A/N: Hey, guys. None of my schtuff is abandoned. Promise. I've just had a string of good luck with real life publication (woo-woo!), and I've been busy with work and husband (woo-woo!). Husband is wonderful, btw. And ridiculously good looking.
This is complete in three chapters, and all written.
Betaed by my lovely, scrumptious, and super sexy Aurette. Also, thanks to my Brit-picker, Camillo!
The title comes from a Michael Shepherd poem called "A Grief Ago."
She was naked. So was he. They were in a bordello. Or, at least, that's what Hermione assumed. The walls were red velvet with gold fleurs-de-lis accents, and the coverlet was trimmed in what she hoped was faux ermine, but knew wasn't since there were little animal heads and paws dotting the fur here and there. The lamps in the room dripped prisms which cast tiny rainbows on the hard planes of her bed-partner's face.
They stared, each holding a portion of the blankets over their important bits.
"Um," she said, feeling heat rise in her cheeks.
"Granger," Snape snapped, his lips thin white lines. "What the fuck are you doing here?"
"I have no idea." She shifted the coverlet, trying to minimize the contact between the bare skin of her breasts and taxidermied animal parts. She cast her gaze about the room in discomfort and noticed a single white flower resting gracelessly in an earthenware pitcher. Its head drooped a bit and the edges were wilted, making it appear even more out of place in the tacky room. Looking back to him, she asked, "What are you doing here?"
He scowled and opened his mouth.
As if hit with a Stinging Hex, Hermione sucked in a great gasp of air and sat up in her own bedroom. She was alone and wearing flannel pajamas.
That was the first time she dreamt of being naked with Severus Snape.
"You're late," Snape snarled when she walked into the shop.
"Shut up. Shut your mouth." Hermione glared at her boss. "I can't believe you did that to me."
His lips tightened. "I'm sure I don't know what you mean." He sat behind the counter where all of the restricted ingredients were kept under ward. His ledger rested on the glass in front of him, and Hermione watched him ignore her, carefully totting up his accounts.
"You sent me to deliver Madame Malkin's potions at her store," she hissed.
Snape finally looked up, his brow arched and his mouth quirked. "Ah. I was under the impression that you were my assistant. Hence, I expected you to assist me. Was delivering Potions below you, Ms. Granger?"
"Why you… That's not it at all!" Hermione fought with herself not to grab him by his black wool lapels and shake him until his teeth cracked. "You had to have known that she works there."
He sighed. "By the amount of vitriol in your voice, I can only imagine that Ms. Brown has recently found employment at Madame Malkin's." With crisp movements, he removed the silver glasses that had perched on his crooked hook of a nose. Folding the earpieces with care, he deposited them in his breast pocket and then turned his attention back to Hermione. "Your assumption that I knew is understandable, of course. After all, the entire Wizarding World is well aware of my fascination with ladies' clothing and millinery."
Hermione flushed and looked away.
"I do so love to discuss the fine cut of a robe, and so I try to keep all of Madame Malkin's current employees on my auto-Floo. So sorry, Ms. Granger. It must have slipped my mind to inform you that your arch-nemesis is now selling knickers to Hogwarts students." He shifted and crossed his arms over his chest, causing his long, ink-black braid to slip off his shoulder. "Does that suffice as an apology?"
She sniffed. "Barely. I might consider it if you also have the decency to buy lunch for once. I've bought it the last three days."
"Consider it done." He examined his tidy fingernails. "Lamb curry?"
She shrugged and finally moved around the counter to hang her blue cloak next to Snape's black one. The hooks were shaped like silver serpents, and she sighed. She slipped on her work apron which was covered in fat red tulips.
He swiveled his chair to watch her, his lips twitching at her cheerful work apparel. "So, I'm assuming you had words, then?" He cocked his head and added, "She's still breathing?"
Hermione felt heat creep up her neck and into her cheeks. "Yes, of course." A beat of silence passed between them before she blurted, "She had love bites all up and down her neck, and I just lost my temper. Before she could say a word, I hexed her so that one of her bosoms hung to her navel."
"Just one? Creative." He rested his cheek on his curled fist.
"I still can't believe he did it. Four years, and Ron threw it all away for that vacuous cow. You know he's living with her now." Her fists clenched until she could feel the half moons of her nails cutting into her palms.
"I very much enjoyed hearing about your creative hexing of a Gryffindor. More of that please, and less of the blubbering over the ginger pustule. Or, even better, you could actually earn the pay I scrape out of my coffers and get to brewing. Winter's just around the corner, and we're low on Pepper Up." He shooed her off with a single, negligent flip of his hand and then donned his glasses again, turning back to the ledger.
Hermione noticed that the book was covered in precise rows of black numbers, and very little red ink. Scrape out of his coffers, indeed.
Sniffing, she turned towards the laboratory at the back of the Apothecary. Passing rows of bulging-eyed specimens in jars and perfectly-ordered ingredients dusted to within an inch of their lives, her shoes made soft clicking noises on the hardwood floor. She halted by the entrance to the lab and turned around to ask Snape how many batches he wanted her to make. She caught him staring, his face puzzled. "What?" she whispered.
"Make sure you make a double batch." He cocked his head and gazed at her intently. "It's very hard to envision you as a serious Potions-brewer in that tulip monstrosity."
She smirked and turned back towards the lab. "Don't be jealous."
It was the bordello again. They were equally naked, except this time they were spooning; his tablespoon to her teaspoon.
Although she couldn't see his face, she knew it had to be Snape because only a proboscis as malformed as his could make the terrible, wheezing snore which currently rumbled against her nape. Also, the forearm which crossed diagonally over her breasts was sprinkled with course black hair.
Hermione cleared her throat.
Snape huffed air against her ear which made the fine hairs on her neck stand up. He then made a sticky, smacking noise with his tongue which brought her goosebumps back down to a manageable level in a trice.
"Wake up," she said, patting his hand more firmly than necessary.
He growled and pulled her closer. "God, you're a pest, Granger. Can't you see I'm trying to have a bit of a lie-in?"
"A bit of a… Snape, remove your morning stiffy from my back this instant. I will not be force-cuddled." She heard him grumble as he pulled away, and Hermione couldn't help but shiver at the wash of cool air down her back. She rolled over to face him, curling the ermine trim away from her skin again. "What a strange recurring dream," she mused.
He threw his arm over his face, burying his eyes and nose in the crook of an elbow. "Yes, the subconscious mind is full of pitfalls and secret desires, I'm sure." He moved slightly, and Hermione saw one of his dark irises peek at her from the cavern beneath his arm. "Replaying some childhood crush on an old teacher? I suppose I should be grateful that you're not tarting it up in a Hogwarts uniform right now." The eye slid shut.
"Bah, I grew out of that sixth year after you killed…" She trailed off as the lights in the room flickered with an electrical whine, before returning to normal brightness. "How strange."
When she turned back to face him, the scars on his neck seemed especially red and livid, or perhaps he'd blanched and paled at her reminder of Dumbledore. Unable to help herself, she leaned forward, carefully holding the blanket to her chest. She touched Snape on Nagini's mark. He startled, clasping her wrist tightly and leaning over her body. She was effectively pinned, and she noticed how hard his chest was, even through a layer of blankets.
They froze, gazes locked.
Hermione came awake with a startled gasp and found herself alone in her bed once more.
"Why should I go to a bloody Name Day for another one of Potter's brats?" Snape asked the next day as they were closing the shop. "I have better things to do with my time. I am sure that I am nearing a breakthrough in my research, and I'm at a critical stage in the base." He ran a polishing cloth over his centrifuge, taking care to reinforce the stability spells built into each arm.
Hermione ticked ingredients off her inventory list. "You should go, but I can't tell you why or you'll refuse."
"That's hardly an incentive."
"It wasn't supposed to be. It was a statement of fact. You really should go. We're running low on Boomslang skin, by the way."
"Yes, the order should be in on Thursday." He threw the rag onto the lab table and loosened his collar.
The movement arrested Hermione. The potioneer kept his collar perpetually buttoned, uncomfortable with the gaping public who would occasionally come to stare at the spy who killed Dumbledore and had his throat ripped out by Nagini. Even she had only seen his scar once when she had visited him in hospital.
It was a jagged, livid red crossing his neck below his ear and curling down nearly to his collarbone. She was surprised by how well her subconscious mind had remembered the lines of it in her dream, and Hermione was forced to curl her fingers more tightly around her clipboard so that she didn't reach out to stroke the raised ridges.
Her gaze was covert as she pretended to study the list in front of her, but Snape had been a spy, and he rasped, "Does it bother you? Are you uncomfortable?" His voice was stiff, and he watched his hands as he rearranged his silver, brass, and glass stirring rods on a nearby workstation from tallest to shortest.
"No. I was just taken aback. You've never voluntarily bared your neck to me before."
"After the long years of our acquaintance – so very, very, horribly long," here, he smirked, "I find that… I do not hate being in your presence, Granger."
A glance revealed that Snape's entire neck was now red, not just the area marred by the scar. Hermione looked around the now-spotless store and wondered what was happening.
He continued, "In fact, I find that it is not even mildly objectionable, and honestly, I am more comfortable with my collar unbuttoned. It rubs a bit. As long as you are not… disturbed by my scars, I should prefer to work this way when we are alone." Snape was still rearranging those damn stirring rods.
She paused and gentled her voice as she chose the right words to set him at ease. "Of course I'm not disturbed. I have marks of my own from the war. We all do. Although I respect your right to hate being stared at by idiots, I have always felt you should be able to wear your scars with honor."
Snape huffed, and she watched his hawkish profile. The color faded from his neck as if loath to leave him to his normal pallor. Seemingly aware of her scrutiny, he turned his back to her, and she was left staring at his braid which trailed down to the tips of his shoulder blades.
Although he would never be a handsome man, the handful of years since war's end had been good to him. He was still slender, but he'd lost some of that skeletal thinness that characterized his appearance during that final year when he was Headmaster. He'd put on a stone since then, and it showed in the muscles banding his shoulders and the gentled planes of his face. Snape was fastidious about his hair now that he no longer had to play the part of the Greasy Git, and he'd allowed it to grow out, although he kept it back in that long, black braid while working.
If she was honest, she was fascinated by that braid. It made it hard for her to reconcile this man with the dour Potions master from her school days who used his hair as a curtain to hide his eyes. She wanted to slide her hand down it, feeling every bump as she stroked it from the base of his skull to the very tip at the center of his back.
It was an inexplicable urge that left her unsettled.
"What time is the Name Day celebration?" she heard him grumble.
He turned back to her, his arms crossed over his chest. "I suppose I can come. I'm assuming it's at Potter's?" Even now, Snape couldn't help but sneer when he said Harry's name, and he bared his crooked teeth.
"Unfortunately, not. It's at the Burrow." Hermione growled suddenly. "Ronald had better not even think of bringing Lav-Lav. You know, this is the second time he's thrown me over for her."
Waving one hand, he snorted and rolled his eyes. "Oh, pity me. Oh, I hate him. I've already heard your song and dance number, witch." At her gasp of outrage, he continued, "Pride aside, Granger, did you even want to remain with that blaggard? He chewed with his mouth open and openly ogled other women. He had the mental capacity of an invertebrate and never even bothered sitting his NEWTs. Honestly, I can't think of two people worse suited for each other. I thought you were insane for the longest time."
"That's hardly your call, is it?" She was hurt at his cavalier dismissal of four years of her life and choices. "Contrary to what you believe, I loved Ron… probably not as he needed to be loved, but he was important to me. He was a big, dumb, bear of a man, but I thought he was all mine." She looked down at her clipboard for a moment before setting it on the worktable. "It felt like the end of an era when he left me." Hermione sniffed unbecomingly, and a look of alarm skittered across Snape's normally impassive face. "Oh, all right. I wasn't interested in anything long-term with him, but I miss my friend, and it hurts that he did this to me."
"Granger…" He reached a hand out towards her, but pulled back before he brushed her shoulder.
"I am not going to talk about this with you because it would be an exercise in masochism on my part." She stalked out to the front and slipped off her work apron and picked up her cloak. Twirling it around her shoulders, she fumbled with the tie. Hermione ignored that he'd followed her and ignored that he was watching her with an unsure expression on his face.
"I did not intend to hurt you."
"Well, that doesn't mean it didn't still hurt. See you tonight."
She blew out the door, the bell over the frame ringing in incongruous merriment.
Hermione's anger faded long before she arrived at the Name Day celebration, and she was sad to see that contrary to what he'd said, Snape hadn't shown. She wasn't the only person who was disappointed, either.
"Are you sure he said he was coming, 'Mione?" Harry's green eyes searched the guests gathered in the garden of the Burrow. He had his arm tucked around her shoulders, and she relaxed into him. "Ginny and I both were really hoping he'd show."
"He said he was coming, but we had a minor disagreement before I left work today. He might be sulking." She sighed. "Besides, I'm not sure it isn't better that he stays away. I'm worried how he'd react. Albus Severus is a fine name, but Snape doesn't like to be the center of attention, and he still has a lot of guilt over Dumbledore."
Harry tightened his hold with an affectionate squeeze before allowing his hand to drop from her shoulders. Rubbing a palm over his tired-looking eyes, he said, "I know, but I needed to do this. He's sacrificed and done so much for me. For all of us. This is the only thing I have of any worth."
"I know." And she did. For Harry Potter, a man who'd grown up with nothing and no one to call his own, naming his child after Snape was to offer him a treasure more valuable than gold and more precious than silver. It was a covenant promising nothing but the greatest respect and honor. She just wasn't sure if a man so embittered and closed would be able to see it for what it was.
Pushing the heavy weight of her hair off her shoulder, Hermione shifted and shivered slightly. The night was cool despite her cloak, and she found herself wishing she had worn a longer skirt to keep her legs covered. The garden looked nothing like the small field in which the boys played pickup games of Quidditch every first Sunday of the month. Molly had hired Neville's nursery to plant a line of lovely hedgerows to enclose the area, leaving just one opening for people to enter and exit. Neville had bolstered them with spells since they'd been planted in the wrong season and would need them to survive the coming winter.
Chairs were arranged ten wide and three deep and festooned with pink roses. They glowed, warm and welcoming in the gentle light cast by lanterns that Molly had strung along the hedges. The seats stood sentinel in a half circle around an arched lattice where Harry and Ginny would stand with the baby for the naming.
It was stunning and lovely.
"Don't worry, Harry. Snape may still show."
She started to pat him on the arm, but when she saw Ron and Lavender enter the enclosure, Hermione dug her nails into him instead. "Oh no," she moaned. "It's Lavendron."
"I'm sorry. I asked him to keep his distance from you tonight, but I know that's small comfort." His voice was soothing, but his attention had already moved to Ginny who was just entering the garden with baby Albus Severus in her arms and James Sirius attached to the edge of her skirt with one pudgy hand. Hermione felt his energy shift into something loving and proud when he looked at his wife and children, and she smiled in spite of herself.
"I'm a big girl. I can take care of myself. You go take care of your family."
Harry turned to her, and even though his black hair was mussed and boyish, he looked at her with the eyes of a father. "It'll be all right, Hermione. You'll see. In the end." He chucked her gently under the chin and then moved off and held his arms out to James.
Snape did show after all. When Harry proclaimed his child's name to the family and friends gathered around them, he cast his gaze above the heads of those seated. He directed his attention to the shadows near the entrance of the hedgerow-lined garden, and Snape stepped into the light.
The former spy nodded, his face an impassive mask to most, but Hermione saw the small wrinkle between his brows and the slight, hitched movement of his Adam's apple as he swallowed. He was touched, she decided before he slipped back into the shadows where he was most comfortable.
And then it was over. The guests congregated around tables of Molly's food that Bill and Charlie had Apparated in, one of them on each side, the table held between them. Hermione was impressed they were able to manage the feat without deflating any of their mother's soufflés. There were casseroles and gelatin desserts and baked chicken. Large bowls of fruit salad nestled next to pumpkin tortes cozened up to green field salads garnished with radishes and oranges and poppy seeds. And there, holding court in the center of the table was a gorgeous suckling pig.
Molly never had figured out how to cook for less than a hundred.
Snape was busy fending off an effusive Harry, so Hermione nibbled on a bit of baked chicken and fruit salad by herself, waiting until the earliest opportunity she could find to cry off without being rude. She stood off by herself in a puddle of shadows, hoping to escape Ron and Lavender's notice without appearing to be avoiding them.
Alas, it was to no avail. She felt a finger gouge her in the ribs.
"Well, you have some nerve showing your face here after what you did to me, Hermione Granger," Lavender hissed.
Hermione eyed her like she was a bug. "I admit I miscalculated. I was a bit overzealous in trying to aid you in straightening your horrifying, lopsided breasts."
The other witch fluffed her already over-fluffed curls. Her hair made her look like a mortified shrubbery. Casting a not-very-surreptitious look at the other partygoers, Lavender ran her finger from her collarbone, down her bosom, and stopped at the point of her hip. "Poor Hermione. Such sour grapes. After all, this body was good enough for Ronald not three hours ago. Obviously, he found something lacking in yours." She flashed Hermione a predatory smile. "Obviously he found something lacking in you, or he'd never have taken up with me eight months ago."
Hermione's mouth tightened, and Lavender's grin widened for just an instant before Hermione felt a dark presence at her shoulder.
"Ms. Brown, you're looking particularly vulpine tonight. Shouldn't you be raiding some other woman's henhouse?" Hermione sagged in relief as she was enveloped by Snape's comforting presence. "Go hussy up to the Weasel. Shoo. Off with you." He sounded darkly amused.
The other witch's mouth fell open at the casual dismissal. Hermione watched as red climbed up Lavender's neck to her cheeks and ears in unattractive splotches. "This doesn't concern you, Snape."
"Don't mistake me. I have no interest in your cat fight with Ms. Granger. However, I need to speak with her on a matter that doesn't concern you." He paused before adding, "Also, I just don't like you."
Lavender huffed, "Just who do you think you are?" Her ridiculous sausage curls quivered in rage. "You're nothing, Snape. Nothing but a bully…" She spluttered, choking on her words. "A bully who is infamous for killing his friend and mentor, the greatest wizard this world has ever known."
Snape reared back as if she'd slapped him, but before Hermione could come to his defense, Ron stepped between her and Lavender, his voice tight and hushed. "Oi, Lavender," he hissed. "Not here, all right?"
Her demeanor changed immediately, becoming soft and coy as she wrapped her arms around Ron's waist, pressing her breasts into his side. "But Won-Won, Hermione was being so mean to me… And you know she cast that nasty hex at me today." She looked up at him, her limpid eyes glistening with crocodile tears.
"This party's for my nephew, Lav. Tamp it down," he said, clearly not taken in by her manipulations. "And you shouldn't say rot like that to Professor Snape."
"I'm nobody's professor anymore, boy," Snape rasped, his face once more controlled. In fact, it was so controlled, Hermione worried that it would crack from the pressure of the rage she could still feel battering through his frame.
"Sorry. Mister Snape, then." Ron nodded at the dark wizard.
Lavender shrieked, causing heads to turn and Hermione to wince at the decibel level the cow reached. "What on earth could you possibly mean, Ronald? He killed Professor Dumbledore."
"And saved the rest of us, dinnit he?"
Hermione stepped forward, eyes narrowed. "Lavender, you revile him for the single act that turned the war in our favor, and you forget the two decades he gave as a sacrifice to the cause. You are an idiot." Turning to her ex-lover, she gave him a grudging nod of respect for his defense of Snape. "Ronald."
She whirled away, hooking her arm through the dark wizard's. "Let's go, Severus."
His arm tightened, pressing her hand against his ribs. "All right… Hermione."
A/N: Like it, love it, hate it, review it!