The cold wind whipped the hair about her face. A strong gust was laden with the stinging scent and salty taste of sea spray and she realized the roar in her ears came from the waves crashing against the rocks below. She was standing on the edge of a cliff, trying to keep her footing in the face of a turbulent gale. Dark clouds, heavy with pent rain, blotted out the sun, turning the water a foaming, steely grey.
Over the booming thunder of the waves, Hermione suddenly heard a drawn out groaning. The clouds loosed their burden and now rain joined wind, lashing at her face. Squinting against the onslaught, she tried to see from whence the mournful sound emanated. After a moment, and a fortunate lull in the storm, she spotted an enormous scaled coil breaching the surface of the sea below. As it rolled out and then back into the water, she could see it was part of a much larger creature and it was heading for the base of the cliff upon which she stood. The groaning increased as the behemoth approached. When it hauled itself onto the narrow beach betwixt sea and scarp, its full mass was revealed. Initially Hermione thought herself safe, up on her precipice, but as the titanic black serpent uncoiled she grew nervously unsure. Yet, she found she could not tear her eyes from the sight, nor back away from the cliff's edge. The huge head looked up at her and she was mesmerized by its black, black gaze. It opened its mouth . . .
Hermione jerked awake and bolt upright, gasping for breath. Panic coursed through her limbs and pounded in her ears. Combining with the trauma of the nightmare, she couldn't immediately place where she was, adding to her confusion. Why was there a canopy above her? And the silvery moonlight pooling on either side of her bed where the windowless dark of her apartment should have been made her surroundings seem disjointed.
But then the memory of the previous day streamed back into her mind and she relaxed as the new room was remembered. She stretched out in her luxurious bed, yawned and then smiled. Pulling her wand out from under a pillow, she flicked a clock spell into the air above her. Luminous red numbers appeared: 4:30 am. She usually didn't wake up quite that early, and with yesterday's excitement, and hard work, she wasn't expecting to feel so refreshed. Breakfast was at 6 am and Professor Snape hadn't said anything about working before that time, so she could nestle back into the sensuous pile of pillows and snooze for another hour or get up and start her day.
The revelations that yesterday had delivered amazed her still. She could hardly believe her good fortune. As she numbered, for the umpteenth time, each dazzling opportunity that Professor Snape had bestowed upon her: brewing potions, researching for him, studying and practicing for her N.E.W.T.'s and the ultimate advantage - his help to restore her parents' memories - her excitement grew. She couldn't just lay around with all of that to occupy her time.
She slipped from the sumptuous bedding and padded quickly to her own private bathroom. The fire in the hearth had petered out during the night and the November temperatures had quickly reestablished themselves, especially as regarding the hard floor underfoot. A hot shower would just hit the spot.
Stepping into the steaming water, her body tingled as the warmth seeped into her skin. This was glorious! The cold from the stone floor and the unusual dream quickly dissipated. She decanted the appropriate amount of shampoo, massaged it into her scalp and reviewed the previous evening.
Her first shift in the apothecary seemed to have gone well. The system that Professor Snape had set up was simple, intuitive and efficient. As far as she could tell, she had messed up once - by mistaking one customer for another. It was easily enough corrected and earned her only one raised eyebrow from the proprietor. Even if he had been as harsh was his habit, nothing could have pulled her off the cloud she was floating on.
Rinsing her hair, she reached for the conditioner. Dinner had been pleasant enough, although a bit quick. Professor Snape had given her free rein to ask questions but in an attempt to start out on the right foot, she had restricted her queries to shop business. He had answered tersely, though without rancor, and had seemed to wolf down his food. She suspected that would give him indigestion sooner than her questions would, but if that were his preference . . .
She soaped down her body and scrubbed her skin thoroughly. Stepping under the showerhead she rinsed out the conditioner and rinsed off the lathered skin all at once. After dinner she had made a beeline for the lab and had started a batch of Polyjuice Potion. Professor Snape had a copy of Moste Potente Potions and the second time round had been infinitely easier than that first batch she had made in Myrtle's bathroom years ago. She had learned much in the intervening years, thanks once again to Professor Snape. The potion was now busily aging and would not need to be disturbed until 30 days hence when she would add the boomslang skin and lacewing flies.
The remainder of the evening, until about 11pm, had been passed very pleasantly in the library. He had been at his desk when she had entered after cleaning up the lab and hadn't even looked up. She was eager to begin the other two assignments he had given her: draw up a N.E.W.T. study schedule and research Fiendfyre. She had also started a list of questions to ask Professor Snape during dinner. She was surprised at how agreeably the time had slipped by. He knew how to study properly and how to focus for long periods of time. None of her classmates had ever been able to concentrate for more than 15 minutes without getting distracted and, as a consequence, distracting her. It was very satisfying to have another human nearby as focused on what they were doing as she was.
She stepped out of the shower, grabbed a towel and immediately wished she had lit the bathroom fireplace beforehand, though it probably wouldn't have helped much since it took so long for a simple fire to warm a space up. That was usually the duty of a house elf, tending household fires through the night. She hated having Winky do that for her, but the gooseflesh erupting all over her body was very persuasive and she was tempted to ask the elf anyway. That temptation waned as soon as she got some clothes on.
When she went to her wardrobe to don the robe that Professor Snape had charmed black, she found that it was not there but that her original burgundy robe was. Curious. Putting it on, she then remembered the unknown spell that he had directed at the door to the hallway. Quietly slipping out of her quarters, she tiptoed down the hall, pushed the door open and stepped into the shop proper. Lighting the tip of her wand she looked down at the robe. It was black. A step backwards and it was burgundy again. Now why would he do that? He gave her, and Winky, as many choices as he could. This was a side of Severus Snape that she never knew existed. And probably no one else did either. What was the man really like? The pressures of the war against Voldemort and his part as spy must have been overwhelming. What did that do to one's personality? She suspected she would find out soon enough.
Most of the time in the library last night had been devoted to compiling her study schedule. She had a few more tweaks to make, which she wanted to do this morning before breakfast, and then she could turn it in to Professor Snape. And the one question she was dying to ask him at dinner tonight; why research Fiendfyre? She hoped she could hold her tongue until then.
She doused her wand, walked the short distance down the hall and opened the door to the library.
It was tangible this time, when the girl had returned yesterday evening. He had felt the subtle magic flowing from her as soon as she entered the shop. His breathing had immediately eased and the aching of his muscles and joints had lessened degree by degree as she remained in his presence. Even the light had hurt his eyes less. Further, the effect seemed to intensify the closer she was to him. He was baffled as to precisely why that would be the case. Surely other people around him loved? Loved their spouses, loved their children? As much as Miss Granger did her parents? Why was it that only Hermione Granger's presence effected a remission of his ailments?
He was up early as was his habit, spending the quiet at the beginning of his day in the dark library pondering the tasks he had assigned himself to complete. For Snape, early morning contemplation had always produced the best and most cogent ideas, which reinforced the habit. He had his journal out and perused the pages already filled. The parchment gave off a faint glow, a charm he had invented so he wouldn't have to light a sconce, his sensitivity to light being worse in the mornings. He had notes on remediating Voldemort's last curse and notes detailing contacts with his former Death Eater brethren, but he had never pondered his own problem in any detail.
Now, he flipped past the pages filled with cramped, spiky writing to one that was blank. His quill scratched down those observations. Leaning back in his chair he let his mind ruminate on possible connections. It was strictly an intellectual exercise. He felt completely disassociated from his own predicament.
He sensed her magic affecting him - most likely inversely proportional to the distance between them, he wrote that down too - when he didn't feel it from anyone else. It was not due to any love that she had for him; that would be absurd in the extreme and he could easily cross that possibility off his list. Perhaps it was because entering into that contract constituted a sacrificial love on her part? Or perhaps it was a combination of her sacrifice and the fact that she herself was a powerful witch in comparison to those around him. Or maybe she was just more emotional and her magic radiated out in conjunction with her feelings? That didn't seem to hold up. He had never seen her display overt emotion even under the most trying circumstances. Except that one time outside his class when he delivered the most cutting remark he could think of at that moment - about her teeth.
It was easy enough to engage in churlish behavior. It was nearly a requirement among Voldemort's followers. Simply magnify tiny faults, deliver them wrapped in scathing sarcasm and then collect the reactions. His intelligence had made the pastime one of his favored indulgences and his tongue and sharp wit had been unparalleled among his brethren. In the back of his mind he knew it was rather unfair to turn that talent on his students, but he often allowed his irritations at their thoughtless actions to get the better of him.
Most Gryffindors were highly susceptible to such proddings, which made it all the more rewarding for him and so difficult to extinguish that behavior. And it averted his boredom in the classroom. But Hermione Granger was an exception and always had been. He had found it difficult to find any true fault in Miss Granger. When she was younger, she had a tendency to show off in class, especially when he needed to put other students on the hook for providing answers, and she seemed to lack the ability to synthesize the dry facts from the books she devoured into creative magical expression. At least he could not detect any creativity in her essays. She simply regurgitated facts at an astounding rate.
Yes, the incident with the teeth had been the highlight of his teaching career and he felt he had overstepped even his bounds when that nasty comment had come out of his mouth. In that instance he didn't have to magnify any of her faults, Malfoy had literally done it for him. When she had returned to his next class, she had seemed more confident somehow and he hadn't been able to put his finger on why until about a month later when he realized she'd used the opportunity to resize those huge front teeth of hers. That's the way to do it, Miss Granger, he remembered silently applauding her.
His usual focus was waning today for some reason and he needed to get back on track. He reviewed what he had scribbled down and concluded he simply did not have enough observational data to cobble together any kind of reasonable hypothesis at the moment. He would have to keep an eye out for more evidence. Maybe he would take Healer Pye up on his suggestion and take a look at Dumbledore's research in the Department of Mysteries. And he would certainly have to watch himself as well. The perception of improved health that he felt when she was around could mess with his ability to make objective observations.
Just as he decided to turn his contemplation toward countering the curse that had claimed the life of Horace Slughorn and was slowly consuming the lives of Kingsley Shacklebolt and Minerva McGonagall, he heard the library door quietly swing open.
Whether presuming he was still asleep or simply not having yet adjusted her eyes to the dark room, she did not see him sitting there. Hearing the hiss of sconces being lit, he narrowed his eyes to dim the illumination and reduce the pain he would feel. Correction: should have felt. There was none. Because she was standing right in front of him? Standing in front of him and still not realizing he was there. He closed his journal softly and smirked, the devil in his eye. He used to enjoy catching students off guard.
"Good morning, Miss Granger," he said, his voice a bit scratchy, not having spoken since the night previous, but it produced the desired result. Her shoulders hunched, as if expecting a curse, and she whirled to face him, wand drawn.
"Oh, Professor Snape," she said, relief evident in her voice. "Good morning, sir."
He did not respond, but returned to his contemplations. She sat down at her desk, silent as the grave, and they both awaited Winky's call to breakfast.
He could feel her eyes upon him with the initial bite of the porridge that Winky had prepared for their morning meal. At first he was tempted to ignore her. He had, after all, restricted the questioning to dinnertime and this was breakfast, but her intensity flowed across the table in waves that were almost palpable. He tried a furtive glance in her direction and found her exactly as he had seen her so many times before in his class. Back erect, on the edge of her chair and with an energy that suggested she might actually start bouncing in her seat given another minute of silence on his part. The only thing missing was her hand waving in the air, thank Merlin.
"It's a question about the shop, Professor," she said. Tricky, that one - he would have to resist her attempt to draw him into other questions that he had specifically relegated to the evening meal. For now, unfortunately, he had to stand by his word. He nodded acquiescence, dipped his spoon in for another bite of porridge and watched her draw breath in preparation for her onslaught.
"The potion you have brewing on the counter out front - what is it and why are you brewing it there and not in the lab?"
"It's a modification of Amortentia," he said, watching her reaction. "Sans the ashwinder eggs." He interpreted her frown as concentration.
"Without ashwinder eggs it won't drive the victim to the mindless obsession desired by the instigator," she disgorged the information, word for word, from Advanced Potion-Making.
"And?" he queried. The creases of her frown deepened.
"The hallmark scents each person experiences would be weaker?"
"Correct. So weak, in fact, as to be nearly subliminal." He dipped his spoon again. "It simply suffuses a gentle feeling of well-being to customers who come to shop." She seemed to mull that over for a moment or two.
"And the consequence would be that they might increase their purchases?"
Snape smirked. "Precisely."
"Magical marketing," she said, smiling too brightly, although that didn't seem to hurt his eyes.
"And the spell for putting up my hair?" she asked. He gave her as sardonic a look as he could possibly muster over only his fourth spoonful of breakfast. "That's actually a shop question since you insist my hair be contained in a specific way," she added quickly.
"Picture in your mind what arrangement you want and the spell is Tonstrinum," he said. She did not just take out her wand! "Miss Granger, I am trying to eat. As soon as I am done, we will tour the greenhouse whether you are finished consuming your meal or not. I suggest you use your time more wisely." He waved his hand toward her and her locks found their way into last evening's configuration.
"Yes, Professor. Thank you, Professor," she said excitedly and tucked into her breakfast.
The room in which they stood was easily the size of three Hogwarts greenhouses combined. The back door of the kitchen had opened straight into this lush garden which seemed to enjoy the bright sunlight of midday despite the fact that the English sun, weak and wintry at this time of year, would not peek over the horizon for at least another hour. Professor Snape had apparently created some type of magical illumination to supplement the natural solar radiation allowed in by the glass above their heads. The walls on all sides were the same stone as the rest of the shop seemed to be made of and this space too had obviously also been altered by Extension charms.
Many of the plantings were actually in the ground and were neatly divided into knot gardens, probably with magically enchanted climates for each. Along the walls were shelves that had various pots and containers crammed with every herb imaginable. Neville would be drooling already. As her eyes took in the expanse, she wondered if Professor Snape would allow any of her friends to visit her here. And she needed to find out about time off. And when he would start working on reversing the memory charm that cumbered her parents.
Suddenly, she realized that he was standing very close to her. From the corner of her eye, she could see his robes brushing up against hers. She got the very odd sense of waiting, like when a butterfly was flitting about and one postponed movement, stayed quiet and still, to see if it would land on one's arm. She dared not look up; she dared not breathe. After a moment he moved away and for some reason she felt as disappointed as if the butterfly had fluttered off untouched.
"You will also eventually be in charge of the greenhouse, Miss Granger," he said, striding toward the back of the garden. "For now, I want you to make one list of those plants with which you are familiar and with which you have cared for under the supervision of Pomona Sprout and another list of plants that you need to learn about. Each plant is tagged, so you'll have the correct name of those that are foreign to you." He indicated a long table in one corner. "That is the potting bench and this plot," pointing to a larger, more intricate knot, "provides a few vegetables for our table."
She took a step to the side to get a better view of that garden when he suddenly grabbed her arm and instantly raised his other. A long wooden handle flew up from the ground and struck him on the forearm inches from her face. She realized she had just stepped on an abandoned hoe, camouflaged by a large overhanging comfrey leaf.
"As I mentioned yesterday, you may use Winky to help you with any assignment I give you, but you are responsible for the result. Case in point. She has a few peculiar behavioral gaps, one of which seems to be a constant failure to return her tools to the locker," he waved a hand toward a tiny wooden shed near the kitchen entryway. "She is fairly competent with the vegetable garden, but death on some of the rarer herbs I've managed to collect. Watch her closely."
Just then a soft chime sounded indicating a customer had entered the shop. It was 7am and time to open for business.
"I'll get it, Professor," she said and hurried along the main path back the way they had come, leaving him in the garden and making her way through the kitchen and hallway and out into the shop.
The customer hulking over the counter was a huge man with blonde hair and Hermione recognized him immediately, though it was unlikely he would remember her. She had erased his memory of she and Ron and Harry after he had tracked them to the café on Tottenham Court Road. It was the Death Eater Thorfinn Rowle. She felt for the wand in her sleeve, just in case.
He looked down at her, no recognition in his eyes. Then he scanned the shop, apparently expecting someone else.
"Leviathan," he said, his voice almost a whisper.