After breakfast, they headed to Hogsmeade, and they walked close together, arms brushing with every step.
In Muggle London, it was all too easy for Severus to forget whom he was with. Hermione smiled and laughed and flirted and didn't treat him like he was going to hex her any time soon. He could feel himself relaxing, making little sarcastic comments to lighten her moods but, as soon as they stepped back into the Wizarding world, the looks were heavy, filled with disgust and surprise and hatred.
People pointed and whispered and hugged their children close.
"Severus," Hermione said and he glanced down at her as yet another woman hugged her child closer. Her tiny, chubby hand slid into his, curling fingers around his. "Don't let them bother you," she murmured, pressing her cheek against his arm.
Through his jacket, he could feel the heat of her skin and it sent a ripple of awareness rolling through him, of how pretty she was, how plump she was, how sweetly she felt pressed against his side. It had been so long since he'd felt a woman's presence at his side, since he met Hermione. He couldn't think of any time he'd been so close to a woman; the last he remembered was his mother, holding him while she combed his hair using a bone-comb that was her mother's. There was also…her…flame-red hair, glossy eyes—
He shook off the memory before it devoured him whole, enveloping his mind entirely. Hermione's hand squeezed his tightly and her big, brown eyes filled his vision. Her sweet breath made his head swim as she hugged his arm, beaming, laughing, pointing out silly shop titles that rhymed and sounded funny. He blinked hard, shaking off the stares like a wet dog—pardon the pun—and relaxed beside her. She felt so warm against him, despite the nippy chill in the air, and there was a flush on the apples of her cheeks and her nose and the swell of her breasts.
"Madam Minx's Magic Love Shop," he pointed out with a low laugh. Against him, she shuddered and he wrapped his arm around her. "You alright?" he murmured.
She glanced up at him, her face splotchy and red, and nodded.
"I'm fine," she said softly, turning to face the wall of little, crooked shops with display windows covered in books, clothing, animal cages, and robes. Her maroon and gold scarf fluttered about in her wake as she pointed to a used bookstore. When she tugged on his arm, he let her lead the way without a word.
Her backside was a very lovely sight.
The book section Hermione led them to was full of dust but she didn't seem to notice. She dove right in, pulling book after book from the shelves, dusting them off and flipping through the pages quickly, drinking in the information like a man dying of thirst. She looked exquisite, hair curls tangled with dust, clothes spotted with dust bunnies, completely immersed in her book, only her eyebrows visible, which knitted and jumped and twitched as she devoured page after page of the stories and philosophies and theories and conversations and sweet kisses and romantic love stories.
He sat across from her, cross-legged even though it looked awkward with his long, knobby legs, folded at odd angles, knees squished against the spines of the books Hermione was leaning against. Balanced in his lap was a massive, beat-up Potions textbook, with writing in the margin and dog-eared pages, sloppy teenage handwriting. Some of the pages were torn and weathered and warped, like it had been dipped in water and left out to dry.
This probably wasn't the most ideal date but Hermione seemed to be having a blast, setting book after book into piles, her face lit up with excitement and the sweet satisfaction of knowledge.
He cleared his throat."Has this little shop always been here?" It felt strange to speak after such a long period of quiet, his throat dry, and her head snapped up, eyes sparkling. There were smudges of dust on her face and in her messy mane of curls but her eyes were bright and her smile was wide and innocent; there was even a flush on her cheeks that hadn't been there before.
"Yes, but I've never really had the chance to sight-shop. As you know, I'm very busy, buying supplies and working and, before I started working, school." She placed her thumb in the place where the spine met the binding of the pages and smiled at him. Dimples in her cheeks flashed in their holes.
"I'm afraid I don't quite have the same luxury that you do, to go out in town without getting stares and whispers and treated like a criminal." He shrugged a shoulder when she leaned closer, placing a hand on his thigh for balance. Pieces of stray curls tickled his face as she met his eyes, smiling wide.
"You're a criminal," she said with a laugh, "but the good kind." There was laughter in her eyes and happiness on her mouth, seeping into him, rubbing off and before he knew it, he was smothering his laughter with his sleeve despite the dust, his shoulders shaking and tears prickling his eyes as he struggled not to laugh.
Hermione, on the other hand, was laughing in short little bursts, covering her mouth with her hand as she fell backwards onto her butt. She was certainly a sight, what with all the dust and frizz in her hair, her face beet-red from the strain of keeping her laughter under control. It was almost surreal, sitting there so close to her, to a woman half his age that enjoyed his company and wanted to be around him, hell, maybe even had romantic feelings for him and didn't turn him away. She'd come a long way from a gangly little girl with wild hair and big teeth and clothes that hung off her too-skinny body. Gone were her days of huge socks and over sized sweaters and frizzy hair she couldn't even dream of taming without bottles of some hair-taming potions.
"Come on. Let's get out of this dust bowl," he said with a hint of a smile and she took his hand.