None of the present children had ever had the privilege of seeing Snape lose his temper. Not properly anyway. They thought they had, but older students could have told them that they'd never experienced anything worse than a little light thunder.
They'd expected their head of house to turn up, utter some withering sarcasm, deduct a few points and give detention to anyone not in Slytherin. That was the way it worked. Occasionally, if someone had been more than usually badly behaved, there would be trips to the headmaster's office which would result in some additional points deduction and being twinkled at.
What they got was hurricane-force Snape.
Harry could have told them all about it, having been on the receiving end a time or two, but Harry wasn't here, and the students had dismissed the tales of Snape's temper as apocryphal.
It was rapidly dawning on the occupants of the Slytherin common room that the stories were nothing less than accurate and not some Gryffindor plot to blacken Snape's name.
"What is the meaning of this?" he thundered, striding into the room with his robes flaring out behind him. The door had opened automatically, seeing what sort of mood he was in, and was pressed flat against the wall out of the way.
"I'm sorry you had to be troubled, Sir," began Probsthain, inheritor of Draco Malfoy's title of teacher's pet.
"You're sorry," snarled Snape. "I was having a perfectly enjoyable evening, before I was interrupted by this! I've a good mind to give you all detention until you graduate. I'd make it longer but that would mean enduring your presence more than is desirable."
"Bud sir," protested Fulsham.
"But sir, nothing. You should know better by now than to hex your fellow pupils after 6pm. Your teachers like to have some time to themselves after a long day spent trying to force knowledge into your thick skulls, and have no interest in additional contact after hours."
"Bud, sir, he hexed off by dose," Fulsham said, determined to bring the full horror of the situation out into the open. Not that it wasn't obvious what had happened: his nose had sprouted wings and was lying on the floor, with wings a-flutter, attempting to get airborne.
"Then learn to duck. Really, you've had four years of the finest defence against the dark arts tuition from the best teachers that the headmaster could find loitering the street in Diagon Alley, and none of them have thought to mention the necessity of ducking?"
"Well, consider yourself told. Now pick your nose up and take yourself off to see Madam Pomfrey. And remember to grovel at her feet for being so damned inconsiderate."
There were one or two smiles at Fulsham being told to pick his nose, but only from the boys at the back of the crowd who felt sure that Snape wouldn't be able to see them.
Fulsham managed to get hold of his nose before it could fly away, and stamped off to the infirmary. It was clear that he was feeling hard done by.
"Who hexed him?" asked Snape, as soon as the door had closed behind the boy.
No one said anything but there was a lot of shuffling of feet.
"No one would like to own up then?"
The boys looked puzzled. Wasn't that a bit like asking who wanted to commit suicide? Especially with the mood that their Head of House was in.
"At least you have that much sense," he said. He was pleased to see his House sticking together. There was nothing worse than a sneak. "Right, Probsthain, Smythe and Strenter will all have detention with Filch for a week."
"But sir," wailed Strenter. "It wasn't me, sir."
"No, Strenter. I expect it wasn't. However, you will still serve detention. You will serve detention because I expect that you have done something in your school career that deserved detention, even though you thought you'd got away with it. You will serve detention because I can rely on you to make sure whoever the real culprit is suffers. But mostly, Strenter, you will serve detention because I feel like it."
"That's not fair, sir," Strenter complained.
"It isn't fair. You're right there. However, this is Slytherin house and not Hufflepuff, and you will behave accordingly. This means that you won't whine about how life isn't fair, but you will strive to make sure that the unfairness comes out in your favour in the future. This is what we call a life lesson, Strenter. See that you learn it."
Severus fixed his prefects with a stern gaze. "I do not want to be disturbed again tonight, or any other night. Are we clear?"
There was a chorus of 'yes, sirs' and then he swept out of the room slamming the door shut behind him.
There was silence in the common room for a heartbeat before the recriminations began. It had to be said that the modern generation was nowhere near as suspicious as Draco's year, and not one of them thought to check that Snape had actually left and wasn't leaning against the wall in the corridor and eavesdropping by means of a charm.
This was a shame really. Because it did allow him to find out who had started it, and who had hexed off Fulsham's nose, so that the proper punishment could be meted out in due course.
Fortunately, having obtained the information he needed, he left to return to his quarters, so he didn't hear the speculation as to why he'd been particularly annoyed to be interrupted when he was spending an evening with Professor Granger.
Severus, having taken his bad temper out on someone, returned to his rooms in a better frame of mind than when he left them. However, the sight of the abandoned chess match and the half-empty wine glass on Hermione's side of the table, recalled his sense of aggravation.
It just wasn't bloody fair that they should have been interrupted just when things were going so well. He'd even made his mind up to allow Miss Granger the opportunity to take some liberties with his person, and then they'd been interrupted before he'd had a chance to allow her to manoeuvre him into a vulnerable position.
Damn it. He wanted to be manoeuvred into a vulnerable position. He had to give her a second chance to do so. With no clear plan in mind he decided to go and see Hermione. After all, it was her responsibility to come up with a plan. He was the plottee not the plotter.
His sense of irritation with the world carried him as far as her door. It even carried him through knocking at her door. But, faced with the thirty second wait that felt like thirty aeons, it all leaked away leaving him feeling like a bit of an idiot.
What was he doing coming to see her like this? He was supposed to be playing the long game, and not rushing into things, and not he was on the verge of looking both foolish and desperate.
Only the thought that he would be an even bigger fool if he ran away now kept him where he was. Surely he could think of some pretence for being here so late, and then things could get back on track tomorrow.
It was a lapse, but it was a lapse he could recover from, he told himself firmly.
Hermione opened the door to find a mildly dishevelled Professor Snape who had apparently lost the power of speech. Had he been hexed? Had there been some terrible rebellion in Slytherin House, and he'd been caught in the crossfire? That Charlotte girl looked like trouble, and Probsthain was sly enough for anything.
She was also worried that her fluffy bunny slippers might put him off, and trying to work out how to slip out of them without being obvious.
Severus was surprised to find that Hermione was in her night attire so early in the evening. Admittedly it wasn't the night attire of his dreams, being rather prosaic and designed for warmth and not sexual attraction. However, it couldn't be denied that she was naked under it.
He realised that Hermione was always naked under her clothes, but never before had he been so close to her when all there was between her and complete nudity was one thin layer of cotton. It would be so easy to slide a hand under the pyjama jacket just so, and then there would be warm, soft flesh beneath his hand. Perhaps even taut, furled flesh beneath his hands, and then the other hand could move to the buttons, and that flesh could be beneath his lips.
Now was the time to say something incredibly smooth and move back onto the offensive.
Hermione felt increasingly certain that something dreadful had happened. He was obviously in shock. What he needed was a nice cup of tea and a bit of a sit down until he recovered enough to tell her all about it. "Come in," she said. "You look as if you've had a very nasty shock."
Severus allowed himself to be gently pulled into her room and fussed over. It was, after all, where he wanted to be, and surely he would be able to come up with some sensible reason for being there given a couple of minutes to think.
Five minutes later, he was seated in a chair in front of the fire, with a cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit, which had given Severus time to recover the use of his brain. Hermione may be naked under her pyjamas but if he didn't pull himself together then the only bed he would be seeing would be in the locked ward at St Mungo's.
Hermione had taken the opportunity to toe off her slippers and had tucked her feet beneath her in the armchair. She was waiting to hear what had discomposed Severus so badly. "I take it you managed to deal with the little fracas?" she asked.
"I've despatched the victim to the Infirmary, shouted at the rest, and then given random students detention."
"You know, when I was a student I would have thought that was dreadfully unfair," she said, peering at him over the rim of the tea cup as she drank.
There was no great disaster then. Which meant that he must have been pining for her after barely an hour apart. If she were Ron or Harry she would have been running around the room chanting 'result', and making strange hand gestures.
"Now you know better," he replied, taking a last bite of the biscuit. "It's the only way to keep order."
"True. Would you like another biscuit?"
Severus accepted the biscuit, and was on the point of biting into it when the realisation dawned that it was covered in chocolate.
Well, that was that then.
She'd paid him compliments.
She'd given him flowers.
And now she'd given him chocolate.
He was now entirely available to be taken advantage of, with a clear conscience and his pride intact. Which only left the simple task of how to drop a hint that he was available, short of stripping off his clothes, lying on the hearth rug and inviting her to take him.
How did girls manage in these situations? The Rules had nothing to offer in this situation, clearly regarding men as predatory wolves who needed no encouragement to pounce and who should be kept at arm's length as much as possible.
"Was there something wrong with the biscuits?" Hermione asked, bringing his attention back to the issue at hand. Whatever girls did in these situations, he didn't think it included ignoring your companion.
"No. It was very nice. Chocolate has always been my favourite. I was erm just taking the opportunity to savour it."
He could almost hear the penny drop. Chocolate? Chocolate! She was no doubt running through the list in her mind, just as he had, and coming up with the same answer that he had.
All he need do now was sit back and wait.
Hermione hadn't expected to accomplish her tasks so quickly, and so hadn't discussed her end game with Minerva, so she was at a loss to know what to do next. Minerva would no doubt counsel her to leap in him and snog him till he gave in, which was all very well, but what did you do with the tea cups?
Right. First things first – remove the tea cups, and then return to the issue of leaping upon the victim.
She carefully placed her cup on the hearth by her feet, where it should be safe from flailing limbs in case things became energetic, then asked, "Shall I take that for you?"
Severus nodded, swallowed the last of his tea, ran his tongue over his teeth to remove any crumbs, and prepared to surrender his virtue.
As Hermione bent over him to take his cup, her fingers brushed against his. He looked up, and then the cup went crashing to the floor as they finally came together in an almighty rush.
Being experienced persons of the world, they did not bump noses, but managed to tilt their faces in the necessary direction to avoid collision. Having stoked up the tension for several weeks by playing silly games it had to be said that they felt like giddy teenagers as they finally managed to kiss.
At times like that, a certain failure in vocabulary is not only understandable but almost required, and the only sound that could be heard for several minutes were murmurs of names and sounds of breathy encouragement.
Until Severus, wholly distracted by entirely marvellous way Hermione's lips were moving along his neck, sighed, "Sod the Rules."
"Absolutely," she muttered into the curve of his neck, before latching onto his ear lobe.
The frisson of pleasure didn't entirely overcome the frisson of terror that accompanied his lapse, and his relief was only short-lived. What did she mean absolutely?
He had to ask, even if he didn't like the answer.
"What do you mean 'absolutely'?"
Hermione looked as shifty as a pupil caught hanging round the Astronomy Tower after midnight, before deciding to come clean. "Severus, the next time you're plotting something, don't leave your notes lying round where someone can find them."
"I didn't," he protested. "I put them away safely."
"In a book?"
She had a point; that wasn't the most sensible place to hide something from a bibliophile.
"So you've been laughing at my expense?" he said sulkily. It was intolerable that he'd been out-plotted in this way.
"Hardly," she replied. "I spent six long months chasing you round the castle and you never even noticed. I asked you out for drinks, I talked to you about Potions, I practically had "Hermione fancies Severus" tattooed on my forehead and I got nowhere. I was absolutely sodding delighted when I found that note, it meant that finally I was getting somewhere."
Again, she had a point. He hadn't noticed her previous attempts at courting him, which pretty much made him as big a blockhead as Potter, so he couldn't really complain about her tactics. He ought to be bloody grateful that she hadn't given up, when you came right down to it.
"I suppose you think it's all very silly," he said. It made him uneasy that he'd underestimated her that badly: he felt very silly.
"Oh, Severus, what on earth is silly about wanting to be treated properly?"
Her exasperation reassured him more than earnest protestation would have; she clearly thought he was being silly now, and not then. But he still felt the need to ask, half-joking, "Ah, but will you still respect me in the morning?"
"I'll respect you every morning," she said firmly, and then kissed him.
"And twice on Sundays?"
"If you're very, very lucky."
It seemed that he was very, very lucky, and he wasn't going to be stupid enough to spit in Lady Luck's face, not when she finally was coming good after all these years.
Besides, she still didn't know that he'd overheard her in the staffroom. She was good, but she wasn't that good.
Sensation flashed through her, immediately melting into a warm tide that spread like warm honey through her. His wicked fingers tensed, flexed – he closed his hand, then kneaded; nerves she didn't know she possessed cam alive. Pure pleasure washed through her when his other hand left her back to minister to her other breast. Eyes closed, her mouth all his, still captured in the drugging sensuality of a slow, deep kiss, she gave herself up to the sensation of his hands on her breasts, to the heat and the fire slowly building to the tightness, the ache that he both evoked and appeased.
It was a revelation that anything could feel quite so good, quite so satisfying, yet there was more, she knew, more she yet wanted, more her awakening body yearned for. Within minutes, she was very certain – more she had to have.
He broke their kiss, but only to skate his lips along her jaw to find the delicate hollow beneath her ear. He didn't need to think to know what she wanted – to know that he could take as he wished. Beyond a distant watching brief to ensure their privacy, which, given the composition of Lady Hartington's company, he was certain would remain undisturbed, his senses were focused on the woman in his arms, on the tantalising promise of the svelte body beneath his hands…..
Severus was sprawled over the bed, with his naked skin dappled by the Tuscan sunlight. He'd been surprisingly easy to persuade to a holiday, helped by Minerva's determination to prise all of the gory details of their relationship out of the pair of them. He looked up from the paperback he was reading with a horrified expression. "Dear god, Hermione, it's as bad as you said it was. I've never heard such rubbish in my life. I'm sure there should be a semi-colon in that last sentence at the very least."
"I was more surprised at the amazing skating lips. Do you think it was ice skates or roller skates? I hope it was the roller skates, because surely ice skates would leave nasty cuts."
"And why on earth didn't he think to cast some decent privacy charms?" he asked.
"It's a muggle book, Severus."
"Oh." He peered at the front cover. "The hero, though I hesitate to call him that, seems to be wearing robes, though it's hard to tell when people are wearing so few clothes."
He held the book up for her to look at. She took it from him, and squinted at it critically. "Hmm, I think that's supposed to be a dressing gown."
"I'm not surprised. He spends so much time in bed, that it's hardly worth bothering to get dressed."
Hermione grinned at him. "Mr Pot meet Mr Ketttle."
"That's entirely your fault, Professor Granger. You will insist on taking advantage of me." He was still faintly surprised by that, and even more surprised by the way that their lives had fitted together so easily with only the occasional squabble.
Hermione was flipping through the book to find the offending portion, and started reading it to herself. "Can you imagine pouring warm honey on someone; it would be dreadfully sticky."
"Well now you come to mention it…"
Hermione giggled, and the book fell to the floor, entirely forgotten.