"Mmmm…," Hermione moaned softly. Her eyes were closed, an expression of pure ecstasy on her face. The sensations in her mouth were… exquisite. Never in her life had she experienced anything like this! All she could think of was that she wanted more. Needed more.

The fact that it was Snape who was making her feel this way only added to the heady experience.

"Do you like that?" he murmured, his voice sliding over her like heated velvet.

"Mmmm…," she moaned again, unable to say anything else. All she could focus on was the warm feelings flooding through her, and her desire for him… to continue.

"Would you like more?" he purred.

Hermione tried to speak, but all that came out was a pleading whimper. "Yes, please!"

Snape uttered a throaty chuckle. "Of course you would," he replied. Hermione felt her body tense; although her eyes were still closed, she could feel him moving closer. Soon she would feel the gentle prodding at her lips… ah, there it was! She opened her mouth to him.

The spoon slid in and she let her tongue swipe the creamy chocolate confection from it.

"Bloody hell! This is amazing!" Watching Severus scoop another piece from the plate she asked, "What is it called?"

"Chocolate Eruption," he answered, lifting the spoon to her mouth again. "I'd better get some of it for myself before you eat the whole bloody thing."

Giggling, Hermione swatted his arm. "We could have ordered two, you know!"

"We may have to. You're very deceiving, you know."

"How do you mean?"

"I never would have expected you to eat so much," he replied.

Hermione sat back, her mouth hanging open. Severus continued eating his dessert, oblivious to her reaction until he tried to feed her another spoonful. Stopping halfway to her mouth, he finally saw her look of disbelief.

"What?"

"You just insulted me!" Hermione was torn between being offended and being amused. The look of honest consternation on his face told her that any hurt he may have inflicted was unintentional.

"How did I insult you?"

"By saying I ate a lot!" she laughed.

"Well, you did," he shrugged. "You're very small in stature and I expected you to eat less."

Hermione shook her head, then accepted the bite of dessert. She was still amazed at what a pleasant time she was having. After leaving Fable Hall, they had taken a leisurely walk, stopping only in a candle shop so that Hermione could do some shopping. They had ended up spending more time there than they had planned; she had reveled in the quiet peacefulness of the dark rooms lined with shelves, which held jar candles of every scent imaginable. She had prowled the store happily, pausing frequently to uncap a jar and sniff the contents. Snape wandered about, looking at the wide array of diffusers and candle making equipment available.

"Here, what do you think of this?" she asked him when he strolled up behind her. He took the candle from her and sniffed. "I'll take that as a 'no,'" she snickered when he grimaced.

"What scent was that supposed to be?"

"'Evening Rain.'"

"Nonsense!" he scoffed. "That smells nothing like an evening rainfall!"

"Yeah, you probably won't be delighted with this one, either," she remarked, handing him one marked 'Black Midnight.'

"UGH!"

The restaurant was one that Severus was familiar with, and Hermione personally thought it was lucky that he was, otherwise they probably never would have entered the building. The doorway, set in a plain brick front, was narrow and nondescript; walking by, you would never have guessed that it housed a fine eatery. In fact, the only thing about the restaurant that made it stand out at all was the bisected cow sticking out of the face of the building.

As they had approached it, Hermione had begun laughing. "What the bloody hell is that?" she had asked, pointing ahead of them. The front quarters of a large, fabricated cow jutted out from the front of the building; several feet underneath it, the rear half of the cow was embedded in the brick, the tail hanging limply above the sidewalk.

"That's a cow," Severus confirmed.

"Why is it there?"

Snape cocked his head and considered her question for a moment. Then he shook his head and said, "I have absolutely no idea."

Hermione kept giggling sporadically as they continued walking. However, when Severus stopped beneath the cow and opened the door for her, she quickly sobered.

"What?" she asked, looking at him warily.

"This is the restaurant we'll be eating at."

She looked at Severus, then up to the cow, and back to Severus.

"Are you serious? The cow place?"

"Actually," he replied dryly, "it's called The Kit Kat. And I don't think they'll appreciate us loitering here in the doorway so that you can gawk at their questionable choice of décor. Shall we?"

The inside of the restaurant was tiny and dark. The tables were squeezed so closely together that guests and wait staff had to turn sideways to pass between them. Hermione didn't realize that her skepticism was evident on her face until Severus leaned across the table with a haughty smirk and said, "Trust me."

And oh, he had been right! The food was some of the best she'd ever had, including the delicious feasts that she'd taken part in at Hogwarts. Severus had ordered a bottle of wine that complemented both of their meals, and Hermione had insisted on making a toast. Noting the hint of trepidation on his face, she chose to keep the sentiment brief and innocuous.

"To good books, good food, and good company," she offered, raising her glass.

"Lovely," murmured Snape, touching his glass to hers. Their eyes locked as they each drank and Hermione felt a small shiver spread across the small of her back.

Stop it. This is Snape. He's making an effort just to have a friendly outing. Even if you were interested, he most definitely is NOT.

She did find that she was greatly enjoying his company. He was learned in so many things, yet never monopolized the conversation. He asked her questions about her life outside of school, her family and, finally, her future.

"I don't know what I want to do," she answered honestly. "I had always assumed I would go straight on to university after Hogwarts, but with everything that's happened, I'm not so sure anymore."

"Hermione, you have a brilliant mind. It would be a sin for you to let it grow idle." He took a sip on wine and snorted at the expression on her face. "Don't look so surprised. You are no longer my student, therefore I find it acceptable to compliment you."

"Well, thank you, Severus. I suppose seven years wasn't TOO long to wait."

"It's only one year to a kneazle," Snape shot back, causing Hermione to burst out laughing. She was finding that his sarcasm, while terrifying as a student, lent a fascinating edge to his sense of humor.

"I do intend to continue my education at some point, but I think right now I'd like to take some time off." Not wanting to see the disapproval that she was sure would be showing in his eyes, she concentrated instead on the candle flickering on their table. "I know I must sound terribly lazy, but I just don't want to have to think so much for a while."

Severus said nothing at first, and just when Hermione had gathered up the courage to look back up at him, she heard his soft reply.

"It would certainly be a well deserved break."

She smiled appreciatively. "Well, I say now that I'd like to sit idly about, but knowing me I'll end up back in school in a month!" Snape gave a short laugh and nodded. "What about you?"

He paused with his fork in mid-air. "What about me?" he repeated.

"Yes. What will you do now?"

With his trademark smirk, he tilted his fork toward her and answered, "Right now I intend to finish my meal."

Hermione chose not to reply; instead, she sat and watched him mutely as he chewed, swallowed, and followed it with a drink of wine. She knew he was pleased with himself for his smart remark.

Snarky, snarky, snarky. I never thought I would welcome it!

"I will continue to teach at Hogwarts for as long as Professor McGonagall will allow me to."

"Really?"

Severus' eyebrows drew together as he regarded Hermione over their dinners. "Why is that so hard to believe?"

"Well, let's face it… children do not seem to be your favorite creatures. Not that you aren't a great teacher," she amended quickly. "But I never really thought you enjoyed it."

Shrugging, he said, "There are certain aspects of it that I enjoy. I doubt that I would ever find a career that would offer me unparalleled joy. I have been at Hogwarts for almost twenty years. It is… where I should be."

His eyes drifted away from Hermione, and she knew better than to press the issue.

He feels he owes it to Dumbledore.

"Would you ever consider taking the Defense Against the Dark Arts position if Minerva offered it to you?"

"I don't believe so," he answered after considering her question. Hermione's eyebrows rose in surprise.

"Really? Why not?"

"They might require me to move out of the dungeons."

She began laughing but stopped quickly when he regarded her with calm silence. "You're serious."

"Yes."

Hermione floundered for words, not wanting to offend him. "But I would think that… other… accommodations… would be more comfortable."

"Well, I'm sure to some they would," he agreed, "but it all depends on your definition of 'comfortable.' I happen to find my quarters quite suitable."

"The dungeons, though… I don't know. They just seem to be so… cold, and… well, lonely, to be honest."

Feel free to come warm them up any time.

Snape gave himself a mental shake, feeling a burst of anger. These unbidden thoughts were making him uneasy. Since when had he ever thought of Hermione as anything other than a disturbance with a remarkable mind or – more recently – a possible friend? He had felt ashamed of the question that had flitted through his mind as they had left the bookstore; now here he was having more!

Gazing across the table, he assured himself that a wizard could do far worse than the witch looking back at him. True, she was no raving beauty, but she had definitely grown into her own loveliness. With the candlelight mirrored softly in her eyes, he found it difficult to recall the buck-toothed, frizz-headed child from years past.

It makes no difference what she looks like, or what you remember, or even what you feel. Contemplating romance is a waste of your time. You have no heart to offer anyone.

"Again, it is perspective, Hermione. I rather like the seclusion the dungeons offer. I'm not a very sociable man, and I'm happiest being left alone to pursue my own interests. As for the temperature… well, now you know why I dress the way I do."

"I much prefer the way you're dressed today," Hermione admitted with a graceful blush.

Caught off guard by her words – when had a woman last complimented him? – it took him a brief moment to recover. "Thank you," he said, inclining his head slightly. A common phrase that he had often heard his students use came to his mind, and the Slytherin in him waited until she lifted her glass to her lips.

"So," he purred, "the billowing black robes just don't do it for you?"

With a great snort, Hermione began choking on her wine. As she pressed her napkin to her face in an attempt to control the coughing and spluttering, Severus began to laugh. Although he knew it was not the gentlemanly thing to do, he could not help himself. As Hermione slowly regained her composure, his laughter abated to a low chuckle. By the time she was able to meet his eyes across the table, he was wearing a bemused smirk.

"I can't believe you said that!"

"You don't seem particularly upset, if I may say so."

"No," she agreed. "It was funny! Just… unexpected."

Looking at her closely, Severus leaned forward slightly. "Hermione, you must keep in mind that you have only known me in the role of teacher. If you are truly intent on getting to know me better in a more personal capacity, you should be aware that there will be aspects of my personality you have not seen before. Some you may find pleasant. Others you will most assuredly not."

Biting back a snide remark about some of the less favorable aspects that she was already familiar with, Hermione smiled demurely and said, "You should be aware of the same, Severus."

A faint grin tugged at the corners of his mouth, and Snape turned back to his dinner.

"Oh, and Severus?"

"Yes?" he replied, looking up.

"I like your laugh."

After the decadent dessert had been finished, the waiter placed a small leather folder containing their bill on the corner of the table. They both reached for it at the same time.

"Severus, please. I would like to pay. It's the least I can do to thank you for such a lovely evening."

"Nonsense," the Potions master said dismissively. "I invited you, therefore I will pay."

With a giggle Hermione shot back, "Really, Severus, this is hardly a date, is it?"

She regretted it instantly. His face, which had relaxed and softened noticeably during their time together, suddenly stiffened and became cold. Though she knew that the words she had spoken were true, she realized that they were also cutting. Their evening together might not have been of a romantic nature, but to voice it so callously, as if the very idea of a date with him was beyond comprehension, was horrifically tactless.

Snape looked down at his hand on the folder for a few moments, then drew it back. With a tight smile he said, "No. It most certainly is not a date. As such, I believe the proper way to settle this is to share the expense."

Mumbling her agreement, Hermione pulled some money from her purse and passed it across the table to him. Neither of them spoke as they gathered their belongings and left the restaurant. The uncomfortable silence grew as they walked down the street beneath the soft night sky. It was, predictably, Hermione who finally spoke.

"I'm sorry."

Snape glanced at her, then turned his eyes forward again. "For what?"

"For what I said at the restaurant. I didn't mean it the way it sounded."

"You were correct; this outing was not intended as a date. I'm sorry if I led you to believe otherwise." I invited you out to dinner, surely not an activity that could ever be misconstrued as a date.

"You didn't!" He heard the frustration in her voice and was surprisingly gratified. "Still, I didn't mean… that is… it just didn't come out right!"

"And how should it have come out?"

Hermione pressed her hands to her face in exasperation and tried to choose her words carefully. "I just meant that I knew you invited me out as a friend. Not that I think the idea of a date with you is absurd."

Chancing a look at him, she saw a muscle in his jaw working, but he said nothing. When it became obvious that he wasn't going to answer, Hermione opted once more to fill the silence.

"I know you're not interested in me that way, Severus. I don't want things to be awkward between us because of this."

"What if I was?" he asked suddenly.

She was confused. "What if you were what?"

Still looking ahead, Severus said quietly, "What if I was interested in you… that way?"

It wasn't often that this young woman was at a loss for words. He thought she was lovely when she was.

"Well… I mean… well, if you were…"

She stopped walking and took a deep breath, composing her thoughts.

What are you doing, Severus? What are you doing?

Snape stopped and turned to face her. He found he was suddenly desperately curious to hear her answer.

"If you were," she said slowly, "we would just have to see what happened."

Merlin's knickers, I think she's just given me the go-ahead!

Looking at her, Severus knew he was at a crossroads. It had been ages since he had been with a woman, and this witch was certainly attractive. He enjoyed being with her and, truth be known, had spent part of the evening thinking about when they might spend time together again. But he was not a whole man; while he had not exactly sold his soul to Voldemort, he had definitely allowed him to rent it for some years. To keep himself sane, he had taught himself not to feel. Where some people build walls around themselves, Severus had had built an unplottable fortress and placed wards around it that were so complicated he wasn't sure that even he would be able to remove them.

He could admit that when he looked at her, he felt stirrings. But there was something inside of him that remained cold… and no one deserved that. Not even a Gryffindor.

She was sure that she must have imagined the sadness in his voice when he said, "Friendship is all I can offer you, Hermione."

She smiled warmly at him. "Well, Severus… I think that's a wonderful gift indeed."

And as she turned back toward Hogwarts, he knew that he was in trouble.

He felt like he couldn't get enough of her. His hand trailed over her hair, her back, her breasts and her hips. He wanted to touch her everywhere, to feel every inch of her soft, flushed skin in his hands at once. His heart raced as he kissed her forcefully, his mouth opening wider, his tongue lapping at hers frantically. Dear gods, he wanted to devour her.

She kissed him back just as hungrily, swallowing his throaty moans and feeding back her own impatient, mewling cries. One leg was pulled up and curled around his thigh as her hips rose to gyrate against his groin. Gasping, he curled the hand in her hair into a tight fist and began thrusting violently between her legs. Her gentle cries grew to loud, brazen groans as she felt the length of his cock, hard as an iron rod, rubbing against her sex through the thin material of her jeans. Her level of desire was nearly bringing her to tears; she literally ached for this man. The throbbing between her thighs and the weakness of her legs multiplied with every touch of his hands or lips. Dear gods, she'd never felt anything like this before.

His free hand suddenly grasped the front of her shirt and ripped it nearly open, save for the last two buttons on the bottom. Pushing her bra up roughly, he attacked her breasts with his mouth, licking and sucking them as ferociously as he had her tongue moments before. She arched her back and cried out to the night sky. "Severus!"

Pulling away from her breasts, he moved back up to claim the soft skin of her throat before moving his mouth to her ear.

"I can't stop," he panted, still grinding his hips against hers. "If you don't want this, you have to go… NOW."

She pulled back and his heart sank. He had known this was too good to be true; she had realized what a mistake this would be, she had come to her senses and knew that she could do so much better than him… this was the moment when she would say "No," and life as he knew it would end with that one word.

Her eyes met his. His fingers unconsciously wrapped themselves in strands of her long hair. He could feel their hearts beating uneven rhythms against each others chests. For what seemed like eternity, there was no sound; their breath was quieted, the crickets were silent, even the wind had stilled in the trees.

Then she spoke.

"Please."

And life as he knew it ended with that one word.

Disclaimer: JKR owns it all. AND a bag of chips!

A/N: A huge thank you to everyone who has read and reviewed. You guys make my day. I wish that I could be quicker in responding to everyone, and I'm so sorry that I don't update more frequently. Please be patient! I hope my stories are worth the wait!

The Kit Kat is a real restaurant in Toronto, Canada. I've tried to describe it as accurately as I could remember it, and YES, it does have the bisected cow in front! If anyone wants to see a picture, I'm sure I could dig one up! The food is amazing… if you ever find yourself in Canada, seek them out!

Chocolate Eruption is a real dessert that my hubby and I discovered, also while in Toronto. It was on the room service menu at the Marriott we stayed in. I can't do it justice, but let me just say chocolate, white chocolate, dark chocolate, chocolate mousse, and about 5" high. It's ludicrous how good it is. Orgasm on a spoon, baby!

As always, this is dedicated to my hubby. The Snape to my Hermione. (He's really more like Ron, but who cares?)