It had been almost a dozen years since Hermione had last taken notice of one of Gilderoy Lockhart's books. This was due to a number of factors, not least of which was a still-lingering sense of embarrassment about her childhood infatuation with her erstwhile Defense instructor. It was unlikely that the adult Hermione, now a Hogwarts professor herself (after a rather brief - and extremely unfulfilling - Ministry career), would ever willingly have sought out one of Lockhart's books for any purpose.
However, this book, the Eitelkit Press edition of the oldest and most obscure of Gilderoy Lockhart's dubiously authored works, a collection of counter-spells for rarely encountered, but particularly pernicious curses, was currently lying open, abandoned on the Ravenclaw table in the Great Hall, and there on page 273 was a reference to a counter-curse that Hermione was immediately convinced held the solution to Severus Snape's problem.
CONTRA SALIGIA. 
It seemed so obvious, now that she saw it on the printed page, written down in big, bold letters. How was it possible that she hadn't read about the Seven Deadly Sins curse before this? More to the point, how was it possible that Bill Weasley - one of England's foremost curse breakers - had never mentioned this counter-spell when Hermione described Severus's symptoms to him a week earlier?
No matter, Hermione thought as she sat down at the table and turned back to the first page of the entry. The sooner she learned everything she could about the CONTRA SALIGIA, the sooner she could help break the curse that so obviously held Severus in its grip.
in the staff room - wrath
"Defend him if you must, Minerva," said Pomana Sprout with a sniff as Severus Snape swept out of the staff room, "but personally, I see no difference."
I see no difference.
More than a decade had passed since Hermione Granger heard those words directed towards her in Potions class, but they still had the power to sting, just a bit.
"He was screaming at the children - honestly, I thought he was going to have an apoplectic fit - and all for no good reason at all."
Minerva shook her head ruefully. "Severus's wrath has never needed much of a reason, has it? But truly, Pomona, you know better than to call him on the carpet as if he were an unruly First Year; he didn't respond well to that even when he was a student."
"He was a bloody terror," muttered Pomona.
"Yes, well, whatever precipitated his display of bad temper this time?" Minerva asked.
Hermione couldn't keep herself from leaning forward a bit, to make sure she heard the reply.
"Absolutely nothing of any significance! According to Hecuba Prim, he'd just emerged from his laboratory and was passing Hecuba and a small group of her friends. They were showing each other the familiars they'd been given during the holidays."
"And...Hecuba's housemate, Marguerite, had only just lifted her new pet out of its case when Severus began screaming at the children and taking points left and right."
Minerva frowned. "What sort of pet does Marguerite have? A cat of some sort?"
"No," Pomona replied. "A lovely long green python with the most beautiful markings."
Hermione gave up all pretense of not eavesdropping on their conversation. "But...aren't snakes proscribed?"
"Not as such," Pomona said, rather defensively. "In any case, quite a number of students have been allowed to keep animals that aren't mentioned in the welcome letter over the years - your former boyfriend's rat comes to mind."
Yes, thought Hermione, actively fighting against rolling her eyes, and hadn't that been a wonderful pet. "Still," she said, "they are against the rules, and Severus had been brewing for the infirmary for almost 24 hours. Perhaps he was just overly tired?"
"And," Minerva added archly, "when Severus is overly tired and a large green snake is held up in front of him - "
One that almost matches the description of Nagini, was left unsaid.
" - even Severus might be excused for displaying more ire than he usually does."
"Oh, you might be right," Pomona sniffed. "But Minnie, is there nothing that can be done to rein him in on occasion, particularly now that he's no longer teaching or serving as Head of House?"
Minerva shook her head. "I don't disagree that Severus has - what do your people call it, Hermione? Anger management issues? Pomona, we can't hold him to a different set of rules from the rest of us just because his job description has changed. Would you suggest that Irma or Argus shouldn't be allowed to take points?"
"Of course not," Pomona grumbled. "All I'm saying is that man has not changed one bit."
"No," Minerva said with a chuckle. "Nobody would argue with you on that score."
I would, thought Hermione with some confusion as the two older women turned the focus of their discussion to their forthcoming trip to Malta. Could they honestly not see how much of a transformation Severus had undergone since the war?
The old Severus Snape - the overworked, under-appreciated, bad-tempered double agent - would never have agreed so readily to supervise an inexperienced instructor during her first year teaching at Hogwarts, especially not when that instructor was Hermione Granger and the subject she was teaching was his old subject of Potions. But he had agreed to take on a supervisory role in the time he had to spare from his potions development work, and so far, he'd been extremely helpful - almost kind - which is why she found the attitudes of her colleagues so puzzling.
Well, she thought, as she turned back to her marking, fathoming the minds of Pomona and Minerva was a task only suitable for the Department of Mysteries.
in the forbidden forest - sloth
Like many notable academic institutions, a great deal of Hogwarts recent reputation rested on its faculty's work in research and development, particularly in the fields of Potions and Charms.
Filius Flitwick, instead of leaving the school after the war, had stepped down as Head of Ravenclaw, then reduced his teaching load by half, in order to turn the greater part of his attention to Charms creation and refinement. And Severus, who'd had less than no interest in resuming his teaching responsibilities, did agree to return to Hogwarts to work on new potions formulations, brew for the infirmary, and supervise whomever Minerva hired to replace Horace Slughorn when he finally retired for the second and last time.
Despite having all the rights and responsibilities of any other Hogwarts professor, Hermione was only too aware of her inexperience, both as a teacher and in the field of potions itself. That she'd had greater aptitude for the subject than most of her former classmates was unquestioned, and since completing her NEWTs, Hermione had done an advanced course at the Académie de l'Alchimie in Paris, but much as she enjoyed the subject, she didn't have potions at the core of her being.
Hermione knew it would have been easy - and even expected - for Severus to give his agreed-upon assistance in the most grudging way possible, but from the moment Hermione had returned to the school, Severus had been almost gracious, even going so far as to make time to discuss potions theory or pedagogical issues, along with giving her practical potions advice. He seemed even to have lost his trademark sneer at some point.
In many ways, the arrangement was almost like a potions apprenticeship, but without the fault finding and non-stop cauldron scrubbing to which most apprentices were subject, and Hermione loved it.
This morning, for example, Severus had offered to accompany Hermione when she journeyed into the Forbidden Forest to harvest the bright orange fruits of the Rowan tree. In Muggle hands, the berry-like fruits appeared to have no particular magical properties, but if the fruits were immediately placed in a base consisting of Waxwing egg whites and ginger root, they became magically potent and could be used in a variety of common potions recipes.
However, they had to actually be collected before they could be used, and despite having arranged to meet Hermione at the forest's edge just before sunrise, Severus had yet to make an appearance. A quick casting of Tempus told Hermione it had already gone 8:00 a.m., which was a bit worrying. In Hermione's experience, it was unlike Severus to be late, but...perhaps he was ill?
She turned back the way she'd come and started to walk back towards the school just to make certain he was all right, but before she reached the main doors, she saw Severus approaching her.
As he came closer, Hermione frowned. He was unshaven and...surely his hair hadn't been greasy the day before? And his clothes - if Severus were anybody else, she would have sworn that he'd slept in them, they were that rumpled. He had to have taken ill...there was no other logical explanation for it, but Hermione knew better these days than to ask personal questions that were none of her business. If Severus wanted to tell her what was wrong, he'd do so in his own time.
Their walk to the Forbidden Forest was companionable, if quiet, with Severus saying little after his initial 'good morning.' Hermione could hear the sounds of some of the younger children playing down by the shore of the lake, but they encountered nobody on their walk apart from a rather bleary-eyed Hagrid, who was heading home from the direction of Hogsmeade with Fang.
"Mornin' Hermione," he said, much more quietly and a good deal more raspily than his usual booming greeting. "Severus. Bit surprised to see yeh standin' with the sun barely up in the sky this mornin'. Always did think you had a touch of giant's stamina."
Severus's only response was a very atypical snort, followed by a wince, as if he'd suddenly been hit by a migraine.
As they neared the Forest's edge, Hermione added Rowan bark to her mental "to be collected" list, just in case Severus's headache didn't go away on its own.
in severus's private potion's lab - greed
Despite having been assured more than once that the wards and passwords to Severus's private laboratory had been altered to recognize her, Hermione still wasn't comfortable just barging in without knocking. It was unlikely that Severus would object to her presence, of course - he always seemed very welcoming whenever she came to visit, even on the nights he was brewing - but it was simple courtesy to knock before entering.
"Hermione?" she heard Severus call out through the oak door. "Come in."
She entered, then closed the door behind her and settled herself down in what she'd recently begun to think of as 'her chair.' Severus was sitting across from Hermione, a stack of journals balanced on his knees and a kettle on a warming stand between them.
"Would you like some tea? Or maybe a glass of Black Bull," he asked, indicating the bottle of Muggle whisky sitting on the floor next to his chair.
Hermione shook her head; she'd never really understood the appeal of whisky - not even a superior thirty year old blended Scotch whisky. "Tea would be lovely," she said, setting her students' assignments down on the table beside her. "Just a...."
"...a splash of milk and no sugar," he said, one corner of his mouth edging up into a near-smile in a way that Hermione had recently started to find quite appealing.
She leaned over to take the mug from his hand, aware that Severus knowing how she took her tea was also very appealing. It wasn't a great surprise that a man who'd spent much of his adult life spying would have good observational skills, but it was an attractive quality nonetheless. Hermione had known Ron since they were children and had dated him for two years, and in all that time, he'd almost never shown any facility in remembering her likes and dislikes. If it hadn't been for Ginny's none-too-subtle suggestions to her brother, Hermione felt certain she would have received a subscription to Quidditch Weekly for her birthday every year.
Of course, Ron had been her boyfriend, and Severus was...well, her relationship with Severus was totally different, that's all. It was just nice to have a friend - and yes, she felt certain she could call him a friend, at this point - who actually paid attention to her tastes.
"Would you care for some biscuits to go with your tea?" Severus asked, putting his letters to one side cancelling the disillusionment spell on a nearby cabinet. "Feel free to choose what you'd like; I've got a decent selection."
That, she thought, was quite an understatement. Looking into the cabinet, Hermione could see what seemed to be dozens of biscuit brands, Muggle and Wizarding labels alike. The other shelves were similarly crammed full with a vast array of items, edible and otherwise, and down on the bottom shelf were two large rosewood boxes, similar to one that her Uncle Geoffrey, an unrepentant cigar smoker, had in his library.
Severus nodded. "Magical temperature controls, of course. I hadn't taken you for a cigar afficianado, but you're welcome to one."
Hermione laughed, then shook her head. "No, thanks. The chocolate Hobnobs will do for me. I was just surprised, that's all. I wouldn't have thought you were a smoker."
"I'm not generally," he said, summoning a packet of McVities and handing them to her. "But an associate of mine was able to acquire a number of His Majesty's Reserve cigars, in exchange for...well, let's just say the offer was really too good to pass up. These are the best. "
Glancing back at the still open cabinet, Hermione wondered what it was about Potions brewers and their collecting manias. Madame Eglantine Zosimos with her semi-precious stones, Horace with his knack for acquiring 'useful' friends and acquaintances, and Severus with his collections of, well...a little of everything, really, including the very rarest of potions ingredients, most of which appeared nowhere on the Hogwarts inventory.
"He actually offered you a biscuit?" Rolanda said the following morning in the staff room. "Poppy, Severus offered Hermione a biscuit last night."
"He did?" Poppy's eyebrows were raised as high as her hairline. "Was it your birthday?"
"Did moths fly out of the biscuit tin?" Rolanda asked, practically shaking with laughter.
Poppy cackled. "Severus once lent me a scrap of parchment. Lent, mind you."
Rolanda placed her hand over her heart. "My goodness! And was it a new piece of parchment."
"Oh heavens no," Poppy replied. "Don't be ridiculous."
Hermione shook her head and returned to her reading; perhaps she wouldn't mention that Severus had offered her a £500 cigar.
in the great hall - gluttony
Hermione had dismissed her last class early so her overly-excited First Years would have extra time to prepare for the evening's Christmas feast. However, she'd stayed behind to meet with Helena Greyfriar, a Muggleborn Ravenclaw who'd wanted to discuss the possibility of working on an independent project over the holidays without running afoul of the Ministry's rules about underage magic.
When Hermione finally arrived in the Great Hall, the feast had been underway for quite some time, but there were clean plates sitting in front of her seat and Severus's.
"Evening, Severus," she said, sitting down beside him. "Sorry to be late, but one of my students needed a few minutes of my time."
"You needn't apologize, Hermione."
"I feel a bit responsible that you've had to wait so long to start your dinner."
Filius, who was sitting to the right of Severus, let out a high-pitched shriek of laughter. Septima smacked him on the arm, but not before Severus had whipped around and glared at his colleague.
"Do you find something amusing?" he asked.
"No, not at all," Filius answered, looking as if he were trying to swallow his laughter. "Carry on, Severus. We wouldn't want you to wait any longer to start your meal."
Severus turned back around, but Filius was still chuckling, and Hermione could plainly hear Septima whisper, "You'd think the House-elves had been keeping him on bread and water rations."
Hermione sighed. "Ignore them, Severus. They probably just had an early start on the sherry."
"Perhaps," said Severus, wiping the corner of his mouth with his thumb as a house-elf popped into sight at Hermione's left shoulder.
"What delectables may Patsy bring for Missy Professor Hermione?"
"Just some roast beef and brussel sprouts, Patsy. Oh, and some roast parsnips, if you don't mind."
"It's being no trouble all all! Patsy will return quick as a flash with your - "
"Patsy, wait a moment."
"Yes, Missy Professor?"
"I'm sure I can survive long enough for you to take Professor Snape's order."
The house-elf frowned, then turned to Severus. "Is the Button Professor wishing for something from the kitchens?"
"Roast beef and roast potatoes, if you don't mind."
"Don't forget his gravy," added Filius. "And his peas and carrots."
"And the Yorkshire pudding," Septima chimed in. "You like the corner piece, don't you Severus?"
"Oh, and Patsy?" said Filius with a laugh. "Perhaps you might see if the Button Professor needs some assistance cleaning up the crumbs from his first two servings of tonight's dinner."
Hermione was certain that Severus was about to say something in response to his colleagues' unsolicited teasing (and honestly, where did they get the idea that he'd already had two helpings of dinner?), but when Severus opened his mouth, all that came out was a belch.
in hogsmeade - pride
Ordinarily, Hermione would have taken advantage of the fact that she wasn't on Hogsmeade duty in order to have a lie in. However, a little bird (i.e., Harry's owl Casimir bearing a rare letter from its owner) told her that Severus's birthday had just passed the day before, and since Severus had to spend all Saturday overseeing the children's Hogsmeade outing, Hermione decided she'd go into town as well to keep him company and maybe join him for a belated birthday celebration.
When they set off for town at 9:00 a.m., the sun had barely risen, but the sun choosing to make an appearance of any kind in January had to be considered a good sign. It wasn't even a particularly cold day, with the temperature rising to almost 10°C  by noon (although Severus still insisted that Hermione wear his scarf, which she was sure had more to do with his ongoing campaign to turn her into a Slytherin than with any more altruistic motive).
In other words, it was proving to be quite a good day - and remained so right up until the moment that Hermione and Severus stepped into the Three Broomsticks for a drink and were waved over to a table occupied by Diagon Alley's best-known apothecaries, Hieronymus Slug and Zebediah Jigger.
It wasn't that Slug and Jigger were quarrelsome or offensive in any real sense, but the last time Hermione and Severus had gone to London on an errand, they'd stopped into the Apothecary and Severus's interactions with the two men had set Hermione on edge.
Today was proving to be no different.
The changes in Severus's personality were subtle at first, but obvious to anybody who knew him as well as Hermione was sure she was getting to know him. She couldn't quite detect what Slug and Jigger were doing to goad Severus into this uncharacteristic display of arrogance, but it was so unlike him, they must have been doing something.
It started simply enough, with Slug asking Severus if he'd seen Vassant Nagarjuna's article in the latest edition of Ars Alchemica. Slug was of the opinion that Nagarjuna had made some interesting breakthroughs in the area of preservatives, Jigger concurred, and Severus...well, by the time he'd finished his pint of lager, he'd already called Nagarjuna an imbecile twice and a dunderhead once, had referred to his own work as 'far superior' and he'd reminded the two men that he'd received an Order of Merlin, First Class (although what that had to do with superior knowledge of the art of potions, Hermione couldn't even begin to guess).
Severus was, in short, behaving badly - and yet neither Slug nor Jigger appeared to notice anything out of the ordinary. They both remained friendly and relaxed, even smiling pleasantly during the worst of Severus's diatribes, while Hermione...well, suffice it to say that she was inordinately relieved when Michael Corner arrived at the Three Broomsticks to take his break and Severus had to return to his supervisory duties.
No sooner had Severus and Hermione emerged back into the January afternoon sunlight than Severus shed the odd air of haughty disdain as if he were slipping out of a winter cloak. His posture relaxed, his gaze softened, and he even smiled at a pair of cheeky Second Years who stopped on their way past from Honeydukes to offer him and Hermione some of their Cockroach Clusters.
It was such a startlingly abrupt change, in fact, that Hermione started to wonder whether Severus might be suffering from some kind of magical malady - and what she could do to help.
in the library - envy
A cheerful wave from one of Hermione's Fourth Years as he left the library would ordinarily have pleased her, but today it just made her feel guilty. She knew Brendan's happy mood was due to the cancellation of his class's weekend homework assignment, something Hermione would never have done if she hadn't been so busy with her research into Severus's mystery ailment.
Her investigations hadn't actually been going terribly well, due to the changeable nature of his symptoms - and also due to her reluctance to involve Severus in her research, especially now while they were getting along so well. After all, what could she say to him? "Severus, I'm worried about you because you seem to be hoarding biscuits." He'd probably think she was mad - he'd absolutely think she'd over-stepped her bounds.
She also didn't want to raise the subject of his personal problems with any of their colleagues, at least not as long as his erratic behavior wasn't creating a danger to himself or others, and even the books in Hogwarts library had been letting her down.
The previous weekend, having been invited to share Sunday lunch with the Weasley clan at the Burrow, Hermione had decided to take advantage of Bill's presence and see if he thought Severus might have been cursed, but he'd proved less than helpful.
To be honest, he'd laughed when she described Severus's symptoms, as had Harry and Ron, who'd been eavesdropping on the conversation.
"Sounds like he's still the same git he's always been," Ron said.
Hermione narrowed her eyes. "Ignoring the fact that Severus has become a friend over the past year and I don't like hearing him referred to as a 'git,' you're just wrong about him. Harry will support me on this, won't you Harry?"
"Sorry, Hermione," Harry said apologetically. "I've got to agree with Ron on this one. Don't get me wrong - I know how much we owe Snape. Hell, I owe him my life. But he's still...."
"A wanker?" said Ron helpfully.
The fingers on Hermione's wand hand twitched, and Bill swiftly put his hand over his youngest brother's mouth.
"Sorry for laughing, Hermione," Bill said, "but I just can't think of any curse it could be, not the way you're describing the symptoms anyway. He's just behaving too inconsistently. Are you absolutely certain you're not just imagining his good behavior?"
"She's imagining Snape's not a git," laughed Ron, having moved to the relative safety of the other side of the table. "It sounds like maybe she's the one who's been cursed."
All three men eventually apologized (although Ron did so only after Molly threatened to withhold his treacle tart), but Hermione returned to Hogwarts no further along with her research than she'd been before, which is why she found herself back in the library the following Saturday morning.
Hermione had been reading in the Restricted Section for three hours when a cup of hot coffee was set on the table in front of her. She looked up to find Severus gazing down at her.
"Arabica," he said. "Procured just this morning from one of the trees in Pomona's private greenhouse."
Hermione knew that in Severus's lexicon, "procured" probably meant "stolen," but the coffee's aroma was too magnificent for her to care terribly much.
"This is fantastic...you're a hero!"
Severus waved his fingers dismissively, looking away as he did so, which was generally a fairly good sign that he was a bit embarrassed by her thanks. She couldn't help it, though: even employing magical shortcuts, the coffee beans had to have been picked, fermented, dried, roasted, and ground, all before Severus could have started to brew, and the resulting coffee was really wonderful.
"It was no trouble," he said. "You generally start to flag at this time of the morning, and in any case, I needed to do something to distract myself from thinking about Cleo Al-Razi's publishing deal. Did you know the Daily Prophet is reporting that her new book is likely going to be approved by the Ministry for all potions courses under their jurisdiction? It's utterly ridiculous!"
"I thought you respected Cleo's potions work, unless...you weren't planning on writing a potions book yourself, were you?"
"Of course not," he said, walking over to the window and looking out on the courtyard below. "That's not the point."
Hermione took another drink of coffee and waited to see if Severus would get around to saying what was the point.
"I'm surprised to see Filius hasn't charmed the snow pink and red in honor of the day," Severus said, making no attempt to hide the fact that he was changing the subject.
"All right," Hermione said, setting her books aside. "What's upsetting you?"
"Nothing at all," he said, still looking out the window. "I've just never been a particular fan of Valentine's Day...all that excess and wasted energy for so little reward."
"You're such a cynic, Severus. Valentine's Day celebrations aren't all that bad; the children seem to enjoy them, at least."
"Lucky them," he muttered. "I suppose you have plans for this evening."
Hermione smiled. "Oh, I should think I'll probably end the night curled up with Robert Ludlum.
Severus stiffened, and when he turned around, his face was a mask. "Enjoy yourself," he said, sounding as if he hoped she would do anything but enjoy herself that evening.
"I'll see you tomorrow, Hermione. I have to be going."
"Are you sure?" she asked, her brow furrowed in confusion. "I could put my work away if you wanted to play a game of chess or something."
"No, I don't believe I'd be very good company today," he said, pulling his cloak closed and walking out of the library.
Hermione sighed as she watched him go, then turned back to her books. She really had to find out what was wrong with that man - and she had to do it soon.
in hermione's rooms - lust
Hermione had found the answer to Severus's troubles at last, and it turned out not to be through any particularly scholarly effort on her part. All that had been required was a walk past the Ravenclaw table in the Great Hall after dinner one night and a quick glance down at a misplaced book.
It was so obvious now that she thought about it, she could hardly imagine how she'd missed it in the first place. He'd shown all the signs over the past half year: anger, sloth, greed, gluttony, pride, envy - although to be fair, he hadn't displayed most of these sins very often, and he'd rarely displayed them at all when Hermione was around to witness any of it.
But the question remained: how hard was it going to be to remove the curse? Lockhart's book (and how had she been reduced to taking the advice of a man whose greatest current achievement was in the area of joined-up writing?) said that the victim had to first accept that he or she was powerless over the curse - which, honestly, sounded more like part of a 12 step recovery program than magical lore. A proper curse-breaker would be needed for the later stages of the process, but she had to take on the less magically complex but more psychologically hazardous task of getting someone as touchy as Severus to see that he'd actually been cursed.
She spent a week planning her approach and then, Friday evening, she invited Severus over to her rooms. They'd spent enough time together over the past year that at least she hadn't had to come up with some false pretext for her invitation; Hermione had many talents, but acting, unfortunately, wasn't one of them.
When Severus arrived, it was with a bottle of wine in one hand and a tray of cheese and crackers in the other.
"I hope you don't mind," he said, placing the wine and the tray on the table. "I was brewing this afternoon and completely missed dinner."
"No, that's fine," she replied. "I could actually use a drink."
And wasn't that the honest truth? Even without having to go through some ridiculous performance, just the thought of introducing the subject in a way that wouldn't upset Severus was making her nervous.
Severus poured them each a glass of wine, and they sat beside each other on Hermione's sofa. It was all very relaxing: the lights were turned down low, one of the old jazz records that Hermione had inherited from her grandmother played softly in the background... the atmosphere seemed perfect to introduce such a difficult subject.
"Severus," Hermione said, licking her suddenly dry lips. "There's something I've been wanting to discuss with you, but I'm not certain how you're going to react."
He smiled, and set his wine glass on the coffee table, then took her glass from her hand and set it beside his own. "I think it's safe to say that there's very little you could tell me I wouldn't welcome, Hermione."
God, that voice of his. It was almost enough to make Hermione forget what she needed to tell him.
Almost, but not quite.
She licked her lips again, then started to speak, but before she'd got more than two or three words out, Severus had leaned over and kissed her.
"You don't have to say anything, Hermione; I feel the same way," he said, before leaning over and taking her in his arms.
Still March 2004
at the three broomsticks
Hermione had been sitting in the booth in the back of the pub, trying to explain the Seven Deadly Sins curse since 9:00 p.m. to her three colleagues. Four shots of Old Ogdens and four butterbeer chasers later, she was no closer to convincing them that the curse could possibly exist.
Somewhere in the mists of Hermione's slightly-cloudy thought processes was the realization that all the unaccustomed alcohol in her system wasn't exactly aiding her cause, and to be honest, Minerva, Pomona, and Filius had been doing a far better job of making her see the flaws in her own logic.
"What you must see," said Minerva, "is that he's always been short tempered and arrogant, ever since he was a boy, quite frankly."
"And envious of other people's good fortune," added Pomona.
"And, well...a bit of slob," said Filius, "at least some of the time."
"Never when he was teaching though," Pomona said.
"No, of course. Never when he was teaching."
"Understand," Minerva said. "We aren't saying these things to be cruel; we're just realistic about Severus."
Filius nodded. "We could just as easily be telling you how brilliant he was or how brave or what a creative duelling partner he can be, but...you don't seem to have any difficulty sensing his more positive attributes, do you, my dear?"
Hermione frowned. "Of course not, but...all right, what about last night? That was lust, plain and simple."
Filius looked down at his drink, as Minerva and Pomona exchanged worried glances.
"Was he...I don't quite know how to ask this," Minerva said, "but was everything perfectly consensual, my dear?"
"Was Severus what? Oh...oh! Oh God yes, all completely consensual, and...Minerva, can we not talk about the details?"
"Of course, Hermione," said Minerva, looking utterly relieved.
"Still," Hermione said. "It was lust. How do you account for that?"
"Hermione," said Minerva slowly, as if talking to a very young child. "As you might have noticed, Severus is a heterosexual male, and you're a lovely, intelligent young woman. Have you seriously never considered that he might be interested in you? That maybe the reason you haven't noticed the worst of his behavior is because he's been careful to only show you his best side all year?"
"That perhaps he's been courting you?" Filius added.
Hermione's jaw dropped and for a moment she couldn't speak. She had honestly never felt like such a fool in her entire life.
Courting her? Severus had been courting her? And she'd thought he'd been sickening with something...that he'd been suffering from a curse that - yes, she could admit it, if only to herself - probably didn't even exist as it was based solely on evidence found in a book written by that fraud Gilderoy Lockhart.
It was a wonder anybody had ever considered her clever enough to teach at Hogwarts. For God's sake, it was a wonder she'd ever been able to string enough thoughts together to pass her NEWTs.
"Hermione," said Minerva gently. "Is there any possibility that you might return his feelings? Because if you don't think you could, it would be a kindness to make it clear to Severus as soon as possible."
Pomona reached out and took Hermione's hand in her own. "You're a lovely girl and we all like you a great deal and we're very pleased you've joined us at Hogwarts, but we love Severus as if he were our son, Hermione."
"Despite occasional appearances to the contrary," murmured Filius.
"Despite his abrasive personality," said Pomona.
"And bad habits," added Minerva.
Hermione crossed her arms over her chest and scowled.
"I don't want to be rude," she said, as people always say when they absolutely do mean to be rude, "but if this is the way you three usually talk about your so-called son to people you think he fancies, it's no surprise that Severus is still single."
"I think you're misunderstanding the situation, Hermione," said Pomona.
"No," Hermione said. "I honestly don't think I am. I'm sure the three of you do care about him, but can't you see that this isn't any way to show it? I admit I might have been a bit naive, let's say, in thinking he'd undergone a complete transformation since the war, but I wasn't wrong about all his positive qualities. They're the real him as much as any of his negative traits might be."
"Well, of course they are," said Minerva.
"Then show him you think so!" she said. "Don't you think Severus needs to know that the people who are closest to him actually think he's a good person?"
Minerva raised one eyebrow in a manner very reminiscent of Severus himself. "Is the lecture over now?"
Hemione's eyes widened. "I didn't mean to lecture you, Headmistress!"
"Oh, of course you did, Hermione," said Minerva with a hint of a smile. "I just wanted to know whether this was going to be the start of one of your famous crusades, or whether you've actually come to care for Severus in a more...personal way."
Hermione was just about to reply when an arm snaked around from the adjacent booth and gently covered her mouth.
"If you don't mind, Hermione," said Severus quietly. "I believe I'd like to hear the answer to that question with somewhat less of an audience."
Hermione sighed. "Oh God. How long have you been sitting there?"
"Oh, I'd say since just about 9:00 p.m."
"And you've been eavesdropping all this time?" Hermione said. "You're really a terrible person, Severus Snape."
"Ah," Filius said, laughing. "Finally the veil has been lifted from her eyes."
"Filius?" said Severus, his eyes narrowing dangerously. "Shut. Up."
"I'd be happy to...son."
Hermione scooted out of the booth and stood beside Severus. She wrapped her arm around his waist as if she'd been doing it for years, just close enough to hear Severus murmur, "Thank god."
"Well, it's been a lovely evening," Hermione said brightly, "but I think I might be in need of a sobriety potion. Severus? You wouldn't happen to know where I might be able to find such a thing at this time of night, do you?"
"Hmm...if you'd care to accompany me back to my secret dungeon lair, I'll see what I can do."
Hermione smiled. "Secret dungeon lair it is then! Good night all."
And with that, Hermione and Severus left the Three Broomsticks for what remained of the night.
still at the three broomsticks
"Goodness," Pomona said with a grin. "That seems to have gone well."
"Hear, hear!" said Filius, raising his glass and draining its remaining whisky.
"Well," Minerva said. "When shall we three meet again?" [4a]
Pomona shook her head. "Always the cliche, Minnie."
"No, seriously, when shall we three meet again?" Minerva asked.
"Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,[4b], just like we do every week," said Filius, sliding out of the booth and wrapping his cloak around his shoulders, before leading Pomona and Minerva out the door into the cold March night.
 'SALIGIA' is a medieval mnemonic based on the first letters in Latin of the seven deadly sins: superbia, avaritia, luxuria, invidia, gula, ira, acedia.
 Severus isn't kidding about the Gurkha His Majesty Reserve (HMR) line of cigars being "the best." The HMR is infused with Louis XIII Cognac, and a single cigar can cost as much as $750 (US).
 10°C = 50° Fahrenheit.
[4a] From Shakespeare's Macbeth (1.1.1) - spoken by one of the three witches.
[4b] From Shakespeare's Macbeth (5.5.19) - spoken