She had opened her mouth one time too many. Finally. She had finally landed a detention with him. It had only taken all year. Shaking her head in annoyance, she continued briskly down to the dungeons where she was sure to be scrubbing cauldrons like a first-year.
Knocking on the door, she entered to find that a first-year Hufflepuff was already scrubbing a cauldron over in a corner. He looked up at her with wide eyes and looked about to say something when the deep sound of a clearing throat stopped him.
She looked over at the man sitting behind his desk. Her brown eyes met his black ones fearlessly. For a few moments they merely stared back at one another, the only sound in the room being the swish of the scrubbing brush against metal.
He broke the silence by speaking in a clipped tone. "You will be checking the stock. Clean the shelving and dust the containers as you go and make a list of what needs to be replenished or replaced for next year." She stood with her head tilted to the side, not knowing what she was waiting for. He lifted a black brow and sneered slightly. "You may begin, Miss Granger."
She walked to the supply cabinets and opened them. Anyone else would wonder why this was an assignment at all; the shelves were spotless and meticulously neat. She knew he would watch, however, to see that she followed his instructions to the letter. She knew that he was testing her, seeing if she would argue about the need for this work, or if she would simply obey.
Picking up the first few vials and bottles, she set them carefully on the table at the side. She checked the elegant script on the labels for the date of expiration and then checked for how much was in each. On the provided parchment she began a list. Before replacing them, she wiped down the already clean shelf. Everything was arranged alphabetically in this cabinet. The ingredients were the ones most used in all the classes. She knew the rarer and more dangerous ingredients were in another cabinet altogether. She worked wordlessly, even after he had dismissed the first-year. Lost in the repetition of the job, she started at the sound of his voice in her ear.
"You have been most thorough. I believe you are finished."
She looked at the few shelves that remained and the locked cabinet of rare and expensive supplies. "There's still much to be done. I haven't completed the inventory." She handed him the list.
He looked over it and then back at her. "Are you volunteering for more detention?"
She thought for a moment and then answered, "No. I'm volunteering to work for you so you can see for yourself that I would make a good apprentice."
He stiffened and drew back. "I have no interest in taking on an apprentice. You are dismissed." He turned his back on her and returned to his desk, bending back over the papers he was grading.
She walked over to the desk. "I could grade the lower years if you like."
With narrowed eyes he questioned, "Why would you do that?"
"For the same reason; I want to be your apprentice. I have the NEWT scores, and I have the desire. I'll do whatever it takes to show you how serious I am about it."
"Whatever it takes …" he repeated. She thought that he might be considering it and then his eyes hardened. "I have no interest in having an apprentice. You are wasting your time, as well as mine."
Hermione gazed at him for a few moments, determined that he not see any weakness in her. "I'll let you give the matter some thought, then. Goodnight, Professor."
She hurried to the door, exiting and closing it behind herself softly. He sat there, staring at the closed door for a long time before getting back to the essays in front of him.
The next Advanced Potions class worked on the very complicated Wolfsbane Potion. This was a newer formula that Snape had developed after years of trial and error, using Remus Lupin as the test subject. The class was excited to get the chance to actually brew it. Hermione was determined that hers would be perfect.
At the end of class, Snape asked for them to submit samples for grading before cleaning up. Hermione waited until everyone else had left before taking hers up to his desk. He was standing there, tall and frowning, arms crossed in front of his chest. Instead of laying it on the desk, she handed it to him. Before he could stop himself, he had reached out to take it, his fingers brushing hers as the vial exchanged hands.
Her eyes widened and she stepped back quickly, face blooming pink. Snape scowled darkly to hide his own discomfort at the contact, but he held the vial up to the light to look at it closer. She had planned on forcing him to make some kind of comment about her work, but the touch had left her a little breathless and she hurried to gather her things and leave.
Behind her, Snape gazed at the vial thoughtfully before uncorking it. Holding it under his nose, he closed his eyes in concentration; it could not possibly be as perfect as it appeared. His nose and eyes told him that it was perfect. She had used the exactly correct amount of each ingredient. She had stirred it with a glass rod with the exact number of counterclockwise stirs required. The potion was even more perfect than any he had ever brewed, because she had brewed it while wanting to brew a perfect potion. His own ambivalent feelings about Remus Lupin had always prevented him from achieving perfection. The brewer's emotional state while brewing had a great deal to do with the potency and success of a potion. Hermione Ganger had surpassed his own efforts in this particular potion. In spite of himself, he was impressed, and then deeply irritated because he was.
Two evenings later, he was grading essays when there was a knock at the door. Calling a curt, "Enter" he didn't look up for several minutes. When he did, she was standing there quietly, waiting for him to allow her to come further in. He looked at her in question.
"I didn't finish the inventory. I'd like to."
He regarded her with a carefully bland expression and then nodded silently. She went to the cabinet and began where she had left off. He watched to see that she was as meticulous as she had been before and then he returned to the essays.
A while later, he became aware that she stood in front of the desk. When he looked up, she said quietly, "I've finished in the common supply cabinet. If you like, I'll inventory the other stores."
He sat back in his chair and stared at her, eyes narrowed. "You realize that I have not changed my mind about having an apprentice."
She nodded silently. After a few more moments he got up and went to the other cabinet. Waving his hand over the lock, he opened it. This cabinet was much less crowded, the spacing more generous between vials, bottles and boxes. He stood right there as she began to inventory the contents, as if making sure that she was as careful with these.
Her movements were graceful, and exact … why in Merlin's name was he thinking she was graceful? Shaking his head, he went back to his desk. After finding his eyes drawn back to her several times, he muttered an oath under his breath. She looked over her shoulder at the barely heard words. Their eyes met briefly before she turned away, blushing. He leaned over the essays, fresh ire making his remarks in the margins even more caustic than usual.
An hour later she was at the desk again. "I'm finished. You are low on several ingredients and I've listed them here." She put the parchment on the desk before him.
He looked at the list and noted which she had noted. The last one was Unicorn Hair, and next to it, 'none'. He sighed heavily. That was probably the most expensive ingredient and the hardest for a man to obtain. He could always ask Hagrid, but his supplies were what he gleaned from the branches of the Forbidden Forest, taken from where the Unicorn's mane or tail snagged in passing. For potion use, it was best for the hair to be obtained directly and willingly from the unicorn. Of course, this could only be done by a young female virgin.
Hermione noticed where he was looking. Guessing his thoughts, she said, "I could get the unicorn hair for you."
They looked at each other for a long time. He knew that she was aware of the requirements for the gathering of pure unicorn hair; any first-year could tell you. By offering, she was admitting to him that she qualified. He started to make a scathing comment regarding her virginal state and ask if Mr. Weasley was happy about it; but the words died away almost as they formed in his mind. It stunned him to realize that while he didn't care if Weasley was happy about it, he was. For some uncomfortable reason, it pleased him that Hermione Granger was still a virgin. Here she was at the end of her seventh year, about to graduate and she was still untouched. He did not make the personal lives of the students his business, but he knew that most of them left the halls of Hogwarts with more than magical knowledge and experience to their credit.
It was almost curfew, and this was the night of a half-moon. It was said to be the best time for the gathering of unicorn hair. The half-moon gave enough light for the unicorns to see and play by, and was not the full moon where they would need to fear dark creatures preying on them. When he didn't answer her offer, she went to another cabinet. Opening it, she took out a small basket that had a long wooden spool and a silver mane comb in it.
Silently, she continued to wait. At last making up his mind, he led the way to the door. Outside, he turned in a different direction than that which led out of the dungeons. She followed behind him until he opened a door that led outside. Stepping out, she saw that there were a few flagstone pavers that led away from the castle towards the Forbidden Forest. The half-moon was bright and cast a silvery light on the grass. He began to stride away in the direction of the trees. Hermione had to half run to keep up. Snape stopped when he realized that his steps were too long for her to easily keep up with. Once they were side by side, he continued at a more sedate pace.
Inside, he wondered how long she could keep so quiet. It wasn't like her to be silent for long. She had plagued his classes with questions, arguments, and spontaneous verbal essays for the last seven years. As they walked he had to ask: "Is your quietude another attempt to persuade me to have you as an apprentice?" Without waiting, he continued, "I know you too well, Miss Granger. Silence ill-becomes you; you who have so often spoken unhesitatingly."
She glanced up at him before saying, "I don't find myself speechless often, sir. I apologize for all the times I have tried your patience. At the moment, I cannot think of anything else to say to persuade you. I just want to help you as much as I can before I have to leave Hogwarts. Even a little time learning from a Potions Master like you is better than nothing."
They had entered the forest and he held up a hand. "Stay near me from this point on. Switch the basket to your left hand and keep your wand drawn."
She followed his instructions, dropping back to allow him to have a slight lead. They moved more slowly as they went further into the dark of the thickly-crowded trees.
He walked on silent feet as he led them on. At last, there was a narrow clearing, split by a slowly moving stream. On the other side, a pair of unicorns stood drinking. At their approach, their heads came up, ears standing at alert.
One of them was pure white in the moonlight, and the other was an inky black. They looked at the humans and nudged each other, as if asking each other if they should stay or bolt to safety.
Hermione looked up at Snape and he gave her a slight nod. Putting her wand back into the pocket of her robes, she began to make her way closer to the pair. As she got closer to the edge of the stream, they both backed up a few steps. Hermione stood still on her side. The unicorns slowly came back to the edge of the stream on their side.
Hermione raised a hand, holding it out to them palm up. The basket she held had provided lumps of sugar to coax the reluctant animals. She had a lump in her outstretched hand. The unicorns seemed to communicate with each other silently, nudging one another with noses, pawing gently at the ground.
Snape was about to tell her to give it up; that she had obviously misjudged her own sense of purity. The white unicorn began to pick its way across the stream, each step causing silver ripples to parallel the waters course. Slowly, the animal approached Hermione's outstretched hand until it lifted the lump of sugar delicately from her palm.
Coming even closer, the unicorn nudged her, snorting softly. She reached into the basket and withdrew another lump of sugar. The unicorn turned its head, looking back across the stream at its mate. That one gave a snort and shake of its head in answer. The white unicorn took the sugar for itself. Hermione began to stroke the nose and then the neck, all the while murmuring soothing sounds to it.
Snape watched in fascination; for all his years of experience in gathering ingredients, this was the first time he had seen unicorn hair gathered first-hand. He had always bought it or used Hagrid's. Asking for the help of anyone, let alone a young virgin, had always been a particularly unappealing idea. But this time the help had been offered, and offered freely. He had wondered if Hermione had been truthful; now he knew that she had been. The part of him that had been pleased by her purity was also pleased by her truthfulness. Then he had to admit to himself that she was also brave.
Of course, all Gryffindors were said to be brave; but she had been brave enough to dare to approach him with the offer. Most people avoided him at all costs, even after he had been cleared of all wrongdoing in Dumbledore's death. The fact that he had been fulfilling an oath made to Dumbledore when he killed him carried little weight with the majority of the wizarding world. His position as Potions Master had been returned to him upon the Pensieve review of Dumbledore's last will and testament. The other teachers accepted it and the students had no choice but to accept him back as their teacher. The Order of the Phoenix continued to call him a member, even if they couldn't help the accusation in their eyes when they looked at him.
He had avoided as much contact with people as he could; teaching his classes, eating in his rooms unless required to eat in the Great Hall, and not socializing at all. The lower years were still scared spitless of him, and the older students were mixed between fear, respect and indifference. The few who held a grudge were those who Snape did not wish to have anything to do with anyway. He knew Harry Potter had not been able to forgive the murder of the Headmaster, and he had assumed that the other members of the Golden Trio felt the same.
But here was this girl, no, this young woman, who had caused herself to be given a detention so that she could approach him for an apprentice position. He had marveled at the time, that she had been careless enough to provoke him, but now he saw that it had been her plan to be where she could make her desires for that job known.
She looked over her shoulder at him as she continued to stroke the unicorn. "I believe he'll let you nearer, Professor."
Snape hesitated and then stepped closer. The unicorn tossed his head and side-stepped skittishly at his approach, but then lowered his head, seeming to accept the nearness of a man after all. He started to reach out his hand and then drew back. Hermione caught his hand in one of hers and brought it to touch the unicorn's neck. The muscles quivered under its skin, but it held still for him. With her hand on top of his, he ran his hand gently over the still animal. He could feel the thrum of magic both below his hand, and her magic above. He was startled to sense how strong her magic was. There was an almost electric field of it emanating from her. It met his own power and answered it.
Hermione said quietly, "If you will keep petting him, I'll collect the hair from his mane and tail." She handed him some sugar and took the mane comb out of the basket. Snape didn't think the unicorn would appreciate his touch alone, but the animal didn't seem to mind it as long as Hermione was close.
She gently ran the comb through the mane and tail, separating out loosened strands of silver-white. A sharply indrawn breath from Snape brought Hermione's attention up. The black unicorn had forded the stream and had its head against Snape's shoulder. Hermione watched as it gave a soft snort and nudged the professor again. He slowly removed another lump of sugar from the basket and offered it. Without hesitation, the unicorn took it from his hand. This was a mare and she appeared to have become fascinated with Snape. She blew another snort and stepped even closer to him. He petted her down the center of her nose, daring to touch the long spiraling horn that grew there.
Hermione had carefully removed the last of the white hair from the comb and laid it in the basket. Turning to the black unicorn, she began to comb gently through her mane. Snape fed her another bit of sugar, and then Hermione was done.
Both unicorns continued to stand still and enjoy the petting from the humans. Both humans stood there silently; enjoying the rarest of opportunities that they had been given.
At last, they raised their heads at the same time and looked off into the deep forest. As one, they waded back across the stream and disappeared. Hermione sat down on a large flat rock, gazing after them.
"That was amazing!" she whispered, unwilling to speak any louder after the experience.
Snape sat down beside her, he too looking in the direction the animals had gone. He turned his head to look at the woman beside him. He could still feel the magic in her calling to him somehow. This was a totally unknown feeling for him and he felt off-balance at the unfamiliarity. They both sat there for a long time before she stirred.
Taking the strands of gathered hair, she slowly and meticulously wound it around the wooden spool. Once done with the white, she wound the black on the other end. Snape found himself unable to look away from her hands as they worked. The moon shown with silver light all around them.
As she laid the spool back into the basket, he reached out and caught her hand. Holding it firmly, he stroked the back of it, like he had done for the unicorn. She gasped and he looked into her eyes. He couldn't stop himself asking, "Do you feel it? Do you feel the magic?"
She nodded as she searched his black eyes. They were bottomless pools of ink in the night. Her voice was still a whisper. "What is it? I've never felt it before …"
He was silent as he thought. This was the stuff of legends; the magic of one being calling to its match when it was found; the other's answering the call with a hum felt instead of heard. If he said that, she would bolt, or worse, she would laugh. A match between them was impossible. He was too old, too set in his ways. She was just past childhood, on the verge of her life as an adult. He let go of her hand and began to pull back.
Hermione knew as soon as he let go of her hand that she could not let it go. She turned her hand over and grasped his, their palms pressed together. When he would have pulled free, she tightened her grasp. The magic surged stronger between them. Without knowing what it was, she knew she wanted to keep it. They had both been staring down at their joined hands and now they looked up into each others' eyes again.
He waited, holding his breath. She leaned towards him, having to stretch upwards, and lightly pressed a kiss at the side of his mouth. Their hands squeezed each other tightly, neither knowing what would become of this. For a long moment he looked into her face, seeing the innocence there, seeing her questions.
She finally dared to state the belief that had been forming in her mind. "The mare let you touch her … she approached you. That means you must be … as pure as I am. But how can that be? You're …"
He withdrew his hand from hers and stood up abruptly, walking away back towards the castle. Hermione jumped up and ran after him, catching the sleeve of his robes in a fist. He stopped and turned back to her answering the question in her face with answers of his own; answers that did not match the one in his heart.
"I am too old. What I have not had in life will never be mine. Pick up the basket and we will return to the castle."
Where the hurt in her eyes would not have bothered him this morning, it now tore at him. But this is how it would have to be. Anything else would be ludicrous. She went back and took up the basket, the comb and spool of unicorn hair. Returning to his side, her head was lowered. He heard a ragged sniff and was completely undone. His scowling sneer was gone and he quickly gathered her to his chest, holding her tightly in his arms. The basket was dropped at their feet as her arms went around his waist, returning the embrace just as fiercely.
She raised tear-filled eyes to him and he captured her lips with his in a tentative and gentle kiss. His hands went to the hair that he had deemed bushy and too wild for seven years. It was like silk to his fingers as he brushed his fingers through it until his palms were against her head. He pulled her towards him and the kiss deepened. She looked at him shyly now and lifted her hands to mimic his, putting them up to his head and then drawing him down to kiss her again.
When they stopped to look into each others' eyes again, he sighed and pulled her close against his chest again. "It seems I need to reconsider the matter of taking on an apprentice."
She smiled into his shirt, holding her magical match tightly in her arms.
A/N: This is just a fluff piece that my Muse begged me to write. I have a growing fondness for SS/HG! But only if she is of age…anything else is just gross.
I hope you enjoy this little glimpse into their beginnings as a couple! AU, of course!
Thank you, logicalquirk, for your wonderful beta work on this, and my other fics!