All Characters are property of J.K Rowling and the Harry Potter Universe. Thankfully, she allows me to borrow them for a bit of fun.
It was only eight in the morning and Severus was on his third cup of strong, black coffee of the day. He had spent the better part of the last two days at his kitchen table, Hermione Granger’s red and blue bound notebooks and loose parchments of his own notes spread out like a crude tablecloth. He had been staring at the same page of his notes for the last hour and still could not figure out how she had managed to make it as far as she had with very little guidance or instruction. It had to have been pure guess work and a fair amount of luck, and if the state of her notes gave any indication, a lot of trial and error. She had been a solid Potions student and decent at Defense despite her inability to stray from the pages of her books when instinct should have taken over, but she had never struck him as the type of pupil that would wander from notion to notion blindly until she found one that stuck and suited her needs.
Severus rubbed both hands across his face, his body close to pleading for something more substantial than the four hours of sleep he had had over the course of the previous two nights. But, he thought, rolling his shoulders to loosen the knotted muscles in his back,this is better than the alternative.
Lily Potter persisted in her barrage of his dreams each time he closed his eyes. The setting was occasionally different, but the outcome remained the same: her lying prone on the floor, green eyes fixed on him devoid of light and life. The nightmare occurred with such frequency over the last few days he found it sometimes hard to shake the mental image of her dead face when he was conscious. He had developed the unsavory habit of late of sleeping only when his body could not take it anymore, and dove into Hermione Granger’s work when he was awake, hoping to lose himself in the task.
For a while, it had worked like a well-placed charm. Her notes were as dense as they were meticulous despite how she may or may not have arrived at them, and the worn pages had offered him the escape he needed from his demons. It had taken him three solid days to read through everything twice—the first time a general reading, and the second a much more precise scouring for patterns and details that would prove beneficial to what she was trying to achieve.
Severus eyed the notes he had made with a frown. He was close to figuring it out, so close he could feel it, but just when he thought he had discovered where she had made the fatal error to ruin the antidote, another setback would crop up in its place and he would be sent barreling back to where he started.
It was absolutely maddening.
Irritated by the fact that he had yet to find a solution, and since he reasoned his only real purpose in Hermione Granger’s project was ensuring that she did not maim or kill herself or anyone else during the process, Severus had taken to studying the delicate script across the pages rather than the meaning behind them. The willowy words were struck through in places with jagged, hurried lines, meant to obliterate the mistakes from existence. He thumbed through a few pages, running his fingers over the entire paragraphs and sections of her notes blotted out and cast aside for one reason or another.
Predictably, Hermione Granger’s work failed to hold his interest for long, and soon his gaze drifted past the bound parchments on his table, and past his kitchen window, and past the grey garden and the blowing flakes of snow. How convenient it would be if it were really that simple to slash through blunders like words on parchment…
Severus uttered a small groan of annoyance. There was much to do and no time to sit around and ponder the injustices of the world. He drained the last of the coffee in his mug with a single, hot swallow and, having grown tired of moving in retrograde with his work and his thoughts, left the table.
Hermione Granger was set to arrive sometime between the hours of eleven and noon for their first official meeting as mentor and pupil—more than enough time to see to business before he was to have his daily Silhouette session with Adelaide Harlowe at fifteen past five. The dull, lingering ache in his back from sitting upright in a kitchen chair for most of the night pulled Severus upstairs toward the water of his shower.
The things he should do—like eat a decent meal or close his eyes for longer than an hour at a time—crossed his mind briefly as he climbed the stairs, but he pushed them aside as he typically did when they surfaced. Truth be told, he did not feel like doing any of the things he knew he ought to do, though lack of time often took blame rather than his soured mood. Plain and simple, and though he would have rather eaten his own socks than admit it, he was well on his way to becoming stuck, boxing himself inside a cell of his own insecurities and regrets.
Severus let himself into the modest loo, not bothering to switch on the light as he entered. The notion of becoming an automaton—Adelaide Harlowe’s turn of phrase, not his own—that moved in a routine of circles, left him feeling distressed, even worried, if he were being completely honest with himself.
As he turned on the water and undressed he thought of what Adelaide had said to him just the night before—You give too much thought to things you can’t change—the same words he had dismissed out of habit with a scowl and an air of chastisement, and knew she had been right. Severus closed his eyes and could almost feel his self-made walls closing in around him while he stood there, bare shoulders hunched as the too-hot water from the showerhead rained down from above. He had known something was amiss for several days now, what with the normalcy of his sleeping habits taking a sharp downward turn. What he did not know was how to fix the situation before the other shoe finally dropped and he found himself swallowed up by his own mind like he had been in the beginning.
After ten minutes Severus turned off the water, toweled himself dry enough not to drip, and made his way to his bedroom, speculative thoughts still swarming through his mind. Sleeping Draughts were always an option, but the risk of becoming reliant on a potion (which had nearly happened while he was convalesced) to get him through his nights outweighed the benefits. He had seen first-hand during his childhood what an addiction could do to a person, and wanted no part of it.
During the early days of his stay at St. Mungo’s, Augusta had also suggested the aid of a strong Forgetfulness Charm when the nightmares prevailed. He had steadfastly refused, not only because the particularly unyielding charm could leave lasting damage if not cast properly, but also because he believed it was the cowards’ way out. Even now, depleted and exhausted and on the brink of collapse, he still had the same opinion.
Severus tugged on a solid white undershirt, which promptly clung uncomfortably to his still-damp skin. To his own frustration, he could not remember if the dark grey trousers lying in a heap in front of the wardrobe had been washed recently, but reasoned that he had not exerted himself in such a way to deem them unwearable. He slipped them on without bothering to check for obvious wrinkles—who did he have to impress, really—and threaded a belt through the loops to keep them securely around his waist.
When he fastened the final button of his white cotton dress shirt, and pulled on the grey tweed sport jacket, Severus turned around to inspect himself in the mirror. The collar of the jacket partially hid the scar that climbed up the side of his neck (once his hair had dried it would see to the rest), and the sleeves of both the shirt and jacket securely covered his Silhouette Seal, but the muted greys and soft fabrics did not have the same depressing and familiar austerity that his teaching robes carried. He felt absurd and a touch uncomfortable, as if he were in stolen clothes, pretending to be someone he was not.
Severus frowned, glancing over at the wardrobe where the robes were suspended limply from their hanger. In the great purge of everything that represented his past, he could not find it in himself to toss them in the rubbish bin, despite the fact they would never serve further use to him. Now, their absence from his shoulders left him feeling oddly hypersensitive, as though he were missing a part of himself. In a way, Severus figured there was some truth to that, and briefly entertained the idea of donning them one final time just to see the look on Hermione Granger’s face when he opened the door. He quickly dismissed the notion, however, leaving them where they hung, and went downstairs.
In the kitchen, Severus put the kettle on and switched on the broiler for toast. It was a pretense, really, the task of preparing tea and something that resembled breakfast; he did not have the least bit of interest in eating at the present moment. It was nothing more than a chance to buy himself time to think of how to approach this meeting. Through a broad yawn, he separated his notes from hers, careful to keep everything in its proper order.
Not that it matters, Severus thought sourly. I still don’t have a bloody clue as to any of it. He sank back into his chair and pressed the heels of both hands into his eyes, as if he might obliterate his ineptness and fatigue, and bring forth some semblance of sense and direction by force alone. Potion making, especially the inventive aspects of it, took time, and even though he knew this and had lectured his own students on it countless times, Severus still felt as though he should have had a better handle on it by this point. What was he to tell Hermione Granger when she arrived, expecting not only answers but guidance as well?
Behind him, the kettle gave a high-pitched squeal. Severus considered how to approach the subject as he absently tended to the tea and toast. He could always tell her start over with something else, just as he had suggested to Minerva the first time they met, but that felt too much like giving up now that he was officially part of the process.
No, he thought, tentatively watching two slices of bread brown under the broiler, that is no longer an option.
The possibility to scale back was there too, but that would require a starting point from which to begin. He supposed, as he spread a generous portion of butter on a slice of toasted bread, that the first step would be to move away from restorative draughts entirely. The practical, practised side of Severus had suspected this initially, but given the sheer density of the work she had completed thus far and her current deadline, he had inched away from the idea. She would have to disregard all of the research and notes and potions work on restorative draughts in search of something else. Hard on the heels of that thought, though, came the realisation that what she intended to achieve would most likely be rendered impossible if they did not hit the ground running immediately.
Severus took his buttered toast and kettle to the table and pulled one of the notebooks toward him once he was seated. He thumbed through the first few pages until he found what he was looking for—the pages detailing the information about the Alihotsy itself, properties both physical and chemical—and read while picking halfheartedly at his food, searching for some vital piece of information he might have missed that would serve as a possible start.
A little over an hour later, Severus closed Hermione Granger’s red notebook, and wrote a single word in the top margin on a page of his notes.
He underlined the word twice and circled it for good measure. Missing something so simple before would have irritated him, but he was too tired to care. And if he were being completely fair, he had not been specifically looking for it the first four times around. It was only a theory, a possible thread to pull to see what unraveled as a result, but Severus leaned back, stretching his arms above his head, savoring the sudden jolt of satisfaction with which he had normally associated a potential success.
Severus slouched forward, his arms forming a makeshift cushion for his forehead against the chilly, crumb-covered table. Relieved by the small sense of direction, he closed his eyes and thought of how best to break the news. She would not like his suggestion, that much he knew with certainty, but she had very little choice in the matter as far as a passing score was concerned. A slim handful of possible reactions ranging from flat-out refusal to blasé compliance came to mind as he sat there, listening to the hypnotic ticking of the clock hanging on the wall.
He was not altogether sure which one would be worse considering the tone of their first meeting, and he had learned from experience trying to gauge someone’s reaction before it happened was the surest way to be wrong about it.
You’ve done this a hundred times before. Tell her what must be done,” thought Severus. Then aloud, “And let the chips fall where they may.”
Severus woke suddenly, knocking his knee hard on one of the legs of the table. Wincing, he shook the hair out of his face and looked around. The brilliant light of the afternoon sun reflecting off the white ground in the garden shone through the kitchen window and directly into his face. It was spectacularly irritating, and judging by the heaviness still in his head and the increasing sourness of his mood, he had only been asleep long enough to feel disproportionately cross.
He shifted in his chair to avoid the direct sunlight and tried to recall what had jarred him so fitfully awake. After sitting there for a moment watching dust swirl in a chink of sunlight, and several false starts, Severus realized that by the mercy of whatever Fate he had hovering over him, it had not been the usual sight of Lily Potter’s dead body sprawled across some generic floor. Then, off to his left, through the hall leading into the front room, came what sounded like a faint pecking noise. He had thought he had dreamt it all, but now that alertness was slowly seeping back into place he heard it again, this time much more clearly than before.
“If you’re an owl, you can bloody well wait,” said Severus, recalling his last encounter with the bird Hermione had sent. He stretched, and as he did so, turned around in his chair to see the clock—quarter past eleven—and the surge of panic that descended was immediate.
He got up much too fast from his chair and his hip connected quite painfully with the table’s edge as he turned for the sitting room. Still, the knocking persisted. Severus limped quickly down the hall, running his fingers through his hair as he went in a meek attempt to make himself look as though he had not just woken up. He made it a few steps away from the front door when he realised he was still in his sock feet.
“Shit,” Severus hissed, and the knocking sounded again, this time much louder. He looked frantically about the room with no success before finally summoning his boots. They hurtled through the air the way he had just come. He tugged them on one at a time, quick spell work tying the strings in tight precise loops. She had caught him in an unfit state for visitors once, and he would be damned if he allowed it to happen again.
He took a breath, feeling incredibly foolish for the sudden surge of dread, and finally opened the door. It was snowing again, the flakes falling in blossom-sized chunks. Hermione was standing with her back hunched against the cold, one hand securing her bag on her shoulder, the other poised to knock again. Her eyes went wide when she saw him on the other side of the door.
“Professor Snape,” she said, her breath condensing in the air as she spoke. She pushed her hair away from her face, looking immensely relieved. The cold had caused her to flush a slight shade of pink, and for a moment Severus wondered how long he had left her standing on the stoop.
“Miss Granger,” he said simply. There was a strange pause in which neither of them moved or spoke, Hermione’s lips flinched vaguely as though she were trying to keep herself from saying something else. Severus tried to think of something to say himself, but was saved by a rather strong gust of wind that sent snow blowing inside. He moved aside to let her in.
“Thank you, sir,” she said stepping past him. She removed the red knitted wool hat she wore, and stuffed it in the pocket of her coat along with her matching gloves. Hermione laughed, a little and uneasily, fiddling with the thick leather cuff around her wrist, then, “I was beginning to think I made a mistake and had shown up at the wrong time.”
Something about her, whether it was her tone or the nervous quirk, left him feeling a strong sense of déjà vu. Whatever he was about to say to her vanished before he could grasp it properly. Severus shook his head slightly, as if to dismiss her comment, but really it was to clear his own head.
“I just finished the reading this morning,” he said, changing course. “If you’ll follow me, we can begin your revisions.” He turned started for the kitchen, and left her standing in the middle of the room, snow melt still dripping onto the rug from her Wellingtons. “You’re going to need all of the time you can get.”
Severus flicked his wand toward the partially eaten toast and its saucer on the table, and the bread and dish floated to the bin and sink, respectively. His notes and her books were where he had left them, thankfully undisrupted by his rather fitful waking. The tea in the pot could be salvaged with a heating charm, he reasoned, and sat in his usual spot. It was unlikely she would stay long enough to warrant a fresh pot once he had given her a new direction to pursue.
“I must say, Miss Granger,” he began, sifting through his own parchments, “the state of your notes surprised me.”
“Surprised you, sir?” Her voice had a bit of an edge to it when she spoke, and Severus looked up to see her still standing just beyond the threshold of the kitchen.
“Do you intend to sit, or stand sentinel the entire time?” Severus asked. He gestured to the kitchen chair to his right, and Hermione obliged in silence. She discarded the beaded-purple bag she carried by her feet, ignoring the heavy sounds it made as it hit the floor. Severus wondered, as he ushered his thoughts back into place, exactly how much she was able to keep in the small handbag, remembering the last time he saw her with her arm thrust inside it up to her shoulder.
“As I said, everything is meticulously organized, which is expected with your… tendencies, I suppose,” he told her, choosing his words carefully, “but something tells me, considering the massive amount of revisions and omissions, that you’ve taken to guessing.”
Hermione stared at him. “I wouldn’t consider it guessing, sir”
“No? Then what do you consider it?”
“I mean it’s all part of the process, isn’t it? You have a hypothesis, and you test it, and if it doesn’t work you move on to something else with the hope that the new one will.”
“Only you haven’t moved on to something else,” said Severus. When he saw that she was about to protest, again, he added, “You said you intended to find an alternative antidote, yes?”
Hermione hesitated, taking a deep breath, then looked at him ruefully. “That was the goal I had in mind. Do you think there is a problem?”
“There is,” he said, without pretense or pause. She appeared to deflate a little at that, which was naturally to be expected. “You have zeroed in on a restorative draught, despite the fact that the five previous attempts have had very little if no success at all.” He paused long enough to excuse himself from the table to dispose of the cold tea in his cup and to retrieve a clean one from the cupboard for her. “Does that sound like moving on to you, Miss Granger?”
“When you put it like that, I suppose not,” Hermione answered, then more quietly to herself, “I’m such an idiot, I should have realised that.”
Severus sat down again, frowning slightly. “Yes you should have, but you haven’t the time to feel sorry for yourself if you plan to do something about it. I trust that you’re smart enough to know that it’s not the ability or aptitude you lack. It is the proficiency, and proficiency is something that you can’t learn from the pages of a book. No matter what you believe.” He thumped the red cover of the notebook in front of her with a finger. “It takes failure—”
“I’ve certainly done enough of that,” interrupted Hermione, in a withering tone. “I could do with a break of luck for a change.”
“Poor, pitiful thing,” said Severus. “I wonder what it must feel like, to constantly expect grand results without paying the necessary dues?”
Hermione glared at him from across the table. “You greatly underestimate my work ethic, Professor Snape.”
“And you misunderstand my point entirely, Miss Granger,” Severus told her sharply. “Potions work is fickle at the best of times, and it takes patience and practice. Even the most naturally gifted potioneers can only improve with time and a fair share of failure.” He shook his head at her, then said, “Have you even stopped to consider the possibility that what you are attempting might not have the solution you seek, if any solution at all?”
Severus watched her from across the table as she weighed the question. Something about her expression told him that she had not allowed the thought to enter her mind. She poured herself some tea, took a long sip, and smiled at him in a way that almost seemed obligatory and said, “I suppose we’ll see in four months’ time.”
It was not the response Severus had expected, but it caused the hint of a grin to pull at the corner of his mouth. There she was, the person he had seen in Culpepper’s Apothecary. She would need that streak of Gryffindor tenacity if she intended to see the project to its inevitable end.
“Indeed we will,” agreed Severus. “In the meantime, I suggest you seriously prepare yourself for the potential that there may not to be an alternative antidote.” He almost mentioned the fact that he had not been able to work through her miscalculations after three days of nearly constant work, but kept that part to himself out of deep personal quandary.
Hermione made a face at the mention of the word, as if the notion itself was preposterous. “This has to work,” she said under her breath. Then again, looking him squarely in the eye, “I have to make this work after what I’ve had to do to get this far.”
Severus noticed the subtle shift in her demeanor as the words left her. He suspected there was a great deal more at stake to her than she let on. “Enlighten me.”
Hermione pushed her hair behind her ears, slumping slightly in her chair. “The bureaucratic red tape I’ve had to maneuver around to even be able to sit for this one exam. It has been a nightmare to pursue, if I’m being honest. And without Professor McGonagall’s help I doubt I would have been able to even apply.”
“With such a generous reward from Minister Shacklebolt, I’m surprised you even bothered,” Severus said. There was an impression of contempt in his voice out of principle, which he noticed she deftly ignored. “Three out of four N.E.W.T. certifications for the core disciplines would have been enough to guarantee placement in any field of employment you wanted.”
“Generous is one way to put it, I guess. I wanted to go back to school,” said Hermione. “I had planned to go back once classes resumed for the fall term, but when Kingsley thought he was doing Harry, Ron, and me a favour by going around the Examinations Authority he really only prevented me from going back full-time— almost altogether.”
“The Headmistress made it seem as though you not going back in full capacity was your own doing,” Severus said. He followed suit and poured himself the last of the tea from the pot, spooning in a generous portion of honey, and waited for her to elaborate.
Hermione sighed, staring down at the tea in her cup as though it contained the answer she was looking for. “In a way, she’s right. I suppose I could’ve declined the N.E.W.T. certifications Kingsley awarded, but I panicked. I didn’t know what to do, and I didn’t want to seem ungrateful. You see, a N.E.W.T. level certification, whether it’s awarded or earned outright, can only be given to a candidate once for each discipline.” Hermione shook her head, staring off into the space in front of her with a resentful expression. “Madam Marchbanks said it was a violation of conduct, and wouldn’t allow me to sit for any written or practical examination, except for Potions.”
“Let me guess,” Severus said, tilting his head toward her in a manner that suggested he were about to scold an errant child. In a way he felt like he was. “You naturally picked one of the most difficult projects you could think of, with the expectation of throwing it up in her face when you managed to pull it off?”
Hermione Granger worked her bottom lip between her teeth a moment. “I wouldn’t say that’s a completely inaccurate assumption,” she said quietly. “But there was more to my choosing it than that. It does make sense, does it not, to have a proper antidote for the effects of Alithotsy that isn’t dependent on a bug?”
“Whatever your motivation, I don’t care,” said Severus, his tone carefully neutral. In his youth he knew he would have done the same thing if a similar situation had presented itself, but that was beside the point. It would have made things much easier if she had an actual, honest interest in the pursuit rather than something so trivial as vindictiveness. He hoped that would be enough. “What I do care about is wasting my time and effort on something that could be potentially unattainable, should you not be able to follow through with the commitment you made out of what I can only figure as spite.”
Hermione released a terse breath. “I won’t waste your time, sir. I fully intend to do whatever I need to see that my practical application is ready in time for exams.”
“Very well. Before we proceed any further, you should know that I won’t be doing any work at Hogwarts,” said Severus, pushing back from the table and standing up. He took the now empty tea pot to the sink and rinsed it out of habit. When he turned back around, Hermione was looking at him, her complexion suddenly ruddy.
“How’s that going to work?” Hermione asked. “Professor McGonagall gave me access to the library and a spare classroom to use for the actual potions work. If I don’t have a lab I can’t—”
“I never said you couldn’t do your work at Hogwarts,” Severus told her, impatience flaring. “You are free to do what you wish, but I won’t be returning to the castle.”
“May I ask why, sir?”
“Personal reasons, Miss Granger, if you must know.” The words stung to say, and Severus realised that his decision to never set foot in the castle again was like a wound not quite healed. That part of his life had come to a nasty close, and what memories or ties remained would fade soon enough, or at least he hoped.
He leaned against the sink, watching his former student closely. “My personal lab is upstairs. Granted it’s not nearly as impressive as what you are accustomed to at Hogwarts, but should the need arise for me to assist you through any work you can’t manage on your own, the space is functional.”
A brief smile rippled across her face and vanished just as quickly. “Thank you, but I don’t want to intrude, Professor Snape,” said Hermione. “I’ve already asked a lot of you as it is.”
“Why is everything with you so unnecessarily complicated?” Severus deadpanned. “It’s not an intrusion if you’re invited. And besides, unless you have a mobile potions lab in that bag of yours, there is really no other option for me to test your trials.”
“Can I see it?”
Severus considered her for a moment. He had expected her to eventually agree to his terms, and really what choice did she have in the matter with him being her mentor, but if he were being completely honest, the suddenness of her request surprised him. Hermione looked at him, as if she could see his thoughts as clearly as she could him standing directly in front of her, and whether it was from his desire to escape the scrutiny he found himself under or his willingness to comply, Severus pushed away from where he had perched himself and started for the doorway.
He turned just as he passed through into the hallway and saw that she was still watching him almost quizzically from her seat at the table. “Well, come on.”
There was sound of chair legs scrapping against the floor, and then Hermione’s hurried footsteps as she tried to close the distance between them. By the time he had reached the stairs at the opposite end of the sitting room, she was directly behind him, trailing silently like an obedient second shadow.
“How long have you had it?” asked Hermione. Then quickly, “Your personal lab, I mean.”
Severus’s feet faltered on the next step in front of him for a fraction of a second. His mind went briefly to a childhood memory he thought had been lost for good, and he simply said, “Longer than you’ve been alive.”
Remembering the small children’s potions set his mother had given him one Christmas before he knew anything about honest-to-goodness potion making, he supposed his response was not entirely untruthful. It was a shame Tobias Snape had smashed it with his boots the night Severus’s ten-year-old self forgot and left it lying on the sitting room floor.
He glanced over his shoulder at her as they reached the first floor landing, and felt immense relief when he saw she had no intention of pressing him further on the matter. Severus picked up his pace down the hall. He passed his bedroom steps ahead of Hermione and, upon noticing his unkempt bed and clothes in varying stages of cleanliness strewn about the room, promptly shut the door before his company could see.
“You’ll want the last door on the left,” he said, coming to a stop. Severus flattened himself against the wall of the narrow hall and motioned for her pass. “After you, Miss Granger.”
She stepped around him carefully and walked the few steps that stood between her and the door in question. With one hand on the surface of the door and the other poised at the handle, Hermione hesitated long enough to flick her attention to Severus before she let herself in.
Severus strode to the doorway, casually observing his guest as she surveyed the space. The room was exactly as he described and precisely how he preferred it—simplified and functional with a large, sturdy table with a butcher block top and a number of cauldrons and stirring rods and jarred non-perishable ingredients lining the shelves on the adjacent wall. In the corner, a chair and small table were placed for comfort’s sake. “As I said,” Severus told her, “it will be suitable for testing your trials when you begin them.”
“Yes,” she agreed, though somewhat vaguely. The gold-cast cauldron awarded to him by Most Extraordinary Society of Potioneers when he received his licensure sat on the middle shelf and had ensnared her attention. Severus, feeling strangely indulgent, moved toward the chair in the corner to allow her the moment to explore without further comment.
“That’s lovely,” Hermione said suddenly, her attention now on the tabletop. Severus was hovering over the armchair, having almost lowered himself onto the cushion when he saw exactly what she was referring to. There, sitting out in the open where he had left it, black beveled edges glossy and ostentatious, was his Silhouette portrait.
For a terrible, panicked moment, he froze in the ridiculous pose of half-sitting, half-standing. He knew, he felt down in his very bones that she was going to reach out and touch it, perhaps activate it by mistake (if that were even possible, he had no idea, but was hardly keen to find out) and there would not have been a thing he could have done to stop it without raising numerous questions…
How could you be so stupid, he thought, relief flooding over him when she instead splayed both of her hands on the table surface, as though to test the wood for imperfections. Severus forced himself to fully stand despite the awkwardness, crossed the distance between them with a little more speed than was strictly necessary, and plucked the frame from the tabletop. “Parting gift from St. Mungo’s staff,” he said, stowing the empty frame behind his back for good measure. “It shouldn’t be in here.”
Hermione brushed a strand of her hair behind her ear and offered a slight smile. “That was thoughtful of them.”
“That’s one way of putting it,” he muttered under his breath.
“Never mind.” Severus extended his free hand toward the door. “If you’re satisfied…”
“Of course,” Hermione said with a polite nod. As she made her way through the doorway, she looked back at him. “Thanks for showing me, Professor.”
Severus said nothing as he closed the door behind him. He made his way past her to his bedroom door and stowed away the Silhouette frame still in hand before finally descending the stairs. Hermione followed dutifully and the pair made their way back to the kitchen downstairs.
“I want you to disregard everything you have done with restorative draughts,” Severus told her, once they had taken their spots at the table. He pushed her notebooks toward her. “You’ve wasted far too much time going around in circles—you’ll be lucky if you can make up the ground you’ve lost in the time you have left.”
Hermione looked shocked for the first, then she said somewhat reluctantly, “You want me to start over completely?”
“Best not to think of it that way,” answered Severus. He pulled a single sheet of parchment from his stack and placed it in front of her, finger pointing at a single word. “I want you to pursue a more natural means. Granted, this could lead to another dead end, but at the moment you don’t have the luxury of choice.”
Hermione fell silent, her eyes focused on the word he had drawn her attention to. Severus watched her face, noticing how quickly she had gone from looking offended at the prospect to out-and-out befuddlement. She looked up from the parchment and caught him, not for the first time, staring.
“Excuse my saying so, Professor,” said Hermione, “but I don’t have the slightest clue where to even begin with this.”
“I can’t say that I didn’t suspect as much,” he said, noticing the frown she gave when he did so. “My compendium you currently have on loan covering magical flora will help as far as plant matter is concerned. And you’ll want to start first with the library at Hogwarts. There should be a copy of Scamander’s book if you don’t already own it.”
There was an astonished silence. “Fantastic Beasts?”
Severus raised an eyebrow. “Is something amiss?”
Hermione made a face, as though she had had the misfortune of passing by a particularly foul smell. “The whole point of this project is to find an antidote that isn’t reliant on something that could potentially go extinct. Why would I want to find something else to substitute it with?”
“Because that may be your only option,” he said very quietly, trying to keep the ire from his tone. “The one thing all of your five previous attempts has in common is the fact that they are all potions. Alihotsy leaves, by temperament, are affected by either over or underworking them in preparation. The plant doesn’t respond well, if at all, to synthesized substances.” He prodded the red bound book in front of her, adding, “Had you been asking yourself the right questions, you would have seen it; it’s all there.”
Hermione Granger looked as though she were about to disagree, but then her eyes went very wide. “You think it has to be naturally occurring.”
“It is only a theory,” Severus clarified, putting delicate stress on the word. “In order for it to work you actually have to find something that will yield the same results as your dreaded, soon to be defunct Glumbumble. It won’t be easy.”
Hermione beamed at him quiet broadly from the other side of the table. “This could really work, couldn’t it? I mean there are no restrictions to naturally occurring substances like the Glumbumle treacle for a submission—it doesn’t have to be a potion I make; it could be something I discovered?”
Severus thought for a moment, trying to remember back to a time when he did this sort of mentoring on a regular basis. It annoyed him slightly that it took longer than he expected to find what he was looking for. “I don’t recall there being anything in the bylaws that state any such restriction. Antidotes are acceptable submissions, regardless of the form they take.”
Hermione opened one of her notebooks and unceremoniously tore a page from her notes and made to reach for a rather striking silver quill and ink well on the table before she stopped. “May I, sir? I think I may have an idea and don’t want to lose it.”
“By all means.” Severus watched her dip his quill in the ink, and then very swiftly, make a series of bulleted points. Her hurried script was hard to read upside down, but he caught sight of the word Rhododoldrum, and thought for the first time in their meeting that he may have unfairly misjudged her capacity for thinking on her feet.
“I wonder if Professor Sprout would have any seed pods in the greenhouse?” she said, obviously talking to herself. “If not I could always check Shrivelfig & Spore in Diagon Alley. They usually germinate late winter to early spring, if I am remembering right. Yes, this could work.”
She’s the sort of person that can only think when their mouth is moving, Severus observed in silence. Hermione scribbled something else across the parchment he did not see, mumbling to herself all the while.
“I trust you are free Saturday?” Severus said at last, interrupting her before she had a chance to continue the conversation she was having with herself, then immediately regretted the way the question had slipped out so casually. To his great relief, however, Hermione Granger did not seem to mind nor care, her head of curly hair bobbing seriously in response.
“Three days should be enough time to work through the details,” she said, finally looking up at him. She peered down at her notes quickly, paused for a moment, then added, “Provided this works, of course.”
Hermione bent to retrieve her beaded bag, hoisting it carefully over her shoulder, in what Severus could only guess was an attempt to leave its contents relatively undisturbed. He wanted to ask her how she managed it, but thought better of it and simply said, “Same time, and bring multiple samples of whatever you manage by then.”
“I can do that,” she said. She stood up and pushed in her chair, apparently sensing he had nothing more to say. Hermione started toward the living room, but stopped just before she disappeared through the hall. She regarded him solemnly, fingers tracing over the lion at her wrist and said, “I know I may not have seemed like it Monday morning, and I apologize for that, but I really appreciate you taking me and this project on. I’d still be lost without you.”
“No need for gratitude, Miss Granger,” he said dryly. “I’m being compensated for my assistance.”
“Even so,” Hermione replied with a smile, “I appreciate it all the same. Enjoy the rest of your day, and I’ll see you Saturday, Professor.” She did not seem to anticipate a reply and so she did not wait for one before seeing herself out and closing the door behind her.
Later that evening, he was lying on his bed reading a beaten paperback copy of Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency when he heard his Silhouette portrait chime to life. He made to get up, but figured there was no real point in trying to pretend he did not have a bed that he crawled into each night. Hell, he thought, situating himself more comfortably on his pillow, I’ve already seen her in hers.
“Mr. Snape,” said Adelaide. Severus peered over his book, watching as her blue eyes wandered from the top of his head to his feet which he had propped up on a pillow. Annoyingly, each of their meetings started this same way, as if she were searching for something to lecture him about it. “Douglas Adams? I never took you to fancy Muggle science fiction.”
“One of my lesser vices,” he told her. Severus turned down the corner of the page he was on, and set the book aside. He suddenly felt very heavy as he did so, as if the absence of the distraction had drained whatever semblance of energy he had left. It was all he could do to keep the yawn from taking over his face entirely.
“You look like you’ve had a long day,” said Adelaide, in the irritatingly knowing way she always did.
“I’m tired,” was all he said. He drew an arm over his eyes, blocking out the light from the lamp on the bedside table.
“You’ve still not been sleeping lately.”
It was not a question. Severus shook his head miserably; he could not find it in himself to lie. There was a brief pause in which he knew was the prelude to a much greater discussion on that particular topic, but she had the pity enough to let it slide.
“How did it go, your meeting?” she asked him instead.
Severus squinted at her from under his arm, and wondered if Adelaide had been listening in on his meeting with Hermione. Then remembered he told her about it the day before. “As well as could be expected,” he said with a sigh. “Initially she wasn’t keen on the idea of more or less starting in a new direction, but at least she has the sense enough to know she doesn’t have any other option. She’s coming back Saturday to discuss any new findings.”
“That sounds promising.”
“That remains to be seen,” said Severus, thinking. He still had his doubts, and could have very well sent her on a wild goose chase. “Miss Granger does seem to have a better handle on herself and her research than I had initially thought, though I question her motives somewhat.”
“She’s prideful,” said Severus through yet another yawn; Adelaide frowned. “She’s allowed personal reasons to influence her decision to pursue a Potions N.E.W.T.”
“That seems like an awful lot of trouble to go through for a trivial agenda,” Adelaide said after a moment. “Surely there’s more to it than that.”
Severus made a sound somewhere between a scoff and laugh. “I have known her since she was eleven, and that is most certainly all there is to it. Even then she had the almost ceaseless need to prove that she was the most intellectually gifted of her peers. I had initially thought it was a coping mechanism because she was Muggle-born, but quickly learned that it was a flaw of her personality.”
Adelaide stared at him blankly, her head cocked to the side as though she were trying to puzzle through whether he was being serious or not. “Ambition is now a personality flaw? Is that not one of the traits of your house, Mister Snape?”
For a moment, Severus did not answer, merely glared at her, knowing full-well that he had walked himself directly into that one. “It is, and look at all the good it has done me,” he said, hoping to put an end to the conversation.
But Adelaide was not to be deflected.
“I’d say it’s done you rather a lot, actually.” She held up a single finger within the frame. “For starters, just look at you. You’re alive aren’t you? I’ve seen transcripts of your medical history. You should’ve never walked again. Did you know that? From muscle atrophy alone, never mind the venom you were poisoned with, you shouldn’t be able to move, let alone stand.” She paused, as though she expected him protest, then held up a second finger. “Still not satisfied? One of the most horrible men to ever call himself a wizard is gone. He’s gone for good because you—”
“Stop talking,” he snapped.
“I will when you stop making excuses!” she countered, face flushed. Then again, calmer, “There is nothing wrong with working toward whatever goal you have if it betters you or others. You’re so quick to sell yourself and every single person you interact with short. It infuriates me.”
Severus opened his mouth and closed it again. The hated sensation of having been swiftly and unexpectedly winded by what he knew to be the truth had robbed him of the power over his own tongue. He turned his attention to the window, watching the snow, which was hardly falling now. He wished desperately to be anywhere else, or at the very least asleep.
“For goodness’ sake, say something please.”
“Why, so you can yell at me again?” Severus crossed his arms over his chest. “No thank you.”
“I did not yell,” Adelaide said, her voice losing volume as well as harshness. “But I apologize if you think I was. I can tell you’re tired.”
“I’m fine,” he insisted.
“The dark circles under your eyes say otherwise, Mister Snape. Just, don’t be so hard on yourself, okay? You’re an ambitious person, and it sounds like you have that in common with your student. Just know that there’s nothing wrong with that.” A brief moment of silence permeated the room before she finally spoke up again. “And for that matter, there’s nothing wrong with sleep, either, and you look to be in desperate need of it.”
“But we haven’t met our allotted time,” he began to protest. “I don’t want Zella Shrout showing up on my doorstep.”
She offered a half-smile. “I won’t tell if you won’t. We can cut it short tonight. Rest will do you more good than continuing this conversation.”
Severus looked at her suspiciously, but did not argue. “Very well. I’ll speak with you in the morning.”
“I look forward to it,” Adelaide said just before Severus disconnected the Portrait, and added “Sleep well, Professor Snape” to the darkness staring back at her.
Author’s Notes: Thank you to those that have waited patiently for me to get my act together and post another chapter. Things related to real life have been rather horrid these last few months, and I’ve only just gotten a handle on things. That said, reviews are always welcomed and appreciated—if you’re following along, I’d love to hear from you.