Do not worry about The Prophet.
Do not panic about school.
Do not question your abilities.
If you are able to, pick up your books and come to mine. You can work at my desk and I can reassure you when you find yourself questioning your lesson plans. Besides, I want to see you. I hate reading your words when they are so distressed. Come to me and let me help you.
Hermione felt a small smile grace her face as she read Severus’ note, the swiftness of its return having comforted her.
It had not been long since Minerva, her face grim with concern, had appeared at her chamber door with a copy of The Daily Prophet and shown her the article on the front page. Hermione had blushed when she had seen the moving image of her and Severus engaging in the sweet goodnight kiss they had shared the night before but the initial embarrassment had turned swiftly to dread. She knew Severus valued his privacy and kept himself away from the limelight as best he could but there was no escaping the revelation of their relationship. She had cursed the paper and its editors for publicising something so new but her concern was more that the publicity would spell doom for them.
Minerva had left her with offers of a shoulder to cry on if it was needed and Hermione had seen the elder woman’s trepidation as she closed the door. She had contemplated going to Severus but she had feared to see his face when he saw the article and instead, she had torn the front cover from the paper and sent it to him wrapped him in a brief note begging him not to be angry.
The letter in her hand had been his response and the weight within her had lifted considerably. She frowned though as she looked down at her clothes, the frayed flannel pyjama bottoms and ratty sweater she wore testament to her day spent trying to ward off the cold of the dungeon as she worked. She contemplated changing but she didn’t want to arrive looking too put together, Ron often having berated her for not looking perfect everyday and she wanted Severus to accept her on her off days as much as he did when she made an effort.
She flipped the parchment over, adding her response to the back before she sent it through the floo, his response sailing back to her within moments on the same paper.
I am practically in my pyjamas and not fit to be seen by mankind.
You could wear a burlap sack and I would still think you the loveliest thing in my dreary old home. I am currently sporting several shades of dust and cobwebs that I am sure will happily complement your attire anyway.
Hermione had giggled at the response, summoning all her notes to her and stuffing them into her bag, hefting it onto her shoulder as she extinguished the flames and stepped into the fire grate. She took up a handful of floo powder and tossed it down to her feet as she called out his address, shrieking as she was pulled into the rushing network.
She all but rolled out onto the hearthrug at Spinner’s End, dignity impossible to muster as she struggled to her feet with a pained cough. Familiar, strong hands came to steady her, a muttered charm clearing the soot from her skin and helping her to breath a little easier. Before she could thank him, he had tilted her face to his, warm lips capturing her own in a gentle, reassuring kiss. She smiled softly as he released her, his forehead coming to rest against hers as he spoke.
“Does that disabuse you of the notion that I am even the slightest bit angered that the Prophet chose to run that article about us?” he asked.
Hermione nodded, knotting her fingers into his hair where it fell against his shoulder and her other hand resting over his heart, “I just wish I realised someone had followed us,” she said, “That was our moment; I didn’t want to share it with anyone else.”
“We will have many more goodnight kisses, I’m sure,” said Severus, “And the world was going to find out sooner or later. I’m sure I am the envy of many to be seen with you in my arms.”
Hermione blushed but smiled all the same, “I’ve hardly been fighting off the suitors,” she said, “Not that anyone would stand in comparison to you. Thank you for taking this so well.”
Severus stepped back from her arms, taking hold of her hands in his, “I was angry at them,” he said, “But never at you. I just hate that they won’t allow you some space. I was little more prepared to respond when I got your note though; I’d seen the article before you sent it. I had a visit this morning from a certain Mr Potter who was intent on defending your honour.”
“Harry was here,” said Hermione before her face fell, “He doesn’t visit me. You two didn’t argue did you? He can be so stubborn and you can be too.”
Severus shook his head, “We had words but we parted as friends,” he said, “We…”
He turned abruptly from her arms as one of the bookshelves beside the fireplace gave an almighty crack, only a very swift spell from him keeping the books from tumbling to the ground as the wooden splintered in two.
“This is what I get for moving things,” he muttered, a wave of his wand sending the books through the air into the waiting box beside the sofa before he took hold of the most precarious piece of wood and tugged it from its fixings, “I swear this place is staying up by force of will alone.”
“Can I help?” said Hermione.
Severus shook his head, “You have your own work to do,” he said, a brief spell reducing the shelf in his hand to kindling before he set some of it on the fire and the rest in the basket beside it, “I meant what I said about you being able to get things done here. Instead of writing to me every time you feel anxious, you can just speak to me and I can help you with whatever is bothering you. You will be fine though, I know you will.”
Hermione smiled, “I wonder if Minerva realises she has you to thank for the fact she still has a Potions Mistress,” she said, “Without your support I would have chucked this in by now.”
“Well I’m glad you haven’t,” said Severus, leaving the shelves to nudge her gently in the back towards his desk, “Now, on you get and we’ll see what needs addressing when you come to it. I’ll make you some tea.”
Hermione watched him as he headed towards the small kitchen, feeling an odd little twist in her heart that had the smile on her face softening to something more akin to adoration but she pushed it aside, scared to entertain the notion of how much she already felt for him. She took her books from her bag in an effort to distract herself, arranging them on his desk and turning to her work as she heard him busying himself in the kitchen.
The tea he brought her was cold by the time she even realised he had even placed it at her elbow but it was only a passing realisation as she slammed her quill down on her parchment with a groan, rubbing the heels of her hands into her eyes.
“I am not qualified to teach this subject,” she groused.
“What’s bothering you?” said Severus, leaving the books he was still neatly packing and coming to her side, his hand resting on the desk to lean over her.
“I can’t remember the correct method for the hiccoughing potion,” said Hermione, “It’s a bloody first year potion and I can’t remember how to brew it. How can I possibly teach it?”
Severus was silent and Hermione looked up at him, seeing his dark eyes scanning the page she had been writing on before he met her gaze with a frown.
“When did you last sleep?” he asked, tucking a finger to underneath her chin to better examine her face.
“I got an hour or two last night,” said Hermione, “I just had so much to do…”
“You are so unfailingly Gryffindor,” said Severus though there was no venom in his words, “And you have no sense of self preservation. You need to sleep or you will be of no use to anyone. You cannot recall a basic potion because you are exhausted. You’ve even spelt the name of your subject wrong twice on this paper.”
“What?” said Hermione, flushing as she noticed the errors on the page, “How could I…?”
“You are tired,” said Severus, “And the only remedy is sleep.”
Hermione shook her head, “I can’t,” she said, “I have to plan the lessons and then Poppy needs some potions made up for the infirmary.”
“Then write me a list and I will begin them,” said Severus, “I’m rather well practised as I provided them for many years myself. Before you argue with me, I will say this. We may not have yet decided how we a defining ourselves in relation to one another but whilst you and I are together as we are, I am your partner and I will always be the first in line to help you. Now, upstairs with you, I will wake you in a few hours.”
Hermione smiled as she glanced towards the doorway and then back up to him, “Are you inviting me into your bed, my darling?” she said, giggling as she saw the colour heighten in his cheeks.
“It will lack my presence for the time being though,” he said, before his smile grew wicked, “For the purpose is for you to rest and should I join you…”
“Tease,” admonished Hermione as he failed to finish his sentence, “I doubt I’d be much use to you now anyway. I feel like I could sleep for a week.”
“Then away with you,” said Severus, pressing a kiss to her cheek before stepping back to allow her to get to her feet, “I’ll come and wake you in a while.”
“Thank you,” said Hermione, “There’s a list of the potions Poppy needs in my notebook but don’t let it take you away from anything else you need to do.”
“It’s that or packing, so it’s a welcome break,” he said, “Now go or I will come with you purely to make sure you do sleep.”
Hermione was tempted to ask him to do just that but her courage fled her. Instead, she kissed him quickly before turning to the door, not daring to look back at him as she headed to the stairs and the bedrooms above.