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There were rules to prevent this sort of thing.
Well, not actual rules, 'precepts' was a far more accurate definition. No law (or code, for that matter) had 'Constant vigilance!' written in it, though some, perhaps even all, would have, were they written by Professor Moody. Regardless of that, Hermione had taken the words to heart and they had served her well while the war raged. During that time, her wand had become her constant companion, a natural extension of her arm, and she would sooner forget to wear a piece of clothing than leave it behind.
She had grown lax. Time, safety, and comfort had ruined her. And, as she found herself in her current predicament, she could almost hear the Auror inside her head, almost see his twisting blue eye lock on her, 'Never wander around wandless, you silly girl.'
Of course, in her defense, even at 3 a.m. the bathroom on the third floor of Number Twelve Grimmauld Place didn't seem to pose much of a threat. Not until she found herself stuck inside of it, at least. And not alone, too.
A nightmare had led her there. It was no longer one in which Voldemort won or Bellatrix carved her forearm all over again, shouting Crucio as if a mantra. No, those had stayed in the past, apparently along with her caution. She had regular ones now – flying on (which was absurd) and falling off a broom, dying in a cauldron explosion, getting sat on or trampled by unaware giants… Nothing out of the ordinary for a witch, or so she'd been told. But tonight's nightmare had been so much more dreadful not because she died in the end, but rather because she didn't, wouldn't, regardless of how much her dream-self longed to simply cease to exist. Not that her subconscious would be so kind – in her dream, her year-long crush on Remus got out and she just stood there, very much alive, as her former professor let her down easy, kind eyes and sad smile, while everyone around them laughed, dismissing her feelings as one would a schoolgirl infatuation.
In a state of mingled horror and weariness, Hermione had peeled herself out of bed, grabbed a towel, and trudged her way to the bathroom, determined to drown the memory of the dream and the accompanying anxiety under hot water. She pushed the bathroom's parted door and took a step inside. Her dulled senses registered no sound, but her tired eyes should have noted the pile of clothes abandoned on the floor. And they would have, were they not always drawn to the bright contrast of white porcelain and tobacco-colored furniture against Slytherin-green walls, by far the most preserved display of sumptuousness of the Black's ancestral home.
In hindsight, the fact that it was light enough for her to see anything should have alerted her that something was off. Hindsight, however, never helped anybody.
When the shower started by itself, Hermione froze. And then, only then, did her gaze settle on the pile of clothes – men's clothes – sitting just outside the stall. She spun on her heels, her free hand reaching forward, but the door clicked closed before her eyes.
Hermione's lungs stilled, trapping what little air that filled them inside.
"Who's there?" A voice called. Although muffled, there was no mistaking it: it rang with the same gentleness as ever, despite her obvious intrusion.
Had one nightmare not been enough? How much torture over unrequited feelings would her mind put her through?
It was silly of her subconscious to do so. Unnecessary, for sure, for she had never contemplated the delusional notion that Remus could ever feel the same.
Unneeded reminders of this sort were rather cruel.
Yet, despite the consciousness of it being a dream, the floor underneath her feet refused to swallow her. And, when she didn't awake, distressed but safe in her own bed, Hermione thought that, perhaps, in a wicked sort of irony, this wasn't yet another cruel dream. Perhaps the Remus in the shower was simply… Remus.
And it was far more horrifying than any dream she could have.
"Hello?" Remus called again, his soft tone in full contrast to the feeling in her stomach.
Hermione found her voice, something Harry and Ron would argue she could never lose, but she had, for a moment, and the words almost tripped one another as they returned, "I'm so sorry, Remus, I didn't—The door was— I'm already…" She turned the doorknob, but the door didn't budge, "leaving."
Hermione didn't respond. She tried the doorknob again, pulling at the door. It yielded an inch. And it shot closed like a stretched rubber band. Reality sank in with a pleasantness equal to that of being drowned by Grindylows.
She was stuck. In a bathroom. With Remus.
A low whoosh sounded, and both the water hitting the tiles and Remus' voice became clearer, "Hermione?"
She didn't trust herself to face him. Instead, she grasped the metal doorknob harder, "Yes?"
"Is everything alright?"
"Yes. Yes, of course," She swallowed, willing herself not to think of a naked Remus behind the stall's tinted glass. And, much like not thinking of a pink troll, not thinking of a fit, wet, and naked Remus standing less than four feet away from her failed. For instance, she was reasonably certain that fit and wet were adjectives that had not been in her mind as she first started not thinking of him. "Except for the fact that. This. Door. Won't. Open."
Punctuating each word with stubborn attempts at turning and pulling the silver knob was of little avail. Even without her wand, she could still… But both the idea of Apparating and the intended location fully formed in her mind and still her body didn't materialize outside. She made another attempt, willing it harder – and, once more, her surroundings didn't as much as blurred. Despite all logic, and the obvious knowledge of her whereabouts, she almost expected Dumbledore's ghostlike replica to appear and inform her of the Apparition rules inside of Hogwarts, hinting at the precise extent of it before he offered a transparent lemon sherbet. That early practice at Hogwarts had been, after all, the only time she had failed at it. She shook her head – now, of all times, was not the ideal one to go mad.
"I'll be out soon. I can give it a try," A twinge of something bled through Remus reassuring tone, but she couldn't put a finger on it, "If you can bear to stay?"
A sigh escaped her, "You don't mind?"
"Not at all."
Well, she did. Sort of. God, the man had, just minutes before, played a featured part at her nightmare. The last thing she would want was to get trapped in another dream-like situation with him. Merlin knew what could happen this time, and she would not survive the embarrassment of tripping over a towel-clad Remus or getting caught watching a water drop trickle down his chest, not without being unable to ever look him in the face again, and even as her mind conjured horrid possibilities it also knew the point was moot – leaving wasn't exactly an option. She would just have to try very hard not to move around much. And harder still not to see trickling water drops or visible skin below Remus' face.
"Very well, I'll just…" She clutched her towel against her chest as a shield of sorts and did her best not to look up or sideways as she made her way over and around the sink, the bathtub, and the shower stall, before she sat on the closed toilet lid.
The shower drops proved themselves poor filler for the uneasy silence that ensued. For Hermione, at least. For Remus, this was likely amusing, if somewhat disconcerting – he was not the one nurturing an unrequited love for the person he was trapped with. She didn't know whether it was seconds or minutes before Remus spoke, but neither seemed quite adequate to describe it, not when her own brain was failing miserably at devising something to say, "If you don't mind me asking, what brings you here at this hour, Hermione?"
She bit her lip, "A nightmare."
He gave a mirthless chuckle, "Unpleasant bedmates, those."
Tell her about it.
"And you?" Almost as a reflex, her eyes traveled towards the stall, to find it still open. And her angle was just right to catch a glimpse of his back through the open door. She stopped mid-breath, and it was all she could do to keep from gasping. His muscles were lean, even though she could now see he verged on the skinnier side underneath all his clothing – a werewolf trait, Hermione supposed, one he could never shake, despite Mrs. Weasley's insistent attempts. Claw-shaped scars descended from Remus' lower back, stopping just short of his butt. She swallowed, her eyes trailing downward and downward, spellbound. Had she known better, Hermione would have kept her gaze trained on the spot on the floor it had stayed so far. This was the part where she got caught, she was convinced of it.
"Thoughts," he answered, and her brain had to focus to remember her own question. He didn't elaborate and she thought best not to ask, lest her voice betray her, "How bad was it?"
She managed to divert her gaze then, the memory of her dream enough to discourage her dimwitted… whatever it was, "Mortifying."
"I see," His tone was gentle, almost concerned, and she could feel his eyes on her. It was more of a sensation rather than concrete knowledge, but it was enough for her to wonder if he had felt her gaze on him, too. But it was embarrassment, not suspicion or conceit that seeped through his voice when he asked, "Could you pass me my towel? I wasn't expecting company."
Hermione's fingers closed over the hanging towel over the bathtub, as she cared to gaze anywhere but Remus. Her wild imagination telling her that, if this were a romantic novel, now was the time when he would take her wrist instead of the offered cloth, pull her close enough for her to study every detail of his striking, scarred face, and kiss her. When he took the towel without even brushing her fingers, she cursed Ginny. Once the redhead had learned of Hermione's weakness for the wolf, she had supplied her with all the volumes she could find starring lone, handsome werewolves meeting strong, loyal heroines they felt instantly attracted to. And who ultimately won their lonely hearts.
In the future, she would stick with textbooks.
A/N: Hey guys! This little piece is a very, very late birthday gift for LilianPortia (at AO3). There's only another chapter I'll try to post by the end of the week.
To all of you that are reading Tie your heart: I haven't abandoned the story. The reason I disappeared is that there are a few openings for the Masters program I want to join… and there's a shitload of books I have to read and entrance tests I'll have to take to perhaps, maybe get in, so I'm pretty tied up until mid-October. I'll try very hard to get a chapter up before then, but I can't promise I'll manage :(
In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this!
Let me know what you think :)