"You could try speed dating."
Hermione looked at Luna over her mug of cider and grimaced. "Or I could stab myself with a fork."
"That would hurt."
"Yes, but its pain would be of shorter duration than speed dating."
"Hermione, you're lonely, you won't date co-workers, and you have no hobbies. How else do you propose to find lovers?"
"Well, if I stab myself with a fork, my Healer might be attractive."
"Healers," Luna replied, Summoning all the cutlery to herself, "aren't allowed to date patients."
"I'm not actually planning on stabbing myself," said Hermione, before draining her mug. "No more blind dates. That Rolf you set me up with couldn't stop talking about you."
Luna grinned. "Did you like him otherwise?"
"I rather think the fact that he clearly fancies you renders the question moot."
"Yes, but according to you, I have no taste in men, so . . . ."
"Do you mean to tell me that you set me up with Rolf so that I could," Hermione waved a hand, "check him out for you?"
"Yes, that's it, exactly," Luna replied, reaching for the mug that had just appeared on their table. "Did he meet with it?"
"I told you, nothing happened—and that's mine."
Luna wrapped her hands around the mug. "If you're getting confused by simple questions, you've had enough of the hard stuff. I was asking whether or not Rolf met with your approval, not your vagina."
"Well, that was what you were implying, wasn't it? Did he meet with your approval?"
"Do you say things like that to your dates? I can't imagine it goes over well."
"I know how to talk to men, Hermione. Some of the wizards I date have seen my vagina."
A wizard sitting at the table behind them leaned towards Luna and said, his mouth against her ear, "I'd like to see your fanny, babe. Fancy a—fuck!"
"I'll have another, Aberforth," Luna called, placing her empty mug down on the table before reaching into her hair.
"You little bitch!" the drenched wizard exclaimed. "I ought to—"
"Coming right up, Apprentice Lovegood," Aberforth called.
"And that's why I wear my wand backwards," Luna loudly remarked.
The hexed, drunken wizard's friends hastily dragged him from the pub.
"I'm sorry that I didn't tell you why I set you up with Rolf, but I wanted your honest opinion of him, not a report in triplicate about his background, proclivities, and—"
"I don't do things like that," Hermione protested.
"Yes, you do," Luna said, taking a sip of cider. "Now, must I ask you again?"
Rolling her eyes, Hermione replied, "No, I liked him—for you. Ask the poor man out before he has a fit. He's owled me about you three times since I saw him."
Luna giggled. "I wonder why he hasn't owled me?"
Hermione snorted. "Really, 'Apprentice Lovegood'? You are rather intimidating."
"You think so?"
She's probably already forgotten that rude wizard, Hermione thought, shaking her head. "I do, and from what you've told me, Master Snape is hell on his trainees', er, friends."
"That's true. Severus—"
Severus? Hermione thought, surprised.
"—doesn't like it when we waste our time, especially on 'the undeserving'. I think his standards are a bit high, but Rolf apparently meets them."
"If that's true, why did you want my approval?"
"Because you're my friend."
Luna's matter-of-factness made Hermione smile. "And 'Severus' isn't?"
"Well, no, he's just my master. Besides, Severus doesn't know what to say to a witch to make her want to see his penis any more than you know what to say to a wizard to make him want to see your—"
"Good Evening, Miss Granger."
"—vagina. Hello to you, too, Severus."
Blushing furiously and hoping like hell that Master Snape hadn't heard her use of his first name, Hermione turned to nod at him.
He nodded back before addressing Luna. "Apprentice."
"Of the two of us, I'm far less likely to need a reminder about my position," Luna replied, inclining her head at an unoccupied chair.
Hermione reached for her empty mug and "sipped" from it to cover her embarrassment. Are they flirting?
"Perhaps another?" Snape asked Hermione, joining them.
"Er, thank you," she replied.
Snape snapped his fingers.
"My mind's as sharp as yours, Luna, and my bits, sharper."
Oh, my God. They are flirting!
"You must have been drinking quite a lot," Luna observed.
Snape smirked. "It's Friday. I always drink on Friday. You know why."
This is completely inappropriate, Hermione thought, wishing that she could sink through the floor. He should know better than to shag an apprentice!
"Yes," Luna answered, "because you don't have to deal with 'dunderheads' again until Monday." She and Snape tapped their mugs together and drank. "Oh, Hermione approves of Rolf. Isn't that wonderful?"
"Fabulous," Snape deadpanned, turning to a very confused Hermione. "Luna tells me that you're about to move from Creatures to Law Enforcement. Given up on the downtrodden at last, have you?"
Hermione tensed and said sharply, "The oppressed will always require a champion, Master Snape, which is why I've elected to turn my attention to the extant pure-blood prejudice within the Magical Code."
"That sounds like an excellent use of your time."
Hermione sat up a little straighter at his words. Was that a compliment?
"It's certainly a better use of anyone's time," Snape continued, "than messing about with a blond naturalist—even if he does have access to rare potions ingredients."
"I'm not interested in Rolf because he can stock your supply cabinet."
"And that's all to the good because his fees are exorbitant."
"You get what you pay for," Luna asserted, "and you don't pay for anything. The Guild does."
"How unfortunate, then, that Mr Scamander can't seem to find me the one ingredient of which I'm in great need."
"I find myself without the Milk of Human Kindness, Miss Granger."
Hermione bit her tongue as Luna was overcome by a coughing fit.
Snape applied a few, none-too-gentle pats to Luna's back. "Don't choke. You have the management of the cauldrons tomorrow."
"The 'Milk of Human Kindness', Master Snape? I've never heard of that." Hermione looked from him to Luna and back again. "Are you having me on?"
"Certainly not," Snape replied. "The substance is indeed quite valuable, and it must be collected under very precise cond—"
Luna began coughing again.
"—itions in order to do a brewer any good," Snape finished, patting Luna's back again. "I said, don't choke."
"No, sir. Of course not."
Hermione frowned, not sure which confused her more: the dynamic between Luna and Snape or Snape's ingredient. "If it's so important, why doesn't the Guild of Potioneers keep it on hand?"
"Has to be fresh, I imagine," Luna squeaked more than said.
"Exactly," Snape replied, downing the contents of his mug.
"How fresh?" asked Hermione.
"Most brewers of my acquaintance collect it with their rods just before stir—Apprentice Lovegood, perhaps you should retire for the night? You appear to be coming down with a cold."
"So . . . so, I . . . do," Luna replied, through her coughing fit, "but . . . . But," she said, composing herself, "is it right, your sharing something with Hermione that you refuse to with your apprentices?"
When Snape laughed, actually laughed at Luna's question, Hermione's eyes widened so much that it hurt; she finished off her drink so that she could close them.
"As the master, it's my place to decide that. Now go home to bed—alone. Scamander hasn't done anything to deserve your bits."
"That decision is mine to make, Severus," Luna replied. "Goodnight, Hermione. Remember what I said about the speed dating. You might like it."
"Speed never improves anything with regard to courtship," said Snape.
Grinning, Luna asked, "How would you know?"
Snape patted his wand pocket. "Goodnight."
Sticking her tongue out at him, Luna gave Hermione a little wave and left them.
Hermione shivered. "Well, I should be getting—"
"The next round."
"Oh? Oh, I suppose that's only fair."
"And you are always scrupulously so, I believe."
"I try to be. What's wrong with that?"
"Not a thing, Miss Granger."
To hide her blush, Hermione turned and waved to Aberforth.
"Tell me," said Snape, taking a long drink from his mug, "what have you done to deserve such excellent service? Or is it merely your old service that's earned you Aberforth's best?"
"You mean my standing with Harry?"
Snape snorted. "How modest you are. Without you, I don't believe Potter would have survived the Dark Lord."
Hermione almost smiled at that, but she didn't because it was Snape. He never gives true compliments. Nevertheless, she endeavoured to be polite. "The same could be said of you, sir."
"Severus. You're not my apprentice, Hermione."
"N—no, I'm not," she replied, pleased by Snape's offer of his first name even though his uninvited use of hers didn't necessarily convey his respect. After over a decade, it annoyed her to realise that her inner schoolgirl still craved it. "Does that mean you're not going to tell me about the Milk?"
Snape's lips twitched. "Perhaps not. It wouldn't do to irritate Luna."
"You seem, er, fond of each other," Hermione said, raising her mug.
"No, we're not fucking."
Hermione was so stunned by Snape's frankness that she spilled her drink all over herself. "Damn!"
Snape waved a hand at her and the cider disappeared. "It would be inappropriate, don't you agree?"
"Well, yes," Hermione said, tingling from Snape's drying spell, "but—"
"You don't understand our relationship, and that bothers you. Nosy as always, I see."
Hermione huffed. "It's unusual, sir."
"Severus, Hermione," he replied, gazing at her intently.
"If you think you can intimidate me into dropping the subject, you've got another thing coming."
"If you think that I'm attempting to intimidate you, you've forgotten your school days entirely."
"No, I haven't. 'I see no difference'," Hermione snapped.
"Surely you're not still sensitive about your teeth."
"Then why remark upon my old comment?"
"You were such an arse!"
"I still am one. Perhaps another round," Snape said, snapping his fingers twice, "will put you more in charity with me."
"And to answer the question that you won't ask," he continued, "no."
"No, I'm not going to discuss my relationship with Luna. It may well be unusual, but then, I imagine that's true of all her relationships."
"That actually does qualify as your discussing it."
"I told you, we're not fucking."
"Yes, but," Hermione said, pausing to sip from her glass and spluttering. "This isn't cider!"
"I thought Ogden's Old might be more satisfying under the circumstances."
Snape smirked. "As usual, you're intent upon asking me myriad personal questions but aren't yet pissed enough to do so. I'm just pissed enough not to mind your impertinence, so I thought I'd speed things along."
"You said your relationship with Luna wasn't any of my business."
"It isn't, but I imagine you've other questions of a personal nature to put to me."
"How much have you had to drink tonight?"
"Enough to find the prospect of your questions amusing."
"Goodnight, Master Snape. I'll leave you to find other company." Hermione drew herself up. "I'm no man's 'amusement'."
"So Luna's said." Snape leaned back in his chair and raked his gaze over her. "Pity—your entire body's a question waiting to be answered."
Hermione gasped. "Now you listen to me, you drunken, arrogant, bas—"
Suddenly unable to speak, she clenched her throat and saw that Snape had drawn his wand on her. Incensed, she drew hers with an unsteady flourish.
Hermione started as two fresh mugs hit the table.
Appearing by her elbow, Aberforth ordered, "Give her back her speech and hand those wands here, both of you."
"Don't be stupid, Aberforth."
Hermione stamped her foot.
"Snape, either you surrender it, or I'll have the Aurors come take it from you. No wizard raises his wand to a witch in my pub."
"I was just trying to prevent a scene."
"I know what you were 'just', man, and you're going about it in entirely the wrong way. Give it here." Aberforth held out a hand.
Snape scowled at him.
Hermione picked up the mugs and tossed their contents all over Snape—who immediately Transfigured into a sleek black goat.
Maaa! Snape-goat bleated with obvious indignation, as his wand rolled under the table.
Hermione was so horrified that her wand slipped from her fingers. Catching it, Aberforth Summoned Snape's and pointed it at her.
"How dare you try to—"
"My pub, my rules," Aberforth interrupted, before turning to eye what was left of the crowd. "What are you lot staring at? It's almost time. Pay up and get out!"
At once, Aberforth's other patrons began filtering out the door.
"You can't go around Transfiguring people against their wills!"
"He's going to kill you for this, you know."
"Him?" Aberforth asked. "His tab's too large for that. Obvious motive. Besides, he hates the Aurors enough to sleep it off in the pen every now and again. It's character building, sleeping in shit."
"I think Master Snape's slept in enough shit for one lifetime, don't you? Now fix him!"
Aberforth chuckled and swished a wand at the doors.
The bolt's fall echoed loudly as he said, "There isn't magic enough in the world to fix—"
"You Transfigure Snape back this instant, or I'll call for the Aurors, myself!"
"And tell them what? That you and your boyfriend were having a drunken row? That would stand you in good stead with your future department."
"Aberforth!" Hermione exclaimed, as he tucked her and Snape's wands away.
"Shout all you like, makes no matter to me," he said, Summoning a rag and beginning to wipe down the tables, "and the 'master' there will just have to sleep it off. That wasn't a spell I used but a potion—one of his, in fact."
Hermione turned to Snape-goat. "You sold him a Transfigurational potion?"
"He doesn't actually understand you, you know. He's a goat, not an Animagus."
"This is wrong. I'm not letting you put him in the pen with the real goats."
"Suit yourself. Take him up to Room Thirteen. He's familiar enough with it."
"How familiar?" Hermione asked, before she could stop herself.
"He's not my boyfriend!"
"Up the stairs and two doors down on the right," Aberforth replied, still chuckling.
"Give me my wand back."
"Don't fancy being hexed, so no."
Hermione huffed. "Please. What if he . . . messes himself?"
"Room Thirteen's charmed to Vanish all manner of—"
"Don't finish that!" Hermione insisted. "I don't want to know." She grabbed Snape-goat by a horn and dragged him towards the back staircase. Looking over her shoulder, she told Aberforth, "You are nothing like your brother."
"Nicest thing anyone's said to me all day."
Muttering obscenities under her breath, Hermione dragged the bleating Snape-goat to Room Thirteen.
How did I get myself into this situation? she wondered, throwing herself down on the bed.
"No, I'm not sharing with you. This is all your fault! And if anyone finds out about it, the only 'questions' you'll be answering will be academic ones!"
Snape-goat cocked his head at her.
"Ha!" Hermione exclaimed, kneeling up. "You do understand!"
Snape-goat flicked his tail as if in dismissal of her and sat down, neatly tucking up his hooves.
"Fine, be that way. I don't care."
Except that she did. Snape had mellowed since his vindication and "extended holiday," as the press had called it, during which he'd disappeared for well over a year, but Hermione didn't think that he'd changed so much that he'd appreciate being Transfigured into a goat. She didn't believe Aberforth's assertion that Snape had been a goat before, and she was worried about how Snape might react to what was, essentially, a dreadful prank once the potion wore off.
"It wasn't my fault. Remember that," she said, flipping over onto her back. "And remember that I didn't let him take you to the pen in spite of the fact that you cursed me quiet."
"Oh, shut up. I can say whatever I damn well please."
"Stop laughing at me!" Hermione demanded, sitting up to glare at Snape-goat, whom she found staring at her. "Right then, I'll bet you can understand me, so let's see. Since I can't ask you anything, let me just tell you that it wasn't right, you're attacking us in school. You didn't have to be so bloody awful. You enjoyed it, I know you did."
"You don't even bother to deny it!" Hermione crossed her arms. "Luna adores you, and Harry thinks the sun shines out of your arse, but I know that you're just as bitter and broken as ever you were. No girlfriend in, what now, well over twenty years? And you drink like a fish, which is always a sign of a well-balanced individual, and . . . and I can't believe you hexed me after everything that happened to you!"
Ma! Snape-goat replied, beginning to nibble at the coverlet.
Hermione sighed. "I . . . I don't know what's come over me."
"Sod this! I'm leaving. You don't deserve my company." Hermione rose and went to the door; the handle didn't move. "Aberforth! Unlock this door at once! Aberforth?"
Maaa, maaa, maaa!
"Oh!" Hermione exclaimed, spinning on Snape-goat and Summoning a pillow from the bed. "This is all your fault! I could beat you, you horrid—"
"Ew," said Hermione, dropping the pillow and glaring at the slick puddle of sick before Snape-goat. "So much for the coverlet. Perhaps you are just a goat." She moved to the window and found it Stuck, as well.
"Lovely, I'm locked in a room with one of my least favourite people, and now he has indigestion." Sitting on the edge of the bed and glaring at Snape-goat, Hermione continued, "I wanted to like you, you know, when I was a student? The first day of Potions when you launched into your speech, I thought you were the very picture of a working wizard, someone who knew things, someone who could actually teach, but you were deliberately mean—and your educational methods were awful."
"Yes, they were! You wouldn't answer any of my questions. You never saw me during your office hours. You told us to do things or not to do them but never why. And I know you'll say it was part of the 'act' you had to assume, but I think we both know that you enjoyed torturing Harry. You're definitely not burdened with the milk of human kindness."
Snape-goat merely stared at her.
"Stupid goat. Luna says your methods have improved, but I don't believe her. She's smart, so perhaps you are decent to her, but I imagine you're not as patient with the apprentices with whom you don't have a 'relationship'."
Maaa, maaa, ma! Maaa, maaa, mmmaa, maaaa!
"Yes, I know you said you aren't shagging her, but I bet you were. That's not a surprise. Luna's 'mind' is too open for her own good."
With a vicious flick of his tail, Snape-goat turned his back on her.
"Oh, that offends you, does it? I wasn't being mean about Luna. I love Luna. She's one of my best friends, but her taste in wizards is at least as bad as mine."
Hermione thrust her hands into her hair and pulled, trying to distract herself from the chaotic rush of her thoughts; it didn't help.
"It wasn't just school. After the war, you made Harry beg before you agreed to talk to him—and all that rubbish you said about Professor McGonagall wasn't fair, either. What was she supposed to have done? Let the Slytherins stay to fight against us?"
Abruptly, Hermione stopped speaking as she realised that she was breathing hard . . . and perspiring rather a lot.
Damn it! Why am I taking on like this? All that was years ago. "I . . . I think I did drink too much cider, and the Ogden's Old certainly didn't help mat—"
A wave of nausea overtook her then, and mortified, she sicked up in precisely the same spot as Snape-goat had.
"Oh, God," Hermione said, groaning and shakily wiping her mouth on her sleeve as her sick was absorbed into the floor.
"No, don't you dare be nice to me," Hermione said hoarsely, shoving Snape-goat away.
He butted her in the knees with his head. Maaa!
"Ow! Stop that."
Snape-goat rested his head on her knees. Ma, maaa, maa!
"Oh, fine." Hermione patted his head but scooted over, still feeling oddly compelled to rail at him. "And then you had the nerve to come back and take up as if nothing had happened, to take apprentices, even—and you said no to me! Why? I'm as smart as Luna. I love potions. House elf rights are important, and working for Creatures has been good, but . . . but when you said no to me, no one else would have me." Hermione sniffed and wiped her nose, ignoring how her eyes burned. "Why? What's wrong with me? Why don't you approve of me? Why . . . why couldn't you have at least told me what the sodding Milk of Human Kindness is?"
Snape-goat nibbled at her skirt.
"No you don't!" Hermione exclaimed, jumping to her feet and rushing to the door. She pulled on its handle with one hand and beat it with her other one. "Aberforth! Aberforth Dumbledore, you useless piece of shit! Let. Me. Out. Of. Here!"
"Yes, I know. He's not going to."
Hermione rested her forehead against the door, taking some slight reassurance, under the absolutely mad circumstances, from its coolness. Her heart was hammering, she was furious, and, she realised, so very sad.
"Why am I sad?" she murmured. "Why do I care what you think of me?"
Snape-goat bumped her in the back of one knee, and Hermione stumbled, turned, and slid to the floor. Tears running down her face, she thought, I've been drugged. "I must have been," she said, as Snape-goat sat down next to her and placed his head in her lap.
"Drugged," said Hermione, "at least, I think I have been. I'm never so . . . so . . . ."
Maa, Ma, Maaa?
"Shut up," said Hermione, patting Snape-goat's head.
She didn't say anything more until her heart rate had fallen.
"Well, that was embarrassing. Perhaps not as much as being Transfigured into a goat—"
"—but it's up there on my List of Horrible Things."
Snape-goat made no sound but pushed his head more deeply into her lap.
The compulsion to unburden herself still strong, Hermione said, "I hadn't realised I needed your approval so badly. I can't think why I do. You're horrible. I don't care what brave things you did. They don't change the fact," she said, continuing to stroke Snape-goat's head, "that you're a perfectly dreadful man. I don't know what Luna sees in you. . . . Well?" she demanded, raising Snape-goat's head and giving his beard a tug.
Maa, maaa, maaa, ma, maaa!
"Oh, right. Your relationship is none of my business. Shove off. My bum hurts." Hermione rose and lay down on the bed. "Everything hurts, sometimes. . . . Sometimes, I think I work so much because . . . ."
Hermione stopped speaking and forced herself to do nothing but breathe. Drugs or no, she didn't want to follow her train of thought.
Eventually, however, the urge to speak became too strong. "Do you know that Luna accused me of not having any hobbies?"
"Well, no, I don't, but that's not the point. There's a lot of effort involved in shepherding unpopular legislation through Wizarding Parliament, and it's not as though I'm a hermit. I read everything and follow the Wireless and memorise all the issues being debated by the MWPs," Hermione stopped to draw breath, "and do a thousand other things to know everything I can about everyone I need to help me help others. I go to dinners and parties and openings and . . . and never with anyone I want to shag, or even talk to, or even like. Damn, Luna's right. I do work too much." She turned to look at Snape-goat, who was standing by the bed watching her intently. "Have I wasted the last ten years of my life?"
"Maacoverrry iss difficuuult."
"Shit!" Hermione threw herself up and backwards off the bed. "You were listening to me!"
Pop! Pop! Creak! Skritch! Pop!
"Fuck!" Snape shouted, as his body shifted from sleek black goat into something resembling a robed satyr. Pushing himself up from the floor and onto his hooves, he clenched his fists and shook, breathing heavily, until the partial Transfiguration of his body ceased. "I hate that part."
Hermione's eyes widened as she pressed her back to the door. "You mean to say that you have done this before? Willingly?"
Snape shook his head. "Not at first, but eventually, I came to appreciate spending time in caprine form."
"Withdrawal is easier to bear, for one thing."
"You were . . . ?"
"An addict, hence my oft remarked upon 'holiday'."
"'R—recovery is difficult'?"
"You're not looking well," Snape said. "Perhaps—"
"And you look like Pan—after something tried to eat him and spat him out!"
"I wasn't insulting you," said Snape, sitting carefully down on the edge of the bed. "I was merely about to suggest that you sit down before you fall down."
"Oh." Hermione moved to the corner of the bed farthest from him and sat. "You heard everything."
There was nothing of malice in Snape's expression; for that, at least, Hermione was grateful. "Was I drugged?"
"Perhaps. You do seem to have felt compelled to speak of things you otherwise wouldn't have, but it wasn't anything to do with Aberforth. He only interferes with his badly behaved customers."
"A case could be made that I was being one, I suppose."
"Only by a masochist," Snape retorted. "In any case, I shouldn't have hexed you, but that photographer of Skeeter's was present, and—"
Hermione clapped a hand over her mouth.
"—I didn't think you'd want him to hear our 'discussion'."
"Oh, no! He must have heard everything!"
"If so, he's already told Skeeter, so there's no point in worrying about it."
"How can I not?"
"And you're bored by my petty concerns," Hermione snapped.
"I'm not, and I wouldn't say they were petty. Do you truly believe that you've wasted the last decade of your life? And what exactly was it you were about to tell me before you began ranting about hobbies?"
Hermione crossed her arms. "That's no concern of yours."
"Isn't it? You brought it up."
"You were a goat!"
"And now I'm a 'Pan'." Snape smirked. "Does that make you a nymph in this scenario?"
"Stop flirting with me."
"Ah, so you can recognise flirting. Excellent." Snape stood up.
Hermione dropped her gaze down his body and swallowed to see the rise of his robes; overwhelmed, she moved to the door and began pounding upon it. "Aberforth! Let me—"
Spun about by the shoulders, she found herself pinned to the door.
"Hermione, you know what you're doing, don't you?"
"Yes," she said, sucking in her stomach away from him. "I'm trying to get out of here."
"No," Snape murmured. "You're wasting the beneficial effects of a compulsion draught. Finish what you were saying. Why have you been working like a fiend?"
"Because there's been a lot to do before I transfer—"
"So much to do that you missed Lily Luna's homecoming?"
"What? I did not. Harry and Ginny aren't bringing her home until Thursday next."
"Thursday last," Snape said.
"I . . . oh. Damn it! I don't want to discuss this with you! Let me go."
Snape shook his head.
Hermione brought her foot down on what should have been his instep. "Ow!"
"Hoof," he replied. "Answer my question."
"No." Hermione drew in a breath as Snape caressed the side of her face. "The . . . the potion's wearing off."
"I don't need the potion to achieve your answer."
Hermione squeezed her eyes shut.
"Nor Legilimency, either."
"Then how will you make me tell you anything?"
"By asking another question."
"I won't answer any of your questions, Snape."
"May I ask one, anyway?"
Hermione swallowed against the gentleness in his tone. "Suit yourself."
"How are your parents?"
The sudden, nasty hiss of Snape's words seemed to strike at Hermione's very core, forcing every last shred of anger, humiliation, and sadness through her fingertips as she shoved him. "FUCK YOU!"
Hearing Snape hit the far wall, Hermione's eyes flew open; she was by his side in an instant. "Oh, God! Oh, no! Did I hurt you?"
"Nice bit of . . . wandless magic, that. Glad you don't . . . go in for the . . . Unforgivables."
Narrowing her eyes, Hermione picked herself up and flung herself across the bed. "I hate you."
"No," Snape whispered, almost too quietly for her to hear, "I don't believe that you do."
The unwelcome desire to speak truth seemed to have lessened, but still Hermione had to fight with herself not to tell Snape that she wanted to hate him. That battle won, she lay on the bed, breathing heavily and trying not to think about how much she didn't hate him—or the fact that it wasn't exactly his approval that she craved.
"I hate Aberforth, too."
The sound of hooves scraping wood made her stiffen, but she relaxed somewhat as she heard Snape move away from the bed. Another sound followed it, that of wood moving over wood, and then Hermione heard the creak of Snape settling himself in the room's only chair.
"It wasn't Aberforth who drugged you."
Hermione sat up and turned on Snape so suddenly that dizziness made her fall back. "Oh!" she exclaimed, pushing herself up to glare at him. "You?"
Snape shook his head. "It was Luna, had to be."
"What? No, she would never—"
"Do something unusual if she thought it would help a friend?" Snape interrupted.
Hermione opened her mouth to protest, thought of what she knew of Luna, and closed it again.
"I doubt it was a compulsion potion, come to think of it," Snape continued. "It was more likely some manner of wandless spell." He snorted. "She's adept at those."
"What are you saying?"
"That this is, and I should have recognised it before, an intervention of sorts—for both of us."
"You're the one who raised his wand to a witch," Hermione retorted.
"Yes, and you're the one who has obviously needed to . . . unburden herself for some time, particularly with regard to me, it seems—but it's not all about me, is it, Hermione?"
She bit her lip.
"Hermione?" Snape pressed.
"I don't want to discuss it."
Slowly, Snape rose and moved to the bed. "I'm going to sit next to you."
Hermione looked away and felt the mattress dip as Snape joined her.
"Fuck," he muttered, shaking his legs.
Glancing down at them, Hermione saw the ripple of muscle under wool. "Everything's back to normal, then?"
Snape snorted. "After a fashion."
Scooting over, Hermione sighed. "I don't want to talk anymore."
"Then I will," said Snape. "I imagine you have some idea of how difficult I might have found . . . not dying."
Hermione didn't reply.
"Without burdening you with the details, I shall simply say that I'd been making use of Firebright in order to cope for some time. I thought I could manage it. I'm a Potions master, after all, but there's no fool like an addict, is there?"
"I wouldn't know," Hermione whispered.
"Glad to hear it," Snape replied, lying down on his back and resting his head on his hands. "It was Aberforth who got me off the shite. Luna helped. Shacklebolt, as well."
"You know he was my 'safety net'?"
"Of course I do," Hermione replied, turning to look at Snape. "Dumbledore left him that letter and proof of your innocence, well . . . ."
"Proof of my work for the Order, let us say."
"Aberforth and Shacklebolt had been working to root out the worst of the illegal potions trade, and—"
"Aberforth's the centre of the illegal potions trade," Hermione interrupted, scooting up to the headboard and leaning against it.
"The better to keep tabs on it. That's why I've been supplying him with various unsavoury potions for years. But when it became clear I'd fallen prey to my own handiwork and was becoming a danger to others, my . . . friends took it upon themselves to help me. I didn't appreciate it. I wasn't grateful, at least, not at first, but then the offer from the Potioneers came, and Luna . . . ."
"Became your lover?"
"Yes, until she decided that she wanted my knowledge more than my body."
Hermione frowned at the slight bitterness that tinged his tone. "And that ended things between you?"
"Of course it did." Snape slowly turned the full weight of his gaze upon her. "I don't fuck my apprentices."
Unable to look away, Hermione whispered, "Oh."
"'Oh'," said Snape, dragging himself up the bed towards her.
"Why," Hermione said, breathing shallowly, "didn't you just say as much to me?"
"Among other reasons," Snape murmured against her lips, "I wasn't ready to say it any more than you were ready to hear it."
Hermione wrinkled her nose and moved her head back. "I . . . I'm sorry."
Hermione looked pointedly at his mouth.
"Ah," said Snape. "Goat breath?"
Unable to help herself, Hermione laughed. "No worse than my own, I suspect, but—"
"Right you are, Cider Head," Snape replied, sweeping his tongue over his teeth under his lips and smacking them. "That is nasty."
"'Cider Head'?" asked Hermione, drawing her knees to her chest and hugging them. "I thought we'd established that Luna spelled me?"
Snape sat up and leaned against the headboard, as well. "How we ended up here doesn't matter now."
"What does then?"
Hermione's mouth went dry. "What do you mean?"
"I mean that you stole your parents' memories, and you haven't been able to forgive yourself since."
Hermione drew in an angry breath but let it go almost at once when she realised that there was no judgment in Snape's tone. "They haven't forgiven me. I see them, sometimes, but it's . . . not the same."
Snape reached out a hand towards her.
Hermione took it. "I didn't know what else to do, Snape."
"S—Severus. . . . I was terrified. I . . . I didn't want them to die."
Severus squeezed her hand, and throwing herself against his chest, Hermione began to sob.
Stroking her hair, Severus said, "Luna told me that there were others who did."
Hermione cried harder and clung to him. "She shouldn't . . . have told . . . you . . . that. . . . That was . . . private."
"Were you close to your aunt and uncle?" Severus pressed.
"N—no, but . . . but my cousin . . . she—"
"Didn't die, did she? Luna only mentioned—"
"No." Shaking, Hermione sat up and scrubbed at her eyes. "Lydia's fine. She's with . . . my parents, now, but . . . but after it happened," Hermione said, taking a deep breath and releasing it slowly, "after the accident," she continued, in a whisper, "when I called Mum . . . ."
"I said I wanted to see them, to be there for Lydia, and Mum, she said . . . ." Hermione bit her lip and reached for Severus' hand.
"She said, 'Oh, no, dear. Lydia needs f—family now'."
"Fuck," muttered Severus, pulling Hermione against him.
She pressed her face into his neck and allowed him to rock her. "I'm not family anymore. I'm not . . . I'm nothing to them. I'm . . . nothing."
"That is a lie," Severus replied sharply. "Do not repeat it." He drew her down next to him, turning her into a spooning position and wrapping his arms tightly around her.
"It's n—not a lie. I did it. I did steal their—"
"You made a mistake," Severus said. "And perhaps one that will never be forgiven, but you are far from nothing, Hermione."
She pushed against his arms so that she could turn to look at him. "Why should you care what I think of myself?"
"Because I do."
Hermione sniffed. "Because of Luna?"
Severus rolled over onto his back and stared at the ceiling.
"Because of Luna," Hermione said sadly.
"No," Severus replied, "because you argue with me every time we meet. Because you beat me at chess at Potter's last Christmas party. Because you send 'corrections' to my every published article without fail. Because you insisted people keep looking for me until I was found. Because . . . because I've wanted to fuck you since you were . . . entirely too young."
"I am never going to answer that question."
Severus covered his face with his hands. "Suffice it to say I'm a pervert and leave it at that. You don't want to know."
Hermione pried Severus' hands from his face. "How young?"
He closed his eyes and murmured something unintelligible.
Absurdly, Hermione found herself smiling. "Really? Since I was thirteen?"
His eyes snapping open, Severus declared, "I said, sixteen."
"Damn it," Severus muttered.
"Well," Hermione said, "that explains everything: you're a boob man."
"So why shag Luna?"
Hermione stifled a laugh. "I'm . . . sorry. Luna's perfect, of course she is. But truly? Since I was sixteen?"
"That is when they . . . ." Severus dropped his gaze to Hermione's breasts and raised one hand in a cupping gesture.
"Nice," said Hermione wryly, shifting a bit closer to him. "I'm exhausted."
"Obviously, so am I. I'm not usually so easily tricked."
"I didn't trick you, Severus. You wanted to tell me, so you did. I wish you'd told me when I asked to apprentice myself to you."
"No you don't. At the time, you and Weasley were still . . . ." Severus made another, two-handed gesture.
Hermione snorted. "Shagging, yes, so we were."
"And I was in no fit condition to deal with a . . . traditional relationship. Perhaps I'm still not."
Hermione bit her lip.
Severus raised an eyebrow.
"Well, it's true you haven't said anything of a traditional nature to make me want to see your penis."
Severus narrowed his eyes.
Hermione sighed. "Referencing things Luna says isn't the same thing as discussing your relationship with her."
"I know that."
"Then why are you annoyed, Severus?"
"I've been told that my 'Pan' form is . . . impressive."
"Don't pout. You're 'form' is plenty impressive, I admit it."
"And yet you don't want to see it."
"You're fishing for unnecessary compliments. You must be tired."
His lips twitching, Severus sat up. "This is all . . . surprisingly not awkward. It should be, shouldn't it?"
"Given my meltdown?" asked Hermione. "Yes, I rather imagine it should, but you're right. It isn't. Someone should have thought to lock us up together long before now."
"Hermione, I had nothing to do with—"
"I believe you. In fact, I think it's safe to assume that Luna's behind all this. She talked to you about an intervention for me, didn't she? After I missed Lily Luna's coming home? Oh, God. She talked to all of you."
"Lovely. Everyone thinks I'm weak."
Severus took her hands. "No, your friends care for you. They know you're not weak. Irritating, stubborn, bossy, completely at a loss to understand basic Arithmancy when applied to the third use of dragon's—"
"I was not wrong about your maths in that last article!"
"—blood," Severus continued, "but not weak."
"Thank you," said Hermione. "Thank you for everything. I haven't . . . I told Luna about Lydia, but I never . . . cried. I suppose I needed to."
"What you need is a proper holiday. Potter tells me you've never taken one, you idiot."
"Oh, ta very much."
"I mean it. You should take one before you fall out. Recovery is difficult and takes time. I should know."
"You're not just talking about the Firebright, I imagine."
"Of course I'm not, but—"
"Don't worry," Hermione interrupted, stretching and standing up. "I think there's been enough 'sharing' for one evening."
"It's morning now," Severus replied, "and I'm starving."
Hermione smiled. "Plenty of coverlet left—or I suppose you could make a meal out of the Milk of Human Kindness."
Severus smirked but quickly looked down at the hole he'd chewed in the coverlet. "Figured that out at last, did you?"
"I did. Potions masters are perverts, aren't they? What other euphemisms for female arousal do you know?"
"If I tell you, this might end in fucking, and that would be bad because I'm too tired to fuck you properly."
Hermione ran her fingers along the desk and looked out the window. "Do you think that Luna would count our, er, discussion as a speed date? We did have drinks."
Severus snorted. "She suggested I try it, as well. I told her to get stuffed."
"And she reminded you that you didn't fuck your apprentices?" Hermione asked, bending down to look into the hearth.
"No. She reminded me that you weren't one of my apprentices. She then insisted I go down the pub, this pub, and last night, precisely. I am going to make her lick the cauldrons clean. . . . What are you doing?"
"Seeing if the flue will open. This chimney's huge. We could climb out of it and then go in search of brekkers."
"Or," said Severus, "we could simply walk out the door."
"That's Luna. Plans . . . everything," Hermione replied, through a yawn. "On second thought, close it, will you?"
"You want to stay here?"
Rising and brushing the soot from her hands, Hermione said, "I think I'm too tired to eat, so if you don't mind . . . ?"
"Ah. Close it on my way out. Of course."
"Don't be stupid, Severus. Close it so that we can go to bed."
He blinked at her. "That does make me want to see your—"
Hermione cleared her throat. "To sleep. Although, I do sleep in the nude. You?"
Severus closed the door. "This is a backarsewards first date."
"It's better than being stabbed with a fork."
"Most things are," Severus replied, furrowing his brow.
"I'll explain later," Hermione told him. "Now, we sleep." She began pulling off her clothes.
"I . . . I've never . . . ."
"You've never actually slept with anyone before?" Hermione asked, turning to see Severus blush.
Favouring him with a sleepy grin, Hermione stripped off and, feeling only slightly abashed by her boldness, tried not to dive under the bedclothes.
After only the briefest of hesitations, Severus joined her.
Settling into his arms, Hermione murmured, "It is impressive, that horn of yours, but then, I liked your other ones, too."
Hermione smiled. "Oh, and Severus?"
"I was thirteen when I first wanted to shag you."
He stiffened. "Fuck, Hermione. You're not attracted to me because of some sort of father thing, are you?"
"Oh, hell no, you idiot. You're the least paternal man I've ever met."
"I promise you, it's only your caprine attributes that interest me."
"I've only the one 'horn'."
"Stubbornness is also a goat-like attribute."
"Do you always talk this much when you're knackered? Because if you've enough energy for conversation," Severus told her, rubbing his prick against her bum, "then perhaps—"
"No. Sleep now, shag later—after we clean ourselves up."
"Goodnight, Goat Breath," Hermione replied.
"Good morning, Cider Head."
Laughing, Hermione relaxed against Severus and thought, Thank you, Luna.