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Seven-Year Hitch

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To: LizardSpots
From: Your Secret Santa

 

Title: Seven-Year Hitch
Author: Florahart
Pairing: Severus Snape/Hermione Granger
Summary: Severus damn near died in the Shrieking Shack, but Hermione found a way to save him. However, there was a price, and she's going to have to keep paying it.
Rating: NC17
Warnings: There is some complication of initial consent, though no one is unhappy about it and it's in no way malicious. There is also a misunderstanding that bumps up against infidelity, which is neither secretive nor malicious either.
Author's notes: Thanks to L for the beta, and to the mod for patience with me. Lizardspots asked for, among other things, plot, angsty romance, humour, smut, forced bonding, rituals, and canon compliance, with teaching about sex acts, laughter and awkwardness, blindfolds, and a happy ending.

Archiving: Originally posted here.

 

~

"Do you really abhor it so?"

The dim room was silent until he spoke, silent and pleasantly cool against heated skin, and his voice cracked, as though he were distraught or in the midst of puberty. He swallowed and didn't expand on the question.

"It is what it is," she said. "I've always understood the cost, and I pay it, as any other bill."

He said nothing, and expected nothing more of her; it was only conversation to fill the space between them, because the silence was a bit unnerving, from her.

The quiet remained for just long enough to become strange between them before she spoke again. "Did you really expect I would enjoy it?"

"Expect? No. However, I at least get three seconds of physical bliss out of the arrangement, and you lie there, disinterested."

She rolled up onto her elbow, hair falling over her face as she glared at him. "It isn't enough? I'm here. I come here, and I lie down and I spread my legs and give you your bloody physical bliss four times a year, and you think your best response is to criticize my technique?"

"I wasn't criticizing. I was observing. You seem to hate it. I thought--"

"I don't hate it; I don't especially enjoy it. I do it, because it was the right thing, and there was no one else readily available. If you don't like the disinterest, find someone else to fuck in between times." She rolled away and stood, crossing to the chair where her robe was neatly folded.

"Miss Granger," he said, as she fastened the buttons and shoved her feet into her shoes, "I'm well aware of why you do it; you misunderstand the nature of my complaint."

She looked up. "So it is a complaint, then."

"Yes, but not a criticism. A suggestion."

"Ah, well. You've not been my teacher, even nominally, for over four years, and I'm no longer obliged to take your suggestions." She went to the door. "You have the money, I believe. You could hire someone to entertain you. Do see you don't pick up anything you'll pass on to me."

As the bedroom door closed behind her, Severus sighed.

--

"It's nearly ten," Severus observed as Hermione stepped out of the Floo, marking his place with a ribbon between the pages and standing, taking the book with him as he shuffled behind her toward the bedroom. "Is everything quite all right?"

"I didn't realize you had a preference as to time of day," she said.

"I don't; I merely was concerned that the last time I had so annoyed you that you intended to discontinue this little game, in which case I'd have liked to know, in order to see to the disposition of my effects."

She pressed her lips together into a thin line and set about unfastening her robe. "I told you I'd understood the cost. I had a meeting; it ran late."

"Ah." He set the book on the nightstand and lifted the sheet.

"And what does that mean?"

"What?"

"Ah. What does that mean?" She took off her socks and rolled them together.

"It was a general sound of comprehension, nothing more. I'm not about to start not saying what I mean at this late date."

"Ah." She sat on the bed, bare arse chilly against his thigh.

"You're cold." He scooted over and rolled onto his side toward her.

"It's temporary." She pulled the sheet over her as she swiveled about to lie on her back beside him. "It's cold out, now."

"It should be. I can see the leaves are mostly off." He nodded toward the window, currently curtained and dark. "I do make it that far now, nearly every day. In fact, sometimes I walk down the sidewalk and sit on the bench at the park. Perhaps before another year is up, I'll be able to visit the local library on my own."

She shrugged and moved her legs apart, her knee hitting his thigh sharply. "Excellent progress. How lovely for you."

"Miss Granger. I didn't mean... This is absurd. There's no reason for you to be upset. You mistook my motive, last time. I merely meant, were you to enjoy it more, it would be less a burden to continue."

"It isn't a burden."

"Merely a chore, then."

"Merely an action I chose. Get on with it." She reached for him, and, as she was still stronger than he was, pulled him on top of her without much difficulty.

"What if I want that? For you to enjoy this, at least for a minute?"

"I suppose you hope I'll fall in love with you?"

He snorted and looked away. "That seems… profoundly unlikely."

"Altruism, then? It's unnecessary."

"Not altruism. There is self-interest; I can't imagine you'll want to hold to this arrangement forever, as it stands, and I'd like to keep living, now I'm in a position to assert I am in fact doing any such thing. For a number of years, I could barely claim breathing."

"I said I would. Hold to it.."

He shook his head. "Gryffindors."

"This isn't news."

"I suppose not." His body was responding as it should, to the smell of her and the heat between them, and he sighed. "Still, if you'd allow it--"

"We could do this the way we did the first time," she said sharply. "When you were too weak to hold yourself on top of me. If it would speed things along."

That time had been brutal, exhausting, and difficult for both of them. He'd been too ill and damaged to do much of anything, still more dead than alive, so the only option had been for her to force his body's motion by means of charms--hexes, really--and the strain of it had left him unconscious most of the time for several days. He didn't, in principle, object to the notion of her straddling him again sometime, but he didn't want to repeat that experience, not like that. "That's a no, then."

"Just do it." She managed to sound both conversational and exasperated as she hooked her feet behind his legs and tugged.

He sighed and let the damp warmth of her finish the job of firming his cock, rutting against her mound for a moment before pushing into her in a smooth slick thrust.

It was, as always, over more quickly than he would have preferred, given it was the only real human contact he got, and she stood to go before he'd had time to recover.

--

Severus sat at the little table and considered his list.

It wasn't that he had a great many effects to see to, but he couldn't help the need to write things down; he'd come far too close, in the Shrieking Shack, and he'd been shockingly unprepared.

The clock chimed once, the quarter-hour, and he looked up.

Forty-four minutes, then, to finish this and consider where and how he should like to be found. It wasn't as though there were a great many choices. He left the list on the table, an empty vase pinning down one corner in case there should be a breeze, and picked up his cane to cross to the bookshelf. He considered looking for something meaningful to take with him to bed--Eliot, perhaps, or Dostoevsky--but then he grimaced. No one was going to care how he was found, and no clever message about redemption would come through; Miss Granger herself might get it, but the rest were still dunderheads.

He chose a book he'd found comforting, a character with whom he'd identified, and made his way in to the bed to lie down. Bean's story, finally written just this year, was satisfying, and he thought he might as well die happy this time. The clock chimed again, twice this time, but he ignored it and turned the page.

It was just chiming quarter-till when she appeared, not bothering to knock. She stormed in, pointed her wand, and charmed him hard even as she Banished her robe and took the book out of his hand.

He blinked, disoriented by the rush of blood away from his brain. "Miss Granger."

She didn't bother fully undressing him, only shoving his nightshirt up before she sank down onto him, hot and wet, rocking up and back on her knees. "No time for talk," she said.

It was true; there were bare minutes to get this done. He nodded and lifted a hand to her naked breast, putting the other on her hip.

"Snape--"

"Shut it. You've left it so late I might not be fast enough; the least you can do is let me do it the way I want." He brushed his thumb across her nipple, then looked up into her eyes. "In which case, there's a will on the kitchen table."

"I'm not letting you die, Snape, not after all this." She glanced at the clock.

"Excellent. After we're done, we can discuss how, honestly, leaving it this late is a bad idea."

"Stop talking and come."

He snorted. "I'm not quite so much at your command as all that," he said. "And for the record, this would go faster if we were to roll over."

"What?"

"It's more difficult for me to come 'up,' so to speak."

She blushed, which intrigued him enough to stop for a moment, then nodded. "Then we should roll over."

He tried to just tilt her over, but this proved impossible, or at least, too difficult for him, and he cursed and reminded her he was still not the healthiest man she knew.

She nodded and scrambled off him, glancing again at the clock as she landed on her back and beckoned urgently. "Ten minutes."

He rolled his eyes. "No pressure…" Still, he maneuvered between her thighs and up on his elbows and slid into her again, thrusting hard as he looked down at her. She was flushed and her hair was wild. Before he thought, he pushed his fingers into the curls and let his face drop to the side of hers, nuzzling at her ear.

She stiffened slightly at the increased contact, and he slowed, but she muttered against his ear, "Don't you dare stop, after all this," and gripped his arse with her fingers, pulling him in tight.

He chuckled and resumed a more hurried pace, and was slumped forward, recovering from the unaccustomedly vigorous exercise, when the clock struck midnight.

He blew out a breath, dislodging her hair from his nose. "That was perhaps nearer than we should leave it," he said. He raised up to find her staring at him, eyes wide. "Is something the matter?"

She shook her head, blushing again, and he frowned, but he let her push him away and moved off to the side.

After a moment, he said, "I think that was a lie."

"I'm fine."

"I hurt you."

"No."

"It's hardly customary to report you are 'fine' unless there's reason to believe something is wrong, wouldn't you say?"

She looked at him, still pink, a fine sheen of sweat at her hairline and between her collarbones. "It's nothing, and as you're now well, I should go. I'll see you in May."

He set his hand flat on her bare belly. The flesh flinched under his palm, not, evidently, in fear, and she sucked in a sharp breath. He quirked an eyebrow, but her glare was quelling, so he didn't comment. "Don't feel you always need to be so late," he said. "Excitement is one thing; however, I'd prefer not to die of it. Also, take the list from the table. You might as well be the one who has it, in case."

She scooted hurriedly off the end of the bed as soon as he lifted his hand, and Summoned her robe back to her as she shoved her feet into her shoes. She snatched the list off of the table without looking at it, and didn't glance back at him before she left.

He scourgified his rather damp nightshirt, turned out the light, and lay in the dark, tired, but apparently not quite ready to sleep.

When he woke, it wasn't quite noon, which wasn't bad, as recovery time went, these days. He lay there for a moment, blinking, then reached for his wand to start the tea across the room. He was sore, when he stood, and to his surprise, he was also aroused. That hadn't happened--not the morning after, at any rate--since before he'd died the first time.

He stared stupidly down at his erection for several seconds, then reached for the cane and hobbled out into the sitting room, going across to the hot plate to pour water for tea.

Perhaps his rate of progress was finally increasing. It was about bloody time; he'd been shut in for nearly five years now, and only marginally able to care for himself, with the ungracious help of a cranky house-elf, for three.

--

"Ah. Six on the dot." Severus looked up. "Have you eaten?"

"No, but I fail to see how it would be relevant."

"I thought perhaps you'd like to share my stew." Severus nodded at the ceramic dish behind him. "I'm not done eating, and while I could always come back to it, there's enough for two."

She sighed. "Snape, I thought I made this clear. We're not dating."

"That's a no, then?" He shrugged and pushed his dish aside. "Hurried sex without any semblance of social interaction, so you can get on with your life it is, then. Would you prefer we dispense with the comfort of the bed, to keep it as unaffected as possible? I'm not sure I'm up to anything vertical yet, but there's always the floor."

She gasped. "No, I. The bed is fine." She stepped away from the Floo and toed off her shoes as he stood and closed the blinds, then pulled his shirt over his head and followed her into the bedroom. He'd thought she'd delay again, and wasn't yet undressed for the evening, but he'd bathed in the morning, so he decided it didn't much matter.

She had her robe unbuttoned and folded on the chair before he'd quite managed his trousers--removing them took balance, and he was slow--and when he turned back, she was on the bed, atop the light cover, legs open, eyes focused distantly on the ceiling. He pressed his lips together, but she'd said she didn't want to discuss it, and he wasn't an idiot. He left his trousers in a crumpled pile at the foot of the bed and lay down next to her, splaying his hand on her belly again. "I have a question."

"It had better not be whether you can make this more enjoyable. Frankly, I doubt you've the skill."

He chuckled dryly, able to appreciate the comment now where he once would have bristled. "You may be right, as far as that. I still struggle with many relatively simple tasks, after all, and that was…" He looked away, then chastised himself for being absurd and looked back. "That was a set of skills I never had much opportunity to develop to any noteworthy degree. But no, that wasn't the question. The question was more a matter of intellectual curiosity."

"I won't talk about my sex life."

"All right. Unless this counts: I've made it to the library, as I had said I might. I expect you knew that."

"That isn't a question, and yes, I knew that; Kreacher found you missing twice, and went looking."

"That may have been deliberate; he's somewhat disturbing."

"I'm not surprised. And you're delaying. Why?"

"I don't mean to, and as you no doubt can tell, it's hardly that I'm waiting for inspiration." He pressed his erection against her thigh. "The question is this: per the many and varied 'romance novels' at the library, most of which are literarily devoid of all merit but which do at least provide food for thought, if you take my meaning--"

He turned her face toward him, startled, the muscles under his palm tensing. "You go the library for material over which to… I didn't know you were well enough, er. We could have Kreacher bring that, as well. With the food and whatnot; I'm sure he'd love something more to do."

"Had I hoped for Kreacher's assistance with masturbation, I could have asked for that myself. I have successfully asked for all manner of other reading material."

"Right. And if you aren't going to ask a question, get to it. I'd like to make it to a lecture at seven."

"Then don't interrupt. Per the novels I have read so far, and I expect that would total fifty or so--"

"Fifty? In three months? You're. That's every couple of days! You can't be, that is. …Go on."

"Yes, well, I'm feeling rather better. In fact, it seems that the regular activity is beneficial for me aside from the obvious reason it would be fun. In any case, they discuss a topic it's occurred to me is relevant." He thought it probably would be best not to explain that the reason he'd started looking for books was in order to remove from his mind's eye the image of her sweating and wide-eyed and interested as she'd never really been before. It hadn't worked.

"Oh?"

"Yes. In each case, the heroine's arousal is indicated by her degree of, if you'll pardon the crudity, wetness. You're always wet, so I wonder why, given that, you don't enjoy things."

She rolled her eyes. "And we're back to my level of enjoyment."

"My apologies. But now you're stalling. If you're aroused--"

"I'm not. It's a lubrication charm."

"Ah." He paused, then pursed his lips. "That never comes up, in the books. Thank you for indulging my curiosity." He lifted his hand and moved atop her, nudging her thighs further apart before pushing forward. She was, as ever, slick and warm, but he avoided considering the topic further, instead focusing on reaching for the sensation he'd found the last time, the urgency and need.

He found it depressingly difficult to concentrate.

--

"Snape?"

Severus whirled, though of course, Potter--that was Potter, certainly--couldn't actually see him in the shower, then paid for the unconsidered action with light-headedness. He reached for the wall quickly, grasping the rail there and taking a deep breath until the stars receded.

"Snape? I need to see you."

"A moment," he said over the sound of the water and loud enough to be heard through the door. He ducked under the water to rinse his face.

He'd taken to showering, as he finally felt good enough, usually, to stand, and was glad of the feel of scalding water drilling through his hair to his scalp, sluicing down over his shoulders and back and belly, swirling around his feet. He turned off the water and stepped carefully out of the tub, gripping the rail more cautiously than he usually did because he was not going to have bloody Potter have to come in here and pick him up off the floor, and dried himself quickly, then wrapped the towel around his waist and opened the door.

Given that Hermione ought to be arriving at any time, he hoped Potter had given up and gone by the time he stepped out, but didn't really expect such luck. "Potter."

"You didn't answer, and she said to let myself in. Oh, you're. Get dressed."

"Good day to you, too. No."

"Sorry. I'm supposed to bring you to Hermione. She says it's important. Wouldn't shut up about it until I promised to bring you straight away."

Severus frowned. "She's due here soon enough, Potter; I'd rather not cross paths and miss each other."

"No, she said she'd an arrangement to meet you, but she can't come. I don't know what she wants with you, but she's ill."

"Ill?" Severus couldn't quite help the clenching in his gut. "Is it anything serious?"

"Why Snape! I didn't know you cared. No, she's miserable, has been for days with some horrible flu or something, but Mungo's said she should be all right. But she was going to come here, against the healer's orders, unless I fetched you to her, so."

"I am not yet able to Apparate."

"She said. I'm to bring you. I'll, uh, just wait in the sitting room, shall I?"

"What?"

"While you get dressed. You clearly can't go to her like that."

Severus lifted a brow and momentarily considered explaining that he most certainly could, and it would be more efficient anyway, but it seemed Hermione had actually not told her friends, or at least, not this one, that their quarterly meetings continued. Odd. They certainly knew about the first instance, as she'd required their assistance to bring him to the point at which the intercourse had needed to occur, but perhaps they'd not ever realized it was an ongoing arrangement. Instead, he nodded. "Yes, you can wait in here or outside. I shall endeavor to hurry."

He waited until the boy--well, young man, he supposed; he still didn't go anywhere but the library and occasionally for a meal at the local cafe, and the passage of time was hard to recall--had crossed and gone out the front door, then went into the bedroom, where he located trousers and a loose shirt and put them on. He went back into the bath to comb his hair and clean his teeth, then sat in the big chair in the sitting room to put on his socks. "If you'd like, there's tea," he shouted through the door.

Potter popped his head back in, saw Severus sitting, and rolled his eyes, but stepped back in. "No, she was really insistent I should bring you immediately. You ready?"

"No." Severus paused. "I'm not certain how much Miss Granger has shared about the nature of my recovery, but despite the very long time I have been here, I am still quite slow. I shall be a moment, yet, if I'm to be presentable."

Potter paced, all nervous energy and busy hands, and eventually went over to peruse the shelves while Severus rolled on socks and laced his boots.

"You read Asimov?"

"Yes. Also, Clark, Kurtz, Tolkien, Brin… Asimov, in particular, I enjoy for the dilemma of the robot. I imagine you can think of a reason that might be true."

Potter shrugged. "I've not read many of these, but that one, I know, sort of. From a long time ago, though there's a Muggle film to come out some time soon. I think. Apparently a very loose interpretation. I'd never really thought of you as a big fiction-reader, though, and I've no idea why we're discussing this."

"I spent a number of years absorbed in facts, theory, and complicated misdirection," Severus said. "I find, these days, that the story--characters, action, plot, all of that--is more interesting." He finished tightening his boot-laces and stood.

"So you've mellowed?"

"Hardly. However, as you just indicated, now is not the time for a discussion of the relative merits of literature and science."

"You don't sound slow."

"I beg your pardon?"

"Or maybe you do. You said before you were."

"Perhaps it's merely that you are no quicker than you ever were."

Potter blinked, then grinned. "Wanker. Come on, you ready?"

"Yes." Severus held out his arm and accepted a rather tighter embrace than was quite comfortable, because as much as hugging Potter wasn't high on his list, Splinching was considerably lower. They landed in a rather sparsely-furnished sitting room with stacks of books piled on the coffee table, two overburdened sets of shelves, and one of the chairs. "Miss Granger's flat, I assume?"

"Yeah. She's probably still in bed. I'll, uh. I'll tell her you're here, make sure she's decent, you know."

Severus nodded and again refrained from comment. He sat in the available chair and ignored the murmur of voices in the other room, looking up when Potter returned, scratching the back of his neck. "She says you should go in there, and I should just leave you to it. Only, since you can't Apparate, and you're not on the Floo Network…"

"I shall Floo to…" Severus frowned. "I assume you aren't maintaining residence at the Headquarters?"

"Actually, I am."

"Then, I shall Floo there, when we are finished our business," Severus said. "It may be some time; don't wait up."

"I could just wait out here," Potter said. "She's really sick, so whatever it is, you're just going to have to reschedule."

"I assure you, we won't," Severus said. "And as I recall, Miss Granger has always been rather firm about you and the Weasley boy taking her at her word. Go on."

Potter shrugged and gave a ridiculous little wave, then Apparated away.

"Severus?"

He turned. Hermione was standing in the doorway. "You look like arse."

"Thanks." She chuckled, then coughed. "Sorry I had to drag Harry into it." She frowned, then leaned against the frame.

"Perhaps you should go back to bed."

"Yes, but you can't wait."

"I could, for a few hours. What did St. Mungo's give you?"

She waved a hand across the little hall. "It's all in there, across the sink. Look if you want, but at some point you'll need to come in. I'm afraid you'll have to do all the work this time."

He nodded. "Seems fair, considering."

She nodded, then coughed again, gripping the jamb tightly and pressing her other hand against her forehead as she reeled slightly. "Come in when you're ready. I don't think I can stay upright any longer."

He watched her turn around and shuffle back into the bedroom and scowled. Whatever they'd given her, it was clearly inferior. He went into the little bath and uncorked various bottles, sniffing each in turn, then went back out into the sitting room and on around the corner into the kitchen to see what, if anything, of use she might have. Fifteen minutes later, he went back to her door. "Have you eaten?"

She sat halfway up pulled a face. "Not a chance."

"Well, here, then. Drink this."

"What is it?"

"Disgusting, but in combination with the astonishingly ineffective potions in your loo, it ought to help."

She sat up and reached for the cup. "Thanks."

"Save that for after you taste it." He set the second cup on her nightstand well away from her, for when she woke.

She nodded. "Cheers, then." She drank it quickly, then squeezed her eyes shut and stuck out her tongue. "Disgusting isn't really the word." The cover fell somewhat when she shuddered, and he realized she'd removed her robe and whatever else she'd been wearing, apparently in preparation.

"My apologies." Severus sat on the edge of the bed. "It will also make you rather drowsy and relaxed. Which, given the object of this visit, will probably be welcome enough, since I can't imagine fucking is at the forefront of your mind."

"No. Well, yes, as I had to think about it long enough to convince Harry to get you here."

"Thank you, for that." He sat for a moment, not quite sure what else to say, then took off his shoes. When he looked back over, she was breathing easier, and her gaze had gone soft and unfocused.

He grimaced and went back to unfastening his trousers. Bedding a barely-willing drugged woman was probably--no, certainly--not the most distasteful thing he'd ever done, but his cause this time was selfish, and that made it worse. He took off his shirt and stood, naked, at the foot of her bed.

She'd probably dig him up and kill him again if he didn't do it, after all the trouble she'd gone to.

Still, he found the notion repugnant.

He took a deep breath, through his nose, and crawled up behind her.

She snuggled back against him and made a little sound, at which he lifted his head and peered over her shoulder. She didn't seem hurt.

He lay his head back down and ran his hand experimentally along her body, along soft skin that was currently overheated with fever and probably not, if he were to ask her, his to touch. Still, if he was going to do this, he was going to have to make it more appealing than "fuck a woman who is both ill and asleep," so he told himself it was justified.

When his fingers found their way down over the curve of her arse and to the heated damp skin between her legs, she moved against his hand, and he froze. She moved again, murmuring, so after a moment--she wasn't complaining, after all--he slid the tip of one finger experimentally along the folds.

When she hmmmed and moved with him, he concluded she liked it.

He wasn't likely to get the chance to learn exactly what she liked again, so he spent a quarter of a second notifying his conscience it wasn't wrong to do what had to be done and make it more fun, and did it again.

Taking useful notes, mental or otherwise, proved nearly impossible, as she soon writhed and muttered against him, and as she grew warmer and slicker against his hand, he gave up.

The position was a bit awkward, with her arse tucked up against him, only because no matter how pleasant that was, he thought she'd been entirely clear he was required to reach orgasm inside her, and she was only marginally awake now; he couldn't ask. Finally, he lifted her leg and held it in the crook of his elbow, and carefully positioned himself to slide into her. It took a moment to organize a working rhythm with her moving on her own schedule around him, but he quickly worked out how to hold her against him and still reach around to touch her some more.

Her orgasm, when it hit, startled him; she pulsed around his cock in rhythmic firm squeezes that certainly did, as the novels had described, seem to coax his own body's response. And then, when he was finished, as he carefully let down her raised leg and pulled himself away from her, she turned over, her too-warm skin flushed pink, and snuggled in against his chest.

He intended to merely wait until she was asleep, as it was the least he could do, but a moment later, she wrapped her leg over his, entangling him utterly, and relaxed more deeply into sleep. He told himself he wasn't really well enough to move her gently, after his efforts, so he let himself fall asleep, too.

When she roused, some time after two, she sat bolt-upright, startling him to do the same.

"What--"

"You fell asleep pinning me down," he said at once, defensive. She whirled to face him.

"Oh. Oh. But. You did, it was in time? We…"

"We did; had it not been, as it is now past midnight, you'd have woken with a corpse, and, I don't mean to inconvenience you. Also, and I apologize for not realizing, in my post-orgasmic haze, I should have shoved you over even if it did wake you, because Potter's probably entirely on the other side of alarmed by now."

She scowled. "Damn. He probably is. Why didn't you? Just shove me off you?"

"You were…" Severus hesitated. Probably given her previous reluctance he shouldn't explain exactly what had happened, so, 'you pretty well melted when you came' was likely off the table. "You were quite relaxed," he said after a moment. "Speaking of, I can make considerably higher-quality potions than the schlock they're giving you, if you like. As…" Not as payment; that made her a whore, and even though realistically their arrangement was odd and not really the sort of thing that would include whoring at all, he didn't want to imply it. "As a bit of turnabout, I suppose. You've helped me, and I can help you. Plus I expect you quite hate missing work."

"Yes," she said, frowning slightly. "I'll have Kreacher bring supplies, if you can make a list."

"I can. I will, in the morning. But now, I should go to Potter before he takes into his head to burst in here and find us naked in your bed. He might draw the wrong conclusion entirely." He crawled out of the bed and picked up his clothes.

She pursed her lips. "What, that we were fucking?"

"No, that you want me in your bed enough to have him come fetch me for you." Severus shrugged slightly and yanked his shirt over his head. "And while I suppose if orgasm brings you that deeply into sleep, you might well want someone in your bed, I assume I am not he. Drink the other cup; it will keep you asleep and healing until morning."

He was out of her bedroom and at the grate flinging Floo powder by the time it occurred to him he'd said something that perhaps he ought not to have, but it was already late, and he'd already called the address of 12 Grimmauld Place. He stepped into the flame, and shook Potter awake.

Fortunately, the boy was half-asleep and took him at his word that the runes had been so complicated he'd entirely lost track of time.

--

When Severus pulled aside the shower curtain, he was startled to find himself not alone. Hermione was sitting on the closed lid of the toilet, arms folded. He reflexively jerked the curtain back around him, then rolled his eyes at himself and instead pulled it halfway shut and reached for the towel. There was no need to make her uncomfortable by toweling himself all over a few inches from her knees, but he also thought he'd rather not stand dripping in the tub just to avoid annoying her. "You might have said you were here," he said after a moment.

"I was going to, but then it was awkward," she said.

"I see." He scrubbed the towel through his hair and added, "Of curiosity, does this seem less so?"

"No."

"Also, I wasn't expecting you. That is, you're welcome here, even when it's not the right time for, ah."

"For the fucking. I'm aware of the usual reason for my visits."

"As am I, but it seemed to me that since you were here on a different day, perhaps you didn't want to discuss that. You do seem to be feeling better, at least?"

"In the sense that I'm past the fever and chills. Your potions were a lot better than the ones from the chemist."

"I'm glad to have been of service. Did you need anything else, or were you here for…" He trailed off. "All right, the only reason that comes to mind is that you wish to offer notice that we're through. That our arrangement is over."

"No, it's not that. Though I do need something else."

"Right. Well, perhaps I might get dressed?" He wrapped the towel around his waist and gripped the rail to step out, glad to be shut of the miserable cane.

"Yes, you should get dressed."

"All right." He left the bath and went into his bedroom to pull on loose trousers and a light-weight knit shirt. He turned to go into the sitting room and found her waiting in the doorway. He waved her ahead of him and went to put on tea. It was quite warm, so he didn't bother with stockings, padding barefoot into the kitchen and measuring leaves into the pot.

When he turned back, she was seated at his little table, in the chair he never used.

"What brings you, then?"

"When you, when Harry brought you to me, what happened?"

Severus blinked. "I made you a better potion, and I… we had intercourse. Because it was necessary; I've no desire, generally, to drug a woman and--"

"I didn't think you did. Given how much you don't like that I just lie there."

"However, it was necessary, so there it was. Why do you ask?"

She looked away. "Because your potion probably disrupted mine, and I wasn't very attentive to ask."

"Your…?"

"Contraceptive potion."

"Oh. My apologies. And now you're concerned."

"A bit."

Severus frowned. "And now you want an abortifacient."

"Well, first I want to know if it would disrupt. That is, I don't want to add more layers of complication if there's nothing to worry about."

"I can't say it had occurred to me." Severus considered for a moment as the water heated, then poured the pot full and went to retrieve a heavy volume off the top shelf of his potions bookcase. "There are at least four common contraceptive potions. It rather depends which you're using, I expect, though I'm only specifically familiar with the one I used to help my mother make."

Hermione raised her eyebrows. "I find I'm not sure which to respond to first: that there's a potion you don't know about, or that you assisted your mother with her contraception."

"It sounds perverse, put like that, but that doesn't make the statement less accurate. I'm unfamiliar, because in my experience--and I believe we've discussed this before; I have virtually no direct and personal experience with contraception. However, the women at the school generally used a charm, rather than a potion. I had, frankly, assumed you were doing the same." He returned to the table and sat down, pouring them each a cup to sit with.

She shrugged. "I didn't have time to get anyone to teach me the spell before the first time--you couldn't wait--and then it seemed silly to change tactics on a whim. I've been meaning to, at some point, but it's not like I can very well ask Molly these days."

"Because she would either decide you were immoral again, or go around the twist that you've been fucking her son and the famous Weasley sperm--"

"No, because…" Hermione looked away again. "Ron didn't take it well, when I had sex with you before him."

"What? You didn't. That is, you performed a ritual with me that was necessary. It wasn't like you jumped into my bed out of lust."

"I told him that. He… never mind. None of this is about him."

Severus sighed. "I can't be sorry you chose to save me, Miss Granger, but I regret that I've complicated your sex life."

She snorted, then pressed her lips together for a moment. "Never mind. How do we tell which potion I've been using? I hadn't realized there were several, so I didn't realize the name was relevant. I've always just asked the apothecary for more of the one I've always had."

He flipped pages in the book, then passed it across. "The book is illustrated. Which does it look like?"

She pointed to one, and he leaned over to read upside down, considering the ingredients against his own work. "That one shouldn't have been affected by anything I made, then. Nor anything in the garbage St. Mungo's gave you."

She gave a sigh, blowing a loose strand of hair off her face in relief. "Then I'm just off-kilter because of being sick, I suppose."

"No potion is completely effective," Severus pointed out. "And I could give you--"

"I'll wait," she said. She sipped at her tea. "I'm sorry to have bothered you. I could have just waited a few more days on my own. Or done a bit of research."

"It isn't a problem, I assure you. I'd rather you ask than worry on my account."

"Still. I'm being absurd." She set her cup down and turned it with her fingers on the table-top. "There is, I suppose, something else."

Severus refilled his cup and held up the pot, but she shook her head, so he set it down and waited. They'd already talked more in this encounter than in the sum of all their others since he'd all but died.

It was surprisingly pleasant. Perhaps he was lonelier than he'd realized.

She turned her cup all the way around, and then turned it back to the start before she spoke. "I've been dreaming."

"Of?"

"Of… I'm not sure. I mean, of sex, but. What happened? I asked before, but you weren't specific."

Severus looked at his cup. "How specific do you want me to be?"

"Very."

"Right." He stared into the reflective surface of the tea for a moment. "I can do that, but I'm curious as to what your purpose is? Because it was different than anything we've done before, and I quite liked it. I'm not interested in making you angry, nor was I, then."

"My purpose is to get some idea why I have these images of having you wrapped all around me, inside me, touching me… I don't exactly remember, waking, but it seems as though I do, sleeping. Unless I've made the whole thing up, which is a different problem." She bit her lip. "Not that I quite know how to call the problem, anyway."

"Well first… if it angers you, I'd still rather you told me ahead of time, if you plan to break off your com--no, not commitment. That is, it is a commitment in the sense that you seem to have intended initially to continue for the long term, but you still don't owe me. But if you plan to stop."

"I don't."

"Yes, well, you might, since this is going to involve me telling you about things you've previously asked me to avoid discussing."

"Why?"

"Because you were warm and clingy and responsive, and I wanted to know, and also, because frankly, pushing my cock into a limp unconscious woman is hardly appealing enough to, ah, remain able. Incidentally, I've concluded I owe you some sort of favor for the first time. Something a great deal better than flowers, or a good box of gourmet chocolates. Not to make it a romance--I'm clear on the status of this non-relationship, but it couldn't have been pleasant."

"No. It was painful and difficult. But you're not answering my question."

"I'm working out how to begin."

Her mouth twisted before she suggested, "By just starting."

"I've never told a woman how we last had sex before. Forgive me if I find it awkward. However, I agree I'm being ridiculous, a state I generally try to avoid, so here it is. When I got in the bed, you'd just had the drink I gave you, and you were already undressed. Do you remember?"

"More or less."

"I think less, or you wouldn't be asking. Would you rather I showed you this via Pensieve?"

"God, no." She leaned back, away from him, then wrinkled her nose. "That would be like voyeurism. Auto-voyeurism. Weird."

"All right. So I got undressed and got in the bed, and you turned on your side and spooned against me. Squirmed about rubbing your arse against me. And that was pleasant enough, but I needed--well, you know the requirements."

She'd gone very pink, listening, but nodded sharply.

"So I had to work out how to manage it, and in so doing, I found you quite liked being touched."

"Crap."

"I don't think it's a sin, Miss Granger. If it is, we're all damned, because I'm nearly sure that given the opportunity, I would quite like being touched as well. In any case, you rubbed and squirmed and made sounds, and I couldn't resist making that continue."

"Even though I've said it's just sex."

"It is just sex, but it might as well be fun sex, has been my point. In any case, I found a position that worked for both of us, and you evidently enjoyed yourself. And so did I."

She nodded again. "Then I'm remembering, not imagining." She stood. "Thank you. I'll let you know, about the other potion, and else, I'll see you on the first of November."

Severus kept his hands on his cup, resisting the urge to adjust his trousers or ask her if she wouldn't like to see how she felt about things undrugged, and merely nodded before she turned to the door.

She stopped as she grasped the handle and looked back. "Maybe I've been unnecessarily strict, about how you should touch me," she said.

She was gone before he managed to form words.

--

24 August

Severus,

Pursuant to our previous conversation, I wanted to assure you there would be no need for additional measures. I feared you might be concerned about unwanted complications, so I thought I ought to tell you.

Until I see you,

Hermione.

Severus studied the letter for a few minutes, then set it aside and started cutting beef into neat cubes for stew.

--

"Severus?"

Severus blinked his eyes open, then scrubbed at them with his thumb and middle finger. "Hermione?" He frowned and lifted the book off his chest, setting it on the floor next to the couch where he'd fallen asleep reading after ignoring the last of the children in absurd costumes coming to his unlit door. "What--"

"It's after midnight."

He sat up and squinted at her. "You've never showed up at this hour before. That is, you've come close, in that you got here just before midnight once, almost too late, but--"

"Shut it. I thought I'd be early this time, so we wouldn't have to hurry."

"Hurrying had its good points, as I recall." He gestured toward the couch next to him. "Have a seat."

"Shouldn't we go to your bed?"

"Still getting right to it, are we?" He stood. "I can't say I object, but--"

She grabbed his hand and Apparated them into his bedroom, where it was dark and cool; the door had been closed and he hadn't been in here much today. He resisted, when she made to pull him to the bed, just enough to make her pause. "What?"

"Perhaps we should be undressed, don't you think?" He'd been thinking about this for weeks, and he was more than halfway to hard already, but if he was going to be allowed to touch her again, he wanted her naked.

She nodded and Banished their clothes, then tugged him toward the bed again.

He followed and lay down next to her, splaying his hand on her belly once again. "Did you mean what you said, about being unnecessarily strict? Or are you only interested in getting this over with for this quarter?"

She swallowed audibly. "I'm, um, willing to, to try new things."

He moved his thumb, just brushing the underside of one breast, and felt his cock pulse against her leg. "You needn't sound as though you're saying you're willing to walk straight to the executioner."

"I'm nervous," she said. "I've never exactly done anything like this."

Severus stroked with his thumb again. "Like what?"

"Like… I feel like I'm dropping in for sex."

"You are."

"Yes, but… Never mind."

He gave one more little stroke, then allowed his whole hand to wander, fingers light over her ribcage and down along her hip. "Coming here to fuck with a purpose was all right, but coming here to have sex, and like it, that's something else," he guessed.

"Going anywhere to have sex," she said.

"Without a real relationship," he qualified, petting down her thigh and back up. She quivered under his fingers, and his cock pulsed again.

"Or not," she said with a quaver. "Just, going anywhere to have sex."

He paused. "That's new?"

"I told you. Ron got his back up about it initially and I never really brought it up again… and it isn't like there were others lined up around the block, and with this, it wasn't so easy. I'm always going to have this."

"Unless you stop having this."

"Which I won't, because I said I wouldn't. And because the alternative isn't really better."

"What?"

"It would hurt me too, to stop. Not as much as it would you; I'd be ill for a while, but I'd survive. Still."

"Huh. Not all altruism, then." He went back to stroking, ribs and hip and thigh and back up again along the inner surface to damp heat and slick flesh. He hesitated, then slid a finger through her folds. She gasped, so he did it again and again, slower, faster, pressing and gliding, pushing his moist cockhead against her skin until he couldn't stand it.

"No," she said the first time he slowed, "but then, it's hardly relevant, since as I said, I don't intend to stop." She groaned again as he pulled back, relieving the friction on his cock, and pressed a finger inside her, stroking with his thumb as he leaned forward to mouth one hard nipple.

She arched under his hand, against his lips, and he concluded relieving the friction was a temporary measure.

Fuck it; if he had to, he'd ask her to come back in 23 hours. He pushed two fingers inside her and pressed circles with his thumb until she shuddered, whimpering.

"Tell me," he said quietly.

"What?" she gasped. He voice was rough, catching in her throat as she rocked under his hand.

"Tell me what you want."

She whimpered again. "I think I am."

"With words."

"I want… I don't know what I want. I want more. I want--oh." He nuzzled his way down her belly, not at all sure what he was doing, taking his instruction from hundreds of formulaic romance novels, and mouthed her inner thigh. Her breath caught again, her thighs shaking, and he looked up.

"That?"

"'S good, but don't you want, I mean, don't you need--"

He nodded and bit gently at the soft skin of her thigh again, then crawled forward to slide into her easily, unresisted as he continued to awkwardly circle her clit--he assumed; he hadn't spent much time examining female anatomy in person--with the thumb trapped between them. "Yes, I need."

She groaned and wrapped her legs around him, gripping his arse with her ankles, pulling him in tighter as she shuddered harder and contracted around him forcefully. "Oh. Oh, fuck."

Severus grinned broadly as she cursed aloud, rocking and grunting beneath him.

Merlin, he hoped she wasn't counting this as a one-time experiment.

--

"I've been sleeping with Ron for seven weeks," Hermione said, staring up at the ceiling.

Severus turned his head, struggling to control breathing that was still ragged as sweat cooled his skin after another instance of experimentation. He wasn't sure what she wanted him to say, but thought probably some sort of response was in order. They certainly hadn't talked beforehand this time any more than last. "I… All right?" There were a number of things she might be leading up to, though some were more likely than others. The likeliest was that she was preparing him for her decision, come May, not to appear. Which would be a shame, because what they'd just done had been…something he'd like to repeat. Repeatedly.

"You had a point, that there was nothing wrong with liking to be touched," she said. She still didn't look at him. "Which I do. I hadn't really thought I would."

After a moment, Severus gave up on guessing where this was going. "I don't know what you hope I'll say. I suppose, in the abstract, I'm glad you're getting on with your life, but in the specific, I'm selfishly concerned about what this means for me."

"It doesn't mean anything for you. Well, no, that's not true."

"Oh?"

"It doesn't mean anything for this, except that I'm clear now on liking the touching." She lifted her hand and waved it over them vaguely. "It's just odd, you know?"

"Does he--I recall Potter wasn't aware of the arrangement, in the summer."

"I told him. Not recently. I mean, when we decided to give us another try. I told him it was four times a year, and it always would be. The thing is, now that it's come to it, based on some things he said yesterday, I'm not sure he believed me. I was clear when we talked about it all weeks ago--I mean, I certainly didn't just say 'Oi, Ron, I'm banging Snape occasionally but I thought I'd like to try your dick for variety and see if I want to make a change' or anything; I told him it was a part of my life and I had no plans to change that. I wouldn't try to get him, or anyone, in my bed under false pretenses."

"Yes, I can see if you're honor-bound to keep at this, then you'd likely feel the same way about any other relationship. Also, and don't feel I'm making fun, but I think I should quite like to have seen such a conversation, had it existed."

"Yes, that."

"And if he didn't? Believe you?"

She sighed. "I expect he'll be angry."

"But it means nothing for 'this'." He did his best to keep his tone neutral, though he was fairly sure there was a quaver there.

"No. No, and I will tell him tonight. Though I suppose it will mean an end to the touching. Not that--never mind."

Severus turned up on his side and shifted off the rumpled blanket to pull it over them; now that he'd cooled off, the February chill was uncomfortable. He set his hand on her hand and placed his other hand on her ribcage. "Not that it's what?"

"Nothing." She shivered, so he shifted closer and rubbed little circles. She glanced at him, then looked back up at the ceiling. "I should go."

He lifted his hand. "I don't mean to keep you."

"I know." She didn't get up.

"You can--"

"I said I should. I don't want to. I also don't want to like this better."

"What?"

"I don't want to like sex with you better than I like sex with Ron." She shook her head and rolled onto her side and shifted back. "I can't believe I do. Maybe it's temporary--he'll get better with practice, right?"

She reached back and found his hand, pulling it forward to wrap around her waist and closed her eyes.

Severus remained where he was, uncertain, for a long while. There had been nothing in his life (or death) that had prepared him for being plainly told he was a preferred sex partner.

And she didn't even really want anything from him; the sex was already done, and it wasn't as though she was trying to win him over; at this point he wanted her any time she was willing.

--

"Are you asleep?"

Severus didn't open his eyes to answer, "Hermione, that question is never not absurd, as it can only have one answer. No, I'm not, and I wasn't. Though it is late."

"Sorry." She stepped around the end of the couch.

"I wasn't complaining, merely commenting on why I was resting."

"Still. You have to have been worried."

"Surprisingly little."

"But--"

He opened his eyes and sat up, turning as he spoke. "But, if you didn't come, I'd have lived six years longer than anyone including me had any right to expect, and in recent months I've had at least occasional good… Hermione." He stood swiftly and caught her chin, bringing it up. "What's happened?"

"It's nothing."

"You're a wreck."

Her chin wobbled in his hand, but she firmed her lips into a line and pulled away. "Sorry. I didn't have time to stop for ice, by the time I realized it was past eleven."

"I have ice, but I wasn't asking for an apology, nor was I commenting on your appearance from the perspective of a man who finds you appealing. I was asking what's upset you enough to cry your eyes raw."

"What?"

"You didn't know your eyes were nearly swollen shut?"

"No, before that."

Severus thought back, then shook his head. "I find you appealing, which you cannot possibly have missed. Either way, did it not occur to you to apply a cooling charm?"

"Not really." The clock marked the quarter-hour, and she glanced over at it.

"Well. I surmise, then, that either something's happened to your family or friends," he said, pausing slightly to see if that got a reaction, then went on. "Or your idiot boyfriend is a bigger idiot than I'd thought."

"He's not an idiot, really," she said thoughtfully. "Just a bit thick about certain things."

"Such as?"

"Such as this arrangement, which he knew about. He was pissed off, last time, because right, he hadn't quite believed me, but after a while, he said he reckoned it was just how things were. Which I didn't really expect. I mean, once it was real to him, I was surprised he came around again. Maybe he just didn't want to lose the free sex."

"It's hardly the only thing to recommend you."

"You don't have to say things like that."

"I know, but one of the few things to recommend me is that I'm unlikely to pay you false compliments, so you should take it."

"True. I should have questioned it more, though. I should have made sure he understood it was still going to be true all over again every three months, and that I was going to choose to continue to keep that true."

"His maths cannot be that poor."

"What?"

"Four times a year works out to every three months."

"Now you're trying to distract me."

"Is it working?"

"No. Anyway, I reminded him this morning that this was the day, because I didn't want to take the chance on him not remembering and whatnot. Pissed off doesn't really cover the response last time."

"He has no real right, of course."

"I know that. He has a right to understand the parameters of the relationship, but not to set them without discussion. Anyway, he kept me back, because he'd had this brilliant idea. He'd apparently gone to Bill to ask about how it could be I was required to do this. And Bill told him he thought I could change it."

"Ah. And he arrived with a potion to cure you, I assume?"

"Not exactly. I haven't told you what it would take."

"Not a potion, then?"

"No. That is, there's a potion, a fairly uncomplicated one, actually, but in this case it's not administered orally. I'd have to arrive here fresh from his bed, and then afterward use it …internally. It would, in theory, though there's not exactly a body of research, transfer your end of the spell to him."

"And me?"

"The bond would be broken. You'd be ill straight away, and you'd never even make it to the next quarterly time."

"I see. Well, I'll assume you didn't opt for his plan, though if you did, I think I'd just as soon learn about it post-orgasm when it's difficult for me to feel especially upset about anything."

"Yes, I didn't opt. He called me a, no, I don't want to say, and he didn't quite mean it. He was just maybe angry, or feeling stupid for still not getting it, or, or something. But honestly. It isn't as though I'm cheating on him. If anything, since you were first, it's the other way around. But, apparently he managed to convince himself last time was some sort of tying up of loose ends, that he'd somehow forgiven me for it and was offering me a wonderful trade of being bonded to him instead. Oh, with the added bonus that the bond would transfer me to your position, essentially. I'd be dependent upon him. The subsequent discussion wasn't very friendly." She shook her head. "But you really don't have time to hear about Ron's obstinacy. Here, or in bed?"

He pursed his lips. "Bed, I think. Unless it makes a difference to you."

"It doesn't."

He followed her into his bedroom and watched as she pulled her jumper over her head, tumbling her hair worse than it had been, and reached behind her to unhook her bra. "I'll be back in a tic," he said.

She glanced over her shoulder. "Where are you going?"

He didn't answer, instead going to get a flannel from the bath and running it under cool water before wringing it out and returning. She was waiting on the bed, sitting naked on top of the cover, and he lifted a brow. "You are allowed to touch my sheets, you know." He held out his free hand.

She took it and let him pull her upright, then waited while he turned down the blanket and gestured for her to get in. "What's that for?"

"For your eyes, because even if Weasley isn't an idiot, perhaps you are, in a certain restricted way. They're going to be sore, and it's avoidable." He pushed at her shoulder gently until she lay back, then draped the cool cloth over her eyes. "I do, in fact, have the magical resources to keep that cool," he said, muttering a charm. "Though I'm still fairly poor at any number of charms that act upon flesh. It will do."

"It's that bad, is it? You need to cover my face?"

He laughed, which clearly surprised her. "No, Hermione. I'm not covering your face. However, if you like, you may think of it as a blindfold I've put on you in order to focus your senses elsewhere." He ran his fingers lightly up her thigh, continuing on up over her hipbone and around the curve of her breast. "Ah, and you don't seem to hate the idea."

"I… No, I don't hate the idea."

"Good, because if my goal had been to avoid looking at you, I could easily enough have devised a position that didn't require it. However, I like looking at you and watching you blush and gasp."

"Severus!"

"What? I do, and I might as well tell you, since the other man you sleep with apparently feels free to make you feel wretched about yourself when you've clearly gone to great lengths to make everything work." He stroked again, watching her nipples harden and her ribcage arch up to meet him.

"Could we… not talk about Ron?"

"Who?" He stripped off his clothes and joined her on the bed, using fingers and lips to trace his way down to her toes, catching her ankle and tickling the arch of her foot until she giggled and tried to pull away.

When the clock struck midnight, he was still atop her, panting and quivering with aftershocks. She squeezed his shoulder and murmured, "Too bloody close."

He nuzzled against her earlobe and answered, "Worth it."

--

"No unanticipated drama, this time?" Severus continued chopping carrots, since either way, he'd still want supper.

"No. Ron and I talked, and clearly this was too much to ask of him." Hermione shrugged. "I'm mostly healed. Ish. I think.

"You do know I'd have forgiven you--"

"You would not. You'd have haunted me. But it was still my choice, and I don't mind. I mean, I mind that my relationship was screwed up, but I don't object in principle to continuing this indefinitely."

"But you miss the daily fuck."

"Maybe a little."

He looked up and smirked. "So, you're feeling a bit desperate, then? Because I'm entirely willing to be taken advantage of, if you'd like to take out your frustrations."

She blushed. "What did you have in mind?"

He poured her a glass of wine and sipped at his own. "I was considering your very favorable response to that blindfold."

"Why are we talking about last time?"

"We're not. We're talking about blindfolds."

"I suppose next you'll want to tie me up."

"Not really. I find my past has left me with a rather high level of distaste for removing anyone's will, even in play."

She crossed one leg over the other and sipped at her wine. "What, then?"

He pursed his lips. "I don't know, actually. I've had a few thoughts, but honestly, I'm capable of thinking of a hundred things I'd like to try. Which serves me quite well when you're not here, but when you are, I imagine you have an opinion."

She blinked. "When I'm not here? Wait, what? You…"

"Well I bloody well don't jerk off over Kreacher."

"Ugh."

"Quite."

"But you do, over me?"

"For a bright girl who's occasionally been something of a know-it-all, you've remarkably little faith in your own appeal."

"Someone wanting me for my mind, I can understand. For masturbation, not as much."

He looked her for a moment. "Come here."

"Why?"

"To humor me." She set down her glass and stood up, then walked toward him.

"Yes?"

He looked down to his swelling erection, pressing against the soft trousers that were all he ever wore any more. "Talking about thinking about you does this to me. Actually thinking about you and allowing the fantasy to progress is that much worse."

She tilted her head. "I suppose you have evidence on your side, then. And what's your favorite thing to imagine?"

He cleared his throat. "Before I answer that, I want to point out this isn't a request; I'm merely answering your question.

"Noted."

"Watching you bring yourself off for my personal entertainment."

She blushed. "I was going to take it as a request regardless, but I… don't know if I can do that. It's really personal, don't you think?"

"Yes."

"Right." She bit her lip. "Second favorite?"

"You do realize now would be an excellent time to come up with something purely outrageous."

"No answer, then?"

"Oh, I have an answer."

"Well?"

"The time you were ill. Not the ill part, but otherwise."

She nodded, still flushed, and toed off her shoes.

--

"Cold?" Severus pointed his wand at the fire and Summoned a blanket.

"Not especially frozen, though it's chilly out. I mean, of course it is; it's nearly winter. But still, I am a bit chilled. Unless that was a ploy to entice me to snuggle under the blanket with you."

"It was. I was hoping you were overly-desperate again and could be persuaded to do more than snuggle."

"Actually, no, on the desperation front; I've developed what seems to be commonly known as a friends-with-benefits situation with, uh, someone."

"And this someone knows about me?" It crossed Severus's mind to ask whether this was someone for whom she might someday--or even today--decide she did want to relieve herself of the obligation of visiting him, but there was nothing he could do about it if it were, and also, even though asking was in his own interests, it seemed inappropriate. And hurtful. He didn't voice the thought.

"He doesn't expect he's necessarily the only one in my bed."

"And is he?"

"What?"

"You're usually fairly precise with language, and you said your bed. When you and I have sex, it's always been in my bed. When it's been in a bed."

"Oh. Right. Well, he's the only one in my bed, at the moment, yes."

"At the moment? Keeping it warm until you return?"

"What? No. Also, I wasn't really planning on going home tonight. Also, what's that smell?"

"Just chocolate. You weren't?"

"You don't drink chocolate. And no, I thought I might stay here. I've things to show you."

"You do drink chocolate. And I can't imagine where you'd have had any opportunity to learn of my chocolate-drinking habits or lack thereof. Last year at this time, you were hardly in the habit of staying to see what I might choose to drink."

"All right; I've never seen you drink it. But Kreacher would probably have made mention of it; he's always on about one thing or another related to things you want that he'd rather not supply."

"Perhaps I'm trying new things, in my old age. It has come to my attention that there are a number of experiences I failed to seek out in my youth."

Hermione lifted a brow. "Oh?"

"Yes. I believe I've already shown you some of those things."

"Did you want to show me some more? As long as I'm here, you know. Or shall we stick with drinking chocolate under a blanket?"

Severus poured two mugs to the brim and brought them into the sitting room. "I don't see these things as mutually exclusive. You wanted to show me something?"

"Point, and yes, I rather did. It turns out--and surely you know this intellectually as well as I did, but we've never put any of it into practice because we've been focused on only one thing--there are a number of interesting things we might do, and it's occurred to me, with a bit of encouragement, that there's not much reason to merely roll over and go to sleep, after."

He had to admit, the idea had merit.

--

Severus glanced up as Hermione came in through the front door. She was a bit windblown, rubbing her hands together despite thick woolen gloves, but didn't seem unhappy about it. But she'd never come in the front door in broad daylight before, always Apparating or coming in via Floo unless it was very late at night.

He set aside his book. "Is everything all right?"

"Yes. I don't suppose you want go out and into the village for supper first?"

He raised his eyebrows. "If you've a high fever, I do hope you won't mind if I take measures to avoid catching the disease."

"Arse."

"Well, you've never actually been publicly seen with me before. Ever."

"I know. However, I'm twenty-five years old and single, and I've every right to have supper with a man, should I want to. Regardless of publicity or relationship or any other bloody thing."

"I see. Did your friend--the one with whom you've the arrangement--teach you that at last?"

"Not really. In fact, he and I don't have supper in public. At least, not in any way that would be likely to be interpreted as a date."

"His idea, or yours?"

"His, and this isn't a criticism. He just doesn't need the hassle."

"But you do. Are you hoping to make him jealous?"

She shook her head. "I told you. It's not like that. We just fuck."

"As do we, if I recall correctly."

She sighed. "Right, well, if you'd rather not, we can just fuck and then I'll go."

"I don't object; I'm merely taken aback. Also, there are only two places in the village: the café, which I visit often enough, and a rather greasy little restaurant which I fear might leave us feeling rather less than interested in sex."

"So, no, then?"

"Oh, we can go to the café; however, you may find it disconcerting for Mary to ask you thirty or forty questions before we even place our order. She's astonishingly nosy."

Hermione chuckled, low and rich. "I think I can handle her."

"If you insist." Severus Summoned his boots, glad to be magically strong enough again after all this time, and shoved his feet into them. "Tea, instead? It's only half three, so supper seems a ways off."

"True. Tea, then. You're a snob about it, so I imagine your café has a high-quality selection."

"I am not a snob; I simply refuse to accept troll-quality swill." Severus swung his cloak around him and opened the door. "After you."

--

2 February

Severus,

I'm sorry she decided to focus on harassing you rather than me, but I do think you ought to go make amends, if your other choice is troll-quality swill. Enclosed are a replacement shirt since I couldn't get the chocolate out of that one--though, honestly, you might have been a bit less bold in your reaction--and a supply of merely dreadful-quality tea.

Hermione

--

7 February

Hermione,

This tea is only up to the level of dreadfulness by virtue of the fact that it is strong and has a stimulant effect. Else, I would only serve it to trolls if I wanted to kill them slowly.

The shirt is an acceptable replacement; however, it wasn't necessary. I'm fairly sure my altercation with Mary was my own doing. Except insofar as you dragging me out to supper. Perhaps next time we should venture further afield.

I have, for what it's worth, made an attempt to 'make amends,' since one day of indigestion from the other place was quite enough.

S. Snape

--

"Are you here?"

Severus heard Hermione calling from the front door, and went around from the side of the little cottage. "I've decided to put in a kitchen garden," he said. "Thus reducing my reliance on restaurants in general. I've got a late start, but at least it will be something, and I've hopes that a certain witch I know, or her friends, are expert enough in herbology to help me maintain it even if the season goes unusually late."

"Ah." She pursed her lips. "I suppose you and Mary are still at odds?"

"Just a bit."

"Sorry."

He shrugged. "It's not really to do with you."

"Yes it is."

"I suppose." He took a step back and leaned his shovel against the side of the cottage. "Shall we go in?"

"Eager, are you?"

"No, dirty."

She smirked. "And that's bad, in your estimation?"

He rolled his eyes. "Child."

"I'm not sure what that makes you, but I think you object less than you pretend."

"Perhaps. Might we discuss this further in the shower?"

She gestured toward the door. "After you."

--

"Do you really abhor it so?" Her voice was quiet in the humid dark of his bedroom over the sound of his rough breaths. He lay on his back, gasping still, his skin cooling pleasantly in the evening air.

He swallowed hard and took one more deep breath before trying to answer. "I don't think I said I abhored anything. But--"

"Never mind. I'm trying to be clever. To put your own words back at you. Do you remember?"

He frowned. "I did ask you that, once, didn't I?"

"Three years ago. Three years today, actually. Of course. I remember because it was the second time you were still really alert, afterward, and the first time, you'd been sort of startled, I think, that you hadn't passed out."

"The early years were difficult."

She snorted, a sharp sound that was followed immediately by the tremor underneath him of her giggle. "That's one word," she said after a moment.

"Yes, well, I was the one who lived those years, and it's the word I choose. But if your question is, do I abhor that you come here and get in my bed and please me, several times a year, I have to say I do not. Most especially the times, so far totaling one, that you show up both afternoon and evening."

"You did, at first. Abhor it, or at least, dislike it."

He turned his head toward her, even though all he could really make out in the dim moonlight was the rough shape of pale skin and the dark mass of her hair falling over her shoulder as she lay on her side to face him. "At first, Hermione, I'd no reason to be certain it was ever not going to hurt. And it wasn't, precisely, fun, before you capitulated and allowed me to try to make it entertaining."

"I didn't capitulate. You forced my hand."

"You were ill. I thought if I didn't do something to make the situation bearable, and we didn't complete the task, you'd revive me again just so you could kill me. And I didn't think I could take that twice."

She snorted again, then still. "So, there's something…"

"Ah, here it is. You've come here twice in one day for some reason."

"Yes, though I don't know if it will have occurred to you what the reason is."

"Profound and deep inability to separate yourself from me for more than a few moments? No, wait, I'm to guess likely reasons, I imagine."

"Ah, but you're not terribly far from right. But then, you've never been a fool, have you?" She shrugged, knocking loose the hair over her shoulder. "I just don't quite know how to explain."

"I've been told, by reliable sources, that the place to begin a story is at the beginning."

"I've heard that. So, I went to see Bill."

"Weasley?"

"Yes. To learn more about the potion Ron suggested. That time. To understand the mechanism of it."

He said nothing. The conclusion was obvious, but then, she'd surprised him a number of times, and he'd decided long ago that attempting to guess at her motives and intentions was relatively futile.

"I undertook this project when I was eighteen, you know. And I know you understand that sometimes the way things look at eighteen when one is in a bind and short resources, that can be misleading."

That seemed to be confirmation, but he remained silent.

"No comment?"

"Are you finished?"

"No."

"Then, no."

"Severus Snape, I believe you've actually learned patience."

"Change is how we know we are alive," he said, and though he couldn't quite keep the grimness out of his voice entirely, he was pleased that he didn't sound angry.

"This is what I'm saying, too, I suppose. Anyway, so Bill and I looked again at all the stuff I used to cobble together the spell in the first place. It isn't as though there's a standard book of spells, level one, for this sort of thing. Sex magic is always a bit invented."

"I… see." He frowned. Why was she working on the spell again now?

"We've concluded it would be possible to use the potion to transfer the spell from you to you, just as it would have been to transfer it to Ron."

He half sat up, propping himself on an elbow and turning toward her. "But you said that would reverse the direction of influence--"

"I did, yes."

"Then by all rational standards, you shouldn't." He paused. "And being a bloody Gryffindor, I'm going to guess you already did."

"Possibly. Here's the thing. We won't know whether it worked without not having sex, next time."

"Which you're leaving up to me."

"In theory, because it's still both of us, it should mostly make us both ill if we don't. But not kill us. We're pretty sure--Bill and I, and actually Fleur concurs--"

"You've discussed our relationship with Fleur?"

"Quite a bit, actually; she's comparatively better at reserving judgment than anyone else I know. She told Ron to get stuffed and made him listen, which was a relief since they're family and all. And, er, she's possibly a better resource than your dreadful library novels."

"Which I've stopped needing to read, thank you, as I now have access to personal experience and experimentation. But you were saying, about what you and the Weasleys have decided? Since you've clearly taken a page out of Potter's book and gone ahead with this foolish thing."

"Oh. We're pretty sure that the duplication of the participants would merely make it a binding charm. An annoying one, since most of them don't actually make you ill if you don't have sex on specific days but rather just require your continuing relationship, but an improvement, in that no one would die if we found ourselves, say, distracted until after midnight. We could cure ourselves by simply having sex, though we might have to do it several times if we'd really managed to leave it too long."

"The horror."

"Well, it might be, if we waited a month or some such. We'd have to have Harry come move us like dolls."

Severus pulled a face. "Please never offer such a dreadful image again."

"Sorry. But in any case, I imagine that's fairly avoidable, barring very unusual circumstances."

"And Weasley did the maths?"

"Initially. And then, besides Fleur, he had Bauer to look at his numbers, and Klimek to look at the theory behind the potion and the original incantation and elements. Which, yes, I did write down at the time."

Severus considered. "Klimek's good. Bauer--in Munich, I assume? Yes, Bauer's the least creative human I've ever met, but at least he's methodical and thorough." He reached back for his wand and lit the candle in the sconce. He wanted to see her as she spoke. "So, what do you suggest?"

"I suggest we go on as we have been, if on slightly more equal terms."

"Slightly?"

"Well, yes. In that you're not stuck waiting to die if I don't show up, and I'm not entirely in charge of your day, four times a year."

He shook his head. "I'd rather not take any chances."

"What do you mean?"

"I'd rather…" He paused. "If we're going to be having a relationship of equals, I'd rather we had one."

"One what?"

"A relationship." He pressed his lips together. "That is, if you only want what we've had, then of course, I can't change--"

"You want…" She propped herself up on her elbow, as well. "Such as, what, dates?"

"Dates. Sex. Chocolate under a blanket on a cold night." He felt his face heating, so he stopped, but she grinned, slow and broad, and he blushed more. "Well, I'm hardly going to ask anyone else to tolerate me at this late date," he mumbled. "And we've been doing this for seven years."

"I see. You've gone sappy in your advancing age."

"Too-prevalent Gryffindor influence," he grumbled. "And nothing to counteract it but a slightly-insane elf, who is not to be emulated."

She reached down and plucked his wand out of his hand and used it to douse the light. "I don't want to find someone else to tolerate me, either." She tossed the wand to the floor and yanked at the sheet to cover them both as she moved in close.

"Then I suppose I'll have to make the sacrifice," he murmured.

"We both will. Often enough to never have to involve Ha--"

"Don't say it."

He felt her grin against his chest, and tugged the blanket more firmly into place.