A/N: It's been too long! And I'm sorry. Happy New Year to everyone.
It was half an hour after he had originally arrived in the room and Minerva was still knitting.
Severus eyed the tartan monstrosity emerging from between her swift fingers and wondered – not for the first time – where all of these unholy creations ended up. He was willing to bet she had an entire trunk full of the things somewhere in her quarters. A plethora of plaid. A sentient snarl of Scottish string.
Severus took a large gulp of scalding tea before his mind could further consider the matter. He really hoped he was imagining that her latest masterpiece was purring.
After all, the confounded thing was now over five feet long and tubular. Severus was mesmerized despite himself. What could possibly need so much wool? Or indeed be that particular shape? If that's for the Basilisk's younger brother, I shall hand my notice in to Albus immediately. I swear I shall.
Severus was not looking forward to this staff meeting. Not only were there the normal annoyances of the Hogwarts staff, there were also the members of the Order security bulking out their numbers. The werewolf had already tried to corner Severus with conversation twice and had only stopped once Severus had sequestered himself in the darkest corner and cast a Notice-Me-Not charm.
Oh no, he'd found him again.
"Go away, Lupin." Severus tightened his robe around him and glared at a nearby cobweb as if that would help the creature disappear. Who knows, maybe it would grow large and engulf the werewolf in a net of sticky spider's thread and proceed to slowly suffocate him. Severus felt his lips tick into a gleeful smirk.
Lupin, unsurprisingly, ignored his hopeful fantasies, as did the cobweb. It had more important things to worry about.
"Harry's been telling me how you're getting on so much better with Hermione now. Good, good. That's good."
He smiled inanely and Severus had to suppress the instinct to strangle him with his tie.
"Was there a point to this, Lupin?"
"You have to know I have the utmost trust in you, Severus, when it comes to matters of the Order." The supposedly kind smile looked strange on his face. "It takes such courage to constantly return to You-Know-Who's presence and not balk at your task. Remarkable. However, in regards to friendships... I have possibly less faith."
"Were you implying something? Or merely making small-talk? If the latter is the case, kindly remove yourself to someone who actually gives a damn."
Lupin leaned closer and his vague smile suddenly became sharp-edged. "I do hope you're being kind, Severus. If I find out you're playing some cruel joke on Hermione, that would be... most unfortunate. We wouldn't want to be caught in a disagreement over how you treat Harry's friends, now, would we?"
Severus' heart suddenly starting hammering against his ribs as he realised how close to the full moon it was in the month. The wolf peering out of Lupin's eyes at him, sizing him up, judging its prey and finding it wanting.
Lupin nodded as if Severus had silently agreed, which maybe he had. After all, a werewolf wearing human skin could still smell fear. "I do doubt that your sudden kinship with her is genuine. There are several years of animosity and many incidents which point to the contrary. If I find out this is some kind of plan you have thought up to hurt her or Harry, I will have something to say on the matter. And you might not find that I am as forgiving as you seem to think. They are the closest thing to family I have now. You might hate me, Severus, but you also fear me, and I am not above using that against you to keep your relationship with Hermione on a strictly professional level."
Severus tried to lean away, but his back was already pressing into cold stone and he found himself unable to move. His ears were ringing and every instinct screamed at him to flee from the predator he had been frightened of since he was sixteen.
The ringing in his ears faded and he felt his spine straighten almost without his consent.
How dare he? How dare he imply he has control over me or my intentions?
"How dare you threaten me, Lupin?" he spat. And somewhere deep within, a young, terrified Severus Snape started frantically questioning what on earth he thought he was doing. Severus firmly shut his younger self up before continuing. "How dare you presume to know what I do and why I do it?"
This time, it was Lupin who had rocked back on his heels, surprise blooming on his face. While his human side was used to being denied and demeaned, it was probably quite a shock for the wolf to be so openly challenged.
Severus pressed his advantage, exhilaration building in his chest as he went for the jugular. "You know nothing about me," he hissed, "nor do you have the right to learn it. I shall choose my own company and there is nothing which you, or your dearly departed friends, can do about it."
He put his hand in the centre of Lupin's chest and pushed him away. Many pairs of eyes watched his progress as he strode across the silent room. Well, let them look, he was planning to savour his victory with a well-earned scotch.
He met Albus at the door.
"Excuse me, Headmaster," he murmured silkily. "I am afraid, due to unavoidable circumstances, I shall have to cut this meeting short. I assume you shall inform me of proceedings?"
Albus waved him on, a bemused expression flirting with his bushy eyebrows. "Why, of course, dear boy."
Severus continued down the corridor like a cat which had been caught in an unfortunate rain shower, unable to put his finger on quite why he was so angry.
Behind him, you could have heard a pin - or a knitting needle - drop in the Staff Room. At least, until the Headmaster cleared his throat and clapped his hands. "Well, then," he called, smiling warmly, "let's get this meeting to order. Minerva, dear, you can put that away now; he's gone."
Minerva looked up from her knitting and smirked. With a quick wave of her wand, its outward appearance changed back into the student essays she'd been marking all along. After all, if you couldn't have fun winding up your co-workers, what could you do?
Later on that night, shortly before curfew, there was a soft knock on Severus' classroom door.
The door quailed sheepishly under his look of irritation.
"Who is it?" he snapped.
Hermione popped her head in and grinned. "Only me. Tell me; what on earth did you do to poor Professor Lupin?"
Severus rolled his eyes. "Poor Professor Lupin, my arse!"
They both froze and stared at each other for a prolonged moment after he let the curse slip out. Then Hermione smiled, stepping in and shutting the door behind her. "Is there anything more you'd like to say on the matter?"
Severus threw down his quill in disgust. "Not particularly. I'd like to forget the whole sorry business along with the meddling wolf."
"He seemed quite contrite afterwards, if that's any help."
"'Contrite' is not much comfort after he blatantly threatened me in a room full of my co-workers!" His sense of the dramatic was still refreshingly intact.
Hermione's eyes widened. "He did what? He didn't mention that." Her features took on a decidedly stormy look and she whirled to face the door as if to go straight off and give Lupin a piece of her mind.
"Leave it, Miss Granger. I can fight my own battles."
She sighed and walked back to the front of the room. When she was close enough, she propped her hip against his desk. "I refuse to believe that you have to fight all your battles alone, you stubborn man. You might be able to, but you shouldn't always have to." She broke eye contact and studied the essays piled in front of him, her arms folding over her chest. When she next spoke, it was in a lowered tone. "He said you implied we were... close. I wanted to thank you for that. And to return the favour."
Severus sighed and settled back into his chair, studying her more fully and wondering if he was brave enough to address what had been hovering between them for a while. "You have reached the age of majority in the Wizarding World, Miss Granger. For all intents and purposes, you are a young woman able to make decisions of your own free will. But…" He made certain to look her in the eyes as he continued. "But… you are still a student at a school where I am a Professor, and, more importantly, you are specifically a student of my classes. My personal opinions on the matter mean nothing as long as these facts remain."
At first she had seemed surprised by the change of subject, but now she nodded slowly. "I… I believe I understand, Professor."
She was still standing over him, and he had tip his head back to catch her eye. From his vulnerable position, her smile looked like the kindest he had ever seen. Severus found himself unable to look away.
Abruptly he caught himself and cleared his throat. "Was there something significant you came to blether about, or are you just here to pester me?"
She smiled sweetly, a hint of wickedness caught behind her teeth, and the moment was broken. "Of course not, Professor. It's what I live for day to day."
He rolled his eyes and resisted the childish urge to stick his tongue out. "Surely that's Potter's job by now. Your friend may not appreciate you stealing his title of 'Bane of My Existence'."
"Oh no!" She shrugged. "He's far too busy with plans for killing You-Know-Who with a salad dressing to mind that too much."
"I sincerely hope you're joking, Miss Granger."
Her eyes went 'innocently' wide. "Ron and I aren't entirely sure, sir."
Severus bit his tongue to keep from snickering. The mental image of the Dark Lord's shock at suddenly being covered in balsamic vinegar was almost too powerful to resist.
Hermione grinned at him again, all cheek and confidence, and the moment was back, more powerful than before, and all Severus could think was, By Merlin... I want to kiss her.
Hermione could read between the lines just as well as anyone other person, if not better. Somewhere along the lines, the easy banter between them had evolved into... this. And now her heart was trying to beat its way out of her chest.
His face was seemed very, very close.
She might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb.
And it was so easy in the end to lean in and press her lips gently to his in a closed-mouth kiss.
She felt him lean towards her, but he did nothing more to further the kiss. No need really; a wonderful tingling had spread from her lips throughout her body within seconds and she felt quite drunk with how happy she felt in that moment.
She pulled away after a few short seconds, and smiled.
There was a slight curl at the corner of his mouth too, but it was his eyes which really gave away his wonder.
"It was my belief that we agreed not to act upon anything only mere moments ago," he remarked. His voice was probably a little more breathless than he had intended it to be. "You appear to be making a habit of kissing me, Miss Granger."
Hermione's grin widened; she just could not stop! "Oh, I don't see this as 'acting upon anything' per se. More... sealing a deal. Signing a contract. And besides, you started it all in the Hospital Wing."
His eyes kept dropping down from her gaze to focus on her lips in the most distracting way. "As you wish, Miss Granger."
"Call me Hermione. Just this once."
"As you wish... Hermione." He turned away and glared at the desk. "I feel like such an old, lecherous fool."
"Never that, Severus." She caught his chin and dropped a brief kiss on his cheek. "I'm thinking of this more as a declaration of intent. A request to begin courting each other... though not until the end of the summer term."
He smirked at her, some of his acerbic humour returning. "Now who is the romantic fool?"
Realising she was still touching his chin, she quickly dropped her hand and stepped back, mock-offended. "Well, now, is that any way to speak to your beau, Professor?"
He raised his eyebrows. "You are no such thing. Such ideas, Miss Granger." His tone was as dry as the Sahara.
"How rude." She fought back the impulse to stick her tongue out at him. "Well, if that's the way you feel, I shall simply have to take my marvellous presence elsewhere." Never mind the fact that I just want to give in and kiss that smirk off your face again and again. In fact, forget studying all together; making out with the Professor is the way forward! She stopped that train of thought in its tracks and mentally scoffed, Stupid bint, behave yourself!
"I'm still waiting for your grand exit, Miss Granger."
"Fine! I shall oblige you, Professor Snape."
She waltzed towards the door, only to jump out of her skin as it opened right in front of her.
The Headmaster twinkled kindly from his spot on the stoop. "Not interrupting anything, am I?"
Hermione felt herself going beet red (which must have clashed horribly with her hair). "Er- um- no, Headmaster, not at all."
Snape snapped from behind her, "For the love of God, Albus, go away!"
Hermione took advantage of the old man's temporary distraction and proceeded to use him as a roundabout, giving way to the right.
She was up in the Entrance Hall before either man realised what had happened. She huffed a deep breath, smoothed her hair down, and noticed Harry standing in front of the broom cupboard, looking rather forlorn.
He folded his arms and shot a nervous glance at the cupboard door, which had just begun to smoke. "Don't ask, Hermione. It's not worth the mental trauma."
She sighed. "If this is about Professor S Junior, don't you think you ought to get him out of the cupboard before he catches fire?"
Harry yelped and quickly cast an Aguamenti under the door. There was a sharp hissing sound and some muffled swearing in response. Harry dragged a weary hand through his hair and sighed. "He wanted to know how frying pans worked. And then he kidnapped it. And Arnold. And then locked himself in there with Ron's wand. I think he's going through the terrible twos, Hermione."
Hermione raised her eyebrows. "If I help you get out of this mess, will you agree to politely ignore the fact that I may just have agreed to date the original at the end of the school year?"
Harry raised his hands to the ceiling. "Hermione, if you help me out with this, I will handwrite the invitations to the wedding."
"What about the bunting?"
"Don't push your luck! Wait until Ron hears about this..."
"Oh, yes... You're right - he is much better at Wingardium Leviosa."
Albus looked positively delighted. "So I was interrupting something!"
Severus slammed his hands down onto the wooden top of his desk. "No!"
"Are you sure?"
"So, something was happening?"
"Yes! Wait... I mean no!"
"Ah, I was interrupting!"
"Go away, you senile, old mad-man!"
Albus' silvered eyebrows beetled into a frown... which was somewhat ruined by the fact his mouth was still in a Cheshire Cat grin. "That is no way to speak to your employer, Severus."
"Really, your face is not the most effective weapon to destroy your desk with."
"Why do I put up with you again?"
Albus walked to the front of the classroom, sat down, and opened a packet of jelly-beans. "Because I'm your best friend, Severus. You have to; it's in the small print."
Severus massaged his forehead and sighed. "This really says more about my sanity than I prefer to readily admit. Why are you here?"
"Well, I suppose you could say I am here because I am checking on your wellbeing, Severus. You did make a rather abrupt exit from our staff meeting today."
"I am aware."
Albus raised his eyebrows and waited.
Severus sighed again; he seemed to be doing a lot of that lately. "I disagreed with Lupin's summary of events and proceeded to tell him so. I then foresaw no reason to remain in his general vicinity. So I left."
"And so it all becomes clear, my boy! Except to those of us for which it isn't." The old man munched on his jelly-beans with an expectant expression.
Severus fumed silently for a moment. "He said something about Hermione."
"Which you did not like?"
"Ah." There was more munching.
Severus stood up, walked over, and stole the bag of sweets with a roll of his eyes. "No sweets in the Potions classroom. Especially of the Muggle variety." He then proceeded to sneak a red one into his mouth. It was a childhood weakness, OK? "Lupin may have threatened me because he believed my association with Hermione was due to cruel designs."
"I see. Would you like me to have a quick word with him?"
Severus remembered Albus' 'quick word' with him - when he had turned his back on the Death Eaters for Lily's sake - and shuddered, biting down on a white jelly-bean to calm himself. There were just some things you did not wish on people, no matter who they were. "No, I believe I said a sufficient number of words to him which will shut him up about the topic."
"Very well, and what about Miss Granger herself? Have you 'had words' with her too?"
"I... believe... we have spoken about all which needs to be said, and we have reached an agreement." Severus cursed himself for the hopeful lilt in his tone.
"Damn it, Albus! Can I not have any privacy?"
"I am merely trying to protect you, dear boy. I may believe your intentions are good, but I need evidence to prove that this is the case should, say, the Minister for Magic disagree with my assessment. He may no longer have jurisdiction at Hogwarts, but he does in the rest of Wizarding Britain."
Severus' shoulders slumped. "We admitted mutual regard and agreed to not pursue anything until she ceases to be a charge of Hogwarts. Now that I have been completely humiliated, can you please leave?"
"Not yet." Albus reached for the bag, which Severus hastily held out of reach. "I am still wary of this silence from our Dark opponents. Have you truly heard nothing more of their master plan?"
Severus studied a green sweet and then crushed it between his fingers. "I have not even been Summoned. And my... colleagues... are less than forthcoming about this. So, in short, no. I have heard nothing."
Albus drummed his fingers against a desk thoughtfully. "It does make me nervous, dear boy. But, I suppose we are as prepared as we can be for a battle. Maybe you could keep an extra eye out for young Harry, just in case."
Severus rolled his eyes. "As ever your attachment to him astounds me. But yes, I shall keep an extra eye on the brat just in case. Which will bring my total up to three, I hope you realise."
"Thank you, Severus. I know how much I ask of you. I hope you know how much I appreciate it."
Severus sneered and stuffed three black jelly-beans into his mouth... which may or may not have ruined the effect. Albus patted him on the shoulder and headed for the door.
"Goodnight, my boy. Oh, and Severus?"
"Hmm?" It was rather difficult to articulate with your teeth stuck together.
"Accio! Too many sweets can be bad for you, my boy. I had better hold onto these for you."
Severus' hex hit the exact spot where the Headmaster's head would be... had he not already darted out of the door.
The Potions Master swallowed his mouthful with dignity and manfully fought back the urge to scream at the ceiling.