Obligatory Disclaimer: If I owned any of them, believe me, things would have ended rather differently. I'm just borrowing them for a while; sadly, I have to give them back eventually.

Author's Notes: Don't get too excited, my friends, this isn't a new story from me, not yet (I'm working on it, I swear). This is the very much overdue prize for the 1,000th review of Post Tenebras Lux, which was snagged by Ishtart. Basically, for every 1,000 reviews I'm offering the lucky winner an SS-HG one-shot of their choice. Keep an eye on PTL, the 2,000th review will be coming up soon!

My prompt for this: "If you were to take on an outtake request I'd love to see Chapter 14 or 15 from Severus' point of view. What went through his head when things finally culminated with Hermione. If you aren't into re-writing already written scenes then perhaps then a few scenes from the missing month of August where they have lazy happy days beginning the new phase of their relationship. There is so much depth to their characters and their interactions with each other."

If you haven't already read Post Tenebras Lux, you really should. But to summarise, it's been ten years since the war ended. Snape is alive and has recently been persuaded to return to Hogwarts, where Hermione is teaching. They've spent a year slowly becoming friends and dancing around each other, and now it's the summer holidays and Hermione has just gone to feed her cat and clean up after a visit to Severus' home; she is due back any moment.

Warnings: Smut. Mmm, lemons.

"It's the summer of love
And my whole world's turning
In the heavens above, yeah
My spirit is burning..."

– Princessa, 'Summer Of Love'.

Severus was feeling seriously irritated with himself at the moment. For a start, he still had the remains of a hangover, which really wasn't helping his mood; he hadn't had enough of the hangover relief potion for two people, and he was in no fit state to brew more, so he had chivalrously left Hermione a full dose and only taken enough to take the edge off. Admittedly, it was probable that his headache now had more to do with tension than alcohol, but whatever the reason, it was making his mood worse.

For what was probably the tenth time in the past hour, he stopped himself pacing and stared around him irritably; he was bored out of his mind and couldn't settle to any of his usual activities, fidgeting and restless and frankly driving himself barking mad. It was absolutely pathetic, he told himself sternly. He was a grown man, almost fifty – much as he hated to admit it – and there was absolutely no reason for him to be acting like a dog eagerly awaiting the return of his master. Yet here he was, sulking around his caravan and bouncing off the walls with his thoughts chasing themselves in circles, waiting for her to come back and cycling endlessly between missing her and being angry that she had been gone so long, despising himself for it the entire time.

He hated feeling like this, hated being this dependent on anyone. It was foolish and dangerous to place so much of yourself in anyone else's hands, but he certainly hadn't done it deliberately. He'd been lonely all his life, but no matter how desperate he became he would never willingly have chosen a former student twenty years his junior, especially not one who had seen so much of him at his very worst and who knew all the grubby little secrets of his tattered soul.

The confusion was the worst part, he decided as he growled in exasperation and seized the book he was currently reading, forcing himself to sit down on the steps and relax. Decades of observation had given him a very good grasp of human behaviour in the abstract, and if it had been anyone else he would have long ago concluded that there was a very definite attraction between them and a surprising amount of common ground; but, equally, decades of bitter experience had told him that there was no way any normal woman would spare him a second glance, especially one like her.

I always was ambitious, he told himself dryly. Whatever his myriad faults, his taste was impeccable; he tended to pick women far, far too good for him – which wasn't particularly difficult, admittedly. At the moment he was walking a very fine tightrope, trying to find a balance between keeping Hermione's friendship and trying to discover how deep it went. He was pushing his luck, and he knew that sooner or later he was going to fall, but he didn't know what else to do. Sometimes he thought he glimpsed something else behind their interactions, but he didn't have the courage to push any harder, because above all else he wasn't prepared to risk losing what he had in order to tilt at windmills.

Years of mental discipline came to his rescue again, as they had done hundreds of times over the past few months, and he was able to clear his mind and focus on his book and let the sunlight help him relax. The shadows were beginning to lengthen as the afternoon progressed when he felt eyes on him and glanced up to see her walking towards him, and he almost snorted at the stupid little surge of happiness he felt on seeing her, concentrating on keeping his expression neutral in case he accidentally grinned like an idiot. Hermione was the only person he had ever met who managed to utterly destroy his IQ; even Lily had never scrambled his brains quite so completely.

"Sorry I'm so late," she called cheerfully as she drew closer, innocently dissolving a lot of his irritation with her; it seemed she really had intended to come back quickly as she had promised.

"I thought you only had to feed your cat," he replied, wondering idly again what Crookshanks thought of their acquaintance; that cat was supernaturally, almost frighteningly intelligent and quite strongly opinionated.

"I had a bath and washed my hair as well," she explained unnecessarily – he had already noticed, and although he tried to tell himself it was just habit he suspected he was deluding himself. He liked watching her, it was as simple as that. "I needed it," she added wryly, "I looked ghastly."

Impossible. She had looked no such thing; he had watched her sleeping for quite some time that morning before dragging himself off to shower and try and make himself feel slightly more human. All right, so her beautiful hair had been an absolute mess, but it usually was; and if her eyes had been puffy and bloodshot, she'd had a hangover. He didn't care. "I wouldn't say that," he murmured now, wryly amused at himself, standing up as he spoke and heading inside to get a drink so he wouldn't have to see how she reacted. It was all he dared to do, more than felt safe.

After a few moments he heard her follow him inside, and nearly smacked his head on a shelf inside the fridge as she asked challengingly, "What would you say, then?" He knew that tone, could picture the stubborn gleam in her brown eyes that meant she wasn't going to give up without a fight, and his stomach tightened as he wondered a little frantically if he'd gone too far into uncharted waters.

Straightening up and closing the fridge, he replied smoothly, "I wouldn't say anything at all on the subject." Turning to face her once he was certain that his expression was clear, he found her looking at him with slightly narrowed eyes, studying him intently, and recognised that this was far from over; for better or for worse, he'd pushed too far and now everything was wavering as the fragile balance shifted unpredictably.

After a moment some of the stubbornness eased from her eyes and she bit her lower lip; he'd noticed that particular tell better than fifteen years ago, and perversely felt a little better to see that she was nervous too. "What if I asked for your opinion?" she asked quietly.

Severus hesitated for a moment, avoiding her eyes and sipping the cold water as he tried to think. Her words had given him an opening, but he wasn't brave enough to take it and fell back on his usual sarcastic defence, arching an eyebrow at her. "Surely you are not so insecure that you feel the need to question every male in the vicinity about your looks?" he asked scathingly. Pitiful, Severus.

"I'm not asking every male in the vicinity," she retorted, taking a step closer; he felt his pulse ratchet up a notch and resisted the urge to move away. Besides, he was backed up against the kitchen counter and there was nowhere to go. "I'm asking you."

"It's the same thing, given where we are standing," he countered as his mind raced, frantically trying to work out what the hell to do now. The situation had spiralled out of control and things were moving too quickly for him to keep up, the tension in the confined space rising until he could feel his heart pounding.

"It isn't, and you know it," Hermione replied softly but firmly, refusing to allow him to get out of it that easily. He knew the look on her face; she had the bit between her teeth and she wasn't going to give up now.

Covering the urge to swallow nervously with an exaggerated sigh, he did his best to give her a look of bored disdain, not at all sure that he'd managed it. "If you must insist on fishing for compliments, then fine. Inasmuch as I am in any position to judge, you looked as well as anyone could expect given that you had a hangover and had spent the night passed out on the sofa, and far better than most people could manage in that situation. Does that satisfy you?"

By the end of the sentence he was feeling a little steadier, drawing the familiar protection of Professor Snape's persona around himself, but she neatly destroyed that illusion a moment later when she tilted her head slightly to one side and almost smiled, her eyes gleaming with the spark of a puzzle piece deciphered. "Did you know that your voice changes when you're hiding something?" she asked almost cheerfully. "You speak more formally, more carefully."

At that point, Severus started to panic. Actually, yes, he did know that; it was deliberate, designed to put people off digging any deeper by creating the illusion that he was annoyed or bored. Nobody had ever dug deep enough to realise that. She knew him far too well for comfort, far too well for safety, and he felt his heartbeat increasing as he began to confront just how much trouble he was in. Every instinct he possessed was screaming at him that this was dangerous; he should never let anyone in this close to him.

"Fascinating," he snarled in a voice that said clearly it was anything but, angry with himself for his fear and with her for making him feel it. "And I suppose you have a theory as to what I am supposedly hiding?" Push her away now, before it's too late...

It would have worked if she had still been the know-it-all girl he had taught and been exasperated by for years, but the past few months as friends had taken that advantage away; she wasn't remotely frightened of him any more, he could see it in her eyes as she looked at him steadily. But she was nervous, he noticed as he tried frantically to think of some way out; it showed in her voice as she replied quietly, "I have one or two ideas, yes..."

Of course she did; he'd hardly been subtle. Severus cursed himself; he'd never been any good at this. Nobody else would have noticed a thing, but she knew him well enough to have seen straight through all the pretences; he'd been mooning after her for months – hell, she'd probably realised before he had. Fool, fool, fool...

A moment later Hermione added, a little more nervously now, "None of them are... unwelcome," and his thoughts came to a screeching halt as his next defensive retort died unspoken. He stared at her, hating himself for the desperate flicker of hope; don't be stupid. She doesn't mean that. Swallowing, he reflected that she was also the only person who could render him speechless; his tongue had always been his first line of defence and he had never been lost for words since he was about seven or eight.

The silence grew oppressive and he knew that if he didn't speak now he was going to ruin everything; the fear of that tightened his stomach, but he didn't know what to say. He was terrified of saying the wrong thing, had no idea what the right thing might be; he just knew he didn't want her to leave. Everything he could possibly ask for was dangling just out of reach, and he didn't know what to do.

Slowly she took a step closer, and he felt himself panicking again. Being this vulnerable scared him more than anything else; he was trying to trust her not to hurt him, but it wasn't easy to overcome nearly half a century of painful experiences. For once he couldn't read the look in her eyes; she was nervous, but there was something else he didn't understand, and that scared him as well.

"I thought once that it said a lot about me, that you would open up to me as much as you did, that you trusted me enough to let me see something real," she said quietly, sounding almost rueful. "That lasted until I realised how stupid and arrogant it was. It had nothing to do with me, not really. Anyone could take the time to learn how to read you... if they cared enough about you to try. That's just it, isn't it, Severus? Nobody ever cared about you, as a person. Only what you could do for them. And I know what that feels like only too well."

Her words hurt, he realised slowly as he looked away, no longer able to meet her eyes. For so many years he would have done anything to have someone in his life who understood him like this, and now that there was, he was almost too terrified to speak in case he ruined it. But if he didn't say anything at all, then it would all be over; his defences were in tatters and all he had left was honesty. It had never worked well for him in the past, but he had nothing else to give.

"That is certainly part of it," he admitted huskily, focusing on his breathing and staring at the floor, "but it isn't the whole truth..."

"It isn't? Then what is?" And after so long, he recognised the intent behind the question; yes, she wanted to know because she wanted to be right, but she also did genuinely want to know the answer for his sake. His head was buzzing, worse than the drink last night had affected him.

He answered somewhat hoarsely with total honesty, "It still had – has – a great deal to do with you. Were you anything other than what you are, you would not care, and the question would be entirely academic." Who else would give a damn about him? Who else ever had? She was unique, and far, far too good for the likes of him.

"That runs both ways, Severus," she told him quietly. "I told you only yesterday you were the first person to really take an interest in what I wanted to do with my life. We're more alike than either of us realised."

"You're nothing like me, fortunately for you," he snapped, almost sickened by the idea, still staring fixedly at the floor. They were similar in some ways, he conceded – they would never have become friends otherwise – but that someone like Hermione could ever compare herself to him...

"Don't say that," she rebuked him softly. "You're not a bad man, Severus. You're not the man most people think you are. You're certainly not the man you think you are. And I see nothing shameful in being like you. I wish I was more so."

That brought his gaze up, and he stared at her blankly. Her eyes had softened and turned warm in the way he hated because of how vulnerable it made him feel, but there was no doubting her sincerity; since the age of eleven, she'd been a crap liar, and she'd never learned how. Then she stepped closer, well inside his personal space, close enough to feel the warmth of her body, and he suddenly couldn't breathe; his usual aversion to being touched rose up and met the new and more recent wish that she would, and the conflict left him unable to move or speak. He stared down at her helplessly as she looked up at him, more conflicted than he had ever been in his life.

Then she reached up and touched his face, and Severus felt the world stop spinning. For a moment he was frozen outside of time, everything spiralling downwards and crystallising around the faint gentle pressure of her fingertips on his face. When had he last been touched? He honestly couldn't remember. Not when he'd been ill and needed help, that didn't count. Oh, Hermione touched him sometimes, his arm or his shoulder, and he cherished every contact, but only through his clothes. He'd offered her a hand up, that day in the bluebell clearing, but that didn't really count either. Now...

He flinched away from her touch, but not because he wanted to, simply because it was too much. In the moment she touched his cheek his whole body came alive with a sudden fierce need that stunned him, a wild touch-starved hunger from a corner of his soul that he had spent decades pretending no longer existed. It overwhelmed everything else; he couldn't move or speak or even draw breath, only stare into the depths of her eyes as the sensation drowned him, and when she gently slid her fingers into his hair he would have whimpered if he could have made any sound at all.

By the time her hands tightened in his hair he had regained a shaky and fragile control of himself, enough to drag air into his lungs once more, but it was taking everything he had just to suppress his trembling and he was acutely aware of his body beginning to respond just to her closeness. All thought had vanished, lost in the desperate hunger burning through his veins; he followed the pressure of her hands and bent his head as she rose to meet him, and their lips met, and his senses came alive.

Every sensation was far more intense than it should have been, from the softness of her lips on his and the warmth of her fingertips on his scalp to the sweet scent of her, and he closed his eyes to try and control the surge of emotion as instinct took over and he kissed her. This, at least, he could do with confidence, even though it had been many years for him, tilting his head slightly and unconsciously moving closer to meet her. Blind to everything except his own savage need, he kept enough of a grip on himself to only rest his hands on her shoulders as he opened his mouth and traced her lips with his tongue, asking to deepen the kiss, determined to only take what she offered; he wanted her so desperately that he didn't trust himself to push further.

She yielded to him willingly, and the taste of her mouth added to the assault on his reeling senses as her tongue slid against his. Utterly lost in the sensations flooding him, Severus reached up slowly to tangle one hand in her hair, something he had been fantasising about for months, feeling the curls snag at his fingers as his other hand slid down her back and pulled her closer. She shifted against him to move closer still and he felt her hips pressing deliberately against his raging erection, sending a surge of lust through him that nearly stunned him; he might have lost control completely at that point, had she not then slid her hands under his shirt and onto the skin of his back.

He froze, a sudden chill slicing through the heat burning in his blood as everything crashed home and he registered what he was doing, breaking the kiss and pulling back to stare down at her. She doesn't know. How could she? He'd kept himself shut away so tightly all these years, and he was paying for it now. Nobody, absolutely nobody, had known the full truth of everything he had suffered; he'd never admitted it to anyone. And now, lost in his own long-buried need, it had never occurred to him to reach for the relatively simple charm that hid his scars until it was too late.

"Stop," he whispered, somewhat unnecessarily since she already had, gently pushing her back from him; he needed to think, and he couldn't with her clouding all his senses like this. "You don't know what you're doing."

The look in Hermione's eyes would have taken his breath away if he hadn't already been breathless from the intensity of their kiss. "Yes, I do," she replied firmly, with just enough of a breathless tremor to her own voice to make him harder than before as his skin tingled with the need to feel her touch again. "We both need this, Severus," she continued, and the way she said his name, with real desire in her voice, made him shudder and have to bite back a whimper. "I want this; I want you. And I can tell you want me."

I do. He wasn't sure he had ever wanted anyone so much. She would certainly be the first woman he'd kissed that he'd ever felt anything for, the first who hadn't either been drunk and desperate or simply paid for. Lust wasn't the problem. "That's not..." he started, and heard his voice crack. Bugger. His mind wasn't working properly, his body crying out for her both emotionally and physically. "You don't want me," he said, almost pleading; she couldn't possibly actually want him, not when nobody in his life ever had, not when she was better than any of them. "You don't know... Damnit." He took a deep breath to try and steady himself, failing miserably when the sweet apricot scent of her crawled into his brain with another electric surge of sensation. "You don't know what it is you're asking for."

"I don't understand," she said slowly, searching his face, that glorious expression fading to uncertainty bordering on hurt, obviously assuming that she had done something wrong.

The last thing he wanted was for her to blame herself. "I..." The words wouldn't come, and his stomach twisted before he said in sheer frustration, "Just look." Before he could think enough to stop himself, he stepped forward, away from the counter, and as she fell back before him he reached down to yank his shirt up and over his head in a single jerk, tossing it aside and staring at her defiantly.

He knew what she saw. A man twenty years her senior, who probably looked older than that still, pale skinned and so thin that his ribs showed. The Dark Mark, shadowed and grey under the skin of his left arm despite his futile attempts to remove it. A face not even his mother had loved, and lank ill-kept hair prematurely greying. The thick ropy scars on his neck might be the worst ones, but there were plenty to choose from, and this wasn't the whole story. Tearing his eyes away, he turned his back on her, tensing as he heard her sharply indrawn breath – she was right to gasp; his back looked like melted wax in places, patchy with scar tissue, marks of his submission to other people's abuse.

This was what he was; a damaged, broken victim of his inherent worthlessness, magnified by a lifetime of bad decisions. He had nothing to offer but scars, and the physical ones paled into insignificance beside the psychological. His need still burned through him, but it was a painful, cold thing now, the earlier fire dying. For several painfully long moments he stood motionless, senses straining to hear something from her, anything, but he couldn't hear anything over his blood pounding in his ears. Finally, very slowly, he forced himself to turn around and face her.

Her eyes were soft again, shocked but gentle with it, and he searched her gaze almost desperately to try and see what she was feeling. For a moment he considered Legilimency, but he had never used it against her before and had no wish to start now; besides, he wasn't sure he wanted to know. Seeing horror or pity in her eyes would be bad enough without feeling it in her mind as well. It was hard to breathe as he waited, tension and fear coiling through him, waiting for her to speak, to break the spell and walk away.

She didn't. Instead, Hermione stepped forward again, resting her hand on his chest, her fingers laying over a scar that slanted across his sternum and the heel of her hand not far from his pounding heart. Her eyes were as serious and intent as he had ever seen them as she looked up at him, locking her gaze with his. "After Bill Weasley was attacked by Fenrir Greyback, we all thought his fiancée would leave him," she said quietly. He stared at her blankly, unable to make sense of this, until she continued softly, "But Fleur surprised us all. I remember what she said in the hospital... I can't do the accent, but she said, 'All that these scars show is that my husband is brave'."

His breath caught in his throat as he looked at her in disbelief, her words slicing through him to the fragile place at the core of him that he tried to ignore, reaching old pains he had almost forgotten existed. She smiled at him then, the warmth and the light of it making her brown eyes sparkle. "These scars show your bravery, Severus, that's all. They're badges of honour, every one of them." Slowly she took her hand from his chest and laid her fingers on his left wrist, grasping his hand and turning his arm to expose the Dark Mark, livid and ugly against his pale skin. "Even this one," she said softly, and he closed his eyes, no longer able to bear watching; then he felt the soft touch of her lips on his arm as she gently kissed Voldemort's brand.

Severus shuddered violently at the touch, reeling as his skin-hunger rose once more in a savage flood that threatened to overwhelm him. Nobody touched his arm, at all; nobody ever touched the Mark, or referred to it, or even looked at it if they didn't have to. She wasn't shying away; with that one innocent gesture she told him that she knew who and what he was, and didn't care. He was a murderer, a traitor, a Death Eater, but when he opened his eyes and stared at her he saw himself reflected in her eyes as simply a man.

"I have scars, too," she told him gently, before an almost mischievous light glinted in her eyes. "Want to see?"

He wasn't sure he could speak at this point, frightened of disturbing the fragile moment that held them, but then something snapped in him and he surrendered to the simple fact that he needed her more desperately than he had ever needed anything. "Yes," he said quietly, and with that single word he gave her the key to his soul as he reached to pull her close against him, seeking her mouth once more as heat and lust swallowed his insecurities and fears.

When she moaned into his mouth as they kissed, the surge of power thrilled through him and his arms tightened around her as he shifted his hips to grind his erection against her, already half out of his mind with the pleasure; he'd never felt like this with anyone, never dared to let his guard down this completely. Her skin tasted almost as addictive as her mouth, and he felt her shiver when his teeth grazed under her jaw; delighted with her responsiveness, he filed that away with his growing knowledge of her, pressing closer as her hands slid over his skin and stroked his back with a gentle pleasure that almost hurt and only increased the desperate craving he had spent years denying.

Half way to his bedroom, she broke the kiss to say breathlessly, "If you can concentrate enough for wandless non-verbal magic, I must be doing something wrong."

It took him a moment to work out what she meant; his brain had shut down the moment her lips touched his arm. When he registered that the caravan doors were closed, he laughed softly, smiling into her eyes and admitting as he carried her into the bedroom, "I didn't do it consciously. In fact, I had forgotten the doors were open. I assure you... what you are doing to me is most definitely not wrong." She smiled back at him before he kissed her again, so caught up in what was happening that he nearly overbalanced when they reached the bed and only just managed to brace himself against the edge of the mattress as he lowered her carefully.

She looked stunning, her wild hair even more tangled and untamed than usual and her lips swollen from the urgency of his kisses, her eyes burning with heat to match his own as she stared up at him before she reached for her shirt. Leaning forward, he caught her wrists. "Allow me," he whispered when she looked at him, seeing the smile in her eyes edged with nervousness as he half-crawled onto the bed with her and started to undo the buttons of her blouse, finally exposing the skin he had been fantasising about for months, his eyes drinking in the sight.

The scar on her chest gave him pause, simply because he recognised the spell; he had part of a matching scar somewhere on his right shoulder, although it was half obscured by other scars. He felt the tension in her when his fingers brushed across it and realised with some amusement that she was as insecure about this one flaw as he was about all of his; almost gleefully, he used the excuse of gently kissing his way along the puckered scar tissue to bring his face to her breasts, nuzzling against her cleavage for a blissful moment before moving upwards to seek her mouth again as his hand trailed across the soft skin of her flank to start undoing her belt. He was shaking just from the almost overwhelming feel of her skin against his chest and stomach, barely able to focus on what he was doing, but when he felt her shudder as she helped him get her trousers off he thrilled to the knowledge that she was almost as needy as he was.

Severus was reduced to a giddy, eager teenager again when she sat up to take her bra off, a small distant part of him amused at the strength of his reaction as he stared at her breasts; anyone would think he had never known a woman before, although admittedly he had never been with anyone who looked as good as she did. Barely holding back from simply throwing himself at her as his whole body throbbed with the strength of his urgent and almost painful erection, he pulled her close against him and shuddered as her breasts pressed against his bare chest, feeling her answering shudder as they kissed again before he started to explore her body in earnest.

Even the wild miraculous hunger burning through him couldn't completely silence his inner fears, and part of him was certain that this glorious summer afternoon was probably all he would ever have, so he took his time as his mouth trailed over her skin, memorising every last detail. Part of him was enjoying her little sounds of frustration as she shifted and squirmed under him, as well, although once his lips reached her breasts that faded to the simple awareness of her body and the jolt of pleasure that ran through him when she moaned, as he took one of her nipples into his mouth and suckled, feeling it hard and tight under his tongue. Closing his eyes, he brought his hand to her other breast, savouring the taste of her as he gently rolled her other nipple between his fingers and felt her hands tighten in his hair almost painfully, the slight pain only increasing his need.

When it threatened to become too much, he drew away reluctantly, the beautiful sight of her hungry eyes and flushed skin almost destroying him. He kissed her fiercely now, thrusting his tongue into her mouth as his fingers skimmed over the smooth curves of her hip and thigh, trailing along the edge of her knickers and shamelessly teasing them both just a little longer, drawing out the anticipation until he couldn't stand it any more and lightly, so lightly ran a single fingertip between her legs. Even through her underwear, he could tell that she was soaking wet, and his head spun from the realisation of just how much she wanted him as she whimpered under his touch.

"Severus... stop bloody teasing!" Hermione begged him, half ordering and half pleading in a husky growling voice that was probably the sexiest thing he had ever heard, and he laughed softly in sheer delight at her response to him, lifting his head enough to smile down at her and trying not to smirk.

"Patience..." he purred at her, both of them well aware that she had never been terribly patient and wasn't likely to start now, before he decided a little wildly that teasing was fun but enough was enough and sat up to pull her knickers down as she arched her hips insistently. The scent of her arousal made him dizzy, thick and sweet and heady with musk as he took in the sight of her lying on his bed, naked and wanting him; almost he might have thought this was a dream, except that even his most desperate and fevered dreams hadn't come close to this.

She was hot and wet and slick against his skin as he touched her, arching into him to prolong the contact, making small eager noises of pleasure as his fingers slid through the moisture between her legs. Closing his eyes again, he let his other senses take over, following the guidance of every little sound she made and the changes to her breathing and the shifting movements of her body to teach him what she enjoyed. She was so incredibly responsive, reacting so beautifully to his touch; certainly she wasn't a virgin, she knew exactly what she wanted with the same strength and certainty she brought to everything else, but he sensed that it had been a while for her as well.

Finally he slid a finger inside her, still slow and gentle, her tightness confirming that it had been a long time, and as his finger sank into her she cried out; the sound sent a jolt straight to his aching erection and had him shifting uncomfortably as he pressed a second finger inside her. He had meant to tease her further, but that eager cry persuaded him to play nicely and he began to move his hand, working his fingers inside her against her slick walls as he sought the nerve endings that would send her over the edge; he had never wanted anything so much as he wanted to see her come apart beneath him now. Almost... almost... there! A final thrust of his fingers, flexing over that certain place inside her, and a moment's pressure from his thumb against her, and she arched her back, shuddering and writhing, her moan of pleasure twisting so beautifully into a cry of ecstasy that set his blood on fire.

Moving back, absently shifting his bad leg to settle more comfortably, he watched her recovering and felt quite pleased with himself; without really thinking about it, he licked his fingers clean, and shivered at the taste of her on his tongue which was every bit as addictive and overwhelming as everything else about her. He would like to taste her more fully, but he was getting uncomfortable now and knew there was no way he could wait long enough, not and have a hope of lasting more than a few seconds once he was inside her. That was going to be touch and go as it was.

Opening her eyes as her breathing steadied, Hermione looked up at him and smiled slowly, her gaze soft and slightly less focused, and he stopped sucking his fingers clean to smile back at her. She shifted, stretching, her eyes sharpening as she returned to the real world more fully, and her gaze swept down his body as her smile turned almost predatory before she gently pushed at his shoulder and nudged him to roll over; obediently he shifted onto his back, looking up at her with a shiver of anticipation as she looked down on him.

Severus shuddered almost convulsively when she finally touched him gently through the thick fabric of his jeans, realising only then that he had been unconsciously using Occlumency for some time now to control his body. It was just as well, he considered dimly, grateful for his instincts; it had been many years since he had had any company beyond his own hand, and without the discipline of Occlumency he probably would have come around the time he had taken her shirt off. After so long, even her gentle touch was almost too much, almost a kind of pain, although he certainly didn't let that stop him as she unfastened his belt and began undoing his buttons. Squirming awkwardly out of his jeans and almost sighing in relief as some of the pressure on his erection eased, he shivered at the feel of her nails scraping lightly over the hollow of his hip as she tugged his shorts down carefully; the air inside the caravan was stifling but still felt cool against his overheated skin as he impatiently kicked aside the last of his clothing and lay naked before her.

He had always hated being exposed in front of anyone; he supposed he largely had the Marauders to thank for that, although the incident by the lake hadn't been the first or the last time they'd done that to him and nor had they been the only ones to do so. But it was impossible to feel self-conscious now, looking at the expression on her face; he was well aware of what he looked like, and he had never had a woman staring down at him with that look in their eyes, as though he was something to be devoured.

Despite himself, he couldn't hold back a throaty moan when she touched him, arching his back to push against her hand as she gripped him just firmly enough; he wasn't the vocal sort and never really felt able to relax enough to voice his pleasure, but this was clearly something outside his experience and he felt himself swell even further under her clever fingers as she stroked him, already starting to breathe hard.

Occlumency or no Occlumency, she was pushing him too fast for his liking; if this afternoon was all he was going to get, he didn't want it to end like this and certainly not this soon. Gasping for breath, he caught her wrist and felt her squeeze him reflexively; shuddering, he panted, "Enough."

Letting go, Hermione smiled at him, her expression somewhere between sympathetic and impish. "Too much?" she inquired innocently.

He might have laughed if he'd had enough breath to do so, but all he could manage was a hoarse, "God... almost," before what remained of his shaky control snapped and he dragged her down on top of him and kissed her hungrily. She responded just as ardently, before he finally rolled on top of her and settled between her thighs as she spread her legs for him, resting his weight on his elbows and staring down at her in momentary uncertainty. The look in her eyes said quite succinctly that not only was she very sure about this, but if he attempted to stop now she might well hex his balls off; just as well he had no intention of stopping, then, really. Severus shifted his hips against her, slowly and deliberately, shivering as he felt the wetness of her renewed arousal coating his shaft; he paused just before he entered her, hearing her moan.

"Please," she whispered huskily, reaching up to push his hair back from his face, her eyes burning with a need that almost matched his own as they stared at one another. "Please, Severus."

The slow, wondering realisation that she wanted him so badly that she was actually begging him for it nearly destroyed the last shreds of his composure; there was no way he could stop now even if he wanted to. Another shift of his hips gave him the angle he needed, and he closed his eyes briefly as he sank into her, his soft groan mingling with her low cry as he thrust home. He had to stop for a moment to catch his breath and fight back his impending release, well aware that he couldn't last much longer even with Occlumency-imposed discipline; only when the tide receded a little did he feel able to start moving.

Distantly, he was vaguely aware of his stiff knee affecting how he could move, pushing him slightly off balance and making it difficult to settle into a rhythm, but it didn't really seem important compared to the feel of her around him and under him as her hips rose to meet each thrust and they moved together. He could barely see, but each time he managed to focus on her face he saw only reflections of his own feelings; need, passion, building pleasure and an awareness of the end approaching.

He had no idea how long it went on; it could have been hours or less than a minute, but finally he felt the tension growing almost unbearable as his balls began to tighten and he knew he couldn't hold on much longer. Digging his hands into the bed either side of her, his back beginning to arch as he fought the inevitable for just a few moments more, he closed his eyes and dimly heard himself groan, shuddering and starting to move harder and more forcefully, pushing them both higher as she started to pulse around him. He faltered for a moment as that coiling tension gathered at the base of his spine, before she shuddered and her nails dug into his shoulders as she arched beneath him and cried out, louder than he had heard her before, almost screaming as her hips bucked and her body clenched tightly around him. Shuddering half in relief and half in pleasure, Severus drove into her one more time and let go, unable to suppress his own cry of ecstasy as he climaxed so hard he almost blacked out.

Shaking in the aftermath, he all but collapsed on top of her, barely able to take any weight on his arms as he buried his face in her neck and tried to remember how to breathe. He had never dared to be so unrestrained before, always holding back; nothing had taken him so completely out of himself, and now he felt completely drained as he listened to his frantically pounding heartbeat thundering in his ears and felt the last twitches as he softened inside her. Hermione had gone limp beneath him and he could feel her breasts rising and falling against his chest as she too fought to catch her breath, one hand stroking down his back before falling to the bed.

His muscles felt as though they were made of water as he slowly pushed himself up and withdrew from her, rolling over and collapsing onto his back beside her and shivering as the sweat began to dry on his skin. He thought about lifting his head to look at her and wasn't sure he could even manage that much. The mattress dipped slightly as she moved, and before he could work out what was going on she had rolled over and casually snuggled up against him, resting her head on his chest as though it was perfectly normal. Severus froze in a moment of painful tension, automatically bracing himself because in his experience almost all physical contact hurt; swallowing, he forced himself to relax, hating the reflex that had made him flinch, because once the brief instinctive panic faded it actually felt pleasant, and he dared to slide an arm around her to hold her in place and prolong the contact as he calmed down again.

Hermione didn't seem to have noticed his struggle, nestling against his side with a contented-sounding sigh; she certainly felt relaxed, as far as he could tell, and he was as sure as he could be that she had been there with him at the end, but a last vestige of insecurity and doubt made him break the silence as he sighed and said quietly, "It has been... a very long time for me." He honestly wasn't sure how long he had managed to last; everything was blurred.

His ears caught a faint sound of surprise, before she replied matter-of-factly, "For me, too, but it didn't show," and then added after a moment, "You were wonderful."

He was glad she couldn't see his face at the moment as he sternly wiped away a foolish grin; whatever else he might be, he was male, and it was always nice to be flattered about his prowess, especially when it was genuinely sincere. Relaxing for real, he permitted himself a small smile and closed his eyes, feeling pleased with himself. "Allow me to return the compliment," he offered after a moment; it probably wasn't gentlemanly to compare a lady's performance in bed, but that had easily been the best sex of his life. She made a faintly pleased sound in response, but didn't say anything.

Closing his eyes, he drifted for a little while, lulled into a pleasant drowsy languor by the warmth and weariness. He would have quite liked to go to sleep now; last night's drunken stupor hadn't been exactly restful, and he seldom slept well in any case. But now that the haze of desire was thinning from his blood, his treacherous brain had woken up again and he was already starting to wonder anxiously what happened next. Going by previous experience, he had maybe fifteen to twenty minutes before she pulled herself together and realised who she had just slept with; since this was his home and not hers, at least she couldn't throw him out, but surely she would very soon be storming off. He didn't want that to happen, but equally he couldn't think of anything that would prevent it.

And yet... his arm tingled faintly with the memory of a gentle kiss, and he frowned at the ceiling. Hermione knew who he really was. She had seen almost the very worst of him; mercifully not everything, but bad enough. There had been no disgust, no distaste in her eyes, and there had been nothing false in her response to him or her eagerness for his touch. Unbelievable as it seemed, she had genuinely wanted him, in full or almost-full knowledge of who and what he was. He also didn't think she was the type to indulge in meaningless one-night stands – or more precisely one-afternoon stands.

What did he want to happen now? Severus considered the question rather nervously as he restlessly wound one of her tangled curls around his fingers and listened to her breathing. He really wasn't sure how he felt about her. They got along surprisingly well, most of the time, better than he had managed to get along with anyone in his entire life – he hadn't held back and taken care with her as he had with Lily, and she had mostly ignored his temper save for the few occasions when she had matched it. She was probably the best friend he had ever had, bizarre though it was, but what did that mean now?

He glanced down at the top of her head, allowing himself to fully appreciate the sensation of her snuggled up against his side and lying half on top of him, and smiled rather sadly. Yes, he could see himself wanting more of this... which almost certainly meant that it was impossible. He'd never been able to hang on to anything that he really wanted. Even if by some miracle she too wanted to pursue whatever might be between them, he knew he was spectacularly ill-equipped to be in a normal healthy relationship; not only had he never had one, but he was neither normal nor healthy.

Well, then; it seemed his first move here was to find out how she was feeling at the moment about what had just happened between them. If she was regretting it, he would like to find out sooner rather than later and get it over with; if not, then he could worry about what happened next. He sighed.

"Hermione..." he asked hesitantly, reasonably sure that she was still awake, "what is this?"

She tensed slightly in his arms, but not much, and when she spoke her voice was more thoughtful than anything else. "I'm not sure," she said slowly. "Something we both needed, badly. Something we both enjoyed. Something I wouldn't mind repeating," she added, and he could feel the warmth of her blush where her cheek touched his chest. "I don't know if it has to be anything more than that."

Severus thought about this, feeling himself relax; yes, he could deal with that, at least for a while. Take it slowly. No promises, no commitments; just enjoy one another's company and see what happened. He thought they could potentially be good together, with time, and if they were both willing to wait and see... "That sounds... acceptable," he said carefully, unwilling to give too much away just yet, and she laughed at him. He stiffened, something tightening unpleasantly in his chest, but there was nothing mocking in her face when she lifted her head to smile at him.

"'Acceptable'?" she repeated, gently teasing him without malice, and he forced himself to relax, feeling a little sheepish.

"A poor choice of words, perhaps," he conceded, half-smiling. "I find myself struggling to think as clearly as I usually do, for some strange reason," he added wryly, reasonably certain that a few important areas of his brain had melted, and Hermione grinned at him.

"Good," she told him, nestling close against him once more and settling down. Closing his eyes, he closed his thoughts as well and drifted back into a pleasantly sleepy half-doze, enjoying the lingering ache in his loins and the warmth of the sun on his skin and the warmth of her body. He was almost asleep when she stiffened. "Shit!"

"What?" he asked, tensing, trying to analyse the emotion in her voice; the single monosyllable didn't give him much to go on, but she hardly ever swore so it was obviously something bad.

"We didn't use anything," she muttered, lifting her head and reaching out to Summon her wand to her, and he relaxed, relieved.

"Oh, is that all," he murmured, closing his eyes again. "Don't worry about it."

"Severus..." she said warningly, and he realised what she was thinking and opened his eyes once more.

"I didn't mean that the way it sounded," he said hastily, adding wryly, "You really have scrambled my brains this afternoon." Looking up at her, he explained quietly, "Contraception is not an issue... I am unable to have children."

"What?" She drew away from him and propped herself up on one elbow to stare at him, impatiently pushing her curls away from her face.

Mourning the loss of her warmth, despite the stifling heat of the room, Severus elaborated idly, "One of Poppy Pomfrey's diagnostic charms picked up on it during a health check, back when I still let her run them. I have known since I was young."

"The Healers couldn't do anything?"

"No. Nobody could work out the cause." He shrugged indifferently and stretched lazily, holding the moment of tension before letting his body relax once more. "I never wished to father children anyway," he added with total honesty. There was nothing in his genetic code that he wanted to pass on to future generations, and he also genuinely disliked children, not to mention the fact that he would be a terrible father anyway.

"Oh, Severus..." she said gently, and he pushed himself up on his elbows and frowned at her, confused by her reaction. She looked truly sorry for him, which he didn't understand.

"What? I mean it. I never wanted children."

"That's not the point, though, is it?" she said softly, meeting his eyes. "It's just something else that you never had any choice about." That hurt; he blinked and looked away, not wanting her to see how deeply she had just pierced his armour, because she was right. Obviously realising it, she leaned into his field of vision and kissed him – a gentle, soothing and almost apologetic kiss, comforting, without the earlier fire – before curling up against him again. "Well, it's one less thing to worry about now, I suppose," she remarked more lightly, absently tracing the cord of his necklace with a fingertip as his arm settled around her again. "So what exactly happened? I mean, clearly everything still works, and works rather well, in fact..."

Following her lightening of the mood, and genuinely pleased at the compliment, he chuckled softly. "I doubt I would be so accepting if that were the problem," he agreed wryly. "I have no idea, frankly. Perhaps spell damage again – not the Cruciatus this time, though, I was too young for that – but it could just as easily be something genetic. I'm infertile; completely sterile. Firing blanks, as my father would no doubt have phrased it."

"Charming," she told him, a little disapprovingly.

You have no idea. "He was a charming sort of man," Severus replied sarcastically; the understatement of the century, frankly, but he was absolutely not going to talk about his father to her – not now, and if he had his way, not ever. Stifling a yawn that was only partly genuine, he shifted position and changed the subject. "I hope you realise this will throw my already erratic sleeping patterns off completely."

"My humble apologies," she replied through a yawn of her own. "It's your terrible influence at work, you know. I would never have dreamed of spending a decadent afternoon having very good sex if it weren't for you."

"I could get used to it," he said drowsily.

"Me too," she agreed, snuggling closer against his chest, still playing with his necklace. He closed his eyes again and absently followed the movements of her fingers as they wandered across his skin, following a scar through the dark hair on his chest. He wondered idly what she was thinking; the scars on his torso weren't too bad. It was his back that was the worst – well, that and his neck, but she had been there when he had had his throat ripped open and he hadn't seen much point in concealing that particular scar from her. As though reading his thoughts, she tensed and removed her hand. "Oh, God. I'm sorry, Severus."

He would have laughed at her if he'd had the energy. "It's all right," he murmured. Unwilling to let her know how much he'd been enjoying her stroking his skin like that, he added, "Under the circumstances, it would make no sense to worry about being touched." In fact, he couldn't find any trace of his usual aversion to physical contact, which was just as well. As she smiled at him before returning to her gentle exploration of his skin, he relaxed, relieved that the almost frightening touch-starvation seemed to have calmed down as well; the strength of his need had scared him a little.

"How did..." she began quietly after a while. "I mean... never mind." He almost smiled; she had always been more curious than any cat, always needing to know everything about everything. A know-it-all to the end. The thought was oddly affectionate.

"No, it's fine," he told her, a little surprised to find that it really was. She had already seen the scars, after all; he had nothing left to hide now. And she had told him that she considered them fairly earned. That was nonsense, really, but it was pleasant nonsense. He began playing with her hair again where her curls fanned across his chest. "I don't remember a lot of them any more, to be honest. And most of the ones I do remember, I have no intention of telling you, because you don't need to hear it and I don't need to say it. It's fairly obvious with most of them anyway... they are almost all combat scars, or punishment scars. Some of them were just work accidents, burns from potions and so on, or from childhood incidents. And some – quite a few, really – I gained during my travels. Mostly in bar fights."

"Bar fights?" she repeated incredulously, staring at him. "Why were you in bar fights, plural?"

Severus almost smiled again at her disbelieving look; even now there was still so much she didn't know about him. "Because I was borderline psychotic," he replied in a matter of fact tone, "and people tended to take exception to a violent drunk ranting and screaming at them. Most of them were fights I started, and most of those were because I thought I'd seen someone I knew and was trying to kill them. I told you, Hermione, I have changed a great deal since the war. I was dangerously unstable for a long time; I hallucinated frequently, I had screaming panic attacks, I was phobic of just about everything you can imagine and my emotions were skewed all over the place. Fortunately for all concerned, I wasn't able to do magic during the worst times, or God knows what might have happened."

The mood had shifted now; he was sorry for that, but he had decided a long time ago to be honest with her, as much as he could be. Besides, compared to some of the memories lurking in the shadowy corners of his mind, his battle with post-traumatic stress was positively benign, especially since he couldn't remember a lot of it very clearly. It had been quite peaceful, in a way, being insane.

After a while Hermione asked rather plaintively, "Don't you have any scars with funny stories attached to them? I've got one on my knee from when I fell off a swing when I was six..."

He chuckled softly and followed her cue, shifting slightly and making himself more comfortable as a spark of mischief surfaced. "Well, there is one on my right leg that I'm almost proud of, in a strange way; a bite on my calf that you might recognise..." He left it hanging, watching her with glittering eyes; he'd always liked watching her pouncing on a new puzzle.

Her eyes lit up when she worked it out and she bit her lip to hold back laughter. "Fluffy?"

"Of all the ridiculous names for a cerberus," he said scornfully. "Yes, 'Fluffy'. It's a miracle I didn't lose my leg. The stupid brute tried to bite with two of its heads at the same time and got in its own way, or it would have been a different story." It had bloody well hurt, too; it had also resurrected his werewolf-phobia. It hadn't been a very good year for him, really, what with one thing and another, but he had nothing to be ashamed of – well, almost nothing.

"And you're proud of it?" she asked curiously.

"I'm probably the only person who has a scar from a cerberus bite," he pointed out mildly. "Most people who are bitten don't manage to survive." Even the scar on his neck wasn't quite unique; Arthur Weasley also had a scar from Nagini, although far less serious.

"I suppose that's true," she agreed, smiling and absently playing with his necklace again. "Severus, I've been meaning to ask you something..." she began.

"Really?" he asked sarcastically. "You astonish me."

She poked him in the ribs. "Git. I wanted to ask about my Christmas present. It still doesn't really seem like you..."

"True," he agreed dryly as his mind started to race frantically; he hadn't been expecting this question. "It was very much an impulse purchase. I was wandering around Camden Market and stopped to look at a jewellery stall out of idle curiosity; when I saw the otter it was so appropriate that it seemed a shame not to buy it. Once I had, well, it was certainly of no use to me, so I decided that I would give it to you at some point. It would have been your birthday present, but I changed my mind at the last minute." After a pause he added wryly, "It made sense at the time."

"Fair enough," she replied slowly; she didn't sound convinced, which was hardly surprising since almost everything he had just said had been a load of bollocks. He had been inspired by something he'd seen in Camden, yes, but the actual ring had been custom made and had cost him a bloody fortune. He had chickened out of giving it to her for her birthday, though; they hadn't known one another well enough then for him to have justified such a gift. He hadn't even wanted to admit that he knew when her birthday was.

"I'm going to need a shower again," she murmured, changing the subject once more. "I probably look worse than I did this morning."

He snorted. "Isn't that what started this in the first place?"

Lifting her head, she grinned at him. "I liked the result."

"You should remember I'm an old man." Although admittedly he did seem to have recovered from most of his exhaustion now; he felt more awake and part of him was hopefully considering the chances of a second round. He wouldn't have to struggle so hard to last this time, either.

"You are no such thing," she chided him, adding playfully, "Anyway, all I said was that I needed a shower. I didn't mention you at all."

"It's my shower," he pointed out with mock indignation, smiling a little.

Hermione began tracing a scar again, following the line of it across his stomach. "That's a good point," she agreed mildly, making him shiver as she ran her fingers lightly across his hipbone. "You're too thin, you know," she added absently.

"You sound like either Poppy Pomfrey or Molly Weasley, and as I have no desire to think about either of them in these particular circumstances I'll thank you to stop it," he responded tartly; he had had more than enough of the pair of them trying to mother him without her deciding to join in. "In any case, I am in better shape now than I have ever been."

"I noticed," she replied teasingly, now tracing small circles on the inside of his thigh; she was very close to an ugly burn scar, but most of the skin there was surprisingly unmarked and quite sensitive.

"Stop that," he murmured reprovingly.

"Why?" she asked innocently. "Are you ticklish or something?"

"No," he replied, too quickly. She stared at him in incredulous delight and he scowled. "Don't even think about it."

"Too late," she replied impishly.

"I mean it, Hermione," he told her seriously, putting as much warning as possible into his voice. "Don't." He couldn't deal with that yet. If this was going to work at all, she couldn't push him too far; he had trusted her as far as he dared today and he didn't have anything else in him yet. If she accidentally hit one of his triggers, he didn't know what would happen but it wouldn't be pretty.

"All right, I won't," she replied softly, evidently recognising that he meant it and seeming to understand the importance if not the reason, before adding more lightly, "not unless you really annoy me, anyway, which right now doesn't seem terribly likely." Her fingertips trailed around his thigh and upwards over the sensitive spot in the hollow of his hip; he relaxed, both from the averted crisis and the renewed pleasure of her touch, amused to feel himself stir once more. Evidently he wasn't as old as he thought.

As though reading his thoughts again, Hermione grinned at him. "Come on, 'old man'," she said mischievously, drawing away with flattering reluctance and sitting up, "we both need a shower. Unless you need more time to recover?" she added challengingly, looking back at him.

The invitation pleased him enough to mostly forgive her for her cheek, and he settled for growling insincerely at her, "Impudent wench. Show some respect for your elders." Ironically, she always had respected him more than most. Sliding off the bed, he picked up his discarded jeans from the floor and untangled his wand from the fabric.

"Is that necessary?" she asked tartly.

"I always keep it where I can reach it," he replied absently, before smirking at her and adding teasingly, "Besides, by the time you were thirteen you had managed to set fire to me, steal from me and Stun me – throwing me into a wall at the same time, giving me a mild concussion and almost fracturing my skull, incidentally. I might need it." For such a model student, she really had been something of a delinquent.

Sputtering an indignant laugh, she stood up and protested, "That's hardly fair! I set fire to your robe, not you, and I only did it because I thought you were evil and trying to kill my friend. I stole from you because I needed the Potions ingredients, it wasn't personal..."

Severus wasn't really listening any more, far more interested in admiring her naked body and already thinking about the possibilities of the shower. Not interested in her justifications – he knew it all already, one reason why he had never tried to see her punished for it – he reached out and pulled her to him, cutting her off mid-sentence by pressing his lips to hers and slipping his tongue into her mouth. After a very brief and utterly insincere struggle, she kissed him back, and several long and pleasant minutes passed before he let her go.

"...And that's cheating," she scolded breathlessly, not sounding at all displeased.

He laughed softly. "I always cheat, Hermione. You would do well to remember that." Turning away, he headed for the bathroom, such as it was, and called back over his shoulder somewhat pointedly, "And the Stunning spell?"

"Wasn't a Stunner at all," she told him as she followed him. "We all tried to Disarm you at the same time, and the force of it threw you into the wall. None of us actually intended to harm you. Really, a concussion?" she added guiltily.

"Hmph," he responded absently, filing the information away as he switched the shower on. He had always wondered exactly what had happened; he'd been so wound up he hadn't registered who had hexed him, but if everyone had, that would explain it. "Yes." He hadn't noticed the concussion until after everything was over, when he'd been too furious at the world to bother doing anything about it until he started puking. After a moment he admitted quietly, "And it is probably just as well you did Stun me, accident or not. I wasn't terribly rational that night."

That was an understatement. He had been utterly out of his mind. It was almost the angriest he had ever been, by the end, simply because it had been so unfair. He had been acting almost completely out of genuine concern for the students, even if he'd hated them at the time, and thoughts of revenge had truly been second on his list of priorities, but absolutely nobody had believed him. Nobody had believed him when he had said what Black had done to him when they were boys, either, although in hindsight given the state he had been in at the time it was small wonder. Nor had anyone given him any credit for risking his life to face down a werewolf, one of his greatest fears.

"I don't blame you," Hermione said gently now, leaning past him to check the temperature of the water, her breasts brushing distractingly against his arm. "In that situation, I doubt anyone would have been rational." She stepped past him into the shower stall and tilted her head back under the water. "And it was a bit of a strange night all around, really," she added, making him smile ruefully in agreement; it had been weeks before Dumbledore had bothered to explain to him exactly what had happened, and he certainly hadn't been able to work it out by himself.

More interested now in the extremely pretty sight of the water running down over her naked body, Severus smirked a little as he followed her into the shower; the stall wasn't really large enough for two, but he certainly wasn't going to object to such close quarters under the circumstances. "By your standards, I would have thought it fairly normal. You – all of you – managed to attract trouble more or less continuously."

"It seems some of us still do," she answered playfully, turning to smile at him. "On the whole, I like this kind better."

So far, maybe, his inner pessimist said dolefully. Ignoring that, Severus only laughed softly, determined to at least try and stay positive for a while; reaching past her for the shampoo, he paused for a moment to argue with himself before turning and gently starting to run his fingers through her wet hair. He could feel her surprise and didn't blame her, since this wasn't exactly characteristic of him, but he happened to like her hair and he had overheard a surprising number of women over the years enthusing about how good it felt to have someone else wash their hair for them. Apparently it was something of a national trait, because Hermione relaxed bonelessly against him almost immediately with a soft sound of pleasure that was amusingly close to a purr, and the obvious enjoyment she derived from the experience persuaded him to permit her to return the favour.

It did feel very good indeed, better than he had imagined, rousing his skin-hungry craving for contact once more, and somewhere along the line innocent washing turned into foreplay as their hands wandered over skin now slick with soap and water in a very pleasant mutual exploration. She leaned back against him as his hands cupped her breasts from behind, shifting her arse to press back against his erection before turning her head as he leaned down to kiss her, closing his eyes as water ran down his face.

She turned in his arms as the kiss deepened, sliding her arms around his neck and tangling her fingers through his wet hair as she moved against him; marvelling once more at the bewildering fact that their desire seemed to be mutual, he moved his hands lower over her hips, gently grasping her thighs and lifting her up. He pressed her back against the wall and she gasped into his mouth – apparently the wall was cold – before wrapping her legs around his waist as he shifted his feet a little further apart to get his balance; a pleasant and rather gratuitous bit of wriggling helped them find the right angle and he lowered her onto him, letting gravity and her weight push him deeper than he could have achieved on his own before they began to move together.

This time was different, he noted in the small corner of his mind still capable of rational thought – the very fact that part of him was capable of thinking was a big difference. There was no urgency in either of them now, and his need wasn't fierce enough to overwhelm him, freeing him to simply enjoy the sensations burning through him as he drew close to the edge once more. He could have lasted a lot longer, this time, if he had needed to, but it was proving to be gloriously unnecessary as he felt her beginning to pulse and tremble around him once more. Kissing her neck, Severus reflected idly that he could rapidly become totally addicted to this; he suspected he was in much deeper trouble than he was admitting, but there were more important things on his mind right now as fire gathered at the base of his spine and built between his legs once more.

Her nails dug into his shoulders again as she pulled herself up against him more tightly, her head falling back as she moaned and her thighs tightened around his hips. Both of them were right on the brink, and he rocked slowly against her, prolonging the sweet sensations for as long as possible before finally thrusting deeply once more and feeling the first spasms of her climax before she cried out. Groaning softly in answer, he closed his eyes as his own release took him, surrendering to the pleasure and pushing his thoughts away.

Much later, hidden by darkness – night had fallen hours ago – Severus lay awake listening to the slow rhythm of Hermione's breathing as she slept, drifting somewhere between thinking and not thinking. He was very tired, but it would be a while yet before he relaxed enough to sleep – unlike Hermione, who seemed not to have any of his trust issues and had happily dozed off in his arms some time ago. So far, he considered, they were off to quite a good start; they'd had fantastic sex, twice, and had managed a couple of serious conversations, without any real disasters. All right, it had only been a few hours, but he was more than capable of fucking something up in that time.

He refused to think about the future in any detail. That was easy; he'd spent more than ten years between wars refusing to think about the future because he had known he didn't have one. It was almost second nature to him now to block those thoughts out. Equally he was practiced at ignoring his feelings, and refused to try to analyse his emotions; he had a feeling he was far too far out of his depth and he would rather not know just now. Eventually, yes, he would have to face up to things, but not yet. He needed time to catch his breath before he tried for anything more.

The only thought in his head right now, in fact, or at least the only one he was willing to acknowledge, was more of a prayer than anything else. Severus wasn't remotely religious and never had been, but there had been times when he had hoped vaguely that someone or something out there was in a position to hear prayers even if he'd never had any faith in them being answered, and right now was one of those times. It was a very simple thought: please, don't let me screw up too badly.

It was inevitable that he would screw up; he always did. The best he could hope for was that when it happened, it wouldn't be too serious and there would be a chance of repairing the damage. If this fell apart because Hermione finally came to her senses and realised what she was doing, then that was fair enough, and he was reasonably sure that was what was going to happen eventually. If it fell apart mutually because they turned out to not be as well suited as he thought they could be, he could cope with that as well. But if he ruined it accidentally, if he fucked up something good yet again... he wasn't sure he could deal with it again. And she deserved better.

So. Please don't let me ruin this. That, at the moment, was his greatest fear. Everything else could be dealt with, in time, with luck, but his tendency towards self-destruction could cause a frightening amount of damage to both of them.

Hermione disturbed his dark thoughts, shifting and stretching before rolling over and snuggling deeper into the bed, still asleep. Severus pushed himself up on one elbow and studied her in the almost complete darkness, shaking his head and wondering again what the hell had happened. There was no way that the universe should unbend enough to put a beautiful, intelligent and willing young woman in his life, in his bed. He had a feeling that however long this fragile thing between them managed to last, he was going to spend all of it in a state of utter confusion.

Despite himself, he smiled a little and shook his head again; enough brooding for one night. For now, he was going to live in the present, and try not to either brood about the past or worry about the future, because the present was extremely pleasant. It wasn't optimism so much as denial, but it was as close as he was going to get, and now he was finally feeling tired enough and calm enough to sleep. Hesitating for a moment, he gave in to temptation and moved across the bed to gingerly settle against her back, weakening enough to acknowledge that he simply wanted to snuggle against her while he slept in a way he had never been able to do with anyone else.

Pleased to find that she had unconsciously shifted back against him as he did so, Severus closed his eyes and buried his face in her hair against the back of her neck as he slid an arm over her to pull her closer against him, breathing in her scent and finally letting himself relax. He fell asleep more quickly and slept more deeply than he had done in many years.

Severus stared up at the school gates quietly, remembering last year and the way his gut had twisted when he had laid eyes on Hogwarts for the first time in a decade. He had so many mixed feelings about this place. As a boy, he understood now that his expectations had been far too high; he'd been searching for a paradise that didn't exist, and the hoped-for refuge had never materialised. He had easily as many bad memories of the castle as he did good ones. And yet, nowhere else felt more like home, especially now... He walked through the gates and smiled a little as he felt the familiar warmth of the school welcoming the Headmaster back; his smile became a smirk as he started up the drive. Being Headmaster was a hell of a lot more fun when nobody else remembered that he was; he got all the privileges and none of the headaches or responsibilities.

Besides, he had another reason to look forward to today, unbelievably boring though most of it would be. He'd see Hermione again, and he hadn't seen her for more than week. Time had run away from them both and they had both suddenly realised that the summer was almost over and neither of them had done any of the work they should have completed to prepare for the new school year.

His fear hadn't lessened – if anything, he was more afraid than ever of doing something wrong – but he didn't particularly care at the moment, because the past six weeks had been the best time of his life. He almost felt like a young man again; even his limp wasn't bothering him today. He felt well rested, which was a virtually unknown sensation, and also – his smirk broadened – pleasantly shagged-out. It turned out that he did have a libido after all, and a surprisingly active one considering how indifferent he had been to sex for most of his life.

He still wasn't sure why it didn't feel more uncomfortable, allowing her into his life as far as he had, but over the past year they had been spending more and more time together and he hadn't resented it once. Maybe it was because she had always known without having to be told that she shouldn't intrude too much; he hadn't seen her making an effort to avoid disturbing him, but somehow she had managed to insinuate herself into his routine with no real disruption. At the moment he was following his resolve of some weeks ago and refusing to think about it too much, walking a fine mental balance with the ease of long practice.

The double doors opened as he climbed the steps, the faint warm sensation increasing as the castle welcomed its master back home; reaching out, Severus trailed his fingertips along the stone wall as he passed, feeling the building respond like a live creature. The year he had openly served as Headmaster had tainted a lot of his memories of this place, but now he had a chance to replace them with something better, if he was careful – and a lot luckier than he deserved.

Dumping his bag unceremoniously in the dungeons – he owned relatively few possessions these days and had left most of them here – he headed for the staff room with a not entirely unpleasant sense of anticipation buzzing through him, but to his annoyance Hermione hadn't arrived yet. The usual buzz of conversation faltered a little as he came in before starting up again, and he rolled his eyes as he limped to his usual chair in his out-of-the-way corner and settled down to being ignored.

He felt her coming some minutes before she opened the door; evidently the castle had sensed its master's preoccupation and had helpfully tracked her for him. Just the sight of her made him want to smile, which he actually thought was rather pathetic; she was glowing with health and happiness, her skin freckled and her hair gleaming with fiery highlights from the weeks of sunshine, smiling as her friends welcomed her and called out to her with questions about her summer.

Severus scowled a little, annoyed that so many other people were here to witness their meeting. He had been tempted to wait for her, to leave the dungeons just in time to intercept her, but that was a step too far. He wasn't a lovelorn schoolboy any more and he was determined to hold back a little while longer, unwilling to reveal too much, too soon. Even so, he wished he'd been brave enough, because if they had been alone he might have found it easier to judge how she was feeling at the moment and what was likely to happen between them now that they had returned to work; neither of them had even attempted to discuss it.

His eyes narrowed slightly as he concentrated, trying to read past the surface to see what was really in her eyes and hear what lay behind the words she wasn't saying, but he knew it was hopeless. It was easy to read most people, but not if the result mattered strongly to him; he would see what he wanted to see, or what he feared to see, which might not be what was actually there. Then finally, having fended off most of the questions and welcomes, Hermione looked at him.

She was searching his face as anxiously as he was searching hers, and when he saw how dismayed she was at his lack of visible emotion Severus dared to relax fractionally, oddly reassured by her nerves. She relaxed when he did and smiled slightly, and most of the tension drained away. They could do this. Somehow, they would find a way.

I hope you enjoy it, Ishtart, and I'm sorry it took me so long to get around to it. New fic is coming along nicely, watch my profile for updates.