The Midnight Oak - co-written with Warded Portal

"Now according to the Brande book, the last place she witnessed this species was right here in this very grove." Hermione stood looking down over the vale, her hand shielding her eyes from the setting sun.

"Miss Granger, Dorothea Brande was two or more shades madder than Sybill Trelawney." He stood at the side of the car, arms crossed over his chest, looking dubious.

"My name is Hermione, and no she wasn't. She had very detailed drawings and descriptions of the specimen as it sprouted, grew, flowered and died, all in a single night."

"From a single acorn to a full grown oak, in a single night. I always suspected that you were gullible, iHermione/i, but really, this takes the cake."

"We're colleagues now. You may call me by my given name, iSeverus/i."

He grimaced. "If you insist."

"I do." She fixed him with a challenging stare, that softened into something Severus found harder to read. Not affection, but something possessive. "Hand me my bag, please."

He sighed, and reached into the car, pulling out a beaded bag which he offered to her. "Are you sure you have everything you want?" The question seemed to address more than the bag.

"Trust me, I have everything that I need here," she said, holding his gaze for a little longer than necessary. Her eyes searched his face, then flicked away, leaving him uncertain whether she had found what she was looking for.

She rummaged around in the depths of her bag, eventually drawing out a sheaf of papers. She held out one of them to him. "This is the map that she drew. I think it's a starting point at least."

He took the map, eyeing it with the thinly veiled contempt usually reserved for Neville Longbottom's attempts at potions. "And this is the basis of our trip out here. It's not the most detailed map I have ever seen."

"It should be enough for our purposes." She tucked away the rest of the papers, and slung the bag over her shoulder. "A tree that special will be hard to miss, don't you think?"

"I think a 'tree that special' will be especially difficult to find as I do not believe it exists in the first place."

"Are you always so cheerful or have you been saving up especially for me?"

"If you didn't insist on dragging me along on wild goose chases, I'd be much more cheerful. It is not my idea of fun, spending the night in a dark forest, in the middle of the dampest summer for five years. There are much more interesting ways I can think of to spend my nights."

"Well, at least you'll learn not to enter into reckless wagers with people."

Severus scowled to hide his chagrin. "I don't know what you mean."

Hermione didn't smile, but her whole body radiated the kind of smug satisfaction of someone who has won an argument but isn't pushing the issue.

"Well?" said Severus. "Are we going to do this or not?" He headed off into the forest, leaving Hermione to follow behind.

She coughed. "Aren't we going to follow the map? It says we should go that way." She pointed behind her.

He spun on his heel, and stalked past her.

She couldn't help but admire the view as he mounted the hill. He really did have a nice physique for a man his age. Years of stalking the hallways and stairs of Hogwarts had given him strong legs. She speculated that years of whipping his robes around had done wonders for his upper body as well.

They walked for half an hour in companionable silence, the setting sun at their backs. For all their bickering, they worked well together and after spending the last month in the laboratory, secretly they both had been looking forward to this field trip. Severus for a change of scenery, and Hermione for the thrill of the chase.

She was a strange woman, taking such great pleasure from hunting down a mythical species of oak tree. The midnight oak, it was written, had a deep cobalt blue wood. Its leaves and acorns were prized for potions ingredients, and the wood itself supposedly made incredibly versatile wands. The problem was finding it and harvesting in the brief period that it grew, solely on the night of the full moon. The first rays of dawn would incinerate the great tree, leaving behind a pile of ash and a single acorn until the next full moon rose.

"Where do you think is the best place to watch, that hillock over there?" She pointed to a steep tor that rose above the edge of the grove. "She says the first hour or so of growth is quite rapid and easily heard from a distance."

"If this tree existed, that might be a suitable place to stand to look for it."

"Would you care to place a wager on it, if you're so confident about it?"

He cocked an eyebrow at her and sighed, clearly not ready to concede defeat. "What did you have in mind?"

"Well..." She reached into her bag and pulled out a tartan blanket and flipped it open. He took the other side and helped spread it on the ground. "If the tree doesn't make its presence known before morning, I will grant you a boon... And if it idoes/i, you will grant me a boon."

"I thought I was supposed to be giving up reckless wagering." Severus pondered her proposition for a moment. "There are no limits on this boon?" he asked.

"Are you worried about losing?"

"Shouldn't you be?"

"Not really, no," she answered as she sat, cross-legged, on the blanket.

He gave her a cool, assessing look, then smiled slowly. "On your own head be it. Don't say you weren't warned. You should know better than to make open bargains with Slytherins."

"Oh I do." Hermione smiled back, showing rather less teeth than Severus. "That is how you ended up here, if you remember."

He tilted his head to one side and dipped his chin, acknowledging her point if not conceding it.

She tried and failed to suppress a smirk. She fished a thermos out of her bag and waggled it at him. "Tea?"

"Thought you'd never ask."

She filled two cups and then produced a packet of sandwiches. She handed one to him and opened her own, her free hand going to her notes. "It says here that a south facing slope is the most likely, and the presence of a stream or brook..."

"Like that over there." He pointed.

She peered into the growing twilight and nodded, "Yeah, I think so." A moment passed as she looked. "Severus?"

"Hmm?" He closed his eyes, savouring the warmth of the drink.

"Would you...?" She stopped, then took a deep breath, letting it all out in a rush. "Er, have you thought what you might be able to do with some midnight oak?"

"I'd have to believe it existed first," he replied. When he opened his eyes again, he could see her looking into the middle distance, chewing on her lower lip. She looked thoughtful, anxious even, and yet she had seemed so sure about the existence of the oak.

He shrugged mentally. If he ever managed to work out a potion that would allow him to understand women, he'd be able to make a fortune.

Two fortunes, actually. The second one from keeping the formula a secret.

"What did you intend to use it for?" he asked, gently probing to see what she was thinking about.

"I just want to prove it exists," she replied, slanting a glance at him. "Nothing more."

He watched as she poured herself another cup and fumbled with her notes. He continued watching, aware that his scrutiny was having an effect on the colour of her cheeks. He cocked an eyebrow unconsciously. "Knowledge for the sake of knowledge alone can be a satisfying experience, I suppose."

"I have always found it to be so," she replied, her colour deepening. "Very satisfying. Don't you agree?"

"It can be dangerous as well." He sipped the last of his tea and then fished in the pocket of his coat. "I can recall a time when I was merely curious about the Dark Arts, purely for the love of knowledge. That turned out to be a rather treacherous path. Fire whisky?" He produced a flask and offered it to her.

"Thank you." He was impressed when she took a long, hard pull at the flask without whimpering. "You may have a point, though I doubt you were curious for curiosity's sake."

"At first, I was." He gingerly unfolded the paper around his sandwich, careful not to tear it. "I seem to recall an overly enthusiastic young witch, Gryffindor I think, who had a similar thirst. Almost got killed by a troll her very first year at Hogwarts." He studied his sandwich and took a bite, chewing thoughtfully.

"It wasn't curiosity that took me there. Ron had been a pig, as Ron tends to, and I'd gone looking for somewhere private to have a cry. Now, if you're looking for an example to prove your point, you'll have to look elsewhere." She smiled at him, then looked away again, rummaging in her bag to pull out a piece of chocolate cake. Her package wasn't so much wrapped as thrown together, and she pulled it apart with enthusiasm to bite into it.

"Oh right," he scoffed. "Miss Whiskers. Poppy could barely wait to recount that one."

"I didn't know you knew about that." Hermione choked on her cake. "Nevertheless, curiosity didn't kill that particular cat. You'll have to do better."

He smirked, taking a moment to savour her discomfiture. The wind kicked up, setting leaves to dancing across the grass. Severus stowed the thermos cups, and then paused. "Nonetheless, it was an ill-advised foray into the realm of knowledge," he continued, settling back on his elbows to watch the sky, his long legs crossed in front of him. Twilight was rapidly dwindling and across the tops of the trees, he could see the faint glow of the rising moon.

"The other two doses worked," she protested. "There was nothing wrong with the Polyjuice potion; just the hair I chose."

"Indeed. You were lucky."

"I was good. And a bit unlucky."

"You've never really suffered a disastrous failure, have you?"

Hermione shivered. "I've been close enough."

"I suppose you have, but that does not negate my point. You have never had a reason to fear the unknown. What if... What will you do if this tree doesn't exist, hmm?"

"Keep looking for it." She tilted her head on one side, looking at him. "I could have made a mistake in my calculations, Dorothea might have made an error in transcription, we could be here at the wrong phase of the moon. Just because we don't find it at the first go, doesn't mean it isn't there."

"By the terms of your wager, you seem to think you've cracked it." He took the flask back from her and took a pull. "A limitless boon, honestly." He spoke half to himself.

"I have," she said. "And anyway, what are you going to get me to do if I lose? Scrub all your cauldrons for a month?"

"Hardly." He stretched and clasped his hands behind his head, laying back on the blanket, his eyes fixed on the firmament.

"Now I'm intrigued." She twisted towards him, and slipped down a little to lean on one hand, poised above and alongside him. "What do you have in mind?"

He turned to study her just as intently as he'd studied the sky. The breeze was dying, but it still played with the wisps of her hair. "I cannot say," he uttered in his formal school master voice.

She met his gaze squarely, leaning in. "Does that mean you haven't made your mind up, and want to think of something truly horrible, messy and sticky? Or that you won't say?"

He grinned, rolling towards her and propping his head on his hand. The move brought them eye to eye. Later, she would congratulate herself on not flinching away from his laser-like attention.

"I hope you're not regretting the terms of the wager, Miss - Hermione." She inclined her head in acknowledgement. "I would hate to see you - "

Below them, a murder of crows exploded from the forest canopy, taking to the skies in a raucous tumble of noise.

"Well, Professor Snape." She laid a heavy emphasis on his title, almost but not quite mocking. "It looks as if you're the one who should be worried now. Whatever shall I ask of you?"

He was already on his feet, straightening his coat. "I have no doubt it shall be an intriguing request," he drawled, his eyes fixed on the forest, his own curiosity now piqued. "Shall we?"

"Oh, by all means."

They could see where the forest was undulating, like waves on a stormy sea. Something was moving up from beneath, but they could not see what it was. The pale light of the moon washed out the colour from the landscape. It was impossible to tell if what they were seeing was green or blue. Hermione had to run to keep up with his ground-eating stride.

Snape unholstered his wand and made a note of their position. Years of collecting ingredients in the Forbidden Forest had made him more than a little cautious about navigating strange terrain. "Any day, Miss Granger," he called up the slope, pausing to let her catch up.

"Hermione. How difficult is it to remember my first name?" She reached his side, and they covered the last few hundred yards, side by side. "Perhaps I should make that my boon, that you can call me nothing but Hermione."

He glanced at her. "It would mean that much to you that you'd waste a boon on something so... trivial."

"Is it trivial to want to be on first name terms? If it is, why are you so resistant to the idea?"

"Perhaps I wish to call you Miss Granger out of respect?" he said, tone faintly mocking.

"Perhaps I wish to call you Severus out of affection," she returned, her tone matching his. "Perhaps I'd rather have more friendly relations than mere respect."

"Indeed." He surveyed her thoughtfully. "Then you are right. This boon is not a trivial thing."

Their quest ended in what had been a clearing when the sun had risen. Now, there it stood. Tall and proud, reaching for the sky. The midnight oak.

She approached it warily, putting out a shaking hand, and hesitating, fingers hovering just above the bark. "This is what I think it is, yes?" she asked, as the tree continued to gain girth and height slowly, the wood groaning and creaking as it grew.

Severus was not as surprised as he would like to have believed. It was, after all, her research that had brought them here. He was, however, stunned by her response. He would have thought a Gryffindor more prone to gloating.

And never in a million years would he have suspected a Gryffindor could be so beautiful in the moonlight. He was so amazed, even the history belying that sentiment escaped him. All he could do was mutter a simple affirmative, standing back to watch her, hands clasped behind his back.

"Oh, Severus, it's so beautiful." She turned back to him, eyes alight with the excitement of her discovery. "Do you think we can touch it?"

"You're the expert, and would know far more than I would." He gestured for her to go on.

"Yes," she said, talking to herself more than to him. "Yes, I am."

The trunk of the behemoth seemed fairly stable, but far above them, where the cobalt blue leaves were straining to reach the barest flicker of moonlight, the upper branches were thrashing, shouldering aside the competing foliage. A loud crack emanated from the canopy and Severus watched as a thick branch fell. He moved without thinking, catching her up and pressing them both tight against the tree.

She squeaked, then stared up at him, wide eyed. Behind him, the bough came crashing down.

He shrugged. "The branch," he said.

She nodded, still staring at him, eyes darkening. "Yes, thank you." Her voice was husky.

Severus knew he ought to move now that the danger had passed, but she made no move to dislodge him.

"I was thinking," she said in that same sultry voice. "About my boon."

"Strange. So was I," he murmured, bending his head close to hers.

"I was thinking that I might ask for something else. Something other than making you call me Hermione." She tilted her head in a way that would have been coquettish in someone else, but merely seemed curious on her, considering the puzzle of the boon. She moved, slipped her hand between them on his chest, and curled her fingers into his lapels. "What do you think I should ask for?"

His eyes closed and opened in a languid blink, irises darkening noticeably even in shadow. She felt his hand come to rest on her hip. "I cannot say," he said. The corner of his mouth quirked upwards in the ghost of a smile.

She matched his smile, slow and secretive. "Does that mean that I might have been better not finding the oak?"

He laughed under his breath. "But you did find it." He shifted against her deliberately, his mouth speaking just beside her ear. "And my boon is yours to ask."

She shivered at the sound of his voice. "You, then."

"Mm," he pulled back a touch, clearly bemused as he looked her in the eye. "You'll have to be more specific than that."

"Does that mean you want a running commentary, or would it be sufficient to ask you to fuck me hard against the tree?" she asked, turning from peevish to sultry in a breath.

He huffed in surprise, but caught himself. "Is that all?" He paused for a moment, as if deciding where to begin, and then bent to brush his lips over hers in a tantalizingly brief kiss. His hands caught her wrists and drew them together around his neck. "Pity."

And then he was kissing her, a tentative buss at first, and then another, filled with hunger. She felt the lave of his tongue, hot across her lower lip. A whispered spell and she felt herself grow light as he lifted her from the ground. "Why pity?" She grabbed at his shoulders, fingers digging into the wool of his jacket as she steadied herself. "I can't think of anything I want more than that right now."

His hands moved down her torso, urging her legs around his hips before disappearing beneath the folds of her robes. He raised the hem until she felt the cool night air against her skin. "Pretty little Gryffindor," he whispered, kissing her throat as his clever hands made quick work of her knickers. "I would have asked for the right to make you come any time I wanted."

"Oh fuck," she said, her head falling back against the trunk. "You should have said something. I'd have said yes. Bugger this tree."

He laughed then, a dark, heady sound that vibrated in her chest. "I shall grant your boon, Hermione." He spoke her name deliberately as his fingertips delved between her thighs. He hissed to find her slick and hot, and made no pretence of waiting or easing his way along, but simply aligned his long middle finger and pressed in and up until she was gasping aloud. "Yes, just like that." She was vaguely aware of his free hand fumbling with his own robes. "And then we'll document your find. And afterwards, you shall have to find another wager to lose, I suppose."

"Or you could lose."

"Ah," he breathed, intent on his exploration, gentle but firm as his long fingers stroked in her. With his other hand, he undid the front of her robes and cupped her breast through her bra. He bent to steal another kiss, this one almost savage. "Theoretically," he droned, tweaking her nipple and her clit in concert, "I already have."

"Oh fuck," she said again, with a wholly different tone of voice. "How so?" He watched as she tugged a button free on his own robes, and slid a hand inside, palm pressed against his flesh. His heart hammered beneath her palm.

"How quickly you forget. Our wager. Your boon. My virtue. This tree." He punctuated each phrase with a thrust and withdrawal of his penetrating fingers.

"Your virtue seems safe enough," she gasped, tilting her hips towards him. "Because I'm not precisely getting my boon am I? Not precisely as requested."

"Rush, rush, rush," he teased, even as he ceased his torment. The tree groaned and shifted behind them, sinking her into a shallow curve in the trunk. He echoed the sound unconsciously, pulling back to look between them just long enough to line himself up. Then she felt the hot kiss of his prick against her, felt him press and retreat. The touch of his hand was nothing compared to this.

She could only make strangled noises of appreciation as he moved slowly back and forth, too slowly for her taste. Words hadn't managed to persuade him to move quicker, so she resorted to action, pulling his head down to kiss him. He opened his mouth to her easily, letting her slide her tongue between his lips. She clutched at him, shifting her hands round his rib cage, scoring her fingers across his flesh.

He hissed, and moved faster, finding the rhythm of her as she rose to meet him. She was delightfully responsive, her cries informing him nicely of her ascension. Oh but to make it last just a little longer, he bent and kissed the top of her shoulder, hitching her knees even higher around his waist. He slowed his pace, deepening his stroke, thrusting hard into her welcoming body. "Hermione," he breathed, hanging onto his pleasure by a silver thread, waiting for her to set him free.

Her fingers tightened again, her legs squeezing him close and hard. She went taut beneath him, gasping out his name in one last convulsive release. His sigh dissolved into a growl and he increased his pace, short and sharp, almost frantic thrusts before his pace stuttered. And then he was thrusting deep and hard, his body pressing her tight against the tree. She could hear him holding his breath until the last possible second, letting it out in a ragged groan.

"Mmm, that was nice," she said into his shoulder.

"Nice!" he gasped, and she giggled at the outrage in his voice. "I'll give you bloody nice."

"I wish you would."

She felt him throb within her, still half hard. He made no move to withdraw. "Remember what you asked for," he growled. Severus brought his right hand to his lips and whispered a charm. A warm flickering gold light appeared on his fingertips and he passed it in front of her eyes a few times before lowering his hand between them. He leaned in to capture her mouth, catching the gasp from her lips as he touched her pearl. It felt like a flickering tongue, warm and wet, but tinged with the buzz of an infuriated bee hive, and he'd affixed it to her clit with a single word.

"Oh, I will." She smirked, briefly, then her mouth fell open in a wordless moan.

And then he began to move again, more slowly this time, his hand coming up to fist in her hair and draw her head back, exposing her throat to his teeth and his tongue. The magic continued to flicker across her clit as he shifted to and fro, never building to any cadence but hovering on the edge of something, something she wanted desperately.

"You'll have to beg for more," he said, voice harsh against her throat. His touch grew fierce, dare she think, possessive, as he took her with long, smooth strokes. She felt him grow hard again, harder than before if that was possible. "Tell me, how does this please you, hmm?"

For a brief moment she thought of asking if that was all he had, but prudence, and the overwhelming urge to come, stopped her. "It pleases me," she gasped. "Oh god, more, please."

"Ah, so soon?" he purred, keeping his pace steady. He did something with his fingertips and the charm divided, the wicked heat of it capturing the bud of her clit between invisible lips. It began to pulse in time with his strokes. "The first time went so quickly. Make this one last, Hermione." She could hear the tremor in his own voice, and knew that her motions were enflaming him as well.

It excited her more than anything to know that she was affecting him, to hear his voice change, to see his eyes turn dark and slumbrous, and to feel the strength in his hands as he held her close. She wanted it to last too, though this ache was almost painful, for when it ended, they would part, and she didn't want to let him go.

She moaned again, and he increased his pace, urged on almost against his will. He kissed her again, both hands grasping her face. He held her there, pinned, and she felt the shift. The charm became a tingling buzz all through out her pelvic cradle and he brought his strength to bear. "Like this?" he growled, truly granting the boon she had requested.

"Oh god yes," she said, her voice ringing out through the forest, not caring if anyone heard her. "Just like that."

"Yes, just like that." His hands descended to her hips, gripping her fiercely. A delicious andante pace, driving her up until she could no longer think, just dissolve into the white hot blaze of pleasure. He continued stroking, through her orgasm to the other side, before letting himself go. She felt him surge, felt him tremble, felt the wire taut control snap and release the storm. She would have bruises on her backside, but she didn't think she'd care much in the morning.

"I trust I have satisfied the terms of our agreement," Severus said, his attempt at a cool tone undermined by his heaving breath.

She held onto him, gripping his shoulders, refusing to let him move away. When she could breathe again, she managed, "It's a good start, I confess."

"Your enthusiasm is overwhelming. Or is that intended for provocation, my dear?"

She didn't want to argue anymore. Instead, she settled for pulling him back down to a tender kiss, asking with her lips and her hands what her pride would not allow her to ask with her words.

They kissed slowly. Severus took the time to taste her, savouring every mouthful as if he were afraid that this would be his last chance.

"It occurs to me," he said, when he eventually lifted his head, "that your hard usage of me may have caused some injury to my back." He kissed her again, gently. "I have some unguent in my quarters that would help if applied in the next hour or so. As you are responsible for the hurt, and the spot is difficult to reach, I think you should offer to help apply it." Another kiss, lingering.

It took a moment for her to return to her senses, but she did, eventually. "Seeing as the terms of my boon were 'You', I think it is my responsibility to see you tended to. Severus." She let him help her back to the ground. His hands adjusted her robes while hers adjusted his, each unwilling to break contact with the other. A thought flitted across her awareness. "What about the tree?"

"It will still be here next full moon, won't it?"

"I suppose."

"And it would be sensible for us to do more research into the uses of the Oak before returning to harvest some, don't you think?"

She nodded. "Yes, we should."

"Then we are in agreement."

"We are." She slipped her hand into his, and her heart near jumped out of her chest when he took it and tucked it beneath his arm. She leaned against him as they walked back up the hill, the light of the full moon flooding the glen, bright enough to read by. "My hard usage of you, hmm? We'll just have to see about that."

"Oh yes, we will," he said, and his tone was dark with promise. "We will indeed."

Hermione grinned. Let him have his illusions. At some point she would casually drop into the conversation about the first time she'd seen the Midnight Oak.

Last month.