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Pride of Time

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Enormous thanks to my amazing beta, SSB!

Anti-Litigation Charm: I do not own. -waves wand, and this time, manages to cast the charm without poking self in the eye-

Please review.


Three days later, Hermione woke up in Severus's arms, kissing him awake with soft, searching brushes of her lips against his before she sat up, intending to get dressed, when Severus pulled her back against him.

"Stay," he whispered, suckling on her neck before his head dipped lower to nuzzle at her breasts. Now that he finally had her back in his bed, after a near-torturous week—one that had ended in disaster—he was reluctant to let her leave.

Hermione knew there would be an Order meeting at Tine Cottage later, the attendees' absences from their normal walks of life explained by the fact that it was New Years Eve. Parties were expected. She glanced down at her watch, calculated how much time she had between now and noon, and shook her head.

"I need to get up," she stated, but then paused to give him a faintly mischievous smile. He raised an eyebrow expectantly, and she leaned forward until she was lying against his belly, nose-to-nose with him. "But I have a few minutes."

His eyes glittered strangely at this. "Only a few minutes? I'm certain I could persuade you to give me more."

Hermione's head dropped to his chest, and to his surprise, she began shaking with laughter. "Unfortunately, I'm afraid you're right. You've always been able to smooth-talk me into nearly anything." She looked up at him now, grinning. "Whether it's sneaking out to Diagon Alley for your birthday or convincing me to start seeing you at Slughorn's parties so that we could go off for a bit of a snog…"

Severus stroked her hair for a moment, curling it around his fingers as he gave her an inscrutable smirk; and then very deliberately, very insistently, ground his morning erection against her belly. "I don't suppose I could, to put it in your own words, 'smooth-talk'—"

Hermione was very tempted to smack him over the head with one of the nearby pillows for that, but when she found herself flipped over and pinned to the bed, she was far more inclined to dig her fingers into his greasy black locks and pull him into a kiss.

When she left the bed fifteen minutes later than she had ever intended to, there was no ignoring the smug, if sated, smirk that Severus wore even as his gaze followed her body with a rather appreciative eye as she dressed.

~o~O~o~

"Merlin's beard, Hermione, you look just like a teacher!"

Hermione smacked Sirius on the back of the head, even as his remark elicited laughter from the rest of the room. "That's because I am a teacher, you prat!"

"But still," Sirius said with mock-horror, gesturing at the white button-up shirt she wore tucked into her black trousers, which she had worn instead of a skirt because it was simply too cold. It was unreasonable to go walking about in the dead of winter in a skirt. She had done away with her robes the moment she had arrived at Tine Cottage, as the place was far too warm for her to endure the teaching robes and heavy winter cloak she had been wearing, and they were hung up on a peg near the door, along with her boots. "You look like—you look like a bloody— I don't even recognize you!" He placed one hand over his heart, grinning. "Are you certain you're Hermione Granger?"

"Would a second smack on the head confirm my identity for you?" Hermione asked him dryly.

"There a number of people who would probably love to smack me," Sirius reponded with a straight face.

Lily had placed one hand over her mouth and was laughing uncontrollably, even as she tried to break them apart. "Sirius, please…"

"You know," Frank quipped, "I heard Snape's gone to teach at Hogwarts, too. You look just like him now."

Hermione saw James and Lily suddenly stiffen, even as Sirius, Remus, and the rest of the table broke out with laughter.

"I do not!" Hermione straightened the collar of her shirt. Two spots of pink had appeared high on her cheeks. "How would you even know that?"

"His partner at the Ministry has a son who goes to Hogwarts," Alice said, grinning. "According to him, he complains quite a bit."

Sirius feigned outrage, though Hermione was not sure how much of it was play-acting and how much of it was genuine dislike. "Don't tell me you're still friends with the greasy git!"

"Of course I am!" Hermione said, her entire face flushing red. James and Lily were grinning now, against their wills, if still somewhat uncertainly. "We were friends in school, even if you never got along with him—what makes you think we'd stop now?"

"Because one can always hope you would develop better taste, I suppose."

Hermione affected an offended look reminiscent of McGonagall. Adjusting the collar of her shirt one more time, she said in rather clipped tones, "Now if you would kindly stop poking at my sartorial choices…"

Sirius choked.

"Remus, help me," he said. "She's even starting to talk like a professor!"

And for that, Hermione did smack him, and wrapped her arms around his neck in a mock-attempt to strangle him— just in time for Albus Dumbledore to enter the room, followed by Moody, Kingsley, and two red-haired men that Hermione almost mistook for the Weasley twins, but then came to recognize as Gideon and Fabian Prewett.

"Hermione, Sirius, act your age!" The Headmaster's voice was stern, but his blue eyes were twinkling with amusement. Hermione released Sirius, and the two immediately found a seat, leaning on the table so that they were practically sitting on it. Hermione noted that Molly was missing from the table, though she had caught a glimpse of the woman earlier, and knew that—combined with the absence of Harry and Neville— she must have volunteered to look after their younger charges upstairs while the meeting commenced.

Hermione did not know why Molly had never mentioned to any of them that she had known Harry as a baby, but she pushed the thought away for another time.

"—thank you," Dumbledore stated as the room settled down. "First off, I would like to wish you all a Happy New Year. I have no doubt there will be celebrations later, and hope you all find the time to open a bottle of Ogden's Finest. I must say, it goes spectacularly well with Chocolate Frogs." His face then turned serious, unsmiling. "Secondly, we have some news, much of it somber, to share."

The Prewett brothers stood up together. Hermione could not tell which was Fabian and which was Gideon, but the one on the right spoke first. "Caradoc Dearborn has gone missing, and is presumed dead. We last had contact with him in Wiltshire county six days ago." He swallowed. "We think he was on his assignment in the area, and was discovered and killed."

Hermione's eyes widened. There were several gasps, tight-lipped murmurs, and the sound of grinding teeth as the rest of the Order took in the news. The Prewett brother on the left continued: "His body hasn't been found yet, but if you happen to see him walking around, check his identity first. We think it's possible that the Death Eaters might try polyjuicing him, to get the drop on us…" he shook his head. "We don't know. All signs point to him being dead. Just be careful if you see or hear anything from someone claiming to be him."

There was a sound similar to the honking of an enormous horn; in the corner of the room, Hagrid blew his nose.

"The usual precautions, then," Moody growled. "Constant vigilance, you lot! We still haven't found his sister's body, either. Be on the lookout for the two of 'em, and check that they're who they say they are if you do happen to come upon them." He harrumphed. "More than likely, they're a part of You-Know-Who's inferius army."

"Moody!" Lily protested. "That's a horrible thing to say!"

"It's probably the truth, though," the Prewett on the left agreed desolately. "If they haven't shown up yet, even in disguise, chances are they're either both dead or animated."

The room fell into a moment of silence at this, as though in mourning, and then Moody continued: "Pettigrew is still on his assignment in Diagon Alley, but when we last checked on him, he appeared to be fine. You all probably heard about what happened to the Bones family three days ago—Edgar and his family, all murdered in their homes."

"No!" Marlene said, covering her hand with her mouth. "Edgar and Nancy—they could have handled any number of Death Eaters! That's just not possible!"

"The bastards got them while they were asleep," Moody growled. "The attack was in the dead of night. And then shortly after, we got word that twelve Muggles were picked up in London—"

Hermione covered her hand with her mouth, not in shock, but to try and repress the sudden reappearance of nausea that had risen up again. Dumbledore had done exactly as he had promised, and she no longer staggered through the day, haunted every waking moment by a rendition of screams, but when recalled, the memory itself still triggered a powerful reaction. There was no forgetting what had happened that night, for the rest of her life. Over the past few days, she had tried to move on, to focus on her work, to move forward with her relationship with Severus- but some things were not easily set aside. It was not that Hermione wanted to forget the Muggles who had died, but that she could not afford to let it tear her life apart, and now— and now—

"—were taken to Malfoy Manor, probably what got Dearborn killed if he saw them and tried to rescue 'em—"

Hermione shut her eyes, which in hindsight probably only made it worse, as the image of the tortured and dying Muggles flashed across her memory again.

"—were all tortured and killed, according to our source—"

Hermione stood up, almost tripping over someone else's chair and knocking them over as she made a dash toward the sink. She lurched forward, having the presence of mind to be glad her hair was pulled back in its usual chignon so that she wasn't vomiting all over herself.

"—and their bodies were found dumped in front of the Muggle Ministry," Moody finished. "It's all over the Muggle papers."

Sirius and Remus had quickly disentanged themselves from the table, and were now on either side of her, clutching her shoulders and trying to get her to answer them. Dumbledore finished up the meeting with a quick word, though it was quite unnecessary; everyone who had cause to be concerned about Hermione was either up or asking about her. The meeting had effectively ended.

"Hermione, what's wrong?" Remus pressed.

Hermione shook her head, reaching for a paper towel to wipe her lips even as she turned the sink on to rinse her mouth. "Sorry—must've eaten something bad—for breakfast—"

"Please tell me you're not pregnant," James said, coming up behind her, his voice full of concern. "Because that's what it looks like…"

The memory of the dying Muggles, followed by the realization that, in following Severus's request that she not clean herself up after sex, she still had his semen coating her thighs—dry now though it was— that she had a Death Eater for a lover, a Death Eater who she had watched kill one of those women… another blur of thoughts made her slump against the counter, breathing heavily as she tried to shove it all away.

"Don't be ridiculous, James," Sirius snapped.

"I'm not pregnant," Hermione confirmed testily. She lurched back up, leaning against the counter with one hand. "But the idea of what happened to those Muggles—"

She saw James and Lily's mouths drop open in understanding, and then shut very quickly. This move, however, did not go unnoticed by the rest of her friends who had gathered around her.

"Hermione, did you see Dearborn get killed?" Alice asked gently, pulling her away from the counter and sitting her down in a chair, much to Hermione's relief.

"Does this have something to do with your—your assignments for the Order?" Remus asked carefully, as he went through the cabinents to fetch and glass and fill it with water for her.

"No—I didn't even know about Dearborn," she said weakly, reaching for the glass her werewolf friend offered her. She took a sip, relieved by the refreshing tastelessness. "But I saw—I know what happened to those Muggles. I had to watch it. Yes, it was a part of my assignment—"

"But that would have meant a Death Eater would have brought you to Malfoy Manor to watch it," Sirius exclaimed. And then, at once, something dawned on him. "Snape—Snape's a Death Eater, isn't he? You're still chummy with him—did he take you?"

Hermione shook her head quickly. "Severus isn't a Death Eater," she snapped, and at that moment, she knew it to be true. A suffocating burden suddenly lifted itself from her chest, and she was able to reply more calmly, "It was something else, but in the end, I had to watch those twelve women die."

Alice pulled her into a hug, squeezing her comfortingly. Marlene placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. "Hermione, I'm sorry."

"All right, that's enough," Moody's voice cut through. His claw foot clanked along the stone floor, growing louder as he approached. "Budge along, you lot—I need to have a word with Granger here."

"Right, of course," Hermione responded instinctively, setting her glass down. Of course Moody wanted a word with her. "I forgot you wanted to go over those plans…"

Moody looked faintly gratified, his grizzled face tensing less as he hauled her to her feet. "Thanks. Don't worry," he said, turning to her friends, who all seemed quite alarmed at the abrupt kidnapping occurring in their midst. "I'll bring her back in one piece."

They left the room, clanking along upstairs, and the sound of a heated discussion starting up echoed behind them.

"Nice maneuver there, Granger," Moody said as they made their way down the hall. He pushed open one of the doors, and they entered a bedroom that looked as though it were being shared by Gideon and Fabian, judging by the name PREWETT inscribed on their trunks. "Thanks for keeping this discreet. Wouldn't want you announcing to the world that I want a talk with you to check on your sanity."

Hermione snorted, one hand pressed to her right temple as she came in and sat on top of one of the trunks. "I suppose that would be a bit awkard."

"I imagine so." Moody took seat on the edge of the bed. "Did Albus modify your memories, Granger?"

"Yes, thankfully," Hermione said, leaning against the wall and crossing her legs. She closed her eyes and let out a sigh. "I'm certain that if he had not, I'd have gone rather mad by now."

"But you're still affected by what you saw, and in all honesty, I'm not that surprised," Moody stated. "You did well when you were at Malfoy Manor, Granger—better than anyone else here could have done, 'cept for me of course, but I'd never be invited there for anything else other than to lock 'em up—" Hermione let out a snort of amusement at this, and Moody's scarred face twisted into a kind of half-smile. "So I've got to hand it to you, Granger, but you did well. You handled yourself like a pro, and you didn't break down until after the act was done."

Hermione nodded.

"But once you break down, you've got to pull yourself together again quickly," Moody growled. "A breakdown after a harrowing experience is fine—I've done it myself—but it has to be the once, and then you got to get up and keep going. You're handling our most important spy, Granger—you have to learn to quickly stitch yourself back up after you fall apart so that you have enough time to do your job."

"I understand, sir," Hermione said, rubbing her feet, which were starting to get cold, despite the fact that she was wearing thick, black woolen socks.

"Granted, this was your first time, but you've got to make this first time count for something," Moody said roughly. "This hopefully won't be a regular occurrence for you, because you're not cut out for that, but when it does, you need to be able to handle yourself. Constant vigilance!" He barked, and laughed when Hermione didn't jump. "You did well, Granger. You did well. But your spy still needs you, and he can't be the one taking care of you when he needs you to do the same to him."

"Right," Hermione said, with a swift nod.

"That's it, then," Moody said, getting to his feet. He held out his hand to Hermione, who took it, and allowed him to pull her up. "Just don't forget that when you're in the field as his handler, you're acting, girl—and don't lose yourself to the acting. You're stronger than you look, but it can be tough to remember that if you have to play a weak part."

Hermione blinked. That was exactly what she would have imagined him to say, and now it solidified and internalized itself more clearly in her mind. She nodded again. "Thank you, sir."

"You're new to this," Moody said, as he clunked his way toward the door. "Being a handler is a difficult job, and you're liable to forget yourself sometimes." He gave her a grizzled grin. "We'll be here to remind you for as long as it takes."

He opened the door, and allowed Hermione to walk through first. "Now get on back downstairs, Granger, before your friends send up a rescue party."

Hermione gave him a quick salute, eliciting a bark of laughter from her mentor, and then turned and left to check that a fight had not broken out downstairs.

~o~O~o~

By the time Hermione had returned, most of the Order had left. Only her close friends—the Marauders, along with Lily, Marlene, and Alice, remained behind, clearly waiting to talk to her. Frank had gone upstairs to check on Neville and help Molly, leaving the seven of them with privacy and ample room to sit at the table. Hermione pulled out a chair, feeling much calmer and more relaxed, more in control and assured of herself, and took a seat between Alice and Marlene.

"I'm glad to see you didn't destroy the kitchen while I was gone," Hermione said, eyeing the walls. "That was quite an argument you started up just as I left."

Sirius was rubbing the back of his neck. "I know there are some things you can't tell us, but the only way James would even think to ask—"

Lily wrapped her arms around Sirius's neck and not so subtly clamped her hand over his mouth.

Hermione sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose between her thumb and forefinger. "No, Sirius. I'm not pregnant, and if James had learned to prevent himself from asking the first thing that comes to mind without thinking about the bloody consequences…"Rather like Harry, to be honest. "Well, let's just say it's none of your business."

"Unfortunately," Marlene murmured into her ear, "now we're all damn curious about it."

Hermione glared at them. "You lot are unbelievable."

"It's Snape, isn't it?" Sirius said, his voice full of accusation. He did not sound particularly mad, really—more shocked and disbelieving, perhaps even a taste reviled at the thought, if anything. He had long since come to terms with Hermione's friendship with the Slytherin, even if his hatred of him had not abated. But his intense and ingrained dislike for him did not include taking it out on Hermione, as a general rule. "Even if he's not the one who took you to Malfoy Manor, you're still close to Snivellus, and—well, I hate to say it, but after he managed to convince you to sneak out to Hogsmeade in our seventh year…"

Hermione face turned slightly red at this, but she covered it quickly, and leaning back in her chair and trying to act casual. "Actually, we snuck out to Hogsmeade and went to Diagon Alley."

It was worth saying that just to see their jaws hit the table.

Hermione grinned, glad to find an opportunity to divert their attention. "It was his birthday, so we went to Fortescue's for ice cream."

"Merlin's beard, Hermione!" Remus's jaw dropped, if at all possible, even further. "How on earth did he manage to convince you to do that?"

Hermione started laughing. "I'll admit that it took some persuasion, but eventually, I was all for it. Fortescue's ice cream was worth the month of detentions."

"And now she's a teacher," Marlene moaned, pressing her fingers to her temple. "Unbelievable."

"So, that's it?" Sirius remarked, leaning back in his chair and crossing his arms. His brow was furrowed into a frown, and Hermione had the sense that he was still digesting the situation. "You've been dating since our seventh year?"

"Actually, we didn't start until after he'd left school," Hermione said calmly, twisting her watch around her wrist. "And it wasn't a proper relationship until after I left, too."

"You could do much better," Sirius said disgustedly. "I'm sorry—I know you're chummy, and you've been friends since you arrived in fifth year from Merlin-knows-where, but I think your taste has fallen pretty far if you're going for the greasy oddball."

Hermione sighed. There was really no point in telling Sirius off for namecalling. It was the only way he managed to keep his temper in check, by feeling as though he was attacking Severus—who was not exactly present and aware at the moment—rather than verbally attacking Hermione herself. She had grown used to it, even if she never liked it.

"My taste is my own," she told him, reaching forward and nicking an orange from the fruitbowl at the center of the table, where she began peeling the skin off with her nails. "And if I want Severus Bloody Snape, I'll have him, whether you like or approve of it or not."

"I don't approve, but you're the girl that every guy with a pair of balls feared back in school," Sirius snorted. "It's not like I have much say in the matter."

"Thank you."

"It didn't take a lot of imagination to figure out why he was limping—"

"Thank you, Sirius."

Remus buried his face in his hands, though whether his shoulders were shaking from laughter or despair, Hermione was not certain. She suspected the former. James and Lily were silent, but they both actually seemed quite relieved that this discussion had not devolved into a brawl where they would both be forced to choose sides against their best friends. Alice and Marlene seemed to be taking all of this in rather calmly.

"To be honest," Alice said, as Hermione handed her a slice of orange, "I don't think it's that big of a deal. I certainly never liked Snape, but he's Hermione's friend, not mine, and it's not as though any of us have to deal with him on a regular basis."

"True enough," Marlene agreed, as Hermione handed her five slices, which she passed onto the rest of the table. Only Remus declined, given he was not particularly fond of fruit. "I agree with Sirius with the remark about your tastes, but if as Sirius put it, you want the greasy oddball…"

Hermione snorted. "Marlene, if you want the dog, you can have him— but I haven't made any remarks up until now about how much fur there must be on your couch, so I'd appreciate it if you extended the same courtesy."

The table exploded into giggles, and James almost choked on his slice of orange. Sirius placed his hand over his eyes, leaning back in his chair, as even he unwillingly smirked at this.

"I think this conversation is done now," Hermione said, grinning sheepishly. "So tell me—what have you lot been up to while I've been teaching?"

~o~O~o~

When Hermione returned home that evening, it was to find their quarters empty. Hermione knew it would be, when she saw his teaching robes tossed over the back of the couch, and when she walking into the bedroom and checked the wardrobe, she saw his Death Eater cloak and mask were missing. Soaking wet from melted snow, Hermione hung her winter cloak to dry near the door and then sat back on the couch in front of the fire. She let herself warm up for a few minutes, before bending down to unlace her boots and peel her icy wet socks off.

They had started a snowfight back in Tine Cottage, in the kitchen no less. As usual, it was Sirius's fault, and Hermione still had no idea what spell he had used to summon snowballs from the sink tap. Fabian had come down four minutes later, narrowly avoiding being smacked in the face with a ball of wet ice, to order them all outside.

Hermione had served Padfoot a faceful of cold revenge, and did not regret it one bit.

With a sigh of contentment, Hermione leaned back in her chair and swung her feet forward so that the warmth of the fire would dry them off faster.

The door slid open, and Hermione twisted around in her seat to see Severus's familiar face appear, Death Eater mask in hand. He tossed it aside, reaching for his robes to undo them, and then shrugging off the frock coat underneath.

"I don't think you'll be able to wear that coat come summer," Hermione noted, standing up as he set it aside on the back of the chair to his desk.

"I won't wear robes then," he returned, his face still blank as he knelt down to reach into Hermione's desk, withdrawing her notebook and a quill before handing it to her. Hermione resumed her seat, opening the notebook to a blank page as he made his verbal report. "The Dark Lord was pleased with the publicity his stunt four days ago elicited from Muggle and Wizarding newspapers—the one you were unfortunately made to watch. He also informed us that the reason Karkaroff was absent that night was because he had detected someone spying on the premises from a distance of about fifty meters from the Manor."

"Describe him," Hermione said in the calmest and most controlled voice she could muster, trying to ignore the clenching of her gut as she once again recalled the brutal murders. "Did Karkaroff kill him?"

"Tall, with rectangular wire glasses, short brown hair and grey eyes," Severus said, kneeling down to remove his boots. "No, Karkaroff did not kill him. He was brought to Malfoy Manor, and the Dark Lord dealt with him the next day."

"Do you have any word on Dearborn's sister— Caelia Dearborn?"

Severus worked his jaw for a moment. "Thin woman with curly brown hair and brown eyes?"

Hermione nodded.

"It turns out the Dark Lord ordered her to be kept prisoner in Malfoy Manor for two weeks," Severus responded shortly. "She was killed with her brother, when they brought him in."

"Did you find out about anyone else?" Hermione pressed, feeling a sense of rising dread at this news.

Severus shook his head. "I know for a fact that there must be more prisoners down there, in the cellar, and I may get a chance to see for myself—but I haven't got a clue as to whom or how many."

Hermione nodded, finished writing, and then set the quill aside.

"I'll be right back," she said, standing up. "I need to report to Albus."

Severus inclined his head, leaning back onto the couch, and Hermione fiddled with her watch for a moment before being Portkeyed away.

When she returned, it was to find him stretched over the couch, his head pillowed on his arm against the armrest, and the other pressed down on the cushion to keep him braced up. His eyes were closed, and he might have appeared to be sleeping if Hermione did not know him so well. She put her notebook away and walked over to him, hesitating for a moment before digging her fingers into his hair.

Truth to be told, it was greasy. She could see it, not to mention feel it on her fingers. Sirius and Marlene were right when they pointed that out, but to be honest, Hermione didn't care. It wasn't that she had never noticed, for it was very difficult not to, but it was simply that she paid it little to no mind. Marlene and Sirius were magically powerful, handsomely made, and naturally well-disposed people; Hermione could not find fault in them for that, except for the fact that she felt this made them somewhat shallow in regards to how they judged people.

Hermione was no beauty queen like Marlene. She knew that. She loved her skin for being smooth, not a trace of acne or blotchiness, but her face was plain, and she was well aware of it. Her hair had eased with age, and with Marlene and Alice's help in learning how to tame it—something Lavender and Parvati would never have succeeded in doing—and with it being pulled back in a loose, curly chignon, it had become far more manageable. And she certainly had not forgotten the buck teeth she had been forced to live with for fifteen years. She didn't have Lily's striking green eyes, or natural but exaggerated curves that had caused many boys, not just James and Severus, to look at her with lust.

In short, she liked who she was. Her body belonged to her, and it was comfortable and nice. She was pretty, pretty enough to have caught the eye of a famous Quidditch player in her fourth year—something she still took pride in, even if she and Victor had only ended up becoming very good penfriends—and even if she simply did not share some of the prominent features of allure that Lily and Marlene did, she was very pleased with what she had.

And who she had.

She had felt dirty, embarassed, and distinctly unclean when she had recalled his semen still sticking to her thighs back at Tine Cottage while listening to Moody rattle off the news. Severus played the role of a Death Eater, but he was certainly no Death Eater, and though they had to do and accept terrible things—the both of them—Hermione still loved him. She had to differentiate between when he was Severus and when he was Professor Snape—two very different people, playing two distinct roles—and learn to accept that the world was not entirely in black and white.

Satisfied with her thoughts for now, Hermione massaged his scalp for a moment, eliciting a groan of pleasure from him, his eyes fluttering for a moment before remaining closed. She worked her way down until she was at his neck, where she continued, smiling at the reaction she received from him. Moving away, she came to stand in front of the fire, her back to him, and began unbuttoning her shirt. It was a moment before he opened his eyes to see what she was doing, but by then she had undone most of the buttons, and had shrugged it halfway down her shoulders, moving to take care of the cuffs.

He let out a moan of appreciation at the sight she presented before him, and Hermione smiled, her face angled away so that he couldn't see. Oh, yes. This was the man she loved—who appreciated every inch and side of her. The man she felt comfortable and confident with.

Keeping her shirt as it was, still half-on, Hermione moved to take care of the buckle of her belt, sliding it off with a deliberate hiss that coincided with Severus's before fingering the buttons on her trousers, and for a moment, she wished she had worn a skirt. She shrugged them down her hips a few inches before turning around, arms tucked behind her back to look at him.

He was sitting up now, having hurriedly unbuttoned his shirt sometime within the last five minutes so that it hung open, and had one hand pressed to his groin, squeezing himself as he watched her.

"Hermione," he breathed.

Hermione merely grinned at him, before reaching back underneath her shirt to undo the clasp of her bra. It came loose, and Hermione had to shrug off her shirt in order to remove the second article of clothing. Focusing on the glazed, highly aroused look on his face, as well as the hand that was pleasuring himself, Hermione slowly, teasingly worked her pants down her legs. She stepped out of them, before disposing of her knickers in a similar manner, leaving her completely naked.

She took two steps forward, climbed onto the couch so that she was straddling him, and allowed him to twine his fingers into her hair and pull her down for a kiss.

"Seductress," he muttered into her ear, when they pulled away.

"Yours," she countered.

"Mmm. Yes."

Hermione leaned forward, brushing her lips teasingly against his. They lay there on the couch, Hermione resting against Severus's chest, kissing and nibbling until he pushed her away for a moment so that he could shift into a more comfortable sitting position.

"When… when all of this is over…" He struggled to sit up for a moment, shaking his head as though to clear it. "When the Dark Lord falls… will you marry me? Will you be my wife?"

Hermione folded her arms, her nose level with his. She was sorely tempted to make a joke about her earning a marriage proposal with a strip-tease and a snog, but let it slide—this simply did not feel like the right moment to make such a jest. Instead, she smiled warmly at him, her expression thoughtful. "You already call me that, when you think I'm not awake," she pointed out, referring to the moments when she would wake up to find him pleasuring her in the morning, murmuring things that he normally would not say were she fully conscious.

"Is there any reason for you to say no?" Severus pressed, visibly becoming more alert now.

Hermione shook her head quickly. "I don't have any doubts about how I feel about you," she responded honestly, her expression warm before it suddenly turned sad. She disentangled an arm from underneath her to stroke his cheek. "But there are some things about my circumstances that would mean thinking this through carefully before saying yes."

He looked at her consideringly. "You don't love someone else."

"Anything I feel for my friends is nothing compared to you," Hermione told him earnestly. "They're the people I feel loyalty to, but you're the one I'd want for a life partner, the one I want to spend the rest of my life with, the one I would want to start a family with—" she ducked her head at this, flushing. "Even though I know you're not particularly fond of children, you're the only one I'd ever consider…"

Severus brushed his lips against her neck. "I want a family," he said quietly. "Not while I serve the Dark Lord—not while he lives. I've seen what his presence has done to the Malfoys, even if Lucius is blind to it." He suddenly scowled. "And I absolutely despise the students I deal with on a day-to-day basis. Most of them don't have the aptitude for potions—but they could still keep from getting on my nerves if they put in a modicum of effort more than it takes to chop up a flobberworm."

Hermione snickered. "I think that if you had your way, you'd be teaching them to put in more effort by making them believe that you would poison them if they didn't."

"That is an idea," he drawled.

"I wasn't serious!"

"Too late, wife." He nuzzled her cheek. "If there are no objections other than some circumstantial issues that need to be dealt with once the Dark Lord is dead, I don't see the problem."

Hermione sighed and rested her head on his chest, afraid that he would feel quite differently once she told him. She would have to tell him about her time-traveling, she was sure; once Voldemort disappeared for the first time, if she wanted to take her relationship with Severus seriously enough for it to work. Sadly, she did not know quite how he would react when he discovered that she had known of the outcome of the first war all along— that she had known Lily was slated to die.

She knew she couldn't be allowed to stop this. If she did, time would certainly be altered drastically, and if it was... Hermione had no guarantee that time would move forward so that she would get the time-turner in third year, and retain it into fifth. If that changed, then the version of herself that had gotten thrown back in time would disappear, and the whole thing would simply circle and reset. What would happen if Harry still had parents? What would happen if Voldemort were not defeated by Harry as a toddler; would he find a way to end up killing all of the Potters properly if given a second chance, not just James and Lily? She did not know, and she could not afford to take such a risk.

Severus was certainly over Lily. She had no insecurities about that. But he cared about her, and Hermione refused to live out her life carrying the secret that she had known what would happen to the Potters and the Longbottoms from him. She imagined his reaction would be similar to hers if she had somehow found out that Harry had to die in order to destroy Voldemort, and no one who had been in a position to save him had even tried, but she staunchly maintained that in the end, she would give him her honesty.

"When the Dark Lord is gone, we'll sit down and discuss this," Hermione told him, willing him to understand that there was more to the future than met the eye. "If you still want me once we're done, then I will of course say yes. Quite thoroughly," she promised, kissing his cheek. "But I can't agree until that happens."

He stroked her hair. "Fair enough. But I can assure you—it would take a lot for me to change my mind."

Hermione snuggled against him.

That's what I'm afraid of.

"I love you," she told him quietly, sincerely. "Don't ever forget that."


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~Anubis Ankh