AN: Here's a bit of fluff to tide you over while I hack through the mess left over from my writer's block. Also, I want to brag on two fics. If you haven't been reading Theolyn's Snape's Ocean, you have been missing out. And since I know you haven't been reading JD909626's story The Twist, I now order you to do so. It's a DM/HG, which I never read, so you know if I am, it's good. Twisty, angsty goodness. Google these ladies and show them some love.
And now: Fluff
Not Mine, No Money
"He's a complete bastard!" Mariope Marsters snapped as she thunked her book down on the library table.
"He always was a complete bastard," said Gillian Sands sympathetically. "My mum said he was an arse when she had him, and Reggie's gran said she had him back when he first became a teacher, and he was a terror then, too."
"Gor, how old is he?" asked William Wythe.
"Ancient," muttered Sands. "He's got to be seventy, if he's a day. I bet he ends up like Binns. Just gets up and goes off to natter on uselessly about the Dark Arts one day and doesn't even realize he's dead."
"Ugh. Please. The only thing that gets me through each year is hoping he'll die in his sleep one summer."
"Nah, Gillian's right. He's so obsessed with the Dark Arts he doesn't even realize the war ended ages ago."
"I think he's obsessed because he got to be a hero for five minutes years ago and wants to be somebody again."
"He didn't even really do anything. He just spied on a few people. Big deal."
"You know he's never left Hogwarts?"
"What, you mean even on holiday?"
"No, ya git. I mean aside from that. He came here when he was eleven and never left."
"That must be why he's such a prig. He's never had a life."
"I bet he's never had a girl."
"Eeeewww! Could you imagine it? Snape naked? Gah. It puts me off my lunch."
"I bet he's too uptight to even wank."
"I bet he assigns his willy detention every morning for being rude."
The laughter of the three Slytherin students abruptly cut off as their Transfiguration professor stepped around the shelf.
"Thirty points each and a week's detentions, the three of you. Report to Mr. Filch immediately."
"For what?" said Marsters.
"For what? I heard your little conversation, young lady!"
"We have a right to our own opinions! We was just expressing ourselves in private. A body's got a right to an opinion!"
Professor Granger narrowed her eyes. "The library is hardly private, and it is against school rules to be openly disrespectful of a member of the staff, never mind your own Head of House. I find your attitudes repugnant, the three of you. Now, get out of my sight, or I will drag you to Headmaster Flitwick. I assure you, he won't be as lenient as I."
She stood there with her arms folded and her foot tapping as the three bundled up their books and headed off. She clicked her tongue in disgust and shook her head before flicking her wand and sending off her Patronus to inform Argus of the incoming miscreants.
She walked back around the shelf to where Severus was standing rooted to the ground, looking pinched and pale. She had expected anger, perhaps even fury, but what she saw instead was… hurt?
"Severus?" She kept her voice low and placed her hand on his arm. "Surely you didn't let them get to you? They say the same and worse about me on an hourly basis."
He turned his head to her slowly, and she watched as his dark eyes slowly focused on her.
He blinked at her, but didn't respond. Instead, he just turned on his heel and walked away, still holding the book she'd wanted to show him on 12th century Polymorphic Techniques.
Hermione watched him until his ubiquitous black robes were out of sight. Damn it. It had taken her the better part of two weeks to cultivate that topic of conversation enough to have him actively participate, and those three little maggots had ruined it in a matter of seconds.
The strange thing was, he usually wasn't affected by their puerile sniping. Or if he was, he'd never let it show before. The fact that he looked so remarkably affected made her stomach twist in her belly.
She was on the stairs heading toward her rooms to call it a day when she saw him again down by the entrance. He was bundled up in heavy robes and in the process of wrapping a black muffler around his neck before shoving open the front door. Without a backwards glance, he slipped out into the night.
She'd become caught up in finishing her marking before the weekend and had put the earlier incident out of her mind. Seeing him, it came rumbling back to prick at her.
She turned at the sound of footsteps.
"Professor Granger, what are you up to this evening? Any plans for the weekend?"
"Oh, you know me, Headmaster. A book and a glass of wine make up my idea of a wild night these days."
"Perhaps I could lure you into a game of chess?"
She snorted. Filius was forever trying to help improve her game. She nodded back down toward the entry. "I fear your best chance for a game tonight just headed out the door."
"Severus? Is he gone?" Flitwick clapped his hand to his head, knocking his deep blue hat askew. "Of course he's gone. I'd forgotten the day."
Hermione tilted her head to the side. "What day is it? He looked quite put out earlier today and hardly less so now. Is something wrong?"
Flitwick sighed and turned to head back up the stairs. Hermione followed.
"It's his birthday."
"His birthday? He never told me!"
The diminutive Headmaster laughed. "He never tells anyone. We all learned long ago it's best not to make a fuss. The man hates birthdays. More so every year."
"That's so sad."
"Oh, he'll be right as rain in the morning. Just don't speak to him too loudly."
"What do you mean? Where has he gone?"
"He's gone to get drunk."
"Severus? But he doesn't drink…"
"Oh, he does, but only once or twice a year. It takes him that long to think it's a good idea again."
She stopped and looked back over the rail towards the door. "Perhaps someone should go with him…"
The Headmaster reached up and grabbed her elbow, tugging her along. "Don't even think of it. Only suicidal imbeciles show pity to Snape. I did that once, years ago. I think it was hisfifth year teaching. If you think he can be nasty now, you haven't seen anything. Leave him be. I like you with a head. I forbid you to go."
Hermione laughed. "You know you can't really stop me."
"True, but I promise you, if you go, you'll regret it. It took me several years to get over the things he said about my mother, despite his mumbled apology the next day. I suspect you're an even softer target."
Hermione blanched. She had developed a very good working relationship with Snape over the years, but it was hardly something one would call a friendship. Despite her admiration for him, and there were many days that crossed a few lines in her head, she always suspected that his polite demeanor was only a paper thin membrane over his actual contempt. Especially lately. Her attempts to cultivate a warmer regard had been met with indifference at best.
If he was capable of being that nasty to Flitwick, who had been his teacher, he would eat her alive as his former student.
"I think that's very good advice," she concurred.
The two of them headed up the stairs together.
Once in her rooms, Hermione poured herself a glass of wine, sat in her favorite chair, and opened the box of bon bons her mother had sent her in the mail. She picked up the book, but instead of reading, she turned her head toward the frost-covered window. It was a miserably cold night out. It was a miserable night to be alone.
Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid, she thought as she pushed open the door to The Three Broomsticks. It had been her litany ever since she's left her wine unsipped and her bon bons unnibbled. Instead, she'd thrown on her warmest cloak, her thickest socks, and her wooliest mittens so she could stomp through the snow to Hogsmeade.
She was nearly knocked over by the blast of hot air that surged out past her into the cold. She waved at Elise Rosmerta, who had taken over for her aunt six years ago, and headed over to a small table near the fire. Pulling off her hat and tugging off her mittens, she shimmied out of her damp cloak, setting them all on the chair nearest the warmth. When Elise came up, she ordered a glass of claret, and pulled her book out of her pocket.
That she was stupid was beyond a doubt, but no one would ever accuse her of being suicidal. She had no intention of sitting with the gloomy man drinking alone in the corner. She just wanted to make sure he was alright.
She opened her book, set it in her lap, and tried her best to look natural. When Elise came back with her wine, she lifted her head and accidentally made eye contact with him. She thanked Miss Rosmerta graciously and gave Snape a bland smile, nothing more and nothing less than her usual greeting when passing in the hallway. After a delicate sip, she set her glass on the table before her and looked back down at her book, hiding her trembling hands in her lap.
It wasn't that he'd graced her with one of his scathing glares that made her nervous. She'd been expecting that. It was that he was looking at her with intense speculation. Her mother used to get that look when she was picking lobsters from a tank. She turned to the next page, not that she'd read the previous one, and did her level best to try and keep her skin from actually crawling. She could feel his stare, not that there was anyone else to look at. Aside from the two professors, the place was empty but for Elise and her current beau, Jon Tinder, the cook. The usual locals were all home, it was far too miserable to go out.
It was far too obvious why she was here.
She skimmed bits and pieces of paragraphs, usually the same bits three or four times, and almost squeaked in alarm when Snape scraped his chair back from his corner table. She stared at the fire, trying to decide if she should look over at him with banal interest, ignore him completely, or run screaming out into the night.
Oh, god. He was coming over.
There was a muted thump as his cloak and muffler landed on top of her own. "What are you doing here?" he asked in a soft voice.
She looked up and him and grimaced. Best to go with the truth, she thought. Lying to a Snape was an exercise in futility. His innate abilities didn't really allow him to read minds without a spell, but he could read a lie at twenty paces. "I wanted to make sure you came home safe when you were done," she said quietly.
He plunked his pewter mug down and pulled out the chair across from her. The way he seemed to drop into it, so at odds with his usually strict grace, told her that his drink had already begun to set in. "No, I meant what are you doing at Hogwarts? Why are you here?"
He leaned across and gave her a look of pained curiosity. He actually seemed perplexed—and rather vexed by the perplexity.
"Why are any of us there? To teach." She gave him a weak smile and gulped at her wine.
"No. The rest of us are here to rot. You had better choices." He took a deep draught of his ale and sat back, staring into the fire. "I'm very disappointed in you Granger," he said, making her eyebrows jump up.
"Great things were expected of you. Brightest Witch and all that nonsense, and look at you. You're fading away, and you're not even thirty."
"I'm thirty-four," she said quietly.
He turned toward her, and his eyes took a quick inventory of her every feature. "You don't look it. Not like me. I'm fifty-five today, and I look every day of it and more so. Seventy, if you listened to those poxy little gobshites." She tilted her head in surprise. "Why do you look so shocked?" he snapped. "I had a mother. I even had a father. I was born, ergo, I have a birthday."
She giggled at his indignant scowl. It was one of his most benign scowls. She was beginning to think that Flitwick had missed the fact that Snape had mellowed over the years. "I'm surprised you brought it up, is all. Filius led me to believe discussing birthdays with you might shorten my lifespan. He tried to forbid me to leave the castle."
Snape snorted. "I suppose it's not a misplaced concern, considering my history, but I find I'm not in the mood to be a bastard tonight." He finished his drink and waved at Elise. It was a tired, listless wave, not his usual, sharp commanding gesture. "And another for her," he called.
He turned back to Hermione and jutted his chin at her glass. "You brought this on yourself. If you're going to watch over me, you'll have to catch me. Drink up."
She lifted her glass and drank. "So tell me," she said, setting her book aside. "Why are we rotting?"
He narrowed his eyes at her. "You tell me. Why aren't you the bloody Minister for Magic?
Her eyes widened at the odd rejoinder. "Minister for—What are you on about?"
He sat back as the fresh dinks arrived and then lunged back across the table. "You had everything," he hissed, "brains, popularity, an idiotic amount of compassion, and what I had thought of as a respectable amount of common sense, all things considered. Yet, you did nothing with it. Why? Why the fuck did you come back here?"
She blinked uncontrollably, completely taken aback by his furious compliments. She stalled for an answer by lifting her first glass and draining it. He pushed the new one over toward her with the back of his long fingers against the stem.
"I always wanted to come back here," she said finally.
He hissed in displeasure and threw himself back in his chair. "Then I was mistaken. You were actually just stupid the whole time." He shoved his mug in his face, muttering, "How depressing."
She did a quick count to ten. Obviously he was baiting her.
"Severus, I've been teaching here for five years. Why are you upset with my choices now? Why are you upset with my choices at all?"
He huffed and stared at the fire. "Because you had a choice. Because you had a life. Because you were supposed to be better than this."
She leaned across the table and looked at him with concern. "Explain 'this.' What is it you see that I don't?"
He continued to stare into the fire. "How can you not see? Look, Granger. Look at Filius. Look at Sprout. Go and look at Minerva's portrait." He jerked his head toward her. "Look at me."
Her mouth went dry and her hair stood up at that last. She had looked. Years ago. The night of the battle. She didn't think he would be happy if he knew just how deeply she had looked.
He turned back toward the fire, and she blew out a long breath.
"None of us had a choice," he continued. "Filius's mixed-blood status prevented him from getting a job anywhere else. Minerva, Pomona, especially Albus and I, we all had scandals at a young age that destroyed us. The Wizarding World has a long memory. Our misfit school is our only home. You don't belong. The rest of us are doomed to plod the hallways year in, year out, until no one is left to remember we were young once. That we might have had dreams of better things." He took a deep drink. "Now all that is left us is to die in our sleep, or stand up and walk off to class one day and not even realize we're dead." He stared down in his cup. "We're already dead."
She leaned across the table. "No, you're not. Not if you don't want to be."
His head snapped up and he leaned closer to her, jabbing at her empathy with his needling gaze. Something shifted in his eyes, and when he spoke again, his voice was lower, softer, and yet more urgent. "Quit, Granger. Get out while you can. It's not too late for you, you know. You can find a place where you're happy."
She shook her head. "This is about those students, isn't it? You mustn't let their talk affect you. I would have thought you above their petty little comments."
He snarled at her and pulled back. He drained his mug, signaling for a fresh round, and slammed it against the table. "Why would you think I would be? I do have feelings, you know. And they weren't petty little comments, it was fucking perceptive commentary." He shoved her wine glass closer to her as Elise came up with another.
In for a penny, in for a pound, she thought, lifting her glass and taking a not very healthy chug.
"Doesn't it bother you when they call you a frigid cunt? When they go on and on about how you lay in bed at night and hump textbooks?"
She nearly choked on her wine before she could swallow. She burst out with a loud guffaw. "Do they? Those little bastards!" She laughed some more and then swiped at her watery eyes. "To answer your question, no. It doesn't bother me. They're children. Their opinions don't matter to me at all. I spent my young childhood being called a geek, my older childhood being called a Mudblood, and my entire life being called a swot. I could have let it bother me. It would have been so easy to. But in the end, it was easier to stop caring. The last time I was hurt by a comment was the one you made about my teeth back when Draco hexed them to grow past my neck."
He threw his hand in the air. "Another one. Gods. You, Filius, and Lily. One goddamned angry comment and you won't let go of that bone, will you? Haven't you ever blurted something out under extreme circumstances? If you did, I seriously doubt if you were flogged for it the way I've been done."
She tilted her head to the side again. "You remember it."
He looked surprised, and for a fleeting moment he looked like a boy who'd been caught stealing a biscuit. He scowled furiously. "Of course I remember the teeth. It wasn't one of my better insults. I was rather disappointed in myself, but I was under no small amount of pressure at the time. It was a rather ham-fisted comment. I thought of seven better one's within the next ten minutes." He lifted his mug and gave her a devilish smirk. "They all would have made you cry though. Be sure of that."
She burst forth with another deep laugh. "You are a complete arse." She lifted her glass and toasted him before taking a healthy sip. He gave her a smug sneer.
She set her drink down on the table and quietly said, "Your cock is too small."
His eyebrows jumped up to meet his hairline. "Excuse me?" he hissed, in a shockingly quiet voice.
She laughed. "You asked if I ever blurted something under duress and was flogged for it. That's what I blurted."
His face colored spectacularly, and then he snorted. "Oh, my. That's almost as bad as—" His eyes veiled and he shifted his shoulders. "Well, I've said some dreadful things in my time." He tossed his hair out of his face before leaning back in. "Did you mean it? I didn't. I was just humiliated and angry."
She sighed, knowing what he was referring to, and yet not drunk enough to broach the topic. Instead, she took another sip before replying. "It was the truth, sadly. I just didn't intend to ever actually say it."
"Same with me and Flitwick's mother."
"What did you say about his mother?"
"Nothing I will ever repeat."
She wrinkled her nose in disappointment. "Well, that's honorable. Are you ever going to tell me what scandals Pomona and Minerva were involved in?"
"I didn't think so."
They both took that moment to drink. Snape swiped at his lip with his sleeve, a gesture so out of keeping with his normal fastidiousness that it shocked her to her toes. He leaned back across the table and pinned her with an amused stare. "It wasn't Weasley, was it? Please tell me it was."
She shook her head. "Sorry to disappoint."
He paused and stared at the wall. "I don't recall hearing about you and anyone else. The papers did eventually lose interest in the three of you, and Minerva finally copped to the fact that I didn't give a damn."
She giggled and leaned back across the table. "It was Ernie Macmillan," she whispered.
"Ernie. He was in Dumbledore's Army, remember? Hufflepuff?"
"You dated a Hufflepuff?"
"You make it sound like I did something dirty."
"There's nothing wrong with Hufflepuffs. I just thought your taste in men required a bit more… brawn."
"And Neville positively screams just that. How much time have you spent contemplating my taste?"
He scowled at her and flicked his fingers at her wine. "I assure you, not as much as your ego would probably wish," he said snidely.
She huffed and drank. She really was drinking too much too fast. She would pay for this later.
She thunked her glass down, irritated. "Ernie was a very interesting man, I'll have you know."
He shook his head. "I can't remember him at all." His demeanor returned to the strange camaraderie that she hadn't thought him capable of. "They do tend to blur. You'll find that out eventually."
"So I hear," she said with a sad smile.
A small silence reigned after that and they both stared at the fire. She was feeling rather mellow and delightfully comfortable with his presence. This was something she'd been working towards for years. She casually raised her hand and patted at the tip of her nose. Oh, dear. It was numb. Always a bad sign. She really needed to slow down.
As for him, he seemed in no hurry to end things, nor to move the conversation in any particular direction. Obviously, he was more than a bit pickled, but instead of making his temper more unstable, it seemed to make him rather... agreeable. She smiled. She liked this Severus. She wondered if her liver could withstand regular meetings with him.
"Tell me, Severus. What do you fear no one will remember? What were your dreams of better things? "
His mouth flattened out stubbornly, and he gave her a reproachful look.
"No, there's an ebb and flow to this drinking thing," she said. "We just shared a secret, and now we have to get maudlin. You started it. You have to follow the rules."
"Oh? And what comes after maudlin?"
She smiled impishly. "Usually, we get a wild idea and do something daft, decide we are best mates, seal it with some bonding ritual, and eventually help each other keep our hair out of the way as we vomit. At least that's my recollection. It's been awhile since I've done this. There might be a more mature version, but if so, no one gave me the updated rules."
His smirk turned into a smile and then a quiet chuckle. "Very well, maudlin it is." He slouched down in his chair, stretching his long legs toward the fire. "I don't think my dreams were ever any different than anyone else's really. I always thought I would finish growing up and marry Lily. I pictured a cozy little cottage in Hogsmeade and a gaggle of little redheaded children all with her nose. We would open up an apothecary and spend all day making potions." He stabbed her with a defensive stare. "Gagging, I know."
"I think it sounds lovely," she said softly. "And after she died? Did you ever dare to dream again?"
He lifted his mug, shaking his head.
"Does it still hurt?"
He breathed a small laugh. "Such a nosey little thing, you are." He set his mug down with a sigh and stared back into the fire. "Yes and no. I'm at peace with her loss. I tried to die for her, but Minerva came and saved me, the meddling fool. I didn't know what the fuck to do with myself after that." He turned to her, lifting and empty hand. "What still hurts is the waste. She could have been something great in our world. Instead, she—" He dropped his hand to his lap and stared at it. "Well, she died, didn't she? And barely twenty years of age, at that." He grimaced, and swung his narrow face back toward her. "Wasted lives are wretched things. It disgusts me that you've fallen amongst us."
She tilted her head to the side. "Even though I'm happy?"
"Then you're just pitiable."
He leaned back across the table and lifted her drink, bringing it closer to her mouth. "You're falling behind," he said.
She lifted an eyebrow and took the glass but he didn't let go, just tilted it toward her mouth as she took an awkward sip.
He set the glass back down, and his gaze swirled across her features. "What were your dreams, Granger? Didn't you want children? A little home of your own? A man?"
She gave him a small smile and nodded. "I did. But I always felt it would be more convenient at a later date. I was in a mad rush to have a career. I threw myself at the Ministry, determined to scale the heights in a handful of years. It cost me Ron. Then Neville. Blurted honesty cost me Ernie, but there were a million and three other issues there, so if it hadn't been that one it would have been another." She turned to look at the fire. "I strove, Severus. I clutched, and I climbed, and I grabbed at what I could to get ahead." She shook her head. "In the end, I didn't really like what I had become. I was never good enough. I was never anything enough. Just being Hermione Granger, wasn't ever enough."
"Those bastards," he said in a harsh whisper.
She lifted her hands in a helpless gesture and turned to him. "It wasn't them. Don't you see? It was me. I was the one that told myself I wasn't good enough. I was the one that found fault in everything I did. I was the one that was torturing me." His face reflected confusion, and she sighed and shook her head, tossing a hand in the air. "So I quit. I quit and I looked around for something that would make me content. I knew I would be happy here, and so here I am." She smiled. "Happy."
With no warning, Snape slid his chair around the corner of the small table until he was closer to her, his elbow brushing hers. "Why?" he demanded quietly. "Why are you happy?"
"Because I'm finally just me. Being Hermione Granger is good enough here. I don't have to be special if I don't want to be. I love teaching. I love Hogwarts, and I like my coworkers rather a lot."
She placed her hand on his arm. "Severus, if you want to be happy, you have to throw yourself at it. You can't just keep slogging away through life assuming your one chance got away. Happiness is always there, waiting for you to see it for what it is."
His face scrunched slightly. It was less confused, but not completely understanding either. He plucked her hand off his arm and shoved her wineglass in it. "But what about the rest of it? There's more to life than a job. You said you did want a family. What are you doing towards that end? Why don't you have a fellow?"
She wrinkled her nose and looked back at the fire. "I admit that there are certain drawbacks to living in a castle full of teenagers full-time. Personal lives do seem to go by the wayside. There have been one or two gentlemen, summer flings, but nothing ever came of them. Not yet, anyway."
He tapped her wine glass and sat back, sipping his ale. "He won't come," he said.
"This person that you're waiting for." He waved a languid hand towards the door. "He's out there somewhere and will never know you exist until you get the hell out of here."
She finished her wine and set the glass down. "Why don't you?" she asked, leaning close and staring into his gaunt, lined face. "Run. Get the hell out. Why are you here?"
He finished his ale and stared at the empty cup. "I wanted to. After I left St. Mungo's I had no plans on ever returning. I was a hero, after all. Why not start over? But that's not how it works, is it? There's not much in the way of employment for an ex-Death Eater, despite an Order of Merlin. I thought about starting my own Potions business, but I was so sick of Potions it felt like going backwards. In the end, I came slinking back. I've spent the last fourteen years trying to instill 'constant vigilance' into arrogant brats who think the world was cured and my job redundant."
She poked him in the chest. "The problem isn't the school, Severus. The problem is your head."
He turned his head from the flames and stabbed her with an annoyed look. "Fuck you, Granger."
"Not drunk enough yet," she quipped. "Look. A job is just a job. How you approach it makes all the difference in the world." She leaned back in her chair, ignoring his reaction to her first comment. "Minimum basic needs, Snape. We need a roof over our heads, and we need food in our stomachs. Feeling fulfilled? That's in your head, not your job description or circumstances. I had a fantastic job, and was miserable. Now I have what you call a terrible job, and I'm happy. Believe me; if you had found a job you enjoyed after the war, you would have been just as miserable. What you're looking for isn't outside, it's inside. You've got to change what happy means."
He leaned closer. "What does it mean to you?"
"Being accepted. Being content with myself. Not inventing fires to put out because I was raised to save the world and didn't know how to do anything else." She squinted at him. "What does happy mean to you?"
He inspected his empty mug and then set it down and pushed it away. "Aren't we done being maudlin? What comes next?"
"I'm not sure if we are. Usually, there's some teary revelation and a declaration of perfect understanding before the maudlin-stage is done."
"There's not enough drink in the world to get me weepy," he said with a sneer.
"Yeah, and I'm not feeling particularly sad, so it won't be me either. Perhaps the plan is a bust."
He pushed back from the table. "I suppose it's getting late. We should head back."
"Really? It's only eleven! I thought this was a bender."
He snorted. "That was the original intention. You fouled the plan." He grabbed up his cloak and hers as well, tossing it in her lap.
"It does seem rather anticlimactic, doesn't it?" She said struggling to her feet. "What if we had an argument? I could wish you happy birthday, and you could take offense. Would that help?"
He snorted again. "I don't have the energy, and it would be a poor way to thank you for your company tonight," he said before heading over to pay the tab.
She smiled at that and began bundling herself up, shoving her book into her pocket. Standing brought on complications, balance was apparently not what it once was. She narrowed her eyes and concentrated on walking in a straight line towards the door.
He pulled it open for her, and together they ventured out into the cold.
Chap 2 in a flash...