It all started because of a kiss.
Or, rather, it had all not started because of a kiss.
After the Battle of Hogwarts, during which Ron had laid a filthy, wet, and somewhat terrified kiss on Hermione’s equally filthy, wet, and terrified face, Ron had calmly taken her aside and explained that it had been the next thing to kissing his sister. And that, on second thought, since kissing Lavender, Parvati, and Susan over the course of the past few years hadn’t really panned out either, he quite thought that he might not be interested in witches at all. If kissing Hermione, the one non-family female whom he knew he loved, did nothing for him then perhaps he was kissing the wrong type of person altogether.
Upon which pronouncement Hermione smiled and gave Ron a hard hug. Because frankly, kissing Ronald Weasley did about as much for her as kissing a flobberworm would and she was thrilled that she would in no way have to let him down easy. Dodged a singing hex there, Hermione .
And so not many days after the battle that Ron, Harry, and Hermione and the rest of the Order found themselves gathered around the kitchen table of Grimmauld Place, toasting their success as though little had changed. And, in the end, very little had. Good friends were gathered, the castle was intact thanks to some insanely complicated and nigh incomprehensible protective wards (so that’s what Dumbledore had been researching every time he left the castle during their seventh year), Voldemort’s ashes had been scattered to the four corners of the earth, and the aurors were rapidly rounding up what few remaining Death Eaters that hadn’t been caught in the deluge of Magicae Remotio potion that had flowed through the castle’s keep like so much boiling oil. It seemed strange somehow to celebrate the death of a madman by getting seriously sloshed on the remnants of the Black family wine cellar.
NEWTs would take place in two weeks time -- all that the Ministry was willing to push the all important measure of the seventh years’ skills -- after which the Golden Trio were expected to make their way into the world. Harry had already accepted a position for auror training, assuming that his test scores were high enough. Ron would be helping his brothers open a Hogsmeade branch of Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes. And Hermione would...would…
Hermione would what?
For the first time in her life, Hermione Granger found herself without an immediate goal to satisfy her need to achieve. She would need to revise for NEWTs, but she knew damned well that after seven years of preparing for her likely death and the possible end of the world as she knew it that she was fairly well prepared for those already. But what to do with her life? With choosing a career? She gnawed on her lip and fiddled with her glass of elf-made port, trying to sort out the direction of her thoughts. She was good at a number of things, but really she was best at being an annoying swot...it seemed unlikely that there was a job out there that would pay her to be studious.
A signal from Dumbledore drew her to the wizened wizard’s side. He’d been deep in conversation with Professors Snape and McGonagall and she was surprised that all three of the venerable instructors seemed to be interested in speaking to her.
“Ah, Miss Granger,” the Headmaster greeted her, cheeks slightly pink with drink and good cheer. “We were just discussing you, or rather your predicament.”
“My predicament, sir?”
“Please, Miss Granger.” This from a sneering Professor Snape. “Much like Mr. Potter, you tend to broadcast your thoughts for the world to see. You’ve been giving the Headmaster -- and me, I might add -- a headache for the last hour. Puts a bit of a damper on the gathering, don’t you think?” He sipped at his own portion of port as she scowled at him.
Professor McGonagall elbowed her colleague in the gut. “Severus, that’s hardly helpful.” The man in question simply rolled his eyes.
“Yes, well.” Dumbledore cleared his throat. “Miss Granger, we -- I was wondering how you would feel about an apprenticeship in the coming year. Now that we are no longer on war footing, the Hogwarts staff has the energy to dedicate to rebuilding its resources. Namely to re-establishing the apprenticeship program and recruiting new blood into our ranks. We all feel that you would be an ideal candidate.”
Hermione was intrigued. “Apprenticeship program, sir? To learn to teach?”
“Yes. In the years before Voldemort’s initial rise to power, Hogwarts had a much larger staff. Each of us is a Master of at least one discipline, and it is a Master’s task to train at least one apprentice toward Journeyman and, eventually, Master status within his or her lifetime. It’s a long process: Two years to Journeyman status and another four to mastery, but it is also a fulfilling one. Hogwarts has not had the resources to train new apprentices in over two decades. Severus was actually one of the last. It’s a rare opportunity; potential apprentices are difficult to find. But we believe you would be well suited to the process, Miss Granger.”
Hermione stood and stared at her three professors, each of whom were smiling benignly in her direction (okay, Snape wasn’t, but a lack of sneer could be understood as the seal of his general approval). “I’m honored, Headmaster. It sounds like a wonderful opportunity. Um...what discipline would I apprentice in, sir?”
Snape spoke up somewhat uncomfortably. “You would apprentice under me for a Mastery in Potions.” He tilted his head when she made no response. “You seem undecided, Miss Granger.”
“Oh. Um, no. I had not thought...that is to say...well, it was hardly my best subject. You told me several times that I lacked the native curiosity necessary in a good brewer, sir.”
Snape looked surprised. “Did I? I confess, I don’t remember making such a comment. Lack of curiosity is hardly a problem I can credit you with, Miss Granger. Perhaps lack of creativity, but that can be trained.”
Dumbledore reached out and placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. “Miss Granger -- Hermione -- Severus has indicated that no student in his career at Hogwarts has shown the potential you have to attain Mastery. And I’m inclined to agree. You have the ability and you have not inconsiderable magical talent. The question is, do you have the desire to become a Potions Master?”
She took a deep breath and thought for a moment, meeting the eyes of each of her professors in turn. Dumbledore patted her shoulder. McGonagall nodded her head encouragingly. Snape simply stared at her, his eyes intense as he waited for her answer. Her mind raced through the pros and cons of the offer: She would learn more about potions, which had always fascinated her. She would be able to research, eventually. Potions Masters were highly employable as they were rare, so she would have no trouble finding work after her apprenticeship. And she’d be learning from one of the best -- if not the best -- Potioneer in the wizarding world. That last almost made the decision a no-brainer.
“Before I accept, could I ask what it would entail? And...how I would support myself throughout? I have a small trust fund from my grandparents...would I need to use that?” Would it be enough ?
“Very sensible questions, of course.” Dumbledore replied. “Unlike Medieval apprenticeships, upon which which I’ll admit our system is modeled, you would be an employee of Hogwarts. Your room and board would, of course, be provided by the school. You would also receive a reasonable stipend each month for your teaching work and for assisting Professor Snape in brewing for Hogwarts. Your other duties would be at the discretion of your Master, but generally they include a great deal of study, brewing for the school, teaching lower-level classes and assisting with upper-level classes, and some light school duties. You would also work individually with the other professors on a limited basis to supplement your knowledge interdisciplinatrily so that you might be a well-rounded witch. This tutelage would also support your work as a Potioneer.”
Snape cleared his throat and broke in. “I would also wish for you to assist me in my personal brewing, Miss Granger. I supply several apothecaries in Britain and Western Europe with some of the rarer and more complex potions as there are few Potions Masters who can brew them. I would, of course, pay you for this work in addition to your stipend from the school. It’s a lucrative business; you’d be quite comfortable as your expenses would be very low; I suspect you'd actually save quite a bit of money unless you're particularly frivolous.”
“And I would return to live at the castle?”
“Yes. You’d be provided with a small suite of rooms and the service of a house-elf. Who I would ask you to not attempt to free, Miss Granger.”
Hermione blushed at her misguided attempts to free the Hogwarts elves during her fourth year. “Honestly, it sounds too good to be true. Very well Professor Snape, Headmaster. I accept. And -- and thank you for extending the offer.” She smiled hesitantly at her Potions Professor, then more broadly at McGonagall and Dumbledore. From fretting to employed in ten minutes flat. It seemed too good to be true.
Dumbledore clapped his hands together. “Excellent, Miss Granger, excellent! I’ll send the contract over immediately. You’re staying here at Grimmauld for the time being, I believe?”
“Yes. Lupin and I 'convinced' my parents to take a world tour; I thought it best that they stay on the move for a few months while we prepared to draw Voldemort into combat, so they’ll be traveling a while longer. The house is closed up and...I don’t really want to live alone right now.”
Dumbledore nodded. “Quite wise, my dear girl. Come and join us at the castle when in July. That will give Severus time to start your Mastery before the next term begins...and to relax after such a hard won year, of course.”
“And for you all to relax too.” Hermione noted with a little smile.
Snape raised an eyebrow. “Indeed.”
“Well, that’s settled then!” Dumbledore exclaimed. “I’m so glad you’ll be joining us, Miss Granger. If you’ll excuse us, there is another to whom we should extend this offer. Minerva?” The headmaster and his deputy disengaged themselves and, with a look, gathered Professor Sprout. Ah. Neville. Of course.
Hermione remained standing next to her erstwhile Potions Professor -- strike that -- new Potions Master in an awkward silence, sneaking the occasional sideways glance at the taciturn man. Hermione vaguely wondered what she’d gotten herself into. Six years working with Snape, not generally known to be the most congenial of people. Well, I like nothing better than a challenge.
Snape eventually caught one of her glances. “Yes, Miss Granger?”
“I didn’t say anything, sir.”
A wry and unfamiliar smile twisted his lips. “You didn't have to; your thoughts are loud enough. I think we should add Occlumency to your training schedule, if only so you don’t mentally deafen me in the laboratory.”
Surprised, Hermione turned her head to look at him. “I’d be happy to learn it, sir.”
“Call me Severus. We’re going to be working in close proximity for several years, Miss Granger. You may address me by my given name when we are not in the presence of students.”
“Oh. Thank you. Um...if I’m to call you Severus, you should address me as Hermione rather than Miss Granger.”
“Indeed.” He nodded his thanks. He drained his glass and turned to face her more fully. “You should expect a written letter explaining your duties and privileges as my apprentice within a few days. You are permitted to charge your work-related expenses to Hogwarts; your authorization will be included in the letter. I suggest you acquire some new brewing equipment and your apprentice robes. I'll send a list. Until July, Miss -- Hermione.” He gave her a short bow before moving off to refresh his drink.
✿ HG/SS ✿
“Blimey, Hermione. That’s fantastic. You too, Neville. I can’t remember there ever being apprentices when we were at Hogwarts.” Harry looked unbelievably pleased for his friends.
“The Headmaster said there haven’t been any for over twenty years. Neville and I are relaunching the program” she replied, turning a grin on Neville. The poor man looked poleaxed.
Ron spluttered into his butterbeer. “I can’t believe you’ve agreed to work with Snape . You’ll kill each other before the first term is done! Sprout’s great, Neville. She actually cares about her students. But Snape --”
“ Professor Snape!” Hermione interrupted.
“Whatever,” he muttered.
“Honestly, Ron, if you bothered to speak to him at all tonight you would have noticed that he’s been much more polite lately. Half of his grumping was from the immense amount of stress he was under!”
“And the other half?”
“That’s probably just his nature,” Ginny piped in. “He’s always been, well, kinda taciturn. Even before Voldy-pants returned.”
“I can deal with it. Honestly, I would gladly deal with a lot more for the opportunity to apprentice under him.”
“But six years !” Ron said. “You’re going to be working with him almost every day for six whole years !”
“Six years where I’ll be paid for my efforts and receive free room and board. Six years after which I will be able to choose my own job. Six years during which I can begin doing research, where I’ll receive advanced training across most of the other disciplines, and where I can teach! Ron, this is a huge opportunity for both of us!” she said gesturing toward Neville.
“Gran’s gonna be thrilled,” Neville murmured, ignoring Ron’s spluttering. “We didn’t know where I should apply for work. I didn’t really fancy being an auror -- not that you won’t be brilliant at it, Harry. Kingsley’ll do right by you. But...that’s not for me. I’m not brave like you.”
Harry laughed. “Oh, please! You don’t read enough of your own press, Snake Slayer Longbottom.”
Neville blushed furiously and grumbled under his breath. “I didn’t ask for the nickname.”
Hermione privately thought that Neville should be grateful for his nickname. She was known alternately as Harry Potter’s love interest (untrue) or his dorky hanger-on. Not that she wanted to deal with the kind of fame that Harry had to contend with, but if the press ( read: Rita Skeeter ) was going to mention her could they at least do so as more than an appendage of The Boy Who Vanquished the Dark Lord?
Ginny interrupted Hermione’s thoughts. “Hey, Mione. What’re you plans for tomorrow?”
“Sleeping and revising for NEWTs, I guess. Why?”
“Well, the Victory Ball is next week, and we’re going to need dress robes. I thought we might go look together?”
Hermione brightened considerably. “That sounds good, actually. I could use some fun time. Why don’t we make a day of it? Grab lunch, then maybe hit Flourish and Blotts? I want to beef up my potions library.”
Harry and Ron shot each other a look; Hermione was nothing if not predictable.
“Actually, would you make room for another in your ‘girls’ day? I need new dress robes and should probably add to my own library as well.” Neville looked a bit embarrassed to be asking, but it was true that he needed new robes. He must have grown a foot since the Yule ball three years ago.
“Oh, Neville! We’d love it if you’d come!” Ginny gushed. “I’m so excited about the ball. With the war and Sirius dying and being in constant fear for our lives...there’s been so little to celebrate. I’m glad Scrimgour decided that the Ministry needed some good PR.”
Hermione and Neville nodded their agreement while Harry and Ron simply looked uncomfortable at the thought of wearing dress robes again. And having to dance.
“Are you taking anyone, Mione?” asked Neville.
“No, I’m going solo. Rita Skeeter keeps trying to pair me with either Harry or Ron. If she’s going to write about me, I want it to be as an independent young witch, not the attaché of some bloke from school.” She shrugged her shoulders.
Harry shot Ron a look, but he only shook his head in a ‘I’ll explain later’ kind of way.
“Good for you!” Ginny said. “I’m going solo too.”
“Oi!” said Harry, clearly offended. “What about me?”
Ginny batted her eyelashes at The Boy Who Forgot to Ask His Girlfriend to the Ball. “Oh, were you planning to attend?”
“You know that I -- dammit, Ginny!” Harry muttered something under his breath before rolling his eyes and pointedly asking. “Would you like to go to the ball as my date?”
“Oh, Harry! What a surprise! Of course I’d like to go to the ball with you. Off-white corsage, please, and no baby’s breath.” She smiled at him before sending Hermione a surreptitious wink.
Hermione just laughed, happy to see her friends able to banter and joke after so many months of tension and terror. “Well, now that that sticky matter is settled, I’m going to bed. It’s been a long day and I’ve likely had too much to drink. I’ll see you guys in the morning.” Hermione rose from the kitchen table as everyone else started to say their goodnights.
She smiled as she trekked up the stairs, only slightly unsteady from too much wine. She was alive, she would soon be gainfully employed and training for a promising future, and there was the very real potential for a pretty dress in her future. She hadn’t felt this optimistic about the future in ages.