Hermione was picking up a syringe when the curtain was yanked back.
"Oh, forgive me, doctor. I didn't realise that anyone was in here."
Hermione froze, but only momentarily, to hear that voice, a voice she'd thought she'd never hear again. "Excuse me," she told her patient, smiling tightly before leading Snape out without looking at him. "Follow me," she said, making her way to the staff room.
To her relief, it was empty. She entered the room and heard Snape pull the door closed behind them. She didn't turn around.
"You're surprised to 'see' me," he said.
Hermione turned on him. "You're supposed to be dead!"
"Am I?" he asked. "Says who?"
"Me lose consciousness," interrupted Snape.
Hermione looked at him, first at his throat, which was covered by a high-necked black jumper, then up and down his body, which seemed to have filled out, and then, dreading it, at his face. "You're supposed to be—why are you here?"
"The better question, I think, is why are you here? When Potter told me you'd left the wizarding world, I didn't believe him."
"How long have you been in contact with Harry?"
"Since I recovered and returned to Hogwarts. Minerva wanted to retire, and after burying my mother, I needed somewhere to be."
"You buried—I'm sorry, for your loss. I . . . can't believe Harry didn't tell me."
"I was given to understand you rather vehemently insisted upon being left alone," Snape said. "How are your parents, Granger?"
"Fuck you," Hermione snarled, turning her back on him.
Snape sighed. "That was . . . tactless of me."
"I think that you're wasting your talents because you're afraid to use magic after . . . what happened with your parents."
"To my parents, you bastard," Hermione said, turning to glare at Snape. "To them—and I did it."
"And now things can't be undone," Snape said quietly.
"No, n—no, they can't be. They don't know me. I . . . I'll never use magic again." Hermione wrapped her arms around herself and stared at the floor. "What do you want?"
"A Charms professor. Filius would also like to retire."
"Well, you came to the wrong place, didn't you?"
"Perhaps I have, Miss Granger, perhaps not. You showed tremendous promise as a stud—"
"Ha! You must be desperate."
"In point of fact, I found you rather alarming."
"Bitterness doesn't suit you, Granger, and neither does this, but I'm not going to waste my time attempting to persuade you otherwise. I don't need a broken Charms professor."
"Oh, so you're not also teaching Potions now?"
Snape smirked. "However deserved that remark was, it didn't suit you to say it. Term begins in two months. You have one week to consider my offer. If I've not heard from you by Monday next, I shall consider it a rejection." Dropping his eyes down the length of her body and then back up, he continued, "And that would be disappointing. You've lost your puppy fat. It's a shame, then, that you're content to whip yourself like a disobedient dog."
"You . . . how dare you flirt with me after . . . after—"
"Near-death experiences are rather liberating in some respects, Miss Granger, and I never was particularly well socialised. As I'm fairly certain I shan't see you again, why shouldn't I have flirted?"
"You're just trying to provoke me."
"That is the object of a flirtation, unless one is a masochist, of course."
Hermione almost laughed. "What do you call yourself when you spent, what was it? Twenty years pining for a dead woman?"
Snape shook his head. "Did that feel good to say? And after everything you believe I did to you, is it the best you can do?"
Something snapped in Hermione, and she drew her arm back, opened her palm, and made to strike Snape . . . only to find herself truly frozen in place.
"Stupid girl. You don't carry a wand anymore, and I've never needed one for simple spells." He circled her. "I should leave you like this."
Hermione whimpered and hated herself more for the sound than she did Snape.
"But I won't," he whispered, against her hair. "Monday next, Granger. Monday next. And if you come, bring a lesson plan . . . if you think you're capable of producing one."
"I hate you!" she shouted, even though she knew he'd gone. I hate you.
Severus found Potter waiting for him in his office.
"Headmaster Snape," he said, nodding.
Severus ignored Potter and sat down at his desk.
"Well? How did it go? What did she say?"
"Beg pardon?" asked Potter, frowning.
"You left her alone. Your friend needed you, and you—"
"She told me to stay away! I was just—"
"Too busy living your own life to help your friend, yes, I know. You disgust me, Potter. Get out."
"Hey, I'm the one who asked you to—"
"Do what you obviously could not." Severus drew his wand. "Get out before I throw you out."
Clenching his fists, Potter turned to go.
"Oh, and Potter?"
Potter didn't turn around. "What?"
"If Miss Granger isn't here Monday next, you will see to it that you do help her. If you do not, I will have a pint and a 'chat' with that Skeeter woman about how you and Mr Weasley allowed one third of the 'Golden Trio' to stew in her own shock and grief . . . alone. Is that understood?"
"Fuck you, Snape," Potter replied, storming from the room.
"Well," said Albus' portrait, "that was interesting. How did it go with Miss Granger?"
"Excellent," Severus replied, leaning back in his chair so that he could see him. "I gave her someone to hate more than herself . . . and a challenge."
"Well done, dear boy. Well done, indeed. I can't wait for the interview."
Severus snorted. "I'll be holding that elsewhere, you meddlesome bastard."
"That's disappointing," Albus replied.
"That is unfair, Severus."
"Perhaps it is, but you're still not going to be privy to my interview with Miss Granger." Severus sat up and began sorting through the papers on his desk.
"Don't you think you were a bit hard on the boy?"
"So what if I was, Albus? He's used to it. Besides, you didn't see her, and Potter should have done long before now."
"You apparently did. She was looking well, was she?"
Severus didn't reply.
"Very well, it seems, for you're not one for coddling, are you?"
"Fuck you, Albus," Severus replied, almost affectionately. "You never give me credit for anything. Haven't I just sent the guilty Potter to comfort Granger?"
"I expect you have, but I still say you're not just interested in her as a Charms professor."
"Oh, her charms are inspiring, now that she's grown and has done something decent with her hair, but—"
"—don't presume too much. I do need a Charms professor much more than I need an embittered former student in my bed."
"Really, Headmaster!" Phineas Nigellus exclaimed. "Remember yourself!"
Severus snorted. "I have, old man, I have. Let us hope that Miss Granger can do so, as well."
Meanwhile, Hermione was blasting open old book cartons with her wand.
"Oh, my God! I can't believe I once fancied that man!" she exclaimed, as the contents of a carton went flying.
She was going to write the best fucking lesson plan ever devised, not so that she could take the Charms position—she would never take any position under the likes of Severus Snape—but she would show him what capability was.
A carton exploded, damaging one of Hermione's old books, and horrified by how angry and reckless Snape had made her feel, she sank to the floor.
"I'll show him . . . exactly what I . . . can do, and then . . . and then . . . I'll give him . . . a piece," she muttered, pausing to catch her breath, "of my mind!"