Design Paradigm

This is the sequel to my story, "Flotsam." It follows immediately after, but you don't really need to read Flotsam to understand what's going on. I hope I did a good job summarizing below. Enjoy, readers!

First: The Phoenix's Debut

"Are you really going to wear that shirt?"

"Why not?"

"It's pink!"

"A real man is secure in his masculinity even when wearing the color pink."

"It's not you I'm worried about. It's them! Their minds are likely to collapse seeing you like that."

"That may or may not be the effect I am aiming for."

"You may as well dance for them while you're at it."

"A good idea. I have been practicing."

Hermione feigned exasperation, but let out a small laugh at the sight of Severus Snape carefully tying a Windsor knot into his black necktie. He was currently wearing the pink shirt in question, a Muggle dress shirt he had transfigured out of the plain t-shirt he'd worn to Britain. It sounded like he resolved to do everything in his power to fuck over the minds of the people they would be joining for dinner tonight: namely, the Weasleys and Potters. Because to the uninformed, Severus Snape was still the snarky, greasy git that had worked in the shadows to ensure a victory against Lord Voldemort, and was also a dead man they had buried ten years ago.

But Severus Snape was neither dead nor buried, and in fact had never felt better in his life.

There were two reasons for that: first, the combined efforts of Hermione Granger and himself had purged, via potion, the lingering venom of Nagini that was ripping his internal organs into a blood pulp. Second, he finally got himself a nice girl who actually rather reciprocated his feelings.

Hermione desperately hoped that the Weasleys' skulls wouldn't explode if she turned up with Severus Snape on her arm.

Harry and Ron were aware, of course—they had visited her while she was stranded and recovering in Hawaii from a portkey accident—but they kept quiet to respect Severus's wish to remain hidden from public view. He had taken up residence on a small island in Hawaii, and it was there that Hermione was pulled to when her portkey experiment in the Department of Mysteries went awry. She hadn't meant to go there, really, but she had a passing thought about Professor Snape as she was floating in portkey limbo and found that the portkey picked up on it and deposited her on his doorstep. Well, it actually missed his doorstep by about five hundred feet; she ended up flailing about in the ocean and fortunately washed up on his beach before she drowned.

She had been quite surprised by how amicable he had become over the years. The furious, bitter man she had grown to know in the classroom was gone—dead, as he told her—and was replaced by a man with a droll sense of humor and a penchant for sarcasm. Hermione had been stranded there: her body did not agree with the portkey accident and she was put in considerable pain every time she was around magic or used it, and was fortunate that Hawaii had low enough residual magic in the air that she could recover comfortably. She and Severus had gotten along well enough while she was there. He was very accommodating and mostly left her to her own devices while doing peculiar things that took a while to get used to, like going surfing or diving for seaweed.

And so here they were in her flat, getting ready to go to the Burrow. They went to hide there after he came to the War Memorial commemoration to tell her that he was—in the immutable words of his friend, Danny Takahashi—a fucking retard for letting her go home and spurning the connection the both of them felt between each other. Because, it so seemed, they had grown quite close during her time in Hawaii. Quite close, though the both of them had danced around the issue until the absolute last moment.

Funny how things worked out.

He had showed up at the Memorial ceremony using the last of his Polyjuice Potion to disguise himself as Danny and confess to her that he would like to give a relationship a go. Unfortunately for him, he only had about an hour's worth of Polyjuice and it had worn off right when the photographers were growing bored and wanted something interesting to take a photo of. What could be more interesting than the great Hermione Granger's new beau, whomever it might be? She was sure that they didn't get a good photo of Severus's face, thanks to Professor McGonagall swooping in and distracting the photographers long enough for them to leave Hogwarts grounds. They spent the rest of the afternoon in her London flat, merely holding each other close on her worn sofa as though it had been ages and ages since they last touched. A profound feeling of relief had overcome her on that sofa, much like the feeling of finally pulling out a splinter that had been stuck under the skin for quite a bit longer than it should have.

Severus agreed to go to the Burrow with her, for which she was grateful. Their flight from the Hogwarts grounds had probably been very visible, so it was likely that the Weasleys would have a lot of questions for her. It would be less stressful to just present Severus to them and let things go from there. Not that she forced him to come, of course. He seemed intrigued by the idea, in any case, and had gleefully—in as much as Severus Snape could look gleeful (which amounted to little more than a smirk)—transfigured his shirt to be that lovely shade of flower pink. He looked rather smart in the dress shirt and black slacks, regardless of the pinkness. Hermione herself hadn't spent too much time on her own clothes—she threw on some auburn pants and a loose blouse and called it a day.

"Well, shall we?" she said brightly once she'd pulled on her boots and jacket and Severus had pulled on his coat. She held out a tin of Floo powder to him as he nodded, and took a pinch of the stuff herself. Throwing the powder into her roaring fireplace, she stepped in as the flames turned green, crying out, "The Burrow!"

Hermione stepped out of the Burrow's fireplace jumped in surprise when something exploded in front of her.

"Aunt 'Mione's here!" exclaimed James Potter as fragments of Exploding Snap cards drifted down to the floor. He dashed into the kitchen, screaming at the top of his lungs, as Teddy Lupin and Victoire leapt to their feet to give her a hug.

"Hello, Teddy, Victoire," Hermione said, smiling as they embraced.

"About time, Hermione. Been waiting a while," said Ron, whom she just noticed was sitting in a threadbare armchair by the fire. Apparently, he'd been playing Exploding Snap with the children while waiting for her. "We were wondering when you'd show up. Dinner's just about to start outside."

"Sorry, lost track of the time. And I, er, have a guest coming," said Hermione hesitantly, giving him a meaningful look that she hoped he would understand. His face seemed to brighten in comprehension.

"A friend? All right, come outside when he gets here," he said, grinning as he got to his feet and began ushering Teddy and Victoire out. "Come on, come on, let's go outside. Oh, I can't wait to see this…"

Just as he left the room, the fireplace behind her blazed into life and out stepped Severus. He peered around at the empty room and gave her a curious look. "Where is everyone?" he asked.

"They're waiting outside. I suppose there isn't enough room to eat inside, what with all the people. Are you ready?"

"Oh yes."

With a smile, she led him out to the kitchen, where they both paused to furtively peer out the window at the guests outside. With all the Weasleys and their families were present, it seemed like a veritable mob that they'd be walking into. Hermione glanced at Severus silently, and he nodded.

She pushed the back door open stepped onto the lawn, waving at those that had noticed her entrance. "Hermione!" said Molly, immediately hurrying over to her and giving her an awkward hug because of the water pitcher she was holding.

"Hello, everyone!" Hermione said cheerfully as the door creaked open behind her.

Molly let out a small shriek of fright and dropped her pitcher as Severus stepped outside behind Hermione. There was the tinkling of a breaking glass from somewhere by the tables. Everyone had grown deathly silent, even the children who should have had no reason to do so.

"Merlin's beard—he's alive!" came Arthur's voice.

But Arthur, it seemed, was the only one who could find his voice. Everyone else, from Harry and Ron who were struggling not to burst into laughter to the utterly speechless Molly Weasley, was absolutely silent. For good reason, it seemed; Hermione glanced back at Severus and found that he was giving them his best Professor Snape glare.

"Stop that. You're scaring them," she muttered, frowning at him and prodding his arm. While Severus seemed as calm as could be, she was actually starting to feel a little nervous. He'd been an all-around unpopular person, even more so as Headmaster Snape, and was the one who took Albus Dumbledore's life. Harry had, of course, long since cleared up a lot of things regarding Severus's behavior and motives, but old habits do die hard, she supposed.

He continued glaring for a moment longer, before he could hold it in no longer and threw his head back and laughed.

Which, of course, Hermione knew was probably just frightening for the poor audience of Weasleys and guests.

Thankfully, Ron got up from his seat and walked over toward them, picking up the water pitcher as he did so. "Good evening, Professor Snape, and thanks for dropping by," he said amiably. "I'd like to thank you for taking such good care of Hermione while she was ill."

Smooth, Ron.

"Think nothing of it, Mr. Weasley," Severus graciously said with a smile as a ripple of murmurs spread throughout the people before them.

"I'm sorry for bringing someone with me so suddenly, Mrs. Weasley," Hermione said apologetically to Molly, clearing her throat. Molly shook her head in an attempt to tell her that it was no problem, her mouth hanging open in shock.

"He's who you were running off with earlier today!" Ginny suddenly exclaimed in realization. "After Professor McGonagall chased those photographers away from you!"

These were the magic words that broke the silence binding everyone's tongues. Immediately, they all started chattering at each other at this news. Molly finally sprang into action, quickly ushering the both of them toward the empty seats at Harry's table as their voices filled the air.

"Come now, you two, you can sit over here…"

"What the ruddy hell—"

"But Harry said the snake ripped his throat out!"

"All right, Professor!"

"Mummy, who's that man?"

"Aunt 'Mione, is that your boyfriend?"

Suddenly, silence.

All eyes were turned on her expectantly, and she felt her face beginning to burn red as she looked upon James Potter's innocent little face. The little bugger knew what he was doing, she was sure of it.

"Yyyyyyeesss…?" she said hesitantly. She peered at Severus, raising an eyebrow ever so slightly, and he gave her a smile. "Yes," she said, more firmly and matter-of-factly this time. Her heart seemed to flutter a bit at the thought.

Everyone burst into talk again, and their faces were a mixture of amusement, shock, and disgust. She tried not to laugh at Lavender's horrified face, but couldn't hold in her laughter when George got to his feet and thumped Severus on the back, congratulating him. For the first time, Severus looked uneasy, maybe a little horrified, even—Hermione supposed that he felt a little awkward being congratulated by a man he'd accidentally cursed an ear off of. Molly was visibly delighted and gave Hermione a kiss on the cheek before going on about how sweet it was.

All in all, it was really very bizarre. Hermione had expected significantly more indignation and more horror and less of these enthusiastic congratulations or delighted grins. She suspected that it put the rest of the family at ease to see Harry and Ron so cheerful about the whole thing, but she wasn't sure if it was helping or harming things that Severus was smiling cordially at everyone. It was rather funny how Lavender looked so uneasy and kept shooting Ron anxious looks, as though she expected Severus to suddenly look to her and berate her about a failed potion. He said exactly three words to her ("Hello, Miss Brown.") and was largely ignoring her as he talked with the others at the table. Once the food was brought out, however, things progressed in the manner that Hermione had first expected. There was a bit of tension in the air; while there was a lot of talking and laughing, they had the air of people trying to act normal while locked in the same room as a rabid wolf chained to the wall with a rusty padlock. They also seemed truly mystified at the sight of him in a pink dress shirt: Hermione heard Bill muttering to Arthur, wondering if maybe they were having some sort of group hallucination.

It was almost a relief when they finished eating, since everyone's minds were slightly addled by the food, which in turn made everything a great deal less tense. It did seem, however, that Ginny had one more thing to settle before she could relax and moved her chair to sit beside Hermione, little baby Lily fast asleep in her arms. "Why didn't you or Harry tell me?" Ginny hissed. If Hermione wasn't mistaken, she looked a little hurt. "I could've kept a secret, you know."

"I'm sorry…I didn't want it to get too public that he was alive," Hermione murmured.

"So…he's all right, then? After…after everything?" said Ginny. Hermione could hear a little suspicion and mistrust in her voice; obviously, it wasn't Severus's wellbeing that she was referring to.

"Yes, surprisingly," said Hermione. She gave a sidelong glance at Severus, who, at the bequest of Ron, was showing James the maid café trick with the water from James's glass. Satisfied that he wouldn't hear her, Hermione leaned close to Ginny and lowered her voice. "He has nightmares all the time," she whispered. "About Harry's parents…Dumbledore…everyone at the school while he was headmaster…"

It seemed to have the sobering effect on Ginny that she hoped for. "I see," Ginny said quietly. She looked at Severus—whom James was begging to do the trick again—as though evaluating the truth of Hermione's words.

"I wouldn't lie about something like this, Ginny."

Ginny stared at her for a long moment, before letting out a sigh of submission. "You're right. Sorry." Her face changed into a mischievous curiosity with rather startling speed. "So…did you get him to wear that pink shirt? Got him wrapped around your finger, have you?"

Hermione was momentarily nonplussed, and it took her a moment to answer. "No, no, he wanted to wear that shirt. I tried to talk him out of it because I thought it'd scare everyone."

"You were right about that," said Ginny with a grimace.

"You know, when I woke up after the portkey accident, he was wearing shorts and a penguin shirt," Hermione laughed, watching as Lily stirred in Ginny's arms. "I thought I was dead. He laughed at me."

The tension between Hermione and Ginny seemed to slowly boil away and they fell back into familiar territory: they talked about work, Hermione about the arrogant prats at the Department of Mysteries and Ginny about the arrogant prats in the sports department of the Daily Prophet, and then both laughed at the arrogant prat-like behavior that Percy regained once the wounds of the war healed a bit. They continued on like this for quite some time, until Lily woke up and promptly began crying.

"Shh, Lily dear, I know you're hungry," Ginny said softly, getting to her feet. "I'll be back down as soon as I get her fed, Hermione."

"You know, why don't you all put the kids up to bed so we can have a talk?" Arthur suggested, looking at his brood over his glasses.

His meaning was clear. There was a murmur of assent, and immediately Ginny and Fleur began herding all the children inside—much to James's dismay, as he seemed to have taken a liking to Severus. Ginny would return once she was finished, but it was likely that Fleur would elect to stay with the kids: Fleur disliked heavy discussions, and since she had minimal dealings with Severus, she probably wasn't interested. As the children sulkily went inside, Hermione suddenly found everyone migrating to her table—she felt surrounded, like they were trying to pen her in to keep her from getting up (not that she had moved). Everyone was silent, an unspoken agreement to withhold the relevant conversation until Ginny finished feeding Lily, so instead they talked about Quidditch and if everyone saw that ludicrous display last night.

When Ginny returned and sidled into a seat beside Harry, Arthur straightened his glasses and looked to Severus, who seemed impassive and wholly unbothered by the whole thing.

"I need to ask, Severus: how in Merlin's name are you still alive? We were all told that Voldemort's snake bit you in the neck."

"Indeed she did," said Severus. He pulled his tie loose and pulled his collar down to show them the ugly scars from Nagini's bite, and everyone at the table breathed in sharply. "I created a combination of blood-replenishing and blood-coagulating potion and took it shortly before I met with the Dark Lord. I was fortunate, I suppose, that he decided to set the snake on me rather than kill me himself. Nonetheless, I went in there expecting to be very dead."

"Then who did we bury?" said Bill, looking uncharacteristically baffled.

"Honestly," said Severus, frowning, "nobody bothered to open the casket to make sure anything was inside? Minerva's doing, I suppose."

"She knows you're alive?" said Arthur. He looked indignant.

"Minerva is the one who saved me, in fact. She hid me in her chambers at the castle until the wounds closed properly. To be honest, I was rather surprised she didn't just let me die. She was angry enough at me when I regained consciousness, but wouldn't let me die…I expect it had something to do with Potter's moving words. Yes, Potter, she told me everything you said." Harry gave a nervous laugh.

The way he was speaking so nonchalantly about expecting to die seemed to be making everyone a little uncomfortable, and it was a few moments before anyone else spoke.

"Then what have you been doing all this time? It's been, what, ten years?" Molly piped up, giving him that worried motherly look she got when listening to stories such as this.

"I spent a year in Japan. I wandered around, I suppose," said Severus, and Hermione inwardly grimaced. It was odd now to hear him speak of the place so casually after learning about his attempt at dying in the Aokigahara Forest.

"Only a year? But where have you been since?"

He paused for a moment, as though contemplating his answer, before smiling. "I've been living in Hawaii."


The whole water-choking thing really was quite hilarious now that Hermione was not the unfortunate victim. Somehow he'd managed to time his words so that at least three people were taking a drink of water or whiskey or whatever else while he was speaking. Where the hell did he learn how to do that?

"So Hermione here has a portkey accident that sends her to Hawaii? A bit too convenient if you ask me," said George, grinning.

"Minerva visits me there every so often," Severus added. "She's rather fond of coconut juice. Would you like to try some?"

Without waiting for an answer, he rummaged in his pants pocket and pulled out a tiny coconut, which he enlarged with a wave of his wand. Hermione looked at him in disbelief.

"Why do you have a coconut in your pocket?" she sputtered as he duplicated it. He smirked, using his wand to split a hole into one.

"It would be better to ask, Hermione, why I shouldn't have a coconut in my pocket."

Everyone was stunned into silence as Severus innocently (or not so much, Hermione thought) continued splitting holes into coconuts. Then suddenly Harry and Ron and George roared with laughter, and the rest of the Weasley family followed shortly (while Lavender was left looking a little bewildered).

"Bloody hell, Professor Snape's got a sense of humor!"

"To what do I owe this pleasure, Mr. Conrad?"

"Oh, drop the formalities, Rene. We're all friends here."

"So what is it you've come all this way for?"

"I just wanted to personally deliver the dossier of a very good candidate for our little project."

"Oh? How good?"

"She's got a good brain and she's in great physical condition. Very trusting. A fine specimen of a Non."

"That didn't answer the question. You might as well have said she was a pretty Muggle."

"Well, first off, she's a computer engineer for Northrop Grumman. You know what they are?"

"They deal with blowing things up or something, don't they?"

"Not quite, Rene. They're a defense corporation. She works for them—designs computer systems for satellites and spacecraft. Graduated in the top ten percent of her class at the University of California in Berkeley."

"I'm sure that's impressive. Any particular reason you selected a female?"

"Women seemed more stable during our preliminary tests. The men tended to get very…violent. So, she's the perfect candidate."

"A little too perfect, actually. Presumably, there's a catch?"

"Heh, 'course there is. She's proud and spiteful if her abilities are questioned. She'd go through hell and back just to prove a point."

"Sounds like a liability."

"No, she'll be easy to keep under control. Just make sure your people are very encouraging. The Brit accents will help."

"So essentially, she's got an ego."

"Heh, if you want to put it that way. In any case, if it works, I expect she'll be good at curses. Maybe potions, if her chemistry grades are anything to go by."

"So when can you get her so we can start?"

"Oh, here's the beauty of it. She's going to walk right into your hands in three weeks—she'll be visiting Europe with some friends and she'll be staying in London for a few days. Your best bet is to grab her while she's at Heathrow on her way home."

"Can you prepare in time?"

"Rene, I could have it ready yesterday. I'll even get Mr. Sinclair back from the MBI for you. Consider it a gift."

"I believe, Mr. Conrad, that this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."

A/N: So here it is, guys. For anyone coming over from "Flotsam," I'm glad you've bothered to read. : D Gives me the warm fuzzies.