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"Who is the letter from?" Lucius drawled.
Ginny set the letter down and glared at him. "None of your business," she grumbled.
"Oh," Lucius answered with a smirk. "Let me guess, Severus wrote back and he hasn't fired Hermione."
She sighed. "Yes, though he was tactful about it as usual," she answered.
Lucius shrugged. "My son tried to warn you."
She glared at him. "Do you get some perverse pleasure in torturing me?" she snapped. "Is this all one big fun game to you? Is that why you hired Hermione?"
"Honestly, I merely wanted an attorney who would comply with Severus' unusual demands, though their blossoming feelings make sense."
"How?" Ginny snapped. "Severus is actually a decent person!"
"He's also an intellectual bookworm who would love nothing more than to sit in his library and discuss potions all day. What do you think Hermione is looking for in a man?" Lucius asked.
"A free ride," Ginny muttered.
Lucius sighed. "What would sober Hermione have wanted?"
"A bookworm who could match her intellect! I get that! I get that my brother and she wouldn't have worked out! What does Severus see in her?"
"If you ask me, another broken soul," Lucius answered.
With that comment, Lucius glided out of the room, leaving Ginny to contemplate his words.
Hermione leaned her head against the headboard of her bed. After her trip to the Atlanta Wal-Mart, she had begun to mull over what to get Severus for Christmas. His freedom would be nice, but it seemed lame to count as a gift something he was technically paying for. Besides, if she was being honest with herself she wanted Severus' freedom just as much as he did.
No, his freedom alone would not be an acceptable gift, as pleasurable as it would be. Maybe he'd like a new potions set or a book. She shook her head as she considered how many people had undoubtedly given him those gifts in the past. No, his gift would have to be unique, something with flair, something that would remind him of her whenever he looked at it, something he'd cherish forever.
She slouched down onto her pillow and began to consider her options. While she knew a lot about him, he didn't seem to be in need of anything, aside from maybe companionship. He'd never expressed a desire for anything either, with the exception of his freedom.
Hermione groaned and she stared at the ceiling as she tried to think of what he could possibly want. Part of her wanted to just ask him, but she didn't want to appear too obvious.
Then again, who said she had to ask Severus?
She sat up and grinned. "Filbert!" She called.
With a Pop! the elf appeared. "Yes Mistress?" he asked.
"You, you know Severus better than anyone else, right?"
"No, you do," he answered.
She frowned, wondering if that was true. Then, she snapped herself out of those thoughts. "Well, you know what he likes, right?"
"Yes," Filbert answered.
"Well," she answered in a quiet voice, "Do you know what he wants for Christmas?"
Filbert smiled. "Master wants Mistress Hermione wrapped up in a big red bow for Christmas!"
She glared at Filbert. "I highly doubt that, she answered. "Not to mention how presumptuous that would appear. No, I need something tangible."
"Severus?" she asked as he opened the door.
"I heard you call for Filbert. Are you okay?" he asked, his concern evident.
"Yes," she replied. "I needed to ask him something private."
"Oh?" Snape drawled.
"Yes," she answered. "I needed to ask him about, uh, well…"
Filbert looked back at his master and smiled when he saw the love in his Master's eyes. "About what?" Snape asked.
"Well, it's a little personal…" she answered.
"Okay," he answered.
"I, I need to know where to buy uh,"
"Lingerie!" Filbert interjected. "Hers is becoming worn."
"It appears fine to me," he answered as he struggled to keep his eyes north of the top of her silk nightgown.
She blushed. "See, I told you it was personal," she answered.
"Then I'm sorry for my intrusion," he answered.
"It's no problem really. I honestly appreciate the concern," she answered with a spark of affection in her eyes.
"Yes, well I should retire soon. Do you need anything from me?" he asked.
"No," she answered.
"Sweet dreams, then."
"Good night," Hermione replied.
"Good night," he replied before leaving.
She listened as his footsteps led away from his bedroom. "Where is he going?" she asked.
"Filbert doesn't know. Maybe he's brewing the concealment Potion you need for your next trip to The Prophet," he suggested.
"No," Hermione answered. "He promised we'd make it together sometime this weekend since we won't need it until after the evidence hearing. Besides, I've heard him leave his room a few nights before."
"Filbert doesn't know what he's doing," the elf answered.
Hermione could tell by his expression that he was lying, but decided not to press the issue. Merlin knew Filbert would choose receiving an Oreo for his secrecy before divulging anything to her. "Okay, well, back to the Christmas present," she answered.
"Master wants a picture of you in lingerie?" Filbert suggested.
Hermione shook her head until an idea popped into her head. "Perhaps he'd appreciate some other artwork though!" she answered.
"What artwork?" Filbert asked.
"Yes! Oh! I can do something else too! Yes! I'll make this the greatest Christmas yet!" Hermione answered.
"What is Mistress going to do?" Filbert asked, his eyes gleaming in interest.
She smirked. "I'd tell you, but the Master would probably give you an Oreo to tell him what I have planned the second he sensed something fishy."
Filbert chuckled. "See, I told Mistress she knew Master better than Filbert."
Snape sat at his desk, carefully adding the scraps of peach pits to his potion. He hoped this was the missing ingredient he was so desperate for. If not, he still had time before Christmas, but it was running out. Besides, the sooner he finished this project, the sooner he could sleep full nights again.
He watched the potion bubble before it stopped and turned orange. Then, nothing. It was the reaction he'd hoped for, but he had no idea if it would work. He sighed. Now came the hardest part-finding a way to test it without leaving Terminus and arousing Hermione's suspicions. If she found out about this, well she would have a much less interesting Christmas.
His face brightened when he considered the university and their prestigious potions department. Maybe they weren't a research school, but surely it couldn't be hard to find subjects. Yes, and if he went he could take Hermione along and tell her he was giving a guest lecture or something of the like. The university should work out splendidly.
He stretched and walked up to his bed, a little spring in his step, hoping Hermione's gift would actually work.