Continuing Tales

Just Let it Happen

A Harry Potter Story
by La. Bel. LM

Part 8 of 35

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Just Let It Happen

By the next day, Madam Pomfrey at last declared Hermione "fit as a fiddle" and granted her clearance to return to her regularly scheduled classes. Hermione, feeling far too much like an animal being released back into the wild after an inappropriate amount of coddling, all but sprinted to the library the moment she exited the hospital wing, arms soon laden with textbooks, her mind already furiously assembling a lengthy to-do list. She could not stand the hospital wing. Even with constant visits from her friends (whom all barraged her with questions about exactly what had happened that night, for she refused to disclose any details), she still felt the ache of isolation.

At least the mark on her hand seemed to have faded somewhat over the night. It was now a much healthier looking grayish flesh color, though still smarted whenever she flexed her fingers. Madam Pomfrey informed her that it would probably continue to bother her for years to come before the disconcerting sensation would entirely go away.

Terrific, she thought. And on my right hand. Naturally.

On the bright side, Madam Pomfrey had also bestowed Hermione with a whole two bottles of Dreamless Sleep to "aid her recovery," and so she had at least a few weeks of solid rest in her immediate future.

Something else she found herself eagerly anticipating, was a run-in with Snape. She desperately wanted a peek at that lock of golden hair. Every time she considered the fact that her sacrifice had left some sort of permanent mark upon him, her stomach did a funny little flip-flop. She wondered what he thought about Largitio, and if he knew any more about it than Dumbledore.

Of course, she could not help feeling slightly miffed that he had not come to see her himself. Didn't he care if she was alright? She did save his life after all, and he hadn't so much as sent her a conciliatory thank you.

Oh well, maybe he'd say something in Potions…

"Hermione, what is the matter?"

"Nothing," Hermione muttered gloomily. She sat with her cheek on her hand and her eyes glazed and unfocused as she half-heartedly stirred the cauldron in front of her.

His mark wasn't there.

Professor Snape's hair seemed just as black and greasy as always. And to top it off, he hadn't so much as looked her way since class began.

Hermione's first thought was that the gold had simply faded, like the mark on her hand. But his hair wasn't even slightly miss-colored. According to Madam Pomfrey, in all of the cases like this in the past (though, again, she had stressed, there had not been many), both marks had been permanent—albeit faded over time. With a pang of sadness, Hermione realized that Snape must have done something to get rid of it completely.

So, that's how it was going to be, was it? He was just going to pretend like it never happened? Hermione gritted her teeth as her face flushed with anger. Well, yes, alright, yes, that's fine. Let him be a boorish brute, for all I care. It'll just make him easier to hate!

Yes, indeed. Let him go on and fester in his solitude. That solved her problem.

Hermione's rapidly worsening headache gave a particularly unpleasant twinge and she groaned, burying her face in her hands. In the back of her mind, she knew it was juvenile, but weariness seemed to have magnified her sensitivities, and she couldn't remember ever feeling this betrayed.

Ron prodded her in the side. "Hermione?" he whispered. "You alright? You don't look so good..."

Hermione waved a hand (which she dimly noticed was trembling) and dabbed her forehead on her sleeve. "I'm fine, Ron," she muttered. "I'm just... well, never mind."

No, she did notthink this was the appropriate time to pour out her long-hidden feelings about her bitter and snarky Potions Professor.

"Hermione, I really don't think you—"

"Is there a problem, Mr. Weasley?" Snape's deep, monotone voice cut through the relative quiet of the classroom.

Ron's face set determinedly. "Yes, Professor, there is," he said as Hermione tugged frantically on his sleeve. "I think Hermione might be—ouch!"

Hermione dug her heel into Ron's toes. "I said, I'm fine," she ground out.

She undermined that statement a moment later by groaning again, the world around her lurching and heaving beneath her feet. "I—I'm fine," she repeated as she put another shaking hand to her forehead, sweat gathering at her temples. Her face felt very hot.

All of a sudden there was a loud bang as Snape stood up from his desk so fast that his chair crashed spectacularly to the floor. "To the hospital wing, Miss Granger," he said loudly, his eyes wide and blazing. "This instant."

Hermione was quite taken aback. "Oh, no, that's alright, really, Professor, I feel f–"

She stopped talking immediately as Snape began to stride towards her at an alarmingly swift pace. She barely had time to react before he wrapped a strong hand around her upper arm, yanked her out of her chair, and then began to physically drag her towards the door.

Through the haze of her fever—and overwhelming confusion at his strange behavior—Hermione still felt a startlingly pleasant jump in her gut as she realized that Snape was voluntarily touching her.

"You!" Snape snapped, pointing at an open-mouthed Neville and motioning for him to take Hermione's arm.

After a split-second's hesitation, Neville obeyed.

"Take her to the hospital wing—quickly. Do not stop anywhere, for any purpose. Straight there, do you understand?"

Neville nodded fervently, his mouth still slack with surprise.

Hermione held onto Neville's arm like a lifeline, wondering hazily what in the world could be wrong with her. Her legs began to tremble. She felt like her entire body was on fire, as though she had moments ago wandered absent-mindedly through a pool of molten hot lava. "Do you think it's—" she started to say, but, before she could finish her sentence, Snape flung open the door, pushed the two of them out into the hall, shouted "GO!" and then disappeared back into the classroom, the door slamming sharply behind him.

"I—I think we should go on, Hermione. Ron's right. You don't look so good."

"…Thanks, Neville."

Severus stood in front of the thick wooden door, his eyes narrowed and his jaw rigid. The only part of him that moved was his chest as he breathed in and out, deep and slow.

He had been standing in place for almost five full minutes, never making a sound, never making any move to open the door. If anyone asked him what he was doing there, he could easily make up an excuse. Because, the truth was, he did not really know.

There was still half a bottle of Dreamless Sleep left, and he hadn't made enough progress on his projects since his recovery to be worthy of notifying Madam Pomfrey. The only reason he was there, he decided, was to confirm to himself that he had been right. He wanted to be certain that his behavior had been entirely rational (which it always was, of course, but he wanted to be absolutely certain; certainty was not something he encountered often, and so he hung on, tooth and nail, to any granule of it he could manage to find).

Finally, with a determined scowl, Severus reached out and turned the handle. He cracked the door just enough to peek inside and confirm that no one else was there, before at last entering the hospital wing.

Hermione Granger was asleep, just as she had been the last time he had seen her in that very same bed only a few days previously.

One arm rested limply over her middle, while the other—her right—lay to her side, palm up, her tiny fingers loosely curled.

Severus's eyes narrowed. Even from as far away as the door, he could see it: That thick, tapered line across her skin, thrown so starkly into contrast by her marble-white complexion. A significant portion of her forearms had been re-bandaged and there were alarmingly dark circles under her eyes. She looked so infinitesimal, almost ethereal in her sleep, as though if he opened a window, a slight breeze might come in and carry her away.

Severus scowled.

He hadn't asked for her help. He commanded her not to touch him. He told her to go to Poppy. It wasn't his fault.

"What are you doing here?"

Severus whipped around to find a familiar glare directed his way.

Perfect, just what he needed. An over-protective mother hen.

Severus sneered. "I'm fine, by the way, Minerva, thank you for asking."

McGonagall rolled her eyes. "Don't get fresh, Severus—I am not in the mood to argue."

"My mistake," he growled.

There was a pause as the two of them stared each other down, both just as prickly and stubborn as the other.

"So?" McGonagall finally quipped. "You look healthy enough to me. What are you doing here?"

Severus's jaw twitched. "Poppy expressed a wish for stock replacements," he lied smoothly and then crossed his arms over his chest, turning his gaze once more to Hermione's sleeping form.

McGonagall watched him with wary eyes. "I will ask again, Severus," she said quietly. "Why are you here?"

"Right," he snapped at last, hating himself for it. "I've come to see the girl. What's wrong with her, then?"

McGonagall paused for a long time, trying to find the right words. Her expression remained impassive and unreadable.

"Poison," she replied at last. "Just as you suspected."

Then Hermione gave a soft moan from her bed and moved slightly in her sleep.

McGonagall motioned Severus to follow her out the door.

"We believe," she continued, once they were in the hall, "that she came into contact with the poison when you—when you're—when she was…"

"For fuck's sake, Minerva, say it. When I bled on her."

McGonagall's mouth thinned further. "Yes, well, in any case, her symptoms worsened much faster than yours. Perhaps something to do with it being administered directly into the blood stream. I believe you drank yours, is that correct?"

Severus's voice was dangerously quiet. "Yes. A Death Eater desired an antidote that I refused to make, so he decided to give me... extra incentive."

"I'm sorry, Severus... that you... were put through such a dreadful—"

He rolled his eyes. "Spare me that sentimental tripe. You know very well that if I hadn't slipped up, all of this could have easily been avoided. I let my guard down, I wasn't paying attention. It was my mistake—I deserved the consequences."

"Miss Granger did not deserve those consequences," McGonagall replied softly.

Anger rippled across Severus's face. "If I remember correctly, she was the one out of bed and wandering the halls in the middle of the night! She was the one who disobeyed me! The reasons for Miss Granger's condition are entirely of her own doing."

There was another slight pause.

"She's going to be alright, you know," McGonagall said eventually, glancing at the closed door. She turned back to him and her face softened slightly. "You were right to send her, Severus. If we hadn't caught it in time..."

"Thank you, Minerva. That was all I needed to know." And with that, Severus turned smartly on his heels and stalked away, leaving McGonagall glaring moodily at his back.

Once again, Hermione found herself waking up beneath the familiar ceiling of the hospital wing. The bandages on her arms had returned (the poison must have re-inflamed some of the burns) and her head was pounding so hard that she felt as though it were about to split in two.

Madam Pomfrey forced her at wand point to remain another full day and a night, before once again releasing her back to her classes. By that time, Hermione was nearly hysterical about all the work she had missed.

But, Hermione was Hermione, and tigers never change their stripes—and so, though it took her, perhaps, a bit longer than she would have liked to catch up, she soon felt almost normal again. Apart from the fact that she now avoided Snape at all costs (she had made no move to return to her private lessons), everything was just as it had been. Sleepwalking included.

"Miss Granger, you will stay behind. There is something we need to discuss."

Hermione nearly fell out of her chair in surprise when Snape looked up from his desk at the end of class and directly addressed her for the first time in a week.

"You go ahead," she whispered to Harry and Ron as they both hung back with utterly appalled looks on their faces.

"What did you do?" Ron asked quietly.

Hermione shook her head, her heart thumping in her chest. "I have no idea."

They both gave her a sympathetic pat on the back and then, with whispered promises of meeting her for lunch, they took off.

Hermione took a deep, calming breath before approaching the professor's desk.

"You wished to speak with me?" she said, trying to sound more confident than she felt. "I know I've not yet turned in last week's essay, but I only have a paragraph left to complete, and you did say that it wasn't due until–"

"This is not about school work," he said bluntly, cutting her off.

Hermione swallowed nervously. "Oh…" She paused, waiting for him to go on.

Snape sat back in his chair and leveled a very intimidating gaze at her from behind his desk. "The Headmaster has insisted that I speak to you about..." He pursed his lips. "About what happened the other night."

Hermione did not need him to elaborate for her to know what he meant.

She cleared her throat nervously. "Oh. Yes. I see..." Absent-mindedly she clasped her hands behind her back and traced the mark on her palm with her thumb, strangely comforted by the sharp twinge that traveled up her arm every time she did so.

"I will have you know that I intend for this conversation to be very brief," he continued icily, "and that once it has ended, I expect this subject never to be mentioned again, is that understood?"

Hermione nodded numbly. This did not sound like a thank you, or an apology…

"Certainly you are aware how wizard etiquette requires me to bestow you with some manner of gift in recompense for saving my... that is, for your actions."

What? No, Hermione was certainly not aware of this. Had she heard him wrong?

"To be perfectly honest, I would not even be honoring this ridiculous sentiment if not for the Headmaster. But, as it is…"

Snape trailed off and Hermione took this opportunity to interject. "You..." she began timidly. "You mean to say, you're.. going to give me a present?"

Snape rolled his eyes impatiently, discomfort ingrained in ever line of his body. "Once again, Granger, your wit and gifts of observation astound me. Yes, as inane and ludicrous as it sounds, I am forced to bestow you with a gift." His face contorted as though revolted by the very thought. He took a deep breath. "So," he snapped. "What exactly is it that you want? And may I remind you that I am not, in essence, a very generous man."

"I get to choose?" Hermione asked, bewildered. This was all very surreal.

"Must I spell it out for you, Granger? Yes, you may have anything your insipid little heart desires—as long as it's small, inexpensive, insignificant, and that you never reveal its benefactor to anyone for as long as you live."

Well, then…

Hermione had absolutely no idea what to say. She was literally more of a loss for words than... well, ever. "I... uh... I mean... I don't exactly..." She raced to think of something, anything, to say. But there wasn't anything she wanted. At least not anything small, inexpensive or insignificant.

Then again, this was a chance she would most likely never have again. She just needed time to think—to figure this out.

"For Merlin's sake," Snape finally snapped. "Get on with it, or, despite the Headmaster's wishes, I will forget the whole thing."

Desperately Hermione spouted out the first thing that came to her head. "I don't know—can't I—It only seems proper—can't I just have, maybe, a sort of a carte blanche?"

"I beg your pardon?"

Hermione smiled.

"A blank check, Professor."

That irritating, infuriating, presumptuous girl.

Severus stormed through the dark halls of Hogwarts on one of his regular midnight patrols, his hand itching madly to draw his wand and blast the nearest suit of armor into a thousand pieces.

Where did she come off thinking that she could demand something like that of him? A blank check? What the bloody hell sort of nonsensical, delirium-induced, fuckwit kind of an answer was that?

Severus had fought the girl, of course—but, surprisingly, her confidence never wavered. She argued that she 'needed time to think about it' and that as far as she was concerned, her answer 'fit his specifications,' emboldened, perhaps, by the idea that Dumbledore was behind it all.

As far as Severuswas concerned, a blank check was neither insignificant nor inexpensive—at least, he assumed it wouldn't be when 'cashed'. And even the thought of someone, her especially, being able to hold something over him for an indefinite period of time was more than enough to turn his stomach.

All of this had happened days ago, but it still made him furious every time he thought about it—and he thought about it often. Why this bothered him so much, he hadn't a clue. Was it more than the fact that he abhorred being held in suspense in such a way? Why couldn't she just choose something and be done with it?

Maybe she would forget the whole thing and he wouldn't have to bother at all.

Severus turned a corner and looked up just in time to see the brief flash of a white-clad figure disappear through a side doorway that led to the main staircases.

A cruel smile spread across his face as he realized that he had caught a student out of bed. Severus quickened his pace. It had been too long since he had knocked off a few hundred points in one go. He hoped it was a Ravenclaw—they could certainly stand to lose a few.

As he reached the doorway, Severus looked through and saw, to his immense surprise, a familiar bushy brown head disappear down a flight of stairs.

"Granger!" he snapped, rushing to the head of the stairs. "Stop right there!"

It was indeed Hermione Granger, and though she stopped on the landing just below him, she did not turn around to face him. She was in her nightgown, for some reason. Even from behind she looked absurdly frazzled and exhausted as always.

"What do you think you're doing out of your dormitory?" Snape hissed. "This is the second time now that you have been—LOOK AT ME WHEN I'M SPEAKING TO YOU!"

Hermione's body slowly turned around, an odd vacant expression on her face. Severus was not paying attention to this; all focus he could spare was riveted on the fact that she had still declined to respond to him, which made him furious. "ANSWER ME, GRANGER!" he bellowed.

Suddenly, Hermione's eyelids—which had been drooping with what he had simply assumed was exhaustion—snapped open, her brown eyes now looking wide and round with fear. Her mouth formed a small "oh" of surprise, and then, just as Snape realized that she had been sleepwalking and that startling her was probably the worst thing he could have done, Hermione's eyes rolled back in her head and she fell in a dead faint...

Only, she kept falling.

All the way down the long, marble staircase.

The first thought that entered Severus's mind as the girl's body crashed to the ground was that he had just inadvertently killed Hermione Granger.

With a sharp pain now squeezing at his chest, Severus catapulted himself down the stairs, taking them three at a time. He came sliding to a halt by the girl's alarmingly still form and fell to his knees, instantly putting a finger to her throat to check for a pulse.

Then he let out his breath with a relieved whoosh. She was alive.

Severus sat back on his heels, his hands shaking as he tucked a lock of hair behind his ear. He took a deep breath, easing the tenseness in his face, schooling his expression, and once again transforming himself into the stoic exterior that he had spent so many years learning to cultivate.

Next, he slowly and methodically checked the girl's arms and legs, and anywhere else he deemed relevant, for broken bones. Finding none, but still wary of her condition, Severus magicked Hermione's limp body into the air and set out, once again, for the hospital wing. After all, you could never be too careful.

Just Let it Happen

A Harry Potter Story
by La. Bel. LM

Part 8 of 35

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