A Kiss for the Win

"Does he do this every year?" Professor Hermione Granger asked.

"If by this, you mean humiliating the current staff and trying to scare off the new professors before term even starts, then yes, he does," Professor Severus Snape explained.

Albus Dumbledore was considered by most to be the greatest headmaster that Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry had ever seen. However, if asked in the weeks preceding the start of a new school year, his staff would tell you that he was one thing: the most annoying employer of all time.

The festivities had begun, and this year's team building exercise was a game won by solving riddles to get to the next location, and eventually, the finish line. By pairing a senior staff member with a newer one, they could show them the ropes and forge new friendships. Or at least that's how the headmaster spun things in the staff meeting. The way he presented it made it sound so much less painful than it actually was.

Professors Snape and Granger had been designated team number one and thus far were doing well enough to earn that title. They walked the halls of the school in silence. Their previous stop, greenhouse four, had ended with Severus using a hula hoop. Willingly. Afterwards, he had offered her two choices: Obliviation, or a vow of silence. As they neared their destination, he finally spoke.

"You know that vow only pertains to that last task, don't you?"

She smiled. "You spent seven years trying to shut me up. Now I've been silent five minutes, and you already miss hearing my voice."

"I just didn't want you to use it as an excuse to not participate in the rest of this exercise," he said.

"I did understand that," she replied. "I just haven't been able to think of anything else since witnessing your previously unknown skills. The boys would fall over dead if they knew I was privy to such a dirty little secret."

"Would they?" he asked. "Perhaps I should rescind that vow."

Hermione rolled her eyes and walked ahead.

They had barely made it through the entryway to the Charms classroom when the door slammed shut behind them. Instinct dictated that Hermione try the knob, although she knew it wouldn't budge. As with their other stops, an envelope appeared in front of them.

Severus grabbed it, tore through the top, and pulled out the next clue. "To get through the door before the midnight hour, ten kisses of her—" he paused a moment, rereading the clue to himself. He scowled. "Why Albus let those infernal house-elves write the clues this year, I'll never understand. The creature who wrote the last one didn't feel the need to use any punctuation. This one apparently has no idea how to use pronouns. Even the worst student just picks one instead of using them all."

His brow furrowed as he continued to stare at the page. Hermione moved around him, trying to read over his shoulder, but he turned away, a blush staining his cheeks.

"Is there a problem? Do you need me to handle this one?" she asked.

"I am perfectly capable of reading this clue," he growled. "Even with the grammatical atrocities of the elves," he muttered under his breath.

Hermione heard, but let it go. She was just getting used to this new man. She wouldn't necessarily describe him as friendly, but he'd been respectful towards her. With the amount of time they'd been spending together this week, she'd have expected them to be at each other's throats all of the time. Instead, she found they shared an above-average intelligence and a similar sense of humor, which lead to pleasant conversations on many occasions. She knew it was too good to last; the Severus Snape of old had obviously made his return.

"Well, get on with it, then. We are going to lose our lead," she said.

He cleared his throat and began,

"For the door to open by the midnight hour,

ten kisses of her, you must devour.

I wish you good luck,

as you lick, bite, and suck.

Your last stop's the Astronomy tower."

"Is this a joke?" she asked, disgust evident in her voice.

"I'm afraid he is serious." Severus replied. He saw the unpleasant look on her face and continued. "Don't worry. Since it repulses you so much, we'll just wait here and let another team win. Then we'll be free to go about our lives until this time next year."

"Don't be ridiculous," she said "I don't find you repulsive. I just can't believe that he would ask something like this of the staff. It really is inappropriate." She thought for a minute about their options, frowning as she contemplated the headmaster's lack of judgment. She replied tentatively, unsure of his feelings on the current situation. "I'm actually not one to back down from a challenge, so if you can stomach this, maybe we should just do it and move on."

A hint of a smile graced his features. "It would be a shame to let the old man think that he had the upper hand in this one."

Severus transfigured a desk into a couch, and they both sat down, squirming a bit, trying to get comfortable. They sat there for what seemed an eternity before he decided it was now or never. As he leaned towards her, she began to giggle.

"I realize that as your mentor, the only advice I'm obligated to give you is that of an academic nature. But just so you know, as a general rule, men don't appreciate laughter from the woman they are about to kiss."

"I'm sorry," she said, wiping tears of mirth from her eyes, "but I was just picturing Hagrid with the new Muggle Studies teacher. She is half my size and a very proper lady. How on Earth will they manage?"

"You say that as if they had the brains between the two of them to even progress to this point in the game," he replied.

They had just gotten settled down and serious again, when he introduced a new bit of humor. "You know who I was concerned about? Filius."

"Professor Flitwick? Why?"

"I haven't seen the new Astronomy teacher, but I've heard that Professor Marples is, by far, the best-looking staff member the castle has seen in years. That is who Filius is paired with," he explained

"So what—you think he is interested in her?"

"No, Professor Flitwick is most decidedly not interested in him."

"Oh, no!" she shrieked, thinking of the task at hand.

"Oh, yes." he replied. "I've told you before, Albus does whatever amuses him at the moment without regard to how others will be affected."

They sat on the couch a few moments, each lost in thought, until Hermione finally spoke up. "Kind of makes our situation enviable, huh?"

The vast lead that had been achieved by team one was quickly disappearing as pair after pair caught up and then passed them. As each couple entered the room, they were taken aback by the sight of the Potions professor and the Arithmancy professor sitting in the corner. They were so tightly entwined, it was difficult to tell where one began and the other ended. No one dared interrupt to find out if this was part of the game, so they just fulfilled the requirement for the room and moved on.

Once they were firmly in last place, the door opened and in walked Headmaster Dumbledore.

"I hate to break up the festivities," he said jovially,"but what are you doing?"

The professors startled and sat straight up at the intrusion.

Severus acknowledged him. "I would have thought it obvious. Perhaps you don't possess the social skills I thought you did."

Despite the annoyance tossed his way, Dumbledore just gave them a knowing look.

"We were working on the clue," Hermione offered. She dropped her gaze to the floor. "I guess we just got a little carried away with this one."

Dumbledore chuckled, "No one is in trouble here. I just never imagined that my best and brightest would be the last to finish this exercise."

"Flitwick and Marples are finished?" they blurted out in unison.

"Don't act so surprised. From what I observed, they were quite good together," Dumbledore said.

The room got quiet as Severus found himself at a loss for a retort to that particular piece of information.

Hermione was busy trying to work out how they could possibly be the last team to finish. Going into this task, they had a substantial lead. She had never seen or heard anyone else come through this room. Granted, she had been otherwise occupied—and quite pleasantly, to her surprise.

"May I see the clue?" she asked. "There must be something we missed."

Severus pulled it from his pocket and handed it to her. She got as far as the first line before she turned on him.

"What the hell, Severus! Did you plan this?"

"What are you on about, woman?" Severus asked.

"I am totally appalled. I thought you were too respectable for this sort of thing, but apparently my judgment is a bit off."

His blank stare only fueled her fire. "Not only did you throw the game just to get me to kiss you, but you're trying to blame the house-elves by criticizing their lack of education. It isn't their fault that wizards don't value them enough to allow them to attend school. Insulting house-elves isn't really the way to my heart."

"I wasn't trying to get into your heart," he said. "I'm just trying to get through this ridiculous game in one piece. So go ahead, Miss Know-it-all, and explain what I've apparently missed."

"Well, it's obvious, isn't it? Hershey?" She paused to hear his excuse, but he just looked at her as if waiting for her to continue. Frustrated, she looked to Dumbledore for affirmation. He glanced at Severus and then nodded for her to continue. "The pronoun bit was real cute, but were you just going to disregard the 'y'? Didn't wonder why it was tacked on the end there, did you?"

"Come on, Hermione. Of course I overlooked it. Everyone knows that house-elves can't spell." He realized his mistake a moment too late.

She began gesturing wildly with her hands, shouting about house-elves being under-appreciated and men being pigs and what else, he really couldn't say. He watched her tantrum in fascination, wondering how something that made a child seem spoiled and obnoxious could make a grown woman look so lovely and enticing.

He was broken from his trance by being shoved into the couch by the feisty witch.

"Do you expect me to believe that this was all an innocent mistake on your part? For Pete's sake, Severus, everyone knows what Hershey Kisses are, regardless of the phrasing. It's chocolate. Kids learn of it before they can even say the word."

His eyes darkened as he met her unwavering gaze. "I'll gladly take my chance to speak if you are quite finished." He paused and took a deep breath. When he continued, the anger was absent from his voice.

"I don't know why it is so hard to believe that an unwanted child didn't get showered in confections on a daily basis." He turned to look at the wall.

If she didn't know better, Hermione might have thought he was tearing up a bit at the memory. She sat down next to him on the couch and gently touched his arm. "Hey," she said quietly, "I'm sorry that I flipped out like that. I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed with this new position, and I just don't like being taken advantage of. If you say you didn't know ... well, you've never given me a reason to doubt your honesty."

He turned to look at her, and she gave him a small but sincere smile. He opened his mouth to respond when the headmaster interjected.

"You do realize, Severus, you are pleading your case to the child of two dentists. If she is knowledgeable of sweets ..."

Severus glared at him and told him in no uncertain terms that if he was only there to cause trouble he might as well get out.

"So what you are asking is to be alone with Professor Granger? I can grant you that." With a wink, he turned to go, quietly closing the door behind him.

Hermione saw the look of horror on Severus' face at the implications made by Dumbledore and decided to take pity on him.

"So ten was it?" Her speech broke him out of his trance.

"Excuse me?" he asked.

"We needed ten kisses, right? Like I said, I don't give up on a challenge. Last place or not, we should finish this thing."

He nodded in agreement and started to get up. She gathered up her courage. "Before you collect that chocolate, I thought maybe we could try it this way," she said, gesturing between herself and the couch. "Considering we never really came up for air with that last one, I think we still have nine to go."

Severus slowly sat back down, unsure of how to proceed. This was so much easier when it was part of the Headmaster's required activities. He desperately wanted Hermione to make the first move, but seeing the look of uncertainty in her eyes, he touched his hand to her face and leaned forward. He tentatively touched his lips to hers, any movement barely discernible. She moaned very softly, but it gave him the motivation to deepen the kiss. After a moment, he pulled back and looked her in the eyes.

"You realize that this method won't open the door," he pointed out.

She laughed. "At this point, I don't care if it never opens."

Feeling a bit overwhelmed by the suddenness of it all, he did the only thing that he could think of; he kissed her again. This time he skipped the niceties and dove right in. She opened her mouth to him and their tongues mingled, the perfect mix of intensity and gentleness. He pulled back and caressed her cheek a moment before rising and walking to the table where the chocolates laid untouched. She walked up behind him.

"Since you were deprived of such things in your youth, you can have them all."

He shook his head. "This will go faster if we work together, and I'm a bit anxious to move this to a more comfortable venue."

"Alright," she replied, relieved at the reason for his sudden interest in the chocolates. "I'll unwrap, you eat."

She picked one up, removed the wrapper and handed it to him. He put it in his mouth, sucking on it a bit to assess the flavor.

"Do you like it?" she asked.

He took a minute to swallow before replying in the affirmative. As they continued, he couldn't tear his eyes away from the way her delicate hands worked at the wrappers, any more than she could stop watching his mouth as he savored each piece. With each one, they moved a bit faster until finally the door swung open.

"Would you like to accompany me back to my rooms? I believe we have six more kisses to attend to."

Hermione pointed out that it was actually seven—not that she was counting. She took his proffered arm, and they made their descent to the dungeons.

"I wasn't trying to shortchange you, you know." His words broke her from her reverie.

"So you just can't count, then?" she teased.

The look he gave her was one she'd been on the receiving end of for seven years. Somehow, it held no malice now.

"Once we finish the tenth kiss," he continued, "the assignment is over. As long as this ridiculous game is still going, the headmaster can't ask us to start any of our other duties."

She laughed and reminded him that the game technically wasn't over until they went to the top of the Astronomy tower.

"Ah, but if we can get the whole weekend free, I might want to take you up there. If we haven't finished the kissing part, then the tower doesn't end things," he explained.

"Spoken like a true Slytherin," she said. "Trouble is, I don't know if I can stop at six."

He took her arms and wrapped them around his neck. His hands went to the small of her back to pull her closer. He leaned down and whispered in her ear, "Remember, a kiss doesn't end until we come up for air."

The next morning, they awoke to sounds coming from the sitting room. Severus sat up.

"Stay put. I just need to kill whoever is interrupting our morning. It shouldn't take long."

He leaned over and ruffled her hair as if she were a small child. It had quickly become a joke between them that since they couldn't waste precious kisses, when the moment called for it, they'd substitute other gestures. Handshakes and high fives were all fine and good, but when Hermione questioned whether Eskimo kisses counted against them, he assured her that if she forced the issue it was an automatic Obliviation.

Hermione strained her ears to hear what was going on in the next room. A few minutes later, he returned.

"We won't be bothered for the rest of the weekend," he told her.

"What happened?" she asked.

"Albus sent a house-elf to spy on us. I sent him back to the headmaster with a note praising his start of term activities. I told him that we would not be available, as we were busy forging new friendships."

"And you're going to show me the ropes," she offered.

"I don't actually have any," he replied, straight-faced,"but if you're into that, I could easily transfigure something."

She blushed, wondering whether it was his wit or skills at Legilimancy that caused him to comment. He returned the pillow she'd thrown at him as he climbed into bed beside her. After their late night, it didn't take much for sleep to overcome them both.

Upon waking, they found a box sitting on Severus' bedside table. It was nicely gift-wrapped, down to the shiny silver bow. There was no card attached. He quickly scanned it for dark magic, then tossed it to Hermione to open. He needn't have wasted his time, as he had a guess as to the identity of the sender.

She popped open the box, grinning from ear to ear as she pulled out a small, brightly colored foil package.

"Do I want to know?" he asked.

"Not really," she replied and started to put it back in the box.

"Are you going to tell me what that is or not?" he demanded.

"If you must know," she laughed, "it's a Ring Pop."

"It's a wha—"

"Right, right," she cut him off. "Look for yourself."

He opened the package to find a plastic yellow ring with a huge cherry-flavored gem on top. He might have seen the humor in it if he hadn't been so disgusted with the headmaster at this stunt.

"He's gone too far with this,"Severus fumed. "I'm going right up to his office to show him just how much I really appreciate his antics." He grabbed his wand and headed for the door.

Hermione stopped him. "Who's the Slytherin in this room, anyway? Grab me a quill and some parchment and I'll take care of this."

Albus Dumbledore was snoozing in his chair when Severus' owl began to tap at his window. He untied the scroll, gave the bird a treat, and sent him back outside. He opened the note and began to read.

Dear Headmaster Dumbledore,

I hope this letter finds you well. I appreciate the gift you sent. It was very thoughtful and kind. However, after Severus and I jumped to conclusions about the nature of the final clue in the recent staff orientation exercise, we feel it is prudent to take some time to work out the exact meaning of this gift, and whether or not it is appropriate at this time. Therefore, we will not be attending any further meetings, meals, or other organized events until the students show up at the opening feast in two weeks time. Thank you in advance for your understanding in this matter.

Warmest Regards,

Hermione Granger

"Amazing," he said as he tossed the candy he was intending to open onto the desk. The Jelly Babies skidded to a halt just short of falling off the other side onto the floor.

He glanced at the box and smiled. "No sweets for me tonight. I just might be needing you sooner than I had planned."