A/N: First off, Happy Holidays, Happy and Merry everything you lovely lot might celebrate! If you don't celebrate a holiday, think of this as my early birthday present to you. Yes, day after Christmas I will be turning 15x2 (holy shit).

I know this is way way WAY overdue. I'm still having trouble with wristy so I can only type little pieces at a time. My tendons are torn to shreds, and doc says another six months to a year of healing time until I'm back to normal. Yeah, this wrist has really thrown a wrench into my plans. I didn't know I'd be working on this story for this long...but I regret nothing.

So, here is nearly 14k for you to sink your teeth into. I feel like I poured my heart and soul and sanity into this chapter, so I'd love some feedback if it's not too much trouble for you. Hugs, kisses, and cookies to those who are still with me! I love you all. Thank you so much for your reviews, kind messages, and never-ending support! You have no idea how much I appreciate it all.

Oh, let me see, seven days are left in the hpfanficpoll awards if you'd like to vote for my one-shot. I put the details of it in the last two chapters' author's notes, so I won't bore you with them here.

And now, I'm going to shut up and let you read. I could really go for some popcorn right now but...it's 6:41 am so...not going to happen.

The cold night air rushed past Hermione as she raced through the sky. Her clutch was tight enough that she would most likely pull apart Kingley's robes at the seam, but she told herself all it would take was one slip for her to tumble off the Thestral, careening briefly through the air before kissing the ground. There was the improbable chance that Kingsley would allow her to plummet to her death, but he would be unlikely able to grab onto her while firing hexes at any Death Eaters that happened to fly their way.

It didn't matter that strong gusts of air were continually hitting her in the face, almost causing her to choke on it; Hermione was still able to hear her heart pounding against her chest like rolling thunder. Her terror rivalled that of the time when Antonin Dolohov held her imperiously by the hair in the Department of Mysteries; his unyielding grasp made Hermione know that he had no qualms about breaking her neck if she were to move.

Right now it was a toss-up as to what scared her more: being up so high on a Thestral or the ominous threat of a Death Eater attack.

"How far away are we?" Hermione shouted over the buzz in her ears. She wasn't sure if Kingsley heard her, but it didn't matter as they were suddenly flanked by two dark-hooded figures on broomsticks. She didn't wait for direction; Hermione began deflecting curses that were instantaneously cast from either side. Bolts of green and red light shot back and forth. Kingsley was yelling something, at the same time firing spells at the Death Eater to the right while trying to guide the Thestral away from them. It didn't matter; both Death Eaters remained hot on their trail and Hermione ducked her head, almost blindly flinging hexes while gripping onto Kingsley's robes.

'Not like this. I can't die like this!' she thought frantically, doing her best to hold on, mentally willing herself to keep fighting until they reached the protected area of The Burrow.

Her thoughts were for naught. Two seconds later, one of the Death Eater's hoods became loose, revealing the twisted face of none other than Dolohov, the same Dark wizard responsible for the scar disfiguring her torso. That made Hermione's survival instincts go into overdrive.

Too bad she never realised that they were being attacked from the other side. A curse hit her in the hip, rendering her completely immobile. The next thing she knew, she had fallen off the Thestral and away from Kingsley who was screaming her name, his voice becoming fainter and fainter the further she freefalled through the sky and fell closer to earth.

Hermione had no idea that she was flailing in her sleep, but something was pinning down her arms. Still stuck in a dream state, intensely focused on the lurching sensation of falling, she then noticed that something else was unrelentlessly pulling on her.

"Wake up, Hermione."

The witch continued thrashing against the unseeable force, scratching and clawing to free herself yet meeting with thin air.

"Hermione, wake up!"

Hermione was abruptly snatched out of her night terrors, gasping and heart pounding as if she had run a hundred leagues.

"Severus?" she asked dumbly, blinking a few times before the wan, thin face hovering above hers was recognisable.

"I'm assuming you were having a nightmare," he explained, loosening his grip on her shoulders.

It took Hermione a few minutes to compose herself. When her breathing was finally back to normal, she looked around, trying to figure out where she was and how she had gotten there.

"You didn't deserve to be rutted on like some Knockturn Alley tart on the filthy floor of this hovel," Severus continued, watching Hermione as she looked round at the bedroom they were in. "Although, in here wasn't much better but I was able to get rid of the dust."

"Well, it wasn't as if I had given you much choice," she admitted quietly, peering down at the rumpled but clean bedding. She noticed they were in the room Snape used to occupy when he stayed at Grimmauld Place, and in the very bed where she had first given herself to him. "Not that I was worried about it."

By that time, Snape had completely let go of Hermione. He moved back to settle against the headboard, allowing the bedclothes to settle around his hips and leave his torso exposed. His hands remained relaxed atop the covers, and it appeared that he was waiting for Hermione to say something as he kept looking at her from between his curtains of hair.

Snape's legs were pressed against her, and it was obvious that they were both completely naked. Hermione twisted around in bed, clutching the sheets and draping them over her shoulders. Modesty was the last thing on her mind; as Snape told her multiple times, he had already seen all of her. No, it was frightfully chilly in the bedroom, and the air brushing over her skin that was dampened by sweat from her subconscious horrors made her shiver.

"I was dreaming about being back on the Thestral, the night we moved Harry."

Severus nodded but said nothing.

"The night you cursed off George's ear."

A faint line appeared in his forehead, but his silence was steadfast.

"Did you mean to curse George?" asked Hermione. "Were you really trying to hurt us?"

"If you truly believed that I was trying to harm you or your friends, would you be sitting here with me?" Severus queried after a pause.

"I don't think so... No... No, I wouldn't."

"Does that answer your question?"

"Not really, but I don't suppose you'll tell me any more."

Again, there went that undecipherable silence. Just like a snake, Snape stared through the dim candlelight and into Hermione's eyes. Two black burning orbs controlled her, lulling her into some other state. Hermione knew there was a chance that she might now be Severus Snape's prey, and that he had her entranced, but it wasn't enough to make her flee. Although, there was a question burning at the back of her mind, one that she mulled over ever since his last day at Hogwarts. Rude was the least of her worries about asking it; it was the answer that she was likely to receive which unnerved her greatly.

"Did you kill Professor Dumbledore?"

Snape's face went completely calm, as if absorbing his every emotion and securing them away beneath lock and key.

"Yes," he intoned.

He did it, she thought, feeling her heart drop. He actually did it. Oh my god, Harry wasn't lying. Severus killed Dumbledore and he's just admitted it to me. Oh my goodness, now what?

Just shut up for a moment and breathe, Hermione.

"So Harry wasn't lying?" she asked in an unruffled tone that was counterpoint to her inner turmoil. That question was undoubtedly trite, but Hermione didn't know what else to say at that point.


She fiddled with the blankets for a moment. "Can you tell me why you did it?"


Hermione took a deep breath. So he really had killed the headmaster... not that she hadn't believed Harry in the first place, but all along, she truly didn't want to believe him. Now the truth was staring her right in the face, and was undeniable being that it had come directly from the horse's mouth. There was one thing in her favour: Snape hadn't lied to her. She asked him a question, and he'd given her the answer, despite the fact that the truth might have sent her running.

"Did you kill him out of duress, or something else?"

"If you're suggesting that I murdered Dumbledore out of hatred or spite, then the answer is no," Snape replied coolly. "But I've already said too much so you may as well stop right there."


"No buts, Hermione. No more. I won't have you tangled in this further than you already are," he stated with finality. "Although I do have a question of my own: why the hell are you here by yourself at this godforsaken hour?"

"I...had to find out something."

"You had to find out something," Snape echoed sardonically, before shaking his head. "I don't know what it is with you Gryffindors, bounding from one bad situation to another, so intent on signing your own death warrant. What would you have done if it were someone else here tonight?"

"Seeing as this was a safe house and the house of the Order, I didn't think it a likely place for other Death Eaters," Hermione answered snippily.

"And if I had been the one to tell the others about this house and they were here, then what?"

"You wouldn't have done that," she admitted quietly. "I knew you wouldn't."

Snape roughly raked his long fingers through his hair, bowing his head and exhaling in evident frustration. When he looked back up at Hermione, there was a strange smoulder to his eyes.

"If there's a chance that I'm not killed by another, then I will definitely meet death purely from the stress you are intent on putting me through.


"Are you so quick to assume that things have changed because I'm on the run?" Severus asked, glaring at her. He waited, allowing Hermione to niggle out the meaning of his statement.

"It wasn't as if I was planning on seeing you here tonight. To be honest, I had no idea if I would ever see you again."

The wizard looked as if he had plenty to say but was forcing himself to keep his mouth shut. A weary expression formed on his face and he closed his eyes.

"Are you going to tell me the purpose of your little trip?" Snape finally asked in a voice of forced calm. His eyes were still closed and he brought up a hand to pinch the bridge of his nose.

Hermione found herself growing flustered; she didn't want to lie, but at the same time, she wasn't sure if she should admit her reason for coming to Grimmauld Place in the middle of the night.

"I needed to see the Black family tree," she relented. "I have this hunch that a name might be on there."

"And what name might that be?"

"Regulus, as in Sirius's brother." Hermione paused to see if Severus was going offer any information, and wasn't surprised when he remained tight-lipped. "Did you know of a Regulus?"

Snape's hand fell from his face and his eyes shot open from shock at the mention of his old friend. Already he decided to not tell Hermione that he once knew Regulus Black very well, as he wanted to find out just how much she knew about the deceased wizard.

"Where did you hear that name?" he asked.

"From Ron." Hermione paused to look around for her clothing, remembering that she still carried the counterfeit Horcrux. "He didn't know much beyond Regulus being a follower of You-Know-Who and that he'd gone missing."

"That still doesn't explain the reason for your lurking about," said Snape softly, narrowing his eyes at Hermione.

"I..." she trailed off, clutching the sheets tighter to her body before completely throwing them off. "I suppose I can show you better than I can tell you." Sliding from beneath the bedclothes and shivering when the cool air hit her body, Hermione briskly crossed over to the chair where their clothes were draped over the arm. It took a few minutes of digging around until she found her jeans, but the locket was quickly unearthed and she dove back into the warm sanctuary of the bed. "Read the note inside," said Hermione, offering Severus the locket while pulling the duvet up over her head with the other hand, "but you can't tell anyone that I've showed it to you."

"I know, I know," Snape grunted, accepting the locket and turning it over in his hand. "Potter would disown you and Weasley would sob in a corner about you cavorting with the enemy. I need my wand, can't see a damned thing..."

Hermione twisted round to see where Severus had placed his wand. It was next to hers atop the side table, and she leaned over to pluck it between two fingers. Snape accepted his wand without looking up, his attention completely focused on the closed locket. Turning it over multiple times and bringing it up to eye level, he then raised his wand to the locket, casting some non-verbal spell.

"It's been touched by magic yet imbues no magical properties," Snape muttered, still keeping his wand aimed at the thing. He then used his thumb to prise open the locket's clasp, and the note within from R.A.B. fell out and onto his lap. It only took a few seconds for him to unfold the scrap of paper and read the short message. "So this is what sent you running here in the thick of night?" he asked grimly when he was finished.

"Yes. Like I said, I had a hunch. The first and last initials match up; I just need to see if the middle does as well."

"Very well."

Snape pushed the blankets away from his legs and climbed out of bed. Hermione looked on bemusedly as he sat on the battered armchair and began to dress.

"You'll need to dress if you wish to see the Black family tree," Snape pointed out, hastily buttoning his white shirt.

"Suppose you're right," Hermione conceded with a sigh. She hated to leave the warm bed again, and became mournful as she moved out of her blanketed cocoon.

Snape watched as she slipped on her own clothes. Just as she finished tying the laces on her right trainer, Snape gathered their wands and moved to the bedroom door.

"I'd be lying if I said this wasn't just a bit eerie," Hermione whispered, staying tight on Snape's heel as he walked out into the unlit hallway, wand out before him. They were passing the decapitated house-elves' heads and it made her somewhat queasy. "I never really quite warmed up to this house."

"For a moment I thought you were referring to the fact of you and I being in this house," Snape replied. "I do understand what you mean; I never particularly cared for this place either."

"You and I being together is unexpected, but not eerie," Hermione explained, inhaling sharply and suppressing a yelp when her foot struck something and nearly made her fall. "How are you able to get around with no light?"

Hermione was literally unable to see even her hand in front of her face. Meanwhile, Severus was steadily walking as if he had perfect night vision. She then heard a soft snort.

"Really, Hermione," Snape murmured. He stopped walking, and Hermione nearly walked into him. "Your sleuthing skills are to be commended," he continued, easily finding her hand in the dark and slipping his own into it, "but you should know that I've come across creatures twice your height and three times your weight, all of which treaded far more lightly than you."

"I don't know whether to feel pleased or insulted by the fact that I've just been compared to what sounds like some animal belonging to Hagrid," Hermione remarked after a stretch of silence.

"The authorised or unauthorised creatures?" Snape asked, giving her hand a light squeeze.

"I guess I shouldn't be surprised that you know about the unsanctioned ones," Hermione laughed. They were now on the stairs and making their way to the landing. Remembering about Mrs. Black's portrait, the two were completely silent until they were on the first level of the house.

"I know about a lot of things, including how to walk around Hogwarts at night without being detected, and without the use of a torch, a fact which you're well aware of."

"All too aware," said Hermione under her breath. The man had sneaked up on her more times than she could count, nearly giving her a coronary each time.

Snape came to a halt. The creaking sound of a door handled being turned was heard, and Hermione stepped forward when Snape began walking again. She still felt uneasy walking around in the dark, remembering that Kreacher tended to lurk in odd places, yet being with Severus made her know that she was safe.

"Is this what you were looking for?"

Pale wand light suddenly illuminated the area, revealing a dusty drawing room. To the left of Hermione's head was the faded woven tapestry affixed to the wall, depicting the Black family tree. It didn't take long to find Regulus' name; as Hermione suspected, the initials for R.A. B. matched his: Regulus Arcturus Black.

"So assuming this was Regulus who switched the lockets, then where is the real one?" Hermione asked rhetorically. "I wonder if there's a chance that it's hidden somewhere in this house."

She didn't have the chance to continue with her outward musings, as the light went out on Snape's wand. A second later, Hermione found herself being nudged out of the drawing room, down the hallway and ushered back up the stairs. This go around she made sure to make less noise while walking, even if it was a bit difficult to keep up with the tall wizard's lengthy strides.

"Very good," Snape praised once they reached the topmost landing. "That was decidedly less Mountain Troll and more faerie."

"Two compliments in a day? Let me write this down," Hermione lightly mocked.

"I wouldn't get out that quill just yet," Snape advised wryly. "You might be able to surprise someone else but I would still know it's you from a hundred feet away."

"Even if I'm using a Disillusionment Charm?" she pointed out. "Now that I think about it, you were able to see me that night on the Astronomy Tower. The charm had never been removed yet you still saw me."

Snape had just raised his wand to a door and was peering at a nameplate.

"This is a good place to start," he commented, lowering his free arm and wrapping his thin fingers around Hermione's wrist to tug her closer. The witch's comment about his magical prowess went ignored. While it was true, he had been able to see her through the veil of the Dillusionment Charm, his focus was currently on more important matters.

"Erm, you first," she offered, not keen on the idea of being the first to walk into the bedroom.

Severus apparently had no qualms about doing so. The knob was turned and the door pushed in. The two used wand light at first until a few old, half-melted candles were found on various surfaces.

"Gods, it's a mess in here," said Hermione, frowning as she surveyed the overturned furniture and dismantled bed. "There's no guessing what House he was sorted into," she continued, raising the lit tip of her wand to peer at the faded emerald and silver drapery on the bed, walls, and window. "It looks like someone was looking for something in here, completely tore things apart while they were at it."

Snape was quiet as his black eyes fell upon a desk that had its drawers yanked out and thrown onto the floor. Bits and bobs, various newspaper cuttings, quills that had been snapped in half, and jars with dried out ink littered the floor. The last time he had been in Regulus's room, it had been in order. That day had been the first time Snape set foot in Number 12, Grimmauld Place, all because his childhood friend had been murdered and he believed the traitor who had been meant to be the Potters Secret Keeper to be Sirius Black. Snape still blamed himself for telling Voldemort about the prophecy in the first place, but a Secret Keeper had been utilised to counteract things. Of course, that had been royally cocked up and he never got over it.

Vengeance and sorrow weighed heavily on his heart that day. It had been easy to break into the abandoned house, and Snape screamed and carried on like a madman, demanding blood as recompense for his slaughtered friend. Mrs. Black's portrait met his cries with shrill screams of her own, but Snape had been so distraught that she went unnoticed. He had first meant to find Sirius Black's room; instead, he found himself at the door of the bedroom that belonged to his missing friend.

All along, Snape had known that Regulus was dead. It had never been confirmed, and he didn't need proof. Rifling through the belongings of person who was no longer around was unseemly, and Snape merely stood in Regulus' doorway, taking in the sight.

After composing himself, he then easily found Sirius' bedroom. As suspected, it was empty, but Snape found himself being thrown for another emotional loop when he found an old letter with Lily's perfect handwriting, along with a photograph of the happy Potter family. It had all been too much for him: Regulus' bedroom, which looked as if he had just inhabited it that morning; Lily laughing in the photograph, cheeks glowing and full of life, the complete opposite of him finding her cold and dead on the floor of her child's nursery.

"I'm not sure we're going to find anything," Snape dimly registered Hermione saying as she used her wand to rifle through things on the other side of the room. He had been in the middle of rehashing the way he'd cried like a baby on the floor of Sirius Black's room, and Hermione's voice was a welcoming distraction. "There's entirely too much of... everything in here. I know I'm meant to be looking for a locket, and judging by Regulus' note, the exact same locket, but I'm not sure if..."

Hermione stopped talking when she realised that Severus appeared a bit out of sorts.

"Are you all right?" she asked, a worried expression on her face as she came over to where he was stood by the door.

"Yes," Snape answered curtly. That single word held enough weight for her to know that he did not want to be fussed over. "Let's see if we can find this thing."

After a frustrating hour of rooting through the mangled bedroom, which included a hopeful search of a secret compartment that was hidden beneath the floorboards that Regulus had mentioned in his letter, the two came up short. Disappointed and empty-handed, they returned to their small borrowed bedroom.

"So you were friends with Regulus," Hermione murmured, more to herself, as they settled on the lumpy sofa. "Wow."

At first, Snape hadn't planned on showing Hermione the letter. Yet when she became suspicious at the way he knew to check the floorboards, she outright asked him how he knew where to specifically search. Her mouth fell open upon being showed the letter, remaining slack for so long that he reached over to place two fingers beneath her chin and press upwards.

"I'd like to keep that letter intact, without your drool on it, if you don't mind," he'd explained.

"This still leaves us no closer to finding this locket," Hermione now remarked, aggravated. "Me, Harry, and Ron are going to have to keep searching. Though, a concrete idea on where to start? No idea."

"Your guess is as good as mine," Snape replied. "But do tell me, what did you mean earlier by 'are you to lose everyone'? Has something happened to your parents?" Hermione noticeably hesitated, and he held out a hand for her to stay quiet. "It's alright, you don't have to tell me."

"Well... I want to..." Hermione answered, sounding dubious, "but I can't. Will you be terribly cross with me if I say that I can't tell you? And it's not because I don't trust you, because I do, but I can't trust anyone else."

"Hermione, I already said that you don't have to answer. Feel free to cease your twittering, thank you."

"OK. It's just that if things don't end favourably, at least my parents will be safe, even if I'm not here. Alright, I'm done twittering."

"If you aren't here," Snape echoed bitterly. "I still hear twittering, unless that bint's voice is carrying up here. You don't have a chance at failing so put it out of your mind. And last I'd checked, you weren't the sort to give in to defeat, so don't start now."

"I'm not giving in," Hermione stubbornly answered, pursing her lips and folding her arms across her chest. "I'm merely being practical."

"If you say so, Miss Practical. You just see to it that you keep your head down and nose clean and come out at the end of this shite."

"Fine! Yes, I will!" Hermione answered hurriedly when Severus' tone took on a bit of harshness. "A little more than two months since we've seen one another and all it takes is a few hours before I get chastised."

"You warranted my censure by spouting that twaddle about getting killed," Snape interrupted, shooting Hermione one of his patented glowers. "As it were, I think a shift in the discussion is needed. What was that about your dodgy cat?"

"What? Oh, I have no idea what happened to Crookshanks." Hermione paused, feeling mournful about the loss of her beloved pet. "After...that night, and the funeral, I never saw Crookshanks again. I just assumed that he'd been..." She trailed off, sniffling indelicately. "I suppose there's no point getting all broken-hearted; it's not as if it'll change anything."

While Hermione's words spoke of one thing, the forlorn expression said another, and Snape felt foolish for not knowing what to say to comfort her. Aside from their moments of shared physical contact, it was the mental aspect that continued to leave him bewildered. Unctuous speech came easily enough and was reserved for select members. Utilising the same tactics on a person that one cared about was a different story, and damn well difficult as Snape found out.

Whether Hermione picked up on Snape's continued fumbling, he knew not, because she never drew attention to it. It was so like her, perhaps because she was always worried about not hurting another's feelings. Thankfully, when he was able to put forth the effort to show how he felt versus saying it, she never made a big fuss.

Slipping his hand into hers, Snape was grateful when Hermione accepted the gesture, lacing her fingers into his and resting her head against his shoulder.

"I suppose we'll have to leave here before dawn," she murmured against his sleeve.

"Most likely."

Hermione exhaled slowly as a thumb circled over the top of her hand.

"Are we going to stay here all night?" she asked, wincing. Hermione had forgotten just how uncomfortable the little sofa in the bedroom was; there was the feel of something sharp pressing into her behind ever since sitting down. "These springs are starting to hurt."

As if in response to her answer, Severus let go of her hand and bent down. When his boots were off and placed beside the sofa, he stood up and removed the rest of his clothing. Hermione took the hint and did she same; she wondered if it was presumptuous to remove her knickers, but when she saw a flash of Severus' bared, narrow behind, she ended up leaving them atop her folded jeans.

Snape approached the bed first, holding back the blankets while obviously waiting for Hermione to get in. Once they were both tucked comfortably beneath the duvet, a quick flick of Snape's wand in the direction of the hearth across the room rekindled the fire.

Hermione vaguely remembered all the questions she previously planned on asking in the event of seeing Severus again. The Potions text Harry had been using. The Half-Blood Prince and Eileen Snape. Dumbledore's death. In addition to that, she now had to deal with the newfound knowledge of who R.A.B. was, as well as the fact that Severus had been friends with him.

Time and time again, Hermione had gone over in her mind what she would say, how she would act upon casting eyes upon Severus Snape. However, naked and lying in bed with him, the length of his also nude body pressing into hers while the air from his nose ruffled the wispy curls at the nape of her neck, Hermione found that she was not eager to ruin the silence with a bunch of pointless questions. Yes, Harry cheated most of his way through Potions. Yes, she now knew that Severus was the Half-Blood Prince, the very person who had been indirectly aiding her best friend during the school year, also the same person who was indirectly responsible for Draco Malfoy being on the receiving end of Sectumsempra. But no matter how much Hermione pried, even if she were to wheedle information out of Snape—which wasn't likely—none of his answers, no amount of cross examination would change a thing. Snape would still be a spy, working for the Light and Dark while remaining an enemy of many on both sides. Dumbledore would still be dead, and Hermione would still be in the same pickle, which was wandering blindly with her friends as they hunted all corners of the earth for Horcruxes.

No; right now she would enjoy the strained silence, revel in the way Severus' slim arm felt over her waist, bask in the feel of his rough fingertips idly roaming over the curve of her hip.

"You haven't changed much," Severus commented behind her.

"What does that mean?"

"You still think loudly."

"Believe me, I don't do it on purpose," Hermione told him, shuffling back on the mattress until the sparse hairs on his chest brush were felt against her upper back. "I told you, sometimes I wish I could turn it off."

"Hmm." The hand on her hip drifted up to her breast. "Besides the obvious, what else is it that has you so distracted?"

"More like what doesn't have me distracted," Hermione murmured, inhaling softly when two fingers lightly pinched her left nipple. "Every night since I last saw you, I wondered what I would say to you, what you would say to me, if we were to meet again. Now that I'm with you, none of it seems all that important."

The coarse, warm hand began smoothing down from her breast to waist. When it stilled, settling limply next to her belly, she wriggled in disappointment. Deciding that she wanted to look upon her wizard, Hermione turned over, and there was a slight rustling of bedclothes that punctuated the silence. Severus' arm lifted slightly to accommodate her change in positioning, resettling itself around her shoulders. Hermione peered up to see a pensive look on his face, which was odd as he had both eyes closed.

"I hope you don't plan on doing that all night," Snape grouched. Hermione rolled her eyes; she knew Severus wasn't being serious, and was mostly fussing out of habit.

"Doing what?" she asked anyway.

"Shuffling about and squirming like a worm on a hook."

"Now that's a charming image." Hermione reached up to smooth away the ever deepening lines of stress in Severus' forehead.

"A temporary solution to a permanent problem," he sighed resignedly, even though he made no moves to push away the gentle fingers.

"I don't mind," Hermione murmured, continuing to run her fingertips over his brow. She had her head pressed into Snape's shoulder and her words came out muffled.

It didn't matter, as Snape somewhat understood the half-garbled sentence. He was too busy relishing the feel of his face being slowly caressed. In the back of his mind he remembered that he hadn't shaven in the past few days. Either he forgot to, or never planned on shaving in the first place, because he didn't see the point. There were only two other living beings at his home. Chances were Loki was not going to turn human and tell Snape that he looked like shite, but the four-legged creature's account was the only one Snape might have taken into consideration. At least Hermione wasn't complaining about a case of whisker burn; no, she had gone on stroking Severus' cheek as if it were covered in plush velvet instead of short, coarse bristles.

An unshaven face was the least of his worried; Snape hadn't been keeping track of his weight, but knew for fact that it had dropped. He was thin enough to slip through the cracks in pavement, and two steps away from emaciation. Never could he remember his ribs poking through like they were now.

"You haven't been eating," Hermione stated, interrupting his thoughts. Her fingers were poking at the prominent ridges to the right of his sternum.

"That's because I didn't have a swotty little Gryffindor sneaking her way to my house with a hamper of food on her arm."

Hermione gave a short laugh before turning her head and pressing her lips into his skin. She kissed wherever her mouth could reach, even lightly flicking her tongue over his nipple.

"Tell me where you live and I'll make good on that offer."

Hermione's comment was made in jest, and Snape knew it. It still didn't erase the pang of shame he felt when thinking about her stepping foot into his shabby home. Even if it were as grandiose as Malfoy Manor, so long as Wormtail was skulking about, there wasn't a chance in hell that he would allow Hermione within the vicinity.

"Anyway, I think you look fine," she continued, filling in the sudden awkward silence.

"Either you're blind, besotted, or both," he replied, slipping his arm from around Hermione and shifting to settle halfway atop her. She began to protest when he pulled the sheets off her body, sitting up to pull the duvet over them.

"Severus, it's cold—"

"You said you wanted to be distracted. Actually, I think we can both use the distraction," he interrupted, pushing Hermione to lie flat. "And you won't be cold for long. Now be quiet."

Hermione would have complained, but when Severus sank his warm weight into her, she settled for wrapping her arms round his neck. Sunken in cheeks with uneven stubble covering them grazed her soft skin, while the bit of hair on Severus' thin chest scraped against her nipples. Hermione didn't care, for she was being drawn into a slow, deep kiss, everything combining to effectively turn her brain to porridge. Her knees still ached from their earlier tryst on the floor of the drawing room. Kneeling down to sort through the muck in Regulus' room only made things worse. Yet Hermione still tried to force Severus onto his back, wanting to get on top.

It wasn't a difficult decision to let Hermione have her way. The feel of her soft lips roving over his neck and chest was all the encouragement he needed. At the first touch of her tongue to his nipple, a jolt of pleasure shot straight down to his groin. Now Hermione was reaching down to grasp it, rubbing the tip between her slick folds. Taking time to ease herself down onto his shaft, Hermione let out a gasp when she was filled completely.

This time was the complete opposite of their first coupling that had taken place on the floor of the drawing room. While their pace was decidedly less hurried, it hadn't short-changed the pleasure. Severus bent his legs at the knee and rolled his hips up, easily meeting Hermione halfway when she slid down.

Hermione found that Severus was right when he said that she wouldn't be cold for long. Each time the tip of his cock nudged against some spot inside her, it sent a wave of heated bliss throughout her body. It became difficult to focus on the wizard beneath her; Hermione slowly became lost to her own pleasure, intent on riding Severus until her legs gave out.

Besides having the most intimate part of her stimulated, there was also the feeling of Severus' hands creeping up her thighs, holding onto her waist, then smoothing over her back. Those same hands beckoned Hermione closer and curved around her neck while the other cupped a breast, teasing the tip with his thumb.

It didn't take long for Hermione to get worked up into a frenzy. The sight of Severus alone thrilled her; beneath her his entire body was taut as he held onto her hips with firm yet trembling hands. His eyes were closed, and his head was tossed back and buried into the pillow, exposing his prominent Adam's apple. She would never utter the sentiment aloud for fear of being called maudlin, but he really was beautiful when lost to the throes of passion. The idea that she alone was responsible for that pleasure made her feel heady.

A few more thrusts from the wizard beneath her, combined with her name being ground out from tightly clenched teeth, and Hermione heard a voice cry out that she did not recognise at first to be hers. By the time she came down from her orgasm, Severus was grasping onto her shoulders and urging her to his chest.

"I can't believe I've nearly forgotten how damned good you feel," he murmured against her neck.

"You forgot from nearly two hours ago?" Hermione lightly challenged, laughing weakly.

"You know what I meant, wicked girl. Now, I should like to hear you make more of those sounds."

Grabbing onto the sheets on either side of Severus' head, Hermione steadied herself and again found the stride that made his breath catch. Two strong hands held onto her, guiding her down to meet him. The fluid motion of them moving together left Hermione gasping for air and panting against Severus' face. Bit by bit, her senses were swept away and replaced with warmth spreading throughout her entire body. An urgent thrust and grind of Severus' hips against hers planted him deeper with each stroke, and Hermione found herself going higher and higher, reaching a crest that left the blood pounding in her ears. Severus had gone rigid beneath her from his own climax, but easily caught Hermione when she slumped back down to his chest.

At some point the two shifted to lie next to one another. There was a sliver of space between them even as their legs remained entangled. Hermione was ready to tell Severus that his brand of distraction worked, until she began wondering about the time.

I bet you wish you hadn't given back that Time Turner.

Parting ways from Severus was inevitable. It would have to happen at some point that night. For now, Hermione resolved to cross that bridge when she got to it.

Severus' breathing had gone steady, and Hermione peered at him through slit eyes to see if he had fallen asleep. His eyes were closed, but it was hard to tell if he had drifted off or was merely resting. She still used the opportunity to shift until their sides were touching.

Like Hermione, Severus was trying to enjoy the little time they had together instead of harping on everything else that was occurring outside the four walls of the bedroom. After all that he'd dealt with in the past month, it felt like someone had pushed his head under water. While seeing Hermione was unexpected, he found her presence to be comparable to a much needed intake of air.

The young witch had wrestled the sheets up from where they had become tangled at the foot of the bed, drawing it over their bodies. Beneath it she ran her hand over his chest and stomach, caressing him as if he were her source of comfort. Snape hadn't felt the need to sleep until those soft fingers lulled him into a hyper-relaxed state, and he would have drifted off, only Hermione murmured something in a drowsy tone and he was instantly brought to heel.

"I love you, Severus. I don't expect you to say it back. In fact, I don't think you will ever. But it doesn't matter; if this is my last chance to tell you how I feel, I figure I might as well before it's too late."

Besides feeling amazed that the girl was able to somewhat ramble after a round of sex that left him incapable of speech, Snape was shocked to the bones by Hermione's admittance. Her words were uttered straightforward and without guile, and were endearing, even if they had been mumbled into the skin covering his ribs. Tempted he was to tell Hermione that she didn't mean it, that she was only talking out of desperation, yet Snape resisted. He knew his reason for wanting to negate Hermione's statement had nothing to do with her; it was his own insecurities that lingered and said nastily in the back of his head that the witch didn't mean it.

While he battled with his own internal crisis, Hermione began worrying. Several pounding heartbeats later, to her chagrin, Snape still hadn't spoken or so much as acknowledged her statement.

Earth, why can't you open up and swallow me whole?

Hermione berated herself for her big mouth, positive that Snape was angry at her. Things were undoubtedly ruined, and she lie there, wishing that she never confessed her true feelings. Slipping off to the bathroom suddenly seemed like a good idea; she would be able to nurse her hurt feelings under the guise of needing the toilet.

Just as Hermione shifted her weight to move off the bed, a wiry arm slithered around her waist and kept her firmly rooted into place. She was tugged back in a way that left her cheek planted against Snape's warm chest, while the rest of her body was draped awkwardly over him like a rag doll.

Hermione still didn't know what was going through her wizard's keen mind. Yet she took comfort in knowing that he was not mad at her, at least, she assumed he wasn't, not judging by the way his arm was clamped about her waist. The silent, intimate gesture was better than nothing, and Hermione decided that words were unnecessary at that point. The feel of Severus holding her tightly, as if she might fly away, was all she needed to know.

A fleeting glance up at Severus' face showed him to look peaceful, even if just temporarily. So, after rearranging herself into a more comfortable position and allowing the remaining tension to bleed from her limbs, Hermione closed her eyes and slept.

Severus lie awake for a long time after Hermione fell asleep on top of him. The fire had died down some, leaving the bedroom dimly lit. Idly stroking Hermione's unruly hair as she lightly snored into his chest, he stared unfocusedly up into the darkness, reflecting on her last words.

'I love you, Severus. I don't expect you to say it back. In fact, I don't think you will ever. But it doesn't matter; if this is my last chance to tell you how I feel, I figure I might as well before it's too late.'

In thirty some odd years of his life, not once had Severus ever heard the words 'I love you' being uttered in the same sentence as his name. There had been a sprinkle of kind comments made towards him that he could remember, yet only one person to give some sort of truly positive reinforcement. That person was no longer living, but even in spite of her gentle remarks made about his person, they had never extended to love.

Snape didn't know how he was supposed to be feeling, but there was an odd tightening in the centre of his chest that kept making itself known whenever he repeated Hermione's admittance in his head. The urge to disagree with her lingered, but he told himself to stop. If there was ever a person who never bit their tongue, and on the rare occasion told a lie (which she could never carry out convincingly), it was Hermione Granger. Snape knew she never would have told him she loved him if she didn't mean it.

He also suspected that it had taken a great deal of nerve for her to confess her feelings. Even though her words had come out slowly and evenly, instead of tumbling out the way Hermione tended to speak when she was nervous, Snape immediately picked up on her trepidation. Of course, her worry had most likely been due to his silence, which she surely misinterpreted while quickly jumping to the worse possible conclusion.

No matter how much he told himself to say something, anything, that would put Hermione's mind at ease, every single thought that came to Snape's mind seemed unimaginative and uninspiring. For someone that prided himself on being able to talk his way out of any situation, it had been shocking to find that his well of words had finally run dry. The thought of Hermione's face if she were to hear that she had successfully rendered him speechless was mildly entertaining. What he hadn't anticipated was Hermione trying to move away from him, and it triggered the impulse to console her and keep her near. That had been his sole worry, keeping Hermione with him, and without thinking, his arm had gone around her waist.

The witch in question was now mumbling in her sleep, turning her head and causing her hair to engulf his face, before resting her other cheek back down on his chest. Her mumbling stopped when the arms around her refortified their hold.

Never did Snape think he would greet the day where he was happy to go through the rigmarole of plucking Hermione's curls out of his eyes, nose, and mouth. However, there was something familiar and oddly comforting about extricating himself from the wayward tresses lest he become smothered while Hermione continued snoring into his chest, oblivious to everything.

An hour passed when small fingers stroking the hair at his temple roused him into a conscious state. Snape didn't realise that he had fallen asleep; half of Hermione's body was still draped over him. A quick glance at the witch showed her to also be awake. There was a serene expression on her face as she stared up at him, a little smile on her lips as her fingertips drifted down to his cheeks.

"Hi," she greeted in a voice barely higher than a whisper.

Snape responded with a half smile of his own, slipping his fingers into the back of Hermione's head.

"What's wrong?"

"What makes you think something is wrong?"

"You're smiling, but you're still sort of frowning. I can tell that you're thinking hard about something."

Hermione continued stroking his face. Her eyebrows were raised, and she was clearly waiting for an explanation.

"You're getting sharp," Snape chuckled, earning a nudge of Hermione's foot against his. "All right, sharper," he amended. "That knowledge serves as a slight comfort, considering that you're about to go traipsing about the world with two halfwits."

"Severus, they aren't that bad," she murmured through a yawn.

"The hell they aren't," he replied, clenching his molars to keep from saying something that would ruin the moment. At times he thought Potter and Weasley were one step away from behaving like a couple of five-year-olds that were easily entertained by putting a pot on their head and banging it with a wooden spoon, but if Hermione wanted to hold onto her illusions about her friends, so be it. "Although I must confess to harbouring some concerns about your future endeavours."

The furrow between Hermione's brows grew deeper, but she waited silently for Snape to further elaborate.

"Plainly speaking, I would like to offer my help. As that is nearly impossible, the most I can do is try to personally keep you protected."

"Alright... but how?"

It was Snape's turn to frown as he pondered the spell that had just come to mind, a spell which he never had use for and never thought about.

"A sort of protective charm," he explained. "It will hold so long as you keep your wand on your person. Do you remember what I told you?"

"I don't care if you have to stick your wand in your knickers, but don't ever let it out of your sight," Hermione mimicked. "Or something like that."

"Close enough. I don't suppose I need to tell you that no one can know."

"Of course not," she replied, horrified. Hermione lifted her head and moved until her face was level with Severus. "I'd never tell, but at least there's one less thing hanging over our heads come September: you'll no longer be my professor."

If Severus could glare at her fiercer than he was right now, Hermione reckoned she would end up with a hole the size of a Galleon in the middle of her forehead.

"As if I needed reminding about being a lecherous bastard who debauched someone far too innocent for the likes of him," Snape grumbled. At that, Hermione steadied a hand on his chest and pushed herself completely upright, looking as if she was about to give him an earful. "Don't argue with me, you know it's true," he continued, sitting up to look the seething witch in the eye.

"You make me sound like some dim faerie princess, locked away in a tower by parents who were scared that the big bad monster would come snatch her away and do unspeakable things to her."

"I said innocent, not ignorant," Snape told her, "and the innocence I'm speaking of had little to do with your physical chastity."

Hermione cocked her head to one side. Reaching down, she took Snape's hand into hers and began tracing her fingertips over the knots of his knuckles.

"Now I do feel sort of ignorant, because I don't quite follow you..."

"Merlin, Hermione, it isn't as if we have much time and already I've allowed myself to become sidetracked." Snape let out a frustrated sigh. Hermione bowed her head, but he could see that her gaze had now travelled to his Dark Mark, and she stared at it even as she continued playing with his fingers. "You have an innate sense of purity, one that cannot be fabricated. In spite of everything that's happened to you thus far, you've managed to hold onto a sense of morale and compassion. And that—" Snape paused to pull Hermione into his arms, holding her face between both hands and resting his forehead against hers, "—is just an inkling of why I admire you and want to protect you."

His tone had softened with the last few words, and Hermione felt her heart catch in her throat.

"Or perhaps I'm merely a selfish old man, trying to hold onto the one good thing I have. I hope you won't hold it against me."

Hermione shifted her head until their noses were nuzzled against the other's. "I don't think you're selfish."

The harrumphing sound coming from the back of Severus' throat let her know that he disagreed.

"That remark is a prime example of what I've just told you," he replied, pressing his lips to her smooth forehead. "Now, I don't wish to further scandalise you, but the spell I mentioned before our conversation veered elsewhere, isn't the sort that one finds in Hogwarts' library."

"But I'd be able to find it in your library?" Hermione chanced, carefully watching her wizard's face.

"You would, in fact. The spell is Dark, mostly used by certain followers who feel the need to go to extra lengths to safeguard their wandmates."

That was news to Hermione; she had never heard of such a spell.

"I gather you've never come across it, which is to be expected. If fact, I'd be shocked if you did, as it's rarely used and almost never mentioned."

"OK," Hermione began, tilting her head to the other side. "If it's Dark and never mentioned, even in books, that sounds plausible for me not knowing about it. But I don't understand why it would be rarely used. Even if the couple belongs to...you know...wouldn't they still want to protect their spouse? Why wouldn't they use the spell?"

"For once you've asked an easy question. In some wizarding marriages, the welfare of one another is not a priority. Therefore, there is no reason to go through with a spell that's good as a magical blood bonding."

Hermione took personal offence at that. "So what's the point of being married?!"

"Money, politics, and any other sordid reason you can think of," Snape answered brusquely. "On the other hand, the couples who choose to use such a spell—"

"—love one another?" Hermione interrupted.


Hermione found herself stymied for the hundredth time that night. Never had she given thought to Death Eaters that were married. It had taken some time for her to see that everyone sorted into Slytherin was not bad, but the same could not be said for any of Voldemort's followers. In her mind, anyone who chose to commit horrible acts of violence was inherently evil. Even she, the consummate optimist, was unable to find a sliver of good in that situation. But the idea of a Death Eater who spent his evening torturing and killing Muggles, only to return home to kiss and caress his wife, who knew about her husband's activities, later on making gentle love in their marital bed... it seemed so farfetched.

"I know it seems unlikely, but it has been known to happen," said Snape. "There are some who genuinely care about one another."

"I suppose, but I can't picture the one who gave me this letting his guard down and allowing anyone in, much less being someone's husband or father," Hermione admitted, looking down at the jagged scar between her breasts that Dolohov had left behind.

"You're dead on there. There's a reason no woman besides Bellatrix would ever dare to walk by him. Although Dolohov knows that Bellatrix would hack off his ballbag should he try anything and tuck them into her corset for sport." Snape's tone was grim; he disliked talking about the others, and not out of loyalty, but because their names alone were enough to leave an acrid taste in his mouth.

Meanwhile, Hermione's fingers were skirting along the edges of her scar, and it appeared that she was nervously listening to him. Snape knew the Death Eater's name was enough to set Hermione on edge, and the tense look on her face let him know that she was most likely thinking back to the night when Dolohov tried to kill her. Leaning forward, Snape cupped his hand under her chin, directing her to look at him. "Sometimes I forget about your scar."

Hermione's pursed lips quivered slightly. "Do you really?"

"Yes," he replied patiently. "Now would you like to hear more about this spell?"

Hermione was still anxious but she nodded her head. Snape moved his hand from her chin down to her shoulder to smooth back a few wayward curls. That little touch made her skin prickle, and Hermione felt the urge to move in closer. Draping her legs over his thighs, she shuffled forward until she was nestled comfortably in Severus' lap.

"If you agree to the spell, you will be protected by my magic, and I with yours, even if we are not together. It will remain in place no matter where you go, and can only be removed the same manner in which it is cast."

"Will anyone be able to tell...?"

"The chance of that happening is slim, but this is why you must not lose your wand. To do so would be identical to putting a divider into our affinity, leaving you exposed. Although, most Dark wizards worth their salt would immediately recognise Dark magic should they lay hand on your wand, and that is the last thing you want to explain to a Death Eater. This is assuming you would even be given the chance to speak."

Hermione began chewing nervously on her bottom lip.

"So if I'm found to be sharing your magic, then I risk being strung up by my toes. Well, I would be lying if I didn't say that I'm a little worried..."

"Apprehension is normal, but I assure you the positive outweighs the negative."

"Alright, then. How do we do this?"

Snape stared at Hermione for a moment. Without breaking eye contact, he reached over to the side table and picked up their wands.

"I'll need your wand hand."

Hermione offered her right hand, watching intently as Severus held it in his own. The tip of his ebony wand was placed against her palm; the spell utilised was simple enough, but stung nonetheless as it left a half-inch long gash into her skin. Once his own hand had also been cut open, causing a trickle of bright red blood to slide down and form a small puddle in his palm, Snape bade Hermione to take his wand with her wounded hand while he did the same with her own.

"Now repeat after me," he directed, aligning the tips of their wands together.

The spell was unfamiliar to Hermione's ears, and she focused every bit of her attention to the foreign words coming from Severus' lips. He hadn't exactly explained what would happen during the course of the spell being performed, and although she trusted him, the unknown still left her feeling jittery.

When the last word had been spoken, a glow of light exploded from their joined wands, going brighter and brighter until it stung Hermione's eyes, forcing her to look away. The light then abruptly went out, and a flash of heat began in her hand and travelled up the length of her arm. While the sensation was not painful, it wasn't what she would call pleasant, and Hermione hoped that it wouldn't get worse. There was another flash of light between their hands, followed by a brief stinging in her palm where Severus cut her open, and it made her yelp in shock. Then everything stopped.

"Is that it?" Hermione asked nervously, shifting Severus' wand to her other hand to examine the stinging one. Her eyes widened upon finding that her palm was no longer bleeding: it was healed and looked as if it had never been sliced open. "How...?"

"I suppose that's one side effect," Snape mused, showing Hermione his hand which was also healed. "How do you feel?"

"Fine, I guess. Different, but it's hard to explain..." Hermione trailed off. She saw that Severus was closely surveying his hand, in between peering at her, as if expecting something to happen. "I'm alright, honest. I think the best way to describe how I feel is, well, giddy. Like I've just inhaled laughing gas."


"Oh, yeah, laughing gas is what they give you at the dentist's office when—"

"I'm aware of what laughing gas is, Hermione," Snape replied, taking his wand from her hand and replacing it and Hermione's on the side table. "Even though I've never been to a Muggle dentist."

"OK. At the same time, I feel a bit overwhelmed; like I'm being engulfed from the inside out." Inhaling sharply a few times, Hermione found that the sensation was not fading. "It's your magic that I'm feeling, isn't it? Gods, this is intense."

Just as Hermione began wringing her hands, Severus caught both her wrists and gently held them down.

"I did warn you that this was very similar to a bonding spell," he pointed out. "There was no way for me to know the exact initial outcome, but what you are feeling will pass."

"So how is it you're so calm?" Hermione demanded, looking thoroughly agitated. "I feel like I'm going to jump out of my skin."

"You won't," Severus assured, pulling Hermione close until her head was tucked beneath his chin. "Deep breaths, Hermione."

Listening to the sound of Severus inhaling and exhaling, Hermione matched her breathing to his and found that it gradually made her feel less panicky.

"It's only natural that my magic is more advanced, but that doesn't mean yours is weaker." Severus murmured this next to Hermione's ear while running a hand over her naked back. "Considering that mine runs to both ends of the spectrum, I expect you had to become accustomed to it."

Hermione silently agreed. However, her anxiety was being replaced with a need to remain close to Severus. Maybe it was another side effect from the spell, or she was mentally and physically aroused by the mere idea of them now being bound to one another. Whatever it was, she wanted to stay right there in his lap. Slipping her arms around his waist and resting her forehead against Severus' shoulder, Hermione allowed her body to relax. She felt acutely aware of the wizard she had wrapped herself around. The sound of his breathing, his heartbeat, even his fingertips stroking up and down the length of her spine: she was able to hone in on it all.

The entire time, Hermione mused about the drastic measures Severus went through to protect her. He was putting himself at great risk by doing so. In spite of being a man that kept himself closed off to everyone, Hermione was able to tell that he cared about her; there was no way she would have continued a relationship with him if he hadn't. But the fact that he willingly and generously cloaked her in his magic...to say that it warmed her heart was an understatement.

Severus had also been surprised by his gesture. Casting the spell with Hermione was one the only thing he had done completely of his own accord, for his own reasons that had nothing to do with another's agenda. Yes, it was meant to keep her safe should she fall into the company of unsavoury individuals, but there had been no other persons to directly influence his decision.

Perhaps it had been the fact that Hermione helped him time and time again, even at the risk of becoming a pariah should anyone find out. Snape didn't think that he would be allowed to outright bleed to death should he turn up at Hogwarts with his guts hanging out, but receiving extra personal attention was unlikely. Hermione had seen him at his most vulnerable state and passed no judgement; her overzealous manner in making sure that he was alright was at times annoying. Even so, Snape found her actions endearing.

For a long time Hermione remained in his lap, her arms and legs wrapped loosely around him. Small fingers swept across his lower back. Between that and the feel of soft kisses being haphazardly placed upon his chest, Snape reasoned that his focus ought to be on the pleasant sensations Hermione's caresses brought forth, but a bleak thought kept him from doing so.

It was getting late. Or early, depending on how he looked at it. They would have to leave Grimmauld Place before sun up, as Hermione needed to return to The Burrow. Sod's law would see to Hermione being caught sneaking in by none other than Molly Weasley. The elder witch had perfect use of her faculties, and would demand to know of Hermione's whereabouts. Snape knew time was precious, as he had no idea if or when he would next see Hermione. Making love to her one last time seemed like a perfect, yet bittersweet way to bring their together time to a close.

"Am I going to see you again?" she asked, looking up at him and breaking his train of thought.

Hermione knew the answer before asking her questions, as distance was not the only thing separating them. That did not stop her from desperately holding onto some shred of hope.

"I don't know."

Snape's words were spoken without feeling, although he was mournful on the inside.

Hermione looked as if she didn't know how to take that; her face went from anguished to resigned, all within the span of a few seconds. She ended up resting her forehead against his shoulder, digging her fingers into each of his biceps and keeping her face hidden.


"I'm OK," she answered without looking up, her wavering voice incongruous to her words.

"Hermione... I told you I would try, and I meant it," Snape murmured, pressing a kiss into her hair."My words weren't said merely to appease you."

There was no need to bring up the specific promise the wizard was speaking of; both remembered all too well the many times Hermione made Severus promise that he would return to her. Snape could never forget; he had gone his entire life without another worrying if he were dead or alive. At times, Snape wanted to curse the fact that a young witch who sometimes seemed out of her time came into his life so late in the day. In the end, he was grateful for the immense comfort she had unwittingly bestowed upon him in such a short period.

At first glance of Hermione's shocked face that evening, when he pinned her against the drawing room wall, Snape realised just how severely the witch's absence had affected him. It hadn't taken long for him to figure out that it was truly his witch standing before him and not a Polyjuiced version. Besides her scent being the same, there was only one person who ever looked upon him a certain way. Even though it had been plain that Hermione was scared witless from being subjected to a round 'prove who you are or else' while his wand gouged the side of her neck, the tender look in her eyes always reserved for him lingered.


His name was uttered with longing, and when Snape looked down, he found Hermione staring up at him, that very look in her eyes which almost always made him capitulate. A slight shift on the mattress, and Snape held onto Hermione's shoulders, urging her to lie down. His witch had no objection to being guided down onto her back, although she maintained eye contact with him the entire time. Brown curls were scattered in a tangle over the pillow he used, and Snape remained between her parted thighs. Hermione slipped both arms around his shoulders, pulling him against her for an eager kiss.

That caused her to let out a small anguished sob. Wanting to divert her attention, Severus began nipping at the tender area beneath Hermione's earlobe, knowing that it always made her tremble.

Eager hands clutched at him, trying to keep him close. Biting, suckling kisses were strewn across her throat and chest, and Hermione continued to clutch at him, while gnawing at her bottom lip.

The feel of Hermione's soft skin against his made his cock stir, and a half-inflated erection was soon pressing against her warm core. Hermione pulled on Severus, angling her hips and trying to make him penetrate her, but he thwarted her advances. Just as she let out an impatient hiss, he pressed Hermione's hands onto the pillow while slipping down her body, placing a trail of kisses along the way. Immediately she parted her thighs for him, unashamedly exposing herself.

Snape was able to see enough in the flickering hearth light. Part of him wanted to draw things out, but mostly he wanted to hear Hermione as she became lost to the throes of passion. Lowering his face to her, he drew the flat of his tongue up in one long, slow swipe from opening to clit, enjoying the way her thighs tensed beneath his hands. Up and down he licked, his lips and tongue searching out every drop of sweet liquid that flowed from her. The witch moaned and cried out, unable to lie still and grabbing onto anything her hands touched.

Despite all her thrashing about, Hermione was unable to pull away from a pleasure so intense that it was nearly too much; two hands slipped beneath her, keeping her immobile while Severus' roamed over every inch of her intimate flesh. The build up to orgasm was so swift that she could barely catch her breath, and when it finally hit she nearly leapt out of his grasp.

When Hermione's screams faded into muffled whimpers, Severus lowered her back to the bed, but not before placing a tender kiss on her triangle of soft curls. She was still red-faced and trembling when he shifted over her, attaching his mouth to her breast, sucking and toying with each nipple until they formed two wet, stiff points.

"Wait a minute." Hermione gently pushed at Severus' shoulder, sitting up and urging him to move back. "It's your turn."

"I didn't know we were keeping tally," Snape replied, sliding back and kneeling on his haunches.

"We aren't," Hermione laughed, steadying both hands on his thighs and brushing her lips against his chest, "but I'd like to return the favour."

Hermione sincerely enjoyed pleasuring Severus, just as much as she enjoyed receiving pleasure from him. While he mostly made noise right before approaching release, he was still very responsive while in the middle of things. Such as right now; Hermione kissed her way down his body, while her fingers lightly massaged the insides of his thighs. His breathing became noticeably heavy, and when her lips wrapped around the velvety soft tip of his cock, his hips reactively lurched forward.

It was as if Hermione could not get enough of her wizard; while her mouth and left hand remained firmly attached to one area, the right roamed over his thighs and abdomen, before settling at his waist. Severus was completely absorbed by the young woman before him. It was tempting to remain in his position, knowing that all it would take was another few minutes before he lost control. But the need to be inside her again was greater, and he rested his palm against the side of Hermione's face, wanting her to lean up.

"Come here, my little temptress," he rasped. "Wait a minute, let me shift my legs. My damned foot is going numb."

That made Hermione giggle, but soon as Severus had both legs folded in front of him, she eagerly settled into his lap, placing her arms around his neck and her feet behind his back. His thin arms immediately went around her body, pulling her so tightly against him that it nearly felt as if they were one entity. His erection was intimately pressing against her opening, and all it would have taken was a slight shift for him to slip inside her. But the wizard apparently was in no rush, for he was content to simply hold her, stroking her back while pressing feather light kisses to her brow, eyelids, cheeks, and nose.

"I love you," Hermione whispered when his lips brushed over hers.

She sounded less nervous this time, reassured by the knowledge that her feelings would not be made light of, or rebuked. Severus paused to look into her eyes. Hermione's curls had already exploded from their first coupling that evening; now they were tripled in size from thrashing her head about on the pillow when he licked her to a toe-curling orgasm. Long fingers smoothed over the impossible tresses, before stopping at the back of her neck.

Severus was completely unguarded as he stared searchingly into Hermione's eyes. He said nothing, and she unblinkingly gazed back at him.

"I know," he said quietly, apparently satisfied with what he found; there was a hint of sadness in his eyes even as a half-smile formed on his lips. "I know."

There was a small shifting of their bodies and Hermione's breath caught in her throat as Severus nudged his way inside her. His name came out in a gasp when he was fully embedded within her, and Hermione dug her fingertips into his shoulders when he remained completely motionless for so long that it make her impatient.

"Severus, move," she clamoured, rolling her hips against his.

"Stop rushing me, witch."

The husky-sounding words became lost to the side of her neck where Severus had planted his lips, causing Hermione to moan from the sweet torment of his teeth scraping over a sensitive spot.

"Are you going to keep me dangling on a thread here?" Hermione asked in a strained tone, arching her back and futilely moving against him again, "or are you going to keep going?"

Soft, thin lips skimmed along the underside of her jaw, kissing all the way to her chin.

"Have I ever left you wanting?"

Severus' question was followed with a steady rocking glide of his hips, causing him to withdraw almost fully from Hermione before teasing pressing his way back in. He was lodged against the mouth of her womb, and the pleasure was so intense that it was nearly painful. There was another agonisingly slow measure of push and pull, followed by another, each thrust causing Severus to bottom out within her, and Hermione forgot the question until the thrusting stopped, and he asked her again.

"Well? Have I?"

"No..." Hermione panted, pressing the soles of her feet flat to the bed and surging against Severus, intent on taking what she needed right then and there.

Severus willed himself to hold off, not only to prolong their lovemaking, but because he wanted to bask in the feel of Hermione's lush, warm body wrapped around his for as long as possible. Yet with each wriggle of the witch's hips, along with her sheath fluttering and clenching around him, he found that he was fighting a losing battle. Hermione didn't have to wait long for what she wanted; Severus gripped onto her arse while his other hand fastened to the back of her neck. Just as he leaned forward to latch his mouth to the base of her throat, he filled her continuously with slow undulations that made his pelvis mash into the tight knot of her clitoris.

A series of barely coherent 'oh's' spilled from Hermione's lips as she was stirred into a state of rapidly heightening bliss. She clung to her wizard as tightly as he clung to her, the two becoming lost in one another. For a brief moment in time, all their worries were forgotten; they were the only two in their own world, the only beings that mattered inside that dusty little bedroom at the topmost floor of Number 12, Grimmauld Place.

With each urgent, synchronised movement, fire bloomed in Hermione's belly, and a crop of gooseflesh covered her from head to toe. Chances were her fingernails were going to leave behind bloody, bruised telltale signs on Severus' shoulders, but Hermione was also likely to end up with black and blue marks the shape of his hand discolouring her thighs and waist. She didn't care; her head was swimming, her body was on fire, and if Severus were to stop now she would surely die.

"Look at me," Severus gruffly ordered, sweeping Hermione's hair out of her face and clutching it in his fist. "Hermione, look at me."

Hermione managed to pry her eyes open, but it was hard to keep them open, especially when Severus plunged deeply into her, holding himself there for a moment, before repeating the process. Back and forth he went, killing her softly by burying himself inside her and stopping, while beckoning her to keep looking at him. The dull pain of pressing her teeth into her bottom lip was little help to staying focused, and Hermione ended up dazedly staring at her wizard through heavily lidded eyes that were suddenly swimming in tears.

When the dam finally burst, she was crying and coming harder than ever, clinging to Severus and staring into his intense, dark eyes as he rode them both to an earth shattering climax. Some time passed before the fine tremors running throughout her body ceased, although between her legs continued pulsating around Severus' softening shaft. His arms maintained their grip on her body, and he was still breathing heavily against her face. Exhausted physically and emotionally, Hermione went limp and allowed her forehead to fall against Severus' shoulder.

The witch was perfectly content to remain slumped against her wizard. His once rapid heartbeat was now slowing down, and the even thumping made her drowsier. Therefore when Severus untangled their limbs and guided them both to lie down, Hermione stuck to his front while he arranged the sheet over their sweat-dampened forms. She didn't remember falling asleep.

Shortly before sunrise, Hermione was roused out of sleep by a finger tickling her cheek. Severus looked grim, as if he were about to embark on some unpleasant task. Knowing that their time together had come to an end, Hermione fought the urge to break down, but was unable to keep a lone tear from trickling down her face.

After a sliver of soap had been found in the bedroom. The two shared a shower, carefully washing one another. The harsh bathroom light showed them both to bear purplish marks of their passion, Severus' own slightly bloody from Hermione's short fingernails. Once they were dressed, having already reassembled the bedroom and double checking to make sure the evidence of their evening had been vanished, the two walked hand in hand through the house and out the door.

"I didn't think this was going to be so hard," Hermione murmured about parting ways with her lover as they exited Grimmauld Place. The sky was still dark, and they were standing out on the pavement in the brisk, pre-dawn air. "I feel like I'm going to be sick."

"We really shouldn't linger, but we can take a moment if you need," Severus replied, pausing to look down at Hermione and finding that she had gone pale.

"No, you're right," she told him, shaking off her fit of nerves. "I'll be OK. I'll have some tea when I get back to the Burrow."

"Tea, the solution to every Brit's problem," he lightly teased, earning a weak smile from Hermione. "Come on, then. Try to hold your vomit until you reach the Burrow; perhaps if you become sick in Molly's kitchen she'll take pity on you and excuse you from wedding preparation duties."

That made Hermione snigger.

"Not that I want to sound like Ron, but how did you know Mrs. Weasley had us working like house-elves?"

"I know Molly Weasley, that's how."

Hermione knew that Severus had a point. She was unable to say so, however, because he gave her a second's warning before Apparating them off the side street and landing them at the outskirts of the Weasleys' farm.

"I could have gone alone. You didn't need to go out of your way."

"As if I'd take that chance," Snape told her brusquely. "Just in case you were planning on complaining, I'll let you know that I'm also going to walk you to the door."

"But what if you're seen?"

"I won't be."

"But what if—"

Severus' hand tightened around hers, and he began walking forward.

"My little, fretful witch, I assure you that I will not be seen. Now, let's go."

Hand in hand they silently walked through the overgrown weeds, skirting along the shallow body of water hidden between them. Time had a way of lingering when something unpleasant was near; now it was mocking Hermione, seemingly cutting itself in half, for her walk with Severus was over much too soon. The sorrow was palpable on her face, and just before she could let out a sob, Severus snatched her into the shadows and pulled her against him.

"Remember what I told you," he murmured into her ear, "always keep your wand on you. Question everything, trust no one, and if you have to, hex first and sort it out later. You can't save everyone, so you shouldn't try, and there is nothing wrong with saving yourself first, in spite of what your headstrong, overzealous friend proclaims."

"I understand, Severus, but you make it sound like we'll never see one another again..."

"I won't lie to you, there is a possibility of that happening. However, I also promised that I would do my best to get back to you and I keep my promises."

"You had better."

Severus chuckled quietly. He then captured Hermione's face between both hands, and pressed his lips to her forehead. A few curls had worked themselves out of her messy ponytail, and he looped a finger around the frizzy strands.

"I'm going to miss this wild mane of yours."

"You won't have a chance to miss them," Hermione replied. "Or me; you'll be seeing me before you know it."

"That's the plan."

After sharing a few frantic kisses, Snape had to literally pry Hermione away from him and nudge her in the direction of the house.

"I don't want to leave you."

"I know you don't. I'm not so fond of the idea, either, but you have to."

Hermione drew in a shuddering breath, steeling her nerves.

"I know. OK, I'm going."

"Hermione..." Snape trailed off, pulling her to him once more and placing a hard kiss on her lips. "Don't forget: I care for you. I will protect you, even when you're unaware. Even when you might hear otherwise. Now, go inside and go to bed."

Hermione noticed that he didn't tell her goodbye; whether it was conscious or subconscious she knew not, but she refused to even utter that farewell greeting.

"I l—"

"I know, you love me." There was a hint of a smirk on Snape's sallow face, but at least there was some spark in his eyes that made Hermione's heart leap.

"Don't you forget," she replied, finally forcing her feet to move forward.

It was easier than she anticipated to sneak back into the house. Softly padding her way upstairs, Hermione paused at the landing to peer out the window to see if Snape was still standing in the yard. When there was no sign of his black-cloaked presence, a sudden overwhelming sense of grief tore at her, and she collapsed right there on the top step, allowing a stream of hot tears to pour down her cheeks.

Severus knew she loved him. Hermione hadn't planned on telling him, but she was glad he knew. What she did not plan on was him walking out of her life that morning, unknowingly taking her heart with him.