Disclaimer:  Anything you recognize belongs to the goddess, JKR.  Dedicated to all my loyal readers…'cause you're all special to me!  No potions masters or bushy-haired know-it-alls were injured in the creation of this story (although I was sorely tempted to snog afore-mentioned potions master senseless).  Snarky fluff…the best kind of fluff around.  Thanks to Lynn for looking this over.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!

::cue scary music::

The Magic of All Hallows Eve

Pumpkins. 

More pumpkins.

Even more pumpkins.

Everywhere he looked, Severus Snape saw mountains of the orange vegetable (or was it a fruit…he never could remember) in apparent homage to All Hallows Eve.  Forget all the so-called nonsense around the origins of the holiday…it revolved entirely around glorifying the almighty pumpkin.

"The house elves will be making pumpkin tarts and pies until Christmas," he muttered to himself as he tried to avoid a charmed miniature bludger that seemed intent on making contact with his nose.  "I detest pumpkin pie."

He walked to his traditional seat at the High Table in the Great Hall and sat down.

"What, in Merlin's name…" he yelped as he felt something move underneath him.  Jumping to his feet in a bluster of billowing robes, he glared at the small owl that hooted indignantly at him.  He immediately recognized it as one of the new school owls.  "You haven't been properly trained yet, little wretch."

The owl, if possible, glared back at him and fluttered weakly to the table where it glared at him.  Severus glared right back at the owl, who visiby faltered.  Smirking, he gave the poor creature two knuts for its trouble before attempting to shoo it away.  The owl gave his finger a vicious nip before flying off in a huff.

Severus took a cloth napkin and pressed it against the wound, which was already oozing blood.  "That bird is a menace," he grumbled, feeling his mood deteriorate by the second.

"Happy Halloween, Severus," Remus Lupin said as he dodged a pair of flaming pumpkins.  "What happened to you?"

"A run-in with a vampire disguised as a harmless owl," Severus replied sarcastically,.

Remus chuckled.  "Harmless?  Well, I have a healing potion handy.  One of my seventh years decided to slide down a banister and ended up falling when it suddenly began to move."  Remus rummaged in his pockets and handed Severus a small blue vial.

"Thank you, Lupin," Severus opened the vial and let one drop fall on the bite.  It immediately fizzed and vanished…along with any trace of the wound.

"It's an excellent potion but that's not surprising since it was you who made it," Remus smiled as he took back the vial and returned it to his pocket.

Severus sniffed in response, causing Remus to chuckle again.

"Where are the others?  They are usually here before the students get in," Remus looked at the empty tables with a mildly curious air.

"Perhaps they are getting into little costumes and going out as ickle ghosties and ghoulies," Severus replied, in mock imitation of Peeves.

Remus laughed.  "That sounded just like the little poltergeist.  I heard he has some excellent pranks in store for us tonight.  Even the Bloody Baron is worried and you know that's not a good sign."

"Why can we not simply exorcise the blighter and be done with it?" Severus sighed as the students began to filter in slowly.

"Because, for some peculiar reason, Albus likes him.  One could say the same thing about you…people wonder why you are still here," Remus replied, reaching for a flagon of pumpkin juice and pouring himself a glass.  "Would you like some?"

"No thank you…I'm more in the mood for Ogden's Firewhiskey…or some French moonport," Severus commented.

"French moonport?  That's expensive stuff…I don't even think you can purchase it in Hogsmeade," Remus commented. 

"No…I recently acquired a bottle from someone I know in Paris," Severus looked up at the floating jack-o-lanterns and shuddered.

"Was it a gift?"

"Well…yes."

Remus raised his eyebrows in an inquisitive manner but Severus refused to elaborate further.

"I love this time of year," Minerva came to sit next to Remus.  "It's so much more fun than Christmas."

"It's unfortunate we had to ruin the occasion by deciding to hold a Halloween Ball after dinner tonight," Severus groused.

"We have many reasons to celebrate, Severus." Dumbledore walked over to his accustomed chair, accompanied by Poppy who looked very worried.

"Is something the matter?" Severus had rarely seen the mediwitch so worried.

"He refuses to accept the fact that he is a rather ancient wizard and insists on dancing tonight," Poppy huffed as she sat down, glaring at the Headmaster in a way that would have sent even the bravest seventh years scrambling for cover.

"I am fine, Poppy.  I don't need to be coddled just yet and I don't need to have my food chewed for me just yet.  Let me enjoy this Ball and I promise I will follow your many orders and admonitions starting tomorrow," Dumbledore's eyes twinkled mischievously.

Poppy merely snorted in reply and began speaking to Filius who had just taken his seat next to her.

"Sirius would have loved this," Remus said wistfully.  "The last Halloween Ball took place when we were in fifth year."

"Ah yes…I seem to remember floating across the Great Hall upside-down, with my hair dyed a lurid shade of green," Severus smirked.

"Well, you are a Slytherin so you have to admit that it was appropriate and really quite respectful for Sirius," Remus replied with a rather snarky smile.  "And you did get him back.  That potion to make him sprout mushrooms all over his body was priceless.  Of course, I would never have told you that back then but I can now."

"Potter and Weasley will be making appearances, I assume?" Severus asked.

Remus shook his head.  "They are too busy catching the last of the Death Eaters in Micronesia.  It would have been great fun for the students to see Hogwarts' two most famous graduates."

"I thought I had already agreed to be in attendance…against my better judgment, mind you," Severus replied blandly, watching Remus curiously as he burst out laughing.

"I hadn't thought of that," Remus chuckled.  "Yes, of course I meant you and I."

Severus snorted as he watched Dumbledore stand up to address the students.  He did not concentrate on what the old wizard was saying although he was somewhat concerned by the slight tremble he could detect in the normally strong voice.  Looking at his mentor, Severus was shocked to realize that the man was old…very old.  How much longer would he preside over such gatherings?  How much longer before the natural progression of time would take what little strength was left in that body?  Severus did not want to dwell on thinking about a Hogwarts without Dumbledore…for some reason, it seemed absolutely against all logic.

With a clap of the hands, a vast banquet appeared on the tables.  Severus was not terribly hungry but even he could not say no to a succulent pork roast.  With a nod to Remus, Severus began to fill his plate.

"I wanted to thank you for agreeing to chaperone the Ball this evening, Severus.  I would ordinarily not have troubled you but I doubt I will be able to remain for the entire event.  Poppy would have my wand if I tried something like that," smiled Dumbledore as he added another dollop of butter to his mashed potatoes.

"I look forward to watching over a group of hormonally charged youngsters.  I suppose I have a duty to protect the honour of the female students while deducting as many points as possible," Severus replied sarcastically.

"I know it is difficult for you, Severus, but try to be nice," Dumbledore smiled indulgently.

Remus laughed.  "He is just waiting to catch students snogging in the bushes."

"If the students had any sense, they wouldn't risk the bushes…there are other avenues which are more discreet," Severus poured himself a glass of pumpkin juice, offering the flagon to Remus with a sly grin.

"Severus, do tell," Remus replied as he also poured a glass of the beverage.

"Every good Potions Master has his secrets," Severus replied sagely, causing Remus to nearly spill pumpkin juice on his lap.

"Perhaps tonight's festivities will not be a complete loss, Severus," Dumbledore commented, arranging his peas in a neat pile.  "Every Halloween Ball has had its own share of surprises.  It's a pity we waited so long for this…none of us are very good at waiting, are we?"

Severus eyed the Headmaster curiously but the old wizard had nothing further to add, merely contenting himself with eating dinner.  But the twinkle in those blue eyes, however dimmed by age, made his teeth ache in annoyance.

"That man has a way of getting under my skin," he thought as he also turned his attention to his meal that was, not surprisingly, delicious.

"Did you manage to get the Weird Sisters to provide the music?" Remus asked.

"Yes, they were more than happy to accommodate our little function in their busy schedule.  We were also lucky enough to get a banshee singer to perform along with them."

"Who might that be?"

"Ah, that is my little secret.  Besides, this singer is new and not well known…except to those in the proper circles."

Severus sniffed.  Proper circles be damned.  The Weird Sisters accompanied by some shrieking banshee…a recipe for a headache, no doubt.

"I believe I have a good stock of analgesic potion in my office," he thought with a wry smile.

Severus spent the next hour chatting with Remus about some new developments in the search for a lycanthropy cure.  He had been following the research of two Italian Potions Mistresses and was quite optimistic.

"Magdalena DiLuca and Annunziata SanRemo have something truly remarkable in the potion they have created, Remus.  It has to be tested to ensure that there are no serious side effects but, if all goes well, you may see a true cure in about a year's time."

"I know they have contacted you on several occasions for knowledge on some of the lesser known extracts that can only be procured in the Forbidden Forest.  I appreciate your assistance in the project," Remus replied.

"I have done very little.  The credit goes to those who deserve it.  I will simply be glad to see your pain at an end.  We have never been particularly close but I do consider you my friend and I hate to see you suffer each month," Severus said in a serious tone.

"You have changed so much in the last few years, Severus.  I know that there were several reasons for that but it is astonishing all the same," Remus smiled.

"Severus has found peace with himself.  Of course, he was practically forced into it," Dumbledore chuckled.

Severus tried to glare at the Headmaster but failed extravagantly.  One simply could not look into that supremely cheerful face and remain unmoved.  He contented himself with merely snorting in annoyance.  But, in his heart, he knew they were both right.

He only wished…

Shaking his head slightly, he looked out over the tables filled with students eating and chattering loudly (sometimes doing both at the same time with disastrous results).  He was pleased to think that this group would be the first to graduate into a world where there was no longer a threat from Voldemort.  They were free to live a life without the shadow of fear that had plagued the wizarding world for the past several years.

It was a new world, full of new possibilities and even Severus found himself quite hopeful about his own future. 

Yes, very hopeful indeed but extremely nervous.

After dinner and the requisite number of utterly decadent desserts, Severus and Remus oversaw the rearrangement of the tables and the setting up of the entertainment.  The students lined the perimeter of the Great Hall and looked impatient to begin dancing. 

The music started, a very high-energy number that made Severus think of the Weasley twins.  How that family had come through the final battle without losing a single member (and there were certainly enough of them, counting spouses and the two grandchildren) was one of those questions best to be pondered over a bottle of firewhiskey or moonport…whichever was closer.

Severus watched the kaleidoscope of colour for a few moments.  The dressy robes of the students all whirling together to create a portrait of ever-changing beauty.  There was a sense of freedom in the air tonight and Severus almost envied them.

Stepping outside, he conducted a search of the grounds to ensure that the students were not behaving too badly.  While he was not in the mood to blast any bushes (Sprout had nearly castrated him the last time he pulled that particular stunt), he did check the more common hiding places, encouraging any students he found their to join their companions in the Great Hall.

"You…you won't deduct points, Professor Snape?" a nervous seventh year Hufflepufff asked, her Ravenclaw companion looked terrified.

"No…not tonight.  Although attending tonight's festivities will not be an excuse for a mediocre report on the many uses for hippogriff sweat," he said in a severe tone.

"Yes sir," the couple hurried back to the Great Hall, exchanging looks of absolute shock.  With a quick glance around the grounds, he felt that his task, for the moment, was done.  Deciding that Remus could probably look after the students for a little while, he made his way down to the lake.  He needed some air.  He needed some quiet before heading back into the Great Hall.

He found a spot along the north shore that offered a place to sit and simply watch as the ripples in the water distorted the moon's reflection.  It was, perhaps, a melancholy location but he liked it and the squid knew to leave him well enough alone.

He sat on the rock and, drawing his knees up, rested his arms on them.  He looked out over the surface of the lake and lost himself in memories, both happy and sad.  He closed his eyes and rested his chin on his hands.  If only he could stay out here instead of having to watch over the students.  Watching them as they danced together, exchanged the most chaste of kisses right underneath their teacher's oversized nose…well, it only served to augment the emptiness in his heart.

If only…

He let his mind wander in memories so sweet that it made his emptiness seem overwhelming.  If he tried hard enough, he could almost catch her scent.

Almost…

Opening his eyes suddenly, he realized that he was indeed smelling something sweet and fragrant.  That combination of vanilla and honeysuckle that he associated with one person.  Standing quickly, he turned and looked at the only person he had been hoping to see tonight.

"You came," he whispered, holding out his arms.

She smiled at him as she ran into his waiting embrace and held him tightly.  "I could not stay away.  I told the other members of the French delegation that urgent business awaited me at Hogwarts and, since I am the lead researcher, I was able to pull some leverage and portkey over here within minutes."

"And what urgent business would that be, my bushy-haired know-it-all?" he murmured as he kissed her neck.

"You, you overgrown bat," she sighed as she ran her fingers through his hair.  "I've decided to take you up on your little proposition."

"I assume that would be the matter of working with me as an apprentice?" he teased.

"That too," she replied in a similar teasing manner.  "However, I do not remember you getting down on one knee to propose apprenticeship."

He kissed her earlobe in response.  "I had hoped you would be here tonight.  It is a sacred night and I so very much wanted you with me," he said, tracing her jawline with a single finger.

"Why did you not tell me?  Severus, sometimes I think I need to use Legilimency to know what is truly happening inside that head of yours," she remarked.

"I knew the trip to Paris and the project you have been working on were important to you and I will never be the sort of man who would hold you back from academic or, really, any other sort of success," he brushed away the tears that were falling from her eyelashes.  It amazed him that she trusted him enough to show him the vulnerable side to her personality…a side no one else even knew existed.

"That is one of the reasons why I love you so much, Severus," she whispered as she leaned forward and kissed him softly on the lips.  "That, and the fact that my apprenticeship will be a sure thing if I am married to the Potions Master."

Severus chuckled.  "Snarky Gryffindor…that is a sentiment worthy of a Slytherin."

"That's a good thing, since I will be marrying one," she smiled.

"Are you certain?  A wizarding marriage is a very serious thing…a lifelong commitment.  I wouldn't want you to wake up one morning and decide that my nose really does annoy you to no small degree and you wish to have nothing more to do with it or me."

She giggled.  "It will not surprise you that I have read many books on the subject."

"You don't say?  Allow me a moment to recover from the shock.  Hermione Granger, bookworm extraordinaire, actually referenced several books in wizarding marriage.  Who would have thought such a thing possible?"

She playfully tapped his nose.  "Your moment is over, Severus, and ten points from Slytherin for being insufferable."

"You wish to share your life, the sorrows and the happiness, the failures and the successes with me?"

Her hand reached up to caress his cheek.  "I have been doing that for some time already, haven't I?"

"Shall I take that as a yes?"

Her eyes glinted with mischief before she kissed him again. For several moments, he relished in the feel of her lips against his, her body against his.  It was sheer bliss.

When finally she did pull away, slightly breathless and flushed, she grinned.

"You can take *that* as a yes."

Chuckling, he reached down to hold her hand.

"Let's go back to the castle, Hermione.  Dumbledore will be furious if I do not tell him right away," he raised his eyebrows.

"Do we have to tell him right away?" she murmured, blushing once again.  "I think they can spare you for a few moments yet.  It is All Hallows Eve and there is magic in the air."

He reached out to touch her cheek.  "I agree that there is magic in the air tonight, Hermione…but it has nothing to do with All Hallows Eve."  With a smirk, he kissed her to demonstrate just what sort of magic he was talking about.

And, for once, she didn't offer a word of disagreement.