Author's Notes:

My dearest readers, what can I say? Thank you so much for all your reviews, favourites and follows. They mean so much and I love hearing from all of you.

So this chapter is a bit of fun. After the last few chapters our couple needed a bit of relationship time, but watch carefully readers, there are some clues for things to come.

Usual warnings apply: adult scenes and the usual language.

Much love to Onecelestialbeing for allowing her eyes to bleed so yours don't have to.

I own nothing but my imagination and a lovely new notebook. My beautiful muses belong elsewhere.


Place Your Bets

The week following Horace Slughorn's passing showed signs of life starting to improve for Hermione and Severus. Severus was still emotionally delicate―the students had been treated to some of the headmaster's choicest foul moods―but thanks to Minerva's insistence that she would deal with most of the evening disciplinary issues, and Draco offering to cover Hermione's rounds, the couple was finally able to spend some quality time together. Their evenings were spent curled up on the sofa reading or working before retiring to their bedroom―occasionally via a steamy shared bath―to talk and, without fail, make love.

For the first few days after Horace's death, their coupling had been gentle and connective as they made up for their recent lack of intimacy. Hermione knew that Severus needed to be handled with kid gloves and was careful to give him just what he needed, but after two days she realised that she needed something, and it was far from slow and sensual.

Waiting patiently for Severus to return from his usual Monday board meeting at the Ministry, Hermione felt her core pulsate as thoughts of all the wicked things she wanted to do to him the moment he walked through the door, pervaded her mind. She tried to do some marking, but the scrolls remained untouched in their study. She tried to study, but her notes remained neatly placed on the coffee table.

She was about to go and slip into something more comfortable when she heard the door open, and her wizard stepped into their chambers. That night, Severus discovered what it was like to be ravished.

At first, he wasn't quite sure what was going on. One moment he was walking into their chambers contemplating a pleasant evening on the sofa with his witch―most probably Leo―and a nice glass of wine, and the next his back made contact with the wall as his mouth was assaulted by a pair of hot lips. His briefcase clattered to the floor, and he would have wrapped his arms around Hermione had he not been stunned by the unmistakable sound of fabric tearing, buttons pinging off in all directions, and hands busily working on the fastenings of his trousers.

He'd never experienced Hermione―or any woman for that matter―in such a wild state of passion, and with all hopes of a quiet night vanishing, Severus decided to join in with equal enthusiasm. But it soon became evident that he wasn't in charge of tonight's schedule when, after they fumbled and staggered their way into the bedroom, he found himself being pushed onto their bed, hissing as Hermione wasted no time in sinking down onto his cock. And although he reached his completion far too quickly, Severus realised as he looked down at his ripped frock coat, shirt, trousers and boxers, that Hermione wasn't the only one who needed this.

The night before Slughorn's funeral, Hermione and Severus returned to their chambers after her apprenticeship session, and were lounging on the sofa discussing the news that they'd received earlier in the day.

Running her hand along the length of Leo's body and tail whilst he sprawled in her lap, Hermione huffed, "But they're offering ten thousand pounds less than you put it on the market for, Sev?"

"Do you really think that makes a sod of difference to me?" Severus snarled, ceasing his firm, but gentle, massage of her foot that she'd placed in his lap.

Sensing a potential row, Leo jumped off Hermione's lap and trotted over to Severus' once favourite armchair which had now been claimed for half-kneazle kind.

"If I was a charitable person, I would give them the bloody place for free, but it's the only thing―apart from a pile of memories that I wish I didn't have―that I will ever get from that bastard, so they're going to have to pay something for the place. A forfeit of ten thousand is perfectly acceptable as far as I am concerned."

Hermione shook her head and sighed deeply. She knew it was none of her business what Severus did with Spinner's End, but she thought the offer was a little too cheeky just to accept straight away. "So you're going to accept their offer?"

"I believe that's what I just said."

"Well, I just think they've got a bargain," Hermione grumbled, folding her arms indignantly.

Severus smirked and tapped her other leg to indicate that she could place that foot into his lap also. "If a bargain is defined as buying a shit hole for ten thousand less than the asking price, then, yes they have indeed. However, in return I am rid of a lifelong burden. I will inform the estate agents tomorrow of my acceptance, and then we will pay the place a visit next Saturday morning so that I can destroy everything that is left there and say goodbye to Mrs. Knutsford."

"Who's that?"

"My elderly neighbour, and one of the best menders of grazed knees―second only to Poppy―that I have ever known, and please desist with the dewy eyes, darling. It is a statement of fact, not sentiment."

"Oh, of course," Hermione teased playfully, knowing that Severus' mind was made up. And in many respects she, too, was glad that the house had sold so quickly because it meant that another chapter on his less than idyllic childhood was about to close.

She gently rubbed her foot along his inner thigh, watching carefully to gauge his reaction to her bold move.

Grabbing her ankle, Severus told her to behave before twisting to face her and moving her leg, spreading her open to reveal a delicious view of her black cotton knickers. Unconsciously licking his lips, he felt his cock twitch as thoughts of the delights that lay behind that simple barrier filled his mind.

Hermione smirked as she witnessed this, and asked coquettishly, "See something you like?"

"I do indeed, and something tells me it's time for bed."

"And what something would that be?"

Pushing her legs further apart, Severus moved swiftly so that he could ensconce himself between her thighs. "This," he purred, nuzzling her neck and grinding his clothed, hardening cock against her core.

Groaning softly, Hermione's fingers found their way into his hair as she flexed her hips upwards. "I think something is right."

"Bloody hell, it's cold," Hermione grumbled as she walked into the bathroom, her sweat slicked skin cooling rapidly in the night chilled air.

Her sated, sleepy wizard remained sprawled in their bed, observing her through half-lidded eyes. "It is nearing the end of November, sweetheart. I would have thought that you'd have known how cold it gets at this time of year by now," Severus mumbled, pulling the duvet up over his shoulders and then Summoning an extra blanket.

Leaving the door slightly ajar, she called out, "Yes, but in my previous Novembers here, I'd have been tucked up in bed wearing a thick pair of pyjamas and reading. I wouldn't have been walking to the loo starkers after being shagged senseless, due to the fact that...well there wasn't any sex."

Severus' deep chuckle met her ears, and she rolled her eyes when she heard, "So the rumours about Gryffindor Tower being a den of iniquity are untrue? How utterly disappointing."

"Gryffindor Tower―a den of iniquity? That's what we thought about the Slytherin dorms," Hermione teased, flushing the loo and washing her hands.

"Perhaps in Lucius' day, and possibly even in mine, but certainly not whilst I was Head of House, I can assure you. Unfortunately for your peers, I knew every trick in the book, and most were too intellectually challenged to think of new ones. But had I known that you were wearing your sexy pyjamas, I may have found cause to pay you a late night visit or two," he teased awaiting her response. He smirked as she snorted her derision.

"Oh yeah, of course you would," she laughed, walking back into the bedroom.

Severus couldn't tear his eyes away from the soft bounce of her breasts and the sway of her hips. He still couldn't believe that this witch was his.

"Of course I wouldn't, you daft witch. As much as I can jest about it now, you know that, even though on occasion I may have thought about it, I would never have touched you whilst you were still in my charge. It would have been more than my life was worth if the Dark Lord had discovered my feelings for you, and worse still if Minerva had found out."

Hermione smirked, sliding into their bed and seeking out the warmth of Severus' body. She was about to press herself tightly to her lover when she felt something unexpected against her shin. Reaching down, she wrapped her hand around something cold and metallic. Her eyes widened slightly as she realised what it was, and pulled out the shiny, jewel-tipped toy that they'd been playing with earlier.

Hermione blushed and whispered, "Oops!"

"Indeed," Severus chuckled, recalling how his curly-haired minx had moaned whilst pushing back eagerly against the small plug that he'd positioned at her tight, puckered hole. Feeling himself harden again, he watched as Hermione cast a cleansing charm and banished it to the bottom drawer of her bedside table. However, his erection soon disappeared as his witch finally lay down and made skin contact. "Fuck, you're cold," he hissed, wrapping her in his arms and tucking the covers around her.

"Yep, but I've got my big teddy bear to warm me up," Hermione sing-songed, suppressing a giggle as Severus' body tensed.

Looking at the mop of hair that was now covering his chest, the surly wizard shook his head incredulously and extinguished the lights with a wave of his hand.

"I object to being referred to as a teddy bear," he drawled menacingly, but that was no deterrent to Hermione anymore.

She looked up at her wizard―her eyes adjusting to the darkened room. "Perhaps teddy bear isn't the best thing to call you. You're more of a grumpy bear, but at least you're my grumpy bear."

"I will concede to being grumpy."

"Oh, shut up! You are far more approachable these days."

"I shall redress that immediately."

"No, you won't! I would never go as far as to say that your bark is worse than your bite because we both know that no one wants to be on the end of one of your rages. I still wouldn't want to get on the wrong side of you."

Severus smirked just as a cloud moved away to reveal an almost full moon, which flooded their bedchamber in a silvery light. "Quite right! That said I wouldn't want to get on the wrong side of you. I rather enjoy my sex life."

"Is that all I'm good for?" Hermione pouted, tracing the planes and scars of his chest with her finger.

"I shall not dignify that with a response."

She pressed an almost grateful kiss to his chest, and then pushed herself further up his body to look into his eyes as best she could, now that a cloud was once again obscuring the moon. "Are you ready for tomorrow?"

"Oh, that I was," Severus sighed, banging his head into the pillow. "I have written my address, and I know I will be able to Occlude well enough to deliver it, but inwardly, I find myself utterly unprepared. I still feel...I don't know how I feel," he conceded.

"You're grieving," Hermione offered softly, "but you're not just grieving for Horace. You've spent your whole life locking away your emotions; it's bound to take its toll, Sev."

"Perhaps you're right. I just feel so fucking helpless," he huffed, running his hand roughly over his face.

Hermione snorted, stating fiercely, "You're anything but helpless."

Severus shifted awkwardly, pushing out a breath. "You may be right. Nevertheless, it is how I feel."

Burrowing closer, Hermione squeezed him tightly. "Then it's my job to make you feel better."

"I hope it's more than a job."

"I'm not going to dignify that with a response."

Trying to hold it in, but failing miserably, Severus ended up snorting with laughter at his witch's dry delivery of his earlier response. "You have no idea how much better you make me feel, sweetheart."

"Oh, there are many occasions when I do," Hermione purred, walking her fingers up his chest playfully.

"That goes without saying, but I hope you know how much your support and belief in me means."

"Of course I know. And the same goes for me. I don't know how I'd manage to teach, and study for my NEWTS and apprenticeship without you."

"I have no doubt that you would manage without me."

Hermione shrugged. "But the point is, I don't want to manage without you...not now."

Taking her hand, Severus gently kissed her fingers, a feeling of warmth spreading through his chest from her words. He moved to lie on his side, shifting slowly so that he didn't unceremoniously throw Hermione off him. Pushing her hair away from her face, his eyes scanned her face before pressing a soft kiss to her lips. His hand ghosted over her breast, and they both groaned as her nipple hardened in response. Severus pulled Hermione flush to his body, and began to roll her back as his tongue slipped into her mouth, and the kiss deepened quickly.

But as much as Hermione wanted this moment to spin out of control, she knew that since she had managed to get Severus talking about Horace and the funeral, the best thing would be to keep him talking.

Reluctantly, she pulled back and forced out, "So, who's coming tomorrow?"

Until he realised Hermione's intent, Severus looked a little perturbed by the sudden change of mood, but had to admit that he was quite touched by her efforts despite the burgeoning erection he had to contend with. However, that was quickly dealt with when his mind turned to the question in hand.

"Thankfully, we have managed to keep the Ministry's involvement to a minimum," he informed, moving onto his back and placing one hand behind his head. "A noticeable absentee will be our illustrious leader. My invitation was declined by his office on the basis that he is still unavailable."

This piqued Hermione's curiosity and she moved to lean on his chest again, shuddering slightly as Severus' fingers skimmed over her back. "He's still away? That's weird."

"It is," Severus mused, absentmindedly taking one of Hermione's curls and twisting it around his finger. "I find his ambivalence towards the funeral of a man so well regarded within the wizarding community, and who also taught him, to be rather disturbing."

"Well, it would be disturbing if we knew for certain that we're dealing with Kingsley. But if it's Yaxley, do you think he's staying away because the funeral is being held at Hogwarts? I mean I know you thought that Poliakov wanted the Yule Ball to be held at Durmstrang to get you away from the castle."

Severus stared at the ceiling, pondering her question. "Perhaps, but I think it would be in rather bad taste―even for Yaxley―to try anything untoward at the funeral of his former Head of House, even if the location of the service were away from Hogwarts. However, as it was, Horace requested to be buried here. Although I would have preferred that he hadn't made such a request," he grumbled, "as it has proved rather difficult to accommodate."

Hermione sighed pensively. "Were you surprised that he wanted to be buried here?"

Chewing the inside of his cheek, Severus mumbled, "At first."


Severus puffed out a breath. "Because when he retired―or rather when Albus suggested he relinquish his position so that I could take over as Potions professor―he seemed to leave with less than a heavy heart. In fact, he was quite happy to stay away even when he was being harassed to join Voldemort's cause. He only returned when Harry was dangled in front of him. But he explained that following Albus' death and the events of last year, he began to feel an unexpected kinship with the school. When I asked him to stay on, I recall him saying that he wished to retire at the end of the academic year but that it would be nice to stay amongst family for a little longer."

Hermione sighed, a plaintive expression gracing her features. "In a way, I wish I'd spent more time with him. Considering I was his Assistant Professor, I hardly knew him. Did he have any family?"

"No...well, no surviving family, at least. He never married, and because of his moving from location to location to avoid the Dark Lord's recruiters, he didn't even have a home to call his own. Hogwarts, as so often is the case for so many―myself included―became his home and as such he wished to be buried in the grounds."

Tucking Severus' hair behind his ear, Hermione thought about the peace that Hogwarts had offered her as an awkward Muggleborn who didn't quite fit in. But, at least, she'd had a home; it was with her parents― until she sent them away. She used to feel sorry for Harry when he said that Hogwarts was his home; for not having someone loving to go home to, and, for years, it had never occurred to her that Severus, or anyone else for that matter, felt as Harry did. Now, she understood it for all sorts of reasons, but predominantly because if home is where the heart is, then Hogwarts was it.

"Anyway," Severus continued, "even though Horace would have been delighted to have the Minister for Magic in attendance, there will be enough high ranking officials, and influential―or rather self-important―individuals at his funeral, and maybe more importantly they will be there of their own volition rather than in an official capacity. Lucius won't be there―"


"Bill and Fleur are coming, and I thought it prudent to advise him so that he could send his apologies and condolences if necessary. He obviously believed it was."

"That's a shame," Hermione mumbled disappointedly.

Severus rolled his eyes. "Don't worry, you will see him soon. He has agreed to my request to stay here with you whilst I am away."

Hermione's jaw dropped in disbelief. "I don't need a babysitter, Sev."

"I know. But I need reassurance that you are safe. You may have an Auror escort, but with Pius out of the country, as well, I have appointed Lucius as your protector."

Unsure whether to be annoyed with him or not, Hermione was appreciative of her wizard's concern and decided that the tactful thing to do was say thank you, and pressed a chaste kiss to his lips. She loved Lucius, but like other people's children, as much as she enjoyed his company, there were times when she was glad once he'd gone home.

As if reading her mind, Severus told her, "Over a prolonged period of time, Lucius is much less exuberant than he is in short bursts. Anyway, his presence may be missed, but numerous former students will be present, as will, unfortunately, a contingent of the Press."

Hermione snorted, knowing how much Severus despised the press.

"Yes, well," he grumbled, "it is an event of public interest, so as long as they keep their flashbulbs out of our business, I will tolerate them."

"Can you imagine how much he'd have been crowing about his funeral being an event of public interest?" Hermione chuckled. She could just imagine how Horace's chest would have puffed up at all the attention, and yet he would have remained ever so humble.

Severus laughed, but Hermione could tell there was less mirth in it than usual.

"You miss him, don't you?" she asked, tracing one of the scars on Severus' stomach gently.



Severus nodded into the dark before admitting, "And I have no idea why."

"I think you needed a father figure to talk to." Hermione's tone was reminiscent of her Know-It-All best. "Albus is a portrait, Lucius is more of an older brother, and Pius, well in fairness you don't know him as well as everyone else, and Arthur may be a father who gives you advice, but he's only ten years older than you."

Severus pulled Hermione even closer, pressing a soft kiss to her temple whilst carding his fingers through her curls.

"Perhaps. There was something rather cathartic about conversing with him, although I don't know why I thought telling him about Arnold qualified as a suitable subject for discussion."


To hide his awkwardness, Severus cleared his throat. "My first... well, you were the one who started talking about teddy bears."

Giggling at Severus' disgusted tone, Hermione pushed herself up so that she could look into his, once again, moonlit face. "Go on."

Severus tutted, regretting bringing up the matter of his childhood toy, but, at the same time―like everything he discussed with her―it felt completely natural to divulge the information.

"My mother purchased Arnold before I was born, and he stayed with me from birth until I was eight."

He ignored Hermione's fawning sentimentality, but he couldn't ignore her question. "What happened when you were eight?"

"Ably assisted by the living room fire, he met his end at the hands of my father."

Hermione gasped. "That's terrible. What a bastard!"

A sad smile crept across Severus' lips. "You act like that comes as a surprise."

"Honestly, if that man was still alive―"

"Thankfully, he isn't," Severus interrupted, wanting to change the subject quickly.

However, Hermione had other ideas and shook her head; her anger at a man who had died before she was born written across her face. "Well, at least you won't throw your children's toys onto the fire," she declared truculently.

"Won't I?"


Severus snorted softly. "I don't suppose I would―at least, I hope I wouldn't―but I suspect, it would prove to be a most effective deterrent."

"My dad was always threatening to throw my toys out if I didn't behave―which seemed to be quite a lot when my magic flared up. He never did though. Anyway, we won't need to worry about that: our kids will be angelic," Hermione said with feigned haughtiness.

Severus stifled a laugh; visions of a frazzled Hermione tearing her curly locks out as four black, curly-haired children ran amok, and her thrusting various brightly coloured toys at him to throw out, sprang to mind. Four? Damn Lily, and her fucking dreams for putting that in my head.

Clearing his mind of what was actually quite a pleasant thought, Severus softly stated, "I trust that I will follow your father's example and show the same level of self-restraint."

Hermione smiled up at him. "You will. I'm sure of it."

Severus strained forward to press a kiss on his witch's lips before flopping back against the pillow. "Your faith in me never fails to astound me."

"Get used to it, Mister," she purred, snuggling into his chest.

Taking a deep breath, Severus squeezed the woman in his arms a little tighter. One day he might get used to it, but for now, he was happy to remain amazed by her.

The Great Hall was abuzz with chatter as guests arrived for the funeral service of Professor Horace Slughorn. Life-long friends and acquaintances, former students who infiltrated all walks of life in the wizarding world, and colleagues gathered to pay their respects.

At eleven o'clock the students filed into the hall by House to take their places behind the assembled guests with Professor Potter and Slytherin House, in deference to their former Head of House, leading the way. Whilst the students were taking their places, the Goblin funeral directors that Horace had appointed were preparing to levitate his casket up the steps to the castle. The huge door groaned opened to reveal the imposing, solitary figure of Headmaster Snape; his black dress robes billowed in the icy wind that infiltrated the entrance hall, as he waited to admit his former colleague into the walls of Hogwarts one last time.

The headmaster bowed his head as the mahogany coffin entered the castle, his black eyes seemingly unmoved by the unfolding events. But, the truth was, Severus was Occluding. Once he'd kissed Hermione goodbye behind the door to the teacher's entrance after breakfast, he'd gone to his office with explicit instructions to all the staff not to disturb him. He sat at his desk, silently erecting his mental barriers until his eyes were devoid of sentiment, and their infamous ice cold quality returned; he could ill afford any visible emotions.

Minerva had been quite concerned when Severus told her that he was going to greet Horace alone, and was still grumbling to Hermione in the staff room about it before she went to collect her House for the service. But as the younger witch explained, he needed to do this on his own in order to Occlude without distractions. He'd even asked her not to use their connection during the service and interment. Just knowing she was there would be support enough for him on this occasion.

As Horace's casket was levitated down the central aisle of the Great Hall by four deferential Goblins, few could ignore the implacable headmaster who followed behind, the mask he had worn for so many years still fitting far too well. For some, this was the only version of Severus Snape that they had ever known, but for those who knew the improved version, this was an unpleasant reminder that he was only one step away from regressing to his previous state of being.

Upon reaching the owl lectern, Severus looked out across the sea of faces before him, his eyes quickly flitting to those of the witch sat on the far end of the first row before his infamous drawl resonated throughout the hall as he delivered the eulogy. To the assembled there was no hint of outward emotion. To the young witch whose eyes he had sought out, she felt his constant internal battle to keep his emotions secure.

After much deliberation, Severus decided that Horace Slughorn's final resting place should be on the opposite side of the Black Lake not far from Dumbledore's tomb. The plot also had the advantage of having growing room in case any other members of staff wanted to be buried there. In fact, Minerva and Filius had already expressed an interest, which had somewhat unnerved the headmaster. He knew that one day the inevitable would happen, but he just hoped it wouldn't happen anytime soon.

The biting wind blowing across the lake seemed to penetrate everyone attending the interment ceremony, despite being wrapped up in their thick travelling cloaks and coats, and Warming charms being cast. But as Slughorn's casket was lowered into the ground, there was one person who hadn't seemed to notice the cold that much.

Hermione stood at Severus' side, pride swelling in her chest. As the attending witches and wizards slowly began to disperse and walk back up to the castle for refreshments, she overheard many complimentary comments about Severus' surprisingly moving delivery of Horace's eulogy and the dignity with which he'd conducted the burial. Even she had to admit that the hairs stood up on the back of her neck as he spoke.

Severus, who'd finally allowed some of his defences to fall, inconspicuously slipped his hand into hers. "Allow me to accompany you back to the castle, Professor Granger."

However, feeling how cold her hand was, his brow suddenly furrowed. "Why aren't you wearing gloves? Your hands are freezing," Severus fussed, no longer caring if anyone saw him holding her hands to warm them up.

"I forgot to bring them. I had other things to worry about," she whispered knowingly.

Severus narrowed his eyes and growled softly. "As much as I appreciate your concern, 'Mione, I would prefer it if you didn't risk your health. Come on, let's go and thaw you out."

Taking Severus' offered arm, Hermione leant into him slightly as they began to walk back up to the castle.

"Headmaster, could I have quick word about the match tomorrow?" Ron Weasley called, jogging towards them after leaving his conversation with Harry and Dean Thomas.

Wanting to be alone with Hermione―even for just a few minutes―and knowing that she would walk off if he stood and conversed with the younger wizard, Severus tried to stall him.

"Come up to my office in thirty minutes. I need to discuss something with Hermione before her lessons this afternoon."

Ron nodded, gulping as he regained his breath. The life of a keeper was not known to be the most athletic of the Quidditch positions. "OK. Alright, Hermione?"

Hermione bristled, her grip on Severus' arm tightening. "Fine, thank you, Ronald."

"Great., Harry and Nev are going out for a drink tonight. You can come along know...if you want to."

Hermione was rather taken aback by the offer, and trying to act nonchalantly, blustered, "Oh. Well, we've got plans haven't we, Severus?"

I hadn't intended to wash my hair until the morning, Severus snarked inside her head before hesitantly confirming that they did indeed have plans for the evening.

Ron shrugged. "OK. Well, if you find yourselves anywhere near The Three Broomsticks then pop in."

"If we do, we'll be sure to," Severus responded, much to Hermione's chagrin. "Now if you will excuse us, I will see you shortly, Mr. Weasley."

As the couple retreated, Ron chuckled at Hermione's unconvincing excuse before looking up at the castle whilst waiting for Neville and Harry to catch up with him.

The youngest Weasley boy had to admit that spending time back at Hogwarts had been more fun than he'd expected, and was surprised by how enthusiastic the students were about his flying instruction. Not that they hadn't enjoyed George's lessons, but there was something rather intriguing about a disgraced professional Quidditch playing war hero who'd been to Azkaban for the average twelve year old―especially the female ones.

So, now Professors Malfoy and Potter weren't the only ones being fawned over by impressionable teenage girls. Although Professor Malfoy would rather his fan club disappear, especially the bane of his life, Gabrielle Delacour, who, to add insult to injury, had somehow been befriended by his girlfriend.

However, the older female students were not so enthused by Ron's presence at the school. They eyed him suspiciously, whispering conspiratorially in the corridors about his motives for replacing his brother―not that he'd actually had any say in the matter. The general consensus amongst the hopeless romantics was that Ron Weasley should be strung up by the bollocks for the way he'd treated the female half of their favourite couple, but suspecting that he may still have his eye on Professor Granger, they were determined to make sure that the headmaster won out should the situation arise.

"Make it quick, Weasley, the school has guests and my presence is required. I presume there is nothing to discuss regarding tomorrow."

Shaking his head, Ron huffed mirthfully as the headmaster brusquely intimated that he should take a seat. "Not really. I spoke to Professor McGonagall and Harry about making sure the teams behave. Gryffindor versus Slytherin is a right grudge match, you know, and―"

"―I prefer to think of it as more competitive."

Ron couldn't help but laugh. "Have you ever played in a Gryffindor/Slytherin match?"

"Unfortunately," Severus began, drumming his fingers on the desk, "I was prevented from doing so when I fell foul of the then Gryffindor Seeker and his cohorts only days before the match. It was then that I decided my time would be better spent concentrating on more academic pursuits, such as how to get the bastard back."

"That's Harry's dad you're talking about, you know," Ron grumbled with as much defiance as he could muster.

"Thank you for enlightening me," the headmaster drawled sardonically, "but as much as I enjoy reminiscing about my illustrious Quidditch career, I believe you should get to the point."

Ron nodded, and drew his bottom lip between his teeth before reaching into his pocket, withdrawing a piece of parchment and sliding it across the desk towards Severus. "This arrived before we left to come here."

Checking the parchment for any tailored poison, Severus read and pushed it back towards Ron. "Don't they believe in using code? So you are to meet at the usual place at ten o'clock tomorrow evening. I presume the someone who wants to meet you is Yaxley. Is that all you wanted to discuss with me?"

"Well, yeah. I thought you ought to know, and―" Ron began shifting awkwardly in his chair.

Severus narrowed his eyes, noting the younger wizard's discomfort. "Out with it, Weasley."

"Well, the thing is, sir, I need to give them some information."

"I suppose you do," Severus mused, twisting his mouth as he tried to think of an interesting, but harmless morsel to dangle in front of―if not Yaxley himself―then one of his minions. "Tell them that Hermione has confided in Potter that I am meeting persons unknown in secret, and she is, understandably, concerned for all manner of reasons."

"Is that true?"

"I meet with many behind closed doors. Hermione knows who I am seeing and where I am, but they don't need to know that. They can draw their own conclusions, whether that is me potentially planning to make a move against the Ministry or that I am having an illicit affair."

"You're not, are you?"

"Your concern is touching on both counts, Ronal, but the answer to both is no. I have no interest in the former, and as for the latter, unlike you, I could never do such a thing to Hermione."

"Yeah, alright, no need to rub it in."

"I can assure you that was not my intention. However, if one has a guilty conscience then―"

"Alright, you've made your point."

Severus' lips twitched imperceptibly. "And I shall continue to do so."

"Bloody hell! Sirius was right. You know how to hold a grudge, don't you?"

"Coming from the master himself I shall bare that insult with good grace."

Ron realised that he was never going to win this battle of wits, and shook his head in defeat. "I'll tell them that, then, and I'll pass anything interesting onto Dad, and―"

"I believe your mother has invited us to lunch on Sunday," Severus interrupted him distractedly.

Ron chuckled, imagining exactly how his mother would have requested their presence. "Invited or summoned?"

Severus arched a knowing eyebrow. "Is there a difference?"

"Not really," Ron admitted drolly. "Well, in that case, I'm sure Dad will find something interesting to show us in the shed."

"In my limited experience of your father's shed," Severus said as he stood up and walked around his desk, "I have always found his whisky collection to be suitably engaging." He continued to walk towards his office door before opening it abruptly. "Now if that is all, I shall see you tomorrow after the match."

One thing Ron liked about Severus was that he left you in no doubt when you had been dismissed.

The proud, black form of Obsidian bowed to a pyjama clad Hermione, allowing her to take an envelope from his distinguished beak. Thanking the bird, she placed the letter on the table and gave him a piece of toast as she ran her hand over his head.

"You feel cold, Obs," she pouted with concern, shivering unconsciously and moving her own cold, bare feet atop Severus'.

Unflinching, Severus rolled his eyes; continuing to read the paper, his smirk remained well hidden. "That would be because he's been outside."

They were relaxing at their dining room table, which was strewn with empty plates that once contained a full English breakfast, an empty toast rack, various pots of preserves, finished glasses of orange juice and the obligatory large cafetiere which had been drained of its contents. Quidditch Saturdays had the potential to be quite rowdy, and as both of them had rather over-indulged last night, for the sake of their nerves and heads, they decided to forgo the bustle of breakfast in the Great Hall.

Hermione stuck out her tongue after his quip.

"Put that tongue away or put it to good use," Severus muttered distractedly, turning the page without looking at her.

"Again?" Hermione sighed playfully, recalling Severus' appreciative groans from a few hours earlier.

Having decided to stay in―despite what Hermione had told Ron―Severus opened a rather potent bottle of red, which seemed to go down a little too well. This was followed by another bottle and a couple of glasses of brandy. They were awoken several hours later having fallen asleep on the sofa by a sudden drop in air temperature when the fire went out, and a disgruntled Leo trying to burrow his way in between the sleeping couple's bodies. However, once they'd managed to make it to their bed, Hermione had no intention of letting her wizard go back to sleep until he'd warmed her up thoroughly.

Leaning forward stealthily, Hermione was about to pull down the top of the paper to try and catch what she knew would be his amused expression, but Severus beat her to it. Snapping the paper shut, he tossed it onto the table and looked at the letter by his witch's half empty coffee cup. "From our friend in the east?"

Hermione picked up the almost forgotten envelope and examined it. "Yep," she confirmed, opening the letter and starting to read.

"Oh, this is interesting," Hermione commented enthusiastically before reading aloud.

'Dear Hermione,'

"At least he writes your name correctly," Severus snarked, earning himself a glare.

'A couple of business issues: Harkinssen is preparing to go away again for the weekend. And Poliakov seemed distracted by an owl received at breakfast (Friday). The bird looked to be an eastern European species.'

"Interesting, we shall add ornithology to his list of talents." Severus muttered under his breath.

"Oh God!" Hermione exclaimed.


'On a more personal note, my retirement from International Quidditch was announced on Thursday night. I don't know if the news has reached your Prophet yet.'

Severus quickly turned to the usually ignored sports section to indeed see the headline: Bulgaria shocked by Krum's surprise announcement.

'I met with the ICWQC―'

Hermione scrunched up her nose. "What's that?"

"I would have thought that with your great love of all things Quidditch you would have known that already," Severus teased before nonchalantly informing, "It's the International Confederation of Wizards' Quidditch Committee."

"Oh right, well, anyway―"

'―I met with the ICWQC last night to discuss my testimonial, and managed to persuade them that it should be the England versus Bulgaria game in February.'

Severus looked at her with a furrowed brow. "Why that match?"

"Well, I suppose it must be because he's going to be moving over here with Melina. Anyway, he said he's been given two boxes for the match and wants to know how many tickets we'd like."

"Preferably none."

Hermione snorted at Severus' grumpiness. "Well, yes, but we should go really as he's asked."

"I don't see why, but I can tell your sense of propriety dictates that we must," Severus groused before moving his chair back. "But rather than discussing a match which is three months away, let us discuss a more important one," he uttered almost seductively, gesturing his invitation for Hermione to straddle his lap.

Looking a little perplexed for a moment, Hermione then gladly sat astride her wizard, placing her hands on his shoulders for balance before smacking her lips against his playfully.

"So as you're being so grumpy about Vik's testimonial, I take it you're not looking forward to the match this afternoon?"

"Au contraire," Severus told her, returning her kiss. "I am. Would you like to make a bet on the outcome?"


"Shame," Severus purred in her ear, his silken voice causing her to shift on his lap to try and assuage the throb she was now experiencing at her core.

"Why, what did you have in mind?" Hermione swallowed thickly, trying not to whimper as Severus' lips trailed hot kisses up her neck.

Continuing to nuzzle her soft skin, he mumbled, "As we have spent the last few days pleasurably engaged in certain explorations, I thought that if―and it is a huge if―a miracle should occur and Gryffindor wins then we should take those explorations to their natural conclusion."

Hermione gulped as Severus playfully squeezed her trim buttocks to emphasise what he was suggesting. He'd been so careful and gentle with her when they'd played, and she'd enjoyed everything that they'd done so far. And even though she trusted him, and she was sure that she would enjoy this new sensation, it didn't mean that she wasn't hit by a sudden case of nerves. "Oh really?" she nearly squeaked.

Severus was the epitome of calm. "Really."

Hermione took a deep breath to compose herself. "And if Slytherin wins?"

"When we celebrate Slytherin's glorious victory then you may reciprocate," he growled, capturing her earlobe between his teeth.

Pulling back, Hermione agreed to the bet cheerfully, but when she noticed the feral glint in her partner's eyes doubt began to trickle into her mind. "Hang on, are you really rooting for Gryffindor?" she asked incredulously before realising that she'd been duped. "Oh God, what have I agreed to?"

Severus was surprisingly gracious in his victory. "A word of advice: always listen carefully when making bets with a Slytherin. We never lose; one outcome may be more favourable than the other, but ultimately we get what we want."


"Define reciprocate."

Without hesitation, Hermione recited the dictionary definition. "To return a gesture or action by making a corresponding one."


"Then I am returning the action, so either way you get to fuck sly bastard!" she screeched, slapping his arm hard.

"Let's not be crude about this, darling," Severus laughed, trying to ignore the sting from her slap. "But yes, either way your arse is mine," he chuckled, capturing her lips playfully. "Whether mine is yours...well, you better pray that Draco plays the match of his life." However, his mirth disappeared when he noticed the way Hermione had pressed her lips together, and he knew something was wrong.

Bringing his hand up to cup her face, he ghosted his thumb across her cheek. "I'm sorry, love. It appears that my sense of humour still leaves much to be desired. If you're not ready then―"

"I am ready," Hermione stated indignantly before lowering her eyes and admitting sheepishly, "I'm just nervous."

Severus pulled her to his chest and closing his eyes, planted a kiss atop her head. "You should know by now that we only ever go at your pace, and regardless of the circumstances, if you don't feel ready then all bets are off. But," he paused for a moment, "it was inappropriate of me to suggest―"

"Stop it!" Hermione commanded, pushing against his chest until he loosened his arms around her. Sitting back, she took control of the situation and wrapped her arms around his neck. "Listen to me. It's a really horny idea, and I didn't mean to make you feel bad. I've ruined the mood now," she pouted, playing with the back of his hair.

Severus searched her eyes to ensure she wasn't just trying to appease him, but seeing that she meant what she'd said, his black eyes seemed to catch fire again. "You have time to make it up to me," he growled, pulling down the front of her pyjama top and burying his face between her breasts.

"Care to join me in the shower?" Hermione groaned as Severus' tongue swirled around her one nipple as his forefinger and thumb deftly pinched and twisted the other.

"Indeed I do care," he mumbled, sucking the rosy bud between his lips before releasing it with a pop. He wasted no time in scooping Hermione up into his arms and carrying her into the bathroom.

The bitter wind that had swirled around the school for the last few days had been a precursor to the heavy snow that had been falling continually since the early hours of the morning. The trek through the thick blanket of snow to the Quidditch pitch had been particularly arduous and treacherous as impromptu snowball fights broke out en route. The fun and games outside the pitch led to a positively ebullient atmosphere within it as the Gryffindor and Slytherin stands did their best to drown each other out, and the Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw stands just cheered along for the sheer hell of it.

Everyone knew that this was the biggest grudge match of the season, and this year there was added excitement as the female students, and a number of male students, were split between ogling Professor Potter or Professor Malfoy. Of course, the two houses concerned were utterly conflicted because the Head of Slytherin and Deputy Head of Gryffindor were playing for opposing teams. Harry and Draco knew this would happen when they both agreed to fill the gaps in their own house teams, and were the only two who didn't feel conflicted at all. However, they both conceded that they would not neglect their official positions and be available to celebrate and commiserate as necessary with their adopted House.

There was also another speculatory focus for the older female students. The headmaster and Professor Granger had yet to arrive, and their beady eyes darted between the headmaster's stand and the Gryffindor stand to see where Hermione would sit.

They didn't have to wait long before the question was answered. The headmaster escorted his witch to the seat next to his, which was quite erroneously thought to be, the most neutral stand. Whispers that they were holding hands immediately began to circulate. The rumour spread like wildfire, but many dismissed this as idle gossip whilst training their binoculars on the couple just in case.

"And what are we betting on this year, Severus?" Minerva asked whilst Transfiguring her mackintosh square into a thick woollen knee blanket.

Preoccupied with making sure Hermione was warm enough, the headmaster replied dismissively, "The usual."

Minerva snorted derisively. "You really think Draco can best Harry?"

"I should hope so," a familiar aristocratic drawl said from behind them.

Turning excitedly, Hermione exclaimed, "Lucius! I didn't know you were back in the country." She turned to Severus, a beaming smile on her face. "Did you know he was coming today?"

"Of course, I did. How else do you think he's here and not flat on his arse outside the school gates?"

"Good point," Hermione conceded, remembering that the Head of the Board of Governors couldn't enter the school without Severus' permission.

Continuing down the steps, the blond wizard smirked before bending down between his best friend and Hermione to kiss her on the cheek. "Hello, darling," he purred as Hermione twisted to throw her arms around him, kissing his cheek in return.

This earned a growl from Severus, who Lucius turned to and asked, "Do I not get a kiss from you, you miserable bastard?"

"Unless the definition of a kiss is 'my fist connecting with your face,' then no," Severus told him impassively.

"I'm so glad to see that you've made no attempt to change him in my absence," Lucius chuckled, placing his hands on Severus and Hermione's shoulders and giving them a friendly squeeze before sitting down behind them. Then addressing no one in particular, he asked, "What are we betting on?"

"Severus and I are betting on the usual," Minerva clipped before greeting George and Angelina, who had come to support Ron.

Following them down the steps were Neville and Adrian, who was attending his first Quidditch match.

"I don't know anything about Muggle football so I have no idea if it's similar!" Neville exclaimed to his boyfriend as they approached them. "Ask 'Mione, or better still we'll find Dean later."

"Don't look at me, I know nothing about Quidditch or Football," Hermione responded defensively. "I mean I told Severus that he and my dad would have something in common because my dad supports Manchester United. How was I supposed to know that most people from Manchester support City and not United?"

"Were you offended, dear?" Lucius asked the headmaster teasingly.

"Indeed. No, Hermione's expertise, in either sport, lies solely in its professionals," Severus deadpanned. "And no, Adrian, Quidditch is nothing like Football."

Hermione looked aghast at her wizard. "What do you mean?"

"What was the name of that Muggle footballer that Draco said you were drooling over during their World Cup?" Lucius asked knowingly.

Hermione's mouth fell open.

"David somebody or other," Severus sighed playfully. "He got sent off, now everybody hates him."

Lucius' brow furrowed in mock sympathy. "I can empathise with that."

"Oh shut up, the lot of you," Hermione huffed, her cheeks burning before snapping at Severus, "Anyway how do you know that?"

"I do read the Muggle newspapers on occasion, and as he plays for United the local press in Cheshire were in an uproar about it."

Adrian laughed as he sat down. "Don't worry, 'Mione, I like him too, as does Draco."

Lucius turned towards his son's ex-boyfriend slowly, his steely grey eyes burning icily into him. "Is he really that attractive? Perhaps I should have a look."

Severus rolled his eyes, and turned to face the pitch when Lucius' face appeared between him and Hermione again. "Tell me, Hermione, have you and Severus made a bet?"

Hermione's blush and Severus' unconscious gulp told him all he needed to know without knowing the exact details. "Can I watch?" he purred lasciviously.

With his patience finally tried, Severus turned to his diminutive Charms professor and said sharply, "Filius, the charm if you would."

The headmaster tried to keep his temper under control as the Head of Ravenclaw performed the complex charm work for the expletive charm to take effect. Once he was sure it was in place, he whipped round to his friend.

"Fuck off, you pervert."

"Takes one to know one."

"You taught me everything I know."

"Did I bollocks?"

"Have you two ever grown up? Minerva groused as she and everyone else tried to contain their amusement.

"No," the two Slytherins responded together before a chuckling Hermione nudged Severus' arm and jerked her head in the direction of Ron Weasley, who was now standing in the middle of the pitch, awaiting the headmaster's consent to get the match underway.

Severus shrugged his coat up even though there was no reason to do so, and gave his permission.

Looking up to see that all the players were in place, Ron issued his last minute request for a neat and tidy game with 'no dicking about'. This was aimed mainly at Harry and Draco. Once he was satisfied that his words had been taken onboard, he kicked open the ball chest to release the Snitch. It sped off to tease the Seekers accordingly before seemingly disappearing into the ether. Next the struggling bludgers were set free which immediately had the beaters on alert before the ginger-haired wizard stood astride his trusty Cleansweep Eleven―he'd bought himself the newly released Cleansweep Twelve, but he was still getting used to it and didn't want to look like a tit in front of the whole school again―and picked up the Quaffle. With a whistle between his lips, he threw the odd shaped ball high into the air only for his sister to snatch it away from her boyfriend as Ron kicked off from the ground. No one expected this match to be pretty.

Draco looked incredulously at his father whilst trying to stop Luna from fussing him with a cold compress for his swollen nose and bruise paste for his black eyes. The battered Seeker's body ached, and he shifted awkwardly to sit more upright.

The match for the two Seekers had been a delicate game of cat and mouse with the Snitch leading both Draco and Harry in a merry dance for over an hour. The score was level, and the once sworn enemies had taken to their vantage points again to try and spy the golden, flying orb before the other. The snow was causing havoc with their vision, but out of nowhere the Snitch appeared right in the middle of the two and began hurtling towards the ground. They both followed it at breakneck speed, but Draco had the edge on the Gryffindor Seeker. The Snitch continued to plummet. Twelve feet from the ground Draco reached out to capture the prize, but his attempt to pull up at the same time was thwarted by a gust of wind which caused the Slytherin Seeker to over-balance, and the back of his broom clipped the tip of Harry's. Spinning out of control, Draco collided with the ground nose first.

Draco's swollen nose was distorting his voice slightly. "So you're moving back?"

Taking a sip of tea, Lucius replied nonchalantly, "Indeed I am. Your godfather, as intuitive as ever, was correct in his assertion that I would be moving back within two months."

"I never understood why you went to France in the first place," Draco grumbled, "and I still can't understand why you've let Thicknesse move into our family home."

Lucius was surprised by his son's words. "Are you not happy that your mother is so content with her new partner?"

"Of course I am," the younger wizard blustered defiantly, "but he's got his own house, and if Mother wanted to stay on the estate then they could have moved into the cottage rather than make you feel that you needed to move out."

"I expect after everything your father wanted to get away from the memories," Luna offered thoughtfully, running her fingers through her boyfriend's hair. Lucius couldn't help but smirk.

Shaking his head, Draco huffed. He loved Luna, but her sitting on the fence annoyed him sometimes. "Oh, so it's alright for him, but what about Mother? What about me? What about you, and Hermione? We all lived there or suffered there whilst―"

"I am aware, and I take full responsibility for not preventing him from using our home," Lucius snapped.

"Oh, don't!" Draco snarled. "Don't try and play the martyr. The point is, you ran away again, and―"

Lucius growled frustratedly at his son's accusations and addressed them accordingly. "Yes, I did, but not from the Manor, and before you start, I certainly did not run away from you."

"Then what?" the younger wizard yelled.

"I regret that I am not at liberty to say, but I can assure you that I will not be leaving again. I may have found being on my own utterly depressing, however, my time away allowed me to clear my head. I realised that I needed to be near my only son. Therefore, I am moving back to the Manor. It is up to your mother and Pius to decide whether they wish to remain there or not."

Draco snorted. "I'd love to believe you, but I expect you're only coming back because you couldn't find a woman you wanted to fuck more than once."

"How dare you speak to me like that!" Lucius spat. "First of all, my sex life is none of your business, and the fact of the matter is, I have come to terms with the fact that I am destined to live the rest of my life alone."

"Oh, I'm sure you'll meet someone else," Draco snarled.

"It is highly unlikely, but the fact remains, you are my only son."

"Until you meet someone and have a child with them. Then you won't―"

"―I suggest you do not finish that sentence," Lucius cautioned, pinching the bridge of his nose. "No subsequent child could ever replace you, but even if I did find myself with another witch, there will certainly not be another child."

"Of course there will," Draco huffed, twisting in his mouth in annoyance as Luna gently stroked his arm to help soothe him.

"Draco, stop upsetting yourself! I too believe your father is wrong, but I think―"

"Luna, I thank you for trying to help me save face, but―" Lucius swallowed hard. Draco and Harry's antics earlier, whilst seemingly impressive to the students, had caused his heart to take residence in his mouth. There had been an anxious few minutes where the situation seemed much more serious than a simple broken nose and Lucius was grateful when Hermione's hand slipped over his as Severus Apparated to the pitch to check on his godson's condition. He couldn't describe the relief he felt when Draco was eventually helped to his feet.

"―I am no longer capable of siring another child," the older wizard continued quietly.

Draco's brow furrowed as much as it could, given the swelling around his eyes. "I beg your pardon?"

"The Dark Lord did more than damage my family and home. Please don't ask me to spell it out for you."

The meaning of his father's words sank in, but as Draco went to speak, Lucius raised his hand casually to stop him.

"There is nothing you can say, Draco, that will improve the situation, so please do not embarrass either of us."

Draco nodded, but he knew how this must be affecting his father considering how much import he placed on family and its continuation; he couldn't let it pass without saying something.

"You know if you ever need to talk about it, Fa...Dad."

Lucius nodded, touched by his son's offer. He was about to speak when there was a knock on the door, and Luna was immediately on her feet to answer it.

"Looney, tell her I don't want to see her. I don't think I've got the strength to put up with her," Draco groaned, running his hand through his hair.

Lucius chuckled lightly. "Have you suddenly become clairvoyant?"

"It'll be Gabrielle," the younger Malfoy grumbled.

Lucius felt his throat constrict at the thought of being in the presence of Fleur's younger sister, and chuckled to hide his discomfort. But his own hopes that Luna had sent her away as Draco asked, were dashed when she ushered the young, French witch into the living room.

"Look, Draco, Gabrielle has brought you something to help reduce the swelling. Isn't that kind of her?"

Luna was not known for having a harsh edge to her usually soft and wistful voice, but as she brought Gabrielle into the room, her slightly clipped tone left Draco in no doubt that he was being told to be nice.

"I am sorry zat I took so long to bring zis to you, but I 'ad to find Professeur Longbotton so zat I could borrow some 'erbs, and zen I 'ad to make eet. Eet also haz ze French lavender which iz much superior in eetz 'ealing properties zan ze English," Gabrielle proudly informed the young professor as presented him with her muslin covered gift. "You need to wet it wiz water and pure alcohol before you apply it, and zen you will be az good az new."

The young witch was so absorbed in giving the herbal compress to Draco, that she hadn't noticed Lucius' presence. It was only when he coughed, trying to hide his amusement at his son's squirming, that she whipped round to look at the source of the noise, and saw the older wizard getting up to leave.

"You do not 'ave to go, m'lord. I just wanted to bring zis to Professor Malfoy. I will be leaving now," the eleven-year-old stated with all the poise and confidence that Lucius admired in her sister.

"No, no, I was on my way anyway. I merely wished to check on my son's condition before I visit his mother. I think it was very thoughtful of you to prepare that for Draco. You have the disposition to be a fine healer when you are older. Are you settling in well at Hogwarts?"

"I would like to be an 'ealer, and I am enjoying eet 'ere, zank you, Sir."

"Indeed," Lucius drawled imperiously before pausing to wonder if he should ask the question that he so desperately needed to ask. "And how is your sister? I trust her pregnancy is progressing well."

"Fleur iz fine. Well, she cries a lot, but Maman et Madam Weasley zay zat iz her 'ormones." Gabrielle blushed at the thought.

Lucius smiled softly at the young girl's awkwardness and spoke reassuringly. "I'm sure they are correct. Now, I must take my leave. I will call in the morning, Draco, to see how you are."

"I look forward to it," Draco groaned sarcastically, but Lucius caught his smile. "Are you going to annoy Uncle and Hermione before you see Mother?"

Lucius shook his head. "No, I got the distinct impression that they had plans for this evening," he apprised before nodding courteously to the two witches in the room. "So, I bid you farewell, ladies. Have a pleasant evening." But as he reached the fireplace and took a pinch of Floo powder, he turned and paused. "Miss Delacour, please give my regards to your sister when you see her next."

But before the young Hufflepuff could answer, Lucius had called the destination and stepped into the green flames.

You fucking idiot, Lucius chided himself, stepping out into his soon-to-be study again at Malfoy Manor. He shrugged off his robes and noticed the bottle of rather expensive brandy on his desk. Judging by the light covering of dust, it was obvious that this gift had been there since the day he'd left for France. Picking up the accompanying note, he immediately recognised the familiar spiky handwriting.


For when you decide to crawl back, you old bastard!


"Presumptive little shit," Lucius huffed, and helped himself to what―he had to admit―was a rather palatable, if not moreish, tipple before he headed off to find Narcissa.

Lucius had indeed been correct in his assertion that Severus and Hermione had plans for the evening, but, as the couple returned from dinner in Muggle London, Severus was concerned.

"Are you alright? You were far too quiet at dinner, love."

Taking off her coat and scarf, Hermione gave him a pensive smile. "I'm fine."

Severus wasn't so sure that she was and taking her coat, leaned down and kissed her cheek. "I told you―"

"I know what you told me," Hermione told him gently, "and yes I was thinking about it, but not because I've been trying to back out."

Severus raised an enquiring eyebrow.

"I've been thinking about how to go about it," she told him coquettishly, stunning him with an assured, bruising kiss.


"Do you need the loo? Because I'm going to be in the bathroom preparing, and then I think I'll have a nice long soak."

Floored by her boldness, Severus took a while to assimilate what she'd just said. His mind, too, was preoccupied with thinking of ways to make this step up in their physical relationship as pleasurable as possible, and yet the minx was making her own plans. How dare she! "What?"

"Well, I'll be in the bathroom for a while. So if you need to―"

"Right. Yes. Of course," Severus blustered as it dawned on him what she meant. "Give me a moment."

Hermione waited until the bathroom door closed before flopping down onto the sofa, chuckling to herself. Despite his infamous abilities to strike fear into any student―or anyone for that matter―who crossed his path, Severus could be utterly adorable behind closed doors.

Leo had sauntered out of their bedroom and jumped up onto the arm of the sofa, inclining his head as he looked at his mistress curiously.

Hermione reached out and invited him onto her lap. "Hello, you. If I get Winky to get you some treats, will you sleep in here tonight?"

Rubbing his white head against her head in acquiescence, Leo jumped down from her lap, and Hermione called Winky to get the feline menace some tasty treats before also giving her a list of other instructions, which elicited a small squeal from the house-elf.

Moments later, Severus walked back into the living room. "It's all yours."

Hermione stood up and as she walked past him, reached up and pulled him down for a kiss. "I love you, you know."

"I know you do," he smirked, swatting her backside playfully as she continued on her way.

Slumping down into his chair, Severus smiled and shook his head, but slowly that smiled slipped as anxiety overcame him. Somehow sensing this after wolfing down his treats in the bedroom, Leo trotted out and jumped up onto his lap.

"Hello, Trouble," Severus sighed, scratching the top of the cat's head. "I had this all planned, you know? She thinks this is easy for me. Let me tell you, bravado is a wonderful thing, but the truth is although I may have done this before, I was only concerned about myself. I want her to enjoy this but, of course, the insufferable woman has to make her own plans, and I haven't got a bloody clue what they are. I just hope...why the fuck am I talking to a bloody cat?"

Leo nuzzled his head against Severus chest which made the surly wizard chuckle. "Your support is greatly appreciated. Now, would the procurement of treats ensure that you are sleeping out here tonight? I don't want you to witness what could end up being an unmitigated disaster."

Leo mewled and had placed a paw on his wizard's hand, when Severus heard Hermione yell his name from the bathroom.

The headmaster smirked and called for Missy to request treats for Leo, as well as issuing a list of instructions, which had the House-Elf squeaking excitedly. He'd be damned if Hermione was going to scupper his plans completely.

The bathroom in Severus and Hermione's chambers had been set up with one thing in mind―seduction. Floating candles, soft music, and a scent of such aphrodisiacal qualities set the scene, and that together with the naked witch who was luxuriating in the steamy water, had a rather stirring effect on the wizard who had just stepped into the room.

"You called, your ladyship," Severus drawled, taking in the sight of Hermione's pert breasts peeking out of the water like tantalising islands which he wanted to explore.

Hermione bit her bottom lip invitingly. "I did."

Severus was about to retort when the feel of cold air hit his skin as Hermione vanished his clothes. "You little minx. Rather impatient, aren't we?"

Hermione just smirked. "Come on, I want you."

Severus looked surprised. "You mean you want to―"

"Have sex, make love, screw me, shag my brains out, fuck me."

Whenever such words came out of Hermione's pretty little mouth, Severus always had trouble controlling himself. But he had to keep himself in check tonight, even if his twitching cock betrayed his baser instincts.

"And how, or rather should I say, where, would you like me to fuck you?"

"In the bath," Hermione responded coyly before realising what he meant. "Oh, you meant where as in...usual for now."

Severus wasn't sure if it was the candlelight, the warmth of the bath or just a delightful blush that now tainted her cheeks, but it was enough to make him waste no further time in joining her.

Sinking into the warm, inviting water, Severus manoeuvred Hermione until she was on his lap, legs draped on either side of his whilst her back pressed against his chest. His hands took the opportunity to reacquaint themselves with silken skin, and especially her soft breasts that had teased him so earlier. Hermione's hair was piled up atop her head, and whilst Severus was grateful for the easy access that provided to her creamy neck, he knew he would release it once they reached their bed. Often, when he found himself in a sickeningly romantic mood, he rather enjoyed the way Hermione's splayed hair caught the candlelight that he'd seen fit to bathe their bedchamber in whilst they made love. And he was sure there would be plenty of candlelight for her hair to catch later.

The both seemed to melt against each other in the steaming water, but any Potions Master worth their salt would realise that their relaxation was being tempered by the seductive spiciness of the bath oil Hermione had chosen.

Running his tongue up the side of her neck, his hand skimmed her stomach to cup her freshly depilated mound. "Tell me, Miss Granger, are you trying to seduce me?"

Hermione felt her arousal surge as his voice seemed to trickle down her spine. "Whatever makes you think that?"

Punctuating each word with a soft kiss to her neck, Severus allowed his fingers to slip between her soft, silken folds, relishing the way Hermione writhed against him.

"Vanilla, ginger, jasmine, rose and neroli; that, my dear, is a bath oil on a mission, and by the freshness of the scent, it is not a shop bought preparation either. You could make a fortune with this."

"Is it working?"

"It is. However, you have forgotten the one essential element―which fortunately I have in my possession―that allows this wonderful concoction to attain absolute perfection," Severus informed her in, what Hermione found to be, a rather erotic, lecturing tone.

Hermione's enquiring mind had to know what she had missed. "And what would that be?"

"You," he growled, flexing his hips to rub his stiff cock against her rounded backside.

Without a word, Hermione pushed herself up just far enough for Severus to grip the base of his shaft before she lowered herself down onto him; their soft, low groans hanging in the air as she seated herself fully onto his length. Leaning back, Hermione spread her legs wider whilst Severus buried his face against her neck, his hands gently squeezing her heaving breasts as he moved inside her.

Hermione hissed as she met his slow, languid thrusts. Severus' palm brushed against her stiffened peak whilst his other hand parted her sex to tease her sensitive bud, which had been aching for his attention even before he'd joined her in the bathroom.

Severus could have happily continued until he exploded deep inside her, but he had to take some semblance of control before, he suspected, both of their plans fell by the wayside. Grazing her earlobe, he whispered, "Shall we take this to the bedroom?"

Hermione too didn't want to stop, but knew that if she was to put her plan into motion, Severus was right— they needed to take this into the bedroom.

Wrapped in towels, Hermione led Severus into the bedroom. His focus was solely on his witch, but her sudden laughter caused his eyes to flick up and take in the scene before him. A small smile graced the corner of his lips, and much of the anxiety they were both feeling was immediately assuaged.

On each bedside table was a bottle of Champagne with two glasses, a bottle of massage oil, and a blue jar. And as the illumination in the room was several degrees brighter than intended, they both realised that they'd given the same instructions to their respective house-elves.

"It appears that we have suffered a case of great minds," Severus chuckled deeply, dismissing a number of candles into the ether before turning a still laughing Hermione round to face him. Slowly, he raised his hands to cup her face, stroking his thumbs across her cheeks as their eyes met. Neither could deny the desire burning in each other's eyes.

The reverent silence that fell over the room as Severus pressed a gentle kiss to Hermione's lips was soon broken by the sound of passionate kissing, gasping and moaning as their hands explored their naked forms whilst manoeuvring themselves slowly towards the bed.

Severus scooped Hermione up and laid her gently into the middle of the bed. But as he was about to settle over her, she pushed herself up, and kissed him. "Lie down."

Her request was met by a raised eyebrow.

"I know you want to help me relax," Hermione whispered, planting a hasty kiss on his lips, "but that bottle of massage oil wasn't meant for me, you know."

Severus realised that he'd waited his entire adult life for this moment. He'd given enough massages in his time―it would have been a waste of his long, talented fingers not to do so―but aside from Poppy, who'd eased his muscles when she'd been present during his tremors, no one had ever offered to give him a massage for the sake of it. His lips twitched and Severus acquiesced far more easily than Hermione had anticipated. "Front or back?"

"Oh, lie on your front...for now," Hermione told him playfully, Summoning and warming the massage oil whilst straddling his thighs. However, just as Severus had never received a massage before, Hermione had never given one. She had, of course, read about them. Pouring warm oil onto her lover's skin, she closed her eyes recalling her reading as her fingers began to apply just enough pressure to elicit soft groans from the man beneath her.

Her fingers worked a magic over his body that Severus approved of thoroughly, and in his deeply relaxed state would have fallen asleep but for her soft, seductive words keeping him from the edge.

Urging Severus to turn over, Hermione spread oil over the hard plains of his chest, his arms and hands.

"I've always loved your hands," she mused, massaging his palm. "I love watching you prepare ingredients and how you manipulate your stirring rod when stirring the cauldron―"

Severus' cock twitched as she spoke. "Are you talking about Potions or something else entirely?"

Hermione's oiled hand slipped over his erection, stroking him slowly. She leant forward and pressed a kiss to the corner of his mouth. "Don't be rude, I'm talking about your hands," she smirked, but found herself unable to move away as Severus cradled her head, releasing her entrapped tresses before entangling his fingers in them. "But," she purred, "your fingers are positively wicked."

Severus gasped as Hermione's hand continued to glide up and down his slick length. "And I am sure we've only scratched the surface of how wicked yours can be."

Realising what Severus was eluding to, Hermione's mouth fell open, her hand stilling as she recalled the terms of their bet. "But Gryffindor won."

"Like I give a flying fuck about that," he panted, Summoning the blue jar from his side of the bed.

Swallowing hard, Hermione took the jar cautiously. "Are you sure?"

Severus merely nodded, reaching up to cup her cheek. "But come here first," and pulled her down to kiss her reassuringly.

Moments later, Hermione didn't know whether to grin or groan as Severus writhed in pleasure, pushing back against her fingers greedily whilst her other hand stroked his length languidly. And if power is an aphrodisiac then the rush of arousal she felt between her thighs as Severus broke apart before her meant she was desperate for his reciprocation.

After Hermione's wanton request to fulfil the terms of their bet, Severus found himself recovering from his orgasm sooner than expected. Lying on his side he pulled Hermione to him; her back to his chest. He purred dirty to her whilst massaging her breasts as he stroked into her body.

Grazing his teeth against her neck, he groaned, "You know, what you said earlier about my hands and preparing ingredients was quite interesting."

A panting Hermione managed to force out, "Was it?"

Still stroking into her silken channel, he murmured, "Uh-huh. It is imperative that you prepare your ingredients carefully. Preparation is key." He slipped his fingers between her legs, circling her sensitive bud. Hermione whimpered, her core feeling as if jolts of electricity were pulsing through her. "Your observational skills must be finely honed; your timing should be impeccable for they can be the difference between perfect harmony in the potion and utter disaster."

Hermione's head lolled back against his shoulder. "Are we actually talking about Potions or something else?"

"Something else," he breathed, licking the delicate shell of her ear.

"In that case, I love your stirring rod," she cried out, reaching back and digging her nails into his thigh.

Severus smirked, increasing the pace of his fingers across her swollen nub. "Oh, I know you do, and that leads me on to cauldron selection, and where you stick your stirring rod."

"Is this in my apprenticeship syllabus?" Hermione gasped, pushing back against him, her channel quivering around his cock.

"Oh God, no," Severus growled, feeling her wet heat pulsing, "this, my love, goes far beyond apprenticeship level. This counts towards a Mastery."

Hermione stilled and twisted to look at him, her bottom lip caught between her teeth. "Sev, please...can we try?"

Severus nodded, and pulling out, kissed Hermione deeply as he opened the blue jar again, and prepared them both carefully. Repositioning himself and trailing his lips down her neck, he whispered, "Do you know how much I love you?"

Nodding, Hermione wriggled against him.

Smiling against her shoulder, Severus murmured, "Relax, you're in control. Push back slowly when you're ready; stop if you need to, sweetheart."

Ever the model student, Hermione did as Severus said, but the way he hissed as his cock edged into her restrictive heat had her pushing back eagerly. Once accustomed to his presence and the new sensations she was feeling, she encouraged him to move whilst her own fingers sought out her clit.

"How are you feeling?" Severus forced out, relishing her tightness, yet carefully holding himself back until he knew she was ready.

"Weird," she managed to say breathlessly, "but it feels...really...good."

Biting his bottom lip, Severus felt the familiar tension building in his balls. "You're telling me."

It wasn't much later that the couple lay in a heap of tangled limbs as they came down from their orgasms. As his breathing steadied, Severus brushed Hermione's hair away from her sweat soaked face and pressed a kiss to her temple. "Drink this," he whispered handing her a crystal vial containing a blue potion. "You'll thank me in the morning. Now, fancy a shower?"

A very limp, but smiling Hermione took the potion from him, and nodded. As soon as she'd downed the vial, Severus scooped his satiated witch up into his arms and carried her back into their bathroom. They didn't re-emerge for quite some time.

A/N2: Well there we are...for those who don't get the football reference, I am referring to David Beckham's infamous sending off against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup.

A/N3: Next time...more intrigue, a bit of fluff, a party, and something potentially devastating.