“Dammit!” The four – two humans, two cats – were in the Potions lab where the latest work on their Cantor’s Concealment project had just figuratively blown up in their faces. It was the day after Duster and Crookshanks had been released from Peeves’ Trap spell. Eight cauldrons of differently colored sludge stood in a neat row where they’d hoped to have at least one semi-success. Snape’s verbal explosion expressed all their frustration.
Hermione grumbled and banished the contents of the various cauldrons. “I’m out of ideas.”
“Likewise,” Severus agreed. “We got the first part standardized easily enough, but once we start adding the beetle eyes, things start going wrong.”
She lugged the first cauldron over to the sink. Scourgify was fine for cleaning floors and such, but there was nothing like soap and water (with plenty of elbow grease) for scrubbing cauldrons. “I went through the entire barrel of beetle eyes and selected the thirty-eight best for this particular cauldron. I matched them for size and color, even. Didn’t make a difference.” She paused a moment. “I sorted through eighteen thousand, two hundred, and seventy-three beetle eyes.”
“Using your standardized base,” Duster interrupted before Hermione could get started on a full-fledged rant, “have you managed to brew this potion successfully at all?”
“Not completely,” Severus answered. “The best we’ve managed was one where I turned translucent – like a ghost, and we haven’t been able to repeat even that success.”
“I’ve a thought,” Crookshanks announced. “One of the problems you’re having is lack of time. You’re both teaching classes, trying to modify the Potions curriculum, and attending too many ridiculous staff meetings. Why not give this problem to your seventh-year students and let them work on it? You might see some new ideas, and you’ll certainly see some lines of experiment that shouldn’t be followed at all.”
“And you could promise an O for the year to any student who manages to do the trick.” Duster added. “That would guarantee a lot of effort.”
“You know, Severus,” Hermione said slowly, “that’s not a bad idea at all. The seventh-year students are the ones who want to really understand Potions.” She inverted the now-clean cauldron and set it on the counter to dry. The she Accio’d the class schedule from his desk. “There’s only thirty across the entire school.”
“There would have to be ground rules set, particularly if I am to offer an O as a reward.” Snape grumbled as he hefted another cauldron into the sink. “Obviously the basic recipe must be followed. No additional ingredients, for instance.”
“Obviously,” she replied. “Let’s work out the ground rules this week, and you can present the idea to them Monday.” She tossed the class schedule aside and began scrubbing another cauldron. “One rule is that they have to clean their own equipment.”
The influx of transfer students required a major revamp of the class schedules for the entire school. There were nearly forty first-years in each House – far too many for a single instructor to adequately supervise. The second-year class was nearly as large with between thirty and thirty-five students in each House. For these two years, each House was subdivided into two groups, thus reducing the number of students to a manageable level. Double classes were a thing of the past.
Hermione taught all the first and second year classes, having discovered that she was better at instilling basic knowledge into the dunderheads – as Severus had put it. She learned that she truly enjoyed teaching, seeing that Aha moment when a student’s face would light up with understanding.
She taught the first and second years in the mornings while he taught the third, fourth, and fifth year students. Both of them agreed that it wouldn’t work well for her to teach the older students, the ones that had been closest to her year group, so Severus taught the sixth and seventh year classes in the afternoons while she made sure the storerooms were stocked, marked essays, and dealt with anything else that needed doing.
Once the Cantor project had been handed over to the seventh-year students, Hermione and Severus found themselves at loose ends in the evenings. This lasted until the third night. He’d been grumbling about the terrible first-year Potions text.
“So why don’t you write a new one, a better one?” Hermione asked. It was the same text they’d used in her first year – and it truly was terrible.
He opened his mouth to rebut the question only to close it again and actually consider what she’d said. “That would take a great deal of time.”
“Are you planning on going anywhere?”
“Neither am I. You’re absolutely right – none of the Potions texts have been updated in at least thirty years, so it doesn’t take into account any of the advances in the craft. We could do so much better. In fact, we could write a whole new series of textbooks, and do it right!”
Now she grinned at him. “Writing a proper textbook is a long-term project – you said it yourself. By the time we get done, I’ll have my Mastery. A set of Potions texts co-authored by not one, but two Potions Masters is certain to be well-received.”
He shook his head at her. “Are you sure you aren’t a Slytherin in disguise?”
“What better place for a snake to hide than among the lions?”
And so their evenings were now spent planning and discussing their proposed opus. He had suggested that the introductory chapters explain how to use the all the different tools of the potioneer’s trade. Hermione took that idea and went one better, suggesting that they include photographs of the tools in use, demonstrating proper technique. He sat back, open-mouthed. Pictures in textbooks were always drawings or paintings. No one had ever thought of using photographs. That alone would make their book – for it was obviously now a joint work – unique.
Colin Creevey spent one evening with them taking some sample pictures. As brash and annoying as the seventh-year Gryffindor could be, he knew his chosen craft and took the time to make sure the end results were exactly what were needed. The proposed frontispiece of the book showed Severus’ treasured set of Master’s Tools laid out neatly on a worktable.
Severus’ next thought was to include photos for each recipe. One showing the ingredients, with notes on how to select the best for that particular potion. One showing the prepared ingredients, and a third showing the completed potion. The other two thought this an excellent idea. “In fact,” Colin said, “since I’m setting up my own business after this year, you two can be my first clients. Photographs of the quality you will need are going to take a lot of time to do right, and we’ll have more of it during the summer.”
“That is an excellent observation, Mr. Creevey,” Severus said with a satisfied expression. “And here is your pay for tonight’s work.” He passed over a sack of galleons.
“We’ll talk after your exams,” Hermione put in, “and set up a time to do the first set of photographs.”
“I wish I’d had a book like this,” Colin said as he packed up his camera. “I didn’t really understand the difference between chopping and slicing until third-year. And as for telling the difference between mugwort and mangrove roots? I still can’t!”
And that had, predictably, catapulted the entire project into something even bigger. Not just a single textbook, but an entire set of textbooks with companion reference volumes covering everything from beginner to NEWT-levels and beyond. Thus The Consummate Compendium was born.
The tail end of September, Lucius was in the middle of showing his first-year Hufflepuffs how to cast a basic shielding spell when the Fat Friar floated in, followed by the Grey Lady. “Pardon us, Professor. Madame Pomfrey requests your presence in the Infirmary. We’ll be happy to take your class for you.”
The Friar beamed. “Apparently your children have decided to make an early appearance.”
“Children? Early?” He stared at the ghosts, wondering what they were talking about. His class was all present and accounted for. It couldn’t be… “Xia?” And then as the Friar nodded happily, “Children? As in more than one?”
“Twins, I believe,” The Grey Lady almost had to shout the last word as Lucius bolted out the door as if all the hounds of Hell were after him. Smiling, she turned her attention to the students. “Now, class, I believe we were discussing shielding spells.”
It was a long way from the DADA classroom to the Infirmary, but Lucius got there within ten minutes. The castle itself seemed to understand that he was in a hurry, for he didn’t have to wait on any of the staircases. At the door, he stopped short, suddenly unsure of what to do. Narcissa had been horrified when he’d barged in on her right after Draco was born. He didn’t hear anything, and had no idea if that was bad or good. Mentally girding his loins, he opened the door and strode in.
“Your timing couldn’t be better,” Madame Pomfrey greeted him. “Come kiss your wife and meet your children.”
Two long steps took him behind the privacy screen. Xia looked up at him with a tired but happy grin. “Surprise!”
Relief washed over him and he took Poppy’s advice and kissed her gently. Only then did he notice that there were not two, but three bundles in her arms. “Three….?” He touched one of the little heads gently, words failing him. But the goofy grin on his face said everything.
“Two boys and a girl. We have three wonderful, healthy children!”
He picked up the nearest bundle carefully and rocked it in his arms, still grinning. “What shall we name them? We had not really talked about it. It’s traditional in my family to name children for assorted ancestors. I’d like to break from that tradition. I’d like to give them names that mean something.” He ground to a halt, dimly aware that he was babbling.
“As would I. These are the future. The tradition in my family is that twins or triplets all have names starting with the same letter. That’s always seemed a bit pretentious to me.”
“Castor, Pollux, and Artemis? Those are names with some weight behind them.”
Xia cuffed him gently. “Too predictable. Romulus, Remus, and Regina?”
“Oh please. Let’s get away from tradition.”
“You started it!”
He laughed. “So I did!”
Some discussion later, it was decided. The newest residents of Hogwarts castle were named Helios, Chrysos, and Aurora Malfoy.
The third Saturday in October found Severus having dinner with the Malfoys in their quarters, as his apprentice / assistant was dining with Potter and his wife in their quarters. Potter was much more tolerable now that he wasn’t a student, but Severus still preferred to minimize their association.
By common accord, conversation was kept light and pleasant through dinner. Only when the dessert – a magnificent Schwartzwald cake accompanied by a suitable wine – appeared did his hosts exchange what Snape knew to be a significant glance. Lucius took up the gauntlet.
“Severus, you’re ignoring the best thing that ever happened to you.”
“Hermione,” Xia clarified. “She’s potty about you. Anyone with half an eye can see that.”
“And you’ve got it just as bad for her, if you’d only recognize it.”
Severus looked back and forth between them, somewhat bemused. “Did she put you up to this?” He refused to admit the truth of what they’d said. Even to himself. Especially to himself. He took a long swallow of wine, and helped himself to a large slice of cake, wondering for a moment how Lucius had known it was his favorite.
They laughed. “Not hardly,” Xia answered. “I think she’d be embarrassed to be discussing her love-life…”
“Or lack thereof…”
“… with either of us. Fortunately, we’re not as shy as she is.”
“You love her. She loves you. What in Merlin’s name is stopping you from doing something about it? The war’s long over, Severus. Voldemort is dead. Look to your future.”
“She’s a child!” Snape managed. He drained his glass and allowed Lucius to refill it, and then turned his attention to the hitherto neglected cake. Dark chocolate and tart cherry combined on his tongue to explode in a sensory nirvana. If heaven had a taste, this would be it.
“Nonsense,” Lucius replied, amused by his friend’s enjoyment of the dessert. “She’s an adult by both Wizard and Muggle law. She’s also much more mature than her age-group. But if you don’t find her acceptable, should I try to set her up with Mr. Nott? I believe he’s only a month older than she is.”
Severus shook his head and sipped at his wine. “It wouldn’t work, Lucius. Mr. Nott never bothered to do more than the bare minimum reading for any of his classes – as you very well know. She would be bored after half an hour in his company.”
“Perhaps we should encourage her to write to that Bulgarian wizard who asked her to the Triwizard Ball,” Xia suggested. “They seemed quite compatible.”
“The Quidditch player?” Severus snorted. “Impossible! Hermione does not even like to fly.” He put his glass down and contemplated his empty dessert dish.
“You’ve just referred to her by her first name,” Lucius grinned. “Would you like another slice of cake?”
“I admit she is a painstaking and competent assistant,” Severus said accepting a second, equally large, piece and ignoring Lucius’ comment about her first name, “And she’s taken the first and second years off my hands, which is certainly a praiseworthy endeavor. If it weren’t for her occasional bouts of Gryffindorness, she would be perfect.” He hadn’t really meant to put it quite like that, and wondered for a moment if Lucius had spiked the wine.
“So you’re pleased with her as an apprentice – that means you work well together. You obviously know her fairly well as you have definitely opinions on what sort of man she would or wouldn’t get along with. Why shouldn’t that man be you?”
“I’m old enough to be her father!” he burst out.
That sent both of them into gales of laughter. “Not just a river in Egypt! Oh Severus,” Xia finally managed, “twenty years is nothing between witch and wizard. Even in the Muggle world, it’s not unheard of!”
Snape raised his hands in surrender. “You’ve made your point, both of you. And since you insist on meddling, riddle me this: what in the world should I do?”
“Escort her to Mr. Longbottom’s wedding!”
The days went with surprisingly mild weather that continued as October drew to a close. Severus wondered if Longbottom had paid a weather-worker to predict a good night for an outdoor ceremony. If so, he’d got his money’s worth. While cool, the evening of October 31 was calm and dry.
Severus knocked on Hermione’s door, slightly nervous. “Ready?”
“Come in. I’ll be just a moment.”
He almost didn’t recognize her. She wore crimson robes embroidered with gold in a Celtic knot pattern. Her flyaway hair had been charmed or otherwise softened into a sleek mane.
“I hope these robes will be acceptable,” she said as she cast a spell to remove stray cat hairs. “Millie told me that it’s improper to wear black at this sort of ceremony. Most light colors wash me out too much.” Then she caught sight of him. “You look fantastic!”
“Miss Bulstrode is quite correct.” He’d laid aside his customary black robes for the occasion, and had chosen to wear a medium shade of green embroidered with silver serpents. “Darker colors are more fitting for solemn occasions. And while I can’t bring myself to use the word ‘fantastic’, you are… quite stunning.” He held out his arm. “Shall we?”