AN: Written as a prize for Monday Madness on the 2012/13 exchange bingo, for Droxy. This was supposed to be a drabble but it morphed into a ficlet. The prompts given were: SS/HG, Crookshanks and dating advice from Nearly Headless Nick.

Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter. I make no money here.

An Unlikely Partnership

Severus made his way up to the top of the Astronomy Tower. It was where he went when he wanted to do some serious thinking. Most people never bothered to look for him there because they assumed it was the last place in the castle he would want to be. Not true at all. For some reason the events of that fateful night, never haunted him when he was up there. He'd made peace with his actions and with his past.

After the war Severus spent several years in blessedly peaceful seclusion. However, when Filius announced his plans to retire, Minerva had convinced Severus to come back to Hogwarts to take on the deputy head position. That was two years ago. She had offered him his choice of Potions or Defense, and in spite of all the years he'd aspired to the Defense post, he chose his first love—Potions. She hadn't bothered to tell him until he'd signed the magically binding contracts and moved back into his old quarters that the Defense position had gone to none other than Harry Potte. He'd always known Minerva was a conniving old biddy.

The truth of the matter was, though, Potter was actually a good fit for the job. He'd proven himself capable clear back in his fifth year, when he'd worked with the students of the DA, teaching them more defensive spells than they'd ever learned in their DADA classes with Umbridge. He knew the material and he had a knack for teaching; he was well liked by his students without being a pushover. Truth be told, Severus had now made his peace with Potter too. Harry wasn't his father nor his mother, he was his own man.

It wasn't thoughts of Potter that were plaguing him now, though, it was another Gryffindor he had on his mind. Granger—Hermione that is. She'd already been at the castle for three years when he'd returned: two as Filius' apprentice, and one as his teaching assistant before taking over his classes when he'd retired.

When he'd first come back he'd thought to simply ignore her. The witch was nothing if not persistent, however, refusing to take his subtle and not-so-subtle hints that he preferred his privacy. Subsequently, he was constantly running into her no matter where he went: in the restricted section, on his walks in the evenings down by the lake, at Hogsmeade weekends, in the halls, on the grounds, everywhere. She would even make up errands to seek him out in his dungeons. She'd somehow managed to end up sitting right next to him at meals.

The thing was after two years he'd got damned used to her constant presence in his life, she'd got under his skin and he had come to expect her to be there. Now suddenly she wasn't. For the past three weeks she'd made herself scarce. She'd just quit hanging around with no explanation and he found he actually missed the chit. A lot.

The question was—what was he to do about it?

He gazed over the parapets looking out at the forbidden forest as he pondered this question.

Hearing a whisper of noise behind him he spun quickly, wand at the ready. Old habits die hard, after all.

"Sir Nicholas," he murmured with a slight nod of his head.

"Headmaster," acknowledged the Gryffindor ghost.

"Nick, you know that is no longer my title," Severus corrected.

"No offense to the Headmistress, sir, but Hogwarts still sees you as such."

"I am flattered. For now, however, I shall remain simply, Professor," said Snape.

"As you wish, sir," acquiesced Sir Nicholas, "but we all still think of you in other terms."

The two stood in companionable silence for a few minutes before Nick asked, "Is there something on your mind, sir? You seemed to be deep in thought when I approached."

Severus turned and eyed the ghost speculatively. "As a matter of fact, there may be something you could help me with. You're a Gryffindor. As such, how would you suggest one approach a young lady, a Gryffindor lady, in order to gain her attention."

Nick's eyebrows rose as he turned to look at Severus. "Hmmm... are we speaking in generalities, or is there particular Gryffindor you were hoping to attract?"

Not meeting his gaze, Severus replied, "I'd rather not name names right now, let's just keep it in terms of generalities."

"Very well." Nicholas thought about it for moment then offered, "You could send her a gift."

"No, too obvious."

"Write her a poem."

"Too cliché."

"A note from a secret admirer?"

"Too soppy."


"Too mundane."

"Something more subtle, perhaps."

Just then Severus looked down to find a fat ginger cat with a smashed in face, circling his feet and rubbing up against his legs. "What are you doing up here? Shooo!" He nudged the cat gently with his toe toward the door. "Go on, get out of here."

Turning to Nick, he said, "That damnable creature has been following me around all week."

"That's it!" exclaimed Sir Nicholas.

"What's it?" asked Severus, looking up.

"You could save her cat. That would gain her attention and garner her gratitude and good will."

Severus' brows furrowed. "I'm not sure I understand. What exactly would I be saving her cat from?"

"You're the Potions master, you figure it out," replied Nick smugly.

Severus crossed his arms and narrowed his eyes, glaring at the ghost. "Are you actually standing there suggesting that I poison Professor Granger's cat?"

"Professor Granger...hmmm. I thought as much. Well, you would have the antidote, though, wouldn't you?" Nick responded reasonably. "It's not as if he'd be in any actual danger."

Severus snorted. "And you call yourself a Gryffindor! That's a Slytherin plot if ever I heard one. However, I am not about to poison her fleabag of a cat." He looked down again to find said cat still twining around his legs. He stomped his foot toward the creature. "I said shooo, go away! No familiars allowed up here."

"Don't have it in you, huh?"

Severus turned back toward the ghost and explained, "There are too many variables, too much that could go wrong. If something happened, she'd never forgive me."

As he was talking, Crookshanks leaped up onto the wall and sat staring determinedly at a small dragonfly that was fluttering about. Severus had his back to the ledge talking to Nick and didn't see the cat.

Just then they heard Hermione's voice calling up the stairs. "Crooksie? Are you up here?"

Ignoring his mistress, Crookshanks lowered into his pouncing stance, head and front feet lowered, hind quarters up in the air. He waggled his butt a few times, preparing to leap for his prey. Nick blew a puff of air dislodging the dragonfly at the same time gesturing toward the edge as he ordered, "Save her cat, professor."

Severus turned just in time to see Crookshanks leap. He lunged, catching him—barely—by the scruff of his neck, in the very nick of time before he plummeted off the tower.

Unfortunately, what Hermione saw as she rounded the top steps was not Severus saving her cat from certain death. What she saw was Severus holding her beloved familiar by the scruff of the neck, dangling him several hundred feet above the ground.

"HEY! What do you think you're doing?" she screeched, rushing forward.

Severus swung the cat back over the edge of the parapet, dropping him at his Mistress' feet. Crooks landed on all fours and with a howl took off at full speed around Hermione and down the stairs.

"Granger—Professor—Hermione... It's not what you think... I swear," he declared. "There was a dragonfly..."

Hermione just looked at him accusingly, with tears in her eyes. "How could you? Oh, Severus, how could you?" She turned and fled without another word.

"Wait!" he shouted at her retreating back. "Hermione, it's not... I swear."

Turning back to Sir Nicholas and pointed his finger at the ghost. "This is all your fault..." before he could finish his tirade Nick wisely vanished.

"Damn it all to bloody hell! Fuck! How am I ever going to get her to talk to me now! Arrrgh!" Severus stormed off, slamming the door behind him. He then opened it up and slammed it again several more times for good measure before he stomped the rest of the way down the stairs.

A minute passed. It was silent on tower. Then from the shadows came a shuffling sound as someone stepped forward. A soft whoosh of cloth sliding against cloth as an invisibility cloak slid off revealing Harry Potter with his arm wrapped tightly around a slender blonde. Looking down into his girlfriend's face he said with a grin, "See, didn't I tell you, Luna? There's never a dull moment at Hogwarts!"

"Oh, Harry," she admonished, giving him a little shove. "Come on, we'd better go talk to Hermione.

Severus spent the rest of the afternoon locked away in his quarters consuming the dregs of a bottle of old Ogdens that Lucius had given him for his birthday. It wasn't nearly enough to erase the fiasco of that afternoon from his mind though, so avoiding dinner he slunk out of the castle to make his way into Hogsmeade.

After an hour spent in the Three Boomsticks, he found the atmosphere much too light and friendly to match his foul mood. He then wandered over to the Hogshead to spend the rest of the night commiserating with Abe about annoying Gryffindor ghosts and equally annoying Gryffindor witches.

By the time Severus stumbled back to Hogwarts he was feeling no pain. Luckily it was Spring break and there were very few students staying at the school. As he stumbled through the halls, he swore if he found any of the little miscreants out at this time of night, house points would surely plummet.

As he approached his door, wand drawn to lower his wards, he paused in confusion. Something was wrong; his wards had been tampered with, he was sure of it. Proceeding with caution, he entered silently and surveyed his surroundings. The dim lights he'd left burning were on and everything seemed to be in order, there was nothing disturbed that he could see. He moved across the room toward his bedroom, perhaps the intruder was still inside.

As Severus began to move forward a slight movement on the sofa caught the corner of his eye. He whirled, wand extended, nearly falling over as the sudden movement sent the room spinning around him. By the time it stopped spinning he had managed to take a few steps forward to crouch beside the sofa and stare down at the peaceful visage of a soundly sleeping Hermione Granger. He shook his head slightly. Was he hallucinating?

Hermione opened her eyes and smiled up at him sleepily. Her hand rose to lightly caress his cheek. "Severus... you're home."

He jerked back in surprise to feel his hallucination actually touching him and lost his balance landing square on his arse, sprawled before her. "Hr'mione?" He looked befuddled. "Are you really here?"

"Of course I'm here, Severus," she replied, sitting up at the edge of the sofa to gaze down at him in confusion.

"Someone's tampered with m' wards," he informed her, looking around as if there might be someone else in the room, lurking in the corners.

She frowned. "That was me, of course. How did you think I got in here."

Severus frowned back at her, considering her words. "iYou/i broke 'em?"

"Yes, hello—Charms specialist here."

He thought for a moment before trying to get to his feet, none too gracefully. After two awkward attempts, nearly falling down again, he finally managed to get up and stood looking down at her. "Why?"

Hermione's eyes narrowed as she stared up at him, really taking in his appearance. "Severus, are you... are you pissed?"

He swayed a bit before he responded. "Umm... 's safe to say I'm the pisstest of the pissed."

"Oh, for Circe's sake," she muttered, sliding over on the sofa and reaching for his hand. "Sit down here before you fall," she said patting the seat next to her.

He dropped heavily to the sofa and leaned towards her, asking again, "Why're you here, Hr'mione?"

She waved her hand in front of her face as his alcohol laden breath hit her. Pushing him back slightly she explained. "I came to apologize, Severus. I know now that I jumped to conclusions earlier today up on the tower. I've been trying to find you to apologize. When I couldn't find you anywhere, I decided to wait for you here. I knew you'd have to come back eventually."

"You came to 'pologize to me?" he asked stupidly. "Why?"

"Harry and Luna told me what really happened," she began. Seeing his confused look she hurried to explain, "They were snogging up on the tower under his invisibility cloak—it had something to do with a fantasy they both wanted to re-enact—since neither of them had much opportunity for that type of thing when they were actually students here. Anyway, they overheard your conversation with Nick and saw what happened with Crookshanks."

He paused to take this all in. "Why would Potter ever do anything to help me?"

"He did it for me, because he knows how I feel about you, Severus. He knew I'd want to know the truth."

Severus frowned again, his brows drawn down in concentration. He stood and swayed dangerously, causing Hermione to reach out to steady him. He gently brushed her hand away as he ordered, "You stay right there, woman. Don't you dare go anywhere, or I swear, I will track you down."

"Severus, wait... where are you going?"

"Sober-up. There's some in the bathroom... 'm pretty sure I need to be sober for this conversation."

He returned a few moments later, much steadier and breath fresher. He'd obviously taken time to clean himself up a bit. "Now," he began, sitting down next to her, "explain. What did you mean when you said Potter knew how you felt about me."

Hermione blushed, avoiding his eyes. "Harry knew that I cared for you."

"But you've haven't spoken to me for three weeks. You've been avoiding me at every turn. Did I do something to offend you?"

"For Merlin's sake, Severus. I've pursued you relentlessly for nearly two years and I've had no indication that you're even remotely interested. I finally took the hints. I'd given up."

"You were... pursuing me?" he asked in a bewildered tone.

Hermione rolled her eyes. "Severus, I followed you like a puppy dog, I flirted, I did everything I could think of, I practically threw myself at you. But I finally realized that I was getting no where and I decided that I just can't go on like this, wanting to be with you and knowing that you simply aren't interested. It hurts too much. I'd decided to tender my resignation at the end of the term, my contract is up and I wasn't going to renew it. So I thought I might as well get used to not being around you now, rather than wait until summer."

"You were flirting with me?" he asked rather dumbly.

"Oh for the love of..." said Hermione in exasperation. She grasped two fistfuls of his robes and jerked him forward to kiss him soundly. "I fancy the pants off you, you big berk!"

It was Severus' turn to blush. "I had no idea. No one has ever flirted with me before. I didn't recognize it for what it was." Looking into her eyes, he cupped her face in his hands, and brushing a thumb over her lips he leaned down to kiss her again. Drawing back he explained, "I only realized when you were gone from my life how much I missed you. But I didn't understand why you were avoiding me... what I might have done to drive you away."

Hermione smiled up at him. "Harry and Luna said that you were asking Sir Nicholas for advise on how to pursue a Gryffindor witch."

Severus snorted, shaking his head. "Fat lot of good that did me. His best advice was to poison your cat in order to gain your approval and gratitude by then saving him."

Hermione shook her head. "I know, Luna told me. Thank you for not following that course of action. I will be having a very serious talk with him about that, believe me. You did save Crooks though, Severus. Thank you for that, but when I saw him dangling over the edge with you holding him by the scruff of the neck, I obviously jumped to the wrong conclusions. I'm sorry about that."

"Apology accepted. May I assume you will be retracting that resignation now?" he asked.

"Do you want me to?" she asked as she snuggled in to his side.

"I definitely do," he replied. "I want my chance to flirt with you."

Hermione drew back to look up at him. "Severus, you don't have to flirt with me. I've been after you for two years already. I'm a sure thing, I assure you."

"But I've never really had the chance to flirt with a pretty girl—to court someone—I think I'd rather like that," he said.

"Seriously?" she asked. At his nod, she smiled shyly at him. "Well, okay, that would be nice I guess, but Severus..." she hesitated.

"What, Hermione?"

"I've been waiting two years already. Can we make it a short courtship?" she asked plaintively.

"Of course, my dear, anything you want. Come, let me walk you back to your rooms and give you a goodnight kiss at your door like a proper suitor."

While the two walked through the halls of the castle to the Charms mistress' rooms, neither noticed the two shadows who followed them at a safe distance. As the couple paused to kiss at her doorway, Sir Nicholas gave the ginger tom a thumbs up. Crookshanks responded with a nod of his head and a twitch of his tail before he sauntered off in the opposite direction down the hallway.

Mischief managed.