Continuing Tales

Just Let it Happen

A Harry Potter Story
by La. Bel. LM

Part 30 of 35

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Just Let It Happen

Granger's arms around him, her small frame enfolded in his; Severus hardly had time to register what feelings this inspired in him, for a moment later—with all the abruptness of a single blink—they had materialized back in the Shrieking Shack. Except, they were…

Upstairs… Hm, Severus thought, puzzled. He had meant to arrive in the dilapidated sitting room on the first floor, in order to allow for the possibility that he and Granger might secure one final, fleeting chance to be alone before the unwitting presence of wretched Potter forced them apart.

However, they were not alone, they were not downstairs. They were upstairs, just inside the small bedroom where Potter was now standing. Severus had miscalculated their Apparition somehow. A fact he found momentarily disconcerting, if not disappointing.

But, seeing as neither he nor Granger were bereft of any limbs, and they seemed to be in the correct building altogether, he forgave himself this slight error and chalked it up to a very long, very exhausting, eighty-seven days… Or rather, he figured, he could just as easily shift the fault of this blunder to Granger. She was, after all, very often to blame for any poor decision or performance made on his part. This time in particular. She had grabbed his hand and invited him touch her, forced his desire, and by doing so, had awoken such a deep unidentifiable something within him—some weakness, he didn't know what—that moved him beyond words. He hadn't even been able to speak. She had done that to him.

It wasn't his fault they were in the wrong room. She had addled his senses. She was good at that.

The moment the floor was solid beneath their feet, and after the split second it took for Severus to realize where they were, he immediately shoved Granger away, feeling the tight hold she previously had around his waist break and then disappear.

Potter stepped forward to aid Granger as she stumbled, meanwhile giving Severus a mighty glare.

"Where are you going?" Potter said, a bit threateningly, as Severus turned and made as though to leave the room.

Severus paused at the threshold. "To inspect the perimeter—and any other dark corner where some unpleasant entity might be lurking."

"I already went through the place twice."

"Yes," Severus replied snidely. "Forgive me if I find that thought less than comforting." Then, without waiting for Potter's reply, he walked out of the room and down the hallway, keen eyes already searching for any hint of potential danger, or trap, or weakness, or threat. To all appearances, Severus was double checking the security of the house—and he was, admittedly, doing this to the best of his ability—but the real reason he had left the room was to have a moment alone so that he might collect himself again, in more ways than one. In all possible ways. He felt as close as he ever had in his life to coming unspooled entirely. He was on the very brink of losing his mind—he had to be—there was no way around it. There were more than a few screws that had come loose during his stay in Azkaban, and he could only hope that he had the strength to tighten them into place again.

Yet, as he walked, despite the overwhelming instability of reality and existence he felt imbedded within him, surrounding him, he managed to retain a very definite grip, somehow, on himself.

He was certain that he should be all but dead on his feet, moments from collapsing into a deep, impenetrable coma. But he felt oddly alert and awake. There was no denying that he was in one bitch of a mental tangle, every thought seeming to be knotted impossibly with each of his other thoughts so that coherency was all but unattainable. However, the heavy weight of the ever-constant presence of Dementors had been lifted from his soul. He felt newly energized by his surroundings, which, though covered thickly in grime and decay and Merlin knew what else, seemed so much brighter than before, and clearer. He was still anxious, yes, they were not out of danger, certainly, but his most debilitating anxieties had left him. That feeling of utter, horrible, uselessness, pointlessness of existence. He was free again now, important again, possessing information and ready to serve a purpose, to serve his fellow Order members.

Severus paused at one of the windows on the first floor of the house and stared out at the barren front lawn. He remained a safe distance from the glass, well into the shadows of the room so as not to be seen by passersby (though he doubted very seriously that anything was visible through the dust caked so liberally upon the window pane from either side).

As he stood there, breathing deeply, flexing out his composure and settling as best he could back into the Severus he had come to know and understand—the stoic pillar of intellect and resolve, objective assessment yielding informed and deliberate judgment—he began to notice a piece of his mind that was… not entirely his.

With all the mental dexterity of a sparrow, he ghosted over the hopeless mess of knots his brain had managed to weave itself into during the past three months, and alighted upon this new space, these new memories. He recognized where he was immediately. He was within a small pocket of Granger's memories.

Back in his prison cell, when Granger had come to him in Animagus form, incapacitated with terror and unable to transfer her thoughts through Legilimency, he had done what one should never do: He had enveloped the vast majority of the girl's thoughts and swept them, recklessly, into his own mind. At the time, he had managed to sift through them and pluck out the important information relevant to their escape, but the rest he had simply shoved, as best he could, to the back of his consciousness.

Obviously, at some point or another, he was going to have to sort this out—diffuse what he had taken from her and attempt to keep it from assimilating into the rest of his memories and thoughts. He did not want to confuse them with his own recollections, his own feelings.

That was a task for later, however. For now, he allowed himself to settle into this mental space and simply… experience her. Her worries, her desires, her aspirations, her devotion and affection. For him. Her affection for him.

He was momentarily stunned by the depth of it—and the pristine, unquestioning purity of it.

Unsettling, but… and he admitted this without hesitation… wonderful.

Severus stood just so, still as a stone statue, watching the pale orange light of a fading dusk, for as long as he dared. And then he shook his head, took a breath, and walked calmly back up the creaking stairs.

Hermione and Harry had each changed into dry clothes and were settled down as best they could on the dusty floorboards, talking quietly, by the time Snape reentered the room.

He was still damp, reeking of salt water. He closed the door behind himself and then turned to face them. He looked… tired, Hermione thought, did not even begin to cover it.

She cleared her throat, eased onto her feet, and approached Snape with the last bundle of dry clothes they had managed to salvage from their campsite. It was an extra pair of Harry's jeans and the sweater Harry hated, the one Hermione had worn only a few days ago (it seemed like years) when she had interviewed at the Ministry's Azkaban Office.

"Um… It… might be a bit small, Professor. It's all we've got left."

Snape stared at the bundle Hermione held out to him with his eyes narrowed apprehensively. She thought for a moment he was going to refuse—but, with something similar to a strangled snarl, Snape snatched the jeans and sweater from Hermione's hands, and stalked out of the room.

Hermione looked at Harry and shrugged, smiling weakly. Harry did not smile back.

A few minutes later, Snape returned.

He should have looked ridiculous, Hermione thought, and yet, somehow, he did not. He was so thin and worn, his hair so tangled and matted, his beard grown out, that he looked more like a tragic hero, or a castaway from a deserted island, years after the ship had sunk and all other crew had been lost.

Snape held up the ragged Azkaban prison uniform clenched in his fist. "Anyone have a light?" he asked gruffly.

"Actually," Hermione replied, "we do. We've got matches in the bag."

With a swift flick of his wrist, Snape threw the soggy wad of material into the dilapidated fireplace on his right. "Good. The moment that dries, I intend on immediately setting fire to it." He scanned the room, his eyes lingering on a half-collapsed four-poster bed in the corner. "Is that the only one?"

"Yes," Harry said. "I've beaten off the dust mostly, I wouldn't trust the sheets, but the cover looks alright." He turned to Hermione. "It's time for you to sleep. I'll take first watch. Sn… Professor Snape can sleep too. If he wants."

"How magnanimous of you, Potter," Snape snarled.

Hermione didn't care. She didn't care if they bickered, or fought, or landed punches, or tore the whole damn house down upon their heads. There was a bed. A bed. And she walked towards it as though half-dead (perhaps she was, at that).

Dimly, she heard Snape say from behind her, "Wake me in a few hours. No more than four. Three, perhaps, but two is not enough."

Hermione had crawled on top of the bed. It smelled like rotted wood, and grime, and she would be caked with dust in a matter of minutes, and insects, and bugger it all, it was softer than the floor, so she welcomed it all the same.

"Then, we'll talk," said Harry.

Snape had sunk down in a sitting position on the other side of the bed, his shoulders slumped, his neck bent as though the task of holding up his head was almost beyond him.

Hermione yawned hugely. Her head was pounding. "T-talk about what?" she managed.

"Bloody hell, Hermione, what do you think? What the hell do you think we busted him out of Azkaban for in the first place?"

Hermione had just enough sense of mind left to feel a sharp stab of anguish at Harry's words. She had forgotten. For a moment, she had forgotten that Harry's only motivation in rescuing Snape was in no way correlated to her own. Harry wanted Snape's information. That was all. Harry wanted to find Voldemort.

As for Snape's response, he simply swung his legs up onto the bed and reclined back against the headboard. "Stop it, Potter," he drawled, "you're making me all teary-eyed with gratitude."

The world was starting to get blurry, her eyelids beginning to droop beyond her control, but Hermione continued to fight it. "Shall I take a watch too? I can go after Harry."

"NO," said both Harry and Snape, immediately, together.

Harry looked at Snape with a wary expression.

Hermione had heard it too. There had been an undertone of deep concern in Snape's voice.

Snape was quick to amend: "At the risk of offending sensitive sensibilities, Granger," he said snidely, "I'd rather not have to rely on you to watch over my unconscious body. I'll take my chances with the wonder idiot who occasionally waves his wand and manages to hit things."

"Right," Harry fired back, "unlike you, who occasionally waves the killing curse and manages to hit—"

"Oh shut up, the both of you!" Hermione snapped. Then she fell backwards onto the bed, and, just like that, slipped instantly into unconscious exhaustion.

Harry glared at Snape, almost willing him to give a reason. Willing him to cross the line so that he could leap to his feet, run up the side of the bed, and then punch him very hard in the face.

But Snape merely stared back, his dark eyes filled with silent loathing. Then he too stretched himself out on the bed, took a deep, rattling breath, and appeared to fall immediately asleep.

Harry gripped his wand tightly and leaned back against the wall, eyes now trained upon the door.

Hermione had been taken aback by his outburst. Even through her haze of exhaustion, surprise had registered on her face at the unfeeling cruelness of his response about Snape's escape. Harry felt a small flash of guilt in this regard—but it was only a small flash. He had forgotten that Hermione's reasons for rescuing Snape were not necessarily correlated with his own. She had simply… cared. That was just her way. She cared about people. Harry knew with blinding clarity that if Flitwick were imprisoned, or Professor McGonagall, she would have acted the same.

Harry smiled and shook his head.

Hermione. Strange, of course. But certainly a special sort of girl.

He was back. He was there again in Pruitt cottage, reclining upon the sofa in the study with a fire blazing merrily in the fireplace. The air smelled thickly of pine, of comfort, and cold weather kept at bay.

He felt wonderful, he felt… free.

Severus stretched his long arms over his head. Then he smiled.

The door was creaking open. He heard the soft patter of footsteps, and all of a sudden, Granger was there, at his side.

She looked a bit different than usual—paler, thinner, more unkempt and with deep circles under her eyes—but she was smiling too.

"Is this your dream or mine?" she asked, her bushy hair all tumbled around her face and shoulders. She was wearing that dress he remembered so distinctly, the one he had pictured so many, many times in moments of despair, remembering how she had been wearing it the day he first realized how badly he wanted to kiss her. A little pink sundress. Careworn fabric. Heart-shaped neckline. It was just as he remembered.

Severus gave a small gesture with his hand, beckoning her to him. She obeyed, crawling up on the sofa and settling down on top of him, her head on his chest, as his arms wrapped around her warm body.

"I think it's both," he replied.

She snuggled against him and he inhaled the sweet scent of her hair. Honey brown hair.

She stroked his arm, which was smooth and bare. The dark mark had disappeared—It was never there, in these dreams.

Severus kissed her temple, luxuriating in the overwhelming feel of her, of the affection he had for her, and she for him.

She raised her head and leaned in to kiss his lips, so tender and sweet. Then she pulled back, her eyes twinkling. She looked impossibly happy, almost giggling as she said, "Your beard is gone."

He did not reply, and his expression had become neutral again; smiles did not come so easily to him as they did to her. But he brushed his knuckles along her cheek. His thumb lightly traced the swell of her bottom lip.

Hermione's eyebrow quirked as though she were about to say something, or kiss him again, he wasn't sure—he never found out, because, suddenly, she began to falter. Her expression changed, her eyebrows furrowed. "I'm—I don't feel so…" Her body was growing hot and her cheeks were very red. A sheen of sweat had developed on her forehead.

Severus sat up, his hands on Hermione's shoulders, his chest tight. "What is it?"

"Trust me, it's not anything you're doing… I…"

"Hermione," he said sharply as her eyes fell closed. He gave her a soft shake. "Hermione."

She did not respond.

"Hermione! Hermione! Her—"

Snape woke suddenly to Potter shaking him roughly, looking worried.

"There's something wrong with Hermione," Potter said—though Severus had not needed him to say so.

In a flash, Severus rolled over to see Hermione lying beside him, curled in on herself, shaking. Her face and neck were slicked with sweat and her cheeks were dangerously flushed. Severus put a hand to her forehead. He frowned deeply and grasped her wrist in order to feel for her pulse.

"What do you think?" pressed Potter, moving around to Hermione's side of the bed. "I suppose it could just be a fever, but you know what she went through, not sleeping or eating right for months. Even in the past twenty-four hours alone she's flown through a rainstorm, changed in and out of her Animagus form more times than can possibly be healthy. She's been over-intoxicated, concussed, attacked by Dementors, and it's a wonder none of us has hypothermia, really—not to mention that fall she took."

Severus flicked a brief glance in Potter's direction. "We both took that fall."

"Right." The boy had the sense to sound a bit sheepish. "She's going to be fine, though, right? Just needs rest, maybe… right?"

Severus drew back and appraised Hermione silently. Then he said, "I think she needs Poppy."

"Not… Madam Pomfrey? Surely not, surely she…" Potter reached out and grasped Hermione's shoulder. "No," he amended. "Of course, even just to be safe, of course you're right. We should get her to the hospital wing. But we can't right now, it's broad daylight, students are everywhere—we can't risk the Ministry finding out where she is… Do you think there's any chance we could wait until evening?"

Severus paused again before answering, suffering a moment of indecision. Finally, he said, "Yes. I think so."

Potter looked relieved.

Then he looked suspicious.

His green eyes lingered on Severus's hand, still grasping Hermione's slender wrist in a tender grip.

Severus released her at once, as Potter opened his mouth.

But the boy seemed unable to formulate what he was thinking. Perhaps he didn't know what he was thinking. He was confused. Momentarily disoriented, even.

To deflect, Severus prepared a scathing insult as he settled back down to sleep again. "Well," he said shortly, "if we've quite finished with—"

Before he could finish, there came a loud bang from downstairs, muffled voices, and then footsteps.

Severus fell deathly silent. Potter became motionless as well, as they both strained their ears against a rising tide of panic to hear… laughter. Giggles. Severus could make out small snippets of the intruders' conversation. They were very loud and not at all cautious or menacing. Within moments, he had pieced together the situation: A pair of local children, not yet eleven years old (clearly, as they would otherwise have been enrolled at Hogwarts) had taken it upon themselves to honor a dare in which they were challenged to brave the mysterious, untold horrors of the Shrieking Shack. And while it was clear that no harm would come from such persons directly, neither Severus nor Potter were in a position to use their wands. Which meant that they were therefore unable to obliviate away their presence from the children's minds should they be seen.

Severus locked eyes with Potter, who knew immediately what to do.

"Hide," he said.

Severus nodded sharply and whispered, "I'll get the girl, Potter. You… get everything else."

It was a testament to the peril of their situation that Potter did not question his orders. The boy scampered immediately over to where their belongings lay strewn about on the floor and quickly, silently, began to pack them all back into the duffle bag.

Hermione groaned softly beside him, and Severus turned to her. He paused a moment to find his strength. Even his bones felt weary. Then – quite easily, as it turned out – he scooped her into his arms. She was much lighter than he remembered, worryingly so, and on fire with fever.

Hermione's hand seized Severus's shirt collar in a weak grip as he shifted her about, gathering her as close and as safely to his chest as he could.

By the time Severus was ready, Potter had assembled the bag, reclaimed the long-suffering Cleansweep, and was waiting for his former professor by the door.

Severus allowed Potter to lead the way out into the hall.

Silent as shadows, they crept their way down the stairs, straining their ears every moment for signs that the children had not strayed and were still preoccupied in the entrance room on the other side of the house.

They made it to the trap door without incident and proceeded to hide in the underground tunnel beneath the Whomping Willow—a tunnel that Severus knew only too well. And which Potter knew, too, he supposed.

Severus followed Potter's hunched figure on and on through the dank and humid darkness until they were near enough to the exit that they could see a single shaft of sunlight not more than fifty feet away.

"Is she awake?" Potter asked as he set down the bag and the broom on the dirt floor.

Severus whispered into her ear, "Granger, there's a cockroach in your hair."

"Fuck off," she muttered into his shoulder.

"She's awake," Severus said aloud, suppressing a small smile.

Potter moved a step closer, but did not seem extraordinarily keen on entering Severus's immediate proximity. "Hermione," he said rather loudly and slowly, as though speaking to a child. "We're in the tunnel now, beneath the Whomping Willow. We're going to try to figure out what to do next."

"Mmmphhh," Hermione grunted.

Potter looked a bit hesitant. "Er… What now?"

"We wait," replied Severus.

Potter leaned against the side of the tunnel, his wand out and ready. "Alright," he said. "If you'd like, you… uh… you can go back to sleep. I mean," he continued hastily as Severus narrowed his eyes, "it's just that I promised you at least three hours and you were only asleep for an hour and a half before I woke you, so…"

"Right, then," Severus replied. "Wake me in four hours."

"Four hours?"

"Yes. Four hours. I need rest, Potter, I'll be the first to admit. Perhaps if certain children had somehow managed in all their Gryffindor, sword-wielding glory to acquire the simple skill of Apparition, I would not have had to burden myself with—"

"Alright, alright," Potter cut him off loudly. "Sleep all you want. I'm not tired. I can keep watch."

"A thousand pardons if I don't fall to the ground and kiss your feet in praise. Bad knees, you know."

Potter did not reply.

So Severus turned away and looked down into the face of the girl in his arms (fast asleep now)… and realized that he did not want to release her. He supposed that he must, of course: Partly because Potter was already confused enough about their relationship to warrant concern, but mostly because Severus feared he very well might collapse from exhaustion any moment, and he would bring further harm to the girl in doing so.

Carefully, slowly, though every muscle in his body protested in agony, Severus lowered himself and Granger to the ground. Then he settled her next to him so that they both were able to prop themselves into a sitting position against the tunnel wall. Hopefully, this would allow them to rest for the remainder of the day.

Severus folded his arms across his chest, took one last glance at Potter standing vigilant at his post, and then he closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep.

Hermione gradually began to emerge from the haze of her fever as the day progressed. By the time the sun had fully set, she was up and about again, walking and talking and ready for their next course of action.

She was still tired, obviously. Though this was greatly alleviated by the fact that Harry and Snape, together, had managed to plan the rest of their infiltration into Hogwarts—and managed not to kill each other in the process.

At some point during Hermione's delirious sleep, Snape had awoken and he and Harry had talked. It was determined that Snape should stand guard while Harry, safely under the invisibility cloak, would sneak off to the steal another broom from the Gryffindor locker room. Harry had done so immediately and then returned half an hour later, flushed with triumph; dumb luck was on their side again. Instead of having to swipe yet another Gryffindor broom (none of which were in particularly good shape), it turned out that the Slytherins had been practicing on the Quidditch pitch the moment Harry passed—and, easy as you please, Harry had stolen Draco Malfoy's Nimbus.

The Nimbus was more than adequate to carry two people, which was the main reason they had needed a new broom. As previously discovered, the Cleansweep did not allow for more than one grown adult to ride it safely.

"Professor Snape and I will go first," Hermione repeated one last time, just to make sure she had it straight. "To the Astronomy tower and then down to the Room of Requirement—"

"Leave the broom on the tower—"

"Yes, Harry. Then I drop him off there and come straight back for you."

Both Professor Snape and Harry looked simultaneously grim. Neither were happy with this arrangement (and, to be quite honest, Hermione was not entirely thrilled about it herself). After much heated debate, they had all grudgingly come to grips with the fact that Harry and Snape simply would not be able to fit themselves beneath the invisibility cloak together. Snape was too tall, and they needed to take the Nimbus into consideration.

"Alright," Hermione said snippily, "so I'm a bit tired, not comatose. I am perfectly capable of making two trips, but we've got to leave now. Everyone stop standing around looking so bloody put-upon and let's get this done."

"Rousing anthem, as usual, Granger." Snape stepped forward with the broom. "I feel inspired."

"Do shut up," Hermione grumbled at him as he huddled close to her side, and Harry threw the cloak over both of them.

Traversing the grounds was both problematic and uncomfortable. Snape had to crouch down very low, with one arm around Hermione's shoulder while his other held the Nimbus. Hermione's job was to keep the cloak in order. She pulled it close together as best she could, her arms wrapped around Snape's middle, and though she was marginally sure that their ankles might have flashed visibly a few times or so, the grounds were dark and no one was around to see (at least, she hoped they weren't).

The night air was very quiet as she and Snape made their way up the sloping, moonlit lawn towards the castle. It was eerie. She felt as though unfriendly eyes were watching her from all sides, from every shadowed corner. Hermione could not shake the feeling that there was something familiar about this moment.

Then she realized—and was startled by her revelation. The circumstances were so different. And yet… Hermione almost smiled. The symmetry was not lost on her: Here they were, she and Snape, sneaking across the grounds of Hogwarts with the invisibility cloak, aware of possible danger but mostly intent on other things. The last time she and Snape had seen each other before his arrest was the night they had dined together in Hogsmeade. That had been their goodbye. Now, this was… well, she didn't know what, but it was some manner of hello again. And it all just seemed so fitting that they should be entering the castle together in the same manner in which they left it: Hidden and anxious.

Hidden and anxious.

Hermione cringed. That about summed it up, didn't it? After all this time, she and Snape were still there, exactly where they left off. Afraid of the world, afraid of discovery. Hidden and anxious. This is not the way it should be, Hermione thought to herself as she and Snape finally—at long last—reached the base of the Astronomy tower.

In total silence, Snape untangled himself from Hermione's arm, and with incremental difficulty, managed to maneuver the broom in preparation for flight. Once he had settled, Hermione mounted as well. She sat in front of him, both her legs to one side as she leaned against his body for support, clinging to him rather than the broom so that she could keep a better grip on the invisibility cloak.

Snape did not give her any warning, did not wait for her to indicate that she was ready—he simply seemed to know. With a gentle grace, so silently, and soft as a single breath of air, he pushed off from the grass and sent them soaring up into the sky.

He possessed far more skill than she had ever given him credit for, Hermione thought, even as her stomach lurched uncomfortably. It was no simple feat to handle two grown people on a small broom with such fluid motion, and with the cloak around them no less. Either he was putting in a special effort for her sake, or he was simply that innately talented.

Probably both, she thought. The shameless bloody show-off.

Hermione tightened her hold around Snape's middle, and her cheek pressed into his chest through the thick wool of his sweater as she hugged him close.

My shameless bloody show-off.

She began to wonder if the fever delirium might be creeping back…


She would deal with that when she dealt with it. For now, they were fast approaching the top of the tower, and Hermione braced herself for landing.

As it turned out, she needn't have braced herself at all. With the same graceful ease with which they had launched, Snape set them down on the solid stone of the tower floor. Hermione barely even felt it happen.

A minute later, they had dismounted and placed the broom in a shadowed alcove, well out of the way, though not entirely out of sight. Potentially, if someone were to intentionally start snooping around, they would probably stumble upon the broom within a minute or so—and even as unlikely as this was (at this particular time of night, the tower was off limits to students), Hermione, Snape, and Harry had all figured that should someone find the broom unattended, it would not be altogether suspicious or alarming. No doubt by now Malfoy had sent out the alert that his broom was stolen—and seeing as Malfoy was not necessarily the most popular boy in school, it would not seem entirely unfeasible that one of Hogwarts' many students might have taken said broom and hidden it up on the Astronomy tower as a practical joke.

Hermione experienced a brief moment of anxiety when she and Snape approached the tower door leading into the castle, worried that it might be locked. Even on Hogwarts grounds, they were still unable to perform magic without the Ministry knowing precisely to where Hermione had fled. Or at least, to where her wand had fled. (A wand that had been used within close proximity to Azkaban prison only minutes after one of its most wanted criminals had escaped). She and Snape would not be able to magic the door open should their way be blocked.

However, the problem did not arise. For Snape reached out, turned the handle, and, simple as that, the door swung open.

"Security tight as ever, I see," said Snape in a soft whisper.

With the cloak still shrouding them from view, they crept down the spiral stairs. Then, quietly—oh, so quietly—opened the door at the bottom of the landing and slipped into the first floor corridor, right off the main entrance hall.

Hermione felt the tension grow in her chest when they approached the vast staircase. The entire hall was empty. It could not have been later than eight-thirty, yet the castle seemed deserted.

They quickly ascended the stairs, all the while tensed and alert for signs of life, of teachers or students, or of potential traps—perhaps even Death Eaters lying in wait. This all felt so strange and forbidding.

Hermione breathed a sigh of relief when, strutting down a third floor corridor, they briefly caught sight of Professor McGonagall. She was straight-backed and stern-faced as always, but she did not look as though anything were amiss. She simply looked tired.

It was then that Hermione remembered the new curfew Dumbledore had set in place a little while before her and Harry's departure. Of course there would not be students in the entry, or in the dining hall, or roaming up and down the staircases. They were locked up safely in their dorms. And the Professors, it seemed (as she gathered from her brief encounter with McGonagall), were on constant patrol.

Though probably frustrating for the rest of Hogwarts, Hermione and Snape found this curfew incredibly useful, as they were able to reach the tapestry of Barnabas the Barmy on the seventh floor without a whisper of trouble.

"You know what to do," Hermione said softly, as Snape stepped out from beneath the cloak.

She had long ago explained the nuances of the Room of Requirement to Snape—and he had insisted that, as such, as the escaped convict, and the one who most needed to hide, he would be the one to ask the room for his own particular requirement.

Hermione watched Snape walk back and forth three times in front of the blank wall with his long, confident strides, the dark features of his face narrowed in concentration.

The moment the Room of Requirement's door appeared, Snape went straight for it. Hermione pulled off the cloak and followed him tentatively, thinking she might have a few minutes alone with him in this newly created room, and that perhaps Snape wanted to take advantage of this moment as well. She began to prepare in the front of her mind something to say to him. Something that might at least touch upon the stunning, overwhelming truth of affection she wished to convey to him.

But Snape turned when he stood at the threshold, blocking Hermione from entering. "I saw Peeves lurking on the fifth floor," he said. "Pomona's on fourth, and you know where Minerva is, so be sure to avoid them. Don't, for even a moment, remove that cloak again until you have reached Potter, and by all means, do be mindful of the trick staircase near the charms corridor." Then, with that, Snape turned, stepped into the Room of Requirement, and promptly shut the door behind him.

Hermione stood there and gaped for a minute as, in the blink of an instant, the door disappeared once more.

Well, she thought abruptly, feeling stung. Alright then. Continue on, shall I?

So she continued on.

The advantages of Dumbledore's new curfew continued to reap fortunate results, as, entirely without incident, Hermione crept back down all the many staircases and winding passages in record time. Then she climbed up, up, up again to the very top of the Astronomy tower. She retrieved the broom from where she and Snape had left it, wrapped the cloak tight around herself, mounted, and then took to the sky.

Bastard, Hermione fumed to herself as she watched the moonlit lawns of Hogwarts pass rapidly beneath her. The ungrateful prat.

She thought she had long grown accustomed to Snape's seesaw manners of cold stoicism one moment, and brief, seemingly genuine, unpredictable flashes of affection the next. But, after all this—after all they had been through—was it too much to hope that he might have changed? Even the tiniest bit? Was it too much to bloody ask for that the man show some consistency in his manner towards her, particularly when she had risked so much to save him and be with him? Barely even a day had passed since that moment in the forest, when he had gone out of his way to express himself, open himself up to her, and broken a whole new barrier in their relationship by doing so—and here he bloody was again! Pulling the exact same, ignorant, infantile crap. Brushing her off, pushing her on, shuttering himself in.

Hermione continued to fume the entire way back to the Whomping Willow. Why did nothing ever go as she expected? Why was it, no matter how desperately hard she tried and fought, how much she gave for others, she always ended up with a swift kick in the mouth?

Hermione had never been one to feel a strong sense of entitlement, or to demand rewards for her triumphs and good doings. But she felt cheated this time. She felt slighted and cheated and angry and still quite feverish to top it all off.

She spoke with as few syllables as possible to Harry when she finally reached him. (She appeared before him, he asked how it went, she said, "Fine," and that was about all). In almost complete silence, Hermione and Harry followed the same path Hermione and Snape had just traversed—across the grounds on foot, then up to the tower top by broom, and then down the winding stairs to the first floor entrance hall. They made it all the way back to the blank space of wall outside the Room of Requirement, and that was where they parted ways.

Hermione was to enter the room and hide along with Snape, while Harry went to find Dumbledore, and McGonagall, and to silently attempt to assemble the Order. First, however, Harry decided he was going to try to sneak into Gryffindor Tower and find Ron.

Harry and Ron had been fighting so fiercely during the weeks leading up to Harry and Hermione's escape, that Harry had promptly left Ron out of the proceedings. Hermione knew that part of this was due perhaps to the fact that it was easier to negotiate these sort of complex plans with two people rather than three. But a lot of it was due to Ron and Harry's bickering—and some ultimate argument that Hermione had not been present for, which resulted in an explosive fracture in the two boys' friendship.

Now, however, Harry had had a long month to cool off, and to remember deep down how important of a person Ron was, and always had been, to him. Harry decided that it was time to put pettiness aside and to re-cement their friendship, mend their broken ties, and to once more bring Ron back into the fold. The most important key to this, Harry figured (and quite rightly, Hermione thought) was to go to Ron before anyone else—before even Dumbledore—and to catch him up on everything that had happened, so that he could join their united front when they went before the Order to reveal Snape's escape and the pivotal information he had acquired.

Harry waited only long enough for Hermione to stride back and forth three times in front of the portrait. Once the magic door dutifully appeared, he threw the cloak over himself, gave a whispered farewell, and was then lost from view.

As Hermione paused at the threshold of the Room of Requirement, she considered the choice Harry had made in regards to his friendship with Ron. It put her in mind of human relationships, the ones closest to her own heart, and what was truly important about them. Ron would always be Ron, Harry would always be Harry, and Snape, most assuredly, would always be Snape. Snape was the man with whom she had fallen in love, so she might as well get used to precisely the man that he was, rather than hope vainly that time might change him to suit her own wants and desires.

Hermione reached out to open the door, deciding that—really—she should stop taking things so personally. Then she opened the door, stepped inside, and shut herself inside the Room of Requirement.

Just Let it Happen

A Harry Potter Story
by La. Bel. LM

Part 30 of 35

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