"Okay, this is the third time we've walked down this street," Harry admitted.
"Yep, and the first time I told you I had to pee, and the second it started pouring rain," Ron said, glaring at Harry. "Now I'm soaked and I feel like my bladder is going to explode. Are you ready to admit you are just as lost in these American Muggle neighborhoods as I am?"
Harry would have admitted it twenty minutes ago, but not out loud.
Officially, they were in the states to attend a conference on magical law enforcement. But their trip also included visiting Hermione, who was living in Salem while she did post-grad work at the university there. Her rigorous course of study meant that she had only come home for a few brief visits in the last year. This was their first time in Salem visiting her. Her flat was in a Muggle area, so they had both dressed appropriately and Harry had assured Ron he would have no trouble finding it.
"I guess American neighborhoods are different, the streets don't make sense and all the buildings look the same," Harry said.
"Right, and Privet Drive had such variety," Ron countered. "The only way I could have found your house is if you blew your aunt up again and tied her to the chimney."
"If only," Harry said, smiling at the mental image of Aunt Marge acting as a beacon for visitors. But the chill from the rain soon brought him back. He had already tried a silent Impervious to keep his clothes dry, but he found that doing the charm nonverbally wasn't nearly as effective, and there were too many Muggles nearby to say the incantation out loud.
Harry noticed a friendly-looking older couple sharing an umbrella and decided to see if they could help. The couple knew the building, and it turned out it was just three blocks back. Harry and Ron turned and began walking back towards it.
"So what do you think her big secret she wanted to tell us in person will be?" Harry asked as their feet splashed through a small puddle on a corner they had now crossed four times.
"Bet she's won an award for something more complicated than I will ever understand. I'm just going act impressed while trying not to look bored." Ron demonstrated this with some enthusiastic nodding, then wiped water off his face. "Merlin's balls! I hope this building is it, I'm all wet and I really need to piss."
"I can't imagine why you two didn't work out," Harry replied, rolling his eyes.
Ron shrugged and feigned innocence. "Her loss mate."
The rain started to dissipate as Harry and Ron approached her building. They walked up an external flight of stairs and knocked on the door that matched Hermione’s flat number. As soon as their curly haired friend opened the door, Ron jumped forward and hugged her. "Great to see you 'Mione, where's the loo?"
Hermione looked panicked for a moment, but she quickly recovered, rolling her eyes and directing Ron to the bathroom.
"You're soaked Harry, come in!” she said as she pulled him inside and gave him a hug. “I wasn't expecting you for hours, how did you get here so early?"
"Yeah sorry about the surprise Hermione, we messed up on the time difference and didn't realize until we reached the Portkey station here. Actually, we would have been here even earlier but we got lost. Ron's been whinging about needing the loo for half an hour," Harry told her as he passed his wand over his wet clothes to dry them. Her flat had a large open area with a fireplace and seating area that connected to an open kitchen. It was unsurprisingly tidy, with more books on shelves lining the walls than Harry would read in his lifetime.
"Ah well...that's great! Um...as soon as Ron's done, let's go get coffee or something...uh, I've got so much to show you!" she said with a nervous smile, as her eyes darted between Harry and the door.
Harry stopped moving his wand and looked at her. "Hermione, are you alright?"
"What - of course! I'm just so happy to see you. How's Ginny? How are the wedding plans going?"
They spoke for a few minutes about Harry and Ginny’s wedding, which was coming that summer. Ron soon returned, looking around the flat as he began to dry himself off. "This is posh," he said, nodding.
"Thanks Ron, but it's really nothing special. It's pretty boring here - we should go walk around now, I want to show you my college and there is so much to see."
"Yeah alright, let me finish drying off and sit down for a minute," Ron said as he sat on the sofa and started to work on his shoes.
"Uh yeah, okay..." Hermione said unconvincingly, as she fidgeted with her sleeves and her eyes darted to the door again.
"We're interrupting you aren't we?" Harry asked. "Sorry we shouldn't have dropped in so early - Ron we should head back to the hotel and wait until Hermione is ready for us."
"What? But we just walked all over looking for the place," Ron said as he moved to drying his other shoe.
"No no, you don't have to leave!" Hermione cut in. "I just finished revising and I'm really glad you could come early. It's just that I meant to explain, before you saw,” - she was tapping her hand on her leg nervously - “that is to say...you see, um, I don't live alone," she finished in a tumble of stammering.
"Oh! Is she a Muggle?" Ron said in a loud whisper as he stood and shoved his wand in his sleeve.
"Uh, no..." Hermione stammered, clearly not expecting the question. Ron obviously didn't notice the many magical books - several of which were glowing or vibrating - or the stack of Practical Potioneer journals on a side table.
As Harry glanced around the flat, he also noticed a black cloak hanging on one of the pegs by the door. It was decidedly larger than Hermione's pale blue one next to it. There was also a pair of black dragonhide boots that were definitely not hers.
"I think," Harry said, grinning, "her flatmate is not a she."
Ron blinked a few times too many, his face coloring. "Uh...is he a Muggle?"
Hermione let out a nervous laugh and covered her mouth. "No, definitely not," she said, her cheeks turning a similar color to Ron's.
"It's alright 'Mione," Ron answered with an embarrassed smile, "I knew you'd get over me eventually."
"Yeah, thanks Ron." Hermione rolled her eyes, but smiled back. "But my recovered broken heart aside...I need to explain that he is- uh, well...you see about a year ago I started working with-"
At that moment the door clicked, and Harry turned to see it opening. The sun was out again and the wet street was bright enough to be blinding. Harry only saw the silhouette of a tall man with long hair. He stepped inside and closed the door, hanging up a black wool coat next to the long cloak as he wandlessly dried his lug-sole boots.
When Harry's vision adjusted after the temporary flash of sunlight, he experienced a moment of complete disorientation. He saw Hermione's boyfriend, in dark jeans and a black long sleeved T-shirt, holding a sack of groceries. In the same moment, he saw his old Potions Professor, looking surprised and annoyed that he had just entered a room full of Gryffindors.
"Potter," came the distinct voice of at least one of those men. "Weasley," he added with a curt nod to Ron. His eyes then swept to Hermione and he raised an eyebrow.
"Look who just arrived," she said with an awkward breeziness. "They caught an early port key."
"You haven't told them," he said flatly.
"I was working up to it," she said as she approached him and tried to peer into the bag of groceries he was holding. Snape lowered the bag so she could see inside.
"They still don't have your tea in stock," he said.
She frowned as she rifled through the bag's contents. "That's too bad, I really wanted to send some back for Molly - oh, but you got the almond biscuits - wonderful! I didn't even think of that, she'll love those."
Harry and Ron exchanged a look, both equally bewildered at the bizarre exchange.
Professor Snape smiled at her. It looked strange on his face. He then glanced up at Harry and Ron, looking annoyed again. Or maybe he looked amused, it was hard to tell the difference.
"I'll be in the lab," he told Hermione as she took the bag and set it on on the kitchen island.
She touched his arm as he passed her. "Alright, thank you Severus." Snape bowed his head to her and walked out through a door at the back of the kitchen.
"Hermione?" Ron asked after the door closed, in a voice quiet enough Snape wouldn't hear. "What exactly is Severus doing in your flat?"
"He lives here."
"He lives in your flat?"
"Well, technically I live in his flat - but I suppose that's not really the point. You remember, I told you in my letters that he was doing contract research work with the Potions Department?"
The boys both nodded mutely. Hermione gestured for them to sit down, and they all moved to the sofa and chairs in front of the fireplace.
"Well," she went on once they were seated, "I ended up asking him for advice on my thesis, since it deals with Arithmancy prediction errors when dealing with dark magic, and who better to ask than Severus Snape, right? And he actually helped quite a bit. We started meeting regularly and it just kind of grew from there."
"Grew into...what exactly?" Ron asked.
"Us living together."
"Are you two, like... roommates, or..." Harry stammered, suspecting he knew the answer but not yet believing it.
Hermione raised her eyebrows. "Roommates?"
"He means," Ron broke in, "is this a one or two bedroom flat?"
"It's a two bedroom...but one is for his lab so there you are."
Ron and Harry shared a look, confirming the other was equally dumbfounded.
"But," Ron stammered. "He's...you know... Snape."
"Yes Ron, I noticed."
"Sorry," Harry said. "You know we have a huge respect for everything he did for us - we probably wouldn't even be here if it weren't for him. It's just that, he was never the most pleasant person to be around...let alone, you know..."
"Do you sleep in the same bed?" Ron cut in.
"Yes Ron," she sighed.
"Bloody hell," Ron said, shaking his head, "...at the same time?"
"Yes Ronald," she said through her teeth.
"And you...you know..."
"Yes, we do that too."
"Bloody hell," Ron repeated, looking as if he'd just eaten a Puking Pastille.
Hermione crossed her arms and huffed. "This is why I didn't tell you in my letters. I knew you'd be prats about it."
Harry had to fight the urge to point out that Ron was really the only one being a prat.
"We're just surprised is all," he said instead. "We didn't even know you were friends. But you said you wanted to explain in person, and we're here now, so..." He glanced at Ron for support, but the redhead was still wide eyed and looking somewhat ill.
Hermione sighed. "You're right Harry, let's have some tea shall we?"
She rose without waiting for an answer, and went to the kitchen, waving her wand over the kettle to heat it and putting away the groceries Professor Snape had brought her.
Within a few minutes she had returned with a tray of tea things and biscuits, and they were silent as they set about fixing their cups.
"I understand this is a bit of a surprise," Hermione began - Ron shot her a look that said more than a bit, but fortunately she didn't see it - "so let's try starting over. I really am glad you came early, it's my fault for not just telling you straight away. Severus has a meeting with the department head this afternoon, so you would not have run into him if you'd come later. I planned on telling you before you saw him," she shrugged, adding, "and if you completely flipped I would just not have you see him at all." Here she glanced at Ron. "But that would be a shame because I would really like you to get on, or at least understand." She took a sip of her tea and sighed, as she seemed to be collecting her thoughts.
"Severus," she went on, "as I've come to know him, is very different from Professor Snape, the man we had as our teacher. That man was under the thumb of two powerful wizards, constantly needing to hide his true allegiance, and because of that he was forced to push others away. Also, I'm sure it comes as no surprise that he did not enjoy teaching, so that didn't help any. But he was always brilliant, and fiercely loyal. You know this," she said with a pointed look at Harry before continuing.
"This is the first time in his life he's been able to be his own person, and not forced to bury his best qualities while playing up his worst. He is not at all like the man we knew at Hogwarts. I mean, he's still sarcastic and sometimes a little too direct, but it's not like he's making the students cry...well, there was one time..." Hermione took a sip of her tea and shook her head. "But forget about that, Kevin was being a ninny. My point is, he's still not particularly social, or conventionally polite, but in his own quiet way, he is an extraordinary person. He makes me breakfast every morning, and does things like running out to a Muggle grocery store today while I finished revising, just because I wanted a certain type of tea to give your mum, Ron. He probably loves reading even more than I do, listens to his old Muggle records while he brews, and gives the most amazing backrubs..." With this she colored, and fortunately didn't elaborate further. "Anyway, what I want you to understand is that you don't really know him, and you can't judge him by your past experience."
There was a long silence while Harry tried to think of what to say. Unfortunately, Ron spoke first.
"But isn't he like...old enough to be your grandad?" Ron asked.
"Ronald! Don't be ridiculous! Severus is ten years younger than your parents."
"And the same year as my parents," Harry offered, "so he's old enough to be her dad, not her grandpa."
Hermione sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. "Yes, thanks Harry."
"It's alright Hermione," Ron said, apparently feeling better as he was on his fifth biscuit. "You've always fancied dusty old books and the like. I suppose we shouldn't be surprised."
She narrowed her eyes at the redhead and pulled the plate of biscuits away from him, taking one for herself before shoving the plate at Harry.
Ron eyed the dwindling treats, but didn't reach for another. "Do you have to...you know, keep it a secret?" he asked in a quiet voice.
"From who? Why?"
"I thought professors aren't supposed to get involved with students."
"No Ron, he's not my professor - he's not a teacher at all. Or even an employee for that matter, he just does consulting work with the Potions department. His main work is private research and publishing, he's really only staying here for me to finish school. Honestly, he could work anywhere. Severus is one of the best potioneers in the world - he was wasted teaching Cure for Boils to firsties at Hogwarts."
"So what do people call him - Master Snape?" Harry asked, having trouble imagining the man as anything other than Professor Snape.
"Back home, maybe. But here it's Mr. Snape, or often just Severus - they're less formal here than Hogwarts. All my teachers call me Hermione."
From this they managed to turn the conversation to other things, catching up on Ron's family and what their old classmates were doing. By the time they had finished their tea, the awkward tension faded and Harry felt at ease with his two friends. Once they agreed on how they would spend the rest of the afternoon, Hermione waved her wand over the table to set the dishes to washing up.
"Let me just let Severus know what we're doing," she said, standing and walking to the door to his lab. She reached for the knob but her hand stopped against something invisible, and Harry saw the familiar sheen of a shield charm ripple over the closed door.
Hermione gave a frustrated sigh. "Severus, unward the door!" she called. A moment later there was a glimmer of dispelled magic and Snape appeared in the doorway.
"Honestly," Hermione said, "did you really think they were going to hex you?"
"Not successfully, but they might have broken something."
Hermione rolled her eyes and otherwise ignored the comment. "I'm going to walk them around the neighborhood and through the college. By the time we get done it'll be dinner time. You should come with us."
He shook his head. "I've got the meeting with Jerry in half an hour, I probably won’t be finished in time," he said.
"We'll be at the college too, we can meet there and go somewhere nearby." When he only scowled at this, she added, "Come on Severus, you should come - you and the boys can catch up."
Snape glanced at Harry and Ron, then he gave her a look that clearly said he was not interested in catching up.
She responded with a hopeful smile and a few extra blinks of her eyes. Snape's scowl seemed to crumble as he looked at her, and for a split second Harry saw something odd on Snape's face - it looked like affection. This quickly shifted into annoyance.
"Where do you want to meet?" he asked with a sigh.
"Fine. Muggle or Wizard restaurant?" he asked. "I need to know what I'm changing into."
"I was thinking Muggle, it's more American and I want to give them the full experience. I thought we'd try Cilantro on Derby street."
"You want to take them to a Mexican restaurant to get the full American experience?"
"Fair enough," Snape said with a shrug. "I'll find you in your building when I'm done."
As promised, Hermione took them around the neighborhood and over to the university. The sun was out and the rain didn't return so the trio stayed warm and dry for the rest of the afternoon. They went by a few of her professor's offices and she introduced them. They also met some of her classmates, and heard about what she was working on. Harry found himself thinking of Ron while he did his best to seem interested and pretend to have some idea what they were talking about.
By unspoken agreement, the three avoided the subject of her relationship with their former teacher. As the afternoon wore on, the idea of it seemed less bizarre to Harry. Meeting all these people who actually found reading dry tomes and doing intense research fun, Harry was reminded of the ways Hermione was very unlike him and Ron. He was also reminded of a sixth year student who was so advanced in brewing he was correcting his textbook, and creating spells in his spare time. Harry could not picture the two of them together physically - he refused to think about it - but he could see them enthusiastically discussing something like Golpalott's Third Law for hours.
Hermione was in the middle of a similarly boring conversation about runic deviation theory with Eric, another arithmancy student, while they waited for Snape to join them that evening. Watching Eric's body language, Harry was starting to think the boy was interested in Hermione for more than academic discussion, when a tall black figure rounded the corner.
Snape was dressed in more familiar black wizard robes this time. This paired with the glare on his face when he spotted them left Harry suddenly feeling like he had forgotten to do his homework. When Snape reached them, Eric quickly stammered a goodby and excused himself. Snape’s irritated professor glare followed the younger man until he was out of sight. Hermione didn’t appear to notice.
As they headed out of the building, Snape transfigured his robes into a black Muggle style collared shirt. It still looked more natural on the Potions master than what Harry saw him in earlier - at least it had buttons. While they walked, Hermione asked Snape about his meeting and chatted about where she had taken the boys.
Seeing his bushy haired friend walking next to the solemn man in black, Harry considered the strangeness that Snape would be with Hermione. It was not that long ago that the Potions master was blatantly ignoring Hermione's raised hand in class, snapping at her to stop helping Neville, or docking points on her assignments for making them too long. And Harry could not believe the man's hatred of Gryffindors was purely an act. It wasn't just about his role during the war, Snape could be truly mean. Seeing the flash of jealousy on his face earlier was a clear reminder of the harshness of Professor Snape.
This made Harry wonder, what had Hermione gotten herself into? Should he be worried about her? He didn't exactly suspect malice in this case. It was hard to believe Snape would set out to hurt Hermione, or set out for her at all. Had Hermione pursued Snape? That was also hard to imagine, but Hermione did trend to fix her attention on unexpected things - house-elves, Crookshanks, Ron. If she went after Snape with the same tenacity she once knitted hats, the man didn't stand a chance.
And that was what worried Harry. How much could Snape possibly care for Hermione? Was he just enjoying the attention of a young woman? It would be no surprise if the former spy was rather lonely. She said he was good to her, but what if that didn't last? Would Snape start being cruel or leave her heartbroken when he got tired of her? Harry's stomach clenched at the thought - Hermione deserved better than that. At the same time, Harry knew there was nothing he could say to change Hermione's mind in something like this. That thought left him uneasy all the way to the restaurant.
The meal was awkward at first, with Hermione carrying most of the conversation. They all ordered drinks, and Harry found himself drinking a bit too quickly as he tried to cover the discomfort of not knowing what to say in front of their former teacher. But the alcohol served to relax him - and apparently Ron as the redhead had even more than Harry - so by the time the food arrived he felt like a more normal conversation was flowing.
Just as things were starting to relax, a rather loud group was seated next to them. The Muffliato that Hermione cast when they arrived only kept their conversation private - it didn't stop them hearing the other restaurant patrons. But soon after the new group got too boisterous, Snape made a quick jabbing motion with his hand and the sound ceased.
It was the most effective nonverbal silencing charm Harry had ever seen - modified so the Muggles could still hear each other - and Snape did it without a wand. Ron clearly noticed it too, because he was looking at Snape like the man had just flown in through a window.
Something Harry belatedly realized Snape could actually do.
"Twenty points, Mr. Weasley, for staring." Snape deadpanned.
Ron stiffened, and his mouth opened like he was about to protest, but no sound came out.
"You were right, that does still work," Snape said to Hermione.
"It was a joke Severus, I didn't mean you should actually try it."
"Ah," Snape said, smirking. "My mistake."
"Does he take points away from you too Hermione?" Harry teased.
"What? Of course not-"
"It stopped working a few months ago," Snape interrupted in a matter of fact tone, his eyes sliding over to her as he cocked his head. "Pity."
She turned and glared at Snape. "That is not funny!"
When Ron snickered she glared at him. "Ron, he's joking." - her eyes darted between the two boys - "You know he's joking right?"
Harry couldn't keep the grin off his face. "Do you have a jar of rubies in your flat to keep track?"
"Does he threaten to put you in detention when he's cross with you?" Ron suggested, his cheeks now red from the alcohol.
Hermione's glare darted between the two of them. "I swear, if you don't stop, I'll leave the three of you alone."
"Lovely as that sounds, my dear, we should probably avoid throwing hexes in a Muggle establishment," Snape replied.
After this exchange, they managed to behave long enough to finish the meal. At least, until Snape excused himself to use the restroom.
As soon as the wizard was out of earshot, a less than sober Ron perked up and slapped his palms on the table. "Now Harry," he started, "let's see who can guess what her pet name for him is before he gets back. I'm going with Snape-sie."
Hermione's mouth dropped open and Harry grinned. "Snapey-wobbles?" he suggested.
"Yuck," Ron grimaced. "But I've got a better one - Snapey-cakes."
"Gross," Harry said with a gag. "But maybe he's her sweet Slytherin."
"Her precious Potions master?"
"Her darling Death Eater?"
"No! Stop it right now you two," Hermione interjected, clearly horrified.
Ron completely ignored this. "But she'd use his first name wouldn't she Harry? Bet it's something wretched like Sevvykins."
"I've got it!" Ron said. "Loverus."
Harry couldn’t respond - he could barely breathe from laughing so hard. By now Hermione had slunk low in her seat. She had a hand on her forehead, and underneath it were brilliant red cheeks and a smile she was clearly trying to fight. None of them noticed that Snape had walked up until he suddenly appeared back in his chair. The three shared a glance, and Harry was sure they were also wondering how much Snape had overheard.
"All wrong," he said casually, taking a sip of his drink. Then he leaned forward and said in a loud whisper to Harry and Ron, "It's Professor."
Hermione let out a small shriek and Harry snorted.
"I like him," Ron declared, slapping a hand on the table. "Well done Hermione, I would have never known - Snape is actually all right!"
"Can you three please start hexing each other now?" Hermione begged. "That would be so much better than this."
Snape put his arm around her and kissed the curls on top of her head. "You're right, my dear, we can go outside and start hexing as soon as I take care of the bill."
She rolled her eyes. "Thanks, Professor."
"You're welcome, Miss Granger."
Hermione put her head in her hands and groaned.
After some awkwardness when Harry and Ron attempted - but we're not permitted - to pay the bill, they left the restaurant. Hermione escaped to the restroom on their way out, effectively making good on her threat to leave the three of them alone. Harry wondered if she was hoping they would remember their mutual dislike as they stood outside the restaurant.
Perhaps she was right, because without her there the three had nothing to say to each other. During the awkward silence, they watched the noisy crowd of people in front of the tavern across the street. Harry also found himself studying the man his friend was living with. Snape's black eyes kept darting to the restaurant door as they waited for Hermione to come out.
Seeing his old professor alone made Harry remember the worries he had earlier. Snape did seem to truly care for Hermione, but this was the man who fooled nearly everyone about his allegiance for years, even the world's greatest Legilimens. Snape was a master liar, who could say what Hermione actually meant to him?
These ugly thoughts reminded Harry that Severus Snape had once sacrificed everything for a woman who had stopped speaking to him and married a man Snape hated. Harry felt a twinge of shame that he only now thought of the connection to his mum, given how significant it was. But he had never fully reconciled that man with the Potions master Harry spent his youth despising.
Hermione was right, Harry really didn't know Snape. It should have been no surprise that he would care for an intelligent, Muggle-born, Gryffindor girl - especially one who returned his feelings. And seeing Snape standing there, looking somewhat bereft without the curly haired witch by his side, it was obvious that he cared for her very deeply. So much he was willing to spend time with two of his least favorite students to make her happy. Harry didn't know if he could like Severus Snape, but he decided he could trust the man with his friend.
"You should come to my wedding,” Harry said quickly, before he lost his nerve. "With Hermione I mean, but...I'd like it if you were there."
Snape's dark eyes examined Harry for a long moment, before he nodded and said simply, "Very well."
"Good," Ron chimed in. "Maybe if he's there mum will finally give it a rest. It took months for her to stop giving me hour long lectures on how I blew it whenever Hermione's name came up."
“Only an hour?” Snape said with a raised eyebrow.
“An hour every time.” Ron replied, glaring at Snape.
Just then, Hermione came through the restaurant door. The group started for an apparition point nearby, where they would separate for the evening.
“You're both coming to Harry’s wedding,” Ron told Hermione as they walked, “and he’s already agreed so don’t let him back out.” Ron rubbed his hands together as he turned to Snape. “You have to take points away from Percy at least once - I want to see him wet himself.”
Hermione looked like she was about to argue, so Harry thought it best to change the subject and he quickly started talking about when they should meet her the next day. They finalized their plans as they reached the apparition point and said their goodbyes for the evening.
Hermione took Snape's arm, and for a split second the couple shared a look that made Harry stop short. A look that made him suddenly miss Ginny terribly. Harry wondered if he was still a bit drunk.
"Well, dinner turned out better than I expected," Ron said as soon as Snape and Hermione disapparated.
“I’m a little surprised you’re alright with him,” Harry replied. “It really doesn’t bother you?”
“It’s weird, yeah,” Ron said, shrugging his shoulders. “But I'm excited too."
"I keep thinking about the look on George's face when I tell him about Loverus.”