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Chapter 27 : xxvii.
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Later that evening, Hermione and Severus sat next to one another at a large circular table in The Great Hall for the Christmas feast. Just as she remembered Harry telling her, Dumbledore insisted that the remaining students and staff sat together, since there were such a small number of them there.
It was surreal for her to see her professors let their professional walls down and truly enjoy the holiday. Professor McGonagall chatted merrily with Professor Slughorn, who's cheeks were a deep red due to the bottle of wine he'd nearly finished. Hagrid laughed loudly, banging on the table while Professor Flitwick attempted to tell a story through his laughter. Madam Pomfrey and Professor Sprout sat closely together, looking far more involved than she ever assumed them to be. And Professor Dumbledore popped open a cracker with a Hufflepuff third year, who seemed to be a little more than uncomfortable being seated next to the headmaster.
Hermione smiled at the scene around her, and glanced at Severus, who wasn't looking around as she was, but had his eyes right on her the entire time.
“Is it always like this?” she asked him quietly, with a quick glance around the table.
She knew that he had been remaining at the school during the holiday every year since his second.
Severus rolled his eyes. “Yes. And it's fortunate you're here with me, because normally that,” he made a slight gesture to the boy sitting next to Dumbledore, who was having a blinking red bonnet from the cracker placed upon his head. “Was normally me.”
Hermione’s lips twitched as she fought hard to keep from laughing, imagining Severus’ livid face beneath a ridiculous bonnet.
“Pity I missed seeing that,” she said in a strained voice, due to her still trying not to laugh.
His eyes narrowed at her tone. “Yes. Truly a shame,” he responded dryly.
Hermione reached for his hand underneath the table and locked their fingers together. The corner of his mouth lifted and he squeezed her hand in return.
“How much longer do you think until we can leave, without appearing rude?” she whispered.
Severus looked up at the professors, who were becoming clearly more intoxicated as time went on. They were clapping along while Hagrid and Flitwick were loudly singing some old Wizarding folk song, about a Witch from Lickfold, which wasn't entirely appropriate for the students to have heard.
He looked back at her. “I would assume now would be as good of a time as any.” Then he smirked. “Did you have someplace in mind for us to go?”
Hermione felt the heat travel up her face; her teeth clamped onto her bottom lip as she nodded. She was quite eager to return to the Room of Requirement with him.
Severus must have been thinking along the same lines as Hermione, she thought while watching eyes spark with something that looked very much like desire. He rose from his seat immediately with Hermione following suit.
Dumbledore looked up at their sudden movement, a barely noticeable frown touched his lips.
“Hermione, Severus. Leaving already?” he asked airily, yet Hermione was able to detect the small hint of disapproval in his tone.
Regardless, she put on an apologetic smile and nodded.
“I'm afraid so, Uncle Albus. Truthfully, I'm absolutely knackered, and Severus has agreed to escort me back to Ravenclaw,” she lied smoothly.
Severus inclined his head, as to agree with her.
Dumbledore nodded once, “Then I wish you a pleasant evening, my dear.” He smiled then and held up the pocket watch Hermione had given him. “And I must thank you once more for such a marvelous gift, which I most certainly hadn’t expected,” he told her, sounding entirely sincere.
Hermione didn't have to fake the smile she had on now. “I was more than happy to get it for you.”
She wanted to tell him more. That even though they may not have agreed on everything she was doing while she was there, she very much appreciated all that he had done for her. How he kept her in the castle, where she would be safe. How he worked on the Time-Turner, so she would be able to return home someday. And how he seemed to trust her, and her decisions, even if he hadn't felt they were wise.
There was an understanding in Dumbledore’s eyes, as she thought all of that, and for a moment she believed that he knew all that she left unspoken.
The familiar twinkle lit his eyes as he bowed his head towards them. “Off you go then. Happy Christmas to both of you.”
Hermione and Severus both said their goodbyes, and quickly left the hall together, eager to be alone.
As the doors closed behind them, Severus stopped her. He wrapped his arms around her waist and lifted her from the ground, kissing her passionately.
“I love you,” he said, as he put her back down.
Reaching forward, she placed her hand on his chest and smiled up at him. “I love you, too, Severus.”
When they opened the door to the Room of Requirement, it was exactly the same as it was earlier in the day, except for one new addition. Next to the Christmas tree, there was an oak door with a brass handle that wasn't there last time. Hermione raised an eyebrow in question, and went to see what was behind the door.
As she stepped inside, with Severus right behind her, she immediately felt her cheeks flush. There was a four-poster bed in the middle of the room, so large that it dominated most of the space before them. She walked towards it and ran her hand over the smooth black comforter slowly.
“How…? I didn't…” she began quietly asking out loud.
Severus cleared his throat. When she turned around, she noticed he wasn't looking at her, but kept his gaze firmly focused on the thick green carpet beneath their feet.
“I, erm...thought that maybe -- perhaps, instead of sleeping separately during the break…” he trailed off, his pink cheeks giving away his discomfort.
Understanding slowly dawned on her, she felt her lips turn upwards, and her heart had begun to hammer at the implications of what he left unsaid. Truthfully, she very much enjoyed the thought of sleeping tucked in his arms, since no one would have been in either of their dormitories to notice their absence. But she wasn't quite sure if she was ready to take their physical relationship further as of yet. And if she agreed to stay, would he have expected that of her?
Almost in response to her previous thought, Severus spoke up. “Of course if you do not feel comfortable with it yet, I certainly would never force you.” He began shuffling his feet. “I only intended on us sleeping,” he made sure to stress the word, “nothing more...if -- if you're not ready.”
Her eyes slowly travelled the length of his tall, thin frame, which was always obstructed by billowing robes. Even in his youth, Severus wore clothing that was just a bit too large on him. She supposed it was an unconscious, or potentially conscious, effort to hide himself -- to make himself appear less imposing than she knew him to truly have been.
She felt a longing to rid him of his robes. To finally have seen what was beneath them. An image of herself running her hands along his chest, curling her fingers in his chest hair, before moving to his arms, and then gently scratching her fingernails down his bare back, came into her mind. Her face flushed as she looked down at her shoes.
“I --” her voice cracked, she cleared her throat, “I’m not sure if I'm ready to go further...yet.” She looked up at his face to see how he reacted, and found herself pleased to see he smiled reassuringly at her. “But I wouldn't mind spending the night with you.”
Never in the entire time that Hermione had known him, as an adult or as the boy before her, had she seen Severus light up as much as he had in that moment. It nearly brought a tear to her eye.
After the awkward exchange in the bedroom, Hermione and Severus left it to explore the bookshelf that was in the sitting area. When her eyes read the title of a book focusing on antidotes and healing potions, she quickly reached for it, hoping that perhaps there would be a chapter illustrating a way to test new potions, not on a living person or creature, to give her an idea of how to test her antivenin when it was finished.
For the rest of the evening, the two sat together in front of the fireplace, with Hermione curled against his side, reading quietly. She had just finished a particularly helpful chapter when she yawned loudly. It was nearing midnight, and Severus suggested they turn in for the night. Placing her book on the table before them, she agreed, then with her stomach fluttering with nerves like never before, they entered the bedroom together.
At first neither of them moved once they were in there. They stood just barely apart from one another awkwardly, both looking around at anything else that wasn't each other. It was clear that neither she nor Severus knew exactly how to proceed or what proper etiquette would be, in regards to how they would prepare for bed.
She knew she couldn't very well sleep in her robes, but she foolishly had forgotten to retrieve any of her night clothes from her dormitory, and knew Severus hadn't either. She looked around the room in a slight panic, when suddenly a wardrobe appeared to her right.
She looked to Severus with a raised eyebrow, wondering if it was his doing. He shook his head in response. Curiosity got the better of her, and she was the one that ended up approaching it. When she opened it up, there were two pairs of cotton pajamas -- one for each of them. An audible sigh of relief came from her, without her even realizing. She reached in and took out the green pair that were obviously too large for her to have fit in, and handed them to Severus.
“This room is remarkable,” he said with a hint of awe in his tone as he took them from her.
“Truly,” she replied while grabbing her red pair. A small smirk formed on her face when she noticed the color. It was comforting for her to have something that reminded of her old life. Even if it was something as simplistic as the color of her night clothes.
“Something funny?” Severus asked.
She had not noticed he was looking at her. “No,” she said, taking a step closer to him and kissing his cheek. “Just happy to be here with you.”
Severus brushed his finger across her cheekbone, causing a slight chill to run through her.
“I'll go change in there,” he said, jerking his head towards the bathroom. “Yell to me when you're ready.”
When the bathroom door closed, Hermione began getting undressed. Her hands trembled as she undid the buttons of her shirt, anxiety enveloped her chest thinking of sharing a bed with Severus. She'd never slept next to someone of the opposite sex when there wasn't anything more than platonic feelings involved. The thought of it made her pulse race.
Obviously things have progressed between she and Severus. They now knew that they loved one another, and if there was one thing she was certain of, typically after a declaration of love was made, one was expected to show it physically. She may not had been ready that night, but she couldn't lie and pretend that she hadn't wanted to. She was a nineteen, nearly twenty year old young woman, and of course she had all of the physical yearnings of any person her age. As always with Hermione, her heart was in it, but her head continued casting doubts.
It wasn't that she feared Severus was the type of person to have used the word love to get her to have sex with him. And it also wasn't that she feared that he would have left her after she'd done so. It was the fear of how much more emotionally attached she would become afterwards. Always in the back of her mind was the thought that he very well might not survive when she returned home. She was already in deep enough, with saying those three words out loud. But if she were to bring it to the next level, and he somehow didn't make it…she couldn't even have beared finishing that thought.
With her clothes from the day folded and placed in the wardrobe. “I'm decent!” she yelled, her back still towards the door.
“I definitely would have to disagree,” he said from behind her. Hermione spun around and swallowed audibly as she watched him leaned against the doorframe, watching her hungrily. “You are not merely, decent, Hermione. You're magnificent.”
Hermione laughed nervously, her anxiety was reaching peak levels now that they were both dressed and ready for bed.
Severus fully came out of the bathroom, swishing his wand to turn out the light behind him, and slowly walked towards the opposite side of the bed that Hermione stood near. He started tugging at the cuff of his sleeve, and although he kept his face impassive, Hermione recognized the nervous tick, and felt slightly better knowing that he was just as apprehensive as she was. In fact, knowing that seemed to embolden her.
Without stalling any longer, she pulled back the bedding and climbed in, sitting cross-legged and looking up expectantly at Severus.
“Are you planning on sleeping while standing?” she asked with a curve of her lips, and softly patted the spot next to her.
He dawdled for a moment, then finally got in, but just barely. He was practically hanging off the edge of the bed. Clearly he was more afraid to do this than he had initially let on.
Hermione reached over and tugged on his arm. “Come here,” she coaxed gently.
“Al -- alright,” he whispered hoarsely.
Severus shifted his weight and moved over closer to Hermione, but kept his face looking forward. The tension in that room was unbearably thick, and she absolutely knew that both of them felt it.
As she studied his profile, which was mostly obstructed by the black curtains of his hair, she felt her abdomen tighten, and for a brief moment nearly said to hell with it and pounced on him. She unconsciously licked her lips, and watched him tense up as he watched her from the side of his eye.
Not being able to stand the lack of contact any longer, Hermione reached over and placed her hand on Severus’ cheek, gently guiding his head towards hers. His Adam’s apple bobbed and there was slight panic in his dark eyes. Hermione smiled warmly at him, before leaning in and placing her lips gingerly on his.
They were being careful with one another, the kiss remained light, without any of the heat they'd normally shared with one another as of late. When his arms tentatively snaked around her waist, she was surprised to feel them trembling, and she was just as shocked to find that she was trembling as well.
There was something different about kissing while in bed together. It was more intimate, with much more implied than stolen moments in classrooms or empty corridors. It felt more substantial, more grown up, more…real.
Suddenly things began to progress. Severus’ hands moved down her back and found their way beneath the hem of her shirt. Hermione’s breath hitched, and chills formed on her skin at the feel of his calloused fingers tracing light patterns on her lower back. She deepened the kiss between them, and instinctively arched forward, pressing her body more firmly against his.
Her breathing was shallow, and all she wanted was for him to continue exploring her -- to feel every last inch of her. She lifted her arms to grab fistfuls of his hair and tugged firmly. A small moan escaped her when he ran his hands further up her back and gently skimmed the sides of her breasts with his fingertips.
He froze at the sound she made and immediately stopped and pulled away. And automatic pout appeared on her face as she nearly growled in frustration.
“We should stop,” he said in a strained voice.
Hermione sat still, her heart pounded and she felt like a feral cat about to pounce on its prey. Just before she told him to bugger it all to hell, rational thought slowly began returning to her.
He was right.
She nodded. “We should,” she agreed, albeit begrudgingly.
Severus laughed softly at the bitter edge in her tone, and laid down, pulling Hermione down to rest her head on his chest.
He combed through her hair with his fingers, then placed a kiss on her forehead.
“I didn't intend on letting myself become so carried away,” he whispered. “I'm sorry.”
Hermione shook her head in disbelief. Why would he have apologized to her? She had been just as guilty as he was of becoming carried away, as he said.
“You have no reason to be sorry, Severus,” she assured him. “I was just as much involved in that as you were.”
He exhaled deeply. “Still…”
Hermione rolled her eyes. “I love you, Severus. So stop.”
Severus squeezed her then kissed her forehead once more. “I love you, too Hermione.”
Hermione smiled as she closed her eyes, exhaustion coming over her while he continued to stroke her hair.
She would have done it, she thought. As soon as she felt his hands on her bare skin, if he had continued to go further, she would have let him. She loved him. She loved him so much that it was nearly painful, and never in her life had she wanted to show that love physically in the way she just desired to with Severus. If they continued to spend each night in the Room of Requirement together, she was sure there was no way she'd have been able to hold out much longer.
When she was in that twilight state, between being asleep and awake, she mumbled just barely loudly enough to be understood.
“Promise you'll always be with me.”
His arms tightened around her. “Forever,” he said with his lips against the crown of her head.
No matter what, she wouldn't ever let him break that promise.
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