Chapter 73

AN: Thanks so much for the lovely reviews, for putting me on alert, for favoriting my story, and for reading in general! It means a lot to me! A little side note, it truly is an interesting experience writing a chapter such as this when it's 87 degrees outside and humid :)

I own nothing you'd recognize.

"Hermione," Snape began, not bothering to look up from his concoction.

"You weren't at the table for breakfast. I asked after you, and Filbert said you were down here," Hermione replied as she peeled a banana.

"I have a lot of work to do," Snape grumbled. "Black Friday took out half my inventory."

"Wow!" Hermione exclaimed before taking a bite.

He shrugged as he looked up. "It's about average. It's one of the only drawbacks to this bizarre shopping frenzy though; I spend half my weekend brewing."

"What do you do during the other half?" she asked.

"Eat and sleep," he replied in a serious tone as he returned his attention to his cauldron.

"Don't you take time to enjoy the weekend at all?" she asked before taking another bite.

He grunted. "How can I? I have to restock!"

"It just seems like a waste of a holiday," Hermione answered.

He smirked. "Says the workaholic lawyer."

"Actually, I like to spend Thanksgiving weekend decorating for Christmas and reading a good book," she replied.

"Then by all means decorate your room and read a book," Snape replied. "I won't stop you."

Hermione sighed before finishing her banana. She had come down to ask him to decorate with her so maybe they could relax, but he didn't seem very receptive. Then, another idea came to her. "Maybe we could do both!" she proposed.

He looked up from the cauldron. "What do you mean?" he asked.

She smiled. "I could help you brew, and you could help me decorate!"

"Excuse me?" Snape asked.

"Yeah! I remember how to make most of these potions from when I was in the Ministry! I could help you with them!" she replied.

"Hermione, I appreciate the offer," he answered unsure of how to proceed. No one had ever offered to help him before, and the perfectionist in him wasn't sure he could accept the help. "Surely though you'd rather be doing something else."

"What's there to do?" Hermione asked. "We finished going over the records yesterday and I can't schedule a meeting with The Prophet until the judge tells Adrian and me when the evidence hearing will be."

"When will the judge make the announcement?" he asked.

"Hopefully Monday," she replied. "I can't imagine him waiting much later than that."

"I see," Snape replied.

"Anyway," she answered, "I can help you brew."

He sighed. "I'll have you start with something simple a second year could make. How about Polyjuice?" he answered with a grin and a sideways glance.

She smirked. "You knew about that the whole time didn't you?"

He shrugged. "I chose to let you get away with it. Now grab a cauldron and your ingredients."

She smiled and began preparing under Snape's watchful eye. Once she had the ingredients, she began to brew. A comfortable silence engulfed them until Snape asked, "Why an attorney?"

"Excuse me?" she asked.

"Why did you choose to become a lawyer?" he asked. "Even after the incident with the Ministry, it's obvious you know your way around a potions lab and you've invented several spells. If I could find and retain a job as a Potions Master after being a Death Eater, then you could've easily been employed by some one outside the Ministry once you proved your sobriety. You didn't though. Why?"

She sighed and gave him a sad smile. "No one fought for me when I was an alcoholic. I was yelled at, fought with, and in the end vilified, perhaps rightly so. When I left for America, I wanted to recreate my life. So I examined other careers. The law caught my attention because I could defend people. Maybe no one stood up for me, but I could stand up for others."

"That's very altruistic," Snape replied.

She smiled, "I'll admit I hoped someday to pass legislation regarding house elves, but that was shot down after my first year."

"I hate that so many of your dreams have been smashed," Snape answered.

She shrugged as she gazed into his eyes. "I've picked up some new dreams along the way."

"Really?" Snape asked.

She nodded.

"Like?" he asked.

She smirked, "Like clearing my old Potions Professor of murder charges, and then maybe making him actually relax and enjoy himself."

He smirked. "Good luck with that."

"I don't need luck," she replied with a flirtatious gleam in her eyes which made Snape's heart race within his chest.

Indeed, he thought.

Snape was surprised how quickly they finished brewing. By Sunday afternoon, everything was either completed or heading towards the last phase. He grinned as Hermione bottled the last vial of a concealment potion. She smiled mischievously. "You remember what you promised me, right?" she asked.

"No," he deadpanned, "But I remember promising myself a nap."

"Severus!" she exclaimed.

He chuckled as he watched her face redden. "What?"

"Christmas? Decorating?" she asked.

"Right, that's what you were going to do as I slept," he answered.

She scowled before he chuckled. "Just for that," she snapped, "You can put the star on top of the tree!"

"I have an angel," Snape answered.

"Really?" she asked. He'd never struck her as an angel type of guy.

"It was my mother's. I never had the heart to let it go," he replied in a soft voice.

"Oh," she answered. "I have a few ornaments from my parents."

"We can put them on my tree," he answered as they worked their way upstairs. "I have shamefully few ornaments of my own."

"Why?" she asked as they walked up through the store.

"I honestly only decorate my tree for the children. It makes them happy. Actually," he began as they reached the library, "Come to think of it, I only decorate the store for my customers and the living area for the children."

"That doesn't sound very festive," she remarked as they continued up the final flight.

"I suppose you go all out," he answered.

She shrugged. "I'd like to think so, but then again I only have an apartment." Her smile widened though. "Now that I have a mansion to work with though and a five hundred dollar an hour salary…"

"Hermione, please don't make this place look like one of those tacky stores downtown!" Snape pleaded as he led her to some storage closets off the guest bedrooms.

"Personally, I think those stores are in the spirit of the holiday."

"They're competing with each other to see who can cram the brightest, noisiest Christmas-themed objects in the window. I refuse to sink to their level," he answered.

"Who said we were putting them all in your window?" she asked in an innocent voice as he began to rummage through tiny boxes. "I was thinking around your living area."

He looked back and raised his eyebrow. "Watch yourself Hermione. This isn't your house yet."

Snape returned to searching through the boxes. "I know," Hermione began but stopped when she realized what he'd said. He seemed oblivious to the implications of his comment and began setting tiny boxes in the hall.

"Could you please help me enlarge these?" he asked.

"Sure," Hermione answered, deciding any implications were merely her imagination.

She began to enlarge the boxes. Her eyes grew wide when she saw the size of his artificial tree, especially in light of the few ornament boxes they had. "Yeah," she muttered, "We'll need more ornaments."

"Agreed," Snape answered as he shut the door. "I've been meaning to for years, but I've never gotten around to it."

She shook her head. "There really are too few decorations for the rest of the house, as well."

"I suppose you think you can find tasteful baubles to improve the rest of my decor?" Snape asked.

She smirked. "Is that a challenge?"

"Perhaps," Snape replied before pulling out his wand and lifting the tree. "Could you lift the other things?" he asked as he stepped around her.

She ducked as the tree flew by. "Sure," she answered.

Ginny stared out the window as sleet fell from the sky. The owl should've come back with a reply by now, but it hadn't returned yet. Perhaps it was lost, but that seemed unlikely. Maybe Severus was distraught about Hermione's departure and didn't want to talk. All these thoughts ran through Ginny's head as she stared out the window.

Draco stood behind her and shook his head. For Ginny's sake, he had hoped an owl would come. Its absence meant only one thing:

Severus wasn't getting rid of Hermione.

"It really is beautiful, even if it is a bit bare," Hermione began as she stared up at the now decorated tree and nursed a glass of non-alcoholic egg nog.

"Indeed," Snape replied as he sipped from his glass. "Thank you for helping."

She smiled back. The candles from the tree made her face so soft, almost ethereal. Merlin what act of goodness had he done to deserve this woman? "I enjoyed it. Next weekend we can add to what we've done. I already have some ideas in mind."

He chuckled. "I'm sure you do."

She smiled as he laughed; his face basking in the candlelight. His expression was soft and relaxed. He appeared truly at peace, though whether it was in response to her or to the lighting on the tree she had no idea. "I propose a toast!" Hermione began.

"To what?" Snape asked.

"To us and our future endeavors," she replied.

"Cheers!" Snape replied before they clinked their glasses together.

They each took a sip and caught the other's glance. So much had happened in such a short time. Words weren't enough to express how they felt about each other, but too many things had yet to be resolved before they could allow their bodies to speak for them. For the moment, they would have to be content to allow their eyes to testify to the bond they cherished.

In the corner, three pairs of eyes watched them. Filbert smirked and whispered to the other two, "I know what Master's getting for Christmas."

The other two nodded in consent and understanding. Then, they left to allow the Master and his Mistress some privacy as their lips met.

Mistletoe would definitely be added to the shopping list.