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Drama

A Choice of Roads by Imhilien [Reviews - 86]

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A/N: Well, I’ve finally managed to update. I have come up with a theory that work can fry the creative side of the brain at times (grin). Never mind. I hope you enjoy the chapter.

ancientgirl, southern_witch_69 – Thanks – while Hermione was angry at her friends, I think her character would have tried to avoid a really nasty
fight with them…

AngelQueen, DADA_Mistress, Fictionlover_32 – Thanks for your nice review – I feel that although Harry has ‘grown up’ in many respects Snape is a
person/subject that easily triggers the dreaded Caplocks!Harry…

Azulkan2, Becky, craftylizzy, Keladry Lupin, ladyofthemasque, leonie, lovethelab, Maela, michmak, mistaria, MlleGigi, Neqs, nesscafe, nintschi,
onewing, Padfoot_Rox, PlaidPooka, prissygirl, Rubyfey, SidneySnape, Sniv, Tisiphone3, That Sad Song – Thanks – don’t worry, I have finally updated
(phew!)

Bambu, Betz, blaze_of_fae, Dryad, Iscriptikus, katze, Kheldar, LariLee, le rouret, MDuchamp, Maggie, samafin, snapesoulmate, Winna – Thanks! Harry or Ron reacting positively to Hermione going out with our Potions Master would have been really OOC in my opinion.

Black Aliss, Chantal, Rubyfey – Many thanks – I had thought it would be nice to write a story where they don’t immediately jump into bed…

crinna, crissy, droxy, justme, Innogen, MysticRaven, notsosaintly, SennaSilvertongue, Shella LaRoche, SNycoleCalvert, totallylost – Thanks!

Elaine Lahey – Thanks! Things are certainly cool between Hermione and her friends but would her going out with Snape be enough to end their
friendship? I had a close friend who ended our friendship in a malicious way last year over something really trivial (don’t go there) so in all truth I
can’t really say ‘no’…

June W – Thanks – you never know…

morkaleb1985 – Thanks for pointing out the mistake! Robin McKinley is one of my favorite authors and I could never hope to write like her. I’m flattered that you saw a resemblance though!

SeveressaSnape – Thanks – while I think that Remus never thought as harshly of Snape like Sirius, I don’t think Remus likes the thought of Snape going out with Hermione…



Part 22


When Remus went to visit Harry and Ron the next morning, only Harry was present as Ron had just popped out to the shops for food. Harry didn’t waste any time in letting Remus know what had happened when Hermione had come to visit.

“Hermione came around and she didn’t deny that she had been out with Snape. She said that they were ‘friends’ and refused to listen to what Ron and I had to say about him,” Harry said angrily as he made a mug of tea for Remus. There was a grim set to Harry’s face but there was also a look of genuine bewilderment and hurt in his eyes and Remus felt a pang in his heart for James’ son. Because of the mutually hostile feelings between Snape and Harry, a comment from Hermione about a friendship now between her and Snape could only be seen as a betrayal of their own friendship to Harry.

Harry did indeed feel betrayed by Hermione as well as angry. How could she do this when she knew what Snape was like, how Snape had been to Harry and Ron and her other friends through the years? What would Hermione see in a greasy bat like Snape? He didn’t even want to think of Hermione having a romantic interest in the Slytherin, and indeed felt revolted to the pit of his being at the very thought of Hermione willingly touching Snape, or worse. However, he could easily think of Snape suddenly having a darker interest in Hermione. Now that Harry thought about it there had been times in Potions when it had seemed that Snape’s glittering black eyes had rested for far too long upon her. Had he been watching, planning and waiting with cold patience no doubt until it was the right time to pounce?

On one hand Harry wanted to go over to the place where Hermione was working and angrily shake some sense into her head, but on the other hand he wanted to let Hermione go ahead and dig her own grave. That way he would be able to say ‘I told you so!’ when a penitent and miserable Hermione eventually came and admitted that she should have listened to what Harry had said about Snape. He would be no good for her, and eventually she would see that. He did though, feel tempted to go to Hogwarts and thump Snape.

Remus accepted the tea with thanks and then said heavily, “I understand your concerns, Harry, but I have reason to believe – don’t ask me how – that Snape’s’ feelings for Hermione are genuine. He has also not taken kindly to my… interference and has made this clear to me.” A small, ironic smile was upon the ex-DADA teachers face.

Harry’s hostility towards Snape flared up again with this fresh fuel. “What do you mean, he made this clear - did he come around and hassle you?” he said disbelievingly. He would really go and thump Snape if that was the case! Also, what did Remus mean when he said that Snape’s feelings for Hermione were genuine? He had to be mistaken.

Remus shook his head. “No, nothing so dramatic. It was only a letter which I feel obliged to honour.”

“Why?” Harry said.

“Because what I’m saying is that any action on our part to dissuade Snape and Hermione from their ah, friendship at this stage would only have the repercussions of driving them closer together. Hermione has clearly not taken it well at what being told to do as well. However, I feel that even if their feelings for each other are genuine, the relationship will soon die a natural death,” Remus said pragmatically.

“Yeah?” Harry said sceptically.

“Yes, think about it,” Remus counselled. “Hermione can be quite… forward, shall I say in her speaking, and if there’s anything I know about Snape is that he hates what he perceives as disrespect from others. It is clear that he has not liked Hermione before this and I cannot see him having much patience with her and her ways for long. It’s possible they may stay as acquaintances and there’s nothing we can or perhaps should do about that, but I don’t really see the possibility of anything else happening in the long term.”

“Do you think so?” Harry said soberly.

Remus nodded. “Yes, I do. You should just be prepared to pick up the pieces for Hermione if necessary.”

Harry couldn’t help but see the logic in what Remus had said. After all, he knew from personal experience that Snape lost his temper at the least provocation, and indeed, so did Hermione at times.

However, Harry’s sense of anger and betrayal at Hermione remained like a dark pit in his heart. She preferred Snape to him, a voice whispered from inside him. It would be a long time before he could get over and forgive that.


* * * * *


Hermione had woken early that morning and being unable to go back to sleep she had decided it was a good time as any to write a letter to Lavender. She was blessed – or cursed if you looked at it the other way – in that she was a morning person. By the time she put on her dressing gown, produced a glowing wizard light of soft gold that would bob gently around the room as it provided light, and sat down at her little desk to write her letter, her mind was ready to start working.

If Harry and Ron hadn’t found out about her and Severus as soon as they had, she would have eventually told them of course, though Lavender as her more receptive friend in this situation would have been told first. Now that things were out in the open, it was important that she get her point of view across to Lavender as soon as possible before she heard a garbled story from Harry and Ron. However, Hermione had to be careful what she said – when she had been with the boys she had left out any reference to actually meeting Severus here as a guest and she was determined to do the same with Lavender. It was subterfuge of course, but she felt it was necessary.

Of course, as soon as Lavender found out that she was seeing Severus, her mind would immediately remember that time months ago when she had (accurately no doubt) suspected the Potions master of being jealous, and promptly speculate herself that they had started secretly seeing each other not long afterwards. There was nothing that Hermione could do short of a mind charm to totally erase such speculations in her friends mind, but she would take care to emphasise that nothing had actually happened. Indeed, she had had her hands full at times with Harry and Ron both trying to court her, and she felt an unexpected pang at the memory. Things had changed so much since then… she shook her head and sought parchment and quill.

She went through a few drafts before she was satisfied with her letter, and then pursing her mouth reached for a fresh sheet of parchment. This time the letter would be for Remus – a polite but nevertheless pointed request for him to stay out of her business and respect her own ability to make her own decisions about the people in her life.

Afterwards, Hermione regretted that she didn’t have the time to spare to go into Hogsmeade to post her letters. Even though she balked at having to pay the necessary price she decided it was probably best to send them from the retreat as she wanted to get them away as quickly as possible.

That morning one of Hermione’s primary duties was to clean out the various birdbaths and check as well that the birdseed trays fastened to various tree branches had enough seed in them. Because of the bird familiars present it was in the best interests of the retreat to ensure their needs were catered for with the best birdseed - birds in themselves were also vital to gardens for they helped to keep the number of insects down that would eat away at young plants.

As she went about her work she privately wondered exactly how Severus had worded his letter to Remus, and whether it would stir up any more trouble in the end. Hermione was consciously aware of still feeling anger towards Harry and Ron, and was irritated too at the thought that they might start telling the rest of their friends of her new ‘understanding’ with Severus and no doubt how disgusting it was. She certainly had had arguments with the boys in the past and they had eventually blown over, but in this case she refused to budge on her position regarding Severus. If she wished to date him she would.

It wasn’t too long before Hermione heard the flutter of wings that signified the arrival of Severus-Crow. For now thoughts of her friends and Remus went away and her spirits lifted at the sight of the crow perching upon a nearby branch. She immediately thought of her dream of Severus last night - and then hoped that he didn’t notice her suddenly pink cheeks. Well, just because she was bookish didn’t mean she didn’t have a normal libido like everyone else, Hermione thought resolutely.

As usual Hermione felt herself being quickly scanned by the dark eye facing her when she greeted Severus-Crow in a friendly manner before casting the Keep-Away charm. She was tempted to ask him to resume his human shape so she could hear about the letter he had sent to Remus – and whether he had already had a reply – but with an effort she curbed her curiosity. It would just have to wait until later.

Severus-Crow then suspiciously eyed the birdbath she was standing by – turning his head so he could gaze upon it with his other eye as well – and then he tilted his head at Hermione and gave her an interrogative ‘caw’ which clearly asked what was she doing by a birdbath.

Hermione waved her hand at the birdbath. “Oh, this?”

Severus-Crow gave her an impatient ‘caw’ that seemed to indicate well, what else did she think he was inquiring about?

Hermione smiled at him nevertheless. “One of my jobs today is to go around and make sure that the birdbaths – there are three actually – are free of grime and dirt and are full of fresh water,” she explained. “I have to make sure too that there is enough seed in the four birdfeed trays as well,” she added ruefully as she indicated the small bag of birdseed in her bucket nearby.

At that Severus-Crow tilted his head at a haughty angle as if to indicate that eating seed from a birdfeed tray and certainly drinking from a birdbath was beneath him to say the least. Well, when Hermione thought about it she couldn’t imagine Severus in his crow form splashing and wallowing with happy abandon in the birdbaths as she had seen other birds do – when they thought no one was watching them of course. Fighting to hide a chuckle at that amusing thought Hermione turned back to the birdbath at hand and briskly performed certain spells that left it free of any dirt, its water now clear and fresh instead of having a slightly scummy appearance.

“There,” Hermione said in satisfaction, deliberately not looking at the nearby crow. “Now it’s clean enough for any bird to drink from.”

Severus-Crow’s only reaction was a rude sounding ‘caw’. Nevertheless he accompanied her at a certain distance as she visited each birdbath and birdfeed tray, though his manner continued to indicate that he would not be lowering himself to act like a true bird and indulge himself at them. However, Hermione couldn’t help but notice the covert attention he gave her and her sack of birdseed when she took it from her bucket to replenish the birdfeed trays. Hermione could understand that despite the best of intentions it was easy for Animagi to have their mind overruled by the instincts of the animal or avian form they changed into. No doubt Severus himself was determined not to truly indulge his avian appetites unless he really had to, but every time he would see the seed there would nevertheless be the strong instinct to rush and eat food when he had the chance to…

It was probably not too surprising that she was starting to feel a bit hungry herself after a while, and once she had finished this particular chore Hermione went to sit down on a bench that was in a sheltered area filled with colourful flowers and shrubs, reached by a little trail some distance from the paths. Cleaning the birdbaths hadn’t been difficult but all of the birdfeed trays had been attached to fairly high tree branches, and it had required her to cast a combination of spells to make the trays disengage from their branches without spilling anything and float down to her. Once she had dealt with the old seed, cleaned the trays, poured fresh seed in and made the trays go back to where they had been before she certainly had started to work up an appetite.

“After that job I think I really deserve a quick snack,” she said aloud. She cast a Cleaning charm upon her hands and then took out a single birdseed from the bag and placed it carefully upon one hand. Severus-Crow had swooped down to perch upon the bench beside her, one vigilant black eye and then the other observing her behaviour. With the wand in her other hand she cast a spell to transfigure the birdseed into a slice of apple pie. Because the birdseed was food in itself – even if it wasn’t human food – it was easier to ‘convince’ it to transform into suitable food for a human. Regarding the slice of apple pie she now held with satisfaction Hermione stowed her wand into a handy - and safe for the wand – pocket and began happily eating.

Hermione had felt tempted for a moment to offer Severus-Crow a small handful of birdseed. But then she had reconsidered for his manner had made it clear that he would probably be insulted if she did so.

However, she didn’t see Severus-Crow continue to cast the occasional stealthy look at the practically empty bag of birdseed she had returned to the bucket on the ground.

When she had finished eating, brushed the remaining crumbs off her lap and cast another Cleaning charm upon her hands, she picked the birdseed bag up out of the bucket to fix a small rip she had noticed before in the coarse fabric.

“Oh!” Hermione suddenly exclaimed as Severus-Crow suddenly launched himself towards her and promptly landed upon her knees in a flurry of black wings. The material of her trousers was sturdy enough but she was nevertheless quite aware of how sharp his claws were. Severus-Crow steadied himself upon her knees, a sharp black eye watching her all the while. Then he swung his head towards the bag and then back to her. He then gave her a demanding ‘caw’ whose meaning was quite plain.

“Ask me nicely, thank you,” Hermione scolded, an idea in her head. Even though she loved him there was no need for her to put up for his high-handedness even in this form…

Severus-Crow looked taken aback and then he ruffled his feathers in defiance, uttering another ‘caw’ that clearly translated as Want Food Now.

Hermione glowered down at him and refused to budge.

Severus-Crow’s black eye glared up at her for a moment and then he tossed his head in annoyance before uttering a grudging ‘caw’ that sufficed as an apology from him. He ruffled his feathers again and then settled himself down upon her knees like a king sitting down on his throne.

“There, that wasn’t so bad, was it?” Hermione pointed out dryly before she put her hand into the sack and drew out a seed. After taking out her wand she uttered a spell that made the seed multiply in her hand until it was filled with a generous amount.

After putting away her wand she then said in a gentler tone, “Here you go,” before she politely held out her cupped hand to him.

Severus-Crow eyed her guardedly before he lowered his head to carefully peck the seed from her outstretched hand with the air of someone doing her a great honour.

It was with fascination that Hermione watched him literally eat from her hand – yet another interesting experience she was having with him. Severus-Crow ate the seed at a steady pace and when he had finished he made a wistful sound and pecked gently at her hand in case he had missed a seed.

“That’s it, I’m afraid,” Hermione said gravely down to him before she drew her hand back.

If Severus-Crow could have sighed she was sure he would have then.

“Never mind, I will be sure to feed you the finest of food some other time,” she assured him with just the hint of a sparkle in her eyes.

Severus-Crow gave her the type of look that promised all sorts of revenge to be inflicted upon her eventually for that remark.

Hermione smirked and reached out to him with her other hand to gently stroke his back, smoothing his feathers too in the process. Feeling somewhat mollified Severus-Crow uttered a soft ‘caw’ and then looked imperiously up at her.

“All right,” Hermione chuckled before she went to gently scratch the area behind his head that he had said was often itchy while he was in his Animagus form.

She was a wonderful nest-mate, Severus-Crow thought to himself with satisfaction. For now he was feeling comfortably full upon her knees, the sunshine was warm upon his feathers and her gently stroking hand was making him feel safe, wanted and yes, loved. All he wanted to do was stay here.

“I’m afraid I will have to get back to my work now,” his nest-mate said regretfully as she removed her hand.

An aggrieved Severus-Crow immediately gave a harsh ‘caw’ of protest even though part of him was derisive at himself for showing vulnerability in this way. She was his and he wanted her to stay right here!

He heard her croon at him for a moment and then felt her hand return to stroke his back gently.

“Calm down. What I was about to say before you interrupted me was that because I think I gave you bit too much birdseed it doesn’t look like you’re in a mood to move far or fly. Since I see quite a bit of weeding needs to be done around me I will be staying here for a while anyway,” she said as she looked around her with a critical eye. “Well, after I take the birdseed back, that is,” she amended. “Will that do?”

He supposed it would have to do, Severus-Crow grumbled to himself as he bobbed his head briefly in assent. He pecked her leg gently then he stood up and carefully hopped from her knees down to the bench. Then he settled himself upon the bench and regarded his nest-mate with a baleful eye as she stood and put the sack of birdseed – wondrous food that it was – back into the bucket. She had the audacity to smile at him again.

“I won’t be long,” she promised and then she left.

When she returned Hermione found Severus-Crow standing by a flowerbed that looked the weediest, an air of smugness radiating from him.

“You’re letting me know where to start weeding first? Why, you’re too kind,” Hermione told him as she bent down beside him to start weeding, glad of a good Cushioning Charm in the knee region of her trousers that prevented her knees from getting sore. “I really can’t wait until I have my afternoon off tomorrow.”

Severus-Crow uttered a sardonic ‘caw’ and then settled down upon the grass so he could observe her – to see that she was doing the job well, of course. He was pleased that she would be having the afternoon off tomorrow… quite pleased in fact.

Later that night when Hermione came to the library Severus immediately swept over to her and picked up one of her hands, examining it with a faint frown.

“Have you been rubbing the cream that I gave you on your hands?” he asked imperiously.

“Yes I have – I just did so before,” Hermione rejoined. I’m surprised you can’t smell it,” he added.

Severus’ black eyes narrowed and then he gently lifted her hand to his prominent nose – she would have to ask him one day if he had any Roman ancestry – and carefully sniffed it.

“You appear to be right,” he grudgingly conceded though she saw there was a faint glint in his black eyes.

The sneaky Slytherin just wanted an excuse to hold her hand, Hermione thought in amusement.

“Oh, and hello to you by the way,” she informed him pertly.

“I prefer a more suitable greeting along the lines of, ‘Good evening, Hermione,’ ” he said smoothly before he inclined his head and swiftly kissed her hand. She felt her cheeks turn slightly pink at his gesture and grumbled for a moment to herself. He seemed to have this ability to make her blush at times and it was quite vexing.

His face lifted and he appeared to have read her thoughts. “Why, you do like to blush, don’t you Hermione?” he said sleekly.

“If I happen to blush then it’s entirely your fault,” she said in a dignified tone. Let him know that she was the innocent party here, thank you.

“Oh, so you’re blaming me, are you?” he murmured as he drew her closer to him. “For insulting a professor I believe this calls for an immediate… reprimand,” he added as he wrapped his arms firmly around her and then bent his head to kiss her.

His kisses were tender and she felt him move a curious hand to touch her hair, winding some of the strands around his fingers. Not to be outdone Hermione reached up and ran a hand gently through his curtains of black hair. It felt a bit greasy to the touch, but not unpleasantly so. Severus’ kisses became more insistent and his other arm momentarily tightened around her. Then he gave her one last, firm kiss.

“You are too much of a distraction,” he grumbled and drew her over to the table that was prepared for a chess game.

“What did you say when you wrote to Remus?” Hermione found herself asking him as she sat down at the table.

“Enough to get my point across,” Severus said cryptically as he sat down in turn, his outer robes billowing slightly around him. “I do not wish for him to interfere. If he bothers you in any further way over this you are to tell me, is that clear?” His black gaze was implacable as he looked at her.

“I think I can handle things if he does,” Hermione said with faint irritation in her voice. After all, she wasn’t a child.

Severus glowered at her. “I would not have him harass you,” he snapped.

Hermione looked stonily back at him. “He wouldn’t be harassing me for very long if I have anything to say about it!” she countered. Then she sighed. She knew Severus was just trying to show in his own way that he cared, but she didn’t want him fighting her battles all the time. “Look, all I would say to him is that I know what I’m doing and I don’t need anyone else telling me otherwise. I have good reason to care for you a lot, even if we have the occasional argument,” she added drolly.

The frown lines on Severus’ face were pronounced but then he relented. He did feel quite protective of her at times, but sometimes he could express that feeling in the wrong way, he grudgingly admitted to himself. He also had to admit that even though his dislike for Remus at times was not as much as it had been for Sirius or James, there nevertheless was the dark urge within him to try and find a reason, any reason, to have a fight with Remus.

“Well, being the Gryffindor that you are you will persist in talking back to me,” he said sardonically.

Hermione raised her eyebrows. “Would you have preferred to go out with a Hufflepuff who would never say ‘boo’ to you then?” she said sweetly.

There was an instant look of repugnance on his face. “What an absurd suggestion. As if being with a Gryffindor isn’t trouble enough,” he said tartly. Then there was an unreadable look upon his face as he looked at her.

“I had decided once that only a woman who would clearly know her place would be the ideal one for me. But I have come to realise that someone like that would only drive me up the wall. You do that to me at times but in an infinitely preferable way,” he said with a slightly mocking edge to his voice.

Only someone like Severus would insult and compliment you at the same time, Hermione thought.

“Thanks, I think,” she commented after a moment.

“You are welcome. Now, I intend to win this game of chess and I suggest you prepare yourself accordingly…”

However, Hermione was quite determined to win the game and so she did. Naturally Severus immediately demanded a second game and so on, with their game score in the end being even. Severus huffed to himself over that, but in the end had to be satisfied with the results. His male pride did, however, feel quite satisfied after drawing Hermione to the couch and kissing and caressing her until her cheeks were flushed and her eyes were bright. It was good to feel that he had the power to make her feel this way, and if his cheeks felt equally flushed and his heart beat faster, well, these things could be tolerated in the end.

The next day it was with satisfaction that Hermione went to dump her final bucket of weeds just before lunchtime. She had finished for the week, and now Friday afternoon with its free time stretched invitingly before her. When she put her equipment away, she went inside and into her bedroom and then Biddy promptly appeared with her weekly pay. Hermione accepted the money with thanks and a smile, relishing again in the pleasure of being paid for her labour. There was a letter from her parents given to her as well that promised to be a good read after. Hermione went to have a quick bath - even though she wasn’t really that dirty, having a bath was a satisfactory way of affirming that she wouldn’t have to get her hands dirty again this afternoon.

Once she was clean she quickly put on a fresh robe and went to have lunch. Mindful that a no doubt impatient Severus would probably be waiting for her back in the garden after lunch, her anticipation of spending the afternoon with him made her eat faster than usual. Then she mentally scolded herself because being foolish in this way would only give her indigestion. When she had finished and allowed her stomach to go down a sudden thought made her eyes gleam. Yes, she could get away with this idea if she was very careful – if there was any danger she would take quick steps to avert it.

So it was that after carefully checking that no one was watching, a small tortoiseshell cat bounded happily into the garden. Everything looked big and wonderful as usual to Hermione-Cat’s eyes and all of her cares seemed to melt away as she hunted for her Black One. Her delicate nose could smell his distinctive scent before she actually saw with feline delight Severus-Crow perched upon a low stone wall, his glossy black feathers gleaming in the sunshine – he had probably felt it wise to wait for her as usual in his Animagus form. He gave an instinctive and sharp ‘caw!’ when he saw her approach and for a moment she could see that the crow was tensed to fly away as a true crow would at the sight of an approaching cat.

To soothe him, Hermione-Cat promptly sat down and immediately started purring happily up at Severus-Crow, her purr conveying that she was both glad to see her Beloved and would he like to play? Looking at her Black One this close she had the strong sense without being told that his feathers were merely the shell for a true form that was much larger and so she had no inclination to see the crow as something to hunt/chase/play with/eat. Her feline instincts also told her that hunting crows were not much fun at all since their beaks and claws were quite sharp…

Severus-Crow eyed her sharply with a black eye and then visibly relaxed as he seemed to realise it really was her. Nevertheless he started to ‘caw’ in a scolding manner down to her that conveyed that shouldn’t she be acting her age?

Hermione-Cat pouted, and after turning her back on him slightly began washing her paws. She had only wanted to play with him and this was how he treated her. Well, if that was the way he was going to act, she could go and play elsewhere. Yes, that was a good idea. She got up and started padding over to a bush her nose said had some interesting smells coming from it.

She heard a sharp ‘caw’ and after hearing a flutter of wings saw the crow swoop over to land just in front of her, the black bird looking quite irate and his feathers ruffled. Preparing to give the impression that she wasn’t interested in what he had to communicate, she regally looked at him. Then she blinked, for Severus-Crow at this perspective was roughly the same size as her. How fascinating her Black One was, she thought, her earlier annoyance with him promptly forgotten. She leaned her head forward slightly and sniffed in his direction. Yes, his scent was definitely a spicy mixture of bird and the human he was as well, Hermione-Cat mused. Lovely!

She had obviously startled him with her sniffing, for the crow hopped back a step and eyed her suspiciously. To reassure Severus-Crow she started purring at him again, her tail waving gently from side to side and her eyes bright. Severus-Crow eyed her carefully and then she felt suspicious of a sudden gleam in the black eye that was facing her. He paced towards her and then slowly circled her, making Hermione-Cat feel as if he was studying every inch of her with great care. Then he stopped and prodded her gently in her side with his beak.

Hermione-Cat turned and gave him a scolding ‘meow’, her tail moving to lightly smack him in return.

Severus-Crow uttered a vexed ‘caw’ and the look in his black eye said that she would be paying for that. Not if she could help it, Hermione-Cat suddenly thought merrily, a plan in her head as she stuck her pink tongue out of him. He appeared outraged and before he had the chance to react further, Hermione-Cat waved her tail mockingly at him and then turned and darted away towards the bushes. Catch me if you can, her demeanour challenged Severus-Crow.

How dare she treat him like that, Severus-Crow seethed. She obviously had no respect for his beak and claws as she should, and he would teach the kitten she really was a lesson she would not forget in a hurry. Yes, he would chase her, pounce upon her and let her know who was the Master! There was an evil glint of anticipation in his eyes as he took to the air and swooped after Hermione-Cat. She had no chance of evading him for his wings gave him the obvious advantage.

The chase was on.

This was fun, Hermione-Cat thought happily to herself as she raced through a gap in the bushes. With her four fast legs and cunning she could easily evade any bird. She raced towards a path but reconsidered when she could hear human voices in the distance. No, it was best to evade the two-legs she thought as she skidded to a halt. She heard a triumphant ‘caw’ behind her as she was spotted by her hunter and chose another direction that would lead away from the house - and towards the outskirts of the garden where the vegetation was wilder and hopefully where there would be less people. She spotted a thicket of trees and darted towards them. With luck, she would be able to blend in with them for those crucial moments in which she could run off undetected in another direction.

In her cat form Hermione was swift on her feet and able to squeeze through tight obstacles to elude her hunter. But Severus-Crow with his sharp eyes was able to easily track her from above and note the marks of her passage when he temporarily lost sight of her. His hunting instinct merged with his own Slytherin cunning and there were many times when he nearly caught her.

Oh, he was impossible to evade for long, Hermione-Cat thought in vexation as she heard the flutter of Severus-Crow’s approaching wings yet again. However, she saw a small hole in a hedge and she quickly squeezed herself through it to the other side, hoping that she hadn’t been spotted. Her heartbeat was racing and she felt in desperate need of water to drink as she crouched down into a tight little ball of fur, her feline eyes worried. Her evasion tactic seemed to have worked for she heard a disgruntled ‘caw’ from Severus-Crow in the sky and the sound of his wings fading as he veered off into another direction. She was safe!

Hermione-Cat allowed herself to pant in tiredness as she stretched out on the grass. It was secluded here and ah, the coolness of the grass beneath her fur felt so good, she thought in relief. But she needed a way to find water, and soon. If she went back towards the house though she would surely be spotted. Hermione-Cat rested as much as she could and when she had regained some strength she stood and tried to remember if there was a stream nearby… yes, there was one that gushed from a spring and was not too far away, she thought in relief. Her thirst was more important right now than Severus-Crow, but nevertheless she moved in a stealthy way from the hedge to her destination, laying low when necessary and keeping a wary eye upon the sky all the while.

She eventually heard the burbling sound of running water, and even though she would be exposed to the sky she dashed from the shelter of a bush to where a little stream rushed down a small slope. She meowed in happiness and rushed to the banks of the stream, failing to notice in her relief as she bent her head to slake her thirst a familiar shadow moving swiftly over the nearby ground towards her – a shadow that changed shape…

“Got you!” a voice said in satisfied triumph not long after as a pair of hands seized her. She yowled at being taken away from her water and then tensed as she felt herself being Apparated with him to a forest clearing. In anger she twisted out of his hands and as she dropped to the ground she transformed back into her human self.

“You cheated!” she stormed as she stood up to glare at Severus, her eyes flashing even though her body was feeling tired.

He had the indecency to look pleased with himself as only a Slytherin could. When he had been Severus-Crow, he had inexplicably lost sight of his prey but had followed his instincts and retraced his flight. He felt unable now to take his eyes off her, for Hermione was magnificent in her anger, her brown hair a wild and untamed mass around her head.

“I merely took advantage of the situation,” Severus said tauntingly, his black eyes glittering down at her and his breathing coming fast from his previous exertions as well as other reasons. “It does not matter how I won, only that I did.”

“It does so matter, you, you Slytherin!” Hermione snapped. “I was about to have a drink of water – a much needed drink I must add – and you took me away!” She knew she sounded petty but she didn’t care and was about to continue venting her displeasure when Severus seized her arms, moving his hands quickly to her wrists so that he could hold her arms at either side of her body.

“Temper, temper,” he said mockingly. “A standard Gryffindor behaviour, I believe. It only matters that I will use any means to catch you if I must,” he said as his mouth swooped down to kiss her. His kiss was fierce as if he sought to claim her totally, but an indignant Hermione refused to respond even though she felt herself starting to melt with his black-clad body pressing so closely to her own. He then released her arms and his kisses gentled, seeking to coax a response from her through more tender means.

“You shall have your water, Hermione,” the Potions master murmured against her mouth as he nibbled her lower lip gently, his arms moving to encircle her waist. “Only say ‘please’ and I shall give it to you.”

“Say ‘sorry’ first,” Hermione managed to say sternly though it was hard to feel stern when Severus started to press teasing kisses along the line of her jaw. There was a sense of impassioned energy about him at the moment that was hard to resist as well as the sense that he was enjoying himself.

“I am only sorry I did not catch you sooner,” he said tartly. “Imagine, daring to stick your tongue out at me. Such disrespect for your elders!”

Hermione couldn’t help it and started laughing. He glowered down at her in his arms and that only made it worse.

“The look on your face!” Hermione gasped. “I mean, the look on your erm, bird face,” she amended; managing to calm down though there was still a look of mirth on her face. “I certainly wasn’t going to make it easy for you to catch me,” she said.

“So I saw,” he grumbled and kissed her mouth again. Hermione wrapped her arms around his waist and kissed him back warmly, her former indignation melting away.

“Very well. I shall apologise for preventing you from having your drink, for I missed the undoubted sight of seeing you fall in the stream as a result,” he said with a smirk shortly after, dropping a kiss swiftly upon her mouth when she opened it in protest at his comment. “I feel inclined to accept another kiss in place of a ‘please’ from you.”

Hermione huffed at him. “All right,” she conceded and then with a gleam in her eyes she leaned up to drop a chaste kiss upon a sallow cheek. However, Severus anticipated this and moved his head quickly so that she did end up kissing his mouth.

“You should not try that particular trick too often upon a Slytherin,” he purred. “I demand a better effort.” Hermione smiled and much to his satisfaction kissed his mouth warmly.

“Much better,” Severus said silkily before he drew out his wand and after pointing it at a large tree stump he uttered a word and two glass goblets of water promptly appeared upon it.

“Thanks,” Hermione told him before going over to the stump and bending down picked up the two goblets. She straightened and then Severus was there, taking one of the goblets from her.

“I admit to being thirsty as well, though the seating arrangements are a little less than desired,” he observed before he pointed his wand at a fallen tree trunk on the other side of the clearing and turned it into a bench.

Hermione looked around her as she sat down upon the bench. “Where exactly are we?” she enquired after she had quenched her thirst with the water.

Severus nodded to the left. “The retreat is in that direction. I merely wished for some proper time alone with you,” he said stiffly, having drunk his water in a more measured way.

“I see,” Hermione said with a smile. “Should I be worried?” she added demurely.

“Perhaps,” he replied sardonically.

However, when they rested after drinking their water and banishing the goblets (and turning the bench back into its original form), by mutual agreement they both changed into their Animagi forms again. Of course, Severus-Crow had to immediately subject Hermione-Cat to his own scrutiny again, gently prodding her all over her body with his beak. Not to be outdone of course, Hermione-Cat purred and batted him gently with her paws before Severus-Crow cawed mockingly at her and swooped off into the forest in a clear challenge for her to follow. Her eyes alert, Hermione immediately bounded off into the forest after him. She would chase and catch her Black One!

However, even though Severus-Crow stayed close to the ground at times, he took great pleasure in evading her attempts to catch him. He would perch on a rock and then fly away moments before she pounced, his taunting caws echoing in her ears. He would fly around her in circles and then pretend to dive down at her. He would perch upon the branch of a tree in a clear invitation for her to climb the tree and catch him that way, when she knew full well it would be a futile attempt, the smug black bird. She felt he was having far too much fun in this forest where the dappled sunlight made everything look greenly ethereal.

Finally she gave up even thinking she could catch Severus-Crow and flopped ungracefully on her back in a small clearing, having retained just enough strength to change back into her human form. She knew that she probably looked a fright at the moment and her behaviour was hardly that of a graduated witch from Hogwarts, but lying here on the soft grass felt like heaven right now to her tired limbs. The lingering tension inside of her from thoughts of her friends just seemed to drain away into the cushioning ground. She heard a questioning ‘caw’ and saw Severus-Crow circle over her before he swooped to land beside her. Hermione craned her head slightly so that she could see him.

“I’m not giving up – I’ve just decided not to try and catch you for now since I really need a rest,” she pointed out sleepily, her eyes closing.

A few moments later she heard a rustle of robes and Severus’ voice saying acerbically, “Indeed. But if you’re going to lie on the ground and doze, then use your common sense and have something to lie on.”

Hermione’s eyes blinked open and she saw Severus kneeling besides her, a long-suffering look on his face as he picked up a twig from the ground and transformed it into a thick and well-woven grey blanket. He then briskly shook out the blanket and laid it out on the ground besides her before casting the Keep-Away charm.

He then stood up again, his face stiff. He was torn inside; on one hand he felt in need of a rest as well and the blanket looked quite inviting, but on the other hand he would surely be going into dangerous territory if he did so. A caustic voice in his mind pointed out that after the previous activity his near-40 year old body was hardly going to feel like ravishing her right now, even though the sight of her lying down made his blood quicken in his veins…

“Thanks,” she said softly as she got up and went to sit down upon his blanket, feeling unexpectedly awkward. Before she really knew what she was doing she patted the blanket and firmly said, “Come here.”

Severus froze and his face became unreadable.

Her face flushing she said in a hasty voice, “I mean, just come and sit down and have a little break since I think you need one too. That was all.”

She had only said it because she genuinely cared, and Severus’ heart softened. However, he didn’t let this show upon his face.

“Very well, but not for too long,” he said stiffly as he went to the edge of the blanket and sat down with care near Hermione – but not too close – and felt a joint creak.

“No doubt the ground will be uncomfortable,” he said tartly.

“It’s not that bad - besides, you do have enough clothes on to cushion you,” Hermione pointed out in an effort to inject some humour as she looked at how Severus’ black robes were all pooled about him on the blanket. There wasn’t that much room to spare on the blanket and she was acutely aware of how tense his body language was and indeed, how hers was too, both of them careful not to do something at this stage that could be considered… improper by the other.

“Are you judging my choice of clothes?” Severus said waspishly besides her, his black eyes flashing.

“No, they make you look very…”

“Yes?” Severus quickly questioned.

“In charge, in control,” Hermione said diplomatically, deciding it was probably not a good idea to say that he had too many buttons she would love to undo. Also, how could she say to him that the hint of white at his throat and neck was far more sexy in her eyes than any other ‘revealing’ clothing?

However, Severus noticed the thoughtful and simmering way she briefly gave his clothes and he felt a mixture of disbelief and amazement, as well as the distinct beginning of a flush on his face to his exasperation, though he was flattered to know anew that she truly thought him desirable…

“If I am in charge then why have I been landed with a Gryffindor who has a distinct mind of her own,” he grumbled, then raised an eyebrow. “Well? I thought you were supposed to be lying down and having a rest,” he said tartly.

Hermione blinked and then promptly obeyed him, responding to his ‘command’ voice like she would have done at school. She then crossed her arms and huffed up at him, looking so indignant that Severus said, “Ah, obedient at last,” with a smirk.

“I probably would have a nap if I laid down properly and that would never do,” he then said tartly to forestall her next comment.

Hermione smiled up at him then. “I would watch over you,” she said simply.

Severus gazed at her and then unable to help himself moved so he could then lean down to gently brush her mouth with his own. “You would, wouldn’t you,” he murmured as he looked down at her, his black hair nearly brushing her face. He was so close to her that part of her wished she wasn’t feeling so weary so that she could take some advantage of the situation.

However, some deep need inside Hermione struggled to make itself known. “Hold me,” she whispered.

Severus’ black eyes hardened and he pulled away. “I will not. Not here in these circumstances,” he said flatly.

But Hermione did not want to be denied. “Please. We don’t feel like anything else even if we wanted to. I just want…”

“Yes?” Severus said in the same flat tone, but he was starting to feel himself waver under the genuine appeal in her brown eyes. He knew she could sense that too in her own way, damn her.

“I just want you. Just to hold you,” she said honestly, reaching out a hand. “Please, Severus.”

Severus’ face was grim but then he shifted his body so that he was lying down and then he turned to look at her. They both stared into each others eyes, both of them lying on their sides facing the other, brown eyes searching the flat black ones for a hint of…what?

Then his eyes softened ever so slightly. “Well? Come here then,” he grumbled and held out a hand to her. Her answering smile was like a ray of sunshine into the darker parts of his heart as she solemnly moved closer so that she ended up platonically snuggling against his chest, letting out a pleased sigh.

She could feel how tense and stiff his body was though against hers and she stilled, wondering if she had indeed gone too far.

“I thought you wanted to hold me,” his deep voice then grumbled by her hair. She could feel his chin brushing the top of her head and she lifted her outer arm so that it moved to wrap gently around his waist.

A faint shudder ran through the Potion masters’ thin body and then she felt him start to relax. After a few moments Hermione felt him draw what he could of his outer robes over her body, the heavy and lined black fabric that was part of his intimidation technique as he swept into rooms serving now to make her feel safe and warm. An arm slid possessively around her waist and drew her closely to him, and then she felt his mouth press a gentle kiss to her forehead.

“It seems I can never refuse you,” he said darkly.

“It’s just a cuddle,” Hermione managed to say firmly.

“Hmphf,” Severus said but his heart was acting most peculiarly as he looked down at the warm armful of young woman he was holding. He realised it was feeling… joyful. He could feel the steady beating of her heart, smell her unique Hermione-scent that momentarily quickened his tired body. True to her word she was doing nothing else but was content only to be holding him. Yes, he was content as well, he grumbled to himself. He was holding the person he loved and since they were both still fully clothed after all what harm really was there? She was holding him, and yes, she loved him. He should try and get her to admit that more often, he decided.

And so the two of them rested in each other’s arms, both of them realising how far they had both progressed to reach the situation they were now in. Severus finally knew that there was nothing to be feared in being with Hermione, nor had there ever been. He had not become weak or lost anything in loving her, but only gained. From now on, he and indeed she, could only become stronger.

“I love you, Miss Hermione Granger,” he said whisper-soft against her brow.

Hermione leaned up and kissed him gravely yet sweetly upon his mouth. “I love you, Mr Severus Snape,” and then a corner of his thin mouth lifted in a faint smile.

After a moment he grumbled, “I said that the ground would be uncomfortable and I was right after all.”

Hermione sighed to herself.


TBC



A/N: No, that last scene wasn't a prelude to a lemon as they're a bit tired. Lemons later. Sorry guys! Yes, I'm evil at times (grin).



A Choice of Roads by Imhilien [Reviews - 86]

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