"There are five rivers in hell or Hades, the Greek underworld: Akheron, the river of sorrow; Kokytos, the river of lamentation; Lethe, the river of forgetfulness; Phlegethon, the river of fire; and Styx, the river of hate."
It was Friday evening and they had just sat down to dinner. The rest of the week, after her first twenty-four hours, had been beautifully mundane and there had been plenty of time for study. She had quickly exhausted the references to Fiendfyre despite his extensive library and had turned in her report that morning. Now he wanted a verbal recap.
She paused, then frowned. Something niggled at the back of her mind. For some reason she felt the information she had just given him was incomplete. But if that were the case, then it was also missing from the books in Professor Snape's library; she had been thorough.
"Fiendfyre is brought forth by conjuring the "water" from Phlegethon, the river of fire. The spell is Pyriphlegethon. The difficulty controlling Fiendfyre comes somewhat from the spell itself since it is of Greek origin instead of the usual Latin derivation and therefore the standard guidelines don't fully apply and are unfamiliar to most witches and wizards. But the primary problem is the mistaken attempt to control Fiendfyre as if it were a flame when in actuality it is a liquid."
Professor Snape nodded agreement and this encouraged Hermione to no end. It seemed much easier to please him now than it had when she was in school. She continued.
"The amount of Fiendfyre conjured is critical to track because to quench it, water must be called from one of its sister rivers in the same quantity. Alternatively, Fiendfyre must consume a proportional amount of mass before its appetite could be slaked. However that proportion is rather high."
"Yes. Luckily for Hogwarts, you let Fiendfyre loose in a place that had quite a bit of mass available for consumption," Professor Snape said.
"Me? Vincent Crabbe attacked us with Fiendfyre! He couldn't control it and we barely got out alive. His ignorance ended up costing him his life." She couldn't keep the irritation out of her voice. How could he possibly think she would ever use Dark Magic? He seemed to ignore both her ire and her comment.
"Unfortunately, conjuring water from the other rivers in Hades has some distinct drawbacks. First, we have only ever learned to call water from two of the rivers: Lethe and Styx. If we ever knew how to conjure the other two, Akheron or Kokytos, that knowledge seems to be lost in antiquity.
"Second, for some reason it's much easier to conjure Fiendfyre from the Phlegethon than it is water from the rivers that can quench it. This magical imbalance nearly guarantees that the Fiendfyre will get out of hand because it's so easy to underestimate one's ability to call enough of the counteragent to neutralize the conjured blaze. It takes a very powerful wizard to raise water from either of those two rivers and a knowledgeable one to contain it properly. That is why Lethe Water is such an expensive potion ingredient.
"Thirdly, although the water from either conjurable river will quench Fiendfyre, the water itself has distinctive properties that are left behind after the liquid is consumed. For Lethe Water, from the river of forgetfulness, it does indeed leave forgetfulness in its wake. Once the water is gone a miasma will contaminate the general area where the Fiendfyre was quenched, sometimes persisting for decades if not centuries. Anyone straying into that area may have their memory wiped, partially or in total, depending on the strength of the fumes. Lethe Water is the primary ingredient in Forgetfulness Potions for that reason.
"Likewise, Styx Water leaves vapors of hate in its wake and will similarly affect those exposed to it. There is a legend that the Forbidden Forest grew in an area so affected and thereby drew all manner of Dark creatures to that spot millennia ago and which dwell there still. Styx Water is not used as a potion ingredient because it turns whoever or whatever ingests it into a maniacal murderer."
He had been slowly eating his dinner as Hermione made her presentation and continued to do so as she paused.
"But you already know all of this, don't you, sir?" she ventured. He looked over at her with a steady gaze.
"Yes, Miss Granger, I do."
Deflated, she began picking at her own meal. She had hoped her research would have been somewhat useful. At least just a little.
"Now, clear your mind," he prompted her. "What is your first impression about this information?"
She hesitated. It was just a feeling, really. Would he laugh at her? Okay, she had never seen Professor Snape laugh. Sneer at her? But he had asked . . .
"For some reason, I think it might be incomplete. I'm not sure why," she said quickly.
"Any sense of how it might be deficient?"
She was stunned. Was he actually taking her seriously? Why? As if he read her thoughts - her cheeks pinked up a bit at that thought, given her dream life of late - he continued.
"Occasionally we have to inspect our hunches. They may be manifestations of our subconscious trying to work out a problem," he said.
Hermione felt her cheeks flush again when he mentioned subconscious. Hers had been working overtime of late. She kept her eyes focused on the tasty mashed potatoes Winky had prepared for their evening meal. The house elf must have added horseradish.
"We will be going to the library at Hogwarts on Sunday. I have perused most of the stacks there for information on Fiendfyre and have found nothing more than I have in my own library. Together we might be able to finish the search there in a few hours."
"And if we don't find any new facts?"
"I'm open to any suggestions you might come up with," he said. 'No matter how dunderheaded you might think they are. We need to keep our minds open for possible solutions."
"Solutions to what, Professor?"
"I'll show you when we get to Hogwarts. For now, you have the list of potions I need you to start brewing tonight."
"Yes, sir," she said and hurried to finish her dinner.
Miss Granger would be busy with the new potions for the rest of the evening, several hours at least, and now would be an excellent time to follow up on Rowle. He had been able to reconnect the Dark Marks on each of their arms and could contact his Imperiused agent whenever he chose. Placing his finger against the writhing skull on his left forearm he commanded the Death Eater to meet him at a shabby little pub down the street.
Entering the greenhouse, the moist fragrance of earth and growing things soothed his senses. He had always enjoyed herbology, especially where it overlapped with potions. Lighting his wand, he carefully made his way down the center aisle. Miss Granger hadn't the opportunity to take the garden in hand at this point and who knew how many tools Winky had left laying about. Glancing over at a garden plot near the back, he noted the silver wolfsbane at the far corner and made a mental note to particularly point that out to Miss Granger. He cast a Disillusionment charm and waited as the icy tendrils of the spell flowed over his body and soaked into his skin. Opening the door at the back of the greenhouse, he slipped out into the alley behind.
It must have rained in the past few minutes, not uncommon for this time of year. The cobblestones were slick with moisture and glinted slightly where the light from the nearly half moon above touched them. He added a Silencing spell to muffle his footsteps and chose a route to the alley behind the pub. Not in any hurry, he settled into a leisurely pace, though his long legs made that faster than most could keep up with, and strolled past the back of the shops. He pondered his situation.
Miss Granger had been under contract for less than a week and was fitting in very nicely. She had a knack for working with the customers and was scrupulous at keeping the books. He'd had much more time for study than at any time previous and she had made a decent start on brewing the selection of potions he wished to offer in his shop. And much to his surprise, he found the conversation at dinner more enjoyable than he had been anticipating. She meticulously honored his mandate to confine her questions to the last meal of the day and he had been considering loosening that condition, though he didn't quite know how to go about it. He certainly didn't want to be deluged every minute of the day with her queries, as he was rather sure she was capable of doing.
The most enjoyable part of his days now were the hours they spent reading in the library, not saying a word. Miss Granger had a focus and an ability to concentrate that nearly rivaled his own and her presence had an energizing effect on him. He still hadn't sorted that mystery out and resolved to visit Healer Pye at the beginning of next week if he could.
He slipped into a smaller alleyway between two weathered buildings and then ducked into the back entrance to his chosen pub. The aroma that hit him was a heavy mix of spilt ale and something unidentifiably fried. Rowle was already at a small table and had started on a pint. He affixed a glamour to his face to avoid being recognized, removed his Disillusionment and crossed the room. Taking a seat across from Rowle, he indicated to the barkeep to bring him a pint also. Then he leaned across the table.
"Tell me about Crabbe's operation."
Apparently Severus Snape didn't sleep in. Ever. And that meant Hermione didn't either. Not that she did most days, but Sunday mornings had always been reserved for a few hours of catch up. Winky served them breakfast at 6 am like every other day and the only difference was that today the shop would be closed and they would be going to Hogwarts to raid the library. But the early hour didn't bother her this morning - she was actually excited to be going back to the old school. The last time she'd seen it was the day that Harry defeated Voldemort and it had been heavily damaged by the battle. She had heard that it had been completely restored in time for the fall term, thanks to magic, and that the fight that had occurred there at the end of the last school year had barely been a bump in the road, thanks to its new Headmistress.
It was a lovely breakfast, ham and eggs, scones and jam and was consumed without conversation as were all meals except dinner. She had noticed that the last meal of the day had been getting longer and he really didn't seem to mind her questions, elaborating copiously when a shorter answer would have been more than sufficient. She was starting to wonder if he would like to talk during the other meals, but decided she would leave that up to him. All he had to do was put the shoe on the other foot and ask a question of her.
They finished quickly and stepped up to the large hearth in one corner of the kitchen. Hermione watched as Professor Snape took a generous pinch of Floo powder, tossed it into the fire and said firmly, "Headmistress' Office, Hogwarts." She waited a moment and then followed suit.
"Severus!" she heard as the spinning slowed and the flashing green flames died down. She shook the ashes from her cloak while on the hearth, as was proper etiquette, and then stepped into Minerva McGonagall's office.
"And Hermione Granger!" Headmistress McGonagall exclaimed. "Come in, dear, come in! What a lovely surprise. Severus usually visits me unaccompanied. I'm so glad he chose to bring his new apprentice with him this time." Hermione's former Transfiguration professor hobbled over, the cane at her side, and upon which she depended heavily, a decidedly new addition. Putting an arm around her shoulders, Professor McGonagall pulled her close. Hermione responded to the Headmistress' affection, but her mind was reeling at her words.
Apprenticeship? She felt dizzy as disjointed facts suddenly clicked into place. Apprenticeship! The contract she had signed had made her Severus Snape's apprentice? She glanced over at her . . . her mentor. He simply raised one infuriating eyebrow and managed to quash the smirk that she felt certain he was hiding inside. Git!
"It's good to see you Professor McGonagall," she managed to push the words from her mouth.
"Minerva, dear. You address Severus by his first name, I expect no less on my account."
"Miss Granger prefers a more formal relationship and still calls me Professor Snape, Minerva."
Hermione threw him a dirty look and this time he smirked outright and she could swear there was a mischievous glint in his eye. At that moment she had a startling revelation about Severus Snape: the man never corrected anyone's misconceptions of him. In fact, she suspected the opposite; that he most likely encouraged such misconceptions. How on earth could you honestly get to know such a person?
Minerva indicated a small sitting area, absent from Professor Dumbledore's and probably Professor Snape's tenures as headmaster, opposite the ornate desk and Hermione selected a comfy armchair and sat down. It made her feel a bit more stable. Both Professors McGonagall and Snape took chairs across from her. Professor Snape casually crossed his legs.
"I have enlisted Miss Granger's assistance to help me produce a cure for yours and Kingsley's injury."
"Severus, I know of no other witch or wizard who would be more helpful in this situation."
"Nor I. It is one of the reasons I took her on as an apprentice."
Hermione felt her cheeks flush hot at this generous praise from the two professors she respected the most. She ventured a glance at Professor Snape's black eyes and not a hint of sarcasm or cynicism gazed back. She looked down at the tartan-patterned rug at her feet, embarrassed by the pure pleasure she felt at their words.
"And it is time to inform my apprentice," he paused for effect, "of the entire situation. Minerva, if you would explain your injury."
"Hermione, do you remember the battle in the Great Hall with Voldemort? His last spell, before Harry stepped up and took him out, was aimed at Kingsley, Horace and myself as we attempted to rush him. It blasted us off our feet. But it also did something else. You see, he combined it with a curse." She leaned down and pulled up her robe, exposing her left leg, and pulled off the slipper she wore on her foot. Hermione tried not to gasp but the sight presented made it difficult. She leaned forward to get a closer look, her fingers over her mouth.
Half of Professor McGonagall's foot was charred black. It covered all four of her smaller toes, ran up her foot and appeared to end at the back of her heel. It looked exactly like Professor Dumbledore's hand during sixth year.
"Professor McGonagall . . ." old habits died hard.
"Yes, Minerva. Does it hurt?"
"No, but thanks only to Severus' potions."
"Is it the same curse that injured Professor Dumbledore?" she asked, looking over at Professor Snape. He glanced up from Minerva's foot and nodded.
"It's much weaker, spread over three people and the curse on the ring that delivered the injury to Dumbledore was at least tripled."
"This is why Professor Slughorn died." It was a statement, not a question, but Professor Snape nodded as if it had been.
"And how does this connect to Fiendfyre?" she asked, though from the charred appearance of the headmistress' foot, she could hazard a guess.
"Fiendfyre!" Minerva exclaimed and turned toward Professor Snape. He eyed her coolly, pursing his lips.
"It was a clever curse the Dark Lord fashioned. It injects a continuous but minuscule trickle of Fiendfyre into the victim's veins and uses a companion spell to confine it to the victim's body. It is designed to act in a torturously slow time frame and in an excruciatingly painful manner. I was able to contract the original restricting spell into as small a space as possible, forcing the Fiendfyre to remain in one part of the body. Healing potions can repair the physical damage once the Fiendfyre is so confined. But the only way to quench the Fiendfyre itself is to use . . ."
"Lethe Water," Hermione finished.
"Yes. But the amount required and the way it needs to be administered would render the patient effectively witless, saving the body only to destroy the mind. Lately, I've incorporated minute amounts of Lethe Water in the weekly potion I give you but I suspect you might be experiencing a bit of absent-mindedness of late?"
"Glad to know that's you and not me, Severus!" Minerva scoffed.
"It seems to have helped to some degree," Professor Snape said indicating her foot. "The darkened area has not progressed." He stood up. "We have a few more stacks to scour for additional information relating to Fiendfyre, Minerva. We best get started. We will join you for lunch. Should we meet you here or the Great Hall?"
Hermione stood also. This curse would have killed Dumbledore if . . . she glanced surreptitiously at Professor Snape. It had killed Horace Slughorn. It would eventually kill Minerva and Minister Shacklebolt. The sooner she got her hands on those books, the sooner they might possibly find a cure.
"Let's have lunch here, Severus," Minerva said but remained seated. She looked up at Hermione and smiled. Then she indicated the chair Professor Snape had just vacated.
"You run along, Hermione. I have something to discuss with Severus. He'll catch up with you in a few minutes."