Continuing Tales

Just Let it Happen

A Harry Potter Story
by La. Bel. LM

Part 16 of 35

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Just Let It Happen

Severus did not sleep a wink that night, his mind stuffed full of far too many thoughts, and far too many doubts. If anything, at least he knew one thing was for certain: In some way, in some, insane, psychotic, bizarre little way, he cared about her. He cared for Hermione Granger.

Severus shook his head, still unable to fully comprehend those words in that order. Even in reverse order, it threw him for quite a loop.

How — Why — was she "attracted" to him (in any capacity of that stupid term)? Had he not learned of her infatuation through Legilimency, he never in a thousand years would have believed it to be true. She was so young, and innocent, and pure, and he was, to be frank, entirely the opposite. Old, guilty, and tarnished seemed the more appropriate adjectives. Damaged and unfit for any sort of emotional commitment, let alone an emotional commitment to someone so… fragile? Perhaps fragile was not the correct word. Emotionally fragile, maybe. Or maybe not, fuck it if he knew. There was just something about those wild brown eyes of hers that bespoke of a hidden vulnerability, one that made him feel as though if he held her even the slightest bit too tightly she might shatter into a million pieces in his arms.

That was not to say that he did not think she was strong. On the contrary, though he would die before admitting so, Severus considered her one of the most extraordinary, talented, and courageous witches he had ever known. Albeit noisy and unfathomably irritating.

But she was so young. This was the point to which Severus's tired mind repeatedly kept returning. How could she possibly know what she was getting into, what she had started? She hadn't the first idea about him on any conceivable level. Had she somehow gotten it into her head that he was a sort of... tragic hero? If so, she would all too soon be disillusioned of such nonsense. The hero part, in any case. The tragic was dead on.

What exactly did she want? Snape asked himself, his mind racing. A relationship? What kind of relationship? How deep did she intend to go? What did she expect from him in return? Love? Not to be nauseatingly cliché about it, but Severus was not sure he even knew what love was anymore. Or that he had even known it ever at all. He was so used to living his days without it, scorning the very idea of it. And despite these new and frighteningly overwhelming impulses he had towards the girl, these impulses did not, in his book, suggest love. They suggested lust, want, a desire for things he had so long been denied — but not love. Attraction maybe. Just a little.

Then again, if given more time, could his feelings perhaps develop into something different? Or would they simply disappear all together? How could he know?

The only thing Severus did know, in complete sincerity, was that he had no wish, nor intention, of hurting her… necessarily. Yet he could not help feeling that his inadequacies, his cultivated (and therefore firmly imprinted) indifference, would do precisely that. He couldn't help but feel that this dark thing inside him, the writhing tendrils of guilt and torment that gripped his chest and squeezed so painfully at his heart every damn day of his adult life, would not mesh well with that Gryffindor-grown bubble of hope and warm, fluffy kindness Hermione Granger so seemed to embody. Was it wrong that, on some level, the very thought of entering that bubble made him sick to his stomach?

Severus rubbed distractedly on his forearm as he stared into the heap of coals still glowing dully from the fireplace.

The Dark Mark on his arm had been burning angrily for the past few days. Somewhere, in some place far away, hidden and unknown, Voldemort was in a fury, enraged by his inability to locate his spy-turned-traitor.

This was another thing to consider: Ironically, the one thing that Dumbledore feared the Death Eaters would wrongly assume was now a legitimate possibility. There was no denying it. Something inside Severus had been changed somehow, had been… unlocked. And now it felt as though it engulfed him entirely.

Severus thought back upon the day that Granger… (Hermione? No, best dwell on that later) the day that Granger had been in the hands of Frend underground in that cold, dark dungeon beneath the Church. Even now, the memory of her screams made him squirm, made him want to find Frend and break every last bone in the bastard's body.

Therein lay the problem. There was no doubt in Severus's mind that if Voldemort managed to get his hands on Granger and tortured her in front of him — tortured her becauseof him — that it would be his defeat, his sure undoing.

So it was, with a heavy heart, that Severus realized he had a weakness. Not only that, but a weakness that was already known to the enemy and was all but waiting to be exploited.

Despite Severus's previous insistence to Granger that he did not wish to take back his confession, now that he was alone (and his mind was no longer distracted by her voice, her smell, her supple flesh, and overwhelming presence), he sorely wished that he could.

That had been such a reckless thing to do. Reckless and stupid and — and — damn the girl! Did she honestly have no idea what she had thrown herself into? Didn't she think for even a moment about the consequences of her actions?

Severus groaned and buried his head in his palms.

But they had been his actions too, hadn't they? It was he himself, Severus, not her, who had started the whole thing. He was the most to blame here — and blast it all to hell, the girl was right. He needed to take responsibility for his actions. He could hardly just close his eyes and count to ten and expect Hermione to disappear.

Severus blinked. Hermione. He had said the name in his head without even...

"Hermione," he whispered quietly, suddenly impatient to know how the word felt in his mouth. He shook his head. It felt odd. Not wrong, exactly, but not right either. It would take some getting used to.

Once again, however, that was not the most pressing matter he needed to consider. There was a decision to be made, and it needed to be made tonight.

Severus ran a hand through his hair, pausing when his fingers threaded into the thick streak of gold. He could always feel something pulse through him when he touched that lock. A warmth, a slight tingling that penetrated deep into his bones. Until now, he had never quite understood what that feeling was. It was as though a bit of something that wasn't him… lived there. It was a presence. A kind and loving presence that had saved him and kept him alive. A presence he now knew all too well. It was… Hermione.

Hermione closed the door to her bedroom and then collapsed against it, one hand held over her still hammering heart. She could not believe what was happening, that he was downstairs at that very moment thinking about her, his blood racing, his body flushed and excited by the touch of her.

For once, at last, she knew with certainty that Snape felt… that Severus Snape… that he… Oh, she could barely think it without feeling like her heart might explode.

A moment later, Hermione forced her breathing to calm, straightened her nightgown, and then walked calmly over to the window. She was determined not to get ahead of herself. Snape had kissed her, true, but he had made more than a few good points against her — points that she was sure, now that he was alone, he would not overlook.

Hermione sighed as she watched an owl sitting in a large pine on the edge of the courtyard, preening itself in the moonlight.

She braced herself for all the things that she should have said, the things she wished she'd said, to come crashing into her brain (as they always did after an argument), yet they never came. She went over and over the conversation she'd just had with Snape, and even though she looked at it from every angle, she could not procure a better argument than the one she had just given.

Instead of heartening her, this discouraged her. It meant that she had no more ammunition, nothing more to quell his disputes. It meant that everything really and truly was in his hands. All she could do now was sit, hope, and wait impatiently for morning.

Hermione woke with a start, nearly toppling to the ground when she realized that she had fallen asleep against the windowsill. What time was it? She could smell the scent of coffee wafting up from downstairs, so she knew Snape must be awake and about.

Hermione raced to get ready, her chest near to bursting with impatience to know what he had decided. She all but sprinted to the bathroom, making record time by managing to brush her teeth and wash her face at the same time. She paused, however, when she looked up at herself in the mirror, for she found herself noticing something that she very rarely noticed: The appeal of her appearance.

She frowned at the bags under her eyes and the unhealthy pale sheen on her cheeks. Her hair was matted and tangled from being pushed up against the window all night (although, a certain passionate embrace a few hours previously might also have added to the tangle). With a whine, she snatched up a brush and combed it mercilessly through her hair as best she could. As expected, the brush did little except make it a frizzy, unmanageable mess—as opposed to the previous matted, unmanageable mess—and although that was not much of an improvement, she felt a great deal less disgruntled and sleep-mussed once she could fully run her fingers through it.

Back in her room, Hermione paused mid-way through pulling the pink sundress over her head, realizing for the first time how tacky it was to wear the same thing every day. She searched the drawers for something else, but was met with only the same moth-eaten and embarrassingly colored assortments that she had been the first time.

Finally, with a groan, she decided she was being extraordinarily stupid, and put on the same sodding dress she had worn for so long. What did it matter anyway? Certainly Snape wasn't basing his decision on her sense of fashion.

The man in question was sitting at the table with an old newspaper unfolded in front of him when Hermione entered the kitchen.

Snape did not smile when he looked up and saw her in the doorway. However, the lines on his face were softer and less severe than usual (or was she imagining it?). He, too, had dark circles under his eyes that told plainly of a very troubled and sleepless night.

"Sit down," he commanded roughly as Hermione approached. Then he checked himself. "Er… please."

Hermione did so without comment.

"Coffee?" he offered.

"Yes, thank you."

Hermione watched quietly as Snape pulled a mug out of the cupboard. She burned to know what he was thinking, but she didn't dare ask. She didn't want to push him. She knew he would tell her in his own time.

A few seconds later, Hermione accepted the steaming mug gratefully as Snape sat down opposite her and slid it towards her across the table.

"I think," he began in dulcet tones, "that it is time for me to explain the reason why things stand the way they do. Why you were not allowed to return to Hogwarts."

"What does that have to do with—"

"Do not interrupt me," he cut her off harshly. Once again, he seemed to make an immense effort to soften his countenance. "You will have your say. At the moment, it is my turn to speak. You understand?"

Hermione nodded warily.

"As I was saying — the reason why we took extra precautions with you, in addition to those we took for myself, and avoided all roads to Hogwarts, is due to…" He trailed off, considering, so carefully, it seemed, every word before he spoke it aloud. "The Headmaster believes that, owing to our unfortunate adventure with Frend, you became a prime target of the Dark Lord's. Certainly, you were a potential target long before now, however, things are slightly different, have become… more volatile. The Dark Lord and his followers are becoming more aggressive. My betrayal has inflamed him in ways you could not begin to imagine. So…" He looked as though he were going to say something, but thought better of it and took a sip of coffee instead. Then he continued. "You are a target of that renewed anger, not only because you are Muggle-born, and not only because you escaped your captor, but furthermore because the Headmaster believes that the Death Eaters might… well, that they might use you against me."

Hermione had not been expecting this. She let the news sink in for a few seconds, staring blankly at Snape, who stared right back until Hermione finally nodded for him to go on.

"I stopped Frend's wand that night because of you," he said.

Hermione opened her mouth to interrupt again. Snape held up his hand.

"And I understand that, as you see it, you did not ask me to do so. Either way, regardless of technicalities, the fact remains that my betrayal of the Dark Lord was discovered as a consequence of my actions in your defense. Frend knows this — as does, I am certain, the Dark Lord himself. Even though my actions were, at the time, spurred more by obligation than… other things… it is possible that Frend might have interpreted them differently. To him, they may have suggested the possibility that if you and I were to be put into a similar position in the future, I might… er… 'cooperate' with them, so to speak. The notion, the intention… You see, their belief would be that… I would give more secrets away if… if it were to, for instance… spare you from torture."

"Oh…" Hermione felt strangely disconnected from her body, as though what she were seeing and hearing was not actually happening, as though she were dreaming. It all sounded so foreign. The idea that Death Eaters — that Voldemort— would think she had enough power over Snape to force him into betraying the Order was frightening. She shuddered at the thought.

"Remember," Snape continued, "that this is wildly speculative. We are not entirely certain that this is the jump Frend made — and even if it is, who is to say that he will pursue it?" Snape swirled the last bit of his coffee around in his mug slowly, distractedly. "Therefore, in light of this, you must understand that if we… if we do…" He swallowed, all of a sudden looking strangely flustered. "If we…"

"Start a relationship?" Hermione offered quietly.

Snape gave her comment no acknowledgement. "I cannot stress how important it is that no oneever—uncover this. I mean it, not even Black." Snape rolled his eyes. "Especially not Black. The moment he returns, it must end."

Hermione's head was reeling. Was this a yes she was hearing? It certainly sounded like it. After all, something had to 'happen' before it could 'end.' But surely he did not expect her to agree to such a short period of time. Who knew when Sirius would be back — the note had said it wouldn't be more than a few days. What kind of girl did he think she was? What exactly did he think she was looking for?

"End?" was all Hermione could manage.

Snape's mouth twitched. "Perhaps not forever. Or perhaps, equally, we shall never revisit the subject again. You are, after all, entitled to a change of mind."

"I won't change my mind."

"You can't know that," he replied with a touch of cool conviction. "And anyway, it would at least have to wait until you were finished with school."

Hermione nearly dropped her cup. "What? But that's months from now. And who knows if I'll even…" She trailed off, her throat suddenly feeling uncomfortably tight.

Snape seemed to sense what she was thinking however, and responded with a rare, bracing quality in his voice. "You will be able to return to Hogwarts and graduate, Hermione, I promise you that, at least."

Hermione did drop her cup this time. "W-what was that?"

Snape moved his own mug out of the way as a rag appeared out of nowhere and started to vigorously mop up Hermione's upturned drink. "Your schooling," he replied. "I know you are concerned about fully completing—"

"No, no," she cut him off. "You said… you just…" Hermione fought the impulse of the dazzling smile now pulling at her lips. "You called me by my name."

Snape momentarily looked extremely uncomfortable, but he did not deny her words. "Yes, well, that is what a name is for, I imagine."

"Oh, yes, yes, I suppose it is, yes." Hermione knew she sounded rather loopy, and yet she couldn't help feeling slightly shell-shocked at the sound of her name being spoken so unexpectedly. She had, on occasion, not been all that fond of the name Hermione (it was quite a mouthful), but the deep timbre in his voice and the way it rolled off his tongue made her feel as though there couldn't possibly be any better name in the world.

Hermione cleared her throat. "So… er… what exactly have you decided, then?"

Snape scoffed irritably. "Merlin's beard, how discouragingly thick have you become, Granger, must I repeat myself? I thought you were paying attention."

She was right. He wanted… he, Severus, wanted what she wanted. He was simply being more tentative about it. Hermione smiled shyly and rolled her eyes. "Alright, then, for Heaven's sake, you don't have to say it again — I just liked hearing it was all." Then she stood and walked around the table to his side, no longer self-conscious about her dull dress or her crazy hair.

"Black could be back at any time, you understand," Snape said as he watched her approach, never breaking eye contact. "And then it has to stop. School girl delusions notwithstanding, I need you to tell me that you understand."

"I understand," Hermione replied. "And I am fully aware that it will be difficult… though I agree that it's for the best." She looked down into his face with a slightly forced smile. "Then we must wait, I suppose, until I finish at Hogwarts. I wouldn't want you to lose your job after all."

Snape snorted. "Believe it or not, my job is not what most concerns me."

"Oh, isn't it?"

"I simply require that you complete your education."

"And why is that?"

"For one thing," he said, standing up from his chair and collecting the dirty dishes with a fluidity and grace that only Severus Snape seemed capable of possessing, "you will never secure a decent position in civilized, employed society unless you graduate with top marks, no matter how hopelessly infused with Gryffindor-bred gumption you may be." Then he paused and looked at her with his eyebrows raised in a suspiciously mischievous manner. "And, for another, I absolutely refuse to be seen with an ignorant witch."

Hermione laughed. "Fair enough. I had better study up then. Wouldn't want to embarrass you at dinner parties."

In a very rare moment of good humor, Severus gave Hermione a genuine, albeit slightly repressed, smile that made Hermione want to grab him by the ears and kiss him all over until he knew just how much he really meant to her.

As though reading her expression, Snape spoke with a sincerity that was even rarer than his smile. "I doubt very seriously you could ever embarrass me at dinner parties," he said, and Hermione felt her insides glow.

Then as Severus turned to carry the dishes back to the sink, Hermione couldn't help herself from replying lightly, "We'll see about that!"

She laughed outright at the look of exasperation that immediately crossed her professor's face.

The day that followed passed haltingly at some points, clumsily at more, and like a dream at others. The first few hours had been an experimental sort of awkwardness in which they tested each other's boundaries (both mentally and physically); they were not quite sure when to touch, what to touch, when to speak, or even what to say. But here and there they found themselves falling into a comfort that neither of them had ever known, and therefore treasured all the more.

Time often passed in a blur of happiness to Hermione, things melding together into one, long, perfect moment, every so often punctuated by tentative conversations.

They were in the study, each with open books on their laps, neither paying enough attention to the words in front of them to read more than a page.

"Prof… Severus?"
"Would you mind if I asked — Were you top in your class at Hogwarts?"
"…My grade average was one of the best, yes."
"And are you very good at cooking?"
"I suppose I'm adequate. Where is this going, exactly?"
"How about the piano? You're brilliant on the piano, aren't you?"
"I am adequate."
"I knew it."
"You're one of those people."
"What people?"
"Those people who are obnoxiously accomplished at everything ever but who continuously play down their talents and make everyone else want to slap them."
"That is pointedly untrue. I have no problem admitting how innately talented I am. If you must know, I was simply trying to be humble for your sake."
"Oh, I see — how noble of you."
"Come now, noble is far too Gryffindor a characteristic for me, my dear. We Slytherins prefer to call it 'shameless manipulation.'"
"I stand corrected."
"I certainly hope so."

Hermione eventually gave up on reading and took a long break to make tea. As she returned to the sitting room, instead of resuming her customary seat in a chair by the fire, she made a point to join Severus on the sofa. He made no comment, but she liked to think that he enjoyed the heat of her body against his.

"Surely you weren't always perfect."
"In school?"
"I was infallible."
"Oh, honestly."
"Alright. If you wish to know — and I'm certain you do — I failed one subject in my Third Year."
"You did not."
"While I appreciate your shocked indignation, Miss Granger, I assure you I did."
"May I ask which one?"
"You may."
"Oh, you wanted the answer?"
"Hah-hah, clever Sir. I am deeply sorry to be the one to tell you this, but you're not nearly as funny as you think you are."
"Is that a fact?"
"Yes. But don't worry, I think it's cute."
"On pain of death, I command you, under no uncertain terms, to refrain from ever using that adjective in my presence again."
"But only because you asked so nicely."

Hermione finished her drink and set down her cup in order to take up Severus's hand instead, secretly leaping for joy inside when he silently allowed her to do so.

"So… what exactly did you fail?"
"Muggle Studies."
"Hah! Really? That doesn't make sense, though. You were… Granted, I suppose you weren't the best — the cab, and everything — but you knew all about the money, and the airplane, and the clothes—"
"Obviously I endeavored to redeem myself, didn't I?"
"I'd say you succeeded."
"I'd say I did too."

It was early afternoon. After dumping their dishes in the sink, they traveled outside into the courtyard. There they strolled through the tiny garden, making random loops around the fountain and pausing every now and then so Hermione could coo over a particularly beautiful plant. Though Severus did not much care for 'strolling through the flowers,' in fact his sensibilities resisted it with every possible facet of disgust, and he made a point to complain about it—loudly, and often—however, he raised not a single objection when Hermione slipped her arm delicately through his.

This touching thing, they soon realized, was becoming easier all the time.

"Dumbledore told Harry that… that the reason he, Harry, was never tempted by the Dark Arts was because of his ability to love…"
"And also because of all the people who loved him…"
"Are you trying to make me ill?"
"No, I'm just trying to… to…"
"To ask you if…"
"If the reason I became a Death Eater was because I did not care for anyone?"
"In as many words."
"You are a nosy, tenacious little insect."
"I wouldn't put it quite like that, but yes. Nosy and aware of it, thank you very much."
"You're welcome very much."
"So, now that we've established that…"
"It's complicated."
"What do you mean?"
"You wouldn't understand."
"Try me."
"With pleasure."
"Hey! I didn't mean kiss me!"
"My mistake."
"It is very much your mistake — no more kissing until you've answered my question."
"Nosy and stubborn. Have I ever mentioned what an unpleasant combination that is?"
"You're pushing it."
"Am I? How unlike me."
"You can be very irritating at times."
"Good afternoon, Mrs. Pot, it's a pleasure to meet you. I'm Mr. Kettle."
"…Yes, alright."

Despite himself, Severus found their teasing banter slightly liberating. He liked deflecting her questions when he could do so without venom or malice, and he liked that she responded in kind. He liked that he could keep his secrets yet make her laugh at the same time. Both of them knew they weren't going to get to know each other in a matter of hours, and so they simply—for want of a better phrase—let things happen.

"Did you know that it was me who stole ingredients from your stores in my Second Year?"
"I did know that, naturally. And may I remind you that you still owe me a fair amount of galleons for the Boomslang Skin. It is not an easy ingredient to come by."
"How did you know it was me?"
"The Headmaster told me."
"He did not!"
"He did. Although, he assured me that you had done so out of nothing but the best intentions."
"Er… did he ever mention anything about my First Year?"
"Several things. Why?"
"Oh, no reason."
"Tell me."
"…I don't know…"
"You are a poor Occlumens, Granger, though it pains me to tell you. It would not be wise to attempt to keep secrets from me."
"Yes, I can see how greatly it pains you."
"Torn to pieces."
"Alright, well… Well… Alright. I was the one who set fire to your robes at Harry's first Quidditch match."
"You what? That was… YOU?"
"I've been meaning to apologize about that for ages, but I've never been able to find the right time…"
"In six years? You couldn't find the right time to tell me in six years?"
"Well, you were always so — er — busy."
"And here, all this time I thought Potter was the trouble maker of your bunch…"

Late afternoon and they were back inside, having been driven in by the sudden appearance of angry rain clouds. They lit a fire in the sitting room, and were soon quite comfortable. Perhaps too comfortable, for Severus found himself losing several defenses he had always meant to retain.

"So… there it is."
"There it is."
"You know, I have never actually, physically, seen the Dark Mark on someone's arm before."
"I would count that as a positive thing."
"I would too. Though, I really am glad you showed me. I… feel closer to you now."
"Must you express every feeling you have the moment you have it?"
"Well, excuse me for living."
"I might, but only if you stop prodding my arm."
"Oh, sorry, does that hurt? It seems a bit red. Does it always look like that?"
"Only when it's burning."
"Then it is bothering you! How long has this been going on?"
"About a week."
"You poor thing, I had no idea."
"For pity's sake, stop fussing. I've had plenty worse in my day, I promise you. Poor thing indeed. Spare me."
"I was just worried about you. Honestly, if it bothers you so much, I'll take me and my excessive feelings elsewhere."
"Alright, alright, settle down. If you're going to throw such a fit, I suppose I'll let you fuss over me, then."
"How magnanimous of you."
"Isn't it just."

Hermione readily admitted to herself that she rather liked having someone to fuss over, and even though he would hex off his own ears before admitting it (even to himself), Severus rather liked being the someone that she fussed over.

Some time later they migrated down to the basement, where Hermione tried and failed to convince Severus into playing the piano for her. It was far too much for him far too fast, and though she was slightly disappointed, Hermione did not push him. Instead they simply sat together on the small bench, speaking when they had something to say and sitting in silence when they did not.

"For Merlin's sake, Granger, would you stop twiddling random notes like that?"
"Does it bother you?"
"Bother does not even begin to describe the sheer, debilitating magnitude of annoyance."
"Stop, you're too kind."
"As I have often been told."
"Actually, I do know one song on the piano, if you're interested."
"Oh, yes. I'm on tenterhooks. What song would that be?"
"Heart and Soul."
"Of course it is."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Nothing. I wonder if it's stopped raining."
"Let's play it together."
"Let's not."
"Come on, I'll let you have the easy part."
"As opposed to…"
"So they're both easy. But the higher one is the most fun."
"Neither of them are the most fun."
"Which part do you want to play?"
"Come on, lower or higher?"
"Lower it is then."

Of course, he gave in. What else could he do? The girl was stubborn. And it seemed as though all of his carefully constructed willpower went straight out the window whenever that dammed little body was pressed up against his. Hard be it for him to deny her anything when she was so close, so warm, looking so small, so clever and defiant…

"Why are we doing this? This is ridiculous."
"No, it's lovely — Blast! I got off again."
"When were you on?"
"Stop talking — you're distracting me."
"Remind me again why we're wasting time in such a frivolous, haphazard manner."
"Because I like to spend time with you. Is that so deplorable?"
"Not as such, no. Though it certainly brings your sanity into question."
"Good. Then hush up and keep playing your bit. It's your fault you got the boring part."

It was still early in the evening when they at last sat down for dinner, Hermione with a contented smile on her face, and Severus with a slightly less rigid mask upon his. There was a hit of accomplishment in the air — though what that accomplishment was, neither of them knew, nor cared to know. It was enough for them that the feeling was there, and that it kept a special little fire burning in their hearts.

"What now?"
"Have I ever told you how sexy you look with a beard?"
"Have you? I don't remember."
"Well, you do."
"Duly noted. Pass the broccoli."
"Do you think I'm pretty?"
"Please tell me that Hermione Granger is not fishing for compliments."
"No, I really want to know what you think. Truly."
"Your hair is the most unmanageable mess I have ever seen."
"And you are exquisitely beautiful."
"That's the end of this conversation."
"Fine. May I eat my dinner in peace?"
"You may."
"Thank you."
"Don't mention it."
"I won't."

Neither of them were saying it, but both of them were undoubtedly thinking it: Things were working out. Somewhere between loathing and loving, they had found a comfortable place to settle down and wait. They needed time to talk, to figure each other out. Because despite the six long years that they had spent teaching and learning in the same building, neither of them knew all that much about each other…really…

It was beautiful and quiet that night on the patio. Hermione sighed contentedly as she listened to the distant hooting of an owl and took another lazy sip on her hot chocolate. As she did so, she snuck a peek at Severus out of the corner of her eye. The sun was just setting and the red-orange light cast a pleasant glow on his cheeks and across the bridge of his long nose. He was staring off into the woods with a slightly pensive look on his face, his pale fingers curled loosely around a white, porcelain mug.

She had never seen him so relaxed. It was a wonderful sight. She felt such a profound sense of peacefulness wash over her that she found herself never wanting the evening to this perfect day to end.

As though feeling her eyes upon him, Severus briefly turned his head in Hermione's direction. He didn't smile, but his mouth twitched suggestively. Then, without a word — perhaps loath to break the silence — he turned his gaze back to the forest.

Hermione sighed again. That's alright, she thought. I can smile enough for the both of us.

Eventually the sun fully set, bringing with it an over-hanging blanket of stars and a symphony of nocturnal sounds. Hermione had no idea that she had fallen asleep until she was awoken by a hand plucking the steadily slipping mug out of her hands. Momentarily, she felt the comforting weight of a blanket settle over her body, and she opened her eyes just in time to see the retreating form of Severus disappear through the double doors and into the cottage.

She looked at the empty table before her and realized that he must have collected all of the dishes and was taking them inside to clean. As much as she would have liked to stay curled up under the stars, Hermione felt compelled to be useful. So, wrapping the blanket around her like a brown, cotton cocoon, she shuffled after Severus and into the kitchen. There she found him standing at the sink with his sleeves rolled up, elbow-deep in soapy water.

"Out of all the abundantly worthless spells they have around this house," she said, and Severus flicked a glance in her direction, "you'd think they would have one for dishes. Or at the very least, a dishwasher."

"I think they have enough Muggle contraptions as it is," Severus replied as he rinsed off a small white saucer and set it on a rack by the sink to dry. "Did I wake you?"

On the surface, his voice sounded monotone and ambivalent, but in all the time she had spent with him over the past semester, Hermione had gradually learned to listen for more behind his words. For instance, when he said, "Did I wake you?" she knew that what he really meant was, "I did not mean to wake you" — which were two very different things, in her opinion.

Hermione grabbed a towel out of one of the drawers, and with her elbow still pinning the blanket to her body, she began to dry the dishes Severus set aside. She was having a difficult time of it, however, and after nearly dropping two consecutive cups, Severus clearly became fed up.

"Here, for Merlin's sake." He quickly wiped his soapy hands on a towel, then reached over, grabbed two corners of the blanket, and tied them together in a knot on Hermione's shoulder.

She looked down at herself and laughed. "I look ridiculous," she said.

"What else is new," he muttered promptly, then quickly ducked when Hermione sent a handful of soap bubbles in his direction.

"There you go being funny again," she said in mock-annoyance. "Honestly, I don't know why I put up with you."

Severus discreetly flicked a bit of bubble off his arm and inwardly gloated as a small glob landed perfectly across the bridge of her nose.

"What was that for?" she asked.

"Despite your already inherent nature, I didn't think you looked quite ridiculous enough," he said. "You do now, though."

Hermione pulled a face and Severus let out one of his rare, rumbling chuckles that made her heart skip and her body tingle all over.

Before he could go back to the dishes, Hermione grabbed Severus's arm and stood on tip-toe to kiss his cheek. With a slight turn of his head, however, Severus quickly captured her lips instead.

Hermione was surprised. Yet she gave herself over to the kiss almost immediately. For once, they were not in the heat of an argument or caught up in a frenzy of conflicting, passionate emotions, so there was a tentativeness about this kiss that had never existed before. Severus was cautious, inoffensive, wrapping his soapy arms around Hermione's waist—but not in aggressive way. He simply rested them there lightly, holding her to him, while at the same time giving her room to decide how close she wanted to get.

At first, Hermione remained where she was, suddenly shy of pressing herself up against him in the brash, daring way as she had done twice before. For once she was acutely aware of just what her tongue was doing, and whether or not he liked what her tongue was doing. She didn't have much experience. Did he notice? Was he enjoying it? She couldn't tell (his actions were so hard to read!). Yet, despite her fear of error, it did not take long for Hermione to work up the nerve to close a bit more distance between them—grabbing his collar, pulling him towards her, letting her hands roam over the breadth of his chest, undoing one or two top buttons of his oxford and stealthily slipping her hands beneath the fabric to feel the smooth, warm skin beneath.

Just as Severus's hand slid deep into her hair, his tongue thrusting roughly into her mouth and causing a wave of pleasure to pulse through her body like a gunshot, she heard the sound of the front door opening and closing.

Then there were quick footsteps down the hall, and the two of them had just enough time to leap apart before Sirius Black came striding into the room.

Sirius stopped dead at the sight of them. No one said anything as he gave both Hermione and Severus a once-over. "Snape?" he finally questioned, thunder-struck by the sight of the ex-Death Eater partially covered in bubbles and holding a wet dishtowel. "Hermione?" he said, sounding even more aghast. "What in hell are you wearing?"

Realizing that she had a blanket tied around her like a toga and a glob of soap bubbles on her nose, Hermione hurriedly loosened the knot at her shoulder while at the same time wiping her face off on her sleeve. "We were — er — washing dishes," she explained quickly, hoping her cheeks weren't too flushed, or her lips too swollen. Her gut was still writhing hotly with unsated desire, the ghost of Snape's kisses still lingering on her skin. She cleared her throat. "And anyways, where have you been? We've been worried to pieces, all we got was this vague note saying that you had some sort of something to take care of, and that you were delayed, and that… what?"

Sirius was still looking back and forth between the two of them suspiciously. "You were washing the dishes… together?"

"Get to the point, Black," growled Snape, who had wadded up the towel in his hands and tossed it back into the sink. "How did it go? I assume you didn't bungle it up too badly, or else you wouldn't have had the nerve to show your face."

Sirius's expression instantly darkened, and his hand moved towards his pocket menacingly. "We were successful, yes," he replied icily.

Hermione was lost — what did Snape mean 'how did it go'? Did he know something she did not? "Wait, what was successful?" she asked, looking back and forth between the two men who were glaring furiously at each other. "What were you sent to do, Sirius?"

Neither of them were paying her any attention.

"You had help, though, of course," said Snape in a slippery voice, never taking his eyes off Sirius. "In fact, you probably just sat around being customarily useless while everyone else did the real work, didn't you? That is what you're best at. Who's life was on the line for you this time?"

"Don't push me, Snivellus," he snarled.

"Excuse me!" Hermione interrupted again shrilly. "What are you two going on about?"

"Don't push you? What are you going to do, Black — bark at me? You know you can't use your wand."

Sirius was looking murderous. "I can think of plenty of things I can do without my wand!" And as if to emphasize just that, his hands balled into tight fists.

"Would someone please tell me what the bloody hell is going on!" Hermione stamped her foot, throwing her arms up in frustration and accidentally sending one of the newly cleaned cups clattering to the floor.

Miraculously, it did not break, and Snape swooped down to pick it up. "Black will explain — I'm going to bed," he said, handing the cup back to Hermione.

As his hand brushed hers, the terms of their agreement came crashing quite suddenly back to Hermione. She realized with a stab of remorse that their relationship was already over. Over before it had hardly begun. Now she would have to wait until the end of school — and that seemed like years away. "Sev — er — Professor Snape," she said before he could leave. "Thank you for… for helping me with the dishes." Hermione looked into Snape's eyes and willed him to know what she had really meant by those words, that what she really wanted to thank him for was something else entirely.

Snape gave her a nearly imperceptible nod (though whether or not he had caught her full meaning, she wasn't sure), and then, with Sirius still watching shrewdly, turned and left.

Already, Hermione could tell that the following days would not be easy ones.

Despite the fact that both Sirius and Snape had initially insisted that the Order meeting had nothing to with Hermione, as it turned out, it had nearly everything to do with her. According to Sirius, they had simply "not wanted to worry her," afraid that if she knew who was involved, she would have insisted on coming herself.

For the past two days, Sirius, and a few members of the Order, had planned and executed the transportation of Mr. and Mrs. Granger from their Muggle home to a remote location (which, much to Hermione's chagrin, Sirius refused to disclose).

It had been fortunate that Sirius and the others arrived when they did, for, nearly to the second, when they stepped inside the Grangers' house, a swarm of masked, hooded visitors stormed in right behind them. They were looking for collateral against Hermione and her friends, just as Dumbledore had suspected.

Order members fought the Death Eaters off valiantly, and only just barely managed to escape with the Grangers by Portkey. During the scuffle, Kingsly Shacklebolt had somehow been sent crashing through a glass window, but Sirius assured Hermione that he was on the mend and would soon be fully recovered.

"Your mum and dad both send their love, of course," he had said an hour later, as they sat at the kitchen table and he finished relating the eventful tale. "As do Harry and Ron."

Besides being thoroughly irritated that no one had had the decency to fill her in on her own parents' escape (she would be having words with Snape later), Hermione had been livid that Sirius allowed the two boys to come along. Sirius insisted that they showed up on their own, claiming they had heard Professor McGonagall and Dumbledore discussing the mission in his office. Apparently they had then refused to go back to school unless they were allowed to help.

"You should have made them go back," Hermione argued. "That was incredibly dangerous, what's the matter with you? Just one little mistake, one unseen spell, and they would have been dead."

"They just wanted to help, Hermione — I'm proud of them. You should be too. "

"I don't understand. I simply mention the fact that I might want to be an Auror after I graduate, and you tell me I'll blow myself up, but here Harry and Ron come rushing blindly into a fight and you give them a sodding pat on the back!"

"They fought well. I'm proud of them," he repeated.

"You won't be so proud the next time, when they get themselves killed and it's all your fault," she had replied, a spark of fire burning behind her eyes. She was angry with him for so many reasons—not the least of which was… well, it didn't matter now. Snape was all locked away in his room.

Sirius had been noticeably cooler towards her after that comment, and the discussion ended soon thereafter, with both of them departing off for bed, their mouths thinned and eyes narrowed.

Hermione stopped when she came to Snape's door (for once, there was no light on behind it), and spent ten painful seconds standing in the hallway, aching to go inside but knowing that she couldn't. Her brief anger at him for not telling her about her parents, washed slowly away with every second that ticked by.

She and Snape hadn't even been able to say a proper goodbye. If she had known that kiss was going to be the last, she would have savored it more — but she had been so sure they would have more time. Now Sirius was back, and everything had to return to the way it was.

When Hermione entered her room and flicked on the lights, she noticed a small, folded note waiting for her on her bedcover. It had nothing written on the front of it, but she knew instantly who it was from.

Greedily, she unfolded the parchment and read over the familiar, spidery writing.


I assume that I do not need to relate to you again the terms of our agreement, and I want you to know that had I any other choice, I would bloody well take it. But, as of now, your safety is of greater concern, and if that means we must once again thread our words with mutual disdain, then so be it.

Furthermore, I feel obligated to note that Black is already getting suspicious. This is partly my fault, though you are not entirely bereft of blame, and it is clear that we are both being far too civil to one another. In light of this, I expect you to play along when I am short with you at breakfast. I give you full permission — in fact, I sincerely implore you — to retaliate with gusto.

I am sure that this will not prove a difficult feat for you.


Hermione stared miserably down at the letter in her hands, and willed herself to feel fortunate for the time she had been given with him, brief though it was.

She looked closely at the bottom of the note and noticed a small dot of ink just above the double S, as though Snape had started to write something there, and then thought better of it.

Hermione worried her bottom lip with her teeth thoughtfully. Well, she supposed it was a little early for her to expect him to start signing his letters "with love" or "eternally yours" or any other cheesy phrases of that sort. But, the dot was there, and that meant that he must at least have had a similar notion in his head — which kept a spark of pleasure burning in Hermione's chest.

In any case, she thought rationally as she re-read the first paragraph, he clearly has my best interests at heart, and the separation is only temporary.

Surely, she could wait until graduation—she had to wait until graduation. After all, it was only a few months…

Hermione fell backwards onto her mattress and buried her face in her pillow with a blissful sigh.

And a few more months, she realized, was not forever.

Just Let it Happen

A Harry Potter Story
by La. Bel. LM

Part 16 of 35

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