Disclaimer: All things Harry Potter belong to JK Rowling. No money is being made from this work of fan fiction.

Bonds of Duty
by Luthien

A loose lock of hair fell in front of Hermione's face and obscured her vision. Irritably, she pushed it out of her eyes and reached behind her head to find her hairclip and anchor it properly back in place. Hair secured, she sighed and looked down at the book open on the table in front of her. The writing in the book was small and crabbed and was beginning to blur before her eyes. She sighed again and let her hands slip down to rub her aching neck. She'd been sitting here for hours now and still hadn't found anything useful, despite the huge pile of books she'd been searching through which were stacked precariously in the corner of the table.

"You look tired."

Hermione nearly jumped out of her skin. "Please don't come up behind me like that, Harry," she said plaintively.

"Sorry," said Harry, sounding vaguely apologetic as he came to stand beside her chair. "But you do look tired. Why don't you come downstairs and have something to eat. Molly says dinner will be ready soon."

"Yes, I suppose I should," said Hermione, scowling at the book. "And then I'd better go home."

"You could always stay here. You're doing all your work here at the moment anyway and-"

"I've told you before, Harry. I can't stay here. There are reasons why I have to live at Hogwarts-"

"-which you can't tell me. Yes, I know."

"Anyway," said Hermione, not wanting to go into all that again, "It's been a really frustrating day's work. I just can't understand why I haven't found anything. There should have been some sort of lead in all of that." She waved a hand at the pile of books. "They're all from the attic. Full of Dark magic, the lot of them. But there isn't a single reference to what I'm looking for, as far as I can see, unless it's in the second half of this one here."

"Take a break. You can start again in the morning," Harry suggested.

Hermione wanted to protest at that. Since when had Harry been in a position to advise her on study techniques? "All right," she said, grudgingly admitting that he had a point. "Just give me a moment to get packed up."

She quickly gathered up her notebooks and quills and packed them away in her bag, then closed the book in front of her, pausing in the act of adding it to the pile with the others. She stared down at the book for a moment, then suddenly grabbed hold of it and stowed it in her bag. Slinging the strap over her shoulder, Hermione followed Harry out of the room, grateful she'd had the foresight to bring her No-way No-weigh carry-all which always weighed the same no matter how heavy the objects it held. 

All through dinner – Molly Weasley's ubiquitous stew – Hermione mulled over the problem. She hated not having the answer to anything. Worse, she hated not even having the first clue of where to look next; all the paths she'd tried so far had ended very quickly in dead ends. She suspected her preoccupation might have been noticeable to those around her because no one said very much to her in the course of the meal. Harry tried to talk to her a few times, but only about unimportant subjects like Quidditch, and she'd had a lot of practice in ignoring that sort of chatter over the years. She was thankful that at least he didn't make another attempt to persuade her to stay. Her reasons for living at Hogwarts were yet another thing she didn't have a proper answer to, and even if the whole thing hadn't been so secret she wouldn't have known where to begin when trying to explain it to Harry. It was probably no coincidence that the subject of her fruitless search through the books from the attic was not unconnected with what sent her back to Hogwarts at the end of each day.

Once the meal had concluded, Hermione made her goodbyes absently and went out into the night. It took only as long as between one breath and the next to Apparate to the gates of the school. The cold night air of Scotland was a shock against her skin after the relatively balmy London weather. Hermione retrieved her cloak from the depths of the No-way No-weigh bag and put it on, making sure to pull the hood forward to warm her face. An accio later her broom hovered before her, ready to go. She mounted the broom, and away she went.

Broomrides were boring. There really wasn't anything else to do but think when travelling by broom, especially at night when it was difficult to make out your surroundings, apart from the looming castle which lit up the night like a Christmas tree. Hermione took the opportunity to worry about the problem again as she flew towards the castle. She thought about it some more as she dismounted and went inside. She was still thinking about it as she made her way through the corridors and down the stairs until she found herself outside the door to her quarters.

Forcing herself to stop thinking about the problem for a moment, she muttered the password, and went inside. She took in the state of her quarters at a glance; as she expected, very little had changed since she'd departed for work that morning, and there was no one else to be seen. She put down her bag and wandered into the bedroom, quickly discarding her cloak and shoes.

She eyed the bed, sitting there with its dark, austere covers – and its oh so comfortable pillows, which she longer to rest her aching neck against.  Hermione knew she really should get some more work done this evening, and she really couldn't unwind properly with the problem still foremost in her mind anyway, but the bed looked so inviting after such a long day. Perhaps she could find a way…

Less than ten minutes later, Hermione was tucked up in bed, propped up on soft pillows, a quill in her hand, notebook on her knee and the book she'd brought back with her hovering in the air close by the bed. Every so often, Hermione pointed her wand at it and the book obediently turned the page. She wasn't sure how long she continued like that, scribbling down notes and muttering under her breath about things that didn't add up, but she'd made it through a good two dozen pages of the book by the time she heard the main door open, followed by the sounds of someone entering and moving around in the sitting room.

Hermione heard a door open and close, the chink of glass against glass, and the gentle whoosh of a cushion as someone settled in an armchair. Then there was the rustle of a page; someone was sitting and reading with a drink in their hand.

The little sounds continued for fifteen minutes or so. Hermione managed to get through about half a page of her book in that time. Then she heard the unmistakable sounds of footsteps coming nearer. The bedroom door opened, and Snape entered the room.

"Good evening," he said stiffly.

"Hello," said Hermione, looking up briefly before returning her attention to her notebook.

He stood there and stared at her for a moment. Hermione was acutely aware of his scrutiny and could feel a tell-tale flush creeping up her neck. However, she kept her eyes determinedly on her notes, though she couldn't have said what she was writing if she'd been asked.

"Have your researches uncovered any leads?" Snape asked so abruptly that Hermione looked up at him in surprise before she had a chance to stop herself.

"No," she said. "I felt sure there'd be something useful in the books from the house, but there's been next to nothing so far."

"Are you intending to continue much longer?" he asked, looking meaningfully at the bed.

"No," she said again, and felt her face colouring. Damn. She was going to have to stop reacting like that. "I was about ready to stop for the night, anyway."

She pointed her wand at the book again and it shut with a snap before floating down to rest on her bedside table. Hermione set down her notebook and quill on top of the book and then settled back against the pillows.

Snape had opened the wardrobe, and the door hid him from Hermione's view. She could hear the rustle of his robes as he got undressed. She looked away, not wanting to be caught staring when he emerged.

Eventually, Snape closed the wardrobe door and came over to the bed. He was wearing a long, shapeless nightshirt, which hid most of his body from view. He sat down on the side of the bed, took off his boots and placed them carefully by the bedside table where the house-elves were sure to find them.

Then he pulled back the covers and got into bed beside Hermione.

"Do you want to, er, read or anything?" Hermione asked.

Snape just stared at her.

"I was just wondering if you were ready to put out the light," she explained.

"If I had wanted to continue reading I would not have come to bed," he said, and Hermione was sure she wasn't imagining the rebuke in his voice. Well, she wasn't going to apologise for reading in bed. It was her bed now, quite as much as it was his, and it wasn't as though she was still reading now that he'd come to bed, anyway.

"Fine. Nox," she snapped with a last wave of her wand and plunged the room into darkness.

She lay back against the pillows again, not remotely sleepy despite her long and tiring day. She was very aware of Snape in the bed beside her, even though no part of their bodies touched. She was also aware that that state of affairs couldn't continue tonight. It didn't look as though Snape was going to do anything about that, though, so the responsibility fell to her. Hesitantly, she rolled onto her side and placed a hand on his flannel-clad arm. She felt his arm stiffen at her touch.

"You know we really should," she whispered.

The only reply she received was utter silence. She wondered if he was holding his breath.

"It's been a whole week, and you know-"

"Yes, I know," he said. "I was there. I heard what Dumbledore said. We should let no more than a week go by before we-"

"-do it again," Hermione finished.

They both lay there in silence, Hermione's hand still on Snape's arm, but otherwise not touching.

"I suppose we'd better get on with it," said Snape with a sigh of resignation.

And then his hand was on her arm, moving down in slow, firm strokes, slipping down after a moment to cup the curve of her hip and squeeze her backside gently through her nightdress.

Hermione's whole body tensed in pleasure at the unexpected caress. She wriggled closer, resting her head against his shoulder and pressing a line of kisses into his neck. She smiled as she felt a tiny shudder run through him in response. In tacit agreement, they both moved closer, hands moving faster now as they traced the shape of each other, bodies cleaving together, wanting to be skin to skin but nightclothes got in their way, frustrating them.

"We're overdressed," Hermione whispered into Snape's ear, and pulled away from him. She sat up and threw off her nightdress, reflecting that it was scary how quickly they always moved from the first, tentative touch to something that wasn't all that far from a desperate need.

And then they were back together in the middle of the bed, bodies pressed together with no impediment. Even with her eyes open, Hermione couldn't see a thing in the near total darkness, so she closed her eyes and let herself feel. Her world was all warm skin and panting breath and a growing ache for more. She welcomed the touch of his hand against her jaw when it came, and tilted her face up for his kiss.

Hermione's last thought, before she let herself drown in sensation, was that she wished she didn't enjoy this quite so very much.