A pewter goblet sloshed down beside her, no wine spilling, she noted vaguely. Hermione didn't need to look at the clock to know this meant stop work. She winced.

Exhaling loudly, wince turned to scowl as she observed both the pitiful amount of dried sea-grass she had managed to strip, and at the ingredients arranged neatly on the bench top, which had been prepared too long and had finally spoiled. It was Friday afternoon, and she had been racing against the clock, but the day's interruptions had ultimately caught up with her.

With a frustrated swipe of her arm across the bench, the ingredients were discarded into a waste bin. She was in a dark mood and had to stop herself from scolding him for serving alcohol in the work area. But she would have spoken too soon, for he strode purposefully down the far end of the laboratory away from the practical workbenches, wine in hand, and lit a fire before taking a seat.

She wiped down her workspace before following him and gratefully sipped the wine she had been longing for since her day went downhill that morning.

"Another week, another unfinished potion," Snape said dryly, sipping from his own goblet. Hermione huffed with irritation before downing the rest of her wine.

"Not this week. I am not leaving here until this damn thing is brewed, bottled, completed. I don't care if I have to stay all night and all weekend."

He raised an eyebrow.

"If you are not out of this door within the next hour Granger, I'll be very displeased," he added.

She quietly walked to the mantelpiece above the fireplace and refilled her goblet. Hermione had disappointed herself, but what was infinitely worse was the feeling she had let down her colleague.

"I am sick of the constant interruptions and mistakes and not making my quota. This is the second Friday in a row it has happened. It makes for a depressing start each Monday; I'm already behind before I've begun. But no more. No more," she repeated quietly. She gestured to his goblet with the carafe and poured him another as he held it out for her. "I have no need to rush home tonight, so I am actually glad to be able to get ahead for once. Is there anything I can do for you this weekend while I'm here?"

Snape regarded her from his armchair before replying.

"My potions are stabilised." He took a sip and set down his goblet. "They need no intervention."

She stared moodily into the fire as her thoughts returned like a magnet to the constant interruptions and consequent failings that had plagued her day. Her fortnight, in fact. The stress, the arguing, the stifling pressure to explain her every action.

"Don't punish yourself, Granger," he said finally. "We all have setbacks now and again."

She shook her head silently. "I'm sure I don't have to tell you how many ingredients I wasted today. The least I can do is work over the weekend."

He walked out of the laboratory and into his side office. She stared after him before turning her attention back to the fire, concentrating on the licking flames.

The truth was, she didn't want to go home. There was nothing there for her now. She clung to the unfinished potion, a trivial blunder, as a lifeline. A reason not to go home. The wasted ingredients were nothing. She knew that and she knew Snape knew that.

He returned with a small stand containing at least two dozen vials of violet liquid and put it on the coffee table between the armchairs.

"Deliver these. You can replace them next week," he sat down and resumed his wine, observing her over his goblet.

A slight frown creased her brows and her mouth opened slightly in almost invisible exasperation.

"I don't want those, Snape. I need to brew my own," she said with a coldness that wasn't aimed at him. "But thank you," she added.

She wanted to stay here, and he was giving her every reason not to.

He stood up and retrieved the stand of vials, and, one-by-one, plucked them out and placed them into a cylindrical canister before screwing it shut. Hermione watched with resignation, as she knew what he would do next. Opening the cage to their office owl Juno, he tied the canister to her leg and sent her off to St. Mungos. The snowy owl took flight and Hermione stared after her in despair.

"It is done Granger. Go. Or stay and drink if you wish. But no more brewing," Snape said as he returned to his armchair.

"Severus!" she said with exasperation.


"Alright, I won't brew, but I will do something. I will prepare ingredients. I need to do something. Perhaps a stocktake."

She sipped and frowned slightly, peering into her goblet. "Is there rosemary in this?"

"And bullwasp. And thistle-milk. And cane peel. And gold leaf."

She raised her eyebrows. "Gold leaf? To what effect?"

"It adds to the aesthetic."

She snorted. "It's a pewter goblet. What's to see?"

He gestured with his hand to the glass carafe she had been utilising but not seeing. The liquid looked just like ordinary straw-coloured wine, but as she swirled it, thousands of shimmering gold flakes were disturbed and sparkled as they weightlessly suspended in the liquid. Each one glittered to its own tune, hypnotically flashing as it began its delicate descent. Hermione's was transfixed.

"Beautiful!" she exclaimed, instantly distracted. She stood up and walked to her office, returned with two long stem glasses. "Here," she held one out to him. "We should at least see it as we drink."

"No, Granger. It must be pewter."

Hermione looked at him blankly. He stared at her, waiting for her to catch on.

"Do you think I just randomly added rosemary, bullwasp, thistle-milk and cane peel to a carafe of wine for the fun of it? It's a potion, Granger. A potion-infused wine. It must be consumed from pewter."

She thought hard about the ingredients.

"Well this is not our average Friday afternoon drinks," she mused. "If you had added lily-wart, I would be certain this was an antihistamine. But that is pointless. Why would you serve us that?"

"Why indeed," he agreed.

"Rosemary, bullwasp, thistle-milk and cane peel…" she mused. "What was the base?"

"Oil of yarrow."

She repeated the ingredients to herself and took another sip as she sat down in the adjacent armchair. She looked up at him as he held his goblet out for a refill.

"I don't think I know it. Or it's a forgetfulness tonic," she joked, pouring him another.

"You don't know it. No one knows it. I'm testing it on you Granger." His black eyes bore into her, waiting her reaction.

The day's events aside, Hermione was usually good at keeping an indifferent expression when she felt concern, but a quick dart of her eyes disclosed the truth. However, she did trust her colleague and mentor. It wouldn't be anything risky or compromising, but she was slightly annoyed at being Snape's lab rat without giving her permission.

"Alright, I give up." She downed her second glass in an effort to convince him she was neither put-out at the violation, nor perturbed at its contents.

"You'll know soon enough," he smirked.

"Well whatever it is, it's not working. I thought you were a potions master," she retorted with a sideways glance.

"It will work, if it hasn't already."

"I've had two glasses, Snape. Nothing has changed." Except for the welcome relaxation and improved mood that occurred with any wine.

"And I'm on my third. It's working."

"Well good," she said brightly. "I will be delighted to observe your supposed reaction since I am having none of my own." She grinned at him smugly and touched her goblet to his with a satisfying tap. "Bottoms up," she prompted.

Slight movement in the fireplace caught their attention. A shifting of coals, some resulting sparks and finally, a voice.


Not again. She closed her eyes and gritted her teeth. She was poised to strike, yet a part of her wanted to pretend she was not there. She stood up with dignity, and with the unfailing respect for which she was known, she addressed the face in the coals.

"Ron, go. Please, just go. I have nothing more to say to you."

"Can you please come home. It's getting dark. Let's sort this out. You said we'd discuss it."

"Ron, I'm done. I'm absolutely saturated to the point that I can't think about us anymore. Just leave it. Close the book. Don't make this harder than it already is." She kept her voice low although she knew Snape could hear her loud and clear, for the fifth time that day.

"Is he still there?" said Ron.

She looked into the fire and sighed. He was embarrassingly untactful and unaware of what it meant to put someone on the spot.

"Yes Ron, we are both still here because you have interrupted me half a dozen times today and I'm now behind in my potions for the second week in a row." She bent the truth regarding Snape's presence. They were not in the middle of brewing a backlog of potions, but she didn't care. If Snape had not come to her rescue, she would have been.

"I'm not coming home because I have too much work to catch up on. And even if I didn't, I wouldn't be coming home. It's not my home anymore."

"I want to see you alone," he said. "We can work this out."

She looked at him, knowing her next words would hurt. But she was resolute.

"My head left this relationship a long time ago," she said softly yet firmly. "It's time the rest of me followed. Goodnight Ron." She stared at his face and watched his expression crumple as he finally withdrew from the fire.

She felt nothing.

Hermione walked back and sat down in her armchair, gratefully accepting the refilled goblet Snape offered her. She felt a surge of appreciation at his respect and silence after overhearing their conversation. She sighed and dropped her head back, noticing that some time between her conversation with Ron and now, Snape had enchanted the ceiling to look like a starry night sky; a brilliant Milky Way glowed across an inky black background. It was breathtaking and mesmerising. At once it distracted and relaxed her. It was perfect. She sensed he had done it for her; it was more than she felt she deserved.

"I want to apologise, Professor," she said formally, sitting up straight. "I never thought I would ever let my personal life affect my work, but I have. I loathe the thought that I would ever be someone who comes across as unreliable, yet I know I have. And I can't take it back. I'm truly sorry. It was a transgression I will never let happen again, and I will work back late as often as I need to, to make up for it."

He regarded her from his armchair and spoke.

"Granger, you're not my student. You're my colleague. You don't need to give yourself detention as penance." His black eyes glistened with firelight as he regarded her. "You have not been unreliable. You have been interrupted, which is beyond your control. Under the circumstances, your focus and diligence has been acceptable and," he forced out, "admirable. You are dependable, Granger. Stop punishing yourself."

He watched the way she was perched on the chair, legs together, back straight, hands clasped in her lap, except when she held her goblet. Her body language reflected her very nature, even after two drinks.

To him, Hermione was a model of propriety; a diligent worker, respectful team player, a true professional. She was everything Weasley was not. Snape was amazed it had lasted so long.

"How long has it been for you and Weasley now Granger?" he asked into his goblet. It was almost too personal.

"We've been together for six years. Two years too long," she sighed.

He looked at her out of the corner of his eyes. She had offered more than he'd asked.

"Do you have somewhere to stay?"

She absently swirled the last of the liquid in her goblet.

"I thought I might transfigure an armchair into a bed and stay here, until I can sort out somewhere else. Would that be against policy?"

"Do as you must. There is no question of my trust in you."

Snape's praise was seldom forthcoming. Hermione was used to picking through his carefully worded sentences for slivers of approval. It had always been that way, ever since he taught her from her first year at Hogwarts. She smiled serenely but rejoiced inwardly at such an honest appraisal.

She looked into her goblet. Finished already.

"I really should stop drinking, or at least slow down. But I am looking strangely forward to seeing the non-existent results of your failed potion – I mean – the results your breakthrough potion." She glanced at him slyly. His face remained expressionless, but his eyes were amused.

"It is not a breakthrough potion. But it is my own creation and it does work. I've been taking it for years," he paused, "on and off."

She poured herself another and drained the last of the carafe into the goblet Snape waved at her.

"Curiouser and curiouser," she quipped. "Is there any more? I'll top yours up."

"My office, pewter cauldron, third shelf."

She stood and walked to his office and he watched her retreating form. Black pants, black buttoned shirt tucked in, black belt, black shoes. His own taste, but less severe. He hadn't asked it of her, she just conformed naturally to his ways. He never had to ask anything of her, she anticipated his wishes with uncanny accuracy and timing and Snape was no fool, he knew when he was on to a good thing.

He could have searched through the hundreds of applications for a candidate not even a quarter as fitting as Granger, but seeing her application second on the pile, his search was over. His first reaction was to wince and he had almost screwed up her application, but something in him stilled his hand, made him think about the bigger picture. This consideration made him willing to make an allowance for the insufferable, overachieving attitude he had experienced at Hogwarts in the hope he could channel it to good use in the productivity and quality assurance of his facility.

Snape had found he hadn't needed to channel anything. Granger had presented with diligence and enthusiasm, but also with more introspection and humility than he'd remembered and even at the end of her first day on the job – a gruelling seventeen hours– he was compelled to tell her: "Forget your probation, Granger. Start permanently tomorrow. See you at seven."

For the past three years he had found himself smugly self-congratulatory over the exceptional find that was Hermione Granger.

Snape was lost in his own thoughts before realising it was strangely quiet. And Granger had not returned.

He slipped soundlessly to the door of his office. Hermione was peering inquisitively at the numerous vials in his cabinets, methodically looking at each one, reading its label, and moving on to the next.

He moved silently behind her and said in a low tone, "Looking for something?" She snapped up and spun around, but he was ready and stepped back. She put her hand to her heart and laughed nervously.

"You scared me!" she scolded. "Luckily for you my wand is in my robe!"

"Couldn't find the third shelf?" he asked dryly.

"Yes of course! I was just…trying to cheat. I still can't figure out what you have added to the wine."

"You won't find a vial. I didn't add it to the wine. I added the wine to it."

"Well," she said. "This is quite a mystery. You certainly have my attention."

His mouth quirked up slightly.

"Tell me Granger, did you forget something in your haste to outwit me?" he asked with careful enunciation, in a tone that made Hermione guiltily search her mind for what she had apparently forgotten. She looked at him expectantly.

"The original task you began undertaking before you deviated on your fool's errand." He raised his arm and handed her the empty carafe. She had the good grace to look guilty.

"Thank you Severus," she took the carafe and set it on his desk. She moved to the third shelf at the same moment he did, and stopped. He looked down at her.

"Allow me," he said, and retrieved the cauldron.

Hermione ladled it into the carafe and smiled at the gold flecks shimmering in the liquid.

Suddenly, a sharp knock could be heard on the laboratory door.


He did not answer, and exchanged glances with Hermione.

"Stay here," he said quietly. He exited the office and left his door open. Hermione moved instinctively behind the door and out of sight.

"Warded out, for heaven's sake," the voice behind the door muttered to herself. After a moment, Snape opened it.

"My dear," he greeted, and bid his wife entry. She crossed the threshold.

"Sleeping here tonight, I suppose?" she asked bluntly. Hermione heard no reply, but he must have inclined his head as she coolly commented, "How typical. Not that it matters."

"Is there a point to this visit, Narcissa?"

"Yes. I am taking a lover. I thought you should know."

Hermione's mouth gaped open and she felt exceedingly sorry she had ever stayed back after work. She knew Snape must be squirming to know she could hear everything. She was mortified for him.

"Do as you will. But you know how I feel about such matters. There will be no returning to my bed."

"My dear," she said coolly, "I will not even notice."

And with that, heeled footsteps could be heard exiting the laboratory.

Hermione winced. A low blow. Poor Snape. She had no idea there was trouble in his marriage.

"Nor will I," he spat ruthlessly to her retreating form before slamming the door and warding it.

Hermione shifted awkwardly, not knowing whether to come out or whether to wait for the invitation. She heard strong and purposeful footsteps heading towards her and moments later he stormed into his office. He was angry.

She ventured out meekly and watched as he whipped out an official scroll of parchment from a desk draw, snatched a stick of wax, his seal, an inkpot and a quill from its glass stand which smashed onto the ground, and spun around in a billow of robes to exit the office.

"Reparo." He did not miss a beat. "You can come out, Granger," he said offhand as he breezed back out the door. She picked up the mended quill stand and replaced it on his desk.

Venturing to him moments later with carafe in hand, she stood awkwardly as he scribbled furiously on the bottom of the parchment. Her eyes widened as she read the official letterhead.

"Bill of Divorcement?" she exclaimed, then winced at her thoughtless outburst.

"I don't know why I didn't send it months ago. What was I waiting for?" he spat as he pressed his seal into the wax. "Where is that damn bird? I want this to arrive at the bloody manor before she does."

Hermione sat in silence, regarding him with mixed feelings. It would be absolutely out of the question to console him with a pat on his shoulder as she would have with Ron or Harry. Even passing him his goblet seemed feeble. She didn't want his scorn. Minutes passed and she sat in silence.

"Why did you do it, Granger?" Snape asked from his armchair, his head resting in his hands. "Why did you stay with Weasley when you knew he wasn't right for you?"

She inhaled and deliberated her answer.

"I invested many hopes and dreams into our relationship. Marriage, children. I really thought I'd have a two or three year-old by now. The thought of starting over is…a big hill to climb. I never felt I'd have the energy to do it all again. It was easier to stay with the bickering and possessiveness, because it had all become…comfortable. What would his family think? What if I found someone worse? There were so many reasons," she said candidly.

He sat up and watched while she topped up his goblet, as she had promised to do many long moments ago, and handed it to him.

"Why didn't you do it months ago, if you had these papers drawn-up and ready?" she asked him, sure in the knowledge that he would return her honesty with his own.

"Her reputation. Duty. To Lucius, mainly. And Draco."

'Draco is well and truly an adult,' Hermione wanted to say.

"Obligation, all of it. None of it matters," he spat. She silently agreed. "There was passion once," he murmured to himself.

A tapping at the window caused Hermione to jump up and open it, inviting Juno to step onto her arm. She presented the owl to Snape who tied the scroll to the bird's leg.

"To my home, Juno. If my wife is not there, find her," he ordered. Hermione looked apologetically at Juno and tickled under her beak.

"Good girl," she whispered as the owl took flight once more.

She sat down again awkwardly and grabbed at her goblet. The mood had changed significantly and she wished she could find words to help him as he had, her.

"If you need time off Severus, I am happy to cover your work as well as my own. In fact," she said with sudden energy, "It's the least I can do!"

"Forget it Granger. This has been going on for months. The hostility you witnessed earlier is commonplace, nightly almost. You are just never here to see it."

"Do you sleep here?" she was shocked but not surprised. He was always in the lab after she left in the afternoons, and before she arrived in the mornings.

"I transfigure an armchair into a bed," he quipped with a smirk.

"Of course you do," she smiled. "I knew my intelligence would rub off on you eventually."

"Indeed. Let's have a toast, Granger. To failed marriages and relationships." He raised his glass.

"And potions," she teased, clinking her goblet to his and taking a long sip.

"Not this potion." He sounded stern, but he was weary.

"Maybe I have a resistance to it. But how does one have a resistance to nothing?" she mused with mock thoughtfulness.

He snorted.

She smiled at their banter and gazed back up at the Milky Way and trailed her eyes down to the shelves adorned by such things as antique cauldrons, a set of antique scales, a modest bronze telescope, an antique globe of the earth.

"Has that old thing ever worked or is it just an ornament?" she asked, half to herself.

"To which old thing are you referring?" he replied.

She squinted at the box with a curled brass horn that had tarnished over the years.

"That…" she searched for the word, "that gramophone."

Snape looked at the gramophone from his position in the armchair and she saw him hesitate for a moment. To Hermione's secret delight, he rose and picked it up off the shelf with care and brought it over to the mantelpiece. She stood up and joined him, inspecting it with keen interest.

"This was my mother's," Snape said quietly. The base was a beautifully preserved polished walnut, and the speaker was curved brass, narrow at one end, opening wide at the other, with an intricately etched pattern around the rim. She could see no source for music as she remembered seeing on Muggle gramophones. The dark wood shone without a single flaw.

"It's beautiful," she said honestly.

He smiled faintly and removed his wand from his robe. With only a slight movement of his wrist, Hermione could hear the hollow and tinny strains of what sounded like a slow violin melody emitting from the horn, mixed with something ethereal she didn't recognise. She looked at him, astonished.

"Wow," she breathed. She had not really expected it to work. Snape had been watching for her reaction, and wore a soft, almost pleased expression on his face. He moved the tip of his wand to the horn, then dragged it away as if pulling the music out of the speaker. He slowly moved his wand in a large arc, the barest of wrist-flicks aimed at each corner of the room.

Hermione was transfixed as the music filled the entire laboratory, a louder and richer tone emitted from all four corners at once, with a slight emptiness produced from the acoustics of the cavernous stone room.

"That's an amazing effect," she said with a surprised laugh, looking at the small horn of the gramophone. She was awed, and her mentor knew it.

"It is." He watched her intently. "But I prefer this one."

He stepped toward her, narrowing the gap between them. This time, he swirled his wand in a tight circle around them both and his dark eyes watched her as the music closed in on them, engulfing them as though there was nothing in the world save the two of them and the music.

A guitar gently entered the melody as the violin faded out. She took a sharp breath as she felt the music permeate her body with an intimacy she knew they could both feel. She closed here eyes. The sound was close and completely encompassing and penetrated to her very marrow.

Opening her eyes, she saw Snape waiting with both patience and intent. He stepped towards her and gently took the goblet from her hand and placed it on the mantelpiece. He turned back to her with a question on his lips.

"May I?"

With one hand he took her own, the other he put on her waist. She complied and placed her left hand on his shoulder. Hermione's stomach swooped nervously as they swayed very slowly to the soft and soothing melody.

Things had taken a strange turn that she had not expected. She stared into his eyes, overwhelmed by the power and masculinity of his presence, as if every vibrating atom in the air surrounding her belonged to him and longed to possess her. It was an energy she recognised exclusively as Snape's own, but this was the first time she had felt it directed at her.

"Tell me Granger, why did you choose a career in potions?"

They swayed together as she carefully chose her words, however distracted she felt.

"Because I had no natural instinct for it." She faltered as she realised it wasn't much of an answer. "It was the only subject at school I cared about that I never felt I mastered. The only way to conquer it was to own it."

Snape looked down at the young woman in his arms. It was the exact opposite reason to him, and yet here they stood.

He treaded a very careful tightrope.

"And how are your instincts now?"

"Improving." She said it with a smile and he matched it with one of his own.

She looked up at him with trust and a sweetness he had an urge to claim. Potion aside, the wine was having a strong effect on his inhibitions.

"Wine and firelight are a dangerous combination," he murmured.

"And music and stars," she said softly.

He stared into her eyes with a longing that she could feel, and she willed him to her with ever cell in her body.

"Permit me," he said, and his head bent to hers, lips meeting tenderly.

Hermione closed her eyes and leaned into him, returning the kiss as they swayed to the soothing music.

She was lost, her body melting into sensations she hadn't felt for years. Was it a good idea? She thought it probably wasn't, but a team of thestrals could not have pulled her away. His warm, hard body against hers, strong arms belonging to the most brilliant and enigmatic mind the wizarding world could offer, and a rawness he had never shown to another living soul before this evening. She would have to cultivate their connection carefully.

"My feelings for you are very strong, Granger," he said softly after their kiss ended.

"As are mine," Hermione confessed. She released his hand and clasped both of hers gently around his neck. He clasped his own around her lower back.

She stared into his eyes and raised up on her toes before kissing him again, and with one hand she untucked her shirt from her belt and moved his cool hand to the warm skin of her waist. A subtle, yet suggestive move on her part. Not wanton, but honest. Beautifully played, Snape thought.

He needed no encouragement. Two hands on the skin of her waist moved slowly up her back then down her ribs and across her belly, back to her waist. The action compelled him to burn a trail of kisses down her neck to her collarbone.

Her nails dug gently into his scalp, moving in very slow circles. He raised his head and she dragged her fingers down his neck seductively and rested them on his chest. He dragged his hands up her thighs, across her bottom and, as if to will himself to stop, he covered her hands with his own and held them firm.

"Do you want this, Hermione?"

The song had long finished, although neither had realised it. His black eyes searched her face for any sign of hesitance; he would let her back out if she wanted to. Her eyes met his, firelight flickering softly on their faces.

"Yes, I really do," she whispered.

She tilted her head and a sudden gleam hit her eye.

"Something tells me you know that though, Snape. You have been feeding us some kind of 'determination' potion all evening. Something which gives the drinker very strong resolve," she smirked triumphantly.

Snape was momentarily taken aback, but a mixture of pride and affection flickered on his face.

"Clever girl. When did you realise?"

"I had my suspicions almost straight away, but after my dealings with Ron and yours with Narcissa, they were confirmed. It causes the user to follow through with difficult decisions they have already made, where they may have normally dillydallied about the right way to approach and then never take any action." She looked at him expectantly.

"I am impressed, Granger," he said.

"You know there's a rumour going around that I'm actually a qualified potioneer," she said teasingly. "Ye of little faith."

"You are wrong. The singular reason you work for me and no one else does is due to my utmost faith in you."

He stared at her seriously and released her hands. She stared back trustingly as he watched her fingers slowly unfastening her shirt buttons.

"Let me see you," she whispered.

He followed her lead and unbuttoned his coat and removed it, moving on to his black shirt. Hermione left her own shirt on, open down the front, and helped him out of his, dropping it to the floor.

The firelight glowed softly across his pale skin, and she placed two tentative hands on his shoulders, before daring to run them down his chest to his abdomen and back up. His stomach quivered almost imperceptibly with restraint as he unabashedly accepted her exploration of him like a man who had nothing to fear.

He parted her shirt and pushed it off her shoulders, exhaling audibly as the swell of her breasts was revealed in the firelight. With both hands he traced the straps of her bra down to the lace at the front, running his fingers lightly over the edge of the fabric.

"You are so beautiful, Granger," he said sincerely.

She glanced at the ground fleetingly, a show of humbled thanks. She slowly undid her belt and stepped out of her pants and shoes before resting her fingers questioningly on his own belt.

"Let me feel you," he said huskily, arms wrapping around her body as he kissed her deeply. He sucked in a shaky breath as his hands ran from the swell of her breasts to the contours of her hips. A woman's curves were his weakness. The fire in him was roaring, he had to tend to it.

They kissed passionately as his hands roamed over her body and slipped under her knickers, grasping her bottom. She fumbled with his belt and zip and tugged at his pants impatiently.

He pulled away from her and stepped out of his trousers with urgency before claiming her again. Without hesitation she reached between his legs and grasped his shaft, gliding her hand up its entire length before extending her hand further back to massage the softness of his sack. Her free hand hooked tightly around his neck, keeping his face to hers. Tongues stroked tongues and Snape groaned into her mouth at the pleasure he was feeling.

A hand slipped out of the back of her knickers and entered the front, fingers probing and exploring. A welcoming slickness met his fingers and he knew instantly where he wanted to be. He was not a patient man and this was maddening.

"I want you inside me," she whispered into his ear. She wanted it too.

He pulled away and grabbed his wand, before backing Hermione up to the newly transfigured bed. She sat down and unclasped her bra, removing it gently before laying down. Snape's hands and lips were instantly upon her breasts before he tugged her knickers down and cast them aside.

She parted her legs and he settled between them, kissing her deeply, a hand wandering back down between her legs. He again felt her readiness, and couldn't stand it much longer.

"Hermione," he rasped.

"Please do it," she whispered urgently.

That was all ne needed and they both sighed gratefully as he pushed into her.

She stared up at the man whose attention and respect meant everything to her, the man to whom she compared all others, and whose love she craved above all; he wanted her, was inside her, and that thought alone stoked a deep and escalating fire within her.

He began to move within her, gentle thrusts filling her again and again. Snape gritted his teeth; he was not sure how long he could hold off. The feeling was maddening as he sank himself deep within her time and again.

Hermione began to move her hips to his rhythm and he claimed her mouth while a possessive hand grabbed a breast. She dug her nails into his shoulders and ran them down his back.

"Hang on, Granger." He stilled his movements and stared at the wall behind her with intense focus. She didn't move but a thrill ran down her body to know the disciplined professor was losing control against the sensations he was feeling inside her.

"That was close," he murmured. She smiled up at him. His claim of her body filled him with exhilaration and her with a growing euphoria; his pleasure fuelled her own, and she encouraged him with her fingernails, deeper, harder. They kissed once more and she angled her hips so that each thrust hit a spot deep within her.

"God that feels good!" she exclaimed breathlessly. She threw her head back and arched her chest up, placing her hands urgently on her breasts. Snape's thrusting grew swifter and as he watched her grasp carnally at her breasts, his impending release stirred within him again and soon he was close to the edge once more.

His thrusts were quick and hard and Hermione knew he must be getting close. Her moans got louder and he could barely hold off.

"Hermione, can I –"

"Come," she breathed, "oh please come!"

Claiming her mouth with his, he released himself inside her with three or four deep and slowing thrusts, groaning his relief against her mouth. The stimulation inside her had reached a peak and she trembled and clenched around him, digging her nails into his back and crying out breathlessly.

They clung together, panting and trembling in the aftermath. She patted his shoulder.

"Relax," she whispered and welcomed him into her arms. He kissed her tenderly and let his weight bear down on her as he nuzzled her neck. She smiled into his hair.

"I am hoping that is a smile of satisfaction," he said with mock seriousness.

She wanted to tease him but couldn't find the words.

"If I died now, heaven itself would be disappointing. Every minute was ecastasy."

"It was very nearly seconds, Granger. You can't tell me how it feels and touch yourself and expect me to last long. It's very distracting," he scolded. She laughed.

"So, no enjoying myself then?"

"Absolutely not. Or at least give no outward sign of it," he conceded with a smirk.

He could feel himself withdrawing, so he kissed her deeply and rolled onto his back, gesturing for her to lay with him. She shimmied over to him and lay her head on his chest and stared at the fire.

"You said earlier that you have been taking the potion on and off for years," Hermione said.

"I have," Snape replied quietly. "Resolute, I called it. I first brewed it around the time I decided to become a Death Eater and follow the Dark Lord. I knew I wanted to become one, but it was quite a conflicting decision as I knew it was a lifetime commitment to a dark and immoral cause, but I was young and felt hurt and betrayed by everyone close to me."

She nodded wordlessly.

"I took the potion and soon after, the next steps to take became obvious and easy. I felt none of the inner conflict that had plagued me, and never looked back."

She nodded in understanding, as she had felt similar during her finale with Ron.

"And you took it often?" she ventured when he said nothing after many moments.

"I have taken it many times over the years when I have had trouble following through on a decision I have made. Ironically, betraying the Dark Lord, for example. Protecting Potter. Killing Albus."

"I can see why you used it so much. I'm sure it kept you alive."

"It did."

A soft tapping at the window caused Hermione to get up and let the owl in one final time. Snape watched every movement of her naked body as it crossed the floor to the window. He was convinced it was the last naked body he would ever desire. The young woman who gave him the drive to work harder, whose presence caused him to enjoy each working day, who returned endlessly to his dreams, had been his for those few moments. Her wit and feminine drive had disarmed him these past years; she was his equal in intellect, dedication and professionalism. Could a match so perfect be found anywhere else in the world?

"It seems Juno found Narcissa," Hermione said as she looked at the owl's bare leg and closed the cage door.

"It seams Narcissa's decision tonight means she found Resolute," he said with a smirk. Hermione raised her eyebrows.

"Did you send her some?" she asked.

"Juno did. With a note saying it was a mood enhancer. A half-truth, depending on how you look at it." He smirked.

Hermione sat back down on the bed and hugged her knees.

"What did you hope would happen when we all drank it today?"

He reached up and stroked her back idly.

"I was hoping Narcissa would leave me, that you would put Weasley out of his misery, and that I would…share a nice evening with you."

"Share a nice evening?" she asked pointedly.

"I never expected this. Some wine with you was as far as I dared hope."

"Well three ticks, Snape, bravo. Although," she added, "Fire, wine, stars, music…dancing? You wouldn't have needed a potion on top of all that. I was yours after you gave me the Milky Way."

He pulled her down to him.

"I would not have pursued you if you had not broken it off with Weasley." He kissed her lightly.

"Has anyone ever told you it's poor etiquette to manipulate people with potions?" she teased.

"Oh many times. Albus was incessant." He stared levelly at her. "But you must know, this could have turned out badly for me, which I was prepared for. You may have decided with infallible determination that you wanted to work things out with Weasley, which would have left me with no wife, and no chance with the beautiful Hermione Granger. A fate I would have to take responsibility for."

She stroked his face with one hand.

"You know," she said softly, "you are the one man I have compared all others to. Until I realised there is no comparison. Nobody even comes close."

He pressed her fingers to his lips and kissed them.

"I have loved you from afar for the longest time, Hermione. I couldn't stand to be around Narcissa once I realised this because she…wasn't you."

She kissed him then, long and deep, immersed to her very core with love and gratitude. He rolled on top of her and they began their lovemaking once more.

AN: Thanks for reading. For anyone interested in the music SS/HG were dancing to, it is called 'Healing Katniss' from the Hunger Games soundtrack...Snape grabs her wine glass and puts it on the mantelpiece at approx 1:10 and they dance from then on. I hope you like this song as much as I do. It's soothing and romantic and very worthy of an SS/HG slow dance IMHO.

As a fan of the SS/HG pairing, I personally prefer to read longer stories with drawn-out character development and tension. Some writers do this beautifully. I don't have a 100K+ SS/HG story in me, nor the patience nor time to write anything long. I leave that to the writers out there who do this far more justice than I could. So, having said that, I don't have time to have a nice, slow friendship between SSHG in 10K words, therefore I meet them in the middle. They're not hostile strangers, they're not lovers.

I have an idea for a spin-off to this story, but depending how this one is received, I may or may not write it.

Thank you for indulging your eyes and imagination in my story for the past half an hour.