distracting. It was somewhat amusing that both Malfoy men had ended up with redheads.

"Hello again, my dear," Lucius called, beaming at the Muggle-born over his date's shoulder. "Have you been enjoying yourself?"

Hermione ignored the derisive noise that issued from the vicinity of her dance partner's Adam's apple and returned the blond's smile. "It's been a lovely evening and a wonderful party. I'm only disappointed that it's nearly time for us to leave."

"Has it gotten that late already?" he asked, visibly surprised. "I guess time really does flies when you're having fun." He glanced appreciatively at Adelaide and then back at the younger witch. "Why don't you stay the night? There's more than enough room."

"We cannot," Severus said before the girl had a chance to reply. He slid his hand up her back and ghosted his fingers across the exposed skin at the nape of her neck. "Miss Weasley has to be returned to the castle by midnight."

The pure-blood's brow furrowed slightly. "Dumbledore's orders?"

The Potion Master nodded. "It was his only stipulation to her accompanying us this evening. She's still a ward of the school."

"So let Draco escort her back," Lucius suggested, eyeing his son, whose mouth was currently plastered to that of his paramour's. "I'm sure they'd both be thrilled and then you and Hermione could stay the night."

"Her safe return is my responsibility," Snape countered. He glanced at his godson and glowered in distaste. "If I were to allow those two to go alone, Merlin only knows if they'd be able to pry themselves apart long enough to actually get there without Splinching."

Hermione snickered, agreeing with that assessment.

"You're reaching for excuses, old man, and you know it." The unflattering adage elicited the sneer that he knew it would and Malfoy smirked. "You know as well as I that Draco wouldn't do anything to jeopardize that girl's education, even if that means having to say goodbye for the time being."

"You are five and a half years older than me, Lucius," Snape hissed, ignoring the main point of the blond's speech entirely. It was the second time that evening that he had been referred to as old.

"Beauty trumps age, as I've told you repeatedly."

Hermione and Addy exchanged an amused and slightly exasperated glance. Because the older witch hadn't been around them very much, Hermione didn't know if she realized yet that this type of snarky back and forth argument was normal behavior for them — it had certainly caught her off-guard in the beginning. Now it was one of the reasons that she loved visiting with Lucius.

"If you stay," the pure-blood continued, "we can carry on with the celebration. I plan to make a weekend of it and you two should be here to help me."

The Gryffindor looked up at Severus questioningly. She'd be perfectly happy to stay over. They hadn't spent the night at Malfoy Manor since they had administered the potion very nearly a year ago. She would love to recreate the events of that evening, improve upon those memories, and act out what could have happened had the professor not been so plagued by his conscience. She had fantasized about that very opportunity many times. She grinned up at him, a hint of deviancy in her chocolate eyes.

He peered down at the young witch, not needing to slip into her mind to read her thoughts. He knew her so well that he knew exactly what she was thinking. After their tête-à-tête on the balcony, he knew that her beautifully-overfed brain was turning every scenario into an erotic one and that she'd jump at the chance to revisit the Malfoy guest wing with him.

As much as he'd enjoy recreating her memories, however, he had other plans tonight — plans that he had formulated the moment that she had told him that she was attending the ball sans undergarments. He wasn't going to deviate from those plans for anyone. He may be stubborn but that stubbornness typically paid off in the end. It certainly had with the girl in question.

His dark eyes glinted at her — the former headache that had become the single brightest point of light in his world, the woman that he intended to be bonded to one day, that he wanted to grow old with, even though he would reach that milestone far earlier than she would. Like the fictional characters that she had once compared them to, he loved her beyond all reason. She had become his salvation and the sole reason that he was thankful to have survived the war and the hardships of his life before her. His lips twitched as his once cold heart filled to bursting.

Severus turned to look at his expectant comrade and shook his head resolutely. "We will not be staying," he answered with a tone of finality and then grinned at the little Gryffindor like a Kneazle that got into the cream. "Miss Granger has detention tonight."

Finite Incantatem

A/N: I hope that the ending of this story was satisfactory. I wanted this chapter to serve as both a last chapter and an epilogue of sorts, wrapping up all the loose ends. I know that Alice and Frank weren't cured, but I felt like that process would be more complex than would adequately fit into this story. Perhaps a sequel will come out it — who knows. I also really wanted the story to end as it began, with detention.

If you've read this story all the way through, thank you for your interest and time! Please review. I'd love to hear from you.

I have scads of plot bunnies for further HG/SS stories that I hope to wrestle into submission. My next story is already in the works. It's entitled Rita Skeeter's Revenge and I hope to start posting it soon. If you enjoy my writing and/or are intrigued to see what nonsense I can come up with, please follow me.