She refused to acknowledge the dark figure occupying her doorway despite the almost physical weight of his presence. Only her dogged movement around the room protected her from withering under his scorching glare.
Her hands shook as she crammed her satchel with the contents of an entire bookshelf. There wasn't much time to catch that Portkey, and there was no way that she'd give him the satisfaction of breaking their stalemate.
If he's got something to say to me, he can damn well say it.
"How many books do you intend to carry with you halfway around the world, Granger?"
His voice made her shiver. Damn, that man.
She wouldn't give him the satisfaction of seeing her tremble, though her blood ran hot, both with longing and with the urge to shake him. The unexplained disturbance detected by the Department's sensors was rapidly gaining momentum and there was no time to waste getting distracted by a man who had turned ambiguous and oblique communication into an art form.
"You're not doing this alone," he said as he swept into the room, "so we'd best pack together."
"Together," she echoed. "Now that's a word I never thought I'd hear you say."
Did I say that out loud?
Stunned into silence, Snape hesitated, and Hermione realised that she'd never before seen him at a loss for words. She sighed.
"I haven't got time for this," she grumbled. "The Portkey to Heathrow leaves in ten minutes, and I've got a long journey ahead." She reached for her bag, but he held it in his arms, clutched against him like a shield.
"Give me my bag, Snape." This time, her voice seemed to rouse him, and his penetrating gaze focussed on her again.
"I'm going with you."
This time, she couldn't hide her shiver.
"It makes far more sense to use a Portkey," Snape grumbled, glancing through the windows at the hulking airplanes littering the tarmac. Considering their likeness to large, metal Thestrals, she
supposed she could appreciate Snape's uneasiness.
"The arithmantic calculations indicate that a Portkey is too dangerous to use," Hermione reiterated. "The magic emanating from the west is too unstable, especially since we don't know its source. Besides," she added, "nobody asked you to accompany me."
He snorted, but his jaw was clenched and his brow furrowed.
"Don't tell me that the brave and powerful Severus Snape is... afraid to fly?"
Severus Snape in full snit was truly awesome to behold.
Hermione couldn't help but admire the sight, not least because it meant a reprieve from trying not to look at him.
Muscles coiled, holding himself in check—just barely.
And that voice—low and dangerous.
The twinge of empathy she'd felt for the hapless gate agent had been banished by the woman's rapidly growing resemblance to Dolores Umbridge. Besides, this way she could drink in the sight of him, unchecked.
"Something amusing, Granger?"
Startled, she met his gaze head-on.
And fell into his eyes.
His mind was more chaotic than she would've expected from a man so disciplined.
Even five years as co-workers in the Department of Mysteries had given Hermione little insight into the inner workings of Severus Snape. Unfortunately, though, it had left her with an attraction to a man who had made it perfectly plain that he didn't reciprocate.
And now, thrust behind the barriers of this frustrating, fascinating man, into what appeared to be
a cluttered chamber, Hermione felt saturated with him.
The gate agent said that they'd be delayed for hours. She might as well have a look around.
It was a large room, shelves and tables spilling over with...
His thoughts, catalogued in books that packed the shelves – and inscribed on parchments scattered around the room.
What I wouldn't give for a look at those.
Sorely tempted, but too principled to peruse his secreted thoughts without consent, she was distracted by heaps of brightly coloured stones, some glittering, others more muted.
Tucked into treasured niches and secreted in hiding places were jewels of all kinds. Rose quartz and raw moonstone sat alongside vibrant garnets and amethysts. His glittering hopes and dreams, discarded, yet guarded.
It was the garden that drew her.
Lush and fragrant, its colours and scents flooded Hermione with sensation. Delicate white blossoms of alysum and edelweiss, peppered with flaming tulip buds, surrounded scarlet blooms of rose-marrow.
Such passionate emotion...
As she revelled in the sensual pleasure, a gentle breeze caressed her skin, gifting her with the intricate textures of his joy and despair, his fear and longing. Eyes brimming with tears, she turned to see a humble elder tree, aromatic honeysuckle clinging to its trunk and twining through its branches.
She slipped from his mind and into his arms.
Only to be unceremoniously removed from those arms by a firm set of hands.
"Severus," she whispered.
"Granger," he barked, eyes shuttered again, "we need to hurry and get to another door," he gestured vaguely, "so that we can get on another metal cylinder and hurtle through the air until we arrive in the United States."
Disoriented and slightly embarrassed, Hermione grabbed her bag while Snape strode ahead towards the airplane that would take them one step closer to their destination.
He didn't glance back to see that she followed.
"Snape," she growled, anger building. "I've had enough of this."
There was a split-second when she thought he might continue as if she hadn't spoken. Camouflaged by the noisy terminal, he could sweep forward, parting the sea of Muggles like a vengeful god.
He had always had a penchant for absorbing ambient anger and wielding it as if it were his own.
She waited. Her own anger dissipated like fog in the morning light as she watched him decide.
When, finally, he turned to face her, she lifted her eyes to his.
He showed his surprise only for a moment.
Then, soundless words.
But first, come.
They hurtled their way across an ocean, cradled by voluminous clouds and the Muggle magic that kept airplanes up.
Neither spoke aloud as they made their way to their new gate. Even after boarding and
departure, the cocoon of quiet expectancy that had captured them in the chaotic terminal, held.
Sitting side-by-side, the witch and the wizard feigned indifference to their more than random brushes of hands or legs, as if their bodies knew what they had tacitly agreed to not discuss.
At last, lost in fitful sleep, she barely felt the tentative stroke of his fingertips against her cheek.
The first thing she noticed was the blast of cold air on her skin. After endless hours of travel in and out of blistering heat, it was like being bathed in ice. She sighed with relief as her body cooled, her eyes adjusting to the dimmer light inside.
This was definitely the place.
Noise, movement and a surge of energy poured through the double doors of what looked like a large meeting room.
Hermione marvelled that a group of Muggles could generate enough power to alarm The Ministry for Magic.
"What in the name of Merlin is going on down there?"
"Careful," he murmured.
Hermione nodded, walking alongside, only a hairsbreadth separating them.
Muggles, they're just Muggles. She tried to slow her racing heart as they inched down the hallway.
But when the shadowy doorway delivered a figure that, since The Battle of Hogwarts, she'd seen only in nightmares, she screamed.
And flung herself into Snape's ready arms.
Potions work had honed his ability to respond instinctively in emergencies. Indeed, the glint of malevolently red eyes and the movement of a long-fingered hand stroking the massive snake draped across his bony shoulders triggered every alarm in Snape's arsenal.
"It's not him."
His arms were powerful and the sensation of his hands stroking her back, her hair, her neck left
her heart racing despite his efforts to soothe her fears.
"It's not him, Hermione," he whispered into the tangle of curls framing her ear. "He is long dead. This is merely a man." He paused, considering the bone structure of the figure resembling his worst nightmare.
"Or, perhaps not a man..."
Safe in the circle of his arms, the steady beating of his heart and cadence of his breathing calmed her.
"Perhaps, just one more moment, then?" she whispered into his chest.
His arms tightened in response.
"Stay for as long as you need." His voice was gruff and Hermione shivered.
Barely moving, loath to lose contact with this man whose touch she had craved for so long, she looked up to meet his gaze.
Eyes bright, she ran her fingertips along the strong line of his jaw, drawing closer to his lips.
"Why, Severus?" she whispered as she stroked his skin with greedy fingers.
"You couldn't want me," he murmured, "so I chose to stay away." He paused. "But I can't stop myself from protecting you from harm."
"Oh, Severus," she murmured. "You should have asked. You could have asked!" Her expression was stern. "Don't ever presume to know what I want without asking me."
He nodded tentatively, and she realised that he was still unsure of her.
"Severus," she said, "I want you. I have wanted you for... Circe, I can't remember a time before wanting you."
The transforming effect of joy on the visage of Severus Snape rivalled the most complex
Transfigurations Hermione had ever performed.
A spark, newly alight in his eyes, lit a fire in her belly and she leaned in to him again.
Never could Hermione have imagined that her first kiss with Severus would be interrupted by piercing squealing.
They were surrounded by women, at first glance, hundreds of them. And they all had eyes only for Severus.
Confused, Hermione turned and saw that scattered amongst the large group of women were several men dressed awfully like her black-garbed wizard.
She squinted. They even looked like him.
Despite the chaotic noise, she could have sworn that she heard his name on the tongues of these women.
These loud, Muggle women.
Oh, no. This would not do. This would not do at all.
Hermione Granger in high dudgeon was a vision to behold.
The trans-continental energy produced by the crowd was nothing to the surge of fierce possessiveness that ripped through her as she turned to face the mob.
Wand out, eyes flashing, she met the throng head-on. Standing in battle stance between the Potions Master and the Muggle women, Hermione needed few words.
"This one is mine." Her feral growl saturated the room and left no doubt who would prevail should anyone challenge her primacy.
She felt Severus' wand arm move and felt the whisper of his spell from behind.
"Let's go, Hermione."
He swept her back into his arms and she was conscious of how few wizards could have managed that feat without damage to wand or limb.
They moved swiftly until they arrived at the long counter, queuing up behind Muggles with suitcases and shopping parcels. Hermione's narrow-eyed glare kept the women from ogling Severus overmuch, but the urgent need to find somewhere private grew with each appreciative glance.
"A room for two, please." Hermione closed her eyes, appreciating the sound of his deep voice.
Music to her ears.
"We're completely booked, sir," apologised the clerk, "can I recommend other accommodations?"
"These will do," Snape responded, wand peeking out again from his sleeve.
Hermione furrowed her brow disapprovingly, but one smouldering glance from the wizard next to her drove all concern from her mind.
Key obtained, Hermione wrapped her hand around his larger one and led him to the lift.
It felt to her as if the air in the room was buzzing with the effort of keeping hands in decorous places.
She squeezed and rubbed her thumb over the rough skin of his thumb and his sigh sent a bolt of lightning to her core.
"This is it," she whispered.
To be continued...