Disclaimer: Anything you recognize belongs to the goddess. Yes, I am still working on "Price of Redemption" but I wrote this because I could not get it out of my head. With many thanks to my loyal readers who rock mightily. Just a fun little one-shot - just in time for Valentine's Day. Dedicated to my husband, who always dresses up as a Potions Master for Halloween. Yes, I am spoiled rotten.

The Answer

Severus Snape stared at the small box sitting on his desk with a fair degree of trepidation. It was wrapped in non-descript parchment and tied with raffia…at least, that's what he thought it might be. He had a sneaking suspicion it had been purloined from the tea towel of a house elf.

The manner of its delivery was not surprising (he never paid attention to delivery owls because it was so rare for him to receive correspondence of any sort…even a howler now and then from Potter would not have been amiss. No, it was the sender that had unnerved him and had him staring at the package as if it would, at any moment, explode.

He knew that it was Valentine's Day, of course. It was the holiday he loathed the most (he'd already been asked by at least a dozen students about brewing love potions) and, between the singing dwarves and the heart-shaped fireworks in the Great Hall, he'd been ill prepared to receive a gift…particularly one from her.

Of course, she had done it on purpose. She knew full well that he would not buy a gift for such a frivolous occasion. She had giggled, in that infuriatingly beautiful way, that she had never been able to find a Valentine's Day card with the picture of a bat on it.

Sheer impertinence.

And he quite loved her for it.

Bloody hell…he seemed to be saying that a lot. Had he lost all sense of pride?

But why the gift?

They had already agreed to meet for dinner.

What was this all about?

"It won't bite, you know," a teasing voice made him look up and acknowledge the woman sitting comfortably in a chair on the other side of his desk.

His…girlfriend? That sounded horribly juvenile. Lover? Paramour? Those terms sometimes did not have positive implications. Beloved? Well, he wasn't a Hufflepuff.

Severus realized that he really didn't know how to categorize Hermione Granger.

"Can I be certain of that?" he asked, picking up the box and staring at it intently.

"Not really," she giggled when he looked up at her.

"It would appear, then, that caution is most appropriate," he returned to staring at the box, trying to divine what was hidden inside.

"Legilemens only works on people…the box isn't going to reveal any secrets," Hermione tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear. "Your only option is to open it."

"I could always blast it," Severus looked at her with a raised eyebrow.

She didn't miss a beat. "Perhaps. But I wouldn't recommend it."

"Why not?"

Hermione idly picked a bit of lint from her robe. "Because then you will never know what was inside it…and that would drive you mad."

"I would sleep most soundly, I assure you," he muttered, looking at the box again. "At least it isn't covered with blinking red hearts or singing some horrid love song off-key and off-tempo."

"I am nothing if not sympathetic to your misanthropic leanings. Besides, you will find something inside the package that you have wanted for some time."

Severus fixed her with an incredulous look.

"But, if you are intent on blasting it, you should probably do it now before your next class can come in and smell the smoke,' she pointed out.

Without a word, Severus took hold of a loose end of the raffia and untied the haphazard bow. He was startled that the parchment wrapping simply vanished.

Hermione simply grinned…although, he was surprised to notice, she was somewhat nervous and biting her lower lip.

When he took a closer look at the box, he realized that it looked familiar…far too familiar. It was made of holly and carved with a variety of runes (good fortune, wealth, good health, etc.). It didn't lock and wasn't hinged…one simply removed the lid that sat on top to reveal what was inside.

"Hermione?" he looked up at her, suddenly feeling rather shaky and hating that she had such a visceral effect on him.

"Just open it," she replied…her expression carefully neutral.

Taking a deep breath, he did just that…and blinked in surprise.

It was empty.

Well, almost. There was a folded piece of parchment lying at the bottom. He took it out carefully and, after setting the box down on his desk, he unfolded it to reveal a single word, written in a decidedly feminine hand in black ink.


He looked up again at Hermione, who now seemed suspiciously close to crying.

"Yes?" he asked, cursing the fact that his voice was so choked. He was a damned Slytherin, wasn't he? Was he always to be reduced to a blubbering idiot around this woman?

She gestured to her left hand which, until this time, was carefully concealed in a pocket. Now, it was lying in her lap and sparkled in a way it never had before.

His ring…the ring that had accompanied his request to marry her…was shining on her finger.

"Yes," she smiled.

He put the parchment down, stood up and walked over to where she sat. He took her hand and pulled her gently to a standing position.

"Are you absolutely certain?"

She placed her hands on his shoulders and, standing on tip-toe, kissed him so that his heart was left racing and his mind was painfully aware that he had to teach in little more than five minutes.

"Does that answer your question?" she finally asked, her cheeks tinged with pink.

Still holding her close, Severus looked at Hermione and caressed her cheek. Leaning down, he whispered in her ear…

"Not quite, Hermione."

"I rather like the sound of that."