A/N: This was supposed to be for the Hermione BigBang, but I missed the deadline. Bad Dressagegrrrl. I was going to wait to start posting this until I was done with TPMS, but I'm too fecund! I'm like that woman who had eight kids. Only with fanfic. And I'm not crazy.
This is darker than TPMS just to warn you guys, although expect happy endings, because that's what I do.
Everything you recognize belongs to JK Rowling. I'm just making her characters make out.
She dressed with unseemly haste, the taste of ash in her mouth. Her fingers stuttered down the buttons on her Muggle blouse as she searched the flat for her shoes. The man on the bed was all rounded shoulders and soft flesh as he rolled away from her with a snore. Hermione pressed her mouth into a thin line as she stroked her hair into a messy bun, securing it with precise movements and a pair of decorative hair sticks that had been a present from Snape when she'd graduated from University.
Curling her lip in distaste, she reached out and shook the man lying naked on her bed.
He grumbled, the words muffled by the corner of her pillow. He'd been chewing on it in his sleep.
"Neville, get up. You need to leave now." Hermione's voice was cold, her tone implying, Don't even think of trying to make this into more than it was. It was the perfect blend of frigidity and business, and she'd used it successfully to discourage better men than Neville Longbottom.
"Hmmm? Something wrong, 'Mione?" Neville rasped, sleep still choking his voice. He stretched, and the sheet fell away from his chest. She flushed when she saw a bite mark on his left pectoral.
"I have an appointment, and you have to leave. I'm running late so I can't wait for you. I'm sure you can see yourself out." She didn't look at him, choosing instead to lean towards the mirror above her dresser and apply lip gloss.
"What?" Neville rubbed the sleep from his eyes with the heel of his hand. Watching the childlike gesture, Hermione wondered how on Earth she'd let this happen again. "You're leaving?"
"Yes, Neville. I am leaving, and more to the point, so are you. Now, you can see yourself out, right?"
"Yeah, that's right, Hermione." His voice was flat. A beat of silence echoed between them, and she fancied it had escaped from beneath his breastbone. "Shall I Floo you, then?"
"I don't think that will be necessary." Hermione slipped her jacket over her shoulders, still staring into the mirror. "I really must run, Neville. You'll be gone before I get back, I expect." She did look at him then, and her glance was shuttered by thick eyelashes. It wasn't friendly.
"I expect so."
She closed the door firmly behind her, refusing to give in to her urge to slam it. Disgust at her own actions trailed behind her, clinging to her feet like her shadow.
"You're late, Granger."
Snape sat in the coffee shop, blinking at her from behind a thin pair of wire-framed glasses. His black hair was tied into a queue which tumbled past his shoulders. He'd shucked the spectacle of his black, buttoned-up Wizarding robes with the same relief he'd demonstrated when he cast off his double-agent persona. What was left behind in the wake of the Voldewars was a grouchy git of a man, but just a man, nonetheless.
"Yes, yes, yes." Hermione waved her hand dismissively. "I was in the midst of important research with Longbottom and I couldn't get away." She slid into the booth across from him, greedily cradling her double macchiato, but allowing her leather messenger bag to tumble to the floor next to her. Taking a sip, she rolled the full-flavored espresso around her mouth. Mmmmm.
She looked up to find Snape staring at her, his head cocked to the side, his cheek resting against his curled knuckles. "I see. Important research for your Potions mastery?"
"Absolutely." She didn't meet his eyes, fearing that he'd see a reflection of Neville's pale-as-paste flesh lumped under her covers.
Instead, she took a moment to glance around the brightly-lit coffee shop. The walls were a tasteful sienna, and here and there, glass cases hung spotlighted with gentle Illuminatum spells designed to both display and protect the items encased within them. Hermione's eyes flitted from each box to the next, taking in a spare pair of Dumbledore's glasses, a replica of Harry's phoenix feather wand, a photograph of the Golden Trio from fifth year. She bit her lip when she saw Ron's Quidditch uniform from sixth year.
"Why do we come here? This is… this is just wretched." Her voice did not shake. "It's called Taste of Triumph, for Merlin's sake."
Snape continued to study her. His eyes were dark and impartial, and he hid his mouth behind his coffee cup. "If I were the comforting and truthful sort, I'd tell you it's because you want to support your misguided friend, Ms. Weasley in her entrepreneurial endeavor. If I were the grouchy, but no less truthful sort, I'd tell you it's because you're bloody morbid, Granger."
She humphed and her brows drew together.
"However, instead of answering your question, I am going to deftly sidestep it thusly: Granger, you have an enormous love bite right there." The dark-haired man leaned forward and stroked his fingertip down the sensitive spot just beneath her left ear. "Tell me. What exactly were you doing to prepare for your Potions mastery?"
Hermione batted his hand away, irritated. "Bite me, Snape."
A slow smile curled his mouth, so faint that no one other than Hermione would have even recognized it as such. "It appears that Longbottom already did."
She drummed her slim fingers on the table in front of her.
Snape's lips curled higher, and he nodded at her macchiato. "If you liked your coffee like you liked your men, you would be eating a buttered crumpet or some sort of fattening pastry." Hermione watched his eyes crinkle behind his glasses.
Sighing magnificently, she reached down to her leather backpack and pulled out a white paper baggie, translucent in spots from grease and butter. She ripped it down the middle and began eating an almond pastry. "You," she spoke with her mouth full, "Are a prat." On the 'p' in 'prat' she sprayed him with a healthy amount of crumbs.
"Ah ah ah. Be nice to me, Granger. Be very nice. After all, I have something that you want." Snape lifted a paper-wrapped bundle into his lap and ran his hand down the length of it. His eyes flicked to hers and he smirked. "Trust me. You want this very much."
Hermione swallowed and dragged a paper napkin over the corners of her mouth. "Is that… Is that it?" Her gaze latched onto his long fingers as they caressed the item in his lap. "Oh, please! Snape, can I see it?" She bit her lip and tucked her hands beneath her legs so that she wouldn't grab it from him in impatience.
"We've looked two years for this, Granger. Clear the table. We can't risk damaging it." Although his voice was calm and quiet, Hermione could see the excited tension in the muscles of his arms as he helped her to stack their coffee cups and wipe down the tabletop. Without giving it a second thought, she slid over to sit next to him.
Their eyes met, and then Snape began to peel the paper off the parcel. He flipped the edges open like a blooming flower, revealing a mid-sized, leather-bound book with a seal on the front. Tears choked Hermione as she reached out a reverent finger to stroke the engraving on the seal.
"It's her raven, Morwyn." Snape's voice was reverent.
Tears prickled at the back of her eyes as he eased the book open, displaying the diary and personal Potions journal of Hildebrandt Frost. Despite its advanced age, the paper remained crisp and the sharp lines of the renowned Potions mistress's handwriting stood in stark black relief against the page.
"Look at the date! November 23, 1822." Hermione sniffed and traced her finger over it in wonder. "Wherever did you find it?"
His black eyes followed her fingertips. When he spoke, his voice was brusque. "I found it with hard work and diligence. You should try it sometime."
"Was it your vast and frightened network of used booksellers across the globe? Former students, perhaps?"
"Nothing like that. The Ministry finally broke the wards on the Avery estate. Shacklebolt was kind enough to let me take first crack at the library. This was shoved between a children's book on Muggle-baiting and a book of household charms from 1964. The idiots had no idea what they were sitting on." His pale hand reverently slid across the pages.
"Snape – Severus – thank you. You've no idea what it means to me."
"I do." The edges of his mouth tilted up. "I do indeed, Hermione, and that is why I know how much I can charge you for this particular volume."
That shocked a laugh out of her, and she sat up, smacking him familiarly on the arm. "Oh, look! Here are the research notes on her development of the Polyjuice potion. The sheer amount of detail is amazing!"
They sat shoulder to shoulder, silent except for the occasional interested note curling in the back of their throats. The air between them was companionable and warm, their hands brushing accidentally as they flipped pages. Finally, they sighed and sat up. Hermione arched and rubbed the small of her back with a groan of contentment.
"It's nearly eleven. Ginny will be closing up soon," Hermione yawned. Her jaw cracked and she rubbed her eyes. "Can I take this?" She gestured to the diary in front of her.
"Of course." He wrapped it back up in its protective, oiled paper and handed it to her. "Will you be by the shop tomorrow? You're scheduled for the evening shift."
"I'll be there, Snape." She patted him absently on the hand, and he slid it into his lap without looking at her. Her mind was already on her plans to spend the evening curled in front of her fire with Mistress Frost's journal, so she barely noticed the soft smile he directed at her.
She was already on her way to the door, the precious book clutched to her chest.
A/N: Like it, love it, hate it, review it!