Many thanks to my betas, Septentrion and Sempra.
Discalimer: Nothing's mine. It all belongs to JKR. No money has changed hands.
1. The Interview
Hermione gazed thoughtfully at the man sat the other side of her desk. His hair, still greasy, was now streaked with grey. His robe had seen better days.
'Are you sure you want to return to teaching, Mr Snape?' she asked kindly, knowing that he had tried and failed to make it as an independent brewer.
'Yes, Headmistress,' Snape replied without any great enthusiasm. 'I'd like to be considered for the Potions position, should it ever become vacant.'
Hermione sighed. 'Unlikely, I'm afraid, in the foreseeable future. But... Would you be interested in teaching DADA?'
Above her, Albus Dumbledore choked.
'Is the present incumbent mad, dead or a werewolf?'
Hermione laughed. 'Rest assured; the curse died with Voldemort—unless you count pregnancy as a curse.'
Severus raised an eyebrow.
'Which is why she feels unable to continue with the practical work,' Hermione added.
'I suppose that is understandable.'
'Professor Croft is willing to continue with the theory until I find a replacement, or stay until the end of term—whichever is the sooner. So, if it's convenient, you'd be doing me a huge favour if you could start next week.'
He nodded curtly. 'That would be most... acceptable.'
'Don't you have any questions?' He hadn't even asked how much the salary was, which worried her.
Severus didn't really, but he thought he should show willing. 'Who's the current Head of Slytherin?'
'His name is Gary Burbage,' Hermione replied. 'And he's also the Potions teacher. I doubt if you know him—his parents were diplomats, and he was educated overseas—like his sister. She used to teach Muggle Studies...'
'Charity...' Severus looked at his hands, his lank hair covering his face. 'Yes, I remember her.' He sighed deeply. 'So, a Muggle-born in charge of Slytherin. How... progressive.'
'Would you like some tea?' Hermione summoned a house-elf before Severus had a chance to refuse. 'Yes. In fact, all the Heads of House are Muggle-born. It was my one stipulation for taking the job.'
The house-elf reappeared with a tea-tray. Hermione thanked him and reached for the teapot. 'Milk and sugar?'
'Just milk, thank you.'
'So, if you were hankering after your old chambers, I'm afraid I shall have to disappoint you.' She handed him his cup. 'Biscuit?'
The corner of his mouth twitched slightly. 'Dungeon living and rheumatism do not sit well together in my experience.'
Sitting back, Hermione sipped her tea. 'Ye-ess... One can only question the wisdom of excavating dormitories under the lake... Anyway, that's by the by.' She put her cup down on the desk. 'So. Wages. Naturally, with your experience, you'll go straight to the top of the pay scale—although, of course, it'll still be less than you were earning as a Housemaster.'
If Severus was surprised, he didn't show it. 'That's not a problem, Professor Granger.' In fact, he had never expected such a generous offer.
'Well, if that's all,' said Hermione, extending her hand. 'Welcome back, Professor Snape.'
Cup in hand, Hermione stood by the window, lost in thought. A raven, swooping down to the small, dusty courtyard below, caught her attention. She smiled. 'Clever bird.' Over the years, Hermione had searched for the stairway leading to that little garden, but without success. Whenever she tried, the castle somehow managed to thwart her efforts—even the house-elves were unable to penetrate its magical wards. It was one secret, it seemed, that the castle was unwilling to give up to its Headmistress. And so it remained, a permanent eyesore, unloved and uncultivated, waiting for a spring that never came.
'That was a good thing you just did, Hermione.'
Hermione turned to the portrait of Minerva McGonagall. 'He looks awful. I wish I'd known...'
'How could you have?' Minerva replied. 'Severus was always reclusive, always too proud to ask for help. I only hope coming here and facing his demons won't do him more harm than good.'
'There is that,' Hermione agreed. 'I hope I've done the right thing.'
'On the other hand, Hogwarts was the only home—' There was a cough to her right. 'And I don't want to hear a word from you on the subject, Albus.'
'Am I not entitled to an opinion?' said Albus.
'Opinion? After all you did to that boy—'
'I don't know what you mean, Minerva. Snape always was a bad lot, but he served his purpose.'
'Albus!' the two witches chorused.
'That,' said Hermione, 'is a dreadful thing to say. Hasn't the poor man suffered enough? Couldn't you see how depressed he was?'
'If that's so,' Albus huffed, folding his arms, 'what are you doing putting him in charge of children. Hm?'
'If anyone deserves a chance, it's Snape,' Hermione retorted. 'And I'm going to make sure he gets one.'