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The Joy of Cooking

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Prologue: Preheat your oven

Ginny took a forkful of the mysterious substance on her plate. Hermione had called it a casserole but it looked (and smelled) more like cat sick. She chewed for a moment, then surreptitiously transferred the bite to her napkin and took a healthy swig of wine. She’d never actually tried cat sick but suspected it might taste very much like this.

Luna rolled a bite around in her mouth thoughtfully. “Are you sure you brought out the right dish, Hermione? It’s very interesting, but I’m not sure it’s actually meant to be eaten. It tastes like nargle poo.”

Hermione looked a bit crestfallen. “Cooking’s never been my strong suit.”

“I’d say it’s not a suit at all. More like a mis-matched sock.” Ginny moved her plate aside and picked up a half-empty bottle. “Here, have another glass of wine, you won’t care.”

“Thanks.” Hermione accepted the refill with a sigh. She waved her wand and Accio’ed a box of biscuit and some Sage Derby from the kitchen.

“And tell us why we’re really here,” Luna added. “It couldn’t really be to eat this, because we’re your friends and you’d never do that to your friends.”

At this blunt assessment of her culinary skills, Hermione laughed outright. “You’re right, it’s not. I just needed some company. I’ve been spending so much time on my research, I don’t think I’ve been out of the house in two weeks.”

“Hermione, you’ve been holed up in here for a month,” Ginny objected. “Last time we saw you was in October. I mean, I know you’re a total swot, but that’s a bit much. Mum though you’d died or something.”

“Oh no, not that long. Well, maybe. I just get so engrossed in what I’m doing.”

“You really should get out more, Hermione,” Luna said, nibbling squirrel-like at her cheese and biscuit. “It’s not good for you to do nothing but write and study all the time.”

I’ve got my two best friends.” Hermione raised her glass to Luna and Ginny with a smile. “That’s enough.”

***

Harry and Draco stared at their plates. They were nice plates, rimmed with a graceful design of vines and leaves in green and silver. The cutlery was also nice, a heavy antique Sheffield aged to a mellow patina, inherited (so Severus had told them) from his mother.

What was on the plates looked even worse by comparison with its elegant setting: a watery boiled potato, a chop that had apparently been fossilized, and a heap of mushy green... beans?

Draco took a bite of his chop. It crunched.

Harry, who had been using his fork to make interesting patterns in the green mush, turned a laugh into a cough. Draco caught his eye and, in unspoken accord, they both pushed their plates to the side mumbling something about “really full, big lunch.”

Severus gave them a wintry smile. “I would like to point out,” he said, “that the two of you invited yourselves over for dinner. Had I had more time to prepare—”

Draco made a rude noise. “I’ve suffered your attempts at cooking before, Severus. You can’t boil an egg. Besides, we didn’t say you had to make dinner. Why didn’t you just get takeaway?”

“I had some free time.” He drummed his fingers on the table, frowning at his godson. “Why are you here? Yet another attempt to persuade me to accept that idiotic Order of Merlin?”

“Not on your life,” Harry said. “You made yourself very clear on that point when you threatened to hex our balls off if we mentioned it again.”

Severus lip twitched in what might have been a smile. “Well? What is it, then?”

Draco sighed. “Severus, we’re worried about you. You never leave the house. You answer owls but you never initiate contact. You’re becoming a hermit.”

“It’s unhealthy,” added Harry.

“It’s...” Draco waved his arms in frustration. “It’s un-Slytherin.”

At this insult, Severus raised an eyebrow. “Un-Slytherin.”

“Yes,” Draco said firmly. “Slytherins never let on what they’re thinking. Your actions are telling everyone exactly what you think of them.”

At this, Severus actually laughed. “Ten points to you. But no, the truth is...” He took a sip of his wine, then said awkwardly, “The truth is, my months in St. Mungo’s combined with the abrupt removal of everything that formed the focus of my life for so long have left me feeling... oh, out of step with the world, I suppose. Adrift. Also I dislike being stared at,” he added.

“I can understand that,” mumbled Harry.

“I’m sure you can,” Severus said. “I appreciate your concern, but I don’t mind being alone. As long as I have friends to keep me from being lonely. Which I do,” he finished, raising his glass towards them.

***

“We’ve got to do something,” Draco said, taking a sip of his Merlot and looking anxiously round at the other three. They were at a table at The Four Founders, one of the more upscale wizarding pubs in England. “Severus hardly ever leaves the house. Says he feels out of place, and besides he doesn’t want to be stared at.”

Ginny nodded. “Hermione’s the same, only her excuse is her work. It’s important, don’t get me wrong, but it doesn’t need to be her whole life.”

“What if we signed them up for a course or something?” Harry said. “Painting, or wine-tasting.”

A wicked smile spread across Ginny’s face. “What if we signed them up for something together?”

Luna took a handful of over-priced spiced nuts from the bowl in the center of the table. “Hermione likes yoga,” she offered.

Some time passed before they were sufficiently recovered from the mental image of Snape doing yoga and the hysterics that resulted to speak, but eventually the howls of laughter subsided to exhausted chuckles.

“Hoo.” Ginny wiped her eyes with a last giggle. “No, it has to be something they actually need, otherwise they’ll suspect we’re up to something.”

“Snape will suspect no matter what,” Draco pointed out. “Besides, what could there be that they both need?”

The four of them exchanged glances, then grinned and chorused: “Cookery class!”

***

Week 1: You can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs
Eggs: fried/scrambled, soufflé

“Welcome to Not British Cooking!” said the small, perky woman at the front of the room with a wide smile. She had a distinctly American accent. “Mah name is Bobbie Sue. Over the next six weeks, y’all will be expanding your food horizons beyond traditional British fare with some of mah favorite recipes. No Victoria sponges and boiled cauliflower cheese here!”

Hermione, seated at a cooking station in the front row (the room had five rows of two), suppressed an eye-roll. She was perfectly willing to expand her food horizons, but she hoped the woman’s accent didn’t mean they were in for horrors like deep-fried Oreos and hamburgers served between glazed donuts instead of proper rolls.

“Let’s go round the room and introduce ourselves, shall we? Name, and why you chose to take this course.” She pointed at Hermione. “Would y’all like to start us off?”

Hermione would not, but her long years as a dutiful student wouldn’t let her pass. “Hermione,” she said. “My friends signed me up for this course so that I could have them over for dinner without poisoning them.” She stopped short of adding that Ginny and Luna had chosen a Muggle cookery course because even the most basic magical cooking techniques seemed to elude her.

The student next to her, a handsome black-haired young man about her own age, grinned at her explanation. “I’m Raheem,” he said. “My mum has a lot of traditional Asian family recipes and no daughters. If I don’t learn enough that she can pass them on to me, she may kill me.” An appreciative laugh ran round the room.

The names went on but Hermione tuned them out. She flipped through the packet of recipes Bobbie Sue had handed round. Apparently they were going to focus on a different category or technique each week – starters, side dishes, seafood. This week was eggs.

Suddenly a devastatingly familiar voice struck her ear, and she sat up in shock. The voice was huskier than it used to be, but there was no mistaking it.

“... Snape. As to why we are here – that’s a rather philosophical question for a cookery class, is it not?”

She whirled round and yes, there he was at the last station in the back row: Severus Snape, complete with ink-black hair and sardonic expression. His eyes met hers and he inclined his head ever so slightly in acknowledgement.

Bobbie Sue laughed appreciatively, then turned her attention back to the room at large. “So. As you can see, each cooking station is equipped with everything y’all will need – cutting board, cooktop, sink, stand mixer, and so on. Pots and pans are in the cabinets underneath, and ingredients,” she gestured with both hands like an airline stewardess giving safety instructions, “are in the fridges at either side of the room and in the pantry in the back.”

Hermione glanced where Bobbie Sue pointed, half expecting the cupboard doors to fly open as they always had at Hogwarts.

“The recipes will move from simple to complex,” Bobbie Sue went on, “and you’ll have plenty of time to try them out. Multiple times, for some of the simpler ones. So, let’s start with scrambled eggs. If you’ll turn to the first page of your recipe packet...” As they set to work, Bobbie Sue moved round the room, offering a critique here and a compliment there.

Two hours later, Hermione had produced exactly one serving of properly-scrambled egg: yellow, fluffy, and appetizing-looking. She had also produced four servings of something that resembled gravel, two that looked like something Harry’s owl would have coughed up, and one that stuck to the pan like cement. Apparently the secret was twice as much butter as you thought you needed, a small amount of milk, not over-whisking, and folding rather than stirring in the pan.

She was wickedly gratified, about the time she reached her third serving of gravel, to overhear Bobbie Sue say, “Well, Severus, that’s an interesting color you’ve achieved there. Ah don’t believe I’ve ever seen green eggs before, outside of Dr. Seuss.”

When the class ended at noon Hermione gathered up her papers and headed quickly for the door, already thinking about changes she wanted to make to the book chapter she was currently working on. One of the reasons she’d given in to Luna and Ginny about the cookery class was that it met only in the mornings, and only three days a week, leaving her plenty of time to write. She was home with her quill in hand, scribbling away, by half past twelve. And when the thought of Severus Snape drifted into her mind, which it did more than once, she pushed it firmly away.

***

Severus had been surprised beyond words to see Hermione Granger walk in and sit down in the front row of Not British Cooking. For one thing, it was a Muggle cookery course (Harry and Draco had chosen it to minimize his chances of unwanted attention). For another, he hadn’t seen her or spoken to her in better than two years; the last time he’d seen her had been through a fog of pain on the floor of the Shrieking Shack, a hazy figure in the background as he spoke to Harry. What must she think of him, of what he’d said and done and been?

She’d grown up considerably; though her hair was as thick as ever, she’d tamed it into a wavy mass rather than the flyaway bush it had been as a student. She’d be, what, twenty now? Probably just embarking on her career. Busy with friends. Admirers. He’d heard through Harry that she and Weasley were no longer together, which was just as well for both of them, really. They’d always seemed ill-suited to one another. Severus had thought for a time she might end up with Harry, but the discovery that he and Draco were ‘a couple’ had put paid to that idea.

So occupied was he with wondering what she had been up to and why she was there that he accidentally stirred his eggs with his wand instead of the spatula. The green color (an unexpected side effect, the reasons for which he was curious to investigate) hadn’t affected the taste, but he had to admit that a person would be unlikely to want to consume them. He’d considered speaking to her, but distracted as he was by the egg/wand conundrum, she was gone before he had the chance.

Today, Wednesday, they were tackling fried eggs. Severus was puzzled at first when he read this in the recipe packet – surely it was just an egg and some butter? After his third attempt, he began to suspect that either eggs were naturally endowed with a Glutino hex that caused them to stick like glue to anything, or that he simply had no idea what he was doing.

Halfway through the morning Severus strolled casually up to the front of the room to ask Bobbie Sue a question about butter vs bacon fat for frying (he was finding the different behaviors of various fats surprisingly intriguing). As he passed Hermione’s table he gave it a casual glance. Her efforts at fried eggs looked remarkably like something he’d seen marketed at Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes (“FRAB: Ever wonder what happens when you barf backwards?? This is it!!”).

He returned to his own station feeling rather smug. He’d assumed that, having grown up in a Muggle family, Granger would be as terrifyingly competent at cooking as she was at everything else. It was rather a relief to discover there was something she wasn’t a genius at.

By the end of class he’d managed four perfect eggs in a row, crispy brown around the edges and nicely runny in the center, using different techniques to “finish” them (turning, spooning hot fat over, adding a bit of water and a lid to steam). Feeling daring, he surreptitiously cast an Anti-Sticking Charm on the pan for the last one and flipped the egg in mid-air with a flick of his wrist. Bobbie Sue looked impressed and the woman to his right applauded.

His success, minor as it was, gave him the nerve to speak to Granger after class, but once again she shot out of the room as if she were on a broomstick.

***

On Friday, they advanced to soufflés. Quite a few of the students seemed intimidated, but Bobbie Sue assured them that soufflés were not that difficult (“Now don’t get your feathers ruffled, this’ll be easy as pie”). Severus was just about to pour his batter (nicely thick and a lovely pale-yellow color) into his casserole dish when Hermione went past on her way to the stores cupboard in the back. She paused, whispered “Step two” out of the corner of her mouth, and went on.

Startled he looked down at his potions textbook – no, his recipe packet. “Step 2: Butter dish. Add grated parmesan and tilt to coat.” What was she on about? He’d buttered the dish... Oh. Cursing mentally, he put down the bowl of batter, added the cheese to the buttered dish, and tilted it back and forth until the inside was thickly coated.

The soufflé turned out a puffy perfection.

This time he was prepared for her speedy exit, and was close behind her as she left the classroom. At the double doors opening onto the street she paused to put on her gloves; it was sleeting out, an unpleasantly icy mix typical of late December. He stepped up beside her to open the door and she looked up in surprise.

“So, your friends are worried you’ll poison them,” he said, looking down at her. Had her eyes always been that lovely deep brown with flecks of gold? “What have you been trying to feed them? If it was your fried eggs, I can understand their concern.”

She narrowed her eyes, evidently trying to judge the precise sentiment behind his comment: malice or humor? “Yes, well, at least mine didn’t turn out green,” she pointed out tartly, starting down the stairs to the street. “However did you get yours to go that color?”

“I stirred them with my wand,” he said, bypassing the question of what had caused him to make the error in the first place.

“How very odd,” she said thoughtfully. “I wonder what caused that. Some interaction between the wood of the wand and the eggs? Leftover charm residue?”

It amused him that her mind, like his, had immediately begun theorizing about cause and effect. “Who is Dr. Seuss, by the way?” he asked.

“A Muggle author.”

“Did his entire oeuvre involve eggs of unusual colors?”

Hermione laughed. “No, just the one book. Green Eggs and Ham. It’s about a very contrary person named Sam I Am.” She summarized the story for him, and by the time she had finished they’d reached the entrance to the Underground. “Well, here’s where I get off. Or rather, on. I have to say, Professor, I’m glad you’re in Muggle clothes,” she added with a grin. “You in your robes would have made it entirely too much like double Potions with the Slytherins.”

“Ten points to Gryffindor for saving the soufflé?” he suggested.

She laughed. “So, I’ll see you Monday, I guess.”

He nodded, and as she disappeared into the Underground, he realized that for the first time in a long while he was actually looking forward to something.

 

Week 2: Whetting the appetite
Blue cheese/leek toasts

When Hermione came in on Monday of the second week, she found Severus seated at the cooking station next to hers.

She’d been startled when he spoke to her on Friday, and relieved to discover that she was able to converse with him without feeling like a third year again. Something in the dynamic between them had shifted. She no longer felt intimidated by him as she once had: before the war by his caustic comments and seeming cruelty, after the war by the discovery of how much he had done for them for so long, unknown and unappreciated. Now, seeing him sitting there watching her with his dark eyes and knowing she was going to get to spend three hours in close proximity, she felt a lift of anticipation.

“Where’s Raheem?” she asked, looking around. “Did he drop the class?” She’d enjoyed talking to the tall, dark-haired young man during the past week; they’d had a long consultation about the egg whites for their soufflés, trying to judge when “soft peaks” became “stiff peaks.”

“He wanted to sit elsewhere,” Severus replied blandly.

She glanced towards the back and saw Raheem in Severus’ former station in the back row, looking none too pleased with the change. She waved to him, and he brightened at her notice and waved back. She sat down and flipped through the recipe packet. “Starters this week,” she murmured. “Or as Bobbie Sue calls them, appetizers. Mmmm, blue cheese. And leeks.”

“Ah,” Severus said. “Allium ampeloprasum, to be precise.” He held up a long, cylindrical object, dark-green rectangular leaves at one end shading through pale green to a pure white bulb at the other end.

“And here I thought I’d turn out to be the know-it-all of the class. Is it a common ingredient in potions?”

“No. I looked it up last night when I was reading through the recipes. One should always know the ingredients one is dealing with. It lessens the chance of unpleasant surprises.”

“Constant vigilance, is that?” she said, and felt a small thrill of achievement when he gave a brief chuckle.

Working side by side with her former Potions professor was a strange but not unwelcome sensation. Instead of being judged by him, she was competing with him as an equal. It kept her on her toes in a much more enjoyable way than worrying about losing points for Gryffindor ever had. As she began slicing the leeks (“white parts only, and wash well” the recipe admonished), she could hear him moving about at his station, banging pans, opening drawers, muttering to himself.

She tilted the chopping board, swept the leeks into the pan of olive oil, set the chopping board down, and began to stir them. She took a deep sniff. They smelled divine.

“Spoon!” a voice to her right hissed. She looked at Severus, startled. “Spoon!” he hissed again, jerking his chin towards her pan.

Hermione looked down at the sizzling leeks and realized that she’d used her wand to set the wooden spoon stirring them gently on its own. With a squeak she grabbed the spoon just as Bobbie Sue strolled past.

“Nice caramelization on your leeks, Hermione,” she said. “Remember, low temperature for a long time, that’s the secret!”

They both worked in silence for the next twenty minutes, stirring the leeks, slicing a baguette and toasting the slices under the grill. Even without a sound, Hermione could sense his presence, as if he radiated some kind of heat. It was distracting, but not unpleasantly so. Hermione spread the leeks over the little ovals, sprinkled the blue cheese on top, and surveyed them with pride. They looked exactly right. She picked one up and went over to Severus. “Here, try this,” she said.

He was still occupied in putting the toppings on his toasts and didn’t have a hand free, so he bent forward and bit into it. His lips brushed her fingers lightly as he did so, making her immediately wonder what those lips would feel like on other parts of her body.

***

“So why are you here, really?” Hermione asked as they were walking down the hall after class. “I can’t imagine you just woke up one morning and said to yourself, Something’s missing in my life, I think it’s Muggle cooking.”

He gave her a brief smile. “Hardly.” He wrapped his scarf (green and silver, she noticed) around his neck and pulled on a pair of elegant black gloves. “It was Harry and Draco’s idea. They said it was because no one should be living on takeaway and Firewhisky. They also seem to think I don’t get out enough.”

It occurred to Hermione that maybe Snape preferred to be alone simply because, after so many years, he didn’t know how to be anything else. “Would you like to get some lunch?”

A flush colored his pale cheeks. “There’s no need for charity, Miss Granger.”

“I wasn’t being charitable,” she said with some asperity. Merlin, he was as touchy as ever. “I thought we could talk about...” She trailed off. What could they talk about?

“The novels of Chestnutt Romphatcher?” he suggested. “Britain’s latest Quidditch loss to Argentina? The price of newt’s eyes in South Africa?”

“Romphatcher is a hack,” she said automatically, then immediately wished she could take it back. Romphatcher was a hack, but his Victorian wizarding adventure novels were also quite popular. Molly Weasley had a complete set.

“I quite agree. His heroines are far too...supine for my taste.”

She narrowed her eyes suspiciously. “Have you actually read Romphatcher?”

“Once. Never again. I am happy to see that our tastes converge.” He gestured toward the door. “I believe you mentioned lunch?”

Ten minutes later they were in a cozy Wizarding pub tucked between a bookstore and a consignment clothing shop, entered by burrowing into the center of the rack of coats on sale out front.

“I’m surprised you need a cookery class,” Hermione said, when they’d taken their ploughman’s lunches and drinks to a quiet table. “I would have thought you’d be good at it – isn’t it just like Potions?”

“Not in the least. Potions have a purpose.”

“Eating has a purpose.”

“True.”

Silence fell for a moment. He was busy with his food, so she took the opportunity to really look at him. His face was still pale, but it had lost that look of repressed anger and bitterness. And his mouth...

Severus stopped, fork halfway to his mouth. “Miss Granger, you are staring at me.”

She grinned. “You’re worth looking at.” He cleared his throat, clearly unsettled by this adult side of her. She found that she was enjoying herself. “And I think you might call me Hermione, don’t you?”

“Ten points from Gryffindor for cheek,” he said severely. “And I think you had better call me Severus. I already feel old enough by comparison without being addressed as professor. Besides which, I’m no longer teaching.”

“I wondered about that. What are you doing?”

“Very little. Some potions research. A little writing – I have had one or two papers published in the journal of the Most Excellent Society of Potioneers. It is possible, of course, that they valued my name in the table of contents more highly than the paper itself.” He grimaced. “Being a celebrity does strange things to one’s self-confidence. One is never sure of being wanted for oneself.”

She thought of saying something conventionally comforting, then dismissed the idea. He deserved better than empty phrases, and besides, he was right. “I’m writing, too.”

“The Golden Trio: Saviors of the Wizarding World?” he suggested. “How to Win Friends and Influence Dark Lords in Three Easy Lessons?”

“Ha very ha. No, it’s...” She stopped, wondering how it might sound to him. Harry and Ron had thought her work was boring beyond words; this man might find it impertinent at best and insulting at worst. “I’m researching the connection between childhood trauma and magic.” She hesitated, then added, “Slytherin seems to have a larger share of young witches and wizards that come from, well, difficult home lives. I’m curious why.”

He nodded slowly. “An intriguing question. And an important one.”

 

Later, as they stood outside the pub, she put a hand on his arm. “I’m glad you spoke to me, last week after class. I wanted to, but I wasn’t... well, I wasn’t sure you wanted to be reminded of... anything.”

Unconsciously, his hand reached up to trace the scars on his neck. “As if I could ever forget,” he said quietly.

She thought of Bellatrix, of Tonks, of Fred Weasley. Of Harry, walking alone into the Forbidden Forest to face his fate. Of this man standing in front of her, of all he’d done and suffered for them, of how she’d seen him nearly die on the floor of a dilapidated wooden shack. Of course he hadn’t forgotten. “No,” she said finally. “I don’t suppose you could. Nor could I.”

“But pleasant company helps make the memories more bearable.” Her eyes met his for a space of time that seemed endless, and she held her breath. He bent and brushed his lips gently against hers. Instinctively she leaned into him, wanting more; for a moment she thought he would allow it, then he stepped back. “Would you... Shall we do this again?” he asked diffidently.

“Yes,” she said. “I’d like that. Very much.”

***

Week 3: A bit on the side
Sweet potato/shallot bake, creamed onions

Hermione felt a flutter in her stomach as she walked into Not British Cooking the following Monday. She was late. She and Severus had had lunch again on Wednesday and Friday after class, and the spark she’d sensed on Monday had caught fire and was burning merrily. At least on her part. The kiss he’d given her on Friday – longer than Monday’s brief caress, long enough to make her heart race and her spine tingle – was fairly convincing evidence that he shared it, but... this was Severus Snape, Slytherin, double agent, spy. How could she be sure? The thought had kept her up into the wee hours the night before, turning it this way and that, trying to convince herself one way or the other.

Hence the flutter. And the lateness.

“Today we’ll be doing a sweet potato/shallot bake, which will give y’all a fine chance to practice your knife skills,” Bobbie Sue was saying as Hermione slunk in and went to her station. Severus stared at her coldly and her heart sank; then he mouthed the words, “Ten points from Gryffindor,” and she grinned in amused relief.

“Y’all have quite a knack with a knife!” Bobbie Sue enthused as few minutes later, leaning over Severus’ shoulder and watching him work. “Most people have to use a mandolin to get the slices that even. You sure you were never a chef?”

“I have prepared a few...ingredients in my time,” Severus answered smoothly, carrying on slicing the sweet potato into identical thin coins.

Hermione could hardly repress a snort. Was she actually flirting with Severus?

“Well, you’re obviously very good with your hands.” Bobbie Sue gave Severus an arch smile, then turned to Hermione. She picked up a slice of sweet potato. “You’re a bit thick, dear. Try to get a little thinner.”

Now that was a bit much. Hermione glared at Bobbie Sue’s back as the woman moved down the room. She began hacking at her sweet potato again, throwing the uneven orange discs into the metal bowl so viciously they made a “bong”ing sound.

“You’ll cut yourself if you carry on like that,” Severus said quietly. “Here, let me slice those for you.” He moved over to her station to stand beside her. Hermione froze. She could feel the muscles in his arm moving as he sliced the shallots. The entire right side of her body tingled, as though exposed to a mild electric shock.

***

“Lovely thick sauce, Severus.” They were making Bobbie Sue’s papa’s favorite side dish, creamed onions. Bobbie Sue dipped a spoon into Severus’ saucepan and puckered her lips to blow gently on it. She sipped delicately from the spoon. “Nicely seasoned, too. You’ve added something?”

“A little savory,” he said. “My apologies for altering your recipe, but I’ve never been able to prevent myself tinkering with potions. Er, sauces.”

“Very piquant,” she nodded, licking her lips with a small pink tongue. “I’d like to add that to the recipe I use for the course, may I?”

Severus inclined his head graciously. “But of course.”

Piquant. Hermione, watching from her own station, clenched her teeth and told herself that she would not, would not, would not, beat this nice woman to death with a ladle.

***

“Not really your type, is she?” Hermione said over lunch, her tone carefully neutral. The fact that a petite Southern belle – that was the phrase, wasn’t it? – had apparently set her sights on Severus was bad enough. The fact that he didn’t seem to notice it should have made her feel better, but by some strange alchemy it only made her wonder if he was a bit thick.

Severus looked at her quizzically. “My type?”

“I’d have thought you’d want someone a bit more intellectual.” Hermione picked up the salt and sprinkled it over her chips.

“What makes you think Bobbie Sue is unintelligent? Cookery takes quite a bit of skill and knowledge. Rather like potions, as someone recently pointed out to me. Did you know that the boiling point of sugar--”

“Her hair’s too big.”

“So is yours, just in a different direction. It goes out instead of up. Stop salting your chips, they’ll be inedible.”

She put down the salt, picked up a chip, bit into it. Too late. What else was wrong with Bobbie Sue? “She’s got an appalling accent.”

“Some people find the Southern accent charming.” He sat back in his chair and eyed her closely. “What is all this about?”

She flushed. Damn the man. “I’m just saying, speaking as a friend, that I don’t think she’s right for you.”

“Right for me?” He frowned. “You cannot seriously think that Bobbie Sue...” He trailed off, looking confused. “Hermione, don’t you think that if someone were, er, interested in me, I’d know it?”

“No.” She glared at him. “No, I don’t think you would at all.”

***

“May Ah join you?”

Severus looked up from his book. The house had seemed rather too quiet on this sunny Saturday afternoon and he’d felt strangely restless, so he’d decided – uncharacteristically -- to go out for tea. He’d toyed with the idea of inviting Hermione, but she’d seemed oddly testy the past week – working too hard, probably – and he wasn’t sure enough of himself to feel comfortable imposing on her, so in the end he had opted for a solitary cup of tea over a book.

He hadn’t expected to run into anyone he knew, much less Bobbie Sue. And yet here she was, looking at him expectantly. Perhaps even hopefully? No, that was Hermione getting into his mind.

“If you wish,” he said, suppressing a sigh at the loss of his solitude. As people were constantly reminding him, it wasn’t absolutely necessary to be rude to everyone.

Bobbie Sue was surprisingly pleasant company, however, and he found himself intrigued by her stories of growing up in Alabama – compared to wizarding London, the place sounded as alien as Mars. She was attempting to explain to him the meaning of the idiom “That dog won’t hunt” when he saw Hermione enter the cafe. When she saw them, her face went very still, then she turned on her heel and walked out.

He stood up and looked after her uncertainly, bothered by her white face and tense posture. Had she thought--?

“Now, Severus, Ah’ve been flappin’ my tongue like it was attached in the middle and loose at both ends. Y’all sit right down and tell me about yourself...”

***

Week 4: Sauce for the goose...
Crispy roasted broccoli, roasted Brussels sprouts, roast goose

Seeing Severus with Bobbie Sue had not done good things for Hermione’s weekend. She had alternated between stomping round her flat fuming, and telling herself in a very grown-up voice that Severus was free to do whatever he wanted. And so, of course, was she.

Monday morning, she claimed her usual table up front by dropping her coat and books on it, but made sure that she was in the back of the room talking to Raheem when Severus entered. He frowned slightly when he saw her but made no other comment.

“Roasting,” said Bobbie Sue, “is the best way to bring out the flavors of vegetables. Any vegetables can be roasted, of course, but mah personal favorites are broccoli and Brussels sprouts.”

 

Hermione cast an eye over Severus’ workstation. “You’re not supposed to mix garlic in with the olive oil for the sprouts. Only for the broccoli.”

“Your chopping is sloppy, Miss Granger.”

“I read up on cooking times last night. The sprouts have to cook longer. If you put garlic in, it will burn.”

“If your vegetables aren’t roughly the same size, they’ll cook unevenly.”

“Don’t tell me how to chop, Severus. Just because you have ‘quite a knack with a knife’ is no reason to look down on the rest of us.”

“Don’t tell me how to mix ingredients, Granger. I’ve been mixing potions since before you were born."

“Git.”

“Swot.”

***

“The finale of our week will be a roast goose. I know y’all usually have turkey for the holidays, just like we do on Thanksgivin’, but a goose is not only bigger but has more fat and more intense flavor. Trust me, y’all will be happy with it.”

Hermione had taken a station in the back, next to Raheem. She couldn’t tolerate another three hours sitting next to Severus, watching him be oblivious to Bobbie Sue’s machinations. Ah, but was he oblivious? They’d gone out for lunch together, after all. If he was aware of her interest, Hermione had only herself to blame: she was the one who’d brought it to his attention.

Out of the corner of her eye, she watched Bobbie Sue circulate around the room as they all began their preparations. Somehow she managed to come back to Severus more often than anyone else, Hermione noted with cold clarity. Not that she was counting.

She looked at the naked bird sitting in front of her, its clammy greyish-white skin speckled here and there with pinfeathers. This was ridiculous. It would take her a week to eat this thing. Well, she supposed she could send it to Hagrid for the thestrals. Did they eat cooked meat or raw? She couldn’t recall. Her mind didn’t seem to be working properly this week.

Two hours later, Hermione was nearly as roasted as her bird. Every time Bobbie Sue spoke to Severus (which she did entirely too often, in Hermione’s opinion), it was like another coal on the fire. There she was now, in fact. Full of compliments, no doubt. Touching his shoulder. And he kept smiling at her.

Severus’ bird was just coming out of the oven. Bobbie Sue pointed out something to him – probably remarking on the perfectly perfect browning he’d achieved – then gave a tinkling laugh. “Why Severus, that just dills mah pickle!”

Hermione didn’t think, she just acted. He wanted cooked goose? She’d cook his goose all right. She pointed her wand surreptitiously at Severus’ bird. “Incendio,” she whispered, then turned innocently away as flames erupted from the turkey, shooting it off the platter and onto the floor.

***

Week 5: Other fish in the sea
Grilled salmon w/olive oil, lemon, and dill; parmesan-crusted tilapia

Hermione set the platter of grilled salmon on the table in front of her two best friends. “Behold, today’s masterpiece. I cast a warming charm on it when I left class, so it should still be hot. Thanks for coming,” she added. “I’d hate for this to go to waste.”

Ginny gave an appreciative sniff. “You’re definitely learning something. That looks amazing.”

Luna eyed it with interest. “That’s Scandahoovian glurtfisk, isn’t it? I’ve heard about them. The fins make excellent rainhats. They usually spawn on Boxing Day.”

Usually Luna’s nonsense made Hermione smile, but today even that couldn’t penetrate her glumness. She and Severus hadn’t said a word to each other since he’d stalked out of the classroom on Friday, carrying the shattered remains of his goose. She’d thought of owling him this weekend, but lost her nerve when she remembered the look on his face. They’d maintained an icy silence during class this morning, Hermione out of a mixture of anger and shame, Severus (no doubt) because he thought she was a childish idiot and couldn’t be bothered with her any longer.

“How is it having Snape in class with you?’ asked Ginny as she helped herself to a slice of salmon.

Hermione poked dispiritedly at her fish. “I blew up his goose last week.”

Her friends stared at her, then burst out laughing. “What? Why?”

Hermione opened her mouth, then closed it. It was too embarrassing to admit that all he’d done was meet another woman for lunch when she wanted him for herself. “It seemed like the thing to do at the time,” she said with a shrug.

“I’m sure he deserved it,” Ginny said. “I mean, war hero, sure, but still a git.”

“He probably shouted at her,” Luna said.

“Or sneered.”

Hermione shifted uncomfortably in her chair. “No, he doesn’t do that any more. He’s been...quite nice, actually.”

“Or made sarcastic remarks.”

“He always was mean.”

Now that wasn’t fair. “No, he wasn’t. Well, yes he was, but only because he had to be,” Hermione said. “You know Voldemort was a Legilimens. If Sev—Snape hadn’t been convincing in hating Harry, Dumbledore’s plan never would have worked.”

“But he didn’t have to be hateful to all of us, as well,” Luna pointed out. “Though that might have been the Wrackspurts,” she added.

“I’m sure he’s still quite nasty,” Ginny said.

“Unkind.”

“A greasy git.”

“Probably smells.”

That did it. “He does not!” Hermione shouted, finally out of patience. “He smells like... like woodsmoke and vanilla and pepper!” Only this morning she’d detected his scent, faintly, on the jacket she’d been wearing the last time they’d gone to lunch together, and had nearly cried. “And furthermore he’s sexy and sweet and I think I love him!”

Ginny and Luna simply looked at her. She waited for their appalled reaction, tensed to defend Severus from what she knew would be their serious disapproval.

“Well, about time you admitted it,” Ginny said finally. “I was running out of insults.”

Luna smiled sweetly at Hermione’s bewildered face. “Did you think we didn’t know?” she said.

***

Lunch this time was actually worthy of the china it sat on, as opposed to the mushy greens and burnt chop they’d been presented with a month ago.

Draco took an appreciative bite of his fish, savoring the delicate, cheesy crust. “Very nice.”

“Not bad at all,” Harry agreed, taking another piece. “What is it?”

“Parmesan cheese and crushed pecan-nut crackers,” Severus replied. Unlike his two guests, he hadn’t much of an appetite.

“How is Granger as a fellow student?” Draco said casually. “Still all frizzy hair and pick-me-pick-me-I-know-the-answer?”

Severus shrugged in feigned indifference. “I couldn’t say.”

“Ignoring her, are you?” Draco went on. “Just as well. Right, Harry?”

Harry nodded regretfully. “She’s too clever by half. It’s ok in small doses, but hard to take for extended periods. Always on about her work, blah blah blah.”

Severus thought of the long conversations they’d had about her research, about the impact it could have on young witches and wizards who had grown up in homes like his own: frightened, abused, damaged.

“And you didn’t have to listen to her for weeks on end, camping across Britain,” he went on. “Trust me, it gets old.”

“Definitely,” Draco said. “I don’t know how you stayed friends with her, to be honest, Potter.”

“She’s a bit bossy, too,” Harry added thoughtfully. “Always saying we should do this and not do that.”

She had such passion: for her work, for the things that interested her. For the people she loved.

“Not attractive, either. All that hair. What a mess.”

Her hair, that beautiful wilderness of coppery-brown. It had felt like silk against his hands, the one time he had kissed her. Really kissed her.

“And it’s not like you have any reason to pay attention to her, do you? Plenty of other fish in the sea, after all,” Harry said, then yelped as Draco kicked him under the table.

Severus shot him a sharp glance.

Silence fell. Harry and Draco busied themselves with their plates.

“I am disappointed in you, Draco,” Severus said at last.

Draco opened innocent eyes wide. “Whatever do you mean?”

“I don’t expect subtlety from a Gryffindor, but as a Slytherin, you should be capable of much more devious tactics. You’re a disgrace to your house.” He rose. “Your dunderheaded approach has spoilt my appetite. I shall leave you to finish your lunch in peace.”

The door closed behind him.

Harry looked at Draco. “Think it worked?”

Draco smiled and pointed at Severus’ fork. The heavy silver was crumpled into an uneven ball. “Oh yes,” he said.

***

Owl, Severus Snape to Minerva McGonagall:

Dear Minerva – As always, you confront me with awkward questions, a knack you have had since I was a first year. You ask me if I enjoy Miss Granger’s company. Yes. You ask me if I have begun to care for her. Yes. You ask me if I know how lucky any man would be to win her heart. Oh, yes. You ask me if I am a fool. Had I been a fool I would never have survived to the advanced age of forty-one, as you well know. I am not, for example, such a fool as to think a young woman like Hermione would be remotely interested in me. She has her whole life before her; I am broken, perhaps not beyond repair, but certainly beyond what I would ask her to undertake.

You ask me if I love her. Yes. And because I do, I want only the best for her. Which surely is not an old misanthrope like myself.

Severus

***

Owl, Hermione Granger to Minerva McGonagall:

Dear Minerva – Yes, I was talking about Severus. How did you guess? The work he did during the war, those told me about his courage and cleverness and loyalty. But he’s so much more than that! I never guessed all the things he was hiding: kindness and humor and loneliness. Not to mention a sharp wit that turns verbal sparring into an art form. If I thought he could possibly love me, believe me, I’d be the happiest person in the world.

But he doesn’t. I thought, for a little while, that he might, but I’m sure he’s lost whatever respect he might have had for me after my idiotic behavior. Besides, he’s older and more experienced and I’m sure he thinks of me as just a silly child. While I... well, I just want him to be happy. He deserves it more than anyone I know. If I can’t do it, I’ll let him find someone who can.

Hermione

***

Week 6: Just desserts
Fudgy brownies

Draco looked round at Harry, Luna, and Ginny. They were sitting at a table at the Founders’ Arms, whence Draco had summoned them for an “emergency conference.” He dropped two sealed notes on the polished oak surface. One was addressed to Hermione, the other to Severus. “These are from Minerva McGonagall. They were accompanied by a letter, with very firm instructions that we, and I quote, ‘fix this mess’.” He took a drink of his wine. “Well?”

“I think I might have an idea,” said Ginny.

***

Hermione surveyed the results of her afternoon’s work. Ginny’s special request for the main dish: pork chops baked in broth with a mustard-rice topping. The chops were juicy and succulent, and the topping had browned beautifully. Hermione’s choice of side dish: creamed onions. The sauce was thick and smooth, perfectly seasoned, and she’d added a dash of savory. Severus had been right, it was the perfect final touch. For dessert, dense fudgy brownies, requested by Luna, who said that no meal was complete without chocolate. Hermione just hoped everyone else was hungry; she didn’t have much of an appetite herself.

Ginny had suggested that they eat at her house, as she had “a proper dining table not buried under ink and parchment and books and scribbles.” Looking at the untidy heap that had grown to absorb not only the table but three of her four chairs, Hermione conceded that her friend might have had a point.

Sighing, she packed the food into a hamper and cast a strong warming charm on it to keep everything hot, then picked it up, turned on the spot, and Apparated to the pavement outside Ginny’s house. A note on the door read “Come in!”

She opened the door and poked her head in. “Ginny?” No one answered. She went on into the dining room. The table was laid with Ginny’s best china and silver, candles lit, a bottle of wine chilling in a silver bucket. But there were only two place settings.

Hermione frowned, then shrugged. Something must have come up and Luna had had to cancel.

She began taking out the dishes and arranging them on the table, when she heard a sound from the other room. Still carrying the dish of pork chops, she went into the kitchen.

“Ginny, where—” She broke off, struck speechless at the sight of Severus Snape standing in Ginny Weasley’s kitchen. He was holding a square glass pan and clearly could not have been more surprised if she’d pranced in naked. “What in Merlin’s name are you doing here?”

“Harry and Draco asked me to make dinner. They said they were house-sitting for Ginny Weasley.” His eyes dropped to the dish in her hands and he frowned. “Is that pork chops?”

Mutely, she nodded.

He stepped forward for a closer look, and she caught again the enticing scent of woodsmoke, vanilla and pepper. “With mustard-rice topping?”

Hermione felt as if she’d been dropped into a play and not told any of her lines. Or the plot. “How did you know? She said it was a family recipe.”

He gave a short laugh. “Yes, my family. My mother used to make that. It was my favorite as a child.”

For the first time Hermione registered what Severus was holding, and smelled the delicious odors of tomato and garlic. “That’s my favorite recipe. Why did you bring that?”

“Harry asked for it. He said it was his favorite. And you? The chops?”

“Ginny,” she answered, still befuddled. “Ginny and Luna asked me to make them dinner...”

“I smell a plot.” His face relaxed into a smile. “Shall we have a glass of wine and see if we can figure this out?”

Together they went into the dining room and set the dishes on the table. Hermione noticed that Severus had brought fresh strawberries for dessert. Those would go fabulously with the fudgy brownies she’d made at Luna’s request... ah. Of course they would. “Draco?” she inquired, pointing at the strawberries.

Severus was removing the cork from the wine with practiced ease. “Yes, he was quite insistent. I had to go to three markets to find them – they aren’t exactly in season in January.” The cork came out with a pop. “Will you hand me the glasses?”

Hermione reached for the glass nearest to her, then paused. “There’s a note under it. And under that one,” she added, spotting the other square of folded parchment.

“For some reason, that does not surprise me. Whatever it is, I suspect a glass of wine will not go amiss.”

Severus poured a glass and handed it to her, then poured one for himself. Together they looked at the notes, recognizing Minerva McGonagall’s firm, flowing hand. One was addressed to Hermione, the other to Severus. “Shall we?”

Slowly, Hermione picked up her note and opened it. Beside her, she saw Severus doing the same.

My dearest Hermione – Gryffindors are supposed to be brave. Will you lose your courage now, when your heart’s desire is within your grasp?

Severus was watching her, his face was unreadable, but she had the feeling that he was suppressing some intense emotion. Be brave, she thought dizzily, and held out her note to him. Silently, he gave her his in exchange.

My dearest Severus – Slytherins are supposed to be clever. Surely you’re clever enough to recognize the best thing that has ever happened to you?

She looked up. His dark eyes were intense, filled with a hesitant hope. “I am clever enough to recognize it,” he said in a low voice. “But I am not sure I’m brave enough to take it.”

“I am,” she said, and joy rose in her heart as she stepped forward into his arms.