Terms of Endearment
Hermione pulled the covers over her head and snagged her wand from under a pillow. Aiming at the huge fireplace across the room, she lit a fire in the grate. She sent a spell at the one in the bathroom and hoped it would catch too. Seems the weather was compensating for the unusually warm fall day yesterday by gracing them with a very, very cold morning. Snaking an arm out of her bedding she felt around for her living hot water bottle, to no avail.
"Crooks?" she popped her head out from under the duvet. The cat-kneazle did not respond. Hermione moaned and snuggled back down where it was warmer. Great. If Crookshanks had escaped her room then the chances he would not cross paths with Professor Snape were zero to none. She best get up and hunt him down. Yep. In a few minutes, after the fireplaces had a chance to heat up. How on earth did that feline escape artist get out of her room? He had been there when she got home last night.
Curling up in a tight ball to hoard body heat, wispy shreds of her dreams last night drifted through her mind. There were considerably milder compared to recent ones. All she could remember were Professor Snape's arms around her, holding her tight. She had felt safe and warm. If the dreams got any steamier, she might have to research using a Dreamless Sleep potion now and then.
Yesterday had been great, seeing Ron and Harry. They had played a few rounds of Exploding Snap and one of Gobstones at Harry's place before becoming bored and digging into the ice cream. The evening had devolved into simple conversation which was even more relaxing for Hermione than the games had been. Harry had not brought up the subject of Professor Snape and the Death Eaters again and she had been grateful for that.
As the evening wore on and she had prepared to return to the apothecary, she had asked Harry to get a copy of her apprenticing contract from the Ministry. He promised to do so and bring it with him next week. Then Ron had invited the two of them to the Burrow for dinner next Sunday and she had been pleased to accept. It would be wonderful to catch up with the Weasleys - she hadn't seen the rest of the family for a few months now.
Reluctantly, she cast a clock spell and the luminous numbers informed her it was four-thirty in the morning. She didn't need to get up for another hour, but she best go and try to hunt down Crooks before her mentor found him. Dumb cat. Of course, if she dashed out, found the fluffball and ran back to bed, she would be toasty warm with him under the covers. He would owe her big time, saving him from Professor Snape.
She slipped out of bed and ran to her door, opened it quietly and stepped into the hall. Not Professor Snape's room, not the library, not the potions lab - those doors were always closed. The shop door was usually closed, but sometimes not, so that was an option. But the kitchen door was almost always open, was open now, and tempting tidbits might be found there. She headed that way.
As she stepped through the doorway, she came upon a singular scene. One sconce at the back of the kitchen was blazing and in the light it cast she saw Professor Snape down on one knee facing her Crookshanks, his black robes a pooling shadow on the floor about him. The kneazle was looking up at him attentively and his voice was low, almost a murmur.
"Stay off tables, counters and shelves. The shop is off limits when open to customers - I'm sure you will eventually be able to discern our business hours. I presume your owner has a litter box. You are to use that convenience in lieu of my garden, is that clear?"
The kneazle cocked his head.
"Is that clear?" Professor Snape repeated. Crookshanks finally meowed. Professor Snape flicked his wand at the door to the garden and a small pet door appeared. The feline trotted through it and Hermione watched as the flap closed behind him. Again, she was touched at Professor Snape's kindness.
"I was going to tell you about Crookshanks eventually," Hermione said as Professor Snape stood.
"I suspected he was somewhere about the place or you had farmed him out to unsuspecting friends and he would be returned to you soon enough. He's an excellent mouser."
"How do you know that?" Hermione said, surprised at this comment.
"We encountered each other many times during my nighttime rounds of Hogwarts. Apparently he had an arrangement with the portrait of the Fat Lady and she permitted his egress and ingress. Since he obeyed my restrictions, primarily avoiding Mrs. Norris, and the mouse population decreased substantially, I let him come and go as he pleased. I have no doubt he will comport himself similarly now and so he will enjoy the same freedoms here."
"Well, it's a relief to have that issue resolved," Hermione replied and noticed that his eyes roved down to her feet and then slowly back up to her face.
"Occasionally, I also encountered sleepwalkers in the halls at Hogwarts, Miss Granger," he said and lifted that questioning eyebrow. She felt her face flush, suddenly realizing she was only in her night gown and hadn't bothered to throw on a robe, anticipating scooping Crooks up as soon as she had found him and heading back to bed. Which, she decided, would be what she would do right now: head back to bed.
"No sleepwalkers here, Professor. Just a concerned cat owner." She turned quickly and headed to her quarters. "I'll see you at breakfast," she called back to him just before she slipped back into her room. No use going back to sleep now, she thought, knowing she was fully awake, and headed for the bathroom.
She bathed quickly, it was still rather cold, and then dressed for the day. This would be her first full week as apprentice - she still liked calling herself that - and assistant shopkeeper. Since she had at least an hour before breakfast, she decided to shelve some of her books.
Pulling several shrunken boxes from a wardrobe, she tossed them on her bed and resized them. Opening carton after carton, her wand made it quick work to move them to the empty shelves that Professor Snape had provided her. She was going to use the same organizing system she had always used and so there wasn't much to think about as she went along.
Then she remembered the old book from fourth grade that she had put together on Greek Revival architecture. She went back to the wardrobe and pointed her wand at the hundreds of tiny boxes stacked there. Watching carefully for any movement, she tried to Summon that book. Several boxes at one side tumbled off the stack and she picked them up and put them on her bed, resizing them at the same time. Now she went through each, shelving the extraneous tomes until she found what she was looking for.
She smiled when she saw it, its pages and binding just as she remembered. She recalled all the work she had so diligently put into the project: all the notes she had collected on the architectural details; the history of the mythology that she had cobbled together; the pictures she had tried to sketch; stripping the hardcover off another old book and reworking it to bind her own. In her mind, that project had marked her entry into the world of the intelligentsia. With that book she had decided she wanted to be a scholar, to make her studies matter in her life and to work hard at it. That's when she had become the insufferable know-it-all.
Plopping down on her bed, she opened the book for a trip down memory lane. The sketches were so elementary! She perused the accompanying notes - as far as she knew, they were still accurate. She had made sure of that the first time around. She flipped to the section with her notes on Greek mythology. She remembered becoming so fascinated with some of the myths that she kept adding new ones as she found them. Just then a loud crack reverberated throughout her room.
"Miss," Winky said, her eyes pleading. "It's breakfast, Miss."
"Sorry! Coming," she said and was about to close the book. But they never talked during breakfast. What would it hurt if she read while eating, like she used to do at Hogwarts? He couldn't complain that she was being rude, if he never spoke at all. He'd be calling the kettle black in that case, would he not? She smirked to herself, put a finger between the pages to mark her place and then followed Winky to the kitchen.
"My apologies, Professor Snape," she said and sat down at the table. Winky had it piled with a large meal: eggs, toast, porridge, sausage, scones, butter, jam, coffee, even orange juice. Hermione filled her plate and snagged the creamer to prop her book up in front of her plate. She managed a surreptitious glance at the man across from her.
His black gaze was fixed upon her book. She pursed her lips together to suppress a wicked grin, dropped her eyes to the text and waited for a reaction.
"Your book does not have a title, Miss Granger," he said after a few moments. "What is it that you're reading?"
Hermione hadn't quite expected that response.
"It's a, uh, complication of notes. From when I attended a Muggle school. Before Hogwarts," she replied.
"Indeed?" he said. "Would it be related to our Fiendfyre research?"
She opened her mouth to say 'no,' but paused. When writing it, she had included copious notes on Greek mythology. Greek mythology according to Muggle sources. Could that be any different than Greek mythology according to wizarding sources? She didn't know, but decided it might be worth cross checking, just in case.
"I don't know, Professor," she replied. "But I don't think it would hurt to take a look since we ran out of any other sources yesterday."
"When can I expect your report?"
"Perhaps in a day or two?" she calculated quickly. "Depending on how busy the shop is."
He nodded and they continued with their breakfast. Hermione flipped through her book to the last section and began reading what she had recorded on Greek mythology. But then she had another thought. Professor Snape had broached their custom of not speaking at breakfast, so maybe he would entertain a question about their research? She decided to try.
"Professor, what if we used Felix Felicis? Might that potion help us to find a solution to Voldemort's curse?"
"Horace Slughorn sold your class on that snake oil, did he?" Professor Snape grumbled over his scone. "Even the textbook does not explain the most significant drawback of using Liquid Luck."
"He gave Harry a vial of it the first day of class."
"That would explain a few things," he said and Hermione saw his shoulders slump slightly. "And I suspect Potter used it a several weeks prior to . . . the incident on the Astronomy tower?"
"Yes." Hermione's breakfast suddenly felt very heavy in her stomach.
"Felix Felicis gives the user a few hours of extraordinary luck because it extracts that luck from the future. The imbiber will find soon after taking it that his luck has soured considerably. Slughorn didn't happen to mention that effect, did he? Incompetent. Magic can sometimes have unintended consequences."
Hermione was stunned. No wonder things went so wrong so quickly after Harry had obtained Slughorn's Horcrux memory. Harry almost killed Malfoy in the bathroom and earned detention for the rest of the term. Dumbledore was killed prematurely, before he had time to teach Harry. How much easier would their mission have been if they had known how to destroy Horcruxes before they started? If they had had the Sword of Gryffindor?
And the memory spell she had used on her parents; magic did have unintended consequences if its use wasn't fully understood. And that reminded her - she would have to ask Professor Snape when they would start working on solving her problem. Glancing at him over her book, she decided she would bring that question up at dinner tonight.
In short order they finished eating and Winky came to clear the table. Standing, she found him staring at her, his eyes narrowing.
"I have some errands to attend to this morning, Miss Granger. I will leave my shop in your capable hands and should be back shortly," he said. She got the feeling he was waiting for her to leave the kitchen. Obviously, he didn't want her to know his destination.
"I'll go and start a new batch of the modified Amortentia," she said and closed her book. If customers were sparse this morning, she might be able to make a significant start on her newest research project. She walked down the hall and, just before entering the shop, she heard the whoosh of Floo transport.
Each evening she laid out the ingredients for the next day's 'marketing' potion, as she liked to think of it, and so it was an easy task to get a new batch started first thing every morning. Just as she put the last herb in and set a perfect flame for simmering, the soft chime sounded and she looked up. Oh, this was not good.
"Good morning, Mr. Jugson," she tried to maintain a civil tone and at the same time discretely slipped her hand into her pocket and pulled out her wand, but kept both out of sight. The Death Eater sauntered up to the counter. He surveyed the shop, obviously looking for someone else.
"The proprietor is away for the morning. How may I help you?"
He looked her up and down and, feeling even more uncomfortable, she took a firmer grip on her wand.
"Tell him I have some of the information he wants," Jugson sneered at her.
"I can relay a message if you would like," she said as casually as she could manage. Maybe she could winkle some details from him about the extent of Professor Snape's collusion with the Death Eaters that visited the shop.
"You'd like that wouldn't you? Run to the Ministry as soon as I leave?"
"You know Professor Snape ensured I would not be able to do that, Mr. Jugson," she said. Since her mentor had told the man about that clause, it appeared she could discuss it with him as well.
"That's what he told me, but how do I know it's true? Why would you, of all people, be working for a Death Eater?"
"He duped me into signing that contract," she said flatly, letting her actual built-up ire at some of its unfair terms rise to the surface. "Believe me, if I was not under such constraint, this place would be swarming with Aurors and you would be in the custody of the Ministry as we speak," she added disdainfully, hoping he believed what she said, since she half-believed it herself. "Besides, if you don't trust him, why are you here?"
"He's helped three of my friends escape the country already. And this contract business with you - that sounds exactly like the old Snape I used to know," he said, laughing. "In fact, I might just trust him more because you are here. Okay - give him a message: Tell Snape he will make his move within the next two weeks." Jugson then turned abruptly and strode toward the front door.
What? Hermione thought. That doesn't tell me anything. She rushed around the counter to follow him and see if she could get more information, but he nearly shoved an entering customer out of his way as he passed through the entry. Frustrated at not being able to leave the store unattended, she saw Jugson briefly as he passed in front of the windows, his disguising glamour in place, and then he was gone.
"This is remarkable, Severus," Healer Pye said. Snape saw the pleased expression on Pye's face as the Healer watched the display of light from the diagnostic. "I would almost have to conclude that you have been cured."
"It will diminish in a moment or two."
"And you say this phenomenon occurs when you are around Hermione Granger?"
"Yes. Only when I'm around Hermione Granger."
"Then I suggest you do your best to remain in Hermione Granger's presence."
Snape pinned the Healer with an inky glare that should have, by all rights, left the man dead on the floor.
"I would prefer a cure to a crutch, Healer Pye," Snape did his best not to snarl.
"What if this is a cure?"
"Then why does the effect dissipate when we are apart? Cast your diagnostic again. I'm sure you will get a different set of numbers."
Unfortunately, Snape could not see the results that the second spell displayed, since they were floating above his head, but the look on Healer Pye's face was almost as telling.
"Yes. This is a substantially different reading. The effect wears off the longer you are away from her?"
"And further. I can feel a difference when I am in the garden and she is in the shop. Conversely, my health improves more rapidly the closer we are together."
"Then marry the girl, Severus. She's obviously in love with you."
Snape came close to biting his tongue off in an effort to prevent the sarcastic retort on its tip from escaping his lips. Was everyone colluding to marry him off to Miss Granger? The idea was ridiculous. She showed no signs whatsoever that she was in love with him. He consciously attempted to relax his jaw.
"I don't have to marry the chit, Pye. As soon as I felt the effect she had on me, I . . . persuaded . . . her to accept a seven-year contract as my apprentice."
"Really? How very mercenary of you. So we possibly have seven years to figure this out."
"Possibly?" Snape was sure the contract was binding for every day of those seven years.
"I'm guessing that she could fall out of love with you at any time."
"There has to be another reason for the effect," Snape ground out, exasperation pushing at his words. "Hermione Granger is not in love with me," The next breath he took was considerably more difficult than the previous one.
"If you're absolutely sure about that, then we will have to look elsewhere for causation. Have you had a chance to review Dumbledore's notes on the magical effects of love?"
"Not as yet," Snape answered.
"Why don't we meet in the Department of Mysteries for our next visit? Two can review his notes faster than one. Maybe that will give us another perspective."
Snape nodded grudgingly. Anything to wrest from the Healer's head the notion of Miss Granger's feelings being the primary cause of his recuperation. He stood to leave, but a weakness seemed to attack his legs and if he hadn't locked his knees, he might have tipped over.
Pye was too good of a Healer not to notice. He flicked his wand, casting a third diagnostic. Concern emerged in his expression for the first time since Snape had arrived.
"What the devil . . . you seem much worse off than last week," he mumbled, reaching for a quill and scroll of parchment and scribbling down the spelled numbers. "I'll have to compare this with my other notes and get back to you. Something strange is going on."
"And I will take my leave as I have another errand to attend to," Snape said. He was feeling a bit better - maybe standing up had just temporarily affected his equilibrium - and headed for the fireplace in the corner of Pye's office. He would have to stop off at the shop for a few minutes and rebuild his energy by . . . by getting as close to Miss Granger as possible. The thought chaffed at him. He took a pinch of Floo powder from the bowl on the mantle.
"So how are you and Hermione Granger getting along?" Minister Shacklebolt queried as soon as Snape stepped out of the fireplace and into the elegantly appointed office. He reflexively tightened the hold on his wand. If Kingsley so much as hinted at a marital union between himself and his apprentice, Snape was going to hex him into oblivion, Minister of Magic notwithstanding.
"Miss Granger has proven herself a capable apprentice. As long as she stays that course, we shall get along swimmingly," Snape said smoothly, keeping his comment as professional as possible and hoping Shacklebolt would do the same. He remained standing in front of the Minister's desk.
"Excellent, Severus! That was sheer genius getting her to move into your shop the way you did," the Minister replied, but then his face clouded slightly and he looked doubtful. "But I don't quite recall why it was necessary."
Oh, bloody hell, Snape castigated himself. Too much Lethe Water in the Minister's potion last week. He had been afraid that might happen but had hoped Shacklebolt's memory wouldn't have deteriorated so quickly. Fortunately, he had brought two potions with him, one with the extra Lethe Water and one without. They were walking a fine line between staving off the effects of the curse and rendering Shacklebolt unfit to fulfill his position as Minister of Magic.
"Now I remember - it was to save them from the Death Eaters," Shacklebolt suddenly smiled and Snape let out the breath he didn't know he was holding. "Yes, a very excellent job, Severus," he reiterated, but then frowned again. "That reminds me. Harry has related his concerns about you meeting with your former Death Eater acquaintances."
"How does Potter know about that?" Snape asked, concerned as to how the boy-wonder had come across that information. "Aren't your Aurors watching him?"
"We can't have a 24/7 guard on him, we don't have enough Aurors for that. But we keep him paired up with other Aurors-in-training during the day and tail him as best we can until he retires for the evening. The same for Weasley, which is a bit easier since he spends so much time in his brother's shop. The entire Auror department is on alert and will respond in an instant if the alarm is raised. It will be difficult for Death Eaters to get near them. How is our project in that regard, by the way?"
Snape had planned on telling the Minister about his encounter with Rowle, but with Shacklebolt's memory on the fritz, he decided to hold off on that particular tidbit. Most likely the Minister would not even notice a well-placed deflection.
"Let's take a look at your shoulder first, Minister," he said, deftly sidestepping the question. When the wound was uncovered, he was disappointed. The area had not shrunk as he hoped it would. But did that mean if he backed off on the Lethe Water that the Fiendfyre would increase? Had the curse grown stronger? With their plan for the remaining Death Eaters coming to a head, could they risk Shacklebolt's memory falling apart and the Minister inadvertently letting slip information that could prove detrimental to their strategy? Snape took more time than necessary to examine the injury. He needed to think.
Weighing the decision that faced him now, it was a risk either way. But Snape felt it would be safer to keep his success with Rowle to himself for the moment. He would put the Minister back on the less powerful potion and hope his memory would improve before Snape would discuss anything more about the Death Eaters with him. He pulled the Minister's robes back over his shoulder, his decision made.
"And you were right, Severus. I do have more movement in this arm." Shacklebolt said. Snape nodded gravely, suspected that his condition would now regress, and then pulled the weaker potion from his pocket.
Professor Snape had returned, once again looking worn out and gaunt. This puzzled and concerned Hermione but he had rapidly improved and throughout the day, as they had attended to their customers or researched in the library or dined in the kitchen, he had seemed completely healthy. This was starting to make her blame the lighting again.
Hermione had been delighted when, midway through their day, he had put a pet door in all the doors on the premises excepting the one to the shop. They could just leave that one open at night and Crookshanks could patrol the aisles as he wished. Crooks even had access to Professor Snape's room and the library which indicated the extent to which her mentor trusted the feline. She had no idea that the two of them had had such a trusting relationship, though Professor Snape seemed to get along with magical creatures just fine. Apparently it was only humans he had trouble with.
Dinnertime came quickly and she had spent spare moments of her day refining a few pointed questions to present him with. But first, a message had to be delivered.
"Mr. Jugson came in this morning," she began. He looked at her expectantly, apparently sensing additional information lurking behind her words. "He left a message for you: 'Tell Snape that he will make his move within the next two weeks.'"
"And you didn't tell me this sooner because . . . ?"
"I wanted to discuss it without interruption," she replied and tried her best to quash the smirk that tried to control her lips. It was his edict for her not to ask questions at mealtimes other than dinner.
"There's nothing to discuss. In future, you are to relay any messages immediately."
"Certainly. But this one didn't seem time-sensitive and I wanted to ask you why you're helping Jugson escape the country. Why not turn him over to the Ministry?"
"We've discussed this before. It's none of your business."
"And that answer is unsatisfactory, Professor Snape," she said, barely believing herself brazen enough to speak to him in such a way, but she was determined to get to the bottom of his incongruent behavior of fraternizing with Death Eaters. His black eyes blazed as he glared at her. She expected this and had been fortifying her courage all day so that she wouldn't back down. She glared back.
"Is it because he is a friend of yours?" she continued when he said nothing more.
"I have no friends, Miss Granger."
A sudden ache clutched at her heart. She recalled the pain of being friendless before coming to Hogwarts and then finding Harry, Ron and the other students that had unequivocally become her friends - and friends she trusted with her life. He had no friends. By necessity, he had alienated everyone on Dumbledore's side. Out of conscience, he had betrayed everyone on Voldemort's. She looked down at her soup, chasing a noodle about the bowl with her spoon. She didn't want him reading that in her eyes.
"Not even some of your old schoolmates?"
"All Death Eaters, those still alive. And I'm no more friends with them than I am with members of the Order."
"Did you ever have friends? I mean true friends. Someone you could count on."
"Only two," he said quietly and attended to his own bowl of soup.
"Lily Potter?" Her bravery this evening was bordering on the insane.
"Lily Evans," he corrected, but didn't seem bothered by the mention of his lost love's name. "By the time she was a Potter, we were no longer friends."
Curiosity hadn't gotten Hermione killed yet, so she ventured another question.
"And the other?"
Hermione froze. Professor Snape was responsible for the deaths of both; of the only two friends he had ever had. She sat in uncomprehending silence, a hot lump forming in the back of her throat that prevented her from speaking. All thoughts of her original query evaporated. His black eyes glanced over at her briefly.
"Yes, Miss Granger. It's best for all concerned that I not have friends."
"But Minerva and Kingsley? Surely they could be considered . . ."
"Do your parents, as dentists, regard their patients as friends? Or vice versa? I suspect not."
She swallowed hard and did the best she could to handle the emotions she was feeling on his behalf. When Harry had told her everything he had seen in Snape's memories about their potion master's past she had had a hard time holding back her tears. The man had such a heavy burden to bear. Taking a deep breath, she knew she had to change the subject in order to maintain some semblance of control and since he had brought it up . . .
"Speaking of my parents, when do we start working on a way to get their memories back?" she asked, softly clearing her throat.
"There's plenty of time before we need concern ourselves with that problem," he said casually, reaching for a thick slice of bread to sop his soup with.
"What do you mean? We have a contract - you have to help my parents in exchange for seven years of my labor."
"That is correct, Miss Granger, but I don't have to fulfill my end of the deal until you have fulfilled yours."