Iulia Linnea (iulia_linnea) wrote in sshg_promptfest,
Iulia Linnea
iulia_linnea
sshg_promptfest

FIC: The Game Changer (PG)

Title: The Game Changer
Type: Fic
Prompter: Anonymous
Creator: mt_nestor
Beta(s): deianaera
Rating: PG
(Highlight to View) Warning(s): Story takes place in 2020 during the Covid19 pandemic.
(Highlight to View) Prompt: A period of quarantine during a magical pandemic exposes "issues in need of address" in Severus and Hermione's relationship (SS/HG).
Note: To my dear Anonymous: I was very excited about this prompt as soon as I saw it. Severus and Hermione are called upon so frequently to save the day during times of crisis, and I was pleased to write a story that focused mainly on their relationship. I hope you'll enjoy it.
Summary: What kind of things will happen between Severus and Hermione during a time of forced togetherness?



The pandemic began in the Muggle world, and the majority of wizarding society ignored it at first. Muggle-borns were obviously more concerned about the virus and kept close contact with family and friends through whatever means possible once the stay at home orders were issued. Hermione Granger was no exception. Thankful that the cases in Australia remained low, she checked in with her parents several times a week to make sure they remained in good spirits, that they were safe and had everything they needed as they sheltered at home.

Life in the wizarding world went on as usual. Everything was normal until it wasn't.

The first witches and wizards to fall ill were Muggle-borns and a few half-bloods. St. Mungo's set up a team to research how this could have even happened. Having magical blood had always been a deterrent against the transmission of most Muggle diseases, and despite these unusual circumstances the healers still felt there was no need to confuse or panic the population by allowing this information to go public. The secrecy went on for a few weeks until the numbers of those contracting the illness continued to increase, and only then the government was informed. It was only a matter of time before the information was leaked to the Daily Prophet, and productive time that could have been used to create a plan to fight the virus was taken up by rhetoric and finger-pointing by officials both at the Ministry and St. Mungo's.

Newly elected Minister of Magic Percy Weasley was the consummate politician. He was quick to give an interview to the Prophet, striving to reassure wizarding Britain that there was no need to feel anxious. "The crossover of this Muggle virus is an abnormality, and we are confident that our healers at St. Mungo's have it under control. This illness will not become the kind of pandemic it did amongst the Muggle population," he stated, urging people to not panic and conduct their lives as they always had.

Everything stayed the same until it didn't.

%%%%

Weekend breakfasts were relaxed in the Granger/Snape household and were something that Hermione looked forward to all week. Severus would cook something special, and the two of them would linger in the small eating area, savoring cups of robust tea and excellent conversation. On Saturdays or Sundays, neither of them had to rush off to work – Severus to Refocillo, his successful apothecary, and Hermione to her job as Potions Professor at the magical college of Oxford University.

"Severus?" Hermione looked across the breakfast table one morning, watching her partner's expression morph into a frown as he perused the recent order from St. Mungo's. "What are you thinking?"

"Much as it pains me to say so, my dear, I'm beginning to think that you were right after all," he said with a sigh.

Hermione nearly prepared a smug reply, but once she read through the contents of the parchment he'd pushed across the table the words died on her lips. The request for healing potions had increased, with those for fighting pneumonia, breathing difficulties, and fevers topping the list. "I'd rather be wrong ten times over than be right about this one thing," she admitted. "Do you think the Ministry is finally going to acknowledge how serious this coronavirus is becoming to our kind?"

"That remains to be seen," Severus answered. "Obviously the Minister does not deem this topic necessary enough to waste his time on."

Within two weeks the number of cases of what was being called the Muggle Virus had grown exponentially. Percy backpedalled on his previous statements while his political rivals gloated. Around that same time, the first purebloods became ill, and the Minister of Magic arranged for a meeting with his counterpart, the Muggle Prime Minister.

A shelter at home edict was issued for Britain's wizarding population. Hogwarts was closed, along with any other non-essential places of business.

"QUARANTINE!" read the headline of the Daily Prophet the following morning.

"It figures," Hermione sniffed after glancing at the paper. "The Ministry of Magic and the Wizengamot are full of hypocrites. You'd think all the advances and attitude changes about blood status since the war had never happened. Notice that we only went on lockdown once the purebloods began getting sick."

"That being said, we need to begin securing ingredients. I predict that with everyone having to stay home my mail order business will quickly begin to be inundated with panicked buyers," Severus noted. "If you aren't adverse, I'd appreciate your help in putting together an inventory."

"Of course," Hermione said, placing a quick kiss on his cheek before levitating the breakfast dishes into the kitchen to be washed.

Severus spent the entire day in his shop, while Hermione catalogued what ingredients were available in the home laboratory along with what was ready to be harvested from their garden. It was tedious, time-consuming work, but at least now Refocillo was more than ready for business.

Orders began flying in, each carried by the important looking St. Mungo's owls or the post owls that families were able to rent. As a professional courtesy, Severus also continued to supply George Weasley's joke shop with a number of potions. Now that everyone was at home, George's owl order business was becoming almost more than he could handle as anxious parents sought out WWW products as rewards for good behavior and novelties to keep their children amused.

One evening Hermione and Severus were finishing up the last stages of potions that had been put in stasis while they'd consumed a quick meal. "I've come up with an idea," she said, pushing back a curl that had come loose from her hair tie during the prolonged period of stirring. "Don't you think we both could be better utilized as researchers for St. Mungo's? Surely Michael and Penelope would be able to fill orders if you hired a third person." Michael Higgenboom and Penelope Clearwater were Severus' employees, both with the ability to brew and handle administrative tasks for the apothecary. "Merlin knows I'm dying to dive into a stack of research books. My classes at university have only been shut down for a short while and I'm already at loose ends," Hermione continued.

Severus gave her the smile he reserved for her when he thought she was being particularly swotty. "The idea does have merit," he said. "Hermione, what I'll need from you is a list of some of your more recent and promising graduates who might have the desire to begin working for me in their own labs."

Hermione was off in her own thoughts, thinking about how heavenly it would be to be involved in a research project with Severus again. The combining of their mutual talents was what had brought them together in the beginning. She smiled, thinking about how intellectual interaction had always been a turn on for them both. Why this could even be like a second honeymoon!

"Hermione? Woolgathering?"

"Uh, sorry, I was just thinking about how much I'd enjoy working with you again. I'd be very happy to get those names for you tomorrow morning."

"And I shall contact St. Mungo's offering both of our services. Who knows what dunderheads are employed in their research department at this time."

The Muggle Virus continued to claim victims, and after several weeks passed the wizarding population began to settle into what was becoming their new way of life.

The Prophet began publishing twice daily. Rita Skeeter was in her element, for not only was she a journalistic liaison to St. Mungo's, but now had been promoted as editor of a new and growing section of the paper dedicated to health and safety. She kept her staff tremendously busy churning out all kinds of information and advice.

"Why Bubble-Head charms do not protect against the Muggle Virus! Only treated masks seen as the safest protection."

"How to be sure that your food arrives fresh after being shrunk for delivery!"

"Tips for schooling you children at home after the primary years."

"Where did Skeeter find these people?" Severus asked after reading some of the morning's bylines. "Most of these half-wits were once students of mine, and now they're 'experts.'"

"The best places to buy all the things you need! See our special insert for list of shops with the most reliable delivery services."

Naturally, Refocillo topped the list of apothecaries.

Severus was not pleased to see that even with Hermione working full time and taking on the new hire they were still lagging behind on their orders. Hermione knew that ordinarily, he would have been happy to see his business prospering, but the majority of potions they were being asked to provide were simplistic and unchallenging.

The letter from St. Mungo's did not come as a surprise. The owl flew in as if delivering a ticking time bomb and quickly dropped it off with an apologetic hoot. Severus was in the midst of adding ingredients to his cauldron and indicated with a nod of his head for Hermione to open the cream-colored envelope.

"Dear Mr. Snape," she read aloud, "On behalf of St. Mungo's, I'd like to thank both you and Ms. Granger for your interest in working in our Development Department. Upon consideration of your request to join our research team, we feel that you both would be better utilized by continuing to work as Potioneers. There is a great need in our community for the medicinal potions that you are imminently qualified to fill, and we do count on you as one the chief suppliers to our institution. Most sincerely yours, Bertram Bitterroot, Head of Research and Development."

"Really?" Hermione tossed the letter onto her workstation, being careful not to scatter the daisy stems she'd been slicing. "You're brilliant! How could they not want you?" she fumed. She looked over at Severus, expecting to see anger or frustration reflected upon his face, but only saw an expression of resignation. "So you're not going to question this decision? Who is this Bitterroot, anyway?"

"He's only the brother-in-law of the man who used to be St. Mungo's chief potions supplier until I was given the contract," Severus answered. "You're forgetting that politics run just as deeply over there as they do at the Ministry."

"Humph." Hermione went back to her slicing.

%%%%

The top story in that evening's Prophet was the first positive news everyone had heard in a while. While it wasn't announcing a cure for the Muggle Virus, it told of an innovation that helped families who were struggling with the forced isolation mandated by the Ministry. Written by the Great Beetle herself, the article reported on a brand new charm that allowed the Floo network to open up calls to multiple households simultaneously. One of the researchers, a Muggle-born, had half-jokingly called it a "Floom Call" after the popular Muggle application and the name had stuck.

People in the magical world rejoiced and began using this charm immediately to keep in touch with family and friends and to conduct business. Soon everyone was Flooming. Hermione enjoyed being able to have a three-way chat with Ron and Harry for the first time in months. Even so, after using the new network a few times she started to see the limitations of the charm. Unlike the Muggle application, there was no way to limit the number of people who could pop in unannounced, and the charm needed to reduce the background noise was complex enough that most people simply dispensed with using it.

Severus' first and only Floom call was a disaster. He was trying to speak with both George and Ron about an important order for their business and was growing increasingly impatient with their noisy households and interruptions from their children. After cutting the conversation short, Severus withdrew from the fireplace, looking so put out that Hermione didn't have the heart to tease him about it.

Hermione tried to be very careful while carrying on her Floom chats with friends. The size of their house meant that Severus was often in the sitting room when she spoke with them, and the last thing she wanted to do was kick him out when he was enjoying a much-needed break. She hoped that he was not annoyed by the cacophony of sound that often accompanied her conversations. Hermione relied on these calls to keep her connection to the outside world.

Ginny Potter was busy, but happy enough to speak with Hermione for a few minutes each day. "I've been teaching Lily to cook the Muggle way," her friend said. "The boys and some of the cousins all want biscuits, so it's a good test for her to learn to multiply the recipe."

From Ginny's kitchen came the sound of a crash, things breaking, and the hoots of teenaged male laughter.

"James, get out of here, you git!" shouted Lily's voice. "Sorry Mum, I forgot I'm allowed to use magic out of school now and my wand wasn't ready. Reparo!"

"It sounds like you need to go," said Hermione. "Give my love to everyone, at least before you kill them." She was almost relieved to end the call and sit quietly with Severus for a bit.

"Better them than us," Hermione commented in what she hoped was a relaxed manner.

"Quite."

For a brief moment the oddest expression crossed his face, but it was gone before Hermione had a chance to consider it.

As the weeks went by, Hermione strove to keep the atmosphere light in the lab as she and Severus worked together. Many of the potions they were producing were not complex, yet more often than not their days were marked with increased silence. The Prophet was centered on news about the Muggle Virus, and the recent articles in the journals they subscribed to were not even interesting enough to discuss or debate. Severus seemed to draw into himself and sometimes became short with Hermione when she tried to talk with him. Secretly she still hoped that the head of research at St. Mungo's would come around to recognize his mistake and ask Severus to join them.

When a letter finally arrived it was nothing short of insulting. Several trial potions to be used to combat the Muggle Virus had been developed, and she and Severus were asked to brew batches of them for testing.

%%%%

The hour was late, and Hermione made her way down the narrow stairs that led to the basement. The door to Severus' potions lab was ajar, but there were no sounds coming from inside. Pushing aside an inexplicable impulse to knock, Hermione poked her head inside. Severus was sitting with his back to her, his head bowed and shoulders slumped.

"Severus, what's wrong?" Hermione asked quietly, crossing the room to stand close. "I can tell you've been struggling lately. Can you please let me in?"

He turned to her, unhappiness etched into every line of his face. "Hermione, you know I love you."

"I love you more than anything," Hermione answered quickly. "I love the life we've made together."

Severus looked as if he wanted to say something, but changed his mind as he thought otherwise. Hermione felt her stomach drop and fought to keep her voice neutral sounding.

"You're not happy with our life." Was he about to say he was going to leave her?

"Hermione, can we discuss this another time? In just a few moments I'll be in the middle of a very complex stage of the St. Mungo's potion I've been working on all day."

"Would you like me to stay up and help you?" Hermione asked, hoping that she didn't sound as desperate as she felt.

"That will not be necessary. Please go up and get some sleep. Merlin knows we're both fatigued."

It had been an hour since Hermione had left Severus in the lab, an hour that sleep remained elusive even though her head pounded with exhaustion. Finally, she gave up and got up to make a cup of tea. Sitting down at the small table, Hermione began to organize her thoughts.

She and Severus had always had a good relationship, not perfect by any means yet one that was based on respect and commitment. In the twelve years since they'd become a couple (no marriage ceremony necessary, thank you) she could count on one hand how many times a misunderstanding had lasted more than a day or so. This change in Severus had been going on for weeks. Was he going through a mid-life crisis? At sixty, Severus was not even considered middle-aged by wizarding standards.

Hermione thought back over the past two months. She was completely baffled by the change. Severus still went through his blue periods, but this one seemed to be lasting longer than anything else she could remember since shortly after the war. Over the years Hermione had learned what tactics to employ whenever he had gone into a funk, and she'd gotten quite good at assessing whether he needed space, lightheartedness, or just some extra coddling. She knew how to deal with a sarcastic Severus, a cold one, or an angry one. It was the lethargic version that she hadn't the slightest idea what to do with.

At least they still were having sex, although it had become less passionate recently. They'd both been so exhausted that sex had become more of a means to an end – a quick release before collapsing into sleep. Not exactly how it had been just prior to the lockdown. That encounter in their Potions lab — Hermione blushed with the memory of the wanton abandon she'd exhibited that night. Severus hadn't seemed to mind, though; as a matter of fact, he seemed to enjoy her taking charge.

Hermione sighed. Rather than the glorious, uninterrupted time she could spend with Severus, the forced togetherness was beginning to wear on her. The monotony of days spent in the lab brewing potions that anyone with an Acceptable O.W.L. could manage themselves was stupefying in their mind-sucking dullness. Today the most scintillating conversation they'd had at work had been about the merits of the silver knife Severus had wanted her to use instead of the stainless steel, and Hermione knew she'd been cross with him after he'd insisted she switch them.

Up until the health crisis, Hermione had been confident that they both felt the same way about their relationship. Wasn't it everything that either of them had ever wanted? Severus' earlier revelation had stunned her. He couldn't have grown tired of her after such a small period of time! Although I haven't been the best of companions lately either, Hermione thought sadly. When was the last time I took the time to tell Severus how much he means to me? Since she had undoubtedly entered into pity party territory, Hermione decided to go the whole route and break into the tub of ice cream that had been languishing in the freezer.

Hermione's brain continued to analyze as she spooned up the mint and chocolate confection right out of the container. Is this just another way relationships begin to grow cold and die – a slow descent into tedium and indifference rather than in angry confrontation? Hermione's only prior experience with ending a relationship had been the difficult decision to break things off with Ron, and everyone who read the Prophet knew all the juicy details of how that had gone down.

Then there was that pesky female business. Hermione's mum had been a martyr to a myriad of hormonal fluctuations and perimenopausal symptoms that had begun a full ten years before she finally went through the change in her early fifties. Hermione hadn't wanted to admit it to herself, but there was a good chance she could be following in those same footsteps. Mentally she began ticking off some of the things she remembered her mother complaining about, comparing them to how she'd been feeling lately. There were no night sweats, mood swings, or headaches, but her breasts were tender and her periods had been irregular. The last one had been almost six weeks ago, and it had half-heartedly sputtered on and off for a few days before finally calling it quits. Well, bugger it all, just when I need one more thing to deal with. Surely my body can't betray me now at a time like this!

The thought of eating even one more spoonful of ice cream had suddenly lost its appeal. With the hour growing later and no solution in sight, Hermione gave up and went back to bed where she finally fell asleep.

%%%%

The sun was just beginning to light up the sky when Hermione opened her eyes. Severus had never come to bed. "No more midnight ice cream feasts," she told herself and wondered why the room seemed to be spinning. Mum's hormonal symptoms never included nausea, she observed, then suddenly rushed into the loo to be sick.

Moving unsteadily back to the bedroom, Hermione picked up her wand and cast a spell she'd never yet had the opportunity to perform. So this is it, she thought, looking drearily at the blue glow appearing over her abdomen. Forty-one years old, and caught like a silly, teenaged cow who'd botched up her Contraceptus charm. Well done, you.

"Hermione, what's this?"

Intent in her misery, she hadn't heard Severus come into the room. Scrubbing at her face to wipe away the remains of tears, Hermione looked up at his concerned expression. He was still in yesterday's clothes and looked aged with fatigue, yet to her, he was still the most desirable wizard on the planet.

Severus laid the palm of his hand Hermione's cheek and stroked it downwards. "Even after all these years of living with a Slytherin your face still reveals your every thought and emotion," he said, a ghost of a smile appearing briefly on his face. "I'm sorry if my inability to continue our conversation last night caused you to worry. Please be assured that I would never leave you, but I've been so miserable because I've been afraid that you will be the one who decides to leave once you hear what I have to say."

Hermione grasped Severus by the hand and pulled him down to sit next to her on their bed. ""Leave you? I can't even imagine what could be so terrible that you'd think I'd change my mind about my commitment to you. We've been through the worst already. What has happened?"

"This time of isolation and being inundated with work I could do in my sleep has given me much time for introspection," Severus began. "Thinking back on what our life was before this crisis has made me feel very proud of what we've both accomplished."

"So am I. That's why I told you that I loved our life together," Hermione said. She wondered what would happen when she told him about the latest little accomplishment that neither of them had bargained for.

"And I never said otherwise. You may be surprised, though, that I've come to the conclusion that after achieving my life's dreams I've realized that I want more. Hermione, I know that you've never wanted children or a conventional life, but I've found that I want it all with you – marriage, and children if they come. If this is a deal-breaker for you, I have to respect that even if it's been tearing me up inside."

"Severus," Hermione said conversationally, "you know that we never really made a decision about having children. We've never even talked about it. Don't you think we each assumed that that the other didn't want them?"

"I heard you say it." Severus looked away in embarrassment at the memory. Hermione puzzled over it for a moment, then laughed wryly.

"You mean you're referring to the fight I had with Ron?"

Unfortunately for them both, Severus had been privy to the public screaming match that had ended everyone's expectations of a Weasley/Granger marriage. "You insufferable man, when I said that I never wanted marriage or children I only meant that I didn't want that with him!"

"So this is something that could be possible for us?" This time it was Severus who seemed to be struggling to keep his voice sounding steady.

"I don't quite understand," Hermione said. "You hate children!"

"I never said that. I just disliked teaching them."

"But Severus," she argued, "It wasn't only your students. Think of all the names you call our friends' kids. Just the other day I heard you refer to James Potter as 'that imbecile.'"

"That's because it's always been an apt description of Potter's eldest. The boy's only hope for redemption is the influence of his mother."

"Idiots!" Hermione countered. Severus smirked, and she didn't know whether she should be miffed at herself for allowing him to bait her or singing for joy at the long-awaited reappearance of the man she loved.

"Those unfortunate children had no choice in their being born to Ron and Lavender Weasley."

The dratted man was actually laughing at her! Hermione sputtered, searching her memory for another one of Severus' favorite monikers. "DUNDERHEADS!" she finally shrieked in frustration.

Severus leaned closer to her, pitching his voice lower as he spoke near Hermione's ear. "Whatever made you think, my dear, that any child of ours would turn out to be a dunderhead?" Hermione felt the absurd urge to giggle.

"So what's next," Severus continued after a few moments of silence. "A simple wedding, then shag each other silly until you catch?"

"Yes, please, but first there's something I need to show you." Without looking away from her wizard's face, Hermione cast the spell once again and watched his eyes grow wide as the blue glow appeared. Wordlessly, he took her into his arms, and Hermione smiled as she relaxed into his embrace.

Life could continue to be challenging for a while, but at least she and Severus had worked through their personal difficulties and come out unscathed. Hermione wondered how many others might have had personal revelations during this time, and what changes society would see because of this. The idea was an interesting one to ponder, but for now, she was content in contemplating all that was right in her own little corner of the world.

%% Finite %%

Author's Note: The name of Severus' apothecary, Refocillo, is a Latin word that can be translated as resurrect, renovate or regenerate. Severus uses this play on words to acknowlege both his near death experience (courtesy of Nagini), and the part of his first year speech where he tells his students he can "even put a stopper in death." Unfortunately, this clever idea is not mine. I know that at least two other authors in this fandom have used similar Latin or foreign translations in naming Severus' business or shop. So, now that I've 'fessed up, I'd be happy to give someone else the credit if anyone knows who she/he is.
Tags: 2020 summer fanwork, fic
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