"There are three obstacles that make it difficult to Summon Lethe Water," Professor Snape began, using his most professorial manner. They were in the potions lab and he had set a very large pewter cauldron on the workbench. Although she was a bit tired - the events last night with capturing Crabbe, Sr. had been rather depleting - she gave him her rapt attention.
"First, you will need to spell a Shield charm around and above the cauldron. We are accustomed to casting broad, rather diffuse ovoids in the direction of an incoming spell, but here we have to contour and mold it into an almost funnel-shaped sheath in order to guide the incoming water into its container.
"Second, we are also accustomed to Summoning something directly to us. In this instance, we must Summon the water to a place near us - the cauldron on the workbench," he said, indicating the pewter cauldron. "Showering ourselves in Lethe Water is not recommended."
"No, sir," Hermione said, trying to smother a grin. Did Professor Snape just make a joke? Or try to? Almost unconsciously she rubbed the knuckle she had broken on Crabbe's nose last night. It didn't hurt, she was just remembering how gently he had attended to her injury. Twice. Then she realized he had stopped talking. Blushing nervously, she dropped her hands to her sides.
"Third, we have to work these two spells simultaneously and they must be executed perfectly or else the Lethe Water will escape. If that happens, the water component evaporates and the forgetfulness miasma will remain, affecting the Summoner or anyone who wanders into the area for a very long time. Which means?"
"Don't spill the Lethe Water."
"Precisely," he confirmed. "I would suggest that you practice the two parts separately. Work on shaping your Shield charm. Instead of Summoning Lethe Water, use Aguamenti to Summon regular water. Then you can practice Summoning to a distance away from you and after that combine it with the Shield charm. I would also prefer that you practice in the greenhouse. Might as well water the plants while you're at it."
She smiled up at him. A tongue-in-cheek? His black eyes darted to hers and he seemed pleased that she was amused.
"The same techniques we use for Lethe Water is also used for Fiendfyre," he continued.
No wonder Crabbe couldn't control the Fiendfyre he unleashed in the Room of Requirement. That kind of control was well beyond his abilities. Right now it was beyond her abilities also, but she was determined to learn.
"The Shield charm directs the flow and Summoning at a distance prevents the Summoner from frying themselves alive. Further, the same wand movement is used to Summon both, the only difference being the spell used. I suspect that will be the case for calling Mnemosyne Water as well."
"How did you learn to Summon Lethe Water, Professor?" Hermione asked. She knew the standard Hogwarts textbooks didn't cover the process. Any other books she had come across never mentioned specifics other than the spell.
"There are several reasons to avoid the Forbidden Forest, Miss Granger, and the dangerous creatures that live there are only one. One particular place, if encountered, will bring on amnesia for several days."
This thought ran through her mind like quicksilver and Hermione put the pieces together.
"You learned to do this on your own, didn't you? You practiced in the Forbidden Forest!" It had never occurred to her that Professor Snape had ever been a reckless youth.
"Hence my warnings to you," he said, looking a bit uncomfortable revealing such information about himself. He cleared his throat and continued.
"Our research now needs to focus on finding out what spell will Summon the water from the River Mnemosyne."
Hermione drowsed awake. Had she heard something? Reaching for her wand she cast a clock charm. The numbers blurred through sleepy eyes: two o'clock in the morning. Her lids drooped back toward sleep. Then she heard it again, a soft knock on her door.
Her eyes flew open and she was instantly awake. Professor Snape was at her door. What did he want? She remembered his warm embrace in the windy courtyard of Azkaban. His gentle touch as he healed her hand. And she remembered the burning desire she had experienced the last time Winky had Apparated her into his bed. He had mentioned that the contract allowed for him to . . .
Another soft knock.
"Just a minute!" she called and slipped out of bed. She grabbed a bathrobe out of the wardrobe and hurried over to the door, cramming her wand into a pocket. She went to turn the doorknob, but hesitated, her hand shaking. She wasn't ready for . . . that. But hadn't he proved himself an honorable man? She trusted him now, didn't she? Yes. She opened the door.
"My apologies for waking you, Miss Granger, but there is something I would like to show you," he said, looking her up and down. "You will need something on your feet as well."
She ran back to the wardrobe and quickly put on a pair of slippers and followed him down the hall, quite curious as to what could be so important so early in the morning. He led her through the kitchen and then into the greenhouse. Making his way toward the back and down a path between the beds, he stopped at the empty spot that Hermione had noted the first day she had spent time in the greenhouse with Winky.
He looked upward and she followed his gaze. The glass roof, crystal clear, allowed a generous view of the full moon. It reminded her of the night Remus Lupin had turned into a werewolf; the night that Professor Snape had come to the Shrieking Shack to rescue them. The fact that he had been mistaken and they didn't need rescuing did not dim the intent in her view. Everyone had thought that Sirius Black was a murderer at the time.
Professor Snape looked down at her and she was reminded of the previous night when she was in his arms. She felt her cheeks growing warm and was glad that the bright light of the moon would wash all color from her face.
"I want you to watch this empty space here," he indicated the spot without a plant and only a blank name tag in front of it. He conjured two small stools and they sat down in the path, crowded together in front of the curious spot. Although she kept her eyes where he had indicated, she was very aware of how close they were sitting to each other.
"What am I looking for?" she asked in a hushed voice and shivered a bit. Although the greenhouse was warmer inside than out, the bathrobe she had selected was rather thin and she was starting to get a bit cool.
"You'll know when it happens," he said. She shivered again. Since he had been so generous with his warmth last night, she decided to engage her Gryffindor bravery, though it might turn out to be foolhardy instead. She lifted the hem of his robes and pulled the excess around her. He seemed to stiffen at first, but then relaxed and scooted his stool closer. Now they sat, arms touching, staring at the empty spot before them. She was warming up quite nicely.
Suddenly, it happened - in front of her a dazzling plant appeared. The slender, spiky leaves flashed like liquid silver in the moonlight, every tip sparkled as if diamonds crusted each edge. It was breathtaking. She looked at the plant tag and now a name appeared. Aconitum Argentum. But how could this be?
"Do you know what it is?" he asked.
"It's a myth!" the words nearly caught in her throat, she was so astonished.
"The silver aconite is so rare that most people, even potioneers, do believe it to be a myth. The plant is invisible except for a few moments when the moon is completely full and it shines down upon it. For those fleeting seconds it reflects the moonlight and that is the only time it can be found. Making it even more difficult, the plant is extremely rare to start with and it prefers the shade, which doesn't allow moonlight to illuminate it very often. However, once a person catches a glimpse of it under the right conditions, they can see the plant the rest of the time."
He was, of course, correct, as she could plainly see. After a few moments the luminescence slowly faded and Hermione found she was gazing at what looked like a normal aconite. The space that had seemed empty was completely filled by a very healthy plant.
"I have a particular theory about silver aconite," he said. "If we replace the common version with this variety in the Wolfsbane potion, it might actually cure lycanthropy instead of simply easing the symptoms. That could be a boon to the plight of witches and wizards so afflicted."
"That might even eradicate the disease!" She was stunned at the possibility and she wanted to be a part of accomplishing that task. "Will that be our next project?" She asked. He was silent for several moments and seemed to shift a bit uncomfortably.
"No, Miss Granger. Our next project will be to rehabilitate your parents."
Silence fell between them. Hermione couldn't speak for the lump in her throat. She swallowed several times before she tried.
"I thought you said . . ."
"Technically, I didn't. I simply implied that such was the case by saying the contract didn't require me to do anything until your seven years was up. That is true. But it's actually up to my discretion as to when I fill my promise to you as long as I do so before our agreement terminates."
"Why would want me to believe such a thing?" she asked quietly, remembering how betrayed she had felt when she thought her parents would have to wait seven years to be returned to her.
"Can't you think of a reason?"
What had changed between now and then?
"Yes. There were Death Eaters smart enough to leave England within hours of the Dark Lord's defeat. Crabbe was not one of them. He was bent on revenge from the moment he learned his son had died. But he became a genuine threat to you, Potter and Weasley only after you returned from your trip to Australia. We quickly set up the barrier to prevent Death Eaters from leaving the country but it would not prevent communications from doing so. We didn't know who he might have been in contact with outside of the country. It was much easier to protect you here, where I was familiar with everything, than chance a trip to Australia. Too many unknowns. That you came to me for assistance with your parents was a fortunate coincidence."
"You apprenticed me for my own good?"
"Partially. I really did need the help. Further, I am under some constraint to find a cure for Kingsley and Minerva. Your arrival was most advantageous. I was blocked in that endeavor until you brought your Muggle school book to my table. Now it looks as if we can make real progress toward a cure. After that is done, there is no longer any reason to delay dealing with your parents."
"Thank you," she said, her eyes misting. That he was going to help her much sooner than he was required to meant the world to her. Her throat was tightening again. She needed to change the subject.
"Where did you find this specimen?" she asked, indicating the plant in front of them.
"Serendipitously, it was a volunteer in my backyard. I happened to be looking out the kitchen window at precisely the right moment."
"Backyard? Do you mean in the alley?" From what she could remember, not much could grow amongst the stones that paved the space behind the greenhouse.
"No, I have another place. I inherited it from my parents."
Parents? Of course Professor Snape would have had parents. At one time he must have been an infant, a child, a teenager. But these notions seemed impossible to reconcile with the image she had of the man beside her.
"How long have they been gone?"
"Both of them were dead by the time I graduated Hogwarts."
"Oh," she replied. She was missing her own parents, but it would be much harder if they were actually dead. "That must have been difficult for you."
"In my case it made life much easier, Miss Granger," he said softly. "We weren't ever really a family. It was a relief when I left for Hogwarts. At best, we barely tolerated each other. At worst . . ." he fell silent again.
Hermione couldn't image her parents treating her like that. She was starting to get a glimpse of the kind of life Professor Snape had endured. From Harry she had learned that Lily Evans had been his only friend until he had arrived at Hogwarts. They had met when he was nine. How lonely he must have been as a little boy. And to grow up to be responsible for Lily's death and then sacrifice everything to avenge that death. Her thoughts were growing maudlin again.
"But now we've won, thanks to you. And Dumbledore. And Harry."
"You played a significant part as well, Miss Granger. I have no doubt whatsoever that Potter wouldn't have lasted one day hunting Horcruxes without your assistance. The Boy Who Lived succeeded only because you were by his side." His voice was quiet but steady and she felt that warm glow that his rare praise generated. "It's just unfortunate that we are still dealing with the consequences - lives still disrupted and endangered once again," he added.
"Actually, my life is perfect right now," Hermione commented, without thinking before speaking. She felt him go very still beside her. She needed to explain herself. "I mean, this situation, it's perfect for me. I get to study and research to my heart's content. I've always enjoyed brewing potions and tending to the shop has been more satisfying than I expected. And then there's . . . the opportunity I have to work with you."
He turned his head down toward her, his face in shadow except for where his nose caught the light of the moon. As she stretched upward she couldn't see her target, but she knew his mouth would be just under that nose.
Her face was lifted up toward his, the full light of the moon illuminating every part of it. She was so lovely, looking up at him. He wanted to kiss her, but that would not be proper. She was too young; as his apprentice, he had too much power over her; he was dying; she . . .
She stretched upward and kissed him, pressing her warm lips against his.
"Miss Granger, I . . ."
He was silent. It wasn't like he didn't want to kiss her. There were just so many reasons why he shouldn't. She pressed her lips against his again and this time he let himself respond. He was torn between the very pleasant sensations of her mouth and complete bafflement at why she wanted to kiss him. She pulled back as if she had heard that thought.
Taking his hand, she stood and pulled him up beside her. Then she stepped up onto her stool, and ran her hands up his chest and around his neck. He lowered his head and kissed her again, his arms pulling her close.
When they parted, she tucked her head under his chin.
"You've always watched out for us, protected us, saved us. Thank you, Professor Snape."
"Severus," he murmured into her hair.
His heart thrilled at the sound of his name on her lips, his arms about her waist. But how could his senses be informing him correctly? He had to think on this for a time. Reluctantly he stepped back and helped her down from the stool.
"It's late and we have a full day ahead of us. A few more hours of sleep would be prudent."
She nodded and turned up the path. Hesitating, she waited for him to catch up and then took his hand in hers and together they walked back into the kitchen. She led him from there to the hallway and then right up to the door to her quarters. She turned to him on tiptoe and tugged on his jacket to get him bend toward her mouth. After a lengthy kiss, she stepped back, breathless.
"Good night. Severus."
"Good night, Hermione."
He watched as she opened her door, holding on to his hand until the last moment and then letting go as she closed the door.
Once inside his quarters, he closed his own door and leaned back heavily against it.
What had he gotten himself into?