A/N: This story was co-written by Shiv5468 and was beta'd by JuneW. It was written for the Winter Round of the SSHG Exchange and was a gift for Insperashen. Her prompt was simply: A short, sweet one-shot that I can use to introduce my non-fanfic reading friends to HG/SS. Can be fluffy, angsty, pre-romance, whatever, but definitely no smut. Something that will leave my friends wanting more, an HG/SS appetizer, if you will.

Disclaimer: Not mine. Never was, never will be.

Hermione frantically looked at the time as she rushed around her flat getting ready for her date. She was running late, as usual. She was never late for the important things, only the things that she was strongly trying to avoid, and a blind date set up by her meddling friend definitely qualified as one of those things best avoided.

Ginny had assured her that the wizard was good-looking, polite, intelligent, and a great conversationalist. In other words he was as ugly as Snape, barely scraped through his N.E.W.T.s (if he even bothered taking them), and was either as dull as a Bludger or talked only about Quidditch — which would make her want nothing more than to be hit senseless with a Bludger. It was the nature of setting up a blind date — lie to your friend just to get them in the same room as the guy. Besides, no one was ever described as a great conversationalist if they actually were one. And if for some odd reason it was a true statement, what Hermione found to be stimulating conversation varied greatly from what her friends considered to be an interesting discussion.

Regardless of that fact, however, Hermione knew that Ginny meant well. Ginny was happily married, and had been for the last two years. The first year wasn't so bad… for Hermione, that is. Her redheaded friend had been blissfully unaware of the world at large while she enjoyed the fringe benefits of being a newlywed. As a result, Hermione's love life, or lack thereof, had thankfully been ignored by her interfering friend.

But Hermione had only able to fly her broom under the Sneakoscope for so long. After Ginny's honeymoon period had finally worn off, the harassment had begun.

Ginny had been subtle at first; Hermione assumed that this was from the influence of her Slytherin husband. Those initial understated nudges had been easy enough for Hermione to avoid. However, the subtlety only lasted for so long, and there came a point where Hermione could no longer deter her friend's matchmaking efforts.

The efforts had begun with veiled comments about how wonderful married life was. According to Ginny, when one was married the sun shone brighter, the grass was greener, and the sex was unbelievable. When that failed to get Hermione to improve her social life, her friend began telling her how Hermione was going to be an old maid, comparing her to the likes of Professors Trelawney and McGonagall.

"I am nothing like that old phony!" Hermione had protested.

"Hermione! How could you call Professor McGonagall such a thing?" Ginny asked with a nasty glint in her eyes.

The conversation had gone drastically downhill from that point on.

Finally, Ginny had enlisted the help of her husband and the two of them had decided to set Hermione up on a few blind dates.

This was the third one, and Hermione wasn't looking forward to it any more than she had the previous two.

The first blind date had been a total disaster. If anything could have gone wrong, it did. To begin with Hermione's escort tripped on his way to the table and landed in someone else's dinner. It seemed that the only thing that her date had been capable of talking about was his field of interest. Hermione could handle the subject to a point, but each time she tried to combine his interests with hers, he became quickly flustered and was unable to maintain a fluent conversation. It wasn't a lack of interest that prevented her date from discussing anything else. It was comfort and self-esteem, and Hermione required someone who was more self-assured.

To top things off, he'd escorted her back to her flat and tried to kiss her. Now, Hermione wasn't opposed to a good snog; however, that usually meant that the gentleman's hands weren't clammy, his nose wasn't bumping hers, and his idea of kissing entailed something more than slobbering all over the other person's mouth. It would have helped matters if she had been at least interested in the guy romantically… which in this case she wasn't.

She considered herself fortunate to end her not-so-blind date still on speaking terms with him. No matter how optimistic Ginny had tried to be, Neville Longbottom was still Neville, and Hermione could not forget the years she'd spent helping him with his homework and in class.

After such a disaster, Hermione tried unsuccessfully to stop Ginny from setting her up on any further dates.

The second date had been no better than the date with Neville, even though she could truly consider this one to be a blind date, as she hadn't known the man beforehand. He didn't fall into someone else's dinner, nor did he talk endlessly about Herbology. He had been fairly good-looking, too. No, the problem with that man hadn't been self-esteem issues or the like. In fact, he thought very highly of himself… very highly of himself, indeed. It was his favourite subject, after all.

She wondered if her date had used a broken wand to cast a strong Obliviate on someone, as he was just as delusional and self-centered as Gilderoy Lockhart, who was still in St. Mungo's after that incident with Ron's wand years ago. Three hours of non-stop discussion of the greatness of Christopher Dowler was more than enough to bore her to tears. He, too, wanted to snog, but by that point Hermione was so turned off by his conceited personality that she squelched the niggling voice that had been speaking to her before she even went out on this date that it had been quite some time since her last good shag and that this would've been a fantastic opportunity to remedy that situation.

It had taken Ginny three months to talk her into the date that Hermione was going on tonight. Her redheaded, meddlesome friend was now pregnant, and again thought that everyone should be as happy as she claimed to be by enjoying the pleasure of vomiting, lethargy, and headaches.

The very mention of pregnancy made Hermione shudder. She wasn't certain if or when she even wanted children. It had been one of the major contentions between her and Ron when they'd been dating. Well, that and the simple fact that they had very little in common and could barely get through a day without sniping at one another.

She glanced at her watch again. Damn! Summoning her cloak from the wardrobe, she donned it and rushed out the door.

The restaurant was tucked away down a small alleyway, out of sight of Muggles. The shabby exterior wasn't very prepossessing, and her heart sank. Not only was she about to be bored silly for several hours, but the food was going to be dreadful as well. She resolved to get some chips from her local take away on the way home.

She entered the restaurant to find that it was not much better on the inside, although it held a somewhat homey atmosphere. Standing in the open doorway, she debated whether it was better to turn tail and run, or to just see the night through. However, she knew that if she left, then Ginny was liable to stick her with something or someone far worse the next time around.

"Are you going to stand there all evening, letting in the draft?" drawled a familiar voice.

"Oh, sorry," she said, stepping fully into the restaurant and committing herself to the evening. The sound of the door shutting firmly behind her seemed to seal her fate. "I'm here to meet someone..." Hermione scrabbled in her bag to find the note that Ginny had given her with all the details of her hot date. "The booking is in the name of..." She looked up to find herself staring into the dark eyes of Professor, no Mr Snape. "Snape," she said.

"I rather doubt that's the case," he replied, with a sneer. "I'm sure I'd recall if I'd made such a booking."

"Oh, erm..." She was flustered. "I am just surprised to see you here."

"We couldn't all take cushy Ministry jobs, now could we?"

"Yes, I suppose not," she said, looking back at her scrap of parchment. When she'd read the note in her flat earlier the name had been blank, as apparently Ginny hadn't trusted her not to show up for the date. Which, after reading the all-elusive name, she likely wouldn't have. Hermione groaned. "I'm here to meet Percy Weasley."

Snape had always been able to spot the slightest sign of wrongdoing in his classes; he didn't miss anything, and the faintly malicious glint in his eyes made Hermione think that he had worked out exactly what her situation was. If it wasn't bad enough being sent on a blind date with Percy Weasley — and what was Ginny thinking of to match her with that pompous windbag? — now she was having to conduct this entire mess under the beady eyes of her ex-Professor.

It really couldn't get any worse, not even if Voldemort was brought back from the grave to wait on the tables. In fact, she'd rather welcome that because it would give her an excuse to leave.

"If you will follow me, Madam," Snape said, laying an unpleasant emphasis on the title, in a way that brought to mind old maids and vestal virgins. "I will show you to your table. Mr Weasley is yet to arrive. Perhaps Madam would like a drink while she is waiting?"

"Madam would," she replied shortly.

Hermione followed Snape through the tables. She was still taken aback at seeing him, especially acting in such a capacity. Her first thought was that it was unlikely that Snape would actually be their waiter, however, the white apron he wore over his black robes tended to indicate otherwise.

She looked at her surroundings as they walked through the restaurant. Even though the decor left something to be desired, she was surprised to see that nearly every table was occupied, mostly by couples who sat closely together, wrapped up in intimate conversations.

Snape led her to a table near the very back of the restaurant.

"Mr Weasley requested privacy," Snape explained.

"Oh." Things were definitely not looking up. "I'll take that drink now."

"Despite what you may think, I'm not a mind-reader. You haven't told me what you want."

Seating herself, she glanced around. "I don't really care, just give me a drink and make it strong."

Snape's lips twitched in something that might have been a smile, but it was gone too quickly for her to be sure. "Madam will be taking the Chateau Lafite with her meal, then, but would prefer the neat triple vodka for her aperitif, I take it?"

Hermione nodded. She wasn't quite sure whether he was being serious or not, but it sounded like a very good idea to her. "With a Portkey to follow," she muttered. But it was too late to back out now.

Her triple vodka appeared quickly enough. The service may not have been pleasant, but it was at least efficient — perhaps even a heart as hard as Snape's was moved by her plight. Moodily she swirled her drink, before taking a cautious sip at it. It burned on the way down and made her eyes water, but at least it took her mind off her impending doom.

It didn't take very many sips for the alcohol to reach her brain, helping her to at least feel a bit calmer about her predicament. Of course, that was before Snape reappeared. This time he was accompanied by none other than Percy Weasley. The amused look in Snape's eyes was unmistakable when she caught him looking at her.

Percy smiled genuinely and held out a small bouquet of pink roses for her. "Good evening, Hermione. I am so glad to have this opportunity to spend some time with you," he said. He seated himself across from her after she graciously took the flowers.

She took a large drink from her vodka and, before Snape could leave, she asked him for another.

"Of course, Madam," Snape said deferentially, then left her to her fate.

"So," said Percy, who then paused, lost for something to say.

"So," Hermione replied.

"How has your day been?" they both asked at the same time.

"Fine," they both replied in chorus, and then fell silent.

"Would Sir and Madam like to see the menu?" Snape asked, as he deftly inserted Hermione's fresh drink in place of her old one.

She took another large swallow, and felt the aggravation of the day slip further away.

"I would," she said. "I'm sure Percy would too. After all, we are in a restaurant. That's what you do in a restaurant. Look at menus. And then you eat."

"Of course, Madam," Snape sneered as he walked away from their table.

As soon as their waiter was out of earshot, Percy began talking. "I don't know why that man is able to walk around in civilised society like he doesn't have a care in the world. After everything that he did, he should still be locked up in Azkaban."

"The Wizengamot cleared him of all charges."

"Yes, well, you can rest assured that the Minister didn't support that decision. And I, of course, fully support the Minister."

"Of course," Hermione replied, barely able to control the urge to roll her eyes.

"I have done everything in my power to ensure the safety of the wizarding community, Hermione. Why, just last month I rejected Snape's application to have his Potioneer's license reinstated."

Hermione choked on her drink. "You did what?"

"Snape tried to reapply for his Potioneer's license. I rejected it. What is there that you don't understand? It's really quite simple."

"I see..." Hermione couldn't work out what to say to that. It was simple, apparently; simple that a man who had been cleared of all wrongdoing should still be denied his right to work on the whim of some petty bureaucrat who hadn't had the nerve to do anything at all in the fight against Voldemort. "I can't quite see how he would be endangering society by simply brewing some potions; surely you could have allowed it."

Percy's lips pursed in disapproval. "I hardly think that would be the responsible thing to do, letting someone like that prey on innocent people. I couldn't live with my conscience if I had allowed the application."

A menu appeared abruptly in front of Percy's face. "Would Sir care to hear about the specials?"

It was clear that Snape had heard at least the tail end of that conversation, and now knew who to blame for his recent disappointment. Snape had never been a man to take being crossed easily.

Hermione smiled. Her blind date had just become a whole lot more interesting.

"We'd love to hear the specials," she answered for her companion.

She hardly listened as Snape rattled off the list of meals the chef had specially prepared for the evening. Hermione was only interested in watching Percy as he sat taller, and the arrogant air around him seemed to thicken. Turning her attention back to their waiter, her smile grew when she saw the look in his eyes. It was a look that had always made Neville Longbottom clumsily add the wrong ingredient to his brew and then shrink in his seat before dutifully scrubbing cauldrons without a single word from their professor.

And although Percy appeared to be unaffected, Hermione knew that a student didn't earn O.W.L.s in twelve subjects — the most a student could receive — without having proper respect for their teacher.

"Thank you," she said when Snape finished listing the dinner specials.

Snape nodded. "Would Madam care for another drink?" he asked.

Hermione pondered for a moment before deciding that it probably wouldn't be wise. "Not just yet, as long as the Chateau Lafite will be here shortly."

"Chateau Lafite? I haven't ordered any wine," Percy said. "I rather think you should leave these matters to someone with more experience, my dear. I'm sure you meant well, but, really, it's a matter for the man to order the wine. You shouldn't worry your pretty little head about such things."

Hermione's hands tightened round the glass she was holding. She was going to kill Ginny. No, she was going to do something much worse; she was going to tell Molly all about her daughter's latest escapade at Madame Malkin's.

"I'm sure that Madam is quite capable of a great many things. I shall return in a moment to take your orders."

Hermione sat there, slightly shocked. He defended her? Snape? The same man who once teased her about her teeth and had called her a "know-it-all"?

The pair sat in silence. Percy read over the menu, muttering slightly to himself. Hermione, once she got over her shock, glanced it over as well.

No sooner had they set down their menus than Snape reappeared at their table, notebook in hand. He licked his pencil, and stood poised to take their orders.

"I'll have the mushroom soup to start, followed by the steak," Percy said. "And so will Hermione."

Hermione unwrapped her fingers one by one from the knife she suddenly found herself holding.

"And what would Madam like?" Snape asked. "If I might recommend the chef's salad... and perhaps the Beef Wellington to follow? It would complement the Lafite rather nicely."

Hermione nodded. She didn't trust herself to speak.

Percy glared at the retreating back of their waiter before turning his attention back to Hermione. "I was brought up to be a proper gentleman. It is the job of the gentleman to order for his lady," he admonished her.

"I know exactly how you were brought up, Percy Weasley. Or have you forgotten that I used to date your brother and I'm best friends with your sister?" Hermione said through clenched teeth. "It would do you well to remember that I am not stupid, I am not quiet, and I will not allow you to dictate what I will or will not eat."

Of course, it was while she was saying this that she realised that so far this evening she'd allowed Snape to order everything for her. Then again, Snape had asked her approval, while Percy stated things matter-of-factly. Besides, it was a waiter's job to recommend dishes and wines to customers.

"I was only trying to help," Percy insisted.

"Trust me when I say, you're not."

Percy had more than red hair in common with his brother; he also sulked. He said nothing more to her as they waited for their starters arrive, sitting there with the air of martyrdom that he'd clearly picked up from his mother.

Hermione was unmoved. You didn't survive two years of going out with Ron without learning how to deal with that kind of behaviour.

Hermione felt an enormous sense of relief when Snape returned with their dishes. He placed her salad before her with a little flourish, then plonked the soup down in front of Percy, his thumb very carefully placed in the soup. "Oops," he said. "Sorry about that, Sir. But I'm new to the job, you see. I haven't quite mastered the fine art of service yet." Snape then sucked his thumb clean. "Would either of you care for some pepper?"

"Please," replied Hermione.

Percy simply continued to glare at their waiter until Snape finished catering to his date and left them again.

"He did that on purpose," he seethed.

"You think so? It seemed like an accident to me," Hermione said, stabbing her salad with her fork. "I mean, if it was intentional, I'm quite certain that he would've done something much worse than put his thumb in your soup. Don't you agree?"

"If this was a respectable restaurant, he would've replaced it."

"Then perhaps there is another reason why you were served that particular bowl of soup."

A brief look of horror flashed across Percy's face before being replaced by righteous indignation. It was so easy to bait him.

Percy brandished his wand and soon began casting numerous spells over his bowl. When finished, he eyed it cautiously before putting his wand away and reaching for his spoon.

"Satisfied?" Hermione asked.

"My soup is cold," he complained in reply.

"Likely because you spent so much time casting spells over it."

Percy didn't answer her, but took another mouthful of soup, wrinkling his nose in distaste. "It's too salty as well."

Hermione sighed, then pulled out her wand. Percy flinched, which almost brought a smile to her face. "I'm sorry, Percy. Did I make you jump? I was only going to cast a warming charm to heat your soup again."

Percy relaxed slightly, though he still seemed uncomfortable having a wand pointed in his general direction.

"Febris!" she said, and curlicues of steam began to rise from the soup.

"Thank you." Percy dipped his spoon into the soup, and blew on it. He slurped at the soup, then winced. "Ouch, that's too hot. Really, Hermione, you should be more careful."

"Yes, I should," she said darkly. For one thing she should know better than to trust Ginny. She refrained from reminding Percy that if he was capable of casting so many diagnostic charms on his soup, then he was more than capable of casting his own heating and cooling charms.

Snape returned to collect their empty dishes and brought with him a bottle of Chateau Lafite wine, which he opened and poured for Hermione, setting the bottle down in front of her. He'd only brought one glass.

Percy protested, getting Snape's attention.

"Sir, you never ordered any wine," he said simply as he left the table.

Hermione stared after him, suddenly wishing that it was, in fact, the ugly former Potions master that she was sharing her meal with rather than the pretentious arse seated across from her. Only, she certainly wasn't thinking of Snape as ugly. Arrogant pricks who think that they are better than everyone else and spend their days kissing up to the Great Git… erm… the Minister of Magic... those were the types of people she found ugly. And right now she could hardly bring herself to look at the man seated across from her.

Percy scowled. "Can you believe the nerve of that man? I'm a respected member of the Ministry, a man who is rising through the ranks towards the highest office, and this is how he treats me. It's an outrage. An outrage, I tell you."

"No, Percy, what is outrageous is your behaviour. You self-righteous, pompous little man."

He stiffened. "That is hardly any way to talk to the Junior Undersecretary to the Minister of Magic," he harrumphed. He stood from his chair and threw down his napkin. "If you wish to apologise and salvage what is left of the evening, Hermione, I will put all of this behind us and escort you to another restaurant where the food and the service are of impeccable quality. Nothing like this place."

He stared at her. It was clear that he had fully expected Hermione to follow him, all the while apologising profusely for her words. Not bloody likely!

"Well, then..." He paused for a moment. "Goodnight."

Hermione smiled. "I'd like to say it's been a lovely evening, but my mother taught me not to lie."

He wrapped his cloak around himself and stormed through the restaurant towards the door.

Hermione finished off the glass of wine and poured herself another. She sat back in her chair and sighed. As predicted, this night had been no better than her previous two blind dates. At least this time she didn't have to fend off any unwanted kisses. The very idea of snogging Percy Weasley made her stomach turn.

Her reverie was disturbed by Snape's return, bearing their main courses. "Did Mr Weasley have a subsequent engagement?" he asked, with barely suppressed venom.

"He did. Thank goodness. I have no idea what Ginny was thinking of, to set me up with him. I'm not like him, am I?" she asked, suddenly anxious. She and Percy had both worked hard at school, studied for their exams, and done what was expected of them, but she wasn't anything like Pompous Percy, was she? She had a sense of humour and everything. And it wasn't like she spent every waking hour at her job. Well, she did, but she certainly didn't follow the Minister around like an eager puppy.

"No, Madam, you are nothing like Mr Weasley."

"Hermione or, if you absolutely have to, Miss Granger, but please stop calling me Madam."

Snape gave a slight nod. "It is a pity that Mr Weasley had to leave so soon. His meal was specially prepared just for him," he said, an evil grin gracing his features.

"And what exactly is so special about Percy's meal?"

"You really don't wish to know."

Hermione looked at her own plate of Beef Wellington and gave a cautious sniff. "Is there anything special about my meal?"

Severus smirked and left her alone at the table.

Hermione resisted the temptation to cast some diagnostic charms over the meal. It would be horribly rude, and for all his faults she didn't think that Snape had a grudge against her. She did wonder what on earth he'd chosen to put into Percy's meal. It was probably a damned sight nastier than simply urinating onto the steak. It was almost a shame that Percy had left.

The pastry was soft and crumbling, cooked to perfection, and the beef encased within it was pink and tender, mixed with delicately flavoured mushrooms. It tasted as good as it looked, and there was only the faintest moment of hesitation before she swallowed. With pleasure, she continued eating her meal until her stomach protested.

She wasn't quite sure what it was that had kept her at the restaurant after Percy's abrupt departure, but she was glad that she'd stayed. The food was truly excellent. It certainly explained how such a homely looking establishment could have nearly every table full.

As if he'd been watching her, Snape appeared at her table within moments of her finishing her meal. "Is there anything else I can get you?"

"No, I don't think I could eat another bite."

"Perhaps some tea? Maybe laced with a hangover potion?"

Hermione snickered. "I don't think I've had this much to drink since Ginny and Draco's wedding. Some tea would be lovely."

As he left the table, her eyes again followed him. Why couldn't Ginny have set her up on a date with Severus Snape? Granted, when she'd first thought about it, even in passing, the very idea made her shudder. But she was quickly learning that when his snarky and surly attitude wasn't directed at her, she rather enjoyed his company.

The tea was in a large, brown pot, with milk and sugar in matching pots. It reminded her of the set her mother had when she was a little girl, though the cups were rather better quality than her parents' mugs. Snape arranged them neatly on the table, and placed the strainer across her cup, ready to pour.

"I don't suppose," she said softly, "that you could join me."

He looked at her, and in his distraction some tea splashed onto the tablecloth. "Erm, sorry?" he asked, mopping at the cloth with the napkin that Percy had left behind.

"No, nothing." She looked down at the spreading stain as if it were the most interesting thing in the world.

"I... I don't actually work here," he said. "Well, I do. I'm the owner. More precisely the goblins at Gringotts are the owners, and they very generously allow me to work here six days a week for the pleasure of paying them a usurious amount of interest on the mortgage they gave me. I probably really own a chair leg, when you get down to it."

"Oh," she said.

Snape eyed her intently. "If you wouldn't be averse to my company, I could perhaps join you."

A genuine smile grew on her face. "I think I would like that very much."

"I will be but a moment, I need to ensure that my staff know where I am."

He left her table and Hermione's stomach fluttered in anticipation with the thought of his return. This was nothing like the nerves she'd been experiencing earlier this evening; those had been more out of fear and dread. Now, she was truly looking forward to sitting down and spending time with someone who wasn't a co-worker. And her co-workers weren't people that she cared to do much with socially... she simply needed their company when she was trying to get her work accomplished. This was entirely different.

She sipped at her tea to calm her nerves, and give herself something to do.

When he returned, he'd taken off the large white apron he'd been wearing earlier, and was simply dressed in black. It reminded her of his old school robes; it really was a disgrace that he wasn't allowed to practice as a Potioneer anymore.

He'd brought another cup with him, and gestured at the teapot. "May I?"

"Of course," she replied, and pushed it towards him. "I'll let you be mother, shall I?"

He poured his tea, added milk but no sugar, then sipped delicately at his cup.

"So," she said, "what exactly did you do to Percy's steak?"

"It was simply a powder to induce vomiting. Much like what is in those Skiving Snackboxes that his brothers sell."

Hermione laughed. "I would have liked very much to see that git suffer from that."

"As would I."

It was just the thing to say to start the conversation between them. From discussing details of her work, Severus' restaurant, and how Percy had sabotaged his attempts to reacquire his Potioneer's license, they both soon lost track of time.

When a waiter came to their table and informed Severus that he was ready to lock the doors, she glanced at her watch. Eleven o'clock. "Oh, I didn't realise it was so late."

Severus rose from his chair. "Stay here," he said simply.

She didn't have to wait long for his return, and when he did he took her arm and helped her to her feet. "Would you mind if I escorted you home?"

"Not at all. Erm... but don't you have to help close everything up?"

"It's being taken care of," he assured her. He helped her put her cloak on and held out an arm for her. "Do you want your flowers?"

Hermione snorted. "No. Keep them. Or toss them," she replied without even looking back at the table as Severus escorted her out of the restaurant and into the alley. Only two thoughts were running through her head as they walked to the Apparition point. First, and most importantly, that she would very much like it if Severus Snape would snog her senseless once they reached her door. And second, she couldn't stop some small part of her mind from wondering if it had, in fact, been Ginny and Draco's plan all along for her to have left the restaurant on the arm of Severus Snape. It seemed like a Slytherin thing to do.

Either way, her redheaded friend would be getting a stern talking to in the morning. No one should ever have to spend an evening in the company of Percy Weasley. Even if the end result was, at least so far, turning out to be surprisingly pleasant.

Despite the disastrous beginnings, Hermione obtained everything that she'd really ever wanted from the evening… even if it wasn't what she had originally intended. She had definitely learned that sometimes deviating from the menu could prove to be the wisest decision.

Who would have thought that running into the greasy-haired bastard could lead to stimulating conversation with an intelligent, self-assured, witty, courteous man who listened to her, wasn't pompous, and understood her addiction to books...?

And even better yet, his kisses were as smooth as vintage Chateau Lafite.