Disclaimer: Anything you recognize belongs to the goddess, JKR. This is an idea that came to me, oddly enough, while working on an employee presentation with my manager. Inspiration can strike in the most unlikely of situations.
Where Goblins Fear To Tread
Professor Severus Snape was not having a very good day. In fact, the combination of an overzealous house elf, a burnt breakfast and Minerva cheerfully reminding him that Sirius Black would be taking over the History of Magic classes now that Binns had finally agreed to retirement had rendered him particularly sour.
It was the week before the new school year began…a school year, which, for the past four years, had not included the famous Harry Potter. He was now a famous Auror…The Boy Who Lived…The Man Who Defeated Voldemort.
But he had not done it alone…although most of the wizarding world seemed to conveniently forget that fact. Even Ron Weasley had played an important part. But they would never have gotten into Voldemort's lair had it not been for her. Yes, she had received the Order of Merlin, First Class (he had received one as well for 'special services rendered' and it was now collecting dust somewhere in his office) but had dropped out of sight since then.
He hated Potter. Always would. Weasley was a non-entity…harmless. She, however, had piqued his interest from the first time he saw her at the Sorting. It was so unusual to see a muggleborn with such astonishing drive and talent.
"She reminded me of myself at that age…when I wasn't so tainted," he sighed.
Every year presented a new threat by the Dark Lord and, every year, she had done her part to protect the Boy Who Lived and his sidekick. One year she was petrified…another she was almost destroyed by a Dementor…seventh year had her captured by Wormtail. Being a best friend of the Boy Who Lived was a danger to one's health.
And so, Voldemort was defeated (he distinctly remembered how quickly two bottles of Ogden's Old Firewhiskey were consumed between himself, Sirius Black and Remus Lupin. Black wasn't half bad when one was practically stupefied with alcohol.
Potter had graduated as had Weasley and both had prominent careers, wives and babies were rumoured to be in the near future.
She had seemingly disappeared. Perhaps she had returned to the muggle world.
Lost to him.
Frowning slightly now he realized that the past four years of teaching had been empty. Not one student stood out the way she had. Teaching her had been a joy and he had had so little joy in his life.
"I miss her," he thought to himself in surprise as he trudged along the streets of Diagon Alley, bumping into wizards and witches but not bothering to apologize for his brusqueness.
He was here for a reason. He had to purchase a number of ingredients for a new potion he was developing for lycanthropy and he had to visit Gringotts in order to withdraw the necessary money for the purchase. It was going to be rather expensive but it was an authorized expense and would be reimbursed by Hogwarts.
"Authorized by Albus…I'd be burned at the stake if the Board of Governors knew what I was doing." His eyes flashed angrily at his memories of trying to convince the Board that his research was valid. They had not been terribly impressed and Lucius had almost suspected…something…
Well, it didn't matter now. Lucius was gone, as were all the Death Eaters. Destroyed when the Dark Lord was finally defeated by Harry Potter.
It was bound to have happened sooner or later although he suspected that Sybil had been disappointed that the young whelp had not met a singularly violent end.
Severus did not want to think about it a great deal…he had work to do.
He stepped through the doors of the wizarding bank and looked around. There were many people and goblins milling about purposefully. Walking up to a counter, he waited for a particularly malevolent-looking goblin to notice him.
"Yes?" The goblin asked importantly.
"I am Severus Snape, Potions Master of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. I wish to have access to Vault 397," Severus replied automatically, raising an eyebrow as the goblin rifled through a stack of papers.
"Do you have your key?" The goblin asked.
Severus fished through his robes and found the required key, handing it over to the goblin with an impatient expression.
"Yes," the goblin nodded his head as he consulted a paper; "everything appears to be in order. I will have Sharptongue take you down. Sharptongue!"
Instantly, another goblin appeared by Severus' side.
"Please take our client to vault 397."
Sharptongue nodded his head then turned to Severus. "This way, please."
Severus followed the goblin to where the carts were located.
Except…there was only one…
…And it was occupied by a young woman who was busy reading something.
"You will share with the young lady as we are quite busy today and all the other carts are occupied," Sharptongue remarked casually as the young woman looked up from her book.
"Professor Snape?" She asked in surprise, dropping her book.
He looked more closely at the young woman and realized that it was none other than Hermione Granger, his former student. For a moment, he simply stared at her, trying to make sense of the situation. She seemed to be trembling slightly as she picked up her book.
Plus ¸ a change, plus c'est la mÃ me chose.
"Miss Granger," he replied politely, "I did not expect to see you here in London. It has been a long time since we last spoke. I thought you had returned to the muggle world."
She shifted to make room for him but he made no move to step into the cart, causing Sharptongue to scowl somewhat. Goblins did not like delays.
"I decided to accept an offer from Headmaster Dumbledore and take over Madam Pince's position. I have enrolled in a distance learning program and needed the stable employment of a relatively easy job," Hermione replied, a slight frown appearing on her brow as her former professor simply stood there, arms folded over his chest, looking down at her.
"What will you be studying?" He asked, ignoring the goblin's casual gesture towards the cart.
Severus was surprised to see a faint blush on his former student's cheeks.
"She has grown lovelier," he thought absently but then shook himself back to reality. This was Hermione Granger… a student he used to call an insufferable know-it-all more frequently than he cared to remember.
"Yes, but a brilliant know-it-all," he conceded as he waited for her answer.
"Advanced Potions," she mumbled as she fingered her book nervously.
Severus could not contain a look of surprise and astonished pride. "I had no idea you were so interested in Potions."
"You will recall that I finished seventh year with a 114% average," Hermione challenged, her eyes glittering.
"Nothing less than I expected," he commented as he finally took a seat next to her. Sharptongue quickly boarded the cart as well and they were off into the bowels of Gringotts.
"I do wish that they will someday change the erratic transportation in this place," she grumbled as the cart zigged and zagged in a truly alarming fashion.
Severus was glad that he had not eaten the burnt breakfast…he was certain that he would have lost it about three hairpin turns back. "I quite agree…I almost prefer flying on my broomstick to careening in this thing."
Hermione turned to him with a smirk. "Afraid of heights, are you?"
Severus scowled but found himself unable to maintain it as he suddenly noticed that she was actually smiling at him.
"Let's just say that there are more reliable forms of transportation," he mumbled, looking away.
"I don't particularly care for flying myself…it is overrated," she said with a sense of finality as if to say that she would brook no discussion on the matter.
Severus had to grin at that. He never guessed that the formidable Hermione Granger would have a weakness.
The cart suddenly swerved and ran around another hairpin turn and Hermione, despite hanging on frantically to a safety handle, was unceremoniously dumped into his lap. He grabbed onto her instinctively to prevent her falling out of the cart altogether. She threw her arms around his neck and pressed her cheek against his.
Her hair smelled like gardenias.
Sharptongue suddenly stopped the cart and stepped out.
"I will return shortly…I need to find out what is happening up ahead. Don't get out of the cart if you value your lives," the little goblin said seriously. He disappeared in a moment.
Hermione had not let go of Severus…but he did not mind so much suddenly.
"Miss Granger…we are quite out of any immediate danger," he said as he gently extricated himself from her and placed her on the seat opposite him. She looked terribly embarrassed.
And she was blushing.
"My apologies, Professor. I didn't hurt you, did I?" She asked, concern in her eyes.
"Nothing broken, Miss Granger," he assured her. She looked relieved.
They waited in silence for several minutes. It wasn't a particularly pleasant spot, just a narrow tunnel with a walkway on either side of the tracks and, spaced evenly, were many vaults.
"Vault 23452," Hermione muttered. "We're not even close."
Severus frowned at that and looked around again.
"I wonder where that sorry excuse for a goblin disappeared to. This isn't the sort of service one expects here."
"At least the tunnel is well lit," she said as she pulled out a book.
"Miss Granger…you…wouldn't happen to have something I could read to pass the time?" He asked.
Smiling, she handed him a rather large bag. Their hands touched briefly. He was surprised to find that he rather liked the feel of her small fingers.
He opened the bag and fished through its contents. All he could find were textbooks about Potions and a couple of books on Arithmancy theory. Nothing light at all.
"Miss Granger," he asked as he settled his lanky frame as comfortably as he could in the rather small cart. "You seem to have many academic texts in your bag. Do you ever read anything for pleasure?"
"Those are the books I read for pleasure," she said rather defensively as she peeked at him balefully over the top of her book.
"Do not take offence…I merely find it surprising that our tastes in reading are so similar," he said in a noncommittal tone.
"We are probably more alike that you realize," she muttered into her book.
Severus put down the book he was going to read and, reaching out one hand, placed it over the top of Hermione's book and pushed it down.
"What exactly do you mean by that? That is a surprising comment. Have you suddenly acquired a Dark Mark as well?" He taunted, trying to fight down a dizzy feeling in his chest at the way that she looked at him.
"Don't be ridiculous," she muttered, trying unsuccessfully to resume her reading.
"Miss Granger, your book is upside down," he smirked.
"You are an insufferable…arrogant…" she sputtered, blushing furiously now.
"Bastard?" He suggested.
She did not answer, simply glared at him.
He took her book and turned it right side up, handing it back to her and smiling now.
"Enlighten me, Miss Granger. Tell me how we are so alike. It cannot be our shared love for Potter as I have none."
"I never loved Harry!" She shouted, thoroughly exasperated with him now.
"Ron? Honestly…all he thinks about is Wizard Chess and Quidditch!" She threw her hands up in frustration. "For someone so intelligent, you are as dense as a cinderblock sometimes."
He smirked again. "I have been called worse things than a cinderblock."
Her expression was partly mutinous and partly chastened…giving him the impression that she had called him such things while a student at Hogwarts.
"You inspired me," she whispered.
Severus looked at her in shock. She was examining the floor of the cart with some interest.
"I beg your pardon?"
"Out of all the professors at Hogwarts, you seemed to have a genuine love of the pursuit of knowledge if not a love for teaching," she smiled.
"It is difficult to love teaching when you are surrounded by dunderheads," he replied absently. "Present company excluded, of course."
"I rather liked how you never stopped learning…always trying new things…exploring new possibilities. The others…well, they were rather set in their ways and didn't always appreciate new ideas."
"Yes, well I suppose Minerva wouldn't want to hear about a Transfiguration potion, would she? Wave the wand and all the problems of the world will be solved," he sighed.
"I know you never particularly liked me…the whole Slytherin loathing Gryffindor thing but I…well…"
Severus sighed and ran a hand tiredly through his hair, yet untouched by silver. "I never disliked you, Hermione. You alone made teaching those seven years somewhat worthwhile. It was…refreshing…to find someone so eager to learn despite my best efforts…or my worst, I suppose."
She looked at him curiously as she heard him say her name and bit her lower lip nervously.
"If I had had to live my life the way you did…playing a double role for such a long time…I probably would have been quite bitter as well. We don't go into this life seeking hardship," Hermione frowned somewhat. "My parents thought that once I was done with Hogwarts that I would return to a muggle way of life. I believe they hoped that magic was just something I had to get out of my system. I did go back and I did try but I discovered that it was not my world anymore. I'm afraid that my decision to continue in the wizarding world has placed a rather large obstacle in my relationship with them. I'm not sure we'll ever find our way around it."
"I am sorry to hear that, Hermione. It is difficult when your parents feel you have disappointed them. My parents…well, they did not approve of some choices I made either. Unfortunately, they were killed before I had the chance to show them that…"
"That you had found your way back?" She ventured, suddenly reaching out a hand and placing it over his.
A warmth that pushed away all the cold inside his body.
That small hand…so much warmth…
"I know how you feel, Severus," his eyes flew up to meet hers at the mention of his name. She was smiling and she did not look as if she was going to move that hand of hers. "There are many things I did not have the chance to do before I left Hogwarts."
"Such as?" Severus cursed himself for being a Hufflepuff fool…he sounded so needy.
She reached out her other hand and moved it beneath his. She held his hand between hers as if…he was suddenly frightened to wonder what it meant…or rather, that it might not mean what he hoped it did…
"I never had the chance to tell some of my professors just how much they meant to me."
He was certain she could hear his heart pounding.
"And…what would you say if you were to speak to them now?"
"I would tell him that he meant more to me than just a professor with a rough exterior."
"Cinderblocks tend not to understand these things. They have a way of holding things off in the distance until it is staring them in the face."
His free hand reached up to caress her cheek…
"Staring me in the face," he repeated softly, leaning forward slightly.
"Yes, you overgrown bat," she sighed quietly, leaning closer to him, eyes shining with something that suddenly seemed so precious…
"Insufferable know-it-all," he closed the distance between them and brushed his lips hesitantly against hers. She pressed against his kiss gently and her hands found their way to his face…his hair…
He caressed her hair and moved away from her slightly.
"I don't know, Hermione. I am not certain that I can offer you what you want. Perhaps the reality will not live up to your expectations. The general reaction to something like this will hardly be celebratory."
"Does it matter?"
"No, of course not."
She moved to sit beside him and he placed an arm around her waist, drawing her closer to him. They sat in blissful silence until the sound of scurrying steps drew their attention to the quickly approaching goblin.
"Dragons were acting up…heated the tracks and warped the metal. Everything is all right now."
Sharptongue hopped into the cart and proceeded first to Severus' vault and then to that of Hermione. Quickly…almost too quickly, they were back at the lobby of Gringotts where a pompous-looking goblin stood guard at the entrance.
"I trust you found what you were looking for?" He asked Severus, nodding politely at Hermione.
Severus turned to her and reached out his hand, which she took.
"Yes," he replied, "I found exactly what I was looking for."