Just Being Neighborly

Chapter 22

One moment Hermione was throwing that absurd ring back in Ron's face, the next thing she new she was being guided to a small private room in the back of The Three Broomsticks by Ginny and Rosemerta. Ginny conjured a handkerchief and proceeded to start wiping at Hermione's face, much to her own protests.

"Ginny, give me that! I can do it myself." Hermione fussed, grabbing the cloth from her friend. She pulled out a pocket mirror and noted the terrible state of her appearance. Her mascara ran down her face in inky waves. She cheeks were ruddy, and her nose was red. Her eyes were red and puffy.

"I'm a wreck," she said sadly.

"It's okay Hermione. We can fix it. Let's just start by cleaning off your makeup." Ginny said gently. Hermione waved her wand in her face to wash away the ruined makeup. She washed her face at a sink in the corner. Her eyes were still puffy and red, but she was feeling a bit better. When Hermione returned to her seat at the round table in the middle of the small room.

It took a moment for her to realize that she had been in this room before. This was a private seating area Rosemerta reserved for VIP guests. She, Harry, and Ron had come here many times just after the war when they could not walk anywhere without harassment. The room was not much larger than the round 6- seat table it contained. The walls were packed red clay. There was a miniature bar in one corner by the sink where Hermione had washed her face.

Just as she got her bearings Rosemerta was back and opening a bottle of Firewhiskey. She stopped at the bar and grabbed some shot glasses.

"Compliments of the house. Sorry I can't stay girls." Rosemerta said, setting it all down on the table in front of them before bustling back out to the crowded pub. Ginny poured a shot and passed it to Hermione before pouring one for herself.

Hermione contemplated her shot before pounding it. She slid the glass back to Ginny- a silent request for a refill.

Hermione had just finished her second shot when Harry and Severus came in. Ginny poured them each a shot as they sat down at the table. Severus took a seat beside Hermione and looked at her, mildly concerned. Hermione mustered a small smile and shifted to sit nearer to him. Harry noticed all of this, but he refrained from comment. It was not the time.

"I hate to leave, but I've got to get back to work. I ran out as soon as Ginny Flooed, so my crew probably thinks the world is ending. Hermione, please don't hesitate to owl or Floo me if you need anything." Harry said.

"Thanks for coming to my rescue, Harry." Hermione said quietly, smiling at him briefly.

"Well, I think I'm going to make my exit as well, Hermione. I've got to go do some damage control at home. Any by that, I mean I'm going to go over to Mum and Dad's and kill my brother." Ginny said. "I'll Floo you tomorrow afternoon." The redheaded woman quietly walked out, leaving Hermione alone with Severus.

As soon as the door closed behind Ginny, Hermione wrapped her arms around Severus.

"Thank you for coming to my rescue." she murmured into his robe.

"You're quite welcome. I would have been there sooner, but Mrs. Potter and I didn't think it was especially safe to Apparate into a crowded area. It would be lovely if this could be your last highly dramatic scene for a while though." Severus said silkily.

"Did I really cause that much of a scene? I wasn't even aware." Hermione asked, lifting her head to look into his eyes.

"Let's just say that there were nearly a hundred students present for at least part of your assault of Ron Weasley. The pub out front is packed with people, hoping for some sign of you." Severus explained.

"I really don't want to deal with them, Severus. I just want to go back to my quarters." she said, embarrassed.

"Come with me." he said, pulling her gently from the chair. They snuck out the door for just a moment before sneaking into the kitchens. Severus led her over to the back fireplace and held out the jar of Floo powder.

"I can't just leave you in charge of all these kids." she protested weakly.

"Vector and I can handle it. You go back to your rooms and relax." he said. She took a handful of the powder and Flooed back to her chambers.

******

It was a little more work than strictly necessary, but Severus and Septima Vector managed to corral the students from the pub. Before long, the majority of the students had returned to the castle. When the last student passed, Severus closed the gates and started the walk back up to the castle.

There were two hours left before dinner when he returned. He headed straight up to McGonagall's office.

"Good afternoon, Severus. How was Hogsmeade?" Minerva asked.

"A little more dramatic than usual, Minerva. You need to know what happened there, as I'm sure there will be some repercussions." he said, taking a seat in front of her desk. He proceeded to fill the Headmistress in on all the necessary information regarding Hermione's engagement to Ron Weasley leading to the confrontation at Hogsmeade earlier.

"I was wondering what the ruckus was with the students. They came back earlier than usual and seemed quite intent on something. It seems somewhat fitting with the information that they saw a Professor nearly attack another wizard. How is Hermione?" Minerva asked.

"I haven't been to see her since returning to the castle. I was going to stop off there shortly after I finished here. She seemed reasonably composed when I last spoke to her." Severus replied.

"Well, I trust your judgment where she is concerned. She is certainly closer to you than any other staff member." the Headmistress said.

Fifteen minutes later Severus was wearing clean clothing and approaching Hermione's rooms. He was trying to decide whether he would knock or let himself in, since he did know her password. He stopped outside the portrait.

"Hello, Professor." the girl on the right said.

"Did you want to see the professor?" the girl on the left added.

"Yes actually, is she in?" he responded.

"She is, and she sat to let you in if you came around." the girl on the right answered. Without further ado, the portrait swung open and Severus walked through. He took a seat on the couch just inside her quarters. It sounded as though Hermione was in the shower. He grabbed a book from the end table and prepared to wait.

In due course, Hermione emerged from her bedroom clad in Muggle jeans and a tee-shirt. She flopped into her armchair, curling her legs underneath her.

"I was wondering if you'd stop to see me this afternoon." she said simply.

"I'm glad to see you looking more yourself. It's nearly time for dinner. I thought I might offer you an escort." he said simply.

"I suppose word will have spread by now until every student and staff member knows. I'll take you up on the escort. It might make walking into the Great Hall in front of all those questioning eyes a little less daunting." she replied, looking a little fearful.

"Now you know why I prefer to keep away from the school spotlight." Severus said, a slight playful gleam in his eyes.

"Yes. Well, I suppose I should put on a robe before dinner. I'll be right back." she said.

Hermione was not, in fact, right back. It was nearly half an hour later when she returned to the room, dressed elegantly and having reapplied all of her makeup. Severus looked at her and raised an eyebrow.

"You of all people should recognize that image is half the battle." she said. Severus rose from his seat, and they walked together to the Great Hall.

Hermione spent the entire meal keeping her face trained into a relaxed expression. She had to appear as though she had everything together. And really, she pretty much did have everything together. Seeing Ron again today was the last thing she needed to do to shut the door on that part of her life. She had gotten over his having cheated on her, and she was happy with her lot in life now. She had a wonderful job and great friends. She really had learned a lot about herself in the past five months. She knew that she could get through anything.

Hermione and Severus were among the last to leave the hall that evening. They were both full from the bounty of delicious Hogwarts fare. Hermione felt physically and emotionally drained from her day. She just wanted to go to bed early.

Severus noted when Hermione finally set down her goblet with finality. He leaned over toward her slightly.

"Did I mention that this escort thing includes the return walk to your quarters if you'd like it?" he said. He knew that there would still be students wandering some of the corridors, but neither of them had night duties this evening because of their acceptance of extra duties in Hogsmeade.

"That would be great." Hermione whispered back. She pushed her chair back from the table. Severus let her get a few steps ahead before he two rose from the table. He caught up with her in an empty corridor.

"You're always there when I need you," she said simply.

"I suppose it's just the neighborly thing to do," he responded, by way of an explanation.

They didn't speak again until they were standing outside her chambers.

"I need you to do one more thing for me, Severus." she said simply. Severus looked at her and nodded.

"Stay with me tonight. I don't want to be alone." she asked. Severus nodded again and followed her into her chambers.

An hour later Severus was lying in Hermione's bed, clad in his shirt and pants from earlier with his arms wrapped around a pajama-clad Hermione who was nearly asleep. She clung to him tightly, almost desperately. When he felt her grip on him loosen, Severus knew she was asleep and finally relaxed. He looked down at her softly and pressed his lips to her forehead briefly. She didn't even stir.

"I love you, Hermione Granger." he whispered quietly. He didn't know if he'd ever have the courage to say it to her when she was awake.

"I love you too," she whispered sleepily. She snuggled her head comfortable against his chest and fell asleep.

It was the most restful night's sleep either of them had experienced in a long time.

The End.

AN- There you have it! I managed to write a Severus/Hermione romance that doesn't take either of them terribly out of character AND stays within a T rating. I hope you have enjoyed reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it.