A/N Big thank you to Petite Mule for giving me a really great piece of advice on this chapter :) You're the best!

Also, title is from:

"Morning without you is a dwindled dawn." - Emily Dickinson

Disclaimer: See Chapter 1

Chapter 37: A Dwindled Dawn

When Hermione woke, she found herself filled with the sweetest physical ache imaginable. She felt sated, complete, and whole in a way she couldn't remember ever feeling in her life. The memories of last night flooded her senses in an overwhelming and simultaneous fashion; all of a sudden, she could smell the glorious maleness of Severus' skin, the way it had bathed her in its muskiness until her own was barely distinguishable. She could hear his silky baritone vibrating in her ear, rumbling down into her chest and settling in her core with a low smooth humming. And his hands; sweet Merlin, his exquisite hands. The way they had roamed, fondled, pinched, soothed and excited sent tremors of arousal shuddering through her at the mere remembrance of it.

He had taken her outside of herself; he had emptied her out and filled her up again, had turned her into something other than herself. That night, he had been the sculptor and she the malleable clay, shaped and fired at his hands, his lips, his cock.

It was the most singular - transcendent - experience of her life and she had no frame of reference to compare it to.

Hermione found herself assaulted with a deliciously-welcomed herbal scent of sandalwood, and she carefully turned her head to the other side, barely breathing as she took in the sleeping face of Severus Snape.

He appeared at least ten years younger; the weary lines and wrinkles of his pale face completely smoothed over in sleep, the perpetual frown and stern set of his lips entirely gone. He looked... content; content and satisfied. The realization of it brought a sad smile to Hermione's face as she watched him sleep. It wasn't fair; none of it was fair, and a flare of anger and resentment towards the headmaster ripped through her as she continued looking at the professor, barely taking a breath while she clocked the steady inhale and exhale motion of that smooth, alabaster chest.

He looked like a god in slumber, an idol in repose and Hermione wanted nothing more than to wake him with a few strategically placed kisses across his torso. But looking past him and out the high window of the room, she could see the salmon tinge of dawn creeping its way across the Scotland sky and knew - at once - that she needed to leave. The boys would be up any minute and wondering where she was; they would probably raise hell and rip the castle apart stone by stone if she missed their meeting in the Common Room.

With a horrible pang deep in her chest that she struggled to ignore, Hermione silently slid out of the bed and tiptoed to her discarded clothes. She replaced her dress and robes as quietly as she could, keeping her heels in hand, and took one last look at Severus. Seeing a piece of loose parchment by the books on his nightstand, she contemplated leaving a note. But what would she say? What could she say that wouldn't come off as trite or patronizing or insincere? How could she convey in a note all the things she wanted to tell him to his face? It was utterly impossible and yet... she couldn't bring herself to leave him in complete silence either. Wavering back and forth for a minute, long enough for him to shift in his sleep, Hermione finally pointed her wand at the parchment, frowning as the wholly inadequate words appeared before her.

She took another final look at Severus, every fiber of her being urging her to remove her clothes and slip back into bed at his side, curling up into his form until the outside world faded away.

Unbidden, an image of Harry fluttered determinedly through her mind; his expression was the same one he'd held the previous day during the feast as he looked up at the school. She had a job to do; they all had a job to do. They had responsibilities to the war, to the cause, to each other; she couldn't break now, when they hadn't even started yet. The boys needed her; abandoning Harry because she didn't want to leave Severus' side was simply not an option. And despite what people constantly said about her intelligence, she could not think of a way to satisfy both causes.

Severus would have to understand; he'd just have to understand and forgive her for this.

She hoped he would forgive her for this.

When Severus opened his eyes (the bright morning sunlight an abhorrent irritant which caused him to resolutely snap them shut again), it was with the immediate sense that the witch was gone. That realization was instantly followed by a feeling of self-repugnance that his skills as a spy had fallen so low in the face of the deeply satisfied slumber he had succumbed to that she'd been able to slip out without him waking. Severus could not remember ever having had such a contented and rested sleep in his long life. At some point - he could not remember exactly when - he had finally removed his hands from the witch and allowed her to drift off to sleep. He'd watched her for a time, marveling at this feisty, enticing and thoroughly arousing creature that had -somehow - found her way to his bed. He had half-seriously considered binding her to the bedposts, both to torment her further when she woke and to prevent her escape should he also fall asleep.

He should have followed his instincts, he thought wryly as his hand explored the mattress at his side, eyes still refusing to open fully in the harsh summer sunlight.

She wasn't there; of course, the witch wasn't there. His senses had not fallen that far.

Reluctantly, Severus opened his eyes, running a hand over his face, cock twitching to life as he took in the traces of the girl's musky scent on his fingers. With a growl, he swung his legs off the side of the bed, standing and moving towards the bathroom, something twinging painfully in him as he noticed the bare floor where that delightful sundress and her Slytherin-green underthings had been discarded the night before. With an irrational sense of hope, he entered the bathroom, thinking he would perhaps - perhaps - find her lazing quietly in the tub.

It was an even more irrational disappointment that assaulted him at the sight of his dry and empty bathtub.

He relieved himself, determinedly avoiding the mounting sense of nausea and loss that was taking hold in his gut. So that's the way of it, he thought with a mental snarl as he flushed the toilet and moved to attend to his teeth. Brushing them aggressively while he sneered at his own sated and thoroughly debauched visage in the mirror, he was gripped with a sudden anger towards the girl. So she had, in fact, played him for a fool. Perhaps it was - as he had privately feared - simply a schoolgirl crush, inflamed by the sense of taboo involved in desiring the most undesirable teacher Hogwarts had to offer. And he had stupidly offered to 'court' her! It was a phrase he had never in his life used and he had used it on her. And for what? to be played for a fool by yet another Gryffindor witch? this one even more insufferable than the last?

"Our agreement stands,"; the memory of her sweet voice as she'd made the statement taunted him, and Severus spat viciously into the sink as he rinsed his mouth. She was probably having a good laugh at his expense at that very moment; perhaps her actions had even been some kind of retribution for his treatment of her through the years... treatment that he'd fully intended to apologize for in the most depraved manner he could conceive of.

Some small part of his brain nudged at him with the thought that she wouldn't do something so lacking in feeling, that it simply wasn't in her nature. It told him he was being unfair, that perhaps there was more at play here than what he knew. That part of his mind tossed out image after image of the witch; the sound of her gasps every time he had sunk into her glorious depths, the look on her face each time he had brought her to completion, the feel of her fingers and nails digging into his skin - the tiny crescent marks plainly visible in his reflection this morning. It all bespoke of an entirely different logic, some alternate reality of which he was only the least bit aware.

As his mind courted these possibilities, his wounded pride and sense of indignation rose up once more, ruthlessly and brutally knocking each recollection down and back until all he was filled with was that consuming fury, tinged with an all too familiar humiliation that twisted his gut.

Snarling once again at his own image, cursing his stupidity and weakness in succumbing to her wiles, he strode back out into his bedroom. Stalking back towards the bed, he caught sight of her neat, no-nonsense handwriting out of the corner of his eye and warily walked to his nightstand as though he were approaching a band of centaurs.

The anger flared into a howling rage, surging up his chest and exploding in a crescendo of indignant fury at the base of his skull. With a hiss of impatience, he jabbed a finger at the parchment, watching it go up in flames. It hardly did any good; the fury did not abate in the slightest even as the words were reduced to ashes and Vanished with another wave of his hand.

Hermione was trying very hard not to panic; she was trying very hard not to glance back at the castle as she and the boys made their way down to the Apparition point, their constant chatter nearly driving her mad. Her every instinct told her to turn back, to go and apologize, to make amends, to at least speak with him before leaving.

It was an internal battle she'd been fighting since leaving his chambers that morning; twice, she'd nearly turned back as she approached Gryffindor Tower. And even when she'd met up with the boys and they were gathering the last of their things, still she considered running back down to the dungeons, slipping away from the boys on some pretense of meeting them at the gates. It was pointless and irrational, since she knew that if she did go back, Severus would not allow her to leave his sight without an explanation. And no explanation she could possibly think up at the moment would satisfy him.

And so she'd remained seated on the couch in the deserted common room, tapping her feet and jiggling her knees nervously as the boys finished collecting their things, wondering if he had woken yet, whether he'd seen her note, what he was thinking.

She barely heard a word they said as she numbly followed them out of the Tower, through the halls and out one of the side entrances, merely nodding and shaking her head whenever she figured it was appropriate. She bit her trembling bottom lip until it bled, the metallic tang of the blood in her mouth a welcome distraction from the taste of him that she was suddenly assailed with. Her mind threw up every taste memory she had of him - his salty skin, honey mouth, and the indefinable taste of his cock - as though it was also trying to convince her to turn back. Hermione bit her lower lip even harder in response, swallowing down the warm, salty blood to distance herself from those recollections.

The boys - a few paces ahead of her - were far too excited and nervous about their impending journey to notice anything off in their friend, chattering away as they lumbered down the slopes towards the gate.

It seemed like the longest walk, like the walk of someone condemned, Hermione thought with a slightly melodramatic air as the tall wrought-iron gates came into view. What was she doing? Why was she doing this? He was going to hate her; Severus was going to hate her for this. Her mind desperately threw out impossible solution after impossible solution as they exited the school grounds, Hermione's panic escalating wildly to the point where she thought she might actually lose consciousness if her heart didn't stop beating so furiously.

He'll never forgive me, she thought dejectedly, a tear working its way down her cheek as she took one last glance at the castle before Harry's hand landed on her arm and the nauseating jerk of Apparition took hold.

A/N And with that, my friends, we come to the end of Part I. I know this is an oddly unresolved place to end it and I had originally intended to keep this as one long, novel-length story, but I find that this is a natural stopping point for the time being.

Part II is almost completely outlined and quite a bit has been written on it as well so no need to worry about the story being abandoned. I do want to get a bit ahead on the writing though as it is currently kind of patchy, i.e. full chapters are written that are not meant to take place until the middle of the story. So, I'm going to try and get at least the first five or ten chapters done before I start posting. Hopefully, this will happen sometime in late-February or early-March.

Given that it will be started as a new story, I urge you all to click the "Author Alert" button down there so that you're notified when I begin posting; if you just have a "Story Alert" on this one, you won't know when Part II goes up.

Questions that will be answered in Part II:

- Will Severus recover his memories? How will it happen? And what kind of confrontation will it bring about between him and the headmaster?

- What will happen between Severus and Hermione? Can he forgive her for her actions? How will she explain herself? And what did her note say?

- How will the search for the Horcruxes progress? Will it change and alter the trio's relationship with one another?

- Will the Order become involved in the search? How will Dumbledore justify his actions?

Let me say, once again how appreciative and humbled I am by the support and encouragement I've found here. You all make me smile and I certainly hope you will follow me as I see "Purpose" through to the end.

P.S. I won't be completely silent; I have a story that's been niggling at me for months now and I'm going to try and punch it out in the interim period... It will probably be a short-med length one and I hope to hear your thoughts on it :)

All the best,