~~~To Have and Have Not (The Severus & Hermione Version)~~~
Severus Snape looked down his nose at the pompous Muggle standing in front of him who had uttered that phrase. He knew without the benefit of Legilimency that this was yet another customer who was planning to try to leave in the morning without paying him for his services.
The third one to attempt it this season. Like the others, he would not succeed.
In any case, Mr. Barlow had no argument at all to make about the quality of the service he'd received.
It wasn't my fault, Snape thought. The weather report this morning had predicted rough seas and fog in the late afternoon. I warned Barlow and his wife that the Channel was not to be trifled with at any time of the year. Not only that, I told them to be back to the boat from their excursion in Calais no later than half two at the latest.
So, naturally, being not only pompous, but an ignorant ass with more money than sense, Barlow, his hen-witted wife and their bored son had returned at half three (closer to four, really) and wouldn't hear of staying the night in Calais like sensible people. No, they'd said. It's beautiful out, they'd said.
Looks can be deceiving, he'd growled, knowing he'd already lost.
Mr. Pompous proclaimed that their reservation was non-refundable at the Dover hotel, besides the weather was fine and for what he was being charged per day, insisted on being ferried back to Dover. All the while his wife fluttered her hands and chirped at him and his son never bothered to look up from his mobile phone.
Against his better judgment, and after advising Mr. Know-It-All that any damage to the boat would be added to the bill, Snape had gotten them on board, their life vests on and, after donning his rain gear, had turned toward his home port of Dover.
And, exactly as predicted, halfway across, the fog rolled over them and the sea became rough. It had taken every bit of sailing skill that Snape possessed, not to mention a silent spell or two of his own design, but he had gotten them all back safely.
The only victim had been his vessel's chrome plated remote searchlight which was presently residing at the bottom of the Channel and was the subject of the diatribe Snape was currently tolerating from the Barlow berk.
"Cap'n Snape, sir?"
Snape held up a hand to interrupt Barlow, and then turned to greet his ship's mate who had just entered the hotel lobby. "Hello, Mr. Filch. Was there any additional damage to the Ashwinder?"
"No, sir, Cap'n, sir."
"Thank you." Snape turned back to Barlow with an expression of fury that had intimidated stronger men.
"I warned you there would be bad weather before we set off from Calais," he said through his teeth. "And you're fortunate I'm only asking for the replacement cost of the mid-level searchlight and not the high end one I lost."
"£700 for a light? That's outrageous. I pay for the hire of the boat. The boat's maintenance is your risk and responsibility."
"Not when you force me out against my advice. If you hired a car and drove it off of a cliff, you'd have to pay for it."
"Not if he was in it, Cap'n! That's a good one!" Filch laughed.
"Yeah, that's a good one, Argus." Snape turned back to Barlow. "That light was lost due to your stubborn obtuseness in disregarding my advice against sailing across the Channel this afternoon. You owe me £150 per day for three days hire of my boat, plus another £700 for the damage to her. £1150 total. That's what you owe me."
"Well, I don't have that much on me right now. I'll have to settle up with you tomorrow after the bank opens and I can cash a cheque. It's your policy after all—cash only."
Only Longbottom on his worst day had tempted Snape more with the desire to hex someone. "Fine. What time?"
"The bank opens at nine. I'll go and cash a cheque and meet you back here."
Snape shook his head. "No, Barlow. I'll meet you here in the lobby at 8:45 and we'll go together."
"Fine, fine, Captain Snape. Shall we have a drink to settle things? Yes? I'll meet you in the hotel's pub directly after I get into some dry clothes." Barlow herded his wife and son toward the lift.
"Argus, keep an eye on him for me, will you?"
"Aw, Severus, I was hoping to have just one—"
"Later, I promise. For now—watch Barlow for me, please. Let me know if he tries to leave the hotel."
"Sure, Severus, no worries." Filch shuffled away toward the kitchen, and Snape knew he would use the service lift to get to Barlow's floor.
Severus sighed, walked into the pub, hung his raincoat on a peg by the door, thought about removing his hat, changed his mind and left it on. It was an affectation, the black captain's hat with the black bill, but one that had served him well over the last few years. Free advertising and a disguise all in one. He seated himself at his usual place at the bar and waved tiredly at the owner of the hotel who doubled as the barman.
John nodded, pulled a Guinness, and then brought the dripping glass over and set it down.
"Thanks." Snape took a long draught.
The barman nodded sympathetically. "Enough said, mate. On the house."
The barman moved away and Snape focused on enjoying his beer. He was nearly finished when the door to the pub opened, which drew his attention. He glanced back down quickly, trying to, and mostly succeeding in, suppressing his surprise.
Hermione Granger had just walked in.
Snape hadn't seen anyone except Filch—and that was a special case anyway—from the Wizarding world for years. By choice.
He had recovered from Nagini's bite, been acquitted of Dumbledore's murder (which, to be fair, was a mercy killing after all), and had been awarded the Order of Merlin, First Class within the first five years after the war. During which time, if he recalled correctly, Potter, Weasley and Longbottom had all finished school and gone on to Auror training. Granger had tried a few things before she had taken a special job for the Ministry. According to Minerva, the chit only occasionally showed up at the Three Broomsticks for a meal and a pint with her friends.
After everything, Snape found that he had had enough of the Wizarding world. He'd taken the stipend from the Order of Merlin award, plus the Galleons he'd stashed away his entire life, converted it all to British Pounds, moved to Dover and proceeded to live as a Muggle. He used some of his fortune to buy himself a beautifully kitted out, nine meter long, Regal Express cruiser. Snape had secured a slip in the marina and made a decent living by renting his boat out for day trips across the Channel to Calais. It was mostly stress-free (except for the occasional entitled prat like Barlow) and best of all...no one to be responsible for except himself. Well, and Argus Filch.
That had been unexpected, and no mistake.
A couple of years ago, Minerva had owled him out of the blue and asked him if he couldn't find something for Argus Filch to do. The man had been forced to retire as caretaker at Hogwarts when he could no longer manage the staircases. He'd been all right for a while, but had gone into a deep depression when Mrs. Norris died. Snape didn't really need a mate, but he'd always liked Filch, so he told Minerva to send the man on. Filch had proven to be surprisingly good on the boat, keeping it tidy and helping navigate during bad weather. He was also very effective with the Muggles, who took one look at the craggy face and never questioned a request from the old man. He had even found himself a new cat—a mangy ginger stray tom he called Mr. Norris.
Mr. Norris was not allowed on the boat, which was fine with the cat because it had only taken one trip for the feline to determine that he hated sailing. He much preferred patrolling the dock, keeping the mouse population under control.
"Snape." Severus started and turned to find Filch peering at him. "Barlow is on his way down in the lift-alone."
"Thanks, Argus." Snape signaled to the barman. "John, I'll have another and one for Mr. Filch, too, if you please."
John brought their beers over, set them down and cocked his head in the direction of Granger. "Never seen her around here before." His gaze lingered on the young woman for a moment before he seemed to come back to himself. "Oh, Captain, speaking of folks I haven't seen around here—I forgot to mention it earlier—there was a bloke came in asking for you while you were out."
Snape raised his eyebrows. "Did he give you his name?"
John shook his head and reached into his pocket. "No. He asked for you by name and said to give you this..."
Snape paled. John had set a white peacock feather on the bar. Snape picked it up with a sigh.
Snape's glare stifled Filch's alarmed stammer.
John crossed his arms. "Does this mean trouble, Captain Snape?"
Snape slipped the feather into his pocket and sipped his beer before he answered. "Not for you, John, or your place. As for me? Let's just say it's from an old...friend...I never thought to see again and leave it at that."
"You know you can count on me if you find yourself in trouble, Snape." John said meaningfully. "You've been a friend, not to mention good for business. I wouldn't take kindly to anyone who might cause you any bother."
"Thanks, John." Severus replied. "I appreciate the offer, but I can handle it."
Argus scanned the pub nervously as he finished his beer. After a moment, he leaned toward Snape and whispered. "Barlow just came in. He's gone straight over to that bird at the end of the bar and is trying to chat her up!" The gravelly voice was outraged. "He's married!"
Snape grunted noncommittally. He lifted his beer to his lips as he surreptitiously glanced over. Just as Filch had said, Barlow had moved his barstool outrageously close to Granger's and was—well, 'flirting' was perhaps too fine a description. What astounded Severus was that Granger seemed to be responding. Was that a giggle? Then Snape saw Granger lean forward and stumble against Barlow, who caught her instinctively.
Snape noticed with distaste that Barlow, while ostensibly "helping" Granger back onto her seat, had groped her outrageously. That wasn't nearly as surprising as the fact that Snape watched Granger pick Barlow's pocket as neatly as you please at the same time. If he hadn't seen it himself, he never would have believed it. What the hell...?
First Malfoy. Now Granger. There is something more going on here, he thought with an inward sigh. Snape finished his beer and laid a few pounds on the bar.
"Have you finished, Argus?"
"Sure, but, aw, Severus, I was hoping..."
"Not tonight, Argus." He patted his pocket. "This means something. I'm not sure what...yet. I want you and Mr. Norris to go down to the dock and keep an eye on the boat for me. For that, I need you to be alert."
"Right you are, Captain. That trinket means trouble, sure's I'm standin' here. Me and Mr. Norris'll keep watch, don't you worry."
"Stay out of sight, mind."
"Don't fuss at me Snape!" Filch snapped irritably. "I patrolled that castle for years and snuck up on many a recalcitrant student. That dock is a piece of cake compared to Hogwarts."
Snape smirked. "You're right, Argus. I apologize. It's just that you've become such a valuable part of my operation..."
"Oh, get on with you, Snape. You ain't gotta lay it on so thick. I'm going."
"Filch." The older man paused in the midst of donning his coat. "If you happen upon our...friend...bring him in for a drink, will you? I'll be here."
Filch shrugged into his coat, donned his knit hat, grinned and laid a finger against his nose before he left through the kitchen door.
Snape sauntered over to the other end of the bar, stopped just behind Barlow and pitched his voice for that man's ears alone. "I say, Barlow, is that your wife coming out of the lift?"
The other man started violently and whirled around with a panic-stricken look at the closed lift doors. "Bloody hell, Captain. That was a dirty trick."
"Georgie, you never said you were married!" Granger's eyes were wide as she pulled away from Barlow.
"Now see what you've done!" Barlow snarled furiously at Snape under his breath.
Severus crossed his arms, leaned against the bar and raised his eyebrow. Keeping his voice low he murmured, "Sorry, Barlow, my mistake. I thought we were meeting for a drink? Change of plan?"
"Quite." Barlow huffed as he stood and prepared to leave. Snape stayed him with a hand on the arm.
"Don't forget about our meeting tomorrow morning, Barlow."
The man jerked away. "Oh, no worries, Captain. I'll make sure you get everything you deserve in the morning." He stalked over to the lift and stabbed the call button.
Snape watched the until the lift doors closed, and then he turned his attention to the young woman seated in front of him who was toying with her glass.
Hermione Granger was thinner than he remembered. Of course, the last time he'd seen her had been at his trial. She had been twenty then. She had to be at least thirty-five now. Her thinness caused her cheekbones to stand out sharply and her dark eyes to appear larger. Her hair was shoulder length and still wildly curly. The suit dress she was wearing was a herringbone pattern. The jacket—no blouse underneath he noticed—had a V-neckline, buttoned down the front and nipped in at the waist. The matching skirt fell below her knees and she had black pumps on her feet. She was thinner, yes, but very fetching indeed. He had to admit, he liked the changes in her.
"Ms. Granger." He tipped his hat. "What brings you to Dover?"
Snape restrained a smile at the shocked expression on her face that she quickly smothered. He was aware that she hadn't recognized him until he addressed her. His years on the water had given his skin a healthy tan. He was still lean, but decent food and plenty of exercise had added a considerable amount of muscle to his frame. He was wearing his usual costume of black jeans, black leather boat shoes, a white shirt, and a black wool jumper. His hair was long, past his shoulders now, and tied in a queue. It was no wonder she didn't know who he was until he spoke.
"Oh, wow, Headm—er—Mr. Snape. I'm...surprised...to see you here."
"And I, you." He signaled to John and waited silently until the barman served them and left before he spoke again. "Let's have it."
Granger sipped her drink without meeting his gaze. "What do you want?"
"What are you talking about?"
Snape moved closer, lowered his voice, and then growled into her ear. "I'm going to take it, Slim."
"Don't call me Slim. I'm too scrawny these days to take it kindly," she replied irritably.
"You're intelligent enough to know I don't bluff. So, what's it going to be? Will you give it up or shall I take it?"
Granger studied him for several moments before she shrugged. "You would too, wouldn't you? What are you, the hotel detective?"
Snape took another sip of his beer. "Barlow's my client."
"He wasn't so nice about you."
"I don't care. Pick on someone who doesn't owe me money."
Granger scowled. "I was going to give it back."
Snape studied her through lidded eyes. "Why did you lift it in the first place? That's not like you."
She glanced around, a quick professional assessment of the room in Snape's opinion, before she rose from the barstool and walked over to a table. As he strolled behind her, he noticed she'd chosen one that faced the door. Hermione Granger was being exceptionally careful which made him nervous. He held the chair for her, and then seated himself so that he was facing the door too. Which put him closer to her. "You didn't answer my question."
She shrugged—an offhand gesture as if she was already tired of the conversation. "I didn't like him. Here." She took the wallet from the pocket of her jacket and handed it to him. "So I probably wouldn't have given it back."
Snape took the wallet and held it for a moment. "You still haven't answered my question."
"The skill comes in handy in my line of work. It was for practice more than anything else." She showed a bit more interest as he unfolded the wallet and examined the contents. "Find anything?"
Snape scowled. "Yes. £1500 and three train tickets from Dover Priory to Ashford tomorrow morning at 7:45—and, what a surprise—three Eurostar tickets to Paris from Ashford. Also for tomorrow. Departing Ashford at 9:55."
"Sounds like the typical contents of a Muggle tourist's wallet. What did you expect to find?"
Snape slapped the wallet closed and glared at her. "Barlow owes me £1150. He told me he didn't have enough on him to pay me." He waved the wallet at her. "This proves he was planning to stiff me."
Hermione lifted her chin. "So, I did you a favor."
"You could look at it that way. But if I hadn't spotted you, then you'd have the whole works, wouldn't you? I'm entitled to my fee, at least, don't you think so, Slim?"
"Yes, Sev." Snape smirked inwardly. The 'Slim' had gotten to her.
"And I deserve something as well because without me, you wouldn't have it."
"I already knew he was planning to swindle me before you lifted his wallet." Snape raised an eyebrow at her. "What do you think is fair?”
Without taking her eyes off of his, Hermione put her elbow on the table, leaned over and settled her chin into her hand, which provided an enticing view down the front of her jacket. "I'll leave that up to you."
Snape was intrigued. The witch sitting in front of him was up to something, there was no doubt about it. Exactly what 'it' was, he was determined to find out—in any way he could. Her unmistakable invitation was an obvious attempt to distract him. And, as tempting as it was, Snape wasn't ready to be distracted in that way...yet.
"What would you say to...oh hell." Snape scowled. The door to the bar opened and a man in a Saville Row suit walked in. Tall, refined, and the epitome of stereotypical "black Irish" good looks. He was also very obviously out of place. Snape sighed and signaled for him to join them. The man feigned surprise, but walked over to the table.
"Cut it out, Malfoy, I know it's you." Snape kicked a chair out. "I got your feather. You might as well sit down."
The man looked affronted, but nevertheless he took the proffered seat. "I see my glamour didn't fool you for a minute."
"You know you've never been able to. I can spot the Malfoy hauteur anywhere." He glared at Malfoy and then at Granger. "Would one of you care to tell me what the hell is going on?"
Granger's attention snapped to Malfoy and her entire demeanor changed from bored tart to sharp and capable witch. Snape was impressed. Her voice was low and urgent when she spoke. "Mr. Malfoy...even if Sev here can detect your identity through that glamour, please continue to use it. You are in grave danger."
Malfoy turned an astounded face toward Snape. "Sev?"
Snape's expression became thunderous. "Only Slim here calls me that." He looked from one to the other of his unwanted intruders. "One of you better talk or else I'm handing you both over to the local Ministry of Magic."
Hermione ignored his threat and focused on Malfoy. "Harry and Ron, among other Aurors, have been protecting you since you left the Manor. Which was an exceedingly stupid thing to do, by the way."
Malfoy ignored the criticism. "The only reason I agreed to the probation part of the Ministry's judgment on me and mine was because they assured me that you would be the probation officer. Imagine my surprise and horror when I read an article in the Prophet a few days ago that said you had left the Ministry due to a disagreement with your director. There is much speculation in our part of England about what you're doing now—everything from going to work in the Department of Mysteries as an Unspeakable to leaving the country to 'find yourself'. So, I decided to track down Snape and ask for his help."
"Lower your voice, Malfoy!" Hermione growled. "Sev is right. You are terrible at glamours. Anyone hearing your voice will know you instantly." She scanned the room again before she continued. "What you heard about me is exactly what we wanted everyone to know, Mr. Malfoy. For your protection—and mine. It was exceedingly irresponsible of you to leave the Manor. You know you are being watched."
Malfoy seemed to slump. He ran a hand through his black hair. "I know," he sighed. "He's been everywhere lately. I thought I'd thrown him off when I activated this glamour and took the train to get here." After a brief pause he said, more quietly, "At least I've drawn him away from Draco and Narcissa."
The hairs on the back of Snape's neck stood on end. "Will one of you tell me what the hell is going on?"
Hermione raised an eyebrow at Lucius who waved a hand in acquiescence. "Go ahead, I intended to anyway."
She lowered her voice even further. "Walden Macnair is trying to kill the entire Malfoy family."
Snape scowled. "I thought Macnair was in Azkaban."
"That's what the Ministry wants everyone to think. The truth is, after Macnair was sentenced to life without parole, he escaped. It was a quick, clean getaway. No one knows how he did it. The Aurors never found a trace of him anywhere. He just vanished. After a months-long manhunt with no success, Magical Law Enforcement moved on to other, more pressing cases. He hasn't been seen or heard of for years. Frankly, it was assumed that he was gone for good," Hermione said.
Malfoy picked up the story. "As you know, Potter testified for my family—as he did for you—during the War Trials. Because of his testimony, Narcissa, Draco and I were sentenced to reparations, community service and parole for fifty years. Which was more than fair, considering." The wizard sighed. "Macnair's got this crazy notion that my family either 'got off light' or we are 'the worst kind of blood traitors' depending on his mood. He has tried to kill Narcissa, Draco and me several times in recent weeks. He is not just trying to kill us, he is terrorizing my family...trying to drive us all mad. First, he killed our peacocks one at a time. Each in a way more gruesome than the last. Next he transformed all of Narcissa's roses into Fanged Geraniums and Venomous Tentacula." He met Snape's gaze. "There's more, but I think you get the idea. He's making our lives impossible. That's why I've come here for your help."
Snape turned to Hermione. "Why are you here, Slim? I have a feeling you're no longer Malfoy's probation officer."
Her smile was grim. "Not exactly. When Mr. Malfoy left the Manor," she explained, "the Ministry suspected he would come to you for help. Mr. Malfoy doesn't know this, but the Aurors have detected and prevented other, more gruesome attacks on his family. They had to let some of Macnair's plans succeed, in order to draw him out. Which explains the sacrifice of the plants and the peacocks, but Macnair's becoming more disturbed every time one of his plans fails." She looked into Malfoy's eyes. "During your journey here, he tried to destroy the train...twice." She turned her gaze to Severus. "He endangered the lives of over five hundred passengers just to kill one man. Luckily, Harry and the others were able to thwart Macnair's plans. He's dangerously deranged."
"This is a fascinating story. But what's it got to do with me?" Snape asked.
"One of the conditions of our probation," Malfoy replied, "is that we cannot leave the UK. In fact, we are all under Anti-Disapparition Jinxes which have to be renewed by the Ministry every year. The Manor itself is under the same spell that is on Hogwarts so that no one can Apparate or Disapparate on the grounds. Fortunately, due to the protections the Ministry has placed on the house, Macnair hasn't been able to get inside the Manor. We were so happy to have survived everything that the Dark Lord put our family through, we were willing to accept the restriction. But now...we're all just sitting ducks."
"The Ministry of Magic realizes they have a responsibility to protect the Malfoys, especially since Mrs. Malfoy was instrumental in saving Harry's life, which made it possible for him to defeat Voldemort. But there's still a lot of bad feelings about Death Eaters in general and the Malfoys in particular, so the Ministry has its hands tied in many ways. Mostly politically." She slapped her hand on the table in frustration. "Gods, they can be a bunch of spineless plonkers." She picked up her drink and took a fortifying swallow. "Anyway, that's how I got involved. If I get caught trying to help the Malfoys leave the country—it's a rogue Unspeakable who got too close to her charge and the Ministry can claim ignorance of everything." She met Snape's gaze. "That's the other reason I'm here. Since the Malfoy family can only use Muggle transportation here in the UK, I came to ask for your help to get them safely out of the country."
Snape shook his head. "Not interested. I've left that world and its problems years ago. I stick my neck out for no one."
Lucius leaned over and grabbed Snape's forearm. "Severus, please. I know you left the Wizarding World behind years ago. I know why. I didn't want to involve you but it's a matter of life or death..."
Snape shook off his hand. "Don't try to appeal to my better nature. You of all people know what I went through and you said yourself that you understand why I left. You are endangering everything I've built by just coming here."
"I'm not afraid for myself...think of Narcissa...Draco...Scorpius! I thought you'd be open to helping us..."
Snape began to feel the walls of fate closing in on him and he struck out, trying to stave them off. "Don't! Don't make me feel bad. I tell you I won't! I won't let you two drag me back. I've got a good life here. Quiet. Easy. Besides, they put people in Azkaban for doing what you're suggesting. I'm not that friendly to anybody."
Filch hobbled into the bar, looked around until he found Severus and then hurried over. "Captain Snape, sir!"
"What is it?"
Lucius interrupted. "Snape, if we can continue..."
Snape glared at him. "Manners, Malfoy. Filch is a friend of mine."
Filch stared at Lucius, his mission temporarily forgotten. "Ya know, I saw that toff wanderin' around the dock earlier."
"You've got a good memory for someone who drinks," Hermione said with a smile.
"Drinkin' don't bother me memory, girl. If it did, I wouldn't. I couldn't. See, I'd forget how good it was, and then where would I be? Drinking water again!"
"Maybe you'd forget about water, too." Lucius said.
"No I wouldn't, I see too much of it." Filch looked closer at Lucius. "Was you ever bit by a dead bee?"
Lucius was taken aback. "I have no memory of being bitten by any kind of bee."
Hermione smiled at Filch. "Were you?"
"You're all right, lady." Filch grinned at her. "You and the Cap'n and John. You know, you gotta be careful of dead bees if you're going around barefooted. 'Cause if you step on 'em they can sting you just as bad as if they was alive. Especially if they was kind of mad when they got killed. I bet I've been bit a hunnert times that way."
Hermione was fascinated. "You have? Why don't you bite them back?"
"That's what the Cap'n always says. 'Cause I ain't got no stinger."
"Does he always talk so much?" Lucius grumbled.
"Always," Snape replied. He turned to Filch. "What did you want to see me about, Argus?"
"It's Mr. Norris, he caught scent of something hanging around the dock after this toff left, but lost it again. Something or someone lurking by the Ashwinder. I was too slow...dratted rheumatism. As soon as the coast was clear, I came to tell you right away...and to get another beer." Filch didn't quite hide the suspicious side-eye he directed at Granger and Malfoy. "Say, Snape, could ya...?"
Severus reached into his pocket, pulled out a fiver and handed it over.
"Thanks. You're all right. So long." He took himself off to the bar.
Severus turned to Lucius. "You can talk at me all night and the answer would still be the same."
"You'll have to get someone else." Snape turned away. "Slim and I have some unfinished business."
Hermione met Lucius' distraught gaze meaningfully. "I hear this place has decent rooms. Good night."
They watched as Lucius arranged for accommodations and then waited for the lift. When it arrived, Barlow stormed out, shoving his way past Malfoy (who was stopped from hexing the man by a quelling glance from Hermione) as he hurried to get to the bar. He talked to John, who shook his head, and then he went over to where he had been seated before and looked around and beneath the barstools.
Severus sighed and picked up the wallet that had lain, forgotten, on the table while they talked.
"We have to give it back to him, Slim."
"Barlow's going to cheat you, Sev."
Snape gazed at her speculatively.
She bristled. "What? Go ahead, you've got something to say, say it."
"Whatever else I might have done in life, I've never been a thief. I don't know what's happened to you, but maybe you should consider a change if this is considered part of your duties."
Hermione grimaced and looked away. "You, of all people, know what it's like when life gives you hard choices. After the War, after school..." She shrugged.
Snape reached over and turned her face gently so he could look into her eyes again. "I do know. Which is why I wonder what happened to bring you to this place...not Dover...but this place in your life."
Hermione raised an eyebrow at him. "Just..." She closed her eyes for a moment. "Nothing. Everything."
He stroked her cheek with the backs of his fingers. "It hasn't been good for you, Slim."
Hermione opened her eyes and jerked her head away. "I'm open to suggestions for an alternative, Sev."
Snape remained silent and looked down at the wallet that he continued to turn in his hands.
"It's easy to criticize, isn't it, Sev?" Her voice was brittle.
"Oh, thank heaven! My wallet!"
Snape and Hermione both started and looked up to find Barlow in front of them.
"Where did you find it?"
"I stole it." Hermione informed him.
Barlow was taken aback. "That's a fine thing." He turned to Snape. "What are you going to do about it?"
"The question is," Snape said, "what are you going to do about it, Mr. Barlow? Maybe you'd better look it over and see if it's all there."
Barlow became uncomfortable. "Uh, it's all right, I'm sure."
"No, I insist."
"It's all right, there's nothing missing."
"Without checking?" Snape's eyes narrowed. "You're sure?"
Barlow squirmed and looked around for any reason to get away from the table. There was none.
"You'd better make sure all the money is there. And all of the train tickets."
"I know that there's £1500 and six train tickets!" Barlow snapped. "As do you!"
"That's right. When I looked into the wallet to see who it belongs to, I discovered that you intended to cheat me, Barlow." Snape paused. He allowed the silence to stretch until the tension was at the breaking point before he spoke again. "Nothing to say? No denial? Well, points for you, Barlow, for at least having the bollocks to own up to it."
Barlow scowled. "I've admitted nothing!"
"What is the time on those train tickets, by the way?"
"In the morning." Snape growled. "And the bank opens at nine."
"Now see here, Captain Snape..." Barlow blustered.
"Oh, I get it...you were looking for your wallet in order to pay me, since you just remembered you had enough cash, isn't that right?"
Barlow scowled and held out his hand. After Snape handed the wallet back, Barlow opened it, made a show of checking the contents and then counted out five £100 notes and then tossed them onto the table. "There. Three days for the hire of the boat plus a bit extra."
"What about the damage to my vessel?" Snape slid his chair back and stood. He was taller by half a foot than Barlow and used the advantage to look down his nose at the man.
Barlow pulled two more £100 notes out of his wallet and added them to the pile on the table. "That's all you're getting, Snape. Not a penny more." He tucked the wallet into his jacket pocket, turned and dashed for the stairs.
Snape picked up the money and pocketed it. "That went as well as could be expected, I think." He looked down at the young woman sitting in front of him, gazing into her glass. "Hey, Slim, since I'm flush—let's get a bottle and go upstairs for a quiet drink. What do you say?"
Hermione raised her eyebrows at him. "That's your line? 'Let's get a bottle and go upstairs'?"
He bristled with indignation. "Look, I suggested a quiet drink, not a quick sha—" He trailed off and became very still.
Hermione was instantly alert. "What is it?"
Snape seated himself next to her, leaned close and grinned. His voice became a murmur. "Move closer and smile as if I've said something clever—hard as that may be to believe. Do not look around. Yes, that's it." He rested his cheek against hers so his mouth was against her ear. "Macnair just walked in. He hasn't seen you, thankfully. He's gone over to the bar. He's dressed as a Muggle. A very scruffy Muggle, at that. Perhaps he's been living rough and not using magic too much, which could help explain why the Ministry hasn't been able to catch up to him." He brought his hand up to hold her head in place, disguising it as a caress. "He must have traced Malfoy here. Damn. Don't look around! Keep your face turned this way. He didn't recognize me. We don't know what he'll do if he sees you."
Hermione breathed into his ear. "It appears that we will be continuing this upstairs after all. I'm going to perform a silent appearance altering charm, nod, giggle and then make my way to my room. Number 15, just across the hall from yours, I think."
Snape watched as Hermione's face subtly altered itself. Her mouth became wider, her nose larger, her eyes changed color and her hair straightened itself. She also gained almost two stone, making her quite curvy indeed.
"I'll send a message to Harry from my room about Macnair. Maybe the Aurors can apprehend him tonight and save us all a lot of bother," she whispered. Then she leaned away from him, giggled and rose. She bent and kissed his nose. "See you soon, Captain," she said as she turned and walked to the lift, hips swaying. When the lift arrived, she entered and then gave him a last sultry look over her shoulder before the doors closed behind her, leaving Snape very uncomfortable indeed.
After he'd composed himself sufficiently, Snape went over to the bar and signaled to John, who walked over with a question in his eyes.
"A bottle of whiskey and," he leaned on the bar and pitched his voice low, "that fellow at the end of the bar—I knew him...before I came here. He's very dangerous. Do not rent a room to him. After you close up tonight, please get your family out of here for their safety and yours." Snape paid him.
"I can take care of myself and mine!" John objected.
Snape cast a silent Confundus. "You and your family must go visit your wife's mum tonight and stay for a few days. Filch and I will watch the place for you."
John's eyes became unfocused and then cleared. "You know what...I've just remembered, my wife told her mum we were coming for a few days. We have to leave tonight. You'll watch the place for me, won't you, Captain?"
"Of course, John. Have a good trip."
Snape picked up the bottle, turned and took the stairs two at a time up to his floor. He arrived at number 15 and knocked.
"Who is it?"
The door opened and Snape entered. Hermione's appearance had returned to normal and she was standing next to the bureau. She had changed into a long, violet-and-black-striped satin dressing gown belted at the waist. Matching slippers peeked out from beneath the hem. Snape had to stop himself from staring at the delightfully fetching woman before him.
Delightfully fetching and angry woman. Oops.
"I sent a message to Harry. He has a patrol outside, keeping watch," she reported.
Snape sighed. "You're sore, aren't you?"
"Why would I be?"
"I talked too much before. Downstairs. Before Barlow came for his wallet."
"Look, Sev, get this straight..."
"Yeah, you don't give a damn what I say, but when I say it you get sore. After all, you told me to, you know."
Hermione cocked her head to one side. "I told you...?"
Snape shrugged. "You said, 'go ahead', didn't you?"
"Well, that's right. I guess I did. I didn't realize it would cut so deep, I suppose." She waved at a chair. "You might as well sit down. Here, I'll take that."
She relieved him of the bottle, conjured two glasses and poured. After he sat down, she brought his drink over. They clinked glasses and drank. Snape watched her swallow the whiskey without a twitch. "How long have you been at loose ends?"
Hermione sighed. "This is about the time for it, isn't it?"
"The time for what?"
"The story of my life after Hogwarts. Where do you want me to begin?"
It was Snape's turn to sigh. "I've got a pretty fair idea already."
Her head snapped up and her gaze was fierce. "Who told you?"
"You did. The way you knocked that drink back."
Hermione turned and walked over to the bureau and poured another measure of whiskey into her glass. "Yeah? What about it?"
"Well, you hardly blinked an eye. It takes a lot of practice to be able to do that. I know a lot about you, Slim."
Hermione capped the bottle and set it down hard on the bureau, rattling the trinkets.
"Now who's sore?"
Hermione sipped her drink. "Look, I'm tired and I want to get some sleep."
Snape remained seated. "That's not a bad idea. But I'd like to know, what made you so mad?"
"I've been mad ever since I met you again."
"Most people are."
"One conversation and you made up your mind just what you wanted to think about me. You were—oh, what's the use."
"Go on, keep going."
"You don't know me, Sev. After I left Hogwarts, I didn't have any real direction. Tried Uni, that didn't go well. Tried helping the downtrodden, found out that wasn't challenging enough for me—you know—after everything that happened during the War things were just...too quiet, you know? I guess I was bored. Restless. I felt useless. So, when the Ministry came calling, talking about exciting adventures and mysterious missions, it seemed to be the answer I was looking for. There wasn't anything else that I was suited to do." She angrily dashed away a tear. "Go on. Get out of here before I make a complete fool of myself."
"It's killing you inside, Slim," Snape said quietly. "I recognize the signs."
"I know. I'm getting out."
"As soon as this mission is through. It's the reason I volunteered for it, as it happens."
"How long will that take?"
She shrugged. "Without your help? I'm not sure. I was kind of counting on you."
Snape pushed his hat back on his head and smirked at her. "Oh, you're good. You're awful good."
She continued to gaze at him.
"'Without your help? I'm not sure.'" He finished his drink and floated the glass back to the top of the bureau.
Hermione shrugged. "It's the truth. I don't know how long it will take. I have to find another boat, Imperio the captain, get the Malfoys over to France and then find somewhere to go myself since I won't be able to come back here for a while." She set down her glass next to his and walked toward him.
Severus watched as she approached and then stopped in front of him. "I still say you're awful good, Slim." He closed his eyes and sighed. "All right. Fine. Can't add 'using Unforgivables' to the list of your offenses. I'll help you."
Much to his surprise, Hermione settled herself onto his lap and put her arms around his neck. "You know, Sev. You're not very hard to figure. Only at times. Sometimes I know exactly what you're going to say. Most of the time. The other times, the other times, you're just a stinker."
Hermione closed the space between them and kissed him. Snape was so surprised he didn't respond other than to tighten his grip on her waist. After a moment, she leaned back and looked into his eyes.
"What'd you do that for?" He asked gruffly.
"I was wondering whether I'd like it."
"What's the decision?"
"I don't know yet."
She leaned in and kissed him again. This time, he was prepared. He kissed her back slowly and very thoroughly. Afterward she looked into his eyes and smiled.
"It's even better when you help." She rose and sauntered to the door. He got to his feet and followed. She turned and stopped him with a hand on his chest. "Are you sure about this—helping with the mission? You're not doing it out of some misguided idea of gallantry, are you? You're not doing it just for me?"
"Yes...no...To be honest, Slim, I don't know. Probably not."
"Well, this mission belongs to me and so do my lips. I don't see any difference."
Snape shrugged. "I do."
She stepped aside and he opened the door. As he started to leave, she put a hand on his arm and he turned to look at her.
"Okay. You know you don't have to act with me. You don't have to say anything and you don't have to do anything. Not a thing. Oh, maybe just whistle." She stood on tiptoe, until they were nose to nose, looked deep into his eyes and whispered. "You know how to whistle, don't ya, Sev? You just put your lips together and blow." She kissed him again, and then shoved him out and closed the door.
Severus stood facing the door, stunned for a moment. Then he whistled long and low.
With a sinking feeling in his stomach, Snape approached them. He identified one as Longbottom, who recognized him at almost the same time. The wizard Snape didn't know raised his wand. Snape cocked his head at the man and glanced at Longbottom with raised eyebrows.
"Put that away, Murphy, for Merlin's sake, before you hurt yourself. This is former Headmaster Snape, you idiot." Longbottom held out his hand. "Sorry about that, Mr. Snape. Rookie mistake."
Snape shook Longbottom's hand. "No worries. What happened? The people in that room were clients."
"Murdered. The whole family. We got here as soon as Macnair's magical signature triggered the alarm." Longbottom sighed. "But we were too late. As soon as he knew he'd been targeted, he Avadaed them all and Disapparated."
Snape put a hand on Longbottom's shoulder. "It wasn't your fault. MacNair was always one of the cleverest of the Dark Lord's followers."
Hermione came out of the room. "Neville, the Unspeakables will take care of moving the bodies and arranging some suitable Muggle accident. Please keep everyone away from this room until they've been and gone. Should be no more than an hour or so."
"All right, Hermione."
"Snape. Good. You're awake. There's tea, or coffee if you prefer, in the kitchen." She strode toward the stairs and Snape fell in beside her.
They didn't speak until they had their coffee and were seated back in the pub at the same table from the night before.
"By the time the Aurors got to the pub last night, Macnair was no longer there."
"Damn it. I should have stayed and kept an eye on him."
"You might have been killed yourself if he'd recognized you." She sipped her coffee. "It was terrible, what Macnair did to those people," she said fiercely. "He cast Silencio, obviously, or we would have heard something. It looks like he tortured the son first. Muggle torture at the beginning. He did the same with the wife. I can't tell how long it went on. Once he cast Crucio he knew his time was limited. He'd killed them all by the time Neville and the others got there." She looked into Snape's eyes. "That and worse is what's in store for Malfoy and his family if we don't get them off of this island."
"Getting them out of England won't help them if Macnair is left alive."
Her eyes were fierce. "I know."
"Macnair was sending a message. Barlow might have been a prat, but he didn't deserve this—neither did his bird-witted wife nor his son. Dylan was a nice kid." He Accioed a bottle of whiskey from behind the bar and poured a liberal measure into both their cups. He clinked his cup against hers. "To Barlow, the bastard, and his family. May they rest in peace."
They drank and then set down their cups together.
"Harry used last night's...distraction...to have Ron bring Mrs. Malfoy, Draco, Astoria and Scorpius to Dover Castle." At Snape's raised eyebrow, she explained: "There's an entire wing of the castle that's Unplottable. They are there. And safe. For now."
"You didn't waste any time, did you?"
"I never do."
Snape gazed at her for a few moments. "No, I don't suppose you do. Well, the price for my participation just went up."
Hermione started, "Wait just a minute...no one ever said anything about paying..."
"No, we sort of skipped that part. You distracted me." He grinned when she flushed then sobered. "The price for hiring my boat is Macnair's death."
"The Aurors are only authorized to capture him."
"Damn it, Slim! I'm not an Auror and neither are you! And all this will be for nothing if Macnair slips away again. So don't lecture me about rules and regulations. Macnair dies or I take my boat and go. There's no third way."
Hermione examined his face intently and then nodded. "You're right, Sev." She looked into her cup. "I had already decided that Macnair had to be dealt with permanently...I was going to handle it on my own."
"I see. Just take on a probably mad former Death Eater by yourself. Without a word to anyone." He crossed his arms over his chest and glared at her.
"Sev, you're not sore are you?"
Snape drank the rest of his whiskey-laced coffee with a grimace. "Not much. But understand this, Slim. From now on, no more secrets. I had enough of secrets during the War. It almost cost me my life. Besides, I have been out of the spy business a long time. If you want my help, I have to be able to trust you. If I can't trust the people I'm working with, how can I be effective?"
"It's difficult for me," she said slowly. "I haven't been able to trust anyone, well, except Harry, Ron, Neville and a few others – for ages. My default is reticence. Self-preservation." She looked into his eyes. "You know how it is. Now, so do I....ah, okay, I see what you mean, Sev. Lesson learned. No more secrets." Hermione leaned over and kissed him. "To seal the deal."
The lift doors opened and Lucius strode out and over to their table. He had abandoned the glamour from the day before, but not the Muggle clothing. He seated himself and Accioed tea from the kitchen. He was paler than usual, which told Snape that he had heard about what happened to Barlow's family. After Lucius had finished his tea, he set the cup onto the saucer and then looked at them both.
"I want to help find Macnair."
"That's a very brave offer, Lucius, but I'm not sure if it's wise," Hermione said. "Wouldn't you rather be with your family until we have this figured out?"
"No. I'm tired of hiding like some kind of coward."
Hermione started to object again and Severus silenced her with a glance. "I think Lucius is right, Slim. We have to have his help."
"If he uses his wand for offensive magic, he will be immediately Apparated to Azkaban."
"I don't think he will have to use his wand for any offensive spells," Snape said quietly while looking at Lucius. "If I'm reading you correctly, Malfoy."
"If you were thinking that I'll be the bait, you're spot on, Snape."
Snape nodded. "I think it's the only way to draw Macnair out, don't you?"
"To be honest," Hermione replied. "I don't think he'll be able to resist."
Lucius nodded. "He's already tracked me this far, so he knows I'm here somewhere. The question is: can we manipulate him into making a mistake?"
Something was wrong, then. Snape sighed, unholstered his wand, and then boarded the Ashwinder. He went below deck, peered into the cabin and stopped short.
Macnair was sitting at the table across from Filch. There were a dozen beer bottles between them.
Before he could do anything, Filch spotted him and waved. "Hello, Cap'n! How is everything?"
Snape had lost his chance to sneak up on Macnair, but it was too late for regrets. The other wizard smirked at him. "Fine."
"Won't you join us?" Macnair said.
"A little early for this kind of party."
Macnair turned back to Filch. "Continue, Mr. Filch."
"Ya' hear that, Cap'n? He called me 'Mr.'" He sobered and addressed Macnair. "Was you ever bit by a dead..."
"He never was, Argus. Go on with what you were saying." Snape leaned against the galley sink, his wand held loosely in his hand, pointed in the direction of the table.
"Oh, I was just telling him about the trip back from Calais yesterday, how you didn't want to chance it what with the weather reports and all and how Barlow wouldn't listen to reason and made us set off anyway. We showed that Muggle some real fine sailing, didn't we, Cap?"
Snape nodded, his gaze never leaving Macnair. "That's right."
"I was tellin' him how we still got 'em back safe, even with the thick fog and the rain storm and everything."
"Every time Mr. Argus takes a drink, the storm grows larger." Macnair said mildly.
"It must have started out as a stiff breeze." Snape replied.
Macnair turned toward Severus, showing his own wand that he held beneath the table, which was pointed at Filch. "How did your friend come up with such a story?"
"It wasn't as fierce a storm as some I've seen."
"And yet, against your better judgment, you set out from Calais anyway. Does a ship's captain sail in bad weather for his own amusement?"
"He does if he likes it. And we like a challenge, don't we, Argus?" Snape tipped his wand up slightly, pointing it at Macnair.
Argus grinned. "Yeah. Remember that night last year..."
Macnair frowned. "We don't seem to be getting anywhere."
"...it was Guy Fawkes' Day..."
Macnair scowled at Filch. "Please, Argus, please."
"You shouldn't be cross with him. You fed him the beer," Snape said.
Macnair looked at him. "And what about your new clients?"
"What new clients?" Snape asked blandly.
Under the table, Macnair waved his wand in a threatening manner. "The man that arrived at this hotel last night."
"That toff?" Filch said with considerable disbelief. "He wouldn't step foot on anything less than seventy meters!" Then he laughed. "Isn't that right, Cap?"
"Yeah, Argus, that's right." He addressed Macnair. "The dark haired fellow? He did speak to me about my boat, but it wasn't fancy enough for him." He shrugged. "Then he left. That's all I know."
Macnair looked from one to the other and then leaned back with a smile. "Well then, if that's all you know about him, I'll be on my way." He slid out from behind the table, continuing to hide his wand from Filch, while keeping it aimed at Snape. Severus kept his own wand pointed at Macnair. A standoff. He hoped.
When he got close enough Macnair pressed his wand against Snape's chest and his own chest onto Snape's wand. He pitched his voice for Snape's ears alone. "After I've finished my business with the Malfoys, I'm coming for you, Snape."
"You can try."
"You'd better find a better sentry than that old man."
Snape shrugged. "Filch does all right. Why don't we just do it now? You and me." He pressed his wand harder against the other wizard's chest.
Macnair's smile was predatory. "Tempting, Snape. But no. That would be much too easy a death for you. First I'm going to do the Malfoys one at a time. Maybe I'll start with the women, they scream so nicely. Then the boy. Or maybe start with the boy...that will terrify the women even more. Or maybe I'll just improvise." He shrugged. "Once I've punished those blood traitors, it'll be your turn, Snape. Then it'll be Granger, Potter, and Weasley. All of them."
"Better wizards than you have tried to kill me, Potter, Granger and Weasley. And failed, as you might recall."
Macnair's face got red and blotchy and Snape was sure that he'd goaded him into a fight, but the other wizard gained control of himself with effort. "No, no...not today," he said to himself. Then to Severus, he continued. "Not today for you, Snape. I have my plan. The Malfoys first. Then you. Then the rest. It's always better if it's a surprise. Yes, it'll be better if you know I'm watching you and you're looking over your shoulder all the time...wondering when I'll strike. It's better..." He turned and Apparated away before he finished speaking.
Snape exhaled and holstered his wand. He went over to the bench seat that Macnair had recently occupied, sat down across from Filch, found a bottle with some beer left in it and drank it down.
"Sev, are you here?" Hermione's voice startled him.
"In the cabin, come aboard."
Hermione stepped into the cabin carrying a tray and the sun came out at the same time, flooding the cabin with light and seemingly chasing the shadows away. She walked over to the table and set down the tray.
"I thought you might want some lunch." She glanced from the beer bottles to the two men and back again. "Actual lunch, rather than liquid."
"I've only just had the one," Snape said. "Have a seat." He budged over and she sat next to him.
Filch muttered something.
"What was that, Argus?"
"I've been figuring. That guy don't think I'm wise, but he was trying to get me drunk. He don't know me, does he Cap'n? I think he was trying to find out something." He peered at Snape. "What do you suppose it is?"
"Don't you know?"
"No. I ain't got no idea."
Snape sighed. "That's a good way to leave it. You know, you've got the hiccups."
Filch hiccupped again. "Have I, Cap'n? Oh, yeah, I never noticed."
"Don't you think you better take a drink of water?" Hermione asked.
Filch blanched. "Water?"
Snape smirked. "That's a good idea, Slim."
Filch shook his head. "No. Oh, no. Not that."
Hermione tried to hide her smile. "It'll do you good."
Filch stood, gathered up the empty bottles and a sandwich, and then started out of the boat. "I think I'll dispose of these."
Filch stopped and turned. "Yeah, Cap?"
"You and Mr. Norris keep a sharp eye out for that wizard who was just here. He'll hurt you the next time he gets the chance."
After Filch was gone, Snape wrapped his arms around Hermione, buried his face in her hair and held her.
She returned his embrace. "Sev? Severus, you're trembling. What's wrong? What man was Filch talking about?"
"Macnair was here."
She pushed away to look into his eyes. "Here? As in on this boat? "
"As in sitting where I am right now. Yes."
"Why aren't you dead? I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm glad you're not, but why?"
Severus sighed. "He's utterly mad, Slim." He looked into her eyes. "He described what he intends to do to the Malfoys. In detail. It's exactly what he did to the Barlow family." He looked down at his hands. "And then he's coming after me. And then you, Potter, Weasley and anyone else he can find."
The familiar crack of Apparition startled Snape and Hermione into drawing their wands.
"Captain Snape!" Longbottom's voice echoed into the cabin. "We've had an alarm! Macnair was in this area a few moments ago."
They reholstered their wands.
"He's gone, Longbottom. He was here, but he's gone."
"Neville," Hermione said. "I'll debrief you shortly. Have Harry and the others meet us in the pub in half an hour."
"Yes, Hermione." Another crack told them the Auror had gone.
"What's the matter?"
"I have a hunch this whole thing's going to blow up." Snape looked at his hands.
"I think you're right. What are you going to do?"
Severus turned to gaze into her dark brown eyes. Fathomless, lovely brown eyes. A man wouldn't get tired of looking at those eyes, he thought. Not for years. Maybe never. It was a powerful incentive.
"After this is all over, I'm going to pull out of here. We're leaving here for good, me and Filch and you if you want to stick with us." She started to speak and he stayed her with a finger against her lips. "Wait a minute. I want you to know what you're going to get into. It's going to be rough. If we get out of here it'll be with £700 and a couple hundred liters of petrol. Enough to get to the south of France." He paused. "Of course, we're really not limited by petrol, since I can propel the boat with magic if needed."
"I've never been there."
"I don't know when we'll get back home, Slim. You know it could be a long time if this comes out the way we hope it will."
Hermione shrugged. "Could be forever." She cocked her head. "Or are you afraid of that?" Her expression became mischievous. "I'm hard to get, Sev. All you have to do is ask me." She closed the space between them and kissed him.
Snape pulled her hard against his chest and deepened the kiss, teasing her lips with his tongue until she let him in and then exploring her mouth leisurely. Their tongues danced and teased until Severus gradually gentled and then ended the kiss. He cupped her face and looked into her eyes. He reached out tentatively with his mind and found hers receptive and open. Satisfied, he pushed no further.
As they parted, Severus felt a warmth tug at his heart that was equal parts frightening and exciting. But what he said was: "Let's get to work."
Severus turned to make his way down the dock and nearly stumbled into Filch. "Argus, I told you to stay on board the Ashwinder!"
"Cap'n, you and me got to stick together when we are in trouble."
"How do you know I'm in trouble?"
"Oh, you can't fool me. I always know. What's going on, Cap'n?"
"We're on a job."
"A job? What kind of job? What do you expect me to do?"
Snape sighed. "I expect you to go back on board the boat and keep your head low before the dueling starts, since you can't use a wand."
"Aha! I knew there was some reason. I thought you was mad at me or somethin'. You're just afraid I'll get hurt. You was thinking of me."
"You're right. So get your scrawny ass back on that boat and keep your head low like I told you."
Filch looked around. "I can't find Mr. Norris."
Snape tried and failed to keep his exasperation out of his voice. "Filch, Mr. Norris is smart enough to know that something bad is going to happen. He's hiding. Which is what you should be doing. Now."
"You're right, Cap. Mr. Norris is smart. Thanks. I'll be getting on board the boat. And Cap? Try to be careful, okay?"
"That's the plan."
After he saw Filch disappear into the cabin of his boat, Snape found a post, cast a Disillusionment Charm, and then stood waiting in the shadows.
He wasn't sure how much time passed. It seemed like forever, but probably wasn't more than an hour, before he heard hushed voices coming closer and roused himself to alertness. From his vantage point, he could see the group, led by Hermione and Lucius, start to make their way down the steps to the dock. Hermione had stepped onto the dock and the others were on the steps when there was shimmer in the air and Macnair suddenly appeared behind Hermione and grabbed her around her neck, pulling her roughly against him. The suddenness of the attack caused her to lose her grip on her wand, which fell and bounced down the dock, coming to rest against a post by a nearby slip.
Lucius and the rest of the group stopped. The Aurors huddled together, trying to maintain the illusion of frightened family members. Lucius started for his wand, but froze when Macnair pressed his own wand to Hermione's temple.
"Lucius, we meet again at last." Macnair said. "I knew Snape wouldn't be able to resist helping his old friend."
"You've got me, Macnair. Release Hermione. Let Narcissa and Draco go." Lucius said. "They've done nothing to you."
Macnair laughed. "Nothing? I heard how your bitch wife betrayed us. She told the Dark Lord that Potter was dead in the Forest! If she hadn't, that brat would be dead and our Master in charge as he should have been! Don't you tell me she's done nothing. If anything, she's worse than you. You were merely hopeless at any task given to you. And your son took after his father. No, Malfoy. Your family are all blood traitors and will suffer the consequences."
Severus tried to aim for Macnair's head, but the other wizard was holding Hermione too close and was moving around too much. He could only watch in growing frustration for any opening to take action.
"Come closer, Malfoy. Bring the rest with you. Slowly now. You seem to be friendly with this Mudblood bitch, so don't try anything funny or you'll get to watch her die first." Macnair started to move backward toward the Ashwinder, dragging Hermione with him.
"Snape!" Macnair shouted. "Come out! I know you're here somewhere."
Severus remained where he was.
Macnair pressed his wand more firmly against Hermione's head. "Now, Snape, or the Mudblood dies!"
Severus lifted the Disillusionment Charm, and then stepped out of the shadow, wand drawn. "Let her go, Macnair," he snarled. "Or I'll kill you where you stand."
Macnair laughed. "No you won't. You won't risk hurting this..."
In the middle of his sentence, several things happened at once.
Mr. Norris jumped onto Macnair's head from a nearby piling, digging his claws and teeth into the wizard's head, neck and ears. When Macnair screamed and threw his wand hand up to try to dislodge the cat, Hermione ground the heel of her boot into the top of his foot and her elbow into his stomach. Macnair let go of her and she dropped to the ground and rolled away.
"Now, Severus!" Hermione shouted.
"Sectumsempra!" Snape slashed his wand in a zig-zag motion toward Macnair. Mr. Norris abandoned his prey for the safety of the dock just before the spell hit.
Macnair's torso opened. Blood and guts poured out onto his feet and the dock. He looked down, surprised and then his eyes rolled into the back of his head and he collapsed.
Snape ran across the dock, past the lump of flesh and blood that used to be Macnair. He bent and picked up Hermione's wand along the way without missing a step, and then stopped in front of her. He holstered his wand, pocketed hers, reached down, took her hands, and then pulled her up and into his arms. He had never been so terrified, nor so relieved. She hugged him hard then stepped to his side, retrieved her wand from his pocket, then took his hand.
In the meantime, Potter and the rest of the Aurors had thrown off their disguises, dark robes mostly, and hurried over to where the remains of Macnair lay. Potter looked at Hermione and Snape.
Severus couldn't stop himself from rolling his eyes at Potter's pronouncement of the obvious.
"Yes." Hermione agreed with a discreet elbow to Snape's side. "The danger is over." She turned to address Malfoy. "Since Macnair is dead, you are under no obligation to leave England any longer. I would recommend taking your family back home. The Ministry will replace your peacocks and I'm sure that Professor Sprout can be persuaded to help Mrs. Malfoy start a new rose garden."
Lucius ran a hand through his hair. "I think that's what Narcissa and Draco will prefer. But—you're leaving, aren't you?"
Hermione looked at Snape. "Well, Severus just killed a man. In self-defense, but still. I don't think he wants to take any chances with Ministry justice...?"
"I'd rather not." Snape said. "But that doesn't mean that you—"
Hermione silenced him with a glance and a squeeze of her hand. Then she went over to stand in front of Lucius and motioned Harry over as well. "I know what you're thinking, Mr. Malfoy. But you don't have to worry. Does he, Harry?"
Potter smiled. "Nope. Before you went haring off down here, I was petitioning the Ministry. I twisted a few arms, called in a few favors." His green eyes glittered. "They owe me and your wife and they know it. What I'm saying, Mr. Malfoy, is that as of yesterday, your probation is officially over. You and your family are free." He waved his wand in a complicated pattern and murmured " Liberatus!" A golden light appeared to outline Lucius for a moment and then faded. Harry holstered his wand. "I performed the liberation spell on the rest of your family before we left Dover Castle."
Lucius seized Harry's hand and shook it. "Mr. Potter, you have my deepest gratitude. And a standing invitation for your family to visit the Manor from time to time. I seem to recall that you have a son that's Scorpius' age?"
Harry nodded. "Be careful, Mr. Malfoy. I might take you up on that offer."
Lucius smiled. "I insist that you do. Thank you." He turned to Hermione. "And thank you, Ms. Granger. For everything you've done for us over the years."
"You're welcome." Hermione stood on tiptoe and kissed his cheek. "Now, go. Have a happy life with your family at the Manor."
"You and Snape better visit when you're in town."
Snape walked over to stand beside Hermione. "Not sure how long that will be, Lucius. But there's nothing stopping your family from visiting the south of France, is there?" He stuck out his hand and Lucius shook it. "Take care, Lucius."
"You guys better get out of here. I have to call the Unspeakables about this 'accident'," Harry said.
Snape took Hermione's hands into his. "Are you sure about this, Slim?"
"Yes, very sure."
They made their way to the Ashwinder and boarded. Filch met them with an armful of Mr. Norris. "What do you know? He ran onto the boat just a pleased with himself as he can be. What's gotten into him?"
"He's a hero, Argus," Snape informed him. "Mr. Norris will be eating the finest food he ever had from now on."
"Well, ain't that something."
"We're leaving, Argus. Are you ready, Hermione?"
"Say, what is this?" Argus objected. "She's going with us?"
Snape smiled at Hermione. "Yeah, it looks like it."
"Aw, Cap'n. You mean—what's she got—" Filch turned to Hermione. "Who are you?"
Hermione smiled at him. "Was you ever bit by a dead bee?"
Filch's eyes widened. "Was you?"
Hermione crossed her arms and nodded. "Yeah," she replied. "You know, you've got to be careful of dead bees. They can sting you just as bad as live ones. Especially if they was kind of mad when they got killed."
Filch looked at Snape, who tried to look innocent and failed. "I feel like I was talking to myself."
"I bet I have been bit a hundred times that way." Hermione informed them.
"Why don't you bite them back?" Filch asked.
"I would, only I haven't got a stinger."
Filch smiled broadly. "Oh, I remember you! You're alright." He turned to Snape. "She can come, Cap'n. It's okay with me. Now I'll have the two of you to take care of, won't I?"
"That's right, Argus. You can begin by casting us off."
After Filch left the cabin, Severus turned to Hermione, pulled her hard against his chest, bent his head and kissed her until they were both breathless. "I think I'll let Argus drive the boat tonight." He leaned back and looked into her eyes. "Are you happy, Hermione?"
Hermione laid her head against his chest with a contented sigh. "Yes, Severus. For the first time in a long time, I'm very happy."