Diagon Alley was spinning. Lamplight flickered off the cobblestones which rippled beneath her feet in ceaseless waves, lurching her this way and that. The windows in the buildings were dark and laughter ricocheted down the empty street. The whole place seemed smaller without the throngs of people bustling about. Like a stage version of the real place.
“To Professor Granger!” Ronald’s voice echoed in her ears. The words only hit her in retrospect and she laughed belatedly as Ron swung his arm around her shoulders.
Harry followed on the other side. “The best fr-ucking Charms perfessor Hogwarts ever saw!”
“Don’t say that in front erv Filius!” Hermione giggled.
“Oooo Filius!” laughed Ginny, dancing out in front of the trio and walking backwards, her arms up in the air. “Your pal, Filiurs! You’re ditching us fer yer new friends Minerva and Pomoner and… and Severerus! HAHAHA!”
They stumbled along, hindering each other more than they were helping, Hermione bowing beneath the weight of the two boys. She laughed until she fell into hysterics; her sides aching; unable to breathe.
“Guys!” Ginny was shouting. Hermione had the vague impression the girl was jumping up and down. Then small hands were on her shoulders, a blur of red in her face. The cobblestones were hard beneath her arse and the impact only made the girls laugh louder. “Come on, come on,” Ginny was saying as she pulled on Hermione’s hands, trying to help her to her feet. Firm hands appeared beneath her arms, lifting her bodily into the air. Hermione leaned back against Ron’s broad, warm, comfortable chest and sighed.
“Come onnnnnn!” Ginny whined, stomping back over to them. “Look!”
“Oh! Yeah!” said Harry.
Hermione wasn’t paying attention to them. All she cared about was the feel of Ron’s hand in hers and the way his face had turned bright red with too much Ogden’s Old. They followed their friends through an open doorway, beneath a purple lamp.
It was dark and smoky inside and the heavy scent of incense filled their lungs. Harry and Ginny were up at the counter, talking to a woman in veils and eyeliner to shame Trelawney, and a grin which verged on manic, her crooked teeth bared.
“You won’t forget me?” said Ron, pulling on Hermione’s hands until she was pressed against him, staring into his pale blue eyes. All four of them. With their faintly red, unfocused bleariness.
“Course not, Ron,” she whispered, “‘cause you’re gonna visit me allther time!”
“Guys!” Ginny squealed, grabbing their hands. “We’re going to see our futures!”
Hermione looked past her at the woman behind the counter, with her templed hands and greedy eyes. She scoffed. “ Divination? Really, Gin, you can’t be seriours.”
The woman’s grin dropped into a scowl of intense dislike. “You doubt the divine gift, girl?”
“Girl?! GIRL?!” Hermione was so incensed, she nearly lost her balance. “I’ll have you know... I’M to be the newest perfessor at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizadry!”
The woman laughed. “Ah,” she said, “so you think you are above the touch of Fate.”
Hermione rolled her eyes, scoffing. “I think… I think people who believe in Fate... are the only sorts o’ fools foolish enough to pay money for some alleyway... quack ’s predictable… predictions! ”
“Oh, okay, ‘Mione,” Harry was saying. “We’d better go.” They were trying to pull her out into the street.
“”No!” she snapped, throwing their arms off and stumbling toward the counter. “It’s tha truth. Someone’s gotter say it. You... ‘re a pretender and a con. ”
“Okay, ‘Mione, let’s go, huh?”
“Fate finds even the most certain nonbeliever,” said the woman. “You will face surprises very soon.”
“Hermione snorted. “HA! Yeah, brilliant perdiction! ‘S’the best you got?”
“No, my dear. I’m going to spoil them for you.” The woman’s eyes sparkled a moment before she lunged across the desk, grabbing Hermione’s head at the temples, her fingers snagging on the tangled curls. Hermione’s eyes flew wide as she struggled to pull away; her knees buckling beneath her as the woman chanted in a low, quick voice, glaring right into her eyes. “I will make you see it for yourself; spoil the best surprise. You will accept your Fate, but ‘til you do you’ll feel the pain of the Gift you so disdain.”
Three sets of hands pulled on Hermione’s arms, dragging her weightlessly across the floor and out of the little shop. The woman’s cackling laughter chased after them down the street. “Happy dreams, Hermione Granger!”
The four friends stumbled inside 12 Grimmauld, Ginny chasing Harry up the stairs. Ron wrapped his arms around Hermione’s waist, pulling her to him for a sloppy kiss.
“Mmmm,” he hummed, taking her hand and leading her up the stairs. They collapsed onto her bed without breaking away from each other and Ron eagerly began to remove his clothes. He was inside of her before she’d even taken off her top; his hot breath fanning across her neck, his movements soon becoming frantic. She gasped for him to hear, twining a hand in his hair while the other wrapped around his back.
He came with a curse, squeezing his eyes shut as he froze inside her.
They stretched out beside each other, Ron’s heavy breathing the only sound. And soon it evened out and morphed into the broken rhythm of drunken snores. Hermione stared at the darkness and thought about the fortune-teller: her crazed eyes, her angry words. Had it been a simple threat? Or something more? At the time, it had seemed like nothing more than an offended woman’s anger. But something about it was bothering Hermione. Something didn’t feel quite right.
It was late when her worries faded enough from her mind that she was able to succumb to the oblivion of sleep.
Pale light flickered and shifted beyond the veil of her shuttered eyelashes. Her eyes fluttered open and she blinked against the light. The sheets were so soft and smelled so clean. She relished the feel of them against her naked skin as she stretched her aching limbs. Her head was perfectly clear, but her body felt sore, as if she’d been back to the gym instead of out to the pub till dawn.
Warm summer air filtered through the open window, playing with the sheer cream curtains hanging open all around her four-poster bed.
She jolted upright, her sheets falling from her naked breasts. This wasn’t her room at 12 Grimmauld. It was a pretty room, simply decorated and full of light. Pale blue sky peeked in through the enormous windows, which were opened wide to admit the breeze and the sounds of the birds outside. There was a wardrobe and a desk and a bookshelf full of titles familiar to her. A door stood ajar at the other end of the room and she could hear the faint sound of a shower running
Ron . Hermione relaxed. Ron would know what was going on.
Just as she thought his name, the water shut off, and in a moment, the door swung open. But it wasn’t Ron who stepped into the room, dripping wet, a towel wrapped around his waist. No. The pale figure who appeared, sparse black hair plastered to a thin, faintly muscled torso, was none other than Professor Snape.
Hermione gasped, yanking the sheets up over her breasts. How had he gotten here? Or had she somehow intruded on him? Were these his quarters and she had somehow Apparated here?
The movement must have caught his eye because he glanced up at her, a warm smile spreading across his face. “Finally up, are you?” he said in a gently chiding voice, his tone deep and arrogant. He crossed to her in a few short strides. “Did I wear you out last night?” And before she knew what was happening, his mouth was on hers, his lips surprisingly soft, his kiss surprisingly tender.
She gasped in surprise and bolted up in the bed, her intake of breath resounding in the dark, quiet bedchamber of 12 Grimmauld.
Just a little plot bunny. Do you like it so far?
Hermione’s luggage followed her up the stairs to the great double doors at the front of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. They stood open, welcoming her into the Entrance Hall. The sun was high in the sky and a late summer breeze toyed with the loose hairs escaping from the tight bun at the back of her head. Minerva McGonagall was waiting just inside.
“It’s so good to have you here,” the older woman confided, clasping Hermione on the upper arms. “You can leave your things. They will be brought up to your rooms. Have you eaten?”
“Good, good. Most of the others are having their lunch right now.”
Hermione’s stomach flipped as her professor led her down the middle of the Great Hall. She supposed first days at a new job were supposed to be nerve-wracking. But it was one thing to make a good first impression and quite another to overcome the impression one made on a person when one was eleven years old.
Most of her old professors smiled disarmingly when Minerva presented her to them. Hagrid got up and went around the table to smother her in a bone-breaking hug. But Severus Snape hardly nodded his head, returning his attention immediately to the book in his hand and his diligent chewing. She flushed at the memory of the dream she’d had the night before. Such a strange dream it had been.
Minerva assigned her the seat between Hagrid and Snape, much to her chagrin. But luckily Hagrid’s enthusiasm covered any awkwardness she may have had sliding into the seat beside her old potions master. She hadn’t spoken with the elusive man since the Ministry’s Christmas ball last year. And that had been brief and awkward enough.
But Hermione couldn’t keep herself from speaking to him for long. “So,” she began, drawing the Slytherin’s concentration away from the tome in his hand, “I suppose we’re to be colleagues, now.”
“Hmm,” said Snape, lifting his eyes only briefly from the page, “astute as always, Miss Granger.”
Hermione flushed, but was not deterred. “Hermione,” she corrected. “I’m not your student anymore, Professor.”
Snape lifted an eyebrow at her then returned to his reading. She wanted to kick herself. Professor? Had she really called him ‘professor’? And in the same breath that she’d told him she wasn’t his student anymore? Ugh! He had always had that effect on her; taking her even at her most confident and making her feel like a fool. Maybe her anxiety about facing him as equals had been the impetus for that dream. She shook her head, resolving not to think about that.
“So, I understand you’re teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts,” she began again, not sure why she felt the need to talk to her old professor. Perhaps she felt that drawing him into a conversation might help alleviate some of the strange tension that filled the space between them.
“I am,” he said, not looking at her.
“The, er, first professor to teach it for more than one year in a row.”
“So, do you prefer it to Potions?”
“Granger,” he snapped, “a more observant witch might notice that I am preoccupied with more important things, at the moment.” His eyes met hers, glittering when they caught the shocked expression on her face. “You may be my colleague, now, but I am under no obligation to waste my time on you.”
“Ah. Forgive me,” she replied in a clipped voice, “for being so terribly rude .”
The silence remained tense for the rest of the meal, but Hermione refused to let him see how desperate she was to get away. Instead, she took her time, chatting happily with Hagrid and Pomona Sprout. She could feel the Slytherin bristling beside her, and that gave her a strange satisfaction. She was no longer his pupil, after all. He couldn’t bully her anymore. He has no power over me.
After lunch, Minerva showed her to her quarters in a tower she couldn’t remember ever visiting before. “We recommend you set your own wards, of course,” said the older witch as she unlocked the door.
“Oh! How lovely!”
The door opened onto a small living area with a sofa and chairs around a large fireplace and a desk off to the side. The walls were lined with bookshelves that she couldn’t wait to fill. Large windows overlooked the lawn and the Forbidden Forest, spilling afternoon light into the cheerful room.
Supposing that the door at the far end must lead to the bedroom, Hermione hurried over to it, stopping in the doorway as she took in the view, her jaw dropping in horror and eyes widening at the sight. It was a simple room; sparsely decorated with wide windows and a four-poster bed lined with sheer, cream curtains. The deja vu was overwhelming.
Oh Gods , she thought. What the Hell is going on?
Clearly it was a trick of some sort. A prank. A curse meant to… mess with one’s mind. Right? After all, there were few things more ridiculous than having a naked Severus Snape in her new bedroom. It must have been some sort of curse that causes the victim to dream up a ludicrous nightmare, but yet… not so ludicrous that it wasn’t at least… plausible.
Hermione laughed at herself, rolling her eyes at the admission. Plausible? Really? Well, of course it was completely absurd, but not out of the realm of possibility. That had to be intentional. After all, this bothered her much more than it would if it had been, say… Hagrid. Ewww!
She decided to distract herself with a good book and a glass of sherry from the kitchens. Minerva had introduced her to an elf named Bippy who was in charge of seeing to all the professors’ needs. Of course, Bippy had needed some assuring, what with Hermione’s reputation for elf liberation. But Hermione promised not to try to free any more elves and that seemed to satisfy Bippy.
So she sipped her sherry and read her book in her softest pajamas, curled up in her enormous four-poster bed, with the windows open to admit the evening breeze. It was early when she turned out the lights and went to sleep.
Fine black hairs she couldn’t stop running her fingers through. His skin was sticky with a sheen of sweat, and so was hers. She could feel it on her face, where her hair clung to her neck, and collecting between their bodies, wherever they touched. Her shoulder was tucked up beneath his arm, which wrapped around her back. Her naked breasts pressed against his ribs. And one of her legs was hooked over his, the satin of her skin tickled by the coarse hairs that covered his. She didn’t have to look beneath the sheets to know that they were as black as the chest hairs she kept running her fingers through.
Fine black hairs.
But Ron didn’t have fine black hair.
Hermione jolted up, alarmed to meet the eyes of Severus Snape, once again. He smiled lazily at her, his expression one of happy lethargy. And then a spark of recognition. “Oh, not now,” he groaned, his voice deep and sleepy.
Hermione jerked away, yanking the sheets up to cover her breasts. “What. The. Hell? ” she hissed. This didn’t feel like a dream. She was as certain as she had ever been about anything that she and Snape really were here in this moment in her bed together.
His eyes went wide with alarm and he sat up, drawing away from her with something that looked like shame. “Bloody hell,” he murmured, “is this it? Is it happening?”
“Is what happening?”
“Oh God, it is, isn’t it?”
“What are you talking about?”
“The first… premonition…”
“The first… you mean…”
He nodded, then cringed down at himself. “Oh gods , like this? No wonder…” But then an amused smirk broke out across his face “Then again, I suppose it could have been worse.”
Hermione’s eyes went wide at his insinuation; at the sudden realization that she wasn’t just naked, but wet between her legs and sore in a way that suggested he had been there only minutes ago.
He must have seen her horror, for his eyes fell closed and his brow furrowed with shame. “Hermione,” he said, reaching for her instinctivey. She jerked away, immediately regretting it when he winced at the gesture, hurt flickering across his face.
It was that expression of hurt that chased her back to the dark bedroom where she woke with a gasp, the sheets damp with her sweat.
And in that moment, she was convinced that had not been a dream.
It wasn’t real. It wasn’t real , Hermione chanted to herself as she made her way to the Great Hall for breakfast. Her logical mind believed it had been a vivid hallucination produced by an elaborate curse. But her heart was convinced it had been real.
Hermione nearly turned around when she saw Professor Snape sitting up at the high table, next to her empty place. She wasn’t ready to deal with him again.
It was her pride that made her lift her chin and march down the aisle, ignoring the way his bored black eyes followed her the entire way. “Good morning,” she practically sang when she reached her seat.
“Mornin’ Hermione!” said Hagrid, still just as excited to see her as he had been the day before. Snape did little more than grunt in recognition of her.
It felt so strange to sit next to the man she had dreamt so vividly of the night before. It felt like a trespass. She may not have known for certain the way his chest was sprinkled with fine black hair, or how his faintly muscled torso felt against her own. But she could imagine.
She could imagine the way his lips would feel if he kissed her and the lazy way he would smile, sated in her sheets from what must have been a very thorough love-making.
Hermione’s cheeks burned. She had never considered the austere professor in any sexual way, but now that she had noticed, it was impossible to deny. He was tall and self-assured in a quiet, intellectual way. He almost looked younger than he had during the War and she had to admit that he was actually quite handsome. The intriguing, elusive, Slytherin spy. Yes, she had always had a high opinion of the man and a part of her ached to see that look of satisfaction in his eyes. But to sleep with him? It was preposterous.
Hermione spent the day scouring the library for any information on Hallucinogenic curses, to no avail. A part of her knew she should be looking on the Divination aisle, but she wasn’t ready to concede that defeat. It wasn’t real , she told herself. It was all just a dream.
That night, she lit a fire and flooed the kitchen at 12 Grimmauld.
“‘Mione!” said Ginny, running over and crouching on the floor.
“How is it?” said Harry, taking a bite of a biscuit as he joined his girlfriend on the floor.
“Great! It’s really great! So far…”
“‘Mione!” said Ron, joining his friends, “you’re really miffing out,” he mumbled around a mouthful of something. “Ginny juft made a batch of bifcuitf and dey’re fo good… ”
Ginny smirked, shrugging. “Wish we could pass some through the fire to you.”
“Me too,” said Hermione. Staff fireplaces were set up to allow for conversational Flooing, but not for any sort of travel or transference.
“So,” said Harry, “is it weird?”
“A little. I’m sure it will be strange when I’ve got students. For now, it’s all just so… surreal. You should see my quarters, though! They’re perfect!”
“Good! That’s great, Hermione. I’m so glad.”
Ginny grabbed Harry by the elbow, gesturing meaningfully to Ron. “Well, we’d better get up to bed. We’ll leave you too alone. Great to see you, ‘Mione!”
The happy couple left and Ron faced the fire, grinning through a mouthful of biscuit.
“Oh Ron, I miss you so much!”
Ron swallowed, nearly choking on a laugh. “‘Mione, it’s only been two days!”
“I know, but… you will visit me soon, won’t you? This castle is awfully big when it’s this empty.”
“Yeah, of course, ‘Mione. Maybe I can come stay this weekend.”
“Really? That would be perfect!”
Ron shrugged. “Sure.”
There was an awkward pause while both of them searched for something to say.
“Well,” said Ron, “I’d better get back to my homework. We’ve got a test tomorrow and I’ve got to do well on it. Tonks has already stuck her neck out enough for me.”
“Yeah, of course. You’d better get on. It was good to see you.”
“Yeah, you too, ‘Mione.”
The fire went out and Hermione sat there a moment longer, staring at the empty place where Ron’s face had been. She felt hollow and uneasy, but she wasn’t sure why.
Geometric shapes and diagrams of advanced theoretical Arithmancy came into focus first. Next, the shape of the book they had been drawn into and the feel of it in her hands; the feel of a hard surface behind her back and a soft cushion beneath her arse; and beneath her legs, a pair of rather sturdy thighs.
Her whole body jerked in reaction as she glanced up at him in shock.
They were sitting together on a sofa, her back against the arm and her legs across his lap. Apparently, they had both been reading. At her movement, those dark eyes of his left the pages of his own book and darted over to her with a smile that faltered when he saw her face. “Hermione?”
She flinched away from him, taken aback by his use of her name.
“Ah,” he said, his face suddenly blank, “Miss Granger.”
“ What is going on? ” she whined, pulling her legs out of his lap and scrambling to her feet. “What is this? Why is it happening? How do I make it stop?! ”
He glanced down at his book, hiding the hurt that flashed across his face. This only heightened her dysphoria as panic closed in around her, crushing her chest until she couldn’t breathe. Hermione glanced around the room for some escape from this nightmare. It was not familiar and she realized they must be in his quarters this time. This time. They were darker than her rooms, having no windows. In fact, she had no idea what time of day it must have been. She was hyperventilating when her professor leapt to his feet and clasped her by the upper arms.
“Hermione,” he said, “it’s alright. Stop thinking. Just breathe. Deep and slow. Five seconds in, ten seconds out. Can you do that for me?”
Hermione nodded, closing her eyes and focusing on the air coming into her lungs. She counted the seconds in and out and in and out until her heart ceased its pounding and her panic released its iron grip on her chest.
She nodded, opening her eyes to meet the anxious gaze of her professor. He released her arms and turned away from her.
“Herm-Miss Granger,” he began in a hesitant tone, “forgive me. For the way I handled the situation last time. I’m afraid… I suppose I rather shocked you.”
Hermione blinked down at her hands, wondering how they could feel so real; how everything could seem so real, if this was only just a dream. “Last time…” she murmured, “you… you called it a ‘premonition.’”
“And so… you knew about it?”
Her professor froze, his face blank. He said nothing.
“You… you know what it is, don’t you? You know what that… what that woman did to me…”
“I’m afraid you must solve that mystery, yourself.”
“But you know …”
“You are not unfamiliar with the dangers of meddling with Time, Miss Granger. You know I cannot reveal what I only know as it has been revealed to me… by you.”
Hermione huffed impatiently as tears of frustration sprung to her eyes. She turned away so he wouldn’t see and discreetly wiped them from her face.
“Forgive my curiosity,” he began again, hesitating until she turned to face him once more, “but I… I wonder… when are you? Now?”
Answering him felt like acknowledging that this was really true. “It’s only my second night in the castle, before the start of term.”
His eyebrows shot up. “So early?”
He paced away from her, rubbing the back of his neck. “But then, I suppose it is a bitter pill…”
She resented the note of self-pity in his voice. After all, it wasn’t as if he had ever done anything to encourage her good opinion of him. And how many times had she taken his side when others had put him down? If he was a difficult man to love, it certainly wasn’t her fault!
“Oh gods,” she murmured to herself, beginning to pace and pinching her cheeks, “wake up, wake up. Please, just wake up.” She caught his unflinching gaze and jerked away, slapping herself on the cheeks and squeezing her eyes shut. “Gods, please, please …”
And when she opened them again, she was in the dark, beneath the sheets, panting into the chilly midnight air.
Severus Snape did not show up to breakfast the next morning. Hermione knew she should have been relieved, but somehow it disappointed her and… almost made her feel... angry. After all, he had become the main focus of her mind, these last few days. Who was he to go about his days completely unaware? How could he be so indifferent to her presence? How could he not care to see her?
Of course, that made no sense.
She turned over the facts in her mind as she ate. The Seer had definitely Cursed her. There was no doubt about that. She still couldn’t be sure the visions were premonitions, and not simple hallucinations, but they certainly seemed real. She couldn’t discount the fact that she had dreamed of her own bedroom before she’d ever seen it, but there could be any number of mind tricks up that old woman’s sleeves. Sighing heavily, Hermione resigned herself to spending the day in the library.
The library, as it turned out, had an extensive Divination collection. She had never really had any need of that subject, so it had completely passed her notice. But now, it was almost overwhelming in its enormity. She began by searching through the subject cards in the library’s Dewey Decimal system for “premonition” and “dream curses,” but there were loads of books that talked about these. Sighing dramatically, she selected a number of promising titles and lugged them to a table by a window.
Apparently, there were quite a few ways an angry Seer could curse an unsuspecting (though admittedly rude) young witch. So far, none of the various curses (causing a person to enter the dreams of another, to live their life in reverse, or to see the moment of a person’s death each time they met someone for the first time) quite matched up to Hermione’s symptoms. On a positive note, though, she was starting to feel like she’d gotten let off rather easy.
“Divination?” The deep, velvety voice of Severus Snape so shocked Hermione that she yipped audibly as she swung around to look at him. He raised a patronizing eyebrow at her.
“Er yes. I was, er… trying to find… something.”
His lips twisted up at the corner in disgust. “I’ve always believed that my colleagues overestimated your intelligence, Miss Granger, but I never supposed you were a fool.”
Hermione’s cheeks grew hot, but the embarrassment she would have felt in years past arose this time as fury, instead. “Did you come all the way over here just to insult me?”
His sneer only twisted malevolently. “You think yourself very important, don’t you, Miss Granger.”
Hermione lurched to her feet, glaring up at him, her chin lifted. “You may call me Hermione or you may call me Professor Granger, but I am not your student anymore.” Power rushed through her, thrilling her, giving her the courage to hold his eyes even as they glittered with amusement. She couldn’t stop herself from adding, “And you, Sir, are being an arse.”
He held her gaze, a curious fire burning in his eyes, as her breathing steadied. Finally, he leaned closer to her, bending his neck so that his breath tickled her hair; and in a tone deep with mischief and laden with meaning, he said “very well... Hermione.” Then he swept away, leaving her standing there feeling exhilarated, flustered, and confused.
That night, she dreamt of the library. She’d been looking for something, but now she couldn’t imagine what. The shelf in front of her seemed to be full of advanced Charms texts. That was hardly surprising. She was the new Charms professor, after all.
An arm wrapped around her waist, pulling her back against his solid frame. “They’ve gone,” he murmured over her sharp intake of breath. “We’ve got the place to ourselves.” Then, his mouth found the bare skin of her neck. Hot breath preceded an even hotter tongue and the faint, teasing nip of his teeth. She gasped aloud and spun away from him, knocking into the shelf hard enough to leave a bruise.
Their eyes met, first in surprise, then in understanding. “I’m still not convinced you’re real,” she told him, though it felt like a lie. “But I’m… I’ve been doing some research.”
She shook her head. They were silent for a moment long enough to become awkward. Finally, she couldn’t help herself any longer. “You’re a real git, you know?”
He let out a short laugh, the merriment reaching his eyes. It was so at odds with the ugly sneer she had expected that she was taken aback. “What have I done this time?” he asked, his deep, appealing voice rich with amusement.
“You… you called me a fool.”
“Ahh,” he said, somehow turning the sound into a growl, “when I found you in the library?” She nodded, watching his face grow more guarded as he remembered that she was not his Hermione. Yet . “Forgive me. When I saw you there, I admit that I was rather… taken aback by your choice of material. Naturally, in retrospect, your objective is clear. It seems it is I who was the fool, after all.”
Somehow, this answer didn’t satisfy Hermione. She wanted to be angry with him, but she couldn’t. Pressing her lips together in frustration, she shook her head at him. “I wish I could tell you that in the real world.”
He lowered his gaze, his brow furrowing, then gave her a sad little smile. “Hermione,” he murmured, turning her name into a caress, “this is the real world.”
Stepping into The Three Broomsticks was like taking a step back in time. In some ways, this place was even more nostalgic than Hogwarts. Hermione paused to breathe in all the memories she’d made here and the magical feel of them. She took a seat at the bar and ordered a butterbeer while she waited for Ron. He’d be out of his Auror training any minute and then he’d be hers all weekend.
She watched the clock on the wall behind the bar, darting glances at the fireplace and sipping her frothy beer, practically humming with excitement. When the floo glowed green and Ron stepped out in a cloud of soot, she leapt up from her seat and ran to him, throwing her arms around his neck.
“Oi!” he laughed, wrapping her in a big bear hug. “I missed you too.” And when he pulled away, she admired that big, dimpled grin on his face. Stretching up onto her tiptoes, Hermione planted a soft kiss against his mouth. He returned it eagerly, pulling her tight against him and squeezing her bum. She didn’t even care that they were out in public. It was so good to be together again.
Hermione led Ron over to her place at the bar and they ordered some fish and chips and a round of real beers and Hermione asked Ron all about his training and how it was going and Ron regaled her with humorous stories about his classes and his classmates and what it was like to study under Tonks. And they drank and held hands until the world was fuzzy and warm. Then, they stumbled back to the castle and all the way into Hermione’s sheets.
They kissed so earnestly, and lost themselves in passion, feeling at the end more satisfied than they had in a long time. Then Hermione curled up against Ron’s side and fell asleep.
They were sitting at the top of the Great Hall, in front of a room full of students, and her hand was in his beneath the table, resting on his knee. Hermione jerked it away, her face snapping to him and his to her. A flicker of comprehension passed between them.
“No,” she said, her voice barely a whisper. “ No! No, no, no, no…”
“Hermione,” he pleaded in a quiet voice, his eyes flickering meaningfully toward their audience.
“No. No, I can’t. I just can’t right now.” She stood from her place, leaving a full plate on the table, and swept through the teachers’ entrance behind their chairs. The corridor was empty and her footsteps echoed as she hurried away, a knot forming in her throat, tears threatening behind her eyes.
“Hermione,” he called after her, running to catch up. He swept in front of her and caught her with his hands on her upper arms.
“Don’t,” she warned, pushing his hands away.
“No. No! This is your fault! I’m happy! I’m happy with Ron. We’re happy! ” He went rigid, his face blank, as if she’d turned him to stone. “I don’t know what is going on, but… Ron and I belong together!” Tears were pouring down her cheeks now and he was just standing there, unresponsive. She resented him for being hurt by her words. It was the truth , after all. “I can’t be here right now,” she said and pushed past him, hating him for being hurt and hating that witch in Diagon Alley for doing whatever she’d done, and finally, eventually, hating herself for the damage she’d just done.
She woke up gasping into the night air, her face wet with tears. Ron was there beside her, a quick glance confirmed. Her sigh of relief became a groan and she buried her face in her arms, letting the pain wash over her in waves as she quietly sobbed.
It was late morning when Ron kissed her awake. Her head was pounding from their night at the pub and his breath was foul. She tried to push him away, but he was insistent. Eventually, she gave in to his advances, opening her legs to him and wrapping her fingers in his hair as he had his way.
That was how it felt. That he was just having his way. She wasn’t even aroused. So why had she given in? She was still wondering this and beginning to resent him for it when he came inside of her, gasping his nasty breath right into her face. But then as he rested there on top of her, his ear pressed against her chest, she felt a surge of affection for him. It wasn’t his fault she hadn’t been in the mood. That was thanks to that bloody fortune teller and her curse. Of course, she couldn’t tell him that.
They rose for the day and showered and dressed and Hermione offered to send for some breakfast to be brought up. Ron declined. “When else am I ever gonna get the chance to eat at the Head Table?” he said.
Hermione hesitated. “I don’t know, Ron. We have assigned seats…”
“No one’s even gonna be there,” he assured her, waving her worries away. “It’s too late for breakfast and too early for lunch.”
She bit her lip, but she had to admit he had a point. Eventually, she agreed.
“So this is what it’s like,” Ron marvelled as they entered the Great Hall through the entrance behind the Head Table. “And where do you sit?”
Hermione led him over to her seat and was about to offer him Hagrid’s chair when she realized how enormous the thing was. Ron would be dwarfed by it.
“I’m guessing you sit next to Hagrid?” Ron grinned, pleased with his own observation. “And who sits on this side?”
“Um… Professor Snape,” she told him, guilt rising unbidden from somewhere buried deep inside.
Ron’s head snapped to look at her, his expression aghast. “You have to sit next to the Greasy Git?” he said, drawing out each word in horror. “Every day?” Hermione wished he wouldn’t make that sound like such a bad thing. It made her feel even worse about these stupid dreams. Though she wasn’t sure why.
Severus Snape chose that exact moment to step through the door out onto the dais. The expression in his narrowed eyes was enough to tell Hermione that he’d heard every word. “Believe me,” he drawled, “it’s not an ideal situation for either of us.” His voice was deep and a little rough with sleep. It made Hermione’s pulse leap strangely.
“Oh, hullo, Professor,” Ron smirked, holding out his hand. Snape ignored it, his eyes flickering to Ron’s other hand where it rested on the back of his chair.
“As I believe your… girlfriend… has informed you, Mr. Weasley, that seat belongs to me.”
Ron shifted his weight, his smirk spreading. Hermione grabbed his arm, but he shrugged her away. “We’re just going to have a bit of breakfast,” he said, not breaking eye contact with his old professor. “There are plenty of other seats.” He gestured toward the rest of the table, as if he were offering them to the other man. Hermione had never seen this side of Ron before. She didn’t like it.
“Yes,” agreed Professor Snape, his eyes calculating and his lips twisted in a smirk of disdain, “and I recommend you choose one at the opposite end.”
Hermione shouldn’t have been surprised that Snape would answer the challenge, but it was surreal to see the two men face off in such a strangely territorial way. “Ron, let’s just move,” she said.
“No,” said Ron, not turning to look at her. “Don’t be ridiculous. We were here first. He can find another seat.
“It’s his seat, Ron…”
“It’s just a chair. He can find another.”
“Mr. Weasley, you are a guest in this castle. You are in no position…”
“And you aren’t my professor, anymore. You can’t tell me what to do.”
“Ron, come on,” Hermione begged, shaking his arm.
Severus Snape’s eyes shifted from Ron onto herself. “ Hermione ,” he drawled, turning her name into a patronizing caress. Ron stiffened and Hermione was taken aback. “Perhaps I could have a word with you... alone.”
Despite Ron’s protestations, Hermione followed her colleague out into the corridor, feeling like a first year all over again. How had this gotten so far out of hand? Why couldn’t Ronald have just chosen a different seat?
Snape led her a short distance down the corridor before spinning on his heel, giving his robes a dramatic swirl. She stopped short even as he closed the distance between them. They were far too close for comfort, but she wasn’t going to be the one to step away. Instead, she tipped her chin up as he loomed over her, glaring down with those calculating eyes. When he finally spoke, his voice was a velvety growl that she felt all the way to her core. “Your personal relationships are of no concern to me,” he began, though his tone spoke of distaste. “You have every right to chain yourself to that arrogant hothead, though I imagine he’ll only restrict you from reaching your full potential. Indeed, seeing you roll over for that display of bravado gives me the urge to retch. But that is your choice…”
“You’re wrong! ” Hermione snapped, anger rising more readily to the surface in light of her recent hallucinations.
“What is not acceptable,” Severus Snape continued, as if she hadn’t said a word, “is for any guest of yours to enter my domain and presume to tell me what to do…”
“He didn’t… he shouldn’t…” She wanted to defend Ron, but there was nothing she could say. He was right and she hated that he was right and she wanted to smack that arrogant smirk right off his face.
“Go on,” he told her, straightening to his full height. “Sit where you will and enjoy your breakfast. I find I have lost my appetite.” And with another swirl of his infamous robes, he stalked away.
Hermione watched him leave, struggling with herself for some better response before stomping back to the Great Hall. When she returned to the dais, she found Ron sitting in Professor Snape’s chair, happily shoveling potatoes into his mouth. “What… was that?” she asked him as she slipped into her own seat.
“What?” He said, shrugging it off as he took another bite. “He was being a git.”
“Yeah, and so were you.”
“Was not. He thinks he can still tell us what to do. You do remember how he treated us, don’t you? Old bastard is too used to getting his way, bossing little kids around.”
“So you decided to take a stand…”
“Nasty git, pathetic really. Sulking about, thinking he’s better than me because he used to take House Points…”
“ Ron . He. Is. My. Colleague , now. You can’t just…”
“Alright, alright, I’m sorry, okay? I guess I should have just bowed out of the way…”
“No, of course not! You’re being ridiculous!”
“ I’m being ridiculous? The man was insisting we took his seat. There’s a full table of seats, aren’t there. It’s like First year all over again.”
“Fine,” Hermione snapped, throwing up her hands. They could argue this around and around all day if they wanted to. What good would it do?
They were silent through the rest of the meal and all the way back to Hermione’s quarters. There, they plopped down on the sofa and glanced around for something to say.
“Look,” said Ron, after a tense moment, “I’m sorry, alright? I shouldn’t have started a fight with one of your… colleagues . Let’s just enjoy the rest of the weekend, alright? I’ve missed you.” He took her hand, giving her an earnest smile.
She couldn’t stay mad at that face. “Yes, alright,” she sighed, her lips turning up at one corner. “So what would you like to do?”
Again, they glanced around the room, this time searching for something to do, some way to spend the time. “Well,” said Ron, leering at her and opening a palm against her thigh, “there’s always…”
“Ronald,” she laughed as he leaned into her and peppered her face with kisses. Then he met her mouth and she kissed him back until he had maneuvered her onto her back. Her mind flickered to the way she’d felt this morning, how she’d been angry with herself for giving in when she didn’t really feel like having sex. “No,” she gasped against his mouth, “not now, okay?”
Ron looked up at her in genuine surprise. “Why not?” he asked, perplexed. “Are you still angry with me?”
“No, I just…”
“Then why…” he whined in a teasing voice, bending to nibble her neck.
“I just… don’t feel like it right now.”
His eyes met hers, their blue depths flickering from hurt to mild annoyance. He pulled away, sitting back against the couch. She joined him, straightening her clothes. “Well, alright then,” he said, folding his arms across his chest. “So what do you want to do?”
If they had been back at Grimmauld, she would have proposed a film, but Muggle electricity didn’t work inside of Hogwarts, so that was out. “Want to play a game?”
The first hour of Exploding Snap was a lot of fun. They stretched out on the floor, laughing and enjoying the competitive nature of the game. But then it began to stretch on and on and Hermione could tell they had both lost interest long ago. She caught Ron checking the Muggle watch he’d taken to wearing and proposed a game of chess for a change of pace.
“Nah,” he said, stifling a yawn. “I think I’ve beat you enough for one day.” Then he shuffled closer to her and caught her chin, covering her mouth with his own. She kissed him back, a bit warily at first and then annoyed when he leaned her back against the carpet, crushing her to the floor.
“Ron,” she managed, pulling away from his lips, “not now, okay?” She caught him rolling his eyes as he pulled off of her and sat there with his arms draped across his knees.
“Alright,” he said, his voice annoyed, “now what?”
Hermione frowned at him. She wanted to tell him that if he was so bored maybe he should just go home, but instead she took a breath and leaned back against the couch. “I dunno,” she told him, shrugging stubbornly.
Ron glanced at his watch again. “Want to go to Hogsmeade?”
They left the castle in much brighter spirits, linking arms as they made the trek to the quiet town. Hermione had dressed in a set of navy robes with a modest but flattering cut that hugged her curves and left a V of skin bare at her chest. They made her feel mature and beautiful. Uplifted, she happily indulged Ron’s need to visit Honeydukes, even giving in to the temptation of a chocolate frog. In turn, he followed her begrudgingly as she wandered the aisles of Tomes and Scrolls.
When it was finally suitably late enough, they ended up at The Three Broomsticks. Conversation came much easier after a couple of pints. The easy familiarity returned and their spirits lifted as their blood rose in their cheeks. They decided to eat there and ordered roast beef and shepherd's pie. Hermione found she was so full from the beer they’d been drinking that she could only pick at her plate. But Ron was happy to help her finish it. They were nursing yet another pint, swaying a bit in their seats and chatting happily about Ron’s training in the Auror department (Hermione had heard all of these stories already, but her patience had lengthened with the dull warmth the golden ale had bestowed upon her and she was enjoying listening to them anyway) when the door to the pub flew open and Hagrid appeared.
“Aha!” he said, when he caught sight of Hermione, “there she is!” He lumbered across the room toward them and she was surprised to see Neville Longbottom behind him, leading up a group that included Madame Hooch and Professors Flitwick, Sinistra, and (as if to top off the rocky day she’d had so far)… Snape.
Hermione felt her face turn red as she spun back toward Ron. Classes hadn’t even started yet and already they were all going to see her drunk.
“We looked all over for ye!” said Hagrid, clapping them both on the shoulders hard enough that they nearly fell off their respective stools. “The lot of us thought ter have a bit of a toast before the start of term. Oh! And look what we have here!” He turned and gestured to Neville with a massive hand. “Turns out ol’ Neville here is gonner study under Professor Sprout.”
“Kind of a last minute decision,” said Neville, giving the two of them a playful wink. He seemed to have grown half a foot since they last saw him and he’d bulked up quite a bit.
Hagrid and Neville took the stools beside Ron while the rest of the group headed to the other side of the bar. Hermione tried to listen to what Neville was saying about the last couple years of his life and how he had decided to come back to study Herbology in depth, but her attention kept flickering across the bar to the dark figure paying apt attention to Aurora Sinistra and Rolanda Hooch. Both of the older witches were turned toward him, ignoring Flitwick on their other side and grinning in what seemed like a flirtatious way.
It shouldn’t have bothered her.
Hermione ordered another pint, sipping on the bubbling golden brew as a sort of distraction. Ron and Neville were talking about Quidditch (of course) and Flitwick had come to sit beside Hagrid, drawing him into a conversation that Hermione couldn’t hear. Her eyes kept returning to the man who had been haunting her dreams and marvelling at the strangeness of seeing him laugh.
She was watching him, wondering how she’d never noticed that he had dimples, when his dark eyes shot across the bar, catching hers in their clever gaze. A flush sprung to life in her cheeks and she jerked her attention back to Ron and Neville and their opinions on the latest World Cup, feeling the curious gaze of her professor lingering upon her.
Her glass was almost empty again by the time she chanced another glance across the bar. Aurora Sinistra had turned in her seat to face Rolanda Hooch and was playfully toying with the other woman’s hair, leaning against her in a way that spoke of intimacy. Severus Snape was nursing a pint, his eyes wandering the room with a bored expression. She couldn’t help but think back to the dreams she’d been having and the strange contrast between the Snape of her dreams and the one of her waking life. And then, before she knew what she was doing, she found herself slipping off her stool and circling the bar toward him.
Even as she approached, even as his eyes flickered apathetically toward her, Hermione didn’t know why she was doing it or what she was going to say. She just felt a strange desire to confront this man who had stirred up so much trouble in her life. So it surprised her as much as it did him when she slid onto the stool beside him and said, “I wanted to apologise.” He lifted his eyebrows, but said nothing, so she continued. “Ronald’s behaviour this morning…”
“You are not accountable for Mr. Weasley,” he replied, his voice steady and smooth as crushed velvet.
“Yes, well…” she began again, a little flustered, “then I suppose I’m sorry for the way I reacted. You were quite right and I should have acknowledged that. It won’t happen again.”
Snape snorted, shaking his head, but said nothing.
“You and I are colleagues, now,” Hermione began again, annoyed by his response. “I would like for us to put the past behind us and begin again with a clean slate.”
“Oh, I have no doubt you would prefer that, Miss Granger, but I am afraid it is impossible.”
“I can no more brush aside my opinions of you than I can believe that you are truly content with Mr. Weasley.”
Hermione flinched back as if he had struck her. “I beg your pardon.”
“True, the two of you have a good deal of history and I suppose it was inevitable that you would attach yourself to one of the two. And if the alternative was Potter, I can understand your choice to some degree. And yet, Mr. Weasley was never, nor will he ever be, your intellectual equal. If you aren’t bored with him already, I imagine you soon will be.”
Outrage flared to life in Hermione’s chest. “What right do you have…” she began.
“Ahhh,” he chuckled, “I’ve hit a nerve.” His eyes were glittering with malicious glee and she decided his dimples were not attractive at all.
“You’re hardly the one to be giving me advice…” she hissed, cutting off when she realized what she was about to say.
But Severus Snape was no fool. The sparkle in his eyes turned cold and his smirk froze on his face. It was a nearly imperceptible difference, but she picked up on it just the same. “I suppose…” he began in a dangerous, dark tone, “that you think I have no… experience… in these matters. That… surely, your dreaded Potions Master has never been intimate with anyone. But there have been witches in my past who warmed my sheets until the appeal of a consistent bedfellow could no longer compensate for the slow torture of tedious conversation.”
Hermione didn’t bother to hide her disgust. “Was that all they were to you?”
Something flickered across his face, as if he were catching his own miscalculation, then his attention shifted past her just as an arm landed hard across her shoulders.
“‘Mione,” Ron sang, squeezing her to him so forcefully that she almost fell off her stool, “where’d ya go?” His eyes were bleary and unfocused. He didn’t wait for her to reply, but turned to Professor Snape. “You don’t mind, do ya Snape?” he slurred, “if I take my girlfriend back for a bit?” He grinned then buried his face in Hermione’s hair, whispering loudly enough for the professor to hear, “Can’t wait to get you home and outer those… stuffy robes. Y’bout ready?”
Severus Snape had turned back to the bar, pointedly ignoring them, but looking peeved despite himself. Hermione was torn between embarrassment at Ron’s behaviour and anger at what the older man had said. Right now, she wanted nothing to do with either of them. But Ron was drunk and already keen to get her into bed. Would he be angry if she told him ‘no’ again? And the other would surely be showing up in her dreams, which she didn’t want to deal with right now, either.
But then they were stumbling out the door, heading back down the path to Hogwarts, Ron knocking into her with every step and singing in a loud annoying voice, completely off key. The world was a blur around her. She wished she could take back the last pint or so. She must have drunk it all too fast and now it was catching up to her.
Her rooms were too bright for this late at night (a problem which she quickly rectified) and all she wanted to do was collapse into bed and fall asleep. But Ron had other ideas in mind. He followed her into the sheets, searching for her through the dark with his hands. She pushed against him and gave a little groan, but he ignored it, pawing at her with cold hands and finding her mouth with his own wet one.
“ No ,” she moaned, “not now.”
“Aw, come on,” he teased, biting her neck a little too hard and grinding his pelvis against the front of her knickers. “I’ve been waiting all day.”
“ No, Ronald. I… I’m… not in the mood.”
“Whaddya mean you’re ‘not in the mood’?” he whined, propping himself up on his elbows. “You haven’t been in the mood all day.”
“Yeah, well…” Hermione shrugged into the sheets. What else could she say?
“All we’ve got is tonight, ya know. I’m not gonna see you for a while and you don’t even want me.”
Hermione groaned and sat up, bringing the lights up in the room with a wave of her hand. “It’s not like that, Ron,” she said, anger rising in her voice.
“Sure it is! We’ve had a shit day and a shit night and you left me at the bar to go and sit with Snape , of all people.”
“Yeah! So? I had to apologise for your behaviour at breakfast.”
“ So?! So you left me at the bar to go and sit with another man! ”
Hermione snorted, glancing away. “Professor Snape, Ron.”
“Yeah, and he’s a man isn’t he?”
Hermione rolled her eyes. “Hardly,” she laughed, looking anywhere but at Ron.
“You think he doesn’t want to fuck you? Same as any other bloke?”
Her eyes popped to his at that and her jaw dropped in horror. “ What? Of all the ridiculous…”
“No, he does! Of course he does! Didn’t you see how he looked at you? He was right angry when I showed up and took you away.”
“He wants to get in your knickers and you were giving him every reason to think he had a chance…”
“I was not! ”
“You went and SAT WITH HIM!”
“ SO?! ”
“ SO …” Ron broke off, waving his arms in the air, at a loss of what to say. “So, he’s the Greasy Git, ‘Mione.”
He shook his head, rolling his eyes before collapsing back against the bed and rubbing a hand across his face. “I don’t wanna fight,” he finally said. “I’ve got to go back tomorrow and I won’t see you for a while.” He turned to her and pulled her back down to the mattress, wrapping an arm around her waist and smiling into her eyes. “I just want to be here with you.”
Hermione sighed, allowing herself to relax. “Yeah, alright,” she mumbled.
He beamed at her. “Good,” he said, kissing the tip of her nose. “Because I’m going to miss you.”
Her reluctant smile relaxed into something more genuine as she curled a hand in the front of his shirt. “I’ll miss you, too,” she said.
He smiled, planting a long kiss against her forehead before catching her mouth with one quick kiss. There was something hesitant and vulnerable about the gesture and that made her ache a little bit inside. “I love you,” he whispered in a voice like a question, seeking out her eyes with his own.
She met his eyes and smiled deeper, as if she could infuse her words with sincerity. “I love you, too.”
When he kissed her again, she let him, trying to make herself feel that depth of emotion that was there when they first got together at the end of the War. The tender brush of lips became open mouths panting together, his tongue seeking out her own. His hand slipped beneath the tee she had worn to bed and kneaded her breast as he rolled on top of her.
This time, she opened her legs for him and willed herself to want this too.
Afterward, while Ron snored contentedly, Hermione curled up beneath the sheets and thought about the strange conversation she had had with her professor at the bar. Ron had said that Professor Snape probably wanted her. Well, she had known that, hadn’t she? Her dreams had certainly implied it, anyway. And did she really think they were only dreams? But to hear Ron say it, as if it were so obvious, that of course he would want her… it sent a shiver down her spine.
Did she want him to want her? She had to admit, the thought of those sharp eyes flickering over her form made her feel… something. Seen , perhaps? Beautiful? For so many years she had wanted her professor’s approval. But for him to want her sexually? She shook her head. Perhaps it would be better not to think about that.
She was straddling his lap, her bare thighs against the thick wool of his trousers. His arms were wrapped around her, one squeezing her arse and the other pulling her tight against him so that her bare breasts were squashed against his hot, bare chest. Her mouth was pressed against his mouth, their lips overlapping gently, their tongues slowly teasing one another; and a fire burned in her core. She wanted him more than she could ever remember wanting anything. For a moment, she just kissed him with abandon, rubbing herself against his naked cock, where it was pressed between them. Her hand twisted in his hair.
She gasped against his mouth at the realization.
“ Ohhhh yes,” he murmured in a voice hoarse with arousal, thrusting hard against her as he squeezed her arse. The friction of his flesh against hers sent a spark of longing through her even as she lurched away from him, falling off his lap. She caught a glimpse of his cock peeking out of his trousers--big and hard and pink at the tip--before he stuffed it away from her view, cursing beneath his breath. “Not now ,” he groaned.
“Oh!” Hermione gasped, her shock quickly morphing into anger. “I’m sorry, is this a bad time for you!? ”
His eyes went wide a second before his face smoothed out into an expressionless mask. “Clearly,” he murmured, his lip twitching at the corner.
“I’m so sorry for you!” she snapped, snatching her robes off the floor and holding them up to herself as she struggled to her feet.
He sighed wearily. “Do you resent me for being disappointed?”
“No I just… I’m sick of being treated like… I mean…” she glanced around for something to say, thinking about Ron and their boring day and how she’d given in to him again and how she wasn’t supposed to want the professor, but it had been years since she’d felt anything like she’d felt just moments ago. And some part of her was angry with him for the things he’d said at the bar that night. And before she knew it, tears had sprung unbidden to her eyes. “I mean ,” she repeated, scowling at him through the tears, “I’m more than just… your bedfellow! ”
His eyes grew wide and his mouth opened in surprise. He pushed himself up from the sofa, wincing a little as he unbent his back. “Of course you are, Hermione,” he said, “It was a foolish thing I said to you that night.”
His hands connected with her bare upper arms and she wrenched away from him. “Don’t,” she warned, brushing at her eyes with one hand while the other held her robes against her breasts. “Turn around would you, for Merlin’s sake, let me put these on.”
He did as she said, even covering his eyes with his hands while she struggled with the slippery fabric. “I only said… what I said…” he continued, confessing to the corner of the room, “because you made me feel so small. You looked so beautiful in those dark blue robes and your cheeks were pink and your lips were swollen and rosy. When you came over to sit beside me… it made me nervous. And that made me angry at myself because you had been my student and just a young girl. So when you let it slip that you thought me just an old, unwanted bachelor… I… I… wanted to change your mind.”
Hermione was torn between glaring at his back and wrapping her arms around him. How was she supposed to know what to think? “You can turn around now,” she murmured, not quite looking at him when he did. She took a seat on the sofa and he lowered himself hesitantly down at the other end. “So,” she began again, a thousand ideas competing for attention in her mind, “you didn’t mean it? About those other witches?”
He sighed. “Well, there was some truth to that. Of course it never started that way,” he hurried to assure her, rubbing the knees of his trousers absently, “a man infatuated with a beautiful woman rarely sees far enough to judge compatibility.” His eyes flickered to her face, seeming to consider. “And a lonely person is wont to choose comfort, rather than take the gamble that something better might one day come along.”
Hermione woke with a gasp and rolled over to wrap an arm around Ron. She squeezed her eyes shut and tried to block out everything Snape had said as tears spilled across her cheek.
Sunlight was streaming through the window by the time Ron finally woke up. Hermione had been staring at the ceiling for hours. Nothing she had done had helped her get back to sleep. Part of her didn’t even want to, for fear of her dreams.
Ron yawned, his mouth gaping grotesquely, pouring foul breath across the side of Hermione’s face. “Morning,” he whispered, draping an arm across her waist and kissing her shoulder. “Sorry about last night.”
She turned to look at him then. “What?”
Ron looked sheepish. “I shouldn’t have gotten so angry with you. I was drunk. I know that’s no excuse. I mean bloody hell I was jealous of Snape , wasn’t I?” He gave a short laugh at that and grinned up at her. “It’s just hard, you know,” he continued when she didn’t respond. “You leaving and all. Like… that chapter of our life is over now and… I dunno, I guess we’ve gotta figure out what’s next.”
Hermione smiled at him, swallowing the lump in her throat and brushing aside all errant thoughts on the subject. She didn’t want to think about the next chapter right now. She wanted to hold onto this one.
They breakfasted in the Great Hall, taking seats at the Gryffindor table for old times’ sake. It was nostalgic in a bittersweet way, joy warming Hermione’s heart even as dread tightened in the pit of her stomach.
Afterwards, Ron announced that he ought to get back early and work on his homework. Hermione teased him about this, but reluctantly agreed. She offered to walk him to Hogsmeade, but he shook his head. “That’s not necessary,” he told her, kissing her sweetly and bidding her goodbye. “I’ll be in touch,” he said, sounding so grown up. Hermione shook her head, ridding herself of the worries that kept wanting to intrude. She knew what she had to do.
Madame Pomfrey (“Oh, it’s Poppy, now, dear. We’re colleagues, now, aren’t we?”) was bustling about the Hospital Wing when Hermione appeared. “What can I help you with… Professor ?” the elderly witch asked with a wink.
“I was, er, wondering if I could have some Dreamless Sleep. I’ve, er, been having some, er, anxious dreams.”
“Oh, of course!” said Madame--Poppy. “Just a moment, dear.” She flitted into her office and returned with three small purple vials. “That’s all I’ve got left, I’m afraid. I’ll have to ask Severus to make some more before the start of Term. Merlin knows we’ll need it before too long.” She gave Hermione a wry smile at that and handed over the little vials.
Hermione slept wonderfully that night. Her head hit the pillow and the next thing she knew she was waking up to the early morning sunlight, feeling refreshed and completely rested. It was marvellous.
The castle was a flurry of activity today, all of the professors getting ready for the students’ arrival that very night. Hermione, herself, hadn’t realized how much she still had to get done. She was so preoccupied dressing her classroom and her office to give off the right impression that she was very nearly late to the Start of Term Feast.
Snape raised an eyebrow at her when she slipped into her seat, panting, her face flushed from practically running down to the Great Hall. It suddenly occurred to Hermione that she hadn’t seen the man since Saturday night, and with that revelation came a sudden vision of him reclined on a sofa, his eyes clouded with arousal and his hard cock emerging proud and pink from the fly of his thick wool trousers.
Hermione blushed and looked away.
“Nervous, Hermione ?” he asked her, a smirk in his voice.
Hermione’s eyes jumped to his in defiance and she bristled at the malicious glint in his eyes, even as she remembered his confession in her dream the other night. “You made me feel so small,” he had said. “ You looked so beautiful in those dark blue robes and your cheeks were pink and your lips were swollen and rosy. When you came over to sit beside me… it made me nervous.”
Almost unconsciously, Hermione bit her lip. Something like triumph or excitement rose up within her to see his eyes flick down to it. He caught himself so quickly that she might have imagined the glance. But she knew he had noticed and that made a strange thrill swell within her. “Not at all… Severus ,” she said, smirking playfully at him. “Are you?”
He gave her a suspicious frown and Hermione could have smacked herself in the forehead. She had been trying for snarky colleague, but now felt she might have slipped into the territory of flirtatious younger witch. “Hardly,” he scoffed and turned away from her.
When the students began to filter into the Hall, Hermione’s stomach gave a little flip. Dozens and then hundreds of pairs of eyes were flitting up to the Head table, to her . Whispers skittered through the room beneath the excited chatter.
Hagrid bumped an elbow into her shoulder, conspiratorially, nearly knocking her out of her chair. “They’ll be talkin’ about you o’course,” he said. “Famous war hero and all.”
Hermione gulped down the anxious lump in her throat and glanced up at Snape in time to see his wry smirk.
The Hall settled down as the new batch of First Years was led up to the front and the old Sorting Hat placed on a stool. Nostalgia blossomed in Hermione’s chest, so sudden and surprising that tears threatened behind her eyes. How many times had they watched the new students Sorted? And now she was watching for the first time from a new angle. These were her charges. They were beginning at Hogwarts the same as her. The first batch never to have Professor Flitwick teach them Charms. She only hoped she could live up to his standards.
After the Sorting, Minerva McGonagall stood up and addressed the Hall from the same place Albus Dumbledore had done so many times before. At that, Hermione’s eyes really did fill with tears. It seemed so strange that life should go on after everything that had happened; that a new normal would be established at Hogwarts School; a normal that did not include the old headmaster with his half-moon spectacles and twinkling eyes.
None of the other professors seemed the least bit moved by McGonagall’s matter-of-fact speech about the beginning of term. Of course, they had had several years of this new normal. Neville, on the other hand, was looking quite as shiny-eyed as Hermione. She felt a surge of affection for her old classmate and determined to have a proper pint with him sometime soon.
Minerva glanced back at Hermione with a proud smile, prompting the younger witch to return her attention to the Headmistress’s words. “Many of you already know or will have surmised that Professor Flitwick has officially retired. Please welcome your new Charms professor, Hermione Granger.” Hermione stood awkwardly as the Hall filled with applause. How many times had she dreamed of this moment? How many times had she imagined what it would be like to stand up here, at the top of the Hall, to see so many young faces looking up at her. To know that she was going to make a difference in their lives. It was as surreal and wonderful as she could have hoped. When at last she took her seat again, she couldn’t help but notice the excited whispers of the restless crowd. It may have been her imagination, but they seemed to be rooting for her.
That night, Hermione lay awake in bed, staring at the ceiling. In her mind’s eye, she saw the Hall full of students cheering for her. It felt like the culmination of everything she had ever worked for, but she knew it was only the beginning. Finally, eventually, after she had savoured the excitement so long that weariness had begun to settle over her, the new Charms Professor of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry downed a vial of Dreamless Sleep.
Hermione woke on Tuesday morning feeling refreshed, but rather anxious. She was tempted to skip breakfast in order to prepare more for her classes, but decided it was imperative she make an appearance on her first day. Hagrid was grinning broadly when she took her seat at the Head Table, but Snape looked like he hadn’t gotten a wink of sleep.
“Mornin’ Hermione!” said Hagrid, beaming at her.
“Good morning Hagrid,” she replied in a sing-song voice. Nerves were racing up and down her limbs like electricity in her blood. She turned to Professor Snape and hesitated. “Good morning, Severus.”
“I don’t believe,” he began, his deep timbre marred by the roughness of sleep, “that I have given you leave to address me in such informal terms.”
Hermione was shocked. Thinking back, she supposed he hadn’t actually returned the gesture when she’d asked him to use her first name. Still, it was a silly thing for him to get upset about. She blinked up at him, waiting for him to meet her eye. When he only continued to pick at his breakfast, staring out across the hall, she said, “Good morning, Professor Snape, ” and turned back to her own plate, trying hard not to show him how annoyed she was.
Her first class was with Seventh Year Ravenclaws and Slytherins and Hermione was stunned to realize that these students had been First Years when she herself had been in her sixth year at Hogwarts. Somehow, she hadn’t made that connection until now, looking out across the room at some vaguely familiar faces. A couple of them were taller, older versions of students she had disciplined back when she had been a Prefect. It was surreal.
She gave them a long speech about the importance of honing a talent for Charms work and the necessity of studying hard for their NEWTS at the end of the term, which went over flawlessly with the quiet, well-behaved class. So well, in fact, that she was completely unprepared for her second class of the day: Fifth Year Gryffindors and Slytherins.
The Gryffindors kept raising their hands to ask personal questions about the War and Harry Potter, while the Slytherins kept passing notes and whispering behind their hands, snickering wickedly every time a Gryffindor spoke up. Hermione was already finding it difficult to hold onto her promise to herself that she would treat every student the same, regardless of House.
She was exhausted by the time she made it down to the Great Hall for lunch. “Well?” said Snape with a twisted smirk. “Is it a dream come true?”
Hermione wanted nothing more than to tell him that yes it was exactly what she had hoped and dreamed it would be, but anyway it was far too soon to say. She gave him a non-commital shrug and filled her plate a little more than usual. She was starving.
The rest of the classes were just as taxing on her nerves and she hadn’t even started them on any Charms yet. So far, all she’d done was lecture. It did not bode well that by the end of the day she was so ready to collapse into bed that she nearly didn’t bother going down to supper. She was too hungry to avoid it, however. All that teaching seemed to have worked up an appetite.
“There ya are, ‘Ermione!” cried Hagrid when she slipped into her seat at the Head Table. “So, how was it? Yer first day as a professor!”
Hermione sighed. “Not bad. A bit overwhelming at times, but nothing I can’t handle.” Severus Snape snorted disbelievingly and Hermione turned to glare at him. “Did you have something to add, Professor ?”
He smirked, not bothering to look at her. “Your hair appears to be advertising your distress, Miss Granger.”
Hermione flushed, her hands jumping automatically to her hair in an attempt to get it under control. Belatedly, she decided she shouldn’t care so much what he thought of her hair. He was her nasty old Potions professor, not the lazily smiling man stretched out naked in her dreams. She let her hands drop with a shrug. “Well, it was only my first day,” she told him, her chin in the air.
Ron, Harry, and Ginny were all excited to hear about her first day as a Hogwarts professor, when she Flooed them that night. She regaled them with stories of the various challenges she had overcome: the adoring Gryffindors wanting to know more about her than about her class, having to tell some Slytherins off for zooming spit-wads around the classroom when she wasn’t looking, and even confiscating some Weasleys Wizard Wheezes (“Oh no, you didn’t!” cried Ron).
Eventually, Harry and Ginny went up to bed, leaving Ron to continue chatting with his girlfriend. Suddenly, neither of them had anything to say. “Listen,” said Ron, at last, “I’ll be working late tomorrow. They’re taking us out to see what it’s like to work at night.”
“Oh, that’s alright. Just Floo me when you get home. I’ll be up, I promise.”
“Oh, yeah, alright,” said Ron. “Well, anyway, I hope you have a better day tomorrow.”
Hermione smirked at him. “Not likely. I’ve got Seventh Year Gryffindors and Slytherins.”
They exchanged a knowing look and laughed. “Well,” said Ron, after an awkwardly lengthening silence, “good luck with that, then.”
“I’ll… er… talk to you tomorrow.”
And with that, Hermione pulled out of the Floo and sat back on her heels. She felt… funny, somehow, as if… something wasn’t quite right.
Tuesday was even worse. The students seemed to be testing her, pushing her to see how she reacted to their misbehaviour. Over and over she had to tell her students to be quiet in her class, but still they continued to whisper behind her back. But she was loathe to take House Points. She remembered how it had felt to have points deducted, even when it was earned. And after all, it was only the beginning of the term.
The Seventh Year Gryffindors and Slytherins were the most difficult class so far. The Gryffindors seemed to be taunting the Slytherins as if Hermione was just one of their own and the Slytherins, in turn, made rude remarks about her behind their hands, just loud enough for her to hear. She was a muggle-born, they remembered, and only just barely older than they were. Was Hogwarts so hard-pressed to find a teacher for them nowadays that they would stoop so low? Or was Minerva McGonagall playing favourites? Everyone knew she had a blind spot when it came to Harry Potter and his friends.
Hermione ignored their comments, warning them by name to be quiet, but pretending she hadn’t heard the words they had said. But then, toward the end of class, a tall handsome Slytherin named Tavin Zabini (and he was undoubtedly related to Blaise Zabini, with that perfect golden skin and striking cheekbones) spoke up in her defense.
“Alright, alright,” he said, his eyes dancing with wickedness between innocent smiles, “Professor Granger told us to be quiet.”
Hermione was taken aback, but only hesitated a moment before saying “Yes, thank you Mister Zabini.” She was about to continue her lecture about the importance of their NEWTS in determining their future careers, but he interrupted her again.
“It’s no problem at all, Professor Granger,” he said in a smooth voice, barely concealing his smirk. “You can count on me. I’ll keep those miserable wretches in line for you.” There was a bout of snickering from the Slytherins and a couple of balls of parchment tossed at Tavin Zabini’s head, but he just smiled innocently up at her like a perfect angel.
When she dismissed the class at the end of the hour, Zabini approached her desk and leaned across it, resting his hands on the smooth surface. “They’re trouble, the lot of them,” he told her with a wink, “but don’t worry. I’ll make sure they listen to you next time.”
Hermione gave him a wry glance, conveying her impatience with his little routine. “That’s very… thoughtful of you,” she told him in a dry voice.
“Oh it’s no trouble,” he told her, glancing around at his friends waiting for him by the door. “And if you need any advice,” he winked at her, “I’d be happy to give you a few tips, sometime. Maybe… over coffee.”
Hermione flushed, both at his nerve and at his insinuation. Anger bubbled just below the surface, but she could not allow herself to react the way she would have as a student here. “I think I’ll manage well enough, Mister Zabini,” she said, coldly. “You had better hurry, or you’ll miss your next class.”
“Oh yes, of course,” he replied, pretending to be very worried about that as he backed away to rejoin his friends. “Wouldn’t want that,” he finished, winking at her as he slipped out of the room. Peals of laughter echoed in the corridor and Hermione blotted ink in the middle of her lesson plan. She found that she was gritting her teeth in frustration and forced herself to calm down.
Hermione was famished by the time she reached the Great Hall that night for supper. Snape grinned nastily at her. “Pretty awful day, then,” he said, with a glance at her hair.
She wanted more than anything to berate him about his Slytherins, but she held her tongue, contenting herself with one withering glare in his direction before taking her seat.
“The students have already decided you aren’t a threat,” he told her. She ignored him, choosing instead to spend her energy shoveling potatoes into her mouth. He watched her with mild disapproval. “Did you think they would welcome you like a hero?” he asked, the taunt in his voice as clear as his enjoyment of her suffering. “Did you think it would be like tutoring Potter and that imbecile boyfriend of yours?”
“Oh shove off, Snape,” Hermione snapped, surprising even herself. He went very still, his eyes widened slightly. But she wasn’t done. “I hardly,” she found herself saying, hesitating slightly then pushing on through, “think… I need to be taking teaching advice… from you .”
His expression grew cold at that and she turned away, returning her attention to her potatoes. Suddenly, he leaned in a little closer, so that she could feel his breath on the side of her face. Her stomach leapt up into her throat and her body hummed with tense awareness of his proximity to her. He was so close that she could smell him and he smelled just like her dreams. Flashes from those dreams jumped to the forefront of her mind, making it hard to concentrate on his words. “Say what you will about my policies, Miss Granger,” he was whispering in an angry voice, “but there was never any doubt who was in control in my class. You may have dealt with your share of challenges in the past, but a school full of adolescent witches and wizards is a monster unto itself. It is vital that you gain their respect before you completely lose control.”
That night, Hermione sat up, waiting for Ron to Floo. For a while, she attempted to go over her lesson plans, but soon her concentration wavered. Her eyes kept flickering between the clock, the Floo, and the open door of her bedroom, beckoning her to come enjoy her dreamless sleep. It was nearly one o’clock in the morning before she finally gave up on Ron and climbed into bed, downing her potion in one eager gulp.
Wednesday was the worst so far. The students all seemed to have made up their minds about her. And she hated to think that Snape might have been right. The Gryffindors seemed to consider her more of a friend than a teacher, pushing their luck that she wouldn’t take points from them. The Ravenclaws were watching her with sharp eyes, daring her to live up to Professor Flitwick’s example, but obviously doubtful that she could. The Hufflepuffs were obedient enough, but their encouraging smiles came across more patronizing than anything else. And the Slytherins… behaved exactly the way she should have expected them to.
She really did skip dinner this time and was halfway back to her chambers when she remembered that she needed more Dreamless Sleep. But Poppy Pomfrey wasn’t in the hospital wing when Hermione arrived. She must have been down in the Great Hall, with the others. Hermione nearly pulled out her hair at this realization, but plopped down onto one of the beds and focused on her breathing. The last thing she needed right now was a panic attack.
When Poppy finally did arrive, it was with bad news. “Oh, I’m afraid Severus hasn’t brought me any more, yet,” she said.
“What?” Hermione couldn’t hide her panic. Snape! Again! Why was he the root of all her troubles? That man was the absolute worst thing that had happened to her since… “Why is he even in charge of making potions?” she whined. “I thought he was teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts…”
“Oh, he is!” cried Poppy. “But the current Potions professor, Terrence Tollock is an older man with poor eyesight and believe you me Severus is a much finer potioneer.”
The sound of a throat being cleared drew the witches’ attention to the open doorway, where Severus Snape himself was standing, lazily levitating a large clear case full of multi-colored vials.
“Oh, Severus! Excellent timing!” said Poppy, hurrying toward him and taking the case off his hands with her own raised wand. “Let me just get these situated, Hermione, dear.” And she bustled into her office with the case in tow.
When Snape didn’t immediately go, Hermione turned away from him. The last thing she wanted was any more opinions from the impossible man.
“Little early in the term to be popping potions, don’t you think, Miss Granger?”
Hermione gave the man a nasty glare. How she could ever have thought that those dreams were anything more than elaborate hallucinations… the man was positively wicked!
She had just opened her mouth to retort when Poppy emerged and handed her three purple vials. “There you go, dear. I’ll have more for you here when you’re ready for it.”
Hermione wished she could ask for more right now, knowing that she would be needing it again in just three short days, but she heeded the other woman’s words with a little nod. “Thank you.”
Snape stepped aside to let her pass, but she had hardly made it halfway down the short corridor before he called after her. “Miss Granger.” He was sweeping toward her with a strange reluctance to his normally confident stride.
“ What? ” she snapped. “Got any more helpful opinions for me?”
He hesitated, standing a little closer than was comfortable so that she had to tilt her head back to look up at him. “I just...” he began, a note of uncertainty in his voice, “You should know. Dreamless Sleep…can be… dangerous if taken too often. The… effects can begin to wear off and… it’s quite… addictive. You really… if you are taking it with any sort of… regularity… you should… skip a day now and then. Every three or four days... or so.” He seemed genuinely concerned and that took Hermione completely off her guard. Here was the man she had dreamed about. The man who had held her close and kissed her lips and spoken to her in such a vulnerable way.
“I can’t…” she confessed in a worried voice.
“You’ll have to try. It is a terrible addiction.” He looked as if he were about to elaborate, but then finished instead by simply saying, “Trust me.”
Hermione Flooed Grimmauld Place as soon as she got back to her rooms, but Harry and Ginny were the only ones there. They were happy to see her, of course, but also confused. “Ron’s working late again,” said Ginny. “Didn’t he tell you? He said not to wait up.”
But she couldn’t have waited for Ron if she had tried. She could hardly manage the energy to be annoyed with him. Exhaustion was dragging her down so heavily that she didn’t bother with pajamas. She just stripped off her teaching robes and climbed between the sheets, deciding at last minute to take Severus Snape’s advice. The last thing she needed, after all, was for Dreamless Sleep to lose its effect.
Even without the potion, she was asleep almost the moment her head hit the pillow.
It was dark and lamplight flickered around the room, dulled by the dark wood of the walls like the chatter and drunken laughter bouncing off of them. They were sitting at the end of the bar at The Three Broomsticks, sipping tall mugs of golden ale. Their bodies were angled toward each other and their knees pressed together. Warmth tingled in her blood and she found herself smiling giddily, soothed by the mellow buzz of alcohol.
He was speaking in a quiet voice, the smooth timbre of his words resonating deep inside her. “You would think I’d be relieved. That… a burden had been lifted off my shoulders. And in some ways, that is true. But I still dream about it. I still… remember. I doubt I’ll ever forget.”
She met his eyes, watching him recognise her shock. He pulled away a little. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. She didn’t have to tell him what was happening.
“Well. I suppose it’s never a good time to dream yourself into a future you didn’t expect.”
“I’m still not convinced…” she trailed off, hearing the untruth for what it was.
He nodded, avoiding her eyes. “You know, I expected it to be a shock, but I had no idea how painful…” he winced, seeming to remember himself. “It’s strange. To think of you as the girl you were before…”
“I… It’s not… don’t take it…”
He met her eye and gave a little half-smile, but she could see the hurt. Regret burned inside her, like anger. “Well it’s not like you’re a picnic, you know,” she snapped. “You’ve been a real git to me, in the real world. I mean… in… now .”
He smirked at her, his eyes twinkling with genuine amusement. It was an unfamiliar expression on his face and it kindled a strange tingling happiness in the cavity of her chest. “A fair point,” he murmured in that velvety voice of his.
She smiled at him. “But this,” she said, gesturing to him, “it’s not… unpleasant.” She froze, her eyes going wide as she kicked herself for that sudden, strange confession. And what exactly did she mean? Certainly not that she expected this to happen in real life; or that it was in any way comparable to what she had with Ron…
She gasped. “I… I need some air,” she breathed, slipping off her stool and stumbling a little as she made her way to the door. The cool evening breeze whipped her face, refreshing her, and the starlit night became the ceiling of her bedroom as she lurched awake.
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Hermione did not miss the wary way Snape’s eyes flicked over her exhausted form when she arrived late to breakfast.
“Morning,” she grumbled to no one in particular.
“Mornin’!” growled Hagrid, beaming at her. His face fell when he caught her eye. “Blimey, Hermione, are you alrigh’?”
“What? Yes, of course. Why wouldn’t I be?”
Snape snorted lightly. “Because you look like death.”
Hermione turned to him, giving him her most scathing glare.
In response, he merely smirked at her. “I take it you took my advice, then?”
She had to think about what his advice had been. It was hard to concentrate when all she could think was how different his familiar smirk had looked in her dream last night. “Oh, er… yes,” she said, when she remembered that it was his fault she hadn’t taken Dreamless Sleep. “Thanks,” she said drily, narrowing her eyes at him.
He chuckled, turning back to his breakfast and Hermione ignored how much she liked the way he laughed. Ridiculous! She had settled down into her chair and filled a plate when he spoke again, concern edging into his still-laughing voice. “You will acclimate to it, eventually. You only need to learn to discipline the brats.”
“What?” she said, confused until she realized that he thought stress was the reason for her lack of sleep. “Oh... yes. It’s easier said than done,” she confessed, not looking at him.
“I doubt it. I seem to recall that you tended to be the voice of reason in your own little clique here at Hogwarts. Where is the girl who had the nerve to reprimand the Weasley twins?”
Hermione’s brow furrowed. She had stood up to the twins and even her closest friends, when she was a prefect. Had something changed? Had she lost her nerve? She looked over to see him studying her curiously. She nodded at him. “You know, I think you might be right.”
He smirked at her again and she felt a kind of nervous energy rising up inside herself. Was it his gaze that caused that reaction? She suddenly felt like she was sitting too close to the man; suddenly too aware that she had seen him unclothed. It occurred to her that he still had no idea of the intimacies they had shared, nor the effect his dark eyes might have upon her now.
She dismissed the emotion as nothing but anxiety about the day ahead.
The Seventh year Gryffindors and Slytherins did not bother to stop chattering or even sit down when she entered the room. She had made it up to the top of the class and even told them once to take their seats, yet still they lingered, unconcerned, as if they hadn’t even heard her.
Heat rose in Hermione’s cheeks as she considered what to do. She didn’t want to be the sort of teacher who yelled at her class, but how else was she supposed to get their attention? It was Ron’s words that came to her then: “Are you a witch or not?” She smirked then shook her head, the humor of it quickly overshadowed by a feeling of loss. Brushing that thought away, she withdrew her wand.
The silence was immediate and complete. For a moment, the students seemed confused. Then Professor Granger cleared her throat and they seemed to notice her there at last.
“That’s better,” she began, walking around her desk in a slow deliberate fashion that she knew she had learned from Snape. “Now… I know you are all sensing the end of your time here at Hogwarts and with that comes a certain… casual dismissal of the rules that have bound you for so long. But now… is not the time to act out. Now … is the time to buckle down. Your NEWTS will determine how you spend the rest of your life. It is imperative that you put forth your best effort now. And I am here to help you do it.” She let her eyes rove over the class with a stern expression before giving her wand another casual flick.
“Now,” she began again, returning to her place behind her desk, “I’ve returned your voices, but I hope I won’t be hearing them. You will have plenty of time to talk later and today we are practicing nonverbal Charms.”
There was a bit of moaning about this, but the students soon got into the rhythm of good practice, attempting to turn goblets of vinegar into wine without saying a word. Hermione gave points to the first few students who accomplished this and the mood seemed to lighten at that.
They made it about halfway through the period before the occasional whispers began to get out of hand again and Hermione had to remind the class to stay silent. In all honesty, it wasn’t the end of the world for them to talk amongst themselves. But today was about setting a standard. When that announcement proved inadequate to stop the whispering, Hermione began to call out students by name. Her Gryffindors were scandalized, but the Slytherins seemed to take this as a challenge.
Tavin Zabini, in particular, seemed to have a wicked gleam in his eye. If she didn’t know better, she would say he was trying to get caught. And what else could she do besides call him out? The last thing she needed was a student questioning her authority.
“Mr. Zabini, if I have to ask you again…” she began, giving the boy a stern.
“Oh, so sorry Professor Granger,” he cooed, batting his eyelashes at her to a chorus of snickers. She felt a shiver at the sudden flashback to her own schooldays. “I was only telling Davies, here, how beautiful you are when you’re cross.”
Hermione flushed. “Five points from Slytherin, Mr. Zabini,” she snapped, all humor gone from her now. There was a flurry of movement as the class reacted with surprise to her first points taken. Zabini’s eyes flashed and the rest of the Slytherins watched her with cold excitement, as if they could sense her fear. She stood her ground. “And I advise you to keep your mouth shut or it will be detention.” With that last warning, Hermione turned away.
She was hardly two steps back toward her desk when Zabini spoke again, murmuring to his friends in a voice she was clearly intended to hear. “See, she’s just trying to get me alone.”
Hermione didn’t even turn to look at the arrogant boy. She continued to circle her desk and shuffled some papers nonchalantly, speaking up in a bored, disappointed tone. “Tomorrow night, Mr. Zabini. With Mr. Filch. ”
The rest of the day was smooth sailing. She seemed to have found her old strength. After all, it didn’t matter if they thought she was strict. Much the better, really. And with this, a certain harmony seemed to click into place. She could do this. She could really thrive here. She’d been practicing for this her whole life.
It was with proud satisfaction that Hermione Granger seated herself at the Head Table that night, her chin held high and a victorious twinkle in her eye. She found herself looking forward to brushing off some snide remarks from Snape. But the man didn’t show. She kept looking around for him, as if he were just running late, but he never put in an appearance. Hermione couldn’t help the twinge of annoyance that kept stabbing at her as she ate her meal. Why should she be angry if he decided to skip supper tonight? It wasn’t as if they had made plans. And anyway, she didn’t need to nurture this strange connection that her cursed dreams had forged (and without her permission, at that).
Her good mood had mostly deteriorated by the time she made it back to her rooms. It was with a start that she realized she ought to Floo Ron. After all, she hadn’t talked to him since Monday night. Guilt rose up inside of her as she crouched before the fireplace.
Harry and Ginny jumped up from the table in the basement kitchen at 12 Grimmauld. They appeared to be having a cuppa, though no steam rose from their mugs and they were deep in conversation. Hermione felt a stab of envy. And something else. Longing? Would she and Ron ever find themselves so lost in conversation that they let their tea go cold?
“Hermione!” said Ginny, her eyes wide and her lips stretched with alarmed dismay. “I think Ron’s already gone up to bed.”
“Oh,” said Hermione, “uhhh…”
“He’s had a really long week,” said Ginny. “They’ve been working him really hard.”
“Yeah, I guess…” Hermione fumbled for something to say, trying not to betray her emotions. “Of course. That’s… fine…”
Harry and Ginny hesitated, then Harry jumped up. “I’ll just go and check,” he said, hurrying off before Hermione could protest.
Ginny watched him go, raising her eyebrows in apparent discomfort as she turned back to the other girl. “So…” she began, awkwardly, “how’s… teaching?”
“Oh, umm… better, actually.”
“Yeah, I think I just had to remember what it was like to tell people off.”
“Well, that shouldn’t have been too hard for you.”
They broke into tense laughter, drawing it out a little too long. Then it was silent again. Hermione was about to ask Ginny how things were with her when there was the sound of heavy footsteps on the stairs. Ron appeared, a dressing gown thrown over his checkered pants, looking bleary eyed and scruffy.
“Hi, hey… Hermione,” he said plopping down in front of the fire. “Er… sorry. Must’ve nodded off.” He glanced around at Harry and Ginny who had frozen with matching grimaces on their faces behind him. They jumped back into motion at precisely the same instant, waving goodnight to Hermione and hurrying up the stairs without bothering to put away their dishes.
“Hi,” said Hermione, abacked. “Sorry,” she continued, after a brief, awkward pause. “I didn’t realize…”
“No, it’s alright. Training’s been mad this week, that’s all. I’ve hardly slept.”
“Of course,” said Hermione. A silence stretched between them as she sought something, anything to say. “I did Floo yesterday,” she said at last. “They said you were out working again.”
“Yeah,” said Ron, stifling a yawn. “It’s been… brutal.”
Hermione bit her lip. “Well I er… I’ve missed you.”
At that, he finally smiled. It was a sleepy, goofy grin that was sweet and ridiculous and so totally Ron. “I missed you too,” he said, and he was so sincere that it made Hermione’s chest hurt.
“Are you… working all weekend? Do you want to… visit?”
At that, his face fell and he turned his gaze in thought. “Uhh… maybe did you want to visit me ? Here? This time?”
“Oh,” said Hermione, taken aback, “I can’t. We’re… the teachers are… not supposed to stay out all night, away from the castle. Except during holidays.”
“Oh, er… well…” He scratched his head.
“Well you don’t have to,” Hermione snapped, suddenly angry. If he only knew how much she needed to see him; how much hung in the balance. And here he was shrugging it off as nothing; as an inconvenience.
“Don’t be like that,” he whinged. “I’m just tired. That’s all. And last time we didn’t do a whole lot the whole weekend.”
She wanted to tell him to forget it, to go to bed and they’d just see each other eventually. But part of her felt like that would be a mistake; a nail in the coffin… but she couldn’t think about that. “Please, Ron?” she begged, trying to show her sincerity with her eyes. “It’s been a hard week for me, too. And I miss you.” Somehow, she just knew she couldn’t bear it if he rejected her now. She needed him to reach out to her too. She didn’t trust herself to spend this weekend angry that he hadn’t wanted to visit her. Could their relationship withstand it? She didn’t want to find out. So she lowered her lashes and added “I’ve been so lonely .”
His eyes went wide and Hermione felt a surge of mingled arousal and panic at what she was insinuating. “Have you?” he asked, lifting an eyebrow and smirking at her.
She resisted the urge to roll her eyes. “Mmmhmmm.”
“Well, we wouldn’t want that,” he practically purred. The interest that had been so lacking was all over his face.
Hermione shook off her annoyance and told herself to have fun with this. She was a sexy young woman in her prime, planning a visit with a lover. She ought to embrace that. “So, are you going to save me from my… loneliness?”
Ron pretended to consider, but his smirk gave him away. “Yeah, I suppose,” he said, grinning at her.
“Okay, good. That’ll be… great.” Hermione told herself to stop nodding and smiled up at Ron. “Meet at the Three Broomsticks? For dinner, perhaps?”
“Oh, er, it’ll have to be after dinner. I’ve already promised I’d meet my class for dinner and we’ve got some important plans to discuss before our exam.”
“Oh… Well… alright, then. After dinner, it is.”
Friday morning, Hermione woke feeling confident and well-rested. The Dreamless Sleep really did make all the difference in the world.
Severus Snape looked terrible. He was hunched over his breakfast, leaning heavily on the table. The lines in his face were deeper than ever. He didn’t make any effort to say anything mean to her when she sat down beside him and gave her only an annoyed grunt in response to her cheerful ‘good morning.’ It was the first time she realized that he also took Dreamless Sleep. That he had followed his own advice last night and gone without. And that he hadn’t slept. She found herself wondering what nightmares still haunted the man who had spied on Lord Voldemort for Albus Dumbledore.
Still, she couldn’t stop herself from teasing him a little. “I take it you took your own advice?” she asked, grinning over at him.
Severus Snape turned his dark eyes on her so slowly that she thought his mind might still be sleeping, but in their depths was such scathing derision that she winced and nearly looked away. “For once... in your life... Granger... try to keep that infamously large mouth of yours… shut .”
Hermione was taken aback. Part of her wanted to laugh, but another part registered that it was getting increasingly difficult to judge how familiar she was supposed to be with this man. Would he take her laughter as further insult? Probably. It was hard to imagine how she would react to her old professor if she hadn’t spent such intimate moments with him in her dreams. Probably, I wouldn’t speak to him at all , she realized. So she turned away, letting her thoughts drift back to curiosity. What did the ex-Death Eater dream about that put him in such a foul mood?
That thought stayed with her for the rest of the day, pricking at her whenever she had a moment. And for the first time, she did have free moments for idle thought. In fact, a lot of the pressure of the last few days had dissipated overnight. Her students already seemed to look at her with a different respect. Apparently, word had circulated about her change in attitude and today’s classes needed far less telling off than the ones she’d seen yesterday.
With that burden lifted from her shoulders, she began to enjoy her job. In a way, she was reliving the magic of learning these Charms in the first place, and in a way she was fitting into a role that felt made for her. As perfect as a glove. It was as if she had been preparing for this her entire life. Or, perhaps, that she had never fully been able to be herself until now. Finally, there was no one around to accuse her of being a know-it-all.
Except of course…
Severus Snape was not at dinner. Again. And Hermione kicked herself for the surge of disappointment that she felt. Maybe what she needed was just a friend. She made a mental note to spend more time with Neville. He was a safe, platonic friend whom she could trust and talk to without worry about what that attachment might entail. Not that she was worried that anything would really develop between her and Snape.
There was a chill in the air when Hermione made her way to the Three Broomsticks after dinner. She wasn’t sure when Ron would be arriving, but wanted to be there when he did. And maybe it would calm her nerves a bit to have a pint before he got there.
Filius Flitwick was sitting at the far end of the bar when Hermione pushed through the door into the nearly empty pub. He caught her eye and waved her over, beaming.
“Professor Granger!” he called to her, laughing merrily as she took the seat beside his. “How has it been, then? Have you had a good first week?”
“Not bad,” she said, letting herself enjoy the sense of relief that she was able to say that. “They are getting used to me. I have big shoes to fill,” she added, nodding to him. When he laughed harder, she blushed and hurried on. “I hope I make an adequate replacement.”
“Oh, I have no doubt that you will,” he said kindly. “You always were the most gifted student Hogwarts had seen in many years.”
“Well,” she confessed, looking down at the counter. “It’s the teaching part I’m having trouble with.”
“Nonsense!” Filius squeaked. But before he could say anything else, Madam Rosmerta appeared.
“Can I get you anything, Professor? ” she asked, smirking at Hermione.
“Oh, I think so,” said Hermione, smiling back. “How about a glass of your famous mead?”
“Excellent choice,” said the barmaid and she went to pour a glass.
“Hermione,” Filius began again in an avuncular tone, “you were a teacher even when you were a student. I have no doubt that, once you’ve gotten acclimated…” he broke off, his eyes flicking over to the door, which had just opened. “Ha! Severus!” he called and Hermione swung around to see Severus Snape standing in the doorway, his cloak billowing behind him. Hermione’s heart gave a little lurch and she could feel heat blossoming on her cheeks as the man nodded to them and swept over.
Snape seated himself on the chair beside Hermione’s. Too close for comfort. His thigh so close to her own that he could easily lean it against hers. She sat up straight, feeling squashed between the two men, though she had not felt that she was sitting too close to Flitwick until now.
“Severus,” cooed Rosmerta, smiling at him in a different way than she had smiled at Hermione. “Fancy seeing you here so early in the term.”
“Good evening, Ros,” said Severus in a deep, suave voice, as if he could take her hand and kiss it with his words alone. “I confess, it has been a very trying first week.” Hermione’s ears burned and she fought to act natural as Ros giggled a little too much and offered the professor a glass of fire whiskey on the rocks. “I’ll take one neat, to start,” he said.
“ Oh ,” Ros cooed, leaning against the bar in such a way that her breasts peaked over the ruffle of her dress, “so it has been a rough week.”
“Well,” said Severus, leaning closer to the woman, “the students are no worse than usual, but Poppy has already put me to work brewing potions and my once-peaceful mornings are under attack from a certain… chatterbox.” At that, the man turned to smirk at Hermione and she raised her eyebrows at him, insulted. He laughed. “Come to think of it, let’s have a round of fire whiskey, Ros. Professor Granger has had a long first week and I don’t think Filius has ever been so bored in his entire life.”
“Not so!” cried Filius as Rosmerta went to pour them each a measure of the amber liquid. “I’ll have you know, Severus, that I’ve been thoroughly enjoying my freedom.”
Severus laughed. “I don’t doubt it,” he said, accepting a glass from Rosmerta and holding it up as he waited for the others to do the same. “Granger, have you ever tasted fire whiskey?”
Hermione met his eye, forcing herself not to look away from that dark, penetrating gaze. “I have,” she told him, lifting an eyebrow in what she hoped was a mysterious way. He smirked and his eyes glittered which made her stomach flip nervously.
“To the first week, then,” he said, lifting his glass.
“The first week,” echoed Filius and Hermione.
Severus drained his glass easily, and Hermione tried to do the same, but it was such a big mouthful and the liquor burned even more than Muggle whiskey. She ended up choking and coughing violently, clutching at her burning chest and trying to chase the fiery shot with a sip of sweet mead. Her only consolation was the fact that Filius was choking on it, too.
“Oof,” said Flitwick, cringing, “I don’t know how you can prefer that stuff, Severus.”
Snape laughed and thanked Rosmerta, who had brought him a second glass, this time with ice. His eyes followed her curvy form to the other end of the bar, where she tended to a couple of fat wizards with red faces who were laughing heartily about something. “Filius,” he said at last, turning back and leaning forward to speak around Hermione, “you’ll be pleased to hear that your new protege is getting on rather well.”
“Aha!” squeaked Filius, “I knew she was being modest!”
Hermione blushed. “I really was having a hard time of it at first. I think a lot of the students still see me as one of their own. But then… someone pointed out that I needed to be willing to discipline them.”
Severus smirked at her. “I hear you gave Tavin Zabini detention.”
“Yes, well, he deserved it. What a prat.” It was out before she could stop herself and Hermione turned wide eyes up to judge her colleague’s reaction. It was highly unprofessional of her to talk ill of one of her students like that.
But Severus only burst out laughing. “He can be, can’t he. I’m afraid it runs in the family. Terrible woman, his mother.”
“He can’t be worse than his brother,” murmured Filius in a conspiratorial tone.
Severus leaned closer. “Oh yes he can.”
A pleasant warmth was pulsing inside of Hermione, the combination of the drug in her veins and the proximity of the tall, mysterious wizard who haunted her dreams. She shook her head and took another sip of mead.
They joked about students for a while longer and ordered another round of fire whiskey. It felt so refreshing to be included in this way, as if she were being accepted as a professor. She really was not a student anymore. It was an hour before midnight when Filius bid them goodnight and Hermione began to wonder why Ron was so late. They hadn’t specified an exact time, but he ought to have been out of dinner by now.
A silence stretched between them after Filius left and Hermione felt distinctly uncomfortable. “Er, I’m just, er, going to run to the loo,” she told him, slipping off her stool. “Can you watch my drink for me?”
“Of course,” he said with an offhand nod.
She grinned, leaning closer. “Not going to slip me anything?”
Severus Snape looked affronted, a strange expression flickering across his serious face.
Hermione’s eyes went wide and her smile slipped. “Sorry,” she hurried to explain, “it was a joke. Not a very funny one…”
He raised an eyebrow at her, but there was a trace of humor in his face and he seemed to have accepted her explanation. “I will be sure to watch your glass for you, madam, but hurry back or I might decide to drink it.”
Hermione grinned at him. She was much dizzier than she had realised now that she was on her feet, and though she tried to walk with a delicate sway in her hips the way Ros did, she nearly stumbled and gave up, her face burning as she hoped he hadn’t seen that.
Her face was pink in the reflection and Hermione knew it was from the drink. But though she did look a little tipsy, she didn’t look half bad. Her hair was pulled up in a messy ponytail, a couple of ringlets escaping around the edges of her face. She had chosen Muggle clothes to wear tonight, mostly because Ron preferred her in them. Her jeans hugged the gentle curve of her hips and arse and the burgundy jumper was cut in a low V that showed off her collarbone and the tiniest hint of her breasts beneath it. On impulse, Hermione pulled at the straps of her bra, tightening them with some difficulty until she was happy with the result. It was a little bolder than she was used to, the tops of her breasts now peaking out just a little bit more, but still nothing like the ample swell of Rosmerta’s bare bosom. She hoped Professor Snape wouldn’t know what she had done.
Hermione kept her eyes slightly averted as she walked back to the bar. She was almost certain that she saw his gaze flick over her from out of the corner of her eye. Even the thought made her skin flush and her body tighten with desire. She shook her head, trying not to think such things. It was only that she was lonely and looking forward to Ron’s visit. That was it. She was feeling confident and sexy and the alcohol was making her nerves sensitive and her mind a haze. She wanted to be lost in sensation with a man.
There was alarm in Professor Snape’s gaze when she met his eye and he quickly looked away. A chill washed down Hermione’s spine at the realization that she was probably wearing her emotions on her face. He fidgeted nervously and that only seemed to heighten her arousal. Was she making him anxious? Was she turning him on? A couple of hours ago, she would not have dreamed that she could have any effect over the man. He spoke with such suave self-assurance to the busty Rosmerta. And yet, it thrilled her to remember what he had confessed in his dreams. She did have the power to make this man nervous. And every instinct within her wanted to test the boundaries of that power right now.
“So,” she began as she slid onto her stool, a little more gracefully this time, “did you have this much trouble when you started teaching? You were about my age, were you not?”
Severus cleared his throat lightly, keeping his eyes on his glass. “Yes. I faced many of the same challenges.” He turned to look at her, his eyes trailing down her figure before snapping back up to her face. “Though perhaps,” he added in a tone laden with meaning, “not all of them.”
Hermione could feel herself blushing and thought she understood what he meant, but wanted-- needed --him to elaborate. “Like what?” she asked, toying with a loose curl without thinking about what she was doing.
“Well, Zabini, for example. I understand he has made a point of objectifying you, of flirting with you in an effort to demean you.”
Hermione could barely breathe. “Yes, that’s true.”
“Well,” he said, looking her over again, “it was hard enough to be a young professor without that added… attention.”
Hermione laughed. “Oh, I don’t believe that. I bet loads of students had crushes on you.”
“Not right away, no.”
“You mean they liked you more as you got older?”
At that, he looked at her, his dark eyes boring into hers, knowingly.
Something glittered in those deep black eyes and he was about to speak again when the fireplace roared to life behind Hermione and his gaze lifted as his expression went blank. They pulled away from each other, straightening up, and Hermione looked around to see Ron stumbling out of the Floo.
“Sorry I’m late,” said Ron, bleary eyed, as he swung his arm around Hermione and gave her a sloppy kiss on the mouth. He tasted very strongly of beer. When he broke away, his eyes immediately dipped down to her cleavage. He raised his eyebrows. “You look nice,” he said, sounding surprised.
“Thanks,” said Hermione, heat rising in her face, but this time from embarrassment.
Ron looked over at Severus then leaned in to Hermione’s ear, whispering so loud she thought the whole bar could hear, “Is Snape over here bothering you?”
“No, not at all!” Hermione hurried to assure Ron, glancing apologetically over at her colleague. “A few of us were just having a drink after the first week of classes.” Snape turned away from the couple, looking thoroughly put out. Hermione couldn’t remember ever feeling so embarrassed.
“Oh good. Let’sh ‘ave a pint, then,” Ron slurred, climbing onto Flitwick’s stool. “Oi,” he said, beckoning to Madam Rosmerta, who lifted an eyebrow but approached him all the same, “bring me a pint of your best, and… ‘Mione, d’you need another? Make that two of those, then.” Rosmerta nodded curtly and went to pour their glasses as he turned back to Hermione. “I like this,” he said, poking her breast with his forefinger. Her head snapped around to glare at him, but he just grinned and did it again. “Boop!”
“ Ron ,” she hissed, glancing up at Severus who was pointedly avoiding looking at them. She was certain he knew exactly what was going on.
“Oh come off it, nobody cares. We could be snogging and no one would even notice.” He waggled his eyebrows at her. “We can if you like.”
Rosmerta set two glasses in front of them and Snape cleared his throat. “How much do I owe you, Ros?” He settled up with the barmaid and slipped off his stool, spinning to leave without another word. Hermione’s heart squeezed.
“I missed you,” said Ron, sounding serious all of a sudden.
Hermione sighed. “I missed you too.”
“You look really beautiful tonight.”
She smiled up at him. “Thanks.”
“Now drink up so I can get you home.”
Hermione half-listened to Ron’s chatter about work. Half of her attention was devoted to pushing Severus Snape out of her mind. He was only filling a void, she told herself. She needed someone and he was there. That was all. But now Ron was here and they had romantic plans for this weekend. She had set out candles and even worn her sexiest lacy black bra and the knickers that matched. She and her boyfriend were going to have a sexy, romantic night and she wasn’t going to let some wicked fortune-teller ruin her love life like that.
They were stumbling drunk when they got back to Hermione’s rooms. That fire whiskey really had hit her a lot harder than she had expected and that last beer had been entirely too much. Regardless, she laughed with Ron as they stumbled into her bedroom, him taking off his clothes the whole way there.
“No fair,” he told her, grinning. “I’m practically naked and you’re still fully dressed.”
Hermione bit her lip, laughing at herself even as she began her own version of a drunken striptease. She pulled off her sweater and jeans then did a little half-turn to show off her sexy lingerie.
“Oh yeah,” he said, stepping toward her and reaching out to hold her breasts, squeezing them in his hands. “Let me see those,” he said, stepping back to indicate her knickers. Hermione turned around for him, sheepishly. He stepped up behind her, putting his hands on her hips and pulling her back against him so that his cock pressed hard against her bum. His hands came up to squeeze her breasts and he moaned. “I like that,” he told her. “Here, lean against the bed.”
Hermione did as he asked, her heart pounding and anxiety beginning to peak out from behind the veil of drunkenness. “Like this?” she asked him, trying to look sexy.
“Oh yes,” he said. Then he was pulling down her knickers, his movements clumsy and eager as he stepped behind her and pushed her legs apart. She could feel him pushing his cock against her, and she tensed up, trying to lose herself in this, trying to hold on to her arousal.
“Oh Merlin , Hermione, you’re so wet! ” he moaned as he pushed himself inside her. It only hurt for a moment but then he was hammering into her and she was so sensitive and she felt a little… used. “Oh fuck! ” he hissed, clearly in ecstasy, completely oblivious to her discomfort. His thrusts only got harder and faster and all of her focus was on maintaining that position as the heels of her hands began to ache and her calves were sore from keeping her feet from sliding and he was thrusting so hard that it was starting to hurt, and not in a good way.
“Ow, okay, that’s a little rough,” she began, but then he was crying out and she could feel him coming inside of her, the hot fluid already spilling out with his last lingering thrusts.
He pulled out of her and picked up her jumped from the floor, cleaning himself off with it before collapsing onto the bed, staring at the ceiling and panting hard. Hermione’s smile was more like a grimace as she hurried to the bathroom, his seed trickling down her leg. She freshened up and rolled her eyes at the mirror, wishing she could just be open with Ron. Wishing she could tell him what was on her mind. But the truth was too hard to talk about. The truth was something she didn’t want to face.
When she climbed back into bed, Ron had settled himself under the covers. He pulled her close and wrapped his arms around her, kissing her right behind the ear. “Mmm that was so hot,” he told her. And she didn’t have the heart to argue with him right now. Tomorrow, maybe they could talk about working up to that sort of thing, maybe starting a little bit slower. Something needed to change, that much was clear. But she didn’t know how to ask for it.
He woke her with kisses on the back of her neck. His body was curled around her, his naked skin hot against her own, and her face was half buried in the pillow. One of his hands came up to lazily cup her breast, rolling it in his palm and gently pinching her hardening nipple. She tensed at the realization that he wanted her and at the sudden concern over whether she should let him or push him away. But when he made no move to do anything further, she began to relax and to enjoy his ministrations. There was no plea in the way he touched her; no demand. He planted lingering kisses against her neck and shoulder, and toyed with her breast in his palm as if he were merely enjoying the feel of it. Enjoying . Yes, that was exactly what he was doing. He was savouring her. And it had been so long since she had been savoured this way that she let out a little sigh and arched her back against him.
His hand withdrew to glide in a slow caress down the length of her side, returning to splay his fingers across her stomach, then dipping down again to give her hip an appreciative squeeze. He rubbed that savouring hand up and down along the silken skin of her bare thigh in a gesture that was patient and lingering, despite the stiff erection pressing against the back of her thigh.
She didn’t fake the moan that arose as he gave the skin at her neck a playful nip. She felt his cock throb against her and an ache answered in her core. Then he was sliding his fingers between her thighs, finding the sensitive nub hidden there and rubbing slow circles in exactly the right way. Hermione gasped. He had never taken the time to please her like this before, and clearly he must have done some research. The thought made a surge of affection rise in her chest even as heat collected where his fingers teased her.
She began to rock against his hand and he slipped those fingers down between her folds. She was surprised to feel how wet she was and he must have been too if his breathless gasp against her ear was any indication. “ Yes ,” she whispered, arching her back. “ Please ,” she moaned. And she opened her legs for him.
He shifted behind her until they melted together and buried his breathless moan in her hair. His fingers left her only long enough to direct his cock to her entrance and press himself inside. They both gasped at the sensation. He felt so big at this angle; the sharp feeling of his cock so deep inside turned from pain to pleasure by her need for him. Then he was rocking slowly against her, patiently, with clear restraint, his fingers still teasing little circles around her now throbbing clit. It felt so good , so right . The torturously slow and gentle pace was completely at odds with his usual brusk, hurried, nearly violent rhythm. A pleasant pressure was building inside of her and Hermione found herself squirming in his arms, trying to meet his movements in order to amplify them.
“ Mmmmmm ,” he moaned, his velvety baritone rough with sleep. “Little minx. ”
Hermione’s eyes popped open in surprise. She was suddenly very aware that this was not, in fact, Ronald Weasley, but Severus Snape. His fingers gently teasing her. His cock buried between her legs. His savouring movements against her bringing her such pleasure. She gasped, her hand leaping to his in panic even as the fire in her body flared with sudden heightened arousal.
“Ohhh yes, Hermione,” he moaned, quickening his pace. “Come for me, love.” He withdrew his hand only long enough to wet his fingers with his mouth, moaning at the taste of her, before returning to his ministrations with renewed passion, rocking against her with an eager need.
Suddenly, she was coming hard, and all thought of stopping him fled as she surrendered to the pleasure cresting spectacularly inside her. She could not hold back the tide of ecstasy that overcame her as she cried out into the bedroom. He was fucking her harder, now, sinking his cock into her faster and more forcefully as she came hard around him. She wanted to tell him not to stop. It felt so good . But then the tremors of her orgasm subsided and clarity returned with a sort of panicked shame, just as he rolled them over and withdrew from inside of her.
“Get on your knees for me, love,” he said, one hand pulling her hip as the other reached to position himself behind her.
Hermione was torn. Part of her felt she should just go through with it and tell him after, but she knew that was wrong. Before she had really decided what the best course would be, she had turned over to face him, cheeks flushing at the vision of her professor crouching over her, his throbbing cock in hand. More than anything, she wanted him to continue.
He knew immediately. His eyes went wide and he sat back on his heels, ripping the sheets up to cover himself. He couldn’t hide his disappointment. “Not now ,” he hissed, frustration etched into the lines of his face.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “I would have just… let it go on… I mean… I don’t mean to... deprive you when I’ve already…”
His irritation melted into disbelief. “ What? ” he snapped. “Don’t be stupid. This isn’t your fault.”
“I know, but I couldn’t help… I mean… I , er, finished, so it’s only fair…”
“ Fair? ” He snapped, staring down at her for a long moment as incredulity melted into horror. “It’s not a matter of fair. You should never feel pressured…” He broke off, suspicion dawning in his dishevelled face. “Is that the way he’s taught you to feel about it?”
Fury burst to life behind his eyes. “ Weasley ,” he said slowly, watching her carefully. “He’s made you feel that you cannot withdraw consent. He’s taught you to think that you owe him something! Ohhhh when I see that little…”
“No! No, it’s not like that! Please don’t do anything…”
“Listen to me, Hermione,” he said, his rage warring with sudden fear. “When you go back, just remember… you can always say ‘no.’ You owe him nothing. ”
“I know that,” she argued.
“Listen, Hermione,” he said, clearly not convinced. “This is important. I want you to understand. It is not your fault if you don’t want to sleep with him. That is his problem. And it’s not up to you to solve that problem for him.”
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Hermione woke to Ron rolling over on top of her. Already, his mouth was pressed against hers, breathing putrid air across her face as he reached between their legs to position himself at her entrance.
Hermione jerked beneath him, reaching a hand down to stop him from completing his task. “ Ron ,” she hissed, “what are you doing?”
“What?” he murmured, sounding confused and half-asleep.
“I’m hardly even awake and already you’re… can’t you slow down a minute?”
Ron propped himself up on his elbows and looked down at her in consternation. “What’s the matter? You used to like morning sex.”
Morning sex. Had she ever really liked morning sex? Usually, it consisted of Ron waking her up with his bad breath and erect penis and shagging her before she’d really had a chance to work up the arousal.
“I just…” how could she explain? “You’re always in such a hurry. Don’t you ever want to take things slow? Kiss me? Touch me? Let the tension build up a little?”
“Oh, sure, yeah. Sorry, ‘Mione. We can do that if you like.” Ron collapsed beside her and took her face in his hands, pressing his lips against hers.
She froze. This was what she wanted wasn’t it? And yet, after a few minutes of him suckling her lip, she pulled away. “I don’t know,” she told him, by way of explanation. How could she explain that it felt mechanical, as if she were going through the motions? “I’m just not in the mood.”
Ron flopped over onto his back, groaning at the ceiling. “You know, you invited me out here,” he said, sounding annoyed. “I’m really busy with training. I wasn’t going to come. Do you know how tired I’ve been? They have us working late every day. But you made it sound like you wanted to have a romantic weekend and I was all for it. And now you’re saying you’re ‘not in the mood.’ Well… when are you going to be in the mood, Hermione?”
Hermione propped herself up to look down at him incredulously. Was he being serious? “I’m sorry?” she said, anger seeping into her voice. “I can’t help it if I don’t always feel like having sex, Ronald. And that’s all you seem to care to do.”
Ron bolted upright, flushing angrily. “That’s not all I care to do! I don’t understand what your problem is! Everything was fine until you moved out here. Now it’s like nothing I do is good enough. Why do you hate me now, Hermione? I thought we had something good, but you keep putting me down and making me feel like I’m not good enough for you.”
“That is not true!” Hermione huffed. He was twisting her words. How could she explain what she meant without him taking it the wrong way? “It’s just a big transition. I’m really stressed out. I need a partner who’s going to be there for me. And it feels like, lately, all you want to do is have sex.”
“I don’t know what you want. I’m attracted to you. I didn’t know that was a crime.”
“That is so not the point!”
“So what is the point, Hermione? Because everything was fine between us until a few weeks ago, when you moved out here and became a professor. Do you think you’re too good for me, now? Is that it?”
“ WHAT? ”
“I’m sick of fighting!” he snapped, ripping off the covers and climbing out of her bed. “I’ve got too much going on right now. The last thing I need is a girlfriend who just nags me about everything I’m doing wrong.”
“That is not…”
“I have a lot to do this weekend,” he said, pulling on the clothes he had discarded last night. “Lots of homework. And I was going to push it all to the last minute and put you first because I care about you, but all you want to do is fight. Well I don’t have time for that.”
“ Ron… ”
“No. I don’t know what’s going on with you, but you’re going to have to figure it out on your own. I don’t have time for this.”
And suddenly he was gone. And she was alone. And Hermione stared in blank horror at the door, suddenly aware of just how precarious their relationship was.
Well fine! Ripping the sheets off of herself, Hermione paced the room a minute, completely at a loss, before deciding not to let him get to her. Maybe they did need space. Maybe they did need to think things out. After all, if they were destined to be together, this little blip would work itself out in time. They just needed to sort out their own priorities. Separately.
And either way, she needed to bathe and get ready for the day.
But the shower is the worst place to contemplate things. Or the best. Hermione couldn’t help but fear that she should have stopped Ron from running out the door. What if that had been a test? What if he had expected her to come after him? And she hadn’t. She had just let him leave. Sick, icy paranoia twisted in her gut. Had she just ruined everything? The logical part of her mind knew that a relationship shouldn’t be built upon a foundation so fragile that a misunderstanding would bring it to the ground.
And yet… her mind had not been in its usual place of late. Her convictions were not the same. Had she let some of her doubt infect their relationship? Had she let that old hag from Diagon Alley break them apart? And could she even blame Ron for his skepticism when she was so clearly aloof and unnerved by some outside force? If anything, it was uncharacteristically intuitive of him.
Hermione skipped breakfast. She couldn’t bear the thought of chatting with her fellow professors and dealing with the outside world. Too much was going on inside her mind.
She wallowed. Having showered, she barely paused to pull on some leggings and a V-neck tee before collapsing on her bed in despair. What had she done? She and Ron were meant to be. How could she throw that away in the face of some hallucination sent to her by a madwoman with a grudge? How could she be so easily deluded by some flight of fancy? Was she so naive? She had always known that relationships took work. How could she expect that her own would just fall into place? It was supposed to require effort on her part. She was supposed to have to sacrifice.
Hermione skipped lunch, trying to distract herself with grading. This was her life, now. Whether Ron was a part of it or not. She needed to be able to get her work accomplished. Personal life aside. She was a Hogwarts professor, after all. She needed to hold herself to a higher standard.
And yet… she couldn’t concentrate for more than a few minutes at a time before thoughts of his hasty departure nagged at the back of her mind. He had always been quick to run away from a situation that wasn’t ideal. Hadn’t they figured that out during their year on the run? Hadn’t he proven his flightiness when he’d run away from the biggest responsibility of them all? She should have known then that he would never be stable enough to be trusted. He would always base his decisions on what he was feeling in the moment.
And here she was worrying about whether she had been too selfish, too hasty. Hadn’t he just walked away from their relationship after a mere snip of a fight? And what had the fight really been about? Just the sex? Just the fact that he only seemed to want her for sex, nowadays, and she wasn’t nearly as interested now as she used to be? Yes, this was a problem. But was it a relationship-ending problem? Possibly. Probably? But it shouldn’t be!
Or, at the very least, it shouldn’t have escalated into such a problem so quickly.
Uggghhhhhhhh! Hermione leaned back in her chair and blinked up at the ceiling. She didn’t know what to think. Had the problems in their relationship come about as a result of the curse she’d been subjected to? Or had they been there the entire time?
Was this the end?
Fear took over then. It was all she could think about. Had she just ruined a good thing over something trivial? Had she just torn apart the most intimate and deep relationship she would ever have, with the man who knew her better than anyone else?
There was no denying that Ron knew her like no one else did. And how could anyone ever know her as well as he did? He had been there through her best and worst. Through her schooldays. He knew her at her core, where she came from. They had been through hell and back… together. How could anyone ever measure up to that?
By evening, Hermione had decided that she needed to make amends with Ron. After all, she was the one who had inadvertently damaged their relationship. It was this stupid curse! If that horrible witch hadn’t cursed her, they would still be in a happy, healthy relationship right now. He would be finishing up his training and maybe even thinking about proposing. The thought sent a shiver down her spine. It wasn’t that she was afraid of marriage and all that that entailed… Not exactly. True, she was beginning to wonder whether or not she even wanted children, though she knew Ron wanted a hoard. And obviously that was what marriage to Ron Weasley would entail.
But none of that was the point right now. The point was that she had been wrong. She should have gone after Ron. She should have called for him to come back. Letting him walk out the door had been almost like a confession of her doubts about their relationship. But that wasn’t fair. Her doubts came only from this terrible curse. Not from anything in their actual relationship. She couldn’t bear the thought of him thinking that she was losing interest in him.
She loved him, after all. She was in love with him. Wasn’t she?
It was a chilly night. Hermione pulled her loose jacket tighter around herself. It wasn’t quite enough to keep her warm, but it would have to do. It had taken her long enough to work up the courage to leave the castle. If she turned around now, she would never make it to Harry’s.
The Three Broomsticks was alive with a cheerful, rowdy crowd when Hermione slipped through the doors. One glance told her that Severus Snape was not there, and her gut sank in shame for looking for him. Rosmerta appeared rather harried this evening, but she was more than happy to let Hermione use the floo.
It was a little unnerving, stepping through the flames, into the kitchen at 12 Grimmauld. This wasn’t her home, anymore. Not really.
The kitchen was empty. “Hello...” she called up the stairs, hesitating before beginning to climb them. “Hello?”
She reached the top of the stairs and glanced around, unsure where to go, unsure where everyone must be. But then Ginny’s head stuck out of the door of the study, looking alarmed and hesitant. “Hermione!” she said, grinning at her friend and coming around the corner to give her a hug.
Harry poked his head out, too, leaning against the doorframe. His expression was also a little uneasy. Hermione wondered if Ron had told them about their row.
“Is Ron in?” she asked, sounding hesitant to her own ears.
“Oh, er…” Ginny glanced up at Harry and they seemed to communicate something without words. “He went out. Work party or something. Celebrating the end of the week.” She ran her hand through her fiery hair. “Thought he would’ve told you.”
“Oh. No. Er…” Hermione shifted her weight, feeling awkward. “We er… had a bit of a row earlier. I thought… I’d… meet up with him. Smooth things over.”
“Oh yeah, sure…” said Harry, nodding a little too much.
“Er, well…” said Ginny, “they’re uhhh… they’re checking out that new place on Diagon Alley. ‘ Elixirs. ’ It’s a sort of pub. Little more… posh than the Leaky Cauldron.”
“Alright, yeah…” said Hermione, starting to turn back toward the stairs.
“You er… you might bring him a jumper,” said Ginny, pulling out her wand and Summoning one.
“Okay, thanks. Yeah. Well… sorry for, er, bothering you.”
“No, no,” they both assured her.
“It’s good to see you,” said Ginny. Her smile was tainted by a sort of sadness or… hesitation. It gave Hermione pause.
“Yeah. Good to see you, too.”
Hermione hesitated in front of the green fire. She felt unnerved. Something didn’t feel quite right. But she took a deep breath and steeled her resolve. And she stepped into the fire.
Elixirs was a swanky lounge with warm, dim lighting and several rooms that flowed into each other around several brick columns and two separate bars topped with gleaming black marble. High-topped tables dotted the middle of the floor while couches and plush chairs were placed strategically around the walls. Hermione bit her lip and began to look for Ron.
She saw him from across the room and it struck her how happy he looked. He hadn’t smiled like that in years. But before that thought could fully register, she was halfway across the floor to him. And before her attention could focus on the petite yet voluptuous blonde standing next to him and laughing along with whatever he had said, he had turned his head toward her and caught her eye.
A sort of shock flitted across his face. Not the same as pleasant surprise. Hermione felt the jolt of it. She slowed her pace. The room seemed to slow along with her.
The blonde, who had been laughing heartily, all of her perfect teeth showing, one hand on Ronald Weasley’s arm, became a sort of statue as her eyes landed on Hermione’s approaching form. Her smile faltered then returned; a frozen replica upon her face. Not quite real. Not quite genuine. Ron smiled too, a little too much, his eyebrows shooting up on his forehead in surprise. He reacted as if they had not been fighting just this morning.
“Hermione! Heyyy!” He opened his arms to her.
She met him, stepping into his embrace, on autopilot. She watched herself as if from a distance. The sound in her ears was all a buzz of nothingness. “Hi,” she heard herself say.
“Ohhh you must be ‘Ermione!” said the blonde, her voice throaty, her smile fake, her accent so terribly French. A knot formed in Hermione’s throat. “Oh! Ronald ‘as told us so much about you!”
Hermione could only nod, smiling in the same manic, unnatural way.
Ron ran a hand through his hair. “Oh yeah er, ‘Mione, this is Amandine. She’s...er… in the Auror program with me.”
“Hi!,” squeaked Hermione, a little too enthusiastically, trying not to gawk at the girl’s sleek blonde hair, her bright blue eyes, her enormous breasts--too large for a girl with such a tiny waist. It was Fleur Delacour all over again. As if they were back at school and Ron didn’t even see her as a girl. Not when she was standing next to Fleur. Hermione realized she was nodding like a lunatic and stopped herself.
“Enchant é,” said Amandine. Really? “Eet is such a pleasure.”
The blonde’s elegant eyebrows could hardly have climbed her forehead any higher. “Well, I think I will have another drink,” she said, slipping away a little hastily. Hermione watched her go, hating how gracefully she walked and the perfect swing of her slender hips. Hermione turned back to Ron.
“Heyyy,” he cooed, grinning a little too broadly, considering their fight earlier that very same day, “how are you? What are you doing here?”
“Are you seriously asking me that right now?” Was he daft? Did he think she was blind?
“Whaddya mean?” he asked, his brow furrowing in confusion. “What’s wrong?”
“ Ron ,” she hissed, losing her patience. “You… she… I…” She huffed. “Are you serious? ”
“Hey, are you okay? Do you want a drink?”
“ No , I don’t want a drink!” She was beginning to question herself. Was she paranoid? Was she jumping to conclusions? He seemed so sincere. Maybe she had misread… “I just… wanted to bring you this.” The jumper nearly tumbled out of her hands in her haste to give it to him and be gone. Her hands were shaky. Every part of her was shaky and hot with embarrassment and nerves. “I’ve… got to go.”
Ron didn’t call after her. Somehow, that was a relief. But at the same time, it was the worst, most assured heartbreak. How could she deny it now? Tears filled her eyes as she pushed through the door of the bar and stumbled out into the cobbled street. Humiliation . That was what she felt, most of all. Confusion, too, and anger, jealousy, insecurity, uncertainty, fear. But mostly she felt like the butt of a joke; the nagging girlfriend; the fool. She felt like everyone in that bar had seen up her skirt. And the more she thought about it, the more it hurt.
A little ways down the street, she leaned against the side of a building to catch her breath. It was coming in short bursts and she couldn’t seem to get it under control. Tears welled in her eyes as her panting became painful sobs that wrenched themselves out of her heaving chest until rivers streamed across her cheeks. She knew what she had seen. Ron hadn’t looked so happy in years. And they had been guilty. Especially her . Even if Ron had no idea what was going on--and how could he not!--it was obvious that she did.
How could this be happening? She and Ron were meant to be! They had been made for each other, circling around the inevitability of their relationship since they had met on the train all those many years ago. And they had been on the path to a future together. She was going to be a professor and he was going to be an Auror and they were going to get married and have curly-haired ginger babies. She had been so afraid of that idea, but in this moment she mourned its loss.
It was that bitch Seer’s fault. She had ruined everything! And it had been on purpose. She was messing with Hermione’s mind, trying to ruin her life, and it was working! If it hadn’t been for her meddling, she and Ron would be exactly as they had been before all of this had happened. Happy. Committed. And very… just very happy.
Hermione lurched away from the wall and veered toward the side street where the fortune-teller had cursed her a few short weeks ago. She had to reverse it. That was what she would do. She would go to the old hag and get her to reverse this curse. She had to do something! And then she and Ron would be able to heal. This was just a blip. They could work through it. Merlin knew they had worked through worse!
“I can do this,” she told herself. And she marched on.
The woman’s door wasn’t hard to find. It was farther up the street than Hermione remembered, but the bright red paint of it was hard to miss. She rapped on the door much harder than she had intended, pounding against it until at last it swung open.
The woman was smaller and more tawdry than she remembered, as well. Her rouge and dark eyeshadow seemed brushed on in a hurry, more a sad attempt at a persona than the real thing. Like stage makeup. Hermione’s anger faltered.
“ Ahhh, ” said the old woman, smirking cruelly up at her, “Professor Granger. I wondered when I would be seeing you.”
Hermione scowled. She had to force herself to take a breath. After all, upsetting this woman was what put her into this position in the first place. Suddenly, she didn’t know what to say. A thousand questions vied for her attention. She forced herself to unball her fists and meet the other woman in the eye. “What did you do to me?”
“I gave you a gift.”
“YOU DID NOT…” Hermione stopped herself, closing her eyes and taking a deep breath. “A gift?”
“ The gift, you could say. The very gift you so spurned when you visited me a few short weeks ago. A glimpse into the future.”
“But…” Hermione’s voice broke on a sudden sob. “How can that be the future?”
The woman’s sneer grew wicked. “Anything can be the future,” she confessed in a whisper. “The future is a tree of possibility. And all outcomes exist at once. But seeing one branch… is often the first step toward climbing it.”
“Fate knew what she was doing when she made it so the Seer cannot recall the prophecies she’s made. Do you think every prophecy ever made has come to pass?”
Hermione’s eyes grew wide. She knew the woman was telling the truth. She remembered learning about it after the night they discovered the Hall of Prophecies buried deep beneath the Ministry of Magic. “So then… it doesn’t have to happen?”
The woman laughed. Heartily. Sincerely. “Oh it will happen. It was always going to happen. Now, will you be the version of yourself who travels down it? Maybe not. But you will continue to see it until you do.”
“ What? You can’t… That’s terrible! Please … this curse has… destroyed my relationship.”
“No deep love would be so quickly killed.”
“ Please! You have to take it back.”
“You make demands of me, now?”
Hermione sobbed. Tears were running down her cheeks. “Please. I’m sorry. Please. Please, can you take it back? Please can you make it stop?”
“I’m sorry! I’m sorry for what I said to you! I was horrible and arrogant and a total… arse! But I was drunk and I wasn’t thinking straight. I never would have said those things if I’d been in my right mind.”
“Yes, you would have bitten your tongue and kept your thoughts to yourself. But you still would have had those thoughts. There was only one way to teach you how wrong you were. It has been good for you, already. You had chosen a fragile branch to climb and now I have helped it break. Better now than later. But the curse cannot be reversed. You will continue to see an unlikely future in the worst possible way. Until you allow that future to become reality.”
At last, the woman’s expression softened and the terrible shadow of pity flitted across her wrinkled face. “Oh yes, my dear. An unlikely one. Or else it would not be a curse.”
Angry tears were still spilling across Hermione’s face when she slammed the door to her bedroom and threw herself down onto her bed. There was nothing she could do. She hated the woman who had done this to her. Who had ruined her life! None of this would have happened if it hadn’t been for that old hag!
Really, Hermione? A voice in the back of her mind insisted. She remembered the old woman’s proclamation that no deep love would have been killed so quickly. But she brushed that thought away. It was too painful to consider.
She focused, instead, on the anger she felt at having her control over her own life taken away. But no! She would not accept defeat so easily! She was Hermione Granger, after all. If anyone could find her way around a psychic curse, it was her. And she knew exactly where to start.
Hermione burst into the library, her lamp throwing warm light on the twisting aisles of books. She didn’t hesitate, but stalked straight to the back, only stopping to set her lamp down on a table before beginning her perusal of the Divination section.
“No… No… USELESS!” Book after book was proving to be completely void of any information that could help her out of this impossible situation. “ Wretched… BITCH!”
The sound of a small cough elsewhere in the library brought Hermione up short. Wide-eyed and furious, she stalked down the center aisle, following the now-apparent secondary source of light. Hermione rounded a corner and found, seated at a table in the Arithmancy section and pouring over several books and leaves of parchment, none other than Severus Snape.
“Is this a fucking joke!” she snapped, hands on hips, at the older man. “What the hell are you doing here?”
He took his time dragging his eyes away from his notes to look up at her with a bored, faintly annoyed expression. “Well,” he began in a dry voice, his deep timbre affecting her in a way she positively loathed, “I was trying to ignore the racket that… someone was making…”
“It’s the middle of the night! And don’t tell me you couldn’t sleep. You only just skipped a night two days ago.”
Professor Snape lifted an eyebrow in astonishment. “Are you monitoring me?”
“ What! No! No. I… I only meant…”
“It so happens that I was attempting to do some research for a potion that might solve this little problem of ours.”
“This… what? Our little problem?” Hermione was confused. What the hell was he talking about? How did he know...
“Our Dreamless Sleep problem,” he clarified, sitting back in his chair and staring up at her impatiently. “I was thinking about it earlier. I don’t know why I never thought of it before. You and I… Or at least, I suppose I cannot speak for you, but… I only take the Dreamless Sleep to avoid my dreams .”
Hermione shrugged, nodding. “Alright, sure.” She struggled to cling to her anger, but curiosity was quickly taking its place.
“ Well … Dreamless Sleep is only addictive because it is a sleep aid . When taken regularly, the user loses the ability to fall asleep without its assistance. However ... if there were a way to… only remove the dreams, without inducing sleep…”
“ Oh,” gasped Hermione. “Oh!” This could be it! This could be the solution she was looking for! Not ideal, perhaps, never dreaming again for the rest of her life… but she wasn’t going to think about that part right now. It was a potential solution. One that might help her patch up her rocky relationship with Ron.
Slipping into the seat at the corner of the table, she scanned the various books and parchments he had laid out with eager eyes. “But then…” she began, brow furrowing, “what does that have to do with Arithmancy?”
Professor Snape sighed, sounding irritated. “Arithmancy is a vital part of potion invention. It is used to calculate the optimal quantities of ingredients, the methods of preparation, the duration and direction of stirring, etcetera. Unfortunately… I have been having a bit of trouble with it.”
“What? With the Arithmancy? Can I see? That was my favorite subject, you know.”
He gave her a wry smirk. “I am aware.”
“Well then,” she snapped, lifting an eyebrow at him in challenge, “why don’t you show me what you’re having trouble with?”
Hours later, they were still having trouble.
“Alright, alright,” she said, jabbing a finger at the ink-stained parchment. “I think I’ve got it. We’ve got to include another Mystical Number… here . And… divide this bit… here … by the time it takes to dissolve in the solution at x temperature. Like… so.”
“But we have yet to account for the excess energy given off by the chemical reaction between the flobberworm mucus and the sprigs of Valerian.”
“Hmmmm,” hummed Hermione, sitting back in her chair. She studied the full equation for a long moment before shooting forward and scribbling a small addition. Suddenly, it all clicked into place. “There.”
Severus Snape actually laughed at that. “I have to say, Professor Granger ,” he murmured in a deep tone that made heat rise in her cheeks, “it would have taken me much longer to solve that on my own. I suppose my Arithmancy is a tad rusty.”
“Oh, just a tad,” she teased, smirking up at him.
He smirked back, good naturedly, but his brow furrowed and he suddenly looked serious. “I haven’t had much time or energy to practice with it for a couple of decades, you know. Not that I need to make excuses. But it… is invigorating to be working on something new again.”
Hermione let out a short breath, studying her handiwork. “I know exactly what you mean.” This was new and challenging; stimulating. It made her feel alive.
And now that they were no longer focused on the equations in front of them, she couldn’t help but notice how close they were sitting to one another. Had she done that? Was she too comfortable with this man, as a consequence of her strange and unwelcome dreams?
She had a sudden vivid memory of him in bed behind her, inside of her, touching her and rocking passionately against her. Maybe it had been elsewhere in spacetime, but it had still been real. Her cheeks burned at the memory, at the reminder of just what he could do with those elegant hands, how his voice sounded when he moaned in pleasure.
“Are you… alright?” he asked her, prompting her to flinch and run an anxious hand through her tangled hair.
“Yes, er, of course. Fine.”
“I meant…” he hesitated and she could feel his concern. It was an echo of the concern he had shown her in her dreams. Why did she like the way it felt so much? “When you first arrived here this evening, you seemed… a tad upset.”
“Oh, that.” Hermione sighed. Her heart squeezed in her chest at the sudden stabbing memory of Ron’s happy smile and the busty blonde with her hand on his arm, giggling like an idiot at whatever story he’d just told. She shook her head. “No, that was… it wasn’t anything. I-I’m fine.”
The sky was pale purple by the time Hermione made it back to her rooms. She was exhausted. But she was also exhilarated. She couldn’t remember when she’d last had so much fun. Working through complex, challenging Arithmancy puzzles and seeing first-hand their practical use in the invention of a new potion … made her feel alive. She found that she couldn’t wait for the next step in the process. Would their calculations be correct? Or would it be back to the drawing board?
Stripping down and slipping beneath the sheets, Hermione’s mind turned back to the subject of Ron. A pang of hurt and fear washed over her, but she shook her head and turned onto her side. She couldn’t allow herself to think about that right now. She needed to get some sleep.
The sun was bright and warm. The sky above them was blue and birds chased each other from tree to tree. They were stretched out on a cushy blanket, her head on his stomach, and each of them had a book Charmed to float above their heads.
Hermione sat up. The Hogwarts grounds were empty. It must have been the middle of summer. And Severus Snape was down to just his shirt-sleeves and trousers. He looked more rested than she had ever seen him before.
“What is it, love?” he asked her, glancing away from his book and reaching up to run a hand through her hair. When she winced at his touch, his eyes went wide. Then he smirked warmly at her and sat up, pushing his book to the side. “Ahhh,” he hummed, “Miss Granger.” There was an affectionate laugh in his voice, as if he were happy to see her. As if it was not only this theoretical future Hermione he loved…
He was in love with her, as well .
“How are you?” he asked, his tone suddenly serious.
“I… what? Fine. How… er… how are you?”
He chuckled at that, a deep rumble in his chest. “I meant…” he sighed. “It’s hard, letting you leave here, not knowing what is happening to you. Not being able to help you.”
“Illogical, I know.” He smirked at her. “But last time, you left me with the impression that… that boyfriend of yours has been… treating you poorly…”
“Oh, no. No no no. You misunderstood…”
“He hasn’t hurt you again, has he?”
Hermione scoffed, getting annoyed. “He hasn’t hurt me, at all.”
Severus’s lip twitched in a pitying smile. Like he wanted to believe her. But he didn’t. “You haven’t left him.”
“I…” Hermione let out an exasperated breath, glancing around at anything that wasn’t Severus Snape’s deep, knowing eyes. “I… don’t know.” Somehow, he was both the last person she wanted to talk to about this and also the first. “We had a row.”
His eyebrows shot up. “Indeed?” he murmured, clearly taken aback.
“We’ve both been very busy lately,” she hurried to continue, trying to cover for the obvious fact that he didn’t know what to say. “It’s nothing. Stupid. Just… I don’t know.” And suddenly, she was blurting it out like he was her closest friend. “We have nothing to talk about anymore and…” why am I telling him this? “And I’m trying so hard and…” Just shut up, Hermione . “And then I see him out with his friends and he’s so happy and…” suddenly, there were tears at the corners of her eyes, “there’s this girl just hanging on his every word,” tears rolling down her cheeks. She brushed them away as fast as she could, but he was frowning down at her with a strange mixture of discomfort and concern.
“I pity the boy,” he said at last.
Hermione laughed and rolled her eyes. “Please don’t say something trite about how he’s losing someone special or some other such nonsense.”
“No,” he said, sounding very serious. It took her aback. “He knows he isn’t enough for you. He never has been.”
More tears escaped from Hermione’s eyes to trail away across her cheek. “That’s not true,” she whispered, her breath hitching on a sob. That couldn’t be true.
His expression was one of pity, now. Pity and understanding. “And this girl… to her he is a war hero. A man.”
“Don’t do that,” she admonished him, suddenly unnerved. “I can’t think about it like that! This isn’t easy, you know. It’s all so sudden. I’ve only just started to think…” tears filled her eyes again, “that maybe Ron and I…” her voice broke and she couldn't seem to finish the thought through her tears.
“Ohhh, Hermione,” he murmured, pulling her toward him and wrapping his arms around her, “it’s alright. It is perfectly natural to feel this way.”
She started to pull away, but then relented, burying her face in his chest and breathing in the scent of him as tears poured down her cheeks. “We’ve been going through a rough patch lately,” she confessed, not sure why she needed to tell him this. Not sure how this emotion had welled up so fast. “We fought and he left,” she sobbed. “I went to apologize. To make it up to him. To make things better. To fix them. I wanted to put things back the way they used to be. But he was…” she sobbed, hating and loving how Severus Snape rubbed her back in soothing circles, squeezing her tight to his chest. “He was having a grand old time with… with her! ” And then she was crying audibly, sobbing against this other man, waiting for him to pull away, to change his mind about her, to tell her that this was far too much for him. But he just held her close and kissed her forehead and murmured soft assurances.
“I know,” he was saying, “it’s alright. It’ll be alright.”
Hermione stiffened. ‘I know, ’ he had said. Her sobbing stopped as an awful thought occurred to her and fear reached its claw right into her chest to squeeze her heart. She pulled away from him, far enough to look up into his face. “You know,” she murmured, half to herself. “Of course you know. Is that because he ends up with her? In this future? Does Ron end up with that perfect, French…”
Severus Snape’s face was suddenly blank. “I can’t tell you that, Hermione.”
“Because that shouldn’t matter.”
“Well of course it matters! What do you mean?”
But he only shook his head, reaching a hand out to push a lock of hair behind her ear. “I’m sorry, Hermione,” he said. And he really did look it. He brushed the side of her face with the backs of his knuckles and pushed his fingers into her messy hair. Part of her wanted to lean into that touch. Craved it, even. And was that so bad? Maybe Ron hadn’t been able to give her what she needed. And maybe he had also needed something that she hadn’t been able to give.
And maybe that was okay.
Hermione covered her professor's hand with her own and savored the feeling a moment longer before pulling them both away. "Alright," she sobbed, letting go of him. And suddenly she was waking up alone in her own room.
And somebody was knocking on the door.
Hermione threw on her dressing gown and hurried to the door, hesitating only briefly before cracking it open.
Professor McGonagall stood in the doorway, looking concerned and a little impatient. “Miss Granger,” she began, “I understand that you have a busy personal life, but it is generally expected that Hogwarts teachers make an effort to attend meals in the Great Hall. For appearances’ sake.”
“Oh! S-sorry, Professor. I, er, didn’t realise that was such an… important, er…”
“Yes, well, it is. Forgive me for interrupting your morning this way, but I also needed to inform you of the staff meeting I have arranged for today. 10 o’clock in the teacher’s lounge. We have a lot to discuss.”
“Oh, er, yes, alright. I’ll, er, see you then, then.”
Hermione closed the door to her chambers and leaned against it, cringing. “Well, that was awkward,” she murmured to the quiet room.
The staff room was nearly full when Hermione slipped through the door. There was a little chatter, but mostly the professors of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry seemed to be having a sleepy Sunday morning. Sunlight filtered through the high windows, casting warm puddles onto a few of the chairs around the long conference table. Hermione slipped into one of these, enjoying the way it melted the chill of the castle from her bones.
She was slowly becoming one with her chair when Severus Snape entered the room. He caught her eye and came straight toward her, slipping into the seat beside her with a cheeky smirk. “Tired, Granger?” he growled.
Hermione’s face grew warm and she sat up straighter in her chair. He was so close beside her. Not the man who had just held her close and whispered soft assurances to her in her dreams. And yet it was that man. The man with whom she had stayed up all night working on Arithmancy equations. “I had a bit of a kip,” she told him, lifting her chin. “And you must have as well or you wouldn’t be so cheerful. You’re a real bastard when you haven’t slept.”
He laughed at that, the same deep rumble in his chest that resonated in her core. “You know me so well.”
Hermione smirked at him. You have no idea. She couldn’t push away the sudden image of him naked, crouched over her, his swollen cock in hand. Heat flared in her cheeks and between her legs. One glance into her mind and he would never be able to meet her gaze again.
When the last of the professors trickled in, Professor McGonagall closed the door and stood at her place in the middle of the table, clearing her throat to get their attention. The room seemed to wake up a little, enough to turn her way, and she began to detail the many housekeeping items on the docket for the day.
Hermione tried to pay attention. Really, she did. But it was such dull material delivered in such a monotonous way and the sun was hitting her just right. One of the windows was cracked just enough to let the crisp autumn breeze waft gently through the room as birds sang somewhere out of sight.
The birdsong and the lecture and the whispering breeze converged into one lazy tune that hummed in her ear a continuous melody.
It was dark and his mouth was pressed against her own. Nuzzling, nibbling, his tongue darting out to tease her. Wet. And she was kissing him back. Fervently. Tasting him. Devouring him. They must have been in his bed. It was dark and the room smelled like him. Like spice and wax and the scent of his skin.
He was rocking against her, she realized. Slowly, passionately. He filled her so completely. The friction between them was electric and the torturous pace was driving her insane.
She writhed beneath him, eager for more, casting off her hesitance with more ease than she would have thought. It felt so right to have him there between her legs. Their skin was pressed together, sticky with sweat. The hair on his chest tickled the soft skin of her breasts. Her legs were wrapped around his waist; her hands tangled in his hair. He broke away from her mouth to look into her eyes as he thrust harder and faster into her. His brow was furrowed and jaw slack in an expression of agonized pleasure.
She gasped aloud.
There was a sharp pain in her side.
Minerva McGonagall’s incensed voice rasping, “Anything you'd care to add, Miss Granger?”
Severus Snape scoffed derisively. “Our new Charms Mistress is already overwhelmed with her new workload, Minerva. She is only now discovering that there is more to teaching than deducting points and assigning detention.”
“ What? ” Hermione snapped. “No! No, I didn’t mean anything, Headmistress. I was just…”
“Then you volunteer?” McGonagall returned, raising an irritated eyebrow.
“Sure, alright. It’s-it’s no problem.”
“Fine. Then I only need one other.”
“I will join her, Minerva,” said Professor Snape, “I need to visit the apothecary, anyway.”
McGonagall eyed him suspiciously for a long moment. “Very well.”
When the meeting was over, Severus Snape was the first out of his chair and out of the room. Hermione hurried to catch up with him. “Wait! Professor…”
“Yes, Granger?” He did not slow his pace, but she could see that he was smirking.
“Wh-what, er… happened, in there?”
“You volunteered to chaperone the first Hogsmeade trip.”
“Yes, I, er, surmised that much.” She was practically jogging beside him. “What I meant was…” she panted. He turned a corner abruptly and her patience ran out. “Hey!” Grabbing his elbow, Hermione forced the man to face her. They were alone in the corridor. Closer than was probably normal in this part of their timeline. It was difficult to tell.
“I have a potion simmering, Granger. I don’t have time…”
“Give me three seconds, then! What. Happened? I… er… fell asleep and… clearly I must have, I dunno…”
“Moaned? Like a wanton animal? Is that what you are afraid of, Professor? ”
“Oh nooo ... please tell me I didn’t…”
He smirked at her, clearly enjoying this. “Don’t worry. It sounded like a scoff in response to her question. I’m reasonably certain I was the only one aware that you were unconscious at the time. And therefore the only one to surmise what might have caused such an undainty sound.”
He was definitely standing too close. Her face was hot with embarrassment and want.
His smirk twisted into an annoyed sneer. “How someone as dull as Mr. Weasley could inspire such passion …”
Hermione scoffed in annoyance. How dare he! But then she remembered that he didn’t know about her row with Ron. At least, he didn’t know about that now .
But he must have mistaken her annoyance for indignation, for he grimaced in disgust and spun away from her, his robes billowing behind him as he stalked down the hall.
Squeezing her eyes shut, Hermione turned back the way she had come.
Neville was just coming out of the staff room when Hermione passed by. “Oh, hello Hermione,” he said, smiling cheerfully. “Saw you nodding off. Didn’t you get any sleep last night?”
Hermione considered for a moment, then shrugged. “Not really. Had a bit of a lousy day yesterday.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. Do you want to talk about it? I’m about to make my rounds of the greenhouses, but you can join me, if you like.”
“Great! Yeah, that would actually be… great.”
They headed off toward the Entrance Hall and Hermione found herself smiling. It would be hard to talk to Harry or Ginny about Ron, but Neville would understand. And that really was exactly what she needed right now, she realized. A confidant. A friend.
“So, er…” Neville began, once they had made it to the relative privacy of the outdoors, “what happened yesterday?”
“Oh, well… Ron and I had a row.”
Neville nodded. He didn’t look very surprised. “That’s never easy,” he said, giving her a sad little smile as he held the door to the greenhouse open for her. He pulled on some gloves,dug some sheers out of a drawer, and set to work pruning the Fanged Geraniums. Hermione watched him for a moment before deciding to join in.
“He… he came to visit this weekend and it just… wasn’t great. It’s like… we don’t have much in common anymore. When I was at Grimmauld Place, it was Harry and Ginny and Ron and me. Always the four of us. We spent a lot of time talking about the past, you know? All the in-jokes and shared history. Or the three of them would talk about Quidditch while I was lost in a book. I never felt the need to make an effort at conversation, so I guess I never realized how little Ron and I ever spoke to one another. Now, we have nothing to talk about.”
“I know what you mean,” said Neville. “I always thought Luna and I were perfect together because I studied flora and she studied fauna. We should never run out of topics that interested both of us, right? But she would spout off constantly about mythical creatures and fairy tales like they were facts. I thought it was cute and quirky, at first. Maybe even brave and insightful. But the more I studied Herbology, and science in general, the more I realized how wrong she was. Of course, I couldn’t ever convince her. After a while, I couldn’t help thinking of her as… I dunno… misled. Confused. I hate to say… ignorant. I stopped being interested in anything she had to say.”
Hermione nodded. “I take it you aren’t together anymore?”
Neville shook his head. “But all that to say that I know what you’re going through. You still haven’t told me about your row.”
“Well, it was just that. A stupid row about nothing really, but also about… everything, in a way. I went to find him, to apologise, to make it up to him. I wanted to try , you know? Relationships take work, don’t they? But when I found him… he was… he was out with the rest of his Auror class, and… there was this… girl…” She broke off, swallowing a lump in her throat.
“ Oh ,” said Neville, “Hermione, that’s awful. I’m sorry.”
“This thin… busty... French... blonde . She was hanging on his every word, just beaming up at him like a lunatic. Like a… fanatic. And he was just eating it up!”
“What a git .”
“But Neville, I hadn’t seen him smile like that in… years . And it hurt. A lot. He doesn’t smile like that for me. And it’s so hard to think that maybe… maybe…” she broke off, again, sudden tears in her eyes.
Neville broke away from his work and turned toward her, grabbing one of her gloved hands in his. “It’s alright to hurt, Hermione. Ron has been a big part of your life for… most of your life. I went through this with Luna, too. It’s hard to think that you might both be better off… apart.”
Tears were rolling down her face now. “That’s exactly it, Neville.” And when did Neville get so wise? The thought crossed her mind that maybe this didn’t have to be a choice between Ron and Snape. Neville had really grown up. He was tall and well-built. His jaw was chiselled and he actually looked quite handsome.
“But it gets better, I promise,” he squeezed her hand before letting it go. “Luna is off doing what she loves, travelling the world in search of her fantastic beasts. And I… well… I'm… seeing someone.” At this confession, his features lit up, completely transformed. His face seemed to glow.
She blinked, then grinned at him. “Oh, Neville! I’m so happy for you!”
“Thanks. It’s been… really great. I mean… really great.”
“That’s fantastic!” Hermione could feel herself blushing, embarrassed to have even considered that Neville might be interested in her. “So, er… who’s the lucky lady? Anyone I know?”
Neville ran a dirty glove through his messy black hair. “Actually… it’s, er… well... it’s a bloke.”
" Oh!" Hermione didn't know what to say. "Wow, well that's… great, Neville!"
"Thanks. I know it's a bit of a shock." She'd never seen him so sheepish.
"No, actually. I mean, not really, come to think of it. But I suppose, I mean… Luna… did you know? I mean…"
"Yeah, it's complicated, I suppose. I mean I loved Luna and I was attracted to her, but just… not… like this. I guess I didn't really know what it was like to be with someone that I was so… utterly and completely mad about…"
"That's fantastic, Neville. I'm really happy for you."
Neville smiled back at her, sadness taking the place of euphoria on his face. "You'll have that too, Hermione. Someday. I know you will."
Hermione and Neville had a new understanding by the time they returned to the castle. She found herself wishing they hadn't lost touch these last few years. It was so refreshing to have someone she could talk to so openly.
Granted, he had refused to tell her who the secret boyfriend was. She got the feeling that she knew the wizard, but Neville was adamant that he wouldn't out his lover to anyone. Those sorts of things took time. And Neville assured her that this wizard was worth the wait.
They waved goodbye to each other when they reached the high table and split apart to sit in their assigned seats. It was already a bit late for lunch and Hermione hadn't eaten anything for breakfast. She was famished.
Her mouth was full of roast beef when Severus Snape settled into the seat beside hers. "Hungry, Granger?"
Hermione glared at him and tried to suppress the embarrassed flush that crept over her face and neck as she chewed frantically, much to his obvious amusement. She swallowed prematurely and hid a grimace as she reached for the pumpkin juice.
"You will be satisfied to hear that our potion is behaving according to our expectations."
"Is that so?" Hermione's heart did a little flip. 'Our potion.'
He nodded as he helped himself to the potatoes. "It needs to sit for about a week, but then it will be ready for the next step."
"Do you think I can help with that part?" As soon as she had said it, Hermione wondered about the wisdom of working so closely with the man. He was a talented spy and skilled Legilimens. He was bound to notice that her behavior toward him was changing in an unforeseeable way.
The Potions master seemed to consider. "I suppose you might as well," he said. "As long as you don't doze off."
Hermione let out a gasp of amused outrage. "That's not fair! It was your fault I didn't get any sleep!"
"Hmm, as I recall, you were already out of bed of your own volition when you happened upon me."
"Perhaps… but I wouldn't have stayed up all night long. "
"And here I thought the reasons for your midnight stroll and for your assistance on my potion were one and the same. Namely, your troubled dreams. Of course," he smirked at her and there was a hint of deviousness in his knowing black eyes, "it didn't sound as if you were having a nightmare, to me."
"You're not going to let me forget that, are you?"
"And give away my only leverage? Don't be absurd."
"That is hardly your only leverage."
He frowned at her. "I don't know what you mean."
Hermione could feel herself blushing. What exactly had she meant by that? "Well, then I'm certainly not going to inform you." She lifted her chin and smirked impudently up at him for a long moment while she waited for his response. But he simply studied her, his eyes trailing lazily across her features in open appraisal. She was suddenly very aware of how close they were. She could see the irises his midnight eyes. Eyes that had bored into hers just that morning, burning with desire. Suddenly, their eyes met again, and Hermione threw up her Occlumency shields, trying to hold his dark, penetrating gaze.
"Impressive, Miss Granger," he growled in a low voice that resonated deep inside her. "Obvious and indelicate as any Gryffindor, but… thorough , nonetheless."
His velvety praise was still echoing in her mind that night as Hermione readied herself for bed. Ron hadn't even bothered to Floo her but she almost didn't even care.
Changing into her pajamas and slipping beneath the sheets, Hermione considered the vial of Dreamless Sleep on her nightstand. And decided not to take it.
“Between your lips and my lips…” he was saying. His voice was deep and smooth, like velvet. And she didn’t just hear it. She felt it, deep within her. Her back was pressed against his chest, her legs stretching across the length of the couch, alongside one of his own. His right foot was planted on the floor. And in one elegant Potions Master’s hand was held a small book bound in dark burgundy cloth. His other hand was resting on her stomach, entwined with both of her own.
“When they meet and stay--The years collapse--The glass of a whole life shatters…” *
Hermione didn’t know what to feel. On the one hand, she now knew that this was nothing more than an improbable future, drawn from a tree of more likely possibilities. But on the other, why did it have to be so nice?
She pulled away from him, looking skeptically up into his eyes. “Poetry?” she said plainly, without introduction.
He blinked. The fingers of the hand she held twitched, but he didn’t pull away. “Ah. Good evening, Miss Granger.”
She narrowed her eyes at him. “I never would have taken you for a poetry sort of man.”
He sighed, allowing her to pull away further, unlacing their fingers, but not withdrawing the leg that was now stretched out behind her as she turned to look at him. “I never was much of a poetry sort of man,” he said simply, his eyes narrowed in an expression of patient boredom.
“It seems like the sort of thing a man like you would feign interest in…” she began, intending to suggest that he would need to do such things to attract a woman.
He smirked. “There may have been a time in your life when you would have been swayed by such tactics,” he said, picking up on her intent without having to hear her say it, “but you have not been such a fool for a very long time.”
Hermione narrowed her eyes at him, but said nothing.
“I don’t blame you for your suspicions, Hermione. I was once prone to similar assumptions about men who expressed such sensibilities. I believed that poetry was a trap set by schemers; beautiful lies to tempt the soft-minded into their snares. And how could I think otherwise, having never felt such sentiments as this sort of poetry describes?”
“And you expect me to believe that you feel them now? That you aren’t just laying it on thick? You , the accomplished spy?”
She expected him to be offended, but his expression only grew warmer. She wasn’t used to seeing humor in his eyes. “I don’t have to convince you of anything, Hermione. I already live in the reality where you chose to be with me. Nothing I say to you now will change that. For me, it has already happened.”
“So... you know about that.”
He lifted his eyebrows. “So you know about that?”
Hermione nodded. She started to lean back against the couch, but then remembered his leg behind her. He surprised her by removing it and straightening up on the couch beside her. “I just went back to the old woman,” she said. “She explained…” She broke off. There was a lump in her throat. It was all still so hard to believe.
He nodded, making as if to move toward her, then stopping himself. “It’s hard for me too,” he said in a voice that was surprisingly soft, “knowing that there are futures where you don’t choose me. Not,” he hurried to assure her, “for any vain reason of my own. Although, I will admit that I pity the versions of myself who don’t get to spend their lives with you. But because it hurts to think that there are versions of you out there whom I cannot protect.”
Hermione hid her sudden emotion behind a smirk. “No, not vain at all.”
He grinned at her. “Well, if it helps, the version of you who chooses me is very, very happy.”
Hermione swatted his arm, surprising both of them. How did she feel so at home with this man who had been her teacher all those years ago? She frowned at the thought. “You didn’t… I mean… you haven’t always felt like this about me?”
His eyes went wide. “Bloody hell, Hermione. Of course not. In fact, I was in denial about my attraction to you for a long time before I could get over the shame of it. And then only because it was obvious you… weren’t disgusted by me. Anymore,” he added, smirking.
“So when did you first begin to fancy me?” she asked, unable to help herself.
He raised an eyebrow at her insolence, but he was smiling nonetheless. “Well. It came on very slowly. There was never a precise… moment. But the first time I saw you as a woman, rather than a student, was quite by accident. It was one of those horrid Ministry events. The ones they like to hold around the holidays. And you were wearing bright red robes. They were not immodest. Many other women were putting themselves on more of a display. And yet… every wizard in that room took notice of you.”
Hermione hid her shock. That was earlier than she had expected. She remembered the occasion. Ron and Harry had snuck in a flask of gin and gotten pissed and Ron had refused point blank to dance with her all night.
“I noticed you from across the room and then hated myself when I realized who you were.”
Hermione thought back to the Severus Snape who sat beside her in the Great Hall. He had already begun to think of her as more than just an ex-student before she had even accepted the post of Charms Mistress. Something about that excited her. It made her feel bold and daring. She tilted her eyes at him, smirking playfully. “Did you…” she began before she had really thought it through, “ever… I mean, before we were together, obviously, did you…” but then her mind caught up with her mouth and she couldn’t finish the thought.
He lifted an eyebrow. “Did I what?”
Hermione could feel the heat rising in her cheeks. She couldn’t hold his gaze. “Well, you know, did you ever… fantasize about me?”
The moment she had said it, she expected him to be offended and angry. But he surprised her again, leaning toward her with a hint of amusement in his devilish eyes. “ Why , Hermione? Does the prospect excite you?”
She couldn’t breathe. He had seen right through her. How had he known that when she hadn’t even realized it yet herself? Of course! He was dating her in the future. Who knew what sorts of confessions she had made to him by now. And yet, she never would have expected Ron to be this intuitive about her.
He laughed at her stricken expression, genuinely amused. “I’ll give you an answer, Hermione. But first… I want to hear you say it.”
“I want to hear you confess the reason that you want to know.”
Hermione lifted her chin in the air. “Maybe I’m just curious.”
He grinned. “I don’t think so.” Then he leaned closer to her and Hermione had to brace herself against the instinct to pull away. He was much more comfortable with her than she was with him, after all. He knew her in ways she might never know him, if she chose not to follow that path. “I think…” he murmured in a voice that was deep and dark and dangerous, “that you like the idea of me thinking about you. And you want to know. You want to be able to picture me stretched out in my bed, hand tight around my cock as I think about you. You want to know when it will happen because the idea… arouses you.”
Hermione let out a short, nervous breath that might have been a laugh. “That’s not…”
“Don’t lie to me, Hermione. You don’t have to say anything, if you don’t want to. But if you can confess that truth… I’ll give you a hint, so that you can know. And then you can think about it, too.”
She hesitated, considering, and the pause stretched on long enough that it was its own confession. She could feel the heat rising in her cheeks and a new excitement kindling in her core.
“You can’t fool me, Hermione,” he murmured in a low, dangerous voice that nearly made her shiver with desire. “You think I don’t know you? I have the advantage. You, yourself, have given it to me.” He smirked, leaning closer so that she had to tilt her head backward to look up at him. “I know about your most recent visit, too,” he said, his voice barely more than a whisper.
“W-what?” Hermione had to pull her attention away from his proximity and those devilish black eyes to concentrate on the meaning of his words. Her eyes grew wide.
He chuckled dangerously. “Oh yes, Hermione. You see, in your future, when your premonitions begin to come to pass, your past self will begin to rob you of the little fragments you have already seen. You will be tending to your usual affairs and the next you know you’ll find that an hour has passed, for which you cannot account. Or perhaps only a few minutes. A few… short… passionate moments. And you will know, even if I had not been aware, that I had been visited by your former self.”
Hermione cringed. “Oh."
"Yes, ' Oh.' So what do you have to say for yourself?"
"Alright. You're right. I'm sorry about that. It was a trespass on your privacy and I promise not to do it again. However, to be fair, I would hardly consider that an argument for my attraction to you. After all, you have to account for the physiology of arousal. When I wake up in this timeline, I inherit the current emotional state of my future self."
“And yet, you used to pull away.”
“I still do pull away! Once I’ve realised where--or when--I am.”
"Are you telling me that you never fantasize about me in your own timeline, Hermione? That you never think about the way it felt to have me fuck you? That those intrusive thoughts don't kindle a desire heretofore unknown?"
Hermione let out a breath. Her cheeks were hot. She had never heard her professor use such language in such a deliciously devious way. And the way his dark eyes were watching her… Merlin. She had to admit that she was enjoying the way it made her feel.
"Alright," she reasoned, choosing her words carefully. "Suppose I do confess to something beyond curiosity… will you… reward my candor with… details?"
He chuckled and it was such a deliciously dangerous sound. "Is that what you want, Hermione? You want me to tell you how I tossed and turned for hours, unable to turn my mind away from thoughts of you until at last I slipped a hand beneath the sheets and allowed myself to fantasize about what might have transpired between us, if I had been so bold?"
" Yes," Hermione gasped .
"You want me to tell you how I pictured you pulling me into your bed and climbing on top of me, your breasts bouncing as you rode me like a bucking bull? How I imagined--not inaccurately, I might add--how ecstasy would look upon your lovely face? Or how the thought of you bringing yourself to orgasm on top of me made me come harder than I had in years?"
Hermione's heart was racing. The thought of her former professor lying awake, thinking about her this way… there was no denying the way it made her feel. " Yes . Alright. I want to know."
"You want to know what, Hermione?"
"I want to know when. When you… first fantasize about me. I want to know because… because… I find the thought arousing and… and I want to be able to think about it then and to know. So that I can think about it too."
"Very good, Hermione," he growled, lifting a hand to her face and tracing the backs of his knuckles across her skin. "Then I will give you a hint." He cupped her cheek in his hand and she found herself leaning into his touch, savoring the way it felt and craving more of it. "It happened," he continued, drawing out his confession as if to tease her, "on the night that I gave you an 'O'."
*Lines from the poem “Between Us” by Nizar Qabbani
AN: Sorry it took me so long to update! I’ve been working out some plot stuff, plus the holidays are pretty busy. Thank you all SO MUCH for your Reviews and support!!! It really brightens my day!!!
“So, you still haven’t heard from him?”
“Not a word.”
Neville cringed down at the potted monkshood, not meeting her eye. “Are you going to confront him?”
She sighed. “Eventually, I suppose. For now… I just don’t even want to deal with it.”
“I know how you feel.”
There was a tense moment. Hermione watched as Neville carefully, almost tenderly, pruned the young flower. “But enough about me,” she said. “When are you going to tell me about your new beau?”
Neville couldn’t hold back the glowing grin that spread across his face at the mention of his boyfriend. “Well I can’t tell you much. I promised I wouldn’t tell anyone about him.”
“Oh come on, Neville. You can trust me! Besides, I’ve told you all about Ron. Fair’s fair, you know.”
“I’m sorry Hermione, I can’t tell you who he is. But I can tell you… that he’s… brilliant and witty and… gorgeous. ”
Hermione laughed at her friend’s expression. “You’re killing me. Won’t you at least ask him if it’s okay to tell me? I promise not to tell.”
He considered her a moment, looking skeptical. “I know you won’t, Hermione. I’ll ask, but I doubt he’ll go for it.”
By Wednesday morning, Ron still hadn’t bothered to Floo or even send her an owl. Part of her was angry with him for being such an arse, but another part felt resigned. Maybe this was the way it had to be. Maybe this time apart would be enough to lessen the blow when they finally ended things. Her heart constricted at the thought and she brushed it away. It was too early to be thinking about such things. She hadn’t even had breakfast.
Hermione was still deep in thought as she approached the teachers’ entrance to the Great Hall. So deep in thought, in fact, that she nearly collided with someone as she turned toward the door. “Oh, sorry,” she gasped, her face snapping up to catch the eyes of the last person she expected to see here right now. “ Malfoy?! ”
Draco Malfoy was dressed in a rather dapper set of silver and black robes. He was taller than she remembered, but not by much, and his handsome face was marred by a long, silver scar that cut through one eyebrow and down his cheek, curving over the chiselled edge of his jaw and down beneath the high neck of his robes. It was a wonder he hadn’t lost his eye.
Hermione shuddered. Part of her pitied the arrogant boy and the terrible fate that had befallen him at the end of the War, but part of her thought he looked more like a villain than ever before. She couldn’t help a glance at the sturdy collar of his robes, knowing what was hiding underneath.
“What are you doing here?” The question sounded more accusing than she had meant, but seeing him had awakened emotions she hadn’t felt in years.
He sneered down his nose at her, apparently unsurprised by her less-than-welcoming manner. “Hmph. I didn’t realize you had staked your claim on Hogwarts, Granger.”
“Well, I am actually living here now. Forgive me if your sudden appearance isn’t exactly exciting to me.”
His sneer melted into a cold scowl. “As it happens, I will be living here, too. But it’s a large enough castle. With any luck, we’ll hardly see each other.” He stalked past her in an annoying flourish of robes and Hermione entered the Great Hall in time to see him taking a seat at the Head Table, right beside Neville, who looked suddenly stiff and anxious, his face turning red enough for her to see from here. Her heart went out to her sensitive friend.
"Draco Malfoy?" said Hermione in lieu of a greeting as she slipped into her seat beside Severus Snape. "What the hell is he doing here?"
Snape lifted an annoyed eyebrow. "He has taken on an apprenticeship in Potions with Professor Tollock. Rather a last minute decision, it seems."
It was Hermione's turn to raise her eyebrows. "Potions? Well. He may find that he doesn't like Potions as much when he doesn't get preferential treatment."
To her surprise, Snape smirked at that, but there was a glint of sadness in his eyes. "Draco never had much natural talent for Potions," he admitted, taking Hermione aback. "However, it was the one class where he was ever encouraged or given reason to believe that he might have more than an ordinary skill. The interest that cultivated within him, added to his Slytherin desire to achieve, has sculpted him into a rather fine potioneer. With a bit of coaching, he will make a fine replacement for Tollock in a couple of years."
Hermione didn't know what to say to that.
"Besides," Snape continued, in a lower voice, "this arrangement is convenient, as it places him closer to one of the only wizards in the world capable of brewing the Wolfsbane potion."
"Oh," said Hermione, cringing sympathetically. "That's right. It has to be taken fresh, doesn't it?"
Snape nodded, his eyes lingering on her a moment, a strange expression on his face. It took her a moment to realize that he was surprised to hear the concern in her voice. It was enough to make her wish she'd been friendlier to Draco.
"You know," Hermione began again before he could pull away, "I asked Filius for an apprenticeship. All of this would probably be a lot easier if I'd spent the last two years here learning from him. He was the one who insisted I take the C.R.O.W. for Charms after just a summer working with him in London. But I think he was just ready to retire."
Severus smirked at her. "Or he found the prospect of two years of your endless questions less than appealing."
Perhaps it was the teasing, familiar tone in which he'd said it, or the intimacy she had shared with him in her recent dreams, but before she could think the better of it, Hermione Granger had narrowed her eyes and stuck out her tongue at her ex-professor, as if he were one of the boys.
He froze, his eyebrows rising dramatically as his eyes flitted down to her soft, pink tongue. But it was the way they hastily darted away and off into the distance that belied the sentiment he tried to convey when he responded in his dryest, bored tone with "charming as always, Miss Granger."
Heat rose in her cheeks and a tightness pulled at her deep inside, even as she let out a surprised laugh and tried to cover her embarrassment by committing to the slip she'd made. "And that's what I think of your teasing, Severus Snape!"
He smirked but didn't look at her. It was strange. He was sitting very stiffly, staring out across the hall with faintly amused nonchalance and sipping a glass of water, as if for something to do. It was almost… awkward. Severus Snape, the famous Occlumens and spy was being… awkward. It made her feel bold and powerful and suddenly… a little aroused.
Giving her a last wry smirk, Snape pushed back his chair. "Terrifying," he purred, sardonic mask in place "It seems I must retreat to my lesson plans." Her face was hot with mounting embarrassment, which she knew was his intention, but she couldn't help herself. She watched him sweep away before clapping a hand across her forehead and squeezing her eyes shut as giggles threatened in her throat. What the hell was that?
Her classes that day passed in a blur of comfortable rhythm. It seemed that she had finally found the right routine. Finally, she felt like her students were beginning to benefit from her knowledge of the subject. It was a relief, more than anything.
But that night, she found herself waiting up, stretched out on her own sofa, wishing her idiot boyfriend would attempt to Floo.
It was a quarter to midnight when she finally conceded that he would not be reaching out to her tonight. So, with a heavy sigh, she dragged herself into the bedroom and collapsed into her sheets.
Briefly, she considered using her last vial of Dreamless Sleep. But part of her wanted to return to her comforting dreams. Regardless of the outcome, she had to admit that future-Snape was good at consoling her. And there was something familiar and comfortable and concrete about spending time with him.
In the last couple of days, she'd woken up holding hands with him on her sofa, then sharing a table in the library as they each studied their own, individual things. Was it wrong to consider those moments kind of perfect? Or to allow herself to think that maybe she and her old Potions master were more than a bit compatible? Nonsense.
And yet, if her dreams were leading her farther astray, shouldn't she avoid them at all costs?
But Ron hadn't Flooed. Maybe he hadn't even noticed that they hadn't spoken in several days. Maybe he was too preoccupied with Amandine to notice the deteriorating state of his relationship.
So she decided not to take the Dreamless Sleep.
“It didn’t start out that way,” he was saying. “Tom Riddle had a knack for choosing followers who would remain faithful to him.” They were in his bed, his hands clasped behind his head, her breasts squashed against his naked abdomen through her thin t-shirt and her chin resting on hands folded across his ribs.
She tried not to notice the tickle of his wiry hair under her palms or the stiff texture of his trousers pressed against the soft leggings she wore. She should tell him that she wasn’t his Hermione anymore, but this sounded important, and she didn’t want to interrupt.
“Most of us were angry, isolated, wounded in some way or another. He pretended to see something in us; something no one had bothered to look for before: the potential for greatness. And we so wanted that to be true… needed that to be true… that we were willing to put our faith in what he had to say.” His brow furrowed and he seemed to hesitate. “You have to understand… in the beginning, he wasn’t talking about locking Muggleborns up and killing those who opposed him. He started very simply by stoking the flames of discontent that had already been there. He… validated the ideas already festering in our minds: that we were the oppressed class, forced to hide from Muggle view; that the Ministry was getting in the way of our rightful destiny as rulers of the world.”
Hermione was so drawn in that she forgot herself. “But isn’t that the heart of the problem? The idea that wizards are better than Muggles, somehow?”
He nodded, not quite looking at her. “He spoke to our young egos; to our insecurities; our need to believe we were better , just by virtue of having been born the way we were. And it was not hard to believe. Most humans believe that they are better than the rest of the animal kingdom, simply for possessing higher intelligence. With that mindset, it is not a stretch in logic to say that witches and wizards are better than Muggles, because they have magic.”
Hermione was incensed. She yanked away from him, sitting up on her knees between his legs. “So what if they don’t have magic! That doesn’t make them somehow… less!
“Of course not, Hermione,” he said, sitting up and trying to reach for her. “I wasn’t arguing that. I was young and foolish . I knew enough to think I had the answers and not enough to know that I was wrong. More than anything, I was addicted to the feeling of having a place where I belonged. ”
Hermione pouted another moment, her anger cooling enough to be embarrassed that he was stretched out in front of her, one leg on either side, his chest bare.
“Come back to me, Hermione,” he cooed, taking her wrist and pulling until she had collapsed against his chest again.
She let out a little cry of surprise, flustered by the way her body reacted to being in contact with his. “Sorry… sir …” she began, embarrassed to tell him the truth, “I wanted to tell you.”
“Oh." He stilled beneath her. "My apologies, Miss Granger,” he said, releasing his hold on her so that she could scramble awkwardly off of him. “I hope you will not hold this personal confession against me.”
Hermione pulled the blankets up under her arms and sat cross-legged, looking down at him. “Actually,” she began, hesitantly, “I was hoping you’d continue. I’ve… wondered before why… you would… that is, what could have led you to… to join the Death Eaters.”
He seemed to consider her for a long moment. “I suppose," he murmured softly. Then he sighed and made himself comfortable, staring up at the ceiling. "My father was a Muggle. Did you know that?”
She blinked down at him, unable to hide her shock. “A… Muggle? Really? I mean… I knew you were a half-blood, but I thought… Muggle-born, perhaps. Like Harry.”
He winced at the ceiling. “No. He was a Muggle. And the worst sort of man. Angry. Drunk. Abusive.”
“Oh. I’m… sorry.”
He waved it off. “He died before you were born, Hermione. Luckily before… before I joined…” he trailed off, uncomfortably.
The hair stood up on the back of Hermione’s neck. Strange, but she found that she wanted to comfort him. “Small mercies,” she said, rather than ask him any more prying questions. She didn’t need him to spell it out for her.
“Anyway, you can see why the prospect of having power over that bastard would have appealed to me.”
Hermione nodded, but said nothing.
He sighed. "The truth is, I could go on and on about the many reasons I joined the Dark Lord and it wouldn't change the fact that I made that choice. And continued to make that choice every step of the way. That is how indoctrination works. They ease you in one step at a time, pushing you just a little bit more each time until you are in too deep. Even the occasional doubts I had were quickly squashed by my fear that I would be tortured and killed if I left the Cause and by the knowledge that no one else would ever accept me after what I had done.
"And make no mistake, Hermione, I did terrible things. All under the assumption that the ends would justify the means."
Hermione was very still. Odd, but she felt the need to show him some sort of support; to let him know that she was listening with compassion. "Our side has been guilty of that mentality, as well," she said, not quite meeting his eye.
He nodded absently. "To a lesser extent. But I should have known better. I think a part of me always knew we had crossed a line. It was hard to ignore the sheer number of psychopaths our Cause had attracted. Some of the things I witnessed…" he broke off, his face twisting with regret. "Things I did not intervene to put an end to. Not that I ever participated in some of the more sadistic practices. But I knew they were happening under the guise of a movement toward what was supposed to be a better future.
"I would love to say that over time I stopped being able to ignore the evil that was being done by the others, or even that was being asked of me, but the truth is that I continued to tell myself that it was all a matter of strategy, right up until the very end.
"After all, it's much harder to see people as pawns when they are people you love."
Hermione didn't know what to say.
When the silence grew awkward he let out a long breath, turning to look at her at last and giving her a knowing smirk. “But anyway…” he said, his change of tone telegraphing his intent to lighten the mood, “where are you in the timeline, now?”
“Oh, erm… well… you and I are working on a dreamlessness potion, Draco Malfoy just arrived at the school, and it looks like Ron and I are about to end our relationship.”
It hurt to say that out loud
His eyebrows shot up on his forehead. “Are you?”
"It seems so.”
He hummed thoughtfully and pulled himself into a sitting position, leaning toward her inquisitively. He could hardly hide his smirk when he said, “I hope I didn’t have anything to do with that.”
Hermione braced herself against the instinct to pull away. He was so close, his clever eyes watching her with a glint of deviousness. Her cheeks tingled with warmth. “Don’t give yourself so much credit,” she said, lifting an insolent eyebrow and leaning closer to him unconsciously.
“So… does this mean that you’ve decided to… follow a different path?”
“Don’t be hasty. I’m here, aren’t I?”
His brow furrowed and he pulled away nearly imperceptibly. “What do you mean?”
Hermione’s eyes went wide and an embarrassed flush crept across her skin. “Oh, er… you… didn’t know about that?”
“Didn’t know about what?”
She blinked up at him, wishing she could stuff the words right back into her mouth. Wishing there were some way she could dissuade him from wanting to know. “These visions…” she found herself saying, almost against her own will, “they won’t stop until…”
“Until what , Hermione?”
“Until… I accept this as my fate.”
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“So… I guess this is it, then,” said Ron. He gave her a little half smile, not quite meeting her eye.
“I guess so.”
The teartracks down Hermione’s face had long since dried in the biting Autumn wind, but her eyes were sore. She felt drained. They had gone through the whole gamut of emotions in the last hour or so and she’d used up every one. What had started as angry shouting had dwindled down to a sort of defeated apathy. They didn't even blame each other anymore.
It was quiet now in the garden behind 12 Grimmauld and the stone bench was cold and hard against her arse. How many times had she sat out here? Watching her friends play Quidditch. Helping Harry prepare for the coming war. Now, ending a relationship that she had thought would last a lifetime. Ginny had done a lot to liven up the place, she realized. It was a shame she wouldn’t be able to sit here for a while.
“We’ll still… see each other,” said Ron. The words sounded empty, but she nodded just the same.
“Eventually. But I think…” and this was the hardest part for Hermione. “I think I need to be away from you for a while.”
Ron nodded, swallowing conspicuously. This wasn’t easy for him, either, she realized. Somehow, that made it so much worse.
The sky was dark and the wind was cold as Hermione crossed the Hogwarts lawn. A few last tears escaped with the lingering pangs of loss. She brushed them away and let out a long breath before slipping into the Entrance Hall.
She was reluctant to face a Hall full of teenagers, but Minerva had warned her against missing meals. So she dried her eyes as best she could and straightened her shoulders, marching straight to her spot at the top of the Great Hall.
Snape frowned at her as she took her seat. Of course he saw right through her guise of normalcy. Nothing could get past the practiced spy. But he resolutely ignored her, for which she was grateful.
Her emotional state must have been more apparent that she had realized, because Hagrid took one look at her puffy eyes and turned bodily toward her. "Hermione!" he bellowed, loud enough to cause several of the professors to turn their heads. "Are you alrigh'?"
"Yes. Fine, Hagrid. Thank you."
"Are ya sure? Only ya don't look fine ter me."
The other professors had the grace to look away and Snape, who had not turned to look at her, feigned interest in the goings-on at the Gryffindor table, but he was scowling a little too much for what appeared to be absolutely nothing happening down there.
"I will be alright," Hermione amended, unsure why she felt the need to tell the truth right now while the Potions Master could hear. "It's just… not easy. Ron and I… have decided to go our separate ways."
"Oh no!" cried Hagrid, pounding her on the back with his enormous hand. "I'm so sorry, Hermione! The two of ya were so good together! I always thought you made a fine pair."
"Yes, well," said Hermione stiffly, holding back the sudden threat of tears, "we were, for a time. But I think… I think we're better as friends."
This doesn’t mean that I’m choosing Snape , she told herself late that night as she stared at her ceiling, wide awake. She cringed to even consider what her friends would say if she were to choose that path. They would never understand. And for good reason. He was twice her age. He had been a Death Eater. And a real git. He had made their lives miserable every chance he got. And again, he had taught her when she was just eleven years old. It wasn’t right.
They would never understand.
Hermione tossed and turned for what seemed like hours. She couldn’t stop her mind from flitting back and forth between the pain of breaking up with Ron and the anxiety over what to feel about Severus Snape. No matter how much she told herself not to think about him--that they would soon be able to block out her premonitions--that she was free to go about her life however she pleased--she couldn’t help the feeling that she had taken a step toward the improbable future that haunted her dreams.
She was walking down a nearly empty corridor. The deep winter chill of the castle was pervasive; a dry cold stinging her face and seeping down to her bones.
From around the next corner, Severus Snape appeared, scowling impressively. "Professor Granger," he said in seeing her, "a word."
She stopped in front of him, disoriented and confused. He scowled at a group of Hufflepuff third years who hurried past and out of sight around the corner, their startled footsteps echoing into the distance.
She was only just wondering how it was so cold at the beginning of October when he turned back to her. His scowl melted into a mischievous grin as he cupped her chin in his hand and leaned down to catch her mouth with his own.
It was a tender kiss, neither chaste nor wanton, and she pulled back in surprise. " Well ," she said, remembering herself, "I take it you aren't angry with me anymore."
His brow furrowed. "Why would I be angry?" he asked, making as if to kiss her again.
She stopped him with one hand, her fingertips pressing against his lips, and blushed at the simple contact.
" Oh ," he growled with a smirk, "I see. Good evening, Miss Granger."
She cleared her throat, withdrawing her hand and taking a step back from him. "I thought ," she continued, not quite meeting his eye, "that you would be angry about the confession I made to you last time."
His smirk was warmer than usual, his eyes glittering with mirth. "What? That your continued visits indicate a reluctance on your part to accept this shocking fate?"
She nodded, swallowing a knot in her throat and staring at the buttons down the front of his coat. Some delicate part of her craved the intimacy he was offering with his eyes.
"You thought I would be angry…" he continued, lifting her chin to meet his gaze, "that you didn't dive headfirst into a sexual relationship with one of the most controversial figures of your childhood?"
She blushed, allowing a shy smirk to spread across her face. Well, when he put it that way…
"It has only been weeks in your timeline, has it not? And you are still clinging to the comfort of your relationship with one of your oldest friends."
At that, her eyes broke away from his and her smirk melted into a frown. "Actually… we've decided to end things…"
"Oh. I'm sorry, Hermione," he said, his hands coming to to clasp her upper arms. "For your pain, not for your loss. You are well rid of him."
Hermione let out a shocked laugh and smacked his arm in an uncharacteristically playful gesture.
He laughed. "What? I can't pretend I'm not relieved we're finally here. After all, that leaves my conscience free to take the next step."
Hermione pretended amusement to hide the sudden jumble of nerves. "Oh? The next step?"
"Indeed. It occurs to me that I have been gifted with an opportunity denied to me our first go 'round."
"And what opportunity is that?"
His expression sobered and he met her eye, lifting one hand to brush a stray curl behind her ear. "I am a very lucky man," he said, his voice so sincere she had to drop her gaze. "Not many are given the chance first to be chased and then to pursue."
Hermione's throat went dry. "Chased?" she asked, unsure how else to respond.
"Of course," he said, his velvety voice dangerously deep. "In your timeline, I had to be cautious. I couldn't risk our tentative working relationship with any bold move on my part. Not when it was so unlikely that you would respond in a positive manner. Well, unlikely as far as I could understand it. And make no mistake, I enjoyed the slow tease of your hesitant flirtation. But now…" he smirked, lifting her chin with a finger and lowering his face so that they were only inches away, his hair falling forward on either side. "Now… it's my turn."
Hermione didn't go down to breakfast. She told herself it was because it was Sunday and she needed a break from the students, but a nagging part of her mind recognized that she didn't know if she could handle seeing Severus Snape right now. Not while she was mourning the end of her relationship with Ron.
So she was unprepared when she answered a knock at her door to find the man, himself, standing on the other side.
"Miss Granger," he began, "I…" He stopped, his eyes darting down to her plain t-shirt and leggings and widening perceptibly before snapping to a point across the room. "Forgive the intrusion. I only wanted to invite you to participate in the next step of the brewing process, if you are still so inclined." Was that a tinge of pink in his cheeks?
"I--yes! Of course! I'd love to!" Something about his awkwardness made her feel bold. She remembered his words from her dream last night, about her hesitant flirtation. Some unfamiliar part of her craved the power to put this man on edge, as he had done to her. So she found herself leaning against the door frame, bringing her half a foot closer to him, squashing the side of her breast against the wood, and emphasizing the curve of her hip.
He nearly pulled away at the subtly flirtatious gesture, but stopped himself, standing very stiff and scowling down at her, almost confused . "Good," he growled, clearly feigning impatience to cover his discomfort. "I plan to begin shortly after noon. I know I do not need to tell you that making me wait would be… inadvisable." With that, he spun around in a flourish of robes and stalked away.
Hermione closed the door behind him and leaned against it, squeezing her eyes shut and running a hand down her face. What the hell was that? She had promised herself last night that she would not pursue the ornery older man. She and Ron might not have been right for each other, but that did not mean that she and Snape were.
And nothing has to come of it, she reminded herself. After all, enjoying her old professor's response to her subtle teasing was not the same as initiating any sort of real connection.
Yes, exactly. That was exactly it. There was a world of possibility in between.
Hermione considered arriving late to the dungeons just to see how her colleague would respond, now that he couldn't deduct House Points for tardiness. She decided against it, but was still almost late because of how long it took her to decide on something to wear. She didn't want to be too casual--he had clearly been taken aback by her leggings--but neither did she want to dress up in teaching robes for an afternoon over a steaming cauldron. She settled on jeans and a v-neck tee with a simple cardigan she could discard when the work got too hot. She certainly didn't choose the outfit because of how well it looked on her. But she didn't not choose it for that reason either. After all, it was possible to enjoy the older man's reaction to her without wanting to do anything about it.
At precisely 11:59, Hermione entered the Potions classroom. And found it empty. Letting out a somewhat panicked huff, she hurried to his office door and rapped on the heavy wood.
Rather than call out for her to enter, he swung the door open, scowling down at her impatiently. "Cutting it close, aren't we?" he growled. She had to bend her neck to meet his gaze, he was standing so close. So tall. Formidable .
"I'm here, aren't I?"
He hummed his disapproval, but led her through his office all the same, opening a door at the other end and beckoning her through it. Beyond was a small but impressive private lab. Two work benches were strewn with notes and various supplies, while the walls were lined with shelves and counters with cabinets underneath. One wall was devoted completely to books, she realized; another to jars of ingredients while a third shelved only various empty flasks and vials.
He led her over to a cauldron quietly simmering on the bench farthest from the door. "It is right where it needs to be," he told her with a proud glance in her direction. "There are two stages that it must go through today."
"Yes, I believe I remember as much," she said, smirking up at him as she sauntered around the bench, "from the night I helped you write the recipe."
He glared at her, but there was a glint of humor in his eyes. "Well then, perhaps you would care to tell me what our first step of the day will be."
Hermione held his challenging gaze for a moment before turning to look down at the workspace. "Well, I see you've already prepared the lavender, so the next step will be to add that in one sprig at a time with a stir in each direction in between."
"Very good, Miss Granger. I see your knack for thorough and accurate memorization is as adequate as ever."
Hermione let out a short laugh. " Adequate ," she repeated. "Only you , Severus Snape. And anyway, didn't I ask you to call me Hermione?"
He cleared his throat. "Forgive me. Old habits and old men, you know."
She gave him a mischievous grin at that. "You aren't an old man."
He smirked back at her and they set to work, soon falling into a comfortable rhythm. She let him lead, though she was perfectly capable, and the work soon became a sort of dance.
It was tight for two people between the bench and the counter that lined the wall, so they stayed mostly on their respective ends. There was one awkward moment when Snape needed the Valerian roots and Hermione was busy carefully measuring out the flobberworm mucus, that he passed behind her, the front of his trousers brushing against the back of hers in his haste. Her face flamed in embarrassment and she sensed that he felt it too, if his stiff posture as he stirred the cauldron, hunched over in intense focus, was any indication.
Finally, they reached the end of the first stage and were able to relax, wiping sweat from their brows and leaning against the counter. The potion needed to sit for half an hour before the next stage could begin.
The silence quickly became awkward and Hermione glanced around for anything to say. But it was Severus Snape who cleared his throat and asked her if she would care for a cuppa while they waited.
She smiled, blushing a little at his hesitant offer, and nodded.
He led her through another doorway into his private sitting room. She stopped dead in her tracks. Nothing could have prepared her for the shock of finding herself in the setting of so many of her dreams. Her eyes darted to the couch. Here, she had rested her legs across his thighs as each of them read. Here, he had cradled her in his arms and read her poetry. Here-- oh gods-- here is where she had fallen naked from his lap, shocked to see the pink of his stiff cock standing proud between his legs.
"I have a blend I think you might like," he was saying as he gestured for her to take a seat. Suddenly, this all seemed far too intimate. Had she come on too strong? Had she given him the wrong impression? She could hear Ron telling her that of course Snape wanted to get into her knickers. Was he trying to make steps towards that right now? "But I can have the elves send over some of the castle's stock, if you prefer."
He was watching her, she realized, waiting for her answer. "That sounds lovely," she said in a burst when her mind caught up with her ears. "The err… the special blend."
He looked satisfied with her answer and went about starting a kettle by hand while she seated herself in one of the two wingback chairs. She shouldn't have been surprised. Of course the passionate potioneer would brew his tea by hand.
"If I drink any sort of tea too long it begins to bore me," he said, as if to fill the awkward silence. "I amuse myself by inventing new combinations that I might enjoy."
"Of course you do," she said, shaking her head at his back. "And what have you put in this one?"
"I thought I'd let you tell me," he said, smirking at her over his shoulder.
The silence returned as the tea steeped, dragging uncomfortably as he settled himself in the other chair, and not letting up until he poured their cups. "I can have some milk and sugar sent over if you like," he said in a derisive voice that suggested she didn't, "but you ought to taste it black before you decide."
She wanted to tell him that she was sure she wouldn't need it; that she trusted his refined tastes; that she didn't usually add anything to her tea anyway. But here in this room where so much had happened between them, and yet nothing at all, she could only say "thanks."
Holding the cup up to her mouth, Hermione let the fragrant scent fill her nose. It was lovely, to be sure. There was something familiar about the scent, but somehow out of place.
"Hmm," she began, feeling the weight of his gaze on her. "There's something floral about it, isn't there?" She blew on the surface of the steaming brew and took a small sip, holding it on her tongue for a moment and delighting in the way it awakened her senses. "It really is lovely."
He hummed in response, hiding his satisfaction behind his cup. "I'll give you a hint," he said. "There are three ingredients."
"Hmm, and is black tea one of them?"
"Very good, Miss… Hermione. Darjeeling tea, to be specific. Camellia sinensis. Although, I have hoped in the past to grow my own tea, in which case it would not be considered Darjeeling, strictly speaking."
Hermione raised an eyebrow at him, not bothering to hide her smirk. "Darjeeling, then. And something floral. I'm thinking… perhaps… rose petals?"
"Very good. I usually prefer to use jasmine or cornflower in my tea blends, but I thought rose petals would be a good complement to the third ingredient."
Hermione inhaled the delicate scent again, sipping the hot brew and rolling that herbal flavor on her tongue. It was so familiar. Something she had definitely tasted before, but like nothing she had ever had in tea. She closed her eyes, focusing on the familiarity of that taste, tracing it back in her memory. Where had she tasted that before? It was earthy as a garden but comforting as home; aromatic and somehow… spicy.
Her eyes flew open and she scoffed. "It can't be pepper."
At that, Severus Snape surprised her with a delighted grin over his own cup of steaming tea. "Black peppercorn. Yes. An uncommon ingredient in blended teas, and more often used alongside other strong spices, usually for medicinal purposes. But I have always loved the fragrance of that common table spice."
"It does make for a lovely combination," she confessed, "but how did you know I would like it?" He had said, after all, that it was a blend he thought she'd like.
For a moment, she regretted the question, assuming that he had been thinking of the roses. A feminine flavor for a feminine friend? And rather a romantic flower, at that. But he lifted an eyebrow at her, smirking. "Because I've seen the gusto with which you smother in pepper just about anything the elves prepare for you."
Hermione laughed, rolling her eyes at herself. It was obvious, in retrospect. "Ron always teases me about that," she blurted out before she could stop herself. They both froze. The silence grew stiff and awkward. Her gaze dropped to her lap. " Teased , I suppose I should say."
He cleared his throat to break the growing silence. “I know it's hard now,” he said, staring down at his own cup. “But it was a sensible decision.”
She smirked at him, leaving unsaid the fact that he had seen this coming.
"I see it all the time," he continued when she didn't respond. "So many young people leave school ready to commit to one another. But a few short years later, very few of them are still together. After so many years of teaching, I can usually tell."
Hermione swallowed a knot in her throat. "Well, you were right."
He was still for a moment, then hung his head. "Forgive me. I have never had any particular skill with condolences."
She snorted at that and met his surprised glance with an amused smirk. "A shocking defect in such a skilled pretender."
He grinned at her. "Remorse was a sentiment not often called for in my particular role."
"But one you have known intimately, I think."
He blinked at her, taken aback, then covered the flicker of vulnerability with a smirk. "Either way, I suppose I should leave the comforting to Hagrid."
She laughed aloud. "Oh no! I think he's more upset about it than I am!"
"He will be happy for you," said Snape, in a serious tone, "when he sees how you flourish on your own."
The timer went off in the lab and Snape drained his cup, setting it back on the tray. Hermione did the same, following him to her feet and into the other room.
Slipping into her place beside him, she found that she was more comfortable now than she ever had been with the man. Once again, as they had that night in the library, they had slipped into an easy camaraderie that felt natural and right . But this time was different. The guilt was gone. The Potions Master and her enjoyment of his company presented much less of a concern now that Ron had been taken out of the equation. After all, whatever she might have felt for the Slytherin, she no longer needed to worry that it might interfere with her relationship.
Snape announced that the potion was right on track and they set to work again, slipping effortlessly back into that easy, cooperative dance.
AN: I'm so sorry it's taken me so long to update. The holidays really got me behind schedule and I needed to get my momentum back. But don't worry! I plan to update much more often in the future! I've already got this fic outlined and a good headstart on the next chapter.
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"To be honest," Hermione sighed, wiping off her little spade and stowing it in the basket on the wall of the greenhouse, "by the time Saturday came around and I still hadn't heard from him, I knew it was over."
Neville shook his head. "Still doesn't make it easy. Did you confront him about the girl? His classmate?"
"Yes, but he had his own accusations to make." She cringed, remembering how Ron had accused her of flirting with Snape. She couldn't even be angry about that. "But it's alright," she continued before he could ask her what she meant. "It's hard right now, but it's for the best."
Neville held the door for her as they left the greenhouse and made their way back to the castle.
"Anyway," sighed Hermione, "did you ask your boyfriend if you could tell me about him?"
Neville was about to respond when a figure appeared from around the corner. Draco Malfoy stopped dead in his tracks at the sight of the two of them. "Granger," he said, narrowing his eyes suspiciously, "Longbottom."
"Malfoy," said Hermione, lifting an eyebrow in challenge.
The Slytherin glanced between the two of them then pushed past and continued down the path to the greenhouses.
Hermione scowled after him. "Who does he think he is coming back here like he owns the place?"
Neville's eyes were on his feet as they continued up the path. "I dunno, Hermione. We did the same thing, didn't we?"
Hermione rolled her eyes. "I suppose so," she allowed. "Anyway, where were we?"
Neville cleared his throat. "I'm sorry, Hermione. He's just not ready for you to know."
They were headed toward the entrance to the Great Hall when Severus Snape emerged from the dungeons, caught sight of them, and scowled.
"Er, you know, Hermione," Neville began, stopping short, "I've just remembered another erm... thing Professor Sprout wanted me to do. I'll er... catch up with you later, alright?"
Hermione raised an eyebrow at her friend. "Sure thing, Neville."
"Gardening, Granger?" Asked Snape, sending a patronizing sneer after the retreating Neville.
Hermione fell into step beside the older man as they entered the Hall. Was it her imagination, or had he slowed his usual stride to allow her to keep up with him?
"You ought to be careful," Snape continued in his velvety baritone. "Longbottom is prone to accidents and we can't afford to lose our brand new Charms Mistress."
"You don't give him enough credit," she snapped back, annoyed by his grouchy mood. "He'll likely be one of your colleagues before too long and you can't afford to alienate any more of those."
Snape was grouchy all through dinner, but that suited Hermione just fine. The older man's tendency to bully her friends was one of the chief points against him. It was better she kept that in mind.
If Hermione had expected her first week without Ron to be tedious and depressing, she couldn't have been more wrong. She was energized and focused and confident in everything she set herself to do. Her students were beginning to respect her more and more, honoring her authority and admiring her intellect. Finally, they were beginning to understand that a lot more than just a few years of age separated her from them.
They were even coming to her for personal advice, now. There was a trio of fifth year Gryffindors who reminded her so much of herself and her own friends when they had been at school; except that the dynamic was a bit flipped. In the case of her fifth years, Otto was the sole boy and the brainy, bookish one; Tilly was the stubborn, easily-angered one. And Rachel was the pretty, athletic one. She got along well with the rest of the Quidditch team, of which she was a part, but seemed to prefer the company of her little trio more.
They even had their own little rivalry with another clique in Slytherin (not that pretty much all the Gryffindors didn't have enemies in that rival house). As far as Hermione could tell, their feud had begun as a result of a Quidditch match. Naturally. Rachel was a chaser and her nemesis, Cato, was a sixth year keeper. Apparently, he had contested a goal Rachel had made in the final match two years ago. They had been enemies ever since.
It was refreshing, being on the adult side of these conflicts, distanced from it all. She remembered how painful and personal her own dramas had been at that age. Now, having her own much more complex and nuanced problems, the blunt and simple nature of her students' conflicts was a refreshing contrast.
Before she knew it, it was Friday night and Saturday was promising to be a busy day. It was the first Hogsmead trip of the year and she had accidentally volunteered to chaperone. But it was also the day she and Severus Snape were supposed to finish their Dreamlessness potion.
All week, she had been dreaming of a future with him. And all week the present him had been a real arse. She supposed she shouldn't be surprised that he could be so petty, but she had only made one snide comment to him, after all. At this point, his grouchy mood was getting ridiculous.
After dinner, Hermione followed Snape out of the Great Hall. "Hogsmead tomorrow," she reminded him, trying to catch his eye.
"Thank you, Professor Granger. What on Earth would I do without your prodigious memory?"
Hermione scowled up at him. She was practically jogging to keep pace and he hadn't even glanced her way. "Why are you so angry with me?" she blurted out.
"What gives you the impression that I am angry with you? I thought we had established that this is simply my nature."
Hermione was about to retort when Neville's voice rang out down the hallway. "Hermione!" he called.
Hermione stopped short, turning to look back at her friend. She was immediately peeved when Snape continued down the corridor without her, his step not so much as faltering. "What is it, Neville?" she asked, glaring after the other man.
"You ran off," he panted. "I was trying to catch you up. I was wondering… do you fancy a cuppa? I've… had kind of a shit day and I thought…"
"Oh, sure, Neville! That would be great!"
They decided to take tea in her room, as they had discovered that her lodgings were nicer than his. She had always liked the castle's tea, but she had begun to notice that it was rather bland. Alas, that was all that was available at present, so that was what they had.
"So, what's happened?" she asked him when they had gotten settled.
"Oh, you know… I've… we've… had a row."
"Oh no, Neville, I'm sorry!"
"Yeah, I dunno. It's a bit silly, really. I know why he isn't ready to tell people about us. I knew that when we first got together. It's just… we've been together for a few months now, and I already feel closer to him than I ever did with Luna. All I wanted was just… to know… you know… that we wouldn't have to keep it all a secret forever. "
"Aww, of course you did! Neville, that's perfectly fair. It's natural to be afraid to get too close to someone if you don't know if they even want the same things."
"Exactly! I just wanted his assurance, that's all. That's not so selfish, is it?"
"No. Not at all."
Neville nodded, then cringed down at his cup. "But it will be hard for him. All I've got is my Nan and she's actually been very supportive. It’s as if… after the war and all, I can do no wrong, as far as she’s concerned. But… his family is a lot more… traditional."
That night, Hermione stared up at the ceiling. It bothered her to see Neville having relationship troubles when he had seemed so happy only days before. It made her wonder if maybe… relationships as a whole just tended not to work. Maybe people just weren't meant to commit to each other that way.
It was a warm spring day. The world was beginning to come back to life all around them. Fresh, green leaves were sprouting and the birds were singing in the distance.
Her hand was laced with that of the man beside her as they walked past the greenhouses. But around the turn where she should have seen only the forest in the distance, the pair came face to face with a brand new greenhouse that hadn’t ever been there before. Hermione stopped short, frowning.
"What is it?" Severus asked.
But she was saved the trouble of having to articulate her confusion when the door of the greenhouse swung open and Neville appeared. "Come on!" he shouted, waving them in, "wait 'til you see!"
Hermione barely registered Draco Malfoy standing in the corner before Neville yanked her toward the farthest corner of the beds. Some sort of barrier Charm seemed to have been placed around this corner of the greenhouse, keeping the humidity out. It was a strange sensation, stepping into the dry air. She shuddered as Neville impatiently gestured her forward.
Rows upon rows of purple succulents had been planted in the last few beds, but they were unlike any succulents she'd ever seen before. They were squat and round, each with four round appendages around the sides and a fifth fleshy round bulb on top, upon which a sort of face seemed to appear. Hermione wasn't sure if the two weeping openings, little fleshy nub, and stiff ridge were supposed to look like eyes, nose, and a mouth, or if she was seeing things.
"They're weeping!" cried Neville. He was clearly excited, but she had no idea why. "I told you I could keep them alive in this climate long enough to weep! Hermione was the only one who believed me!"
"I confess," said Snape, his arms snaking around her waist to pull her back against him, "it seems I underestimated you, Mr Longbottom."
Malfoy stepped forward hesitantly, his arms folded across his chest. "I suppose," he began, looking almost bashful, "I was afraid to hope."
Neville turned toward the blond, stepping in front of him so that they were mere inches apart. He lifted his hands to cup Malfoy's face, tilting his chin up to meet his eye. "It worked, Draco," he said softly, smiling down at the other man. "This is going to work."
Tears gleamed in Draco's eyes as his own hands came up to clasp Neville’s wrists. “You’re incredible, you know that?” he whispered.
Neville’s mouth descended onto his and Draco’s hands released the wrists they had been clutching to tangle in his lover’s hair.
Hermione woke up gasping with surprise.
She was a complete dolt. The signs had all been there. Neville had given her every hint he possibly could. How could she have missed this when she was staring it right in the face?
She watched Neville and Malfoy from her place at the head table, sneaking glimpses down the row of teachers. They seemed to be completely oblivious to one another, staring down into their own plates, but she noticed their lips occasionally moving in ways that had nothing to do with eating their breakfast and occasionally one of them would smirk into their goblet for no apparent reason at all.
"You're twitchy today," said Snape in a bored voice.
"Oh, no. I mean yes. Hogsmead trip. I suppose we'll have our hands full."
He hesitated a little too long, staring down his nose at her, before responding with a simple "indeed.”
“Hermione,” Neville called out when breakfast was over and they were pushing back their chairs. He was awkwardly slipping behind the other professors in his hurry to get to her before she ran off again. “You’re going to Hogsmeade, aren’t you? Want to go together?”
“Er, yeah, of course, Neville,” Hermione said, though an annoying corner of her mind pointed out that she had kind of been looking forward to the excuse of walking down there with Snape. She bit her lip at the thought, sending a glance over her shoulder at the Slytherin only to find that he was already stalking away.
The students were practically skipping with excitement as they all made their way toward Hogsmeade Village for the first outing of the year. Severus Snape must have gone on ahead, for he was nowhere in sight. Neither was Draco Malfoy, but Hermione had the impression he must have been planning to come, because Neville kept craning his neck around in search of someone. How obvious could he be? And yet, somehow she hadn’t noticed until now. Were her biases really so deeply ingrained? Apparently so.
Hermione found that she was craning her own neck by the time they reached the village, though she knew that was foolishness. Even if they bumped into Snape, it wasn’t as if she’d have an excuse to talk to the man. And why on Earth she was hoping to talk to him in the first place was beyond her.
"So…" Hermione began as they idly toured the little village, "how is your apprenticeship going? Are you learning a lot?"
"Oh, loads! I mean, I'd studied a lot of it on my own, and it's really exciting whenever I already know something and I can see that Pomona's impressed…"
Hermione snorted. "I know the feeling."
"But the more I study with her, the more I realise how little I know and how much more there is to learn! I keep coming up with new ideas for my thesis project. I've no idea how I'm going to choose! Of course, space is a limiting factor. There's only one tiny bed set aside for my use and all the ideas I've had so far require much more space than that!"
Hermione stopped in her tracks, suddenly recalling the less sensational revelation of the dream she'd had last night. "Have you ever thought… about building another greenhouse?"
Neville nodded sadly. "Pomona has been trying for years to get one just for staff and apprentice use. But… the Board of Governors has shut down every attempt. Apparently, they don't think the school's resources should be wasted on anything other than their own children's learning."
"But that's completely nonsensical. This is an academic institution. It should be on the forefront of discovery and innovation."
"Trust me, Hermione, you don't have to tell me that."
They stopped in at the book shop (because of course they did) and Hermione casually led them in the general direction of the Divination section. She couldn't stop thinking about her dream, but it wasn't as if she could tell Neville how she knew that they would find a way to get another greenhouse. "There's got to be some way," she said eventually. "It's not as if there isn't space for it."
Neville shrugged. "The only way I can see is if I paid for one myself. But I already looked into it and they're bloody expensive. About half my pitiful apprentice salary."
"Well… what if you went in on it with Professor Sprout?"
He shook his head. "She'll be retiring in a couple of years. I can't ask her to do that."
Hermione frowned, pulling a book on prophetic dreams from the shelf in what she hoped was an idly curious manner. A sudden thought struck her. "Oh! What about Snape?"
"What about him?"
"Well, I'm sure he's got loads of things he'd love to grow himself. In fact!" She almost smacked herself in the forehead for not thinking of it sooner. "He mentioned just the other night… we were having a cuppa together… did you know he blends his own teas?"
"Hang on. You and Snape?"
"Er, yes, well… we had been brewing something… a little project…"
"How have you not mentioned this to me? Having a cuppa with Snape! That's surreal isn't it?"
Hermione could feel herself blushing. "Well, it wasn't a big deal or anything. The potion we were working on needed to sit a while and taking tea seemed less awkward than hanging about his lab for half an hour."
"Don't tell me he invited you into his private rooms."
"Why? It didn't mean anything…"
"Snape. Letting you into his private rooms… didn't mean anything? You've got to be one of a tiny number of people who have ever seen inside them. Did you get a good look around? Were they as creepy as his office? "
"You’re getting off track. Listen, he told me he’s always wanted to grow his own tea. And anyway he still likes to experiment with potions, even now that he's teaching Defense. I'll bet he'll be interested in contributing to the New Greenhouse Fund."
Neville looked doubtful. "I dunno, Hermione. I don't think Snape wants to have anything to do with me. I don't even know how I would get up the courage to ask."
"That's alright. Leave it to me."
They left the bookshop with a few promising purchases on prophetic dreams, time magic, and theoretical physics, about which Neville didn't ask. He had become rather pensive, seeming to switch back and forth between hopeful and afraid.
They walked on in silence for a little while, both deep in contemplation. But when they reached the crest of the hill where the Apothecary stood, Hermione had a sudden idea.
“Er,” you wouldn’t mind if we stopped in here, would you?” she asked. “I like to keep a basic Potions kit and I’m a little low on some of the ingredients.”
“Sure, yeah!” said Neville, grinning a little too obviously.
The Apothecary was dark, the windows shaded to protect the rows upon rows of delicate ingredients. Bins and barrels were crowded into every corner, overflowing with all manner of dried and living plants. Glass jars lined shelves higher than she could reach all the way to the floor. And there at the counter, checking over a curling length of scroll, was Severus Snape.
“That ought to be everything,” he said, handing the list over to the squat wizard behind the counter. “If I think of anything else, I may send Tollock’s new apprentice down to fetch it for me. Have you met Draco? Draco!”
Snape turned his head, catching Hermione’s gaze and hesitating a flicker of an instant before turning away as if her presence there hadn’t registered at all. She blushed and turned to the shelves, scrutinizing the label on a crate of Shrivelfigs a little too seriously. Neville matched the gesture when the tall, well-tailored form of Draco Malfoy appeared from behind the last row of shelves, striding confidently up to the counter.
“Draco, this is Callum Culpeper. Callum, I daresay you will have recognised Draco from his school days here.”
“Aye,” said Callum, his tone not exactly friendly.
“Well, let’s see,” Hermione began to ramble in a low voice, wrenching a dirty wooden basket free of the mangled stack by the door and awkwardly directing Neville further down the aisle. “I know I need some more, er... Lacewing flies. Can you help me find them?”
“Sure, yeah, Lacewing flies,” repeated Neville, clearly as anxious as she was to keep up the pretense.
They kept up a steady stream of chatter as they navigated the crowded shop, all the while straining their ears toward the awkward conversation at the front of the store.
“Draco has my leave to charge purchases to the school account,” Snape was saying. “But for now, this list should suffice.” There was a long pause, then Snape spoke up again in a sharper voice. “If you need time to fill our order, I can certainly send Draco back to retrieve it.”
Callum cleared his throat. “That won’ be necessary. Have a look ‘round and it’ll be ready in no time.”
Hermione’s ears followed the patient, arrogant stride of dragonhide boots across the dirty wooden floor. She glanced at Neville and found that her friend was toying with a strand of garlic cloves and peering around the end of the aisle in search of Draco. She turned away from him, wandering toward the back of the shop, where Snape had gone. He was two aisles over, facing the back wall, glaring at a jar of sheep’s eyes, his hands clenched in fists at his sides.
“Careful, you wouldn’t want to melt them,” she teased, immediately regretting it when he slowly turned his piercing gaze onto her.
Before he could respond, Draco Malfoy appeared behind him, looking casually indifferent. “What are you doing here, Granger?”
Hermione was taken aback. “Er…” she held up her basket, attempting a smile, “shopping.”
Neville picked that moment to reappear behind her, but his presence only made her feel trapped and small between the three tall men.
“I like to keep a basic potions kit and I’m a bit low on a few things,” she rambled on, repeating the same lie she had told Neville. In truth, she had replenished all of her supplies in preparation for her tenure at Hogwarts. “Er… Neville and I were going to head over to the Three Broomsticks after this, if the two of you would like to join us.” It was a gamble, as she and Neville had made no such plans, but her friend didn’t question her.
Severus Snape let his lips twist into a patronizing sneer and was clearly about to refuse the offer when Draco interrupted him. “Is that an olive branch, Granger?” he asked, studying his cuticles with bored indifference. “I might be tempted to accept, but you haven’t yet offered to buy the first round.”
Hermione couldn’t stop the grin from spreading across her face. “Of course! It’s on me. But I think one round will have to do for today. Severus and I will need our focus for the brewing we have planned.”
All three men raised their eyebrows at that and Hermione couldn’t suppress the cheeky grin that came over her as she met Snape’s curious gaze. He was clearly taken aback and even… embarrassed, as if she had revealed something deeply personal. Interesting.
Hermione finished up her own shopping as they waited for the Apothecary to finish the order for Snape. All the while, she felt the curious gaze of Draco Malfoy following her. Had he picked up on something in the way she had addressed her old professor? Or the strange tension between them? Or his unusual response? Was there something there for the young Slytherin to pick up on? She was fooling herself to think otherwise. And yet, perhaps she should try to be more discreet. After all, she hadn’t intended to suggest anything and she wasn’t attempting to start anything with the older man. She needed to be more careful.
It was an awkward walk to the Three Broomsticks. Severus Snape seemed to have shortened his famously long stride in order to avoid walking with her. Every time Hermione glanced back, he and Draco were farther and farther behind. It only made her glare at the sidewalk and pick up her pace even more.
“Honestly,” she huffed, “I don’t know why I bothered.”
Beside her, Neville shrugged. He seemed to be deep in thought.
“That was strange, wasn’t it?” she prodded. “The way the Apothecary behaved toward Malfoy? You’d think if he didn’t mind Snape, he wouldn’t have a problem with…”
“He wasn’t hostile towards Draco because he was a Death Eater," Neville snapped. "He was hostile towards him because he’s a werewolf.”
Hermione’s mouth popped open in surprise. She hadn’t even considered that. Even after watching Remus Lupin endure that sort of prejudice, it hadn’t occurred to her that hatred for his kind could surpass even a hatred of Death Eaters.
The Three Broomsticks was crowded with students and professors alike. It felt strange to sit down with Snape and Malfoy and Neville, knowing what she knew. She felt as if the whole world could see through their charade.
“So,” Malfoy began with an air of condescension, “the two of you are working on a potion?” He glanced up at his godfather, then diagonally across the table at Hermione.
Snape cleared his throat. “Miss Granger was seeking treatment for a certain… ailment of hers. She required my assistance.”
Hermione met his eye, flattening her lips in annoyance.
“Oh, my apologies,” said Draco, smirking at her. “Say no more.”
An awkward silence descended in which Neville couldn’t seem to sit still and Hermione couldn’t seem to stop sipping her beer.
Malfoy rolled his eyes. “And speaking of ailments, I understand you’ve finally rid yourself of that hotheaded boyfriend.”
Hermione nearly choked into her mug. “Oh, er… yes.”
“About time. I always thought the two of you were a bad match.”
“Hmmm,” said Hermione, shrugging. It occurred to her that she was wasting this opportunity to bridge the gap she had dug between herself and Draco. She sighed. “Well, you weren’t wrong,” she said at last, chancing a glance at Snape, who was resolutely observing the goings-on of the establishment rather than pay attention to her. “I guess I was fooling myself,” she continued. “Ron and I were never interested in any of the same things. Hopefully, in my next relationship, I’ll be able to have an occasional conversation. ”
Malfoy smirked at her and she grinned back. It hurt to insult Ron like this, but it wasn’t a lie. “I know what you mean,” said Malfoy, gazing down into his pint. “I was dating Pansy for a while, did you know that? I guess it’s easy to fall into that sort of thing. For comfort, if nothing else.” Hermione nodded at him, astonished by how frank and open he was being. “But that sort of company just can’t hold a candle to… real compatibility.” his eyes flicked for the briefest second to Neville before returning to the mug in front of him.
Hermione chanced a glance at Neville and saw that his face had gone completely red. He met her eye and couldn’t hold in a bashful grin.
Snape scoffed and she looked up in time to see him rolling his eyes. “I would have thought you above such sentimentality, Draco."
To her surprise, Draco laughed, clapping Severus on the shoulder. "You can't fool us, old man. I might have bought that line before the trials, but…"
"I'll thank you not to bring that up,"Severus snapped, glaring at the younger man and shrugging out of his grip.
"Sorry, uncle," Draco grinned, "I'd hate to undermine your callous persona."
There was a tense moment in which no one seemed to know what to say. Snape looked just about ready to leave when Hermione leaned toward him across the table. "Professor," she began hesitantly, "there was something I was hoping to discuss with you."
He narrowed his eyes at her, but said nothing.
"Er… Neville has been looking into the possibility of building a new greenhouse for staff use, and he's looking for others who might be interested in splitting the cost. You mentioned the other day that you would like to be able to grow your own tea…"
"I hardly have time for another project, Miss Granger. Though it is unsurprising that you have taken up his cause." He gave the two of them a nasty sneer, then drained his mug and stood up from the table, looming over her in all his judgmental scorn. "If you still have the time in your busy schedule, I intend to finish your potion after dinner." And with that, he swept away, leaving the three of them sitting there in shocked silence.
Severus Snape did not show up for dinner. This annoyed Hermione, much as she tried to ignore it. But she set it aside and took her time going down to his private lab when she was damned well done with her meal.
"So… ready to finish my potion?" She said by way of greeting.
He scowled at her. "I didn't want Draco to take offense that we were working together," he said, turning away from her. "He is the potions apprentice, after all."
"Oh." Hermione pursed her lips. He was pulling out ingredients and going about making preparations without so much as looking at her. "Are you angry with me?"
"Why on Earth would I be angry with you?"
"I don't know, but you clearly are."
He turned to look at her at last, slamming a granite mortar onto the wooden bench. "You know me so well."
Hermione mirrored his glare. "It doesn't take a Legilimens, Professor. You weren't like this last time."
"Oh, and how was I last time?"
"Not like this!" She snapped, gesturing to his person.
He narrowed his eyes at her. "Well maybe I am a bit angry, Granger. Maybe I am a bit frustrated with you."
"Frustrated? What for?"
"What for? Because!” He gesticulated absently, as if searching for the answer in the air. “Because... I hate to see so much potential thrown away!"
" Potential ?"
"Yes,” he said, moving closer so that he loomed over her and scowling down his impressive nose. “You're throwing away your potential, and for what? You've only just rid yourself of Weasley and already you've attached yourself to the nearest useless boy. Honestly, Granger, I didn't think it was possible to take a step down from that imbecile… "
"Don't talk about Neville that way! You've always underestimated him, but if you ever gave him a chance…"
"He's an idiot, Granger, and it kills me to watch you throwing yourself at him. Can't you see? You're at a crossroads right now; every opportunity open to you and more energy than you'll ever have for the rest of your life. You could do great things! Think of the research you could accomplish, the discoveries, the inventions! But instead you keep wasting your time and energy chasing the attention of these lesser males."
Hermione glared at him, crossing her arms. "You think I can't have both? We are, at this very moment, in the process of inventing a new potion together, are we not? Only a few weeks into my first term! Do you really think I'd ever lose that side of myself? It's who I am. That doesn't mean I can't want love in my life as well."
"Love?" He scoffed. "Love is merely a chemical compulsion to pass along your genes, and your potential along with it."
"You don't really believe that."
"It's science. It doesn't require belief."
Hermione threw up her hands. "Okay, sure. Love is just a chemical. And so is fear. And we only strive to learn and achieve because our brains reward us with dopamine. On one level, everything we do is a matter of chemical compulsion. On one level, we're just complicated systems of particles following the algorithms set for us at the beginning of time. So if that's it, why bother with anything? Why study? Or invent? Or fight wars ? If all we are is particles in space, then none of it matters, does it?"
She held his gaze, something like triumph burning inside her when he couldn't respond. There was something in his eyes that she'd never seen there before; a sort of interest, a spark, almost… a longing. "But it does,” she continued, in a softer voice. “Because... on a whole other level, we're human, aren't we? We're curious and afraid and angry sometimes. And you aren't going to shame me for wanting somebody to love."
His expression had gone blank and it suddenly seemed like they were standing too close. He loomed over her and his frame was tense. Energy seemed to crackle in the air. Then his lips twisted into a petulant sneer, and he dropped her gaze and turned his face toward the counter in a gesture that was somehow both guarded and vulnerable. "Bravo, Miss Granger," he murmured, the fight gone from his voice. "Spoken like a true Gryffindor." He glanced up to smirk at her, wicked humor sliding into place like a shield.
She lifted her chin, raising an eyebrow at him and returning the smirk. "Thank you."
His eyes sparkled with genuine mirth at that and for one moment he was the Severus of her dreams. But then his expression clouded and he gave her an exasperated look. "But Longbottom?"
Hermione barked with sudden laughter. "Neville? Are you kidding?"
"It’s obvious. I've seen the way he trails after you. The way he blushed when Draco mentioned real compatibility. "
She couldn't stop herself from bursting into laughter at that. " Trust me," she said between giggles, "Neville is not interested in me."
Severus scowled at her. "Don't be an idiot, Granger. Of course he's interested. He's a man isn't he? He has eyes. And though I would never accuse him of genius, he is not entirely without sense."
Hermione blinked at him, taken aback. Heat began to fill her cheeks and pool deep in her belly at his insinuation. She dropped her gaze to the workbench. "Well," she said, picking nervously at the splintering wood, " I am not in the least bit interested in him."
Snape harrumphed and she chanced a glance up at him. He had turned his face away and wore a strange, pensive expression. There was something like relief in his posture, but also… concern? "Well… good," he said, meeting her eye, "but you ought to tell him that."
AN: Thank you all sooooo much for your patience and for your continued support! I’m SOOOOO sorry it’s been SOOOO long! Real life has been crazy. I hope you are all doing well during this global crisis. Stay home, stay healthy, distract yourselves with lots of Fanfic, haha… and don’t forget to Review!! Haha, I know I don’t respond to Reviews like some others. Bad, bad author! I know. But trust me, I read every single one and they light up my day. I think we could all use a little more light in our lives right now. I hope I’ve brought a little bit more into yours <3
They worked in near silence, dancing around each other with intuitive ease. Now and then, Severus would murmur instructions to her or ask her to pass an instrument, but mostly she took initiative, picking up whatever task was required per the instructions they had written together. It almost seemed choreographed.
“Set a timer for five minutes,” he murmured as he stirred in the last of the geranium fangs. She did so, then went to check the instructions for the next ingredient to prepare. But all that was left was the spearmint oil and the ground vanilla beans, which she had just finished grinding.
Snape set his stirring rod down on the counter and moved to glance over the instructions with her. He was so close beside her, practically leaning over her, if he moved forward any more they would be touching. She stiffened. He didn’t seem to notice. “Have you retrieved the vanilla beans?”
“I’ve already ground them.”
She knew the moment he realized how close they were. His arm, which had been braced against the counter, gave a sudden jolt, then went still. When he pulled away, there was something awkward and unnatural about his movement. “Well, I suppose we have only to wait,” he said, moving back to the cauldron as if to check on the progress of the potion.
Hermione turned away from him, idly wandering around the edges of his potions lab and studying the various shelves with exaggerated interest. The counter at the far end was strewn with notes, which she didn’t hesitate to flip through. On one page, she recognised a number of ingredients from the Wolfsbane Potion and was immediately intrigued. “What is this?” she asked.
“Oh,” he said, seeming to snap out of a reverie and striding toward her, “nothing. I was just… tinkering.”
“Aren’t these the instructions for the Wolfsbane?” she asked, turning to look up at him.
“Er… yes,” he hesitated, rubbing the back of his neck before reaching around her to scoop up the scattered parchments, “I had hoped… but it seems a hopeless cause.”
“What had you hoped?”
He shuffled the papers together, frowning down at them as if considering her question. “Well… the primary drawback of the Wolfsbane potion is that it has to be consumed immediately upon completion. I thought… if there were a way to make it more stable, so that it could be bottled and stored…”
Hermione gasped. “Could it? If that worked…" she trailed off, thinking of the werewolves still in hiding or homeless, unable to assimilate into ordinary magical communities because of the lack of access to the Wolfsbane potion."that would be… a game changer.”
He cringed down at her. “Unfortunately, it has proven rather a difficult challenge. You see,” he stepped past her, spreading his papers back out on the counter and rifling through them for the appropriate page. “This is the tricky part, here,” he said, gesturing to the step where the aconite is added. She moved closer, ostensibly in order to see better, but also because it sent a little thrill down her spine. “The aconite immediately reacts to the salicylic acid in the willow sap. It is the byproduct of their reaction which gives the potion its potency. Unfortunately, that breaks down in a matter of hours. I thought… if I could delay the reaction…”
“Well... my idea was to have the salicylic acid bind to some other compound. It would have to be a compound with a stable reaction to the acid, and also one that is broken down early in the digestive process. I thought… perhaps a type of mucus.”
“Brilliant! Like flobberworm mucus?”
He shook his head. “The reason flobberworm mucus is used so often as a thickening agent is that it doesn’t react to much of anything. But… I scoured the catalogues for a species that might suit and... there is… a plant… that might work. Only… it only grows in a very particular climate and it only secretes under very specific circumstances.”
Hermione froze. Her chest constricted and she stared in shock down at his notes. Sudden visions of a brand new greenhouse and chubby little succulents oozing a clear, slimy substance danced before her eyes. “What kind of plant?” she heard herself whispering.
He shrugged. “It’s called a Weeping Cactus. But they’re extremely rare and temperamental plants. We would be lucky to find one weeping in the wild, let alone procure a reliable supply.”
“Neville can do it,” she said, meeting his eye. It was hard to hide the sudden euphoric excitement at the realization of what this could mean.
Snape’s face twisted into an annoyed scowl. “Your blind faith in your little boyfriend is touching…”
“No, just listen, I’m telling you… I can’t explain how I know, but just… trust me on this, alright?”
"A heady assumption. Even if he did have the knowledge and experience to bring up the cactus, it would take an enormous effort on his part. I know you don't want to hear it, but Longbottom just isn't capable of that sort of dedication."
Lightbulbs were going off in Hermione's mind. The circumstances couldn't have been more perfect. Neville was madly in love with a werewolf, and… "He's trying to decide on a thesis project. This might be exactly what he needs."
The timer went off in the air around them and Snape shot her one last doubtful sneer. “I’ll believe it when I see it,” he growled, turning away and striding back toward the workbench.
She wanted to stamp her foot in frustration. It took all of her control to keep from blurting out just exactly how she knew it would work. "It's worth a shot, isn't it?"
He waved her away with an impatient hand. "The boy can give it a try, if he likes. I won't stop him."
"But he'll need the space, won't he? He needs a new greenhouse, and I think you would put one to good use as well."
Snape pulled away from the cauldron to glare at her. "Is that what this is about? Some clever ruse to procure his precious greenhouse?"
"Don't be daft. It only makes sense, doesn't it? And you've said yourself you've wanted to grow…"
"Damnit Granger! Let it alone. Are you going to help me add the bloody vanilla or aren't you?"
"Sorry," she said sheepishly, hurrying over to sift the ground beans over the bubbling cauldron while he stirred and dripped the spearmint oil at precise intervals. The two distinct scents wafted up on the steam, blending together. She hummed in delight at the pleasant aroma.
"It is a lovely combination," he agreed in a low voice, much calmer than he had been moments before. "It would make for a lovely herbal tea."
"Mmmm vanilla mint?"
"That sounds lovely."
They were standing too close again. Close enough for her to smell the lingering herbal scent of his clothes and the distinctly masculine tang of his sweat underneath that. Hermione wasn't sure if he had noticed their proximity or not. If he had, he hadn't faltered in his practiced movements. She let herself enjoy the moment and his closeness and wonder at the prospect of intimacy with him. Did she enjoy spending time with him? Well, so far, yes. Was she attracted to him? She let her eyes flicker over at his serious face. He had an intensity unrivaled by any other man she'd ever known. What would it be like to have that intensity focused on her?
She didn't have to imagine. She'd seen it herself.
The thought summoned images of his usually stoic face twisted in ecstasy, a fire in his eyes. She quickly dropped her gaze, lest he notice her sudden blush, and focused instead on his elegant hands. She knew that the finesse he brought to his brewing extended to other talents as well. And with that thought her body caught flames. She couldn't help but imagine him pulling her into his embrace right now and burying those talented fingers between her legs.
"Well done," he murmured in that rumbly, velvety voice, reaching around her to set the vial of mint oil on the counter. She nearly shuddered. Would this strange attraction ever have come about if it had not been for her prophetic dreams? She doubted it. Likely, their paths would rarely have crossed, and their lives would have continued on their separate ways. Yet here she was, drooling after her old potions master, half-wishing this was a dream so she could let him see how he was affecting her. And see what he would do.
But alas, she couldn't allow herself to take that step right now. There was too much to consider; too much on the line.
That night, Hermione sat atop her blankets for a long while, staring down at the vial of pale blue potion in her hand. Part of her knew this was what she had wanted, but part of her craved the dreams she had wanted to end. Something told her that this was a turning point; that if she decided not to take the brand new potion, it would mean that she had made up her mind. But she couldn't stop picturing the Severus of that improbable future waiting for her to return. It broke her heart to imagine the days passing, then months, then years. She owed him something, didn't she? Even if she did decide to stop visiting him in that other life. She owed him at least a goodbye.
It was dark and the room smelled of him. They were warm and naked, twisted together beneath the sheets. He was snoring softly, one arm draped over her, holding her close. And their legs were entangled in an intimate knot.
He must have felt her stir, for his breath caught and he yawned into her hair, squeezing her to him so that she felt the stiff protrusion of his cock against her thigh. Then he relaxed and they sank into the mattress again as he idly brushed the soft skin of her shoulder with one of his thumbs.
This couldn't be it. This couldn't be their last visit together. This perfect moment. She knew in her heart she couldn't leave it like this. The memory would inevitably draw her back for more.
Without warning, her breath hitched on a sob.
He lifted his head. "Hermione?" he murmured in a sleep-roughened voice. "What is it?"
She shook her head. "I'm sorry, Professor," she whispered.
He stilled against her, as if unsure whether he should pull away. "Granger?" he amended.
"It's just," she continued, reaching up to brush away the sudden tears, "I've never been held like this."
"Oh, Hermione," he purred, pulling her closer against him. She should have been embarrassed by the way her breasts pressed against his chest, or the obvious length of his cock on her thigh. But somehow she wasn't. He was intimate with this body, so why did it matter. She needed this. She craved this touch.
"I never would have thought…" she began. When she hesitated, he set his hand on her hair and leaned down to kiss her forehead in a gesture so sweet and loving that another round of tears sprang to her eyes. She swallowed. "I never would have expected you to be so… affectionate. I-I mean… in my timeline… you shrink away from any touch."
He hummed and kissed her forehead again. His hand was rubbing little circles on her back. Just when she thought he wasn't going to speak, and began to worry that he hadn't heard her at all, he cleared his throat. "Have you ever heard the term 'touch-starved?'"
She hesitated, then nodded. "Humans need human touch. Newborns deprived of touch can even die. In studies, infant monkeys will choose the touch of another over food."
Laughter rumbled through his chest, bringing her attention back to the tips of her breasts, naked against his tickly hair. He kissed the top of her head affectionately. "Five points to Gryffindor," he growled. She could hear his smirk on that rough, thunderous voice. "Yes, when you found me, I hadn't been touched by another human in any meaningful way in a very, very long time."
Hermione's heart wrenched in her chest and she found herself wrapping an arm around his back and pulling him closer. Even she was surprised by the words that came when she whispered back through the dark. "I'm touching you now."
When Hermione stepped through the staff entrance to the Great Hall the next morning, she hesitated. Severus Snape was already seated, his back to her. Her mind flickered back to the dream she'd had last night and a pang of sadness echoed in her chest. It was hard to say whence the sadness came, as there were so many competing variables. But rather than examine the emotion, she steeled herself and stepped forward.
"Morning," she practically sang, setting a hand on Snape's shoulder in what she hoped was a natural way.
He flinched under her touch, but hid his discomfort with a suspicious scowl. "I take it you slept well," he grumbled.
"Didn't you?" she asked, remembering the potion she was supposed to have taken as she slipped into her seat.
"Well enough." He smirked at her. "And completely dreamlessly."
"Then I don't know why you're complaining."
"Do I need to be unrested to grumble at your bloody cheerful disposition?"
"Well, I suppose not." She surprised both of them by shooting him a little wink, then turned to help herself to some breakfast.
She was just piling eggs on top of her buttered toast when the morning post arrived. A scruffy brown owl landed in front of her, bearing her copy of The Prophet, for which she paid it a sickle and a crust of bread.
Severus cleared his throat. "I… decided to try out that lovely tea combination we discovered."
Hermione glanced up at him. "Oh, the mint and vanilla? How was it?"
"Quite as lovely as you might expect," he replied. There was something sheepish and vulnerable about his tone. She turned her attention to the paper in front of her, afraid he might see too much of her thoughts if she met his eye. "I thought you might care to try it yourself," he continued in a casual voice, "perhaps this afternoon…"
But Hermione didn't hear this last. Her eyes were riveted upon the paper. Right there on the front cover was a huge moving photograph of several young witches and wizards in athletic gear, jogging toward the camera. The focus was obviously on Harry Potter, but right beside him was Ronald Weasley, and right beside him was Amandine.
War Heroes to Complete Auror Training
the headline read. Hermione couldn't help but fixate on Ron's smug face, how he kept turning to grin over at the blonde beside him. And she was grinning right back at him, all perfect white teeth, voluminous ponytail, and bouncing breasts too big for her tiny frame. Her jogging gear left an inch or so of tan midriff visible and Hermione was revolted to see the defined contours of her abs.
"But of course I'll understand if you are busy," Snape drawled in an irritated voice.
"What? No, sorry, hang on." Was that an actual thigh gap?!
Suddenly, the paper had been ripped from her hands. "I see …" he purred. "Who would have thought a class of Aurors graduating would make headline news? I'm sure they always do this; nothing special about this lot. In fact…" Before Hermione knew what he was doing, he had taken the front page in both hands and ripped it right down the middle.
"Hey! That's my paper!"
"You didn't need that bit, I assure you," he said, stripping the article and photograph into smaller and smaller pieces. "I've just done you a favor." He thrust the remaining pages back into her hands and rose to leave, sweeping away without another word.
Hermione watched him leave, confused at his strange reaction. She was just wondering why he had been so short with her when she remembered what he had been saying when the paper had distracted her. "Oh no, " she murmured to herself, pressing a hand to her face. She'd really made a pickle of this one.
She found Neville in Greenhouse 3, pruning the Venomous Tentacula. He greeted her with a welcoming smile and immediately handed her a pair of pruning shears.
"Er, Neville," she began when they had fallen into a rhythm. "I was wondering… have you ever heard of a… Weeping Cactus?"
He gave her a funny look. "Sure I have, but… where did you hear about them?"
"Nevermind. Do you think… you could grow them?"
He raised his eyebrows and blew out a breath, turning back to his work. "I doubt it. They're famously finicky."
Hermione pouted her lips, unsure how much she should say.
"What's this about, anyway?" he asked.
"Well… if I tell you, you have to promise not to tell a soul until I say otherwise."
Neville raised his eyebrows.
"It's just…" she sighed. "Professor Snape is working on something and I just happened to see his notes and I doubt he wants anyone to know, in case it doesn't pan out."
"Alright sure, Hermione. I won't say a word."
Hermione blew out a breath. "Okay, well…he's working on amending the Wolfsbane potion so that it wouldn't have to be taken right away. So that it could be bottled and stored."
Neville went still, his shears poised around a thorny vine.
"And he thinks," she pressed on, "the mucus of the Weeping Cactus might be the answer."
Neville clipped the vine he had been holding and sat back on his heels. "L-let me look into it. If there's any way I could…" he caught himself, looking guiltily up at her before glancing away. "But there's no way I'd be able to do it with just that one little bed."
Hermione sighed, moving a stack of newspapers out of a folding chair and plopping down onto it. "Yes, I know. That's part of the problem. Let me talk to Snape again. We'll find a way."
Neville chewed his lip. "Speaking of Snape, what were the two of you brewing together?"
Hermione could feel herself blushing. "Oh, er… just a potion that allows you to sleep normally but without any dreams."
"Oh." He sounded disappointed, or perhaps confused.
She looked down at the newspapers in her hands and gasped in indignation. There was that ruddy picture again.
"What is it?"
" The Prophet today, did you see it?"
He frowned in thought. "Oh, do you mean Harry and… oh. "
Hermione jumped up from her seat. "That's her, Neville. Right there! The girl I told you about."
Neville put down his shears and took the paper, frowning down at it uncomfortably.
"I saw it this morning. Put me right off my breakfast. Do you see how fit she is? Look! She's got a fucking thigh gap!"
Neville wrinkled his nose, clearly unsure how to respond. "She's not all that, Hermione…" he tried, but she saw right through his attempted lie.
"You can't tell me she's not bloody perfect! I can see for myself. And you know it's not like I went looking for pictures of her. She's front page news! Severus ripped up my copy. Said he was doing me a favor."
She went to take the paper back and Neville pulled it out of her reach. "I think he may have had a point, Hermione. It's probably best you just forget you even saw it and go on about your day. Tell me more about the Weeping Cactuses."
She scowled at him, but he just grinned back and eventually she relented.
Draco Malfoy was just leaving the castle as Hermione climbed the front steps. He hesitated when he saw her, clearly calculating his response.
She swallowed her pride and smiled at him. "Hello Draco."
"Granger," he replied, frowning suspiciously, "you think one beer is enough to put us on a first name basis?"
She rolled her eyes. "I know I wasn't very welcoming when you first got here. I'm sorry about that. Can we start over?"
His sneer was half-hearted. "Hardly."
"Okay… well can we move forward then?"
His eyes swept down her frame, as if he were taking her measure, then he gave her a little half-smile. "I suppose."
"Good," she said, beaming at him as she moved to step past him.
He turned to face her as she climbed the stairs. "What's going on between you and Severus?"
She turned back toward him. A blush was rising in her face. Draco Malfoy was too cunning not to notice her reaction. But suddenly, letting down her guard with him seemed like the strategic choice. She wanted him to trust her didn't she? So she hesitated just a little too long before answering. "We were just working on a project together. A potion to prevent dreams without putting the person to sleep."
He hummed in response, clearly not buying that that was all. "He's going to teach me how to brew the Wolfsbane potion," he finally said. "If you're interested, you should ask him about it." He shrugged at the shocked look on her face. "I figure the more people who know how to brew it the better. We're starting tomorrow."
She must have paced a good ten minutes before she got up the nerve to knock on Severus Snape's office door. "Enter," he called out in a bored tone. She pulled open the door to find him bent over his grading, scratching at a parchment with his quill. He took his time and Hermione smirked. He clearly expected her to be a student and was trying to intimidate her.
After a long moment, he finally set down his quill and glanced up with an irritated sigh. She caught the flicker of recognition in his eyes, but he caught himself before he gave away any reaction. "Good afternoon," he drawled, an edge of impatient curiosity in his voice.
"Hi," she said, grinning at him and stepping up to his desk. "Are these your office hours? I can come back later…"
"Not officially, no. What do you want?"
She lifted an eyebrow at him. "I was wondering if your offer of tea still stood."
He leaned back in his chair, studying her a long moment before he spoke again. "Well," he growled, feigning irritation, "I had planned to get a bit of grading done. But… as you have made the very presumptuous move of coming down here and demanding tea..."
Hermione gasped in mock outrage, but she couldn't keep herself from grinning at him.
"I suppose I could be persuaded to take a break."
"How magnanimous of you."
"Count yourself among the rare fortunate, Miss Granger." He pushed back his chair and stood, leading her over to the door to his lab, unwarding it, and holding it open for her.
"So… is this lab part of your private rooms?"
"It is," he said, sweeping past her to hold open the door to his sitting room next.
"Your rooms are much larger than mine, then."
"One of the few perks of being Head of House." He smirked at her, shrugging out of his teaching robes and draping them over the back of a chair before striding into the adjoining kitchen space.
Hermione followed him. "And your kitchenette is more of an actual kitchen."
"Yes, these are the best rooms in the castle. Why do you think I elected to stay down here?"
She pursed her lips. "I suppose it's to make up for the lack of windows."
"Hmm. That has never bothered me."
Severus set the kettle to boil and opened a cabinet to take down a little glass jar. The whole cabinet was full of identical jars, each with their own tidy, little label. Hermione caught the door when he began to close it and stepped forward to admire the collection.
"You really do enjoy blending your own teas. And you even give them names?"
He shrugged. "It's easier to find them that way."
"'Summer Evening,' 'Fireside,' 'Spring Bouquet,'" she trailed off with a little gasp of surprise, reaching up to take down the little jar labeled 'Hermione.'
"Oh," he began, running nervous fingers through his hair. "That's the pepper one you tried. I… couldn't think of anything else." He gently took the jar from her hands and placed it back on the shelf, closing the cabinet from her prying eyes and busying himself with their tea.
Hermione turned away from him to hide her little smile. She wished her heart wouldn't squeeze so hard. It was only tea.
At the far end of the counter, he had set up a little indoor herb garden, complete with an overhead light. "How did you get electric lighting down here?"
"It's battery operated."
"Genius." She looked up in time to catch his proud smirk. "Of course…" she continued in a teasing voice as she circled the little bar counter that separated the kitchen from the living room and slid up onto a stool, "you could have half a greenhouse for your herbs…"
"Don't start in on that again," he warned in a dangerous voice. But the smirk he gave her when he turned to set a steaming cup on the counter in front of her belied the sentiment.
"Alright, alright," she conceded with a grin. "We can talk about that later."
Severus Snape leaned back against the opposite counter, holding his own mug up beneath his nose. He was watching her with an intent expression.
She hid her blush behind her teacup and inhaled the delicate aroma of the tea. "Mmmm," she hummed, "lovely."
Blowing carefully on the surface of the steaming tea, she took a tiny sip. Flavor burst on her tongue, curling up her sinuses and waking up her senses in refreshing pleasure. "Mmmmm…"
He seemed pleased with her response. "It took a few attempts to find the right balance," he admitted in a casual voice. She could see the gleam of satisfaction in his eyes.
For a long moment, they sipped their tea in silence, simply enjoying the experience.
Just as the silence was beginning to stretch on too long, Severus cleared his throat. "So… are you reading anything interesting?" He was smirking at her, as if in apology for the transparent attempt at small talk.
"Is my name Hermione Granger?"
That earned her a real smile and she found herself beaming back.
"And what does the new Charms Mistress of Hogwarts read in her spare time?"
Hermione was relieved she had set aside her book on prophetic dreams and begun her perusal of the other text she'd bought. "Oh you know, just… quantum physics."
He lifted an eyebrow, his smirk melting into an expression of genuine interest. "Really?"
"Do you know much about it?"
" Ohhh , yes," he growled in a rich, velvety voice. She had to actively suppress a shudder. "Quantum Mechanics is one of the great frontiers of modern science. And what are scientists but those curious about what lies beyond the boundary of what we already know?"
Hermione's heart did a little flip at this passionate proclamation. It resonated with her in a profound way. "That's exactly it. I think, when I was a child, I took for granted that everything was already known by somebody out there. When I first began to understand that there was so much out there left to discover, it… thrilled me. To think that we're still chipping away at the unknown."
"Well, quantum physics is an excellent example of that. It's almost a new subject. So little about it is really understood, even by the physicists themselves."
"I know! And to think that a century ago the field didn't exist at all. They discovered a whole other layer of reality no one had known about before. Can you imagine?"
"I've always thought it a shame that more work isn't done by magical folk in the fields of the Muggle sciences. Who knows what quantum theory might tell us about the nature of Magic, after all. I was fascinated with it for years after the first time the Dark Lord fell. He probably wouldn't have approved, of course."
"Well, because any books already written on the subject were by Muggle authors. The Dark Lord hated any reminder of Muggle greatness."
"Oh, I see. Are there still no quantum physicists in the magical world?"
"There are a few now. I don't think much has been discovered on our side of the line, though. Mostly, we have a lot of catching up to do. One of the big challenges of any science is procuring funding, and unfortunately funding often only follows once there is public interest." He rubbed his chin, thoughtfully. "Or utility in matters of war."
"But there are theories out there, and calculations being made. Experimentation will follow when the funding finally does. What I find truly amazing is that recent experiments have been able to prove theories Einstein had decades ago. Entanglement, for example. That's the magic of mathematics, I suppose."
"And you wonder why Arithmancy was my favorite subject."
He chuckled. "Arithmancers are at the forefront of the magical studies on the subject."
"Of course they are. Come to think of it, some of its theories might help explain the efficacy of Arithmantic projections. I always thought… Chaos Theory made a lot of sense. It was so straightforward. One plus one equals two. Then String Theory, of course, as an offshoot of that. But… the randomness of the quantum world… sort of complicates things."
"Indeed. There is that… uncertainty ." He smirked at her, clearly proud of his little joke.
"Merlin, that was terrible," she told him, but she couldn't stop a laugh. They both chuckled for a moment, then she turned serious, glancing down at the counter. "And then, of course, there's the Many Worlds Theory." She paused, twirling a curl around her finger subconsciously. "It's amazing to think about. Different versions of myself out there living different lives."
He gave her a sad little smile. "I can't tell you how much I've dwelled on that idea, over the course of my life."
"It's not something I've ever really considered… until recently." She hesitated, biting her lip and not quite meeting his eye. "I… I remember when I first learned that… for example... not all prophecies come true." She glanced up at him, studying his reaction, calculating how much she should say. "I just thought… you know, at the time… that it was because most of them were bogus. But, I'm… learning now that it's because… you're never really seeing the future. Because there isn't just one future, is there? Really, what you're seeing is a future. But, seeing that one … has a funny way of… bringing it about."
He sighed, staring down at the counter. "That it does." A heavy silence fell at that, and she knew they were both thinking of the fateful night so long ago when he had overheard a prophecy being made. "It used to bring me comfort," he admitted in a low voice. "During… the worst of it… I used to tell myself… some version of me had to draw the short straw. And perhaps that meant that all my other lives were better. That… I had made different choices."
Hermione's heart wrenched. She wanted to tell him that his future here would be better; that she would make sure of it.
The impulse scared her. She'd been dancing around thoughts like this for weeks, but if she really were to stop and consider them seriously...
"But then," she murmured, not quite meeting his eye, "at the same time, it's terrifying. Now, not only do I have to worry about my own choices, but I know that even if I choose the best path, some version of me will be going down the wrong one."
He shook his head. "You can't think of it like that. Even if every scenario exists somewhere out there, you still have to make your decisions based on which reality you want to live in. Those other versions of you will have made their own choices. The hardest part…" he broke off, seeming to consider his next words carefully, "is not knowing what might follow a decision. Not being in control of the outcome, or able to take it back." He met her eyes with a curious intensity that seemed to hint at a deeper meaning to his words.
Hermione nodded. Her pulse was racing. This conversation was teetering dangerously close to the edge of... something. Something… she should have realized he would have noticed as well. That… there already was something between them. Something… she had been inching toward, pulling him along with her. Only, she did know the outcome. Glimpses of it, at least. And was it such a bad future?
He was strangely beautiful right now, watching her with those dark eyes, his silky black hair falling forward. She remembered her dream from last night; how he had held her close; how she had slept tangled up in his embrace. And then again, she couldn't remember the last time she had enjoyed a conversation this much. So why was she so afraid?
Hermione covered her response by taking another sip of tea, and found that it had gone cold. Her eyes went wide with the sudden realization. It felt like a sign. Wasn't this exactly what she had been looking for? Someone to get lost in conversation with so thoroughly that the tea went cold?
Was this the moment she was supposed to decide? The turning point, where her dreams became reality? The thought scared her. She wasn't ready. She hadn't made up her mind.
Silence stretched. The very air seemed to buzz with tension. She searched around for anything to say, some way to break this awkwardness without showing her hand.
Eventually, she cleared her throat. "So… Draco tells me you are planning to teach him to brew the Wolfsbane potion."
He blinked down into his mug, then drained it. "I am."
"He, er… thought I should ask if I could tag along."
Snape frowned at her. "Draco Malfoy wants to include you ," he repeated, drawing out each word in a tone of disbelief.
She shrugged. "He figures the more people who know how to brew it, the better."
Snape glared at the wall, clearly not buying her explanation. "Of course you are welcome to join us," he growled. Then his face snapped to hers as he seemed to remember something. "You didn't mention my…project..."
"No, of course not."
"I don't want to raise his hopes."
That night, Hermione stared at her ceiling for what might have been hours. If she was planning, yet again, to visit her future with Severus Snape (and even looking forward to it!), why hadn't she been able to take that step toward living it today? Part of her knew it was pure cowardice. After all, she didn't have to make any life-altering decisions to visit that future. But once she had started something with the Snape of her timeline, there was no going back. She needed to be sure.
It was hours before she finally fell asleep.
"Ohhhhh yes, Hermione," he growled, his velvety baritone an octave lower than usual. "Just like that."
She was naked. On her knees on the floor of his office. And her mouth was wrapped around his cock.
He was sitting in the chair behind his desk. The buttons of his frock coat and the white shirt underneath had been undone, leaving a strip of pale torso visible all the way down to where his trousers lay unbuttoned. There, the thumb and forefinger of one of her hands encircled the thick base of his cock while her other hand was buried in the black curls beneath, cupping him with a practiced grip.
One of his hands was tangled in her hair, cupping the back of her head and gently guiding her rhythm as she took him deeper down her throat than she had even known she could.
And he was watching her through heavy-lidded eyes, his mouth ajar and an expression of agonized pleasure on his face. She moaned with desire at the arousing sight.
" Ohhhh fuck!" He growled. "I'm so close."
Shock rippled down her spine as her mind caught up to her and she hesitated, her rhythm faltering. She was about to pull away, to let him know who she was, when his hand tightened in her hair, gripping her hard to hold her still.
"Oh gods yes! I'm about to come."
His head fell back against the chair, his eyes squeezing shut as he rocked erratically against her a few more times, thrusting deep into her throat. And then he was groaning aloud as hot fluid filled her mouth.
She couldn't remember the last time she'd been so aroused.
"Swallow for me, love," he grunted in a rough voice, his body tense, his hand still gripping her hair. So she complied, swallowing the salty, musky seed of her ex-professor. His body jerked reflexively as her throat closed around the sensitive head of his spent cock and he let out a shaky breath before relaxing his grip on her hair and collapsing back against his chair. "That was…" he began, shuddering once more as he withdrew from her mouth, "a hell of a birthday surprise."
Hermione let out a nervous little laugh and ran a hand through her hair, not quite looking at him. Her face was hot and there was an urgent throbbing between her legs. But the most pressing concern at the moment was the worry over how the hell she was going to tell him who she was.
He was buttoning his trousers now, still slumped lazily in his chair, his shirt undone, looking (there was no other word for it) unbelievably sexy. "I don't know how I'll be able to return to my classes after that …"
"Yes, well…" she began before she could think better of it, "I don't know how I'm going to work on the Wolfsbane with you tomorrow with that memory inside my head…"
He frowned at her. "The Wolfsbane? But…" Comprehension was quickly followed by horror as he straightened up in his chair. "Granger?"
She cringed, covering her nakedness with her arms the best she could. "I'm sorry..."
"Bloody hell, tell me I didn't…" he cut off at the look on her face, squeezing his eyes shut in shame.
"No, please, don't," she said, struggling to her feet. "It actually wasn't… I was… I… enjoyed it."
"I'm being serious. I might… I might think about this later, when I'm… when I'm…"
His sharp eyes focused on her, then. When he spoke, his voice was a devious growl. "I can take care of that for you now , if you like."
Hermione could feel heat blossoming in her cheeks and between her legs. "Wh-what?"
He smirked at her, an edge of danger in his glittering eyes. "I could use my hands, or… my mouth, or… whatever you prefer."
For a moment, she was tempted. It would be so easy to straddle his lap and enjoy this dream to the fullest extent, consequences be damned. Hell, it wasn't as if there would really be consequences at all.
But she hesitated just long enough to talk herself out of it, reminding herself that she was dangerously close to crossing a line.
"Better not," she finally said.
She woke in her own bed, her body aching with desire, and buried a hand between her legs to finish herself off before she could think better of it. The memory of the way he had moaned as he came in her mouth was what sent her over the edge. And she found herself wanting to hear it again.
AN: About the Wolfsbane: Any of you who know much about biochemistry will know that I have no idea what I'm talking about, but I tried to flub it the best I could.
I hope you enjoyed this chapter! Please Review!!! And stay safe out there guys. I hope you're all doing well. <3
Soft. Sweet. Warm. She writhed on top of him, all curves and heat and slow, slick friction. She kissed him as if she could consume him that way, as his hands travelled her body, feeling everything at once. Her hair smelled like almond and honey and Hermione. She broke away from his mouth, staring down at him with heavy-lidded eyes as she rocked against him, biting her swollen, rosy lip. She gasped and the sound of her voice breathless with need followed him all the way back to his dungeon bedroom, where he woke with a start, panting into the chilly morning air, and squeezed his eyes shut in shame.
His cock was stiff and begging for attention. It was so tempting to close his eyes and imagine the dream playing out a little further. But the mere thought of that sent a spike of self-loathing through him. So he chased his erection away with a freezing cold shower, instead.
He should have upped the dose. Having slept poorly two nights in a row, he had turned in early the night before. It hadn’t occurred to him that he might still be asleep when the effects of the Dreamlessness potion wore off. He hadn’t slept more than six hours in a row as far back as he could remember, even if those hours hadn’t been completely undisturbed, deep sleep. But more surprising than the fact that he had dreamt at all was the fact that it hadn’t been a nightmare. Far from it, in fact.
He was nervous to see her again. Idiot. Their conversation over tea had been more satisfying and energizing than any company he had kept in months, maybe years . But that was no reason to start drooling over the girl. How could he be so quick to forget that she had been his student? How could he brush that away as if it meant nothing? He couldn’t help the way his stomach flipped when her face lit up with excitement over something he’d said. It was only natural to respond in such a way when it had been so long since he had evoked that response in a woman.
He did wish she’d stop wearing those damned snug Muggle jeans.
Hermione Granger arrived to breakfast shortly after he did. He had been telling himself to stop listening for footsteps, that it was pathetic and sad, but he hadn’t quite managed to do so.
“Morning,” she sang in far too cheerful a voice, placing her hand on his shoulder again. He managed not to show his surprise this time. This new habit was only one of a list of baffling behaviors the girl had taken to in recent weeks. He didn’t understand the motive yet, but it unnerved him.
“It is indeed,” he said, smirking at her. “How did you sleep?”
She raised her eyebrows at him in surprise. “Not bad, you?”
He considered. “Well, I can’t say that I’m well rested, but there is no trace of the muscle fatigue that often follows the extensive use of Dreamless Sleep.” He met her eye, noting the healthy glow of her complexion. “You look refreshed.”
She blushed a deep red and turned away from him. “I slept well,” she said, though something about her tone and strange reaction told him there was something he was missing. She took her time filling a plate with fried eggs, baked beans, and grilled tomatoes; and he had the impression she was avoiding his gaze.
He pulled away. Perhaps he had allowed himself to become too comfortable with her. Their conversation the evening before had seemed so intimate to him. And yet, this was a young woman with many close friends and acquaintances with whom she often spent long measures of time. It might have been nothing out of the ordinary to her.
There was certainly something hesitant about her this morning. As if… she were embarrassed. Had he said something to make her feel that way? There had been a moment when he had almost allowed himself to hint, to ask, what her intentions were with him. She must have felt it, too. The dynamics of their relationship had shifted drastically in the few weeks since she had begun to teach. They were no longer professor and student, but colleagues.
But that wasn’t all. At least, it didn’t seem like it was. He wasn’t sure if she had felt this strange new connection, too. Or if, perhaps, she had brushed it off. Or if, quite possibly, he had imagined it completely. It had been so long since he had had any genuine human connection. Perhaps he was making it out to be something it was not.
Draco was waiting outside Severus's office when Hermione arrived. "Granger," he greeted in a not-unfriendly voice.
"Draco," she returned with a cheeky grin. She had decided that these lessons together would be her opportunity to make amends with the Slytherin. Maybe if she earned his trust, he and Neville would share their secret with her.
There was an awkward, hesitant pause. Then Draco spoke up in a low, oddly sincere voice. "I'm glad you're here."
"Are you kidding?” she said, beaming at him. “I couldn't pass up this opportunity."
He smirked back at her, a childhood of history flashing between them. "So, I was wondering…" he began again, awkwardly turning his attention to his fingernails, "are you still looking into building a new greenhouse?"
Hermione's face snapped to his. "Why?"
"I am training to be the next Potions Master, Granger,” he said, rolling his eyes at her. “Didn't you think I might be interested?"
She stared at him, gobsmacked. "Of course! How silly of me!" Added to the fact that he was secretly in love with Neville Longbottom, she couldn't believe she hadn't thought of it before. Oh. And obviously he couldn't approach Neville, himself. It would seem very obvious to such a careful Slytherin if the two of them were to build a greenhouse together.
"I'm on the same salary as… Longbottom. I imagine , anyway. And I guess you know I don't have much other than that."
Hermione nodded. She had watched with satisfaction as the Malfoys lost their fortune at the end of the war. She still didn't exactly feel bad about it, either. "I might be able to contribute, too," she heard herself saying. And why not? She was bound to want to use the space as well. "But if we can get Severus on board…"
Draco winked at her. "I'll talk to him."
By the time Severus Snape finally swept around the corner, the two of them were joking around about how he was going to be teaching them again and how odd it was to be back in the role of students.
"I bet he deducts House Points on instinct when you get something wrong."
"That would require me actually getting something wrong."
"Ugh, I forgot what an obnoxious swot you were."
Severus stopped in front of them, giving them his best Professor Snape glare, and they both doubled over in fits of giggles.
"When you are finished reminding me how much I loathed teaching your class…"
Draco gasped. "Even me?"
" Especially you."
Hermione smirked at Draco. "I was his favorite, obviously."
Snape rolled his eyes. "Come along, children," he drawled, opening the door for them. And they burst into laughter all over again.
It was strange, standing in Severus Snape’s private lab with the man himself and Draco Malfoy, of all people, watching as their ex-professor laid out the various ingredients and tools they would need for this lesson. Draco watched him nervously.
It occurred to Hermione that this had originally been arranged for only the two Slytherins, as a first lesson between the master potioneer and a new apprentice (despite the fact that Draco was technically studying under the aging Terrence Tollock). And that it was doubly daunting as it was one of the most complex potions she had ever heard of; and triply daunting because Severus was now having to teach and Draco having to learn with one of their least favorite Gryffindors present.
“So,” Hermione began, to break the silence more than anything, “I was thinking…”
“Were you,” murmured Severus. Draco smirked.
“You have to make it fresh every day for a week, isn’t that right?”
“You know very well that it’s right.”
“So maybe if we went through the steps today, and you just showed us, then tomorrow and Wednesday we could take turns…”
“Are you planning my lessons for me now, Granger?”
Draco sniffed in amusement. “I should have known you’d be even worse now that you’re a professor.”
Hermione put her hands on her hips, sending him a playful glare. “I only want to make sure I’m not getting in the way of your lessons. But I want a chance to learn, too. Obviously.”
“Granger,” warned Snape, seeming to put even more distance between them. "Are you teaching this lesson or am I?"
She rolled her eyes at him. "You are."
Snape didn't seem appeased by this response. He stalked around the bench toward her, drawing himself to his full height a little too close for comfort, and towering over her with a wicked smirk. "And are you planning to allow me to conduct my lesson as I see fit? Or will I be forced to toss you out?"
Hermione pressed her lips together in feigned annoyance and folded her arms across her chest. "I'll behave," she promised.
He studied her a moment longer before murmuring "We'll see."
Despite his earlier levity, Severus seemed to grow more and more irritated throughout the course of the lesson. In part, she knew, he was trying to focus on teaching while also brewing the very complicated potion Draco would be taking later that night.
But there was also a strangeness, an awkwardness, in the way he had been thrust back into the role of their professor. It seemed to put a measure of distance between them. And to be honest, he probably also didn't care for the way both Draco and she took every opportunity to tease him.
But Hermione had to maintain this pretense of teasing at all costs. Because every time she allowed her thoughts to drift, her mind summoned images from the dream she'd had the night before. Snape would be chopping the aconite stems and she would remember the gentle pressure of his hand at the back of her head. Or he would lean forward against the workbench and her eyes would be drawn to the trousers she had seen undone. Or he would praise her in that smooth, velvety voice of his and she would imagine that it was in response to the way she was pleasuring him. She really shouldn't have blushed so much at the way he murmured “very good,” in that deep, rumbly way.
When they were done for the evening, Severus told them that they had both done well.
"Would you say," Hermione couldn't help but ask him, "that you'd give it an 'O?'"
But clearly they still had not quite made it to the moment his future self had hinted to her about, for the current model smirked back at her and said "True to form, Miss Granger. You are nothing if not consistent."
He dismissed them shortly after that, but Draco lingered. "You go on, Granger," he said, winking at her when she stopped to wait for him. "Severus, can I have a word?"
She was juicing oranges. The old fashioned way. It took her a moment to realize what she was doing and to pause, staring down in confusion. Just as she was about to turn around, a curtain of black hair appeared in her peripheral as warm lips pressed against her temple. “Aren’t you done with that, yet?” he growled. Large, warm hands landed on her bare hips as she registered that she was wearing nothing more than knickers and a tee. He gave her supple flesh an appreciative squeeze and found her neck with his mouth.
Hermione jumped, nearly knocking over the pitcher of orange juice as she spun around in his arms. His hair was dishevelled, as if he’d just rolled out of bed, and he’d hardly managed to button his white shirt half-way, though he was wearing trousers, thank Merlin. At the expression of surprise and confusion on her face, he backed away.
This was not a kitchen she had ever been in before. It was cramped and bare with ancient appliances and peeling paint. But there was a delicious smell coming from the stove, where a covered saucepan had been set to simmer.
Hermione’s attention snapped back to Severus Snape, who was staring down at her with an embarrassed smirk. She blinked up at him. “Why am I juicing oranges by hand?”
His shoulders relaxed and he gave her a genuine smile. “Because there is more value in the simple task than in the efficiency of Magic, if you have the time.”
She almost laughed. “That’s very Zen of you, Severus Snape.”
“Don’t tell the Hufflepuffs.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it.”
Snape’s smile faltered and his gaze dropped to the floor. He ran a nervous hand through his hair. “It has… been a while since your last visit,” he said, turning back to the stove and taking the top off the saucepan to give its contents a stir.
He nodded. “And I have spent the entire time fretting over… what happened.”
“Please don’t,” she said, her smile fading. “I know it wasn’t ideal. Oh! I mean… obviously it would have been, er… it’s just that I felt like I was trespassing, but I couldn’t exactly tell you. Not that I was there for very long! And if I had really wanted to, I could have made you stop, but… oh bugger I’m making a mess of this, aren’t I?”
He smirked at her.
She decided to take a different approach. “I wasn’t lying when I told you… that it… that I… enjoyed it.”
“Oh, I know,” he said in a deep voice, lifting an arrogant eyebrow at her as he sprinkled what looked like cheddar cheese into the pan and reached for a bottle of dark brown sauce. “Your future self has reassured me countless times, even going so far as to admit what you did when you woke up that morning.”
Hermione’s face was hot. “I told you about that, did I?”
His grin faltered. “But, that isn’t what concerns me.” He hesitated, heaving a weary sigh. “You have to understand… every first for you is a first for me, too. Firsts I have been waiting for, anticipating eagerly and… anxiously. Planning, even. Consider, you won’t have my first kiss until it happens in your timeline, but I’ve already had your first kiss and it… didn’t happen the way I wanted it to.” He hesitated as if he were about to say more, then shook his head and put two slices of bread in the toaster.
Hermione studied him. She was touched by how important this obviously was to him. It hadn’t occurred to her that this whole ordeal must make the careful man incredibly anxious. “I think that’s intentional,” she said at last. “When I went to visit the seer the second time, she said something about me seeing ‘an improbable future’ in the ‘worst possible way.’ Maybe it’s not enough that I catch glimpses of this future. Maybe part of the curse is the way it happens.”
He frowned down at the counter, nodding his head in thought. “Perhaps it… goes even further than that.”
“What do you mean?”
He sighed. “I’ve begun to feel anxious every time… your current self and I… become intimate. I can’t stop imagining you showing up and being horrified.”
“ What? No! No no no, please don’t feel that way. If anything, seeing those parts of a future with you has been…” she broke off, blushing. “I mean to say… even those glimpses have been… well… let’s just say they’ve done more to convince me to seek out this future than not.”
He let out a bark of laughter. “Well, I should warn you that it’s not always so vanilla.”
“Wh-what do you mean?”
“I mean,” he cleared his throat, “that you and I are both naturally curious people and that… in my part of the timeline…” he glanced up at her, considering his words carefully, “we are very comfortable with each other.”
“Oh.” Her face was hot and her imagination running wild as he set two pieces of toast on each of two plates and ladled a thick, cheesy sauce on top.
“Do you like paprika?”
“What? Oh… yes.”
“Good.” She watched as he sprinkled a generous amount of the dark red powder over each of their plates and carried the dishes to the small kitchen table. “Sit,” he told her as he returned to the kitchen to pour them each a glass of fresh orange juice.
“Do you think…” she began, gesturing down at herself, “I’m still in my knickers.”
He gave her a heated look, letting his gaze travel down to her bare thighs. “That you are.”
She flattened her lips in annoyance. “Do you mind if I put on some clothes?”
He smirked, drawing his wand from his back pocket, flicking it once, and returning it there in one fluid motion. She had hardly seen him cast the nonverbal spell and was therefore caught completely off guard when her favorite pair of jeans flew into the room. “But you should know,” he teased as she snatched them from him and began to pull them on, “those snug, Muggle jeans of yours are nearly as provocative as your knickers.”
She gasped in mock outrage, but couldn’t hold back a smile. “You like them, do you?”
“Very much. Now sit down and eat your breakfast.”
“Yes, sir, ” she said, blushing when he shot her an amused glance. She did as she was told, her stomach grumbling as she admired her plate. “Welsh rarebit?”
“It shouldn’t surprise me that you like to cook.”
“Mmm yes, like brewing, cooking tends to calm me and help me process my thoughts without dwelling unhealthily on them.” He sat across from her, handing her a glass, and watched her with glittering eyes. “You’d better eat it before the bread goes soft.”
Hermione didn’t need any more encouragement. Carving off a large chunk with her knife, she stuffed the steaming bite into her mouth. Dear Merlin. It was divine. Cheesy and creamy with just a bit of spice, the toast crunching perfectly. “Mmmmm,” she hummed, “this is fantastic.”
He smiled at her. “I’m glad you think so.”
She took another perfect bite and moaned, sitting back in her chair and letting her eyes close in satisfaction.
When she opened them, she found that he was watching her intently, not bothering to hide how much he enjoyed her response.
“What?” she laughed, blushing.
“You are very expressive, Hermione.”
“Is this where you tease me for being a Gryffindor?”
He smiled then turned his gaze to the table, continuing as if she hadn’t said anything. “It’s part of the reason your visits have been so… difficult for me. It isn’t easy, when one is used to such intensity from you… to be confronted with your hesitation. It… forgive me for saying so, but… it rather makes me pity Mr Weasley.”
“You were never well-matched,” he continued, “but I don’t think that ever would have bothered him if it hadn’t bothered you. I imagine… when he first began to disappoint… when he could no longer coax a smile from those lips… it must have been very difficult for him.”
Hermione was in such a good mood Tuesday morning that even the prospect of porridge for breakfast couldn’t bring her down. When Snape teased her about it, all she could do was shrug and say “I guess I’m finally getting enough sleep.”
The corner of his mouth quirked up at that. “It’s strange,” he said. “I haven’t felt this rested in years.”
“That’s not saying much, though, is it?” she teased.
“True,” he acknowledged. He seemed to have decided to ignore the porridge on offer and was taking his time sipping his coffee instead. “I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop,” he admitted in a quiet voice.
She gave him a sympathetic smile and restrained herself from patting his arm. “Maybe sometimes things just work out.”
He didn’t respond right away. She had the feeling he was mulling over her words. When at last he spoke again, he seemed hesitant and wary. "You know… this potion only treats the symptoms. Not the disease."
Hermione blinked up at him. Some part of her thrilled at the note of concern in his voice. She might have been surprised by it, if she hadn't seen that concern in his future self; hadn’t felt it when he’d held her close against him as she cried.
"Post-traumatic stress," he continued, "has no easy cure."
"I know," she told him in a low voice. And it wasn't a lie. Despite the fact that the recent dreams she had been trying to rid herself of were of an entirely different nature, Hermione was not unfamiliar with nightmares of war. "I've read several books on the subject."
The expression he gave her was not his usual teasing smirk, but rather a sad smile that could only be described as fond. "Of course you have."
She busied herself with the pumpkin juice to hide the sudden swell of confusing emotion. "I also… saw a psychiatrist for a while."
"A Muggle therapist?"
"No. Dr Corbin is from a pureblood family, but she… is a squib. She has a lot of Muggle patients, mostly because psychiatry is not very well understood in the magical world. But she has a number of magical clients, as well. Especially… now."
Severus hummed his response, seeming to consider her words.
She turned her attention to stirring her porridge, in order to avoid his gaze. "I can give you her information, if you like," she said. "She's very good. She uses a combination of EMDR--that's Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing--and trauma focused cognitive behavioral therapy. I've… had a lot of success." More success, in fact, than she could tell him right now, having lied about her dreams. The War would always be a part of her, and echoes of it would stay with her for the rest of her life, she knew. But the sharp pain of it had dulled a bit around the edges, now, and she hadn’t had a panic attack in months. "Of course, I didn't have nearly as much to... process."
He stared at her a long moment, as if trying to gauge something. "I don’t think I’m the therapy type," he said at last, turning away and hiding behind a sip of coffee.
Hermione was packing up the stacks of essays that had been turned in after class with her fifth year Gryffindors and Slytherins, when her three favorite Gryffindors hesitantly approached her desk.
"Professor Granger," Otto began in a small voice, "may we speak with you for a moment?"
"Oh sure!" Hermione practically sang, plopping back down in the chair behind her desk. She assumed it probably had something to do with their Slytherin nemesis, Cato, who had lost a number of House Points during the day's lesson for continually lobbing paper balls at Rachel's head. "What can I do for you?"
"Well," said Otto, glancing at the two girls on either side of him, "it's about Professor Snape..."
Hermione's breath caught. Did they know something? Had they noticed something strange in her behavior towards the man?
"W-we didn't know who else we ought to go to about it. I know… usually… Professor Sinistra… being our Head of House and all, but… she’s er… a bit scary, and…”
“That’s alright, Otto. You can always come to me. What’s going on?”
Otto shifted his weight, not meeting her eye. “Well, er… you see, we, er, have this theory that…"
Tilly let out a frustrated sound and pushed past him, slamming her hands down on the desk. "We think he's still a dark wizard."
Hermione couldn't help it. She burst out laughing. Tilly looked affronted. She stood up straight and folded her arms across her chest, glaring down at her professor. Otto had turned red in the face and seemed to have broken a sweat. And Rachel was chewing her lip, looking concerned and cautiously hopeful.
"I'm sorry. That's just… you all remind me so much of myself and my friends when we were students here." They all seemed to perk up at that. "We tried to blame Professor Snape for everything that ever went wrong. It never was him, though. Well… almost never. But I can assure you, Severus Snape is not a dark wizard."
Tilly frowned. "But you haven't even heard our evidence!"
"Tilly…" Otto whispered, pulling at the back of her robes. "Let's forget about it, alright?"
"No! Otto, tell her about your theory, how he only switched sides to save his own skin…"
"That's enough," said Hermione in a firm but gentle tone. "Professor Snape nearly died in the fight against Voldemort. I was there. I saw it myself. He was prepared to die for the Cause. And now... he's become a dear friend of mine."
Tilly withdrew in disgust at this proclamation and Otto's eyebrows shot up in shock. But Rachel looked pensive, studying her professor’s face with a conflicted frown.
Hermione bumped into Draco Malfoy on her way down to their Wolfsbane lesson that night, and the two of them fell into step together with surprising ease.
Draco smirked. " Hermione …"
She smiled back at him. "There, that wasn't so hard was it?" They were making progress.
"I was wondering… I'm trying to convince Severus to start up a dueling club, like we had in second year. Would you be interested?"
"Oh, that's a great idea! It could be like the D.A.!"
"Well, yes, except that Slytherins will also be allowed to join."
"Hmm fair point."
"Only problem is… Severus isn't convinced it's a good idea. And he is the Defense instructor."
"Hmm. If you like, I can talk to him about it tonight."
Draco hesitated. "I'm… not sure that's a good idea."
"Well… he wasn't thrilled when I asked him about the greenhouse. He accused me of conspiring with you behind his back."
Hermione laughed. "I have been pestering him about that a lot lately. I suppose he’s gotten impatient with me."
"Yeah, I don't think that's all it is."
"What do you mean?"
"I just… don't think it would be a good idea for you to talk to him about this one."
When Severus opened the door for them, his face was already set in a scowl.
AN: Thank you all SO MUCH for your patience! I had some plot issues with this chapter and had to do some re-working. Literally, I had gotten to draft “Fate 14 ALT ALT ALT” LOL. It was a mess. Finally, I just had to be like OK, it’s good enough. BUT, the upside of that is that I have most of the next chapter written! So hopefully it won’t take me so long to update again. Sorry about that!
Again, thank you all SO MUCH for your support. Your Reviews sustain me, seriously. Every single one is like a balm to my soul. I know we’re all dealing with this global crisis in different ways, and I’m trying to make writing my coping mechanism of choice, but it’s not always easy. Some days, I stare in abject horror at the news and Youtube and Facebook literally for hours(I live in the southern United States, so… there’s a lot to worry about right now). Other days, I disappear into some TV show or other. (And let’s not even talk about alcohol, though I’ve gotten a lot better about that. It was bad for a while lol) I hope you are all being safe and doing well during these uncertain times. And I hope in some small way my story can be a balm for you.
That night, Hermione decided it was about time she tried out the potion they had created together. She had been pretending to use it for several days, while electing instead to visit her future with Snape. But their discussion about PTSD and his concern when he had reminded her that the potion was not a true cure had made her feel rather guilty about lying.
She slept like a log. Snape had said that he’d tossed and turned all night. If that was due to his dependence on Dreamless Sleep, Hermione owed him a debt of gratitude for ensuring that she didn’t fall victim to the same. Her heart squeezed at the thought. He’d been addicted to it for years, but he hadn’t bothered to do anything about it until she had begun to use it too.
That didn’t mean anything, she told herself. She was reading too much into it.
On the way down to breakfast, as Hermione passed through the corridor where Neville’s quarters were, an unfamiliar door flew open and out stepped Draco Malfoy.
She stopped short, blinking up at him in surprise. "Draco."
" Hermione ."
They grinned at each other. Draco gestured toward the corridor ahead and they continued on together, falling into a comfortable silence as they made the trek down to the Great Hall. It should have been strange how quickly they seemed to have set their history to rest. If only Harry and Ginny—and even perhaps Ron—could develop such an understanding with Draco, perhaps their opinions of Severus would be more easily swayed.
Draco cleared his throat as they descended the stairs to the Entrance Hall, breaking her out of her daze, and she glanced up at him. His brow was furrowed and his eyes were downcast. “So… I've been wondering…" he began in a teasing voice that belied the seriousness of his expression. "When are you planning to tell him?”
The corner of his mouth twitched with a suppressed smirk and he shot her a glance with those sharp, grey eyes. "That you want to get under him."
Hermione nearly tripped down the stairs. " What?! I do not!"
He was no longer trying to hide his amusement, his eyes glinting deviously as his lips twisted with triumphant mirth. "Aren't you even going to pretend to ask me 'who?'"
Hermione spluttered. She could feel herself going red in the face. That was sure to give her away.
“Come on, Granger. I’ve seen the way you watch him when we’re brewing. You hang on his every word.”
“Of course I do! I want to brew the potion properly, don’t I? I would think you’d appreciate that, since you’re the one drinking it.”
“It’s the way you watch him. Admit it.”
She looked away, at a loss for words.
“I knew it!”
“Don't be ridiculous, Draco. He was my teacher.”
“Stranger things have happened,” he said with a shrug. He leaned closer as they stepped through the teachers’ entrance to the Great Hall and lowered his voice to murmur in her ear. "But so you know, I'm pretty sure the feeling is mutual."
Hermione was so flustered by Draco's words that she stopped behind her chair and stared after him in shock. He turned back with a cheeky grin and sent her a wink that had her blushing as she turned back to Snape. Too late, she realized she had forgotten her new custom of squeezing his shoulder in greeting as she took her place beside him, but she didn’t miss the way those sharp, black eyes followed Draco to his chair.
"Morning," she sang, hoping her cheerfulness would compensate for the fact that she couldn't quite look him in the eye.
He only grunted in response.
Hermione fought not to roll her eyes at the surly man. He had been in such a foul mood during the entirety of her Wolfsbane lesson with Draco last night and she couldn’t imagine why. They had gotten on so well that morning. What could have possibly changed?
Suppressing a sigh at his moodiness, she decided to offer an olive branch.
"So…" she began, in what she hoped was a casual voice, as she piled her plate full of French toast. "I've been thinking about your little tea-blending hobby. You must have an impressive spice cupboard."
"Granger," Snape growled in warning, "if this is about that bloody greenhouse…"
Hermione snorted, sending a puff of powdered sugar across the table.
"Charming," he drawled, but his familiar smirk was without malice.
She couldn't stop the bout of giggles. "No, it's nothing to do with that," she said, "though I suppose I deserve your suspicion. I was only wondering… if perhaps I could… I dunno, have a go at it."
He lifted an eyebrow. "Have a go at it?"
"I mean… inventing my own blend. You've piqued my curiosity."
The strange hesitance of his reaction made Hermione's stomach flip. She placed intense focus on the task of pouring maple syrup.
"I… suppose that would be agreeable."
"Oh, you suppose so?" Hermione teased, carving off a big bite of crispy, syrupy goodness.
He smirked back at her. "Are you sure you'll enjoy it? You know it's not something you can study for."
"Oh, don't be a prat," she said around a mouthful, "You were so close to being nice a moment ago."
Taking another big bite of French toast, Hermione hummed in pleasure at the buttery sweet flavor, her eyes nearly rolling back in her head. When she glanced up at him, licking her syrupy lips, she didn't miss the way his eyes darted away from her mouth. A shock of arousal blossomed inside of her. He had been watching her. She remembered his words to her in her dream the other night, about how expressive she was, and blushed.
He was silent for a long moment, sipping his coffee. At last, he spoke up in a low, hesitant voice. "You know… I haven’t written off your proposal. A staff greenhouse would be... useful. I’ve often imagined cultivating my own supply of certain ingredients and herbs. Only…” he sighed, “every year, I have been telling myself that it might be my last here at Hogwarts."
His brow furrowed and he kept his eyes on the table. "It’s strange. I… haven't ever really been in a position to make my own plans. I'm not entirely sure how to go about it. But... the last thing I want to do is remove that freedom, and… building something on the Grounds would be… a commitment."
Hermione let this startling revelation settle for a moment. "So…" she prodded hesitantly, when the silence had stretched on too long, "you haven't ruled it out."
“I-I think I can do it,” said Neville, glancing up from the oozing bubotuber. It was Draco’s night to brew the Wolfsbane on his own, and Hermione had taken the chance to visit Neville. It was a strange time of night to be working in the greenhouse, but Hermione imagined Neville had been spending a lot of his free time preoccupied elsewhere . “But… I’ll need your help,” he continued, “The Weeping Cactus only grows under very particular conditions. It’ll take a lot of Charm work, and I’ve never really had much luck with Charms, have I?” he laughed.
“Of course, Neville! Anything you need.” Hermione hesitated, glancing down at her gloved hands. “You… er… haven’t mentioned this to anyone, have you?”
“Of course not, Hermione. I said I wouldn’t.”
“I know. I was just… Snape would be really angry with me if he found out I’d told you.”
“Have you asked him again about the greenhouse?”
Hermione sighed. “Sort of. I think he might come around. But , Draco Malfoy is interested, and… I want to be a part of it, too.”
Neville kept his eyes on the bubotuber, but his ears had gone red and he seemed to be trying very hard to act natural. “I didn’t know you had any interest in gardening, Hermione.”
She snorted. “Is there anything I don’t have an interest in?”
He considered for a moment. “Quidditch?"
Hermione climbed into bed a full half hour earlier than usual. She had been humming incessantly to herself ever since she'd finished her grading and started getting ready for bed. Yet it wasn't until she was beneath the sheets with the lights out that she recognized her own reaction.
She was excited to dream about him again.
Merlin, Hermione. She had only gone one night without seeing him in her dreams and she couldn't deny that she missed him already. Gods. It was a stark contrast to the way she'd felt about her dreams only a few short weeks ago. How could everything have changed so fast?
They were in her bed. Morning light filtered through the windows. She was stretched out on her side, wearing nothing but an overlarge tee, her bare legs tangled with the blankets, her head propped up on one hand. He was sitting against the headboard, propped up by several cushy pillows. There was a charming pair of reading spectacles at the end of his nose, and his eyes were stubbornly focused on the book in his lap, though he was speaking to her.
“You are so young, Hermione. You have so much time. If you want to study Arithmancy, study Arithmancy. Don’t let your current occupation limit you.”
She blinked at him. “I want to study Arithmancy?”
“Then you ought to.” He frowned down at his book, toying with the corner of a page. “And if you decide to leave Hogwarts,” he met her eye and gave her the sort of teasing smirk he often used as a defense, “maybe you will let me come and visit you, every once in a while.”
Her heart wrenched at the hopeful, vulnerable gesture. “Hmm,” she hummed, shrugging at him, though she couldn’t hide her smirk, “I suppose I might.”
“You might, might you?” he growled, setting his book on the bedside table and turning toward her, draping an arm around her waist.
“I’ll have to think about it,” she said through surprised laughter.
“Is that so?” He said in a dangerously deep voice as he pulled her close, grinning in response to her startled laughter. Suddenly his mouth was on hers, warm and tender. Her heart swelled and a moan of pleasure escaped her lips before she could catch herself and pull away. Pressing a delicate hand to his chest, she ducked her chin and blushed.
“Sorry, Professor,” she breathed.
His dark eyes flickered through a series of emotions; confusion, surprise, embarrassment, then genuine pleasure. A tinge of pink appeared high in his cheeks. “Hello Granger.”
“Hi.” Hermione’s voice was surprisingly breathless. But then again, his arm was still around her waist.
“It has been a while.”
He nodded. “Longer and longer every time, it seems.”
She blushed. “Well… last night I decided to try out the potion I’ve been pretending to take.”
She searched for something else to say, studying the features of his face, hoping he wouldn't pull his hand away from her waist. “I’ve never seen you wear spectacles.”
He dropped his gaze, smiling sheepishly, and removed his glasses, reaching over her to set them on the bedside table. “I’ve probably needed them for years. You were the one who first pointed it out.”
She was delighted when he returned his hand to its resting place on her waist, smoothing the dark cotton of her tee. She glanced down at herself in realization. This wasn’t her tee. It was far too large for her, the dark grey of a black shirt that had been washed a thousand times, with the cracked and faded imprint of a prism across the front. “Pink Floyd?”
He chuckled. “Oh yes, you found that in my old bedroom when you spent the holiday at my childhood home. I don’t believe you ever asked permission to claim it for your own.”
“Well, I suppose I already knew I would have it, didn’t I?”
He hummed his laughter, but his focus seemed to be with his hand gently rubbing up and down from the curve of her hip to the dip of her waist.
Suddenly, she couldn’t seem to meet his eye. Nervousness had welled up out of nowhere in response to his touch. Was he intending to make a move? Did he know the effect he was having on her? Was there even the slightest chance that the Slytherin spy was somehow oblivious to that?
“It’s just strange to think of you listening to Muggle rock,” she rambled nervously.
He smirked at her and somehow she knew he had seen right through her attempt to remain on subject. But he humored her anyway. “I hadn’t listened to it in years,” he said, his voice somehow lower than usual.
Hermione grinned at him. "Well I can't imagine you leaving double potions with Gryffindor and Slytherin to listen to 'Another Brick in the Wall.'" Severus let out a rich laugh at that, tossing his head back to her immense satisfaction.
"Yes, it is true that I learned to sympathise with the teachers in that song, but the heart of its meaning still resonates with me. After all, it is, essentially, a critique of highly standardized education and its role in brainwashing the populace, turning them to mindless sheep. And that, as you well know, is something with which I fervently agree."
"Hmm, I suppose you have a point."
His smile faded and he dropped his gaze to the sheets. "Anyway, I always preferred their classic, ' Hey You .' A painfully insightful song." He cleared his throat. "I had forgotten the power those lyrics had over me. For years, I couldn't listen to it at all."
"But," he continued, meeting her eye with soft fondness and running his hand from her waist to her hip and back, "you… your present self has taken to playing their albums ever since she… you found that old shirt.”
Hermione snorted. “It is strange, isn’t it? Sometimes I feel like I’m the other woman.”
He chuckled dangerously at that. “If you were the other woman, Hermione, ” he growled, leaning toward her and giving her waist an appreciative squeeze, "we'd be beneath the sheets by now.”
Hermione's shock turned to nervous laughter as his devious eyes roved appreciatively down the length of her body.
"We still could, if you like," he continued with a smirk, pulling her a little bit closer and leaning toward her as if to capture her mouth.
Hermione started, making a sort of choking noise in her panic and blushing fiercely as she pressed a hand against his chest. "I-I don't know..." she began, awkwardly.
He pulled away with a small, embarrassed laugh. "Forgive me, Hermione," he growled in a voice still deep with deviousness, "I forget that you aren't accustomed to seeing that side of me. Yet."
She turned her gaze to the sheets, toying with a loose thread. "It's… I don't… mind it."
He pulled away further, wincing as he turned away from her. "Well, that's something I suppose."
"No, I mean… I… want to. I just… I'm just not ready."
“Detention, Mr Zabini,” Severus drawled in a bored voice that hid how furious he was with the entitled prat. “Friday evening, with Mr Filch.”
“Unless you wish to make it the next three Fridays, I suggest you refrain from arguing with me.”
Thankfully the boy had enough sense to remain quiet at that. Severus pinched the bridge of his nose as his students filed out of his classroom. He told himself that his impatience with the smug, handsome Tavin Zabini had nothing to do with his behaviour toward one Hermione Granger. Perhaps the boy’s transgression had been a tad slight to merit detention. After all, Severus hadn’t even given detention to Cato Giordano, who earlier that very day had attempted to swap a bottle of armadillo bile for one containing bubotuber pus —a prank which might have resulted in the explosion of a cauldron and injury to the two Gryffindor girls who had been his target.
But Tavin Zabini needed to be taken down a notch. And he had interrupted his professor one too many times.
Severus sighed. Tonight was Granger’s night to study the Wolfsbane with him and every time he thought about that, his stomach tied itself into knots. What the hell was he doing? He had come so close to revealing his conflicting feelings about her the other night. And for what? She was clearly leading him on, the same way she was leading Neville Longbottom, and now , it seemed, Draco Malfoy as well. He was an arse for thinking it could mean anything.
Still, he couldn’t help but look forward to spending time with her tonight.
Snape sighed impatiently when Hermione entered his office that evening. “Come in, Miss Granger,” he said, pulling himself reluctantly away from his work as if her presence were a terrible inconvenience for him.
“Good evening to you too, Professor,” she replied with a teasing smirk. He ignored her.
They headed into the adjacent lab and began setting out the required ingredients without another word. Hermione couldn’t help but notice the way he bristled at her proximity. There was a strange tension between them that she couldn’t quite shake. She wished the reclusive man would open up to her already and let her see that other side of him; the side she knew so well.
Watching him go about his preparations in stony silence, pointedly avoiding her gaze, she couldn’t help the swell of affection for the man she knew was hiding behind that mask of indifference. She wanted to reach out to him, to bridge that gap. She wanted to whisper secrets to him of the life they could have together, of the moments they would share.
“Focus, Granger,” he snarled. “If you fail to complete this potion correctly, there will be dire consequences for Draco. You wouldn’t want that.”
Hermione rolled her eyes at him, then quirked her lips in a smirk. “I’m ready, Professor. You know I am.”
He hovered over her as she worked, murmuring advice he had already given her on how to properly chop, grind, or juice the various ingredients. It would have been rather annoying had he not also peppered his monotonous litany with the occasional “well done,” and “very good, Miss Granger.” Part of her hated how his praise affected her, but mostly she savored the low thrum of awareness inside of her, which sparked and heated with his proximity and the tone of his low, velvety voice.
But it wasn’t enough. The time was ticking by and a knot in the pit of Hermione’s stomach reminded her that their brewing session would be over soon and they had hardly spoken the entire time. She seized her chance when the first break in concentration on the difficult brew presented itself.
He had broken away from her the moment the timer was set, busying himself with returning the jars of ingredients they no longer needed to their proper places in the cupboard.
“So…” she began, “You, er… you mentioned earlier that you might not stay at Hogwarts much longer.”
He glanced up at her in surprise. “I did. Then again... I might spend the next fifty years here, assuming I live that long.”
She nodded, glancing down at the workbench. “Have you thought at all… about what else you might do? If you left?”
He folded his arms across his chest and leaned against the cabinets behind him. She studied his profile—his hooked nose, the deep furrow of his brow—and knew that he was considering her question very seriously. “I’d like to work for myself. For once ,” he added, bitterly. “I suppose I’d… brew potions for sale. The difficult sort that shouldn’t be made by an amateur. Perhaps invent a few of my own.”
“I could see you doing that.”
He gave her a curious glance, his lip quirking with humor. “Could you?”
She shrugged. “You’ve never liked teaching.”
“No,” he said with a sigh, turning away again. “But I have always loved Hogwarts.” Hermione raised an eyebrow in surprise and he shot her a sad smile. “Does that surprise you? This has been more of a home to me than any other place. A sort of refuge. You can imagine, I’m sure. But… I suppose I could be happy elsewhere. In the country, perhaps. I’ve always been the rare sort who flourishes in solitude. And it is true…” here, he gave her a devious smirk, “that I have always wanted a garden.”
“Well,” said Hermione, seizing upon her opportunity with a grin, “you can always transplant later, can't you? A plot in the greenhouse doesn’t have to be such a commitment, you know.”
“It is a large expense, I’ll grant you, but… it looks as if we’ll be building one with or without you, and I imagine… you could always sell your share of it to the rest of us if or when you decide to leave. Perhaps by then the rest of us will be in a better position to pay for it.”
He studied her for a long moment, nodding thoughtfully, then turned away.
It was another hour before the potion was completed. They stood together, staring down into its depths as the color browned to the proper shade and smoke began to drift up from its surface.
“Well done,” he told her in a low voice that gave nothing away.
“Do you think so?”
“I’ve just said as much.”
“Yes, but… if you had to give it a grade…” she prodded, thinking that this might be her chance at the prophesied ‘O.’
He snorted. “I would say that it is certainly Acceptable.”
“ Acceptable! ” Hermione cried.
"Well, it won't kill him."
“This is a bloody perfect potion, Severus Snape. It deserves at least Exceeds Expectations.”
He hummed with laughter, meeting her eye with a devious smirk. “Not if I expected perfection from you.”
Hermione began to retort, but stopped herself when she recognized the compliment, and blushed. It suddenly seemed as if they were standing too close, as if their faces were too near one another.
He seemed to realize it too. Clearing his throat, he pulled away from her and set about decanting the smoking potion into a large goblet. “You won’t need to attend tomorrow’s session, but you may if you are so inclined.”
“And was Draco’s potion acceptable enough to excuse him too?”
Severus shot her a warning look, but his lip was quirked up at the corner. “Draco’s potion was perfect,” he said, eliciting a gasp of mock outrage from the young witch. He smirked. “However, he will be attending the remainder of the lessons, as he will soon be brewing the potion on his own, and at his own peril.”
A silence stretched between them as they set about cleaning up the workspace. Hermione spent the awkward minutes nervously hoping he would invite her in for tea. When no invitation was forthcoming, however, she found herself standing awkwardly across the bench from him.
He cleared his throat. “Well…” he began, reaching for the goblet of smoking potion, “I suppose I had better take this to Draco.”
“Oh, well… actually, his rooms are on the way back to my own rooms, so… if you like, I can take it up for you.”
His expression darkened momentarily before smoothing over into an impassive mask. “Oh. Well. I suppose… that would be… convenient. Thank you.”
Their fingers barely brushed against each other as she accepted the goblet from him, and yet it seemed as if an electric current had jumped from his skin to hers. She suppressed a shiver and gave him a hesitant smile as she turned to go.
"Do you…” he began with an awkward hesitation for which she could not quite account, “think you will be joining us tomorrow evening?"
She shot him a cheeky grin. "Probably. If that's alright."
She made as if to leave again, but stopped with her hand on the doorknob and turned back to him. "Think about the greenhouse, won't you? It would be fun to grow tea. And... in any case,” she added in a quiet voice, not quite looking at him. “I, for one, would rather you did stick around a bit longer.”
He seemed taken aback by this pronouncement, so she spoke again before he would be forced to make a reply. "Goodnight, Severus."
"Good night… Hermione."
AN: Thank you all so much for your continued support. I meant to post this much sooner, but I’ve been dealing with a lot in my RL and I’m only just getting past some of the worst of it. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your Reviews and Messages encouraging me to return to my writing. With everything going on (in the world, in this country —the USA—and in my personal life) writing stories sometimes feels like a worthless pursuit. It’s hard to remember how much it uplifts me to work on a creative project, but it certainly helps to hear that there are others out there benefitting in some small way from it, too. Comfort is at a premium right now, after all. Anyway, I hope you are all staying safe during these trying times. And I hope things get better soon. I have most of the next chapter ready, so you shouldn’t have to wait so long this time (yes, I’m aware I said that last time…).But in the meantime, please leave a Review ;)
"We missed you for Easter hols."
It took Hermione's mind a moment to catch up. She was standing in the library of 12 Grimmauld and Ginny Weasley was standing in front of her; her arms folded, her eyes downcast. Her tone of voice was casual, but the purse of her lips suggested that she was annoyed.
"I mean," she continued when Hermione had yet to respond, "I know you said Snape had a stressful semester and wanted the holiday with you to himself, but… we hardly see you when school is in session and… he sees you all the time, doesn't he? It just seems a little… controlling, don't you think?"Her sharp brown eyes popped up to Hermione's at that and her jaw was set in that familiar stubborn line.
"W-what?" said Hermione, stalling for time.
“We’re only worried because we care about you,” said Harry, who was standing over by the nearest shelf, doing his best not to meet her eye.
Hermione’s heart was pounding. This could not be happening. She was not ready to defend Severus Snape to her friends right now. But she would probably want herself to do just that, wouldn't she? And her future self would be inheriting an awful mess if she didn't.
Ginny had started to pace and was biting her lip anxiously. “We haven’t brought it up before now because… to be honest… we thought it would fizzle out.”
Harry nodded. He took a step towards Hermione, but couldn’t manage any more than that. “We thought it was a rebound. Or, you know, a-a fling.”
“Maybe even a cry for help.”
“Y-you don’t understand,” Hermione stuttered, her mind buzzing with thought. “He’s really different when you get to know him. He’s… he’s… so clever and… and even… kind .”
There was a snort from the direction of the doorway and they all turned to see Ron standing there. He had a beard now. It was rather handsome on him, though the effect was ruined by a nasty grimace of disgust. “He was a bleeding Death Eater, Hermione. How could you be so thick?”
The shock of seeing Ron for the first time since their breakup snapped Hermione’s mind into focus. The nerve . How dare he stand there and presume to tell her how awful her current lover was when he had been such a shite one himself? “That’s not fair and you know it,” she growled. It wasn’t even a good argument. They’d been over all of this before. Who knew better than the three of them what Snape had risked? What he had done? “Yes, he made some awful mistakes when he was young, but he spent twenty years making up for it. He proved his loyalty to the Cause. He almost died!”
“Oh sure, and now he does charity work for sick kids on the weekends, does he?”
Hermione bit her tongue. She couldn’t tell Ron about Severus’s work on the Wolfsbane. How could he know any better?
Ron’s face was twisted with disgust. “He was a spy , Hermione. A master manipulator. Look what happened to the last two people who trusted him. The two most powerful wizards on the planet. The two best Legilimens! And you think you’ve got it right about him? You think you understand him better than they did? I think you’re a damn fool.”
Hermione’s temper flared and a certainty she hadn't had before suddenly rose to the surface. "You think you know him better than I do? You have no idea. Who was it defending him all those years when everyone else thought he was a dark wizard? And I turned out to be right all along, didn’t I? So maybe you should be trusting my judgment now.”
Ginny reached for her hand, giving her a pitying glance. “Maybe he’s not evil ,” she said in a gratingly patient voice, “but that’s a low bar, isn’t it? This is Snape we’re talking about. He’s not exactly Prince Charming.”
“You don’t understand. None of you understand my relationship with him because you're not like us! Like... me . When I’m with him, the time slips away. We can talk for hours on end without ever getting bored. Or we can work together in silence and neither one of us takes offense that the other isn't talking. We’re both the sort of people who love to learn new things; to philosophize and to read…”
“So what!” Ron had gone red in the face. “You want a bloke who reads, you can find a bloke who reads! There are plenty of them out there, you know. Much nicer blokes that the bleeding Greasy Git!”
Gin squeezed Hermione’s hand, shooting a warning glare at her brother. "We’re just saying you haven't had many choices, that's all. Do you really think Snape is the only man out there who likes to talk about potions and theoretical magic or whatever? I know he isn't exactly a Death Eater anymore, but I still think it's a red flag that he wouldn’t let you visit us. It’s like he wants you all to himself. Like... he's afraid we'll snap you out of this spell."
Hermione jerked her hand away and crossed her arms across her chest. "You're being absurd. You and Harry see each other all the time, but if the both of you had a couple of weeks off work at the same time, don't tell me you wouldn't want to take a romantic trip together. And if you did, no one would think it was because Harry was too jealous to let you spend your holiday with all the rest of your friends."
Ginny rolled her eyes, huffing with exasperation, but she had no response.
"I appreciate the concern. I know you're only trying to look out for me. But you have to trust me on this one. I'm not an idiot you know."
"We know that, Hermione. It's just… we never see you anymore. It isn't the same. And… well… it just always seemed like bad timing, you know? You have to admit, Snape does seem like the opportunistic type, and… you were in a vulnerable place."
Hermione's eyes went wide. "Is that what you think?" She was shaking her head absently. "No. It wasn't like that at all. I was the one who pursued him. He was positively coy about it."
Ginny snorted. "Snape, coy? If that’s true, it’s probably only because he didn’t know what you were doing. Can’t imagine that’s something he’s especially familiar with.” She smirked at Harry. “Which is another reason… I mean… obviously you really care about him, but… how do you even know he truly cares about you? He’s never struck me as the romantic sort. Possessive, sure. Even obsessive , given his past. But... it seems to me he’s telling you what you want to hear because… again... he’s a master manipulator and you’re… honestly... the only witch who’s really… available . I mean, it’s not like he’s got a lot of choices, has he? If you really did come on strong, I can't imagine him passing up that opportunity.”
Hermione was shaking her head. "You're just going to have to trust me, Gin. Severus and I are connected on a much deeper level than that. It’s much more than just physical. It’s cerebral and personal in ways I’ve… I’ve honestly never connected with anyone before, romantic or otherwise." It hurt to say that aloud in front of her friends, but they had brought it upon themselves, after all, accosting her this way. “Not to mention affectionate. Caring , in the deepest sense. I know it’s unconventional. I know he’s not the obvious choice. Honestly, if… events hadn’t unfolded as they did… it might never have occurred to me that we would make a good match. But we do . And that’s what matters. And I’m sorry, but you’re just going to have to trust me on that.”
The door creaked open and Arthur Weasley’s head appeared, his hair streaked with a bit more white than it had been the last time she saw him. “Ah, there you are. We were about to get started. Is everyone ready?”
Hermione looked around at her friends and took her cue from them to nod. They still seemed to bristle a bit as they slipped out into the hall, but Hermione felt as if she’d just finished her last exam of the season. A weight had been lifted that she hadn’t noticed hanging around her shoulders until now that it was gone. The issue wasn’t resolved; far from it. Clearly her friends were still unhappy about her relationship with Severus. But she had survived a confrontation with them about it. And now she knew it wasn’t impossible.
She followed the others down to the cramped, basement kitchen. The muffled sound of murmured conversations met them on the stairs and upon reaching the bottom Hermione saw that the kitchen was full. It was like stepping into the past (as opposed to the future, ha!). Every Order member still alive was there, congregating around the table as they used to do. Molly was fussing over something in the corner. Kingsley was pouring himself a glass of champagne. Bill and Fleur were signing what appeared to be a guest book.
There were a few new people, too. Luna Lovegood was nodding serenely in response to the babbling monologue of a small child with toy dragons in each of his fists. Draco Malfoy was hiding behind a teacup and nodding occasionally at whatever Neville was saying to Padma Patil. Parvati and Lavender were giggling and blushing at Charlie, who appeared to be telling a very exciting story. And there beside Aberforth Dumbledore, tucked away in the corner with his back to the wall, was the stiffly uncomfortable form of Severus Snape.
Hermione caught his eye and navigated the crowded room toward him. “Hello professor,” she murmured when she had reached his side.
He blinked at her. “Granger?”
She nodded. “Is this some sort of celebration?”
“The Third Annual Battle of Hogwarts Order Remembrance Celebration.”
Hermione gasped. “The third? How is it the third already?”
“Potter started this little tradition the summer after you started teaching.”
“But… but then…” That would mean that they were three and a half years in the future! She glanced around in shock at the gathered crowd. No wonder they all looked so much older. And the child talking to Luna… that was Teddy Lupin, she realized. And Molly was turning away from the corner, cradling a baby in her arms. A baby! Whose baby was that? Had that much time passed since her first premonition? Or had it taken her that long to accept this future? She was afraid to ask. She wasn’t sure she ought to know. Certainly, she didn’t want too much detail, but… “How long have I been… visiting you?”
Severus opened his mouth to respond, then closed it and seemed to consider. Someone was calling their attention, clinking a spoon against a glass. But Hermione paid them no mind. Her eyes were fixed on those of her lover as he calculated his response. Finally, he turned his full attention onto her, giving her that infuriating blank stare that she knew meant he didn’t want to tell her too much. And all he said, in a low voice, as Harry started into what was sure to be a very touching speech, was “a while.”
“I don’t know how you managed it,” Draco teased mysteriously as they headed down to dinner Friday night.
“Convincing Severus to go in on the greenhouse.”
Hermione’s step faltered and her heart skipped a beat. “ Did he?! ”
Draco nodded, sending her a wink as he headed toward his chair beside Neville. Hermione sat heavily in her own chair, staring down at her plate without seeing a thing. He had decided to stay. Was it because of what she had said? He had been awfully quiet during breakfast and lunch, but not in the grouchy taciturn way he usually was. More… calm; confident.
When he didn’t show up to dinner, Hermione couldn’t stand it. She knew she’d be seeing him in half an hour for the Wolfsbane lesson, but she just couldn’t wait until then. Already, she was imagining the new greenhouse; where it would go, what they would grow, how the Weeping Cactuses would need to be separated. How they would be a success. She knew they would. She had already seen it. What a beautiful gift this Curse had given her! She would change lives with this knowledge!
Leaving her half-eaten plate on the table, she slipped out of the Great Hall and practically ran all the way to his office.
“Good evening,” she sang, beaming up at him.
He gave her a long, blank stare before dropping his gaze to his grading. “You’ve heard.”
“Yes, Draco’s just told me. I can’t tell you how excited I am! This is going to be brilliant! You’ll see.”
“Have you thought any more about the Wolfsbane? About your altered version, I mean?”
“I…” she hesitated. “I may have asked Neville… in theory… whether or not he would be able to grow them…”
At this, he set down his quill and gave her his full attention, his face set in a scowl. “Did you.”
“Yes. I know. I’m sorry. I couldn’t help myself. I promise I haven’t mentioned anything to Draco. But I just… got carried away, I suppose.” She was pacing the length of his office, now. “I mean… do you know what this would mean? If Neville can grow them—and he thinks he probably can—this could change the lives of werewolves all across Britain! Or even… eventually… the world! Granted, the ingredients are expensive…”
“And the brewing is, obviously, quite an undertaking…”
“But those are solvable problems! We could apply for a grant! Muggles do that all the time. If the Ministry subsidized the effort, we could provide life-altering potions to the werewolf population for… sickles!”
“Most werewolves are outcast from the Magical world. Think of it! They could be re-integrated into society.”
“Not to mention it would vastly reduce the spread of infection…”
“In a generation or so the stigma of being a werewolf could be all but erased!”
She blinked up at him in surprise. He was leaning over his desk now, his hands firmly planted on the surface, an expression of bemused exasperation on his face.
“You are getting ahead of yourself. You have no idea whether Longbottom will be able to grow the cactuses. We haven’t even bought the greenhouse yet. And my notes on the subject were more idle musings than serious calculations…” He broke off, clearly taken off guard by her determined grin.
“It will work. I know it will.” At his skeptical frown, she stepped up to his desk. “In any case, if this method fails, we can try something else. This is only the start, and isn’t it… invigorating? ”
His Adam's apple bobbed, but he didn’t look away. “Any particular reason why you’ve chosen this as the subject of your next... pet... project?”
Hermione dropped her gaze to her desk. How could she explain her certainty to him? And didn’t her excitement stem from that? After working so long for the Greater Good, not knowing whether or not her efforts would be in vain, she might have been as jaded and hesitant as he was about it if she hadn’t known they would succeed. If it weren’t for her dreams, she’d likely be reluctant to put so much hope into something that might very possibly fail.
“I suppose I was inspired when I saw your notes,” she began, not dishonestly. “It made me realize something. Something I’ve been missing, I suppose. Voldemort is vanquished, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a million other ways we can still work to improve the world. And I have to admit… I miss that feeling. Working tirelessly to solve a problem. Putting my all into something, you know? And imagining the good that might be accomplished if we succeed.”
His face was blank, but his calm was belied by the way he flinched when a knock came at the door.
Draco looked genuinely sheepish when he saw that both of them were already there. “Oh… I, er… hope I’m not interrupting.”
“So… Severus… “ Draco began with a sly grin after he had downed the smoking goblet a few hours later, “I have a very serious biochemical/metabolic question for you.”
Severus shot him a suspicious glare.
“How long after consumption of the Wolfsbane potion may one partake of... recreational substances?”
“You will have to be a bit more specific.”
Draco smirked, sending Granger a playful wink. “I was thinking at least one round of Ogden’s Old before we switch to something frothy and chilled.”
Severus sighed. “It is probably unwise for you to drink anything so close to the full moon, but… as we are still a few days away, I would say… at least an hour ought to mitigate the effects of any interaction between substances in your system.”
“Excellent. Will that be long enough for the two of you to get ready?”
Both sets of eyebrows raised in unison.
“What are you on about?” asked Granger.
“Oh come on,” said Draco, giving them his most charming Malfoy grin, “it’s Friday night and we have a lot to celebrate, don’t we? I thought we could discuss plans for the greenhouse over a couple of pints.”
“Oh! Yes, let’s do!”
“Amusing as your proposition is, Draco…”
“Come on, Uncle. There’s this swanky new place in Diagon Alley and I know for a fact neither of you has rounds tonight.”
Severus glanced at Granger. She was practically bouncing on her toes at the prospect of discussing their plans for the greenhouse. He let out a dramatic sigh then bowed his head in acquiescence. Letting Draco drag him into this would be worth it for the promise of watching Granger light up with excitement again. Seeing that radiant, hopeful smile of hers made a tight ache form inside him from somewhere deep beneath his breastbone all the way down to his groin.
“Excellent,” said Draco, practically rubbing his hands together with whatever mischief he was planning. “Well Granger, I suppose you’d better fetch Longbottom as well. He’ll probably want a say in the plans.”
Severus nearly groaned.
Hermione was running late. She was determined to wear her Muggle jeans out tonight (Severus Snape had expressed a preference for them, after all), but she was having trouble finding any that fit. Even her stretchiest pair were a bit snug.
It shouldn't have bothered her. She was still quite slender. But studying herself in the mirror, she couldn't help but notice the faint curve of her stomach and the relative fullness of her behind, and remember the photograph she'd seen of Amandine. Perhaps she should go easy on the French toast next time.
Neville was waiting for her in the Entrance Hall. “I er… bumped into Dr-Malfoy. He er… said we should go on and they’ll meet us there.”
"Sounds good," she said to cover her smirk.
Elixirs was full nearly to capacity, witches and wizards of all ages congregating around the elegant columns and lounging in the many squashy couches and chairs. There was nowhere left to sit, but Hermione and Neville got drinks at one of the black marble bars and found a nice corner to stand in.
It was a shock to see so many unfamiliar magical faces in one place. And these were not the harried mothers and business folk normally rushing about in droves in Diagon Alley. There was a disproportionate number of handsome young wizards in well-tailored robes or even Muggle attire. Hermione had not realized there were so many young people in Wizarding Britain who hadn’t attended Hogwarts. To her shame, she remembered Ron’s words in her dream last night and wondered for the first time whether she might be better suited to another bookish wizard more her age.
Apparently it was the bar’s first anniversary of being in business. Hermione had not realized it had been around so long. A number of beautiful witches wearing elegant black robes in various styles and cuts weaved in and out of the enormous crowd with silver trays of drinks. By the way they lifted their trays up over the heads of customers and practically danced about through the chaos, Hermione was sure the trays were Charmed not to tip.
It was a surprise when Severus Snape and Draco Malfoy appeared in front of them—she had not seen them come in—and the sudden appearance of the man who haunted her dreams, in all his elegant, powerful glory, made Hermione’s breath catch in her throat.
“Busy night,” said Draco, lifting his eyebrows in surprise. He glanced between Hermione and Neville, then up at his godfather. When no one spoke, he nodded awkwardly and took a long sip of his drink.
Before any of them could break the silence, one of the beautiful witches in black appeared between them with her silver tray. “Shots?” she asked in a sultry voice that immediately grated on Hermione’s nerves. She was tall and slender with silky, raven hair and skin so pale she rivaled Severus. It made the bright red of her lips pop in the dim lighting of the room.
“Is it Ogden’s?” asked Draco, eyeing the tiny cut crystal glasses full of amber liquid.
She gave a throaty laugh—a completely unmerited one, mind—and shook her head. “It is of our own devising. A new brand to celebrate our first year in business. We’re calling it ' Heat.' ” As she spoke the word, she tilted her lovely face up to Severus Snape, her deep brown eyes meeting his from beneath her sultry lashes. Jealousy blossomed in Hermione’s chest, sending flushes of angry heat across her skin.
“How droll,” said Severus. “Is it any good?”
“Surprisingly good, yes. A little on the sweet side, but it’s two for a Galleon tonight.”
“Well, I suppose we will have to have a round then.”
The witch nodded, holding her tray out so that they could each take a tiny glass. “We also have a sweet caramel brandy, for those with delicate palates,” she purred, gesturing to a smaller selection of glasses full of what looked like thick, golden-brown syrup before glancing pointedly at Hermione who glared and lifted a shot of Heat off the tray.
“And put it on my tab,” Severus continued. “I’m…”
“Oh I know who you are,” said the witch, shooting him a teasing smirk as she turned and sauntered away.
Neville let out a low whistle, waggling his eyebrows at Severus. It was all Hermione could do to keep from glaring openly at him.
“Well then,” Severus began again, acting for all the world as if he hadn’t noticed Neville or the witch. “Shall we toast to our imminent enterprise in gardening?”
“To gardening!” said Draco and Neville together. Hermione only managed a smile.
They took turns buying shots every time one of the flirtatious waitresses approached. Severus was surprised that Granger was still keeping up with him. Longbottom had opted to switch to the caramel brandy on their second round and Draco had begged off after only a few. But the petite witch was swaying on her feet now, laughing heartily at everything any of them said and laying her hands on both his and Longbottom’s arms whenever she spoke to them. Severus suspected she would have treated Draco to the same delicate tease had he been standing next to her.
He was so intoxicated by the allure of Granger’s proximity—her laughter, her rosy cheeks, the bounce of her riotous curls, the shape of her bum and thighs so apparent in her jeans—that he hadn’t quite arrived at the bout of self-loathing that usually accompanied such a binge of Firewhisky.
That is, until he left his little group for a much needed piss and noticed a group not unlike his own standing in another niche alongside the bar. A petite blonde with a disproportionately ample bosom very much on display in her bright red dress was juggling the attention of three blubbering buffoons, laughing prettily and clutching at the bare V of her exposed breasts in a most obviously contrived way.
No sooner had he noticed this transparent example of male idiocy than he recognized the tableau for the mirror of his own group that it was. Disgust welled up inside of him and he found himself reluctant to return to his party. It was then the raven-haired waitress who had been flirting with him all night appeared at his elbow, this time without her silver tray.
“I hope you aren’t leaving,” she purred.
“That’s a shame. I was hoping I could persuade you to have a drink with me.”
Severus considered her. There was no denying that she was a beautiful witch, delusional motivations aside. Why shouldn’t he allow himself to enjoy her company while Granger insisted on toying with him?
“I suppose that would be agreeable.”
Where was he? Hermione craned her neck around for the millionth time, not that Draco and Neville had noticed her preoccupation. They were all but ignoring her, arguing lightheartedly about the merits of caramel brandy.
“Oi! Look at Snape!” said Neville.
Hermione’s head swivelled around. The crowd had shifted and she caught sight of him—of them . A shock of jealousy rooted her to the spot. The raven-haired beauty was standing far too close to the tall wizard, sipping at her own drink and batting her eyelashes at him. And he was enjoying it! There was a confidence to the teasing smirk she had often had directed at herself, and Hermione burned with envy at the sight of it.
“Good for him!” Neville cheered. “Blimey, they make a striking couple don’t they?”
Draco cleared his throat and made as if to argue the point, but clearly couldn't bring himself to lie outright.
If only she could amend her confrontation with Ginny in her dreams last night. After all, it was very apparent that Severus Snape did have options. In fact, he looked like he was considering taking one of them home.
Another of those blasted, gorgeous waitresses appeared and Hermione accepted another shot. Part of her seemed to think she could chase away this irrational hurt. And it was irrational, wasn’t it? He wasn’t hers. She had no claim on him. She wasn’t even sure she wanted to lay claim to him. Hadn’t she just been wondering whether she might find a more compatible match than Severus Snape?
Glancing up at the beautiful witch currently staring with intent into her lover’s eyes, Hermione realized for the first time that this wasn’t only her choice. Severus Snape had options, too. She hadn’t argued with Ginny’s presumption that she was a catch for him, but… what if that wasn’t really true?
“Hermione, are you okay?”
“What?” Neville’s face was swimming. “Oh. Yes. Fine. I just… need the loo.”
Walking took more concentration than Hermione had anticipated, but somehow she managed to weave through the spinning, lurching crowd. A curvy waitress with flaming red hair and the face of a cinema actress offered her another shot somewhere halfway to the bathroom and Hermione accepted without a second thought.
Her eyes were bloodshot in the mirror. Her hair was a riot. She was a mess—had been a mess for a long time. What was she thinking?
She had thought she could take her time making her decision; that it was all up to her. But that raven-haired beauty seemed to match Severus in a way Hermione never would. It had never occurred to her that she might not be the most attractive witch to seek out the older wizard’s attention. Stupid stupid stupid. He was a war hero! He was beloved by the Magical community now. Witches probably flocked to him! Just as every single blasted one of the waitresses had all night. She should have known.
Lurching out of the bathroom, Hermione stumbled back in the direction of her little group. The room was spinning. It was too hot and there were too many people. Strangers. Tall, handsome wizards chatting excitedly with so many beautiful witches. Nobody seemed to notice her.
She pushed her way toward the wall, thinking there would be more space to navigate around the edges of the room. But she stopped short. There, on one of the sofas that had been tucked away into a shadowy corner, was Ron Weasley. And he was currently stuffing his tongue down Amandine’s throat.
It shouldn’t have hurt. She already knew this would probably happen. But something in the way Ron’s hands groped the petite but voluptuous blonde made a searing sting of hurt lash through her chest. She was sure he had never touched her like that. So eager and desperate. She was wearing a slinky red dress that clung to her figure, much bolder than anything Hermione had ever worn. And suddenly she was the frumpy, bookish girl again. The one no one noticed. The one no one wanted. Forever the outsider looking in.
She turned away, shoving back through the crowd the long way around, tears pricking in her eyes. This was a nightmare. There were people everywhere. Swaying. The lights too dim. The music suddenly too loud. Her head was pounding and her eyes were swimming and she was pretty sure she was going to be sick.
And then there was Severus. And he was like a beacon of hope. She would be safe with Severus. Without even thinking, she stumbled into his tall frame, wrapping her arms about his torso with a whimper.
He had been trying to excuse himself from his conversation with the lovely but incredibly dull brunette when Granger veritably tackled him. His wand was out of his sleeve in an instant and his arm wrapped protectively around her shoulders. “Granger? What’s happened?” he barked, expecting there to be some danger chasing after her.
“We need to go,” she moaned, looking up at him with glassy, red-rimmed eyes. Clearly she had not been handling the Firewhiskey quite as well as he had thought. Her eyes were practically crossed with drunkenness. But his traitorous heart gave a little leap at the realization that she had sought him out to save her. We need to go , she had said. We.
He excused himself from the brunette and guided Hermione toward the Floo. He was too drunk, himself, to Apparate, especially side-along, but perhaps the walk from Hogsmeade to the castle would be beneficial for her anyway. Throwing down a generous portion of Floo powder, Severus named The Three Broomsticks for their destination and ushered her into the flames.
Granger took two steps into Madam Rosmerta’s bustling establishment and promptly vomited all over the polished, wooden floor. Severus was quick with his Evanesco, but several of the bar’s patrons jerked away in disgust.
“So so sorry,” she was blubbering.
“Shh, it’s alright,” he murmured, some instinct he hadn’t known he had rising to the surface in that moment to comfort her. It was strange. He couldn’t imagine this scenario playing out with any other person of his acquaintance. Not even Draco, and they were practically kin. He had known that he was growing fond of the bushy-haired Gryffindor, but now he couldn’t deny that he cared for her, too.
The night was cold and Severus kept a protective arm around Hermione as they made the trek to the castle grounds. She had to stop once along the way to vomit in the bushes, and Severus cast a quick Charm to tie her hair up out of her face.
“I’m so so sorry,” she whimpered when she stood, and he saw that there were tear tracks down her cheeks. “I’m an utter dolt. I’ve ruined your night.”
“Don’t be absurd.”
“You were talking to that perfect , gorgeous witch. All’ve them were so so gorgeous and slender and perfect and you could have any one of them!”
Severus’s heart skipped a beat. Was she actually jealous? Was she insinuating that she had some interest in him, herself? But she had spent the whole night laughing at everything Longbottom said and teasing Draco and practically ignoring him.
“I know it shouldn’t hurt,” she was saying, and Severus realized he had been so shocked by her pronouncement that he had completely tuned out her words. “Ron and I were never good together. Never good. I knew it wouldn’t work and I knew he wanted her , but to see it…” she was actually blubbering, now, wiping her face with the sleeve of her jumper, muttering something about a blonde and a thigh gap. He didn’t know how to respond.
She was stumbling so bad, he wrapped his arm around her and she surprised him by stopping short and turning to bury her face in his chest and wrap her arms around him. She had done as much back at the lounge, but he had reacted as if to a threat that time. This time, however, it was impossible to keep from noticing how soft and small she was in his embrace. Her breasts were squashed against his torso and he could smell her hair. His hands had gone immediately to the small of her back and were resting awkwardly on the waistband of her jeans. He couldn’t help his body’s reaction to her and had to gently untangle himself from her before she took notice.
“I’m sorry,” she said again, and she sounded a bit clearer, now. Her crying had slowed and she stumbled a little less as they continued along the path.
“Don’t be,” he murmured, appalled when his voice came out rough with suppressed arousal.
He guided her all the way back to the castle and up to her rooms where she promptly vomited again and sobbed as she splashed cold water on her face. She was shaking visibly. He hated to leave her in such a state. “I will return momentarily,” he told her before sweeping out the door and down to his rooms for a few potions. When he returned, she was sitting on the bathroom floor with her back to the wall, her head tilted back and an expression of misery on her face.
“I hate that you’re seeing me like this,” she moaned.
“Drink this,” he told her, ignoring her words and holding out the first bottle. “My own variant of a Sober-up potion. It acts a little slower, but with far fewer side-effects.”
“This one is a mild anti-inflammatory,” he said as he handed her the second. “And this one. Electrolyte solution.”
“I’m n-never drinking again,” she told him, when she had swallowed the last of the phials.
He smirked. “Yes you will.”
She shot him a wry grin, but then her face crumpled with misery again and tears rolled down her cheeks. “I’m so stupid. Rattling on about Ron. I thought I was over him.”
“You cared deeply for him. He was an important part of your life. It is only natural for you to have lingering emotions.”
“I wish I had never gotten together with him in the first place.”
Severus sighed and surprised them both by easing himself down the wall to sit beside her. His joints creaked like those of an old man and he questioned the wisdom of such a gesture, especially considering he would soon have to stand back up. Perhaps the Firewhiskey was still pulsing a little stronger in his blood than he had realized.
“We never wanted the same things,” she continued, through renewed tears. “I always knew, from the very beginning, that Ronald Weasley wanted a horde of children. And… and I don’t think I want any at all. Is that terrible?”
“And we have none of the same interests. We bore each other to tears. Not like… not like…” she trailed off and he noticed a blush on her lovely cheeks. His breath hitched. Was she saying what he thought she was saying? But no, she could just as easily be referring to Longbottom, or Draco.
“But it still hurt to see him with her , and she’s everything I’m not. Effortlessly sexy and feminine. Like those blasted waitresses that kept flirting with you all night. I thought—I thought,” her breath hitched on a sob, “that one with the perfect black hair… she was so slender and… and… and I could hardly get my arse in my jeans tonight!”
He glanced at her in astonishment. That this beautiful witch could be so unsure of herself. “Is that what you’re worried about? Your arse?”
She nodded, not looking at him, tears tracing across her cheek.
He couldn’t stop himself from laughing. Perhaps it was from shock, or from relief, but she was obviously offended, so he shook his head. “Perhaps you are an utter dolt after all."
"What! Why? "
"Why? Because, Hermione…" he scoffed, shaking his head, "your arse is…” there was no other word for it, “ outstanding. ”
Shocked laughter bubbled up from beneath her tears and then she gasped and turned bodily toward him, grabbing onto his arm with both of her hands. “Severus Snape! Did you just give me an ‘O’?!”
He was already regretting his slip of the tongue. Clearly he was still very much under the influence. Perhaps he should have taken his own Sobering Tonic.
But his worries fell away as he met her eye. They were so close he could see her pupils dilate. A jolt of arousal shot straight down to his groin and he had to adjust his legs as his cock hardened in anticipation. She wanted him. He knew it in that moment. Possibilities flashed through his mind. He could pull her to him right here, hold her in his arms, her soft perfect body tight against his own.
She leaned closer, her intent obvious, and Severus panicked. She was drunk. He was drunk. This was madness. She had been crying over Ronald Weasley only moments ago. He didn’t want to ruin the tentative friendship they had formed over one stupid, drunken mistake. So he pulled away, clearing his throat and not looking at her.
“I should go. You… need your rest…”
“Okay,” she breathed. That was definitely not a note a disappointment in her voice.
“Let me know if you need any more… potions… in the morning.”
“Thank you. For everything.”
He struggled to his feet and she followed him, not quite meeting his eye. The bathroom was suddenly too small for the both of them. Every move he made felt awkward and stilted. He strode through her bedroom—certainly not noticing her large, comfortable-looking bed—and straight through her living space toward the door.
She was right behind him. “Severus?”
“Do you think… tomorrow… we could make tea? You promised to show me…”
“If you like.”
“Lovely.” She smiled up at him then, looking so beautiful and flushed, and he had another panicked impulse to flee.
AN: Sorry for the wait! Again… :/ The good news is I have the rest of the story outlined! The bad news is wrangling the characters into following that outline tends to take more time than just seeing where they go with it, so hence the delays in posting. I’m learning! Anyway, I hope y’all enjoyed this chapter. I know many of you have been waiting eagerly for her to get that ‘O.’ And you know what that meeeeans! ;)
Once again, thank you all SO MUCH for the Reviews. They’ve been a light in the dark this summer, haha. I can’t tell you how much it has meant to me. And I’ll try to post the next update soon!