Disclaimer: I'm not muscling in on JK's turf - just gambolling on it, like a spring lamb, having fun working out the literary and psychological puzzles which she is having fun setting us
[Apologies for the long delay in updating, and for the fact that this is not a proper chapter, but only a chapter-ette. Over the last couple of years I seem to have spent more time working on my PC than doing work on it, if you see what I mean - two major upgrades; two hard-drive failures; two PSU failures; one CPU overheat; one flaky mainboard and a partridge in a pear tree - and Dyce has had a baby: a very happy event but one which leaves her little time for writing. In addition, all the chapters up to #23 had been at least partially written years ago so it was just a matter of stitching together what we already had and filling in the blanks, but now we are sailing into barely-charted territory for which all we have is a handful of rough notes, and the chapters have to be written almost from scratch.
We were intending to do a proper chapter for Christmas, but then Dyce's spousal other got the 'flu' and my PC folded completely, with the result that it had to go away to see an engineer and didn't come back until 7:30pm on Christmas Eve. So I decided to do this little stocking filler to let our faithful readers know that the story hasn't been abandoned and a new chapter is in progress and will be along soon, or at least once Dyce's daughter has finished teething.]
Ever since The Event last summer, the axis of awfulness, he had felt directionless and unstrung, like a dropped puppet. [Had been a puppet, dancing on the Dark Lord's strings. Latterly, dancing on the strings of anyone of his tormentors who ordered him to dance.] But right now feeling unstrung felt good, it felt like luxury, as he lay flopped across the bed and watched Hermione through the half-open bathroom door.
He smiled to himself, remembering that she had let him in - she had welcomed him in and made him one with her, she had accepted him at the most fundamental level, and he couldn't have kept from smiling if he'd wanted to. There was still a layer of misery and self-doubt in him which thought that it ought to think that this intromission, this penetration, was a dreadful thing he should never have done, least of all to someone he cared about and was in some measure responsible for: but try as he might, watching Hermione bouncing around in his shabby bathroom, glowing with health and happiness and singing to herself slightly off the key above the sound of the taps running, he just couldn't convince his rational self that he had done her any harm. Far from it, from the look of her, and the look of her was very nice indeed - she was trim, compact yet womanly, with gently curving breasts and hips and a neat triangle of gold-brown fuzz which made him raw with desire, and the memory of the sensation of her arms round him, of himself moving inside her and the soft blanket of her hair, was impressed into his skin; overwriting, at least for the moment, the memory of other touches.
He rolled over onto his back, still keeping Hermione in his field of view, but now he could see the window and the bright day beyond it as well. He had a sudden urge to be outside with her; not simply to be having sex with her, as overwhelmingly pleasant as that was, but to sit on the grass or walk by the lake and just be with her, and not to have to worry about security, or secrecy. A Friday in term-time with exams on the way was a bad time to be thinking of romantic strolls in the grounds, which would be full of furiously-revising students all ready to become an attentive audience: but it occurred to him that he might ask Albus or Minerva for permission to take Hermione - or the rest of Team Severus, for that matter - into Teachers' Farthing, the small, walled garden overlooking the lake which was reserved for the use of the school staff. After all, as his helpers they were practically staff themselves.
Of course, even in Teachers' Farthing there would be the prying, knowing eyes of his colleagues to think about: but they were moving, he thought, towards the point where they would be willing to go public about their relationship - even if he still didn't fancy the idea of being gawked at by too many students. He still remembered being hung up and stripped in front of a jeering audience of his fellow students on a June day over twenty years ago, and the end of a romance that had never properly begun.
This one, however, was off to a flying start. As Hermione stood in the bathroom doorway, unembarrassed and mother-naked except for the towel with which she was towelling her explosion of hair, and smiled at him ...
... as she sauntered naked across the stone-flagged floor and slipped into bed beside him ...
... as she welcomed him into her arms, into her, and wrapped her arms around his ribs and her heels behind his thighs (the one real and the one false), gasping out little keening noises as he rocked and slid against her, inside her and his neck clunk-clicked unpleasantly as he contorted himself so he could kiss her lingeringly at the same time, but what was a cricked neck more or less when his whole body was singing with pleasure? ...
... as she assisted his more than usually unsteady steps to the bathroom and then perched herself on the edge of the bath, glowing gently, ready to scrub his back as he sluiced himself under the hot shower which eased muscles that were sore from so much unaccustomed exercise ...
... he couldn't keep the smile from turning up and turning into a grin, sheer happiness with a side-order of smugness stretching the much-abused corners of his mouth every time he looked at her or thought about her or remembered the feel of her skin against his.
In the back of his mind he knew that he was adrift in a little bubble of light and hope, and beyond the walls of the bubble the memory of The Event pressed in all around him, waiting to crush him back into misery and degradation, as indeed it had done only the previous night. But the bubble was not, in fact, a particularly fragile one, and he hoped in time that it would become like a diving-bell in the deep ocean, able to withstand all pressures.
Yes, the title is meant to be spelled that way.
We're told in the books that the students finish classes early on Fridays, and also that NEWT-level students get free lesson-periods for extra study and revision.
"Clunk-click every trip" was the slogan of a British advertising campaign of the 1970s, intended to encourage the use of car seat-belts.
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