A/N: I'm 100000% sure you all are sick of my shit. I'm so sorry, I never meant to go THIS LONG between updates. I've worked overtime just about every month last year, and then coupled with exhaustion and the fact that I now need surgery on my right hand (thanks tendinitis) typing, knitting, sewing, EXISTING has become a feat.
With that said, I do thank you for sticking with me and cheering me on, believing in me and your continuous love, reviews and support!
I know we're all tired of Hermione not being able to speak. I'm tired of it too. Do you know how exhausting it is to write a character whose only source of communication is nodding? But I promise that aspect is central to a plot of this story and everything is connected. EVERYTHING, even if I'm taking my sweet time to reveal things.
I hope I found all errors but if not, please let me know so I can fix them!
Happy new year! E-cookies as thanks your lovely reviews!
Visiting with Hagrid went smoother than Hermione would have expected, taking into consideration that he was the only one who could speak. He did ask if she wanted a quill and parchment and apologised when he couldn't find either item, but Hermione didn't mind. She was content to listen to Hagrid filling her in on the going-ons at Hogwarts. He became rather chipper upon mentioning that McGonagall left him in charge of tending to all the magical creatures who befell harm during the battle. Hermione thought the job was well suited for the groundskeeper and she continued smiling until Hagrid mentioned one of his multiple-legged charges was a creature that had poisonous saliva, talons sharp as razor blades and could spit the distance of a full Quidditch pitch. She wanted to ask why he was so pleased about taking care of something that could easily kill him by spitting or slicing, but Hagrid was so happy that she forced herself to keep maintain a smile.
Hagrid mentioned something about Harry needing to get away from the school for a bit. Ron was also not at the school, having left to split his time between Grimmauld Place and the Burrow. Hagrid assumed Hermione was upset about her best friends not being around the day she came out of hospital, but she didn't mind. She had quickly grown weary of making an attempt at non-verbal communication, and the last thing she wanted to do was be subjected to the scrutiny of Harry and Ron. And while spending time with Hagrid was a pleasant distraction, worries about Severus lingered at the back of her mind.
When they were in the Great Hall he'd looked as though he wanted to hex the next person who dared come within five yards of his personal space, and she was sure he'd been gritting his teeth throughout each interaction. Hermione could relate, for she wanted to flee from everyone the moment they'd arrived at Hogwarts.
All had been polite and merely wished her well, but some bolder than others asked questions she could not or did not want to answer. The main query surrounded her inability to speak, but even after learning that she could not talk, a few continued asking questions as though expecting an answer. Hagrid had been her saving grace, and Hermione was able to exhale once she realised he didn't plan on giving her the third degree.
"'Spose I ought ter get yeh back before those Aurors come lookin' for us," Hagrid told Hermione, pausing to peer down at Fang who had fallen asleep with his massive head on her foot. "Wake up, Fang."
The boarhound paid his master no mind and went on with his nap.
"Fang, wake up. Fan—dozy dog," Hagrid muttered, leaning over from his seat to push Fang away. "We can go if yer ready, that is if yeh can feel yer foot."
There was a slight pins and needles sensation in Hermione's toes, and she wriggled her foot about a few times before standing up.
On the walk back to the school, Hermione listened as Hagrid told her about Kingsley reinstating his privileges to do magic, which came in handy as his hut had to be rebuilt a second time.
"Harry and Ginny helped, seeing as I'm a bit rusty at spells an' all," Hagrid said cheerfully. "But I still have me pink umbrella."
The moment Hermione and Hagrid stepped inside the Entrance Hall, they were descended upon immediately by her Auror detail.
"Stop yer whinging," Hagrid told them, placing himself between the Aurors and Hermione, who had visibly tensed the moment they approached. "I told yeh she would be safe with me."
Hagrid's stare was so fierce that the Aurors finally relented and stepped back a few paces.
At first, Hagrid had been making his way toward the Great Hall, but he paused and asked Hermione if she wanted to go for another walk instead. What she actually wanted was to find Severus and Filch, but she didn't know how to do so without arousing suspicion.
Hermione agreed to the walk, hoping that she might bump into Filch along the way. The Aurors were also pleased about the mini excursion and could be heard reminiscing about their days at Hogwarts.
After their leisurely stroll around the school grounds, the group returned to the Great Hall and was served lunch. Hermione was distracted more than she was hungry and mostly nibbled on her sandwich. By that time the Aurors were ignoring her, deeply engrossed in conversation with Hagrid while shovelling food into their mouths. Hermione had swiftly grown weary of socialising and began plotting on how she would give everyone the slip.
Settling on the excuse of going to the toilet, Hermione rose from the table and made her way out the Great Hall. She was on her way down to the dungeons when a cat with dust-coloured fur strode in front of her.
Mrs Norris rubbed her body against Hermione's ankles a few times, obviously demanding to be petted. Hermione obliged and bent down to softly stroke her head. It soon became apparent that Mrs Norris wanted more, and she calmly waited until Hermione picked her up and began carrying her down the spiral stone staircase. The moment Hermione was off the last step, Mrs Norris began wriggling, demanding to be set down.
The cat moved a few paces before stopping and turning to see if she was being followed. Hermione took the hint and walked behind Mrs Norris.
Most of the dungeon was surprisingly intact, yet was still as cold as Hermione remembered.
When Mrs Norris finally stopped, Hermione found herself in front of a partially opened battered wooden door. The cat slipped inside, and seconds later Hermione heard Mr Filch fondly greeting his pet.
"There you are, my sweet. Did you miss daddy?"
Hermione paused when she heard Filch sweet-talking his cat. When he stopped, she knocked on the door.
"Good, you're here. Need some cotton wool for your bleeding ears?" Filch chuckled after opening the door and beckoning her inside. "I know Hagrid didn't stop talking for one minute."
Hermione smiled. It was true, Hagrid had chattered non-stop during their entire visit but she hadn't minded. Doubly so considering he was the only one who could speak.
"So I guess you've figured it out, but Severus isn't here," Filch continued, turning around to a chair piled with rags and a small bottle, moving them to a table and gesturing for Hermione to sit. "He was in a bad way and Dobby helped him home. Understandable, being back here an' all. Told'im I'd look after you."
Hermione understood Filch perfectly, but having nerves worn thin from everything going on, combined with the stress of being made to socialise even though she could not left her less than rational. She began crying, and then got upset at herself for the uncontrollable display of emotions.
"No no, don't do that, please don't do that," Filch pleaded, memories of Hermione's last outburst that ended with him getting bashed in the head with a book still fresh on his mind. He rushed over to the sobbing girl, patting her arm in an awkward effort to console her. "Where's that sodding elf when I need him?"
"My good girl," Filch told Mrs Norris when she walked over and stopped at his feet. "Go and find Dobby. All right, my sweet? Hurry."
Hermione continued crying, although her sobs quieted down as Filch continued speaking softly to her just as he'd done to Mrs Norris. She didn't notice but the entire time Filch kept a cautious eye on the small stack of books on his table.
Thankfully the books remained in place, yet Filch did not relax until Mrs Norris finally returned with Dobby at her side.
"Do you remember what Severus's kitchen looks like?" Filch pressed he saw the house-elf.
"Sorry, Dobby does not understand."
"The kitchen! Can you remember how it looks? Or the hallway? We can't Apparate directly into the sitting room. When I left Severus he were drunk and in a foul mood. Now he's got his wand and I don't feel like losing my bollocks tonight."
Dobby finally understand what was being asked, and he hurriedly Apparated Filch and Hermione into the hallway on the other side of Severus's sitting room.
There was an insistent rapping at Severus's front door the moment they appeared, followed by the voice of an Auror demanding entrance.
"It's just us!" Filch bellowed, urging the two to stay behind him as he rushed to open the door. "I've got Hermione and Dobby with me," he told the Muggle-clothed Auror, who pushed past him with his wand raised, lowering it when he saw the elf and sniffling, red-eyed woman.
"Why did you Apparate here?" the Auror demanded, only to get interrupted.
"It truly is a wonder you've made it this far. Now either use your brain and read the room, or fuck off."
That was the snarling voice of Severus, and everyone turned around to find a silvery doe floating midair. "They wouldn't be allowed to Apparate inside my home if my wards did not allow them to do so. Or did you miss that day of Auror training?"
The Auror looked shocked and then irritated, likely at having been dressed down by a Patronus. But he merely lowered his wand and without uttering another word, stepped back outside.
The Patronus huffed before trotting away in the other direction and vanishing into thin air. Filch also looked shocked but quickly recovered and led the way, peeking his head around the corner before deeming it safe to continue.
Severus was in the same place as before and as Filch expected, with his wand in hand.
"And that's why I had Dobby bring us in on the other side," Filch commented, nodding toward Snape's wand hand. "I would have given some warning instead of just barging in, but..." he trailed off and turned round to look at Hermione. She had stopped in the book-surrounded doorway, still sniffling and oddly hesitant to enter. Dobby was just as perplexed and he lingered by Hermione's leg, questioningly looking up at her.
"Something tells me she thinks you were trying to do a runner," Filch told Severus, speaking softly enough so only he could hear. "Started crying the moment I told her you weren't at the school."
"Christ," Snape swore under his breath, breathing hard and ignoring the pang that shot down his leg when he stood up to see Hermione. "Come here, sweetheart."
Hermione dithered for a bit, but finally stepped further inside the sitting room when she saw Severus clenching his jaw as though in pain. He leaned heavily on his walking stick while moving to sit down again, and pulled Hermione to perch on his non-aching leg.
Filch knew the display before him had everything to do with calming Hermione and less to do with romance yet the situation felt awkward, as though he was a third wheel.
"Well, Dobby and I are going but we'll come back with supper," Filch interrupted loudly, deliberately keeping his head averted. "All right?"
"Yes. Thank you, Argus," Severus replied, nodding in Filch's direction while rubbing Hermione's back.
"Yeah, well... Dobby, let's go."
After the two left, Hermione leaned closer into Severus and carefully slipped an arm around him, as though fearful he might disappear.
"I'm sorry for leaving the school without a word," he apologised, suddenly unable to meet her eye. "I just couldn't... it felt like I was suffocating in there. I had to leave."
Hermione understood what he meant and nodded. She wasn't upset with him; she felt comforted and relieved, and as she rested her head against his shoulder and breathed in his scent, the more relaxed she became.
Filch had come to St. Mungo's early that morning to bring Severus clean clothes and help him with a shave. While a bit of afternoon stubble had already grown in, Hermione could still detect a whiff of aftershave lotion.
And as Filch previously mentioned, there was also a hint of whisky.
Severus had been stroking her side through her pullover the entire time, but then his hand slowed to a stop and his head fell to the side. He was clearly exhausted and the whisky didn't help. None of that mattered to Hermione, even after she toppled to the floor when Severus snored loudly and flailed in his sleep.
"Shit! Sorry," Severus mumbled in a rough voice, leaning forward to help her up.
Severus didn't seem amused at scaring himself awake and causing Hermione to fall, but she thought it was funny and didn't try to hide her amusement.
"I'm glad you're pleased. Are you all right?"
Hermione nodded and looked at Severus as though to say 'I'm fine'.
"All right, I know that look," he teased as Hermione sat on the small sofa across from him. "Give me a moment. I need the toilet and then I'll take you upstairs."
Severus leaned over the side of the armchair and began blindly rooting around for his walking stick. It had fallen over when he'd startled himself. Hermione immediately dropped to the floor to pick it up, panting a bit as she reached behind the armchair.
It was no surprise that Severus had an issue with being unable to pick up his own walking stick, but Hermione thrust the stick in his direction and pointed for him to go to the toilet.
"Still bossy as ever," Severus muttered, wincing as he pushed to his feet and slowly tapped his way out the sitting room.
Hermione would have followed him to offer assistance, but she didn't want to start a row. Forcing herself to wait on the sofa was not easy; she could hear Severus swearing loudly, followed by a loud clatter of what she guessed was his walking stick falling against something. After a few minutes she heard a flush, running water, and the tap of the walking stick making its way back to the sitting room.
"I know it was difficult for you to stay here, but thank you," Severus stated dryly when he returned and saw Hermione's tense posture. "But I did manage. Now, ladies first." He pointed his wand to a book-covered portion of the wall behind the armchair, and it opened slowly to reveal a narrow, darkened staircase.
She had been half asleep the first time she walked up this set of steps, but now she was fully awake and curious about the reason for their little excursion.
Hermione made it upstairs faster than Severus and waited for him at the top. The single, dust-coated window across the landing was covered in tatty lace curtains that let in a hint of light, and Hermione didn't move for fear of bumping into something.
"Fuck," Severus panted when he finally made it. He paused to dig his knuckles into his thigh. "I won't be doing much of that for some time. I want to show you where you'll be sleeping. Toilet is here, in case you didn't remember, towels and flannels are there in the airing cupboard."
Despite the lack of light, Severus seemed to have no trouble with navigating his way down the hall. Hermione followed behind, craning her neck as he pointed out each room. She didn't mind being given a tour, as her last visit was now mostly a blur. But what she did mind was Severus bringing her to a room where she would be sleeping. She noticed his use of the singular word, and it was difficult to not feel slighted by the fact that she would be sleeping alone. It was no shock that it was difficult for him to climb the steps, but Hermione assumed she'd at least be sleeping in his room.
"It's much nicer than my bedroom," Severus explained quietly as he pushed open a door. He stepped back and allowed Hermione to go inside first.
This room was definitely different than his bedroom. It had a sort of faded beauty, as though it had once been offhandedly tended to and then forgotten about.
The wallpaper was blue and white with a floral motif, and the carpet was the same shade of blue. There was a wooden dresser that was pretty, even if it was in need of polishing, and its surface was covered in dainty doilies that were once white but had yellowed with age. The bed had a wrought iron headboard and there was a pale blue duvet with more white flowers, and the pillows were encased in coordinating ruffled shams.
"This was my mother's bedroom. It's dusty and needs a bit of tidying first, which I'm sure Dobby won't mind handling as he loves this sort of thing."
In all their time together, Hermione could count on one hand the amount of times Severus had mentioned his mother, Eileen Snape. What she knew about the woman could fill a thimble, most of which she gleaned from old copies of the Prophet when she'd researched the Half-Blood Prince, the moniker in Harry's Potions book. She knew his mum played Gobstones as a child, and she knew that Severus greatly resembled her. As for her husband, Severus's father, Hermione knew even less. She wondered if he'd one day tell her about his family.
Hermione paused to peek up at Severus. There was a strained expression on his face, and she assumed it had something to do with looking at his mother's bedroom. Slipping her hand into his and squeezing it as though to say 'thank you', Hermione nodded, indicating that she would use the bedroom.
This situation was unprecedented, and Hermione felt awkward as she lingered beyond the threshold. Severus remained in the doorway, as though he had no intention of stepping one toe further inside. Hermione did the first thing that came to mind, and moved in closer and slowly wrapped her arms around him.
Severus felt stiff at first, but then he freed one arm and slid it around her shoulders.
The two remained like so for a few minutes, and Hermione heard Severus exhale sharply before briefly kissing her forehead.
"Sorry to disappoint if you were expecting more," Severus commented, sniffing as he directed his gaze to the hallway. "This house isn't the most hospitable of places."
Disappointment was the last thing Hermione felt, but she knew Severus felt self-conscious although he would never admit it. After moving from pillar to post and sleeping in a tent while helping her best friends search for Horcruxes, and then spending nearly a month in a cold, lonely room in St. Mungo's, the last thing Hermione planned on was passing judgment on someone's home. Silence and privacy further sweetened the deal, and Hermione felt herself smile when she thought about taking a bath without worry of a Mediwitch barging in to make sure she hadn't drowned herself.
Even if the circumstances were not ideal, the companionship was perfect, and Hermione let Severus know she thought so by standing up on tiptoe and slowly touching her lips to his.
A loud crack interrupted the kiss and made Hermione jump back, but she relaxed when she heard a familiar voice.
"Where are you two?" Filch bellowed from downstairs. His shouts were followed by the sound of a door banging open, then the mingled voices of frantic Aurors and Filch grousing at them.
Severus and Hermione stared at one another for a while, listening to the commotion beneath them. Finally the yelling ceased and the door shut.
"I think we better go down before he tries to come up," Severus suggested, and Hermione nodded.
Hermione followed Severus back down the darkened, narrow set of steps. A thick, savoury scent hung in the air and Hermione immediately felt her stomach do a flip.
"Sodding Aurors," Filch grumbled, busily rooting through a large hamper set atop the small table in Severus's kitchen. "Couldn't pour piss out a shoe if directions were written on the heel. Well, sit down. I think Dobby packed enough food for twelve."
Dobby was also perched atop the table, happily arranging plates and cutlery until he heard Filch. "Dobby is sorry, sir!" he apologised, only for Filch to roll his eyes.
"Pull yourself together, elf, I only meant it in a good way. No one'll go hungry. Job well done, yeah?"
Once the table was laid, Filch attempted to take his leave but Severus complained that his icebox lacked the capacity to hold a year's worth of food and he and Dobby might as well stay. It was roundabout way of stating he didn't mind the company, but Filch was wise enough to not draw attention to this fact.
Dinner was a relatively quiet affair, due mostly to the fact that everyone, sans Hermione, was too hungry to make idle chatter.
"Next time I'll be sure to have wine," Severus commented once they were through eating.
"You don't need to get me pissed," Filch replied in syrupy sweet voice. "I'll stay and keep you company if you like. I'll even tuck you in and read you a bit of Babbity Rabbity."
"Fuck you, Argus."
The older man began laughing until he choked and turned red, the entire time Severus glaring at him from across the table. Hermione had to bite her lip to keep from laughing, and Dobby, who had insisted upon clearing their dishes, paused to thump Filch on the back.
"Let him choke," Severus told the elf as he painfully rose from the table and limped into the sitting room without his walking stick.
"That's just how he expresses his affection," Filch told Hermione when he saw the shock on her face. "He doesn't really mean it."
"I don't?" Severus called from the sitting room.
"Not even a little," Filch laughed. "Dobby, let's give these two lovebirds their space. Severus, you know where to find us if you need anything."
"This fucking leg," Severus groaned under his breath as he gingerly lowered himself into the armchair after Filch and Dobby left. Hermione watched as he ran his knuckles up and down his thigh a few times. When he sat back, the discomfort was still evident on his face and she began looking for the light blue bag that held his potions.
"It's right here," Severus told her, eyes closed as he pointed to the side of his armchair.
Surprisingly he offered no resistance when Hermione knelt next to him and pulled the bag close.
"It's the phial with the orange label. Only those pricks would use orange labels."
The phial was easy enough to find, and Hermione unstoppered it and handed it to Severus. He swallowed half its contents, gave a small shudder, and laid the phial atop the stack of books next to his chair.
"Effective. Disgusting, but blessedly effective," he murmured after a moment, visibly relaxed as he sank back into the armchair.
Hermione remained perched in place, waiting anxiously for the potion to work.
"I'm fine, Hermione. Thank you." Severus exhaled slowly as he peered down at her. "That floor is filthy."
Hermione glanced down and looked up at Severus, shrugging her shoulders. She stood up anyway, and dragged over a small, battered ottoman in front of him. By the time she helped Severus prop up his legs, he was already growing drowsy.
"At the risk of sounding daft, I just remembered that you have no clothes or personal effects." His words were slower than usual, side effects of the potion. "Obviously you're welcome to use anything of mine. Apologies ahead of time for my lack of clothing but I'm sure you'll find something to sleep in.
Within seconds Severus was asleep, and Hermione wondered if she had given him too much of the pain draught. At least the ends justified the means, as he was no longer experiencing discomfort.
Rooting through Severus's bureau was a peculiar experience, even if he'd given her permission to do so. There was nothing terribly interesting; a few old jumpers, all dark colours, and a few pairs of Muggle jeans that had buttoned closures instead of zippers. His closet held wizarding robes, teaching robes, a set of outdated dress robes that he'd likely worn as a teen, and a slightly outdated set for an adult.
Lack of clothes turned out to be a gross understatement; it took Hermione more than a few minutes to find a nightshirt, and its size and musty odour made her wonder if Severus had it since youth.
Initially Hermione planned on having a bath, but now she was exhausted and worried about falling asleep in the water and drowning. Instead she had a quick shower and used the cracked mirror in Severus's bathroom, attempting to do something with her tangled hair. She quickly grew frustrated and abandoned her efforts due to lack of a comb, and headed to her room.
The idea of staying in Eileen Snape's former bedroom remained disconcerting. Hermione felt as though she had no right to intrude, yet she reminded herself that Severus insisted.
She pulled out what she thought was his too-small nightshirt, but it fit her almost perfectly. She'd brought up a book with her with the plan to read until she grew sleepy. Hermione climbed into bed, which turned out to be more comfortable than she'd anticipated. The sheets smelled freshly laundered and held the faint scent of lavender, which she assumed was the handiwork of Dobby. She wondered when he'd found time to have everything washed, and made a mental note to thank him later.
The book Severus loaned her was about arcane branches of magic and she found it fascinating, but she barely made it through the first chapter. There was a moment of unpleasantness when Hermione had to leave the warm bed and cross the room to switch off the light, and she lamented not finding socks in Severus's room.
The stark silence of the room was slightly alarming in comparison to her noisy nights at St. Mungo's. However, it was a relief to know that she could sleep without the threat of someone barging in.
The pillow beneath her cheek was just right, and the duvet was rather cosy. Physically everything felt fine, but Hermione knew she would be completely relaxed if Severus was next to her. She knew he was in too much pain to walk and had no intention of asking him to come upstairs, and felt selfish for even considering the notion.
Not to mention that he would likely be completely put off by the idea of sleeping in his dead mum's bed.
Hermione lie awake for a long time, exhausted yet unable to fall asleep. She wished wine had been served at dinner; wine always made her sleepy and at least she'd be able to keep her eyes closed.
She exhaled hard while flipping to her other side. Her hair was trapped beneath her armpit and Hermione wriggled about to set it free. As she brushed an errant tendril from her eyes, she found herself remembering the night when Severus had taken her to his solicitor.
There was still a great deal she had to learn about the man, but she did know he was a perfectionist. Never one to turn tail and flee when faced with an obstacle, Severus had taken his time with her curls and managed a decent plait. His touch had been remarkably gentle, and under different circumstances it would have lulled her to sleep.
The worn sofa in his sitting room wasn't the softest piece of furniture, but Hermione was almost desperate enough to set comfort aside for the sake of being near her mate. That idea was quickly set aside as she told herself he was likely already asleep and didn't want to wake him.
In the end she settled for hugging a pillow close to her chest. It took some time but eventually she was able to fall asleep. Her rest was mostly fitful, and Hermione tossed and turned until the duvet was twisted round her body. Hours later she was able to relax after the duvet was straightened and draped neatly over her. She never woke up when a hand shakily caressed her hair and cheek, but she did exhale slowly before burrowing further into the pillow.
The next few nights remained difficult for Hermione. She would go to bed exhausted yet find herself struggling to sleep. That left her lethargic the next day, and Ivy immediately noticed when she came to conduct Severus's check-up that Friday afternoon.
"You look tired. Are you sleeping all right?" Ivy asked as she carefully removed the bandages from Severus's throat to examine his scar.
Hermione paused as if considering her answer, then gently shook her head.
"I reckon you're experiencing the same?" Ivy then asked Severus, who did not appear thrilled at the question.
"Is that your polite way of saying I look like shit?"
Ivy let out a loud laugh.
"Not at all," she replied. "We're seeing similar symptoms with a lot of patients as of late, not surprising considering the war just ended. Nearly everyone is dealing with after-effects from the trauma. It'll be good for you two to see someone qualified for that sort of thing at some point, but for now a bit of Dreamless Sleep before bedtime should help."
"Who needs Dreamless Sleep when you can just off yourself with Ministry-appointed poison?" Severus scoffed. "In a phial with an orange label, no less."
"Yeah yeah, I know," Ivy replied, shaking her head as she withdrew a roll of fresh bandages from her leather bag. She began using her wand to cut them into large rectangles and redressed Severus's neck. "I told you our potions aren't up to snuff like yours, but they do work. As for the orange labels, not my doing. I thought they looked stupid too. It's a purple potion so why the hell use orange? But I'm biased because I detest orange; it reminds me of puke. Either way, I'll deliver them in a day or so. I would send it by owl but you know me, I'll take any excuse to get away from the madhouse."
Soon after Ivy left, Hermione prepared lunch using the food Dobby brought the night before. Severus insisted he wasn't hungry, but Hermione scowled so fiercely that he rose from his armchair and followed her into the kitchen.
"I'd say you've been around Filch for too long but you and I both know that you've always been bossy."
Hermione pretended to be offended by throwing him a haughty glance.
Despite his earlier protests, Severus ate everything and politely waited until Hermione was also done.
"I'll do the washing up," he announced when she reached over to pick up his plate. "I need to stretch my legs."
Hermione remained at the table and watched Severus push back his sleeves and turn on the tap. He'd left his walking stick at the table and leaned against the counter for support. Everything was washed in a rather methodical manner, much like the way he moved about when brewing potions. She was curious to know why he chose to do everything by hand instead of using magic, but figured he had his reasons.
"I know I could use my wand, but there's no rush," said Severus, as though he'd been able to read Hermione's thoughts. "An odd concept to now have the luxury of time to complete mundane tasks."
Severus spoke without turning around. He didn't sound upset about this newfound luxury, but there was still an odd tone in his words that left Hermione worried.
"It's fine, Hermione. I don't plan to off myself due to boredom."
There was that twisted sense of humour she still wasn't wholly used to, but it did somewhat calm her nerves.
"From what I recall of the first war, expect there to be a load of pointless fanfare. As Potter's best friend, you can expect half the Prophet making an attempt to break down the door to get the first interview. Then there's all the Ministry ordeals, ceremonies and such where they'll give you medals and all sorts of things to collect dust on a shelf. As though a bit of tin is enough to make one get over a lifetime of trauma."
By now Severus had treaded into ranting territory, and it piqued Hermione's curiosity. She wanted to know if he had any involvement with the first war, but for now she merely wanted to calm him.
Deliberately making noise as she rose from the table, Hermione slid into place beside Severus. He stared out the window above the sink, and below his hands gripped the edge of the counter so tightly his knuckles were white. She peered up to see his clenched jaw, and she touched his hand.
"Apologies," Severus mumbled, his voice trailing off. "The last thing you need is me dumping all this shit in your lap."
Hermione held up a hand to stop him. She pointed to him, then to herself, and then took his hand into hers to indicate that they were in this together.
"All right, I'm done with my pity portion of the day. Go on and read your book."
Severus kissed Hermione's forehead and gently nudged her in the direction of the sitting room. The book she'd been reading was interesting, and she didn't need much convincing to continue it.
Still, no matter how enthralling the book, Hermione couldn't help but to divide her attention while listening to Severus tidying the kitchen. He dropped something a few times and the moment Hermione shifted in her seat to stand up, she heard him fuss about not needing help.
"I've always been amazed at the manner of which you pick and choose when to follow instructions," Severus commented a few minutes later as he walked back into the sitting room. "As it were, thank you."
The rest of the day was uneventful. Hermione remained on the sofa with her book, comfortably buried in the pillows Severus Conjured for her. She got up a few times to dispense his pain draught when needed, and he dozed off and on in the armchair. Severus read during his waking moments, but the book slipped from his fingers when he nodded off. Hermione retrieved it each time, tucking it between Severus and the armchair.
Later on Dobby brought another hamper containing dinner but didn't linger. A lack of proper sleep left Hermione yawning over her plate, and Severus suggested she take a hot bath before going to bed.
Hermione didn't think a bath would help, but she was willing to try anything.
After gathering her hair into a topknot and slipping into the hot water, Hermione rested her head against the edge of the tub. Once upon a time all her baths consisted of lavender-scented salts or some floral bubble bath nicked from her mum's stash. Or if using the Prefects' bathroom, blue or green water with slippery soap bubbles that carried a strong odour of perfume.
It was no surprise that Severus had neither bath salts nor soap bubbles, but the opportunity to linger in the hot water without the interruption of a Mediwitch was good enough.
The tap dripped a bit and Hermione lifted her foot to catch a warm droplet. It slowly ran down her wet skin and barely made a sound as it fell to the water.
Hermione wished she'd brought a book with her. Severus would have likely thrown a fit had he seen her carrying one of his tombs to the bathroom, but she knew he would have caved in the end.
Her former apprehension about sleeping in his mum's bed was forgotten about. She was pleasantly surprised to find that the bath had helped, and Hermione fell asleep almost straight away.
"Mudblood whore! Mudblood whore!"
"No! Please stop, please, st—!"
The sound of a woman screaming and glass breaking jolted Hermione out her slumber. She sat up so fast it made her dizzy, desperate to know where the screams were coming from. But the only thing she heard was the sound of her hastened breathing. The house was dark and silent, and her only source of light was the glimmer of a lamp from the neighbour across the street.
It took a few minutes before Hermione realised that the screaming only existed in her mind.
Her panic and fear, however, was very real and her heart remained galloping wildly.
Ivy had been right; a phial of Dreamless Sleep was exactly what she needed. It couldn't be helped now but Hermione hoped the Healer would make good on her promise by the next day.
Her mouth felt dry as cotton and Hermione reached for the water glass she'd left on the bedside table. She frowned when her hand met thin air and peering over the bed, she found the glass shattered on the floor.
Hermione made a mental note to clean up the mess in the morning. As for now, she tried to remember details about her dream but could not. What she did know was there was no way she could remain alone for another minute. Her nightclothes were soaked with perspiration and Hermione shivered as cool night air hit her body when she pushed away the duvet. Her heart continued to pound as she rooted around for her socks, which were quickly found at the foot of the bed.
The creaky staircase seemed extra loud despite Hermione trying to tread as softly as possible. The heavy book-laden door leading to the sitting room was no better, but the noise did not disturb the occupant on the other side.
Hermione's eyes fell upon a hand lazily dangled over the armchair, an ebony wand somehow secured within its grasp.
She was amazed that Severus was able to keep hold of his wand even while asleep. Typically a wizard like so was not to be trifled with. Yet her fear of sleeping alone far outweighed the fear of falling to the wrong end of Severus's wand.
Quickly deciding that it was worth the risk, Hermione tiptoed around to the front of the armchair and looked down at Severus. He still had that same worried look that never left his face, even in the midst of slumber.
Not wanting to startle him, Hermione reached out and carefully pressed her palm to his sunken cheek. There was a bit of stubble-more than a bit if she was being honest-and it felt like needles against her skin. That still wasn't enough to stop her from easing down onto the chair's arm and carefully draping her legs over his lap.
Severus didn't budge as Hermione rested her head against his shoulder. This position was slightly difficult as she took care to not place all her weight upon him. She hoped she wasn't hurting him, and promised to move the moment he experienced discomfort.
It was a dream. It was just a dream, she told herself over and over, desperate to chase away the panicky feeling.
The side of her body touching Severus felt warm, but the damp, exposed part of her grew cold and made her shiver. Hermione forced herself to remain still while trying to breathe deeply and slowly, all without trying to give away that she was using Severus as her bed.
It turned out that Severus was in fact comfortable. Hermione finally calmed down enough and fell asleep, never noticing when a blanket covered her and an arm slipped around her waist to pull her closer.
Sunlight filtering in from the kitchen window made her eyes open hours later. Hermione found herself tucked beneath a blanket on the sofa across from the armchair.
An empty armchair.
Panic made her awaken fully, but then she heard a tired voice call from the kitchen.
"I'm right here, Hermione."
Feeling relieved, Hermione unwound the blanket from her legs and made her way to the kitchen. Severus was at the table, and Hermione looked over his shoulder to see the kettle heating up.
"It was either carry you with me for a morning piss, or leave you there. As it were I didn't think you fancied being woken up at eight in the morning by being dropped on your arse."
That made Hermione laugh.
"I'll send a message to Ivy about the Dreamless Sleep," he continued. "We both need it. I didn't realise it at the time but I was able to feel your fear before you came downstairs. You had another nightmare shortly before dawn but I woke you up."
Hermione's smile faltered as she remembered her night terrors mere hours ago. She still was unable to remember details about either dream, but she did vaguely remember Severus stroking her cheek to rouse her and assure that she was safe.
"You're not the only one," Severus commented, his eyes suddenly focused on the tablecloth. "Being back in this house doesn't help much either."
Hermione had a vague idea of what that meant; she'd got the impression that Severus did not have many happy memories of his childhood home. Or from his childhood in general.
"Before you run away with your thoughts, might I suggest breakfast first? There's bread and jam, compliments of Dobby I'm sure. Afterwards perhaps a game of chess, assuming I can find the board in this mess."
They ended up finding the chessboard, along with an old record player and a battered milk crate stuffed with records. Hermione was shocked to see Muggle musicians, a few names familiar as her dad had the same tastes.
"You're full of surprises," Severus commented when he saw recognition in Hermione's eyes as she turned over his copy of The Clash's self-titled album. "Didn't think someone your age would know them."
Hermione paused, wondering of a way to convey that one of many things her father exposed her to was a variety of music.
"Your father, I assume?" Severus queried, and Hermione smiled and nodded.
"He has good taste. I was quite certain your knowledge didn't stem from an old boyfriend. One could only assume your appalling taste in men means an appalling taste in music. Aside from me, of course."
Hermione knew Severus was teasing, because she could see him smirking as he continued flipping through albums.
"Can't say I've ever played chess while listening to Bauhaus," Severus mused as he calmly overtook one of Hermione's knights. "Stay there, I'll get it."
Afternoon came and left, and evening rolled around without either person noticing. Hermione was in the middle of trying to figure out how Severus made his last move when the doorbell rang. She knew it was one of the Aurors, as they had taken to using it opposed to magic so as to draw less attention to their presence.
"Thought I'd bring you this—what the hell are you lot listening to?" Filch asked just as Stigmata Martyr began playing. He was staggering beneath the weight of a large wicker hamper and began looking for a place to sit it.
"Bauhaus," Severus answered shortly, leaning on his walking stick and snatching the hamper from Filch's hand.
"That's too heavy for you, lad. I've got it."
Severus shot Filch a scathing look without breaking stride. He set the hamper atop the kitchen table and it made a loud thump. "Don't tell me—Dobby."
"Listen, the elf packed it and Apparated me over," Filch explained while settling down next to Hermione. "He wanted to come in but I told him later. Give you lot a chance to breathe for a bit. Really now, wot sort of noise is this?"
Severus had begun unpacking the hamper and scoffed behind the lid. "You're just as bad as my Da. Miserable old bugger never was impressed with my music either."
"Don't compare me to that lout."
"Lout is right. Bastard put all my records in the bin because apparently it was 'unGodlike' to listen to 'that sort of music on a Sunday'. Ungodlike my arse. I couldn't sneak them back in and had to stun and Obliviate the bin men when they tried to nick everything."
"I did. I weren't made of money."
Filch sighed and shook his head. "How're you holding up?" he then asked, turning to Hermione. "All right?"
Hermione tilted her head and answered with a small shrug.
"That good, eh?" He reached over to gently pat her hand. "You'll be fine. You've come this far, right? Severus, do we need to listen to this all night?"
"Are you often in the habit of barging into other people's homes and making demands? I'm more than happy to change the record, as it were. I've got Judas Priest and Napalm Death. Napalm Death has a song called 'Suffer the Children' now that I think of it. Should be right up your street."
"Napalm what? Never mind, I don't want to know.
Napalm Death didn't sound like something Hermione wanted to hear either, and she turned to glare at Severus. She found him staring right at her, and immediately knew that he'd merely been goading Filch.
"All right, I'm done," he told Hermione before turning to face the cabinets.
She watched as Severus opened one cupboard, paused, then withdrew his wand. A few flicks sent plates and cutlery drifting to the kitchen table, neatly forming three arrangements.
"Does that mean I'm invited for supper?" Filch asked, a tinge of humour in his voice.
"You brought us dinner and whinged about my music. Obviously you're invited," Severus replied, using a tone normally reserved for dim-witted students.
Another flick of his wand caused the music to stop.
"How about The Smiths instead of Napalm Death?"
"Now I know you're taking the piss," Filch groused as he struggled to stand up from the uneven sofa. "I'll be damned to listen to that muppet."
"No need to get stroppy, I just figured you and Morrissey had a lot in common. You both whinge as often as one takes in air, and you both need a haircut."
"Your mate has a lousy sense of humour," Filch told Hermione, giving one of his wheezy laughs when Severus told him to shut up from the kitchen.
"You two up for company?" Filch asked that evening after dinner.
At Filch's insistence, Hermione had eaten more than usual which left her full and sleepy. But the word 'company' alerted her straightaway and she sat up in her seat.
Hermione never minded Filch coming over, because he never made her feel self-conscious about not being able to speak. As for everyone else, she knew they meant well but there was always the underlying hint of pity which she could not abide, and the effort was mentally taxing.
Severus immediately picked up on the subtle shift in Hermione's mood. "That depends," he answered slowly, turning to stare hard at the older man.
Filch chuckled. "I don't think you'll mind this sort. But if they're too much trouble, I'll send them back to the school with Dobby."
It took five minutes to summon the house-elf, and another five for Filch to make him remember their earlier conversation.
"Dobby understands, sir!"
The house-elf disappeared and reappeared moments later with a black cat wriggling beneath his right arm, and a ginger cat wriggling beneath the left. Both animals were displeased at being carried like sacks of potatoes and wriggled about until they were free.
Hermione gasped audibly and tumbled out her chair, dropping to her knees when she saw Crookshanks. The half-kneazle was just as excited and happily tottered over to his mistress and allowed her to scoop him up in a tight hug.
Loki spent a few minutes winding himself around Severus's legs before sauntering over to Hermione. The black cat began bogarting his way into being petted, using his head to push away Crookshanks in a battle to gain her hand's attention.
"I suppose I'll piss off, shall I?" Severus murmured. "I've only been bloody feeding you and keeping you entertained with spiders for the last six months."
Loki seemed to understand that, because he abandoned his efforts and made his way back over to Severus, hopping up onto the kitchen table and nearly landing paws-first into an empty plate.
"You're a furry little menace," Severus whispered, neatly catching Loki before his paws became covered in gravy remnants.
It was as if the cat knew the man's chastisement held zero rebuke, and he gently headbutted him a few times before settling in his lap.
Dobby lingered long enough for Hermione to thank him by gently squeezing his hand, and for Severus to thank him and give him the evening off. He finally left only after Severus agreed to let him clear the table and set out food and water for the cats.
"I were right, weren't I?" Filch asked, sounding pleased as he watched Severus stroke the top of Loki's head. The cat was already purring and blinking sleepily. "The offer still remains; if they're too much to handle they can come back with me until you're sorted."
Severus glanced over at Hermione, who was completely enthralled with the orange ball of fluff on her lap. He was interrupted by a tiny black paw batting his hand, which had stopped moving. Severus knew that was cat speak for 'keep going'.
"No, I'm sure Mrs. Norris is tired of sharing your attention," Severus replied, resuming his strokes when Loki meowed up at him in protest.
Once Filch had gone—Dobby had to be summoned back to Apparate him to Hogwarts— Hermione and Severus remained at the kitchen table.
"I'm going to take a bath and stay upstairs tonight. That armchair is hell on my back."
Hermione wondered if that was an invitation to share his bed, or if he was merely passing along information.
Loki and Crookshanks slipped between their legs and trotted up the steps, as if they knew where they were going. By the time Hermione and Severus got upstairs, they found both cats comfortably stretched out on his bed.
"If you think you're sleeping here, I assure that you've been misinformed."
His tone was stern, yet the way Severus paused to scratch both cat's heads told the opposite.
"You can go first," he told Hermione. "I'll mind the kids while you're in the bath."
Crookshanks escorted Hermione to the bathroom, and waited atop the sink until she was done. The half-kneazle took his job seriously, because he made sure she got back to Severus's room in one piece, and sat next to her on the bed while she dressed.
Hermione remained cross-legged on the bed while Severus took out clean pyjamas for himself. His next stop was the airing cupboard in the hallway to get a towel, and Crookshanks followed but waited at the bedroom threshold.
"Oh, is it my turn?" asked Severus, his voice muffled as he dug into the cupboard. "I don't think there's much threat from a pile of old flannels, but I thank you all the same."
There was the tapping of his walking stick against the bathroom floor followed by running water. Severus was quiet as he moved about in the bathroom, and she wanted to interrupt and see if he needed help. But she knew he would fuss.
She changed positions and lay on her side. There was a soft splash followed by the sound of Severus exhaling and she assumed he'd got into the bath. Now she really wanted to check on him but Loki decided to climb atop her hip and rest there, allowing his tail to lazily sweep over her thigh.
Crookshanks noticed this and balked at another cat taking liberties with his mistress. With all the haughtiness an animal could muster, he left the room.
"I wasn't aware I needed a bathtub inspector," Hermione could hear Severus saying a minute later. "Are you going to stand in my way or am I allowed to pass?"
A flashback of the half-kneazle perched atop the sink while she bathed made her smile. Crookshanks always seemed to believe that she was unable to bathe without his assistance, and would follow her into the bathroom at home. He never went near the water, maintaining a safe distance atop some high surface always. Apparently he thought Severus needed the same treatment.
The next half hour was quiet save for a few muffled swears and more splashing.
"No, Crookshanks. Leave it alone."
"I said no! Try that again and you'll be joining it in the water."
Hermione decided she ought to retrieve her pet so Severus could finish bathing in peace. Before she had a chance to shift Loki off her hip, Crookshanks raced into the room and leapt onto the bed. He wasted no time in usurping his position atop Hermione's hip, sending Loki tumbling off the bed. Loki immediately jumped back onto the bed and went straight for Crookshanks, but retreated when the half-kneazle hissed.
"Oh for fuck sake."
Severus had barely walked into the room when Loki fled toward him, shimmying up the towel around his waist and into the safety of his master's arms.
"Your familiar is a menace. He pushed my razor into the bath," Severus told Hermione, leaning his walking stick against the dresser and glaring at the ginger cat, who was in the midst of purring contently while getting petted. "My toothbrush would have been next but I made my point."
Hermione bit back a laugh as she continued stroking Crookshank's head. She surmised Severus was the reason for the bit of dampness atop her cat's head, hence the reason for him fleeing the bathroom.
Loki remained atop Severus's shoulder as he picked up his pyjamas, and allowed the man to set him atop the dresser while he changed.
Hermione used that moment to busy herself with sliding beneath the duvet. Severus didn't seem bothered with disrobing in front of her, but at the same time she wanted to give him the illusion of privacy.
"Play nicely," Severus ordered as picked up Loki before settling into bed. "That goes for you as well," he continued, pointing at Crookshanks.
When they'd previously shared a bed, Hermione had always been closer in proximity to Severus. The distance between them wasn't so far, but it was far enough. There was also a bit of awkwardness, but the cats resting between them was soothing and somewhat eased the tension.
"I suppose we'll definitely have to leave the house at some point," Severus mused, stroking the underside of Loki's face with one finger. "These little beasts need food and amusements lest they destroy everything."
The idea of Severus going to a shop and picking out tins of cat food and catnip toys amused Hermione, and she bit the inside of her cheek to suppress a smile. He scowled and fussed at the cats but his attachment to them was as strong as hers.
And vice versa, Hermione thought as she watched Loki climb atop Severus's chest, splay his furry limbs and close his eyes.
All was well until hours later when it was Severus's turn to have night terrors.
Shouting combined with a hand striking her shoulder tore Hermione from her sleep, but the sound of something crashing in the dark made her spring up in bed.
Severus had one hand thrown out as if defending himself from someone, and there was a fervent rustling sound from what she assumed was a search for his wand.
Fear sent Hermione flying from the bed and rushing to turn on the lights, and she hurried to Severus's side of the bed to find his wand before he could. It wasn't on the dresser, and she looked around frantically until the ebony handle sticking out from beneath his pillow caught her eye. The moment her hand closed around the handle, she felt a firmer grip atop hers and looked down to find Severus breathing hard and staring up at her as though she was a stranger.
There was something dangerous in his dark eyes and it sent a chill through her body. It took a few seconds for her to realise that Severus thought he was still dreaming, and she remained frozen in place. After a lingering, tense moment he became lucid and dropped his hand, softening his gaze.
"Shit. I'm sorry. I..." he trailed off and exhaled hard. "I can't get this Dreamless Sleep fast enough."
Severus shoved the duvet off and grimaced as he moved to sit up. He remained in place with his legs draped over the side of the bed for a few minutes. Hermione sat next to him, gently leaning into his side. His rapid breathing was the only thing heard for several minutes.
"I suppose I scared the cats," he murmured, pointing to a fallen stack of books across the room.
Crookshanks and Loki fled for safety at Severus's first shout, darting across the room and knocking over the pile. Now they were nowhere to be found.
"At least my face'll be free of cat arse for a few hours." Severus paused to look down at Hermione's hand. "Did I hurt you?"
His grip on her wrist frightened her more than anything, but it hadn't hurt and Hermione shook her head.
"Sorry. This is why I was hesitant about sleeping with you when we first came home," he explained, roughly running a hand through his hair. "You can stay in here. I'll take the other room. Or you can if you prefer."
Severus reached out to use the bedpost to pull himself up but Hermione stopped him. Only when he relented to getting back into bed with her did she release her grip.
"I'll stay for now, but if there's a repeat of a few minutes ago I will sleep elsewhere," Severus told Hermione, even though he allowed her to push him onto his side. She lay down behind him, aligning her body with his.
Every bit of him was wrought with tension, but Severus soon grew relaxed when Hermione slid her hand into the back of his head and dug her fingertips into his scalp. He murmured something about her playing unfairly but his words became slurred when her massage veered to the nape of his neck. It wasn't long before his breathing grew deep and even, soon changing into soft snores.
Hermione continued playing with his hair long after he fell asleep, and soon she fell asleep with her arm draped over him.
Severus's worries about hurting Hermione in the midst of nightmares turned out to be for naught, because the only time he stirred was to use his wand to turn off the bedroom light. He easily resumed sleep, only this time he turned over to draw Hermione nearer. They remained entwined with one another until morning, and awakened to Loki and Crookshanks curled up beside them.