Disclaimer: I don't own them. I know this, and I should hope, that as you are at you know it too. In fact, the entirety of my assets can be summed up on the back of a ticket stub, so I'm not worth suing.

A Heart Awakened To Joy

Severus breathed deeply of her scent; lavender and rose, a bit of citrus and ginger underlying the sweeter aromas. On anyone else it would have been cloyingly sweet, irritating to his sensitive sense of smell, finely honed from brewing his potions. Some thought that the constant inhalation of caustic brews would dull the senses, but that was not the case; Potions Masters of the highest order could keenly detect subtle and minute differences and problems in potions by scent alone – a fact that was brought into sharp relief today as he hovered over his apprentice's bent form at her work bench. On her, the scents were electrifying, spicy and sweet. He gazed at her as he had many times before now - curls of bushy brown hair escaped its careful bun and flew in a hundred directions, releasing that intoxicating mixture of flowers and soap. For her part, she scribbled furiously on a piece of parchment, seemingly oblivious to his close proximity.

He placed one hand on the scarred and pitted table on which she worked and leaned over her, peering at the scrawled parchment. Despite her evident fervor for her work, the writing was neat and evenly spaced, although large portions of it had been hastily scribbled out and comments made. Before he could read more than the scribbled salutation (Dear Sir, Dear Professor Snape, Dear Severus, My Dearest Severus?) his apprentice yelped and drew the parchment to her chest, smearing wet ink on her fingers and down the front of her robe. She turned to face him, her eyes wide and frightened, her cheeks burning a fascinating shade of red. With the movement of her head, more locks of hair flew free of the bun, another wave of rose wafted over him. His head swam.

He was glad for a moment that his own sallow complexion tended not to show his embarrassed flushes. For a long, dreadful moment they stood in that tableau, neither moving, hardly breathing. The apprentice leaned against the table, twisted around to see the Potions Master. He glowered down at her; she was too close for comfort, and yet that very closeness was enticing. He opened his mouth to speak, but to his dismay, he could only manage a strangled gasp. He held out his hand waiting for her to say something, anything. Instead, she placed the parchment in his hand, gazed into his eyes forthrightly, though the burn of embarrassment still shone red on her cheeks.

The ink was smudged, the parchment had clearly been folded and smoothed many times before now. This was evidently the result of quite a lot of work. He read it through, ignoring those parts that had been scratched out, then read it again, hardly believing his eyes.

My Dearest Severus,

I would that I were a poetess rather than a scholar, for those words that seem to come so easily to poets escape me. If I were to describe a toadstool, or the need to measure carefully the precise amount of aconite for a potion, I would be able to do so easily and without hesitation; I am able to expound on the virtues of Solomon's Seal, the pitfalls of foxglove without a moment of uncertainty or unease, but the simple matter of putting quill to parchment to express my feelings seems to be beyond me.

Perhaps you think I am a silly girl, and perhaps you are right. When I am near you, I certainly feel all of the sensations that I am told are indicative of love – the fluttering of the heart within the chest, listlessness, an inability to eat, a feeling that if I could simply be near you, the need to consume food and breathe air would be an exercise in futility. These are the feelings of love, I am told. I am not certain, as this is the first time I think I have felt them.

I sit cataloguing these feelings, sensations, as if this were simply another part of my apprenticeship, and I wonder if it is normal to feel this way. My research has shown that occasionally, it has occurred that the apprentice become infatuated with the master. Rarely are these feelings reciprocated, at least officially. I think there is probably a fair number of masters-of-their-crafts who have taken advantage of the infatuation, and simply rolled the apprentice. I do not wish to become one of these latter cases.

I suppose it would be accurate to say that I wish for these feelings to be reciprocated, that I do not want to be a footnote in the history of master-apprentice relationships; however, as I am the apprentice to the frightening and powerful Severus Snape, I suspect that any feelings that I may have will never be given their due attention. Such is my lot in life, and I shall have to content myself with writing silly love letters like the lovesick fool I am.

Part of me hopes that I will be able to show these letters to you, and part of me dreads it. I can see your face as you read this, a slight sneer before you throw this into the fire, and will pretend that nothing ever happened, and we will go back to the way it was before you read it – plain Hermione apprenticed to Professor Snape, only acknowledging each other's presence when absolutely necessary. I will go back to my books, and you will go back to… whatever it is that you do when you are not in the dungeons…

Here the letter ended, and Severus looked up. Tears shone in his apprentice's eyes.

Hermione, he reminded himself. She has a name.

"Is this meant to be a joke?" He asked her, and for a moment hated himself for the harshness of his words. He sounded cold and distant even to himself, but he had to sure.

She swallowed visibly, then looked down to her shoes. She looked to be studying the stones of the dungeon floor with an intensity unrivaled by any of her other scholarly pursuits.

At last, there was no sign that she would answer. "Look at me," he commanded, allowing a touch of exasperation to enter his voice. She looked up, and he caught her eyes with a stare of his own. "In case you had not heard me the first time, for that is the only reason why you have ever not been quick to give me an answer, I shall ask again: is this intended to be a joke?"

Her eyes dropped for a moment, and he drew a breath to comment. Her voice rang clear before he could: "No, sir. It is not a joke."

"Good, because I find it singularly unfunny. Now, Miss Granger, do tell me the intent behind this, as I am at something of a loss to describe it." Idiotic, childish. Hopeful.

This time when her gaze dropped, he did not ask her to look at him. He was not certain he would be able to take having her look at him when she said… whatever she was about to say. Rejection or revelation of feelings, he couldn't decide which would be worse.

"I have… found myself very attracted to you," she mumbled.

He couldn't help himself; he snorted, which elicited an angry and tearful look. He sighed in resignation, turned his back. He could feel a pressure welling up in his sinuses and pinched the bridge of his nose.

"Where are you going?" Hermione's voice called from behind him, shrill, panicked.

He halted abruptly. He hadn't thought that his turning would cause such a reaction, and a niggling voice in his head said, Of course not. You never do.

"I find that I am in need of a cup of tea." He turned his head slightly to see her stricken face. "If you would prefer to stay here, you are welcome to, however I suspect that we need to have a chat. I would prefer to do it with tea in hand rather than newt eyes."

He turned on his heel, head held high. He listened for her footsteps, and he was rewarded with the sound of her heels clicking on the stone floor and the sweet scent of her hair wafting past. His stride nearly faltered, but he refused to allow a girl to addle his wits that way.

He led her to the staff lounge – it was likely to be deserted this late in the day, and he suspected that she would be more comfortable if she wasn't surrounded by his things. Besides she was no longer a student – a fact that was ever present in his mind these days.

The lounge was, as he thought it would be, devoid of any other sentient life, for which he was profoundly grateful. It was, however, stuffed full of comfortable furniture, tables, and a long counter at one end where a plate of tea biscuits and a kettle sat. He motioned to Hermione to sit and pointed his wand at the tea kettle. Moments later, he poured tea into china cups, crossed the room to where his young apprentice sat with her feet drawn up underneath her and offered her one. She took it hesitantly and sniffed at it suspicion showing on her face.

"It isn't poisoned," he said roughly, and sipped at his own. He savored the taste, the hot liquid running down his throat, comforting. He remembered a time when the only comforts he had were a good cup of tea and a shot of firewhisky. He shook those thoughts away and gazed thoughtfully over the rim of his cup to the girl sitting across from him.

She stared into her teacup, uncomfortable. Wisps of brown curly hair stuck out from all directions, and she had a bit of raven feather stuck in one curl. A smudge of something brown ran down her jaw. A bit of her red and gold scarf showed at the collar of robes. She was pretty, more so now than she ever had been as a child. Definitely prettier when she smiled, but he knew that there was no possible way he could make her smile like he wanted to see. The letter might be an indication otherwise, but…

"Tell me why," he said abruptly, surprising even himself. He winced at her expression, but forced himself to look at her rather than turning away.

"I am not given to flights of fancy," she said slowly, and at length. "I do not consider myself to be mercurial of mood or temperament, nor am I particularly capricious in my attentions." She looked at him measuringly, and he felt his stomach turn. He took another hasty sip of tea. "I say this, not because I wish to impress you with my sincerity, but because I feel that it is important to me. I pride myself on my rationality, my perspicacity, my intelligence. Which is why I am both frightened and concerned that when I am around you, I find myself to be none of those things and have none of those traits which I prize so highly." Here she looked down and blushed.

Severus was speechless, an odd occurrence for him. He didn't quite know how to respond. Here was the annoying, vastly irritating Gryffindor chit telling him all the things he had thought of himself.

"I do not say that I am in love with you. I don't think that I know what that is, exactly." She pressed her lips together, set her teacup down on the low table that separated them. Her hair shone in the low light of the lounge, causing his pulse to quicken. "I do think, however, that we have the potential to make a… an excellent pair."

His jaw tightened. It wasn't quite what he had hoped for, but then, he wasn't certain what that was. Had he wanted an expression of undying love? No, likely not. Such declarations would have only served to exasperate him more than the silly letter had. But then, all things considered, the letter itself was not terribly silly – only the concept. The content had been… well, just short of maudlin, actually, but it did display a charming forthrightness.

"Please say something," she broke into his reverie. His head snapped up as if he had been hit with a bludger. How long had he been thinking, giving no sign of any response? Old habits… far too long…

"I am not an easy many to like, Hermione," he said, and he tasted her name on his tongue. It may have been the first time he had ever spoken it aloud; he relished it. "I- am quite old enough to be your father." When he looked at her, she seemed not to care, and he forged on ahead. "I am set in my ways. I dislike change."

"I would say that you have changed quite a lot in the last few years."

He continued as if she had not interrupted. "I am described as being irascible and unforgiving, and whether those who describe me as such are my friends or enemies, they are correct. I am very much both. However, if it is your decision to… pursue this, I am inclined to allow it, as I find you very…" Attractive? Intoxicating? Provocative? "Appealing."

A slow smile spread across Hermione's face, lighting it up in ways he found most… appealing. He answered it with a tight smile of his own, rose to his feet and offered his arm to her. She took it without hesitation; he smelled deeply of her scent, and for the first time in quite awhile, Severus Snape felt positively content.

A/N: A bit of romantic fluff while I work on the next few chapters of Ashen and Sober Skies. I enjoyed writing it, although I don't typically engage in romance, at least not on any sort of long term basis. Reviews always appreciated. I get a positively warm and fuzzy feeling every time I see a new review, and they encourage me to write more.