bWhen Only the Best Will Do/
Written for Jayabear for the Autumn 2012 Severus/Hermione Gift Exchange.
I started to write using Jayabear's second prompt, but the characters REFUSED to cooperate. Hermione wanted chocolate and Severus was making fun of chocolate boxes, so this story is what came out of my keyboard. The prompt had a lot of leeway and I enjoyed writing to it.
Thank you, Jayabear, for a delightful prompt.
Beta read by (name redacted,) the most reliable beta I know.
By the way, I am not J.K Rowling, I do not own the Harry Potter universe, I intend no copyright infringement, and make no money or other compensation for this work of fanfiction. All hail J.K. Rowling for her vision and generosity!
Office of the Director of Procurement, Medicinal Supplies
St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries
"Madam Webley, what is all this nonsense?"
The Director of Procurement, Medicinal Supplies looked down at his normally tidy desktop with an expression somewhere between distaste and horror.
"From whence did this twaddle come, and why did you allow whichever cretins who delivered it into my office?" He raised a challenging eyebrow as his secretary, a slightly-above-middle-aged witch with a comfortable manner, came into the office, bringing an air of serenity with her.
"These are the samples you requested last week, sir," she said, as she sat down at her smaller desk placed at a right angle to his.
"Samples?" He looked blankly down at his desk, which was covered with a number of small, colorful boxes. "What samples?"
Madam Webley shook her head with fond reproof. She had long since learned that her boss was a man capable of intense focus when working on a project, and also a man capable of putting said project completely out of his mind once it was finished.
"The samples of Medi-chocolate you requested from the wizarding chocolatiers in the United Kingdom, sir."
"Dear Merlin." He looked at the boxes more closely. "That explains the boxes, then," he sighed.
He counted twelve boxes, moving them around to poke at their packaging, his sneer of disgust deepening as he studied the gaudy wrappers. Madam Webley heard only fragments of his comments, and had difficulty keeping a straight face as she listened.
"Red velvet…gold foil…Good Gods, pink satin with winking crystals…Why would they send a black-velvet heart with gold ribbon as a business presentation, I wonder…"
He looked with relief at the box which had been the farthest back on the desk, a plain white cardboard carton sealed with tasteful, navy-blue ribbons embossed with the letters "GFMC". The white box gave off the faint blue glow of a stasis spell, designed to keep the product inside the box fresh and at the appropriate temperature to prevent spoilage.
"When did I request these?" He seemed genuinely puzzled and Madam Webley laughed indulgently.
"The day Honeydukes and Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes announced their merger," she reminded him, reaching into her desk for the issue of the iDaily Prophet/i proclaimed the news in bold, 36 point type.
He grimaced in distaste as he skimmed through the article, which asked, and purported to answer the question, "What does the future hold now for wizarding Britain's finest chocolate?"
He nearly snarled as he read a quote attributed to a hospital source who insisted upon remaining anonymous. "St. Mungo's has had a long and satisfactory business relationship with Honeydukes and I don't see that changing in the future, simply because Honeydukes is under new management."
"Haven't we learned yet never to allow Percy Weasley within five hundred yards of a newspaper reporter?"
"He does occasionally manage to slip by the hospital's public relations people," she acknowledged, "and the reporters have learned by now that he's almost never right, bless his heart." She knew her boss disliked any Weasley simply on principal, but she was fond of Percy, who always meant well, which ought to count for something. "And they do have all those column inches to fill in the paper every day." She added, reproachfully, "He doesn't scare them the way you do. You really should try being—"
"I know, I know. I should try being nicer." He rolled his eyes, and an expression that could only be called glee crossed his face. "It'll be Percy who looks ridiculous when we make a contrary announcement, especially if that Skeeter woman catches on to the conflict of interest." His eyes held an unholy twinkle and Madam Webley felt a shiver go up and down her spine. This man, after all, had terrorized a generation of students during his teaching career.
He turned his attention back to the packages on his desk.
"Dear Merlin, when did we get so many chocolatiers in Britain? Do I, personally, know any of the proprietors of these companies?"
"All of them, sir," Madam Webley replied blandly.
"We shall have to be very careful, then, in awarding this contract then. As you know, it's a fairly large one, and there can't be even the hint that I am anything but impartial in awarding the contract."
"Oh, there's no danger of that, sir," she said cheerfully. "You dislike all of them equally."
"Good." He counted the boxes again.
"Why twelve? And don't we have a quality-check board whose function is to taste all the chocolates and makes a recommendation?"
"We do, and they did, sir. There are six members of the committee, and none of them could be persuaded to agree on ONE product, sir."
"So I have to taste TWELVE different brands of chocolate?"
"At least they narrowed it down to twelve," she informed him. "There were two hundred and forty-seven submissions and bids, sir."
"It might have almost been better to renew our contract with Honeydukes," he groused. "Be thankful I have a conscience, Madam Webley. I'm sure it would do a patient suffering from Dementor Shock absolutely no good to bite into a square of medical chocolate and turn into a canary, feathers and all."
"No, sir. Be that as it may, though, you still have to taste all these samples."
With great deliberation, the Director, Severus Snape, banished the boxes to a nearby shelf and pounded his head on his desk.
GFMC Chocolate Factory
65 Charing Cross Road
Convent Garden, London
In the owner's office of GFMC, Hermione Granger, (Order of Merlin, 1st Class, P.M.) looked up when a soft knock sounded on her door. She called out, "Come in," and then briefly smiled at the man who stood in the doorway.
With a half bow, her factory manager, came into the room and sat down in the visitors' chair in front of her desk.
"I delivered the requested medi-chocolate samples and their accompanying documentation to St. Mungo's, Miss Granger."
"I am most appreciative, Mr. Bunter. Who received it at St. Mungo's?"
"A Madam Webley, Miss Granger. She is the secretary to the Director of Procurement, Medicinal Supplies. I found her to be both pleasant and efficient and am confident that the chocolate and our bid will be among those from who the Director must select."
"I'm glad." She smiled ruefully. "Now, if only he doesn't see my name on the submission and bin the samples immediately, we have as good a chance as any of getting the contract."
"Begging your pardon, Miss Granger, your chocolate products have a world-wide following."
"Director Snape and I had a—rather difficult relationship, I suppose one could say, during my school years at Hogwarts, and through the war. And even if he has gotten over thinking of me as an—well better not go there, it was a long time ago—even with that aside, he will only award the contract to the very best supplier—he is a man who settles for nothing less."
"I'm sure he will judge our submission on its own merits, Miss Granger." He rose to his feet and bowed again. "If you will excuse me?"
She nodded, thanking him again and watching as he seemed to glide out of her office on silent feet, soundlessly closing the office door behind him.
She had been extraordinarily fortunate to hire Mr. Peter Bunter to manage the business when she opened her chocolate factory seven years before. Peter George Bunter had trained as a butler and sommelier and served as butler and the manager of his London establishment until the Peer's death. After that, he'd owned a chain of successful gourmet food stores until the uncertain Muggle economy caused him to sell his business and return to his magical roots. He was more than qualified to manage her factory.
Office of the Director of Procurement, Medicinal Supplies
St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries
Director Severus Snape sat at his desk, watching as Madam Webley set out the items needed for him to test the samples of medi-chocolate submitted to the hospital in response to his request for bids to replace St. Mungo's contract with Honeydukes.
She placed a tray which held twelve plain white boxes, each bearing a numbered tag, on the surface of the desk, followed by another, smaller tray which held a carafe of ice water, a glass, a bowl of plain water crackers, a stack of paper serviettes, and a small bowl of roasted coffee beans.
"Ah, just as I directed. What should I do without you, Madam Webley?" Snape asked his assistant.
She only smiled as she sat at her own desk and pulled a sheaf of parchment, a quill, and a bottle of ink from the top drawer. "I'm ready, sir."
"Let us begin, then."
He reached for the box labeled "Number One" and opened it, lifting the box to his nose to inhale the fragrance first. Next, he examined the sample to check that there was no bloom on the chocolate. Had he found the milky white film, it would indicate the chocolate had been stored at a higher than recommended temperature and re-chilled at some later point. The bloom wouldn't affect the taste, but it would be evidence that the maker didn't take proper precautions against fluctuations in temperature. Finally, he picked one piece out of the box and tasted it.
"Sample Number one is very, very sweet, with an extraordinarily heavy flavoring of vanilla. Probably would require large doses to be medically effective."
Madam Webley nodded her head as she jotted down his comments.
"How would you rate it sir?
"On a scale from one to ten, ten being the highest, I would score this at four-and-one-half, perhaps slightly higher if it had been properly stored."
"Thank you. Tell me when you are ready for the next sample," was all she said.
Samples two through six were unimpressive for a variety of different reasons; one didn't melt smoothly when ingested; one crumbled instead of snapping into measured squares. One wasn't sweet enough, and two others didn't contain enough cacao solids to be effective.
After the sixth sample, Director Snape chewed several coffee beans, followed by a few crackers and two glasses of ice water, to clear his palate before going on. Whatever was said about Snape, (and plenty was,) he was nothing if not thorough and careful.
"I should have asked before, Madam Webley, whether you know which chocolate belongs to which company?"
She shook her head. "No, sir. I used a randomizer charm to organize the samples."
"Excellent. We shall begin again."
He settled back in his chair and reached for sample number seven.
Samples seven through nine were unremarkable and none scored higher than five, which Madam Webley thought interesting. She hoped that at least one sample would stand out from the others.
Sample number ten did, indeed, stand out from the others, but not because it scored markedly higher than the others; his strong response to sample number ten was a negative one.
As he opened the box to sniff the sample before tasting it, his mouth twisted into a grimace.
"This one has a very odd scent—something herbal or flowery—violets, perhaps?" He studied the pale brown color of the sample for a moment, the frown line between his eyebrows deepening as he noted the chocolate didn't seem to have a very high cacao content. Finally, he put the sample in his mouth; only an instant later, he spat it back
out onto a serviette, and hastily reached for his glass of water.
"Merlin's Beard, it tastes of soap! Strike that one off the list at once, and when you send the rejection letter, suggest they do not bid again till they have decided whether they are running a soap works or a chocolate factory. You might, if you feel uncharitable, add that I am being merciful in not lodging a complaint against them for attempting to poison me!"
It took three coffee beans, three more crackers and two glasses of water before he declared his palate had recovered sufficiently to finish testing the chocolate samples.
Sample eleven was pronounced 'adequate', and achieved a ranking of six, which was the best any sample had received so far, and Madam Webley wondered if it would be the one selected.
"Finally, the last sample. As you know, I am not terribly fond of chocolate, so I am not sorry to see the end of this," he waved his hand over his desk, "the end of this twaddle. Here we go, sample number twelve."
As he had with the other samples, he sniffed this one as he opened the box, and a brief, fleeting smile crossed his face.
"Sample number twelve is a dark chocolate with a strong cacao scent; just a hint of what I judge to be genuine vanilla bean, rather than a pre-prepared extract; the chocolate smells sweet but not overpoweringly so."
Madam Webley thought this sounded hopeful; his comments were, far and away, the most positive of all the chocolates he'd sampled. She watched with interest as he bit into the sample.
"Mmmmm." In the several years she'd worked for him, Madam Webley had never heard Director Snape make a sound like that, but his eyes were closed in appreciation as he finished the sample.
"Sample twelve must have the highest cacao content of any samples submitted; the texture is very smooth, the taste perfectly balanced between the bitter cacao and the sweetness of the vanilla and sugar. The sample snapped cleanly, and has obviously been properly stored." He looked up at Madam Webley and handed her the box, which held three more squares of chocolate. "Have one yourself, Madam Webley; I should like your opinion."
Dutifully, she took a piece from the box and tasted it, her eyes closing in delight as the complex flavors filled her mouth. When she had finished the square, she looked up at him with an ecstatic smile.
The chocolate was exquisite.
He chuckled at the sight of his dignified secretary nearly purring over a square of chocolate. "It is very good, is it not?" he asked. She could only kiss the tips of her fingers in response. They each helped themselves to a second sample, which emptied the box.
When they had both recovered from chocolate-induced bliss, he sat up straight in his chair and banished the trays from his desk onto a side table.
"Find the list, Madam Webley, and tell me the name of this most talented of chocolatiers. I should like to get contract negotiations started at once."
She went to a cupboard and pulled out a thin green leather folio, shuffling through the documents inside it till she found the one she wanted. Replacing the folio, she brought the list to her desk, running her finger down the parchment as she sat down.
"It's a new company, sir, and one we've never used before, sir."
"The company is called GFMC, and they are based right here in London, actually."
"And the proprietor's information?"
"Ah, here we are. 'GFMC' stands for Granger's Finest Medical Chocolate, which is a division of Granger's Finest Chocolates. The owner and proprietor is Hermione Granger."
Snape's face went blank and he fell silent.
That was completely unexpected.
"Sir?" Madam Webley looked at him in confusion.
"Hermione Granger, you say?"
Maybe my ears are playing tricks on me.
"The Hermione Granger who fought alongside Harry Potter in the Second Voldemort War?"
As if there could be more than one Hermione Granger. Dear Merlin, isn't one enough for any man's lifetime?
"Yes, sir. She is a very popular figure in wizarding—but of course, you know that. You taught her. Silly of me to forget that. I'm sorry, sir."
He waved away the apology, but still said nothing.
Granger. It had been years since he'd seen Granger. He tried to remember the last time he'd even thought of her. He corresponded infrequently with Minerva McGonagall, who did give him status reports on the Golden Trio, reports to which he'd paid little attention because he didn't really care what Potter and his little friends were doing once the war ended, but Minerva had mentioned it when Granger received her certification as a Potions Mistress. She'd bragged that Granger had finished her apprenticeship a full year sooner than most; testimonial, as if he'd needed one, to her brilliant mind and fierce determination to succeed.
If he was honest with himself, he didn't actually hate Hermione Granger. She had been, with very little competition, the finest student he'd ever had the pleasure to teach in his entire career at Hogwarts, but the girl had been a pestilential nuisance, AND she had been best friends with Harry Potter, the boy-who-yet-lived, and the less said about Potter, the better.
As for the last time he'd seen her…He really had to think about that. It had to have been at the celebration completing the repairs at Hogwarts, and the dedication of the Memorial Garden, where most of the casualties of the second war had been buried.
Trust the Ministry to combine the dedication with the festivities attendant on Hogwarts' re-opening, he scoffed.
The ceremony had been held at Hogwarts on the second anniversary of Voldemort's fall.
He'd been convalescing and was still partially paralyzed, still wheelchair bound and hardly the image of the dashing war hero the Daily Prophet made him out to be. Granger made an exceedingly odd heroine, he remembered thinking at the time. As he had, she'd worn formal black robes, a contrast to the pastel and jewel-toned robes worn by other attendees of the ceremony. She had still been frizzy-haired, still somewhat awkward, and as they'd shared the dais as newly-inducted members of the Order of Merlin, he was close enough to see that she'd cried off all her makeup and her face was red and blotchy.
He hadn't spoken to her, but he did overhear a comment that she made to Neville Longbottom, something about being disgusted that the ministry scheduled their celebration ball right after the dedication, as if any amount of celebration after the fact would make up for the fact that the Ministry had sent no help to Hogwarts the day of the battle. These were sentiments with which Snape agreed completely; so many lives had been lost, so much damage had been done, that it would have been far more appropriate to have the two events on different days. But the Ministry was anxious to improve its reputation, and the public loved parties and celebrations.
After the dedication ceremony, she'd vanished, not even bothering to attend the ball.
That was the last time he'd seen her.
Through Minerva, he heard that she'd gone to France the day after the dedication, partly to bury herself in her studies, and partly because she valued her privacy as much as he did, and happily left the limelight to Potter and the youngest Wesley boy.
And now she owned a chocolate factory. A successful one, presumably, and, typically, one that produced excellent chocolate.
He supposed it wasn't the most unlikely thing she could have done. Not as unlikely as joining a professional Quidditch team, or perhaps teaching divination at Hogwarts. He scoffed at the thought, and then looked up to see Madam Webley watching him with a puzzled expression on her face.
"Yes, Hermione Granger," he said blandly. "One doesn't easily forget a war heroine, to be sure."
"Shall I make an appointment for her to come here to offer her company the contract?
He was about to acquiesce with her suggestion, but something of Peeves the Hogwarts Poltergeist had always lurked deep in his psyche, and now he let the imp out to play.
"No doubt, she will expect to hear from our solicitors, and conduct all the negotiations through intermediaries, but I wish to see her factory. Owl her and that we conduct the negotiations at her place of business, Madam Webley."
If Madam Webley was surprised, she didn't show it; she merely drew a sheet of letterhead out of her desk, but she stopped when Snape spoke her name.
"When we received all the samples from the selection committee, which of the packages came from Granger's Finest Medical Chocolate? Because her chocolate is more than acceptable, but even as fine as it is, if she sent it in one of those ridiculous, velvet-covered monstrosities, I refuse to do business with her as a matter of principal."
If only, he thought to himself.
Madam Webley smiled at his fierce expression. She once again checked the list of companies who'd submitted chocolate samples.
"The chocolate from Granger's Finest Medical Chocolate arrived in a plain white box, secured with navy blue ribbon, and someone at the factory put it in stasis to keep the product fresh and at the proper temperature, sir."
Though she had never met Hermione Granger, Madam Webley already felt a great deal of respect for the young woman, who seemed to know her business very well.
Snape shook his head.
Trust Granger to present her superlative chocolate in the perfect packaging. But this was Granger. Could I truly expect anything less?
"Thank you, Madam Webley. Leave your draft of my request to visit Granger's factory in my 'In' tray for my signature—and when you've completed it; you may have the rest of the afternoon off."
"Oh, thank you, sir!" Madam Webley was truly fond of her irascible employer, but who wouldn't welcome an afternoon off?
Had anyone asked, Severus Snape would have said, with some emphasis, that he was not a nervous person. The rest of his afternoon, therefore, was an exercise in frustration for him. He attempted to read a number of rather important reports and found that, instead of being able to concentrate on them, he was on his feet, pacing around his office, or sitting at his desk trying to draft a letter of his own, and dripping ink all over sheet after sheet of parchment when he could not think of anything to say. When he'd ruined the fifth sheet of paper, he threw his quill into its holder, capped his bottle of ink, and hurled the ruined parchments into the fire as he stormed from his office.
Once out on the busy London street, though, he paused. The prospect of going home to his flat to fix his evening meal, and then, read until he fell asleep held absolutely no appeal. He might Floo to Hogwarts to speak to Minerva, and, incidentally, find out more about Granger's activities since the end of the war, but it was close to the end of the term and Minerva would be worrying about getting the students onto the Hogwarts Express. Then he thought of his last year at Hogwarts, the year after he'd been forced to kill Albus Dumbledore and then had been installed as Headmaster over a staff and students who hated him and everything they were fooled into thinking he represented. Those memories were still raw, even this long after the war, and even with his having been exonerated of everything he'd been forced to do while serving as Dumbledore's spy. He would visit Minerva another time.
He could, he supposed, drop in on the Malfoys, if, that is, he didn't despise the entire concept of dropping in on anyone. To add insult to injury, he knew that if he did visit the Malfoys, he would spend a fair amount of his visit fending off Narcissa Malfoy, who, with the best of intentions, was driving him mad with her attempts to find him a wife.
He didn't NEED a wife, he thought mutinously. He didn't need a date; he definitely didn't need a casual, one-night encounter. No, he needed to do something more productive. more…dignified. He needed information. Surely, the spy who'd been able to conceal his double life from Tom Riddle could think of way to find out everything he could about Granger's activities since the end of the war. He needed to negotiate a contract with her, which made her, at least potentially, his adversary. Know thine enemy, he reminded himself as he walked from his office to the Leaky Cauldron. He would go to the office of the Daily Prophet in Diagon Alley, where he could search their archives for news of the Granger girl. With an almost feral smile, he turned and walked briskly towards Charing Cross Road.
Office of the Headmistress
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
Hermione Granger, completely unaware of Snape's sudden interest in her factory and herself, sat in Minerva McGonagall's office at Hogwarts, watching as Minerva poured her a cup of tea. She'd been invited to the school to help celebrate Minerva's birthday and visit all her old teachers.
Minerva, of course, wanted to catch up on all of Hermione's activities, and Hermione had mentioned her bid to supply medi-chocolate to St. Mungo's.
"With Professor Snape being the Director for Procurement, Medicinal Supplies, I don't know what chance I have of getting the contract," she confided, "though I know my submission was accepted. Madam Webley, Professor Snape's secretary, was organizing everything with the tasting committee."
"Why would you think you haven't a chance of getting the contract, Miss Granger? Your chocolate is without doubt, the best in Britain, and the best in all of Europe, in my opinion. Severus won't be able to deny that. Why would he award the contract to another supplier, when he knows he would be receiving an inferior product?"
"I suppose. I haven't heard much about him since the end of the war; do you know if he has entirely recovered from the snakebite?"
"Dear Merlin, yes, he's completely recovered, and is just as he ever was."
"Say what you will about him," Hermione confided, "but he was a superb teacher, if you go on how much his pupils learned. It's he who inspired me to take advanced studies in potions. Even a simple potion can make a great deal of difference in the quality of a magical person's life, and there is so much still to be discovered in the field."
"My dear, I had no idea you thought so highly of him."
"He is a brilliant man, to say nothing of his character. To remain loyal to Harry's mum, and the Order and Professor Dumbledore—well, he's a hero, there's no denying that."
"Indeed." Minerva practically purred her response, having had an Idea whilst Hermione was speaking.
"I still am not sure why you think he would reject your submission out of hand, though."
"Professor Snape never had a very high opinion of me whilst I was at school, and then the last year of the war, we all hated him." Her face took on a wistful expression. "Quite unfairly, as it turned out. I found myself very much regretting the way I had always reviled him, even if only in my mind."
"You were meant to revile him; we all were. As for his not having a high opinion of you, that isn't true. He never once accused you of lacking intelligence, and he certainly sang your praises after the kerfuffle with the late and unlamented Dolores Umbridge."
"I'm not sure I agree with you on that. I'm sure he enjoyed watching someone take the mickey out of Umbridge, but I'm quite sure he found me nothing more than a persistent irritation." She chuckled. "I vowed to myself that before I left Hogwarts, I would wring one positive comment or compliment out of him, but I failed completely in that. Please be honest with me, Headmistress. Was I that horrible a pest?"
The headmistress looked at Hermione, remembering the young student she'd been. She had always worked the hardest on her essays and potions, only to have the essays handed back covered in red ink, and her classwork always denigrated. She could see, now, how frustrating that would have been for her (admittedly) favorite student.
The Idea forming in her mind was taking on greater shape and substance now, the more she listened to Hermione's wistful comments; why hadn't she seen, until now, the similarities between Hermione and Severus, both of them unmatched in brilliance, fiercely determined to do well, and, ultimately, heart-breakingly lonely?
"I really do think he disliked me, though," Hermione repeated sadly.
"Bear in mind that he was—as I could only see after the war—under unimaginable stress from the moment Harry Potter came to Hogwarts," Minerva reminded her gently. "If you were to speak to Severus now, I think you would find that he held you in higher regard than he could admit."
"I wish I could believe that. It's perhaps silly of me, but now that the war is over, I would love to begin corresponding with Professor Snape. There are so many things I would like to speak to him about; so much I could learn from him."
With that, the Idea turned into a full-blown IDEA.
"The St. Mungo's contract will probably give you any number of opportunities to meet with him and perhaps work with him; that would give you the chance to really get to know him. He's actually—that is, he can be—companionable, under the right circumstances."
"I have a difficult time imagining that, frankly. And I really don't expect to get the contract, so I seriously doubt I should ever find myself dashing off a note and inviting him to tea some afternoon."
Hermione smiled and resolutely changed the subject. She would never, ever admit, even under torture, that she'd had a horrible crush on Snape in sixth year, when he'd taught Defense Against the Dark Arts and Ron had been so horrible, flaunting his relationship with Lavender Brown.
And as Hermione spoke of other things, Minerva was plotting. Surely there was some function to which she could invite the pair of them; and pair them she would, right next to each other at the table, where they would have no choice but to speak to one another.
GFMC Chocolate Factory
65 Charing Cross Road
Convent Garden, London
Hermione had forgotten her joke about inviting Professor Snape to tea, until she received his request to meet with her and tour the chocolate factory. Which was why, of course, two days later, she signed her name to the invitation hand-written on her best company letterhead. She would show him around the factory and give him tea afterward.
Ms. Hermione Granger
is pleased to invite Director Severus Snape
to be her guest
for a tour of Granger's Finest Chocolates
65 Charing Cross Road
and tea afterward
this Friday fortnight
at three o'clock.
RSVP Mr. Peter Bunter
Office of the Director of Procurement, Medicinal Supplies
St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries
When Madam Webley handed Severus Snape the invitation to tea at her chocolate factory, he reluctantly had to admit that he was impressed. The invitation, handwritten on very fine parchment in cobalt blue ink, had been correct in every way, the old-fashioned, formal phrases such a welcome change from Floo Mail and Instant Floo Messaging, both of which fell just short of being abominable in Snape's estimation.
"Five points to Gryfffindor," he murmured under his breath while penning his reply in his own hand.
iDirector Severus Snape
accepts with pleasure
Ms. Hermione Granger's kind invitation
this Friday fortnight,
three o' clock
Granger's Finest Chocolates,
Once his response had been dispatched by courier, Snape looked at the invitation again, and noticed something he hadn't caught on first reading.
"RSVP Mr. Peter Bunter…"
Nearly everyone in Wizarding Britain knew the almost mythical history of Mr. Mervyn Bunter, who had, in the guise of butler to a titled Lord, (Peter Death Bredon Wimsey, in fact,) penetrated the heart of Gellert Grindelwald's organization, and brought back information that had figured largely in bringing that regime crashing down, all in the midst of the Muggle second world war, in which Lord Peter, himself, had served as a covert agent for His Brittanic Majesty. A quick check of "Who's Who in Wizarding Britain" had confirmed that Granger's Mr. Peter Bunter was the grandson of Mervyn, and Snape marveled at either her luck or business acumen in hiring Peter Bunter to manage her factory.
He knew he didn't need to tour her factory to know that the facility would be immaculate and efficiently functional; that he could rely on her to fulfill their contract and deliver the order on time. If she hadn't changed much over the years, he knew she would be scrupulously fair in her pricing, as well. He had already sampled her chocolates, and truthfully, he'd never tasted better medi-chocolate.
In theory, the negotiations could have been conducted by Owl, by courier, and through the hospital's solicitors. Perversely, though, now that he had no need to see Hermione Granger in person, he found himself eager to meet her, more curious than he wanted to admit to see for himself how she had turned out.
And so it was that, on the Friday fortnight specified in Granger's invitation, he wore his best work robes to St. Mungo's, and allowed Mr. Peter Bunter to Apparate him to the lobby of the factory where Granger's Finest Chocolates were produced.
Granger's Finest Chocolates
65 Charing Cross Road
Hermione Granger was nervous. Never mind that she was intelligent and well-educated, a decorated war heroine, (Order of Merlin, First Class,) an accredited Potions Mistress and owner and proprietor of her own candy factory. In a few minutes, he would arrive and this had caused her a great deal of consternation.
She'd never gained his approval at school, for all she'd tried so hard to gain it. Would he still be as critical? Would he still sneer? Or might she, finally, after so many years, be judged on her own merits? Did it even still matter? If her nervousness was any indicator, it still mattered very much, and Hermione spent the morning of Snape's visit in her office, pacing and completely unable to attend to any of her normal duties.
Promptly at three, Hermione heard the soft chime that indicated someone had Apparated into the transport lobby of the factory, giving her time to straighten her robes and pass her hands over her hair, smoothly plaited into a coronet braid today to keep it out of her way. She resisted the urge to check her make-up, and managed to be ready when Bunter's soft knock sounded on the door of her office.
"Director Snape, welcome to my factory." Hermione advanced with her hand outstretched in greeting and was astonished by his gentle grasp in return. He even smiled, even if it was fleeting and rather formal.
"Ms. Granger, it's my pleasure to be here," he said sincerely, gazing at the young woman he hadn't seen in four or five years. She wasn't what he had expected, but, he had to admit, he had no real idea what he had anticipated on meeting her. He knew, intellectually, that he would not be having tea with a teenage student, but he hadn't expected her to be so—grown up. Nor so pretty.
She seated him on a comfortable sofa in the small lounge area at the far end of her office and served him an excellent cup of tea, along with an abundance of little sandwiches and sweets, all the while telling him about the factory and the chocolates it produced, and then she had taken him on a guided tour of the factory.
The first thing he noticed when they'd descended to the basement level of the building, was the scent of melting chocolate that filled the air, and he vividly remembered the taste of that chocolate, remembered the tidal wave of warmth and well-being that had nearly overwhelmed him with just one small piece.
As he had anticipated, the factory was perfectly clean, efficient, and very well organized, from the laboratory kitchen where new products were developed, all the way down to the twin loading docks, from whence the chocolate was shipped by Muggle or magical freight, for Granger's Finest Chocolates, (unenhanced by magic) were phenomenally popular in the Muggle world.
As they finished their tour and returned to her office, though, he found himself as fascinated by the proprietress as much as her factory.
Clearly, Granger had grown up. She had also learned how to dress and make herself up for the professional Wizarding world, and she had even managed to tame her intractable hair. The intricate braided style she'd adopted suited her, and now he could see what he hadn't ever seen in the student he remembered—Hermione Granger was actually quite pretty.
Seated once again on the comfortable sofa in her office, with a fresh cup of tea in hand and another plate of delicacies on the table before him, Snape relaxed and gave in to his curiosity.
"Perhaps it is inappropriate of me to inquire, Miss Granger, but what prompted you to open a chocolate factory?"
She smiled at him over her own teacup.
"Not what anyone would have really expected of me, is it, sir?"
"Indeed," he murmured, listening with every evidence of being genuinely interested in her answer.
"After the war, I was a bit at loose ends once the reconstruction was finished at Hogwarts."
He nodded, remembering what he'd learned when he'd awakened from a coma several months after the end of the war. The reconstruction at Hogwarts had taken four months, and involved nearly every adult in Wizarding Britain; He wasn't a bit surprised to learn that Granger had been part of the restoration effort.
"Harry and Ron entered Auror training as soon as the reconstruction was finished, but I stayed on for an extra two weeks to help the new Potions professor, Mistress Sprangler, to set up the student lab and stock the infirmary. Helping with those tasks reminded me how much I had always enjoyed Potions, and Professor Sprangler encouraged my interest, shall we say, by letting me help her with the more complicated potions that were needed, especially when the Ministry funded the supplies and labor to make Wolfsbane Potion available to all the werewolves who'd been turned by Greyback and other werewolves during the war."
"Indeed, I heard about that whilst I was still convalescing at St. Mungo's. I never did hear, though, how many witches and wizards were turned during the war."
"From the time Greyback joined Riddle's forces, he turned one hundred and thirty seven," she said. "He—they, I should say—attacked many others but not all of them survived." She spoke matter-of-factly but there was a world of pain in her eyes.
Wishing to distract her from her sorrowful memories, Snape commented, "Given your love of Hogwarts, I should have thought it natural for you to seek an apprenticeship with Mistress Sprangler."
"Actually, she did offer me the opportunity," Hermione replied, "but I couldn't accept it at that point. My memories were too raw; I'd had no time to come to terms with everything that happened during the war." She busied herself with the teapot for a moment, refilling his cup and then her own. When she spoke again, her voice was strained.
"After the reconstruction, I started having nightmares. You must understand; I was there in the castle for the final battle. I saw the castle wall explode and fall down on Fred Weasley; I saw him die." She drew in a deep breath. "I saw Greyback go after Lavender Brown and Parvati Patil. Parvati got away, but Lavender tripped and he—he caught her. That happened in the Great Hall. During the reconstruction, I was too busy during the day, and too tired to dream at night. But afterward—I did try to come back to take my seventh year with the class that followed mine—I'd walk into the Great Hall, and I would see the whole battle again in my mind. The Muggles call it having flashbacks. Anyway, all three of us—Professor McGonagall, Professor Sprangler and I—we all realized I couldn't expect to survive an apprenticeship at Hogwarts with my sanity intact. I took my NEWTs and went to France, where some of the healers at St. Ermengarde's had been researching Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. They had developed several potions that helped with the panic attacks and flashbacks, and had begun incorporating Muggle-style therapy in their treatment protocols. They took me as a patient because they could learn as much from me as I could from their expertise as Healers." She smiled.
"I can only imagine how you must have suffered, Miss Granger."
"I was far from being the only one and I was glad to be able to help the Healers," she replied, adding, "All this is a rather round-about way of saying that I decided to take advanced studies in Potions, and found a Potions Mistress to whom I could apprentice myself."
"It's rather a long step from Potions to chocolates," he pointed out. "I should very much like to know how you bridged that particular gap."
Now she chuckled.
"Let's just say that studying Potions in France, where anything to do with food, drink, or, indeed, taste, is taken very seriously, and that taught me to pay more attention to the small things that make life more pleasant." Her eyes lit up in mischief.
"It helped," she added, "that my mentor was raised in a family of restaurateurs for whom taste was the most important thing."
"And most potions aren't known for their delightful taste," he commented dryly, surprised to find it so pleasant to hear her laugh at his comment.
"The first thing I worked on was developing a chocolate flavoring that could be added to potions for children," she continued, "but one thing we noticed, my Healers and I, at St. Ermengarde's, was that my panic attacks left me cold, shivering, and feeling complete and utter despair."
"Exactly the way one feels in the presence of a Dementor," he stated, beginning to see how she'd chosen her present occupation.
"Yes, quite so. And so my Healer prescribed medi-chocolate for me."
"And in this one respect, French cuisine fails to maintain its reputation as the most delicious food on the planet." She chuckled again. "Even the most ordinary brand of Muggle chocolate—Cadbury's—tastes better than their therapeutic chocolate."
She waited for his reaction and grinned in pleasure when he laughed out loud.
"And so you decided to become a chocolatier," he concluded.
"Indeed. I spent my summers researching how chocolate is made, and turned my attention especially to finding a way to increase the percentage of cacao solids in medical chocolate without making the bars too brittle to package and ship. I was fortunate to discover a way of suspending the solids and I started producing small batches for the Healers at St. Ermengarde's to test on their patients. At the same time, I invested some of my college money from my parents in setting up a very small facility in France, which became a somewhat larger facility once I contracted with St. Ermengarde's, St. Williams in Switzerland, and St. Grace's in Monaco, to make their medical chocolate."
"Very astute and well-managed," he commented easily, "which is exactly what I would expect from you," he complimented, "even laying aside that you make the best medical chocolate I have ever tasted."
Her cheeks flushed with pleasure.
"Thank you, sir."
At last, the approval she'd craved for decades. The moment was as delicious as her best chocolate and she was certain it would live in her memory for a very long time.
"I will state the obvious, Miss Granger. St. Mungo's would like to contract with you to make all of our medical chocolate. I brought with me a précis of our needs and all the legal documents needed to formalize our business relationship." He reached into an inner pocket and pulled out a tiny folio, which he enlarged with a tap of his wand and handed to her.
She immediately read over the extract which described St. Mungo's needs and commented, "This is well within our capacity to produce, but I think you'll find that you won't need such a large quantity of chocolate."
He raised one eyebrow in silent query, and she smiled proudly as she replied.
"It's the percentage of cacao solids which causes the therapeutic effect, and our medi-chocolate contains eighty-five percent cacao solids, compared to my nearest competitor, whose medi-chocolate contains only seventy-one percent."
Well. He admitted that she had every right to brag. His smile flashed for an instant and his eyes crinkled at the corners in a most intriguing manner. "I must commend you, Miss Granger. Twenty points to Gryffindor."
His smile flashed again at her delighted peal of laughter.
During all the long hours they spent signing documents (after calling both their solicitors, of course,) 'Miss Granger' became Hermione, and 'sir' became Severus, and they took turns studying each other.
"She's really very good company," he decided, watching her as she signed some legal paper or another; "She knows as much about her craft as I do at mine; there is much we have in common, but our experiences are just different enough to be immensely interesting, and she is so well-read that, even if we didn't confine ourselves to speaking of Potions, I don't think we would ever run out of things to talk about." The idea occurred to him to invite her to dinner, but he instantly checked that, and then reminded himself, "The war is over, Severus, and you're no longer a spy. Having a pleasant lunch or dinner with an attractive woman doesn't mean giving hostages to fortune any longer." He looked up and flushed when he caught her looking intently at him.
"He couldn't be more different than the teacher I remember," she thought, watching him. "I could never have imagined he could look so handsome with a shorter haircut and changing his black robes to navy blue. I'm sure he's done something to his teeth, too." It was more than just a change of robes and a shorter haircut, though, she decided. Severus was interesting, interested, and a witty conversationalist, but more important, he seemed much more patient, understanding, and kind. She would be honored to claim THIS man as a friend. And she was beginning to think she wasn't averse to something more than friendship, should it come to that.
It was eight o'clock when they finished signing all the documents. Hermione and Severus both got to their feet, strangely loathe to have the evening come to an end.
They spoke at the same time.
"It's really past dinner time, but I know a nice little pub," he began, at the same time as she offered,
"If you like pot au feu and French bread, I made some last week and got called out to a meeting before I could eat, so I froze it to have on a night when I had no time to cook."
"I'd be happy to escort you to dinner, but pot au feu is too good an offer to refuse," he told her, taking her cloak from her and draping it over her shoulders.
Alone in his small office, Mr. Peter Bunter smiled to himself as the wards chimed their two-note signal to indicate someone, (in this case, two someones,) was leaving the factory.
And to a casual observer, had there been any, it would have seemed to be only a trick of the light that a twinkle suddenly lit Mr. Peter Bunter's vividly blue eyes.