Apparating with three heavily loaded suitcases and Crookshank's carrier was not as difficult as she thought it might be. None of it, resized, would be able to fit into that rat hole, her assigned quarters, so she suspected it would be seven years before she would see much of her belongings again. Not having her treasured books around her would be the hardest deprivation to endure, but she would sneak a few out as often as she could, although Professor Snape's comment led her to believe that opportunity would be limited. Flicking her wand at her luggage she levitated it behind, exited the alley and made her way toward the apothecary. The populace of Knockturn Alley appeared to have increased in number, as well as menace, and since the sun had set and the weak autumn light was quickly draining from the sky, she picked up her pace.
Packing had taken her less time than she had anticipated and now she stood on the walk in front of the shop much as she had that morning, nervous and desperate. She had decided to come early, hoping to get on his good side if she could. That strategy had failed miserably when he was her teacher, but despite the severe strictures of the contract, he had actually behaved rather decently in their previous meeting. She took a deep breath and opened the shop door.
The ambience was nearly indistinguishable from that during full daylight which led Hermione to suspect that Professor Snape had laid an enchanted gloom upon the place. Perhaps he just felt more at ease in a dungeon-like environment. She wondered why that might be.
Low voices at the back of the shop drew her attention to the counter, and she wound her way amongst the shelves, her luggage still obediently floating behind. Professor Snape looked up, caught her eye and smirked. He bent to make a note on a sheaf of papers on the counter but raised his voice loud enough for her to hear.
"I have an . . . ah . . . assistant now. I'll be able to attend to your order immediately." Professor Snape nodded in her direction.
"An assistant?" the unknown man at the counter repeated. The customer glanced over his shoulder in the direction of Professor Snape's nod, saw Hermione and the color drained from his face. The customer looked familiar in a disquieting way, but she couldn't quite place where she had seen him before.
"Bloody hell, Snape," the man exclaimed and yanked the sleeve of his robes down over his exposed left arm. Hermione just caught a glimpse of the faded Dark Mark that was burned into the skin there. "One of them? Are you sodding kidding me?"
Professor Snape's lips twisted into a sneer. "Calm down, Jugson. She's magically inhibited from relating a word about anything she hears us say. And what better way to assure the Ministry where my loyalties lay than by taking this one . . . under my wing . . . so to speak?"
At the mention of the man's name, an uneasy sense of deja vu washed through her mind. Unsure of what was going on right in front of her, Harry's theory about Severus Snape rushed to the fore. The customer had obviously been one of Voldemort's Death Eaters, so Harry was right about one thing: Professor Snape was fraternizing with his former cronies. But was he right about believing Professor Snape wanted to replace the Dark Lord?
"So you will need the Portkey and the potion, both of which I can provide," Professor Snape said and Jugson shifted uneasily, finally tearing his eyes away from Hermione and turning back to the business at hand. "Everything will be available by your projected departure date, about 30 days hence. Will you have payment ready by then?"
"The information you wanted?" asked Jugson. "That's all you're requiring of me? Doesn't seem quite a fair trade. Aren't you coming out on the short end of the deal?" he added suspiciously, with another glance at Hermione.
"Information is power," Professor Snape said simply. "Of course, it has to be accurate. If I find out that it is not . . . ," the glare in his eye could only be described as lethal, "Well, I'm the one person who will know how to find you." His threat was delivered softly, his voice low.
"I'll be back in 30 days, then," Jugson said, nodded and turned to go. He headed straight for Hermione. She froze and the memories came flooding back as she saw his face full on. Jugson was one of Lucius Malfoy's cronies in the Department of Mysteries the night Voldemort had lured Harry to the Ministry to retrieve the prophecy; the night that Sirius had died. The man was a thug and she remembered seeing him at the Battle of Hogwarts as well. Why wasn't he incarcerated in Azkaban? Swallowing hard, she stood her ground. She wanted to draw her wand, but if Harry was right - and from what she had just heard Professor Snape say, that was a definite possibility - it might be two against one. What the hell was going on?
"Jugson," Professor Snape said and the man looked back at him. "You forgot your . . . ah . . . purchase." He tossed a jar of dried nettles, a common, inexpensive potion ingredient and Jugson deftly caught it. "Have to keep up appearances," he added. "And don't forget your glamour."
Jugson brushed past Hermione, bumping into her levitated luggage and causing each of the bags to shudder in midair. Pulling his wand, he cast the glamour on himself and with one last surreptitious glance at Hermione, left the shop. Turning toward Professor Snape she saw him push his wand back up his sleeve and realized that she had not noticed when he had pulled it out.
"Miss Granger, do you need some assistance with your bags?" Snape asked, preempting a question, several actually, of her own. He didn't wait for her answer. "Winky!"
To Hermione's amazement, the house elf Apparated at Professor Snape's side. She was wearing a tidy and very pink, nay - florescent, towel and she curtsied deeply.
"Yes, Master Snape. What orders do you have for Winky?" the elf asked eagerly. The last time Hermione had seen this particular elf, she was a drunken, filthy heap on the Hogwarts kitchen hearth. Now she was clean, alert and looked very, very . . . happy. Wait a minute.
"Why have you contracted me to be your servant, Professor . . ." she emphasized the title, " . . . Snape, if you already have the services of a house elf?"
"There are certain tasks that Winky is not capable of," Professor Snape answered, "and on which I will elucidate further once you are settled in." As Hermione continued to stare at Winky, he added, "It was Minerva's idea. The elf was not doing well at Hogwarts, particularly after Dobby was killed."
"The hot pink certainly coordinates well with the decor," Hermione snipped.
"Pink is Winky's best, Miss," the elf piped up. A stealthy glance at the shop's proprietor caught a slight rolling of his eyes. Well, this was intriguing. Obviously Professor Snape did not like the color but he had let the elf choose her favorite. What did that bode for Hermione herself?
"Winky, please help Miss Granger to her quarters," he said and turned back to the papers on the counter. Winky glowed.
"Yes sir, Master Snape," the elf replied enthusiastically. Winky snapped her fingers and the bobbing suitcases disappeared. The elf gently took Hermione by the hand and led her past the counter and through the door to the hall. They passed all the other doors and made their way to the last one on the left.
"This used to be Winky's nest, but it was too big. Master gave Winky a much nicer one in the kitchen."
"I'm sure he did," Hermione murmured sullenly, now convinced that he had wanted the broom closet for his know-it-all student.
"Master worked most of the afternoon fixing the nest for Miss," the elf added as she reached for the handle. The door swung open and Winky led her across the threshold. Hermione gaped at the room beyond, gob-smacked.
The broom closet was gone. Professor Snape must have used numerous Extensible Charms on the tiny space because this room was now three times the size of her entire former apartment, at minimum. On the very far wall a huge fire place was centered in front of a large, square coffee table with overstuffed couches on the other three sides. Under the furniture, a thick area rug promised to protect bare feet from the cold stone beneath.
Midway into the room an enormous bed was against the left wall. It, too, was placed on a thick rug and was complimented with luxuriant bedding: thick comforters and a mass of pillows topped off with silken canopy and bed curtains. Bright simulated windows, looking onto a sunny, bucolic meadow, flanked the bed on either side above matching night stands. Winky had Apparated her bags to the floor at the foot of the bed. The wall opposite sported four ample wardrobes, three of which she was certain she would not need.
Between the bed and the door where she stood, stunned, the walls were lined, floor to ceiling, with empty bookshelves, save for one interval that another door occupied. Every one of her books would fit and she would have room for more.
All of the appointments were done in dark mahoganies where such were wood, and in deep amethysts and sapphires where they were fabric and textiles. This wasn't going to be as dismal an existence as she had been expecting.
"Is Miss pleased?" Winky asked, a doubtful expression on the elf's face. Certainly she thought the size of the room unconducive to a comfortable habitation.
"Yes, Winky, I am very pleased. This is magnificent."
The elf tugged on her hand and led her over to the door surrounded by bookcases, which she opened and ushered Hermione through. It was a bathroom. And if the bedroom was magnificent, the bath was downright opulent. It was almost as big as the prefect's bathroom at Hogwarts, though the tub was of more modest dimensions. Nearly everything was clad in a warm, golden travertine, except for the ornate mirror hung on the wall over the dark mahogany credenza that supported a plumbed wash basin.
The sumptuousness of her new quarters made her almost as giddy as she was confused. Professor Snape had done all this for her? Not only was he a powerful and intelligent wizard, it seems he had a knack for interior design as well. The juxtaposition of those two characteristics clashed in her mind.
After taking in the elegant bathroom, she headed back into the main quarters and began unpacking. Crookshanks would want out of his carrier as soon as possible. Lifting the cage onto her beautiful new bed, she began fiddling with the latch. She felt a tug on her robes.
"Can Winky help Miss?" the elf asked, pleading in her eyes.
"Are you familiar with what cats eat, Winky?" she queried. Winky nodded. "Then would you please bring a meal for Crookshanks?" The elf answered by Disapparating immediately. Hermione pulled her old pal out onto the bed and let the half-kneazle stretch his legs. Crooks did more than that, however, inspecting every inch of his new sleeping accommodations as Hermione stowed the carrier in one of the wardrobes.
A sharp crack heralded Winky's return and the platter she was carrying almost made Hermione laugh. It certainly looked like the finely chopped meat that Crookshanks would relish, but the quantity was outsized for his mass. The elf had prepared enough to stuff a full-grown tiger!
"Thank you, Winky, but he will only need about 4 ounces of that," Hermione said and pulled Crooks' bowls from her charmed beaded handbag. She eyeballed that amount from the whole and scooped the cat's evening meal into one bowl and showed it to the elf. "If you can make sure he has this much each morning and evening - the bowl will be in the bathroom - then I will be most appreciative." At the expected look of dejection on Winky's face, Hermione added, "And I will inform Master Snape how pleased I am with your assistance." That did the trick. The elf jubilantly vanished the platter and took the bowl from Hermione, heading for the bathroom. Crookshanks followed with alacrity.
Hermione opened one suitcase and retrieved the magical litter box that Harry had gifted her for her last birthday. It was enchanted with self-cleaning spells, was spill proof and could be charmed for different fragrances. Bringing that and the water bowl, she followed elf and kneazle into the bathroom. Everything was set up in one corner, Aguamenti performed on the water bowl, and then Winky smiled up at her and Disapparated while Crooks tucked into dinner. Now on to unpacking.
She would worry about the books later, for now just sorting out her clothing and other belongings was a fairly straightforward and simple task, one flick of her wand to resize them and another to assign them proper places. She was overawed at the space Professor Snape had created. Nothing in their earlier conversation had indicated that he was inclined to do this for her. Her relief at this beautiful . . . gift . . . heartened her. Maybe this commitment wouldn't be as bad as she had anticipated and the next seven years could pass quickly.
Donning a set of no-nonsense burgundy robes, she left her quarters half an hour later to present herself to Professor Snape and find out what her duties would be. Her curiosity about what he wanted her to do grew as she had unpacked. If he already had Winky, she certainly would not be doing the cleaning and cooking. Speculation would only set her nerves on end. The sooner she found out the better.
She returned to the shop and found him still at the counter leafing through his sheaf of papers and making notes. He heard her enter and turned. Looking her up and down once, she saw him set his jaw, as if he were clenching his teeth or perhaps biting his tongue. Her robes weren't Gryffindor red, they were an elegant, dark burgundy - so what was the problem?
"Unacceptable," he said flatly and flicked his wand at her attire. Her robes turned as black as his. He pointed his wand at the door to the hall and cast another spell that Hermione could only guess at. Flicking his wand at her once again, her hair shifted about her head and formed into a loose chignon at the nape of her neck.
"Wow! Can you teach me that spell?" she remarked. Professor Snape's jaw tightened again.
"We will discuss your habit of maintaining a constant stream of questions in a moment," he replied. "Right now I will explain your duties pertaining to the apothecary. Pay close attention. Our shop is open from seven o'clock in the moaning until seven o'clock in the evening Monday through Saturday. We have two rather busy periods a day, on weekdays, one from noon to one, when people are on their lunch break and the other - in about twenty minutes - when they get off work. The rest of the evening is usually busier than most of the day. Saturdays are rather unpredictable but generally see more traffic than weekdays." He walked past her to the end of the counter and pulled out a set of scales and two ledger books from beneath it.
"When a customer is ready to make a purchase, they will bring the ingredients to the counter. If you say 'Order' and then the customer's name, it will automatically be transferred to this first ledger," he said, holding up the book with a green binding.
"Measure out the item and when the scale settles, the weight will appear in luminous blue numbers above it. When that happens read the ingredient name from the label out loud. The scales are charmed to record the weight of the potion ingredient being sold in the green ledger, and calculate the amount the customer owes using information in this ledger." He held up the second ledger bound in blue. "The price will then be recorded in the green ledger under the customer's order. The process will repeat for multiple items until you say 'Total' and then the customer's name again," he hesitated. "Any questions about orders?"
"What if they decide they don't want something?"
"Ah. Say 'Cancel Item' or 'Cancel Order' and the customer's name," he replied and watched her. She nodded without saying anything as he was obviously adverse to her questions. Wonder where he developed that peeve?
"The blue ledger keeps inventory in the shop proper and updates a ledger in the stockroom, which I will show you." He opened the book and ran his finger across the page. "Prices are listed in this column and, if changed, will pass the price on to new orders. If a quantity on the shop floor reaches a critical point, the item will show up in red. You will be expected to replenish the stock during the day as needed," he said. When she took a breath to ask a question, he interrupted.
"Winky is not allowed in the shop when customers are here," he said. Probably because of the pink towel, she thought. "You can request her assistance with any of your assignments that you choose, but you are responsible for the results." He turned toward the door at the back of the shop, his robes sweeping about him as he did so. She followed him down the hallway and through the first door on the left. As they entered, the sconces lit up on their own. The room was nearly as large as the shop itself and looked similar: row upon row of potion ingredient-laden shelves with the only difference being the larger sizes of the containers and that the shelves reached to the ceiling. He pulled another ledger, brown binding, from the closest shelf.
"This one tracks inventory for all ingredients on the premises and works similarly to the shop inventory ledger. When an item turns red in this book, it means we have to reorder from the supplier of that ingredient, also listed in the book. If there is no supplier given, that means it needs to be harvested from the garden out back or collected in the wild," he said, indicating for her to exit and they moved across the hall to the first door on the right.
It was his potions lab and it was amazing. Three walls were shelved with the jars, baskets and crocks holding the ingredients used for potioncraft. The shelves on the opposite wall held equipment; cauldrons in many sizes and materials; scales; a large assortment of stirring rods and dozens of phials in sparkling glass and crystal. A huge workbench occupied the center of the room and currently was cleared of any projects.
"Your first assignment is to brew Polyjuice Potion for our recent customer. As you heard, Jugson will need it in 30 days. You may begin tonight after dinner. You know my lab procedures. I expect the same adherence to those procedures here as I did at Hogwarts. You won't have to steal the ingredients this time." He swept his hand toward one wall. "They are over there."
Hermione looked up at Professor Snape, flabbergasted. "You want me to brew for you? I thought . . . I thought . . ." the words caught in her throat. This was unbelievable. He stared back at her.
"That was my intention when I had you sign that contract, Miss Granger." He stepped out of the lab, back into the hall, and she followed tentatively, scarcely allowing herself to hope. They moved to the next door on the right. It was his library and the room was at least as large as her quarters. At the front were two substantial desks, one on the right and one on the left, facing each other with an aisle between. Every inch of wall space was clad in bookshelves, fully loaded. Past the desks the rest of the room was simply aisle after aisle of more shelves, similarly occupied.
"This is my desk," he indicated the one on the left, "and this one is yours." She caught her breath. A desk? Was he expecting her to . . .
"Your schedule is as follows: breakfast is at 6am every morning and the shop opens at . . . ?" He looked down at her, questioning.
"At 7am, Professor."
"The front door is charmed to chime an alarm back here and alert us to entering customers. Lunch is at 11am and, as I mentioned previously, there are usually two rushes one at noon and one at 5pm. Between 7am and 7pm you will either be assisting customers up front or will be back here working on tasks that I have assigned you. That list is a long one, Miss Granger, and I will not tolerate laziness."
"No sir," Hermione assured him. She felt as if she was going to jump out of her skin, she was so excited - she would be brewing potions!
"In addition, you will also have research assignments to complete," he continued. Hermione was getting lightheaded. He wanted her to do research for him as well! This was an amazing turn of events. "Your first assignment in that category is to find out whatever you can about Fiendfyre." She nodded mutely, doing her best not to gape in astonishment. "You have free run of my library," he gestured toward the bookshelves, "but none of them may leave the premises. Additionally, we have permission from Headmistress McGonagall to use the Hogwarts library on Sundays." Again she could only nod, fearing that if she uttered even one word she would lose her composure completely.
"Further, you will compile a detailed study schedule that will prepare you to take your N.E.W.T.'s by this coming June, when Hogwarts will be holding the examinations."
"M-my N.E.W.T.s?" she stammered, nearly breathless.
"Yes, Miss Granger, your N.E.W.T.'s. I intend to make this shop the best apothecary in the wizarding world. My assistant cannot be a half-educated, Gryffindor drop-out," he said flatly. "You will submit this schedule to me and you will follow it religiously, devoting every spare minute to its completion, is that clear?"
Clear? Clear? Clearly, she must be dreaming. Only a few hours ago she was in the depths of despair, certain her education was seven years in the future as she would be consigned to a lengthy regimen of pure drudgery. Silently, she nodded again.
"I will also help you with any practical exercises you will need for Defense Against the Dark Arts or Potions and I will persuade Professors Flitwick and McGonagall to help you with your other subjects if I cannot."
Now she felt moisture accumulating at the corners of her eyes and lifted a shaking hand to her mouth to stifle the sob she felt easing its way up her throat. Not only would she have the chance to study for and take her N.E.W.T.s, the best potions master and DADA teacher Hogwarts ever had would be her own private tutor.
An overwhelming urge to hug Professor Snape took hold of her. She looked up at him. Apparently he saw somewhat of the same thing in her eyes and warily took a step back toward the door.
"Questions about the shop, you may ask at any time. All others you will hold until dinner when you will be free to pose them until such time as it interferes with my digestion," he said brusquely, turning on his heel and entering the hallway once again. When she joined him, walking down the hall, he continued.
"We have tea at 4pm, barring customers to wait on and dinner is at 7pm as soon as the shop closes. The rest of the evening is spent in study," he said and then pointed to a door, next to the library entry and across the hall from her quarters. "This leads to my chambers, obviously off limits to you." Just then a soft chime echoed down the hall and he quickly summed up the remainder of the tour. "This door," he pointed to the one at the end of the hall, "leads to the kitchen, where we take meals, and beyond is the greenhouse which I will have to show you later."
She stood looking up at him, her eyes gleaming, and not able to take all of this in. His eyes narrowed in return.
"Miss Granger - you have a customer to attend to," he growled. "Do not test my patience in your very first hour on the job."
The giddy grin was still on her face as she backed down the hall a few steps. "Thank you, Professor Snape! Thank you so much!" As she turned to rush into the shop, she heard him mutter.
"Silly girl!" And then his footsteps sounded behind her as he followed. No doubt to assure himself of her competence managing the apothecary.