Dear Readers, it's been a while and I'm sorry about that but you should be ashamed of yourselves for not reviewing! I'm not planning on having a full grown lemon in this chapter, but if you ask nicely…maybe in the next one!

Snape was draped over his oatmeal bowl, staring at the unappetizing mush. Dumbledore was about to tell him that it would do him more good in his stomach than the bowl when Snape raised his head like a dog on point. Dumbledore's eyebrows flew up and he turned to follow the younger man's gaze.

In a voice designed so that only Snape would hear, the Headmaster said, apparently to no one in particular, "Professor Granger looks especially rosy this morning."

Snape's head swung around and the look he sent the Headmaster could have peeled paint. Dumbledore studiously continued facing forward and beamed a welcome at Hermione as she hurried up the space between the tables. With a murmured hello to the table in general, she took her seat with an ungainly rush. When Professor Sprout turned to include her in a discussion with Flitwick over the pros and cons of contraction spells, those that incorporates elements of two or more spells, Hermione gratefully joined in.

Hiding his smile, Dumbledore slid a look at Minerva. The Gryffindor Head was looking at Hermione was a curious expression. When she turned to look at Dumbledore, he flicked his twinkling blue eyes over his shoulder and had the pleasure of seeing Minerva's eyes go surprised then suspicious, ending up furious slits.

"Minerva, would you mind coming to my office after breakfast?" Albus asked cordially, before dropping his voice and continuing, "Don't say anything to the boy until we can talk, please, my dear." Minerva's now narrowed her eyes at him, but he only smiled slightly and returned to his breakfast.

Ten minutes after breakfast found Minerva violently pacing the Headmaster's office. "What does he think he's doing? He seduced a student!"

In direct contrast to Minerva's increasing shrillness, Dumbledore's voice was cool and calm when he began, "Well actually, Minerva…" When she looked at him, he gestured to the chair in front of his desk but she just shook her head and continued pacing. With a gently cocked eyebrow, he continued, "There are a few things you need to take into account. One: she is not a student. Not anymore."

Before he could go on, Minerva interrupted forcefully, "That's why you made her an assistant professor, isn't it? Albus, how could you? You are helping him take advantage of that innocent girl!"

"Minerva, are you suffering under the impression that I am acting as some sort of procurer for Severus? Who, by the way, made no overtures to the girl while she was a student, and, even with her new status, has not yet made those advances." His voice was verging on sharp now, his insult palpable. "If he chooses to make the advances now, he is free to do so."

Minerva opened her mouth to squawk at him but he raised his hand for silence. "My dear, do you think that Hermione could not rebuff Severus if she chose?" he asked softly. "She is a like a young lioness, Minerva, and she is learning to sharpen her claws from the best." His bright eyes gleamed at her across the desk, making it clear who he meant.

She gave him a look that was a mixture of affection and disapprobation, one that clearly stated she was in no mood for flattery. But when she spoke, her voice had gone quiet. "Albus, it is not that I don't trust her abilities, it's just… Severus, he…" She trailed off and dropped into the empty chair. "The boy is too much for her, Albus. She doesn't – can't – know what she'd be getting into by getting involved with him."

Albus reached over, took her hand in his and gave it a squeeze. "I know you're afraid because of his past but he's a good man, my dear. Severus has lived a hard life, has made hard choices, is a hard man. Hard and cold, Minerva… But I see something in the way he looks at her, something I've never seen on his face before."

With pity in her eyes, she asked, "Not even when he talked about Lily?"

"No. That look was like a pale imitation of this one." He trailed off for a moment, letting that thought hang in the air. When he spoke, it was almost as if he spoke to himself alone. "The boy deserves happiness. Why don't we just let things play out for a while and see what comes of it?"

"But, Albus…!"

"Minerva, I promise you, you can step in if it looks like he is overwhelming her, or if she is having any problems at all. I don't want her hurt any more than you do, you know that."

Minerva looked into those bright blue eyes, trying to read the thoughts behind the sparkle, but as always, it was impossible. With a huffy sigh, she threw up her hands in exasperation and strode to the office door. "Very well, Albus, we'll let it happen, but on your head be it!" She exited the office with a dramatic slam of the heavy oak panel.

For a time, Albus sat quietly in his office, thinking about Snape and his hard life, Hermione, who'd been through more than any young woman ought to have, and Minerva, the woman that kept him young in his old age.

She could feel his eyes on her. Hermione picked at her dinner and thought about the day. On a given day, she rarely saw Snape anywhere other than the Potions classroom or at meal, and today had been no different. Except that he'd been in her mind's eye all day. It was that dream, damn it all. Until that dream she could ignore these feelings… But that dream had changed everything. Just looking at him now made her pulse race, her body temperature rise.

Even now, when she wasn't looking at him, she could feel those deep black eyes on her. They were cold and hot at the same time and gave her chills. Taking a deep, almost painful breath to fortify herself, Hermione tipped her face up towards the Head Table and met his eyes. It was like an electric shock and she had to look away. There was something in those deep eyes that she didn't recognize intellectually but instinctively feared.

The moment was snapped when Ron bumped her arm and asked around the mouthful of chicken in his mouth, "'Mione, oo gon'a ee tho pesh?" With a sigh, Hermione handed the bottomless pit her plate and forced herself to watch him scoop her peas onto his plate, carefully avoiding looking back to the Head Table.

Heaving a heavy sigh, she thought about how she'd planned on being aloof and ignoring the unsettling man… apparently it was too much for her to handle just now after all. With another sigh, this one so deep Ginny looked up at her to see if anything was wrong, Hermione strode briskly out of the Great Hall. She could feel the set of black eyes boring into her back but she never noticed the other sets that watched her with amusement and inquiry.

Hermione needed to be alone and knew that the Common Room was going to be filled to bursting with Gryffindors asking for her help in a few minutes, if she were foolish enough to let herself be caught there. The library it would be, then. Within minutes, she curled herself into a ball in one of the large, thickly padded armchairs in front of a fireplace in the deserted library. Tucked back as this place was, deep in the home of the wordiest-and-most-dusty tomes, she was the only person who ever spent more than a moment in it. It was her secret place and she loved it.

After the week she'd had, Hermione didn't want to think. Closing her eyes, she breathed deeply, allowing the beloved scent of books tinged with smoky fire flood her senses. It wasn't long before she drifted off into deep, quiet sleep.

That was where he found her, hours later, in his own sleep. She looked so tired, he thought, with her cheekbones clearly outlined by the smooth, nearly translucent skin. When his hand moved of its own volition to stroke that cheek, he stopped himself out of pure reaction. With a breath, he reminded himself it was a dream and, gods, hadn't he touched her dream self a great deal more just a few nights ago?

With that mental defense playing, he lowered his hand to her face, enjoying the silky feel of her skin against his brewing-roughened fingers. A dangerous smile curled his lips when a dark voice in his head whispered about how good that sweet, soft skin would feel rubbing things other than his fingers. But that would wait.

Snape knew that he'd moved too fast for the girl in that first dream. As he'd pretty much just given up on trying to convince himself that he should leave her alone, he watched her dream image sleep while he wondered about his next move. After a few moments, Snape heaved a sigh and dragged a plush footstool over in front of Hermione's chair.

He would get no satisfaction from this dream tonight but he could get the satisfaction of knowing that she was thinking of him as he did her!

Taking a bracing breath to steel himself against the temptation she presented, Snape placed his hands lightly on her curled legs. Slowly, gently, torturing himself, he rubbed upwards, stroking her rounded legs over the fabric of her robe. When she shifted under his hands, he smiled again, and lowered his head.

While her shifted had parted her legs somewhat, it had also exposed the arched curve of her neck. Snape place his lips softly to that curve, savoring the scent of her skin, soap and inky parchment and that indefinable scent that was "Hermione." While his hands played gently up and down her legs, he nibbled softly at the tender skin. He especially liked dragging his teeth over the taught skin, watching it pale then flush where his teeth pressed; later, when he finally got her in bed, he was going to please himself by leaving those little trails all over her rosy body.

For a time, Snape simply played gently, enjoying the way she felt him even in her sleep, watching her squirm in the chair. Mmmmm, was all he could think; everything about this young woman made his mouth water.

Eventually he had to step back. He couldn't do this anymore without paying more heavily for it than he was already going to. But before he could will himself awake, Hermione spoke from her deep sleep.

"Severus…." The one word was long, quiet. It scraped his already raw nerves. Without conscious permission, he found his hand cupping her face. When her lips parted, he slipped his thumb into the dark, damp space and had to smother a groan when her tongue licked him softly. Withdrawing his thumb with excruciating slowness, he brushed her full bottom lip, spreading her moisture.

He felt his leash on his control snap when her tongue darted out to flick over his thumb again. Not bothering to hold back his growl, Snape bent forward and crushed her damp lips to his, and ravished her mouth powerfully.

Hermione woke, gasping for breath, feeling as if every inch of her was on fire. Her head swung frantically from side to side, searching for the dark wizard who'd been filling her dreams. The initial moments of disorientation passed and Hermione sighed and settled back in the chair….

Dear gods, how much longer can this go on?