It had arrived in the morning.
Each time it came, it looked precisely the same: a grey parchment, rolled tight, tied with a black satin ribbon and fixed with a nameless ebony wax seal. It appeared every four weeks. The script within had always been fashioned in the identical hand; after the first one, it listed nothing save day and time. That was all.
Hermione never knew who sent the initial one. Or even who continued to send them, month after month, after the end of the war.
And for once in her life, knowing never mattered.
She had been required to pay a fee in order to continue to receive the silk-ribboned invitations; she surrendered her galleons and never mentioned it to anyone.
In fact, by an unspoken agreement, none of the attendees ever discussed the parchments—or the meetings—outside the place where they gathered. Once or twice, she'd witnessed a flush of an acquaintance's skin or noticed gleam in a stranger's eye when they saw her in Diagon Alley. So be it. So far, it hadn't disturbed her enough to keep her from coming. This was the one night, the only night, she could be assured that she wouldn't hear Bellatrix's laughter in her nightmares.
And beyond the fee, there was nothing required of her except one small thing.
Hermione turned the parchment over, broke its seal, and let out the breath she didn't realize she was holding. Tomorrow night. 11:10 pm. Thank Merlin.
Hermione strode over the cobblestone of a seedier section of Diagon Alley and opened the street-level door, revealing a dark, wooden stairwell. Once inside, she pulled back her hood and made her way up three flights of stairs, the risers creaking in protest under her footfall. She opened the door on the third floor without knocking as was the custom: no one would answer anyway, no one would be waiting.
The door pushed open, revealing a tiny sitting room. It was poorly lit, but well appointed, and she stepped inside. She had been allotted just enough time to do what must be done, and move into the next chamber.
Positioned on the far wall was a mahogany table where an uncovered cauldron sat waiting for what only she could provide. Hermione approached and added the final ingredient to the brew, waving her wand in the precise method needed to complete the potion. When the contents settled, she apportioned them equally into the three identical ornate glass bottles and stoppered them tightly.
This was the first time that she looked carefully at the glass containers, picking one up to memorize its shape and the details of the design etched into the crystal. For her scheme to work, she needed to be able to recognize one of these bottles among a tray crowded with similar ones. And she would need to identify it quickly.
Hermione stared at it as she turned it over in her hand. After a moment—and satisfied she would be able to pick it out of a field of thirty or more—she walked through the door into the large hallway beyond.
The long dark corridor she entered had doors only on one side, some were open, others, already closed. The members called the warren of rooms beyond alcoves.
Hermione chose an empty alcove and clicked the door shut behind her; this space would be hers for the evening. She looked around—she'd been in this particular room before. There was an overstuffed chair, a side table, a bed, and an exuberant fire dancing in the hearth. Two sets of black clothing hung on hooks inside the closet—one male and one female, identical to those hanging in the other rooms. An adjacent, private bathroom. A closed door opposite her that opened into the main room beyond.
She glanced towards the full length mirror and removed her jewelry, setting the pieces inside a drawer in the side table.
Even though Hermione knew a knock would come relatively soon, she settled into the comfortable chair and removed her trainers. It would take some time for the last of the guests to arrive and secure themselves in their rooms, and she wanted to steal a few minutes of rest while she could.
She closed her eyes, ignoring the mirrors that covered the ceiling.
Some forty-five minutes later, a single knock sounded on her door, jolting her out of her quasi slumber. A wizard—no doubt disguised with a glamour and spelled with a notice-me-not—made his way inside the room. He set two trays down on the table next to her and said the only words she'd ever heard him say.
"Male, female, or no preference?"
With a sharp nod of his head, he indicated the tray on his left.
Hermione glanced at the nearly full tray and located one of the bottles she had filled in the first room. Thank Merlin, mine's still here. She picked it up.
The nameless, faceless wizard offered Hermione a second glass filled with an orange liquid.
"Thank you," she said, reaching for the glass and placing it on the side table next to the crystal bottle. The drink was not only something to wash away the taste of the potion; the liquid was spiked with a touch of a Muggle street drug. It was just enough to encourage her to relax and to make her more accepting of the night's potential...adventures.
Hermione had only allowed herself the sweet orange drink a few times before, considering how it clouded her judgement and made her feel more...amorous than usual. Tonight, considering the plan, she would drink it as soon as she was alone. She hoped it would also help trick her mind into believing the man she would seek out was truly the man she was seeing with her eyes.
The wizard left without a word—closing the door behind him with a soft click—leaving her alone with her potion and her decision.
A decision she hoped like hell she would not regret.
When they began, the meetings hadn't meant three hours of sordid, anonymous sex. There'd been more conversation at the first few gatherings: flirting and sizing up each other, or, at most, heavy snogging in a dim corner of the main room. Mostly, it'd been wizards and witches getting used to being in temporary skins.
Hermione had not noticed anyone wearing her body on that initial night; she assumed whomever had taken her potion had not left their alcove. She still shuddered to think of someone—maybe Ron—alone with a facsimile of her body in front of a full length mirror for three hours.
But after more than a year of monthly gatherings, attendees had grown much more comfortable becoming someone else—and seeing someone else become them. It was commonplace now for couples to pair off quickly and disappear into the labyrinth of rooms. Others left in packs of threes or fours, off to a private alcove until they ran out of Polyjuice.
Hermione turned the glass of orange liquid in her hand and thought back. That first time…Merlin, what had convinced her to come that first time? Loneliness? Maybe. Curiosity? Likely.
She'd been shocked when they explained the rules. She'd wandered home that night and laughed it off, equal parts amused and sickened. But the idea of it had plagued her, and by the time the second invitation had arrived, she had decided she would try it just once.
What it would be like to kiss Harry? Or be the object of Ginny's or Luna's affection? Or finally shag Ron without the repercussions of a relationship, without having to deal with his sweaty hands on her backside as they strolled Diagon Alley on a Saturday afternoon?
And maybe, she had thought, just maybe, she could gain a little experience—sexual experience—without allowing the insecurities that had been Ron's parting gift in real life to swallow her whole.
So she returned.
She returned to the delicious, reckless outlet to explore a side of herself she never had before, aided by foul tasting potion and, on some nights, a dose of courage disguised as a Muggle drug.
She could play, hidden behind a mask of flesh. She could clothe herself in someone else's skin and for a short time, she could be with anyone she damn well chose.
Once, she had chosen to be with Harry.
That night, she'd been a tall brunette with thick, straight hair and whomever was camouflaged as Harry had propositioned her. Well, why the hell not, she'd thought when she slipped her hand in the crook of her best friend's arm. Back in the alcove, she'd tried to persuade herself that Harry was indeed the bloke crudely feeling her up and assaulting her with clumsy kisses. She'd failed. It felt as though Ron had taken up residence behind Harry's flesh, and it revolted her.
Even though the episode had been far from perfect, it had convinced the tiny voice inside her that no, there was no part of her that wanted to be with Harry in that way. She vaguely wondered if he had ever done the same, and came to the same conclusion that she had.
Other nights had been more...pleasurable. Three hours of snogging Luna that was nothing short of heavenly. An evening exploring less conventional sexual arts—specifically those involving satin ropes—with someone who reminded her of Viktor. And a very sloppy occasion with two wizards that she'd almost bedded, but the last chime had sounded before they had gotten quite that far. Based entirely on the amount of alcohol she had consumed, however, Hermione doubted she remembered the entire night.
But when he had shown up several months ago, everything had changed. She no longer wanted to play with anyone but him.
Tonight, she would not only be female, she would be herself so she could—if she was lucky—watch her own fingertips caress a man that she couldn't stop thinking about.
Hermione downed the orange drink in one swallow and vanished the potion she didn't want or need this evening. She dressed in the dark, heavy female robes—shrinking them to fit her small frame—and settled into the overstuffed chair to wait for the chimes that signaled it was time for the attendees to take their Polyjuice.
When had it started? Had it always been there, this craving she didn't dare articulate, this need to touch, to drown herself in a wizard that barely acknowledged her existence? He had elbowed his way into her fantasies, stationing himself at the core of her desire. How? Why? She had no idea.
It terrified her, this blind need. This want.
Should the evening go as planned, would it satisfy her hunger for the man? If she spent time breathing him in, would she be able to get him out of her head? Part of her doubted it. Tonight's activities just might make things decidedly worse.
Whatever happened, Hermione was going to offer herself to him. Her real self, without the aid of Polyjuice.
And she hoped like hell that whomever had clothed themselves in Severus Snape's skin would be interested in bedding Hermione Granger.
The chime sounded, alerting the attendees that it was time to take the first dose of their potion. Hermione froze. Who was becoming him right now? Merlin…don't let it be Ron…anyone but Ron…
A second tone sounded, signaling the attendees should enter the common room. Hermione bolted out the door of her alcove. At the meetings, the lucky bastard that had become him for the night was rather…popular with witches and wizards that wanted to taste the dark, reclusive, former spy. She was determined to get to him first.
Hermione located Headmaster Snape's lean frame the moment he left his alcove; as she approached, he settled himself into the large overstuffed chair nearest his door and crossed his long legs. As quick as she'd been, another witch had outpaced her and paraded in front of him, preening.
Whomever looked like Severus Snape glanced around the standing witch and met Hermione's eye. She felt herself blush and nodded slightly. He inclined his head nearly imperceptibly in reply, signaling his agreement that they would spend the evening together.
It was done.
The other witch skulked away to find a suitable replacement for the next few hours.
At this, Hermione settled in next to him on the cushion. Thank Merlin Polyjuice not only replicated the body, but the scent of the person as well, because gods, he smelled delicious. And thank Merlin the wizard—or witch—that looked like Severus Snape had not been repulsed by the attention of a bushy-haired know-it-all.
Hermione turned to smile shyly at him. It was odd seeing her former professor so close, dressed in the matching clothing of attendees, and lacking his endless buttons and raven frock coat. He had fixed his teeth since the war. She smiled inwardly: that was something she understood. And his dark hair was washed. She found she wanted to run her fingers through it.
He wrapped his arm around her and pulled her closer.
"Thank you, Professor."
Words flew from her throat, unbidden. "I always wanted—"
He put a finger to her lips. "Shhhh. Not now."
He rose and offered his hand. She took it and he guided her out of the crowded room, back to his alcove where they could be alone.
Severus—she tried to convince her mind to call this Polyjuiced person the name that matched the body—clicked the door shut behind them, dropped her hand, and stood there, still as a stone. Hermione glanced around. The room was dark save for the blush of the firelight touching the furnishings and the moonlight spilling in the window onto the bed. She smiled: they must be in the last room off the long hall, looking over the small passageway that veered off of Diagon Alley.
The closet door was closed. No personal effects—including wand, jewelry, purse, or wallet—were lying about. Whomever Hermione was standing next to was being very careful not to reveal who they really were.
He didn't move.
Hermione could discern his features in the whisper of light, his severe brow and Roman nose, the Cupid's bow of his upper lip, and his eyes, dark and unreadable. She reached for his hand. It was damp with sweat. She threaded her fingers in his, brought his wrist to her mouth, and kissed it tenderly.
Wordlessly, she steered him by the hand towards the bed, and they both sat down, fingers still entwined. A log in the fireplace cracked and spit, shooting sparks onto the brick hearth. Both of them jumped.
He swore then huffed a laugh, presumably at his own reaction. She giggled.
"I'm a bit nervous," he admitted.
"Well, maybe we can try this again," she said, pulling his wrist to her mouth and gently kissing it, as she had done just moments before. He hummed his agreement. Tiny kisses grew into longer sweeps of her tongue until she was lapping, and nibbling, and chewing fiercely.
When she realized she had somehow gotten on his lap and was straddling his hips while attacking his wrist, she stopped abruptly, horrified that she had been so aggressive so quickly.
For a moment, he simply stared at her, as if he could not comprehend what she was doing.
The next thing she knew, Hermione felt his hand at the back of her neck guiding her towards him and tilting her head, driving his lips into hers for a searing kiss. As they fell back on the bed, his tongue became urgent and relentless, perfectly responding to her own need. Okay. It's not Ron. Thank Merlin, it's not Ron. He…he?...knows how to kiss me until the world spins.
He drew back. His dark eyes swept over her as his fingers grazed her button down shirt, promising her breasts tender caresses. His eyes locked on hers.
He was asking permission, wasn't he?
Hermione rolled onto her back and undid the top button herself. He leaned in and laved the newly revealed expanse of skin with a reverence that surprised her. Like she was a gift undeserved.
With shaking fingers, he tried the next button, but it refused to release.
"Not sure…" he mumbled, "if I can manage…"
She brought her hand up to meet his and undid the button with ease; he responded by chuckling softly and rewarding her exposed skin with a tender kiss.
"Thank you." His breath, hot on her ribs as he attempted the next button, was ruining her panties.
"Anytime," she said, smiling around her response as he freed it and stroked the skin that had been hidden.
"Really?" he drawled as he moved lower.
When he finished with the buttons, he wrenched the fabric aside and splayed his hands across her belly, pressing them into her flesh, as if he wanted to feel every possible expanse of her skin. He moved upward until his fingers cupped her breasts, grazing them with the lightest of touches. Hermione's skin pebbled beneath his attention.
Severus pressed warm lips to one nipple, torturing her other breast with his fingertips. Synchronizing the movements of his mouth and fingers, he began lapping and sucking, eliciting a whimper from her. Did I just feel teeth?
She bit her lip and writhed beneath him: nothing, Merlin nothing had ever felt like this. Just when she thought she might go mad, he abandoned his attack, sat back on his heels, and smirked at her. That smirk. Bastard.
Magic rippled through the room, and Hermione realized he had cast a wordless Muffliato.
"Was that for you or me?" she quipped, still breathing heavily.
"We'll see," he said, still smirking.
Hermione sat up, shrugged out of her open shirt, and set upon his buttons. When they were free, she pushed the cloth back off his shoulders and for a moment, stared at his lean chest in the firelight. Merlin, he was gorgeous.
She tentatively touched his chest, dragging her fingers down its muscled length, pausing part way to playfully circle his nipples with the tips of her fingers. She leaned forward to take one in her mouth as he had done; he drew a ragged breath and shoved her away.
Before she could react, Severus had flipped her down on the bed so he was hovering above her on all fours, not touching her. His dark hair fell down around his face, and he just gazed at her for a moment; he bent down to meet her lips with his own for a deep, probing kiss.
Hermione unzipped her black trousers and dragged them off over her bum; he helped navigate the fabric down her legs and over her ankles to the floor. At the sight of her panties, he groaned and bent to nip, lick, and press against the scrap of fabric, his breath ruining what was left of her panties and her self-control.
"Professor," she moaned, clenching the sheets in her fists so she wouldn't move too much on the bed.
He looked up at her, his eyes dark with lust.
"Considering what I believe is about to happen between us, you must call me Severus."
Her bottom lip pulled downward and her teeth and tongue moved to form the first sound of his given name, when suddenly the obsessive need for him rankled, and her thoughts of I'm going to shag him until I can't walk and then run away felt inappropriate at best. Her own dark lust softened into something much gentler, much sweeter than the gritty fuck she had ached for: she longed for more than that. She wanted his affection. She wanted his love.
It was utter madness. Utter, delicious madness.
As his name flew from her throat, she had one fleeting thought before letting herself disappear into his touch: Am I falling in love with Severus Snape or the person behind his eyes?
Severus dragged her panties down her thighs.
He descended on her. At first, his tongue slowly and gently grazed her clit, over and over again, until she felt as though the longing for more would consume her. His touch grew stronger, and soon he was probing, demanding, and relentless, and she squirmed under the pleasure of it. He added his fingers until her clit was throbbing; she writhed in delicious agony beneath him, willing herself to focus on the velvet feel of his tongue, instead of trying to suss out the identity of the man on top of her.
Her brain was spinning. How long had she been pinned to the bed, savoring his tongue as it swept over and over her? If he stopped now, how long would it be before her body ceased quivering and crying out for more? And if this was what he could do with his tongue, what would it be like with him inside her?
Carding her fingers through his hair, she reached down and gently drew him away.
"Let me," she whispered, snaking her finger under his trouser placket, pleading with her eyes for him to remove it, while willing her breath and heart to still.
He licked his lips and cocked an eyebrow.
Rolling off her, Severus unfastened his trousers and removed them—along with his underwear—in one swift motion and tossed them to the floor. Hermione plunged under the cool sheets, wrapping both hands firmly around his shaft, and, for a moment, she just stared into the semi-dark. He was hard and warm under her fingers, the slit weeping with desire. How she wanted—wanted!—to wrap her lips around him until he lost all control.
As her lips met his skin, he hissed.
"Careful…" he whispered.
Hermione started by licking the length of him, boldly exploring every inch with her tongue, and lapping up the sticky beads that appeared at the top of his arousal. Finally, she positioned her closed lips at the tip and waited until he regained a modicum of control. She wanted him to last. After a moment, she plummeted down on him, fast, pushing hard with her lips and adding a ring of forefinger and thumb around him to the rhythm of her mouth.
Merlin, he tasted like nothing she'd ever had before.
Severus barked out a strangled cry which sounded like her name and scrambled to get his hands under the sheet to tug on her hair. When she felt his touch, she froze and glanced up at him. He had ducked his head under the linens; he was staring at her, wild-eyed.
"Stop," he managed, panting. "Wait."
Hermione withdrew, disappointed yet pleased. Severus dragged her upward until her head was laying on his chest; his racing heart and ragged breath actually soothed her, and she closed her eyes, entranced by the sound.
As he heaved the blankets up around them and she snuggled into his warmth, she had the distinct impression that whomever was hidden under Severus Snape's skin was already in love with Hermione Granger.
A soft chime sounded, signaling to the attendees that the first dose of the potion would be wearing off soon: even expertly brewed Polyjuice only lasts about an hour. Hermione tore herself away from Severus's warm body and began to yank her clothes on. He grabbed her hand. Hard.
"Come back to me," he whispered in his velvet baritone, his soft words at odds with his fierce grip on her hand.
Hermione leaned in to kiss him.
"I'm not finished with you, Severus Snape," she said against his lips, and rose to silently pad back to her room and pretend to take the second dose.
When Hermione returned, Severus was still in bed, illuminated by a shaft of light from the moon and covered by a swath of snowy bed linen. She shut the door behind her and stepped out of her trousers. Even though the fire had died down, the room was still toasty. Severus pulled back the sheet, and she climbed in, settling in next to him with a contented sigh.
"Did you miss me?" she asked with a soft smile.
"Of course." He nodded at the shirt she hadn't removed. "Are you planning to torture me with your buttons again?"
"That's rich, coming from you."
"I have no idea what you mean."
She huffed a laugh. "I suppose you don't."
Hermione rolled on her side, propped her head up with her hand, and looked him over. Clad in only his underwear, his eyes dark with desire, she drank him in. Merlin, she wanted him. She wanted him now.
Hermione pressed her palm to his underwear then snaked a finger inside the elastic. "Take these off."
"You sure?" he asked softly, his baritone ragged and gravelly.
Severus smirked at her but obeyed; once naked, he dragged himself to the edge of the bed, sat there, and reached for her. She climbed on his lap, settling herself on top of his arousal. Hermione ground her hips into him, rubbing up and down against his length with her own wet desire.
Locking her eyes on his, she rose from straddling him, shed her shirt, and looped her panties in her forefingers, drawing them slowly over her thighs until they slid down her legs and puddled on the floor. She broke her brazen stare to glance at his cock, weeping and ready; she made her way back onto his lap.
As Hermione lowered herself onto him, his cock slipped back, missing her entrance entirely and sliding towards the crack of her arse. She pulled up and tried one more time. It happened again.
He hummed in frustration.
"Wait, wait," she said, trying not to giggle. "Let me..."
She rose slightly higher on her knees and reached underneath her body to angle his cock forward, gripping it and lining him up with her entrance. Letting herself down slowly, she impaled herself and gasped as the length of him seated inside her.
"Fuck…" he hissed.
Grasping her hips at the bone, Severus dug his fingers into her flesh and guided her up and down in a lazy rhythm, staring intently into her eyes. The way he looks at me...it's like he adores me.
Severus gave one final upward thrust, sending her mind reeling again. Before she realized what she had done, she had bitten his neck—hard. He gave a sharp cry and held her still, allowing his head to fall forward onto her shoulder. Dark, soft hair tickled her skin.
"You're exquisite," he said, finally looking up but still breathing heavily.
After a moment, they collapsed back onto the bed. Hermione smiled coyly at him; he raised an eyebrow and tossed the sheet aside, flipping her underneath him and exploring her mouth greedily with his tongue. She groaned and wrapped him in her arms, tangling her fingers in his hair and trying to draw him in even closer.
Using a lean thigh to spread her knees farther apart, Severus pressed his weight down on her as he rocked his hips against hers. Grasping both her wrists in one hand, he dragged them high over her head, pinning her in place. Hermione wrapped her legs around his back, and he entered her with a deep, velvet moan.
There was still enough light to see their reflection in the ceiling over the bed. Gods...
And the world fell away while she tried to pretend the person making love to her was indeed the wizard he appeared to be.
The chime sounded, indicating they should take the last of the Polyjuice. They had an hour left. That was all.
Severus stood, zipped his trousers—setting them low on his hips—and padded towards the bathroom.
"Give me a minute," he said, pausing at the doorway. While Severus was inside, Hermione removed the last of her potion from the pocket of her robes and vanished it.
Hermione strolled to the window; she found the glass wasn't a window at all, but a French door opening onto a small balcony. It looked over a small passage off Diagon Alley, and there seemed to be just enough room for two people to fit on it.
After a moment, Severus returned to the alcove and offered his hand to her with a slow smile.
"Come." He indicated the door to the balcony. "I want to kiss you in the moonlight."
She raised an eyebrow and looked down at herself, clad only in panties. "Er…let me…"
She located his shirt after rummaging around in the rumpled pile of discarded clothing on the floor and shrugged into it, leaving it unbuttoned. Sweet Merlin, it smelled like him. She vaguely wondered if she could somehow take it with her at the end of the night.
"Ready," she said and reached for his hand, entwining her fingers in his.
As they crossed the threshold, Hermione felt the ripple of a warming charm surround her. At least she wouldn't have to worry that her bare feet would be cold. She would, however, have to worry that she was standing on a balcony clothed only in her panties and Severus Snape's unbuttoned shirt. Had she lost her mind?
"Stunning," he breathed, gazing down at the open front of his black shirt. "I always wanted to touch you." His fingertips grazed the skin between her breasts, awe etched in his features.
"And I, you," she whispered back and wrapped her body tightly around his, settling her head on his chest and listening to the rhythm of his heart. Severus snaked his hand under the shirt's fabric to stroke her back, and they remained skin to skin, embracing in the moonlight, for what seemed like hours.
All those other nights, it had been about playing. At most, she'd been curious. Thirsty for experience. Never anything more.
But this….this felt different. This was different.
I'm falling in love with you and I don't even know who you are. She gazed up at him just as he dipped his head to gift her unending, slow, deep kisses that threatened to unhinge her mind and ruin her for anyone else.
And the pale light fell all around them.
The tone that heralded the end of the evening sang through the air. They leaned into each other, desperate to taste one final kiss. After a moment, Hermione withdrew and turned and left the room without a word, staggering back to her alcove to change her clothes and wait for the release bell, feeling both utterly fulfilled and bitterly empty.
Based on the number of owls waiting outside her locked window when she stumbled into her kitchen to brew coffee in the morning, Hermione should have guessed something was wrong. Two or three of the posts had been bright red. Once she saw the front page of the Prophet, she knew the reason for them, and all thoughts of finding the person she had kissed last night were put on hold.
After spending a little over an hour attempting to calm herself—as well as trying to convince her stomach not to empty all over her trainers—she had decided her best course of action was to visit Hogwarts and talk to Headmaster Snape directly. She'd sent him her Patronus, requesting a meeting as soon as possible. The terse reply from his doe had told her that he knew the reason for her request.
Hermione pulled on her robes, leaving the ever-growing pile of owl post unopened, save for the Howlers that wouldn't wait. She hoped that the headmaster wouldn't have as many owls to deal with as she had.
In hindsight, she supposed the monthly gatherings could never have lasted. There were too many people involved, too many potential ways for it to go awry; too many wanted to settle slights from the war—real or imagined—and were looking for payback, even if it were only remitted in embarrassment.
She took another sip of her coffee. If she didn't leave now, she'd risk being late. But she didn't want to face Headmaster Snape. Hermione unfolded the paper and glanced at it again, hoping the sight of the headline and the photograph on the front page would spur her feet to move. They did.
Polyjuice Sex Club Shocks Wizarding Community
Potter, Granger, Snape Among Those Named in Ministry Probe
Hermione Granger and Severus Snape, partially naked and entwined on a third floor balcony, danced under the headline. Neither of them looked toward the camera in the photo—which was cleverly rendered as not to show anything indecent—because their eyes never left each other.
The bile in her throat threatened again. Time to go.
Hermione Apparated to the gate just outside Hogwarts, her hand tightly gripping the day's edition of The Daily Prophet. She took a deep breath, trying to calm her racing heart. He'll understand. He's a member, too, right?
The relative warmth of the night before had given way to the chilly air and cloudless sky of an early autumn midday. She pulled her robes more tightly around her and, with grim determination, she began to make her way to the Headmaster's office.
Hermione lowered herself down on the stiff wooden chair opposite Headmaster Snape's desk and straightened her robes. She laid the unfolded newspaper down on his desk, losing the fight not to blush.
An owl tapped at the window. They both ignored it.
"I'm sorry, Headmaster," she stammered, doing her best to look him in the eye.
He stared back at her without looking at the Prophet, folded his hands, and pursed his lips.
She took that to mean he was too angry to speak. He had a right to be, she supposed. Well, she had made the trip here; she might as well say everything she planned to. "I am sorry to have embarrassed you."
He remained still as stone.
Hermione blinked. She had never considered that the Prophet would hold no sway over the former Death Eater. Well, now that she thought about it, what could they possibly print—true or false—that hadn't already been said? It was likely that nothing fazed him. Perhaps her humiliation had blinded her. Perhaps it had been rash to come here at all.
After a moment, he broke his stare and glanced down at the paper. "Why would you think this would have embarrassed me?" His words were almost too soft for her to hear.
She really had no answer for his question except the obvious: who would want to get caught snogging Hermione Granger?
"I mean…" she swallowed, finding her throat dry, "it's me in the photograph. I can't imagine anyone would want to be photographed in that…situation…with me."
"Are you certain that's the real reason, Miss Granger? I would suspect the opposite—that you are embarrassed to have been photographed with me."
"No, sir," she mumbled. There it was. She said it. Would he…?
"It would be much less surprising—would it not—that you, the Princess of Gryffindor and member of the Golden Trio, would be embarrassed to be intimately associated with a spy and former Death Eater, an ugly dungeon bat and greasy git—shall I go on, Miss Granger?"
He was challenging her, but his words lacked their usual venom.
"I…you…no, sir." Merlin, would she ever be able to look him in the eye again?
She gazed at her hands folded on her lap. For an instant, she considered pretending it wasn't actually her in that photograph wrapped around the body of Severus Snape. She could say she would try to suss out who had taken her Polyjuice potion. She could hide behind a lie.
Truth. She promised herself that she would stick to the truth.
And truthfully, part of her wanted him to know that it was actually her on the front page of the Prophet. That she had come more-than-willingly to whomever wore his features last night, because she had wanted him. She had wanted Severus Snape in her bed.
Hermione swallowed. "It was me. I didn't take Polyjuice last night."
The words hung in the air for so long, she thought he might never answer.
She flinched at the sound of her given name, and glanced up from her now shaking hands. His dark eyes had softened. He rose and strolled to the front of the Headmaster's desk and took her hand, gently lifting her out of her seat.
"Did you like kissing me in the moonlight?"
She heard it—the emphasis, subtle enough to be ignored should she choose to. Severus Snape was teasing her. Wasn't he?
But as he moved closer, she saw it: the trace of a bite mark on his neck.
She felt the blood drain from her face.
He reached out and took her chin in his hand and tilted her head upward, so she had no choice but to meet his dark eyes. With his next words, he confirmed all her fear and hope at once.
"Considering what I believe is about to happen between us, you must call me Severus."