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Pride of Time

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Anti-Litigation Charm: I do not own.

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"Looks like you made up with Snivellus," Sirius said with a nod at the Slytherin table the next morning as he stabbed his sausage with a fork.

Hermione glanced up from her own breakfast, eyeing him suspiciously. "How can you tell?"

Sirius grinned at her. "He's limping."

Hermione turned her gaze over to the Slytherin table, where Severus was picking up his bookbag and making his way toward the doors. Indeed, he was limping. Slightly. "How do you know I had anything to do with that?"

"Because if it wasn't us, it had to be you," James said, with an unsympathetic smirk in Severus's direction as he exited the hall. The smile suddenly slid off his face. "I suppose that means you're going back to spending time with him?"

"Inevitably," Hermione agreed.

"I think that's a bad decision," Lily said, glancing over at Hermione and letting out a sigh. "Next time—"

"Next time, I'll send him to the Hospital Wing and then we'll kiss and make up," Hermione responded sarcastically, taking a stab at her eggs. "Business as usual."

The boys visibly gagged at this.

Lily let out another sigh, and then seemed to drop the matter. Hermione couldn't tell if she was genuinely concerned about her, still angry with Severus for the incident that had caused their breakup, or a mixture of both. She suspected the lattermost possibility.

"I suppose this means they're not allowed to hex him," Remus said mildly, looking up from his book, which he had propped up against his goblet of pumpkin juice.

James and Sirius glared at him good-naturedly, if such a thing were at all possible.

~o~O~o~

"You're still limping, I see," Hermione said, nodding at Severus's leg as he made his way over to their table later that evening. He slid his bag off his shoulder and onto the table where it landed with a heavy thud, and pulled out his Arithmancy text.

He scowled at her. "Thanks to you, I might add."

"You deserved it," Hermione said, grinning up sheepishly at him.

"Not that I'll ever admit it," he muttered, before sliding into the seat next to her.

And just like that, it was as though nothing had happened. They worked on Arithmancy together, arguing over the petty details, before diverting their attention to separate assignments. It was not until Hermione began working on her Defense Against the Dark Arts homework that she realized something was amiss.

"This may sound slightly paranoid," she said, examining her assignment, "but it seems to me as though Faulkner is assigning us more dueling spells. I feel like he's preparing us for something."

Severus gave her a nasty, superior grin. "So what if he is?"

Hermione gave him a suspicious stare.

"You know something," she stated.

He leaned back in his chair, gingerly crossing his legs, and gave her a smug, self-satisfied sneer. "So what if I do?"

Hermione studied his face for a moment, and then with a complacent smile, turned away to resume her work. "Then I suppose I'll just have to wait to find out."

He stared at Hermione for a full minute, as though he could scarcely believe what she had said, and turned around in his chair to face her. "You're not going to impersonate the bloody Spanish inquisition and interrogate me for hints?"

"Of course not," Hermione said with a huff, frowning down at her assignment. "You probably wouldn't tell me even if I asked, and I don't need garbled hints in order to do well in my classes."

"You are a dry, withered-up bookworm," Severus muttered sourly, glaring down at his Transfiguration essay. "You lack that necessary bit of humanity that allows for entertainment."

Hermione turned to give him an exasperated look. "Begging you for hints would hardly be fun for me!"

"So was being kicked in the bollocks, but that didn't seem to stop you," Severus said, re-inking his quill and starting a new paragraph of his essay. "I'm sure you enjoyed that."

"As a matter of fact, I did not!"

"Of course you would say that, in the interest of resuming diplomatic international relationships—"

Hermione groaned and buried her face in her hands. "You are never going to let me live that down, are you?"

"Probably not." Severus peered down at her face, which was now suitably smudged with ink. "And I do believe you've just decorated your face with your fingerprints."

Hermione looked down at her hands, the tips of which were smeared with ink, and groaned.

The rest of February passed quite uneventfully. March was interrupted mid-way by a ridiculously heavy snowstorm, landing the school in over three feet of snow. Severus actually stood back to watch with sneering amusement as Hermione helped pull a first-year Hufflepuff out of a snowdrift he had fallen into; the poor boy was so short that when he had tried to step into it, he had sunk in over his chest, lost his balance, and landed face-first into the snow, flailing helplessly. It was somewhat absurd to witness. Nevertheless, that day, he had a very good excuse for being fifteen minutes late to Herbology.

By the end of March, the incident that had driven Hermione and Severus apart during February had fairly blown over and been delegated to the back of their minds with all the other fuzzy memories they had of earlier school years. Hermione had tucked it away with her memories concerning the time Harry and Ron had not been on speaking terms early on in fourth year.

Ironically, on April 1st, panic concerning the upcoming exams actually began to settle into the students when Professor Faulkner, in a joke that involved the rest of the staff, informed the students that they would be taking their exams in early May rather than the middle of June.

The flurry this caused in the Great Hall had been utterly absurd. There were several screams, two fainting students who had to be carried up to see Madam Pomfrey, and a flurry of papers as the students all dug into their bags to check that they actually had their notes. Those who did not quite literally tripped over their seats trying to find the housemates who they knew actually took comprehensive notes. It was very nearly raw chaos, and Hermione had not been apart from it. She was among the students who had been frantically checking her notebook and the lesson syllabi that the teachers had passed out earlier that year, and had nearly lost it when the full implication hit her that she would only have one full week to study before her exams.

It took three sharp bangs from Faulkner's wand to regain the students' attention long enough to inform them that it had been nothing more than a joke. The normally strict and austere Defense professor's eyes were crinkled with laughter, and he received a chaos-strewn hall full of glares for his trouble.

But if Faulkner's desired outcome of the prank was to raise the students' awareness that their finals were not as far off as they would like to imagine, it worked spectacularly well. Exam fever had gripped the students, and in the upcoming weeks, Hermione helped Lily, James, and Remus crack down on the illicit trade that had sprung up among the students. Students claiming to have magical objects of great value in regards to boosting testing performance had their would-be miracle ingredients confiscated and, if Hermione was able to report them to the prefects, detention. Students were now bargaining copies of notes as though they were money—which Lily put a stop to by making free copies of her own meticulous notes and passing them around—and they could be more often found studying than slacking off.

Exams began looming over their heads like an oncoming stormcloud, and by May, amid the thunderstorms that raged against the castle walls, it had the motif to match. Between reviewing the year's notes and taking turns questioning each other during their evenings in the library, Hermione could not help feeling a pit of dread welling up in her gut whenever she look at Severus. In less than two months, he would be gone. Graduated. As would Lily, James, Sirius, Remus, Frank, Alice, Marlene, and all the other seventh years. This thankfully incuded Pettigrew, who Hermione had never really learned to like (much to the confusion of the other Marauders, and it was a secret that she kept painfully locked away) but it meant that all of her friends would be gone, too.

Already, she felt piteously alone.

What would happen to Severus once he left? Would he take the Dark Mark immediately? Was he planning on pursuing further study in the art of Potions on his own time? Where would he go? Did he even consider keeping in touch with her while she completed her seventh year? What would happen to her?

She kept her worries bottled tightly in her heart, and instead poured her efforts into spending as much time with her friends as possible while also studying for the ever-nearing exams. By this time, she had resumed being on good terms with Lily: the green-eyed girl never brought Severus up in conversation unless in passing, and they worked well together when it came to reviewing and sniffing out students who were trying to dupe their fellows into buying useless junk that allegedly produced miracles.

She also discovered that James and Lily were planning to marry in a quiet ceremony sometime within the year, as soon as they had graduated. Sirius and Pettigrew were, of course, invited. James personally took Hermione aside to ask if she would do them the honor of attending.

Hermione had mixed feelings on the matter. Their wedding was planned during the following school year, which was a good excuse in of itself, but the fact of the matter was that she simply didn't feel it was her place to be in those memories. Pictures would be taken. Harry would get the remains of those memories from Hagrid, and they would be all he would have left of his parents. But James and Lily were her good friends, and if nothing else, she felt she should be there for them at this special moment in their lives. James was inviting his very closest friends, and Hermione was truly honored to be considered among them.

She therefore accepted—only to be pulled into a bear-hug by James, and then later informed by Lily that she would like Hermione to be her Maid of Honor.

"I know we haven't always seen eye to eye," the woman admitted sheepishly, smiling warmly, "but you've been an incredibly good friend to us, and I would like you to be there in that stead."

"Of course," Hermione answered with genuine enthusiasm.

"Oh, Hermione!" Lily pulled her into a hug and kissed her cheek. "You don't know how much that means to us. Thank you."

Severus's face became almost disturbingly blank when he heard the news. Hermione stared into his expressionless countenance as his eyes took on a far-away look, suggesting that he was still absorbing the news, and he shortly came back to himself.

"I see," he muttered, his demeanor closed, sullen even.

Exams finally arrived. If Hogwarts had been in an uproar earlier, what had passed for pure chaos earlier was now simply raw, unadulterated, unleashed, near-explosive pandemonium. Even the teachers looked a little taken aback by the students' frantic and harried behavior, and Hermione heard McGonagall remark to Flitwick that perhaps they could try this in another decade or so, once they had an opportunity to invest in some anti-riot equipment.

Hermione was kept studying until the very last possible moment. But when exams finally arrived, and it was time to set her notes and books aside and begin the written portion of her Charms exam, she did it with the mixed attitude of a prisoner approaching the guillotine and a race horse chomping at the bit. All throughout the week, stress levels achieved an all-new high. Madam Pomfrey was passing out Calming Draughts to the students like pumpkin juice, and she ran low very quickly, forcing her to request more from Slughorn, who was only too happy to provide her with a regular supply.

"You know how it is, Poppy," he told her with a genial sigh as he delivered two cratefuls of the stuff to the Hospital Wing. "They go through it like butterbeer."

Hermione's day fell into a regular pattern during the two weeks that encompassed testing. Study, take her exams, eat, sleep, and flip a knut to see if she would remember to shower. Severus followed similarly, and the two of them often ended up kipping in the library, much to Madam Pince's self-righteous disgust. Exceptions were made during exam week, and it was not uncommon to see a student passed out over their books in the morning when the library re-opened, but the librarian clearly did not like it.

The Defense Against the Dark Arts exam was undeniably the most interesting, if not harrowing, one. Professor Faulkner had set up a bit of a challenge course using what had been the Forbidden Corridor in Hermione's first year for his sixth-year students, where they had to deal with a wide manner of dangerous magical beasts that were not even covered in Care of Magical Creatures beyond being assigned as an essay: the Defense teacher had somehow managed to get ahold of a Quintuped, which had to be quickly Stupefied and bound before the student could continue. Boggarts, too, were present, which Hermione was able to take down with sufficient skill. Voldemort, scaley and grey, with red eyes, appeared before her, but he was so different from how he appeared now, given that he still had a fairly human-like form, that it was easy for others to assume that the boggart had turned into a personal, nightmarish creation.

A firebreathing chicken running amok, a demon-possessed book that chased after the students with papery teeth, and a Sphinx were all part of the exam. Students who were unable to solve the lattermost's riddle had to be quick on their feet to incapacitate it long enough to escape.

Doxies had to be watched out for, since there were some hidden behind innocent-looking obstacles such as trees or logs. A chameleon ghoul had been set loose and, enraged, was a formidable thing that had to be quickly subdued. Faulkner had even managed to acquire a five-foot tall Acromantula, likely from the Forbidden Forest and with Hagrid's help, and Hermione was one of the few students who managed to get past it relatively unscathed; knowing that the eyes and underbelly were the weakest, softest spots, she had magically bound it up with rope to distract it long enough to slide underneath its belly and aim a series of stunners at it. It crumpled over to the side, and she left that particular room feeling quite relieved.

Ron would have had a heart attack, Hermione was sure.

But when she got to the second-to-last part of the exam, she discovered that she was not just dealing with dark creatures anymore. Professor Faulkner, standing against the far wall, informed the students who made it this far that they would be dueling people.

Seventh-year students, to be exact. Hermione only later discovered that the students in question got to choose which sixth-years they wanted to duel, for she was very surprised at the time to find that Severus was to be her opponent. There were only about ten seventh-year students in the class, and nearly twice as many sixth-years, which meant that they would have to duel two sixth-years each.

Severus's words several weeks ago finally made sense to her. Faulker had probably prepared them to make them as difficult to defeat as possible, and she gathered that this was just as much a test for the seventh-years as it was for the sixths. Of course, the seventh-years were taking their NEWTs, but Severus later told her that whether or not Faulker wrote a recommendation for them rested largely on their success in dueling his sixth-years.

Faulkner's instructions were very clear as Hermione and Severus strode to the center of the room, wands raised and waiting for the signal. He was smirking at her as they readied themselves.

"You may use whatever magical means you have at your disposal to win," he told them seriously. "You may not resort to purely physical means—this is a test of your magical prowess, not your bar-fighting skills. Unforgivables are, as they would be anywhere else, off-limits." His eyes narrowed dangerously at this, and Hermione suspected that there must have been some kind of incident in his seventh-year class to cause him to issue such a stark warning. "This is not maypole dancing. You are fighting to win, and that means getting dirty, then so be it. Am I understood?"

Both participants nodded.

"Begin."

They were in a clearly-lit room. Unlike their last fight, they could see each other clearly. They both entered the duel ready to throw more than just a disarming or momentarily crippling spell; they were working to solidly incapacitate. Severus's movements were practiced and swift, and Hermione suspected that if she had not caught him off-guard with a diffindo up at the Astronomy tower, she would have lost the battle quite spectacularly. She had not been in the mode for all-out fighting. Now, however, she was and she never stayed in one spot long enough for her raven-haired opponent to take aim.

Spells flew across the room, bouncing off of walls, shields, and even the ward that Faulker had erected protectively around himself. Hermione was completely in her element and, with all senses alert and her visuals well-supplied, she soon had Severus dancing on the edge of having just enough time to defend himself. She didn't give him an opening, not even a split second to attack or retaliate once she had him off-kilter.

But she couldn't land a solid hex on him. Neither could he on her. It became a game of either putting up shields or dodging before commencing an attack. They were both advantaged and disadvantaged by not being able to edge close enough to the other to body slam them off balance or use some other form of physical incapacitation.

Hermione did not know how long their duel took, but they were still fighting, sweat pouring down the side of their faces and their brows pinched in frustration and concentration, when the next seventh-year poked his head into the door to check if it was his turn to come in. A similar thing occurred with one of the sixth-years, and he ducked back from whence he had come, slamming the door shut, when a snarled 'Incendio!' exploded inches away from his face.

Hermione was holding her own with admirable skill and tenacious determination, and by now she would have successfully disarmed any ordinary Death Eater, but Severus was amazingly good. Mad-Eye told her that most of Voldemort's followers fought in the style of 'stand-and-attack'. That meant they moved little and defended minimally, often preferring to take their chances with loud, powerful hexes. Severus was quite the opposite, moving gracefully and supinely, and preferring to use spells whose effects were surgically precise rather than raw explosions, and shielding at every turn.

This was not the kind of battle-style Hermione was accustomed to dealing with, and had this been anyone else, she might have still won easily. But she had not been training to the same strenuous extent that she had been put through that summer, and though she remembered every word her mentors had taught her, and the instincts were still there, her reflexes were a bit out of shape.

Hermione was caught off guard by the sudden tell-tale crack of Apparition. Her eyes widened in shock as she realized that the Anti-Disapparition wards on the school had been lifted from this particular room. She had known that was possible, given that she took her Apparition lessons in the Great Hall with all the other sixth-years earlier in January, completing the twelve-week course and earning her license along with the majority of the class, but she had not known that it applied in this particular instance.

Shite!

Her response was too slow. Severus was mere feet away from her, and he triumphantly flicked his wand upward in her direction.

Hermione yelped and suddenly found herself hoisted into the air by her ankle. Her robes dropped around her, and it was at this moment that Hermione was fervently grateful that she had thought to wear jeans today, since she had also taken her Herbology practical earlier and had thought them a prudent addition. She had not, unfortunately, thought to put on her Muggle jumper—it was far too hot for that, and as Hermione writhed in the air, trying to get free, she wished she had. Her arms were tangled up by the sleeves of her robes now, and she wriggled around, trying to dislodge the obstruction before Severus could disarm her.

"Stu—"

"Protego!" Hermione gasped, just barely managing to block the spell. She cast a charm on her robes that caused them to tear off, and trying to ignore the humiliating fact that she was now danging upside down in the air in nothing but a bra and jeans, she snapped her wand in his direction. Now was not the moment to worry about feminine modesty—she had found herself in a similar situation in more than one duel with Alastor and Kingsley, who had shown her no mercy, and knew there would be time to be properly mortified later.

"Relashio!"

Severus was thrown backwards, his wand almost exploding out of his hands and skidding off to the side. Hermione's head pounded, the blood rushing to it almost dizzyingly, and she twisted around as she spun slowly in the air by her ankle, trying to get a reasonable shot at him.

"Conjunctivitus!" She snapped her wand at his neck. "Confundo— Carpe Retractum!"

The first spell hit his eyes, as intended, causing him to let out a yell not unlike the one Hermione had heard from the dragon Viktor Krum had used the very same spell on in her fourth year. It was one of surprise, rage, and excruciating pain. The second stopped him cold from scrambling about for his wand, whereupon he fell to his knees, swaying and gripping the floor, trying to regain his wits. The third had snapped a rope around his neck, attached to her wand, and was dragging him toward her on the floor.

He struggled, hands clawing at the rope uselessly, and flailed about, temporarily blinded and quite helpless. Gritting her teeth, Hermione pointed her wand at herself, and cast the countercurse to the spell keeping herself levitated. She dropped with a loud 'oomph!' right on top of her opponent, using him as a cushion so that she did not crack her skull on the hard stone floor. He let out a grunt of pain, and she rolled off quickly, adjusting her bra which had come loose, and grappled for her torn robes, pulling them on to cover what she could.

Severus was letting out a garbled stream of swear words, mostly unintelligible since the rope around his throat was still choking him. Hermione disengaged the spell, causing the end of the rope to drop from her wand and go slack, and she watched Severus let out a gasping cough, his fingers scrabbling against the noose around his neck to try and remove it. He managed to roll to his knees, searching around blindly, desperately for his wand.

Hermione summoned the stick of ebony to her hands and, satisfied that she had well and truly won, reversed the damage to his eyes. He stopped to blink and rub them, and when he could see clearly again, looked up at her, wearing the most furious, snarling scowl she had seen yet. His eyes were rimmed red, he had rope burns on his neck, and his hands were slashed from the Releasing Charm.

She had her wand pointed at him.

"I win," she said, breasts heaving as she used the opportunity to catch her breath. "Bastard."

"My eyes, you bitch," Severus growled, slowly bringing himself to his feet.

Professor Faulkner chose to intervene at that moment, stepping in and plucking Severus's wand from Hermione's hand and tossing it back to its owner, who quickly snatched it out of the air.

"Excellent work," he said. He was smiling fixedly, but his eyes were lit up with laughter. "I dare say Miss Granger is undisputably the winner. Go on, then," he said, pointing to the door. "Fix up your robes and head on to the next part of the challenge."

Hermione's jaw dropped. "There's more?"

"Of course. Surely you didn't think this was the end?"

Muttering mutinously under her breath, Hermione repaired her robes and stalked off to the next room.

When the exams were finally over, the guillotine fell, and the chains were broken. Two very different feelings warred within Hermione. She had survived her sixth year, and was well on her way to taking her NEWTs next year. Exams were over. Summer had arrived. On the other hand… even though she would be keeping in touch with all of her Gryffindor friends who were soon to become Hogwarts Alumnae, there was one person whose future she was uncertain about.

She certainly had it out with him once the exam was over.

"I can't believe you did that!" Hermione raged at him, having cornered him in their usual spot in the library. She watched him discretely cast Muffliato and a Notice-Me-Not spell when her tone rose above acceptable indoor decibels. "If I hadn't just come back from my Herbology exam, I wouldn't have been wearing anything!"

"It was fair game," Severus responded silkily, giving her an infuriating, slight curl of a smile. "I was rather hoping you would switch your focus from me to protecting your modesty." He placed delicate emphasis on the last word, and then frowned. "I have to admit that I was rather unpleasantly surprised on that front."

"It was still a dirty trick," Hermione snapped, glaring at him.

"You were warned. Besides," Severus added, scowling, "I'm beginning to wonder if you don't get off on causing me pain." He rubbed his neck, where Madam Pomfrey had had to heal the rope marks Hermione's spell had left behind. "You certainly fit the profile for a sadist. Using one of your imobilizing spells would have sufficed—instead, you had to blind, strangle, and Confund me."

Hermione sniffed at him. "You deserved it."

His scowl deepened, but Hermione couldn't help wondering if the glitter of amusement she thought she saw in his eyes was not just her imagination.

The lazy summer days strolled over Hogwarts, encouraging the students to go outside for a walk or to play games with the Giant Squid now that the stress of exams was over. Some remained inside to read or wander the halls. Hermione found the weather too hot for her liking, and instead retreated to the library, where she curled up in that special corner between two bookcases and a stained glass window and tried to set aside the worries that could not be immediately helped by delving into the pages of a book.

The days flew by. The Leaving Feast approached. Hermione left it early after saying good-bye to her friends, and slowly returned to the library, with a sense of foreboding and depression. She slumped down in her usual seat and pulled out a book. She tried to read, but she simply didn't have the energy to do so. Resigned, she leaned back against the shelf, crouched down on the floor as she was, and peered at the shadows that flitted across the colors on the window.

She was distracted from the quiet solace she had found by familiar footsteps. Only one person would know to look for her here, and sure enough, when she turned around, there was Severus Snape, wearing all-black and quite full grown. There was not a trace of boyish features left in him; over the last year, he had finally reached the last half-inch of his full height, and he did indeed look like the Professor Snape she remembered; just younger, decades less careworn, and decidedly healthier—and a good deal happier and more relaxed.

She watched him walk toward her, her eyes glued to his boots—when had he traded his trainers in for them?—and slowly stood up, brushing off her robes.

She took in his face, trying to commit it to memory, knowing that it would change a great deal in the coming years. But right now, he looked human, very much a young man anticipating a future ahead of him.

"You didn't stay at the Leaving Feast for very long," Severus observed, gracing her with a faint half-smile. In this moment in time, everything seemed absolutely serene, perfect even. Sunlight streamed in through the window, the library was mercifully quiet, far quieter than it had been in weeks, and she felt quite at peace without the stress of homework as an added burden. "You seem somewhat upset."

"I just needed some peace and silence," she said calmly, with a slight smile.

"Something's been on your mind a lot over the past few months," Severus told her, moving to lean against the window. There was no bite to his words: to Hermione, it felt as though neither of them simply had the emotional energy or inclination to snark at each other right now, even in good jest. "Indulge me."

Hermione closed her eyes. "You won't be here next year."

He seemed gratuitously surprised by this statement. "You'll miss me?"

"Of course," Hermione replied softly, pressing her cheek against the window. "You're my best friend. We've had our disagreements, and I suspect we always will, but—that's how it is."

He examined her face closely. "Is that all?"

Hermione shook her head. "What will happen when you're gone?" she whispered, the thoughts that had plagued her over the past few weeks slowly simmering to the surface. "Will you still be my friend? Will I ever see you again as such, even as we take opposite sides of the upcoming war?" She closed her eyes, willing the tears prickling at the corners to go away. "Will you even bother to keep in touch?"

There was a long silence that stretched between them at this revelation, and then to her surprise, his hands slowly came to cup her face, tilting it up to look at him. He used the heel of his palm to wipe away the faint trail of tears curling down the corners of her cheeks, and rather than scoff at her, his expression had turned soft and considerate, if somewhat brooding.

"I will write, when and what I can," he promised, giving her one of the rare half-smiles that were of genuine affection. "As for your other concerns—you know where I will be, but I am certain that there will be times and places we can and will meet again, not under the banner of our respective sides, but as just—friends." There was a faint trace of uncertainty in his voice. "That's what we've been doing all along, haven't we?"

"True enough," Hermione replied, feeling relieved and slightly light-headed at his reassurance. She smiled up at him, a gentle smile of real warmth, and then glanced down at her watch.

"You have to leave in five minutes," she said sadly, staring back out the window. The feel of his hands, which had dropped to her shoulders, were calloused and warm on her face and oddly soothing. "The Leaving Feast is over by now. You had better hurry."

He did not pull away immediately, and when she glanced back up at him, she saw several expressions warring across his face. He seemed to be debating something within himself, as though he had already convinced himself to do it, and was trying to convince himself to actually go through with it. A moment later, his expression solidified into one of determination, and he leaned forward. He did not hesitate, cupping her face in one hand as he kissed her.

Hermione's eyes widened in surprise as his mouth moved to cover hers, but she did not make to protest or pull away. His lips slid cautiously against hers, and when faced with a distinct lack of resistance he moved to explore her mouth, tasting it. Hermione finally registered what was happening, feeling a faint flutter in her stomach as she did so, and in a decision to not overanalyze that moment, she responded wholeheartedly. He had caught her into a slow, drugging kiss, and her eyes fluttered shut. His lips were thin but soft, and he suckled on her tongue, giving the impression that he was quite enjoying himself as a man who would never get a chance to sample a delicacy enjoyed his one opportunity to have it.

He pulled away a moment later, staring down at her with an expression she could not yet quantify, though it seemed akin to a combination of lust and regret. She stared up at him, unconciously licking her lips to draw out the sensation, and then closed her eyes for just an insant to savor the moment.

"I was right," she heard Severus murmur close to her ear, his thumb and forefinger stroking her cheek gently just before he withdrew. "The taste of your lips…"

Hermione opened her eyes, quite unable to think of anything safe to say, but wracking her brain for something. He stepped away, and then his expression grew shuttered and closed, carefully masked once more.

"I have to go," he said, turning to leave abruptly.

Hermione stood there and watched him leave, her legs unresponsive, trying to pull her wits together. When she finally managed to unglue her feet from the floor and force herself to move, she ran quickly, ducking out into the hallway and running for the nearest corridor that had a window view of the lake.

The horseless carriages had begun to roll. Turning her gaze onto the lake, she saw the seventh years gliding across it, making their final journey from Hogwarts.


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