Disclaimer: © 2006 Mundungus42. All rights reserved. This work may not be archived, reproduced, or distributed in any format without prior written permission from the author. This is an amateur non-profit work, and is not intended to infringe on copyrights held by J.K.Rowling or any other lawful holder. Permission may be obtained by e-mailing the author at mundungus42 at yahoo dot com
Author's Note: This story was written as a pinch-hit for the winter round of the SS/HG Gift Exchange on LiveJournal. PlaidPooka requested, "Romance. War is over, Snape's name has been cleared, but he can't be found. Hermione discovers him hiding in the Forbidden Forest and he's gone rather wild. She must get him to trust her, tame him, and bring him back into wizarding society." The following story is my response to her prompt. This may have been a pinch-hit, but the prompt was so interesting that I'm delighted to have had a crack at it!
Huge thanks to my snarky-yet-sweet beta reader, Mr. 42. Huzzah!
Hermione Granger sat in her cramped office, perusing a sheaf of parchment and doing her best to ignore the shouting coming from the next office over. The Werewolf Support Services Office had to be the most ironically named in the entire Ministry, as the office neither served nor supported werewolves. A far more accurate name would have been the Repository for Ministry Workers Too Dim to Be Concerned About Infuriating Lycanthropes. Fortunately, most who stormed out of that office were too furious to notice her door, and those who did assumed it was a closet. They would not have been too far off. The tarnished brass plaque proclaimed it to be the office that had been the butt of Ministry jokes for decades. However, the jokes had largely died off when it became clear that the Ministry was not only obligated to have a Centaur Liaison Office, its previous failings had proved catastrophic during the war.
Now that the Reconstruction was in process, the Centaur Liaison Office, all seven meters square of it, was Hermione's by special decree of the Minister of Magic. While the office had yet to receive its first centaur - indeed, it was doubtful that there would be enough space for a centaur to fit fully in the office - Hermione made Ministry history as the first Centaur Liaison Officer to successfully liase with centaurs. As a result, she had to turn down several offers to lecture for a number of human pro-centaur groups, none of whom, she privately suspected, had ever seen a centaur, much less spoken with one. Her primary concern was ensuring that the events of the previous year could never happen again.
As Centaur Liaison Officer, she took it upon herself to visit various centaur herds in Britain and speak with whomever would speak with her about their troubles. More often than not, she would return to her office, ears burning from insults. But her regular presence eventually secured a grudging détente and occasional snide remarks, which she was pleased to realise, often had grains of actual grievance in them. She was presently researching a challenge posed to her during her last visit with Magorian, an elder in the Forbidden Forest herd.
"Tell me if you can, human, what your Ministry of Magic has ever done to aid us. If you can convince me that it will be in our best interest to have relations with humans, I will speak on your behalf to the others."
Her search had turned up little that would convince the proud centaur, but she owed it to her new Office to let him know what she had gleaned and that she was still searching for answers. Hopefully this would encourage him to frankly speak his wishes to her, and then Hermione would have something specific to discuss with her superiors.
A sudden flare of flame from the fireplace interrupted her reading.
"Bloody hell!" exclaimed a familiar voice. "Hermione, have I told you it's damned disconcerting to see your office from this angle?"
Hermione gazed up to the space-saving fireplace she'd had installed in the ceiling. "Only a hundred times, Ron. One of these days, I hope you'll remember not to try to come all the way through. You'll only give yourself a headache."
Ron's tone took on a sulky edge. "I've half a mind not to tell you the latest in the Malfoy trial."
"And I've a whole mind that says 'I'm not interested.'"
"If I didn't know you so well, I'd think you were serious. Anyroad up, Parkinson's on the stand, and they'll probably do cross-examinations tomorrow."
Hermione groaned. "The defence is still presenting witnesses?"
"The Wizengamot's allowed them all," said Ron, "so now every sod the Malfoys can bribe is going to be singing his praises about how they all love Muggles and daisies and puppies. It's enough to make a fellow sick."
Hermione's lips were thin. "It also makes me wonder how many life sentences in Azkaban it'll take to keep Lucius Malfoy behind bars."
"Well, the money'll run out some time," said Ron philosophically. "Once that happens, he hasn't a snowflake's chance at midsummer."
"It's true that eventually he'll run out of money, political influence, and people to blackmail, but I highly doubt that it'll be during this trial."
Ron shrugged. "On the bright side, having loads of defence witnesses gives the prosecution more time to ferret out someone before the end of the trial to testify he wasn't under the Imperius Curse."
"Now I know you're having fun with me," said Hermione. "They wouldn't have brought him to trial without sufficient of evidence."
Ron looked from side to side for effect rather than concerns of eavesdropping. "Shacklebolt thinks it's right shameful the way it's being handled. Word has it that the prosecution was hoping that the court of public opinion would help them convict, so they leaked all those stories you've seen in The Prophet."
Hermione shook her head. "Though there's a large body of evidence to the contrary, McClaggen isn't stupid. Surely he knows his case will be thrown out if anyone can prove he's trying to prejudice the Wizengamot."
Ron gave a nonchalant shrug. "It's only what I've heard. I agree with you. What kind of pillock would risk losing the trial of the decade so he could say he did it all on his own?"
Hermione felt her temper rising. "The kind of pillock who'd Bludger his own team's Seeker to win an argument."
"I wasn't the one who asked him to Slughorn's party," said Ron innocently.
She glared at him. "Don't you have some important quills to be sharpening?"
"Junior Aurors get no respect," he complained.
"Cheer up," said Hermione with a smile. "I'm sure your partner will seek your advice on such important issues as what colour hair and what size nose are appropriate for any given undercover situation."
"No longer," said Ron gloomily. "Now that she knows I can't tell aubergine from royal purple, I'm sunk."
"Well then, I suppose she'll have to rely on you for your skill with long-term strategy instead of fashion advice."
Ron's mouth broadened into a grin. "Speaking of which, I've come up with a way that even McClaggen can't arse up the proceedings."
Hermione raised an eyebrow. "Well?"
Ron shot her a cheeky wink. "Easy. Find the Greasy Git."
Out of habit, she nearly corrected him with Professor Snape's proper title, but she realised that she no longer knew what that title was. She gave a weak laugh in response. "Unfortunately, we can't just Accio him."
"No," agreed Ron. "Especially someone even the owls can't find. And speaking of befuddled creatures, aren't you supposed to be out bothering the centaurs?"
Hermione glanced at her wristwatch. "You're right! Need anything from Hogwarts?"
"Not unless it's something else Flich confiscated from the Marauders."
Hermione snorted. "Right. Fresh-cut mistletoe from the forest it is. Cheers."
"Try to stop by the Burrow on Christmas. Mum and Dad love hearing about what you're doing."
"Thanks, Ron," she replied. "I don't know if I can make it, but thanks anyway."
The Headmistress had tea waiting for her when she arrived in the office fireplace.
"Good afternoon, my dear," said the Headmistress. "It's good of you to join me."
"Always a pleasure, Headmistress."
"Tosh, I've told you time and time again to call me Minerva. 'Headmistress' is enough to make one feel stuffy, and we can't have that."
"I'm sorry, Minerva."
"That's better. It's easier for one to get gossip from one with whom one is on a first-name basis. Tell me of the Malfoy trial."
"The parade of defence witnesses continues."
The Headmistress shook her head. "Have you any news on the prosecutor's cross-examinations?"
"It's bad. And I don't just mean bad, I mean ineffectual and illegal to boot."
"Ron reports that the prosecution took Malfoy to trial without sufficient witnesses. To make up for it, they're allegedly leaking court documents to the papers."
McGonagall's eyes closed, and she began massaging her eyelids. "I knew it was a mistake to put McClaggen in charge of the prosecution, as much as I hate to speak ill of any from our house."
"You don't have to apologise to me about insulting McClaggen," said Hermione, sipping her tea. "Still, even he couldn't completely bollix up the case if he had an airtight witness."
"By which you mean Severus," said McGonagall with a touch of aspersion.
"Well, don't you think it's irresponsible of him to stay hidden when he's needed so badly?"
"If Severus is happier wherever he is, then he's entitled to it. He's lived a thankless existence these past twenty years."
"But it never ends, does it?" persisted Hermione. "Voldemort's supporters are still around, the same prejudices that aided Voldemort's ascendancy are still in force, and very little has changed, in spite of our best efforts."
"There comes a time in every conflict, Hermione, when it's up to the young people to tip the scales. We of the older generations will not be here forever, as young Harry had to learn the hard way. It's time for you to step up and take responsibility for our world. We can't do everything for you."
"I hardly think asking someone to go on the witness stand and speak the truth is asking him to do 'everything' for us," said Hermione, "especially when everyone of my generation that would have been able to testify similarly is dead."
McGonagall sighed. "I'm afraid it's not simply a matter of finding Severus, my dear. We all saw things during the war, horrid things. I saw my students and colleagues cut down, and you lost your peers and friends. However, none of us can possibly imagine what Severus went through, what he saw, or what he felt. I sincerely believe that if not for him, we would all be at Voldemort's mercy."
"All the more incentive for him to come out of hiding," exclaimed Hermione. "If he doesn't, Death Eaters will walk free. How can we possibly expect to have any meaningful kind of rebuilding unless the guilty are brought to justice for their crimes? The Wizengamot cleared Professor Snape of all wrongdoing and awarded him an Order of Merlin in absentia. What more does he need?"
"Severus is only one man, Hermione," said McGonagall firmly, "and if you're looking for permission to harass him, you're looking in the wrong place."
Hermione looked at her curiously. "Do you know where he is?"
McGonagall opened her mouth as if to say something, but quickly closed it. She regarded Hermione appraisingly over her teacup. "If I did, would you expect me to tell you?"
"Yes, unless you truly believe he's better off where he is."
The Headmistress sighed. "I don't know, Hermione, truly I don't."
Hermione squeezed her hand. "Then we'll speak no more of it. Thank you very much for the tea, Minerva. Will I see you on Christmas Eve?"
"You're not planning to visit your family?"
"The centaurs wouldn't understand if I missed a visit, especially when I have some very complicated questions to answer tactfully. It's too important to miss."
"Well, if you already plan to visit the centaurs on the twenty-fourth, I'd be honoured if you'd join me for some Christmas Eve pudding when you're finished."
"What's the difference between Christmas pudding and Christmas Eve pudding?"
"About a cup of brandy," said the Headmistress with a ghost of a twinkle in her characteristically stern eye. "Last year was the only time I've ever tried to finish one on my own. Let's just say that my Christmas morning was less than merry."
This startled a laugh out of Hermione. "I will consider it my duty to form a united front against the ravages of overindulgence."
"Excellent. I'll expect you on Christmas Eve. Good afternoon, Hermione."
"Good afternoon, Minerva."