They met outside the study door at 10.58am promptly. Word seemed to have spread, as a crowd had gathered. Severus reflected that it was clearly unnecessary to take out the full page advert in the Daily Prophet as breaking the news to Ron and Harry seemed to have had a similar effect.

Each member of the crowd was studiously ignoring each other, and finding matters of great interest in their books, their newspapers, or, where inspiration failed, their shoes. Fred and George were trying to run a book on the outcome, but they couldn't find anyone who was prepared to bet against Hermione.

Molly was the only one who could claim to have a legitimate reason to be there, and even she was cleaning the breakfast table to within an inch of its life. He was surprised to see Molly wink at him. Rather than the lynching mob he had expected, there appeared to be, if not support, at least acceptance that Hermione was a grown woman who knew her own mind.

Severus suddenly felt a lot more cheerful about the forthcoming interview.

Albus was not impressed with the congregation cluttering the drawing room, but even the most pointed stares from him failed to have any effect. He ushered Hermione and Severus into the room, and closed the door behind him.

Albus settled himself behind an imposing desk and gestured at them to be seated. The chairs were very carefully placed at opposite ends of the desk, with about three feet of clear space between them. Exchanging amused glances, Severus and Hermione deliberately moved the chairs closer together before sitting down. Albus's lips tightened.

"Well?" he said.

Severus desperately wanted to say that he was very well thank you but decided not to add fuel to the fire.

Hermione had no such reservations. "Well, what?" she said crisply.

Albus was non-plussed for a moment, but battled back gamely. "You know very well what. I want an explanation of what you were doing in Professor Snape's room this morning."

"I fail to see why that is any of your business," she said. Severus had decided that the prudent course of action was to allow Hermione to handle things, after all she didn't have to work with Dumbledore next term, and she seemed to be doing a sterling job so far.

"Whilst you are a student at Hogwarts it is very much my business what you were doing in a teacher's rooms, having presumably spent the night."

"Indeed, WHILST I was a student at Hogwarts that would be true. However, I would remind you that I ceased being in statu pupillari at midnight last night. Therefore you have no right to know what went on between Professor Snape and I." Hermione was playing with a straight bat.

Severus thought he would treasure for the rest of his life expression that crossed Albus's face. One part indigation to two parts fury and three parts bewilderment. The most powerful wizard in England (now that Voldemort was dead) was being very politely told to bugger off, and he wasn't accustomed to such offhand treatment. Particularly from a recently graduated student.

Dumbledore decided to try another tack. "Nonetheless your actions last night will have a bearing on the scholastic reputation of the school, as well as yourself and Professor Snape. I really must insist that you tell me what transpired last night?"

"I fail to see how this affects Hogwarts scholastic reputation." Hermione tone was becoming a little more clipped.

Albus didn't take the hint. "It might be suggested that your recent academic success was due to an exchange of favours."

Severus winced. That was going to hit Hermione where it hurt, she was very proud of her academic success. He was surprised when she merely laughed. "I am prepared to take veritaserum to confirm that nothing between Severus and I before I graduated. My name isn't Pansy Parkinson."

Albus shot a quick glance at Severus, who quickly denied any involvement in Miss Parkinson's grades. "Defence against the dark arts?" she continued. "Oh for heaven's sake, you mean that none of you noticed the queue forming up for Professor Quertic's ahem tutoring classes?"

Severus smirked. It looked like yet another DADA teacher wasn't going to last longer than a year.

Hermione moved onto the offensive with barely a breath to spare. After five minutes Severus was convinced he was the best candidate for the newly vacated DADA job, but he had always suspected that to be true. Albus was a harder nut to crack. It took Hermione fifteen minutes of intensive arguing before he broke down and offered Severus the job. With a payrise. A very big payrise. And new quarters away from the cold and draughty dungeons. With a fire place connected to the floo network. And permission for guests to stay overnight in his new and improved quarters. And an Order of Merlin first class.

Dumbledore's face was ashen when she finished. He waved his hand limply at them to leave. "Take my advice, Severus. If you don't want to end up married to her, start running now."

Hermione blushed. It was the first time he had ever seen her look unconvinced that the world was going to rearrange itself to suit her wishes.

He looked into her eyes and saw the future set out before him. She would bully him into eating properly and taking care of himself. She would make him wear his scarf in winter, and wrap up warm. She would force him into being sociable, dragging him along to all sorts of events with her annoying Gryffindor friends. She probably had the number and names of their children all decided.

He would be annoyed, exasperated and enchanted all at once, but it would never be dull.

Acting on impulse, he kissed her hand, and watched her eyes soften. "Why on earth would I want to run, Albus?"

She blushed an even deeper shade of red. Underneath that painfully practical exterior beat the heart of a romantic, and no one else had had the wit to realise it. Harry was right in a way; she needed to be looked after, and for the first time he could understand what he could offer her. He was aware that he wasn't good looking, and he couldn't even run the 'it's the personality that counts' line, because truthfully he was arrogant, irritable and impatient.

But he had seen what the boys surrounding her hadn't. She may dismiss flowers and chocolates and moonlit walks as silly and a waste of time, but that was because she had taken a long hard look at the world and decided no one was ever going to offer that to her. Hadn't he done the same? He could sweep her off her feet, and shower her with affection, and she would blossom. That and the constant, wild shagging. The list of her fantasies had been quite impressive.

Hermione taming looked to be a lifetime's occupation, but he rather thought that he would be able to get the upper hand from time to time.

THE END?

A/N I have been asked about the chip butty. (Some earlier reviewers of this desciption seem to be having cross-cultural difficulties. This is UK chips we are talking about, which is the same as US Fries; and not US chips which are UK crisps. Dear God can you imagine eating a crisp sarnie for breakfast??)

It is true that there are regional and even national variations in their construction. For instance, the Belgians eat their chips with mayonnaise. People in the north of England may put gravy or curry sauce on their chips, and therefore may do the same when making a butty.

It isn't possible to make a butty with thin fries like those found in MacDonalds. What you need is a big fat chip, preferably one that has been fried twice. You fry them, let them rest, and then pop them back in for a few minutes to warm them up. Alternatively you nip down to your local chippy and procure a large portion of chips.

There is a great deal of debate as to the bread content of the chip butty. In some areas in the north of England a butty is constructed using a roll, a bit like a hot dog, and with ketchup or brown sauce but NOT mustard.

My own personal preference is to use supermarket bread with the texture of cotton wool. This means that it wraps round the chips more easily, and seems to me to have a more pleasing chip to bread ratio than say a bun. The chips are then carefully arranged on one half one slice of the buttered bread, until the whole surface area is covered. It is permissible and indeed desirable to have excess chip trailing over the side. Condiments such as salt and vinegar are added. There is a new fashion for adding black pepper also, but I think that is just a modern fad.

The bread is then folded in half, and clutched in both hands to be eaten. If the number of chips is found to be inadequate, it is permissible to insert further chips. This typically occurs on inadequate chip severing on taking a bite, such that a whole chip is removed rather than the part strictly related to the consumed portion of butty, so that the remainder of the butty is empty. Care must also be taken to prevent the butter dripping out of the bottom of the butty and impacting on any clothes. It may be thought prudent to wear a bib or tea towel to prevent accidents.

I am a purist and won't add ketchup or brown sauce to a butty, although I do think it is acceptable to use one to mop up either the runny yolk of a fried egg or the sauce of your baked beans.

This is probably very close to the lecture Hermione gave Severus!