He had agreed.
She would be leaving about one o'clock tomorrow afternoon and she could barely contain her excitement. If her information checked out, and she felt confident that it would, it could be a major step toward formulating a cure for Voldemort's Fiendfyre curse. She was glad that it was a busy Saturday afternoon as it took her mind off the anticipation of tomorrow's trip. And to top it off, after researching at the library she would be spending the rest of the afternoon at the Burrow, catching up with the current goings-on of the Weasley clan.
Very nearly humming, literally, she assisted customer after customer. It had become so busy that Professor Snape spent most of the day in the shop as well and served as many customers as she had. They took turns eating lunch and skipped tea completely.
Throughout the day Hermione surreptitiously studied her mentor as they attended to their customers. Although not overtly friendly, he was polite and very patient with each and every one of them. At Hogwarts, patience seemed the least of his virtues and she wondered at the change. His short temper and caustic remarks had kept all of his students on their toes and they jumped to obey his every instruction with alacrity. She had noticed that this exacting obedience from his pupils had avoided serious accidents on numerous occasions. Was it as simple as that? That he only used an abrasive manner to keep his students on their toes and therefore safe? Potions was the most dangerous class offered at Hogwarts. To have that type of control over rowdy, inattentive students would certainly be advantageous.
Or was it because that while he taught at Hogwarts he also had to handle the stress of spying on Voldemort? On the other hand could Harry's theory be correct? Had Professor Snape actually manipulated everyone in the Order into believing he was on their side and now he was attempting to reconstitute the Death Eaters in order to make a bid to take up where Voldemort had left off? Were the kindnesses he had shown her and Winky simply a manipulation to make her believe in him? But then why work so diligently to cure Kingsley and Minerva?
Of course . . . he could just be a git. Hermione smiled to herself as she weighed a scoop of powdered frog spawn for the witch she was assisting. Her eyes flicked up to catch Professor Snape watching and she quickly averted her gaze when he lifted an eyebrow at her.
Traffic slowed down near the end of the day and about thirty minutes before they were to close the shop it seemed they had finally run out of customers. Professor Snape had retreated to the back, either to work in the potions lab or study in the library, and Hermione began laying out the ingredients to make a fresh batch of the modified Amortentia potion first thing in the morning.
She heard the soft chime, looked up and caught her breath. It was a Death Eater. Not only were the tell-tale signs there: the tattered robes, the gaunt and hunted look in the eye, the anxious manner but, like Jugson and Rowle before him, Hermione recognized Travers from firsthand experience. She had seen him when they had visited the Lovegood home looking for information about the Deathly Hallows and the Snatchers had shown up. She had gotten a brief glimpse of the man just before Disapparating herself, Harry and Ron out of Luna's room. Watching warily as he approached the counter, she knew what he was going to say.
"Leviathan," Travers ground out and looked her up and down, the suggestion of a leer on his face.
"Yes sir, one moment please," Hermione said nervously and turned to fetch Professor Snape. But just as she reached the door to the back, Professor Snape pushed it open. Worry washed through her as she looked up at him, he met her eyes but then brushed past her to attend to Travers. She followed him to the counter and stood behind it as he walked around the front to shake hands with their latest customer.
"All set, Travers?"
"That's right, Snape. Time to go," the man said and leaned against the counter, turning somewhat toward Hermione. "I see you have an . . . assistant . . . now." She could smell his stale breath as he leaned closer. She was suddenly glad that the counter was between them.
"An apprentice, actually," said Professor Snape smoothly. "An indentured apprentice, in fact."
"You have her on a full contract?" Travers asked in a low voice, aside, to Professor Snape. Looking back at Hermione, the Death Eater's eyes again dipped downward, roamed up and down her body and then back up. That was a definite leer on his face. She was taken aback.
"Of course," Professor Snape said snidely. "She wouldn't be worth the trouble if it weren't." He smirked at the customer, his black eyes glinting. "In fact," he drawled and took out his wand, "I think we will be closing early tonight." He flicked a spell at the entrance and the sign hanging there flipped to Closed. She heard the lock snick into place. Then he turned to her, a very suggestive look on his face, his lids lazily hooding his eyes. She froze in shock.
"Miss Granger," he nodded toward the back. His smirk faded as his eyes very slowly roamed from her face, lingered a bit below her chin, and then continued downward. Suddenly they flicked back up to her eyes. The leer on his face shocked her and she felt the blood rush to her cheeks. "You know what is next on our agenda. I'll be there in a few moments." Stunned at his behavior, she just wanted to get away from the two of them.
"Y-yes, Professor" she replied, turning as quickly as possible and heading to the door to the back. The unsavory customer let loose a hearty laugh.
"Snape, you dog!" the man exclaimed. "This shop. Hobnobbing with the Ministry higher-ups and now this tasty little morsel . . ."
Tasty morsel? She pulled her wand and turned to confront the letch. Professor Snape saw her reaction and casually took a step to the side, putting Travers between them. The Death Eater moved slightly to face Professor Snape, turning his back to Hermione. Over the top of his head she caught the warning in her mentor's narrowed gaze. But she felt like hexing the both of them to kingdom come and raised her wand. Professor Snape's wand slipped into his hand from his sleeve and she hesitated. Perhaps in this instance discretion outranked valor? Besides, if she caused a scene, she might not get the chance to find out what was going on with Travers. She turned on her heel and exited the shop, pausing on the other side of the door and leaving it cracked just enough to hear the conversation by the counter.
"You're set for life. Again. I have never known anyone with such an uncanny knack for ending up on top."
"Yes," agreed the rumbling voice of her mentor. "I happen to like being on top." She heard the customer's roar of laughter again and grit her teeth. A faint rattling noise, like a metal object vibrating on the counter, reached her ears and she gambled opening the door just a smidgen to see what was going on.
"Well, good luck then, Travers," Professor Snape said and held out his hand again, which Travers shook warmly.
"It's programmed for Gordes, France?"
"As you requested. And thank you for the information you found for me, it was invaluable."
"I'd say anytime, but I don't expect to ever see you again, Snape," the man snickered. "And enjoy your, uh . . ." Travers' eyes flicked to door behind which she was hiding and she froze, ". . . your agenda." The man laughed again and took hold of an ingredient scoop laying on the counter. Instantly, he disappeared.
She softly let the door close and ran down the hall to the kitchen. This had better be where he was expecting to find her. Nervous, she couldn't decide whether to sit or stand. Feeling the need to be ready to defend herself, should she hold her wand openly or conceal it in her pocket? Before she could decide, Professor Snape strode into the kitchen and she whirled to confront him. They stood facing each other for a moment or two, her wand pointing up at his chest.
"As I have mentioned previously, Miss Granger," he said softly, "I am a very good liar."
"But how can I tell when you're lying and when you're not?"
"You can't," he replied. "That's the point. It was why I was so effective against the Dark Lord."
"Or why you are able to lie to us now?" she queried. He paused before answering, looking down at the floor. Then shifting his weight slightly, he lifted his gaze and sighed.
"If you choose to believe that."
He sat down at the table, ignoring the wand she still aimed at him. Their dinner appeared immediately and he began filling his plate. After a few moments she pocketed her wand and joined him.
Once again, she was at the edge of the cliff and the sheeting rain had her soaked through within seconds. The turbulent sea repeatedly threw itself on the rocks below and she could taste salt on her lips. She was used to this dream now and knew what would happen next. Severus Snape came up behind her and wrapped his arms and his black robes about her. She leaned back against his chest and he cast a spell that dried her immediately. The heat from his body left her pleasantly warm. He lowered his head next to hers and kissed her neck. She knew this is where she should break away and force herself to wake up, but the fire that shot through her body persuaded her otherwise. It was just a dream after all. She turned around within the warmth of his arms and rose up on tiptoe to meet his lips. His kiss was soft and intoxicating, turning urgent as she refused to break away, lengthening their contact. When they did break the kiss, his lips continued along her jaw and down her throat. He pulled the robes off her shoulder and continued his explorations until . . .
Hermione jolted awake. She lay there for several moments trying to deal with the sensations caused by her dream. It wasn't working. A cold shower, that should do it. She threw off the blankets, burying Crookshanks, who simply began purring.
Winky had done an excellent job of keeping up the fires in her quarters and her room was at a perfect nocturnal temperature - cooler than the day, but warmer than it had been when the fires went out at night. Making her way to the bathroom, she stripped out of her nightgown and jumped into the shower. She bit her lip to keep from screaming when the ice cold water assaulted her body. Thankfully, that shocked her erogenous zones out of what they had been contemplating. Just a few seconds under the showerhead did the trick and she jumped back out, wandlessly Summoning a towel. She dried off as quickly as she could, put her nightgown on and streaked back to her bed.
Crooks complained loudly when she pounced, extricating him from the blankets and pulling him under the covers to cuddle. She wondered why she kept having these dreams. Was she actually attracted to Professor Snape? Obviously her dreams indicated she was physically attracted to him - she blushed in the darkness at that thought - but what about other ways? She wasn't sure they could even be considered friends. But why not? Professor Snape himself said he had no friends, which eliminated her as well. Apparently that was his choice. Would he change his mind? Could he?
If there was some way that they could embark on a relationship, could she accept him as he was? He had shown her remarkable kindnesses on several occasions but had been equally unkind, brusque, and . . . insufferable . . . on others. He made decisions unilaterally, without her input, on some issues, but on others seemed to genuinely want her opinion.
And then there was his questionable activities with his Death Eater pals. What on earth was going on there? His talent for lying made her uneasy. How could she ever trust someone who could lie so well?
These were all topics she would have discussed with her parents, particularly her mother. At this moment she felt their absence keenly. Not wanting to encourage her soul to melancholy, she had made spares use of the mirror that Professor Snape had given her. Feeling under her pillow and retrieving her wand, she cast a clock charm. It was three o'clock here and so it was eight o'clock where her parents lived in Australia. She jumped out of bed again, to Crookshanks' bothered but sleepy yowl, and stood in front of the wardrobe that housed the mirror. Concentrating on her parents, she took a deep breath and opened the door.
Her mouth dropped open. The image before her eyes did not include her parents at all, thankfully. On the contrary, it showed her in a very intimate embrace with Severus Snape. It was very similar to her reoccurring dream on the cliff except for one addition: they both wore gold bands on the ring fingers of their left hands.
What the hell?
"Lumos!" With sudden intuition, she held up the tip of her wand, illuminating the interior of the wardrobe and closely examined the frame. It was an ornate one and gleamed gold, which she had not even noticed previously, so preoccupied she had been with the images before her in the glass. The words carved into the arch of the frame confirmed her suspicion. Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi
It was the Mirror of Erised, no doubt remained. Professor Snape's advice now made sense. But the image it presented? This was the desire of her heart? She was shaken as she watched herself in Severus Snape's arms. How could this be? Closing the wardrobe, she returned to her bed and crawled back under the covers. She had plenty of food for thought and a good cuddle with her kitty would help tremendously. But Crooks was gone. Either he abandoned her bed for someplace where he would not be disturbed or gave it up as a bad deal altogether and decided to go hunting. She couldn't blame him.
She was glad that she would be meeting with Harry and Ron in about a dozen hours. They both had experience with this mirror and might be able to help parse her qualms about what she had just seen. Not that she would divulge what the image had actually displayed - her cheeks heated up at the thought - but she would ask them about the properties of the mirror and their opinions about what the context of the images found there might mean. The potential answers to those questions had her mind humming for the next few hours and sleep fled as surely as Crookshanks had.
Snape watched Miss Granger leave the kitchen and enter the garden. Through the window in the door he observed her as she walked down the main aisle between the plants and disappeared out of the back door that led to the alley. She would return in about eight hours. He might as well go to bed now. He turned and headed for his quarters.
As he stripped off robes and clothing he could already feel her absence. Pulling on his pajama bottoms, he remembered he was to meet Healer Pye at the Department of Mysteries tomorrow rather than at his office. As he thought about it, it would probably be best if they met in the evening. He was sure he could arrange that with Shacklebolt in the morning when he went to check on him and it would allow Pye to stay longer if he choose to, since his day would be done and he wouldn't have to attend to patients. Besides, the Ministry would be essentially deserted in the evening and he preferred interacting with as few people as possible. He drew his wand and sent his doe Patronus to relay that message to the Healer.
He climbed into bed and pulled a book off the stack on his night stand. At least he could read until he passed out. But before tackling the book, he ruminated over his day so far.
After breakfast they had spent several hours reading in the library. That had become one of the more enjoyable parts of Snape's day. Miss Granger was at her desk, across from his, and he didn't have to make an excuse to be near her. Her magical influence made him feel rested and alert and allowed him to engage more effectively in one of his favorite activities: contemplative study.
About midday, the two of them had used the Floo to check up on Headmistress McGonagall and Winky had been predictably chagrined when told they would be away for lunch. Minerva appeared to be holding her own, but he had backed off the potion with the extra Lethe Water anyway, just to be sure. He might be able to alternate the potions to help alleviate the problem of memory loss.
He wondered what interesting tidbit Miss Granger had come up with. She had seemed excited when reading her Muggle book at breakfast on Friday. They certainly could use some kind of break on the Fiendfyre research and coming from her, he knew it might be a significant find. That she wanted to double check her discovery before disclosing the information simply added to his opinion of the quality of her research.
Miss Granger. He was pleased at how well she was adapting to her life as his apprentice. And she seemed to genuinely enjoy her assignments and didn't require supervision in the least degree. She was a superb fit for his apothecary. Of course there were her annoying suspicions about his activities with wanted Death Eaters. It was best he not reveal what he was up to on that account. But he found he wanted to tell her anyway, he wanted her to know. It had never bothered him before when others thought ill of him. Why should it do so now?
His strength was slowly draining along with cogent thought. Sleep found him before he even cracked the book.
Hermione Apparated directly into the bathroom at the London Library. Since the place was closed on Sundays, she would have the library entirely to herself. She could barely contain her excitement as she hurried through the stacks to the very familiar area she had haunted as a child. This was not the most popular section and she suspected the volumes she needed would not have been checked out.
She ran her fingers across the spines of the books on Greek mythology and found a few that she was familiar with, piling several into her arms. Laying them on a nearby table, she pulled out a chair and began organizing her research. With three hours of uninterrupted time in front of her, she had no doubt that when she left the library she would have verified her finding. Or not.
Selecting a book from the top of the pile, she started with the index tracking down the particular topic she was interested in and turned to the page indicated. Heart pounding, she began reading. If the information in her homemade book could be authenticated, they might be able to use it to counter the effects of the Lethe Water.
And there it was, in black and white. She had correctly transferred the information. They now had a chance, although unexplored as yet, and it was still better than anything else they had come up with. She reached for another book, and then another. They all agreed. She could barely contain her excitement. Professor Snape would be pleased.
Now she began wondering why this information wasn't in any wizarding texts. Why would Muggles have this data and wizards did not? It might be something that Professor Snape would want to know and something that would convince him that this was legitimate information. This took more time to uncover but when she left the library to meet Harry and Ron at the Burrow, she had that answer as well.
Apparating from the library's bathroom to a point outside of Ottery St. Catchpole, just to the side of the road to the Burrow, Hermione gave herself a few minutes to compose her thoughts as she walked along. It was difficult to put aside the exhilaration about the information she had gleaned from the library. She actually wanted to skip the dinner, Apparate back to the apothecary and tell Professor Snape the exciting news. But then she remembered that she also wanted to talk to Harry and Ron about the mirror in her wardrobe.
As she walked along, she savored the lovely day. Autumn was in full swing and the colorful leaves on the trees testified to the changing season. It was a cool afternoon, but the sun was shining and it just smelled like fall. There was a gentle whiff of wood smoke - maybe someone burning leaves somewhere - and an overall feeling as if the earth itself was preparing for a long winter's nap.
But then another feeling encroached upon her mind. She suddenly had the odd sensation that she was being watched. Looking about she couldn't see anyone, but drew her wand anyway. Stopping to listen for any unusual sound, she didn't hear anything other than birdsong and bug buzzings. Not being able to resolve her foreboding, she continued walking but added haste to her steps.
She was a bit late when she got to the Burrow, but Ron and George were outside apparently de-gnoming the front yard. George saw her first and ran up for a big hug, swinging her off her feet in the process and then, upon her landing, holding her at arm's length.
"Hermione!" he exclaimed. "It's been ages." She saw his big smile falter as he remembered that the last time he had seen her was at the inquest the Ministry had held regarding the unresolved death of his twin, Fred, as well as others who died during the war against Voldemort. All the wands belonging to Death Eaters, dead or captured, had been checked using Priori Incantatem and lists of the murdered had been compiled and attributed to the wand used. Garrick Ollivander had then testified as to the owner of the wand and charges had been laid upon the head of those responsible, if in custody. The dead had the names of their victims chiseled into their tombstones.
Fred Weasley's name had not been on the list. Although it appeared, at first, that a collapsing wall had caused his death, it had turned out that a Killing Curse had caught him first. His murderer had escaped the final battle and had not yet been apprehended. With a heavy heart, she wondered if one of the Death Eaters that Professor Snape was helping to escape the country was the one that had killed Fred. Jugson? Rowle? Travers?
"How are you doing, George?" she asked, widening her eyes a bit in the hopes that he wouldn't see the moisture gathering there.
"I'm fine, Hermione, really," he assured her but with a somberness that belied the words. Then his smile was back. "I hear you're much worse off, slaving away in Snape's shop. What were you thinking, girl?"
"We do what we have to for our families, don't we?" she replied, knowing it explained everything that needed to be said.
"Yeah, we do."
Ron came up and extricated her from George's grip for a hug of his own. It had only been a week since she had last seen him but she had missed him all the same.
"I've something to discuss with you and Harry," she said, looking about for a black-haired head. "Is he inside with Ginny?"
"Not here yet," George said, shaking his head.
"Any minute now, I suppose," she added. "Bring me in to see the rest of the family! It will be the perfect excuse for abandoning your gnome-hunting. Oh, cleaning spell first."
She flicked her wand at their hands and the three of them trouped up to the house and Hermione was enveloped in Molly's Weasley arms before she even gained the door.
"Mrs. Weasley, it's so, so good to see you again," she managed to eke out the words without the full use of her lungs. When the hug loosened a bit, she added, "It's been too long."
"Come in, come in," Mrs. Weasley said and shooed the three of them into the house. "Dinner's almost ready. Where's Harry, dear? Didn't he come with you?"
"Not here yet, mum," George answered. Hermione followed the Weasley matriarch into the kitchen where Ginny was setting the table. After her fourth Weasley hug of the day, Hermione took a seat across from Ron.
"Arthur! Percy!" Mrs. Weasley yelled out the kitchen window to the back yard where Hermione could see Mr. Weasley slinging a gnome about his head. "Dinnertime!" After a garbled answer, accompanied by sounds of enthusiasm, Mr. Weasley and Percy tromped through the back door.
"Where's Harry?" Mr. Weasley inquired and before George could answer, the sound of the front door did so for him. Ginny popped up from the table and rushed into the hall. A moment or two later, his hand in hers, she pulled Harry into the kitchen and settled him into a chair next to Ron and then she sat down in the chair next to him.
Hermione studied her friend's face. He seemed a bit paler than usual, and dispirited, with a worried crease between his brows. When his eyes flicked up to catch hers, she knew something was wrong. She glanced at Ron and the look in his eyes confirmed her interpretation of Harry's mood. They would have to talk, just the three of them.
Dinner was a typical Weasley family event: too much food and too much noise. Hermione loved it. Although there were obvious moments when it was easy to tell that Fred was dearly missed, those lulls were bridged over by the family's typical wit and fortitude. They were recovering and it heartened her to see it. At the same time she ached at the thought that Professor Snape wasn't assisting that recovery. He might even be hindering it.
After eating way too many meat pies, Mrs. Weasley kept scooping them onto her plate, Harry caught her eye and discreetly tilted his head toward the back door. Hermione gave a slight nod, as did Ron, and the three of them stood.
"We're gonna go walk off all this food, mum," he gave the excuse out of habit but Mrs. Weasley no longer appeared to be suspicious. Surely there was no need to plot against Voldemort any longer, so what could the three of them be up to? Harry looked down at Ginny and gave her hand a squeeze. She pursed her lips at him, but then nodded, annoyance perturbing her features.
Outside, they headed for an old picnic table at the back of the property and, almost without thinking, Hermione cast a Muffilato. She and Ron sat down on the table top, feet on the benches, while Harry stood, his face all seriousness.
"Hermione, your former landlady, Mrs. Murphy . . ." he said slowly, ". . . is dead."
"Mrs. Murphy died?" she said, confused. Harry had met her landlady once or twice while visiting her flat, but how would he know if she passed away? And why would he . . . Harry's an Auror, she reminded herself. Oh, Merlin's stars . . .
"She was killed by Death Eaters. The Killing Curse, after all was said and done. And they left their calling card, a Dark Mark in the sky above the apartment building at around two o'clock this afternoon."
"Harry . . ." she gripped the table to steady herself. Ron put his hand over hers and squeezed, as if he could transfer his strength to her.
"At least we know it couldn't have been Snape," Harry said grudgingly. "He has you as his alibi."
Hermione's stomach churned. She felt light-headed, dizzy. Professor Snape didn't have an alibi, at least not one that she could give him. Had he agreed to her visit to the London Library a bit too quickly? And now she remembered back to that first day when she had asked him to help with her parents. He had known where she lived! He was making deals with Death Eaters for information in return for Portkey transport. Is that how he knew where her flat was? Where Mrs. Murphy lived? Hermione wanted to vomit.
But what about their Fiendfyre research to help Kingsley and Minerva? His concern for them was genuine, wasn't it? I'm a very good liar, Miss Granger, he had told her. Bloody hell, the man was a superlative liar to have delivered outright falsehoods straight to Voldemort's face. But was he lying now?
"Doesn't he?" Harry must have seen the look on her face. "Hermione?"
Was she betraying Professor Snape or was he betraying them? He had made it impossible for her to discern the difference. Could she take the chance? She gazed up into Harry's green eyes and shook her head.
"So you were not with Snape at two o'clock this afternoon?"
Again she shook her head.
"Have you seen Death Eaters at the apothecary since we last met?"
"Did Snape promise to make him a Portkey?"
She nodded again and then urged him along that line of thought with a hand gesture.
"Did you see him make a Portkey for this Death Eater?"
Another nod, another urging. Harry paused and she could almost see the cogs turning in his head.
"You saw the Death Eater use the Portkey?"
"Do you know where the Portkey transported to? Was it out of the country?"
Two nods. Harry's face flushed. He was livid.
"Filthy bastard," he spat and fell silent.
Hermione couldn't agree. Nor could she disagree. She hung her head, completely baffled as to what to believe, what to feel.
"Do you know who the Death Eater was?" Harry finally asked. She nodded, conjured a piece of parchment and a self-inking quill and started sketching furiously. A few well-placed lines and the suggestion of a flying motorcycle appeared and then the huge form of Hagrid driving. A few more and Harry was mounted on the cycle behind Hagrid, twisting around to hurl a spell. Voldemort was next, flying without aid of a broom and casting his own curse. Just off to the side, Hermione sketched another wizard, astride a broom and wandless. She circled him.
"Travers?" Ron guessed.
"Travers was at the Battle of Hogwarts," said Harry.
"Yes he was," Hermione confirmed, unconstrained by her contract on this point. "I saw him there." That meant he had escaped the Aurors after Voldemort was defeated. And that meant he might have killed Fred. He was in France now, thanks to Professor Snape, and most likely would never be held accountable for his crimes.
"Kingsley has to listen to me now," Harry said flatly. "We have to put a stop to Snape's operations."
"Please be careful, Harry." She looked over at Ron, knowing he would be helping his best mate. "You too, Ron. These are desperate people and that makes them even more dangerous."
"You need to watch your back as well, Hermione," Ron added. "You're smack in the middle of the serpent's nest."
"I don't think that Professor Snape will hurt me," she said. When she saw the doubtful looks on both their faces she added, "But I'll keep my guard up."
With such somber news of Mrs. Murphy's death, her intention to ask Harry and Ron about the Mirror of Erised shrank to insignificance in comparison and she decided not to even bring up the subject.
The rest of the evening wasn't as enjoyable as Hermione had anticipated when she arrived earlier that afternoon. Nevertheless, they made the best of it and attempted to, at least, not drag the down the jovial nature of the gathering. She left early.