They were swiftly moving through the woods.
Both had their wands out and neither was speaking.
In about fifteen minutes they would reach their destination. In about fifteen minutes it would be midnight. Midnight on a full moon.
He had tried to refuse her company, but she really could be rather persuasive.
Besides, he cherished every minute he could spend with her. He just did not want to put her in a dangerous situation. And these woods were dangerous. Especially at midnight on a full moon.
He did not quite remember when he'd started to feel so protective of her. It must have been somewhere in between the second and the third year after she came back to the castle to teach. It was now her fourth and he could not imagine his life without her. Or rather, he could, but it was an empty and a lonely life.
When she first returned after her studies and apprenticeships he had been as distant to her as he was with all his colleagues. Maybe even more so.
But she somehow seemed to see right through him. After that first year he had been forced to realize that he'd made a friend. His first real friend.
It had taken her about a year. A year filled with offerings of tea, of asking his opinions on matters she really didn't need a second opinion on, of 'accidentally' running in to him when he was making his rounds.
She had been determined to get to know Severus Snape.
As her professor he had always intrigued her.
The man was brilliant. He was mysterious. He had a wonderful sense of humor on the rare occasions he led his guard down. And he seemed lonely.
She knew she was quite brilliant herself, thank you very much, and if she was honest: quite lonely too.
Her friendship with Harry and Ron was all consuming when they were running around together trying to save the world, but now that they had they really didn't have that much in common.
She still loved them and always would, but seeing them once a month was often enough.
She really needed someone in her life that she could discuss books with, talk about research, teaching, politics and all the other subjects she was interested in that the boys made fun of.
Severus Snape just seemed to be that person.
But she never expected to fall in love with him.
She would never tell him of her infatuation, obviously.
She would not want to scare him away. It would never work. He just thought of her as his bookish friend, didn't he? Certainly not as a woman.
So she tried not to think of him as a man as much. A snarky, elegant and sexy man.
No, no that train of thought would have to be abandoned. He was Severus. Severus, her friend.
And when he had told her he was going into the woods to harvest some flowers at midnight to use for his experimental potion, she just went with him because that's what friends do. Besides, she really was interested in his research.
He had tried to dissuade her, but his heart did not seem to be in it and so she persisted.
Some days she thought he enjoyed her company as much as she did his.
They were approaching the clearing now. She could see the white flowers sparkling in the moonlight.
They would have to be quick about it. Harvest about fifty of them and return to the safety of the castle.
They had not spoken a word thus far, hoping not to alert any creature to their presence. Every time they'd heard rustling in the foliage they'd stopped and pointed their wands, only to continue on as nothing jumped out at them.
She knelt down on the right side of the clearing and started cutting of the flowers. Severus was on the other side doing the same.
And then she heard the sound she feared most.
A wolf howling.
As soon as he heard the wolf he was by her side.
Her eyes were wide with panic. Years of hiding his true feelings prevented him from looking the same.
He should have never agreed to her coming along.
He would never forgive himself if something happened to her.
A second cry was heard, this one closer.
'Severus!', she urgently whispered. 'We're an hours walk away. We will never make it!'
He grabbed her hand.
And he started leading her out of the clearing.
'We're going the wrong way!', she said, pulling on his hand. The panic clearly evident in her voice.
He turned to look her in the eyes once more.
'Do you trust me?', he asked in his low drawl.
And to his great surprise he immediately felt her stop her resistance.
'Come with me then.'
They started running through the woods.
The howling became louder.
Twigs were breaking underneath their feet.
They will hear us! he thought, but he didn't dare slow down.
Even through his panic he was still very much aware of her small hand in his. She was half a step behind him and he kept pulling her forward. Not the romantic handholding he had secretly longed for, but it still felt rather nice.
And then it started raining.
That means they can't hear us running anymore! And it makes it harder to smell us as well, she thought.
On the other hand, she couldn't hear them approaching anymore either.
But she could hear them howl. And they were definitely coming closer.
Severus was pulling her along. His long black hair plastered against his neck and raindrops running off of his nose he still looked like he was in control.
And maybe he was.
She did trust him.
But why was he running at that tree? They were going to run into it!
She wanted to yell at him to go right, but just as she opened her mouth she heard a howl so loud it could only mean one thing.
She turned her head around and felt her heart drop into her stomach.
Two yellow eyes were staring at her.
The werewolf was getting ready to pounce.
She turned her head back, expecting to see Severus crash head first into the tree before it was all over.
Instead she collided with his chest.
'Oomph!', he said.
He had turned around, still holding her hand and she'd just crashed into him.
Luckily he remained standing.
Their grasped hands against his chest and his other hand on her hip to steady her.
'Severus! We have to go! We... Are we inside the tree?', she asked.
'So to speak.'
'Oh...', he felt her relax a little bit.
'We're in Dumbledore's cabin, he...'
A loud howl interrupted him.
'The werewolf! There was a wolf right behind us! We have to ward the door!', she cried, trying to pull away from him.
He pulled her closer.
'Shh...', he said into her ear. 'You're save now. No one can enter this cabin unless Dumbledore showed it to them.'
'You were able to enter because you are holding my hand.'
Once he said it he became acutely aware of their still clasped hands.
He expected her to break the connection, but instead she stepped a little bit closer and placed her head against his thundering heart.
'I was so scared...', she whispered, tears now mingling with raindrops on her face.
He rested his chin on top of her head and moved his hand from her hip to the small of her back. 'As was I...', he said so softly she almost didn't hear him.
They stood holding each other until she shivered.
'You should get out of your wet clothes. See if Dumbledore left something to wear.'
He pulled away from her and for a moment she wanted to stop him.
'I'll make us a fire', he said.
She saw him crouching down by the fireplace by the full moon shining trough a small window.
'Why aren't you using your wand?'
'The door is warded with magic, the plumbing is adequate, but other than that magic does not work in here.'
'Dumbledore made it so that magic doesn't work?'. The thought of it was strange.
'He said it was good for some perspective. Crazy old coot.'
When he had the fire going she took a look at their surroundings.
It was quite a small cabin. Or quite big, if you took into account that it all fitted into the tree.
There was only one room, with what she supposed was a small bathroom on the side.
There was a sink, a closet, one chair and one bed.
She opened the closet and found one nightshirt.
'Severus, there's only one shirt.'
'Wear it', he said. Taking off his wet cloak.
'I'll make us some tea while you change.'
She shrugged off her wet clothes and pulled Dumbledore's nightshirt over her head. By the time Severus turned around with two steaming mugs of tea in his hands she was sitting on the rug by the fire with a blanket draped over her shoulders and her wet clothes arranged in front of the fire so they could dry.
'You should take off your wet things too, you know. You'll catch a pneumonia.'
'You could wear a blanket. There's two more on the bed.'
He debated with himself for a minute. He really did not feel like undressing in her presence – well, at least not in the current circumstances – but he was extremely cold and being wet all night did not hold much appeal.
Two minutes later he sat down in the chair by the fire with his tea, feeling the warmth return to his bones, while she created some space where his clothes could dry next to hers.
They sat in silence. Sipping their tea and listening to the sounds of the rain and the wolves howling until she yawned.
'Don't be. It's late. Get some sleep, woman.'
She smiled up at him – she really was they only one who made a habit out of smiling at him; it made him feel a little warmer still – and went over to the bed, arranging her blanket and the remaining one on top of her.
'Good night, Hermione', he said softly.
She didn't reply and he wondered if she had fallen asleep already. Then: 'Aren't you coming?'
Had he heard her right?
'Aren't you coming to bed, Severus? You must be tired too. And the fire will die soon, you'll get cold again.'
'I would not want to make you uncomfortable.'
'Hmm... I won't be when you're over here. When you're over there I feel guilty.'
How to reply? He really should say something witty and stay put. On the other hand; the woman of his most secret dreams had just asked him to join her in bed. What kind of Slytherin would he be passing up an opportunity like that?
'Alright. Close your eyes.'
He placed his blanket on top of the two already covering her and slid in next to her. Careful not to touch her and possibly make her kick him out again.
'Why did I have to close my eyes?'
'Because you have to sleep. You can't sleep with you eyes open.'
'Good night, Severus.'
'Sweet dreams, Hermione.'
She sighed contently and promptly fell asleep.
He must have fallen asleep too, because two hours later he awoke with a start.
The fire had died down and Hermione was sitting up next to him in the bed with her wand pointed at the door.
'Whazzup?' he grumbled way less dignified than he would have wished.
'Severus! They are scratching at the door! They will get in!'
And then he heard it. Sharp nails scratching against the tree.
'Hmm... the rain has stopped. They must smell us better now and know our trail ends here.'
'I know that! What are we going to do?'
She was close to tears now.
'They will kill us!'
'No they won't, they can't get in, remember. They really can't. Even if there was magic strong enough to break Dumbledore's wards – and I sincerely doubt it – wolves can't use magic at all. You know that too. Come here.'
He reached up, took her wand from her hand and placed it on the floor next to him. Then, before he could think about it, he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her down. She was shivering again.
'Get back under the blankets. I really don't wish to lose my... my... you to a pneumonia.'
She snuggled up against him, one ice cold hand on his chest.
He covered it with his own, the other arm still wrapped tightly around her.
They were silent for a while again, while she warmed up.
'I would never want to lose my you either, you know', she whispered, her once again warm fingers trailing from his chest to his face.
She cupped his yaw and made him look down at here. In the little moonlight still shining through the window he saw her eyes sparkling.
'Did you just claim ownership, Severus?'
'Nonsense, I was merely trying to...'
And then she kissed him. She had been insecure for far too long. But now, lying in his arms and knowing that he could not walk away from her for at least a couple more hours, seeing how he had cared for her all night – making her take off her wet clothes, giving her tea, sending her to bed – and then slipping up and calling her his, well, his something, made her think that he must at least care. If he didn't want to be with her, she would get over it, but she had to find out. And when she looked into his eyes in the darkness, she had her answer.
She softly kissed his mouth, trailing her lips across his cheek, down the scar on his neck, over his chest and back up again. The arm that was wrapped around her tightened its grip and she felt herself being rolled over.
And then he kissed her back.
Ever so softly he touched his lips to hers and gently suckled her bottom lip into his mouth. He carefully nipped at it, and laved it with his tongue, while his left leg nestled itself between hers.
Then he abruptly pulled back. The panic he hadn't shown when the wolves came now evident in his eyes.
'Hermione, I wouldn't want...'
'Shh... Severus... I just told you. I would not want to lose my you either. We'll see where this goes. But please', she said, running her fingers down the scars she knew he tried to hide from her when he'd told her to close her eyes earlier, 'please just kiss me again.'
He relaxed and moved towards her again, stroking the hair away from her face.
'Your you,' he whispered against her ear, 'I'd like to be him.'
'And I yours.'