Snape watched Miss Granger's face as his words registered in her mind. He suspected she wasn't going to take that well and he was correct. Her jaw clenched and her skin paled. She stood up, rather shakily, and stared at him, lips pressed into a thin line. His ever-ready smirk was about to make its appearance when she closed her eyes and he watched as a single tear trailed slowly down her face.
"It appears I am no longer hungry, Professor Snape. Please excuse me," she said, her voice strained. He watched as she turned and left the kitchen. Returning to his meal, he realized he wasn't really hungry anymore either. He stared at his plate uncomfortably for several moments.
"Winky," he called. The little elf appeared, pink towel as bright as ever, and looked up at him.
"Master is done so soon?" she queried and started wringing her hands.
"The meal was excellent as always, Winky. We just aren't very hungry tonight." This explanation didn't seem to satisfy her.
"Master needs to eat. Master needs to get strong," Winky said and Snape looked down, staring at her. "Winky sees Master," the elf continued. "Winky sees Master is sick." Now the elf really became nervous and Snape sensed he was going to have to do something before her anxiety escalated and she started punishing herself.
"I think you are correct, Winky. I will eat a bit more before you clear the table," he said and made himself finish off the mashed potatoes and a few bites of broccoli, keeping an eye on his house elf. As she relaxed, he slowly stopped eating but realized that there was another problem he had to address.
"You aren't to tell anyone that I am ill, Winky, is that clear?" he said, his voice low. "No one can know. That is a direct order."
"Yes, Master," she said happily, apparently gratified at his attempt to finish his meal.
Even after the dishes were gone, he continued sitting where he was, wondering why he should care about the way Miss Granger was feeling. It didn't matter, really. It was for her own safety. Still, he supposed he hadn't needed to be so abrupt about it. Now he was left with the vague impression that he should try to make amends.
Pushing away from the table, he stood and walked to the fireplace. Reaching for a pinch of Floo powder, he hesitated. He didn't really have to do this. But then he decided that he wanted to and knelt down, tossing the powder into the flames.
"Minerva?" he stated clearly and waited for a response. Thankfully, the headmistress was in her office.
"May I come through? There is something I need to retrieve from the things I stored in the castle."
Hermione tried not to slam her bedroom door behind her, but she wasn't entirely successful. He was such a . . . bastard? Arse? Git? But only a few moments before she had been thinking . . . genius. Hero. Damaged. And she had felt sorry for the man. Now she wanted to strangle him.
After the last meal of the day they would normally spend the rest of the evening researching, but as far as she was concerned, it was still dinnertime and if she wasn't going to eat, she could do whatever she wanted with that time. Opening the wardrobe where she had stored her books, she decided to finish the job she had started, channeling her anger into something useful.
Enlarging, unpacking and shelving the rest of her books barely took twenty minutes and her anger had assuaged itself somewhat while she worked. He would be expecting her in the library in a few minutes. Deciding she would focus on comparing the Muggle version of Greek mythology to that in the wizarding version, she reached for her homemade book. There was a light tap at her door.
"Miss Granger?" She heard Professor Snape's voice, soft and low, further muffled by the closed door. Did she sense a note of concern? Unlikely. She opened the door a few inches, not sure what to expect. Professor Snape was standing there, a large covered object floating behind him. She felt like slamming the door in his face, though feared what consequence he might be able to levy against her. She absolutely needed to get a copy of that contract and examine the details. Opening the door all the way, she faced him fully, arms crossed, as defiant as her Gryffindor courage could muster.
"I. . . ah . . . have something for you," he said softly and waited until she reluctantly stepped aside so he could enter. His black robes billowed softly as he entered the room, the floating object following him. He indicated the wardrobes. "Do you have an empty one?" She nodded and pointed to the far end. Professor Snape opened its door, flicked his wand and the trailing object floated inside. Then he murmured "Evanesco," vanishing the object's cover and closed the wardrobe.
"To use this, stand here," he said and stepped away. She was still by the door, arms still crossed. She suspected their contract wouldn't allow him to order her about in her own quarters and at the moment she was not inclined to following his instructions. At the same time, her curiosity was starting to burn. What was he up to?
He waited. Did that mean he couldn't order her about, here in her room, or because he didn't want to? The reason would make a difference, but she was loath to ask. She grudgingly uncrossed her arms and walked over to the spot he indicated. Standing behind her, he gently took hold of her shoulders and turned her round to face the wardrobe. With Professor Snape standing just feet from her bed and with his hands touching her and gently guiding, she was reminded of the dreams she had been having and blushed. She was glad he couldn't see her face.
"Before opening the door, clear your mind completely and focus on wanting to see your parents just as they are, at precisely the moment you are thinking of them. When you've made that the one overriding desire of your heart, open the door. At all other times, keep the door closed. I'm trusting you to follow my instructions on this lest you encounter unwanted consequences," he said. When she stood there blank and unresponsive, he added quietly, "That's advice, Miss Granger, not a command. I hope you're wise enough to follow it." His hands dropped from her shoulders and he turned and walked out of her room.
Hermione stood there, staring at the wardrobe and contemplated what had just happened. Was he making some type of apology? Professor Snape said to concentrate on her parents before opening the door. Why? Suddenly, she had an overwhelming desire to see her parents, even if they wouldn't recognize her. Hopefully that would satisfy his requirements. She opened the wardrobe door.
It was a mirror. It was taller than she was, ornately framed, and its silvery surface was misty. As she watched, the mists cleared and she could see a darkened bedroom, a large bed in the center of the scene. A small light on the night stand next to the bed cast just enough light to read by and . . . her father . . . had fallen asleep, an open book on his chest. He was wearing the red and gold pajamas that she had gotten him for Christmas a few years ago. Her mother was snuggled next to his side.
Her hand flew to her mouth as tears filled her eyes. It was so good to see them again. After things had settled down somewhat following Voldemort's defeat, her first order of business had been to head to Australia to retrieve her parents. It had been an odd thing visiting them at their office. She had made an appointment to get her teeth checked and cleaned and had nervously sat down in the chair waiting for her mother to enter the examination room. Hermione had pulled her wand and had tried to reverse her original memory charm while her mother's back was turned. It didn't work. Her mother's eyes held no recognition of her at all. Hermione had sat through the exam desperately trying not to cry. The warming sound of her mother's voice, her touch, her scent, the very comfort of her presence, pressed against her heart and she left the office trembling with sorrow.
That's why she was here now. And all she could do was watch them from a distance, through a magical mirror. She put her finger to the glass, running it down the image of her father's sleeping face. This was better than nothing, she supposed.
Wiping her eyes, she closed the wardrobe and went to fetch her book. A noise by the door made her turn around, just as Crookshanks snaked through his brand new pet door. He trotted up to Hermione and rubbed up against her ankles. It's the first time she'd seen him since this morning when she had watched Professor Snape and her cat have an incredible conversation about the rules of living in the apothecary. He had been so kind to the animal. She scooped him up. Since tacit permission had been given when Professor Snape installed a pet door in the library, she carried Crooks across the hall, entered the room and sat down at her desk.
Arranging the furball on her lap, she opened her book. Crookshanks started purring. Loudly. Hermione took a quick glance at Professor Snape, but he either didn't mind or was pretending not to. She stroked the ginger fur and began reading.
After about twenty minutes attempting to concentrate, she knew she was still too distracted to make any headway on her planned research.
"Why give me the mirror?" she finally asked Professor Snape.
"Excuse me?" he replied, glancing up briefly from a parchment he had been writing on.
"Why the mirror? Instead of just helping me restore my parents' memory?"
"It's none of your . . ."
"How can my parents' welfare be none of my business?" she interrupted. She was no longer angry and she was no longer weepy. She just wanted to know the truth. "As you pointed out when I first came here, there is no reason for lies between us, yet you don't trust me with your secrets."
"Your contract ensures that I can trust you with my secrets, does it not?" he said, waiting a few moments and then flicking his gaze to hers as he waited for a reply. She lowered her eyes and blushed as she suddenly remembered that she had found a way to let Harry know some of what was going on here at the apothecary.
"I'm a very good liar, Miss Granger," he said slowly, returning quill to parchment. "You, on the other hand, are not."
Business at the shop picked up significantly over the next few days. The apothecary had only been open for a few months and Professor Snape had done an excellent job stocking it with all types of potion ingredients, some very rare. That had drawn in their first customers and constituted their initial sales. Now that Hermione was there, they were offering pre-made potions on a consistent basis and more purchases were coming in. Pepper Up Potion was especially popular this time of year and Professor Snape's particular version was very effective. The potions lab always had a cauldron or two of the concoction simmering, waiting to be bottled, which Hermione now had to do in the evenings, trying to catch up with demand.
And it seemed that more than typical Knockturn Alley dwellers were increasingly among their customers. Apparently Professor Snape's reputation for potion-making was also luring in the more upstanding patrons from the peaceful streets of Diagon Alley. The increased traffic had not allowed her time to do much research, but she had been able to sneak a few pages in here and there.
She had used the mirror only once more since Professor Snape had installed it in her wardrobe. One evening before going to bed she had spent ten minutes watching her parents share a pot of tea. She had sat down in front of the mirror, cross-legged, cuddling with Crookshanks and just stared, hungry to see them again. It wasn't as emotionally depleting as it had been the first time. Some of that upset was surely due to finding out about Professor Snape's interpretation of their contract.
Settling in last week had found her scrambling to cover all of the assignments that Professor Snape had tasked her with. Hermione was an organizer; with her things, with her tasks and with her time. She had quickly found a routine and had optimized her schedule, with one exception: the garden.
That's where she was now, familiarizing herself with the plants, their groupings, their locations and their requirements. It had all been laid out very neatly and tended well. Every plant looked healthy and they were all clearly tagged. Many were familiar from drawings in her school books and from the practical experience she had gained from Professor Sprout during labs in the greenhouses at Hogwarts. Some she had never seen before and these she lingered over, writing down their names, making a general description of the plant and then adding a little sketch of its leaves, stems and overall visual aspect.
The greenhouse was lovely. Quiet, verdant and with a heady, clean fragrance, this was a place to soak up tranquility just as the plants soaked up the sun. She was looking forward to spending time here, getting her hands dirty while she tended each plot, each plant. It was the kind of mindless task that she enjoyed the most - getting something useful done while she let her thoughts wander aimlessly about, free to make unfettered connections.
Walking down an aisle near the back of the greenhouse, lush plants on both sides nearly obscuring the path, she noticed an unplanted area near the end of one plot. The odd thing was, there was a name tag over the spot, though nothing was written upon it. She scribbled a note amongst the other descriptions to remind herself to ask Professor Snape about this empty patch. Perhaps it was for a plant he was hoping to collect?
Moving around the end of the plot, she tripped and nearly face planted it against the greenhouse wall. What on earth? Turning around, she found a shovel partially hidden by the plants. She knew who she had to talk to about that.
Winky Apparated right in front of her. This was going to be hard to do. The little elf's face was alight with eagerness and it was obvious that she was expecting Hermione to begin issuing commands. Instead she was going to have to reprimand Winky and that would subsequently require her intervention in the self-recriminations that would surely follow.
"Winky," she began, dreading to execute this task. But then a sudden thought occurred to her. "How did you learn to garden?" When the elf looked puzzled, she added, "How did you learn to take care of these plants?"
Winky's face broke into a broad smile.
"Master show Winky," she answered. "House elves know cooking and house elves know cleaning. House elves don't know these," she said, waving her little hand around the greenhouse.
"So you've only been gardening . . . taking care of the plants . . . for a few months?"
The elf nodded eagerly.
No wonder, thought Hermione. It's probably just a matter of time and practice before she remembers to pick up after herself. Hermione decided to soften her approach.
"Would you put this shovel back in the locker for me?"
Winky looked puzzled, but snapped her fingers and the shovel disappeared. Then she looked expectantly up at Hermione for another command.
"Um, well," Hermione desperately searched her mind for something else she could give the elf to do. Then she remembered the cold, cold mornings of late.
"I was wondering if you would be able to, uh, keep the hearth lit in my room during the night? It's getting colder and . . ."
"Yes, Miss!" Winky said enthusiastically. "Winky will make sure Miss is warm at night."
Feeling guilty at giving the elf orders, Hermione wanted to reward her as well.
"Professor Snape certainly depends on you, Winky."
The little house elf glowed with pleasure. Hermione was bemused at how just the mention of her master's name gave the creature such delight. Then she thought of something else that Winky could help her with.
"Would you be able to teach me what Professor Snape taught you about caring for these plants?"
"Yes, Miss. Master taught me many things. Winky will show you."
They spent the rest of the day reviewing the garden, excepting a few hours spent at meals or when the shop was very busy.
They were mostly done with breakfast, Friday morning, when Hermione found it. Her book was propped up against the creamer again, and she had been steadily making her way through the section on Greek mythology every morning since she had pulled it out of the wardrobe. When she saw the one sentence that might change everything, she was so excited she nearly choked on her last sip of coffee. What she found might save the lives of both Minister Shacklebolt and Headmistress McGonagall. But she had to be sure.
Professor Snape had been patient and had not questioned her about the report she had been assigned even though it was well past the two days that she had predicted it would take. Now, he looked up from his meal as she sputtered.
"Difficulties, Miss Granger?" he said calmly and watching her closely as she coughed to clear the liquid from her throat. She was excited and wanted to tell him about what she had found, but more than that, she wanted to make sure it was correct. After all, she had put the book together when she was in the fourth grade. It would be best if she could double check those facts before presenting them to Professor Snape. That would entail visiting a Muggle library. Would he let her leave the shop for a few hours? Maybe if she optimized her time.
"I may have found something, Professor. However, I would prefer to verify a few facts before I pass on that information. May I leave early this Sunday? I would like to visit the London Library for a few hours before I take my weekly time off."
Watching his face as he considered this request, she didn't think it would be that hard of a decision to make, but he remained silent for several moments. He didn't seem angry, just contemplative as if he were weighing pros against cons.
"I think that will be acceptable. What time did you want to leave?"