Disclaimer and Author's Notes: The wondrous world of J.K. Rowling's imagining does not belong to me, nor do I financially profit from it. The underlying source material belongs in its entirety to J.K. Rowling (save where she has sold her rights to various entities). Other than my readers' enjoyment, I make no monetary profit from my fanfiction.
I wrote this story in 2004 (post OoTP's book release, and long before knowledge of Snape's infatuation with Lily Evans and half-blood status was canon) for my wonderful beta SnarkyWench's birthday. At that time, I was quite new to the HP fandom, and was still working out my concept of these characters for my epic, The Summoning. This was pretty much my first attempt at fanfiction.
Please note that I haven't looked at this story in years. It stands as a benchmark from whence I came. I do hope you'll bear with my story as I know there are bits and pieces which no longer reflect canon compliance.
In terms of resources, the HP Lexicon was an invaluable source for clarification of several points. At the time of writing this story, no specifics other than the year 1960 were given for the Potions Master's birthday. I simply chose a date convenient for my timeline. As far as the potions and spells I adapted for my use, I relied on several online dictionaries. 'Compromettere,' means to 'unmask' and 'Dettare,' means 'dictate.' They are both Italian translations. For the Latin terms, I've used "Intectus," meaning 'unclothe,' as well as "Extenuo," meaning 'to make small,' 'to reduce.'
Additionally, aside from personal knowledge, the information for Hakone came from Japan-guide dot com. Kamakura can be seen from the link as well. I have attempted to give contextual clues to certain Japanese words for ease of comprehension, and if I have been remiss, my apologies.
For all who wondered, the 'wizard' author alluded to is Edgar Allen Poe, and there is a shout out to another immortal author, Jane Austen, in the last act. Trust me, it will be obvious!
Chapter One: Gambit
In which Severus receives an unexpected visitor and learns that even after graduation Hermione Granger is a diligent student.
"Get out, Miss Granger," snarled Severus Snape as he looked at the woman comfortably ensconced upon the leather couch in his private chambers. He had hoped never to see this particular witch again.
"June 25, 2001," she said. "The last time you ever spoke to me, those were the final words you used. I had thought ten years might've changed something."
Something had indeed changed over the course of ten years. Hermione Granger was no longer the trembling, but courageous, twenty-one-year old who had met the Dark Lord at the side of her closest friends – and Severus - in the final victorious battle between the Death Eaters and the Order of the Phoenix. Her post-battle experiences had apparently tempered her inner-fortitude into a tensile strength, beautiful to behold but lethal in application.
Severus would have to be careful. His heart thudded in his chest. He had not seen her since shortly after the final battle.
Hermione gracefully uncrossed her legs; the whisper of silk drew Severus' inadvertent attention to the shimmer of her stockings, encasing lithe and toned legs, as she elegantly rose to her feet. The black court shoes added inches to her height; even so, she would barely reach Severus' chin were she to stand next to him.
The tall Potions Master narrowed his eyes and crossed his arms in a forbidding gesture as he took in his former student's attire. She was wearing a mixture of Muggle and wizarding clothing: mid-thigh length, black silk skirt, revealing more of those finely toned thighs, and a scarlet crepe de chine blouse. The ensemble was covered by nubby, raw silk robes, also in black, which held a lustre all their own. He couldn't tell whether her hair had been tamed or not, but it was bound in a loose and intricate style which framed her face becomingly.
Grudgingly, Severus admitted she had matured into a self-assured, striking woman. Nothing was left of the student, save her intelligence and her bright, inquisitive brown eyes. Somewhere deep in his mind, he missed the forthright eagerness of the young woman she had been.
However, intelligent or not, former student or not, this was a witch who had infiltrated his privacy. It was a transgression did not accept lightly from anyone, former member of the Golden Trio, Order of Merlin First Class recipient, Gryffindor know-it-all or not.
Fury all but pulsed in the room as it radiated off his body. He addressed her once again, condescension firmly in place. "I was quite explicit in my rebuff of your affections ten years ago, Miss Granger. With your much vaunted intelligence, although notably absent when you chose to invade my home, I am more than certain you will understand that you are not welcome now. Get out, immediately!"
"Charming as ever, Severus," Hermione coolly replied as she bent to retrieve a small box she had set on the pile of books which littered his coffee table.
Her entire trip had been speculative, and Hermione Granger never gambled with something she was unprepared to lose. Then again, he had never been hers to lose.
That was entirely the point.
Her heart beat rapidly, and she struggled to maintain her formidable composure. Severus would have been surprised to know that she had learned how from him. She straightened, appraising him briefly before taking a step in his direction, her demeanor slightly predatory.
Severus narrowed his eyes, recognizing the authority in Hermione's demeanor. He had been highly ranked in a den of predators and didn't appreciate being stalked as prey.
Hermione light, exotic fragrance wafted through the air. It filled Severus' clever nose; he detected hints of ylang ylang, neroli and several other exotic floral scents mingled together. It would be an expensive fragrance to acquire.
He briefly recalled that by the time she had graduated Hogwarts, her inheritance had been almost depleted. Concern over her potential destitution had been a hot topic at several meetings of the Order of the Phoenix, and she was offered a home at 12 Grimmauld Place.
After her graduation, unsurprisingly at the top of her class, she had chosen to live in the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black with Potter, Lupin and the Weasleys. As far as Severus knew, Hermione had lived there until after the final battle and his last awkward meeting with her.
He had not seen or heard about her since that day.
Of course, he refused to socialize with members of the Order. Severus' enforced interaction with the Boy Who Succeeded and his sycophantic friends had been terminated with the downfall of the Dark Lord.
Fleetingly, however, Severus wondered just how Miss Granger earned her living. Everything about her screamed wealth, quality and luxury.
"I simply wanted to inform you, Professor, that I have, at long last, yesterday in fact, completed the final assignment you gave me. August 30, 2011."
Piqued by her words, Severus took the bait in spite of his inclination, and glared at her as he asked the obvious, "You have been a graduate of this institution for more than a decade, Miss Granger. Of what are you speaking?"
As Hermione drew near, she smiled a generous, honestly amused smile.
He had never seen her smile at him before, and he wasn't quite prepared for the way it altered her features. She was almost - lovely.
"Let me see if I recall the exact wording, Professor Snape. The date of the assignment is indelibly etched into my memory. June 25, two days after the fall of Voldemort, and the wholesale death of many of my friends. We were in your office and you shouted, 'Leave my sight, Miss Granger. Go out into the world. Conquer your field, whatever you determine that to be, you silly little girl. Spare me your histrionics and grow up. Fall in love, get your heart broken by someone equally immature, attempt to use your brain instead of regurgitating facts and information, and perhaps, in time, you will actually fall in love as an adult. But, whatever you do, Miss Granger, spare me your puppy-like enthusiasm and delayed school girl crush. It is not appreciated, nor requited. You waste my time. Get out, Miss Granger.'"
Severus froze in place as his harsh words of a decade past were coolly spoken, verbatim, in a passable imitation of his most condescending air. He kept his mouth shut. Truly, he had no idea what Miss Granger wanted or expected from him.
His years as a spy had taught him many things, one of which was that patience rewarded those who practiced it. Once again, it was proving a useful tool.
"I left your sight, spared you my 'histrionics' and 'puppy-like enthusiasm'. July 30, 2001, I left England to go out into the world to 'conquer' my field. It's taken some time, but gratifyingly, I've found some measure of success." As she spoke, Hermione circled the tall, glowering wizard, assessing the physical changes in the man standing defensively before her.
She noted the slight sparkle of silver at his temples, the deeper furrow at his brow. His hair was clean, and he sported a silver-flecked goatee, kept well-trimmed. It suited his narrow face, and added a softening to his hawk-like features that'd never been there before. Severus Snape was still lean and fit - decades of subterfuge and surveillance had accustomed him to remain in fighting trim - and he was a man who admired precision and regulation in his life. His traditional teaching robes were draped around him, lending him the commanding air of authority that had once made him a figure of terror to her, but had long since played a prominent part of her fantasies.
Severus followed Hermione's progress around his bookshelf-lined sitting room with furious, snapping black eyes. She assessed his books, gracefully tracing their spines in an almost loving caress as she moved.
He found her presence insufferable and impertinent.
She had always been annoying, but now she exhibited such self-confidence that if pressed he might have to admit he admired her style. She could still get under his skin, even after all these years.
"March 21, 2001," she said, pulling his attention to her face, "I realized I was in love with you, three months before Voldemort's defeat; the day you stood up to Albus and told him to quit treating Harry like a pawn and to listen to what he had to say. I had always valued your intelligence and the sacrifices you made, but it took you standing up to Albus on behalf of someone I knew you loathed in order for me to recognize the truth of my own feelings."
Crossing in front of the fire, the crackling flames backlit her figure and, even shrouded by black robes, she was slender and graceful.
Severus held his temper in check, allowing her to incriminate herself before his strike. In some respects, they were like duelists; she was first wand, while he remained behind a protective shield. His turn would come.
"October 7, 2003, the day my heart broke. I had already left the country, but I kept up with the news. You announced your engagement to the widowed Narcissa Malfoy." None of the soul-killing anguish she had lived through ruffled the calm surface of Hermione's smooth voice. "I gave up on you and moved on. December 31, 2004, I learned about falling in love as an adult. September 21, 2005, I was married. June 13, 2008, he died, and I learned about having my heart broken as an adult."
It sounded as if she was reciting an incantation or a list of books she was ordering from Flourish and Blotts. There was no outward sign that her heart raced in her chest, or that her palms were a bit damp from nervousness. Reaching the corner of the large room and his personal desk, Hermione halted and turned to face him.
Severus' eyes tracked her movements like a Seeker searching for the Golden Snitch; awaiting the moment she would reveal why she was really there. She must want something. There couldn't possibly be any other reason she was in his quarters. Hermione's collected manner of expression was as unsettling as her outward shell.
He couldn't detect any of the enthusiasm she had exhibited as a child. It was this difference, more than anything else that ineradicably ruptured his earlier mental image of her, replacing the gabardine-clothed, eager eleven-year-old of his mind's eye with the composed, mature, elegant woman who, at present, commanded his attention.
While he watched Hermione, the underlying meaning of her recitation sank in. She had honestly believed herself in love with him all those years ago, that it hadn't been a school girl crush, and she credited his chastisement as something of a personal catalyst. Severus wasn't certain what he thought about that or her. It wouldn't do to recall any of the unresolved thoughts he had about her years ago, and had buried deeply since then.
He had no idea what to think of her now, other than the fact he wanted her out of his chambers. She was an unwelcome intrusion upon his self-imposed isolation, ruffling his equanimity.
When his engagement to Narcissa had been broken, Severus was stripped of his last sustaining illusion. Even now, he found it difficult to believe he had retained any illusions which could have been tarnished. He had been wrong. Painfully wrong.
Severus had initially followed Lucius Malfoy into the depths of servitude and debasement for what he had believed was the requited devotion of a witch with whom he had fallen in love when he was seventeen. Severus had thought that by remaining in Lucius' favor he could be near the object of his teenaged devotion. For two decades, Narcissa had judiciously fed the lie that she married Lucius only because of familial obligations, never fully declaring herself to Severus until after Lucius' death. Severus had remained faithful, ruthlessly crushing any potential penchant he might have formed for another witch during the long years that he had cherished his teenaged ideal.
After he had severed the engagement, Severus berated himself harshly for not recognizing the signs of her insincerity, but had ruefully acknowledged that he had been only too happy to claim what he considered was his just reward for twenty years of heartbreaking loneliness and life-threatening espionage.
Narcissa Black had been his first love.
Immediately prior to the broken engagement, and several months after they had first announced their impending nuptials, Severus had learned just how little she cared. He had overheard Narcissa talking to her house-bound son, telling Draco how with careful management, her marriage to Severus would free her son from his Wizengamot-mandated sentence, and further, that Severus had no clue how useful he was. After mother and son had shared a laugh at "Snivellus'" expense, Narcissa had continued, asserting that because of the Potions Master's reputation as reformed Death Eater and Hero of the Final Battle, Order of Merlin Second Class, the Minister was willing to grant him almost any favor. The eavesdropping Severus had felt as if his heart had been ripped from his chest and trampled, pumping his life's blood onto the cold marble floor.
His long-suffering, self-sacrificing love, which had led him to reap from innocent victims the harvest of his own childhood torment, had been a chimera.
He had cherished hopes of taking his bride to his ancestral home, opening it once again to stand at the pinnacle of wizarding society. His sacrifices would have been more than rewarded. Standing in the sterile hall of Malfoy Manor with his hopes dashed on the jagged rocks of reality, Severus had tasted blood. His own. He had bitten through his tongue in an effort not to hurl an Unforgivable in his soon-to-be ex-fiancée's faithless direction.
He had left Malfoy Manor, sent Narcissa an owl dissolving all ties, and retreated into the familiar and comforting patterns that had sustained him through the dark times of his life. Teaching. Research. Living in the dungeons.
Isolated. Alone. Bitter.
Hermione's voice continued as she reached his desk, breaking into his momentary reverie. Severus watched her stroke the weathered teak surface with her slender, well-manicured fingers. It was an affectionate, caressing gesture.
"June 13, 2011," she said. "I had a personal epiphany; that regardless of my success and the modicum of maturity I've gained over this past decade, there has been one constant guiding force in my life. Since I was eleven years old, that constant has been you. I carried your directives with me even after I left Hogwarts. I would like to thank you."
The brunette witch placed the small wooden box upon the corner of Severus' care-worn and ink-stained desk, a contrast with the silvering of the aged teak. Turning around, Hermione met his glare with unruffled ease. "I appreciate your giving me a few minutes of your time today. I know you're busy. I've followed your recent research and read your published articles. It's been heartening to know that your career has flourished. Oddly enough, you inspired my choice of careers, as well. I create personalized wards for confidential clients. This box—" she gestured to the small box, "—my gift to you, is an example of my work. I'll see myself out now."
Hermione crossed to the door of his chambers, trailing her exotic fragrance behind her, then turned to face him one last time. Her heart was in her throat, and she ruthlessly squashed her nerves, determined to have her say. This was, after all, the sole reason she had come to England. "Oh, yes. One final significant date in my curriculum vitae. Yesterday, August 30, 2011. I realized that the greatest irony of my life, Severus, is that the other constant in my life remains the fact I still love you. As an adult. I know it's neither requited nor are my feelings anything but repellant to you. I have suffered a broken heart more than once. At least I know the remedy. Time and distance." Her hand wrapped around the doorknob. "I wish you well, Professor. I hope you find some joy."
The door closed silently behind her.
She was gone, but would not soon be forgotten.
Severus Snape was gobsmacked.
The audacious little snip of a witch! How dare she come here, into his private chambers as if invited, and speak to him in such a manner?
He paced furiously in front of his fireplace, the well-worn floor indicating that this was not an unusual occurrence. How had she gotten access to his private chambers? Severus was very proud of his personal wards; they had never before been breached. Yet, Hermione Granger had bypassed them as if they were non-existent. Impossible. Until today, a small voice in his head snickered. No one other than himself had access to his chambers, not even the Headmaster.
Severus halted mid-stride. Of course. The old man must have granted her permission to use the intra-school Floo network which was only supposed to be activated in emergencies. Severus scowled as he realized that Albus was so besotted by his golden Gryffindors that he would use an emergency system for their whims.
Storming to his fireplace, Severus grabbed a handful of Floo Powder from the delicate china urn on the mantle and threw it into the ever-present fire. Stepping into the green flames, the professor shouted, "Headmaster's office."
Moments later, the Potions Master in all his glory waved his palm over his teaching robes to wandlessly remove any residual soot from his person as he sneered at the benign, twinkling visage of Albus Dumbledore who, as always, welcomed him to his domain.
"Severus, my lad, so glad you could drop by. Are you ready for the new term? I think we'll have a delightful new group of first years. There are three Weasley children in the incoming class, Bill and Fleur's twins, and Percy Weasley's daughter."
"Albus," Severus uttered warningly, attempting to halt the flow of the Headmaster's stream-of-conscious dialogue. The Headmaster could spout it at any given opportunity. In the past, he had often used it as a distraction and cover, while at other times he genuinely shared his thoughts of the moment.
Severus was unsure which way Albus' wind blew at present, desiring to angle his broom in the prevailing direction.
Albus blinked twice and focused his attention on the dour, angry wizard, draped in black, standing aggressively in front of his desk. "What? Is there something wrong?"
"Hermione Granger?" Severus waited for Albus to acknowledge that he knew of her presence, that he had assisted her into his rooms. The sign of a telltale blush, perhaps an additional twinkle in his crystal blue eyes.
Regrettably, the Potions Master was to be disappointed.
"Hermione Granger? Lovely young witch. I heard she got married - what was her married name? No matter. You know, Severus, I miss her; she was such a breath of fresh air in this castle. Always so eager to learn new disciplines. We have yet to see another like her…." Momentarily taking a mental stroll down memory lane, Albus Dumbledore's voice faded as his thoughts overtook his tongue.
Severus had no patience for the guise of geniality he was certain the Headmaster was using. He growled, "Albus, how did she get into my chambers?"
"What? Your chambers? Severus, what are you doing with Miss Granger in your chambers? You will bring her to dinner this evening, won't you? I'm sure Minerva would love to see her. It's been years since she moved to Japan. I didn't know she was here for a visit. Did young Harry come with her?"
Severus almost snarled his response, he was so frustrated. "No, she is not coming to dinner, Potter did not come with her, and I am not doing anything with her in my chambers. I thought you let her in."
"Severus, you know I would never trespass upon your private rooms unless you invited me to do so. Anyway, why would I let her in when she's your guest? Severus, you're not making sense." For all his one-hundred-fifty-plus years of wisdom and experience, Albus Dumbledore was sometimes nothing more than an abstracted, dedicated educator attempting to juggle one too many students and one too many problems with far too small a budget. This was one of those times. "You know, my boy, if you want to invite Miss Granger to dinner, we would all be delighted to see her again. She would be good for you. I know how lonely you've been."
With a growl and an abrupt departure, Severus Floo'd back to his chambers. The visit had been useless, except that it appeared Miss Granger had indeed accomplished something no one else ever had.
She had broken his personal wards.
He glowered at the small box lying upon his desk. It was approximately three inches wide, five inches long, two inches deep, and made of fragrant cedar. Etched upon the lid was a symbol, one he didn't recognize, and it shimmered magically as if it were masked somehow. Despite his ire with the witch, he was fascinated by the box. Severus picked it up. It was incredibly lightweight, and something shifted inside. Shaking the box, he could hear the distinctive thud of metal against wood, and wondered what it was that Granger had given him.
Suddenly, Severus was livid.
He was acting in a typically predictable fashion, and no doubt just as she had intended. Again. Suddenly, he hurled the fragrant box across the room into the stone hearth, hoping the damned thing would shatter upon impact.
In fact, impact never occurred. The cedar box halted its trajectory two inches from the gray stone of his fireplace and floated, unharmed, untarnished, and undamaged, awaiting his pleasure.
Angered beyond measure at this demonstration of the Granger chit's cleverness, Severus stormed across his sitting room to retrieve the witch's gift. It nestled easily within the palm of his large hand. Enraged with the box, with Granger, but most of all with himself, Severus flung the small wooden box into the flames of his fireplace.
That should be the end of the witch's attempts to curry his favor.
He stalked to his dining area, the small maple table already set for his dinner, Slytherin House china gleaming in the candlelight. He ran his fingers over the finely sanded surface of the wood. Severus had always had an affinity for wood. Its lustre, its living warmth had soothed his soul for years.
There had been many a time when Severus was certain he wouldn't survive yet another summons from the Dark Lord. He would sit at his desk or his small dining table, laying his forehead against the cool, grainy surface of the wood, seeking the timber it had once been, the living essence of the tree that had withstood innumerable years and the vagaries of fate which dictated that it ended up in planks and carved into furniture. The fact that even in a non-natural state the hewn trunks of trees could morph into a thing of beauty gave him hope. The imperfections called to his bruised soul and he took heart that he, too, might one day become a thing of beauty to someone, somewhere.
Severus seated himself, and stroked the grain of wood, seeking solace, while he reached for the wine glass with his other hand. A glass of wine was much needed after the unexpected encounter with Granger. The house-elves took great care of him and were never seen, for which he was grateful, especially this evening.
After the fall of the Dark Lord, it hadn't been often that Severus' composure was shaken, but the witch's presence and her pronouncements had been unsettling. Not to mention the fact that he would have to change the wards on his sanctuary.
In love with him.
Severus took a large gulp of his Barolo. The woman thought she was in love with him. He snorted derisively, and finished the first glass of wine. She couldn't possibly be; he doubted that she understood what the words meant. Love meant sacrifice and years of unrequited longing. No, she couldn't possibly have a clue. Her life had been charmed and perfect. He pointedly disregarded the years she had fought valiantly at Potter's side – wounded or not - the torture and death of her family, and the fact that she was a widow.
Severus drank the second glass of Barolo as fast as he had drunk the first, and poured a third, ignoring the delicious penne arrabiata on his plate and the warm hearth-baked loaf of bread, whose aroma was enticing but not what interested him at the moment.
Severus Snape was too busy brooding.