The wizarding world was a small one. Though Hermione Granger had graduated, grown-up, and moved on from her school days, she felt like she was surrounded by her schoolmates and professors all the time. She hadn't wanted to work for the ministry but the war made times tough and so she took the first job offered to her as an assistant secretary for the minister, Scrimgeour. It was a horrid waste of her brain and talent to organize his files and remind his secretary of appointments but it was a job and it was easy and it paid well. It at least gave her time to focus on her own projects and gave her enough time to be of use to the Order of the Phoenix.
She rarely went home these days. She missed her family, of course, but she felt more and more ostracized from the Muggle world and besides, whenever she spoke with her mother, she was made to feel worthless about having no boyfriend, no husband, and no children. She was twenty-five, a woman in her own right, but too young, she felt, to be raising a child and she felt like bringing a child into the world during war time was something she didn't agree with.
Molly Weasley invited her to the Burrow for dinner every Sunday night and sometimes she went. Thursday evenings were reserved for Harry's (née Sirius's) house and order meetings. Saturday nights she tended to stay in her London flat working on creating charms, spells, and perhaps her favorite – new potions. How she longed to have a more fulfilling job! She wanted to go to university to obtain a degree in something! A potions degree most of all, and then go study under a potions Master or Mistress but she refused to leave London, to leave the Order, to leave Harry before his fate was finally decided. And so, all she could do was read books, read the latest journals, and experiment with the middle of the road materials that she could afford.
Thursdays, she went straight to 12 Grimmauld Place straight from the ministry still in her business robes and navy blue ministry over robe with a heavy cloak on top. It was always cold now, even in the summer months and had been so for at least two years. They knew some of it was attributed to the over population of dementors (Voldemort's army) but there was something else affecting the weather though they weren't yet sure what. Hermione thought of it as the Narnia phenomenon (always winter – never Christmas) but kept the observation to herself.
This particular Thursday was cold and wet and though it had stopped raining for the moment, her sensible shoes still sunk into the dilapidated lawn in from of Harry's house. She opened the door quietly as to not disturb the portrait of Mrs. Black. Remus had finally fashioned a lead box to be fitted over it and so the cries were muffled and unintelligible but still there. Now all Hermione heard was quiet snoring and so she hung up her damp cloak and went into the kitchen where it was warmest. She was usually early but it was a bother to go home first and so she didn't mind. She rolled up her sleeves and looked into the icebox to see if she could start dinner so there was warm food when everyone came in tired and cold. There was a frozen turkey, probably dropped off last month by Molly. She tended to keep the place stocked more than anyone else because she liked to be able to eat during the meetings. Hermione defrosted it with a simple charm and put it into the oven to cook for a while. Molly would take over when she got there anyway so the real responsibility (the responsibility of taste) was not hers.
She went upstairs to see if anyone was home. Harry stayed at the castle as often as the house. It had always been his true home and McGonagall had given him a permanent room there long ago. The upstairs proved as empty as the down so she descended the stairs. She started a fire in the parlor that was rarely used and went into the library to do the same.
"Miss Granger," the low, raspy voice greeted her and she tried not to show any outward sign of being startled.
"Professor, I didn't know anyone else was here," she said. The long, dark potions professor was sitting in a threadbare wingback chair with a book on his lap. He hadn't lit the hearth, though, and it was much too dark to read. He'd become even more reclusive in the last few years since Dumbledore's death. He'd fled, of course, and was gone for nearly a month before Fawkes came back with a letter for Harry imploring the boy not to blame Snape and admitting that he'd have died anyway after consuming the liquid that was supposed to be covering the horcrux. Snape had merely saved him many hours of agonizing torture and saved Draco Malfoy in the process. Harry had reluctantly showed the letter to the ministry and Snape had not been sent to Azkaban though he was probably never going to receive any Orders of Merlin, no matter what the class.
When he'd returned, though, his voice had been all but gone. It was an irreversible spell (thus far), a gift from Lucius Malfoy who'd escaped from Azkaban as death eaters seemed to be increasingly good at doing. Snape's status as a spy had been revealed and the elder Malfoy had cursed Snape, rendering him nearly speechless.
Hermione had been working on a potion to reverse the effect of Malfoy's curse for some time now. She suspected Snape could have found a cure by now himself but was simply not trying. After a year away, McGonagall had asked him to return to his teaching post but he had declined and now lived alone at Spinner's End. This Thursday, though, in her handbag, Hermione had a potion she thought would work.
"Here I am," he whispered, sarcastically. She rolled her eyes good-naturedly.
"Come to the kitchen, please. I've something to show you," she ordered, motioning him out of the library.
"No," he said, looking back down at his book.
"Yes," she said, not allowing him to be petulant. "Please," she added. They rarely spoke, the two of the, and this much interaction was out of character and so curiosity made him follow her to the more brightly lit and habitable kitchen. He sat again and watched her rummage through her leather bag for a small vile of pearly liquid. She handed it to him.
"A potion?" he asked, sneering.
"I think it will help your voice," she said, fearing his anger. She was meddling, really, for he had not asked for her help.
"Do you really think I will ingest this little concoction willfully?" he asked, setting it down with a sneer. This was a better reaction than she though (no shattered glass or running) and so she sat across from him and continued her pitch.
"No, it's a spray," she said, reaching out and removing the silver lid to reveal a pump. "I thought just tossing back any sort of substance would either burn or melt your vocal chords, but I think a spray has a lot of potential. I believe it will work. And no, I didn't think you'd try it but I've brought my notes and thought that you might at least look into it or take it so you can improve on it." She handed him a small black book containing her notes. She opened it to the appropriate page and pushed it toward him. He huffed a bit but skimmed the notes for a good five minutes while she busied herself around the kitchen. Unexpectedly, he started flipping though the pages looking at her other experiments but she held her tongue.
Hermione did jump when she heard the door and a majority of the Weasleys came bustling into the house. Everyone except Percy, of course, and Charlie who was in Romania and Bill who Hermione expected would be along later. She put some water on for tea. Snape closed the notes and left them on the table. She saw him pocket the potion and recede further into the house, not wishing for interaction with any Weasley. Harry arrived through the floo and then the rest started to appear in time for dinner and the meeting.
It was nearly midnight before she returned to her own flat. She felt, though, a mild sense of accomplishment. At work the next morning, a shabby brown owl swooped into her office and landed fatly on the pile of memos she was getting ready to send out to various departments. She untied the note from its leg and it did not stay for an answer. It was obviously from outside the ministry as owls had been replaced years ago and so she curiously unrolled the narrow strip of parchment. The slanted handwriting was most familiar and surprising.
"Miss Granger –
Please meet me Saturday at 11:30am at Spinner's End. I trust you know where that is – bring your notes.
– S. Snape"
He'd invited her to his house? She did know where it was, she and Harry had gone there once, the summer after their sixth year, but it was obvious that Snape had known that. Perhaps her potion had worked. She was too curious to decline the somewhat uninviting invitation and so she assumed since the owl did not stay, her silence would suffice as a yes.
She arrived Saturday morning ten minutes early, as was her custom. She was nervous but not scared as she lifted the brass knocker and let it fall. She waited only a moment before he answered the door and stiffly thanked her for coming.
"Your voice sounds so much better!" she couldn't help but exclaim. It wasn't quite right but the painful sounding rasp was gone.
"So surprised that your spray worked?" he asked.
"Just that you used it," she said, honestly. They stood in the dusty, neglected living room. "Why am I here, sir?" she asked, finally.
"To work," he said. "Did you bring your notes?"
"On potions? Together?"
"Have we ever done much else together?" he asked, impatiently.
"I'm just surprised and flattered," she said. "It's not everyday I get invited to work along side a skilled Potions Master, unfortunately."
"I've been working as an independent supplier," he said, ignoring her compliment. "Making potions for St. Mungo's, apothecaries, private companies and frankly, I need an assistant."
"And so you thought you would just order me here like a student to detention instead of asking me?" she asked.
"I'm asking you now. You didn't have to come," he said.
"And yet, here I am," she said, echoing his snide remark in the library. He looked like he already regretted the invitation but motioned her toward the bookcase that led to the stairs; a set going down. They went down to the lab where several cauldrons were already simmering. The lab was not as immaculate as she'd expected it to be or as he'd kept his labs at Hogwarts but she suspected the work was overtaking him, like he'd already admitted. "Am I to be denied the offer of tea all together?" she asked, for it was at least ten degrees cooler in the basement. He sighed heavily and pointed to a smaller cauldron in the corner with a ladle and she smiled. Tea! In a lab! How unacceptable and yet there it was. She made herself a cup and, very graciously she thought, one for him as well.
She looked around, letting the cup warm her hands. A few of the potions she recognized, most she did not, and one she saw proudly, was hers. He'd recreated it and probably improved it some.
"I'd thought we'd start with the basics," he said. "On that wall are my basic stock orders, to be refilled monthly. This bench is special requests, and this," he motioned to her potion, "is the experimental bench." She nodded, aware. A butcher's block in the middle held his copious and unorganized notes and this was where she sat her black notebook. "Ingredients are in that pantry," he said. "Also, I make wolfsbane monthly as you well know." He sneered.
"And you need me?" she asked.
"I need a competent set of hands," he said. "I will match your salary."
"You want me to quit my job!" she asked. This was unexpected. She'd thought he would have just wanted her to come in once a week, maybe, but looking around he really was in serious need, especially if he wanted his freelance business to grow. "I'm not sure about that…"
"Do not decide today," he said. "But I do believe you are wasted at the ministry and I'm offering you a safe way out," he said. She wasn't sure if she'd use the word safe, but…
"I will think about it," she said. "But if I am going to work here, we need to change a few things." He turned white, biting back some scathing response. "I just mean a good cleaning and some sense of organization and, well, food in the lab, professor? I don't really think that's wise."
He nodded and relaxed. "I'll go upstairs – let me know when you finish." Her first reaction was indignation but she chose to let him go. Cleaning would take a few simple spells and she could organize more efficiently without someone constantly over her shoulder – plus she could get a good look at his notes as he had already seen hers.
Several hours later, she went upstairs to find him.
"I'm finished, Professor," she said. He was sitting in his parlor reading, his favorite pastime as well, it seemed.
"There is stew. Eat before you apparate," he said. She could smell the beef and vegetables deliciously simmering and so she went into the kitchen where there was a bowl and silverware set out for her at the table. He expected her to eat alone at the table but instead she filled her bowl and moved into the parlor, sitting on the sofa near the fire. He looked at her but said nothing. The stew was surprisingly good but then brewing a potion was a lot like cooking and there wasn't much that Snape couldn't do.
"I really didn't think you'd come," he said as she stood to clear her bowl to the sink in the kitchen. He could wash it later, if he wanted to.
"I am still in the unfortunate habit of doing as you say," she admitted. "And I can't say I'll ever fall out of it." This made him smirk a little and he stood to walk her to the door.
"Good day, Miss Granger," he said. She shook her head, a little exasperated.
"And to you, Professor," she said. When she was gone, he went down to the lab to see what she'd done and he was pleased.
She quit her job. She didn't really give much thought which was uncharacteristic of her but, Merlin, her job drove her crazy with boredom and to make potions on something else than her stove? The allure was too much despite working with Snape. He was not the same man who'd ridiculed her as a fourth year, who'd fled the school after killing the greatest wizard in several generations. He was darker, yes, but somehow vastly more approachable. He was no longer living a double life, no longer working in a job he hated merely to stay alive. He was free.
She arrived the next day without an invitation. He did not comment. He let her in and let her tell him what her salary was, when she expected it, and what days she expected off. He agreed blandly, signed the contract and the moved into the lab. She tied her hair back and waited expectantly.
"The potions to be made are over there. If you have any questions, which doubtless you will, I'll be over here," he said. She was to do the grunt work and Snape was to have all the fun at the experimental bench. Still, she was his employee now and so she got to work. She'd worn jeans and a t-shirt – Muggle clothes. She found they were less apt to drag in her work or catch on fire. With her hair in a ponytail and her pink cotton shirt, he couldn't help staring.
"What?" she said, finally. His silent judgment was making her nervous and nerves caused mistakes and mistakes were unacceptable.
"You look as you did in your fifth year," he said. "Just exactly."
"I didn't think you ever took any sort of notice of me," she said, now feeling rather self-conscious.
"It's just a shock to realize that you are not a child, anymore," he said.
"No, I'm not," she agreed. "This will work, won't it?" she asked, now nervous for she had quit her job and it was too late to go back.
"I believe yes, it will," Snape said. "I'm not often with people these days, please excuse me." She went back to her work.
At lunch time, she had only to let her potions simmer so she went upstairs intent on seeing what there was to eat. Finding next to nothing (leftover stew), she put on a jacket and apparated to Diagon Alley where she walked into Muggle London and stopped at a nearby market to buy groceries.
He was waiting for her in the kitchen when she returned.
"My curiosity won me over. I had to know what you were doing up here. Imagine my surprise when you were gone," he said. She set down her bags and started unpacking them.
"I thought you looked thinner than usually and I'm sure now it's because you live off of old stew," she said.
"I eat what Molly makes," he grumbled.
"Go back to work, Professor. I'll let you know when it's ready," she ordered. She didn't know why it irritated her that he couldn't take proper care of himself – an untidy, unorganized lab, wasting away from hunger and loneliness, did he need an assistant or a house elf? She threw some sandwiches together and ate standing over the sink. She had only minutes until her potions needed tending to. He left to eat when she came down and when he came back she was ladling the potions into thick glass bottles and placing them in boxes to be shipped. She filled out the order forms in her neat, round handwriting and sealed the boxes magically.
"That's good," he said, trying to encourage her. He'd never really had an employee before. He couldn't scare her into behaving like she was a student anymore.
"Thanks," she said, cleaning her cauldrons out and putting away the ingredients she wouldn't need for her next batch.
"I usually hand deliver the orders for Diagon Alley," he said. "You could come along later if you'd like." She looked at him, as if scanning for an ulterior motive.
"I really should get home," she said. He nodded, not looking at all disappointed.
"Perhaps next month, then," he said. She nodded, gathered her things, and went home.
After a few weeks, Hermione realized that she was as much as a housekeeper as an assistant for Snape. He needed someone to brew for him, but on Friday's when most of the week's work was done, she went to the market and stocked his refrigerator and gave the dilapidated house a good scrubbing. She did his laundry and washed his dishes. When the end of the month came, Snape handed her a list for the Apothecary.
"What's this?" she asked.
"Replenish supplies," he said, not even offering her a complete sentence.
"Which Apothecary do you prefer? Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade?"
"Either is sufficient." He stirred his cauldron with a glass stirring rod counter clockwise, slowly. She watched his back, the way his shoulder blades moved with the motion. He was so precise, even when his experiments ended up as complete failures. His voice was completely back to normal and Snape had even sold a few bottles of Hermione's potion to an over sea's buyer.
"Professor? Why don't you come along and then we could go to the Order meeting at the same time. It's Thursday," she said. She'd almost said that they could go 'together' but she didn't want to send the wrong message, whatever that message was. He took some time finishing his stirring, wiping off his stirring rod and casting a stasis charm over his cauldron. Hermione was becoming quite efficient at working with several cauldrons at once but Snape still worked with one at a time.
"That is… acceptable," he said. She smiled a little and went upstairs to put on her cloak. It had started to snow sometime last week and had yet to really stop. They did not live in an area that tended to ever get snowfall but Hermione had expected it to happen eventually since the cold was coming now so steadily. It would be to topic of discussion at the meeting tonight, no doubt, because if it went on much longer, England would become uninhabitable. It was already April, after all.
They went to Hogsmeade because it tended to be less crowded. Hermione could tell Snape didn't like to be that close to Hogwarts because he kept looking over his shoulder in the direction of the castle and sneering. They trudged through the snow shivering and wrapping their cloaks more closely around themselves. Inside the shop, the fire did little to warm them. They went though the list quickly, eager to get to 12 Grimmauld Place where there would be warm food and many roaring fires. Snape pointed out the brands he preferred for her future reference and she absorbed the information readily.
Finally, they apparated back to Spinner's End to put away the ingredients and floo'ed to the meeting, both in the over sized fireplace at once. Snape threw down the floo powder and shouted out the destination. Hermione felt the tug on her insides and instinctively reached out to grab Snape's elbow so she could stay upright. She was many things but graceful she was not and she often tended to come out of floo travel covered with soot and on the floor. She closed her eyes against the fireplaces rushing by, it made her nauseous. Finally, they slowed and landed hard outside the fireplace. Their heels hit first and she felt it in her teeth but she did not topple and when she opened her eyes, Snape was staring down at her.
"You may let go," he said, finally. She removed her hand quickly, embarrassed. They were standing in the main living room and a crowd of people watched them arrive. Hermione busied herself with patting ash off of her cloak and running her fingers through her hair. Snape stalked out of the room toward the kitchen, presumably for tea for he drank as much of the stuff as she did. They both preferred the dark breakfast teas and so that's what was always on the stove in the kitchen of Spinner's End but Molly liked soothing teas. Snape would probably have coffee, instead.
"Hermione," Ron greeted, walking up to her now that the show was over.
"Hello, Ronald," she said, suddenly tired. She undid the clasp of her cloak and draped the heavy material over her arm. Ron and Harry had both been rather put out when she quit her ministry job and went to work for Snape. Harry had yelled at her for five minutes straight and Ron had sputtered and turned red as Ron was often wont to do. They both had never forgiven Snape for a number of things, Dumbledore's death merely the tip of the gigantic iceberg. To Harry, a slow agonizing death would have been better for Dumbledore then dying at Snape's hand. Finally, Hermione had told them both to sod off and now things were mostly normal, if strained.
"So you're arriving together, now?" Ron asked, coolly.
"We came from work," she said. She could see Ron's internal struggle of deciding what to say but Molly's voice calling them in from dinner saved him the trouble and they went to the kitchen, Hermione pausing to hang her cloak on the coat rack over Snape's. Inside the kitchen, people crowded around the table to fill their plates with food and then wander away to find an empty chair somewhere. Hermione stayed in the kitchen, her plate balanced on one hand while she reached into the cupboard for a mug.
"Here," Snape said, thrusting a mug of coffee out to her. She took it with a somewhat incredulous look on her face.
"Thank you, Professor," she said, taking a sip. It was just as she preferred it. He shrugged and walked away with his food, most likely to eat alone. She watched him go. Hermione, somewhat pleased to know the bitter man paid some attention to her, waited until the kitchen cleared and sat at the kitchen table alone, listening to the conversations floating through the house, drinking her coffee and eating her food. She ate quickly and started on the dishes so everyone would have a table to sit at when the actual meeting started. Eventually, Ginny came in and helped her and soon enough, everyone was crowded into the kitchen and the discussion of the weather was underway.
"What about warming charms? I mean, melting the snow is easy enough, right?" Ron asked, leaning back on the two legs of his chair.
"Muggles can't do warming charms," Ginny said, smacking her brother in the back of the head.
"Muggles are freezing to death at night," Hermione piped in, sadly. "The homeless don't have a chance."
"We know that part of it is dementor related and tomorrow morning a team of aurors are attacking the nesting ground so that should give us some time until we figure out what else is causing this," Tonks said.
The conversation moved on and Hermione tuned out. She noticed people moving about and snapped back in. The meeting was done and so she said her goodbyes and went to get her cloak. Snape was in the hallway by the coat rack holding her cloak and wearing his.
"I had to move yours to get mine," he said, handing her the heavy fabric.
"Thanks," she said, putting it around her shoulders. "I'll see you tomorrow." He nodded and went to floo home. She stepped out into the yard to apparate. At home, it was dark and freezing in her apartment. She quickly changed into her flannel pajamas and turned on the heat. It seemed like the more livable she made Spinner's End, the more neglected her flat became. She usually went to work early and came home late. She had no food and was glad she could clean her clothes with magic because the Muggle way just took way too long. She promised herself she would stay in this weekend and make her home inhabitable again. She did have water and tea bags so she made herself a cup (of the less popular non-caffeinated variety) and went to bed.
In the morning, she turned on the Muggle radio as she got ready to go back to Spinner's End. Most of the schools in her neighborhood were closed because of the blizzard and one look outside surprised her. She could barely see the buildings across the street. She was grateful that they were supposed to attack the dementor nest today, she didn't know how much more snow she could take. She put on layers and layers and did something that went against her good manners. She apparated right into Snape's front room.
"Miss Granger, how unannounced," Snape said with a note of real surprise in his voice.
"It's bloody cold outside," she snapped. "You go stand on your doorstep."
"No need to snap," he said. "There's tea in the kitchen, I'll be downstairs."
"Go," Hermione grumbled. Most of her work for the day was filling out forms and writing on tiny labels. Snape still did everything by hand and though his business was his own, he had no company name or no logo of any sort. Just the name of the potion on a white piece of paper. It wasn't very business savvy, really.
She made a cup of tea and came downstairs to sit at the middle workstation and fill out all of the order receipts. This was when she wished that wizards embraced the word processor. She could type fast but writing with a quill in that small of writing made her hand cramp. Suddenly she was irritated. She sat down at a stool and put her cup down so hard that tea splashed over the side but didn't care. She stuck the quill in the ink pot and started filling out forms, pressing so hard that in several places the nib pushed though the thick parchment.
"Miss Granger, I can't help but notice you seem to be seething," Snape said, walking over to her. "Why?"
"I'm fine," she said, her voice low in her throat. "Why do you care?"
"Because I have to be in the same room as you and I prefer your silence to your angry huffing," he said, snidely.
"Well, you're the boss, just send me home," she said.
"Miss Granger," he rubbed the bridge of his nose, "You are exceedingly competent and I don't wish to lose your services for one day."
"Why, that was almost a compliment," she said, looking up. "I'm sorry; it isn't your fault I'm in a horrible mood. I'm just tired of the snow, tired of the cold, tired of my friends thinking I'm insane for taking a job I actually like working for someone I actually respect." She put down her quill and looked at him.
"I see," he said. "I wouldn't worry about your dimwitted friends, Miss Granger; they have been known to be wrong."
"Is that supposed to comfort me?" she asked. He shrugged. "Well, anyway, I wanted to talk to you about your labels," she said.
"What's wrong with them? Is the sticking charm wearing off?" he asked.
"It isn't that, it's that they are plain. You need a company name, something to draw the eye. Do you mind if I come up with a few sketches?"
"Do what you will," he said, growing bored with their conversation and returning to his work. "Miss Granger," he called over his shoulder.
"No lions." She smiled to herself.
She did as she promised herself. She stayed in on Saturday, leaving only to go food shopping. She cleaned her apartment, and scraped out the old residue from her pots so she could once again use them for food and not potions. An owl came midday and had her first paycheck from Snape. It was carefully made out and she stared at it for a long time. She was really working for Snape and even more disturbingly, despite her bad days, she rather liked it. Maybe tomorrow she would go deposit it at Gringotts but for the rest of the day she planned to stay in her Pajama's and read.
Monday morning she was tired of doing nothing and right happy to go back to work. The constant blizzard had let up to a mild snow storm, and Hermione hoped that meant the auror's raid on the nest of dementors went well. She left a little early and deposited her check into the bank before apparating to Snape's door step and letting herself in. She didn't know how this was much different than apparating into the living room, but wizard society demanded it, so she complied. She remembered his snide comment from last time and did not wish to relive it. He was not in the living room, nor was the fire lit. It was a little strange, but many people were off Monday mornings, so she lit the fire with her wand and went downstairs. The lab was empty as well. She lit a fire down there. Her station was unchanged from Friday and Snape's seemed untouched for the morning. Curious now, she went back upstairs to put the tea on in the kitchen. The kitchen was empty. The pantry was well stocked since she'd gone to the market on Friday. The laundry basket of his clothing and towels was still sitting on the kitchen where she'd left it. Her apron was still folding neatly on top of his. She'd started making them wear aprons after they'd both ruined clothing after a particularly frothy experimental batch of a new potion. She'd bought them from the Apothecary, hers was shorter and purple, and his was, of course, black and the next size up. She put on her apron and picked up the basket. She rarely went into the back of the house where Snape had his bedroom. She saw no reason she needed to go into his personal space. When she wanted his soiled laundry, she asked him and he brought it into the living room.
Now she carried the basket down the dark hallway and stood in front of the closed door. She shifted the basket to her hip and let her knuckle hover outside the door for a few moments before knocking lightly. She waited, listened for any sound, and knocked again. Hearing nothing, she turned the knob and pushed the door open. The room was dark; she could see the gray light outside struggling to get through the dark draperies obscuring the windows. At first she thought he was asleep in bed and she froze, a jolt of fear mixed with embarrassment passing through her. But she couldn't hear anything and once her eyes adjusted to the darkness she saw it was just an unmade bed. She set the basket down on the bed and pulled the draperies open. The back of the house was just as dreary as the front and inside. Still, the light helped and she flicked her wand so the bed made itself.
Snape was nowhere to be found. It was rather unlike him. Perplexed, she went to the kitchen to tend to the boiling water. Shutting off the heat, she ladled some hot water into a tea cup and dropped a bag in. She felt very strange being in Snape's house without him. She went to her bag where she pulled out a cellular phone. She'd insisted Harry get one once the floo network wasn't secure to speak on. She found Harry's name on her recent call list and pressed send. After a few rings, he picked up which meant he was at 12 Grimmauld place, not Hogwarts.
"It's EARLY," he said.
"Hello to you too," she said. "I have a somewhat odd question."
"Ugh," Harry said. He sounded muffled, and she imagined his face was still pressed into his pillow.
"Is Snape there?"
"I don't shag men, Hermione, but if I did, I wouldn't start with Snape," he said, sounding rather put out.
"I meant in your house," she said, laughing.
"Bah, hold on." There was the sound of a door opening. "SNAPE, YOU GREASY GIT, ARE YOU IN MY HOUSE?"
"Oh, Harry," she chided.
"I don't think he's here, but I did set off Mrs. Black," he said.
"Well, sorry to wake you," she said. "I came to work and he isn't here."
"Sounds like a good day to me," he said, his face muffled by his pillow once more. "Bye."
"Bye," she said, and closed the flap of her phone. Perplexed, she decided to sit in the living room working on paperwork and drinking her tea until he appeared. Snape's one redeeming quality as a business man was his meticulous records. All his finances were in order and to keep up with the paperwork was not the chore it could have been. It was monotonous to be sure, but sometimes busy work was what Hermione needed to making worrying more bearable. In this case, she was worried about Snape.
She made neat little piles to be filed later. Finished papers, receipts to be owled out, and papers that needed Snape's signature. She tried not to think about where he could be, where he could have gone that he wouldn't have left some sort of note for her. She wondered, fleetingly, if he hadn't left, but was taken, perhaps by death eaters. She forced herself quickly to reject that scenario. The wards on Spinner's End were admirable and everyone knew that Snape was powerful enough to play for whatever side he wanted.
Hermione hoped he really was on their side. On the side of good. She was just beginning to edge on paranoia when the sound of him apparating into the room behind her startled her and she let out a little scream. He whirled around, his robes billowing out.
"Miss Granger," he said. "You startled me."
"I STARTLED YOU?" she yelled, her worry suddenly turning to anger at the sight of him alive and well. "Where have you been? I've been sitting here for hours, worrying myself sick!"
"Worried?" he asked, genuinely confused. "Why?"
"I come here and you're nowhere to be found. No note, no evidence, no explanation. Nothing!" she said, sinking warily back into her chair. "Anything could have happened! How would I know?"
"Forgive me," he asked, bowing slightly. "I'm not used to having another person around."
"I thought something terrible had happened," she said, now slightly embarrassed. "Where did you go?"
"To obtain some of the more necessary and more illegal potions ingredients," he said. She noticed now the paper bag in his hand. A normal wave of curiosity came through her.
"Really?" she asked. "May I see?"
He smirked, now back in her good favor and motioned for her follow him down the stairs to the lab. He unloaded each item carefully, allowing her to peer over his shoulder. As he straightened each object and folded the bag, he turned to her, not quite making eye contact.
"I'm sorry," he said.
"Oh," she said, surprised. Forgive me was not the same as I'm sorry. "It's all right." He nodded.
"Start on your orders," he said, back to normal.
"Yes, sir," she said.
They worked through the rest of the afternoon before he spoke to her past barking an order. She was wrapping her scarf around her neck by the front door, preparing to apparate when he cleared his throat, facing the fire.
"Miss Granger," he said. "A word before you go."
"Sure," she said, looking at him.
"Tomorrow I must go away again," he said. She smiled, and nodded.
"Thank you for the warning."
"I mean to say," he said. "I want you to accompany me on this particular errand. You will be more successful at obtaining this ingredient than I will."
"What is it?" she asked.
"Tomorrow," he said.
"All right," she said. "Good night, Professor."
He nodded once and watched her lift her wand and disappear. He watched the space for a few minutes after she'd gone and went to bed, though he did not sleep well.
In the morning, she arrived nearly an hour early, appearing when he was still standing in the kitchen and drinking coffee in his nightclothes. She walked in, rubbing her hands together to create friction and he stared at her, trying not to appear embarrassed.
"You're rather early," he said, grumpily.
"I was curious, I couldn't just sit at my flat anymore wondering what this was all about," she said.
"Unicorn blood," he said.
"What?" she asked, started by the out of context comment.
"We need to harvest some," he clarified.
"That's absurd. It's nearly impossible to get a unicorn to allow blood to be drawn and it's tainted if taken by force," she said. "Plus, you can only harvest Unicorn blood on the summer solstice."
"Well thank you for that lesson," he said sarcastically, pouring her a cup of coffee. She watched him add her spoon of sugar and accepted it gratefully. "Check your calendar. It is the summer solstice."
"But it's snowing!" she said.
"It's still the longest day of the year, even if it is freezing," he said. She knew he was right but still remained dubious.
"Well," she said, reluctant to concede any point to Severus Snape. "How are we to get the blood?"
"I'm too old for the Unicorn to approach me," he said. "Plus, Unicorns tend to respond better to women. I was hoping you were still young and, ah, pure enough to ask the Unicorn for its blood."
"Oh," she said. "Well… I'm not… I mean, if you need someone completely pure, I don't think…" She trailed off, looking into her coffee cup hoping fiercely Snape wouldn't need to know about her virginity, or lack thereof. He held up his hand.
"I understand, Miss Granger, I beg you not to continue. You still remain the better candidate between the two of us. I assume you've never taken a human life?"
"No," she said. "I haven't."
"Then you win," he said, dryly. "If you'll excuse me, I'll be ready in a moment." She nodded and took a seat at the table to wait and bask in the warmth of her coffee. When he reappeared, he was dressed normally.
"All set?" she asked. He didn't respond; he never cared for inane conversation. "Where are we going?"
"The Forbidden Forest is the most accessible place. We can Floo to Hogwarts. I've arranged it with Minerva." He allowed her to step into his fireplace first and threw the floo powder down. They arrived in the Great Hall fireplace, Hermione coughing; her right hand gripped tightly to Snape's left forearm. He waited for her to clear the ash from her lungs, patting her on the back.
"Muggle borns never quite get the hang of Floo travel," he said. His tone was almost sympathetic but knowing him, it was mocking. She glared up at him through watery eyes. His face looked nearly sincere and so she wiped her face and chose to say nothing. "I suggest putting a warming charm on your clothing, Miss Granger. It's cold out there and who knows how deeply into the forest we'll have to travel."
"All right," she said, breathing again. They took out their wands and cast the charms. Immediately she began to sweat but was immediately grateful once they stepped outside into the snow and started the long walk toward the Forbidden Forest.
"Not quite the summers I remember spending in this castle," he said, wrapping his long arms around himself.
"The Muggles all think the world is ending," Hermione said.
"Maybe it is," Snape said, dryly.
"I call in the Narnia effect," she admitted.
"Always winter, never Christmas," he supplied.
"You read Muggle fiction?" she asked.
"I read everything, Miss Granger, just like you," he said. She couldn't help smiling a bit, both because Snape had read Muggle fiction for children and because he'd compared them favorably.
"Perhaps good will break through eventually," she said. Snape said nothing. "So, Professor, am I to walk up to this Unicorn and just… I don't know, remark on the morning and ask for a pint of its blood?" she asked.
"Don't be cheeky," he said.
"Fine," she said. "But a little information wouldn't hurt."
"Just be polite," he said. "The rest will come naturally."
"If we don't freeze to death first," she grumbled.
"Yes," he agreed. "If we don't die."
After nearly a mile of walking through forest, all conversation between them died. He walked slightly ahead, clearing brush. She couldn't tell if he had a destination or if he was just walking blindly, hoping for the best. Her warming charm was helping, but she could still feel the cold seeping into her toes, the tips of her fingers, and her nose. She tried not to let her teeth chatter. Suddenly, Snape put out his hand to stop her. In front of them was a clearing where a small Unicorn stood nosing through the snow, trying to find a bit of grass underneath. Snape looked at her expectantly as if to say, 'go on.' She stepped into the clearing.
The unicorn froze, tensed, looking at her. He (or she?) looked poised to run at any moment. Hermione tried to look calm and thought unthreatening thoughts.
"Hello," she said, glancing back at Snape who remained expressionless, watching. The Unicorn bobbed its head. Hermione didn't know if it could actually understand her but she decided to go on. "How are you this morning?"
The Unicorn tilted its head slightly.
"Would you mind terribly if I came a little closer?" Hermione asked. When the Unicorn did nothing, she took a tentative step forward. The Unicorn didn't leave. She took another step and another until she was close enough to the Unicorn to reach out and touch it. Even this close, the Unicorn's fur was as white as the fresh snow. Only its silver horn and black eyes stood out against the landscape. Hermione removed her glove and held out her hand. The Unicorn rubbed its soft nose against her palm.
"Oh," she breathed. "You're so beautiful." She ran her fingers along its silky mane. Suddenly, she knew that she couldn't. She looked over her shoulder at Snape. "I can't ask."
"You must," he said. His voice made the Unicorn's muscles tense beneath the skin.
"It seems so cruel," she said.
"It is necessary," he said.
"Why?" she cried.
"Because it is for the greater good. Hermione, there is nothing more good than a Unicorn; nothing more pure, nothing more holy. When a Unicorn decides to give the gift of its own life force, it is a sacrifice in the name of all things right and in balance in the world," he said. She turned back to the Unicorn.
"Do you see?" she asked it. "We need your blood, if you're willing. We need your blood so that spring will return." The Unicorn blinked its black eyes and bobbed his head once more. Hermione felt her own eyes fill with tears. Snape came up behind her with a glass container.
"Thank you," he said. The Unicorn bent its head around to its flank and pierced its flesh with the tip of its silver horn without a sound. Hermione took the glass contained and knelt beside it, letting the blood drip down. When the container was filled, she handed it back to Snape who screwed on the top and put it inside his robes for safe keeping. The Unicorn leaned over and let a few tears leak onto his wound. It closed and the flank was once again pure and white.
"Thank you," Hermione said. The Unicorn bobbed its head for a third time and disappeared into the forest. Snape and Hermione started their long walk back. "That was horrible," she said. "I feel awful."
"I know," he said. "You did admirably."
"I never want to do it again," she said. "So don't ask."
"I promise," he said. She didn't say anything until they were back inside the castle. Inside, they stomped their boots by the fire so the snow would come off and removed the warming charms. Hermione was suddenly several degrees colder and gave a violent shudder. She felt Snape's hands on her arms, pushing her closer to the fire. His fingers were strong against her biceps.
"Tea?" she asked.
"I'll go see," he said. The hands on her arms went away and he went through a door, out of the Great hall. She looked around the empty room. The long wooden tables were dark and gleaming in the fire light. She looked up and saw that the enchanted ceiling only mirrored what was in the real sky – grey clouds and swirling snow fall. She tried not to let the constant cold get to her, but they grey skies were beginning to make her depressed. At the order meetings she and Snape attended, it was the same conversation over and over again. Attack the dementor nests but both Snape and Hermione knew that the Order was avoiding the larger problem at hand – the breeding dementors were only a symptom of a larger cause. Somehow Voldemort was causing the Narnia effect but no one was trying to find out how he'd come to control the weather and why he wanted to.
Snape appeared through the doorway again.
"Come to the kitchens," he called. She brought her head back down form watching the ceiling and followed him through the doorway. They took a route to the kitchen she'd never taken in her years at Hogwarts, but she knew there was still so much of the castle that was undiscovered by her.
The kitchens were warm, but not bustling as she was used to seeing them. The elves were pleased at seeing people. They didn't get a lot of interaction during the holidays. A small elf pulled out Hermione's stool for her and there was a silver tea service on the wooden table. Snape sat across from her and fixed Hermione's cup of tea before he prepared his own.
"Thank you," she said.
"Are you feeling better?" he asked. She gave a noncommittal shrug.
"Would you like some chocolate?" he asked.
"No, I'm fine, I don't need anything like that," she assured him. "I just want to drink this and go."
"Minerva is probably around somewhere," he offered.
"We'll see her Thursday," she said.
"Very well," he said. They drank their tea. The sadness that had began to settle over her in the Great hall suddenly swelled at the continual memory of the Unicorn piercing its self with its own horn. Tears swelled in her eyes again and one escaped, slithering down her cheek. Snape reached out and brushed it off her face with his finger. "Hermione," he said.
"I'm fine," she said, wiping at her eyes frantically. "I really am."
"Take the rest of the day," he said. "Go home."
"No," she said, adamantly. "Let's just go." She knew that if she went home, she would put on her warm, unattractive pajamas and get into bed – maybe never to come back out. She thought the methodical precision of brewing my soothe her.
"Let's go," he repeated. They stood, stepped into one of the empty hearths. He threw down the powder and the green flames that engulfed them evaporated away any tears left on her cheeks or on the tip of his finger.
In he lab, Hermione got to work while Snape hovered around his experiments, working and writing in his notebook.
"You're strangely productive when you're upset," he commented.
"Who's upset?" she asked, picking up a clean cauldron and banging it down on the stone counter. The bang and scrape of metal against stone made Snape clench his teeth.
"Pick one!" she yelled.
"Miss Granger or Hermione. Please, choose because going back and forth is now confusing and tiresome."
"Fine," he said.
"Which?" she asked.
"Wait and see," he said snidely, tired of being snapped at. "Now are you going to make lunch or are we to starve to death?"
"I'm not your maid!" she spat.
"Then go home," he said. "No matter how productive you are, your mood is not worth it."
She growled and stomped up the stairs. He sat down, exhausted from remembering how Hermione used to be and thought, women.
Upstairs, Hermione stood in the kitchen, holding her breath, feeling guilt trickle into her pulsing bloodstream. She didn't know why she was so angry and why she felt the need to take it out on him. She didn't have to go with him and he had forced her into nothing. She opened his ice box and started pulling out ingredients. Chicken, seasoning, vegetables, loaves of bread, bottles of wine… she started chopping, cooking, sautéing, and drinking, thinking about all the different times she'd watched Molly Weasley prepare a meal. After an hour, the smell of her elaborate meal wafted down into the lab and drew Snape upstairs.
"I thought you'd gone," he said.
"Nope," she said. "Sit down."
She'd set the table – even fished a few candles out from a dusty cupboard. They lit the room slightly. He sat, put his napkin on his lap and inhaled sharply when she set his plate in front of him.
"This is… I didn't know you could do this," he said.
"Neither did I," she said. "I've never had anyone to do it for."
"And now?" he asked.
"Well, cooking is a lot like brewing, I guess," she said. "Without you looming over my shoulder, of course." He allowed her a dry chuckle.
"I'm glad you stayed," he said. "Please join me." She nodded and sat down across from him, bringing her plate along with him. She'd never had alcohol in front of Snape before, but he pulled the cork from the wine bottle and poured her a glass. She didn't mention it would be her third. He poured one for himself.
"I've been working on your label design," she said.
"Oh?" he asked. "What have you come up with?" She took her napkin off her lap sheepishly. On the white cloth, she'd drawn with a pen, a stout black cauldron with three feet. At the base of the cauldron, a serpent sat coiled, sleeping, content, but ready to strike at a moment's notice. Underneath the logo she had written Severe Brewing Company. "Severe?" he asked.
"Well, you are," she said. He laughed outright.
"I can't argue that," he said, still laughing. "All right. I'll change the letterhead."
Pleased with her, they finished their meal. After the dishes were cleared, they sat at the empty table finishing the bottle of wine. Hermione felt a little buzzed and saw Snape watching her rather intently.
"What?" she asked.
"You're all flushed," he said.
"The wine," she said.
"I see," he said. "Hermione..."
"A-Ha!" she cut him off. "Your choice."
"Yes," he said. "Hermione, I'm glad you came to work for me. I don't think I've said that yet, and I wanted you to know." She felt a little touched but tried to play it off.
"Because I get you unattainable ingredients and make you elaborate meals?" she asked.
"Because you're very good at potion making," he said. "And also you get me unattainable ingredients and make me elaborate meals."
"Thank you, sir," she said. "I appreciate that."
"Maybe, since I've made a choice, you can make one too," he said.
"I'm not your Professor anymore," he pointed out.
"Shall I call you Mr. Snape? Oh, Master Snape perhaps?" she joked. "Monsieur Snape?"
"How about Severus?" he asked. "Though Master Snape would do in a pinch."
"Severus," she said. "Look at us, joking around like people who don't hate each other."
"I don't hate you," he said. She narrowed her eyes. "Maybe I did, once. But not anymore."
"The same," she said. "People change."
"Maybe," he said. "Maybe some people."
"Well, that was the longest lunch hour I've ever taken," she said, looking at the clock. "Perhaps we should go back to work?"
"No," he said. "I'm done for the day."
"Oh," she said. "All right."
"I didn't mean that you had to go," he said quickly. "I was just going to read for a while. You could stay, if you desire the company."
"Maybe just until I feel sober enough to apparate," she said.
"We need to build you up a tolerance, it seems," he said.
"Ha," she said, walking along the wall of books, trying to make a choice. Something interesting, but not dry so it would hold her attention. Fiction perhaps, though usually it made her feel guilty, like she ought to be learning something if she was bothering to read. Now, though, through the fog of the wine, she chose a story she knew nothing about and curled into the opposite side of the sofa from Snape.
Ten minutes passed and when Snape looked up, Hermione was asleep. This meant he could watch her openly, unashamed or embarrassed. She looked young asleep, but not in the same way she had looked when she was still young. She looked youthful and vibrant and he found himself looking forward to when she would arrive in the morning and dreading the hour when she would leave. She was the only company he craved. He began to worry about this. He knew he should wake her and send her home, but apparating while intoxicated was always a terrible idea. She would have to stay.
"Hermione," he said. She didn't stir. Sighing, he stood up and looked around for a blanket. Finding none besides the one on his own bed, he shrugged and used his wand to levitate her carefully to his bedroom. He knew he wouldn't be able to sleep knowing she was in the house anyway. In her sleep, she curled up into the softness of his mattress. He extinguished the lights and shut the door.
Hermione woke up with a slight headache and complete disorientation in regards to her whereabouts. She was not in her own bed and she had no recollections of being at home the night before. She groaned, knowing she probably fell asleep at Spinner's End.
"I'm never drinking again," she said, and then winced at the sound of her own voice. She sat up and opened her eyes. She was in Snape's bed, SNAPE'S BED. She saw that she still had her own clothes on, except her shoes which were at the foot of the bed on the floor. She stood up woozily and used his bathroom. Part of her wanted to apparate home but it would be too rude for words, so instead she put her shoes on and went out into the house. Snape was in the kitchen, standing at the stove, pushing eggs around in a pan.
"So you can cook," she said.
"I wouldn't make any final judgments until you eat them," he said, looking at her. "Did you sleep well?"
"I'm so embarrassed," she said, burying her face in her hands.
"Don't be," he said, shutting the stove off.
"Thank you," she said.
"Eat something," he said. There were eggs and toast and coffee, God bless him, and she ate it all, and it helped settle her angry stomach. He watched her eat, uninterested in food himself.
"I'll be back in 20 minutes," she said, standing. "I promise."
"Take your time," he said. "I'd rather you be late and smell fresh." She stuck tongue out at his back as he descended down the stairs. She was back in something like 45 minutes, with her hair pulled back in a tight pony tail in a sweater and a pair of jeans. Her face was washed and she looked much more presentable. They worked for a few hours – Snape on his potions and Hermione on putting the new labels on all the bottles and boxes.
"Do you want to go to town?" he asked.
"If you'd like me to," she said, standing up and wiping her hand on her jeans.
"I meant with me," he said. "To the apothecary."
"Oh, yes," she said. "We could stand a trip to the market as well. Not only are we out of tea, but we're out of the biscuits with the chocolate on top."
"A travesty," he said. "Get your coat, then." She gathered her things and bundled up. They apparated to Hogsmeade together. "Shall we meet someplace then?"
"Oh, no," she said. "I'm going to the apothecary and you're going to the market." He groaned.
"But think of the time we could save," he wheedled.
"Don't be petulant," she said. "I want to go to both, so you'll have to suck it up."
"You're rather bossy," he said, stalking off toward the apothecary.
"You're rather… shut up," she said, falling in stride with him. He laughed and held open the door for her. She stepped in, still looking back at him and nearly bumped into Pansy Parkinson.
"Watch it mudblood," she growled, shifting her bag to her other hip.
"Excuse me?" Hermione asked, the smile falling from her lips.
"You heard me," she said.
"As did I, you brainless strumpet," Snape said, coming to stand behind Hermione, his hand on her back, sending her strength. "Watch what you say. I am a dangerous man to have as an enemy." Pansy, trained well to fear Snape after having him for her Head of House and Potions teacher for seven years, paled slightly before remembering that she didn't have to do what he said anymore.
"Well, Professor, I see our tastes have fallen somewhat," she said, though her tone wasn't as steady as it had been a moment ago.
"Oh, can it Pansy. You dated Draco for seven years and he cheated on you for all of them; you have no room to talk." Hermione said, tired of dealing with old school drama. Hermione pushed past her and into the store, encouraged by a pressure on her back from Snape's hand. Huffing, Pansy left.
"Bravo," Snape said, impressed by a good telling off.
"I thought we came to Hogsmeade to avoid encounters like that," she said. Snape looked, by habit, over to the back of the store where his product was sold. It wasn't there.
"Our stock is gone," he said.
"No, look," she said. "They moved it to the window display. I guess they liked the new packaging."
"I'm impressed," he said.
In the market, she made him hold the basket while she walked ahead and picked out what they would need for the week.
"We can't possibly need all this," he said, his arms beginning to ache.
"We go through this every week, Severus," she said, patiently.
"No wonder you asked me for a budget," he said. "I rather though you were just pocketing the extra money."
"Oh, because that is so in character for me," she said sarcastically, looking back at him and rolling her eyes.
"I know how you Gryffindors really are," he said.
"Honest and brave?"
"Not the words I'd use," he teased.
"I don't ever want to hear the words you'd use," she said.
"Well, perhaps all Gryffindors aren't as bad as a certain scar-headed nitwit," he said. "But I say this begrudgingly."
"Please don't call my best friend and the savior of the wizarding world…"
"Supposed savior," he interjected.
"Supposed savior of the wizarding world a nitwit," she scolded.
"I heard you were all on the out and outs," he said.
"Harry and I are doing just fine," Hermione said, sniffing and examining the stack of apples.
"And what about Weasley?" he asked.
"Ronald Weasley's opinions on my recent life choices have been made very clear to me," she said.
"Meaning?" he prodded.
"Meaning when I took this job, Ron sunk to an unexpected but not surprising all time low," she said. "If he doesn't like what I do, he doesn't have to be a part of my life."
"I couldn't agree more," he said.
"Why do you even care?" she asked, leading them to the check out stand. Snape handed their basket to the bored looking witch behind the counter.
"23 Galleons," she said, tiredly.
"I don't care," he said. "I was just curious." Snape took the money out of his money bag and handed it to the witch. She put their groceries into two bags and Hermione and Snape both took one.
"You care!" she said. "You care about my life."
"Don't twist my words," he snapped. "It's just the thought of you marrying Ron Weasley makes me feel a sharp stabbing pain in my brain."
"Marry Ron?" she asked. "Where did you get that idea?"
"Everyone thought you'd marry Ron and have 20 redheaded babies and I'd have to teach them all," he said. "When you still attended Hogwarts."
"Can you imagine?" she asked, wrinkling her nose. "Heaven's no."
"Good," he said. "Are you ready to apparate?"
"Sure," she said, looking at him strangely.
"What?" he asked.
"Nothing," she said, but she was finding it a little odd that he was so relieved she didn't want to marry Ron. "I'll go first." She raised her wand and disappeared and he followed shortly thereafter.
Friday evening, their work done for the day, Snape was sullen at the prospect of spending the entire weekend alone. He'd spent most of the day alone anyway. He had been down in the lab while Hermione worked upstairs, trying to keep his dilapidated house livable. At one point he'd gone upstairs to watch her fold his laundry. But then she'd started to give him chores so he went back downstairs again. But now, it was nearly dinner time – the time that Hermione left – and he was becoming moody.
"Do you need anything else?" she asked, looking a little tired.
"No," he said. "I don't think so."
"All right then," she said. She turned to go.
"Hermione?" he asked. "Would you like to stay for dinner?"
"Here?" she asked.
"You don't have to cook. I could make something," he said.
"Well, that's a sight I simply must see," she said.
"Or we could go somewhere?" he offered.
"Oh no, I want to see your culinary skills. I've seen you master the egg; what else can you do?" She was trying to keep the conversation light while her brain raced and shouted: SNAPE JUST ASKED YOU OUT ON A DATE!
"What would you like?" he asked, walking into the kitchen to see what there was. "We bought that pasta the other day. I think I can boil water successfully."
"Pasta sounds safe," she said.
"Good," he said. "I'm afraid that's really the extent of it." They moved into the kitchen and he looked around, wondering where to start.
"Water in the pot and let's see where we can go from there," she said, laughing and his baffled expression. They ended up making the meal together – Snape made sure the pot didn't boil over and Hermione made a salad and some garlic bread.
"Do you want a red or a white sauce?" she asked, looking into the cupboards.
"I prefer white," he asked. "But unless it comes out of a jar already, I'm lost."
"For someone who knows so much about potions…" she trailed off.
"I never really had anyone to teach me," he admitted.
"We're learning together, really," she assured him.
"It's fun," he said. "Doing this with you, I mean."
"It is," she agreed, looking at him contentedly. "Who ever thought we'd get along?"
"I thought I might have lost my mind, offering you that job," he said. "I thought, Snape, you old bastard, she's going to say yes and then where will you be?"
"And where are you, then?" she asked, pouring some more white wine into her sauce. He didn't answer, just watched her in the dim light of the kitchen, stirring around the sauce with a wooden spoon, her hand on the swell of her hip, her hair down and curly. He thought she was uniquely beautiful.
"Do you think that sauce is finished?" he asked, dodging her question.
"Almost," she said. "It needs a little garlic."
"You put garlic in everything," he accused.
"Because it is delicious," she said. "It's right up here, I think." She said, opening the cupboard and reaching up on her tiptoes to try to grab the cloves. He came up behind her and took them from the shelf. His front was pressed against her back and she stilled, surrounded by his arms. "Thank you," she said, quietly.
"You're welcome," he said, stepping back slightly. She took the garlic from his hand, and cleared her throat, moving to the cutting board. He watched her crush it with the flat side of her knife and mince it swiftly and expertly. She slid the garlic from her knife to the pan and let it simmer for a moment before shutting off the flame.
"Voila," she said.
"Yes, look at this lovely meal I made for you," he said. She snorted loudly.
"I seem to remember that being the intention, but not the result," she said.
"Well, sit down. I can at least serve it to you," he said, pulling out a chair for her. She sat down and leaned back to watch him scoop the pasta into large, flat bowls and put the sauce over the top. He cut up the garlic bread and brought the bowl of salad and their plates to the table.
"A lovely meal, Severus," she said. "Thank you." He nodded, and they ate. "Can I ask you a question?"
"Do I have a choice?" he asked, rhetorically.
"What is the unicorn blood for?" she asked. "I've never made a potion that required it before; I don't even remember reading about one."
"There aren't many and most of them are in dark arts books," he said. "But, I was thinking of trying to make one. A potion of such purity that if it were to come in contact with the Dark Lord, it would destroy him."
"Really?" she asked. "But no one is wholly pure themselves… what about a normal person coming into contact?"
"Well, I have a few kinks to work out," he admitted. She smiled.
"At least you're thinking pro-actively. It feels like most aurors and Order members are staying far too stagnant for anything to change for the better."
"I couldn't agree more," he said.
"We should have made a pie," she said, suddenly. "I could use something sweet."
"We could make one now," he said.
"Now?" she asked. "It would take; I don't know, 20 minutes to make it, and over an hour for it to bake and then at least another 30 minutes for it to cool. I don't know if I'm up for that." He glanced at the clock on the wall.
"It's only 8:30," he said. "We could go out."
"There is a bakery near my flat," she said, thoughtfully. "I haven't gone in yet but I always think about it when I walk by."
"In London?" he asked.
"Yes; we could floo and then I could put on something more appropriate," she said.
"Muggle clothing, then," he said.
"Or at least inconspicuous wizard clothes," she said. "What you're wearing is fine. I'm the one who looks like she's been doing house chores all day."
"You look fine," he said.
"Hah," she said. "Go get your coat." Hermione tended not to magically clean dishes as she felt it wasn't the same as giving them a good scrubbing with elbow grease but she made an exception this time. The kitchen was improved, if not perfect, when Snape came back out, ready to floo. "Severus?" she asked.
"What?" he responded, ushering her into the fireplace.
"Is this a date?" He paused with his fist in the air, the floo powder leaking out in tiny trickles from between his fingers.
"I…" he paused. "Yes."
"Okay," she said. "Just wanted to be clear."
"Are you ready?" he asked. She nodded and he threw down the powder as she called out her address. A moment later, they were in her apartment, crammed together in the small fire place.
"Oomph," he said. "Probably should have gone one at a time." They climbed out and he looked around the tiny flat.
"I'm hardly ever here; I know it isn't very homey," she said. "I'll just be a minute. Have a seat." She disappeared down the hallway. Any other year, she'd put on a pretty summer dress but with the persistent cold, she put on a long black skirt with a dark, wine colored sweater and her black boots that went up to just below her knees. She put on her black scarf and black pea coat and, after a moments thought, a little bit of make-up. Lavender Brown had been an irritating roommate but had taught her at least one valuable lesson: never go on a date without mascara.
She was going on a date with Snape and instead of making her scream and run away; she had to suppress a smile. They'd been getting along so well lately; was this the natural progression of things? She closed her eyes, imagined Snape leaning to kiss and felt a chill go through her. She put her wand into her purse and went back into the living room.
"Is it okay if we walk?" she asked. "It's only a few blocks."
"Sure," he said. "You look nice."
"Thank you," she said. She locked her front door behind her and they walked down the stairs to street level, him behind her. On the street, he bravely offered her his arm and she accepted.
"Coffee sounds nice," he commented. "On this blustery summer's night."
"It's enough to turn any good countryman into an ex-patriot," she said. "I went to the states once when I was 9. It was warm, I remember."
"Where in America?" he asked.
"Florida," she said. "Actually, it was quite humid and miserable. My hair was twice its normal size."
She smacked his arm, but it was playful. Despite the cold, people were still out walking the streets and eating a late dinner in the restaurants they past.
"I don't spend very much time in Muggle London," he said.
"I used to spend more before I sold my soul to the Severe Brewing Company," she said. "But Spinner's End is such a cheerful house."
"Your sarcasm is unappreciated, Miss Granger," he said in his most Professor Snape voice.
"Oh, that used to frighten me!" she said, laughing. "Now it's just charming."
"No one has ever called me charming before," Snape said.
"I enjoy a particular kind," she assured him. "Here we are."
The bakery was warm and inviting. There was a smattering of people seated at the small round tables and the front counter held a display of pies, bread, and pastries that all looked delicious. They stood in front of the display looking for a moment before taking a seat at a table in the back corner, by the window so Hermione could watch the late snow fall.
"Would you like coffee or tea?" Snape asked, when the waitress came by.
"Coffee," she said.
"Two, and some menus, please," Snape said. When the coffee came, Hermione wrapped her hands around the mug for warmth. The cream came in a tiny pitcher and Snape added some to both.
"I think the pie still appeals to me," she said, looking over the menu.
"Or scones," he said, looking at his own.
"Oh, too dry," she said.
"What kind of citizen of Britain are you?" he asked. "It is mandatory that you like scones."
"You know, Harry said that exact same thing to me once," she said, teasingly.
"Scones are horrid anyway," he said, grimacing. "Pie it is." Her tinkling laughter made him smile.
"One day, you two will need to learn to get along."
"Rubbish," he said. "I've lived with my hatred for him quite contentedly for some time now."
"Something to work on," she said. The waitress came back.
"A slice of peach pie," she said.
"Pumpkin," he said.
"How stereotypical of you," she said, when the waitress had gone again.
"I happen to like pumpkin pie," he said.
"Wizard," she accused.
"Witch!" he said back. She smiled.
"You've called me worse," she said.
"You were a know-it-all. I was merely making an observation," he said, in defense.
"What changed?" she asked.
"Well, you graduated for one," he said.
"That isn't what I meant, you lecherous old man," she said.
"Pish, I was the youngest Professor that Hogwarts had when I was first hired and that's a record I still hold," he said. "But, to answer your question, I suppose I respected your potions skills and… really, I got to know you."
"It's like you read my mind," she said. He leaned in and raised his eyebrow.
"Maybe I did." She was deciding whether he was joking or not when the pie came, vanilla ice cream melting slowly on top of the warm wedges.
"Looks good," she said, picking up her fork.
"Dinner and dessert feels decadent," he commented.
"When's the last time you went out and had a nice Friday night?" she asked.
"I think this is my first," he said.
"First of many," she promised. Soon, the pie was eaten and the bill paid. Snape walked her to her doorstep and she invited him in to use the floo back to Spinner's End so he didn't have to apparate where a Muggle might see him. In her living room, she hung her coat and they stood in front of the fireplace. The air began to fill with tension.
"I'm glad we went out," Hermione said. "I had fun."
"So did I," he said. "Even if you thought my pie choice was boring."
"Not boring, predictable," she said.
"Fair enough," he said. "Goodnight, Hermione."
"Goodnight, Severus," she said. She leaned up and kissed his cheek. "I'll see you Monday." Snape was blushing when he stepped into the floo and went home. With Snape out of the apartment, Hermione let out a little scream of pent up emotion and ran to her desk to find a bit of parchment. She addressed the front to Ginny Weasley and scrawled a quick note.
Just went on a date with S. Snape. Yes, a DATE. Advice would be appreciated. Quickly.
She apparated to Diagon Alley where she bought the use of a small owl to send the letter to the Burrow where Ginny was still living and apparated back home. Then she got ready for bed as slowly as possibly waiting for a response. Just as she was about to give up hope, she heard the sound of a beak pecking against her glass. She opened the window and Pig swooped in carrying a red envelope.
"Hello, Pig," she said, patting its head. "Though I do think a howler is a bit of overkill." Pig flew away and Hermione placed a silencing charm on her apartment so the angry letter wouldn't wake the neighbors. She opened the flap.
"HERMIONE GRANGER! HOW DARE YOU SPRING SUCH INFORMATION ON ME SO LATE AT NIGHT WHEN I COULDN'T POSSIBLY DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT. THAT IS SELFISH. YOU HAD BETTER COME TO BREAKFAST AT THE BURROW IN THE MORNING OR YOU CAN CONSIDER OUR FRIENDSHIP ENDED. DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME?" The howler, now spent of Ginny's ranting, shredded itself onto her comforter. Hermione removed the silencing charm and laughed. It was a rather Molly-esque response. Breakfast at the Burrow sounded nice and it would help pass the time until she got to see Snape again.
In the morning, she showered and dressed at was at the Burrow by nine am. The Burrow, Hermione expected, was always bustling with some kind of activity. She could hear Arthur's jolly voice from down the uneven brick path. Hermione's knock before entering was unnecessary. All the Weasleys present stopped and stared at her. Thankfully, Ron was absent. Ginny, finally, finding her manners, welcomed her.
"Thanks for the howler," she said dryly, trying to break the tension.
"Hermione, dear," Molly said, pulling her into a motherly hug; pushing her face into her ample bosom. "I'm glad you came.
"Me too," Hermione said, struggling to get free. She had just managed this when Arthur pulled her into an uncharacteristic bear hug.
"You know we're always here for you," he said.
"Thanks?" she said, confused. "What's going on?"
"Ginny told us, dear," Molly said. Charlie, who'd been in the living room, came into the kitchen.
"Told you what?" she asked.
"About Snape," Charlie said.
"Ginny!" Hermione said. "What did you tell them?"
"The truth!" Ginny squeaked. "That you temporarily went insane and went out with Professor Snape."
Hermione narrowed her eyes.
"There, there," Arthur said.
"I have not gone insane!" Hermione said, indignantly. "Ginny!"
"It was the only valid explanation," she insisted.
"I thought you went insane when you took the job in the first place," Charlie said, unhelpfully.
"Shouldn't you be in Romania?" she accused.
"And miss this lovely summer's day?" he asked, motioning to the dreariness outside.
"Severus Snape is a good man," she said, huffing. "I came for breakfast, not an intervention."
"We just care about you," Ginny said.
"Then please trust me to make my own decisions," she said. "And don't expect any further updates on my social life, Ginevra Weasley."
"Aww, come on," she whined. "It isn't like I told Ron."
"Please tell me you didn't," Hermione said to Charlie.
"I may have accidentally mentioned Ginny's howler at Harry's house last night," he admitted guiltily.
"Oh, for Heaven's sake," Hermione said, sitting down at the table dejectedly. Molly wisely put a plate of breakfast in front of her and ushered her family into seats.
"What's he like?" Ginny asked. "I mean, when he's not being Snape."
"He's…very funny," Hermione said.
"Hmm," said Molly, disapprovingly.
"So, tell me about the twins," Hermione said, trying to get the conversation off of herself. Arthur, always happy to go on about his successful sons, talked for an hour.
Hermione, who could never stay mad at the Weasleys for long, left on still friendly terms a little past noontime. She spent the rest of her day at home reading, journaling, writing, and trying not to think about Snape.
The next morning she – rather bravely she thought – went to 12 Grimmauld Place to meet Harry and Ron. A high ministry official had given Harry some tickets to the Chudley Cannon's game and they'd been planning to go forever. Hermione resisted but the tickets were box seats with a full lunch included so she'd begrudgingly agreed. Now, she was nervous.
"Wear orange," Ron had commanded forcefully and so she put on all black except for an orange scarf. It would have to do as it was the only orange thing she owned.
The boys were waiting for her in the kitchen. Harry looked up with a forced smile when she walked in. She decided to play along.
"Hello!" she said, cheerfully.
"Hi," Harry said. Ron said nothing – he was orange from his hair to his shoes and it clashed terribly with the red face he was currently sporting.
"I hope this will do," she said, pointing to her scarf.
"It's fine," Ron said. "Let's go."
"Okay," Harry said. "There's a portkey every few minutes in Diagon Alley."
"Like a subway," Hermione commented.
"Like a what?" Ron snapped.
"Nevermind," Harry said. "Let's apparate." They agreed on a location and raised their wands. It was easy to see the location. There was a crowd and a queue outside a large pile of shoes. A ministry transportation official was designating groups and handing them shoes. Every so often, a few groups would disappear. The three got in line, Harry between Ron and Hermione.
"How've you been, Hermione?" Harry asked.
"Fine!" she said. "I designed a new logo for the brewing company and sales are up."
"Hmph," said Ron.
"Congratulations," said Harry, elbowing Ron in the ribs.
"Thanks," she said. "Look, it's in the window," she said, pointing to the apothecary shop the line was weaving by.
"Severe?" Harry said. "I'll say."
"Yeah, that's kind of what I thought too," she admitted.
"Hmph," Ron said again.
"Do you have a problem?" Hermione snapped.
"You obviously do," Ron said. "You're mental!"
"Ron," Harry groaned. "Don't."
"Charlie told me everything," Ron said. "I think it's disgusting."
"You're disgusting!" she said, shrilly. "The line of brainless witches you've had on your arm for the past year and a half? You've hardly any room to talk. I go on one date and I'm the bad guy? I don't think so."
People in the crowd began to watch and murmur. Everyone knew who they were, after all. The reached the front of the line.
"Portkey, Mr. Potter?" the official asked, holding out an old boot.
"I hate quidditch," Hermione said. "I hope you rot, Ron, I really do. Sorry, Harry." She stalked away, hearing Harry say,
"Good job, Ron. Brilliant."
She walked far enough away until she couldn't be seen by them an apparated away. In her living room, she tore off her orange scarf angrily and threw it in the back of her closet.
"Selfish," she muttered. "He's so selfish!" Hermione wondered if her fragile relationship with Ron could ever fully recover. Maybe it was time to just let go and move on. She spent the rest of the day in her apartment; she listened to sad songs and stayed in bed.
Monday, she was nervous opening the door to Spinner's end. She wasn't sure how to act and didn't know what to expect. She hung up her coat like normal and went to the kitchen to start the water for tea. When it boiled, she put everything on a tray and carried it down to the lab. She usually didn't permit any food or drink down but Monday mornings were often the exception.
Snape was in the lab and he looked, well, haggard.
"Severus?" she asked, setting the tray down on the far table, away from their work.
"Good, you're here," he said. "I've been working."
"On what?" she asked, coming over to his bench. Six separate cauldrons were bubbling, all forged from different metals. His other bench was strewn with parchment, quills, and ink.
"The weather potion – the purity potion, all of it." On the center table, meant for preparing ingredients, she saw the jar with unicorn blood was nearly empty. She also knew a little went a long way.
"How long have you been down here?" she asked.
"Saturday night," he grunted.
"All right," she said, trying not to show any outward signs of her surprise. "I think it's time for a break." His clothes were rumpled, his hair hung greasy and limp, and it seemed like he hadn't shaved since Friday morning. "And a shower," she added.
"I'm not tired," he said.
"No, you're exhausted," she said. "Come upstairs, I'll make you some breakfast."
"I want to show you what I've done," he said.
"You will," she promised. "Let's put on some stasis charms." He didn't really agree, but didn't stop her when she put a stasis charm on everything and followed him up the stairs with the tea. In the kitchen, she fixed him a cup of chamomile tea. Sitting down, he was already beginning to droop so she gave him a bowl of oatmeal which he ate hungrily. "How about some sleep?" she prodded gently. He looked like he was about to protest. "I'll wake you in a few hours," she promised.
"Okay," he agreed. She watched him walk down the hall to his room and close the door. She read the Daily Prophet while she had her own tea. She circled a few ads for real estate spaces. She'd been looking for a good space should they ever want to move the brewing company outside of Snape's house. The orders were coming more quickly now and she'd probably have to start coming in a few hours every Saturday to keep up. If they outgrew the space, they would outgrow the staff. But she also knew that Snape would not hire another employee willingly.
When she finished her tea, she went down to the lab to try to start her own work and clean up some of his mess. She picked up one of the pieces of parchment covered in his familiar handwriting. Enthralled, she sat down and tried to put the notes in order so she could read them from beginning to end. It was fascinating how his mind worked – the potions looked amazing and some parts were too complex for her to even understand. They would have a lot to talk about when he woke up.
When the lunch hour came, she made two sandwiches and brought one into Snape's room. She opened the door to see him sprawled out on the bed in all of his clothing, fast asleep. She left the sandwich on his nightstand and let him sleep. She was just finishing up for the day when she heard his footsteps on the stairs. He looked better – he had showered and shaved.
"Hi," she said, "Feel better?"
"A little," he said. "I thought you'd wake me."
"I was going to," she said. "You just looked like you needed sleep more. I've been reading your notes."
"Have you?" he asked.
"They're amazing. Will you walk me through it?"
"Sure," he said. They sat down at the table. "First, I used snow for my liquid base. I figured since the weather was abnormal due to magic, traces of that magic would be caught in the snow."
"That makes sense," she said.
"The snow, melted of course, reacted strongly and abnormally to everything so I had a starting point. Once I figured out what was causing the reactions, I couldn't stop until I found a potion to counteract it."
"Still, that many hours," she said. "You need to take care of yourself."
"That's why I have you," he said, waving it off. For some reason, this made her smile instead of irritating her. Part of her liked taking care of Snape, of having someone to take care of at all. She liked to be needed, and more, to be wanted.
"Tell me the rest," she said, leaning closer. They spent the next few hours going over his work, his ideas, and maybe the solution to the Narnia effect. Thursday, they would present it at the Order meeting.
Hermione was about to leave, when Snape stopped her with his hand on her arm.
"Thank you," he said.
"What for?" she asked.
"Taking care of me," he said.
"It's my pleasure," she said. "Goodnight."
"Goodnight," he said. His face looked soft in the light of the fire. It was hard to leave.
Tuesdays tended to be filled with paperwork and order forms.
"We need to raise prices," Hermione said, suddenly. Snape looked up from his cauldron to where Hermione was sitting at the center table doing her work.
"What?" he asked.
"It's a good idea," she said. "The price raise may cause some of our customers to stop ordering, but I believe most will still want our product and the raise in prices will make up for the lost customers. So we won't lose money, we might actually make more money, and I'll have a small reprieve in the amount of orders."
"You deserve a raise as well," he commented. "Draft up a new price list and let me see it."
"All right," she said, a little bewildered at his comment on her pay. "By the end of the day," she promised. She didn't raise things much, just enough for a worthy profit increase. "Severus?"
"What?" he asked. He was still Snape and still disliked interruptions, even from her.
"What about special requests?" she asked.
"What about them?" he asked.
"What if we offered a special request service? A customer could ask for a potion that we don't usually offer and we would just charge an ungodly amount," she said.
"That's…actually not a bad idea," he said.
"And we could also…"
"Hermione, start a list and do be quiet," he said.
"Fine," she smirked. "But when you're rolling in the money, you'll know who to thank."
"Indeed," he said.
Thursday came quickly and soon they were cleaning up Spinner's End so they could floo to 12 Grimmauld Place for the Order meeting. Everyone was used to Snape and Hermione arriving together. Hermione hadn't seen Harry or Ron since the quidditch game she never attended and she'd been nervous about it all day, but having Snape beside her made her feel better about it. Snape wouldn't let anyone hurt her if he were there to stop it – emotionally or physically.
Harry came over immediately, with Snape keeping an eye on him the whole time.
"I'm sorry about the other day," he said.
"I'm not mad at you, Harry," she assured him.
"Good," he said, hugging her. "You're important to me, Hermione. I trust you." She kissed his cheek.
"Thanks," she said. Snape looked on sullenly. She went back over to Snape's side where they sat at the table, waiting for the meeting to start.
"How is Potter?" he asked, his tone making it quite clear he didn't care how Harry was either way.
"Fine," she said. "Why?"
"No reason," he asked. He was jealous. She smiled.
"Are you ready?" she asked.
"We're all ready for this war to end," he said. "If I kill Voldemort myself, I could never do enough." Not knowing what to say to this sadness, she reached out and put her hand on his. He looked at her and turned his hand over so that their palms were touching and they wove their fingers together. He used his thumb to rub a small circle on her hand.
"Severus," she said. "I…"
But everyone started to file into the meeting and Hermione did not get to say what she wanted to say. Snape took his hand away. When he presented his potion, it was decided that Snape and Harry and a few other aurors should go away for a few days. On of the potions would have to be deposited into the dementor's nests, into their food sources, infecting them like rodents or cockroaches… get one sick and let it carry it on to the rest of its species.
"Wait," said Hermione at one point. "We're talking about genocide almost. Wiping out another magical race. Is that really ethical?"
"It must be done," McGonagall said gently. "It's either demolish one race or lose the entire country, maybe the planet."
And so Snape would go and deposit the weather potion. The purity potion still needed some work but everyone seemed excited by it.
"I'm doubtful it will be enough to stop Voldemort," Snape said. "But it will weaken him considerably. Enough for Potter to fulfill his destiny, hopefully."
"To either live or die," Ron said, miserably. Hermione, though thoroughly pissed off at Ron, agreed with him.
"To live," said Tonks.
"Right," said Harry, quietly. "To live." The meeting ended on that somber note. Most people left, but Hermione and Snape stuck around, talking to different people. Finally, when she was so exhausted, she could hardly keep her eyes open, Snape came and brought her jacket to her.
"When do you leave?" she asked, yawning.
"Early tomorrow morning," he said.
"So soon?" she asked. "No!"
"I'm sorry," he said. "The sooner the better. Summer is almost over and we don't know if Great Britain can survive this weather on top of an actual winter."
"But…" she said, having no real reason why he should postpone an important trip.
"Hermione, will you stay at Spinner's End while I'm gone?" he asked. "The wards there are much safer than your London flat. You'll be safe while I'm gone."
"Sure," she said. "How long will you be gone?" He shrugged.
"Hopefully not more than a few days," he said. "I must go home and prepare."
"Let me help you," she said. He cocked his head to one side.
"Okay," he said. "Put your coat on, it's cold." She did and they flooed back to the dark, cold house. He lit the fire immediately and all the old, cracked sconces along the drab walls. Hermione worked to make the old house livable but it still needed more work, maybe would always need more work.
"Do you want something? Tea?" she asked.
"Scotch," he said. "Let's have scotch." Hermione, not usually one for hard alcohol, found this to be a good idea. She went to the liquor cabinet and poured two, short glasses. She handed him his and he threw it all back in two gulps and looked at her expecting a refill. She drank hers, trying to keep up, and coughed. She refilled the glasses, already feeling wary. Snape sat on the sofa. She sat next to him.
"What will you bring with you?" she asked.
"My wand," he said. "Water, food. Perhaps a change of clothes."
"Not much, then," she said, watching him throw back his second glass. She drank hers, too, and managed not to cough. He glanced at her approvingly. She felt light headed. "I have a confession."
"What's that?" he asked.
"I'm a light-weight," she said, giggling.
"I know," he said. "I remember."
"I should stop," she said.
"One more," he said. "We're building up your tolerance, remember?"
"Vaguely," she said. "Severus, you will come back, right?"
"Of course," he said. "I've faced dementors before. Nothing to be afraid of."
"You sound sure," she said.
"I am sure," he promised. "It will go by like that." He snapped.
"Can I invite Ginny over so I'm not alone?" she asked.
"I suppose," he said. "But she is the only Weasley I ever want in this house."
"Fair enough," she said. He poured their drink this time.
"One more," he said. "You'll sleep easier." She swallowed it grimacing.
"Goodness," she said. "Whew."
"Good girl," he said, putting the stopper back in the bottle. "Three should do us both." He sat down next to her on the sofa and suddenly exhausted, she put her head on his shoulder and closed her eyes. "Hermione," he said.
"Hmm?" she asked, not stirring.
"When you wake up, I'll be gone," he whispered. She forced her eyes open and saw his tired face looking down at her.
"What a sad thing to say," she said. He blinked, gave her a small smile.
"The truth is not always kind," he said. "Close your eyes."
She knew what was going to happen before it did and she closed her eyes as much in anticipation as she was following his orders. She tilted her head up and met his warm mouth. His lips were thin and firm against her own and she opened her mouth slightly. He exhaled through his nose and let his tongue wander past her lips. He tasted (as she probably did) like warm alcohol – a tingle that bordered on a burn. She tried not to think, just to feel, but the thought of kissing Snape – actually kissing Snape, sent her mind spinning. She shifted and he shifted, so he could put his arms around her and so that the angle was right. Their kissing went from tentative to purposeful and she let a little sigh escape from the back of her throat. He pulled his lips away and moved them past her jaw and down her neck. His long, able fingers tugged at her collar, pulling it aside so he could kiss her collarbone. She relaxed, feeling pleasant and aroused. He pushed her jacket off her shoulders so she wouldn't get to warm and dropped it to the floor. He reached around and pulled the plastic clip from her hair so it was down and wild around her shoulders. He pushed on her so she was horizontal on the sofa and then he lay his body flat across hers, recapturing her mouth again. All she could do was kiss him, kiss him, kiss him back.
Eventually, the kisses became slower and more drowsy. At some point, Snape helped her up off the couch, and they walked down the dark, cool hall to his bedroom. He took off his robes, his vest, and his shoes. She took off her sweater so all she had was a thin tank top and a bra on. They both, still new, left their pants on and they climbed into his big bed, pulling the heavy covers up and over them, laying their weary heads on the feather filled pillows. The bed smelled like him and Hermione smelled like him too. They scooted toward the center of the bed until their bodies touched. He put his arms around her so his front was pressed against her back. He buried his nose in her hair and pressed his knees behind her legs. He closed his eyes and fell asleep listening to the sound of her even breathing.
When she woke up, he was gone, just as he'd told her. She lay in the big, empty bed feeling lonely and sorry for herself before she got up and showered in his bathroom, rubbing his shampoo into her hair. She cleaned her same clothes with her wand and put them back on. She used the fireplace to call the Burrow.
"Ginny," she said. "Come over for the weekend while Harry is gone. Come stay with me."
"Okay," said Ginny, who looked just as sullen as Hermione felt. A few minutes later, she climbed through the fireplace with a bag, but still in her pajamas. "Hi."
"Hi," Hermione said.
"So this is where you work?" Ginny asked. "And where Professor Snape lives?"
"This is it," Hermione said.
"It's kind of dreary," Ginny said.
"You should have seen it before," Hermione said. "Thanks for coming."
"Nah, I really need to move out of the Burrow," she said. "A weekend away is merely a tease."
"I'm sure Harry wouldn't mind you moving to 12 Grimmauld Place," Hermione teased.
"Tell that to my mother," she said. "Yeah, right. Plus Ron lives there. Can you say dysfunctional?"
"Ron needs to grow up," Hermione snapped.
"Yeah, I heard about the quidditch game," Ginny said. "You know how Ron is about you. You're the girlfriend that never was. The lost opportunity. The missed chance."
"He had plenty of chances," Hermione said.
"He asked you out seventeen hundred billion times your seventh year!" Ginny said.
"I know," Hermione said. "But he waited too long. I was long over him by then."
"Poor Ron," Ginny said. "Such an idiot."
"He'll find some woman to give him babies and be fine," Hermione said. "You wait and see."
"And what about you? What about your babies?" she asked, sitting down. Hermione immediately began to blush. "Hermione!" she said.
"I'm staying here this weekend," Hermione said. "Because Severus asked me too. He thought it would be safer than my Muggle flat while he was gone."
"Weird and sweet at the same time," Ginny commented.
"But I came back with him last night," she said, lowering her voice to a whisper even though there wasn't anyone around to hear them.
"You slept here?" Ginny asked.
"Snape and I slept together," she said, guiltily.
"Like… SLEPT together?" Ginny asked, her nose wrinkled.
"No, not that, we just slept in the same bed," she said. "Don't make that face, he isn't gross."
"No," Ginny relented. "Just mean."
"To you maybe," Hermione said. "He stopped being mean to me a long time ago."
"This is big news for you," Ginny said. "Huge. And it's about time you found a man."
"Do you think?" Hermione asked.
"Definitely," Ginny said. "So you didn't have sex… what did you do?"
"Kissed," Hermione said.
"Wow," Ginny said. "Who would have thought that out of all the Gryffindor girls, all the girls from our generation from Hogwarts, Hermione Granger, HEAD GIRL, would end up dating one of her Professors?"
"It isn't like that!" she said.
"He's your ex-professor and your boss, Hermione. That's seriously kinky," she said laughing. Hermione buried her face in her hands.
"Oh no! I'm a dirty tart!" she wailed.
"There, there," Ginny said. "You are." Hermione lifted her head and glared. "Kidding!"
"You're just jealous," Hermione accused.
"Um, no," Ginny said. "But I am happy for you." Hermione felt happy for herself too. But she was also worried.
"There is no reason they wouldn't come back totally fine," Hermione said.
"No reason," Ginny echoed. Neither was convinced.
At night, Hermione changed the sheets to a clean set and Ginny and Hermione slept together in the big bed, talking late into the night and drifted asleep with the first light of day. Ginny went home later that night and invited Hermione to dinner but she declined. She went home to get a change of clothes and a set of pajamas. She brought her toothbrush and a few books to settle in for another long night full of sleeplessness and worry.
Hermione, used to cooking meals for the both of them, felt sad and unmotivated to cook just for herself so she ate cold cereal and drank bottles of water, laying in his bed in her flannel pants and long sleeved shirts, reading books. Finally she fell asleep again.
It was almost five am when she woke up in the gray early morning light of Monday. Something had woken her up. There was a bump in the living room and then a muttered curse. The low voice was Snape's and she felt a surge of excitement flow through her. He was back! Part of her wanted to leap out of bed and run into the living room, but something made her stay, made her feign sleep. He opened the bedroom door and she forced her breathing into regularity. He paused at the doorway, watching her curled around one of his pillows. He slipped into the bathroom and closed the door softly so the click wouldn't wake her. She heard the shower turn on and later, turn off. When he opened the door, a wave of hot, steamy air came out with him. She risked opening one of her eyes slightly and saw him in black, loose pants and no shirt, his hair wet and brushed back. She closed her eye again as he carefully pulled a corner of the blankets back and slid into bed. His skin was warm and clean smelling and trying to make her movements look sleepy and instinctive, she shifted toward him. He pulled her closer and dropped a kiss on her forehead. Unable to stand it, she opened her eyes.
"Hi," he said.
"Hullo," she said, sleepily. "Hi. Oh! You're back!" she said, sitting up a little. He pulled her back down.
"In the morning," he said, yawning. "Go back to sleep."
"Mmkay," she said, and tucked her head under his chin. He fell asleep almost immediately but she was too curious about his trip to get any more real sleep. Instead she lay with him comfortably and silently rejoiced in his safe homecoming and wondered if the potion had worked. It still looked dreary outside but it was too early to tell. She wove her leg between his and scooted closer to him. He was so warm and firm beneath her and she'd been so lonely the last few days that she couldn't help herself. When she was lying nearly on top of him, her head on his chest, he began to chuckle low in his throat.
"I'm not going to get any sleep, am I?" he asked, his voice a little gravelly due to the early hour.
"That's up to you," she said, sweetly, dipping her head down to kiss his chest bravely. He inhaled sharply at her saucy behavior. She liked his reaction so she did it again, this time letting her tongue dart out to taste his skin, and swiped it over one of his nipples.
"Oh," he breathed. "What are you doing?"
"I missed you," she explained. "You left me here all alone."
"I thought Miss Weasley kept you company," he said.
"For a while," she said. "But it wasn't the same."
"I should hope not," he said. "Come, kiss me." She, happy to oblige, kissed his mouth feverishly.
"When you leave me all alone I start thinking," she said, between kisses. "And then I get ideas."
"How terrible," he murmured into her mouth.
"It was," she said, her hair falling like a curtain around them. His hands came up tentatively to sit on her waist. She, tired of witty conversation, resumed kissing him for long periods of time. His hands began to rub up and down her back, through her shirt. They tangled in her hair and when she finally pressed their bodies together, she could feel his arousal press against her. She smiled.
"You look like you're plotting something," he said.
"Always," she assured him. His fingers played with the hem of her shirt and slyly began to inch the hem up. He went slowly, watching her face for signs that she wanted him to stop, but finding none, he pulled the thin shirt up and over her head, leaving her topless before him. He reached out with his hands and covered both her breasts with his warm palms, kneading gently. She closed her eyes and let her head fall back. Emboldened, he tugged her down so he could wrap his lips around one of her pink nipples. She squealed, surprised, but it quickly turned into a guttural sound of pleasure. She felt him smirk against her. He sat up and deftly flipped them over so she was on her back and he was hovering above her.
"Now I'm plotting something," he growled into her ear. She shivered.
"Hey, wait," she said. "I had plans."
"Next time," he said, and leaned down to suck her earlobe into his mouth. One hand was still on her breast, rubbing and tugging and his other hand wandered down to the tie at the waist of her pants. He undid the bow and tugged the waist so the drawstring would be pulled loose. She bucked her hips up helplessly and his hand slithered down into her pants. She felt hot all over, flushed and panting. He was hardly touching her and she was so excited to have him home, to have his hands on her, to be in his bed. When his long fingers brushed against her, she groaned and ground her pelvis into his hand, wanting more. She was wet, more than ready, and all traces of his exhausted had disappeared at the prospect of a beautiful young witch writhing around his bed. Now, he slid a finger inside of her, and then another.
"Please," she said.
"Please what," he asked, his mouth still close to her ear.
"Please don't stop," she begged, thrusting her hips against his still fingers.
"Why would I stop?" he asked, grinning. Her hands came up to the back of his head and pulled him down forcefully, demanding a kiss and receiving it. It was hot and sloppy and she let her tongue mimic what she wanted him to do. He began to curl his fingers inside of her; drawing them out slowly and thrusting them back in quickly. For Hermione, it was an acute form of agony. She was openly whimpering now. Snape liked teasing her, liked seeing her out of control, but he was losing patience with his own games. He pulled his hand from her completely and pulled off her pants.
"You too," she breathed. "Off." Unable to tell her no, he removed his own pants as well. Neither had been wearing underwear and now they were both naked in his bed, together. His penis stood out, straight and erect. She looked at it and back at his face with a mischievous smile. He crawled back up over and she reached out to touch it, grasp it firmly. He gasped, closing his eyes, gritting his teeth.
"Wait," he said.
"No," she said. "I waited for you all weekend." Her hand began to pump him and he groaned loudly.
"Hermione, please," he said.
"Please what?" she mocked. Finding some unknown well of inner strength, he grabbed her wrist and halted her motions. Pinning both of her hands above her head, he leaned down and kissed her, nudging her knees apart with his legs.
"You need a contraceptive charm," he said, "Now."
"Already done," she said. "I told you I've been waiting for you." Needing no further invitation than that, he positioned the head of his penis at her opening and with one thrust, slid in. She bucked up against him, with a little scream. She was warm around him and he didn't know how long he could last. He'd wanted her for weeks and now here she was and he was inside of her. Words failed them both. He let go of her hands and she wrapped her arms around his back and her legs around his waist. She met each of his thrusts and their foreheads were pressed together, their heavy breath mingling. Hermione turned her head to one side against the pillow and he leaned down, nipping at the rosy skin on her neck.
"Faster," she ordered. He sped up and began to see stars. Blindly, he reached between them and pressed his thumb against her clit, recalling everything he knew about women. Small circles, he thought. Underneath him, Hermione clenched and bucked, sinking her teeth into his shoulder to muffle her screams. Her face was beautiful, sweaty, and totally open to him. A few more thrusts, he emptied into her and collapsed down, completely covering her body with his. His exhaustion came back full force now. She kissed the red teeth marks she'd left in his flesh, soothingly, pushing his sweaty hair away from his forehead. He started to roll over but she locked her heels, keeping him there. Still inside her, he fell asleep.
Hermione woke up first, around noon, and was disoriented for a moment upon waking up. Being naked next to Snape wasn't what confused her; it was the sunlight filtering through the shades. She hadn't seen actually sunlight in months and, uncaring that Snape was still fast asleep, she got up and threw the curtains open.
"Merlin, woman," he growled, pulling her pillow over his face. Outside, was still covered with snow and the glass was still freezing to the touch, but there was blue sky and sunshine and it was a start.
"I think you really did it!" Hermione said excitedly. "You broke whatever spell it was."
"Yes, I'm a genius, go back to sleep," he muttered.
"Sleep? On a day like today? I don't think so," she chided. "Besides, I was supposed to be at work hours ago."
"I know your boss," Snape said. "He wants you to lie back down."
"I'm starving," she said, ignoring him. "I'm going to make breakfast."
"Fine," he said. "French toast."
"You'll eat what I make," she chirped, sliding out of bed and putting on her pants and shirt.
"I see we're going to have to re-establish our working relationship," he said. "Since you're on the clock."
"I'll forgo my raise for the ability to boss you around," Hermione said. "Agreed?"
"No," Snape said, sitting up, rubbing his eyes. He looked at her and smiled.
"You're very pretty this morning," he said.
"Severus, you've already gotten in my pants," she said.
"I'm serious," he said. "No strings attached. And you know what? I will eat whatever you make me."
Smiling, she made him French toast.