Hello my dear readers.

A disclaimer, since I don't do it as often as I should: the characters and plenty of the plot belong to JKR, not me.

Good news: I have a beta! Her name is enchanter, and she is mainly doing the Ashwinder chapters. So far, 33 and 34 have been edited by her, and updated here to reflect her wonderful skills. I'll be taking out the old chapters and putting the new ones in as she works through them. (She hasn't done this one yet- all errors are all me).

Things will be changing soon. Very soon- starting with the next chapter.

Thanks to the few who reviewed. And- can I just give a shout out to the Dark One Rising who reviewed every single chapter of every single one of my Harry Potter stories? That's more than 100 reviews. That's just kind of awesome.

On to the story!

Chapter 36

The next night Severus was unsurprised when he received a message on his watch telling him to meet Hermione in her office as soon as he would be able to manage. He had been expecting it, really, knowing that his Hermione would never be able to sit and be weepy for long.

He was correct. After he had bypassed a reading Diggory and climbed the stairs to her room, he found a Hermione that was a world away from the one he had held the night before as she had sobbed. This Hermione had pulled all of her unruly hair into a tight bun and was reading a large tome and taking notes at the same time.

She hardly noticed as he left himself in, closing and warding the door behind him. He found a place for himself on an armchair that was stacked with parchment and books. He levitated them over to her bed and sat, waiting for her to look up and notice him.

As he waited, he watched.

Her neck, so often hidden by her hair, was long and lightly freckled. The shirt she was wearing wasn't tight, but he could see the wings of her shoulder blades and knew that if he trailed his fingers down her spine he would be able to feel the bumps. There was a frailty to her face in the low light, given by generous lips and long lashes, despite the nose that as a shade too long.

But Severus also knew that she could be deadly, that she was strong and fierce and ruthless when the occasion called for it. That her arms had muscles, that her legs were fast, that with a twitch of her fingers she could set him on fire or blast him away. There was a danger to her that could make whatever prettiness her face held melt away into something that scared the small part of him that wasn't fascinated.

Finally she looked up at him, and gave him a small smile. "Hey." She made a gesture as if to move hair away from her face, unused to having it up. Ink had been on her hand; now it smeared on her face.

"Hello," he replied, returning the smile. "How are you?"

Her eyes flashed at him. "Determined," she said firmly. "I'm going to figure out a way, Severus. I have to."

It wasn't surprising that she wanted to help, no, what surprised Severus was that she seemed entirely confident that she would succeed. "What do you need?" he asked simply, folding his arms over his chest as he thought.

"I don't know yet," Hermione said, frowning down at her books. "The Dark Arts section of the Library here is rubbish and I need to do more research. Any books you have on Horcruxes, any books on Horcruxes at all. Where I can find books on them, in the Restricted Section, in Knockturn Alley- anywhere."

Severus was quiet for a long moment. "I have one, maybe two books that mention Horcruxes in any way, Hermione. It's a taboo subject, even in the Dark Arts world."

Hermione's face was resolute. "It doesn't matter," she said firmly, tears starting to build in her eyes again. "I can't lose him, Severus!" It was there in her face, in the way her voice cracked in the words. Hermione Granger loved Harry Potter, loved him fiercely and protectively, loved him enough that she cried even thinking about his death. His strong Hermione, crying over Potter.

"You don't understand what it is to 'research' the Dark Arts," Severus snapped. "They change you, Hermione. Change you in ways you could never have dreamed off. You start off just thinking that you're researching, you think you'll just read and never practice and you might even look for a way to foil the Dark Arts. And then, after researching a bit it isn't enough anymore. No, then you need to know exactly how it works, you test out one little spell. One chant. Draw one rune. And then it grows, it snowballs, and you've never had a chance in the first place. The Dark Arts become a part of you, Hermione, a part that never goes away. The amount of power they offer is- tempting and terrifying at the same time."

"I don't care," Hermione insisted, although she sounded defeated. She pressed the heels of her palms into her eyes and pressed, a sign that he knew was from too much reading in poor light. "We need to figure out something, Severus. We just can't let him die. Because if he dies-" she drew in a sharp breath. "If for some reason he can't defeat the Dark Lord then we have no hope at ever living normally. If I can't even say three goddamn little words to you because he could see them then-"

If she told me she loved me it would be burned on my brain forever, Severus thought. There would be no way for me to hide it.

Instead of saying that, of reminding her, Severus just stood and crossed the space to her chair. He offered her a hand which she took, despite the question in her eyes. Silently, he led her to the bed, moving all the papers and books off of it with another wave of his hand.

"Sit," he told her, watching as she did so even as he removed his over coat and robes, then sat himself to remove his boots.

He lay down, beckoning her. "Come here," he said, when she did move. Slowly she did so, curling into his side. He sighed with the warmth of her, still a tad strange after all this time. Even so, it felt natural, as if there was no other person who would ever fit to his side in such a way.

Hermione's head settled on his chest, her ear pressed to the sound of his heartbeat. They stayed silent, breathing together as he just held her. Slowly, ever so slowly, her body relaxed into his. Severus just stayed still, except for the hand that was stroking her hair, which he had loosed from its bun. It was a curious combination of soft and rough. The curls were riotous, each wanting to go their own way after their confinement.

After at least ten minutes of silence, Hermione spoke. "That feels lovely," she said drowsily. "I'll fall asleep if you keep doing that."

"Is there any reason for you not to fall asleep?" Severus asked, keeping his voice to a low rumble.

He could feel the smile in her voice. "No, not really," she murmured, arching against him as his nails brushed her scalp. "Ohh. That's so nice."

Severus chuckled lightly. "Then sleep," he said. "Worrying isn't going to do you any good. Tonight you sleep and tomorrow morning we go shopping for books."

It didn't take her long to fall asleep, using him as a bony pillow. Her breaths were quiet, although as the night deepened she made small whuffling sounds. What was more amusing to him (although he decided around one in the morning that her whuffling was decidedly adorable) was the way she kept a stranglehold on him, clutching him with a good deal of her strength.

These days it was hard for Severus to fall asleep, to give his mind and body over to unconsciousness. It was always hard away from the protections of Hogwarts' walls- his own home in Spinner's End was as defenseless as a shack compared to the castle, with its centuries of wards and protections. In the last twenty years six assassins had attempted to kill him in his own home.

At the Safe House though, with a dangerous witch in his arms, it would be safe to sleep, he reasoned. If for some reason the Safe House was attacked, they would be awake in an instant.

Nevertheless, Severus eased his wand arm free and carefully enchanted and warded the area around the bed, connecting his wards to those of the House. Safety precautions in place, he lay back, twitching his fingers to pull the blankets over his and Hermione's bodies.

Listening to her soft whuffling, he fell asleep with Hermione in his arms.

Hermione enjoyed waking up slowly, huddled into the small warmth of her bed. This morning the warmth was everywhere, but especially at her back. It only took her a moment to place the arm thrown over her body, pressed flush to her belly and the hand cupping one of her breasts- it was Severus, of course it was Severus. His smoky herb smell as all around her, and it was his lanky legs intertwined with hers and his breath that was slow and hot in her hair.

Beyond just the warmth, there was the feeling of safety, of being cherished, of being loved. Hermione was discovering that she loved waking up with another person's (severus') limbs tangled in her own, that she loved being held by this man.

Strangely enough, she had woken before him. She didn't mind- she knew that if he had woken first, his hands would be in much safer positions... and she liked the faintly possessive grip he had on her. As innocent as it seemed to fall asleep together, clothes still on and no kisses exchanged, there was something decidedly arousing about that hand, warm on her breast, and the hardness she could feel behind her.

She couldn't help but daydream, wonder about what it would be like to wake up like this as lovers. To feel the sparse hairs on his chest against her back, the callused palm of his hand on her breasts, flesh against flesh rather than cloth over cloth.

Hermione knew the moment he woke. The quiet, even breathing hitched for a moment as he froze before realizing where he was. Then came the silent evaluation of his parts- hands included.

When he tried moving, she made a soft noise of protest. "Don't," she said drowsily.

A soft kiss was pressed to the top of her head. "I should," he answered, voice rough with sleep. He was moving his hips away from her, trying to hide his morning wood.

With a sigh she let him, rolling into the warm depression in the bed as he stood. He moved awkwardly to the door, opening it and peering out quickly before exiting and closing the door behind him. Hermione just yawned and stretched, feeling the familiar warning twinges from her old wounds.

I wonder if he's coming back, she thought languidly. I wonder if he's going to kiss me.

She frowned at the thought, then reached for her wand. One quick mouth cleaning spell later, she relaxed back into the bed. It was only a few more moments before her Potions Master reentered the room, yawning as he pushed his hair back from his face.

"Come back to bed," Hermione suggested, moving over to make room for him. "It's barely morning."

Severus gave her a long, considering look before he assented, joining her under the heavy covers again. She sighed happily, twining around him, stretching up to kiss him. She had him flat on his back and was lying half across him, kissing him without lengthening her neck for once.

It was chaste for a kiss, but he responded happily enough. Hermione pulled away after a moment though- the roughness of his chin rasped hers painfully.

"Ow," she told him, rubbing her tender skin. "I used to think about that but I don't think I quite understood how much it hurts."

Severus scowled at her. "I was busy kissing you," he told her.

"You're scratchy," Hermione said, kissing the arch of his nose instead of his mouth. "Sorry."

In one shift move she was shifted as he rolled over her, flipping them over with a tight grace. He kissed her carefully, just barely touching her lips with his, their tongues barely touching, until she was arching under him, trying to get closer. He chuckled softly, moving so that he could press open mouthed kisses to her jaw, her neck, her collarbone...

He was finding her collarbone especially delectable, but left it soon enough to move to the other one, then up her neck again. Severus was possessed by the idea of leaving a mark- a small one, barely visible if her hair was down... His decision was made for him when her hands rose to his head, keeping him in place. He sucked, hard, until she gasped under him and her body jerked. He laved the spot with his tongue, then moved on.

His route took him to her mouth again, where he kissed her lightly before pulling away. "I'll see you in two hours," he said, pressing one last kiss to her forehead.

Hermione sighed, wrapping her arms around his neck, a refusal to let him go. "Why?"

"Because I need to go home, change... and shave," he said, a glimmer in his eye. "If you would release my person?"

She scrunched her nose at him, then arched up to take his lips in hers, kissing him with a small shield cast over her chin. "There," she murmured, unwinding her arms and lying back on the pillows. "Two hours."

Knockturn Alley was a foul, suspicious place in the dark of the night, but merely a shady one by day. The streets were cobbled, like those in Diagon Alley, but the people inhabiting the streets of Knockturn Alley were far different.

As Severus Snape and a disguised Hermione Granger entered, they were met with busy, albeit quiet, streets. One house, with red painted shutters, had three flower sellers lounging on the stoop, not doing much to hawk their wares. A few hags were exiting the bar, and some witches and wizards stood in shadows, talking or selling from booths. None approached the Potions Master, nor his companion.

Hermione wore long, flowing robes, black like Severus' and with long sleeves despite the summer sun. Her height had been changed with a few simple spells, so that she stood at Severus' chin instead of at his chest, and her hair had been pulled into a strict bun. She had lightened her skin and darkened her hair, made her chin more pointed and her nose shorter and pointier. Her eyes she changed from brown to a pale grey-green. As Hermione Granger, she was unrecognizable.

They had decided that it was necessary that Severus remain recognizable. The proprietors of Knockturn Alley would sell to strangers, it was a necessity. But they would not sell their best supplies nor show their private collections to those without known reputations. Severus was a frequent visitor to Knockturn Alley, and it was well known in certain circles that he was a Death Eater.

Over the course of the morning, the pair would visit several shops, potions related and otherwise, break for lunch, and finish their shopping in the afternoon. For all appearances, it would be a couple out shopping, and even those who knew Severus would not question his companion.

The pop of their Apparition was quiet, and Severus and Hermione did not say a word as they entered the Alley. They communicated nonetheless- an offered and accepted arm, a tilt of the head to ask if the other was comfortable.

As they walked they made a series of small clicks, the sound of their boot heels making contact with the ground. Hermione felt distinctly uncomfortable, having only been in the alley with a dark cloak that hid her face. Even if her face wasn't her own, it was still unnerving knowing that people could, and were, looking at it and trying to identify her.

At least Severus was there and warm at her side, his arm firm and steady under hers.

The first stop was Dystyl Phaelanges, a small shop that sold various animal... and human bones. Severus released her to look at a display, and strode up to the counter.

"I need half a pound of ground calcaneus and four whole scaphoids, preferably from a female witch," he snapped at the man behind the counter. "Quickly."

Hermione scanned the books on the dusty bookshelves, eyes narrowed. Voldemort had used bone in his resurrection ritual... and while there were a few books on the uses of bones, she didn't see any that talked about resurrection. Until... there. The Necromancer's Guide to Souls: Giving them Life and Form.

She plucked it from the shelf, and added it to the packets that the man behind the counter was ringing up for Severus. Severus lifted an eyebrow at her choice, then sneered at the man. "That too. How much?"

The man mumbled something and gold exchanged hands. Hermione added their purchases to the small purse she carried with her.

"Think that'll have what we need?" murmured Severus as they left the shop.

Hermione shrugged. "I won't know until I've read it," she said honestly. "Where next?"

"Cobb and Webb's," Severus said shortly, keeping his voice down as they passed a gaggle of witches. "They are a Dark Arts supplier disguised as an antique store."

The interior of the shop was dusty and seemingly deserted. It was larger on the inside, separated into mock rooms with old furniture. A bell rang as they entered, but no one appeared.

Still arm in arm, Hermione and Severus wandered the rooms, waiting. There was a ghostly bedroom made of a large four poster bed with dusty pale pink curtains, and an armoire and vanity. Hermione drifted toward the vanity, which was made of a green and black marble. The mirror was covered with a thin sheet, barely hanging on one corner.

"I wouldn't look in there if I were you," a creaky voice said from behind them. Hermione let her hand fall- she hadn't even realized she was reaching out to pull the sheet away.

They turned to look at the man, who was small and used a knobby cane. His hair was white and long around the edges, circling his bald spot like a crown. "Why?" Hermione asked him, tilting her head to take him in better.

He gave a little smile. "It'll tell you the absolute truth about your looks and try to steal your soul if you don't have the will for it. At least three vain women are trapped inside and they all want to get out."

Hermione nodded slowly. "I've read about it. Mirrors are excellent for holding souls."

The man raised bushy eyebrows. "Ahh? So the lady's taken an interest in soul work?"

Hermione smiled prettily at him, leaning on Severus. "It's a bit of a hobby of mine, actually."

Severus scowled down at her. "You've only ever read about it," he snapped at her.

"It's not for lack of trying, dear, it's for lack of equipment," Hermione quipped. "Nothing I can help."

Severus turned dark eyes on the old man, raising a brow of his own. "Anything new, Master Cobb?"

"Master Webb has brought some new books and some... ingredients that might interest you, Master Snape," Cobb said with an acquiescent nod of his head. "But I feel I have some materials that might interest your lady friend."

Hermione looked up at him with wide eyes. "Please?"

Severus' scowl deepened. "Books only. We still have Potage's and The Coffin House to stop at. If you find an interesting ritual then we can return."

There was a glimmer in his eye that told her nicely played and she responded with a pout that said I do my best "Fine," Hermione said, with a little sigh. "Master Cobb, I'd love to see what books you have on souls."

"Right this way, my dear," Master Cobb said, leading the way to the back. "Master Webb!" he called. "Master Snape is here, and would be interested in some of the ingredients you brought back from Australia."

A long thin man unfolded himself from behind a desk near the far back. He was exceedingly pale, with large eyes that didn't seem to blink. He seemed to tall for the room, even as hunched down as he was. Master Webb had large spidery hands, with thin white fingers that spread in welcome.

"Severus Snape," he said in a high voice. "What a delight. Follow me." He disappeared in the back with a kind of scurrying walk that made Hermione every uncomfortable.

Master Cobb looked up at her. "And this way, Mistress," he said, bowing and gesturing at a doorway. "The library is through here."

Indeed, the next room was set up like a library, with a variety of antique chairs and desks and tables surrounded by towering bookshelves with intricate carvings. Hermione looked around in awe, giving a happy little sigh.

"This is lovely," she said happily. "Where do I start?" She drew her wand with an absentminded air, and tapped her lips with it, a habit that Severus had warned her several times would end with her lip-less. "I know. Imperious."

Master Cobb fought the curse for a moment, but Hermione bore her will down on him. "There, there," she murmured. "I'm not going to hurt you. I just want some help finding what I'm looking for. Please pull out all your books that might even mention Horcruxes."

With jerky movements the man walked along the shelves, pulling out the books Hermione's curse compelled him to. She ended with three on the table in front of her.

"Excellent," she said happily, scanning the titles. "I haven't seen these before. Now, tell me, Master Cobb. Do you keep an inventory?" When he shook his head, she smiled. "And if I just take these book, how will anyone know they are missing?"

There was hate in his mind as he answered. "I keep track of all the books. And there is an alarm system."

Hermione smiled thinly. "Good. Remove the alarm charm from these books." As he set to work with his wand, she browsed the shelves, selecting four more books to add to the pile. They were on a variety of subjects, to throw anyone who wondered off her trail.

"Those too," she said, nodding toward the books. "Now, please." When he finished, she shrunk the books and stashed them in her purse.

"Obliviate," Hermione whispered, forcing her will on him. "Forget everything that has happened since we entered the library. And these books ever belonging to you."

She released the spell, stepping back. "This is lovely," she said, beaming at him. Master Cobb shook his head, blinking fast. "Where do we start?"

Master Cobb frowned at her. "Sorry, my dear. I got distracted. Now, what sort of books were you looking for?"

"I like soul magic, but I'm also interested in horticulture," Hermione said, giving him wide, innocent eyes. "Show me what you have!"

When Severus and Hermione returned to Safe House Three, purchases stowed carefully in Hermione's bag, the house was empty. Cedric was nowhere to be seen, rather, a note had been left on the counter saying that he would be at the Weasley's until half past six.

"Finally it's quiet," Hermione said, smiling at Severus. It was quite a strange smile, as he face was in the midst of returning to normal. She let out a sigh of relief, shaking out her curls when they returned to normal. "That's better."

"Wait," Severus commanded, stepping closer to her. He flung a hand at the door, slamming it shut. "Stay that tall."

Hermione frowned but did as he asked. "Why?"

He smirked at her. "Because it'll make it easier for me to kiss you, my dear know-it-all."

In truth it was lovely being able to press herself against him and barely strain to reach his mouth. At this height his hands rested easily on her hips, pulling her closer rather than trying to lift her up.

When they parted, she smiled up at him. "It's your own fault you're so damn tall," she told him, caressing his cheek lightly.

"It's only a problem when we're standing," Severus whispered in her ear, his breath hot. "If, perhaps, we were-"

A door slammed in the house, and they broke apart. There was the creak of floorboards, the sounds of footsteps. Someone was in the safe house. Hermione sighed, giving Severus a wistful look as she took her wand out and shrunk herself back down to her normal height.

"I'm going to put what we got in my room and start going through it," Hermione said, her tone brisk over the slight regret in her voice. "You are meeting with the Dark Lord tonight, is that right?"

Severus nodded once. "It's a social gathering, not a revel. I'll give my report tomorrow morning, unless something urgent comes up, which I'm not expecting."

She looked around, and not thinking that Cedric would come into the kitchen stretched up to give him a soft, quick kiss, barely more than a brush of lips. "Be safe," she whispered.

After plowing though two and a half books on soul magic, Hermione felt slimy. Gross and slimy. And despite immersing herself in gross sliminess, she still hadn't learned anything useful.

Still, she mused. I don't have all the information on the Dark Lord and how he created all of these Horcruxes, like Dumbledore promised he'd share.

The Headmaster's owl had found her at breakfast that morning, bearing a note that asked her to bring herself and Harry to his office at nine o'clock two days hence. The agreement was followed by a request that she present herself the day before, presumably for a strict talking to and perhaps even a vow of silence. She wouldn't put it past the old geezer- but to be fair, it would be what she would do too.

With a sigh, she leaned back in her chair, leaning back and lifting her hair off her neck. There were a series of ominous pops from her back and neck, and the slight pain that had slowly become her new normal. A bath was in order, Hermione decided. She would leave the disgusting books on her desk and sink into a hot bath. The bathroom was not the door across from hers but one down, close enough that Hermione judged a robe enough cover.

The hair that was heavy on her neck was pulled up into a high bun, wound and wound until all the weight was concentrated at one point. It pulled her head back, lifting her chin. Hermione was reminded of all her lessons with Andromeda Tonks, of how the woman's hooded eyes and thin pointed chin lifted like a queen's.

I killed her sister, Hermione thought sadly. I wonder if she hates me now. If... if she still loved Bellatrix and if a part of her hates me for killing her sister.

As she stepped into the hall, Hermione didn't notice the strip of light under the bathroom door. When she tried the doorknob it wouldn't turn; only then she realized that the door was locked and someone was using the bathroom.

"Just a minute," a rough male voice called, Cedric's voice. "Hold on- I'm done."

Hermione stepped away from the door, feeling annoyance rise inside her skin, prickly and irritating. "Sorry," she snapped. "Take your time."

There was the mechanical click of the lock, and the door swung open. Cedric was there, his hair still dripping and his robe only loosely belted around his waist, revealing a damp and firmly muscled chest. "Sorry," he said again, giving her a grin. "Go ahead."

Warily, Hermione nodded. "No problem," she muttered. "It might be easier to go in if you weren't still in the doorway."

"Oh," Cedric said, coughing embarrassingly. "Yeah, sorry." He stepped aside, then stopped right as she was about to move past him. "Wait- you have something on your neck- right-"

Hermione violently pulled away from the hand that had been reaching out to her neck, her own hand flying up to cover the mark Severus had left. "I know," she snapped. "If I could go into the bathroom now?"

He tilted his head, confused, before realizing. "Oh," he said, eyes widening. "Oh. Okay. Yeah, of course you know. Um. Yeah. Goodnight. Sorry again."

Blushing furiously, Hermione shut the door to the bathroom, glaring at her reflection in the considerately desteamed mirror. When she moved her hand away from her neck she saw the spot and groaned. Severus had left a mark of considerable size on her skin. He had chosen well- if her hair had been down it would never have been seen.

But it had been seen and by Cedric Diggory of all people. She scowled at her reflection then turned to the tub, flicking her wand at it with a forceful cleaning charm. To turn on the taps she actually had to approach it, turn them by hand. Tonight she wanted much more hot water than cold- she needed to get the slimy feeling out of her mind and the best way was to clean the body.

The motions to take a bath were familiar- anchor her hair with charms, remove her robe, her clothing, check the bath water... but tonight after she stopped the water she didn't step right in. Instead she drifted the mirror again, staring her reflection in the eye.

Mirrors can capture souls, she thought. Can I use Legilimency on myself? What would be the purpose of that?

She moved her gaze from her own eyes to her body, looking at her own naked flesh. She had clear pale skin, with the faintest hints of her old tan. Her lips were pale, her nose too long. There were a scattering of freckles on her face, and her chin was raised unnaturally high from the weight of her hair on the back of her head.

Her neck was only marred by Severus' mark ,and her chest by collarbones like small ridges. Her shoulders were slim, her arms long and goosebumped from the chill of her own nakedness. Round breasts, topped with dark nipples peaked with cold, were high and proud on her chest. Despite continuous exercise, Hermione's stomach wasn't quite flat, but she was still slim, with hips that were exaggerated by the dip of her waist.

It was a lie, though, her reflection.

Hermione closed her eyes, giving into darkness as she passed a hand over herself. "Finite Incantum," she murmured. She felt the ripple of magic as it peeled off her skin, but she kept her eyes closed anyway.

Only once, after she had been discharged from the Hospital Wing, had she looked at her scar. It was only brief- one glance, and then she had closed her eyes and performed the Glamour. Then it had been angry red and almost pulsing, the puckered skin angry and harsh.

Slowly, breathing in the air that was heavy with moisture and the smell of rose hips, Hermione opened her eyes. She blinked thrice before concentrating on her torso.

There it was, the scar from Dolohov's curse. It curved from just under her left shoulder to slant between her breasts and across her stomach to curve around her right hip like a possessive lover. It wasn't as bad as it had been, due to a ten potion regime, but it was still gruesome to her eyes.

It was white along the center and red on the edges, as thin as a wisp on the ends and as thick as her thumb on her chest. Hermione swallowed at the sight, tears burning at the back of her throat.

It's just a scar and one I can hide reasonably well, she told herself firmly. Still, she raised a hand to touch it, running her hand from one end of her waist to the other, feeling the change in texture from smooth to the bump of the scar. Hermione had to swallow hard again. He won't mind. He has his own scars.

She twisted in the mirror to look at her lower back, then winced again. It was a mess of scar tissue from the curse, a mess that she didn't want to look at again.

I'm being vain, Hermione thought bitterly. I'm acting like a teenaged girl horrified she has spots.

You are a teenaged girl.

But I'm being over dramatic.

But you're scarred for life.

I was protecting Harry. I should be proud of these scars.


I know.

With a flick of her wand, Hermione covered the mirror with a conjured sheet, and turned her back to it to walk to her bath. She sunk into the hot water with a sigh, letting her body relax in the warmth. Her lower back tensed, flared with a brief pain, then relaxed.

I'm just being silly. The only reason I'm concerned with my appearance is because I'm concerned with what Severus thinks of my appearance which is doubly silly because I doubt he could care less if I grew horns and a forked tongue.

Her thoughts turned more firmly to Severus, weaving a thread of worry in her chest as they always did when he was at a meeting with the Dark Lord. Any meeting could be his last. Any meeting the Dark Lord could delve into his mind and discover his illicit relationship with a teenaged Muggleborn girl. He could see the Order Meetings when reports were handed out with more information than anyone was supposed to know about the inner workings of the Dark Lord's own Inner Circle of Death Eaters. He could see Severus reporting to Hermione, or Hermione kissing Severus, or a thousand other things that would spell Severus' death.

And Hermione wouldn't even know it until his body was found, broken and bloody, on the steps of Number 12 or Severus' own home in Spinner's End or even at the gates of Hogwarts, if the Dark Lord decided to return his body at all.

He could give Severus to the werewolves, if it was a full moon, or make him into an Inferi. Or feed him to Nagini. There a number of ways the Dark Lord could insure that Hermione would never see her spy whole again. Every time they kissed could be their last.

These thoughts haunted her daily. They made her wonder what she would do if he asked. If he made plans to go to the Dark Lord with his betrayal, if he chose to sacrifice himself, would she let him?

If he asked her to be with him completely, would she say yes?

Just thinking about sex with Severus made her feel the same heady, heavy feeling in her loins that she felt when Severus kissed her, or palmed her breast. Her body wanted it, certainly, which meant that she wanted it too, to a point.

On the same hand she was hesitant. They were supposed to be moving slowly, hell, they weren't even supposed to be moving at all. Sex would be a distraction.

It would bring them closer together, if possible, and it would make things more complicated.

But if he asked? If he asked it of her, what would she say?

He would never ask me, Hermione thought, half her mouth stretching into something like a grin. I'll probably have to suggest it, talk him around, and then wait for him to get over himself long enough for us to actually have sex. And then he would never be able to get enough.

I love him, though. I think that if he asked, I'd say yes.

But I'd rather he not ask. I'd rather it just be something between us that grows naturally.

And until then...

And until then, she'd be content with what they had. The kisses they shared, the progress they were making in their own relationship.

I might want to wait until he actually is able to tell me he loves me to have sex with him, Hermione thought wryly. I'm well enough aware that sex and love are two different things but I'd like them to be quite identical for us.

With that, she sunk deeper into the water, creating a small cushion of air so that her neck wouldn't have to rest on the hard rim of the tub. Severus would come with the sun and everything would be alright. Here, with the bubbles in the tub covering her skin, everything would be alright.

With that thought repeating hypnotically in her head, Hermione sank into a light doze, only fully waking when the temperature of the water became uncomfortably cool.

And so ends Chapter 36.

As those of you who have been following me know, I'm leaving for college next Thursday. Yikes, right? Well, I move in to my dorm on the 31st, go for a week long trip to volunteer in the community, and then start O week the next week. So for the next three weeks, I'm crazy busy. So I'll just put it out there: I'm not going to update until September 12.

Here is the excerpt:

"So you survived," hissed the Dark Lord. "Excellent. You really are perfectly placed to carry out what I expect of you."

And that's all!

ALERT: Lovely fanart done by theloneliesttimeline for my birthday. Link on my author's page.

Ah yes- I am officially 18 now. Yay.

I hope all of you liked the chapter. I also hope some of you will review (it would be too much to hope for all). Thanks for reading, and I'll see you in a long while!