Speculation by Day, Happiness by Night

There is no disguise which can hide love for long where it exists, or simulate it where it does not. La Rochefouchcauld

'How could this happen? How could it possibly happen?'

Severus Snape, ex-Slytherin student, once Death-Eater turned spy, Hogwarts' Potions Master turned spy again, and now back to just being a Potions teacher, was actually fretting over what to wear.

He did not notice it himself until he realised he had been tossing every set of clothes aside after taking each of them out of his wardrobe.

This night, Severus was preparing for the annual Hogwarts' Ball that took place on the second night during which every school term started. It was first held after the fall of Lord Voldemort as a form of joyous celebration.

After four years, it had officially joined in the list of Hogwarts' various traditions. Apparently, Albus Dumbledore, who remained the Headmaster of the renowned school, 'had it in his befuddled, aging head', to put it in Severus' not-so-humble opinion, to use such occasions to allow the new students to become acquainted with the school and the other students and staff. If Severus remembered correctly, the Muggle word Albus used was 'Ice- breaker'. Severus believed it was more appropriate to call it 'Get cocky- get pretty-get strutting-get flirting-get hooked up-get drunk-get noisy-get down in the bushes or whichever lonely spot hormonal teenagers seem to find- get woken up in the Hospital Wing with a migraine' night, only it was too long to say it in one breath menacingly.

Well, he thought, whatever the name, no one had certainly broken the perpetual 'ice' walls surrounding him and he was utterly proud of the accomplishment. However, when he was alone in his chambers at times, he wondered how those walls had been built, and whether he did not want them taken down.

When the Dark Lord had been vanquished through the efforts of all who were in the Order and many in the wizarding world, everyone felt the same rush and relief and exhilaration. Yes, there were severe repercussions, as there would be in war. A good number of witches and wizards perished in the midst of fighting. Some students were sacrificed. Albus knew realistically he could not save all of them, although he had grieved over them for a while. Even now, not every body was accounted for. They were lost, and the only thing the living could do was to erect a monument and hold these brave souls in memory. Severus, ever the pessimist, told Albus that all glorification of the dead and proclamations were useless. Years would pass, such events, no matter how grandiose and horrific they appeared to the present, would disappear into the annals of forgotten history, to be taught to a bunch of dundleheads who could not appreciate what their forefathers did for them.

Albus' answer lingered in his thoughts, 'Be content then, to know the next generations will live in peace because of us.'

Severus doubted if he would ever learn the meaning of contentment. The clouds that hung over the entire wizarding world were not so easily lifted. In the beginning, the presence of Voldemort still seemed to pervade the streets and corners, especially in the battlefields. Many centuries needed to pass before anything could grow on the grounds where Voldemort had been destroyed.

It took some time for the wizarding world to fully understand that for once in two decades, they were free from the powers of Voldemort. What Death- Eaters left were killed or locked away in Azkaban. At Albus' request, the newly appointed Minister of Magic agreed recently to remove the Dementors and set up the stongest wards around the prison. Cornelius Fudge had stepped down months ago under unknown circumstances. Rumours circulated that he had in truth been forced to give up his position due to the deep disapproval held among the public.

As for the Death-Eaters' children studying in Hogwarts, the staff respected Albus' decision of letting them stay on condition that they did not leave to stay with their relatives during the holidays.

In plain, by the end of the third year, Severus observed that everyone had learnt to move on, except himself. Life was beckoning. Life had meaning. Life had goals. Only he did not have any.

At age forty-one, a wizard had not reached his mid-life. Severus wished it were his old age. Ever since he confessed to Albus in his youth the disastrous consequences his activities as a Death-Eater had led to, he thought he would be hurled off for execution. When Albus showed him mercy, he chose redemption, knowing there was no way he could escape to another country and watch the Dark Lord work towards the doom he sought to achieve. When Voldemort mysteriously disappeared, he accepted Albus' offer to work under him. Mind, he did resent it, but he had endured the pain of guilt. He could endure the pain of ignorance and condemnation. (On a more satisfactory note, as he explained to Albus constantly, it was gratifying to see the students cower in front of him at his mere glance.)

When Voldemort was resurrected, he contributed in every way in the struggle against him and all that he stood for. All throughout, Severus had always thought he would die in the process. Fortune could not possibly favour him the whole time. Yet it may be that she thought it amusing to land him at the end of the day unscathed. After all, he did not enjoy being kept in a world that he had no idea how to live in.

There was nothing left to accomplish, except to continue being a Potions Master. The years must be wearing him out. He felt resigned to his fate. Teaching to him was like breathing. One did not hate it, but one was not in love with it either. In and out of class, painting every student with the same brush (in other words, they were all hopeless). . . except one.

One ex-student to be precise. One Hermione Granger to be even more precise. If Severus would admit it to himself, it was because of her that he was in the unusual predicament of choosing what apparel to wear for the evening. She had struck him that very first class he had with her. Oh, his treatment towards her during her time as a student was never a pretense. Initially, he scowled at her over-eagerness, concluding that she strove to gather every scrape of knowledge to please her teachers and to elicit praise from them. His opinion of her changed somewhat when he discovered it was she who had solved his riddle in her first year. However, it did not prevent him from regarding her as an irritating know-it-all who tried to help more than she could handle and linking herself with Potter. The years of the famous Trio might be the most remarkable ones he ever had in his teaching experience. Unfortunately, they were remarkably bad, the worst being the year when Lupin had come as the Defence Against the Dark Arts professor and he had suffered the most humiliating defeat under the Trio's hands.

Forgiveness was not a Snapish trait. It must be the intensity of the war which made him forget himself for a moment when he saved Sirius Black's hide and yelled, 'For Merlin's sake, they need you to protect them when I'm dead!' It was Albus who told him what he had said. He did not realise but Black supposedly remembered. To Severus' chagrin, Black's attitude toward him became decent, even by his biased standards. He had tried in vain for them to return to their former relationship, or non-relationship thereof. Still, no matter how infuriating Severus was, Black retained his newfound passive self. Severus checked several times in secret to confirm that it was the real Sirius Black who was among them. Much to his previous disappointment, it was.

Being a sarcastic bastard in front of a man who did not retaliate made Severus feel shortchanged at the beginning. There was none of that empty pleasure he derived out of his acid tongue. As he looked back, he knew that somehow, along the war, the two enemies had formed a mutual respect. Both had changed. They would not be friends, but lately, he noted that they could engage in light banter without feeling challenged.

And he was resigned to it.

'You are getting old, Severus Snape,' he ridiculed himself. 'You should avoid the ball altogether.'

He snorted. Senility threatened to be added to his other failings. He was talking to himself.

What would a girl see in him in his state?

Damn, always that infernal thought. He was pathetic, hankering after a fantasy that would disgust every sane person. Which led him back to his burning question. How could it have happened?

Hermione Granger in her seventh year was similar to Hermione Granger in her previous years. She did not change. What difference there was in their lives was that they had to work together to stop Voldemort. It was perhaps the confession he made for himself that she did possess a thirst for knowledge. It was perhaps the recognition of her intelligence and brilliance that were bewilderingly compatible to his. Maybe it was her compassion and maturity which spoke to him. Maybe it was the ease with which he talked to her. Maybe it was her confounded beauty that affected him, although he did not like to think he was that shallow.

He had often scoffed at people who allowed emotion to rule over reason. He should not have laughed at them so soon. Whatever attributes Hermione had, he now found them perfect. If anyone were to discover his obsession with a girl slightly older than half his age, he would surely be scorned and she would be taken away from him.

He did not expect her to return the same sentiments, heaven forbid. Although it was not enough to see her everyday and be treated like every other colleague, it would have to do. If she left because of him. . . Fear gripped him at the prospects of having to live without seeing her.

She had come back after two years as a student to become the Professor of Muggle Studies, whilst at the same time helping Flitwick with Charms. Melancholy had seeped through him when she was gone, only to be irresistibly replaced by well-concealed jubilation when she entered his life again. He suspected that Albus knew. There was a mad twinkle in the man's eye every time Hermione chatted with him.

The chime of his clock roused him out of his reverie. He was supposed to be there in ten minutes. Growling, he stared at the twenty-over sets of clothes thrown over every inch of his floor. Who would care about what he wore to the ball? They were all a trademark black. No one noticed the subtle differences in each of them. No one noticed him in the first place when it came to socialisation. Yet he hesitated snatching any one set. For once he wished he had some clothes suitable for the occasion.

'Damn the woman!' he shouted helplessly. He swore he would not be controlled by the mere desire of impressing someone who did not even know she was being longed for.

'By an old, slimy miserable git.' He banged open his wardrobe. No one could possibly contain that much empathy to not shun him when she discovered the truth. He vowed that he would simply wear what he grabbed next. What he drew out caused him to freeze in shock. He vowed not to make vows so easily again.

Hermione exclaimed in delight, 'It's wonderful Professor. You've outdone yourself!'

'Isn't it so?' Flitwick chuckled. The Hall was decorated from floor to ceiling with natural twinkles of crystals. Moonbeams shone down to illuminate the place with a soft touch, providing an atmosphere that was at once comforting and intimate. At one end of the Hall, the Dandelion Dandies were preparing their musical instruments. The Charms professor turned to Hermione, 'Haven't I told you to call me by my name?'

Hermione blushed, 'Sorry.' She grinned, 'I'll practise more. I'm not used to it.'

'You are quite alright with Severus.'

'It's different. Severus' closer my age. And we never had that teacher- student bond you and I shared. It's well. . . easier to treat him as a. . . partner of sorts. You know, during the war. . . and everything. . . We worked together. . .' Hermione caught herself rambling. 'It's. . . different,' she finished lamely.

'How glad Severus will be to hear you say that,' Albus stood beside them, 'He was appalled when I informed him about the immense respect you had for him as a father figure.'

Hermione frowned, 'I never said that Headmaster.'

'You didn't? Dear me, I must have my Pensieves scrutinised.'

Hermione wondered if she should be amused or annoyed. She was extremely fond of Dumbledore, but he was one whom she could not tell when he was serious or teasing. In this instance, she was inclined to think it was the latter, but there was such a dangerous merriment exuding from him. If she understood Dumbledore in any aspect, it was that merriment was a genuine characteristic of his that could also be used as a weapon to hide his motives.

'Tell me child,' Dumbledore asked gently after Flitwick excused himself to attend to further decorations. 'How are you settling in?'

'I've been teacher for a year sir.'

'Of course, of course. To you, a year is sufficiently long. To me, it is a blink of an eye.'

'I understand. Yes, I'm very pleased to be here. Thank you for asking me.'

'Oh, come. Don't be so courteous. How were your holidays?'

'My research was exhausting, nevertheless, exhilarating. You're right. Time passes too quickly. I barely had time to shop in the Muggle parts of London.'

'Ah. . . London. . . All those enchanting buildings and activities the Muggles immerse themselves in. What fine music they perform in the theatres. What tempting sweets they sell. I must pay a visit there one day. It will be my first since 1965. Many things have changed.'

'I wouldn't know,' Hermione smiled, 'I wasn't born then.'

Dumbledore patted her hand and brought them both to a nearby table to sit down, 'And how are Harry and the Weaseley family?'

'The same. Harry's winning the Quidditch matches. Did he owl to you about Ginny?'

'Yes, we were surprised that it was triplets. Severus moaned about the threefold trouble he predicted when they enter Hogwarts.'

'Naturally, plus Ron's also planning to have children with Priscilla.'

'Merlin save their sons and daughters,' came the silky rejoinder.

Hermione turned around and managed just in time to refrain from gawking.

Severus was swathed all in black. That was hardly shocking. What was amazing was the style of his clothes. Apart from his cloak, they were undoubtedly Muggle. The cashmere turtleneck clinging to his top and pants were finely tailored to match his elegance and nobleness. Not everyone was privy to the fact that the Potions Master showed gentlemanly manners when he chose to. She saw that his shoes were polished and designed after the Edwardian era too. Overall, he would most certainly cut a dignified figure were he to walk around town. In fact, he looked much younger than he normally appeared. His hair was also different, impeccably sleek with the gleam of absolute cleanliness. She did not realise how well sculptured his body was until now to boot. For a man his age, he had a body a teenager would kill for. He was thin, but showed strength. His torso was flat. All the right muscles were developed though not overtly so.

Nice, very nice.

She smiled warmly, 'Severus! I'm so glad to see you.'

Severus thought to himself, You have no idea how glad I am to see you.

He was afraid she would laugh at his dressing, or giggle at least. Out loud he said, 'Welcome back Hermione.' 'I must compliment you on your clothes Severus. They are in exquisite taste.'

'Hugo Boss. I believe you are familiar with the name.'

'Of course. Goodness, they cost a pretty penny, as my mother always says.'

'It's the only set of Muggle clothes I bought.' Inwardly, he chanted, Don't ask why I'm wearing them, Don't ask why, Don't ask why. . .

'You should take off your cloak.'

What?

'What?' Severus blurted out involuntarily. Stupidly.

'I mean it. You look good in those clothes.'

'Yes, Severus,' Albus nodded enthusiastically, 'Do let me see clearly what you are wearing.'

Severus stared daggers at his mentor when Hermione was not looking. If there were any justice in this world Albus would have been lying on the floor, quite dead.

Pretending that it did not matter whether he was wearing his cloak or not, Severus shrugged it off and placed it over an empty chair. Inside, he lashed out at the inexplicable vulnerability he felt growing rapidly.

'Better.' Hermione indicated for him to sit.

It started off smoothly, with Hermione talking to him. The students filed into the Hall dressed in their best. They paid no attention to him. Then the staff came gathering around the table just as dinner started.

'Snape, you sly dog!' Black shouted, 'Did you finally go for a grooming course during the holidays?'

'Unlike you Professor Black, I do not require grooming. Besides I can see they are useless, judging from the results they yield from you.' Severus deliberately scanned Black from head to toe to emphasise his point.

'Unlike you I do not need Muggle clothes to make myself a striking figure in the wizarding world,' Black smirked, overlooking the obvious insult.

'Seriously though, you look much better than you ever did Severus,' Minerva McGonagall said. 'Much more refreshed and less er. . . sallow in complexion.'

Severus was deeply affronted, 'Oh thank you Minerva. You've succeeded in boosting my ego.'

'What she means,' Black quipped, 'is that you look like a walking corpse all the time.'

Throughout his life, Severus ignored jibes made at his appearance. He accepted that he was not handsome. Somehow, Black hit a core.

He clenched his fist and glared at him while Black happily tucked into his meal. Hermione must have noticed, for she diverted him by launching into a discussion. Severus grudgingly relented. He knew if he had made a fuss, chances were that they would ask what was wrong with him, and that would lead to the revelation that he resented any reminder that he was not worthy of Hermione, which would lead on to the discovery of his love for her.

Never that.

After dinner was over, the band started playing. Cheers erupted as partners took to the centre floor and danced. Students and staff mingled. Dumbledore enjoyed himself incredibly, despite having to bend his back to dance with the first years. Rubeus Hagrid solved his problem by the simple expedient of lifting the first years off the ground to twirl them around. Whistles and laughter were heard from every corner. Even Minerva had loosened up in the post-Voldemort era to allow herself to be persuaded to get on her feet, and to prove how spectacular she was at tap-dancing. Wonder of wonders.

Severus leaned back against his chair. He concentrated on the students at first, discreetly using his wand when he spotted the rumblings of an upheaval. Albus may have had lamentably decreed that no points be taken during the ball, but there was plenty to do. After putting out fire on two boys' robes, mouthing a counter hex to dispel one uttered at the punch bowl, chasing five mice let out by three students, and sprouting whiskers out of said three students in glee, he rewarded himself by relaxing his watch over the students and turning his attention to Hermione.

She was dancing with a seventh-year at present. He resembled Potter too much for Severus' comfort. Jealousy was a strange, awkward emotion he had not experienced in his youth. When Hermione graduated, he feared that she and Potter would marry. When it became clear it was Ginny Potter loved, he thought Weaseley would ask for her hand. In hindsight, he should have known Hermione would reject Weaseley. Jealousy, like love, blinded logic and gnawed at him relentlessly.

She was dancing with Albus now. Gods, but she was beautiful. The war had not left any trace of harshness about her. Her wild hair further enhanced the nymph-like quality she possessed and he could stare at that face forever as well. Large, honey eyes, framed with the darkest eyelashes, that one could drown in and not return. He yearned to cup that pale face with his hands and compel her to look at him. In his mind, he saw her tender lips parting in surprise, before tilting her chin up. . .

Her ice-blue robes shimmered in the soft light. They were quite daring by wizarding standards. He wondered what material they were made from. Silk? The robes flowed down her slender body to reveal all the feminine curves. The slit on one side of the robes allowed glimpses of her satin-smooth leg which distracted him no end. Severus cursed himself and bent his head to glower over his wineglass. He knew he needed more Dreamless Sleep Potion to prevent forbidden images floating in his head that night.

'Severus! Don't sit there scowling. Come, dance,' Minerva held out her hand.

Severus was not one to turn down a lady's request. Reluctant as he was, he got up and took the witch's hand.

'As you wish. . .' he stopped short when Minerva slipped his hand into that of a smiling Hermione. The light shining from her eyes dazzled him.

He forgot how he managed to walk to the dance floor. His brain was not functioning.

The band struck up a new piece of music and all the couples moved rhythmically. Severus forced himself to recover. Hoping that his smile was one of polite amicability and not exultation, he started talking as they danced. He was relieved that years of self-discipline helped him brought control and evenness to his voice. He thought triumphantly that he would survive this much-too-pleasurable ordeal after all.

The gods agreed things were going too smoothly for the Potions Master. They decided to play with him.

The students had noticed the two of them. More importantly they spotted the outward change in their stern teacher. Catcalls and hoots were heard all around.

'Way to go Sir.'

'Great bod Professor!'

'You got any extra clothes there for me to wear Professor?'

'Tango!' one Muggleborn yelled.

'Merlin, but he's appealing,' came a bold comment.

Laughter ensued. Many more tried to push the envelope.

'Superb!'

'Astounding!'

'Sexy!'

Cries followed. 'Yes! Hot!'

'Bring it on old man!'

Severus glared over Hermione's shoulders at the students and clenched his teeth. His hand itched to remove his wand and blast them all into ingredient bottles. Carefully, he imprinted every single impertinent remark and mentally prepared the appropriate punishment. Hermione giggled.

Severus said angrily, 'You needn't add to the mockery.'

'Nonsense. You can't recognise flattery if it danced in front of you wearing Hugo Boss outfits. Anyway if you didn't want the attention you shouldn't have changed your attire. You can only blame yourself.'

'I blame you,' seethed Severus.

Hermione was stunned, 'I beg your pardon?'

'Forget it.'

'Oh.' Hermione lowered her eyelids.

She was thinking, he knew. Well, better puzzlement than enlightenment.

'You dance magnificently Severus,' whispered Hermione.

'Thank you.'

The two continued their graceful waltz across the floor.

The night went by and the alcohol level was running high among the students. Severus worried about the usual rowdy consequences. He conveyed his thoughts to Hermione.

'Consequences smuchsequences.'

'Was that English?'

'You are too tense Severus. Relax. There won't be any serious trouble.'

Severus wanted to say that if he were any more relaxed he would be pressing her body hard against his and kissing her silly right there and then. It was probably wiser to resume his duties but he was wont to let her go.

Hermione was unaware of his turmoil. 'This place is getting warm.'

'Albus and his blasted heating Charms spin out of control every time.'

'Should we retire before it gets worse?'

'I should tell Albus about it.'

'Leave him to take care of them. Let's head out, please.'

Severus could not refuse.

As he escorted her out, he was oblivious to the observance of three pairs of curious eyes.

'I hope she knows what she's doing,' Sirius muttered.

'She knows,' Albus replied nonchalently.

'But of course,' Minerva said flippantly, 'She's got a head, hasn't she?'

'Better her maidenhead than mine,' Sirius remarked lewdly.

'Sirius!'

The younger wizard grinned, 'Don't fret. I won't cause mischief to Harry's friend. Besides, I want to hear from her how the stuffy git handled it.'

'That is generous of you. I had planned to tell the Witch Weekly about it,' Minerva winked.

Albus laughed heartily.

Oh Severus my boy, he thought affectionately, See what reward comes to you who deserves happiness.

Hermione was nervous, unbelievably so. Still, she did prepare for this for over a year, did she not?

They were strolling along the lake. The water was certainly clearer and more wholesome now, thanks to recent developments in self-cleaning potions. She had a sneaky suspicion Severus had finally succeeded in cursing the giant squid into eternal sleep or something. She had not seen it surface since she came to Hogwarts to work.

The lake was still. Like a mirror, it reflected the skies and sparkled as the stars did. Hermione persuaded herself to pause and look at her surroundings. She sank into silent meditation.

Severus did not say a word. He stood beside her, like a tower of support.

There was nothing oppressive about him, Hermione concluded a long time ago. True, his teaching persona was not wholly an act. There were several methods he used she did not approve, but when it boiled down to it, he was an unsung hero. Coupled to it was a fact that he was intensely shy.

He'll resent it, she smiled to herself. So, where is my Gryffindor courage?

She turned to face him. The moon was shining from behind him, causing his face to be obscured in darkness. She barely made out the corner of his mouth twitching into a smile.

'What are you thinking of?' he asked. Hermione was always touched inexplicably to know he was capable of speaking gently other than being verbally wounding.

In for a penny, in for a pound. . .

'This and that. Mostly, love.'

'Love!'

'Yes.'

'That's highly divine.' He was sardonic again, but she detected a tremor in his voice.

'You disapprove?'

'Why should I interfere with what relationship problems you have? Unless you've asked me out to be your consultant, to which I must say you've made a terrible mistake.'

Hermione decided to go along the ride. 'Alright, who should I seek advice from?'

'Anyone. What about Minerva?'

'No. Everyone's really kind. They'll help me if I ask. But it's personal and there's the erm. . . age factor. Don't take this the wrong way, but you're young. So am I. We communicate better.'

There was silence. Then he cleared his throat and looked away. The moon shone on, and shadows played on his face. He was pale. 'If you insist.'

She breathed in deeply. 'I've fallen in love Severus.'

'Ah! And pray who's the chap who's ensnared our professor's heart?' His voice was tight and drawn.

'I don't think anyone who knows him will call him a chap, although Albus did describe him as his morose laddie once.'

'Oh.' Confusion mingled with apprehension.

'He's not very young. I'm not sure what his exact age is.'

'Hermione, I'm weary after the ball. Forgive me if I urge you to hurry on. Do I know him?'

'Yes. He was a Slytherin student.'

'Slytherin!' Severus whirled around to face her. 'No wonder you wanted to talk to me. Certainly not! It's absurd.'

Hermione had difficulty composing her face into a blank expression. This was getting amusing. 'Why, what's wrong?'

'Malfoy's not interested in you. I'm sorry, but to him, you rank lower than his House-Elf. You cannot possibly imagine he will be attracted to you.'

'Draco? Severus, your brain's been idle. I told you he's not very young.'

'Then. . .' Hermione saw panic in his eyes. 'Not Lucius!'

'Would anyone call him morose?'

'I'd call him bastard.'

'Severus.'

'The man escaped safe and intact from the war.'

'Oh stop. We're not talking about the Malfoys.'

Severus plunged into silence. 'Of course. I forgot. I apologise.'

'Fine.' Suddenly things were not going as she planned. All those blatant hints. . . Was Severus really that obtuse?

No. . . the stupid prig was oblivious that he was not as loathsome as he believed himself to be, that a woman, that she could be genuinely in love with him. He immediately assumed rejection would mark his entire life.

'Severus, you are a fool, you know that? A moron, a. . . Oh, never mind.'

She leaned forward to kiss him.

Severus almost staggered backward into the lake. The impact was overwhelming. His mind was reeling.

Was he hallucinating? Did he overlook some trick committed by a student? Was a potion added into his wineglass? To be sure, he was not complaining. This fantasy was the best he ever had. His previous dreams used to be a blur, and Hermione was never as tangible as she was at the present.

Her lemony scent was intoxicating. And she was kissing him. Never in his wildest hopes did he think he could taste her. He moaned into her mouth. For several moments, they were one.

His senses rushed back to him. Reality hit him. This was definitely not a fragment of his imagination. The only alternative was. . .

He quickly pulled her away from him, brutally ignoring the pain searing through his heart. His body protested.

'No.'

He saw Hermione's eyes widen. She asked incongruously, 'What?'

Her voice, always so soft and sweet. . . 'Hermione, somebody fed you some potion. You don't know what you're doing. Come, let's go to the dungeons. There must be an antidote somewhere.'

He saw comprehension dawn in her face. Soon, she would be horrified at what she had done. More to the point, she would be repulsed at what he did to her. In his mind's eye, he continued to kiss her, to kiss her forehead, eyelids, chin and finally, lips. Then, he said goodbye.

A stinging sensation spread across his cheek. She had slapped him. He deserved it.

'Hermione, I understand your rage. Do you wish me to leave?'

'You kissed me! Didn't you want me?'

'I admit it. I've wanted you for. . . It's not important. I abused your trust and took advantage of you while you were under a spell.'

'Severus you. . .' Hermione was fighting through her tears. He did not expect the increasing hurt he felt.

She was choking with laughter at the same time. Hysteria. He was helpless as to how to soothe her.

'Severus, Severus, Severus Snape. You idiot. I love you.'

How he ached for so long to hear her say it, but not under these circumstances. 'I see the effects have not completely worn out.'

Hermione seized his face and locked eyes with him. He was startled to see how lucid her eyes were. A person under a behavioral spell was usually dull in the eyes.

'Severus, do I look like I'm a victim of some unknown potion?'

'I. . . No. . . But. . .'

'Severus, I love you. I've been in love with you since I became your partner. Do you hear me? I love you. Love, love, love, love, love you.'

How could this happen?

'I. . . need to sit down,' Severus said weakly.

They sat on the grass, and Severus was taken aback when she snuggled against his chest. He heard her sigh, 'Don't you dare push me away.'

An irrepressible bubble of joy swelled in his heart. He was torn between rational thought and the truth lying in front of him.

Hermione wiped away his doubts when she stared up at him with unmistakable clarity as to her feelings for him. She hugged him and pressed her lips onto his neck. And all resistance vanished.

Bending his head, he kissed her again. Once more, the sensations filling him were paradise.

When they settled together, Hermione leant against him. They watched the skies in contentment whilst the ball could still be heard back in the castle.

Severus chuckled. 'How could this happen?'

'Well, I fell in love with you and you with me.' Hermione paused, 'You do love me Severus?'

'How can I not? I love you. You're intelligent, witty, kind, beautiful. . . cherished. The question should be what do you see in a man such as I? Dearest, I'm not an easy man to be with. And I've done things, so many evil crimes. . . I want you to consider that.'

'I know what you've done. You told me. And I know you're difficult in your own way. Haven't you taught me and worked with me for years? I want you to know I've considered much more. It didn't stop me loving you.'

Severus hugged her, 'Thank you. Thank you so much for loving me.'

'It's silly of you not to notice.'

Severus tried defending himself, 'You didn't tell me.'

'Darling, everyone knows that I love you. The whole staff can see it, even Sirius.'

This night was a revelation followed by another. Both pleasant and unpleasant. 'You mean. . . everybody knows?'

'Yes. Albus talked to me last week. He told me I should tell you. Said he knows you're waiting for me. I can't tell you how happy I was to hear him say that. I wasn't sure whether you. . .'

'You mean. . .' Severus thought he had hid his feelings perfectly. Was he losing his touch? 'Are you telling me everyone knows about me?' He felt himself burning with shame.

'In a way.'

'Including Black?'

'Yes.'

'Merlin,' Severus breathed. 'I'll never hear the end of it from him.'

'He did say. . . Well, I guess I should spare you from it.'

'Thank you,' said Severus drily. 'I don't know how much more I can absorb.'

'I have to warn you. Albus said you've been slipping during the last term. He said he heard the students discussing about us. Something about my visiting your class one day and you looking after me longingly when I left.'

'He lies.'

'Not.'

'Damn,' Severus said with feeling. His malicious humour recovered as he said, 'If those brats think I'll go soft in the head just because. . . of. . . this, they will be severely contradicted. I'll bear my wrath upon them for talking behind my back.'

'They think it's hilarious that you behaved more 'gooey' than the boys.'

'I did not!'

'They think it's adorable. I know it's unrealistic to hope that every student will appreciate you, but some do respect you and care, especially those who've seen the war.'

'Humph.'

'On the other hand, more will think you more humane after this. Is that agreeable with you?'

'Does every woman engage in frivolous talk when she finds herself attached?'

'Sorry, I'm delirious. Let's not bother what others think or say.'

'Fair enough.'

'Do you want to go back to the Hall hand in hand?' Hermione teased.

'No,' Severus said swiftly, even urgently. 'Let's stay here. Like this. Please.'

Hermione replied by circling his arms round her. He held her in his strong grasp. 'As you wish Professor Snape.'

They spent the better part of the night talking quietly. When Hermione began to feel drowsy, Severus asked if she wanted to return to her rooms.

'Let's return to yours.'

Severus looked into her eyes and saw his future, bright with heaven's light. He smiled.

It would appear he would not require Dreamless Sleep Potions anymore.