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A Choice of Roads by Imhilien [Reviews - 13]

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A/N - Thanks as always to those who review.

Part 15

“Yes, it is… Severus,” Hermione managed to answer firmly.

Severus felt a dark, pleasurable jolt within him at hearing her call him by his first name.

There was the uncommon feeling of warmth in his heart too as it sank in that Hermione, impossibly, did care for him… as well as being obviously willing to touch him. He was almost taken aback by the strong need that rose within him to be touched by her. Not just in a sexual way; but that the simplest of touches from her, the kind that most people took for granted, would please him.

For years he had coldly subdued such wants and needs and channelled his passions towards his work, but now after years it seemed these aspects of him were determined to make themselves known again. On some level this raw need bothered him - it was a potential vulnerability within him, given vast breadth and depth by its apparently simple nature. Could he truly afford to have it, to let Hermione have this power over him by allowing her inside his life? At the height of the war, the Dark Lord would have ruthlessly exploited weaknesses like this in him, indeed, any visible weakness he showed.

But Voldemort was dead, and the war was over, with only scars left behind.

He still felt shaken inside though after their shared kisses; after her kisses. What had she done to him?

Hermione was currently looking at him as if he was a particularly challenging Potions project, one that she was determined to take on but also slightly apprehensive about doing so.

She still felt wariness (and possibly fear) towards him, Severus realised. After all, years of unpleasant behaviour on his part could not be forgotten overnight.

For a moment part of him felt satisfaction at this knowledge. Old habits died hard… how efficient it was at times to be feared, rather than loved, by others. Fear was the whip that spurred his students on to succeed in his class, their ability to succeed that could one day be the only thing to keep them alive (if they did die young, no one should be able to point the finger of blame at him).

But, no, he thought harshly. Of all people, he didn’t want Hermione to fear him any more.

However, he had no intention though of changing his personality completely – he had seen the maudlin messes some wizards became when they fell in love and he was determined it would not happen to him. He was not perfect of course, but the various quirks and flaws of his personality served him well at times – how many plots had been successfully averted because of his naturally suspicious mind, to look for the hidden motives behind the smiling face, to seek the hidden knife in the hand, so to speak?

However, having observed Hermione for seven years now, he could say that although she had a sharp, clever mind that could often see solutions where others couldn’t, there was no natural deviousness within her, or a willingness to exploit flaws in others. Obviously if she had, she would have been sorted into Slytherin. Perhaps, in being with her it would be easy to find a way that would allow him to maintain his sense of self and please her. Certainly, pleasing her would most definitely please him…

He was making the assumption though, he thought silently, that he would be more than just a temporary dalliance in her life, not just a brush with ‘the dark side’ so to speak. What if she decided he was too… flawed? It wasn’t as if he was someone from her own generation, a young man with a healthy, strong body and (fairly) unblemished skin. He was older than her, and after the life he had led his body was hardly a shining example of manhood. If it had ever been.

Worse still – what if she only cared for him out of pity?

For a moment there Hermione had noticed a darkly pleased look in his eyes after she had spoken, but now she sensed his mood was becoming grimmer. The frown lines upon his face seemed deeper as well. Why? Impulsively she put her hand upon her arm.

“I do care for you,” she said with quiet sincerity. “I wasn’t lying before.”

There was something though, that Severus had to hear from her. ‘Do you only care for me because of pity?’ he said with deceptive softness. He would not be pitied…

Hermione glowered at him. ‘No, I certainly don’t love you out of pity!’ she said roundly, her eyes indignant, then her tone was quieter. “Don’t put yourself down like that - I think you did more for the Order than most of us will every realise, and it would have taken more courage than most of us have to do it. As well as your mind, I admire your courage.”

Was that how she saw him – someone brave and courageous as well as being intelligent? As if he was a Gryffindor, part of him mocked, but he ignored it. He had a need for recognition that he had long learnt to ignore (who would ever say ‘well done’ to him when there were glory-boys such as Potter to fawn over?) but it uncurled inside of him now, it listened… and smiled, satisfied.

He tilted his dark head to observe her hand upon his arm.

“Then we have an agreement between us, Hermione,” he murmured instead, as he reached out and gathered her firmly to him. Rather than kiss her immediately though, he was objectively curious to feel again how she felt in his arms. It had been a long time since he had held a woman after all… and it felt right to be holding Hermione, almost as if she enhanced him somehow. He was taller than her by a head and strands of her bushy hair brushed teasingly against his chin. There was the desire to run his fingers through her hair but he forebore… he would not let all of his self-control go when he was around her, he thought grimly.

Severus was pleased though that they happened to be in a fairly secluded spot in the garden. Despite the fact that Hermione was now legally an adult, there would no doubt be repercussions for her if she, a staff member of this retreat, were found in the arms of a guest.

Causing her to be fired would certainly not be in his best interests.

However, just to make matters safer, he activated a Keep Away charm that came easily to him, that would make approaching people think quite naturally of walking instead in the opposite direction.

As Hermione stood within the circle of his arms, she wondered objectively for a moment how this would appear to an outsider. She, Hermione Granger, a young Gryffindor woman of average appearance and fairly sensible mind, was agreeing to be with one Professor Severus Snape, the Head of Slytherin of Hogwarts, to be precise. A not-handsome, ex-Deatheater-turned spy.

However, the Potions Master about whom most people would have agreed didn’t have a romantic or tender bone in his body, seemed content at the moment just to gently hold her against him, as if he was somehow listening to her. Experimentally Hermione laid her head against his chest, feeling the soft scratchiness of his black robes against her cheek. When she moved her cheek just a fraction, she felt the cool roundness of a black button against her skin - it seemed that there were countless buttons on these formal Victorian-style clothes of his. No doubt Professor Snape- no, Severus she firmly told herself – had chosen his clothes to give the impression of strictness to the world, of a lack of frivolity or passion within him. However, he had probably no idea how enticingly sexy such buttoned-up-to-the-neck clothes were in their own way, she thought with a sudden small smile. How would he react if she told him that, she thought.

When Hermione gently slid her arms around his waist she was rewarded with an audible exhalation, almost a sigh, from him. She felt a hand of his starting to move over her back in slow, curious circles, almost as if he was trying to memorise her body in this way.

The sudden thought came to her that what if someone came and caught them? She turned her head quickly to look at the path, half expecting a wizard or worse, her employer to come along in the next second. It seemed that Severus understood her concern for he dipped his head to murmur with calm conviction against her ear, “No one will be coming this way, Hermione.”

As if he had belatedly realised this had an ominous sound to it, he relaxed his arms about her slightly and added in a stiff voice, “Not that I hope this… situation is one you feel needs intervention from others, as it were.”

“Oh no!” Hermione said earnestly. To reassure him she reached up to kiss his neck, just above the hint of the white linen shirt that peeked over his stiff black collar.

She heard a stifled exclamation from him, and Severus unconsciously clutched her closer to him in astonished pleasure. How had she guessed, the little witch, that his skin was quite sensitive there? Damn her…

Hermione felt a sense of delight that she could make him respond spontaneously this way, as well as a rush of tenderness for him as Severus almost blindly sought her mouth and covered it with frantic kisses. She returned his kisses eagerly, entwining her fingers amongst his black hair and when his questing hand brushed lightly in silent query against her breast she whimpered against his mouth. Feeling darkly pleased, he caressed her further and felt her squirm against him. Ah, how he had longed to touch her like this and hear her respond in pleasure… it seemed that fire ran through his veins and he was filled with the almost primal urge to draw her down to the ground, to feel her willing body under him as they coupled on the fertile soil, the scent of flowers and of her intoxicating him…

The feelings and this reality were overwhelming… they were a sensory overload he wasn’t used to coping with and in defence Severus found himself pushing her roughly away from him, his breathing ragged.

Her face flushed, Hermione looked at him with surprise and hurt in her brown eyes. Damn it, she had jumped to the wrong conclusion, he realised.

“It’s not your fault,” he swiftly said, his eyes searching hers.

He paused, seeking the right words to say.

“I am not accustomed – nor have I wanted to for a long time – to being shown affection by others,” he said abruptly, unconsciously folding his arms tightly across his chest. “I am not telling you of all people not to, of course. On the contrary.”

He coughed and then continued.

“It is just…”

I am not used to it, was the unspoken words.

“Are you close to your family?” Hermione said carefully, feeling as if she was on uncertain ground here.

She had thought for a sickening moment before that he couldn’t bear to touch her anymore, but she was fast realising that there were significant differences between the Severus of now and the one in the future, not just in his personality. In her visions he had kissed and touched her with unspoken assurance of a man who definitely knew what he was doing, but here he seemed acutely discomforted by his desire for her. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to touch her, but it was obvious that he was still… adjusting. Clearly, he wanted to take things slowly which in a way was a relief for her… she did desire him, of course, but she wasn’t quite ready to jump into bed with him straight away. He had after all, been the snarky Potions Master longer than he had been a… potential mate.

Severus stared down at her with a tight mouth and a shuttered expression in his black eyes.

“I suppose this is the part where I am supposed to regale you with tales of my supposedly abusive childhood with my daily beatings, of course,” Severus said in a mocking tone.

“I wasn’t implying anything like that,” Hermione snapped back, her brown eyes flashing. “I was just asking!”

She took a deep breath, running her hand through her bushy hair. “I thought we were trying to get to know each other too,” she said in a quieter tone. “I don’t want my head bitten off every time I ask you a question.”

Severus looked at her and then he gave a sigh. “I know,” he said tightly. “I have a temper and I am aware it has a life of its own at times.”

“Yes,” Hermione said in a non-committal tone.

Severus gave her a small, ironic smile. “You are not supposed to agree with me.”

Severus was then silent for a moment and then said in a stiff tone, “So, since you asked… my father was the master of the house, and always made me aware it was so… with my mother constantly in his shadow I learnt eventually to keep myself amused. It was hardly the best of childhoods but it could have been worse, of course.”

But not much parental affection, it seemed… Hermione had a momentary vision of the boy he must have been lurking in the rooms of a gloomy house, his black eyes watchful and wary. Possibly unpleasant school years at Hogwarts following in turn – with someone like Voldemort smoothly offering him power and prestige Severus must have seen this as proper acknowledgement of him for the first time in his life. But when he realised his mistake and became a member of the Order of the Phoenix, he was only rewarded with constant mistrust of his motives by many that continued to this day… was it any wonder he wasn’t used to an affectionate touch?

“Do you get on with them in a better way these days?” Hermione asked cautiously.

“My parents both died years ago,” he said flatly.

“Oh. I’m sorry,” she said awkwardly, feeling that it was probably wise if she didn’t ask anything more about his parents.

Hermione hesitated, and though her cheeks were slightly pink she said frankly, “I don’t mind if we take things slowly, after all, you shouldn’t rush some things.”

“I hope you do not think any less of me,” Severus said guardedly in return, his eyes watchful. Surely she would be reacting with scorn by now?

He was surprised when she made a small huff! of exasperation and rolled her eyes as if to say, men!

“Of course not,” she said roundly and to show she meant it she kissed him softly. Oddly relieved (though he didn’t show it) Severus kissed her back with slow thoroughness, taking his time. Just to let her know not to underestimate him though, he turned his head and nibbled her ear for a moment, making her squeak in surprise and swat him playfully on his arm. He swatted her back in light reproof and when their eyes met they found themselves smiling at each like naughty children, feeling closer to each other than before.

Severus then coughed and said carefully, “Since you are no doubt hungry at the moment, would you like to have lunch with me at the Three Broomsticks, Hermione?” In recent years the inn had expanded its ‘menu’ so to speak to include plain but edible food as well as drink to bring in more custom.

He saw her eyes blink in surprise before she smiled at him. “Yes, please,” she said promptly. A dimple had appeared upon her face, Severus noted, quickly filing this fact away for future reference.

It was a considerable concession on his part to ask Hermione out to lunch, being a private person who preferred to eat alone. Certainly it was an irritation to him that his duties at Hogwarts required him to have his meals at the High Table. Severus dealt with feeling that he was the focus of countless student eyes by watching known troublemakers; certainly he had kept an eye on the so-called Golden Trio…

But he had asked Hermione and to his gratification she had accepted; she did not mind being seen in public with him.

The small inn in Hogsmeade was noisy and warm as usual, but hardly anyone gave the Potions Master and the young witch accompanying him more than a second glance as they made their way to a small table at the back. Hermione was secretly relieved at this – though she was still half-expecting a wizard she knew to come up and berate her for going out with someone twice her age.

She was not someone to fuss over her appearance, but after explaining to Severus that she would “only be five minutes” she had Apparated back to her room and made sure she looked presentable and well, mature. After quickly pinning up her hair and applying a little makeup Hermione had been satisfied that she wouldn’t look like ‘jail bait’ in his company. Fortunately she still had some money left and that had gone into a pocket before she had Apparated back to where she had left Severus.

He had stared down at her face sharply for a moment when she had returned, and Hermione had realised that he had probably never seen her with makeup on before. True, she did make an extra effort to try and make herself look presentable at the dances they had had at Hogwarts, but Severus had rarely attended them. On the occasions he had attended a dance (no doubt ‘encouraged’ to by Dumbledore) he had stood in the shadows, clearly wishing to be anywhere but there and with a sour expression upon his face. No one had dared to ask him for a dance nor had cared when he left early…

Severus had coughed abruptly and then said in an obvious attempt at snarkiness, “I believe you were away for ten minutes rather than five. However, I shall let it pass,” he added with uncommon awkwardness on his part before pointing out they should both Apparate to Hogsmeade.

It was obvious by the way Severus held himself at the moment in The Three Broomsticks that he was expecting as well to be asked what he was doing in Hermione’s company. In a terse voice he asked what drink she wanted, and when she replied that she wanted a Butterbeer he nodded curtly and with a swirl of black robes was soon lost amongst the crowd.

How he would be able to keep himself from goggling at her like a dunderhead when he returned he had no idea, Severus thought in vexation as he bought a Butterbeer and a drink of mulled mead for himself. He had not expected her to wear makeup. Part of him disapproved, while the other part of him felt flattered she would make an effort for him.

In a short time he returned, carrying two tankards with as much care as if they were carefully brewed potions.

“Thank you,” Hermione said as he placed her drink in front of her. He put his drink of mead down as well and sat down on the seat opposite her, his black robes rustling as they draped on the floor around him. Because they were fairly secluded and had a certain degree of privacy where they were Severus allowed himself to relax slightly.

Within moments Madame Rosmerta, a pretty lady with curves that Hermione could only dream of having, briskly came up to their table. Her bright eyes took in both of them and for a moment her eyebrows raised slightly when she looked at Hermione (as if to question her motives for being with Professor Snape now that she had left Hogwarts).

However, her tone of voice when she spoke was quite business-like as she related what the specials of the day were. The mention of leek and potato soup sounded agreeable to both Severus and Hermione, and having taken their order Madame Rosmerta went away to relay their request to the kitchen.

Hermione looked at Severus, and there was a gleam of humour in her brown eyes. “Blue,” she informed him precisely.

“I beg your pardon?” Severus said shortly, staring at her, wondering what on earth she was talking about.

“I thought this would be a good time to get to know each other – so, for one thing blue is my favourite colour,” she explained.

The corner of his mouth twitched. “I hope you can provide me with something more substantial than that,” he said, his black eyes sardonic.

For someone who had been as outspoken in class as she was, Hermione felt diffident at talking about herself, but then, she was still accustoming herself to speaking frankly to Severus without being reprimanded for ‘impertinence’. Being the focus of his complete attention was disconcerting in its own way too.

As she related details about her life at home, the music she liked, the hobbies she had such as collecting fans to put upon her wall, it was probably inevitable that there was some incomprehension on his part about certain Muggle terms and the technology in her world. Pop culture was a mystery to him and his ideal type of music was classical – there had been some Muggle composers of merit, he pointed out dryly. Explaining her (somewhat dubious) like for 80’s music would be a job in itself.

It didn’t help that he had based much of his knowledge on her world on the unfortunately half-baked ideas of Arthur Weasley that he had obviously heard. This led to some animated discussion on her part and pointed questions on his part, though without any spite behind them. They hardly noticed when their soup arrived, and Madame Rosmerta thought that for a wonder there wasn’t a sour expression on the Potions Master for once – perhaps there was nothing to be concerned about the odd sight of him and young Hermione having lunch together.


A/N: While I know that Severus is the Master in more than one way in many stories (heh), I had thought that what if he kept himself in such control most of the time, to the point he would have difficulty adjusting when he fell in love (and let some of that control go?)

A Choice of Roads by Imhilien [Reviews - 13]

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