For two hours the ceiling hadn't changed in the least amount, no matter how hard he stared at it. His conundrum seemed to bounce back and forth between his mind and his heart. Why was she attracted to him? He definitely had feelings for the girl. She was intelligent. She was studious. She was industrious. All qualities that he admired. They got along extremely well and despite the fact that he had unilaterally set the schedule they followed, she had told him that her life was perfect. She had kissed him - something he had not initiated nor expected. He was still completely baffled by her action, but there it was, a data point to be considered with all the others. If he thought about it too long his heart overcame his mind, a state he could not tolerate, and each time that confusion arose, he diverted those feelings by reiterating all the reasons why she couldn't possibly be attracted to him.
He was twenty years her senior. His past was a morass of shady dealings with evil people. Even Dumbledore had not known everything that he had been forced to do. And the coup-de-gras: he could very easily be deluding himself because, at least right now, he would die without her. That threw a monkey wrench into his perspective on his own motivations. Was it possible that his feelings were actually centered on his real physical need to be near her? And if that were true, it would be completely unfair to Hermione to begin a relationship on false premises.
Then, there was the physical attraction. Laying in bed right now, he found it difficult not to remember the few brief times she had shared it with him. But best not dwell on that particular point. That would simply confuse the issues further.
Why was she attracted to him?
And round and round his thoughts whirled, sloshing between his heart and his mind. He recognized that he was mentally going around in circles, but on each round he hoped some new bit of information would surface that would allow him to logically reconcile all his questions and concerns.
But nothing came. The seconds became minutes became hours and, hoping for a resolution, the time he usually arose and started his day came and went. He should have been studying in the library, but forewent that task in an attempt to work his way through this enigma. Staring at the ceiling wasn't helping at all. Winky would be serving breakfast soon and the shop would be opening after that. He couldn't waste any more time laying in bed trying to sort through his thoughts.
Hermione stretched under her warm, luxurious blankets. She felt, rather than heard, Crookshanks begin purring. Smiling, she realized she felt the same way. She had taken a chance last night and it had paid off in spades. And she had been surprised at the strength of her feelings for her former professor. She supposed the moonlight had been an instigating factor. It had been a rather romantic situation, now that she thought about it.
Excited to see Severus again and, to tell the truth - sneak another kiss - she gave Crooks a thorough rub on his face, slipped out of bed and headed for the shower. She made short work of her morning routine and headed toward the wardrobe for a fresh set of robes. Dressing, she glanced at the wardrobe that held the Mirror of Erised and contemplated the last image it had shown her. How could the mirror know more about her than she did? Or maybe she just hadn't figured herself out yet?
She slipped out of her quarters and headed down the hall. As usual, she had about an hour before breakfast. Later in the day she planned on practicing shaping her Shield charm in the greenhouse, but this morning she wanted to review the formula for the Wolfsbane Potion.
Entering the library, she anticipated seeing Severus there, as always, already at his desk and studying some book or other, or making notes on the ever present parchments at hand. She stopped. His chair was empty. She paused, confused and disappointed. Since she had become his apprentice he had always been in the library before she arrived. Except for today.
She sincerely doubted that he had overslept. Perhaps she was just a bit early? She cast a clock charm. No, that was not the case. Of course, this could not be a coincidence. He was having second thoughts about what happened last night. But shouldn't she as well? It had happened so unexpectedly and it could quickly escalate into an untenable situation, living together at they were. Doubts now shadowed her own thoughts.
Sitting down at her desk, she Summoned one of his rare herbals from the stacks of books that constituted their library. Since Severus was not there, she could not inquire after the formula for Wolfsbane Potion so she decided to see if she could find any information about Silver Aconite instead. At least she had intended to. She found her thoughts drawn to her present dilemma.
There was no other man alive that she admired more than Severus Snape. Shouldn't they take a chance that this might work? Or was it another problem? One that she did not want to face? He had responded to her kisses last night, well - early this morning - but did that mean he no longer loved Lily Potter? Was that why he was not in the library this morning? Would she have to compete against a ghost? No one could triumph against such an adversary. She felt her heart constrict within her chest.
Or was it something else? He had seemed amenable, agreeing to addressing each other on a first name basis. Was that not a concession to some small feeling for her on his part? Along with the kisses? One thing she was sure of - there was something there, even if only the tiniest spark. She would have to just have to calm down and not over analyze the situation . . . oh.
She was waiting at the kitchen table. He hesitated in the doorway and almost retreated back down the hall except that she turned and saw him standing there. The smile that lit her face acted like a magnet and drew him forward.
"Good morning, Severus."
Winky appeared with their breakfast and he sat down across from her, as usual, and tried to covertly watch her as she filled her plate. He followed suit and continued to glance at her as they ate. She seemed so happy. Could this be because of him? And if so, how was that even possible?
"You weren't in the library this morning," she said after munching down a sausage.
"I had some things to think about."
"Miss Granger, I think that 'us' might be a mistake."
"Hermione. And that's precisely the problem. You're thinking too much." He looked into her warm brown eyes that were so confident of what she saying. She smiled up at him again, that shiny happiness burnishing her face. "I suspect you couldn't quite figure out what to do?"
He remained silent, pretending to focus on his breakfast but intensely listening to her every word. He had spent the entire night in just that quandary.
"Hm. Thought so," she said. "The solution is quite simple, really. We don't have enough information to verify a relational hypothesis."
"Do you really think I haven't been doing the same thing? We have that in common, Severus. We prefer to analyze our way through a dilemma. The problem in this case - we simply don't have enough data points at present."
A small half-smile emerged, beyond his control, when she used the words 'data points.'
"So you are suggesting we gather more evidence?"
"Precisely," she continued, a lovely smirk forming on her lips. "And we'll have to run a few experiments to gather that evidence, don't you think? We don't have to make any decisions right now."
It certainly sounded logical. His eyes sought her face again, the lovely smile still played upon her lips and he figured out one thing right then. He would do anything in the world to keep it there, even if it meant he had to accept that she was attracted to him, as unbelievable an event as that was. He nodded.
"Good!" she said, pushing away from the table and standing. "I've got a few items to restock on the floor before the customers arrive." She walked around the table and stood next to him. Then, leaning down, she found his lips for a quick kiss. She whispered into his ear. "Data point, you understand."
He couldn't resist. A genuine smile graced his lips and he looked up at her. That earned him another quick kiss. Or rather, data point. He watched as she headed for the shop.
Amazingly, she seemed happy interacting with him in this way. He still couldn't see how that could even be possible. How could he be so fortunate? Physically, at least for now, he depended on her for his very life. But one thing was becoming imminently clear - even if he didn't need her to live, he would have no life without her.
He quickly polished off the rest of his breakfast and found her at the counter finishing up the potion they kept on a constant simmer to entice their customers. As he came up beside her, she turned and looked up at him. He bent down and placed a kiss soundly upon her lips.
"Data point," he murmured and her smile was like sunshine.
Hermione frowned in fierce concentration and lifted her wand again. Severus had insisted on handling the customers this morning so that she could practice. Imagining a large funnel, wide opening, narrow exit, she cast her Shield spell. Holding that steady, she cast Aguamenti and the water sloshed downward showering a wide circle around the Silver Aconite. She sighed.
"Well, that's better than your first try," a deep voice said behind her. She couldn't help but smile up at him as he moved next to her. She felt like a grinning fool, but she couldn't stop herself.
"Try concentrating solely on shaping the Shield charm. I'll add the water," he said.
Hermione raised her wand and cast the spell again. She focused on forming the funnel, staring at the empty space above the Silver Aconite until her eyes watered.
"Aguamenti," Severus cast the spell.
Except for a bit of sloshing about when the water first hit her Shield, the rest of it swirled downward and was deposited right at the roots of the plant.
"Unacceptable," they both chorused at the same time, followed by a smirk on each of their lips.
The next time she nailed it. Severus looked pleased and that thrilled her to no end.
"Why do I need to learn to Summon the water at the same time I shape the Shield?" she asked.
He looked a bit puzzled.
"I suppose you don't," he replied. "I had to learn to cast the spells simultaneously because I didn't have anyone else to assist me."
"Might it work better if we did it together? Especially since calling Mnemosyne water might prove difficult?"
"That would be more efficient, I believe."
"We could try right now, couldn't we?" she asked. A soft chime sounded.
"Apparently not. I'll get it," he said, turning to go. "You keep practicing that Shield charm. Get Winky to conjure the water for you."
She snagged his sleeve before he got out of range and tugged. Frowning, he turned back to her.
"Data point?" she queried, tugging again. He smiled - would she ever grow tired of seeing that? - and then he leaned down toward her. One kiss, a peck, really. Then a second and that one definitely had more feeling behind it. Another chime sounded.
She nodded and watched as he headed for the kitchen, black robes swirling behind him. She sighed.
It became very busy after lunch and Miss Granger . . . Hermione . . . joined him to wait on customers. He couldn't seem to stop his eyes from roving toward her every few minutes or so. Most of the time when he did, her eyes met his and she smiled at him. This was still all so unreal for him. It was as if he had to keep checking to ensure his senses weren't lying to him.
The steady stream of customers didn't let up until they closed. Hermione was laying out ingredients for tomorrow's potion when a soft knock sounded. That would be Healer Pye, Snape thought as he approached the front door.
As soon as he let the man into the shop, Snape suddenly became wary, remembering their previous conversations. When they approached the counter where Hermione was working she looked up at him with one of those lovely smiles. He threw a sidelong glance at Pye - the Healer's face lit up when he saw Hermione's reaction to Snape's presence. There was no way Pye wouldn't notice the look on her face. Oh, hell.
"Healer Pye, Miss Hermione Granger," he said, introducing his apprentice. Pye offered his hand which Hermione shook warmly.
"We met while Mr. Weasley was recovering from that nasty bite after Nagini attacked him," Hermione explained. "How are you, Healer?"
"I'm am well, Miss Granger, and yourself?"
"Very well, indeed," she replied and glanced up again at Snape, her cheeks turning a telling shade of pink.
"I can see that," Pye responded and Snape, shifting uncomfortably, felt the Healer's eyes staring at him.
"Healer Pye is here to consult with me on a potion formulation for one of his patients," Snape said, stepped around the counter and headed back to the hall to access his lab. Pye followed him and, much to his chagrin, so did Hermione. Now what was he to do? He didn't want her there but at the same time she was his apprentice - how could he legitimately exclude her? At the door to the potions lab, Pye came to his rescue.
"Miss Granger, my apologies. Despite your apprenticeship, I have to maintain confidentiality for my patient and need to speak with Severus alone. I hope you understand?"
Her eyes flicked to Snape's face and he met her gaze stoically.
"I do understand, Healer," she said and looked up at Snape again. "Should I have Winky keep a plate warm for you?"
Before he could answer, Pye again took charge of the situation.
"Again, I must apologize, Miss Granger, but I will be taking Severus out for dinner tonight. I need to pick his brain about a few other problems I'm dealing with at St. Mungos."
She appeared crestfallen and he felt a bit guilty leaving her here by herself just after they had decided to test out a relationship. For a brief moment he thought she was going to step closer and kiss him, but she glanced shyly at Pye and apparently thought better of it.
"Then I'll let Winky know of your plans, Severus," she said, seemingly using his given name as a replacement for physical affection. She turned down the hall and headed for the kitchen. The two men entered the potions lab.
Even before Snape could get the door closed, the anticipated, but unwanted, conversation began.
"What do you mean, the girl's not in love with you?" Pye demanded. "From what I understand you are an excellent Legilimens. How can I discern what you cannot?"
"It is a recent development, Pye. This relationship is not even twenty-four hours old and I am still baffled as to why she wants to have one with me. Her wits must be addled."
"Nevertheless, Severus, I suspect she must have had feelings for you before your relationship began. I think you have your answer."
"Then why am I not healed? The situation remains the same: I'm fine when I'm around her, but rapidly become ill when we're apart."
Pye pulled his wand and ran the usual diagnostics.
"Maybe you are healed, Severus. These numbers are perfect. According to this data, you're not ill at all. Maybe this new relationship did the trick?"
The wave of skepticism that washed over Snape's face must have communicated doubt to the Healer and the man sighed.
"This is why I decided to take you to dinner - to get some observation time away from Miss Granger. Let's go."
"Best to use the front door. I'd rather not disturb Miss Granger any further."
Snape and Pye made their way back through the shop and to the cobble street outside. The nearly full moon was just rising above the horizon and Snape found himself distracted, remembering the look on Hermione's face just before she kissed him under that very same moon.
"Leaky Cauldron, back entrance," Pye said. Snape nodded and heard the smart pop when the Healer Disapparated just as he himself turned on his heel. They both Apparated to an alley behind the wizarding pub and Pye paused before entering the back door. He cast another diagnostic.
"You're already starting to decline."
"Yes. Well, that takes care of your theory. I'm hungry so let's get something to eat before I get worse," Snape said as he strode into the pub.
Taking a seat in a dark corner booth they signaled to the proprietor and Tom approached to take their order. They both selected bubble and squeak, a meal that could be prepared very quickly, and a couple of butter beers. Healer Pye fished in his robes and pulled out quill and parchment. He surveyed the nearby clientele, covertly cast his diagnostic again and then started writing down the results. Every few minutes, as Tom brought them their dinner, as they ate their meal and drank their butter beers, Pye cast his diagnostics and scribbled down each set of numbers.
Snape eyed the Healer as his attention flitted back and forth from his meal to his data. Although he was grateful for the man's help, he felt that Pye's theory about Hermione could not be correct. His concerns from the night surfaced again. Her seeming attraction to him was completely incomprehensible to his mind. He was too old for her and as ugly as a mud fence. How could she possibly be attracted to him? He didn't think he could ever be comfortable in this relationship until he figured that out. His spirits, along with his strength, ebbed.
"Hmph. You're dipping lower and lower. You must be feeling it by now?"
"Yes, I am feeling tired," he agreed and quickly finished the last bit of his dinner. "Time to go. I'll get this." When Pye opened his mouth to protest, Snape added, "You missed dinner with your family to monitor me. It's the least I can do."
Snape felt his legs weaken as he strode across the pub to settle their bill with Tom. He wasn't sure he would have the strength to Apparate and disliked the idea of asking Healer Pye's assistance again. He handed a sickle to Tom and the proprietor attempted to hand him change.
"Keep it," Snape said quickly. "May I use your hearth to Floo?"
"Certainly, Severus," Tom replied. "More than welcome."
Snape nodded thanks to the pub owner and Healer Pye followed him along to the fireplace.
"You'll be in for your weekly checkup on Monday morning?" he asked Snape.
"I should be."
The Healer hesitated. His voice was low when he next addressed his patient.
"It's not taking advantage if you feel the same way about her, Severus."
With a pinch of Floo Powder in hand, Snape paused, looking at the Healer. He mulled over what Pye had said and then nodded. Tossing the powder into the fireplace, he stated his destination and stepped into the emerald flames.
Dizzy from his trip in the Floo, Snape grabbed at the mantel as he stepped out into his kitchen. He took a moment to steady himself. Hermione would be in the library now and he quickly went to find her.
The look on her face when he entered the library was intense, but he couldn't see that she had even a clue that there was anything physically wrong with him. As he stood in the doorway he felt his strength begin to return. He leaned against the jamb, giving himself a moment to recover. Her gaze softened and he felt drawn to her. One step and then another, he eased toward her. He wanted to kiss her. Was it because he was feeling better the closer he came? Now he was standing beside her, she was looking up at him. Did he want to kiss her because of these data points she wanted to collect? He leaned down toward her. She stretched up, smiling. When their lips met, he knew the reason. He just wanted to.
Although he was feeling much better, being so close to her, it seemed that his brain was fried. He needed more time to think.
"I believe I'll retire early this evening, Hermione," he informed her. She looked disappointed when he left and he promised himself he would make it up to her tomorrow.