Original Prompt: Prompt #69: While skilled in Potions and DADA, Severus isn't the greatest at practical transfiguration. When a group of recently-released former Death Eaters attack Diagon Alley on their first official date, Hermione Granger is in the way. Confunded, Severus does the only thing he can think of and Transfigures her into a kitten...but now he can't get her back.
Author's Note: Thank you so very much for my wonderful beta, Toblass, and her incomparable patience!
Severus stared at the brown and white kitten in complete and utter confusion. That was not what he had meant to do. At all. A Reducto shattered The Magical Menagerie's window near his head—Dolohov never had been able to aim—and he ran, scooping up the shocked kitten and fallen vine wand, swearing when his foot caught her now-smoldering brolly. He stumbled but ran on.
How in the hell had this happened? He skidded as he ducked down the narrow alley between Gambol & Japes and the second-hand shop. The next blast caught the cobbles and the debris hit his legs and back. He held his precious cargo more tightly.
Right now, running was more important than fighting.
I am not a coward, he told himself firmly. I have to protect her. Severus doubled back towards Gringotts and leapt as he approached the marble wall, taking flight with a grunt. The kitten cradled in his arm protested and her claws sank into his skin through the wool of his frock coat.
“Sorry,” he murmured with a pained wince, risking a glance downwards. He hated looking down when he flew without a broom. The Death Eaters weren't following; he saw flashes of spellfire closer to Ollivander's. Relieved, Severus Disillusioned the two of them and flew on until The Leaky and Charing Cross Road came into view.
He brought them down slowly by the Apothecary's tall, narrow chimneys. People were still screaming in the Alley and he heard the pops as Aurors Apparated in; he recognised Potter amongst the cavalry and his stomach sank. Severus reached out to steady himself on the chimney with his free hand as a gust of wind, thick with the scent of spells and dust, caught his robes. They billowed around him as indecisiveness swirled in his gut; should he reveal himself and what had transpired, or try to undo what he had done? Really, there was only one option.
The kitten in his arm looked up at him reproachfully and he grimaced before turning on the spot. The crack of his Apparition was drowned out by a car in London backfiring.
Perhaps he was a coward after all.
He paced across the cracked and worn linoleum, the edge of his robes catching on the peeling edge by the cupboards. His heart was still pounding. Shit, shit, shit. The kitten, sitting on the table with her tail curled primly about her feet, watched him. She wasn't too pleased, and he couldn't blame her.
This—all of this—had not been part of his carefully laid plans. If someone had told him that the bloody idiot who had followed Kingsley's run as Minister was going to release a handful of former Death Eaters for “good behaviour”, he would have protested, given testimony—anything, to keep his former brothers behind bars. For that matter, he would not have planned his date for Diagon Alley: or anywhere, for that matter. It was unlikely that they had been the targets of the attack; fate didn't like him much so it was entirely possible that the morons had simply happened across him and decided it was a free-for-all.
Severus hadn't even meant to take her to Spinner's End. His thought had been to return to Hogwarts, to Minerva, but damn his pride he found himself on his own front stoop and lucky he hadn't Splinched either of them. He'd gotten them inside, then warded his house as tightly as possible. Hell, if so much as a fly flew towards the window he'd opened to let out the musty air, it would be vaporised on contact.
Now he just hoped that the former Death Eaters had all been picked up and carted back to Azkaban to remain there, and that he could fix his little problem.
“Mew,” said the kitten, moving restlessly towards the edge of the table.
Severus scowled unhappily and dropped into the rickety wooden chair. It creaked dangerously under his weight. “Don't whinge at me, Hermione.”
His date gave what he assumed was an annoyed sniff. She made quite a pretty kitten—if one was disposed to like felines, as he was—with her little black paws and white fur. She was brown from her ears and top of her head to halfway down her back, just about the length of her hair, and the colour of her eyes were exactly the same as they were when she had been human.
“I didn't mean to do it,” he said, picking up his wand and fingering the carving on the handle. “I assume it was your Confundus that hit me, by the way.” She looked away, and he took that as feline embarrassment. His shoulder still tingled from the point-blank strike. Then again, that's what he got for trying to shield her. She could handle herself perfectly well in a combat situation and getting between her wand and its target had not been particularly clever of him.
Minus one for him, he thought morosely. And here his intention had been to make a good impression. He jabbed his wand at her. “Finite.”
Nothing happened, for the second time. Hermione glared up at him. He drummed his fingers on the table, restlessly running through the reversals he knew for accidental Transfiguration. It was not a long list. He hadn't needed a reason to learn any of the more specialised spells. Had he hexed her into a kitten, it would have been but a flick of his wand.
“Finite Incantatem,” he said forcefully, hoping the full version of the spell would work. No result, unless you counted cancelling the repair charm he had cast on the refrigerator door last summer. It sagged on its hinges and Severus sighed.
“Reparo,” he muttered. Sooner or later he would have to replace the refrigerator. Hermione flicked her tail, reminding him of her predicament.
Severus tried a few hex reversals on impulse. Naturally, it didn't work.
He tried the Homorphus Charm, to no effect.
“Reparifors?” Severus tried hopefully. It had worked on a few problems in the past. Mostly poisonings, mind, but once in a while his intent overrode the spell's actual wording.
No. Of course not.
Hermione looked at him disdainfully and he stared at her before caving. “Transfiguration is not, in fact, a realm in which I have much expertise.”
There. He'd said it. He'd not managed the words gracefully, but there they were, hanging in the air between them. She stared at him, unblinking, for a long moment.
Hermione sat patiently, waiting for Severus to fix her. She really hadn't meant to Confund him, and really, it was sweet how he'd put himself between her and Jugson. Well, sweet for him. The way he'd snarled…how his robes had billowed…the fear thrumming through her…the press of bricks against her back…the screams from the crowd of shoppers… the heat of his lean form…
She shook her head, already getting used to the brief disorientation that followed.
Being Transfigured into an animal was not something she had ever experienced, but now that the initial terror of her body reshaping and the excitement of battle and escape had passed, she didn't mind it so much. She could hear so much better, for one. Severus's silky voice rumbled through her cat-self in a way that was nearly pleasurable.
“Finite Maxima?” The questioning lilt to his voice made her whiskers twitch in amusement.
Poor man. Hermione wondered if he even knew how to reverse a human transfiguration; she had never given much thought about what he had studied at Hogwarts. He looked terribly embarrassed as each attempt failed.
“Why the hell did I even choose kitten,” he muttered. “Bloody stupid choice. I don't recall learning that blasted spell, and it's not like I think you're a child or anything.” He sighed, heaved himself out of the chair, and strode into the next room only to stand in front of a bookshelf, head cocked.
I should hope not! Hermione thought. What came out of her mouth, however, was another meow. Oh for Merlin's sake, this was starting to get frustrating.
She stood shakily on all four legs—Merlin that was odd—and took a few stumbling steps. Alright, so sitting was easier.
Hermione eventually made it to the edge of the table, but backed away when she saw the drop. Intellectually, she knew a cat—a proper one—could make the jump and land perfectly safe on the floor, but she was a witch-as-a-cat with no prior experience and she had a wobbly little kitten body rather than, say, Crooks' solid bulk of muscle. She sat down, her tiny heart pounding, and looked into the living room.
Severus had four books cradled in his arm, his head still tilted as his free hand ran along the worn leather spines. Her whiskers rose as she managed a bit of a smile. It was nice to see him like this. She loved watching him work, be it grading, brewing, or browsing tomes.
“I haven't forgotten about you,” he snarked without looking. Hermione blinked, startled. “I can feel you staring at me.”
She gave him a sniff. Well, too bad for him. She was allowed to watch him all she wanted. He pulled two more books and came back into the kitchen, depositing them on the far corner.
“These may help.” She watched him swallow heavily, the rise of blush on his sharp cheeks. His lips parted and he hesitated before speaking, his eyes on the dingy curtain over the kitchen sink. “This may…take longer than anticipated. Are you managing alright? Do you require anything, perhaps a drink?”
Hermione shook her head 'no', and settled in to wait. She wasn't terribly thirsty, and would rather wait until she had her own body back. She was entertaining visions of dunking herself in whatever bowl she was offered. The secondhand embarrassment was terrible. She was supposed to charm the man by being mature and intelligent, not wobble around on four legs and make a mockery of cats everywhere.
Damn it, this was not how today was supposed to go.
Feeling more than a bit put-out, Hermione managed to flop over onto her side, the movement lacking any grace.
Surely, this wouldn't take long.
She was wrong.
He went from studiously scanning each book, his face blank with concentration. His jaw was set determinedly, and a frown furrowed his brow in growing frustration. The sun had set before Severus finally gave up, actually tossing down the last book and scrubbing tiredly at his face. He leaned back in his chair, his long legs splayed under the table in defeat.
Hermione was dismayed. That was it? No answer in his books? She remembered the original pressing and squeezing as she had transformed into her present feline form, and as horrifying as that had been, the thought of not returning to her own self was worse. That couldn't be all!
She rose to her paws and looked at him. He looked as horrible as she felt, his face drawn in tight, pinched lines she hadn't seen in four years. Severus grimaced and looked towards the window again, his arms crossed over his chest.
Gathering her courage, she padded to the table's edge and eyed the distance before giving it her best shot.
He started as Hermione leapt from the table to his lap, and she nuzzled at his hand affectionately. The tension in his chest eased and he gave her a hesitant pat. Her fur was warm and soft, and he sighed. “I am afraid I have exhausted my resources here.” He looked down at her. “Are you willing to accompany me to the school?”
“Mew,” Hermione replied, butting his hand again.
He carefully returned her to the tabletop, then shelved his books and closed the window. He picked Hermione up once more, cradling her to him. He could feel her tiny heart under his fingertips. “This Apparition will be less than pleasant. We will be going straight through the wards.”
After the war he hadn't thought it necessary to ask Minerva to unravel the allowances for him. He looked down at Hermione. “Prepare yourself.”
Her tiny claws flexed from her fuzzy paws, piercing into his frock coat, and he turned on the spot with a louder-than-usual crack.
The disorientation from Apparating through the wards and into his quarters hit him hard and Severus staggered, dropping Hermione on his settee and began dry-heaving. Oh, Merlin, he hated that. He hadn't had to do that since his rather unpopular acquittal and Order of Merlin—the mob had not been understanding until the papers got the full story.
“Seven hells,” he gasped, his hands shaking. He fisted them in his robe.
When his temples stopped throbbing and his stomach settled, he looked over at Hermione. It was hard to tell if she was shaken, but she was lying down on the settee cushion and watching him with wild eyes.
“Apologies,” he muttered, cheeks hot. Severus discarded his robe and ran his fingers through his hair, giving her a moment. When he looked back she was more composed, tail once more neatly around her feet.
Severus crossed his sitting room to the fireplace, lighting the coals with a flick of his wand before tossing in a pinch of green powder. “Minerva?” he asked, somewhat nervously. “Are you available?”
No reply from the grate. Grumbling, he got down on his knees and shoved his head in the flames. This was embarrassing enough as it was, turning her into a kitten, of all things, and then being unable to undo it, but having to ask Minerva for help? He would never hear the end of it. The nosy old witch would probably tell Hermione all about his failures as a student, like when his tortoise-to-a-teapot went terribly awry and he'd had a porcelain tortoise shell spewing scalding hot water in every direction. Or the time that he'd ended up with flaming needles rather than matchsticks…or the bit with the water goblet that kept filling itself with excrement because the damned animal was terrified at being stuck halfway between forms… And of course now he was kneeling on the floor and giving her a rather spectacular view of his arse.
He felt miserable and sick to his stomach, but pressed on nonetheless.
“Damn it, Minerva, where are you?” Severus squinted past the flames. Her rooms were empty.
Swearing, he pulled out of the fire and tossed in another pinch of powder. “Filius?”
The other wizard was quick to reply.
There was a sigh from the fire. “If you had been paying attention during this morning's staff meeting rather than checking your pocketwatch and mooning over your upcoming date, you would know.”
Severus winced at the censure and coloured. How the hell had Filius known—never mind. He could worry about that later. “Filius,” he said warningly, “I need Minerva.”
“Then you're out of luck. She's at the Ministry, in meetings about next year's budget.”
“Is Poppy in?”
“Off with her husband for the day. Same as every weekend.”
“Fuck,” Severus swore, eliciting a squeak from his colleague. “Oh sod it, I'm not in front of the students.”
“Terrible habit.” Merlin, the man was a prude. “Anything else?”
“No,” he replied. Not unless you're able to undo an accidental Transfiguration, he added mentally.
Without bothering to say goodbye he ended the Floo call and extinguished the flames. Hermione watched him as he rose to his feet and dusted off his knees. “As you no doubt heard,” he said stiffly, “I am afraid that you are at my mercy.”
Hermione gave a rather feline shrug.
“May I at least offer you something to eat? A light supper, perhaps?”
She meowed in assent, and he was quick to order a meal to his rooms. With the candles lighting his small table, it felt like a rather ridiculous date. He transfigured a doily from the tray into an almost-passable dinner plate for her. It was a bit floppy, but while the doily pattern was present at least there weren't any holes.
Using the potions skills he so prized in himself, he minced his chicken and pulled apart a dinner roll, along with a few bits of cheese. She purred at him after surveying his handiwork, and he took it as thanks.
Severus snorted at how delicately Hermione sat on the table in front of her small plate and dish of water and bent to eat.
“And how was your day?” he couldn't help but ask halfway through his own meal. Her ears twitched and she looked up at him disapprovingly, a bit of chicken dangling between her teeth. “Mine could have been better. I did have plans, you know. For us, I mean.”
Severus muttered the last bit, but she must have heard him for Hermione finished her morsel and padded across the table to butt his arm with her head.
“I am sorry.” Hesitantly, he set down his fork to stroke her head. She welcomed his touch, rubbing against him and purring, so he dared to stroke his hand down her spine. Her fur was so silky-soft! He hadn't had much experience with pets—why bother when you're too poor to feed it, and then too likely to perish via the whims of one madman or another—and hadn't though he would like having a familiar.
But he did. He liked the little warm body trying to crawl into his lap and onto his chest. He liked her softness, her rumbling purrs. He liked when he paused and she demanded more attention. Warmth settled into his chest and he smiled.
Severus's unguarded, gentle smile made her heart beat faster. Hermione purred louder, trying to get closer. Oh, god. It felt so good, being stroked and scratched and cuddled by him! Their dinner sat forgotten for the moment, lost in touching. She wanted more. More of his voice washing over her, more of his scent, more of his hands on her body…
She mewled and froze. Well, that had ruined the moment for her.
She was a cat. A bloody damned cat!
With an unhappy sniff, Hermione went limp and let Severus pick her up.
“Apologies,” he said stiffly. His expression was blank but she saw the hurt in his eyes. “I didn't mean to take any liberties.”
No, she wanted to say. It's not you! It's this body, this form! But all that came out was another pitiful meow.
He set her down on the floor and guilt gnawed at her as he picked up his utensils, attacking his dinner. Damn it. She hadn't meant for him to feel rejected. Hermione wound between his legs, leaving trails of fur on his trousers.
“Stop that,” Severus chided.
She dodged his attempt to grab her and rubbed against him some more. I'm sorry, she wanted to say. I hate that this happened. I had plans, too.
With a sigh, Severus bent and scooped her up. “Hermione. Let me eat, then I'll see about restoring you to normal.”
She responded by licking his hand with her raspy little tongue and was rewarded with his shoulders relaxing. He set her down on his lap and she perched there as he finished his meal. Their dishes vanished and he rose, giving her a moment to wash her paws and face.
Hermione leapt from his lap to the tabletop, watching as he collected another stack of books, a selection far larger than his materials at home. He began poring over them, flipping through indexes and skimming the pertinent chapters. It may be looking like a fruitless endeavour, but he had even pulled his own old textbooks.
Bored, Hermione made the jump from table to chair to floor. It was getting easier for her to use her kitten body and she found she rather liked the freedom of movement. It was so easy to move, to jump, to balance...
Checking that Severus was still muttering to himself as he read, his nose nearly touching the pages of 'Classroom Accidents and How to Reverse Them' by Indigo Boxer, Hermione set off to explore his rooms.
Normally, she would have felt a bit guilty about snooping, but she had never had the chance before. She had spent a bit of time in his office and laboratory while consulting with him for her contract work, but he had kept things strictly professional. It hadn't been until she realised she missed his company and began corresponding with him that he had displayed an interest in her beyond work or friendship. It had been a thrilling thing, exchanging letters, and she had been ecstatic when he had accepted her invitation for a date.
Seeing him waiting for her in Diagon Alley, his face far too composed and his back against the outer wall of the cauldron shop as the bricks behind the Leaky rearranged themselves for her… Her heart had fluttered in her chest.
Hermione shook her head. No use getting all worked up about Severus, not when she couldn't do anything about it.
She padded from his dining area to his sitting room, this time taking the chance to look around. It was glorious! Bookshelves lined the far wall, clearly magically enlarged, for each shelf was filled. He had the expected books on Potions, stacks of publications, and a few warded shelves that probably indicated Dark books. There were books on Healing, Herbology, and Defense, and then, oh then, there were books clearly for pleasure reading.
Hermione was pleased to see several classics she enjoyed on his shelves, and surprised at the number of modern fiction he had. Each spine was cracked, so they were either read or used. They had quite a bit in common in terms of taste, she thought as she perused the fantasy shelves, her head tilted and whiskers twitching.
A loud 'thunk' as he tossed aside a book made her jump and she darted under the coffee table before she could identify the noise. Severus didn't seem to notice, his nose already buried in the next tome.
Miffed, she turned up her tail and trotted into the next room.
The next room was his bedroom, and her sensitive feline nose was nearly overwhelmed by the scent of him. The salt of sweat, the tang of something elusive, the smell of herbs and soap and wool and leather and Severus.
Frankly, Hermione was surprised she didn't start purring right there and then.
Like the rest of his quarters, his furniture was mostly functional and simple, but worn. His office was kept in a sort of like-new condition, right down to the jars of pickled…things lining the stone walls. His desk in there was polished to a gleam, the leather of his chair smooth and supple. But in here...the half-opened dresser drawer sagged. The wardrobe door was a little crooked and didn't look like it shut all the way.
The clothes in the open drawer and wardrobe, however, looked new. Oh, they were still the classic “Professor Snape” look she was used to, but they were clean and pressed, no frayed or mud-splattered hems. She stretched out on her hind legs, steadying herself with her front paws to look into the drawer some more. A little sachet of herbs sat among the neatly folded underthings, and she carefully sat back on the floor.
Hermione turned and gauged the distance to the bed. Could she make it? Well, worst case, she had claws. She took a running start, her muscles bunching and she fairly flew towards the bed.
She wasn't going to make it.
In a panic, Hermione scrabbled at the duvet. Her claws caught, snagged, and she dug in, heaving herself up. Her slight weight was enough to make the duvet slide and she hurried as a plastic comb clattered to the stones. It smelled like Mrs. Cornetto's Pomade for Flyaway Hairs, she noticed, even as she reached the top.
She stumbled over a heavy fold of the covers and ended up on the sheets.
After the state of his rooms she had thought this wouldn't be in good repair, either. She had been so wrong. Alright, so the bed posts were worn, but the curtains were new. She padded carefully along the bed; no holes or dips, and the pillows were fresh and fluffy. They were new. So were the sheets, for that matter. Silken soft under her fuzzy feet, and they smelled like laundry. To her nose, they hadn't been slept in.
Hermione sat down among the softness, twisting her head. The sconces were lit with the same candles she remembered seeing all over Hogwarts during her schooling, and she wasn't surprised by the Muggle mirror hanging over his dresser—clearly he was as fond of magic mirrors as she was.
What did surprise her, however, was the stack of parchment on top of the old wooden dresser next to the bottle of aftershave. They were pressed together neatly, and tied with a single ribbon. The scarlet was out of place in his quarters, but she was familiar with the seal pressed into the wax—carefully lifted from the parchment—adorning each letter.
After all, she had written them.
Hermione hadn't been nicknamed the brightest witch of her age for nothing, and she quickly put two and two together.
A warm tingle swept through her and she moved to the edge of the bed, jumping down in a fluid motion. She hurried to where Severus still sat, scrubbing at his face in frustration. After the bed, it was easy for her to make the jump to his bony knee.
He started and out of reflex she dug in her claws. Severus hissed in pain, prying her off carefully. “Damn it, be careful,” he chided. He set her on the table. “I found no reversal spells that do not run a risk of exacerbating the problem, but there is a potion that should work.”
He hesitated and she meowed. What could be so bad that he would pause?
“Unfortunately, the brewing will take three hours, and needs to be done at your home. I would also require freely-given items of yours to ensure it restored you to your natural form.” Hermione noticed the flush creeping up his neck, turning the scar more white than pink. “If, er, if that's alright.”
Of course it was, and she purred loudly. She couldn't wait to have her body back.
Severus Apparated them both through the wards again. As gut-wrenching as it was, he would rather suffer the discomfort than risk Death Eaters lying in wait outside of the gates. Paranoia had kept him alive so far, and he wasn't about to risk both of their lives by putting faith in the Magical Law Enforcement.
It was only by luck that he had seen her home one night while he had been consulting with her for St. Mungo's and therefore had not had to try Legilimency. He'd never attempted it on an animal, nor a Transfigured person, and wasn't entirely certain if it would work. In theory, yes, but he had no desire to end up a babbling moron, and the person whose Arithmantic equations he trusted was the one whose mind he would have had to pry into.
They landed squarely in front of her door and he looked at her expectantly.
“Shite. Of course you don't have your key.” Severus set her down next to his Potions case. “I'm borrowing your wand to make this faster.”
Hermione mewed and sat down to let him work. He had to admit that he was impressed with her security as he muttered incantations, wand flicking and looping as he undid her wards. He was grateful that she had warded her doorstep to dissuade nosy neighbors from noticing anything.
Her wand felt comfortable in his hand despite the unfamiliar carvings. Tingles shot through his arm with each successful spell. Being this intimate with her magic was making it difficult to concentrate. He wanted to burst through the door, change her back, and kiss her senseless.
Finally her wards gave way and he unlocked the door with a simple Alohomora. Severus closed the door behind them and locked it before putting the wards back up; anything to keep his curiosity about her home in check. He had been itching to know since working with her and discovering the woman she had become. Something about Hermione had spoken to him, made him yearn...
Taking a deep breath to calm his pounding heart, Severus turned from her door to look at her flat.
Hermione was sitting on the back of her sofa, which was a dark brown and squishy-looking thing covered in a lumpy afghan he thought he remembered once seeing sticking out of her work bag half-finished. The curtains covering her windows were plain, in a muted pastel blue. The sitting room was the same room as her kitchenette, it seemed, but like his own rooms she had crammed in as many bookshelves as she could. He saw several dozen familiar-looking spines neatly lined on the shelves and fought down a smile.
Her kitchen was spotless and he commandeered a section of counter top for his work. A few spells guaranteed the safety of the polished wood, and he set up the burner before restoring the collapsible cauldron to its full shape.
Severus rather liked her tidy kitchen. Pots hung over-head, ceramic jars held spoons and spatulas. He stole a cutting board from the stack next to the knife block and began pulling the jars from his case. He had been careful to select the freshest ingredients, unwilling to fuck this up, too.
When everything was laid out and prepared, Severus straightened his shoulders and turned. Hermione had made it to the top of her small dining table next to a pile of post and was watching him expectantly. Then he noticed the labelled pot of Floo powder on the mantle above her electric fireplace, crammed in amongst framed Muggle and Wizarding photos.
Even though it was a foolish thing, he was hurt that he did not feature in any of them.
Stupid, he cursed himself. As if he was likely to be in them, but if he could restore her, perhaps he could salvage this disastrous first date and arrange a second chance.
“Right,” he muttered sourly. Better get this over with. “I need your hairbrush, at the least, and two other items of your choosing. They will be unharmed, albeit sticky.”
Hermione leapt down in two easy jumps and hurried through a doorway. Severus followed her down the photo-lined corridor, his boots making little sound on the carpeting. It was unsettling, the silence; he was used to the clip of his heels on flagstones and the guttering of torches, or his own creaking wooden floors.
She pushed open a door to reveal a pristine bathroom, magically-enlarged to hold a bathtub deep enough to rival his own.
“Meow,” Hermione said, standing on two legs briefly.
“Ah. Thank you.” Severus plucked the hairbrush from atop the sink as Hermione brushed past him. He spared a look around her bathroom, at the products lined along the bathtub's porcelain edge and the half-empty bottle of Sleekeazy's next to where her hairbrush had been.
He had just started back down the hall when Hermione emerged from the only other doorway in the flat, dragging a piece of lacy cloth in her teeth. He stooped to pick it up, his knee cracking. Please be knickers, he thought.
To his disappointment, it was a scarf, silk-smooth in his hand. Hermione gave him an unreadable look before she scampered away. He followed. She took a running leap at the bookshelf and scrabbled a bit, her fluffy tail flailing to find balance until she gained the third shelf. She batted something off with a ping, looking rather smug.
It was a metal bookmark with a little cabochon at the top and he picked it up with a crooked smile. “I should have guessed you would choose something book-related.”
She sniffed and leapt down, padding onto the kitchenette tiles.
“This will take a while,” he said conversationally. “While the process will take three hours, only ten minutes will not require my focus so you will have to entertain yourself.”
Hermione made her way to the tabletop and stared at him.
“Or you could watch, I suppose.”
Severus set to work, following the recipe at first, but letting instinct take over. Thirteen clockwise stirs became five-clockwise-two-anticlockwise-five-clockwise-one-anticlockwise with an extra quarter stir clockwise, and two and a half drams of Lover's Bloom became three. Carapace was crushed to powder, rather than leaving them whole. In between he scratched his changes into the book. It was nearly illegible, but he could figure it out and write it more clearly later.
By time the potion reached the simmering stage, it was no surprise that Hermione had fallen asleep on the table. She was curled around herself, fur rising and falling with each steady breath. His steps across the tiled floor didn't seem to wake her…Severus hesitated for just a moment before deciding to indulge his curiosity. Ten minutes was all he had, but it would have to be enough.
It didn't take long to cross her flat, and soon the smooth, cold metal of her bedroom doorknob was in his hand. He gave the half-open door a push and it opened soundlessly.
Severus wet his lips, guilt and need to explore her space warring in his heart. He settled for looking only, flicking on the light.
Hermione's furniture looked soft and feminine, painted white with scratches from age. He would have bet Galleons that it was the set from her childhood bedroom. The standing mirror was not magical, for it said nothing about his appearance in her doorway. Her wardrobe stood open, several hangers facing outwards. It looked as if she had been putting outfits together. They were not work outfits, for her St. Mungo's robes hung inside with her other things. The window curtains were a lavender-grey.
There was a bin by the door with what appeared to be several price tags in the bottom, and the hamper contained bedsheets. The bed itself was a modest size, but neatly made.
No photographs in here, but instead a duo of floral paintings. Her dresser was cluttered with a few personal items, including perfume and makeup, but what caught his attention was the thick stack of parchments. His heart pounded and he fought to not cross into the room and run his hands over them. He knew that thick cream vellum. He knew those black wax seals. They were bound together, wrapped in a rich green ribbon. Longing filled him: perhaps he hadn't completely fucked the date over after all.
Curiosity more than assuaged, Severus turned off the light and closed her door slightly to how it had appeared before. A quick Tempus showed that he had three minutes remaining. He stopped and used the loo in case she wondered where he had gone, washing his hands in her sink. Her soap smelled pleasantly like cucumbers.
He hurried into the kitchen, the smell of the potion thick in the air. It bubbled serenely in the cauldron and he checked the timer.
Severus smirked. His timing was perfect, as always.
He dropped the hairbrush, scarf, and bookmark into the cauldron and stirred quickly. It turned from a thick grey sludge to a shimmering gold with a hint of blue around the edges. Satisfied, he removed it from the heat, casting a quick Cooling Charm on it.
She looked at him expectantly. Had she been awake the entire time? With an internal wince, he brought the cauldron to the table.
“You may want to sit on the chair. The restoration should be fairly rapid.”
Hermione watched him a moment, wondering just how much snooping he had done and what he had realised. Severus was, after all, a clever man. She wouldn't like him so much if he wasn't.
She took the leap down easily, and he ladled one, two, three, measures of potion over her. She squeezed her eyes shut as her body reshaped and she was left gasping at the stretching and cracking of bones. The potion sunk in, the shimmer dissipating as it took effect. Severus's hands grasped her sticky shoulders, steadying her as she swayed on the chair.
“I'm alright,” she said. Merlin, it felt strange to speak normally now! She offered him a smile. “Thank you.”
“My apologies that the remedy took so long.” He released her, wiping potion from his hands with her dish towel.
Hermione snorted, shifting in her damp chair. “I Confunded you in the first place, don't be so formal about it. It's fixed now, that's what matters. Do you think we could still have a proper dinner, at least?”
“It is late.” He flicked his wand at her and she didn't even flinch as his magic washed over her body and chair, cleaning her from the residual potion mess. The ebony length disappeared back into his sleeve and he proffered her own vine wand. She took it and set it on the table.
“You know, Severus, I'm not giving up on our date yet. I can cook us dinner. Well, sort of,” she amended at his doubting expression. He had seen the leftovers she had brought for lunch. “I've gotten better.”
It was his turn to snort.
Hermione blushed and began toying with the edges of her post. “I got a letter from Harry?” The sudden shift in the conversation seemed to startle Severus, but she opened the letter above the marks of owl talons and skimmed it. “Oh bloody hell. If only I'd read this, look—he warned me about the release!”
“That's probably what the owl I received this morning was about,” Severus mused. “Unfortunately, I've been burning most of my post from Potter.”
She laughed. “Joke's on us, I suppose.”
“Perhaps.” He leaned back against her counter and she smiled at him, hopeful.
“After I clean up. It is—”
“Unwise to prepare food where you've just prepared a potion. I know, Professor.” Hermione risked a cheeky wink at him.
“I'm not your professor,” he muttered, already turning the tap to hot.
“Or a Potions professor,” she replied, leaving her chair to help him.
“And what a glorious change that has been.” He gave her a small smile. “Potions lose their allure when you're forced to teach them to children who don't have the talent or inclination for the subject.”
They washed and dried in companionable silence for a while.
“I admit, I much prefer Defense. It is easier to make interesting and assist students individually, even if they still can't write a coherent essay to save their sorry hides.” This last was said so sourly that she laughed and went to preheat the oven.
“See?” Hermione asked much later. “I told you that I've gotten better.”
Severus drained his glass and set it beside his plate. “It was passable.”
She took the teasing for what it was and tilted her head flirtatiously. “Would you care for a tour?”
“I believe I've seen most of your flat.”
“I meant a guided one.”
He coloured, feeling the heat creep up his neck and into his cheeks. “I did not enter your bedroom.”
“Oh, please. I went into yours and you didn't even notice.”
His mouth opened and closed, taken off guard.
“And do you know what I found?” Hermione scooted off her chair, her hand warm on his. “That while you don't particularly care about some things, you took care to fix your hair and have on your nicest clothes, just like I did. You've kept all of my letters, just like I've done with yours.”
He was frozen as she moved closer, her lips brushing his ear.
“And just like me, you changed your sheets this morning.” She kissed his earlobe, trailing her lips down to his jaw. “Like me, you had rather high hopes for this date. I have to wonder, Severus…do you still have those hopes?”
He smirked, capturing her chin and kissed her. “Only if you do.”
“Oh, I do.”