AN: When the plot bunnies are running everywhere sometimes I get distracted and chase them. I was supposed to be writing something for PTSD, and THIS showed up.
He counted the buttons as he dressed.
Thirty-seven, thirty-eight, thirty-nine….
It hadn't always been this way, but after the war, his nerves were frayed. The comfort of routine took on a deeper meaning. Once he allowed himself to give into his little mental 'ticks', it was easy to slide into a rigid schedule…easy, comforting…safe.
His life narrowed into a precise set of actions, a kind of wordless dance with the ticking clock in his hallway. The very sameness soothed his fractured psyche.
As he spooned an exact amount of soup (he had researched until he found the perfect bite of each dish. Each spoonful had to contain precisely that amount…) he flinched as he heard the doorbell. He glanced at the clock. 11:52. The muggle postman arrived between 1:40 and 1:50 each day, delivering mostly bills and junk mail. He no longer accepted owl post…he had a service that received mail in his name and checked it so he didn't have to bother.
He sighed as he put down the spoon. There was only one person who ignored his growls to visit.
He opened the door and allowed the bushy-haired witch to come in. Anything else was a useless waste of time. When she'd first shown up, when he was recovering from Nagini's bite, she'd howled like a wounded kneezle on his front step until he let her in.
Intellectually, he knew that he shouldn't let her get by with barging into his home at all hours (her visits were completely random. He'd tried charting them out but her pattern defied classification.) In reality, he lacked the mental energy to chase the witch off.
So he merely followed her inside as she moved through his home like a tornado, talking too quickly, smiling too much, and generally interrupting his solitude.
She'd brought another type of tea today, and some sort of gummy cake-like mass. He desperately hoped she wasn't trying to bake again, he'd suffered cramps for days after eating something she erroneously called a quiche last week.
Eyeing the confection with distrust, he pulled out a cherry tart. He'd realized that though he was unable to pinpoint the witch's exact schedule, it was fairly simple to deduce which day she'd visit, once he added variables like her work schedule and any appointments she mentioned in her breathless monologues.
She stopped talking and stared at the tart. It was a simple thing, made of jam and dried fruit, but he was rather proud of his crust (it was always light and flakey and nicely symmetrical). It seemed almost a shame to ruin the symmetry by cutting into it, but reducing it by two pieces was infinitely preferable to taking a single piece…he'd better send the remainder home with the witch, otherwise he'd drive himself mad trying to keep it even. He wasn't unaware that he allowed his 'mental tick' more power in his life than he should.
Her eyes were suspiciously shiny. Was he supposed to mire himself in explanations? He supposed he should since he was technically the host.
"Would you care for a piece? I thought it might make a nice change…"
He found himself tackled and enveloped in a seething mass of wild hair and arms and hands. Her familiar scent was more potent when she was closer. She pulled down his head and kissed his cheek.
He backed away and flung out his hand to keep the mad woman at bay. "Sweet Circe woman! It's only a tart. It's hardly an occasion for all of this…"
"Severus Snape! To you it's just a tart…to me, it's the first sign of welcome I've had in the three years I've been coming here."
He shifted uncomfortably. "I apologize if my hospitality has been lacking." He eyed her like she was an exotic breed of deadly plant. "I'll cut the tart if you will put the kettle on."
She reached out and touched his arm again, but he was spared the hug.
He wondered, as he cut the tart into eight equal pieces, why he felt that escaping the hug wasn't a reprieve.
Since what he mockingly referred to in his own mind as his 'retirement' (wherein the board of Governors had shoved his pension for twenty years of service into his hands with the underlying insinuation of 'never darken our door again'), Severus had devoted his time to healing, both physically and mentally.
He was unable to work at first and then he was unwilling to. There was no need to brew more than the basic potions for his own use (those, he'd taken to brewing inside his room at St. Mungo's, much to his healer's dismay). But in time, he found that nagging ideas for the improvement or replacement of potions burrowed their way into his brain and made him edgy and uncomfortable. He still found beauty in the softly shifting vapors of a simmering cauldron, and peace was never closer than when he was puttering about in his work room.
Actually, he could trace many of his mental ticks to perfectly necessary practices for a potions master. The need to count objects was undoubtedly tied to the constant counting, measuring, weighing, and stirring in the lab.
His ruminations were interrupted by a knock at the door. He glanced at the clock. 9:43.
He stirred the potion and eyed it warily. Answering the door wouldn't do it any harm, but he'd have to come right back up or risk the brew…this potion didn't react well to stasis charms.
He sighed and hurried to the door. It was the witch again. She burst into the house, bearing another variety of tea and something that might have been chocolate before she tortured it. He waited until she removed her coat and scarf. She would most likely take a breath at that point.
"I have a potion brewing in my work room. Would you care to join me upstairs?"
The look on her face was similar to the one he'd seen during the tart incident.
"If you'd rather not, you could put the kettle on. I'll be done in a quarter of an hour."
She tackled him once more, muttering that she'd love to come up, wrapping him in her warm arms, with her soft sweater, and the sweet scent of her shampoo and…perfume? That was new. Did she wear it only to visit him, or had she worn it for some other reason? It was a delicate scent with crisp floral notes to tease the senses, with a base of something sweet…vanilla perhaps? It complemented the green citrusy scent of her shampoo…after over three years he was intimately aware of that scent. It lingered in his home after she visited, like the scents of the teas that she brought for him to sample.
As he mentally dissected her perfume, he led her up to his workroom.
She hopped up on his tall stool and peered at his potion as he hastily stirred.
"What are you brewing?"
He sighed. He didn't want to talk about it…but he had invited her into this space…it was a relevant question…it simply revealed more than he wished.
"When I went for a checkup at St. Mungo's last year, they offered me an anti-anxiety potion." He continued to stir. "A draft in the morning, one in the evening and I feel less inclined to…" He waved his hand. She was acquainted with his mental ticks.
He frowned at the brew. "Their potion worked, as far as that went, but it left me feeling lethargic and worse still, dull." It also ended certain involuntary reactions that he would not discuss with a lady.
He brought his thoughts back to the work room. It wouldn't do for him to have one of those involuntary reactions right this moment.
He shrugged. "I haven't taken it in months, but I decided to work with the formula and see if I could fix it."
She beamed at him. He didn't know what to say, so he kept stirring.
He jotted down his findings and poured a measured draft of the potion. Six weeks into the experiment he was rather pleased. He'd always been fastidious, but the urge to take those behaviors into the extreme had waned a great deal. He was still convinced that two and one quarter teaspoons was the perfect bite of soup (as judged by taste and cooling time) but it no longer upset him terribly if he accidentally dipped out a bit more than he should.
A knock at the door made him grin slightly. 2:36.
He should give up trying to figure the witch out. He quaffed his draft as he went down stairs.
"Hermione, come in." He smiled lightly at her. "I made another cherry tart."
She grinned as she hung up her coat. She didn't talk non-stop anymore. He suspected that her former verbosity was directly linked to her own anxiety that he would throw her out at any moment.
"I brought another blend of tea."
He started the kettle with a bit of wandless magic and cut the tart. Better or not, he still liked his tarts cut a very particular way.
"How is your work going?"
She grimaced. "It will be better once you patent your new anti-anxiety potion. I see ten patients a day with symptoms similar to yours. It's funny. During the war everyone managed to function…now everyone seems to be falling apart."
"We have time to now." He'd given it a great deal of thought.
She squeezed his free arm and took the piece of tart gratefully. He watched her eat the first bite. Her face was sill so open. Everything she felt flitted across it. And according to her expression of near-bliss, he'd done a decent job on the sweet.
"I'll have the paperwork done this week. I have no idea what tests the ministry will insist on in order to approve the patent."
"I expect they'll approve it."
He stared at her for a moment. He could smell that same perfume mixing with the scent of the tart. Eight weeks before she said that he'd never welcomed her visits…and he hadn't, not outwardly. Why had she continued them?
She met his eyes and smiled as the kettle sang out.
She got up to retrieve the kettle. "I can tell that you are thinking Severus…just ask me, whatever it is."
Gryffindors. No subtlety at all. Still, sometimes the direct approach did save time.
"I wondered why you kept at it. You've been blowing into my life on something close to a weekly basis for three years…"
She gave him a one-sided smile as she put together the tea things. "Is that all? It started with gratitude. You saved all of us, were instrumental in defeating Voldemort and no one seemed to give a rat's posterior if you recovered after the war. I decided that I would keep an eye on you." She walked back to the table with the tray and started fussing with the strainer.
"We chatted." She poured their tea, adding a dash of milk to hers and two sugars to his.
"I found I liked my ex-professor as a man."
He felt his eye widen, but quickly controlled his expression. She couldn't have meant that the way it sounded.
"I enjoyed our chats, even when I had to carry most of the conversation…you always listened. Really listened, and when you made a suggestion, even a snarky one, it made sense." She took another bite of her tart and smiled. "We're friends, in case you didn't notice. I enjoy your company, our conversation and tea…especially now that I don't feel the need to bring the baked items."
He chuckled. "For future reference, there is no need to bring anything…ever."
She snickered, unrepentant. "Well, that's it really. I wanted to help at first and then you charmed me."
"Ah yes…I remember how charming I've been. I barely put two words together during our chats for the first year."
"But then you made me a cherry tart…"
"You are remarkably easy to bribe."
"You haven't been eating as much of my cooking as I have."
He pulled a face. "Merlin save you, I take it back. I see the reason for the friendship now. Would you care to learn how to make soup…you were a decent brewer…you should at least be able to manage soup if I write down the instructions." He considered the quiche. "Of course, I think we'd best brew the first batch under supervision…just in case."
She grinned. "I would be amenable to that suggestion. I could summon a couple of bottles of wine if you like. White or red?"
He considered the contents of his pantry. "Red I think. We'll start with a nice beef stew."
Really, it was lovely…being better.
AN: Just a little Hermione/Severus in honor of his birthday! I don't plan to do anything else with it…at least not at the moment.