A/N: I had intended for this to be a standalone story, but people kept asking me how Snape survived … and I also promised to write fanfiction to celebrate original fiction advances, like my book contract with Arcadia Publishing. So …
"So, how did you survive-?"
Hermione looked annoyed when the waiter approached. Snape might have smiled, if he was inclined to do such things. She'd been quiet since the moment she emerged from the changing room, wearing a colorful sundress that was slightly less revealing than the bikini she'd worn on the beach. Apparently she was rebelling against the drab, conservative dress of Hogwarts.
Equally revealing was his former student's silence. Only one topic of conversation could shut Granger's mouth for their entire walk to the restaurant … the same topic that kept him silent as he tried to figure out a way to avoid it.
There was no good way to talk about death, especially one's own.
Hermione ordered in passable French, while the waiter looked down the neckline of her dress. Sitting even straighter than usual, Snape put on his best glare and aimed it with laser precision at the man. The waiter faltered, glanced up, then straightened himself. Eyes wide, he stammered something in English.
"I will also have the Coquilles Saint-Jacques. With Chablis, and buche for desert. You will keep your gaze from them."
With a start, Hermione looked up from the menu.
Snape continued, without looking away from the now trembling waiter. "So much as a glance will result in severe … consequences."
With a quick nod, the waiter scurried away.
"What was that all about?" Hermione demanded. "How in the world is he to serve our food if he doesn't look at it?"
Snape gestured—ever so briefly—at the point just above where the swell of her breasts emerged from the sundress. "You were asking about my death."
"But—oh!" Her hand fluttered to her chest, and a blush spread all the way down her neck.
"If you don't mind my saying, Miss Granger …"
"Yes, your ..." She looked away. "I wanted to get as far from possible from my life, you see. Location, activities … style of dress …"
"I assume you're going to burn the contents of your suitcase before returning to Hogwarts in the fall."
"I'm thinking about burning them right now."
The waiter appeared beside them again, clutching the Chablis and two glasses. "Madam, I wish to apologize for my earlier behavior."
Snape's head jerked up. The waiter's voice was suddenly higher, rougher, as if it was someone else trying to imitate the man. Yet he looked exactly the same.
"Apology accepted," Hermione told him, a little uncertainly, as the waiter poured their drinks with horrible technique.
"Here in this world, there is nothing wrong with your style of dress." Snape made no attempt to sound reassuring, especially since his words were not, strictly speaking, meant for her. "There is no sign of our world here." He looked at the waiter. "None whatsoever."
The waiter spilled a little and, apologizing profusely, wiped it up.
"Therefore," Snape continued, "No one has any reason to complain about you wearing summer clothing in the south of France, during summer."
As the waiter moved away, Hermione gave her dinner companion an odd look. "Thank you. I'm trying to decide if this topic of conversation is meant to divert me from the other topic of conversation."
"I would prefer a third topic, something less volatile. Politics. Religion. My former associates."
She took a huge gulp from the glass, then wrinkled her nose in a way that would be almost cute if not for the accompanying gagging sound. "Perhaps discussing your former associates covers all three of those."
He'd never thought of it that way before, and now inclined his head in agreement. To delay the inevitable, he took a drink. Considering they were in France, the Chablis was, of course, superb. "Sip it, Miss Granger. It's not butterbeer."
"Harry says he saw you die." Hermione fidgeted in her seat.
"Potter is not nearly as observant as he imagines."
She started to argue, then took a sip as instructed. "It's good. I think. It tastes … like steel. And it smells like it just rained."
Hermione looked into her glass, and Snape used the moment to impulsively kick out to the side, where the waiter had been. His boot caught something, and he heard the smallest of cries and a gentle waft of moving material. "Potter, in addition to not being observant, is slow on the uptake and on connecting the proverbial dots. You, on the other hand, are both intelligent and observant, so you tell me: How did I manage to stay alive?"
"Well, you were—did you just compliment me?"
"I'm told there is a blue moon over France tonight."
"Did you just make another joke? That's two in one day." She sipped her drink again, holding it in her mouth for a contemplative moment.
"I'll chance the injury to my reputation."
"All right, fine. You were bitten by a giant, highly poisonous snake. Obviously, the venom …" Hermione trailed off. "You knew you might get bitten by Nagini, someday."
"So you made a potion that vaccinated you against the venom!" Looking triumphant, Hermione forgot her previous instructions and took a swallow of the Chablis.
"Obviously there was a chance Nagini might be used against me, so over time I was able to build up an immunity to the snake's venom." Snape almost smirked at the idea of cheating death, but then he shook his head. "It still affected me to some degree—and I did not take into account the probability of blood loss. Naturally, I would not have given my memories over to Potter if I hadn't thought …"
"You did believe you were dying." Sympathy shone in her eyes, or pity. Sometimes it was hard to tell the difference.
"But I did recover, eventually, and when someone finally came for my body they found me to be more or less alive. To many, that will come as something of a surprise this autumn, but by then the wizarding world should be more stabilized."
"I think I've learned more about you today than all the time we've known each other."
"Don't get used to it." Some part of Snape's mind admitted to liking this opportunity, to talk about himself a little. The rest of his mind slapped that part down. "And now, Miss Granger, we will speak no more of my death, or my life, or your choice of clothing. There surely must be more pleasant—"
"I'll be right back." Hermione clutched the edge of the table and jerked to her feet.
Trying to hide his concern, Snape also rose. "Do you require-?"
"No, no … I just need to powder my nose." She hurried away, in the general direction of the loo.
"Alcohol will have that effect on people," Snape murmured, retaking his seat. Then he raised his hand and snapped his fingers. The same waiter was beside him in a flash. "Potter, what the devil do you think you're doing?"
The waiter frowned. "How did you—"
"It was either you or Weasley, and he has his hands full elsewhere. It can be assumed you also had assistance, considering your complete incompetence at making Polyjuice Potion. You just can't seem to keep from spying on people."
"I'm not spying!"
"Then what were you doing?"
"I was …" The waiter faltered. "Looking out for my friend."
"In other words, spying. I promised you and the Weasleys that I would look after Miss Granger, in case you've forgotten. Also—in case you've forgotten—I keep my promises."
"I—I know. I'm sorry, Professor."
"If our randy server hadn't offended your delicate sensibilities, you might have gotten away with skulking in the cloak." He almost admired Potter's clearly inherited ability at stealth. "I assume the real waiter is unharmed?"
Harry shrugged. "He might wake up with a crick in his neck. He deserves worse for looking down Hermione's blouse."
"Agreed. However, Miss Granger is quite able to look after herself, and if circumstances dictate, I'm capable of providing the required assistance."
The waiter with Potter's voice hesitated. Against his better judgment, Snape softened his voice. "Miss Weasley and her simpering brother need you …go back to them. I'll look after the situation here."
After a moment, Harry nodded. "But you will burn that bathing suit, won't you?"
Perhaps the unfortunate loss of Miss Granger's suitcase was covered under "required assistance". "Count on it."