Hermione has started using this new lotion or perfume, from a muggle store Ron thinks, that appeared when she returned from Christmas break and suddenly she smells like a girl. Ron is the first to notice, the first to comment anyway. He and Harry are watching her walk away towards the great hall with her bag over her shoulder and in the air left behind, Ron takes a deep breath and says, "Wow."
"What?" Harry asks, though he can tell that Ron means Hermione from the way his face has turned bright red and he shifted his books in front of his crotch.
"She's different, since the Holidays, right?" Ron asks and Harry knows that it's true. Hermione, of course, is still her snobby, know-it-all self but she seems softer. Harry felt like they were losing her, somehow. When they were twelve and new to Hogwarts, they were just children in matching robes with matching bodies and matching false confidences, but now she has curves and such narrow little shoulders and smells like sweet peas in the summertime.
Hermione is in the common room less. She used to always be there, or the library, pouring over some huge book that Harry couldn't recognize ("Research," she would murmur with no further explanation offered) but now, when Harry goes to look for her, he often finds himself looking on his map. There's Ron, in the great hall, still eating no doubt. There's Harry himself, standing outside the fat lady's portrait. And there's Hermione, down in the dungeons with Severus Snape and Draco Malfoy. Harry found that the map not only offered him the positions of the Hogwarts staff, but any person he wished to find as well. He simply thinks of Hermione and there she is –a tiny black dot on her map. At first, she is walking alone, down and deeper into the castle, but Harry notices that she's close to the Slytherin common room which isn't far from Snape's dungeons and then there they are, Draco first, in step with Hermione and then Snape on the other side of the room, stationary, probably at his desk. Hermione, two Slytherins, and her new scent of sweet peas.
Draco Malfoy, thought still a disgusting prig, has been less of a nuisance these days. It pains Harry to admit it, but when they pass in the halls, usually Draco says nothing. Last week, the hallway to Snape's classroom had flooded and the students were hugging the walls to get around it. Draco had actually stepped back to let Harry pass first.
"Thanks." he had said before he realized who it was. Draco, to his benefit, had just shrugged.
"Hermione!" Harry says now. He has followed her dot and fading footsteps and they have converged in the foyer of the school, right outside the counters for each of the houses and their points. The gemstones inside were always moving. Hufflepuff gained ten stones, Ravenclaw five.
"Hello, Harry." She greets. She's alone. They'd left Snape's room and Draco's dot had steered into another direction and faded as Harry had lost interest in him.
"I've been looking for you. You said we could do our charms homework together." He says and she glances at her watch.
"Yes, okay, then." They walk to the common room quietly but companionably.
"How've you been?" he asks, to break the silence.
"Busy. Exams and all." she offers no further explanations.
"Ron and I have missed you, is all." She doesn't reply. "Hermione, if you've made… other friends… no matter who they are, that's okay. We just want to be a part of your life still." Harry doesn't know when he became an adult but he's been feeling older, more mature. He's can see Hogwarts end on the horizon; he can feel the only place that has ever been home to him slipping away.
"What do you mean?" she asks, though they both know.
"I mean Malfoy, Hermione. You've been spending time with him." he admits.
"You hate it, don't you?" but it is an accusation, not a question.
"No! I mean, sure, as a Gryffindor, I hate the Slytherin house on principle but Malfoy… he's been less evil lately and I just miss you!" He will always have Ron, he knows. Ron needs Harry so much more then he needs Ron but Hermione needs no one, it seems, and she seems to be dimming, floating obstinately out of his life, maybe forever.
"He's had a falling out with his father." Hermione admits and then they are in the common room which is alive and buzzing. "Do you want to do charms or not?" she asks in the exasperated way that is decidedly Hermione. Harry would be a fool to turn down her help so they sit at the corner table and study. There is frost on the tall window and the stone walls of the school are freezing to the touch. Hermione starts to shiver and yawn and Harry decides to give up the fight.
"Let's go to sleep. It's the weekend." Harry said. "Are you going to Hogsmeade tomorrow?" he asks and she nods, avoiding eye contact. "With Draco?"
"Harry, I wish you would just let this be for the time being." she says, low in her voice. "Goodnight." She stands, stretches like a cat, and walks up to her dormitory, her hips swaying. Harry doesn't remember when the hips appeared, when her jeans started to ride so low on her frame, the flat plain of her stomach peaking out from the hem of her shirt. He finds Hermione attractive but he is not attracted to her. He and Ron go to Hogsmeade alone in the morning.
Draco is there with Pansy and Blaise drinking butterbeer and speaking in low, heated tones amongst themselves in the Three Broomsticks but Hermione is not with them and was not in the Common Room when they had left. He leaves the table of Gryffindor he is the head of to go ask Draco where she is.
"What?" asks Pansy but Draco sends her a wary look and she shuts up.
"Potter." he greets neutrally.
"Malfoy." Harry says. "I was wondering if you knew where Hermione was? I thought she was coming into town with you."
"With me?" he asks, looking genuinely surprised. "What the hell would she be with me for?" he asks. It takes Harry a minute for the pieces to fall into place but they do and he feels like an idiot.
"Sorry." he mutters and walks back to his table. Draco is looking at him strangely and Blaise is rolling his eyes like Harry is a bothersome child they can't seem to be rid of. He sits down next to Neville who is eating a basket of French fries like his life depends on it. He feels confused and like Hermione has lied to him, though she hasn't, exactly.
"What's up, mate?" Ron asks. Harry hasn't told him that he'd suspected Draco of stealing their best friend away and he doesn't tell him the revised theory now. He leaves his friends in the pub and runs back to the castle early, before the rest of the students. Hermione is sitting in the deserted common room, thankful for the quiet while she writes her History of Magic essay that is already a foot and a half longer than required.
"Harry! I thought you went to town." She says when he bursts into the common room with a red face, covered in sweat from running instead of waiting for the train.
"It's not Malfoy at all, is it?" he accuses and she looks away, quickly, just for a moment, but it is enough. "It's Snape. Every time I've seen you with Malfoy… on the map… you've been with Snape." he says.
"You've been watching me on your map?" she asks, looking a bit angry now. He says nothing, his chest heaving. There are a million reasons she might be spending time with Snape. Order business, detentions, or maybe he wants her as an assistant. Harry doesn't think any of these are the reasons, though.
"Why him?" he asks and she sets her mouth into a thin line.
"Harry, you can't tell anyone. The only reason you figured it out was because of the map and even then you thought it was Draco. We're very careful and no one has to know." she says and she speaks to him slowly and patiently as if he is a child. Harry can't believe he's hearing this.
"Does Malfoy know?" he asks. The thought of Malfoy having this one up on him is almost worse than the thought of Hermione shagging their potions teacher. Almost.
"He caught us, once." Hermione admits. "Harry please. Severus will lose his job or worse. I could be expelled." she said.
"He's old enough to be your father! You aren't even of age!" Harry says, his stomach churning.
"Actually, I'm almost two years older than you, now." she says, her matter-of-fact voice slipping into place. "Because of the time turner. You're a few hours older as well, but I used it for a whole year and I still use it occasionally to catch up on my studying." It's too much information and Harry sits down, right on the floor where he had stood.
"It was better when I thought you were with Malfoy." he mutters, looking at her in a whole new light.
"Really?" she asks, finally setting her quill down and closing her books.
"No." he says. "But it's equal at least." Hermione, he realizes, has become a woman in that unexplainable way that girls do.
"Listen to me. I'm nineteen years old and there are only 3 more months until graduation. We're so close, Harry, to not having to hide anymore. If you really are my friend, if you really are the hero everyone says that you are, you'll keep your mouth shut." she says. He hasn't ever felt like a hero, he doesn't feel like one now.
"I want to talk to Snape first." he says, promising nothing. She opens her mouth to object but closes it and nods.
They walk down to the dungeons in a strained silence. Everyone is still gone and will be for a few hours yet. He stops at the door to Snape's classroom but she keeps going to a door he never really noticed before and whips out her wand to remove the wards. She does this with a natural ease and level of comfort that leads him to wonder if this has been going on far longer then he would have guessed. She pushes the heavy door open and they are in a parlor filled with books and personal items. His private chambers. He feels like he doesn't belong and regrets immediately this invasion of privacy. Of course he won't tell on Hermione. He'll do what she asks. It's too late, now, because Snape has heard them come in and stops rather abruptly when he lays eyes on Harry.
"We've been caught, Severus." she says.
"So it seems." he says and sets looks Harry up and down. "Would you like a cup of tea?" he asks and with a flick of his wand a full tea service appears on the coffee table. Harry has no words. He expected shouting, detention, undiluted hatred but not this… this calm acceptance.
"No, thank you Sir." Harry says.
"Oh, drink the tea, Harry, and sit down." Hermione snaps. "You're the one who wanted to talk." Harry stiffens and manages to look sorry.
"I won't tell, Hermione. Professor… I didn't understand but I do now and it's not my place. I was just a bit surprised." Harry says. Snape has sat down and Hermione perched next to him and Harry is left standing, still rooted in the spot near the door.
"I appreciate that, Potter." Snape says. "However, I don't retract my offer of tea. Have a cup." So Harry sits, across from them, and sips at a cup of tea. Snape has draped his arm across the back of his brown leather loveseat and Hermione angles herself into the long shape of his body. They look like a couple and share a palpable level of intimacy that he doesn't have the experience to understand. He realizes in a flash that he is quite jealous of them. "I'm curious to know how you figured us out?" The professor asks after a few minutes of quiet.
"I thought Hermione was seeing Malfoy." he admits and now, saying it out loud again, makes it sound like the most ridiculous notion ever. Ten minutes ago he thought that Snape and Hermione together were ridiculous but he sees now that it isn't. It's the most natural thing in the world. He wonders if his parents had that sort of natural ease.
"Draco has been better but no amount of character improvements would ever allow that to happen." Hermione states and leans forward to choose a biscuit.
"I have a map. You saw it once, third year. It shows the location of everyone in school. I kept seeing Hermione with Draco but it took me a while to realize that it was you she was always with. Sometimes Draco was there too." Harry explains dutifully.
"Yes, the boy has been working as a potions assistant with me since Christmas. He and Hermione both." Snape says.
"Really, though, it's because Hermione smelled, different, sir. She changed. She grew up and I just noticed." Harry finishes.
"Severus made me a unique scent for Christmas. That's what you smell." Hermione says, bringing her wrist up to her nose and giving a light sniff.
"Sweet peas." Harry whispers and Snape raises an eyebrow.
"Among other things." the dark professor says. "Very good, Potter."
"Ron'll be back soon." Harry says, standing quickly, crumbs falling from his lap to the floor. "I should go or he'll ask questions."
"Thank you, Harry." Hermione says and he lets himself out without looking back. He does not see Hermione curl fully into the body of her lover. He does not see Severus Snape plant a light kiss on the crown of Hermione's head. He just sees the dark hallway in front of him, and then the light of the Great Hall where dinner will begin in just a few minutes, where Ron is waiting for him with a chessboard. He has 3 more months of Hogwarts left. He is jealous of Hermione's obvious adulthood, yes, but he is not ungrateful for the end of his childhood. He sits down.
"I call white." Harry says and Ron scrunches up his face.
"You always call white." he complains but he is already spinning the board around on the highly polished wooden table.
"I like to go first." Harry says and Ron shrugs.
"Whatever you want, Harry." He says. Harry smiles at his friend and destroys a pawn.