Disclaimer: © 2006 harmony bites. 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.
I want to thank bambu345, darthluna, and Djinn for their fantastic betas. And a special thanks to Darth—without her encouragement I'm not sure this fic would have been coaxed out of hiding. Thanks also to lifeasanamazon for her Britpick.
The voice pulled me in like a string, swelling as I followed it, reverberating in me, teasing memories from hiding places from when I was young, or at any rate, quite younger. I made my way past the display of crystals and the rack of tarot cards, tracking the voice to its source: a tall man, who even standing gave an impression of predatory grace, and when I recognised him, my first impulse was to back away slowly lest he scent me, charge and eat me alive.
Still, I wore a glamour, as I usually did in public. There was no reason for Snape to recognise me or even give me a second glance. I retained my brown hair, brown eyes, but with my features askew just enough to look "other" without looking – well, glamorous. Not drawing attention was the point.
I had heard from Draco that Snape had gone Muggle after being released from Azkaban. The lack of a raincoat or umbrella told me he worked here at the Magickal Childe, or was the proprietor. I couldn't help but compare this small, crowded shop in Charing Cross Road to a counterpart on Diagon Alley. This parody of a real magic shop, with its quaint displays of top hats and crystal balls exuded shabby chic. Certainly not what I'd see as Snape's natural habitat, and he was out of uniform as well – much shorter hair, neatly trimmed beard, black trousers, charcoal grey shirt – had it not been for that voice, I might not have known him. After all, Severus Snape attractive? Not handsome, perhaps, but he had cleaned up well, and he sported the kind of striking features which made "handsome" seem insipid. The man talking to Snape in increasingly hostile, if low, tones also looked familiar.
Understand, Severus Snape was not exactly a warm, fuzzy memory from my childhood and teens. Although I had never found the Boggart in him my lab partner Neville had, Snape always made me uncomfortable – in good ways and bad. He had always challenged my assumptions – about magic, myself, about him. Had left flustered, awkward feelings, if not tears and cramping dread, in his wake.
So I was quite ready and happy to turn about and leave. Have Draco return here to place the order he'd left on my desk. It was usually his job to deal with the logistics of our common enterprise. When Draco had let drop that he went to a Muggle shop of all things for "special items," including some complex potions, I'd been suspicious and curious. I'd considered it might be Snape, but I wasn't prepared for the force of what I felt seeing him again.
That's when the other man drew his wand and pointed it at Snape's throat.
I instinctively drew my own and lunged, casting a quick and silent Expelliarmus, an Accio wand, and Petrificus Totalus, sending the man's wand to my hand and binding him.
Only to find Snape himself snatching up both wands from my hands, snarling at me, "No one draws weapons here."
"He just did. I was only defending you."
"Oh, and who appointed you my champion and saviour?"
I gaped at that, not able to find the right response for his unbelievable ingratitude. Not that I should expect anything less from him.
He scowled down at me. "For all you know, I'm a dangerous criminal and that was an Auror trying to apprehend me. Do you know who I am?"
I looked at him glowering at me and sighed. "No, I really don't." It was true; I didn't. And I realised that for all that I'd been about to walk away, I wished I did.
He stepped right up to me and leaned in, his face inches from mine. "I am a dangerous criminal and that was an Auror." He ran his fingers jerkily through his hair. Then, using my wand, he cast a series of spells over the man.
"What are you doing to him?"
"What am I doing, you silly woman? Merely ensuring he doesn't arrest you."
"I would only need to explain – "
"Are you that naïve? You assaulted an Auror in the defence of … Trust me, explaining would be futile."
I grabbed his wand arm. "I'm not about to let – "
"He won't be hurt. The upside of it will be that he shall come back to consciousness, walk home, remember nothing and come to the conclusion his getting sloshed last night caused him to black out. Given this is Auror Pissdrick, that would be a shock to no one."
Snape turned back and completed the spells. Afterwards, he helped Pissdrick to his feet, put the man's wand in his coat pocket and gave him a nudge on his back. With an abstracted air, Pissdrick tottered out the door.
I could have stopped this. I could have told Snape what he had done was unnecessary – that my word would have been accepted. Yet I felt reluctant to reveal my identity to him, to use it. After all, had I been anyone else, he would have been right.
Besides, any hint that Snape would have performed Dark Magic upon an Auror … Well, he could very well wind up back in Azkaban, and we owed him more than that. I owed him more than that. If he had not gone back after me in Riddle Manor, had not taken the time to stabilise me, given my injuries, I'd have died – and Snape might never have been captured.
It had taken five long years to get him free and, at that, his release had come with conditions. Which is why he didn't have a wand to defend himself. Not that that seemed to stop him.
"Thank you," I told him. "You didn't have to."
He sighed. "By now it's an ingrained reflex to save know-it-all meddlers from their own heroism. Think nothing of it. It is only a deep character flaw on my part." He shook his head. Then stared at my face, raked over my form and his eyes narrowed. "Should I know you? Surely you went to Hogwarts when I was there."
For a long time I stared back. I was sorely tempted to lie. What would Snape be like beyond his masks? I knew that if I dropped mine, his would snap right back into place with all the force of our shared history. To forestall answering his question, I threw up one of my own. "The only thing I can think of that would create such an effect as you describe would be a combination of Obliviate, Confundus – and Imperio."
He raised an eyebrow. "Quite."
Something flickered over his face so fast – rage, pain – I didn't have time to process it. Then he grabbed my arm. I could feel him shaking. It occurred to me that he still had my wand, and for a heart-pounding moment, I feared that I might be the next person to experience an Unforgivable, or at least an Obliviate. I pulled away, and he let me, staring into my eyes. I felt a rushing, pulling feeling, flashing before me was a vision of his raising my own wand to curse me. Legilimancy. The bastard was invading my mind. I pushed back mentally, and he recoiled and dropped my arm. I hoped he had one hell of a headache later.
He hesitated, then slowly handed me back my wand. "Who are you?"
For answer I waved my wand across myself, causing me to return to my natural form.
His face twisted. "I see. Did you arrange this ahead of the time with Auror Pissdrick?"
"No, I didn't. But I'll admit I'm disturbed by how quickly you'd resort to Dark Magic for your own convenience."
"Mine, Miss Granger? I'd have been safe if I'd done nothing. Pissdrick was only indulging in his standard weekly closing address in his usual manner. I did what I had to in order to protect a seeming innocent – and yes, if I have to use an Unforgivable to do so, well, that's nothing less than what I'm good for, isn't it, Miss Granger? To do the dirty deed and get pointed at as the villain whilst you, your kith and kin get the medals?"
"Oh for Merlin's sake, you can have mine. Why do you think I wear the bloody glamour in the first place? I'm sick of being one-third of the Trio-Who-Won." Whether he wanted to share the benefits of fame or divide the agonies, Harry had made sure Ron and I shared the credit and the spotlight after the war. For Ron, his share would never be enough, especially after I no longer shared the name Weasley. For me, it proved suffocating.
"And what use would a hunk of metal worth a few sickles be to me? The worth in such medals, which apparently you do not understand – "
"Appreciation. Gratitude. Acknowledgment." He paused a long time. "Forgiveness." As if he couldn't let that last word drop without flinging away any pity it might engender, he then sneered and stalked away.
Just then I heard the tinkle of the bell by the door, and an outlandishly clad blonde walked in. The beads, the tie-dye peasant blouse, would put Trelawney to shame, not to mention the cloud of patchouli wafting in her wake.
"Hello, Severus," she called out. She started chattering away and pointed behind him. Snape reached up and grabbed a triangular box, handing it to her. Real Magick Spell Kit: Love & Attraction.
I snorted. So this wasn't some witch with a warped idea of Muggle clothing, only a non-magical wannabe. Snape spared me a look; there was a twitch of his lips that in any other man I'd call a suppressed smile. I drifted about the shop, keeping one eye on her. The sight which next caught my eye startled me. Snape was … there was no other word for it, smiling at her. It was a surprisingly nice smile, and I pulled down a random book from the shelf I'd been browsing with a jerk. I kept glancing over, expecting Snape to bite her head off and chew any moment. I found myself looking forward to it and was disappointed when she escaped with a friendly wave from him.
I strolled back to him, leaning my elbows across the counter. "Why didn't you ever smile at us like that?" At me.
"You weren't paying me."
"If we thought you had it in you … " And had I thought it would be so nice a look on you … " … we'd have taken up a collection. I have to say – you and retail aren't what I'd have expected."
He shrugged. "I had to kiss the hem of a madman's robes – for years. In comparison to that … " He removed a parcel from a shelf and used a cutter to open the box then threaded his way through the store to restock the shelves.
I followed and started to help him, handing out the kits from the box. "Still, not what I'd have expected you to choose."
He gave a short laugh, as abrupt as a bark. "This wasn't my idea, I assure you. One of Albus' brainwaves – setting up a Muggle identity for me to disappear into. I believe he thought my being forced to be courteous and helpful would be good for me. Albus was a big believer in … persuading me to do things for my own good. Oh, by the way, why are you still here?"
I reached into my pocket and dug out the list and handed it to him. "Draco never told me where he was getting our more exotic stock from. But he was not only unduly mysterious about it, but some of these are Master-level potions."
"Few potions need a wand." He held up a hand. "I have your order boxed up in the back. I'll just get it, and you can be on your merry way."
"In a rush to get rid of me?"
"I'd say it was mutual considering how little I've seen of you over the years."
"They wouldn't let us see you in Azkaban. I would have visited you here long ago except I didn't know where you were. Draco told me you made him promise not to tell anyone where you'd gone." So Draco had dropped hints instead, and then left this list with the shop address at the top. "And even before … Molly always asked you to stay for dinner at Grimmauld, and you never did. If you have reason to complain about lack of companionship, it's not for want of offers. Remus gets his Wolfsbane from you still, doesn't he? He picks it up from us, and I noticed that started only a couple of years ago after you were released. I know he tried to stay in touch. Why didn't you – ?"
Snape gave a bitter laugh at that. "Ah, yes, Lupin and his overtures of friendship. Which he always sadly repeats as rebuffed, the better to make me appear the monster. He might try apologising first for all that lies between us. But an apology is something I've received as often as 'thank you.'"
"You can't deny Draco genuinely cares about you. He tells me you're always putting off his invitations to dine with him and Harry. And Harry did try approaching you years ago – even before he and Draco … after we learned … " I bit my lower lip, cursing myself for bringing up a sore subject.
His face tightened. "Cat got your tongue? Still hard to admit it, isn't it? That the great man, the Lion among the Gryffindors, could – " He broke off, sounding like he was choking on the words and turned his back and started jamming the kits into the shelves.
Dumbledore had left no evidence, no word about how he had arranged for Snape to kill him. We'd had to deduce it from, among other things, Harry's Pensieve memory prepared in case he died before testifying. Not everything had added up. And then our suspicions were confirmed after Harry confronted Dumbledore's portrait. After that, Harry had stopped being Dumbledore's man – he became his own.
Snape kept his back to me as he spoke, his voice low. "Telling anyone, even Potter, the secret could have compromised me when I was still among the Death Eaters. Moreover, that Dumbledore ordered me to kill him is no true defence, as you learned. You can't consent to your own murder."
I couldn't believe how, even now, Snape of all people – bitter, hold-a-grudge-to-Doomsday-and-beyond-Snape – would make excuses for Dumbledore. But then, Harry, too, even after all that had happened, would often defend Dumbledore before collecting himself. "Knowing what really happened made all the difference in getting the Wizengamot to commute your sentence!"
He whirled at that, looking astonished at my vehemence. His lips thinned in a brittle smile. "What made the difference is that the wizarding world will do anything for Harry Potter, conquering hero, as he attempts to show his munificence and magnanimity to his old enemy. You'll excuse me if, after the times I saved all your arses, I considered ourselves even and haven't properly grovelled."
"No one wants that. Severus … " When he opened his mouth, no doubt to object to my form of address, I put a finger to his lips. "I'm not about to call you Professor or anything else, and I'm not letting you call me 'Miss Granger.'" I looked at him sternly. "It's Hermione." My finger lingered, and I dared a brush of my thumb over his lips before dropping my hand. I felt a frisson, a tension pooling in my stomach from that touch I hadn't expected. "I remember, when I asked you years ago, why you came back and saved me at the end, why you took the chance … you told me it was because I was the 'cleverest witch of my age' and – "
"Apparently you – "
"And that it would be a waste to lose that promise – "
" – didn't recognise the sarcasm."
"I recognise sarcasm as your most common defence mechanism, and, more often than not, that the snotty tone hides truths you don't want to be caught saying in earnest. Well, that's not my style, so I'll simply tell you that I think this" – I swept my arms, encompassing the entire shop – "is a waste of the most brilliant mind of your generation." He seemed taken aback I'd say that of him, or perhaps even think it, because I had the unprecedented satisfaction of seeing Severus Snape at a loss for words.
I reached out to touch his hand. Felt ridges under my fingers at his wrist. My throat constricted. "This … "
"Isn't what you think."
I slid my fingers over his palm and turned his hand over. My breath hitched as I saw the livid marks encircling his wrists.
"Telling my fortune, Hermione?" He pulled away, not ungently. "This marks not my future, I would hope, only the recent past."
The scars didn't look like they were from sharp cuts exactly. Two parallel lines just apart enough … I kept my voice flat; I didn't think he'd respond well to anything smacking of pity or the strong emotion I did feel. "Cuffs? Manacles? I can guess now why they didn't let us visit." I took a shuddering breath, clamped down on my rage. That wasn't something I wanted to feed back to him. Rage, bitterness, was what I was trying to put an end to. "The scars can be removed, you know."
"And why should I want to do that?"
"So you won't be constantly reminded. You don't have to wear your scars. You can choose to be bitter. To keep your hurts. Or let them go."
"Oh, and will you help me remove this mark?" He rolled up his left sleeve, and I bit back a gasp. It looked like the Dark Mark, placed where that old brand had been, only this mark was smaller and had a red X crossing it. "One of the conditions of my release. It allows the Aurors to keep constant tabs on my whereabouts and to instantly force me to a place of their choosing. Auror Pissdrick tells me it's based on the Dark Mark – and your research into it." His eyes glittered back at me, daring me to deny it – I couldn't.
I touched it, pressed against his skin. It felt warm, as if it were responding to my touch. I swallowed hard. "It might be. I'm sorry."
"You're sorry." He turned back to stocking the shelves. I found I couldn't stand how rigid his back and stiff his movements were as he did so.
"Severus, please, I know Draco has already asked you, and you turned him down. But I am asking you again. Come and work with us. Draco is a fair Potions maker, as am I. Blaise and Terry together with us both are fine Arithmancers. But with you – "
"Work for you?"
"Work with us. Sell this shop – this last shackle of Dumbledore's. Draco agrees with me. With you, there's nothing we can't accomplish."
He stopped the incessant shelving at least, met my eyes squarely. "What use is a magical cripple? A wizard denied a wand?"
"You could use mine when needed for charmed potions or other complex workings."
"You know very well a wand chooses its witch or wizard. Unless both magic users are unusually compatible, one can look forward to hellish backlash headaches."
"Feeling any pain?" I pointedly tapped my wand against my hip. The very wand he'd recently used to effortlessly cast the most complex of spells. I couldn't help a sly smile and found it answered by his wicked grin.
He bent down, and I felt his breath puff against my cheek. "Now, Hermione, you know what they say about shared wands."
I rather think he expected me to pull back at that insinuating remark and the silky timbre of his voice, or at least blush. Before today, I might have expected that myself. Instead, I leaned in even closer to him. "Hmmm … well, I'm all for a spirit of experimentation, trial and effort. Do you know what really makes us human?"
"Beyond the usual enumerations?"
"Change. An animal has only instinct. They act in the same way as they have for eons without change. But us?" I pushed a lock of hair that had fallen over his eyes back behind his ear. "Aren't you a Slytherin? Serpents are symbols of change. As they grow, they shed their old skin. Consider it a challenge. If Draco and Harry could manage to make their way to each other, you can't tell me you can't find a way to try to work with us."
I promised myself I'd work at getting Severus his wand back – and that mark off his arm. I wouldn't promise him to his face and risk his disappointment, his hope. But I swore it silently to myself. Then, I planted a kiss on his cheek and started to walk away. Much to my surprise, I found it incredibly hard to do so, to not walk back and give him the kind of kiss he wouldn't be able to let me walk away from.
"Hermione … your order."
I grinned at his tone. Almost … wistful? I turned a moment at the door. "Bring it with you. When you come tomorrow to discuss our partnership." I strode through the door, sure he'd be at our offices tomorrow.
And if he didn't come? I'd come back here until he did.
Written for syrenslure (Lyssa) for the sshgexchange
Prompts (Combo): FIC-
1)After the war, and having been cleared of charges, Snape has largely left the Wizarding world for the Muggle world, except for very few contacts, and anonymous business transactions. Someone conspires for Hermione to find/run into Snape. Why, and what happens next?
2)Hermione has been using polyjuice/glamours/other charms/masquerade event to change her appearance, when she unexpectedly runs into Snape, and he acts contrary to her expectations (tolerably polite, perhaps even flirtatious). Now she's curious. What does she learn and what does she do with her new knowledge?