Disclaimer: Not mine
So here it is - the final chapter! Without further ado, let's get on with it!
"Hermione? Hermione, open up, or I swear to Merlin this door and I will be having an argument!"
Ginny's voice filtered through the darkness of the flat. The curtains were drawn, the fire was cold, and the Floo had been blocked for the two days since Snape had left. Hermione had received an owl from him terminating their contract, and nothing since. She was lying on the settee, Crookshanks cuddled up against her, staring blankly into space. She barely noticed when the door was blasted off its hinges.
"Hermione?" Ginny stepped into the panel of light that was thrown into the flat from where her door had once been. "Merlin, Hermione, what happened to you?" She was followed by Harry, Ron and Lavender, each of whom stopped in shock at the sight of their friend.
"He's gone," Hermione whispered. "It's all over."
"Well, it will be if you don't do something about it," Lavender said firmly, going around and opening the curtains. Ron cleared his throat nervously and set to repairing the door, quickly joined by Harry who realised he could do little more than shuffle his feet at the moment.
"Who's gone, Hermione?" Ginny crouched down next to Hermione, brushing her hair back from cheeks damp with tears.
"Severus." Ginny sighed.
"Harry, unblock the Floo and go get a bottle of Firewhiskey." Lavender was sitting by Ginny now, and they shared a look. Hermione sat bolt upright, pointing her finger accusingly at Ginny.
"Don't do that!" she almost shrieked. "You two and your looks! You made me know, and you can't un-know something like that!"
"You're not making any sense, Hermione," said Lavender, taking Hermione's outstretched hand and patting it.
"I think I can probably guess," Ginny said glumly. "You blew it with Snape, didn't you?"
"I didn't do anything!" Hermione snatched her hand back from Lavender. "I wrote to him; I was trying to take a step back. I didn't expect him to come here! He came to see he hadn't offended me! And then those, those damned things-" she pointed at a pile of ashes on the table- "they spoilt it all!"
"What were they?" asked Ginny. Hermione narrowed her eyes.
"You know those chocolates George sent me?" Ginny clapped her hand to her mouth.
"Snape ate one by mistake." Hermione seemed to sag. "It was a Confess All."
"Oh no." Ginny and Lavender, as one, reached out and hugged Hermione tightly. Harry emerged from the fireplace with a bottle in one hand, and glanced over at Ron, who shrugged.
"No idea, mate."
Ten minutes later found them all sitting around. Hermione had calmed somewhat since having a few sips of Firewhiskey and was now relating the story in a shaky voice. Ginny was sitting next to her, calmly composing a letter to her mother about the trouble George's antics had caused.
"Now he's ended our contract," Hermione said, tears threatening to fall once again. "He must hate me."
"Confess Alls use elements of compulsion potions," Ron said, surprising everyone with his comment. "They force people to talk, and obviously they say what's on their minds. George showed me some of what he used to make them." He squirmed under Hermione's wrathful gaze. "Kingsley isn't happy for them to go on sale," he added lamely.
"I should think not!" Lavender said, appalled. "If this is the trouble they cause, George is going to be lucky to hold on to the rest of his body parts. When he did it to Percy, that was funny - brothers do play pranks. But to do it to Snape?"
"George'll be chuffed when he finds out." Ron reached for the bottle and topped up his glass. "They never managed to properly play a joke on Snape before."
"I wish he'd never done it," Hermione said sadly. "Imagine if I'd taken them to work by accident. It would have ruined me. And this, this is worse. Not only have I lost a client, but I... I lost a friend, Ron. Maybe more, who knows? I'd just decided to wait and see if anything developed. Now I know it would have."
"I'm sorry, Hermione." Ron reached over to take her hand. "I know you don't do idle attractions. Do you think you could talk to him?"
"Talk to Snape when he's in a mood?" Harry shuddered theatrically. "Even I'm not brave enough for that." Hermione managed a small smile.
"I guess I just carry on," she said. "I wouldn't know where to start fixing this." She glanced over at Ginny. "Has Sandra been managing?"
"She says she's re-scheduled all your appointments. She's the one who called Harry."
"I ought to buy her something. She's a trooper." Hermione downed the last of her Firewhiskey. "It's no good moping, is it? It won't undo things."
"I can hex George," offered Ginny.
"I can help," Lavender added. Hermione gave a wan smile.
"Probably won't make things better, though I appreciate you letting Molly know. She'll make him suffer enough." Hermione shook her head. "No, I need to pull myself together. I can't believe I fell apart like this, it's shocking. It is not something I would normally do... Thanks for shaking me out of it, everyone."
"Don't thank us just yet," warned Harry.
"Yeah, I don't know if I fixed the door properly," Ron said, giving the door a nervous glance. Hermione managed a laugh.
"I'll fix it," she said, reaching over to pat his knee. "I'll fix what I can, anyway. Just pick myself up and carry on, right?"
"Right." Ron stood and stretched rather pointedly. "We'd best get back, Harry. Kings is going to flip when he realises we had a drink, so we need to just go do paperwork or something."
"Oh yeah. Work." Harry gave a sheepish grin, the one that won over almost everyone. "Come over to ours for tea tonight, Hermione. You could probably use the company."
"And a reminder that all my friends are in settled relationships, whilst the first chance I've had for dating in years has just walked out my door and wants nothing more to do with me?" Hermione arched an eyebrow, waiting for Harry's face to fall, before laughing to show she had been joking.
"I'll be okay, Harry. I'm a big tough girl."
"Well, the offer's there." He kissed Ginny and headed for the fireplace before he could put his foot in it again, hastily followed by Ron. Lavender and Ginny began to straighten the flat up, leaving Hermione to have a few minutes to think.
"Incendio." They turned to watch a parchment on the table burning. Hermione watched it with a sad look on her face before sweeping the ashes into a bin.
"I know what it says anyway," she explained in response to Lavender's questioning look. The words were etched on her eyelids.
I regret to inform you that I am no longer able to continue our association. Please consider this adequate notice of termination of contract. You will be suitably compensated for your work thus far.
She was back to Miss Granger. It was her own fault, for forgetting about the chocolates from George- one day, he was going to push her too far. Hermione shook her head.
"I need to get to work," she said firmly. "I can't wallow. It's not like we even had something to lose."
"Hermione, it's okay to be sad," Lavender said, giving her a hug. "Or angry, or anything. Don't just pretend it doesn't matter."
"It does matter," Hermione admitted. "More than I could possibly have thought it would, but I can't follow that thought, Lavender. I'm afraid of where it'll lead. I just need to carry on. It'll work out in the end."
"If you're sure." Lavender offered a smile and was pleased to get one back.
"I'm sure. Besides," Hermione gave a self-conscious laugh, "He knows what he's missing." The comment was so completely out of character that Ginny burst out laughing, quickly followed by the other two. It was a happier Hermione who waved goodbye to her friends; still hurt and shocked by what had happened, but determined to put it behind her. Hermione Granger did not fall apart over a man, not any more.
MINISTRY ANNOUNCES LAST DEATH EATERS CAPTURED
by Rita Skeeter
The Ministry of Magic is pleased to report that the last remaining members of You-Know-Who's Death Eaters has at last been apprehended. As our reporter understands it, after the Battle of Hogwarts the remaining Death Eaters scattered and have been hiding for the past five years in the Muggle world - a cruel irony.
Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, Kingsley Shacklebolt, has issued a statement to the Prophet.
"This is the culmination of five years' hard work from our Aurors and we are extremely pleased to report that these dangerous individuals are no longer roaming the streets. The Ministry would like to acknowledge the efforts of Miss Hermione Granger, who proved invaluable in assisting our Aurors with their search in the Muggle world. Let this be a lesson to all those who feel they can flout the laws: you can no longer escape. The Muggle world will shelter you no longer."
We were unable to obtain comment from Miss Hermione Granger, member of the famous Golden Trio who brought about the downfall of You-Know-Who. However, it is understood that the Muggle Business Affairs Consultancy is to continue assisting the Ministry of Magic.
MUGGLE CONSULTANCY TO EXPAND
by Delphine Smith, Business Reporter
After the announcement last month from the Ministry, the Muggle Business Affairs Consultancy has announced that it is to expand, taking on an extra 10 staff with a focus on hiring Muggleborns and Squibs with experience living in the Muggle world. It is understood by the Prophet that Hermione Granger, founder of the MBAC, has been inundated by requests for assistance, with families such as the Malfoys retaining her services.
DRACO MALFOY TO WED
by Rita Skeeter
It was revealed last night that Draco Malfoy, voted Witch Weekly's most eligible bachelor, is at last to settle down in wedded bliss, much to the heartbreak of many witches. The lucky witch who has tamed the wealthy wizard is a Miss Astoria Greengrass, also from a respectable Pureblood family. Miss Greengrass has been prominent recently in promoting the understanding of Muggles and Muggleborns in an effort to avoid the fanaticism promoted by You-Know-Who. This reporter was lucky enough to be granted an interview with Draco regarding his impending nuptials.
"Astoria is a wonderful woman and an example to all Purebloods how to make their way in the future," he said. "We must embrace our Muggleborn community whilst not forgetting the rich history, wealth and nobility of the Purebloods. It is possible to co-exist peacefully with Muggles."
This reporter must admit she spent much of the interview lost in Draco Malfoy's eyes, however he did continue to say that much of his family's recent restoration of fortunes is owed to Miss Hermione Granger of the newly re-christened Muggle Affairs Consultancy. It is beginning to become apparent that Miss Granger, whilst clearly not good enough to wed into a Pureblood family such as the Malfoys, is able to exert her influence over even the best of us. The Prophet is beginning to fear a Muggleborn uprising...
RITA SKEETER JAILED
by Luna Lovegood
The Quibbler is given to understand that the most infamous reporter of the Daily Prophet, one Ms Rita Skeeter, has recently been sentenced to ten years in Azkaban for not registering as an Animagus with the Ministry, and for using her transformation to trespass in restricted areas and infiltrate high level Ministry meetings. The Prophet has been quick to distance itself from Ms Skeeter, issuing an apology to Miss Hermione Granger regarding Ms Skeeter's most recent article and the clear anti-Muggleborn propaganda it contained. They issued this official statement:
"The Prophet embraces all readers, no matter their heritage, and is keen to assure our loyal supporters that Ms Skeeter is no longer a part of our illustrious staff."
It is unclear how Ms Skeeter's Animagus transformation was uncovered by the Ministry, however it is a sign that the Ministry will not tolerate such behaviour in future. The Quibbler is pleased to see a firm stance being taken and wonders if it is perhaps due to the influence of Nargles on Ministry staff.
WIZARDING 'INTERNET' PROVIDER ESTABLISHED
by Delphine Smith, Business and Muggle Technology Reporter
Although most Muggle inventions fail to find a place in the Wizarding world, one fad that has taken Britain by storm is the 'internet', a way of almost-magically locating information along with other elements of Muggle culture including music and Muggle news amongst others. As a result of this current love of the Muggle 'internet', the Muggle Affairs Consultancy has assisted the Ministry in setting up a company known as an Internet Service Provider to specialise in providing magical homes up and down the country with internet. The Prophet, ever at the forefront of technological advancement, will shortly be launching its own website and wishes to thank the efforts of Miss Hermione Granger and her dedicated team for their invaluable assistance in this effort.
"So what do we do about Hermione? It's been what, three months now?"
"She's still not right, is she?"
"Are you kidding me? I mentioned Snape to her the other day-"
"Ron, you idiot!"
"-I know, I know. It was an accident, but she hexed me so much I had to spend the afternoon in St Mungo's. She's not over him, not by a long shot."
"When did Hermione ever do casual? Look how long she mooned after you, and you're a complete git."
"Back on topic, boys. I'm worried about her. She hasn't been to the Burrow in weeks. Mum is starting to think it's her fault."
"Molly knows what happened, doesn't she?"
"Of course she does, but you know what Mum is like. Hermione hasn't been to dinner with us, either, and when was the last time we had a takeaway at hers?"
"Exactly. She's trying to convince us she's okay, but she's just avoiding everything. Even her own thoughts, I think - Sandra tells me Hermione's stopped going out for lunch and just works straight through, maybe with a sandwich or something."
"Last time she was like this was in fifth year, and Ron was being a berk."
"You were, mate."
"Thanks, Harry. Glad to know you've got my back."
"Welcome. We can't let things go on like this."
"I have an idea."
"Ginny, I know that look. What are you planning?"
"Don't worry, Lav. Just make sure the Aurors know I was last seen at Spinner's End, if I don't make it back in time for tea."
"Harry, I feel like this is my fault. I should have just binned those chocolates from George. I shouldn't have taken them over. If I hadn't, Hermione and Snape would still be having fun dancing around each other while they worked up the nerve to ask each other out. I'm going to have to fix it."
"... Be careful."
Severus Snape was surprised when his solitude was interrupted by a knock on the door. His wards hadn't alerted him to anyone approaching; when he checked, he was displeased to see they had been disabled. There were few with the audacity to do such a thing, and he flung the door open with a scowl.
"Potter now, sir." Ginny had her arms folded, a warning sign for anyone with experience of female Weasleys. "You and I need to talk."
"I have nothing I wish to discuss with you, Mrs Potter. Go and pester someone else." Ginny tapped her foot and stared at Snape with an angry glare inherited from her mother.
"You misunderstand me, Professor. I am going to talk, and you are going to listen, and then you are going to think carefully on the subject of Hermione Granger and just why she is falling apart."
"I know you're perfectly capable of calling her Hermione, Professor. Now, are you going to let me in, or shall I stand on the doorstep and let the whole neighbourhood know your private business?" Snape stared at the redhead as if wishing she would vanish. When she rather stubbornly refused to, he stepped aside and let her in. Ginny walked into the house as if she owned it, only pausing to laugh at the mouse - now a rather fetching shade of blue - and tickle it through the bars.
"A mouse, Professor? I didn't have you down as an animal lover."
"A lab rat, nothing more."
"Oh really? I heard his name is Granger. Says a lot that he's still living here." Snape loomed over her, a technique that she was thankful to say didn't intimidate her any more.
"Say what you must and leave, Mrs Potter."
"Hermione says you make a lovely cuppa." She grinned as his expression quite clearly stated that the odds of her receiving a cup of tea were worse than the odds of the Cannons winning the Quidditch Cup, ever.
"Fine, then. I don't want to know what you feel towards Hermione. It's not my place to intrude on you that way. All I want to do is tell you what she's been up to since you stormed out on her and ended your business."
"I fail to see why this concerns me, Mrs Potter."
"It concerns you, Professor, because Hermione misses you. We had to break into her flat after your spat to check she was still alive. She's working too hard, not eating enough, and she doesn't even come over for food - as she has done every month for the past five years. She won't have guests and Sandra says she's working herself into an early grave. Every time someone mentions your name she falls into a depression, or hexes them. Now, Hermione is stubborn and won't talk about what's wrong, but I'm not an idiot. Hell, even Ron picked up on it. She misses you, Professor. I can't personally see why - you're an antisocial, sarcastic, miserable bastard, but for some reason Hermione really, really liked you. She doesn't do casual, Professor. We all know that. You are making her miserable and you need to think about why you're avoiding her, and whether it is actually her fault. I took those chocolates over. If you want to blame anyone, blame me. Just stop blaming Hermione. You've spent long enough moping over a relationship that you ruined by being a git. Don't wreck another one." Ginny ended her rant rather calmly, though inwardly she was surprised at still having all body parts attached.
"Is that all?" Snape asked coolly. Ginny nodded.
"Afraid so, sir. Oh, and the usual caveat - if you continue hurting her, we will hunt you down and make you pay." She smirked. "I'll tell Harry to come here every day and talk to you. I'll even tell him to give an exclusive interview to the Prophet about how much he adores you." Snape studied her carefully.
"You have a rather devious mind, Mrs Potter."
"I do my best, Professor. I'll see myself out. Hopefully, you have a lot of thinking to do."
The Muggle Affairs Consultancy now took up most of the building it had begun in. Rather than one small office and a reception it spanned several floors, including a 'Teach Yourself Computers' room which had proven rather popular with wizards who, like Arthur Weasley, loved Muggle technology. Hermione's office was still the same one she had started in; big enough for her needs, and then of course there was the nostalgia factor. If you can call it nostalgia, she thought, amused by how kind the past few months had been to her business. Ever since... her first client (there, she had avoided the name) had crossed the threshold, her company had gone from a small, overly optimistic office to a booming business.
She often came in to find gifts from her clients, or offers from prospective clients, on her desk. This morning, rather than the usual flowers or chocolates, she was surprised to see an elaborate gift basket sitting atop her paperwork.
"Sandra?" she called out. Sandra now headed a team of administrative staff, but she too had kept her small desk near Hermione's office.
"Yes, Miss Granger?"
"Who's this from?"
"Not a clue, Miss Granger. Arrived this morning for you. There was no message with it."
"Thank you, Sandra." Hermione closed the door and approached the gift basket curiously. As she stepped nearer her nose was assailed by a wondrous mix of scents, enough so that she closed her eyes and simply inhaled the delicious fragrance. Nestled in the wicker gift basket, packed down by straw, she could see a mix of shampoos, conditioners, bubble baths (which promised mountains of bubbles and an 'unforgettable bath time experience') and other toiletries. Her heart stuttered as she picked one of the bottles up.
"No way," she breathed. The label read Magical You, and two elegant S shapes formed a design on the front of the bottle. She stared at the design until it hit her; that was an eye, that there a tail, and that was meant to be a paw...
She knew who the basket was from.
For a moment, she forgot to breathe.
There was a card, she noticed, casting a distracted gaze over the basket. Tucked in the back, it simply gave a Muggle address in Manchester, along with a telephone number, email address and website. Hermione turned the card over and over in her hands, desperately trying to understand what message was being sent. Was it an apology? An invitation? A declaration that he had, in fact, never needed her? Was she reading too much into it? Hermione stared at the elaborate gift until her eyes began to water and then, making a Gryffindor decision - no thought, simply impulsive action - she turned and ran from the office.
"Cancel my appointments," she instructed as she sprinted through the reception area. "I'm going out and I have no idea when I'll be back."
"But Miss Granger-"
"Please, Sandra!" Hermione stopped in the doorway. "Please. I have to do this!" Sandra studied Hermione, noted the hopeful light in her eyes, and relaxed.
"Okay." Hermione beamed at her and left. Sandra stared after Hermione thoughtfully, and then smiled as she began to understand just who had sent the basket.
"Good luck," she said softly, before picking up a quill and beginning to free up Hermione's morning.
Manchester was big and busy, and it took Hermione some time to wind her way through the streets to the address on the card. Eventually she had resorted to a discreet locating spell, working her way through the shopping Muggles until she reached a small, unassuming shop which was, contrary to expectations, absolutely packed with shoppers. The signs declared it to be Magical You, home to products which promised to change lives. Judging from the bulging bags being carried by those who emerged, they really did work, too. Hermione paused in the doorway to smile at the abstract otter on the glass, then took a deep breath and entered.
Finding her way into the shop had been the easy part, she decided after viewing the crowds. Finding her way to the tills, where Muggles were endlessly queuing, and to the harassed looking staff members, was going to be impossible. She ended up wandering, amazed at the sheer volume of products, and couldn't help but smile as she overheard some of the comments.
"...I swear, it really is like magic! One wash with this shampoo and my hair went so straight I could use it to draw a line; I never thought I'd get rid of my curls!"
"...works, too, have a bath in this and you'll sleep like a baby, cured my insomnia..."
"...read the reviews in the newspaper, five stars."
"He did it," Hermione said softly to a stand of soaps. "He really went and did it." She couldn't help but be proud, given how inept he had been when they had first set out. Judging from the Muggle reception, his brewing of beauty products was as good as his potions. A part of her was feeling sad at having missed out on this; it would have been truly wonderful to see.
"Excuse me, can I help you?" She turned to see a friendly middle-aged woman with a name tag declaring she was called Angela, she was a manager, and she was happy to help.
"Yes," Hermione said with a small smile. "I was wondering if I could speak to the owner?"
"I'm afraid he's not present in the store," Angela said. She seemed to be studying Hermione closely, and then:
"You're Hermione Granger, aren't you?" she asked in a hushed voice. Hermione looked startled; she hadn't felt anything to indicate that the woman opposite her was a witch. Angela laughed at her shocked expression.
"I'm a Squib," she confided. "I know you know a lot about this place, so you'll understand why I was hired."
"You won't ask awkward questions," Hermione said automatically. It made perfect sense; she understood enough of the magical side of things that she wouldn't question anything, and yet she was perfectly comfortable with acting like a Muggle, interacting with them, and managing them. It was something she had thought to suggest.
"Mr Snape doesn't come into the shop," Angela said quietly. "He owls instructions in and whenever he's brewed a batch, it appears in the storeroom. If we're running low on something in particular, I owl him back and he makes it right away. It's working well. Mr Snape isn't exactly inspiring as a leader, so he stays in the background and I keep things ticking over for him."
"It looks like he made a good choice," Hermione said, bringing a proud smile to Angela's face. "This place is doing really well."
"It is," Angela said happily. "Is there anything you're looking for, apart from Mr Snape?"
"No, I was just curious. I received a gift basket this morning, and wanted to come and see how things were working out for him." Angela nodded.
"I remember that one. Mr Snape asked for it specifically."
"He sent it himself?"
"Why, yes. Usually we have a Muggle courier, but when he explained your office was in Diagon Alley, I handed it over and he delivered it himself." Hermione felt a shiver run down her spine. Not a sign he doesn't need my help... he wouldn't go to that much trouble to prove a point.
"You've been very helpful," Hermione said, trying to calm her racing pulse as the feelings she had been ignoring for the brooding, sarcastic man began to surface once more. "Thank you."
"Not a problem. Just ask if you need anything else." Angela bustled off to help some of the more confused looking Muggles. It took all of Hermione's self-control to walk calmly from the shop and find a quiet, empty alley from which to Apparate.
Spinner's End was much as she remembered it, except for the thrum of magic that told her Snape had almost trebled his wards. She passed through them nervously, but nothing untoward happened and she reached the door unharmed. When she got to the door, her courage faltered.
What if I'm wrong?
She didn't think she could handle being wrong, not at this point. Was it better to walk away, and never find out? Gryffindor or not, there were some things Hermione Granger was not equipped to deal with and confronting Severus Snape about his feelings was one of them. She took a deep breath, raised her hand to knock on the door, and lowered it again without making a sound.
I can't go through that again.
Maybe he just wanted to let her know he had succeeded. Maybe he wanted to show off. Maybe, maybe; a thousand maybes and nothing she could cling on to except wild hope. She studied the door again, but wasn't surprised when it swung open and was replaced by a wall of black robes. She'd dallied for too long.
"Did you intend to knock, or were you simply here for decorative purposes?" His voice was rich and smooth and made her knees weak. When she looked up, nervous, there was no hatred or anger on his face. That alone gave her courage to smile.
"You sent me a gift."
"Would you care to come in?" Hermione took a moment to steady herself, and then:
She was ushered in, and was amazed by the changes. The computer was where it had been; there was a house phone and a mobile, a television, a CD player, and many other Muggle inventions. Still in his cage, though it had been moved and made bigger, was Granger the mouse, radiant in Gryffindor red.
"He looks better like that," she said, laughing.
"I was experimenting with a colour changing dye that Muggles would believe," Snape said. "Unfortunately it was not a success." She spun to face him, not wanting to bother with small talk.
"You sent me a gift," she said again.
"My hearing is perfectly adequate. You do not need to repeat yourself."
"You didn't send a card."
"I didn't know what to say."
"Did you want me to come here?" Snape looked away. He walked past her to stand at the window, looking at anything except her. Hermione sat down.
"Severus," she said softly. He turned and she could see panic, desperation, hope, fear, a million emotions and more, plain on his face for the whole world to see. In that moment she knew her hope wasn't wild any more.
"You were very rude, you know," she said conversationally, keeping eye contact with him so that she could spot the confusion. "You gave me a lot to think about, and then ran away before I had a chance to answer any of it."
"You fed me Weasley products," he said. Hermione shook her head.
"I forgot they were there. I really did have some Honeydukes, I promise. I never wanted to force you into a situation like that." Snape sat down opposite her, seeming to relax a fraction.
"What did you want, Miss Granger?"
"Hermione," she corrected. "I wanted to see our contract through to the end. I wanted to keep writing to you. I wanted to be friends. I... wanted to see if there was something more." She reached out and took his hand. "I was afraid of being unprofessional; that's why I sent you that letter. You hadn't offended me, Severus; I was just scared of what I was feeling." He was watching their hands, but he hadn't pulled his away. She took that to be a good sign.
"Why did you use an otter?" she asked quietly. He looked away at that and tried to pull his hand back, but she held on until he relented.
"I... wished to honour your contribution to the shop in some way."
"Try again. Slytherins are usually better liars." He looked back at her and she felt like she would melt from the heat in his gaze.
"I wanted to give you a sign," he said, placing his other hand over hers. "I am... inexperienced at courting a woman. I was uncertain of how to let you know how much I regretted my behaviour that night."
"An apology usually works," she whispered, unable to tear her eyes away from him. He gave a soft smile and reached out to touch her cheek.
"Then I apologise for the pain I caused you. It was not my intention to hurt you, Hermione. I was angry at the situation; I was afraid of your rejection. I had wanted more time to gauge your interest." Hermione licked her lips to wet them before she spoke; her mouth was dry from nervous anticipation.
"I wouldn't have rejected you, Severus."
"Am I correct in guessing you would like to try this again?" he asked. She nodded, and then surprised herself with an impish smile.
"I believe you owe me something other than an apology." He tried to draw back but she tugged him towards her; he obediently slid off the chair to his knees before her.
"How may I oblige you?" he asked.
"By kissing me," she whispered. "I have wanted you to kiss me since before that night." Snape gave a small chuckle.
"I believe this is one of the nicer obligations I have ever had," he said, caressing her cheek with one hand as the other cupped the back of her head and drew her closer. Hermione's eyes fluttered closed and she felt his warm breath on her lips, pausing for a moment - was he nervous? - before his lips were touched gently to hers. It was at once both a chaste, gentle kiss, and the best kiss she had ever had, for his touch set her skin ablaze and her heart racing. He made to pull away but she reached out, entwined her hands in his hair and pulled him closer, opening her lips in invitation. He was quick to accept, his tongue tracing her lips before plundering her mouth. She felt a heat in her stomach; her head was spinning, and she surrendered utterly, melting in his arms. When at last he drew back her eyes fluttered open most reluctantly, but the smile that greeted her made it worth the loss.
"Much better," she said breathlessly. "One hundred and ten per cent."
"I'm sure we can improve on that," he said. Hermione smiled, lifting her fingers to his lips and allowing him to place a gentle kiss on their tips.
"We would need plenty of practice," she said seriously. Snape smiled.
"Do I need to sign a contract?" he asked. Hermione laughed.
"I have no intention of being professional with you any more, Severus. In fact, I would like it very much if you took me upstairs so that we could continue being completely unprofessional." She glanced up at him through her lashes. He was looking surprised at her request, but in a good way - he looked happy, and she grinned.
"So, not business?" he teased. Hermione grasped the back of his neck and drew him closer.
"Strictly pleasure," she whispered, before kissing him again.
And there we have it! One happy ever after for our beloved Slytherin and Gryffindor. I hope you have enjoyed the ride, and I want to thank everyone who has reviewed or followed or favourited - nothing makes my day more than an inbox full of alerts letting me know that you guys like this! Big hugs and cookies for you all 3