Hope and Glory

All characters belong to J. K. Rowling

Part 2

Hermione smoothed her unruly hair down and checked the small amount of make-up she had, somewhat inexpertly, applied. She had her favourite maroon robes on, and studying her reflection, she was happy to note that she looked halfway decent. It was a relief to see she didn't look so tired and stressed as had become usual, and indeed, she felt a lot better for it.

Dressed, and with the food spelled ready to start cooking on time, Hermione glanced at clock to see she had an hour to kill. She moved to her bedside table and looked through the pile of books stacked neatly together, thinking she'd pass the time with some reading. Near the bottom was a book that gave her pause. Picking it up, she rubbed her fingers over the cover and smiled wistfully. She hadn't seen Severus in several weeks, not since before the party at Grimmauld Place. Jigger increasingly had her working on the paperwork, rather than letting her run about delivering ingredients to customers. Hermione was sorry for it; she missed talking with him.

Would it seem impulsive of her to Apparate to his house and return his book – now? Perhaps; but, she had plenty of time, and she only wanted to see how he was. Hermione Disapparated to Spinner's End without further consideration.

The greeting she received was rather bland in its delivery.

'Miss Granger, this is a surprise.'

'Good evening, Severus.' Hermione smiled. 'How have you been?'

'Fine, thank you.' He moved aside to let her in.

Hermione stood in the dimly lit living room. It was small, and perhaps not to everyone's tastes, but it had a certain charm. Although, maybe that was because the multitude of books visible significantly appealed to Hermione.

'To what do I owe this pleasure?'

He had his back to her, fumbling about with some papers on his desk, and Hermione narrowed her eyes. It looked like he had a bee in his bonnet about something.

'I've brought your book back, and I, well, I've just been wondering how you are.'

'Really?' was the drawled reply. He turned around and Hermione noticed his eyes flick up and down as if surprised. She immediately felt self-conscious.

'You look… Going somewhere, are you?'

'No, um, Ron is coming over for dinner. I think he wants to patch things up.' Hermione smiled awkwardly and inwardly cursed. Why had she felt the need to add that last bit? She knew he would not be impressed, and indeed, she was not to be disappointed.

'Patch things up?' he spat. 'Are you out of your mind?'

Hermione was momentarily stunned at his reaction. She hadn't expected it to be so fierce, and as such, her rejoinder was rather lacklustre. 'That's not very nice.'

'Well, I'm not a very nice man.' He looked into the fire. 'He's an idiot, Hermione! Why would you waste your time on him? The way he just cast you aside– '

'Oh, don't do this now!' interrupted Hermione quickly. 'I don't know what your problem with Ron is. It's not as if I'm asking you to have dinner with him! It's my decision, all right?' She was breathing heavily, slightly surprised that she'd raised her voice in such a way. Snape himself looked briefly aback.

'Fine,' he said flatly and turned his attentions back to his desk.

Hermione dropped her gaze to the book she held in her hands and numbly placed it on the coffee table. Without another word she let herself out and Apparated. Back in her home, she sat down heavily and sighed. What the hell had that been about? She knew he didn't like Ron, but Merlin; what had Ron ever done to him? Getting up to check on the food, Hermione poured herself a glass of wine feeling rather miserable and sincerely wishing she had never thought to go there tonight. Impulsiveness obviously didn't agree with her today.

Walking into the passage, she was about to head upstairs when she noticed a folded up piece of paper on the doormat. Immediately, she leaned down to retrieve it. Opening it revealed some very familiar handwriting, but as she read the short missive, Hermione felt anger rising within her. The bloody git! The bloody git! Oh, he would have it the next time she saw him.

Moving back into the living room, Hermione savagely tore up the paper and slammed it down on the table, staring disbelievingly at the fragments. Of all the irony… After she'd just defended him! Why was she even surprised by such a turn of events? This was exactly the type of thing he'd do. Merlin, how she wanted to give him an earful! What a total waste of an evening this was going to be.

Unless… Maybe the evening could be salvaged. She could, of course, swallow her pride and admit to a certain someone that he'd been right. Hermione frowned, but what timing, though! He would smirk and preen like a bloody peacock, no doubt. Still, the thought of falling out with him for too long didn't sit well with her. Taking a deep breath, Hermione crossed to the fireplace and threw in a handful of Floo powder.

'Severus?' she called tentatively, leaning into the green flames.

'What now?' he sighed.

'Do you, um, want to come over?'

He looked at her with disbelief. 'Were you not present at our earlier exchange? What on earth would possess you to think I'd want to play gooseberry to you and Weasley?'

Hermione scowled. 'Well, Ron isn't going to be here, so if you haven't eaten, I've got a dinner going to waste.' She broke the Floo connection and stood back to wait, reasonably sure she'd piqued his interest. Sure enough, a few moments later the fire glowed green and Severus Snape appeared. Hermione stared at him, fully expecting him to gleefully enquire as to where Ron was. He looked at her evenly and nonchalantly raised his eyebrows.

'You don't want to know why I've been stood up, then? You don't want to know how I was wrong and you were right?'

'Oh, I heard there was going to be food, Miss Granger; that's what I'm here for.'

Hermione laughed weakly. 'I'm sure. Well, it should be done by now. Come and sit down.' She nodded towards the dining table. 'I hope you like steak and chips; I'm afraid it is about as refined as Ron gets when it comes to food. But then, men will generally eat anything, in my experience.' She put the plate in front of him and then poured a glass of wine.

'I resent being lumped into the category of 'men in general'. He smirked at her. 'But I fear in this case you may be right. Are you not having anything?'

'No,' said Hermione, from the seat she was slumped in. 'I'm not hungry now; maybe I'll have something later.' Her eyes caught the torn pieces of Ron's note. 'He's gone to a party, you know. He went with Harry and some others to see the Cannons play today. Apparently they were invited into the main Hospitality Box, because, being Harry Potter has to count for something!' Hermione smiled despite herself. 'They got invited to stay behind after the match, and, well, who am I stand in the way of that? He called round when I was at yours. Lucky for him that I was.'

'I told you, he's– '

'An idiot, I know, and I'll agree with you this time. I think I knew it all along, anyway.' She twirled her glass round in her fingers for a moment. 'It's my own fault anyway; I probably read more into his coming over than he did.'

Severus made a dismissive noise deep in his throat and took a lengthy sip of his wine.

'I don't think I'm even that bothered about it really,' pressed on Hermione, rather pensively. 'I think I'm just feeling a bit obsolete now that nearly all of my friends are married with kids.'

'Just because Potter has seen fit to doom us all by procreating doesn't mean you have to.'

Hermione snorted. 'Harry hasn't doomed us all.'

'The kid's called James, isn't it?'

'So?'

'I'm just saying….'

Hermione smiled and decided not to tell him that the Longbottoms were expecting a child soon. They sat in silence for a time, and when he was nearly finished, Hermione got up and collected the wine from the kitchen.

'You should come over more often for dinner,' she called.' You could do with fattening up a bit. What do you eat usually? Shall I lump you in with men in general again and suggest that you can't cook?'

She moved into the living room and Snape followed, sitting down in an armchair while Hermione stretched herself out on the settee.

'I can cook,' he began haughtily, 'and I'll thank you not to refer to me like some prize Christmas turkey.'

She'd missed his dry humour the past few weeks, she realised, and Hermione felt disappointed in herself for leaving it so long. 'I'm sorry I haven't paid you much attention lately, Severus, I…' she trailed off at the sudden scowl marring his features.

'You make me sound like some little pet dog that needs– '

'I didn't mean it like that,' Hermione cut in quickly. 'I just meant that I haven't had the opportunity lately; Jigger's had me doing the accounts all the time, and I don't want you to think that, well… you know.'

Severus looked into his wine glass. 'You don't have to come just because Jigger sends you, Hermione. I'm not going to slam the door in your face.'

'Oh, good; I will, ah, bear that in mind.' She had been unsure about turning up unannounced, but if he didn't mind….

'How are your parents?'

Hermione looked over at him with wide eyes. 'They're on holiday, but guess where they've gone? Australia! Can you believe it? They decided to go and see the country for themselves, to put a proper image to all the broken flashbacks my father gets. They love it there; I'm expecting a phone call any time soon to inform me they're upping sticks and emigrating there.'

'Would you go with them?'

Hermione blinked. 'Oh, no, I don't think so. It's all right for them, they have each other, but I wouldn't have the energy to start my life all over again.'

They sat in companionable silence for several minutes and Hermione, laid out on the cushions, stared up at the ceiling. Eventually, she propped herself up against the arm of the settee and sipped from her wineglass. 'I saw your article, by the way. Jigger had the journal on his desk; he seemed very impressed with it. So was I for that matter, except that my opinion is hardly an expert one.'

'Perhaps,' he shrugged. 'It probably has more substance than some of the brain-dead idiots in the field.'

A thinly veiled compliment, but a compliment nonetheless, thought Hermione. 'Would you ever consider going back to Hogwarts?'

'You haven't been talking to Minerva, have you? She's always trying to get me to return.'

'No, I just wondered.'

'Well, actually, it may surprise you to hear that I didn't entirely hate teaching, though I wouldn't have chosen it for a career under normal circumstances. However, for one thing, I've been in that castle for more years than I've been out of it and it's definitely time to redress the balance. As for the distant future, well, never say never, I suppose, but I'm not sure it would be a good idea.'

Hermione nodded thoughtfully. She could only hazard a guess as to what kind of memories Hogwarts held for him. She relaxed back onto the cushions and was suddenly struck by the significance of what she was currently doing. She was sat, in her house, with Severus Snape, her old professor, drinking and talking about real things. Never would she have imagined such an occurrence. It felt oddly bizarre to her, and she wondered why it had never struck her so before. After many weeks of acquaintance, she supposed it was only natural that it seemed perfectly acceptable and normal. Things had a funny way of turning out, indeed, and if he were half as grateful for it as she was, then she'd be happy.

Hermione was reminded of something that had lingered in the back of her mind for a long time, and briefly she contemplated bringing it up with the man opposite her. No harm in it, she reasoned.

'Can I ask you something, Severus?'

' You may ask me something, if you wish.'

'You're such a pedant,' muttered Hermione, shaking her head. 'Did, ah, were you responsible for getting me my job at the Apothecary?' She ventured a glance over at him, noticing he was rather still and had obviously not been expecting such a question.

'No,' he began, 'no, why– '

'You did, didn't you?' Inside she was smiling; she knew it must have been him.

'You have no evidence to support such a claim.'

'Oh, I don't need evidence,' replied Hermione airily. 'A woman's intuition is all one needs.'

Snape sneered. 'Intuition? I'd like to see that one stand up in the Wizengamot.'

'Jigger told me,' she challenged with a casual sip of her wine.

Snape paused. 'You're bluffing. Dissembling is not your forte.'

'Fine,' relented Hermione, placing her empty glass on the coffee table. 'Don't admit to it then, but your denial is superfluous because I'm not going to change my hypothesis.' She stood up and went to collect his empty glass. He looked so determined to be detached and incapable of doing any good deed that it forestalled the sudden impulse she had to lean over and kiss his cheek in thanks. The last thing she wanted was to embarrass him completely.

Pouring more wine into his glass, she handed it back to him and he looked up, nodding his thanks. Hermione smiled slowly and gamely reached out to pat his shoulder.

'Well, at least I know I can rely on some people.'

She turned and immediately moved to throw herself back onto the settee, completely missing whatever reaction he might have made.


'You know, this is getting to be an annoying habit of yours, Minerva.'

'I'm quite sure I don't know what you mean, Severus.'

Severus shut the door behind her, grimacing at the icy blast that had followed her in. 'You, turning up here all the time like a bad penny. I don't see you for months on end and now I can't get rid of you.'

'Well, it's nearly Christmas, and I've always visited you at this time in the past.'

Severus grumbled under his breath but he protested no further. They talked for a time about Hogwarts, amongst other things, until Minerva, to Severus's mind, finally revealed her ulterior motive for her visit.

'I had an interesting chat with Miss Granger, the other day, Severus; she brought our delivery from the Apothecary, with Mr. Jigger.'

Severus tried not to groan too loudly. 'I can't imagine why I would give a fig about what you talked about.'

'I happened to enquire as to her and Mr Weasley; I had some idea that they might try again, you know, but then she explained what had happened to change her mind. I was surprised to hear her go on to mention how you saved her evening instead.'

He would have to have a serious talk with Miss Granger, he decided. Did she have to go gossiping about him to all and sundry? He sighed; that's what women did he supposed – they talked.

'Such a shame about them both; it could have all turned out so perfectly– '

'He's a flaming idiot, Minerva, and no good for the likes of her!' Realising he was glaring at her and revealing far too much, Severus looked to the fire instead.

'It's interesting to hear you talk like this, Severus. Have you formed an attachment to her yourself?' Minerva's tone was airy, but as she comprehended her own words, her expression became rather sober by comparison.

'Don't be ridiculous; you've no idea what you are talking about.'

'You don't fool me, Severus. You have, haven't you?'

'You know I have a lot of time for you, Minerva, but frankly you are now trying my patience.'

Suddenly he was on the receiving end of a steely glare. 'I've known you for too long to be fooled by your bluster, Severus. I can tell from the way you behave and they way you talk about her. Besides, how often do you befriend former students? How often do you befriend anyone? It may not be clear to everyone, but it is clear to me.'

Severus gritted his teeth together rather painfully. How he longed to tell her to get the hell out and leave him alone. It was of no use, though. He knew she wouldn't back down, and he wasn't sure he had the enthusiasm to argue.

'So what if have?' he began, uncomfortably aware that it was the first time he'd admitted as much out loud. 'Are you here to tell me to stay away? To stand aside so she can be with her precious Weasley? As if I were in the way in the first place!'

'Well, how do you know she doesn't feel the same?'

'Oh for Merlin's sake, Minerva! Can you hear yourself? The idea is preposterous!'

'How is it? She said it wasn't going to work with Mr Weasley.'

Snape snorted. 'So, that means she must want me instead? She is plainly still enamoured of the boy; it was obvious from her disappointment, which, might I add, you did not see.'

Minerva sighed. 'You shall just have to tell her then.'

His head snapped round to hers in disbelief. 'I don't have to do anything, Minerva. I will certainly not tell her anything at all. Do you think I'm a glutton for punishment?'

'So, you're just going to sit there, are you? Not do anything and waste the one good opportunity you've had in your life?'

Severus flew out of his chair and stalked to the mantelpiece, trying hard to keep his emotions under control. 'I am not going to fall into the same trap twice, Minerva,' he hissed. 'There are ways and means of forgetting this silly attachment!'

Minerva gasped. 'So you would solve this all with a potion, would you? Remove all hint of your feelings? You wouldn't dare!'

'Watch me.'

'No, no I certainly will not. You know, for once I wish you would have some self-belief! For Merlin's sake, you have nothing to lose except your stupid pride, and I can tell you now, pride will not keep you happy for the rest of the long years stretched ahead of you.'

Severus remained silent and unmoving until, eventually, he heard Minerva get up to leave.

'Just think about it again, Severus.'

Severus slammed his fist down on the mantel when she left. Interfering old biddy! He raised a hand to cover his brow. What a mess he'd got into; he should have foreseen such a development a mile off. Everyone knew he had previous form when it came to becoming foolishly taken with anyone who showed the slightest bit of interest in him. He was pathetic.

Minerva was right about one thing, though; he couldn't sit and let the grass grow from under him. He had to do something, or else he'd end up consumed by bitterness and resentment for another twenty years, and honestly, he was tired of it.

But then, did he have the courage to tell her of his feelings? Oh, how that word made him cringe. Yet, he wasn't sure he'd have the courage to carry out his threat to Minerva, either.


Hermione sat down on the sofa in the living room of Grimmauld Place and gazed contemplatively around the crowded room, filled mostly by an assortment of Weasleys. It was Christmas Eve, and Harry and Ginny had invited everyone over for a few drinks to celebrate, but Hermione was feeling rather uninspired. She couldn't really put her finger on why. She'd been feeling more her old self in the past month or two; the weight of her father's illness lightened on her shoulders, and indeed, so was the accompanying guilt that refused to leave her entirely.

Her eyes alighted on Neville and pregnant Hannah; they'd be celebrating their one-year wedding anniversary soon and Hermione couldn't believe how fast the year had disappeared.

'Hermione, could you keep an eye on the food in the kitchen for me? Just make sure my brothers don't decimate it while I run up and check on James.'

'Of course, Gin.' Hermione moved into the kitchen and shut the door behind her, grateful for a bit of quiet. Noticing Ginny had begun loading up a platter of mince pies, Hermione carried on the task and hummed quietly under her breath. When the door opened, she turned quickly, prepared to deflect whatever attempt was being made on the food.

'Get lost, Ron; the food will be put out when it's ready.'

'You're no fun, Hermione.'

He shut the door behind him and Hermione rolled her eyes in annoyance, but his words struck a chord and she paused mid-roll. Why was she so irritable tonight? For Merlin's sake, it was Christmas Eve and she'd barely cracked a smile all night. Hermione's hand hovered over the pies. Was it because her parents were spending Christmas in France? But then, she was staying with her very best friends, and they were more than happy to have her there. They would all go to the Burrow tomorrow, for dinner, as they had done so many times in the past. But Hermione could not summon any enthusiasm, and she felt ashamed of herself for it. What kind of ungrateful person was she? The door opened once more and Hermione spun round. She managed a smile when she saw it was Ginny.

'Hermione! Don't ever have kids!' There was a large, contradictory smile on Ginny's face. 'I've been up those stairs umpteen times today. "Mum, has Father Christmas been yet?" "Mum, I can't sleep!" Harry's no use either; he's like a big kid half of the time.'

'He's just making up for his own childhood.'

Ginny nodded and began levitating platters onto the large kitchen table. 'Exactly; he can't wait for tomorrow. James is at that age now where he can appreciate toys more, and Harry has brought home all kinds inappropriate things. A toy broomstick, Hermione, a broomstick! Of all the irresponsible things to get a boy of James' age!' Ginny shook her head fondly.

Hermione briefly quirked her lips and moved the pies onto the table.

'Sorry, Hermione, I must drive you batty at times; all I ever seem to talk about lately is kids and stuff.'

'Oh, Gin, don't be silly. Take no notice of me; I'm being a right stick-in-the-mud. Seems like it's all I ever am, lately.'

'Now who is being silly?' Ginny paused and looked at Hermione gently. 'You've had a rough year with your father, the end of your relationship with Ron…'

Hermione looked at her hands. 'I suppose. I thought I'd put all that behind me, though. My father, he's managing really well, and so is my mother. As for Ron, well, that debacle a few weeks ago confirmed all I needed to know.'

'Maybe…' began Ginny. 'Maybe you're just concerned about moving on with your own life, you know, putting yourself first for a change.'

Hermione smiled. 'You're probably right.'

'Anyway, how's Professor Snape lately?'

'Oh, he's all right. He shouted at me the other day; I took round some information on Muggle herbal remedies, you know, for his throat? It was quite funny, actually.' Hermione chuckled; he'd set fire to the pages while she was still holding them.

'Never thought I'd see the day when Professor Snape shouting was something to laugh at,' commented Ginny thoughtfully. 'Mind you, I never thought I'd see the day when you regularly go and visit him at his home.'

'It's not that weird, is it?'

'Oh no, it's just, I only remember him as Professor Snape, I suppose. Don't get me wrong, I think it's great, and you obviously enjoy his company.'

Hermione suddenly felt self-conscious. 'Well, yes, I suppose I do….'

'No supposing about it,' replied Ginny confidently. 'What's he doing for Christmas?'

'Um, nothing really; he's not that bothered about it.'

'Oh. Oh, that is a shame. You know, you should have invited him to…' Ginny trailed off with a sheepish grin and Hermione snorted. Snape spend Christmas at the Burrow? They both laughed aloud. 'Forget I said anything. Come on; let's tell everyone grub is up.'

Soon the kitchen was descended upon en masse and Hermione stood leaning against a cupboard, picking at a Pumpkin Pasty. How was it that she could be surrounded by so many of her friends, and yet feel so out of place? Hermione nibbled at the pasty. Would it hurt for her to enjoy herself? So many people were alone at Christmas….

Her thoughts turned towards Severus; he would be alone, but, probably he preferred it that way. Or maybe it was because there was no other alternative. She'd arranged with herself to go and see him on Boxing Day, but it wasn't the same. Christmas was practically over then. He was her friend too, and for some reason she wanted him to know she was thinking about him. Her friends could obviously manage without her here and she could easily slip out for an hour or two. Without thinking much further on it, Hermione picked up a plate and began filling it with a selection of food. Slipping out of the kitchen and into the hallway, Hermione scribbled a note on some parchment and left it prominently displayed on the hall table. Opening the door, she Apparated.

Appearing in the familiar, darkened doorway, Hermione balanced the plate in one hand and knocked firmly on the door. After a time, it swung open sharply, revealing a silhouetted figure.

'What the devil are you doing here?'

Hermione resisted the urge to roll her eyes. 'Happy Christmas to you too! I thought I'd come and see you; look, I brought food.' She held up the plate.

Snape glanced from the plate to her face. 'Why do I always feel like a charity case when you come to visit?' He moved to let her in. 'It's like Help the Aged or something.'

Hermione smiled. 'Don't be silly; you're not old. I just knew you wouldn't have anything nice to munch on, and now we have Cauldron Cakes, which I know are your favourite, mince pies, biscuits, and pasties.' She set the plate down on the coffee table and sat down, enjoying the warm glow of the fire.

'Robbed a bakery on the way here, did you?'

Hermione snorted. 'No, Harry and Ginny are having a party…' She trailed off wondering if he might prefer she'd robbed a bakery more than the truth that she'd nicked it from Harry. He didn't comment on it, however.

'What are you doing here, then?'

'Oh, well, there doesn't have to be a reason, does there? I just wanted to.' She felt her cheeks colour slightly and she stuffed a mince pie into her mouth, sending flakes of pastry all down her robes. Her cheeks were now flaming red. She Banished the crumbs with her wand.

'I suppose not,' he concurred slowly. 'Do you want something to drink? I only have the usual.'

'That'll be fine, thank you.'

He placed a glass of wine down in front of her and then picked up a Cauldron Cake with a smirk. 'You're wrong, you know; we don't need Potter's leftovers.' So saying he threw the offending object high into the air, and aiming his wand, obliterated it into nothingness.

Hermione stared at him agog. 'What on earth did you do that for? You can't be–'

'Hang on!' he interjected loudly. 'No, I am not that petty, indeed, I am just saying you were wrong to assume I don't have anything to offer.'

'Oh?' questioned Hermione with a raised eyebrow. 'Had your apron on all afternoon, have you?'

She received a glare for her impertinence. 'Do you remember the Cauldron Cakes the elves made at Hogwarts?'

'Of course.'

Snape flicked his wand in the direction of the kitchen. 'Well, Minerva knows how I would gladly walk back to Hogwarts for one of those, and sends me this, every Christmas.'

Hermione's attention was drawn to the slowly levitating object travelling from the direction of the kitchen. She stood up. 'Oh Merlin! Look at the size of it! The elves made it?'

Snape nodded proudly. 'Lovely, is it not?'

'We… we can't eat it. It would spoil it.'

'And leaving it uneaten to go mouldy, wouldn't?'

'Fine, but I'm not cutting it. All that hard work! I mean, just look at the detail on the chocolate for the cauldron! It even has the Hogwarts crest on it!'

'Truly a work of art.'

Hermione stared thoughtfully at the cake, now lowered onto the table. 'Are we sad to be this impressed by a cake?'

Severus shrugged. 'Probably.'

He used his wand to summon two plates and then to cut the cake into pieces. Hermione caught herself sighing in disappointment. Settling back onto the settee, she broke off a piece of chocolate and chewed it slowly.

'Whatever you do, don't leave me alone with that thing.' She indicated the cake left on the table. 'I might end up finishing it off.'

'I would take serious offence at such an incident, and therefore I will heed your advice.'

There was quiet for a moment while they ate and when Snape had sent the plates away, he spoke again.

'So, what's the real reason you are here? Weasley's idiotic antics got too much for you, did they?'

Hermione sent him a disapproving look. 'No. As I said, I wanted to see you– '

'So you upped and left in the middle of a party?'

'You are not going to admonish me for being rude, are you?' At his raised eyebrow, she continued. 'I was just a bit, uh, bored, I suppose. Ginny seems to think it's because I don't know what to do with myself anymore. There may be some truth in it, but I don't know; I enjoy working at the Apothecary, despite the smell.' Hermione smiled.

'You don't want to stay there forever though, do you? I would say you were eminently suited to a life of ministerial bureaucracy. I'm sure you could cause enough trouble in the exalted corridors of power.'

'Thanks, I think,' she laughed. Thinking about it, Hermione was beginning to wonder if her apathy stemmed more from an odd sense of loneliness she'd been feeling lately. How was it she'd felt at Grimmauld Place tonight? Out of place. Had she really changed so much during the past year that such was the state of affairs? Yet, her time spent here was starting to provide a sharp contrast; she felt increasingly at ease and settled in the poky living room. It was a sobering thought, and she swallowed a large sip of wine.

'Where are your Christmas decorations, then? You told me you would put some up, if only to shut me up.' Hermione looked at him accusingly. He had indeed promised such a thing after she'd threatened to bring a tree in.

Severus looked at her with an almost-smile. 'I did. I put some tinsel around my cauldron.'

Hermione snorted. 'Well, I think I'll have to give you a Troll for effort.'

He shrugged. 'I thought it was exquisitely done.'

Hermione smirked, but it faded to a frown when she checked her watch. 'I should probably go now; it was rather rude of me to leave like that.' She placed her empty glass on the table and reluctantly got to her feet.

'Must you go?'

Her eyes immediately flew to the man in the chair, and Hermione was sure her heart had skipped a beat at his grave enquiry. To say she was surprised would be an understatement, and indeed, from the look upon his face, he was also startled by his words. He held her gaze and Hermione was struck by how impossibly black his eyes were. Suddenly, he blinked and looked away.

'Forget I said– '

'No!' Hermione interjected, unwilling to hear the end of that sentence. 'No, I don't have to go, indeed, I…' She paused and cleared her throat. Indeed, what? That she was immeasurably thankful that he'd said such a thing? '… Well it's, it's no trouble at all,' she managed in the end, sitting back down and plucking at her sleeve self-consciously.

Snape said nothing and Hermione couldn't bring herself to look at him. An awkward tension had descended and she mentally grasped at anything to break it. She hadn't felt this uncomfortable in his presence for a very long time. Still, it was a quietly pleasant flutter that lingered in her stomach at the realization that he actually appreciated her company. Chancing a look out of the corner of her eye, she saw he was staring into the fire with deep consideration. Slipping off her shoes, Hermione folded her legs underneath her and leant back against the corner of the settee. She would have to break the ice.

'Do you remember that night we got drunk?'

It was a moment or two before he deigned to reply, stiffly at first. 'We? I singularly recall it was you who got drunk.'

'If you say so; we should do it again sometime,' remarked Hermione contemplatively.

'Again?' scoffed Snape. 'You know, I find your attitude to alcohol consumption questionable. Are you trying to turn me into what the Muggles term a "binge-drinker"?'

'How on earth do you know about binge-drinking?' Hermione fixed him with an appraising look.

Snape waved his hand impatiently. 'I keep abreast of Muggle news, by way of newspapers; I'd be a fool not too.'

Hermione pondered this interesting new piece of information. 'The Sun?'

'The Sun?' came the spluttered reply. 'I'll thank you, Miss Granger, to credit me with a smidge more intelligence!'

'Ron's eyes nearly fell out of his head when he saw a copy of it once. "Why can't the Daily Prophet be like that?" he whined at me.'

'What a surprise he would be taken with such… base entertainment.'

Hermione smiled and bit her lip at his reserve, itching to tease him further, but managing to refrain. 'Anyway, to go back to what I originally said, I didn't mean the getting drunk part. I meant going somewhere. We never do that.'

'Together?'

'Yes,' laughed Hermione, rather weakly when she saw his expression cloud over. 'What?'

What had she said wrong? Hermione looked at her hands; well she'd managed to bring the tension back quite comprehensively. Raising her head, she watched him rub a hand roughly over his chin.

'I don't think…' he paused momentarily, and Hermione found she was holding her breath. 'I am not convinced that your, ah, association with me becoming widely known is in your best interest.'

Hermione simply stared at him blankly. 'That's just ridiculous!'

Severus turned to her. 'Is it? You don't think people would notice? It's a small world, Hermione, and the wizarding world is even smaller.'

'So what if people notice?'

'Perhaps you have a selective memory, but most people don't forget, Hermione. Officially, I may have the approval of the Ministry, and while it means my liberty, it means precious little else! People will always wonder about me, second-guess my motives, my actions, and my abilities. It suits the Ministry's purpose that I lie low and stay out of the way.' His voice had risen slightly and he finished by giving her a fierce look.

'It doesn't matter to me.'

'Well, it should. Good luck getting a job at the Ministry when they know you've been fraternising with me!'

'That is ridiculous!' Hermione blustered.

'I assure you it is not,' he argued firmly. 'Can't you imagine what the likes Rita Skeeter and those other cretins at the Daily Prophet would write about you? They'd relish such an opportunity, I assure you. People are fickle, Hermione, opinion changes like the wind and they won't hesitate to turn on you. You are better off out of it.'

Hermione gaped at him and he purposely looked away. Merlin, how she wished she hadn't opened her mouth in the first place! 'I told you, I don't care,' she ground out. 'Do you think I'm so shallow as to live my life with thought only to my career, and to what others think of me?'

'Going to spend the rest of your life shoveling Flobberworms in the Apothecary, are you?'

'Of course not!' exclaimed Hermione, getting to her feet in frustration. 'Stop talking to me like I'm a silly child! You can't tell me what to do or to make decisions for me! If I choose not to care about my reputation, then so be it. Let them write what they bloody well want to write. You said it yourself, "people are fickle"; as soon as some other piece of gossip comes along it'll be forgotten!'

Hermione breathed heavily and kept her ground as he endeavoured to stare her down, but evidently her vehemence had resonated with him somewhat as he was first to glance away. And as he sat there, with the glow of the fire casting a myriad of highlights and shadows over his features, Hermione found she couldn't look away. It unnerved her, and she wondered at her the intensity of her defence. Indeed, her heart was pounding in her chest, and the thought occurred to her that they might be arguing about more than they realised. For her own part, at least, she was beginning to think it might be so.

Was the reason she was so upset by his views because they precluded any possibility that he might consent to a relationship beyond friendship? Deep down, was that what she'd been hoping for? Perching slowly back onto the settee and staring rather dazedly round the room, it dawned on Hermione that yes, this, sitting here with him, talking with him… She always felt a sense of calm and quiet pleasure in his company. It was what she wanted; she wanted him, and only know she was being forced to recognise it, or even understand it. She couldn't bear the thought that he might send her away, for good. Such reflection was cut short, however, by Snape, who managed to re-ignite Hermione's anger in the space of a sentence.

'I'm not going to change my mind; I should have put a stop to this– '

Hermione slapped her hand down on the arm of the settee. 'For Merlin's sake, Severus, why are you being so difficult about this? I mean we're just…' She raised her hands helplessly, as if trying to find the words. 'We're just two people, living our lives. What can anyone say about that? Don't tell me you regret our becoming friends? I'm not going to apologise for it. I'm not going to apologise to anyone for the fact that I like spending time with you, or that I care about you, or that– ' Hermione broke off, afraid that she was revealing too much.

At the silence that ensued, she forced herself to look at him and sighed when he appeared to still be troubled. She stood up again. 'Severus, it's been five years since the end of the war. People move on, they… You're too hard on yourself.'

As he opened his mouth, no doubt to refute her once more, Hermione stepped forward and grabbed his hand, effectively forestalling him. Ignoring the surprise in his eyes, Hermione pressed on. 'You deserve to be happy, Severus.'

She moved to balance on the arm of his chair and stared at their hands, flushing slightly at the way she'd grabbed his fingers. 'And I don't, I mean, I don't aim to be so presumptuous as to imply that your happiness is in any way dependent on me, I just…' Hermione let out a defeated breath; how had she let this happen? Not half an hour ago things had been normal between them; now she was blighting their friendship with her own feelings and desires. He made to remove his fingers and Hermione's hand became lax with disappointment. She was about to get up, undeniably mortified, when Severus surprised her by clasping his hand round hers properly.

'You make my heart light whenever I see you, Hermione,' he murmured softly, almost reluctantly, and his eyes fell to anywhere but hers. 'And that, in turn, makes my conscience heavy.'

Hermione was speechless. Only he, she realised, could say something so lovely and then counterbalance it with something so negative. 'Why?' she enquired anxiously, giving his hand a squeeze. 'Why should you feel guilty for it?'

'Because this,' he waved his hand in the air between them, 'this is absurd. If I understand your intentions correctly, then while they may complement my own, I just… It would never work– '

Hermione tugged on his hand. 'Why, because you are older? Sarcastic? Reserved? Or, is it deeper than that? You think your past should deter me? Or we are so fundamentally different that you think there's no point in even trying?'

'Partly, yes but– '

'Or,' pushed Hermione, 'is it because you think one slice is all you'll ever be able to share of your precious Cauldron Cake? Because, you know, I can manage without it…'

'What the–?' Severus looked at her incredulously and then covered his eyes with his hand, snorting. 'Don't laugh at me; I'm deadly serious about this.'

'Exactly,' commented Hermione soberly. 'Which is why I'm trying to make light of it. Please, we have to try; unless, you really don't want to…?'

Severus sighed and sent her a powerless look.

'Good,' she noted brightly. 'Although, you might try looking a bit happier about it.'

'This is happy, I'm afraid….' He answered with a self-effacing quirk of his lips.

Hermione smirked and stroked the back of his hand. She would show him; she would make sure she dispelled all of his doubts.

In the distance she could hear the chiming of bells and she glanced at her watch, surprised. It was midnight already. Hermione shifted slightly on her perch and looked down at the dark man beside her, feeling a rush of affection for him. 'Severus?' she ventured, coming to the decision that she would have to be the one to take action.

'Hmm?'

Hermione extricated her hand from his and tentatively reached out to touch his jaw.

'What are you doing?' he asked quietly.

'Something one of us should have done ages ago.' Hermione tilted his chin, and leaning down, she pressed a kiss to his mouth. 'Happy Christmas,' she whispered when she pulled back, inordinately pleased with the way her lips tingled pleasantly.

Severus stared uncomprehendingly at her, until Hermione stood up and he was roused into action. 'Where are you going?' he demanded briskly.

'Well, it's uncomfortable sitting there, and besides, it's unfair that I should do all the work while you sit pretty in your chair.'

She'd barely got the words out before he was on his feet in front of her. His close proximity was such that Hermione felt her mouth go dry. Her previous courage seemed to desert her and while she could feel his eyes on her, she kept hers fixed on his chest. Suddenly she wished she had more experience to draw on than that which she'd had with Ron. And that had ended over a year ago; Merlin, she was out of the loop.

The movement of his arm distracted her, and Hermione looked to see his hand raised, as if to touch her hair. She automatically reached up to grab it.

'I wouldn't do that if I were you,' she warned.

'Why not?' asked Severus in confusion.

'If you want your hand back, I suggest you don't put it anywhere near my nest of knotty hair.'

Severus smirked and plucked at a lock of it. 'It's not quite a nest. Although, you leave enough hairs about the place that I could probably fashion one.'

Hermione almost choked on her laughter when she felt him run his finger down the length of her jaw.

'I believe you may be prevaricating, Hermione. Don't tell me my misgivings have had a belated impact?'

'No, of course not; only a mind as convoluted as yours can see sense in such logic. I'm just….' Hermione's breath hitched. It was silly she realised, to feel nervous. Just the way he was looking at her should have been enough to send her confidence soaring. When had she ever seen such an open expression on his face? Running her hand up his arm to rest on his shoulder, Hermione stepped closer and smiled. 'I'm just waiting for– '

Whatever she was about to say was lost as Severus leant forward and kissed her soundly. Hermione let out a startled squeak and then heard herself sighing happily, managing to retain enough wit to respond to his caress and open her mouth to him. Her hand came up to brush away the hair from his face, stroking his cheek. Severus made a noise in his throat that sent a shiver down her spine. When they reluctantly broke apart, Hermione took a few shuddering breaths, inwardly marvelling at the effect one kiss had had on her.

'You are lovely, you know.'

Hermione, distracted from her daze, looked at him fondly and felt inexplicably touched at such quiet sincerity.

'Completely and utterly,' he added, punctuating each word with a kiss along her cheek till he was gently tugging on her hair, indicating for her tilt her head back and allow him access to her neck.

Hermione capitulated automatically and let her eyes flutter closed in pleasure. She gripped onto him tightly, sure that the sensation of his lips against her neck would send her knees buckling at any moment. Involuntarily, she whispered his name between shallow breaths and Severus pulled her tighter to him in response.

What was he doing to her? Hermione was suddenly overcome with a depth of feeling that she didn't even know she was capable of. She would be lying to say that it didn't startle her.

'Severus,' she breathed, 'I should, I should go and, Harry and Ginny, they'll be…' A voice in her head screamed at her to shut up.

Hermione felt a deep chuckle at her throat. 'Go on, then,' he rumbled, and knowingly began moving his attentions back up to her cheek and then to her mouth once more.

Hermione quickly realised she wasn't going anywhere, not if the noises she was making were anything to go by. The feel of his hands on her set her ardour alight and she pushed herself against him, beginning to tremble when she discovered he was as affected as she was. Roughly, he wrenched his mouth from hers.

'Tell me to stop, Hermione.'

She stared at him, catching her breath. The whole night had been impulsive and spontaneous, and all Hermione knew was that she hadn't felt this alive in a long time.

'I can't,' she whispered, 'I don't want to. You make me feel…' Hermione shrugged her shoulders, unable to find the right word.

Severus pulled her to him and whispered into her ear. 'I know, I… ' He kissed her cheek and took a shuddering breath. 'Come on, then.'

Hermione squeaked loudly as she was suddenly hoisted off her feet. 'You can't just… sling me over your shoulder!' she laughed, grateful for the distraction from the butterflies in her stomach.

Severus extinguished the fire in the grate and began making for the stairs. 'Just did,' he commented assertively.

Hermione gave a despairing shake of her head and smiled. 'Put me down; I can walk, you know.'

'And here was me thinking I'd rendered you insensible.' He set her down and smirked. 'I'll obviously have to try harder; I wouldn't want a Troll for effort this time, would I?'

Hermione shook her head and reached up to kiss him once more. 'No, you definitely would not.'

Fin.


A/N: Thanks for reading; hope the fluff wasn't too much : ) I have an idea that I might continue series further, but we shall see.

'The Sun' is the most popular newspaper tabloid in Britain, infamous for it's photograph of a topless woman on page three of each issue.