Disclaimer: They still belong to JK, and it is still rightly so.
AN: Another sparkly thanks to Ariadne, who is still the best beta and writing partner in crime a gal could ask ever wish for.
"You're laughing too much, Hermione. You must breathe sometime," Severus said with a straight face.
"I'm sorry, I'm - not laughing at you. It was just so unexpected," she said while trying valiantly to not start another round of laughter.
Severus shrugged, thinking about how beautiful she looked by candlelight.
"You should warn a person when you're about to do that. You're so serious most of the time," she said, brushing a stray hair out of his eyes.
"I was under the impression that my dry wit was attractive to you," he said, turning his head into her hand.
"You do have a point there. Can I ask you another question, though?" she asked, placing a kiss on his forehead and stroking his hair. She then moved over and started to kiss along his neck, up behind his ear.
Groaning softly, he growled, "How can I possibly hope to deny you? Keep that up, and you may ask me anything."
"Oh really?" she whispered as a smile crept on her face. "Anything?"
"Absolutely. Of course," he said, raising slowly to one elbow. "I always reserve the right to not answer."
Expecting a typically Slytherin evasive answer, she agreed, "Fine. I'll ask you something simple, yet dangerous."
Raising an eyebrow, he responded, "Ah, sounds interesting. Something been on your mind for a while, has it?"
"I ask the questions here, Severus," she said with a smirk.
"Oh, then please accept my most grave apologies. Do continue," he said, lying down again. Somehow, just being with her gave him a second wind. The breeze coming in through the window gave him an idea. "Before you ask, would you like to relocate? Outside?"
"Really? I thought you were tired?" she asked.
He didn't answer other than to raise up and take her into his arms. Gently, he kissed her with a soft tenderness she didn't think possible, stood, and held out his hand to her.
"Here," he said, leading her down towards the greenhouses. The night breeze blew their robes around them softly, driving warmth away, then inviting it back, the temperature perfect. Around back of the last greenhouse was a patch of grass where the castle offered cover from three sides, the structure itself blocking the fourth.
Slipping between the wall and the greenhouse, Hermione grinned, "So, is this one of the famous hideouts?"
"Hideout, yes. However, I would never take you somewhere where I had been with another," he said, looking around.
"So you just hid here?" she asked as she watched him lower himself onto the grass. The look in his eyes told her that he had not been there for a very long time. It was the look of someone confronted by memories, distracted by the visual mind replaying scenes from long ago.
Pulling her hand, he motioned for her to sit. The night was warm, but he still held his robes out to wrap around her. Obliging him, Hermione allowed him to hold her close, completely wrapped inside against him.
"I don't think I could put into words what it's like to be hunted for seven years. I came here and the library for peace, to fight the overpowering instinct to watch my back," he said, staring up at the stars.
Hermione followed his line of sight to the night sky. "That bad, was it? Why did they hate you so much?"
"A case of loathing at first sight, if you will. No other way to explain it," he said, lowering his face into her hair. "Now," he said, smiling at how Hermione was rhythmically running her hand over his chest, "you were going to ask a quite dangerous question of me?"
Hermione was so absorbed in being tucked up against him she took a moment to answer, "Hmm? Oh, yes."
"Unless you'd like to stroke my chest all night. That, and more, can be arranged," he said, grinning at her surprised look as she raised her head.
"No, well - not that I wouldn't want to - that is..."
"Hermione?" he said, interrupting her.
She sighed in frustration, "Yes?"
"It seems you ramble when you are nervous. I believe this is one of those times."
"Yes. Okay, where do you see us in a year?" she said quickly.
"Interesting question," he said slowly, noting how she had managed to evade an awkward conversational position, and admiring how neatly she had put him in one instead.
Hermione leaned further onto him, trying to not disturb his stitches, and awaited his answer. His voice is amazing. He could be reciting the Quidditch rule book and I would be in heaven.
"It's all right if you don't answer," she started.
"No, it's that I've never really planned a future for anything. To be asked to think past tomorrow is a relatively new concept to me," he said sadly.
"I can only imagine. I'm sorry if I've jogged memories."
"My memories are quite rampant on their own. They don't require jogging."
"So I've noticed," she said.
"I've, um, noticed. You have nightmares, Severus," she said, tilting her head up to watch his face.
She saw him pale slightly before he said to the ground, "Yes, there is a reason I usually avoid sleep."
Hermione remembered nights during the week Severus had been unconscious, watching in fear that he would awaken and injure himself further. If he only knew how many late night hours she had sat beside him on the bed, holding his hand and reading by candlelight...
"Back to your question. I believe you referred to us. To give a perfectly politic answer, I cannot imagine a time without you. For as long as you will put up with my poor disposition, even worse temper, and strong tendency to insult in the process of normal conversation, I hope you will have me," he said, as evenly as possible. His racing heart at the implications of such a question, however, betrayed his true feelings.
"You make it sound so attractive," she smiled. Must let him out of that one or his heart will burst, poor thing.
"I do try."
Hermione traced his jaw with one finger and asked, "What is your favorite season?"
"Oddly enough, winter."
She leaned against him, asking, "Why do you think it odd?"
"I would imagine most people abhor the cold and gray days of winter, but miss the most magical part," he said, wrapping his robes tighter around her and rocking her gently.
"This." At a wave of his hand, an invisible dome formed around them. While the temperature remained the same, snow began to fall, silently floating to the grass where it rested for a brief moment before melting.
"Severus, this is amazing. How are you - " she began, but was hushed by his whispering in her ear, "Aren't you going to ask?"
Laughingly, she said, "Okay, what is the most magical part?"
"Ah, I thought you'd never ask," he said, watching snow resting on her hair for a moment before it disappeared.
"Snow is, in its very essence, nature's perfection. Each flake in itself is a magnificent work of art; however, it is the effect a blanket of snow has that is the magical part. Take even the most atrocious looking landscape, cover it in pure white, and it is born anew. There is something about the solemn and untouched vision of this place at dawn after a snowfall that is stunning, an answer to an unspoken prayer, the hope that somehow events could be erased, forgotten, or, against all odds - forgiven."
Hermione looked up at him, too caught up in his words to speak.
"Too poetic?" he said, shaking his head. "Shall I throw in an arrogant comment or two to balance things out?"
"No, I just had never thought of it that way. Sometimes I guess life gets so frantic you forget to notice things like that," she said, taking his hand and intertwining their fingers.
"True, but when you're alone most of the time, the gift of close observation becomes your companion," he said distantly while he waved his hand. The snow that was falling slowly increased in speed, then swirled around them in a spiral pattern, moving higher to follow the dome's ceiling before falling again.
"Severus, how long have you performed wandless magic? You said you'd performed your juggling act since second year?" she asked, holding his hand up and tracing a circle in his palm.
"Yes. I did it as early as I can remember; however, any young witch or wizard will, when angry or threatened," he said, thinking there was something undeniably sensual about what she was doing to his hand.
"That's true, but you're very good at it," she said, trailing her finger, lightly, concentrating on the circle's pattern, smaller, then gradually widening.
"Am I?" he said distractedly as he directed the snow to form streams which wove themselves into each other. To the far side of the formerly grassy area a small snow replica of Hogwarts was forming, complete with towers and small independently flying flakes representing owls.
Giggling, Hermione said, "Show off."
"Oh am I now? I see... very well," he said smugly. Waving his hand again, the snow tapered off. He ran a hand through his hair, shaking snow off of it. The snow gave way to the grass, and the dome dissipated, allowing the warm June breeze to come in again. The last remnant to leave was the snow castle, with what would have been the North Tower collapsing dramatically to the grass.
"Any other questions?" he asked, staring down as she continued tracing small circles in his hand.
"Hmm, no," she said, and leaned gently against him.
"I must admit... there is something about what you are doing there..." he said slowly.
"Oh, really?" she said with a shrug. "I wouldn't know what you are talking about."
"Oh, I think you do. It means something doesn't it?" he said, moving to put his chin on her shoulder, watching as she trailed her fingers even lighter over his palm and out onto each finger.
"Yes, it does."
With his free hand, he moved her hair and began to kiss the back of her neck. In a low voice he said, "Care to enlighten me?"
"It's an obscure Muggle thing," she said, blushing. She began to trail her fingers along his arm. The fact that she was barely touching him made it tremendously sensuous.
"I sense that it is something that translates well. Tell me, Hermione," he growled, and moved from behind her. Circling around in front, he moved on hands and knees towards her. Without a word, she laid back on the cool grass and grinned up at him.
"Whatever do you mean? Are you implying that I am requesting something?" she said, barely able to keep from laughing.
"We are getting closer, I see," he murmured and leaning down, barely touched his lips to hers. She raised up to meet him, but he pulled away.
He shook his head and said softly, "No, I'm afraid it is not that easy. You must tell me."
"Oh, no, I don't think so," she said, and tried to pull him down by tugging on his robes.
"Shy, are we?" he asked, busying himself by moving his gaze further down.
"No more than you are about the possibility of being seen," she said with a smirk, remembering the hospital wing.
"If you aren't shy, then," he whispered in her ear. He dropped his voice lower and grinned slightly when she shivered. "Tell me what you wish."
"I, well... " she said, barely above a whisper.
"Yes?" he mumbled into her hair. He was just barely moving his lips along her neck, pausing to kiss lightly as he traveled around to her throat. When he moved downward, Hermione let out a small whimper.
He felt her hand in his hair pulling him closer. Looking up into her eyes, he said, "Back to non-verbal communication, are we?"
Grinning she said, "Shut it and kiss me."
Looking impressed he said, "If you insist. May I choose where?"
At her shocked face, he lunged forward to kiss her urgently, resting his weight on her, grasping handfuls of grass, pulling himself forward.
Hermione still had a fistful of his hair, pulling him closer into a kiss so passionate it stole her breath away. She raked her nails down his sides, ending at his hips, which only drove him harder. They moved together, throwing thought aside, needing to express what had been there for weeks, held back, barely in check. She somehow had taken hold of his coat, her fingers grasping the edges, poised to tear it open. Two buttons had given way, exposing his shirt beneath.
The almost primal need nearly overwhelmed him, a small part of his mind reminding, reining in, being shoved aside, but possessing strength enough to keep hold. A wild glint was in his eye as he hovered over her, his hair hanging around his face, moving in time with his ragged breath. His arms were shaking from trying to painfully hold himself up. A few stitches might be missing, but he didn't care.
Allowing himself to fall over to the side and onto his back, he struggled to catch his breath. "Am I on the correct path?" he asked, turning his head to her.
Hermione took a few moments to gather enough air to answer. "Yes."
Nodding to himself, he stared up at the sky. When her face moved into his line of sight, he smirked and said, "Was that so difficult? I daresay you could have expressed it with a touch more elegance, but it got the job done."
She shoved his shoulder. "You're teasing me now. That isn't easy for me."
"I was under the impression that the spoken word came quite easily to you. It is just another subject."
"Is that a challenge?" she said, sitting up.
"If you choose it to be. The beauty of the spoken word is that you may interpret it as you wish," he said, quirking a smile as she narrowed her eyes at him.
"Fine. I want you, okay?" she said, throwing her hands up. "I think about what it would be like far too much to be healthy and you're not actually laughing at me, are you?" she said, smacking him playfully as he chuckled.
"Absolutely not," he said, holding his hands up in mock defense. "Only, you speak of desire as though it is some sort of deficiency of morality or deviant thought. Desire is normal."
"It can't be. Not this much," she said, looking frustrated.
Rolling his eyes, he said flatly, "Get used to it."
Hermione shot him a confused look. "Why?"
"Because there is something that needs to be done beforehand," he stated, and moved slowly to stand.
Getting to her feet, she looked at him questioningly, trying to ignore the maddeningly fluid movement of his hands as he fixed the stray buttons, "And that is?"
"That," he said, leaning forward and slowly lifting her hand to his lips, "I cannot tell you."