When Hermione reversed the Obliviate, her parents were, understandably, confused. She could have done some more subtle magic, could have filled in their memories, made them remember her going off to King's Cross and away for a year at school and a million other tiny things that would have meant no questions, but she'd already stolen a year of their lives. Anything more seemed unforgivable in a way that even the first theft hadn't been. At least that one had been out of necessity.
Instead she explained. She did it by herself. Harry and Ron had offered to be there, but they were her parents, Ron didn't quite understand Muggles enough and Harry didn't quite understand parents at all. In the end, it was just easiest--in a sort of horrifyingly difficult way--to go it on her own.
Her mother lectured her about power and the ethics of having such in the quiet way that had always meant she was disappointed in Hermione, something far worse than anger. Her father had refused to speak to her for nearly three days until all his silence coalesced into one huge screaming bout that ended with both of them crying. She hadn't meant to take her parents' decisions away, not really, she just hadn't been able to cope with the idea of them suffering for her choices.
They forgave her, though, mostly, she suspected, because they were her parents and unsure as to what their other options were. She stayed and helped them reestablish their practice afterward--she owed them at least that much. She had arranged for it to seem natural that they were gone for so long, the practice carrying a sign about a missionary sabbatical. All their patients were really quite impressed, so far as Hermione could tell.
She and her father hit up all their favorite bookstores; she and her mother went on a weeklong binge of all their special Indian restaurants. At night, the three of them shared a fair amount of ale and sometimes truths that they had never thought to say to each other. At the end of the week, Hermione said, "I'm going to study law."
"At a Uni?" Her mother asked, sounding quite perplexed.
"No, not quite. Wizards school strictly by vocation, rather than through a system of liberal arts leading into vocation."
Her father asked, "Isn't that a bit risky? I mean, you're not even eighteen. Who's to say your choices won't change in a year or so?"
"The system has its flaws," Hermione said. But then again, almost everything in the Wizarding World did. "So does ours."
"Ours," her mother said softly, and with a hint of irony to her tone.
Hermione smiled in acknowledgment. Still. "The people I fought, the people who killed my friends, they would have had me be all one or the other, and I'm not. I can't be, not any longer. Six years of Hogwarts negated any chance there might have been of that, and I'm not sure there was all that much chance to begin with. The magic was there, whether I trained it or not, it was going to be there."
Her father's smile was layered, sad and proud and scared. Hermione said, "There was a time when women weren't dentists, either, not so very long ago. We all have aspects of our personalities that aren't meant to mesh, aren't meant-- We are all contradictions."
"Would that your contradictions didn't always take you quite so far from us."
Hermione knew her mother was not speaking in geographic terms. She was just glad they hadn't held onto their blame for the lost year. She doubted that they had accepted her belief that what she had done was for the best, but they had allowed that belief, and that was more than Hermione really felt she had the right to ask for.
"Law," her father said.
"Rights of the imperiled," Hermione said, swirling the ale in her bottle with a sort of self-deprecating awareness that she was just beginning to appreciate.
Her mother smiled at that, a real smile, the one she had always given Hermione upon bringing home her absolutely perfect marks. "Sounds about right, that."
Hermione's father held out his bottle. The two women clinked the necks of theirs into it, and all three took a swig.
One year later
Ron made sure to be home early the eve of Hermione's birthday, before Harry and Ginny and the others were set to come to give them some time to themselves. It wasn't something they oft had anymore. Hermione's studies ate the majority of her time, and Ron was often busy traveling with George on business trips. None of the family was eager to leave George on his own and the trips had become a necessity to the growing enterprise of Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes, so Ron had taken on the responsibility.
It wasn't that Hermione wasn't proud of him for doing so nor that he didn't enjoy doing so. But it meant that Hermione saw Harry far, far more than she saw her boyfriend. Harry, of course, was Harry, and so couldn't see letting anything get in the way of friendships. It wasn't that Ron was less dedicated to her, it was just that they were and always had been, their own people in that way. It was frustrating.
He brought her wine and they shared it on the roof of her flat, making love in their bed. Sometimes she forgot how easy it was to be with him, how much she smiled when he was around. There was a wholeness that he brought to the world, something she just didn't have when he wasn't there, no matter how used she was to his absences.
In the morning, he didn't wake her up, let her sleep and when she awoke on her own he said, "Happy birthday," and, "You're going to be late to your own party, silly."
She took him into the shower with her and made his prediction prophetic. Nobody waiting at the pub was going to care.
When they arrived Harry picked her up and twirled her around. "Happy birthday, Hermione."
She laughed and kissed Harry's cheek. "Get me anything good?"
"Why bother?" he asked. "You never return the favor."
That wasn't fair. Hermione had long learned that somehow arranging time in the sun, or finding vids of rarely viewed quidditch matches, or chocolate covered popcorn could make Harry actually light up as opposed to mumbling thanks, but she laughed anyhow and smacked him lightly in the stomach. Ginny came up to hug her as well, to say, "Been a bit too long."
They hadn't seen each other in six months, so Hermione would consider that a fair approximation. After finishing her last year of Hogwarts, Ginny had taken a summer in Finland studying wand lore with one of the few masters left. Hermione was dying to hear all about it in person, despite the letters they'd shared. Hermione loved to read, but when it was the words of a friend, there really was nothing to substitute for actually hearing someone tell about her adventures.
Neville had come from the intensive Herbology Master's program he was attending in Sicily, and Dean and Luna had made sure to be back from their latest trip searching out cross Erumpet breeds in the forests of South America. Hermione was relieved to see that Luna allowed Dean to balance her out a bit, and that Luna made Dean laugh. Neville said Dean hadn't laughed much in that year of being just another one of Hogwarts' secrets. Hermione doubted any of Dumbledore's Army had.
Seamus was there, Parvati as well. She brought Lavender's apologies. Hermione asked, "How is she? I mean, truly?"
Parvati said, "It's your birthday and whatever else she wouldn't want--"
Hermione put her hand on Parvati's wrist. Parvati looked down at the hand and said, "Not to come off a right tit, but it wouldn't go amiss if some of you would contact her when there weren't parties to be thrown."
Hermione nodded. "Point taken. I'll send her an owl this week, I promise."
Behind her, Ron said, "Me too."
Parvati looked as though she doubted it, but she smiled for them, and went off to get the next round.
Hermione saw Harry a week later. He had a look on his face that always promised bad news. The news nowadays was never quite so bad as it had always been back when they were in school, so she just said, "You might as well tell me. You're only going to make yourself sick waiting."
"Ron can't come next week. He's really, really sorry, but a trip to the Balkans absolutely--"
Hermione put a finger to Harry's lips and gave herself a moment to breathe. Her chest hurt a little, but it was familiar pain. "It's fine." It was, too. Hermione had long since gotten used to the way work or study often came first for both of them.
Even more oddly, she had gotten to the point where she didn't even wonder why Ron always felt the need to send the messages through Harry. At first she had assumed he just wanted her to hear it from a friend rather than parchment, but she'd long since stopped even thinking about it, which was probably less than healthy. She stored it away as something to consider later. "Did he say if he'd be in the next week, or are we just skipping that visit altogether?" The two of them tried to see each other once every couple of weeks, but it didn't always work out.
Harry looked miserable.
"Altogether, then," Hermione surmised. It took a second, but she found a small smile, somewhere down around her stomach. "Going to take me out for a conciliatory cup of coffee?"
"I could even spring for butterbeer," Harry offered.
"That's Harry Potter, my endlessly generous friend." She grinned at him and summoned her cloak. Whereas Ron's visits were infrequent and somewhat unpredictable, she and Harry had a long-standing date on Monday evenings, to bitch about the first day of the week and fortify each other for the rest of it. Granted, that wasn't generally the only time they saw each other: Harry stopped by all the time, just to see her, because he was Harry and Harry had a thing about the people he considered family. She was equally welcome at his place--but it was a certainty, something that happened unless either of them had something that they absolutely had to be doing otherwise. Even on the nights when one of them had been ill or exhausted or on the verge of a nervous breakdown, the other had just gone to them, fortified coffee in hand, and provided a shoulder to sleep on, or cry on, or do whatever was necessary, really.
When they had gotten their drinks she took a sip and looked over at him. "You look worn."
"I suppose the first year of being an Auror will do that to a person." Harry smiled, which only served to accentuate the lines forming at the corners of his eyes.
"Mm. And the fact that Ginny took off for Victoria would have nothing to do with it?" she asked softly.
"I-- The thing is, we decided--"
Hermione knew what he had to say, but sometimes there was merit in waiting. She'd learned that the slow, hard way.
"She wanted to concentrate on her studies. She said, you know, that it wasn't that she didn't love me, but that every time she got back she knew herself a little less and me a lot less and it just--" Harry sighed. "The worst part is, I suppose she's right. Lately it feels like we never have anything to talk about. I mean, sure the wand thing is interesting, but I had a lot of it, you know, back-- Well, you were there. And I can't really talk much about my work, wouldn't want to if I could, so then there's silence, which sometimes we try and fill with, um, but that's, you can only do so much of-- Stop laughing, you horrid cow."
Hermione made her face as straight as she could manage. "Sorry, sorry."
Harry shook his head at her, but he was smiling a bit, too. "Anyway, I imagine it's for the best. Who stays with their first love, anyhow?"
Hermione took another sip. "I am sorry, Harry."
"Me too, if not as sorry as I always thought I would be."
Hermione sat up and leaned over the table to give Harry's forehead a kiss. "I'll get the next round, yeah?"
Ron returned from the Balkans laughing and with stories, stories that Hermione wanted to hear, but that didn't really speak to her. They had dinner and dessert and afterward sex and every part of it was good, if none were all that much better than the other. They fell asleep together but she woke up alone, which wasn't how things usually went. She was almost always the first one awake. She found Ron in the kitchen, reading an owl from George. He looked at her apologetically. "Bloody owl nearly pecked me to death until I got up."
"Things all right?"
Ron made a face. "Fine enough, but I'm going to have to head back later today."
Hermione nodded. She hadn't really expected that he'd stay all that long, despite his promise of a full weekend. He said, "I'm sorry, Hermione, really I am."
She waved a hand. "I can think of at least a hundred times when I prioritized OWLs over you."
Ron looked at the table. "Yeah." He brought his gaze up. "Not quite the same, was it?"
"D'you, I don't know, do you ever feel like you've settled for me?"
"No, I don't mean it in a-- Not that I'm not worthy or anything, although," he ran a hand over the curves of her body, only just hidden by her dressing gown, "maybe a little, eh? Just, just that if you looked away, if you gave yourself permission, you might find someone who you would want to yell at if he kept running away?"
Hermione stayed where she was, his hand still on her breast. "I don't know that I've ever thought about it."
Ron raised an eyebrow. "There's something you haven't considered?"
She rolled her eyes good-naturedly. Then she answered him seriously. "I'm with you, Ron. That was all I had ever wanted. And it's not as if I have a ton of time to just ponder 'what ifs'. But mostly, mostly it was that I've been with you."
Ron smiled at her, warm and affectionate. "Yeah. I-- Me too, at first. Only, well, I do have time to think about those things. There's a lot of waiting involved in these trips, you realize? In any case, it's just, you never seem all that upset that I haven't time for you. Almost as if you don't miss me all that much."
"I miss you," she said, "I miss you."
He waited several moments and then said, "But you miss me like a friend, yes?"
She looked at him. "How do you miss me?"
He was silent for a second before admitting, "Like a friend."
She folded into his lap, let him hold her. Finally she asked, "You do realize I was counting on you keeping me off the dating scene until I was something of a cause célèbre in my field, able to seduce young boys at will?"
He laughed softly. "I was counting on you keeping me off it forever."
She sighed. "Yes, that as well, I suppose."
He kissed her and she kissed him back and they kept at it until they were making love on the floor of her kitchen, indulging in their own way of letting each other go.
The worst part of her and Ron being finished, the part that made Hermione's throat tight and her eyes burn, was that there just wasn't that much of a difference. Hermione missed the occasional sex, but they still owled, still saw each other when he could get into town, still made each other laugh and infuriated each other with predictable regularity. In a lot of ways, it was easier having him back as a friend, easier for both of them. She felt guilty thinking it, but she was pretty sure he agreed, so there was at least that.
Three months in she had herself a rebound fling with one of her superiors, which was at best risky and at worst completely foolhardy, but it was better than having a rebound fling with a friend, which Hermione had watched just enough television with her mother to know never, ever went well. The superior thing taught her a fair amount sex that books just weren't going to help out with and ended amiably. Hermione had no doubt it helped that she picked a superior she was never going to need a recommendation letter--or letter of any sort--from.
When she was done with the affair she went back to concentrating on her apprenticeship full time. She was within a year of completion and was still debating the relative merits of allowing the Ministry to hire her and working from within or starting her own firm and railing against the forces of evil (and pseudo-evil) from the safety of a rented flat topside. She knew which one sounded better, and knew, in her heart, that meant she should probably make the other choice. Harry asked, "If I admit that I want you to go Ministry just so I have someone to steal away for lunch, does that influence your decision in any way?"
"It's not like I would rent all that far away from the Ministry. And for fuck's sake Harry, you're a wizard, why don't you Apparate out here for a bite every now and then?"
Harry looked thoughtful for a second, then said, "Oh, don't say that like you don't regularly walk into other rooms to get things you could just as easily have summoned."
"Yes, I have a confession to make: I was raised by dentists."
"I wish you had told me earlier in our friendship. I hate to have to break things off now."
Hermione threw a pen at him. Harry blocked it magically from sheer force of instinct and training. Hermione laughed so hard she cried, and later blamed Harry for the fact that her abdomen was unduly sore. He bought them both dinner to make it up to her. She accepted, mostly because it was the end of the month, when she was always running a bit low on her stipend and one more evening of beans on toast really did make her want to cry. Plus she knew he worried about her, knew it in the way he would randomly bring jugs of milk or a bag of apples, just something to supplement her cupboards. She tried telling him that if she was really desperate she could ask her parents for help, or pick up a job on the side of her research, but he always acted like the food had come to him in the course of his walk over there, and really, he almost never ate at his place.
Hermione worried, too, but mostly at the fact that Harry didn't seem to like going home. He seemed lonely simply at the thought, so she never closed her doors to him. Not even on the nights when she was tired and stressed and really wanted nothing more than tea and to be left alone. The odd thing was that even on those nights, it didn't really bother her to have him around. He would even make her the tea, and leave her at the kitchen table with her books or just her thoughts. She usually found him asleep on her couch when she made her way to her bed for the night. At first she generally just tucked a throw over him, but as it happened more and more she tugged on his hand and dragged him, only half-conscious, to the bed with her.
He was always gone by the time she woke up to get to work, but there was generally coffee waiting in the pot for her, a note left on the table. It was never fancy, just, "Thanks for letting me stay," or, "Have a good day," or, "See you on Saturday," or, one particularly notable time, "I used the last of your toothpaste, I'll owl some more this afternoon. The scary dentist's kind you like, promise."
The offer from the Ministry came a month before her graduation. Hermione read it several times, despite having known what it would say before it came. She read it and thought about the way it read a bit prophetically, as thought she would accept, as though there was absolutely no choice. She thought about the way Harry had always lived his life toward the goal of killing Voldemort and how his life had gone past that point. She thought about how she was young and if she didn't like struggling day in and day out at the Ministry she could always leave. She thought about the fact that she had spent her seventh year of Hogwarts in a forest, freezing for parts of it to save a world that didn't really exist, existed only in the best hopes and dreams of the people fighting for it. She thought about the fact that she didn't really owe anyone anything, not anymore.
She put her quill to parchment and sent off a letter requesting a contract. She'd tell Harry he could buy her lunch.
The three of them always, always went to dinner on the eve of the anniversary of Voldemort's defeat. They would have preferred the actual date, but there were only so many lies each of them could tell to get out of official functions, and by the second year Ron had said, "Let them have their bloody soirees, we'll do a pint the night before, yeah?"
Harry had informed him, "I really hate it when you're the voice of reason."
Ron had smirked. "That's just because it's unfamiliar, mate. You'll get used to it, it'll be like nothing ever changed."
The odd part was, four years past and Ron's words were starting to seem a little prophetic. Hermione was absolute pants at any of the magics surrounding Divination, but Ron often just seemed to know where things were going. If he didn't, he made a damned good show of it. Hermione envied him that.
So they met up, and sometimes there were others. Neville and Ginny weren't uncommon attendees, nor Luna or several of the other DA members. The previous year Dennis Creevey had shown, which had been hard on just about everyone, but somewhat like peeling a plaster off a wound, letting it air out, better in the long run. Ron could never drag George, but Charlie would sometimes come, occasionally Fleur and Bill. Percy was nearly as regular as Hermione, Harry and Ron.
Percy showed up with Hannah Abbot that year, which was unusual and notable. Hermione asked Ron, "That something you forgot to mention in your letters?"
Ron said, "I think that's something Perce forgot to mention in his letters."
When Hermione was able to corner Percy about it later he said, "Oh, well, you must realize, that is--"
"You and Hannah haven't actually used the spoken word to determine your status?" Hermione took a guess.
"She thinks very differently than most people," Percy said in a tone that was half-defensive, half-awed.
Hermione patted his hand. "Yes, but she's also highly communicative if one just asks."
"That's rather what I'm afraid of," Percy admitted. Hermione laughed, and after a moment, he smiled and then joined in.
She said, "Percy, she's more intuitive than anyone gives her credit for and not the type to lead a bloke on. You should talk."
Percy sighed. "So says one of the Three Heroes."
Hermione shook her head at the Wizarding World's name for her, Harry and Ron. She said, "When it was important, you were right there beside us. Otherwise you wouldn't be here this evening."
"Hermione," he said. She just shook her head again. He hesitated for a moment before leaning in to kiss her cheek. "I would have liked having you as a sister."
"I can't be that without a ring and a name change?" she asked. He tilted his head in acknowledgment. She said, "There are cupcakes somewhere around here, I've heard. Care to embark upon a daring raid with me?"
"I should be honored."
They found the cupcakes to have already been found by Ron, which was less than shocking, since Ron could scout out refined sugar at a distance of three hundred kilometres. She nudged him over and brought a chair up next to him. On his other side, Harry reached over to offer her a cupcake. She took it with a smile. "There's a proper hero for you."
Harry said, "Don't you start."
"If I hand you a cupcake do I get accolades as well?" Ron asked.
"Hand me one, and we shall see."
The first time wasn't an accident. Hermione had never slipped and fallen onto a man's cock and she doubted she ever would. That said, it wasn't exactly an informed and purposeful decision, either, the way most--all--of Hermione's sexual liaisons had been up until then. There was alcohol involved, although not enough to really blame the alcohol. It just sounded better that way.
It happened two nights after Hermione graduated from the law program, a day after there had been the official party hosted by her parents and the less official one down at the pub and things had calmed down. Harry brought a bottle of wine and two packages of fish and chips and the two of them had one or two glasses with their meal. Harry asked, "Really, then, what's it like? I mean, I know there was that year, but school activities have always been what made you happy. And now you're done."
Hermione said, "You worry too much, love."
"Maybe it's genetic. My aunt is a worrier."
Hermione smiled. Harry had been more at ease with his aunt, more understanding of where her particular brand of meanness came from, since viewing Snape's memories. He didn't get along with the woman, although Hermione knew he and Dudley exchanged birthday and Christmas cards every year. She thought it was good for him, to be able to have taken something from that place in the end. "Maybe."
Harry said, "It's just that Ron always knew how to find happiness, you know? I mean, even when he'd gone off me and things were at the worst, he knew how to find ways to smile. You just looked wan and trampled down by the time things were over, like you weren't certain where you had misplaced your laughter. And I love your laughter. It's my favorite laughter."
"You're so irrepressibly sweet," she said, rising to clean up the remnants of the meal. Her banishing charms were not so fantastic that she trusted them on glassware. Before she could even reach for one of the glasses, Harry put his fingers to her midsection and tickled. She gasped and pulled away, giggling. "Harry James Potter!"
But Harry just went for her, encouraged by the first giggle, and quickly enough they were on her floor, engaged in an all out war of wits and fingers, mostly fingers. Harry won in the end, and Hermione panted, "That's simply because," she paused to breathe, "youth and trickery will always outdo age and wisdom."
"I thought it was the other way around."
"Whatever," she informed him, laughing, and he leaned in, maybe to hear her laughter, maybe to taste it, Hermione couldn't be sure, but somehow the action ended in a kiss and rather than pulling back, rather than laughing some more and asking what, precisely, had been in that wine, Hermione pressed into it. Harry's hand slipped beneath her neck, supporting her, holding her up. She said, "Harry," and then kissed him some more before saying, "what--"
Harry said, "I don't--" but that was the last he had to say on the topic, clearly finding her lips more interesting. He wasn't smooth at getting her robes off, but he wasn't clumsy with it, either, just sort of natural. Hermione found herself slipping her hands under his shirt, places where she'd never once thought to put them. Now that they were there, that seemed odd, like it was a bizarre exception to her general curiosity about the world and its wonders. Harry had gained a fair amount of weight and muscle since graduating. He wasn't precisely soft, but he wasn't the sharp, angled thing that Hermione had evidently always expected him to be. He was solid, and that made sense, more sense than the lines and sharpness she'd gotten used to as a child.
He found her nipples with his tongue and devoured them, selfish in a way she'd never seen him be selfish, ravenous in a way he'd never let on in the Great Hall. And then he slipped lower, sating his hunger with his tongue against her clit, pressed inside, questing out any nerve that would cause her to cry out, to beg. Hermione had never before been much of a beggar, but someone--Ginny, Hermione imagined--had trained Harry well. She said, "Harry, Harry," and he said, "Hermione, please," and she said, "Why are you waiting?"
He fit inside easily, they fit together easily. Hermione thought that should have been strange, but really it made more sense than most of the things had in her life until now. What mattered was that Harry was holding her, kissing her, saying, "Perfect, Hermione, perfect." And she wasn't, but she didn't mind that he thought so, even if it was only in this moment. There were seconds, minutes, times, in a person's life, when adoration was allowed, she supposed. She didn't have any more adoration to give. Harry had always had hers, she just hadn't known it meant things like this needed to happen.
They finished nearly together, Harry pulling her along with the force of his need, his want, and when they were done, Harry rolled over so that she was atop him, careful not to crush her. She said, "Harry," and he said, "Just, sh, Hermione. Just for a bit." She said, "Cold," and he warmed her with neither words nor wand.
They woke up what couldn't have been more than a few hours later, still on her floor. Hermione said, "It's possible we're too old to be doing this."
"Or have already put in enough time sleeping on the grounds of forests for this lifetime and any other."
"That as well," she murmured, and moved to roll off of him, pick herself up onto her feet.
He held her where she was. "Hermione."
"In the morning you can say whatever you want to me. Say it was a good time, or that I'm sweet or whatever, whatever it is you need to say, but just-- Not that I was a mistake, all right? Not that."
When she had managed to wrestle down the sizable barricade in her throat, Hermione said, "In the morning, you can say whatever you want to me, anything at all, but just, not that you shouldn't have, not that you respect me too much, not that you would never."
"All right," Harry said, and let her go, let her lead them both to her bed, where--for the first time in all the months that Harry had been staying over occasionally, finding his way into her bed in the most literal sense--they curled into each other, pulled each other back down into their own dreams. In the morning, Hermione woke first, which wasn't their usual pattern. She was usually up later, her apprenticeship beginning in the late morning as opposed to Harry's job, which required him to be there first thing.
She padded to the kitchen and made coffee, sent an owl out for sticky buns, and scanned the Times for anything of interest, the Prophet for anything of mild, glancing fact. Harry appeared at his normal time and she said, "Good morning," and held out a bun to him. He accepted the offer and went to pour himself some coffee.
She asked, "You coming over tonight?"
He sat down. "Since I'm welcome."
"I'll make dinner. I've four days before the start of a new job and the end of any semblance of personal time. I might as well be terribly brave and a little bit foolhardy in that time."
Harry laughed. "What, precisely, do you plan to make?"
"Pot roast, and if you laugh, I swear--"
Harry was already laughing. Hermione flicked her wand and his sneakers tied themselves right together at the laces. Harry said, "Oh, sure," and responded with a jinx to make her hair stand on end. She just went about eating her sticky bun. "I don't have to leave my house today, genius."
"Speaking of which," Harry said, and started to stand before he remembered and worked a Finite Incantatum on his shoes. "I'd best get going."
He was almost to the door when she said, "Is this-- I suppose we're just in agreement then, that there weren't any mistakes occurring last evening, other than of the felicitous sort?"
"I...suppose we are."
When she looked up, Harry looked worried, as though she might change her mind, now that he'd agreed. She said, "Bring home lettuce, then, would you? And a thing of pumpkin juice. I can't keep up with your habit."
Harry smiled and sneaked back a few steps to swipe a kiss. "Have a good day."
"Off with you," she said, "off."
Three months in, when it was sort of clear that they were kind of living together without any sort of official lease and probable that they were dating each other without actual dates, Hermione said, "We need to tell Ron. Should tell Ginny, but need to tell Ron."
Harry said, "Or we could both just run off to the Pyrenees and become Pygmies."
"Hm, I'm not sure we'd have much of a community in the Pyrenees, and I'm far too fond of my coffee maker. No, telling Ron it is."
"But Pygmies are naked all the time."
"Do you actually know anything about Pygmies?"
"I'd think the answer to that would be pretty obvious," Harry admitted with a smile. Hermione shook her head at him, a matching smile on her lips.
"Harry," she said.
"I know, I know. I just feel a bit like I stole his girl."
She raised an eyebrow.
He didn't budge. "You know what I mean."
Hermione actually did. In her secret heart of hearts, despite knowing it had been nothing like that, she couldn't quite get past the notion that she'd left him for his best friend. It was patently ridiculous, she hadn't even left him, let alone for Harry, but she couldn't help it. She sighed. "I'll set something up, all right?"
It was always complicated just getting together with Ron for a one-off, but to her surprise, when she flooed, Ron said, "Yeah, there's really something I need to talk to the two of you about. I'll be bringing a friend."
"Ron, I don't know that--"
"Make reservations for four," he said, and cut off the connection. Hermione rolled her eyes. Some things never changed. She considered making reservations for three just to spite him, but didn't, in the end. There was a week before they were set to meet and Hermione and Harry skirted around the issue, rehearsing without admitting that they were thinking about what they were going to say, planning. In the end, it didn't matter, as whatever they had been planning on saying went out the window at the sight of their fourth dining companion.
"Lavender," Hermione said, a genuine smile stealing over her lips. Lavender rarely answered her owls and never, never allowed her to come visit, even though Parvati swore she missed people from school.
"Lavender," Harry said, looking surprised, but not displeased.
She tucked a hair behind her ear in what Hermione recognized as a nervous gesture. Her smile was a bit muted, but she put it on, said, "Harry, Hermione."
They opened the menus and Ron caught them up on Charlie, whom he'd recently seen, and then, when they'd ordered and would be left mostly to themselves said, "You needed to see me?"
Harry said, "Well, see," but Hermione looked at Lavender. She asked, "How'd the two of you meet back up?"
She watched as Ron put a hand to Lavender's back. Lavender had the stretched look of someone who had lost too much weight too quickly and was still gaining it back. Hermione didn't miss the look of protectiveness in Ron's eyes, remembered that look, ached for it a bit, but only with the dull ache of nostalgia. Harry had his own look for her, and she wouldn't have traded it, not even to have Ron turn his gaze to her. The difference was, when Lavender saw the way he was looking at her, she smiled a little, more than she really had before, unfolded slightly. Hermione, for all that she might have tried, had never depended upon Ron that much, never needed him like that. It made Ron sit straighter. She thought, right.
Lavender said, "He found, um, he found this community, on one of his trips. Of, you know--" she gestured with her hands.
Hermione nodded. Ron said, "Lycanthropes," softly, but without shame.
Lavender swallowed. "Anyway, he thought I might be interested and um, he took me to lunch, insisted."
"You were skin and bones," Ron said, fierce and more than a touch sad.
"He made me laugh. I'd forgotten how... That he could do that."
Hermione nodded. "He's good at that." Ron smiled at her. Hermione said, "That's brilliant. I'm so-- Surprised, but happy."
Lavender met her eyes for the first time. "Me too."
"Right, but enough of my announcements, what did you have to tell me?" Ron asked.
"Oh, um, well." Hermione looked at Harry.
"Sort of the same thing, actually," Harry said.
Ron stared at him for a second, switched his glance to Hermione and said, "Wait, you're--" Hermione waited before nodding. Ron blinked. "The two of you?"
Harry said, "The two of us."
"Are you sure?" Ron asked.
"Ron," Lavender said.
"Pretty sure," Harry told him. "We waited until we were."
"Well, that's--" Ron looked between the two of them again. "That's surprisingly unsurprising."
They were all silent for a second before breaking into laughter. Hermione said, "Believe me, we feel the exact same way."
Hermione woke up to an empty bed and made her way to the kitchen. She found Harry there, looking in their cupboards blindly, the way he did when he wanted some sense of normalcy to be provided with food, but didn't know what to pick that would actually provide such a sense. She came to stand behind him and rub his back. "Nightmare?"
Harry nodded. He had them. The worst ones woke her up as well, the more mundane ones he could generally just roll over and go back to sleep after. She said, "I could order something from that all-night spot we like. Something disgusting and greasy and a little bit divine."
"How did I not notice that you were the perfect woman for me all these years?"
"We were exorcising ourselves of our maddening teenage passions first."
"Yes, passion, I remember."
Hermione shoved at Harry a little. "Git."
Harry pulled her right back in and kissed her forehead. "Mm, but you love me."
"Mm," she said right back, and kissed him. "Cakes?"
"With icing," he specified.
"Heathen." She went and ordered up half a dozen cakes, two with glaze, two with icing and two apple cinnamon ones, for herself. "Milk or coffee?"
"You have any cinnamon?"
"Warm milk?" she asked.
"Not that it's going to even out eating about eighty tons of sugar at this time of night, but--"
"I have cinnamon," she said and went to grab a pot for the milk. Harry sat down at the table as she poured some milk out and set it to heating. She went to stand behind him and run her fingers through the hair at the base of his neck. He'd been having the nightmares more often of late, which made her nervous. She was fairly certain they should have been getting less common. She tried not to ask about them, though, because talking about it seemed to make him more tired and it wasn't as if his scar was burning or he was having resultant headaches. Given his past, he really was bound to have nightmares. It didn't mean she had to like it. "I could talk with Professor Slughorn, or some people over at Mungo's, see if there's a gentler potion than Dreamless."
Harry would take Dreamless if he absolutely had to, but it made him feel groggy and uncoordinated afterward. He leaned his head back into her hand. "I'm all right, Hermione."
"I know, just, well, it wouldn't hurt, some extra sleep." Or the right amount of sleep, really.
"I think these will go away."
Hermione moved back over to stir at the milk. It was nearly done. She hoped the cakes arrived soon. "What do you mean?"
"They're not-- They're different. I don't know, maybe work stress or something. They're not the Voldemort ones. I think they're temporary."
She frowned down at the pot. "What are they about?"
"Nothing, not really. They're just flashes of images, that sort of thing."
"But they scare you enough to wake you?" Say what he would, Hermione knew Harry didn't really scare all that easily.
"It's not so much being scared as feeling... I don't know, I wake up feeling like there's something I forgot to do and if I could just remember it, I could do it and be fine and go on. Except I can't imagine what the hell I would have forgotten to do. I keep checking things at work, but nothing's shown up yet. I don't know, it's a bit strange, but like I said, I think it will pass."
Hermione turned off the heat and poured the milk into cups just as there was a buzz at her flat's door. Harry said, "I'll get it."
Sometimes, when Hermione turned to the library in her times of need, it wasn't even that she was looking for answers so much as a place that gave her the safety of knowing it generally provided answers. The thought didn't make much sense, even in her own mind, but it was true, and when the nightmares started to become unrelenting, Hermione took a personal day and hied herself off to do some concentrated research.
Dream interpretation, to Hermione's mind, was about as reliable--and worthwhile--as divination, but it was somewhere to start, and generally that was all she needed. She spent more time reading the reviews of interpretation books than the actual books, then checked out the four that seemed to be most highly recommended.
On her way home she made a stop at Hogwarts to have tea with Neville and ask, "I don't suppose you know of anyone who has a Pensieve they could loan me?"
Neville took a moment to pour himself more tea before asking, "Mind telling me why you need it?"
"I want Harry to record some dreams he's been having."
Neville looked at her in slight alarm and she shook her head. "Nothing like that. Simply images we can't interpret."
Neville took a sip. "I'm not entirely certain how reassuring that is."
"Truly, Neville, I would-- I wouldn't be calmly asking for Pensieves if it were something more."
"Yes you would," he said, calling the lie.
She laughed. "All right, perhaps, but I've no reason to lie to you. You've never done anything but stand by us."
He smiled at her for a moment. Then he said, "You should speak to Irma. They're considered texts by the school. She knows how to purchase them."
"Texts? Well, yes, I suppose that makes--" She cut herself off to find him still smiling at her. She grinned back and stood to kiss him on the cheek. "An enormous help, as always."
"Come by any time."
"Same applies to you," she said.
He had the grace to look abashed. "I know, the school year gets away with me."
"Yes, it would have been nice for someone to mention we'd have to be adults at some point, would it not have?" She waved goodbye one last time, and made her way up to the library, where Irma Pince was taking in new arrivals.
She said, "Miss Granger. Not somewhere we generally see the ex-students, although, I will grant, you were an exception even in your school days."
"Hello Ms. Pince," Hermione said softly. Unlike most of the students, she'd never not gotten along with the librarian, but they hadn't had a particularly amicable relationship, either.
"What can I do for you?" Pince asked, not sounding all that interested.
"Neville said you might know of a way to purchase a Pensieve. Preferably an empty one, although I'm certain I can learn the spells to clear it, if need be."
The librarian looked up and stared at Hermione for quite some time before saying, "No, I think I prefer not to know. Clean Pensieves are the easiest to purchase, actually, as there are no concerns about their textual value. If I were you I would catalogue order one from Krakow. They have the oldest practitioners of composition there, and tend to be more trustworthy. They are not hard to find, simply ask for a Polish Ministry listing of magical businesses."
Hermione nodded, forever amazed and frustrated by her continued lack of knowledge about the simplest things in the magical world. "Thank you."
"And Miss Granger?"
"I would learn those magics in any case. Pensieves are powerful tools in the wrong hands."
Hermione nodded again, slowly this time. "Yes, of course, thank you."
Ms. Pince nodded sharply, and went back to what she had been doing.
Harry said, "It took six owls to deliver that thing. What on earth did you order?"
Hermione looked at the considerably sized package sitting by their window. "Six owls, really? I would have liked to have seen that."
"Yeah, it was pretty-- Hermione."
Hermione grinned. Harry was easy to distract. "It's a Pensieve."
"Oh. You can just buy a Pensieve?"
"That was pretty much my reaction when told, but yes, it's a purchasable item. Much more tricky is learning how to use it properly. I'm working on that element. Until I've learned all the precautionary measures I feel necessary to take, it's entirely useless to us."
"Us? This is an us thing?"
"I need to see the dreams to help, Harry, and you know I've less than no skill at Legilimency."
"I swear, Harry, I absolutely swear that if you utter so much as a word about not needing help I will turn you right out of that door and once again start up paying rent all by myself. I am sure I am unquestionably hot in the sack, but as my boyfriend you really are required to appreciate my other endeavors, so do yourself a favor, should you care to continue our relationship in this vein and--"
"I was going to ask if Pensieved memories work the same for subconscious thoughts as conscious ones."
"Oh." Hermione flushed. "Oh. Sorry. Just, you, when we were--"
"Kids, I know. But I've gotten better. Surely you must have noticed."
Hermione nodded. She had. "I suppose it's instinct to fear that you'll run when I most need you to stay put."
Harry looked down for a moment before reaching a hand out to squeeze at her shoulder. She turned into him, allowed him to take her up in his arms. He rubbed at the back of her neck. "So, are you going to answer my question, or don't you know?"
"All of my research indicates that while the results aren't wholly the same, the representations are reliable enough for what we're doing."
"Wing and a prayer, then?"
"Where did you even learn that saying?"
"Muggle book, I think."
"Yes, essentially. But a much better prayer than we've had before and with lesser stakes, so I'm more than happy to work with it."
"When did you become easy to please?"
"Perhaps around the time Narcissa Malfoy laid your apparently dead body in the middle of the Great Hall. Give or take a few years."
Harry laughed. Hermione said, "Your sense of humor is macabre."
"You're the one who said it."
"That's not my job in this relationship."
"What, precisely, is that job?" she asked.
Harry swept her up in his arms. "Allow me to show you."
"Well, all right, if you insist."
Hermione spent a week having Harry collect his dreams into the Pensieve every morning, even the dreams that were completely mundane and seemingly had nothing to do with the ones that kept Harry awake. She wanted to assess if, among other things, there was a pattern somewhere in all of this. Her first few runs were almost entirely data collection. Trying to see which images appeared regularly, how many times they appeared, if they regularly appeared in different guises. Then she let go and just watched, letting her mind form questions which she dictated to a Dictaquill finely tuned to respond to nuance in her voice as well as just words.
When Harry walked in on her, she was doing focused watchings, keeping a question in mind as she went through each time and seeing what popped out at her. He waited until she pulled her head from the basin to ask, "So, anything?"
She jumped all the same. Harry smiled sheepishly. "Sorry."
She shook her head. "It's fine. I was just distracted."
"I see that. I brought tea." Harry hefted a tray that she hadn't even noticed sitting right in his hands. She cleared enough room at the desk she was working from for him to set it down. He summoned a chair so as to join her. "Unless you'd prefer to just keep going?"
"I think it best that I not. I probably need a bit of a perspective refresher."
"Have you even looked up since you came in here?"
Hermione poured tea and pretended she hadn't heard the question. Harry laughed. "I should drag you outside."
"It's freezing out there."
"I know how to do a warming charm, you?"
"I must have missed that day."
"I'm pretty sure you taught me."
"Oh, well, in that case." Hermione laughed.
Harry was silent for a moment before asking, "Have you found anything?"
"You were correct about the repetitive images. Some are more vivid than others, so I've been categorizing them in those terms, even though that might not be all that correct. In any case, yes, I've got a place to start. I'll see what I can do about getting to a middle. Hopefully sooner rather than later."
"So you don't want to go outside?"
She patted his shoulder. "I can watch you fly from the window, dear."
"I was thinking of a walk, I'll have you know."
"Be that as it may," she said. "And I'll certainly help you get clean when you decide you've had enough for one day."
"Going to teach me more charms?"
"Something like that," Hermione said wryly.
"I'll be outside."
"I'll be inside your head."
"Romantic," Harry told her.
Hermione was about to give up and go at the problem in another fashion when she got pulled into consulting on a case concerning smuggled potions by a colleague who wanted some advice. She was flipping through the notes on the case, written in the shorthand that was taught to all British wizarding legal professionals. The case heavily involved--among other things--illegal mandrake farms, which were pretty dangerous. Mandrake was also represented by a curved backslash--shorthand for dragon or dragon claw--interposed with a lowercase m. Since she was pulling out bits of import from the case, the symbol repeated itself in her brain over and over again until she said, "Oh. Powdered dragon claw."
Her colleague asked, "Hm?"
She shook her head. "Nothing, something else I'm working on. You should present the evidence of the related breeding cases that I keep seeing, though, even if it's not strictly admissable as proof, it is circumstantial."
Her colleague--a woman--said, "If you weren't pretty much married, I really would have you on the floor, right here and right now."
"Oh, I'm sure Harry wouldn't mind," Hermione said, then went back to reading the case.
When she got home, she made her way straight to the Pensieve to see if she was right, and sure enough, the predominant symbol--something she hadn't noticed because she and Harry didn't think at all alike--was powdered dragon claw. Only, it wasn't the normative symbol that the books at school had recorded, it was one of the ones Harry and Ron had come up with so that they could remember them. Hermione had never needed them, so she hadn't really paid attention, but her memory was pretty good. Now that she could see one of them, she could see quite a few, over and over and over.
Harry had mentioned going out for drinks with some of his cohort, so she wasn't surprised to have him walk in late. She asked, "Have a good time?"
Harry rolled his eyes. "Until we nearly got thrown out because Noella kept trying to start pubfights."
Hermione laughed. She liked Noella, but she wasn't entirely sure how the woman had passed the wizarding world's version of a psych eval to train as an Auror. "Someone insult her robes?"
"No, just asked her to dance."
"Granted, he did imply that she might need to be helped from her stool."
Hermione blinked. Harry grinned. "By holding his hand out. Who says chivalry is dead?"
"It's tragic to me that the wizarding world's de facto peace keeping force is made up of complete lunatics."
"That is disheartening," Harry agreed, but his smile hadn't gone anywhere. "How was your day?"
"I've been mostly left to my own devices right now, since I'm pursuing alternate forms of prosecuting pre-genocidal oppressive measures. Not glamorous enough, really. Really, the most interesting part of my day was that Honora Claret, the new girl over in Dangerous Substances asked me to take a look at her case."
"Yes? I didn't know you were into that sort of thing."
"I'm not. She wanted an outsider's perspective, but it made something come together for me about what I've been seeing in the Pensieve. Have any idea why you would be dreaming about potions ingredients?"
Harry's face went blank for a moment. Then he scrunched it up before flattening it out again. "Maybe I need a potion? I mean if I'm forgetting something, maybe that's it?"
"Maybe," Hermione said, although she doubted it. There was nothing to suggest that the dream's message was that direct.
Harry smiled ruefully. "You're asking the wrong guy."
"About his own dreams?"
"Don't sound so surprised," he told her.
"No," she said. "No, never that."
Hermione was stuck. She had spent weeks reading every book she could find on the sorts of potion ingredients Harry was seeing in the dreams--not connected in any obvious way--speaking to Potions Masters, reading about the subconscious meanings of potions, but nothing that made any sense was coming together. Then, she did what she always did when she had absolutely no idea what to do next: she asked a teacher.
Minerva met her for tea on a Friday afternoon. Hermione asked, "How are things at the school?"
"I tell you, there are days when I'm quite certain I am too old for this job. Never you mind that Albus was at least half again my age. That man was going to live forever if he didn't get himself into the kind of trouble he always managed. I, for one, am ready for a nice sandy beach and a cottage."
Hermione grinned. "Then why haven't you gotten yourself there?"
Minerva sighed. "Oh, let's be honest, I'd be bored within a week. Then where would I be?"
"On a beach."
"There is that."
Hermione laughed and nibbled on a scone. Minerva said, "I don't suppose you've made this appointment to talk with me about beachside properties?"
"Sadly, no." Hermione shook her head. "I need some advice."
"If it pertains to your profession, I'm not certain as to how much use I'll be. I can get you an introduction with someone who might help, though."
"It's not professional, although I appreciate the offer. No, it has to do with Harry. He's been having these nightmares."
"Is this what the pensieve was about?"
Hermione looked at her. "Good news travels fast, I see."
"Not really, but I do know what goes on in the school. Albus always made it seem so mystical, but really, between the portraits and having a solid relationship with the staff and faculty, it's just a matter of knowing when and how to ask questions."
"It always seemed magical to me," Hermione said, somewhat absently into her teacup.
Minerva's eyes softened. "That's the gift of Muggle-borns, I think. Magic is never something pedestrian for them. It never loses its..."
"Layers?" Hermione suggested.
Minerva nodded. "Yes, precisely." She took a sip. "In any case, you got yourself a Pensieve."
"And I've hit a wall. I've figured out the symbols he's seeing, but they're not helping me to understand the structure or meaning of the dreams, which are only becoming more frequent. Harry says he always feels as though he's forgotten to do something upon waking, but he can't figure out what, and neither can I. I need someone who works with this sort of thing. Someone reliable and also bound by confidentiality."
"Dream analysts are confidential as an aspect of the job. That said, they're overwhelmingly strong Legilimencers as well, you realize?"
Hermione thought that over. "I suppose that's probably considered essential in the training."
"It has been proven to greatly improve an interpreter's accuracy." Minerva pursed her lips.
"Right." Hermione wasn't certain how she felt about allowing someone into Harry's mind. She knew what Harry would think, and she was going to need to feel pretty strongly about the situation to talk him into it. Then again, if he started sleeping any less, there were probably going to start being health complications. "Can you get me some names? People who are good and unlikely to succumb to the temptation to talk to the media?"
Minerva's eyes narrowed for a moment, but all she said was, "I will see what I can find out."
"I would owe you."
"Hardly. Your debts have all come prepaid."
"I don't like that idea any more than Harry does."
"Unfortunate for you both that it remains true."
Hermione scowled, but it was hard to keep it up in the face of her old Headmistress. Minerva smiled at her. "Take care of him. And yourself."
Hermione poured herself some more tea. "Doing my best."
Once a week, Hermione would push the issue of Harry taking Dreamless. No more than that, she truly did understand his concerns, but she also didn't want him going crazy from the sleep deprivation. He was starting to do things like walk out of the house with different shoes on, or try to pay for dinner with serviettes. When Hermione told her mum about it, she asked, "Have you tried anything non-magical? Laughing gas, you know. Works wonders."
"You can still dream on laughing gas," Hermione said, sighing. She had checked those solutions out, but nothing of a Muggle nature prohibited the workings of the subconscious, and without that shut down, whatever sleep Harry got wouldn't be restful, and that was what he needed.
"Perhaps, then, something more old-fashioned? Like a holiday?"
Hermione somewhat doubted that a couple of days by the sea was going to fix anything, but it sounded nice all the same, so she said to Harry, "How does Spain catch you?"
"Spain?" Harry asked. "Um. The country?"
"A holiday there. Not long. Three days? Four? An extended weekend."
"Depends. Will you be bringing your books?"
"Only the ones with everyone doing naughty, naughty things in them."
Harry snorted. "I do live with you, My. The naughtiest book you've ever read was probably 'Tom Sawyer'."
"I don't keep my 'Venus in Fur' out on the bookshelf."
"'Venus in Fur'?"
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Do you want to go to Spain and watch me sunbathe nude on a public beach, only magic between me and the eyes of others, or do you not?"
"I would answer, but I think I swallowed my tongue."
"Well, any time you manage to regurgitate it, I'm sure I'll be waiting."
"Naked?" Harry asked hopefully. Hermione hid her laughter behind both hands, until Harry came and took them away.
Minerva's owl found them in Spain. The upside to this was that Hermione didn't have to wonder about it anymore. The downside was that the name on the missive was none other than Draco Malfoy's. Hermione had literally gaped upon seeing it, even with Minerva's, "I really did try to find someone more highly recommended and known for discretion, but every path of inquiry kept leading me to one name," to supposedly soften the blow.
Hermione incendio'ed the damn thing and walked barefoot on burning sand until she reached the cool, wet banks where the water had paved the way for her. She dug her toes in and considered her choices. She had no idea how long she'd been standing there when Harry came up next to her and said, "Sometimes you think very loudly."
She smiled ruefully. "Sorry."
"I've been trying not to, um, eavesdrop."
She shook her head, "No, I--"
"What's this about Draco?"
Despite the fact that she'd been debating the issue since she'd read the letter, she made a split decision. "Nothing. It's nothing."
"Mm," Harry said, which was clearly code for "bullshit," but she'd been questioned by better men than him before. Or, well, at least ones less susceptible to her "leave it" expression. She schooled her face into it, but to her surprise, Harry said, "C'mon, just tell me. Then let me make my own decisions."
"It's not like that."
"It kind of is. Not that I don't appreciate the protection, truly, but--"
"You've been left out of things that involved you enough," Hermione finished.
Harry squinted into the sun. "It doesn't make me angry when you do it."
"Yeah, well, I also used to be fifteen."
Hermione acknowledged the sentiment with a slight puff of breath. Harry said, "So. Draco Malfoy."
"He's a dream reader. Evidently a very, very good one."
Harry made an amused noise and bent to pick up a stone that had washed up into the sand. He threw it out in a manner that Hermione knew was supposed to make it skip, but it sank instead. He said, "Probably have to tell him the dream, then, huh?"
"Probably have to allow him to legilimize you," Hermione said, because, well, if they were going to do this, it was going to be with all the facts.
"Bloody fantastic." Harry sighed.
"I can find another way."
"I know," Harry said, like he believed her, without question or hesitation. "But I hate making you look worried."
"I don't mind the worrying. Not over you." She never had, and there had always been emotions to balance the worry out.
Harry tugged at one of her curls. "Minerva thinks we can trust him?"
"To all evidences."
Harry nodded slowly. "We have another day here."
"Let's pretend like neither of us knows until then. I'll give you an answer when we get home."
Hermione shaded her eyes and looked in the direction of the sun. She asked, "Knows what?"
Draco Malfoy had escaped the fate of most minor war criminals--ten years in Azkaban and deportation--both by dint of having been a minor at the time he committed the crimes and his father's money. But there had still been consequences. Even if Hermione hadn't known the exact terms of them, she thought she would have been able to read them in his face. Draco had spent a year in Azkaban and been released into the "custody" of the Ministry, which was to say that he had minders every minute of the day. His mother had been granted clemency, given Harry's positive testimony in her trial, but she was under house arrest, while her husband served time in Azkaban.
Draco looked wary, and, if she thought about it, Hermione really couldn't blame him. Harry and he stood staring at each other for several minutes until Harry winced and said, "Malfoy," with a slight nod of his head.
Draco sighed and said, "Potter," offering a hand that he clearly expected to be refused.
Harry took it. "Thank you for helping with this."
Draco slanted him a look and Hermione was forced to wonder exactly how much choice he'd been given in the matter, but she couldn't worry about that, not now. There was simply too much else to worry about. Draco asked, "Do you have a Sealed room?"
When they had agreed to contract with Draco, Hermione had read up on the process of professional dream reading. Among other things, professionals required a room that was warded both inside and out to keep all transactions within from leaking to the outside. It was necessary that the subject of the reading feel absolutely secure for it to work. Hermione had taken care of the sound warding, but she'd asked Harry to do the defensive wardings, since his were considerably stronger than hers. Also, it was commonly believed that people often felt safest within their own weavings. Hermione usually felt safest within Harry's, but she could see how that might be the exception that proved the rule.
"The study," Harry said.
Draco stood back, waiting to be lead. When Hermione moved toward the room, he said, "It's not practice for there to be anyone else in the room."
Harry stiffened. "I want her there."
Draco tossed a considering glance over at Hermione and then just shrugged. "Who'm I to argue with Harry Bloody Potter?"
"You used to be Draco Bloody Malfoy and we did it all the time," Harry told him, sounding half-annoyed, half-amused.
There was a second before Draco smirked, but he did. "Fine, whatever. It's not like anyone else is going to fault me for letting Hermione Bloody Granger in the room."
Hermione hid her smile at that. As long as he wasn't spouting slurs, she could honestly deal with Draco. She'd dealt with far worse. Honestly, if the slurs started up, she had plans to end his lineage, Muggle-style. She wasn't sure why that had never occurred to her during her school days--he'd never have seen it coming. Ron was right about that: she really had been far too much of one for rules.
They went into the study, where Harry warded them inside. Hermione sat on the desk, folding her legs in front of her. Draco blinked at her, but then took one of the chairs. Harry sat across from him. Draco said, "You're going to have to relax for this to work."
Harry nodded. "Would you have accepted the commission if you'd had more choice?"
"I would have asked a lot more questions first."
"That's not a no."
"No, Potter, it's not. All things told, I don't mind that we're not being ruled by a psychotic half-dead thing, so, past-differences aside, I appreciate what you did for my mother, and saving my life, and I've grown up a bit, thanks, so, no, it's not a no. I just like knowing what I'm getting into before I get into it. My professional reputation is based on me solving these problems, you realize?"
Hermione heard all the things he didn't say, about how his professional reputation had to overcome his personal one. The Malfoys weren't anybody's favorite family. She watched Harry, waiting for him to decide how he felt about that. Finally, Harry unwound a notch and nodded. "Fair."
Draco nodded in return. "To start with, I want you to tell me the dream as you see it."
"Just tell you? You're not going to--"
"Legilimency tells me a lot, but it doesn't tell me everything. And I'm not lazy." Draco sounded brittle, but also somewhat used to Harry's surprise. Hermione thought maybe she should have talked through the process with him ahead of time.
Harry said, "All right. Well, it started with the feeling that I was forgetting something."
Hermione leaned back against the wall. This was probably going to take a while.
There was something intimate about watching Draco legilimize Harry, as if she had walked in on Harry with another man. Not in the shocking, horrifying way, rather, in the way where she was both jealous and yet, maybe just slightly turned on. Which was totally deviant, but Hermione didn't have much use for shame, not around Harry. It took a long time, longer than Hermione would have expected. Occasionally, Draco would frown, or make a noise, but he stayed where he was, eyes on Harry's, sifting through the things Harry hid deepest.
Finally he pulled his gaze away, slumping back into his chair. After a few minutes, Harry asked, "Um. Well?"
Draco gave him an incredulous look. "It's not an exact magic, Potter."
Harry made a face. "Nothing ever is."
Hermione considered how drained Draco looked and asked, "Would you like some tea? Something to eat?"
Draco blinked at her, clearly having forgotten she was in the room. After a bit he said, "That-- That would help."
Hermione wondered how many people just let him go on looking like he was going to pass out in their foyers. She shook her head to herself and went down the hall to see what they had in the kitchen. She put some tea to boil and made watercress sandwiches, along with a few ham and cheese. She took a few clementines and some of the shortbread Minerva had sent her and placed it all on a tray. She poured the tea and made her way back to the office, where Harry was starting to look a little worn as well. Then again, that was sort of status quo these days.
Both men all-but fell on the food, even if Draco was a little more mannered in his consumption of it. Hermione, for her part, peeled a clementine and took her time enjoying it. She wasn't that hungry; she was too preoccupied with what Draco might say.
When he'd had two sandwiches, a clementine, and several of the cookies, and was contented to simply drink his tea, Draco said, "Is there a reason you'd think you need to speak to Professor Snape?"
Harry asked, "Professor Snape?"
"Potions, tall, liked to wear black--"
"I know who he was," Harry said, sounding confused. "I mean, certainly I have things I could say to him. I don't think I've actively been needing to, or anything, though."
"Not actively, subconsciously."
Harry took a second to process that and said, “So what difference does it make if I need to say something to him. He’s dead. I don’t suppose there’s more to the dream, then?”
Draco tilted his head, and then stood up, walking around a little, clearly thinking. "It's unusual for a dream to represent a need that can't be fulfilled, unless it's a mourning dream, or a regret dream, and this is neither."
Harry just looked at him. Hermione asked, "What are you saying?"
"That either needing to talk to Snape is another metaphor out of the metaphors that I translated into that, that talking to Snape signifies some sort of communication we're not imagining, or that talking to Snape is actually wholly possible."
"You do know he's dead, right? I mean...you got that message?"
"I know that Severus Snape was said to have died of a snake bite, which seems pretty fantastically unlikely for a Potions Master of his caliber, but technically, yes, I realize he's been reported dead."
"I saw him die," Harry said, quiet and insistent.
Draco looked disdainful. "I would imagine that somewhere along the line you'd have learned that in our world, seeing is not believing."
Harry said, "But dead is dead."
Draco shrugged. "Sometimes. In any case, I've told you what I know. I can't help you any further than that."
Harry raised an eyebrow. Draco said, "Oh for-- I really can't. Believe me, if I could, I would. I would like to find Severus Snape alive far more than the next person, even assuming the next person is you."
Hermione imagined that was probably true. She looked at Harry with an expression that was more, "leave off," than anything else. Harry looked reluctant, but he followed the instruction. He went to the desk and pulled out a sum of money that had been agreed upon ahead of time and handed it to Draco. "I appreciate-- Well, I appreciate you helping."
Draco's responding smile was cool, but he sounded mildly, very mildly, sincere when he said, "It's nice to be handed a challenge every now and then."
Two days went by before they talked about it. Hermione actually didn't think either one of them was avoiding the situation; it was simply that neither of them had yet come up with what they were ready to say. It was Harry who actually talked first, asking, "Do you think he's alive?"
Hermione gave him the only conclusion she'd been able to come to: "Draco's right, it's not impossible. Far from it, really."
"If he were, could you find him?"
Hermione had been considering that question, too. "I don't know. It would be hard enough if I were sure he was alive. Unless I miss my guess, he's both more powerful and more knowledgeable than I, particularly with Potions, which can be used for all sort of hiding techniques. But, then, I think very differently than he does, so, it's possible. I just don't know how possible."
"I'm more powerful than him."
"Theoretically," Hermione hedged. She knew Harry wasn't bragging, just offering his services. Still, seeing as how they'd never really experienced the breadth of Snape's power, it was a hard assumption to make, even with Harry being quite powerful, particularly in the wake of his recognition of his own strength and becoming comfortable with it.
Harry acknowledged her point with a tilt of his head. "Probably at least as powerful."
It was a good point. Hermione wasn't certain there were that many wizards who surpassed Harry. She said, "At the very least, I don't imagine it will hurt to look. He's not being hunted, or anything."
"Which begs the question of why he never returned, if he is alive," Harry said, mostly to himself.
"What was there to come back to?" Hermione asked.
Harry looked up at her. She folded her arms over her stomach. "I mean, honestly. Dumbledore, the only person who'd trusted him, was dead by his hand, Voldemort's followers were hardly going to be pleased with him. Unless he trusted you to tell his story he had to doubt that anyone else would be feeling particularly friendly toward him."
"But I was honest," Harry said, clearly insulted by the idea that he might not have been.
"He didn't know you. All he knew was what he wanted to know about you. He might as well have been Rita Skeeter, only I suppose his intentions were more noble."
"Given that we won, I'm going to say that counts for something."
Hermione laughed softly. "You want me to try, then?"
"Do you want to?"
Hermione said, "I want you to sleep."
"And I want a second reason. A you reason."
Hermione smiled. "Oh, well, that's the easy one."
Harry looked at her knowingly. "You like to be handed a challenge every now and then?"
"Or every day. Take your pick."
Harry laughed. "I pick you."
Hermione did the obvious stuff first: locator spells, basic detective work, talking with Dumbledore's portrait. Dumbledore smiled at her calmly and asked, "Did you really think he would make it this easy, m'dear?"
"No," she said, "No, but I thought if he had and I didn't try, I'd feel awfully stupid trying the straightforward approach later."
He chuckled and said, "Minerva keeps butterscotch nips in the second drawer on the right."
She had stolen one and popped it in her mouth, letting it melt over her tongue. "Have any ideas of where I maybe should start?"
"He certainly wouldn't have used potions to hide himself. Too obvious, and Severus was never obvious."
"All right. His other strengths were...the mind arts, but I'm not certain that kind of wide-ranging spell is even possible." She looked at him for confirmation.
"Possible, perhaps, but unlikely over such a broad period of time. It would almost certainly kill the caster."
"All right." Hermione concentrated on the taste of the candy for a moment. "He was good at nonverbal magic, but most wizards are by the time they leave Hogwarts, if perhaps not his level of efficiency."
"Yes, of course. Else we wouldn't call this Hogwarts."
Hermione, for the most part, was not distracted by his soft interludes, obviously there more to spur her thoughts than anything. "And defense would have been a mere matter of survival for him, but defensive magic is rarely helpful with offensive spells, such as those used to hide. I suppose if he were to work with warding magic, twist the basic constraints?"
"Of course, most wizards never attain the level of mastery that he had at Transfigurations, either."
That made Hermione snap her head up. "Transfigurations?"
The portrait nodded at her with benign amusement. "'Course. What else could have made Minerva respect him so much?"
"Perhaps the fact that he was risking his life for a cause she supported?"
That brought about more chuckling. "She always considered his reasons the wrong ones."
Hermione frowned. "They weren't so different from Harry's."
"Well, she's always been a bit of a purist."
"Spreading more rumors and lies about me, Albus?" Minerva asked, coming into the office.
"And giving away your candy," he told her, sounding quite pleased with himself.
"Professor Snape was good at Transfigurations?" Hermione asked, not to be deterred.
"Good would have been something of an understatement. He was likely far more accomplished than I, although he had a distaste for taking an animagus form."
Hermione didn't think that was all that surprising given his early interaction with Lupin's transfigured form. "Can Transfiguration be performed on magical forms?"
"Sorry?" Minerva said.
"For instance, could I transfigure a...summoning charm to look like something else in its most basic magical form?"
Minerva frowned. "Transfiguration is meant to be practiced on solid forms that are temporally stable."
"But?" Hermione asked, as she could certainly hear the waver at the end of Minerva's statement.
"Magic is mutable."
"And used in new ways all the time."
"Wrong or right."
Hermione wasn't all that certain she still knew how to believe in wrong and right, but she nodded her head in acceptance. "Thank you for the candy."
"And the answers?"
Hermione grinned. "Mostly the answers."
The theory was solid: if he could Transfigure defensive measures such as wards into, well, shapes--for lack of a better ward--that were more wide-ranging and harder to identify as a ward, but could be fixed, and therefore weren't a drain on his energy, then Snape could hide anywhere. Which was all well and good, but it was just a theory and what's more, even if Hermione could prove that that was what he was doing, then it was a matter of figuring out how to locate the wards, see them for what they were. Which only meant searching the whole world inch by inch. No problem.
Instead of letting herself stew over the problem too much--she'd learned better than that during Harry's second task--she focused on work projects, tried some other, more conventional, also more complicated forms of searching, spent time running or swimming with Harry in the mornings, essentially just distracting herself. Harry said, "I think you need to be distracted more often," with a grin after one morning's swimming session, which had ended with them in the shower together.
She said, "Or you could just make me a kept woman and have me all to yourself."
Harry laughed so hard at that he choked on his own laughter and she had to pound his back to get him to breathe again. She admitted, "Maybe not, huh?"
"You'd kill me by the second week." He had a point.
Hermione was just starting to consider going back to work at the problem and seeing if anything stuck this time, when sheer dumb luck and The Prophet--roughly equitable, to Hermione's way of seeing things--intervened. It was in the form of a small article on magical anomalies, which Hermione had a bit of a secret sweet tooth for. In any case, the article was about a town in British Columbia that was a complete magical dead zone. Areas where magic had no hold weren't completely unheard of, but they were rare, and generally in places where, historically, a spellcasting had gone very, very wrong.
Most of the article was hypothesizing on what could have happened in that spot, but Hermione got to thinking: what if something had gone right? Just to test her theory, she asked Harry, "If you were going to hide, what would you do to keep other wizards away?"
"Right, but, what if, what if you really, really wanted to make them stay away?"
Hermione said, "How about making it impossible for them to do magic?"
"Oh, hey. Good idea. Have I mentioned you have awesome ideas?"
Hermione was not charmed. Or, well, she was, a little, but she didn't feel like showing it. "It wasn't my idea. At least, I don't think. I think I was right about the transfiguration of the wards, though. I think Snape transfigured them to appear to create a deadzone. Only, it's not really there. It's an illusion."
Harry stared at her for a long moment. "That's..."
"Brilliant," she said.
"I was going for complicated and mildly paranoid, but okay, brilliant works too."
Hermione smiled. Harry said, "So, let me guess. We're going to Canada?"
"Not quite as exotic as Spain, I grant."
"Well, no, he wouldn't have picked somewhere warm and colorful, now, would he?"
The sadness under the joke in that question hit Hermione with a force she wasn't expecting. In her silence, Harry said, "That wasn't as funny when I said it aloud."
She reached out for him, his hand finding hers halfway. She said, "So, I sort of love you."
His fingers squeezed tightly enough to hurt, but she didn't mind. Not at all.
Hermione had only been in a so-called Dead Zone once before, and it was when she was a child, before the first flush of wild magic had even hit. She hadn't known why she'd felt so sick and bereft while visiting a particular area in Berlin. It was only much later that she'd read about Dumbledore's final face off with Grindlewald and understood that it must have taken place in that area, essentially burning out the wizarding equivalent of the sympathetic nerve system of the magical environment there.
It was actually somewhat amazing that Hogwarts hadn't been drained in the aftermath of Harry defeating Voldemort. Hermione had a few theories about the difference between active defensive magic, as employed in fighting, and what she called passive defense magic, the kind that had allowed Harry to do his death-not-death thing. He liked to call it his "visit to King's Cross." She let him get away with that. As someone who had never been in a state of limbo between life and death, she wasn't sure how she would talk about it if it had been her, either. In any event, areas depleted wholly of magic to the point of blocking a natural magic user from performing any act of magic were incredibly rare. Despite her singular experience with one, the feeling of walking into that space willingly was shocking. It wasn't exactly painful, or cold, or numbing or anything that could be explained so easily. It was just a bit like having forgotten something important while packing, but not being able to figure out what, only that you needed it.
She let out a short breath, reminding herself it wasn't real, not this time. At least, it probably wasn't. She had yet to test her theory. Harry asked, "Hermione?"
She said, "Just feels uncomfortable."
"What does?" he asked.
She looked at him then. "The ward, if that's what it truly is. You can't feel it?"
Harry stood still, but Hermione knew what to look for. He was reaching out, not only with his magic, but with his mind, with every sense that Auror training had taught him to use. After a minute or so, he said, "Feels pretty normal to me. Little chilly for this time of year, but I guess that's what you get for going further toward the Arctic Circle in spring. Right? That's not the confusing place that sounds like it should be cold, but isn't?"
"That's Iceland," Hermione said, somewhat amused she had actually followed that thought, but too distracted by the fact that Harry was evidently completely immune to the ward's--or whatever it was--effects. She took out her wand a did a very low-level warming spell on herself. Sure enough, it worked, which meant that whatever she was standing in, it wasn't an actual Dead Zone. Granted, she probably could do much more than that sort of small, self-contained magic. If Hermione's assumptions about how the ward had been transfigured were right, it had been no easy feat. Which meant that mostly, Snape--or whoever had accomplished the task--would have wanted to concentrate his efforts on making the place look and feel like a Dead Zone. Acting like one was a different situation, and the creator had probably crafted the spell to make sure that large amounts of magic couldn't be used. Instead he would have hoped that when basic test spells like Leviosa and Accio were thrown out, that they would fail and nobody would think to try infinitely smaller tests, such as a Lumos Minima. Nonetheless, natural Dead Zone or no, the area was something, something that had actual shape, as they'd walked into it. So why couldn't Harry feel it, then?
She was loath to ignore the question, but she also wasn't entirely sure the answer mattered, just yet. If she was right, and this was a ward with special properties, then it was possible that Harry was simply too strong to be affected by the ward. Or that he had somehow accidentally been keyed into it. If Snape had been the one to create it, and he was still operating with love for Lily Potter inside of him, then it wasn't at all out of the question that Harry's genetic makeup or bloodlines were enough to unknowingly trip the ward's weaknesses. She asked, "Can you do defensive magics?"
Harry called up a Protego silently. She knew, because she saw it spring up around them. She grinned. "I knew I was sleeping with you for a reason."
Harry laughed. "Here I had been thinking it was all my commendations."
"Nah, I know where I can find Gilderoy Lockhart."
Harry shuddered. "That's not even funny."
"It is," Hermione argued casually.
Harry said, "Maybe a little." He looked around. There wasn't much to see. There was supposed to be a town a ways down the road, but the area around them was too densely forested to really be able to tell.
"We should have rented a car," she said, because there was no way she was going to be able to Apparate any further inside the zone.
Harry rubbed the back of his neck. "I didn't even think about it. Though the idea of going into a Muggle town probably should have brought it up. Some Auror I am."
Hermione looked around. Spotting a number of sizable branches that had broken off trees, she asked, "You have full range of your magic?"
"Then get to transfiguring us some bikes," she said, pointing at the objects in mind. Harry went to do her bidding.
Once they were in the town, it was almost anti-climatically easy to find Snape. Even if the village hadn't had a purported population of 729--so said the sign as they approached--everyone would have automatically known when they started asking, because, well, Snape was one of the very, very few non-Haida in the town. He was certainly the only one from as far away as Britain.
They were pointed to a shop that was small and neat looking, creatively labeled, "Repairs." Hermione puzzled a bit at the sign, wondering if somehow they had managed to get themselves pointed in the direction another tall, dark-haired man with a British accent. Hermione had never known Snape to repair anything that didn't involve a Reparo. Then again, maybe that was what he was doing, and using the wards to cover it. She looked at Harry. "Well?"
Harry took a breath. After a minute, he said, "I'm tired," and started walking forward.
"Yeah," Hermione said, and followed.
Sure enough, when they opened the door, the man having a conversation with an elderly Haida about his radio was definitely Snape. His hair was pulled back quite neatly into a clip that looked to be made of spruce, his coloring was more pale than yellow, and he had a forest green button-down on, rolled at the sleeves back to his elbows, but there was no mistaking either that nose or the voice, despite its currently calm, patient tone. He looked up at them as they walked in, and smirked just slightly, but his eyes didn't hold any of the anger Hermione always remembered. He turned back to his customer and talked for a bit longer, until the older man said, "Adáahl dáng hl kíngsaang."
Snape nodded his head in response, and the man left the shop, not precisely smiling at Harry and Hermione, but gesturing with his head mildly in greeting. Hermione murmured a hello and made sure not to block the door. When it had closed behind the man, Hermione heard the lock click into place, despite Snape not moving from where he was. He said, "Mr. Potter. Ms. Granger."
Now that they were here, Hermione wasn't entirely sure what to say, and she was pretty sure that beside her, Harry was only more lost. She went with an old standby. "Professor."
"Prince," he said.
He shook his head. "Princeton White. The people here just like Prince." After an awkward silence he said, "May I presume this isn't a social visit?" the question cold, but not exactly rude.
Harry looked at Hermione, shrugged and said, "We're not sure why we're here."
Snape blinked. "I can't imagine why I'm surprised."
"Well, no, we know that Malfoy said my dreams were telling me I needed to see you and so then we found you and we came, but we don't know why I needed to see you, so that's not really an explanation, is it?"
Hermione interrupted. "Is there somewhere we could take you for lunch? As both you and Harry can function at full magical capacity in the wards, there should be no problem with a Muffliato."
Snape gave Harry a considering look. In the end, all he said was, "There's a place."
Hermione nodded. She turned toward the door before stopping and twisting back so that she was facing Snape. She told him, "We're not here to mess things up for you. Nobody knows where we are; nobody has to know where we went. We're both good at covering our tracks, no matter how little confidence you have in our capabilities."
"And if I can't help you? Give you what you're looking for?" He sounded more curious than suspicious, although the latter was there as well.
"Then Malfoy was wrong. Believe me, there are very few things in the world that make me happy like that idea." Harry smiled disarmingly, but Hermione had a sense the smile was genuine, no matter how conveniently placed.
After a moment, Snape said, "I believe you," and led the way from the shop.
Hermione couldn't help herself. Once they were seated at the small fish-so-fresh-you-could-see-them-caught place, she asked, "You repair electronics?"
Without looking up from the chalkboard with that day's menu on it, Snape said, "People, particularly wizards, act like magic is an inexplicable force, but it's not. It's no less dissectible and researchable than, say, the particles that make up electricity. I like seeing what makes things work, making them work more efficiently and with greater ease."
Hermione wanted to ask about that, because Snape was right--it wasn't something most wizards were willing to discuss, perhaps fearing it robbed them of some of their power--but Harry must have seen where she was going, because he said, "Before you two are off spinning into the distant reaches of theory, is there a dish you'd suggest?"
Snape looked at him for a second, and Hermione was pretty sure he was going to snap something, but in the end he just said, with a hint of amusement, "Anything that has the steel-headed trout."
"Okay, talk about things I don't understand for as long as you want."
"Do you talk to yourself a lot in the normal course of your interactions?" Snape asked Hermione.
"He understands more than he lets on," she said, because she wasn't going to trade insults with Snape at Harry's expense, no matter how it felt that he might want to include her in trading anything.
A teenager, maybe sixteen, came and asked them for their order. Snape said, "Number one," pointing to the board, and Harry said, "I'll have what he's having."
Hermione said, "Three, please."
"Sure thing," he said, and ambled off through a door that Hermione could only assume hid a kitchen.
Snape turned back to Hermione and said, "Lily liked to take things apart. When we were-- Before Hogwarts. I didn't like it when she got into trouble."
"My mom liked--" Harry shut his mouth and looked away, clearly aware he'd given Snape an opening to take something from him, even as he'd given it.
But Hermione didn't think Snape had accidentally let that fact drop, and she was proven right when he said, "Mostly cameras. She read books and books about the instrument but could never really understand how it saved time on a surface. Her fascination continued through school, particularly with the moving pictures, because it was more than just a moment, it was a...dimension of someone's personality. That's why photos of people we love always seem to know us."
"Why-- Why has nobody ever told me these things before?" Harry didn't sound angry, just resigned.
Snape started to shake his head, but then said, "Well, I can't imagine her sister wanted to tell you much of anything. And Lily was quiet about the things she loved, quiet but strong, like with you. I don't know how many other people knew. Your father, most likely, but I couldn't have said with Lupin or Black." He managed the two names with only a slight sneer.
In the silence that followed, Hermione asked, "Do you still brew?"
Snape tilted his head to the side. "Sometimes. It's hard to smuggle ingredients into a supposed Dead Zone without someone noticing and brewing was never my first love. I was brilliant at it, and it's a field where the best people are rare and useful, so I took to it."
It was weird hearing him say all that in a casual tone, without pretension or defensiveness. Hermione could remember, way back in her first year at Hogwarts, when she had found his voice seductive, lulling, inspiring. She hadn't thought she could feel that way again, not given all the things she'd heard him say, the facts she had learned about him, but here she was, his words settling over her like a cup of coffee in the morning, comforting and energizing.
Harry asked, "Are there-- I mean, of course, you don't like me, you never have, and that's fine, but she was my mother and if you would, I think, she probably would have liked someone to--"
"Relax, Potter. Let me eat a bit and I'll tell you whatever your heart desires about your mother."
"Um, really?" Harry asked.
"Don't worry, I have my asking price."
Harry glanced at Hermione with a completely silent, should I be concerned? Hermione just smiled. "Food's coming." She was pretty sure she knew what Snape's asking price was, and she was--bizarrely--even more sure that it was completely within their ability to pay.
There were plenty of lodges available to let, most of them in settings that made Hermione want to sit down and just watch the world happen for hours at a time. She couldn't remember the last time she'd been in a place where the air had smelled this crisp. It was calming. Snape had said, "One week, that's my price. One week, information that I can't get here, and I'll tell him whatever he wants to know."
Hermione was already wondering if she could somehow bargain for two weeks. It was weird, the idea that Snape wanted company as his price, but Hermione was well aware of the quiet that pervaded this place. It was nice, something she was treasuring, but she thought that without Harry it would have driven her half mad in a few days time, let alone over years. Snape took them to a place where he had evidently fixed a few of the TVs and other basic appliances for the owners. The couple who ran the place was extremely nice, and their kids were polite when not being rambunctious. The lodge that Harry and Hermione would be renting was several yards from their house, though, so Hermione wasn't worried. Well, maybe she was a little worried that she wasn't going to be able to reclaim Harry once they'd gotten him in their clutches, but that was a different problem altogether.
Once they'd opened the door to their lodge and set their few things inside, Snape said, "I open the shop at nine, should it be easiest for you to just come there when you're ready."
Hermione looked at Harry and was about to agree to that plan when Harry said, "I meant to say thank you first thing. I-- I guess I forgot."
"To say thank you."
"For the part where you did everything Dumbledore asked of you despite how much you must have hated it, and how that saved me. Us. It saved all of us. That thank you."
Snape blinked. "You forgot that thank you?"
"Well, it's been a few years," Harry said, cracking a smile.
"And you have the mental breadth of a hamster with a Cheering Charm addiction. Yes, how could I have forgotten?" Despite his words, Snape seemed more uneasy than anything.
"You are getting up there."
Hermione's eyes flew to Harry. It was an oddly Muggle insult. Wizards weren't terribly threatened by age, and when they were, it tended to be once they started nearing one hundred, or passed that landmark. Still, she was used to Harry not fighting fire with fire, not anymore, so the tit for tat was a little surprising.
Snape said, "Yes, to a zygote I imagine I would appear to be decaying. Then again, zygotes are not known for their impressive eyesight."
Harry laughed and put a hand to his glasses. "Neither am I."
Snape seemed taken aback at having been allowed a last word. Harry sobered slightly and said, "Truly, though, it should have been the first thing I said. Thank you. Malfoy was right about needing to find you, if only for that reason."
"I still expect to be told that story."
Hermione realized that with all the talking the three of them had done that afternoon, Harry's dreams hadn't once been mentioned. She wondered if he would sleep tonight, if this was enough, or if there was something more they needed to do, something else that had to be said or heard or even brewed. She just couldn't say at this point. She was pretty tired herself.
"Over breakfast, my word as a Gryffindor," Harry said.
Snape somehow managed to give the expression of rolling his eyes without actually rolling them. "My reassurance knows no bounds."
Hermione laughed silently at that. Aloud, she said, "Thank you for helping us find a place to stay."
He looked at her as though he'd forgotten she was there. She was kind of used to it, as she was generally around Harry. But it was nearly uncomfortable--not quite, just close--being pinned by his gaze again. He said, "Of course, Ms. Granger."
"Hermione," she said. "I'm not your student anymore than you're my professor."
He tilted his head slightly in acknowledgment. "Until the morning, then."
"She tells the story better than I do," Harry added, by way of goodnight.
Snape's final word on the situation was, "No doubt."
When they showed up the next morning, Snape had a spread of smoked meats, fresh berries and toast laid out for them. Hermione laid into the blackberries as soon as she'd said, "'Good morning."
"I suppose," Snape said, picking out a berry for himself. "I am owed a story."
Hermione finished chewing, but then began talking, and didn't stop until she was finished, until she and Harry were safely on Old Masset, walking their way toward Snape's shop. Snape took several sips of tea. He asked, "You don't feel the wards?"
Harry shook his head. "I thought maybe it was all connected. That you might be having dreams, and have keyed me in, or--"
"It likely has to do with what you conceive of as a Life Debt to Harry through his mother," Hermione said.
Snape looked at her. She shrugged. "Do you disagree?"
"No, although my agreement is hardly conclusive, either."
She shook her head. "Of course not. That would be sloppy."
He looked at her, seemingly trying to gauge if she was mocking him or not. Either he correctly intuited that she wasn't, or he simply couldn't find anything to prove that she was. Then again, it wasn't like having nothing to go on in the case of the two of them and Ron had ever stopped him before, so she considered the detente a progress of sorts. Into the silence, Harry offered, "I didn't have the dream last night. Slept straight through."
"Explains why you're on your third cup of tea," Snape said wryly.
Harry just took another sip. "I sense it's going to take me more than a night to catch up."
"Of course it would."
"I suppose you rebounded after your triple-quadruple agent stint in a matter of days?" Hermione inquired.
Snape gave her a chilly look. "As a matter of fact."
Hermione crossed her arms over her chest. "Did you sleep straight through those couple of days?"
A woman in her early twenties, probably no older than either Hermione or Harry, chose that moment to walk into the shop. She said, "I'm sorry, I wasn't intending to interrupt."
Snape said, "Your mom's refrigerator?"
The woman rolled her eyes. "Again."
"I'll be along shortly."
Harry said, "I'm Harry, it's nice to meet you."
"Oh, Rayna, sorry, hectic morning." She held out her hand.
Harry took it and then Hermione said, "Hermione, pleasure."
She said, "Well, I better get running, dad needs my help with the boat."
"Oh, Rayna, quick question -- do you know when Prince came to the island?" Hermione asked.
Rayna laughed. "Everyone knows. He slept for a week. The elders had to check several times to make sure there wasn't a dead white man on our island." She waved. "Thanks for your help with the fridge, Prince!"
Hermione turned back to her tea without saying a word. After a long moment, Snape said, "Well played, Hermione."
Harry poured Snape some more tea and said, with a true air of sympathy, "Trust me, you get used to never winning."
Snape said, "Perhaps you did, Potter."
Harry just shrugged, yawned and said, "Better leave you to that fridge. Come to our place for dinner? You have an end of a bargain to keep."
"Slytherins keep their word."
"I'm learning," Harry said. "Would have been useful to know earlier, but I suppose you can't have everything you want." He made his way out of the shop, Hermione following him. When she turned to shut the door gently behind her, Snape was still looking at them, his back straight, his face proud, his eyes unsure.
For the most part, when Snape started to tell Harry about Lily, Hermione would find somewhere else to be. Their cabin had a patio area that was perfect for getting work done, or sometimes she just walked the surrounding areas, sometimes she made her way into town. Harry liked recounting what Snape had said, and Hermione liked hearing him do it, his voice all excitement and little boy wonder, nothing held back. It was so different from the Harry she'd known growing up, and sometimes she felt like a traitor for loving this one even more. It was ridiculous, but she had her moments.
Usually, by the time she returned Snape was gone and Harry was waiting for her quietly. So it was a surprise when she came back on the second to last day that they were staying to find Harry asleep on the couch, Snape in the kitchen. Hermione walked softly to the kitchen and concentrated hard on putting up a privacy spell. The feel of magic might waken Harry, but talking was absolutely certain to. She felt Snape strengthen the spell, but he didn't say anything, which surprised her. She considered letting time pass in silence, but her curiosity about, well, everything got the better of her. "What are you making?"
"Pheasant with new potatoes, basted in port."
"Your ingredients," she said, since she knew Harry hadn't picked up any of that at market.
"My ingredients," he agreed.
"Do you need any help?"
He looked at her sharply. She met his gaze. "I was always good at following directions. When I wanted to be."
It took a moment, but he smiled at that, enough of a smile that she felt the surprise in her chest, but did her best not to show it. He levitated a knife in her direction and said, "Parsnips," pointing at where they were laid out, ready to be cut. They worked without talking for a bit, when he said, "Tell me what the world has been up to in my absence."
She thought for a moment. "What would you like to hear?"
He seemed to give the question some thought, but finally he said, "Pick something."
Hermione took a chance, then, and started talking about the things she found interesting. There were Magical Creature Specialists trying to cross-breed aggression out of certain dragon species at one of the dragon camps in Uzbekistan, and a Korean astrologist--one of the foremost in the world--was writing a text that he hoped would replace the current texts, considered by many to be outdated. She spoke of her work within the ministry, and the administrative changes in the organization that she suspected would lead to even larger shifts. She talked about a small, but vocal minority's attempts to lower the price of the Wolfsbane, something she whole-heartedly supported. That lead to her telling him about Lavender and Ron, which occasioned an amused noise from him, but none of the scorn she would have expected. When her throat hurt, she asked, "Anything else?"
He waved his hand and poured her a glass of water, drawing it up right in front of her. She took a few sips. "Thank you."
He shook his head. "It's hard to read anything into the Muggle newspapers easily received out here, and impossible to get an owl inside my wards, even if doing so wouldn't make people rather more suspicious than I'd prefer. Bad enough the island's inhabitants suspect I dabble in calling upon the Haidan spirits, and stay here for that purpose."
"I don't know if I could stand it, a complete lack of communicative influx."
"Some days, I--" He cut himself off, a sharp look coming over his face. "Better that than-- At least here I am strange to them for the simple reason of being different, being from somewhere else. It makes being a stranger easy."
Hermione quibbled inwardly for a few seconds before convincing herself to take a chance. "And they trust you more than we ever did."
"At least with their refrigerators," he shot back, not looking at her.
She smiled, but she didn't laugh. "I could mail you things. The Muggle way. It would take a while, none of the news would ever be fresh--"
"I have a phone. And a computer, internet connection and all."
That stopped her short. "Oh. Should have realized. You fix electronics."
"The Muggle world can be interesting in its own right. Definitely enough for distraction purposes."
"It will make getting information to you infinitely easier, that's for sure."
Snape placed the pheasant in the oven and stood back, wiping his hands on a dishtowel. "You've stayed this week because I made it a mercenary condition of information only I have to give. Why would you care to continue our association by alternate methods?" He sounded more uncertain than anything, although there was a hint of something less welcoming.
There were actually quite a few answers Hermione could have given him, including the fact that now that she wasn't threatened by his bite, it was kind of reassuring, something the same in a world of difference. Instead she said, "Harry's intellectual interests don't always align with mine. Could be nice, having someone with whom to discuss current events."
"And if I don't discuss them with you?"
Hermione grinned. "I'll give Harry your email and allow him to give a play-by-play of every professional Quidditch game of the season. Every. Last. One."
"Your fighting manners are filthy," he told her, with a tone that might, might have been very hidden admiration.
"Why, thank you," she said, and went to work implementing small cleaning spells in the spots that most needed them.
They left after their promised week with little ceremony. Snape gave her his email address and phone number and she replied in kind. Harry looked at his feet for most of the exchange until things went silent. Then he looked up, tilted his head and said, "If you ever-- If the electronics thing gets old, we've an extra bedroom. Um, it has a few books at the moment. But it could be cleared. As a temporary measure sort of thing."
A few books actually translated into so many that the floor could rarely be seen in that room, but Hermione didn't laugh. She didn't want Snape thinking the invitation wasn't genuine. It was.
Snape narrowed his eyes, but Hermione thought it was mostly a mask for his own amusement. It made the nerves beneath her skin hum. She took a breath and tried not to feel. He said, "Go home, Potter. Your good deed is done."
"So's yours. Doesn't mean I go back to just thinking you're dead." Harry's eyes darkened with a little bit of intent. Hermione was used to seeing it in the bedroom. She wasn't sure how to read it in the current context.
"No, that would be too convenient," Snape muttered. Harry flashed his most purposely annoying smile, and the next thing Hermione knew, both of them were standing just outside the wards. It took a second for her brain to catch up to what had happened, and then she laughed, tugging Harry a little bit away, along the dirt path.
He dug in his heels and pulled her back to him, kissing her as she stumbled closer. She put a hand to his chest. "All right?"
"All right. Just, I didn't think I'd--"
"Have to miss him?" Hermione finished, when the silence stretched just a bit too long.
Harry rubbed at his face. "I'd forgotten how tired I am of goodbyes."
Hermione didn't say anything to that, just kept her hand where it was and waited for Harry to come back to himself. After a while he said, "I sound like when I was a kid."
Hermione smiled at that. "We're not so old."
"You know what I mean."
"I know that this isn't goodbye like you're used to. This is...this is goodbye like at the end of the school year."
"You do know that every year I was concerned with whether I'd get back or not?"
"I know, but you always did, until you chose to do otherwise, so my simile stands."
Harry huffed. "'Course it does."
She put her free hand to his forehead, pushing back a few of the hairs. He smiled down at her, a little sheepish. "Sorry, I don't even--"
"You feel like you just got your mom back. Your mom, and the guy who made it possible for you to get rid of your biggest problem in life. I'd been feeling a little at sea as well."
Harry looked at her doubtfully. "You are never at sea. You don't even know what water looks like."
"You know that's not true."
After a moment he muttered, "I kind of like believing it."
Something that was part cold, stark fear shot through her chest at his utter trust, but it was followed up by a warm melting in her stomach, almost arousal, but not quite. "There's a way that my simile fails."
"Yeah?" he asked.
"This time, you have somewhere to go home."
He swallowed. She said, "It's not goodbye. It's...I'll see you later."
He said, "You have a point about home."
She nodded. "Let's go see if Crookshanks and your new owl have figured out how to reproduce yet."
"You're still a little bit scary sometimes."
"It's part of my charm."
At first the emails were all business--at least, Hermione's were. She wrote about the latest news in the Potions community--began ordering the proper journals for just that purpose--or discussed her theories about what might actually be true in the Prophet's articles. Sometimes she would talk about her work and ask for his opinions. Other times she talked about Hogwarts and Minerva's slow chipping away at the house system, or rather, the sorting system, which now took place in second year, but Minerva was aiming for fourth. She didn't ask him how he was, nor did she talk about how she was.
She didn't know what Harry wrote. She didn't know if he talked about the few things concerning his work that he was allowed to discuss, or if he chatted Quidditch or if they talked more about Lily. She didn't ask. She had always allowed Harry his friendships outside of her--as he had with her--and now was no exception.
She expected things to go on as they were between her and Snape, their email conversations engaging and enlightening and more-than-occasionally infuriating, when Snape broke the pattern by asking, "How is Potter sleeping?"
She hadn't answered for a while. Eventually she'd asked Harry, "What would you think, if Snape and I were talking about you?"
Harry had raised an eyebrow, but then shrugged. "I'd wonder what kind of names he was coming up with for me, and how you were proving--with charts and graphs--that he was conclusively wrong in his assumptions."
That hadn't exactly been the response Hermione had expected. She'd smiled ruefully, secretly glad that Harry no longer cared, for the most part, what people who weren't her or Ron or the small grouping of those he considered family, thought of him. She'd said, "Actually, he just wants to know how you're sleeping."
Harry had done his best to look wicked at that--mostly, he'd kind of looked slow, but Hermione would never tell him that. "You tell him that you wear me out?"
Hermione had rolled her eyes, but she'd also totally given truth to Harry's words. Two days later, she answered Snape, "He doesn't even move, anymore. I have, once or twice, had to check for respiratory function."
His only response was, "I am pleased to hear of such improvement," and then it was back to business between them, as though the interruption of their personal lives had never existed between them.
That lasted until the day Hermione had a vicious screaming match with Harry over nearly dying on what should have been a fairly routine raid. The place had been filled with a type of vaporous potion that targeted the nerve cluster where magic originated in most people. The problem was, Harry's magic didn't function like most others. It probably hadn't even before his mother's protection and Voldemort's death, but now it really didn't, so the vapor had gone crazy, and nearly shut down everything, including his heart and lungs. Luckily, someone had dragged him out and gotten him to St. Mungo's in time, but he had to be there a week, which was generally unheard of in the case of young, healthy wizards.
Hermione had spent her nights there, and most of her days, working from a briefcase. Harry had tried to get her to go home, rest, go to the library, whatever. She hadn't wanted to explain that every time she fell asleep he was dead and it took her minutes, endless minutes to remember that he wasn't and she felt cold and panicked and adrift in those moments. She didn't want to admit that somewhere along the way, she'd stopped remembering what independence felt like, and had replaced it with love. She kind of hated it.
She called her mom to talk about it. Her mom who had been unsure as to whether Hermione was simply settling for someone because he was comfortable when Hermione had first told her she was dating Harry. Her mom said, "Oh, lovey. I don't suppose you want me to be happy for you that it's like that, no?"
Hermione hadn't, but she saw her mom's point. There was a beauty to passion. She just wasn't a big fan of it making her shaky and nauseated at the moment. And okay, she had probably started the fight by being bossy and overprotective and kind of like she'd been when she was twelve, but Harry really hadn't seen himself that first night, when he had to be put in an isolation chamber of what was essentially an anti-toxin in viscous form that at times covered him. They'd given him potions to be able to breathe the liquid and left him there for a full twenty-four hours. They couldn't be sure of the outcome until he woke up.
So when she had finished yelling at him about not giving a shit if he left her on her own, and he had finished yelling about her wanting to cut his balls off, he'd gone for a calm down flight. Hermione had looked around the apartment for something, anything that would give vent to her anger (panic) at him not listening, at him being out of her sight, at herself for being clearly crazy. Her eyes settled on the computer and she looked at it for a long moment before saying, aloud, "Completely, fucking mad."
Then she sat down and typed a long email about what exactly had happened to Harry and how out of control she had felt and how she hated him for that, hated herself for being this person. She hit send and said, "Tell me I'm stupid. Tell me I'm a foolish little girl. Tell me--" It didn't matter what Snape told her, really, so long as he didn't tell her that how she was feeling made sense; anything but that being scared was the only logical response.
She turned off the computer and made herself walk away. When she passed the window, something caught her eye and she realized that it was Harry. He'd never once left where she could keep him in her line of sight.
"You are a foolish little girl, of course--always have been, and I suppose will be indefinitely--but that does not, necessarily, make you wrong in this instance."
Hermione read the line four or five times and thought, well, that was what I asked for. It was almost a kindness, coming from him. She thought, actually, that perhaps it was. She wrote, "No, I am never wrong when I most desire to be so."
Harry approached her that night, asking, "You set Snape on me? That's just playing dirty."
He didn't sound mad. She wasn't anymore, not after spending a night awake, her fingers in his hair, him safely asleep beneath her. She said, "Unintentional consequence of momentary lapse in judgment."
When Harry didn't laugh or say anything, she looked up. He caught her gaze and smiled slightly, more a quirk of his eyes than his lips. "I think he was worried."
Hermione considered Snape's accession to her feelings on the matter and said, "Yes, I believe so."
"Weird that I care."
Hermione didn't so much think it was. She said, "You're friends."
"Are we?" Harry asked.
Hermione could acknowledge that as a whole, Harry's, Ron's and her conception of friendship was perhaps a bit skewed by the life-and-death nature so many of their early relationships had taken on. "You enjoy talking to each other."
"At times. Bizarrely."
She bit her lip to hold back a smile. He said, "That's acquaintanceship. It's unlike you to be so lax in your definitions."
"He cares for your well-being."
"Or perhaps just likes to point out my idiocy."
"You care for his."
"Yes, but I am a man of loose affections."
Hermione frowned. "Who told you that?"
"To be fair, you were faced."
She gave him an unimpressed look. "I believe, Mr. Potter, that we both have a strict policy--one might go so far as to call it a pact--of never listening to each other when faced." Or under any sort of extreme influence, magical or Muggle. She felt, though, that she had adequately addressed the issue.
"So, all those times you professed to love me--"
She hit him with a tickling charm and made him beg, beg to be set free. He tried to retaliate, once he could breathe, but she knew his moves. She waved a Protego up and rolled her eyes. "Predictable. Really."
Harry laughed. "I just, think, perhaps, you were right in that instance, faced or no."
"You love easily, this is true." Hermione poked at him with her bare toe, smiling when he took her foot into his hands, pressing his palms into the sore spot of the arch. It hurt, but in the good way. "But not without a sense of the worth of that love, not anymore, at least. You're no longer Harry Potter of Privet Drive. You were for a long time after Hagrid came and took you away, but now you're just, hm. Harry Potter, Auror, wizard, play-thing of a gorgeous and cosmopolitan witch."
Harry laughed. He sounded relaxed, but unsure when he said, "It just seems presumptuous, assuming that he returns my..."
"Affections?" she tried.
"Do you have to know?" she asked.
"You know me. Hate being--"
"Kept out of things, but it's hardly like anyone knows and just isn't telling you." She tilted her head. "Well, maybe him, but he never tells anyone anything. That's hardly personal."
"I have lots of them." She wiggled her toes.
He leaned over and kissed the top of her foot. She said, "I really-- I really would call it friendship, Harry."
"Sometimes it's nice for me that you're rarely wrong."
"You built up a resistance to venom. Over years," Hermione wrote, when she felt confident in the assertion.
"I was wondering when the two of you were going to ask," Snape wrote back. "I was beginning to suspect an inconvenient fit of good manners on your part, and an utter lack of curiosity on Potter's."
"The manners were Harry's problem. Me, well, I just don't like being told the answers."
"Unfortunate it takes you so long to find the answers."
"I wanted to eliminate the other possibilities. Did you 'vaccinate' yourself against a variety of toxins?"
"He was predictable, in his own way. Honestly, who attacks a Potion master with a familiar and expects him not to be prepared?"
Hermione wasn't actually sure whether that spoke more to Snape's way of seeing the world or Voldemort's, but it was a valid point. "Voldemort."
"He had a tendency toward the underestimation of his foes and overestimation of his allies."
"Lucky for you he could flip on his own opinion so quickly."
"He suspected me for some time."
Hermione closed her eyes when she read that line; trying not to think how he must have felt, cut off from his actual allies, aware that his faux ones were onto his game. She replied, "There's still one question to which I cannot determine the answer."
"I suppose you may ask, so long as you do not assume the answer is yours to have."
Hermione never assumed anything with him, but she was not going to give him the pleasure of knowing that. "Why continue the charade? Certainly you must have been violently ill for a few days, wherever you managed to hide yourself, but why not resurface then? You knew Harry had seen the Pensieve, even you could not have imagined that he would feed you to the wolves."
"I had no intention of allowing Potter to decide whether I was fit for consumption or not."
"And there was nothing in our world worth staying for? A world you'd existed in your entire life."
"It was a long life, Ms. Granger. Given the chance, I wanted one that felt less interminable."
Hermione wasn't sure what to say to that, so she responded, simply, "My name is Hermione."
"And mine is Severus, but I can't remember the last time anyone found a way to put the syllables together in his or her mouth."
"It is a strong name," Hermione told him. She couldn't bring herself to say "good." She often wondered what his mother had been thinking, what she had wanted from her son that she had chosen such a moniker.
"It is an old-fashioned name, chosen after rigorous research and a penchant for the obscure, or perhaps even obsolete. My father was indifferent, so she named me for the fifth definition of severe in the Oxford English Dictionary. I suppose she thought that relying on Muggle source material gave my father some credit for my inception, although we were both loath to do so by the time I was four. In any case, it is a reference to 'intellectual operations' and a certain 'standard of thought.' I have often suspected it was also her metaphor for the state of her existence."
Hermione read the paragraph several times. It was the first time he had ever written or said more than a few words about himself in one place, for her to see. It felt unfair not to respond in kind, only that he already knew far more about her than she about him. In the end she replied, "Severus it is, then."
"Be careful saying it in front of Potter--you might cause his bowels to evacuate."
"I know cleaning spells."
"Gauche, Hermione. Terribly gauche."
Secretly, she thought he had probably laughed.
Lavender said, "I-- No, I really didn't see that coming," when Hermione and Harry finished telling the story of their last few months. They'd talked over each other at times, disagreed about things, but Hermione was pretty sure the story had come out fairly correctly.
Ron didn't say anything for a moment, just staring at the two of them. Then he asked, "How much you think he'd charge for the Bane?"
Hermione blinked. She hadn't even considered. "I don't know, I'll ask. It's hard for him to get ingredients, so you'd probably have to supply them and then pay a service charge?"
"Ask," Ron said.
"Sure, mate," Harry said.
Lavender looked unsure. "Maybe it would be best not to tell him it's for me?"
"I don't think he'll care one way or another, but we don't have to say anything," Hermione said.
"He always thought-- If he thinks I deserve--"
"He doesn't," Harry said tightly. "He-- Trust me. He doesn't consider lycanthropy a suiting punishment for nearly anyone."
"Nearly?" Ron asked, eyebrow raised.
"Oh, I think he'd've given it a pass on old Tom."
Ron deliberately put on a thinking expression. "Suppose I can't fault him for that."
Hermione smiled. "All right, you two." Left to their own devices, they would start listing the people they could technically wish that fate upon. Such lists never ended well, never.
"Bellatrix Lestrange," Lavender said, lightly.
Hermione turned to her. "You are no help at all."
She was nearly drowned out, but Ron's low, muttered, "Greyback."
Lavender flinched a little, but she also smiled. Harry said, "Umbridge."
"Lord, yes, definitely," Hermione agreed, because whether the woman had executed her plan to torture Harry in front of them or no, she just didn't care. Even the thought made her stomach twist.
Harry smiled at her and said softly, "C'mon, just one."
Hermione looked at Harry and thought about the way he'd soaked every word of Snape's stories up, had been desperate for more every morning and so sad when he'd had to leave at night. Silently, she thought, Vernon Dursley, she thought, Rita Skeeter, she thought of every person who had hurt him, shut him away, told him he wasn't good enough. Snape even flickered on the list for a moment, as did Dumbledore. In the end she chose, "Peter Pettigrew," because no matter what he had or hadn't done, he had betrayed James and Lily, he had taken that from Harry, and for that, she would never, ever forgive him.
"I really can't believe I fed him for so many years." Ron made a face.
Lavender laughed. Harry followed in her footsteps, his fingers finding their way beneath the hem of Hermione's jumper, warm and comfortable against her skin.
In the early months of summer, when it was just warm enough to sit on the balcony of their apartment if Hermione got home when the sun was still up, her head of department won a case she'd been prosecuting for sixteen years, due to a suggestion on Hermione's part. He bought her an expensive bottle of wine and said, "Work at home for a week. Or not, either way."
Her head of department wasn't exactly a stickler for how things got done, so long as they did. She took the bottle home and her and Harry drank it on an empty stomach, their feet hanging over the side of the balcony, toes tickling at ankles now and then. When Hermione lifted the bottle to her lips, bringing the last of the wine to them sans-cup, then settled it down, she said, "I have a week to bugger off a bit."
Harry sighed. "'Course you do. I'm on recruit training, no chance of time off."
She leaned in and kissed him, tasting the soft edges of his words. They weren't drunk, but their bodies were nicely considering it. She said, "I wanna go to Old Masset."
Harry tugged at one of her curls. After a second he asked, "Yeah?"
She looked him in the eyes. "Tell me something true, Harry Potter." It was a game she'd played when she was a little girl, back before her cousins had gotten confused, and then hostile at her constant recitation of things she'd learned, her enthusiasm over facts that nobody else cared about.
"If you're not in bed when I wake, I have to look until I find you and I can't breathe until I do."
"I'll call to wake you up every morning. Like an alarm clock."
"I don't feel crazy when you're here."
"We're all a little crazy," she told him. "That was inevitable. Surely you've noticed."
Harry laughed quietly into her neck. "He talks at your level."
"When the two of you talk, it's like I'm back in school, reading books that I don't really understand and everyone expecting me to just know things, and I wonder if, for you, talking to me every day is-- If you spend your time thinking about what you're going to say, because I can't follow a lot of what you do, and I certainly can't argue the way he does, suggest different ways of--"
She kissed him. "Shut up, dear."
"You make me think in new ways all the time. You offer me perspectives that I would never find on my own. I've never called you stupid, never treated you as though you were--well, okay, maybe when I first met you, but I was eleven, for fuck's sake--and it kind of hurts my feelings that you're telling me that's how I make you feel."
Harry hooked his hand around the back of her neck. "I didn't mean it that way."
"You just said--"
"I just said that sometimes I think you deserve someone who can match you, word for word. And that's not me."
"I deserve someone who sees the best in me and doesn't ever try to make me less. That's who I deserve."
Harry asked, "What do I deserve?"
It was a lame answer, but it was all she had, and honestly, she suspected it was the truth in any case: "Someone who loves you." She put emphasis on the last words. There were no metaphors for the type of love she bore Harry, and she wasn't interested in trying to make some. Either he understood, or he didn't. And this was Harry Potter--he would.
Harry caught his breath. He said, "I put a shield up on your balcony. Nobody can see us."
Hermione grinned. "I know." She could always feel his magic. Her shirt was halfway off by the time he roused himself to help.
Hermione couldn't feel the wards. She walked straight through where they should have been and the choking of her magic never happened. She supposed that was what happened when you called ahead. Well, that or the wards killing you upon contact. Hermione imagined there was very little in between with Snape. When she walked into the shop she didn't say, "You keyed your wards to me," or, "Excited to see me?" she said, "Hello."
He said, "I've tea."
She said, "Brilliant."
She spent the morning making case notes on an upcoming trial, making sure she hadn't missed anything, and drinking his tea. He spent the morning fine-tuning someone's satellite dish and stealing pieces of her scone every time she took one. It was easy and companionable, and neither of them felt the need to make it anything else. Somewhere around mid-day she told him, "I didn't book the cottage again, but I'm sure--"
"I have an extra room."
"You're certain? I don't like feeling the intruder."
"Consider, for a moment, whether I would have offered, had I been less than certain."
"Yes, of course, I'd forgotten that I'd forded the wilds of indecency and impolitic behavior. The morning of quiet and black tea threw me off."
It took a second, but he smirked at that. She smiled. "Thank you."
He didn't respond, but she hadn't expected him to. They worked through the rest of the day, stopping occasionally to eat, or, in Hermione's case, take an hour to walk around, reorient herself, not think too hard.
Over dinner he asked, "Where did you leave Potter?"
"He can actually feed himself, you realize?" He had for most of his childhood, but she kept that to herself. Those stories were Harry's to tell and whether he had or not, until she was given indication, she wasn't talking about them anywhere outside her head.
"Physical maintenance is not the problem," he said.
She looked at him sharply. He didn't back down, but he did say, "I won't discuss it, if you prefer."
She considered the offer, and the spirit in which it was made. "Molly's going to check in on him tomorrow morning. Ron gets back in two days and he'll probably go live with Harry for a bit until I get back. He's not alone."
"Weasley will leave Brown for Potter?"
"Of a sort. He'll take Lavender to Ginny's, or leave her with George. More likely the latter, since George really shouldn't be left to his own devices, far more than Harry. And Lavender often comes with Parvati, so George will have his hands full and be incapable of doing anything stupid while Ron's not there to keep watch."
"Complicated systems you have created."
Hermione shrugged slightly. "Only from the outside looking in."
"That is my preferred spot."
Hermione didn't argue. She thought it probably had been for a long time. There were miniscule things that gave way to the lie, now, and Hermione wondered if he even knew how much of his facade had slipped, how useless he would be as a double, triple, whatever agent now. Or maybe not, maybe if it was life or death he knew exactly how to play things. Instead she said, "I brought you a copy of Ars Chemica, don't let me forget to give it to you."
"Made clumsier by you pointing it out. Ungracious, given that I did it for your benefit."
"Nobody, Hermione, has ever accused me of being gracious."
The rumble that might have been amusement in his voice teased it's way into her stomach, lower. She crossed her legs. "No, I wouldn't imagine they have."
Harry liked to send Hermione emails with blasé accounts of whatever mischief he was up to, and lots of links that were in no way appropriate to be sharing, not even just a little bit. This was fine by Hermione, largely because, in a war of finding-insane-and-offensive-imagery-on-the-web? Hermione would always win--always and forever. Also, Harry was easier to surprise, easier to make squirm. They both knew it was true, even if Harry would never admit it.
By the third day of her stay, Severus was helping her to find things, and that pretty much hammered home the nails in Harry's coffin. At the end of the fourth day, his email was two words long: "I give."
Severus was the one to respond, "You do so like the battles in which you are hopelessly outclassed."
Harry told him, "I won the one that mattered."
Hermione refused to answer that one, left it to Severus, who finally granted Harry's point, if grudgingly. She made him tea as a conciliatory measure, and he took it without fuss. She went back to the notes she had been making, only to be distracted when he said, "You return on Saturday, do you not?"
Saturday was two days off. "Yes. I'd like to spend a day with Harry before having to go back into the office."
"He gets Sundays?"
"Occasionally, if he can ask far enough in advance, or trade for them." She confided, "He does envy you the ability to make your own schedule."
They returned to their respective tasks long enough that Hermione had no idea what Severus was talking about when he said, "I promised myself that. Nothing else, but that."
She tried to trace things back, but her mind was caught up in the--rather mundane--memo on the vagaries of integrating non-human magical justice systems into the one currently held but the isles. Hermione was actually interested in the notion, but it was never going to happen if people kept presenting it in a way that made perfectly normal scholars want to cut their eyes out with their own wands, just for something to do. She said, "I'm sorry, you promised--"
"That I'd have my own schedule, answer to nobody but myself."
Hermione had a feeling she should leave well enough alone, that he was talking, and making him aware of that couldn't help anything. She was incapable of stopping herself. "Why? Why that aspect of it?"
He set the kitchen appliance he had been tinkering with aside. "I suppose because it seemed viable."
"And there were-- The other things that sounded different, better? They weren't?"
His expression told her she had gone too far, but she didn't look away. She had faced more than enough demons in her life, and if he wasn't the least of them, well, he wasn't the worst of them, either. Finally he gave in to her unwavering stare. "There are certain aspects of one's life over which one has utterly no control, Miss Granger."
"Hermione," she said softly, a reminder, not a warning. He nodded slightly, more a tip of his head than anything. She said, "True."
"Pray, do pry further into my personal affairs, I am waiting, most open to such invasive perusal."
"I promised myself if we got out alive that I'd learn what it was like to get drunk, and I'd cut my hair, at least once, and learn calligraphy."
"I like getting drunk, sometimes. Not so much that I can't remember what I did while I was drunk, just enough that I don't feel so incredibly responsible for everything I do, every statement that comes out of my mouth." She smiled. "I don't like cutting my hair. At first it's not so bad, but if I want to grow it out again, it's miserable, and I'm never happy with it short for very long. I miss Harry being able to reach out and tug at it a little."
Something flickered in his eyes. "And the calligraphy?"
"Private lessons for an hour a week, assuming I'm not on holiday. I'm learning, slowly. I'm not a terribly patient person, but it helps that I like the way it takes me out of my head. I can't think of anything else while I'm trying to form the letters right, and that's a gift in and of itself."
"Yes," he said softly. "I would imagine."
She looked at the broken implements surrounding him and supposed that he did more than imagine. She nodded, and would have gone back to her memo, let the point stand, only he said, "That was-- Thank you."
She blinked at him. It wasn't so much that he was thanking her for sharing as that he was thanking her at all. She managed to say, "You're welcome," but only just. She was still staring when he picked up his project, and went back to work on it.
Harry was waiting at home, by himself, when Hermione got back. They had sex against the door, despite Hermione telling him between kisses that she was really past the stage in her life where having sex standing up seemed exciting. They spent the rest of the day in bed, as Harry's way of apologizing. She hadn't really been that upset to begin with. Harry said, later, when they were both exhausted and limp, his mouth resting against the skin of her stomach, "Possibly, we're a bit codependent."
"Possibly." Hermione couldn't be buggered to care. It wasn't like they couldn't leave the house, or anything, so for the moment, all was well.
"Did you have a good time?"
She smiled, because they'd spoken at least twice every day. "Lazy. Indulgent. Mellow."
Harry started laughing. It took her a second, but she joined in. "Not the phrases I would have seen myself assigning to any time with Severus."
"No," Harry said softly. His thumb was making wide sweeps over the skin stretched across her hipbones. "Maybe it's just the island."
She looked down at him. He said, "Could be."
She ran her fingers through his hair. "You know we're not bound to this place, right? I mean, just because he had to disappear to leave, that doesn't mean we would have to. Friends could visit us, we could visit them, we're plenty free to start over, if we wish."
"Do you want that?"
Hermione thought about how easy it had been on the island, away from this place, even working. "I wouldn't say no, if it made you happy."
"He's lonely out there. And sure, we'd have each other, and maybe we'd even pick somewhere where we'd make friends and have a life, but they'd never be the people that we could make jokes about death and torture and all the stuff that we know each other's boundaries for, and know that sometimes, all there is to do is make each other laugh. I'm not saying that maybe we shouldn't get away more, that the two of us have spent too much time being indebted to this place, but I also, this is--"
"Home," Harry said, his voice half-resignation, half-comfort.
She closed her eyes. "Sometimes you just work with what you've got, you know?"
"Is that your motto when you think of me?"
"Don't be a prick, dear."
Harry laughed, the sensation warm and a bit ticklish against her skin. She smiled. "Want to take me flying tonight?"
"You hate flying."
"Mm," she did. "But I like holding onto you." And she knew, without any doubt or hesitation of thought, that Harry would catch her if she fell.
"We could go to that place you like for hot chocolate."
Harry grinned. "I make good time."
"I hear it turns the girls on."
"Why are you still using the plural?"
Hermione doubted he'd heard any such thing, but the offer of hot chocolate seemed to be standing, so she let him have his illusions.
Two weeks later, Hermione was ten minutes off of checking her email and engaging in the latest round of "why your opinion about interspecies controlled breeding is wrong" when she felt the wards on the flat collapse for a moment. Harry had very specifically keyed them to her so that she would know if there was a problem. She palmed her wand and was about to get herself into a spot where she couldn't be seen by the intruder when said intruder knocked on the door. She frowned and didn't let go of her wand, but she did go look through the peephole.
She opened the door and asked, "Were we expecting you?"
"I note your wards didn't keep me out," Severus said. He had a point, although Hermione suspected Harry had set them that way on the off chance of an emergency, or something. He continued, "I have no intention of intruding--"
"You're welcome any time. I made that clear and I meant it. I just suppose I didn't expect you to--"
"Take me up on it." Then, "Come in, I'll put on some tea. Have you eaten?"
"Historically, yes, today, no."
"Leftover pot roast all right?"
"Did you make it, or Potter?"
"I suppose it might be digestible, then."
"Watch it, or I'll hide the biscuits."
"You needn't involve me in any of your dirty games, Miss Granger."
"Hermione, and that was nearly clever."
"Well, I have just traveled quite a ways."
She came back into the room, not bothering to hide her smile. She set the tea tray on the coffee table and said, "The old Severus would never have asked for allowances. No more than he would have given them to others."
"The latter, I can assure you, still stands."
"I never doubted it."
He looked at her suspiciously, but let the statement lie. "Wise of you."
"Did you just call me wise?"
She grinned and concentrated on eating. Into the quiet he said, "I booked a Muggle hotel. I thought, maybe an alias and a glamour, but it all seemed a bit too much, and--"
"We've an extra room, you realize?" She said it casually.
"I did not come here--"
"You came here to see us. It would be easiest to accomplish that goal were you to stay here."
"Awfully certain of that fact, you are."
Hermione sensed that she was allowed to brush off the moment, leave him with his hotel room again. She said, "Yes, I am."
"Perhaps there were others with whom I came to renew my acquaintance."
"I've no doubt they'll be pleased to receive you during the day, regardless of where you choose to stay."
Severus cut at his meal very carefully, the pieces falling into perfect sizes. He said, "The offer is appreciated, but--"
"At least think it over. Harry will be home in a few hours. Have dinner with us, then you can decide."
"That you think Potter's presence will make me view staying as more desirable is fascinating."
"He's come through in more unlikely situations."
Severus chose to drink his tea over responding to that.
Harry called out, "Hermione, I was thinking, unless you've already cooked, I'd run to the pub for pies. I'm sort in a steak and--"
He cut off upon making it into the living room, where Severus had taken apart their TV and was fiddling with it. Hermione said, "Hello, love," and, "He's fixing it."
"It wasn't broken." Harry seemed more confused than anxious.
"Yes, I believe that was the appeal," she told him. Harry frowned, but didn't ask.
Severus did not look up to say, "Evening, Potter."
"Oh come on, you call her Hermione, she told me so."
"That's all you have for me in welcome?"
"You've never thought much of my manners, why start now?" He sighed at Hermione's accompanying look and said, "Welcome, Severus. What a pleasant surprise."
Severus laughed, but didn't say anything in response. Harry looked back at Hermione, who smiled at him. They had lots of smiles and he understood every single one.
She asked, "So, pies? Or would we prefer to cook, now that we know we have company?"
Harry's eyes flickered to where Severus was still evidently engrossed in fixing their unbroken television set. "Ah-- What would our guest like?"
Hermione hadn't expected Snape to answer, but he popped into the conversation just long enough to say, "Chicken Tikka," with the look of a man who'd been craving water for ten years and had found a faucet. Then he was all concentration and fury upon the miniscule pieces inhibiting the talking box.
Hermione glanced at Harry and then away before they both laughed. Clearly, neither of one of them had been expecting that. Harry shrugged, "Kalyani's it is. Nan?"
"Potato," Hermione said, decisively. Guest or no, she was getting her potato nan.
"Onion," Severus added. "Oh, and mango lassi."
"Please," Harry said. Severus did look up at that, mostly to blink at Harry several times in a manner that suggested he was asking, "Are you quite serious?" with his facial expression.
Harry held his ground. Finally, Severus said, "If it should please you, Mr. Potter, I humbly request--"
"Oh for fuck's sake," Harry said, and left the apartment without another word. Hermione didn't mind--he knew all her favorites. He'd call if he was worried. For all she knew, he might have done a little light legilimency to assure himself. They had come to the agreement that he could poke around for things like that, that might be floating atop the rest of her consciousness. Hermione sometimes felt crazy, giving him that, but mostly she felt safe. If she trusted him enough for that, she could trust him enough for anything.
"Sheer curiosity drives me foolishness," she told Severus in the silence that followed the slamming of the door.
"Are you sure it's not simply a state of being?"
"No, although I find it does not usually trouble me in this way."
"And why is that?"
"Normally I feel no need to pry into if another finds annoying others to be the only form of communication with which he can find comfort? That, or academic engagement."
"Ah, so, where demons fear to tread."
"I shall assume you know that idiom perfectly well."
"I have a replete Christian education. My father was most insistent."
"The lapsed ones always are."
He gave her his attention. "Astute."
She didn't made a big deal out of the compliment. "Is it everyone you feel the need to rile up, or just us?"
"You rile so attractively."
She was no teenager any longer, and most of the time innuendo was something she could at best ignore, at worst be blithe about. She felt her throat close for a moment. When it opened enough that she would not make a fool of herself, she said, "You are très comedic."
"Not a compliment I hear very often."
"Pity, you do make me laugh."
"Potter used to--" He stopped.
She finished, "Laugh for all the wrong reasons. James Potter, by the by, not Harry. And that was not my meaning; if you took it so, then I shall have to refigure my own conception of your intelligence."
He twisted a cable into a port and said, "It is easy, is it not? To be witty and sharp and smart."
Hermione thought of the way she was at work, with friends who were not Harry and Ron and Lavender and Ginny and Neville. "Yes. Very easy."
"You have to give nothing of yourself."
"And is it that you want us to have nothing, or that you are afraid of what we might take?"
He was holding himself tightly enough that she thought it must hurt. She said, "You don't have to answer."
Quietly he said, "Sooner or later, I imagine I will."
Harry wasn't sleeping. Hermione didn't have to pay attention to know, she'd gotten to used to just being aware in that year where he mostly hadn't. She asked, "Want me to put up a silencer and we can--"
"No," he said fervently. "No."
"He's not our father--"
Harry got out of the bed and walked out of the room. Hermione sighed. Then she took her time pulling a robe on and followed him out. She put a Silencio over Severus' door for good measure. With any luck he was sleeping, but there were validly some things that were just private. She said, "Tea?"
"I was thinking ketamine, but very well."
Harry didn't laugh, which made her more uneasy than she already was. Harry was good about letting her know he realized she was in the conversation, if by nothing else than being responsive. Right now he seemed fairly stuck inside himself, which wasn't something she had seen much of since, well, The Voldemort Years. She said, "You're upsetting me."
He poured himself a glass of the whiskey and she saw the way his arms shook. His hands were still. Harry had a weirder control over his magic and his body than any other wizard she'd ever met, and it was moments like this when she remembered it forcefully. It didn't scare her, not for herself. She knew sometimes it scared other people. He drank it in sips, not gulps, and she gave him time to metabolize it, heating the tea, steeping it, pouring in another finger of whiskey. When they each had cups, he said, "I'd think of him. I'd think of him while I was with you." His eyes were a sick-green, not their normal Lily Potter Emerald, and he looked terrified, like a boy she'd once known who had taken on a troll for her.
She felt-- Actually, she felt like she should be more shocked. She poked at the place in her mind that had always wondered if Ron stayed a little longer on trips than he needed to, but there was nothing there. She had never been sure how much Ron had loved, desired her, and so it had been easy to have doubts, to be afraid. It wasn't easy with Harry. And she knew him so well. Even if he hadn't known, and even if she'd been pretending not to understand without even knowing what she was doing, she had known at least a little of what he was thinking about Severus, why he couldn't precisely get comfortable in the friendship the two had been building. So, no, she wasn't shocked.
Jealous, oh, she was jealous. Jealous at the thought of Severus touching what was hers and jealous at the thought of-- "Oh."
"I will never-- It's not. It would just be thought but I won't have that, not with--"
"I would be jealous of both of you." The words weren't supposed to actually be spoken, she didn't think, but now that they had been, and Harry was blinking at her, there was really nothing to be done but confront the situation.
"He-- He would be touching what was mine," she knew she was growling, but she couldn't quite bring herself to care, "but you would be touching what I want to taste."
"Taste," Harry said, as though he'd never heard the word.
She looked at him and said, truthfully, although not without fear, "You've never been interested in me being Puritanical.
"No, but I've always been possessive."
"You weren't given much of a way to temper it as a child."
"Maybe I've grown into someone greedy."
"Maybe you've grown into someone who was never meant to set his sights on one person and only one person." That fear had been with Hermione a long time. She'd never given voice to it, terrified that would make it even more real, but now that it was, it wasn't so much scary as one more thing they would figure out for themselves. And they would, because, "I'm not giving you up to him. I'm not. But I'm not saying you can't have him, either. Not if he wants you back."
"He can't. Not possible."
Hermione just looked at him.
"Harry Potter," she said. "Really, the impossible has already happened, and that's not even counting the part where he was supposedly dead."
"You-- You have a point."
"I always do," she reminded him.
"You would just--"
"Not just. Never just, not with you. But." She wrapped a hand around the back of her neck, trying to explain. "When you say you love me, those aren't just words. They aren't even a declaration. It's as though you've bound your power to me. There's no way for me not to believe you. So even if you love him more, and maybe that will kill me, just a little bit, but even then, you will still love me, and if that is what I truly need, then I can't see how it is right for me to take more, for me to try and make you less than you are to fit my own small needs."
"Nothing about you is small," he told her, hoarsely. She smiled ruefully. He said, "And if I said the same, if I said I wouldn't bar you from trying, from tasting?"
"I don't know. I don't know that my brain crush is enough to find out what I really want or not. I don't know if I'm that brave."
Harry laughed then. He said, "I don't know that I've ever heard you say something so stupid."
Hermione wasn't surprised at all when Harry was a big, blundering ball of Awkward the next day, to the point where Severus actually seemed a bit concerned for Harry's mental health. Of course, his concern came by way of him asking, "Have you taken mind-deteriorating Potions?" but Hermione knew how to translate these sorts of acts of care and affection.
She said, "I call it Chemica de Severus."
He scowled. "Your Latin--"
"Is nearly fluent, I just didn't feel the need to be fancy, or even, for that matter, terribly accurate. The benefits of joking, you see?"
"If I disturb Potter to such an ext--"
"My name is Harry," Harry interjected.
"As I was saying," Severus stressed the last word, emphasis placed on Harry's lack of manners.
"Yes, yes, that you would leave," Harry said. "I suppose you'd feel the same way no matter what I told you was the problem."
"I haven't a passing notion of what that is meant to indicate, Harry."
"I must have improved remarkably at Occlumency."
"Fishing for compliments--"
"From you is a fool's sport," Hermione finished. Harry looked at her and she knew, for just a second, that he'd forgotten she was there. She also knew he felt better now, having remembered. She smiled tightly. "And Harry is not a fool, regardless of any opinions you may hold dear. He was stating a fact."
Severus opened his mouth to retort, but Harry beat him to the punch. "You must feel it, the way I want you. I was never that good at shielding strong emotions from you."
That got Severus to shut his mouth. Hermione suspected it was largely so that he wouldn't gape, but whatever worked, really. Finally, when he did speak--they both waited, neither chancing anything else--his voice was cold. "Albus believed that cruelty was sometimes a by-product of your age and emotional state, but not inimic to your person. I see now, that he was wrong, my trust in his instincts misplaced."
Harry was shaking, but Hermione was pretty sure it was from anger. "I once thought that too--about you. Look how that turned out."
"You are all but a married man, Pot--"
"My all but wife is standing in this room, watching me do this, and whatever you may believe of her, you cannot make me believe you think her capable of cruelty or even of watching such acts while standing by. She's tried freeing the bloody House Elves, for fuck's sake."
That seemed to knock Severus back into thinking. "You make a well-reasoned argument. But I have found that the normal rules of engagement do not generally apply in cases wherein I am the object of consideration."
Harry rolled his eyes. "Really? Because I grew out of my martyr complex around the same time Voldemort died. It was fun, but I have a much better time now. You should give it a try."
Hermione forcibly bit back a laugh. She suspected that Severus' notions of himself were not without basis and merit, but there was something of the wounded adolescent in them. Severus made what Hermione found to be a solid attempt to regain his dignity by saying, "In what universe, what society, is pretending interest of an intimate nature with someone not a cruelty?"
"I can't think of one off the top my head," Harry admitted, "but the question presumes that this is pretense."
"The situation requires it, as the idea is laughable."
Harry just breathed for a few moments, and Hermione put a hand between his shoulder blades. Softly, she asked, "Is it?"
"Unquest--" Severus began, without a hint of doubt only to have his gaze glance over them and stop. After a moment he all but stuttered, "I would have sworn to it."
"Nothing's like it was, not really." Harry sounded unsure, but also relieved.
"What is it like?" Severus asked, his caution evident.
Harry took one last look at Hermione and she gave him a smile for good measure. He brought his gaze back to Severus. "I think that's what we have to figure out."
"Do you like flying?" Harry asked Severus.
"You do not assume it a prerequisite to being a wizard?" Severus asked, only half as sarcastically as he could have, but he raised his eyebrow for good measure.
"Hermione doesn't," Harry said. "She'll go alone with me, but kinda the same way I'll nod when she talks about widening parameters for..." Harry tilted his head.
"Thinking laterally in regard to alternative species?" Hermione finished.
Harry pointed at her, saying to Severus, "You see?"
"And hear," he said.
"You haven't answered the question," Harry told him. "Flying."
"Occasionally, when the weather suits."
Harry said, "Wales is only an hour flight from here. I take Hermione to Hay-on-Wye sometimes. Join us?"
It occurred to Hermione that perhaps Harry had learned something about seducing someone who loved books more than most people in his time with her. Severus looked supremely tempted. She said, "Muggle town. We never get bothered."
That seemed to decide him. "And you have an extra broom?"
"A few. I tend to keep my old ones. You can have whichever you'd prefer."
Severus followed Harry to where he kept the brooms hung up. Hermione put on an extra jumper. Nice or not, it would be chilly on the brooms. She sort of liked that, being able to demand a glass of wine when they got into town and a bath and sex and possibly hot chocolate in bed when they got home. Not wearing adequate clothing, though, was asking to end up with a cough or something equally annoying. She could do a solid warming spell, but with that much movement, even localized to her frame, it wasn't quite enough to keep the chill wholly away.
They took the trip a little more slowly than usual, since Severus hadn't flown in a while, and he wasn't quite pacing them when they first started, so Harry just dropped back slightly. They landed about a mile outside the town, minimized their brooms and took the walk in leisurely. At one point, Severus Accioed a wildflower and handed it to Hermione without ever looking in her direction. She didn't thank him, merely twisted it into her hair and kept walking.
They stopped for a glass of wine and a bite to eat at one of the first cafes they saw, and then Harry let the two of them take the lead, wandering throughout the town, it's walls and stores and nooks of books. Every once in a while he would catch up to Hermione and tell her, "Severus has a deep interest in the history of Roman slaves," or to ask, "Think I would enjoy this?"
By the time Hermione shadowed Harry on his way back to Severus, the sun was dipping and she knew it would be cold in the air, far more than Severus probably preferred, but she didn't think he would be too bothered, not if he had enjoyed himself the way she had. She thought that he had--if the evidence of his purchases was anything to go by. They shrunk their purchases, spelled themselves against the chill, and set off for home.
By the time they arrived, Hermione really wanted a hot shower. She knew that she wasn't that cold in actuality, the spells had held just fine. But her mind knew how cold that level of atmosphere should be and the knowledge always settled in her bones. She stole into the shower and let it warm her up, emerging to find Severus and Harry sitting barefoot on the sofa, the fire going, three cups of coffee on the coffee table. Considering her options for a moment, she walked over to the couch and fitted herself neatly between them. It wasn't all that large a couch, so she was touching both of them on each side.
She reached out for her coffee only to have it handed to her by Severus. Harry had reached out, but gotten there a second too late, his fingers brushing against Severus'. Hermione said, "Thank you." Then, "Find anything good?" She motioned lazily with a foot toward his newly purchased books.
"They'll pass the time." After a moment, "And yourself?"
"A few studies on genetics that I think might come in useful. Different perspectives are always nice." She leaned her head back slightly to claim a kiss from Harry. "Have a good day?"
"Quiet," he said, and she understood that for Harry, that was good thing, relaxing.
"The coffee is good," she told Severus, because she drank Harry's coffee all the time, and this wasn't it.
He tipped his head in silent acknowledgment. She put her cup on the table and slid from where she was seated, saying, "Tastes good on Harry, too."
Severus choked on the sip of coffee he'd taken. Hermione looked at Harry who inched over to rest a hand against Severus' back, help him to breath. When he could, Severus said, "The two of you are barking mad."
"The thing is," Harry said, his voice soft and utterly serious, "is that it works for us."
"The two of you."
Sensibly, Hermione said, "We've never tried three."
"I've no desire to be anyone's guinea pig."
"We can be yours," Harry said, his posture casual, his expression, not so much.
"Be careful what you sign up for, Harry," Severus warned.
Harry smiled at that. "So long as it's my choice."
Hermione could tell Severus had thought about it, had carefully weighed the pros and cons behind the decision, but in the end, he kissed Harry first. The knowledge burned in Hermione, sounded a little something like, of course when it had verbal form at all, but all that died fairly quickly at the sight of the two of them, the way Harry's hand sought her knee and found it unerringly. After a bit, Harry pulled back and started to give her a taste, when Severus pulled him backward, interjecting himself. He smiled ironically, although at her or himself, she wasn't quite sure. It didn't matter once her lips touched his.
Hermione had figured out easily, and with a minimum of fuss, that every person's kiss was different, and that, in fact, most people had a variety of kisses. It wasn't a surprise that Severus felt like nothing that had come before him. It was a surprise that it made her want more. It was rare that kissing someone other than Harry--whom she had emotional reason to want more from--did much of anything for her. She smiled into the kiss, and let him guess at the cause--served him right.
He pulled back from her, and despite a total lack of sympathetic magics she said, "Do not become shy on us now."
It was a dare, and they both knew it. He took her up on it, pulling her pajama top over her head. She liked his choice to do so with his hands, it was infinitely more intimate, and the feel of said hands sliding up her skin was luxurious. The way Harry was watching made her swallow back a gasp. Harry said, "You should kiss her breasts," hoarsely, more a suggestion with interest than a command. Severus listened.
Hermione watched through a film of desire as Harry moved closer. He sat on her side and reached out, running a hand through Severus' hair. Severus trailed his tongue lazily across her chest on his way to the other nipple. She arched into it, just slightly. Harry pressed a hand to her stomach, pushing her back down. It was the contact she'd wanted, so she went easily enough.
Harry made circles and lines on her skin with his fingers and Severus followed with his tongue until she said, "Enough play," in a voice that meant it.
"What is it you want?" Severus asked, his voice calculated to make her brain melt. It came very close to working, only, she was determined.
"Your mouth," she told him. She let her gaze droop toward Harry. "Touch me."
Harry had shed his clothes at some point when she wasn't paying attention. She wondered if Severus had been. Probably. He worked himself behind her so that she was between his legs, the heat of his chest at her back. She made a pleased noise, letting her head drop back against him. Harry said, "Severus."
Severus looked up. Harry made a gesture to himself and to Hermione, whose pants were nearly at her ankles, Severus' work. Harry said, "Play fair."
Severus said, "Honestly, Potter."
Harry said, "Harry," and they both watched as he undressed for them, long, and perhaps a bit too thin, a few shades too pale, but he fit in himself, didn't shrink away from their gaze, and when he was done, he folded himself gracefully to the floor, dragged his teeth from the crook of Hermione's knee to her clit and bit just hard enough to make her scream. Harry murmured, "Bloody hell."
He put himself to pleasing her in earnest, then, and Hermione had never really doubted that Severus was a man who dedicated himself to the things he wanted to know or thought might be useful to him, but it had never occurred to her to think about it this way, at least not until recently. At another time, it would have been nice to realize she was right. Just then she was too busy trying to remember how to breathe.
His tongue was everywhere and it seemed to change temperature and size and she thought, magic but unlike normal, didn't try to figure out how the magic worked. She couldn't even really determine the words Harry was saying now, all she could do was work to keep herself inside her skin as Severus worked to coax her out of it, slowly, slowly.
Harry said, "Hermione. Hermione," and then, "Let him."
She wasn't even sure how she knew what he was saying, only that it was okay to let go, to give into what she was being offered, so she did, closing her eyes, being taken apart by magic and air and fire and other elementals that Severus somehow created. After a long, long while, she blinked her way back to awareness and felt more than heard herself say, "Mm," at the sight of Severus having transferred his skills to Harry's cock. She wasn't entirely sure when she'd been moved, but it didn't much matter. Harry was looking down in surprise, amazement, sheer, mind-altering pleasure. She patted at him clumsily, a half-hearted, "Totally understand," falling from her lips.
She leaned over, sucking gently at the muscle of his shoulder. Harry gave a startled scream and came. Severus swallowed neatly and pulled back just slightly after Harry started to squirm from the sensation. Hermione had no doubt that second of hesitation had been purposeful. She pushed lightly at his chest with his foot until he fell backward onto the carpet. She said to Harry, "At first, that was an easier position."
Harry nodded at her insight. Severus raised an eyebrow. "Am I to understand that Potter has never--"
"First for everything." Harry grinned as he said it.
"Watch your teeth," Severus told him. Hermione tried her best to keep her laughter to herself. Harry gave her what was probably supposed to be a dirty look, but ended in a laugh. Then he got on his knees, bent over Severus, and took him in his mouth. Watching them wasn't the fast route to aphroditic intoxication that Severus' tongue had been, but it got her there, all the same. Even the stupid parts, the parts with Harry choking, and Severus touching fingers to his shoulders, trying to roll away, even those parts found her breathing more quickly.
When Harry stopped to rub his jaw, Hermione stood and pushed him gently aside. Then she straddled Severus and sank down on him. His eyes flew to meet hers. She rose up and then slammed back down, setting up a rhythm that was hard and fast and totally her choice, even once his hands had gone to her hips. She said, "Harry," and before she could finish the thought, Harry had his hand on her, knowing exactly how she liked it. He brought her off quickly, quickly enough that Severus wasn't yet done. She kept up the pace, even with the edge of too much too much that it had taken on for her.
It was intense enough that it took her a moment to realize when he was finishing up. Harry, though, had clearly caught on, leaning down to kiss Severus, lap up his moans. Harry caught her when the momentum leached out of both of them. He laid her down on the floor and then curled over her, his hand brushing Severus' stomach. He said, tiredly, "That was more fun than I remember trial and error being."
After a second, even Severus was laughing.
When Hermione woke up, Severus was gone, with all his things. She grumbled a little, but couldn't find it in herself to be surprised. She drank the coffee Harry had left her and read the note: He's at a hotel in Muggle Switzerland. He doesn't know I know. I'll come pick you up after work. Give him the day to cool off? If that's a bad idea, you know how to reach me.
Severus might not have known that Harry knew--or he did and was good at obscuring that fact--but either way, the whole thing was a little clumsy for a man who'd played at least three sides for a good twenty five years or so. She rolled her eyes and went to go take a shower. She planned to see if she could get her boss to underwrite a little cross-cultural (read: Muggle) education for the good of the department. She was going to need to look her best.
Hermione always knew when Harry had shown up at her office, because Jason, their normally very put together and efficient office manager, had a gigantic, embarrasing boy-crush on Harry, and it was impossible not to hear the change in his tone. She let Jason have him for a few minutes, trying not to laugh at how polite Harry could be, before grabbing her robes and walking out to rescue him. He gave her a look that said he knew exactly what she'd done, and if she didn't think he would have his revenge, well, she could think again. She was not quite shaking in her boots.
She wished Jason a good evening and wisked Harry away. Harry said, "Why am I attracted to cruel people? There must be something wrong--"
She kissed him to shut him up. He took over and kissed her back for a few minutes, until they were both a little breathless.
"Switzerland?" she asked.
He kept her tight against him and she closed her eyes, letting go as much as she could while he Apparated them. They arrived in a dense, forested area, but it didn't take long for Harry to get them back to a main road, and then it was just a few minutes walk to the hotel. It was fairly ritzy, moreso than she would have expected. Harry took her up to the floor Severus was staying on and knocked on his door. He answered wearing a glamour.
"Do I know you?" he asked.
Hermione said, "Honestly," and walked quickly enough to get past him. Harry followed, setting up stronger wards on the room, better silencers. Severus' were probably more than serviceable, but Harry didn't like being in uncontrolled environments. Severus closed the door. It took him several moments more to drop the glamour.
"Evening," Harry said softly.
"I did not ask to be followed."
"No," Hermione said, "nor did you stay, which would have been the easiest thing to do. And yet, here we are."
Severus crossed over to a small table that held a veritable mound of Swiss chocolate. Hermione blinked as she realized that he hadn't chosen here because he was less likely to be found or recognized, or anything so pedestrian. He had just wanted some quality chocolate. He took a piece and placed it on his tongue, waiting as it melted. Finally, he said, "Sex is all well and good, even pleasant, I suppose, but I needn't be around all the time for that."
"That your way of saying you find our company tiring?" Harry asked. "Or that you're too much a coward to stick around and see if we can make the impossible happen? Again."
Hermione barely even saw the jinx before it hit Harry, but she knew Harry had, knew he had let it hit him. Her eyes widened marginally as he worked to regain his breath, straighten himself into a sitting position. He smiled crookedly at Severus. "I know. No calling you a coward."
Severus looked at Harry, where he was still sitting on the floor. "Perhaps I deserved it, to some extent. In this instance."
Harry held up his hand. Hermione didn't move. Harry was perfectly capable of getting up on his own should he so choose, and she was fairly certain it wasn't her assistance he was seeking. Severus came reluctantly, but he came. He pulled Harry up and Harry took the chance to get into his space. Severus tried backing up, only Hermione had made her way there in the interim.
It was weird, Hermione thought, how many times she'd had sex with people and had enjoyed it, but never wanted anything else. It was weird because she'd had sex with both of these men not thinking about whether she would need or want something more and then just finding it there, waiting for her. She was so used to having to fight for things, to struggle and research and make cases. If she hadn't had the experience, she wouldn't have known how to imagine this feeling. She said, "This is going to get complicated."
"Ugly, possibly," Harry said.
"Hurt with an intensity of Cruciatus," Hermione added.
"But maybe it's worth it." Harry was quiet in his assertion, unsure not in what he was saying, but that the others might agree.
Hermione said, "Probably worth it."
"Maybe and probably," Severus sneered.
"Tragically, none of us were ever terribly strong at Divination," Hermione said.
"Well," Harry tilted his head. "On the other hand, there's nobody here to predict that this will kill us."
Severus and Hermione were both quiet at that, until Severus said, "You have a point."
Severus came back to the apartment with them for three days, sleeping and eating and working there between bouts of sex and conversation. On the morning of the fourth day he had a screaming match with Harry about coffee preparation, and told Hermione, "I'm going back to the island."
Hermione said, "All right, we'll see you this evening."
"You aren't invited," he said.
"Tomorrow morning, then? Here?"
He disapparated, and she took that for agreement. When he didn't show the next morning, her and Harry made their way to the island and had semi-angry, semi-apologetic sex in Severus's office, Severus holding Harry's hair as Harry went down on him, controlling his movements, Harry fucking Hermione with rhythm and intensity that made her breath shallow and her vision narrow while Severus watched, telling her things about how she looked, "Laid out like jewelry on display, made to be worn, put on, wrapped around oneself."
When they were spent and Severus had lazily spelled his office into a semblance of cleanliness and orderliness, he said, "We can't simply rut as a form of apology, not every time."
"I would argue that we can't go around consistently borrowing trouble, and yet, here you are, doing a perfect job of it," Harry said, but without any venom.
"Perhaps, if I stayed here, and you were only to--"
"There's a position open with the Canadian Ministry. Auror. They're offering me more flexibility in hours if slightly less than what I make, but the money's never really been the issue for me." Harry pulled this information out casually. He'd talked with Hermione about it.
What she hadn't told Harry, not yet, because things weren't settled enough for her to feel like talking about it, except for how clearly it needed to be said, was, "Morgana College in Victoria has offered me a research position. We haven't hammered out details, but even should it not work, I have other options, not the least of which is the Canadian Ministry, most likely willing to bargain with me if for no other reason than to keep Harry."
Severus crossed his arms over his chest in clear defensive mode. "England is your home."
"It has been, certainly, at times," Hermione agreed.
"Others, not so much," Harry mumbled. She reached out and tugged gently at his hair.
"Home is where we make it." She shrugged. "We want to make it with you. If you're adverse to us staying in your place, we can certainly find another. Yours is a bit small for three people in any case, and it might be nice if we all had a say in things.
"I like my home."
"Harry and I can certainly afford a residence, allowing you to keep yours. After all, every child needs his own sandbox." She blinked charmingly at the end of her statement.
"And if, you know, at some point you want-- Well, no doubt there will be real estate enough for us to find something." Harry kept his voice soft, hopeful.
"And if the two of you should realize that you have left your home and your lives and the things which, until now, held great import to you for something that was a fleeting--"
Hermione asked, "Before you say what sounds clever, and just cutting enough to be comforting to you, think about whether you really believe that I am the type to make a decision like this on a whim, or to simply bow to Harry's wishes. Think about whether it is particularly likely that we risked everything we had together on the off chance that the sex might be good. Think about how bloody stupid you will sound making any of those assumptions. Then, please, do feel free to continue."
"Your expectations of success are, nonetheless, mindlessly optimistic."
"No," Harry said, "believe me, I've done harder things than stay in love with you."
Severus opened his mouth, then shut it, albeit, more slowly. Finally he said, "You are not in love."
Harry rolled his eyes. "Third time I've felt it, different as the other two and definitely, definitely the only thing that could make me feel this crappy. Bugger off, unless you want a sneak peek?"
Severus literally stepped back. Harry snorted. "Didn't think so."
Severus' eyes flashed and Hermione could tell the exact moment when he took Harry up on the offer, despite not a whisper of the legilimency spell being spoken. Harry just stood there, not backing down, using the same weapon he had used on an earlier battlefield, when the stakes were higher perhaps only for everyone else. She walked to Harry and leaned against his back, her chin hooking over his shoulder. Severus gasped a little, and she knew he'd accidentally wandered, but she didn't mind. There wasn't anything she was thinking of that he couldn't see, nor Harry, for that matter.
She felt him...fall, for lack of a better word, out of their thoughts. He said, "I-- My sentiments are similar, if not wholly--"
Harry leaned forward and kissed him. "Yeah, you love us, too. We'd mostly caught on."
Hermione said, "I want a window nook, for reading, in our house. I've always wanted a window nook."
Harry nodded. "Am I allowed to do an opacity spell on the window and--"
Hermione cut him off with a reciprocal kiss. "You have a dirty mind."
Severus made a sound of appreciative agreement.
Nine Months Later
The argument over where they would spend Christmas had gone something a bit like this: Severus had said, dryly, "I've not much of a holiday spirit."
Hermione had said, "If you think I'm going to explain to my parents that the man I moved to Old Masset for isn't coming to our holiday celebration, then perhaps there is some incipient brain damage from the snake venom."
"Very well, I suppose, but Christmas Day with the Weasleys--"
"Will get you anything you want in bed for a month," Harry said.
"I am hardly some randy teenager to be--" Severus had reconsidered then. "Anything?"
"No asphyxiation," Hermione said.
"Tragically, my perversions are more pedestrian," he'd said.
Harry grinned. "Anything."
Despite his reluctance, Severus dressed in a brand new, beautifully cut robe of grey tweed to attend Christmas Eve dinner at Hermione's parents' home. He was courteous and, although he didn't small talk much, he was more than willing to discuss economic issues with Hermione's mother and environmental ones with her father. He also helped fix their ancient desktop, which, Hermione told him, "Probably means they love you more than me, at this point."
They made their way to the Weasley's Christmas morning, after opening presents with Hermione's parents. With the exception of Ron and Ginny--both of whom had visited the island, the family knew where Harry and Hermione had gone and for whom, but none of them had seen Severus since prior to his supposed demise. Hermione had been a bit nervous, but Arthur just shook Severus' hand and said, "Good to see you again," and Molly greeted him the same as everyone else, which was to say with a rather exuberant hug and a kiss to the cheek.
Ron nodded a greeting at Severus. He was grateful for the vastly superior Wolfsbane Severus had been supplying to Lavender. Lavender, on the other hand, walked up to Severus and said, "I owe you a Life Debt. And I checked, in case you were planning to argue, the value of the Debt is determined by debtee, not debtor."
Severus looked at her for a long time before saying softly, "Very well, Ms. Brown."
She nodded and moved off to the kitchen, where Molly and Fleur were watching over Victoire, Dominique and Louis. Charlie was late, because Charlie was always late to family gatherings, but he also brought Romanian ale, so nobody much complained, other than Molly. Ginny and George were in the living room, listening to Bill's latest report on the behavior of the administrative staff at Gringotts. Goblins had very different ways of communicating than humans.
Severus, to Hermione's surprise, had some additions to the conversation that came from his time setting up his business. Severus told the stories as a sort of straight man, but they made George laugh, which made Ginny watch Severus with a speculative--and appreciative--gleam in her eye.
The meal was a loud, messy affair, and Hermione could feel Severus' discomfort at times. That was when she would press her leg to his and feel, on the other side, Harry doing the same. Harry was--as he always was at these events--transcendently happy, having everything he needed, and to Severus' credit, he seemed to understand that, and not to want to take that from Harry.
She couldn't blame him for the fact that he pulled back a couple of mugs of Charlie's ale, nor for the way in which his shoulders fell about two inches when they finally excused themselves and escaped back to the island. Hermione and Severus went their separate ways when they returned, both of them needing to come down from the overstimulation of being around others non-stop for nearly twenty-four hours. Harry wandered between them, bringing tea, lying nearby, sometimes napping.
At around seven, Hermione made her way to the kitchen and prepared a light tea--she couldn't imagine any of them were all that hungry just yet. Severus wandered in upon smelling the food, Harry following moments later. They ate and helped clean up in silence, and Hermione was considering if she wanted to begin a book for pleasure when Severus' voice curled up her spine with a single word. "Anything?"
She turned to him and let her expression answer for her. Across the room, Harry was murmuring, "Anything."
Severus made them tea and said, "Drink up."
Hermione could taste something else in the tea. It was slightly bitter, but not horribly so, a bit like baking chocolate, really. She looked at him and he looked back and she shrugged, drinking the rest of the tea. They sat and talked then, Hermione wondering-- "Oh."
Harry's, "I can't see. Severus, I can't--" was panicky, but Severus', "I know. It will wear off in a few hours time."
Harry was clearly trying to calm his breathing pattern. Severus said, "There is an antidote, if you did not truly mean anything."
Hermione felt something slide into place in her mind, like the tumblers of a lock. She said, steady and just loud enough, "We trust you."
One second went by, then two, then Harry took a deep breath. "Yes. Yes, we do."
Severus was infinitely gentle after that, gentle in a way she couldn't remember him being ever before. He didn't treat them as though they were fragile, but he did take his time with everything. Hermione could hear the slip of each of Harry's buttons as Severus undid them, the feel of his fingers on her feet as he drew off her socks was stark and intense, far more so than ever before.
He carried them to bed, one by one. Hermione heard Harry say, "I would follow you."
Severus said, "Safer this way," low and gruff and clear in his decision. He laid them back to back, binding them gently together with wisps of magic. The barest touches were intoxicating in a way they couldn't manage when Hermione had the need to see what was happening, note its progress. Like this all she could do was hear, feel, let those senses take over her body.
There was more magic, used to turn his fingers hot, then cold; used to soften the sound around them, make things even more immediate. He unbound them at some point, when Hermione was more interested in the pad of the thumb at her nipple, the brush of breathe over her ear than where she was being moved. Her breath caught as Severus entered her in one quick, deep stroke. The rush of breath that came out of her when she could exhale again must have sounded like, "Yes."
The rhythm was odd, more staccato than she would have expected. It took her a moment to realize that somehow, Harry was fucking Severus. She reached her hand out, far enough to find Harry's shoulder. He made a noise, pleased and hungry and drove in hard enough to make Severus grunt, enough to make her laugh a little at the punch of it.
Harry's fingers brushed along the crest of her hip, Severus' teeth brushed along her jaw. She purred, "Interesting definition of anything."
"Wouldn't want to disappoint," he told her, punctuating the sentiment with his movements.
"Oh, never that," she said, and then lost her train of thought as his fingers slipped between them, touching her in ways designed to get her even more worked up, leave her hanging. She felt Harry stiffen behind Severus, but Severus kept his rhythm through it, past when Hermione gave up and said, "Please, please," or even when she started to keen. Harry said, "Severus, she's--"
Severus just said, "Anything."
Hermione couldn't have said how long he held out, and even then, even when he gave in, he didn't bring her along. She whimpered as he pulled out, was about to make an argument for the categorical unfairness of his actions, when she heard a whisper, the movement of sheets and then Harry's tongue was on her. It didn't take long, all the build up, the thought of Harry's world being nothing but the taste of her on his tongue and she was arching, coming.
Severus cleaning them up was nearly as intense as the sex itself, the cool-warm of the different washcloths, the softness of the one used to dry. When he joined them in bed, Hermione curled up over him so that she could reach Harry, who did the same on his side. Severus said, "You'll be able to see when we wake."
They both answered on a yawn. "I know."
Hermione woke to the sound of the paperboy hitting the side of their house with the paper. She slept through it most mornings, but she was ravenous, so she slipped from Harry and Severus' grip and went to make herself some breakfast. Her sight was back, good as ever, but it had never really occurred to her that it might not be. She went out to get the paper, foregoing a warming charm so that the coffee would be that much more appreciated.
She sat and read the paper over coffee and a pastry before disappearing into her study to start in on work for the day. She didn't resurface until Harry flooed her and said, "Get dressed, lazy. Meet me for lunch at the shop."
A glance at the clock informed her it had been nearly four hours. She threw herself in the shower and pulled on a pair of jeans, a shirt that she suspected was Harry's. The shop was within walking distance and it was cold, but not frigid, so she took that route. Harry was there with sandwiches when she arrived, and she took the one he handed to her.
Severus opened conversation by saying, "I think I need a sign in regard to what level of mental competence a customer must achieve in order to enter the shop and ask for assistance."
"More people forgetting to plug things in?" Harry asked.
"If it helps, we caught a guy this morning because he was busy working out what kind of magical signature he could leave while on the crime premises."
"Yes, it comforts me intensely that there are even more stupid people in the world than I'd come to believe."
"I hate to break this all up with actual good news, but I think I might have found a way to talk to the Wizengamot that will get them to at least listen."
"Oh sure, come in here with your tales of success and intelligence, ruin a perfectly good lunch, why don't you?" Harry laughed. Hermione stole one of his crisps. Severus stole another.
Harry told them, "I am very put upon."
They both nodded. Severus said, "Very."
Hermione said, "Extremely."
Harry sighed and put a real true shield on his crisps. Hermione had to resort to stealing a bit of his sandwich.