(Highlight to View) Warning(s): My husband has informed me that this is an unmitigated piece of slush.
(Highlight to View) Prompt: 123. (Fic): After a drunken confession, Severus decides to quit his job at Hogwarts and move to Muggle London, and he bribes Hermione into telling a hungover Dumbledore of his resignation (SS & HG).
Note: As always, the amazing JKR made us a sandpit, and has allowed us to play in it. I get nothing from this but teasing from my husband, and satisfaction for myself.
Summary: What the House Elf Heard…
"Go away. I'm dying."
"You didn't die last time, and I'm sure you won't this time either." Hermione paused, then, when the only sound from the other side of the door was a low groan, she continued. "Your class is in ten minutes, the Ashwinder eggs have been defrosted, and you really can't re-freeze them."
"Shut up, woman."
"Out of hangover cure again, are we?"
The complete lack of response to that one left Hermione in no doubt. The Headmaster had been getting more and more forgetful lately, and she had no doubt that the pre-emptive brewing of a hangover potion was yet another task that had slipped his mind.
Not to mention the difficulty of sharing a bottle of whiskey with a portrait.
Hermione tried one last time.
"Severus, if you tell me what the lesson is, I'll take it for you."
For a brief moment she thought she heard movement, then a scratching, then the door opened an inch and a piece of parchment came through the gap. It bore the barely legible words Refreeze the eggs. Slush still works. Diagram of Chinese Chomping Cabbage. Hermione grinned at this last one – he obviously remembered when he'd taught her this and expected her to now teach it to the new fifth-years. She folded the parchment and headed off to the potions classroom, too fast to hear a whispered thank you from behind the door.
Severus staggered back to bed, and muttered for a House Elf to bring coffee and potions – but quietly. The last part of the request came too late.
With an overly-loud *pop*, probably done deliberately, Winky appeared with a tray bearing the required extracts.
"Is the Headmaster not feeling well?"
"Shut up and pass me that flask." The voice from under the sheet was rough and yet fragile at the same time."
"Ohhhh." Winky pulled the sheet off Severus's face and peered into his bloodshot eyes. "Did the Headmaster drink too much again?"
"Did the Headmaster remember all he did last night?"
Any and all movement from the bed suddenly ceased, and Winky's cheerful prattle was far too audible in the silence.
"Does the Headmaster remember all he said last night?"
There was a certain mocking note in the House Elf's singsong voice, and a long hooked nose re-emerged from the blankets.
"What did I say?"
"Oh it is not for Winky to be telling tales."
"WHAT. DID. I. SAY???"
A listener outside the door would have had trouble making out the details as Winky related back to Severus the particulars of his drunken conversation with Dumbledore, but the volume of Severus' final groan echoed out the door, along the corridors and into every corner and crevice of the castle.
In the Potions classroom, the temporarily-seconded Enchantments professor glanced towards the door, then continued patrolling between the desks as the students around her dissected their cabbages.
Three hours later, an owl dropped a letter at Hermione's place at the dinner table. She was rather out of sympathy for the Headmaster, as he had not yet appeared and she had had to take the First-year Potions class as well as the OWL class. With a frustrated glare towards the still-empty Headmaster's chair, she opened the envelope.
Twenty seconds later, she had folded the note, excused herself from the dining table and hurried to the staffroom fireplace, whence she rapidly floo-ed to the Leaky Cauldron. The main taproom was busy with a lunchtime crowd, but she quickly spotted the dark-cloaked figure tucked into a booth at the side. Sidling into the bench opposite, she peered at the eyes barely showing under the hood, and steepled her fingers.
It took a good minute before Severus plucked up the courage to look into her eyes.
She said nothing. Disapproval radiated from her, but she waited.
Finally, he broke.
She just looked at him.
"OWLS was bad enough, I know, but that was unforgivable."
Hannah Abbott walked over with a laden tray, and placed a glass of wine in front of Hermione and a shot glass of something black and evil-looking in front of Severus. He downed it in one gulp.
Hermione still said nothing.
"I am truly sorry. I have my reasons."
"They had better be good." Few people have heard a full load of venom in Hermione's voice. Severus did not think himself fortunate to be added to that number.
"Professor Granger, I hate to do this …"
"Oh, do you?"
"… but I need to ask you a very large favour."
The noise from the taproom seemed to be a thousand miles away, as Hermione leaned towards Severus. Her voice, normally pleasant, could have frozen a basilisk where it stood.
"You left me. With no warning, no preparation, no class notes, nothing. With the First Year class. The combined Hufflepuff/Slytherin class."
"I'm really sorry…"
"The class with Neville and Luna's ham-fisted potion-dropping, table-knocking, cauldron-spilling twins AND George and Angelina's conniving, evil little offspring. By myself."
"I didn't mean to…"
"Oh yes you did, Severus. You had the nerve to bugger off with a hangover and left me with them."
While no actual words were audible more than a few feet away, the atmosphere around the two had grown so laden with malice that even the two Death Eater spies plotting by the fire felt compelled to finish their drinks and move elsewhere.
Severus shrank more, as if it almost seemed that the former Secret Hero of the War had literally melted into the shadows.
"And then you have the insufferable, the temeritous CHEEK…" She paused and took a sip from her glass, then followed it with a deep, calming breath.
"Very well. You may ask me this favour." There was a slight sound, perhaps of Severus drawing in a little air, which noise was immediately stopped by her next sentence.
"But I cannot guarantee I will grant it."
Once more there was an appreciable silence, then a quiet, apologetic voice came from the once-intimidating Potions Professor and Hogwarts Headmaster.
"I need … I would like … it would be …"
He took a deep breath and tried to summon up some of the courage that had held him together during the war. Somehow, this was harder.
"I would consider myself eternally in your debt if you would tell Headmaster Dumbledore and the Hogwarts Governors that I am submitting my resignation." He paused, then..."Effective immediately."
If he had expected surprise from her, he was disappointed. Hermione received this news with barely a blink of her eyes. Her demeanour indicated that this news had been anticipated – and that surprised him.
"You expected me to say that?"
"It had crossed my mind." She was trying to stay stern, but her face had gone from grumpy co-worker to concerned friend. "You've been getting worse and worse lately. In fact, I have to ask you straight out – is there a problem? Alcohol? Drugs? Something else?"
It was only with the greatest of self-control that Severus managed to avoid breaking into tears. As it was, Hermione's sudden showing of care and compassion had hit him hard, harder even than her bitter scorn had before. It was with a mighty effort of self-control that he drew in one last, shuddering, almost sobbing breath, and finally looked her straight in the eyes.
"You have known me now, Hermione, for nearly twenty years. As a student, and as a colleague. I might even venture to say as a friend. Somehow, I think you trust me."
She blushed and hung her head. "Not at first."
"But now?" The flat tone in his voice gave away more than it hid, and she looked straight back at him.
"Then you believe me when I tell you that there is no substance abuse. None. Nothing at all like that."
She relaxed a little, and sipped her wine again. The brief fear she had had for his life and sanity was, at least, reduced by two grades. But there still remained the question.
Again, he blushed, and his eyes dropped. "There is … now … an intolerable situation. A dilemma. It is not to be spoken of. But I did."
"Last night. Albus and I were talking, and I had taken up a bottle of whiskey to share. But I had forgotten that, of course, as he is a portrait, he cannot drink from my bottle."
"You've done this before, though? You should have remembered."
"I should have." Severus's voice held all the self-reproachment she expected to hear. "But I let slip about … about the problem, and I was so grateful to have someone to talk to that I forgot that I was the only one consuming the drink."
"And he didn't tell you?"
"I think he was taking advantage of the situation to encourage me to drink, as it was encouraging me to talk freely. And I did."
Severus paused, his face now the white of shocked self-admittance.
"And now he knows everything. I've worked there once before when he held knowledge of my deepest secrets over my head. I can't do it again."
His head dropped into his hands, and Hermione's heart twisted in her chest so hard that she thought it would have to stop beating. Finally giving into an impulse she had been fighting back for ages, she moved from her seat to the bench where Severus sat, and her arms went around him. She felt him stiffen, but she merely hugged him tighter, until she felt him relax into her embrace.
For a short while they sat, together, her arms holding him as he shuddered with tears that would not fall. More than a few curious eyes glanced their way, until Hermione decided once more to be the strong one. Quietly, she spoke into his ear, and he nodded, imperceptibly. They stood, then disappeared with a quiet "pop".
Hannah just smiled wisely as she came to remove the glasses.
The two landed on Hermione's patterned rug in her rooms at Hogwarts. Severus looked alarmed for a moment, but Hermione's laugh surprised him.
"It's quite safe, Severus. The only people who know you're here are me and the Castle herself." She grinned at his questioning look. "There's a reason I never have any portraits here. I like my privacy, and I have no intention of my private life being relayed back through the Portrait Network to every ex-teacher and old student of this place. Now sit down while I make us a cup of tea, because I think you still need to talk about a few things."
"Thank you, Hermione." Severus walked slowly over to her chintz sofa and sat on it carefully, his body still feeling as if he had participated in the last Quidditch match as the Bludger. He took a minute to settle into place, then, as his body relaxed, he looked around at the room. The few pictures were a group picture of Harry and Ginny's family, a Muggle photograph of Hermione's missing parents, and an early Victorian Muggle portrait of a dark-haired lady in a fine lace shawl. A half-finished jumper was lying in her knitting basket, or at least that's what he guessed was there – Crookshanks was lying on top of the mix and snoring lightly. The whole décor was geared towards comfort and warmth, and it deepened the sadness in Severus's heart until he had to close his eyes again to try and stop seeing it.
Hermione came back in with a tea-tray, and saw Severus cover his face with his hands again. Her heart twisted once more, and she put the tray down and sat beside him on the couch, her arms once more around his bony shoulders. This time he didn't lean into her, but breathed heavily a few times in an attempt, she realised, to avoid sobbing. It seemed to work – he brought his hands down and lay them in his lap, yet his face still showed a deep, deep sorrow.
"Severus? Have some tea." She lifted one of a pair of steaming mugs into his hands, and pulled closer a plate of chocolate Hob Nobs she had also brought in.
He clutched the mug tightly, the warmth penetrating first his hands, then slowly throughout his body. She waited until he had taken a long, soothing draught before she started drinking her own tea, and she watched as his face went from sorrow through indecision to resolution.
When he spoke, it was with a softness she had not suspected that he was capable of.
"You're very kind."
She forbore from mentioning that she was used to doing something similar with both Harry and Ron, when they came to her with problems. Even her students knew that a serious issue was best dealt with by the application of a good mug of tea and a suitable biscuit. She had never thought of the Headmaster as needing the same help, but when the need came, she responded in the way she knew best. She also knew, through long experience, to let the other person talk, so they sat in silence for a while as the tea worked its wonders.
"I am afraid I'm getting too old for this."
"For life. For being a Headmaster. For running a whole school. Hermione, I'm starting to lose my memory. I don't remember where I've put things, I forget important appointments, and …"
Hermione waited again, knowing he would continue when he was ready. She was not disappointed.
" … and the other day I was making a potion and I stopped in the middle of it, because I couldn't remember what to add to it next." He looked up at her with the saddest eyes she had ever seen. "Without my potions, I am nothing."
She knew better than to give him empty promises and reassurances even she couldn't believe. She just took the mug out of his hands, and then took them in her own and held them. He clung to her like a drowning man.
"Severus, I know I asked you this before, but let me word it differently. Do you think the drinking might be affecting your memory?"
"I didn't start on the whiskey until the pain of this memory loss became too much to bear. And because sometimes, there are memories that creep through the fog that I can stand much less. So yes, I have been drinking. But it's not the drinking that caused the forgetfulness."
He took one last deep breath, then quietly disentangled her hands from his, so that his hands now enfolded hers.
"I appreciate what you're doing here, Hermione, but I can't impose upon you like this. I cannot burden you with my troubles – if they're too much for me, then there is no way I can foist them upon you. No, I shall go to my rooms and write my resignation, and then I shall ask one last favour from you, that you will take it to the Governors and Professor Dumbledore's portrait. I shall finish up on Friday next week, and then someone who is capable, who is deserving, can run this place."
He did not add someone like you, but he certainly thought it.
"And then, I shall retire to the cottage on the Moors that I have had prepared against this day for many years. My parents' home sold for a great deal to a developer, and I will have no need to be close to any large towns or cities."
"Or people?" She thought she was just saying that, but her heart was strangely breaking into small pieces as she listened to it, and it made her voice crack just a little. "Did you want to get away from here, from Hogwarts? From your friends?"
"They will know where to find me." His voice was soft and caring, and she realised he was comforting her as much as she was him.
She felt as if her world were disappearing in front of her. She had enjoyed the friendship with Severus, found him the only person at Hogwarts she could stand talking to for more than ten minutes, and while she had never admitted it, she had grown fond of the wizard.
But it wasn't fair, she thought, to bring up her problems when he was having more than enough of his own. "If it's what you truly want to do, Severus … do it. If you need to go, we'll cope. And you're right. It's not as if you're leaving forever." She smiled bravely, and managed to calm down her voice enough to talk without cracking. "But it will leave a large hole here at Hogwarts."
She hadn't realised, though, that a single tear had slipped out of her eye and was starting to creep down her face. Severus watched it, fascinated, then lifted one finger up to wipe it away.
"You're … why are you crying, Hermione?"
"I'm not. Really. I'm just a bit tired." She brushed angrily at the wretched tear, but another started, and another. "I just don't want to lose someone else."
"Lose? I'm not dying." Severus spoke softly, worried now that he was misreading things. "I'm just going to a new home. You won't have lost me."
"You'll be somewhere else. Not here. Not where I can talk with you, and be myself, and not …"
She tried to pull away, to hide her tears and find a tissue, but he was holding her other hand fairly firmly, and now he was gently running his finger over the back of her hand.
"Hermione, is there something you're not telling me?"
Severus, too, knew the value of silence. For two, maybe three long minutes he sat patiently, as Hermione echoed his previous actions, taking long and deep breaths to try and get her control back.
Finally, she spoke.
"You know I came here after Ron and I split? About a month before the wedding was supposed to happen? I was running away, running from the sort of person he wanted me to be. A girl, a silly, thoughtless, Ron-centred piece of fluff that had nothing in her head but him. He went straight from our flat to be with Lavender, then two months later on to Padma. The last I heard he was trying to persuade Gabrielle Delacourt to go out with him."
Severus said nothing, just nodded and held her hand more firmly.
"And I came here, and apart from visiting Harry and Ginny, I don't really get out much. And it's not because I'm short on places to go, or people who want me in their lives."
She did pull away then, sitting back on the couch and looking at the wall, the door – anywhere but at him.
"But here, I get treated as a person. The teachers know me. You know me. And to all of you, I'm Hermione Granger, ex-student, not Hermione the Amazing War Hero.
"I like that.
"And then you made a point of teasing me, and stirring me. Of not treating me like a china doll. I … enjoyed that so very much.
"But lately you've been withdrawing. Having these memory troubles. And …"
She looked at her hands, now lying in her lap. "I couldn't bear to lose you. I've grown so very fond of you, and I couldn't cope with not having you in my life any more."
Severus took her right hand in his, and used his other to gently grasp her chin and turn her head towards him. "Fond?"
She looked in his eyes, and realised what he was saying. "Severus?"
"The reason, Hermione, that I can't concentrate, that I'm distracted, that I have found things so intolerable here at Hogwarts, is that I was falling in love with a former student, and I thought she only saw me as a friend. And I couldn't cope any longer with her pity, because I thought she pitied me. Does she?"
"Does she what?" Hermione leaned unconsciously closer to Severus.
"Pity me. See me only as a friend?"
"I don't think so." Hermione's mind buzzed, trying to believe what was happening. "But she was worried he only saw her as a colleague. As a fellow teacher. And as a child that he used to teach. And I think she has fallen rather deeply for him, too."
"Oh dear." Severus moved slowly towards her, stopping only when their noses touched. "So you're telling me that these two foolish people, both in love with each other, have been hiding their feelings for fear that the other person just wanted friendship?"
"Silly of them, wasn't it?" And she kissed him, gently, their lips just brushing against each other and then more and deeper…
In the Headmaster's office, Winky laughed as she polished the desk, and the portrait of Dumbledore glared down at her.
"For the last time, Winky. For the sake of your continued employment. For the sake of Hogwarts. What was it that Professor Snape said to me after I fell asleep?"
"If you is not remembering, then I is not telling you. I is only telling when the person needs to know."
And with one last laugh, the House Elf bounced out of the room, leaving only the tired, puzzled portrait.