"Oh, yes, that's . . . so—oh! Oh, Marcus."
"Like that. You . . . like tha—"
Severus, who had just passed the tapestry-shrouded alcove from which the voices were emanating, stopped walking and went rigid. Under ordinary circumstances—that is to say, snogging ones—he would have thrown back the tapestry and taken points before ordering the students in question back to their dorms, but these circumstances sounded anything but ordinary. These students sounded as if they were shagging. As a feminine giggle met his ears, coupled with the sounds of rhythmic grunting, Severus was certain of it.
Fuck, he thought, too embarrassed to intrude, even though, as Headmaster, he was certain that he should do something.
It was just that no witch had ever laughed like that for him, and he was hard and jealous and lonely, listening to the sounds of the couple's joy. It didn't seem right to ruin it, in spite of the vindictive part of him that wanted to.
"Yes, oh, I'm—yes!"
Heavy panting met Severus' ears as he hurriedly adjusted himself to make walking possible and practically fled down the garland-and-mistletoe-bedecked corridor, hoping like hell that Broderick and Kensington had not missed Poppy's annual lecture on anti-conception charms—and feeling anything but festive.
He nodded, shivering through the tingle of Jane's cleansing charm.
"But he didn't take points. He always takes points."
Buttoning up his trousers, Marcus replied thoughtfully, "No, he didn't, and yes, he does, doesn't he?"
"Perhaps," Jane told him, as she ran a hand through her hair, "he was too embarrassed."
"Well, they do say he's still in love with her."
Jane's face fell. "That's so sad, Marcus."
"P'raps it isn't true," he said, before kissing her nose to make her smile. "You know how he looks at Professor Granger."
Jane pulled Marcus down upon the cushion their robes made atop the alcove's bench and snuggled into him. "She looks at him the same way, you know. I believe they're in love with each other."
"Then why doesn't he do anything about it?"
"Because of what 'they' say. If he thinks that she thinks that he's still in love with Harry Potter's mother, then he wouldn't risk—"
"Jane, we have to do something about this."
"You don't mean a potion, do you?" she accused more than asked.
"No, of course not, but for the sake of Slytherin honour, we can't let the Headmaster remain so stupidly lonely. Granger's hot."
"Professor Granger is very pretty," Jane snapped.
Marcus laughed and shifted position. "Don't be jealous, love," he murmured, against the soft moist skin of her throat. "It's you I want."
Jane issued a happy sigh. "Fine. We'll do something. But what?"
"I can't think with you moving your hand like that."
"Want me to stop?" purred Jane.
It had been a week since he'd discovered Broderick and Kensington's personal "festivities," and since then, it seemed that the entire staff had run mad with holiday cheer.
Minerva shook her head. "Don't start. We voted. You will be participating in the Secret Santa exchange."
"I am the Headmaster."
"Oh, you're the master of something, all right," Minerva retorted, rising to pick up the slip of paper that sat, untouched, in front of Severus. "Take that."
"Take it and do something appropriately festive for your recipient, or I'll do something perfectly dreadful to you."
"Empty threat," Severus replied, taking the slip with only two fingers.
Minerva favoured him with a tight smile. "Iron-clad promise."
With that, she strode from the room, leaving Severus alone to learn the name of his recipient. If it's Minerva, I'm giving her socks, he thought, but it wasn't Minerva.
It was her.
"Professor McGonagall, may I speak to you?"
"Only if you call me Minerva, Hermione. It's been over two years now since I first asked you to."
"Of course," Hermione replied, falling into step with Professor McGonagall. "I wanted to talk to you about the exchange. I think, perhaps, that it would be best if I swapped recipients with you."
"Oh? Why is that?"
"Because I can't imagine that the Headmaster would want anything I might decide to give him."
Minerva bit back a giggle. "Nonsense. I'm certain that you've learnt enough of Severus by now to know what it is he wants from, from his Secret Santa."
"But that's just it! He hates surprises, and everything else he needs, he can get at Hogwarts."
"Yes, dear, I believe you're right. Now go give the matter some thought."
In the meeting, Minerva and the others had insisted that the gifts they exchanged be festive.
"Bah," Severus muttered, pouring himself a cuppa.
It was quite likely that Granger would already have any book that he might give her, so a book wouldn't do—neither would the customary holiday sweets; Granger didn't have a sweet tooth. She wasn't particularly interested in sport or fashion or popular wizarding music, either, preferring to spend all of her free time researching various brewing projects.
That's not strictly true. She frequently sees Weasley and Lovegood.
By "Weasley," Severus meant Ginny Weasley, who worked as a broomwright and had a way of making her craft seem fascinating. Lovegood was interesting as well, telling as she did the most outrageous stories about her expeditions in search of mythical creatures. She'd made him a believer in Crumple-Horned Snorkacks the last time that Granger had invited him to meet her friends for lunch, at least until Granger had begun discussing her latest theories about dragon's blood. He'd been so enthralled by their conversation that he hadn't noticed when the other witches had left, and he and Granger had continued their discussion all the way back to Hogwarts and then around the lake before sharing a private dinner in her quarters. Memories of that meal again confirmed that even a cookbook wouldn't do for Granger.
And I can't give her a potion.
He'd already offered his advice to Granger about the potion she'd brewed to restore her parents' memories, however unnecessary his counsel had been.
Granger could brew anything she might want to herself, and a potion wouldn't be bloody festive enough. Damn it, this going to be a night—
The opening of the staffroom door interrupted his thoughts. "Ah, Severus! How are you, this evening?"
"As well as can be expected under the circumstances, Rebecca," he replied.
Rebecca Nurse, late of the Salem Institute, had recently taken on the Muggle Studies position. A pleasantly plump, blonde witch in her sixties, she was bright, friendly, open, and, Severus had to admit, intelligent—and just exotically American enough to intrigue without irritating.
Rebecca laughed. "Minerva brought up my Secret Santa idea at the meeting, didn't she?"
"Yes, while you were safely off on that 'field trip' to London with the Seventh Years. It went well, I trust?"
"Splendidly! Although, I did take five points each from Broderick and Kensington for snogging in a public street. You'd think Slytherins would be more circumspect."
Severus flushed but banished the unbidden memory of his near encounter with the two as he replied, "Seventh Years are seldom discreet."
"I suppose that's true, but why so glum? Surely you're not feeling overwhelmed at the thought of spreading a little Christmas cheer?"
Scowling, Severus told her, "I'm to be Granger's Secret Santa. I blame you."
"And so you should. I charmed the name slips."
"You did what?"
"I charmed them. You and 'Granger' spend so much time together that I figured you'd be more than comfortable with her as your recipient. Was I wrong?"
"I still call her Granger. What do you think?"
"That you're in need of a good fu—a bit of female companionship, is what."
He would never get used to it, Rebecca's casualness with regard to the personal lives of others. "I was wrong. You are too American to be borne."
An unrepentant grin was Rebecca's only response.
"But . . . but it's . . . funny," Ron insisted.
Harry nodded. "It is, Hermione."
"I don't see why. It's not as though I know the man! How can I be expected to produce an appropriate gift for him?"
Ron spluttered, and Harry began to pound his back. "Doesn't . . . doesn't help!" insisted Ron, through his laughter.
Annoyed, Hermione turned to Luna, who was sitting next to her in a back booth at the Three Broomsticks. Over Luna's shoulder, she saw Broderick and Kensington, who were sitting—practically in each other's laps—towards the front of the pub.
"Excuse me a moment," she said to Luna, who rose so that Hermione could leave the booth. Once out of it, she made a beeline for the Slytherins. "Ahem!"
Neither student paid any attention to her.
Again, Hermione was ignored—so she picked up the pitcher of butterbeer on the table and poured it over their heads.
"What the—Professor Granger!"
"If you must snog, do it in the privacy of your common room!"
With that, and feeling mortified as several surrounding students began to whoop in response to what they clearly perceived to be professor-approved common-room snogging, Hermione strode back to her booth.
"That went well," Luna said serenely, as she slid back into the booth next to Hermione.
"I should have taken points."
"No, Hermione," Harry said, "you shouldn't have—"
"Rained on their parade like that," Ron interrupted him. "It's a Hogsmeade weekend, after all."
"I'm a professor."
"Which is no excuse to be a killjoy," Harry said.
"It's because she's not kissing anyone, herself."
Harry snorted. "Look, it's not so bad, your getting Snape. Just renew one of his journal subscriptions."
"Oh, no. That won't do," Luna said. "Professors' research materials are provided by the school."
Hermione nodded. "That's true."
"Besides," Luna continued, "journals aren't festive."
"So what?" asked Ron. "Snape's about as festive as an old stick."
"That's not true," Hermione declared. "He's, well, all right, 'festive' isn't a good word to describe him, but he is fun."
Harry grinned. "He is?"
Ron frowned. "Fun how?"
"Ronald," said Luna, "you're not allowed to be jealous. You're shagging me, now."
Colouring, Ron stood up and offered Luna his hand. "Fancy a walk?"
"I fancy a shag, or I wouldn't have mentioned . . . ."
Hermione and Harry shared an amused glance as their friends' voices faded, and then Harry was on his feet, as well. "Gin, over here!"
Hermione stood again, too, and waited for Harry to stop "greeting" his fiancée before hugging Ginny in her turn. "Well, I'm off, lovebirds."
"What? You're not going to stay and catch up?"
"I've got marking. Besides, I know the two of you don't see each other often enough. Have fun. I'll see you soon."
As she left the pub, Hermione sighed. She was tired of feeling like the odd one out, tired of being alone.
But there's just no meeting anyone at Hogwarts, is there?
Resolving not to give herself over to loneliness, she decided to return to the school and seek out Professor Snape.
"For which professor are you looking?"
"The grumpy one."
Severus snorted. "Then proceed to Poisonous Botanicals, Professor Granger, and you'll find grumpiness aplenty."
"You're not planning to poison someone, are you?"
"I was considering serving Rebecca a special tea."
"Ah, the Secret Santa exchange."
Interesting, thought Severus. She seemed quite pleased by the idea during the meeting. "Where's your enthusiasm for holiday cheer now?" he asked, wondering if Granger were blushing, or if the colour he saw in her cheeks was merely the result of the dim light in the Restricted Section.
"It's just that I, well, my recipient is a difficult case."
Severus would have asked her for whom she was expected to provide a gift, but that was against the rules—and if he knew anything about Granger, it was that she was a stickler for them. But this is a good opportunity, isn't it? he thought. "As it happens, my recipient is also proving difficult to gift. Perhaps we could—"
"You know we can't tell each other!"
Severus' eyes widened in the face of Granger's vehemence. She must have drawn Hagrid. "I'm not suggesting that we do so, merely that we 'brainstorm', as Rebecca calls it, about our difficulties together."
"Oh." Granger smiled. "I'd like that. I mean, that would be helpful. Perhaps. All right, yes. Let's brainstorm. Together."
Severus almost smiled to see Granger so flustered, not because he enjoyed her discomfort, but because she looked lovely when discomfitted—but his own discomfiture at being alone in her presence stopped him from being too friendly.
She's entirely too young for you, he reminded himself. "Tea?"
"Chocolate," Granger replied firmly.
So it was that Severus found himself in Hogwarts' kitchens, sharing a pot of hot chocolate with . . . a colleague.
A colleague with gorgeous shoulders, he thought, as Granger removed her robes. Stop that.
Granger didn't want him, he knew that.
She hasn't even invited you to call her by her first name.
"What shouldn't stop us from doing what?"
Hermione squared her shoulders in an effort to quell her nervousness. "We know our colleagues well enough to be able to figure out something they might like, don't we?"
"Ah. You'd think so, but I have no ideas for my recipient. None. She seems," Snape said, pausing, "to have everything."
"Aurora does like her gadgets," Hermione essayed. "Oh, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have done that."
"No, you shouldn't have. Ten points from—"
"Don't you dare!"
Severus smirked. "You should remember perfectly well that, even as Headmaster, I cannot take points from you, Professor Granger." Granger's blush spread from her cheeks to her shoulders—and probably lower. Severus didn't know because he forced his gaze to fix firmly upon the liquid brown of her eyes.
"Oh, that's right. I'm so—so, why do you think your recipient has everything she needs?"
"She has a loving family, good friends, a position she enjoys that stimulates her, I believe." Not nearly as much as I— "Her quarters are—"
"You've been in her quarters?"
Granger's tone was sharp, and it wasn't like her to interrupt him. "I've been in yours, as well."
"I didn't mean to imply that you were, er, behaving improperly, Headmaster. Please, you were saying?"
"Her quarters are comfortably furnished, and she appears to own a great many items that amuse her."
"Books?" asked Granger.
"Sufficient to her needs, I believe."
"I suppose that's just as well," said Granger. "Books—"
"Aren't festive," they said, as one.
Severus leant back in his chair. "Tell me about your recipient."
"Well, I suppose, since I know that yours is a witch, it's only fair to tell you that mine's, er, not."
Definitely Hagrid, thought Severus. "And?"
"And he just doesn't seem to need anything. Oh, I was wrong. This is difficult. I wish that I could just ask him what he wants."
"Perhaps a new creature?"
"You think it's Hagrid. Hagrid would be easy."
"Perhaps, but in the interest of keeping secrets, no more hint-baiting."
Granger sighed. "Agreed. Even with the new additions to staff, we're not a large group, are we?"
Severus didn't quite hear her; he was too busy considering how she'd paused when she'd told him that her recipient wasn't a witch. The "er, not," could only mean Longbottom; Granger was a stickler for specificity, as well, and Longbottom was only a provisional professor, not yet being out of his trial period. Severus felt a sudden, renewed dislike for Longbottom, who'd long since passed his awkward stage to grow a half a head taller than Severus—taller, better looking by far, and definitely not grumpy. Hadn't Longbottom made Granger laugh only that morning?
Fuck. I don't stand a chance. His thought flustered him, and he let it show.
"Professor Snape? Are you all right? You look like there's no sugar in that chocolate."
He rose abruptly. "Perhaps we could continue this discussion another time. I've things to which to attend."
"I wouldn't worry about him, dear. You know how he gets."
"Oh!" Hermione said, startled to see Rebecca move from out of the recesses of the kitchen to join her.
"Forgive me. I only just wandered in. Discussing theory again, were you?"
"What? Oh, no. We were talking about what to get for our Secret Santa recipients."
"You didn't share the names of your recipients, did you?"
"Of course not!"
Rebecca laughed. "You and Severus are like two peas in a pod, always so very . . . serious."
"I'm not always serious. . . . Am I?" Perhaps that's why he—
"I think it's nice that the two of you are helping each other. Gift-giving can be a difficult thing."
"Rebecca?" Hermione asked, looking over her shoulder to ensure that they were alone before turning back to her. "I wish that we could discuss our recipients. I just think, no, I know that there's no way I'll ever be able to think of a gift for mine."
"Oh, dear. I see that I've caused trouble for you."
"Not trouble, exactly, but . . . ."
Rebecca placed her hand over Hermione's and gave it a squeeze. "Tell you what, since it is all my fault, I don't think it would be a problem for you to tell me his name. Together, we'll surely come up with an appropriate gift."
Hermione took a deep breath. "It's Se—I mean, Professor Snape."
"Ah. No wonder you're so flustered. Tell me something?"
"Why don't you call him Severus? Is it because you still think of him as your professor?"
"Er, no, but . . . well, he's never invited me to call him by his first name."
Rebecca laughed. "He never invited me to do it, either."
"Yes, but you're an—I mean—"
"A dreadful, pushy American. Yes, so I am. It's terribly useful over here, you know. If I weren't pushy, I'd be surrounded by a bunch of reserved colleagues instead of good friends. You English do tend to take your own sweet time getting to . . . friendship."
Hermione smiled. "Perhaps we do, but that doesn't mean I'm just going to up and start calling Severus Severus, now does it?"
Rebecca's smile turned into a tidy little smirk, and Hermione flushed harder, wondering what Rebecca suspected of her feelings for Professor Snape.
Because she's hot.
There. He'd allowed himself to think it explicitly. From the top of her bushy-haired head to her elegant little toes—although, to be fair, when he'd seen her swimming in the lake the previous summer, it hadn't been her toes which had first drawn his attention—Hermione Granger was a beautiful young woman.
"Yes, 'young'—too young for you, you old lech," he reminded himself.
"Your stupidity is painful to witness, boy."
"No one asked for your opinion," Severus retorted, glaring at Armando Dippet's portrait.
"I was married for sixty-three years to my darling wife. You could do worse than listen to me with regard to matters of the heart."
"You were a veritable hound, Dippet," Phineas Nigellus declaimed. "Don't listen to him, Snape. He was never faithful."
"Spurious lies! I always loved my Amelia best!"
"Enough!" Severus pulled his wand and gave it a swish, causing the curtains over all of the portraits to close.
One of them sniggered.
"Nigellus, I will take turpentine to you if you don't stop that at once."
The sniggering ceased.
Partially mollified, Severus rose and pulled back the curtain on Dame Spore's portrait. "Phyllida, what might a bright young witch find appropriate as a holiday gift?"
She sniffed and shook herself fully awake. "Why, a bright young wizard, I should think," she told him, before beginning to hum a merry little tune.
As the other portraits took up the tune and Severus recognised it, he swore and fled his office in mortification.
"That's enough, both of you," she told them in passing, only to stop short as she looked into the hall.
Hoping to avoid Snape, she'd come down to breakfast purposefully late, but there he sat at the High Table.
And he's seen me, she thought, taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly as she approached him. "Good morning, Headmaster."
"Have you, er, read Smythe's latest article in The Potioneers' Companion?"
"'Article'? Don't you mean 'collection of half-cobbled fantasies'?"
Hermione smiled, relieved that Snape didn't appear to remember how she'd offended him in the kitchens. "You're right. His research is a bit weak."
"Why the editors allow that man to—"
Snape stopped speaking as an owl dropped a parcel next to his plate.
"Oh! Holiday wrapping," Hermione observed. "Someone's sent you an early present."
"So it would appear," Snape replied, turning his attention back to his sausages.
"Aren't you going to open it?"
"I prefer to open potential pranks in the safety of my laboratory."
Hermione raised an amused eyebrow at him in the hope that he'd take her gesture as the dare she intended it to be.
"Oh, very well," Snape said. He cast a few charms and opened the package. "Well, this is . . . what is this?"
"It's a . . . a mitten, I think," Hermione told him, examining the red and green piece of knitwear in consternation.
"What good is one mitten? And why does the poxy thing have two openings?"
"Because it's a couple's—I mean, a hand-holding mitten," Hermione squeaked more than said, wishing that she could disappear and feeling certain that Snape would believe it was she who'd sent him the mitten. The evenings had grown colder, and they walked around the lake together almost every night.
Snape poked a hand through one of the mitten's openings, and then, after appearing to consider, rose and lowered his arm so that he could slide his free hand into the mitten's other opening. "Ah, I see. For warmth. Not a bad gift, I suppose."
Hermione supposed that Snape had a secret admirer, and one who thought that she could horn in on her nightly walks with him. Steeling herself, she rose. "Actually, you don't see," she told him, pulling one of Snape's hands out of the mitten to replace it with one of her own. "This is a mitten meant for two people, like so," she said, lacing her fingers through his.
"Oh, for warmth," Snape repeated, albeit a trifle hoarsely.
Hermione shivered, but then remembered herself enough to demand, "Who sent it?"
Snape removed the mitten and rooted around in the box until he came up with a card. "'Happy Christmas from your Secret Santa'," he read.
"I beg your pardon?"
"Forgive me. I was just thinking of Smythe's article."
"And here I thought that you were attempting to help me learn who my Secret Santa was."
"Yes, well, clearly, she's a . . . a maternal type, worrying about your catching cold like that."
"Most mothers stop holding hands with their sons well before their fifties," Snape replied silkily.
Hermione couldn't miss the humour in his tone, and it annoyed her as much as did the existence of his false Secret Santa. How dare she give him a gift! Severus is mine to gift! she told herself, glancing at him in surprise at having thought of him by name.
Her surprise quickly became concern. Severus had once again taken up the mitten and was stroking it, a bemused expression on his face, his eyes apparently unfocussed.
Fuck, she thought, sure that he wasn't thinking about her.
Kensington snorted. "You're right, Jane. Perhaps we should have been more subtle. She probably thinks she's got competition."
"You think so? Hmm. Say, Marcus, do you think he thinks she thinks she's got competition?"
"What are you asking, exactly?" asked Kensington.
"I'm just wondering if Headmaster Snape's worked out that Professor Granger fancies him, is all. That would help our plans for 'Slytherin honour' along nicely, wouldn't it?"
They shared a grin with each other before turning again to look into the Great Hall.
"Hey, where'd he go?" asked Broderick.
"He's standing right behind you."
Broderick and Kensington cringed as they turned to face him.
"Er, morning, Headmaster."
"Mr Kensington," Severus replied, nodding at him and then at Broderick. "Tell me, Miss Broderick, which of the pair of you do I have to thank for this . . . knitwear?"
"We can explain, sir," Broderick said.
"Just answer my question."
"That would be me, sir," Broderick told him, "although Marcus made the pattern.
"Based, no doubt, on the green and silver couple's mitten that I've seen the both of you sharing?"
"Yes, sir," Kensington said.
"And who put you up to it?"
"No one, sir!" they both lied.
"You will proceed to your classes," said Severus, glaring at them, "but before you do," he paused, raising a hand to stop them from bolting, "you will promise me two things."
Broderick swallowed visibly before asking, "Sir?"
"Promise one: You will never interfere in my affairs again."
"Promise two: You will knit a scarf in the mitten's colours, an extra long scarf, and have it delivered to Professor Granger as soon as possible."
Broderick laughed. "From her Secret Santa, yes, sir. That's a grand idea!"
"And fifty points from Slytherin."
"Fifty?" demanded Kensington.
"Oh, very well," said Severus, with a slight smile. "One hundred fifty."
Paling, Broderick and Kensington fled.
In their wake, Severus murmured, "And one hundred points to Slytherin for assisting a professor."
Uncharacteristically, he found himself pleased by their interference because it had led him to a long overdue personal realisation.
I've been a fool. I've been courting Hermione for months without admitting it to myself, and now she's jealous to think that someone else is interested in me—jealous enough to have touched me.
Feeling suddenly rather more festive than not, Severus began to hum a familiar tune.
But Aurora doesn't even knit! Hermione was jealous and angry. Why couldn't I have thought of a couple's mitten?
If she'd not been behaving like such a coward, the mitten would have been the perfect way to hint to Severus how she felt about him. She sighed.
Well, he obviously doesn't feel the same, does—
"Knut for your thoughts?"
"Oh, Neville! How are you today?"
"Today, I was fine, but it's evening now. Don't you have somewhere to be?"
"No. No, I don't," she said, annoyed by his reference to her evening walks with Severus. Let him walk with Aurora.
"This isn't good," Neville said, sitting down next to Hermione at the Gryffindor table and bumping one of her shoulders with his own. "What's got you down?"
"The . . . Secret Santa exchange. I still don't know what to do for my recipient."
Neville snorted and then coughed. "Er, well, that is a problem, given that the Christmas party's almost upon us."
"Have you worked out your gift, yet?"
"Yes. Aurora was easy. Oh, damn. I wasn't supposed to say, was I?"
Hermione frowned. "Well, since you slipped, what did you get her?"
"A portable telescope."
"Not very original—oh, I'm sorry, Neville. I'm sure she'll love it."
"No worries. I'm sure she's got loads of them, but this one's special. It allows the user to see magical emanations in addition to heavenly bodies."
"Interesting, but why—"
"Because Aurora and her partner, Ian, like to travel to magically historical places—you know, like strange rock formations and the like? Sometimes, they're easy to find, but other times . . . ."
"Oh, what a thoughtful gift!" Hermione exclaimed, delighted to discover that Aurora had a boyfriend. "Wait. How did you know about Ian?"
Neville blushed. "Aurora's been helping me pick the perfect night to propose to Hannah."
Hermione beamed at him and took his hands. "Oh, Neville!"
He laughed. "Yeah, it's past time we got on with things, isn't it?"
"I'm sure she'll appreciate your gift, Severus," Rebecca was saying, at the same time that he overheard Longbottom's declaration.
Severus stopped and stared at the happy tableau that Longbottom and Hermione—no, Granger—made, disappointment sweeping through his body in a cold, crashing wave. I was wrong. She isn't interested in me. It is Longbottom she wants.
"Oh, dear," murmured Rebecca, as Severus turned on his heel and fled the cheerful scene.
But when Hermione arrived at the lake, there was no sign of him. Cold, she wrapped her arms around herself and began pacing the shore, hoping that whatever was keeping him wouldn't keep him long.
"Go to your frame in the Slytherin common room and tell Miss Broderick to report to me at once," she said.
"With her knitting!" Rebecca added, entering the office.
"Do you think she's done with it?" Minerva asked.
"She'd better be, or the young fool will ruin everything!" Phineas exclaimed, before leaving his frame.
"Oh, he's right, Minerva."
"Don't fret. We can manage this. I know a charm."
It ignored him.
"Damn it! My quarters don't need protection from me. Let me in!"
"Er, Professor?" a timid voice asked.
Fuck, he thought, forcing himself to be calm as he turned to find Broderick staring, wide-eyed, at him. "What is it?"
"Just that it's done, sir. Your Secret Santa gift, I mean. Done and sent."
"You told me to send it as soon as possible, sir, remember?"
Severus swallowed heavily and took a deep breath. Releasing it, he said, "So I did. How did you send it? When?"
"Marcus is taking it to the owlery now, sir."
"Thank you, Miss Broderick. That will be all."
As the girl left him, Severus knew that it wouldn't be, that it would be a disaster if Granger actually received his gift. She'd know it was from him, and given the nature of the scarf, she'd know everything.
He couldn't allow that. He had to beat Kensington to the owlery. He began to walk, and then to run, and by the time he reached Hogwarts' main doors, he was flying.
Severus sent this. He had to have done, she thought, plunging her hands into the soft red and green yarn. Pulling it out of the box, she knew at once that it was a scarf. "Meant for two. Oh."
"How very romantic."
Hermione barely registered the terseness of Severus' tone as she turned to regard him. "It's . . . it's lovely. I like it very much."
"How gratifying for your Secret Santa."
"I don't understand. Didn't you . . . ?"
"Didn't I what? Send you that ridiculous piece of over-festive knitwear? Of course not. I'm sure it's Longbottom you have to thank for it."
"What's wrong with you? Why would you think that Neville—"
"Of course, 'Neville'. Who else? Perhaps now that things have been settled between you, you'll start spending more time with your fiancé and less time leading on other men!"
"What are you talking about? And why are you behaving like such an abject arse?" Hermione demanded, throwing the scarf around her neck and attempting to gather up its ends as she began chasing after Severus, who was striding away from her.
He didn't get very far, however, because the right-most end of the scarf thrust itself out over the ground to tangle itself up around Severus' legs. He fell, swearing.
"Let me go this instant, Granger, or . . . or I'll see you sacked!"
Before Hermione could think of a suitable response, she found herself tripping over the scarf's left-most end and falling face down atop Severus, her forehead knocking into his chin. "Ow!"
"Stop that!" he thundered. "Stop it at once!"
"You stop it!" Hermione shouted, trying unsuccessfully to free an arm from the ever-tightening scarf that was winding itself around her body—and tightly against Severus' own. "It's your bloody charmed scarf!"
"No, it wasn't! Neville's proposing to Hannah. And even if he weren't," Hermione said, struggling harder against the unyielding yarn, "why would he have sent me a scarf that matches your mitten? Think, you idiot!"
Severus did, and it didn't take him long to realise his mistake. The charmed Secret Santa slips, the couple's mitten from Broderick and Kensington—no doubt sent with Rebecca's blessing—the unmoveable suit of bloody armour—definitely Minerva's doing—the scarf with a mind of its own—all of these taken together could only mean one thing: matchmakers. The school was beset by interfering matchmakers because it was clear to everyone, apparently, that he and Hermione should have been shagging long before now.
"Don't just lie there!" Hermione shouted against his mouth. "Help me—rmph!"
And they're right, thought Severus, as he thrust his tongue against Hermione's and drank in her resultant moan. Yes, fuck, have to—
His eyes wild, he nodded, and she felt the scarf relax its fibres and release them.
"Finally," she practically sobbed, as she threw it off to scramble up Severus' body and straddle him. Before he could react, she sunk both hands into his collar and pulled down roughly, sending buttons flying everywhere.
"What . . . what are you doing?" he demanded.
"Stripping you off, you idiot! I can't fuck you in your clothes."
Severus groaned, and the sudden, predatory gleam in his eyes made Hermione gasp—and then, not knowing how it had happened, her heated skin met frigid air. "Fuck!"
"Yes," Severus growled, as he placed his hands with bruising strength around her hips and lifted her, only to bring her down upon his cock. "God!" she screamed, heedless of anything but the long thick heat of him and the way her body bore down upon and squeezed it in an effort to keep him inside of her, but it wasn't enough.
He pushed her up and almost off of his cock, only to pull her back down at once, and moved her as easily as he might a doll as he began fucking her in a steady, inexorable rhythm until she was quivering so violently that all she could do was lose control of everything but her ability to feel.
In, in, in ran as a litany in his mind as Hermione pushed back to meet his every thrust, and he gloried in their movement, suddenly sure that he could go on fucking her forever until he deciphered the meaning of her ragged, repeated cries.
"Severus, Severus, Severus!"
Severus came so hard that constellations danced behind his eyes, and he barely managed to push himself off Hermione before consciousness left him.
He snorted. "If rough, quick fucking is your idea of 'fun', then I suppose I am," he whispered throatily.
"Mmm, it is, though perhaps not for every day."
"Well, all right," she said, fearing she'd been presumptuous, "if you don't want to do this again, then fine!" She struggled to get up, but Severus wouldn't release her.
"Every day?" he asked again, smiling down at her.
Blushing at her own stupidity in the face of Severus' obvious joy, Hermione nodded.
"I knew there was a reason I hired you, Professor."
Relief flooded through her, making her feel confident again. "Don't you ever call me that when we're alone again—and if you're going to use your tongue," Hermione said, reaching up to push Severus' head down between her thighs, "use it properly."
After wordlessly casting a warming charm, Severus obliged her.
Neither of them mentioned to the other that there was an invisibility ward around them, both assuming, of course, that the other's mortification at such a discovery would be inconsolable.
Hermione, her hand holding Severus' in their couple's mitten, couldn't help but grin to see Severus' smug expression as he adjusted the scarf they shared. "What is that tune you're humming?" she asked, starting as laughter erupted behind her.
"Mr Kensington," Severus said quellingly, as Hermione nodded to Broderick.
"Happy Christmas, Miss Broderick."
"And to you, Professor Granger, Professor Snape. Come on, Marcus!" she urged him, grabbing her boyfriend's hand and practically dragging him off ahead of them.
"How will they survive the separation of the holidays?" Severus asked.
"Oh, about as well as can be expected under the circumstances."
"Rebecca," Severus greeted her—for the first time since the scarf incident without blushing—as she and Minerva fell into step with them.
Hermione cocked her head. "What do you mean?"
"That they won't be separated," Minerva told them.
"That's right," Rebecca said. "They're to announce their engagement soon, and their families will be gathering together over the holidays for what sounds like one hell of a party. Which reminds me, Hermione. Did you ever figure out what to give your Secret Santa recipient?"
"Rebecca!" Minerva exclaimed.
"What? It's just an innocent question."
"No more jealousy-inciting knitwear, do you hear me, woman?"
"Yes, Headmaster," Rebecca replied, giggling like a girl as she and Minerva moved along up the path.
"I never did figure out what to give you, you know."
Hermione grinned. "I'm always serious, and so are you. Don't deny it."
"In that case, I may have an idea."
Severus glanced about himself to ensure that he and Hermione were out of earshot of the others. "Would you care to accompany me to my office, Professor Granger?"
She raised an eyebrow at him. "I'd be delighted to, Headmaster, but whatever for?"
Leaning down, Severus whispered just above her ear, "I've a mind to scandalise some meddlesome portraits."
"Severus! No, not even with the curtains drawn," Hermione said, albeit with good humour.
"Then perhaps I might interest you in a secluded, tapestry-shrouded alcove?" he asked, moving his thumb suggestively over her palm inside of their couple's mitten. "I'll teach you the words to that tune I was humming."
And when Hermione laughed for him, laughed just for him, holiday cheer was the least of the happiness that Severus felt.