Hermione had only been teaching Potions for half a month when the first letter arrived: a sheet of parchment that had been folded over and then over again and sealed with a green wax from which rose the scent of snow. When she unfolded the parchment to find it blank, she was confused and wondered if one of her students was pulling a prank on her—and then the scent of fresh ink wafted to her nose, and she knew.
It's invisible. How . . . odd—and why the scent of snow?
But Professor Granger still owned a Revealer. She secreted the strange missive and decided to discover its secrets during her planning period.
The letter disintegrated when she ran the Revealer over it, much to her consternation, and she fire-called Harry at once, reasonably certain that only he would have sent her such a thing.
"I don't know where you buy your invisible ink, Harry, but it didn't work—at least, not the way you wanted it to. It's fallen to pieces in my—"
"Hermione, what are you talking about?"
"Didn't you send me a letter? a letter written in invisible ink?"
Harry's brow furrowed in confusion. "Uh, no. Ron's kept me a bit too busy lately to—"
"Right," Hermione interrupted, not truly interested in hearing about the happy couple. "I should go and see if my Revealer's broken. Give my love to Ron."
She ended the call before Harry could respond, and then she spent the majority of her evening examining her Revealer. There was not a thing wrong with it that she could discern. Eventually, she gave up, went to bed, and forgot about the letter in the following days.
It was a Hogsmeade weekend when Hermione received the second missive, and this one was handed to her by one of the Third Year Gryffindor girls she was officially chaperoning as a group of them left Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes.
"Professor?" the girl asked nervously, for most of the students were a bit intimidated by their Potions mistress.
She was a war hero, after all.
"Yes, Miss Bell?"
"Someone asked me to give this to you," the student said, before scampering off after her friends.
Hermione looked around suspiciously after unfolding the parchment to discover that it, too, was blank.
This is ridiculous, she thought, before absentmindedly drawing the seal of the letter under her nose as she looked about herself again.
This time, the wax smelt of cardamom coffee.
"I love cardamom coffee," she said, to no one in particular.
That night, Hermione tried a spell designed to accomplish what her Revealer was supposed to do, but the letter fell apart just the same.
"When I find out who's sending these to me, I'm going to take points."
The third letter was sitting on the desk in her office after her last period the following week. Hermione made no attempt to expose its contents, but she did take a moment, before discarding the letter, to ascertain that its seal was redolent of cedarwood.
Mmm, she thought, as she set herself to grading her First Years' essays on the proper methods by which to determine if a cauldron was sound. The series of cauldron accidents that faulty cauldrons had caused had made the task a necessary one, and now she knew that it had to be one of the other professors who was sending her the letters because only one of them would have the password to her office.
I'm not going to give him—her—whoever it is the satisfaction of seeing me discomfitted, she thought, wishing that she felt more comfortable with the other staff members. Apparently, it was a Hogwarts' tradition that new professors be "broken in."
That night at dinner, the Headmaster asked how her "little Longbottoms" were bearing up."Excellently, thank you," she remarked, forcing herself to feign an unperturbed smile.
Hermione was still irritated by the question the next afternoon when she found the fourth letter—and its cognac-scented seal.
"Lovely," she snapped, discarding the item and feeling as though she could use a drink. "When will they stop teasing me?"
It was a difficult thing, really, to think of her old professors as being capable of hazing—mild though the form of it in question might be, and Hermione suspiciously wondered if it might not be Snape who was behind the faulty cauldrons.
No, he would never allow practical jokes of that sort, not in the Potions classroom. It was his for too long. He knows better! "And . . . and he wouldn't, not after what happened between us during the war. He grew to respect me," I think, I . . . hope, "once we knew he was with us and began working with us again. Once we knew why he'd killed . . . . "He thinks of me as a colleague, I know he does," she told herself, as she sat down and contemplated what she would do over the hols.
Ron and Harry had invited her to come to the Burrow with them, but she was not certain if that was something she wanted to do; getting over Viktor's death had been difficult for her, and she had grown used to being alone on holidays. I want to be left alone, as well.
There was a fifth letter on her desk the following day.
"This is the outside of enough!" Hermione yelled, seizing the folded parchment and flinging it across her office.
"Aren't you going to check the seal?" asked the Grey Lady, who had become a frequent visitor of Hermione's, as she remembered the witch from her time spent studying with her Ravenclaw friends.
"No, Nan. I am not going to check the poxy seal!"
"Don't take on so. It's nought but correspondence," the ghost chided, albeit serenely, before drifting away.
"It's not correspondence," Hermione retorted, but she did pick the letter up to draw it under her nose.
The seal smelt of woodsmoke.
It suddenly occurred to Hermione that snow, cardamom coffee, cedarwood, cognac, and wood smoke were each the scents of things she enjoyed, and she felt like an idiot for having taken so long to notice the fact.
What is going on here?
Her curiosity got the better of her, and she brought out the Revealer again.
The letter disintegrated.
The sixth letter was delivered to her three weeks later. It was a Sunday, and Hermione was taking a walk around the lake. She enjoyed the crispness of the early morning air and wanted to make the most of it before it became too cold to be out of doors. As the sun rose, a large brown owl—one of Hogwarts' own—swooped down next to her and presented its burden. It flew away again before she could apologize for being without owl treats.
She was almost excited as she raised the folded parchment to her nose. The green wax seal smelt of tangerine gelato.
"How are you doing this?"
"Doing what, Professor Granger?" Severus Snape asked, striding toward her.
Hermione was not startled.
Snape took early morning walks, as well, and on some occasions, they walked together. They never, however, spoke during these perambulatory sessions, but Hermione did not mind what she flattered herself to be the companionable silence between them.
"Oh! Headmaster, I—"
"No doubt do not wish to be disturbed," he remarked, continuing on his way.
"Prof—Headmaster Snape!" Hermione called, hurrying after the wizard. "I didn't mean to be rude, I was—"
"Obviously occupied," he noted, though he stopped his progress.
"I could use an opinion—your opinion—about something."
In no time, Hermione had explained her situation.
"And you've tried everything?"
"Yes—my Revealer and the Spell of Knowing. I don't understand why—"
"And you're sure these letters are being sent to you to . . . tease you?" Snape pressed, his eyebrows raised as if he, himself, found the idea ridiculous.
"I don't mean to imply that, I mean, well, it's odd. Why else would someone be sending me letters that I can't read?"
Snape smirked. "Perhaps Professors Zabini or Martinson have taken an interest in you?"
Professors Zabini and Martinson are too interested in each other to think of me, Hermione thought, wondering how Snape of all people could have failed to notice the wizards' regard for one another, but she said, "I don't think that's very likely, Sir."
"I see. Well then, perhaps you've been careless with your password, and it is one of your students."
"In no way have I been careless with my password," Hermione insisted, becoming irritated. I should never have said anything to him. Wonderful. Now he thinks I'm incompetent.
"As you say," Snape replied. "But while we have this opportunity, Professor Granger—"
"Is there a problem?"
"No. It's just that you never—never mind."
"I would appreciate it if you would conclude that sentence."
"You used to call me by name." Oh, that sounded quite mature and professional.
"It never occurred to me that you would wish me to call you anything other than your ti—oh, I see," Snape said, interrupting himself as his expression became rather more enigmatic than usual.
Hermione panicked for wondering what he must be thinking. She and Snape had never been close, but they had worked well together as fellow Order members. Harry had even teased her about fancying the wizard, at one point, because she was one of the first to believe in his innocence and had defended him vigorously to the others.
Oh, God! what if he thinks that—
"You do not yet feel a part of the staff."
"No—I mean, yes—it would be . . . nice to be on a first-name basis with you Se—Headmaster," Hermione stammered, feeling stupid, feeling all of sixteen, feeling as though the ground opening up to swallow her whole would be most welcome.
"Very well then. Hermione."
The witch shivered to hear the syllables of her name roll slowly off of Snape's tongue and blushed, but she forced herself to retain eye contact with the man. "Very well then, Severus," she replied. "I . . . I'll change my password—just in case."
"That is a sound idea. Do let me know if you require any further assistance with regard to your secret admirer," Severus quipped, before turning on his heel and leaving Hermione standing by the lake feeling rather bewildered.
November passed, and no seventh letter arrived. In fact, it was almost the Yuletide holiday before Hermione had occasion to remember the blank, disintegrating pieces of parchment and their appealingly scented wax seals. She did remember the letters as Miranda Bell, the Third Year who had given her the second missive, was leaving her classroom and chatting excitedly to her friends about the Christmas present she had purchased for her Squib sister from Weasleys' Wizarding Wheezes.
"Miss Bell, please remain for a moment."
"Yes, Professor?" the girl asked, paling.
Hermione was in no way close to being the terror of her students in the same manner as was Professor Snape, but it was rarely a welcome thing for one of her pupils to find him- or herself asked to stay after class, and she was cognizant of this fact.
"You're not in any trouble, Miranda. I just wanted to ask you a question."
When the relieved Miranda left, Hermione was no closer to knowing who her "secret admirer" might be, or why he had ceased sending her the letters, because the "man" who had asked her student to deliver his had been hooded.
She met up with Ron and Harry that night at the Three Broomsticks, feeling a bit guilty at having been avoiding them. She was not that surprised to learn that they knew why.
"So, the happy couple routine is keeping even you away, I see," Ron said, one arm over Harry's shoulders, the other resting on the table.
"It's not just that," Hermione said quickly. "It's, well, whenever I go to the Burrow, or come see you two, there's always some 'friend' or other waiting to be introduced to me. I just don't—"
"Hermione," Harry interrupted gently, "Viktor's been . . . gone—"
"Dead, I think you mean."
"—for almost three years," Harry concluded."
"And what does that have to do with anything?"
"Only that we'd like to see you happy again," Ron said.
"I am happy. I have my students and my research, and Severus and I are—"
"You see?" Harry told Ron, grinning. "I told you!"
"You're wrong. You have to be."
"If Harry means that Severus and I are designing a new version of Wolfsbane Potion, then he's right," Hermione declared in her best instructor's voice.
"Well, that's nice," Ron replied. "I guess. . . . So, where are we eating?"
They ended up Apparating to London to eat at the Gryphon's Foote, a newly opened and very popular restaurant that charged outrageous fees for its private dining rooms, and Hermione never even thought to mention her mysterious correspondent as she caught up with Harry and Ron while sitting in one of them.
But she still felt very lonely. Though she was no longer grieving Viktor, she still missed him—especially when in the company of her happily paired off friends, who sometimes forgot that there was a third person at their table.
They didn't even think to invite me for Christmas again, she thought, gesturing for the waiter to refill her glass of wine.
She drank several glasses and found herself thinking muzzily about holiday plans, Wolfsbane, and a certain former Potions master, one who was not the best conversationalist, himself, no matter how much she tried to draw him out of his reserve.
When she got home, a seventh letter was sitting on the little table next to the chair in front of her bedchamber's hearth.
The letters had been innocuous enough. But this one's here. In my bedroom.
She drew her wand and performed, from a distance, several investigative spells and found the document to be harmless.
Its seal smelt of bergamot and black tea.
Hermione suddenly felt as though, if she did not learn the contents of the latest, Earl Grey tea-scented letter, she would scream. But tea seems like a good idea. I need to clear my head and figure out how to solve this damned mystery!
She was a little unsteady from having drunk so much wine that, after conjuring a teapot to appear on the table upon which the letter sat, she spilt some of it onto the unfolded parchment.
And then there it was: a smooth flowing script writing itself across the dampened page.
"What?" Hermione yelled, utterly gobsmacked. "That's it?" Oh, I am incompetent—the seals! they were clues!
She did not chastise herself for long. She wanted her letter. It read:
"I find myself something of a coward where you are concerned, but because of your outstanding propensity to over-think matters both mighty and minute, I shall not scruple to tax myself for it; you will, after all, never actually read one of my letters.
"It seems that, in the time we have spent together these past few years, such as it was, from my 'return' to the Order to our recent co-experimentation, I have been falling in love with you. I shudder to think of the expression of disgust on your face should you ever read these words, should I ever betray myself to you, should I ever cease behaving like a Sixth Year.
"But I digress. Suffice is to say, that among having your company and your regard, I believe it would suit me very well to have you do more than call me by name.
Hermione had to read the letter several times before the meaning of its contents registered in her mind: The Head—the prof—Severus wants me to—Severus wants me. Severus is— "Severus is in love with me," she breathed.
The Grey Lady elected to glide through the hearth at this moment. "How interesting. And do you find him a worthwhile gentleman?" the ghost asked, her expression doubtful, her eyes looking wistfully toward the teapot. "How I do miss tea."
"Help yourself," Hermione replied distractedly, for she was wondering, How does one actually construct a Howler?
The next morning at breakfast, which just so happened to be the last day of classes before the holiday break, Headmaster Snape was very late to breakfast indeed. Hermione, who had been waiting with poor patience for him to arrive, was greatly disturbed when he did not even look at her as he took his seat. Traditionally, Snape nodded to every member of the staff—unless he had a problem with one of them.
Oh. Oh, no. Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, Hermione thought, from two seats away.
When Flitwick, who sat between Hermione and Severus had left—muttering something about "tension"—the Headmaster interrupted his Potions mistress' mantra by leaning over and whispering, "Yes."
I'm going to have to resign, Hermione despaired, attempting to quell the rush of desire that pooled low in her belly at the sound of the Headmaster's voice by snapping, "'Yes', what?"
His lips curving slowly into a dangerously sensual near-smile, Severus remarked, "So you do want to come for Christmas."
Hermione had to remind herself that she was a professor and in the Great Hall and at the High Table before she could calmly reply, "'Emphasis' has its own rewards, of course." It certainly did this morning.
"Agreed," Severus replied, straightening up.
None of the other professors appeared to be paying them any heed, which, as they both well knew, meant that their colleagues were each heeding them closely.
"Professor Granger, I think it quite likely that we will have to . . . prepare many batches as we seek to modify the Wolfsbane."
"I'm sure you're right, Headmaster. Let's just hope that we don't find ourselves with a faulty cauldron."