Severus was not better the next day, nor the next. Whatever magic was in the elves' chicken soup did not overcome his cold. He sniffled, and whinged, and sniffled some more, whilst Hermione ran backwards and forwards trying to keep him happy.
He managed to rally on Friday morning, and by the afternoon was out of bed, propped up on some cushions in front of the fire in his living room.
He was thinking hard.
More accurately, he was trying very hard not to think for he was being confronted with some unpalatable truths. Hermione had teased him about enjoying being poorly in some odd way, and he had to admit that he did. Not the sniffling, so much as having someone to cast warming charms on his feet, and cooling charms on a damp cloth over his forehead, and make sure his tea was just the way he liked it.
It was dawning on him that he when he thought about what the Second Mrs Snape should be like, he was thinking rather less about hair colour and breast size, and rather more that she should be like the First Mrs Snape.
And that lead inexorably to the thought that perhaps the First Mrs Snape might be persuaded to stay on in her current position even after the Minister had been replaced.
It was disconcerting. And irritating.
He blew his nose and glared at the fire.
Being accomplished at the art of role playing, he was quite able to distinguish between Hermione Granger, irritating student, and Hermione Snape, pleasant company. She was not his student, that was another girl, and so there could be no objection to him trying to get to know his wife better.
However, he was no Blaise Zabini to sweep a woman off her feet, so the route of chocolate and flowers and poetry was closed to him. She was grateful to him for his help - that was no basis for a successful relationship, or even an unsuccessful one, and at the back of his mind was the vague disquiet about the differences in their ages.
He glared at the fire again, and then, for a change, glared at the carpet.
For one blinding moment, he almost considered asking Lucius for advice on the basis that he actually spoke to women and was commonly held to even understand them. A bit. Or as much as his wife would allow him to anyway.
And then he came to his senses, and realised that was a Very Stupid thing to do indeed. He sighed, and closed his eyes, drifting off into an uncomfortable doze filled with dreams of being chased by busty blondes and being unable to get away.
When Hermione came in to check on him that morning, he tried to spot some sign of fondness for him in her face, but there was none; she was too busy being bracingly cheerful. On the other hand, she wasn't running away from his bad temper either.
"Are you feeling better?" she said briskly.
"A bit." He levered himself up in the bed, and took an experimental sniff. He could breathe again, and it didn't feel like someone was sitting on his chest. He did still feel odd though, and his temperature was still elevated. "I'm not sure my fever has gone."
She sat on the edge of the bed, and stared at him, as if she were wondering whether to file him under ill, or swinging the lead. She took his wrist, and counted to herself. "Your pulse seems a bit fast as well."
"Probably the shock of being upright for the first time in days," he offered, hoping she wouldn't pry too much into reasons for him being hot, flushed, and having a racing heart.
"Are you going to get up?"
He gripped the coverlet more firmly. "I thought I might. Just to see how I feel."
"Mmm," she replied. "I'm off to Hogsmeade this morning – without Blaise – is there anything you'd like me to fetch you from Honeyduke's?"
"Just a random selection," he said. "I'll leave it up to you. My money pouch is in the drawer; help yourself. The place will be crowded though. There's nothing like the prospect of groping a witch's tits to make a teenaged boy buy chocolate.
A dull red flush stained his cheeks as he realised what he'd said.
"You have no soul," she said, after a moment's pause.
"I do. I just don't think teenaged boys do. They're just being lead round by their hormones, and haven't the sense to know it. I should know; I was one once."
"So I've got to wait till they grow up then?"
"Or choose someone older," he replied, and wondered whether he'd said too much or not enough.
"Viktor didn't work out much better," she said, after giving him a very funny look. "He still wanted to talk about Quidditch rather a lot. Unless you mean someone... erm... older?"
"Er, yes?" he said, sounding rather more tentative than he had wanted. "Just something to think about. After all, I do have to find my replacement and ..." He trailed off, feeling and sounding like an idiot. She certainly seemed to think so, staring at him in mute fascination – or horror – and it was scant consolation that she hadn't actually run screaming from the room.
"Erm, I've been buying you an awful lot of chocolate," she replied, and then scurried out of the door before he had a chance to respond to that oracular pronouncement.
He stared at the door, as if it had the answers. It probably had more idea of what was going on that he had. It wouldn't be difficult.
Hermione didn't really want to go to Hogsmeade and be surrounded by teenagers on heat, but it seemed much the better option than being in the same rooms as Severus until she had managed to sort her head out.
Not that a Hogsmeade weekend was conducive to quiet thought, especially not when Ron and Lavender were attached to each other like rock to limpet, and with as many sucking noises. Harry and Hermione left them to it at one end of the Three Broomsticks, and taken another table to have a quiet butterbeer.
"It's a bit much, isn't it?" Harry said, one eye on the snogging pair. "I mean, I'm all for affection and that, but..."
"Do you ever think about getting a girlfriend?" Hermione asked. She couldn't imagine Severus with a girlfriend, ever. She could imagine him married, because he was married, but the process of buying chocolates for someone, and flowers, romantic dinners... No. And certainly no snogging in public, which was a mark in his favour.
"What do you think they'll be like?"
Harry looked startled. "Dunno. Never really thought about it. Don't have a preference between blondes and brunettes, and redheads are fine. Just someone nice, who likes me for me and not for being the Boy-Who-Lived. Someone who likes Quidditch would be good, but you can't have everything."
"I always thought I'd go out with someone bright, who read books a lot."
"Well, that's a given. You want a nice Ravenclaw, don't you?"
Hermione shrugged. "I'm not sure."
Harry cocked his head at her. "You still pining for Blaise? We can still hex him for standing you up, you know. Or push him round in the corridors. Git."
"Not really." Hermione swirled her butterbeer round in her tankard, trying to find the right words. "The problem is that Ravenclaws don't want to make the world a better place, you see, and I do, and they'd want to read a book because it was interesting, and I'd always want to put that knowledge to some use. And... Gryffindors do want to make the world a better place, occasionally, but don't read much, so they won't do."
"Please tell me you're thinking of Hufflepuffs? There are some very pretty Hufflepuffs." Harry had moved from startled, to the sort of expression he wore when he realised he had ten minutes to finish his homework and had come up three feet short.
"Erm, no," she said carefully.
"Slytherins don't want to make the world a better place!"
"They do, you know. It's just they want to make it a better place for them."
"Oh, Christ," said Harry. "Not Malfoy. Please, not Malfoy."
"Don't be ridiculous. He's a complete idiot."
Harry took a big gulp of his butterbeer, then looked at her with horror, cheeks still bulging. He swallowed hard. "Snape?"
"I don't know," she hissed. "And keep your voice down."
"Snape!" Harry said again, though more sorrowfully than questioning. "Why?"
"I like him. He's not irritating. He's aggravating, I grant you, but that's different. You can live with aggravating – you have a row, you sort things out, and that's it – you can't sort out irritating. People don't change that."
"You mean like the way Dudley breathes through his nose?" Harry was still wild eyed, but beginning to be intrigued. "Only on a bigger scale."
"Yea. He's always going to snuffle, and after a year or so you'd want to smack him, wouldn't you?" Hermione's parents had never had breakfast together in thirty years of marriage. Her mum said that was why they'd had thirty years of marriage, because her dad was a miserable git first thing in the morning.
"And Snape doesn't snuffle?"
"Metaphorically speaking." Hermione surveyed her glass again. "He's been doing a lot of snuffling with his cold."
"And you've been looking after him?"
"I'd heard that nurses and patients could do this bonding thing, but that's a bit quick isn't it?"
"Anyone looking after Severus would be more driven to murder than love." She snorted. "It might be what's behind his sudden interest."
"Being shown a bit of kindness," she said briskly. "Now, drink up. I've got chocolate to buy."
Severus had tried to rollover and go back to sleep, but the nagging sensation that he'd just made a complete arse of himself wouldn't allow him to relax. Every time he closed his eyes, he could see visions of Hermione telling all her little Gryffindor friends about it, and them all laughing about it.
He knew she wouldn't actually do that, and it was his subconscious reacting to being exposed, but ... He was still exposed, and would be, till she came to some sort of conclusion.
So he got up and got dressed and started pacing on the nundu skin hearthrug instead.
There was a moment when he considered arranging a romantic dinner for two for that evening.
There was nothing that could be more disastrous though. It would put unnecessary pressure on her to be kind, and on him to be nice, and would probably end up in a blazing row when he said something rude through nerves.
Though, civilised – not Romantic - dinners every once in a while might be something they could try.
If things went well, there might be flowers on the table, eventually.
The hearthrug stared at him with glassy eyes. Perhaps he ought to redecorate a little, get the elves to make things a little more red... she liked red. The couch should be less battered, possibly have cushions, so that they could sit on it together.
When he found himself wondering whether it would be precipitate to get a new dressing gown, he bolted for the comfort of his Lab to brew some more cold remedies.
The queue in Honeyduke's was long, full of desperate teenagers making a last minute attempt to woo the object of their affections. It was also full of pink, and bows, and heart-shaped balloons.
She stood there, tapping her feet in irritation, as the Second Year in front of her was dithering about whether he was prepared to shell out the extra knuts for the special box of Love Sweets or just settle for the unKittened version. It was all so fake and sentimental, and it made her feel incredibly old to be surrounded by giggling children. Old and miserable.
The boy managed to make a decision – "Finally," she said – and disappeared into the throng, giving her one last filthy look. She was turning into a killjoy, exiled from her own peers.
"Right," she said to the shop assistant. "I want a pound of cockroach clusters."
"Do you want them wrapping?" he asked, and Harry laughed behind her.
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Just in a plain brown paper bag please."
"I can just see Snape's face if you turned up with a box of chocolates with a big pink bow," he said.
"And a box of your largest, finest chocolates, with the most nauseatingly sentimental scene on it," she said, barely pausing for breath.
"For Snape?" Harry said, boggling.
"No, for me." She slapped the necessary galleons down on the counter, and took her extravagantly wrapped parcel. "I'm going to enjoy something about today."
Severus mangled his ingredients three times before he admitted defeat. It was not the time to brew anything that required lightly crushed or finely chopped ingredients as opposed to well mashed, or crushed to buggery.
He glared at the chopping board, then abandoned it as a bad job.
His abstraction made him careless. Usually, he avoided lunch with his fellow teachers on Valentine's day. If they weren't teasing him about his unromantic attitude, they were pressuring him into taking on their supervisory duties so they could get away for some hot date.
He'd swapped staring at his chopping board for staring at his plate, when someone sat next to him and started talking to him. He ignored the irritating buzz as best he could, until he heard, "Isn't that right, Severus?"
He looked up, and realised that Minerva had been talking to him for the last ten minutes, whilst he'd been away with the fairies.
"I said, you won't mind checking the Astronomy Tower tonight, to make sure that there aren't any students out of bounds, will you?" She fixed him with a hard gaze that said that his only option was to say yes, or admit that he hadn't been listening.
He may as well. It wasn't as if he had anything better to do. He flung his napkin down, and stood up, chair scraping across the stone.
"Are you all right?" she said, and put a hand on his arm.
"Oh, don't mind him. He's just being his usual grumpy self," Flitwick said.
"I'm fine," Severus bit out, turned sharply on his heel and left, robes billowing behind him. It was only with the greatest of difficulty that he refrained from clipping Filius' ear as he went past.
He was only allowed to do that to the students, Albus had said.
Hermione's mood did not improve. Everything and everyone was getting right up her nose.
"I'm going back to Hogwarts," she said.
"Oh, do you want me to come with you?" Harry replied.
"No. It's fine. Why don't you and Dean and the other lads go and talk about how horrible girls are for a bit."
"If you're sure."
Hermione nodded, and started the long walk home wishing she could Apparate and be done with it.
Severus went back to his quarters, but couldn't settle. The sofa was lumpy, all his books were dull, and the fireplace was crackling in an obtrusive way.
Hermione had left her cloak on a hook by the door. He hoped she'd be warm enough. The last thing he needed was for her to come down with a cold.
Perhaps he ought to take it to her?
He had taken it down from the peg, and laid it over his arm before he came to his senses.
Perhaps not. Definitely not.
He hung the damned thing back up. He'd use the time to catch up on his Potion's reading. Hermione would be interested in that...
Hermione wanted nothing more than to sit in her room and eat chocolate whilst reading something wholly unsuitable. She wasn't in the mood for the classics, or some deep treatise on alchemy. She wanted something light, fluffy, and full of crap sex, so she could sneer at it and feel superior.
She managed three chocolates, and half a chapter of 'The Wizard's Debt'.
The heroine was vapid and stupid and needed a good slap.
She tried again with 'Sarah does Slytherin', which was more interesting, and had rather less in the way of damsels in distress and a lot more damsels with strap ons. She sighed, took another chocolate, and wondered where Severus was.
Perhaps she ought to catch up with her Potion's reading so she could talk to Severus about it...
The Library was cold and dark, and entirely suited to Severus' miserable mood. It should also have been empty.
Blaise Zabini was sitting in the corner near the Transfiguration texts, and looking out of the window with a look like a puppy who'd been kicked.
It took him fifteen minutes to rouse from his reverie and notice Snape, and then transfer his stare to him. It seemed accusing.
Snape lasted another fifteen minutes before being driven from the Library to find a new hiding place.
By the time Hermione arrived in the Library, looking for her husband, he was back in their quarters looking for her and finding a large box of chocolates opened on the table in front of the fire.
He'd have been suspicious, if he hadn't seen Blaise in the Library. She hadn't had time to entangle another boy, he was sure. He bent down and snaffled a chocolate, feeling mildly optimistic.
Separated by geography, nevertheless, the two of them shared one thought and one purpose – to track down their errant and aggravatingly absent spouse and have it out with them.
Failing that, Severus would settle for taking some points off all the nauseatingly cheerful pupils.
Hermione gazed out across the Quidditch pitch, and imagined that she could see couples copulating in their dozens. It wasn't as if you really had to book the Pitch in advance for Valentine's day, but neither was it wise to be wandering around there late at night on your own. Not without whistling noisily as you went.
She was probably keeping several amorous couples out of the Astronomy Tower, but she didn't care. If she wasn't going to have any Romance on this, the soppiest of days, she was damned if anyone else was going to.
Let them whinge at her, if they must; she'd take points, and remind them she was a prefect with responsibilities and a bright future ahead of her, unlike them with their silly cards, and their silly poems and their silly chocolates.
She kicked the wall, hard.
It was bloody unfair that boys seemed to like large breasts more than a capacity for hexing one's opponents into a smear of grease. The Slytherin boys, who might be expected to appreciate that kind of skill, were unable to get over the small issue of her blood, and the large, looming issue of her husband.
She kicked the wall again, but not as hard, because the last time had hurt a bit.
She'd promised not to cheat on him whilst she was at school, and that had seemed like a reasonable condition at the time, and even more so now that he'd sort of hinted that maybe he'd like to ... But she knew, with sickening bitterness, that she was going to be the only girl in her year who would leave Hogwarts without a fumble on the top of the blessed Tower. She was going to go straight from child to adult without any adolescent groping, which was a relief in many ways, but she also felt cheated, and a bit out of her depth.
She could have done with a bit more practice before taking Severus on.
"Ten points from ... oh," Severus said from behind her, as if summoned up by her thinking about him. "I rather expected to find couples up here, snogging."
"No chance of that," Hermione said bitterly. "Not with me around."
Severus frowned. "I should hope not, it would be..."
"... terribly embarrassing for you, I know."
"Well, it would," he replied, feeling obscurely defensive.
"I know." Hermione sighed. "Still, I'm allowed to feel sorry for myself now and again. I've never had a snog on the Astronomy Tower, and I never will."
"I can't say that I saw a lot of excitement up here either," he replied. "And I would say, look how I turned out, but I wouldn't want to depress you further."
Severus moved to stand by her and patted her awkwardly on the shoulder. "You'll just have to settle for bringing down the Ministry before you leave school."
She didn't reply. Bringing down the Ministry was all well and good but she wanted a card, some flowers, and a box of chocolates that she hadn't bought herself.
"I hate Valentine's day," he added.
"It is stupid, isn't it?" she replied. "Still…"
"Still…" he agreed.
They both stared out across the Quidditch pitch, and the silence verged on companionable.
"I tell you what," Hermione said suddenly. "Next year, I'll send you a Valentine. A nice, tasteful one, but absolutely sodding huge, and an enormous box of chocolates. Perhaps even a book of poetry. Something to show that you're appreciated by someone, even if it's not like that." She looked at him, trying to work out whether what he'd been talking about that morning was what she thought.
"That might be interesting." He could just imagine what the reaction would be; it would be entertaining if nothing else. "I could send you some flowers, in return, though I suppose you'll have some sort of young man in tow by then." He was damned if he was going to ask her anything more directly than that.
Hermione shrugged. "Well, if I do, it'll keep him on his toes, won't it? And you might have met the Second Mrs Snape by then, and it will keep her on her toes. Neither of us would want to be taken for granted, would we?"
"Absolutely not," he replied. "I've had far too much of that in my life already."
"Me too," she said. "Me too."
He leaned forward a little and rested his elbows on the window ledge. "It's a nice view," he said. "Usually it's a nice view, when there's daylight and you can see things. I used to spend a lot of time up here when I was a student – you could get lots of peace and quiet to get some studying done, and you could hear people coming in plenty of time to get your hexes ready."
"It's odd to think you were ever a student," she replied.
"We were all young once," he said. "Even Albus. He was once an ickle firstie, wandering round the castle, worrying about getting lost, and hoping that the next Bertie Bott's bean he ate wasn't going to be sick-flavoured."
Hermione wrinkled her nose at the thought of sick-flavoured beans. "I've never come up here much; I'd rather spend time in the Library. That's always worked for me as a hiding place – not much chance of Ron or Harry coming to find me there, or anyone else for that matter."
"I suppose it's a hangover from my first year. Lucius was courting Narcissa, and roped me in to keep watch whilst he was … persuading her. I spent a lot of time in the Tower that year."
"She was very hard to persuade was she?" Hermione grinned.
"She made him work for every moment of her time. He was besotted with her then, and still is. At the time, I thought it was disgusting and soppy – now I realise it was a grand passion." Underneath the mocking tone, he sounded faintly wistful. "It's still unwise to enter a room in Malfoy Manor without coughing loudly to announce yourself."
"That's… disturbing, you know."
"Not as disturbing as actually seeing it," he replied, and Hermione laughed.
"Well, I shall console myself with the thought that they are the exception, not the rule. Lots of people fancy themselves desperately in love in their seventh year, and then split up the day before they leave Hogwarts when they realise that they can't stand the thought of actually spending another minute together."
"I'd have liked a chance to have proved it," he replied, and tapped his boot against the wall in something close to a kick.
"Technically, technically, you know, you haven't left Hogwarts yet. So there is plenty of time for you to entice someone of the opposite sex up here for a snog. You just have to manage it at some point before you retire…"
Severus wore that look that Harry would have called sulky, and which she, after several months of marriage, would be generous enough to call discontented. He had reason to be – in six months she would be free of this place, and have a chance to build a new life for herself. He'd never been given that luxury. He'd been trapped here first by one master, and then another, and still wasn't free. She supposed in some way, she too had trapped him, though of all his owners she had at least had the courtesy of asking him first.
And offered him sort of reward for doing it. Several rewards, really, if you counted the cockroach clusters, which she didn't.
She felt something simultaneously squeeze her chest, and tighten her throat. She really was incredibly fond of him now, not that he'd ever allow her to say so.
Prompted by this inchoate and indefinable feeling, she leaned forward a little and kissed him. She'd intended to give him a quick peck, nothing more complicated than that, but, well, she'd always been a thorough girl who'd never liked skimping.
Mercifully, he didn't ask what was going on, or what she thought she was playing at or where they were going with all this, but his eyes half-closed and he tipped his head a little sideways and allowed her to move a little closer.
She put a hand on his shoulder – purely to steady herself – but it developed independent movement and slid round to the nape of his neck, so her other hand had to be moved to his other shoulder because she was feeling a little unsteady.
And this was something that Severus was clearly concerned about, because he very considerately made sure she was safely propped up against the wall and wrapped an arm round her waist.
He tasted bitter, like dark chocolate; the sort of bitter that made you want to come back for more and lingered on the palate for hours afterwards overpowering all other flavours.
He encouraged her to open her mouth a little wider, and deftly insinuated his tongue between her teeth in a manner that would have done his house crest proud and made her knees go weak and clutch at him even harder.
It was a startling contrast to the awkwardness of their first kiss, but neither of them had been putting their heart and soul into it then.
She may not have had the most conventional of courtships, but there was something to be said for an older and more practiced partner. And there was nothing that anyone could say about things, because, although she was currently kissing a teacher, which surely gave her bonus Slytherin Cool points in the competition of life, but she was married to the man, so that no one could complain.
And she was still going to bring down the Ministry before she left school.