However You Call It
Author's Note: This is a completed work at just under 9,000 words. Inkspots fans will recognize "my Severus", but it is a completely different story. It is post-Hogwarts by about five years. Fluffy and romantic, rated T for language, no lemons to be found.
Disclosure: JK Rowling created and rightfully owns Harry Potter. I simply aim to give you a few happy minutes ignoring the pile of dirty laundry, as we imagine our favorite book characters living on past Deathly Hallows.
"Words are a pretext. It is the inner bond that draws one person to another, not words."
― Jalaluddin Rumi
Chapter 1: It's Not Manipulation...
Severus sat at dinner in the Great Hall and furrowed his brow at the nonsensical thought that kept running through his mind: It's stuck. But the mental image was true and brought him a strange sense of calm. Severus had always viewed his life as a pendulum. As he looked back, he could see the swinging arc as clear as day. It was always the same clock in his mind's eye: a thoroughly non-magical grandfather clock that resided in his house in Spinner's End. It was beautiful and spoke to a pleasantness and adoration that certainly never existed in Severus' memory. It came with the house. It was on the landing of the second story and it was very large and heavy and nearly impossible to move. When the elderly couple that owned the home sold it to Severus' parents, it was not worth the effort to move it down the stairs. As the home deteriorated, and the neighborhood, and our family, Severus added bitterly, it was one of the few things that stayed steady.
Clearing the cobwebs, he considered his thought once more. His life had arced continually from stress to calm to crippling stress once more. The last time he felt this was the four years prior to Harry Potter coming to Hogwarts. He had spent five years drowning under grief at Lily's death along with fear that the Dark Lord would return, quite literally, at any moment. Add to that the harsh reality of learning a new profession, and he was indeed drowning. He could still remember the day when he felt like he was finally entering a period of calm. For the four years following, the pendulum had been stuck on calm, and it was nice. This was just such a day, and he sat a moment, relishing the thought that he could finally exhale and allow the tension to melt from his shoulders. It wouldn't last forever. Surely the pendulum would arc back up again. But the calm had returned, and he needed to capture it.
He looked around the great hall. It was a few months into the new school year, and the students and professors were, for lack of a better word, rather boring. Did everyone else feel it? Yes, he mused, they probably felt it as well. The Hogwarts year was well underway, and all of this year's "What-if?" questions and "How will that work?" questions had been answered or had been of no consequence. It was a normal school year, with very few problems, despite the fact that they were five years post-war and still dealing with the after effects. They would forever be dealing with the after effects of war, so in a way, that was also normal.
As he was thinking about the last time he felt this type of calm – the year before Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger entered the school, he heard Hermione's name. He entertained a bizarre moment of wonder if he had misheard, and then he heard it once more. For the first time that night, he engaged his fellow professors to see why he was hearing her name.
"When did Hermione get here?" Filius asked.
"She got here last night, a few hours before Poppy left," Minerva supplied.
Severus filled in the gaps quickly: Hermione was Poppy's replacement as Poppy was going to visit family for a few days. He usually didn't bother finding out whom St. Mungo's had supplied. He always assumed Minerva checked up on such things.
He heard her name a few more times that night as he walked through the corridors. It was always exciting to the students if they caught a peak of one of the Golden Trio at Hogwarts.
He heard her name once more as he finished up a report in his office that night. It seemed that the portraits were as bad as the students.
When he heard Hermione's voice through his floo, he had a split second of confusion and then immediately kneeled before the fire. Years of being awakened from everything from homesick first years to Voldemort had demanded that he sleep lightly.
"Hermione?" he asked.
"I'm sorry to wake you, Professor Snape, but I felt you should be made aware that you have a student in the Infirmary who is quite ill."
Severus promptly shook his head. "No need to apologize. I will be there in a moment."
Severus rose from his kneeling position in front of the fireplace. He went over the conversation and it dawned on him that he had slipped up. He had called her Hermione. Her face had showed a brief moment of surprise, but he hadn't registered it at the time. He quickly dressed and made his way from his rooms to the Infirmary.
Pushing the double doors open quietly, he took inventory. Mr. Wills was in a bed near the windows. Broken arm from Quidditch practice. He had heard about that from Minerva, fretting that her best Chaser wouldn't be ready to play in two days' time. Surely Hermione hadn't woken him at four in the morning for him.
All of the other beds were made with crisp white sheets tucked in to corners. Finally, his eyes found two beds in the last row, bed sheets rumpled from use.
"Miss Granger?" he called out softly.
A door opened to the side, and Hermione appeared, steadying a sixth year boy, and Severus' gut clenched. It was Mr. Childers, a Gryffindor student whom, it seemed, could never catch a break, despite being very intelligent, handsome and likable.
Hermione's soft voice reached Severus as she helped the tall boy back into his bed: "Just one moment, Professor."
He watched as she made him comfortable, and then she made her way to him, out of earshot of the student.
"Does he still have a fever?" Severus asked, surprised.
Hermione nodded gravely. "It spiked dangerously high an hour ago. If it doesn't break completely in the next couple of hours, I will be transporting him to St. Mungo's. I still feel like the sickness will run its course, but I wanted to make you aware."
Severus looked once more at the boy and then looked at the bed next to his. "Have you been watching him all night?"
Hermione looked at the beds. "Off and on. He is having very vivid dreams. Nightmares. Or, at least I hope they're nightmares," she said, looking at Severus to disavow her fear.
No such luck. Severus shook his head sadly. "They're not fever induced nightmares. They're memories."
Hermione looked back at the boy and sighed. "Damn war," she said tiredly.
Severus nodded and moved closer to the boy then sat on the bed Hermione had been using. She surprised him by sitting next to him.
"Who's he been calling out for?" He asked quietly.
Severus nodded knowingly. Mr. Childers was one of two dozen orphans currently attending Hogwarts. He felt as though nothing could surprise him anymore concerning the war. Its effects had been far reaching and seemingly never ending. Five years later, and an orphan was still calling out for his dead parents.
"You don't need to stay, Professor Snape. I just felt you would want to know. It's serious, but I have it under control."
Severus nodded. "I'll stay. I usually can't sleep much past four anyway." He paused and then glanced at Hermione on his right. "Damn war, and all that."
Hermione sniggered at his attempt at levity.
After a moment of companionable silence as they watched the boy sleep fitfully, Hermione quietly said, "Thank you."
"For what?" he asked, confused.
"For not asking me if I have tried the dozen things that should have made his fever go away by now."
Severus made a noise of annoyance. "They mean well. The old biddies," he added without any malice behind the word. "I have no doubt that you have tried every reasonable course to treat him. I'm assuming he's either allergic to a common potions ingredient, or not responding to treatment, which is typical for the odd two percent of patients in every treatable illness. Either of which are beyond your control. How bad were they?"
Hermione chuckled. "Minerva actually asked if I had tried a fever reducer." She rolled her eyes. "A fever reducer for a fever?" she mocked. "Why didn't I think of that?" She paused. "It's not an allergy, I don't think. He's just in the unlucky two percent."
Severus nodded. "You know it's not personal towards you. She asks me every month if I remember that the Board of Governor's meeting is coming up." He paused as Hermione laughed. "She adores you. They all do. It's a rarity if I make it through a week without, 'Hermione this or Hermione that.' Which is why I called you Hermione earlier. Does that bother you? You are apparently one of the family, an honorary member of faculty here, the adopted goddaughter, favorite former pupil, need I go on?"
Hermione smiled. "It's fine to call me Hermione. Can I call you Severus?"
At his nod in the affirmative, she continued. "Because I don't get one single letter from any of my self-appointed godmothers that isn't, 'Severus this, Severus that.' You are my competition for favorite everything."
Severus scowled in doubt.
"No, it's true! And it started when I was here doing my year of training with Poppy. I'm sure you've heard this story, but Minerva would threaten people at wand point if they called her Headmistress that year."
"Ridiculous," he growled softly. "Out of all the surprises I faced when I finally woke up in St. Mungo's, that was the most outrageous."
Their talk was interrupted as Mr. Childers began to moan in his sleep. Hermione went to him and used a wet washcloth to cool his forehead while simultaneously casting a diagnostic charm. Her reaction was not one of concern, so Severus did not offer to help. Mr. Childers relaxed and calmed in his sleep, and once again Hermione sat down next to Severus.
"Did you not want to be Headmaster again?" she asked, restarting their conversation.
Severus paused to consider Hermione. "I haven't relived that year in a long while, Hermione."
Hermione nodded. "Sorry to pry."
Severus shook his head as he cast a Tempus charm. "I'm just not sure if it's a story for four-thirty in the morning. Maybe one day, I'll tell you what was happening at St. Mungo's and you can tell me about being at Hogwarts."
Hermione smiled. "We definitely traded places, didn't we?"
Severus nodded. "I'll take my leave of you." He paused, looking at her. "You are always welcome at Hogwarts, Hermione."
Severus caught a glimpse of Hermione later that day, at dinner. She was sitting by Minerva, predictably. He overheard her say that Mr. Childers' temperature was finally back to normal, but nonetheless, she ate quickly and left the Great Hall.
"I wonder why Hermione was sent as Poppy's substitute," Minerva said levelly.
"As if this wasn't your design, Minerva," Severus chuckled.
"It wasn't," she said without preamble. "I knew she was coming, and I'm thrilled she's here, but it's odd, truth be told."
"I'm the ex-spy, Minerva. I'm the one who is supposed to see intrigue everywhere, not you. Why couldn't it just be coincidence?"
"St. Mungo's usually gives us a third year healing student, not a fully qualified Healer."
Severus considered the validity of her statement.
"So damn Slytherin," she said in a knowing tone.
Severus scowled. "It wasn't me. I didn't request her. All I did was sign the form Poppy put on my desk. This isn't Slytherin at all. It sounds more like something a," but he stopped short of finishing.
"Like what?" Minerva asked, confused.
"It sounds like you're reading way too much into this, Minerva."
Shortly before curfew, Severus opened the doors once more to the Infirmary. Mr. Will had been released, and two fifth year girls were now in beds along the near wall. He rolled his eyes at the two foolish girls. They had been brewing a love potion in an unused classroom, but the cauldron exploded, covering their hands and arms with minor burns.
Hermione was in the back of the infirmary, talking to Mr. Childers. He watched Hermione smile at Mr. Childers as he approached them and found himself unaccountably jealous of his student.
"Mr. Childers. Healer Granger," he greeted them.
Mr. Childers smiled at Severus. "Healer Granger says she won't go to the Christmas ball with me. But I'm not giving up, Sir."
"Give up, Mr. Childers. That is an order," he said, scowling at the Gryffindor. "However, Miss Rothermel has wanted you to ask her out for ages. If you were not a thick-headed Gryffindor, you would have noticed. It is not my job as Headmaster to find you a date, but you've been ill, so I'm humoring you."
"Miss Rothermel?" he asked, surprised. "She's pretty," he voiced, thinking.
"And very intelligent, like yourself," he growled. "Think with your other brain, son."
Hermione laughed and Severus was rewarded with a smile when he glanced at her.
"You're obviously feeling better," he drawled, then turned to Hermione. "Is he able to rejoin his thick-headed cohorts? They will assuredly all fail tomorrow's History of Magic exam if they can't copy his notes."
"Well," Hermione began, "we know-it-all Gryffindors must keep the ship afloat. Go on, Mr. Childers. You're fine. Don't overdo it tomorrow."
Mr. Childers stood from his bed. "Thank you, Healer Granger. And thank you, Headmaster."
Severus nodded and they watched him leave the infirmary.
Hermione casually glanced at the remaining two patients. Hermione smiled at him again and cast a Tempus charm. "Ten o'clock. Is ten o'clock a better time for a story?" At Severus' smile, she led him to her office and warded the door. She pulled open the bottom right hand drawer of Poppy's desk.
Severus' eyes grew wide as she drew out a bottle of wine and two wine glasses. "How?" he began.
"I was her apprentice, Severus. Poppy is an incredible Healer, and she has great taste in wine. I've found that those two go together, by necessity." She poured both of them a glass of wine. "Don't worry, I'll replace this. I know her favorites. Poppy was definitely the biggest surprise when I got to know all of the faculty that year. I wouldn't have made it without her."
"To liquid courage," intoned Severus. Hermione raised her wine glass in mock toast.
"Your turn," Hermione said.
"That wasn't a story," Severus chided. "That was a short explanation of why my matron has wine hidden in her drawer."
"I didn't say it was a great story," Hermione deadpanned.
Severus chuckled. "All right. My year at St. Mungo's was torture, trying to regain full use of my magic and my right arm. Yes, I wanted to be headmaster again. I wanted to do it right."
Hermione smiled at him. "I'm a much better storyteller. My story had wine."
"Wine and a very short rehashing of a very hard time of my life. Best storytime ever."
"I like being back here," Hermione said, looking around the office and the infirmary beyond.
"As much time as you spent here being either a patient or a visitor, I'm surprised you would step foot in here again."
"It's odd," said Hermione, "but I don't see this as where I was hurt, I always see this as where I was put back together again. I see Poppy and McGonagall and Dumbledore. I see you," she said nodding, seeing Severus' furrowed brow.
After a moment of contemplation, Severus hummed softly in agreement. "I was put back together here as well. Not the infirmary – too many bad memories of waking up here. But Hogwarts. Hogwarts has put me back together too many times to count. I hate going to St. Mungo's," he added with a look at Hermione.
"I saw you there a few weeks ago," she said conversationally.
Severus put down his empty wine glass and wondered again about Hermione while she refilled his glass, about why she was here. "I saw you, too. I was helping their head potioneer with a complicated potion."
Hermione nodded. "You saved that boy's life. Everyone was amazed, and I was thinking, 'Why are they so amazed? Do they not know you?' I wish you would've stopped in to say hello."
He paused for a long moment to study Hermione. She blushed slightly at his gaze as she watched him over the rim of her wine glass.
"Was this all for me, Hermione?"
To her credit, she simply nodded.
"You placed yourself at Hogwarts for three days to see me?" he asked, not unkindly.
She did not avoid his eyes as she answered. "Yes."
His countenance closed slightly. "I do not like to be manipulated."
Hermione did not shrink from his words. "Not eighteen hours ago, you told me I was always welcome at Hogwarts. I would caution you that what you are suddenly seeing as manipulation, most men would call flirting."
He was able to school his features blank, but in the end he smirked when Hermione raised an eyebrow in challenge. They regarded each other for a minute. Severus then slowly stood and placed his wine glass back on the desk. "Thank you for the wine, Hermione."
"Thank you for the company," Hermione replied.
Severus nodded and left, closing the door softly behind him.
As he made the walk back to his office he remembered the pendulum. Not one day ago, he thought it was stuck on calm. He snorted inelegantly at his short-sightedness. Hermione Granger had a plan. This plan involved him somehow. Hermione Granger's plans were well thought-out, planned out in diaries, excellently constructed and the stuff of legend. But they were never calm. He smirked as he gave the gargoyle his password.
Calm was overrated.