"Ms. Granger, it has come to my attention that you are in love with me."

"Hermione! Sir, she's very busy, you need an appointment to – sir!"

Hermione looked up from the seemingly endless pile of paperwork before her. (She was almost certain she had been cursed with some sort of Infinite Paperwork spell – when you complete one sheet, another appears at the bottom of the pile or your galleons back!) She wasn't sure what she had just heard, what with her secretary, Elliot, yelling at the top of his lungs.

Standing in the doorway to her office was one Severus Snape, arms crossed imperiously over his chest, clad from head to toe in black, as per usual.

Elliot shoved his head around Snape's shoulder, looking almost afraid for his life. "Hermione, I am so sorry. I tried to stop him, I told him he needed an appointment, but he just kept on walking!"

Eyebrows lifted in extreme surprise, Hermione's eyes darted from her secretary to Snape and back again. "That's… that's quite all right, Elliot. He wouldn't have let you stop him anyway."

"Are you sure? I can call security if you need me – "

Hermione waved her hand dismissively. "That won't be necessary. I can handle him – this." She cocked her head, regarding him appraisingly. "Go take a break, Elliot. You look like you need one."

"Thanks, Hermione. I'll be back in twenty." He visibly slumped with relief, hurrying out the door, throwing one last peeved glance in Snape's direction.

She cleared her throat and looked at Snape directly. "Now what is it that you're barging in and threatening my secretary over?"

Puffing almost indignantly, Snape said, "I did not threaten your dunderheaded secretary. I merely – "

"Oh hush, you. I don't care to hear it. You said something frightening to him, I'm sure."

"If the Ministry wouldn't supply such spineless dolts as employees, then my comments wouldn't be threatening." He was still standing in her doorway, tall and rigid – an attempt to be intimidating, she was sure. Too bad that didn't work on her anymore.

She rolled her brown eyes and started writing again. "You can take a seat. No sense standing in the doorway the entire time. Obviously what you've got to say is important if you threatened my secretary to get in here."

"I did not threaten your secretary, girl!"

She leveled a look at him, quirking a brow at him calling her, a grown woman, "girl." He scowled, thunderous. The moment held.

"What was that you said when you first came in?"

Hesitating a moment longer, Snape walked in and closed the door behind him. She frowned as he did so, but the frown turned to a look of pure horror as he said, "It has come to my attention that you are in love with me, Ms. Granger."

"And what," she said, trying to control the sudden tremble in her voice, "gives you that ridiculous idea?"

"The idea is most certainly not ridiculous," he said. "The idea is fact, and I am quite sure of it."

"Again I must ask what gives you that ridiculous idea."

Discreetly, Hermione attempted to wipe her now-sweating palms on her robes. His eyes flickered at the movement, and she knew he had seen. Shit.

"Shall I start from the beginning?"

"The beginning? Is this going to take long? I'm a very busy woman, you know." Please please please just leave. You're going to mock me, and I really don't need that, you insufferable man. GO AWAY. Her mind was racing. He couldn't possibly know as much as he claimed.

"Oh, please. You're not busy. You're simply doing paperwork. How does that even qualify as busy?" At this statement he sat in the chair opposite her, the desk separating them by a mere three feet or so. He crossed one leg over the other and leaned back, and she felt her irritation spike at how comfortable he was while she was attempting to seem nonchalant.

"I have to have these papers turned in to the Department of Magical Law Enforcement; these go to Arthur Weasley; these go to the minister himself; not to mention the Unspeakables want to convene with me at – "

Snape held up a hand, halting her impending tirade and her paper-flinging. "I find myself completely indifferent."

"Wonderful," she snarled. "And I find myself annoyed. If you've come here to insult me, Snape, then please leave."

"Since you are in love with me, you may call me Severus."

"Fine. Please leave, Severus," she spat, eyes narrowed to slits.

"So you admit you are in love with me then?" he countered, his own eyes squinty and hard. Something flashed in their black depths, and it took Hermione a moment to realize he was amused. He was laughing at her! Well, this just would not do. She was not going to sit and let him laugh at her affections. Damn and blast, how had he figured her out?

"I admit no such thing. Either state your case for such an accusation or leave me in peace to complete my work, you unmitigated bastard."

A small, smug smile flittered over his lips and then was gone as he leaned forward and placed his elbows on her desk, his head in his hands. If she didn't know this was Severus Snape she was talking to, the man she actually had been in love with for years, the man who never laughed (for her sake at least) and never seemed to desire her company, she could've sworn he was being downright… playful.

"As I said, I will start from the beginning. My first item of evidence – you saved my life."

"Yes, I did. In fact, your life was not the only one I saved that night. What of it?" She tried to focus on finding the places where she was supposed to sign the particular document in front of her. Her quill hand shook; she wondered if he saw it. Knowing Snape, probably.

"No one else remembered me. I was lying in a pool of my own lifeblood, and you alone coaxed my last spark of life into a flame. You alone had a universal antivenin," he said, eyes thoughtful. "Why is that, Ms. Granger? Is it because you were in love with me even then?"

"Bollocks," she said. "If you hadn't had the blood replenishing potion, it all would've been for nothing anyway. No use administering an antidote if you're just going to keel over from blood loss."

"A very well-constructed straw man, Ms. Granger, but – "

"If you're going to give me leave to call you Severus," she said, "then you might as well call me Hermione."

He studied her calculatingly, jaw working. Then, he nodded, his black hair tipping forward a bit as he did. "Very well, Hermione. So were you in love with me even then? Explain why you had a universal antivenin on you. The fact that you even had a universal antivenin says you were thinking ahead – that must've taken quite a bit of transfiguration to get the antibodies therein to attack any snake venom."

"Well, I never would have had the chance to milk Nagini, so of course I had to figure out a way to make the antibodies apply to any snake venom. Took me months to figure out," she said matter-of-factly.

"Very clever of you. Surely this devotion to the cause of finding an antidote indicates some sort of affection for me."

Hermione said tersely, "It was quite difficult to achieve, yes, but I wanted to be prepared for any eventuality. What if someone else had been bitten? They also would've needed the antivenin."

He smirked. "A nice cover-up, Ms. – Hermione, but I think that you suspected I might come into close contact with the Dark Lord's scaly companion and therefore wanted a back-up plan."

"What I said still stands, Severus. I needed that antivenin in case anyone had been bitten."

He nodded slightly. "Fair point, but I have more."

"Go on then. I'd like to see what other strangeness you've been cooking up while you're alone in your home. Maybe it would help if you got out more, Severus," Hermione goaded.

He ignored her jibes and went on blithely. "You nursed me back to health in the months before my trial, when no one else would even come near me."

"It was only the right thing to do," Hermione said. "And just because I respect you and didn't want to watch you waste away doesn't mean I'm in love with you."

"Even when people had started to come around, and healers were offering their services, you told them all to get stuffed," he said, frank and forward. "You continued the arduous task of restoring me to functionality."

"I wasn't about to let all those monsters near you! Half of them had been perfectly horrible to you, and then they wanted to kiss up and care for the famous war hero? I think not. That lot didn't deserve to kiss your boots."

Snape smirked. "My point exactly."

She glowered at him. "My point still stands – that in no way indicates that my feelings for you are anything beyond respect."

He waved a long-fingered hand. "No matter. I'm not finished."

"Look, all this means nothing except that I'm a decent person. Don't you have anything better to do than harass me?"

"No, actually, I'm letting a potion simmer for five hours. I'm quite bored, and I decided it was time I address this issue of you being in love with me, so – "

"Who says I'm in love with you?" she practically shrieked.

"Why, you of course! You've done everything to indicate it. I just haven't had time in the past week to discuss the matter with you. I realized Wednesday last over lunch."

"Why do you care? Even if I were in love with you – wait… last Wednesday over lunch? Why lunch?"

He shrugged, a gesture he did not often perform. She was absolutely nonplussed at his ease around her. In all the time she had spent with him, nursing him back to health, in months afterward, he had never seemed quite so comfortable with her, as if this were all just normal conversational fare.

"I'm not certain. My mind wandered to you, and I began to dwell on some of your past actions, and then I had this epiphany that you are in love with me, and I wondered why I had not realized before. Now… onto my next piece of business. You are the sole reason I am not in Azkaban."

"What about Harry?" she asked. "You're speaking of your trial, of course."

"Mm, yes, the Minister and the Wizengamot were not keen on allowing me to walk free, and you were much opposed to this idea."

"What, and you weren't?"

"Well, of course I was. Who wants to spend all their time in Azkaban? Not I," he drawled. "But there was no way just my testifying was going to set me free. And with Dumbledore gone, it was a tight squeeze." His eyes were pensive as he ruminated on this, not directed at her, but rather the grooves and whorls of the wood on her desk.

"Well, I'm not the sole reason you're not in Azkaban. Like I said, there's also Harry."

"Mr. Potter would not have defended me had you not convinced him of my innocence."

"Untrue! What about your memories? He knew you were innocent after that."

"He needed some pushing, and you very well knew it. And I knew that you were behind his acquiescence. No one else can push Harry Potter like you, Hermione." His eyes refocused on her then, his body shifting just a bit more toward her. She felt suddenly very claustrophobic as he gazed at her, shrewd and direct.

"You know," she said abruptly, "this is not very Slytherin of you. You're being rather forward."

He spread his hands. "Just because you don't recognize the subtleties in this doesn't mean I am not subtle."

Ignoring that, she continued to scribble on the parchment in front of her.

"So you are the reason I am a free man. Your insistence in defending me to the Wizengamot convinced that lot of old goats that I was a hero and that the blood on my hands had all been according to plan."

"But it was all according to plan. After showing them the penseive memories, it didn't take a genius to understand."

"Some part of me doubts the intelligence of the world at large, including the Wizengamot." He rolled his eyes. "And my explanations would not have convinced them." She was feeling increasingly suffocated as he looked into her eyes. Hermione found she could no longer do anything but grip her quill as tightly as she could. She wondered if he noticed her white knuckles while he was looking intensely into her eyes.

A spell had settled over the room. The sunlight even seemed to be frozen as she met his eyes, trying not to give anything away. With a brief thought about his Legilimency, she shrouded her mind as well as she could. She swallowed, her mouth dry, as a slow, predatory smile spread over his face.

"Then you made sure I had a place to stay," he continued, "even though I had Spinner's End."

"Once you told me about that house, I knew there was no way any healthy human being would want to stay there."

"I was and probably still am not a healthy human being, Hermione," he purred.

"Staying in that house wouldn't have helped you become one, either," she countered, trying to ignore the sensations that his voice sent into her belly. He seemed even closer to her now, steadily inching forward as he talked.

"Mm, but it's all thanks to you that I have my very cozy little home now," he mused, "and you even made absolutely certain that there was a place for me to conduct my brewing and experimentation. You were quite adamant on that front."

"So? If I was going to get you a house that you would stay in, then I knew it needed somewhere for you to brew. Otherwise you would've buried yourself in that old rat-hole again with all those dusty old memories driving you insane. Besides, I myself wouldn't stay in a house without a proper area for my research."

He lifted his eyebrows. "Oh? What about the birthday presents you send me? And making sure I always get a gift on Christmas? In fact, how did you even discover my birthday, you snooping little chit?"

She cocked her head to the side innocently. "You've been receiving birthday gifts, Severus? Why, that's delightful! Tell me you're at least sending out thank you cards."

He gave her a black look. "They come from an anonymous sender whose identity I have been unable to determine. The anti-tracing spells on the gifts have been impossible to crack, and I can only deduce that they have been cast by a very experienced charms caster."

"Did you try placing bugs on the owl?" she suggested. She knew his answer before he said it.

"A different owl delivers each time, and upon investigation, I have discovered that they are generic post owls sent from a central mailing location. No amount of identification spells have yielded results."

"Well then, I assume you'll just have to enjoy your gifts and get over it, Scrooge." She smiled saccharinely at him.

"You are the only person who gives enough of a damn to send me gifts."

"You have colleagues and associates, don't you? Maybe they're taking pity on you for your loneliness?" She fluttered her eyelashes.

His lips pinched, expression sour. "Colleagues and associates don't know my interests as well as this sender of gifts does. Curiously enough, I even received a set of acid-retardant parchment and quills, for work in the lab. Didn't I mention to you at one point that I needed some?"

She shrugged. "It's a logical gift for a Potions Master. Anyone could have thought of it, really. Who knows, Severus, maybe you have a secret admirer."

He cocked his head to the side, a bit like an inquisitive bird. "Yes, but you are the only person who is in love with me, so logically, it must be you sending these things to me. No one else would."

Hermione had had enough. At the best of times, Severus Snape could be exhausting, so she could see the only way to throw him off the scent was to just kick him out entirely. She was about to rise from her chair to get security when he reached a hand out and stroked two callused knuckles down the side of her face, gentle in a way she had never seen from him. He seemed almost curious, like he was waiting for her reaction.

Her breath caught in her throat, and she realized she couldn't take this anymore. Snape was toying with her, and after seven years of being madly, head-over-heels in love with him – and concealing it so well he hadn't even noticed until a week previous – she was not going to stand for his teasing. Trying to keep herself calm and keep her secret safe in the face of his accusations was difficult enough, but being mocked for it was simply intolerable.

She slapped his hand away violently and stood, rounding her desk and looming over him. He was still sitting, looking at her rather calmly, all things considered.

"You've taken up enough of my time with this nonsense. As I said before, I have work to do. I have very logically rebutted every one of your points, and your refusal to understand is, quite frankly, obnoxious. Get out of my office, Severus."

Slowly, he stood until he was looking down his nose at her, still frightfully serene. "You haven't denied it yet."

Hermione was very aware of how close they were standing at that moment. "Denied what?"

"You have not outright stated that you are not in love with me." He was very still after he said it.

"So?"

"Why have you not denied it?"

"Why does it matter?"

"Don't be ridiculous, girl!" he barked, causing her to jump. "Just have out with it. I came all the way here and presented my case to you. You are obligated to tell me the truth."

"I am not obligated to do any such thing, Severus Snape. I have done nothing but help you. If anything, you owe me, and not the other way around."

"Oh, really? And my protections of you in your schooldays count for nothing, I suppose," he deadpanned.

"Fine. I'll say we're even, then. I'm still not obligated to you in any way."

"Must you be so difficult?"

"What?"

"It's not very Gryffindor of you to be this cowardly."

She could feel the heat radiating off of him, even through his heavy robes. "I'm not being cowardly. I am asking you, once again, to get out of my office before I call security."

"You still don't understand, Hermione?" he said softly.

Completely confused now, she just stared at him, her brow furrowed. Frowning, she thought about it, trying to ignore their closeness. She ached when they were this close – she always had. She wanted so badly to act on it, and she never had only because of an extreme amount of self control.

When she did not respond, he rolled his eyes and said exasperatedly, "I'll make you a deal. If you admit that you're in love with me, I will confess to you that I reciprocate your feelings."

Stunned, Hermione stumbled backward. When she hit her desk and began to fall toward the floor, Snape stepped forward and caught her about the waist, holding her there in mid-air with strong arms.

"My realization that you are in love with me was immediately followed by the discovery that I am very much in love with you as well, and I think it's high time, even for someone as prevaricating as myself, that we did something about it."

"But you never – "

"Showed it in any way? I know. You, of all people, should understand that about me."

She nodded, biting her lip as he righted them, dusting himself off a little, waiting for a response.

"Would you like to go for lunch some time?"

Startled, she looked at him with wide eyes. Then they narrowed. "You think by coming in here, startling me, making me feel like a bug under your heel, and putting me totally out of my element, that you can shock me into a confession and a lunch date?"

He blinked, then the corner of his mouth quirked. "You know me quite well. It only makes sense, since you are in love with me."

"You just like hearing yourself say that, don't you?"

"It's true, isn't it?" He took a step and closed the gap between them, touching her bushy hair lightly, trailing his fingertips over her curls.

"Well, yes, of course it's true. How can I deny it now?" Hermione was reeling. Seven years. For seven years she had secretly loved this man, and now he was just going to barge in, proclaim his reciprocated feelings, and ask her for a lunch date?

"You cannot. That was my intention."

"Sneaky bastard."

"Cheeky woman. Lunch tomorrow, yes or no?"

"Yes."

"Good. I will see you tomorrow. You may go back to your work now." He leaned in, gave her a chaste, lingering kiss on the lips, and then swooped out of her office, robes swirling behind him.

Hermione was left touching her lips and smiling, thinking to herself, Only Severus Snape.