Once again I apologize that this update is so long in coming. My life went a little haywire, I got laid off, moved 1432 miles (I googled it) across the country, and am now looking for a new job and a new place to live in a different city than the one I'm currently in. But in the meantime, I was starting to feel super guilty about not updating, so here we go. And one last thing, my special thanks to wingsrookie and BuzzCat for their reviews on the last chapter. Any and all reviews are very appreciated!
Though he'd never admit it out loud, Severus Snape was intrigued by this whole new side of one Miss Hermione Granger. It had been nearly four years since he'd last seen her before she'd taken up the position at Hogwarts. His last memory of her was barely more than a hazy, pain-induced recollection of seeing her in the hospital wing after the final battle. He vaguely recalled yelling at her to leave him alone when he'd awoken to her sniveling at his bedside, blathering on over how wrong they'd all been about him. He couldn't stomach the sight then any more than he could tolerate the memory in the present moment. He didn't want their pity and he definitely didn't want pity from the Gryffindor Princess. He viciously pushed the thought from his head and poured himself a glass of whisky, wondering how four years could feel like an eternity and a blink of an eye in the same moment.
The next day, after downing one of his own special brews he kept on hand for hangovers, he forced himself out of his rooms and up to the Great Hall for breakfast. The staff meeting after breakfast would be barely tolerable as it were without a splitting headache thrown into the mix. He slid into his usual seat, nodded a quick hello to Minerva on his left and reached for the platter of sausages. On his right, the Granger girl slid into her seat – the one beside him that she'd been delegated to as the newest member of the staff because no one else wanted to sit by the unsociable Potions Master – and reached for the pot of coffee.
"Morning," she greeted him quietly. He glanced in her direction, simply intending on returning the greeting, but was caught off guard by the sight of her clay speckled clothes and a streak of that same clay across her cheek. He said nothing, merely raised an eyebrow in silent inquiry.
She looked down at her jeans and shirt, smiling ruefully. "I know, I'm a right mess. I just wanted to get some pieces thrown this morning before the staff meeting so that I can have them ready to show the students when classes start on Monday. Plus I'd rather not run the kiln without a full load, so I figured I'd make a few different pieces to give the students some ideas for inspiration."
"How about a demonstration?" Flitwick's high-pitched voice squeaked from the other side of Hermione. "After all the charms work it took to get that room ready, I'm rather eager to see what it was all for."
"I have to admit I'm rather interested myself, Hermione." Minerva's voice cut across the conversation at the high table, and suddenly Hermione found herself the sole focus of everyone at the table. "How about after lunch once we've got the staff meeting out of the way? Then anyone that wants to watch can do so."
Hermione nodded in acquiescence and was glad when everyone's attention reverted back to their own conversations. She hardly doubted there were very many on staff who would be interested in such a muggle exploit but perhaps it was the novelty of the idea.
The meeting that morning – Hermione's first staff meeting ever – turned out to be little more than a tedious debate over patrolling schedules and minor curriculum changes. She would have been bored straight into a catatonic state in the overcrowded and overheated staff room if not for the commanding presence of Severus next to her and his constant stream of vitriolic remarks in response to some of the less-than-sensible ideas being offered up by other staff members. One such scathing remark in which he adamantly refused Pomona's request to allow a sixth-year Hufflepuff boy into the advanced Potions class after barely scraping by with an Acceptable in his Potions OWL left Hermione in a fit of giggles that she had tried and failed to disguise as a cough. Only when he turned his vicious glare on herself was she able to regain control. Though to be fair, she wasn't the only one finding amusement at his apt comparison of the gangly, mediocre-at-best Hufflepuff boy to her own eternally-awkward classmate, Neville Longbottom. Granted, Neville had come a long way in respectability after the role he played in the final battle at Hogwarts, but that couldn't quite erase 5 long years' worth of memories of near-misses and barely-averted catastrophic destruction in their Potions lessons.
At any rate, the meeting finally ended and the majority of the staff traipsed back down to the Great Hall for a leisurely lunch. Hermione quickly scarfed down a few bites of her sandwich, steadfastly ignoring Severus' look of disapproval at her poor table manners, and rushed out of the hall down to the dungeons. She was hardly prepared for an impromptu demonstration and wanted to put her best foot forward as the newest member of staff in front of the professors that had known her since she was nothing more than bushy hair and clumsy feet. (Granted, she still had her clumsy moments, but she'd come a long way in hair care since she was eleven.)
Once she'd reached her clay studio (at a near run), she quickly uncovered the pieces she'd left drying under plastic sheets that morning so the others could see a few examples of her work, and then rushed to pull some of her completed pieces out of Tupperware containers she'd stashed in a corner. She unwrapped a few of her nicer pieces and set them on a table for display, then gathered together her tools for throwing. She'd just moved to the wedging table to cut a block of clay when the first few members of staff started wandering in.
"Hi. You can come on in and have a look around if you want while I get the wheel set up." Nearly the entirety of the staff seemed to be coming to watch, leaving Hermione with the suspicion that Minerva must have insisted they show support to the newest member of staff or else surely only a handful would have shown up. It wasn't hard to figure out which ones were there involuntarily either. All she had to do was look for the expressions of disdain for a diversion so entirely muggle on the faces of those hanging just barely in the doorway. On the other hand, some members of staff – Pomona in particular – were in raptures over her completed pieces. It was gratifying to hear someone appreciate the time and effort that she had put into making each piece, and even more so when she realized that Severus was one of the few looking over her work. Not that he was in raptures, just his usual unreadable self, but still at least he was looking, right? Though why it should matter to her at all was beyond her reasoning capabilities. Firmly telling herself to stop obsessing, she cut a four pound block of clay – enough to make a large vase – and headed for the wheel. She opted for stoneware clay instead of the earthenware she had been working with earlier. Truth be told, she much preferred stoneware, but had purchased a large amount of the earthenware because it would be easier for her students to start learning to throw with.
She sat down at the wheel and slapped the clay down hard onto it, effectively drawing the attention of her entire audience so that she could begin. Having done so, she immediately regretted it for the nerves that began to kick in. She'd never had to throw in front of so many people before and she would look an utter fool if she messed this up. Resolving on ignoring the crowd, she focused on her piece and would've worked in silence, but for the hundred and ten questions Pomona insisted she answer. She was gratefully surprised when Severus curtly insisted Pomona let her work in peace and save the questions for later.
Somewhere about half an hour later she looked up from her finished vase to discover that two thirds of her audience had disbursed. Unable to muster up the wherewithal to be offended by it, she was simply pleased for the oohing and aahing over her finished piece that stood around a foot and a half tall. It was always nice when someone appreciated her craft, even if she couldn't help looking at her work and knowing there were things she could've done better about it. But then again, beauty is often found in the imperfections of life, right?
Once the staff had gone, she set to cleaning up, only to shriek in shock as she turned around to find Severus standing directly behind her. He quickly took a step back, putting space between them where there had been none previously.
"Professor Sn– er – Severus!" His amused look left her blushing like the schoolgirl she still felt herself to be at rare moments. "I didn't know you'd stayed."
"Obviously." He drawled, leaving her in no doubt of the inanity of the statement she'd just made.
"Er… what can I do for you?" She asked, wondering why he'd stayed. "Did you want to work on your piece now, rather than waiting for later?"
Instead of answering, he reached into one of the pockets of his voluminous robes and pulled out an apple, holding it out to her. "You had little more than a rat's share of lunch and nothing more than coffee for breakfast. I thought you might be hungry."
Hermione tried and failed to hide her look of shock. "You brought me something to eat?" The simple lift of one eyebrow served as a reminder to not ask stupid questions. Unable to reconcile this thoughtful man with the one she had known her whole adolescence, she simply took the apple with a quick thank you and set to devouring it as he left the room. He was right; she was rather hungry after all.