Final chapter! Thanks for all the favourites/alerts and to everyone who has reviewed. A couple of you have your private messages turned off so I haven't been able to reply, but please know that your reviews were cherished!
Love to heartmom88 and ofankoma.
When Hermione awoke, she was annoyed, but not all that surprised, to find several photographers gathered outside the entrance to her block of flats, failing spectacularly at remaining unobtrusive in the distinctly Muggle area. She had known that she was pushing her way back into the spotlight by taking on Snape's book, but she had hoped that the gutter press wouldn't be too interested in the lowly author.
Briefly, she considered lowering the wards around her flat and Apparating directly to work, but decided it would be easier to simply run the gauntlet of assembled paparazzi. Harry, she knew, would go mental if he learned that she had slackened her security the moment she made her way back into the public eye. Besides, the wards would only have to be replaced, and it had taken her ages to tweak hers so they wouldn't interfere with the television reception. Five minutes of aggravation now was far better than a missed episode of Diagnosis: Murder.
They were still there the next morning and, to her growing chagrin, the morning after that. She took to spending a lot more time visiting Harry. Grimmauld Place, despite its many drawbacks, was still blessedly invisible. Now that she was no longer trying to balance working with Snape alongside her actual career, her free time had begun to feel horribly empty once more. She was even considering visiting her parents in Australia, deterred only by the fact that it would only take one look from her mother before the whole embarrassing story of her unrequited feelings for Snape came pouring out.
Maybe she just needed to talk to someone about this. No matter who she told, they'd probably react with horror, or ridicule her so thoroughly that even she'd start to see how ridiculous the whole thing was. She was just considering who would be the best person to confide in, when suddenly the photographers outside erupted into catcalls and the pop! of flashing bulbs. There was a louder bang, and then silence. Two minutes later there was a knock on her door.
It was Snape.
Unlike the photographers, he had obviously realised that she had been unable to ward the entire building without alerting her Muggle neighbours that something odd was afoot, and had probably used a wandless Alohamora on the downstairs keypad. Or the kids from number three had left the front door unlocked again.
Hermione rushed to the window. It was either that or rush to him, a gesture she doubted he'd appreciate. Frowning through the glass she realised that the street below was curiously empty.
"What did you do to them?" She tried to sound disapproving, but somehow ended up sounding envious. It seemed celebrity had not softened his dislike for time wasters.
"Nothing permanent," he sighed. "They'll be back in a couple of hours."
"How do you know my address?" she pressed, watching as his eyes flickered round the small flat.
"It was listed in the phone book, next to your number."
Which rather solved the question of how the photographers from outside were aware of where she lived; officially she was still registered as living with her parents.
As she led the way through to the kitchen, she realised just how much she had missed him. She'd made a passable attempt at not thinking about him after the book launch but having him here, in her rather ordinary Muggle flat, made her feelings rather difficult to ignore. It didn't help that he'd made no attempt whatsoever to disguise himself. His hair fell in its inky curtains on either side of his cleanly shaved face and he was dressed in black – a faintly Muggle ensemble of trousers, shirt and coat, it was true, but the effect was as striking as ever.
Worried that she was about to start staring at him again, she busied herself with making tea. The ordinary variety – she didn't want him knowing that she'd purposely gone out and bought chamomile, even if it was his favourite.
"How's the shop?"
"Bustling," he replied gloomily. "It's inundated by autograph hunters. Takings are through the roof. I've had to hire an underling to man the till while I hide in the back, brewing. If anything, it's worse than when I was hated."
"I'm sure a lot of people still hate you," she assured him, cautiously sniffing the milk.
"Quite," he replied, apparently distracted by the lucky cat waving happily at him from the herb rack.
"I imagine your assistant isn't too pleased at being called an underling for a start."
"Of course you find this amusing. My life isn't my own any more," he complained. "Again," he corrected, taking an offered space at the breakfast bar and glaring at the fruit bowl instead.
The kettle was replaced on the counter with a resounding thud, and Hermione stared at him in dismay as she processed just what she'd done. "I'm so sorry."
"What? No, the book was perfect. It's people who are stupid. I should have realised they'd be like this. Actually I came over here to see if I could thank you properly. Maybe take you to dinner."
She blinked at him in uncertain silence until she realised that his gaze had turned into a glare.
"That would be lovely," she answered faintly.
All the effort with the Sleakeasy's, Hermione decided, had been distinctly Not Worth It. She had expected to receive some attention as they sat together attempting to enjoy their meal, but she hadn't expected the obvious, open-mouthed stares they were receiving from the tables closest. It made any attempts at gauging his feelings about her impossible. His face was completely blank for much of the time, and his answers betrayed his distraction.
Finally, after an excruciatingly uncomfortable hour of small talk and stony silences, he hissed, "How do you bear it?"
"You sort of get used to it, eventually," she sighed. "Does that sound horribly conceited? I realised that you either dealt with the stares or you allowed it to drive you insane. Harry wouldn't leave the house for a little while. It put his whole life on hold."
"You tackled it head on," he reminded her, refilling her wine glass. "You were one of the founding writers for the Standard."
"And you published your account of what actually happened." She held up her hand, preventing him from filling her glass to the brim. She'd filled a lot of the silences by drinking and was conscious that she still had to Apparate home. "No one else even thought about doing it. We wouldn't have been able to go through it all again. We were all so busy trying to move on that I think we chose to forget a lot of it."
"I had a lot of time to think about things. It's hard to move on with your life when you're mostly paralysed." He topped up his own glass and took a sip. "At the time, it was difficult to have nothing but those memories to hold on to."
That was the most detail he had ever gone into about the time he spent in St Mungo's after the war; it hurt to remember that his suffering had continued long after the rest of them had begun to pick up the pieces of their lives.
"But I made you relive all of it, didn't I? I didn't really consider what I would be doing to you. Can you forgive me for that, Hermione?"
"Of course!" she protested. "I think it helped me just as much to realise why we had to go through all of that. At the time it was simply because we knew that no one else could. Understanding the reasons behind all the decisions that were taken made their consequences a little easier to bear." She toyed with the stem of her wine glass as she continued. "Seeing you, talking to you this often – I don't dream about you dying anymore."
It was funny; all those weeks spent together and this was the first time either of them had spoken quite like this. Perhaps it was the wine or the candlelight, but the restaurant seemed to have faded away, leaving a different level of intimacy behind than there had ever been at his kitchen table. It wasn't exactly comfortable, their conversation was too raw for that, but Hermione found herself wanting to explore it further.
A clatter of cutlery from the next table over brought her back to earth with a jolt. Snape leant back in his chair, away from her, and folded his arms across his chest. The moment was gone.
Hermione felt oddly bereft. She spoke quickly, unwilling to say goodbye to this new understanding.
"Maybe we can try this again some time. Go somewhere quieter?"
After the days spent in Snape's little kitchen above the shop, the newspaper office seemed irritatingly crowded and noisy. Maybe, if her fledgling career as an author didn't take off, she should consider working freelance, instead. She knew that Luna would be happy to accept her work, and wouldn't it just be marvellous to sell her pieces to the Prophet? How many noses would that put out of joint? And perhaps more importantly, how wonderful would it be to ensure that thoroughly researched, properly written news reached such a wide circulation?
She was idly daydreaming of accidentally forcing Rita Skeeter out of work for good, when Colin from the Sports Section perched on the side of her desk.
"So, what's the deal with you and Snape?" He demanded without preamble.
He dropped a copy of the Prophet onto her desk, folded his arms across his chest and grinned. Hermione picked it up gingerly and smoothed it out. She hadn't even glanced at the Prophet in years for this very reason; there on the front cover was a picture of the two of them, her and Snape, at dinner. She watched the black and white photograph of herself reaching across the table to cover his hand with hers. She didn't even recall touching him. There were so many little touches between them now, brushing hands, holding her elbow as they walked. The picture, though, looked incredibly intimate. Maybe it was the candlelight, or maybe the fact that each of them was so focussed on the other that neither had spotted the camera. Maybe it was the fact that he hadn't pulled away.
They really did look as if they were on a date.
It was quite an effort to pull her eyes away from the image. She didn't even have to glance at the article to know what it said. The sad part was, though it was as inaccurate as all the other stories about her that had made their way into print, this was a story she desperately wished to be true.
"This is the first time we'd really met since the book launch," she explained quietly. "He just bought me dinner as a thank you."
"Really? You still expected a thank you on top of the introduction he wrote for you?"
She looked up at that. "What?"
"Look, Hermione. Bertie isn't going to be in for the rest of the afternoon. Why don't you go home and think about all this before the Howlers start to arrive?" He dropped his voice. "And before Sandra finds an excuse to start interrogating you."
Normally, Hermione was loath to take guidance from a man who followed the International Gobstones circuit with genuine interest, but for once his advice seemed sound. There wasn't really much else for her to do that day, else she would never have indulged in daydreaming at work. She gathered up her things. Colin kindly didn't even murmur as she slipped the paper into her bag.
The copy of Triptych was on the coffee table where she had left it, only partially buried beneath a snow of magazines and other detritus. On the inside back cover was a smaller picture of her looking calm and serious in her work robes.
Hermione Granger, often referred to as the Brains of the Golden Trio, was a pivotal player in the closing stages of the Second War. Close to Harry Potter since their first year together in Hogwarts, it was she who stayed by his side throughout his hunt for He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named's Horcruxes and personally destroyed one during the Final Battle. She currently is on the staff at the Evening Standard and is known for her campaigning over Rights and Registration. This is her first book.
Really, it was a little damning to see her life condensed into a few short lines. At least they hadn't succumbed to the urge to comment on the Muggle-born status, though there were few indeed who weren't aware of that already.
Flipping the book over, she turned past the fly-leaf and the copyright details in search of Colin's introduction.
She almost missed it. The introduction was the one she'd seen Snape write weeks ago and it wasn't until she flicked back a few pages that she found the dedication. She hadn't realised that he planned to use one and she read the two brief lines in interest and then once again, her heart thumping painfully in her chest. By the fifth read she suddenly understood Colin's sly smile.
For Lilia and Lutria.
One gave me the courage to die; the other the strength to live.
The Lily and the Otter.
Anyone with a rough knowledge of the war and a tentative grasp of the bastardised Latin commonly used by the wizarding world could easily work it out. For a man as cagey with the truth as Severus Snape, he was almost shouting his intentions from the rooftops. For goodness sake, he'd laughed like a drain when she'd admitted that her Patronus shape had been listed on the limited edition Chocolate Frog card each of the Order had received along with their Orders of Merlin.
Yet did it mean what the gossip columnists of the Prophet wanted it to mean? He had told her that Lily, though important to him, had not represented the romantic ideal that everyone else had thought. Of course she'd assumed he was lying, but now she wasn't so sure. Perhaps she, too, was simply a friend.
Hermione sat very still, the tastefully bound book still open on her knee.
Going by the press coverage the two of them had received, there could be little doubt that everyone else thought it had meant something far, far more. Maybe this was another little joke, played on those who presumed they had all the facts, like all those Polyjuiced shop assistants. Yet he wouldn't make a joke at the expense of her feelings, would he? Unless he presumed she was in on it?
If – and she was only considering this because that's what Bertie was forever reminding her to do, consider all the angles – if he had meant it as a . . . declaration, he must be thoroughly confused by her lack of response. He had been the one to contact her after the book launch, after all. He had invited her out to dinner.
She closed the book and turned it over. His photograph, still immobile, still scowling, stared back at her.
They'd become close – of course they had. She's been quite happy insinuating herself into his daily routine, his tiny kitchen, and his biscuit tin, right up until the moment when she'd realised just how much he'd come to mean to her. She knew him well enough to know that he wouldn't have had any qualms about telling her, had her presence been unwelcome. He'd never once implied that he resented her almost constant presence. He'd been the one to suggest she return to him with each completed chapter, as well. She'd been so ridiculously grateful for those extra afternoons, tucked away in his little flat, that she'd never even considered that they might have been about more than editorial control.
If it hadn't been for that awful book launch, she might have let herself believe that he was beginning to feel the same way, but that was before he'd been swarmed by all those attractive women who must have left him in no doubt that he could do a lot better than her.
Hermione traced her finger across his picture, following the curve of his eyebrow then the distinctive hook of his nose and wished that, just for once, Snape didn't have to be so damn enigmatic.
Hermione spent the next few days ignoring the continued, if dwindling, presence of the press camped outside her building. They'd been moved along twice by the Muggle police already, and she was just waiting for the first unregulated Obliviate before she called the Aurors to arrest all of them – Harry had implied he was simply waiting for her Floo. She also practised the dubious art of deflecting all Snape-based questions from her friends and colleagues, attempting to simultaneously act as though she had been aware of the rumours all along, then discredit them, aiming for somewhere between flattered and bemused. She doubted she was very convincing.
The rest of the time was given over to the sort of inane pondering that she hadn't indulged in since she was sixteen: did Snape like her? And, if so, did he like her like her, or merely like her? And just how much fretting was she allowed to do before he grew bored and consoled himself with a Lavender Brown? (Not the Lavender Brown, of course, now Lavender O'Leary. She'd married her Healer just months after being discharged from St Mungo's and was disgustingly happy, if the hand made Christmas cards with their obligatory photos of her ever expanding brood were anything to go by.)
The worst part was, she knew she was acting like a ninny. All she had to do was sit him down and ask him, and if that proved too difficult, she could always kiss the man. Cosmo and Company were in agreement that men liked women who made the first move, and although she couldn't imagine that any of their writers had ever met a man quite like Snape, if he did leapt away from her in disgust, then she'd at least have her answer.
By the time the evening of their next – date seemed a little too optimistic at this point and assignation more hopeful still – their next meeting arrived, Hermione had finally done with fretting and come to a decision.
She was going to give herself one last chance.
One last chance to ascertain Snape's intentions towards her, before she gave up on the whole silly idea. She owed it to herself to find out. This wasn't school – even if he felt warmly towards her as a friend, with the book done there was no longer any reason for her to try and live in his pockets. She couldn't just drift along, hoping that he might start to notice her . . .
One last chance.
And when she buggered that up, she still had nearly two weeks holiday left to spend licking her wounds in Australia, eating her Mum's cooking.
He arrived at exactly five to seven, looking neat and elegant in dark blue robes. The colour sat beautifully against his pale complexion, evening out his skin tones and making his dark eyes darker still. The bottle of wine under his arm completed the radiant vision.
"I thought we could stay in," she breezed, reminding herself to breathe. "That's if you don't mind. There are several really good takeaways round here. I thought we could order something in and let them photograph someone else for a change."
She regretted her flippant tone when he frowned, looking slightly pained. "I am so sorry if I've caused you any extra discomfort," he apologised gravely. "I know that you've tried to avoid the press."
"It's been worth it," she assured him, taking the wine and standing aside to let him into the flat.
She'd planned carefully. With no dining table, their choice of seating was either the breakfast bar – decidedly unromantic – or the sofa, which had the same drawback of forcing them to sit facing in the same direction rather than towards one another. Choosing the sofa gave them the option of watching a film, should the conversation fall flat, and the large coffee table held a lot of food. The lighting had taken her a while to perfect – the candles had made it look as if she was trying a bit too hard and besides, she wasn't technically allowed them in the flat – and the careful mood lighting charm she'd discovered in Witch Weekly had been even worse. Eventually she'd settled on the standard lamp in the corner and the light on the extractor fan over the oven. If the latter was a little too stark to be considered romantic, it was at least bright enough to ensure she didn't fall over anything on her way to the fridge.
Snape was happy to let her place the food order – whether from lack of experience or previously latent good manners, she couldn't tell – and he didn't seem to notice that she had ordered enough to feed herself on leftovers for the rest of the week. He placed a little bit of everything on his plate as she poured the wine, and after the tiniest bit of prompting, gave her an update on the comings and goings at the little shop and the denizens of Knockturn Alley with whom she'd become familiar during their time together. Hermione found herself asking questions about the regular customers and realised, to her dismay, that she had begun to miss them as well. Luckily the conversation moved on to the latest Ministry gossip before he could ask her about her week, as she didn't think he needed to know quite how much of her free time had been spent fretting over him. In fact, when she made a point of forgetting about the way his voice made her want to shiver or the fact that his cologne made her mouth water each time he shifted on the sofa, it was still surprisingly easy to talk to him. So easy, in fact, that she began to question the sense in risking such a lovely, unexpected friendship.
After a while the conversation meandered back to her work and she finally told him about the ultimatum Bertie had delivered on the very day that Snape had phoned with his bizarre tip off.
"You were my last chance," she admitted, twirling noodles round her fork. "You worked out surprisingly well."
He chuckled at that, deep in his throat, and Hermione found herself pushing on. "I wanted to ask you about the dedication."
And with that, the sense of relaxed reflection vanished and she became very aware that she was curled up next to Snape on her tiny sofa, bare feet tucked up underneath her, her knee pressed gently against his thigh.
"I wondered what you meant by it."
"I didn't mean to be presumptuous. I might have been your last chance, but you were the first real hope I'd had that there might possibly be a place for me in a world no longer at war."
Which was really rather lovely. Hermione found herself blinking up at him, not quite trusting her voice to reply just then. It was sad, of course, just like everything else he had told her during their time together, but lovely all the same.
"Thank you," she whispered.
The conversation had taken a more serious turn, straying into the same territory they had brushed against in the restaurant, and Hermione was conscious of the same feeling of prickling tension under her skin. Talking candidly with Snape was akin to standing on a precipice, contemplating the fall. That dizzying, breath-stealing feeling of dry-mouthed exhilaration. She surmised from the sudden tension in his shoulders the he seemed to feel it, too.
She took another step closer to the edge. "I was so pleased that you thought of me as a friend."
"Friends," he repeated, and Hermione found herself praying that she hadn't imagined the wistfulness in his reply. "Yes, of course."
Decision made, she took his plate out of his hands and placed it carefully on the low coffee table. He neither resisted nor questioned her, but sat very, very still. She watched in fascination as his Adam's apple bobbed when he swallowed.
"Yes. But I was rather hoping I could convince you to be more than that."
He sent her a glance, so quick and furtive that she didn't even attempt to read it, and his shoulders straightened almost imperceptibly. Hermione was certain that if he wasn't Severus Snape he would be fiddling nervously with the cuffs of his shirt. When he spoke he addressed the coffee table, but his voice was carefully light.
"You don't owe me anything."
"That's probably vastly untrue," she mused, "but that isn't why I offered."
He looked up again, this time holding her gaze until her own resolve began to falter. She had been so certain that, for once, the rumours had been true.
"It wouldn't be a good idea, Hermione. I don't exactly have the best track record. I'm not really what you want."
He spoke with a curious detachment, like he had when she had first interviewed him, his answer sounding oddly rehearsed. Hermione wondered if he'd prepared for this moment as carefully as their first meeting. Maybe he'd had a chance to practice it at the book launch after she'd snuck home.
She'd never been any good at disguising her emotions, not like him. The sudden pain must had been written clearly on her face as he relented slightly, shifting to cover her hand with his.
"You don't know what you're asking."
The temptation to twist her wrist and entwine her fingers with his was strong, but she knew this gesture – she'd used it with him a hundred times by now – an ineffectual mix of comfort and apology. Then his thumb began to stroke the back of her hand.
"I think I know better than anyone. All the things you've told me. All the things you didn't tell me. All the additional research I couldn't stop myself from doing."
It was another confession – of course she'd looked into his life beyond his role during the wars – and he must have known what she would find. The lonely, wretched childhood he'd left behind. The full extent of his misery at school. The rumours that had plagued him throughout his career, ensuring he never had the opportunity to leave Dumbledore's side. He must also know that she knew all that already, yet was still asking for more.
She edged towards him, still horribly unsure. He watched her as she moved closer, not moving away, but not exactly welcoming her either. She pulled away with a sigh. She had been so sure.
She was tidying the kitchen when she heard his approach. That in itself was telling; he could glide as silently as any ghost when he chose, though what it meant, she had no idea. She was confused and horribly close to tears, appalled that she had misread his signals so wildly and devastated that she might have done irrevocable damage to their unexpected, yet cherished friendship.
There was only so much time you could realistically spend on dishes when you had magic, so she turned to face him, resigned to meet whatever brush-off he gave her with as much dignity as possible. The look on his face was strangely intense and, looking up, she realised that he was standing just that fraction too close. She would only have to inch forward to press her damp hands against his chest, and the subtle scent of his cologne was already enveloping her, teasing and dizzying.
"Sev—" she began sadly, only to have her words cut short as he closed the space between them and pressed his lips to hers.
His hands reached up to lightly hold her face. He tilted her head back gently, and she opened to him, conscious only of his mouth, his fingers on her skin and the sudden tattoo of her pulse as it thrummed through her body. The kiss was gentle, slow and thorough, and when he gently sought entrance to her mouth, she could taste the sweet-sour tang of the wine they'd just shared on his tongue.
She shivered beneath him, her hands by her sides, still clutching the tea towel.
He pulled away, breaking the strange spell that had held her captive before him. "Is this what you want?" he asked.
"Almost," she whispered, reaching up onto her tip toes to kiss him back, the tea towel forgotten on the floor as she tangled her fingers in his hair.
It was strange, having a man in her bedroom. She realised now that she had only ever had boys in her bed until she had persuaded Severus to follow her home. She wondered distantly if that thought should worry her, yet it simply added to the mounting feeling of nervous anticipation that seem to grow with each kiss, each steady caress.
She had planned it all so carefully, though she hadn't really believed it might actually come to this. Everything tidy, her grown up sheets on the bed, the old teddy bear that had survived six years in Hogwarts hidden at the bottom of her trunk now relegated to the bottom of the wardrobe. The discarded candles from the front room had been carefully placed around that she could light in a heartbeat. Now, as his kisses grew more demanding, she didn't spare them a thought.
Despite the urgency of his attentions, there was nothing rushed in his actions. His carefully controlled ministrations had her writhing against him in frustration. Occasionally he would draw back slightly, as if giving her space to pull away, chuckling when she invariably surged against him, closing the distance between them.
She had hoped, naively, to seduce him. They hadn't made it further than the doorway, and yet it was already obvious that it would be he who was seducing her. The realisation made her stomach flutter uncontrollably. She let him take the lead, helpless to do anything but submit to his every embrace. She would never dare admit it, but he could do with her as he wished. There was nothing she could refuse him now.
He undressed her slowly, carefully, his eyes never straying from hers for more than a few moments, slowly peeling her clothes away, revealing the skin beneath, inch by torturous inch. She knew she was artless in her response, her hands following no set pattern as they roamed across his chest, just desperate to touch him, all of him. Her fingers fumbled with the buttons of his robe and then again with those of the shirt beneath. Eventually she conceded defeat and let her hands trail across the thin cotton instead, marvelling at the heat of his skin beneath the cloth.
It was mostly dark in her room, the curtains closed, what little light there was, falling from the sitting room through the open door, yet it was enough to see the carefully guarded expression on his face as he pulled away to unbutton his shirt. Her fingers trailed after his, lightly stroking each new piece of skin as it was exposed. Once enough of the buttons were undone she replaced her fingers with her mouth and was rewarded with a quiet gasp as her tongue darted out from between her lips to taste the hollow at the base of his throat.
His actions became less hesitant after that and once his shirt had joined her pretty lace top on the floor he let her guide him to the edge of the bed. She watched as he slipped off his shoes and socks, his face hidden by the heavy fall of his hair, his skin pale in the soft light. It might have been the shadows, but she was certain she could make out the faintest smudge on his forearm, where his Dark Mark used to rest. If she brushed his hair aside she knew she would find the scar on his throat, the one he had never offered to show her, even when they discussed the cause. She understood his hesitance then – his body bore testament to every piece of evil he had been exposed to, each leaving its mark upon his flesh. Her hand flew unconsciously to her own throat and the silver line at its base, the legacy of Bellatrix Lestrange's knife, and she felt a surge of incredible tenderness towards him.
She unhooked her bra, letting it fall beside his neatly arranged shoes, smiling as his eyes whipped up to meet hers and leaning in to kiss him.
He touched her almost reverently at first before allowing her weight to carry them both down onto the bed. Then, their gentle touches translated into an undignified scramble to rid themselves and each other of the rest of their clothes, kicking off trousers and twisting out of underwear, shivering together at the sensation of newly exposed skin meeting skin.
She would have loved to have taken the time to explore him, to learn to navigate the sharp contours of his body, but that would simply have to wait. Now, she was too consumed by her need for him to wait any longer.
Even then he was gentle, sinking into her so slowly that she found herself bucking against him, pleading in whispers for more, please, just more. His hips began to move in earnest and neither spoke after that, too intent on the movement of their bodies and the play of lips and teeth over skin.
At some point, the door closed itself and the little tealight on her dressing table flared briefly before settling into an ember-like glow. It was sweetly serene, lying there, drifting off only to wake herself to reach out and touch him, smiling with each confirmation that he was really there, in her bed. His long hair spilt across the pillow, tickling her face, and his steady, warm breath chased across her skin.
She explored him gently with her fingertips, not wanting to wake him, from the delicate ridge of his collarbone down through the sparse hair on his chest. With her eyes more accustomed to the soft light, she was aware that his skin was more marked than she had first believed, yet less than she might have guessed. Considering their long ago conversations about the war, she realised that she probably knew the story behind every cut and scar on his body. After that it was easy to overlook them – they didn't define him, after all. What intrigued her more was the silken softness of the skin at his hips and the feel of his muscles tensing briefly, each place she touched. Retracing her path up his chest she raised her chin, smiling when she realised that he was watching her explorations.
He reached up, pushing her hair back from her face and smiled. It was that same teasing half-smile that stole the harshness from his face and left him boyish, his normal defences having slipped, and like before, it stole her breath away. His fingers brushed the shell of her ear, making her shiver, before slipping down across her throat to skim across her chest. Hermione let her eyes drift shut as she enjoyed the warm tingling each precise touch elicited from her skin, her hands moving of their own accord to mirror each move he made.
At some point, their casual touches became more intense and their play turned earnest as mouths met and fingers grasped. Their coupling was less frantic this time, less needy, and more focussed on the slowly building pleasure between them. She heard herself whispering his name, over and over, and it never occurred to her that she should stop.
As she lay in his arms, her racing heart reluctant to slow, Hermione wondered if perhaps she was too happy. It seemed as though it couldn't be real. Everything that she had wanted – everything that she had needed – had been gifted to her by the man sprawled inelegantly beside her. And what a man – he was perhaps the noblest man she knew, definitely the most loyal. It hardly made sense for someone as ordinary as herself to fit into his world of promises kept and debts repaid.
A terrible thought made her freeze
"I never asked," she whispered. "Is this what you want?"
He stared at her in silence for a few moments before silently slipping from the bed. She watched him go sadly, struggling to keep her face neutral. If he wished to leave, it was better that she let him go than try to force him to stay against his will. She had been the one, after all, to offer herself without demanding commitment. Really, since the very moment she had answered the phone all those weeks before, he had always seemed too good to be true
He picked his discarded robe up from the back of the chair, but rather than shrugging it back on, he reached inside the pocket to retrieve his wand.
The plume of silvery mist that erupted from the tip of his wand didn't quite coalesce into a recognisable shape, yet there was something hauntingly familiar in the way that it twisted and gambolled through the semi-darkness of the room.
"Well," she breathed. "Fuck."
So there you go . . .