Author's Note: After publishing my previous story, I announced that it would be my only fanfiction story, as I had no plans to write more. Well...plans change. This is just a little one-shot I had an idea for and wanted to get down, but I am working on a much longer piece that I hope to publish sometime in 2014. I can't be more specific than that! I hope you enjoy this little interlude.
A knock on the door roused him from his customary place beside the fire. It was late, and this was his time, the night-time. Free from obligation, from expectation. Free from visitors...or so he'd thought.
He frowned, reached for his wand. It was entirely too late for visitors, in fact. He couldn't imagine who it could possibly be. The groundskeeper only checked in once a month or so, and never after dark. Certainly it could be nobody from Hogwarts; they were deep in the midst of summer holidays, and they'd have no reason to contact him here. The press had finally stopped hounding him a year or more ago, once they realized that he wasn't interested in playing the part of a war hero and wouldn't be posing for publicity photographs or granting interviews.
Nobody ever bothered him here. That's why he liked it so much. The quiet and solitude of this little cottage in a remote area of England appealed to his nature.
But someone was here, knocking at the door. In a driving rainstorm, no less; the water had been sheeting down the windowpanes all evening. If he had to worry about driving an automobile -- and if he had any plans to actually leave anytime soon -- he'd be moderately concerned about flooding.
He sighed. Only one thing for it. Wand at the ready, he stood well back from the door and, with a mouthed word, allowed it to open inwards.
Revealing...her. Water cascading in rivulets down her hair, soaked to the bone in the thin cagoule she wore. In his first glance, he took in the fact that she was shivering with the cold, and that her eyes were red-rimmed as though she'd been crying; and that she was not crying now.
He had not seen her for four years and could not think of anything to say.
"May I come in, Professor?" she said, almost but not quite managing to keep the trembling out of her voice. Trembling with the cold, perhaps; no other possibility was worth entertaining.
"I suppose you'd better, Miss Granger," he said, and stood aside to let her enter, breaching the entrance to this safe haven he'd created for himself. She stood in his living room, dripping and shivering.
With a gesture, he closed the door. They stood, she with her arms crossed tightly over herself for warmth, hair plastered to her face and dripping, and he with his wand still out as though he meant to hex her at any moment. Neither spoke.
And then she said, "I've left him."
His expression barely changed.
"And you came here. To me," he said.
"I thought..." she began, and he cut her off. I will be cold, he thought. I will be cold and I will destroy her, because I cannot go through this again.
"You thought that you'd run into my arms, is that it? You thought that a puerile, reprehensible attraction I was foolish enough to confess four years ago would be enough to make me take you into open and willing arms? You thought, perhaps, that I'd been pining away longing for Hermione Granger to come and rescue me from a life of loneliness?"
"You needn't have bothered," he said. "You can dry yourself off here, and then you can leave."
"Professor," she began again, and gods how he wished she hadn't come. He'd built up a healthy, satisfying hatred for her since that terrible day after her graduation, and the simple sound of her voice was tearing it away as though it were made of tissue.
I will not do this again. I will not.
"Professor, I have nowhere else to go tonight."
He arched an eyebrow. "That is hardly my problem, Miss Granger. Or is it Mrs. Weasley?"
Crimson touched her cheeks. "I'm still Granger. I didn't change my name."
"Figured it wouldn't last, did you?" he said. She flushed more deeply.
"This was a mistake," she said. "I shouldn't have come. I just thought..."
He thought of a dozen quick retorts that would have silenced her again, but... Her voice. Her eyes. He waited in silence, half-turned away from her, looking out the window at the sheets of rain.
"I thought," she said, "that you might... that you might want to see me." Her voice broke at this last, and she turned away, made as though to reach for the door.
"Granger," he said, and she stopped, turned back. Always acutely aware of his own body, he knew that his heart rate had increased, knew that his breathing was shallow. But that was no surprise, not really; the girl had had this effect on him since halfway through her final year. He could master it, as he had done so many times before.
"Two questions," he said, not knowing until he said the words that he was going to ask her the questions that had burned in him for those long years.
"Ask," she said, her eyes wary, with the glint that he'd learned meant she was analyzing something in that quick, brilliant mind.
"First. Why him?"
She looked away for a moment, but then met his eyes. Brave Gryffindor, he thought. He knew his face bore a sneer and didn't particularly care at the moment. Let her see it.
"Because," she said in a soft voice, "he was the first to say he wanted me, and...and I thought that meant I loved him." She closed her eyes. "I was stupid."
He swallowed past the hard lump that had suddenly formed in his throat. His heart was beating faster now, nearly racing; if she were as observant as he, she'd have noticed it.
"Second," he said, his lips dry. "Did you think of me when you were with him?"
Her eyes opened wide in surprise. She opened her mouth, closed it. Opened it again.
Weren't expecting that, were you? he thought, and waited for the answer he knew was coming. For the rebuke that he undoubtedly deserved. For her to turn and storm out of his house and his life, again, forever.
"Every time," she said, and her eyes burned with intensity. "Every. Time."
He meant to tear her down with words, to open the door and push her out into the storm. He meant to do it. He wanted to. He wanted to make her suffer for all the days and months, the years he'd suffered because of her. But instead he found himself reaching for her, and he found her collapsing into his arms, soft and pliant, and then their mouths found each other and he was lost.
An age, an eon later, after the searching, lingering kiss had come to a reluctant end, he murmured into her ear, "I want you."
He felt her shudder in his arms. "Are you sure?" she said.
"Never ask me that again," he said. "I was sure when I told you the first time, I was sure on your wedding day, and I'm sure now."
"I'm sorry," she said. Her voice was muffled against his throat. "They say Gryffindors are so brave. But I wasn't... I wasn't brave, I was scared, and oh gods, I'm so sorry..."
She sounded as though she were on the edge of tears, and before they could spill forth, he lifted her face to his and touched his lips to hers. She opened to him easily, and a kiss that began gently soon turned much more insistent and deep. She made a little noise in the back of her throat, and he marked it in his mind. The first time I have made her cry out with pleasure.
His mind flashed to the narrow bed in the small bedroom down the hall. The first, but not the last, he thought, and he circled his arms around her waist, pulled her close so that she could feel his arousal.
"It's raining," he murmured into her ear. "You should stay."
She pulled back, looked up at him; the faintest ghost of amusement touched her eyes before they turned serious again.
"Yes," she said. "I think I will."