This was written for the SS/HG Exchange for Missmiah.
The Secret Admirer
The first time he mentioned it, she was staying late on a Friday night. "Your personal life must be in shambles if you would rather be here so late," Snape said. She didn't have to look up to see hear the scowl in his voice. She knew he liked to be alone, but tonight it couldn't be helped.
"What? No! I just need to finish up with these figures for the month."
"It can't wait until Monday?"
"Monday is next month, which means I'll have new numbers to worry about. Besides, you're not one to talk. You're also here late on a Friday."
"I'm not young and beautiful like you," he said. This made Hermione look up from her accounting, but the evil smirk on his face meant that he was only trying to get a rise out of her and nothing else. Severus Snape would never think she was beautiful.
"Neither am I," she said wryly.
"I have a time intensive potion to work on."
"And I have accounting to do. Now get out." She wadded up a piece of parchment and threw it at him. Dodging it, he finally left.
The second time he asked her what happened to that "red-headed misfit you used to run around with?"
Hermione grimaced. It was a painful subject. "He's moved on to someone else. Multiple someone elses, actually. I think it was Luna Lovegood at last count, if you can believe the papers, that is." She shuffled her papers and tried to look busy in the hopes that he would leave her alone.
It didn't work.
"Luna Lovegood? What did you do to make him leave?"
She raised her voice at that. "What did I do? What makes you think it had anything to do with me! So what if I work a lot. And don't like going down to the pub every night. That doesn't mean there's something wrong with me!"
He nodded like he had discovered the thirteenth use of dragon's blood. "Ah, now I see."
"You, bastard," she spat. But he didn't hear her, having already left the room. Even in his absence he could be irritating.
The third time, she almost hit him. Hard.
"You know perhaps if you dressed less like a muggle man and more like a witch, you might have more luck with men."
She slammed down the cup of Blood-Replenishing Potion she had brought him. Its contents sloshed out onto his wooden work table. The edges of his lips curled up into an evil smile. He liked to get a reaction out of her. Well, she wouldn't give anymore. Two could play at this game, Hermione thought. She knew his weak points just as he knew hers.
"It's time to take your potion, Snape," she said sweetly. "You know what happens if you don't take it." She looked pointedly at the bandages that covered the perpetually oozing wounds on his neck.
"I'm well aware, Granger," he said dangerously.
"I'll be forced to change your bandages because you will be too weak and shaky to do it yourself. And I can't have my Head Brewer out sick."
"I am the only Brewer, Granger, and you'll do well to remember that this company belongs to me."
"I own a 49% share, Snape. And you need me to run the business and make sure you take your potion, so it would do you well to be nice to me," she said.
"I don't do nice," he said with a sneer.
Hermione sighed. "I know. Now drink your potion." She stood and watched to make sure he drank all of it. Too many times he got caught up in his brewing that he forgot to take it and then she was forced to deal with not only a cranky Snape, but a pale, clammy, and shaky Snape. He only ever got meaner.
He downed the brew, his lips puckering up at the bitter taste, and slammed the cup back down. "Bloody snake," he muttered. Hermione hid her smile as she turned and went back into the office.
She couldn't keep threatening to let him bleed to death so to prevent anymore disparaging remarks about her appearance or social life, Hermione developed a plan. She would send herself gifts from a secret admirer. Snape couldn't argue with the physical presence of a few discreet presents proclaiming somebody's affection for her. The fact that they came from her was only a small detail.
She stopped by the flower shop on the way to work on Monday morning.
"What can I do for you?" the owner asked.
"A dozen pink roses," she said. "I'd like the card to say 'To the lovely girl' no, no, no, not girl, woman. 'To the lovely woman who sits behind the desk at Snape's Apothecary and Potions.'"
"You can write whatever you want on the card."
"No, no, no, I need you to write it. He'll recognize my handwriting," Hermione said.
"He?" the owner asked.
"Charge me extra if you want, just write the card," she said. The man scowled but did as he was told.
The flowers came just after lunch. They looked so beautiful that Hermione didn't even need to pretend to be excited. "Oh look what came for me!" she squealed when Snape came in the room. He winced and then glared at the vase of flowers sitting on her desk. He paused as he looked back and forth at the flowers and Hermione.
"You can't have those in here," he said at last.
"What? Why not?"
Hermione rolled her eyes. He worked with flowers all the time in his Potions work. She didn't believe that he was allergic for a second and she said so. She shoved the bouquet of roses under his nose, testing him. "See you're fine."
He stared at her without blinking. "Achoo," he said dryly.
She jerked the flowers back. A shower of pink petals floated to the floor. "Fine! You evil, evil man!" She hurled the bouquet into the wastebasket. As though the relocation from her desk to her wastepaper basket would make any difference, but Snape didn't mention it. Only more evidence that she was right, Hermione thought.
He ignored her tantrum completely, making Hermione feel like she was back in school. "I'm going back to work now, Granger," he informed her with a smirk as he walked back to his lab.
"You should be nice to me!" she yelled after him. "I could have a job anywhere! I don't have to work for you!"
"I would rather you didn't," came the wry reply from the laboratory.
Hermione threw herself into her chair. 'Well that much was true,' she thought. He had resisted the idea of their partnership from the very moment she had brought it up. But Hermione had been desperate for a job that was NOT at the Ministry. Ron was at the Ministry and big building though it was, it was not enough for the both of them, especially not after their parting of ways.
They still remained friends, but only because they didn't have to see each other on a daily basis at work. Hermione had sought out Snape, finding him sulking in his childhood home at Spinner's End, and proposed a plan that took advantage of her recent fame and his extensive talent for potions.
"You won't have to teach dunderheads anymore," she had said enthusiastically, showing him her business plan. She knew from Professor McGonagall that he had been offered his position back at Hogwarts as Potions master, but that he hadn't yet accepted it.
"But I would have to see you every day, Miss Granger," he replied, "which might be worse in the end."
"I'm not as bad as I used to be," she said. The fight against Voldemort had changed her. He had looked at her then, a long hard stare that had her wiggling under its weight.
"No," he said slowly. "I suppose you are not."
It was as close to a compliment she had ever received from him and she knew then that he would agree to her plan. Two weeks later, after much haggling, they had signed the deal. He owned the majority but she would run the business side of things while he brewed the potions. It was a good match, or a match that worked most days at any rate. They made good money at it either way.
With her flowers in the waste bin, Hermione trudged through the rest of her day checking in the week's delivery of ingredients. It was a task she dreaded but today it seemed even worse. She had more boxes than usual and the pile of parchment where she kept track of her orders didn't seem to match up with any of the shipments.
After two hours, she was frustrated and at her wits end. The only explanation for the disorder was that Snape had been ordering his own supplies again. He did it on occasion and every time it ended in disaster. He never ordered from their regular suppliers where they got discount rates and he could never remember later how much of what he had ordered. So if three boxes of pickled pig's heart came in she had no idea if it was right or not. Her pile of purchase orders in hand, she stormed into his lab.
"Did you order more goat spleen?" Hermione asked. She held out an invoice for ten quarts.
"Yes, I ran out last week," Snape said. He didn't look up from his stirring, counting under his breath.
"Did you fill out a PO?" She already knew the answer to that question and it was no. He never followed procedure, forcing her to have this same conversation over and over.
"You know how I feel about your blasted forms, Granger." He stopped counting, lifted the spoon, and then turned to face her. "Now go away."
"Well if you don't like my blasted forms then can you remember how many you ordered?"
"I can't recall."
"Ten quarts came today. Did you order ten?" She shoved the invoice under his nose. He grabbed her by the wrist and yanked it down.
"That's ridiculous! Why would I order a year's supply? It will spoil before I can use half of that."
"Well they sent ten and a bill for ten. And since I have no PO to match the invoice up with I have no idea what they were supposed to send me. There is a system for a reason, Snape. Because it works! Why can't you let me do the ordering and you stick with making the potions?"
"Get out of my lab!" he said in a low dangerous voice. Hermione knew he was mad when he used that voice. Loud meant he was frustrated. Cursing meant he had cut himself or he was in pain somehow, but low and quiet meant he was two seconds from sending a nasty spell flying. So far, she had avoided being hit by any of them but she thought that was more due to his aiming away from her rather than her speed or agility.
"Fine, but I'm sending them all back until you fill out a PO or tell me how many you want so I can fill out the PO." She turned around and stalked towards her office.
"Two," he said as she reached the door.
She turned around, waiting for him to finish.
"I ordered two. Those idiots must have misread the order," he said. It was the only apology she would ever get.
"Thank you," she said, and then left him to his brews. They would have the same argument in two weeks time, but she never seemed to mind…too much anyway.
With every box and bottle finally accounted for, Hermione returned to her desk to pack and go home for the day. She reached for the wastebasket with the intention of retrieving her flowers. She didn't care if Snape pretended to be allergic to them. She had paid for them and at the very least she would take them home and enjoy them. But when she looked they were missing.
Irritated, she let the basket drop to the floor with a thud. Had that miserable git thrown out her bouquet? How dare he? She had spent a lot of money on those flowers!
And then she saw it, a vial of light pink liquid lying on top of her papers on her desk. It had a note that read, "iI put your flowers to good use in a Cheerfulness Potion. Please take it before you speak to me about the inventory again. I won't be responsible for the consequences if you don't./i"
She looked around to make sure he wasn't lurking in the corner before she cracked a smile. Rose petals were the main ingredient in a Cheerfulness Potion. Rather than take it home, she put the small vial in her drawer. 'I'm sure I'll need it sooner rather than later working for that man,' she thought.
Two days later she had a box of chocolates delivered to her with a similar note. They were her favorite, the kind of expensive chocolate she wished Ron would buy for her but he never did. Now that she was single, she let herself buy a box only once a year around Valentine's Day.
"If I let you have one, will you promise not to be allergic to it?" she asked Snape when he came out front to investigate.
"I do not pick and choose what I am allergic to, Granger. And I do not appreciate your attempt at sarcasm."
He watched closely as she eyed the different chocolates. With a specific charm of her own devising, she could tell what was in the middle of each one. She liked to save the Vanilla Crème wrapped in dark chocolate for last. Instead she chose a caramel and popped it in her mouth.
"Doeshat mean you don't wanch won?" she asked with her mouth full. The caramel made her teeth stick together.
"I didn't say that, did I?" He reached for a chocolate covered cherry. "Any ideas who your suitor might be?"
"I don't know," she lied. "There is a guy Harry set me up with a couple months ago. Maybe it's him."
"Did you go out with him?" Snape asked.
"Yes. It went alright I suppose. We owl'ed each other once or twice but then it tapered off into nothing." The whole affair had been so bland. Both of them had only agreed to it for Harry's sake.
"Not him," Snape declared. "It doesn't make sense after all this time. Perhaps one of our customers? Mr. Kemper always prefers to deal with you."
Hermione frowned. Mr. Kemper was a short overweight man with a red face and a blustering manner. "Dear Merlin I hope it's not Mr. Kemper. But really most of our customers prefer to deal with me rather than you, but that doesn't mean they're also sending me flowers and candy."
"I take offense at that," Snape said with a huff. But Hermione could see the sparkle in his eye. He was teasing her.
"You're not that sensitive. Besides, that's why I'm here. To run the business side and deal with the customer so you don't have to. If you had to deal with the customers there wouldn't be much repeat business."
Snape smiled evilly. "That's certainly true. What about Walsh? I've seen the way you look at him."
Hermione blushed. Mr. Walsh was a very good looking man. Definitely older than her by ten years or more but with the most piercing blue eyes she had ever seen. There was just one problem. "He's married," she mumbled.
"But that doesn't stop you from looking," Snape said sharply. His voice sounded different than when he talked about Mr. Kemper, almost angry.
"I am not having this conversation with you," she said firmly. She avoided meeting his questioning eyes. She put the box of chocolates on top of her filing drawer and took out her quill to start on the accounting for yesterday's totals. "Don't you have a potion to stir? Ingredients to chop?"
"I'm free at the moment," he said. Hermione cringed. He gave her an intense look, as though he was trying to decide what to do. Luckily he gave up on his teasing and moved on to more professional matters. "Didn't you want to meet with me about possible research options for St. Mungo's?"
"Oh yes," Hermione said. Her accounting could wait until later and anything was better than talking about her fake secret admirer.
When Hermione did finally get to her work, she became engrossed. It happened frequently. Today, she was working on some projections for the rest of the year. She hoped that soon they would be able to hire someone else to brew the more basic potions, leaving Snape more time to conduct his research.
Her stomach growled and when she glanced at the clock she realized she had skipped lunch. A crash came from the laboratory. The sound of broken glass scattering on a stone floor made her jump up from her chair to investigate.
What she found was Snape clutching the edge of his work table, pale as a ghost, his eyes glassy. A viscous green liquid dripped onto the floor where glass shards, remains of the vial he had been trying to fill, spread out around him.
She knew at once what had happened.
"Oh no!" she cried. "I forgot to give you your potion."
She rushed into the storeroom and poured out his dose. Going back into the lab, she shoved the glass into his hand and watched as he downed it quickly.
"Here sit down." She led him by the elbow to the small couch in the corner where he sometimes napped while he waited for the next stage in his more difficult potions. He let her push back his slippery black hair and start undoing the buttons of his collar. Soon she had his outer robe off and his shirt unbuttoned and one arm out. He wouldn't let her take the shirt completely off, a concession she allowed since she only needed access to the one side of his neck.
She hadn't done this but for two or three times before, so she always had to take a moment and remember to breathe. She had become accustomed to seeing only glimpses of his bandages. The open gash in his neck assaulted her senses as she gently pulled away the blood soaked dressings. His collar usually covered them pretty well, but to see the wound like this out in the open and smell the coppery scent of blood brought back horrible memories of the night he had received the bite. She knew Neville had killed it, but Nagini still showed up in her dreams, sometimes biting her, other times biting Snape.
"I see you've taken my advice and started dressing more like a witch," he said, pulling her out of her reverie and back to the situation at hand. The words came out with a little rasp, evidence that he felt badly, but he still managed his customary sting.
"No such thing," she countered. "It just happened that this shirt was the only thing that was clean this morning." She glanced down at him, her hands pausing their work. It was then that she realized where his eyes were trained and that she had worn a scoop neck shirt that day. Odd really, since he normally clenched his eyes shut and pretended she wasn't touching him. "Are you staring at my boobs?" she asked with a huff.
"It's hard not to when you position them so conveniently in my face, Granger."
"You bloody git," she said. He laughed at that. She had never heard him laugh before. It was a moment before she realized why he was laughing. She was changing his bloody bandage from his snake bite.
"I didn't mean—well, you are one. In both senses."
"There is no reason to be upset, Granger. You have a decent rack."
"I think the blood loss has made you crazy. Here you are, all done." She finished up, gave him one last pat and then handed him back his robes. "Have some of my chocolate. It will make you feel better."
"I'd rather not," he said stiffly as he pulled his shirt back on.
"Come on," she insisted. She Summoned the box and pushed it into his hands. "You lost a lot of blood today."
"I said no thank you, Granger." He pushed the box back into her hands. Hermione frowned. She opened the box herself in order to further entice him, but when she looked down she saw only one piece of chocolate left when there had most certainly been six or seven when she last counted.
"You sneak!" she shrieked. She had splurged on this box of chocolates and she had looked forward to savoring each and every one of them.
"I did you a favor," he said, leaning back into the couch and closing his eyes. He rubbed his temples with his fingers.
"Oh you did, did you?"
"You didn't really need to eat a whole box of chocolates by yourself, so I saved you the trouble of whining about how they went straight to your hips next week. Besides, I left you your favorite," he said.
Hermione clenched her fists and told herself it would be a very bad idea to punch him in the face. He really had some nerve. "And how do you know what my favorite is?
"Try it if you don't believe me."
Hermione glared. He cocked open one eye and stared at her. "Go on," he ordered.
With a huff, she shoved the remaining chocolate in her mouth. In an instant the flavor of dark chocolate mixed with rich vanilla crème swirled over her tongue. She couldn't help but moan a little in appreciation, her eyes drifting close as she savored the taste. It was her favorite. How had he known?
Finally swallowing, she opened her eyes to find Snape smirking at her. "You're still a bastard," she said.
"No doubt," he replied. "But a bastard who knows what you like. Now about these potions, I won't have you harping at me about lost productivity and ruined ingredients so you will have to finish them for me."
Hermione wiped her mouth on her sleeve and protested. "But I'm not sure—"
"I'll be right here giving you instructions, you ninny. As if I would let you in my laboratory alone."
She frowned, but rolled up her sleeves to finish what he had started. Working with Snape might not be pleasant on a day to day basis but it was certain to always be interesting.
After several grueling hours of taking orders from Snape, Hermione packed up her bag with the intention of going home, reading a trashy romance novel, and eating some ice cream for dinner. She didn't get that far, however. She found Snape sitting by the fireplace she usually Flooed through, surrounded by boxes of Indian take-away.
"There's enough for you," he told her.
Knowing she only had ice cream for dinner, Hermione threw herself into the chair opposite him and grabbed a fork. "I'm sorry I forgot your potion," she said. The food was his peace offering so she felt it only right to apologize.
"I'm sorry I ate your chocolate," he said stiffly.
"No you're not." She wondered how he ever managed as a spy since he was such a horrible liar.
"No, I'm not," he said with a ghost of a smile.
"How did you get to it without me noticing?"
"I was a spy," he said. Hermione frowned at him. That wasn't a very good explanation. She didn't think he stole anything from Voldemort. "You were very engrossed in your work, Granger. You didn't notice when I came in the room, or when I said your name, so I decided to see how far I could get."
"Pretty far," she said. He nodded, still smiling. Hermione smiled with him and reached for a container of green curry. "This is my favorite." She took a large helping.
She looked up at him in surprise. "How do you know? First with the chocolate and now with dinner."
"I've had years to observe you, Granger, and you are nothing if not predictable. On Mondays you like a turkey sandwich from the deli around the corner. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays you bring your lunch from home. Thursdays and Fridays you alternate between several different restaurants. And every third Friday of the month you get green curry from the shop on Grant Street."
Hermione held her fork poised halfway to her mouth in horror. She had no idea he had been watching her so closely, or that she was indeed so predictable. "Are you calling me boring?" she asked stiffly. Ron had. It had been her greatest failure in his eyes.
"Did I say boring? I believe I said predictable. Not that there's anything wrong with boring. After the last twenty odd years I've spent boring sounds nice."
"Was that a compliment, Snape?"
He shoulders stiffened and he scowled at her. "Absolutely not. I never said you were boring. You're irritating, exasperating and downright infuriating most of the time, but not boring."
"And predictable," she reminded him.
Hermione smiled at his scowl and finally turned the subject to politics. She knew he loved to rail about politics. And she loved to argue with him about it. It was one arena where she could reasonably expect to win every once in awhile. Twenty minutes later he had conceded, although he swore it was because he was too tired to argue with her anymore rather than her having won him over to her point.
"Go home to your trashy romance novel and leave me in peace," he ordered her.
"I really am that predictable," she said with wonder.
"That you are."
And with that she bid him goodnight.
Two days later on the way back from lunch, Hermione popped into Flourish and Blotts to see if they had any new arrivals. She waved to the clerk behind the desk and set to browsing. Soon enough she had a title in her hands and was heading to the cashier. As she counted out the sickles and knuts for her purchase, she realized this would make a great secret admirer gift.
"Can I have this delivered actually?" she asked.
"You mean you're not going to take it home and devour it immediately?" the clerk asked. His name was Robin and Hermione saw him often enough in the bookshop that they occasionally met for coffee. "I'm disappointed in you."
"You know I have to work," she said. She grabbed a spare piece of parchment from her bag and scribbled a note.
Because your mind is as beautiful as its exterior.
"And can you put this in with it?" She handed Robin the note.
"What is this all about?" he asked with eyebrows raised, but he set about wrapping her book up for the owl post.
"Snape has been giving me a hard time about not having much of a personal life so I've decided to invent one."
"Do you want me to pretend to be your boyfriend?" Robin asked. He had a gleam in his eye that hinted he wouldn't mind if it wasn't pretending, but Hermione had determined long ago that they would remain only friends.
"Wouldn't work," she said. "He's already questioned me about you. He's nothing if not thorough."
"Sounds like he wants you for himself. Are you sure you're not doing this to make him jealous?"
Hermione shook her head violently. "Absolutely not!" she protested.
Because she wasn't. Was she?
The book arrived with the afternoon post. Even though she had written the note to herself she smiled when she read it. And then she frowned. If only she could find someone who believed that about her.
"That's utter rot," Snape said, snatching the book away from her. He thumbed through several pages, tutting and tsking his disapproval as he did so.
"What? It is not!" Hermione said. She was looking forward to reading it.
"I thought this secret admirer of yours was supposed to like you. If he really liked you he would have bought you something of substance like Moore's Impractical Potions for the Practical Witch or Wizard." He handed the book back to her with a scowl. "A gift like this clearly means that he underestimates your vast intellectual prowess."
"I can't tell if you're being sarcastic or not," Hermione said. Did he really think she had a vast intellectual prowess? He was always going on about her nitpicking and looking too much at the small picture.
He frowned. "Granger, I wouldn't let just anyone run my business for me."
"I-thank you," she stuttered.
He looked at her like she was a potion that had gone off. "I never imagined you were so insecure."
"I'm not!" she protested. "Not usually anyway. It's just that I never know what to think with you. You run hot one day and cold the next."
"I am decidedly lukewarm, Granger. You will know for certain if I ever run cold."
Hermione smiled. So he liked her then. It was nice to have it out in the open. "Will I know if you ever run hot?" she asked.
He raised one inky eyebrow and she suddenly realized just how flirtatious that had sounded. Maybe Robin was right, maybe she was trying to make him jealous. But that would mean she liked him. And she didn't like him. Not in any sort of way other than grumpy colleague who occasionally bought her dinner and looked at her boobs, but also stole her chocolates and insulted her clothes.
"Yes, Granger," he said in a soft silky tone that made Hermione's heart flutter. "You will know."
She didn't see Snape again until she left for the day. Her paperwork had kept her at her desk and he had an intensive potion to keep him occupied.
"You're not going out with your new paramour?" he asked acidly as she headed to the Floo. Hermione frowned. It hadn't occurred to her that the secret admirer gifts would eventually have to lead to something more substantial. She didn't think she could handle faking dates. She was a terrible liar and he was an expert Leglimens.
"I…uh…I don't know who they're from yet," she said.
"A pity, I'm sure," he said. "Well in that case you can spend this evening in your flannel pajamas with a bowl of ice cream and this." He handed her a book. It was the title he had mentioned earlier. She looked at the book and then back at him, utterly speechless. She had asked to borrow his books before and had been rebuffed with the harshest of insults.
"Just don't get any mint chocolate chip on it or I will have to skin you alive," he said.
"Is that a question?" he snapped. Clearly he expected more gratitude at his magnanimous gesture.
"I mean thank you! I really appreciate it."
"I should hope so. It's better that you read that rather than that trash your alleged secret lover sent you."
"I thought the gift was very thoughtful," she said. It felt a bit odd standing up for an imaginary person but since she had bought the book for herself it was her taste he stood there insulting so viciously.
"Thoughtful, as in full of thought," Snape said. "Then why send you a book? An admirer from afar might be able to ascertain that you like books but how does he know which book to buy? How does he avoid buying something you haven't already read?"
Hermione frowned. Snape was taking this secret admirer thing much too seriously. She hadn't meant for him to get involved, only to make him stop making comments about her personal life. Instead, he was inclined to make more comments. She should have known a mystery would intrigue him.
"Not everyone thinks that much, Snape," she said.
"Then it's not thoughtful is it?" he retorted.
With a shake of her head, she informed him she was going home for the day to enjoy both of her books. The intense look of scrutiny he gave her though as she left began to worry her.
Snape was late the next morning. When she ventured to ask where he had been, he had snapped at her and then spent the rest of the day in his laboratory without another word. The next two days it was the same. On the third day, she finally worked up the courage to ask him the reason for his silence.
"Rita Skeeter didn't write another article about you, did she?" she asked, trying to sound casual as she delivered his daily potion.
"What? No," he said. "Why would you think that?"
"You've been in a funk the last few days and the only other time I've seen you like this was when she wrote that article about you in the paper last year, although I still don't know what the big deal was. She was very favorable towards you."
"It was all patriotic drivel, that's why. Sympathetic nonsense!"
Hermione shook her head albeit with a smile. She would never understand the man. "You don't like being portrayed as a hero."
"If Potter had kept his bloody mouth shut and you had left me there to die I would have been much better off."
Her smile vanished. "I'm sorry you feel that way," she said sadly.
"Why?" he demanded.
"Because I would miss you."
"It's much harder to make a profit at potions without someone to brew them you mean?" he said, his voice as hard as steel.
"I mean I wouldn't want to work with anyone else, Snape. Potions or otherwise. You'll just have to live with the fact that I like you."
He didn't say anything, but just stood looking at her. An awkward silence descended over them both. "So are you going to tell me what's wrong or what?"
"Nothing is wrong, Granger," he snapped. Turning back to his cauldron, he waved his hand at her in dismissal. "Just because you feel the need to share your personal life with me does not mean I will reciprocate. Of course it helps that I have one to keep private."
Hermione grabbed back the potion cup from the desk with an angry huff. "I need the last of the Pepperup Potion done by the end of the day," she said stiffly.
"It's already done, Granger," Snape said with a triumphant smile. "It's already done."
Three days later just as Hermione was deciding what to give herself next, another gift arrived. Except that she hadn't sent this one. It was wrapped in green foil and the note had been typed. "For Miss Hermione Granger," it read.
"What is it this time?" Snape asked. He stood, coffee cup in his hand, watching as she sorted through the mail.
Hermione opened it up to find a glass jar filled with some green viscous liquid. "I don't know." She started to twist open the lid.
"I don't think you want to do that," Snape warned her.
"Of course I do," she said with a scowl. "How else will I know what it is?"
And then the smell washed over her like a tidal wave. It smelled horrible. Hermione gagged and tried to keep her lunch from coming up. Not quickly enough, she screwed the lid back on the jar as tight as it would go.
"Merlin! What in the blazes was that?" she cried. She rummaged through her desk drawer looking for her bottle of air freshener. "That's worse than even your Burn Paste."
"If you would have listened to me I might have been able to tell you before you opened it that it was most likely boar's bile," Snape said. Hermione looked at him agape. Who on earth would send her bile? She voiced this question with enough vitriol that Snape frowned at her.
"Has working with me taught you nothing?" he asked. "It is the base in a powerful aphrodisiac. It appears your paramour has moved from the banal and directly to the point."
"He wants to sleep me?" Hermione squeaked.
"I don't think there will be much sleeping involved," Snape said with one inky eyebrow lifted.
Hermione considered it a minute. Not that she couldn't appreciate an aphrodisiac but considering this wasn't the fourth gift from someone but the first, it was more than a little creepy and besides the fully brewed aphrodisiac would be preferred to a smelly jar of boar's bile. "It's a little disturbing," she said.
Snape frowned. "You're not pleased?"
"No! I don't know this man well enough to be getting an aphrodisiac from him. There has to be a getting to know you period. Aphrodisiacs should be saved at the very earliest until after he has revealed himself."
Snape furrowed his brow. It was his thinking face. "You don't agree with me?" she asked.
"No, no, I think it's very logical. Your secret admirer is clearly an idiot. First the book and now this," he said. "Now if you don't mind, I'm getting back to work. Discussing your abysmal personal life is not how I want to spend the few free minutes I have between potions."
"We both agree on something," she said, laughing as his scowl intensified.
The next gift to come didn't come from Hermione either. It was a set of silver hair combs. Hermione picked up the note that came with the package and read it. Her secret admirer requested that she meet him at one of London's nicest magical establishments, Houdini's at eight o'clock.
"What is it this time?" Snape asked sharply. Hermione held them up for him to see. He scowled. "They're wasted on you."
"Why would you say such a hateful thing?" she asked, stunned and hurt. "I think they're beautiful."
"You never go anywhere that you could wear them," Snape said.
"I go plenty of places," she said. "In fact, I'm going to a fancy restaurant tomorrow evening. He asks that I wear the combs then."
"I'd like to see that," he said as he stalked back to his laboratory. Hermione watched him go, perplexed by his tone. The usual sarcasm was there of course, but it had almost sounded like he meant it. She turned back to her work, uneasy and nervous about her date for the next day.
When she arrived at the restaurant the next night she asked the host if anyone was waiting for her. No one was. She went to the ladies' room to do a final check of her makeup and hair. She had pulled it half up with the beautiful silver combs, leaving the rest tumbling down her back in curls. Small crystals dangled from her ears and her neckline plunged low enough to hint at what Snape had deemed her "decent" rack. She only hoped that her secret admirer would appreciate all of her efforts.
She wondered again who it might be. She had already marked off most of their customers. It couldn't be Robin. She had stopped in at the book shop and asked him point blank if he had been sending her gifts. Even Ginny was stumped. And Harry and Ron thought it was hilarious.
"Certainly not a Gryffindor then," Ron had said the night before at the pub.
"And why not?"
"Because a Gryffindor would have the courage to ask you out without all this subterfuge," Ron said.
"I bet it's a Slytherin," Harry said with a sly smile.
"You always say that!" Hermione protested.
"Draco!" Ginny said.
"No, Crabbe!" Ron shouted.
"That's it! I've had enough fun for the night. I'm leaving," Hermione had said. But the thoughts of Crabbe or Goyle sending her aphrodisiacs and silver hair combs made her stomach turn. She really hoped that Harry and Ron were wrong. They usually were, she reminded herself. With one last big breath, she walked back out into the lobby.
There were a few less people but no one new. She waited for half an hour. "Are you sure you don't want a table, miss?" the host asked again for the third time.
Hermione shook her head, dejected. And that's when she saw the flash of familiar black out of the corner of her eye. Severus Snape sat at a table with a glass of wine in his hand. He raised it when he saw her looking his way.
"Actually, I see someone I know," she said. The host looked relieved as she made her way through the dining room to Snape's table.
"Just what are you doing here?" she asked, her hands on her hips. He had no business spying on her personal life. The daily disparaging remarks were enough.
"I'm here to witness the awkwardness and foolishness that is inevitable with these sorts of meetings. Also, I heard they have the best linguini in London."
Hermione frowned. She hated when he made fun of her. "You can't be here," she hissed.
"Why? Did I hear wrong about the linguine?" he asked. "That's too bad. I've already ordered it."
"I suppose it doesn't matter anyhow," Hermione said, throwing herself into the chair opposite his. He raised an eyebrow at her and took a sip of his wine. "He didn't show up," she told him.
"Got cold feet, did he?" He flagged the waiter standing nearby. "A glass of wine for the lady, please."
Hermione twisted her hands, staring down at the table. "I don't know what I expected, some fairy tale ending I guess. But that never happens in real life, does it?"
"Is there a fairy tale involving a secret admirer? I think I missed that one," Snape said. The waiter delivered her glass of red wine with Snape's plate of linguine.
She smiled. "The Prince tries to find Cinderella through her shoe," she offered.
He shook his head. "Not the same. Hair combs will fit any woman. Do you want any of this?" He held up a forkful of pasta. "It's acceptable."
"A glowing review coming from you," she said. She leaned forward and took the fork from him, taking a bite. It was pretty good. "Not bad," she said, handing him back the fork. She sighed and leaned back. "Do you think he showed up, saw me, and left?"
"This wasn't a blind date, Granger. Presumably he knew what you looked like before he started sending you gifts. More likely he is a coward. Did he say how to recognize him? A rose pinned to his lapel? Something else similarly ridiculous?"
"No, nothing. I expected he would approach me. But no one did." She took a gulp of wine and tried to swallow her disappointment. This had all started as a silly ruse but when it became real she had believed that someone out there did find her beautiful and smart. Snape handed her another forkful of pasta. She ate it and handed it back.
"It's his loss," he said and he even managed to sound sympathetic, almost anyway. He waved down the waiter. "Bring us two extra plates and an order of lasagna. This ingrate insists on eating half of my dinner."
Hermione rolled her eyes as the man darted away to fill Snape's request. He had offered and then blamed her for taking it. It was classic Snape. She decided to change the topic and told him about the book that he had loaned her. Before she knew it they had worked their way through both the linguini and the lasagna and several glasses of wine.
"You are drunk, Granger," Snape accused her when they got up to leave. She swayed a bit and reached for his arm. He waited for her to steady and then guided her through the restaurant with his hand at her back. It felt nice, Hermione decided. Almost like a real date, but without all the awkwardness that comes with the end of the night.
"I am not," she said. "I'm a little tipsy, that's all."
"Then you'll have no problem being at work in the morning on time." They had reached the door and stood outside in the street. Snape turned to face her.
"No problem at all. I'll see you in the morning."
"Yes, in the morning," he said quietly. But he didn't turn to go. He just stood there watching her.
It was the alcohol that made her blush, not his piercing gaze. It was dark enough outside that with his black robes and hair he almost blended into the night. For a fleeting moment she wondered what it would be like if this had really been a date. Would he kiss her? She wondered what that would be like – kissing Snape. He wasn't the nicest of men, but he had loved Lily Potter for many years. He had almost died in her memory. There must be something behind his prickly exterior worth knowing better. She bet he was a damn good kisser.
Dear Merlin! He was right. She iwas/i drunk.
"Thank you for dinner," she said to ease the silence. "It was very thoughtful."
"What else could I do when you sat yourself down at my table uninvited," he said.
Hermione smiled. Normalcy had returned. No way she was kissing that. "Good night, Snape."
"Good night, Granger," he said before finally turning and Apparating away.
The next morning Hermione came into work to find a small vial marked "Hangover Relief" with a note that said, "I'm sure you don't need this." She had a little headache when she first woke up but it hadn't been anything an aspirin couldn't cure. She picked up the vial and walked into the lab.
"I don't need this actually."
"Good to hear it," Snape said. He was already at work. Purple smoke poured out of his cauldron as he stirred. "Now go away. I'm busy."
"And good morning to you too," she said. She returned the vial to the inventory closet and while there noticed that Snape had moved things around again. Everything was out of order. She thought about going back out and taking him to task over it, but realized it wouldn't make any difference so she set to reorganizing it. She was the one who packed the potions to be sent out by mail post so it was important that she knew where things were kept. Three hours later, Snape stormed into the room.
"There are more flowers for you at your desk," he said. She turned around to find him leaning against the doorstop to the inventory closet. "They were just delivered."
Hermione frowned. She hadn't ordered anymore flowers. They must be from her real secret admirer. Not that it mattered. Snape claimed he was allergic so she would have to get rid of them or hide them until she could take them home after work this evening. "I'll go take care of them," she said with a sigh.
He grabbed her arms as she tried to pass. Hermione gasped in surprise. He never touched her. Never. "How long are we going to continue this charade, Granger?" he asked. He leaned in so that when he spoke his mouth was dangerously close to her ear.
She tried to feign innocence. "Charade?" she squeaked.
"You sending yourself gifts from a fictional secret admirer to make me jealous," he explained. His fingers on her upper arm tightened with this accusation and his eyes narrowed.
Snape frowned at her. "I was a spy, Granger. Give me some credit, I beg of you."
"I didn't send them all," she said.
Hermione looked at him puzzled. "You do? Do you know who did?"
"I sent them." This was a surprising development, but she didn't understand. Why? Why would he do such a thing? To mock her? Surely it wasn't because…
"Why?" she whispered.
He didn't answer. Instead he posed his own question. "Why did you send yours?"
"In the hope that you would stop making disparaging remarks about my lack of a personal life," she said. "Now answer my question."
"You're disappointed it's me," he said, not answering her question at all. He spoke so softly that it seemed directed more to himself than to Hermione. "Yes, I suppose that is to be expected." He let go of her arms and turned to go. She watched him go, utterly confused.
On her desk was a vase filled to the brim with roses, carnations, daisies and half a dozen other flowers. Hermione approached the card cautiously. What kind of card would Snape have written? She closed her eyes and took a deep breath and then reached for it. In his scratchy scrawl he had written,
To the irritating but beautiful woman who sits behind the desk at Snape's Apothecary and Potions.
Tears sprang to her eyes. He thought she was beautiful. And she realized suddenly that he had been doing nice things for her in the last weeks in his own special way. There had been the Cheerfulness Potion and the book he let her borrow. Even his secret admirer gifts had been sweet in his own special way. And he had been at the restaurant that night waiting for her, but he had been too nervous to tell her the real reason. She should have known better than to expect anything less snarky coming from him.
She hurried into the lab and launched herself at Snape. He faced the long work table so she threw her arms around his waist and rested her head against his back
"Granger, explain yourself," he demanded. "No, wait. First let go of me and then explain yourself."
Hermione dropped her arms and took a step back. Very slowly and with much care, Snape turned around to face her. He opened his mouth to speak but she pounced before he could get that far. Before he knew what happened, she had grabbed him by the lapels of his robe and kissed him.
It took a few moments for him to respond, but when he finally did Hermione rejoiced in the fact that he didn't push her away. When his arms wrapped around her to pull her close, she took the opportunity to deepen the kiss. She had laid in bed last night, half-drunk and utterly confused and had wondered what it would be like to kiss Snape, and now here she was and it went beyond anything she had imagined. She was weak in the knees and out of breath when she finally pulled back and looked up into his dark eyes. They betrayed nothing but waited for her.
"Thank you for the flowers," she whispered.
"And?" he asked. His mouth quirked up in an almost smile and his arms tightened around her.
"And thank you for the combs and dinner, even if you made me think my admirer hadn't shown up," she kissed the corner of his mouth. "And for loaning me your book—" another kiss on the other side. "And making me the Cheerfulness Potion." She ended with a kiss full on the lips.
"What about the boar's bile?" he asked after.
"I'll thank you for that later," she said as seductively as she knew how. She hoped it came out alright.
"I look forward to it," he said in a tone so deep and husky her knees turned to jelly. She leaned into him to keep from falling over. He smirked evilly, but he lifted his hand to stroke her cheek. Apparently she had been seductive enough.
"I just have one question," Hermione said.
"Only one? I didn't think that was possible."
Hermione tried to hit him for that comment, but he held her closer, trapping her arms against his chest. He chuckled at her struggles. "Now that I have you, do you really think I'm going to let you go? What's your question? I promise only to answer one."
"Why did you make such a fuss about me not having a personal life?" she asked.
He stiffened and she wondered if perhaps that had been the wrong thing to ask. It didn't really matter. He liked her, perhaps even loved her. It didn't matter the things that had gone before.
After a few long agonizing moments, he reached up and cupped the side of her face, lifting her chin so he could gaze down into her eyes. "I realized not soon after you started working for me that you are an extraordinary woman," he said softly. "I didn't…couldn't expect that you would," he paused, searching for the right word, "appreciate my intentions so I tried to push you towards someone, anyone else. Anything to get you out of my hair!"
"But then I did start getting gifts from someone else," Hermione said. She left the sentence open, waiting for him to respond.
"They weren't from someone else though."
"You didn't know that!"
"I found out easily enough. And I couldn't help but wonder why you would do such a thing. So I decided to throw you off balance," he said.
"It worked, but I'm glad you finally decided to reveal yourself."
"As am I, Granger. As am I."
And then he kissed her again. And again. And again.