Severus wasn't a demonstrative man. He knew that. The truth of his affection for somebody could be read more by his making an effort not to actively scowl at them rather than anything so overt as actually saying he cared about them.

Hermione Granger, for instance. He'd acknowledged to himself years ago that he loved her. He'd never said as much to her, of course. But he'd let her get away with smacking him upside the head in front of the students. And, more significantly, he'd returned from the Potions symposium he'd been looking forward to for months before it had even begun just because she was missing.

He'd promised her, after all. That was one thing he'd been explicit about. He would always go after her. It had been a joke when he'd said it, the pair of them talking about the many times he'd saved her when she was his student. He hadn't been joking, though. And from what her captors had let slip while they were trying to get information out of him, she'd known he hadn't been joking.

And that was what was bothering him.

It was almost exactly a year ago that she'd been taken. It was the summer break, and most of the professors had cleared out of Hogwarts. He hadn't booked a trip this year, academic or otherwise.

They'd never truly unearthed the plot behind it.

Oh, all involved had been captured. Hermione had taken an active role in their trials. The lot of them had shown remarkable solidarity in their silence, however. The Ministry would never approve forceful Legilimency, even on criminals, not in this day and age, and so the root of it remained unsolved. It bothered him.

Almost exactly a year ago, Hermione had been taken from her home, her wards shredded quickly and violently. She'd been abducted, beaten, tied to a chair. Students had been taken from their homes to be used as hostages against her. She had moved after that—she'd sold her private residence and packed all her worldly possessions into the little beaded bag she'd had during the war, and she'd taken up residence at Hogwarts.

Severus had been on vacation when Hermione had been taken. he'd left almost as soon as the students had, Portkey scheduled for the moment his yearly duties ended. A little unnamed island in the Mediterranean had been hosting a potioneers' conference and he'd booked his ticket ages ago, his first true vacation in much too long. He'd spent a week on a beach, going brown as a nut (something Hermione had found hilarious when she'd first learned that he tended to tan instead of burn, considering how pale he was) and drinking really good wine. The day the conference was set to begin, he'd received a letter from the Aurory requesting his help. Their star Auror, Potter, had gone on vacation and Hermione Granger was missing.

He'd scrapped his plans for the conference, of course. And he'd found her. Some thugs had tried to drown him in diluted Veritaserum (the only thing available on the open market, true Veritaserum being a controlled substance), and then he'd found a few students they hadn't even known were missing, and then he'd got in a proper fight.

Hermione had spent the school year fussing over the students. She'd checked in on them without their knowing. She was almost compulsive about it. And all the time she'd insisted she was fine, she'd been through worse, she'd be alright.

Physically, she was fine. Emotionally? Mentally? He worried about her.

It had started when she'd first returned to Hogwarts to teach. They'd become fast friends, which had been absurd at first. She had daily tiffs with Trelawney, which had immediately endeared her to him. She was also brilliant, and she had a wicked mouth on her when she didn't think anybody was listening. She was passionate. She constantly surprised him.

He'd fallen in love with her.

He hadn't realized how deep he was in until he'd received that owl from the Ministry. As if they just needed a bit of help covering a gaff before the boss got back and realized they'd misplaced his best friend. He'd felt sick.

And now it was summer again. She wasn't leaving; she didn't have anyplace to go. No place was safer than Hogwarts, they said, but he didn't want to be apart from her. And, truly, his home was safer than Hogwarts. He lived there, for one. He'd throw himself between her and an attacker if he had to.

He was a besotted idiot.

"Professor Granger?" He hadn't consciously left his rooms, but he found himself knocking at her office door and looking in.

"Oh," she said, voice flat. "Hello, Severus."

"Hermione," he said in greeting, stepping into the office and closing the door behind him. She either didn't notice or didn't attribute any significance to it. "I'd had a thought."

"Oh?" she asked, some life returning to her. Her eyes sparkled with humor, some quip about thinking being a difficult thing for him no doubt on the tip of her tongue.

"Would you like to spend the summer at my home?"

He hadn't actually thought out how he was going to ask her. He hadn't actually thought behind the initial idea of it. The thought had barely formed and he'd already been knocking at her office door.


"My home," he said. "I bought a cottage out in the country after the war. It's Unpolottable. "

He wondered if he should make it clear that he had three bedrooms in the place. One of them had his bed in it, one of them was set up as his office, and the last one had been intended as a guest room but had ended up as storage. It would be easy enough to clear the boxes out of the third room and put a bed in it for her.

"Yes, please," she said, her voice surprisingly quiet, before he could begin rambling about the bedrooms.

"I was going to leave tomorrow after breakfast, if that is amenable to you?"

"Yes," she said. Her eyes were shining, and he wasn't sure what to make of it. "Thank you, Severus."

"Of course."

He left her office before he could bollocks it up.