Hermione and Severus lay there stunned in the wreckage of the bed for a minute, waiting for Luna to call out or come and find the source of the noise, but there was nothing but the howl of the wind, whistling through a few cracks in the window and rattling the window panes. When they finally moved, they spoke at once.
"Are you all right?"
"Are you hurt?"
Severus conjured a light again and stuck his wand this time in a crack in the wall, charming the light to remain until he doused it. Together they surveyed the wreckage of the bed, the blue-and-white ticking of the mattress split in several spots and the bedframe beyond saving. It was Severus who laughed first, a muffled sound that soon spread into a full belly-laugh that Hermione could not have imagined if she had tried. It was also incredibly infectious, and while she tried very hard not to, she found herself laughing hard as well, with both of them ending up clutching each other to try and keep from rolling around with the guffaws.
A good five minutes later, when things had calmed down to a mild giggle from time to time (and both of them responsible for the giggles, and setting the other off again), Severus sat up, and looked around at the damage more closely.
"I'm thinking a small change in venue might be in order."
"What would you suggest?" Hermione lounged back on the wrecked mattress, uncaring now that her pyjama top was completely open and barely covered her breasts. Severus stood up, and held his hands out for her, helping her to stand in one fluid movement. His original intention had been merely to assist her in getting up, but this brought her into the circle of his arms once more, and he pushed back her hair and kissed her, once, twice, and then again with passion. It was a few minutes later, when the cold had seeped back into their bodies, that Hermione pulled back a little and looked up at the tall, dark man.
"You had a plan?"
"Plan? Oh. Yes. A plan." He waved his arm in an arc that gestured towards some of the other beds. "We leave this disaster area to its own devices, and move to the other end, near the door. We relocate two of the mattresses to the floor, add these blankets, and then get warm. "
"Warm?" She'd asked the question innocently, wondering why they didn't move downstairs, but then realised what she'd said just as Severus's eyebrows went up and a rather wicked grin started to spread over his face. Hermione blushed, and would have buried her face in his chest if the cold hadn't become rather more severe. She pulled free from his arms instead, and marched to the other end of the dormitory.
Five minutes later, the pair of them could barely be made out under the pile of blankets and coats on top of the pushed-together mattresses. Hermione was lying in Severus's arms, the knowledge that they had the whole night together now holding off the desperate passion of earlier for just a little while, as she tried to learn who this man was that she was now lying with. His left arm was underneath her while his right hand slowly drew rings around her left ear, sending her heartrate up just a little for each circuit. She pushed his hair back off his face, and looked into his eyes by the light of the wand they had set up in the bedstead above them.
"I really thought it was you I heard, crying in the darkness."
"Contrary to your belief, Hermione, I wasn't unhappy here. I was brought in and cleaned, given warm clothes, good plain food that I could eat without someone fighting beside me, and a warm bed I could sleep in in safety. While they weren't wonderful memories here, they were safe ones. And that was what I craved. The safety." He kissed her forehead, softly and sweetly, recognising that she too wanted him to feel safe. "My home was a disaster. Mam and Da were either fighting, or himself would be out drinking and Mam would be hiding in my room, waiting to hear how he was when he came home. If he was singing, 'twould be all right – he'd be a happy drunk and she could go down and serve him his late dinner and he would joke with her and the house could rest. But if he was yelling, she'd have to go but she'd … she'd not want to. And in the morning I'd see the bruises." He sighed, the pain of those years still rankling. "And if he was silent, that was the worst. She'd creep down … and I'd hide under my bed and put my pillow over my head and hope that he didn't come into my room. It was those times he was mean, when he'd … he didn't know what he was doing."
Severus held Hermione tight for a minute, then kissed her forehead again. "And so the times I ended up here were actually much better than being at home. I could go to sleep without having to keep half an ear open for my father to come home. And I could play, or read, or just sit in the corner and feel like I was being looked after."
"And didn't you miss your parents? Your mother, at least?" Hermione's finger drew down his nose, unconscious of what she was doing until he took her hand and kissed the fingers.
"I did the first time, but not as much as I thought I would. And certainly not enough to cry at night. My mother was 'touched' – not entirely normal. It's hard enough living in both worlds - you'd be well aware of that – and it was too much for her. One hot summer she wrapped herself in just a blue sheet and ran down our road, trying to call the rain down. Another time she forgot that the lamppost outside our house ran on electricity, and she spelled it to burn. And then she'd keep wandering away and getting lost." He entwined his fingers through hers, and clung gently to her. "And then I found out she wasn't always getting lost. Sometimes she was getting taken away.
"But you see, coming here was a break. I knew what I was supposed to do."
"The wind, Hermione. The wind through this old place really does sound like a cry, coming as it does straight off the moors." And as if in response to his words, the wind started up again, and Hermione heard now the eerie wuthering as it forced its way through the window frames. The old blinds vibrated, almost moaning, and when they stopped it was with a sob that recalled other lost boys who had cried themselves to sleep in this room. But not him.
Hermione reached up and kissed him, hard. "Enough of the blarney. Finish what you started."
"Blarney? You've been hanging around Luna for far too long."
"Maybe." She kissed the tip of his nose, then his ear, then bit very very gently on the side of his neck. "Less talk. More action."
He growled, and rolled over on top of her, pulling the blanket back over their heads. A listener outside would have heard that growl, followed by a giggle. There wasn't anyone outside. But downstairs, in the staffroom, Luna put another log on the fire and smiled as the giggle echoed down the hallway. She'd seen the emptiness in Hermione as well, and was very glad that her dear, close friend had found someone who fitted the hole in Hermione's heart. She snuggled back down in her own blankets, and watched the light on the ceiling again until her own eyes closed and she dreamed of a lady in grey who would come into her own life in due time.
Although the wind kept up all night, the rain eased and was gone by sunrise, the feeble winter rays gleaming through the windowpanes and into the rooms. Hermione and Severus lay in each others' arms, deep in the sleep of exhaustion that comes not from physical exercise, but from the release of pain and tension and sadness and loss, that allows the mind to recover and start anew. Luna was up too, and walking around the outside of the building as the sun tried to dry out the puddles. Her eyes searched for any signs of broken windows or damaged gutters, and when she came back inside with a face red from the cold breeze, it was also with a happy smile at knowing that the building could still withstand a rough night. She came down the hallway to the kitchen just as Hermione was coming down the stairs, and Luna walked straight up to her friend and hugged her, hard.
"You're not … angry? Upset?" Hermione ran her hand through her bed-hair, and looked hard at Luna.
"And aren't you the confused one", Luna replied. "I love you dearly, Hermione, but as a friend. And I'd have worried if you thought I was anything more. You're sweet, and soft, and lovely, but you and I are just too different to be together. You're meant for a mind that can think, and a heart that knows it can feel, and I'm for someone who can see the brightness and talk to the wrackspurts instead of letting them inside their head – like you have." Luna leaned over and kissed Hermione full on the mouth, then turned and headed to the kitchen, then stopped and turned back. "But I must tell you, if you're meaning to not talk with me any more, it would hurt me."
Hermione blushed and shook her head. "No. Never. Luna, I … You stood by me, and brought me out of my darkness. And it's a journey I had to make. Someone else will be with me for the journey now, but you will always be my friend. No matter what."
"Oh good. Now – tea." And Luna headed for the kitchen, leaving Hermione to shake her head again in sheer wonderment at her friend, then head back to the staffroom for her clothes.
An hour later, the worst of the dampness gone and the wind eased off, the car headed down the bumpy lane and away from the Home. Severus, warm and content and full of tea and toast, peered through the muddy windscreen as Hermione navigated around the worst of the potholes and back to the main road. She looked at him briefly then back to the windscreen, and he stirred himself in response.
"You're after directions, I take it."
"Directions and directions, please, Severus. I still don't know where all this is going." She stopped at a traffic light, guessing that the place where she had almost hit him the night before was roughly on the way to his house.
"Right at those next lights, please, then follow the river until the roundabout." He paused, and considered the next part, while Hermione coaxed the cold and recalcitrant car along the correct street. Silently he pointed the rest of the way, finally indicating that she should stop outside a sooty terrace in a dingy street, the curtains at the front in dire need of a washing. She killed the engine, then waited.
Severus took her hand off the gearstick, and turned it palm-up, the fingers splayed. Slowly he kissed them, then the palm and finally the wrist, and Hermione closed her eyes and found herself transported back to some of the moments of the previous night, moments when she had clutched his back and screamed his name into his mouth as he kissed her hard as she came. Shuddering with desire, she opened her eyes again and looked up at him with undisguised love.
"We've … I've … "
"Things started rather fast tonight. And while I know you, I would like to get to know you fully as an adult. As a woman." She shuddered again, and he continued. "Would you, please, give me permission to court you; to spend time with you, to walk during the day and talk in the evening, and once in a while – if you desire it – to spend the nights together and learn each other more?"
She closed her eyes once more, the cold and hard centre that had been there for months melting a little more than she thought it ever would. Tears came unbidden to her eyes, and when she opened them, one tear escaped and gently ran down her cheek. She looked into Severus's eyes, and while Hermione had never studied Legilimency, she could read the truth in him now.
"If you would let me do the same for you, Severus, I would like to. Very much."
And they kissed.