The stormy sea, broidered with milky foam, raged below her as she stood at the edge of the cliff. Whipped by the winds, the rain chilled and drenched her and she shivered while waiting for him to arrive. It was only a moment and she was in his arms once more. Now warm and dry, his lips were soft against hers, his arms strong and protective. Their embrace heated, passion flared and his kisses trailed fire down her neck. She shivered again, but not because she was cold.
He swept her into his arms and turned. In every dream she had always faced the sea. Now she saw that there was a small stone cottage several yards behind them to which he headed. Inside it was dark but warm, a low fire smoldered on the hearth, and after a few strides he gently laid her on the bed. Her arms were around his neck and she didn't let go when he tried to stand. Pulling herself up, she initiated another kiss and he was easily persuaded to push her back onto the indulgent bedding and stretch out on top of her. He nuzzled her throat. She was desperate for more contact and scrabbled at his jacket. Damn buttons!
She wiggled further under his body and wrapped her legs around his waist. He moaned softly until she settled.
"Hermione . . ." he murmured against her ear. The sound of her name as it rumbled through his chest made her skin tingle in very pleasant ways.
"Severus . . . please . . ." she pushed against him, ". . . please . . ."
"Mmmss . . mmajemm," he murmured. Grasping her wrists he pinned them down on either side of her head.
"Miss Granger," she heard him say, not soothing susurrations, but a command seemingly from a long distance away.
As the mists of sleep began to clear the Severus of her dream was morphing into the Professor Snape of her reality. Both of them had her wrists pinned to the bed. While she struggled to full consciousness she also struggled against his restraint. She remembered the leering suggestions of the Death Eater Travers on Saturday evening and her outrage returned.
"You have no right!" she spat at him and tried to twist her wrists out of his grasp. He was too strong.
"On the contrary, I have every right," he said. "Another reason you should have read your contract."
That damn contract again! With Mrs. Murphy's death she had forgotten to ask Harry about it. Even if her mentor had a contractual right to . . .
"I believed you too honorable to do such a thing!"
"I'm not doing anything of the sort."
"Then why are you in my bed?"
"I am not, Miss Granger. You are in mine." He said and then murmured "Lumos!"
Squinting against the bright light, Hermione could see enough of the room past Professor Snape to discern that they were definitely not in her quarters. He loomed over her, his black hair falling forward partially obscuring his face. She tried not to notice his bare chest and hoped he wasn't completely naked. Although he was a thin man, she was surprised at the firm musculature under that white, white skin.
"Not only do you sleepwalk, but apparently you sleepapparate as well. This is the second time I've found you in my bed. I locked the door to my quarters after the first incident."
"The first incident?" Hermione was stunned. "I've been in your room before?"
"Room and bed. Fortunately, last Sunday you remained asleep and . . . ah . . . dreamless and I was able to transport you to your own quarters without waking you." He seemed to be trembling slightly. "I didn't want to embarrass you."
"I think it would be best if I went back to my own room."
"If you would let go of me?"
"You'll have to release me first, Miss Granger."
Only then did she realize how far her dream had merged with reality. Her legs were still wrapped around his waist. Nearly every shred of her dignity was gone by the time she was able to untangle herself and he let her go. She slid out of his bed and headed for the door.
At least I still have my nightgown on, she thought, trying to console herself as she crossed the hall to her own room. She was mortified as she slunk back through her own door and closed it firmly behind her. Never in her life had she ever been a sleepwalker, let alone Apparated while asleep. Why would that suddenly change?
And the contract? Had Harry forgotten to get a copy of her contract as he had promised? Or had the tragedy of Mrs. Murphy's death rattled him as badly as it had rattled her and they had both forgotten about it? If it wasn't so late, she would send a message to Harry by Patronus. First thing tomorrow, she promised herself.
She lifted the blanket on her bed and slid beneath, disturbing Crookshanks to the point where he grumped out an annoyed wrawl. Adjusting the bedding to her liking, she fluffed the pillow and lay her head down, tucking a hand underneath. Her fingers found a familiar piece of vine wood and they tingled from the magic that flowed from it.
If her wand was here, how could she have Apparated into Professor Snape's room?
Snape watched until his apprentice closed the door behind her. He groaned and rolled onto his belly, burying his face in a pillow. He certainly hoped she hadn't felt that. It was time for a cold shower.
As he made his way to the bathroom, he tried to exorcize the memory of Miss Granger's recent activities from his mind. Her kisses had been ardent and her intent had been obvious. Too bad she had been dreaming. He would have to set up anti-Apparation spells to prevent her entry into his quarters in future.
Stepping into the shower, he suddenly realized - in the throes of her passion, dream or not, she had called out his name.
"Wizarding references tell of the five rivers of hell: Akheron, Kokytos, Lethe, Phlegethon and Styx, as do Muggle texts on Greek mythology. But in the past hundred years Muggle archeology has uncovered more information that it appears wizards never knew."
It was Monday morning and they were at the kitchen table working their way through Winky's hearty breakfast. She was still embarrassed after what had happened last night, but Professor Snape was obviously ignoring the whole fiasco and that helped her feel a bit more confident as she presented the research she had verified at the London Library yesterday. Avoid eye contact, she decided. The excitement that her information might help cure Minerva and Kingsley buoyed her spirits.
"The Greeks had several mystery religions which, due to their belief in limiting knowledge to inducted members of their particular cults, had information that they did not share. Apparently, the Muggles uncovered some of that lore."
"Fascinating, Miss Granger, but what is your point?"
"There is a sixth river that exists in hell. Mnemosyne, the river of remembrance," she said simply and waited for his reaction.
"A sixth river." It was a statement, not a question. Professor Snape came very close to smiling outright. It was a lopsided one with a trace of a smirk still resident, but it could be classified as a smile nonetheless, she decided.
"Yes, it was thought that, after death, souls drank of the river Lethe before being reincarnated and so they forgot everything about their mortal life. The mystery religions taught their initiates to drink from Mnemosyne instead and then they would retain all that they had learned in their previous life and eventually would achieve omniscience."
"So your theory is that Mnemosyne Water could quell Fiendfyre and counteract the use of Lethe Water at the same."
"Yes, sir," she replied. "I believe so."
"And the obvious obstacle?"
"We have to find a way to Summon water from the river Mnemosyne."
"I know that might be a rather big impediment and it might not work out in the end . . ." she suddenly felt deflated. She had been so excited when she found this tidbit in her homemade book. Now it seemed . . . almost juvenile.
"On the contrary, Miss Granger," Professor Snape said quietly. "It may be the one thing that saves the lives of Minerva and Kingsley. Very well done."
She felt her cheeks pink. This was genuine praise. From Professor Snape! She hazarded a glance at her mentor and found that he was looking very intently at her. The memory of the events of last night came flooding back and her cheeks went from pink to a hot red. Suddenly the waffle on her plate became extremely interesting.
"I suppose we'll have to start working on that next," she said, still exhilarated at his approval of her research.
"It seems to be somewhat worse this week, Severus," Minister Shacklebolt reported. Snape examined the wound carefully and his observations synched with Kingsley's complaint. The blackened area on his shoulder had pushed slightly past the boundary it had maintained last week. This was not good news. He hoped fervently that Miss Granger's discovery would pan out, but he was not inclined to reveal the possible cure to Shacklebolt at the present moment. He would have to risk using the potion with the extra Lethe Water this time, hoping to drive the edges of the wound back.
Snape poured the luminescent golden potion into the goblet on the desk and handed it to Shacklebolt. The Minister downed it, making a face in the process. Then he looked at Snape intently.
"We have other business today, Severus," Shacklebolt began. "There was a Muggle murder yesterday. It was Hermione Granger's former landlady. Looks like you got her out of there just in time. It was evident that Death Eaters were involved. What have you heard from that end?"
"I know nothing else about the incident," Snape said, taking a seat in front of Shacklebolt's desk and crossing his legs. The look on the Minister's face suggested he might want to beg to differ. "Many of them don't trust me, for good reason," he added and could see a tiny ember of the same mistrust flash for an instant in Shacklebolt's eye, but then the Minister nodded. With the extra Lethe Water in Shacklebolt's weekly potion, Snape wasn't going to trust the Minister's memory or discretion and, again, decided to minimize the information he would past on.
"Conversely, I have concerns about Potter and Weasley," Snape said. "Potter isn't going to just sit back and follow your injunctions if he suspects I'm conspiring with Death Eaters. He will get himself into trouble."
"I'm sure he would back off if we told him what was going on."
"That has never been my experience. In fact, I don't think he would believe you. In Potter's case, and where I'm concerned, it would simply spur him into unrestrained attempts to prove otherwise."
"I'll alert the Aurors watching him."
"That will make my job easier, not having to worry about Potter mucking about in my operation," Snape said and then remembered about meeting with Pye later tonight. "And speaking of operations, I would like access to the Department of Mysteries tonight. Augustus Pye, the Healer at St. Mungo's and I need to look at some of the writings in Dumbledore's old research room."
"I'll have two badges ready for you at the Muggle entrance."
"Thank you, Minister," Snape replied and stood to go. He was starting to feel the energy drain from him and needed to get back to the shop. And to Miss Granger.
Ministry badges in place, Snape, with Healer Pye in tow, made his way to the Department of Mysteries. In the room with many doors Snape fished in his pocket for the key that Dumbledore had left him and then placed it in his palm. The key spun around until it pointed to the door to which it belonged and then it leapt from his hand and flew into the lock, turning with a firm click.
They entered the room to find it completely unremarkable. Four blank stone walls with a large table in the center. On the table a single leather bound book rested in a circle of magical light that shined down from the ceiling. As they approached, two chairs appeared side by side.
"Well, I was expecting a little bit . . . more," said Healer Pye.
"As was I."
They took the seats conjured and Snape pulled the book toward them, but then hesitated to open it. He was way out of his depth here. He had loved Lily from the first day that he had found out she was a witch. His entire life had been a monument to her; to recompense for his contribution to her murder, to morn her loss and to avenge her death. After surviving Voldemort's defeat, much to his chagrin, there was an unexplainable emptiness that left somewhat of a hole in his being. He had tried to fill it with the apothecary, with his research to help Minerva and Kingsley and by infiltrating the remnant of the Death Eaters. It wasn't enough.
What did he really know of love? He had loved Lily with everything he had, but that love had never been returned. And no one had ever loved him. He wouldn't even know how to respond to anyone who did. He suspected that his inexperience would be a liability in any relationship he might have.
When did I start thinking about having a relationship?
Well, last night - when Miss Granger was so delightfully engaging him in bed - could have easily sidetracked his thoughts along those lines. The physical part of a relationship would certainly have its benefits, but what about the rest? The two of them were getting along quite well running the apothecary, but the contract between them essentially gave him complete control over her. He had never been in a real relationship, but he didn't think that was how it was supposed to work. He had no doubt that things would have to change if they became romantically involved. Romantically involved? He was letting Minerva's advice go to his head.
As he sat staring at Dumbledore's lone book and contemplating the overwhelming thought of interacting with a woman in a relationship, and how complicated that could be, Healer Pye was starting to show signs of impatience.
"I'm itching to see what's inside, Severus. If there is any chance it contains information to unravel the mysterious effect that Hermione Granger has on you, we might be able to formulate a cure."
Snape ran his hand down the old leather cover and fingered the corner. Flipping it open, the frontispiece was starkly plain, with only one sentence, centered, in Dumbledore's elegant hand.
Love is the most powerful magic
He turned the page. It was blank, as was the next one and the one after. Snape picked up the book and thumbed through the remaining leaves of parchment. If the starkness of the room was disappointing, this single injunction was completely disheartening.
"Well, that was rather anti-climatic," Snape remarked blandly.
"I would have to agree with you on this count," replied Pye.
Snape pulled out his wand and touched it to one page.
"Reveal your secrets," he cast the charm. Nothing. "Severus Snape, inheritor of Albus Dumbledore's estate, commands you to yield the information you conceal." Again, nothing. Snape suspected that there was a way to unlock the secrets of the book, but it could be a long time before he would be able to crack this nut and they didn't have that time tonight. He could feel his strength starting to wane. He leaned back in his chair and looked over at a disappointed Pye. "Any ideas?"
The Healer shook his head.
"None," he sighed. "Well, at least I can run a few diagnostics on you and gather further data. After comparing the numbers from last week with previous readings I have developed a hypothesis that I would like to verify."
Snape nodded and scraped his chair around to face the Healer. Pye cast his spell and Snape could see the blue glow from the numbers floating above him reflected on the man's face, brows drawn together in concern.
"When you are away from Miss Granger your condition seems to deteriorate faster," Pye launched into his explanation. "Previous to her becoming your apprentice, I gave you about a year before you would succumb to the effects of Nagini's poison. If I simply went by the data I've collected since she came into your life, I'd give you four months. Here."
Healer Pye cast a charm and a gleaming graph floating in front of them.
"The line in blue plots your life indicators over time," said Pye, now using his wand as a pointer. "If we extend that line you can see it would intersect the x-axis here, giving you about a year to live. But at this point, where the line turns red, is when Miss Granger moved into your apothecary. You can see the data dipping dramatically and crossing the x-axis in only 4 months. But I only have readings from when you are not in her presence. I would like to examine you at your shop in the next few days and get some numbers when you are actually in proximity to her. Would that be possible?"
Snape thought about the questions Miss Granger would no doubt pepper him with if Healer Pye showed up wanting to run diagnostics on him. Of course, they could use the potions lab and make the excuse that Pye wanted a consultation on a particularly difficult case, which would actually be the truth. With an alibi in place, he made up his mind.
"Most every evening is available after seven. When would you like to stop by?"
"I promised my wife I'd try to make it home early tonight and it's already nearly ten o'clock. Then I'm tied up at St. Mungo the next two nights. Would Thursday work for you?"
"Certainly," Snape nodded and, with difficulty, stood. He sensed Pye's gaze upon him and grabbed the edge of the table to steady himself just as he felt the Healer take hold of his elbow. When he aimed a questioning brow down at the shorter man, Pye shrugged.
"Just in case," he answered. Snape felt a clammy nausea flow down from his head and through his extremities and nodded, accepting the Healer's help. Eyeing the disappointing book forlornly laying on the table, he sighed. Might as well take it with him and see if he, or Miss Granger, could make any headway in persuading it to divulge its secrets. He pulled it toward him and thought he had it in hand, but it was back in the center of the table. Of course. Enchanted. Half-heartedly he tried a few more times with the same result.
"You'll have to bring Miss Granger next time," Pye said and he kept his hand under Snape's elbow as they left the room.
As they made their way down the hall to the elevator and thence to the Ministry atrium, Snape felt his energy drain from his body and was grateful for Pye's assistance. If he could just make it to one of the many fireplaces that lined the walls and get back to the shop, he would be fine. Pye apparently understood this as well and as soon as the elevator open steered him to the nearest hearth and tossed a pinch of Floo powder into the ever-burning flames.
"Home," Snape said clearly as the fire roared into a rich, green blaze. He nodded at Pye, who released his arm, and then he stepped into the emerald-colored conflagration.
Spinning out of the hearth into his kitchen, he nearly pitched over, but managed to stumble to the opposite wall and used it to support himself. He stood there a few moments waiting for his strength to return, but his breathing became labored. He would recover more rapidly if he were closer to Miss Granger. Making his way across the kitchen, and using every wall, table and chair within reach to support himself between the fireplace and the hallway, he headed toward the library, the most likely place he would find her at this hour.
But she wasn't there. He was not recuperating as quickly as usual. Was she gone? Had she left to run an errand? Or was she somewhere else on the premises? Perhaps she had gone to bed early? He made his way slowly back toward her bedroom and tried to cross the hall to her door unaided. Bad decision. He collided with the jamb and, hand trembling, reached for the doorknob. The darkened hall became darker and he slumped to his knees. The last thing he remembered was hitting the floor.
Hermione's eyelids fluttered open slightly and then drooped sleepily. Thoughts, misty wisps of pre-consciousness and barely there, drifted through her mind. Winky was certainly doing an excellent job keeping her toasty at night. Her blankets were thick, heavy and comforting and enveloped her in a deliciously sensuous warmth. She wondered what time it was, how long would she be able to luxuriate in this lovely . . .
The blanket moved. Hermione's eyes flew open and she was instantly and fully awake. Bloody hell. She was in Professor Snape's bed again. Holding her breath, she hoped he wouldn't wake. After a moment he settled and, thankfully, remained sleeping. She had to get out of here.
They were both on their sides, his chest pressed against her back. His arm ran under her neck, crooked in front of her face and his hand gently lay on the side of her head. His other arm snugged about her waist. He shifted again and she tried to stay as limp as she could, thinking resistance might wake him. He moved his knee forward and it caught the back of one of hers, pushing her legs apart. She tried desperately to think of something else, anything else, than what her body was suggesting.
She decided to wait for a few minutes before trying to escape, giving time for his sleep to deepen. At least that's the excuse she was using. The fact was, she was surprisingly comfortable entwined with him as she was.
In her dreams, she always felt comfortable and completely safe with . . . Severus. Real life brought doubts. Although Professor Snape had turned out to be much kinder than she had expected, his behavior with Death Eaters was disturbing. During her time at Hogwarts he had wanted everyone to think he was a traitor. Was that the case this time as well? Or had he manipulated everyone for his own purposes as Harry supposed? Whatever the reason, she needed to get out of here.
Slowly, she tried to lift his hand from her head, moved it away from her and laid it on the pillow. Next, she tried to loose herself from the arm wrapped around her waist. She almost had it moved when he roused again and readjusted it around her waist. She froze, hand on his wrist, hoping he would settle once more.
"Miss Granger?" he mumbled against her head. "How did you get in my bed again?"
"I am wondering the same thing, Professor," she said softly. "I'm not a sleep walker and I can't Apparate without my wand. I have no idea how I got here."
The sound rumbled in his chest and she could feel it on her back. It seemed he agreed with her.
"Last night I set up anti-Apparation charms in here. You could not have entered even with a wand. I think I have figured out what has been happening. But before we can resolve this issue, it would be best if we were upright. Lumos."
He untangled his legs from hers and rolled away. Her back cooled rapidly and she missed his warmth, but threw back the covers and sat up. Thankfully, she was still in the night gown she had put on last night. She slipped out of bed and crossed her arms over her chest, just in case.
Professor Snape wore only a loose pair of Muggle pajama pants. She tried not to notice the muscles rippling under his skin as he got out of bed, walked to his wardrobe and pulled out a set of robes, black.
"Winky!" he called as he swung the robes about his shoulders. Winky? The little elf appeared with a loud crack.
"Yes, Master?" the tiny creature asked eagerly, but she began wringing her hands when she saw the thunderous look on Professor Snape's face.
"Have you been putting Miss Granger into my bed?"
"Y-Yes, Master," Winky answered.
"But why, Winky?" Hermione asked kindly, stepping closer. The elf hung her head.
"Master needs Miss," Winky said. "Master is better when . . ."
"Enough," Professor Snape interrupted. At this, Winky became even more distressed and started quickly glancing about the room. No doubt to find a way to punish herself, Hermione thought, becoming concerned for the little elf.
"Humans choose their own nest mates, Winky. You will need to be punished for this error," he said.
"Professor," Hermione was alarmed by this pronouncement, "what she did wasn't that bad."
Professor Snape looked down at his arm and Hermione followed his gaze, only then realizing that she had placed her hand on his forearm. Embarrassed, she snatched it back.
"Honestly, I-I didn't mind at all," she said attempting to plead Winky's case. She looked up at him and found his eyes watching her intently. Then she realized what she had just said and felt her cheeks grow hot. But despite her discomfort, she still wanted to protect the elf. "I didn't," she repeated and looked down at a very distraught Winky.
"Nevertheless, it must be done. Winky, turn around and bend over," Professor Snape commanded.
Hermione was horrified, and opened her mouth to protest, but a narrowed-eyed glare from her mentor quelled her response.
Winky did as she was told. Professor Snape turned his ankle as he swung his leg forward. Rather than an actual kick, he scooped the elf up on his foot and tossed her onto the bed where she tumbled a few times and then sat up.
"You are also confined to your nest until tomorrow morning except to prepare and serve our meals. No other work for you today, is that clear?"
"Yes, Master," the elf said meekly. But then she looked up at Professor Snape with even more adoration than she had previously, if that was possible. Hermione was flummoxed.
"You may go, Winky," he said and the elf nodded and Disapparated.
Hermione just stood there shaking her head.
"You've punished her so now she doesn't have to punish herself," she said.
"I daresay my version is significantly less severe than hers would have been and apparently much more satisfying for her part."
"Apparently," Hermione replied, studying him as he turned back toward his wardrobe. Then she saw him hesitate and look at her, raising an eyebrow.
"If you don't mind, Miss Granger, I would like to get dressed now."
"Oh. Oh, yes," she said and headed out the door for her own room.
Tuesday passed peaceably but very quickly. After the somewhat embarrassing start to the day, routine took over and the incident was forgotten under the barrage of customers that patronized their establishment. The popularity of the apothecary was growing exponentially. They might need to hire extra help if business kept growing at this rate. Oddly, she felt a slight pang at this thought. Extra help, she emphasized, not another apprentice.
It was dinnertime almost before she realized it. She quickly laid out the ingredients for making the modified Amortentia in the morning. Professor Snape flipped the sign on the door to 'Closed' and cleared off the counter, putting away the scales and their books. She followed him down the hall to the kitchen where Winky was setting out dinner, a nice curry by the looks of it.
"So how would you suggest that we approach the problem of Summoning Mnemosyne Water?" he quizzed her.
"I've never Summoned Lethe Water, so I would have to start there, learning the spells and techniques to safely transfer the . . ."
Suddenly a bright silvery lynx loped into the kitchen from the hallway and leapt lightly onto the end of their table. Hermione had seen this particular Patronus only one other time: at Bill and Fleur's wedding, when the Ministry of Magic had fallen into Voldemort's hands. When it opened its mouth to speak, she knew it would be the slow, deep voice of Kingsley Shacklebolt.
"Harry Potter and Ron Weasley are missing."