A/N: I'm going to have to warn everyone that this is a seriously fluffy chapter. If you've read the others you'll understand why. It's more or less a flash of inspiration really, all written in one night on a borrowed computer because mine is off in exotic Mansfield (!!) being repaired. I'm pretty pleased with it, but there's only going to be one more after this, just sort of tying up loose ends I think. I've been looking at the reviews and at the moment I'm considering writing another story dealing with the same facts but from Hermione's POV, just to give it a bit of balance. Any ideas? Please let me know in the usual way.

I'm dedicating this one to cosmo-queen to apologise for the suspense! I hope this doesn't disappoint. Many thanks once again to all of my reviewers, I love you all loads.

BTW if anyone knows the title of the SS/HG songfic story based around the Elton John song 'Original Sin' could they let me know? There's another one I'd really appreciate the title of as well, but all I can remember is Hermione and Sev on a hidden balcony at Hogwarts. Any answers would be massively appreciated!

***

He lay next to her in the darkness afterwards, not quite believing what it was they had done. She had chosen to spoon herself up against him and he could feel the warmth of the back of her body along the front of his. He placed a protective arm around her and rested his head on the soft skin of her shoulder, listening to her breathing as it slowed and eventually settled into the regular rhythm of sleep. He found himself at something of a loss; he was not able yet to sleep, as his mind was too busy trying to assimilate what it was that had taken place between them. Hermione had said very little the entire time, preferring to let her actions speak for her. They had walked silently but purposefully back to his rooms and had encountered no one. He had led her willingly to his bed and then there had been no hesitation, no turning back. He had found the experience almost bittersweet in its intensity, and now it was over he was surprised at the lack of awkwardness, especially from her. She had simply rested herself against him and fallen asleep. He hoped she was dreaming of all the sweet things she deserved life to bring her.

He pressed his mouth softly to her shoulder, at the same time inhaling her sweet scent, trying to commit it to memory and refusing to let it pass him by in case he never got the opportunity to do it again. He wanted to do it again, he realised. And more than that. He was perceptive enough to realise that she could be the chink in the suit of armour he presented to the world; the effect she had on him was extraordinary. Lying quietly with her in his arms he was experiencing a feeling of peace so complete he knew without doubt he had never experienced it before. He felt himself on an even footing with the world for a change, and all of the old bitterness just seemed to be fading away. He breathed in and out rapidly a few times, searching vainly for his pain; pain that had been omnipresent in his life for as long as he could remember. Much of it had been dissipated with the departure of the Dark Lord but he had still experienced a lingering bitterness, a fiery anger he could not find a way of quenching, at least not alone . . .

Severus did not think for a minute that Hermione would want to stay with him the way he wanted to stay with her, and he had long given up on hoping for anything. He hoped that she could be at peace with her life on the terms that it had offered her and he was glad of the role he had played. He knew that when he did sleep it would be undisturbed by the nightmares of nights gone by and if that was her way of repaying him for saving her life then it would be enough. The fact remained that making love to her had been sweeter than he had ever known it, but he had carefully committed everything to memory and the rich tapestry of memory would always see him through whatever life threw his way. He had been lonely, he knew, but at least now he had tasted life at its' best and that would be enough. It had to be.

***

When staring into the darkness became tiresome he summoned the strength to perform a small piece of wandless magic, lighting a few candles around the room so that he might watch her sleep by candlelight. He looked down at her and sighed, trailing a hand absently down the line of her back and tracing the curve of her hip all the way down to her knee. Her skin appeared dewy in the hazy light and it was soft and supple beneath his fingers. Raising himself up onto an elbow he ran an emboldened hand across her waist, tugging her closer in towards him, not realising his mistake until her voice, muffled with sleep, cut through the silence.

"What are you doing?" She asked. He could not decide if she was angry or simply half-asleep, as her tone of voice gave nothing away. He was suddenly lost for words, and found himself staring at her back open mouthed. The silence lengthened until she abruptly turned over so that they were face to face. Her eyes were impossible to read in the faint light and her hair was all over her face. He took the opportunity to smooth it all away as he felt her slender body curve into his. They were touching from shoulder to ankle and it was more than pleasant. Severus felt a stir of excitement, surprising himself. He was sure Hermione felt it too because she smiled faintly.

"I . . . I don't know." He found his voice at last but what it said was distinctly unimpressive. Looking down at her he could sense amusement. He was not sure why.

"You do know," she insisted sleepily.

"I just wanted to remember you," he muttered helplessly.

"Remember me?"

"For when you're gone." She was snuggling into him now, entwining her legs with his, her arms comfortably around his waist. He found himself wishing she would stay.

"Who said I was going anywhere?" She whispered, flicking him a glance before resting her head against his chest and kissing it in a gesture he recognised as tenderness. He almost forgot to breathe.

"In the morning." He suppressed a groan as she placed tiny butterfly kisses up his throat.

"Who said I was going anywhere in the morning?" Her lips reached his then and she kissed him, hard. When he had the chance to reply, several minutes had passed.

"Are you saying you'd like to stay? Here? With me?" His eyes were opaque with passion but his mind would not let him succumb just yet.

"For a little while." He made her feel safe he realised. Nothing more. She probably wanted his counsel about the way to proceed. He had offered it after all. When did it become too little? When you kissed her, a little voice told him. When you brought her here to your bed. There was no doubt that this had complicated things for him enormously. He had not ever expected to feel this way.

"A little while?" He was fast becoming distracted by her hands, hands that were wandering at will. She nodded.

"As long as you like really," she whispered, and there was vulnerability in her brown eyes again. "As long as you'll . . ." she gave a little gasp as his hands did some wandering of their own, ". . . have me really."

Severus did not need to be asked twice. He kissed her gently before lowering his weight carefully down onto her. As the first time, he was stunned that they could fit together so perfectly. He felt her back arch and then her hips tilted against him and then they were one again, moving slowly together in the candlelight, staring into each others' eyes momentarily speechless at the magic that they had managed to create again. Severus saw sudden tears form in her eyes and hoped they were happy ones as he smoothed them away.

"Well." His voice was hoarse as he pressed his mouth to hers, kissing and speaking at the same time. "I could always arrange it so that you never leave."