Severus woke the next morning and walked in to the kitchen, as he smelled breakfast. Hermione had been quietly cooking much to his surprise. On the table were a plate of bacon and toast and a hot glass kettle of tea and two waiting cups. Hermione never turned to face Severus.
“Good morning.” She said as she finished with the eggs and served an even amount for the both of them. She gave him his plate and sat across from Severus and poured herself some tea. “What is on the agenda for today?” She asked, as she looked him in the eye. Severus could see the sadness in her eyes but chose not to say anything. How badly he wanted to just scoop her up right then.
“We will be harvesting ingredients today.” Severus took a sip of his tea and a bite of the bacon and eggs. It tasted remarkably well. For someone who could obviously cook it was a shame she was so thin.
“Where to exactly?”
“We will be going to Kielder forest.” At his answer Hermione nodded. It was a large forest in the North of England. They finished breakfast and cleaned up and got the necessary tools. After investigating some of the contraptions they were taking with then Hermione got a little worried.
“What exactly are we going to be doing?” Severus could hear the hesitancy in her voice.
“We need to extract some of the wildlife of their…body parts and organs for some of the potions.”
“Oh.” Was all she could say. They walked out of the back door and did a side along apparition to a remote part of the forest.
“We are going to do the hard part first. We need to find some red squirrels and ospreys and remove their organs. Catching them will be the hard part.” Severus removed his robes and rolled up his sleeves. “I will find them and you gut them. The jars are in the box and are already labeled. Please try not to mix them up.” Hermione opened both boxes and took out the jars and prepared them so that she could easily and quickly put the necessary organs in them. There were jars for hearts, lungs, spleens, eyes, livers, brains, talons, claws, feathers, beaks, and teeth for each of the respective animals.
There was another box of jars but she could tell whatever was inside would be of no use at the moment. Hermione watched as Severus moved quietly in the forest. He had an ingenious way of killing the animals. In his pockets were small stones that he would shoot like bullets at the animals. The stones would hit and stun them and they would fall and be carried off to Hermione who would make quick work of them. After three hours they had a good amount.
Severus helped Hermione defeather the ospreys and remove the fur from the red squirrels. When all was done they cleaned up and went to their next task, hunting deer. This was something Hermione was very adept at. Her father would frequently take her hunting. She suspected it was because he wanted a boy but it did not bother her. She grabbed her wand and did a silencing charm on her entire body and Severus’. Hermione and Severus walked through the forest until they came upon a stag eating berries off a bush. Hermione walked up behind the stag as close as was necessary and did a quick stunning charm on the animal. Severus levitated the stag and cut its throat to gather the blood. It took them an hour to properly break down the animal but when Severus was satisfied they returned to the house and stored the items then went to their rooms, stripped and showered.
Severus was surprised. He had expected her to be a little squeamish with what they were doing but she was not. He was not sure what it was. Was it the depression, which in turn caused her not to care? Was it the war that made her indifferent to seeing copious amounts of blood and guts? Or was it something else? He would bring this up at a later date.
In the meantime Severus got dressed and walked out of his room and ran in to Hermione who was stepping out of hers in simply a t-shirt, jeans, and moccasins.
“Headed to the library?” asked Severus.
“Yes sir.” She said meekly. Severus, now standing next to her, reached forward and swept a loose lock of hair behind her ear. He realized her skin was soft. The palm of his hand lingered on her cheek for a second before he removed it. “Always the know-it-all.” Severus did a slight smile and turned and headed down the stairs leaving Hermione standing at the landing.
For the second time Severus had touched her and it was a gentle one at that. Severus had also smiled at her. It was a faint one but a smile nonetheless. Hermione touched her cheek almost feeling his warm rough hand on it. She was happy for his touch and attention. Hermione quickly made her way to the library and picked out five books and set to reading on the sofa near the windows.
Much to his surprise Severus walked in to the library five hours later to find Hermione sound asleep with a book across her chest. She was peaceful in her sleep. Gently Severus removed the book and marked the page and set it aside with the others she was reading. Severus made to pick her up but Hermione, in her sleep, had pulled him down to her. Severus hovered over her form waiting for her grip to loosen. It didn’t but he watched her face go from calm to a frustrated look.
“Please, let me stay.” Was what she said in her sleep. Severus’ curiosity was peaked. Why exactly was she dreaming of him. It was then when Severus delved in to her dream. From a corner of what was once his chambers at Hogwarts Severus stood and watched the scene unfold.
“No, you mustn’t.” it was himself. He remembered this night. It was the first time he found her in his quarters. She had somehow gotten passed his wards and curled up on the wingback chair near the fireplace. Severus stood a few feet away with his arms crossed over he chest. “Mrs. Granger I suggest you leave now before I remove house points. This is an invasion of privacy as well as trespassing. I want you out now.”
“Please sir.” He could see she was desperate. Draco Malfoy had attacked her verbally and he would not leave her alone. So she went to the one place she knew Draco would never think to look for her. Severus knew exactly what was going on but still, having her there was not good. Especially her. He had found her beautiful, sexually attractive almost. She had invaded his dreams more than once. But to have her physically there was crossing the line. Severus stalked over to her grabbing her by the arm.
“You must leave now.” Severus could feel how thin and frail she was. He couldn’t understand how it was that she had survived thus far as the brains of the Golden Trio. Severus threw Hermione out and forced her to her rooms.
Severus pulled out of her mind and stared at the witch beneath him. She was still fast asleep. He could see the changes that had taken place since that night. She was much taller now and had a womanlier figure rather than that of a child. His efforts in making her eats three meals a day was working. She was no longer sallow and color returned to her skin, which had softened. Her grip had slackened some and Severus sat up and sat on the sofa besides her waiting for her to wake. It didn’t take long.
“Oh. I’m sorry sir.”
“It’s fine Hermione. You were talking in your sleep and sounded a little distressed. I thought I would just sit here just in case.” He said never looking at her. Hermione sat there staring at him. Why was he so kind to her?
“I don’t mean to sound mean sir but why are you being so kind to me? Why so caring?” Severus looked her in the eyes.
“I’ve always been caring Hermione. I just couldn’t be blatant about it. I can now, if that’s alright with you.” Hermione could see he was being honest. And she understood why he had acted the way he did when she was a student. He had to keep up an act.
“You still hold others away from you though.”
“That I do. It’s something I got used to doing. What’s your excuse?” Hermione opened her mouth about to say something but didn’t know exactly what to say. He had a point. She had shut everyone off from her.
“I have none.” She answered as she sat back. Severus patted her thigh as he looked up at her face. He could see the sadness in her eyes again. He couldn’t help himself this time as he picked her up and held her against him.
“Everything’s going to be alright Hermione.” He whispered in to her hair. Hermione wrapped her arms around his waist and buried her face in to his chest. Severus kissed the top of her head and held her until they both drifted off to sleep.