Snape’s good mood continued for the next two weeks or so, especially as he and Hermione completed the first stage of their project and brewed a vial of a gelatinous yellow mass. If their calculations were correct, it would allow an Animagus to speak with humans while transformed.
“If you won’t let me test it, and you won’t test it on yourself, how will we ever know if it works?” Hermione asked.
“It will work,” Snape replied waspishly. “We have checked and double-checked everything.”
“But you can’t know it will work.” Her eyes fell on the copy of Double, Double that was lying on his desk. “How did you test the Animagus potion when you created it?”
“I tested it on myself, Miss Granger, and nearly died as a result of being careless with the ingredients.” Snape fixed her with a forbidding scowl. “I have a meeting with the Headmaster this evening. Once you’ve cleaned up here, you may go.” He turned and swept out of the dungeon, his black cloak swirling behind him.
Hermione looked after him, and then back at the potion. With a sigh, she rose and took the cauldron she’d been using over to the sink. “Scrubbing cauldrons – I thought I wasn’t in detention any more.” The stuff they’d created was rather sticky and resisted scrubbing like nothing she’d ever seen before. Half an hour later though, the cauldron was clean and she turned her attention to the other tools they’d used. These were much easier to clean.
Ten minutes after that, Hermione finished wiping down the countertops where they’d prepared ingredients. A last look around the classroom confirmed that it was clean. The only thing out of place was the vial sitting on Snape’s desk. She picked it up and took it to the supply closet to store it, and then paused.
“It’s not going to hurt anything. He won’t even know.” Firmly ignoring the all-too-clear picture of what Snape would do if he found out, she took the vial back to the sink and scooped out a spoonful and gave it a careful sniff. “Phew! Maybe I should add something to make it smell better.” She swallowed the yellowish gelatin quickly. “Yuck!”
Hermione drank a glass of water as a chaser, washed the spoon and put the rest of the potion away in the supply closet. “There. Now…” She thought for a few minutes. “Room of Requirement?” She shuddered at the memories of being trapped in her Animagus form. “No. Somewhere else.” Hermione drummed her fingers on Snape’s desk. “Damn. I need someone to try to talk to as an Animagus, but I don’t want anyone to know about me being one. Professor McGonagall would be sure to say something to Professor Snape.” A light bulb went off over her head. “I know! Professor Malfoy! He can keep a secret.”
Argus Filch made his way through the halls of Hogwarts more nervously than was his custom. Funny how they seemed emptier than usual. His footsteps echoed hollowly, heralding his approach to a door he’d passed a hundred, a thousand times before. He knocked on the door to Ivy Sprout’s personal quarters, half-defiantly, half-timidly. It opened quickly.
“Argus? What’s the matter?”
“Have yeh seen Mrs. Norris ‘round anywhere? I ain’t seen her since breakfast.” Filch twisted his hat in one hand nervously.
Ivy drew the gaunt caretaker into her sitting room. “Sit.” She pushed him into a chair and poured him a cup of the bitter tea they both favored. “I haven’t seen much of Hephaestus today either.”
“Can yeh find ‘em? Like as not, they’re together.”
That was probably true; Ivy thought it wonderful that their cats got along so well. Hephaestus was quite fussy about allowing other Familiars in “his” quarters, but he had no problem with Filch’s scrawny, shabby cat. “I’m no good at Charms, but I’ve got something that might lure them out of wherever they’re hiding.” She drained her teacup and set it down, then crossed over to her desk and took out a small sealed canister.
“Concentrated catnip. If I open it, we’ll have every cat in the castle here within ten minutes.”
“There’s worse fates than that.” Argus cracked a half-smile. “I like cats.”
“Right then.” She opened the canister and took out a small handful of the crushed herb within. As she opened her hand and let the herb spill into the hallway outside her door, a subtle minty aroma rose around them. Argus sniffed appreciatively.
“Smells good, that does. Kinda comfortin’.”
“If you make tea with it, it’s very good for colds and sore throats.” She took a deep sniff herself. “I like it.” Then she carefully sealed the tin again.
A moment later, they saw Hooch’s black and white cat slink around a corner and come into the hallway. He was followed by the brindled Manx that belonged to Lucius Malfoy. Within five minutes, there were nearly a dozen cats in the doorway, rubbing against the woodwork and their legs, purring madly. But neither scruffy tabby nor grey Persian appeared. The two humans exchanged looks of consternation.
Human footsteps sounded in the hallway, and they saw Minerva coming their direction, sniffing appreciatively. As she neared them, her form rippled and roiled, and she took her feline shape, rubbing against the doorframe like any other cat.
“There’s Hephaestus!” Filch said suddenly.
Sure enough, the Persian was strolling all-too-casually down the hall. Ivy scooped him up and regarded him with a serious expression. “Hephaestus, where’s Mrs. Norris?”
“Miaow!” The Persian swatted gently at her face with a furry grey paw.
“Now, now. None of that. We’re just worried about her.”
“Ffft!” The cat ceased his struggles and began purring madly.
“You know where she is, Furball. I know you do.”
Ivy scratched him under the chin. “Show us where she is, Hephaestus. We won’t hurt her.” She set him down on the floor, and he strode down the hallway with a businesslike air, ignoring the catnip. Ivy carefully closed her door, and she and Argus started after him, the caretaker seizing a lantern from a bracket as they walked.
The grey cat led them down three hallways, up two flights of stairs, and finally into an unused classroom on the back third-floor corridor. Argus held his lantern high and they looked around.
“Don’t see anything.”
“Wait, over in that corner!”
There was an old box in the corner that had once held who-knew-what. Ivy’s sharp eyes had seen Hephaestus’ tail disappearing into it. The two humans approached carefully, ready for anything. They looked into the box and turned to each other with grins.
Contrary to almost everyone’s expectations, Lucius hadn’t put his office or his living quarters in the dungeons. His office was conveniently down the hall from the DADA classroom on the third floor, and his rooms were just as conveniently located on the second floor hallway, overlooking the lake. They weren’t nearly as opulent as Malfoy Manor had been, but then, few things were.
Lucius stepped out onto his balcony, his hands automatically going up to secure his hair to keep it from flying every-which-way. He looked out over the lake, toward the Quidditch pitch. Even in the half-light of the setting sun, he could see the flyers there: Hufflepuff practicing with an intensity he almost envied. They were making a surprising eleventh-hour run for the Quidditch Cup this year, having trounced both Ravenclaw and Gryffindor soundly. Next week they would be playing Slytherin, the last game before the Yule break. He was pretty sure it would be a close game, but his money was still on his old House.
As he watched, the fliers dropped out of the sky. A moment or two later, they reappeared on foot, brooms over their shoulders, headed toward the locker rooms. Xia Hooch trailed behind them, chivvying along the laggards. He’d recognize her anywhere now. She was so different from Narcissa – vibrant, earthy, and alive.
Narcissa. His mouth quirked in a snarl of sorts. She had been beautiful, intelligent, cultured – and cold as the snow. She’d never refused his advances, but never enjoyed them either. Nor had she made any secret of her dislike for sex. It was “messy”. After Draco was born, she’d made it clear that her duty to him was completed. He’d taken to visiting brothels discreetly. It was better than dealing with the look Narcissa would give him if he knocked on her door. Horrid as it was to acknowledge, he was not sorry she was dead.
Now it seemed that the Fates were dealing him a more interesting hand. He’d asked Xia to dine with him tonight after the Hufflepuff practice. He stepped back inside and took a careful look around his rooms, making sure that everything was relatively neat and picked up. At the brisk tattoo on the door, he smiled. Throwing it open, he swept Xia into a hug.
A hug she returned with interest, he noted with some part of his mind. Then they were locked together in what was the most mind-blowingly passionate kiss he’d ever experienced. Even their previous love-making paled beside the here and now.
A gasp brought both teachers back to their senses, and they broke apart to see Hermione Granger standing in the corridor. She was quite, quite red – obviously embarrassed to have caught them in such a compromising situation.
“Miss Granger.” Lucius was not going to pretend that nothing had happened. Instead he drew Xia closer to him, his arm around her waist. She leaned against him and regarded the blushing student with her glowing hawk-like eyes.
“I, er…” Hermione took a long breath and started over. “I was going to ask you for some help with my research project, sir. I’m sorry I… you’re busy.” She fled in the face of the obvious sexual connection between the two instructors. Behind her, the adults traded very similar smirks.
She didn’t stop running until she reached Gryffindor tower. Bursting through the Common Room, she dashed up to her room and slammed the door, startling half a dozen younger students who were quite unused to seeing the Head Girl in such a state. The racket caused Crookshanks to yowl in fright and fluff his fur up till he looked three times his normal size. He’d been having a pleasant catnip-induced dream.
Once in her room, she collapsed onto her bed and scooped up her Familiar. “Oh Crooks – I’ve never been so embarrassed in my life! Professor Malfoy and Madam Hooch! I walked in on them!” She hugged the cat. “They were kissing – and it was more than just a friendly kiss. I never… never thought about teachers acting like that.”
Crookshanks purred furiously until his pet’s breathing calmed slightly.
“It’s weird, Crooks. It reminds me of when I tripped at Gringott’s and Professor Snape kept me from falling. It makes me feel … I don’t know. Kind of warm all over.” She ruffled his fur and scratched him under the chin for a few minutes. “It’s like when I was going out with Seamus, only more so.” Her mouth quirked. “Just touching Professor Snape was intense. I wonder what kissing him would be like?” She stopped short. “Did I just say that? Out loud?”
Snape strode into the Staff Room and took his customary seat at one end of the long table. Minerva looked up when he entered.
“Good evening, Severus.”
“Good evening, Minerva.” He steepled his hands on the table in front of him. “Might I ask what this meeting is about?”
“Let’s wait for the others.” She paused for a long moment. “I went to see Harry today.”
“Harry? Oh, Mr. Potter.”
“He’s doing a little better. He’s not threatening to kill you anymore.” Her lips quirked in a half-smile.
“For which grace, many thanks I’m sure,” Snape said dryly. “Hello Filius,” he added as Professor Flitwick bounced into the room.
“Good evening Severus, Minerva.” Filius looked around. “Is the Headmaster joining us this evening?”
“He said this was the business of the Houses, and he thought it best not to be involved.” Minerva’s clipped tones made it very clear that she disapproved of Albus’ absence.
Professor Sprout rushed into the room. “Terribly sorry, Minerva. I’ve had to do some rearranging of my quarters.” She plopped into a chair. “Now, what is this all about?”
The Head of Gryffindor House took a long breath and thought longingly of the catnip outside Professor Sprout’s door. “I went to see Mr. Potter today. Although he is improving, he is not likely to be released for some time.”
“Poor boy,” Filius said. “But what does that have to do with us?”
“Harry’s commitment to St. Mungo’s leaves Gryffindor without a Seeker. As it’s nearly the end of the term, it would place an undue burden on my House to train a new one. I wish to cancel all remaining Gryffindor games for this year.”
“Forfeits?” Snape asked, his eyes alight with devilish glee.
“Of course not! The games will simply be cancelled.”
“I’d have to vote against that,” Filius said slowly. “To be perfectly fair, we would have to throw out all Gryffindor games for the year. That would upset the current House Points totals dramatically.”
“I’m not asking for something that extreme.”
“No, you’re just asking for special treatment for Potter.”
“We’ve all lost players at one time or another, Minerva,” Ivy said, “and we’ve never cancelled games.”
“We have only forfeited games when there was clear evidence of cheating,” Filius continued. “I dislike the precedent this would set. Besides,” his eyes flickered toward Snape for a moment, “Slytherin House has lost much more than Gryffindor. You saw the casualty list, Minerva – forty-two deaths.”
In the face of this united opposition, Minerva withdrew her request. Grumbling under her breath, she stalked off in the direction of Gryffindor Tower. Snape cocked an eyebrow after her, and headed for the dungeons.
The Potions Master entered his lab and noted that Miss Granger had done her usual thorough job of cleaning up. Pleased, he locked and warded the door and returned to his quarters. Despite the relatively early hour, he decided to turn in. He undressed and climbed into bed. Duster jumped up beside him and began purring loudly. The lullaby of the cat’s purr sent him off to dreamland in short order.
It was a bright summer day, and he was standing in a strangely familiar garden. Off in the distance, the lapping of water over stone heralded the presence of a nearby brook. Sunlight poured over him, warming him to his bones. He heard footsteps behind him, and turned to greet his wife.
She came to him and clasped him in a hug, pressing herself against him. He held her close, her long brown curly hair tumbling over his hands. He bent slightly and kissed her, feeling his passion for her grow. With one accord they moved toward the garden bench, their hands roaming freely over each other.
“Hermione…” he groaned with pleasure at her touch. His hands slid up over her breasts, enjoying – reveling in – the way the nipples hardened. Their clothing was soon discarded, and he caught his breath anew at the sight of her nude form. She was no classic beauty, but she was his heart, his soul, and all he ever could desire.
They joined together on the sun-dappled bench, reaffirming their love and passion for the thousandth time.
Snape woke up with a jolt, the remains of his excitement evident on the sheets beneath him. “Damn and blast it! She’s a student! A student!” He banished the bedclothes to the laundry hamper with a muttered Charm, and summoned new ones. “She’s just a child!” He settled back in bed. Images of the dream sprang up anew, refusing to be banished. “She’s an obnoxious little know-it-all; even if she wasn’t a student. It would never work!” He stopped, aghast at the direction his thoughts were taking. “I can’t believe I’d even consider courting a Gryffindor!”
Duster curled up next to him again and purred in satisfaction. He was pleased with his pet’s response to the dream-sending. Crookshanks would be providing Hermione with a similarly interesting night.
Talking to Crookshanks had given Hermione an idea. “I’m surprised I didn’t think of this earlier,” she told the gingery tom. “I can just listen to myself talk! I don’t need anyone else.” She dumped the cat on the bed and moved to stand next to it. A moment later, she transformed, automatically shaking her head to flick her forelock out of her eyes.
“My name is Hermione Granger.” She went through the mental process of vocalizing the words, but the only sounds that emerged were a sort of shuddering nicker. Disappointed, she tried again, with the same results. The potion was a failure. She resumed her natural form with a sigh. “Crookshanks, how am I going to tell Professor Snape?”
She sat down on the bed and picked up her Familiar. “I guess I’ll keep my mouth shut until after Yule. Maybe by then I can figure out what to say.” A glance at the calendar told her there was only a week left until the Yule break. “And maybe I can also figure out what went wrong.” Decision made, she curled up under the blankets. “G’night Crooks.”
She was in their bedroom – a small comfortably appointed room, decorated in soft shades of blue with ivory accents. The house elves were not allowed in their quarters. Hermione shook out the heavy comforter and was about to pull it smooth when his footsteps sounded in their living room.
“Severus!” She ran to him, wrapping her arms around him in an enthusiastic hug. Perhaps it was silly after years of marriage to greet him like that, but he enjoyed it. In fact, he aided and abetted it. She pulled his head down to hers. “I’m glad you’re home.”
“Home early,” he pointed out, sweeping her off her feet and carrying her back into the bedroom. “We’ve two hours until dinner. What do you suggest we do to pass the time?”
She mock-growled and bit his neck gently. “I’m sure you can think of something.”
Her husband grinned down at her. “I could…” he transferred her to the bed and sat down beside her. “… do this…” One long fingered hand trailed up and down her side, a soft stroking motion that made her want to purr. She pulled him down next to her. His heavy black hair fell over his face, tickling her nose, and she brushed it away.
“Love you, Severus.”
“Love you too, Hermione.” His lips met hers in a long kiss that kindled their passions.
Hermione sat bolt upright in shock, startling Crookshanks, her heart pounding, and breathing hard. Her hands trembled as she gathered the furry cat onto her lap. “Oh Crookshanks! I’ve never had such a wonderful dream! Wonderful and terrifying all at the same time!” She rubbed his ears thoughtfully. “Seamus … I thought he was a wonderful kisser, but he was never like this!”
Snape entered his Seventh year Potions class on Monday with a sense of dread. His dreams hadn’t abated one whit. Indeed, they’d increased in detail and intensity every time he closed his eyes over the weekend. Gratifying himself had brought no relief. Never one to lie to himself, he admitted very privately that it would be nice to have a romantic liaison with an intelligent woman. But – not a child, and never, ever, a student! Perhaps if she were ten years older…
He did not want to face Hermione. He’d even spent part of Sunday dreaming up reasons to cancel class. But nothing he thought of would’ve passed muster with the Headmaster. “It’s only a week,” he muttered to himself as the students filed in. “I survived two decades of Voldemort, I can survive this.” Once the students were all seated, he gave them a sweeping glare. “You will not be brewing anything today. Instead, you will write an essay on the uses and properties of pooka blood. I expect at least eighteen inches of parchment on the topic, so you had best not waste any time getting started.”
Some students gaped with relief. Others sniggered. Hermio – Miss Granger -- stared for a long moment before retrieving her quill and parchment and beginning to write. Once the students were all concentrating on their work, Snape relaxed slightly. He couldn’t assign essays all week long; sooner or later, he’d have to interact with her.
Hermione had seriously considered hexing herself sick rather than attend Snape’s class. A weekend of arousing dreams about the Potions master had left her jumpy and irritable. She slipped into the classroom quietly, and took her accustomed seat in the back, not daring to look at Sever… Professor Snape. When he assigned an essay instead of a potion to brew, her mind went blank with relief for nearly ten seconds before she could begin writing.
It wasn’t until dinner that she realized that she’d have to face him alone in the lab if she was to continue her research project. The thought made her ill, and she hastily excused herself from the table and made a mad dash for the bathroom. Kneeling next to the commode, she put her head in her hands. “Oh god. Oh god.”
Snape hadn’t bothered to attend dinner. He brooded in the lab, his chin propped on his hands. What was he going to say in an hour when she arrived to work on her project? He bit his lip and tried to concentrate on the project. Unfortunately, everything led his mind back to Miss Granger. “Hermione,” a little voice whispered in the back of his head. He swore violently, and went back to brooding.
Hermione poked her head around the doorjamb and looked into the lab. Snape was seated at his desk, staring off into the distance. Sighing, she entered the room. “I’m here, sir.”
His head came up slowly at the distinct lack of enthusiasm in her voice. “Since it is nearly the end of the term, I think it unwise to begin any new line of research this evening. We shall begin again in the spring.”
She stared at the floor. “Yes, sir.”
That was not the reaction he’d expected. “Miss Granger, are you feeling quite well?”
“I haven’t been sleeping well,” she mumbled.
“Neither have I.” He hadn’t meant to say it.
She sat down at her desk, remembering. “It’s the dreams. I wake up and it’s like I didn’t get any sleep at all.”
Now he could certainly relate to that. “Have you tried a Dreamless Sleep potion?” I find them useful on occasion.” It didn’t occur to him to wonder why he hadn’t thought of it earlier.
She snorted, surprising him. “I’d have to get them from the infirmary. Madame Pomfrey would want to know why.” The memories brought a stain of red to her cheeks.
“Nosy Parker that she is, yes.” He wouldn’t want to tell the mediwitch about his recent dreams. Snape rose and unlocked his private cabinet, the one that no one else was allowed in. Withdrawing a small green vial, he turned back to her. “Here. Take a spoonful before you go to bed. It should help.”
Hermione took the vial as if he were throwing her a lifeline. “Thank you, sir!” She took a long breath and the blush faded. “About the project, sir, I’d like to continue to work on it this week. I'd rather not wait until the spring term.”
Snape thought of the row of green vials in the cabinet...enough potion for both of them, enough to last until the Yule break. “I believe that will be satisfactory. Let us begin tomorrow night.”
Hermione and Snape both breathed a sigh of relief as she boarded the Hogwarts Express at the end of the week. The Dreamless Sleep potion had worked well, and they each hoped there would be no further need for it in the spring. Snape watched the train disappear around a bend before returning to the castle. As the train wound through the Forbidden Forest, other eyes, less friendly eyes, watched it as well.