See Chapter One for disclaimer

TWOOFCUPSSPUCFOOWT

Chapter Ten: Two of Cups

TWOOFCUPSSPUCFOOWT

Gravel crunched under his feet as he Apparated to the end of the Malfoys' drive. The grounds were silent, and the front of the house was bathed in rose-colored morning light. The only signs of the previous night's revelry were deep ruts in the lawn where hurried carriages had gone off the drive, presumably to get their occupants away as quickly as possible.

As he approached, he was pleasantly surprised to see Lucius, Narcissa, and Draco having breakfast on the terrace on the east side of the house. Lucius gave him a wave and beckoned him to join them.

"Severus," said Lucius with a tired smile. "Welcome back. I believe this is yours?"

Severus gratefully accepted his wand and a cup of oddly-colored tea that Draco handed him. He was amused to see that their breakfast consisted only of very simple fare, since their servants were no longer about.

"I'm glad to see you all well."

"As well as can be expected," said Narcissa with sigh, gesturing at a copy of the Morning Prophet: Special Edition that lay face-down on the table. "I suppose you haven't seen the papers?"

"I do not plan to read them for several weeks."

"I don't see why not," said Lucius, "when you had the temerity to upstage our scandal."

"It really did have everything," commented Draco. "Violence, costumes, rebellion, ancient magic, pureblooded excess, and orangutans. Everyone loves orangutans."

"But you had to do the one thing that could relegate the whole matter to below the fold on the front page," said Narcissa. "You broke up the second most beloved couple in Britain."

"I had nothing to do with the actual breaking," protested Severus. "And when the facts start coming out, everyone will understand that they're both the same scandal, and your names will be in the headlines again."

"But it's not the same," protested Lucius in a tone that would have been called a whine in someone less well bred.

"It's hardly a loss," said Severus, discreetly dumping the awful tea into a nearby plant. "Nobody was injured seriously enough to warrant a lawsuit, and you'll have the reputation for throwing the best parties in the country."

"I suppose we can always emphasize the fact that you were in hiding at the Manor in our follow-up interview," said Narcissa thoughtfully.

Severus nearly sprayed his hosts with Tandoori chicken. "You've already spoken with the press?"

"Naturally," said Narcissa. "They took some wonderful pictures of the ruined ballroom. Of course, they'd have looked far more shocking if they hadn't been reduced to make room for pictures of you in flagrante delicto with Weasley's wife."

"I only kissed her, and she wasn't even married at the time," protested Severus. "There's nothing at all scandalous about a single man kissing an unmarried woman."

"As if the facts make any difference in a sex scandal," scoffed Lucius.

"The truth will emerge," said Severus stonily, "and once that happens, everyone's attention will return to the far more enduring and politically significant scandal: yours."

All three Malfoys emitted sounds of disgust.

"Politically significant?" said Lucius with a sneer. "The whole point of a useful scandal is that it contains nothing substantial. The moment it becomes anything more than that, one is in danger of becoming a symbol, and that has absolutely no social advantage whatsoever."

Severus sat back in his seat, smirking. "It could make a family on the very edge of respectability one that society looks up to."

"Society places heroes on pedestals only to give them further to fall," said Lucius.

"Just ask Granger and Weasley," said Draco with a shrug. "Not that I'm ungrateful, mind. I won't have to hear her moan about her awful husband anymore, at least not until you do the right thing by her."

"We're perfectly content to exist as names on the social pages," said Narcissa. "Those are the sorts of headlines that don't negatively affect our business interests and international partners."

"And yet you've managed to become embroiled in Hermione Granger's pet cause," said Severus.

"That, old friend, is where you come in," said Lucius with a predatory smile.

"Since you ungenerously deprived us the pleasure of presenting you to the wizarding world, the least you can do is do your utmost to divert the world's attention from her involvement with the house-elves," said Narcissa.

"And instead focus their attention on her involvement with me?" asked Severus, scowling.

"It needn't be anything sordid," said Lucius. "Merely suggestive. Such as allowing yourself to be photographed in a lingerie or jewelry shop."

"Or having a row with Weasley in public," added Draco hopefully.

"Absolutely not."

"We're not asking you to do anything you weren't already planning to do to court her, Severus," amended Narcissa hastily. "We're simply asking that you temporarily do away with your characteristic shroud of paranoia and secrecy."

Severus glowered at his friends and was about to reject their proposal when a thought occurred to him. Hermione had promised the elves to break them out of Azkaban if they were given absurd sentences. If their trial turned out not to be the enormous breakthrough for elf rights that Hermione anticipated, perhaps it would be wise to have a distraction in reserve.

"I'm going to bed," he said, brushing naan crumbs from the table and rising.

"You won't hear a peep from us," said Lucius. "We're leaving for our chateau in France after breakfast until the Manor has been repaired."

"Of course," said Severus grumpily. He let himself in through the French doors and stopped short.

He turned back to the family, who were still on the terrace.

"You did say you were planning on staying in France until the house has been repaired?"

"Yes," said Lucius. "As you can see, the house is quite uninhabitable."

"I think you had better see this," said Severus, gesturing into the house.

Frowning, Lucius followed him, and Draco and Narcissa came shortly after.

They stood in the French doors and stared.

The ballroom lay before them in the early morning light as spotless as it had ever been. The parquet floor was polished to a mirror shine, the pale blue walls were pristine, and there wasn't so much as a piece of lint on the velvet upholstery. Even the flower arrangements had been refreshed.

The Malfoys walked through their restored home in shocked silence.

A wonderful smell drifted to Severus's nose, and he knew what he would find in the dining room before he reached the door.

The buffet table along the side of the room was filled with an enormous breakfast - eggs, bacon, kippers, sausages, kidneys, ham, plates of tomatoes and baked beans, a mountain of toast, oatcakes, buns, honey, marmalade, and every conceivable sort of jam. Silver urns filled with hot tea steamed at the end of the buffet.

Lucius let out a little cry and began loading his plate with slightly more gusto than decorum allowed. The rest of them followed suit, even Severus, who enjoyed samosas as much as the next Englishman. They were no match for proper breakfast. They ate in silence, savoring every bite as if it were to be their last.

When they had pushed their plates aside and topped off their cups with the fragrant, perfectly brewed tea, Lucius cleared his throat. "While I am not in the habit of looking gift dragons in the mouth, I confess to being somewhat perplexed."

"I should think it would be obvious to you, dear," said Narcissa. She gestured at the newspaper she'd brought from the terrace. "A number of the elves involved in last night's insurrection were coerced. Taddy and Mimsy have returned to us."

"Not Mimsy," came a soft voice from the corner of the room.

Taddy had appeared silently in the corner. He wore a blue tunic and looked weary to the bone.

"Mimsy has gone, but Taddy is returning to master and mistress," he said, bowing low.

"Marvelous," said Narcissa, with a radiant smile. "We will have Mrs. Travers sew you a new uniform."

"Thank you, mistress," said Taddy, "but Taddy would rather remain free."

Lucius snorted. "Absurd. People in our position cannot afford retainers that we can't trust unconditionally."

"With due respect, master, you has never ordered Taddy to keep the family's secrets, yet Taddy has kept master's and mistress's confidences. You has never had to punish Taddy for disobedience, and Taddy learns from his mistakes. Taddy is a good elf and will always be a good elf if you is accepting his service."

"You'll be wanting payment and weekends off, I suppose?" sighed Narcissa.

"Taddy will be happy with what you feel is fair for his service, and Taddy will request a day off at least a week in advance."

Severus frowned at the elf. "Why on earth would you want to stay? Lucius and Narcissa are hardly known for their devotion to elvish welfare."

"Taddy sees it as a good situation for all. Taddy is getting a better situation with an old family, and Master and Mistress is getting a good servant who is happy to show the world that not all elves is like Dobby and his followers. Taddy is also confident that he will be compensated accordingly."

"It might be a wise move," said Draco, while the others mulled over the elf's words. "It would take some of the political weight out of the scandal if it were known that you employed a free elf."

Severus also suspected that having the Malfoy's home restored by elf magic could soften the Wizengamot's grudge against the rebellious elves, but he knew better than to mention this to the Malfoys.

"Ten galleons a month," said Lucius, with a look of grudging admiration at the elf.

Taddy bowed low, which did not entirely hide his toothy grin. "Master is most generous. Taddy will return to his duties now." He disappeared with a soft pop.

"Why do I get the impression that I've just been taken advantage of?" asked Lucius.

"Because he was banking on our ignorance of what other elves are paid," said Narcissa.

"Chin up, Lucius," said Severus, smirking. "You're now part of a grand tradition of clever servants and their foolish masters. Perhaps they'll even write an opera about you."

"I suppose I might make up for the monetary loss by charging long-term lodgers rent," said Lucius.

"It would hardly be the way to secure my assistance in making a distraction of my romance with Miss Granger," replied Severus smugly.

"And speaking of which," said Draco, rising, "I thought I might stop by to see Hermione, since Louise won't be expecting me for hours. Did the healers give any indication when she'll be released?"

"She was sleeping when I left her not long ago. The delivery did not seem to inflict any serious injury on mother or child," said Severus.

"They usually give new mothers the option of staying another day," said Narcissa. "In her case, they might try to get her and the media who are no doubt camped in the lobby out of the hospital as soon as possible."

"I'll be there when she wakes. Shall I let her know where to find you?" he asked Severus in innocent tones.

"Precisely how do you expect to get in?" asked Severus. "They'll have locked her up more tightly than their supply of Dreamless Sleep."

"I do work for Magical Law Enforcement, and she is my supervisor" said Draco smugly. "Not to mention the fact that I'm terribly good-looking."

"You should have Taddy fix her a plate of something," said Narcissa. "St. Mungo's, while competent in the healing arts, is not known for the flavor of its nourishing cuisine."

"I'll arrange to have flowers sent," said Lucius.

Draco shook his father's hand and kissed his mother on the cheek. "Thank you both. I'll see you next week."

Severus barely managed not to spit out his tea. After Draco was out of earshot, he rounded on his friends. "What are you playing at?" demanded Severus. "Why the solicitude toward Miss Granger?"

"Are we not allowed to congratulate our son's supervisor on the birth of her son?" asked Lucius innocently.

"Or on her good sense not to return to her moronic husband?" added Narcissa.

"Bollocks," said Severus. "You've all but ordered me to pursue her- which, I'll have you know, I decided to do long before you mentioned it to me- you've bought into her cause at the price of ten Galleons a month, and now you're plying her with flowers and delicacies. All of this points to an ulterior motive."

"It's no secret," said Lucius, "unless you're still too wrapped up in last night's mystery to recall what was about to happen when you discovered something was amiss."

This time, Severus did spit out his tea. "You cannot be serious."

"Why not?" asked Narcissa. "The girl's not unattractive- you obviously think well of her."

"But in the light of day without foreign parts to guide you, how can you possibly think it appropriate?"

"Oh, how sweet," exclaimed Lucius, clasping his hands in delight. "Severus is being protective!"

"You mean selfish," said Narcissa, not unkindly. "It does make sense that you'd like the opportunity to make an impression with the girl before allowing us to share."

"I-" began Severus, outraged.

"We'll say no more on the subject," said Narcissa, pressing her finger against Severus's lips.

"At least, not until you both approach us," finished Lucius, clapping him warmly on the shoulder.

"But I do hope you'll bring her to dinner next Saturday," said Narcissa. "We have a scandal to spin to our advantage, and her presence will make things much easier."

"For all love, the woman just gave birth last night!" said Severus, finding his voice at last.

"Then you'd better ask her soon, otherwise her schedule will be filled with family visits. It's important that a new mother take some time for herself," said Narcissa.

"This entire conversation is absurd," said Severus, dabbing the corners of his mouth. "What time on Saturday?"

"Hors d'oeuvres at six, dinner at seven," said Lucius with a smile. "We promise to be on our best behavior."

"That's what concerns me."

"We promise not to invite her upstairs," said Narcissa. "Though we're unlikely to say no if she expresses interest."

"Draco and Louise will also be invited," added Lucius, "as added assurance of decent conduct."

"I have business to attend to on Monday. If that business is resolved satisfactorily and if I am able to speak with Miss Granger, I may consider inviting her."

"Thank you, Severus," said Narcissa, kissing him fondly on the cheek.

"I'm going to bed," grumbled Severus, closing the dining room door behind him.

Lucius raised his teacup to his wife. "To a wildly successful evening."

"The first of many, many more," she replied, touching the rim of her cup to his.

She laid her hand atop his and gave it a small squeeze. They both winced as their injured hands throbbed, scabbed and chapped as they were from the house-elves' revenge.

"Though perhaps the next several evenings will include bowls of Murtlap essence," suggested Lucius ruefully.

TWOOFCUPSSPUCFOOWT

Severus was beginning to fear for the carpet. It was a novel experience, to be sure, both having a carpet nice enough to worry about and seeing Hermione nervous enough to pace. Severus couldn't quite bring himself to bark at her for it.

After months of receiving escaped and newly-freed house-elves, both legal and otherwise, Spinner's End was virtually unrecognizable from the dilapidated wreck it had been. No elf seemed able to leave it without making some sort of improvement, from reupholstering the furniture to expanding into the abandoned houses next door. Now the old place was nearly fit for polite company. In fact, Severus could no longer in good conscience refuse the Malfoys' unsubtle requests be invited to supper, which was, he suspected, the reason for Hermione's nervousness.

It was either that or the fact that the children were with their father and Luna for the week. This resulted more frequently than not in Rose or Hugo sustaining an unserious but horrid-looking injury just before their return to Hermione's new flat in London.

Severus marveled at the rather singular woman who was now wearing an ovoid track in his carpet and decided to take pity on her. He rose from the char from which he had observed her and handed her a glass of wine and kissed her cheek.

"You needn't worry. The food has been meticulously prepared, the house is spotless, and you look beautiful."

Hermione sighed and smoothed out the fabric of her gown, claret-colored charmeuse, with a row of tiny buttons up her back. "That's not what's making me nervous."

"We invited them to dinner Hermione, not into our bedroom."

Hermione gave him a look. "Do you really think they they're no longer interested?"

"I couldn't say," said Severus, not wishing to pressure her by informing her of the Malfoys' relentless hinting, but, but also not wishing to leave Hermione unprepared.

Fortunately, Hermione was clever enough to read between the lines. "I thought as much." She sighed and resumed pacing. "I feel like I'm showing up for the exam of a course I haven't attended. I don't understand how you can be so calm."

"Worrying isn't going to make my performance tonight any better," he said, wrapping his arms around her waist. "Quite the contrary for most men, I'm told."

"It's all right for you," she said, leaning her head against his chest. "You've been friends with them for years. I'm the one who's facing the Inquisition tonight."

"Such dire metaphors," he said drily, dropping a kiss on her head. "Please be assured, my dear, you have nothing to be concerned about. The Lucius and Narcissa with whom you will be dining this evening will be very different from the Lucius and Narcissa you met at the ball. They will be warm, charming, and witty, and I will be much surprised if you do not invite them upstairs yourself."

"I will never understand them," she said with a sigh.

Severus kissed her forehead fondly. "One doesn't need to understand how a piano works to enjoy the sound it makes."

She sighed contentedly. "You know that I don't need the Malfoys to be happy. I'd be perfectly fine with this for rest of my life."

"You're easily pleased," he said with amusement in his voice.

"I didn't mean just kissing," she said, giving him a half scowl. "I meant it being just the two of us."

"I know that, dear one. I hope you know that the same is true of me."

"Then why exactly are the Malfoys coming tonight? Other than that they invited themselves. It's not that I'm not intrigued by what they've suggested, but part of me is curious why two people who are happy with one another would want to be with anyone else."

"I'm hardly an expert on such things," said Severus, "but I have known Lucius and Narcissa for a number of years, and a better-matched pair I can't envision. I discovered that they invited others to participate in their connubial bliss not long after they married, and it shocked me. I said some rather ungenerous things to Lucius at the time, but he only laughed, saying that I'd understand if I ever found a partner worthy of me."

"Well, do you understand now?"

"Presumptuous," said Severus, smirking.

"Don't be coy," she said. "Both of us are too old for that to be charming."

"Speak for yourself," he said running his hand across the warm silk on her hip. "What I suspect he meant has everything to do with the fact that both of us know we would be perfectly content with the other exclusively."

Hermione's eyes widened. "He meant that we should be more than content."

Severus cupped her cheek in his hand. "Excellent deduction, Miss Granger. I believe his phrase for it was 'ecstatically exhausted.'"

Hermione brushed a kiss against the edge of his palm. "The words of a great poet spring to mind."

He gave a long-suffering sigh, which was made much less dramatic when he tenderly tucked a stray curl behind her ear. "Must you quote?"

"Oh yes," said Hermione, brightly. "Unless you prefer my highly sentimental interpretation, which is that Lucius Malfoy believes it impossible that a person should recognize deep love unless he feels it himself."

"Sentimental, indeed," sniffed Severus.

"I could remind you that it is rash to condemn where you are ignorant," said Hermione in the lofty tones of an orator.

"I could remind you that it is plagiarism not to declare the source of one's quotes," he retorted. "Are those Plato's thoughts on ignorance?"

"Seneca's," she said with a mischievous grin.

"With due respect to Seneca, both his words and your interpretation are irrelevant," said Severus, sitting down in a wing chair. "What Lucius was saying is that once you are with a partner whose happiness you value higher than your own, your own petty jealousies begin to pale beside your desire to please your partner in new and exciting ways."

Hermione thought on this for a moment and balanced herself on the arm of his chair. "It's an attractive argument, but aren't you afraid that I might run off with Lucius?"

Severus raised his eyebrows. "I can't imagine you being tolerant of his spending more time on his hair than you do on paperwork on any given workday, no more than I would be able to tolerate Narcissa's poniard tongue for any considerable period of time."

"Very well," said Hermione, sliding saucily over the arm of the chair and into his lap. "But this all has been very discursive when you might have simply allowed me my quotation."

"All right," said Severus, not sure whether he was succumbing to her argument or to her lips, which were pressing soft kisses against his jugular.

Before he realized what was happening, she was straddling him in the chair, her arms wrapped tightly around his neck, kissing every inch of exposed flesh.

"And in the end," she said, taking his earlobe in her mouth, "the love you take is equal to the love you make. Lennon and McCartney." She punctuated her words with hot, firm kisses that went directly from his earlobe to his groin.

He closed his eyes and lay his head back, struggling to keep his arousal in check, at least until after their guests arrived. However, when Hermione's hot mouth descended upon his, all conscious thought evaporated in a searing meeting of lips and tongues. He hardly registered the reading lamp shaking precariously as the chair jostled the side table next to the chair. All that mattered was getting her soft, warm flesh against his.

It was easier than he had anticipated, and he raised an eyebrow at her.

"No knickers?"

"I didn't have time to pick up anything new or fancy. I trust you find the choice acceptable?"

Severus let his erection twitch its approval.

She gave him a smile that was pure mischief as she unbuttoned his shirt, robe, and trousers. "They'll be here any minute, you know," she said, extricating herself from the chair to pull his trousers down below the seat of the chair and placing a leisurely kiss on his glans, which was straining through the thin fabric of his underwear.

"I'm well aware of that," he said, his breathless voice belying his scathing tone.

She turned around and began unfastening her dress's tiny buttons. "They might even be watching us, planning their attack."

"Again, the melodramatic metaphors," exclaimed Severus, undoing the last of the buttons and nibbling the top of her shoulder and her neck. "Perhaps you would be looking forward to this more if you thought of things in more pleasant, approachable terms."

Hermione was nearly cross-eyed with arousal by the time he released her, but she had a mischievous sparkle in her eyes when she turned to face him. "What would you suggest? Picking daisies in the sunshine?"

Severus snorted as he imagined Lucius and Narcissa doing just that. "Think of this as a game of cards," he said, slipping her dress over her head and obligingly raised arms.

They seized one another in a heady kiss, hot flesh against flesh, their tongues teasing one another's lips, until one or the other remembered to breathe.

"Cards?" said Hermione, gasping as he began sucking hard on her neck. "Are there to be fifty-two of us? I should think that would be too many, even for Lucius and Narcissa."

He pulled her tightly against him, and his arousal pressed demandingly into her. "There will be four players tonight."

She couldn't resist taking one of his small brown nipples into her mouth and ghosting her teeth over it until it turned pink and stiff. When she released him, he held her tightly against his chest.

"A game of Hearts?" she asked, listening to his beating wildly beneath his ribcage.

"Whist," he whispered, unfastening her brassiere and kissing her breastbone. Gently, reverently, he lifted her breasts and planted soft kisses around the smooth white flesh, eventually laving the nipples softly with his tongue.

Hermione gasped loudly and began tugging inefficiently on the waistband of his underpants. "Right, whist," she said, kneeling before him as she caught her breath. She reached up with trembling hands and pulled down his deep blue briefs. "What kind of whist?"

"As you please."

Hermione smiled up at him and ran her tongue along the shaft of his erection. "I never learned any of them well," she admitted, tracing an identical line along the other side of his penis. "If I recall correctly, the game starts with bidding for trumps. I'm not quite sure how that applies to a ménage à quatre."

"Simple," said Severus, attempting to keep his voice even as her hot little mouth closed over the tip of his cock and she began doing maddening things with her tongue. "Even before play begins, the rules of the game and the roles of each participant must be determined."

Hermione kissed the raised edge of his glans. "It sounds like a civilized game."

"Malfoys do not play Exploding Snap," he said, shifting his hips closer to the edge of the seat. "Whist appeals to Slytherin sensibilities in that the early stages require close attention to your partner and the other players and subtle communication."

She blew gently across his moist flesh, which made him shiver. "I'm not likely to be much good at it, then."

"You give yourself too little credit," he croaked.

Hermione wrapped her hand around the base of his shaft and gave him a squeeze. "Please continue."

Severus gestured for her to do the same, which she did with a charmingly insolent toss of her head.

"Then the play begins," whispered Severus, his eyes rolling back as Hermione began to suck rhythmically on his cock. "If you play hearts, you know the rest."

She paused to stroke her fist down his slick length and cupped his scrotum gently with her free hand. "Lead with your strong suit."

"Yes," he hissed, falling against the back of the chair.

She took his full length into her mouth and suckled him gently for a few moments before releasing him. "Then, you take all the tricks you possibly can?"

He managed to tut at her without groaning. "Remember your partner, whose strong suits you know." He gestured for her to stand, and she obliged him He extended a finger to stroke the neatly-trimmed curls that covered her pudenda. "For example, if I perceive that you previously indicated that you were desirous of having hearts as the trump suit, I would be obliged to alter my play accordingly."

He parted her lips gently with his fingers and inhaled deeply, which sent a thrum of anticipation through her. She stepped closer and widened her stance to give him better access, and his tongue darted between her folds, brushing the sensitive bundle of nerves he had uncovered.

She inhaled sharply as a fierce jolt of pleasure ran through her.

Encouraged by her response, Severus thrust the blade of his tongue deeper into her cleft and drew it upwards, which drew a soft moan from Hermione. His lapped eagerly at her, his tongue was hot and strong as he licked a circuit between her opening and her clitoris.

A wildfire was spreading through Hermione's body, flaring with every movement of Severus's tongue. She was breathing hard, and she felt a delicious pressure coiling deeply within her. When Severus paused to catch his breath, she pushed him gently back in his chair, climbed up, and straddled him.

"This has been most informative," she said, with a heroic attempt at nonchalance. "That leaves me with only the question of how the winner is determined." She settled down atop him, trapping his erection between them.

"Merlin's Merrywidow," growled Severus, "it's only a metaphor, woman."

Her laughter rang in his ears as he threw his arms around her and pressed her tightly against him, cupping her buttocks in his hands and maneuvering her hot center closer to his straining cock.

"Severus!" she whispered as the blunt tip of his penis brushed her opening. The light touch sent a rush of arousal through her that was so intense she could hardly breathe. She adjusted herself slightly and met his eyes. She held his gaze as she slowly slid down upon him, reveling in the way his pupils, hardly discernable from the dark irises that surrounded them, widened as he filled her.

When her pelvis finally rested against his, his penis fully sheathed inside her, she allowed her eyes to flutter shut and fully experience being filled with Severus Snape's cock. Her insides felt content and full, and the sensitive edges of her opening tingled from the heat of his body. It was a glorious feeling, and she knew that it was only the beginning.

Her body twitched suddenly at the thought, and both of them gasped. An obscenity fell from Severus's lips, and he began to rock gently beneath her, breathing raggedly as he attempted to hold himself in check.

Hermione began to move her hips along with his gentle thrusts. Her insides were pulsing gently with her heartbeat, and she found herself incapable of finishing a sentence as her speech was truncated by the rising and falling of Severus's glorious cock. She had previously thought that he fit her perfectly, but as his arousal grew, so did her feeling of fullness and the glorious friction it caused deep within her.

She leaned forward to kiss his forehead, which put her breasts at his mouth level.

He looked into her face, seeking permission, which she granted by cupping her breasts and leaning forward towards him. He slowed his rocking to plant a kiss on her breastbone and then kiss a line to her darkened aureole. He took one of her nipples between his lips and sucked gently, coaxing a few drops of milk from her breast before he released it from his mouth.

It felt as if Severus had ignited every nerve in her upper body, and Hermione let out a guttural groan. She ran her fingernails lightly along his sides, inhaled the musk of his arousal and ran her teeth lightly along his neck. His pulse was racing, and she pressed her lips to it, sucking gently.

Severus's rasping breaths grew more frequent, and his rocking was becoming more punctuated with uncontrollable thrusts. He seized her hips and pulled her forward, and her sensitive areas came in sudden contact with the base of his penis.

Hermione gasped loudly as an intense jolt of pleasure shot through her body. "Oh God, Severus, what- you- oh GOD don't stop!"

She darted in to kiss him between thrusts and ran her mouth and fingers over every bit of his flesh she could reach, tasting, rubbing, nibbling and stroking. He followed suit, occasionally slipping his hand between them to tweak or rub her clitoris between thrusts and pressing his mouth against her hot skin.

They were both panting and beads of sweat stood out on Severus's forehead. He wrapped his arms around her waist and began thrusting upwards into her with all his strength. Hermione's eyes fluttered shut and she met him thrust for thrust as her arousal coiled more and more tightly in her abdomen.

Suddenly, her breath caught in her throat and her awareness focused to a tiny point between her legs. She inhaled raggedly in a moment of curious suspension, and then her consciousness exploded into an earth-shattering climax that made her shout.

Severus had never heard such a sound from her throat- he'd heard whimpers and groans, giggles and gasps, but the triumphant roar of his lover in the midst of an intense climax was more than enough to push him over the edge.

His hip flexors jerked upwards as her muscles seized him and pulsed hard around him. She continued uttering joyous noises, and his ecstatic cry soon joined hers as he emptied himself inside her in a rush that felt as though it would never end.

When their respective climaxes finally subsided to gentle throbbing, Hermione collapsed bonelessly on top of him, draping her arms over his shoulders and leaning her head against his.

"I think," she said, still slightly out of breath, "that we both won just now."

He gave her a soft smile. "Then I'm afraid we're destined to be partners."

She kissed him tenderly, caressing his lower lip with hers. "There are worse fates," she said with a wry smile.

There was a loud knock at the door.

"Such as being caught underdressed at a dinner party," said Severus with a grimace.

Hermione leapt to her feet and swore as drops of their shared climax ran down her legs.

Severus vanished the mess with a flick of his wand and fastened his trousers.

Hermione was struggling to fasten the buttons on her back. "Blast these buttons!" she growled. "Severus, would you help me?"

He unfastened the several buttons she'd fastened askew and redid them properly. "You're quite presentable," he said. "I'm happy to let them in and serve wine if you'd like some time to compose yourself."

Hermione smoothed her curls back from her face, which was flushed so becomingly that Severus couldn't resist claiming another kiss.

"I'm fine," she said. "Besides, dinner's ready to serve."

"Really?" he asked, cocking an eyebrow at her.

Her grin was like the sun. "I think I've had another paradigm shift. Or perhaps it was your metaphor that did it."

"Very well," he said, taking her hand and leading her towards the door. "Let the game begin."

THE END

AUTHOR'S NOTES:

The prompt Sabrebabe gave me is as follows: a Halloween Bash or other costumed Ball. At midnight, when all should be revealed, instead, all the costumes become real. Anyone dressed as a werewolf becomes a werewolf, etc. Time is frozen at midnight and no one can leave the building. Severus and Hermione (as whatever they've become) are the detectives in this mystery. Can be a comedy or something much spookier. Happy ending, please.

Winsquifflers, Gnoolies, and information on antiques forgery are courtersy Roald Dahl (the BFG, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, and Parson's Pleasure, respectively). References to orangutans derive from Edgar Allan Poe's Hop Frog, in which a jester arranges a spectacular revenge upon his sovereign. Thanks for my mother for helping me with French. The title comes from Alexander Pope's "Eloisa to Abelard." All other quotations are properly acknowledged. Thanks to Italo Calvino whose "Castle of Crossed Destinies" inspired my use of the Tarot in structuring this story. Bigger thanks are due to Mr. 42, my beta reader, whose sharp eyes and pen improved this story more than words can tell. Enormous thanks are also due to the administrators and moderators of the exchange, whose patience I stretched to the utmost. Thank you, wonderful ladies!