A/N: A new chapter at last. I have chronic fatigue, also known as Writer's Bane, so I'm sorry for the really long delay. Thanks to those who have reviewed.
Hermione awoke the next morning to the sound of light rain on the roof. She was snug in bed under the covers – quite snug, as Severus lay behind her, his lean body pressed against hers and his arm wrapped securely around her waist. He was still asleep and she could hear his low snores, feel the regular, warm puffs of his breath near her neck.
She smiled and didn't make too many sudden moves, content just to lie there. She had almost dozed off again when she suddenly heard Severus' snores cease. She felt his arm tighten briefly around her waist, then relax.
"Hello," Hermione said warmly, wriggling slightly against him. She heard his indrawn breath.
His deep voice though after a few moments was warm and slightly sleep-roughened against her hair. "What is this… a Gryffindor in my bed?"
"Lucky you," she said pertly.
He laughed and she felt his hand move to rub gentle circles over her stomach. "Impudent witch."
She then felt Severus kiss her shoulder. "Did you sleep well?"
"Yes, thanks, I slept well. What about you?"
Severus thought for a second. He had enjoyed one of his better sleeps, the reassuring warmth of Hermione beside him lulling him into a deeper slumber than usual.
"Yes. Although I am wide awake now," he murmured as his hand moved upwards from her stomach, caressing her. Hermione's pyjama top was buttoned up, but then he quickly realised one button had come undone. He made a pleased noise and his fingers stole through the opening to caress her warm skin.
"Hey," he heard her exclaim in surprise. "I didn't know that was… oh, you…" she sighed and wriggled again as his hand sought and found her breast, his thumb rubbing firmly against the taut nipple there. "Severus…"
"Hermione," he said huskily, resisting the urge to rub himself against her backside as desire surged through him. "Let me love you."
"Yes," she said with a smile in her voice. "Let me get some of that potion first. I'll probably need the vial filled up after this."
After taking the potion, she turned to face him with a sparkle in her eyes and he drew her down into his arms.
After they had made love, they rested before Severus got up and made breakfast for them both, bringing it back to bed. He was pleased to fuss over her again in this way, acutely aware that she would be leaving today.
Once they had rested, they had a bath together like the previous day. Hermione kissed and teased him, with water splashing a bit. He pretended to be stern, but kissed and tickled her in return.
Severus wasn't looking forward to saying goodbye.
Hermione was dressed ready to go with her bag packed (and Crookshanks in his travel carrier), with both of them standing outside his house. After she had gone, he would be returning to Hogwarts.
For a moment, Hermione thought Severus looked stern and unapproachable, which wasn't helped by him wearing his black travelling cloak. Then she was embraced in a flurry of black robes that smelled like mint, his arms holding her tight.
"Write to me," he said roughly before kissing her hard. "Talk to me by Patronus, torment me with owls – I care not. But do not ignore me for days on end. Visit as soon as you can, or I will fetch you myself."
Hermione hugged him and gave him a kiss. "Yes. Yes," she promised. "You're not getting rid of me that easily. But don't ignore me, either."
Severus raised an eyebrow. "I could never ignore you," he said dryly, before he touched her cheek gently.
"Thank you for coming here," he said softly, holding her gaze with his dark one.
"It was lovely," Hermione said honestly.
His face lightened at her words and he gave her a final kiss.
"Goodbye, Severus, I'll see you soon," Hermione said warmly before picking up her things and Apparating away to her home.
Severus stood for a long moment looking at where she had been, before he departed for Hogwarts.
When Hermione arrived home, she saw that her parents were still out. She let Crookshanks out of his carrier and he immediately headed off to the garden. She unpacked her things and thought about Severus as she did so, warmth in her eyes. She would send him a thank you letter, she decided. Although she didn't have an owl of her own to send letters (which she sometimes regretted), she had a charmed token that she could activate to summon any courier-owl that was in the vicinity. Money for letters sent were put in a small, special container that the owl wore around its neck on a cord.
When her parents came home, they were pleased to see her and asked about her time as a gardener at the retreat. She replied honestly that it had been hard work at times, but enjoyable.
Later that evening, her mother asked her innocently if she had 'met anyone nice' at the retreat.
"I did meet a wizard there, who was nice to talk to," Hermione replied honestly. "We might keep in touch." Which was also true. Bringing Severus around for dinner would be an interesting event in itself, she thought feelingly.
On his return to Hogwarts, Severus found himself in a mellow mood, but took care not to reveal it on his face. There were only a few students and staff around at the moment, but there was no need to cause undue suspicion by looking friendly… one had standards, after all.
The familiar wards of the castle recognised him and welcomed him back, a warm hum he felt in his bones more than actually heard. This time there was the sense that Hogwarts examined him closely for quite a while (in approval?) even though only a second or two had passed. Had it sensed his happier mood now that he had a mate - and was pleased for him? It was an oddly comforting thought.
The door to his chambers was concealed in his office, and as he went there, he wondered what Hermione would think if she was here. At one point he would have frowned at the thought of some witch making herself comfortable in his personal space, but now he was looking forward to Hermione sitting on his couch beside him… peering at his books… gracing his bed. He sighed to himself.
Severus was eating some morning porridge the next morning in the Great Hall when an owl delivered a letter to him from Hermione, for he recognised her handwriting immediately. His nostrils flared slightly and he immediately put her missive quickly into a pocket – he would read it in private.
After his breakfast, he hastened down to his office and made sure the door was warded securely before bringing out the letter and opening it carefully.
Thank you for the wonderful weekend. We will have to do
it again sometime. Looking forward to seeing you soon!
Love, Hermione, he repeated to himself in his mind… this was a love letter. He ran a finger over the paper gently, as if over her soft skin. A hint of fragrance came to his nose. They would have to do it again sometime? How presumptuous of her… delightfully so. He tucked the letter safely away in an inner pocket of his frock coat and for the rest of the day, those two words echoed brightly in his mind. Love, Hermione.
He speculated whether Dumbledore would summon him soon to reapply for the position of Defence of the Dark Arts professor. As it was, Professor McGonagall had some words to say to him first.
He was in his office catching up on paperwork when his fireplace flared to indicate activation of the floo network. Minerva's face appeared and she looked at him in a stern, speculative way – as if she wasn't sure whether he should be punished for presumption… or approved of for unexpected boldness. Her recent holiday to Hawai'i with Dumbledore had obviously agreed with her, for her previously pale complexion was now lightly but evenly tanned.
"Yes, Minerva?" Severus questioned.
"Hello, Severus," she said crisply. "I hope you enjoyed your vacation?"
"I did, thank you."
She went on, a faint frown on her face. "Well, then. There is something we need to discuss. I'm sure you know what – and whom – I am referring to. Come to my office as soon as it is convenient, please."
Severus felt a mixture of annoyance and irritation, to be summoned so as if he was a tardy student. He had not even been given a chance to ask her about her vacation.
"Very well," he said neutrally.
Once he went to her office, she looked thoughtfully at him from behind her desk. After a moment, she indicated he could sit down.
Thank you, he thought dryly.
Minerva cleared her throat abruptly.
"Albus has informed me, Severus, that you are in a relationship with Miss Hermione Granger. Your former student, I believe."
"Yes," he said guardedly.
"Albus seems quite pleased by this development," Minerva said straight-forwardedly.
She then stared at him for a long moment.
"However, I must ask you; how long has this been going on? I am sure that nothing untoward was going on while she was a student."
Severus moved restlessly for a moment.
"I can assure you, Minerva, that nothing untoward went on between myself and Hermione during her time at Hogwarts," he said curtly.
Minerva raised an eyebrow.
"Be that as it may be, but nevertheless, this… this relationship started at Hogwarts. It did not start at the retreat you were both at. I am no fool. Why her, Severus?"
There was a plaintive note to her last words. Left unsaid were the words, why him? Even though Hermione was no longer a student now, it was easy to see that Minerva had had fond wishes of her becoming closer to Weasley, or Potter.
Severus' mouth tightened, then in a cool voice he said, "Do you recall a while back when Longbottom caused an accident in Potions class that left Miss Granger unconscious?"
Minerva blinked, then nodded. "Yes." Her voice rose slightly at the end in question.
"When I saw her lying on my classroom floor, I realised how much she meant to me. I did my utmost though to dismiss such feelings after."
Minerva stared at him. "They weren't dismissed completely, I see," she remarked, then sighed. "I only want what's best for her."
Severus stared back. "So do I… she has long been in the shadows of others. That will cease," he said pointedly.
At that, Minerva looked slightly taken aback, but then looked at him with more respect.
Severus pinched the bridge of his nose and said in a calmer tone, "When Hermione finished her schooling, I accepted that things were over before they had begun. However, Albus ensured that we were both at the retreat and we became closer, as a result."
Minerva shook her head. "Albus and his dratted plans!" she said half to herself but indicated that Severus was free to go.
Hermione was alone in her bedroom that evening when a Patronus entered in a swirl of silvery light. It was Severus' cat which sat elegantly at the end of her bed as if it belonged there. Hermione came to attention when she heard Severus' deep voice.
"I have been wondering how you are – you have been in my thoughts today." There was a restrained sound to his voice and also a hint of weariness that touched her. Perhaps he was wondering whether she was alone, she thought.
"Your letter was welcome," he continued. "I would appreciate a Patronus when you can… my office is quite safe."
The cat blinked at her then faded away.
Hermione immediately locked and warded her room and prepared a Patronus of her own.
Not too long afterwards, Severus was alone in his office when a Patronus entered in a swirl of silvery light. It was Hermione's fruit bat which perched on the edge of his desk and looked at him owlishly.
Severus sat up straight when he heard Hermione's brisk, no-nonsense voice with a hint of tenderness to it.
"I've missed you too, Severus. I can come over tomorrow night just after seven, if you want. Hope you're behaving yourself. My room is warded."
His replying Patronus was dry and to the point.
"Yes. No. Impudent witch."