There was a new bookstore in town, so of course Hermione had to go check it out. What else was a bookworm to do?
It was tucked into a row of restaurants, stores, and cafes. The sign was unobtrusive: Books & Brews, it read. A bell above the door tinkled and she found herself in a pleasant little shop. The place was more bookshelf than air and in a moment, Hermione felt her heart be captured simultaneously by several thousand beautiful rare books. Soft classical music wafted between the shelves.
Towards the front of the shop, a bar sat looking out through the windows and onto Diagon. Not far from it, a man stood behind a counter, sorting bags of tea.
He was tall, that was the first thing she noticed, and wearing an emerald green turtleneck. Dark brown hair was pulled back into an adorable little ponytail, streaks of silver coming from his temples. Nearly black eyes darted between bags of tea. There was something familiar about him, but she couldn’t quite place what.
At the tinkling of the door, he looked up at her. Thin pale lips pulled into a genial smile. He held up a hand, waved, and words appeared shimmering in the air as he signed in what must’ve been Wizarding Sign Language: [Hello there! Welcome. Please shout if you have any questions!]
The words were made of a deep green light. An arrow of the same light pointed to a chalkboard sign right near the entrance. It read: ‘I can not speak. Please let me know what language works for you!’ The same sentiment was repeated in several different languages.
Hermione, suddenly aware that she was very noisy herself, gave him a thumbs up and a “Thank you!” before slipping between the stacks.
The selection of books carried by the store was positively delicious. Whoever this storeowner was, he had taste. Really good taste. Hermione soon had her arms full, and was piling more on, when the man poked his head in. A whirl of his finger, and a little trolley rattled into the aisle. It looked like a refitted antique tea cart, now made for holding books.
“Oh!” Hermione carefully placed her load in the trolley’s basket. “Thank you so much!”
He smiled, nodded, and disappeared.
The trolley was adorable. It followed her along, and even eagerly nudged her when she was debating on whether or not to make a purchase. Hermione knew better than to set limits for herself when book shopping, but this trolley was making things extra difficult--particularly because she found it hard to resist.
She told the man as much when she was checking out. “Your trolley is as persuasive a salesman as I’ve ever met. I hope you give it a decent commission?”
The man smirked, and his dark eyes twinkled with mischief for a moment. [You’ve got no idea.] The words appeared in green light as the man’s hands were busy tallying up her massive purchase, so the lights must’ve been triggered by something besides his hands. [That trolley nets me a solid ten percent of my sales per annum.]
Hermione laughed, and the trolley rattled in a self-satisfied manner. “You own this place?”
[Yes.] The man stuck out his hand, across the register. [Simon Inkwell.]
The introduction gave her pause. For a moment, Hermione paused to examine the man. He was pleasant, but there was no recognition when he looked at her. Had he not recognized her? That was a downright miracle. It was extremely annoying to be recognized as Harry’s sister or Ron’s ex, and she didn’t mind a bit of anonymity in a quiet little place like this.
She shook his hand. “Fantastic name for a bookstore owner. Call me Jean.”
[Nice to meet you, Jean. It’s all my parents’ fault, really; they doomed me to bookkeeping before I was even born.]
Chuckling, Hermione cast her eyes over the broad selection of teas. “And a tea shop?”
[Who doesn’t love a book and a cuppa?]
“It’s brilliant, truly. I’ll take a pot myself--what do you recommend?”
Simon arched a brow, as if in warning, as he carefully stacked her books into a bag. [That’s opening a can of worms, my dear. My opinions on tea are… extensive.]
“I entrust myself to your expert and extensive opinions, then.”
His cheeks pinked. Was he flattered? Hermione couldn’t yet tell. She wasn’t a stunner, that was never going to change, but getting out of her awkward teenage years had certainly helped her looks. Apparently the papers called her one of the most sought-after bachelorettes--and the constant hounding proved it. Or maybe the constant hounding was a result of the media coverage? She couldn’t tell causality at this point, and it was probably a self-feeding cycle.
Hermione was distracted as his aspect changed. His black eyes glimmered, and swept up and down her form. Hermione felt like she was a child in Potions class again, getting her mettle tested and merit observed. [Alright, challenge accepted. A moment, if you don’t mind.]
He turned and disappeared into the back room, and Hermione sat there and began to count out her galleons as she heard rummaging from beyond the door. A lot of rummaging. After a moment, the man returned with a metal tin of loose leaf.
“How much for the tea?” she asked.
He waved a hand dismissively. [On the house. Sit down, I’ll get it started.]
“O-Oh, thank you.”
He just nodded absentmindedly, turning to an enchanted teapot and beginning to make the tea. Hermione noticed that he had entirely forgotten to count up her money. With all the stealth she could manage, she slipped in another galleon as a tip.
With one imperious flick of his finger, the galleon shot back into her wallet. [Nice try. Better luck next time.]
“Challenge accepted,” Hermione replied, and sat herself down on a stool at the bar. She could see the corner of his lip curl upwards. “Quite a lot of wandless magic.”
[A necessity, when your hands are busy signing. Although I do less of that nowadays.] He floated the tin of loose leaf up into the air and popped the lid off with a flick of his finger.
The simple action triggered such an immense wave of deja vu that Hermione was at first afraid she was having a flashback. But… no. The arc of his finger was identical, the angle of his wrist--that was exactly how Severus Snape had opened his vials when he was making potions.
Her heart leaped up to her throat, and she swallowed it down. “Would it be terribly rude of me to ask how your writing charm works? It’s brilliant, and I have no idea how the hell you’re doing it. Pardon my language.”
Cheekbones pinking, he glanced down with a bashful grin. [Absolutely; flattery will get me to do just about anything. Besides, most people want to pity party me and hear about how I lost my voice in the first place.]
“Noted.” Hermione grinned.
Simon (‘Simon’) rolled his eyes and poured out some tea onto what had to be an acromantula silk mesh. [Did you know that the muscles of the mouth, lips, and throat will subconsciously form the shapes of words that someone thinks?] He bent over, observing the contents carefully, and then poured out a little more. With that done, he waved a finger again and the tin closed itself, the action once again reminiscent of potions class.
“Yeah, it’s terribly minute, though. You managed to detect that?”
[Partially.] Tucking his hair behind his ear, he tilted his head so Hermione could see an intricate silver ear cuff, fixed with a number of jewels and a small vial of some pale yellow, glittering fluid dangling from it. [This is enchanted to track those muscles, and create the writing. To make it more accurate, I created a legilimentical tie between my mind and the charm, so my conscious thought patterns can influence it.]
“Fascinating,” Hermione murmured, leaning in to examine it. Her fingers twitched, but she tucked them beneath her chest as she leaned against the bar. “Is that kyanite? I suppose its crystalline structure would allow for a legilimens to use it as a conduit for thought.”
He nodded. [Precisely.]
“And that vial--is that altered Volubilis?”
Hermione sat back, gazing at him with open wonder. Brilliant, brilliant man. This had to be Severus Snape. She didn’t know who else was smart enough to invent such a glorious creation. He’d survived the snake, and now he’d made himself an entire prosthetic voice. And now he was here, running a very small bookstore with a sentient trolley. And, and, the best part? He still didn’t recognize her.
There was no way that Hermione was going to pass up the chance to weasel her way into her old Professor’s life.
“You’re a genius,” she told him simply.
[Really, it’s not-- ]
She started speaking before the words finished appearing. “No. No humility. You are a genius. You made yourself an entire prosthetic voice. You invented a new potion and at least two new spells for it.”
He hesitated, his fingers dancing in the air but not signing. [I suppose… if you put it like that.] He looked down, shrugging in what looked heartbreakingly close to defeat. [I just did what I needed.]
“Isn’t there some quaint cliche about necessity being the mother of invention?”
Simon Not Severus looked up at her, and his shoulders started shaking. At first she was afraid he was crying--but then she realized, from the tentative smile on his face, that he was laughing. [I suppose you’re right, once more.]
Grinning with her triumph, Hermione leaned in and propped her chin up on her palm, cocking a smirk at him and enjoying the way he pinked visibly. “You’ll notice soon that happens a lot.”
He arched a brow, the expression so familiar Hermione could’ve sobbed. Simon Not Severus jerked his head back towards her mountain of books. [Makes sense. You don’t look like an intellectual slouch.]
Hermione laughed. “Oh, don’t try and excuse my book addiction. Let’s be quite real: I probably need an intervention.”
His shoulders shook again in laughter, and he grinned as he poured her a cup of tea. [If you’re the addict, I’m the dealer.] He slid a teacup and saucer over to her. [May I ask what you do for a living? Your titles are diverse and not very helpful.]
“Healer,” Hermione replied, blowing on her tea. She was actually the Master of Healers at St. Mungo’s, but telling him that would probably tell him who she was. “Which means I should confess that if you’re ever looking for a way to get a little extra cash, I would love to have some of my team take a look at your charmed earring. You’d get a substantial cut of any profits. I know a few patients who could use something similar.”
Simon Not Severus paused, the lines on his face relaxing as he turned thoughtful for a moment. Finally, he drew breath as if to speak, but only glowing green lines appeared. [Thank you, but… it would be wrong for me to profit off of another’s suffering.]
“Oh!” Hermione waved a hand dismissively. “God, no, I wouldn’t charge them! But,” she smiled a little, “I would definitely put it on the Ministry’s bill.”
He arched a brow, a glimmer in his dark eyes. [Stealing from the government? Why didn’t you mention that up front? I’d be happy to.]
Hermione laughed heartily, and her laughter continued to mingle with his glimmering green words for the rest of the afternoon.
Hermione wasn’t expecting the Marriage Law. But it came nonetheless.
The announcement had been dropped into her lap one morning along with her list of Ministry-approved wizards: Charlie Weasley, Ronald Weasley, and Simon Inkwell. No, fuck no, yes.
So she’d gone to burn down the Ministry. She’d ranted and raved about reproductive rights, human rights, patient safety, patient consent, regular consent, and domestic abuse statistics. But apparently the Ministry cared more about the presence of its population than the health of that population.
So Hermione had thrown her letter of resignation at the Wizengamot--and nailed Minister for Magic Arthur Weasley in the head with the envelope--and marched herself out of the room.
She headed to Books & Brews. She’d been visiting about three times a week, and now she was absolutely certain that Simon Not Severus was flirting with her back.
“Broken homes,” she hissed to Simon Not Severus as he calmly poured her another cup of tea. “That’s what they’re fucking making, the Ministry. Not families. They call it the fucking Family Restoration Act, but it should be called the Skyrocketing Domestic Abuse Act, because there’s no way that things are going to work out. Can you imagine? A bunch of eighteen fucking year olds, fucking? That’s a recipe for unhealthy dynamics.”
Simon Not Severus nodded and slid her the cup of tea. [My mother had me when she was sixteen. It did not work out well.]
Hermione froze. Eileen Snape had been sixteen? Dear fuck, that made so much sense.
[My father was twenty-eight, so that may have contributed.]
She wrinkled her nose without thinking. “Ooh, I would’ve loved to take a pair of garden shears to his gonads,” she hissed.
Simon Not Severus made a strange half-wheezing noise, and Hermione turned to him, alarmed. But he was doubled over--laughing? Was he laughing so hard that he was making noise? This was the first time she’d heard him make any noise, let alone something so beautiful and authentic as laughter. Hermione was unable to keep the smile off of her face as she watched him. After a moment, he dabbed away a tear. [Fuck, I can see it. That’d be brilliant.]
“He still alive? Or am I going to castrate a corpse?”
Simon Not Severus shrugged, deflating a little. [Don’t know. I’ll let you know if I ever find out.]
“Fair. My garden shears are at your command.”
He grinned again, the touch of moroseness he’d gained disappearing. [Your gallantry will make me swoon, one of these days.]
She snickered, taking a sip of tea. Her eyes widened as what tasted like rainbows exploded in her mouth. “Fuck, Simon, what is this? It tastes like happiness.”
[I thought you’d like it.] He smirked a little, looking quite satisfied as he poured himself a cup. [Mango and strawberry-infused jasmine pearls.]
“Have I mentioned you’re a genius?”
[Occasionally, but I certainly don’t mind hearing it.] He leaned in, mirroring her pose with one arm tucked under her and cup in her hand.
Hermione chewed on her lip thoughtfully. “Hey, Simon. How old are you?”
He blinked, and furrowed his brow. [44.]
“So you’re caught by the law, then, too.”
[Yes.] Simon Not Severus arched a brow, and the motion made her stomach tumble over and explode into butterflies. [I’m not sure what you’re getting at.]
Hermione took a moment to pull her Gryffindor courage up by the bootstraps, and opened her mouth to reply.
The bell over the door clanged as someone burst through. Hermione stared as a man she wasn’t sure she knew ran over with a massive bouquet of flowers.
“Hermione Granger!” he greeted her, eyes gleaming.
“Uh,” Hermione said, pointedly aware that her cover to Simon Not Severus was definitely broken right about now and her ex-Potions Professor was definitely about to hex her into next week. “I don’t know you.”
“That’s okay.” He knelt and pulled out a box. “I’ve been a fan for years! With the marriage law this is my chance. Will you marry me? I would treat you like a queen and you’d never want for anything, I could--”
“Thanks but no thanks.” Hermione took a deep breath and rubbed at her temples. “Not interested. May I suggest someone you know?”
The man stared at her, opening and closing his mouth several times, sort of like a suffocating fish. “N-No? But… I’m in love with you. You’re--You’re playing hard to get,” he finally decided with a nod of his head.
“Not in the slightest. I’m flattered but the answer is no, and it’s firm.”
“Hear me out at least!”
Hermione buried her face in her hands. “No,” she replied. “The answer is no. Please. I’m tired. It’s been a long day. I don’t know how many other ways to say I’m not interested. The word ‘no’ means ‘no.’”
There was a long pause. “You bitch,” he spat, finally. “I can’t believe I ever thought you were interesting, you whore.” Hermione heard the bouquet of flowers slam into the ground, and then the ding of the bell again.
“God fucking dammit,” she sighed, dragging her hands over her face. She found Simon Not Severus staring at her with wide eyes and a look of sheer terror. “I am so sorry.”
He was staring at her, and then his eyes flickered towards the back door. He was thinking of running.
“Please don’t,” Hermione said, completely willing to beg. “I… I was just so happy that someone didn’t recognize me, you know? And that someone found me interesting regardless.” She sighed, and ran her hands through her hair. “I was going to tell you, eventually. Once I figured you wouldn’t, you know…” She trailed off and finally finished, “Feel embarrassed.”
Simon Not Severus was still staring at her. He looked like a deer in headlights. Little sparks of green were flickering ineffectually in an aura around him as he apparently tried to gather his thoughts.
“I spent the morning trying to throttle the entire Wizengamot,” she admitted. “They weren’t budging. They didn’t even consult me beforehand. I was the fucking Master of St. Mungo’s, and they didn’t fucking consult me beforehand! So I told them that clearly they didn’t care about my opinion and threw my letter of resignation at the Minister for Magic.” She sighed for the millionth time and slumped against the counter. “Who happens to be my ex-boyfriend’s father. And it hit him in the head. I just wanted a fucking cup of tea. Not a proposal. I’m sorry you had to see that.”
Simon Not Severus blinked. A few words floated into being and then faded out just as quickly. ‘Fuck’ happened at least once. ‘Oh no’ was another, along with ‘run.’ Finally, words appeared in thin, shivering green light. [Does that--] the words wavered for a moment, disappeared, and a new sentence appeared. [Does that happen a lot?]
“Way more than you’d think.” Hermione held out her hand and summoned the bouquet to it, examining it. “At least this one had decency. I’ve gotten bouquets of condoms before.”
[Bouquets of condoms.]
“Yeah, I was primarily shocked that they knew what condoms were. Turned out they were muggleborn.”
[You’re Hermione Granger.]
“Hermione Jean Granger,” Hermione confirmed. She glanced around, towards the few tables that he had arranged by the windows to the street, as a little cafe area. “Think that your tables could use little centerpieces?”
[Y-- ] The writing cut off. [You’re Hermione Granger.]
“Yes.” Hermione dropped the bouquet onto the stool next to her. She chewed her lip, looking at the clearly shocked and terrified Simon Not Severus in front of her. “Look. Okay. I was honestly planning on doing this before the Marriage Law even forced my hand.”
His eyes were still wide and flicking over to the door every few moments, but it seemed like Simon Not Severus was frozen for the time being.
Hermione drew a deep breath. Given the way that he was leaning towards the door, she had a solid idea that he was going to bolt the instant she blinked, so she’d have to get this out in one go. “You’re one of my candidates for marriage, and I think you’re fascinating and brilliant and hilarious. I think we’ve got a better chance than most pairs, so I would like to ask you to dinner.”
Those dark eyes stared at her. He blinked once.
And then he whirled, and with a crack, disapparated.
A moment later there was the squeaking of wheels, and the semi-sentient trolley poked out from behind a bookcase.
“That went a lot better than anticipated,” Hermione told it, standing up. It wheeled over, nudging her gently. “It’s okay. Will you help me with some centerpieces? It’d be a pity for this bouquet to go to waste.”
When Severus finally dared to return to his bookstore, he didn’t know what he’d find. He approached through the back door, wand drawn and fully prepared for the entire thing to be trashed, ransacked, or worse.
Instead, he found the place immaculate, with every single table in the cafe given a pair or trio of roses from the bouquet delivered this afternoon. Severus slumped against the counter, his wand clattering to the ground.
She’d cleaned up the tea?
Oh, fuck. He crumpled to the ground in a pile of limbs, scooching himself beneath the counter’s overhang and between two of the stools.
The soft squeak of wheels indicated his trolley was arriving. It wheeled to a stop in front of him, and slid a note off of its tray. He recognized Hermione’s handwriting immediately. Severus swallowed hard, wincing absentmindedly as the muscles of his throat yanked on the scar tissue.
The offer stands - I’ve got a pair of tickets to Midsummer Night’s Dream and dinner on Thursday.
Fuck, Severus tried to say, but the air passed impotent through his throat. The trolley rocked back and forth, nudging at him encouragingly.
Severus let the note fall to the floor and covered his face in his hands. A lot had happened today. A lot that he wasn’t prepared for. After a moment, he waved his hand to close the shop, then snatched up the note and hurried to his apartment above the store.
He’d waited five years to move back to wizarding London. He’d hoped that by then, everyone would have forgotten about him and nobody would notice another little weird bookstore.
That had worked for all of a week.
Jean had looked familiar, but Severus just assumed that maybe he’d seen her every so often his past life. Not that… not that Hermione Jean Granger would become that, that… unreasonably attractive human being. Unfair. It was all terribly unfair. When she’d walked in, all smiles and curiosity and intellect, he’d become a puddle at her feet. And then she’d stayed, come back each day, just to talk to him. He hadn’t known what he’d done to be so blessed, but Severus wasn’t about to question such a gift.
The letter from the Ministry with his approved matches was sitting on his kitchen breakfast bar. He’d opened it, and read it, and celebrated. He, in his unfathomable ignorance, had believed that war heroine Hermione Granger would have better things to do than marry some random asshole twenty years her senior. He’d even been disappointed that Jean wasn’t in his list.
Oh, the bitter irony. Nearly as bitter and iron-y as the blood that he could taste in the back of his throat, from trying to scream earlier in the day.
Dropping Hermione’s date invitation next to the Ministry letter, he went to his medicine cupboard and pulled out a wiggenweld. It was modified and dosed with a small amount of antivenin and scar-reduction potion. He swallowed it in small, steady gulps, allowing for the maximum amount of time in passage through his esophagus.
Stupid, stupid Severus.
Putting the potion bottle in his sink to wash later, he grabbed an unopened bottle of firewhiskey and decided to retire to the couch for the evening.
If he’d still had his voice, he wouldn’t have had this issue. She would’ve either known it was him, or would’ve been repelled by his acerbic tone. His voice, his words--they’d always been his one beauty and his one defense. He could reduce an enemy to tears with his voice alone, no spellcraft needed.
Severus cracked the cap on the firewhiskey, and tossed it into the rubbish from across the room, then took a deep pull.
The snake had taken it from him. In the years after, he’d had to reforge himself without his one layer of defense against the world. With no barbs against the world, he was forced to defend himself in other ways. He’d thought he’d become a decent enough person. Tolerable, at least.
Each swallow of whiskey chased fire through the thick scar tissue on his neck, sparks arcing to his spine and making his entire chest burn, but Severus shoved down his instinct to hack and cough. That’d just make it worse. Sooner or later, the painkilling effect of the alcohol would kick in, and then this would all be easier. He swallowed another mouthful of fire.
Nagini had hardly been the first one to ever take away his voice. That honor belonged to his father. He remembered it acutely. He’d screamed when he saw his mother bleeding from her head. Then Tobias turned to him. A basin of water, a hand on the back of his neck, the panic, the darkness…
After that it was Sirius, albeit never as badly. No, not even close--not until Voldemort. And everyone knew how that turned out.
That brought him back to the present day.
Summoning a quill and parchment from across the room, Severus began to write a quick letter. There was one person in the world whom he could talk to about this shitstorm he found himself in, and thankfully he was pretty sure Minerva McGonagall could talk Hermione down from something so foolish as marrying him.
Hermione was not strictly surprised to find an invitation to teatime with her old mentor waiting for her the next morning.
She arrived at Hogwarts in time for brunch, had her spine broken in three separate places by Hagrid’s crushing hug, stopped in to say hi to Flitwick, and then made her way to the Headmistress’ office.
“So, I hear I’m to congratulate you on your early retirement?” Minerva said as she greeted Hermione with a hug.
Laughing, Hermione squeezed back, then followed Minerva over to the small sitting area at one side of the Headmistress’ office. “Indeed. Although I’ve already gotten sixteen offers from a variety of private and public establishments across the world, and at least five political movements asking me to come speak and rally them.”
“I always knew you’d end up being Minister,” Minerva replied with a beam, pouring out two cups of tea. “Although I must admit, I asked you here for a rather different reason.”
Hermione arched her brow. Was Pomfrey planning on retiring or something? She didn’t ask, not wanting to be presumptuous.
Minerva smirked at her expression. “Yes, Pomfrey is looking for a replacement and you’d be given the job in a heartbeat, but that isn’t it either.”
“You’ve got me stumped, then.”
“An old acquaintance of mine wrote to me for advice. Simon Inkwell, I believe you know him?”
“Oh, that man who is definitely not Severus Snape?” Hermione asked innocently.
Minerva was in the middle of a sip of tea when she asked the question, and Hermione flicked up a Protego instinctively as the Headmistress exploded tea all over her shield, the table, and herself. Hermione couldn’t help but burst into a laugh, even as she handed Minerva another handkerchief. She could see Minerva’s grin as she wiped her mouth and scourgified the mess.
With the tea cleaned up, Minerva settled herself into her loveseat with all the poise of a cat who was pretending that definitely didn’t happen. “Yes,” the Headmistress replied, primly folding her hands in her lap even as her eyes twinkled to rival Dumbledore. “You recognize his concerns, given that he is definitely not Severus Snape.”
“Naturally.” Hermione beamed. “Putting aside the fact that he is definitely not Severus Snape, I understand that it’d be difficult to transition from such a private life to something with even my own modicum of fame.”
Minerva nodded. “I think it would be very good for him, truly. But I don’t know how comfortable he’d be with it.”
“Makes sense.” Hermione sighed, sitting back in her chair and running a hand through her hair. “I just… I enjoy his company, I think he’s a lot of fun, I probably have a crush already. I think he’s the best of my options. My other options are Ronald and Charlie Weasley.”
Arching a brow, Minerva’s aspect turned thoughtful as she took another sip of her tea. This one managed to be successfully ingested. “I know your objections to Ronald, but Charlie?”
“Ah.” Hermione winced, fiddling with the teacup’s handle. “He doesn’t…” She trailed off. She didn’t want to out Charlie, not to the media, but he was open to his friends and family. Terrible as she felt, maybe she could communicate that he simply wouldn’t be interested. “I would be fine with marrying him, but the attraction there is… not applicable.”
“I see,” Minerva murmured, nodding slowly. “You and Se--Simon, you’re suited for each other, at least in my opinion.” She placed her teacup on the table, refilling it as she spoke. “And your children will come here, naturally.”
Hermione grinned. “Naturally.”
“I will do my best to calm his concerns,” Minerva said. “As for you…” She fixed Hermione with a sharp look. “He is not something to be ‘fixed.’ People are not things to be ‘fixed.’ But he would improve greatly with some emotional support and therapy.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Hermione said, only half jokingly.
Minerva cracked a smile. “And,” she added, “Don’t be afraid to bludgeon him over the head with your attraction to him. Otherwise he won’t get it.”