Title: Becoming Silhouettes
Chapter Title: Don't Trust Anyone Over Thirty
Summary: Years after the fall of Voldemort, a mysterious illness throws the wizarding world into chaos. While struggling to find a cure, Hermione learns new things about old acquaintances, and Severus learns that self-preservation may not be the path he wants to travel. Harry learns the price of neglect, and Ron learns why "May you live in interesting times" is a curse and not a blessing. Draco learns… very little at all. Post DH, EWE. HG/SS
Disclaimer: Harry Potter et al are not mine, and I don't make profit off them.
Two pairs of booted feet bent blades of dry, brittle grass as they trod out of the dense forest into a glade conspicuously absent of life. Not only had the grass died, patches of clover, tufts of dandelion, and one thistle, as forlornly brown as the dusty ground, populated the little clearing. Even the few jagged rocks that poked out of the once lush grass looked malnourished, and that was quite a feat for stone. The only thing that seemed to have survived the localized blight was an unassuming ring of small pallid mushrooms.
"Merlin, does this place reek," one voice proclaimed with that particular mixture of disgust and awe that only a man in his late twenties could produce. He nudged the body of a black rat, desiccated and shrunken, with the toe of his boot. "It's worse than when you left that pair of dirty socks at the back of your locker."
"Very funny," his companion said in a tone that was not amused. He pulled a sack from a pocket in his Auror's uniform and guided the body of the rat into it with a non-verbal levitation spell.
The first man, tall, pale and freckled with a shock of red hair, eyed him pityingly, shaking his head as he watched his friend tuck the rat into another pocket. "I hope you don't forget that in your locker." The other man only sighed, an irritated sound that whistled through his lips. "Come on, Harry," the redhead complained loudly, scratching at the back of his neck where he was sure one of the miniature dragons that passed for the Forbidden Forest's mosquitoes had just extracted a pint of blood, leaving a welt the size of a Snitch.
"We were sent here to do a job, Ron, not play silly buggers on the Ministry's time."
"This isn't a job. This is bloody busy work. Couldn't Hagrid have done this?" Stomping into the clearing, Ron glared into the forest as if it had sent him to the clearing just to make his life more dull. "A job would be tracking down a Dark wizard, not bagging dead rats or taking statements from old widows who think their cats are possessed by Voldemort." He spoke the name without flinching, but neither man noticed.
The order to investigate this section of the Forbidden Forest had been initiated by a wide-range Dark Detector, several of which had been set up in the Forbidden Forest after Voldemort had camped there over a decade ago. The devices were unreliable at best, having once sent several Aurors on an adrenaline-packed, low-speed wild goose chase – literally. However, as the current Minister for Magic's motto was "rather safe than sorry," a couple of Aurors were assigned to take a look. Harry and Ron had drawn the short straw.
"Some people would consider the lack of Dark wizards a good thing," Harry said mildly as he stepped into the ring of mushrooms, careful not to disturb any of the sickly white caps. Crouching down, he gave the fairy ring a close examination with narrowed green eyes and a small grimace. They were ugly at a primal, visceral level. Had he been asked, Harry would have been at a loss to describe exactly how they were repulsive. He only knew that they disgusted him.
"Right, like I'll be able to pull one of the birds at the Bending Spoon with an engaging story of how I took mushroom samples."
"Watched me take mushroom samples," Harry corrected him as he levitated a mushroom into another bag, and Ron snorted rudely. "You have to admit that this dead clearing is strange. Can't you just make something up? You have before."
"Says the bloke with the live-in girlfriend. My sister, I might add," Ron said with a bite to his tone. Having heard that dig many, many times, Harry did not feel the need to respond. Ron was at his most bitter between girlfriends and during nookie droughts. However, Ron did have a point: Auror work had gotten less and less dangerous (or exciting, depending on whom you asked) since the last of the Death Eaters and their supporters had either been sent to Azkaban or quietly faded into the background. Harry didn't particularly mind; he had had enough excitement during Voldemort's rise and fall. Ron, however, was restless and bored, a volatile combination for a strapping young man of twenty-nine with women to seduce. Sometimes, Harry wished that Ron and Hermione could have made it work, but it had been a relief to everyone when the constantly bickering pair had finally called it quits.
"If I say that a wild Hippogriff attacked us and I fended it off with my bare hands, would you corroborate?" Ron asked as he gave the mosquito bite another good scratch.
Harry grunted noncommittally and, using a fresh bag as makeshift gloves, plucked a hank of dead grass. "What about your wand?"
"Oh, well, the Hippogriff would have kicked it out of my hand on one of its lunges to bite off my head… Do you think a duel would be more impressive?" Drawing his back straight and puffing out his chest, he brandished his wand in a practiced arc.
"I don't think— Ron, watch it!" Harry shouted as his friend trod on several of the mushrooms, crushing them under the heel of his boot as he dodged an imaginary spell. Unconcerned, Ron scraped his boot against the dead grass and swore as a small cloud of gray spores floated up from the ground. Backing away with a corner of his robe covering his mouth, Harry said, "Don't breathe that stuff; we don't know what it is."
"They're just mushrooms, Harry. They like dead things." Despite his words, Ron batted at the cloud that was drifting toward him like a swarm of miniscule gnats. "Let's get out of here."
Nodding, Harry led the way out of the clearing into the Forbidden Forest, smiling as Ron hastened out of the clearing pretty quickly for one unworried. Neither Auror noticed the new mushrooms push out of the ground to replace the old.
Chapter 1 – Don't Trust Anyone Over Thirty
Hermione Granger stared hard into the mirror, examining the skin at the corners of her eyes for the first signs of crow's feet. She had always thought that she would turn thirty with grace and poise. Instead, as the milestone approached, she found the onus of her third decade settling on her shoulders like a sodden, wool mantel and had caught herself more than once looking for wrinkles and gray hairs.
Much like she was doing now.
She blinked and leaned away from the mirror. Rationally, she understood that the accoutrements of approaching middle age hit witches in their sixth or seventh decades and that she had no real reason to fear a slowed metabolism, slackening and thinning skin, lapses in memory, or an increase in the chance of down-syndrome babies for many more years. However, the Muggle notion had been drilled into her at a young age. Her mother nearly had a nervous breakdown on her thirtieth birthday – Hermione had been five and had been scarred for life. As a result, while her appearance hadn't meant much to her in her teens and early twenties, it had become increasingly important as her thirties loomed on the horizon.
In retrospect, especially when she was on a wrinkle-hunt, she supposed that her choice of career might not have been the best decision. She wasn't sure that it had even been a decision – more a natural progression from a frustrating job to an innovative, largely unexploited field that would make her lots of money. Lots. What choice had there been, really?
It had started innocently enough. As a young Healer-in-training, Hermione had worked the Magical Accidents ward at St. Mungo's. One afternoon, a hag who had suffered a disfiguring hex had asked her to adjust her chin after Hermione had finished Charming her features back into place. Remembering the fiasco with her own teeth, she had obliged the old witch. Hermione had modified a charm on the spot to shorten her jutting jaw to a neatly rounded chin, removing the warts for good measure. The witch had been so pleased that she had asked her to do her long, hooked, slightly green nose as well.
"Give me a Verdandi Zabini," the witch had told her, referring to the famously beautiful mother of her old schoolmate, Blaise Zabini. Two hours and several permanent Transfigurations later, the hag had walked out of the Magical Accidents ward of St. Mungo's a handsome witch. Her new nose proudly held high, she hadn't made it out of the ward before Hermione's superior had hit on her.
"I can make money doing this," Hermione had thought as she had listened to her supervisor deliver one of the worst pick-up lines she had heard that year. She had turned out to be right.
The wizarding world had not yet caught on to the idea of Cosmetic Transfiguration. Her private practice had started out slow at first, many witches and wizards being offended by the idea, but she now had a waiting list over two years long and a clutch of minions working under her. All of her body Transfigurations and Charms were of her own creation. Other witches and wizards had tried to jump on Hermione's coattails with their own brands of spells, but Hermione's were inarguably the best.
For people to believe that she could make them beautiful, Hermione had to be beautiful herself. She took pride in the fact that she had not magically fixed anything about herself since her teeth. She had learned to dress well, manage her hair and apply cosmetics, and had a stringent skin-care regimen developed for her by Brown and Longbottom Cosmetics. Being beautiful was hard work.
And, on occasion, attracted attention from the wrong sorts of people.
She sighed, turning to glance through the one-way window in her office door. Yes, he was still in the hall, looking suave and dapper as he chatted up one of the nurses, all the while keeping an eye on her door.
Most women would have swooned at the sight of his lean form artfully posed for best viewing, melted as he graced them with a straight toothed, white smile and itched to run their fingers through his thick mane of pale hair.
Hermione was not one of those women.
She remembered the sour, rude boy who had insulted and belittled her through school, disparaging her status as a Muggle-born and generally making her life unpleasant. The aftermath of the war had seen a more subdued Draco Malfoy. That had lasted only for as long as it took for his early-twenties male libido to kick in. Based onthe tabloid stories covering her former classmate's exploits and the centerfold of a shirtless, oiled and ripped Malfoy in last year's Witch Weekly, he had interpreted the decline of pureblood politics to mean that half-bloods and Muggle-borns were now open season, and he had some catching up to do (not that Hermione had actually read the stories or ogled the sexually suggestive movements of the magical centerfold).
Hermione started as her eyes met Malfoy's through the window before she remembered that he couldn't see her. However, he was looking right at her. Ugh.
She was pretty sure that he had followed her up from the first floor lobby where his mother had been booking a Face Tightening (appear twenty years younger in one hour!). Hermione was now slightly less sure that he hadn't recognized her. She had changed a great deal in appearance, and he could have only caught sight of her back. Her name, however, was carved into a beautiful brass plaque on her door, just above the words "President and Founder." He must have seen that.
Yet he was still loitering outside her office. Ridiculous.
What was even more ridiculous was that she was hiding from Draco Malfoy in her own office instead of ignoring him like the detritus he was and going about her business. Rising to her feet to balance expertly on her fashionable heels, she smoothed her hands down her dove-gray pencil skirt and straightened the collar of her white silk blouse. She took a brief moment to examine her tidy chignon for stray hairs. None stuck out, nor were gray. Taking a deep breath, she opened the door, exiting her office with the stateliness of a queen, her eyes determinedly fixed away from the man who was now gliding toward her like jewel-collared jungle cat.
Now there was a suggestion to send in to Witch Weekly: a shirtless, oiled and ripped Malfoy wearing a collar—
"If it isn't Hermione Granger," he said with a smirk as oily as his chest had been.
"Mr. Malfoy. I didn't see you there," she lied smoothly.
His smirk widened into a lopsided grin that she had a hard time not calling charming. "Come now, we're old school chums. Call me Draco."
"Something of the sort."
"How about I buy you a drink and we rectify that?" His cool, gray eyes were assessing her as his smile upped in wattage. A flush of warmth began to creep up her neck, and it took a moment to find her voice. She hoped he didn't notice.
"I think not," she said with as much disgust as she could muster around the fluttering in her stomach. It had been a while since such a handsome man her own age had openly flirted with her, and it disturbed her how quickly her body hummed at a little attention from the opposite sex. Alright, a fine specimen of the opposite sex, if one only took his body into consideration. She wondered briefly if his centerfold was still tucked into her underwear drawer and if it might need some airing.
Being an entrepreneur, inventor and president of a flourishing company might be excellent for the vault, but currently, her personal life left something to be desired, namely an existence. Oh, she had dated after her breakup with Ron, and she had explored the new and exciting world of her own sexuality with the same intensity and determination with which she approached any subject of study. As she climbed the ranks of the wealthy and powerful (the two went hand-in-hand), she gained a reputation for brilliance beyond bookwormishness. Fewer and fewer men (the respectable kind, anyway) would approach her or respond to her advances. So, the amount of sex she got was inversely proportionate to her bank account and appearance. What the bloody fuck? She could hardly blame her body for revving up in anticipation.
A blond eyebrow quirked. Malfoy slid long-fingered, manicured hands into the pockets of his expertly tailored, black trousers. His cotton shirt was a deep blue that reflected in his eyes and had a faint sheen that spoke of quality. Unbuttoned as it was, she could catch a glimpse of collarbone and smooth chest if she chose to look. Which she didn't. As sexually frustrated as she might be, Draco Malfoy wasn't an option.
"I think you misunderstand me," he said after a moment and flicked an errant lock of long, blond hair over his shoulder with a toss of his head. "My intentions are purely professional."
Hermione experienced an acute moment of embarrassment, but smoothed her features to bland amusement and attempted to save face. "Of course they are; what else would they be? That doesn't mean I'm interested."
"Ms. Granger!" a strained, male voice called down the hallway. Hermione dismissed Malfoy to follow the voice, spotting one of her nurses, a Mr. Perry-something (she would have to check his nametag again), anxiously awaiting her attention.
"I'll be right there," she said and then turned back to Malfoy, intending to send him off as rudely as she could manage, and yet still seem civil. He didn't give her a chance, extending a business card between two perfect fingers.
"My associate is a manufacturer and distributor of the finest Potions in wizarding Britain. Send me a note, and we'll discuss a possible arrangement."
Hermione raised a disdainful eyebrow and took the card gingerly, as if it had been contaminated with Dragon Pox. "I've already got one, but… thanks," she said, emphasizing the last word with as much distasteful condescension as she could muster, which was quite a lot after heading her own company for the last five years.
Malfoy winked at her.
Tucking the card into a pocket into a skirt pocket, fully intending to throw it in the first rubbish bin she found, she stalked toward the nurse, who was fidgeting as he glanced between his boss and the nicely dressed man who was now eyeing her bum.
"You know that they have Healers at St. Mungo's who specialize in this kind of thing," Hermione said irritably as she used her wand to prod at the livid rash that crawled up her ex-boyfriend's shins to his thighs, splayed across his chest and back, and continued the trek down his arms. Even his face had a scattering of the tiny, purplish welts, and she had little doubt that the parts of him still clothed would be similarly affected. He was running a fever: not dangerously high, but enough to give him the chills. She wondered snidely if it was putting a cramp in his social life.
Hermione, Ron, Harry and Nurse Perrysmithe (Hermione had checked his nametag) were crammed into the only examining room available, which really only fit two comfortably. Ron was perched on the gurney in his underpants, red-faced and miserable, while Harry, fully-clothed, stood to the side and as out of the way as he could manage. Perrysmithe hovered nervously at Hermione's elbow (she had that effect on the new staff), handing her whatever she asked for with a shaky hand.
"They're slammed – our entire Auror division has this," Harry said, scratching the wheals on his neck. His were slightly larger, more red than purple, and several had clustered on his distinctive, lighting-bolt-shaped scar. "Whatever this is."
"The other Aurors didn't say?" Hermione asked, glancing up briefly. "Stop scratching; you'll make them bleed."
"The Healers at St. Mungo's couldn't tell them," Harry said, scratching the air above the welts with an aggrieved grimace.
That statement made Hermione pause a moment. There were many highly competent Healers at that famed institution. The fact that no one recognized the cause of the rash was disconcerting. "It looks like a pox of some sort. When did you first notice the symptoms?"
"Ron broke out a few days ago, and I started getting them the day before yesterday." At Hermione's accusing glance, he shrugged. "We thought they would go away. The rest of the Aurors came down with it shortly after I did."
"Any idea what might have caused it?" The boys exchanged a glance and shrugged. "Any other symptoms?" Another glance and shrug.
"It itches," Ron volunteered between chattering teeth.
Hermione sighed. She had been looking forward to going home early today. "I'll need you to tell me exactly what you've been doing for the last two weeks."
Draco sipped at his ridiculously expensive Firewhisky and tried not to show how pleased he was with himself. It was a state of being with which he was intimately familiar, for he didn't do things that didn't please him when he could possibly help it. He was fiercely intelligent and brilliantly sneaky (in his opinion), which also pleased him. So, feigning an air of boredom while trying to contain an explosion of self-satisfaction was old hat. This evening in particular, however, he had set in motion the chain of events that would bring about the impossible. He would accomplish the unachievable. He would possess the unattainable!
He would prove wrong one Severus Snape.
It wasn't that Uncle Severus was never wrong. Draco could name several instances in which he had been mistaken. Take the Elf-wine Incident, for instance. Draco, who had been raised on expensive, imported alcohol, had insisted that his godfather not drink two bottles on an empty stomach. The Potions master extraordinaire had dismissed his advice, confident that his age and experience had suitably hollowed his leg. To this day, the resultant massive hangover was still attributed to a twenty-four-hour stomach flu. Uncle Severus would not admit to being wrong, so therefore he wasn't, QED.
In this case, dear old Uncle Sev would have to concede defeat, and Draco planned to rub it into his face as ungraciously as he could.
It would be a daunting task to a lesser man, especially for one who often shared a living space with him, but Draco was up to it. He was primed. He was prepared. He had two hundred Galleons riding on it.
"Why are you so smug?" his dear uncle asked from the depths of the next leather chair, his black eyes flat pools of tar wreathed in the smoke from his equally ridiculously expensive cigar. "Stolen sweets from babies lately?"
Draco didn't bother to feel disappointed that Uncle Severus had seen through his airs. One did not survive twenty years as a spy without being able to size up one's companions. Granted, it had been a close call at the end. Draco allowed a grin to stretch his lips as he lounged back in his own leather chair. If he had been a cat, he would have had yellow feathers stuck to his lips. "In a way, I suppose so."
Tossing back the last of his Firewhisky, Draco touched the round of inlaid mahogany in the teak side table at his elbow, signaling another drink. It appeared without a sound on an agate coaster, his tab being automatically adjusted by the exorbitant price of the drink.
All the cigars and Firewhisky in this particular gentleman's club were expensive. One could buy similar smoke and beverages at other clubs for less, but this club offered the best privacy that money could buy, and for his uncle, privacy was priceless. The man loathed the general public on principle, many of his acquaintances with vehemence, and journalists most of all. Even more than a decade after the defeat of the Dark Lord, an aspiring, young reporter would occasionally get it into her head that she could unlock the mysteries of Severus Snape and his secret of Stoppered Death or catch him pants-down in a torrid affair with his godson.
Draco had never heard anything more ridiculous! Even if Draco did swing that way, which he didn't, Uncle Sev would never be his type. He simply imposed on his uncle's less-than-goodwill by crashing at his pad between girlfriends. He had considered acquiring his own residence, but a hefty chunk of his earnings was going to help his parents, despite the fact that his father had thrown him out of the Manor for "dallying with filthy Mudbloods." Draco thought that if his father paid less attention to where he put his cock and more to the family affairs, then the Manor wouldn't be mortgaged and the Summer Estate sold at auction (war crimes were expensive). His father hadn't appreciated that, either.
This club was one of the extravagancies that Draco refused to relinquish. Each dark, cozy niche had its own fireplace (not connected to the Floo Network), furred rug, and sumptuously comfortable furniture. The niches were safe from prying eyes and ears and offered their occupants a respite from the rest of the world. For the gentleman who preferred a bit more intrigue, there were larger rooms where vast sums of money were lost and won at cards, dice or Mahjong. The only witches to be found in the club were in these rooms, granting the best tipping patrons winning smiles and good-luck tweaks on their ears. At the front of the club, a wizard could dine in opulence on the wizarding world's delicacies, from smoked mermaids' eggs on baguette to Phoenix a l'Orange. Only the cream of wizarding society was allowed membership, and Draco had very nearly lost his after the trials following the Dark Lord's defeat. It had been Uncle Sev's sponsorship that had kept him on the roster. Apparently, being instrumental in the routing of a megalomanic Dark wizard and being the wealthy owner of several potions patents was more important than being descended from a long line of megalomanic purebloods. It was one of many object lessons that Draco had taken to heart.
"Dare I ask?" Uncle Sev grumbled after the silence had stretched with Draco's grin. Flicking the tip of his cigar over a crystal ashtray, he glared into the fire. He never actually smoked the cigars; he lit them and let them burn until they extinguished, enjoying the scent of the tobacco but not the taste or damage to his palate.
"You are a paranoid old man," Draco said pleasantly.
"With reason. You are plainly up to something," his godfather snapped. "And I'm not old."
"You live like a castrated hermit."
"I again remind you that I am no longer your teacher and that the rules preventing me from transfiguring a student do not apply. Unless you'd like to spend more time as a ferret."
"A grumpy castrated hermit, then," Draco conceded, knowing full well that dear old Uncle Sev would not turn him into a ferret. Severus' wand hand twitched, and Draco had a squirming moment of doubt before the other man lifted his tumbler of Firewhisky to his lips with a small smirk.
Much had remained untouched about Severus: his long, hooked nose; black eyes; barbed tongue; and predilection for black, old-fashioned clothes among them. Yet, many things had changed. His temper had evened with prosperity, resulting in a cutting wit and wry sense of humor. With Draco's help (or as Severus put it, tiresome meddling), he had begun to take better care of himself. His hair had lost its greasy lankiness and had grown long and lustrous, and his teeth, though still crooked, had lost their yellow stains. A healthy diet (rabbit food) and morning walks (forced marches) had improved his complexion and physique, though little could be done about his small stature.
Though witches could smell his burgeoning Gringott's vault through brick walls, he remained so staunchly single that Draco had to wonder if Nagini's venom had had unfortunate side effects. Surely it wasn't the potion that Severus had used to sustain his life after her snakebite. It had occurred to Draco that he might still be mourning Lily Potter, but he simply couldn't relate. And he had no idea what that had to do with sex.
Severus waited until Draco was taking another sip of Firewhisky to say, "The state of my testicles is none of your business." Spluttering and choking, Draco dabbed at the Firewhisky that now dotted his shirt. It was blue, so it only left darker spots on already dark fabric, but now he would smell like booze until he Scourgified it. "Your deviltry, however, is."
Draco regarded him calculatingly over the rim of his tumbler, as if he were not bursting with excitement at his little scheme. He supposed it wouldn't hurt to give the old man something to put him off his scent, something true and therefore deceiving. "I've acquired a new account."
"Acquired?" Severus asked suspiciously, familiar with Draco's exaggerations.
"All that is left is to draw up the contract and sign." With the experience of years of Occlumency, he kept Granger's face locked firmly behind the walls of his thoughts. It wouldn't do to spoil the surprise – or his imminent victory – with the leakage of incriminating thoughts. He also Occluded a brief meeting held in Nocturne Alley with two faceless thugs that would ensure that Granger would need a new Potions supplier. "We'll be meeting sometime next week. No need for you to be present."
His scowl twisting, Severus shot him a narrow look. Draco beat back his grin with a carefully contrived expression of bored indifference. "When and where?"
"Really, Uncle, there's—"
"Draco…" the man growled menacingly, and he capitulated with false resignation, internally cheering his own deviousness. Winning was so much more fun when the loser was present to witness his trouncing.
"Next Thursday at seven, Liliput's."
"Very well." Severus levered himself out of the chair, stubbing out the cigar and tucking it into his pocket. With a formal nod at Draco, he swept out of the little room, his black robes billowing behind him. Suppressing a snicker, Draco fondly watched the ripple of black fabric as it disappeared through the door. In a day and age where the clean-cut lines of Muggle fashion had begun to infiltrate the wardrobes of the wealthiest and most powerful of wizarding society, Severus Snape still favored theatrics.
A/N: Many thanks to my betas ann1982 and thyme_is_a_cat, without whom none of my work would actually make it off my computer.
This fic was entered as part of the Potter Place Anything Goes Challenge and has elements of Prompt 9 and Prompt 100. It won an Honorable Mention! Hurray!
It probably isn't what the prompters had in mind, but I'm enjoying myself, and I hope you do too. The title comes from the song "We Will Become Silhouettes" by the Postal Service. It's a strange song, but fits. :)
For your reference, the text of the prompts:
19. Hermione has made her way rather successfully in the Wizarding World (own business, whatever). She has the clothes, more shoes than Imelda Markos, pretty blonds to give her a foot massage whenever she feels so inclined, and eligible wizards galore on her arm vying for her attention. But Hermione being Hermione wants someone special in
her life – someone who is her intellectual equal – and she knows just the wizard. Trouble is, he's living as a recluse (could be at Hogwarts but doesn't have to be) and has shunned the world. How does she manage to get Severus Snape out of his semi-monastic existence and to take an interest in her? (No magical compulsion of any kind allowed). Canon compliant would be good, but not essential.
100. "Love, Actually" inspired. Some witch is watching her wedding video and realizes that some wizard is CRAZY about her… Example: Hermione somehow gets into Severus's quarters at Hogwarts and finds PAGE AFTER PAGE, PICTURE AFTER PICTURE of herself in his rooms? Because he has been in love with her since forever, but he wasn't going to mess up her life by letting her know that? In the movie, the man says, "It's a 'self preservation thing actually.'" Use this in your story.