Written for the Winter 2008 SSHG exchange as a gift for Camillo1978.

Disclaimer: Harry Potter and associated characters are the intellectual property of JK Rowling. I just played with them a little.


The vacuum tube of the universe expanded again and deposited Hermione Granger in a small, grubby room.

"Three o'clock Portkey from Salem, Massachusetts now arriving," said a tinny, disembodied voice. "Next arrival at seven-fifteen."

Hermione took a deep breath, picked up her only two articles of luggage—a cat carrier and a suitcase—and walked into the main terminal of the London Portkey Station, beneath the Ministry of Magic.

"Still smells like England," she murmured, the words disappearing into the bustle and hubbub of the station. From habit, she scanned the crowd for a shock of red hair or an explosion of black, but there was none to be seen, of course; she hadn't told Harry or Ron about her arrival. She'd be in Britain for a year. There would be time to announce it, after she'd had a chance to settle in and see look about herself. Things changed quickly in a community as relatively small as Wizarding Britain, and she'd been gone for five years.

"Wand registry here!" barked a Customs witch with spiky yellow hair. "All out-of-country visitors present wands for inspection!" A fat little South American wizard stood at the counter, clutching a bright green wand.

"Wands and all magical objects brought into the country must be presented at Customs for inspection," said the same tinny, absent voice that had announced Hermione's arrival. The announcement repeated itself at regular intervals as Hermione joined the queue of waiting witches and wizards. A tall, gangly wizard, who reminded her vaguely and painfully of Mad-Eye Moody, began running dark detectors over her things. One of the instruments gave a contented sort of chirp and the wizard, whose nametag read 'Otto', jerked his head toward the wand registry counter and waved Hermione along.

"I'm a citizen," she said, producing her Wizarding passport and handing it to the blonde witch.

"Wand purchased at Ollivanders?" she asked, sounding bored.

"Vinewood and unicorn hair, ten inches."

The witch threw a perfunctory glance at Hermione's wizarding passport. Hermione felt her shoulders go tense as she waited for—yes, there it was: the subtle double-take, before the blonde witch's eyes went back to the passport and read it again, more carefully. Hermione frowned. The witch stared at her for a moment, open-mouthed, and then seemed to remember herself. She snapped the passport closed, handed it back, and nodded.

"Welcome back to Britain, madam," she said.

Hermione took the passport and tucked it away in her pocket before anyone else could recognize the seal of the Order of Merlin, First Class, stamped into the thick leather of the cover.

Glad thatwas over, Hermione passed through the huge ornamental doors and up the stairs that led to the lobby of the Ministry of Magic. Just past them was an Apparition point, a long, low platform with a huge map of Britain spread out on the wall behind.

She studied this map carefully. Miniscule cars traversed the roads, and tiny trains whistled, almost too quietly to hear, as they made their way up and down the country. She glanced down at a scrap of paper in her hand, and then checked the map again, following one road to another with her eyes until she found her destination.

Squinting, she studied it closely. The map seemed to bulge up in front of her until she could see even the blades of grass in detail, the edges of her vision warped as if she were looking through a fisheye lens.

Slipping the bit of paper into her pocket, she tucked her cat carrier more snugly under her arm, gripped her suitcase tightly, turned in place, and disappeared.


Severus Snape frowned at his pint of bitter.

"The problem is," his companion was saying, "that there's no way to be sure. Take yourself, for example. I don't have any real way of knowing you aren't actually still a Death Eater."

If looks could kill, the one that Severus gave his companion—an old man who might have passed for a farmer, if not for the bright daisies painted onto his boots—would have done murder.

"That's just what I mean," said the old man, nodding wisely. "You look at people like that, and they're going to think the worst of you. That's just how it is."

Severus shrugged.

"And you loaf about so much. What do you do with yourself, anyway?"

He rolled his eyes. "I am Draco Malfoy's estate manager."

"Are you, now?"

"I report to Malfoy, ensure that things run smoothly in the village, and liase with the local Muggles."

The man snorted. "Any of those Muggles have any idea of what you really are?"

"I should think not."

"Bet they wouldn't be surprised to find out."

He shrugged again. "They will not find out."

"Nah, they won't." The old man tipped his glass back and held it, waiting for the last few drops of beer to make their way to his mouth. "But if they did, they wouldn't be surprised, the way you look."


"Are you the new renter?" The young man waiting for Hermione didn't appear to recognize her, which was just as well, and rather what she'd hoped for. He held a sheaf of parchment, and had a massive ring of keys hanging from his belt.

"I am."

"Right on time. Name?"

She suppressed a wince. "Granger, Hermione."

His eyebrows went up, and he looked at the parchment on top of his pile. "The Hermione Granger?"

"None of your business is it, really?"

He appeared to consider this for a moment, and then shrugged. "Not really, but you'll find people here don't really stop to ask if it's their business or not. It's a small village."

"Where's the cottage?" She didn't bother keeping the impatience out of her voice.

"Right," he said, suddenly sounding more businesslike. "If you'll just follow me, it's this way." He led her down a narrow, cobbled street, talking as he went. "The village was founded three years ago, in response to the number of Wizarding families looking to move away from the larger cities while retaining ties to a magical community. The land was donated from the Malfoy Estate—"

"This was Malfoy's land?"

He stopped walking and scrutinized her narrowly. "He donated it, as I said—well, he rents it out, anyway, but it's on a permanent basis."

"And?"

"Well, the land was part of the Malfoy Estate, and Draco Malfoy is nominally in charge, but he doesn't stick his nose in much. It's been used quite a bit as a retreat for people like yourself, if you don't mind my saying so."

"People like myself?" she felt herself bristle.

"You know, looking for a more quiet life. A lot of people didn't want to stay in the cities anymore, after the war. Felt like it would be good to have some more, smaller Wizarding communities."

"Right."

"There's a Muggle village about thirty miles out. Otherwise, it's quite isolated, and all the usual Muggle-repelling charms are in place, of course. Here we are, then." He'd stopped walking in front of a small, attractive cottage. It had obviously been built a very long time ago—as had the rest of the town. In fact, as far as Hermione could tell, it was essentially a restored and repopulated medieval village. She wondered if, hundreds of years previous, the Malfoys had maintained a fiefdom of some kind. It wouldn't surprise her.

"All the basic amenities—running water, fireplace, kitchen hearth. There are shops in the village center; I imagine you saw them as we passed by. You can always order in from town, if you want something fancy, but if you can cook for yourself there are plenty of good things to be had in the market."

"Thank you."

"If you'll just sign here— "he began, pulling a piece of parchment from the middle of his stack, "we'll withdraw rent automatically from the Gringotts account you provided us with over the Floo."

She glanced over the parchment; it was a standard agreement, and she'd already reviewed it once. She signed.

"Thanks, Miss Granger." He smiled awkwardly. "I'll leave you to get settled in."

"Thanks."

It took almost no time for Hermione to unpack her things. She'd brought nothing but the essentials, planning to buy the rest of what she needed. Her few sets of robes were soon hung in the closet, her jeans, shirts, and underthings folded and put away, her toothbrush placed in the bathroom. The house was let furnished, and she found the ancient furniture to her liking. It reminded her of Hogwarts.

Last, she set the cat carrier on her bed and opened it. A sleek black cat peered out at her, looking grumpy.

"Out, Puck. You may as well get used to it."

The cat lashed its tail in the shadows of its carrier, blinked once at her, and then, almost seeming to shrug, it stalked out onto the bed.

"Back in England," she said to him. He blinked again. Puck was an American cat, her closest friend for the last five years. He'd been a welcoming gift from the Headmistress of the Salem Witches' Institute, and the first pet she'd had since Crookshanks.

"You don't need to look like that," she said, eyeing him. "I was born here." Puck stared at her, cocking his head, and she shrugged. "We can't all be American, you know, and not all of us wish to be."

He sneezed.


He saw her before she saw him, which was a small mercy. He'd been given to understand that Hermione Granger was in America, teaching Arithmancy at Salem. Not that it was his business now where she went, but he retained some natural curiosity. He was glad he had seen her. Had she bumped into him face-to-face, he would surely have not had the presence of mind to hide his surprise. It was to his preference to have some advance warning.

She looked older than he remembered. Her hair had gone prematurely gray, and she wore it pinned up in a mass of shining silver. It suited her. Teaching had apparently given her a level of poise that he had found lacking before. That also suited her. He watched her with academic interest. She was haggling with a local witch about the price of something or other, he couldn't see what. He didn't much care.

Until she turned around and saw him.


She didn't know what made her turn around, but when she did, her eyes were arrested by his.

They were, of course, completely unchanged. He was completely unchanged. Five years had not aged him a single day. And he was staring at her. That hadn't changed either, apparently.

He'd obviously noticed her. She nodded coolly, wondering to herself what he was doing there, in that village, at that time. She felt a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. What if he lived there too?

He nodded back.

She could almost have succeeded in putting it out of her mind, except that he showed up at her door later that night, announcing himself with a sharp rapping.

"Yes?" She opened the door and peered out, wand in hand.

"Miss Granger," he said, as tightly and as unpleasantly as if she were still in school and had broken some rule. "As estate manager, it is my duty to inquire as to whether you find everything to your satisfaction in the village."

"As what?"

He seemed to stiffen just a little more. "Estate manager, Miss Granger," he said coldly.

"I wasn't aware that the village was part of the estate, Professor Snape," she said, although it wasn't strictly true.

He didn't correct her for using the honorific, and she couldn't help doing it, not if he was going to call her Miss Grangerin that tone. When he spoke like that, he was Professor, and he would be Professor until the day he died. He simply couldn't help it, and neither could she.

"Draco Malfoy owns much of the property in the village, and felt it would be to the best advantage of all if there were some … personal oversight here, which he himself does not have the time to provide."

"You can tell Malfoy that I'm just fine," she said coldly.

She expected a curt nod, perhaps some sort of cutting remark before he turned and swept away in a cloud of swirling black robes. Instead, he simply stood and looked at her, as if waiting for something.

Finally, she sighed and gave in. "Would you like a cup of tea?"

"No," he said. Then he turned and swept away, his robes streaming out behind him just as she remembered.

She closed the door.

"Git," she said.


The irritating thing was that, just as she always had, she simply got underfoot. If he nipped over to the pub for a pint in the evenings, she was there, chattering with the local witches. If he stopped in at the market to buy vegetables or herbs, she was there, bartering or browsing. And, of course, the small circulating library in the village was almost never free of her.

Besides which, he lived on the outside edge of the village, which meant that he was forced to walk past her house each morning and each night.

He had taken care to keep this from her, which made things inconvenient. She spent a great deal of time in her garden with her cat, which of course made it impossible for him to simply walk down the road as he had been wont to do. He was instead forced to take the long way around, or to leave the road entirely and cut through the nearby woods. It was probably unfair to take it personally, but he did.


"Hermione Granger," said the drawling voice of Draco Malfoy.

She turned around slowly. "Draco," she said. His hair had gone from blond to pure white, but his face was still as thin and pointed as ever. She didn't find it particularly appealing.

"When I heard you'd settled here, I almost couldn't believe it," he said.

"Would you prefer I leave?"

He raised his eyebrows. "Still so hostile. No, I wouldn't prefer you leave, as long as you pay your rent."

She sniffed. "That's good, as I understand it's illegal to refuse housing on the basis of blood status."

She saw, or at least imagined, his fingers clench on the head of his cane—when had he started walking with a cane? It was an affectation that set her teeth on edge.

"I think we ought to let bygones be bygones," he said, after a moment. "In fact, I came to invite you join my wife and me at Malfoy Manor for dinner, tonight. It's something of a custom." He paused just long enough to take a breath, but not long enough to let her speak. "Listen, Hermione," he said, in a rather more genuine voice, "it's been years. You can't hold a grudge forever—well, no, you probably can, but I hope you won't."

"I don't know that I feel comfortable—"

"You only need to come once. As I said, it's a custom. We entertain all the newcomers at least once."

And so it was that she found herself eating a sumptuous dinner with Draco and Daphne Malfoy, and their estate manager, Severus Snape. Snape was the only one who didn't at least appear to have a good time. For all that Hermione had disliked both Draco and Daphne in school, ten years of married life had been good to both of them, and she found them rather pleasant to spend time with. It helped, too, that she'd spent almost all of the last five years with American witches, who tended to be, well, not really Hermione's sort. The very Englishness of the Malfoys was a point in their favor. Against her will, she found herself having a good time.

"Tell us all about America," Daphne was saying over a glass of wine. "I wanted to go to Salem instead of Hogwarts, you know, but mum and dad would have none of that. They disapprove of American schools."

"It's not particularly different from Hogwarts, really," said Hermione. "It's a girls' school, of course, from the headmistress down to the first grade."

"First grade?" interrupted Draco.

"First year," Hermione supplied. "Seven years old."

"Do they teach the same subjects?"

"More or less. There's a heavier emphasis on Muggle Studies; it's required for all students. But American schools of magic adhere to the international standards."

Draco leaned back in his chair. "It's the last thing on earth I would have imagined you doing. Especially in America."

Hermione shrugged. "I wanted to get away for a while, it pays well, and Arithmancy is one of my favorite subjects."

Snape, who had said nothing throughout the conversation, narrowed his eyes. "That must have been a great loss to your friends, Miss Granger."

She colored in spite of herself. "I don't know what you mean by that."

He raised his eyebrows. "Merely that I'm surprised that Potter and Weasley suffered you to go so far away. I was under the impression that you three were permanently inseparable."

"Hardly," she said, shortly.

Silence fell. Finally, Hermione stood up, unable to bear the icy presence of Snape any longer. "Draco and Daphne, thank you for a very pleasant dinner."

Draco, Daphne, and Snape all stood as well. "Can we convince you to stay any longer?" said Draco. In all honesty, he probably could have, if he had pressed it. She'd had a far better time than she'd anticipated. Draco had somehow managed to turn himself into someone almost likeable, and Daphne was hilarious, if only for her stupidity.

"Perhaps another night," she said. "I'm suddenly very tired."

"I will walk you home, Miss Granger," said Snape. Whether he did this because he didn't realize how desperately she wanted to get away from him, or because he did realize and was being a perverse bastard, she didn't know.

"That isn't necessary, Professor Snape. I know the way."

"I insist."

"Excellent," said Draco, before she could protest again. "Don't worry about putting him out, Hermione. You're on his way home."

"Ah," said Hermione, not gratified to hear it.


They walked home in silence. Snape slouched, his hands deep in his pockets, his posture almost identical to Ron's when he was irritated with her. She didn't appreciate the similarity. She found she would have preferred the old days, Snape stalking along like some sort of vicious wild animal, wand out, dangerous, but also oddly protective.

They stopped in front of her door, and she reached for the latch immediately.

"Hermione," he said.

She froze.

"Hermione…"

She could see his face, ghostly white in the swiftly-falling darkness. "Don't."

He took a step closer to her. She could hear him breathing, loud in the silence of the night. "It is I who should have said that to you, Hermione. Who should still say it."

"Severus, I…"

He was so close now that she could feel his breath on her face, moist and warm. His lips were moving, and she strained to hear what he might be saying.

But, without another audible word, he turned on his heel and left, melting into the darkness.


He cursed himself a hundred times between her door and his own. He didn't bother turning the lights on; he threw himself into his bed instead, staring up at a ceiling too dark to see, even if he had really been looking at it.

But he wasn't looking at it. He was remembering, remembering, ah, God! The precious, soft curve of her waist beneath his hands, the yielding sweetness of her neck. Everything had seemed so eminently possibleafter the war that he had somehow allowed himself to forget who he was, to forget that it was his destiny to be thwarted forever by fate.

She had been so young, so earnest, so bloody brilliant, and he had been so in love. He groaned and covered his face with his arms. It did no good to deny it, and he had long since given up trying. He had loved her desperately, clung to her after the war. They had come together so naturally, it seemed. Weasley didn't deserve her, wasn't ready for her. It was he, Severus, who could satisfy her mind and soul, who could call spots of brilliant color to her cheeks as they discussed Potions, Arithmancy, Literature, Philosophy—whatever took their interest. It was he who could summon her sweet, ringing laughter at a whim, with nothing more than a quirk of the eyebrow and a significant glance in the right direction. It was he who understood the secrets of her body, perhaps even better than she herself did.

And, like a fool, he had accepted it. He had basked in it, rolled in it like a dog in shit, with predictable results.


It was four o'clock in the morning before he lost the battle with his will. She was not ten minutes' walk from his door. He didn't care if he woke her. He needed answers. He had a bloody right to answers. And the way she had responded when he'd mentioned Potter and Weasley gave him hope.

He made his way in darkness, not bothering to draw his wand. He knew the village well, and he had spent more hours than he would care to admit hovering around the vicinity of her front door. The very first streaks of sickly gray light were starting to creep along the horizon. He didn't need more than that.


The knocking invaded her dreams, throwing them into confusion until, abruptly, she awoke and realized that she hadn't been dreaming it at all. Someone was knocking on the door.

Years of teaching in a magical school had conditioned her. She was awake instantly, and opening the door to see what the trouble was before she remembered she was in England.

Alas, at that point it was too late, and she found herself face to face with a furious-looking, disheveled Severus Snape.

"Let me in," he said hoarsely, and walked into the house before she had a chance to forbid him.

"Severus, it's—"she squinted at the clock, but couldn't see it in the dark.

"Somewhere around four in the morning, judging by the light outside."

"What do you want?"

He didn't answer. He had sat down in a chair and was staring broodingly at the floor.

"If you're going to come wake me up in the middle of the night, I expect an answer."

"You expect an answer," he said sneeringly. His eyes glinted faintly in the dark.

"Yes!"

"Can you not imagine why I might be here, Hermione? What I might possibly be seeking from you in the middle of the night?" He had stood up again, had approached her. "Does nothing spring to mind?"

She took a step back, instinctively covering her chest with her arms. "Severus, I'm not going to—"

She stopped short. She had caught the look on his face, the shock and dismay.

"I see," he said softly, sounding almost dangerous for the first time. "That is what you think of me. I was not aware that you had allowed time to so completely warp your understanding of my character."

"That's not what I thou—"

"It is. Don't lie to me. Not again."

"Again? What's that supposed to mean?"

He bared his teeth in a silent snarl. "As if you need me to enlighten you."

"As a matter of fact, I do."

"Liar!"

She moved to slap him, but his hand was wrapped around her wrist before she ever touched his face. He squeezed for a moment, squeezed until she thought her wrist might break, and then he let go and pushed past her, slamming the door behind him as he went.

She wrenched the door open, blinking away tears. He was already receding beyond her field of vision. She broke into a run, following him.

It didn't take long to catch him; he had slowed, and he didn't live far away.

"Severus," she whispered, coming up alongside him.

"Why?" He turned to look at her, anguish in his face. "Why, Hermione?"

"Why what?"

He shook his head. They were at his door now, and he reached for the latch. "I have no taste for word games anymore, Hermione."

She swallowed. Her mouth was dry. "I'm not playing games, Severus. Tell me what you want to know. I'll answer."

His face twisted, contorted. For a minute, she thought he was going to weep. Grief seemed to emanate from his very body, and he ground his teeth. Then, suddenly, he recovered himself and straightened.

"No. I should not have sought you out. I apologize."

She sighed and closed her eyes. "Severus, just—"

"Why? I want to know why."

"Why?" She faltered. It was the question she'd been afraid of, the only one she wasn't prepared to answer.

"Tell me why you left." The grief in his voice was heartrending.

"I—I don't know, Severus."

"It is a simple enough question," he said softly, drawing close to her again. "The only question." He bent his head over her until she felt the locks of his hair brush her cheek, felt his breath on her face again. "Hermione," he whispered, "answer me only that, and I will leave and never trouble you again."

She didn't speak; she couldn't speak.

"Hermione, you've tortured me for seven years. I ask for nothing but a reason why. Don't doom me to another lifetime of meaningless torture. Do you honestly think I am heartless enough to endure it?"

"I—I don't know what to tell you, Severus. I had to go."

"Why?" She thought he might reach for her, but he didn't. He stood in the doorway, and in the growing light she could see how dejected he looked, how crumpled his posture seemed to have become.

"Because I couldn't stay," she said helplessly.

He cringed. "Am I that loathsome to you?" he whispered hoarsely.

"No! No, Severus, I—it wasn't you at all."

He narrowed his eyes accusingly. "Weasley, perhaps? Did he provide something I did not? Was he something I was not? I thought that maybe … but no, I understand. I was not to you what you were to me. I was mistaken."

"I didn't say that!"

"Do you think I am deficient in understanding?" His voice grew louder, angrier. "Do you underestimate my mind as well as my heart? Leave."

"I already did that once," she said, very softly. "I—I had hoped that perhaps you wouldn't want me to leave so quickly again." Until she said it, she hadn't known it to be true, but it was, she realized. It was perhaps the truest thing she had said in a very long time.

She dared to look up into his face again. He was completely, almost preternaturally still.

"I waited for you," he finally said. "You … I heard you, after the very last Order meeting we attended, speaking with Weasley. I saw him kiss you."

Something twisted in Hermione's gut. She winced.

"I saw him kiss you," he said again, his voice as full of raw pain as if it had happened yesterday and not years before. "But I trusted you. I thought I knew you. I waited for you, forced myself to believe against all hope and experience that there was some reason, something I misunderstood. I waited for days, hoping for a confession, an explanation, some kind of reason, but there was nothing. And I still waited, Hermione, like a fool, harboring some fond, pathetic belief that you would come to me as you always had before, with everything else, and give me the truth."

He paused for breath, and Hermione noticed that his hands were shaking. "But you didn't do that," he said. "You slept in my arms each night but never said a word, and I could feel you slipping away, leaving me in the cold. A kiss I could have understood, I could have—have blamed on Weasley accosting you, or a momentary slip of some kind. But you systematically took your heart from me until I had nothing left but the shell of you. And then you were simply gone, and still without a word."

Again, he paused, but she knew he wasn't done speaking.

"I was frantic," he said. "I looked everywhere for you. I even begged Weasley himself for information, but he had none. And then Minerva told me—you were gone to America. America. Without so much as hinting to me that you were going to go. You are correct." He met her eyes with his. "I do not want you to leave—until you have told me why."

"It wasn't Ron," she whispered. She bit her lip and leaned against the side of his house, closing her eyes—whether because she was exhausted or because she couldn't bring herself to look him in the face, she didn't choose to determine.

"Ah," he said dryly. "Is that all?"

"I should have told you about Ron. You were right, he kissed me without my permission, and I told him he shouldn't have. You know how Ron can be. It had nothing to do with him, why I left." She paused again, waiting for the aching, unshed tears to stop burning her throat. "There was a reason. I didn't leave you without a reason. I didn't even—that is, I didn't plan to leave you for so long."

"You thought you could go where you wished? That faithful Severus Snape, who had already wasted most of his life in slavish devotion to one fickle woman, would do the same for you? That I would be your—your—" his voice broke.

"I had a—there was a—something happened," she said lamely, unable to bring herself to say the words, words that in seven years she had never uttered aloud.

"Well?"

"A baby," she whispered, flinching as she said it, the old heartsick pain that had never really left suddenly flooding her soul once again, with a vengeance.

She saw his lips move, mouthing the words in disbelief, but he made no sound.

"Yours, in case you wondered," she said bitterly. "I was going to tell you, but it—well, it didn't work out, and I knew you didn't want children anyway, so why burden you with it?"

When she saw his face, she realized for the first time how grossly she had underestimated him. "You should have told me," he said softly. Years of separation suddenly seemed to disappear, and she felt his arms, strong and sure, encompass her and draw her to himself. "Hermione, you should have told me," he whispered into her hair. "I would have cared for you. I would have done anything for you. What were you thinking, you brave, stupid girl, trying to bear it alone?"

She could have withstood his anger forever, but his tenderness broke her. She had thought she had lost the capacity to cry over it, but his touch had opened up a fresh well of pain within her, and she wept uncontrollably, her face buried in his chest. He kissed the top of her head, stroked her back, muttered soft, soothing nonsense to her.

"I didn't mean to stay away," she finally managed to say, when her tears had subsided a little. "I just had to get out for a little while. England felt like a prison, and when I got to America, I realized what I'd done, what you'd think, and I couldn't face you. I meant to avoid you this time, too, but-"

"But I thwarted that particular plan," he supplied, his tone reverting from tender to ironic again. But he still held her, and his hands still stroked her hair and her back so soothingly that she couldn't bring herself to break away.

"Well, yes."

He finally released her, stepping back. The light was bright enough now that she could see the dark spot on his chest where her tears had soaked into his robes. "Thank you," he said, "for my answer."

She waited for more, for an invitation, a declaration, for anything, but nothing came. "You want me to leave, then?" she finally managed.

His face grew guarded again. "You gave no indication that you wished to do otherwise. It has been many years, Hermione. I do not presume that you have not, in all that time, found someone else upon whom to bestow your affections."

"Have you?"

He shrugged very briefly. "No."

"Let me stay the night," she whispered.

He glanced at the rising sun. "You already have stayed for what was left of it."

"Let me stay the day, then."

"To what end?"

"I don't want to leave you again." She took a step toward him, closing the distance between them again.

"You must eventually."

She frowned. "That's not true."

He searched her face, searched her eyes. She waited for the probe of Legilimency, but it never came, as it never had. Years ago, he had called it a matter of trust, a practice exercise in learning to behave like a normal person and simply believe someone when they spoke.

"Stay the night, then," he said, his voice falsely casual.

"The day, you mean."

"The day. After that … we will see."