Hermione stared blankly at the wall. It was so nice not having to think about anything, not about Harry, not about Ron and above all not about the impending NEWTS. "Odd that I should dread those most of all, when once I would have looked forward to them", she thought.

It should be a sign of returning to normality, of returning to being children for a while before going out into the wide world all bright eyed and eager. But it wasn't working like that. The truth was Hogwarts was too small for them now, like outgrowing a favourite pair of shoes, and they were beginning to chafe at the restrictions placed on them.

How could they take seriously rules about the Forbidden Forest, when they had faced and defeated greater dangers than whatever lurked there? How could they take detention with Filch seriously after Lucius Malfoy? She smiled a very Snape-like smile at the thought of Malfoy locked up in Azkaban.

Ron said that she and Snape had been spending too much time together and she was picking up too many of his bad habits. She had enjoyed the look of shock on his face when he thought she was serious about taking ten points off Gryffindor for "lack of respect towards a teacher". The three of them had collapsed into giggles, and they had laughed, really laughed, for the first time since Voldemort.

Maybe they would never be innocent children again - but when had they ever been afforded that luxury anyway? The first week at Hogwarts? The second maybe? - but they would find their way back to something. And they still had each other.

Not just each other either.

Harry had Lavender. Who would have thought silly Lavender would have been the one to bring Harry out of his isolation. Ron had his family who hadn't let him dwell on anything for a second, and he had Luna who gave him .well..goodness only knew.

And she had Severus. Sort of.

In a spirit of rebellion, Hermione summoned a bottle of champagne. What did she have to celebrate? Reaching the end of another week without hexing someone into oblivion when they asked for her help in revising? Read the bloody book, she wanted to shout. Read your notes, ask your teacher, just leave.me.alone.

Of course she couldn't, and she didn't, but she wanted to. Oh, how she wanted to. And so she had started spending more and more time down in the dungeons with Snape. No one bothered her there, and he didn't expect her to CONFORM - to be a good little Head Girl.

At first they had sat in silence in his office. He did his marking, and she did her homework or just read. Gradually conversation crept in, and before long they were discussing Muggle literature, exchanging books, and vying with each other to see who could come up with the most scathing denunciation of Fudge's personality. Severus won, but only by a hair.

He had invited her into his private quarters one evening to select a new book to read, and somehow after that it seemed more natural to sit in there where it was warmer. It was also where Severus kept his Firewhiskey. When she confessed that she couldn't get any peace even in the Prefect's bathroom, he had offered to let her use his bath whilst he was on his rounds. "Provided, that is, you clear it up afterwards, Miss Granger, and that you don't leave damp towels lying on the floor."

So had begun the Friday night ritual. They met only in passing as he went on his rounds, and she could spend up to two hours soaking in bubbles in the light cast by the sandalwood scented candles. One evening, on a whim, she had conjured a yellow plastic duck, and she had amused herself imagining his face when he had found it there afterwards. What would he make of it?

So, here she was, up to her neck in a very warm bath, gazing at the wall opposite blankly.

Her reverie was interrupted by the sound of someone's footsteps. She was surprised when the door was pushed open, and was confronted with Professor McGonagall.

"There you are, Miss Granger. I have been trying to catch you to have a little word on your own."

Hermione was dumbstruck. Expulsion seemed the most likely result of this evening, regardless of how utterly devoid of actual impropriety. The appearance of wrongdoing was enough, and McGonagall was not the sort to turn a blind eye to anything.

"What did you want to speak to me about, Professor?" she said, thinking what a stupid question it was. How about the fact you are naked in Professor's Snape's bathroom?

"I have been aware for some time that you and Severus have been getting shall we say... closer."

"Nothing has happened, Professor," Hermione interrupted desperately. "Nothing at all. Professor Snape has just been kind enough to allow me to use his bathroom so I can get some peace and quiet, that's all. "

McGonagall's face softened. "Goodness me, Hermione. I know you haven't been doing anything! You're not in trouble in anyway. I know Professor Snape would not take advantage of a student in his care."

Hermione relaxed back into the bath.

"Which is really rather the point, I suppose. You'll have to make the first move, you know. He won't."

Hermione stared at her in shock. "Pardon?"

"If you want Severus, you will have to make the first move. Really, dear, for a bright girl sometimes you are slow on the uptake."

"But. but." Fleetingly Hermione wondered if someone was using polyjuice to impersonate the Headmistress, the conversation was so bizarre. "He's my teacher."

"Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn. After the events of this year, you can hardly be treated as a child anymore. I have no worries that Severus is taking advantage of you in any way. In fact, if anyone is the vulnerable one in this relationship, it's Severus."

Before Hermione could think of anything more sensible to say, she blurted out, "You think he's interested in me, then?"

"Absolutely besotted. You may not think it, but Severus is a very shy and private man. He's let you into his private quarters, he's let you into his life, but he won't ask you into his bed. If that's where you want to end up, you'll have to do all the chasing. And if that isn't where you want to end up, then perhaps you ought to spend less time here. For his sake."

Professor McGonagall turned to go. "I'll leave you to think about it, dear."

As far as Hermione was concerned, she didn't have to think about 'whether' for long. But the 'how', the 'how' was much more difficult. She ran though various scenarios in her mind, but somehow she couldn't see herself asking him 'whether that was a rubber ducky in his pocket or are you just pleased to see me'. She wasn't a sultry, seductive siren, and if she said something like that he was more likely to deduct points than respond in kind.

She spent so long worrying about what to do that events overtook her. A sudden noise made her look up to see Severus in a dark green dressing gown standing in the doorway. He flushed and stammered, "I'm sorry Hermione, I thought that you would have finished by now. I had no idea you were still here."

A wave of terror passed through her at the thought of what she was about to do. Her hopes were lifted by the fact that he was still in the room, and seemed to be interested in the rise of her breasts peeking out from the foam.

She sat up to give him a better view. It wasn't subtle, but hopefully it would be effective, and she felt that she needed all the help she could get to carry her over the next few minutes.

"Did you want to have a bath, Severus," she asked mock-innocently.

"Er.yes?" he answered, almost like one of his students in a potions class, hoping against hope that they were giving the right answer.

She smiled in what she hoped was a reassuring way, if not seductive, and picked up the back-scrubber. 'I'll wash your back for you if you like?'