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A Choice of Roads by Imhilien [Reviews - 93]

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Part 25

A few days later in a Hogsmeade bookshop during her lunch hour, Hermione looked at the birthday card in her hand she was about to buy with a soberness that seemed out of place for such an activity. But this particular card was for Harry, and she had almost not bought a card for him at all. Hermione had certainly felt herself wondering if Harry did deserve a card from her, given the current bitter rift between them. After all, Harry clearly made his displeasure of the relationship between herself and Severus Snape quite plain. The fact that Harry had been quick to tell the rest of her friends of what he thought of them, with only Lavender not dropping her friendship as a result was painfully persistent in her mind.

Hermione didn’t like being treated that way but even so she had balked in the end at the thought of not remembering Harry’s birthday in some way. After all, from her end that would have been saying that she was effectively ending their friendship. It was because Hermione thought that deep down, she wanted to believe that her friendship with Harry was still worth saving and in sending a card it was her way of expressing this hope. After all, weren’t Gryffindors the kind of people that refused to surrender when everything seemed lost?

However, the card she had chosen was plain and simply worded – such details would be a message in itself to Harry. His birthday was in the beginning of next week and she hadn’t received an invitation to his party yet. If she was honest with herself then she knew not to expect one to arrive. Hermione also knew that Lavender had received an invitation for she had been quick to write to Hermione and say so. Lavender's correspondence held a gentle overtone of guilt woven between her words for she too was clearly thinking that Hermione’s chances of being invited to Harry's party were zero.

If the card Hermione had bought for Harry was plain, then the words she quickly inscribed while sitting on a bench outside (sometimes there was never an available table when you needed it) were equally plain. Once she had completed the task of sending off the card she heard a familiar voice briskly greeting her when she was walking past Honeydukes.

She paused in surprise and saw that yes, it was her former Headmaster who had called her name in good humour as he walked out of the shop, a small paper bag in his hand. Hermione saw that his face had a distinct tan and he was wearing robes of silver silk covered with bright blue embroidered runes, and on any other wizard the outfit would have looked ludicrous but somehow he got away with it.

“Good afternoon, Professor Dumbledore,” Hermione replied with a smile. “You look as if you’ve been away on a holiday,” she added innocently.

Thanks to Severus she definitely knew of course that he and Professor McGonagall had been on holiday to Hawaii but she didn’t want to reveal this fact. It would perhaps confirm to Dumbledore straight away that if she and Severus were actually having civil conversations together then his matchmaking attempt had been successful. Because, when one meddled in other people’s lives on the scale Albus Dumbledore did, and even if it was for the right reasons, one could easily become complacent in the belief that a successful outcome was given.

Dumbledore peered at Hermione over his half-moon spectacles, smiling benignly.

“Ah, you have noticed I have been under a foreign sun perhaps a little longer than was wise,” he said cheerfully. “Yes, I had the good fortune and opportunity to recently spend some time in Hawaii; I was pleased to have Professor McGonagall as a traveling companion who equally enjoyed the sun, but in smaller doses.”

He held the paper bag in his hand out to her, using all his grandfatherly charm. “Would you like a sugar mouse, Hermione?”

Hermione smiled in return and after thanking him she carefully withdrew a tiny, pink sugar mouse out of the bag, the paper crackling as she did so. The mouse gave a realistic squeak and left grains of sugar in its wake as it scuttled around her palm for a second before stilling so that Hermione could pop it in her mouth.

Dumbledore motioned Hermione to follow him as he started walking along the footpath and Hermione found herself trotting along besides him.

“I had tried to convince Professor Snape to come with us as well on holiday but alas, he declined,” the elderly wizard said to her with what seemed like genuine regret.

Hermione pretended to be surprised. “Really? I’m sure he would have enjoyed himself,” she said diplomatically, leaving the word ‘eventually’ unsaid.

Perhaps Dumbledore had picked that up for his eyes twinkled as he glanced at her.

“So, having failed to convince him of the joys of the tropics he nevertheless saw the wisdom of having a well-deserved holiday at a local place called St. Morgana’s Forest Retreat,” he continued in an all too innocent tone.

Hermione decided to cut to the chase.

“I know, since that is where I currently have a holiday job as an assistant gardener,” she replied.

“Well, well, isn’t it a small world? No doubt you must have both encountered each other at various times,” Dumbledore said in what seemed genuine surprise.

Hermione nodded and with an imp of mischief inside her said soberly, “Yes, and to be honest about it, I have discovered it best to stay out of his way.”

At that statement Dumbledore looked genuinely disappointed for a moment and then he sighed.

“You must forgive an old man's meddling and what I have to confess, Hermione… but I believed I saw indications of strong feelings between you and Severus, feelings that might have been allowed to develop away from the school environment. But, I am sad to say plants removed from rocky soil do not always thrive in more fertile earth.”

At that Hermione took pity on her former headmaster.

“I’ll have to tell Severus that you compared him to a plant,” she said lightly.

At her casual use of Professor Snape’s first name Dumbledore blinked and then turned and looked at her sharply. Then he noticed the faint smile on her face and he blinked again in astonishment and then beamed at her. They soon discovered a bench in a little grassy area beside the footpath and he sat down, Hermione doing so as well.

“Perhaps you should have been in Slytherin, young Hermione,” he said a touch reprovingly and then after a moment said with an air of some delicacy, “Am I to understand that the… air is clear between you and Severus?”

Hermione felt a moment of awkwardness at what to say. “Ah, we’ve started seeing each other. He seems happy with the arrangement,” she added in an almost diffident tone.

Dumbledore visibly relaxed. “Then perhaps you have been of greater good than you know, Hermione. In addition to his pride and shall I say a certain stubbornness, there is an… intensity to his soul that I feared had started to turn back on itself despite Severus’ efforts and sacrifice for the light,” he said heavily. Hermione felt touched for it was clear that he thought of Severus as a son.

“Are you content with the choice you have made, Hermione?” he asked in a grave tone.

Hermione nodded. “Yes,” she said simply but couldn’t help but remember the negative reactions of her friends.

Dumbledore must have picked up the faint shadow in her voice for he said gently, “I sense there is a ‘but’ you are not telling me. Has Severus upset you in some manner – he is, I’m afraid, not always the most tranquil of wizards.”

Hermione shook her head. “No, it’s nothing that Severus has done,” Hermione was quick to say. “It’s just…” and before she knew it she was telling him about her troubles with Harry and Ron since they had found out about her and Severus and how the rest of her friends apart from Lavender had turned their backs to her.

“I’ve just sent Harry a birthday card and now I’m wondering what the point of doing that was,” she finished in a dispirited tone then flushed. “I’m really sorry, I didn’t mean to vent all of this to you.”

Dumbledore gave her a gentle yet sad smile. “Do not think anything of it. Hermione, you acted only as a friend would have and there is nothing to be ashamed about that. Choosing love over friendship is never an easy one, but it is important not to let your friends dictate your actions. If we change and yet remain true to ourselves then it is always hoped that our friends respect this. If not…”

He paused and then went on in a slower tone. “I have always felt that you, Harry, and Ron were brought together by fate to help defeat the evils of this age and perhaps, that with the ending of this war fate now has different paths for the three of you to walk now. If this is the case, then perhaps you should make peace with the outcome of these events and move forward with your life. You still have a friend that has proven her loyalty to you beyond words, and in time you will be blessed with other friends.”

Hermione nodded and felt as if a weight had lifted off her.

“Thank you for saying that,” she said sincerely.

Dumbledore smiled at her and then stood. “No doubt I will be having the pleasure of seeing you at Hogwarts again sometime in the future. Until we meet again then, Hermione.”

Hermione said goodbye and could have sworn that he winked before he departed, humming to himself what sounded to Hermione like a Muggle tune as he strolled away along the footpath. She shook her head ruefully, having visions of running into a twinkly-eyed Dumbledore every time she went to visit Severus at Hogwarts – no doubt he was congratulating himself now on another scheme successfully implemented. Nor was it the first time she ever wondered if there was any Slytherin lurking in the branches of Dumbledore’s family tree…

Later that same afternoon, Hermione was kneeling and weeding as usual in a secluded area at the retreat. Severus-Crow arrived as usual with curious sharp black eyes to see what she was doing. She greeted him warmly and after pulling off her gardening gloves, for some of the weeds could be aggressive when she tried to pull them out, and cast a Cleaning charm on her hands in addition to the now oft used Keep Away charm.

It was on an impulse that Hermione went to the bakery earlier that day. She then went to open the small paper bag she had placed on the ground nearby and pulled out a muffin that was really more seeds than muffin. Severus-Crow tilted his head to one side in question and then gave a ‘caw’ of approval when she went to sit cross-legged on the ground and held out the muffin to him. The transformed wizard was pleased to oblige her and after carefully managing to settle upon one of her knees and with a ruffling of black feathers made short work of the small cake, gently pecking at one of her fingers afterwards.

“Stop that,” Hermione scolded him though she had a smile upon her face. “I think you will need to um, wipe your beak as it has crumbs all over it,” she then told him diplomatically, laughing when he promptly dipped his head and wiped his beak delicately on her trousers, a black eye glinting up at her afterwards.

“Thanks a lot,” she said dryly.

There was a birdbath nearby and Severus-Crow obviously felt thirsty enough (and was willing to risk his dignity) to fly over to it so as to drink from its water.

Deciding to give him some privacy Hermione went back to her weeding and then after a moment she heard an outraged squawk and then a splash.

She whipped her head around in surprise and then rising quickly to her feet she hurried over to the birdbath, a look of alarm on her face.

“What…” she began and then tried not to smile at the sight of a wet and angry looking Severus-Crow standing in the middle of the birdbath, the air practically turning blue with what Hermione presumed to be curses in crow-speak.

“Oops – sometimes the sides can be a bit slippery,” she said solemnly.

Severus-Crow gave her a baleful look that said he wasn’t impressed at all, and at that she couldn’t resist a grin. He managed to launch himself into the air and when he landed on the ground he promptly and vigorously shook himself so that water flew everywhere, some of it landing on her.

“Hey!” she scolded him but nevertheless she looked around and seeing a big enough twig she took out her wand and transfigured it into a small towel, charming it the way he had shown her to make things dry quickly. She knelt down on the grass and held out the towel to him.

“Come here and let me dry you,” she said in a sensible yet gentle tone.

Severus-Crow tossed his head haughtily at her and then ignored her.

“Fine,” she said ruefully and then attending to herself went to briskly pat the wet spots on her clothes. After a moment though she looked up to find that Severus-Crow had approached her, a grumpy mood about him before he eyed the towel she was holding. It didn’t take much to translate his equally grumpy caw as a ‘please’ from him.

“If you insist,” she said diplomatically and taking the towel used it to gently dry him, making sure to smooth the black feathers that had been sticking up in every direction it seemed. A mollified Severus-Crow made little soft sounds as she rubbed him with the towel and when she had finished he gently pecked her finger again.

* * * * *

“I am sure you enjoyed seeing me wet earlier, didn’t you?” Severus said later that night to her in a darkly smooth tone of voice. You always have to be careful when he speaks to you like that, Hermione thought ruefully.

“Of course not,” she rejoined. “You know I came rushing over as soon as you slipped in the birdbath.”

However, the absurdity of what she had just said couldn’t help but make her smile for a moment and she quickly turned it into a cough. Nevertheless she was not quick enough for Severus and he raised his eyebrows as he advanced towards her, his outer robes swirling around him.

“Hmm… now why don’t I believe you?” he murmured as he drew her into his embrace, his arms wrapping firmly around her and a hand moving to gently caress her back.

“Now why would I lie?” Hermione quickly countered but with his caressing hand slowly drifting down her back she was embarrassed to find her cheeks turning pink and saw a knowing gleam in Severus’ inky black eyes, along with slight lifting of the corner of his mouth. Since the time he had wished to… touch her and what had happened between them it seemed that Severus only had to look at her now and she felt like blushing (to her vexation of course). Naturally Severus was quick to sense this and would be amused, though this would sometimes be tempered with a softness that appeared in his expression when he looked at her. He hadn’t touched her again in the same way but the memory of it lay between them, sometimes remembered anew by both when they would kiss and hold each other close.

As usual after her day in the garden Severus noted that her skin had a freshly scrubbed look and the scent of a fragrant soap rose from her skin. For a moment he felt absurdly jealous of her soap and found himself imagining her in a bath with her hair pinned up and stray bubbles gleaming on her sweet curves, with an impish smile and mischief in her brown eyes as she looked at him.

He found himself with a suddenly dry throat, and after swallowing sought to regain the upper hand.

“Because I am sure you do not always grant me proper respect when I am in my Animagus form,” he said silkily.

Hermione rolled her eyes.

“What rot,” she laughingly protested, managing to put enough just space between her and Severus so she could lightly poke him in his chest to emphasise her point. “I was there offering to dry you, wasn’t I?”

Another poke.

“Besides, half the time when I’m doing my work you’re right there beside me demanding attention,” she also pointed out.

“Disrespectful Gryffindor… now stop that poking!” he grumbled as he went to lightly smack her hand. “Besides,” he said smoothly, “I have every right to demand attention from you.”

“Oh you do, do you?” Hermione said sweetly, raising her eyebrows and the hand that had been poking Severus now went to gently stroke his chest, a palm then splaying over the black buttons to feel the heartbeat that raced underneath her touch.

“Most certainly,” Severus said roughly and bent his dark head to kiss her hungrily, tasting excited desire and longing from her in the process and his yearning to make love to her rising up within him again. But not here in this place, he thought though he was strongly tempted to do so at this moment. He felt voicing a vocal desire to make love to her here while they were still employee and guest to each other felt wrong and would carry an echo of their former roles to each other of professor and student. But once she finished her employment at the retreat next Friday she would be free. She would be returning to her home and then eventually moving into a flat near her university… surely in the near future she would be amenable to the suggestion that they spend some time alone together… say, at his home?

Severus felt though a sense of awkwardness at the thought of how to voice such a request in a way that wouldn’t make him merely sound as if he was just after her body, and was thoroughly vexed at his lack of guile. He thought, with a heavy dose of black humour, that surely matters would have been easier if there had been a class at Hogwarts when he was a student that covered all of the stages of courting someone of the opposite sex; if not into marriage then at least into a successful relationship. But he wanted more than just a successful relationship with Hermione. He knew deep down inside that there could be no one else but Hermione for him, and he could no longer even entertain the thought of a well-bred Slytherin woman to grace his home and bed, one calm of appearance but cunning of heart, bearing children that would almost certainly be Slytherin. Instead he only wanted this outspoken, bushy-haired Gryffindor woman to vex and delight him.

Hermione was aware that Severus’ kisses had become more searching, tender even and she gentled her responding kisses in return. Yet for all his sarcasm and Slytherin know-better-than-thou attitude, at times she was glad when she saw instances of a tender side to him (that he would never consciously admit to of course). She found she was looking forward to the time when she finished her employment at the retreat next Friday so she could feel somewhat on more equal terms with Severus. Of course, she would be going on to be a university student but it was definitely a step up from being his student at Hogwarts and being an employee here while he was a guest. Sometimes like now it was on the tip of her tongue to ask him to take her to his home where they would… be free from prying eyes. Even though she or Severus always endeavored to put wards around them whenever they met there was always the niggling feeling of never feeling entirely free in his company; that maybe something would go against them and they would be found out.

Hermione was certainly amazed at how quickly she had come to wanting to be alone with him in bed and she wondered for a second if feeling this way meant she had no proper self-control or discipline over herself. After all, sometimes she could barely stop herself from finding some reason to touch the buttons of his black frock coat. Then she felt like rolling her eyes again. Oh yes, Hermione, she thought ironically to herself and with some mirth, that was definitely a sign of being shameless!

When passion subsided Hermione was sitting on the couch with him and she had her head lying against his shoulder. Content in a way he couldn’t often explain when being beside her, a hand of Severus moved lightly through her bushy hair, sometimes pausing to free with deft fingers an errant tangle of hair.

“I saw Dumbledore when I was at Hogsmeade during my lunch hour today,” Hermione admitted at one point, her words breaking the warm silence.

“Is that so,” Severus replied, his mind instantly alert. “He would have come back recently from his holiday with Minerva, I believe. What did he have to say to you?”

Hermione smiled against his shoulder. “Oh, how he’d managed to persuade you to have a holiday here…”

Severus snorted at that.

“…and when I said I was working here he was curious to know of course whether I had seen you here.”

Severus snorted again. “Albus knew very well that you would be working here, the old schemer,” he grumbled. Then in a dryer tone Severus said, “No doubt you told him then that we…”

He paused, for having avoided anything to do with sentiment for much of his life it seemed extraordinarily hard at times to say things such as…

“…that we are going out together,” Hermione finished for him.

“Yes,” Severus rejoined. “Or rather that I am obliged to endure your company now for an indefinite amount of time,” he added sardonically by her ear.

Hermione reached up a hand to lightly trace the line of his jaw, delighting in the flare that appeared in his black eyes.

“Thanks, dear,” she said sweetly.

“Minx,” he grumbled.

Then in a more serious tone Hermione ventured to say, “I think he does truly care for you, Severus.”

There was a twist to Severus’ mouth. “If he does care then it is surely because I have been of use to him,” he retorted.

At that Hermione placed a hand gently on his chest.

“I don’t think that’s true,” she admonished him.

Severus ‘harrumphed’ at her words but was secretly pleased.

“I will probably now have to endure various shades of innuendo every time I see him back at Hogwarts,” he grumbled.

Hermione bent her head to hide her expression from him but he sensed her smile nevertheless. “Sounds dreadful,” she agreed solemnly. “He also has a tan, you know,” she added lightly.

At that Severus looked as though he had swallowed a lemon.

Hermione didn’t see the point though of mentioning the advice she had been given regarding dealing with her friends after all, although Severus refrained from mentioning anything derogatory about Harry or Ron to her she nevertheless knew that Severus would be pleased if she had less to do with them.

The question now buzzing through her head was though how much did she agree in the end with Severus regarding this.

* * * * *

When the weekend came it found them both walking up in the green, ancient hills behind Hogwarts where, as Severus had pointed out, a useful ingredient for potions could always be found. Of course, Severus had her arm tucked firmly in with his as they walked along in case she happened to slip, he had said blandly, with Hermione rolling her eyes at him in response. But Hermione was glad to have some time alone with him even if it was only something as platonic as this activity. She certainly enjoyed the chance to be away from everything and anything, and the few Hogwarts students who stayed at the school during the holidays would hardly be inclined to come up here.

Hermione sensed Severus was pleased as well to be away from everything and up in the hills with her for he hardly seemed to mind when the wind would blow his black hair into his face where as she, of course, had sensibly braided her wilder hair. At one time after dryly pointing out the restorative properties of a particular flowering shrub Severus surprised her by bending to pluck one of its purple flowers and placed it deftly behind her ear with a smirk.

“Much better,” he murmured, pausing to soundly kiss her when Hermione lightly smacked him.

Although neither of them had discussed it much they were both conscious that the next Friday would be the last day at the retreat for Hermione, and by default for Severus. As if in acknowledgement of this fact it seemed that the days started to slip by rapidly.

Part of Hermione was regretful – but hardly surprised – when she didn’t receive an invitation at all for Harry’s birthday party.

As it turned out Lavender did decide to go to Harry’s party in that next week that was held at his flat. Lavender reported in a letter written with grim relish to Hermione afterwards, that she attended only so that she could hear from Harry that indeed no, Hermione hadn’t been invited. In which case Lavender had told Harry that she didn’t like the way he treated his friends. In return Lavender had been told that anyone who went out with a person like Snape was hardly a friend of his at the moment and some of the others present had agreed. ‘I don’t like writing things like that,’ Lavender had written with evident regret, ‘but I only thought it fair to let you know.’

Hermione looked unseeingly at the letter after she had finished reading, then with a set mouth she put it aside. If Harry was still determined to be an ass, then it was really for the best if she had nothing to do with him or the rest of her friends for a while, she thought with a sense of finality and a pang in her heart despite herself.

Making herself turn her thoughts to other things Hermione then picked up a letter she had received from her parents and opened it. Soon she would be back at her home and she had mixed feelings about this. On one hand it would be good to see her parents again even though she knew she would miss the retreat and the opportunity of seeing Severus every day. But of course neither she nor he could have stayed there forever and Hermione thought wryly that certainly if she didn’t take the opportunity of going to visit Severus in the following week then he would undoubtedly turn up on her doorstep.

Hermione found herself hoping that her parents wouldn’t overreact at the news that she was dating an older wizard rather than someone her own age. She didn’t really want a fight with her parents if she could help it.

When she had finished reading the letter Hermione blinked and a feeling of welcome surprise and yes, cautious excitement ran through her to lift her spirits. Her parents would be going away this weekend as they were going to see some work-related seminars in another town. Which meant that once she finished her work this Friday she was hardly in a rush to go home, and certainly she had placed a charm on the front door of her home that would ‘know’ when the house was empty when her parents left and protect it accordingly in its own way. Her mother had also mentioned that she was sure that Hermione could look after herself and stay with her ‘witchy friends’ if she wanted to over the weekend as well.

So, what would you like to do this weekend, Hermione thought knowingly to herself but already she could feel heat spreading across her cheeks.

All right, she told herself sternly. You would like the chance to spend part of this weekend with Severus. Yes, you would probably like to spend some time alone with him. Preferably in a room with a bed, wouldn’t you? Her cheeks were feeling quite red now that an actual opportunity for private time with Severus had presented itself but then she sobered.

It would be presumptuous of her to assume Severus would be free this weekend, and wouldn’t he want to spend it catching upon things back at Hogwarts? He was a professor after all, and would have to start preparing coursework for the new school year. Also, if there was the strong chance he would get the coveted DADA position then there would be new coursework for him to prepare.

She would have to see how things were the day before they left, Hermione thought firmly. She would mention it only in a casual way that she had this weekend free because the last thing she wanted to do was make him feel pressured.

* * * * *

“I have something for you, Hermione,” Severus said to her when they met on Thursday night. Despite these words he was in a sour mood at the thought that they would both be leaving the retreat tomorrow. Although part of him was irritated at admitting it, he would miss not seeing Hermione every day, and to kiss and hold her.

“You do?” Hermione enquired with surprise and interest on her face. Severus’ demeanor softened.

“Yes, my dear,” he replied dryly. He sensed though that something was on her mind – an edgy feeling was emanating from her as well. Severus thought perhaps it was because she was not looking forward to leaving him and the retreat tomorrow. He could easily look into her mind to discover what it was, but as usual when he had previously felt tempted to delve into her mind here at the retreat something inside stopped him. He respected the privacy of her mind and did not want to intrude though the truth was, Severus thought grimly with a hint of shame, is that it would be far too easy to see countless memories of himself inside her mind as the harsh teacher he had been to her previously, the bad memories far outweighing the good ones.

“I thought you would like this,” he said with some stiffness as he brought a little black velvet bag out of a pocket, the contents when poured out onto his hand proving to be a small and delicately wrought silver rose hanging from a silver chain, a tiny and lustrous pearl contained within its heart.

Hermione’s eyes widened. “It’s beautiful… but Severus, I couldn’t accept it,” she said honestly.

“Why not?” Severus countered. “Surely I am allowed to give you beautiful things if I wish to,” he added dryly.

“Well…” Hermione began but was unable to come up with a good reason off the top of her head and he smirked at her.

“Thank you,” she then mumbled as she took the necklace from him, leaning up so she could give him a thank-you kiss. Severus clasped her arm as he bent his head to return her kiss.

Hermione then went to put the necklace on around her neck but Severus stopped her.

“Let me,” he murmured and taking the necklace with one hand swept around so as to stand behind her.

Hermione felt a tingling warmth inside her as she felt Severus gently push her unruly hair out of the way and then fasten the necklace with deft hands around her neck, his fingers oh-so-accidentally brushing her nape. Once the necklace was upon her Hermione was conscious of feeling a sense of age emanating from it. Something clicked inside her head and she put two and two together.

“Did you get this from your vault at Gringotts the day we were there?” she enquired as she turned to face him.

Severus raised an eyebrow in amusement. “Perceptive girl. Yes, I did,” he replied smoothly.

As well as other items for the future he thought, for he certainly had plans concerning her.

He continued. “It has been in my family and I believe it will look better gracing your neck now rather than gathering dust,” he said.

Hermione reached up with a hand to gently touch the silver rose.

“Now I really feel I can’t wear it,” she said ruefully.

Severus raised a dark eyebrow and lightly brushed her lips with his long fingers. “We have just had this conversation already, I believe,” he murmured. “Accept it, and I trust you will think of the giver when you wear it.”

“All right,” Hermione said, giving in gracefully. “I will certainly… think of you when I do,” she said demurely with an impish gleam in her eyes, Severus rewarding her with a simmering black gaze for a moment. Then he looked at her with a meditative expression on his angular face.

“Now, I would like you to tell me what is on your mind,” he said in a deceptively mild tone.

Hermione blinked and then flushed, feeling for a moment as if she was a student before him again. It was certainly hard to conceal things from Severus at times, but she wasn’t sure how she going to tell him what was on her mind without making a fool of herself.

“Well,” she began in a serious tone, “you know that we are both leaving here tomorrow and I will be working the whole Friday since they want to get their money’s worth out of me before I go,” she added ruefully.

Severus’ thin mouth tightened. “This is hardly news to me or welcome news at that, Hermione,” he said in a tart tone despite himself. If the students at Hogwarts had thought he was grumpy before, well they would truly know the meaning of the word when he returned. The next time he saw his witch would be soon if he had anything to say about it. Damn it, he didn’t know if he would pounce on her and drag her off to his bed or beg on his knees to make love to her.

He moved his hands to clasp her arms, his fingers tightening for a moment and his body pressed against hers. “Tell me why,” Severus said in a grim tone as he stared down at her, frustration and yearning from him hitting Hermione like waves, “I should be in a hurry to let you go at all.”

Severus was about to continue but his torrent of words was cut off when in a simple tone and with an odd expression of peace on her face Hermione said, “As I was about to say, I have this weekend free and you can hold me then as long as you like.” She then took a deep breath. “If you want to,” she added softly.

Severus became still and was speechless as well, his mind quickly replaying and analysing what she had just said. Had she really said those words, a disbelieving part of his heart thought. She couldn’t have. No, she had.

Then Severus found his voice. “Explain,” he said roughly.

Hermione looked up at him, seeing tension, disbelief and most precious of all, a wary hope in his black eyes.

“Well,” she began carefully, “my parents sent me a letter to say they were going out of town this weekend to see some work-related seminars, so once I finish tomorrow night I can see you on Saturday. There are a number of things I could do, but I wouldn’t mind spending the time with you. Um.”

Severus’ eyes were unreadable. “There is a problem,” he said evenly.

Hermione wilted slightly despite herself. She had tried not to make a fool of herself but it seemed she had done so after all. Now Severus would be thinking she was pushy so she braced herself to hear his next words.

“What is it?” she managed to say calmly.

To her surprise Severus bent his head and brushed her forehead lightly with his lips.

“When I leave here tomorrow, impudent one, I have no wish to be alone at night,” he said softly yet there was a depth to it that sent a quiver through her body. “I would rather have the one I love with me.”

“Oh,” Hermione found herself saying belatedly, feeling her cheeks starting to glow pink.

Severus relaxed the hold he had on Hermione’s arms and gazed down at her, hoping that he hadn’t unnerved her, hoping that she would then say yes. Please say yes, he thought and realised belatedly that he had said those last words out loud.

The tingling feeling of warmth returned, but this time it spread right through Hermione until it seemed to fill every one of her cells. Severus had said please. She felt nervous as well as excited at the thought of what he wanted, but it was what she wanted too, she thought.

“Yes,” she said firmly. “Yes, I will.”

At that pronouncement she saw elation, triumph, and then love in Severus’ black eyes before he enfolded her in his arms.

“You will?” he said so softly that she almost thought she had imagined it.

“Yes,” Hermione said again gently, her warm kiss upon his mouth when she leaned up to give it to him as a promise.

For a moment the harsh lines on his face softened and then he coughed abruptly.

“I will leave this place earlier tomorrow for certain reasons, but when you have finished come and wait for me at The Three Broomsticks and I will meet you there,” he said in a more composed tone.

Hermione had said yes, part of his mind chanted in delighted glee over and over, even though doing such a thing was childish. But with Hermione in his arms he found he did not give a damn.

“All right,” Hermione agreed.

“You may even bring your cat,” he added dryly against her hair, “as I should be able to find some food for it.”

“Thanks,” Hermione said wryly, conscious that she was now holding him as tightly as he was now holding her.

“Who knows, they might give me a nice going-away meal before I leave tomorrow,” she added. Although delight was bubbling up inside her it was nevertheless important to stay focused with her mind on sensible things such as food, she thought.

“Ah, but I will be providing dessert,” Severus bent and said wickedly beside her ear.

At those words it was inevitable that all thoughts of sensible things went entirely out of Hermione’s head.


A/N: Yes, it was a bit mean to leave it there! I had planned to draw things out with our couple a little longer but that didn’t feel right… I definitely felt that Hermione would be well, frustrated and Severus would be even grumpier if he had to return to Hogwarts without some deserved ‘quality time’ with Hermione and no doubt be nastier to any students who got in his way (so naturally I had to take pity on said students).

You are welcome to disagree and are therefore not obliged to read the next chapter.

So, what kind of ‘dessert’ does Severus have in mind? Will Hermione’s friends eventually come to their senses? Stay tuned…

A big thank you to Droxy for her beta-help, and thanks to those who have previously reviewed.

A Choice of Roads by Imhilien [Reviews - 93]

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