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Mind Over Matter

Chapter Text

Rescued

Harry and Ron hesitated.

“Go! Just go!” Hermione shouted, the panic ringing as clear in her voice as in her mind.

As their footfalls faded into the distance, the steady pounding of her heart became all the more audible in her ears. The pulse under her fingers was weak and thready. She took a couple of deep breaths trying to calm herself, but her mind raced. She needed the antidote first, then bandages – how was she going to make those? – and a blood replenishing potion. She’d have to get him to the infirmary as soon as possible.

Hermione opened her bag – Accio Anti-Ostium Nagini! She caught the small vial that flew out and removed the stopper. She had carried the anti-venom around with her for nearly a year, fully expecting to use it on Harry. Never would she have imagined administering to her professor. She firmly grasped his chin and pulled down. Her right hand shook as she poured most of the anti-venom into his mouth before leaning the vial upright against the wall. She rubbed the front of his neck to help him swallow. She then accioed a blood replenishing potion and tipped it down his throat, continuing to massage his neck. Bandages, bandages . . . she looked around for anything that she could use. There was nothing. She shook her hands and growled in frustration. Then she looked down. Her blouse – that would do. She quickly yanked her sweater over her head. There was no time to waste – she pulled vigorously on the front of the shirt and the buttons ripped away. Shrugging out of the garment, she immediately tore off the sleeves. This would work.

She undid the buttons at the neck of his coat. The high collar and cravat were soaked with blood and she tried to wipe it away with the ends of the neck wear. The wounds were still seeping, but she had no other choice. She took the vial and poured the rest of the potion directly onto the lacerations. Wadding up the remains of her shirt, she applied it and pressed down hard, hoping against hope that some of the anti-venom made it directly into his bloodstream. With one hand, she put a sleeve across the makeshift bandage and pulled it tight, knotting it on the other side of his neck. She did the same with her other sleeve. She raised his hand to feel for a pulse – it was still there.

Hermione scrambled to her feet. Her legs were shaky from the adrenalin rush, but she had to get him to the infirmary. She retrieved her sweater and put it on before taking out her wand and casting a levitating spell. His body rose, and she slowly walked him the long, arduous way to the other side of the castle.

It was eerily quiet, and she tried not to think about what might be happening outside. She had to focus, concentrate, make sure she didn’t drop him or run him into a wall. Steps were the worst. When she was finally able to lower him on to a bed in the infirmary, she was sweating from the exertion. She had no time to catch her breath before Madam Pomfrey burst into the room.

“Hermione!” she blustered, clearly surprised to see her.

“Madam Pomfrey, you’ve got to help, it’s Professor Snape, he’s been bitten by Nagini, he’s badly hurt!”

The mediwitch came over to the bed, took out her wand and quickly ran some diagnostic spells. She could see that Hermione had given him an anti-venom potion and blood replenisher, which was exactly what she would have done herself, had she been there. When she finished examining him, she rubbed her hand across her forehead, the inner turmoil writ large across her face.

“You’ve got to help him!” Hermione pleaded.

She could stay and maybe he would survive, or she could return to the Great Hall and absolutely save others who were also critically injured. She had known him a long time, since he was a boy, in fact, and she had tenderly nursed him all these years as the Dark Lord and his followers took out their frustrations on his body. It cut her to the quick, but there was really only one thing she could do under the circumstances. The mediwitch took Hermione’s hand and soothed it.

“You did well, my girl, to get the potions into him so promptly, and using your shirt as a bandage was inspired, but there really isn’t anything more that can be done, not right now, anyway. We need to let the brews do their work. Stay here, watch him, and I’ll give you something in case he starts to convulse. Open his coat and shirt to let him breath a bit easier, but otherwise don’t try to clean him up any further – I’ll need to do that later myself.” 

Madam Pomfrey went into her office and started to rummage around. Hermione understood the needs of the many were greater than those of just one individual, but she felt so helpless under the circumstances. She stood in the doorway and watched as the mediwitch put vial after vial into her medical bag.

“What’s happening out there,” she asked quietly, almost not wanting to know.

Pomfrey paused to look at Hermione. There was no point in sugar coating anything at this point.

“All I know is that Harry’s gone off to the woods to meet with . . . ‘himself.’” She smiled wanly. “You should wash up, my dear,” she said, inclining her head to the sink before returning to her task. Hermione looked down – her hands were caked with her professor’s blood.

She turned on the taps and watched as the water ran into the bowl. This was it, then, she thought, and I’m not there to help. Harry’s facing him alone and it would soon be over. By morning they’d either all be free – or wish they were dead. She dried her hands and wandered back to where her professor lay on pristine sheets, a contrast in black and white. Did he tend to the light or to the dark? Which was his true nature? Whose side was he on? She still didn’t really know, not for sure at any rate. What she did know was that she had always admired and respected him, even fancied him a bit and had done for quite a while even though she had also felt his wrath from time to time. She fervently hoped that a man so brilliant and gifted, so shrewd and cunning had really been working for them rather than for the Dark Lord. But it really didn’t make any difference. Either way, she couldn’t let him die if she had the power to save him.

Madam Pomfrey hurried out of her office and thrust a vial into her hand as she closed up her bag.

“Give him this if he starts to convulse. As a last resort, you can try a stasis spell, but let’s hope it doesn’t come to that,” she said, rubbing Hermione’s arm encouragingly. “Now, I really must go.”

Hermione stared at the blue fluid before setting it next to her bag on the wash stand, which was to one side of the bed. Then she leaned over and began to unbutton his coat. She had daydreamed about doing exactly this, though never under these conditions. The buttons were stiff, hard to manipulate with her small hands and fingers, but she eventually got them undone. Underneath was a white, cambric shirt with, ironically enough, tiny buttons – his clothes were as much a study in contrasts as was the man himself. She pulled his coat and shirt open and was shocked at the scars that marred his chest – some of the wounds had been quite deep. Her hand hovered over them – she so wanted to touch them, soothe them, but she knew he wouldn’t have liked that, so she curled her fingers and drew back. She dragged a chair over and sat down. She had never seen him this still. Even his silences had always been punctuated with sneering looks that seared. He was so pale, paler than he usually was, and that was saying something. He was not a conventionally handsome man – his nose was too long, although it suited his angular face, which was framed by shoulder-length hair so dark it was almost blue. His lips weren’t full but neither were they thin – a sensual mouth would have been quite out of keeping with his other features. He looked remarkably younger and considerably less stern, too, in repose. Her eyes trailed down the length of his body. She had always thought him slender, but in the last year he seemed to have lost even more weight. She couldn’t be certain since it had been at least that length of time since she had last seen him, but she could clearly see his ribs. Her eyes came to rest on his right hand, which was nearest to her. She slipped her fingers under his palm and, with her thumb on the back of his hand, squeezed ever so slightly. She looked at his face – there was no reaction, but she had heard that seemingly unresponsive patients sometimes felt and took comfort from being touched, so she continued to hold it possessively. His fingers were long and tapered and the nails clean and closely trimmed. She had watched them with fascination over the years as he demonstrated the proper procedures for slicing and dicing a wide array of potions ingredients. If she were completely honest, she had also imagined those hands doing a lot more than that, like caressing her naked flesh.

Before her thoughts could go any further, he started to convulse. She grabbed the vial and, pulling on his chin, poured it into this mouth, rubbing his neck to coax it down. As she did so, she started to feel tingly and weak, and then everything went black.

When she came around, she was cold and lying on the stone floor – the chair was tipped over and she assumed that it had broken her fall, otherwise she might have landed on her head instead of her shoulder, which would only have added to her problems. As she sat up, she spotted the broken vial on the floor and suddenly remembered what she had been doing before collapsing. She frantically pulled herself up to sit on the side of the bed. She reached for his hand, desperate to find a pulse, and watched for his chest to rise and fall. Thank Merlin, he was still with her and she breathed a sigh of relief. She leaned forward to cup his face – at least he looked no worse than he had done before the seizure, which was still pretty bad. Sitting back, she felt a bit dizzy, and, well, not quite herself, but it wasn’t anything she could put her finger on definitively. From the clock on the wall, she could see that she had been out for almost an hour, though why she had – what, fainted? – she couldn’t say.

Before she could consider it further, she heard voices in the distance but they were slowly and steadily getting closer. Her heart was in her throat and she gripped him with both hands. It was either Pomfrey returning with the wounded or Death Eaters coming to drag her away. She nearly cried when the mediwitch appeared in the doorway, pointing this way and that as the infirmary quickly filled with the injured. Harry had triumphed over the Dark Lord – the war was over.

The war was over. Hermione could hardly take it in as she flitted from one patient to the next, employing her first aid skills and taking direction from Pomfrey. She kept an eye on her potions professor, who was moved into one of the several private rooms to free up needed space in the open ward. Mid-morning, cheers broke out when Harry and Professor McGonagall showed up, and Hermione flung herself into her friend’s arms and cried. When she pulled away, she noted every cut and scrape and then hugged him again, rocking back and forth.

“It’s finally over Harry, you did it, we won,” she choked out. But she felt him stiffen, and he pushed her back and took hold of her hands.

“Where is he?” he asked quietly. “I have to see him.” She looked from him to McGonagall’s concerned face and nodded. She led them into the private room, closing the door and shutting out the chatter of the infirmary. Harry went to the side of the bed and just stood there, looking down at his pale face. After a few moments, he ran his fingers over the back of the man’s limp hand.

“He saved us, you know,” Harry said with a catch in his throat, looking at Hermione and McGonagall, who stood at the end of the bed.

He wiped his nose on the sleeve of his jacket, and Hermione went to his side, taking his arm and draping her head on his shoulder. She didn’t trust herself to speak.

“He was in love with my mother,” he blurted out. “All these years . . . he protected me because of her. And Dumbledore . . . .” He looked at his head of house. “Dumbledore took advantage of that, used him, manipulated him  . . . ,” he said in confused realization as she grimaced. “Dumbledore was dying, would have been dead from a curse in a matter of months, and he asked Snape to be the one to kill him, to keep Draco from having to do it, to enhance his position in the eyes of Voldemort.” The magnitude of his professor’s memories was starting to hit him. “How much did you know?” he asked McGonagall almost accusingly.

Her mouth was set in a thin line, carefully considering how to answer that question. “I knew he was working for us, I had seen him . . . many times lying in this infirmary, bloody and broken by the Dark Lord and his followers.” Her voice broke, and she tightly gripped the railing at the foot of the bed. “But I did not know that Albus was . . . abusing his position, and I certainly did not know that he coerced Severus into killing him,” she quietly responded, clearly upset at what she was hearing.

Harry stared at the man’s pale face. “All these years, he tried to make amends for joining the Death Eaters by spying for us, taking beatings for us, laying down his life for us. And we treated him like shit.” He paused, again wiping his face against his jacket. “I treated him like shit.” It was barely a whisper. Then he turned to Hermione. “You never doubted him. You were right all along,” he smiled weakly, “as you always are.”

She took him into her arms and rocked him gently back and forth. The door opened and Pomfrey briefly took in the scene before motioning for McGonagall to join her for a private word. After a while, Hermione reached for the box of tissues on the wash stand.

“Is he going to be okay?” he asked, taking off his glasses and blowing his nose.

“I don’t know, Harry,” she sniffled, “I really don’t know.”

Madam Pomfrey bustled back into the room with a tray of bandages and shooed them out. When she finished her ministrations she pronounced his condition unchanged, and apart from cleaning and freshly dressing his wounds, and stripping him of his bloody clothes and outfitting him in a hospital gown, there still was nothing more that she could do for him, at least for now. A more detailed examination was scheduled for early afternoon when some of the best wizarding healers from around the world were expected to start arriving to help with the casualties.

McGonagall spoke what words of comfort she could. She assured them that the wizarding world would know of his heroism, that she would see to it personally that people knew what he had sacrificed. But for now, she needed Hermione to stay in the infirmary to keep an eye on the professor and assist Pomfrey while Harry would go with her to help establish some kind of order and make decisions about what needed to happen next.

So Hermione busied herself, following in the mediwitch’s wake, and when the last injury had finally been treated, she was encouraged to get some rest, although where she was supposed to do that she didn’t know. She dragged a bench from the main ward into her professor’s room and stretched out along the wall beneath the window – she was asleep almost as soon as her head hit the wooden plank.

Hermione awoke some time later to strange voices. As she sat up, an elderly wizard was examining the patient. Pomfrey put her finger to her lips, signaling that she was not to interrupt. When the wizard finished, he looked at her from across the bed.

“So, dis iz ze mademoiselle who haz taken sutch good care of her professor?” This was more a statement than a question, and he came around the end of the bed and stood in front of her, gently taking her hand. “You did well, you have nothing to reproach yourself for,” he said as he squeezed her hand.

“Was it enough?” She could barely get it out.   

His faint smile turned into a frown as he considered her question. She started to panic at his hesitation and looked at Pomfrey, who gestured for her to wait for a fuller response.

“I must tell you ze truth. The damage eez considerable, but not . . . not . . . wat is de word, ire . . . irepar . ..”

“Irreparable?” Pomfrey offered.

“Oí, eet is not ‘irreparable.’” Hermione let out the breath she had been holding and smiled at Pomfrey.

“But it will not be easy,” he cautioned. “He has ze damage of the nerves. There iz a potion . . . .”

“Yes, yes?” Hermione asked eagerly.

“But der iz only won wizard who can brew it.”

Hermione didn’t like the sound of that and her face fell.

“And who is that?” she asked, already knowing what his answer was going to be.

He turned to look at the figure lying in the bed.

“But if you know about the potion, surely you can brew it?” she pleaded, hopefully.

“No, I read of eet in a article he wrote a year or so ago. But Monsieur Snape may already have ze potion in hiz hands, from writing ze article, oí? And if not we wizards keep records of our . . . rezepees. If you can find eet, maybe you could brew it . . . .”

Since there was nothing more to say, he smiled slightly and put a sympathetic hand on her shoulder before he left the two women alone to confer. Already, Hermione was making a mental list.

“First, we’ve got to find that article,” she said, wringing her hands in concentration.

“He’ll probably have a copy somewhere in his rooms, but I may be able to rustle up one as well if you need – I could floo some contacts.”

“Then we need to see if he has the potion in stock.”

“Do you think you can get into his rooms?”

Hermione chewed her bottom lip. “I’m not sure – he’ll have them well warded, that’s for sure, but with the damage to the castle, they might have been weakened enough for me to get past them.” Suddenly, she had an idea. “Did you find his wand when you undressed him?”

Pomfrey opened the drawer to the wash stand and gave her the wand.

“You think it might make a difference?”

“Possibly. The wards might recognize it – we’ll see.”

“While you’re looking around, see if he’s got some blood replenisher.”

Hermione looked at her questioningly.

“If he made the potion, it’s likely to have his blood, his untainted blood, which would be better for him than what I can provide.”

Hermione nodded in understanding and made to leave. Pomfrey put her hand to her arm and they exchanged hopeful looks. At least it was a plan.

She approached the door to his rooms with some trepidation. Wards were tricky under the best of circumstances, and some of them could be downright nasty. Her professor’s would likely be of the later variety. But as she approached, they recognized his wand, and she passed freely through without having to wave it even once. That was a bit of relief.

She had never been in his private quarters, which were off the potions classroom, sensibly enough. His study was dark, even though the standing sconces lit as soon as she was in the room. There were two comfortable chairs by the hearth, a huge desk off to the right, and the walls were mostly lined with bookcases – it made the study feel smaller than it was but also rather cozy. She would start with the desk. She looked at every scrap of paper on its surface and opened every drawer but found nothing – no journals and certainly no potion recipes. She looked among the stacks of books on the table next to his chair by the fireplace but again discovered nothing. A quick scan of his shelves revealed only books.

She moved into the bedroom. It smelled of him. Sandalwood and myrrh – it was intoxicating, but she could not afford to be distracted. She sat on the side of his bed as she went through another stack of books on the night stand. Still nothing. Perhaps his lab. But where was his lab? She went back into his study, and while there were only two doors – one leading into a small kitchen and the other back out into the corridor – there was a space between the bookcases that seemed suspicious to Hermione. She approached it with his wand and a door appeared. Opening it, she stepped into the most beautiful lab she had ever seen.

The lights flickered on as soon as she entered – they were bright, almost cheering, in fact. Everything was spotless. The long work table was stainless steel, with wooden cutting boards stacked to one side, and there were two stools under one end, although she couldn’t imagine him ever allowing anyone in the lab while he was working. Two walls were lined with cabinets with storage cupboards below and shelves behind glass doors above. The third wall was taken up with shelves storing cauldrons of various sizes and made from various materials. She saw copper, brass, glass – that was unusual – and other metals she didn’t immediately recognize. Next to the double stainless steel sink was another cabinet where a large array of knives were spread out over two shelves. There were no papers lying about, and she opened some drawers but found only neatly arranged potions instruments. Bugger. She looked around the room. What had she missed?

The bathroom.

She returned to his bedroom and headed straight for the bathroom. A neat stack of journals piled as high as her knee sat next to a laundry basket. She shook her head and laughed – he did his most important reading in the bathroom? She briefly imagined him up to his chest in bubble bath, a journal hovering in front of him, which was how she preferred to read, but it seemed unlikely. She sat on the edge of the tub and went through them one by one. Finally, she spied an article on nerve regeneration by ‘S. Snape.’ This had to be it.

She took it into his study and sat down in one of his reading chairs to go through it. It was a good article, well-written and thoroughly contextualized. Nerves damaged by fire, poison, or spells could regenerate through the use of a potion he had developed. He reported that it took about a week for the brew to do its work, and it was painful to the one undergoing treatment, but it had been successful, at least on his own injuries.  

This information gave Hermione pause for thought. He had already used the potion on himself? She didn’t like to think what had happened to him previously to require nerve regeneration.  

She read on. He mentioned a few but by no means all of the ingredients that were needed, and he was vague about portions. He promised a fuller report after more trials were done. Again, bugger. This was precious little to go on. But maybe he had a sample lying around . . . .

Since she was in the bathroom, she had a quick look around. She found ointments for abrasions, bruises, and scars, several different kinds of sleeping draughts, and two vials of a hangover potion. These were clearly things he used frequently, and she thought fleetingly about the insights gained from a mere peek into his medicine cabinet – he didn’t sleep well, probably suffered from nightmares, often had wounds that left bruises and scars, and occasionally overindulged, perhaps to forget about what service to the Dark Lord exacted physically, mentally, and emotionally. Otherwise, there was no nerve potion.

She went back to his lab, which seemed the most likely place to store the potion. She opened the first set of cabinets. Everything was neatly labeled and appeared to be arranged alphabetically, but she had no idea what he might have called this new potion, so she had to look at every sticker. It took over an hour to check all of the vials, and she was very nearly cross-eyed when she finished – Merlin, he had tiny handwriting. It wasn’t there. As she was thinking about where to look next, she remembered that Pomfrey had wanted her to get one of his blood replenishing potions. Where had she seen it? How was it labeled? She opened the cabinet where she thought she remembered coming across it. She scanned the shelves, but they were all merging together and she literally couldn’t see straight.  

Oh for fuck’s sake, Miss Granger, it’s the sodding red one on the middle shelf to the left!

The voice in her head was loud, harsh, and most decidedly . . . Professor Snape’s.

Chapter Text

The Mind’s Eye

Hermione had been running her finger along the neat row of vials, searching for the one she wanted, when the voice swore in her head, causing her to knock one off the shelf. She scrambled to get a secure hold on it as it slipped back and forth between her fingers.

Bloody bollocking hell, don’t fucking drop it, it’s the only one I have left! Merlin, clumsy clever-clogs with all the coordination of a lumbering cow!

Hermione finally got a grip on the vessel and set it down carefully on the counter, her now shaking hand holding it firmly in place, just in case. She stood stock still, hardly even breathing. Her eyes lifted slowly to the glass cabinet door in anticipation – of what she didn’t know. From the reflection, she could see that there wasn’t anyone behind her. Besides, she knew, she absolutely knew for a fact, that her potions professor was at that very moment lying in the infirmary, as still as . . . well, as still as a man could get without actually being dead.   

What?

She jerked around, but there was no one in the room but her. Yet that voice! She had heard it quite distinctly. It was his voice, there was no doubt about it. Maybe she was hallucinating – she hadn’t eaten in a while, not since . . . oh, when was it . . . .

You aren’t hallucinating,” he said exasperatedly.

She inhaled sharply. She had to get something to eat, something to drink, and she had to do it immediately. She felt along the counter, then the wall and doorway as she made her way to the kitchen, just in case she fell over. Opening the refrigerator, she surveyed its contents. Milk, orange juice, eggs, bread . . . really?

You were expecting little children all chopped up into pieces, ready to be poured out like some kind of special Death Eater’s cereal?” he snarled.

She jolted backwards against a small table smashing it loudly into the wall as the refrigerator door swung open and banged against the counter cabinets. She grabbed one of the table chairs and sunk down. What the fuck?

Indeed,” the voice sneered.

She was really shaking now, and after a moment she leaned over, reaching into the fridge for the orange juice. She opened it and took a hefty gulp, some of it spilling out at the sides of her mouth and dripping on the floor.

I do have glasses,” the smarmy voice intoned.

She wiped her mouth with the sleeve of her sweater, setting the juice container on the table.

“What is going on, here,” she whispered aloud.

What is going on is that I seem to have taken up residence in your mind, Miss Granger, which is a greater misfortune for me than it is for you, let me assure you.

She gripped the seat of her chair with both hands.

“That’s . . . that’s . . .”

Impossible? Apparently not.

“How . . .”

I can only guess, but the transference must have happened when I was having convulsions. Did you experience anything unusual at the time?

Hermione raised a hand to her head trying to recall. “Yes, I . . . suddenly had a tingling sensation, I . . .  felt dizzy . . . that’s all I remember.”

Well that’s clearly when it happened.

“When exactly . . . ‘what’ happened?”

There was brief silence as he considered the question.

I’m not entirely sure,” he finally answered. “I’ve read that, following a serious trauma, it is possible for the consciousness of a witch or wizard to transfer to someone else while their physical body recuperates. However, there’s no documented instance that this has ever happened before. Until now, of course.

“What . . . .”

How the fuck should I know, Miss Granger?!” he interrupted sharply, anticipating her onslaught. “Save your interminable questions for someone else! Right now we have more important things to discuss!

Her hand shook as she took another swig of orange juice, careful this time not to make a mess.

When was the last time you ate?” he asked with some irritation.

“I . . . I really don’t remember . . . .”

Fix yourself something to eat – you are going to need some fuel to keep yourself going.

Fuel. Yes, that’s what she needed, a bit of breakfast petrol for the early afternoon. She started to laugh, feeling the hysteria creeping up on her.

Calm down, Miss Granger,” he intoned, suddenly realizing just how close to the edge she was. “Just . . . quiet down. You will see things more clearly after you have eaten. Now, grab the bread and eggs.”

Trance-like, she followed his directions. He told her where to find the things she needed and ten minutes later she had eggs, toast and tea on the table. She was hungrier than she realized and ate eagerly – and in silence. As she poured a second cup of tea, she was starting to feel much better, more herself. Maybe it really was a hallucination.

I am compelled to disabuse you of that notion, Miss Granger.

She nearly spit out the tea she had just taken.

“So . . . you are really in my head, then,” she coughed as she wiped her mouth.

Yes.

“How . . . .”

We’ve already done that bit.

“Right.” Then a different question occurred to her. “Why did you wait so long to . . . to . . . ‘announce’ yourself?”

It took a while to figure out how to communicate with you. I had to step out from behind my occlumency walls.

Must be some walls, she thought.

They are. You may wish to refresh your own fortifications.

Bugger!

Indeed.

She clapped a hand on her mouth, as if that was likely to keep him from being aware of her thoughts.

He sighed with barely concealed impatience.

I know you have similar walls – I’ve only seen or heard what’s happened since the convulsions, when presumably the transference took place, so just continue to occlude. Now, if you’ve finished eating your way through my larder . . . .

Hermione drained the rest of her tea and cleared the table. As she washed up, he began again.  

You found and read my article.” He paused. “Any thoughts?

You mean apart from the fact that you were vague about the ingredients and completely unforthcoming about measurements? she replied a bit crossly in her head. If you are fishing for compliments, go elsewhere.

I’m waiting to do further testing,” he said stiffly.

Well the real test at the moment is lying in the infirmary, so I hope you’ve got the thing written down somewhere.

Of course I don’t have it written down, you take me for a bloody fool?” he responded irritably.

Starting to, she thought.

You don’t share that kind of information until it’s been proven,” he hissed. “There is no such thing as professional curtesy in this line of work, Miss Granger.

Drying her hands, she returned to the study, taking a seat at his desk.

Where do you keep your paper and parchment?

Middle drawer – didn’t you see it when you were riffling through my belongings?

She ignored his comment as she pulled out a sheet and took a quill from the ink stand.

Right. What are the ingredients?

As he began to rattle them off, she struggled to keep up.

Slow down already!

When she was finished taking his dictation, there were no less than twenty-two items.

Okay, now the instructions, she said, poised for him to begin. After a moment, she sighed. Please tell me you remember how to make it.

Of course I remember how to bloody make it!” he snapped.

Well, since I’m going to be the one brewing it you might as well tell me what the process is – I promise not to reveal your secrets.

 There was another pause.

I’ll talk you through it when the time comes,” he said evasively.

And if something happens and I have to do this on my own?

He didn’t immediately respond.

Professor?

If something happens before we can brew it . . . there won’t be any point in you continuing.

She put the quill back in its stand and tried hard not to think about what that statement implied. Instead, she looked over the list.

Some of this stuff is illegal, you know, she observed censoriously.

Really?” he drawled sarcastically.

How many of these ingredients do you already have?

Most, I think, but not all – I used up some of my stores when I brewed it the first time and didn’t have time to restock, so you are going to have to . . . collect some of them.” He’d tell her later what he meant by ‘collect.’

She returned to the laboratory with the list and started pulling the ingredients and setting them on one end of the table. When she was done, she was missing strands of his hair, the dust from the wings of a rare moth from Borneo, eel, burnished star oil, a sprig of the White Flame plant, the tail of a poisonous lizard, and something she’d never heard of before – Vitae et Anima.

How can you not have any eel in stock? she asked as she pondered the missing ingredients.

I used up my vacation time over Christmas, why the bloody hell do you think, Miss Granger?” he spit. “Not many fishing holidays helping the Dark Lord take over the wizarding world!

Alright, alright, she replied. Where do we start?

Spinners’ End.

Sorry?

My house, it’s in the north of England.

I should let Pomfrey know what’s going on.

No.

I have to, she’s very worried.

Tell her only that you think you know how to brew the potion, but don’t tell her I’m in your head.

Why not?

How do you think that information would go over?” he snarled. “If anyone thinks you are mentally deranged – which is a distinct possibility under the best of circumstances – they’ll clap you in restraints, which would be fine except that it wouldn’t do me any good.

I’m overwhelmed by your concern for me, she responded snidely, even though he had a fair point. She paused, looking around.

Do I need to bring anything?

Our wands. Oh, and an envelope from my desk, top right hand drawer.” 

Hermione picked up the blood replenishing potion Pomfrey had requested and put it and the envelope she took from his desk into her pockets. She was about leave when she stopped, chewed her bottom lip, and looked back at the bedroom. It was all that orange juice and tea.

What now, Miss Granger?” he said, starting to lose all patience. A fraction of a second later he understood the dilemma. “Bloody hell, just go and do it! It’s entirely natural for fuck’s sake!

There is nothing natural about your professor being in your head and needing to pee, or . . . do anything else, for that matter, she grumbled.

She closed the bathroom door, although it seemed ludicrous to do so since he was already in her head. She undid her jeans and was about to pull them down when she stopped.

What now?

You see what I see, right? Even behind your walls . . . .

Yes.

She sighed, but she simply couldn’t wait any longer. Looking up at the ceiling, she yanked on her jeans and sat down.

And nothing happened.

Do you have a medical condition, Miss Granger?” he inquired mockingly after a moment of waiting.

Could you just . . . be quiet for a minute while I do this? she replied in frustration.

Finally, with a bit of concentration, things started to flow, and the relief was palpable.  

When she was finished, she went to the sink to wash her hands. She glared at her reflection and he kept any further thoughts to himself. She closed up his quarters and checked to make sure his wards were still in place. When she got to the infirmary, Pomfrey immediately headed for the professor’s room and signaled for Hermione to join her.

“Any luck?” she asked anxiously as she closed the door, the concern clearly apparent on her face.

Tell her . . . tell her it’s going to be alright,” he said, surprisingly reassuring, and she was momentarily taken aback.   

“It’s going to be fine,” she said hesitantly, handing her the blood replenishing potion. “I found the article and I think I know how to brew it.”

Pomfrey nearly cried with relief and Hermione reached out to steady her. The mediwitch pulled back after a moment and dug out a tissue from her uniform pocket, dabbing at her eyes.

Hermione wandered to the side of the bed and looked down at her professor’s still face.

“How is he?”

“Stable,” she said, regaining her composure.

Ask her about the damage to the neck.

“How deep do the wounds go?”

“There is some torn tissue, obviously, but that should heal without any problems. It was a miracle the snake missed his jugular.”

Hermione could tell that she was holding something back.

“What else?”

She hesitated.

“His vocal cords may be damaged. We don’t know yet, there is just too much swelling to tell for sure. That . . . that would be a great loss,” she observed, biting back the emotion.

Yes, yes it would, Hermione thought sadly.

I could manage.

But could we? she wondered ruefully.

What?

You really have no idea, do you?

Before they could explore the effect his voice had on the women around him, a muffled crash drew Pomfrey into the other room and Hermione heard her barking out orders as the door shut behind her.

Enough of this maudlin nonsense. Call out . . .” She cut him off.

I know how to apparate, she replied, annoyed. Can I use my own wand or do I need to employ yours?

You can use yours – having my wand in your possession is sufficient to penetrate the wards.

That’s a bit of flaw in your system, don’t you think? she commented critically.

When there was no reply, she called out in a firm voice: “Spinner’s End.”

A crack, and she was gone.

Chapter Text

Honey

Already unsteady from apparating, the cloud of dust stirred up by her arrival in his study at Spinner’s End triggered a coughing fit. Motes floated on beams of sunlight peeking through curtains that didn’t quite close all the way.

Don’t you ever clean, she asked as she coughed.

When I’m not fishing,” he snarled pointedly. She continued to choke. “Cast a cleaning spell, for fuck’s sake,” he ordered with irritation in his voice.

She took out her wand and waved it around the room, and that did, finally, settle the dust. She found she was standing in the front room of a two-up, two-down working-class house built, she imagined, in the heyday of the Industrial Revolution. The leather chair by the tiny coal grate was well worn – clearly, this was where he spent most of his time, at least when he was there. Books were everywhere – the shelves that lined the walls were bowed with them, and every flat surface was covered by at least half a dozen volumes. She couldn’t help but wonder what rare texts he might have collected over the years, as she reached out to the stack nearest to her.

Curb your lust, Miss Granger, we have no time for it,” he commented, not entirely disapprovingly, knowing full well the delights she would find on his shelves.

Pity, she thought.

Upstairs,” he commanded.

The hallway was dark and she couldn’t tell if it was painted or papered, but it certainly looked worn. The stairs creaked, but otherwise felt solid under her feet.

To your right, Miss Granger.

She opened the heavy door into what was clearly his bedroom. She tried to keep her thoughts neutral, but it looked pretty bare and uninviting.

It’s just a place to sleep,” he commented dispassionately. “On the dresser you will find a brush.

She looked and yes, there it was, his black hair stark against the cream colored bristles.

Bring it with you.

She shut the door and trudged back down the stairs.

The kitchen’s at the back,” he instructed.

The kitchen took her by surprise in spite of what she had already seen of the house. There was a modern refrigerator, but otherwise, and based on the sink alone, she estimated that it hadn’t been remodeled since at least the ‘fifties and maybe even longer ago than that.

You will find some plastic bags in the drawer next to the sink.

She opened it, took out a bag, and dropped the brush inside.

Above and to your left you will find some glass jars with lids – take one.

Sure enough, there was a shelf lined with them. She put one next to the brush.

What’s next? she silently asked.

Go back to the sitting room.”

She returned to the front room where he directed her to the shelves to the right of the hearth.

On the next to bottom shelf you will find Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations. Take out both volumes.

She found the books and set them on the back of his reading chair. She opened to the frontispiece of volume one and gasped.

It’s a first edition! You have a first edition of The Wealth of Nations!

He ignored her. “Every fifty pages or so you will find some pound notes.

You have a well-developed sense of irony, she observed as she began to flip through the volumes. She eventually pulled out nearly five hundred pounds in various denominations.

Put the money in the envelope,” he ordered.

Paying someone off, professor? she smirked.

Contracts on nosey former students, Miss Granger,” he answered, not missing a beat.

She returned the books to their shelf.

Anything else?

Go back to the spot where you apparated. Turn around, very slowly, and look at the room.

She did as he asked, trying to take in as much as she could.

Are you looking for something else?

After a moment, he answered “No.

And then it hit her. This might be the last time he ever saw this place again.

You’ll be back, professor, she whispered in her mind. He didn’t respond.

Right,” he said brusquely when she had finished. “Take out your wand – we’re going to apparate to Corvus Cottage.

She called out the destination.

Once she had regained her footing she found she was standing a short distance from a smallish cottage.

Where are we?

About five miles out of town.

Is that where we are going?

Brilliant, Miss Granger.

She ignored the sarcasm.

The cottage was old, she could see that from its stone construction, but as she got closer, it quickly became apparent that the house was in poor repair. The paved stone roof dipped ominously in the middle and the walls need repointing. Some of the windows were cracked, held together by multipurpose tape. There were two pots, each sporting a bright red geranium, on either side of the peeling front door, but otherwise the yard between the front of the house and the narrow lane that ran past it was nothing but tall weeds.

As she approached, she felt a twinge of magic.

What’s that? 

Nothing to concern yourself with.

Okay, but what are we doing here? she probed further, as she pulled a cord that rang a muffled bell on the other side of the door.

I need some honey.

You need some honey? she asked incredulously.

Yes.

The door opened before she could respond and an older woman even shorter than her smiled at her warmly.

“I . . . I understand you sell honey . . . .”

“Yes, that’s right. Come in,” she responded, holding the door open invitingly.

Hermione hesitated.

Go. In.” he commanded.

“Thank you,” she nodded to the woman.

“How much do you want?”

Show her the jar.

Hermione took out the jar and handed it to the woman.

“Ah,” she said knowingly, closing the door and heading down the truncated hallway to the back of the house. Stepping back into the sunshine, Hermione counted eight beehives. The woman went to a shed and opened the door. Hermione waited politely, but the woman beckoned her inside.

“The honey drips down from the racks. More modern contraptions use spinners, but the old fashioned way still works just fine, if you have the time and patience, and these days I have plenty of both,” she laughed. She opened the jar and held it under the spigot at the base of the small tub. When it was full, she screwed on the lid and handed it to her.

“What do I owe you?”

“Five pounds.”   

 Hermione reached into her pocket and found the appropriate bill in the envelope and handed it to her.

“Thank you. Would you like to come in for a cuppa? I had just made a pot when you rang the bell.”

No,” he said emphatically.

“Um, yes, thank you, that would be lovely.”

I’m parched, I need a cup of tea.

You can have one when we get back, which will be almost immediately.”

I want one now.

She followed the woman into a small kitchen. The furnishings may have been worn, but everything was clean and tidy.

“I’m Miss Amicus,” she offered as she got out another cup.

“I’m . . . I’m Hermione.”

Severus snorted.

“What brings you way out here?” she asked, pouring out the tea.

“I had some errands in Spinners’ End and . . . and someone told me about your honey,” taking a sip.

“Really?” she asked, doubt creeping into her voice as she poured herself a cup.

“Yes, a professor of mine, actually,” she stammered.

Miss Granger, we really need to go.

“Tall gentleman, pale, always dressed in black? Kind of looks like he stepped out of a Dickens novel?”

Hermione stared at her wide-eyed. “Yes, you know him?” she asked incredulously.

She smiled. “Professor Snape . . . I have a standing order with him, well, with the school he teaches at. I send the honey to him and he sees that it gets to the school and that I’m paid.”

“How long have you had this arrangement?”

“Oh, about, what, ten years, now?”

“Really?!” Hermione sipped the tea, thinking about how she had been eating that honey on her toast the whole time she had been a student.

“It’s what’s kept me afloat all these years.”

“What did you do before you kept bees?”

We really do not have time for her life story, Miss Granger – get a move on!

“Well, I used to work at a women’s shelter, helping women find safe housing, legal advice, that sort of thing, but it closed a long, long time ago as the town thinned out. I’ve always kept bees, though, to help supplement my income and, well, it became my main support after I lost my job. I used to sell the honey at the weekly market in town – the local stores stocked it as well, but business started to taper off about fifteen years ago, again, as people drifted away from the area. The small stores eventually went out of business and the market closed not long afterwards. Most folk just preferred to do all of their shopping in the supermarkets. I approached the chain stores, but they already had suppliers, ones with fancy labels declaring their products local and ‘organic.’ All I can say is that you don’t get more local or ‘organic’ than this,” she observed, sweeping her hand in the general direction of her back yard. “I just couldn’t compete. A couple of months after the market closed, this gentleman, your Professor Snape, sought me out, and I suddenly found I had a standing contract for almost all the honey I could produce. What do you think of that?”

“I think he was . . . is a very smart man,” she said over her tea.

“Well, certainly he is a very kind man,” she replied.

Time to go, Miss Granger, you’ve dawdled long enough over your tea.

Hermione stood. “I really must go, Miss Amicus. It’s been a pleasure to meet you.”

“You are welcome back, anytime, love,” seeing her to the hallway.  “Give my regards to Professor Snape when you next see him.”

“I will, I promise. Thank you for the tea. Goodbye,” she nodded, as the door closed behind her.

Wait.

She stood there and listened as she heard Miss Amicus’s steps retreat down the hallway.

Look in the mail slot.

Hermione bent over and peaked through – she could see Miss Amicus heading for the honey shed through the back door.

Take the envelope and shove it through.

She pulled it out and heard it drop on the other side of the door.

Now we can leave.

That was a very kind thing you did, she thought, as she walked the short distance to where she had arrived a half-hour before.

Kindness had nothing to do with it, I assure you. I need the honey, and it is the best I can find, I use it in my potions. She undercharges,” he rambled. “And it will not go well for you, Miss Granger, if anyone else hears of this contract,” he finished threateningly.

I wouldn’t dream of telling anyone, professor, she replied, but she had a big grin on her face anyway.

She glanced over her shoulder to take one final look at the cottage.

You know, I could fix those windows, patch a few things – she probably wouldn’t even notice.

No, but others would. The magic you sensed as you entered the house? That’s to keep unfriendly youths from bothering her. If you clean up the house it will attract their attention.

Is that how her windows got broken? 

Yes.

A crack, and they were back in his study at Hogwarts.

We need to go to the lab.

She sat the bag on the table, taking out the brush and placing it with the rest of the ingredients.

Why couldn’t we use hair from the brush you already have here?

It’s been a year since I was at Spinners’ End and in these last twelve months . . . .” he trailed off. “The hair from my home will be more ‘robust,’ for lack of a better word.

Hermione tried to occlude her thoughts about what the previous year must have been like for him, but she wasn’t quick enough.

It doesn’t bear thinking about, Miss Granger,” he replied, almost in pain after a moment’s pause.

She picked up the honey and headed for the door.

Where are you going with that?

Um, kitchen?

I was perfectly serious about using it here in the lab. You need to make up a paste and a potion with it.

Oh, right.

It took about ten minutes to work up the paste – it was primarily honey, with drops from various healing potions and a solidifying agent. She set the bowl to one side.

Take one of the beakers out of the cabinet behind you, and set the kettle next to the sink to boil.

She flicked on the water and selected a stout glass, which she set on the table.

We need a bit of lemon extract – the cabinet to your right. And underneath, you will find a bottle of Irish whiskey.

If I didn’t know better, I would say you were making a hot toddy, professor, she almost giggled.

He didn’t respond.

Oh, right, she stopped herself. It’s a throat drink, er, potion, isn’t it?

Still no comment.

A hefty measure of alcohol, if you please, Miss Granger.”

She unscrewed the bottle and sniffed, the aromatic liquid tickling her nose. She poured out a finger’s worth of the spirit.

A bit stingy, don’t you think Miss Granger?” he complained.

She splashed more of the alcohol into the beaker.

Better. Now, a few drops of the lemon. The honey is next, two tablespoons.”

Just then the kettle clicked.

Fill it half way with the water.

She did as he asked and leaned over to breathe in the fragrant vapor.

I wouldn’t mind having one of these myself.

It’s medicinal, Miss Granger.

Medicinal my arse, she smiled smugly.

Take the dropper you just used and let’s go see how I’m doing. Don’t forget the paste.

Pomfrey was glad to see both the paste and the drink.

“Yes, it’s just the thing. The paste will help keep the wound sterile and buck up the immune system and the drink will do wonders for his throat. I’ll use the paste when I next change the dressings. Did you get the honey fresh? Fresh is most effective . . . .”

“Very fresh,” she assured her. “He won’t choke, will he?” she asked, holding up the dropper.

“It should be fine. He’s not in stasis, and as you know, swallowing is a reflex action. Just be careful not to go too quickly.”

Pomfrey left her to it. Hermione sat on the edge of the bed and sipped the drink.

Miss Granger,” he growled.

I had to make sure it wasn’t too hot! she defended herself. Merlin, that was gorgeous . . . .

She filled the dropper and slipped it between his lips, dispensing the liquid.

I don’t suppose you can feel or taste this, she asked.

No.

After three droppers he swallowed. She kept it up, slowly getting the drink into him.

So, Miss Amicus? she inquired.

What about her?” he asked formally, hoping to derail her curiosity.

Well, why her honey.

It’s the honey I ate as a boy – the body’s response will be stronger to what it is already familiar with.

Yes, I understand that, but there’s something else . . . .

I don’t know what . . .

Yes you do, she interrupted. I don’t have to taste her honey to know that it is good, it’s probably excellent, as a matter of fact. But I simply do not believe that, suddenly deprived of it, you tracked her down and then set up a contract for her to supply the whole school at exactly the moment when her business opportunities bottomed out just because you liked it.

I told you . . .

Yes, I heard, for your potions. That’s rubbish, and you know it. More to the point, you know I know it’s rubbish.  I just stuffed a mail slot with nearly five-hundred pounds, probably all the Muggle cash you had in your house.  

Still, he didn’t reply.

You wanted her to have it in case . . . .

She didn’t finish the sentence, didn’t want to consider the implications of it.   

You must have eaten the honey growing up, she continued quietly. She must have been kind to you, though she hasn’t made the connection between the boy she knew all those years ago and the man you are today. There is still something missing.

Three more droppers of liquid had gone down his throat before he finally answered her.

She didn’t know me. She . . . she was kind to my mother, Eileen Prince, when no one else was,” he said haltingly, “and in ways that I do not care to go into with you,” he finished, making it clear he wouldn’t answer any more questions.   

Now, she regretted having pushed so hard, and behind her walls she couldn’t help but wonder if his mother had sought out Miss Amicus’s professional services rather than her honey.

I’m sorry, professor, I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable, she said contritely.  I . . . I was just trying to understand why you find it so hard for others to see you being . . . kind, that’s all. 

There was more silence as she took the dropper back and forth from the beaker to his mouth.

I’m not a kind person, Miss Granger,” he said finally, and with more than a touch of self-loathing. “If you knew what I have done, especially this last year, you would never, ever call me kind. You have known me too long to think otherwise.

She considered this for a moment before answering.

It’s true, I don’t know what you have done this last year, she replied thoughtfully. But what I do know is that, over the years, you saved me – saved Harry, Ron, and countless others – time and time again as we did one foolish thing after another. Whatever promise you made to Harry’s mum, you didn’t have to put your life constantly in jeopardy for everyone else. The debt you thought you owed? Well, I’m here to tell you, it’s been paid, and in full – Harry’s alive and so are many, many others because of you. I recognize kindness when I see it, and I will call it what it is, she finished firmly.   

There was a touch of liquid at the bottom of the beaker that she couldn’t suction out, so she tilted it into her mouth.

Right, she said, smacking her lips. What’s next?

Chapter Text

The Pharmacy

By the time Hermione got the hot toddy down him, she was really starting to flag. It was late afternoon and the war had been over for less than twenty-four hours. She would have resumed her sleeping spot on the bench in his room but he insisted that she go down to the dungeons, where it would be quiet and she wouldn’t be interrupted. The wards to his quarters allowed her to pass, as they had done before, thanks to his wand. She peed again, charmed her own wand to chime at 9:00 p.m. as per his instructions, and then collapsed on top of the counterpane, pulling up the afghan that was at the bottom of the bed. She was asleep almost before her head hit the pillows.

Miss Granger,” the silky voice cooed in her head. She felt warm and cozy, and she luxuriated in that scent . . . what was it anyway? It smelled so familiar, so, so . . . arousing . . . .

Miss Granger,” the voice repeated, a bit more insistently this time.

She hummed, hazily recognizing the seductive tones of her potions professor . . . she could get lost in that voice, calling her name again and again and again . . . . She moaned.

Miss Granger!

“What, what?” she shouted aloud fearfully, sitting bolt upright, breathless from the adrenalin now coursing through her veins.

You didn’t wake up with the alarm,” he said abruptly.

Only then did she realize that her wand was chiming. She cancelled the spell and for a moment tried to remember what she had been dreaming about just before she woke up. His scent was strong in her nostrils and she felt relaxed and warm but behind her walls she couldn’t recall any more than that. He broke in again.

Get a move on, Miss Granger, we have a very short window to work with,” he barked.

She could only assume that he would have taunted her if he had seen her dreaming of him, so she cleared her mind, staggered to the bathroom, and splashed some water on her face before looking in the mirror. Her eyes were blurry from sleep and her hair went every which way – she could use a shower.

No time, Miss Granger, just . . . just . . . just do something with it,” he said, exasperatedly. She glowered at her reflection as she reached into her bag for a clip.

You could tie yours back everyone once and awhile, too, you know, she snipped in response. I need a cup of tea.

After you’ve changed.

Into what?

Something dark.

Like Hagrid’s Cerberus? What was its name . . . ? she asked sarcastically. 

Fluffy, and you know what I mean!” he growled.

She ran her wand down her body and her clothes immediately changed to black.

Dark enough for you? she asked curtly, heading for the kitchen.

She didn’t bother with the kettle, rather she boiled the water instantly with the flick of her wand and poured it over the tea. Then she put some bread in the toaster. Some of that honey would be nice. She went through to the lab.  

Since I’m here . . . will I need to take anything with me?

A plastic baggie, drawer to the right of the sink.

There were several sizes to choose from.

The smallest one.

She returned to the kitchen, prepared her tea, and spread some honey on her toast.

Ummmm, this really is good, she hummed, crumbs floating down with each bite, sticking to the honey that dripped on the counter.

If you would mind not wrecking my kitchen,” he said dryly.

She swept off what she could with her hand and brushed it over the sink. Then she scooped up the honey with a finger, licked it, and ran it across the spot once more.

Your eating habits are deplorable, Miss Granger,” he said disgustedly.

She smiled – she knew that would get a rise.

So, what are we doing tonight? she asked, wiping down the counter with a sponge before taking a sip of her tea.   

We’re getting the wing dust from the Borneo Moon Moth.

Where?

From an apothecary I know in the village of Pomeroy Common, it’s in the Peak District.

Why are we going so late in the evening?

Because the pharmacist will be in the local pub between 10:00 p.m. and chucking out time.

She paused – she really didn’t like the sound of that.

Why can’t I just go in during the day and purchase what we need? she asked suspiciously, as she took another gulp of her tea.

As you so astutely pointed out, some of the ingredients we need are . . .

Illicit?

“. . . hard to find.” 

That still doesn’t explain . . . .

Rufus Wingtree would take one look at you and laugh you out the door, after imposing himself on you first, that is.

Ugh. Nice company you keep.

Even the Death Eaters kept clear of him when I needed supplies. A nasty piece of business. And before you ask,” he felt her chomping at the bit, “his sister has a monopoly on that particular trade, so he’s the only one in Britain who has it. Are you done, now?” he ended impatiently.

She popped the last bite of toast into her mouth and finished the rest of her tea, not bothering to ask whether he was talking about her food or her questions.

You’ve got the baggie?” he asked again, as she went into this study. “And my wand?

Yes, and . . . yes.

Are you ready?

Yes. “Pomeroy Common,” she called out.

She apparated onto a narrow bridge running over a burbling stream.

Remember where we are,” he cautioned. “It’s the only apparition point in the village. Residents keep a tight rein on visitors.

Why would that be? she inquired hesitantly.

It’s a small wizarding community consisting of people like Wingtree, engaged in businesses that skirt the law.

She stopped walking.

Am I in any danger, here?

No,” he said emphatically. She continued on her way.

Probably not,” he added less certainly.

Great, she growled.

Look, just do what I tell you and it will be fine,” he advised with some irritation.

The lane spilled out on to a moderately sized common with a handful of houses around its edges.

The apothecary is off to your left, about ten o’clock.

She peered into the darkness and could just make out a building.

Where’s the pub he’s supposed to be in?

To your right, almost directly across from the apothecary.

The pub wasn’t sign-posted, but then she doubted anyone but the villagers frequented it, and they certainly wouldn’t need directions.  

Right, let’s get this over with.

She made her way to the apothecary. She could feel the wards even before she got to the front gate.

Bugger, this isn’t going to be easy.

Take out my wand and I’ll talk you through it.

Why can’t I use my wand? she asked indignantly, as if it was somehow inferior to his own.

Oh fucking hell, do I really have to explain absolutely everything?” he asked, annoyed. “Wingtree might be able to trace the magic, and if he does, I have the perfect alibi. You, however, don’t, so can we get on with it already?

Why, professor, I’m touched, she replied, and she truly meant it.

You would be if he ever caught you, now can we just . . . .” He really didn’t want to elaborate on his desire to protect her.

She pulled his wand from the holster that also held her wand. As she began to repeat after him, she yelped and dropped his wand, shaking out her hand.

What the fuck are you doing, Miss Granger?” he hissed.

"Your bloody wand stung me!" she replied aloud, sucking on several fingers.

Shsss, keep your voice down! What the bloody hell are you talking about?” he spat.

That sodding aggressive wand of yours stung me! she repeated.

Pick it up,” he ordered abruptly.

She held it gingerly between two fingers.

Oh for fuck’s sake, take it into your hand and hold it like you mean it!” he barked.

She couldn’t help thinking, however fleetingly, on the double entendre.

If that’s the analogy you need, I am prepared to work with it,” he snapped without missing a beat.

She gripped it firmly, trying not to think about breaking it in half.

Now, we’re going to have to say the spells at the same time. I’ll give you the lines and then we’ll repeat them together. That should keep the wand from overreacting,” he said, clearly trying to keep his temper.  

It took about ten minutes, and the wand fought her touch, but she managed to control it – just – and the wards came down. She was perspiring in the night air from the effort, but she couldn’t help but admire the strength and power of the wand, which was a direct reflection of the strength and power of its owner, such was the intimate relationship between a wizard and witch and their instrument. Sticking the end of his wand into the lock and clicking it open, she quickly slipped inside, leaving the door open for a bit more light. Turning to look around, she murmured Lumos. The soft glow from the tip of his wand revealed an old fashioned apothecary. Shelves lined the two side walls, and there were more behind the high counter at the back. The jars they supported looked at least a century-and-a-half old and would not have been out of place in a museum. Everything smelled a bit musty.

It’s going to be behind the counter,” he instructed.

As she made her way to the back of the store, something caught her attention.

Did you hear that?

Hear what?

Does he have a dog?

No.

Even as he was answering, she heard the tell-tale claws of an animal trying to gain purchase on the floor above them.

Counter!” they both yelled out, as the growling got ominously closer. Just as she was pulling herself up the beast grabbed her left shoe and almost dragged her back down. She kicked with her free foot, and it was enough to dislodge his grip and make the animal back away. She scampered atop the counter once more and peered down at the oddest dog she had ever seen. Holding the light a bit closer, she could make out what looked like the head of a Labrador attached to the body of a rather largish corgi. But she didn’t dwell on this mismatch, rather her attention was focused entirely on the bared teeth.

You said he didn't have a dog!

He didn’t the last time I was here!

Which was when?

Does it matter?” he said testily. “Spell it!

She cast Stupify, but it had no effect. She cast it again with the same result.

Bugger!

It’s the bloody collar reflecting it. We’ve got to act fast,” he urged. “That dog is going to bring the whole fucking village down on us. Turn around.

She quickly glanced over her shoulder but otherwise continued to face the angry canine that had surprising leaping abilities given its overall shape and size.

Turn. Around.” he gritted.

He directed her attention to a small jar on one of the upper shelves. “Accio Moon Dust,” she called out with a flick of his wand. Nothing happened.

Bloody hell,” he spewed, “the whole fucking place must be spelled to keep customers from hexing him.

I don’t even want to know, she said absently, putting a hand to her brow as she tried to think the problem through.

She quickly came to the conclusion that her legs were probably long enough to keep one on the counter while stretching the other over to the shelves. It left her terribly exposed, but she saw no other way to do it. She sheathed his wand and leaned out. Her foot shook the jars, which clanked, but the shelving held against her weight. The dog leaped between her legs, which were just out of its reach. Balancing precariously, she grabbed the jar and pushed off the shelves.

Put a spoonful or so into the baggie.

Why can’t I just take the whole sodding jar?

We take only what we need.”

Honor among thieves? she sneered.

If we take it all, he’ll know what’s missing and eventually find out it was me when I publish the potion,” he growled.

So? Surely you can take him?

I appreciate your confidence in my abilities, but I didn’t almost get myself killed so I can look over my shoulder for the rest of my fucking life! Now take a teaspoon of the bloody stuff!

She tipped out the measure, sealed the bag, and reached across the space again to return it to its place. Having stuffed the baggie into her pocket, she looked nervously at door and the snarling dog that leaped up and down in front of her.

Upstairs.

What? she asked, looking at the narrow staircase just a few feet away from the counter.

Distract him and run upstairs. His front room has a door – you can shut it behind you and climb out the window.”

Are you sure his room has a door? she asked pointedly and sarcastically.

You have a better idea?

She looked around for something to distract him with. There was a stack of papers on the end of the counter. She wadded up a sheet and tossed it towards the door. The dog didn’t even notice it. Then she dipped her foot over the side and the dog went mad. She reached down and took off one of her trainers.

You are so going to bloody owe me, she mumbled.

She tossed the shoe in her hand to get the dog’s attention and then heaved it all the way out the front door. As the beast took off, she jumped down and ran up the stairs, rounding the corner at the top just as the dog was on the bottom step. She closed the sitting room door behind her and felt the animal slam into it from the other side. She went to the windows facing the common, thinking she might be able to let herself down on to the little roof over the front door – she could always stun the dog outside – but something else caught her attention in the distance. People were leaving the pub. It was chucking out time.

Bugger it!

She opened a side window, sticking her head out and looking down – it was a long drop. She tried to conjure a soft mat, but his wand still wouldn’t work. Looking to her left, she noticed a pipe coming out of the wall – it was a drain pipe for the house. The kitchen opened off the front room, and she went immediately to check it out. Opening the only window in the room, she found that the pipe was just below and to the side of the sill – it might just work. She could hang on to the window box, which hadn’t been planted yet, and try to get a grip on the braces securing the pipe to the wall. All she really needed to do was slip down the pipe, slowing her fall sufficiently that she didn’t break anything when she landed.

She could hear the dog out in the common greeting Wingtree, who now knew that something was very much amiss. She swung a leg over box and held on to one of the braces, dragging her other foot out of the window behind her. And then she started to slide, jerkily, down the pipe, landing hard on her arse, but at least nothing was broken.

He had kept quiet the whole time she had been figuring out how to escape, but now he really needed to light a fire.

Run!

She cleared the neighbor’s fence and then shimmied up the tree in the front of the house.

What the fuck do you think you are doing?” he bellowed.

I can’t out run it, she explained breathlessly, undoing her sweater, but I can trick it and gain some time.

When she was free of the sweater, she tossed it into the front lane. At that moment, Wingtree and his dog – equally enraged – emerged from the house. Using his wand, which now worked since it was clear of the dwelling, she levitated the garment to get the animal’s attention and then spelled it to skirt across the common along the ground. The dog took off, closely followed by the infuriated pharmacist. When they were out of range, she dropped to the ground. She then summoned her trainer, but didn’t bother to put it on – there wasn’t time. She ran full out to the apparition point, and just before apparating she saw the dog bounding towards her down the lane, her sweater clamped between its teeth.

She didn’t know how long she stood panting in his study, staring blankly at her chewed up trainer.

I must say, Miss Granger, you have some impressive hidden talents,” he said admiringly.

She didn’t respond. She headed into the lab and unceremoniously deposited the bag of dust with the rest of the ingredients, slamming the door behind her.  

You did well, tonight,” he said approvingly, and still, she said nothing.

She went into the bedroom and as she passed the standing mirror, she stopped and backtracked. Her still shaking hands were scrapped while her shirt and jeans were dirty and torn in places. She couldn’t check without giving her professor the thrill of his life, but she strongly suspected that sizeable bruises were forming on her arse. Her eyes came to rest on her face, and it sported a wild expression.  

You had so better be worth it, she ground out, although behind her walls, she really had no doubt on that score.

Tomorrow will be easier,” he lied.       

Chapter Text

The Eel and the Unicorn

Hermione had gone straight to bed after getting back from the ‘pharmacy run’ as she euphemistically preferred to think of it. Well, straight to bed meaning stretching out over the counterpane and pulling up the throw at the bottom of the bed. She just couldn’t bring herself to pull down the covers and slip between his sheets, lay her head on his pillow, or luxuriate in his smell – she could only imagine the dreams it might inspire, and she most definitely did not want him to see those if she could help it. When she got up in the morning, she was a bit stiff and sore, and went straight into the bathroom to examine her reflection.

Rough night, Miss Granger?” he asked sardonically.

She grimaced.

I need a shower.

A hot shower would do you good,” he agreed a little too quickly.

You should be so lucky, she responded, arching an eyebrow and draping a towel over the mirror.

Miss Granger, I’m surprised at you.” he tut-tutted. “You have nothing I haven’t seen before.

No doubt, she said just a tad bit judgmentally.

She turned on the shower and pulled a clean flannel and towel from a stack on the shelves over the toilet. She took off her socks and, looking straight ahead, managed to get her jeans off without glancing down. Holding them up, she spelled them back to their original color and inspected them closely. She had a rip from where her knee had caught on one of the pipe braces, and another on the inside seam from sliding down the tree. They were also dirty, especially in the back from where she had fallen on her arse. She cast Reparo and the material knitted back together. As for cleaning them, she preferred Muggle rather than magical methods of laundering if at all possible, so these would have to wait. She unbuttoned her shirt and shrugged it off, restoring its original color and also checking it for damage. The left sleeve was torn away from the shoulder, and she quickly fixed it before dropping it on top of her trousers. She unhooked her bra before closing her eyes to slip out of her panties.

Really, Miss Granger,” he opined.

Ignoring him, she checked the temperature of the water before stepping into the shower with the flannel. His soap lathered nicely, and she stood there a long time under the hot flow with her eyes closed just taking in the smell.

Miss Granger,” he said, growing impatient, “have you drowned?

Her eyes popped open at his query, but she quickly closed them again as she started to wash, struck by how hard it was to bathe without actually looking at yourself. Once finished with that part of her ablutions, she draped the flannel across her chest, stuck out her chin, and leaned over slightly to keep her torso out of view as she looked around.

Yes, Miss Granger?” he said, feigning patience.

Where do you keep your shampoo and conditioner?

I have always found soap sufficient for my needs.

Well no wonder your hair . . . . She caught herself before she finished the sentence.

No wonder my hair . . . what?” he said agitatedly, daring her to say what he had already heard from stifled conversations among his students about this aspect of his personal hygiene.

Well . . . with your head over a cauldron all day, she hedged, you really should think about it.

Because it works so well for you?” he said, pointedly.

There is no need to be unpleasant, she replied stiffly. I do what I can.

And therefore I should do the same?

Wouldn’t you like soft, silky hair? she asked, thinking privately about what it would be like to run her fingers through it.

Funnily enough, he was wondering about her doing exactly the same thing, but otherwise didn’t respond, and she closed her eyes to rinse off. When she was done, she felt around for the towel that lay on the floor. After drying, she wrapped it around herself and went back into the bedroom.

What am I doing today, she asked, digging around in her bag looking for clean clothes.

We can get the eel this morning. It shouldn’t take very long, and then we can strategize about what to do next,” he said a bit distractedly, as he got a thorough inventory of her traveling wardrobe.  

She dragged out a lacy black bra and matching panties and tossed them on the bed without thinking as she continued to search for another shirt and pair of jeans. Once found, she continued to rummage around, and eventually withdrew three mismatched socks.

She sputtered in frustration.

No one’s going to know,” he said, with some impatience, “just choose.”

She picked the green and blue ones, which were the nearest match in terms of texture and yarn, spelled them brown and sat on the edge of the bed to put them on. She reached for the bra and panties and was just about to take off her towel, but then caught a glance of herself in the full-length standing mirror in the corner of the room. She gathered her clothes and returned to the bathroom.

Seriously, Miss Granger?” he asked snidely.

She ignored him and put her clothes on as discretely as she could. Removing the towel from the mirror, she cast a cleansing spell and her scalp tingled as her hair was cleaned. As with the night before, she tied it back. She stared herself squarely in the eye.

Now what about these eels? she said determinedly.

After a bit of breakfast, she retrieved a bucket and his fishing net from the lab and set out for the lake – he had a particular spot he liked to get them from. It was a bit misty, but she could see blue spots to the west, which promised better weather for later in the morning. Certainly, it was a good deal more pleasant than the night before.

When they reached the shore, he had her fill the bucket with lake water – she knew from her first year potion’s class that you had to keep them alive until you were nearly ready to prepare them.

Transfigure your footwear into waders,” he instructed.

Really? she asked, not liking the idea that she was going to have wade out into the lake.

You could always take off your clothes instead,” he offered alternatively.

She waved her wand and her trainers turned into what looked over-grown wellies that went almost up to her shoulders.

Take the net and go out a bit,” he ordered.

Why do I need a net? Can’t I just Stupify them?

As much fun as that might be for me, they will be too quick for you,” he observed annoyed, “now, take the net.

She did as he asked, and waded out to where some trees had fallen into the lake.

Slip the net down between those two logs.

She peered into the water and maneuvered the net into place.

Now, kick the log a bit.

As she did so, she felt the net tug in her hand. She managed to lift it, but only just, and found herself face to face with an angry, nearly meter-long eel. It thrashed wildly as she struggled to get it to shore. Once on dry land, she dragged the net over to the bucket and tried to tip it in, but the eel flopped out and started to slither towards the shore. She jumped back and squealed involuntarily.

Step on it!

She moved in front of it and kicked it back.

Step on it for fuck’s sake!

“I’m not going to step on it!” she yelled aloud, shoving it again with her foot.

Just fucking do it, Granger!” he ordered forcefully.

The eel slipped past her as she grabbed the net – it was almost to the water. She slammed the net down and still it struggled. She dragged it back to the bucket and, after managing to get her hand down the waders, she pulled out her wand and spelled it. She disentangled the eel and dumped it into the bucket. After transfiguring her footwear back to her trainers she went to the waterside to rinse her hands.

The bucket was heavy and kept banging against her leg. She would have apparated, but the water made that problematic, so by the time she got back to the lab her entire leg and foot were drenched. After casting drying spells, she took one of the larger wooden cutting boards and placed it next to the sink, hauling the eel, which was still under her spell, onto the board and straightening it out. Since wands couldn’t be used in the preparation of most potions ingredients, she scanned his set of knives in the cabinet next to the sink and selected two small cutting implements and a cleaver. She set the smaller ones aside for the moment and grasped the cleaver tightly in her right hand as she considered the eel. Her breathing quickened – it suddenly hit her that she was going to have to kill the eel.

Miss Granger?” he asked.

She shifted from one leg to another as her throat tightened. Kill. She was going to have to . . . kill . . . it. She had squashed bugs, sliced worms, and even cleaned still struggling fish, but that had all been before the war.

Miss Granger?” he asked again, more irritably.

Images from the last battle flashed unbidden in her mind before she could slam them back behind her walls.

He had had only the quickest of views, but he now understood.

Miss Granger . . . .” he started, a bit more sympathetic to her dilemma.

She ruthlessly pushed everything back and was now focused only on the need to make the potion, the potion that would save his life. She steeled herself and arced the cleaver, lopping off the head of the eel with such force that it shot across the room. Blood and other fluids flooded the board and splattered onto her face and clean shirt.

Bloody hell!” he involuntarily barked.

She let go and backed away, the cleaver still deeply embedded in the wood. She felt sick and her breathing had become shallow.

Tea,” he said quietly after a moment’s pause.

I’ve . . . got . . . to prepare it . . . , she stammered, trying to wipe the gore off her face with her sleeve.

Vomiting in the middle of the work won’t help – it will wait for a cup of tea. Go.

She gladly turned her back on the mess and went to the kitchen, preparing a cup with shaking hands. He did not quiz her on the brief images that had passed before him – there was no need, he had seen too many variations of them not to know exactly what they were.

By the time she got down to the stray leaves in the bottom of the cup she had calmed and she returned to the lab determined to finish the job. She worked quickly, expertly wielding the knives as she disentangled the precious nerves from the eel’s still quivering flesh, dropping them into vials of preservation liquid.  

He said nothing, but watched her technique, mesmerized by her hands. She was highly practiced and skilled, and was bent over the board for over an hour. Once finished, she had harvested no less than four containers worth of the precious material.

That was . . . adequately done, Miss Granger,” he said, which from him was indeed high praise and she basked in a job well-executed.

What should I do with the rest of this? she asked, gesturing to the eel’s remains.

Summon Tilly – the elves will be glad to turn it into pies.

She made a face at the thought, but summoned the house elf, who seemed very pleased, just as he had said. Tilly took it all away, including the head, which was retrieved out of a corner of the room. Hermione Scourgefied the work space and put everything away. She labeled all four containers before storing three of them in his cabinet and putting the fourth one down with the other potion ingredients. As she turned away from the table, she heard one of the glass vials rolling around ominously on the stainless steel. She turned around quickly and watched, horrified, as the vial containing the unicorn powder fell off and shattered on the floor. Panic started to set in as she slowly bent down to look at the dust.

Fucking fuckity fuck!” he erupted.

He continued in that vein as her heart pounded and her breathing quickened. This was bad. This was very bad. She had to think . . . .

“. . . fucking careless witch . . . .”

Unicorn powder, unicorn blood – one had to be purified the other didn’t . . . .

She stalked into the study, trying to get away from the vitriol he was spewing, momentarily forgetting that he was actually in her head.  

“. . . years with a fucking psychotic megalomaniac . . . .”

The war was over, they might be back, she thought to herself.

“. . . getting my arse kicked on a nightly basis . . . .”

She went into the bedroom to get further away.

If they had returned, she knew where they’d be, she might be able to . . . .

“. . . felled by a chit of a girl . . . .”                       

Stop it! Just . . . stop it! she demanded sharply. Hermione put a hand to her forehead. Let me think . . . .   

Yes, by all means, think the problem through,” he spat. “Let me save you the arduous step of checking your precious books to see what they have to say. Four processes to purify unicorn powder, each taking a week to perform, which would mean what, Miss Granger? Have you progressed sufficiently in Arithmancy to do the figures? Four weeks. Four fucking weeks – I’ll be six feet under before you get half way through! So please, do tell me,” he hissed, “what you need to think about?!”  

Unicorn blood, she blurted out, twisting her hands nervously.

What?” he snarled.

Can unicorn blood be substituted for powder? Wouldn’t it make it even more potent?

Has the know-it-all forgotten that those who drink unicorn blood are condemned to lead a ‘half-life,’ an existence worse than death itself? Is that the future you have in store for me, Miss Granger?” he growled.

Hermione reached for a book on the nightstand and slung it with everything she had at her reflection in the standing mirror. The glass fragmented into what seemed like a million pieces, and then immediately reformed, her fractured image reconstructing before her eyes. Of course – a magic mirror, completely unsatisfying when it came to venting.

The situation you describe only happens when the blood is forcibly taken rather than freely given, she said, clutching at the only idea she had. Now, she paused to regain her composure, would unicorn blood work?

You are still forgetting your basics,” he gritted, “you have to be ‘pure’ to collect it.

“Just answer my bloody question, you infernal git!” she yelled aloud at the mirror.

Yes,” he finally answered, barely constrained.

She turned away without a word, went to the lab and picked out a clean vial. She left his quarters and worked her way up from the dungeons into the light of day. She strode purposefully out of the courtyard, past various work crews, and down to the path that would take her to the forest.

So,” he drawled as he realized what her mission was, “Mr. Weasley has failed in this endeavor as well as in his school work. Still the virgin Gryffindor princess . . . .

Ron and I are just friends, she said angrily, cutting him off. Why does everyone assume . . . , she trailed off in a huff.

And you really mean to tell me that no one else has tried to pop that cherry?” he crudely prodded.

She didn’t respond.

No midnight trysts in any of the school’s dark corridors?” he continued relentlessly. “No passionate embrace at the top of the Astronomy Tower? No furtive groping in an empty classroom?

Why would there have been? she hurled at him with fury. And does it really matter at this point?

By now she had come to a complete stop on the path.

You can thank your lucky stars that nothing has . . . ‘happened’ or else this would be a fool’s errand.  

She closed her eyes and pressed both hands against her temples. Her walls were shaking from the pressure of it all, and the last thing she wanted was for him to see her break down. Ron had never had her heart or mind, and because of that he had never had her body, either. Nor had Victor Krum. Most of her peers had succumbed to the entreaties of their boyfriends more out of curiosity than anything else, and that was simply not for her, not that her male friends had ever really looked at her as anything other than a ‘mate’ anyway. She wanted her first time – every time, really – to be special, and special not because her hymen was going to be broken but because there would be a meeting of minds as well as bodies. She burned for an encounter that went beyond mere physical satiety – she could take care of that herself, if she had to. But none of her school chums, not even Harry, came even close to being her intellectual equal. No, there was only one person who did that, and while he was unlikely ever to look at her in that way, she could at least imagine it, and for a long time, now, that had been enough. His taunts about her sexual experience, or lack thereof, cut deeply under the circumstances. Besides, what business was it of his? He almost sounds like a jealous lover, she fleetingly thought to herself, but of course that notion was ridiculous and she dismissed it immediately.

Professor, she finally said, breathing deeply to regain her control, I need you to be quiet. Do you think you can do that, she asked, trying not to sound too exasperated.

She waited. Finally, it came.

Yes,” he said quietly, realizing belatedly that perhaps he had pushed a bit too hard.

She started down the path again as it threaded through the woods. It was a bright day, but it was dark under the green canopy above and the temperature had dropped noticeably. After another fifteen minutes, she came to a circular clearing, where the sun bore down.  

She headed for the middle of the glade, letting the tall grass tickle the palms of her hands as she went. She sat down, crossed her legs, and began to clear her mind, opening her senses to what the forest had to offer. The sun was warm on her face and arms, and the smell of the rich earth was strong and comforting. A light breeze blew the long grass back and forth, creating a slight hissing sound that caressed and soothed her raw nerves. She could feel the tension leaving her body, and before she realized it, she was stretched out, asleep on the ground.

She was awakened some time later by a quiet snorting, and she opened her eyes to find one of the female unicorns from the forest herd lightly nuzzling her hand. She sat up slowly, not wanting to scare it or any of her companions grazing nearby. They were so beautiful, the purest white shimmering in the sunlight. The female nudged her again, and she reached up, gently touching its muzzle and wondering how she was going to communicate her need. She focused her mind on the problem, willing the unicorn to understand, and remarkably, it seemed to work. One of the male unicorns joined them and before she could take a breath it scraped its horn on the flank of the female. A thin, silver line began to trickle from the wound and the unicorn again nudged her hand.

A tear slipped down her face – she couldn’t help it – and she nodded her understanding. She drew out the vial from her pocket, holding it up to the dripping blood. It was a precious gift, for her as much as for him and she was in awe of the offering. When she had enough, she replaced the cork and reached up to touch the side of the unicorn’s face, trying to communicate her gratitude. It snorted loudly, and then turned and slowly walked away to rejoin the others. She continued to sniffle a bit as she studied the precious vial – she had another chance, and so did he.   

She was in no hurry to leave but felt compelled to, and so she picked herself up and started back though the forest. He had remained silent throughout, but he could no longer hold back.  

Miss Granger, that was . . . extraordinary,” he said in wonderment. “I’ve never seen anything like it before.”

She smiled to herself.

How did you know . . . .

I used to come down to the glade when things got to be too much up at the school – it’s not the first time I’ve fallen asleep there. And sometimes, I would awaken to the herd around me. I’ve never really ‘communicated’ with them per se, but I’ve always felt at least . . . ‘connected’ with them. It’s . . . it’s a bit hard to explain. I find their presence . . . soothing, restorative, when all else fails.

Silence descended on them again as she made her way to the lab and very carefully laid the precious vial down with the other ingredients. She reached for the list of missing ingredients and scratched out the dust from the moon moth and the eel.

What should I get next?

 

 

Chapter Text

Mentoring

They were still missing four items – the burnished star oil, the White Flame plant, the lizard’s tail, and the Vitae et Anima.

We can get the oil and Vitae et Anima from the same place,” he observed as he, too, scanned the list.

And where would that be? she asked.

From Æthelbert Duggins, one of the great mid-century potion masters.

Great? she asked.

Brilliant, actually,” he replied.

How is it that I’ve never heard of him? she asked curiously. She thought she knew at least the names if not necessarily the work of all of the most famous potions masters in history as well as in more recent times.

So, if Miss Granger hasn’t heard of him, clearly he isn’t worth noticing?” he sneered.

That is most certainly not what I meant, she said in a huff, although privately, she realized with some embarrassment that it was exactly what she had meant.

She really was an unpleasant, swotty know-it-all sometimes, and she didn’t like that side of herself very much. When she had still been in school, she had managed to temper it a bit, eager as she genuinely was to learn, but this last year, trying to keep things together between her friends, she had given that bossy tendency full reign. Admittedly, they had all had specific roles to play in the search for Horcruxes, and hers had been to moderate Ron’s impulsiveness and Harry’s pervasive sense of self-sacrifice while being practical and making sure there was an intellectual rationale for everything they did.

So . . . what about him? she asked suitably chastened.

His work is well beyond a student’s comprehension, Miss Granger,” he said in best, patronizing tone, “even one as brilliant as you,” he added, though she wasn’t entirely sure if he was being sarcastic or throwing her a bone. “You have had some contact with his work even if you haven’t come across his name. He laid out the definitive theories behind blood replenishing potions, so while he didn’t invent the potions and his name is rarely associated with them, he improved them to such an extent that it is his formulas that are used today. He also did a great deal of theoretical work on the life forces that animate all living creatures, and experimented on ways catching some of those elements as well.

Where is he?

On an island due west of here,” he said matter-of-factly.

Right. So what do I need to take with me this time?

First, let’s start with a book.

A book?

Yes, go to my desk.

Hermione put down her tea and went into the study. As she looked at his desk, he drew her attention to the inbuilt bookshelves at both ends.

The shelf on the other end of the desk – you will find a brown leather volume at the far right.

She found the book – Elementary Potions – and pulled it from the shelf. The spine was badly frayed, and the corners very worn.

This? she asked disparagingly.

Look at it carefully,” he said commanded.

She opened the front cover and immediately felt the magic leap from the page to her fingers. The first leaf was initially blank but writing soon appeared. Although she didn’t read Greek, every witch and wizard knew at least one word in the language, and she saw it there in front of her – Kíρκή.

Circe! she said, with surprise.

Yes, Miss Granger.

She reverently turned to other pages, and each time, Greek writing appeared magically wherever her eyes lingered.

What is this book?

Roughly translated, it is ‘Circe’s Potions.’”

Hermione’s heart suddenly raced.

But . . . but . . . it’s a myth! she blurted out. A . . . a fairy tale, invented in the Middle Ages!

Apparently not,” he said smugly.

This book must be . . . must be . . . . She was quickly doing the math in her head as she ran her hands over the cover in wonder.

Suffice it to say, Miss Granger, that it is very old indeed,” he broke in.

And you keep it here? she asked incredulously.

As you can see, it looks like a basic text book for first year students, and it is among other similar texts that actually are basic school books.

But, wouldn’t you want to keep this in a vault or something?

Why keep the things you love in a vault, Miss Granger, where you cannot see, touch, or enjoy them? It’s so much better to have them close to hand, don’t you agree?

Behind her occlumency walls, Hermione absolutely agreed, but she was thinking about her heart rather than this rare text. She sighed audibly, doubting that she would ever be able to take his sage advice, not at least when it came to him.

She closed the precious book, clutched it to her chest, and tilted her head to sniff its ancient pages. She never tired of that smell.  

Why do you want me to bring it?

It’s . . . a gift for Duggins,” he said quietly.

Do you have anything to wrap it in?

Paper and string, top left-hand drawer.

She wrapped it with due care, and when she was finished, she walked to the center of the room and asked for apparation directions.

There is . . . one more thing you are going to need,” he stated a bit tentatively.

Yes?

Under my bed.

She went into the next room and, setting the book down, looked underneath the edge of his four-poster. She reached and pulled out a long object wrapped in heavy cloth. As she unrolled the article she became acutely aware of what was inside. It was made of highly polished walnut and the bristles were of stiff, sturdy, rust-colored reeds. From end to end it was slightly longer than she was tall, and she found that her fingers could not reach all the way around the handle. While she was more than ready to concede that it was a thing of beauty, she nevertheless eyed it with considerable alarm.

A broom! she said apprehensively.

Your observational powers astound me, Miss Granger,” he said sardonically.

Why can’t I just apparate?

Because the island is charmed – a broom is the only way on and off the place.

But I don’t fly, she said, holding the broom upright and away from her body by her fingertips.

What do you mean you don’t fly?” he asked incredulously.

What do you mean ‘what do I mean?’ I don’t fly!

Every student at Hogwarts learns to fly,” he said, as though that somehow settled the issue.

Yes, well, I can get a broom from A to B as long as it is a straight line, the weather is fine, and I’m not being shot at by a Death Eater, but I have no . . . no . . . .

She couldn’t finish the sentence.

No . . . what?” he prodded.

No aptitude for it, she admitted in a small voice, thinking back to the many times that even Harry and Ron had teased her on the subject.

You mean to tell me there is something the Great Granger cannot do?” he asked mockingly.

Now her ire was up.

Laugh all you want, she hissed, but if it takes a broom to get to this island, you have a problem. Besides, I thought you knew and that’s why you hesitated telling me what else I needed to take.

I wavered because it’s a first class broom and the prospect of allowing a student ride it makes me want to cut off my own bollocks. And by the way, you can stop handling it as though it were a diseased prick,” he said caustically.

She let it fall from her fingers and it hit the floor with a loud thud.

Fucking hell, have a care, woman, that’s a first class broom!” he yelled.

She sat down on the bed, hugging the book to her chest and frowning with dismay at the offending object.

Look,” he began again, “it’s a finely tuned vehicle, it practically flies itself. Even a graceless dunderhead like yourself could ride it,” he said as lightly as he could manage, but he knew, even if she didn’t, that that wasn’t quite true. There was no question that it was a very fine broom, but it could be a damned dangerous one as well in the hands of an inexperienced rider, which she clearly was.

There is no other way to get there? she asked, resignedly.

No.

She continued to contemplate the one thing she hadn’t been able to master during her time at the school and then finally made a decision. Unbuckling the attached saddlebag, she carefully slid the book inside. She pulled her bag from the nightstand and looked through it, fishing out her holster and securing it to her calf.

You’ll need to take my wand as well,” he said.

She slipped both wands inside before focusing anxious eyes on the broom. After a moment, she picked it up with a determined grimace, surprised at how heavy it was. She carried it up from the dungeons to the courtyard, careful not to bang it into the walls. Stepping around the rubble, she attracted the notice of her mentor, who was across the way helping to direct the cleanup operations. When McGonagall saw Hermione, she broke away to speak with her, although her face became more grimly set as she slowly recognized what her former student was holding.

“That’s Severus’s broom,” she stated with concern, having seen him ride it too many times to mistake it for someone else’s.   

“Yes, professor,” Hermione replied, looking at the vehicle with both fear and loathing in equal measure.

“Hermione, I’m sure I could rustle up a more suitable broom for you, if you really need one,” she offered sympathetically.

No. This is in good working condition, and the last bloody thing we need is a Weasley broom held together by tape and gum just waiting to malfunction at a critical moment. I can talk you through this,” he said firmly, hoping at the same time that he really could.

“No, professor, I’ll manage,” she said with a weak smile.

There was no point in McGonagall asking if she really needed to use it. She knew that her prize student was so bad a flyer that nothing but absolute necessity would ever prompt her to get on one.

“Have a care, dear,” she said, rubbing Hermione’s arm before turning back to the work crews. She was ashamed of herself, but she really couldn’t bear to watch what was inevitably about to unfold.

Command it to hover,” he ordered, and Hermione did as he asked.

Mount it.

It was a bit too high, made, as it was, for a much taller rider, and she pulled herself up awkwardly. It hardly dipped with her weight, and she managed to balance herself, but only just.  

Lean forward over the handle as far as you can . . . for fuck’s sake, Miss Granger, space your hands! Do you want to come off even before you’ve launched?” 

She was too nervous to retort, and adjusted her hands accordingly, her right, leading hand holding on near her chin as she had been taught, her left under the handle at her chest.

Are your feet in position?

She crossed them and answered affirmatively.

It’s going to be a forceful start, so you want to keep straight initially, but once you’re over the lake, head west.

The broom hovered there, with Hermione hanging on for dear life, for nearly a minute.

Miss Granger?” he asked, his frustration barely contained. “Are you perhaps waiting for a bus?

And just as he finished his question, she shot off from the courtyard like a rocket, the boom so loud that everyone turned to look.

Hermione couldn’t stifle the scream that immediately emanated from her, and once started she couldn’t stop. She had never been on anything so fast in her life. Not even Harry or Ron, who were the school’s preeminent daredevils in the air, had ever gone this fast with her, or probably without her, for that matter. She was now over the lake and still screaming.

Miss Granger!” he shouted. “Get a hold of yourself! Miss Granger!

She couldn’t help it, she really couldn’t, the shrieking was simply too primal in the face of her terror.

Miss Granger, will you please SHUT. THE. FUCK. UP!

That finally did it and she closed her mouth against the wind. They were nearly at the far end of the lake and they should already have turned west.

Now, Miss Granger, you need to make a turn . . . ease to the west,” he coached.

She tried to comply, but there was nothing gentle in the turn, rather she lurched around and quickly found herself now circling the lake.

Bugger all,” she heard him say in irritation over the roar of the wind. She was so petrified that she couldn’t even respond to him in her mind. 

Alright, Miss Granger,” he said with strained patience, “when I say ‘straighten out’ I want you to just think those words, don’t pull or push on the handle, do you understand?

Yes, she could barely answer.

As they circled one more time, he called out, and as he had directed, she merely thought the words and the broom came slowly around – they were finally heading west.

They flew in silence for a while before he finally interrupted.

That was . . . that was good, Miss Granger,” he mumbled.

That was sodding awful! she promptly replied. What the hell do you need a broom like this for?!

The Dark Lord didn’t like to be kept waiting!” he said sharply. “And neither did that old gas bag, for that matter!

She bit her tongue.

She didn’t know how long she had been flying by the time she reached the coast, but it was long enough to relax a bit and get her bearings. He had pointed out a few landmarks, and she could now just make out the rough seas below her in the weak and rapidly fading late afternoon light. Every now and again, spray from the ocean stung her face – why hadn’t it occurred to her to don goggles, a jacket, or even just a scarf?

You want to look like the bloody queen up here?” he scoffed.

I don’t want to be up here at all! she retorted.

The next ten minutes passed in silence, but he needed to prepare her for the landing.

Miss Granger?” he finally broke in.

Yes? she asked with some trepidation.

There are no lights on the island, so you are going to have to cast a beacon in order to land.

Are you kidding me?! she screeched.

Casting while flying was second nature to most wizards and witches, but she most certainly stood outside that group. A rider had to be able to maneuver the broom with one hand, keeping it steady while casting with the other – it took confidence, skill, and experience and she had none of those things. What she had in abundance, however, was anger, and it was steadily rising. The situation she found herself in was simply too ludicrous for words. She could navigate the library blindfolded, choose the right ingredients for a potion by smell alone, put up a ward on her room that would – and did – stump her head of house, and get two of her best friends successfully through six years of school, but she could not fly. Just couldn’t do it, and everyone knew that about her. Except for him. And now he wanted her to cast while flying one-handed. Why the fuck not.

Fine, she gritted. What about his wards?

They are set to recognize my wand and broom, so you won’t have any problems on that score. Now,” he said, moving quickly on to infinitely more important concerns, “you’ll come down on a rocky promontory, but you will have to stop quickly, there isn’t much room.

Of course there isn’t, she said sarcastically.

You’ll want to start pulling back – not up, mind you – but back before you get there, and keep doing that until you stop on top. If you overshoot, just go around again for another try. I’ll tell you when to start pulling. Right, now, get ready to cast.

Hermione didn’t have time to linger on the idea of ‘over shooting,’ rather she timidly reached back to feel for the holster that held their wands. The broom wobbled, but she managed to keep control.

Alright, Miss Granger, get out your wand,” he instructed, deftly occluding the concern he had over what would have been a routine movement for just about anyone else.

She gripped the wand in her right hand, resisting the temptation of retaking the broom handle.

Cast!

She flung her arm in front of her and sent a beam of light flying into the distance. Almost at once she saw the flat top of the cliff.

Pull back!

She sheathed her wand and, gripping the broom under her chin, she lifted ever so slightly while pushing down with her hips, as Madam Hooch had tried to teach her to do in her earliest flying lessons. However, the broom was now sliding almost upright and at speed towards her landing spot.

Loosen it, for fuck’s sake!” he bellowed.   

She relaxed her grip, the angle reduced, and the broom began to slow. Just as it leveled out and felt as though it was about to stop, it jerked one last time and she came off the front end – it was almost as if the broom had deliberately pitched her. It wasn’t the first time she had come off a broom, and she tucked herself in and tumbled as Madam Hooch had also trained her to do out of sheer necessity. She heard and felt her shirt tear at the elbow and her jeans catch on a rock at the knee. She was in a sitting position when she came to a stop, her hands feeling for the cool grass as she tried to catch her breath.

Not bad, Miss Granger, all things considered,” he critiqued.

Not bad?! Not bad?! she said indignantly, getting up and surveying the damage. That fucking broom tried to kill me!

On top of everything else, her bottom was wet.

The broom continued to hover, and she marched up to it purposefully, grabbing it out of the air as visions of sawing it in half and setting fire to the bristles danced through her mind.

Don’t you fucking dare!” he said threateningly, but she was on a roll.

Men and their sodding brooms, no doubt a substitute for an inadequate appendage . . . .

Miss Granger,” he seethed.

The bigger their brooms the smaller their . . . .  

CRACK!  

Hermione jerked around to see a house elf studying her curiously, as though he had been expecting someone else. She cleared her throat.

“I’m here to see Æthelbert Duggins, if you will,” she stated as politely as she could under the circumstances.

“And who shall I say is calling?” he asked quite formally and correctly.

“Miss Hermione Granger,” she answered, straightening herself a bit.

He was gone in a flash and back almost as quickly, this time with a bright lamp.

“I will escort you to the house,” he said, gesturing to a path. She followed carrying the detested broom.

Miss Granger?

Yes? she snapped a bit testily.

Miss Granger,” he started again, equally annoyed, “I’m not going to be . . . ‘communicating’ with you unless I have to while we’re here. Duggins is a very . . . ‘intuitive’ wizard, he doesn’t need to know that we are sharing space, so to speak.

She shuddered a bit. Will he use Legilimency?

No, as I said, it’s more of an intuitive ability. I think you will understand once you meet him.

They came to a house covered in so much vegetation that only slivers of light peaked out from the windows.

“You may leave your broom here,” the elf said, gesturing to a space next to the door.

She leaned it against the wall and removed the book from the saddlebag. Following the elf further into the house, she was shown into a room lined with bookshelves. In the center was a table, laden with various objects. There were two chairs in front of a roaring hearth, and she didn’t realize how cold she actually was until she was standing in front of it. She heard some shuffling in the hall and looked expectantly at the door. When it opened, she faced a tiny wizard immaculately outfitted in black robes, the edges of which were trimmed with black applique braid. She had never seen a cap quite like the one that sat jauntily on his head. It was made of soft fabric, and had three points that tilted slightly downward – one in front and two on the sides. There was a fold at the back, fitted around the base of the skull, which could be let down over the neck but was presently held in place by two buttons at either side. He had rectangular shaped gold specs that sat halfway down his nose, and a neatly trimmed salt and pepper moustache and goatee. He was spare, and while she suspected that he was quite a bit older than he seemed, there was no hint of physical infirmity – or mothballs – about him.

“Please, sit, my dear,” he said in a soft, soothing, almost musical voice as he gestured to a chair.

As she made herself comfortable, he took the seat opposite her.

“You will take some tea with me, Miss Granger?” and before she could answer, the house elf appeared with a standing tray, which he situated between them. With a wave of his hand, the tea began to pour itself.

“Please help yourself to some scones,” Duggins motioned as he peered at her above his glasses. She laid out a pristine napkin across her grass-stained jeans before suddenly realizing what she must look like.

“I’m sorry I’m such a mess, Mr. Duggins,” she apologized and blushed, trying to tuck in the torn fabric of her trousers and quickly running her hands over what she knew was wild hair – she hadn’t thought to clean herself up before entering the house.

“Please do not trouble yourself, my dear,” he cooed, bringing a cup of tea to amused lips.

She reached for a scone and took a bite, followed by a sip of tea that tasted like Christmas pudding. The warmth of the fire, delicious food, and a warm, comforting cup – it was sheer bliss, just what she needed after that hellish ride, and she closed her eyes.

After a moment, Duggins softly cleared his throat.

She blinked.

“Sorry, I . . . I got carried away,” she mumbled through the crumbs.

“That’s quite alright, it often has that effect on people,” he laughed gently. “My house elf won’t even give me the recipe or tell me exactly how he blends the tea!”

She smiled warmly.

“So, how do you know Severus?” he asked, going straight to the point.

She froze for a moment. “How did you know . . . .”

“You have his wand and his broom, two things that I never thought he would allow anyone else to handle. What this tells me is that he has tremendous trust in you . . . and that he must be badly injured or very ill,” he observed, taking another sip.

“Yes,” she began, putting her tea and unfinished scone on the table. “I don’t know if you heard, but . . . the war is over.”

“Yes, I did hear, actually.”

She looked a bit surprised.

“News reaches me even out here,” he laughed slightly. “You are . . .” he paused, “taking care of him?”

He was looking at her in a rather peculiar fashion – his dark eyes were virtually unreadable – but he wasn’t using Legilimency, she was certain of it, and she assumed he had divined this information from the fact that she had his wand and broom.

“I am,” she responded.

“It’s . . . it’s very bad, is it? His nerves?” he stated more than asked.

“Yes,” she said in a quiet voice, intrigued at how much he seemed to know.    

“And you need some ingredients from me?”

“Yes,” she answered hopefully, the mystery continuing to grow.

He finished his cup, sat it down, and waved generally at the pot, which poured another measure.

“You are wondering how I know all of this,” he stated.

“Well . . . yes, actually,” she answered curiously.

He took a long draught of his tea.

“I’ve known Severus since he was eighteen. After he graduated from Hogwarts he studied with me off and on for the better part of two years. We developed a strong . . . ‘connection,’” he finished vaguely.

“He . . . did an apprenticeship with you, sir?”

“Yes, an accelerated stint.”

He said nothing else, but looked at her expectantly across his cup of tea.

“What . . . what was he like, then?” she asked softly, knowing that her professor would probably berate her later for asking but also that she’d likely never have this opportunity again.

“He was a very apt pupil, brilliant in fact.”

“I would have expected nothing less,” she offered, rather proud on his behalf.

“And also young, angry, confused, and deeply troubled, Miss Granger,” he added, soberly. Her smile evaporated. “He became a Death Eater about the same time.”

Did she dare ask why? He sensed her question.

“I hope he will forgive me for telling you this, but under the . . . ‘circumstances,’ I believe you deserve to know.”

Circumstances? she thought to herself behind her walls. Deserved to know?

“His childhood was an unhappy one,” he continued. “His parents – though he would never refer to them as such – died when he was in his early teens, no great loss I have been led by others to believe. As for the youth himself, well, he was bright, preternaturally so, and as often happens with young people unusually gifted, he became an object of envy and fear among his peers. Such youngsters tend to be teased, sometimes unmercifully so, but in most cases children grow out of such abusive behavior.”

He looked at her knowingly as he paused to refill his cup. Hermione was painfully reminded of her own early experiences at Hogwarts, when she had been the target of similar taunting, even by two of her peers who in time became her best friends. But it hadn’t gone beyond that and her friends – her true friends – did indeed grow out of it, for the most part.

“In Severus’s case, however,” Duggins continued, picking up virtually from the end of her own thoughts, “the teasing evolved into outright bullying, emotional as well as physical, to which was added an unrequited love. A dangerous confluence under the best of circumstances.”

Behind her walls, she could hardly reconcile the image she had of her professor, who was widely acknowledged by friend and foe alike to be one of the most powerful wizards of their time, with being bullied – by anyone – although it would explain some things about the man.

“This is not something he shared with me, you understand,” he commented, “but rather what I later learned from his headmaster, although the signs were certainly obvious. And of course swearing his allegiance to Voldemort . . .” – she noted that he didn’t hesitate to use the Dark Lord’s name – “was an action he immediately regretted. He spent the last twenty or so years, Miss Granger, doing everything he could to redeem a moment’s youthful indiscretion.”

“The actions of a very brave man,” she noted with sincere and quiet admiration.

“Indeed,” he agreed.

She reached for her tea and nibbled on her unfinished scone.

“Do you play chess, Miss Granger?”

“Only a little,” she mumbled.

“Up until this last year, Severus used to come, oh, once a month to have a drink and play a few games. I have missed that,” he said thoughtfully, “but he had other matters to deal with, I think.”

“Yes,” she said softly, and wondered if Duggins truly knew how horrifying those ‘other matters’ might have been.

“What are the ingredients you need, Miss Granger?”

“Burnished star oil and Vitae et Anima.”

“The burnished star oil you can most certainly have, but I’m afraid I sold my limited stock of Vitae et Anima six months or so ago.”

Bugger, she thought.

“Who did you . . . .”

“Lucius Malfoy,” he replied even before she had finished.

Double bugger.

“Normally I wouldn’t have any dealings with the man, but he had certain . . . ‘concerns’ about his son, that he might come to some harm at Voldemort’s hands and he wanted to be prepared,” he explained. “Vitae et Anima is a key ingredient in the most powerful of the restorative potions, and Mr. Malfoy was desperate to have it to hand in case his son met with some injury. Whatever I thought of the man, I had to respond to at least the sentiment behind his request. ”

Hermione found it difficult to picture Lucius Malfoy as a caring and devoted parent, especially given who his son was.

“Draco is Severus’s godson, you know,” Duggins offered, as if it somehow mitigated her sensibilities, at least concerning the young man.

“No, I . . . didn’t know,” nor did she want to dwell on how close her professor might actually be to the Malfoys.

“Again, Miss Granger, youthful indiscretions can be . . . ‘reforming’ experiences, wouldn’t you agree?”

She stiffened but reserved comment. They might have been for her professor, but for Draco? Possibly, but never for his father, that she would not believe.

Duggins summoned his house elf, who was sent to retrieve the burnished star oil.

As they waited for him to return, she reached down next to her and pulled out the book that was shoved between her thigh and the arm of the chair.

“Professor Snape wanted me to give you this,” she said, putting it into his now outstretched hand. He ran his fingers over it and smiled without even removing the paper or strings.

Circe’s Potions,” he said affectionately.

“You’ve . . . you’ve seen it before?”

“My dear, I gave it to Severus when he finished his apprenticeship,” he said fondly. “It’s been passed down from teacher to student since time immemorial.” His smile, however, faded. “You know what this means?” he asked softly.

“Yes,” she just managed to choke out, she knew exactly what it meant. She hadn’t before, but now she did – he wasn’t certain that he would make it and didn’t want the book to fall into the wrong hands.

“I will keep it safe until he can come and collect it himself,” he said firmly. “Have him bring you with him, Miss Granger. That wretched broom of his isn’t quite as terrifying when he’s the one flying it,” he said knowingly with a light chuckle.

The house elf returned with the burnished star oil. She put her tea cup on the table and made to get up. He rose to see her out and knocked into the stand and stumbled slightly. As he reached down to feel for the edge of the tray to move it aside, she suddenly realized that the old wizard was actually blind. And yet he had ‘seen’ more than even his eyes would have enabled him to do. ‘Intuitive’ didn’t come close to the remarkable powers he seemed to have.

“Do you like potions, Miss Granger?” he said, ignoring his revealing misstep and moving familiarly again around the room. 

“I do,” she answered.

“Just . . . potions?” he asked knowingly, as he held open the door to the hall.

She knew he was really asking something else, but wasn’t exactly sure what.  

“Well, I . . . I don’t know . . . .” she stammered.

When she reached the entrance way the elf was there waiting for her, a lamp in one hand, the broom in the other – she put the burnished star oil in the saddle bag.

Duggins took both of her hands into his own and squeezed them gently.

“I’ve long wanted to meet you,” he said warmly, “Severus is very lucky.”

She found that a very curious statement, but there was no time to ponder it. She didn’t know why she did it, but she leaned in and gave Duggins a peck on the cheek.

He laughed again.

“You are hiding a great secret, Miss Granger,” he said, affectionately. “Keep it only as long as you have to, and then come clean,” he added, cryptically. Again, she was perplexed at his enigmatic pronouncement.

Halfway up the path, she turned to look once more at the house. Duggins was now just a silhouette in the doorway, the light shining behind him. Unthinkingly, she waved and he raised his hand in return. But how could he possibly . . . .

The elf stayed with her as she got ready to leave and wished her well.

It was a smoother launch in as much as she knew what to expect this time and at least didn’t scream. She thought he might converse with her, now that they had left the island, but he remained silent, caught up in his own thoughts as much as she was in hers, she assumed. And she had much to think on, too.

Duggins knew her professor well, that much was clear, but then, theirs was a friendship born of a long association – it was clearly a unique bond. But curiously, the old wizard also seemed to know her, too, or at the very least seemed to have heard of her – she had to wonder about that. Perhaps he had seen her name in The Prophet? While that was the most likely explanation, it was also an unsatisfying one. He didn’t look the sort to take the rag. Yes, he could have had the house elf read it to him, but he just seemed too otherworldly to go in for that kind of journalistic smut. Could her professor have mentioned her to him? Surely not – why would he? She was just another of his irritating, insufferable students. And why was Duggins so open about her professor’s past? Why did he feel she ‘deserved’ to know ‘under the circumstances?’ Wouldn’t her professor have told her anything she needed to know about him? Probably not, she had to acknowledge. And finally, she just couldn’t shake the feeling that he had known that her professor was there, in the room, inside her head as they sat and chatted.

As these thoughts circled in her occluded mind, she flew ever onwards. She had a fair idea of where the school was, and eventually she caught sight of a light in the distance that she rightly took to be in one of Hogwarts’ still-standing towers. She couldn’t see the courtyard, so not waiting for instructions she reached for her wand to cast a beacon. She had a bit more confidence this time around, and the light hit its target and burned bright. She pulled back, again without coaching, as she approached. While she anticipated and tried to prepare herself for another sharp jolt as the broom came to a stop, it was still abrupt enough to fling her over the end, although she actually kept hold of the handle this time and landed just under the front of the broom.

Bugger!

She rubbed her backside as she struggled to her feet. As she grabbed the broom out of the air with renewed revulsion, she noticed a light in an upper story window – it framed her head of house, who nodded at her. Clearly, McGonagall had been waiting and watching for her safe return.

Hermione gave a sheepish wave before heading straight for the dungeons. She stood the broom up against one of the walls in the study – someone as meticulous as her professor would want to clean and check it personally before putting it away. She hoped he’d have that chance. She deposited the burnished star oil in the lab and headed for the bedroom. The sight that greeted her in the standing mirror shocked even her. Her clothes were in worse shape than she had imagined – they would need repairing and cleaning later, but what really struck her was her face and hair. Her cheeks were wind burned and her hair stuck almost straight out in all directions. She would have been embarrassed had she also not been so tired. She sat on the bed and took off first her shoes and then her socks before pulling her night shirt out of her bag. She knew she should try to raise her professor, but sensed that they both needed time to digest the experience. She also knew she should jump in the shower and try and clean herself up a bit before going to bed, but rather than doing any of that, she crawled up the mattress, reached for the throw, and pulled it over her. She fell asleep almost immediately, the tee-shirt still clutched in her hand.

The exchange between Hermione and his mentor had been surreal, and he had kept to himself on the flight home trying to think it all through. He had no doubt whatsoever that Duggins had known he was there, inside her head. His mentor was an extraordinary wizard with exceptional powers of perception and he should have realized that the connection between them was too strong for his presence ever to have gone undetected. What he was struggling with now was how he might have previously and quite inadvertently revealed to him his feelings for his former student. Certainly he had talked to Duggins about the Golden Trio, at least in general terms, and had made no attempt to hide his enmity for Potter and his loathing for Weasley – there wouldn’t have been any reason not to since the wizard would have sensed it anyway. But what had he said about Hermione?

And then he remembered. It was near the end of that sixth year, right before he had been compelled to take Dumbledore’s life. Events had started to move quickly – Draco was becoming more emotionally fraught – and he had made what he thought might be his last visit to Duggins. He hadn’t revealed anything about his promise to the headmaster, but he was sure that his mentor had discerned it nevertheless and then of course had it confirmed when news reached the island. And while he had been scathing about the Trio’s attempts to track down and destroy the horcruxes, privately he had been desperately afraid on their behalf. He might not have liked Potter, seeing as he did too much of his father in him and not enough of the woman he had once loved, but he didn’t actually want the boy dead. His animosity for Weasley was based, ironically enough, on his angst over the teenager’s clumsy endeavors to woo another young woman he cared about. Just how much he cared was being driven home, and hard, at the moment. He had confided to Duggins that the only reason the three stood any chance of success was because of Hermione, because of her skills at transfiguration, charms, and potions. If they survived, he knew that it would be due wholly to her prodigious intelligence and sheer bloody-minded Gryffindor determination. And he also remembered that briefly, for not more than a passing second, he had felt what it would mean to him if she did not make it.

He recalled thinking that all of his years spying were swiftly coming down to three young adults potentially sacrificing themselves for the rest of the wizarding world. That should not have been their job – it was his, and Dumbledore’s, and everyone else’s in the Order. The students had their whole lives ahead of them, they still had potential, especially her – the likes of him did not. Duggins no doubt had seen and sensed his crushing despair, even if momentarily – his mentor could read him oh so well. He had returned to the dungeons after that last visit, fully intending to add a codicil to his will, leaving Circe’s Potions to her, but then everything had come to a head the next day. For now, the book rested safely in Duggins’ hands, and he knew full well that his mentor would pass it on to her if something happened to him.

But what about her? It was clear to him that his mentor had seen something in her tonight beyond her usual, outer demeanor. Why did Duggins think she ‘deserved’ to know so much about him, and what ‘circumstances’ was he referring to? As for himself, he would never have shared so much with her about his personal life on his own volition – certainly she didn’t need that kind of information in order to brew him a potion. No, the old wizard had shared that part of his life story with her exactly because he knew he wouldn’t, and the only circumstances under which she deserved to know it was if she harbored feelings for him. That was the great secret Duggins had been referring to when he said goodbye to her, not the fact that the two of them were currently sharing space.

He was mesmerized by her reflection in the mirror as she surveyed the evening’s damage. Her clothes were torn and dirty, her face flushed and her hair riotous. Her eyes reflected her exhaustion, and yet . . . she was absolutely magnificent. She had feelings for him, he was fairly certain of it now, and he had them for her. The only question was, what was he . . . what were they going to do about it?

Chapter Text

Gardening

It was nearly noon by the time that Hermione woke up. She viewed her rumpled clothes with some dismay as she dragged herself into the bathroom for a reluctant look at herself. It was worse than she remembered. Her hair was flat from where she had been sleeping on it while it stuck out wildly on the other side. Her face was still pink from the windburn and her eyes were red and puffy from not having had goggles the night before.

How did you sleep?” he asked softly.

She flinched slightly, embarrassed that he was seeing her at her worst.

Um, pretty well, though not so you would notice, she replied, quickly looking away.

Go to the lab,” he instructed.

The floor was cold against her feet as she padded through his quarters.

Open the center cabinet – Euphrasia officinalis is on the middle shelf.

She ran her fingers along the labels until she found it. She unscrewed the top and pinched the dropper. Her vision briefly blurred as the liquid cooled and soothed her eyes. She returned it to its spot.

Upper shelf – ‘Cucumber Ointment’ for your face.

She had left her wand in the bedroom so she dragged a stool over from the table and clambered up to retrieve the small tin. She carefully climbed back down, shut the cabinet, and headed to the bathroom.

As with the day before, she draped a towel over the mirror and discretely disrobed. Once more, she showered mostly with her eyes closed, although this time, she soaped her hair as well as her body – a cleansing charm just wouldn’t do it two days in a row. With a towel wrapped around her, she uncovered the mirror and looked at her face. Already, her eyes were better.

She ran her thumbnail around the edge of the tin, unsealing the wax. Opening it, she brought it to her nose, breathing in the delicate scent of cucumber. He basked in the expression of contentment that briefly flitted across her face. She dipped her middle finger into the lotion and spread the creamy mixture over first one cheek and then the other. The stinging brought on by the shower immediately calmed. She smiled at the mirror.

Thank you.

You are most welcome, Miss Granger,” he said warmly, admiring the way her wet, curly chestnut hair hung down her face and neck and over her bare shoulders. He briefly wondered what her breasts would look like peeking out from behind her long tresses.

She turned away from the mirror, went into the bedroom and started to go through her bag.

I should tell you that I’m starting to run out of clothes, she joked.

I have no problem with that,” he said seductively.

She blushed as she hauled out clean underwear – cranberry colored this time – another pair of jeans and a button-down blouse. She found some argyle socks and promptly put them on her chilled feet. She looked up and saw her reflection in the standing mirror. She grinned, shyly, as she gathered her clothes and headed back to the bathroom to dress.

Ten minutes later, and she was scrambling some eggs as her tea steeped.

So, what are we doing today? she asked, taking her breakfast to the table.

I think we should see if Pamona has the White Flame plant.

After she had cleaned up, Hermione went in search of Professor Sprout. She found her in the gardens with a small group of her herbology students repotting plants and otherwise trying to repair the damaged greenhouses.

“Miss Granger, dear, how are you getting on with Professor Snape’s potion?” she asked solicitously.

“Actually, that’s why I’m here. I need a plant, I’m afraid – White Flame – and I was hoping you’d have one. I know they’re quite rare,” she said, wringing her hands hopefully.

Professor Sprout frowned. “I did have a pair of them, but they were among the plants destroyed when the west greenhouse burnt down,” she said, nodding in the direction of the charred remains of the structure in question.

Hermione bit her lip. “Do you know where I could get one?”

Sprout thought for a moment.

“Fabian Ledbetter – maybe,” she said, after some consideration. “I got my starters from him years and years ago, now, but I haven’t heard from him, oh, in at least six months. I should warn you, though,” she said, taking Hermione by the arm and leading her away from the other students, “his son, Moran, was a Death Eater. Fabian didn’t share his son’s beliefs, but I have no idea what’s happened to either of them. They might be dead, in hiding, I just don’t know. His home is Thwaite Grange in the Yorkshire Dales, but there is no guarantee that his garden is still operational.” She put a hand on Hermione’s arm. “You need to be very careful,” she said meaningfully.

Hermione nodded her understanding.

“There is one thing you are going to need if the greenhouse still stands and he has the plants. Come with me.”

She followed the herbology professor to a nearby shed. After some rummaging around, Sprout emerged with a container about the size of a breadbox with a handle across the top.

“You’ll need this,” she offered, holding it out for Hermione to take.

She looked at the container with some consternation.

“It’s not a particular big plant and you probably won’t need more than just a shoot, but it bruises easily, so it needs a bit of room. That and the fact that it will burn through everything except metal and glass, so don’t touch it – use your wand to cut it and transfer it into the box.”

Hermione smiled wanly. She didn’t much like the prospect of having to carry around something clunky, which would leave only her wand hand free, but she didn’t seem to have any choice.

“Is there is anything else I can help with?” Sprout asked.

“No, thank you,” she said, starting to turn back to the building.

“Hermione?” Sprout called to her.

She looked back at the professor.

“Be. Careful.” she enunciated.

“I will,” she promised.

Do you know this Moran Ledbetter? she asked, as she made her way back to the dungeons.

Yes, a particularly nasty piece of business. He was an ‘enforcer,’ responsible for dealing with any followers who wanted to leave the Dark Lord’s service.

We need to check out Thwaite Grange.

That isn’t something you should do on your own,” he said rather protectively.

Well, before we discuss any real plan of action, we should see if the property is still a going concern, if his greenhouse has been kept up.

Fair enough, but if I tell you to leave, Miss Granger, you leave – do you understand that?” he said firmly.

She bit her lower lip but otherwise did not respond.

Go to the mirror in the bedroom,” he ordered.

She set the container on his desk and went into the next room to stand in front of the mirror.

You need to tell me that you understand what I just told you,” he said steely.

She swallowed.

“Miss Granger?” he said sternly.

Yes, professor, she replied reluctantly.

For the moment, we are only going to check and see if Ledbetter’s greenhouse is still operational, c’est compris?

Je comprends.

She returned to his study and voiced her destination.

“Thwaite Grange.”

She apparated to a field next to a stand of trees – clearly, Ledbetter’s property had been spelled to prevent anyone from transporting closer than that to the largish farm house she saw two fields away. She needed to remember this spot.

It was a misty, overcast day and she waved her wand, turning her clothes grey to help make her a little less visible. She kept out of sight as best she could, walking along the tree line and then creeping beside a stone wall. When she got to the second field, she crossed it in a crouching position, stopping behind another wall. She could see Ledbetter’s greenhouse, now – it looked like it was still a going concern, which meant that at least someone was looking after it, although it was less clear as to whether that caretaker was actually in residence. There was no smoke from the chimney and no lights in the windows. She could sense that the place was protected by wards, which was no more than she would have expected.  

Retreat, Miss Granger,” he ordered.

She retraced her steps and apparated back to his study.

This is going to require some thinking.”

She sat down in his reading chair by the hearth.

The greenhouse was in good repair so someone is tending them, though it’s impossible to say if someone is actually living there. If there is, we’ll see the houselights tonight.

Miss Granger . . . .

What? she asked tensely, knowing full well what he was going to say.

This is not something you should do.

Why? she asked a bit defensively, sitting up straighter.

Because this is going to be potentially dangerous.

And searching out and destroying horcruxes wasn’t? she quickly responded, daring him to contradict her.

There were three of you – well, one-and-a-half, but I suppose even Weasley was better than nothing.

I can do this, she interrupted.

You don’t know what you might be getting into,” he said, testily.

I never knew what I was getting into! she countered.

When he didn’t respond, she put a question to him.

Do you think I am incapable of defending myself?

Miss Granger,” he growled, “there is simply no reason to endanger yourself.

Have you already forgotten the pharmacy run? she reminded him a bit sharply. Then an idea struck her. What if I’m invisible?

A disillusion charm is too unstable, and when you move you will still be visible.

I’m not talking about a disillusion charm. Harry has . . . .

She paused. Harry’s cloak was still a secret, though how much of one she didn’t know. Dumbledore had known about it, and she thought that her professor probably suspected as well, but it really wasn’t up to her to divulge such things. However, under the circumstances, she thought – hoped – Harry would understand.

Potter has . . . what, Miss Granger,” he said with some irritation at the mention of his former student.  

He has an invisibility cloak, she finally blurted out.

“Ah, one of the ‘Deathly Hallows,’” he said, almost nonchalantly. “Yes, I thought as much.”

I’ve had it in my bag for a year, now, and it’s still there, she said, going into the next room to search for it. I’m sure Harry wouldn’t mind me using it, she continued.

She fished it out of the bag and threw it over her head before going to the mirror.

Walk around, let me take a look.”

She walked back and forth, keeping her eyes firmly on the glass.

Yes, it’s quite effective, no visual disturbance to speak of,” he pronounced.

After a moment, she pulled it off, her hair flying every which way as she did so. As it settled, she looked at her refection with a cheeky smile.

What time do you think I should leave? she grinned.

Alright, but the same caveats apply – if I tell you to leave, you leave, do I make myself clear?” he said reluctantly but forcefully.

Yes professor, perfectly clear.

The smirk she had on her face as she acquiesced to his conditions made him more than a little nervous, but ultimately he realized he really had little choice in the matter. He had tried hard not to think about it over the last couple of days, but he was entirely dependent on her to ‘collect’ the ingredients for the potion. He didn’t like it, it was putting her in danger, but that was the situation he found himself in. He could only try and mitigate the risks as best he could.

She apparated back to the field at dusk only to find that it was now drizzling. She wouldn’t use Harry’s cloak unless she had to, since it would weigh her down if it got wet, so it was reduced and stuffed into her pocket. The light was fading and she was glad that she had been there earlier to get the lay of the land. Nevertheless, she heard her jeans tear at the knee as she struggled over the stone wall that separated the two fields.

Bugger! I seem slated to rip every pair I have, she grumbled.

I’ll replace them,” he promptly promised.

She smiled at that.

As long as you let me pick them out for you,” he added provocatively.

She laughed.

Not sure I’d like the jeans you’d pick out for me, she teased.

No, but I would,” he quickly rejoined.

She was somewhat taken aback by this exchange. Was he, was he . . . flirting with her? Why, yes he was, she realized behind her walls. In a dark and drizzly field in the middle of Yorkshire, as she was about to steal – ‘collect’ – a vital ingredient in the face of unknown dangers, and he was actually flirting with her! A highly pleasant jolt went through her at the thought.

Time enough later, though, for contemplating a new wardrobe, Miss Granger,” he said, a bit surprised at his own boldness. He cleared his thoughts. “We need to keep our minds on the job at hand for the moment.”

Another time, then, she thought privately and hopefully.

She could feel the wards by the time she got to the second stone wall, which ran around the perimeter of the property. There still was no smoke coming out of the chimney, at least as far as she could tell, and no lights were lit, even though it was dark enough to have done so. But none of that was a guarantee of anything.

She took out his wand and started to take apart the wards. It was a tough slog using his wand since it continued to resist her touch, but he insisted that she employ it. It took nearly twenty minutes, but they finally came down and she crept through an open gate to the greenhouse door, which, remarkably, didn’t even have a lock. She looked around inside and cast a spell with his wand that would cause the White Flame plant to glow if it was there. She saw a faint light at the back underneath a table, which slowly faded the closer she got to it. Using his wand, which was softly lit at the tip, she sliced off a stem of the plant and levitated it into the container. Sealing it, she was just about to stand up when she heard the back door of the house bang loudly. She ducked back down and heard drunken mumbling. She could just make out a figure approaching the greenhouse, and she pulled out Harry’s cloak from her pocket, quickly enlarged it, and wrapped it around herself just as Moran pushed the door open and stumbled inside. She slipped noiselessly under the table.

“Who’s there,” he slurred, thrusting his lit wand back and forth in the air.

He took an unsteady step and knocked into a pot.

“Fuck,” he growled as he kicked it across the floor.

He made his way to the back of the building – he was so close she could smell the alcohol on his breath.

“Fuck’n badgers,” he grumbled as he staggered out of the greenhouse. Moran didn’t go back into the house, rather he sat down precariously on the stone wall, seemingly too drunk to notice that it was drizzling or that the wards were no longer in place. Taking a can out of his pocket, she heard the distinctive ‘pop’ of the top being opened and his eager slurping. She moved slowly and with care out of the greenhouse and over to the open gate that led back up into the field. She had to pass close enough to Moran that he could have reached out and grabbed her had he known she was there.

She continued to make her way through the field when an owl hooted and swooped down at her. Moran turned around swiftly and cast a spell that went off to her right. She picked up the pace as he cast another one that went to her left. She kneeled down and felt a spell go over her head. She kept very still, and eventually heard Moran sit back down and take another swig. She got up and almost immediately tripped on the cloak, the carrier thudding onto the ground. This time Moran got up and started to make his way into the field, firing at random.

Go, go, go!” he shouted.

She got up and started to run. Moran tried to follow the noise, but stumbled and fell, and she tore off the cloak to get better traction.

Run!

She heard the wall she had just climbed over break apart from one of his spells, but the stand of trees was now in sight. If she could make it there she would have cover and protection until she could get to the apparition point. And then she felt a sharp twinge in her right side and fell to her knees, dropping the carrier. She searched quickly for the wound through her shirt, which was wet, though from rain or blood she didn’t have time to process. Drawing her wand, she knelt in place, waiting for Moran. She saw movement in the distance but waited until she could see him clearly before casting her spell, hitting him directly in the chest and felling him to the ground. She pulled herself up, grabbed the cloak and carrier and lurched to the apparition point.

She was breathing hard when she apparated back to his study. She slung the cloak in the general direction of his reading chair, and took the carrier to the lab. She set it on the table and stood there a moment trying to catch her breath, her hand still on the carrier’s handle.

Miss Granger . . . .” he said with alarm, seeing what she apparently wasn’t registering, which was blood on her hand.

She focused and then gasped as she brought her hand to her face. Looking down, she could see a dark wet spot on the right side of her shirt.

Let me see,” he ordered as calmly as he could.

She raised her blouse fearfully – there was a lot of blood – and immediately thought of the infirmary.

No, it will be quicker here. You need dittany, blood replenisher – two vials – a dolor potion, cicatrix ointment, sterile wipes.

Her hands were visibly shaking from the shock as she gathered everything together. She took the supplies into the bedroom as he commanded and knelt down in front of the standing mirror.

Come out of that blouse,” he ordered.

He could see her fingers trembling as she tried to undo the buttons – they kept slipping out of her wet grasp.

Rip the shirt, Miss Granger!” he said tersely.

She took both sides of her shirt and ripped, starting at the top and working her way down. Blood was smeared across her stomach and he needed a better look.

Take the wipes and clean around the wound – I need to see it.

She wiped desperately at the wound, even as it continued to seep. It wasn’t very long but it looked deep, and he knew from personal experience just how much it had to hurt. 

Take the dolor potion, Miss Granger, for the pain.

It was really starting to throb and she readily did as he directed, unsealing the vial, popping the cork, and choking it down.

You should be feeling its effects soon, but what you need to do now is lie down on your left side.

She raised herself up from her kneeling position before reclining, resting on her left elbow.

Tip the mirror so I can see.

She tilted it down.

Cast a cleansing spell.

Both her hand and voice were shaky as she waved her wand and chanted the spell, but it worked and the wound immediately tingled.

Now, you need to pour the dittany directly into the wound,” he directed. “It’s . . . it’s going to be painful, Miss Granger, even with the potion you just took.

She nodded her head in acknowledgement as she fumbled with the vial. She wiped the wound one more time to soak up the blood, and took a deep breath before pouring the dittany over it. Painful didn’t begin to describe the agony, and although she panted and whimpered, she didn’t cry out. She watched in the mirror as the wound slowly began to seal itself, and as it did, the pain began to lessen. After about ten minutes or so, the wound had closed and looked virtually healed, with just a slightly raised pink scar.

Rub some of the cicatrix ointment over the wound.

She opened the tin and dabbed a bit of it over the scar, which further reduced it to a thin, flat, almost invisible white line.

She Scourgified her hands and started to lay back.

Not yet, Miss Granger, you need to take the first of the blood replenishing potions.

She pulled herself up into a sitting position and downed the potion.

You can take the other one after you get up.

Get up? she asked a bit groggily.

Yes, you need to rest – can you make it over to the bed?” he asked with some concern.

She looked at her reflection and he could see that her pupils were dilated from both the pain potion and shock. She rolled over on to her hands and knees and crawled to the bed. She pulled herself up and dragged the throw over herself before falling into a deep, deep sleep.

As he listened to her gentle susurrations, he reproached himself bitterly. What had he been thinking? Instinctually, he had known even at the time that it was the wrong decision to let her go, but deep down he had also known that she wouldn’t have listened to him. He couldn’t bear thinking about how much more badly she could have been injured if Moran hadn’t been drunk. He wouldn’t have wanted to live knowing that she had died trying to save his miserable life. And they still had to secure two more ingredients. Could he keep her safe as she ‘collected’ them? And would she let him? 

 

 

Chapter Text

The Party – Getting Ready

Show me,” he demanded.

She had put a towel over the mirror when she went in to the bathroom, since she was still in her bra from the night before, but he was adamant – he wanted to make sure the wound had healed properly. With her left hand pressed against her right breast, both for modesty’s sake and so he could see better, she looked down at her side.

Miss Granger, that isn’t good enough. Just go to the bloody mirror and show me,” he boomed.

She took the towel from the mirror and draped it across her chest as she made her way back into the bedroom. Turning sideways, she got as close as she could to give him a good view.

Hmmm,” he murmured appraisingly, “you can barely see it. Run a finger over it and tell me what you feel.

She passed her thumb over the spot.

It’s slightly raised, but not much, she reported.

Good, that’s what it’s supposed to be like,” he said, satisfied by the previous evening’s ministrations, though immensely disappointed that she had remembered to cover herself up. He had only a vague impression of a reddish bra from the night before – he had just been too busy trying to keep her calm while getting her through the medical treatment to take in much of anything besides the pain and distress in her face. Concern for her welfare had trumped desire.

She went to her bag by the bed and went through it, finally pulling out a sweatshirt and putting it on. She vanished the sterile wipes and empty potion bottles to the lab and her shirt to the trash before proceeding to the kitchen to have a bit of breakfast. Neither of them spoke as she went about making her tea, toast, and eggs – Merlin, would she ever get to eat anything else? They had both gotten a bad scare back at the Grange the night before and apart from checking her wound – and him reminding her to take the second vial of blood replenisher – nothing more was said about it.

What day is it?” he eventually asked, as she mopped up the last of her poached eggs and toast.

It’s Saturday, why?

We need to get the lizard’s tail tonight, then.

Why tonight in particular?

Because there is only one place we can get it from, and we won’t have another shot at it until next week.” If, that is, I’m still around, he thought morbidly, but did not say aloud.

Must everything be so complicated? she asked a bit wearily.

Do you want the clichéd response or something more metaphysical?” he responded acerbically.  

All right, so tell me about this lizard, then, she said, taking her dishes to the sink and starting to wash them.

We need a bit of the poison that has debilitated me, but we can’t get any from the source because you said Nagini was incinerated. Nagini was a rare snake, part constrictor, part viper, hard to find even under the best of circumstances, so we will have to settle for the tail of a lizard whose poison is closely related. I know a potions witch – Natalia Venena – who keeps one as a pet.”

And I suppose just asking for a bit of the tail is completely out of the question? she asked, knowing full well that it was.  

He didn’t respond.

So, what did you do to her?

Nothing.

I don’t believe you.

We had a disagreement.

So I assumed. A disagreement over what?

Her selling out the profession to produce questionable . . .‘enhancement’ products.” He could see she was rolling her eyes.

What did you say to her?

It’s not so much what I said to her as it was about her in one of the professional journals.

Please tell me you didn’t . . . .

When he didn’t answer, she asked directly.

Professor?

You said not to tell you.

You certainly have burned a lot of bridges in your time, haven’t you? she asked irritably. And what is it – if I may be so bold to ask – what is it with you potion masters and mistresses endlessly pilfering from each other?

It is part of the game,” he said smoothly.

You make it sound like a competition.

The most exhilarating rivalry there is.

But it leaves you – it leaves everyone – open to constant thievery.

It’s an occupational hazard – we all accept it.”

She paused.

Has anyone ever stolen from you?

“Only you, Miss Granger.”

She felt a bit proud.

I caught the other rat-bastards and thoroughly hexed them. Some of them still don’t walk right.

She felt distinctly deflated at that. She took one last gulp of her tea, and put the mug into the water to wash.

So why is tonight our only opportunity until next week?

Natalia keeps an ‘open’ house most Saturday nights.

How do you know she’ll have one tonight?

Because the war is over and the Dark Lord is well and truly gone. Most of Natalia’s crowd are pure bloods, but more than that, they are opportunists. They have been waiting to pick a side until there was a clear winner. Well, now there is one, and she will host a celebratory party tonight so that everyone can see whose side they were always on.

And if the Dark Lord had won?

They would have been cheering his success.

These people are your friends?

No, Miss Granger, they are not,” he said coolly.

But . . . you know them, she said hesitantly.

Oh yes, I know them, I know them only too well, but it doesn’t mean they are friends. It’s a spy’s remit to associate with sewer rats,” he spit, his tone still chilly. She immediately felt contrite.

So, how am I going to get in? she asked, drying her hands.

There are no invitations to these events, it’s just for those who are ‘in the know.’ It’s a case where simply showing up means you are invited. Once inside, you can secure a piece of the lizard’s tail. You will have to be careful because it’s poisonous. It’s too delicate for wand work, so you’ll need to bring tweezers as well as a solid container.

So that’s all I need to do? Show up at the door and they’ll let me in?

Well, not quite. Do you have any kind of formal wear?

What, like dress robes?

Not exactly,” he replied, a bit evasively. “Natalia and her friends prefer Muggle evening wear.

I still have the Yule Ball dress, she offered, but that probably won’t fit anymore, she quickly added.

Yes, well, I don’t think that dress is really right for this sort of thing anyway,” he responded.  

You . . . you remember my gown from that evening? she asked a bit incredulously.

Vaguely,” he hedged untruthfully – it was blue, fitted on top with thin straps, flowing skirt, she wore her hair up – “but regardless,” he hurried on, “ball gowns are definitely not right for this kind of soiree.

I don’t have anything more, well, ‘mature,’ to wear. She chewed on her bottom lip, thinking the problem through. There is a dress shop in Hogsmeade, but it’s likely to be shut up, if it hasn’t been completely destroyed.

Yes,” he thought for a moment, “I think Minerva is a friend of the owner. If it’s still there, maybe she’d be able to get her to open it for you.

Hermione dried off her hands and went in search of her head of house. She found her in the courtyard, directing various work crews as the task of cleaning up continued apace.

We’ll have to tell Professor McGonagall something about what’s going on, she cautioned as she approached.

Tell her only enough to get her to do it,” he advised.

Always the spy, Hermione observed.

Absolutely,” he said unequivocally.

Hermione hovered behind McGonagall, waiting for an opening. When it came, she went straight to the point.

“Do you know if The Lady’s Secret survived the battle?”

McGonagall looked at her quizzically before calling to a group of students trying – and failing – to levitate a huge stone block to one side of the courtyard.

“My dear, that’s a very odd question right now, don’t you think?” she countered, directing the students to try the spell again, this time together.

“I know it seems very strange, but I have to get a dress together for tonight.”

Minerva stared at the young woman expectantly.

“I assure you it’s important.” McGonagall didn’t look convinced. “I need to . . .” Hermione leaned in and lowered her voice, “I need to . . . ‘acquire’ an ingredient for Professor’s Snape’s potion and this is the only way I can do it.”

Comprehension slowly spread across the headmistress’s face and her lips settled into a thin line of disapproval as she studied her former student. Hermione didn’t flinch.

“You are becoming more like him every day,” she muttered under her breath. “Yes, I believe it still stands,” she continued, “and I can probably get Ramona to open it for you.” With that, she cast her patronus and sent off a message to the owner of The Lady’s Secret. Twenty minutes later and she had her response – Madam Ramona would open her shop for Hermione after lunch.

“Do you need money?” McGonagall offered.

I’ve got some.

“No, it’s taken care of, but thank you.”

As she turned to leave, McGonagall reached out to grab her arm, knowing that any event pertaining to her colleague and requiring an evening dress from The Lady’s Secret would be fraught with at least some risk. Hermione read the concern in her eyes – her professor didn’t even need to give voice to it.  

“I will,” she promised softly before heading back to the dungeons.

Now, where is that money? Hermione asked as she went.

Bedroom.

Once there, he directed her to an ornamental cauldron on the top shelf in his standing wardrobe. The instant she opened the cabinet the heady aroma that lingered on his clothes wafted past her face, and she quickly occluded her thoughts. There was no need for him to know how his scent sent twinges to her most intimate places.

She pulled the heavy cauldron off the shelf.

How much are you going to need?

She really didn’t know, and he directed her to a chest of drawers. She took one of his heavier wool socks and filled it half way with galleons before returning the cauldron to its place.

She felt a bit silly that afternoon walking into The Lady’s Secret with a man’s sock bulging with money, but Madam Ramona didn’t even bat an eye. He did, however, metaphorically at least behind his occlumency walls. He had never been in a woman’s dress shop before, and he genuinely hoped he’d never have to be in one ever again. As Hermione looked over the merchandise with the proprietress at her elbow, he took in the scraps of fabric that purported to be dresses, which were displayed on nondescript mannequins floating around the store. He wasn’t especially shocked by what he saw – some of the Dark Lord’s followers were women, and more than a few of them got their sexual kicks by donning skimpy and provocative outfits and then parading in front of his fellow Death Eaters, but he couldn’t imagine any Hogwarts student wearing such things. Until he saw Hermione in the first of several dresses Madam Ramona picked out especially for her.

Hermione had very carefully kept her eyes averted as Madam Ramona helped her slip the first dress over her head. Only after the proprietress was fully satisfied that the garment was properly fitted did Hermione step out of the changing room to look at herself in the large, standing mirror in the dressing room alcove. The instant he saw it he knew he was in trouble, and stayed behind his walls.

The dress was a fleshy pink that washed out her skin, although Madam Ramona assured her that all of the gowns could be changed to a color of her choosing. With her professor in mind, Hermione suggested green, and with a flick of her wand, the dress shifted to a deep forest shade. He thought the color was certainly an improvement, but otherwise the problem he had with the dress was that it showed off a good deal more of his former student than he was prepared to see, or rather more truthfully, a good deal more than he was prepared to allow any other wizard to see. He was already familiar with her hips – he had admired the way she wore jeans since her sixth year, but when oh when had she developed those lovely breasts? Sometime after the Yule Ball, clearly, but no one, absolutely no one could now miss them in this dress, the v-neckline of which plunged almost to the bottom of her sternum. The gown seemed to have some kind of internal support system that pushed and held her breasts aloft, as if they were floating, which only served to further accent her narrow waist and sloping curves.

Professor? she asked for the third time.

What?!” he bellowed.

I asked if you liked it.

No!

Hermione turned back and forth, checking to see how the dress lay in the front and how it fit over her backside.

I agree. It’s not quite . . . right.

Madam Ramona helped her take it off and quickly outfitted her in another gown. As Hermione stepped once more in front of the mirror, he found himself speechless, and still well behind his walls. The dress started out in a jewel blue, but Hermione had the proprietress change it to a reddish orange. It was strapless and the corsetry pushed her breasts upwards, two round alabaster globes peaking over the top. He could easily visualize them spilling out, and knew full well that the wizards at Natalia’s party would be entertaining the same image.

What about this one?

I don’t think it suits you,” he replied honestly if also a bit tersely.  

Hermione was of the opinion that she’d be constantly hauling up the front of her dress, regardless of casting the appropriate charms to hold it in place. Off it came, replaced by another, equally revealing dress that neither Hermione nor Madam Ramona particularly cared for, so it was a relief that his similarly hostile opinion wasn’t sought. 

The fourth dress she tried on was gold and had a rounded neckline that revealed only the slightest rise of her breasts. Although it clung seductively to her waist and hips, flowing slightly away from her body at her knees, it met with his approval, although only barely. But he could not contain an outburst when she turned to look at the back of the dress, which didn’t actually have a back to it all. A vast expanse of flesh was exposed, from her neck down almost to the dip of her derriere.

No! Absolutely not!” he barked.

Yes, I think you are right, but oh, but one can imagine . . . .

Can imagine what?! There is nothing there!

Hermione smiled softly. By this point, she had come to realize that he was finally starting to see her as the grown up woman she had become over the last year and more, and took a degree of pleasure in his growing discomfiture.

The neckline of the last dress didn’t plunge quite as far down as the first one had, but it was low enough that everyone would have a good view of what lay underneath. But he was particularly uncomfortable with the fact that it revealed every curve, every indentation on her body, and this was especially true when she walked. It wasn’t so much that the silk dress was tight as it was clingy. And the color – a warm ivory – really showed off Hermione’s skin and amber eyes.

What he wouldn’t give to be her dress, he thought to himself.

So, what do you think?

I just don’t know,” he prevaricated

You haven’t liked any of them, and you probably aren’t going to like any of them. So just tell me this – are these the sort of dresses that witches wear to Natalia’s parties?

Damn it, they were, they were exactly the sort of gowns her friends wore, but he also didn’t want Hermione wearing any of them to the kind of parties that Natalia tended to throw.

It’s . . . it’s . . . .

He realized, however, that he couldn’t finish the sentence without coming across as a complete prude. The simple truth was that she was the loveliest thing he had seen since . . . well, since Lily, and that was true even when she had been in her torn jeans and dirty shirt after the break-in at Pomeroy Common, and seeing her wild hair after she had flown to Duggins’ island and back. She was exactly the sort of woman he could imagine spending a great deal of time with, not just in bed but over meals, in front of hearth fires debating books, and working together in the lab. And yes, well, in bed too, he admitted. But none of that was likely to happen, not in his present ‘form’ at any rate, and probably not in his physical form, either. As he watched her try on dresses, doubts started to color what he thought he knew about her own feelings. After all, what would a woman like her ever see in him? She was young, beautiful, smart, articulate, vibrant, brave – she had a bright future ahead of her whereas he . . . he was starting to fear that he would spend the rest of his life rotting away in his dungeon, if, that is, he actually managed to recover. In light of all that, he owed her the truth.

It’s . . . perfect,” he said with a twinge of sadness.

Hermione’s face lit up, and she gave the mirror a shy smile.

Merlin, he could spend a lifetime getting lost in that smile.

Madam Ramona kitted her out with appropriate high-heeled, platform shoes that added a further three inches to her height, suggested a modest makeup scheme, and talked her through several charms for her hair. Although it took most of the galleons from his sock to pay for it all, he didn’t complain, not one word. If the worst came to pass, at least she would have this to remember him by.

There was one last thing that she needed, however, and that was a mask. Many of Natalia’s guests used them, and he thought that anonymity would afford her some degree of protection. Minerva, still reluctant to ask too many questions, was able to dig out a box of them used for Halloween, and Hermione transfigured one using hawk feathers, which matched her dress exactly.

Hermione showered with her eyes primly glued to the ceiling, although he perversely wondered why, given how much he could see of her in that dress. He remained silent as she prepared for the evening, although he otherwise took in her every move. He was particularly spellbound by the fact that the tip of her pink tongue peaked out from between her lips as she concentrated on applying a bit of eyeliner and mascara, which gave her eyes a ‘come hither look’ through the holes of the mask. She eschewed lipstick in favor of tinted gloss. She tried a couple of spells on her hair, and the one she liked best formed a loose bun on the crown of her head with strategic tendrils softly framing her face. The cumulative effect was even more seductive than he could have imagined.

As Hermione studied herself in the mirror, she continued to occlude her own thoughts, knowing that he was doing the same, indeed, had actually been doing so for much of the day. In point of fact, he had kept remarkably to himself since leaving The Lady’s Secrets, so she could only speculate on what was going on in his mind. She knew he had been initially surprised seeing her dressed in this way. Although he hadn’t said explicitly one way or the other that he actually liked what he saw, she at least felt confident that his vision of her as a student had been shattered forever. She would never be that to him ever again, and she was glad. But while he had said the dress was perfect for the event, it was still a long way away from him saying that he approved of what he saw and might even be drawn to it. Oh, she very much hoped he was drawn to it.

Should I take your wand?

Yes. I don’t think you will need it, but I would feel better knowing you had it with you.

She dropped it along with her own wand, the tweezers, and a small corked tube into the small pouch that would serve as her handbag for the evening. It was charmed to be larger on the inside to accommodate everything she needed to take with her, and had a cord around the top that she could affix to her wrist so that it was within easy reach at all times. She put on the mask and checked her reflection one more time. It was a vision he would take with him to his grave, whatever ultimately became of him.

She apparated to the gates of Henley House in the Midlands. The house was obscured by the tree-lined drive, but as she approached, a perfect study in Neoclassical architecture was revealed bit by bit. It was a moonless evening, but the stars blinked brightly in the sky like chips of ice. The closer Hermione got, however, the more nervous she became. The people milling about outside were all strikingly good looking. Most of the men appeared to be in their forties and fifties, some were smoking, but all were dressed in the height of Muggle evening wear. The witches draped on their arms could have walked the runway – tall, slender, and for the most part dark and definitely sultry. She was occluding her thoughts, but he noted her quickened breaths and saw her unconsciously raise her hand to her chest and then ghost down the front of her dress.

What’s wrong?” he finally asked, concerned as she stopped by the side of the drive, pretending to look through her bag.

How could she explain what she was feeling? It was one thing to parade around in her dress in the safety of The Lady’s Secret, and even in front of her former professor, to whom she was attracted, but it was something altogether different to do so in front of strangers, people she already knew she wasn’t going to like and who potentially might be more than a little dangerous.

I can’t help you unless you tell me,” he gently pleaded.

I’m . . . I’m not used to appearing in public . . . like this, she finally replied, glancing briefly down the front of herself as she poked around in her little bag.

You had no difficulties with me seeing you,” he replied, more than a bit relieved that she wasn’t nearly as comfortable in those clothes as she had seemed to be initially.

That’s . . . that’s different, she said warily.

How is that different?” he asked, suddenly hopefully.

It just is, she answered stiffly.

Over the years, he had overheard enough conversations between his female students to know that ‘it just is’ was a defensive response to questions that they didn’t want to answer, and didn’t want to answer because it would expose some deeply personal truth. The real answer to his question, then, was simply too intimate, too close to Hermione’s heart to reveal. He had been hopeful after her visit to see Duggins, but seeing her earlier as she tried on all those gowns had shaken his confidence. Now, however, he had further confirmation of her feelings for him. Much as he wanted to explore those possibilities, there was a time and place, and this wasn’t it. In fact, he couldn’t let her dawdle any longer without drawing unwanted attention. This would have to be a conversation they had later, and he hoped like hell he would be around to have it.

Where is that Gryffindor courage you are so famous for, Miss Granger?” he prodded.

I’m afraid I forgot to put it in my bag, she replied, wavering.

It’s still there, you just have to let it come to the surface.” And then it hit him what he really needed to say. “You have to rethink this situation.

Yes? she replied, anxiously.

You are not Hermione Granger tonight.

Then who the hell am I? she responded somewhat desperately.

You are Venetia Kestrel,” he said silkily, as she raised a hand to finger the feathers on her mask. “You are a beautiful, confident witch, a woman of the world, someone who knows what she wants and always gets it in the end. Men and women alike envy you while also fearing your powers of perception and ferocity. You are the bird that flies the skies above, and they are your quarry.”       

She doesn’t sound anything like me, she tittered nervously.

We are many different things, all at the same time – we show different faces to the world around us based on the situation we find ourselves in. Merlin knows I would never have survived as long as I have if that weren’t the case. So tonight, you are Venetia.

She could see that curious heads were now turned in her direction, so she closed up her bag, lifted her chin, and walked towards them with as much self-assurance as she could muster, which turned out to be rather a lot. Nodding to them with what she hoped was a smirk of a smile, she passed through the front door and into the large entry hall.

That’s my Gryffindor lioness!” he praised.

She had gained entry, but now what was she supposed to do?

Chapter Text

The Party – Mingling

Once inside, Hermione immediately found herself at the back of a group of people who were slowly making their way further into the house.

That’s Natalia,” he said, “the one in red.”

Natalia, like every other woman there, was striking in her appearance – dark, almost black, shoulder-length hair, pale complexion, and piercing blue eyes bordering on violet. Like all the others, her dress, too, clung to her shapely figure, leaving nothing to the imagination. Hermione watched engrossed as Natalia greeted each guest with a peck on both cheeks, clinging possessively to them for the few moments it took to exchange pleasantries.

She certainly seems keen to make everyone feel welcome, she observed.

You have no idea,” he said derisively.

Do I need to worry about occluding?

“No, she’s shite at Legilimency as well as at potions.”

You’re telling me that, for once, there is something I don’t have to worry about? she responded almost humorously.

This is no time to get complacent,” he reminded her. 

Is she, is she dangerous? Hermione asked a bit hesitantly.

Not in the way you are imagining,” he snorted enigmatically.

When her turn came, Hermione took Natalia’s outstretched hand, clasping only her fingers as her grandmother had told her was the way the Muggle queen did it.

“I don’t believe we have met,” she observed, looking her guest over, inch by excruciating inch as though she were a delectable dessert. Somehow, Hermione managed not to flinch under her scrutiny.

“No, I’ve not had that pleasure,” she said cordially, “Venetia Kestrel.” Inwardly, however, Hermione was sinking fast.

How do I know her?! she was practically screaming.

Shsss, calm down,” he coached. “If she asks, tell her you know Lucius Malfoy.

“And how did you hear about our little gathering,” Natalia inquired.

 “Lucius,” she replied steadily, dropping the last name to suggest familiarity.

“Ah, dear Lucius,” she smiled a bit more warmly. “I was hoping he would be here tonight, but the way things are now . . . .” she trailed off noncommittally, as she took Hermione by the arm and escorted her into the ballroom. A floating tray stopped in front of her and Natalia plucked off two champagne flutes, offering one to Hermione.

“To new acquaintances,” she intoned as she clicked Hermione’s glass while looking her over again with interest. Hermione could not stop staring at her hostess.

Sip the wine,” he ordered.

She did as she was told, but continued to blush under Natalia’s clearly sensual eye. A man appeared at her hostess’s elbow and whispered something Hermione couldn’t hear.

“Please excuse me, I am needed elsewhere at the moment,” she apologized. “I will catch up with you later,” she whispered hotly in Hermione’s ear as she ran a perfectly manicured finger down the length of her guest’s bare arm. 

No you bloody well won’t! Hermione said silently but forcefully, taking another fortifying taste of her wine, her eyes coming to rest on a large mirror hanging on the wall next to her.

He couldn’t help but laugh at her expression. She blushed further and turned away quickly.

Exactly what ‘kind’ of party am I at, anyway, she asked, trying to appear casual but looking around with increasing trepidation as she noticed that some of the couples were exhibiting more . . . affection than she thought was, well, proper in a semi-public place.

It’s a gathering where discerning witches and wizards can freely enjoy each other’s company without a lot of questions being asked,” he explained as clinically and dispassionately as he could.

Fuck! she nearly choked on her champagne. It’s a wizarding swingers’ party! You’ve brought me to a fucking orgy!

I have done no such thing, Miss Granger,” he replied as sedately as he could, “will you please haul your mind out of the gutter.

Then what the bloody hell do you call it?

I told you,” he said in what he hoped was a calming voice, “it’s a place where witches and wizards can meet, chat, talk business, politics, and yes, if they are so inclined, have sex. But under no circumstances is anyone forced, here – there are no virgin sacrifices being made behind closed doors,” he assured her, hoping like hell he was right.

She didn’t like this, she didn’t like it at all, now fully comprehending not only Natalia’s interest in her but also the appraising glances she was getting from some wizards as well.

Where’s the fucking lizard? she asked testily, as she scanned the room.

It should be in Natalia’s bedroom.

Should be?

Well, it was there the last time I saw it,” he replied unthinkingly, realizing a potential error in judgment only after he had said it.  

She stiffened and turned again to the mirror.

And you were in her bedroom because . . . . ?

He paused to consider his options. He could lie and say that he was there professionally, to see a rare reptile, or he could tell her the truth. But she had deduced it before he could speak up.

You slept with that woman?! A woman you say you despise?! A woman you denigrated in a professional journal?! You slept with her?! At one of these . . . parties?! Her outrage knew no bounds, and while it was couched in terms of condemning his seeming opportunism, in reality, it was more than that, and she knew it. More to the point, so did he.

Miss Granger,” he said quite steely, “I have never presented myself as anything more than a deeply flawed individual. Over the years, I have done many things I regret, all in the service of what I was repeatedly told was the ‘greater good.’ I did what was needed to get information and ingredients for the potions I was compelled to brew for the Dark Lord, and she had plenty of both. It was nothing more than that, and I am not prepared to discuss it further,” he finished firmly, failing to add it was just one time, and he nearly vomited afterwards. He had done what he had had to do and Hermione was simply going to have to accept that fact, even if it was hard for her to fully understand.

Hermione deposited her half-empty glass on a nearby table and kept herself behind her walls. She knew she had no right to be angry with him. It was in the past, it did not involve her. It was what spies did and it was what she had done this evening, using her sexuality to gain entrée to an exclusive party in order to steal an ingredient she needed. She wasn’t a schoolgirl anymore, she was a woman. She had seen war close up, had been at the center of it and knew what it meant to fight on different fronts. She was letting her emotions get the better of her. She took a deep breath to try and calm down.

Where is her bedroom? she asked as neutrally as she could manage.

Upstairs. You’ll have to go back into the entrance hall,” he responded evenly.

There was a wide staircase along one side of the hall leading to the next level, and several entwined couples were working their way up, their intent clearly to get to a bedroom before they entirely forgot themselves and shagged each other right there on the steps.

Her room is down the corridor to the right at the top of the stairs.”

You mean behind the beefy bloke blocking the entrance way? she observed caustically.

Bugger.

I take it the rooms to the left are where guests can . . . ‘recreate?’ she asked sarcastically. There was no response.  

I don’t suppose I can floo or apparate, she stated more than asked. 

No. The house is charmed – that’s why you arrived at the front gates.

These old houses always have back stairs, she observed as she affected an interest in a painting on the wall to avoid attracting attention. Maybe I could access the upper floor from below stairs.

Only if you want to be seen by the house elves. We need a diversion.

The problem, though, is I’ll need one going up and coming down. She thought to herself. I have an idea.

What?

I need to wait until Natalia is finished greeting her guests. Until then, I should mingle.

What’s the plan?

She smirked at her reflection in the glass covering the painting.

Explain only as much as someone needs to know. That is your philosophy, isn’t it? she queried smugly. 

He didn’t like the sound of that. “This isn’t a bloody game, Miss Granger.

Sure as hell feels like one, she replied sarcastically, reaching for another glass as it floated by.

She returned to the ballroom and wound her way slowly to the back of the room, attracting appreciative glances, some of them quite openly lecherous, from a number of wizards. He said nothing, but he seethed, he absolutely seethed at the way men were looking at her, in spite of the fact that he was ultimately the one responsible for exposing her to such scrutiny. That he hadn’t had much choice in the matter didn’t make it any easier to watch.

She was drawn into short conversational exchanges here and there about inconsequential things, but she was able to extricate herself after a few moments. The party picked up in her estimation when she saw the hors d’oeuvres table, which was presided over by an ice sculptured peacock. Her stomach grumbled as if on cue.

Is the food edible? she asked hopefully, eyeing the wide range of dishes before her.

Miss Granger! We did not come here for dinner!

All I’ve had are eggs and toast, and frankly I wouldn’t mind a decent meal, she said grumpily, picking up a cucumber slice with a dab of crème fraiche topped by a bit of Scottish salmon.

“Hmmmm,” she hummed aloud. These are simply wonderful.

She felt cloth brush against her bare arm as she reached for a second one. She turned and nodded briefly at the overly tanned, fifty-something wizard who had joined her at the table. As she popped the cucumber into her mouth, the wizard looked straight at her and tongued a raw oyster suggestively before sucking it down. She turned away, picked up a napkin at the end of the table and spit out the canapé. 

Had enough to eat, Miss Granger?” he taunted.

She didn’t give him the satisfaction of a reply. As she started to make her way once more to the front of the room, she spied the back of a wizard who had quite distinctive long, straight, blond hair. She’d know that head anywhere.

Fuck! 

Calm down, Miss Granger,” he barked.

What the bloody hell is he doing here? she spat. Shouldn’t he be embracing a Dementor along about now in Azkaban’s deepest darkest dankest hole?

Malfoy turned slightly and she moved around to the back of the pillar next to her, looking up as if she were studying its capital.

No, as a matter of fact,” he said resignedly, already anticipating her explosion. 

What?! 

It’s not that simple, Miss Granger,” he sniped.

Of course not! Nothing ever fucking is!

Get a grip, will you please?” he commanded roughly. “The Dark Lord lost Malfoy’s allegiance years ago, and over the last twelve months, when he tried to recruit Draco, Lucius started to feed us information that proved invaluable.

I thought you were doing that!

I couldn’t be with ‘himself’ all of the time,” he hissed, “I still had to teach snotty-nosed, self-righteous bigoted pure-bloods!

She huffed.

It’s highly likely that he’s going to be exonerated, or at the most get a suspended sentence for anything he did for the Dark Lord, given his aid to the order.

She pinched the brow of her nose and considered what he said.

But he’s . . . .

A prickly, supercilious, narrow-minded, womanizing arse, fixated – in order – on his hair, wallet, prick, and blood-line,” he finished for her. “His only redeeming feature is his boundless love for his son” – she snorted at that – “which in the end prompted him to do the right thing for once in his pitifully shallow life.” 

Was his information really that useful? she finally asked, strained.

Yes,” he said resolutely. “And in that vein, you should know that I will be a character witness for him, as will several other members of the Order of the Phoenix. That’s probably the reason he feels confident enough to be here. Indeed, showing up in public as though he is a hero is strategic – sitting at home in the dark is the behavior of a guilty man.

Hermione could only shake her head in disbelief.

Nothing is ever as it seems, she observed cynically.

No, Miss Granger, it is not, and for that we can sometimes be grateful,” he said sharply.

The best she could do on the subject of Malfoy was to agree to disagree and so she gave him a wide berth as she made her way to the front of the room. She could share what her personal ‘experiences’ with the aristocrat had been like another time. Right now, Natalia was mingling with her guests – it was time to put her plan into action.

Hermione put her glass down on a table and moved closer to the mirror she had looked in earlier when she first arrived. She slipped a finger under the mask and smeared the eyeliner of her right eye. Then she turned and approached her hostess.

“Natalia,” she said smoothly, touching the woman’s elbow lightly with her hand.

Seeing it was Hermione, Natalia moved in suggestively, until they were almost hip to hip.

“I seem to have smeared my makeup and I prefer to repair it by hand. Is there anywhere I could touch it up?”

“I know just the place,” Natalia smirked, taking her by the hand.

Miss Granger,” he said warningly, “I really don’t think this is a good idea.

She agreed, especially in the face of the knowing looks that were being cast her way, but she couldn’t think of a better plan. The notion that her hostess would steer her to her private bathroom and then leave her to it, though, was quickly evaporating – Natalia was caressing her hand as they ascended the stairs.

Miss Granger,” he growled. 

They walked past the security wizard and went to the end of the corridor, stopping in front of a door. Natalia waved her hand, bringing down her wards, and Hermione stepped into her bedroom. Even in the low light, she could see that the decoration was in keeping with the style of the building, from the architectural trimmings right down to the furniture and fabrics. However, there was no sign of a terrarium.

She felt Natalia’s hand on the small of her back as she was guided to an enormous and entirely modern bathroom suite. Natalia waved her hand, turning on the lights, and then drew her attention to a drawer in the vanity.

“I think you will find everything you need right here, Venetia,” she said, her voice pure liquid.

Hermione, though, looked past her to the terrarium under the window.   

“What’s that?” she asked, feigning surprise.

Natalia turned to look behind her.

“Oh, that’s Freddy.”

“Freddy?”

“He’s my little pet,” she replied languidly, bending down and tapping on the glass. She reached for a jar, unscrewed its top, and picked out a large cricket.

“He’s poisonous,” she said nonchalantly, lifting the terrarium lid slightly and dropping the insect into the tank, “but the venom is useful in certain potions.”

They watched as Freddy eagerly consumed his meal.

“Do you do anything with potions?” Natalia asked casually.

“Um, no, I don’t really have much of an interest in them,” she lied, hopefully convincingly. 

Natalia brushed her hands lightly, stood, and returned her attention to Hermione.

“You should take an interest, potions can change every aspect of your life, Venetia,” she whispered provocatively, putting a hand to Hermione’s waist before slipping it slowly over her hip. As Natalia drew her guest in close to brush against her lips, Hermione was barely able to suppress a gasp.

Miss Granger, you don’t know what you are doing . . . .

“I work for a company that produces potions that, shall we say, heighten the most basic of human experiences.” Natalia now pulled Hermione firmly to her as she pressed a full-on kiss to her lips that quickly bloomed. Hermione tried to ignore the fact that her hostess was exploring the inside of her mouth with her tongue, and chanced casting one eye to the terrarium where Freddy was settling down on a rock to digest.

Miss Granger . . . .

Bugger off.

You do know what’s happening, don’t you?” he asked, insistently.

Well let’s see, we are breast to breast, her hand’s on my arse, and she’s checking my fillings, what possible conclusion could I draw from that? Frankly, I’ve never been so wanted in all my life . . . .  

You shouldn’t be doing this,” he said more forcefully.

I’m going to do whatever I need to in order to get that bloody lizard’s tail.

This isn’t some fucking school project, Miss Granger!” he retorted sharply.

I can do this if I have to. At least I understand how a woman’s body works, she said snidely as she sucked on Natalia’s bottom lip.

You will regret it,” he continued to argue, vowing privately to fill in the gap in her understanding of men’s bodies at some later point in time.

Do you regret it?

Is that what this is about? Because I fucked her?” he asked incredulously.

No, she said emphatically, this is about me getting a key ingredient for a potion that will save your life, you sorry arsed git!

And it was true, mostly.

Natalia had progressed to Hermione’s neck and was working her way down her cleavage. She moaned in a way she thought would convey continuing interest.

I have an idea.

Well don’t hold back, for fuck’s sake, I’m one lick away from being completely naked, here! she exclaimed, feeling Natalia’s hand on the zipper at the side of her dress.

Push her away and tell her you need to clean up.

Hermione gently untangled herself from Natalia’s arms, feigning breathlessness. 

“I would like to freshen up, before we, um . . . .”

Natalia smiled in understanding and pulled away. “There is toothpaste and a new toothbrush here,” she said, opening a second drawer, “and mouthwash underneath,” gesturing to below the sink. And then she embraced Hermione intimately again, briefly kissing her on the lips. “But don’t bathe,” she added before leaving and closing the door behind her.

Don’t . . . bathe?! she couldn’t help but exclaim.

I’ll explain another time,” he quipped, hoping he really would get that opportunity.

Bloody hell, she commented, shaking her head and trying to steady herself. What’s your plan, and it had better be good!

Turn on the taps,” he ordered. She did as he asked.

Now what?

It’s time to have a tête-à-tête with ‘Freddy,’” he said scathingly.

She tipped the lid, disturbing the lizard’s post-meal nap. He immediately assumed a defensive position. She reached into her bag and drew out her wand and with a minute swish, immobilized him. She then zapped his tail and, using her tweezers, picked up the tiny piece and dropped it into the waiting tube. Once released, Freddy, now incensed, started to run laps around the inside of the tank. It had taken mere seconds to get his tail.  

Right, now what do we do about Natalia?

Sleep with her, since you seem so determined?” he suggested.

Not funny, Severus Snape!

Can you cast remotely?

As long as it isn’t too far away, why?

The hors d’oeuvre table at the end of the room, with the peacock ice sculpture – spell it to collapse.

With pleasure.

She chanted under her breath as she weaved her wand back and forth in the air. As she waited for the inevitable interruption, she turned off the water and fixed her eye makeup. When she heard voices in the other room, she opened the door to ask, as innocently as possible, if there was a problem, and caught the face of one of Natalia’s assistants fading in the fire.

“Nothing to worry yourself about, I’ll be right back,” Natalia responded, clearly annoyed at the interruption. Hermione peeked around the door to the hallway and watched her hostess walk briskly through the corridor before rounding the corner at the top of the stairs. Hermione shut the door behind her, walked blithely around the guard, and watched over the banister as Natalia went through to the ballroom. Hermione descended quickly and headed for the front door, and ran straight into the arms of Lucius Malfoy.

Bugger!

Occlude!” he sharply ordered.

“Well what do we have here,” Malfoy said lasciviously, as she presented him with a conjured smile and neutral thoughts, unsure if he recognized her.

Brazen it out,” he commanded steadily, also uncertain as to whether or not her cover was blown. 

“I’m terribly sorry,” she said as breathlessly as possible, pretending to appreciate the view.

“Lucius Malfoy,” he said, bringing her hand to his lips, “at your service.” He continued to hold her hand as he searched her face. Just then, she heard Natalia behind her.

“Venetia, I thought you would wait for me upstairs,” she said chidingly.

“I wanted to see if I could help,” she explained, “is everything alright now?”

“Fine, nothing they couldn’t have dealt with. Lucius,” she said, offering him her cheek, which he duly pecked. And still, he did not release her hand.

“I see you have found your friend,” she commented, nodding at Hermione.

“My . . . friend?” he asked smoothly, a smile playing on his lips as he gripped her hand even more tightly. 

“Venetia Kestrel,” Natalia replied, looking at him quizzically.

“Ah, yes, Venetia.” He now cradled her hand in both of his and stared intently into her eyes. “When was the last time we met, do you recall?” Hermione felt a mental nudge, nothing aggressive, just curious, which she was able to redirect.

“It’s been a while,” she smiled confidently before looking away at a tray of champagne. He followed her glance and summoned the wine. He took one of the two glasses and gave it to Hermione, and rather than offer the other to his hostess, he pointedly brought it to his lips and sipped. Natalia raised an eyebrow, cast a longing look at Hermione, and then excused herself.

“Shall we?” he asked, indicating the ballroom.

He knows! He fucking knows! she practically screamed as she sipped on the wine.

I don’t think so. Continue to play along,” the spy in him advised.

“So we are friends, are we, Venetia?” he asked, as he looked around the room, rubbing the back of her hand with his thumb. The dancing portion of the evening had begun, and they skirted the edge of the floor.

“I believe we met once or twice – it will have been a while ago,” she replied noncommittally over the music.

“I don’t think so,” he whispered in her ear, “because you I would have remembered.” His breath was warm on her cheek.

“Perhaps we can get better acquainted now?” she flirted.

He smiled seductively at her suggestion.

He doesn’t know! He doesn’t know!

But he could remember at any moment, you need to leave, and I mean right now,” the tone in his voice brooking no argument.

He won’t let go of my hand.

Tell him you need the toilet, that you’ve left the floo on, that you have to feed your fucking kneazle, I don’t bloody care, but you need to get out of here!

“Do you dance, Mr. Malfoy?” she asked coyly.

Miss Granger! Did you fucking hear what I said?

“I feel like I’ve been dancing with you since I arrived . . . Venetia,” he cooed, bringing her fingers to his lips and running the tip of his tongue against them ever so lightly. There was no mistaking the lust in his deep blue eyes, nor in his other hand which was caressing her waist.

I’m going to fucking kill him,” he said slowly, malevolently, and with intent, “and I’m going to start with his bollocks . . . .

“I meant the other kind of dancing,” she said suggestively, “which is a prelude to . . . other things.” She ran her hand down the front of his impeccably tailored coat and flashed him a sensuous smile that promised oh so much more.

“Whatever you desire,” he answered provocatively, vanishing their drinks and leading her to the dance floor.

A waltz began, and while she was strictly an amateur, in his arms she positively floated around the room. She could not deny that he was good-looking, knew how to dress, and could dance like a pro but she despised, reviled, and loathed him. Every single thing he had ever said to her had been to her detriment, but she couldn’t let any of that show, even though he was looking at her ravenously.

Extricate yourself and then out the garden doors straight to the apparition point,” he continued to press. 

I’ve got to be nearer the exit to do that, she shot back.

Bloody pure-bloods and their fucking dancing lessons!” he continued to rant.

As they neared the doors to the garden, she came down hard on Malfoy’s right foot. He winced, but the gentleman he affected to be prevented him from criticizing his dance partner.

“Oh, I am so sorry,” she apologized, as she practically dragged him from the floor and directed him to an empty chair. “I know the perfect remedy for this,” she whispered, her lips brushing his ear ever so slightly. “I’ll be right back.” As he watched the dancers glide gracefully by, waiting expectantly for the return of his ravishing new friend, Hermione was walking quickly to the front gates. Moments later, and she was back in the dungeons.

She left the lizard’s tail in his lab before heading into the bedroom. She stopped in front of the mirror and took off her mask, exhilaration radiating in her eyes.  

That went well, don’t you think? she asked, high on adrenaline.

Well?! He was nearly apoplectic, though he was careful to occlude his thoughts as she retreated to the bathroom to change. They had been a hair’s breath away from disaster all evening, starting with that bloody dress. He didn’t like to think about how many unsavory people would now be able to identify her just from what they had seen of her in that gown. Her first time was nearly with that insatiable cow of a potions mistress, while his Death Eater ‘colleague’ fully planned to show her the other side of that sexual coin, and he knew Lucius would have been quite thorough in his introduction. The kind of ‘education’ she could have gotten this evening did not bear thinking about.

She had changed into her tee-shirt and he watched her remove the makeup, slowly reverting to the Miss Granger he loved. He . . . loved? That truth had been building for some time, he could finally accept, but the evening’s events had brought that fact to the fore and it was now irrevocably set in stone. Yes, by god, he loved her, and there was every indication that she might feel similarly. But he wouldn’t speak of it until matters with him were settled, one way or the other. He did not want to begin anything that he might not be able to finish – it wouldn’t be fair to her.

In spite of still being very much under the influence of the adrenaline rush, Hermione was glad to put some distance between her and the evening’s goings on. The first thing she wanted to do was get out of the dress. He may have given her an ‘identity’ that she could focus on to get through the party, but she was definitely not that woman and was glad for the comfort and familiarity of the plain, slightly over-sized cotton tee-shirt she typically slept in. Nor did she like the feel or the smell of the makeup she had been wearing. She wanted to scour it away along with the memories of Natalia and Lucius Malfoy. She didn’t like their world, where loyalties were apparently as changeable as their sexual partners. But she especially did not like the openly carnal looks that were cast so casually in her direction, like she was merely a sexual commodity. Sex divorced from intimacy was not for her, and she hoped it wasn’t for him, either. She took a great deal of satisfaction from having successfully secured a bit of ‘Freddy,’ but she didn’t want to wear that dress again – unless, of course, it was just for him.

She lay down on the bed and pulled up the throw.

Merlin, it’s good to be home, she sighed before drifting off, not realizing that she hadn’t occluded that last thought. He couldn’t have agreed with her more, especially if home to her meant his quarters.

 

 

Chapter Text

Lucius

Hermione slept later than she had planned, although given how late it was when she returned the night before, or rather early that morning, she had needed the sleep.

Good morning. Sleep well Miss Granger?” he asked softly.

She hummed in response, hauling on her jeans under her tee-shirt as she stumbled towards the kitchen. She was really dragging this morning and was in desperate need of a cup of tea. Merlin knew what he had planned next for her today. She flipped on the kettle and got out the tea tin. Opening the refrigerator, she realized that he was almost completely out of food. There was one last piece of bread and she popped it into the toaster.

Have a house elf bring you something,” he ordered.

She yawned. You have seen this place, right? Everyone’s been drafted into helping clean up, and I really don’t want to add to anyone’s work.

I assume they are already feeding everyone who is still here?

She didn’t know, she really hadn’t had a minute to think about it. The kettle clicked and she poured the tea. While she was waiting, she checked the freezer compartment – empty.

Do you have any tinned soup, she asked as she began to browse the kitchen’s lower cabinets.

There might . . . be . . . a . . . can . . . .” His voice suddenly sounded weak, fading in and out like the signal of a Muggle radio.

Professor?

Miss Granger . . . I . . . .

Alarm suddenly gripped her, and she ran to the study floo, calling out her destination.

As she appeared in the ward, she could see activity in the professor’s room, and she was quickly at Madam Pomfrey’s side as the mediwitch cast spell after spell over his body. She didn’t want to interrupt, so she kept silent and grasped her professor’s hand in hers. She chewed her bottom lip as Pomfrey frantically waved her wand back and forth, constantly chanting. Her professor was slipping away, the nerves in his body slowly losing their connections to his vital organs. When she could stand it no longer, she reached over and ran her free hand through his lanky hair, clenched it tightly in her fist, and pulled hard. Then she leaned in close to his ear.

“Don’t die on me you sodding bastard, don’t you bloody dare die on me! Do you hear me, you bad-tempered pain in the arse spy extraordinaire – I will never forgive you!”

She paused momentarily as Pomfrey shot a perplexed look in her direction as she continued to cast.

“If you die on me,” Hermione resumed, “I’m going to tell everyone you know, and even those you don’t, how kind you really were, that you had planned to get a dog when the war was over, that you were going to team-teach a divination seminar with Sibyl Trelawney, that you love children – you absolutely adore them – and your only regret was that you didn’t have a large brood of your own that you could shepherd through this school.”

She heard a faint sputtering.

You wouldn’t . . . have the nerve . . . .” His voice was still weak but it was getting stronger.

Oh wouldn’t I? she taunted, still gripping his hand tightly.

Pomfrey finally ceased her waving and they both watched as his erratic breathing steadied.

“How long until the potion is ready?” Pomfrey barely whispered.

“When do you have to have it?”

“You have forty-eight hours, at the most,” she replied, exhausted from her ministrations. The two women looked at each other – it had been a close call. There was no more time.

Grim faced, Hermione went back to the dungeon. She headed straight into the bathroom and brushed her teeth and washed her face.

Miss Granger . . . what . . . happened?

His voice was back to normal, but he was clearly confused, and she hoped he hadn’t heard Pomfrey lay out the timeline.

You had an episode, but you’re stable now, she said, giving nothing away.

She applied some eyeliner and mascara and then returned to the bedroom.

What are you doing?

I . . . have to go out.

She put on a nice pair of black slacks – the ones that had the special pocket for her wand – some dress clogs to give her some height, and a fitted, button-down white shirt. Without checking herself in the standing mirror, she went straight to the lab, opened a drawer and pulled out a strip of testing paper.

Miss Granger?

She stood in the middle of his study and before he could say anything else, she vocalized her destination.

“Malfoy Manor.”

It was a suitably grey, misty morning, and beyond the gates in front of her loomed the place that haunted her nightmares. The entrance was warded, although her arrival had triggered an alarm and the disembodied voice of a house elf asked for her name and her business there.

“Miss Hermione Granger, to see Mr. Malfoy on personal business.”

Miss Granger, I strenuously object to this and insist that we return to the school. This is something Minerva can handle.

There is no time to waste in talking, planning, strategizing, or whatever else it is that you usually do. The time for all of that has passed.

The wards dropped and the gate opened, and as she walked up the drive she summoned every last ounce of her courage and determination while desperately tamping down her terrifying memories.

There is one thing I need to know before I go in.

You shouldn’t be going in at all,” he interjected.

That horse has left the barn, she quickly responded as she made her way up the drive. I’ve brought a testing strip. What will happen to it when it’s dipped into the Vitae et Anima?

He paused before answering, but knew she would not give in. “It will turn yellow – the potion itself will smell of peaches,” he finally replied.

The front door was already open and a house elf waiting for her as she approached.

“Master will see you – come.”

The place had been ice cold the last time she had been there, but this morning it was comfortably warm. The fine furnishings were also out of keeping with her recollection as well, but then, she hadn’t seen this part of the place when she had been there previously. She was shown into a well-appointed room with a view of the immaculate back gardens. The furnishings – from the tables, chairs, and cabinets to the drapery, upholstery, and carpets – were all Regency style. She sneered. It looked as uptight as its owner. All for show, not a comfortable corner in the entire place.

She was occluding and he could not read her.

Miss Granger,” he said, the concern reflected in his voice, “if you insist on doing this you must let me guide you.

She didn’t respond – she had to keep a clear head, and exchanging thoughts at this moment would only be a distraction.

Hermione took up a position in front of the fireplace, shoving the fingers of her left hand casually into her trouser pocket while draping her right hand lightly over her concealed wand. She pulled back her shoulders, raised her chin, and steeled herself for what was to come. She jumped slightly when the door finally opened, although it would have been imperceptible to the man entering the room. She watched impassively as Lucius slowly closed the distance between them, surprise and more than a touch of curiosity written across his face.

“Miss Granger,” he drawled, looking her over, “to what do I owe this . . . pleasure?”

A slew of insults briefly raced through her mind before she shoved them forcefully behind her walls. It had happened so fast that even he had not been able to get a handle on them beyond the fact that they were intense.

“I understand that you are in possession of a certain potion ingredient that I would like to obtain.”

“Oh, yes? And what would that be?” he said, affecting nonchalance.

Vitae et Anima.

The corners of his mouth twitched slightly, but Hermione caught the movement.

“Now, that is a rather . . . special ingredient,” he purred.

He gestured for her to sit down, and when she did not move, he took a seat at the end of a delicate settee, languidly draping an arm across its back as he crossed one leg over the other. She was acutely aware that his every move, his every gesture was precisely calculated to intimidate, but she refused to be daunted.

“Do you have it?” she asked dispassionately.

“Why do you need to know?” he volleyed smoothly.

Her brows arched slightly and she tried to look disinterested.

“I am brewing a potion,” she offered vaguely.

“What kind of potion?” he asked, rubbing his fingers slowly back and forth across the back of the settee.

“A medical potion.”

“For anyone we know?” he asked, intrigued.

“A friend of yours, I believe,” she responded coolly.

“Severus?” he quizzed. “So the rumors are true, he didn’t die as the Dark Lord believed . . . . ,” he said, as much to himself as to her.

“Umm,” she confirmed placidly, not wanting to give his true condition away.

“And if I don’t give you the Vitae et Anima?”

She shrugged her shoulders. “It was my understanding that you needed him as a defense witness at your trial.”

“There are other, infinitely more, shall we say, likeable people in the Order of the Phoenix who are willing to stand up for me. I don’t think the loss of his support would be too damaging.” He rested a forefinger on his upper lip as he studied her carefully.

Hermione smiled faintly, and while she knew that he was on the verge of remembering, she didn’t flinch under his searching eyes.

“You aren’t concerned that members of the Order might not be willing to vouch for you if they discovered that you had a chance to help him but didn’t?”

He laughed sardonically. “I don’t think that information would trouble too many members. In fact, it might actually further my own cause.”

They were seemingly at an impasse.

“You haven’t asked what I want for the Vitae et Anima,” he stated teasingly.

“Whatever it is,” she said indifferently, “I’m sure . . . Severus would be willing to compensate you accordingly. What is it that you want?”

He continued to stare at her. She felt a mental nudge, and she swiftly shoved him out. He laughed again and rose, coming to stand in front of her.

He ran his left hand up and down her upper arm slowly. “What I want,” he said, leaning in to whisper in her ear, “is Venetia Kestrel.”

She stood stock still, showing no emotion.

“I didn’t realize it was you until just now. It was quite a . . . transformation, I must say,” he said as he pressed his right hand to her breast, kneaded it slowly, and licked her neck just below her earlobe.

Miss Granger,” he said unequivocally, “take your wand and hex him, do it now!”

“You really want to bed one of your son’s schoolmates?” she asked sarcastically.

“You were never mates, Miss Granger,” he responded evenly, nipping her earlobe with his teeth, “and you are of age, so I don’t have any problems on that score either.”

“And your wife?” she asked with disdain.

“She turns a blind eye to my amours, as I do hers. Are we finished with this thread?” His right hand slipped down to her waist and he pulled her in tight against him, his erection pressed determinedly against her abdomen.

Miss Granger . . . Hermione, hex him for Merlin’s sake!” he pleaded desperately.

“I want to see the Vitae et Anima first,” she demanded calmly, pushing him slightly away.

“You don’t trust me?” he asked, his breath hot on her cheek as he brushed a stray lock from her forehead.

“Not for an instant,” she replied evenly.

“You are . . . quite . . . beautiful,” he said hoarsely, “and I’ll wager . . . untouched,” he sighed. His eyes were transfixed on her mouth and he slowly moved in to get a sample of things to come. He barely touched her, but she leaned into the kiss, opening it, running her tongue across his lips and then slipping it inside his mouth. He responded with fervor, holding her body even more tightly to him and grinding his prick against her. After a moment, her head tipped back.

“I’m waiting, Lucius,” she said, her eyes flashing a distaste and contempt that he found even more arousing.

He smirked, and released her reluctantly.

“I shall be but a moment,” he breathed before turning and leaving the room, shutting the door quietly behind him.

You can’t do this,” he began.

Stop! Just . . . stop! Get out of my head!

I’m not going to permit you to do this,” he said more insistently.

It’s not up to you.

I would rather go to my grave than have him . . . touch you,” he said with force.

And I would rather you didn’t go to your grave under any circumstances! She could feel herself starting to unravel.

Seeing an opening in her distress, he pressed on. “You think this is the right thing to do, you think it’s some noble sacrifice,” he scoffed, “but it’s not.” He would have to be cruel. “You believe we have a future, but we don’t,” he said in his best snarl. “I am twenty-years older than you, a nasty, brutish man who was uniquely suited to wade through the effluent that surrounded the Dark Lord. I have done things that would make you hate and despise me. I have stood by, mute, as people I knew – people you knew, Miss Granger – were tortured and usually killed. There are very good reasons why members of the Order will always revile me. Banish your childish romantic notions about me and leave this place!

Hermione turned to face the mirror, her eyes bright with anger and unshed tears. Fuck you, Severus Snape! Fuck you! I don’t care if you can’t bear to look at or even think about me after this. I don’t care if you throw me into the gutter with the rest of the Dark Lord’s whores. Do you hear me? She raised a fist and shook it at her reflection. I. Don’t. Fucking. Care! I’m not going to let you die! So you can just shut the fuck up!

She turned back to the room and took several deep breaths, forcing everything back behind her walls. To outward appearances, she was no different than she had been before Lucius had gone in search of the Vitae et Anima, although her heart was near to breaking. When Malfoy returned with the vial, he crossed the room slowly, like a big cat about to eat its prey. She took out the slip of paper she had brought from the lab and he smiled knowingly, removing the stopper. She dipped the tip of the paper into the liquid and pulled it out. Within seconds, it turned a vibrant yellow.

“May I,” she asked, bending down to sniff the concoction while keeping her eyes firmly on him in case he lunged. It smelled of peaches.

He resealed the vial and set it on a nearby table.

“And now, Miss Granger, it is time to pay up,” he said lasciviously, as he looked her up and down eagerly and started to unbutton his coat, clearly planning to take her right there in the room.

“There are one or two other things I feel obliged to bring up first,” she noted officiously.

“And what would they be,” he asked, quickly slipping off his outer jacket, tossing it over the settee, and starting in on the buttons of his undercoat.

She shoved up the left sleeve of her blouse, and, wandlessly, removed the glamour. Scars marked the inside of her arm, forming the word ‘Mudblood.’ Malfoy flinched visibly and paused, swallowing hard.

Merlin’s blood,” he reflexively gasped.

“Squeamish, Lucius?” she taunted, as she held her arm higher. “You weren’t the last time I was here, when Bella was carving that into my flesh.”

“That . . . was excessive,” he stammered.

“But not so much for you to have objected in the moment.”

“I would not have been able to stop it without betraying my loyalty to the Order,” he stated, trying to regain his composure. “I think you will find that Severus was in a similar position.”

“Don’t think for a moment that I don’t understand how you are twisting this.” she growled. “You didn’t stop it because you were afraid of Bella, afraid of what she might say to the Dark Lord.”

“Split your hairs, it matters little now,” he said tersely, as he adjusted the front of his trousers and turned his attentions back to his buttons.  

“How we see and interpret things matters a very great deal. Appearances matter, and I think your image is of paramount importance to you, Lucius,” she said menacingly. “You are most certainly right that some members of the Order would not be unduly upset if Severus were to die, but let me assure you that I would be able to persuade its more prominent members – the Weasleys, McGonagall, Shacklebolt, and the most important member of all, Harry Potter himself – that you are slug slime, and they in turn would be only too happy to put pressure on everyone else to make sure that you and your family lived the rest of your lives in isolation, shunned by all society.”

Lucius’s fingers ceased their work and beads of perspiration started to break out across his forehead.  

“How would your wife feel about that?”

He clenched his jaw.

“Who would marry Draco when his family was in such disgrace? What would happen to your precious blood line under those circumstances?”

And then she went in for the kill.

“And all that money you have? Where would you spend it? Who would accept it? The only thing it would be good for would be to wipe your arse,” she threw at him in disgust. “If you want to survive in this new world, if you want to thrive and be accepted, then give me the Vitae et Anima and we will be good.”

She stared at him steadily. He slowly reached down and palmed the vial, still thinking about what he should do.

“I have one condition,” he said finally, suddenly clutching the vial to his chest possessively. 

“Yes?”

“You cannot reveal any of this to Severus.” She suppressed a smile. “Give me your word,” he insisted.

“My word will be good enough?” she asked a bit suspiciously.

“You’re a Gryffindor goody-two-shoes,” he mocked disparagingly, “you wouldn’t betray your word even it meant having your liver ripped out. And I would enjoy knowing that this was a secret the two of us . . . shared,” he said lewdly.

“You have my word that I won’t say a word about this to Severus,” she promised grimly.

He dropped the ingredient into her hand. She pocketed the vial and brushed past him as he started to put his coat back on. She should have been exultant, but she wouldn’t feel secure until she was out the gates and back in the dungeon, so she kept her thoughts to herself. But even after she had returned to the study, a sense of triumph eluded her. Their argument weighed heavily on her, although she was still keeping her thoughts in check.

She placed the precious Vitae et Anima among the other ingredients before heading to the kitchen. She was very shaky and needed to calm down. The earlier pot of tea she had made but not drunk was still on the counter and she vanished it and made a new one. As it steeped, she buttered the cold piece of toast still sitting in the toaster.

Do you have anything to say? she finally inquired between bites.

Yes,” he answered, slowly and more than a little sadly, “rather a great deal, as a matter of fact.

She sat down so that her legs wouldn’t buckle underneath her.

That was a tour de force. You were simply . . . magnificent. It would have taken my breath away, if the poison in my body upstairs weren’t already doing that for me,” he said, trying to ease the tension between them as gently as he could. “But it doesn’t really alter the essential truth of what I told you,” he continued remorsefully. “I am a deeply damaged individual – you’ve seen some of the scars on my body, but they are nothing – nothing – to the mental and emotional scars accrued over a lifetime, and I was already that way before the war broke out. It’s what made me, as you so generously put it, a spy extraordinaire. I have done . . . unspeakable things, and they cannot be defended simply because I was on ‘the right side.’” He paused. “We have been skirting this issue for some time, now, Miss Granger,” he said softly.

Hermione let what he had said sink in as she poured the tea. She sat for a while with her hands clapped around the cup, still thinking behind her wall.

What would have happened if the Dark Lord had won? she asked quietly, finally taking a sip of her tea.

It . . . would have been unthinkable.

Tell me, she replied, steeling herself.

I know what you are trying to do, Miss Granger . . . .

Hermione, she interrupted.

What?

My name. It’s Hermione. I am not a schoolgirl and you are not my professor . . . Severus. Tell me. Voldemort must have shared his intentions with you, she stated, no longer willing to employ a cowardly euphemism for someone who had been so genuinely evil. Begin with what would have happened to the survivors of the battle.

He was silent for a very long time but Hermione sat patiently, waiting to hear the truth. Eventually, he spoke.

Most of them would have been tortured and then killed, regardless of his promises. The Weasleys, McGonagall and the rest of the faculty . . . .

And me, she added softly.

Yes,” he replied, barely a whisper, “most certainly.”                 

What else?

Pure bloods who had opposed him would have been ‘reeducated’ and forced into marriages to breed, and the children from those unions would have been brought up in special ‘nurseries.’ Muggleborn witches and wizards who were deemed safe would have been enslaved. The centerpiece of these plans was, of course, the torture and killing of Mr. Potter. It would have been . . . prolonged and . . . excruciating. Then the Dark Lord – Voldemort – would have turned his ambitions for absolute dominance on the Muggle world.

He didn’t need to tell her what that would have meant – more torture, death, and destruction on an even wider and unimaginable scale.

I have killed, too, she said in a little voice, shivering at the thought.

What?

In the battle. I have suppressed it, deliberately not thought about it this last week because . . . well, there has been so much else to think about, she smiled ruefully, but I have killed. I know I have, she said with chilling certainty.

Mi . . . Hermione . . . .”

I am simply too good a witch to have missed with my wand, she interrupted. You know it’s true – you saw how I stunned Moran.

You did what you had to do, to protect yourself, to protect others,” he began to offer.

And if that is sufficient to absolve me, she swiftly interjected, why isn’t it for you?

It’s . . . different.

No it bloody well isn’t, she said quietly but just as firmly. You are right, I don’t know what you did, and yes, I’m sure I would be shocked, but don’t think for an instant that the world would be a better place if you hadn’t acted as you did. You saved us. It’s the simple, unembellished truth. You, Severus, you did that. All of us are going to think long and hard about what we’ve done in the days and months to come, and it’s not going to be easy – for anyone. And then you know what? We are going to get on with our lives, because we will dishonor everyone’s sacrifice if we don’t. Now if you don’t mind, she said, getting up and putting her cup in the sink, I have a potion to brew.

 

 

Chapter Text

Brewing

Hermione took down a work apron from behind the lab door and put it on as she began checking the ingredients against the initial list she had made.

Right, the time has come to share your deepest professional secrets, she said in what she hoped was a good-humored, business-like fashion as she tried to mask her very real fears over preparing what she knew would be the most difficult potion she had ever attempted.

Before we get started . . . .” he hesitated.

Yes? she asked expectantly.

Go to the cabinet opposite the table – bottom shelf, far right. You’ll see a wooden box.

She opened the door and pulled out the container and set it on the table. Inside she found a vial containing a fluid as black as the darkest night. It lacked a label, the only one in his lab that did.

What . . . what is it? she asked, suddenly feeling apprehensive.

Cum somno semper,” he said quietly.

She had heard of it – Sleep Ever After, a painless but deadly poison – and knew instantly what he was about to ask her to do.

You have to promise me something,” he began.

“No!” she said sharply to the empty room, tears welling in her eyes, blurring the vision she had of the vial nestled in the thick, white cotton in the box.

We have to prepare for this, we have to, you know we do,” he said resignedly.

Her shoulders started to shake.

You have to promise me . . . if the nerve regeneration potion doesn’t work, and my consciousness leaves you, if I face lying in that bed unseeing, feeling, and knowing for the rest of my days, however many or few they may be . . . you must give me the potion.

Tears fell freely down her face.

“Please, no,” she whimpered aloud.

If you care anything at all about me . . . .

She sank to her knees, leaning against the table leg and wrapping her arms around herself.

You have to promise me!” he whispered desperately.

She was gasping for air and shaking her head.

I . . . I have been more alive in the last few days, disembodied as I am, than I have been in twenty years,” he said emphatically, “and it’s all because of your kindness, compassion . . . because of you, Hermione.

She wiped her nose on her sleeve.

I won’t pretend to deserve it, but I have shamefully reveled in your company all the same,” he said gently. “If by some miracle I survive . . . I can’t promise my temperament will change, because we both know that it won’t, but I will work as hard as I can to be more open to life, if you are willing to be a part of that life, helping me to find my way in this new world we have in front of us.

She continued to rock and sniffle.

But if I can’t have that . . . you have to give me peace, you will have to let me go, for your sake as well as for mine,” he whispered.

She could only squeeze her eyes closed against the possibility.  

You have to promise me, Hermione,” he said quietly but insistently.

She was desperately trying to push the terror back behind her walls. How could she make such a promise? How could she ever keep it? But then . . . how could she not, if it came down to it. He was a proud man, and the indignity of spending the rest of whatever ‘life’ he might have under such dire circumstances – an object of pity even to those who had always hated him – also didn’t bear thinking about. Deep down inside her, she knew she couldn’t – wouldn’t – let that happen.

She slowly opened her eyes and blinked against the tears. “I promise,” she barely whispered to the empty room.

That’s the Miss Granger I know,” he responded softly. “I disparaged you mercilessly in your school days – Merlin forgive me – but you never failed me, and I know you never will.

When her breathing finally slowed and she had regained some measure of composure, he took control.

Right – let’s get started,” he said resolutely, “no dawdling Miss Granger.

She smiled ruefully as she dried the last of her tears on her sleeve. Yes, professor, she said quietly, as she pulled herself up from the floor. She secured the lid on the box, returned it to the shelf in the cabinet, and closed the door – she didn’t think should could bear looking at it while she prepared the potion. She needed no reminder of what might happen if this didn’t work.

He immediately started barking out instructions – he didn’t want her dwelling on eventualities, she needed to focus, and so did he. She needed three cauldrons plus the glass one for the final steeping at the end of the process. They were set up at the end of the table and soon were simmering away as spoons stirred at different speeds and directions. At one point, she had three cutting boards all going at the same time as she chopped, diced, and peeled – her technique was as exacting as his own. She took instruction well and predictably asked him multiple questions about the ingredients, what their properties were and how they might be employed in other potions. He gladly satisfied her curiosity on all points as he coached her through the process. He was never more impressed with her keen intellect than he was as she brewed this one, highly complicated potion. She was talented, exceptionally so, and was already thinking at a master’s level. All she lacked was practical, hands-on experience, and if he survived . . . well, one step at a time.  

After nearly ten hours of non-stop work, Hermione transferred the completed potion to the heated glass cauldron and slid the lid across the top. The vapor coming off the garnet colored liquid immediately formed condensation on the sides, which then began to drip back into the potion. It was finished.

Well done, Miss Granger,” he whispered “well done! Now it has to steep for eight hours.

Hermione sighed as she sat staring at the liquid that could save her professor’s life, reveling as much in the affection in his voice as in his praise.

What’s the dosage?

It has to be taken at the same time over the course of three days. Too much, and the nerve ends will be shredded, too little and they won’t be sufficiently stimulated. Now go get some sleep. There isn’t anything else you can do,” he said gently, at least nothing she could do until it was time to administer the potion, he thought to himself  – there was one last ingredient, but he couldn’t tell her what it was, she would have to figure it out for herself.

Merlin, she was tired, exhausted if she was perfectly honest. She slid off the stool, turned off the lights, and closed the door behind her. She looked around the study – he was everywhere and yet . . . not. It made her ache inside.

Hermione continued on into the bedroom and sat down on the bed. Again, she looked around and saw bits and pieces of his life scattered about. She closed her tired lids and inhaled deeply, taking in as much of his scent as she could. When she slowly opened her eyes, they were settled on the standing mirror. There was one last thing she needed to do for him, but first, she had to bathe. 

She went into the bathroom, turned on the taps, and poured some of his shower oil into the water – the essence of sandalwood and myrrh wafted up pleasantly. While the bath was running, she returned to the study and took the four tripled-wicked candles from their stands. She left two by the mirror in the bedroom and took the others into the bathroom and set them on the sides of the tub. Then she lit them and extinguished the other lights.

She looked at herself in the mirror above the sink. Even in the soft light, she could see that there were dark smudges under her eyes and that her hair was sticking out at odd angles from having spent most of the evening with her head over several cauldrons. She smiled wanly. It was now or . . . or . . . perhaps never.

She watched herself in the mirror as she began to unbutton her blouse – there would be no towel blocking his view tonight.

What are you doing,” he asked, hesitantly.

She smiled indulgently. I’m having a bath, what do you think I’m doing? she responded warmly.

She shrugged off the shirt and undid her trousers, careful to watch as they slid down each leg. Then she sat on the edge of the tub to remove her socks and shoes – there should have been a splash of color at the ends of her feet, but she hadn’t lacquered her toenails in over a year. She got up and stood once more in front of the mirror as she reached around and undid her bra. With her arms crossed over her chest she timidly inched the straps down, finally revealing her full, ivory breasts. Her pink nipples were peaked and reached out to her reflection.

You don’t have to do this,” he said softly, almost chidingly.

I most certainly have to have a bath, she replied, regaining some of her boldness. Her glittering eyes stood out in her flushed face. Nor did she look away when she bent over to pull off her panties, casting them onto the growing pile of dirty clothes. She grabbed her flannel and towels from the rack and laid them across the sink. She turned off the taps, stepped into the bath, and sank into the welcoming water. It felt so good and she let out an audible sigh. She hadn’t realized how stiff she had become, standing bent over for hours preparing ingredients and brewing the potion.

Do you take baths or showers? she asked conversationally as she settled back.

Showers, usually. I never have time for baths.

That’s a shame. They can be so restorative, especially when you add things like scented oils. She picked up his bottle. This is an especially nice fragrance, natural, a bit smoky, almost earthy.

You have a good nose. Myrrh was a very expensive commodity in the ancient world, still is, actually. It was used in perfumes and medicines, and remains a key ingredient in a number of potions.

Hermione returned it to the back of the tub. She was stalling, and he probably knew it.

She reached for the flannel dangling from the sink and picked up the bar in the soap dish. It smelled just like the oil – sandalwood and myrrh. She worked it into the cloth and set the soap aside. After washing and rinsing her face, she brought her right leg up and slowly – oh, so slowly – ran the cloth around her thigh, over and behind her knee, and down her calf to her curling toes, making sure she didn’t miss a single spot.

Merlin,” she heard him sigh.

Finished with that leg, she repeated the process with the left one. After soaping up the flannel once more, she rubbed it around her right shoulder and then down her arm, always being careful to keep her eyes trained on what she was doing. Switching hands, she soaped up her left shoulder and arm, before bringing the flannel to her neck. She washed up and down, to the back and sides, and then drew the cloth across her collar bone, leisurely working her way down, leaving tiny soap bubbles glistening against her skin in the candlelight. She cradled her left breast as she gently washed it, beginning underneath, and alternating between pushing it flat against her chest and letting it rest freely under her ministrations.

Oh, Miss Granger,” he whispered longingly.

She shifted her attentions to her right breast, lavishing as much care on it as she had done to its twin. She paused to run her fingers back and forth over the stiffening nipple before moving downwards to her belly, swirling the cloth around in circles. She then pulled herself into a kneeling position and tugged the plug on the tub. Sitting back on her calves, her hips just above the draining water, she looked down as she dipped the flannel between her open thighs, leisurely moving it back and forth, and back and forth. Reluctantly, she withdrew her hand and, looking over her shoulder as best she could, reached behind with the cloth, washing each cheek and in between.

When she had finished, she turned the taps back on. When it was warm again, she lifted the shower wand from its holder and flicked the nob. After a few sputters, the flow became steady, and she rinsed off, lingering at her breasts and the space between her legs. Finally, she turned the water on her hair, rinsing away some of the dirt and sweat. She turned off the tap, shook her hair, and wrung out the wash cloth. Stepping out of the tub, she reached for the towels, wrapping one around her head and drying off with the other before securing it across her chest.

Hermione, that was . . . that was . . . indescribable – thank you!” he choked, the emotion resonating in his voice. She smiled to herself but said nothing. If she could just keep her nerve . . . .  

She toweled her hair, leaving it damp but not dripping – at least it looked a little less wild when it was like this – and went into the bedroom. She picked up the small chair next to his dresser and positioned it directly in front of the mirror. Using her wand, she lit the candles she had placed there earlier, and then, haltingly, she undid the towel and draped it across the seat of the chair. She pulled at her fingers and looked at herself tensely in the mirror.

Hermione . . . don’t, you don’t need to do this,” he said firmly. “You’ve already given me so much more than I deserve, you don’t have to do this.” 

I know I don’t have to, but did you consider that I want to? she responded huskily, clinging to what little courage she still had. This might be her professor’s – Severus’s – last night alive, and she wanted, quite desperately in fact, to do this, as much for herself as for him. She might not ever have this chance again.

She sat on the edge of the chair and, after a moment’s hesitation, slowly parted her legs. She inhaled quickly at her reflection – she was well and truly exposed, and not just physically. She was uncertain, though, about how to proceed.

Tell me what you would like me to do, she asked shyly, unable to keep the nervousness from showing.  

Hermione, you don’t have to do anything at all. Just . . . go to bed,” he replied, his voice strained.  

She sat very still and slowly brought her hand to her face. Unblinking, she ran the middle finger of her right hand along each eyebrow, noticing them almost for the first time. They were even and curved naturally over each amber eye. She turned her head slightly to examine her nose – straight, with a slight curve. She brushed her fingers across one flushed cheek and then along her jaw line. She then looked at her parted lips – they were pink and plump and felt soft as she traced them with her index finger. She paused, and then took the finger into her mouth, feeling her teeth graze across the nail and tasting the soap from the bath. As she suckled, her eyes followed the line of her neck down to her collarbones. She frowned at how prominent they were, the result of having lived rough without regular meals over the last year, but she was quickly distracted by the pulse point at the base of her neck, beating in time with her heart.

Her left hand cradled her breast, running her thumb over the erect nipple. She stopped to pinch it and felt a jolt straight down to the other nub between her legs. She blushed further, but took the finger out of her mouth and brought it to her other breast. She lifted and felt the weight of it in her hand before pushing it flat against her chest.

Hermione heard Severus sigh audibly, and she smiled. Am I doing it right? she whispered hoarsely.

Oh gods, Hermione,” he gasped.

Her left hand continued to cup her breast as her right hand slid down over her belly to her thigh, and then she dared to look directly at her sex. The tissue was pink and swollen, her natural moisture gleaming ever so slightly in the warm glow from the candles. She curled her fingers through the hair on her mound, and then brushed lightly lower down. She twitched slightly, but pushed onwards, applying a bit more pressure with her middle finger until she felt the silky liquid coat her quim. She gasped, closing her eyes and tilting her head back. As she regained control, she turned her eyes once more to her reflection in the mirror. She gently circled her clit clockwise for a while, then reversed – and nearly fell out of the chair from the unexpectedly powerful sensation. She heard him laugh, though not mockingly, but tenderly, affectionately. 

Oh, gods, Hermione . . . have you done this before?” he asked, the warmth in his voice doing nothing to ease her embarrassment.   

Of course I have! she responded, a bit breathless as she recovered her balance. I just . . . it’s just . . . I’ve never . . . I’ve never gone in the – she made a gesture with her hand – never gone in the other direction before, she finally managed to get out.

Well by all means do go in the other direction!” he gently laughed.

She smiled sheepishly. Maybe nearer the end, she grinned.

She brought her hand once more to her nub and began to circle lightly.

Talk to me Severus, she pleaded after a few strokes.

Oh Hermione, you are . . . so  . . . lovely, I just wish I were doing this instead of you,” he groaned.

You are doing this to me, Severus, I’m thinking only of you right now, she murmured. I’m imagining you kissing me, touching me, teaching me . . . new things . . . .

She closed her eyes and dipped a finger inside herself, retrieving more moisture before resuming her rhythmic movements.

I can see your face, she continued, smell your scent, almost taste your lips, she whispered breathlessly.

As her finger slid around her clit, she started to pant and he could tell she was starting to get close.

Hermione . . . .

Yes? she asked, her eyes still closed and her brows knitted with the rising tension.

Listen to me, when you come, I want you to look at your face, I want to see your sweet face when you come,” he pleaded.

She nodded stiffly, but was otherwise concentrating on that one little spot, envisioning Severus’s long fingers stroking that one little place, taunting and teasing her to the very edge . . . .

She whimpered. I’m going to come, I’m . . . I’m . . . .

Her breath began to hitch and she desperately clenched her free hand to her breast as she moved her fingers faster.  

Open your eyes,” he whispered urgently, “look at your face.” 

She did as he asked, lifting her eyes to the mirror, although it all became a bit blurry as she was overcome by her climax. She could just hear his voice in the background of her mind, softly pushing her onward.

Yes, Hermione, yes, that’s it, come for me . . . so . . . beautiful . . . .

She gasped as her touch coaxed out the first wave, which swept down along the insides of her legs. She let out another cry as her cervix went into spasm and the second charge spread across her womb. She could hear Severus moaning with her, as several more contractions rolled over and through her. Her hand stilled and she slowly started to come down from her orgasm, breathing hard from the rush. As she became aware of herself again and began to register the cool air of the room, she felt the twitching in her muscles tapering off. When she was finally able to focus her vision, she registered the flush on her cheeks and chest, the dark glint of her eyes, and the overall satisfied expression on her face. She had never seen herself look so . . . so . . . sensual.

Oh Severus, she croaked out, lost for any other words.

Indeed!

She shivered.

He caught the movement, and while he most certainly preferred her in her natural state, he knew only too well how chilly his rooms could be. “Put the towel around you before you catch cold,” he said gently.

She pulled it out from underneath her and wrapped it around her shoulders. She looked shyly at her reflection, trying to hide a growing smirk behind the towel, but he could see it in her eyes.

That was the most erotic thing I have ever experienced!” he cooed, sounding just as sated as she did.

There was a long pause.

I can’t wait to do it again, when it really will be your lips, your hands and fingers, she said softly, fighting back the tears that were just behind her eyes.

Soon, Hermione,” he said comfortingly, “very soon.

Merlin, if he couldn’t hold her in his arms, hear her groan at his touch, and kiss her silly for the rest of her life, he really didn’t want to live.

She got up and went to his wardrobe. Opening it, she sniffed his shirts – all white, of course – and took one that smelled especially of him and put it on. It was huge, but with a wave of her wand, she reduced it down to size. She went to the bathroom and started to brush her teeth.

That shirt never looked as good on me as it does on you,” he sighed.

She smiled behind the toothpaste.

Finished in the bathroom, she went to the bed and pulled down the sheets – she was done sleeping on top with just an afghan. As she snuggled in and slowly started to warm up, she inhaled deeply – his scent was all around her, now, which was how it was supposed to be. She left the light on so that if she woke up in the middle of the night she would immediately remember that she was in his room, in his bed, and in his shirt, and that soon, she would be in his arms as well, slumbering against his warm, lean body.  

After a few minutes her gentle susurration told him that she was fast asleep.

I love you, Hermione. Always.” he whispered.

 

Chapter Text

Nerves

She saw him waiting for her in the glade where she had searched out the unicorns – tall, slender, and clad in his black trousers, a white, open-necked shirt, and his signature dragon’s skin boots. His long, black hair was tied back, although a few strands had escaped and a light breeze flicked them across his pale, angular face. His black eyes glinted in the sun and his lips, so often set in a sneer, were relaxed, almost smiling at her. His whole expression had softened, now that the stress of being a double agent had finally lifted and allowed him to step out of the dark and into the light. In the bright sun of the day, he seemed enveloped in a gently shimmering aura. He opened his arms and she slipped easily into his embrace. His chest was warm and solid beneath her touch, and the scent of him – the myrrh, the sandalwood, and something entirely him – washed over her. She drew it into her lungs, breathed in everything that he was and more, and she never felt more alive, more free.

He was speaking to her, but his voice seemed far away, even though he was kissing her neck, her ear . . . .

She tilted her head to expose more of her flesh.

Miss Granger . . . I . . . need . . . you . . . .

She moaned again, whispering the same back to him.

Miss Granger . . . Hermione . . . .

The light was fading, the image receding . . . .

What? She blinked at the light on the nightstand.

Hermione . . . .” His voice was weak – he was faltering.

He didn’t have to say anything more than her name – she knew he was in trouble. She flung back the covers and reached for her jeans, stumbling to the lab as she was trying to draw them over her hips. She snatched a beaker from the cabinet and quickly decanted the potion. The clock on the wall said 5:45 a.m. – it hadn’t steeped the required full eight hours, but she had no choice. She grabbed a dropper and rushed to the hearth. Taking some floo powder she called out the infirmary.

It was dark except for the light coming from his room. Pomfrey was already there, clad in her nightgown and casting spells. Her stricken expression told her everything she needed to know. Hermione sat down on the edge of the bed and wedged the beaker between his body and hers. She looked at his pale, expressionless face and raised a shaky hand up to his raspy cheek.

“This is it, pro . . . Severus, it’s time,” she whispered.

She dipped the dropper into the potion and drew it upwards into the tube before slipping it between his lips. She repeated the action twice more before rubbing his neck. He swallowed, and she repeated the process, again, and again, and again, as Pomfrey continued to chant.

Hermione set the beaker on the nightstand after she had siphoned off a third of the liquid. She leaned in close to his face, searching for the slightest twitch, the tiniest movement. She could taste the bile at the back of her throat as the desperation in her rose. She took his face in both hands, trying to feel what she could not see, and still, there was nothing. Hope was rapidly evaporating and she looked fearfully at Pomfrey, who had ceased waving her wand, all out of spells. She turned to look at him again and, thinking of the fairy tales of her youth, she lowered her lips to his and kissed him fervently. And still, nothing. Her chin dropped to her chest as the tears came unbidden to her, running down her cheeks until they fell across his face before they finally slipped between his lips.

Suddenly he gasped and his eyes opened wide. He grimaced and tried to speak, but could only croak. She put her fingers over his lips to stop him from trying and reached behind her for his hand – he could barely move it. Pomfrey immediately started waving her wand again and murmured that the potion was starting to work.

That first day was the worst. The pain caused by the nerves regenerating was excruciating to watch. Hermione couldn’t even begin to imagine what it actually felt like – the Cruciatus Curse, which she had experienced firsthand, looked almost tame by comparison. The strain showed especially in his face, which was contorted in agony. His jaw was clenched and his lips curled back periodically, revealing teeth firmly clamped together against the pain. Nor could he bear to be touched – she couldn’t even run a cool cloth across his face to wipe away the sweat. When it got particularly bad, he panted and moaned. He wouldn’t take the pain potion she put to his mouth, merely shaking his head as best he could to indicate his refusal. She understood that it might react badly with the nerve potion, but he wouldn’t even accept more mild, Muggle medications.

Minerva came to see him that morning, but soon had to leave, unable to watch his torment while being powerless to help him. When she came back that afternoon, she had better control of herself, and read aloud to him from one of the recent potions’ journals that Hermione brought up from the dungeon – it was unlikely that he had even opened them given what the last year had been like for him. Pomfrey read to him out her own professional periodicals, while Hermione told him stories about her childhood and how much she was looking forward to seeing her parents, though she didn’t tell him that she had relocated them to Australia the year before and oblivated their memories for their own protection. Running out of something to say that didn’t have to do with the war, which she didn’t want him to think about, she finally resorted to regaling him with her kneazle’s antics, which she knew he must have hated. She barely left his side, transforming the wooden bench she had initially slept on into a small cot so she could be nearby if he needed her. She administered the next dose precisely twenty-four hours after the first one.

He regained his voice the afternoon of the second day, although he was quite hoarse and it clearly took all of his concentration to talk coherently above the ripping pain. She continued to encourage him from trying. Every hour she got him to take some broth, which still had to be given via a dropper, and he allowed her to bathe his face, but nowhere else, still hypersensitive to touch. Minerva came again in the morning and afternoon, and Pomfrey also took her turns with him as well. They had both found the material from their professional journals a bit tedious, and instead were now reading their favorite novels to him – Minerva’s was Ivanhoe while the no-nonsense mediwitch turned out to have an unexpected soft spot for Jane Austen. Hermione felt certain that when he got stronger, his first action would be to hex them both, or at the very least Incendio their books in front of their very faces. He had an easier night of it, but she had still hated to disturb him to administer the last dose, even though he was awake. She took heart from the fact that at least now he could lift his head enough to drink it straight from the beaker.

That morning, it was easier for him to talk although his voice was still strained, and he instructed Hermione to massage his muscles, and not to stop even if he begged her to. It was the hardest thing she had ever done. She had been able to lay her hands on some lavender oil, which made things it a bit easier, but he couldn’t stifle his moans, and he swore up a storm as she and Pomfrey each took a side of his body to work on. They repeated their ministrations that afternoon. It was a challenge for Hermione to get him to eat, since the pain suppressed his appetite. Minerva visited again, and answered his truncated questions about the damage to the school and what would likely be needed in terms of effort and materials to put it right again. That evening, Hermione fed him some chicken noodle soup that the house elves had made special for him and he seemed to sleep for the first time since taking the potion.

On the fourth day, Hermione and Pomfrey gave him more massages and started an intense program of resistance therapy to help him regain some strength and flexibility, and while he still winced now and again, he wasn’t in anywhere near as much pain as he had been the day before. Nevertheless, the process exhausted him, and when the pair of them had finished manipulating him for the day, after Minerva had come and gone and he had eaten his first solid food in almost ten days – it was a bacon butty at his request – he promptly fell asleep.

When Hermione awoke the next morning, it was to two dark, impenetrable eyes studying her from the bed across the room. She blushed and was about to say good morning but was prevented from doing so by Pomfrey, who bustled into the room to examine him and give him his breakfast. The mediwitch took one look at her and suggested – ordered, really – that she bathe, change into some clean clothes, and rejoin her in an hour to begin that day’s physical therapy. Hermione looked at him and while he said nothing, he seemed mildly amused at her being ordered about by someone who was even bossier than she was.   

She was actually glad for the break – she felt she had been teetering on the edge of . . . something . . . since he had first woken up. His quarters were blissfully quiet and she quickly stripped off and stepped into the shower. And that’s when the enormity of it all finally hit. It started with a tear and a sniffle but almost instantly transformed into a complete breakdown. Her legs crumpled beneath her and she slunk to her knees as the water rained down from above. Everything that she had been holding back the last few days came tumbling out in heaving sobs, and she wailed into the room, her cheek against the porcelain tiled wall. When her crying finally subsided into hiccups, she tilted her face into the stream of water. Without thinking, she soaped up the flannel and began to wash away the dirt and sweat and the fear and pain of the last week-and-a-half. When she was done, she was conscious of a tremendous weight having finally lifted from her.

She dried off and this time didn’t bother wrapping the towel around herself when she was finished. The face that stared back at her in the mirror seemed calmer now. Back in the bedroom, she checked her bag for something to wear. She may have joked about running out of clean clothes, but that actually wasn’t too far from the truth. She still had a fresh denim skirt and a pullover shirt that would do, as well as some sandals.

She walked rather than flooed to the infirmary, relishing the fresh air and the feeling of lightness, and was surprised to find that she had been gone almost two hours. Pomfrey was already massaging and flexing his legs when she came into the room. The mediwitch chastised her good-naturedly and pointed to a sandwich on her cot, commanding her to eat, saying something about not wanting to have two patients instead of just the one. Hermione didn’t quite catch it, as she was too caught up in his gaze, which was slowly taking her in, from her wet hair down to her sandaled feet. He closed his eyes in discomfort, though, when Pomfrey resumed her work.

Hermione wolfed the sandwich, not having realized just how long it had been since she had last eaten. When she finished, she took up a position opposite Pomfrey and started to massage and flex his limbs. Minerva arrived an hour or so later, pulling up a chair familiarly next to his bed to chat, and she and the mediwitch excused themselves, but Hermione could still feel his eyes boring into her as she left the room.

She felt very . . . strange, and more than a little anxious. They hadn’t had any time – any privacy – to talk, and everything that had happened was starting to feel like a dream that was getting fuzzier with each passing day. It all seemed so . . . unreal.

Minerva stayed for over an hour, and Hermione caught snippets of their conversation – something about asking the older students to continue to help cleaning up over the next few weeks, getting a professional surveyor in as soon as possible to assess the damage, setting up a committee to draft the particulars of reconstruction so the job could be put out to bid . . . . she felt a flash of anger. Could the man not recover first? Have a bit of time off? Take a vacation? Ultimately, Pomfrey shooed Minerva out of the room and summoned her to help with another round of physical therapy.

When they were finished, Pomfrey wrinkled her nose at him.

“Sponge bath,” she pronounced. “You’re not strong enough for a shower yet. Hermione,” she barked.

“Yes?” she peeped.

“Sponge bath,” she said again, nodding her head at his prostrate form.

“Shouldn’t we use a spell?” she asked a bit nervously.

“Unless it’s absolutely necessary, I don’t want to spell him until the potion’s done its work. You know the technique,” she said abruptly, suppressing a knowing look before leaving the room and closing the door behind her.

Hermione blushed and hardly dared to look him in the face.

She took out her wand and taped the basin on the night stand, which began to fill with warm water. She opened a drawer and took out a generic bar of soap before reaching into the cabinet beneath and retrieving a flannel and a towel. She set them to one side as she anxiously turned in his general direction without meeting his eyes.  

“Do you know the technique, Miss Granger?” he languidly inquired, his voice almost back to normal.

She automatically looked up. A smile – or perhaps it was a smirk, she couldn’t quite tell – played on his lips, while his eyes seemed to cut right through her. It was like staring at the sun, burned if she looked directly at them and yet also unable to look away. Her breathing was becoming shallow and her hands were starting to tremble. Why was she so . . . so . . . hesitant? Why did this feel so bloody . . . awkward ? Hadn’t they made their feelings for each other quite plain? He had been in her head, for Merlin’s sake, what could be more intimate than that? And then she recalled her reflection in the mirror, her flushed face and eager eyes, her parted legs and . . . and . . . . She felt the blush working its way upwards from her neck. 

She cleared her throat.

“Of course I know the technique . . . professor,” she said, more calmly than she felt. She pulled down the sheet and undid the knot at the front of his gown. He raised his hips slightly as she pulled first one end out from under him and then the other, ensuring that the hospital gown was now open at the back. She reached to his shoulders and pulled the front of the gown down to his waist. There were multiple scars under the smattering of dark hair that covered his chest and a few more streaking his abdomen – she had seen some of these before when she had loosened his coat and shirt in the infirmary on his arrival at the infirmary – but her attention was actually drawn to the dark fuzz that resumed below his navel and disappeared under the bottom half of his gown. Without thinking, she raised her hand as if to reach out and touch him. She caught herself and pulled back, but he was quicker, and he grabbed her wrist with renewed strength. She gasped but couldn’t meet his eye.

He raised himself up onto an elbow, keeping a firm grip on her.    

“Look at me, Hermione,” he softly entreated.

She lifted her eyes to his. He released her wrist and brought his hand up to cup her face before moving it to cradle the back of her neck, entwining his fingers in her thick locks. He slowly pulled her to him so that she had to steady herself by putting her hands on the mattress just at the sides of his hips.

“Finally,” he moaned against her mouth.

He ran his tongue along her bottom lip before slipping it inside her mouth. Her breath caught as he explored her teeth and teased her tongue. He sucked her lower lip and nipped it gently before breaking away. Now he did smirk as he lay back.

“I believe you’ve been charged to give me a sponge bath, Miss Granger. Do you have any . . . experience in bathing?” he asked knowingly.

She couldn’t help but blush yet again at the memory. Still splayed across his torso just above his hips, she was also acutely aware of his erection, which was nudging her under his hospital gown. She didn’t dare look down. She pushed herself up and rinsed the flannel in the basin. After lathering it, she efficiently soaped and rinsed both of his arms. She passed the bar over the cloth once more and ran it behind and along the sides of his neck before dragging it across his upper chest. She rinsed and then changed the water. She wondered if he was ticklish as she pushed the cloth back and forth across his torso, but didn’t quite have the nerve to find out. She thoroughly dried him with the towel before moving on to his legs, trying not to let herself linger too long over his thighs. His eyes never left her – she could feel him watching, although she was too shy, too aware of touching him intimately to return his gaze.  

She commanded him to sit up if he could, which he did with remarkable ease, given everything that he had recently suffered. There were deeper, more pronounced scars across his back – what this man had endured over the years was quickly, painfully, becoming all too clear to her. Her touch was leisured and gentle as she washed his back in slow, mesmerizing circles. Now that he couldn’t see her, she could more fully digest what she had taken in. He was more muscled than she would have thought and Merlin, there wasn’t an ounce of fat on him anywhere. Nor were his scars limited to his chest or back. His body was – in and of itself – a testament to the violence and horror of the war, but also to the courage and determination of those who had fought it, and he had been the war’s most valiant warrior.  

He cleared his throat and shook her out of her thoughts.

“Am I clean, yet?” he asked, with the faintest touch of humor in his voice.

“Sorry,” she murmured as she rinsed and dried him off.

He lay back as she wrung out the cloth, vanished the water, and draped the flannel over the edge of the basin, hanging the towel across the bottom railing of the bed.

“Ah hmm,” he hummed.

When she looked at him, he nodded downwards towards his erection.

“You do pride yourself on being thorough, don’t you?” he asked lasciviously.

“I . . . I . . . ,” she stammered, embarrassment writ across her face. And then something else started to rise in her – annoyance. They had been alone together for the first time and he hadn’t said anything to her about . . . anything, not one word.

A sly smile crossed her lips as she waved her wand and the basin refilled. She slowly drew his hospital gown down to his knees. She had seen the male member before – how could she not, having traveled around with two young men for nearly a year? – but she had never seen an erect one, well, not outside the well-thumbed magazines her roommates had boldly circulated among the female members of Gryffindor House in her sixth year. She had seen a couple of the pictures but ultimately found the idea of looking at the private parts of men she didn’t know more than a little off-putting. But she knew this man, and she was definitely interested if also more than a little . . . well, surprised, at what she was now staring at. A picture was one thing but the reality was something else altogether. It was generally bigger than she was expecting and she fleetingly wondered how women were supposed to accommodate such a thing. It pointed straight up and as her thoughts passed through her mind it actually twitched, as though demanding her immediate attention. She was blushing furiously and knew that she was failing to hide her initial reaction, and both things annoyed her even further.

She rinsed the flannel and shook it out before wrapping it quickly around his shaft. His reaction was immediately and swift. Sitting up quickly, he hissed as he firmly grabbed her wrist and pulled the offending material away from him – she had refilled the basin with cold water.

“You are quite right, professor, I do pride myself on being thorough,” she said coolly, finally meeting his glinting eyes boldly. They stayed like that for a few moments before he released her and sighed.  

“I . . . I will understand if you no longer feel as you did,” he whispered and turned away. “I’m not much to look at, never have been,” he added, thinking about what she had seen as she had bathed him.

She sat on the edge of the bed and searched out his hand.  

“Why would I feel any differently than I did before?” she asked quietly.

“You haven’t said much,” he observed, turning to look at her, “and in you, Miss Granger, that’s a certain sign that something is terribly, terribly wrong.” He tried to sound flippant but it fell flat.

“You haven’t said anything, either,” she countered, meeting his gaze. He raised a hand to brush a lose curl gently behind her ear before sliding his fingers along her neck, across her shoulder and down her arm as she started to speak. “I can talk about books, and . . . and the latest theories on how and when to administer blue lock thistle to remove pixie spots, and . . . and transfigure a plank of wood into a cot . . . .” she rambled, glancing at what had served as her bed for the last few days.

“. . . and finesse difficult burglaries,” he continued for her, “face down a broom that does a hundred kilometers a second standing stock still, charm a herd of unicorns, party with the dregs of wizarding society, best a libidinous Death Eater, and brew a nerve regenerating potion that can knock a man’s socks off. Those are some other things that you can also do, Miss Granger,” he said helpfully, continuing to caress her arm.  

“But,” she paused, taking a deep breath, “I’m not very good at . . . talking . . . out loud about” – she waved her hand between them – “this sort of thing,” she said, ducking her head.  

“Shocking as it would seem, Miss Granger,” he said softly, “it would appear as though we have something in common. Neither of us seem to be very good at this . . . talking out loud business, but perhaps we can teach each other to be better at it.” He pulled her close.

“Just . . . talking?” she asked breathlessly, looking deep into his eyes.

He smiled against her lips.

“That would only be . . . part of the curriculum I have in mind,” he mumbled, kissing her more firmly. 

They heard Pomfrey barking out orders on the other side of the door, and Hermione pulled away, quickly yanking up the hospital gown and bedclothes. He was amused by her embarrassment, and she was just tucking him in when the mediwitch burst into the room.

“Hermione – I’m sorry to interrupt, Severus – but Hermione, could you help me with this list?” she asked rather flustered.

“Of course,” she replied without looking her.

“Severus, do you have any of these potions in stock?” she asked, coming to the side of the bed and handing him the parchment. “We’re getting dangerously low on a few things, like blood replenishing potions, pain potions, ointments for bruises, scars, that sort of thing.”

He looked over the list.

“I have one or two extra bottles and jars of some of these things, but obviously it’s been a while since I’ve done any medical brewing.”

“I could do it,” Hermione offered.

They turned to look at her. She plucked the list from his hand and scanned it.

“Yes, I can do these without any problem,” she commented. “If I got started right away, I could have the first batches to you this evening.”

Pomfrey looked relieved although Severus scowled. She just stood there for a moment.

“Well? Get a move on Miss Granger,” Pomfrey said officiously. “I think I can handle him on my own, don’t you?”

She smiled wanly at her patient, who now looked more like himself, which was to say decidedly put out. 

“I’ll be back this evening, then,” she said, more to him than to Pomfrey as she left. 

Once back in the dungeons, she set out the cauldrons and assembled the ingredients. She could have dozen or so vials of a pain potion done by that evening, as well as the base for the blood replenisher, which would have to be completed the next day. Until then, Pomfrey could make do with what he had in stock. She worked with a lightness of heart that she hadn’t had since . . . she couldn’t even remember. She was positively giddy with the feeling, and time passed quickly. It was well after the dinner hour when she reappeared in the infirmary with the requisite potions and ointments, which she handed off to Pomfrey before heading into his room. He set one of his journals to one side and looked at her with annoyance.

“Must you be such a bloody Gryffindor and volunteer for fucking everything, Miss Granger?” he said tersely.

“Yes,” she answered firmly without qualifying it further. Her cheerful response quite took the wind out of his sails.

“I had them bring your dinner when they came with mine,” he said more congenially, nodding at the nightstand.

She sat on the bed and took the plate into her lap, removing the stasis spell – roast chicken and vegetables. She ate it quickly, hungry as she was. When she finished, she vanished it back to the kitchen. He scooted over invitingly.

“What if Pomfrey comes in?” she asked, casting a furtive glance at the door.

“What if she does? You think she doesn’t already know?” he countered, pulling her down to his side, settling her in the crook of his arm and shoulder.  

“Wouldn’t she be shocked? A student and her professor?” she asked, stretching a hand across his warm chest.  

“As you’ve been quick to point out, you aren’t my student anymore and I’m not your teacher, haven’t been for a year, now. I think that pretty much sorts it,” he replied, carding his fingers gently through her hair.

“Say, I have a question,” she said, pushing up slightly to look at his face.

“Only one?” he replied, without a trace of a sneer, continuing to fiddle with her tendrils.

“I’m assuming that the nerve regeneration potion had one last ingredient that you didn’t tell me about,” she said accusingly.

“The tears had to be . . . genuine and unbidden,” he answered informatively.

“Yes, I guessed that,” she continued, “but where did you get them when you brewed the potion the first time?”

“He got them from me,” she heard a quiet voice behind her respond.

She hastily scrambled to get up, but he held her fast as Pomfrey came further into the room to stood by the bedside.   

“I’ve looked after him since he was a student here at Hogwarts,” she said affectionately, “from his colds and scraped knees . . . to his bloodied wounds and broken bones,” she finished with a sigh.

“She’s cried an ocean over me,” he said quietly, looking at her gratefully.

Pomfrey waved her wand a few times and pronounced herself satisfied, and, with a knowing look, left them alone, closing the door behind her.

Hermione lay back into his arms.

“She cried over you,” she laughed softly, “and you rather calculatedly collected her tears for your potions?”

“A friend’s tears are never to be wasted,” he commented. “Nor are a loved one’s, for that matter,” he murmured, kissing the top of her head.

She exhaled audibly and settled into him contentedly. Merlin she was tired and drifted off to sleep, letting the full meaning of his observation seep into her.  

Chapter Text

Well Healed

On the morning of the sixth day, Hermione awakened to find that he was gone, and so was his wand. Rationally she knew that he was probably alright, but she nevertheless couldn’t completely push down her rising panic, which only increased when she couldn’t find Madam Pomfrey either. She raced down to the dungeons, only realizing as she approached his quarters that she might not be able to get in anymore, now that she didn’t have his wand. The wards were indeed in place, but he had clearly reset them to recognize her and she entered his rooms without any difficulty – that boded well. She quickly checked the lab and kitchen, but he wasn’t there, and she moved on to the bedroom, and from there she could hear the shower running. The door was ajar and it banged against the wall as she barged in. With her hands on her hips, she stood glaring indignantly at his back as he washed his backside, his tight . . . rounded . . . backside.

“Don’t just stand there, Miss Granger, either join me or fix me some tea,” he barked without even turning around.

“Why did you sneak off?” she demanded, still breathless from her panic.

He turned to face her as he continued to wash – she didn’t look away from his half-erect member.

“I didn’t sneak off. I just couldn’t stand being cooped up any more. As heavenly as it was having you bathe me – and I’m looking forward to more of those in the future, by the way,” he leered seductively, “I wanted a proper shower, and I wanted my own clothes. You were asleep and I didn’t want to wake you.”

She continued to look at him before she suddenly put a hand across her mouth to stifle a sob.

He turned off the shower, quickly squeezed out the water from his hair, and stepped out of the tub, putting a towel around himself. He drew her to him and she wrapped her arms around his waist. He held her for a moment before steering her back into the bedroom and sitting them both down on the end of the bed.

“Sorry, sorry,” she mumbled behind the hand covering her mouth, “I’ve just been so afraid for you.”

“I know,” he said softly, pulling her against him as he brushed the hair out of her face. When she had calmed a bit, she pushed back and looked him over.

“Are you alright?” she asked, running her hands along his shoulders and arms to see if her eyes were deceiving her. “Are you having any problems? Is your strength . . . .”

He put his fingers to her lips to stop her.

“I think I can answer all of your interminable questions all in one go, Miss Granger,” he said in his best professorial tone, as she looked at him questioningly.

He slowly lowered his head to capture her lips. She immediately put her arms around his neck and drew closer to him. His hands threaded through her hair and he moaned into her mouth. When they broke to take a breath, he wrapped an arm around her waist and dragged her up the bed before positioning himself on top of her and resuming his careful and thorough exploration of her mouth.

His strength surprised her, as did the sheer weight of him, and both reassured her that he was, indeed, well and truly on the mend. But it did more than that. His physicality also excited her, made her heart beat faster, made her thoroughly aware of her arousal and caused her muscles to contract in anticipation. She wanted more of that contraction business, a lot more. She parted her legs, straddled his leg, and rubbed – as best she could wearing a knee-length skirt – against his thigh, moaning into his neck as he kissed along her jaw. Her truncated movements pressed along his erection and he hissed into her ear. She could feel his scars as she ran her hands up and down his back, and she wanted to touch him further, her skin against his, but her clothes were in the way. She reached between them and tried to hitch up her shirt. At that, he pulled away and sat back, helping her to disrobe. She rose up and unhooked her bra. He drew it down her arms and discarded it without a glance as his hands smoothed over her breasts, those wonderfully round mounds that had taunted him so relentlessly the night of the party. They were cool to his touch and the nipples quickly stiffened as he ran his hands lightly over them. He lowered his head and took the right one into his mouth, alternatively running his tongue back and forth and sucking eagerly at the flesh as he palmed its sister. Her hands combed through his wet hair, hooking it behind his ears so she could see his face. She groaned as he shifted his ministrations to the other side. Lifting her hips as best she could, she rubbed more insistently against his thigh.

He laughed softly against her cheek as he began to kiss his way down to her naval and below. When he got to her skirt, he unzipped its front and tugged determinedly, pulling it off her hips, down her legs, and finally, over her wiggling toes. He looked up her form appreciatively and when their eyes finally locked, frank desire met desperate longing. She slipped her hands beneath the waistband of her panties and slid them downwards until he grasped them and removed them completely.

His warm hands caressed her skin as he worked his way up from her feet to her calves, over her knees and to her thighs, gently massaging her flesh as he went. As his thumbs got closer to her sex she lifted her knees slightly and parted her legs. He smiled mischievously at her eagerness.

“Patience, my virgin Gryffindor princess,” he murmured against her abdomen.

He moved his thumbs to the crease on either side of her sex and rubbed his nose in the hair on her mound. He inhaled deeply, submersing himself in her scent. His thumbs parted her as he moved lower, his breath hot against her being.

She was as taut as a wire as she tried to get her mind around the fact that he was about to press his mouth to her most intimate place. But . . . she was wet, so wet, and . . . and she hadn’t showered since yesterday . . . and surely he wouldn’t want . . . .

“Severus,” she whispered anxiously.

He looked up and saw embarrassment in her expression.

“I . . . I . . . haven’t . . . haven’t . . . bathed, not since yesterday, and . . . I . . . you won’t want to . . . to . . . .” Merlin, she couldn’t say it out loud.

The corners of his mouth twitched in amusement as he thought back to the night of party, when Natalia had specifically told her not to wash.

“But I do want to, very much,” he said softly, nuzzling her mound gently, sweetly, with his nose. And then he moved his mouth lower, and when his tongue touched her for the first time, all coherent thought completely left her. She lay back, cried out, and involuntarily arched to meet his mouth. He continued his ministrations, tasting and savoring her, as her moans filled his ears. He slipped one finger inside her and she gasped. Her opening was tight, and he carefully inserted another finger, gently trying to stretch her. Slowly, rhythmically slipping in and out of her, he continued to tongue her clit. She was starting to pant, now, and her breathing was becoming ragged.

“Please, Severus, please,” she pleaded desperately.

Merlin, she was going to come, and he had hardly touched her! She clutched his wet hair in both hands, her fingers curling back and forth against his scalp as the tension became unbearable.

“I . . . I . . . .” she stammered.

“Come for me, Hermione, come for me,” he hummed against her.

It was all she needed to send her over the edge. She froze, briefly, before emitting an anguished cry –  her garbled moan was hardly audible.

He looked up – her head was turned to one side, her lips parted and face clenched as each wave claimed her. He could feel the muscles at her opening contracting against his fingers, strong and rapid at first, but becoming gentler and more sporadic as she came down from her orgasm.

He smiled wickedly at her when she finally opened her eyes and tried to focus. He crawled up her body and kissed her hard. She responded eagerly, more than a little shocked to taste herself on his lips. She slipped her hand between them and felt for his erection. He hissed and jerked his head upwards.

“I want to feel you, taste you,” she stated breathlessly.

“I have . . . no problem . . . with that,” he said, trying to steady himself under her hand. He rolled over and she straddled his thigh, looking openly at him without a hint of embarrassment, her face displaying her continuing need for him. She released her hold and spread her hands sensuously over his chest, taking in how his hair felt under her fingers. She ran her palms over his nipples and bent down to touch one with just the tip of her tongue. She could feel his erection twitching eagerly against her.  

She started to taste her way down to his naval. She felt for his hip bones and placed a kiss in the hollow next to each one before descending further. His thighs felt powerful under her hands and he flexed them as she pushed them apart. She tentatively felt his shaft – his skin was warm and velvety soft, and she experimentally ran her hand lightly down from the head. His hips jerked involuntarily, even as he tried to still himself. She continued her exploration, moving below to his balls, lifting them and gently massaging them. While doing this, she leaned over and glided her tongue up the back of his shaft. His intake of breath was sharp and he held it for a moment before slowly letting it go with a shudder. He reached down and pushed his hand through her hair as she moved to begin again. This time she circled her tongue under the ridge of his head before sweeping it across the top, surprised at the salty taste of his fluids. With one hand still cradling her head, he gripped the bedsheets with his other and moaned. Emboldened and reassured by his reaction, she gently took his head completely into her mouth, stroking it with her tongue. Slowly, inch by agonizing inch she took in more of him, and he started to heel the bed. She held his shaft firmly in her small hand as she bobbed her head up and down, carefully milking him as she went. Suddenly, he grabbed her wrist and pulled it away, and she let go of him with a pop.

“Are you alright? Did I hurt you?” she asked anxiously, bringing her hand to her mouth.

“No . . . no, you didn’t hurt me,” he snickered as he pulled her upwards to lie across him before rolling them over. He kissed her before she even had time to settle, pushing her lips open and tormenting her with his tongue. He reached down and she arched her back as a finger slipped over her engorged clit.

“Primed again already?” he teased.

“I . . . I . . .” she gasped.

“What? What do you want, Hermione?” he whispered against her lips.

“You, I . . . want . . .  you,” she said breathlessly.

“What do you want me to do, tell me,” he begged.

“I . . . want you . . . inside me,” she pleaded.

He took himself in hand and rubbed the head of his member along her folds – she was deliciously wet and squirmed each time he passed over her clit. He positioned himself against her opening, pausing when he felt resistance.

“This is going to sting a little,” he whispered to her.

She nodded her understanding, and he kissed her hard as he pushed in. Her grip on his arms tightened and she gasped against his mouth, her brow knitted in pain. He stilled himself and breathed deeply, fighting the desperate urge to move.

“It will pass,” he said, kissing along her hair line. “Just . . . keep breathing, try to . . . relax,” he coached, running one hand along her side.

She couldn’t help but huff at the ridiculousness of such a suggestion, and he responded in kind as he continued to kiss her neck. After a few moments, he began to move, slowly, tentatively. She was tight, and it was all he could do to keep from making their first real coupling a decidedly brief one. He let his weight rest on his arms as he slowly pushed in further. She tensed, though in anticipation of more pain than any actual experience of it. The sensation was . . . different. She felt full, pleasurably stretched, and as he began to move back and forth she suddenly became highly, deeply aroused once more – she could feel the heat rise in her face and spread across her chest. He loomed over her, and as he moved, she reveled not simply in his touch but also in the fact that she had completely given herself over to him. She was a bossy, take-charge sort of person, she knew it, it was what everyone always expected and wanted of her. But lying beneath him, feeling his weight against her body and following his lead, she felt liberated, and she instinctively began to push against him as he started to thrust into her. She steadied herself against the increasing force of his movements by digging into the bed with her feet. The tension was building rapidly within her again, and he noted that her movements were becoming more frenetic as her climax approached. He couldn’t hold back much longer, and he reached between them to help her on her way. Two strokes – just two – was all it took and she froze, briefly, before crying out his name and thrashing against him. He ploughed on, harder, faster, until he, too came in a heated frenzy, chanting her name again and again. He could feel her muscles continuing to twitch against his member as they came down from their highs. As their breathing started to even out, he rolled on to his back, pulling her with him to lie against his side. She brought her knee up to rest over his legs and curled her hand against his chest.

“I never thought it was possible,” she said in a small voice.

“What?” he asked, absently twirling a lock of her hair around his finger.

“That anything I could learn outside a book would be this . . . this . . . .” She couldn’t quite find the right words.

“This earth-shattering, mind-numbingly, blow your bloody bollocks off good, you mean?” he offered.

“Yes, exactly,” she said, smiling lazily against his chest.

 He reached down and dragged up the throw at the bottom of the bed, covering them with it as they drifted off to sleep.

They had a long, post coital nap, two hours, he estimated, the most restful sleep he had had since . . . well, since long before the war had begun. Hermione stirred beside him, her eyes groggy and her hair disheveled.

“Hungry, Miss Granger?”

“Hmmm,” she managed, her head still on his chest as she stretched her limbs over his body, her hand inadvertently brushing against his revived member. She fondled him hesitantly and was pleased to hear his heart beat speed up. He let her tease him for a few minutes before pushing her flat against the sheets and exploring her slowly with his mouth and hands. This time, their joining was unhurried, leisurely, and more deeply satisfying than anything he had ever experienced. And though still blushing furiously every time he looked at her, she nevertheless met his eyes directly and responded even more openly to his touch.  

When they finally emerged from his quarters later that afternoon, they headed for the courtyard. It was a warm, sunny day, and student work crews continued to clear the rubble as Minerva shepherded a group of witches and wizards, who were clearly some sort of reconstruction committee, out of the damaged great hall. He wrapped his arms around Hermione and drew her tightly against him.

“Already, the rebuilding begins,” he murmured against her temple.

“Life goes on, for all of us, because of you,” she sighed, squeezing him tightly.

“What . . . what do you think you are going to do, now?” he asked tentatively.

She sensed his nervousness.

“Well, I had hoped for an apprenticeship,” she said, affecting a dispirited tone.

“What’s the problem?” he asked, hopefully.

“Well, the master I want to study with has always been quite scornful about taking on apprentices,” she replied. “I’ve heard him say that he’d rather use his own organs as potions ingredients.”

“Sounds like a dreadful person, why would you want to waste your time studying with such an obvious berk?”

“Oh, well, he’s the best, you see, and I really want to learn from a true master.”

“Of course you do,” he said, feigning sarcasm. “I have an idea,” he said, pushing her back slightly and griping her upper arms. “Fuck this guy . . . come study with me instead.”

He gave her a steady, piercing look.

“Do you think I could do both?” she asked cheekily.

There was glint in his eye as he considered her proposal.

“Will I have to . . . collect ingredients?” she asked, arching an eyebrow.

His mouth twitched ever so slightly at the corners.

“You might.”

“Will I have to do any flying?”

“Only as a passenger,” he promised.

“Will there be any parties?”

“Maybe a few private ones, but the guest list will be rigorously vetted.”

“The working conditions sound dreadful,” she observed, putting her arms around his neck, “exactly what I was looking for!”

He leaned down to kiss her, quite unconcerned that all work had come to a halt and that every eye in the courtyard was fixed on them. The rebuilding had truly begun in earnest.