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Romance

Shopkeep by bccaw [Reviews - 16]


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He was not so different – at least, not to other people. He remained stern, curt, and sarcastic with friends and foes alike. Nobody was ever sure what he thought of them, and most assumed he did not like them at all. The truth was he could not unlearn years of practice disguising his true feelings about everything and everyone. He was indifferent to most people, found many somewhere between mildly irritating and obnoxiously intrusive, and truly enjoyed the company of very few indeed.

However, he did care deeply about one person, and that person had been assured of the fact in no uncertain terms. It was a calm, steadying knowledge that stayed with her throughout the days. At night she was reassured of his affection, whether through a few hours spent reading together by a cozy fire, or else in more passionate employment. He was not reserved in his attention to her, and she had quickly become more confident in response. Though he was certainly aware of it, her inexperience was never commented upon.

The relationship started a few years after the final battle. He had – obviously – not died that night, but had disappeared. His return, carefully calculated to coincide with his official pardon and posthumous decoration as a war hero, was strangely sedate. The papers faithfully reported it with the appropriate amount of fanfare on the first day, but when it became apparent that he had no desire to give more than one abrupt interview they soon lost interest.

She was not satisfied with the short blurb and single photo of his bland expression as he stood next to the beaming Minister of Magic. Something niggled and nibbled at her soul for days until it became full-fledged anxiety and regret. She had suspected he was not yet gone that night, but what could she have done? Who was it that helped him? Might she have done something – anything – after all? He could not blame her for leaving – he had certainly expected her to leave with Harry that night, still believing the worst of him.

So, she made it her goal to find him, assuming he would stay far away from the school and anyone who might remind him of his time there. To her surprise, she learned after just a few inquiries that he was living in Hogsmeade.

It was perhaps not the best idea to show up unannounced at the door of his tiny flat located above Scrivenshaft's Quill Shop, but the prospect of sending a letter only for it to never be answered, or worse, receive an angry missive in reply, was a disappointment she was not willing to allow.

When she finally worked up the courage to knock on the door, her stomach dipped so quickly she felt she might sink through the floor. There were no sounds of movement from within, but the shopkeeper had assured her he was home. Just before she knocked once more, the door swung open.

He raised an eyebrow and stared at her.

“Hello, Professor,” she said. Her mouth was dry. “I'm sorry to intrude.”

His eyebrow rose yet higher.

“I doubt that,” he said. “Miss Granger, to what do I owe the – ah – pleasure of this visit?”

“I just wanted,” she began, but was interrupted by the shout of the shopkeeper up the stairs, asking if everything was all right. Hermione answered in the affirmative with a frown.

“May I come in?” she asked, her voice cracking in defiance of her feigned confidence.

His lips pursed into a thin line, but he stepped back and gestured for her to enter. The room was bare except for a tattered black leather loveseat and a matching high-backed chair in the opposite corner. There was a single narrow bookshelf as well, filled with heavy tomes and what appeared to be journals.

“Sit down,” he said curtly, adding as an afterthought, “if you wish.”

She obediently sat down on the edge of the loveseat, wishing the room was larger because once he was seated in the chair across from her he was too close for comfort.

After a few moments of silence he made an impatient gesture and said, “Perhaps you might enlighten me as to why you are here?”

“Yes,” she said. “Well. I wanted to, ah... apologize.”

He leaned forward in his chair and narrowed his eyes at her.

“For what, Miss Granger?” he asked.

She felt her ears warm as she flushed and said, “For leaving.... that night. We thought you were - ”

“Dead,” he finished abruptly.

“Yes. Obviously, we... er, I... should have been more observant. I should have -”

“I accept your apology,” he said, looking supremely uncomfortable. Another silence followed. She knew it would anger him, but she could not help asking the questions that plagued her.

“How did you survive?” she blurted out at last, finally daring to look him in the eye again.

“That is none of your concern,” he said firmly, standing. “If that is all, Granger, I shall see you out.”

“Please,” she said. “Wait...”

He folded his arms.

“I'm sorry we never trusted you,” she said.

“You weren't meant to,” he said. “Is there anything else you feel you must say before you let me return to my blessed solitude?”

“No,” she said. “I'll go now. Thank you for letting me in. I... I'm glad you are back.”

He scoffed at that and said, “I am not 'back', if by that you mean returning to the school.”

“Oh. Why are you here in the village, then?” she asked.

They were now standing on either side of the door, both with their arms crossed. He leaned against the doorframe and seemed to be deciding whether to answer her or throw her out and lock the door.

“This is a temporary residence. It was offered to me at no cost, and I shall soon be gone,” he said at last.

“Where will you go?” she asked.

He smirked and said, “You shall find out soon enough. Goodbye, Granger.”

After that day, she did not see or hear of him for almost nine months. Then one day she saw his face plastered on the front page of the paper once again. The article announced the grand opening of his own apothecary and personal laboratory, located in Diagon Alley.

She managed to wait a full month after the grand opening to make her way to the end of the quiet, dead-end street where S.S. Potions & Brews was located. The rest of the street was boarded up, except for the tiny used bookshop with the narrow red door that sat on the corner and smelled strongly of incense.

Her footsteps echoed off the walls of the vacant buildings as she approached the shop. There was fresh paint on the door and the storefront looked entirely new. It was black, of course. The gold lettering above the curtained front windows glittered almost as if it was still wet. The shop looked ridiculously out of place beside its shuttered neighbors.

A bell rang when she entered. The shop was empty, but it was still early in the morning, she reasoned. Her heart began to beat faster as she waited for him to appear. Surely it would be him – she could not imagine him hiring any help. That was probably a silly assumption, she realized.

She began to explore the shop. It was neatly organized and spotlessly clean. The shelves were stocked with a variety of basic potions for use in the home. She had just begun to read the labels, which were legible and not in his usual script, when the sound of a cleared throat summoned her attention.

“Granger.”

She turned and suddenly found it hard to breathe. Something about his rolled-up shirtsleeves, black trousers covered by a half work apron, and the uncharacteristic stubble on his pale face made her pause and blush. She was grateful that her mass of hair was currently hiding her ears and neck. This was not the man she had been expecting to see. He looked mussed and far younger than she remembered, almost indecent without his teaching robes.

“Hello,” she managed to say. “This is... a surprise.”

“Is it? Have you arrived inside my shop by accident?” he asked.

“No, I mean... I was surprised when I saw the article in the paper. The shop is lovely.”

He did not seem to approve of that descriptor.

“It is adequate,” he said.

“Do you live above?” she asked, remembering the clean windows with freshly painted trim on the second story.

“Yes. Not that it's any of your business,” he remarked.

Hermione walked over to where he stood beside the counter.

“What are those?” she asked, pointing to a row of shelves labeled Specialty Brews behind the counter.

He glanced at the shelves and said, “A few mildly magical brews of my own invention. Those on the top shelf are meant to be taken as refreshment. The rest are similar to Muggle herbal remedies and have minimal magical effects – for those more sensitive to magic.”

“Like Muggles, Squibs, and Dwarves?” she asked.

“Indeed,” he said.

Hermione scanned the bottles in silence for a moment. He moved behind the counter, picked up one of the bottles from the top shelf, opened it, and handed it to her.

“Oh! Thank you. So, ah... how is business?” she asked before taking a sip of the blue, sparkling drink that was labeled Refresh.

He watched her drink with an unreadable expression.

“It could be better,” he finally said.

“Perhaps the, er, location... scares people away,” she said.

“Or perhaps the owner himself,” he replied.

She felt a small rush of cool magic go to her head, and realized it was the drink. She did, indeed, feel refreshed and collected. Her mind began to return to its usual state of orderly thought, instead of the anxious mess it had become since stepping into the shop.

She smiled and asked, “Why did you choose this particular location?”

“It was left to me,” he said curtly.

“I would have thought you'd prefer to keep to the lab and do research,” she remarked.

He did not answer at first, but he walked back out from behind the counter.

“I am still perfectly able to do both,” he said.

She finished her drink and stood, saying, “I suppose so.”

He took the empty bottle from her and put it behind the counter. She smiled nervously, realizing they had come to the inevitable end of the conversation, and it was time for her to go.

“I suppose I should let you get back to work,” she said.

He blinked at her and frowned. She turned to go, and he spoke.

“Miss Granger, would you like to come back for lunch?”

She stopped and looked back at him.

“I'm sorry?”

“There is a new delicatessen one street over,” he said. “I'll be there at noon for lunch, if you'd care to join me.”

“Oh... yes, I'd like that.”

She smiled and left, amazed. Who was this man? He was certainly nothing like the cruel caricature he had been to her as a child, nor the hardened murderer many still thought him to be.

That first lunch date, as she later would call it, was awkward and filled with long silences. A few weeks later, she returned to his shop. This time she had to wait until he helped two middle-aged witches find the appropriate remedies for their ailments before she could speak to him. When they finally left, she walked up to the counter.

“Hello,” she said. He looked at her and pushed his shirtsleeves up from where they had fallen.

“To what do I owe the pleasure, Granger?” he asked, and she noticed that his eyes crinkled just a bit at the corners in a way that suggested he might be happy to see her.

She smiled slightly and said, “I had a few errands to run. I'm half-starved and thought you might want to join me for lunch. You look as if you could use a break.”

His shirt was wrinkled and his usually neat counter was cluttered with paperwork and orders awaiting pick-up. It seemed that business was picking up.

The lunches became a regular occurrence after that, and if she neglected to come by one week he would be surly for at least half of the next visit. A few months later, he offered her a job.

“I already have a job,” she said. “You know how much I enjoy working for the Ministry.”

“If I'm not mistaken,” he said, “you work only four days a week. I could use you Friday and Saturday mornings.”

She attempted to hide her excitement about the proposal and said, “I'll think about it.”

“Let me know by next week,” he said with a scowl.

She accepted the offer, of course. At first, he only allowed her to keep the shop while he worked in the lab. Eventually, though, she began coming in early or staying late to help him brew.

It was not until almost a full year after she began working with Severus Snape that she finally admitted what she had known for months – she was in love with the impossible man. It was a difficult realization to embrace, since she did not believe or hope he would return her feelings. She enjoyed their friendship and professional relationship, and she was determined to be happy with nothing more. He was too old for her, after all, though such things were not as taboo in the wizarding world, where folk tended to live much longer lives.

One day, sometime shortly after this jarring realization, he asked her to run out to the delicatessen and bring back their lunches.

“Oh,” she said, “I thought we were done for the morning.”

You are done. I must owl Mrs. Hamrick, who is desperately waiting for this draught,” he said with some annoyance.

“Why don't I just wait for you, then?” she asked.

“Because it's well past lunch time and I'm famished!” he snapped.

“Okay, fine!” she snapped back. “I'm going!”

She picked up their usual Friday lunch order, which had already been boxed and was waiting for her under a stasis charm. When she returned to the shop, it was eerily quiet and he was nowhere to be seen.

“Severus?” she asked, peering into the back room. Just as she placed their lunches down on the small table in the corner, she heard the bell to the shop ring. Mentally cursing herself for not locking the door behind her, she hurried out to the shop floor.

He was standing there in front of the door holding a bouquet of summer flowers that must have come from the florist two blocks away.

“What... are those for?” she asked, her voice trailing off in shock. He crossed the room in a few long strides.

“You started working for me one year ago today,” he said and handed her the flowers. “I apologize for missing lunch. It is unfortunate that Mrs. Hamrick needed her order refilled on such short notice.”

He gestured to the back room and said, “Shall we?”

She put the flowers in an empty bottle and placed it in the middle of the table. He gently pushed them aside as he sat down, and stared at her unnervingly for a moment. They were both starving and began eating without fanfare.

He finished quickly and once again watched her.

“Is something the matter?” she finally asked.

He leaned forward and said, “The shop shall remain closed for the rest of the day.”

She smiled and asked, “Why?”

He stood and took one of her hands in his. She nearly stopped breathing.

“Stand up, Hermione,” he said softly, and she did. He pulled her closer and said, “I'd hate to lose the only employee with whom I could stand to work. Is that a likely consequence?”

“Of what?” she breathed, heart pounding.

In response, he sucked in a breath, slid his arm around her, and kissed her rather ferociously. She responded with equal enthusiasm. They were interrupted moments later by the sound of the flowers falling over when Hermione bumped into the table.

“Oh!” she exclaimed breathlessly, looking down at the water spilling from the overturned bottle. He waved his hand at the mess and the bottle promptly righted itself as the water disappeared. She grinned up at him – she loved it whenever he did a bit of wandless magic. One day she was determined to be capable of the same.

Neither of them seemed to know what to say, but he was staring at her so intensely that she felt compelled to fill the silence.

“I don't think I'll be leaving anytime soon,” she said.


Shopkeep by bccaw [Reviews - 16]


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