Disclaimer: Not mine, no profit being made.
Author's Notes: This was written for voxangelus in the SSHG 2012 Gift Exchange. It is set in 2003 and as such the technology bits may seem a bit outdated, but I am assured by my tech-beta that it is entirely plausible for that time. The original prompt was:
Hermione has opened a consulting firm to aid wizarding folk and squibs who want or need to do business in the Muggle world. Snape needs her services for some reason (is he an author? potioneer? manufacturer of magical sex toys? you decide.), but even though he's paying a hefty fee for HER expertise, refuses to take any of her advice until he tries his own ways and they fail. He must admit she's right at some point.
Thank you to my alpha, hbart, who made sure this was finished in time, and to my beta, desigrl, who did a last-minute rescue and was absolutely superb.
"I'm going to have to shut down," Hermione said in what she felt was a rather matter-of-fact tone. "It's just not working." She was staring into her coffee cup as she said it, not across the table into the concerned green eyes of one of her best friends. "In six months I've had one potential client, who I turned away when I realised all he wanted to do was pass for a Muggle long enough to pull a Muggle girl and Obliviate her afterwards." The words echoed in the empty office, a testament to her words.
"It's not like you to give up," Harry said, evidently worried about her. "What about advertising?"
"I've tried everything. The Prophet, the Quibbler, the wireless, posters, mail shots. I've poured all my money into this to try and make it work and it hasn't. Let's face it, Harry. No one wants to even try and care about the Muggle world. Why would they?" She gloomily picked at one of the muffins he had brought, courtesy of Ginny. "My lease is up in six weeks and I can't afford to renew it."
"If it's just the money," Harry began, but a sharp look from Hermione cut him off instantly.
"It's not, Harry James Potter, and you know better than to make such an offer to me," she snapped, then realised she was being unfair and sighed. "There's no point in renewing. All I've done in the past four months is manage to get my time solving the daily crossword down from ten minutes to five. I don't even know why Sandra sticks it out here." Sandra was Hermione's receptionist, well-organised and efficient and underpaid. Harry reached out and patted her hand, deftly stealing a muffin as he did so.
"She believes in you. We all do," he added. "Don't go making any rash decisions just yet, Hermione. Something will come up. It has to." Hermione offered him a wan smile which was returned by a much warmer one.
It had seemed like a good idea at the time. Hermione, with the same logic she applied to everything, had reasoned that the Muggle world was ripe with business opportunities for the canny witch or wizard. There was also room for an agency which provided advice to wizards hoping to pass for Muggle - she had prepared information packs on computers, mobile phones, the internet and currency, which were currently gathering dust in her filing cabinet. After months of research and investment and, in the end, a lot of time spent begging the goblins for financial assistance, the Muggle Business Affairs Consultancy had been launched. Since then, despite the adverts, the only attention it had drawn was a snide article by Rita Skeeter about how the oestrogen of the Golden Trio was 'wasting valuable magical office space with a failing business'. Hermione had sent her a can of bug spray as a warning and no further articles had appeared, either.
"I need a high profile client," Hermione said gloomily. "Someone who I can advertise as having done well with the business - you know how people are, Harry, they'd flock here. If I don't get one in the next few weeks, I'm not renewing the lease." She finally took a big bite of the muffin, and her eyes closed to savour the taste. Ginny Potter had all her mother's culinary skills and then some. "Thank Ginny for these, will you? And keep your hands off!" This last comment was accompanied by a quick smack to the back of Harry's hand. He rubbed it, but didn't complain.
"Look, Ron said he's going to swing by and take you out for dinner. I've got to head down Knockturn Alley. There was a break in at Borgin & Burkes and you really don't want to know what was taken." He looked faintly ill as he thought about it. "Ron's just got paperwork to do, so he said he'd be glad of a break. He'll come by at about half twelve, alright? Go and talk it over with him - he helps George in his spare time, so he might have some thoughts."
"That sounds like a good idea," Hermione conceded with a smile, rising to escort her friend out. "I'll pop in and see George this afternoon. But why isn't Ron with you?" Usually, the two were inseparable - and made an excellent pair of Aurors while they were at it.
"Kingsley thought it would be an educational experience to split us up," Harry moped. "So instead I'm with Cho Chang, which has given Ginny a complex. I've told Kings but he's said I'm stuck with her for this case."
"Poor Harry," Hermione said, giving him a hug. "Ginny'll be fine, just make sure you get time off to go watch her win the next game." Ginny was currently the star player for the Holyhead Harpies who, even Hermione knew, were doing well this season. Harry nodded and shrugged.
"It'll be alright. I've got to run, should've been there ten minutes ago. Make sure you go out with Ron, take a break from this place. Might help." He gave her a hug and a cheerful wave as he departed. Hermione smiled and waved until he descended the steps and was out of sight. Sandra watched him go with something akin to hero worship in her eyes, then turned and smiled at Hermione.
"Coffee, Miss Granger?"
Hermione looked at the clock. It was only twenty to eleven.
"Why not?" she sighed, and went back into her office to devour the muffins.
At half twelve exactly, there was a loud clattering up the stairs, a cheerful "Hello gorgeous!" to the receptionist, and her door was flung open to reveal the second of her two best friends. Ron entered like a whirlwind, sweeping her into a hug and then collapsing into a chair opposite her, grinning.
"Surprised?" he asked. Hermione shook her head, laughing.
"Harry came by earlier and said you'd be coming," she confessed. Ron rolled his eyes.
"Can't keep his mouth shut, that one. Come on, let's go. There's a little cafe opened up by Fortescues, so how does dinner there sound, and we'll get ice cream after? I haven't seen you in ages, Hermione!"
"It's Wednesday, Ron. You saw me on Sunday."
"Feels like longer, doesn't it? Are those muffins?"
"Maybe, yes, and in anticipation of your next question, no you can't have one." Hermione couldn't help but smile at the energy Ron brought with him. He'd managed to find time to grow up since the rather disastrous end of their relationship, and was handling maturity rather well. Since settling down with Lavender - at last - and establishing a solid career, his temper had cooled dramatically and now it was a pleasure to spend time with him.
"Spoilsport. Alright then, come on. I'm starving."
"You're always starving," Hermione pointed out, receiving another grin from Ron. "Have you actually done any of your paperwork yet?" His grin faded and he cleared his throat uncomfortably before offering his arm.
"Dinner?" he suggested. Hermione rolled her eyes and accepted his arm.
"When you get back, finish it," she ordered, following him out into the waiting area. "Sandra, we're just popping out for some food. Don't be afraid to lock up and go get something for yourself."
"It's okay, Miss Granger. I brought something with me. I'd hate to risk missing a client!" Hermione bit her tongue to stop from pointing out that there were no clients to miss, and instead smiled.
"Okay. I'll be back in about an hour or so." She waved and allowed herself to be tugged out into Diagon Alley by the self-proclaimed starving Weasley.
When she returned, an hour and a half later and well fed, Sandra was almost bouncing with excitement. She leapt from her desk and clutched at Hermione's arm the minute the door had swung closed.
"There's a client here to see you!" she whispered excitedly. Hermione stared at her, not really absorbing what she was saying.
"What?" she asked, looking around. The waiting area was empty, the magazines and newspapers had gone untouched.
"A client, Miss Granger! He insisted on waiting in your office. I told him he wasn't allowed to but he went in anyway. I asked if he wanted to make an appointment and he said now was convenient for him, so it would be for you. He's a bit of a bastard, Miss Granger, but he's high profile alright!" Hermione had one arm out of her coat at this point and used it to shush Sandra.
"Who is it, Sandra?" she asked. The answer left her dumbstruck and she rushed to her office, flinging open the door. There, with his back to her, in the same imposing black robes that she remembered from her Hogwarts days, was Severus Snape. Her jaw dropped.
"Close your mouth, Miss Granger; it's unsightly." He hadn't even turned around. Bastard, she thought automatically.
"Professor Snape. Sandra tells me you believe you have an appointment to see me." She hung up her coat and made her way around to sit at her desk. "I'm sure she would be pleased to book you in."
"You can see me now, Miss Granger. Your diary is empty between lunch with Ron and tea with Harry." Hermione flushed and looked down at her desk drawer; the wards had been quite neatly tampered with. "As much as I'm sure it is important you remember to eat, given your predilection at Hogwarts for immersing yourself in work until midnight, I would have thought that a potential client would be of greater importance in your line of work." She could see his face now. It was as unpleasant as ever, twisted into a sneer as he looked down at her.
"I believe you overestimate your importance, Professor Snape."
"I have had ample opportunity to peruse your office while you lunched, Miss Granger. I am fully aware of my importance. Had I realised prior to coming that you, in fact, did not have any clients, I would have reconsidered my decision to retain your services." Hermione's cheeks coloured and she leant forward on the desk.
"I do have standards, Professor. The door is behind you."
"Trust a Gryffindor to be incapable of swallowing her pride. Tell me Miss Granger, are you truly able to turn me away?" Hermione gritted her teeth and forced herself not to flare up at the condescending attitude of her former professor. Former professor, she emphasised silently. He couldn't exactly put her in detention, could he? Seeing that she was thinking, Snape folded his arms across his chest and waited, impassive.
On the one hand, Hermione knew she would have to put up with his attitude. Being free of the whims of both Voldemort and Dumbledore hadn't done much to improve his temper. She knew, via Harry and Ron, that the Daily Prophet was lodging twenty complaints a month about his behaviour towards their reporters and were demanding he be taken to Azkaban. He had left Hogwarts behind, much to the gratitude of every child in Wizarding Britain, and was something of a recluse now. For him to emerge from this solitude and seek her out... he was unlikely to be pleasant, if he needed her help. As much as she felt the world owed him, it was a lot more difficult to do so when face to face with the hook-nosed, sallow faced, greasy git.
On the other hand, he was a client. More than just high profile - even the knowledge that he had been for an appointment with her would attract attention. The world wanted to know all about Severus Snape, and much to their chagrin, he didn't want to tell. It followed that anywhere he went, so did the masses, determined to uncover what Rita Skeeter called 'The Truth' behind the man. And, she knew from her own sources, he was rich. He could afford her services easily. Add in to that the fact that he was intelligent and capable, and unlikely to risk his name and reputation (what little of it he had left) for a failure... it could be the making of her.
"I see you have reached a decision." Was he using Legilimency? No, she realised, he had probably just seen from her face that she'd made up her mind. She knew that Gryffindors were open books to Slytherins.
"I trust you have a purpose for calling here today, Professor?" she managed to ask politely. He sneered.
"Of course not. I intended simply for idle chit-chat. Use that much vaunted intellect of yours, Miss Granger." He didn't sit when she gestured for him to take the chair opposite her.
"I can hardly be of assistance to you if you keep up this attitude, Professor," she said, glad she hadn't snapped it as intended. "Sit and explain to me why exactly you are here, if not to make fun of me. If it is just the latter, then kindly remove yourself from my office before I hex you out of it."
"With such a pleasant demeanour, I understand why your clients keep coming back," Snape said, though he did in fact finally sit down. Hermione was drumming her fingers on the table. One more comment, she thought, and he's getting a Bat Bogey Hex.
"You are able to assist with setting up a Muggle business, I presume, from the countless advertisements you are subjecting Britain to?" He withdrew a sheaf of parchment from a pocket in his robes and set it on the table, deliberately placing it out of her reach. Hermione narrowed her eyes and counted to ten.
"Try making it through one sentence without insulting me, Professor. It would probably make things go a little easier." She waved her wand and Sandra popped her head around the door.
"Tea for two?" she asked, the kettle already starting to boil behind her. Hermione raised an eyebrow at Snape.
"Milk, no sugar. Please." he stated slowly, as if it pained him to do so. Hermione smiled and nodded at Sandra, crowing to herself about even a minor victory such as that.
"So, Professor. You wish to set up a Muggle business?"
"How astute. Yes, Miss Granger. However, it has been several years since I have had dealings with the Muggle world, and I have little inclination to waste time with their red tape. I wish to retain your services in order to assist me with establishing a business, locating premises, advertising in the Muggle world, and other manner of sundries." Hermione's mind was in business mode, she had already calculated how much of a fee she could charge for such an extensive project. She positively beamed at Snape now.
"I believe that falls within my scope, Professor. Do you have a business plan in mind, or would you require assistance with that, too?"
"I am out of touch with the Muggle world, Miss Granger, not an idiot." He finally thrust the sheaf of parchments over to her and she almost snatched them up, her greedy eyes devouring every inch of the spiked black ink.
"Pharmaceutical company?" she asked, raising an eyebrow in a manner rather akin to his own.
"Muggles are keen to buy into new fads, Miss Granger. Think of the potential sales for shampoo that actually does give you "glossy hair"." She could hear the quotation marks fall into place. "Or lotion that clears up spots instantly. It's not magic to them, simply well-marketed herbal remedies." Hermione was rather impressed.
"That actually sounds like a good idea, but I must confess I'm amazed you have such a wealth of knowledge of beauty products." As she said it she winced; it sounded like an insult, but he took it in his stride. Probably used to Gryffindors not thinking before speaking.
"I have taught more generations of teenage witches than I care to remember, Miss Granger. One learns a thing or two." The door opened and Sandra tottered in with the tea, setting the mugs down and giving Hermione an excited thumbs up as she left.
"You seem to have done some thorough research into this, Professor."
"I am no longer teaching, Miss Granger, and research - though infinitely superior - does not pay as well. It is only logical to ensure a steady income so that I can continue to enjoy my freedom from the shackles of the school." This was more information that she had thought him willing to share. "Wizarding folk are, for some reason, reluctant to purchase their goods from myself." The sarcasm wasn't lost on her.
"You think a Muggle business is a more secure form of income," Hermione stated, her suspicions about his presence there clearing in the face of such a simple explanation. After all, even if he was a hero, he was also an ex-Death Eater. If he marketed a shampoo, rumours would start instantly as to negative effects of it. Starting a company would no doubt have Snape heralded as the new Dark Lord.
"Precisely. Have I piqued your interest sufficiently, Miss Granger?"
"You have, Professor. If it is okay with you, I would like some time to do some preliminary research and prepare some suggestions on how to proceed. Would you care to arrange an appointment for next week?"
"I severely doubt, given the ample free time you have on your hands, that it would take you a full week to put forward an idea. You will recall that I have seen your essays, Miss Granger. Friday will be most suitable." It was Wednesday. Hermione narrowed her eyes.
"If I suggest a week, Professor Snape, it is because that is the amount of time it will take. I will need to focus my research on those companies that will be your rivals and form strategies for breaking into a rather well-established market. It is not something I can simply spend an hour in the library for. I will warn you now, Professor, that if you want this done properly, you would do well to listen to me. I don't argue Potions with you; I advise you not to try and overrule me on this. I do know what I'm doing." Snape's nostrils flared, a sure sign he was angered by her tone, but Hermione held his gaze firmly.
"Next week, Professor. Same time. Sandra will book you in." He looked about to argue, so she stood and extended her hand. He glared at it and turned and, in a swirl of robes, was gone from the office, tea untouched. She looked down at her hand and saw it was trembling. From outside she could hear Snape snarling at Sandra. She went to the window and watched until he strode outside, turned on his heel and Apparated, not before a camera flashed. Hermione didn't realise she wasn't alone until Sandra touched her elbow.
"He's a piece of work, isn't he? Makes me glad I went to Beauxbatons." Hermione smiled.
"Did he book an appointment?"
"He told me where I could put my reminder letter. Quite succinctly." Hermione snorted. She continued to stare at the spot he had Apparated from. Now that the adrenaline of seeing him in her office had worn off, she was beginning to realise how many memories were flooding back. He had been alive and well, but in her mind's eye he was lying in the Shack, bleeding out after Nagini's brutal attack; he was in the Hospital Wing, begging to be left to die; he was comatose while they hoped and prayed the potions would work. She hadn't seen him since he'd been released. Had he booked an appointment, as most polite people would have been inclined to, she'd have had time to steel herself.
"Well," she said with a soft sigh, "we've got work to do, Sandra!" She turned an excited smile to her faithful receptionist. "Let's get started, shall we?"
"Anything you say, Miss Granger."