A/N: This little story opens the series of one-shots from the Lioness-verse that I promised you. The epilogue is well under way, but will need a few weeks more (it turned out surprisingly long).
These one-shots will be neither chronological nor ordered in any other way. This one's taking place way before "When A Lioness Fights" begins. Way. You'll see in a moment.
Hermione's and Severus' First Time
Hermione's first time – or the one that she remembered and had decided to acknowledge as such – happened when she was six. Her father was still struggling along with his dissertation while her mother had started working at the dental practice of a mutual friend, trying to earn enough money for their start together.
Writing your dissertation and having a six-year-old daughter wasn't a good combination. Anyone would tell you that. Writing your dissertation and having a bossy, overeager, curious daughter bordering on genius was even worse.
At least she had taught herself to read a year ago and would now prefer her own book to asking questions about her parents' books every other minute. That guaranteed them a few hours of blissful quiet every day.
The Grangers hadn't encouraged her learning to read, since they had heard that it would strain a child's relationship to her peers (as if that could get any worse. Hermione had started correcting her playmate's pronunciation when she was three), but when they found out that she wasn't simply playing grown-up when she settled down with a book alongside her parents, they had given in gracefully and divided their books into those they hid in a large cupboard with a lock and those she could read at her leisure.
She was through with those three months later.
Every parent that has been blessed (or cursed) with a gifted child knows of this difficulty: To procure enough books to keep up with the unbelievable speed your child reads – no, inhales – them is nigh impossible. The Grangers were doing comparatively well, but what isn't easy at the best of times is doubly difficult on the allowances of two students from modest backgrounds.
Hence Hermione's first time.
It wasn't the biggest library in town, nor was it the best looking or most modern, but there were desks for those who wanted to work and a large section of children's books. Hermione took one look at the place and was off.
James Granger stayed close long enough to bear witness when she told the librarian that she did know what a library was, she wasn't a baby, after all, and to sigh softly when she swept a critical look over the books intended for her age group, only to declare that she knew all of them except one, and that didn't look very interesting, did it?
"I'll be over there, honey," He told her and got a sort of impatient hand wave no child should have perfected at six. He spared her the 'have fun' or the 'be careful with the books'. She knew how to do both things perfectly, after all, and settled down at a desk, enjoying the blissful silence and the undisturbed work.
He rose once to settle a dispute between Hermione and a boy that had to be at least twelve. He had obviously reached for the books designed for younger children, and she was bullying him to try something harder, for 'how could he ever hope to sharpen his mind if he didn't challenge it?' Jim noticed that she was halfway through a rather thick book called 'A Child's Account of the Crusades'.
"Hermione," He said patiently. "What did we discuss about being nicer to other children?"
She looked down, chastised. 'Other children' had become the official codeword for 'children who are less intelligent than you – they can't really help it, Hermione, and you shouldn't tell tem they are'.
"I'm sorry," She told the boy in a somewhat less bossy voice, and he seemed surprisingly relieved, considering that she was half his size. "I just thought you'd find these books about spies more interesting!"
While returning to his dissertation, Jim wondered if his daughter was finally developing a modicum of tact.
When he looked up from his dissertation the next time, it was evening and the library about to close.
He wasn't surprised that his daughter hadn't come for him sooner – when Hermione read, nothing else seemed to matter to her. But when he didn't find her in the children's section, he began to worry a bit.
She was lying stretched out on the carpeted floor in the novels section, between 'C' and 'E', to be exact. Reading Oliver Twist.
"The nice woman gave it to me when I told her that all the children's books were boring," She explained without bothering to look up at him.
Jim was astonished. That had to be the first time Hermione had called a grown-up nice. Usually, she chose a much more fitting (and generally unflattering) adjective from her vast vocabulary ('mediocre' came to mind, 'blustering', or, in a very unpleasant situation with a new kindergarten-teacher, 'preposterous').
"And do you like it?" He asked. He and his wife always tried to talk with her about the books she was reading, although sometimes they felt like a turtle crawling after a sports car, because they simply couldn't keep track of what she breezed through during an afternoon.
She took a moment to think on his question. Normally, complaints followed such an inquiry. Hermione liked to criticise protagonists for their lacking good sense, or, in case of most girls, independence. She also thought bad things about most authors' views on children and their problems. Jim was rather curious how good old Dickens would do with her daughter.
"Yes," She decided after a moment, and seemed to be surprised by her own answer. "It's about growing up and suffering and doing the right thing."
Hermione believed in doing the right thing. She even believed in it when the boys who did the wrong thing were five years older and all too willing to beat the annoying little know-it-all up because she wouldn't let them throw stones at a dog.
"Can we come back here tomorrow?" The question was posed with Hermione's usual air of disinterest, but her eyes were fixed on her father with something akin to pleading.
"Yes, Hermione," He said and congratulated himself on this idea. "We can come back as often as you want to."
In all his years as Hermione Granger's father, he had never seen his daughter quite so happy before.
When Severus entered a library for the first time, he was five. He had run away from home.
He had been doing that a lot lately. Whenever his father and his mother were quarrelling (no, even as a child he knew that wasn't the right word for what they were doing, that their screams, their twisted faces, the meaty hands that hit tender flesh were something else entirely), the air seemed to be sucked right out of the room.
There was nothing left to breathe. There was also the stench of alcohol, and the noise, and the pitying glances of the neighbours and the very real danger that he would be drawn into their fight.
So he ran away.
He was turning it into an art form, really. By now he knew what to pack and what to wear. He had learned to give the right kind of excuses to grown-ups that wondered about a solitary child wandering the streets of the city, and how to procure food when there hadn't been any left at home. He had even managed to spend one night on his own, outside, hidden warm and safe inside the shrubbery of a nearby park when it had taken his parents longer than usual to remember that they had a son.
He was doing fine, considering everything.
But he hadn't found a solution for the rain problem, yet.
Five minutes before his first time occurred, Severus was wet like a small, meagre dog, and the pillowcase he had been using for want of a suitcase was even wetter. And it was still raining.
For the first time in at least a year, Severus let irrational boyish hope overtake all his experience with the world and wished for his parents to come and find him. They would take him home and scold him, but in a good, parenty sort of way. His father would allow him to use the old blue bathrobe that hung on a hook from the bathroom wall, and his mother would prepare him some hot chocolate with tiny marshmallows in it, like he had seen when he had watched the neighbours in secret. They would tell him that they were sorry about the fight.
For a moment, that picture was so good, so real, that he could feel the bathrobe and smell the chocolate. It seemed even colder when he realized the truth.
His parents wouldn't come for him. They wouldn't even remember they had a son until Jane returned from her errands and asked for him. They wouldn't even miss him. And his mother wouldn't make him hot chocolate if her life depended on it. She hated him.
And that was the thing about dreaming, Severus thought angrily and rubbed the rain from his face. It made reality only worse. Better to do without it.
He grabbed his pillowcase harder and peered through the walls of grey rain all around him, searching for a dry spot, some place to hide and wait out until it dried up a bit. He hadn't come that far from home, and people in this area might still know him. He didn't want to be known, especially not as the ugly little son of two good-for-nothing drunks.
But he couldn't see anything. No playground with a hut, no bus stop, not even a park bench that he could crawl under. Only the grey street, glistening darkly in the rain, and the houses.
One of them had a strange sign on the door and was lit brightly. Severus stepped closer carefully, his dripping pillowcase clutched in his left. It looked warm inside, welcoming, but his mother had warned him about public places.
They were full of people who meddled, she had said, and that he must never go there, no matter what had happened. The police, social workers, doctors, they were all just waiting to take him away from them, and while Severus was very busy these days taking himself away from them, the thought of someone else packing his pillowcase made him cold with fear.
Also, they were muggles, and everybody knew that muggles were filthy and stupid and just waiting to kidnap good magical children.
But it looked so warm inside, and on the door someone had written in large, friendly letters: Open to everyone.
From the outside, it looked as if the small, wet boy was hesitating just a second before reaching out and opening the door.
From the inside, it was the biggest leap Severus had ever made.
It was warm inside, and there was a strange smell that seemed familiar but he couldn't quite name it. He carefully dried his shoes on the doormat (he had once forgotten it at home and run away just as soon as he could walk again) and tried not to look like a good for nothing mongrel that had no home.
If you just looked as if he belonged, people sometimes didn't notice you. He had learned that much.
But he was noticed, as soon as he stepped around the corner and into a brightly lit hallway.
"Oh my, you're wet!" An old woman said as if that was the most important thing in the world. "Here, let me get you a towel, dear!"
Only two people had ever called him dear: a doctor and a social worker. Severus realized that this had all been a terrible mistake, but before he could turn around and flee, the woman had reached towards a hook inside her office door and put the huge, fluffy white towel around his wet, good-for-nothing shoulders. She didn't seem to care that he didn't belong here.
"Caught in the rain, were you?" She asked, in the way grown-ups asked when they didn't really expect an answer (like his mother would ask: How did I ever think I could be happy with you?, but not as nasty), and started rubbing him dry carefully. "Well, I sure hope you weren't returning any books, 'cause they would certainly be wet by now, wouldn't they?"
"Books?" Severus asked, suddenly less terrified than before. Neither the social worker nor the doctor had talked about books.
"Yes," The old woman agreed as if he had said the cleverest thing. Or perhaps she just liked the word 'books'. "You are here to visit the library, aren't you?"
Severus knew what a library was, because he had read all about it in one of his mother's old books. Hogwarts a History was one of the few magical things his father allowed in the house, perhaps because he didn't think it could influence a five-year-old. His parents didn't know that he had taught himself how to read from that exact book when he was four.
In Hogwarts a History, the library sounded like a wonderful place, full of books and nice people and things to learn. It sounded like a place where one could hide for an eternity, and when Severus ran away from home, he had often secretly imagined that he was running to Hogwarts, and to its library, to hide there for the rest of his life.
So when the woman asked him if he was here for the library, Severus took all his courage, grabbed his pillowcase harder and answered: "Yes."
It came out a bit squeaky, but the woman didn't mind. She beamed at him as if he had just said the most cleverest thing ever.
"I knew it," She said, deeply satisfied. "You have the looks of a book-lover about you."
Severus stared at her. That had to be the nicest thing a grown-up had ever said to him, and in that very moment, he decided that she was right. He didn't look like a useless waste of space, or a miserable excuse for a son. He looked like a book-lover. And a book-lover he would be.
"Yes," He answered again, and he imagined that his voice sounded like that of a book-lover already. The woman's widening smile seemed to agree.
"Well, come along then," She said cheerfully. "I was just about to open up. My name is Ms Warren, by the way. I am the librarian."
Librarian. Severus estimation of the woman rose even further. Far enough to risk something.
"I am Severus," He confessed quietly, waiting for the laughter or irritation his name usually produced, but nothing of the sort came.
"That is a fine name, Severus," The woman said gently, placed a soft hand on his back and led him through the hallway. "Did you know that there was a Roman emperor called Severus?"
Severus looked up to her with something close to admiration. No one had ever told him that! Librarians had to be the most cleverest people on earth!
"No," He whispered.
"I am sure we have a book about him," The woman continued as they reached a door at the end of the hallway. She took a key from her pocket and unlocked the door. "You can read it once you're a bit older and have learned how to."
It sounded as if she looked forward to that, Severus thought, a bit stunned.
"I know how to read," He confessed even quieter. He had a feeling that you could tell such things to Librarians.
"Is that true!" The woman exclaimed and stared at him in surprise. "My, you must be a little genius, Severus! Then we'll look for the book as soon as I've opened everything up, shall we?"
And she opened the door for him.
There were books everywhere. Severus, frozen immobile on the doorstep, stared and stared, until the Librarian took him by the hand and let him into the room.
He did not normally allow even Jane to take his hand – five years was much too old for that, after all -, but he didn't mind with the Librarian. Also he thought that he would have stayed on the doorstep forever, otherwise. He hadn't known that so many books even existed!
The Librarian kept his hand in hers as she took a long, thoughtful look at him. He didn't know that she had immediately noticed the drenched pillowcase and his old, mismatched clothing. He didn't know that his hair stood up straight around his too thin face, or that he was still wearing the towel around his shoulders. He didn't know that his eyes were glowing like gold in the lamp light.
"Say hello to the library, Severus," She said softly. "You'll always be welcome here. We are open to everyone."
Open to everyone, Severus thought, and felt as if the warmth and friendliness and the dusty smell of books had crept inside through his skin, making him feel less wet and ugly and alone. That's me. Even I am someone.
Review, please! And new requests for one-shots are always welcome…