Author's Note: Thank you for the kind reviews!
Chapter 2 - We're not driven...
Two weeks later, Severus stood in the Great Hall with his fellow professors. At the appointed time, he motioned with his wand to open the doors to the Great Hall, thus beginning the Christmas dance. Though less formal than the Yule Ball, Hogwarts would be hosting a fair number of distinguished guests.
Severus stood near the doors with Minerva to welcome the guests. He quickly tired of shaking hands with members of the Board of Governors and their significant others. After a short while, he was sure that he had greeted everyone on his mental list of "Begrudgingly worthy of a handshake." He was about to motion to Minerva that they could take their place at the Head Table when Hermione walked in on the arm of Harry Potter.
He could not suppress a grin. She was good. He had almost invited her himself, but he wanted to see if she would find a way to attend the ball. And there she was.
He shook Harry's hand, but looked at Hermione. "Harry, thank you for coming." Harry greeted him and looked at Hermione quizzically. Harry shrugged and moved on to Minerva.
As Severus took Hermione's hand, he said, "Welcome back, Hermione."
"Thank you, Severus," she replied. "Ginny is so uncomfortable so far along in her pregnancy. I hated to think of her on her feet all night, so I offered to go in her place. She was relieved, I think."
"Hmmm. What is the word I'm thinking of?" Severus teased. "I know the word is definitely not, 'conniving.'"
"Definitely not!" Hermione said, smiling. "It was guidance, Severus."
"Guidance," Severus repeated solemnly, nodding.
He let go of her hand and she returned to Harry's side. Severus watched them greet a few more people as everyone made their ways to their designated tables surrounding a large dance floor.
Dinner seemed to move at a snail's pace as he listened to some school governor drone on about the latest Wizengamot trial. He was able to nonchalantly catch glances of Hermione throughout dinner. She was mostly quiet, probably listening to the same drivel he was listening to. He watched her communicate non-verbally with Potter. He was jealous of their friendship in that moment. That camaraderie was rare, and he had never enjoyed that level of friendship with anyone except Albus, and now Minerva.
Severus watched as the first brave students made their way out to the dance floor. His face remained impassive, but was pleased to see Mr. Childers dancing with Miss Rothermel. He waited patiently for the right moment, knowing that it wouldn't be a long wait. Sure enough, a few minutes later Minerva approached Harry for a dance.
He walked towards Hermione, who smiled at him as he approached. "May I have this dance, Miss Granger?" he asked silkily.
Hermione nodded and placed her hand in his. "It would be my pleasure, Headmaster."
They danced silently for a few moments. He enjoyed the feel of his hand on her waist and her easy smile.
"Who is Mr. Childers dancing with?" she asked.
"Miss Rothermel, of course."
"You're very persuasive."
"Persuasive? I merely made a suggestion," Severus deadpanned. "You didn't poison him, did you?" At her scandalized look, he continued, "To get me to come down to the infirmary that night? You're very driven," he teased.
"Driven? Me?" she teased back. "No, no, I'm merely efficient. I wanted to see you and it just so happened that I had a seriously ill patient. Just good timing, no poison, I promise!"
She threw her head back and laughed at his look of mock suspicion and he couldn't help but smile.
As the dance ended, he felt her tug her hand lightly away from his, but he wouldn't let her hand go and started dancing the second dance with her.
"Severus…" she began tentatively.
"Hermione…." he mimicked.
"One dance and you are the courteous Headmaster dancing with the spinster war veteran. Two dances and we're on the front page of the Daily Prophet tomorrow."
"No doubt," he answered softly.
"That doesn't bother you?" she asked, surprised.
"The Daily Prophet will merely report that we have significant jobs. I'm sure they won't speculate about our personal lives," he deadpanned.
Hermione snorted inelegantly, which made him chuckle.
"I have a plan, Hermione."
"Plan? Or should we call it an experiment?" Hermione teased.
"Definitely a plan," Severus said with mock severity.
"Oh my," Hermione replied. "This ought to be good."
After a minute of silence, Hermione prodded, "You're going to tell me, right? Or is it a surprise?
"I'm going to tell you," Severus replied. "During the third song."
"Third song? You think I'm going to stick around for a third song?" She raised her eyebrow, mocking him.
He raised his eyebrow in return earning another laugh and led her through the end of the second dance. Once the third song began, he spoke. "Number one, the photographer from the Daily Prophet is having a hard time getting a good picture, so look over your right shoulder and smile."
Hermione smiled at Severus and then dutifully looked over her right shoulder and heard the tale-tell sound of the camera.
"Number two," Severus continued as though there were no interruption, "we are going to look for miscreants in the rose garden. They'll take yet another picture, frame it like we're taking a romantic stroll and then they'll toddle off to get it ready for the morning's edition of the Prophet."
After a lengthy pause, Hermione furrowed her brow. "What's number three?"
"Number three? Hmm. We'll call it a conference."
Severus enjoyed watching Hermione as they danced. She had always been a mixture to him. He often viewed people as potions. So many people he knew were simple brews. Predictable, boring. If you could make it one time, there was never a need to practice that brew again. Not Hermione. She was fiddly. No, he thought, fiddly was not quite the right word. Challenging; she was challenging. So many powerful ingredients swirling around, each one dangerous. He thought back to when he was a sixth year. He would tutor students in Slytherin to scrape together enough galleons and buy the one ingredient he couldn't get in the student's cupboard so that he could attempt Felix Felicis. He failed all four times he tried that year, but the potion brought him back time and again. It was frustrating, but the complexity was beautiful.
The third song came to an end and Severus motioned for Hermione to walk with him to the rose garden. He walked slowly and put his hand on the small of Hermione's back. She smirked at him when they heard the photographer snap a final picture.
"We should be in the clear now," he sighed.
They continued to wind their way through the rose garden, though it was way too early in the Christmas ball for any of the students to be hidden among the bushes.
"Do you still blast the rose bushes?" Hermione asked, smiling.
"I haven't changed, Hermione," Severus replied somewhat warily. So many people had expectations that he had come through the war as a different person. Some of the pain had been eased, some of the stress had been removed, but he was still the same man.
"Good," Hermione said.
Her decisive tone was refreshing. Ever since she had wormed her way into the castle to see him two weeks ago, she had been on his mind.
He led her back into the castle and led her past the great hall.
"Don't you have to supervise the ball?" Hermione asked, surprised.
"Minerva can handle it. We have a deal."
"And what deal is that?" Hermione asked curiously.
"She will supervise the ball and make sure the governors are all taken care of."
"And you will…" Hermione prodded.
"I will let her order the staff Christmas gifts."
Hermione laughed. "So she does you a favor and ends up doing more work?"
"No," Severus replied. "She does me a favor and the staff gets oak matured mead for Christmas instead of tacky socks. It's a win-win situation."
Hermione playfully swatted his elbow. "And you call me driven!"
"Efficient." He smiled at her, enjoying a small glimpse into the kind of friendship he had observed when watching her with Potter.
His thoughts where broken when Hermione stopped walking.
"The Library?" she asked quizzically.
He had led them to the doors of the library and was now holding one of the doors open for her. He motioned for her to go inside and she did. He led her back to a table near a window overlooking the Forbidden Forest.
"There are two places we can talk where students will not enter tonight: the library and my office. That used to not be the case, but a certain know-it-all bookworm graduated a few years back, and I'm certain no one will be in here tonight. And since my office is never really private, here we are."
They sat in companionable silence for a few moments. He enjoyed freely looking at Hermione as she sat across from him.
"Do you feel like a student when you're back in the library?" she asked.
"Yes," he answered simply. "Everywhere else I have too many teacher memories overlaying my memories as a student, but here in the library, I remember my time as a student. I try not to come in here very often. I don't want that feeling to go away."
She nodded, reminiscing about her own time as she looked around the room and then settled her eyes on Severus' once more.
"I know why you're here, Hermione," he said softly.
"I think I've made that quite plain, Severus."
"No, you misunderstand. I know why it's me, Hermione. And it's no good," he said. He was trying to be kind to Hermione while kicking himself for being noble. Here sat a beautiful young woman wanting to pursue a relationship of some sort, and he was turning her away.
"You can't possibly know my reasoning," began Hermione, when he interrupted.
"The law," he said evenly.
She looked down at the table.