Beta(s): Whitehound, Lady Memory
(Highlight to View) Warning(s): Includes some insults from the list which was specified by the prompter. I hope that you’ll spot and will like the use I made of them, Meladara.
(Highlight to View) Prompt: Yes, he is still all insults, barbs, and snarks, but for Hermione — who has spent seven years as his students and three more as his apprentice — Snape-speak is something completely different. What is he really saying with those harsh words? (Bonus points for using insults from rjdohnert.wordpress.com/2004/08/29/40-th
Note: I would like to send the biggest thank you to the two fantastic friends who helped me with the editing.
Summary: "The Spring and Winter seasons are two complete opposites that have never managed to learn to coexist in harmony. In practice, fortunately, they do not have to coexist, because when you see one arrive the other must humbly retreat…" (From Winter and Spring, by Aesop.)
Hermione's shift was over and, as always, she didn't linger a moment in the office after the arrival of her colleague. He had been even more abrasive than usual when greeting her, in fact, so once again her leaving had been a relief.
He was reaching new heights of sarcasm every time they met; and if someone had collected all of his insults, probably the continuous improvement in the level of his mockery would even have been considered an achievement, of sorts.
"If I throw a stick, will you leave?" he had muttered under his breath as soon as he had arrived, seeing that she had delayed her leaving in order to finish dealing with an unregistered Animagus who found it difficult to control his transformation, and needed further advice about his situation.
Snape had given little sign of even noticing her glaring stare and her mute protest, at the time. Moreover, when the unfortunate wizard had left, his explanation hardly made things better.
"I wasn't referring to your own tardiness - or to your appearance, in case that is the reason for your sulks. Your eternal eagerness to be of service probably blinded you as to who was the dog here - a Cocker Spaniel, I believe - and I was just stating the obvious, given that he had kept you long after the end of your shift… Oh, well, next time I'll try being more polite if you'll try being less dense. Obviously, subtlety is wasted here."
Of course such an explanation, far from softening Hermione's mood, had infuriated her immensely, disrespectful as it was to her cause and to her intelligence.
Still fuming at the memory, she now regretted that she hadn't been able to reply with something just as biting: "I don't know what your problem is, but I'll bet it's hard to pronounce!", for example.
Surely that would have wiped out his smirk!
Then she sighed. She had long ago learned not to retaliate when it came to dealing with Severus Snape. Since she was no match for him, that hadn't really ever been an option.
But people can always pretend, at least in their minds, and that was what Hermione usually did to vent her frustration. She covered the last few steps, thus, one after the other, listing some other things that she would have gladly liked to have said to him. Then, as if that exercise had eased her body and not just her mind, she reached the Atrium relaxed, and grinning.
"Still doing homework for those two dunderheads? Whatever you do to help Potter and Weasley is never enough, is it?" he had asked a few days later.
Snape had arrived in the room that was divided between him and Hermione Granger more or less at the same time as the two boys. The young Aurors had tried to share their excitement at the solution of a difficult case with him but, of course, they had failed… if his dismissive answer to their invitation to a celebratory drink - "Do I look like a people person?" - meant something.
So, after a good twenty minutes of cheerfulness and chaos, they had offered their thanks and, finally, absorbed as they were in reading the parchment that Hermione had handed them, they had gone without a second look at their friend.
After they had left, knowing that Granger was about to go home and start a well-deserved holiday, and noticing that she hadn't finished gathering her things yet, he thought that it was a good moment to add some further words of advice.
"Let's hope they'll let you enjoy your rest in peace, now that they have had their reward. As for me, no need to worry; given what they still think of me, they'll hardly consider coming back again while I'm here alone. So finally there will be some quiet in this place."
She could have answered with one of the sharp replies that she had recently and so satisfactorily conceived, to shut him up. But, as if she were unable to actually voice them aloud, other different words came out spontaneously from her mouth as she left, and a mutinous look darkened her face like an unexpected downpour in April.
"Sometimes I wonder why you seem unable to understand what having friends like them could mean. It's a wonderful feeling, and if you should ever try to let such a feeling develop towards someone, you'd know how heart-warming it is."
She knew that he had had a difficult life, to put it mildly, and also that he wasn't a nice person: after all, she had spent seven long and frustrating years as his student, and then three more as his apprentice.
Following his almost miraculous survival and recovery from his near-death experience, he had agreed to teach advanced defence against the dark arts to a few amongst the deserving former students who had immediately been recruited by the newly reformed Ministry – a group that, of course, included Hermione Granger. So, he had been her teacher and mentor for a considerable number of years.
The pressure of his spying days had finally ended after the war; he had been cleared of every charge and, eventually, the authorities had even honoured him publicly. So, when Hermione had met him again for the first time after the terrible moment in which she had thought that he was dying in the Shrieking Shack, the girl had hoped that Snape had finally become a less wary and scornful man. But she had immediately realized how very little he had changed on that front: the memory of those months of strict lessons and unappreciated efforts still had the power to make her cringe.
Then, after her first period of work for the Ministry, she had been informed that, as soon as her probationary period ended, they would become colleagues, and she would share an office and duties with him.
For the second time, she had hoped that they would finally get along better.
Instead, she had immediately understood that she would again prove to have been deluded again and, since that moment, she had often addressed a grateful thought to whichever wizard had had the brilliant idea of making them divide those duties and that room in shifts.
Her room was small, but she had been happy to accept the job in spite of the size of the office she had been offered. Her job was a completely new one, created specifically for her after her campaign for the improvement of the condition of all magical beings, and the workplace she had been given was also completely new, a sort of magically expanded extension to the Department.
She had been appointed as counsellor and defender of all those who needed to rectify the wrongs they had suffered. During her very first days at work, she had considered the fact that her former professor would have a job related to hers as a beneficial challenge. His duty in fact was to check for any potential threat associated with the cases, by investigating possible deception by the clients or dangers presented by their persecutors.
But her hope hadn't survived for long. Now she could hardly endure his company for more than those few necessary minutes in which they would meet to exchange information; that small interval in which one of them arrived and the other left was already more then she could take.
Hermione arrived at her desk. As always, she looked busy and intent, already straining for someone's welfare, so she just muttered a few words of salutation to the wizard in front of her. Her dishevelled hair and her movements, growing slower minute by minute, spoke of long hours of overwork and extreme tiredness.
Snape considered the idea that, if he had really wished to give her some useful advice, he probably should have addressed her in a different way on the previous occasions when they had shared a few moments together before their shift change took place. But to him such an intonation had come automatically for so long that he didn't notice it anymore.
Furthermore he was feeling annoyed at seeing her so totally drained by her duties and yet, unlike him, so seemingly happy, so he probably would have spoken like that anyhow.
He looked at her from afar, unnoticed because he wasn't in her visual field and, above all, because at the moment she was soundly asleep. She was curled in a very uncomfortable way on her chair, arms crossed on the desk and head leaning on them - not the sort of pillow on which one could relax, really. He snorted and wondered for the umpteenth time how many hours of uninterrupted work had finally worn her out.
For a long time, for much of the time that he had known her, he had been in two minds about Hermione Granger.
He was still annoyed by her incessant talking, by her crusades and by her exaggerated altruism: and that third one was a thing that didn't do any favours to her health or to anybody's peace, if you asked him. On the other hand, however, he had found himself - on more occasions than he cared to admit, lately - in admiration of her passion and, ultimately, of the woman she had become.
He wouldn't wake her, no, even though she would feel numb once wakened: it seemed such a shame not to allow her some rest! Without the slightest noise, he went to sit at his desk and, almost without being aware of it, his smirk slowly turned into a soft smile.
"You don't have to step back so obviously, every time I leave," he said when the witch, who had just arrived and met him at the door, hurriedly backed off to give way to him.
"It isn't as if we can't share a room and be civil, for a while" he then added, seeing that she wasn't responding to his greeting.
"I don't know what kind of game you are playing, but some time ago you told me to be smarter if I wanted you to be nicer. Well, I think I'd be better sticking to being honest, so I'll tell you this: I am finding it harder and harder to stay close to you without sensing the sour coldness that your whole behaviour radiates towards everyone," she finally answered, arranging things on her desk and barely turning to look at him just as, seeing that she was still silent, he moved to leave.
For a moment it seemed that the chill she had evoked could freeze him in his place, and not only metaphorically. Clearly, she wouldn't recognize an offer even if one had knelt to lay it at her feet, he thought. But such an answer stung, given how kind and caring she was to whomever else and to whatever being approached her desk. He had felt for her exactly the opposite of what she had thrown at him each time their paths had crossed, and now her words had taken away all that warmth.
Old habits and a well-known sense of rejection, as well as of déjà-vu, made him cling to his growing stiffness, and a long time passed before they actually talked to each other again.
His shift was ending, and for once, it was he who seemed knackered and in need of rest.
Seeing him in such a condition, Hermione looked at Snape for a few instants, puzzled; then her warm nature prevailed, and she asked him what had happened. Forgetting his standoffish attitude, he sighed and pointed at a stack of paperwork on his desk.
With a flick of his wand, he sent them onto her lap, where they landed unceremoniously with a thud.
"What do they think am I? Flypaper for freaks? And no, before you go into a righteous sulk, I'm not talking about your protégés! Those are the reports related to your cases, all together as required by our esteemed Chief for the bloody monthly statistics," he complained. "This isn't an office, it's Hell with fluorescent lighting! I'm too old for all this! Perhaps I should resign… I'd thought I was done with following nonsensical orders from deranged control freaks, but, clearly, I was wrong."
"You are not that old, Severus, you're just in your forties!" she exclaimed, irritated by his gesture, but also amused, for once, by his inventive metaphors.
He shrugged, too weary to continue with further jibes, and she thought of how such a gesture resembled her best friends' sheepish attitude when they knew they were in trouble or when they were caught in wrongdoing. She put her bag on the desk and looked at him with open interest.
In spite of all the times in which her efforts at some openness and dialogue had failed dismally, she was perceiving a true moment of candour from his side and that unusual occurrence intrigued her.
"I've always wondered why being considered older than your age seems to please you so much," she said then, shaking her head. "I bet that, if you changed those black robes for something different, you would see the difference immediately. They give you such a gloomy look that it repels whoever might think of approaching you!"
"I'm quite fond of them," he replied quietly, not matching in the slightest her passionate tone, nor introducing into the seemingly honest exchange the subtlest hint of his usual bite. His tiredness had caused him to lower his guard without noticing.
"Yes, I suppose so," she whispered and, a bit chagrined, she sighed.
"Not for the reasons that everybody assumes," he then hastened to add, and, in his tone, his resignation at being forced to offer an explanation joined with the wish to be understood by the seemingly concerned witch.
Gathering his thoughts, inevitably he started to remember the day in which he had finally been declared fully recovered, and how he had reacted on looking at himself in the mirror, after having noticed that he hadn't really regained everything.
While he was lying in the hospital bed, he had been deprived of so many of the things that counted and that characterized him… his voice, his memories, his job, his bearing.
His now husky voice still sounded unfamiliar to him, and though his poise was finally steady, his movements were pretty slow. In addition, he no longer had a job at Hogwarts: how could he still have had? Since that time, in fact, he had had to consider and accept the Ministry's offer to work in one of the Ministry departments, firstly as an instructor and then as an expert consultant. Despite all the apologies, the honours and the tributes he had received when he had awakened, the Wizarding World's gratitude for the role he had played in the war hadn't gone so far as to allow him to live without working.
But he would not give up the very last thing that reminded him who he had been before. He would wear his old black robes once again.
He had opened the wardrobe in which several sets of black clothes were hanging, as if waiting for him. As soon as he had touched their fabric and the little, elegant creases which were sewed on their backs, a reassuring sense of confidence and warmth had filled his soul.
When he had finally been discharged by the hospital, he had suffered once again - and more forcefully than before - the lack of all the things of which he had been deprived, so his old ways to shield and hide his true self had progressively resurfaced. Exacting and feared, he had soon regained his past fame… and even some respect, in the process.
While the memories of those moments had materialised and disappeared in his mind, he had been silent for a few moments, and his eyes had an intense, inspired expression. Pensive, he was pondering how to tell her in a few words that the clothes he usually wore weren't his mourning dress.
Since the day on which he had returned to Hogwarts as the youngest teacher of all – barely a few months after finishing his training - he had always worn them, and they had always bestowed a more confident air and authority on him.
Hermione had quietly witnessed this reverie and the emotions that were apparent from his expression in spite of his usual self-control. That pause hadn't been uncomfortable for her, though.
He couldn't know it, of course, but one of the most touching images of him she had ever seen had just repeated itself in front of her. It was the moment in which he had conjured his silver doe Patronus. After the war, that memory had been extracted from Dumbledore's Pensieve and shown in the court during the trial that had exonerated the wizard once and for all. He was still hospitalized in St. Mungo's at the time, she remembered, so he had been spared the humiliation of the public display of his memories.
But she had seen it, and that indescribably captivating expression of his had probably been the reason for her previous misplaced expectations in the early days of their renewed acquaintance.
Once again, for the first time after the dark days of his trial, she acknowledged the beauty of his essence while admiration, sadness and a new awareness suddenly hit her.
After that she no longer hurried to leave their room when he arrived, and he seemed to appreciate her prolonged presence. At least, he didn't complain. She seemed to look for excuses in order to linger there, but her blushing often and easily gave away the pretext.
Still wary and disenchanted about relationships, and in spite of his previous words about courteous conversations, he went on with his banter for a while, but gradually his comments turned mainly into a more benevolent teasing.
She retained her buoyant mood, enduring his irony for a long time while wondering if there was something other than just the bickering behind his words, and sensing a peculiar kind of care, one that he had always failed to show openly to anybody.
Things changed, though, on the day in which she addressed him quite directly on the whole matter.
"You know, when you act all old and bitter, and at the same time treat me as much more young and naïve than I am, you can be very annoying. In a way, you remind me of Mr. Winter reproaching Miss Spring in the old fable… Have you ever heard of it?"
He didn't answer but looked at her as if challenging the witch to continue. Hermione wasn't really waiting for an answer to her question, however, so she just drew a breath and went on.
"But I know what's behind all your barbs and sarcasm, Severus. For a while, I thought that I had been wrong to think that there was something very different behind the façade you show to everyone, but I wasn't; now I'm pretty sure of that. Our different roles in school and during my apprenticeship, and the stress of having such opposing tasks in our jobs, are what made things difficult. So perhaps the time has come for a change here. I think that I've learnt quite a number of things from you, and perhaps you too have picked up something from the time we've shared. Once you said that we didn't have to go our separate ways when we met, Severus. This could apply to our jobs as well."
It seemed that nothing could make her stop her speech.
"Speaking of which, and back to the season metaphor, which I find very instructive and which, if you don't already know it, I'll be happy to explain to you, I was thinking that- "
"I'm not in need of bedtime stories!" he brusquely cut her off in a very annoyed tone.
Then, seeing that she hadn't changed her expression nor caught his darkened mood, but instead remained excited by her untamed desire to deliver quotes and statements, he snapped and uttered the words that he had been on the verge of saying so many times during her schooldays. It didn't matter, in that fateful moment, that he had not felt such a wish for a long time. He wasn't there to hear a lecture from her, not at all!
So, once again, his temper got the better of him, making him say harsh words in spite of his real feelings.
"If you ever start again with that 'once upon a time' nonsense, the only thing that I'll perceive will be the visualization of a duct tape over your mouth," he hissed, abruptly gaining her full attention. "Merlin! Sometimes, when you talk, people get hoarse just listening!"
She retreated as if she had been physically hit; then she started hurriedly to prepare to leave, fussing around her belongings which were still spread on her desk.
"I thought that, like the cold season, under your sour façade you cared after all… but it seems that I was really wrong…" she whispered, as an unmistakable distress made her words nearly inaudible and her eyes teary.
Disconcerted, he suddenly seemed to regain his composure, while a feeling of regret slowly replaced his anger.
"Hermione," he called after her, and now his tone was completely different from the one he had just used to mock her. But she was already at the door, and didn't turn to answer but went on walking, apparently unstoppable.
He couldn't believe that she was really leaving like that, and the realization of what was happening struck him with such pain that he rushed to follow her.
"Please, Hermione. Wait."
He did not want to go as far as to grasp her arm to stop her, but he strongly needed to clarify the matter and if she kept not answering he wouldn't be sure about his control over his own actions.
But she eventually halted, and he could see her shoulders shaking.
"You were right. I do care," he said, and took a step forward, hoping to finally elicit a reaction.
"This time you have come really close to ending whatever there was… there is…" she finally replied, her voice still wavering, her back still the only part of her visible to him.
"I thought that you knew better than to trust every stupid thing an old man needs to say to make his days less boring," he said, tentatively.
She snorted, in a way which was effective if not very ladylike, and eventually turned to face him.
"And I believe I told you that you are not old."
"I know the fable that you mentioned earlier, Hermione, and I know what you mean about its similarities to our situation, even without being subjected to a point-by-point repetition… I'm old and you are young, I repel people and you attract them, I am ugly while you… you are so…" He blushed. "I mean that you are always ready to help everybody-"
She interrupted him impetuously.
"Ah, that's quite something, coming from the man who nearly gave his life for the sake of everyone else!"
"I'm not one of your causes, Hermione."
"Of course you aren't! You are so much more!"
It seemed that she had recovered well from the pain of his offence, as a beautiful shade of pink suddenly appeared on her cheeks after those words had escaped her mouth.
As for Severus, he wasn't a man of many words, but they had always been effective and compelling; besides, his actions had often spoken for him. He took her hands in his own and looked at her intensely.
He saw the welcoming consent in her smile and, for an infinitesimal moment, he was unsure whether it was real or whether he had imagined it, just because it was a mirror of his own feelings. But they went on getting closer, not averting their eyes from each other until, without further need of words or gestures, his lips met hers.
And, as their kiss deepened, it was the loveliest sensation to feel like snow that slowly melts at the first scent of spring.