Author's Note: First, many thanks to M for being my cheerleader. You rock, lady. :) Second, Toblass, you are one of my fave fandom artists and I really hope you like this little fic. And.... there will be more coming later. ;)
She had volunteered, she reminded herself on days when he was particularly snarky. Of course, he had been the one to accept with a put-upon sigh, a sneer, and the closest thing to a 'thank you' she would get for saving his arse. Even now, she could hear him, sarcasm dripping from every word: “If you absolutely must assign me part of your precious Golden Trio as a babysitter, Kingsley, then I suppose Miss Granger would be acceptable. At least she has moderate intelligence and has proven herself to be passable at administering potions in times of crisis, since you're so concerned about my well-being.”
Of course, that had been two years ago now and they'd gotten over the “Miss Granger” bit, and he had stopped snapping at her in the mornings. Well, a little bit. It was a joint effort: he didn't talk to her and she didn't ask needless questions until his second cup of coffee had been consumed. Other than the odd jabs, they actually got on pretty well, and time had flown. She had ceased to be a mere note-taker and filer of his results and he had taught her a bit of what he was doing.
It was better than being a file clerk where the Ministry had originally wanted her, or fighting her way through the various laws.
Hermione hurried down the Ministry hallways with a small smile, eager to start her day. Crooks trotted along at her side as always, probably just as eager to curl up in the basket under her desk for a nice nap.
Working with Severus Snape on various potions and spells—mostly research for the MLE, identifying and countering, since the man had seen nearly everything that could and would go wrong with a potion or spell over the years of teaching—had been rewarding. Challenging, yes, but rewarding. Hermione loved the reading, the research, everything. It was the best job she could have thought of, truly. And she could still feel the warmth from the first time he had actually praised her.
In fact, she'd put a little gold star in her planner and celebrated the anniversary of it with a slice of Victoria sponge. Monthly, of course. She did love her sponge.
Her heels clicked across the tiled floor and his eyes flicked up, registered it was her, and he continued scratching his quill across his paper. He was hunched over his desk—again—his nose nearly against his work. Not for the first time, she wondered if he needed glasses. Then again, she wondered a great many things about him. It was a bit of a distraction.
She often wondered what he liked to do when he was away from work, why he'd chosen to seek out a Mastery in Potions, why he kept an empty picture frame on his desk, and what the significance of the dried, magically-preserved flower in his top-right desk drawer was. Not that she'd snooped. Alright, a little. And she'd even asked about the first three.
“It varies.” Very informative.
“I am certain that is obvious and do not need to explain it to you.” Well, alright, he was brilliant at Potions, but was that it? Was it the spy thing? It wasn't terribly obvious and it bothered her that she had to think so long on it and still had no answer.
A very long pause. “It hasn't happened yet.” The most frustrating answer and the biggest bloody puzzle of all.
Well, aside from the man himself. Hermione set her new pile of folders on the edge of her desk, a massive oak thing that took up half the office. She'd done it on purpose; he hadn't said anything, merely raised his eyebrows and set about his brewing. Rather took the fun out of it, but she liked her great big desk with plenty of research space...and mounds of folders of his notes and findings that she needed to go through and sort for the correct departments.
All in all, though, they got along rather well now. When he wasn't being an arse, and she wasn't being a shrew. Everyone on their floor of the Ministry knew better than to come down their hall when they heard her shouting.
Hermione started. She had been so lost in thought as she stared at the massive pile of folders on her desk that she hadn't noticed him rise, and now he was standing in front of her desk, looming over her holding his hand out for her empty mug. His own mug, a once-white, chipped, and coffee-stained number clearly in need of a refill, was in his other hand.
“Please.” She needed the caffeine, and nearly thrust it at him, handle-first. After last night's debacle, she almost wished she drank the bitter coffee he preferred. Crookshanks chirped somewhere under her desk, and she nudged him with her foot.
His lips curled as he took it. “Date last night, then? Which imbecile did you waste your time with now?”
Her shoulders sagged. “Llywellen in Mysteries.”
“You spent an evening with that self-centered blowhard?” His tone was incredulous. “Tell me, were you keen on self-flagellation from the start, or did he slip you something?”
She rolled her eyes and scowled at him. “Really? Is that the best you can do? You were much more creative on the last few men I've dated.”
“I am afraid I will require more coffee in order to give your choice of paramour more applicable insults,” Severus sneered. “It is not my fault you seem determined to plumb the depths of idiocy to their farthest reaches.”
“Just...go get tea,” Hermione said tiredly. “And I don't think I'll be going out with him again, before you ask. The fact that I've managed to work with you this long seems to scare them all off.”
He looked rather pleased, a vicious sort of victory lighting his features. Not for the first time, she wondered why he was so bloody interested in her personal life.
“Because you are preferable to whatever other lackey they would force on me,” he said, his tone almost soft.
She glared at him and flapped her hands. “Stop with that. Tea. Or I'll start picturing all the ways I can kick you in painful places.”
Severus snorted and turned, his movements no less graceful clad only in trousers and frock coat, his robes left draped haphazardly over his desk chair. Hermione tried not to watch him go, and failed, glad that he wasn't making eye contact with her right then.
It was mortifying to be attracted to her partner, and she was still struggling to cope with the new information. Last week was the first time she had ever seen him blow up a cauldron, despite the myriad of experimental brews she'd watched him work with. Severus was still trying to figure out what had gone wrong, and she was still trying to forget the way he had spun, her notes and quill clattering to the floor as he shielded her with his own body.
His very firm, lean body.
If she closed her eyes, Hermione could recall perfectly the feel of him against her, the warmth of him, his scent, and the soft grunt as the explosion hit the shield he had erected. It was terribly distracting. She hadn't had that sort of thought about him before more than in passing, but now it troubled her. It was very hard to get work done when she was watching him prepare ingredients or trace his lips with his finger as he read something obscure.
And since The Incident, as she thought of it, he had been almost...expectant. She had thanked him, so she didn't know why he seemed to be more watchful. Hermione could only think that the brew had been very experimental and he was waiting for her to sprout tentacles or something.
The worst part was, he'd never be interested, she was sure of it. After all, she had been his student, there was the big age difference... and he'd never shown any interest in her. In fact, he seemed to take vicious glee in mocking her for dating anyway, and yet was protective over her.
Hermione heard the chime of the tea timer she'd bought for their small kitchenette after he'd over-steeped her tea for the third time and smiled, remembering.
When she had gotten into yet another fight with Ron, Severus had threatened him within an inch of his life. She wasn't sure what he'd said to him, but Ron had been pale-faced, clutching the report he'd come to fetch for his MLE team as Severus loomed over him as menacingly as possible, hands behind his back. But then the tea timer had gone off, Severus had leaned back, given Ron a calm smile, and cancelled the Muffliato before carrying the brewed tea to Hermione's desk.
Whatever he'd said, Ron had been on his best behaviour after. Still was, even after she'd finally ended things.
She was willing to bet Severus had threatened some of her other less-than-stellar dates, but she hadn't caught him at it.
And if she were perfectly honest with herself, she found some of his jibes about her choices rather funny. It was almost worth the horrible dates just to hear his reactions.
On Davies, after a particularly disastrous third date: “Granger, that vacuous boy seems to schedule time to humiliate himself in public, I don't see why you find the need to join him.”
On Fryson in Accounting: “I remember him from Hogwarts. He is an ineffably decadent loafer and offense to all of decency.”
On Ron himself, on their second try: “He is woefully maladjusted and unconscionably ill-mannered. Do me a favour and refrain from throwing yourself down that particular hole a third time.”
Johnson from Harry's squad: “An insufferable oaf and gossip-mongering blight upon our society.”
Her tipsy evening with Hudinsky: “A simple-minded personification of vulgarity.”
And those were just a few: most of her dates were one-offs, brief cafe lunches that went nowhere. It was getting a bit lonely, but she didn't think it was why she was suddenly realising that she found Severus Snape attractive. Very attractive. In fact, upon reflection, most of her chosen dates were tall, lean, dark-haired, and at least presumably witty. Very much like her partner. It was certainly an eye-opener.
His boots clicked sharply across the floor, and he held her steaming mug out to her, handle-first. “Your tea.”
“Thank you.” Hermione took it with a smile. He looked at her a moment longer, almost as if he wanted to say something more, but instead he turned and went back to his own work.
“Three potions for you to observe this afternoon,” Severus said a few hours later, hands cradling his fifth cup of coffee, “for the Department of Mysteries, no less. You will need to be thorough and timely on the delivery of the results.”
She glanced up, noting that her cat had, once again, abandoned her for his desktop.
“Aren't I always?” Hermione asked, picking a folder from the pile and opening it. A spell-reversal rune chart! Her favourite.
She beamed at him and Summoned three of her reference books, flipping easily through the gilt pages until she found the sections she wanted to triple-check before working on the chart. She was vaguely aware of her partner stroking her cat's fur as he finished his paperwork before moving to the laboratory half of the room to prep his ingredients.
Hermione stood safely behind the designated line in the flooring, her quill scratching across the papers as Severus adjusted and tested each brew. One was foul-smelling but the colour was a rich, sparkling crimson. She admired the shade and his tenacity for refusing a Bubble-Head Charm.
The second potion quite frankly looked like vomit. It didn't have a scent that she could detect, but his blistering swears as it melted the first two stirring rods had made her giggle. “Cease that infernal noise,” he snapped. She could have sworn he looked embarrassed. “This idiot's so-called formula is difficult enough without your snickering.”
Severus snorted. “I told Earling the formula was incorrect. They never bloody listen...Three clockwise, five anti-clockwise...should be seventeen clockwise, quarter-turn anti-clockwise, repeat. Additionally, needs 3 more beetle eyes, crushed not halved.”
Hermione made the notes dutifully. She didn't know how he was able to so quickly make such drastic changes to a formula, but she admired it. He had said that he could probably make the adjustments without the brewing, but it had to be documented, and that the Mysterious Morons refused to allow him to see their original work.
Severus looked closer at the cauldron and nodded. “Two grams of Nyxweed petals, fresh, at the end. They'll dissolve in without stirring.”
He waved a hand and Vanished the contents of the cauldron. She handed him the thick dragon-hide gloves after he'd turned off the burner and he carried the dirty cauldron to the sink. She watched his shoulderblades flex under his coat, impressed at how easily he lifted the ten-gallon piece of iron.
Hermione added the last of his adjustments to her notes and compiled them, accompanied by the sounds of him scrubbing the cauldron clean.
“Aren't you finished yet?”
Hermione glared up at him. “You made more changes than ever on that third one.”
“That's the one that blew up before,” he replied defensively. “It required several modifications.”
“I know.” She'd been rather hoping it would be a repeat explosion so he would wrap himself around her again. “But that means it takes longer to prepare the report.”
“It needs to be down to Michaelson's office by four.”
He stared at her almost expectantly, but said nothing beyond: “Very well.”
Hermione glanced down at her watch, her winter Ministry robes flapping around her ankles as she hurried down the black marble hall. Michaelson's office was deep within the Department of Mysteries itself, and she had but minutes for the report to be in. The witches and wizards studying time were annoyingly keen on punctuality.
Chewing her lip, Hermione decided to take a shortcut through the round room. She skirted past the gauzy gateway in the middle of the room and set her sights on the one she knew led to the Time department.
Nearly there, her foot caught on a loose rock and she stumbled. Grabbing the nearest door handle, Hermione felt it turn. It was with a mix of surprise and horror that she fell into the door, and down, down, down.
The Love door wasn't supposed to open, was her thought as she was wrenched from the Ministry, her reports scattered on the floor. It was always locked, was the panicked gibbering of her mind as she found herself falling through the air, her hair whipping around her face. A lake shimmered below her, and she cried out.
She plunged deep into the icy water so hard that the breath she had vainly taken was expelled from her lungs in a rush of bubbles. Panicking, Hermione kicked and struggled with her heavy robes, trying to free her wand. Where was the surface? Which way was up? She kicked again, keeping her lips pressed tight against the lake water. Something brushed her leg and she kicked again, striving for the light, hoping it wasn't a Grindylow.
Hermione abandoned her attempt to find her wand as her chest burned with the need for air. Her kicks were getting slower, more sluggish, and she reached upwards as something swam into her blurring field of view.
Hands grasped her and she was too tired to protest as she was hauled against something cold and black. She felt the ripple of magic around her as they were propelled to the surface. She took great gasps of air in between harsh coughs, water streaming from her hair. Her rescuer hooked an arm around her in a proper rescue hold and swam them to shore.
When Hermione finally felt ground under her feet she nearly sobbed in relief.
“Stop snivelling,” said a very familiar voice.
Gasping and coughing at same time, she whipped her head up to see a very wet, very young Severus Snape, silhouetted by Hogwarts behind him.
“A 'thank you' would be appreciated,” he added with a sneer, “rather than gaping at me like a fish. Or should I throw you back in?”
“Sorry, thank you,” Hermione stammered, remaining seated on the lakeshore. He was still wearing his frock coat. But he was most definitely not the Snape she had left behind at the Ministry. The air was too warm, the school too empty, the man too young and bitter-looking.
Snape flicked his wand at her, Conjuring a blanket around her shoulders, drying her clothing, and casting a Warming Charm that went straight to her bones. “I didn't see your broom.”
“I wasn't flying,” she replied. His eyebrow arched in a way she knew meant disbelief. “I fell. From the Department of Mysteries.”
He said nothing, merely dried and warmed himself.
“What day is it?” she ventured.
“June the nineteenth. You're lucky I was out for a walk and saw you.”
“Oh.” Summer. Well.
“Come along. The castle is nearly empty but you need to be looked over at the very least. Pomfrey should be in the Hospital Wing still.”
She took his hand, marveling at the warmth of his skin, and he pulled her to her feet. He gave her a queer look and turned, swooping off down the path, apparently certain she would follow in the wake of his flapping robes.
He was right.
In the Ministry office of Severus Snape and Hermione Granger, Severus Snape watched the frame on his desk. He was the picture of tension, his shoulders tight and his hands steepled in front of his face. Slowly, an image was forming in the frame, a picture he hadn't seen in years coming back. Autumn leaves and a lake; and...there. Two indistinct figures.
He sighed in relief. It was happening.