I don't know myself anymore, not since she avalanched into my life.
I used to be a rational being. Once the war was over, and my service to the Order of the Phoenix was recognized, I settled down, I thought, into middle-aged peace and security. Surely, if anyone had earned both, it was I.
And for seven years, or exactly the length of time it took her to complete her medical studies, my life was secure, peaceful, and, must I admit it, sedate.
It was good to be back at Hogwarts, teaching Potions. After being bitten by Riddle's familiar, I really thought my time on this earth had come to an end, and I would have welcomed the release from a life not much to my liking, but the choice was taken out of my hands by a certain trio of students, whom I would have, at that time, called the bane of my existence. I wasn't terribly happy to have survived, but once I recovered (which didn't take as long as I had guessed it would) and once the Wizengamot cleared up the little matter of my true loyalty, I was awarded an Order of Merlin and given a generous stipend from the Ministry to make up for my pain and suffering, and I settled in to quite a nice life. My former colleague, Minerva McGonagall, was now Headmistress of Hogwarts, and she asked me to come back to teach Potions once the school was rebuilt and a new term started.
And I found myself feeling something that closely approximated happiness in my return to the school, and to teaching.
My apartment in the castle was extremely comfortable, and I made a very decent wage; combined with my stipend from the Ministry, my financial needs were more than met. I had the regard of my colleagues, once the apologies and forgivings were taken care of.
I had the luxury of a daily routine for the first time in twenty years. My classes started and ended on time. The house-elves served the meals exactly on time; we didn't dare ask them to make changes in the schedule or else they'd think we were unhappy with them and they'd iron their own ears. Even Longbottom's idiotic successors melted their cauldrons exactly on schedule. Finally, after too many years of war and intrigue, torture and fear, I had the life I'd always wanted.
And now that I had it, I was bored out of my skull.
That had to be why I was so vulnerable to HER.
It started in small ways. (This kind of disruption always does, I'm told.) A new Potions journal appeared in the library, along with the standard periodicals we already received.
I was on my way to the librarian's desk to ask where it had come from when I glanced at the table of contents and saw an article that looked interesting. A new way of preparing Wolfsbane had been tested and found to be successful. The brewer who'd made the discovery had used arithmantic calculations to improve the formula, which now, (I'm told on good authority) didn't taste as bad and could be prepared up to two months in advance.
Madam Pince caught sight of the periodical in my hand and beamed at me. "Oh, Professor Snape, I'm so glad you found the new journal. Mistress Granger was sure you would enjoy it when she asked me to order the subscription."
Yes, Mistress Hermione Granger, fully accredited Healer, had graduated from her training at St. Mungo's and been the first to submit her application for Poppy Pomfrey's position on the staff, when Poppy announced she was retiring.
(I'm quite sure that Headmistress McGonagall tipped Granger off that the position would be coming open, so she could turn in her application almost before the ink was dry on the advert in the Daily Prophet.)
Regrettably, (I thought at first) Granger's application was not only the first to arrive, she was the most qualified candidate, and she joined the staff this year. The one good thing about it was she didn't bring Weasley back with her, and I heard that the 'promising relationship' which everyone supposed would end in marriage, failed to transpire. I was glad she was single, once I heard she was coming back. Granger alone was bad enough; it would have been infinitely worse with Weasley tagging at her heels.
Seven years since the war, she'd obviously grown up. Female students changed in the most unexpected ways as they matured. With her lion-like mane of unruly hair and those unfortunate teeth, Granger had been plain before. Perhaps she would now be bearable.
(I was conveniently discounting her startling beauty at the Yule Ball her fourth year. Hadn't she been escorted to that by the Bulgarian Behemoth, Viktor Krum? No matter, that had to have been a complete one-off, and not likely to be repeated. )
She'd had Poppy fix her teeth magically in her fourth year, and I was reasonably sure she'd got over the habit of waving her hand around in the air. I had no expectations beyond that, but I was completely unprepared for the reality of Healer Hermione J. Granger, Order of Merlin 1st Class.
The insufferable witch was not any taller than she had been as a sixth-year student—no higher than the top of my shoulder—and she had developed curves in the usual places. I noticed them the first evening she spent at the High Table.
(And, I am forced to confess, I've noticed them every night since that she's been at the table, besides thinking of those curves when I should be slicing shrivelfigs or mincing daisy roots.)
I can only suppose I was expecting her to wear a nurse's uniform circa nineteen hundred and three or thereabouts—something with a long skirt, a high necked blouse, and an all-enveloping white pinafore with pockets the size of a first year's bookbag. And a winged hat. Can't forget the hat. All in crisp blue stripes on white. It was good enough for Poppy Pomfrey, there was no reason Mistress Granger should not wear something similar.
But, of course, SHE was a modern witch.
Her first night back, Minerva was beaming as Granger took her place with us at the High Table, and, as she sat next to me (whose good idea was that, I wondered?) I could not avoid looking at her without appearing completely idiotic.
She projected a confidence rare in a witch of her age, and radiated utter joy to be back at Hogwarts. She greeted me pleasantly, and, since I do actually have decent manners when I am not under the strain of serving two half-mad masters, I turned to look at her as I returned her greeting, and could not avoid noticing the changes that had occurred since the end of the war.
Most obvious were the changes in her attire. She did not wear a horribly outdated medi-witch's uniform, nor did she wear the Muggle jeans, casual shirts and trainers of her youth. Well, I could hardly expect that, after all. This new Granger wore a knee-length skirt (slim and black and looking frighteningly expensive,) a three-buttons-unbuttoned green silk blouse, and black suede pumps—with a cut-out at the toe, mind you—under a long, well-fitted robe of bottle green silk.
Her unruly hair was confined in a braided knot at the nape of her neck, and I could see, for the first time, how finely drawn her features were, and how long and slender her neck was. The blouse bared the edges of her dainty collarbones, while the lace-trimmed cuffs revealed the delicacy of her wrists. Her eyes, always one of her most appealing features, were filled with warmth and sparkled with interest, intelligence, and wit. Her mouth was unpainted, but her lips looked impossibly soft and her smile was still appealingly crooked.
While I was still pondering these changes, the Hogwarts ghosts skimmed into the room, the air currents over the High Table changed, and Granger's scent wafted over me. I didn't know whether it was her shampoo, her soap, or her perfume, but the scent was lovely—I found myself thinking that was exactly how a woman should smell.
As a Potions master, one becomes accustomed to analyzing scents as a matter of course, and my sensitive nose identified lemongrass, apple, Tiare flowers, vanilla and just the faintest note of cinnamon. There were grace notes of spring rain, citrus, and lavender that came and went so fast I almost couldn't classify them, but the overall impression of the scent was warm and yet somehow fresh. I grudgingly admitted to myself (never, ever, would I confess this to her), that the fragrance suited her.
She spoke to me when we'd served ourselves from the laden platters that appeared at the table, and said, with utter sincerity, "I'm so glad to see you, Professor Snape. I hope you will forgive me for my transgressions as a student at Hogwarts. I know that I caused you a great deal of trouble and broke a lot of rules. It's bothered me for years that I stunned you in the Shrieking Shack the night Sirius Black was captured. Please tell me you'll forgive me for being so silly?"
And thus began my downfall.
What living, breathing, red-blooded wizard could resist such an appeal, when it was spoken so sincerely? What living, breathing, red-blooded wizard could fail to be stirred by such a lovely woman focusing all her formidable attention on him alone?
I cleared my throat and mumbled, "All is forgiven, Mistress Granger."
She gave me a brilliant smile, as if I had just handed her an entirely new universe to play with.
"But I have no desire to be so formal with you. I would like for us to become friends; won't you call me Hermione? I would be so pleased."
Out the corner of my eye, I saw her inch her chair a bit closer to mine.
I nodded my head stiffly. "And you may call me Severus."
She'd been my colleague, officially, for approximately twelve hours, or as soon as she had arrived at the castle this morning.
(Early. It had been early. I'd heard Argus Filch grumbling as he got up from the breakfast table to go and open the front door for her.)
I still ground my teeth when Sybill Trelawney called me by my given name, and we have been colleagues (more or less) for twenty three years. Of course, Sybill Trelawney was half-mad and a fraud besides, and I was certain of Hermione Granger's professional qualifications, at least. (I recalled Minerva bragging that Granger's exam scores and performance ratings were always in the top three in her class, and quite often, she earned the top slot.)
Given our shared history, her stated desire to befriend me had to cast at least a little bit of doubt on her sanity.
But she was speaking again. I caught the upward lilt in her voice, and noticed her expectant gaze focused on me and deduced that she'd asked a question.
"I beg your pardon, I didn't hear your last comment." I leaned a bit closer, and so did she. Her fragrance enveloped me again.
"It is a bit noisy here. I was asking if you still make the potions for the Hospital Wing."
"Ah. Indeed, I do. I would like to claim some of your time, perhaps tomorrow, so we can go over the inventory, and I can show you the list of potions Poppy wished always to have on hand."
"I would appreciate that. And I wanted to offer to help you brew them. My training included compounding medical potions, of course, but I also took a few extra classes during the summers, my first years at Avalon. I'm not a Potions Mistress, I fall short by about a year's study, but I could certainly help you with the brewing."
She placed her small hand on my arm (the left one, where my old Dark Mark was fading with time) and gave me an appealing look. "You do so much for the school and you always have. I'd enjoy helping you, because I know I could learn a lot from working with you."
Well. She had always been more than competent in Potions class; I was quite certain she wouldn't melt cauldrons the way Longbottom had.
"Madam Pomfrey did ask for a larger order than usual," I replied, keeping my voice as neutral as possible. "And with the changes in the Ministry, and werewolves openly welcome at Hogwarts, there will be a demand for Wolfsbane, which will put me behind my usual brewing schedule. Shall we meet tomorrow morning at ten, and schedule lab time?"
"That suits me very well. Thank you so much." She looked like she wished to continue our conversation, but her attention was claimed by Aurora Sinestra, who sat on her opposite side.
Mistress Granger excused herself politely and turned to her other companion, and I sat back to finish my meal, feeling a little disconcerted, a little dazed.
WHAT was I thinking?
I had just agreed to work with her to supply the Hospital Wing with the needed potions for the year, as well as consenting to call her Hermione, and inviting her to call me Severus.
This would mean many hours alone in her company. It would mean treating her as a colleague, rather than barking instructions at her. (I had a feeling that it wouldn't go well for me to treat her like a student in detention, no matter how youthful she looked.)
I was thinking about her lovliness and enjoying her warmth, even the scent of her perfume. Events were moving at a pace much faster than that to which I was accustomed.
I was doomed!
The really disconcerting thing is that I would not have changed it for all the galleons in all the vaults at Gringotts.