Chapter 23

Dumbledore was nervous – which didn't happen very often. But he knew that he had done something terribly wrong and now he had to try to remedy his fault. Anxiously he waited for a knock on his office door and when it finally came he breathed deeply in before welcoming his first guest. "Please sit down, Severus."

The Potions Master looked even more sourly than usually... "What do you want?" he spat without any greetings.

"I asked you to come because I wanted to talk about Miss Granger with you."

Severus narrowed his eyes. "And what about her?"

"Please answer me honestly," Dumbledore said severely. "Do you love her?"

"Yes, I do," he answered after a moment's pause.

"Not fancy her or find her attractive but real, genuine love?"

"Yes," he repeated annoyed. "Why?"

"You'll see."

Right on cue, there was a second knock on the door and Hermione entered. She looked very pale with dark circles under her eyes. Her hair was dull and it was obvious that she had lost weight. When she saw Severus she gasped in shock and wanted to retreat at once but Dumbledore stopped her.

"Come in, Miss Granger, it's alright."

Almost timidly she sat down on the chair next to Severus and didn't even dare to look at him although she'd love to. She missed him bitterly…

He on the other side mustered her concerned and then glared at Dumbledore.

"The reason I brought you both here," the headmaster began, "is because I want to discuss with you Miss Granger's current health."

Hermione's eyes only widened but Severus hissed: "You know perfectly well why she feels so miserable!"

"I do," admitted Dumbledore. "And I am willing to remedy what I have done." He sighed desperately. "I am dearly sorry for separating you both."

Severus and Hermione first looked shocked at the headmaster, then shortly at each other.

Dumbledore continued. "Let me explain my behaviour. Of course, a student-teacher-relationship is against the rules and many people would say morally improper. But there was more. I've known you, Severus, for a long time and I'm sorry to say this but I wasn't sure that you actually loved her."

Severus was too angry to reply anything, he merely clenched his teeth.

"I just wanted to protect her."

"Protect me… from him?" Hermione asked incredulously. "But there is nothing to fear. I know that he has a temper and can be rather unforgiving with his sarcasm but he would never deliberately hurt me." She looked directly at the man next to her. "I trust him completely."

Severus gulped in emotion.

"I can see that now," Dumbledore said, touched as well. "I now understand that you both truly love each other, and I am willing to untighten my prohibitions."

Hermione looked excited but Severus remained sceptical. "How exactly?" he wanted to know.

"Of course, I can't allow you to be together while Hermione is still a student – it is still against the rules! – but I will overlook some letter correspondence or some talking after lessons. But just talking!" He raised his eyebrows in severity. "Oh," he added with a smile, "and let's say if you were to go on Easter holidays, and … by chance … would be in the same place … I wouldn't say a single word about it."

Hermione's eyes sparkled with joyous tears and she grinned exceptionally wide (she had almost forgotten how to feel happy). "Thank you, Professor Dumbledore!" she exclaimed and it seemed as if she had already forgiven him.

Severus, on the other hand, didn't want to respond at all to his 'generosity' but nodded shortly, in the end, to get the headmaster's eyes off him.

Then Dumbledore dismissed them and they left the office.

When the door was closed, Severus mumbled: "Meddling, old fool…" under his breath but was taken aback in the next moment as Hermione flung her arms around his neck and hugged him tightly while still crying tears of joy.

Severus sighed happily, smiled and hugged her back, finally able to be near her again.