For mesmerizing

Warnings: uncomfortable situation, major character death (before fic starts), aggressive sex

Summary: When Professor Hermione Granger goes seeking the source of mysterious music on her nightly rounds she discovers Snape is harboring a secret talent. As he delves deeper into the castle for privacy Hermione finds a substitute musical source in the Room of Requirement. When the Room serves up more than her normal nightly concert she takes advantage of it, but when fantasy turns to reality and Severus runs off, Hermione has to delve deeper into the Hogwarts' archives to discover the origins of the Room of Requirement and what it means for the both of them.

Original Prompt: A story where Severus is with an instrument of some description-can be his singing voice. Severus plays an instrument-perhaps piano or cello?-and Hermione watches on.

Hermione lay in a hammock, sipping a glass of lemonade and enjoying the growing darkness. She looked up at the castle and sighed as she watched curtains fluttering in the breeze. She closed her eyes and breathed in sweet air.

A whisper of music blew on the breeze. She didn't recognize the tune, but it relaxed her just the same. She sighed and settled in, waiting for the first stars to appear.

"Professor Weasley?"

Hermione looked up to see the nervous face of a fourth year.

"Hello, Theresa," Hermione said as she slid into a sitting position. "What can I help you with?"

"I'm a bit confused about Lectern's Equation…" the girl trailed off. "Does it work the same way during a leap year?"

Hermione smiled. "There's a variable for a leap year. You have to square the trajectory of Venus and then divide it by the number of cubits between it and Mars."

"Oh!" The girl looked relieved. "Oh good! I was wondering why everything looked so wonky!"

"Go in and get some supper. You look like you've been in the library all afternoon."

"I have," the girl admitted.

"Go eat! I can sneak into the kitchens later, and if you know how I don't want to hear about it!" Hermione chided.

The girl thanked her and ran off, leaving Hermione alone with her hammock and her lovely view of the sky and the tail end of several greenhouses.

She waved her wand and a floating board with food on appeared next to her.

"What's all this?"

Hermione looked up guiltily as Headmistress McGonagall approached her. "Erm… dinner under the stars?" She looked up to see none had appeared yet. "In a minute or so."

McGonagall conjured herself a chair and sat on it. "I assume there's room for two?"

"Always." Hermione grinned.

A hint of the melody drifted by again and the air seemed to curl around the food, making it drift up to her.

"There's only a few more weeks of this before the weather begins to get cold," McGonagall remarked.

"And only two more days to enjoy Gribble's Phenomenon," Hermione grinned.

"Did you remember your enchanted spectacles?" McGonagall teased her.

"Like I'd forget." Hermione smirked and patted the top of her head. She made a strange face as she discovered her head was bare, other than her curly brown hair.

McGonagall chuckled at Hermione's face.

"Eat up dear, you still have plenty of time," McGonagall said reassuringly.

They ate quickly with McGonagall begging off dessert. She wished Hermione a good night before she continued with her evening constitutional around the enchanted gardens.

Hermione hurried to her classroom, hoping that was the place she had used her Viewing Glasses.

She heard hints and echoes of the music as she went down the hallways. She stopped once or twice to decipher which direction it was coming from, but she couldn't tell. The halls projected echoes when they were full; it was nearly impossible to track small noises when they were empty.

She found her glasses under her desk and took a moment to write an Arithmancy equation on her chalkboard before heading back. This time she didn't hear anything.

"So, Rose decided to go to some sort of Muggle school?" Professor Sinistra asked Hermione politely.

"Oxford is a very good school," Flitwick interjected. "It's an excellent place for Muggle Studies."

Hermione opened, and then closed her mouth. Sometimes it just wasn't worth it.

"It's good to have you living with us in the castle, Hermione," Sinistra said in a low voice. "It's not good to be rattling around an empty old house."

"I know it's hard to believe, but I was almost more upset at Rose moving out than I was about losing Ron," Hermione confided. "A big house in the country is great when you have little ones running around, but now-"

"Oh, you don't have to tell us, dear," Flitwick piped up. "It's how most of us came to live here. You'll get used to it."

"I'm not sure how comfortable I'll get with midnight rounds," Hermione said crankily.

"It's a duty all the permanent residents share," Flitwick reminded her with a smile. "The hospital wing has several potions that will help you stay awake."

"I think I'll keep that in mind," Hermione said, somewhat cheered. "I'm not quite the night owl I used to be."

"You and the rest of us, dear," Sinistra assured her.

Hermione groggily made her way to the hospital wing. She wanted to drink coffee, but McGonagall had warned her against getting addicted to coffee or tea. The potions worked better and weren't habit forming.

She heard the faintest strains of music coming from somewhere within the castle. Its origins weren't anywhere near any of the common rooms- she had checked two nights before. At first she had thought it was some sort of radio, but the sound wasn't consistent and there was never any DJ or commercials.

She stopped and strained, but it seemed to echo away from her. She shook her head and quietly opened the door to the hospital wing. The beds were empty, thankfully, and Pomfrey had left her a bright yellow vial with a note attached.

Hermione downed and it and the smell of oranges assaulted her senses. It was over in a moment and she felt herself becoming sharper and more awake.

She left the bottle in a small sink and went back to the hallway, She strained her hearing but all she heard was the wind whispering through several open windows in the huge castle.

There was a tremendous sound, much like a glass chandelier falling from the ceiling. Hermione ran towards the source of the sound and found herself in the Charms classroom.

It had been, in fact, what it had sounded like. An enormous chandelier was completely shattered on the floor, tiny shards of glass and crystal scattered everywhere.

"Well," Professor Flitwick said regretfully. "It was a good go before you sneezed."

A blushing seventh year stood near him, a lowered wand in his hand.

Flitwick flicked his wand and the chandelier was restored to its place on the ceiling. "I think that's enough for today. I'll see you all again on Thursday!"

The class, who knew a dismissal when they heard it, quickly gathered their things and scurried out of the room. Several of them were giggling at the embarrassed student.

"Did we startle you?" Flitwick asked Hermione with a twinkle in his eye.

"I'd say so!" Hermione said, a hand on her chest. "I should thank you, anyway. I've been meaning to thank you for the Perking Potion. They've made things a lot easier."

"I'm surprised no one told you sooner," Flitwick said as he straightened his robes and climbed down from the stack of books he had been standing on. "Professor Snape usually makes sure we're stocked for emergencies."

Hermione snorted. "No wonder I didn't know about it."

"You two…" Flitwick trailed off as he shook his head. "I swear you're like the students sometimes."

"I could argue that he started it." Hermione grumbled, but Flitwick only chuckled.

"I'm sure you'll work it out."

"I've only seen him a few times since I got here." Hermione shrugged. "At first I thought he was avoiding me, but then I realized we didn't have any reason to cross paths."

"Other than the memos in the staff room." Flitwick chuckled.

She blushed. "Oh, all right. Maybe that got a little out of control."

"It's nice to know you finally worked out a schedule for harvesting potions ingredients," Flitwick said with an amused look on his face.

Hermione shrugged and rolled her eyes and he chuckled at her.

"I think some of the students have been about at night," Hermione confided. "I think I hear something, but I can't quite figure out where it's coming from."

"This old castle makes its own music from time to time, especially this time of year." Flitwick assured her. "What are you hearing?"

"That's just it!" Hermione said, startled he had guessed so closely. "I've been hearing music!"

"Ah." Flitwick went to his desk and began gathering scrolls. "I'm guessing that would be our resident 'Bat.'"

Her cheeks pinked. Those memos really ihad/i become completely inappropriate, hadn't they?

"What?" she asked him, the words finally sinking in.

"He's been working on some type of potion that's supposed to replace enchantments." Flitwick rolled his eyes. "Been testing it out at night. Don't let him know you hear him. If you do, he'll stop messing about when he knows you're on duty."

"Really?" Hermione tried to make it sound like a statement, but failed.

Flitwick snorted. "If you have to hunt him down, he's in the fourth level dungeons. You're hearing him through the hidden laundry chutes."

"Oh," Hermione said, wondering more about these laundry chutes. "Thank you."

"So how much can you fit in at a time?" Hermione asked Hobby, the grandson of Dobby, the free house-elf, and supervisor of Internal Housekeeping at Hogwarts.

"As much as we want to, Miss," Hobby bobbed his round little head. "Students used 'em for getting around before it was banned and the chutes hidden."

"Why?" Hermione asked curiously.

"They were a bloody nuisance, for starters," Hobby huffed, forgetting his manners. "The Headmaster thought they was being used for spying."

"Were they?" Hermione asked.

"I don't know, Miss," Hobby shrugged. "It was a long time ago and those elves' is gone."

"Do you know where the chutes are, Hobby?" Hermione asked. "I'd assume you know everything about Hogwarts' housekeeping secrets."

Hobby's chest puffed up with pride. "Of course I do, Miss! It's really quite clever!"

Hermione was thankful she was the one on patrol and not the student sneaking about when she shimmied her form into the laundry chute. She grabbed the tail of her robes and pulled it in before making herself comfortable.

It really was a clever system. Instead of just going to the laundry room, it could also go nearly everywhere in the castle so the laundry can be returned when it's done.

"Fourth level dungeons," Hermione whispered.

The capsule moved quickly through the walls of the castle, before finally settling softly. The music was louder now, but when she peered out of a crack in the chute she couldn't see anything but an old classroom, long forgotten and disused.

She frowned as another instrument joined the first, then another, bringing together a little group that was playing a song she didn't know. Perhaps he had an assistant.

The music abruptly stopped and there were a few soft 'thunks,' as if people were setting instruments down.

She carefully slipped her fingers into the crack and pushed down, opening the door of the chute.

She snuck out, making sure her robes didn't catch on anything, and snuck across the room. The door was cracked and she peered out into the hallway.

Torches lined the walls, but no one was there. She strained for a moment, waiting for footsteps, but the only noise was the sound of a quill scribbling furiously. She oiled the hinges of the door before pushing and breathed easier as it moved soundlessly.

The quill stopped suddenly and her heart jumped.

Good grief, what was she afraid of? She was a professor, not a student!

She stopped the urge to chuckle at herself. She heard movement, and then she heard a violin slowly begin drawing out a melody. This time she recognized it.

She grinned widely as the sounds of Peter and the Wolf filled the air.

She didn't care if it was a children's song, it was one of her favorites. The others joined in and soon the swell of music rang down the hall.

She took the opportunity to poke her head around the corner. She saw several doors, but only one was open, and light was pouring through the dimness. She tiptoed over the stone floor and nearly jumped as his voice started the narration.

She frowned as she got to her hands and knees. He might see her at face level, but he wouldn't expect someone on the floor.

She peeked into the room and her eyes went wide. A small orchestra hovered in mid-air, the instruments playing themselves. Snape was wearing a pair of gold rimmed glasses as he recited from a scroll, a violin in his hands. He was in his shirtsleeves and the loose, white fabric added with the tight black waistcoat surprised her.

She had only ever seen him in this state of undress once, during the duel with Lockhart when she was a student here herself.

Had it really been over thirty years? She suddenly felt how hard the stone really was under her knees and she wondered if she'd creak getting back up.

The music stopped and there was more scratching. He took a few steps and Hermione heard a sound like a jar lid being unscrewed. There was a plucking of strings and a quick spell, she missed what it was and scowled at herself.

The music started again, this time with a somewhat richer sound than before. She crawled back and let herself ease into a sitting position.

She enjoyed the music he was making for some time, even when he had to stop and go over something again. She finally dared to move when she heard him packing away the instruments. With all the cases opening and closing and latches being worked it was bound to cover the cracking sound that came from her knees.

She rubbed her tailbone and winced. She didn't know how fast he packed up, so she limped hurriedly back to the laundry chute and secured herself within its depths.

She rode silently to the chute nearest to her room, thankful she had a potion that helped with joint stiffness in her nightstand. Sometimes the insomnia made her back lock up and she didn't like to be taken by surprise.

She made sure the coast was clear before she climbed out of the wall and smoothed her robes down. She went to the tapestry of sleeping dragons and whispered her password.

The tapestry rolled itself up to reveal a heavy wooden door, which she opened with ease. The room was dark, but coals glowed in the small hearth set into one wall. She took a deep breath and sighed before waving her wand and lighting the candles around her room.

A basket of fruits and sandwiches were waiting on the small table she graded her assignments on. The house-elves always seemed to notice when she missed meals, even though she found herself eating away from the Great Hall more frequently.

She waved her wand at the canopied bed and the covers pulled themselves back. She walked into her small bathroom and washed her face before pulling on a pink flannel nightgown.

It had been an undertaking, getting a full bathroom in her quarters. There were faculty baths sprinkled throughout the castle and several of the older professors were used to chamber pots, but she liked her privacy and didn't like running around the castle at night when she was groggy.

Another reminder of her second year flashed through her head, making her flinch. Death Eaters be damned, the thing she had nightmares about the most was Slytherin's basilisk.

She walked back into her room and downed the stiffness potion in one gulp, causing her to wince at its bitterness. She smoothed lotion over her limbs and face before pinning her hair up and settling into bed.

The strains of music were still pulling at her mind, the story replaying itself as she felt herself begin to relax. She burrowed under her covers, the soft candlelight casting a golden glow over the room, and began to sleep.

"You're looking bright-eyed this morning!" Professor Flitwick nodded at Hermione as he buttered his toast.

"I finally got a good night's sleep," Hermione admitted.

"It always takes a few weeks," Flitwick reassured her. "You'll be fully settled soon."

"It's just—the quiet!" Hermione laughed. "I'm not used to it!"

"Wait for the semester to get into full swing." Flitwick snorted. "You'll be grateful for it soon enough!"

"I'm sure I will," Hermione said, but she felt as if she were lying.

Tonight he was playing the oboe. She listened to him practice the inflections over and over before he was finally satisfied.

He was methodical, each note being treated as if it were a keystone in the framework of the music. As if the fragility could be broken with one misplaced breath, stroke of a bow, or press of a key.

It was always the same piece now: Peter and the Wolf. Sometimes she caught bits and pieces of other things when she arrived, but it was clear they were just warm-up exercises and just a bridge from her mundane, numb life and into another full of wonderment and contentment.

She had never realized how disconnected she was becoming: keeping to herself, taking meals away from the Hall, drowning herself in projects for the students. Anything to fill the hole that been her family.

She had expected the children to grow and go out on their own, of course, but she hadn't expected the widowhood.

Of course, no one really ever plans for that type of thing. It was always for the future and security in the thought that all the papers were in order and accounts padded for a rainy day.

Then the day finally comes and no one asks about the papers or accounts.

It's not as if many couples go out together. There's always someone left behind, and in this game of chance it was Hermione who had remained.

She secretly wondered if it was better this way, how Ron would have made a total mess of things and how single life never really suited him. The thought of him clattering about an empty house moved her to tears as easily as the thought of him going.

She found herself thinking about things like that more and more often, drowning in her own thoughts.

But when she came here, all of that washed away.

It was her, and the music, and the story of a forest and a boy, and all other thoughts went from her head as she embraced the familiar words.

Suddenly she realized he was putting things away and wouldn't be starting again. Her eyes went wide as she heard him begin to walk towards the door and she scrambled to get to her feet. She made it, but stumbled on the hem of her robes and banged into the door leading into the room where the laundry chute was waiting for her.

She made a mad dive for the chute and yanked in the tail of her robes as she whispered the words and she shot off through the walls of the castle.

She arrived at her floor and nearly flew out of the wall and into her room, ducking under the tapestry as it was still rolling itself up and slamming her door shut.

She stood with her back against the door trying to catch her breath. It had been a short sprint, but there was a liberal dose of panic involved as well.

Suddenly, she began giggling.

She couldn't stop herself. A lot of it was nerves, but it wasn't like he could fail her or take points from Gryffindor. He might try, but he'd never get away with it.

Before she had moved into the castle it had been different. She had only taught three classes a week and only saw a few teachers. She had been able to avoid her second-to-least favorite teacher. She hardly ever thought of him, to tell the truth, but when she had moved in everything had changed.

They didn't sit near each other at the staff table, so she could avoid him at meals, but staff meetings were another matter. They ignored each other, to the point that amused several other teachers.

Now she was stalking him like some mad, musical bloodhound.

Oh, if Flitwick could see her now. The poor man just might do himself in by laughing too hard.

Hermione shook her head and took a trunk out from under her bead. She took out a flat piece of metal and a teapot. She put the metal plate on her table and tapped her wand with it before going to the bathroom to fill the teapot. She came back and placed the teapot on the plate, taking another stabilizing breath before shuffling around in the trunk for a cup.

By the time there was a knock on her door she was already settled in with a book.

She went to it curiously and answered it cautiously.

"Let me in!" The squeaky voice could only be Flitwick.

She opened her door and ushered him in, vaguely wondering if she could find another teacup, but he solved the problem by conjuring one himself before helping himself to her kettle.

"What's going on?" Hermione asked.

"It seems like there's a certain member of Hogwarts that is convinced there is a disappearing intruder in the castle," Flitwick said wryly.

"Oh, good grief!" Hermione slapped her forehead with her hand. "I thought I might have slipped by."

"Apparently not." Flitwick looked amused as he poured himself a cup of tea. "Care to explain what happened?"

Hermione let her cheeks go pink. She knew he would understand, but it was all so embarrassing!

"He's been practicing a piece I really like and I lost track of time," Hermione said vaguely.

"Could happen to anyone," Flitwick said reassuringly, but Hermione knew that look in his eyes.

When she had first come to live in the castle both he and Professor Sinistra had met her in her new quarters with a surprise.

It was clearly decorated with a Gryffindor in mind with its rich burgundy fabrics and gleaming brass accents. She had nearly been expecting that, but what she hadn't been expecting was the photo album.

It was packed with pictures from her life she'd forgotten about. She had choked when she saw the one of her stirring a cauldron on the floor of the girls' bathroom.

"How did you get that?!" She had squeaked out, praying Professor Snape didn't know about it. She turned the page to see a picture of her in cat form. She squeaked.

"Myrtle keeps a file on all the misdoings in her bathroom," Sinistra said knowingly. "Tired of getting blamed for everything. Afraid she'd get it from the house-elves for the scorch marks on the tile."

Hermione let out a breath of relief. "It's not going to get me fired, is it?" Hermione asked in a shaky voice, trying to laugh but it came out entirely too nervous.

"I doubt it." Sinistra snorted. "McGonagall helped us put this together."

The other professors both laughed at Hermione's expression.

"They get newer as you get near the back," Sinistra explained.

Hermione had thanked them profusely and they had shared some cakes and tea for her 'room-warming' party.

Hermione had taken a much longer time to look it over later. Not only was it from Hogwarts, but other times as well. She, Harry, and Ron sneaking around the school. Several from the Yule Ball. Quite a few from her wedding: pictures she had never seen before. They led into a good deal of pages of Hugo and Rose sneaking around the castle.

Hermione had laughed and wiped away the tears that had run down her cheeks. There had never really been any hope for the pair, having a good dose of Weasley genes. Ron had intercepted the letters from Hogwarts for some time, thinking Hermione would explode, but in the end she had found a stack of them tied together with a neat length of twine and hidden at the bottom of his sock drawer.

To her relief, the tone of them went from concern, to bewilderment, to genuine amusement.

She had put the letters back where she had found them and consoled herself with the knowledge that McGonagall would probably have let her know if they had done something serious.

Now she had photographic evidence. Not that it would do her a lot of good with the both of them out of the house, but she planned on cherishing them until she happily showed them to her grandchildren.

The imagined looks of dismay on her children's faces made her cackle quietly to herself.

But she knew what he had meant about losing track of the time. It was easy to lose herself in the realm of memory. The music helped her focus on anything but her memories.

"You should keep spying on him," Flitwick assured her and she stiffened at the comment. "You look like you're getting more rest. As If you've been letting your brain take a bit of a holiday."

Hermione sighed. "I suppose that's what I do. It would probably be better for everyone if I just got a wireless."

Flitwick waved her off. "He needs someone to listen to him just as much as you need to hear it," he said vaguely.

He drained his cup quickly and made it disappear. "Just thought I'd let you know before you heard it somewhere you don't expect it."

"Thank you," she said, and she meant it.

"I'd like to bring attention to the dungeons," Snape said levelly.

The rest of the staff looked at him, waiting for him to say why. All except for Flitwick and Hermione, who tried to look innocent.

"I'd go as far to say someone, or something, is skulking about after hours," Snape said in a grave tone.

"What are they doing?" McGonagall asked him, frowning.

"I don't know yet," Snape said darkly. "Who knows where people's motivations lie?"

"Or where house elves decide to do their cleaning," Hermione added, a little louder than she would have normally. Several other teachers chuckled. Snape glared at her. She went completely red, mostly from nervousness, but she hoped it looked as if it were from embarrassment. She avoided Snape's eyes.

"I think you should do some more investigation," McGonagall said with a frown. "Even if the intention is innocent we can't have people running around the dungeons at night."

"Would you like a volunteer to help you?" Flitwick asked and Hermione pinched him, causing him to jump.

"Thank you, Filius, but I think I'll be fine. I just thought people should be looking out for other things that seem out of place," Snape said coolly.

"We'll keep that in mind, thank you," McGonagall told him. "If that is all, I believe we are done."

The teachers dispersed and Hermione exchanged a look with Flitwick as they rounded a corner away from the others. They giggled.

"What did you do?" he demanded to know.

She told him, but it only caused him to laugh harder. "You're going to hurt yourself, doing that sort of thing at your age."

She made a face at him. "Next time I'll take a joint potion beforehand and see if I can get my hands on an invisibility cloak."

Flitwick shook his head. "You kids never change."

Hermione slid the door to the laundry chute open and she slipped quietly from it. She pulled the invisibility cloak around her tighter and waited a moment. The music was going at full volume. There was no way he could have heard anything.

She snuck out of the room and into the hall. The hallway torches were bright tonight, as if he thought the light would frighten prowlers away. She snorted.

She made her way to the room, and this time leaned against the wall, instead of sitting down on the floor. It sounded as if he were playing the French horn.

She heard him make some sort of plastic clicking noise and the room fell silent. Gently, the music began to swell and he began reading part of the tale.

Hermione tilted her head to one side as she realized he was recording himself.

Well, for all she knew, he was just recording to catch any strange sounds in the dungeon. For instance: the sound of a clumsy coworker ramming themselves into a door.

Hermione closed her eyes and sank into the story.

His voice really was soothing, the improvements he was making with the music helped it, but the power truly was all in his voice.

She could feel the snow crunching underfoot. The smell of the forest. The weight of the gun in her hands.

She couldn't imagine why he was working so hard at this project unless he was getting ready to market a recorded sleep-aid. It was certainly working its magic on her.

She hadn't slept this well in ages. The color was coming back to her cheeks and she noticed a few less grey hairs than she had several weeks past. Her dreams had initially been dark, but then she realized she had begun to hear music in the darkness, pulling her away from herself and into a safe place, where the only enemy was a giant wolf, and she the hunter of it.

The dreams were exhilarating. She had gained several companions, her favorite was a little bird named Sasha that flew around the sky, tracking paw prints and scouting the forest.

And she knew the forest. Knew it by heart, even though she didn't know why.

The dreams relaxed her and took her away from the real world. It gave her a place to heal, and for that, she was thankful.

She had mused about making her own recording, but somehow it had seemed worse than spying. Now that she knew he was making his own she wondered how she could get herself a copy.

The session came to a close and Hermione made her way back to the laundry chute. She noticed her invisibility cloak made a shadow like swirling smoke on the brightly-lit wall. She hadn't felt like asking Harry for his. She knew he would mind his own business if she told him to, but this wasn't a big enough thing to keep secret and she knew he'd never let her live it down.

'Professor Weasley! Another excuse to be skulking around the castle at night, no doubt!'

Hermione nearly giggled at the memory of Harry's impression of Snape when she told him she would be moving to the castle.

'None of that was ever my fault! She had protested. 'Someone had to keep you from losing us the House Cup every year!

'Bah!' Harry had replied, much to the amusement of everyone in the room. 'You've had more than enough time to learn troublemaking from those Weasleys.' Harry's sneer had been comical. 'You've even spawned more into this pitiful existence we call life.'

She hurried to the chute before she could burst out laughing. The memory had taken place in early August: one of the giant Weasley feasts Molly so liked planning. The first without Ron.

George, in typical mourning, had decided the perfect distraction was to have a fireworks display so enormous that Ministry officials had shown up to scold him.

Of course, they had left with plates of food and pockets full of firecrackers. God help the Ministry the next Monday morning.

Against all odds, they had managed to keep the mood cheerful. Bill had a painting of Ron commissioned and although it wasn't complete, the sketch had been able to attend, the frame garlanded with flowers.

Ron's sketch had nodded firmly, crossing its charcoaled arms at Harry's impression. She had rolled her eyes at the both of them.

She nearly regretted giving the portrait up to Molly without a fight. It would be nice to have Ron around from time to time, just to talk to. She had reasoned that it would be hers when her mother-in-law died, so it wouldn't be like she would never have it.

Then she realized what a horrible thought that was.

Another part of her reasoned that it was normal to rethink the realities of mortality when one has lost a loved one.

Yet another wondered if this sort of cold thinking was normal.

Sometimes she felt as if she were going mad. Not all the time. Just those times late at night, or in the afternoon when her classes were done, when her mind had enough time to wander and no distractions to stop it.

When she walked into her quarters she felt perfectly relaxed. She didn't want to pick up a book or have a cup of tea; she just wanted the softness of her bed and the comfort of the forest she slipped into behind the safety of her eyelids.

"I'm glad you decided to join us!" Flitwick squeaked happily. "The first trip to Hogsmede is always a treat!"

Hermione agreed, although she had fought the initial instinct to stay in the castle. But the air had been crisp and Flitwick had bribed her with the promise of a pint and a sack of sweets.

"I still have to go to the post," Sinistra piped up. "Getting a package from my sister. It costs extra to have it sent to the castle." She wrinkled her nose.

"We can't forget that, now, can we?" Flitwick said with a twinkle in his eye.

"You're not getting your grubby hands in it this time," Sinistra said hotly. "Last time you polished off all the biscuits before I got any!"

He waved her off and they continued their walk down to the village. Students skittered past them, trying to beat each other to their respective destinations, and several were waving their wands about, thankful for the one place besides Hogwarts that they could do magic.

Hermione stopped in place as she caught a scent on the breeze: snow, evergreen trees, and the bite of cold air. She stopped for a moment and looked around.

"What is it?" Sinistra asked her.

Hermione shrugged. "Something on the wind. I think we're in for a cold one this year."

"I think Divination was never one of your strong subjects," Flitwick teased her. "The Weather Wizards say this year is supposed to be unseasonably mild."

"Huh," Hermione said as she looked around. "That's strange."

Hermione gathered her things after the end of her last class and placed them in the deep satchel Ron had given her for her first teaching year. She sighed to herself and rotated her shoulders. She would love to go down to the dungeons tonight, but it was her turn to patrol the halls.

She made her way back to her room, grateful the day was over. She never liked test days. The students were always on edge and it made for insanely quiet class time.

When she opened her door, a sweet-smelling breeze floated through. The house-elves must have been taking advantage of the warm day to air the castle out one more day before the cold started creeping in.

She chose a book from her small shelf and went to her bed. She could read until dinner and then putter about until it was time for her to go on patrol. She settled in and began reading iGreek Transfiguration Theories/i by Alto Puckett.

It was such a nice day. She could hear the birds singing outside and the faint sound of students frolicking on the expanses of grass around the castle.

For a moment she though she heard a hint of music, but it was gone as soon as it had arrived.

She found her arms getting heavier and her eyes started to itch. She closed her eyes and let herself sink into the bed.

Dreams were strange things. She couldn't hear the narration, but she sensed it with her entire being. She felt like her person was aware, but had an underlying center of dead calm, as if she knew what were coming. She looked up and a small bird was swooping about, trilling at her with its tiny beak.

She sensed Snape. Well, not him so much, but the calming effect his voice had on her when he wasn't acting so snotty. She realized that when she was listening to him read, not only had she let herself relax and wander, but that she had grown accustomed to associating his voice with comfort.

She doubted it would make her act strange when she was awake, for she iwas/i completely aware that she was dreaming. It wouldn't do to have her relax every time she heard his voice; the staff meeting had proved it.

She huffed, her breath making a cloud in the cold air. Merlin's ghost, the man was an arse. How did he manage to do it all the time? From the time he got up to when he went to bed he was always sniping at someone. Wasn't it exhausting?

She braced herself as she plodded through the forest, her footsteps being far too deep for her to make much progress. She looked to her left and saw a pair of snowshoes. She went to them and strapped them to her feet. They helped her walk faster and made no noise as she moved, unlike any snowshoes one would ever find in one's waking hours.

She looked behind herself and a large duck was waddling towards her. She smiled and gave it a scratch on its head when it drew close.

She heard a soft sound, as if something were leaping through the branches of the trees, and she knew that was where the cat could be found.

She marched on, looking for any sort of tracks and listening for odd noises. When she investigated noises in her dream, to her astonishment, she was able to identify everything out of place. Snow falling because of squirrels, a bush rattling because of a rabbit, a branch cracking from the weight of the snow: things she would probably never be able to do when she was awake.

She came over a drift and had to stop and look around. Her animal friends gathered around her as she stared. She was looking over a cliff; she had always thought she was in the forest, but she knew now she was only on its edges; the immensity of it stood before her, dense and unimaginably large.

She felt her mouth drop open as her eyes raked it in.

Suddenly she jerked and she was waking up. She stretched as she woke from her nap. Her back popped several times before she got up. After freshening up in her bathroom she strode down the corridor, on her way to the Great Hall.

She took her usual place near Sinistra and the older woman looked her up and down. "Well, you're looking much better than usual."

"Gee, thanks," Hermione said sarcastically. "I took a nap."

"It's nice to know you're finally getting some sleep," Sinistra said seriously. "We were starting to worry about you."

"I'm doing a lot better lately," Hermione said truthfully. "I think I'm finally settling in."

"It's much easier the second time around." Flitwick nodded. "When you're a first year it can be a bit much."

Hermione chuckled and nodded. It rather was like being a first year again, but she was getting used to the sounds of the castle and the peace she was finally getting while she slept.