A/N: I would have loved to post this around Christmas, but the reveal wasn't until today so I was forced to wait. Believe me, it was not easy lol. I can't believe I managed to churn out this fic in a week but thanks to the lovely moderators of the fest as well as my beloved MrsHH who, let me say it yet again, is a HUGE contributor to my writing, I was able to get this done. I had fun writing it, I might have made myself laugh but I'm a weirdo like that, so what can I say. Also, I need to mention my beloved whose love of Christmas was another reason why the idea to write this around Christmastime came to mind.
And there we have it, another reason why that last chapter of UI was slightly delayed ;) Thanks for reading and please enjoy! :D
Hermione did not mind Christmas. Truly, she didn't. It was the going round to her parents' for the annual inquisition that was Christmas dinner, however, that usually left her feeling a bit prickly.
"So have you met anyone yet, love?"
That was her grandmother, who for some reason could not fathom why her granddaughter, at the ripe age of twenty-nine, was not yet married.
"You're not getting any younger, dear!"
That helpful comment was made by Janice, the next-door neighbour who had been friends with the Grangers ever since Hermione could remember. Janice was a widow but had a long-time male companion named Louis, although she tried to behave as though they were nothing more than friends.
"I know you're focused on your career, darling, and I think that is an admirable pursuit. But some little ones would be nice, you know. At least one."
That was Mrs. Granger, who always tried to tactfully hint about the want of grandchildren. A wistful look would happen upon her face, and before she could begin heaving dramatic sighs, Mr. Granger would thankfully cut in.
"Leave her alone, Jean. Hermione doesn't have to get married if she doesn't want to, and besides, who says she wants to have kids? Who says she even wants to marry a man?"
"Who else would I marry, Dad?" Hermione had blurted out, kicking herself and wishing that she'd kept her mouth shut.
All of that had taken place last year. Mr. Granger was reclined comfortably in his armchair after dinner, on his second beer and shaking his head as his listened to his wife and friend have a go at his daughter.
"No idea, love," Mr. Granger answered, resting his beer atop one leg. "You could fancy a girl for all we know. That's perfectly fine."
"I'm not a lesbian, dad."
"Hey, it's OK if you are, darling, no worries. I'm a hip dad, I know how these things work nowadays."
"Dad!" Hermione yelped, not believing the words coming from her father's mouth, especially the part where he referred to himself as hip. "Believe me, if I were gay you and mum would be the first to know, but I'm not. Although I am happy to know that you're so open-minded."
Mrs. Granger and Janice both looked as though they were going to tip out of their chairs, and that had been enough for Hermione to swiftly change topics in conversation.
Needless to say, by the first of November the following year, when Mrs. Granger called her daughter a month well in advance, ready to discuss the dishes served for Christmas, Hermione knew that helping to choose between a goose or turkey would turn into lamentations about her attending dinner alone, and she prayed that the not long married Potters would extend an invitation.
There had been a time where Hermione spoke to and saw her old friends on a regular basis, although the frequency of visits had grown less consistent when children came into existence. Ginny Potter, neé Weasley, and Hermione had grown close, and Ginny always made sure to find time to see her best friend, even if they spent a few hours doing something as mundane as grocery shopping. As a result of growing up in a Muggle household, there were still some things that Harry favoured that could only be found in a Muggle shop, and there were plenty of Saturday mornings where Ginny made her way to Hermione's house.
The weekend after Hermione spoke to her mum regarding Christmas dinner, Ginny was at her door, bright and early with a vanilla latte in each hand.
"Hiding from your husband and son again?" Hermione greeted, stepping back to let Ginny through.
"How did you guess?" Ginny replied, holding one of the cups out to her friend. "I swear, Hermione, right now I'm almost envious of your childless, husbandless life. I really don't understand why Harry has an inability to put the damned toilet seat down when he's finished. What the bloody hell is so hard about putting the seat down when you're done? Please, tell me!"
"Gin, I really don't know..."
"And don't get me started on our son. He wants to feed himself and shrieks if you try to take his spoon, but it's a miracle that he's growing at all. James gets more food on his clothes and the floor than he does into his mouth. I found mashed peas on his back. His back, Hermione. What was he doing, feeding his shoulders?"
"Right, Ginny." Hermione moved to take Ginny's cup from her just as she raised it to her lips. "I think you've had enough for today."
"I've not had enough," Ginny retorted, stepping back and taking a sip. "And you're mad to take someone's coffee away before noon. Anyway I threatened to leave home permanently and change my name if they didn't get it together."
"Stop being such a drama queen. You only fell in one time and Harry helped you out like the good little hubby he is, right?"
That glib remarked earned a few choice words from the redhead, and Hermione pretended not to hear as she moved to get her jacket.
"So have you and the aforementioned good little hubby decided what you're doing for Christmas dinner?" Hermione asked fifteen minutes later. They were now in Hermione's car, and Ginny was fiddling with the radio dials.
"I volunteered to make dinner, even though it's a toss-up as to whether we'd all fit in the dining room. Most likely we'll end up going to my parents' and I'll help cook over there."
"You're more than welcome to come to the Burrow if you like, Hermione. You're practically family, if you recall."
"I know," Hermione sighed, idly tapping her finger on the steering column. "I appreciate it too, but Mum'll kill me if I don't come home."
"Let me guess—she's been nagging you about your eternal bachelorette status, and she's afraid you'll turn into some dotty old woman who has a million cats and covers every inch of her home in tiny crocheted things."
"Something like that," Hermione laughed, shaking her head. "Last year Dad told me it was OK if I was a lesbian."
"I love your dad. He's so funny." Ginny began chuckling, likely thinking about the first time she'd met Mr. Granger. The older man had been in rare form, behaving in a such a silly manner that Hermione threatened to never introduce him to any more of her friends.
"Well if you do decide to come to the Burrow, we will be more than happy to see you and even happier to lie about your whereabouts should your Mum send an owl, demanding to know if we've seen her only daughter."
"I'll hold you to that," Hermione promised.
Once they arrived at the supermarket, it didn't take long for Hermione to gather everything on her list and get through the checkout. Ginny, on the other hand, had a more extensive shopping list and required more time. Plus, she enjoyed taking her time to shop alone and without interruption.
Hermione had just finished loading everything into the boot of her car when she looked across the car park and saw someone who closely resembled a person from her past. A quick glance turned into blatant staring, yet before Hermione could figure out if she was hallucinating, a flash of bright red hair drew her attention back to her car.
"I've been calling your name for the past minute. What's up?" asked Ginny, waving a hand beneath Hermione's nose. "You look like you've seen a ghost."
"No... At least, I don't think so."
Ginny frowned, but Hermione's odd behaviour was soon forgotten about as she began unloading her trolley.
"Let's go somewhere for lunch," she suggested once Hermione turned out onto the main road.
"Normally I'd say yes, but we have a boot full of shopping. Milk does spoil, you know."
"Hermione, Hermione, Hermione," Ginny sighed, shooting a derisive glare. "You are a witch with a wand, remember? Or have you lived along the Muggles for so long you think that pretty piece of wood you keep hidden is merely for decoration?"
"Be nice to me, or I'll hide from you and then you'll have nowhere to go when you need to run away from your spouse and child."
Ginny snorted. "You'll have to do better than that. I'd let myself into your house even if you weren't there. You'd come home and find me childless and husbandless, sprawled out on your sofa, remote in hand with a snack at my side."
"You idiot," Hermione laughed. "I believe you, which is not a good thing. Fine, you cast a charm on our shopping but don't let anyone see you, and I'll find someplace for us to stuff our faces before you return to domestic bliss."
"You are the absolute best, no matter what they say!" Ginny trilled, hunching over to pluck her wand from the inside of her tall, lace-up boots.
"Funny, Ron was fond of that similar childlike persuasion to get me to finish his homework."
"Yeah, and remember how it used to work?"
Ginny began snorting at the look on Hermione's face. The redhead loved joking about the way Ron would make puppy eyes at Hermione to wheedle her into doing whatever her wanted, to which every time Hermione would give him a hard time yet help him anyway in the end. More than once Ginny had interrupted their bickering, stating that she wanted to 'make popcorn before the bollocking took place'. It didn't matter that they were all closer to the thirty-year-old end of the spectrum; Hermione still had no qualms about giving her friends an earful whenever warranted. Ron, for some reason, somehow always managed to incite Hermione's empty wrath, but over the years he learned that it was best to let her rant until she'd had her say.
"Be quiet, Ginny. All I know is if my Vienetta melts you're driving back to replace it."
"You look distracted again," Ginny commented when they were in the restaurant. "What's up?"
"What? Oh, nothing," Hermione trailed off, furrowing her brow. "Well, it's not nothing, but nothing big. Oh gods, I sound like an idiot." She paused and began fiddling with a lock of hair, a habit that was a result of anxiety.
"OK, Hermione, before you pluck your own scalp bald," Ginny told her, reaching across the table to push Hermione's hand down away from her head, "just tell me whatever it is that's on your mind."
Hermione exhaled forcefully and dropped her hand into her lap.
"I think I saw Professor Snape back in the car park at Sainsbury's."
Ginny had been in the middle of taking a sip from her water glass, and her eyes grew wide as she swallowed. "Snape? As in Severus Snape, our former teacher?"
"Do you know another Snape?"
Setting down her glass with a loud thump, Ginny looked curiously across the table.
"You sure you're feeling all right?"
"I'm fine, Ginny." Hermione frowned. "I'm not mad. I thought it was him, but they were only standing there for a second before getting in their car and driving away. For all I know it could have been someone who merely resembled Snape."
"Yeah, I'm thinking that's the case," Ginny replied dubiously. "I mean, not to say that it's impossible, but the man did sort of vanish after... you know. No one's seen him in ages."
"Ten years, to be exact," Hermione added. "I can't say I blame him, not after that whole debacle with Rita Skeeter splashing all his personal business across the front page of the Prophet."
"Ugh, I can't stand that horrid woman. The only reason half those stories stopped being printed is because someone threatened her with blackmail."
"Oh yeah, I remember Harry and your dad mentioning something about that, but they never really gave details."
"Yeah, they didn't tell me either but I figure whatever skeletons Rita has in her closet, it must be pretty bad if it was enough to make her shut up. But back to your delusions. I think the last time we saw Snape was at that Ministry thing we all had to attend. Remember the way he frowned the entire time? You would have thought he was being led to a garrotting."
Hermione shuddered at the memory of that day. Truth be told, she hadn't been up to attending the ceremony either, but knew that it would have been in poor taste to miss it. Her palms had grown sweaty and her breathing hastened when she, Harry, and Ron had been thrust into the centre of the floor, with everyone looking upon them and clapping. It was not terribly shocking when Snape was not given the same laud, but perhaps it had been just as well, because when Hermione peeked over at the man, she saw that both his bony hands had clenched into tight fists beneath his robes, as if trying to control the urge to hit something.
Hermione wondered if Snape hated being in the limelight as much as she. Unfortunately she didn't get the chance to ask, because two seconds after the ceremony was over and everyone was free to go, there hadn't been hide nor hair of the professor left behind. His entrance had been uncannily similar to his exit: unexpected, eerily silent, and shockingly abrupt.
"That was a weird time," Hermione continued, reflecting back to the strange period after the war had ended, "not to mention it brought out the nutters."
A waitress had just placed their food down on the table, and Ginny wasted no time in shoving a forkful into her mouth. She hummed in agreement, tilting her head to one side while thoughtfully chewing.
"You've got that right," she continued after swallowing. "Not to mention the constant flow of owls bombarding us day and night. Most of the letters were nice, but some were written by people who were clearly a few sandwiches short of a picnic. Actually, I don't think they even had the hamper."
Hermione cringed, remembering her own assortment of letters laced with hints of madness, some more than others, that found their way to her workplace and home on more than one occasion.
"And with that being said, do you blame me for hiding from everyone for a year?"
"Not at all," Ginny replied. "Actually it was you who gave me the idea of leaving home for a bit with Harry. Good thing too, else we never would've had any alone time. It was bad enough trying to snog without Ron or the twins interrupting us, and I won't even mention shagging. We were nearly caught so many times—"
"Let me stop you right there, thanks," Hermione interrupted hastily. "The image of you and Harry having sex is not one I want to have, ever, especially when I'm eating."
"Well excuse me, Miss Prim and Proper. Maybe if you got some once in a while—"
"Oh, look, is that Harry ringing my mobile?"
Ginny gasped in mock horror. "You wouldn't dare!"
Hermione's empty threat was enough to make her best friend behave, and for the rest of the meal, Ginny made no mention of her sex life, or the lack thereof in Hermione's.
The work week came and went for Hermione. Thoughts of Snape, rather the man at Sainsbury's who looked like Snape, were forgotten about. When Saturday rolled around, the only thing she cared about was getting to the shops early enough to beat the crowds and make it back home. No surprise, it looked as though it was going to rain, something which often coincided with her days off. Any other time Hermione wouldn't have minded, as rainy days were, in her opinion, perfect for lounging about in bed whilst wearing ratty pyjamas, only moving for a cup of tea or a snack. Yet seeing as she was in no mood to cook, and out of apples which she suddenly had a taste for, she decided to drag herself out the house and to get some.
"Let's hope we don't see anyone we know," Hermione muttered to herself, giving a cursory glance down at her hastily chosen outfit as she hurried into the supermarket. Ill-fitting jeans, an old sweatshirt that once belonged to her dad, and trainers that she'd shoved her feet into without bothering to undo the laces consisted of Hermione's outfit. A bright yellow hooded raincoat completed the ensemble, and remembering the messy ponytail she'd wrestled her curls into, Hermione told herself that she likely resembled a five-year-old. Or someone's deranged aunt.
And let's hope no one hears you talking to yourself, not when you're dressed like this. Oh, who gives a damn, anyway? I'm here for food, not a date.
The fruit aisle was Hermione's first stop. Basket slung over one arm, she hurried over to the display of gleaming red apples, her eyes set on a perfect one resting atop the others in the upper right corner. Just as her fingertips made brief contact with the shiny, round top, a pale, long-fingered hand appeared out of nowhere and smoothly snatched her coveted apple out of reach. The hand's owner had also bumped her with their trolley, and even though they were clearly in the wrong, it was Hermione who apologised first.
"Sorry," she said pointedly, even though she desperately wanted to ask the rude shopper what sort of manners they had.
"You're fine," they told her in a clipped tone, which let Hermione know that an apology on his behalf was not going to take place.
Clenching her molars, mostly to keep from saying something snippy, Hermione began searching for another apple. By that point she still hadn't bothered to look at the man next to her, but it was hard to ignore him when his hand came very close to hers again. Annoyed, Hermione exhaled audibly. Either the man hadn't heard her or he was doing a good job at ignoring, but when he moved to collect a fourth apple, Hermione got her revenge by picking up the one his hand nearly closed around.
"Do you feel better now?"
The bastard had the nerve to chuckle at his witty remark, and Hermione felt her hackles being raised. Whirling her head around, she was ready to give this man a piece of her mind when his familiar face caused every bit of her bravo to fade into nothingness.
"Bloody hell, you've got to be kidding me," he snapped, every trace of levity gone from his tone. "Are you stalking me?"
Hermione was literally able to feel her face contort into a most unattractive display, but she was so taken aback that it didn't matter.
"As if! Do you really think that highly of yourself to believe such a thing?"
"Why else would you be here?"
"I came for the ten-pin bowling," she answered glibly, sidestepping the man to continue with her apple picking. "Rumour has it this place is the best when you're feeling lucky."
"Wait a minute, Granger. I want to know what you're doing here."
"I'm shopping! Well at least I was until some rude man stole my apple and hit me with his trolley!"
"Yes but what are you doing here?"
"Oh for goodness' sake, it's Sainsbury's, not Fort Knox. On top of that it's Saturday; half of Islington is probably in here."
"Right. And you just happened to be in this shop on this day, the same time I decided to shop? Sure. Tell me another one."
"Oh for goodness' sake," Hermione snapped, losing patience. "If you're going to badger me, at least do it while we're sitting down with a cup of coffee and not stuck between piles of fruit and veg."
Holy shit, did I really just say that? Did I invite Snape out for coffee? Hermione immediately asked herself. What was wrong with her? Should she take it back? Or would that make her look like a complete idiot?
Because you don't look like an idiot now?
Thusly she was floored to find that Snape looked mildly shocked, as told by his right eyebrow raising high up on his forehead.
Ideal. Not a word Hermione expected to hear; something more along the lines of 'When hell freezes over,' or 'Did you hit your head today?' came to mind. But ideal? She supposed she could live with that.
Yet seconds later, reality of the situation smacked her in the face and she was at a loss for words.
Holy shit, did he just accept my invitation?
It took another few seconds before Hermione was able to look up at Snape, and she saw that he was eyeing her curiously.
"I'll tell you what, Granger. Judging by that dubious look in your eyes, I can tell that you are very close to reneging, although you're a Gryffindor and much too maudlin to break plans with someone because you're more concerned with sparing their feelings. So this is what I'll do—I'm going to finish my shopping. You will finish yours and I will meet you outside in exactly thirty minutes. If you decide that coffee is still in the cards, come outside. If you change your mind and I don't see you, well..."
"OK, deal. Just...don't go rushing off if thirty-one minutes pass and you don't see me," Hermione told him. "The queue gets horrendous closer to noon and you are partly to blame for delaying me."
"Partly to blame? How generous. Anyway, a small grace period sounds reasonable."
An obvious-sounding cough coming from behind Snape drew Hermione's attention to the left. She had been so engaged with talking to her former professor that she was oblivious to the way she and Snape were blocking up a good portion of the aisle. Hermione immediately became apologetic and moved, but Snape merely nodded his head before gliding off in the opposite direction, trolley leading the way.
It took Hermione another thirty-five minutes to wrap up the rest of her shopping trip. The entire time she hoped Snape wouldn't take her words to heart about being a minute late. For some reason she felt anxious about her upcoming coffee date, most likely because it meant that they were going to be alone, relatively speaking. Surely there would be other people around, but the last time Hermione laid eyes on Snape had been ten years ago, and even then the only exchanges they'd shared were that of student and teacher. Going further, the only words he ever had for her were always of the insulting variety.
Now, Snape seemed more amicable and not standoffish, but then again he never seemed to be the sort of man who laid out all his cards. Taking into account his private nature, Hermione was left wondering how this coffee date was going to pan out.
No, it's not a date, she reminded herself. It's just an opportunity to catch up with an old...
Friend? Colleague? No, he was neither. A relic from her past?
Now that just sounds strange. How about if you just finish your shopping and go see if he's still standing outside? Save the over-analysing and panic attacks for another day?
As expected, the queues were quite long and Hermione practically sprinted to her car once she was done. Snape wasn't at the entrance of Sainsbury's and she hoped he didn't think that he'd been stood up. Then Hermione looked across the car park and saw him lingering against a car, presumably his own, puffing on a cigarette and watching as she loaded her shopping into the back seat.
"You know those things'll kill you."
Those were the first words to come out of Hermione's mouth the moment Snape walked over and she almost regretted her faux pas. Keeping her face lowered to hide her flaming cheeks, she finally ventured a peek up and to see Snape shrugging, looking as though he was completely unperturbed by her lecture.
"Sorry," Hermione mumbled.
"Don't be sorry; you're absolutely correct." In one swift moment, Snape lowered the half-smoked cigarette from his lips and flicked it away. "I quit some time ago but get the urge now and again. I'd be lying if I were to say that it's not relaxing."
"You can always try knitting," Hermione suggested. "It's definitely a healthier and safer alternative, that is, if you don't accidentally stab yourself with your knitting needles."
Snape arched a brow. "Have some experience with that?"
Hermione tried to hide the smile on her face and failed. "Let's just say that sometimes the bounds of my clumsiness surprises even the likes of me."
"In that case, I suggest you let me drive us to coffee. There's a programme I had planned on watching tonight and dying in a car crash on the way might pose a bit of a problem."
Considering Snape's close brush with death, Hermione was shocked to hear such a glib remark, and she had to collect herself before speaking again.
"Well, oh, all right. I don't mind if you drive. Wait a minute: you actually drove here?"
The scathing look Hermione received was enough to make her force her lips together, lest she say something else potentially gauche. Snape turned and walked over to a Peugeot 206, black in colour (no surprise there) and more functional than anything. Hermione remained silent as the passenger door was politely held open, and snapped shut once she was inside. In the few seconds it took Snape to walk around and climb in the driver's side, Hermione used the time to peer around.
Hermione didn't consider herself messy by any means, but sometimes life got the best of her and her own car looked a bit lived-in. Books, half completed knitted projects, and the odd insulated travel mug sometimes graced the passenger seat. More than once Ginny had to shift the beginnings of a scarf or hat from the seat before sitting down.
"Damn it, Hermione! Why can't you just finish this with magic?" Ginny had snapped two weeks ago upon sliding back in the seat and getting poked in the bum by the end of a double-pointed needle.
"Because it's more relaxing to knit by hand," Hermione replied unapologetically.
"Yes, but why should I get knitting needles in my arse in the process?"
Hermione snapped out of her reverie once her companion was next to her. Snape surprisingly turned out to be a good driver, much better than her friends. Harry tended to drive like a little old lady, as Ron once told him, but that was likely attributed to the birth of his and Ginny's son. Ron, on the other hand, despite being a fairly new driver tended to drive like a bat out of hell, giving some insane taxi drivers a run for their money. After his and Hermione's last ride together it took fifteen minutes for her heart to start beating again, and she flat out refused to get in a car with Ron again.
Once Hermione was able to settle back into her seat, she focused on the fact of whom she was sharing a ride with. When she woke up that morning, if there was some outlandish thing she had foreseen happening, this wouldn't have come close to anything her mind could have conjured. More than once she furtively peeked over at Snape, enthralled in watching him doing something so... normal. Said normal thing was done whilst he was dressed in jeans, a button-down shirt, and a black coat.
"Are you going to stare at me the entire time as though I'm a spectre?"
Hermione drew her eyes up from Snape's clothes to his face. Even though he'd spoken to her, he was looking straight ahead at traffic, drumming his fingers against the steering wheel.
"Sorry, it's just that all of this is a bit surreal for me."
Snape gave a small nod but remained quiet.
"Take the next right. The shop's just down the road," Hermione directed a few minutes later.
Parking didn't take long, and soon the two were at a small table in the corner of the cafe. Since Hermione had been the one to extend an invitation, she offered to pay for their drinks. There was a moment of uneasy silence as they sat across from one another, and unable to take it any longer, Hermione blurted out the first thing that came to mind.
"So, what have you been doing with yourself?"
"A bit personal, don't you think, Granger?" Snape drawled after taking a sip from his paper cup. He grimaced a bit and set the cup down. "I was under the impression that I was invited out for coffee, not a lengthy interrogation into my personal affairs."
"I..." Hermione trailed off, mouth gaping open as she frantically thought of a way to smooth over the situation.
"Relax, Granger. That was a joke in case you're unable to tell. I do that from time to time."
Hermione's mouth fell open marginally wider before snapping shut. "It's not as though you're known for your levity," she countered, pulling her cup closer and fiddling with the lid. "But then again, I haven't seen you in well over ten years so who knows what you're like now."
"Kept count, have you?"
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Doing the maths isn't that hard. The last I saw you I'd just turned twenty. I was thirty this September so I didn't exactly strain myself to figure it out."
"Right. Well to answer your initial question, nothing much, at least nothing terribly thrilling."
"Somehow I doubt that," Hermione replied. Talking to Snape was going smoother than she expected, even if she still had to deal with his snarky quips. But it wasn't as though she'd expected that part of his personality to change. "What do you consider 'nothing terribly thrilling'?"
Snape gave a small shrug. "I travelled a bit. Lived abroad for a while."
That piqued Hermione's curiosity, and, subconsciously, she began leaning closer over the table. "Really? Where did you visit?"
"If I had known that this was going to turn into the third degree, I would have demanded dinner instead of coffee," Snape said pointedly, focusing his black eyes directly on Hermione.
Once upon a time, being stared down by the man would have caused Hermione to go to pieces inside, even while maintaining a brave forefront. Now she was unaffected by the gesture and she waved her hand dismissively, wanting Snape to answer her question.
"Then we'll have dinner next time," she told him. "Now tell me."
Snape, however, refused to be so easily swayed. He narrowed his eyes. "What are you playing at, Granger? 'Next time'?"
"Relax. I said dinner, not a marriage proposal," Hermione replied brusquely. "Now stop stalling and answer my question, please."
"Bloody hell, Granger. Still think you're the boss of everyone, I see."
"I do not!"
"Lies, lies, and more lies."
"You're still stalling."
"Fine. I'll entertain you since it's paramount that you hear the mundane details of my travels. Rome, Spain, Greece, and France are just a few of the places I remained on extended holiday. Greece was my favourite, I was almost disappointed to return home."
"Where else did you go?"
"Wherever I wanted, Granger, wherever I wanted. The names of each place elude me for the moment, but let's leave it at this: wherever I wanted to go, I went. I ate what I wanted, slept for as long as I pleased, and roamed freely without the threat of Rita Skeeter or one of the Prophet's minions trying to chase me down with a Dict-a-quill at the ready."
"Oh gods, you too?" Hermione blurted out, her eyes widening. "Well of course, that's no surprise, but I swear, that year after the war ended was outright horrible. I couldn't even do something simple as buying tampons without someone breathing down my neck. And I thought I could nip into the Muggle shops, thinking no one would recognise me? Hah, wrong! Picture me, standing there at the till, this gaudy pink box of Lil-lets in my hand, and a box in such an ugly shade of pink that you know what's in there. Then comes this pushy bloke who I suppose was trying to fit in with Muggles but failing miserably, because the day was surprisingly warm and this idiot had on a woollen overcoat. Needless to say when he asked if I was the Hermione Granger, I dropped those damned Lil-lets and ran."
Hermione had begun to ramble to the point that she didn't notice the way Snape was looking at her. Only when she stopped speaking and realised that it was silent did she glance up, blushing to the roots of her hair when she saw his lips twisted in suppressed amusement. Otherwise the rest of his countenance was stern, and she mentally chastised herself for prattling on like a teenaged girl.
"Sorry," Hermione mumbled, rushing to take a large sip of coffee, a gesture meant to hide her embarrassment.
"So what did you do?" asked Snape, and Hermione slowly looked at him, her brow crinkled.
Snape leaned slightly sideways in his chair, folding both arms across his chest. "You said you'd dropped the Lil-lets and ran, so what did you do?"
"What did I do about what?"
"Your period. I'm assuming you were shopping for Lil-lets because of your cycle. I'm curious to learn how that fiasco ended."
The comment only made Hermione cringe further.
"Oh no..." Hermione buried her face in her palms and groaned in despair. "I can't believe that I just mentioned my period to you. Would you mind permanently erasing that from your memory?"
"What for?" Snape frowned when Hermione refused to look up. "What did you think, I was some prepubescent boy who knew nothing about menstrual cycles? PMT and all the business surrounding it? Do give me a little credit."
Hermione peeked at Snape through her fingers. "How do you know about PMT?"
Rolling his eyes, he reached across and tugged Hermione's hands down from her face.
"Because I've only been dealing with hormonal teenagers since I was barely an adult myself. Then there was the time when I was still a student and a classmate from my own house actually growled at me when I dared to take the last piece of chocolate cake. The choice was quite clear: limbs over pudding. I really believe she would have maimed me with her spoon if I had taken that cake."
It was almost impossible to not laugh at the idea of a teenage Snape being successfully menaced by some unreasonable Slytherin witch with a fierce need for sweets.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" Hermione snorted, clapping a hand over her mouth which did little to contain her cackling. "I can't believe it, I can't believe it at all! I would have paid to see you heeling to a classmate."
"I didn't heel, damn it, I'm not a dog. I merely weighed the pros and cons of the situation and decided that going to bed that night with my bollocks intact served me better in the long run compared to going to bed with an already full stomach having taken on a second helping of cake. Besides, that bint didn't give a damn about the raspberry tart that was inches away from the chocolate, so I ate that instead."
Hermione was so busy laughing that she didn't notice a man who had just entered the shop, and was now blatantly staring in her direction. Only after rubbing the moisture from her eyes did she glance across the room.
"Oh, damn," Hermione muttered between clenched teeth, keeping a smile pasted on her face so as to not give anything away. "What will it take for you to act like we're together?"
Snape quirked a brow. "We are together."
"No, well, yes, we're together, but not together together. I need you to—"
Snape continued looking at Hermione as though she was losing her mind. Then, peering around her, a knowing look came over his face and he nodded.
"I see. There is someone you wish to avoid but proper upbringing disallows you to be rude. Fortunately, for me exchanging false pleasantries is akin to breathing."
"So does that mean you'll do it?" Hermione asked in a rush, a pained look on her face as she covertly peered over at the young man, then back to Snape as she mentally willed him to say yes.
"You definitely owe me dinner for this one. Better make that multiple dinners; I'm all for not cooking when I don't have to."
"All right! Whatever you say," Hermione relented, scooting her chair closer. "I'll even throw in a few lunches so long as you keep that idiot from swanning over here."
"I hate liver, I'm not all that fond of green peppers, and turmeric tastes like arse and grinded up boot heel."
"I have no idea what arse and boot heel tastes like, but I'll be sure not to use it," Hermione hissed under her breath, seconds before the person she'd been hiding from made his way over to the table.
"Hello, David," Hermione replied with as much enthusiasm one had when doing something unsavoury, such as scrubbing a bathroom floor. "How are you?"
"Can't complain. I've not seen you in a while. I was just about to call your mum and ask after you."
Resisting the urge to say something nasty, Hermione interrupted David before he could continue speaking and introduced Snape.
"All right, mate, how are you?" David asked, holding out his hand when Snape stood up.
It was evident that Snape didn't fancy being called 'mate' by someone young enough to be one of his former pupils. David had beefy hands with short, thick fingers, but when Snape's slim, delicately-boned hand closed tightly around David's, there was an audible cracking sound and Hermione knew those sausage-shaped digits would be left in a sore, aching state for at least a day.
David tried to save face and act as though he hadn't come close to getting every one of his fingers broken, and Hermione bit back a laugh when she saw him clenching and unclenching his fist a few times behind his back.
"Well, ah, I just wanted to say hello," David stammered, peering uneasily at Snape, who was now sitting closely next Hermione, arm draped across the back of her chair with a satisfied expression on his face. "Give your parents my regards." David paused, before adding nervously, "Nice meeting you."
Snape inclined his head half an inch. "Likewise."
It was hard not to laugh whilst watching the cocky young man tripping over his own feet as he rushed out the shop. He had been in such a hurry that he'd forgotten his order at the counter, and the girl working behind there tried getting his attention to no avail.
"Prick," the girl muttered as she snatched the cup back.
"You know, I think that's the fastest I've ever seen him move," Hermione chortled. "Thanks; I really do owe you for that."
Snape's reply was a grunt as he slid around to the opposite side of the table. "Let me guess—a ghost from the past?"
"More like a demon. Ugh, my mum thought David was so wonderful. Day in and out I had to hear about how well-mannered and polite he was. What a load of hogwash. I went out to dinner with him and he tried to feel me up the moment we left the restaurant."
"Hmm." Snape sniffed. "Shame I didn't squeeze his hand harder, perhaps it would have taught him a lesson: keep your damned hands to yourself."
"If we ever run into David again, you have my full blessing to squeeze whatever you feel like into a pulp."
"Don't tempt me. I'll do it."
"I know you would, that's why I gave you my blessing."
There was a non-mocking smirk on Snape's face that left Hermione highly amused. Just as she moved to take a sip of coffee, he held out a hand to stop her.
"I think they've gone cold. I'll get you a fresh cup."
"Oh... All right."
Well, there we are, Hermione mused, trying not to look obvious as she stared at Snape moving across the shop to order two more coffees. Not bad. Not bad at all.
"Ginny, I need to talk to you."
"All right, Hermione," Ginny replied in a singsong, swinging James lightly in her arms and bending down to nuzzle her nose against his. The tot giggled and reached for his mother's long red hair, only Ginny knew better and quickly tossed the tresses over her shoulders. "Oh no, you don't!" James thought that was the funniest thing and laughed again, exposing his tiny, pearly white baby teeth. "So, what's up?" Ginny pressed, lowering her head and pretending to nibble on her son's toes.
"You'll never guess who I had coffee with," Hermione began, smiling at James who was shrieking and attempting to crawl in her direction to be saved.
"Snape. I've got you!" Hermione teased once James had wriggled free and escaped to the safety of his aunt's lap.
Early Sunday afternoon, Hermione found herself in desperate need of her best friend's advice. She used the Floo to travel right into the Potters' house, going directly to the living room, where she found Ginny and baby James, sitting on the floor atop a large blankets, pillows and toys scattered around them.
"Wha—really?" Ginny's jaw hung open as she waited for Hermione to elaborate. "And what happened when you two went for coffee? Wait, before that, how the hell did you even get to the point of going for coffee?"
"Hmphhmm," was all Hermione could manage, as James had shifted in her lap and was now trying to stick his fingers into her mouth. A cuddly rabbit that had been abandoned to the floor was charmed to dance around, successfully holding the squirming two-year-old's attention, and only then was Hermione able to finish her story. "Remember the day you and I went to Sainsbury's and I thought I saw Snape?"
"Well, I still don't know if it was him that day, but it was definitely him the next weekend when I went shopping. We nearly got into a row over the apple counter, but that was before I realised who I'd been standing next to."
"How the hell do you get into a row over apples?"
"Don't swear in front of my nephew," Hermione chided, causing Ginny to roll her eyes. "He kept picking up the apples my hand touched and then he bumped me with his trolley. I was two seconds from whipping out my wand when I looked up and got the shock of my life."
"OK, but how did you two end up going for coffee? I'm still not seeing the connection."
"Gin, I don't know..." Hermione floundered a bit, falling silent as she stared down at the top of James' messy black-haired head. "It just sort of came out: 'Let's go for coffee', although now that I think about it, the invitation wasn't all that polite. He kept firing all these questions at me and I got flustered and finally told him that if he was going to badger me to at least do so over coffee."
"And he just said yes?"
"Don't get cheeky. So you and Snape had coffee. That's...well, just saying it sounds a bit weird, to be honest, but we're adults. James, why are you kicking Hermione?"
"Mynee?" James piped up from Hermione's lap. He was slumped sideways in her arms and indeed his tiny, fuzzy purple sock-covered foot had been thumping the side of her leg.
"Yes, why are you kicking Mynee's leg?"
"He's comfortable," Hermione replied, affectionately running her fingers through James' unruly hair.
"You spoil him," said Ginny, smiling at her son before shaking her head. "Anyway, now it's not that I'm not happy to see you because I am, especially if you're volunteering for the next nappy change, but you and Snape had a coffee date and all of a sudden you're met with the urge to come over on Sunday at one in the afternoon. Did something happen?" Ginny's voice grew dangerously lower. "Was that bastard a bastard to you?"
"What? No, not at all," Hermione replied hurriedly. "Something did happen, though. Remember David?"
"David, David... That creepy arsehole your mum tried to set you up with?"
"It's not as if James is going to repeat me."
"Maybe not now but eventually!"
"Oh, sorry. That smarmy bastard your mum tried to set you up with? Happy?"
"No, Miss Gutter Mouth, and yes, that David."
"Wow. How did that pan out?"
"I bribed Snape into behaving as though we were together and when they shook hands he nearly broke each of David's fingers."
Ginny laughed uproariously until tears ran down her cheeks. "Did he really?" she gasped, shrieking when Hermione nodded. "Oh my goodness, that's classic. I wish I had been there to see that idiot's face."
A grin stretched across Hermione's lips as she remembered fondly how frightened David had been of the imposing man.
"So aside from Snape behaving as your bodyguard, I get the impression that something else is bothering you," Ginny continued.
"Oh..." Hermione trailed off, the smile fading from her face.
"Did you have a nice time on your coffee date?"
"It wasn't a date, Ginny."
"Same difference. Did you have a good time?"
"Yes, and therein lies the problem."
Ginny waved a hand, waiting for her best friend to continue. When Hermione remained silent, half-focused on James smacking his small outstretched hand against her open palm, Ginny snatched up the cuddly rabbit, which had still been dancing mid-air, and thumped Hermione on the arm with it.
"What was that for?"
"Because you keep stopping when you get to the good part of the story!" Ginny said shrilly.
"How do you know it's the good part if you don't know what I'm going to say?"
"It has to be the good part because it's the part that's making your ears turn red. Now hurry up and tell me!"
"OK... I had a nice time with Snape. And it was not a date so you shut your mouth. But, truly, it was nice, sitting there and chatting away the hours. We sort of lost track of time. I can't remember the last time I sat and talked with anyone for that long without feeling the urge to run away because I was being bored to death."
"Something tells me Snape is more bookish than you, so it's no surprise you two sat there all night running your mouths. But I still don't see why you're anxious."
"I'm not anxious," Hermione protested, scrunching up her nose. "Who said I was anxious? I'm not anxious. Do I look anxious?"
"Hermione," Ginny began, a smile touching the corner of her mouth, "if we were to get a dictionary and look up the word 'anxious', your picture would be right next to the definition. So you fancy Snape. That's OK. We're adults now, it's not like we're back in Hogwarts and you're some twelve-year-old who fancies the teacher."
"I do not fancy Snape," Hermione replied, a little too quickly, causing Ginny to give her a 'whatever you say' look. "I don't. I caught him smoking before we went for coffee and I don't like smokers."
"You may not like smokers but you definitely like Snape."
"I don't like smokers and you know who else I don't like? Redheads with a penchant for fabricating stories."
"You may not like redheads with a penchant for fabricating stories, but you love this one right in front of you, and she is definitely not fabricating anything."
Hermione was uncharacteristically silent, further proof that Ginny's assumptions were correct. She kept her face lowered, pretending to be enthralled by James playing with her fingers.
"Hey, mister, no biting!"
James giggled as Hermione pulled her pointer away from his mouth.
"OK, I'll stop taking the piss at you, but no one'll care if you like Snape. At least, I won't."
"Not that Ron or Harry have any impact on my personal life, but I'm very sure they will care more than a little," Hermione pointed out. "Besides, it would be weird; none of us sees Snape for ages and then all of a sudden I start going on about liking him? They would petition to have me committed."
"No one has to know, Hermione," said Ginny, as though this should have been obvious. "Now say your little coffee date turns into something more serious, then it will be your and his business, no one else's. And my husband and brother won't give you any trouble, not unless they want to feel my rage."
"Heaven forbid anyone feels your rage!" Hermione exclaimed in mock horror.
"Shut it," Ginny laughed. "All I'm saying is this: fancy who you want. Date who you want. Life is short and you should do what makes you happy. Do you know how much shi—stuff, sorry, don't want to offend your delicate senses—I had to hear when me and Harry began seriously dating? 'You only like him because he's the "Chosen One".' 'If he wasn't famous you really wouldn't care about him.' 'You're just another one of his fans.' One bold nutter actually stopped me on the street to let me know that Harry was going to leave me eventually and that I wasn't such a good Quidditch player. Honestly, what do you say to that sort of thing?"
"As I remember, you called her a... " Hermione paused to look down at James, "I won't repeat it, but you did tell her off. Then you threatened to hex her if she didn't move out your way."
"Damn, you have a good memory."
"That tends to happen when you hear the replay five times in a row."
"It was a funny story. So are you going to see Snape again or what?"
"I don't know, Ginny...I suppose. He did say that dinner was contingent upon him agreeing to pretending to be my boyfriend when David came around, but I don't know if he was being serious."
"Hermione, Hermione, Hermione." Ginny sounded as though she was mustering a wealth of patience to get out her next thought. "I'm quite sure he was serious, and on top of that, you two are equally yoked with it comes to the swotty side of things. The fact that you two sat and talked—just talked—for hours without going insane says something. You'd be an idiot not to see if this could lead to anything. Merlin forbid you actually find someone who you truly get along with. That poor bloke you brought around last, what was his name? We took bets to see how long he was going to last. Damn my brother; I had to give Ron five Galleons for the loss."
"That's what you get for betting on me in the first place, and his name isn't important."
"You know perfectly well his name was Jack, only tacking a few more letters on the end would have been a perfect forewarning for me to not waste my time. I still have no idea what I saw in him."
"Maybe it was that thick, wavy brown hair... those sparkling hazel eyes... or an arse so firm you could spend all day throwing Galleons at it and watching them bounce off..."
All of the above,Hermione answered mentally, but there was no way she would admit that to Ginny. "Are you calling me superficial?"
"Damn right I am," Ginny chortled. "Oooh, Jack was dishy. Daft as a doorknob, by your standards in any event, but dishy nonetheless. I was almost sad to see him go."
"Remind me again," Hermione began, looking down at the child in her lap who was staring up at her and blinking sleepily, "who did you make this sweet child with? Because I'm sure it's my best friend who has the same messy hair and green eyes, the man also known as your husband."
"Listen, I'm married, not blind. Mum even said he was handsome."
"Yes, but nice eyes and an even nicer bum lose their appeal when owner of said nice bum is constantly asking to borrow money. He must've thought that HSBC was stamped across my forehead."
"I suppose they can't all be winners," Ginny sighed. "But I still think you should have dinner with Snape. Or go for coffee again. Wow, that sounds so strange..."
"How do I know if he really wants to have dinner with me?"
"Well, there's this thing you can do, and mind you, it might be an bit unconventional but I promise, it's not as painful as it sounds," Ginny explained. "You can—are you ready for it? You can do this thing called ask."
"I swear, you are an ask," Hermione hissed, slightly rocking James when she glanced down and saw that he was falling asleep. "All right, I'll ask him. We exchanged numbers and all before parting ways last night so I guess that accounts for something."
"Hermione... you are remarkably bright at times. Then along comes a man who has your interest piqued and you get completely daft. Since when did you become unable to tell when a man is interested in you?"
"No idea. Possibly somewhere between guys only talking to me because they wanted help with their homework and guys only talking to me because they wanted in my knickers. Some things change but mostly they stay the same."
"Hermione, Snape gave you his number for a reason. And you gave him yours for a reason. Go to dinner with him, talk about more of those thick, intimidating books you lot love to read, and most importantly, stop over thinking everything."
"All right, Miss Pushy. I'll call Snape and see when he wants to have dinner, if he wants to have dinner. Hmm, reckon I should start calling him by his first name? I can't keep referring to him as 'Snape', can I?"
"'Nape?" James questioned from Hermione's lap through a wide yawn.
"See? Even James says you should go out with Snape," Ginny murmured, trying not to laugh when Hermione glared at her.
"Since when are two-year-olds known for their wise life choices? James would have sweets for breakfast if allowed."
"Funny you should mention that," Ginny said, sounding as though she was anything but amused. "I let Ron mind James for a couple hours one morning. You would have thought my brother never heard of toast or porridge; James had chocolate smeared all over his lips. The idiot decided to have biscuits for breakfast and figured there was no harm in sharing with his nephew."
"Should've told your mum."
"I did. She gave Ron an earful. Ronald Weasley! How dare you feed my grandchild rubbish in the morning! Have I taught you nothing?'I laughed till I cried. But enough about that. Call Snape tonight and see when he's available for your second date."
"Ginny! I told you, it wasn't a date!"
"I'm sure there's some rule somewhere that says the man should make the first move, but sod the rules. And who knows? He might like a woman who knows how to take charge."
"OK, that's enough conversation for today," Hermione cut in, setting a snoring James down on the blanket.
"The next time we speak I'd better hear that you and Snape made plans, or else." Ginny paused to look down at her son, who was sucking on his thumb and slumbering peacefully. "I hope he stays asleep. I have a mountain of clean wash that needs folding and if he's awake and sees me using my wand, he'll want it and when I say no he starts up. Sometimes I do everything by hand just to keep him quiet."
"Good luck with that," Hermione laughed as she stood up and walked out the room. Just as she rounded the corner, a loud 'Mummy!' followed by a forced laugh could be heard from the living room.
"I thought you were taking a nap!"
"No nap? Let's see if we can catch Auntie Mynee before she leaves and ask if you can go to her house."
Hermione hurried into the Floo so quickly that she stumbled and banged her elbow against one corner.