This was originally written for the 2017 SSHG Giftfest on LiveJournal. My sincere thanks to Hiril and Weird Little Stories for all the work they put into beta-ing this fic – I had a blast working with you both. Any remaining mistakes are my own.
The first time she met him in the library, Hermione barely reached his shoulder. Professor Snape swept down the aisle, robes billowing behind him, and she squeezed herself against the shelves so she wouldn’t be in the way.
The professor did not even notice her.
Hermione was disappointed and relieved in equal parts. He must know so much – how could she even begin talking to him, when she knew so little about the wondrous world they shared?
Then, there was the small matter of his personality – some of the other professors, like Professor Flitwick or her Head of House, were not too unlike Hermione's old teachers from primary school. Professor Snape acted like students were an inconvenience to him.
Perhaps one had to be brilliant for him to take an interest.
Hermione eyed the pile of books she had collected already, wondering if adding a few volumes on Potions would make it too heavy to carry all the way back to her dormitory before she remembered she was a witch.
It was taking a little longer than she had expected to get used to this new world, but Hermione was positive she would have become used to it by mid-term.
Christmas, at the latest.
The first time she met him in the library after the war, Hermione did not even notice Professor Snape until he was almost beside her. Moving like a shadow, he made her jump when the faint rustling of his robes alerted her to his presence.
Half expecting he would scold her for her lack of self-control, she slowly turned around to face him. After living through the war, a surprise meeting in a library should not have her pulling her wand out with clammy hands.
Professor Snape did not say a word, but the weight of his presence created a silence deeper and thicker than anything the library was capable of on its own. It was ripe with unsaid words: apologies and explanations and laments were all crammed in there.
He stooped slightly as he shuffled on towards the Restricted Section, like he carried the weight of the past on his shoulders.
Hermione stared after him, wishing she knew how to talk to him.
The second time, Hermione was determined not to remain silent.
“Professor Snape,” she began, her voice ringing out clear as a bell in the nearly empty library. Toning it down a bit, she continued: “I must – “
“Is there anything about gratitude or respect in the diatribe you are about to launch into?” His voice was only a whisper, but the customary sharpness still impregnated every syllable.
“Yes – “
He cut her off again. “Then, stay silent.” Professor Snape glared at her as Hermione gasped for air like a goldfish caught on dry land, before she closed her mouth and nodded with ill grace.
He continued his path towards the Restricted Section while Hermione wondered if this was how it was going to be now: being an adult seemed to constitute of an endless array of moments where one recognised it wasn't about oneself, it was about other people.
It had been a lot easier when adults seemed to know everything.
It had been years since Hermione last visited the Hogwarts library, but it looked exactly the same. The students dotting the study tables seemed much younger than she remembered, which was only to be expected, but it had come as a shock to realise the teachers were not in fact as ancient as she always had believed as a student.
Madam Pince's replacement, Madam O'Rourke, had a thick Cork accent and was very pleasant once Hermione got the knack of deciphering her staccato voice.
“Minerva told me you would be paying us a visit when Gringotts could spare you, Miss Granger. I've been doing the best I can to pick up where Madam Pince left off, but – “ She shrugged, and Hermione made a mental note to return to the subject later. ”I’m quite relieved you're here – some of the happenings have been very odd. Most odd, indeed.”
“Minerva mentioned time warps –“ Hermione had been keen to return to Hogwarts in any case, but her professional interest had been piqued.
Madam O'Rourke glanced around. “Not here. Please come into the office, and I will explain.”
They were sitting in what had been Madam Pince's inner sanctum up until a few weeks ago. Hermione's cup of tea sat abandoned on the dainty little side table next to the visitor's chair. It turned out that Madam O'Rourke (“Call me Ciara”) had been keeping a log of any strange occurrences since her arrival on the scene. The list was useful, if unsettling, reading.
There were books in the office, too, in various states of disrepair. One volume, Tenets of Transparency, kept flickering into invisibility. Another, Story of My Life (Unexpurgated), kept emitting soft moans until Ciara silenced it with a flick of her wand.
Meanwhile, Hermione had formulated a strategy. “I need to speak to Professor Snape first.”
Regardless of Hermione's personal inclinations, it was clear that the current Defence Against The Dark Arts Professor and Deputy Headmaster must be her first avenue of investigation.
“I'm sure he will be eager to assist.” Ciara looked like she was trying to persuade herself as much as Hermione.
“It is the same Professor Snape we're talking about, isn't it? The-Spy-Who-Lived, or whatever Rita Skeeter calls him?”
“I wouldn't use that term within his hearing, but yes, it is.”
“Then I'm sure he will be pleased to renew our acquaintance,” Hermione said, trying very hard not to let on that she was quaking in her boots.
“Miss Granger.” The current occupant had returned the Defence Against The Dark Arts classroom to the Gothic Horror Chic it had favoured during Hermione's sixth year.
From what she could make out in the candlelight, Professor Snape was just as happy to see her as she had anticipated.
“Professor Snape.” She advanced past the tables, trying to see if they were the same as when she had been student. There should be a scorch mark in the third row from when Ron had dropped his wand in second year, but the light was too dim to tell.
“To what do I owe this unexpected pleasure?” His upper lip was curled, lest she dare take his words at face value.
Hermione weighed up the situation. Her job at Gringotts meant she frequently had to deal with clients, so her ability to remain unflustered under fire (sometimes literally) had been honed since her student days.
Perhaps it was best to tackle him right on.
“It would be very helpful if you could provide me with a written account of every strange occurrence in the library from the last six months.” Adding a pleasant smile might have been overkill, but Hermione didn't usually do anything half-heartedly.
“I'm sure you think it would be. Is there any compelling reason why I should assist you in what no doubt will be a wearying and ultimately pointless endeavour?” Professor Snape's face was a prize-winning study in contempt mingled with boredom.
“I'm sure Minerva will be along to provide some when I tell her you refused to cooperate.” Hermione turned around, heading for the door – she was not going to play any games, and the sooner he found out, the better.
“Must you be so tedious, Miss Granger? Running to the headmistress to get their way hardly befits anyone over the age of seventeen.”
“Must you be so predictable, Professor Snape? Acquiescing to my request would have had me double-guessing what you were up to for weeks.” She raised her eyebrows, well aware she was in the presence of a master of the art.
“Touché. In return for my concession, can you please consider whether you really require a record of every time something unexpected has happened? It would be a rather long list.” He had softened a bit, as if she had advanced somewhat in his opinion – perhaps even on par with Flobberworms and Gilderoy Lockhart.
“That's precisely why – it seems extraordinary that you should be involved in so many of the incidents.” Five, by Madam Pince's reckoning – Hermione assumed there would be rather more if she ever received an honest account from Professor Snape.
“What do you mean by that?” Oh, great – now he was giving her the one eyebrow treatment.
“Exactly what I'm saying – the only common denominator I can find so far is you, so you are my main avenue of investigation.”
It had been a slight variation of the truth – Hermione's main focus of investigation was in fact the books Professor Snape had been checking out, not himself. While the books involved in the incidents were fascinating in their own right (Oblivio, Ergo Sum – Observations On The Nature Of Memory and A Short Account of the Perils of Sleeping), there was nothing obvious that attracted her attention.
One got a feel for it, after a while – troublesome books were either well-known (The Anatomy Of Ghosts sprang to mind, source of ghost infestations in libraries and private book collections across the continent), or very rare indeed (recalling one of her first investigations, it was very clear why Hermione so far only had discovered one surviving copy of Cursed To The Core).
Professor Snape's reading list, heavily weighted towards Potions and the Dark Arts, featured no smoking guns.
It did not necessarily mean Hermione was going down the wrong track – no one could predict how magical books would react in the vicinity of others. A sedate volume on Charms, placed next to a seemingly innocuous essay on the nature of time travel, coupled with a shelf several feet away containing a collection on the origins of magical creatures, had caused one of the trickiest problems of Hermione's career – so far, at least.
Established libraries like the one at Hogwarts rarely featured on her agenda. The delicate equilibrium required to ensure the books behaved had been perfected over centuries.
No Hogwarts librarian would make the mistake of placing the Invisibility Section next to the collection of Concealment Charms, like some poor sod in Brasilia had. It had taken Hermione two weeks to track down his body, and no charms the whole Brazilian Ministry of Magic could come up with had managed to make him visible again.
Something was rotten in the state of Scotland, but she was damned if she was going to pin down what it was based on Snape's list.
There was only one way to find out what was going on. It was one of her favourite aspects of her chosen career that 'going to the library' was a call for action as well as a bid for further research.
Other than the Gilderoy Lockhart collection having been moved under 'Humour' rather than 'Defence Against The Dark Arts,' Hermione could not spot any changes since her school days. She had a pass to the Restricted Section this time, and was using it to explore the Dark Arts section when an ominous shadow fell over her from behind.
She didn't even need to turn around to know it was Professor Snape – few other people had mastered the art of being silent very loudly as efficiently as he had.
“Thanks for the rolls of parchment,” she said, checking a few last volumes before rising to face his looming large nose.
“I assume your efforts have not yet been crowned by success, given your continued presence here. How unexpected.” The lack of inflection was masterful – as an adult, Hermione could admire the performance rather than twisting herself in knots trying to impress him. How had she not seen playing the game was what mattered, not the outcome?
“Well, I was looking for a way to give you another unexpected surprise, so I guess I've achieved that.” When she stood up the sun was in her eyes, so all she could see was Professor Snape's silhouette. “Wait a minute!”
Ten minutes ago, rain had been beating on the library windows like it was trying to batter the castle into submission. Hermione knew her Scottish weather – rain like that did not just go away. Something had changed.
The sunlight came from a dome far above them and they were hemmed in by the shelves surrounding them, still carrying the familiar titles from Hogwarts, but if they ventured further Hermione had no doubt they would slowly fade into this new place. Wherever it was.
“I assume no written report will be required this time, Miss Granger?” The only way Professor Snape betrayed any agitation was that his nostrils were flaring, and that his wand had appeared in his hand so quickly Hermione had not even seen him move.
She let her own wand slip into her sleeve in case there were Muggles around, looking at him meaningfully until he copied her. “Does this place look familiar to you?”
“I have not seen it before.”
Someone passed by the shelves behind them, and a snatch of overheard conversation in an unmistakeable Australian accent finally reminded Hermione where she last had seen a library bathed in sunlight like this. “We're in Melbourne! I knew I'd been here before.”
“Did you make a Grand Tour after the war – Famous Libraries I Would Like to Visit?”
If Hermione had not been looking at Snape, she would have missed the way he was inching towards the end of the shelf. “Nice try. My parents lived here for a while, if you must know, and I would appreciate if you left the stunts to the professionals.”
“As you wish.” It was a wonder the words did not croak under the weight of his disapproval.
Hermione found the spot where the magical books from Hogwarts changed into normal Muggle volumes – as expected, it was hard to pin down, but she eventually managed to put her wand on the crack.
“Brace yourself,” she advised Snape, not bothering to turn around to take in the affront at her having the temerity of telling him what to do.
Very carefully, she stretched out her hand to touch a battered 19th century copy of A Letter Concerning Toleration: Humbly Submitted, only for the bright sunlight to be replaced by the gloom of a wet October afternoon in Scotland.
“Well done. As a layman, I would have assumed you were going to investigate the phenomenon, but clearly returning to familiar ground took precedence. No doubt, you will come to a conclusion in a few decades' time, having exhausted all other possibilities.”
Hermione finished jotting down observations in her little notebook and put it away. “If you'd like to know what I'm doing, you could just ask, you know.”
“Would that not violate your professional ethics – assuming you have any, of course?”
This is Professor Snape, Hermione reminded herself. Listen to what he isn't saying.
“Not unless I have to clobber you over the head to get you to shut up, no. I now have a baseline for how far the Hogwarts section extended into the other library, and can use it to calculate the likelihood for other incidences. I'll be using Arithmancy, of course – I would explain that too, but it would take too long.” She gave him a big smile, which finally unsettled him so much he went quiet.