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Chapter 28 : xxviii.
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The days following Christmas were some of the most peaceful and relaxing that Hermione had had since before Voldemort returned at the end of her fourth year, when her whole life had been turned upside down.
She and Severus spent their mornings returning to their common rooms to shower, and more importantly to show their faces to their house mates in order to not raise suspicion of their absences. The early afternoons were spent wandering the castle, or hiding out together in the Room of Requirement. They passed the time by reading, talking about nothing and everything, and also improving Hermione’s skills in Wizard’s Chess. It wasn't that Hermione was bad at the game, but she'd never been able to beat Ron, and that was something that always irked her. It was a shortcoming she was well aware of; she always had to be the best.
Their physical relationship still had not progressed any further than to what she was comfortable with. As much as she knew she loved him, and as much as she wanted to at times, she still wasn't ready. Truth be told, she was terrified. Her inexperience only being the tip of the iceberg of her fears. If Severus became frustrated with her for always stopping things before they'd gone too far, he never showed it. He was more patient and understanding than she ever believed him capable of being.
During the evenings they would join their classmates and the staff who remained at the school for dinner. She wasn't sure if Professor Dumbledore had any knowledge of where two of his students had been sleeping at night. He had never let on if he knew either way. Hermione suspected he was aware, however. Dumbledore always knew everything. But she appreciated the fact that he hadn't called them on it.
New Year's Eve arrived far sooner than she hoped it would. Term would begin again in a few short days, and both of them agreed that when it did, they would no longer use the Room of Requirement, out of fear that they would have been spotted. She would miss falling asleep and waking next to him, but kept the hope alive that they would have many years after she returned home to do so once more.
Neither Hermione or Severus had any elaborate plans to bring in the New Year, since they were both stuck in the castle. Initially the plan was to spend a quiet evening together, and perhaps take a walk down to the Potions classroom to check on Hermione’s antivenin. However, much to both of their displeasure other plans were made instead.
Professor Slughorn wanted to liven things up a bit, and talked Professor Dumbledore into relaxing curfew that evening, and letting the small number of students stay up to have a party of sorts in The Great Hall. With Severus not exactly being the type for parties, and Hermione wanting to make the most of the limited time she had with Severus in the past, neither of them were pleased about losing the opportunity to have remained alone together in their room. But Slughorn left them without a choice, since he mentioned it to them both at dinner the evening before, in front of everyone.
“We won’t stay the whole evening, Severus,” Hermione promised, as he sulked while putting on a clean pair of robes.
They were informed that it was an informal get together, and dress robes would not have been required, so both of them decided that as long as their clothes were wrinkle-free, they would do.
“I don’t really fancy being there either, but as we were both invited in front of my uncle, we should make an appearance,” Hermione continued, while Severus grunted in half-agreement. “Besides, I already think he’s becoming suspicious of where we’ve been disappearing to each night,” she said, as she worked her hair into a loose bun on the crown of her head.
Severus pointed his wand at his shoes, and the laces tied themselves into a neat bow as if being pulled by invisible hands. His face paled ever so slightly at the mention of Dumbledore possibly being aware of where he had been sleeping at night.
Hermione noticed and her mouth curled into a reassuring smile. “Don’t worry, my uncle and I seem to have an understanding. As long as he doesn’t blatantly see me doing things he doesn’t approve of, he doesn’t mention it.”
She walked towards him and wrapped her arms around his neck, standing on her toes to kiss him softly. “Like doing this in the middle of the hallway,” she said as she pulled back.
Severus let out a low chuckle. “Right,” he said, rubbing at the back of his neck.
With a resigned sigh, Severus took her hand. “Let's get this over with,” he grumbled and began towing her towards the door.
Hermione giggled at his dry tone, shaking her head as they stepped out into the seventh floor corridor. “Who knows? You might actually have fun,” she teased, bumping her hip into the side of his leg, earning a disagreeing snort from him.
She rolled her eyes. “Honestly, Severus. Am I the only person who gets to see that you’re not as grumpy as you pretend to be?”
“I have a reputation to uphold, you know,” he said, as he smirked down at her.
Hermione threw her head back and laughed. “Of course you do.”
Severus winked in response.
When they arrived to The Great Hall, it had all the markings of a Slughorn get together. Streamers and baubles were hanging above them, and the four large tables had been transfigured into several circular ones instead. Much to her disdain, house elves were summoned to serve food and refreshments to the group of staff and students who remained at the castle. In lieu of a band, there was a record player, belting out a woman who very much reminded Hermione of Celestina Warbeck. A small smile tugged at her lips, thinking of the stories she heard about Molly Weasley and Fleur Delacour the Christmas she was not invited to the Burrow.
Always the gracious host, Slughorn turned to the door and opened his arms, acting as if it were a party filled with dozens of guests as opposed to just a handful of people, comprised of younger students, and some of the staff.
“Severus, m’boy! Hermione!” he shouted jovially over the music, as he walked towards them flourishing his wand to summon a tray of drinks their way. “A very Happy New Year to you both!”
Hermione and Severus glanced at one another, as she plastered a fixed smile on her face.
“Happy New Year to you as well, sir,” she said, taking a glass of Butterbeer from the tray.
It appeared as if Slughorn may had indulged himself a bit before everyone arrived that evening. His cheeks were already flushed, and his eyes were glazed over just slightly, as they fixed themselves on Hermione and Severus’ joint hands. His mustache twitched right before a hearty laugh escaped from him.
“To think, at the beginning of the school year the two of you would hardly look at one another…” he trailed off with a wistful look in his eyes. “Ah, to be young again.”
She felt Severus shift uncomfortably next to her before gently tugging on her arm.
“Right…” said Severus with a quirked eyebrow. “We better find a seat, Professor.”
Slughorn patted Severus on the shoulder. “Enjoy your evening,” he told them. “But not too much,” he laughed with a horrible attempt at a subtle wink.
Severus pinched the bridge of his nose as he let out a loud huff. Hermione’s cheeks went pink.
While the two of them got as far away from their Potions Professor as possible, Hermione was brought up short when a hand gently grasped her shoulder.
She turned around quickly, due to the shock, and found her nose nearly buried in the long auburn and white beard of her pretend uncle. Stumbling backward, she placed her hand over her heart. Dumbledore’s eyes flashed with amusement as he tried to stifle a smile.
“Please, forgive me, Hermione,” he said with the hint of a chuckle in his tone. “But I was wondering if I may have a word?”
Dumbledore’s eyes briefly travelled to Severus, who looked down at Hermione and shrugged.
“I’ll be back shortly,” she told Severus, then turned back towards the Professor. “Certainly, Uncle Albus.”
As always when being summoned by Dumbledore, Hermione’s heart rate increased, not being quite sure of what he wanted to speak with her about. She knew he did not approve of her relationship, and was wondering if he hadn’t been as ignorant to her latest sleeping arrangement as she hoped. Fake uncle or not, he was still an authority figure, also she was still a student under his tutelage, and she knew what they had been doing was breaking quite a few of the school rules.
She wasn’t sure where they were going, as Dumbledore walked out of The Great Hall and through the entrance hall. She followed behind in silence, only the clicking of his buckled boots, and Hermione’s low heels echoed out in the hall between them. Just when she was nearly ready to ask where they were going, Dumbledore stopped near the door of a rarely used classroom. He aimed the light from his wand down the hallway, appearing to be looking for any students or faculty that may had been around, before opening the large wooden door, and ushering Hermione inside.
The room was pitch black, so Hermione took the liberty of waving her wand and lighting the candles around them. She shivered in the drafty room, and pulled her robes around her more securely. Dumbledore strode through the room, and took a seat behind the large desk at the front of the classroom. Hermione quickly made her way to one of the seats in front of him and waited for him to begin.
He took his time before he spoke. Hermione wrung her hands nervously on her lap while he studied her over the tops of his glasses. A frown touched his lips as he steepled his fingers together and sighed.
“Miss Granger,” he finally said, yet the grave tone in his voice caused the hairs on her arms to stand straight. Just from two simple words, she knew this would not be a pleasant conversation.
“Sir?” she asked, her voice just cracking enough to give away her nerves.
“Without giving away the details of your visit, I must know, how close have you come to reaching your intended purpose of travelling here to us?”
Hermione swallowed. Dumbledore’s usual light in his eyes was missing. She had only seen his eyes appear so cool on two different occasions. When he learned that Voldemort had returned, and when he had run past she and Ron on his way to save Harry from Professor Quirrell her first year.
Within a fortnight, her antivenin would possibly have been ready. However, that had not been the reason for her travelling to the past. Yes, that could potentially save Severus’ life in the future, but she still was not sure if she had proved to Severus that that life was worth saving.
“I’m not entirely sure, Professor,” she admitted in a whisper. “Possibly several weeks? Perhaps a bit more?”
Dumbledore closed his eyes as he reached for his glasses, removing them from his face. He nodded to himself while cleaning his lenses with the hem of his robes. After placing them back on his long, crooked nose, he leaned back in his seat.
“Miss Granger, I am fearful of the length of time you have been with us.”
Hermione’s breath hitched. “Sir?”
“You have been with us for much longer than I had anticipated, and in that time have made quite an impact on some of your classmates.” He pierced his eyes into hers. “Some more than others, it would seem.”
He wouldn’t force her to go back to her time, she thought in a small panic. He promised her that he would assist her when she was ready, and she certainly wasn’t ready. Hermione squared her shoulders.
Again, Hermione had suspected that Dumbledore read her thoughts.
“I stand by my word, Miss Granger. I will not force you to return, but I must implore upon you the seriousness of your situation. Most especially your involvement with Mister Snape”
It was as if she was just doused with ice water. She visibly flinched.
Dumbledore hadn’t believed that Hermione knew the risk she was taking? Hadn’t he realized she’d spent weeks agonizing over the potential problems that may have caused? He hadn’t thought she realized that even the slightest slip of the tongue could have potentially destroyed everything she had ever known? A surge of anger shot through her, causing her cheeks to flush. How dare he! She thought in a fury. He was the one who had sent her back in time in the first place! If he had known of the nights she spent tossing and turning, with her mind reeling with the thousands of scenarios regarding what she may had altered! She was widely known as the brightest witch of her age, of course she understood the seriousness of her situation!
“I am more than aware of the risk, Professor,” she said in a measured tone, in a horrible attempt to mask her emotions.
The room went uncomfortably silent. Her Professor’s eyes flickered with something that looked like sadness. The corner of his mouth lifted a hair.
“Right,” he said quietly. “Of you go then, Miss Granger.”
Hermione was taken aback by the abrupt dismissal. Her brow furrowed in confusion as she rose from her seat.
She stood there for a moment, half anticipating Dumbledore to have joined her, but he did not budge.
“I shall rejoin you all momentarily,” he said; a final dismissal.
Hermione nodded once, turned quickly and made her way out of the classroom. She walked briskly, with long strides trying to regain some of her composure before reentering The Great Hall. She would not second guess herself, or the relationship she had allowed herself to get into with Severus. Dumbledore was not as infallible as everyone believed him to have been. He was wrong about her involvement with Severus. She knew that deep in her gut.
When she returned to The Great Hall and slammed herself down into the seat next to Severus, her irritation must had still showed on her face.
“Nice chat with your uncle?” he asked with a raised eyebrow.
Hermione huffed as she crossed her arms over her chest. “I’d rather not talk about it.”
His mouth turned down, and she had had a feeling he didn’t want to drop the subject, but something in Hermione’s perturbed expression stopped him from pressing her.
“If that’s what you’d prefer,” he said, then turned his attention back to the biscuit he was eating when she arrived.
Hermione slowly felt her anger begin to deflate, seeing the disappointment on Severus’ face. She reached beneath the table and placed her hand on his knee.
“I’m sorry, Severus. It was nothing, really,” she lied.
After that, Hermione tried to act as if nothing more than polite conversation took place between herself and Dumbledore. She smiled, laughed, and joked with her professors, and made it seem to all as if she were having a lovely time. Severus even stopped glancing suspiciously at her from the side of his eye after about an hour or so. And by the time midnight came around, she joined in with her classmates, letting off poppers and yelling Happy New Year, before sneaking a chaste kiss with Severus.
Shortly afterwards, the two of them made their way back to the Room of Requirement for bed. Only stopping to sit briefly in front of the fire to unwind from the night. She sat with her feet tucked to the side, resting her head on Severus’ shoulder, as he secured his arm around her. He placed a soft kiss on the top of her head, leaving his chin to rest there.
“Happy New Year, Hermione,” he whispered into her hair.
Hermione’s throat tightened as she sat there, thinking of how normal it felt for her right then. She wasn’t thinking of antivenins, Time-Turners, Wizarding Wars, secrecy, death or destruction. All she thought of was how comfortable and calm she felt in his arms. He was still - for the most part - untainted and undamaged. And yet, in just a year’s time, the young man next to her would become a Death Eater.
How badly she wished she could make everything else disappear, and for this normalcy to be her life. She wished she could shield him - shield everyone she cared for - from the pain and suffering that was just on their horizons, and in her past. If only she could find Tom Riddle and snuff his life out, before he had the chance to cause so much chaos. But time was too fragile to have even seriously considered it. And she had already risked enough. As much as it pained her, she would have to let things unfold, no matter how horrible they would become.
“Happy New Year, Severus,” she responded softly.
3rd January 1977
Monday morning Hermione awoke for the first time since before Christmas in her dormitory. The students were due to arrive that day, and she and Severus agreed it would have been best for them not to spend the previous night together, due to all of the staff being back in the castle.
It was strange waking alone, she thought, as she subconsciously reached across the bed for a body that was not there. She frowned to herself before lazily climbing from her bed, and heading off to the showers to enjoy one last morning of having a bathroom to herself. After she was dressed and ready for the day, she made her way down for some breakfast, sitting one last time at the Slytherin table with Severus. As per usual, he had already fixed her coffee before she sat down across from him.
“How did you sleep?” she asked before taking a sip from her mug.
“Not as well as I have been,” he admitted. The dark circles beneath his eyes only confirming what he said.
She felt a bit of satisfaction knowing that he had missed sleeping next to her as well. Hermione smiled warmly. “The same for me,” she told him.
The two of them then ate their breakfast in a comfortable silence, while Hermione paged through The Daily Prophet. Familiar stories of disappearances of both Wizards and Muggles littered the periodical; tale tell signs of the beginnings of the first Wizarding War. She found herself deep in thought, thinking of the parallels between what she had experienced in her time, as well as what she had been reading about in the past. It amazed her how much things felt the same. She remembered Harry telling her once of how Sirius said that it felt like before, just prior to the war starting, and she was now understanding exactly what he had meant.
After breakfast Hermione and Severus had a walk around the grounds, just killing time before the rest of the school returned. They returned to the castle at lunchtime, and went over their assignments, which were given for them to do over the holidays, making sure everything had been completed. Their little respite truly felt over then. Things would return to normal the following day, and Hermione felt herself longing more time.
She couldn’t explain it, but the beginning of the new term felt like an alarm clock had been set. There was just this feeling in her gut that told her she did not have much longer there, until she needed to return. She just knew that before the end of this term was over, she would be going home.
I'm so sorry for the looong wait with this chapter. RL has been a little not so great at the moment. My aunt isn't doing too well. I know I mentioned it in a review response, but she's been recently diagnosed with cancer. She's having a difficult time with the chemo, and just hasn't been herself, which has been really tough to watch. But I just want to thank everyone for the kind words and the well wishes. Honestly, it's truly meant a lot to me. *hugs you all*
I was trying to write here and there when I could, and when my muse wanted to cooperate. I hope that you all enjoy the chapter! I'm actually really excited about the next chapter, to be honest. I promise it's not going to be another two months before the next update. I'm going to try to get it up soon. :)
Thank you all for the amazing reviews, favorites, and for reading! Love you all!!
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