Four months after Voldemort's death, Hermione came home from another day at her post-Hogwarts apprenticeship to a letter from Ron which said, "I'm going to visit Charlie for…a bit. I love you, but I don't love being another thing you do because you're supposed to."
Hermione read the letter three or four times, tried flooing Charlie—who declined to answer—and flooed Harry, who said, "Do you want me to come over?"
Hermione considered for a moment whether she wanted companionship while binging on ice cream and firewhiskey. "No, not really."
"Maybe a couple of days," Hermione said, and went about getting knackered. When she woke up, she had the worst hangover she'd ever experienced, three calls from her workplace and a list in messy handwriting of things she did because she was supposed to. It covered most of her life.
It felt a bit like returning to her Muggle roots—after all, she knew plenty of her parent's friend's children who had done or were planning on some type of wandering travel involving a backpack—but she hopped a train to the continent with the scant savings she had from years of allowance and gifts and certain Ministerial awards. Her first few weeks were aimless. She went to the cheaper museums, parks, coffee shops, whatever appealed.
She couldn't say how she ended up in Chișinău. She'd had no intentions of going that far east, and yet every time she'd tried to turn back, something had kept her from it. The weather was warmer than she'd expected, and there was a hostel near enough to city center that she could easily get practically anywhere from it.
There was very little security at the library for the Academy of the Sciences and what there was she could dispatch with harmless bits of magic. She hadn't come for anything in particular, simply because it was one of the largest libraries in the city, and that always called to her. She was leafing through one of their English-language volumes on physics, trying to satisfy her curiosity regarding something she'd read in a magazine back in Sweden, when a familiar voice quietly informed her, "Not for the first time, I am wholly certain you are where you are not supposed to be, Miss Granger."
Hermione looked up, blinked and said, "Well, you aren't precisely, either, now are you?"
When they were outside the library, Hermione glanced over at Severus Snape. Considering it wasn't cold outside, he was bundled up: wearing slacks, an oxford button-down, a blazer and a scarf. His hair was pulled tightly back from his face, which was almost translucently pale, but not sallow. He was too skinny, even for him, and his pace was much slower than she remembered. Still, "You look fantastic for someone who's dead."
Snape looked bored by her assertion. "Building up an immunity to a particular snake venom was hardly a problem."
"The blood loss alone—" Hermione stopped, made herself think. It took slowing down and shaking off the pure shock of seeing him. "Clotting potions, taken over months, maybe even years. It would look fearsome, but you would have time to fix it, if you could get to a place of safety."
"Being Weasley's other half has not entirely rotted away your higher functions."
Hermione's smile was twisted. "Whomever you get your gossip from is behind."
She expected something cutting, or perhaps a simple, but cruel, congratulations. Instead, after a moment, he said, "Ah."
She had thought she wanted to be left alone, but after weeks of such a state, barely talking to anyone barring her floos home to Harry, she was aching for human contact. "I could catch you up."
"It is of no import, Miss Granger, surely you realize."
His tone was not biting. She said, "Perhaps not, but the offer remains."
"There's a café ten minutes walk from here."
"Lead the way."
Once seated with steaming drinks, Snape asked, "What brings you to my now-former refuge?"
"Nothing," Hermione said, both because it was true and because she suspected it would irritate him. She wasn't sure when she had grown porcupine quills, but lately she'd been looking for someone to hiss at. "Just wandering."
"Running away, then. I'm a bit surprised, I'll admit. Not very Gryffindor of you."
"Do you honestly still define yourself through a pronouncement a hat made upon you when you were eleven?" The question was half-mocking, half-curious.
"I am a bit older than you," he mocked in return.
"But the gap in our maturity is almost non-existent, so the question stands."
His eyes narrowed, and Hermione braced herself, but after a moment, he smiled sharply. She suspected it was what amusement looked like on him. She surprised herself by feeling proud of having managed to draw it out, by the urge to do so again. He asked, "Putting distance between you and young Mr. Weasley."
Hermione opened her mouth to deny it, and then decided she wasn't interested in lying, either to herself or to him. "At first, yes. Then, I don't know. I suppose I was hoping I would find a direction I actually wanted to go in."
"As metaphors go, yours is lacking."
"Well, we can't all be reborn," she said dryly.
He raised an eyebrow. "Can we not?"
It was her turn to ask, "What brings you here?"
He smiled again, smaller this time, softer and Hermione wasn't certain, but she thought it was in approval.
The wizarding neighborhood where Snape resided was folded into wizarding space, reachable only by way of the proper touch code along the pole of a traffic sign. It was a small area, no more than seven or so houses, but Hermione was still a bit surprised news of Snape's continued presence on the earth hadn't gotten back to Britain. Normally the wizarding gossip mill was a bit more efficient.
His home was a small, two bedroom house, the second room having been converted into a lab. It was strangely cozy inside, with rich brown wood, plenty of sunlight and books everywhere. Hermione had to keep herself from getting distracted.
They went into his lab, which unshockingly was clean and orderly, with the highest quality ingredients and brewing tools. He asked her, "How much do you know about the history of what we now call the study of Potions?
Hermione tilted her head, considering. "I know that much of what we brew is based in techniques born in China, influenced much later by the Western World, most particularly the Dutch countries."
She waited to be told about the inadequacies of this knowledge, but instead he just dipped his head quickly. "Yes, but in between all of that, there was a three hundred year period known as the Lost Age in Potions circles. Essentially, as the techniques were making their way west, the progress was halted, even at times completely obliterated by wizarding persecutions in eastern Europe at the time."
"They were not called that, of course, but executions and burnings of those touched by the devil, or some other such nonsense, were rampant."
Hermione considered this information. "And in hiding themselves as best they could, often writings were lost, records simply disappeared."
Hermione smiled. "But they're not entirely gone, are they?"
"Some," he admitted. "But I'm searching for those that are not. It is strange, the things they knew we no longer know, or have gone about replicating in entirely different ways. The knowledge regained will be a watershed in many ways, almost a new era of Potions."
Hermione could only begin to imagine. It was enticing, the idea of creating something new with a forgotten, hidden past. "Quite a project."
"Quite," Snape echoed. "I had been considering seeking out a partner in the venture of late, as much travel around the region is necessary, as well as data collection and synthesis."
She couldn't read his words. His tone was even, not snappish, but not contemplative or invitational. Deciding meekness had never been a good way to deal with Snape, she said, "Well, I had planned on staying a bit. Might as well help out while you look into finding someone."
"You needn't," he said in that strangely flat voice.
She smiled this time, asking, "Would you walk away?"
His lips twitched. "Perhaps your observation regarding our maturity levels was not so very off."
The first week was mostly a matter of catching up on the work Snape had already done. More than once she asked questions that opened up a whole field of inquiry he hadn't thought to include. The first time she suppressed the urge to gloat. The second time she just enjoyed the feeling of actually engaging with something again. The third time, he kissed her, brief and hot and bloody expert-level, then drew back as if stung.
She blinked. "Huh. I'd begun to believe I was the only person for whom intelligence was an aphrodisiac."
He sneered. "You spend too much time around children."
"They're my age," she pointed out reasonably.
He waved a hand. "Biology."
"So, then," she tilted her head. "This isn't precisely urgent, correct?"
"I do not sleep with my professional colleagues."
Hermione was a little surprised by how much it turned her on that he considered her in that fashion. "Previously, they were largely Death Eaters."
It was his turn to blink at her. She shrugged. "Were we playing nice? Is that what you like?"
"I will not be a rebound for Ronald Weasley of all people."
Because she could, she pressed the point. "Is that to say you would if it were someone else?"
He didn't honor that with a response. She took a breath and said, "Kiss me again in a couple of months, if you meant it at all."
It had already been over half-a-year. She'd loved Ron with the purity of all first loves, particularly those with whom you'd experienced a dozen life-and-death situations. But when the first sting of loneliness and abandonment had faded, she'd recognized he'd been right to leave. She thought she might be done grieving, but she wouldn't disrespect Snape's wishes by being cavalier about the situation.
Snape made a sound she couldn't decipher and returned to his studies. Weirdly, it did not feel uncomfortable at all.
Hermione had written letters to Harry dutifully, keeping him appraised of her whereabouts. She was not surprised, after sending the one saying she was staying in Moldova for a spell, that his only response was, "Floo me."
There was only one public floo in Chișinău, at the single wizarding shop roughly two blocks over from Snape's home. It was not walkable within the wizarding space, however.
She flooed Harry, though, because he'd asked and because Harry had abandonment issues that Hermione tried not to make any worse. When she got hold of him, he looked angry for a moment and then as if it just bled away. He said, "Missed hearing your voice."
"Miss everything about you," she told him, because it was true.
"Home is waiting," he pointed out.
"I know," she said softly. "But I've found a job here, something that excites me for the first time since school."
Harry frowned. "Is it dangerous?"
She gave him a Look. "Considerably less so than being your friend."
For a moment Harry froze, then he took it as intended and laughed. "Well, whatever brilliant discovery you're going about making, try and remember to floo, now and then. We can't all survive on intellect alone, some of us need our friends."
Hermione stuck her tongue out at him and he made a grasping motion into the flames. She laughed, and there was something like relief in his expression. She made an appointment to use the floo every week at the same time.
Two months later, to the second, Snape kissed Hermione again. She wasn't expecting it. They'd been throwing back and forth ideas regarding a text mentioned in one of the scrolls they'd managed to dig up in Bulgaria. Hermione had pulled strings with Viktor to get into the necessary vaults. The scroll itself had proven interesting, but the citations inside were priceless.
She was postulating that they needed to do some family-tree sleuthing from the last known holder of the scroll to get any further when he pushed back the curls falling over her face and leaned down to bring his lips to hers.
This time, he did not back away, although he did draw back far enough to say, "It is possible I might not be proud enough to stop, no matter if I am a second choice."
His whispers worked their way around her mind, still clearing from the kiss. She said, "Flattering, but unnecessary, I assure you."
The smile that stole over his face as he pressed his forehead to hers was hard to read, not one she had seen before. She said, "That was a long two months. Do you mind horribly getting back to ravishing me senseless?"
His only answer was to do her bidding.