Severus Snape paused at the beach entrance. Before him, bronzed young people laughed and played in the deep, soft sand and the warm waters of the Mediterranean. Beautiful women in outfits that covered far less than underwear would engaged in games, splashing, and the fine art of tanning beneath a perfect, clear blue sky.
It was exactly the kind of torture he'd always imagined the South of France to be.
He pulled himself together, put on his best public scowl, and tried to flare his robes as he stepped forward. Nothing flared. In an attempt to fit in, he'd traded the robes for a black long sleeve shirt, black trousers, and black boots. Judging from the stares he got as he strode down the beach, he might as well have left the robes on and engaged in a good, satisfying, billow.
Snape's target lay half reclined in one of a short row of wooden folding chairs, otherwise empty despite the crowd. From time to time young men would pass by, give her a once-over, then shake their heads and walk away.
Odd, that. Much as he hated to admit it, she had quite a lovely body despite the bright flowered bikini. Her skin gleamed from a combination of sunblock and sweat, making her look almost sexy if you didn't consider it was from sunblock and sweat. They were probably put off by the book she'd buried her nose in, something half a foot thick by Winston Churchill. Or it could be the wild, frizzy hair, worse than ever in this humid hell.
He stopped before her, struck an intimidating pose, and waited.
It was impossible to say which way she was looking, thanks to the oversized sunglasses, but after a moment she turned a page and held the book a bit closer to her face. Snape sighed. He hated wasting an intimidating pose. He had to admire her concentration, though, especially with the competing screeches of pop music and hip-hop aimed at them like eardrum piercing guns from either direction down the beach. He reluctantly took a seat beside her, then adjusted it so he could sit straighter. This "reclining" business was beneath him.
After a moment, Snape felt sweat begin to gather in uncomfortable places beneath his dark clothes. He surreptitiously reached into his shirt pocket for his wand, and cast a quick cooling spell. Then he studied Hermoine's pale skin, and magically shifted an umbrella until its shade covered her.
Finally, the girl stirred. "I do appreciate your concern, but I'd really just as soon be left—"
The moment she glanced his direction was quite obvious. Her book arced out over the chair, planting Churchill's face in the sand. She vaulted to a sitting position and tore off her sunglasses, revealing wide eyes. "Professor Snape!"
"Good afternoon, Miss Granger. I must ask, as you're someone who usually appears to be of reasonable intelligence: Could you not just as easily read in the air-conditioned comfort of your hotel room?"
She sputtered. He rather enjoyed the sputtering, but luckily he had long practice in avoiding the appearance of enjoying himself.
But all good things must come to an end, and soon the girl pulled herself together, more or less.
"I heard of your survival, but … what are you doing here?"
"Enjoying the sun. Naturally."
Hermione stared at him for a long moment, open-mouthed. Then she looked him up and down and giggled. "How about the truth, then?"
Sadly, his former student seemed to have adjusted to the situation. "Very well. As you have refused to answer any communication, I have volunteered to make contact with you."
That shut her up.
"The magical world is in chaos, Miss Granger. I realize you have certain … wounds to heal, but your attendance is needed." He glanced at her arm, where the bare outline of a scar still remained.
"Is it?" She looked away, staring off toward the sea. Snape waited. He'd become very good at waiting, especially after his hours spent dead. It was a bit of a chore to smell the sea breeze and not enjoy it, but he managed.
Hermione giggled again. "Is this your attempt to blend in? You're the only person on the beach wearing a long sleeve shirt and trousers."
"Melanoma is a terrible thing, Miss Granger, and wizards are not immune. At least I didn't have to slather on a gallon of sunblock, as you did."
She looked down as if just now realizing how she'd dressed, then self-consciously pulled a beach towel over her torso. "I just—I needed a holiday, Professor. I was going to come back."
"Your return will, at the very least, quiet the tragic caterwauling of Ron Weasley."
She turned sharply back to him. "Who sent you? It certainly wasn't Harry."
"Potter and I have settled our differences." Not that they were ever likely to get on. "He, despite his age, has been put to work tracking down the remnants of the Death Eaters; it seems he has an affinity for the task. In point of fact, over the last few months every wizard on this side of the planet has been doing damage control, or has been hunting the side that lost, or is the side that lost … or is finishing the grieving process."
With a gasp, Hermione clapped a hand over her mouth. "Ron—!"
Now came the part Snape looked forward to the least, the part that had caused him to campaign against this job. But McGonnagall had, wisely, hidden him away from both the unbelieving public and vindictive Death Eaters. Unfortunately, that left him with little to do before he could resume his Potions job in the fall. That left him, in other words, available for dirty jobs.
"The Weasleys are together, as a family. They are recovering, and could manage without you for a time … if anything, it was for the best that they have the time together." It was, perhaps, a better situation than that experienced by a double agent thought dead, who had to work through his issues without a support group. Not that he needed other people for support. Because he didn't.
Snape caught Hermione looking at him, and wondered if he'd let the facade slip. "It was Professor McGonagall who sent me, Miss Ganger—Headmaster McGonagall."
"Oh." She thought about it for a moment. "She's rather taken your job then, hasn't she?"
He felt his eyebrows rise. Several responses came to him: Sardonic, angry, unemotional, some combination of all. Then he looked at the girl, saw the return of her innate curiosity, and something in him pushed for the truth. "I was uncomfortable in the position of Headmaster … granted the circumstances, but I don't believe it's the line of work I'd prefer. The new Headmaster has given me my old position back, and other than a certain … aloneness without students these last weeks, it's where I prefer to be."
Hermione studied him closely. Now, this was uncomfortable, but for some reason Snape felt a sense of … almost relief, to let that wall crack a bit. Not that he'd be crying on her bare shoulder anytime soon.
But his former student, it seemed, wasn't ready to deal with that. "What exactly does Headmaster McGonagall need me for?"
Very well, then. "It will hardly surprise you that submissions for this year's classes have been sparse, considering Hogwarts was the center of a deadly battle. She said, quote, I need our best student back to bring us a sense of normalcy, unquote. She wants you to finish your N.E.W.T.S., and perhaps assist as a student teacher until the faculty has been built back up." Snape cleared his throat. "Potter and Ron Weasley have chosen to drop out, and good riddance to them."
"Oh." She looked toward her book, still stuck Prime Minister-first in the sand. "I see." She climbed out of her chair, grabbing the towel in one hand as she bent over to retrieve the volume.
That put her sparsely clad bum directly in Snape's line of sight. He looked away. Cheeky girl. Heh.
She perched on the chair, no longer relaxed, and used the towel to wipe off the book in quick, jerky motions. It was as if the last several weeks, away from the front lines of a war, had never happened. "Miss Granger, I took the liberty earlier of preparing a potion that would assist in your stress levels, should you ..."
Her wild hair had fallen so he couldn't see her face, but Hermione shook her head.
"Very well. I do realize that you were under intense pressure, having undergone torture and extreme hardship … and that in addition to being with Potter and Weasley, you also had the war to contend with."
Now Hermione twisted around, her face raw with shock. "Did you just tell a joke?"
Snape gave a quick bow, mostly to hide his smile. "We've all seen changes, these last months."
She laughed—a nervous, barking laugh—then sat back again, her gaze going out to the horizon. Snape, practicing his patience, also turned that way, and waited.
It wasn't long before Hermione spoke again, reminding Snape that he wasn't the only one who didn't like just sitting around, without something to do. "Of course I'm going back. But … I don't have to go back just yet, do I?"
"You do not. We can continue to holiday for a few weeks, although I would suggest something off the shore. Museums, perhaps, or concerts."
He felt, more than saw, her attention turn to him. "We?"
"My lessons are prepared, my classroom ready, and quite frankly I could use a holiday myself. Since you are done with your potions classes, I see no reason why we can't be … companionable." Snape turned, to gauge her reaction.
For a long moment Hermione stared at him. Then she forced her mouth shut and blinked. Then she smiled. "Do you … and you must promise not to make fun of me … fancy touring some of the historical libraries of Europe?"
"Architecture and old books. Yes, I might glean some enjoyment from that pursuit, and it would have the advantage of getting us off this bloody beach." He stood, and offered his arm. "Come along then, Miss Granger, and I shall treat you to dinner … after you change." He saw no reason to inform her of Potter's and Weasley's separate requests that he keep an eye on her.
She wrapped the towel around her and then, book in one hand and Snape in the other, headed out. "I'd be delighted."
That response seemed to surprise her and much as it did him.
A/N: The title was inspired by the movie "Death Takes a Holiday", and so could have just as easily been "Death Eater Takes a Holiday".