Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter or any affiliated characters... as much as I might wish I did. Everything original is mine, everything you recognise belongs to Rowling.

WARNING: Age difference, if it isn't to your liking; please be kind enough to try elsewhere.

A/N: Whilst this has enjoyed the TLC of another person's proofreading errors may still be present, all mistakes are mine and shall be fixed as soon as possible. I confess I am not 100% happy with this but I can't figure out why. Creative feedback welcome.

Enjoy.

Severus Snape sat back into his chair and stared blankly into the depths of the fire which burned in the hearth before him. The dim play of orange firelight and the occasional crack of the wood as the blaze consumed it, seemed very distant to him, as though he were dreaming them and any moment he would awake and forget.

Her... She was the reason he was so deep in thought that night. Whilst everyone else danced and celebrated, she bound him to his seat and forced him to linger for what seemed an eternity on his... options.

At this he nearly snorted in amusement. Options, what a joke; he didn't have any real options he knew, because he had sat in this same spot considering exactly the same problems more times than he would care to remember. The outcome was always the same. Better not to tell her, better to let her go on thinking that he was a cold heartless bastard, or at best an unwilling friend.

He paused and took a sip from the glass of fire whiskey clutched in his left hand. The liquid coursed through him and settled almost comfortingly in the pit of his stomach. Familiarity and certainty was what he craved, something the beverage always afforded him. It always did precisely the same thing, it was predictable, safe.

At this the Potions Master really did snort. Safety... what had such a privilege cost him? He brushed aside memories of the war and the anniversary celebrations going on above him. Three years to the day Voldemort had fallen. Yet it was not this, the final battle, the years of spying, the double bluffing, the lying, loneliness, self-loathing which came foremost to his mind, all these things he had consented to and done freely, all these things he had borne in the name of the future, for the days of light and peace, days he frankly had never believed he would see. No, what laid heavy on his mind tonight was true cost of what might have been.

Deep in his soul, whilst he knew it was illogical and irrational he still hoped, prayed against all the odds that she might say yes. The notion made him shudder with the force of it. He knew that he was only torturing himself with the idea but he couldn't help it. He wanted, needed her to say, to do something. It was the lack of clarity and closure which bothered him the most, even if she denied him it would be something, it would be preferable to the purgatory he existed in now. He needed to know definitively that he had no right, no cause to hope or even to wish. But even the questionable balm of rejection he knew must be denied, for to attain it he would have to reveal himself, throw himself at her. Confess that the disgusting creature she had trusted and tried to be-friend had lusted after her for a good eighteen months, grown to regard her above any other woman he had ever known for a little under a year. Yes he, the pitiful man he knew he was would have to besmirch her name by confessing, this he could not do.

He owed her that much, to never learn of his sick desires or repulsive feelings.

It was his sense of honour he supposed he should call it, for lack of a better word, which perpetuated the limbo which was now his life.

Seemingly he had it all, he had everything he could have wanted, he was a free man, alive and relatively well. He had a job, a home, people he reluctantly termed acquaintances and her. She allowed him to be a part of her life, her wonderful, perfect life. What more could he want?

It wasn't enough though, the tenuous and grudgingly given pardon from the Wizarding community of Great Britain; wasn't enough that she had forgiven him. He wanted more. He would give everything up again to hear her tell him she loved him.

That was his dilemma. He was at an impasse. If he ever hoped to earn her affections he would surely have to reveal his, to do so would destroy their friendship and any connection he already had with her.

He let out a sigh and took a deep draught of the burning alcohol which he had used as a barrier against the frustration, and though he was loathe to admit it, the despair which consumed him.

He heard a slight movement to his right and almost started, his mind cleared enough to register that they were no longer at war; he needn't be so jumpy, particularly in light of the wards which surrounded his home. There was only one person alive who could circumvent his protective spells without alerting him, whom his wards would admit without hesitation.

Hermione.

He looked up blearily and ascertained he had guessed correctly. The wild haired brunette stood looking at him with her hands on her hips, her face was impassive. He idly thought she always had been an excellent student, hardly surprising she had begun to learn his personal habits.

He found he had little desire to break the silence or invite the lecture which he was surely due. It was here again Severus Snape was forced to confront the depth of his feelings for the girl-woman before him. Had any other witch on earth tried to berate him he would have laughed and hexed her into oblivion. How could she so neatly dance around all the rules and red tape he had in place to stop himself forming attachments?

"I imagine you aren't going to open a conversation any time soon?" She asked matter-of-factly.

"To speak with such authority must mean you are certain of the validity of your assessment, if you are beyond doubt then why ask me for confirmation. It is decidedly inefficient." His answer was what he knew she would be expecting, these were well sailed waters, he knew where he stood here.

Her sneer was spectacular he thought to himself.

"Don't be so melodramatic, don't imagine for a second I don't know what this is all about." Her response was measured and slightly condescending. Oh yes, he had taught her well.

"I think you flatter yourself that you know more than you do Miss Granger. 'This' is just what it looks like, me, getting slowly and wonderfully drunk. Is there a reason you have chosen to intrude or was it just a matter of boredom?" His biting retort was everything he knew it should be, sharp and drawled.

"I think you flatter yourself Mr. Snape that your little quips still bother me. To be perfectly frank they ceased to have any tangible negative effect long ago." Her voice was smooth and powerful.

God she was breathtaking. He knew he could frighten her, could make her tremble and sob... no that was a lie; he had the capacity to do so, but had lost the power when she had claimed him for her own.

He arched a brow and sneered slightly.

"Is there a point to this? You and I both know I am not nearly drunk enough to have your presence forced upon me."

Hermione's eyes flicked at this, only a tiny slip but he noticed it, it was her, he always noticed everything, whiskey or no.

She strode forward and took the glass of glowing liquid from his un-protesting fist. He expected her to throw it in the fire or banish it; to his slight surprise she tipped the remains of his drink down her throat with a wince.

"This tastes bloody awful." she muttered.

"Nobody asked you to drink it." He pointed out a little rudely.

She glared at him.

He sighed and leaned back into his chair, closing his eyes.

"What do you want Hermione?" he asked wearily.

"I want you to dance with me." She answered boldly, looking at his shadow streaked face.

He looked at her sharply, ignoring the rush to his head.

"Are you drunk?" he demanded suspiciously.

"No." Her answer was quiet but certain.

He groaned.

"Why woman? Why in the name of Morgana would you want to do that, go bother Potter or Weasley."

"I want you to dance with me Severus. Please." she responded evenly.

He screwed his face up. Damn her! How on earth did she always know which buttons to press? His name was a marvellous tool in her hands; he became pliant as fresh clay, ready to be sculpted into whatever her whim might desire.

"Will it make you stop drinking my whiskey?" he demanded sullenly.

"Of course." she smiled.

He glared at her for a moment and then sighed resolutely. He rose to his feet with surprising grace and inclined his head, offering her a hand, his left placed formally at his lower back.

She flicked her wand at the record player in the corner and slipped her smaller hand into his, a soft, flowing melody filled the air.

Severus narrowed his eyes, he did not own anything resembling the piece in the record player, yet it had been sitting there, waiting.

He drew her in closer and led them in a slow, elegant waltz, all the time wrestling with the idea that she had planned this. She was avoiding his eyes, a sure sign she was hiding something, she was good but he was better.

The tempo of the music began to change, he altered the pace of their dance to match it, what had begun as a delicate series of simple steps became much faster and by extension more complex.

It was he supposed a perfect representation of their friendship, slow to start but inexorably impossible to stop once it had begun.

She finally turned and looked at him, her eyes shining with an almost breathless determination. He met her blow for blow, deliberately giving her nothing to hold on to. He would not play whatever game she was leading him into; he retained, in the last, still some measure of dignity.

Her face softened even as he withdrew, she allowed the mask she had spent so much time painstakingly constructing to fall, and he shuddered at the purity of what he saw. She lay utterly raw before him and he devoured every nuance of her features, memorising every play of thought and feeling in her eyes. She was beautiful. He felt his heart pounding in his chest and his breath hitch, his body ached with need. Severus Snape had never been a slave to temptation or pleasure, but her very existence was like a toxin seeping into every part of his body, polluting all reason. The Potions Master within him argued he should seek an antidote, she was poisoning him, he was not acting sensibly or appropriately.

Despite this knowledge he could not purge her from him, remove the source of his intoxication, isolate himself from her.

He stopped.

She reached up and tucked a lock of hair behind his ear, brushing his jaw line with a thumb.

"Why do you do it Severus?" she asked softly.

He swallowed; suddenly he wasn't sure what was going on anymore, something akin to panic rose up inside him. Had he given some indication, let something slip? Had she finally discovered his secret?

"Do what woman?" he growled in response.

"Ignore it, refuse to see it." she replied cryptically.

He made no response, continuing to stare at her pale face, still open and bare, curiosity and sadness etched there.

She sighed at length and her hand fell from his cheek.

"It's always been you Severus; I was waiting for you to ask me to dance."

She turned away and began to leave.

Suddenly it all made sense. He was assaulted all at once with a myriad of images and emotions. He replayed the numerous dances they had attended together over the past year, most of them unavoidable official affairs, and all at once it clicked.

She never danced the first dance, it didn't matter who she was with, what the song was or who was asking, she always caught his eye as the last notes faded and lifted her glass to him, it had become a tradition, an inside joke of sorts. She had been waiting.

He strode forward, now certain and confident, all trace of whiskey gone from his system.

"Miss. Granger." he enunciated precisely and with a hint of command.

She turned and looked at him over her shoulder, an eyebrow raised in surprise.

"Do me the honour of one last dance?" he requested.

In an almost perfect parody of their earlier interaction she accepted the proffered hand bemusedly, and he flicked his wand at the record player, they began to sway together slowly.

He leaned in and murmured close to her ear.

"Forgive a bitter man his mistakes, be patient and he will learn as fast as he can."

"It was always you." she repeated in a whisper.

He brushed her bare arm with his fingers, hearing her breathing become shallower. Smirking to himself he revelled in the responses he could evoke. He ran his fingers up her arm and over her shoulder, caressing the back of her neck. She tilted her head back into his hand and he leaned forward to nip the soft flesh at the now exposed crook of her neck.

She gasped, her head snapping forwards and her eyes flying open, falling languidly closed again almost immediately.

He tangled one hand in her hair and gently returned her head to its previous position, his other hand massaging her hip, a thumb tracing circles over the skin now visible where her silken blouse had hitched up.

"I won't share you. If you want this, I want everything." His voice was thick and dark, clouded with authority and a power which was wholly his.

He emphasised his point by grazing her neck with his teeth.

"Yes." She gasped her knuckles white as she clutched his chest to keep herself up.

"Say it!" he demanded.

She was flush against him, he took her earlobe between his lips and sucked luxuriously, running his lower lip along her jaw and over her lips, refusing to kiss her. His hands maintained a firm grip on her waist, taking most of her weight.

"Everything, all of it, I'm... yours." she managed between ragged breaths.

He finally claimed her lips and she came undone. All resolve and self control vanished, all she knew was him: his lips; his hands; his heat.

"I've been waiting." he growled, echoing her.