Chapter 1: In Which There Are Words and Tears
Severus had left his abode with every intention of buying a new book or five to add to his extensive collection.
The sign on the door of Flourish and Blotts had been made with every intention of this not happening.
Dear Valued Patrons,
We regret to inform you that Johannes Flourish, the owner of Flourish and Blotts, died last week. The store will be closed until its new owner is determined and put into place. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you and hope you will be patient with us during this difficult time.
He glared at it, arms crossed over his lean chest. New reading material was essential at the beginning of the summer holidays; as he was no longer occupied as a spy or a Death Eater, there was very little for Severus to do at his home, and he had spent that past several days experiencing acute boredom. Now some old man had died, and Severus was prevented from purchasing a few volumes to occupy his mind.
"Oh, no!" said a high, melodramatic voice by his elbow. He glanced down to see a short, dumpy witch in robes that resembled the uglier patterns on armchairs, who was wringing her plump hands as she gazed dolefully at the sign.
"He was such a dear man! I do hope he didn't suffer. Isn't it dreadful?" she asked, turning to look at Severus with tears in her eyes, clearly expecting a sympathetic answer.
"Yes," he said shortly. "I find it grievous that they closed the shop for such a ridiculous reason." With that, he turned and strode off down Diagon Alley, smirking at the gasp of shock that followed him.
As he passed the familiar shops, he gave each a cursory glance, wondering if there was anything inside that he currently had occasion to purchase. Hm… No need to go to the apothecary, nor the writing shop, and Satan will purchase a winter cloak before I set foot in that establishment of the Weasleys'. He paused for a moment in front of the joke shop, observing the crowds of teenagers inside; as he watched, a girl took a bite of a sweet being sampled and promptly screamed as her hair fell out en masse. It grew back within a few seconds, though, which ended the entertainment as far as he was concerned. Severus had to admit a grudging respect for the Weasley twins' abilities; he had the opportunity to examine one of their Love Potions during the last year, and it was very skillfully made. Had those two been placed in Slytherin, their talents for deviousness and tricks would no doubt have been used completely unscrupulously on the other houses.
The rest of the street proved less amusing; few people were around that day to make fools of themselves, and he hadn't seen a student he could terrorize. Severus was just about to turn down the path to Knockturn Alley when something caught his eye.
Right at the junction between the two lanes was a tiny store Severus had never seen, occupying what looked like a former storage shed next to Quality Quidditch Supplies. A new-looking sign hung from it, proclaiming it to be Words, Words, Words – Rare, Dangerous, and Unusual Books. There were no windows, only a narrow door with a bell on it, which jingled as Severus entered.
His immediate impression was of a room built of bookshelves, furnished with books, and possibly decorated with them as well. The entire store seemed to be made of rows of leather bindings; even the cramped counter on his right sported a selection of tomes behind a glass pane. Surprisingly, for a place so small and dingy-looking on the outside, it was clean and well-lit, with nary a mote of dust to tickle his sensitive nostrils into a sneeze.
There appeared to be no one around, which was perfectly acceptable to Severus, and so he began to peruse the shelves. He rapidly came to the conclusion that whoever ran the place knew what they were doing – there were books here that were too dangerous for the Restricted Section, as well as ones so rare as to be almost legendary.
He suppressed a smile. Flourish and Blotts, indeed.
Light, rapid footsteps disturbed him as he inspected a copy of Bludd Magick: Kurses and Potionnes, a volume he had heard of but never actually located.
"I'm sorry to keep you waiting, sir; I was helping someone in the back when you came in. Can I assist you?" The voice was female, slightly bossy, and very familiar. It was a voice that was generally preceded by a hand shooting into the air so hard its owner levitated. It promised an overabundance of information for whatever fool asked it a simple question, and it had been a thorn in his side for seven years of his life.
A little voice in his mind said, Of course Granger would work at a bookstore.
"Yes, you can assist me," he said coolly, lowering the book to meet a pair of surprised brown eyes. "You can continue helping someone else."
Granger's jaw had dropped slightly when she saw him, but she snapped it shut fairly quickly. "Professor Snape. What a … surprise," was all she managed to get out; the lack of an adjective before "surprise" was not lost on him.
"Is it really so shocking that an intellectual wizard such as myself should frequent bookshops?" he sneered, returning his gaze to the book in front of him. For such an intelligent girl, she really could be remarkably idiotic at times; he wondered if she still believed him to be ignorant of her second-year theft of his potions supplies. "I find it no surprise to find you working in one."
"Actually, I own it, Professor. I opened in April."
"What? Publicity residuals not paying the rent?" April… Something about Granger and April was ringing a bell in his mind, and he took a moment to look at her while he racked his brain. She looked about the same as she had when she graduated a year ago; hair still a wild mess, although she had put on a bit of weight and filled out, which made her look less like a schoolgirl and more like a woman.
Woman… wife? Ah, I remember. Oh, dear… He smirked nastily, watching her fidget slightly under his gaze; she always fidgeted when nervous. "I believe I shall purchase this volume. How much is it?"
She blinked as the suddenness of his statement threw her off again, but she blurted out, "Fifteen Galleons, plus two Sickles tax."
"Very well." He followed her through narrow passages between bookshelves until they reached the front of the store. Following her had its benefits – she was wearing Muggle jeans, which provided a nice display of her curvy backside. He was not above taking the opportunity to admire it; he was a man who gave due appreciation to well-made things, whether they be artistic or physiological.
She took his money and slid the book inside a brown paper bag, which she sealed with a basic Security charm. He provided the thumbprint she asked for; it keyed the spell to him, so in the unlikely event anyone stole something of his and lived to tell of it, they would not be able to access the book.
"Thank you," he said, which resulted in his startling her for the third time in ten minutes. "Your bookshop is a very interesting place, and I shall possibly return. Good day, Mrs. Weas- oops. My mistake," he said, taking a moment to smirk at the stricken look on her face before he put the final nail in the coffin. "It's still Miss Granger, isn't it?"
At the sight of tears welling in her brown eyes, he decided it was a job well done and swept out the door.
That bastard! That cruel fucking bastard…
Hermione slumped down on the counter, her head in her arms, trying to hold back the sobs that were creeping up on her.
"It's still Miss Granger…" Of course the entire wizarding world had heard about the fiasco- how could they not? Two members of the Golden Trio, engaged to be married… The Prophet had covered nothing but that for months beforehand, carrying articles about everything from what dress she was wearing to whether the children would have red hair or brown. The entire Order, most of the Hogwarts staff, and about a third of the Ministry had been at the – well, it couldn't really be called a wedding. Weddings generally required two people. Not one sobbing bride staring at the letter brought to her by an intended brother-in-law.
Hermione had read the letter Bill handed to her while the entire audience watched. It was short and ineloquent, but got the point across.
Dear Mione (how she hated that stupid nickname),
I love you. I really do. But I can't spend the rest of my life with a wife who makes me feel like an idiot all the time. It just doesn't work for me. We'd be miserable together. I'm sorry.
The change the letter wrought in the Weasley family had been incredible. Molly turned on her instantly, saying that if she had been more understanding and less pushy, she wouldn't have driven Ron away. Percy sanctimoniously said it was all for the best, and that maybe she wasn't cut out for marriage. Fred and George offered to track down Ron and turn him into a slug, while Ginny just stared at her coldly and tugged Harry out the door before he could talk to her.
The worst part was that Ron was right. In the year and a half they had gone out, she had been constantly driven mad by his tactless comments and crude manners, while he had complained that she "insulted his manhood" by correcting him all the time. Even so, they had always made up their fights (generally with sex), and she had been sure it would work out. These were thoughts she had dwelled much upon in the alcohol-laden week after the wedding, before she sternly told herself to buck up. She had promptly opened the shop, talked to the friends who still liked her, and had tried to ignore that fact that she cried herself to sleep four nights a week.
She had actually been doing very well until bloody Snape had shown up and brought it all crashing back on her. A surge of anger momentarily overrode her sadness and she straightened up, glaring at the door. How dare he just swoop in here and insult her? She was no longer some little student, too afraid of losing House points to talk back to him. No, now she was a woman with a much-publicized failed marriage who was more vulnerable than a blind frog in a minefield.
"Excuse me – Miss? I'm ready."
Hermione hastily wiped her tears away to look at the small, watery-eyed man who was clutching a book. Automatically, she rang him up and sent him out the door, taking a moment to turn the sign to "Closed" before retreating to a closet-sized room near the back of the store.
There were bookshelves here too, but the titles they held differed considerably from the ones in the rest of the store. No books about spells, potions, hexes, curses, or jinxes; just books about people. This was her room of Muggle books, which she sold to the few wizards interested in them; they varied from Muggleborns who didn't feel like going to the Muggle world to get a novel to wizards who reminded her strongly of Arhur Weasley, and the occasional Ministry spy who had to work in the Muggle world and needed a basic knowledge of the literature.
Of course, Hermione sampled her wares liberally; it was her calorie-free alternative to downing a pint of Ben & Jerry's when she was unhappy.
I need something feminist… down with bloody men. After a minute of searching, she found what she needed and sank onto an armchair with The Awakening.
But even as she read, her mind whirled with thoughts of her former teacher. He had said he might return; knowing him, he would, if only so he could insult her some more. And with Flourish and Blotts being closed, he had nowhere else to purchase books. She could turn him away, but she needed money, and he had plenty from what she had heard.
All right, she thought, turning a page, I'll let him come back and buy what he wants, but I'm not going to let him walk all over me. He just caught me off-guard this time. Next time, I'll have my wand out, and if he says anything about Ron, I will goddamngeld him!
A slight smile tugged at her lips. She almost hoped Snape did come back.