Rating: M – inappropriate for readers under the age of 16; contains scenes of explicit sexuality and violence.

Disclaimer: Characters and settings ©J.K. Rowling

Matters of the Heart

K. Marie

Chapter 31

Hermione refused to leave the seventh corridor hallway leading to the Room of Requirement. Though he felt she was behaving irrationally, Severus remained by her side until the early hours of the morning. He sat beside her when she was resting, and stood to watch her as she paced. Finally, some time long after midnight, she had nodded off, her head resting against Severus' shoulder (he, of course, was prepared at the first sign of company to shroud themselves in invisibility).

Severus, too, had drifted off to sleep, his face resting on his hand, Hermione's head against his shoulder. The only sound while they rested there was the occasional passing ghost, but for most of the night, the castle was silent. It was sometime short before dawn that Lupin and Tonks emerged, looking worse for wear.

The quiet creak of the door slowly brought Severus to consciousness. When Lupin cleared his throat, the Potions Master finally awoke, blinking away the sleep, and shrugging his shoulders under the weight of Hermione's head. The jerking motion of his shoulder woke his partner, and she rubbed at her tired eyes.

Looking up at Lupin, all thoughts of previous fatigue disappeared and suddenly, she stood. "Remus!"

Severus slowly rose as well, and as Tonks looked between them both, she displayed a knowing grin. He had intended on leaving Hermione well before dawn, to avoid such a circumstance with Lupin's wife, but having fallen asleep… He sneered at her, looking to Lupin instead.

"Well?" Severus pressed, folding his arms across his chest.

"Severus, I must say, you have a very talented apprentice," Lupin said kindly, turning to her. "She will make a wonderful Potions Mistress some day."

Hermione's expression slowly changed from concern, to curiosity, to absolute elation as Lupin was speaking, and she threw her arms around his neck. She felt as though she would burst with joy as she realized what he was saying.

"You did quite well, Hermione," Tonks added.

"Thank you – both – so much," Hermione said, hugging them both once more. "You have no idea what this means to me."

"Nor you for us," Lupin replied. "Now that I have two very talented alchemists on my side – perhaps you'll find the cure some day." He laughed, suddenly. "No pressure, of course!"

Hermione laughed, too. She could barely contain her joy at the thought of having successfully brewed such a difficult potion in her first attempt. She couldn't help but hope that it bode well for her research with Severus.

"I have to go," Hermione said quickly. "I need to record all of this!"

"Oh, of course!" Lupin replied, tucking his hands in his pockets. "Don't let us interfere with the rest of your project."

Hermione hesitated before hurrying to the dungeons, and gave them both one final hug. Severus offered them both a simple nod, bidding his farewell, and turned away from them, his robes billowing about him. Lupin and Tonks would remain in the castle for the remainder of the day, and no doubt they intended on spending that time with Harry.

As Hermione burst into the dungeons, she hurried across the classroom to the laboratory door. Cool to the touch, it opened as Severus entered the classroom, and Hermione hurried inside. She hurried to her table, inking her quill and carefully scratching her notes onto parchment. Beside her, the empty cauldron rested, emanating a rather foul smell.

As Severus entered the room, the cauldron disappeared. He lowered himself into the chair beside Hermione, watching her careful hand as she wrote. Despite how obviously exhausted she was – there were dark circles under her reddened, glossy eyes – she was quite involved in her writing.

"Hermione, I am very pleased with your performance," Severus said softly, watching her work. "Once you finished the potion, of course, I had no doubts. But when I assigned it, I was not certain you would perfect the process so quickly."

"I must admit, I am at a bit of an advantage, Severus," Hermione replied, looking up at him. "Ever since third year – when you had assigned the essay, actually – I had been researching werewolves, and the Wolfsbane Potion. To be quite honest, I do hope to one day produce the cure."

"A noble goal," Severus crooned, stroking her cheek. She blushed, lowering her face to her parchment once more and finishing her notes.

As she scrawled the final word, she set her quill in its well and looked up at Severus. "I am quite exhausted."

A small smile crept across his face as he looked at her. "Shall we?"

Sealing off his classroom, Severus led Hermione to his private rooms, where they succumbed to sleep.

Later that afternoon, Hermione and Severus finally emerged from his private rooms. Hermione would have to invest quite a lot of time that day working on her class assignments, and Severus, of course, had assignments he needed to grade. Locked away in his office, he began to work, and Hermione took her homework to the library.

She ran into Harry on her way, and smiling, he turned on his heel to walk with her.

"Where ya headed?"


"Library, of course," he interjected playfully. "I wanted to congratulate you, Hermione. Ron, Lupin, and I went to Hogsmeade for lunch, and he told me all about how well you did. And you were worried!"

Hermione smiled. "I couldn't help it, Harry. You went to Hogsmeade?"

"Yeah, Dumbledore let us, given the 'special circumstance.' And Tonks stayed behind, so Ron was none the wiser… we went there with the whole idea of a 'guy's night' kind of thing," Harry replied. "He hasn't really said much, you know, since the other night."

"I hate that you have to lie to him now, too, Harry," Hermione replied sadly. "I would have been much happier if I was the only one having to deceive him."

"Yeah, I know," Harry replied. "I hardly get it, really. I don't know what you see in him, but I can tell you care about him a lot – that's enough for me. But Ron… I don't know. I don't think he'd be as understanding."

"No, Harry, I think you're right," Hermione nodded slowly, sadly.

"You're going to have to tell him eventually, you know. And he'll find out it lasted all through school," Harry said, turning towards her as they neared the library. "He's going to be hurt."

Hermione lowered her head, sighing. "Yes, I know."

"But I guess it doesn't really matter, does it?" Harry said softly. "You're happy. And that's something Ron just couldn't do for you. He'll come around, he always does."

Smiling at him, Hermione nodded. "I hope you're right. I guess we'll see, won't we?"

Hermione turned into the library, leaving her friend to do as he was.

That evening, when Hermione had finished her homework, she returned to Severus' classroom. At the end of the month, they would be able to work on the Drink of Despair, and come middle of April, she would be able to work on her Draught of Life. But that evening, Severus had promised to assign her final project – and in conjunction with the two draughts and a recreation of Wolfsbane Potion to test with Lupin the following month, Hermione would have all of her final projects.

As she entered the classroom, she found Severus bent over a workstation towards the back of the classroom, working quietly. Closing the door gently behind her, she crossed the room, touching him softly on his shoulder.

"Severus," she said softly.

"Ah, yes, Hermione," he replied. He had an assortment of vials in his hands, carefully examining the contents of each before placing it on the rack before him. "Just a moment."

Hermione placed her things in the laboratory, quickly checking on her draughts before returning to his side. As his dark gaze was studying one of the vials, he spoke to her.

"Do you remember when Arthur Weasley was attacked by Nagini?"

"Of course, Severus," Hermione replied, her eyes flickering between his face and the vials in his hand.

"Your assignment is to create the antidote," he said, setting down a vial and turning towards her. "But this is going to be quite different from what you have done thus far." As he began twisting a vial in his fingers, the silvery solution within sloshing against the glass, he scrawled some notes down on a piece of parchment, and replaced the vial in its rack. "I am not going to provide for you the instructions."

Hermione stared at him, perplexed. "But how?"

"That is your problem to solve, Miss Granger," Severus crooned, allowing his eyes to drift to her face. "I suggest you visit my library, of course, and learn what you can about the species of snake whose venom you are attempting to counteract."

Hermione's eyes widened and she nodded. "Oh, of course!"

"My wards are inactive. I will be there in a moment."

Hermione quickly moved towards Severus' rooms. She couldn't believe the assignment he just issued her; it was something she had never even thought within her abilities. But obviously, Severus felt quite differently, or else he would not have assigned it to her. Crossing his rooms to his library, she began perusing the shelves for any text that appeared helpful.

In a few moments, Severus entered the library, standing near the doorway with his hands tucked in the pockets of his robes. As Hermione milled about his bookshelves, he watched her from afar, his lips curled in the smallest of smiles. Her enthusiasm about such a project was inspiring to the Potions Master; she was the first person in years to feel such excitement about alchemy, and it was very refreshing, indeed!

She began lifting volumes off the shelves, and before long her arms were filled with heavy books. As she spotted Severus in the room, her entire face lit up, and she hurried to him, setting the books on a table on her way.

"This is going to be so challenging, Severus!" she exclaimed, wrapping her arms around his waist.

"Indeed," he replied. "But I believe you are very capable of such a task."

Kissing him, she turned away quickly and returned to his bookshelves, continuing her search of any that may prove useful. When she returned to him with a single book, he lifted some of her load off the table, and led her to his laboratory.

"My assistance to you in this task will be quite limited, Hermione," he began as she set out the books she took. "I will answer you what I can. In the meantime, I will be working on our Drink of Despair – and of course, when I happen upon a task I find suiting for your instruction, I will require you to assist me."

She had opened a book as he was speaking, and turning towards him, she couldn't contain her joy. Reaching out to him, she wrapped her arms around his waist, reaching up to kiss him deeply. He held her close to him, his strong hands grasping at her body, as his tongue explored her mouth hungrily.

As she broke away, her face was flushed, and Severus could easily read the lust in her eyes. He resisted the urge to make love to her, instead allowing her to begin working. Breathlessly, she kissed him again, before turning towards the table once more to begin her research.

Several hours passed as she scoured through the various textbooks, her hand busily scrawling down any information she thought may be relevant. By the time her eyelids were so heavy that she no longer could read the words on the page, she had accumulated four rolls of parchment worth of notes.

She left her workstation as it was and abandoned the laboratory. Severus was hunched over at his desk, his head resting against his folded arms, his shoulders rising slowly with his even breath. Even in her exhaustion, Hermione couldn't help but smile at the sight of her lover sleeping at his desk, several scrolls scattered in front of him, his quill safely perched in its well.

Coming around his desk, Hermione wrapped her arms around his shoulders and hugged him tightly. Her breath played lightly against his ear as she whispered to him, "Severus, my love. Let's go to bed."

He released a low, heavy groan and Hermione pressed a kiss to his lips, her hand playing with his hair. Pulling her fingers through its length, she pressed another kiss to his lips, and whispered a little louder this time, "Severus." She rested her hand on his forearm, the gemstone on her finger glowing brightly.

As he came to consciousness, his face quickly twisted into a grimace and his hand quickly rose to the back of his neck. Groaning, his eyes slowly opened, and he tenderly lifted his head, his hand still massaging the cramping muscles of his neck and shoulders.

"What time is it?" he growled.

"It's nearly two," Hermione replied, looking at her watch. A yawn escaped her, and she rubbed her tired eyes.

"Have you been working this entire time?" Severus asked her, rising from his desk. With a flick of his wand, the classroom door locked and the laboratory door closed quietly.

"I've got four scrolls of notes," Hermione replied as she followed Severus to his office.

Before he entered the passage to his rooms, he turned to her. "And you will, of course, record everything you do, so I can follow your procedure."

Hermione nodded. "Of course."

Leaning down to her, he kissed her softly on the mouth before leading her by the hand to his rooms. Neither bothered to undress as they collapsed into Severus' bed, surrendering to sleep within minutes.

The following morning, Hermione woke feeling more exhausted than she had when she retired. Dragging herself from Severus' bed, she hurried through his rooms, escaping through the private entranceway to the dungeons. It wasn't long before she was climbing the stairs to her own rooms, her body aching with fatigue, her eyelids heavy with sleep.

Her shower was cooler than what was comfortable but even after she finished bathing, she still felt quite tired. Tying her hair back, she cast the concealment charm she had utilized so often this year on the bags under her eyes.

Hoisting her bag over her shoulder, Hermione dragged herself to the common room. She was finally starting to feel more awake, but only barely so, and as the common room began filling with students, she felt her own fatigue worsen with the company.

Finally, Harry and Ron emerged from the stairwell and spotted her by the hearth. They came to her nearly immediately, and her tiredness was not overlooked by the boys.

"Bloody hell, Hermione. You look awful!" Ron exclaimed, running a hand through his flaming red hair.

"Thanks, Ronald," Hermione replied crassly. "Professor Snape assigned my last project last night, and I was up until past midnight working on it."

"I don't suppose you came back to your rooms," Ron said. "He'd have given you a detention just knowing you were wandering the halls."

Hermione's heart started to race as Ron was speaking, but she breathed a sigh of relief (disguised, of course, as an exasperated sigh of disbelief) once he finished his sentence. "Really, Ronald. He was quite understanding of the situation. He knew this last assignment was going to require a lot of work, and he knows well enough that I like to finish what I've started!"

Harry, doing his best to help her continue keeping Ron in the dark, chuckled quietly. "Yeah, Ron – even youshould know that!"

"Aye, mate," Ron replied, rolling his eyes. "How could I forget?"

Standing from her chair, Hermione followed the boys to the Great Hall. She was absolutely famished, and hoped that eating something would wake her up more. Looking up at the High Table, Severus looked little better than she did; his normally pale face seemed more pallid somehow, the shadows around his eyes exaggerated in contrast. He looked down at her for a moment before tearing his gaze away, and she lowered herself down to the table beside Ron.

Even though her friends were having an excited conversation about the first Quidditch match of the spring season, Hermione's mind was elsewhere. She couldn't tear her thoughts away from her research, her busy mind hurriedly forming connections between bits and pieces of information she discovered the night previous.

"'Oi, 'Mione," she heard Ron's voice, though it seemed distant in comparison to the volume of her thoughts. "Are you gonna make it to the Quidditch match next weekend?"

"Oh, well… I hope so. But I won't know until—"

Ron's emphatic groan interrupted her, and she frowned. "Look, Ron. I will try, but I just don't know."

"Didn't you just hear her finish telling you about how late she was up working last night?" Harry added. "As long as you show up for Gryffindor versus Slytherin." He winked at her playfully, and she smiled.

"As I've said before – that game I wouldn't miss for anything!"

As the day progressed, Hermione began feeling more energetic, especially following lunch. Potions was quite miserable for everyone involved, as Severus was indeed very, very irritable, and even Hermione endured some very severe remarks by the class's end. Some very bitter students were grumbling to each other as they filed from the class.

As Hermione handed Severus her vial for his assignment, she let her fingers brush against his for just a second. She knew the subtle, affectionate gesture would not go unnoticed by the Potions Master, and as his eyes met hers, she recognized the loving glint in their darkness.

As Hermione approached the Great Hall, she spotted the tousled black hair of Harry and she hurried to catch up to him. Beside him, Ron was talking rather hushedly, but Hermione had no difficulty in hearing him.

"I looked for the map, Harry," he was saying. "I couldn't find it."

"What did you need it for?" Harry replied, his voice just as quiet. Hermione's heart started racing as she thought of the map tucked away in her trunk.

"I just – I just want to look. Tonight. It's Monday, she'll be there – please, Harry. Just let me look. Just once."

"Ron, just let it go already! She'll tell us when she's ready," Harry snapped.

"I don't get why she needs to be so secretive about it," Ron said, sounding irritable. "If it's not—"

Hermione swallowed deep and tried to shake her fury with Ron. To let him know she had overheard the entire conversation – especially knowing he wanted it to remain between he and Harry – would not benefit anyone, and so she acted as though she had just rounded a corner.

"Hey, you two!" she said, willing the trembling of her voice away.

"Hermione!" they exclaimed.

Ron's voice wavered in its strength as he spoke. "What are you doing?"

"Heading to lunch, of course," she replied, feigning her smile the best she could. "I'm starved!"

They lowered themselves to Gryffindor table, soon to be joined by Ginny. It took quite a lot of effort on Hermione's part not to allow the knowledge of Ron's suspicion to affect her mood any, but as the lunch period progressed, she began to feel her anxieties wane. Harry had begun talking with Ron about their apprenticeship, and so the boy seemed completely distracted from his previous thought.

It was fortunate, Hermione believed, that Harry had thought to let her hold onto the map. Had he not done so – well, it would be quite easy for Ron to snoop, wouldn't it? And though she had told him time and time again that no good would come of such a behavior, he never learned.

After her hunger was sated and the period was over, Hermione hurried off to her afternoon classes. Saying goodbye to her friends reminded her of her frustration with Ron, and while she refused to let it ruin her mood, she still couldn't help the way she felt about it.

If only he would trust her! She had never given him any reason not to in the past, and he really had no reason to suspect anything from her! So she had a boyfriend she didn't want him to know about – what business was it of his? He still seemed to think he had a right to know, and perhaps he did, but she was not ready to tell him, and he was not ready to hear the news.

Her afternoon classes passed by quickly and before she knew it, Hermione was tucked away in the Potions laboratory with the books she had borrowed from Severus. He had not been present as she entered his classroom, but he had left the wards inactive and so she knew he could not be far.

It wasn't long before Hermione was fully immersed in a book about serpents. She had gone through at least a dozen times searching for the right information – she had several guesses the species of snake Nagini was, but she simply did not know for certain. She remembered – very vaguely – what the snake looked like, basing her memory on a photograph shown to her by Sirius in her fifth year, and Harry's descriptive recollection of her.

When Severus cleared his throat from the doorway, Hermione jumped. She hadn't heard him enter the classroom, and had no idea he had ever returned. Turning to face him, she smiled.

"How is your research progressing?" he asked her, his eyes moving from her face to the scrolls of notes scattered over her work station.

Following his gaze, she chuckled softly. "As you can see, I've covered a lot of information so far. There's just one thing I'm uncertain of…"

"And that is?" he asked, his hand smoothing over her hair.

"The species of snake, of course," Hermione replied, somewhat crassly. "I just… I don't remember. I've never actually seen her, I've only seen a picture – once, and what Harry's said."

"In that case," Severus said, his hands resting at her waist. "I'll refer you to a book you should already be quite familiar with." His eyes scanned the desk before him, and finding the book he was looking for, he set his hand on its cover and pulled it towards him. "Chapter twenty-two."

Hermione stared at the beasts encyclopedia he brought towards her for a moment, certain she had already looked through it. Opening as instructed, she found the chapter he suggested.

"You should have more confidence, Miss Granger," he crooned, affectionately cupping her chin in his hand. "You are a bright witch, indeed." He lowered his hand to one of her scrolls, and unrolling it, he showed to her the notes she had already taken.

"I just – I don't want to disappoint you, Severus," Hermione whispered, her cheeks pinking under his gaze.

"Hermione," he said softly, leaning down to her. "You have no idea." Pressing a kiss to her mouth, he stroked her cheek with his hand. She leaned into his touch, sighing softly and smiling at him.

Finally his hand fell from her face and he allowed her to work once more. Turning from her, he approached the cauldron at the back of the room with the Drink of Despair. She watched him for a moment as he collected his written research and began working on the draught.