Author's Note: I own nothing you recognize. And if I were making money off this, I'd be living in Hogwarts-by-the-Sea in the Caribbean.

"I have a proposal for you," Hermione said as she approached his desk one afternoon. "And I think it will solve both our problems."

Snape kept his eyes on the vials of potions in front of him. "Well, it is certainly unfortunate that you do not possess the irritating bluntness characteristic of Gryffindor House, or else you would be able to simply demand that I do as you say," he mumbled sarcastically.

He heard her sigh and knew from experience that she had crossed her arms in agitation. "Why people don't just fall in line, I'll never know…" he heard her say quietly to herself. He suppressed a smile.

She cleared her throat, and her syrupy tone was entirely too false. Hermione had never been good at subtle persuasion. "Professor Snape. You are by far the most intellectually stimulating professor I have ever had the pleasure of learning from, and I was hoping that you might do me a very great favor."

This time he looked up, and she batted her eyelashes at him in what she likely thought was an engaging manner. "Miss Granger, I must bemoan your lack of prior research as to your subject matter – for surely you are not harboring the impression that I am subject to flattery or in the habit of bestowing favors upon anyone." This time he did smile, because Hermione's innocent expression gave way to a thoroughly frustrated pout.

"Fine. I will be short and to the point," she snapped.

"That will be a novel experience," she heard him whisper. Hermione ignored this and continued.

"As I was saying, you and I are both in a predicament, to which I believe I have found a mutually satisfying solution." She sounded like she was giving a presentation on the properties of murtlap essence. She harrumped, and he looked up again.

"Do go on," he drawled. "I am most intrigued." His tone of voice suggested otherwise.

"I require a date to the upcoming celebration, someone who will not bore me silly or follow me around like a lovesick nargle. You require a public appearance to squash any lingering rumors about your role in the war." Hermione quirked one eyebrow as she delivered her strongest argument: "And to be seen with me would certainly do that, and more." She waited for his response.

Snape narrowed his eyes and studied her. It had only been a few weeks since the death of Voldemort, and the effects of the war were still evident. Hermione's cheeks were slightly sunken, and her petite frame was skeletally thin from months of malnutrition and fear. The scars from her run-in with Bellatrix glimmered on her neck, and Snape knew that there were emotional scars that were worse still. Madam Pomfrey had asked him whether there was a potion that could help with the after-effects of the Cruciatus curse, as Hermione had been too proud to ask him herself. And yet, she stood before him, her shoulders squared and her eyes daring him to deny her. If there had been any doubt that Hermione Granger was a warrior before, her stubborn perseverance throughout the final battle and the rebuilding had removed all trace of it. It was one of the many reasons he admired her so – even if it was making her bloody unbearable to be around. The girl refused to take no for an answer.

"If I were to agree – and mind you, I am not agreeing to this foolhardy scheme – what benefit would there be for either of us? You could attend The-Boy-Who-Lived-To-Be-Eighteen's birthday celebration with a niffler and Dolores Umbridge, and no one would dare speak against you. My name has already been cleared by the Wizengamot and I have been pronounced a hero. Those who continue to doubt my sincerity do so out of spite. I have no desire to parade myself in front of the Wizarding community out of a misplaced sense of obligation, and I wonder why you feel you must do so as well?" Snape hoped that he could talk some sense into the girl before she badgered him for much longer.

Hermione stood quietly, looking at him with those deep brown eyes of hers. If he didn't know better, he'd think that she was practicing Legilimency – but she had proved as atrocious at the skill as Potter. He stiffened when she helped herself to a seat on the edge of his desk.

"Is it so unbelievable that I might like some company at Harry's birthday party?" she asked softly. "Is it so unbelievable that I'd like your company?"

He looked away, thinking. Things had been different ever since she had led a team of Healers back to the Shrieking Shack for him. He had been most irritated – and embarrassed – when he had awoken a week later to find her curled in a chair next to his hospital bed, asleep and looking as though she needed a great deal of care herself. He had been fully unprepared for the rush of tenderness he had felt upon finding out that she had not left his side. Try though he might, his continued coldness towards her had not altered her determined friendliness. Even once he had become outright rude and belligerent, she refused to leave him in peace. He could not bring himself to try harder to push her away – she had, after all, more than likely saved his life.

It was for this reason that he now turned back to face her, and said in a resigned voice, "Very well, Miss Granger, perhaps you could enlighten me as to your expectations for the evening. Shall I wear my finest dress?"

Her lips quirked in amusement, and she said thoughtfully, "Hmm, I suppose your second-best dress would do. It's only a birthday party, after all."

Snape felt his lips curve into his second smile of the day, and admitted to himself that at least she was an entertaining companion. She was certainly the only person in existence who was able to make him smile – or the only person who cared to try. "Make no mistake, Miss Granger: this is no ordinary birthday party. This is the first organized celebration since the downfall of the Dark Lord, and it will only be followed by ever more grandiose celebrations as the anniversaries tick by. I daresay even Potter will get his fill of parties in his honor."

Hermione scowled at him. "You know, he dislikes the attention as much as you do," she said.

"I find that difficult to believe," he replied, grimacing.

"Whether you believe it or not, it is nonetheless true," she stated emphatically. "You can find out yourself because we'll be sharing his table at the party. Now then, if I interpreted your earlier statement about your attire correctly, you have agreed to accompany me?"

"Do I have another choice?" Snape asked. "Or will you insist on annoying me until I agree to your plans?" His put-upon tone was decidedly lacking in sincerity, and they both knew it.

"Oh, you always have a choice," she answered him softly. "For the rest of your life, Severus, you'll have a choice…at last." She looked at him with a sad smile on her face, and her use of his first name caused a strange sensation in his midsection.

"It's Professor Snape, and you have not answered my question regarding your expectations for the evening." He snapped at her to cover his momentary surprise at hearing his name on her lips, and he reminded himself that he should not have enjoyed it so much. He expected her to stiffen in indignation, but her smile grew wider and a mischievous glint entered her eyes. He became extremely wary.

"Yes, well, let's do discuss our…expectations," she drawled. "One: I expect you, Professor Snape, to accompany me to Harry's party. Two: I expect you to do so willingly and with a proper attitude – I will not tolerate skulking in shadowy corners. Three: I expect you to engage me in conversation throughout the evening, join me in any festivities which require accompaniment, and otherwise behave in the proper capacity – as my date." Hermione's triumphant smile dared him to contradict her, and he found that she was quite alluring when she was bossing him around. He also found that he was loath to deny her.

"Your…date, you say?" he asked slowly. "Will you, perchance, require me to hold your hand? Twirl you around the dance floor? Gaze into your eyes like a – what did you call it? – lovesick nargle? Maybe even…kiss you goodnight?" He studied her for a reaction as he spoke. He was trying to set her off-balance, upset her composure, convince her that her proposal was foolish in the extreme. But Hermione would not be beaten at her own game.

She stared back at him, seeming to debate how best to answer him. Finally, she said, "That would certainly be a welcome improvement from the way you generally treat me – as though I were still the insufferable eleven-year-old you wish you could have struck with a Silencing Charm." She stood from her perch on his desk, and said calmly, "The party is this Saturday at seven. I shall meet you in the entry hall at ten til. Oh, and please do not think to escape your commitment by actually wearing a dress. I shall not mind it in the least if you do, and you will only look like Neville's boggart come to life again." She strode towards the door, stopping only to call back: "By the way, Professor? You will call me Hermione and I shall call you Severus for the duration of the evening. And I doubt very highly that I shall refuse should you wish to hold my hand…or kiss me goodnight."

Snape allowed his head to smack his desk as he wondered when exactly he had lost control of their exchange. He suspected it had happened rather a long time ago, and he tried not to feel the tingle of excited anticipation for Saturday's event.