Title: The Prince
Genre: Humor, Fluff
Summary: 'He's a right nightmare at the best of times, you know as well as I do. Just because you've never had to wait on him doesn't make it any less true.'
Word Count: ~3100
Author's Notes: N/A
Original Prompt: 2) Hermione is making ends meet as a waitress in a Muggle pub. She doesn't expect to see anyone from the wizarding world sitting at one of the tables perusing the reasonably priced menu, least of all Severus Snape.
If anybody told Hermione Granger when she was fifteen that within a few short years she would be serving food in a Muggle pub, she wouldn't have believed them. (If it had been Sybill Trelawney, she might have even laughed in her face.) Hermione at fifteen couldn't see very far beyond her colour-coded revision schedules or the OWLs, and even if she could have, all she would have seen was the looming spectre of war, a metaphorical Dark Mark over the wizarding world and her future.
Twenty-year-old Hermione looked back and shook her head ruefully at just how little her younger self could have predicted about her life today. For instance, she never would have guessed in a thousand years the Daily Prophet would hound her even worse than Harry after the war; she was the "safest" member of the trio to approach, after all. (Or so they thought—ask the man she found rifling through her dustbins for headline fodder and you'd find out just how safe it was to approach her… As long as he's regained the power of speech, that is.)
She was, however, the only one of the three who could parlay her Muggle heritage into an escape from the incessant badgering by the press and the wizarding public in general. While Harry was certainly well-versed in the ways of Muggles, the saviour of the wizarding world could hardly choose to leave it without causing a scandal of truly epic proportions. Not that he'd ever want to leave, no matter the trouble; the wizarding world was the only home he'd ever known.
It got so bad for her near the end that Hermione found herself envying Severus Snape. She had no proof he was still alive, just a missing body and the hope that maybe he was out there somewhere and that he'd found some peace. Peace he would never find in the post-war wizarding world, where there was a weekly column in the Prophet dedicated solely to Snape Sightings.
Envying this fantasy Snape for his imagined freedom was the last straw for her. She told only Ginny Weasley about her plan to leave—and she told her only because she was afraid Harry would have a search party after her if she simply disappeared—and swore her to secrecy about her destination. She quietly emptied her account at Gringotts, collected everything she knew she couldn't do without in her beaded bag, and set out for parts unknown.
Well, Muggle London was not exactly unknown, but it was certainly large enough and busy enough to allow her to blend in and fade into the background for a while.
Did she miss the wizarding world? Sometimes. She missed her friends, sure, and the freedom to do magic wherever and whenever she liked. What she didn't miss were the stares, the constant questions, the expectations…
She was nothing if not content with the line of work she'd fallen into, despite how much it differed from the path she expected her career to take when she was fifteen. Interacting with customers and her coworkers, throwing together a quick order when the kitchen was short staffed, even counting down the hours until her shift ended on an extra busy day—it was all so very mundane, so very Muggle. She loved every minute of it.
'He's here, mates, just like clockwork,' said Roland, rushing into the kitchen to pick up an order for a regular at the bar.
'Bloody hell. I was hoping he'd break with tradition and skip a month or two,' said Jack. 'Or twelve.' He poured a basket of freshly fried chips onto a plate and handed them to Roland.
'I'll stall him for a few minutes if I can. Once more unto the breach, dear friends,' Roland said, backing out of the kitchen with the plate of chips in hand.
'What's the matter?' Hermione asked.
'The Prince is here.' Like Roland, Jack was always prone to being a bit dramatic; he made those four words sound so ominous, Hermione wasn't sure whether to shudder in fear or laugh at the absurdity of it.
'The Prince?' She only really felt out of her depths here at the pub in moments like this, when it was painfully obvious she was the newest addition to a group of people with a long shared history of stories and experiences. (Well, that and when she got caught up in her work and forgot to answer to Jean every once in a while. She thought dropping something as distinctive as Hermione and going by her middle name would be an easy extra layer of camouflage, but sometimes it seemed like more trouble than it was worth.)
'Oh, Jean, don't let them frighten you. He's just an unpleasant bloke who comes in once a month. I call him Mr Sourpuss, personally. More fitting, I think.'
'And he's a right nightmare at the best of times, Sarah, you know as well as I do. Just because you've never had to wait on him doesn't make it any less true.' Jack turned to Hermione and continued. 'Nothing's ever good enough for him. It's either too hot or too cold or too slow—'
'Or too fast!' Roland chimed in, poking his head back into the kitchen.
'All and all, there's no pleasing him.'
'Why does he keep coming back if he's got so many complaints?'
'Despite everything, he really likes our shepherd's pie?' Sarah said with a shrug.
'And it's your turn deal with him, love. Newest employee always has to. Rite of passage and all that.' Jack shot her a tight smile and wished her luck.
Hermione doubted a picky customer could hold a candle to any of the horrors she'd witnessed, but she still steeled herself before grabbing a menu and pushing the door open.
He was alive. Severus Snape was alive.
Even from behind, she recognised him. His hair was shorter and he wore Muggle clothes, of course, but he still had the same undeniable, indescribable presence that made her sit up a little straighter in her chair during her first Potions lesson nearly a decade ago.
Her heart pounded in her ears. She didn't know what to do. In the month since she left, she'd managed to avoid anything and everything to do with the wizarding world. This, though… She didn't see how she could avoid this.
'Go on, Jean,' Roland whispered when he noticed her lingering. 'The quicker you get it over with, the better. Like ripping off a sticking plaster.'
She forced a half-smile for Roland, took a deep breath, and finally crossed the room.
Snape did a double-take when he looked up. She had to fight off a hysterical giggle and brace herself for an attack instead—verbal, physical, anything seemed possible. She half expected to be Obliviated for discovering him.
He cleared his throat and began to speak. 'You've heard the horror stories from your coworkers, I imagine. They'—he gestured toward the kitchen—'call me The Prince, at least to my face. I didn't ask for the definite article.'
'Of course.' Glancing around quickly, she dropped her voice to just above a whisper and said, 'They call me Jean.'
'Jean,' he repeated just as quietly, as though testing it out. 'How succinct. Only one syllable.'
'Yes, well…' She felt her cheeks heat, and berated herself mentally for being embarrassed. She wasn't the only one using an alias, after all. Or the only one in hiding.
'I'll have the shepherd's pie,' he said, and cleared his throat again. The rasp in his voice drew her eyebrows together in a sympathetic wince.
'And to drink?'
'Coffee, black, fresh—I'm not interested in reheated sludge. I can tell the difference.'
'I'm sure you can.' She hesitated a moment, weighing the consequences of trying to engage in the same sort of small-talk she was used to having with customers. 'Long night ahead of you?'
'Is there any other kind?' he drawled, unexpectedly playing along. It surprised a smile out of her.
'All right, then, Mr Prince.' She gathered up the unneeded menu and headed back to the kitchen. Roland shot her a look of utter bewilderment when she passed him.
Roland burst into the kitchen for the second time in a week, startling Jack so badly he almost set his sleeve on fire. He ignored Jack's outraged growl and focused on Hermione. 'Jean, what'd you do to him? He's back!'
'The Prince! He's only ever been in once a month and never in the middle of the day. I told you you were too nice to him on Friday.'
'Oh, don't make her wait on him again,' Sarah said. 'It's barely been two days and she's already paid her dues as the new girl.'
'Are you volunteering?'
'Well, no, but—'
'I don't mind,' Hermione interrupted. Roland and Jack looked at her like she had sprouted an extra limb. She was far enough removed from Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes that she managed to stop the impulse to check if she had. 'Really. It's no trouble at all.'
After a moment of awkward silence, Roland said, 'Well, I don't know about you, Jack, but I'm not about to look a gift horse in the mouth.' He gave a little bow of thanks to Hermione and ducked back out of the kitchen.
Hermione truly didn't mind having to wait on Snape. She rather enjoyed the odd game they were playing, pretending to be strangers, and Muggles, at that. He certainly navigated the slings and arrows of Muggle money like he was born to do it, and he had been, hadn't he? He'd been born with one foot in each world even more than she had, really.
No, she didn't mind at all. If nothing else, it was amusing to see a different side of her erstwhile professor, and certainly amusing to see her new coworkers deal with him.
She greeted Snape with a smile. 'Back so soon, Mr Prince?'
'I'm afraid so,' he said. When he glanced around the room and caught Roland staring, the other man quickly pretended to be very busy arranging bottles behind the bar. 'Unlike your colleagues, you actually look pleased to see me.'
'Perhaps that's because I am.'
'The list of people who've ever claimed to be pleased to see me is very short indeed.'
'Well, you can add me to that list, sir. Would you like a menu today or—?'
'That won't be necessary, I'll just have my usual.'
His voice sounded odd, even taking his injured throat into account. She shook off her confusion and nodded, turning back to the kitchen.
She hadn't made it more than a few feet when she heard him call her name. The extra volume made his already scratchy voice sound strained.
'I'd rather you didn't call me sir. There's really no need for that kind of formality.' An unspoken 'anymore' hung in the air.
'There has to be a reason,' Jack said, peeking out into the pub. He marked another day on the calendar someone tacked up next to the door. 'That's six days now. In a row! Usually that would be spread out over half a year.'
'Oh, honestly! He says he hasn't had time to get to the market lately.'
'And yet he's had time for a leisurely meal here every day. It's your fault, you know. He can't possibly be this fond of my food all of sudden. Do you have any idea how many glasses Roland's dropped this week?'
'Perhaps that wouldn't be such a problem if he stopped eavesdropping on everybody's conversations,' Hermione said.
'I heard that!' Roland called from the next room.
Jack rolled his eyes. 'Yes, Roland, dear, we know you did.'
'Mr Prince hasn't been anywhere near as bad as you all made him out to be, you know.'
'That's because he likes you, Jean,' Jack said, giving her a playful shove towards the door. 'The rest of us are a necessary evil on the path to his beloved shepherd's pie.'
Hermione laughed. 'I doubt he likes me all that much.'
'Oh, what am I saying? Of course he doesn't. There's no conceivable reason he would enjoy spending time with someone who's pleasant to him. It's not as if he's broken a well-established pattern of monthly visits to come here everyday for almost a week only after you started waiting on him.'
'Well, when you put it that way…' Hermione trailed off. She couldn't blame herself for doubting that he liked her; he was Professor Snape, after all, and she was Hermione Granger—no matter what names they chose to call themselves now. It was pretty hard to deny the possibility when she thought about their interactions over the past week, though.
'I, for one, reckon he fancies you,' Sarah said.
'Fancies me?' Hermione winced at how shrill she sounded when she spoke. She could feel herself start to blush. 'No, he couldn't possibly.'
'Why ever not?'
'I—' There were many reasons Severus Snape wouldn't fancy Hermione Granger; unfortunately, there was no obvious reason why Mr Prince wouldn't fancy Jean-the-Waitress and no easy way to make Sarah understand without a lengthy, invasive explanation that would probably break the Statute of Secrecy six different ways. 'I don't know.'
'Well, say that he does… Do you find him attractive?'
Hermione frowned. 'I haven't really thought about it.'
'Oi! Sarah! Why are you trying to foist The Prince on our Jean?' Roland said, leaning in from the bar.
'Why have you always got your nose in other people's business?'
Hermione watched as the pair's discussion devolved into their usual harmless bickering and took the opportunity to return to her duties in the pub proper.
It was the truth; she hadn't thought about fancying Snape any more than she'd thought of Snape fancying her. Now that Sarah brought it up, though, she found herself taking in all sorts of little things, like how his forearms looked with his shirtsleeves rolled up, or how different he seemed when he was relaxed, or how a genuine smile, no matter how small, changed his face. She wasn't sure what to make of this new awareness of him. Hell, she was still trying to get used to the idea that he might like her, let alone anything more.
She found the notion distracting enough she didn't realise she'd grabbed a menu until she set it on the table in front of him.
'Oh, I'm sorry, I must be in another world,' she said, gesturing vaguely to her head.
'It's all right.' The faint smile he'd been wearing since he'd seen her quirked up in the corner. 'I thought I'd branch out a bit and try something different today anyway.'
'Now that's the spirit!' Roland said, abandoning all pretence of minding his own business. 'Everybody needs a little adventure in their lives now and then.'
Snape shot him a glare. Roland yelped and dropped the glass he was polishing. Hermione snorted.
Snape narrowed his eyes at her and it was all she could do to keep herself from laughing outright. 'That's got to be the forty-sixth glass he's dropped this week.'
'Old habits die hard, I suppose.' He shrugged and turned his attention to the menu. He pursed his lips as he read; Hermione forced herself to look away.
Hermione was going to kill Sarah for this, she really was. She couldn't concentrate properly around Snape anymore; she couldn't even bring herself to meet his eyes for fear that he would see her confused feelings on her face.
'Jean?' Her eyes snapped up to his before she could stop them, but she looked away again almost immediately when she remembered Legilimency was a real threat. 'Are you all right? You seem… flustered.'
And now he was concerned about her. Perfect.
'Honestly, all I'm doing is torturing myself.'
Hermione gave a quick glance around the pub to make sure Roland wasn't lurking before she slid onto the seat across from him. 'Why are you coming here everyday? The real reason. Because I'm almost to the point where I'll let myself believe it's because of me—'
He interrupted her with a chuckle. She could have sworn she could feel the sound resonate in her chest.
Yes, she was definitely going to kill Sarah.
'Of course it's because of you, you silly girl.'
'But… why? I thought'—she dropped her voice to a whisper—'I thought after everything, it would be easier for you to disappear again and pretend we'd never run into each other.'
He was silent for a few moments, studying her face. 'Easier. Yes, I suppose it would have been.'
'Why didn't you?'
'Before this week, I didn't realise how much I missed it.'
'Being known. I haven't felt the pressure or the need to explain myself to you. It's been… refreshing.'
She knew the feeling. The Muggle world held the freedom of anonymity she craved, but she still constantly had her guard up against the inevitable questions—why she never wanted to go camping, for instance, or why she avoided foods with mushrooms even though she wasn't allergic, or how she got the scar across her chest. But the game they'd been playing, even with all its pretence, well… somehow it seemed more honest than a lot of her day to day interactions.
She risked a glance at him before she reached across the table and gave his hand a squeeze. 'I'm glad you came back, sir.'
She felt him tense; he pulled his hand away. 'Please. Don't call me sir. I don't—It's too…'
'Right. Of course.' She looked away, suddenly finding the dings and scratches on the worn table top fascinating. 'I don't know what's wrong with me. We've been doing fine all week.'
'I'd like to try to go back to that.'
'As would I.'
She looked up again and gave him a shy half-smile. 'I should probably take your order before the others start a pool over the outcome of this conversation.'
Snape glanced over her shoulder; she heard Roland's distinctive yelp of surprise, followed by a crash. 'What is that, glass number forty-seven?'
Hermione laughed. 'Probably.'
He smiled at her then, a full, honest to goodness smile. Her breath caught in her chest.
He cleared his throat. 'Jean,' he said. Slowly, cautiously, he reached across the table and covered her hand with his, returning the squeeze from before. 'I'm glad I came back, as well.'