Title: Lead Us Not
Author: Shannon/Raindrops on Roses
Category: Angst, Romance
Spoilers: Through OotP
Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Author's Note: Written for ladyclover for the lovedraughts ficathon on LiveJournal. ladyclover wanted post-Hogwarts Hermione, late twenties or early thirties, who is married for seven or more years and has children. She is not a career woman. She hasn't had contact with Ron or Harry for years. When she meets Snape again, he should stir up old desires, and they should persue, or she should be tempted to persue, an extramarital affair.
The door slammed, and a troupe of mud-splattered boys stampeded through the kitchen.
"Mum! Hey, Mum! I'm back from practice!"
Hermione Jennings hurried down the stairs. "Jonathan William, your sister just fell asleep!" she scolded.
"Sorry, Mum. Do we have anything to eat?" A couple of the boys opened the refrigerator, while another jockeyed for position. It was a hot, muggy July day, and the cool air from the fridge felt wonderful.
In response, Hermione handed her son a banana.
"Aw, Mum! Come on!"
"It's good for you."
"It's... a banana." All four eleven-year-olds looked at the fruit like it had sprouted horns.
"Well, it's all you're getting. Dinner will be ready in a couple of hours." The boys grumbled and reached for the fruit. "Take your shoes off if you're going upstairs!" They kicked their shoes off and ran up the stairs, arguing over whose turn it was to go first on the PlayStation.
"Uh... Mum? Why is there an owl on the chicken?"
"What, darling?" Hermione replied absently.
"An owl, love. Perched on top of your--quite delicious, I must say--roast chicken."
Her husband's voice sounded amused, while her son's was more... bewildered. Caitlin burbled, "Bird!"
When Hermione returned to the dining room, she found that there was, indeed, an owl on top of the chicken. "Doesn't anyone teach you manners?" she chided. The owl hooted dolefully. "Well, if you would please remove yourself from our dinner, then perhaps I can get you something to eat and drink."
"Mum? Are you talking to the bird?" Jonathan asked timidly. His usually rational mother seemed to have lost her mind.
"Yes, Jonathan. Did you take the letter yet?"
"On his leg."
Hermione sank into her chair as her son slowly reached for the owl. It extended its leg, and Jonathan carefully removed an envelope. The owl took off, flying through the open window.
"Bye-bye, birdie!" Caitlin waved happily.
Jonathan frowned at the creamy parchment he had pulled from the envelope. "This is a really bad joke, Dad, Mum."
Hermione and Edward exchanged glances. Edward gave a little gesture, as if to say, 'This is your area of expertise, not mine.'
"It's not a joke, Jon," Hermione said gently.
Jon rolled his eyes. "Please, Mum. There are no such things as witches and wizards. Everyone knows that."
"Ah, you see, that's where you're wrong," Edward said sagely. He stood and picked up Caitlin, who was now painting her high chair with mashed potatoes. "Why don't you show him, Hermione?"
Hermione watched her husband disappear up the stairs. She sighed. She wasn't sure whether to be thrilled or terrified that her son had inherited her magical abilities.
"Mu-um..." Jonathan's voice had taken on a distinctly whiny tone by this point.
Hermione pushed back from the table. "Wait here." She hurried to her bedroom and opened a safe. A few precious possessions were kept in the safe--a pair of diamond earrings that had belonged to her grandmother, an antique pearl necklace from her mother... and a long, slim case that hadn't been opened for years. Thirteen years, to be exact.
She removed the case reverently, and closed the safe. When she turned around, Edward was standing behind her.
"You knew this day would come."
She smiled sadly. "I know. I just... didn't think it would be this soon."
"Don't worry, Hermione. I'm sure they wouldn't have... invited... Jonathan if it wasn't safe." Hermione swallowed as her husband spoke her fears aloud.
"You're right, of course." Her fingers stroked the wooden case. "Are you sure you're all right with this?"
"At first... not really." He slid his arms around her waist. "But... I have had eleven years to think about it."
"And now?" Hermione asked in trepidation.
"I love you. And I love our son. And that means accepting everything about you... even the parts I don't entirely understand." Hermione let out a breath she hadn't known she was holding.
"I love you so much, Edward Jennings," she said, turning and kissing him.
When they broke apart, Edward grinned. "Besides, you came from a non-magical family, and you turned out just fine."
Hermione snorted. "I was a bossy know-it-all who had to be the best at everything."
"So... nothing's changed, then." Hermione whacked her husband on the arm and scowled playfully while he laughed.
Diagon Alley. It was just as she remembered it.
Hermione smiled as her son stared openmouthed at all of the different vendors hawking their wares. She gave him a moment to soak in the amazing sights and sounds, then placed a hand on his shoulders.
"We need to go to Gringotts, Jonathan. This way." She led her son down the bustling street, answering questions at high speed.
"The Wizarding bank. It's run by goblins."
"The last I checked, yes."
"Why do we have to go there?"
"We need to exchange our money for Wizarding money."
"Oh." The boy fell silent. "Do I get a wand?"
Hermione chuckled. "Yes, Jon, you get a wand. We'll stop by Ollivander's later." They stopped in front of the gleaming white building that housed Gringotts. Hermione was surprised to see a human doorman. She rallied quickly, and smiled at the young man.
As she stepped inside with her son, she was shocked to find that all of the tellers were also human. What had happened to the goblins?
"Mum? I thought you said there were goblins here," Jonathan whispered.
"I haven't been back here since before you were born. Things must have changed," Hermione whispered in reply.
"We'll get your robes at Madam Malkin's. Right in here." Hermione ushered Jonathan into the clothing shop, relieved that something was the same. Diagon Alley wasn't just as she had left it, as she first thought.
Even Flourish and Blotts had moved to a new location. Apparently, from what she had gleaned from the unusually reticent sales clerk, Death Eaters had come through Diagon Alley and ransacked the place. It had taken years of work for the shops in the economic center of Wizarding London to build themselves back to their pre-war state.
"Another new Hogwarts student, I take it?" A red-haired woman bustled toward Jonathan. "Right this way. My own oldest is starting Hogwarts this year."
A memory niggled at the edges of Hermione's mind. "Don't I know you?" she asked the chattering woman.
"I don't know. Do you?" the woman said, grinning.
Red hair... freckles... "Weasley. Ginny Weasley?"
"Actually, it's Ginny Thomas now. How do you..."
"It's me, Hermione! Hermione Granger! Well, Hermione Jennings, but--"
"Hermione... oh, my God!" Ginny exclaimed in excitement. "It's been so long!"
"Too long. I can't believe it's you!" The two women hugged, while Jonathan looked on and shifted restlessly.
"So... you and Dean are still together?" Hermione asked when they broke apart.
"Going on fourteen years. We married right out of Hogwarts." Ginny smiled, but it was tinged with pain. "At least Mum got to see one of us married."
"What happened?" Hermione asked gently.
Ginny returned to taking Jonathan's measurements and getting his order together. "She contracted some sort of Muggle disease. We're still not sure what it was--we didn't even know it was possible. But she died... nearly ten years ago."
Hermione was saddened by this news, but it wasn't nearly as heart-wrenching as it must have been for Ginny. Mrs. Weasley had been like a surrogate mother to both Hermione and Harry, but Hermione hadn't seen any of them in years. "I'm so sorry, Ginny," she offered lamely.
"I know. Anyway," the other woman said, perking up, "Ron's in town for a week. What do you say we get together for dinner sometime soon? I'm sure that Michael would love the company. He's the oldest in a family of all girls."
"So there was no avoiding the Weasley curse?" Hermione asked, smiling.
Ginny laughed. "Not at all!"
"I'll be buying Jonathan an owl, so I'll talk to Edward and owl you. We have a lot to do today, so we'd better get going."
"Of course. I do hope you come, though. It'll be nice to talk to someone who can carry on a sensible conversation without howling for sweets."
"That would be lovely. I'll talk to you later!"
Hermione and Jonathan approached the apothecary's shop. It was the last stop of the day, as both mother and son were exhausted in body, if not in spirit. As they were about to enter the shop, a blond man came storming out.
"I quit! I QUIT! I will not take any more of this! If you really think you can do better, then go right ahead, you greasy, ugly BAT!" The man stomped off, but not before imparting a few words of wisdom to Hermione. "If I were you, I'd find another shop to buy from. This man has no IDEA WHAT HE'S DOING," he said loudly enough for the mysterious man inside to hear. He hurried away before Hermione could reply.
Hermione shook her head and ushered Jonathan inside. At the sound of the bell, the man seated behind the counter looked up from his books. "I see Geoffrey did not manage to run you off," he said dryly.
Hermione stared in shock at the visage of Professor Severus Snape. The hair was a bit more gray, and the skin a bit less sallow, but it was undoubtedly him. "Professor Snape?!" she blurted.
A look of disdain crossed the man's face. "I have not been a professor in over a decade, thank God. Do I know you?"
"I'm Hermione Jennings--Hermione Granger. I went to school with--"
"Harry Potter." The two words dripped with disgust. "How could I possibly forget the third musketeer? Potter and the Weasley boy got into more trouble after you left than in the previous six years combined."
"It's nice to see you again, too," Hermione replied sarcastically. "My son is here for a set of Potions supplies. I have the list--"
"Miss Granger, I taught that course for more years than I care to remember. I do know the basic supplies for a Hogwarts first year."
"It's Mrs. Jennings now, Professor."
"It's Mr. Snape now, Madam."
"Mum? What's this?" Jonathan reached out to touch something shiny.
"Don't--" She grabbed his wrist. "You could have ruined that entire jar by touching just one bare-handed. Never handle anything wizard-made if you don't know what it is."
"Good advice, Mrs. Jennings," Snape said. "And it is quite amazing that you retained anything whatsoever from my classes."
"You're a hard man to forget, Mr. Snape."
"Are you, by any chance, looking for a job?"
Hermione raised an eyebrow. "Not... exactly, no. I still have a young daughter at home."
"Surely you haven't been a... housewife... for the past thirteen years?"
Hermione was confused. Why was Snape, of all people, taking an interest in her life? "Well, after I had Jonathan, Edward and I agreed that--"
"Pity," Snape murmured, cutting her off. "Then I suppose you wouldn't be interested in working for me."
Not on your life, a tiny, prideful part of her said. But... it would be nice to get involved with the Wizarding world again. She loved her family dearly, but if she had to stay cooped up in that house for much longer...
"What kind of hours would I have? I do have a two-year-old at home, you know."
Snape was a hard taskmaster, though that didn't surprise Hermione much. She was kept busy re-labeling the inventory, restocking shelves, and updating the stock list. She also assisted customers with their orders, and made a few of the less complicated potions.
The only time Snape wasn't hovering over her was when there was a customer in the shop. When she asked why this was, her new employer snapped, "Customers may keep me in business, but that does not mean that I like them."
She did meet with Ginny during lunch. They stopped by the day care down the street and visited their children, then went to Fortescue's for a meal and gossip. Hermione slowly began to catch up on all of her old school friends, and renewed her friendship with Ginny.
"So..." Ginny asked one day, a few weeks into the school year. "What was it like, living in the Muggle world for so long? Was it hard?"
Hermione pushed her salad back and thought. "It was... difficult, at first. It was like I had lost a part of me. It almost physically hurt at times." She sighed. "My parents were supportive, but... they just didn't understand. Magic was like... air to me. But eventually, I learned how not to breathe." Hermione smiled sadly.
"And where does Edward come into all of this?" Ginny asked.
Hermione smiled. "He was a new dentist at my parents' office. I was working as a receptionist at the time. I actually had to ask him out on our first date." The two women giggled. "He wasn't sure that he should become involved with his bosses' daughter... but I convinced him otherwise."
"Apparently," Ginny said.
Hermione rolled her eyes at her friend. "We should get back to words. I'm sure Snape will have a few choice words for me for taking such a long lunch."
Ginny shook her head as they paid for their meals. "I don't understand how you put up with his temper. Did you know that he went through a new assistant every two weeks before you showed up?"
Hermione snorted. "After raising one male, you learn how to handle the rest."
"That is true," Ginny nodded mock-sagely. The two women laughed and went their separate ways.
Actually, Hermione thought as she walked back to the apothecary, Severus wasn't nearly as cruel to her as he had been back in school. It was odd, actually. He treated her more like a colleague--like they were on an equal level--than like an employee. He allowed her to make decisions on what to stock, to balance the books, and to close the shop every day. (He opened it, as to give her time to detach Caitlin from her leg and drop her off at the day care nearby.)
She found herself respecting--dare she say, admiring--the sarcastic Potions professor cum shop owner. Admiring a bit too much. But that was something she would never admit--not even to Ginny.
"Ow!" Hermione dropped the stirring spoon on the countertop and grabbed a damp washcloth. She slapped the cloth on her arm, soothing the burn slightly.
Severus looked up from the potion he was brewing. He sighed. "Do you have nothing better to do than injure yourself in my presence?"
"No. Absolutely nothing. I do this just to amuse you." Hermione glared at her employer. He ignored her and walked over to a shelf. He chose a small jar.
Avoiding the boxes strewn about the floor, Severus made his way to Hermione. He unscrewed the lid and said, "This should ease the pain and heal the burn quickly." He scooped out a bit of the green, goopy balm and removed the cloth from Hermione's arm. "Depending on the severity of the burn, it may need two applications. However, this does not look to be cause for alarm," he said as he began to smooth the balm onto the burn mark.
Hermione couldn't breathe. She tried to tell herself that it was the pain of the burn. However, that was quickly receding as the salve worked its magic--literally. Then she tried to convince herself that it was the close call. If more of the potion had splattered, it could have caused a much more severe injury.
The movement of his (long, slim, elegant) fingers stopped, and Severus recapped the jar. Hermione swallowed convulsively as she met his unrelenting gaze. "Th-thank you," she stuttered.
"You're welcome." The corners of his lips turned up in what could have been a smile. Finally, he moved out of her personal space, and she could breathe freely again.
Severus Snape was not an attractive man. Had she completely lost her mind?
"You foolish woman! Are you trying to get yourself killed?"
Hermione wobbled on the ladder. She gave the jar a good shove, and grabbed the shelf before she could topple to the ground. "No, actually," she snapped. "But if you keep scaring the wits out of me, I probably will."
"Next time, ask for help on the higher shelves." Snape guided her down the ladder.
"Severus, I never knew you cared," Hermione said in a sickly-sweet voice.
"I don't. However, I do not particularly wish to spend time in court settling for damages after you break your neck on my property."
"I do have a wand, you know. I could cast a Cushioning Charm before I landed."
"Would you like to test that theory?"
Hermione grimaced. "Not particularly," she admitted.
"Good. I'm brewing a potion that needs to be watched closely. You do know how to close the shop by now."
"No, Severus, I've only closed it every day since September."
"Sarcasm does not become you, Hermione."
"Nor you, Severus."
A flick of an eyebrow was the only response. Hermione laughed quietly as he retreated to the back room.
"I can't do this."
"Do what, exactly?" Snape murmured, dropping a pinch of some ingredient into the simmering cauldron.
Hermione sighed in frustration. "This. This... flirtation. I can't do it."
"Flirtation? I have no idea what you are talking about."
"Oh, don't give me that, Severus Snape! We've been toeing a fine line these past few weeks, and you know it! I know you don't let just anyone touch you--even if it is completely innocent." His shoulders tensed, and she knew she had struck a nerve.
"We are... friends... are we not, Hermione?"
"Yes, Severus. I like to think so. And that's why I can't do this."
"I'm afraid that your logic is not clear to me. Please, explain."
Hermione placed her knife on the cutting board. "Severus, do you realize that I spend more time with you than I do with my own family? Six months ago, I would have been clearing the table after a dinner at home. My husband would be reading my daughter a bedtime story, and I would join them after finishing the kitchen chores."
"And you find that to be more interesting than... this?" Snape asked, gesturing at their research.
"Well... no," she admitted. "But... the more time I spend with you... the more I want to cross that line we've been so precariously balancing on." Severus did not respond, and Hermione pressed on before she lost her nerve. "I find myself dreaming about a man that's not my husband--fantasizing about a man that's not my husband--and that's just not acceptable to me. I made vows, Severus. And the more time I spend with you, the more I want to break those vows. The only way to defeat this temptation is to deny it battle."
"What do you mean?" His voice was neutral. Hermione wasn't sure whether to be disappointed that he wasn't upset, or relieved that she wouldn't have to argue.
She pulled an envelope out of the bag at her feet. "This is my notice."
She turned around. The light from the back room framed his tall, lean body. His face was hidden from the light.
"I'm leaving." She tightened her grip on her bag. She took a deep breath. "Goodbye, Severus." Her voice cracked on his name.
He took two quick strides toward her. His long fingers traced her cheek. He leaned down and kissed her slowly, languorously. It was nothing and everything like she had imagined it.
It was goodbye.
He broke the kiss and stepped back. She swallowed, met his black, fathomless gaze, and nodded.
The bell jangled as the door closed behind her.