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And They Didn't Live Happily Ever After

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Chapter Twenty-Seven
“Truss Me"


Disclaimer: If you honestly think that I own any part of Harry Potter, including concepts, characters, books, movies, franchise rights, monies, or copyright, you are either mad, incredibly obtuse, or Gilderoy Lockhart has hit you with one too many Obliviates. In the first or last case, go check yourself into St. Mungo's while chanting, "Betz doesn't own anything relating to Harry Potter." If it's the second case, you'll have to ask Severus Snape if there is a potion to cure stupidity.




Knock. Knock-knock-knock. Knock. Knock.


'You're tardy, Miss Anne.' Severus opened the door and bid his Saturday night client welcome, holding his tongue about her late arrival.


Miss Anne bounced into Severus' flat with her usual youthful enthusiasm; dressed smartly in her summer robes and her hair pulled up off her neck. There was no errant tendril escaping her immaculate coiffure to lure Severus to her neck, nor was there anything demure about this witch.


"Hello, Bob," the young and well-heeled witch chirped. "Sorry I'm late. Ran into friends on the way here, couldn't be helped." There seemed to be no contrition in Miss Anne's tone.


Severus surveyed the young woman in front of him. Sure, she was beautiful and rich, but she also tended to be a bit vain, inconsiderate and flighty. Hermione would never be late to an appointment with him, as he knew it was not in her nature to be tardy or thoughtless. The one saving grace to Miss Anne was her willingness to experiment in avenues of pleasures most witches did not think even existed.


"Undress," Severus ordered her curtly, "and do not speak until you are spoken to."


The witch gave him a submissive nod of her head, knowing what lay ahead. Severus sat down on the settee and watched her disrobe for his pleasure.


"Turn around," he commanded, and Miss Anne obeyed, spinning around slowly before Severus told her to stop facing away from him. "Continue."


Though her hair was strawberry blond, Severus did his best to ignore the color, imagining it a much darker shade, while concentrating on her backside and the curve of her bottom, the shape of her legs and how they had been wrapped around his waist many times. Miss Anne was one of they key benefits to his night job: shapely, willing, and had a tendency to avoid idle and meaningless chatter. She was every wizard's fantasy, and he had the privilege of being paid to fuck her till she couldn't walk straight.


From what little they talked and what Miss Brown had told him, Miss Anne had had a string of rather public and messy affairs with many eligible wizards whom she later would invariably find out had been bedding one of her friends or her Muggle sister, or had a preference for wizards instead. Tired of the dating scene and the press covering her every move, but not willing to shelve her active libido, Miss Anne, who was a casual friend of Miss Brown’s, was directed to the services of Severus. With Severus' confidential nature, she was sure her sexual tastes would not make it into the press. He would not give an exclusive expose to Witch Weekly, unlike an old boyfriend with an old grudge or empty pockets that needed lining with blackmail money to keep quiet.


She continued to stand there quietly and patiently once undressed, knowing it was expected of her from Bob's tone.


Wanting to try something novel this evening, Severus strode over to his armoire and pulled out one of his more ornate feathered masks. Walking up behind her, he secured the black and red feathered mask over her face. With his Bauta mask on and the full-face mask on Miss Anne, he could pretend for a night that Hermione was here at his sexual beck and call.


"Get on the bed on your hands and knees," Severus demanded. This would have been a convenient time to wear a half-mask, as he could enjoy the fantasy of probing Hermione's depths with his tongue, but the illusion of wearing his habitual Casanova was more arousing than any taste from the kneeling witch's cunt.


As she crawled onto the bed, Severus was tempted to drop his trousers right there and take her from behind, but instead waited until she was on the bed before slipping up behind her and stroking her damp sex with his long and dexterous fingers. As his fingers began to slide into her, first one, then two, three, then four fingers, Miss Anne began arching her back and meeting his thrusts, groaning and panting like some stray bitch in heat.


After she came, her muscles clenching around his hand, he ordered her to undress him and then stroke his cock. As he lay sprawled on the bed watching the witch prostrate herself at his knees while her hand pumped up and down his length, he tried to imagine Hermione's hands wrapped around him instead. He was not able to maintain the fantasy; it too much resembled Miss Anne and not his brunette fantasy, so he ordered her back on her knees and quickly plunged himself into her from behind. As she bucked against him, he drove himself into her with a fierce determination to bury himself in her so deeply she would split in half, and Severus closed his eyes trying to imagine it was Hermione instead. A semi-coherent groan escaped his lips as he came deep inside her just as Miss Anne reached her own peak.


As he pulled out of her unceremoniously, she finally spoke and asked, "What did you call me?"


'Oh shit.' Did her really say something he didn't mean to in the heat of passion? Severus would have to be much more careful in the future, but for now he had to drag out an answer until he could think of a believable one. "What do you think I called you?" he queried, unsure what he said himself.


"Something like 'my knee'? At least it sounded like that," she answered.


'Oh bloody fuck.' The raven-haired wizard really did call out her name. This simply would not do. Hermione was getting under his skin and he was getting too involved with her for his own good. He would have to speed up the process in which she discovered his true identity before other catastrophic mishaps occurred.


For now, he had to make up a quick and credible lie. "I called you, 'my peony,'" Severus said sweetly, as he reclined back, patting the bed next to him to invite her to lay next to him instead of getting up and dressing like she did on some nights, once they had both reached orgasm.


As she settled next to him, she asked, "Can I take this mask off now?"


"No, it's part of the illusion that we are whoever we want to be," he fibbed partly. Actually, he wanted to pretend she was someone else entirely.


"See, that's what I like about you. You're so creative. I can always count on a good time when I come see you," she praised him.


"I thought we would try something different tonight. Talk, perhaps," Severus suggested, desperately thinking that maybe if he could have an intelligent conversation with his most physically pleasurable clients, then thoughts of a particular brunette witch, which had been recently plaguing him with great intensity and frequency, would recede. If he could somehow talk with some of the clients he shagged with the same passionate intensity that Hermione drew out in him during their conversations, he might stop fantasizing about her and no longer think fondly of their evenings together.


"Sure, why not? I'm game," Miss Anne agreed flippantly. "What shall we talk about?"


"What interests you?" he asked, allowing her to lead the conversation, as he had no idea what captured her imagination.


"Well, I just read in Witch Weekly how this fall the bias cut robes will be all the rage," she began prattling on excitedly.


Severus suppressed an exasperated groan of despair, as the witch began rambling on all matter of things of no importance. He just hoped that if he fell asleep sitting up while she continued talking without pause, that his head would bob in his sleep during the right spots to make her think that he was awake and paying attention.


Hermione came home just in time to fix dinner, only to find that Ron wasn't home. There was a note on the bedroom door attached with some Spellotape.






The game ended a little earlier than expected, as Wally caught the Snitch in less than 30 minutes. Some of the other men on the team decided on an impromptu pub-crawl, so I won’t be home till late. If I drink quite a bit, I may not make it home, as I don't want to splinch myself or Floo to the wrong place.


Hope you read this note before making dinner for two.






'Well, that kind of puts a damper on my plans,' Hermione bitterly thought.


She had spent most of the day at the spa and allowed herself to relax for the first time in ages. With plenty of time to herself, while Ginny was away getting her own treatments, Mrs. Weasley had time to reflect on her marriage and sex life from a more tranquil perspective.


Ginny did mention earlier that day that men were like dogs that needed to be trained, especially in the bedroom. Some men were more difficult to train than others, while others were just natural at learning tricks. 'Isn't that a rather bad pun – tricks – considering who she's shagging. Silly rabbit, tricks are for prostitutes.' Hermione groaned at her own forced pun and the free association images that sprung up in her mind: dogs; collars and leashes; men on all fours; men on street corners leaning up against lampposts; Ron in a dog collar on all fours being hit over the nose with a rolled-up newspaper for leaving the seat up on the toilet; Malfoy in a miniskirt, torn fishnet stockings and platform high heels, leaning over to talk to a trick cruising by in a car.


Forcing her mind back to her original train of thought, Hermione thought it might be nice to seduce Ron while trying to teach him how she liked to be touched. She had tried some years ago, but in his teenage hormonally overcharged exuberance, he just sprinted towards the finish line, ignoring foreplay and reaching orgasm quickly instead of learning to take a leisurely stroll along her body. Now that they were very accustomed to each other's bodies, perhaps now was a good time to instruct him to take things a little slower. Mrs. Weasley did wonder if her suggestions and requests would be misconstrued as complaints and bossy direction in the bedroom. Her husband did seem to be rather thrilled when she took the initiative before, which she rarely did, when he had found her fingering herself while fantasizing about Calleo. Maybe taking the initiative with sex and telling him what she liked would be the key to improving her sex life. Maybe if her sex life weren't so pitiful, Hermione wouldn't be tempted every time she masturbated with thoughts of Calleo's cock buried deep inside of her.


Since she had the whole evening to herself, Hermione wasn't sure what to do, so she began going through her mental list of things she had put off.


Once she had sent Pig off to her parents with a note suggesting Sunday dinner at her parents’ home next weekend on the twenty-seventh, Hermione cast a cleaning charm on the kitchen to take away the layer of grime she had recently noticed. A few more charms, and all the kitchen cupboards were reorganized.


Walking into the bedroom, Hermione was tempted to start laundry when she laid eyes upon the heaping pile of clothes which she was planning on washing the next day, but decided against it. She was feeling refreshingly clean from her day at the spa, and didn't want to feel dirty again from standing over a cauldron full of hot water and soiled clothes.


Sitting on the bed, Hermione summoned the snow globe her parents gave her when they came back after the war. During the last few months of the war, Wendy and Wallace Granger were encouraged by Albus Dumbledore to go on an extended holiday in another country, preferably on another continent for safety purposes. Wards and Fidelius charms were fine, but with the wrong person finding out certain information or unsuspecting spies within the Order, it was safer to just ship them off to points unknown to everyone other than the Headmaster and Hermione.


Her parents had rented a rather fancy caravan outfitted with the latest amenities and toured the United States, calling it a long overdue second honeymoon. There were many presents they had brought back for Hermione once Voldemort was dead. She had a rather nice pair of silver and turquoise earrings her parents brought her from a jewelry shop owned by Navajo Indians, and an alligator skin coin purse they picked up in Louisiana. There was another pair of earrings set in three-colored gold mined from the Black Hills of the Dakotas. Hermione didn't have the heart to tell her parents that Black Hills gold had been cursed by the Lakota shamans, and she doubted even Bill could break the curse cast on the gold. So long as she didn’t wear it, she felt the curse would not affect her. Her hand-woven Nantucket basket regularly accompanied her on trips to the market, and she enjoyed snuggling under her warm Amish quilt on winter nights in front of the fire, but it was this simple little snow globe that made her smile the most.


It was a large snow globe with a music box set into the base. Inside the little globe was a miniature characterization of San Francisco. Her parents pointed out all the highlights they saw represented in the tiny model, including the Golden Gate Bridge, the Transamerica Pyramid, Coit Tower and Chinatown. There was a hill with a pair of molded cable cars that Hermione charmed to run up and down the steep hillside when she turned on the music box. With a simple tap of her wand, the music began playing.


The tinny music played the first verse of "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" over and over again, as the flakes of fake snow swirled and floated about the sphere. She smiled as the music played on. It was the least practical gift her parents brought back, and perhaps this keepsake was the most sentimental for that reason, reminding her that every now and again some frivolity in life is needed. She had never imagined her parents ever spending good money on something whose only purpose was to collect dust and take up space, so for that sake alone, it warmed her heart.


Was Ron something that collected dust and took up space in Hermione's heart? He wasn't a knickknack that she couldn't just throw away, he was a human being with feelings and a mind of his own. She had a history with him, and they had made a promise to love, cherish and respect each other with their wedding vows. Perhaps these were vows that she couldn't fulfill.


Hermione carefully put her snow globe back on her dresser in its place of prominence next to her wedding picture and jewelry box.


"What now?" the witch asked herself out loud.


She really didn't feel like doing any more cleaning, and a quick look at her bookshelves revealed no interest in reading books she had read at least three times over already.


"I need a new library," she grumbled, remembering she had not bought herself a new book since Christmas when Ron had taken her to Flourish and Blotts so he could buy her exactly what she wanted. Granted, all the fun and surprise had been taken out of their gift-giving years ago when they had both realized they were terrible at picking out gifts for each other without the recipient's help. So every birthday, Hermione could count on Ron bringing her to the bookstore every September, and Hermione would take Ron to the Quidditch supply store every March. There was the rare instance where Ron had help from Ginny or Harry to pick a present, but those times were few and far between.


"Do I really want to go to Flourish and Blotts?" she asked herself. The best student at Hogwarts in recent history did love going to the bookstore, but decided to not risk temptation, knowing there were a few extra unaccounted for Galleons in her and Ron's vault.


'When's the last time you went out by yourself? Just went out the door with no plans and had a good time?' There was the brief recollection of the older wizard propositioning her in a seedy dive to come back to the Leaky Cauldron with him, but she dismissed the memory. 'What am I going to do? What is there to do?'


"Accio Daily Prophet." The paper flew into her hands. Scanning the entertainment and cultural events calendar, Hermione settled on an amateur production of "Merlin and Morgana: The Lost Years" that was playing in Hogsmeade in the newly-built cellar amphitheater located under the Three Broomsticks.


Noticing the time, Hermione grabbed her new purple cloak and Apparated to Hogsmeade with only ten minutes to spare before the curtain rose.


Severus had no idea what possessed him to engage in conversation with Miss Anne. Perhaps it was some twisted thought that he did not have enough suffering and misery in his life, and he should get a healthy dose of it while in her 'enthralling' company. It could have been that he was letting the little head think for the big one, though even his own prick had more conversation skills than Miss Anne. At least when she had his cock in her mouth, she was quiet.


However, the fact remained that Miss Anne was still wearing the full-face mask and he could not shut her up by ordering her to perform fellatio. The benefit of having her remove the mask would be to quiet her prattling by doing something more constructive, like wrapping those lips of hers around his now flaccid length. But once the mask came off, the illusion would be gone. It was no use, the illusion could not be maintained with her constant inane chatter. Either way, there was no way he would feel aroused by her presence anymore that night.


Why did he encourage Miss Anne to talk? It could have been he found their session tonight less than satisfying. Granted, she was just as beautiful, enthusiastic, responsive, and wet as ever, but the act seemed hollow once completed. There was nothing of substance to the encounter. Yes, he had always promised himself when the war was over he would engage in as much meaningless, no-strings-attached sex as possible, eluding relationships and promises of fidelity, but suddenly all of it seemed tired and empty. When did this sudden ambivalence towards casual sex take root? Severus had a feeling it started when Hermione walked into his life almost four weeks prior, but he wasn't about to admit it to himself.


With the exception of Katherine Bigelow, he was starting to find the company of his other clients rather bothersome. They whinged constantly, and when they weren't complaining about bad husbands and thoughtless boyfriends, they would talk endlessly about themselves. He was only slightly more tolerant of those with true troubles and worries in their lives, due only to his belief that the universe held a balance sheet, and he still had not paid off his debt to Albus for all the years the old man had listened to him complain, whinge, bitch, piss, and moan about students, the Dark Lord and other things. Still, no other clients, with the exceptions being Katherine and Hermione, engaged in lively debates with him about all manner of subjects, and Katherine was no longer one of his clients.


Severus didn't miss Katherine, per se, but he was glad she was able to move on with her life in ways he still had not. The change of scenery with her move to Spain was just what Katherine needed to close that chapter of her life. Severus wondered when the page would turn for him and he could begin anew, finally putting the memories of his wife to rest and his dark and bedeviled past behind him.


Tired of inane gossip and the drone of Miss Anne's voice, Severus interrupted her. "Please, don't let me keep you from joining your friends. If you must leave, don't let me stop you. I know what a busy social calendar you have."


"I don't have anywhere to go tonight. I'm all yours, " she said, much to his chagrin. He could hear the smile in her voice. Her fingers were lightly trailing up his arm, drawling lazy patterns over his Dark Mark.


'Merlin, kill me now,' he silently pleaded in misery. "You have really exhausted me this evening. So I must request we pick this up next week at our usual time," he politely, yet sternly informed the eager witch.


"Well, I always could spend the night. I'm willing to pay a lot more," she purred.


"No." His answer was resolute.


"But you don't even know how much I'm willing to pay," Miss Anne parried.


"It doesn't matter. I don't wake up next to clients," Severus replied firmly, getting more irritated by her insistence with each passing minute.


"I could make it worth your while," she said suggestively. "Remember that little fantasy I had about getting a wine enema, then later letting you have your wicked way with me with every phallic vegetable conceivable while you fucked me up the arse? You certainly seemed open to the suggestion when I mentioned it a few weeks ago."


Severus' cock stirred at the thought of Miss Anne tied down to his bed, gag in place, legs and arms hoisted and bound so she that looked like a contorted and trussed-up turkey, a rather large courgette stuffed up her twat and her arse lubed within an inch of her life; it was a decadently depraved, double penetration fantasy come true. Then suddenly the thought of just leaving her there like that and walking away from her to see her squirm and fight, indignant over not getting fucked and just walked out on, amused him more than the idea of violating her eighty different ways until the crack of dawn.


"As much as that sounds quite appealing, I must plead exhaustion," Severus said, dismissing her. "Perhaps next week. I'll make sure my house-elf shops for a spectacularly large array of crudités to fill your… needs."


"Poor Bob," she cooed with sickeningly sweet tones. "I wore you out. Well, rest up next week, because you're going to need it." Miss Anne got up from Severus' bed and dressed quickly, not bothering to shower.


Once she was gone, he removed his mask and looked down at the one he made Miss Anne wear. He was tempted to burn it now. Why he kept the mask, he wasn't quite sure. Severus bought it for a client that preferred to see him in flamboyant masks that reminded her of her youth in South America. The feather arrangement around the face portion of the mask reminded the witch, whom Severus could no longer recall by name, of the local gods worshiped in her mountaintop village as a young girl. The witch lost her virginity at seventeen on an altar by some priest dressed up as one of the high gods, his identity hidden by a mask very similar to the one Severus now picked up and tossed into the fire.


It was foolish of him to think that a simple mask over Miss Anne's face would fool his mind, as well and his body, into thinking he was shagging Hermione. Hermione would never simply submit herself in such a fashion, at least he didn't think so. She did not seem the type to be so compliant to orders in the bedroom. Then again, he had no idea what the witch would be like between the sheets. The one instance where he got to see her passion unleashed on his one finger had left him with speculative thoughts of what she would be like uninhibited by the veil of self-consciousness that shrouded her potentially sensual nature. The only thing he did know was that Mrs. Weasley was unsatisfied by the sex life she currently had. Her husband obviously had no clue how to draw out the sexual goddess in the woman.


Realizing his thoughts were once more fixating on Hermione, Severus cleaned up, dressed quickly and went out the door to visit Draco one flight down. He was usually done with his Saturday night client by this time. Standing at the top of the stairs, Severus froze as Draco's door opened.


A slightly older than middle-aged witch emerged from Draco's flat. "Oh, I just wish my son would listen to me like you do," the witch sighed. "Absolutely no respect for his mother, that one. He's always too busy with his work to even come visit me once a month. Oh well, I still have you," the older witch said wistfully while patting Draco on his forearm like someone's grandmother would when handing out tidbits of sage advice.


"I'm just glad that I could be here for you," Draco replied with such an air of sincerity, even Severus was impressed with the young wizard's acting skills.


"Well, goodnight." The witch waved at her masked companion still standing in the doorway.


"Goodnight, Madam Agatha," Draco called back to her as she began descending the steps.


Once Severus was sure the witch was gone from the building, he went downstairs and knocked on Draco's door.


Draco answered the door sans mask. "Miss Anne is done for the night?"


Severus nodded.


"Come on in," he invited the older wizard.


Severus made himself at home, relaxing into a chair by the fire, his legs stretched out before him and crossed at the ankle.


"What brings you down to my abode on a night like this? And so early, too," Draco remarked with a cocked brow. "Young witches getting to be too much for an old man like you?" he ribbed the older wizard.


"I'm not that old," Severus bit back.


"That's what I've been telling you for years," Draco pointed out. "It's about time you finally admitted it."


'Damn.' Severus had been tricked by simple baiting of what little vanity he had, his weariness making him fall prey to a ploy he should have spotted a mile away. 'I must really be tired.'


"If you must know, I dismissed Miss Anne a little early. The witch is beginning to bore me," he said dryly while examining his nails.


"Now if I didn't have Ginny in my life, there would be one witch that I doubt I could tire of. However, being in love with a witch does tend to put a damper on one's desire to bed other witches, even with a healthy sex drive," Draco admitted.


Momentarily lost in thought, Severus only caught part of what Draco had said. "What did you say?" he asked offhandedly, now focusing on what Draco was saying.


"I said, once I realized I was still in love with Ginny, even after she came to me as Mrs. Potter, all the other women I was bedding no longer held the allure they once did. For some reason, being in love made all those other witches seem less than appealing. Every time I'd have to shag one, I'd have to close my eyes and pretend it was Ginny just to keep going," Draco confessed unabashedly. "You have no idea how disturbing it was to think I was losing my virility until I realized I was in love with Ginny and I didn’t want to make love to anyone else but her. I would have been utterly embarrassing in time if Lavender didn't phase out my shagging clients."


"What?" Severus said more to himself than to Draco's remarks, suddenly dumbstruck by the idea forming in his mind.


Draco's brow furrowed. "Severus? Are you all right? You look a little pale. Well, paler than usual."


The older wizard sat there desperate to expunge the horrible notion that was growing at an alarming rate, unable to answer his friend. He just shook his head in self-denial.


Draco quickly fetched Severus some Calvados. "Here, drink this."


Severus gulped down the apple brandy, not bothering to savor it.


"What's wrong?" Draco looked at him thoughtfully.


Sometimes it was hard for a Slytherin to fool another Slytherin, especially one who knew Severus as well as Draco did. The older wizard answered as vaguely as possible. "Moment of panic."


Scrutinizing the man sitting across from him, Draco finally deduced the reason. "Mrs. Weasley?"


"You could say that," Severus replied cryptically.


"Is there a problem?"


Severus feared if he looked Draco in the eye and told him a lie or a half-truth, the younger wizard would see right through him and know the real reason. Instead, he looked away and gave an answer that was unrelated to his moment of anxiety, but one that Draco would believe. "Just thinking about when I finally reveal myself to Hermione."


"Understandable. Speaking of which, how soon do you think it will be before you do reveal yourself?" Draco asked in earnest.


The blond man that was now sitting across from him was starting to remind Severus of a music box with a faltering charm, playing the same tune over and over again, "When? When?"


"I DON'T KNOW!" Severus roared with sudden fury. "Your nagging certainly isn't helping in the matter! This is a very delicate situation and you are not privy to all the nuances involved. You cannot rush subtle manipulation; there cannot be a timetable on the twisting of a person to one's will. It is a process that requires patience, something I am losing with you constantly pestering me."


The raven-haired wizard could not fault Draco for his question, but his anger gave him a convenient excuse not to examine the recent questions of why Miss Anne suddenly held little allure for him.


"Why, Severus," young Malfoy drawled with a composed air, the antithesis of the other wizard's agitated state. "I never said you should do it soon. I was just wondering how it was coming along. Ginny did mention a sudden lack of curiosity. You never did tell me how Thursday night went."


"Well enough," Severus snapped back. "She was reluctant to talk about Dolohov and the attack, as well as anything to do with her husband."


"Interesting. Very interesting. She suddenly chooses not to unburden herself to you like she has done during all her previous visits?" Draco mused.


"Perhaps she's tired of dealing with events that cause her much pain, choosing instead to shut off emotions that are a nuisance and interfere with functioning properly," he retorted.


Once the words escaped his lips, Severus realized he was speaking more about himself, but the same logic could easily apply to Hermione. In fact, he knew exactly what Hermione was doing when the subject of the attack and her husband came up. He had behaved in much the same way many times over the years when Albus had tried to get the emotionally distant Potions master to "open up" and talk about his feelings regarding Severus’ wife. Severus frequently asserted he had no feelings.


There were occasions when Albus was able to catch the brooding man at just the right time and in just the right mood, encouraging Severus to get things off his chest, but the only time the subject of Gabrielle was ever discussed without reservation was the night the young Death Eater came to the Headmaster, broken and full of remorse.


Draco was leading him towards thoughts of Gabrielle once more, and he wasn't prepared to deal with another set of unsettling memories heaped upon the emotions he was suppressing regarding Hermione. Instead, Severus did what he did best and frequently; he closed off his heart and let anger, disdain, and hate fill its place.


"I think I will bid you goodnight," Severus announced abruptly. "I have reports I will begin tonight instead of waiting for the morrow." The older man rose and dusted the invisible lint off his trousers. "Thank you for the drink."


Without further ado, Severus showed himself out.


Draco continued to sit by the fire, analyzing the recent conversation and sudden change in his mentor's attitude. Several hypotheses came to mind, but the most obvious one that made sense made Draco's eyes widen slightly at the implication.


He, of course, having gone through similar symptoms before, could see the signs. If it was true, then their plan for escape had two outcomes: either flawless success or complete catastrophic failure.


A talk with Ginny was in order to confirm or refute his theory. One thing Draco had learned over the years was to trust a woman's intuition in these matters.


An evening out was exactly what Hermione needed. The only ticket available was in the back, so she was able to get it on the cheap. With a pair of Omnioculars, she felt like she was sitting within the first three rows.


The play ended with a standing ovation.


Hermione, feeling a bit more cultured for seeing a play she had longed to see and that was considered a classic in the wizarding world, moved with the rest of the crowd out of the underground amphitheater and into the cool night air just outside the Three Broomsticks. Like many of the attendees, Hermione moved inside the tavern for a nightcap before heading home. With her hair still freshly washed and coiffed from a day at the spa, her skin glowing and her new purple robes on, Mrs. Weasley glided into the bar feeling relaxed and carefree.


"Sherry, please," Hermione asked the barman.


As she waited for her drink, Madam Rosmerta breezed by with a tray full of drinks for a loud congregation of revelers in the corner, singing the Chudley Cannons fight song. Just as Hermione got her glass of sherry, the buxom barmaid passed by again and stopped dead in her tracks.


"Bless my soul! It's Hermione Granger! You look dressed for an Unforgivable," Madam Rosmerta exclaimed.


"Mrs. Hermione Weasley," Hermione pointed out, lifting her left hand up for the older witch to see her wedding band.


"Which one? Let me guess… Ron?" she asked with a knowing wink.


"Yes," Hermione answered with a sudden lack of enthusiasm.


Madam Rosmerta had seen the entire spectrum of the human soul pass through her pub to know each and every look, and recognized Hermione's face enough to understand completely. "Don't worry, love. It'll get better," she assured Hermione with a friendly nudge of her shoulder against Hermione's.


"How did you–" Hermione didn't bother to finish the question, as the older and much wiser witch just gave her one of those all-knowing looks.


"One doesn't run a pub without learning how a witch or wizard looks when they're feeling a certain way." Rosmerta took Hermione by the shoulder and turned her to view a secluded corner of pub. Pointing, she said, "See that couple there, the bloke with the green robes? This is probably their first date. See how he sits back a bit, unsure of how to touch her, not knowing if he should even reach out and grab her hand?"


Turning Hermione's attention to another couple near the first, Rosmerta continued, "See that couple there? They've dated a while and haven't gone to bed yet. See how eager the man is to touch her, how all his attention is on her and her alone as if she's his whole world?" Directing the younger witch's gaze to the end of the bar, Rosmerta observed, "And see that bloke there. Bet you five Galleons his wife just left him. Look at the way he sits like his whole world has been crushed, the way he plays with his wedding ring."


Hermione looked at the woman before her with a newfound respect, realizing there was more than one type of knowledge in the world.


"So where's your other half?" Madam Rosmerta asked.


"On a pub-crawl with his teammates tonight. He's Keeper for the Chudley Cannons," Hermione informed her.


"Oh," the other witch said with sudden nervousness. Hermione was too preoccupied looking at other couples to notice the older witch's agitation. "Well, I'd better get going. Busy and all. It was good seeing you, love." And as Hermione turned to wave goodbye, the witch disappeared amidst a new swarm of patrons rushing into the bar.


As Hermione sat sipping her sherry, thinking about how she wished Calleo was there with her so she could discuss the play with him, she felt a pair of eyes watching her. Looking down the length of the bar, she saw a handsome, slightly older wizard in his thirties smile and wink at her. She blinked, slightly startled by the sudden attention. Trying not to blush like some innocent schoolgirl, she kept her eyes fixed upon the drink in front of her.


Lifting her glass to her lips to take a sip, Hermione saw the handsome wizard slide up next to her out of the corner of her eye. As she turned to face him, Hermione saw him smile warmly at her.


"Hi, I'm Alan," he said in greeting, extending his hand.


"Hermione," she replied, shaking his hand carefully.


"That color on you is rather striking. In fact, it's quite lovely on you," he complimented her as his eyes traveled over her features.


Hoping her cheeks weren't flushing an even more obvious shade of pink, Hermione ducked her head down and replied. "Thank you."


It felt rather risqué to be talking with a man in a bar she didn't know, especially one that was appraising her with eyes that seemed to disrobe her where she stood. Yet at the same time, she didn't want to stop. It felt glorious to be admired for her looks for once. Was it so wrong to feel beautiful in the eyes of other men? Ron certainly hadn't looked at her with anything resembling the hungry predatory look in Alan's eyes for months, maybe years. Though she knew it was wrong to lead Alan on, and she vowed to herself that she would never wind up in bed with him, a small part of her wanted to tease him and make him act like a fool for her. Suddenly she realized that she was behaving just like the flirtatious girls she had looked down upon with disdain all those years at Hogwarts. All those witches batting their eyelashes and tossing their hair about, giggling like twittering birds at insipid jokes. But on the other hand, Hermione suddenly understood the power behind those simple gestures, to control men and bend them to their will.


Deciding to play it a little dangerously before ending the charade, whilst hoping no one she knew was at the bar, she licked her lips a little seductively before taking a small sip of sherry, looking up at Alan through lowered lashes.


The effect was instantaneous. Alan's eyes glazed over, his gaze fixated on her lips.


'Am I really that beautiful tonight or is Alan just so desperate he's willing to try any witch tonight?' The thought put a damper on her sudden bout of self-confidence. Guilt suddenly washed up on the shores of her mind, and she knew it was time to end the game.


'What would Calleo think if he saw me acting this way?' Suddenly, she realized she wouldn't care what Ron would think, but what would Calleo think? Shame filled her.


"Well, it was nice meeting you, Alan, but I'd better Floo home before my husband misses me." Hermione smiled a bit wanly at him, and saw the note of rejection and acceptance in his smile.


"Goodbye, Hermione," he bid her farewell with a smirk. Something in the way he looked at her said he was hoping to see her around again sometime soon.


Somehow being adored and seduced by a man as handsome as Alan didn't hold nearly the appeal of a nice evening with Calleo. At least with Calleo, she knew he was an intelligent man, a good conversationalist, funny, insightful, and well-mannered. Alan reminded Hermione of the men her old lunch mates at the Ministry talked about, where the man would fawn over them during the evening and not bother to wake them when he left their bed in the morning or to owl them afterwards. Still, it was nice to know that she could catch the eye of a man like Alan once in a rare while.


Hermione decided to Apparate home instead of Floo, avoiding soot on her brand new robes. Once home, she went straight to bed, not caring if Ron came home that night or not. On the chance he might not be back until morning, she situated herself in the middle of the bed and hogged all the covers. If Ron did come back that night, he could nudge her over and wrestle some of the covers away, but if he wasn't going to be home, why should she deny herself the luxury of sleeping where she damn well pleased?


Irritated for no damn good reason, Severus made his way under cloak of night to work and took the lift up to his office. Just as he pulled his hood back and was about to take off his cloak as he walked towards his office, he heard the shrill shriek of Miss Lavender Brown behind her office door.


Wondering what in the hell she was doing there, he walked over to the door to make sure she was all right and not having another destructive temper tantrum. As he lifted his hand and was about to knock, he heard a distinctly male voice as well, grunting and panting. Miss Brown began moaning loudly in a rather encouraging fashion.


Tempted, Severus debated the pros and cons of bursting in on Miss Brown under the pretext of truly making sure she was all right. On the one hand, Severus would learn whom she was sleeping with, as she kept such private information to herself, never disclosing the fact she was even seeing anyone. Such information could be used as a bargaining chip against his employer if needed. On the other hand, suddenly bursting through the door when he had no idea who might be betwixt Miss Brown's legs might prove to be a bad move, as it could be anyone, possibly even Cornelius Fudge for all he knew. Then there would be the explanation as to why a Death Eater had access to Miss Brown's place of business, there would be Obliviates involved, and it could wind up being a rather messy ordeal. Instead, he crouched down by the door and listened for any telltale signs of Miss Brown's unknown lover.


After a few more moments, the lovers on the other side of the door made the obvious noises indicating they both reached orgasm. They spoke in such low tones, he could not make out any of the words. After a few more moments, he heard both parties leave by Floo.


Severus went to his office to start his report, noting the time, while wondering if Miss Brown was in the habit of bringing her lover or lovers to her office on a Saturday night for a quick shag. He would have to come back next Saturday night under the false notion of catching up on work.