Beta(s): herroyalgoddess and snapefan520
(Highlight to View) Warning(s): None.
(Highlight to View) Prompt: After years of mind-numbing, stressful MoM work, Hermione finds solace in making sweets for those she cares. Do Snape and Granger find love over a dark chocolate kiss? (SS/HG.)
Summary: After quiting her stressful Ministry job, Hermione opens a chocolate, not realizing the consequences of her magic and a wooden spoon.
The paint was still drying on the sign outside, not that Hermione had noticed it. Her Kitchen-Aid mixer was mixing some frosting while her wand was stirring ganache in a number 4 copper kettle.
This was not what I was expecting, she thought as she wiped her hands on her apron – which was NOT like Molly Weasley's, thank you, just made by her and…never mind. The bell jiggled over the door again, reminding her that Harry may have been right in his suggestion of hiring a shop keeper.
The Dark Mark was all the talk in Diagon Alley. At first because of its origin, and then because of its purpose. No one could help but chatter when Hermione Granger opened a sweet shop. Hermione Granger, of all people. The very one who, besides helping to vanquish the Dark Lord, left her high profile (but dull) Ministry of Magic job in what could only be considered a breakdown. Tears were shed, paper was shredded, and she stormed out vying to never return.
They kept her spot open for her. She'd come back. They always did.
Ten years of working with her apparently wasn’t enough for them to realize that when she set her might to something, that's the way it was going to be.
She sold her little flat in London and moved out to the country. Closer to Hogwarts, if she was honest with herself. That was the one place she’d felt at home. She’d lease out a tower if Minerva would let her.
But she was an adult and it was time to do what she should have done at the age of 18. Take some time to herself and figure out what her dreams really were, and then go achieve them.
And in the meantime, she would make chocolate.
If there was one thing she missed while working for the Ministry – besides her friends, her family, her freedom and her sanity – it was baking. And Crookshanks. But not baking Crookshanks. He would taste terrible, she mused while adding in some heavy cream to the molten mixture before her.
While on her self-imposed sabbatical, Hermione decided to mend the bridges between those she cared about, sending them little gift baskets to let them know she was free of the Ministry madness and missed their company.
(Also, Hermione had discovered Pinterest, and had a whole board of confection recipes to try but that certainly was not her motive. It was mending bridges. Bridges.)
The little boxes were lined up on her smooth marble counter top as she added the finishing touches. A few extra truffles for Minerva, some peanut brittle for Ginny and Harry. And a special, extra dark batch of confections for the box on the end.
She had never asked, but he liked everything else dark, didn't he? His clothes, his classroom, his mark…It was only make sense his chocolate preference was the same.
And he did like chocolate. She knew that. Hermione observed everything, including him pilfering an extra chocolate chip cookie at the order meetings and the small brown smudge that occasionally marred his otherwise pristine white sheets when she saw him in the hospital.
She saw him quite often in the hospital. Strictly professional, of course, as her first position in the Ministry was in the Office of Magical Aid, corresponding with all those involved with the war efforts.
The fact her visits with him were almost double that of any other was merely because he had trouble sending an owl with the damage in his hands and he had no family to aid him.
Hermione grinned foolishly to herself as she finished pouring the final batch and sent off each of the tastefully adorned packages.
Truthfully, she hadn't thought much about each of the packages as it left. She poured her affection into each one, carefully crafting each bundle to reflect the recipient (not that Ron really cared. Knowing his appetite, she used him as a guinea pig for a few of her Pinterest recipes.) Then they flew away and she poured herself into her next project.
She really needed to get off the Wizarding World Web.
Her book nook was reorganized, she made a few sugar and salt scrubs, tried a few new suppers (some met with Crooks' approval, some without.) and even tried her hand at a few potions. Domestic abilities were never her strong suit but she was going to remedy that.
Meanwhile, owls began to trickle in from old friends setting dates and times for reunion luncheons and after work drinks. Invitations to birthdays and holidays once again began to surface.
As well as inquiries on where she procured such amazing chocolates. When she informed them she made them herself, that was when things began to change.
'Can I get some of those lavender truffles for Mum's birthday?' asked Ginny. 'I've enclosed some Galleons.'
'Please, Hermione, I must have the recipe for the rum balls. If I cannot have a recipe, then I must have another order. A full batch please. Send the bill. – Minerva'
Ron just sent back the mangled, chocolate smudged box. 'More please. Invoice the shop. Do you think they could hold a potion?'
Hermione mulled this over while once again washing – by hand, of course – her copper cauldron and warming it over the fire. It was a really good thing she wasn’t in her flat. Bloody difficult to keep a fire concealed around your neighbors. She jotted off to Ron that yes, there was no reason they couldn’t.
He invited her in to discuss her terms.
Once the Ministry inquired about an order for some visiting dignitaries, Harry really started pushing her to get a shop. A proper shop, not her marble counter top with everything squeezed in her average sized kitchen.
But after a batch of 300 champagne truffles had to be tossed (or at least consumed in her sorrow) after Crookshanks got on the counter and she found a hair in one, unable to know if there was hair in any of the others, she took a trip to Diagon Alley.
(After making an additional 300 truffles.)
(And taking a shower.)
Thus, The Dark Mark was created.
The Dark Mark was an appropriate name, Hermione had decided, for a chocolate shop on the corner of Knockturn and Diagon Alley that specialized in rich and dark confectionery. She was hoping for a bit of business. Enough customers to pay the rent would be a perfect beginning.
What she got was a whole lot more.
Hannah Longbottom agreed to sign on as the new shop girl to let Hermione focus on the baking. But for now…
"Can I help you, sir?" she asked the portly gentlemen who just walked in.
He stopped and took a long whiff of the air. They all did, the first-timers. Regulars were known to steal a sniff too.
In short order, she had his box wrapped and ready to go for his wife and she wondered at the occasion as he left. Hearing the bell chime again, she spun back around. “Oh, did you forget something?”
"Improbable, Miss Granger, seeing as I've never been here."
The air froze in an instant, she was sure of it. Never mind the hot kettles and fudge cooling on the marble behind her. She had been hit with a Glacius.
"Sir," she sputtered.
"I thought I was Severus?"
"If you've forgotten, I’m sure I can get someone to verify that for you," she retorted. Hermione always did get a smart mouth when she was nervous.
He harrumphed and took a stalk around her store, giving it the same critical eye her reserved for potions and papers.
She was grateful for the moment to collect herself. His critique never bothered her. She knew her store was tidy and well kept. Though this would be a terrible time for Gus to stop by. Not everyone understood him and he could be a nuisance, even if he was a regular.
It had been a few years since she had seen him last. Released from the hospital, the Ministry didn’t require any follow-up visits. She couldn't think of a reason, and he never offered her one. He had seemed relieved when she gathered her things to go the last time. ("Bloody well rid of you" was his exact phrase. Not that she remembered it. Or the smell of sandalwood and disinfectant. Or his socks with one small hole at the end of a long toe.)
"So what brings you here?" she asked. "Something for yourself? Treat for Minerva? Gift for a girlfriend?" she reluctantly added.
"Ha," was his simple response. "I believe you know why I’m here. It was you, after all, that sent the invitation."
"My box?” she asked, finally prying her feet from the stone floor and coming around the counter. "You know, I hear if you’re friends with the shop keeper, that box is good for one free refill."
"Is that so?" he asked, arching one long brow. "It's a good thing I have it with me."
He took the white box, neatly flattened and showing signs of wear, out of the front pocket of his jacket.
"But are you friends with the shopkeeper?"
The box was laid on the glass counter top. The silence was as thick as treacle between them and she almost didn’t think he was going to answer when suddenly he said, "Well, she seems to think so."
Evasive, she thought, but better than expected.
"I’d like that filled with some of the chocolate covered orange peel. And the peanut butter cups. Dark."
"Additionally, I wish to purchase some of the dark with chili and some bittersweet bark."
The bittersweet was a best seller, with dried cherries and roasted salted pecans. "A few pieces?" she inquired.
"Of each. Sent to the castle."
"I already sent a package to Minerva if you are trying to get in her good graces," she told him while refilling his box.
"They are not for her. They are for me. That is now where I reside." Severus laid some Galleons on the counter and took his box, leaving the rest to be packaged.
"Until next time, Miss Granger," he said while stepping out of the door.
"It’s Hermione!" she yelled back as a startled customer stepped aside of his billowing black robes.
After the final customer left for the day, Hermione flipped her sign to 'Closed!' with a sigh. She still needed to tidy up, count the drawer, and take inventory to see what needed to be made that evening. But she had to admit to herself she was happier than she had ever been.
As she swept the wooden floor with her straw broom, she saw a little black mouse peek out around a bin of sweets.
"Oh no, you don't!" she scolded and swiftly brought down the broom.
The mouse squeaked as he grabbed the thin straws for dear life and Hermione deposited him on a nearby table.
"Gus!" she exclaimed. "You know it will just give you a bellyache. You better not have taken a nip during the day. You'll be up all night." She pet the mouse with one thin finger between the ears. "Merlin, I hope Severus didn't see you earlier. He didn't, did he?"
Gus just squeaked.
"Well good. I hope no one sees you. They certainly wouldn’t understand a mouse in a sweet shop. Come now, we have some peanut brittle to make."
The small mouse scurried to the top of a box next to Hermione's copper cauldron, watching intently as everything she did.
"Do you think I should add a pinch of cinnamon this time?"
Gus twitched his whiskers.
"Right, me neither. Maybe we'll do a spice batch closer to the holidays."
As she burned the midnight oil, Hermione carried on her one-sided – well, mostly one-sided – conversation with the mouse. She talked about her expanding business, about not missing the Ministry, and about her reuniting with her friends. But mostly, she talked about Severus.
"Did you see him, Gus? Of course you did. You see everything. I can honestly admit that I do not know what I was thinking when I sent that package out but if I did think about it, him walking in here was not the result I would have expected. And he said he resides in the castle now? Lucky," she said with a wistful sigh. "Do you think he's back teaching again? Step back, Gus. It's time to pour the brittle."
"Ginny! I can’t believe it!"
"I know," said the young witch with a smile. "I never thought this would happen. Mum is going to flip."
Ginny cast the spell again just to see the gentle yellow sparks and stars swirl her stomach. After her torture in the war, she was told she and Harry would never have children. They had been married for eight years with nothing. All her siblings, even Percy, had at least one child. (Expect Charlie, but he had his dragons). It broke her heart to think she would never be a mum, and would never make Harry a father. And even though he longed for a family more than anyone she knew, he never left her side.
"It'll work out, Gin," he told her. "It just has to."
And of course, he had been right.
"Now give me a pound of those bon bons. I'm going to need them I think."
"On the house!" Hermione told her friend and gave her one more joyous hug before sending out to meet her parents for lunch with the news.
"Don't look at me that way, Gus," she told the mouse peeking out around a bag of caramel corn. "I don't even have a bloke, let alone one I'd want to make a father."
She swore he was smirking at her.
He should say something. He really ought to. Ogling her like this had to be against some rule but it's not like she was under his tutelage any longer. He took one more long look for her little feet up to her pert, round derriere as she restocked some taffy under the counter.
He finally cleared his throat. "Miss Granger."
Her yelp was more than satisfying as she jumped to her feet. "I thought we had decided on Hermione, Severus?" she said with emphasis.
"I believe only one of us was involved with that decision."
She resisted the urge to stick her tongue out at him. Insufferable man. "Well, since you are here, what can I help you with?"
"I'm looking for some eye of newt and beaver spleens. Why do you think I'm here?"
"Obviously it isn't for the company," she retorted.
"Obviously," he drolled, looking around at the patrons of her store. Elderly men, mums with young kids. She was the only person here worth his notice and she was decidedly busy, even with Hannah managing the register.
A man walked past her with a small bag of butter brickle in his hand. He burped loudly, filling the shop with small bubbles. "I've been doing that ever since I bought your brickle," he told Hermione, holding up his bag excitedly. "The kids love it!"
"I'm so glad,:" she automatically responded while taking in what he said. He thought her sweets were making him burp bubbles? Preposterous.
"What a nutter," said Severus not so quietly, making Hermione nudge him with her elbow.
"Quiet. These people pay my rent." She almost asked if he would treat the people who signed his cheque the same way before remembering that yes, he would.
He stepped up to the glass counter and peered in. "Well, I've had enough of these people for one afternoon. Please pack me the same as last time, and I'd like to try the brickle too," he said, his straight face juxtaposed to her giggles behind the counter.
"You can always order by owl, you know."
"But what if I want to sample the wares?" he asked, his gaze rested just a little too long.
Hermione could think of nothing to add as he took his parcel and walked over to Hannah.
"Did you hear about the guy with the bubbles?" Hermione told Gus later that night. "Someone else was whistling like a bird. And then there was the lady who came in, convinced her husband was cured from his illness after she started giving him a bit of my chocolate with his dinner each night. That's all rubbish, isn't it?"
Wand in hand, she magically stirred the chocolate once more, ruminating about accidental magic.
Somehow it didn't feel like a coincidence that the next time she saw him was right at the close of her shop. The last customer was just walking out and her wand was raised to cast an Alohomora when she saw his black shadow heading toward her door.
"Out so soon?" she asked. "Do I have to start sending you a monthly stash?"
"Ha," he replied. "This time, I do not believe you know why I'm here."
"Not for sweets then?"
"No. Not in the sense you’re thinking."
"Oh." Hermione was tempted to bite her lip out of nervousness but she’d read too many books for that. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Gus peek out near her feet. He must know that it was time to close. She slowly nudged him back with her foot. "Then what did bring you?"
He handed her a heavy burlap sack of cocoa beans. Hermione read the stamped letters on the side. "Peru? You brought me cocoa beans from Peru?"
Her heart did a small flip at his thought and unexpected gesture.
"I brought you Nacional from Peru."
"Nacional…" repeating Hermione in a longing sigh. "You brought me Nacional? But it's so rare. How did you get it?"
He just looked at her. He was good at ignoring her questions.
"Right. I think you could get your hands on anything you wanted."
"Hmm. Not everything," he said and noticed the pink rise in her cheeks. "But most things. I was looking for some Yasunia species and found a seller with this. Now, who do I know who could make use of this?"
Hermione hugged the bag close to her. "I could," she said in the same voice of wonder and longing. "And what do you want for it?" A familiar sense of distrust for Slytherins was making itself known.
"I merely ask for a batch of the results. Should it be palatable to both of us, I'm sure we can make an arrangement."
"Oh, Severus," she whispered in a tone he had never heard his name in. Her hand reached out for his sleeve, tiny blue sparks arcing from her fingers to the fabric.
Suddenly, she pulled back. "It's getting pretty late and I still have to finish closing up. Thank you for this. I’ll start roasting it soon and let you know when it’s finished."
"Of course," he said, stepped back. "I apologize for keeping you at such an hour. I look forward to your owl."
He was out the door in an instant. Hermione locked up, her hand resting against the cool pane of glass.
"Please don't owl."
That evening, the usually pristine floors of the Dark Mark were still scuffed with that day's patrons. The money was still haphazardly in the till. There was probably something that needed to be made. She didn't care.
"It's because of my magic!" she cried to Gus, who was consoling her the best way he knew how. (And in typical manly fashion, he didn't really know a way and was just standing there watching her weep unto to the table.) "He's only here because of my magic. I made that man blow bubbles and that other was saying something about luck and everyone always seems so happy. I'm always so happy. So bloody happy when I cook! It has to be my magic pouring into the chocolate and the brickle and the taffy. It's giving everyone who eats here some strange manifestation and Severus' strange manifestation is a desire to see me! Oh, why couldn't it have turned his hair green?" she wailed before dropping her head back in her hands.
Gus' tail drooped to the floor and he came close to her, burrowing through her nest of curls until he found her cheek inside.
She gave a strangled laugh. "Thanks, Gus." She sniffled once more. "I'm being ridiculous. So what if I'm sad? So what if it's bringing me the thing I want the most and it's something I can't have. It’s made everyone else so happy. Even Severus seems happy. And Ginny. Ginny…"
She unconsciously placed her hands on her stomach. "Did I help Ginny have a baby? Oh, Gus. Did I? Mrs. Simmons swears her husband was cured. That my chocolate - my magic - healed him."
Hermione felt even more foolish. There were people who had dealt with real problems for years and here she was crying into her cocoa over some man that had barely a word for her since she was eleven years old.
"I'm done with this, Gus. Let’s go roast some cocoa."
Gus gave a squeak of approval and darted off to the roasting room.
Hermione walked up the gravel pathway to the castle with her head held high. She wasn't going to make him owl. She wasn’t going to request his presence. She was going to bring him what she owed him, and let him know why he needed to find another chocolatier.
She found his rooms without issue. Apparently, the castle supported her mission. Rapping firmly on the large wooden door, she stepped back and studied the brass nameplate on the door while waiting for him to answer.
The door creaked open, showing a slightly disheveled Severus on the other side. Perhaps she should have owled. Well, too late now.
"I've come to bring you the chocolate you were promised," she told him without preamble. "I also have to let you know you'll need to patron Honeyduke's from now on."
"I'm not going to Honeyduke's," he said, leaving no room for argument. "Would you like to step in for a moment?"
I can't go in. I can't go in. I can't go in.
Hermione crossed one foot over the other as she sat on the worn leather ottoman. The fire was warm and the wine made her warmer.
"So what is this about Honeyduke's?"
He didn't know why he was asking. He knew his advances must have made her uncomfortable once she caught on. It was doomed from the start anyway. He really did enjoy her chocolate, too.
Hermione stood, setting her glass on the mantel. "I know what’s going on."
"I'm not surprised."
"You're not? Have you experienced something like this before?" She was rather startled to think this was a commonplace occurrence.
"Once or twice in my life, yes," he said. "Though never as strong as this. I was hoping you wouldn't know."
"Not know? Severus, not a day goes by someone doesn’t bring it to my attention!"
"Who else knows?" he asked, now pacing the floor in agitation.
She threw her hands in the air. "It seems like everyone knew but me! Ginny, Mrs. Simmons, even the goblin who handles my affairs knew what was going on and no one thought to explain it to me!"
"Well, I can try to explain it, if you like," he said, stepping close to her. "Though I’m not sure what any of those bumbling fools have to do with it."
"Ginny isn't bumbling," Hermione stuttered, at a loss for words with his closeness. "I mean, just what else do you think is going on here? Of course it's because of the chocolate."
"The chocolate?" he said, one hand resting on the mantle beside her head. "This has nothing to do with chocolate."
She felt most deliciously pinned between him and the stone fireplace, but she needed to explain before something happened they would both regret. "Yes it is. It's all the chocolate. Me and my stupid meddling. I can't even quit when I try to quit."
She slipped out underneath his arm to continue with a bit of distance between them. "Magical transference. Accidental magic. That's all this is. Ginny got pregnant and the goblin grew hair and Mr. Simmons got well and you started to fall for me. Can't you see? It's all a side effect of my chocolate!"
"Oh, Hermione," he told her. "First of, it sounds like your magic helped them achieve a dream they never thought possible. You only gave them what they most wanted. And second, my coming by had nothing to do with your chocolate."
"It didn't? But how do you know?"
"It gave me something else."
Her eyes narrowed in thought as the wheels began to spin. What did it possibly give him? He didn’t have a million Galleons, a buxom blonde, a Nimbus 3940. What did he want?
"Gus," he stated. "Come here."
Gus peeked out from a pocket on Hermione's cloak.
"Gus! You stowaway!" she cried, taking him out an setting him on the mantel. "Wait a second! How do you know about Gus?" she asked Severus.
"We've been friends since the first day I came in to your shop. He gets lonely with only you to talk to."
Gus chattered for a moment, perched on his haunches, waving his tiny hands.
"He said to tell you that the sweets do not give him a bellyache. He had fallen into a cauldron of cordial and he was hammered."
"Gus! Wait. Oh my goodness. You can talk to mice? That is what my chocolate gave you?"
He looked down his nose at her, daring her to laugh. "Any animal, really. It's been a dream of mine since I was a child. To have companions that weren't other children."
She felt a pang in her heart. "That is a much better dream then. And here I thought it was me. That would have been pretty silly in comparison wouldn't it?"
"It would indeed. Even without Gus here telling me everything you told him, I told you I can get my hands on just about anything I want to."
Hermione was in shock. He really did genuinely care about her.
He leaned in close to her, his lips about to touch when the rest of his statement hit home.
She kept her shop in the Alley, though she hired more help during the day. Hermione was now frequently seen in the shop but she spent her time mostly working on crafting and creating her chocolates and sweets. Rumor had it she had rented out rooms in a tower of Hogwarts, though no one could figure out how.