Written for sshg_exchange 2009 on LiveJournal for bluestocking73 - and tangentially for eeyore9990 *G*|
Summary: Ten years have passed since the War, and Hermione is happy with her great job, her wonderful flat, and even her social life. It's true that her love-life is practically non-existent, but Hermione isn't particularly bothered by that. Then she meets a new man . . . but just how 'new' is he?
Author's Notes: This was written as a combination of some elements from bluestocking79's original prompt (see below) and as an homage to, well, that would give it away, wouldn't it? Click here to see the [possibly spoilery] source of the aforementioned 'homage.' Generally canon compliant, apart from the Epilogue.
Original Prompt: Years after Snape's assumed "death," Hermione randomly encounters Snape, who's living as a Muggle and remembers nothing of his past, his magic or his former identity. All he knows is that he's an average man who was horribly injured in an accident and that he woke up in hospital afterward. Hermione's drawn to the mystery of how his memory was deliberately erased (and by whom). UST and eventual romance would be great.
The New Man
After two months away, Hermione was inordinately relieved to be back in The Real World once again.
She was less relieved about recognising that somewhere along the way she'd started thinking of Muggle London as The Real World, especially considering all the eye rolling she'd done as a teenager whenever one of her parents suggested that post delivered by owl wasn't quite the same as the real post - or that perhaps Hermione might consider attending Muggle college for a time after leaving Hogwarts, just so she'd have some real qualifications, even if was just a certificate or an A level or two.
It wasn't as if Hermione had started to imagine that the wizarding world was illusory in some way. Her friends were real, their lives were real, the war had been very real. And there was no possibility of doubting the reality of Magic itself, not when Hermione had been able to feel it flowing through her every day of her life.
However, spending close to a decade based in Muggle London in her capacity as 'Liaison without Portfolio' for the Department of Muggle-Wizard Cooperation did tend to make the Muggle side of things seem far more tangible than it might otherwise have done. Hermione spent at least one or two days each week at the Ministry of Magic and she met up with Ginny for lunch on a regular basis, but the vast majority of her time was spent in London. She went to the cinema and occasional plays, did her shopping at Muggle stores, and lived in a mostly-Muggle neighbourhood. Hermione had leased a room near King's Cross Station for a year after first taking her job, but with the unexpected availability of an almost-reasonably priced two floor flat near Islington's Camden Passage - plus some financial assistance from her parents - Hermione had been able to buy a place of her own. She even owned a non-magical cat (a replacement for that traitor Crookshanks, who'd decided shortly after Hermione left Hogwarts that he'd much rather live with the Doctors Granger than with Hermione herself).
Hermione had also acquired quite a few Muggle friends along the way, none of whom knew anything about her life as a Witch, and it was one of these friends - Helen Cooper by name and landlady of the Wellington Arms by profession - who had, apparently, been hired as an advance scout by Hermione's parents, when it became clear their daughter was in no particular hurry to find a partner.
"Helen, I promise, I'm perfectly fine," said Hermione. "I'm not even alone now that I have Perdy."
"Perdy is a cat," Helen said. "A quite lovely cat, but a cat nonetheless . . . and don't you think it's a bit odd to have named your pet cat Perdita, when that was the name of Hermione's daughter in A Winter's Tale? I'm not one to engage in armchair psychology - - "
Hermione snorted, but wisely took another spoonful of her leek soup instead of saying anything.
" - - but there's some who'd say that was a bit mad. Next thing you know, the local authorities will be called out and you'll be in the papers. Madwoman found barricaded in Islington flat with 53 cats. "
"Helen, it's not that bad, surely," said Hermione, laughing. "I'm not exactly opposed to seeing someone; it's just that I'm just so busy with work these days."
"Oh, yes, I'm sure," Helen said. "Which is why you've had time for leisurely two hour lunches every day so far this week. It's not that I don't love seeing you, and the lunch crowd is always a bit thin on the ground mid-week, but you're not exactly giving the impression of somebody whose workplace can't do without her for more than five minutes on end."
"Fine, if you must know, I've been coming here so often recently because of the food."
"Not my scintillating personality?" Helen asked.
"I thought that went without saying," said Hermione. "But, honestly, the food's been brilliant lately. Don't tell me you finally switched catering services."
"Did a sight more than that," said Helen. "Bob hired a cook."
Hermione glanced in the direction of the door beside the bar. As far as she knew, the pub's kitchen had only ever been used as a bottle storage area. This was something new.
"How did that come about?"
"Well, actually, Bob hired a temporary barman when Ned Swinton had an altercation with a swan, but by the time Ned's arm had recovered, the barman stayed on as the Wellington Arm's first and only cook." Helen chuckled quietly. "Between you and me, I think Evan's more suited to the kitchen. He never did seem entirely comfortable behind the bar."
"Not a people sort of person?" Hermione asked, happy the focus of the conversation was no longer on her, but was, instead, on the mysterious new pub cook. "Seems a bit odd for somebody in that line of work."
"Oh, I wouldn't say he doesn't like people, precisely," she said. "Just . . . a bit of an odd duck really. His hair needs cutting, he's got a beard like he's just stepped out of a Shakespeare play, his skin's as pale as someone who's been living in a cellar for years - you know the type. He's quiet. Not shy, exactly, but not a particularly chummy sort. He was in some sort of horrible accident some years back. Motor accident, maybe? Quite scarred still, at least on the neck."
"The poor man."
"And that's not the worst of it," said Helen. She leaned in closer to Hermione. "The strangest thing - and this is just between us, all right? - is that he doesn't really remember who he is."
Hermione's eyes widened. "He's got amnesia?"
Helen nodded. "Not complete amnesia, of course. I mean, he knows how to cook, obviously, apparently knew his own name, all that. But he doesn't seem to have any idea what his life was like before last year, what he did for a living - anything of that nature. Our Bob got permission from him to have a bit of a chat with Evan's old doctor before hiring him, just to make sure there wasn't going to be any trouble, but no, the doctor assured Bob that Evan wouldn't be a danger to anyone."
"No family or friends?" Hermione asked, finishing the last of the soup.
"Doubtful," Helen said. "He doesn't seem the type, really."
"Not the type for friends?"
"Not the type for family either, I shouldn't think."
Hermione shook her head sympathetically. "That's a pity. I wonder if we should . . . anyway, he's an excellent cook. Tell him I thought his leek soup was fantastic."
"I'll do that. Now, if we can get back to the really important issue of the day . . . ."
Hermione considered bending the truth just a bit and telling Helen she had an urgent appointment to keep, but the day was cold and rainy, the pub was snug and dry, and Hermione thought it might be nice to just spend the rest of the afternoon chatting with a friend, even if it meant she'd have to spend the next little while pretending to be interested in Helen's latest roll call of eligible young men.
"What about Aleister? He's a friendly lad."
Oh yes, Hermione thought . . . by some definition of the word friendly. The unfortunately-named Aleister Crowleigh was so friendly that Hermione had been forced to cast a binding spell on him during their one and only date to get him to keep his hands to himself, and then she had to Obliviate him at the end of the night.
"Anybody a little less friendly?"
Helen laughed. "Well, there's Mark Jenkins. He's not at all friendly, that one."
Nor was he, dreadful man. Although to be fair, Hermione had been out on a date with his apparently not-at-all-ex boyfriend, Anthony Singh, the cheating bastard, when she and Mark first met.
"Someone in between Aleister and Mark, I think."
"Ooh, I know! What about that Anthony Singh? He's lovely."
Hermione bit her lip to keep from laughing, but shook her head vehemently. More than seven million people living in central London, but you couldn't prove it by her. It always seemed to be the same twenty or so people, day in and day out. There was more variety in the magical world, and the population of Wizards and Witches in England was tiny.
"You're just too fussy, young lady," Helen said. "That's your problem. Don't think this means you're getting out of Friday Quiz Night, though. The teams aren't all couples."
"I'll definitely be there. I missed Quiz Night while I was away," said Hermione truthfully. "Are you still doing sarnies, or should I have something to eat before coming."
"No, you needn't bother with cooking. I asked Evan to put on a buffet, and he seemed pleased to have the opportunity to do something a bit different from the usual." Helen nodded at Hermione's empty bowl. "He'll probably do some of those foreign dishes you like."
Hermione glanced at the now-open kitchen door, then smiled at the thought of Welsh leek soup being considered a foreign food. "You don't have to sell his meals to me, Helen; I already want to take him home with me. In any case, as you well know, it's the chance to show off my extensive knowledge of American sport that I'm looking forward to."
"Oh, yes," Helen said with a laugh. "This from the woman who couldn't name a single American football team during the last quiz she participated in."
Remembering the good-natured, but still rather embarrassing mockery on the night in question, Hermione thought it was probably a good thing she hadn't mentioned that she wouldn't have been able to name any English football teams either. She'd taken advantage of the time she'd spent back in the wizarding world to review Muggle leisure activities, but nobody would ever ask her to appear on Mastermind with sport as a specialty subject.
By the time Helen went to fill in for Ned behind the bar so he could take his pre-evening shift break, the two women had caught up, and Hermione had, somehow, completely avoided committing to an evening out with anybody Helen suggested. All in all, it was a very satisfying afternoon.
Hermione arrived at the back room of the Wellington Arms on Friday night at 8:00 p.m. precisely, only to find that nobody had been organised into teams yet.
"All too busy tearing through the food like the piranhas they are," said Helen over the din. "I swear, you'd think this lot hadn't eaten for a month."
"Oh dear, I don't suppose they left anything for a latecomer. I would have been here sooner, but I stopped off for a quick trim, and all of a sudden it was all highlighting and blow-drying and by the time I got them to stop fussing, the whole afternoon had passed."
"Well, your hair looks absolutely lovely, and in any case, you're in luck," Helen said. "Big Dave went back to the kitchen about thirty minutes ago to see about replacement grub. Oddest thing, though . . . when Dave finished talking to Evan, he came out and started passing a hat around, saying he didn't think it was right, eating 'our good hosts' out of house and home. He even put a tenner in, himself."
"This is Dave Barkley you're talking about?"
"I know!" Helen said with a shake of her head. "The man who hasn't even stood a round of drinks in human memory. Anyway, the point is, there's still food. Go try whatever's in those little ramekins. I'm not sure what it is - something with duck? - but they've been very popular."
Hermione filled up a plate, and by the time she'd almost finished eating, Mandy Fuller was pulling names out of a glass jar and announcing quiz teams.
The group Hermione found herself with wasn't too bad, or at least the Fords weren't. She'd been on a team with them before and they were both very clever, plus they'd been married such a long time that they could practically read each other's minds. The fourth member of the team was Charlie Coleman, who . . . wasn't exactly dim, but whose brain cells seemed to go on holiday to Ibiza, 100 million at a time, whenever he had a drink. Given the three empty pint glasses already sitting in front of him on the table, Hermione doubted he'd be able to answer any question more challenging than "What's your name, Charlie?" by the end of the night.
Despite Charlie's dubious assistance - which, as Hermione had suspected would happen, grew less and less useful as the evening progressed - their team made it all the way through to the finals. Unfortunately, by the time that happened, Charlie, who'd just manfully swallowed his final mouthful of his fourteenth pint, lay his head down on the table and started to snore.
The rules of Quiz Night were simple: teams of four - no more, no less - and four rounds until a champion team was left victorious. However, in the case of a disappearing team-mate, like Charlie, a replacement had to be found and the replacement couldn't be anybody who'd been a member of any of the other teams that night. They also had to be willing, and almost everybody who hadn't been playing was too intoxicated by this point in the evening to give it a go.
Both teams had been arguing the rules back and forth with Mandy for ten minutes when Helen shook her head and went into the kitchen. When she returned, thirty seconds later, she had her cook in tow.
"Here, you go," Helen said, pushing the man down into a chair beside Hermione. "A volunteer. Evan, meet everybody. Everybody, meet Evan."
Hermione looked around and saw a long-fingered hand covering the face of the clearly-reluctant 'volunteer' beside her.
"You don't have to play if you don't want to," Hermione whispered. "She can't make you."
"Are you absolutely positive you've met Helen?" he muttered through his fingers in a slightly raspy voice.
Hermione laughed, then turned back around to face Barry Chen, who was about to start with a question about geography.
The time it took for the final round of questions to be asked passed all too quickly as far as Hermione was concerned. She had always loved stretching the limits of her knowledge and memory in this way, even if some people had held a less flattering view of her eagerness to answer questions. She breezed through the questions directed at her, which luckily for her, didn't include any questions about football.
It was only with the final question that Hermione stumbled a bit. Barry asked what was the full, less commonly known name for Deadly Nightshade, and Hermione answered "Belladonna" without even pausing to think.
Barry looked down at his notes. "Sorry, I'm afraid I asked for the full name. Before we pass the question over to the other team, I'll throw it open to your teammates. Anybody want to take a try?"
Beryl and Ed both shook their heads in unison, Beryl looking rather apologetic.
"I never was much of a gardener," she said. "Except for runner beans. Ed always has liked his runner beans."
"That I have," said Ed. "Don't know a great deal about Deadly whatsit, though. How about you, Evan?"
There was a brief pause, certainly too brief for any of the crowd in the pub to start growing restive, then Evan said, "Deadly Nightshade is also known as Atropa Belladonna, from the family Solanaceae."
Well, that was a bit much, thought Hermione, a little resentful at having been bested in one of her usual areas of expertise. Evan was smart, but he clearly was a bit of a know-it-all. However, there was no way she was going to let envy get in the way of her natural politeness, so she turned around to congratulate him and, for the first time since they'd been introduced at the start of the round, she looked past the beard, the long-sleeved grey and black pullover, the Rolex he wore on his wrist, and saw the face of Severus Snape.
Severus Snape on a pub quiz team in Muggle London.
It was clearly absurd.
Even ignoring the fact that Snape had died over a decade ago, the idea that this smiling man, his clean hair pulled back into a tie, dressed in an extremely tight pair of Muggle blue jeans - not that Hermione had really noticed how tight they were on his long legs . . . that this man could be Severus Snape was utterly ridiculous.
She looked more closely. His hair and eyes were almost as dark as she remembered Professor Snape's being, and Evan's nose was rather big, but that was where the similarity ended. Well, except for the general build and the pale skin and the fact that Evan knew Atropa Belladonna . . . but no, all those could just be coincidences. They had to be coincidences.
And then Barry was declaring Hermione's team the victors, and a moment later, she and her three teammates were swimming in congratulations, and Helen's husband Bob was thumping a visibly happy Evan on the back, saying "Well done, Prince" - and all of a sudden, the odds against "coincidence" having a part to play in any of this became astronomical.
Hermione had always prided herself on her analytical ability, but it had absolutely deserted her this evening. She should have been able to take the evidence at hand and come up with a reasonable conclusion (which, a quiet voice deep inside her kept insisting could only have been that despite all the arguments against it, this was Severus Snape), but there was something about the way this man was looking at her that made her wonder whether the mystery of his identity might not actually be the most important thing she could be thinking about.
On the "pursuing the mystery of his identity" side of the equation were the following elements: (1) it had been a very long time since Hermione had needed to solve a mystery of any kind (not that anyone was actually asking her to solve the mystery this time, but that was entirely beside the point), and she thought it might be a good idea to hone her skills, (2) she knew for a fact that there was still an unclaimed Order of Merlin - and all the Galleons that went along with the prize - at the Ministry, bearing the late Severus Snape's name, (3) whether somebody lived in the Muggle world or the Wizarding world, a loss of memory was a serious matter, and if this really was Severus Snape, he needed to be helped, didn't he, and (4) the point Hermione wasn't all that fond of admitting even to herself, which was that she had, from childhood on, been so insatiably curious as to, on occasion, cross the border from curiosity right into the realm of sheer nosiness, although she was absolutely certain this wasn't an instance of that. Almost certain.
Then, on the other side of the equation was Helen smiling benevolently (i.e., annoyingly) upon her from behind the bar as Evan returned to sit down beside Hermione with a drink he'd fetched for her, and even though Helen had probably told him what Hermione liked to drink, it was still a kind gesture. And she really, really liked his beard, which was strange in itself since she'd only ever liked clean-shaven men in the past. And he was clever, about poisons, at least.
"Do you not like your drink?" he asked, his voice far deeper and rougher than Snape's silky tones had ever been (which was another point in favor of Evan being a completely different man - as long as Hermione didn't pay any attention to the scars on Evan's neck).
"What? No, it's lovely," she answered, taking a sip, even though she had to admit it was wasn't exactly reassuring to be given a drink by somebody at the precise moment you were thinking how knowledgeable they were about poisons. Besides, it was lovely, with its hint of sharpness just below the sweetness. She'd never been especially fond of overly sweet drinks, with the possible exception of Butterbeer. Pumpkin Juice, for example, had always been a bit much. Far too cloying as an everyday breakfast drink.
"I'm glad you're enjoying it," he said, settling back in his chair and taking a drink of his lager. "I had a feeling you liked a little tartness in your drinks, for some reason. Helen's my superior when it comes to pulling a pint, but I think she's a bit heavy-handed when it comes to sweetening the mixed drinks."
Their conversation that night was entirely ordinary. Hermione might even have said 'banal' if she'd just been listening to the two of them talk. But as one of the participants, well . . . their conversation felt anything but banal from her point of view.
In the first place, despite the everyday nature of their conversation, there was an intensity about the way Evan looked at her (and no, not at all the way Snape had stared at his students, as if they were particularly nasty lab specimens) which was incredibly exciting. She tried to think back to the last time she was honestly excited about sitting down and talking to a man, but apart from those first few private converations in the back of the library with Viktor Krum when she was still just a girl, there hadn't been any. Hermione had spent time with men who were nice and men who were smart and men who were sexy - and every so often, men who were all three at the same time, but in her entire adult life she couldn't remember being as excited as she was in the company of this man.
And in the second place - -
"Pardon? Oh, I'm so sorry. I don't know where my head's at today."
"Never mind. It wasn't terribly important."
Hermione looked up in time to see an unexpectedly disappointed expression flicker briefly on Evan's face, and all of a sudden she felt terribly guilty, far out of proportion to the 'sin' of having missed something he'd said because she was thinking about . . . him.
"No, really . . . what was it you said?" she asked, laying her hand lightly on his denim-covered knee.
He looked down at her hand. When he looked up again, there was a very small, but surprisingly open smile on his face. "I was wondering if you'd be free to go out dancing tomorrow night."
All at once, the image of Professor McGonagall teaching her young charges to dance before the Yule Ball flashed in Hermione's mind. Had Professor Snape done the same thing with his Slytherins? And why in the world was she still obsessing about Severus Snape?
"It depends," Hermione said with a smile. "How good a dancer are you?"
Evan laughed, ducking his head a little as he did so. "I haven't the faintest idea, to be honest."
"Oh, I didn't mean . . . ."
"No, that's all right," he said, serious once again. "I understand that Helen's shared the story of my . . . of the accident and the memory loss and all."
Hands wrapped around her half-empty glass, Hermione just nodded in response.
"I thought so, but I wanted to be sure, because I can't guarantee there won't be other moments like this, when you ask a perfectly reasonable question, and I find myself unable to answer." He took another drink of his lager. "To be truthful, I suspect I'll turn out to be a terrible dancer. I get the sense I was always a little too self-conscious to do it well, even . . . before."
Hermione turned her hand over, palm up, and, with only the slightest hesitation, Evan placed his hand on top of hers. As she intertwined her fingers with his, she thought back to her time at Hogwarts, remembering how long it had taken before she had been able to even look at Ron when they held hands. At first she'd thought it was simply because she was so young, but during the summer holidays, her aunt and uncle came for a visit, and their daughter Caroline, who was barely thirteen, blithely related her escapades - relatively innocent, but far more adventurous than anything Hermione had got up to - with what sounded like half the boys in her comprehensive. So . . . it wasn't just a question of age. It had really been about Hermione and her own self-consciousness.
She looked down at their still-joined hands. It had taken almost 29 years for Hermione to achieve the same level of un-self consciousness about "liking boys" as her cousin had possessed in Second Form, but at least she'd got there in the end.
As he'd promised, Evan had turned out to be a pretty terrible dancer, but Hermione had such a good time with him (and why hadn't anybody ever told her before that dates were actually supposed to be fun?) that she'd barely noticed.
He'd come to pick her up at her flat around 8:30, as they'd planned the night before. She locked her front door, and when Evan held out his arm for her to take, Hermione felt sure, for a moment, that he was about to perform Side-Along Apparition, which she'd hated ever since that night in 1997 when that Death Eater - Yardley or Yaxley or something like that - had grabbed onto her just as she, Harry, and Ron were fleeing from the Ministry.
But of course Evan did no such thing - couldn't do any such thing. He simply walked her down the stairs to the street, and then like almost every other Muggle she'd ever dated, he hailed a taxi.
The two of them went to get a drink first - a busman's holiday, Evan said with a smile - then walked to the club, which turned out to be quite nice, not that either of them had a great deal of clubbing experience. It probably wasn't the kind of place that got written up in Time Out (at least not on the "Recommended" pages), but it wasn't too loud for conversation, the music wasn't bad (at least not when Hermione compared it to the Weird Sisters), and there were enough dark corners for Evan to try out his 'moves' without feeling as if he was making an arse of himself.
After a few hours, both of them started to get tired of the press of people in the club, and when Hermione suggested they call it a night, she made absolutely no objection when Evan offered to escort her all the way back to her flat. Hermione had no doubt that even at that moment, somewhere in Australia, her mother (who had to have seer's blood in her somewhere) was sensing Hermione's apparent betrayal of everything she'd learned from her parents about the equality of women.
The cab pulled up to the kerb in front of Hermione's building, and before Evan had a chance to say anything silly like "good-night," Hermione asked him if he wanted to come upstairs for a cup of coffee. The fact that there wasn't any coffee in her flat was neither here nor there; her wand - hidden away in an unobtrusive section of her shoulder bag - could always be drafted into service if Evan accepted her invitation and thought the offer of coffee was actually for . . . coffee.
Hermione had a brief moment of panic when they set foot into her place and Evan immediately noticed the rune chart that was sitting on the table.
"Interesting brush work," he said, picking up the parchment. "What is this . . . some sort of Lord of the Rings thing?"
"Hmm," she said noncommittally. "Something like that. A friend made it for me."
She felt a twinge of guilt about lying to him - or, at least, about not disclosing the complete truth - but no matter how much she liked Evan, it was probably too early in their relationship to think about sharing as big a secret as the fact that there was a whole magical world out there beyond his knowledge, and that she, herself, was a Witch.
"So, can I get you something to drink?" she asked.
Evan, who'd wandered over to the bookcases to see what Hermione had on her shelves, turned around and immediately crossed his arms over his chest in a defensive posture. "I'm not particularly thirsty, just . . . look, Hermione, I know you probably didn't really invite me over just to sample your imported Kenyan blend, and I didn't accept your invitation just because I never took the time to buy any coffee mugs of my own, but I'm not at all good at this - I suspect I never was, to be honest - so maybe we should both do ourselves a favour and just call it a night."
"Are you sure that's what you want?" Hermione asked quietly.
"I don't have a clue what I want," Evan said, frustration plain in his voice. He raised one hand to his neck and rubbed the scar tissue gently in a way Hermione already recognized as a habitual gesture he made when he felt uncomfortable about something. "I like you. I want to get to know you better. I don't want to leave, but . . . ."
"But this is going too fast?"
"I don't know," he said. "It all sounds so idiotic for a grown man to be saying let's take things more slowly, doesn't it? Next, I suppose I'll be passing you notes through Helen: Do you like me, tick this box if yes."
Hermione giggled, despite herself. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to laugh, but . . . yes, I know exactly what you mean. It's all very frustrating, isn't it?"
"Damned frustrating. Mind you," Evan said. "My apparent idiocy could just be a cunning scheme on my part to disarm you and get you to trust me."
"Well, if it is, your scheme seems to be particularly cunning," she said, but even though she was smiling as she said it, a small part of her brain was whirring with activity. 'What if?' it asked. What if he was actually telling the truth because the truth sounded so unbelievable? Wouldn't that be a completely Slytherin tactic?' There was just enough room for doubt that Hermione knew the only intelligent response would be to tell him that he'd been right to worry that this was all going too quickly and that he should probably go home.
Damn. So much for intelligent responses.
"You really want me to stay?" he asked.
Hermione nodded. "We don't have to, well . . . do anything in particular. But yes, I'd like you to spend the night. With me."
"Thank you," he said. "I'd like that, too."
And then he smiled.
The small smile on Evan's face was not the smile of victory. It was neither a gloating smile, nor even a particularly lustful smile. It was simply the smile of a man who had suddenly discovered he was happy.
Hermione excused herself and went into her bedroom to change into a long, low-necked t-shirt, just revealing enough to not be a complete mood-killer. She then transfigured another t-shirt into a pair of pyjama bottoms for Evan. It was only as she handed the pyjamas to him that she noticed that she'd automatically made them dark green, with a grey, almost silver vertical stripe running through.
Hermione thought that Evan might have frowned briefly, seeing the colour scheme, as he took the pyjamas from her hand, but she couldn't be sure.
In truth, given the discussion they'd just had, Hermione was expecting their preparations for bed to be slightly awkward, but oddly enough they were almost as comfortable and familiar with each other as if the two of them had known each other for years. Evan borrowed a spare toothbrush from Hermione, and when he came out of the bathroom, he was wearing the pyjama bottoms she'd given him and a long-sleeved t-shirt, which he must have been wearing under his jumper. She took her turn in the bathroom, and when she came out, he was sitting at the foot of the bed, waiting, apparently, to see which side of the bed was supposed to be 'his.'
When the two of them were finally settled in, Hermione turned off the light. She could hear Evan pulling his t-shirt off, one sleeve at a time, and she felt a small tug of sadness at the thought that he was too self-conscious about the scars from his accident to have removed his shirt while the lights were still on. But then he reached out and took her into his arms, and Hermione forgot all about being sad for him.
She had told Evan that they didn't have to do anything in particular, and she'd meant it, but that didn't mean they weren't going to do anything at all.
A natural-born researcher, Hermione took to exploring the new landscape of her partner's body as methodically as if she were preparing notes for publication in a peer-reviewed journal. From the sharp edge of the nose that jutted out from his face to his surprisingly smooth beard, from the sweet, mint-flavoured taste of his lips, to the lingering scent of deodorant under his arms, from his hard chest muscles to his slightly age-softened belly . . . everything about Evan was fascinating to Hermione. Most wonderful of all were his hands, how gentle they were as they untangled the still-unruly curls of her new shorter hairstyle, how warm they felt on her breasts, how firmly they wrapped around her back as Evan pulled her so close that she could feel the beating of his heart against the beating of her own.
Hermione and Evan were still wrapped together, both held tight in the embrace of each other's arms, when they finally drifted off to sleep.
Hermione had always been a relatively light sleeper, so when Perdita jumped up on the bed, eyeing her in that way known only to cats whose food hasn't been prepared because their human has an overnight visitor, Hermione woke up immediately. She slid out of bed as quietly as she could, but not quietly enough to keep Evan from rolling over into the warmth of her side of the bed.
"What time's it?" he murmured, his eyes still closed.
"Too early for anybody who doesn't own a cat to be awake," she said softly, smoothing Evan's tangled hair with the palm of her hand. "I'll be back after I take care of Perdy."
"Mmm," he said, a smile on his lips. "I'll be waiting."
And with that, still mostly sleeping, Evan rolled back over in bed, his left arm sliding out from under the duvet to block his eyes from the morning sunlight. With what she was sure must have been a foolish expression on her face, Hermione watched Evan sleep for a moment while Perdita curled around her ankles, then she slipped on her dressing gown and turned to leave. However, before Hermione took a single step toward the door, she turned back around and stared at Evan in shock.
There, on his arm, bare without the shirt he'd taken off before they'd fallen asleep the night before, could clearly be seen the faded outline of the Dark Mark.
It was only Perdita's resentful mewing about having been given a bowl full of orange marmalade instead of her expected breakfast that snapped Hermione out of her self-induced trance.
He was Snape.
She'd known it all the time, really . . . she'd known he was Snape. She'd owled Ginny yesterday, and . . . yes, the note just asked if Ginny was free for lunch in a fortnight's time, but Hermione was going to tell her, was going to ask if she could get some background information about Snape's supposed death. Ginny could find out from Harry without Harry even knowing he'd been asked, Hermione knew she could.
Oh God. He was really Snape, wasn't he? Hermione drew a deep shuddering breath. Evan was Severus Snape, except there was no Evan, was there? How could there be? Two men couldn't share the same body, not that body . . . the one that Hermione had lain with in her bed all night, the one that Hermione had embraced, had kissed, had - -
She'd been kissing Severus Snape.
Perdita mewed again, setting Hermione in motion. She picked up the cat's bowl, wrinkling her nose in disgust at the mix of marmalade and leftover liver-flavoured cat treats before dumping everything in the bin and washing out the bowl. Perdita leapt up on the kitchen counter while Hermione re-filled the bowl, making sure that this time, her human gave her the correct food.
After Hermione placed the bowl back down on the plastic mat, she sat down on one of the kitchen chairs and wept.
She hadn't moved an inch when Evan - Snape - whoever the bloody hell that man was came into the kitchen a few minutes later. He was barefoot, he was wearing his t-shirt again, he looked adorably rumpled (and how could Severus Snape look adorably anything?), and he wore a very worried expression on his face.
"Hermione?" He knelt beside her chair and snaked an arm around her back. "Are you all right?"
She should have confronted him. She had her wand in the pocket of her dressing-gown. She could have cast Petrificus Totalus, and flooed Harry or Ron or somebody else in the Aurors' Department. She could have kept him frozen until she was able to brew some Veritaserum and she could have forced him to tell her the truth, tell her what he was playing at, pretending to be a Muggle who'd been in an accident.
What was wrong with her? He'd been in an accident. A terrible accident, which Helen had told her all about. Bob had talked to Evan's doctor, for God's sake. Evan didn't remember anything. Didn't remember being Severus Snape, and really, was he even the same person anymore? Who could imagine Snape serving up a plate of beer-battered cod with chips and peas that actually tasted good? Snape dancing to "You Spin Me Round" - badly - with a smile on his face? Snape barefoot in Muggle pyjamas with his arm around Hermione Granger, of all people.
Hermione turned and wrapped her arms around the man who had, once upon a time, been Severus Snape.
"I'm all right, Evan," she said, smiling even while a few final tears slipped from her eyes. "Everything's going to be all right."
It was easy enough for Hermione to let her friends in the Muggle world know that she was finally seeing somebody. Only old Maude Fisk, who'd been a fixture at the Wellington Arms from before Helen and Bob bought the place, was dubious at first ("You'd best watch out, gel. Who knows what that lad were afore he lost his mind . . . could turn out to be a murderer."), but even she came around after Evan baked her a birthday cake with pink roses for her 80th.
Deciding when to let her non-Muggle friends know was more problematic, of course. It wasn't that they wouldn't understand, exactly - or, at any rate, it wasn't that most of them wouldn't understand eventually - but more that Hermione wasn't quite ready to share him with anybody who'd known him back in the bad old days. Somehow, it didn't seem very likely that he'd be welcomed back with open arms, miracle return or no miracle return, and she didn't want Evan to be hurt again, not if she could help it.
So they spent their time together in the Muggle world. Hermione still went to the cinema and the theatre, but now she had somebody to go with, and if Evan hadn't yet said the words "I love you" out loud to her, well, it was still early days for them as a couple, and besides, Hermione was almost sure that he was thinking the words, at least when they kissed.
They kissed quite a lot.
And then one night - it was a Friday, not that the day of the week mattered much, except that it was their two week anniversary, and yes, they'd spent all but one night of those two weeks together, but they were going to actually celebrate this night (which, quite honestly, Hermione thought a bit ridiculous, but Evan, who'd turned out to be the more romantic of the two, had insisted) - one Friday night, Hermione was going to the pub to meet Evan when he finished his shift.
The kitchen closed at 10:00 p.m., but it was a rare night that Evan was able to leave much before 11:00. Hermione usually just came to the pub and had a drink while he cleaned up, but this night, he'd finished a bit early, and was outside having an illicit smoke (Hermione didn't much like smoking, but she was trying to get out of the habit of nagging her boyfriends) when the bus let Hermione off across the rain-soaked street. As the bus pulled away, she saw Evan and grinned at the speed with which he tried to hide his cigarette from her view. She started to cross the road, and at the very moment he dropped his cigarette on the pavement and looked down to put it out with the heel of his boot, a car came around the corner.
It was late, it was dark, the road was slippery with rain, and the driver'd had just a bit too much to drink that evening.
There was absolutely nothing that Hermione - whose attention had been entirely on Evan, in any case - could have done to save herself. She registered the screech of brakes, turned her head to see a fast-moving car no more than five feet from her, and, frozen to the spot, she closed her eyes tightly and prepared for impact.
But the expected impact never happened.
After what seemed like hours, but which could only have been a few seconds at most, Hermione, trembling, opened her eyes. Inches away from her and suspended a few feet in the air, was an old blue Renault, its sole occupant clearly terrified, but utterly silent.
Still on the kerb, dressed all in black, stood Evan Prince, the man Hermione loved. His arms were spread wide as if he'd just called down all the power in the heavens. His eyes were ablaze with light reflected from the streetlamp above, and gripped in the fingers of his right hand, was a very familiar-looking wand.
It took no more than a moment until he had crossed the street and was holding her tightly in his arms, his face buried in her wet curls.
His words were muffled, but Hermione was sure she heard him say "foolish girl" and "dunderhead" and "Gryffindor" at least once each. Before she could work up enough energy to pull away and challenge his words, however, she heard his raspy, wonderful voice begging, "Please don't ever leave me."
It took half the night to put everything to rights: five minutes to sort out the Muggle driver with a quick sobriety spell (Hermione) and the deft application of an Obliviate or two (Evan) - and then the next three hours negotiating the boundaries of what each of them considered good reasons to keep secrets from each other and what secrets they felt would stretch the limits of trust and honesty in a relationship.
At no point during the entire conversation did either of them mention the name "Severus Snape."
Evan spent the night at Hermione's flat, as usual, and while the two-week celebration he'd been planning never took place, neither of them missed it much; they were both just happy to be alive and together.
It was late morning before either of them got out of bed, even though Evan had to be back at the pub by noon. Hermione might have felt a bit embarrassed by how clingy she'd been since getting home the night before, except that Evan was, apparently, finding it just as difficult to let her out of his sight or beyond the reach of his arms. It seemed clear, Hermione thought happily, that if things kept on like this for much longer, the two of them were going to have to talk about sharing a home together on a permanent basis.
That day, when Evan left for work, he said, for the first time, "I love you."
Shortly after Evan left for the day, Hermione decided to go out and maybe pay a visit to Ginny. It had been ages since they'd spent any time together. Perhaps that bit of talent for divination that Hermione had always thought her mum possessed was genetic, because no sooner had she stepped out onto the pavement than Hermione heard a familiar voice beside her saying, "You missed our lunch date." She whirled around, and saw Ginny leaning up against the Plane tree outside Hermione's home.
"I wouldn't have been so worried," Ginny said, "except that it was you who'd scheduled the time and place, and I don't think I've ever known you to miss an appointment in your life."
"I am so sorry, Ginny," said Hermione. "I really have no excuse, except . . . the truth is that I was just distracted by my - - God, what do I call him? My boyfriend?" Hermione laughed, thinking how bizarre it was to think of that man as anybody's boyfriend. "He just left though, so if you'd like to . . . ."
"I know," said Ginny.
"You know . . . what?"
"I know he just left, assuming you're talking about that man with the black beard. When you didn't show up, well . . . I Apparated here at almost the exact moment you were saying goodbye to him." Ginny frowned. "Hermione, I want to ask you something, but only if you promise to tell me the truth."
Hermione bit her bottom lip, not quite sure what to say. "I've never lied to you, Ginny," she said, only too aware of precisely how untrue that statement could be within the next few minutes.
"No, I know you haven't ever really lied, which is why I'm hoping you won't be starting now."
"Ask," said Hermione.
"Okay," Ginny said slowly. "Was that man Severus Snape?"
And there it was. This was the question that Hermione hadn't wanted anyone to ask, but it was the one she was going to have to answer. She leaned up against the wrought-iron gate in front of the house, and took a deep breath.
"How well do you remember Professor Snape?" Hermione asked. "I mean, when he was still . . . before Nagini."
"As well as you," said Ginny. "Or almost, I suppose. Mostly what I remember was a lot of yelling. Him yelling at us, other people yelling at him. I remember my mum yelling at him a lot when we spent that summer at Grimmauld Place. Harry did too."
"And Harry's told you about the professor's school years, right?"
"He said that since Snape was dead, it didn't really . . . yes, he did. Pretty rotten, weren't they?"
"Pretty rotten," Hermione said, nodding in agreement. "And a pretty rotten adulthood, too, right?"
Ginny crossed her arms over her chest. "It's not as if he didn't deserve a lot of it."
"No, you're right. He joined the Death Eaters when he was . . . just a little older than Teddy Lupin, right? And became a spy not so very long after that. So of course he deserved to bleed to death on a dusty floor in an abandoned house."
"You know," Ginny said with a scowl. "You're not as clever as you think."
Hermione laughed. "You do know I'm just playing Devil's advocate, right? I thought he was absolutely dreadful when I was in school. It's just . . . ."
"Yes, fine," said Ginny. "You're right. No matter how much of an arse he was, he had a rotten life."
"And then that life ended when he was younger than we are now." Hermione shook her head. "I'm not a mind reader, but I'll wager he never much liked being Severus Snape."
Hermione smiled at this woman she'd been friends with longer than any other. "Yes, as you say. Ah. And so, with that in mind, if you're still in the mood for lunch, I'd love for you to come and meet my boyfriend, Evan Prince." Ginny raised her eyebrows at the name, but waited for Hermione to continue. "He works as a cook at a pub just down the road, and he's a pretty great guy. Not like anyone you ever met before in your life."
"You know," Ginny said finally. "I think I'd like to meet this new man of yours."
This story is [very] loosely based on the final episode of season one of The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin (UK, 1976). If you haven't seen the series yet, well . . . you're over thirty years past due, aren't you? (back)
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