Chapter 10 -Underneath your clothes-
Severus cleared his throat. "Well," he started off again, "we already spent the last night in one room, so I am convinced we will be able to handle this again. As I see it, there is no need to worry about the sleeping arrangements – This time I will take the couch, whereas you –" his gaze wandered off towards the bed across the room, then back to her face again, "whereas you can sleep over there," he added calmly.
He noticed her drawing in a deep breath, but could not blame her. Somehow the mere presence of a bed, and the fact that they were all alone up here and not likely to be disturbed, made the whole situation much more difficult to deal with than the previous night at the study.
For all it appeared, Hermione seemed to have similar problems handling this. Maybe it was simply because of the sight of her pressing her lips into a thin line, reminding him unpleasantly of Minerva – or perhaps he was just bothering way too much with her moods and feelings these past few days; but the tense posture with which she held herself made him wish for anything he could say or do that would make her feel better.
"It has been a hard day. Perhaps you would find a hot shower relaxing?" he suggested mildly. "You must be quite tired."
Once again surprised by the friendly, almost caring way he dealt with her, Hermione could not help but smile at him.
"Oh yes," she muttered gladly, "I was just thinking the same thing. That is – if you want to use the shower as well – " she added with an uncertain glance at him, as she trailed off.
At the sight of the amused little smile that switched around his lips at her words, she nervously bit her tongue the very next moment. It almost sounded as if she was inviting him to use the shower along with her and her imagination was running wild at the mere idea. She already expected him to make a sarcastic remark about the matter. To her great relief, though, he did not give any comment at all.
"I – uhm, guess I'd better go then," she stammered in a rush and started to hurry off towards the bathroom, but the soft sound of his chuckling made her stop in the doorway.
"Won't you need some fresh robes to wear afterwards?" he asked with an amused twinkling in his eyes.
Still confused and nervous about the strange situation, Hermione glanced around. The only place that could harbour fresh clothes, was the dresser to her left. Biting her lip she hurried back there and reached for the knob.
Her posture tensed the moment she opened the drawer and peered inside, and a gleaming redness crept into her cheeks.
Severus leaned forward, curious to see what had caused that reaction from her, but before he could catch as much as a single glance at the dresser's contents, she had already grabbed a small bundle of clothing and had hastily shut the drawer again. Although he could not recognize what exactly she had taken from the drawer, he noticed that she seemed to be in even deeper confusion than before and was tempted to make a comment about it, but she was already slipping out of the room.
It appeared like a flight to him. This was certainly odd. Whatever she had seen in there must have been somewhat disturbing for her.
He forced himself to wait for a few minutes at least so he could be sure that she would not suddenly return to get anything she had forgotten, before he walked over towards the dresser. Only when he heard the sound of running water from the shower did he decide it was safe enough. Slowly and carefully he pulled the upper drawer out and peered inside.
The bathroom was a beautiful array of light-beige, cream-white and pale-yellow sandstone. In the middle of the room was a circle of lighter, creamy-white arenaceous rock with a large image of a starfish inside, constructed out of countless little sea-shells.
The blue and sea-green waves in the huge picture window to the left were slowly, but constantly moving and shifting and the light-white crowns of froth bubbling on top of them added nuances of soft brightness to the room. The coloured glass of this window gave the bathroom the dreamlike atmosphere of a world under the sea, and the slowly moving silhouettes of fishes and squid that drifted across the walls only enhanced this impression.
The fixtures were ivory-coloured with taps and handles of soft brass. To the right of the door was the sink, with a plain, dark wood framed mirror above and behind that a big bathtub on clawed feet. Fluffy white, sea-green and blue towels were placed in a pile on a backless dark wood bench with outward-curving armlets by the window.
At the opposite end of the room, partly hidden behind a half-round wall of light yellow sandstone, was the shower.
But what really caught Hermione's eye were the little flasks and jars with hand-made body-care that were arranged on the stone shelf above and next to the sink. She had a fairly good idea by whom these potions had been created. In a plain glass rested a pair of toothbrushes and a tube of hand-made toothpaste. It was quite confusing to see her own belongings amongst those of Severus, especially the sight of the pair of toothbrushes, resting side by side in the glass, made her aware of a fully new level of familiarity between them.
In the bedroom next door, Severus was examining the drawer's contents in wonder. His gaze fell on the neatly folded clothing placed side by side. There were two types of undergarments, he noticed. On the right a pile of tight, short cotton-trousers in colours of dark-green, blue, black, anthracite and grey and a couple of likewise cotton shirts in matching colours. These must be her dresses or night-gowns and some kind of – shorts, he supposed. He just wondered that she had a liking for such dark colours, not bad in his opinion, but not quite what he had expected her to wear. But then, he knew very little of her. So maybe he shouldn't jump to any conclusions about what she liked or disliked. The items on the left side of the drawer looked much more like he had imagined her underwear. They were –
He suddenly frowned. He hadn't ever imagined her underwear, had he? No, certainly not, why would he?
But still, just given the case that he 'had' ever thought of them, he'd imagined them more plain and less –
No! He hadn't thought of her undergarments as plain, either. He hadn't thought of them at all. Well, except for this morning, when he'd noticed the blue brassiere and panties set on top of the pile of clothes on the couch in the study. But that didn't count, he told himself. He had been forced to notice those, so there hadn't been any chance to not think about them.
Whatever, these were definitely hers. He noticed bras and matching panties of various design and colour, but of likewise classical, expensive elegance. Some with lace, unobtrusive of course, just the right amount and cut to catch and please the eye without being too importunate. Others, more plain ones, that just impressed by cut, material, or colour. A clear-white set was covered by pale images of champagne-coloured roses that bloomed as he touched them. He had never seen animated underclothes before.
There were others of smooth, shimmering dark-blue, cognac-coloured, or chocolate-brown silk. Others were held in classical colours of forest-green, shimmering silver or black and next to these, only partly covered by the other clothes, he discovered a pair of fragile black stockings with a border of lace at the sight of which Severus quickly shut the drawer.
He could very well imagine whose work this was. Her insufferable elder self had probably advised the House Elves to put this lingerie into the dresser, just to add to their embarrassment, or did she possibly even think this would lead them to – No.
Determined not to examine the matter any further he paced the room for a couple of minutes, before he gave in to his curiosity and reopened the drawer for a second glance.
With a stab of bad conscience he turned his head towards the bathroom-door, which was to his relief, still closed. The constant sound of running water assured him that it would be at least a couple of minutes until she would return.
Still struggling against his conscience, he picked up the pretty silver brassiere he had noticed earlier, to give it a closer look. It showed the shapes of a floral pattern in colours of darker silver and light-grey. The straps and clasp around the back were formed of rich silvery-grey lace in the design of flowers and leaves. Just the parts that cupped the breasts were of smooth, shimmering silk, but also these were outlined by a wide border of lace at the top. It was revealing, but covered the important parts. The material felt cool and soft under his touch and he could almost sense the feel of Hermione's skin beneath, likewise soft, but warm in contrast to the fabric.
His throat went dry at the idea and he shifted uncomfortably at the unbidden feeling of warmth in his loins. He knew it was inappropriate to think of her as he did, but he couldn't help his imagination running wild at the sight of her undergarments and the knowledge that she was only next room, stark-naked in the shower. He swallowed as he imagined her pretty, slender hands running the soap-bar across her beautiful body, washing the tempting curves he had seen in the bikini-picture at the study. Her long, dishevelled hair, curling in dark, wet ringlets around her shoulders, sticking to her wet-shimmering, slightly suntanned skin.
A loud clattering in the chimney made him flinch and when he whirled around the very next second, he looked right into the soot covered face of a broadly smiling House Elf.
Hermione tilted her head back, closing her eyes she exposed her face and tense shoulders to the soft, steady downpour of the running shower. She had turned the water as hot as she could stand it to warm and relax her tense muscles. The water vapour was enclosing her like mist from all around and blurred her vision. Nothing but the steady sound of the running water was heard. It was calming and relaxing and she was glad to have taken Severus' advice to shower before dinner.
Severus – she couldn't help but think of him. It was so strange that he was so close by, right outside that door over there, while she was standing stark-naked under the running water.
Her life had certainly changed these past few days. With a sigh she picked up the white soap-bar and started to run it in firm circles across her décolleté and shoulders. The rich soapy foam felt soft on her skin and a pleasant scent of wood-flowers, honey and resin filled the air. It must be a special mixture, maybe even Severus' work, she supposed. Severus – Relaxing more and more, she allowed her thoughts to wander towards the man next door again. He was so close by and she hadn't even turned the key. What if he suddenly opened the door? He wouldn't do so, of course, but just the thought that he would – What if he had taken her earlier remark the wrong way and decided to follow her 'invitation' now?
She wondered what would happen if he just opened the door and stepped right into the room. What would she do? Would she try to cover herself, or would she – she hardly dared to confess it to herself – possibly even welcome his presence?
A warm feeling that had nothing to do with the hot water, coursed through her at that idea. What an exciting thought – that he might actually join her in the shower. She swallowed, would she really do that? And if so, how would he react? If he entered the bathroom while he knew she was in the shower he must be kind of – interested at the least. Not that he'd ever do so, but it was a nice idea still –
How might this happen, she mused as she continued to run her soapy hands down along her sides and across the soft skin around her navel.
Would he knock before he entered? Somehow this seemed almost ridiculous. He might be polite if he wasn't in his usual sarcastic mood, but would he actually have the consideration to knock if he planned to join her in the shower? She thought not.
How would he act around her at all? Would he be sure of himself, or hesitant? She smiled, she somehow couldn't picture him lingering in the doorway, looking at her with importunate puppy eyes. But he wasn't likely to storm into the room like a jerk either. Whatever he'd do, it wouldn't be blunt or overly provocative, nor diffident; but of an elusive, intriguing charm, that wouldn't be easy to resist. A quite disturbing confession. But she didn't want to worry about the desperate struggling of her conscience against her id-driven train of thought right now.
The longer she thought about it, the more she caught herself actually wishing for his presence.
She could hardly recognise the dark wood door across the room as she gazed through the blur of water vapour that reflected the bluish, green light of the picture window, but tried to imagine how the brass handle would be moving slightly downwards. Blinking against the water, she fixed the hand-grip. It did not move at all, of course, but she could easily imagine it would. Ever so slowly the door would open and the object of her fantasies would step into the room. A tall, lean black-robed, black-haired man amid a blur of opalescent steam in the fading sunlight that hit the bluish-green window-glass.
Yes, that was good. Smiling, Hermione allowed herself to get lost in her fantasies.
Her imaginary Potions Master looked straight at her, his eyes a pool of liquid black fire, never losing her gaze. He did not say a word, just smiled at her stunned expression and started to slowly cross the room. In the place where the starfish was ornamented in the floor he stopped and began to tardily unbutton his robes revealing a glimpse of the likewise black fabric beneath.
Hermione swallowed. She had stopped running the soap-bar across her body and simply stared at him, unable to draw her gaze away, fascinated by this exciting development. In a fluid movement the long, wide robes that were so familiar slipped to the floor. Slightly disappointed by the way her own mind was torturing her, Hermione noticed that he was wearing several layers of clothing beneath. An antique frock coat with lots of buttons and likewise black trousers. He even had his shoes on still.
Well, he was clearly overdressed, this way it could definitely take some time. Not that she disliked the idea watching him undressing, but she was not really in the mood to put up with this right now. She was much more interested in the exciting expect to have him join her in the shower. An image which she had light-heartedly conjured up inside her head by her careless remark and could not get rid of now.
Besides that she was wondering, what he might be wearing beneath those high-buttoned, unrevealing robes. She could not really say what kind of undergarments she expected. Would he rather wear boxers or briefs? Or maybe something that suited his outer appearance? An old-fashioned union suit, possibly? Well, she could not suppress a grin at that idea. How – difficult.
She simply could not decide how she should picture him.
Well – Her nagging conscience interjected at this point, she probably shouldn't picture him in any kind of undergarments at all – Oops, no, not like that – she flinched in alarm before her mind could catch up with that Freudian slip and tried her best to not think of a nude Severus. She definitely wasn't prepared for that idea!
No, she certainly hadn't intended to think of him without any clothes at all, she'd just meant that she had better not think of him in his undergarments, whatever they might be like. It wasn't quite appropriate to dwell in such thoughts about her teacher, she supposed – and as much as she liked thinking of him in a different way, she couldn't completely block that fact from her mind.
During all of this her dream-Severus had not managed to get out of his frock coat even. She really wished his clothing were less confining.
Barely had she thought of this, when he picked up his robe and left without a backward glance.
She grinned. Yes, a new start of the whole scene was probably best. She had been way too much distracted by the bites and piercing screams of her conscience to really enjoy her little fantasy. Maybe if she tried again –
For a couple of seconds Hermione could not focus on her little daydream again. She simply stared at the door that remained just as closed as it had been ever since she had stepped through it and tried to picture Severus walking in again. It was difficult though and she almost regretted having mentally dismissed him for being 'over-dressed'. What a pity – she would have certainly enjoyed to put her fantasies a little further.
Then, while she carefully rubbed some likewise hand-made shampoo into her scalp, closing her eyes against the foam, her fantasy offered her a second chance and gratefully she allowed herself to take it.
Once again the imaginary Severus stepped into the room, wearing a big, wide smile on his face as if he knew how anxious she was to see him getting undressed. He started to unbutton his robes, slowly, annoyingly slowly, but when they dropped to the floor this time there were not so many hindering clothes in the way. The first thing Hermione noticed was that whatever he wore beneath was not black, but light-grey. Then she realised with approval that he wore a grey T-shirt and – she gulped – likewise grey long-johns.
Oh no – that – was definitely bad. With a sharp intake of breath and a blink of her lashes, the disturbing image disappeared and just when she was about to regretfully turn off the water, 'Severus the 3'rd' entered the room.
Cautiously, not quite trusting her funny ideas anymore, Hermione watched him stepping closer, but when he removed his robes this time she was truly pleased at what she saw. This image of Severus had a much better sense of fashion. He was dressed in the same light-grey T-shirt as before, but wore a pair of dark-blue boxer-briefs now that suited him really well. His legs were well defined, with the long, slender muscles of a runner.
Yes, she definitely liked what she saw, she decided as she slowly lifted her gaze up to his face. Only then she noticed that he watched her carefully, waiting for her decision and permission to step closer. When she smiled to assure him that he was welcomed, the light-grey T-shirt quickly joined the bundle of robes on the floor. Never removing his gaze from hers, Severus stepped closer, wearing no more than his dark-blue boxer-briefs now. The light, cotton material was darkening as soon as he stepped under the running water. A pleasant, exciting sight.
"I thought I'd accept your gracious offer and join you in the shower," he muttered and his voice sounded so real that she was truly amazed by the intensity of her imaginative powers. It was so easy to imagine this to be no fantasy, but the truth. Even the soft, tentative touch of his fingertips felt real and made her shiver with excitement.
This time her mind meant really well with her. She did not only like his clothes, she was also pleased by the fond, careful way he treated her. It felt good. Much better than the way the smug grinning image of Severus in long-johns had. Oh – no, better not risk to call that one back by thinking of it right now.
This third idea she had constructed of Severus was lots better. He carefully brushed a few strands of her wet hair out of her face, before he cupped her cheek in his hand and looked straight into her eyes for a couple of seconds as if he wanted to reassure himself of her acceptance once again. She liked this, she liked it a lot.
Then, after she had brought up her own hand to place it above his on her cheek, he raised his other hand to her shoulder blade and drew her a little closer to him. His eyes were so intense, so much alive, his every touch an exiting, tender caress.
"Hermione," he whispered, running the tips of his fingers across the skin of her neck and shoulder, setting her nerve endings on fire at every inch he touched, "let me help you with this."
He took the slippery soap-bar out of her trembling fingers and started to run it across her back in careful, measured circles. His hands travelled down across her slick, foam-covered skin with tender and yet so exciting movements.
"Hermione," he whispered very close to her left ear and the mere sound of his voice, muffled to a low murmur as he gently kissed the tender flesh of her neck, aroused her more than she had ever expected.
On an impulse, her arms encircled him in a tight embrace and she gasped at the sudden feel of his bare skin against hers. In an endless downpour the water sprinkled down on them, running across their skin in warm, tickling ringlets.
Hermione was entirely caught up by her emotions. The exciting feel of Severus' almost completely undressed body in her arms, the unfamiliar, vulnerable state of being exposed to his every gaze and touch excited her and made her feel slightly dizzy and light-hearted. Her still soapy hands slid down his back in one fluid, smooth caress and came to rest right above the waistband of his boxers. After a second of faltering she let them wander lower and started to hesitatingly caress his firm buttocks through the clinging wet cotton fabric. At that, Severus' hips bucked forward in a rushed movement and with an agitated gasp he bit the crook of her shoulder, but smoothed her down by kissing the same spot the very next second, then softly bit it again. Not hard enough to actually hurt her, but intense enough to send shivers of pleasure down her back and awaken a warm tickling sensation in her loins. Not quite faltering, his knee was shoved between her legs, causing her to cling to him. The tiny hairs on his legs tickling the sensitive skin of her inner thighs. His touch set her on fire, it felt like her whole body was aflame and no amount of water from the running shower was enough to extinguish it. It felt so good – it felt heavenly, this was just what she wanted – "Sev- umm, Severus," she muttered, her voice muffled as she fondly snuggled her face against his chest and neck, covering them with countless little kisses.
But still – She wasn't sure if she should allow her thoughts to travel that far. To mentally make out with him was one thing, but to actually go all the way with him – even in her thoughts – was a big step. She wasn't sure if she was willing to take it.
Did she really want to imagine this? Was she really willing – even if only in her mind – to actually have sex with him?
To escape her thoughts, she retreated into kissing him, but this proved to be a huge mistake – or maybe it proved to be just right.
It was nothing like she had imagined it to be – not calm and controlled, but not rushed and devouring either. In a careful, tender and yet so possessive manner he clasped her mouth with his. "Shhht –" he muttered against her slightly parting lips and she could feel that he was smiling. "This is what will happen anyway. What does it matter if we do it now or in a few weeks? It would be needless torture to wait. You know just as well as I that we both want it. There's nothing wrong with admitting that. Say that you want me, Hermione. Say it."
Hermione drew in a sharp breath at those thoughts. He was right, she noticed with thunderstruck realisation, he was completely right. Even in her dazed state of lust she realised that it was her own subconscious mind that spoke through his words. She didn't care in the slightest what troubles and embarrassment lay ahead of them. It wasn't because of the promise she had given her older self not to interfere and allow things to happen the way they had –would – whatever – she truly wanted this.
What a mess her life had become. Just a week ago her only fear had been a B grade in one of her NEWTs, whereas now – Here she was stark-naked and aching with desire, lusting after her Potions Master, her eyes closed, her quivering body arched backwards to press herself closer to him and he wasn't even there. There were clearly other problems in life than grades. What an earth-shattering realisation for Hermione Granger.
"Yes, oh yes, Severus. I want this," she sighed, unleashing her imagination again – she almost urged her fantasies to go on, to not stop at whatever they would lead her to –
Once again she almost truly felt Severus' arms encircling her, felt his warm hands gently rubbing and massaging her back and his rushed breath brushing across the skin of her neck. She could not get enough of this and nudged her face against his neck, started to kiss his throat and caught his earlobe between her teeth to gently suck at it. Once again his hips bucked forward at the sudden intense caress and she clearly sensed his arousal against her thigh. She loved the feeling of it. The knowledge to be able to do this to him, to drive him wild, just like he was leaving her breathless with want. Whimpering softly she allowed her hands to trail further down his spine to the waistband of his boxer-briefs that clung to his body like a second skin, and grind her fingers around his buttocks. The low, needy moan that filled his throat at this only urged her on. Fully sure of herself this time, she grabbed the material of his boxers and started to tug them downwards. At this the soap slipped out of his grip and clattered to the floor, but neither of them seemed to notice.
A slight knock on the door made her flinch, though, and put all the pretty pleasant little imaginations to an end. Frantically she glanced around. The room was still clouded with water vapour and she had no clue were the soap had gone, before she stepped on it and almost slipped, but there was definitely no Severus with her.
Unfortunately also the last and most pleasant image of him had disappeared at the disturbance. Obviously no Snape, be he imaginary or real, took it well if someone didn't pay attention to him, in class or – in the shower.
Hastily Hermione dragged one of the fluffy white towels from the rack and wrapped herself within.
To her utter relief the door did not open and no Severus stepped through this time. 'What did you expect?' she berated herself. 'Just because you lost yourself in stupid little fantasies about him he won't suddenly storm into the room and kiss you senseless.'
When she did not answer right away, the knock repeated. "Hermione?" she heard Severus' voice slightly muffled through the wood between them and managed to croak out an answer in return. "Y-yes?" she asked in a quivering voice and added with a trace of panic: "I'll hurry, but I – I'm not quite dressed."
She almost sensed him taking a step back at this. "Oh no, don't worry," he assured her vehemently. "I won't come in. I just wanted to know what you wanted to have for dinner. There's a House Elf in the hearth, asking for our wishes for supper."
"Oh, I – don't know, just choose some meal to your liking." She was so surprised that she didn't even feel the slightest stirring of anger at the mention of the House Elf, but then she clearly had other problems to deal with at the moment.
How on earth was she supposed to ever face him again, after what she just fantasised about him? And what if he'd heard her moaning his name and heard her telling him – she didn't even dare to bring those thoughts to their conclusion, it wouldn't be a good one, she suspected. She'd probably die of embarrassment if he made as much as a single comment about her – well – admission.
It was so tempting to just hide herself in the bathroom for about a century, or two, or at least for some more time to fix her hair, she just dreaded that if she gave in to this now, she wouldn't ever manage to overcome her embarrassment and fear to face him again. But she wasn't a Gryffindor for no reason, was she? Deciding to perform a drying and straightening charm on her hair outside, she started to dress herself and straightened her shoulders to face the source of her desire again.
When Hermione returned to the guest room a couple of minutes later the whole atmosphere had changed. The room was no longer bathed in the late glow of sunlight, but still had a soft, cosy luminance. Surprised, she looked around to find out about the origin of the soft, slightly flickering light. She noticed that Severus had lit the candles in the sconces. It was still not fully dark outside, but the sunlight was already declining beneath the wood-covered hills at the other side of the lake.
Only then, she noticed the neatly lain table in the bay-window. Two large white plates on a long, off-white tablecloth, ivory serviettes, forks and knives of heavy sterling silver and two glasses for each of them, a smaller one and a larger, bulged wine goblet. A large ivory-coloured candle in the windowsill bathed the arrangement in a soft light. It almost looked like a table set for a romantic date and Hermione wondered who had advised the House Elves.
Severus, who had followed her gaze, sent an attentive glance her way. "The House Elf suggested grilled lamb filet with tarragon and rosemary juices, braised spinach and gratin. I hope that's fine with you. I also ordered a bottle of 98er St Emilion Grand Cru with the meal, but as I didn't know whether you wanted to have wine at all, I also asked the Elf to bring us some water. With that he gestured towards the wine bottle and a large jug of table water beside it.
Hermione smiled at him. "I'll take both, thank you. And the choice of vintage – was that coincidence, or a touch of irony?"
"What ever you like," Severus responded with an amused little smile, but did not go any further into the matter. He just explained that he had cast a spell on he food to keep it warm and prevent the lamb from getting tough, while he took a shower.
When Severus started to take off his robes, the contents of his left pocket slipped to the floor. As he bent down to pick up whatever it was, he was caught by surprise. In the unsteady light of the flickering candles in the bathroom, the silvery silk material of Hermione's brassiere shimmered in a fascinating way.
Severus drew in a sharp breath. He had forgotten all about the fact that he had stuffed the traitorous piece of cloth into his pocket at the sudden disturbance of the House Elf in the hearth. What on earth was he supposed to do with it now? He could hardly carry it around in his robes, could he? But he couldn't just leave it in the bathroom either. Both options held too much risk that she might discover it by accident and he didn't think he could cope with the idea that she knew he had examined her underwear. No, definitely not.
The only solution seemed to be smuggling it back into the dresser without her notice. Yes, that would he do, he just had to wait till she was asleep later on.
Right now he was stuck with the damn thing. He looked at it for a few more seconds, before he put it aside with an exasperated sigh and continued to undress. Before he turned towards the shower, he hid the troublesome garment carefully between his robes. Just in case. Not that she would ever purposely stumble into the bathroom when she knew him to be in there, but he felt a great deal better when her undergarment was not visible on top of his clothes.
Cursing himself for his own stupidity, he stepped into the shower and opened the hot water tap. A hand-made bottle of herbal shampoo was placed on the stone shelf in the corner, but he could not spot any soap.
Just then, his toe nudged against a slippery object by the drain. To his great surprise he recognised it as a large white soap-bar, much like the one he had imagined her to be using earlier. He was just surprised that she hadn't picked it up, but maybe he'd startled her with his knock.
The soap smelled pleasantly of wood-flowers, honey and resin and he easily recognised it as his work. It was a strange thought that she had used this bar before. But determined not to get caught in any untoward fantasies about her again, he forbade himself any further thoughts of the matter.
For a couple of minutes this worked quite well, but when he was relaxing more and more under the steady stream of running water, the unbidden thoughts and fantasies came back with full force. Pictures that would not leave his mind at peace as hard as he tried to get rid of them.
Images of Hermione laughing like he had seen in the pictures at the study the day before, her eyes sparkling with love and happiness. Hermione and Tina playing in the snow. An enceinte Hermione and himself in the Great Hall. Hermione in the grounds, surrounded by the bright coloured autumn leaves, her long curly hair dishevelled, her cheeks flushed by the chill of a sunny, but cold harvest day. Hermione working concentratedly at Potions class. Hermione and him in their wedding robes. Hermione cutting her finger. Her huge, beautiful eyes resting trustingly on him as he'd fixed the little cut. Hermione outside in the guest room performing a drying spell on her hair, taming those gorgeous, chocolate-coloured curls, smoothing them down to a silky, soft shimmering cloak around her shoulders. Then suddenly, a surprise to himself, his own hands running through the beautiful strands. Hermione sprawled on his bed, wearing nothing but those beautiful silvery shimmering undergarments. His lips covering hers in a tender devouring kiss, her arms winding around his neck. Her soft, sweet lips brushing across the tender skin of his ear, whispering his name.
"Hermione –" a soft sigh broke free from his chest at those thoughts. Closing his eyes he allowed himself to imagine her slender hands in the place where is own traced the soap-bar across his skin. His conscience still struggling against these fantasies, his mind constantly reminding himself of the fact that she was still his student and it was more than improper to feel those desires towards her. It did not help in the slightest, though. It did not help at all. Realising the hopelessness of his struggle, he finally gave in to the all-consuming desire that held him in its clasp. The shame he felt was not at his actions, but rather because it was Hermione, his student, the object of his desire, in his mind as his hand moved slowly downwards.
A couple of minutes later, Severus returned from the shower, looking quite refreshed. He still wore the same clothing as before, black trousers and frock coat, with a black shirt beneath, but had not put his robes back on again. Those he placed carefully across the arm of the couch, before he walked towards the bay window.
When he stepped past her, Hermione noticed that he smelled of the same soap she had used earlier, and once again the unbidden, wanton fantasies returned to her mind.
His hair looked soft and clean after the shower. The smooth pitch-black strands were shimmering like raven feathers in the glow of candlelight and Hermione noticed that they were still slightly wet at their ends. She fought the sudden urge to touch them and focused on his face instead. The shower seemed to have done him good, she noted. He was much more relaxed, but for some reason, he seemed unable to look her in the eye.
This was definitely odd. In a flash of panic she asked herself if she had forgotten anything in the bathroom, her panties perhaps, but could not remember to have done so.
When she looked back at Severus again, she realised that he did not pull out her chair for her, but obviously waited for her to sit first and, still slightly confused, she took a seat.
Although she hadn't had any food since breakfast, where she had hardly been able to get anything down either, Hermione did not feel much hungry, because of the nervous jolts and twists with which her stomach seemed to turn around itself. Nonetheless she had to admit that the meal was delicious.
They ate in silence for a while, the soft clinking of their forks and knives on their plates the only sound around. Then Hermione finally managed to word the question she had been pushing around in her mind for so long. Carefully she cleared her throat. "Ewm – sir, er, Severus, I mean, Severus," she corrected herself hastily at the darkening expression on his face. "There's something I'd like to ask you?"
His head snapped up in alarm and his whole posture tensed at that. "Yes," he responded carefully, "what is it?"
Nervously Hermione started to shove the gratin around on her plate. "Well, it's like this," she stammered, staring at the tablecloth. "You don't have to tell me, of course, but I've been wondering," she babbled and could easily tell his expression was darkening at those words, even if she did not look at him. This was ridiculous, she berated herself. She couldn't have started off worse.
Steeling herself against the desperate uncertainty she felt, she lifted her head to look at him.
He had stopped eating and the look on his face almost made her regret her decision. His brows were creased so deep into his eyes that she almost could not recognise the restless moving black orbs. The fine steep wrinkles between his eyes, which she had noticed the evening before, were deepened by the worried expression on his face, a vein at his right temple was throbbing and his lips were pressed into a thin line, with whitish spots at their edges. It was easily recognisable that he wasn't at all comfortable with the turn of conversation.
But she had brought it this far and was not willing to back away now. Drawing in a quivering breath, she smiled at him. "I had a little talk with myself at the study this morning and she told me that you attended Stonehenge University Of Magical Studies. And you see, I've been wondering if you could possibly tell me about it?"
There, she'd said it. Proudly she lifted her eyes up to his face again and smiled at him. And was amazed at the change his features had undergone.
He was so relieved that it was almost cute. His eyes wide with surprise, his lips forming a wide, real smile. "Oh, that's what you're talking about."
Reassured by his reaction, Hermione returned the warm smile. "Yes, I'd love to hear about it. If you don't mind, of course," she added, still slightly nervous.
It was the first private conversation they'd had, and she wasn't sure how far he was willing to share with her any matters of his past.
Severus reached for the wine again, his eyes questioning her and as she nodded he refilled her glass to a good quarter before he leaned back in his seat. Twirling his own bulged glass at its long, slender stem, he studied her face.
Her question had been quite a surprise to him. He had anticipated with dread a much thornier line of inquiry and was more than pleased at the turn of conversation.
"What is it you want me to tell you about," he asked quite kindly as she looked at him with a warm glow in her cinnamon eyes.
"Oh – everything you remember, even if you don't assume it important," she smiled. "I want to know everything. What it's like there, how the faculties work along with each other; you can tell me about the food, the quarters, the library – "
At this a snort of amusement interrupted her and a wide grin slipped over his features. "Oh yes, of course, I should have known," he remarked dryly, and at the slightly hurt expression that crossed her face at these words he added: "Not that I am in the position to judge you. I spent ages in there as well."
At this her face lit up again. "Honestly," she asked excitedly "What is it like? Is it well organised? I heard they have very old and rare books in there. Hand-written uncials even."
He could not help but smile at her eagerness. "Oh yes, it is very well organised and much larger than Hogwarts' library. There are volumes about all kinds of topics concerning magic and even a huge number of books dealing with matters of the Muggle world and their idea of magic. They also have a restricted section about the more – dangerous and dark chapters of History of Magic and the Dark Arts. Those deal with forbidden, powerful potions recipes and spells, curses to be precise. The students have access to all of this information, but they have to sign in a form with their name and student ID and what book they consulted for what reason. They don't need a pass to get into the section, but the books mustn't be taken out of the library of course. But also the other parts of the archive are impressive. You'll find autobiographies of famous witches and wizards like Circe, Morgan le Fay, Merlin, and – Miraculix. You know that Druid of the Gaul who brewed the potion which made them famous for their bravery and resistance against the Romans. I did some research on him and his mysterious Strength Assembling Potion, for my thesis, but – unfortunately the recipe was lost after his death. No one knows for sure what happened to it."
Hermione's eyes went round at that. "You're joking, aren't you?"
"No," Severus defended himself with a slight laugh, "I know it's a common Muggle tale, but you see, sometimes it's unavoidable that Muggles get to notice the existence of magic and this is one of those cases. Not all of what's told is true of course. The fact that Obelix got his great strength because he fell into the potion as a child isn't proved for example. But for all we know, he was half giant, you know and therefore…"
"Oh come on," Hermione complained with a laugh and playfully slapped his hand that rested on the tablecloth, "don't tease me like that, will you?! Do you think I'm stupid!?"
Severus, who had caught her wrist as she had so derisively slapped his hand, raised his eyebrows in mock surprise at her.
"Well, you can't say you didn't believe it at first, can you?" he sniggered, his eyes sparkling with mirth at his successful joke. Turning a little more serious again he gently squeezed her hand. "Don't be angry at me," he pleaded, still smiling, "this wasn't quite fair, but you're just too charming when you ..." he trailed off, uncomfortably aware of what he had just said.
For a few seconds they both just stared into each other's eyes and Hermione grew uncomfortably aware of the fact that her hand was still clasped in his. No, she mentally corrected herself, 'uncomfortably' wasn't the right word to describe what she felt at the soft, but yet so meaningful little contact. 'Excitedly' might be a better choice of words, she concluded. Her heart hammered wildly against her ribcage and she was well aware of the crimson flush that crept into her cheeks. Nonetheless she made no effort to draw her hand back, nor did he let go of it.
Once again she felt briefly reminded of the heated fantasies she had lost herself under the shower, but this was different. She couldn't deny that she felt an excited fluttering in the pit of her stomach and a pleasant tickling sensation in the place where Severus' hand covered hers, but there was also a kind of longing deep inside her chest that made it difficult to breathe calmly, difficult to breathe at all as it seemed. This wasn't the kind of arousal she'd felt at her fantasies earlier, this was an almost shy, tender kind of affection that tugged painfully at her heart with an intense, devouring urge to just get up from her seat and crawl into his lap, fling her arms around him and snuggle her face to the soft skin of his neck – and never let go.
She swallowed. Where did these thoughts come from?
All the time he had studied her, his dark eyes glittering, resting in hers as if they wanted to survey what exactly she was thinking.
"Of course you're not stupid, Hermione," he muttered finally as he slowly, almost reluctantly removed his hand, his fingertips brushing across her skin in an apparently meaningless, unintentional movement that increased the longing in her heart to such intensity that she almost gasped with pain. 'If this is love, he'd better feel the same,' she mused.
She was aware of the fact that he had spoken, but she had been so deeply caught up within her thoughts that he had to repeat his words until they got through to her.
"You're the most gifted witch I ever met," he told her softly. "I've always admired your extensive knowledge, and skills at potions brewing. It – wasn't right of me to never tell you that. On the contrary, I treated you rather unfairly most of the time. I'd like to apologise for that, Hermione."
Wide-eyed, she looked at him at this declaration at a loss for words. When she had recovered a little, she croaked out hoarsely, "Oh-um, no need to apologise S-Severus."
His eyes were an endless pool of velvety blackness. "Yes there is, Hermione," he muttered softly, "and I know that well."
Severus, who noticed her disarray, watched her thoughtfully for a couple of seconds. She had never looked more charming to him. Her cheeks were slightly flushed and her beautiful hair was shimmering in the candlelight. It looked quite voluminous after the shower. The shower – not the best topic to reflect on, he told himself with another stab of bad, very bad conscience. He would have to sort out his thoughts about that tricky matter later on.
Right now he felt far to good to spoil his mood with any kind of regrets. He felt pleasantly relaxed, surprisingly comfortable and almost – happy. Too good to even worry about his realisation. He enjoyed her company, he admitted to himself. He enjoyed it immensely. He liked telling her about his student days and enjoyed the way she hung at his every word. She was so utterly sweet – he only wished he could reach out to touch her hand again and maybe – No, he stopped his train of thought. Not – that – again, not while she was around at least.
It was the wine, he told himself, it had to be the wine. He doubted that he would have confessed to her what he had just said otherwise, but now that he had, he was glad to have done so. She was so happy about it. Her eyes were sparkling with pride at the compliment and her cheeks were even more alluringly flushed.
It was most obvious that the wine had some effect on both of them. It had left him in a relaxed, talkative mood and for all it looked like she was quite comfortable around him as well.
He decided to bring the conversation back on more safe ground. "I had no idea that you are planning to study at Stonehenge, but you will like it, Hermione, I can assure you," he smiled. "Have you ever been there before?"
She nodded, "Yes, that's one more thing I'm concerned about. I've been there on a field trip with my final year primary school once, but –" she wavered, "I didn't notice anything unusual around the place. I know there'll probably be wards to hide the institute from the eyes of Muggles, but – but even if I didn't know that I was a witch back then, don't you think I should have a least noticed something around the place?"
"No, don't worry, you couldn't," Severus assured her with a smile. "Its buildings are invisible to everyone who isn't a member, even magical folk."
At her surprised frown he continued: "Every fall a grand welcoming ceremony for the first semester is celebrated. Torches are lit in a wide circle around the stone ring and the new students are led in by a group of elder faculty members through each of the huge stone gates. In the centre of the building a large fire is lit and the new members are supposed to assemble themselves around it. Each of them is given an amulet. In a welcome ceremony, held by the head of the institute, a goblet with a potion to activate the amulets' powers passes from student to student. The amulets make their possessors invisible to everyone but the owner of another and allow them to see the university. Everyone else walks right through the walls without even noticing them."
"But – how's that possible?" Hermione gasped, "you're not teasing me again, are you?" she asked suspiciously.
Severus shook his head at that, "No," he declared softly, "I'm not, don't worry, Hermione. It's because the walls aren't really there. They once were, but that was ages ago, before the big fire that destroyed most of the buildings. The circle of large stone blocks that is visible to everyone, even to the Muggles, is all that remains of the once extensive buildings that surrounded the campus. The old faculty halls are gone, but the ghost of their memory is re-materialised for those who wear the amulets. They are working similar to the wards that were cast around the place where the Quidditch World Cup was held. You know," he smiled, "whenever a Muggle comes close to one of the students, he'll remember something that makes him turn away to look at his watch, or talk to his companion, check on the laces of his shoes, or stop to get his camera out. Anything. The students don't need to worry about colliding with anyone, nor is there the need to keep silent. The amulets guarantee that no one but the people who wear them can see, touch or hear them."
Fascinated, Hermione listened to his explanations. She had not found anything about this in the books she had read about the institute. They obviously wanted to surprise new members, she presumed.
Severus continued to tell her about Stonehenge for quite some time and Hermione threw in a question every now an then. He told her that the single faculties and auditoria were entered by walking right through the big stones, similar to they way one got onto Platform 9 and 3/4. It was absorbing.
The uncomfortable tension that had hung between them earlier seemed to have mysteriously died away, and when about two ours later the candle on the windowsill started to flicker, they were surprised at where the time had gone.
"This has been a really nice evening," Severus smiled, "I'm sure you'll like it at Stonehenge just as well a I did."
"Yes," Hermione sighed, "Now I'm even more eager to start there and see all these things myself."
"Well," Severus smiled kindly, "I have no doubt that you'll do fine on your NEWTs and get a satisfying result at the entrance examination as well. It's only a few months to go till school will be over and in October you'll begin your studies there."
Hermione didn't respond this right away. "M-mm, maybe, yes," she muttered tentatively. "But – there might – well be a delay."
Severus' head snapped up in surprise at her words. "But why wouldn't you – " he then trailed off in mid sentence, suddenly realising what she was speaking off. "O-oh –"
Suddenly all the awkwardness was back. Severus cleared his throat. "Well, it would presumably be best, if we headed for bed now."
Once again he mentally slapped his forehead for his poor choice of words and hastily mumbled: "I mean to go to sleep, of course, I wasn't implying that we – you know – Anyway –"
This time it was Hermione's turn to gracefully ignore his babbling.
In an attempt to escape the uncomfortable situation, Severus rose from his seat and strode over towards the bed, but he had barely picked up the bedspread and a pillow to take them towards the couch with him, when he uncovered the next surprise. His gaze fell onto a strange kind of clothing that had been paced beneath the covers. He recognized one of the short-legged trousers and matching cotton shirts he had seen inside her drawer earlier. Too curious to just ignore them, he picked up the unfamiliar garments and passed them to her. "Here," he smiled, "your night clothes."
Much too his dismay, Hermione broke into a fit of giggles at this. With a frown motivated more by confusion than annoyance, Severus looked at her, an uncertain expression in his eyes. Though she tried her best to remain calm, Hermione's lips were still switching as she picked up the silk, black, spaghetti strap negligee for him to look at. "Here," she declared as earnestly as she could manage, "these must be yours then, I suppose."
A/N: I know this chapter took me ages to update. I hope you didn't lose track of the story in the meantime and enjoyed the new instalment nonetheless. Thank you for your patience and for all the reviews and e-mails you encouraged me with.
PS: The chapter's title refers to a song by Shakira. I guess everyone knows to which Gaul Severus refers to, when teasing Hermione about the Strength Assembling Potion. Asterix and Obelix, is a cartoon series, which I unfortunately don't own either.
Special thanks to SilentG for her help as a beta-reader!
*Lunalelle* I'll most likely keep this PG-13, yes. It wouldn't be fair to those readers, who really don't want to read an R fic, to set up the rating after I dragged them this far along the lane. There will be some progress between Severus and Hermione, but whatever happens will be dealt with carefully.
*animegirl-mika* Yes, I know Strega Brava's stories. She's one of my favourite authors.
*tnf* In one point I fully agree with you: Things – will – develop differently for Hermione and Severus, now that they know of their shared future. This doesn't mean they won't get together, though, just that the situations and happenings that lead to this will be different from what happened before.
About the other things you've been wondering about:
~ Present Dumbledore tells present H/S about the plan and sends them off a week later.
This hasn't happened in the old past. It's a new plan to get rid of Voldemort.
During the week of preparations for the Time-Travel, the future characters who are involved in this new plan (Albus, Minerva and H/S) catch up on those new developments in their dreams. See chapters 5 and 9.
~ When future Dumbledore says he had no clue of their liking for each other, he refers to his former self, who couldn't know that they would fall in love with each other.
~ The positive outcome of their plan will, of course, require a safe return to their own time that's true, but whether Voldemort is defeated or not doesn't affect their relationship.
I hope this was helpful to clear the confusion.