Author's Notes: Beta-ed by t_geyer, alwaysJBJ and Bambu.
She nodded to Harry as she left the tent just after dusk, her towel slung over her shoulder. She turned sharply, making her way through undergrowth until she left the dell where she and the Chosen One were staying overnight. When she found a clearing, she cast the same protective spells that she normally performed when they made camp. After this, she Transfigured a rock into a deep, claw-footed bath and filled it with water from her wand. A Warming Charm raised the water temperature as she stripped off layers of jumpers that would have been better for a few more trips to the laundry and a few less Tergeos.
She took off her boots, standing on them while she stripped off her jeans, knickers and socks. She stepped into the tub before removing her blouse and bra and sitting down. Sliding under the water's surface, she held her breath, her hair spreading out across the meniscus like ochre seaweed drifting in the tide. She stayed that way until the burning in her lungs forced her to lift her face above the surface.
She luxuriated in the water's heat, allowing it to seep into her bones, slowly dispelling the Dementor-induced chill and the coldness of both Ron's desertion and Harry's increasing self-isolation. She lay there, basking in the warmth, as the sky darkened to indigo and the stars shimmered in the rising steam.
Just as the skin of her fingertips began to resemble the texture of a prune, the crow landed on the tub's lip and almost at the same instant a sprig of night-blooming jasmine blossoms dropped into the tub.
Hermione sat up, instinctively crossing her arms across her breasts. She drew up her knees and pushed her damp curls back. Then she peered at the bird's ankle, but her face fell when she saw there was no message. "Noctis?" Surely a normal crow wouldn't come so close.
The crow tilted its head to one side and cawed raucously.
"You have more than one correspondent who uses a crow?" asked a mellifluous voice from behind her and to one side.
"Severus?" Hermione twisted in the tub, spilling water over the sides. "We didn't arrange anything. How—"
"Phineas. You mentioned your approximate location when he could hear," Severus explained, drawing back his hood as he approached. "I Apparated with Noctis, who then guided me past your wards."
"Severus! Anyone could do that. We're not safe."
"You are just as safe now as you were a week ago," he assured her. "Only an exceptional bird would be able to penetrate your wards, and I was only able to follow because I knew you were close by."
Hermione caught her lower lip between her teeth, and Severus knew that she would spend a proportion of the next few days trying to work out how to improve their wards further. "That's how you're here. Now tell me why."
Severus crouched by the edge of the tub, using one hand on its edge to steady himself and the other to gently tilt Hermione's chin upward so that he could claim a kiss. "Reason enough?" he asked in a husky rumble.
Hermione's arms wrapped around his shoulders as she laid herself open to his caress, but though her eyes were slightly glazed when they drew apart, her acumen was undiminished. "Enough for my part, but for you..." She gently shook her head.
"I would travel further than one Apparation's measure to claim such a reward, if my time were my own," Severus demurred.
"But it's not," Hermione pointed out with a rueful grin. "So what brings you here?"
"Very well, my know-it-all." Severus drew a fingertip from the bridge of her nose to its tip. "Dumbledore decided it was time to present your companion with Gryffindor's sword." His disdain was unmistakable.
Hermione gave a small snort of amusement. "Boys!"
"Boys?" Severus sneered.
"Boys," Hermione repeated calmly. "Harry, you, Lupin, even Dumbledore and You Know Who. Boys mired in old grudges and treating this war like a game, every one."
Severus scowled, but it never reached his eyes. "Where is Potter?"
"Half a mile that way." Hermione nodded her head.
"I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to cut short your Ophelia impression, delightful as I find it, even in spite of your continued reluctance to spend any of that money I gave you on food," Severus chided. "Potter needs to believe that you're safe in bed."
"Harry would get suspicious," Hermione protested. "My savings aren't completely gone, but we stopped buying food on a regular basis within the first couple of months."
"I don't give a damn what you tell Potter. Tell him you found a wallet in the street. Tell him you've been selling your skinny arse outside King's Cross. Just eat something. You were too thin, even when you were at Hogwarts."
"Pot, kettle," Hermione said with a disparaging glance at his black-draped form before she ducked her head under the water. "Make yourself useful and Summon my shampoo," she ordered in a gentle tone when she resurfaced.
"As you wish," Severus replied with amusement in his voice. He held the bottle just out of her reach. "If you promise to eat more."
Hermione pressed her body against his, stretching her arm toward the bottle. When his lips again met hers, she surrendered to his strength, drawing him to her until his arms responded in kind.
The bottle splashed into the tub unnoticed, his wand hand pressing against the small of her back to bind her to him, and his other winding itself in her wet tresses to control the angle of their kiss. With every sweep of his tongue against hers he marked her as his. Raw magic surged over them both in a coruscation of pastel fairy lights before he let her go and swept away.
"Finish washing," he snapped, his back to her. "I will walk you back as far as it is safe."
Hermione swallowed, burying her pain deep in her chest, just as she drew their combined saliva into her throat. She hurried through the motions of washing, drying, and dressing in marginally cleaner clothes. She knew he acted this way, not because he didn't care, but because he did.
She banished the bath water and returned the tub to its original form. Taking her place at Severus's side she held out a hand and he took it, twining their fingers loosely together.
All they had, or could ever have, was shadows and darkness. They both knew that what they shared would shatter into a million pieces if it was examined in the harsh light of day. Until Voldemort was destroyed, all they would ever have was the night.
Author's Notes: Beta-ed by geyer, alwaysJBJ and Bambu. Could be from the same 'verse as Noctis