When Hermione Granger decided to return to Hogwarts to start an apprenticeship with Severus Snape, only one of her school friends had supported her, and that was Harry Potter. This might seem to be an odd thing, given Harry's personal history with the Potions Master. But of all the changes that had happened after the war, the biggest change was Harry Potter's opinion of Severus Snape.
On the night that Hermione had invited Harry to her flat, they had enjoyed two plates of chicken curry, courtesy of the Taj Mahal take-away just around the corner, and two bottles of cheap white wine. The wine wasn't important, because the spices in the madras tainted everything they put into their mouths after the first mouthful. More importantly, they had talked long into the night about the prospects of Hermione spending five more years under the tutelage of the hardest taskmaster in her chosen field.
The positive aspects were obvious. Severus Snape was unrivalled in Potion Making, and Hermione could learn his exacting methods and absorb his knowledge. Then there was the kudos attached to working with such a highly respected member of the Potion-making community, which would certainly pay dividends in the future. In addition, Severus was an exalted war hero who had received many accolades on top of his Order of Merlin, First Class. These were the pluses, and they could only help Hermione to further her own career.
The negatives still existed, however. Severus was still stubborn and bad-tempered, and the fact that Hermione was still friends with Harry hadn't improved his opinion of her. In fact, at her interview it had been the first question he had asked.
'Do you remain in contact with Mr Potter?' he had sneered.
'Forgive me, Professor, but does that have a bearing on the outcome of the interview?' she had answered, as calmly as she could.
He had glared at her, but chosen not to answer. Hermione had been relieved that her insolence had not adversely affected the outcome either, and she had been ecstatic that he had offered her the apprenticeship, despite her misgivings.
On the curry night, Hermione and Harry had agreed that beneath the mean façade and all of the bluster and billowing robes, Severus Snape was fundamentally a good man. And so she had agreed to become his apprentice.
However, the one thing that neither Harry nor Hermione had considered was that Severus Snape was male, in a very real sense of the word. He exuded maleness from his pores, and his sexuality dripped from each syllable as he directed and instructed Hermione in her tasks.
'Chop diagonally, Miss Granger,' he would insinuate slowly, 'and stir clock wise, obviously.'
His voice was enough to make the most hormonal teenager drop her knickers and beg to be taken in the Potions classroom, and in normal circumstances Hermione would not have been so affected. However, Hermione Granger was a late bloomer where her hormones were concerned, and they had decided to come out and dance shortly after her apprenticeship started. The longer Hermione worked alongside Severus Snape, the more aware of him she became.
Although Hermione was twenty-one years old when she started her apprenticeship, she felt like she was back at school. Severus treated her like a student. His directions were to be followed to the letter, and they were not to be questioned when they were perfectly straightforward. She was not to contaminate her work area, and her hair was to be under control at all times. It was clear that Severus Snape was in control of his lab, and Hermione was grateful for his instruction. She accepted everything he had demanded of her with polite submission to his authority, and a quiet determination not to let herself down.
During the school holiday, they had cleaned out the Potions store next to his classroom. The searing summer heat had made Hermione feel almost faint, and with Severus's agreement she had removed her usual Hogwarts robes in order to stay cool in the small workspace, prompting him to do the same. There was no window, and no air, and Hermione had wilted. Severus had insisted on climbing the ladder to the top shelves. He had been afraid she might drop something. After three trips up and down, he had paused. Sweat was glistening on his upper lip, and he removed his jacket. Hermione watched, mesmerised, as his long fingers unfastened every last button. As he shrugged his jacket from his lithe frame, Hermione noticed his taut, muscular shoulders, and as he turned to hang his jacket on a hook behind the door, she bit her lip to stifle a gasp. His shirt had clung to his back with sweat, and the translucent fabric caused the welt marks and other ragged scars to shine through vividly. Unaware of this, Severus rolled up his shirtsleeves, and Hermione's eyes drifted to the now faded Dark Mark on his forearm, before flicking back to the scars on his back.
Hermione fought to reconcile her quiet, intelligent and very diligent Potions Master with the evidence of his former life, and as she continued to stare, her eyes scanned the rest of his body. His shirt was tucked neatly into the waistband of his black trousers. The black fabric clung closely to the top of his firm buttocks, then softened at the top of his obviously muscular thighs. His shape was usually hidden beneath his voluminous robes, and Hermione found herself captivated by him.
As Severus turned to climb the ladder, Hermione quickly averted her gaze, but not before he had registered her appraisal. He noted the change in the rate of her breathing, her enlarged pupils, and her tongue as it ran over her bottom lip. He paused to look at her for a moment, his face expressionless, and then set off, back up the ladder.
It had taken them three weeks to carry out a full stock take, in addition to the cleaning and replenishing of ingredients, and the change to the normal routine had brought about a shift in their working relationship. They stopped calling each other by their formal titles, and became Hermione and Severus. He became less bothered by her need for knowledge and started to encourage her questions, and they both found they were enjoying each other's company immensely.
But Hermione was finding Severus distracting. Even when they weren't talking, she was aware of him, and his presence in the room made her tingle all over at times. More and more often she found herself drawn to staring at him as she was brewing, and sometimes when she raised her gaze to him, he was already looking at her. There were times when their eyes would meet for a heartbeat, until one of them looked away. And the more aware of Severus she became, the more Hermione lost the power of normal speech. Severus would say her name in his deep, smooth voice, caressing her ears, and she would have to consciously engage her brain to loosen her tongue, in order to respond appropriately.
When the Yule Ball came around, Hermione consciously dressed for Severus. Her hair hung loose around her bare shoulders, and her dress was a sheath of Slytherin-green silk. It had been expected that they would dance together, and Hermione held her breath throughout as he held her hand tightly in his, and felt his other hand on the small of her back. The dance had been over before it had really begun, but Hermione had committed each moment to memory. During the Christmas break, at home with her parents, she would allow herself to be pulled back into the memory time and time again. However, by the time Hermione returned to her post in the New Year, she was so besotted she had lost the ability to speak to him altogether.
They hadn't been in each other's company for almost a fortnight, and as Hermione opened the door to the lab, she saw him, standing almost as she had left him, with his eyes focussed intently on a steaming cauldron. He had his back to her, and was dressed in just his shirt and trousers, as there were no classes to teach that day. Tearing her eyes from his derriere, Hermione busied herself. She smiled at him and nodded hello, before lifting her parchments and commencing her tasks for the day.
Severus smiled at her and enquired about her holiday, thanked her for her Christmas gift and then went into his private quarters for a cup of tea. Hermione was relieved. She had lost the ability to string a coherent sentence together. All she had been able to do was nod and smile like an imbecile.
And so it continued throughout the day, until Hermione felt that the atmosphere was so charged, she was trembling. She could hardly breathe when he entered the room, and each time she looked at him, she imagined his lips on her mouth, and she couldn't stop herself from undressing him with her eyes. And then he spoke to her, and her mouth dropped open and her eyes widened as she registered what he had said.
'Hermione, you are going to give yourself Cardiac Arrest if you do not stop fantasising about me. Now, you can either kiss me, or leave for the day. You will achieve nothing otherwise,' Severus quirked his lip in a small smile.
Hermione dropped the long-handled ladle she had been using to stir her potion, and stared as Severus walked towards her. Her eyes were fixed on his mouth, and her knuckles were white as she gripped the edge of the workbench. Soon, Severus was standing so close to her; she could see his nipples through his shirt, and the shadow of dark hair on his chest.
Severus took her hand in his and stroked the palm with his thumb gently. Hermione shuddered and took a long breath as she looked into his dark, shining eyes.
'Which will it be, Hermione?' he said softly, and his gaze penetrated her as they stood so close to each other.
'Kiss,' she whispered hoarsley, and her heart started to beat loudly in her ears.
'Thank the Gods,' he murmured, and then lowered his mouth to hers.