December 20th, 1998

She is supposed to be at the Burrow. She is to spend the holiday with her friends at the Weasley home. I've been invited to attend the Christmas festivities. But that is days away. No doubt everyone knows where she is, but at the moment I couldn't care less.

I look down at her sleeping face, her cheek pressing inelegantly against my bare chest. It is the first time she's slept in my bed. It is the first time she's ever actually been in my bed. As much as I know I should wake her and send her to her friends, I don't. Her face is still flushed.

It surprised no one when she decided to go back to Hogwarts and finish her education. Her two best friends did not follow. That was also not a surprise. I had the option of returning to Hogwarts myself. I declined. I wanted time to myself with no responsibilities. After the war I was given an Order of Merlin and thousands of galleons as reward for my years as a spy. I should have been disgusted. Money could never replace all I'd lost. But it gave me my freedom to take a few years to do as I pleased.

I bought a house near, but not too near, Hogsmeade. I liked solitude. I had plans for the house involving a greenhouse for potions ingredients, a brewing station in the basement. I liked the brewing process. Just not teaching it.

She visited me on the weekends. At Hogwarts she had a room to herself complete with a fireplace that was attached to the floo network. She was a legal adult, after all. Sometimes she'd come as a surprise during the week. Once all her homework and revisions were done, of course. Over time some of her things had found homes on my shelves or the coffee table in front of the fire. She'd constantly be reading or studying, even if she'd finished all her work for school. She told me she was still deciding what she wanted to do with her life post Hogwarts. At first I found her constant need of learning somewhat disconcerting, but then she'd pull me into whatever she was working on. She wanted to know my opinions, my ideas. I was uncomfortable speaking about my thoughts, but soon she put me at ease. More out of sheer determination than anything else. We'd argue over silly things. She'd usually win, only because she'd kiss me to stop me from arguing further.

I spent my days in blissful quiet. Sometimes I'd read. Sometimes I'd brew small healing remedies for the school. Nothing too extravagant because my kitchen was on the small side. Mostly I waited for her to come to me.

We tried leaving the house a few times, to shop or eat in restaurants. Doing so in any sort of wizarding establishment was a nightmare. Public interest in us was too high. We soon realized that together we were homebodies anyway.

I never voiced my love of her. I would rather dance naked through the Great Hall than talk about my feelings. She knew this about me and didn't care. I showed my love in actions – kissing her hand or forehead whenever she'd say the words to me. It was enough for her.

Throughout all that, I never once made any sort of physical overture. I'd thought about what it would be like to take that next step, but I'd shut the thought aside as quickly as it popped up. When she'd left St. Mungo's, she'd been told not to do anything physically strenuous until she'd been given their express permission. I didn't want to hurt her. We would kiss frequently, usually on the couch. If it ever started to feel like it was getting out of hand, I'd put my foot down. I think she was almost as disappointed at I was.

She'd surprised me tonight. I wasn't expecting to see her for a few days since she'd come to see me last night, a goodbye before Christmas. But she'd stepped out of the floo while I'd been reading on the couch. Her eyes were bright with excitement. Dropping her cloak to the floor, an unusual thing for her because she was as tidy as I was, I stayed seated as she launched herself onto the couch beside me. She'd snuggled under my arm, snuck her hand up my chest, and placed her mouth directly at my ear.

"I went to St. Mungo's today," she whispered. "I've been given a clean bill of health and told that I can begin to exercise."

"What kind of exercise?" I asked politely, my heart beginning to pound.

"Anything I like," she replied wickedly.

"I… see…" I admit, the blood that had been in my brain began to drain south. "And… what did you have in mind?"

Hermione Granger had surprised me in many ways since we'd begun to see each other in a romantic capacity. She was bright, lively, and had a thirst for knowledge that explained her exasperating need of having her nose buried in a book at all times. She was sweet, funny, irritating, and hard-headed. She had to be right, and when she was wrong she tended to pout. Her skills in the kitchen left much to be desired. She was excellent with a needle.

But none of that came close to the shock I experienced when she whispered just what, exactly, she had in that mind of hers for us to do tonight.

Now, with her on my chest, her mouth slightly parted, I am content. She shifts closer, holding me tighter. I'm not going to wake her. I'm not sending her away to her friends tonight. I'm keeping her for myself.

Stroking a hand through her tangled hair, and feeling confident with her asleep, I whisper, "I love you."

She hitches one leg over one of mind and says, "Mmm, I love you too."

The little minx isn't asleep at all. Only mildly embarrassed, I wrap both arms around her and close my eyes.

I'm not a nice man. I've never been a nice man. I speak my mind about my opinions of other people and their actions, usually in a less-than-pleasant manner. I'm rude and have a rather mean disposition to nearly everyone.

I've never had any redeeming qualities to speak of until now. And she is in my arms.