The letter slipped under his door was neatly folded in a plain white envelope. The only distinguishing feature was his name, written across the front in vivid green ink. The handwriting was clearly disguised, yet Severus Snape found himself at least slightly intrigued. He tucked it away in a pocket and forgot about it until after dinner, when he was securely nestled in the comfy armchair in his quarters, sipping a glass of firewhiskey and decidedly putting off grading his third-year essays. It wasn't until he shifted position and he heard the crackle of paper that he recalled it and the mysterious method of delivery.
Pulling it out and unfolding it, Severus realised it was written in the same style as his name. Handwriting neat yet sprawling across the page, it read:
I have started and restarted this letter I don't know how many times. It felt presumptuous to call you by your first name, yet calling you by your surname implied a more scholarly approach than I'm willing to take.
I'm sure that you will scoff at this letter, that is, if you even read it. Perhaps crumple it up and toss it in the bin. I don't mind if you do, sir, but please, hear me out.
I like you. I could even call it love. This isn't an idle schoolgirl's fancy, although I imagine you would see it as such. I've admired you almost from the moment I stepped foot through Hogwarts' doors. Though you have always been harsh, and sometimes even cruel, toward me and the other students, I fancy that I can see past that, at least a little. Your concern for our well-being and safety has shone through like a beacon, and I am drawn to your intelligence, your sense of honour, and who you are as a man. And well...I don't find you bad-looking, either.
The hand you have been dealt in life has been unfair, bordering on cruel, yet I have found that you have handled it with considerable aplomb and even grace. Snarky wit does not detract--in fact, although I have been on the sharp end of your tongue more than my fair share, I find that it enhances.
I expect no sort of reply or acknowledgement, but I wished to tell you my feelings. You may scorn, but I find that though my courage in other arenas has not been found lacking, I cannot ascribe my name to this and have you know who holds you in such high regard. As such, I am afraid I must remain,
Your secret admirer
Severus's first impulse was, indeed, to crumple it up and toss it in the bin, but he found his hand stayed, unwilling to mar the smooth parchment and crinkle the green penned lines.
He'd never had a letter from a secret admirer. Not a proper one, anyway. The prank James Potter had played on him seventh year hardly counted, did it? He'd been so flushed and eager, thinking Lily had written it--finding out it had been yet another Marauder prank had left him furious and thoroughly disillusioned by "secret admirers."
This one didn't sound mocking, however. The writer sounded sincere, albeit overly enthusiastic and with more than a tinge of hero worship. Severus knew damn well he belonged on no one's pedestal, but this girl seemed to have propped him up on such.
"I'm no one's hero," he spoke aloud, finally folding the letter back up and placing it back in his pocket. It felt like it belonged there, and who was he to argue? The war had been over for less than a year, but it felt like it had never stopped. He'd remained at Hogwarts, snake's bite scarred into his neck, walking with a heavy limp, but inside, he knew that he should move on. There was other work for a man with Potions skills such as his, with the knowledge he possessed. How could he move on when there were reminders everywhere? So many people had died. Dumbledore's office lay abandoned under a heavy shroud of silence. Minerva had taken up post as Headmistress, but had chosen to make her office elsewhere. It had felt wrong to take over that quietly nonsensical sanctity. The battle scars still shone on the castle's walls, covered as they may be by paintings and tapestries and even a hastily-applied coat of paint here and there. It was not something one could easily recover from, never mind an entire school.
The students who had missed out on their seventh year had been welcome to come back, but only a few of them had. Harry Potter, surprisingly, was one of them. Weasley had opted out, choosing to join the Aurors fresh from the Dark Lord's defeat. Hermione Granger, unsurprisingly, was also one of them. The bushy-haired swot had grown up, but she was still the same annoying bookworm she'd always been. Always with her hand up, enthusiastically babbling out an answer. Truth be told, Severus actually rather liked her tendency to spout off half the textbook with assorted supplementary reading. It reminded him of his own school years, and how excited he'd been when he knew the answer.
Still, it was not conducive to learning, only rote memory, when all you could do was recite textbook answers, and Severus always prodded her (albeit in his customary harsh way) to go further, to explore. Always question what the books tell you, never take anything for granted.
For a moment, he wondered if she could have written this secret admirer letter, but the thought vanished almost as soon as it had taken flight. After the way he'd treated her the past seven years, it seemed laughable. Most likely, it was some sort of ill-thought-out whim of an overly lovestruck child, and said child would be more than pleased later to remember she hadn't signed her name. There were spells that he could do to discover the author's identity, but decided not to. It was enough to know that at least someone out there seemed to think well of him, ill-advised though it may be, and as the semester slipped past, Severus took the letter from its customary spot in his pocket and read it more than once.
At first, the letter that Hermione had written and slipped under Snape's office door was sufficient. More than once, her cheeks burned to think of his probable reaction. Would he even read it? Would he toss it aside with a snort of contempt, or a little roll of the eyes at the lovestruck schoolgirl who had written him a secret admirer note? Or would he read it and see what she was trying to say, understand the depths of respect and admiration and even love that she had tried to put into the lines?
She hadn't the faintest, and it bothered her. As she went about her classes that day, she fantasised about having signed her name to the bottom. Her usual, slightly flamboyant signature, complete with all the elegant loops and swirls. Yours, Hermione Granger. Would he have sought her out if she had? Would he have told her that perhaps he felt a similar way, that he would like to pursue something with her?
More likely, though, he would have scorned her. Mocked her and torn the page to pieces, then dropped them into the bin at his feet. Taken points from Gryffindor, although now that Hermione had been through a war, she found she cared much less about such frivolous things as House points. Perhaps he would have told other people, mocked her to his colleagues. She would go through her classes, not knowing what professor knew what, wondering if that was a look of pity in that one's eyes, or a glance of contempt in another's. Fancying the dungeon bat, You Know Who's prized Death Eater.
Despite Harry coming forward with Snape's memories of being a spy, of knowing that he'd only been working for Voldemort to help the Light, many people still distrusted the greasy-haired Potions Master. There had been an outcry at the beginning of term when everyone had discovered he was returning to Hogwarts to teach Potions. Minerva McGonagall had put her foot down, however. He was teaching, that was that, and if you had a problem with that, you could leave and enroll elsewhere. Her fierce brogue had left nothing to the imagination when she made that speech, her eyes snapping with angry fire. He'd proven himself to her, and that was all that mattered.
Still. He'd never been a favoured professor. He was too strict, too harsh in his classroom. He could leave a student in tears on the first day, drooped over their cauldron in slump-shouldered despair. Hermione disliked and appreciated this by turns. She'd figured out by second year that he had to be that way. Potions was not a class that allowed for mistakes, particularly once you got into the higher years. A disaster in first year would produce a wave of boils. A disaster in sixth year could blow up half the school. His harsh behaviour, although overblown and unnecessarily cruel, saved lives.
So she quietly loved him from afar, and one day, hyped up on the thrill of a perfect score on her last Charms exam when she'd thought she'd misread a question, and having drunk entirely too much butterbeer smuggled in by Harry and one of his casual girlfriends, Hermione decided to write him a letter.
Countless attempts littered the floor by the time she was done. There'd been so much she'd wished to say. So much that she couldn't. Some attempts were far more lascivious than she'd imagined she was capable of. Shaking scribbles of how she wished he would bend her over her desk, or press her up against a dungeon wall, his body tight against hers, his mouth hot and insistent. Maudlin ramblings, as well, wishing that she was older, that she could attract his attention, that she wasn't one of Harry's friends, even, so that perhaps she could have garnered his admiration as herself, no baggage.
Still, the final result was one that she felt that she could at least be semi-proud of, and she'd addressed it and ran to the dungeon before breakfast, slipping it under his office door and hoping that he at least saw it. With her luck, a house elf would discover it and toss it away, and all that angst would be for nothing.
Weeks, and then months, passed. Hermione's longing for the Potions professor did nothing but intensify. She found herself breathless and weak-kneed in every Potions class, her eyes watching him wander about the classroom, murmuring a stern word here, banishing a failed potion there. His robes fit closer about his body than she'd previously noticed, and she couldn't help but wonder what he looked like without them.
Such thoughts brought a flaming blush to her cheeks, and more times than she could count, she had to put her head down and stare fiercely at the stained wood of the table, willing her libido to subside, the longing to vanish beneath the soft blue flickering of the flames beneath her cauldron, the shimmering fumes of the assigned potion.
When graduation dawned, Hermione received her diploma, shook Severus Snape's hand, and assumed that it would be the last time she'd ever see the first man she'd ever loved. She dared not speak a word about her feelings to him. He would not reciprocate them, and no matter what his reaction, whether acerbic or trying to be kind, it would be too much.
Instead, she resolved to try and put those feelings behind her, to perhaps go on a date or two with Ron Weasley, who had still kept in close contact with her and Harry throughout her last year, and forget all about Severus Snape. The Ministry had offered her a conditional position in the Charms Department, she had a bright future glistening with promise ahead of her, and if she couldn't have what she truly wanted, well...she wasn't alone in that, now was she.
Life, however, had a way of disagreeing.
It was a bitingly cold day in mid-January when Hermione Granger quite literally bumped into Severus Snape. She was late coming back from lunch and scurrying along the pavement with her head down, had no notion of the sallow-faced, black-haired Potions Master she was about to walk into until it was too late. It felt like running headfirst into a boulder and she stumbled backward with an oomph! of surprise, nearly falling down on her arse.
Wiry, strong arms wrapped around her, however, steadying her on her feet, and it was with a jolt of unwelcome awareness and uncomfortable surprise that Hermione realised she was now firmly ensconced in Severus Snape's arms.
"Oh!" she exclaimed, her face pinkening as well as it could under the flush of cold. "I'm--I'm sorry, sir, I wasn't looking where I was going, I..."
"I noticed," Severus said dryly, but his voice lacked the accustomed bite, and Hermione blinked up at him in confusion as he carefully released her, straightened her overly fluffy blue scarf, and stepped back. "You may wish to be more careful in future," he clarified, and strode off, in the opposite direction of the Ministry. Hermione stared after him, mouth agape in surprise, feeling her whole body tingle with the closeness it had achieved.
Said body had required a firm talking-to more than once over the rest of the day and in fact, the rest of the week. Hermione had finally managed to convince herself that seeing Severus--Snape, call him Snape, her mind insisted--coming out of the Ministry had been a complete one-off when she nearly ran into him again, the following Tuesday.
This time, she was paying far more attention and stopped herself before she could bumble along into his close-swathed frame, but it was still a near thing. As it was, she could catch a whiff of his cologne and the miasma of Potions ingredients that always gathered close around him. Not to mention the hint of a smile quirking the corner of his mouth up when he caught sight of her, though he did nothing but tip his head respectfully and pass his way by. Hermione had only opened her mouth like a landed fish, and finally burst round and gurgled something at him that she was sure made her sound like the biggest nit alive.
She didn't see him for another two weeks and was starting to wonder if perhaps she'd simply been seeing things that Tuesday when she caught him coming out of her Chair's office. He was smiling and nodding and looked like an utterly different person. Hermione stood there, frozen still, as her boss, Karen Abernarle, made polite and amiable small talk with the Greasy Git of the Dungeons himself, and the world didn't cave in on itself.
"Ah, Hermione!" Karen exclaimed, finally noticing her. She was a small, round woman with a very frizzy purple bun and spectacles that always reminded Hermione of Professor McGonagall. "I was just talking about you! I think you and Master Snape here are going to become very good friends!"
"...Oh?" Hermione managed to say. Her throat felt like she'd swallowed a cotton ball, and her mind had gone frighteningly blank. Her eyes darted toward Severus, but he looked as blank and noncommital as before.
"Oh, yes," Karen chattered on. "I was going to wait until it was all finalised to tell you, but I don't think there's any harm in telling you early!"
"No, of course not," Hermione muttered, in a daze.
"Your proposal--mixing Charms with Potions? The Minister would love to see it come to fruition!" Karen confided. Hermione let out a startled, delighted gasp. The project was her baby, and she'd been convinced everyone else saw it as nothing more than a silly pipe dream. The fact that even the bloody Minister was interested was a soothing balm to her aching pride--and everything else, for that matter.
"That's wonderful news!" Hermione gushed. "But what does Prof--Mister Snape have to do with it all?"
"Well," Karen confided, touching Hermione's hand. "They'd like you to start the preliminary research but you need someone accomplished in Potions. Severus here has volunteered for the job!"
For the second time in as many minutes, Hermione felt like the rug had just been yanked out from under her. She turned to gaze at Severus with wide, dumbfounded eyes, but again, his expression betrayed nothing. He could have been watching an account of the weather for all the news his face managed to give her.
"He volunteered?" she squeaked out, but Karen was already burbling on, prattling about times and dates and conferences and so many things that Hermione felt her head spin. When she looked again, Severus had gone and Karen was pulling her into her office for another of her cosy chats, and finally, Hermione had to give up.
For the moment, anyway. It seemed like she would be spending the next year or so, at least, in very close quarters with one Professor Severus Snape.