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For Goodness Snake

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Prologue: De-Slythering

Excerpt from the Minutes of the Hogwarts Board of Governors meeting, 5 August 2002

“...In the interests of inter-House amity in the long term, and to aid in the re-integration of Slytherin House into the Hogwarts family in the short term, the following changes shall be implemented in the Hogwarts House system, commencing immediately:

First, when a Head of House retires, the new Head appointed shall be a Professor who comes from a different House. The Board reserves the right to appoint a Head, in the event it deems it appropriate or desirable.

Second, all Heads will rotate on a regular basis, moving to a different House every five years. (This means that eventually a Head will once again come from the same House that they are leading, but as this situation will last no more than five years rather than indefinitely, it is acceptable.)

These changes will serve to broaden the experience and influence that students receive, and to give all Heads a closer working experience with different types of students...”

Recommendations passed 11-1. For Lucius Malfoy’s dissent, see pp. 47-50.

1: Slythering In

“No.”

“Severus—”

“No.”

“Severus, please. Don’t be difficult.”

No. I will not have it.”

Minerva McGonagall sighed. She had been fully behind the decision to reinstate Severus Snape as headmaster of Hogwarts following his lengthy recovery from Nagini’s attack (indeed, she had been delighted to return to her cubs in Gryffindor, her lectures in Transfiguration, and her considerably lightened stress level), but really the man could be impossible. “Headmaster,” she said crisply, addressing him formally to remind him that he no longer had the freedom to indulge his personal likes and dislikes. “The Board of Governors has not asked our opinion of their decision. They have simply informed us of it.”

“They must be raving, all of them,” he said, pinching the bridge of his nose in a vain effort to stave off a headache. “Hermione Granger as Professor of Muggle Studies I can accept – barely, as it does strike me that hiring a child to teach other children is a bit like the blind leading the blind. But this other? No.”

Minerva eyed him severely over her spectacles. “She is not a child. May I remind you that you were only twenty-one when you were hired as Potions Master? Miss Granger is two years past that age, and a well-respected scholar in her field.”

“Fine,” he said, waving away her unfair deploymet of facts. “Fine. She’s capable and not an infant. I bow to your logic. But Granger as Head of Slytherin House? It’s preposterous!”

“Professor Slughorn’s retirement leaves the post open. The new Potions Master has stated in no uncertain terms that she has no interest in serving as head of any house. And the Board of Governors has requested Miss Granger’s appointment to the post.” Minerva ticked off each point on her fingers.

“Oh yes, and why?” Severus picked up a parchment that bore the seal of the Board of Governors. “‘In the interests of inter-House amity, and to aid in the improved re-integration of Slytherin House into the Hogwarts family,’” he quoted, his voice bitter. “As if Slytherins need a child-minder to make sure they behave.” He rose from his chair and began to pace in irritation.

“It’s not as if she hasn’t displayed quite a few Slytherin qualities over the years,” Minerva pointed out. “Cunning, leadership, resourcefulness, not to mention a willingness to do whatever it takes to achieve her goals.”

“Nonsense. She’s a Gryffindor through and through.”

“Oh, really? Breaking into forbidden areas of the school, including the third floor corridor and the Restricted Section of the library. Stealing from your potions stores to illegally brew Polyjuice Potion. Kidnapping and blackmail of Rita Skeeter.”

“Yes, but—”

“Tricking Dolores Umbridge into the Forbidden Forest and nearly getting the woman killed,” Minerva went on relentlessly. “Posing as Bellatrix LeStrange in order to burgle her vault at Gringott’s – which, may I remind you, involved use of the Imperius curse and resulted in the death of at least one goblin and the release of a violent magical creature into the wild.” She took a sip of her tea. “If the informal motto of Slytherin is ‘The ends justifies the means,’ I think Miss Granger has it in spades.”

“Oh, very well, point taken.” Severus dropped into his chair, black robes swirling around him like ill temper made visible. “But I still don’t like it.”

Minerva shrugged, half amused and half irritated at his efforts to fight the inevitable. “I don’t see that we have a choice. I shall write to Miss Granger today.”

***

Hermione’s acknowledgement arrived by return owl, and for the next ten days Severus endeavoured to push all thought of her out of his mind. Time stubbornly insisted on passing as usual, however, and eventually the day came when it – or rather she – would have to be faced.

At the sound of her knock, Severus gestured with his wand and the heavy door to the Headmaster’s office swung open. “Do come in, Miss Granger,” he said, without looking up from the parchment he was perusing. “Have a seat.”

He heard the soft swish of robes, and then a firm voice said,“Professor Granger.”

“I beg your pardon?” He looked up to see not the nervous bushy-haired child he had expected, but a tall, slender young witch with a capable look and calm brown eyes. Her brown hair was tamed into a thick plait down her back, and glowed with bronze highlights where the sun struck it. She sat, quietly watching him, as different from the anxious hand-waving know-it-all he remembered as chalk from cheese.

“It’s Professor Granger,” she repeated, quietly but without hesitation. “I’m not a student any more. I expect to be treated with the respect due a colleague and,” her lips crooked in a half-smile, “a Head of House.”

He laid down the parchment. “Professor Granger, of course.” He paused, sensing that with that word the terms of their relationship had altered in some indefinable manner. The contrast between his outdated mental image of her and the vital reality of her presence was... disconcerting.

“Thank you.” Her eyes fell to his throat and he put a hand up self-consciously; the scars had healed to a network of fine white lines, but were still visible. “Why didn’t you have those Healed properly, so they didn’t scar?” she asked abruptly.

“I like to remind myself on a regular basis of the dangers of stupidity,” he said. “Each time I look in the mirror, I see my own folly.”

“But you weren’t foolish,” she said, her eyes widening in surprise.

“It is always foolish to close one’s eyes to... an altered situation,” he said. “I should have seen that my position with the Dark Lord was no longer safe.” He shrugged. “But perhaps it all worked out for the best – I doubt that Potter would have accepted my memories under any other conditions.”

Unexpectedly, she laughed. “Well, yes, you could be right. We didn’t exactly have a lot of reasons to trust you at that point.”

Her words gave him a pang as he remembered some of the things he had had to do, or stand by and see done, to maintain his pose as a Death Eater. No reason to trust him? But that was neither here nor there now. “Let us not delve too deeply into the past, Professor Granger,” he said. “The present is burdensome enough. I am... pleased that you will be joining us as Professor of Muggle Studies, but I wish to make it clear that I do not agree with the Board’s new policies regarding the Heads of Houses.”

She raised her eyebrows. “Oh?”

“No.” He rested his elbows on the desk and steepled his fingers, pondering how best to convince her. The Board might have appointed her, but she could still decline to serve. “Naming someone from another House as Head is a mistake,” he said. “Particularly in the case of Slytherin. And particularly you.”

She raised her chin challengingly. “Is that so? And why, may I ask?”

“Consider it from their point of view,” he said. “Appointing a Head from not just any other House but from Gryffindor, and not just any Gryffindor but a famous Muggle-born war hero Gryffindor, who fought members of their own family in some cases – it can only make things worse, not better. The students will see it as an insult, as a sign that they are deemed in need of watching, and are neither liked nor trusted.”

She crossed her arms, her eyes narrowing. “They might see it that way,” she acknowledged. “They certainly will if you do. But if you treat it as a matter of course, or even as a positive change... and if you treat me no differently than any other member of staff... then they will not. It’s been more than four years, after all.”

He reminded himself that she was no longer a student and he could not take points from her for cheek. Besides, if he did it now, he’d be taking them from Slytherin. Instead, he went on the attack. “Are you placing the responsibility for your success on my shoulders?” he said coldly. “Perhaps we should reconsider our offer.”

She flushed. “Of course not. I’m simply pointing out that you have the power to make my job easier or harder. Personally, I think these changes will benefit everyone. The Sorting Hat already puts like-minded students together. Reinforcing that with a Head who came up from the same House results in an unhealthy uniformity of outlook. To focus on one or two aspects of a child’s character to the exclusion of all others – especially an aspect that’s already strong – does them a disservice.”

“Slytherins by their nature need particular care and attention,” he said, his temper beginning to rise.

“Yes, ambition can so easily lead one astray,” she said sweetly.

“That care and attention,” he went on through gritted teeth, ignoring her barbed comment, “comes best from someone who understands them best – that is, one of their own.”

“I didn’t notice Professor Slughorn doing such a sterling job,” she retorted. “Wasn’t he head of Slytherin when Tom Riddle was here? And we all know how that turned out!”

“You wouldn’t know what do with a Slytherin if you were handed one on a platter,” he snapped, out of patience. “Gryffindors never do. Subtlety isn’t in your nature.”

She rose, clearly holding her temper with an effort. “The students will be arriving tomorrow, so unless you intend to fire me, sir...?”

He took a deep breath, wondering how she had managed to wrong-foot him so quickly. Something about her put him distinctly off his game. “No, of course not.” He could hardly fire her when she had done nothing yet.

“In that case, I will prepare to greet my Slytherins.” She swept out.

As she did so, Severus could not help noticing the curves that her teaching robes failed to entirely hide. With an oath, he wandlessly slammed the door behind her.

***

Hermione stalked down the corridor, fuming. She had hoped for... well, what, exactly?

All during her journey from London, she had felt an odd excitement at the thought of seeing Severus Snape again. He had been a central part of her life for so long, in so many different roles. As her teacher he had never missed the opportunity to point out a fault or flaw in her efforts; in response to his constant challenge she had worked harder in his class than in any other, and had valued his rare praise correspondingly higher. As a member of the Order of the Phoenix she had trusted him, then had that trust shattered with Dumbledore’s murder. She had seen him driven out of Hogwarts and the very position he now held, and her last sight of him had been that terrible night in the Shrieking Shack when he had so nearly died. Since then the full story of his long and difficult part in Voldemort’s defeat had become a matter of public knowledge, but she had not seen him, apart from a blurry photograph in The Prophet in the summer of 1998 when he had been awarded the Order of Merlin, but had not shown up to accept it. What would it be like to meet him now, as a colleague and an equal?

When at last she had entered his office and sat down across from him, she had experienced a curious sort of layering in her vision, as though she were seeing a multiplicity of Snapes, not just one: antagonistic teacher, uncertain ally, bitter foe, hero. Then the memories had washed away, and she had seen him as simply as a man. His face was no longer intimidating, but interesting – more lined, but also less strained. He sat straighter, more relaxed, his shoulders no longer bent under ceaseless tension. When he spoke, his voice was as compelling as ever, but slightly rougher: it had made her think of black velvet rather than black silk. In that brief moment, something had stirred in her that she had never felt before, a part of herself that the boys she had known (and Ron, no matter how sweet, was a boy, not a man) had never awakened.

And then he had become just as nasty as ever.

Irritably, she gave herself a mental shake. She would not let her personal feelings interfere with her duties. She had stood up to him as a student, she could certainly do it as part of his staff. If he was determined to continue to challenge her, she was equally determined to show him what she was capable of, even if it took becoming a Slytherin to do it.

 

2: Birth of a Slytherdor

Hermione looked around the rooms allocated to the Head of Slytherin House, just down the hall from the Slytherin Common Room, and sighed. Her personal quarters were upstairs in the staff wing, but all the Heads maintained offices in close proximity to their House dormitories, and these were now hers. Having belonged most recently to Horace Slughorn, lover of ease and comfort, they were richly appointed, the cushions deep and yielding, but all was still darker and less cozy than what she was used to. She could change that, she supposed, as long as she stuck with the colour scheme. She was determined to make it clear that, although a Gryffindor, she took her role seriously, and respected the traditions of the house she would be leading. After all, she’d agreed to take the position not out of a desire to alter the fundamental character of Slytherin House, but because she truly believed in the Board’s goal of better inter-House cooperation and a broader student experience.

She just hoped the students would accept her.

She looked around thoughtfully, then with a wave of her wand altered the poison-green of the rug to a bright grass-green with silver stars, also adding an inch to the pile to make it softer and more pleasant to the feet. The green-and-silver tiles of the hearth she left as they were, apart from darkening the green slightly and mellowing the silver from an icy glitter to a gentle patina. A few other spells to add a soft throw here, a vase of flowers there, some books and a floor lamp or two, and the room was a place in which she would be content and which, she hoped, would appear welcoming to any students wishing to speak to her.

***

Seated for the first time at the Head Table among her fellow professors, two chairs down from Severus, Hermione watched as the First Years straggled anxiously into the Great Hall. She remembered with sympathetic nostalgia her own feelings of anxiety, how she had wondered frantically if she should have read more to prepare.

She only listened with half an ear as the Hat began to sing – after all, the song was generally the same every year – but the last few lines caught her attention and caused something of a stir among both students and staff:

 

...It’s possible your bravery
puts you in Gryffindor,
or that you’ll be a Ravenclaw
if puzzles you adore.
But do recall, no matter what,
there’s some of each in all –
perhaps you’re more a Gryfflepuff
or even Slytherclaw!
Build all your strengths, not only those
your House is meant to show;
try things you never thought you could,
for that is how we grow.
Brave Slytherin or clever ‘Puff,
there’s room for every one.
And now step up and take your seat,
for this year’s song is done!

 

“Well, Severus, it appears that the Sorting Hat at least approves of the Board’s new policy,” Minerva said, taking a sip of wine to hide her smile.

“Hmph,” he sniffed. “It’s very old. No doubt it is starting to come unstitched.”

Hermione stifled a laugh at his sour look, then turned to watch the first years as one by one they began to approach the hat, their faces showing emotions ranging from excitement to trepidation to outright terror. (One very small boy threw up before the Hat even touched his head, necessitating a Calming Draught from Poppy and a few quiet minutes in the corner.)

She watched especially closely, naturally, the ones for which the hat shouted, “Slytherin!” These would be most truly her Slytherins; she would not have to pit herself against memories of Horace Slughorn or, in the case of her Seventh Years, Severus Snape himself. Severus Snape would have been an intimidating act to follow, with his silky voice that could cut like a scalpel and obsidian gaze that could make one feel six inches tall, but she felt she would measure up well against Horace Slughorn. Although an accomplished Potions Master, as Head of House he had been less than diligent, and his desire to “collect” the rich, famous, powerful, or interesting had led him to focus most of his attention on a few students, leaving the others to muddle through as best they could. She was determined to make all her Slytherins feel that she cared about their welfare.

With the Welcome Feast in full swing, even at the Head Table it was far too noisy to do anything other than exchange pleasantries and shout “Pass the wine, would you please?” Nevertheless Hermione felt warmly welcomed (one or two of her colleagues did express their commiseration at her being “stuck with Slytherin,” though not in Severus’ hearing). At last the Prefects gathered their new charges together and shepherded them out (“Watch out for the staircases, they like to change!”), and shortly afterwards the older ones too left the Hall to make their own way to their dormitories. Peace descended on the Hall.

Hermione lingered at table with the other staff, enjoying the sensation of her former teachers talking with her as an equal. She chatted about the newest Transfiguration research with Minerva, and engaged in a spirited debate with Professor Flitwick about whether Accio could be considered a charm, since it added motion and direction to an object. Turning quickly to speak to Aurora, she caught Severus’ eyes on her. Whatever else had changed, those eyes had not: they were the same midnight black, unreadable, offering no hint of his thoughts. Well, at least he didn’t look disapproving.

***

Two weeks into the term, Hermione was well pleased with how things were going. The morning after the Sorting, she had been in the dungeons by six o’clock so as to have a chance to greet her students as they left the dormitories for the first day of term. Some of them, particularly the older ones, hung back and viewed her suspiciously, but the younger ones were all excitement and energy, bouncing like puppies and talking non-stop. She made a point to look for the boy who had been sick the night before – Mr Lovell, she recalled – and the shy smile he gave her as she spoke to him by name told her that he’d be all right.

As she listened to their chatter and began to learn all their names (offering mental thanks to Minerva for teaching her a handy memory charm that made it easier), it came home to her how much influence the Head of House had, and what an opportunity it was to make a real difference in the lives of future witches and wizards. She was determined not to let them – or Severus – down.

She made sure to be in her office near the Common Room regularly for at least an hour every morning and evening. She did not press, but left her door invitingly open to encourage drop-ins, and was pleased to find that many of the children took advantage of it.

***

“Professor Granger, may I talk to you?”

Hermione looked up from her book to see one of her sixth years hesitating in the doorway of her office. “Of course. Miss MacAllen, isn’t it? Please, come in.”

The girl sat down on a chair, looking uncomfortable. “I was wondering, Professor...”

“Yes?” Hermione said encouragingly, after a lengthy pause.

Blushing furiously, the girl said, “I was wondering... well, I want to know how to impress a Gryffindor.”

Hermione smiled. “Gryffindors aren’t an alien species, Jesse,” she said reassuringly. “It might not be as hard as you think.”

“Not to you, maybe. But to the rest of us they are,” the girl said morosely. “If she was a Slytherin, I’d know exactly what to do.”

“And what would that be?”

“I’d be all tricky and devious,” Jesse said promptly. “Never tell her I was interested. Make her guess – Slytherins love to be intrigued, and they always want to feel like they’re in control.”

“Hm.” Hermione couldn’t help but wonder if such techniques would work on a certain Headmaster. “Why not just tell her you like her?”

Jesse looked scandalized. “I couldn’t do that. That’s not... well, it’s not Slytherin, is it?”

Hermione laughed. “I suppose not. But it takes courage, and Gryffindors do admire courage.”

Jesse frowned. “I don’t want to impress her by being something I’m not. I mean, for one thing, how would I keep it up?”

“A very practical consideration,” Hermione acknowledged. “Hm. What if we could come up with something clever and slightly devious, but also likely to make an impression on someone who values bravery? That would be quite Slytherin, don’t you think?”

“Is there such a thing?” Jesse said doubtfully. “Usually if you’re devious you don’t have to be brave. That’s sort of the point.”

“Oh yes, there are times and situations that demand both,” Hermione said, remembering. “As I’m sure the Headmaster could tell you.” She tapped her wand thoughtfully against her cheek. “Have you done Thestrals yet? No?” She took out a piece of parchment and began scribbling a note to Hagrid. “Right, here’s what we’re going to do...”

***

“You wanted to see me, Headmaster?” Hermione’s voice was pleasant but her eyes were wary. She wore Muggle clothing – jeans that hugged her curves and a soft jumper in a pale shade of cinnamon that clung in interesting ways.

“Yes,” Severus said, forcing his thoughts to dwell strictly on business. “Professor Granger, what in Merlin’s name were you thinking?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” she said innocently.

“No?” he said, raising his eyebrows and fixing her with his best glare. Annoyingly, she seemed immune to it. “You enlisted Hagrid’s assistance to allow Miss MacAllen to work with a highly dangerous magical creature, without authorization.”

“I encourage my students to do extra work for extra credit.”

“Not satisfied with that, you released a Thestral while students were in the area—”

“I believe you’ll find the latch on the paddock was faulty.”

“—thus endangering their safety.”

“I did no such thing,” she retorted angrily. “I never would. Jesse knew exactly what she was doing, I made sure of that. In fact, I think she might well be suited for a career in Care of Magical Creatures, she was perfect—”

“Do not. Change. The subject,” Severus gritted out. “And what about Miss Crabtree? Was she also fully trained?”

Hermione flushed slightly. “No, but I was there as backup.”

Was the woman a complete idiot? “Perhaps it has temporarily escaped you, Professor” he growled, his voice dripping scorn, “but you are no longer a student. The bar for your behavior is now considerably higher than the subterranean level reserved for first years and Weasleys.”

“I am a Head of House, and when one of my students solicits my help, I intend to give it!”

“Help? Help?” He was nearly speechless with fury. “You did all of this simply to help Miss MacAllen impress her girlfriend, through a lie!” The last words came out in a roar as he finally let himself go.

“Well, it worked, didn’t it?” Hermione shouted back. “And it wasn’t a lie. Jesse really did learn to handle Thestrals on her own, and she didn’t know I was there as backup – as far as she knew, she was on her own!” She put her hand in her pocket and felt the note Jesse had left on her door that morning: Professor Granger, you’re the BEST!!!. Taking courage from it, she looked him straight in the eye. “What’s the matter? Was it too Slytherin for you?”

“Too...?” Severus stared at her for a long moment.

“Yes – cleverness in learning to manage a dangerous creature, deviousness in playing on Angie’s Gryffindor foolhardiness to get her into the Forbidden Forest, and the ability to remain cool and use what she’d learned when in a dangerous situation. I’d call that Slytherin at its finest!”

As the sense of her words sunk in, Severus found his anger draining away. She was damnably convincing. What she had done was indeed Slytherin, there was no question. He cleared his throat. “Well.”

“Well?” She crossed her arms.

“May I ask, what made you think of this idea?”

She glared at him for a moment, then her face softened. “You,” she said simply.

He stared at her, completely at a loss. “Explain.”

“You had to be devious and clever for years, but in a situation that also required the utmost courage. You learned how to handle the most dangerous creature of all, and you did so brilliantly even under the most extreme provocation.” She looked down at her hands, clasped in her lap, then back up at him. “I’ve never really had the chance to thank you for everything you did, sir. I know I argue with you more than I should—”

At this Severus was unable to repress a snort.

“—but I hope you know how much I respect and honor you for it.”

Warmth filled him at her words. The platitudes of the Ministry, the belated apologies of former friends, the sham of the Order of Merlin, all had left him unmoved, but hearing her praise him when she had so many personal reasons to dislike him... it touched him almost beyond bearing. He cleared his throat. “Well. Since no one was injured, I think we may consider the matter closed.”

She smiled, her eyes bright with mischief, and his heart skipped a beat. “I won’t promise not to do it again, you know.”

To his own surprise, he found himself smiling in return. “Even if you did, I expect you’d find a way around it. You are, after all, the Head of Slytherin House.”

 

3: Slytherins Abroad

Severus could have summoned Hermione to his office to make his request, but lately he felt more comfortable talking to her on neutral territory, without the implied superiority of his position as Headmaster. (He chose not to think deeply on why this should matter.) So, when he heard her mention to Professor Flitwick that she would be doing research in the library that afternoon, he seized the opportunity.

As an added bonus, being in the library meant she wouldn’t be able to shout at him. Or he at her. Their conversations seemed to have a habit of devolving into argument, no matter his best intentions.

She was deeply engrossed in a large volume bound in dragonhide with tarnished silver corners and clasps when he approached her table. “In Domus de Serpentes,” he observed. “Fourteen twelve, if I recall correctly. Not precisely light reading.”

She glanced up and smiled. “Perhaps not. But it’s fascinating – did you know that for five hundred years more members of the Most Excellent Society of Potioneers came from Slytherin than from all other Wizarding schools combined? And that—” She caught herself with a self-conscious laugh. “Of course you did.”

“Obviously,” he said, but with gentle humor rather than scorn. Her enthusiasm was contagious, and it gratified him to see how seriously she was taking her role as Head of House. As long as it didn’t lead to another incident like the Thestrals...

She laid a slip of paper in the book to mark her place and closed it as he took a seat across from her. “Is there something I can do for you, sir?”

The formality of the last word struck him, and he realized that out of all the staff, she was the only one who still called him sir. “I am no longer your teacher,” he said. “The rest of the staff call me Severus. I should like you to do so as well. If you are comfortable with it, of course,” he added hastily, belatedly wondering if she did it intentionally, to keep him at a distance.

“Of course,” she said, her cheeks coloring slightly. “Well then, is there something I can do for you...Severus?”

Was it his imagination, or did she linger over his name? He cleared his throat, reminding himself that he was here to discuss business. “Yes, there is. I should like you to attend the annual SWAT Conference with me.”

She gave him a pained look. “Why, because I’m an insufferable know-it-all?”

Severus frowned. “No, because... Ah, I see.” His lips quirked in a half-smile. “Not swot, SWAT – the Schools of Wizardry Administrative Training Conference.”

“Wouldn’t Minerva be a better choice, si – Severus? Since she’s Deputy Head?”

Hearing his name on her lips did strange things to him. He forced himself to keep to the matter at hand. “Professor McGonagall usually attends, yes, but as you know she is still recovering from last week’s unfortunate Transfiguration incident. The horns are shrinking as expected and Madam Pomfrey says the scales should shed in another few days. However, she is in no condition to appear in public yet.”

“Yes, I can well imagine.”

“And since the focus of this year’s conference is on Muggle Studies, and Muggle/Wizard integration generally, Minerva suggested that you go in her place.”

Hermione’s eyes widened. “Is it really? That’s wonderful!”

“Yes. And given Hogwarts’ connection to both Salazar Slytherin and Voldemort, it is important that we make a good showing.”

“In that case I’d be happy to. I’ve always wanted to see Paris.”

“Very well. Our Portkey leaves Saturday morning at seven o’clock sharp.”

Not until he was a good distance down the hall did he realize that he had never mentioned that the conference was in Paris.

***

When they arrived at the Hôtel de le Sortilège the following Saturday, the lobby was already crowded with witches and wizards of all sizes, shapes, and colors, most of them talking at full speed and top volume.

Severus drew her out of the doorway into a quieter corner. “It can be a bit overwhelming to be surrounded by so many published scholars and experienced teachers,” he said reassuringly, “but don’t let it intimidate you. They put their robes on one arm at a time just like the rest of us.”

“I’ll do my best to remember that,” she said demurely.

He glanced rapidly over the programme which had magically appeared in their pockets the moment they entered the hotel. “I shall be attending the Plenary, of course, and also the morning workshop for Heads of Schools on smoothing the transition to school for Muggle students and their parents. I thought you might want to go to this one – it’s designed for teachers and focuses on helping Muggle-born students adjust during their first year.”

“Yes.” She took out her copy and made a few quick notes here and there. “Then in the afternoon I really should go to ‘Muggle History: Making It Relevant for All,’ and maybe this one on social media.” She shook her head. “That’s one Muggle invention that I don’t know whether we ought to engage with or ignore completely.”

“Indeed. I shall be at ‘Chemistry in the Potions Curriculum: Brilliant or Barmy?’ and these two here...” He ticked them off, then folded his programmer briskly and put it in his sleeve. “That seems to fill up the day for both of us. Would you like to have dinner this evening and compare notes?”

“Yes, that would be—oh, I do beg your pardon,” she added, as her elbow struck a small round man in purple and gold robes who was standing just behind her.

The little man’s eyes lit up. “Professeur Graingaire!” he exclaimed, hastening forward to take Hermione’s hands in his. “To see you again, c’est bon, trés bon!” He turned to Severus. “And ziss is?”

“Severus Snape, Headmaster of Hogwarts, where I am now teaching,” Hermione said. “Severus, this is Monsieur de Ville. He and I co-authored a paper on best practices for integrating Muggle-born students into the Wizarding world. He’s also co-chair of the conference.”

“Ah, Sevairus Snape, we ‘ave ‘eard of you, of course. C'est un honneur.” Monsieur de Ville shook his hand briefly, then turned back to Hermione. “But why did you not let us know you were coming, Mam’zelle? We are so honored to ‘ave you! Zere is a panel zis afternoon, might I persuade you to participate? We would greatly value your insights...”

He took Hermione’s arm and they strolled off, Hermione giving Severus what could only be described as a mischievous look over her shoulder.

Severus stared after them in confusion.

The rest of the day only increased his bafflement. During the morning break he was accosted by a professor from the Woolloomooloo Wizarding Academy who was desperate to find Hermione, as he had a very important theory on which he wanted her opinion. At lunch she was seated at the table behind him; he barely tasted the excellent coq au vin, distracted as he was by her conversation with two men he recognized as “elder statesmen” of Muggle Studies. Her refutation of their position was courteous but without the slightest hint of deference. And a Japanese colleague spent most of the afternoon break telling him how fortunate Hogwarts was to have Professor Granger on staff.

“Her research is very impressive.”

“For someone so young,” he interjected.

She looked at him in surprise. “No, in general. Ah, but you are joking. I’m sure you know that, or you would not have hired her.” She took another petit four from the platter. “Quite a coup, given that Ilvermorny, Castelobruxo, and the Library of Avignon all wanted her.”

“Er...yes. Quite.”

Finally, as he was about to enter the room for the final session of the day, one of the hotel staff brought him a note. “Severus, I’ve agreed to be on the panel with Professor de Ville. It starts at four, so I may be a little late for dinner. I’m sorry to keep you waiting; if you want to go on ahead, just leave a note at the desk where you’ll be, and I’ll find you. Hermione.

Severus folded the note thoughtfully. Had he inadvertently smuggled in a celebrity?

***

Hermione easily found the restaurant – Severus had not only named it in his note, but left detailed directions. La Boîte Magique was a small but elegant cafe, off the main street and with a lovely view. Outside, small tables were scattered about amongst fragrant flowering plants and a stone fountain whose musical tinkling made her feel that she had been transported out of the city entirely.

Severus was seated at one of these tables, a bottle of straw-yellow wine and two glasses in front of him. She paused for a moment, enjoying the sight of him in this foreign, and somewhat romantic, setting. His robes, too warm for this beautiful fall evening, were draped over the back of his chair and in his black trousers and white shirt with the sleeves rolled up, he might have been a man waiting for his date.

Flustered at the turn her thoughts had taken, she hastily went forward to greet him and sit down at the table.

He poured her a glass of wine which she accepted gratefully. It had been a fascinating day but a long one, and dinner with Severus Snape in a romantic French restaurant certainly called for a little fortification. She took a healthy sip and picked up the menu. After a long moment of silence, she glanced up to see that he was leaning back in his chair, arms crossed, looking meaningfully at her through narrowed eyes.

“What?” she said, flushing slightly.

“There never was any unfortunate Transfiguration incident, was there?” he said slowly, in a low silky voice that sent her pulse racing.

She smiled into her wine glass. “No.”

He leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table, fixing her with eyes that gave nothing away. “You and Minerva set this up, didn’t you?”

“I told her you’d figure it out,” she said, torn between giggling and apologizing. Was he angry? Or, to be more accurate, how angry was he? “She thought my coming with you would go over better if you thought you didn’t have a choice, so...”

“Obviously,” he said, drawing the word out until it seemed to have several dozen syllables. “I shall have to have a stern discussion with the Sorting Hat. It appears to have made grave errors with both of you.”

She broke into a laugh, relieved at his rueful expression of mingled annoyance and amusement. “You’re not angry, then?”

“At being out-Slytherined by two Gryffindors?” he said, raising an eyebrow. “I may never live down the shame. But no,” he added in a gentler tone. “I am not angry. Only... regretful.”

“Regretful?” She tilted her head, curious. “For what?”

He did not answer immediately, but refilled their glasses, then swirled the golden liquid, gazing into it as if looking for inspiration. “I think—”

A waiter materialized beside them. “Are monsieur and madame ready to order?”

“Yes... if you are?” Severus said, gesturing towards her.

Silently, Hermione cursed the man for his untimely interruption. “Oh – the tarte flambée, please, and a small frisée aux lardons,” she said, after a quick look at the menu.

“An excellent choice, madame.” The waiter made a quick note on his pad. “And for monsieur?”

Sole meunière, with whatever the vegetable du jour is.”

“Bien.” He bowed and left them alone.

“You were saying?” she inquired.

He took a deep swallow of his wine, and she realised to her surprise that Severus Snape, the man whose cutting tongue was his sharpest weapon, was actually at a loss for words. “I think... that I have not treated you with the respect you deserve.”

Hermione quickly ran through the past few months in her mind. Other than shouting at her over the Thestral incident, she could not think what he meant. “I beg your pardon?”

He gave her a rueful smile. “I have been thinking of you as a novice, as someone in need of correction. As a child, in fact. But you are not.” He shook his head. “Today has brought it home to me, but I should have known it before.”

She shook her head and rubbed one ear in pretended puzzlement. “I’m sorry, I think there must be something wrong with my hearing. Are you actually apologising to me?”

“Yes,” he growled. “But don’t expect me to make a habit of it.”

“Then I shall cherish it all the more. After all, rare things are always more valuable. I suppose an apology from Severus Snape must be worth, oh, a thousand Galleons at least?”

He weighed the thought judiciously, a smile lurking at the corner of his lips. “I should say five thousand. It is after all exceedingly rare.”

The touch of humour relaxed the atmosphere between them, and conversation began to flow more easily. Dinner and a second bottle of wine arrived as they compared notes on this, shared ideas about that, and debated the merits of the other thing. Severus listened with interest to her summary of the afternoon’s panel discussion on her paper and offered several useful suggestions for future research, while she in turn was intrigued by his description of how Muggle chemistry was informing research into a new class of potions.

At last the waiter brought a small basket of toasted baguette slices and a cheese plate garnished with a few figs and a pool of sweet onion confit. Hermione wasn’t sure she could eat another thing, but oh, the Roquefort did look enticing... Seeing the direction of her wistful gaze, Severus took up a piece of bread, and spread it with the soft, tangy cheese. Hermione found herself mesmerized by his hands, how graceful and competent they were. The hands of a man who knew how to touch... things...

He handed it to her and she bit into the mouth-watering morsel, all the more delicious for having been prepared by him. “Mmmm...” Then, emboldened by the wine, the sweet fragrance of the flowers, the warm late fall evening, she said, “You must let me return the favor.” She spread a toast slice with creamy brie and held it out to him.

Instead of taking it from her, he leaned forward and took a bite, his lips brushing her fingers as he did so and sending shockwaves of sensation through her body. “Thank you.”

“Thank you,” she murmured, somewhat dazedly, wondering if it was only the wine that was making her dizzy. On the whole, she thought not.

He poured the last of the wine into their glasses. “A toast?” he suggested, raising his glass. “To...” he paused, his eyes locked on hers. “...having more occasions to cherish.”

She flushed with pleasure. “That sounds lovely,” she said softly.

He turned the empty glass thoughtfully in his fingers. “All of this makes me wonder—”

“Hermione! I have been looking for you all day!”

She turned, startled, to see a handsome dark-haired young man approaching their table. “Philippe! I didn’t know you were here.”

“But of course I am here!” He bent to kiss her hand. “I had hoped to see you at lunch but you were surrounded by admirers. And I see you still are,” he laughed with a nod at her dinner partner. “Philippe Robinette, Professor of Muggle Studies at Beauxbatons,” he said, extending a hand to Severus, then turned back to Hermione. “I have pictures from your visit to us in Deauxville last summer if you’d like to see them, Hermione. My mother asked me to send them but I forgot.”

Hermione flushed and cast a quick glance at Severus, who looked briefly discomfited. Then his face smoothed into lines of formal politeness. “A pleasure to meet you, Monsieur Robinette.” He rose from the table. “Hermione, our Portkey leaves tomorrow morning at seven. I shall see you back at the hotel. I’m sure I leave you in safe hands.”

Hermione watched him walk away, Philippe’s chatter falling on deaf ears.

***

Severus sat at the open window of his room at the hotel, in the warm darkness of the Paris night, cursing his idiocy. What had possessed him to behave so with her? She was two decades younger then he and could take her pick of suitors – that young Frenchman, for example. What a fool he had been to presume that she could ever be interested in himself.

 

5: Snake Charming

“All right, everyone, settle down.” Hermione tapped her wand briskly on the table before her, on which rested a CD player she had adapted to run on magical energy rather than electricity. The nervous talk and high-pitched laughter from her students told her they were anxious about this afternoon’s lesson – apparently dancing in front of their peers was harder than brewing potions or attempting to levitate a feather. Recalling Professor McGonagall’s lessons with the Gryffindors in their fifth year, Hermione felt some sympathy for them.

“There’s an excellent chance that the Tri-Wizard Tournament will be held at least once during your time at Hogwarts, and even if it isn’t, one should at least know how to do a few basic dances. Knowing the steps gives you a confidence that you cannot get from simply flinging yourself about the floor and hoping for the best, and if you end up working at the Ministry or as an ambassador to another Wizarding communities you’ll find it an indispensable skill.”

She started the first track on the CD, a waltz. “Now, listen to the rhythm. How many beats do you hear?”

After a long silence, one of the boys raised a tentative hand. “Er, three?”

“Good. A waltz is a three-beat dance with a sort of lilt to it: one two three, one two three, one two three. There are only two very simple steps to go with them: forward and sideways. Now, who would like to help me demonstrate it?” The students exchanged sidelong glances and one or two nudged each other, but only one raised a hand.

***

Pacing the corridor, Severus heard music coming from one of the classrooms. He slowed as he passed and, glancing in, saw Hermione. Almost without conscious decision, he slipped silently through the half-open door.

***

“Mr Lovell,” Hermione smiled at the little first year, who blushed bright red but stepped forward eagerly. “Thank you for your assistance. Here’s how we begin.” She took his left hand in her right, and placed his right hand on her waist, at which he blushed even brighter, if possible. “Now, you step forward and I step back...then we both step sideways...and bring our other foot in. Then we do the same thing, but starting with the other foot.”

She raised her voice to address the seated students, some of whom were frowning, others curious. “If it helps, remember that you’re snakes. A lordly lion may prance and a graceful raven may glide, but snakes move sinuously, elegantly, with restrained power.”

At the words, her mind conjured an image of Severus. If anyone embodied elegance and restrained power, surely it was he. She saw him striding down the corridor, his robes swirling about him as a drop of ink forms eddies in a glass of water; swift and graceful, defending himself against Minerva in the Great Hall; standing before Voldemort, holding to his double-agent role even in the face of death.

Sitting across from her at a Paris restaurant, a world of meaning in his eyes.

Since that night two weeks ago they had been carefully formal with one another. Though he treated her with more respect and deference than ever before, he had made it clear that while he might not think of her as a child, he also did not think of her as more than a colleague. She had tried once or twice to get him alone, but he had deflected her efforts almost negligently. She could only conclude that he regretted his lapse, and she had not had the courage to question him.

Sternly, she reminded herself to keep her mind on her work. She wasn’t a lovesick schoolgirl, after all. “Watch now, we’ll do it again.”

But she could not help wondering how it would feel to dance in his arms.

***

Watching from the shadows, Severus smiled at the awkwardness of the young boy contrasted with the grace of Hermione’s movements, which even the handicap of a partner years younger and eighteen inches shorter than herself could not hide. He recalled his own trepidation decades ago, trying to master the intricate steps of the galliard under Lucius’ tuition. And that had been in private!

Without giving himself time to think better of it, he stepped forward and tapped the boy on the shoulder. “Do allow me,” he murmured. Startled, the boy gave him a quick glance then dropped his arms and backed hastily away, clearly overcome by the sudden appearance of the intimidating Headmaster of Hogwarts.

Hermione froze, her mouth half-open, as Severus held out his left hand in invitation. “I... I’m not sure...”

He cocked an eyebrow. “Is this the vaunted Gryffindor courage?” he asked, his voice gently mocking.

She flushed at his challenge, and without further hesitation took his proffered hand. His right arm went round her waist as she stepped towards him and placed her other hand on his shoulder, and they swept smoothly into the steps of the waltz.

Together they glided over the floor, carried by the rise and fall of the music, turning and moving as if they had but one mind between them. Their bodies were close enough that he could feel the movement of her hips against him, and involuntarily his left hand tightened on her right, feeling an electricity flowing between them that both enticed and agitated him.

Or was it only he that felt it? He couldn’t tell. One part of his mind noticed how well-matched they were, while another part yammered at him not to be an idiot. She kept her face turned slightly away from his as they danced; had her courage been exhausted by her acceptance of his invitation? Or was she – just possibly – feeling something she did not want him to see? He recalled the flash of heat in her eyes across the table from him in Paris, when his lips touched her fingers. Even as the thought crossed his mind, she raised her head and met his eyes directly. For an endless moment he was lost in her warm brown gaze that seemed to promise anything and everything... then he realized the music had stopped, and so had they. He dropped her hand and stepped away from her.

“I apologize, Her—Professor Granger. I had no intention of distracting you from your lesson.” He turned and strode out, black robes swirling around him.

***

Utter silence reigned among the students, until at last one of the older girls raised a tentative hand. “Er...are you supposed to stare at the person you’re dancing with like that, Professor? Only it’s sort of... bedroomy.”

Hermione gave a shaky laugh and put a hand to her cheek. “Not necessarily, no.” She could still feel his hands on her waist, his warm fingers holding hers, his body moving against her. She had been sure he felt something too... but perhaps she was wrong. With a sigh, she turned her attention back to the students. “All right, everyone, let’s pair up and practice.”

***

Out in the hallway, Severus leaned against the wall, shaken with feelings he was afraid to name. He had meant (or so he told himself) only to show the students how a waltz ought to look. He had not expected the overwhelming sensations – or, if he were honest, the emotions – that had flooded him as he held her in his arms.

He had never been more confused in his life.

 

6: Snakes Alive

She was not at dinner in the Great Hall that evening, a fact for which he was deeply grateful. He would only have said something foolish had she been there – or worse, sat in silence, reinforcing his image as an old curmudgeon. His mind was in turmoil, seesawing from one extreme to the other. She was far too young for him; no, she was not, and what did age matter anyway? She would not be interested in him; yes, but surely he could not have mistaken her response to him as they danced? So distracted was he that when Flitwick asked for the salt he passed the butter, and when Trelawney patted his hand and asked if the spirits had brought him bad news, he replied absently, “Yes indeed, the mandrakes are maturing nicely, aren’t they?”

As he left the Hall after dinner, he came to a sudden decision: Even Voldemort was nothing to facing the woman you loved and not knowing how she felt, but if she could be a Slytherin, surely he could be a Gryffindor.

***

Hermione, nestled in the corner of the sofa in her quarters, was trying to read. It should have been easy – the lights were low, the fire in the hearth flickering cheerfully, Crookshanks purring at her feet, and her book was really quite a good one – but her mind refused to stay on the words. It insisted instead on replaying every detail of her dance that afternoon with Severus: the smoky-sweet scent that clung to his robes, the warmth of his breath on her cheek, his midnight eyes that held her spellbound. She could still feel his body moving against hers, its absence a sweet ache that begged to be filled.

A soft knock interrupted her reverie. Minerva, probably, wanting a chat before bed. Yawning, she went to the door and opened it and was struck speechless to see Severus standing there.

He had hoped she would be awake. He had not considered that she would look so beautiful, half-asleep, her hair loose on her shoulders. “May I come in?”

His voice was like dark chocolate, its rich sweetness taking her breath away, but somehow she managed a “Yes.” She pushed away the question of why he was here, choosing instead to simply be happy that he was.

“It is late, I know. I hope I’m not disturbing you?” Her hair was a rich mass of brown with golden highlights that made him ache to run his fingers through it.

For a mad moment she thought of telling him that he had been disturbing her before he even knocked, that she wanted nothing more than to be disturbed by him in every possible way. “No, of course not, sir.”

“Are we back to formalities? I thought we agreed you would call me Severus.” He put out a hand to close the door just as she did the same, and as their fingers touched he heard the quick intake of breath that told him she too felt the spark that leapt between them.

“Severus,” she said, enjoying the sound of his name. His eyes were dark and cool as a winter pond, but something glinted just below the surface. “Severus,” she said again, slowly, and was thrilled to see the something leap higher, as if she had conjured it. She gave him a half-smile.

Her smile was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. What would he not do to ensure that she was always happy? “Hermione,” he began, and then his courage faltered momentarily.

She waited, watching, hardly daring to hope. “May I ask you something?” she said at last.

He nodded, not trusting himself to speak.

“What were you wondering? In Paris? You said, ‘All of this makes me wonder...’”

“Ah.” He looked down at her. Ah gods, she was so beautiful, and this was, without question, the bravest thing he had ever done. “I was wondering, given the brilliance I had observed at the conference on top of everything else I know of you, if there were anything you were not good at.”

She felt dizzy, suddenly, as if none of this was real, as if she could say anything or do anything. “There are... one or two areas in which my knowledge is... purely theoretical.” She reached up a hand to cup his cheek. He closed his eyes at her touch, then raised his hand to take hers, turn it over, and press his lips to the palm, sparking a trail of heat that seemed to reach straight to the center of her body. “But I’m sure I would excel, with the right teacher.”

He wanted nothing more than to close the last few inches between them and pull her close, but he had to be sure. “Do you mean what I think you mean?” he whispered. “So much of my life has been lies and deception. More than anything else, I want honesty from you, even if that honesty sends me away tonight.”

She took a deep breath, knowing that there was no going back from what she was about to say. “I want you, Severus. I think I have since I came back.”

Joy raced through him, hitting every nerve like an electric shock. Stunned, he said the first thing that came to his mind. “But... you are so young...”

Anger sparked in her eyes. “Don’t you dare, Severus Snape. I may be younger than you, but I’m not young. No one could go through what I have, and remain young.”

She was close enough he could smell the jasmine of her hair. It seemed to be everywhere. Above the low neckline of her shirt, he could see the scars left by Bellatrix LeStrange that night in Malfoy Manor. Gently he traced them with a finger, and exulted to feel her tremble at his touch. “No, I suppose not. But.. are you sure?”

“Whatever happens between us now, tonight,” she whispered, her eyes full of love and desire, “be sure that I want it as much as you do.”

When his lips touched hers it was as if Fiendfyre ignited across her skin. “Hermione...” he murmured. Her arms went round his neck as she responded eagerly to his kiss, and he pulled her to him, one hand buried in her hair, the other holding her close, closer, closest, as if he would never let her go.