A/N: Huge thanks go to my beautiful alpha, Sixpence Jones, and the equally wonderful Melusin for her super fast beta skillz. Any remaining mistakes are mine.
Sorry it's taken me so long to get this chapter published! Blame real life and the need to work.
"Will you let me keep coming to see you like this?"
How could she deny him that? Moreover, how could she deny herself? What would her life at Hogwarts be like without his visits? They had been friends – tentative friends, perhaps, but definitely enjoying one another's company – for some time now. When she thought back to the time before she had persuaded him to follow her back from that staff meeting, she had the suspicion that she'd been much lonelier than she had admitted, even to herself.
Even her quarters were a friendlier place since his arrival. Strange, considering his reputation for unfriendliness, but true all the same.
Somehow, his presence had gone a long way to transform her small office from the institutional, white-washed cubbyhole that had confronted her upon her arrival to the homely little space that now greeted her at the end of each day. She had never been the sort to collect ornaments, but now her shelves teemed with assorted objects d'art. Crystal phials, tiny scales that dealt in feather weights, measures carved from polished stone, and bundles of old parchment all vied for space with her text books, several shelves of old Muggle paperbacks and some of the more esoteric Potions texts she'd bought for Snape's perusal. The little room had a very homey feel to it now, as if she had lived there far longer than four short terms. Her bedroom, in comparison, had all the personality of a mid-price hotel room. If it weren't for the photo of her parents beside her bed, the room could have belonged to anyone.
Yes, Snape's awkward visits had somehow made her more at home in the castle than she ever had been in her shared dormitory as a student. Sharing her space with him had made it somehow more her own. The expectation of a visitor meant that she always had a packet of biscuits in her desk and fresh flowers by the window.
There were other differences, too. She never bothered to make a pot of tea for just herself, preferring to summon drinks from the kitchens, one cup at a time. Elf-made tea might taste better than anything she could produce by her tiny sink, but the gentle process of warming the pot and measuring the leaves had a soothing appeal all of its own. Now, the time-honoured ceremony had the additional benefit of allowing her a few minutes to marshal her thoughts.
The last few days, when she had believed that she had somehow lost him, had been so very sad. Perhaps she ought to be angry with him for putting her through something like that, but she was too happy to have him back to allow any crossness to ruin the evening. Besides, any anger she may have felt would have to war with the sudden, overwhelming feeling of nervousness that caused her hand to tremble slightly as she lifted the dainty cover from the milk jug.
Hermione had been fifteen when the Triwizard Tournament had last visited Hogwarts. It had been an overblown, anxious affair, full of needless danger. For Hermione, it had also been something of an awakening. At the Yule Ball, which she had attended with an internationally renowned athlete, dressed in periwinkle blue dress robes, she had announced her arrival, not only as a woman, but as a witch. No longer playing at magic in her plain school robes, but ready to take her place amongst the pure-bloods, champions, scholars and politicians whose eyes were drawn to her. Krum, her escort, had been quietly appreciative, but it was the looks she had drawn from others – half-incredulous, half-admiring – that had affected her most. In that moment, twirling gracefully on the dance floor, she had felt the first inklings of the sort of power a woman could hold. Later, Ron had punctured her fragile new self-confidence rather abruptly, but even that bitter sting had held something of a triumph. Despite her initial conviction that she must have been mistaken, there was no denying that he had been jealous.
Before the combination of Ronald Weasley, too much sugary punch, and an excess of wild, tangling new emotions had managed to ruin her night, there had been another moment of discovery. It had come after she and Viktor had stepped outside the Great Hall to escape the heat and the press of the festivities. They had wandered down the silent corridors: at first at ease with one another, then with growing tension. Hermione had become increasingly aware that their previous dynamic – mostly consisting of her studying and his observing – was about to change. They had seated themselves on a plinth beneath a statue and begun to talk. Slowly, Viktor's hand had slid towards hers until their fingers were just touching. Fully aware of what was happening and not entirely certain if she wished to proceed, she had watched and waited in almost breathless anticipation as he had inched towards her. By the time his eyes had become heavy and his lips parted, giving him a slow, sleepy appearance, she had decided that, yes, it was about time that something like this happened to her.
The waiting had been the worst part. The shock of his mouth against hers paled at the unpleasant, compelling feeling of his tongue between her lips. It had been strange – alien – but it had been important. The worst, best part had been the tension coiling through her entire body that had thrilled and scared her in equal measure.
She hadn't thought about it in years. There had been nothing like that with Ron. They had been friends for so long that there had been no need for shy glances or wondering what to say. If she was honest, she'd been grateful for it. There had been too much heartache following the war to cope with any further anxiety. His kisses had never challenged her.
It had never occurred to her that she might have missed out.
Now, with Snape back in her rooms, waiting quietly as she warmed the teapot, that delicious tension was stealing back into her stomach.
The teapot sat between them, taking its own precious time to transform dried leaves and water into a potion that even Muggles could appreciate. Silence had crept into the room, bringing awkwardness with it. Her feelings were so frustratingly teenaged that she found herself tongue-tied and clumsy next to him, especially now, perched on the edge of her seat, her knee almost brushing his.
If she were feeling especially daring, she could simply reach out and place her fingers on his thigh. . .
. . . with unsteady fingers, she reached out and poured a splash of milk into each cup.
Now, the Tournament was approaching again. Soon the school would be overrun by children from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang and a whole delegation of Aurors, just in case.
And now, like then, she could feel the beginning of something important, teetering on the edge of something new with Snape.
With Severus, she realised, tasting the name with her mind. He hadn't invited any of the younger teachers to use his given name – and besides, she always thought of him as Snape – yet, for a moment, she wondered what it would be like to call him Severus. She couldn't quite imagine it. It was odd; she could imagine lying in his arms – had replayed that kiss many times over in the last week – yet couldn't bring herself to speak his name aloud.
She had been aware of him since she was a child, but even now she could not claim to know him. He was too self-contained, too tightly wrapped in his black robes for her to easily understand. Despite having fought on the same side of a war, there was no gentle camaraderie between them, no running jokes or easy smiles. Being with Snape was as intense as being taught by him. When she felt his dark eyes tracking her movements, she would become self-conscious and unsure and desperately eager to please.
He hadn't even noticed her until she had returned to teach. She might have believed that he had chosen to pursue her simply because she was convenient. A single woman with similar interests who already knew his past and lived at the school with him. She might have believed that, had it not been for the kiss they had shared in front of the fire. That had been no chaste peck, but a passionate, determined embrace. It still made her stomach quiver to think that he had responded to her like that.
Had he been anyone else, she would have jumped at the first opportunity to kiss him again. As it was, she daren't even use his first name. Even in her imagination, he was still Snape.
She fiddled with the tea things, playing for time as she considered her hesitance around him. There was no reason for it, she decided, other than his hesitance around her.
The visiting students would only be there until the end of the winter term, meaning that there would be less of an impact on the older students as they approached their final exams. There would still be three trials, but they would only be a week apart. The Goblet of Fire would still be used for choosing the champions, but several spells around it would be deactivated, meaning that it would no longer create a magically binding contract between the champions and the competitions. Nor would there be any dragons. It was going to be completely different.
There would still be a Yule Ball, though.
Snape had always defied definition. When she had been a child, she had initially believed him to be a cruel but effective teacher, given to favouring his own house over the others. Before her first year had ended, she had become convinced that he was the worst sort of villain, capable of theft and even murder. That notion had been swiftly disproved, but some lingering doubts about his loyalties had remained. Throughout her schooling, her opinion of him had been shaken to its foundations time and again. For a girl who had loved to be able to impose order on the world around her, his refusal to be categorised had unsettled her.
He unsettled her.
Somehow, she managed to pour the tea without any upset. Her thoughts were scattered tonight – or would have been had they not been eager to centre upon one man.
Rather than hand him the cup, she placed it on the table to the side.
"Will you kiss me again?" she breathed.
He looked up, his brow creased. "Now?" he wondered.
"Yes," she whispered, leaning close. "Now."
He kissed her with that same surprising gentleness, his mouth closed, his lips just pressing against hers. The tension that had followed her all evening didn't lessen. If anything it sharpened, sending tiny spikes of cold electricity down her arms and along her sides, leaving her shivering in their wake.
She opened her mouth beneath his, and this time there was no hesitation in his response. His lips parted and his tongue met hers, flooding her senses with the feel and the taste of him. She moaned, softly.
There was no rush to this embrace. He seemed determined to kiss her, kiss her until neither had breath left in their bodies, kiss her until she had all but melted underneath his touch. His hand remained chastely resting on her arm, though his fingers occasionally tightened almost painfully as she flicked her tongue against his.
The angle was awkward, each leaning towards the other, knees pressed together, armrests digging into ribs.
By the time they broke apart, their tea was cold. A glance at the clock above her desk informed her that, once again, time had run away from them as they embraced.
"You should be in bed," he cautioned.
"Yes," she agreed, wistfully, watching his face. "I should."
She walked the few feet to the door with him, not quite ready for the evening to end. He paused at the threshold, the open door a reminder that the world and Hogwarts awaited just outside. Hermione found herself longing for an evening that didn't have to end; a time and a place where reality didn't have to intrude and end those glorious kisses before they even had time to begin.
"Goodnight, then." He nodded.
She tilted her chin slightly, hoping that he might consent to one last goodnight kiss. She was disappointed, but not surprised, when he turned and strode away. She couldn't help but stand and watch until he was swallowed up by the darkness of the night.
A new routine had been established.
He would visit her much as before. She might long to hold his hand or run her fingers through his mess of hair, but something about the way he carried himself always stilled her hand. They would talk of lessons, or people, or books. She would sit on the very edge of her chair, watching, waiting for him to look at her for long enough for her to glimpse the fire in his dark eyes.
Then, when he left, he would kiss her goodnight.
Sometimes she longed for those kisses all week. Yet, when they finally arrived, she would be shy, embarrassed by her reaction to his nearness. He grew in confidence, teasing her mouth open with his tongue. His hands, resting conservatively on her waist, would soon be all that was supporting her as her legs began to tremble.
He would kiss her until she was breathless, then pull away, some ready excuse on his lips as he made his apologies and left. She wondered if he delighted in frustrating her. He would wait until she was writhing against him or moaning softly into his mouth, then find an excuse to leave.
She couldn't understand his reserve. He was older than her, it was true, but she was certain she had never given him the impression that she needed to be cosseted or protected, least of all from him. Perhaps it was a question of upbringing. She knew he was a half-blood, yet his mother had been pure-blood, and he had done much of his growing up in the pure-blood dominated house of Slytherin. Was he following some archaic etiquette that she knew nothing about? Was she, in her enthusiasm, betraying her Muggle roots?
She wondered if she ought to feel embarrassed. She had always been proud of her Muggle heritage before, happy to acknowledge both parts of her life. Now she couldn't help but wonder if he didn't find her insistence a little vulgar. These thoughts would creep up on her sometimes, especially when she watched him amongst others, his interactions so careful and measured. It was easy then to imagine he might be uncomfortable with her expectations.
Yet when they were together, all doubts flew away. He might wish to take things slowly, but there was no doubting that he wanted her. No one could kiss like that and not feel something. They weren't just kisses for the sake of kissing – they were leading to something, of that she was certain. They might start chastely enough, but by the time he pulled away from her, his breathing would be just as uneven as hers, his dark eyes alight.
Trying to get to know him better was making about as much progress. She didn't feel she had the right to pry in to many aspects of his life. He was generally very reticent when it came to talking about himself. Much of what she knew about him had come second- or third-hand from Harry or even the Daily Prophet.
She had never been the type to bat her eyelashes and invite a man to tell her all about himself, but she found herself wishing she were slightly more adept at coaxing Snape to be a little more forthcoming.
"What's your favourite colour?" she tried.
He gave the matter some serious consideration. "I don't think I have one," he replied. "There's nothing particularly offensive abut blue."
She would just have to content herself with little things, she decided. She knew how he liked his tea, for starters. That he liked marmalade, but disliked the pieces of peel contained therein.
She was never certain how to act around him during the day. She took a seat beside him in meetings and for meals, but was never sure how to behave. It seemed implausible that he would expect her to pretend that she hadn't spent the previous evening caught in his arms, yet his own behaviour seemed to signify just that.
Hermione had never considered how taking a place beside him had placed her close to the centre of the table; only the Heads of Houses sat closer to the Headmistress than she. His status within the school had lowered since the war, despite his inclusion amongst the heroes, but as far as she could tell, this was mostly down to himself. He never seemed to push himself forward anymore. She'd never known him to make a demand of the Headmistress as he had of Professor Dumbledore, never seen him involve himself in the affairs of students from outside his house, beyond academic requirements. He taught his classes, fulfilled any supervisory requirements made of him, but otherwise seemed to step back into the shadows.
It was just so difficult, being continually on display to the students and faculty. The truth was that Hermione had known that she would be expected to set a good example to the students when she had accepted the position. What she hadn't expected was for her resolve to be tested each time she sat down to breakfast.
Most days Hermione settled for scrambled eggs on toast and what limited conversation she could coax from him. She tried to avoid the fattier breakfast items on offer, but knew she would be starving by lunch time if she limited herself to fruit. Besides, all that acid wasn't good for the teeth. Glancing round for the pepper, she smiled to see it being placed precisely by the edge of her plate.
It was almost impossible to eat after that. The toast tasted almost of nothing, but she chewed each mouthful mechanically, the bite of the pepper like a promise on her tongue.
It was silly to feel so giddy. All he had done was pass the condiments without being asked; she was far too old to have butterflies in her stomach simply because the boy she liked had acknowledged her. Her eyes strayed to the Gryffindor table. Perhaps it was because the last time she had felt like this, in this very Hall, her feelings had been unrequited, or at least overlooked. It had been agony at the time to hold such feelings alone. It was too soon to try and label whatever was happening, but knowing that her regard was accepted and reciprocated was heady stuff, indeed. For Snape, that had practically been a public display of affection.
It felt as if she was guarding the most delicious secret.
It was the sign she hadn't realised she had been waiting for.
Her days continued much as before. She planned her lessons, taught her classes and marked her assignments. She tried to find as many little ways as possible to be near him, but in truth there were few. She sat beside him, choosing the seat next to his even if there was another free. She wished him good morning or good afternoon. She waited, biding her time until she had him to herself once more.
Thursday took forever to arrive.
When it did, Hermione found herself unable to settle, fluttering constantly between the tea things, the archaic logic puzzle she had set up on her desk to entertain her guest, and him. He had arrived, punctually as ever, dressed in his usual swathes of black, looking almost at ease as he settled back to sip from his teacup.
She wondered if perhaps that was what she had become to him – a place where he could relax and feel accepted. In itself that was rather lovely, but she felt a sharp disappointment akin to pain at the idea he might not wish for more. She had come to a decision regarding Severus Snape, and now all she needed was the courage to carry it through. Such dampening thoughts did nothing for her resolve.
Hermione watched her visitor carefully that night, trying to ascertain his intentions. He had admitted to his wish to court her, yet he had given no signs of meaning to take their relationship forward.
So it was up to her.
That was her decision. She'd chosen against formulating a plan as those tended to go disastrously awry. Besides, Snape was not someone you could manipulate, not if you ever wished to hold his regard.
They talked quietly and drank their tea. Then, that night, as he went to leave, as was his want, he kissed her.
It started slowly, gently, pressure and excitement building slowly as he stoked the banked embers within her with his clever tongue. His touch affected her as strongly as ever, but she tried to blink the growing, coiling tension aside to focus on him. Was his breathing a fraction louder than usual? Was his grip on her waist a trifle firmer than before?
It was no use. He had learnt her well enough to know how to demand that every ounce of her attention be focussed on the glorious friction of his mouth on hers. Her eyes drifted shut, and she began to slump against him, small sounds of pleasure muffled by his lips, but growing ever louder as he deepened the kiss. His teeth caught her lower lip, nipping it with the exact amount of pressure to force the delighted gasp from deep within her chest. Then, just as her hands began a slow migration from his chest towards his hair, he started to gentle the kiss and pull away.
This time, she followed him, steering him slowly, inexorably towards the wall until his back met the smooth wood of the door. His brow furrowed slightly as he watched her, and she prayed that it was confusion she read there, not outright displeasure.
She closed the space between them, reaching up to kiss him again.
The softest sound escaped him, barely audible above the crackle of the fire and the rustle of robes; the softest, quietest of moans. Undone, she pressed herself against him, crushing her breasts against his chest as she sought to get as close to him as possible, winding her fingers into his hair. At first she thought he was going to respond as he had that first night, in front of the fire. His breathing hitched, and his hands tightened at her waist – always her waist, her hips, her arms – never once had his hands strayed beyond what could be considered gentlemanly. An aching need had begun to grow inside her, and she kissed him harder, desperate arousal warring with growing frustration at his careful, controlled response.
Any thoughts of a careful seduction fled as she writhed against him, seeking the relief that his polite touches would never provided. The ache increased to an erratic, needy throb, and her breath was shallow and fast as she ground her hips against his.
He hissed, trying to ease her gently away, but the sound was lost by her sudden cry of triumph. He stilled, and she pulled back enough to glimpse his face. He was wide-eyed, not meeting her gaze, but there was no denying his attraction to her now, not when she could feel the hard length of him pressed against her stomach.
She didn't dare raise her voice above a whisper as she asked the breathless question that might change everything.
"Do you want me?"
"I enjoy our time together," he hedged. Was his breathing unsteady? Was that the slightest flush to his cheeks or simply the reflected glow of the fire? Why did her voice have to shake when his sounded so steady? "We share some similar interests and—"
"Not my companionship," she interrupted, then blushed, wondering if he'd heard the rawness in her voice. "Not just my companionship," she amended, steeling herself. "Do you want me in your bed?"
He swallowed. "Yes."
"Then don't go," she whispered. "Stay here, with me."
And there you go . . .