Author's Note: This is a completed work at just over 10,000 words. This story is more of a sketch than a portrait. Just shaded charcoal lines here and there to give you an image. I hope you enjoy it. Also, the first chapter has an original character, but she does not play a large role in the fiction, and she is not prominent in other chapters. Severus is a bit OOC in this story. Inkspots fans will recognize "my Severus", but it is a completely different story. It is post-Hogwarts by about five years. Fluffy and romantic, rated T for language, no lemons to be found.
Disclosure: JK Rowling created and rightfully owns Harry Potter. I simply aim to give you a few happy minutes ignoring the pile of dirty laundry, as we imagine our favorite book characters living on past Deathly Hallows.
"In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me
there lay an invincible summer."
― Albert Camus
Chapter 1: Winter's Chill
"Is tomorrow the big day?" Lauren asked.
Severus shrugged his shoulders. "It's supposed to be, but we'll see."
Lauren looked back at Severus in disbelief. "Surely she'll show up. Right?"
Severus nodded. "I think she'll show up, but I don't think it will go any further. I don't have a good feeling about it."
"You're such a pessimist, Severus. For weeks you've gone on and on about this woman, about how she'll be perfect, how she's so intelligent, et cetera, and now all of a sudden, you don't have a good feeling about it? Then why the hell did you work so hard to get her to come for an interview?"
Severus scowled at her. "You don't understand."
"Hell, Severus, if I don't understand you, you're in trouble. Enlighten me."
"Yes, she'll come for the interview; yes, I think she's perfect for the job. I don't think she'll take the job."
"Why the hell not?" Lauren asked incredulously.
Severus chuckled. "Lauren, you need your blonde head examined. Come by my lab after work. I'll have one of my village idiots run some diagnostics."
"Yes, you're hilarious. Talk to me, Severus!"
"Lauren, what was your first job with me?"
"As you would say," Severus began, "bullshit."
Lauren laughed, a deep, resonating sound that Severus always felt didn't match Lauren's willowy, feminine frame. He couldn't help but smile every time she laughed, which is probably why they became friends so quickly five years ago.
"All right," she conceded. "But I did protect you!"
"Yes, you did," he said softly.
"Are things really so bad, still?"
"No," Severus answered quickly. "Things are much better. You know that. But this is different."
"Why is it so different?" Lauren seemed sad on his behalf, which was a balm to Severus.
"Hermione and I have a contentious past, and she probably has a dozen great job opportunities already lined up. I don't think she'll be able to see past me and our past to look at the job."
"Well, you said she's intelligent, so I expect she'll surprise you," Lauren said cheerfully, looking down at her watch. "Let's go, your village idiots need their chief."
They vanished the remains of their lunches and walked toward the cafeteria doors. Severus turned to Lauren and started their weekly ritual of saying goodbye. "Goodbye, Brawn."
"Bye, Brains! I'll see you tomorrow!" And with that, Lauren turned to walk toward the stairs toward the lobby of St. Mungo's where she could floo to the Ministry of Magic.
"Wait! What's tomorrow?" Severus called out.
Lauren turned back to face Severus. "You've been talking about this Hermione for months! You don't think I'm going to stay away, do you?"
Severus shook his head at Lauren as she turned back around and watched her as she went down the stairwell. It looked as though he would be inundated with strong-willed females tomorrow.
When Severus arrived at work the following morning, he entered the lab and breathed deeply. He had done the same thing every morning for the last five years. Most people wrinkled their nose in distaste when the smells of potions and potion ingredients greeted them in his personal lab, but not Severus. To him, it was the smell of peace and life. He stepped into the adjoining, larger lab to write down the potions that he wanted his team working on that day. After five years of trying to direct younger, less capable brewers, he had found that it was best if he communicated to them in writing as much as possible. He had taught many of the brewers, and the ones he hadn't taught were quickly filled in that Severus was a harsh taskmaster. Severus sighed. In five years, he had escaped much of his past: he had escaped Hogwarts, he had escaped war and imprisonment, and he had escaped death. He couldn't, however, escape his reputation. And so much of it wasn't true, or wasn't true anymore, he thought sardonically.
He mused that it would be good when today was over. These last few months trying to get Hermione to come in for an interview had brought back memories from Hogwarts and the war more than usual and had been tough, to say the least. Hermione Granger was probably the only person worth Severus going through such efforts. And he was pretty certain that all of his efforts would be for naught.
Even five years after the war, Hermione was always in the Daily Prophet for some reason or other, usually for something frivolous, scandalous and completely untrue. But Severus made sure to follow Hermione's academic path. She had gone back to Hogwarts to re-do the Seventh Year that she missed hunting Horcruxes. Completely useless exercise, he thought, but that had been her choice. When she finally sat her NEWTs, she had completely wiped out every record, including his own. No surprise there. He would have approached her for an apprenticeship at that point, but he had not been in a position to do so.
After Hogwarts, she went to a small wizarding University embedded within Cambridge University. It became the scandal of the year when it broke that Hermione was taking muggle courses, as well. Hermione was one of the few witches that embraced both of her cultures. When Severus found out that she was studying to complete both a wizarding degree, as well as a muggle degree from Cambridge, he continued following both of her paths of study. Thankfully, the Cambridge University newspaper, The Cambridge Student, could be delivered via owl through his connections to a professor there. At least the Cambridge newspaper did not vilify Hermione. She was notable even among the brilliant minds at Cambridge. On the other hand, during her senior year at Cambridge, she became the Daily Prophet's favorite pariah. She graduated, in two separate ceremonies, from Cambridge five months ago. Four months ago, he had olwed her to request that she meet him for tea regarding her future career choices. Four owls and four refusals. The fifth time, he laid it all out for her, asking her to come for an interview. He expected a final refusal, but was greatly pleased when she accepted.
He busied himself with his latest potion as he waited for Hermione to arrive. When his wards alerted him that she had arrived, he put a stasis on his potion and opened the door.
"Hello, Professor Snape."
Severus knew that this was bound to be a hard re-introduction, but three words in, and it was already hard. There was no smile from Hermione, nor any of the spark that he was accustomed to. He expected her to have changed quite a bit from the last time they saw each other, but he didn't know this woman at all.
Trying to rein in his apprehension, he smiled at Hermione. "Hello, Miss Granger. Please come in," he gestured for her to sit in one of his guest chairs, where he sat facing her.
"Professor Snape," Hermione began, but Severus interrupted.
"Please call me Severus. May I call you Hermione?" he asked.
Still no smile from Hermione. "Can we get to the point, Severus? I am really only here out of respect. I don't know what you think you can gain from having me come to St. Mungo's, but I'm here for 15 minutes, so I suggest you begin."
"All right, the point. I need a colleague here at St. Mungo's, and I have every faith that you would elevate the research and development that I do here, as well as give you an excellent facility to further your own research."
Severus contemplated trying to sell the job and the perks to Hermione, but at that moment, he knew that it wasn't the job that she was rejecting. "All right. Thank you for your time, Miss Granger." They both got out of their chairs, and Hermione was gathering her bag and coat when Severus' door opened. There was only one person who could pass through his wards besides Severus. Severus inwardly groaned as he saw Lauren's blond hair peek into the lab, looking for him.
"Ah, there you are, Brains!" Lauren cheerfully called out. She walked toward them, hand extended to Hermione. "You must be Hermione. I have heard so much about you!"
Hermione's iciness extended to Lauren, too, it seemed. "No doubt. And you are?" Hermione asked, looking between Severus and Lauren.
Lauren's hand fell to her side as her smile fell. Severus couldn't decide if he wanted Lauren to just let Hermione go, or if he wanted to see the fireworks that he knew were coming.
"Hermione, this is Lauren Starnes. Lauren, this is Hermione Granger. She was just leaving."
"Are you not taking the job?" Lauren asked Hermione, incredulously.
"No, I'm not interested in working with, working here," Hermione corrected.
"What a little shit you are," Lauren began. "Severus has gone on and on about you for the last two months. About your wizarding degrees and how your muggle degrees in both biology and chemistry were such an amazing accomplishment, and how you two together could solve so many problems and heal so many hurting people. He told me that you were nothing like what the Daily Prophet makes you out to be. But you are just like them," she finished heatedly, gesturing to the adjoining lab. "Village idiots that think they know Severus. You are a…" but Severus held his hand up for Lauren to stop.
"You know about my muggle degrees?" asked Hermione, staring at Severus, engaged for the first time.
"Yes, Miss Granger. I have kept up with your education. All of it." He walked to the door and held it open for Hermione, who stood rooted to the spot.
"Start over, please, Severus," she stated tentatively, and she sat down once more.
Lauren remained standing, fuming at Hermione, still. Severus shut the door and walked over to Lauren. "Would you like to stay, Lauren?" he teased, smirking at her, knowing how much she hated theoretical potions discussions.
Lauren rolled her eyes at Severus. "Will you be fine?" she asked, gesturing with her eyes at Hermione.
"I think I can manage, thanks."
Lauren scowled at Hermione, and then huffed at Severus. "I've got to go," she said grouchily. "I've missed half of lunch already." She then turned to leave.
She was almost at the door when Severus called to her back, "Hey! Thanks for dropping by, Brawn…"
Lauren turned back to him and scowled, then smiled. "Bye, Brains."
Severus turned back to Hermione, who looked like she just seen a three-headed dog, again.
"Who is she?" Hermione asked curiously, as Severus sat down again.
"Lauren's a friend. She was assigned to protect me when I first started at St. Mungo's. Well, that's not entirely true…" Severus explained.
"Since when do you need protection?" Hermione asked.
"Well, apparently, someone needs protection if I am in the room," Severus said tiredly. "She was originally assigned to me under the guise of making the employees of St. Mungo's feel protected. It quickly changed, however, when I was attacked at work. Lauren has saved my life at least once. Most of the attacks were not life threatening, but a few were. I haven't needed protection for a couple of years, so they changed her assignment about eighteen months ago. She's still quite protective of me, though, as you can see."
"How old is she? I don't remember her from Hogwarts."
"She's a little older than you, but she didn't attend Hogwarts. Her parents sent her to a school in the United States. Two of her uncles were killed in the first war against Voldemort and her parents weren't taking any chances."
"She's quite interesting."
"It looks like a stiff wind could knock her over, but she's incredibly strong magically. And she cusses like a sailor. And she laughs like a old man," Severus smiled back at Hermione when Hermione laughed at the picture Severus was painting.
"And she thinks I'm a 'little shit,'" Hermione said, laughing.
"Yes, she does," Severus agreed.
"I am an arse for the way I treated you. I apologize," Hermione said, sighing.
"Why did you come here if you hate me?" he asked levelly.
"I don't hate you!" Hermione said strongly. "I don't know you. Obviously…" she trailed off.
"Then why?" Severus asked, gesturing to the air between them.
"I'll be honest, Severus. I am about to give up the wizarding world. People treat me horribly. I never know from person to person what they will choose to see. Will they see me as the stuck-up hero that I am not? Or will they see me as a whore, which I definitely am not! Am I the traitor that has turned her back on the wizarding world after the wizarding world has been oh-so-good to me? Now that one is a possibility!"
"You don't owe anyone anything, Hermione," Severus stated levelly. "You bled for them, were tortured for them, were willing to die for them. No one should ask anything more of you. They should not treat you the way they do." He paused. "I would not judge you for leaving."
Hermione furrowed her brow slightly at Severus. After a moment she quietly asked, "Are we talking about me, or you?"
Severus chuckled darkly. "Yes, well, a lot of people who almost died for our world are treated miserably."
"No, they're not, Severus. Harry and Ron are the happy heroes; Kingsley is the sainted Minister that can do no wrong. Why us? Why are we the new villains?" She paused. "Why don't you leave?" she asked, curious.
"This," he said, in way of an answer, gesturing to his lab. "And Lauren. Draco. I'm best man in his wedding next month – did you hear that Draco's getting married?" He smirked at her eye-roll. You would have to live under a rock not to know about Draco's upcoming nuptials. They were in the Daily Prophet even more than Hermione. "If I didn't have my research," he continued, "or didn't have supportive friends, I wouldn't be here."
Hermione smiled. "I'm glad to see you have both. Truly, Severus. All right, tell me about the research you're doing, and about how this came about."
Severus smirked back at Hermione. "Albus, of course."
"Do you want to turn in a circle and spit three times when you say his name?" Hermione joked. "Because I swear, I hold no charitable feelings for the man."
Severus raised his eyebrows. This definitely wasn't the compliant, naïve girl that he remembered. He quite liked this version better.
"No, not quite that bad," Severus answered. "He was a scheming bastard, but he really did care very much about the wizarding world. Which, by the way, is interesting, because he, like you, was incredibly powerful, and vilified many times over by the very people he fought to protect."
Hermione huffed in protest, but then smiled softly at him.
"Anyway, once the war was over, and I had survived, Chief Healer Whittington came to me as I was being discharged. He said that Albus held him in some kind of confidence and that he knew much of what Albus had asked of me. Albus wanted me to be able to leave Hogwarts after it was all over. Healer Whittington was excited to have a Potions Master on staff. I had done much of their more complicated brewing, even while at Hogwarts, so he already knew me and valued my skills. I had to endure the months of war trials, but then I was installed at St. Mungo's. I direct the dunderheads in the adjoining lab as they try their best to brew headache potion, and I'm free to research anything of a curative nature. Which is very, very broad in scope because it includes mental problems as well as physical."
"Ahhh… there's the Professor Snape that I know!" Hermione joked. "So, you're different than I remember, but not too different?"
Severus scowled at her. "It depends. If you're a dunderhead, there's probably very little difference. If you're a brilliant witch that I would like to work with, or if you're anyone who doesn't believe everything that the Daily Prophet prints about me, then I'm probably very different."
Hermione nodded in response.
"What would you like to do with your degrees? Chemistry and Biology, plus Healing and Potions." He paused. "Who are you trying to heal, Hermione?"
"I'm not trying to heal anyone in particular. But that is where I felt a void and a longing after the war. Too much pain. Too many scars." She searched his face, willing him to understand what she was saying.
Severus understood only too well. "Yes."
They digested each other's words for a moment, and then Severus continued. "Were you serious about leaving the wizarding world altogether?"
"What about your friends?"
"My friends mostly understand, but I think you're probably asking about Ron and Harry. Ron thinks I am just trying to get attention 'like normal.'" At this she looked down at the floor. Once she was able to meet his gaze again, she continued. "Harry doesn't understand at all, and he just asks me to stay, give it more time."
"Forgive me for saying this, but your muggle degrees don't go near as far in the muggle world as your wizarding degrees do in our world. You're at the top, education-wise, in our world. You're not in the muggle world."
"I know. I'd be continuing my education at another university, most likely."
Severus shook his head. "I meant what I said earlier, Hermione. A colleague. I'm looking for a colleague, not a junior brewer. You could do research here to your heart's content. We would make a formidable team. I value your muggle education. I know you and I together could do great things. We could cure people, now, Hermione, not five more years down the road once you're a qualified doctor."
He paused to let Hermione absorb his words.
"What other job offers are you considering?" he asked.
"What the hell are you talking about? You're not going to interviews?"
She looked at him squarely. "Yours is my only offer. In the wizarding world, anyway."
Severus was stunned. "I thought you wouldn't come because you didn't want me tarnishing your name."
Hermione shook her head. "I have no good name to tarnish. I didn't want to come because I couldn't bear to have one more reminder…" Her voice trailed off.
"Of what, Hermione?"
"Of Hogwarts, of sitting in a classroom wanting nothing more than to be a professor one day. A know-it-all with power!" she joked.
Severus and Hermione laughed together.
"Do you still want to be a professor?" Severus asked, curious.
"No, at this point, I'd be like you," she said, and then quickly added, "I don't mean offense by that. It's just that you were so wasted teaching children who didn't know which end of a cauldron was up. But when I see you and Minerva, I remember wanting to be a part of our world. I wanted to be more than just a part, really. Now I don't even have that." She smirked and shook her head in remembrance. "Merlin, how many cauldrons did Neville melt?"
Severus groaned. "First rule of my lab, Hermione. We do not utter Longbottom's name." He smirked at her smile. "You are right, though, you would feel stifled teaching. You would not feel stifled here, Hermione." He sighed deeply. "There is nothing right in this world if you, our best witch, do not even feel like you belong."
Hermione snorted inelegantly. "'Best witch.' By who's standard?"
"Mine," Severus said seriously. "Will you come work with me?"
Hermione looked at her lap for a moment before looking back into his eyes. "I will think about it, Severus."