A/N: This piece was written some time ago for the inaugural SSHG Promptfest over on LiveJournal. Since its original posting there, I have revised this story, as there were a couple glaring errors I'd missed (oops!) and several things I wanted to "touch up." The bare bones of the original are still intact, though, and you can find more information about this prompt below. I do like this version better and hope you enjoy it.
Disclaimer: Harry Potter is copyrighted to and belongs to JK Rowling. I'm just playing in her sandbox. No money, just fun. Artwork (manip) is credited to the talented Teo.
LJ Fest: SSHG Promptfest
Warning(s): Mild Language
Prompt: Snape and Granger keep running into each other on leisure outings to the Muggle world. (Museums, theatre, cinema, restaurants, garden tours? Your choice!) (SS/HG)
A Series of Fortunate Events
Severus Snape was looking forward to this outing. For once.
It was uncustomary for the deeply reclusive, once highly despised wizard to venture out into the open, his daily routine consisting of the main three: potion ingredients, books, and food. He wasn't particularly bothered by facing the brave new world he lived in—and, without any gratitude, helped shape—but, too often, it proved a painful reminder of the emotional scars left behind by war.
Severus Snape had lived in that treacherous world so long that adjusting from the Darkness to the Light had been a difficult journey. A near death experience and the fact that, at the end of his Wizarding days, he hadn't had a friend in the world by his side didn't help his dreary outlook on the here and now.
Sometimes, he wished he'd died that night. More frequently, he didn't give a rat's arse what this new world thought of him, or the fact that he'd "unfortunately" escaped the Grim Reaper's clutches. This world didn't offer him any improvements outside of some much sought-after peace and quiet, but that was still a gift he'd readily receive.
Hence, why Severus preferred to make trips into the Muggle world—a realm he understood and had navigated well since childhood. He preferred their less chaotic methods of entertainment, for one: the cinema, football on the telly, getting cack-faced in pubs and stumbling home to ponder one's useless, wretched existence.
That particular bit of fun wasn't exclusive to the Muggle world, but Severus Snape was a willing participant in its regular practice, nonetheless.
Severus enjoyed the anonymity the Muggle way of life afforded him, to trek from Point A to Point B with far less stressors or grievances that lay outside his control. There were no malicious, sideways glances or cutting remarks ignorant Wizarding folk thought he couldn't overhear. If there were, all Severus had to do was direct a piercing glare in their direction to shut them up. After all, did they really think his hearing had somehow been impaired by the snake attack?
Fucking fools, he'd hiss and be on his merry way.
Thus, Severus found himself retreating further and further into Muggle territory since the end of the war. Perhaps it was a form of escapism, but Severus didn't ponder his reasons all that much. Such analyzing would only lead to the bottom of a bottle.
Living as a Muggle led to a somber discovery for the wizard, however: he much preferred a quiet, non-magically enhanced life, far more than he probably ought to. Did he even belong in the Wizarding world anymore?
No, he'd conclude without emotion. Maybe that was the bottle talking, but it seemed to agree with him anyhow.
Another escape was in order.
Today, that was the opening of a new bookshop-café combination in Bromley. The eclectic collection it boasted was said to be "extensive," according to some ruddy Muggle London newspaper Severus had snatched on the streets the week before. Seeing as it was another ineffectual Saturday, which left the wizard with nothing to do except sort through the pile of mail on his doorstep that he normally avoided anyhow, he decided to step out in search of familiar friends: books and a decent cup of coffee.
Severus leisurely strolled outside, inhaling the morning air. His stride had slowed since the war's end, and he found the casual pace he could now exercise a welcoming change, indeed. No one ever took notice of the conspicuous, formidable wizard in this rundown neighborhood. No one had since he was a mere boy.
To Disapparate would be bloody helpful, he scowled, choosing instead to make his way towards the train station on foot.
He knew the arrival and departure times by heart and had memorized the various routes and destinations. Not that he had many options in this part of town, but getting to Muggle London would be easy enough, if a bit bothersome due to the crowds that would surely form the closer he got to his destination. The only part of the journey he detested was the reality that, on the weekend, the tube would be packed.
Yes, Disapparation would be bloody marvelous.
Severus made his way to the café amidst the bustling, heavily clogged city streets. Leisurely outings were a concept that hadn't fully registered for the former spy yet. Although he welcomed any form of distraction these days, taking time for pleasure versus attending to the welfare of others was still not an entirely comfortable practice.
The train ride into Muggle London had been stressful enough. Too many people, too few seats; even Severus's unfriendly glare wasn't enough to keep an elderly woman from taking an available seat next to him. To his further dismay—though it was hardly surprising—the bookshop-café establishment, too, was packed with Muggles, each struggling to get their foot in the door. The café itself was tucked away in a corner, and a long line was already forming.
All for a bloody cuppa? Severus sneered, his expression morphing into one of disdain when a woman and an obnoxiously hyperactive child collided with him from behind. Severus shot the child—a squawking boy who switched between swinging to climbing his mother's leg like some overgrown monkey—an infuriated look, as well as one towards the affronted mother, who huffed angrily and tried to shimmy past him without much success.
Snarling under his breath, Severus retreated down the closest aisle he could reach, and shuffled about without much thought or care, weaving in and out of tight spaces and trying to avoid body slamming anyone as he searched for a book to purchase. The swarms of bookworms like him, though, only increased the anxiety of searching.
It wasn't long before Severus was tugging at his collar and finding the place stiflingly hot. Merlin, it's hot in here, he thought as he desperately made his way back towards the entrance. He'd considered grabbing a coffee when it was looking like finding a decent book wasn't in the cards, but, at this rate, he'd grab one elsewhere.
Severus was about half way to the door when his lean form abruptly collided with another. The person—female—stumbled sideways and cussed loud enough to cause several people to turn their heads and stare them both down disapprovingly. Severus ignored them, however, too disgruntled with the young woman who'd had the impertinence to get between him and his exit.
Their collision had spilled the hot cup of coffee gripped in her hand, the contents of which now dripped down the front of her form-fitting winter coat. He couldn't make out her face, as her head was lowered and she was distracted with inspecting the spill, sputtering angrily under her breath, when Severus went stiff as a board.
Merlin and Circe, he recognized that bloody hair—those maddening, thick curls that spiraled every which way and seemed to possess a mind all their own. They'd once been bushy and unsightly, along with the rest of her, to be frank. She'd never been an attractive girl in her youth, though, somehow, with the blessing of puberty, she'd matured into a not so unsightly woman. Only Severus hadn't seen her since she was a student—Not since that night in the Shrieking Shack, he reflected with some anxiety—and catching sight of her now in this Muggle establishment, of all places, immediately set the wizard's teeth on edge.
"Miss Granger," he drawled rather carefully, surveying her hunched over form through narrowed, skeptical eyes.
Hermione Granger threw her head back to throw him a furious glare but her eyes nearly bugged right out of their sockets instead. "Snape!" she gasped, quickly stumbling to correct herself. "Erm, I'm sorry, I mean, Professor."
"I have no use for that address anymore, Granger. I'm no longer a professor and certainly not yours. I haven't been for a long time."
Hermione's cheeks brightened. She swiftly diverted her surprise by swiping at the stains on her coat, not that it would do any good; not without the use of magic, anyway.
"I - I wasn't expecting to run into you here," Hermione muttered, trying to feign her mixture of shock and distemper with as pleasant a smile as she could muster.
"Nor I, you," Severus returned, arching an eyebrow. "Might I ask what you're doing in these parts?"
The suspicious spy that still disturbed his mind couldn't account for the coincidence he and the young witch found themselves in. Firstly, that she was in the Muggle world instead of the Wizarding one was peculiar, and, secondly, that they just happened upon the very same bookshop seemed highly dubious to his paranoid frame of mind.
"I'd heard about this place in the paper, so I wanted to check it out," Hermione answered simply, not catching the skepticism in the man's tone.
Sufficient answer, the dark wizard concurred, though he was still fairly uneasy.
Hermione swiped loose curls off of her shoulders, looking quite flustered and put out. "And you, Prof—Sir?"
Severus prolonged the silence between them for a moment, though Hermione effectively kept her gaze. "The same," he replied curtly before turning the tables on her once more. "Do you make it a habit of venturing out to Muggle bookshops often, Granger?"
To that, Hermione equipped a small smile. "I live here now, actually."
Severus's eyebrows came together in confusion. "Pardon?"
"Muggle London. I... I turned my back on the Wizarding world some time ago. Perhaps you read about it in the Prophet."
"I... Erm..." Feeling the utter fool, for he hadn't kept up on such news, Severus imitated awareness, though, somehow, he could sense that the swotty Gryffindor was able to read straight through his efforts. "Of course." He quickly cleared his throat. "My apologies about your coat. I could fix that for you..."
When Severus started to reach inside his leather coat, Hermione dismissed the suggestion with a firm shake of her head. "Oh, no, it's all right."
Severus's eyebrow rose higher on his head. "You'd prefer to go about the rest of your day with a coffee stain all over your front?"
Hermione merely giggled away his confusion. "I'll have it professionally cleaned. With any luck, it'll come out."
Severus couldn't quite understand the witch's rationale but wasn't about to make a study of it. It was no longer his priority, nor his prerogative, to know the mind and methods of others, particularly not a member of the Golden Trio, also known as regular thorns in his side.
"Well, then," Severus found himself stammering, unsure of what else to say. He gave a terse bow and strut past her in haste with a quick "Good day, Granger," noting subtly how Hermione's eyes trailed after him, taken aback by his rather chilling departure.
If she found his exit rude, he didn't care.
Severus made his way into his preferred movie complex on the outskirts of London, where the crowds were scarce and there were plenty of seats to be had, bearing his usual scowl of disgruntlement. Inwardly, however, he was quite looking forward to an anniversary screening of The Red Shoes. Any time spent revisiting scant, happy memories from his childhood was time well invested.
Severus had frequented the cinema many times as a young child. His mother, Eileen, had been immensely fond of the pictures, particularly the old black and whites, and, as Severus grew older, he came to understand its draw for her. The journey into another world, however brief it may be—that desperate escape folks like his mother sought so desperately from a miserable home life and husband—had become a retreat for him nowadays.
From what, though? the analytical side of him refused to leave well enough alone. You have no partner, Severus. You have no one to fret over or escape from.
Severus growled audibly, causing an older couple in front of him to turn around and eye him strangely before yelping and scooting aside, allowing the starkly-clad, leather-jacketed individual to pass by them in peace.
He staked out his usual spot at the midway point, three seats in, and dropped into his chair with the intent of staring down anyone who threatened to sit within a five foot radius. Unsurprisingly, no one came close, and the room remained sparse. The elderly couple sat several rows ahead of him, close enough to hear the blasting speakers that would undoubtedly reverberate against the half crumbling walls once the film began. A few additional loners like him made up the remnants, all scattered throughout the theater.
When the lights finally dimmed, a straggler came scampering into the theater and stumbled for a seat in the darkness not far from him. Severus snorted, annoyed. Bloody dawdler. He quickly forgot about said person, however, and lost himself in the classic film for the next two hours. He wasn't completely relaxed—his senses were always too heightened, even now—but he managed to unwind enough during the movie to enjoy himself.
Two hours later, as the lights went up, so did Severus's reflexes. He spotted a curly-haired woman making her way up the aisle towards the exit, and her eyes froze when they fell upon his, where he'd remained seated as everyone shuffled out of the movie theater. He stared at her with an intense, inscrutable expression she remembered well from her youth and she nearly dropped her bag of popcorn.
Hermione waited anxiously for what few cinema goers remained to take their leave, including the elderly couple, who strolled out at their own idle pace. Once they were alone, Hermione awkwardly tried to break the silence, but her former professor beat her to it.
"Granger," Severus acknowledged, his voice oozing with what she could only assume was displeasure.
"Sir," she returned, feeling utterly foolish. "What a coincidence to find you here... Again."
"I don't believe in coincidence." His remark was blunt, laden with an underlying riddle Hermione had no interest in dissembling.
"Well, all the same."
Hermione chanced stepping closer, but Severus rapidly rose to his feet and met her near the exit before she'd barely managed to blink. She'd forgotten how quickly the man moved, or how greatly he towered over her, to the point that she had to crane her neck to gaze up at him. She found her cheeks burning with embarrassment, though she had no idea why she should feel humiliated. Wasn't she entitled to be here, too? It was like being scolded in front of her classmates all over again, though she hadn't a clue what she was being reprimanded for.
His next question—accusation, rather—seemed to support her inner anxieties. "What are you doing here?" he questioned her in a low voice.
"I - I came to see the film."
Severus's eyebrows came together, befuddled. "You have an affinity for 1940s pictures, Granger?"
Hermione raised her chin. "Actually, I do." At Severus's raised eyebrow and judgmental silence, she added, "My dad and I used to come here together all the time."
"Yes. My parents used to own a dental practice not far from here, and my dad loved the old pictures."
Severus blinked, his reaction to this personal information unclear. She suspected that he didn't care either way.
"And now?" he finally inquired after an uneasy silence.
Hermione's eyes finally averted his, staring for a short time at the floor. "He died. Um, both Mum and Dad. Several years ago."
Fuck me. Good one, Severus.
Apparently, he hardly knew how to hold a conversation anymore, even with the Gryffindor swot, though considerable time had passed and her maturity level had reached a point that made her more bearable than before. It didn't ease Severus's apprehensions about running into her a second time, though, but that opportunity had passed. Hadn't she just informed him that her parents were dead?
"My sympathies, Granger," he managed to get out between gritted teeth, appalled with himself and with her flash of surprise.
"Thank you, Sir."
"Did you enjoy the picture?"
Hermione's eyes fluttered, a glimmer of confusion riddled in their depths. They were quite pleasing, he'd noticed, as was the rest of her now. Time since the war had evidently treated her well, enriching her character but her features as well, which was more than Severus knew he could boast for himself, particularly at this moment.
"Yes, I did," Hermione answered plainly, unaware of the Slytherin's observations. "May I ask...what brings you here?"
Severus gave her a sharp look, contemplating how to answer. He didn't share personal information with others. After all, he was no Gryffindor. He wasn't, however, entirely prone to dishonesty where it wasn't warranted either and opted to answer truthfully.
"To escape," he surprised her with his reply; a flicker in her eyes heightened his reservations about his own response. Had he been wrong to act as a Gryffindor for once?
No matter. Severus brusquely nodded and flew past her for the exit, no longer with a billow of long, rippling robes but with a weather-beaten coat that briskly brushed her arm as he left. "Good day, Granger," he offered tersely in farewell.
Just as before, the witch thought to herself, her face falling a little at his cold departure.
You must be really desperate, Severus.
Giving a discontented look to no one in particular, Severus entered the luxurious Muggle estate that was Hampton Court Palace, eying the extravagant centuries-old paintings along the walls as he presented his ticket and then made his way around at his own pace. Having purchased a pass days before, Severus was satisfied with his decision to forgo a guided tour in lieu of walking the palace alone.
It didn't take long for his resolve to pay him back in invisible Galleons when Severus spotted a cluster of Muggles—mostly obnoxious-looking tourists from the States—who hovered around a large rectangular portrait of the family of King Henry VIII, making every un-English attempt at impoliteness. Many were talking over the guide speaking, an older woman with too tight of a bun that seemed to stretch her wrinkled forehead backward by several inches.
Severus curled his upper lip at several of the younger children, too, who swayed on their parents' arms or twirled around in circles without thought or care to their behavior. As he made to pass them in peace, sure enough, a redheaded youth spun too quickly and smacked right into him, bouncing off of the wizard with an affronted air that, if she were not a Muggle, would have disappeared far quicker from her countenance than it did. Catching Severus's dangerous gleam, however, she did sprint away from the scary, grumpy-looking man in black, whimpering for her mummy's protection.
Severus smirked with glee. I've still got it.
Severus found himself heavily immersed in every square inch of the palace. He knew Muggle English history well enough, though it wasn't particularly fascinating to him, so he couldn't account for why he had come exactly. To stretch his legs? Perhaps. The artwork and tapestries were intriguing enough, though far too excessive for his tastes, and any Tudor-clad staff member that dared approach him—and not many chanced it—received his tight, threatening scowl to keep them at bay.
Therefore, Severus wandered the palace mostly undisturbed and decided to end his self-guided tour with a quiet stroll through the lush gardens that boasted a vast, colorful array of flowers that were just starting to bloom. It wasn't the picturesque sight that interested Severus, however, but the solitude of being amongst people without being a part of them that was most desperately sought after today.
Get ahold of yourself, Severus.
That unfailing loneliness that so often tugged at Severus's resolve had been growing more pronounced in recent weeks, for reasons he couldn't make heads or tails of. He was accustomed to a solitary life, after all, not so much out of want as necessity during the near two decades spent in life-threatening scenarios.
My Inferno, he'd quietly refer to it as—the double agent status, the physical and mental strains of his life, the nights spent cooped up alone without a friend or a friendly face to confide his fears and grievances in. The weight of his predicament was heavy, enough to break him and swallow him whole if he hadn't found some inner strength to push on. It may have been survival instinct alone, but it was all he had.
Nowadays, distractions—escapism—were his tool of the trade for dealing with himself, and today, at this particular outing, the method masked the loneliness within.
Severus wouldn't have been able to inform anyone how long he'd walked the Hampton Court grounds. Perhaps an hour or so would be a fair estimate, but either way, he ended up settling down on a bench and gazing out at the extravagant palace before him, not with desire but with indifference. He stared at its details and majesty with that same critical sneer he bestowed his less than stellar students and was hardly aware of his surroundings when a familiar voice chimed in beside him, disrupting his thoughts.
"You look like you've had an unpleasant experience, Professor."
Severus startled and whipped his head to the side, finding the unnerving, yet comforting, sight of a certain know-it-all Gryffindor. 'Comforting,' Severus? his mind alerted him immediately to the emotions buried beneath, where they were always supposed to remain: guarded and locked away.
Not privy to the wizard's inner relief, Hermione smiled brightly and giggled at his flash of disquietness that quickly morphed into its usual brand of snarkiness. "Nice to see you again," she added cheerfully when he offered nothing in reply, taking a seat and scooting closer to him on the bench they now shared, much to Severus's mixture of curiosity and discomfort.
"Again?" he managed after composing his nerves. How rude, Severus.
"Mmm," Hermione acknowledged, not appearing all that bothered. "This is becoming a nuisance, I trust?"
Severus blinked. "Is it?"
"Well, I would imagine it is for you," Hermione goaded, eying him wryly with a sidelong glance. "For me, not so much."
"And what makes you say that, Granger?"
"Well, every time we've run into each other you quickly bugger off." Hermione couldn't help chuckling at the blank expression she received. "I'm sorry, it's just, well...another coincidence, I suppose?"
Severus's mouth drooped. "If you say so."
"Ah, that's right. You don't believe in coincidence."
"Indeed, I don't." Giving her a more definitive look over, Severus's eyes narrowed as they took in the same form-fitting coat he had first encountered her wearing some weeks ago. Stain's gone, he noted before asking the pressing question on his mind. "And why are you here, Granger?"
"I haven't been here since I was a child," Hermione explained casually, as though their bumping into each other a third time wasn't nearly as troublesome as the suspicious Slytherin found it to be. "I came here with Dad years ago. I've been wanting to get back to see it since. Did you take the guided tour?"
Severus's eyes flashed, this time with subtle curiosity. "No, I did not."
"Oh, you should have! It was fascinating; so much to take in! And the actors! Did you speak to any of them?"
Somehow Hermione couldn't picture the unapproachable Severus Snape letting one of the Tudor-dressed staff members get anywhere near him without getting their privates hexed off, but she felt compelled to humor herself by asking anyhow. Judging by the wizard's acute frown, she was most certainly correct in her assumptions.
"Absolutely not," he answered stiffly, causing her to laugh lightly and quickly press a hand to her mouth.
Severus's next comment made her blush. "I see you managed to get that stain out."
"Oh! Erm, yes, I did. It wasn't all that hard, actually. No harm done."
"That is good."
What was only seconds seemed to stretch for an eternity, until Severus awkwardly rose from his spot and Hermione followed suit. "Well, then," he grunted, growing far more uneasy by the strange look that befell his attempt at a less unfriendly dismissal. "Good day, Granger."
Severus didn't wait for her reply. Like times before, he wasn't willing to risk seeing what appeared to be that look of disappointment that formed in her eyes when he said his goodbyes. He must have been dreaming. Surely, the witch couldn't wait to get away from him. It was that way for most people.
Then again, Severus, why would she have risked taking a seat next to you, you blubbering idiot?
As though to purposely aggravate his confusion further, Hermione suddenly called out to him halfway across the garden. "Wait, Snape, please!" Severus whipped his head around, his eyes surveying her quizzically. She rushed to catch up to him, finding his strides as wide and hasty as she remembered from Hogwarts. "It really is quite a coincidence running into each other like this, don't you think? I know you said you don't believe in all of that, but, well... That's three times now."
"Your point, Granger?" he returned, slightly ruffled when Hermione stepped closer.
"Seeing as it's the weekend and all, and assuming you don't already have plans, erm, would you like to grab a cuppa with me?"
Severus's contorted expression gave away his bewilderment at her offer, and Hermione immediately reddened at what she could only assume was a misstep on her part. She'd been foolish to think the professor might have actual time to spare for her. After all, it wasn't as if they were friends. Acquaintances perhaps, but even that was sketchy, given their former student and teacher relations.
Severus wasn't sure what the hell had compelled him to say 'yes,' but, bugger all, a half hour later he found himself seated across from Hermione Granger at a quaint little café that, from the outside, looked like a dive anyone with half a sense would have scurried past and avoided. Severus could understand its allure to the young witch, however, as well as for himself: it was quiet, uncramped, yet inconspicuous enough if one didn't want to be seen but desired to be amongst people.
To not feel so utterly alone, he fleetingly considered as he scanned the café and then the woman seated across from him.
It wasn't difficult for the attuned spy to uncover in rapid succession that Hermione was hiding in the Muggle world. There may no longer have been a psychotic Dark Lord on the loose, but whatever her reasons, Hermione was clearly trying to immerse herself back into Muggle society and evidently forget she was ever a witch at all.
"You don't carry your wand with you?" he'd asked her soon after they'd settled themselves in a corner.
"No," Hermione surprised him by answering simply and with a smile that was genuine, not sad. "I did for a while, mostly out of comfort rather than necessity, until I realized it was doing me more harm than good to hold onto it." Catching the subtle glimmer in Severus's eyes, Hermione bit back her laughter and continued, "Oh, I still have it. I don't think I could ever fully part with it. It's somewhere safe. Somewhere I know but can't readily access it at arm's length. I probably couldn't even use much of my magic now if I tried."
"And you don't miss it?" Severus inquired, both puzzled but also intrigued by this drastic turn of events.
"Sometimes," Hermione answered softly, her eyes betraying her resolve, if only a little. "Most of the time, I can honestly say I don't miss that part of my life anymore. If someone ever decided to look into my past and dissect its contents, they'd find that, behind all the magic, there was a lot more darkness, danger, and destruction than magic. I saw more horrific things as a child than most adults see in a lifetime. The Wizarding world is far more hazardous and unpredictable than my life as a Muggle ever was. I find that I prefer the simplicity of this world to the chaos in that one. Oh, sure, there is plenty of chaos here, too, but after what I experienced during the war, and seeing what magic can really do... Well, I'm quite happy to leave the stress of all that behind me."
The two sat in silence for a time after that. Mostly, Severus relayed the questions and Hermione supplied the answers, all of which made perfect, harmonious sense in Severus's overly analytical mind, though her candidness he found more intriguing than anything else. In many ways, this younger witch, who had spent far less time in his world and hadn't seen the terrors he'd experienced, though she still saw aplenty, had been able to let go of that old life far easier than he'd managed to.
Changing subjects about an hour into their discussion, Severus took a sip of his coffee before inquiring, "And what do you do with yourself now, Granger?"
"Hermione," she surprised him by correcting, forcing his eyes to sharpen. "Please? I'd prefer it."
It wasn't entirely comfortable, but it wasn't unwelcome either. "Hermione," he rigidly abided, which earned him another one of her graceful smiles.
"The London library. I work in their Special Collections department. I enjoy it a lot."
Severus snorted. "I'm not surprised."
Hermione, who'd brought her cup of coffee to her lips, paused and smirked playfully. "Why do you say that?" she provoked, sensing what was to follow.
"Books, cleverness... I'd have thought my reaction was an obvious one?"
"I was expecting a 'know-it-all' in there somewhere."
"Well, you are a know-it-all, Grang—Hermione."
Hermione mocked him with a roll of her eyes. "Ha, ha, ha. Very charming, Snape!"
"Severus," the wizard found himself blurting out before he could retract. The surprise on his own pale face mirrored Hermione's reaction.
"Oh?" She eyed him over cautiously. "Are you sure you don't mind?"
"I... Erm, no, it's fine."
Hermione's smile broadened. "Very well, Severus."
By the end of their talk, nearly two hours had passed in relatively easy company. Severus wasn't sure whether to question this coming together or accept it as the stimulating insight his mind had been searching for. Either way, he wouldn't admit it to Hermione Granger. She might have changed, even softened and subdued in her swottiness, but traces of the know-it-all were still ever present, mainly in her feeble, though persistent, attempts to extract information from him.
In the end, she'd unearthed very little about this dark, still formidable enigma and discovered only that he now lived in a Muggle town and remained half attached to the Wizarding world, though he lived a life on the outskirts.
An outsider, she appraised, a little saddened to hear how secluded he'd remained as the years passed. Just as he always was...
"Shall we meet for coffee again? Or perhaps tea?" she suggested as they made their way back out onto the street.
A light rain was drizzling and, as Severus stared down at the squinting, slightly damp witch, the encouraging smile he was met with nearly caused him physical pain. How long had it been since anyone had not feigned but actually enjoyed his company, enough to seek out more?
You know how long it's been, Severus. Don't be a fool.
"I can meet you somewhere closer to you, if that would be preferable?" she pressed gently.
Severus was caught off his guard by the teasing smirk she shot him. "I'm sorry. Do you have more pressing engagements, Professor?"
Why was that smile so ridiculously attractive, particularly when he'd never noticed it before? Severus curled his upper lip, but for whatever reason, it didn't have its usual effect. The attractive, small creases around Hermione's eyes stretched as she broke out into light laughter, the misty rain taunting her fluttering eyelashes.
"If you insist, Hermione," he growled, trying to sound far more put out than he truly was, "then let us meet closer to me next time."
"Shall I call on you then?" she asked, the excitement readable in her caramel-colored eyes.
"Yes," he found himself agreeing with ease. Was he being the utter fool for focusing so intently on those eyes and that riveting smile?
Not realizing the short time that had transpired in silence, Severus soon found Hermione eying him humorously. "I'll need your phone number then, Severus." Hermione raided for a pen and paper in her purse, extracting both and fumbling to keep her notepad dry as she scribbled down numbers.
Her number, he thought with gratification, casting a wandless spell to keep them dry.
Hermione tore the paper from her notebook and handed it to him. Silently, she handed the pen and paper to him to supply her with the same information, which he did so without a word, and not without a dark crease of mixed emotions forming between his eyes.
Handing both back to the young witch, he cleared his throat, prepared to leave. It was then that Hermione reached out unexpectedly and touched his hand.
Severus startled, finding her touch both warm and gentle. Her hand was considerably smaller than his, and those dainty fingers bound themselves tightly around his with a comforting squeeze. Normally, the reclusive Slytherin would have backed away, pulled his hand clear of hers, or shot some unwelcoming remark at her advance. Here, he did nothing. He could only stare—mesmerized—by how such a small, generous gesture of goodwill could be so soothing to his deprived soul. He wasn't accustomed to human touch, but the craving to hold another's hand had long been buried there somewhere, and this witch had set it alight.
"Thank you for meeting me, Severus," she offered sweetly in a manner Severus had never recognized before now. "I had a lovely time."
"You're welcome...Hermione." He hardly knew what else to offer; he was too transfixed by her touch to make sense of what this moment of great shifting meant in his life.
"I'll ring you soon!"
Pleasantly, Hermione gave him another beaming smile and, like the quick casting of a spell, her hand fell out of his and she walked away. Severus quietly watched her go, captured by those tumbling, spiraling curls that had once been so bushy and unkept. There was a tantalizing attraction to them now that was both fascinating and strange to behold, and he couldn't seem to tear his eyes away.
Suddenly, Hermione spun around, grinning at him in the rain, though none of it seemed to touch her. "Thanks for the drying charm!" she giggled.
Within seconds, she'd disappeared amongst the crowd of street walkers, leaving the dark wizard standing alone in the falling rain. He didn't look like much of a loner anymore, though. Something in his posture and in the peculiarity of those black eyes had shifted, and for the better.
"Quiet, witch!" he hissed, whipping his head in Hermione's direction. She was swaying several feet away from where he was standing with a glint of humor marking her face.
"Then come here!" she snickered, tossing her head and eying the enormous canvas in front of her.
With a dramatic eye roll, Severus ambled over to join Hermione and quietly wrapped an arm around her waist, subtly tugging her back against his chest. Her tiny frame conformed to his, her head coming to rest against his chest as the pair of them stared up at the Hans Holbein painting, Hermione in awe and Severus a tad perplexed.
After soaking in the painting in silence, Severus raised an eyebrow. "Penny for your thoughts?"
Hermione giggled softly; the sound was wonderfully calming to his ears. He hadn't worked up the nerve to tell her that yet. Mustering the courage to give an 'I love you' declaration a month before had been nearly detrimental.
Whilst reading comfortably together in Severus's library at Spinner's End, he'd glanced over at a composed Hermione, studying her absorbed, intense expression that was directed at the book she held in her hands, and blurted out the words without consideration, surprising not only Hermione but himself. She'd certainly taken it well, if her returning his declaration and then jumping his bones on the couch were any sort of reassurance to go by.
"He looks like you!" she laughed amusedly, drawing Severus out of his reverie.
Severus curled his upper lip at what he deemed to be a most unfortunate comparison. "I beg your pardon?"
"Obviously not the outfit, but the complexion, the dark eyes, that nose..." She peered up at Severus with a thoughtful smile. "Well, maybe only the nose a little bit. Are you certain you weren't Thomas Moore in a past lifetime?"
Severus cast an indifferent look. "Doubtful, my dear."
"Mmm, what a shame," Hermione sighed, still smiling up at him. "He was quite an amazing man."
"An unfortunate man. You may recall that the king had his head cut off?"
Hermione turned around and hugged Severus around his leather jacket. "Yes, well, that, too. Still, he was quite the intellectual, and his conviction—his belief and his rising up against the king—it's..."
Severus waited on her pause. "One for the history books?"
"Oh, yes." Her smile gently extended, causing Severus's thrumming heart to quicken. "He was brave. His story somewhat mirrors yours, you know."
Severus's eyes narrowed. "Come off it," he growled.
"What? He was courageous against a tyrant! So were you."
Severus found himself struck by such words. He hardly knew how to pay her back except to pull her closer and growl in her face.
"Oh, very well, are!"
"To take you on, I must be. Either brave or barking mad, and I haven't decided which yet."
He was heartened by her infectious shrill of laughter and the light smacking to his chest. Holding her close, he found himself caught up in her captivating smile, the shape of her mouth, and the remembrance of how good those lips tasted. He leaned down to capture them, silencing the humored witch and, instead, leaving her breathless.
It was a small gesture, but a quietly endearing one. Getting kissed by Severus Snape had taken some getting used to, and yet, Hermione found herself unable to keep her hands off the poor man. With only a short, albeit deep, kiss to the lips, her hands had somehow made their way up to his face. She teasingly tugged on his lower lip before releasing his mouth, soaking in the contented smirk he bore which was rarely displayed for anyone else.
"Cuppa?" she softly suggested.
The understated glimmer in those dark depths squeezed her heart in two. She remembered her first glimpses into Severus's isolation and loneliness when she ventured to Spinner's End one year ago; how utterly starved the wizard had been of a woman's touch, a thoughtful word, or a person's steady company. That inkling of appreciation Hermione spotted in Severus's eyes when she made an appearance, asked something of him, or bugged him for more of his time was a steady force to be reckoned with, forcing her often to check herself; for that look—that underlying, deeply embedded insecurity of his—was nearly too painful at times to take in.
"If you'll buy," he returned, bringing Hermione back into the happy moment.
"I always offer! You're just too quick with your wallet!"
"Bollocks. You just aren't fast enough. Your reflexes have weakened since you left the Wizarding world."
"Oh, is that so?" she sneered in the same manner as he so often did. She drew onto her tiptoes and snogged Severus again, not pulling back afterwards but nudging his nose with hers. "Well, I prefer this world to that one now. Don't you?"
Severus could feel himself clamping up. He couldn't understand—even now—how the fetching witch could prefer a life with him over anyone else, but he wasn't about to gamble with the good fortune that had finally come his way after so long. He nudged her nose, stepped back, and linked his large hand through her smaller one. Every finger seemed to intertwine perfectly.
"Indeed," he concurred quietly.
Then Severus led Hermione by the arm out of the National Art Gallery for more conversation, company, and a much desired hot cuppa.
A/N #2: I hope you enjoyed it. Reviews are always greatly appreciated.