All the usual disclaimer statements apply here.
Huge thanks to my beta, Melusin.
Chapter 6: Bribery.
The goblin guards bid Snape and Hermione a cheery goodnight and the security desk spat Hermione's wand back out as soon as Snape presented it with her ticket. He ran a hand through his hair and shut his eyes for a moment as he passed the wand over to Hermione. She could have sworn he was nervous.
"We can Disapparate from here," he said.
Hermione tucked her wand away in her sleeve, eagerly took Snape's hand and very nearly laughed out loud when they appeared outside her bathroom door. Snape folded his arms, leaned against the wall behind him and swore quietly into the darkness. Hermione reached behind her and pulled the cord for the bathroom light, illuminating Snape's face while hers remained in shadow.
"Why?" she enquired sternly.
"Why, what?" replied Snape evasively.
"Why are you even willing to talk to me, let alone prepared to track me down and persuade Hammerkop to offer me a job?"
Snape uncrossed his arms, shucked his cuffs and smoothed his tie. Hermione watched in fascination as his hand ran down from his neck, over his chest and back again. Eventually, he cleared his throat and declared petulantly, "You snuffled! You looked pathetic!! I honestly think that if I'd ever had the ability to curl up on the carpet like a disgruntled puppy and weep into my genuinely fluffy hair, we'd be living in a very different world. Don't ever do that again; I don't like it!"
Hermione stored this extremely telling piece of information away for future reference. She was female, after all.
"Have I sunk beneath reproach?" she enquired, a trifle cockily.
"Absolutely," said Snape. "Welcome to the bottom of the pit."
"Is there any way of climbing out?"
Snape's petulant frown vanished. It was replaced by a speculative glance through his lashes that made Hermione want to cuddle him.
"The sides are slippery. You'd need somebody else to give you a leg-up, and that would require the payment of a bribe."
"What sort of bribe?"
"Somebody once told me that that's something you need to work out for yourself."
With studied nonchalance, Hermione paced down the corridor towards her sitting room, flicking light switches as she went. Snape followed, watching her intently. She threw Hammerkop's scroll onto the coffee table and rounded on him suddenly.
"Well … You've made an effort to get on with my mum and dad."
"Yes. Although, I might not be in their good books anymore."
"I Apparated in their kitchen on Saturday evening, told them we'd had a row, and proceeded to run around the house shouting your name. We have some serious explaining to do."
Hermione clapped her hands over her eyes and began to mutter to herself.
"Not a moment's peace …. Nothing less than marriage …. Thank God, I'll be away a lot!"
"I beg your pardon?"
She peered through her fingers at Snape and made an effort to pull herself together.
"Don't worry about Mum and Dad. I'll handle them. You liked doing the crossword with me?"
"You gave me chocolate on Valentine's Day."
"And raffle tickets."
"But I didn't win anything."
"That's a valid point. I thought you might disapprove if I fixed things to make sure that you won."
"Oh! So you tried to be fair, too."
"Indeed I did. It was a struggle, I can tell you."
"And you apologised for scaring me half to death."
"For behaving in an unintentionally insensitive manner, yes."
"You cooked me sausages."
"With onion gravy."
"And ketchup," Hermione purred reminiscently. "You're wearing a nice suit, and I think your tie is lovely. Is there anything else I need to take into account?"
"Barring helping you to do your job, shielding you from the wrath of the goblins for the second time in your adult life, trusting you with the biggest secret in the wizarding world, setting you onto an interesting career path and listening to you not apologise for the entire evening, I think that's about it."
"The second time?"
"Your ability with the Defodio hex has become the stuff of goblin nightmares."
"Good grief! It sounds like a big bribe is required."
"An enormous bribe. It could take years to pay it off."
Although things were beginning to sound very interesting indeed, Hermione felt that further negotiation was necessary before she came to a decision on how to proceed.
"Why were you so nice to me, Severus?"
Snape took a step forwards.
"Why do you think?"
"Because …. Because you were lonely?"
"Because you don't meet very many witches in your line of work?"
"Closer, but not close enough."
Hermione lifted her chin.
"Because you don't meet very many younger witches in your line of work?"
"Stop trying to be modest, Hermione. You're hopeless at it. You also seem to be absolutely diabolical at apologies."
Rather than argue the point, she hastened over to Snape and gazed up at him beseechingly, so he could check her sincerity if he wanted to.
"Severus, I'm very, very sorry. I was insensitive, unfair to you and unprincipled. All I want is to be able to make it up to you. Perhaps you should keep an eye on me, as well as the goblins, to make sure I'm never that stupid again."
Snape reached out a gratifyingly shaky index finger and twirled a tendril of hair that had escaped Hermione's ponytail around it.
"Perhaps you aren't as bad at apologising as I thought," he said gruffly. "To answer your question; I don't meet very many younger, pretty witches, who respond to the knowledge of my existence by exchanging banter, rather than avoiding me like the plague. In fact, I haven't met any for a very, very long time."
Snape continued to fiddle with her hair and raised his other hand to touch her cheek.
"Hermione, I was nice to you because I fancy you. And because one good look into your ridiculously transparent eyes indicates that the feeling may well be mutual."
"Oh! You cheeky bugger! That's not very fair—"
"—Darling, try not to interrupt. We haven't settled on the required bribe, yet. I agree that keeping a close eye on you sounds like a good idea. Not least because it might be another thirty-odd years before I meet somebody else who makes me feel this way."
Eager to begin making reparations, Hermione launched herself at Snape. He grunted with surprise and struggled for a moment to extract his index finger from its keratinous binding before shutting his eyes and tentatively kissing Hermione back. As she had predicted, large amounts of excitement and lust were, indeed, generated. Undignified, tandem staggering occurred. Snape banged his shin on the coffee table and collapsed onto the sofa with a yelp. Dragged by her hair, Hermione followed, her knees missing Snape's testicles by the merest whisper before conveniently ending up on either side of his thighs. Their mouths met again, and for a very long period of time, the silence was broken only by the groan of sofa springs, the static rustle of a polyester jumper against a thirteen ounce wool jacket, and the unmistakeable sound of enthusiastic snogging.
"Oh, my word!" Snape eventually panted against Hermione's throat.
In reply, she undid his tie, gleefully slid it out from under his shirt collar and looped it around her own neck before popping his top two buttons open and diving in to investigate.
"Hermione …. Oh! That's nice. Hermione?"
"Can you kneel up for a second? I need to move a bit."
Hermione knelt. Snape held her waist, shifted his hips awkwardly until he was no longer painfully dressed to the left, and accidently tilted her forward until his nose disappeared between her breasts. He jerked her back and stared up, pink-cheeked and embarrassed.
"I'm sorry! I didn't mean to—"
"Don't you dare apologise," Hermione murmured, settling herself back down and wiggling appreciatively. "I'll just dispose of these, shall I?"
She laid Snape's silk tie over the arm of the sofa and then began to pull her jumper and vest over her head at the same time.
"Steady on!" gasped Snape.
"Isn't this rather sudden?"
Hermione's heart and lungs seemed to contract simultaneously at the thought that Snape was about to turn her down. She frowned at him and deliberately wiggled her bottom.
"The words coming out of your mouth don't appear to match the bit of you that is at least trying to come out of your trousers."
"I know. Ah! Stay still, you minx! You're making this extremely difficult. I just don't want you to assume that you have to …"
Hermione finished wrestling her way out of her vest and jumper and threw them behind her. Snape's increasingly glazed eyes devoured every goose-pimple, and his fingers moved entirely of their own accord as he valiantly attempted to listen to the nervous babble coming from the object of his affection.
"I was hoping rather than assuming. I've had one parasite of a boyfriend, followed by twelve deeply unsatisfying one-night stands. At this moment in time, I'm sober as a judge, but I'm fairly sure I'll need your assistance to stand up! I'm not very clean, and I'm terrified I might disappoint you, but to be frank I've really got the horn, and at thirty years old, I'd rather start learning how to enjoy myself, and what you enjoy, sooner, rather than later. Is that okay?"
Snape blinked at her incredulously before he began to smile.
"Of course it's bloody well okay! It's just that this is all, um, far easier than I was expecting. Don't you want to look through the report we've written first? Play hard to get for a few weeks?"
Hermione shrugged. "Let me guess. You decided to say that wizarding households display a high degree of self-sufficiency, that working hours are short and that salaries are therefore much lower than their Muggle equivalent. You haven't mentioned the existence of the goblins, and you haven't mentioned gold. There is a load of boring stuff about controlling inflation that I don't give a monkey's about, and you're going to engineer a chance meeting with Bob Daniels, with some eye-contact, to make sure that he's convinced."
"Oh, for goodness sake. It took us three days to come up with that!"
"I didn't have much to do while I was camping, and I thought you might have asked Bill Weasley to help – his family are an ideal model. The Legilimency part of it has only just occurred to me. Severus, I'm obviously not going to play hard to get. Why don't you tell me about all the difficulties you were expecting while we have a nice hot shower? It's a bit cold sitting here in just my bra."
"That much is wonderfully apparent."
"I feel I should warn you that I'm not … I don't often … I haven't …. Did you say twelve?"
Ah. She'd clearly given a little too much information.
"I also said, 'unsatisfying one-night stands'. It sounds like we've both got some catching up to do. I think we've stumbled across a suitably enormous bribe that could take years to pay."
As Snape's blush began to resemble the setting sun in wintertime, Hermione smiled back at him with relief. At least they'd be learning together. After several reassuring kisses and absolutely no staying still, she scrambled up off his lap and tottered unsteadily towards the bathroom, beckoning imperiously. Snape cast his eyes up to the ceiling and counted to three. Then he hauled himself up off the sofa, removed his jacket, carefully draped it next to his tie, and followed.
It would be remiss of me not to say that the drabble 'Virgin on the Ridiculous' by Melusin didn't have something of an influence on this chapter.
Harrietvane provided two lovely prompts on which this story is based. They were:
a. Some time after the war, having realised the limited professional opportunities available in the wizarding world, Hermione gets a job as the magical adviser to the Muggle Prime Minister, who no longer trusts the Ministry of Magic to keep him abreast of any developing issues. She somehow – in the course of her professional duties or even on the bus or Tube home – runs into Snape, and curiosity gets the better of her.
b. Hermione's mother, in the style of Bridget Jones's Diary, is starting to nag her 30-something daughter into finding a man and settling down. At a gathering of some kind (perhaps a turkey curry buffet?), she meets Snape, who her mother has chosen as her victim for the day. How he came to be invited is entirely up to the author, mostly because it's the hard part. Romance ensues according to whatever plot the author feels like taking.