The next weeks flew by. Hermione was constantly busy and didn’t feel like she’d even had a chance to breathe. Something constantly needed her attention. Two fifth year Slytherin boys had played a nasty trick on a group of first year girls, causing nightmares for a week straight. As Head Girl, Hermione was the one they ran to. While she didn’t mind taking care of them, the lack of sleep was wearing on her. Ginny had also needed her more. She was afraid that Harry didn’t love her anymore now that the war was over and he didn’t always think he was about to die. Eventually, Hermione had convinced her that they were just growing more comfortable in their relationship now that things had settled down. Harry was finally getting to relax, but that didn’t mean he loved Ginny any less.
The only quiet times she’d had were the few hours she spent in the Potions lab with Professor Snape. They worked silently, but efficiently, side by side, preparing ingredients and making the potion. It had to cure for a week so they wouldn’t be able to test it until the next week. Neither mentioned the meteor shower and nothing had outwardly changed between them. Still, Hermione couldn’t help but hope.
The following Friday found her as usual in the Great Hall for lunch. She was chatting with Neville and Ginny while Ron and Harry debated Quidditch moves. Ginny was shooting tense glances at Harry as he all but ignored her throughout the meal. To her--and Hermione’s--great relief, he began idly rubbing circles on Ginny’s back after putting his fork down.
When the mail came, she was surprised when letters arrived for Ron, Harry, Ginny and herself. After reading the first few lines, it was clear why they had all received them. Bill was making the announcement that Fleur was indeed pregnant. Hermione’s letter confirmed it, rather than announcing, as she had guessed weeks ago in Hogsmeade. The next bit of news made her heart sink. Fleur’s parents would be visiting them for the next two weeks and they would, therefore, be unable to visit Hogsmeade the following week. He tried to comfort her by reminding her that she’d be spending two full days with Teddy at Christmas.
Bill went on to tell her that, in the last week, Teddy had begun talking. He had said the same word repeatedly, but Bill and Fleur couldn’t decipher what he was saying. He just kept repeating “An-mi” over and over. It was several days before they figured it out. They had been discussing writing Hermione to let her know that they weren’t coming the following week. Teddy had suddenly started sobbing. Apparently, “An-mi” was his version of Aunt Hermione and he was sad that he wouldn’t be seeing her.
Hermione’s cheeks had been slightly damp when she finished reading the letter. She was excited about Fleur, disappointed she wouldn’t get to see Teddy, but touched and elated that one of his first words had been his version of her name. At least she’d see him at Christmas. She noted aloud that this would give her a chance to shop for a new dress with Ginny. She wanted to make a good impression for the Yule Ball, the last school dance of her student years. She shifted uncomfortably when Ginny eyed her speculatively over her sudden interest in shopping.
As with most other Saturdays, Hermione went to the Potions lab after breakfast. They were to try the newest version of the potion that day and she was slightly nervous. The last testing had her spouting off her deepest secrets in sleep, who knew what this time would bring?
The two started by sitting back to back in the lab. Snape was still concerned with how easily he was able to even accidentally slip into her mind during eye contact. Truth be told, Hermione was concerned too since, of late, she had an unfortunate habit of thinking completely inappropriate things when she looked at him for too long. To avoid temptation, they decided it best to just not look at each other during experiments.
Their goal for this session was to have a conversation without actually speaking aloud. After taking the potion, they both realized the problem immediately. There was no sound. They could easily see the images the other was projecting but there was no audio. They continued pushing images and suggestions at each other nevertheless. While communication was slightly more difficult that way, it was certainly not impossible. Through their game of mental charades, they decided to test the distance of the potion. Hermione left the dungeons and ventured out to the lake, pushing an image of the Giant Squid at her professor. He answered by sending an image of himself tweaking one of the extra samples in attempt to correct the problem.
She was rather enjoying the quiet push and pull of silent conversation with him. There was something unnervingly intimate about it. She realized that she was halfway around the lake and hadn’t heard anything from him. She was just about to send an image to see if the potion had already worn off when she received one instead. She was surprised to see herself sitting in the Great Hall. He was showing her the scene from the day before when she received the letter from Bill. She watched the play of emotions across her own face. Confusion when she received the letter. Joy when she read of Fleur’s pregnancy. Crushing disappointment that they wouldn’t be going to Hogsmeade. The scene ended with her silent tears and watery smile at her new nickname, An-mi.
She was happily surprised. It was the first time he’d inquired about anything so personal as what she was feeling. She sent back a string of images explaining the contents of the letter. By the time she had built up the courage to make her own inquiry, she felt the potion wear off. She was intrigued that she could actually feel her mind close off from him. She turned back towards the castle. She had intended to go back to the dungeons to discuss the experiment. Halfway across the grounds, she received a hastily written note from his owl.
I have been called away due to a matter involving some of my more imaginative and idiotic Slytherins with whom I believe you are already acquainted.
I shall contact you when we may meet again to try the small change I’ve made.
She slipped the note in her robes, pondering its contents. His note was maybe not personal, but perhaps more familiar. Though his irritation was quite clear at the interruption, it didn’t contain detached politeness of his normal missives. Perhaps mucking about in each other’s minds was paying off.
It would not turn out to be a good week for their Potions experiments. Both were very busy each night after classes and dinner. Suddenly, they found themselves at Friday again and they had hardly spoken. She slipped into the classroom a few minutes earlier than usual for class to find him thankfully alone, sitting at his desk.
“You’re early, Miss Granger,” he said without looking up.
“I was thinking about your experiment, sir,” she said conversationally. There was no one else in the classroom so she didn’t see any reason to use their normal classroom formality. She continued when he looked up at her questioningly. “Why don‘t we go ahead and test it tomorrow? I know we don’t normally work on Hogsmeade days but it would give us a chance to test a greater distance.” He stared at her for a few seconds and, to her relief, she kept her mind firmly on the matter at hand and not on the endless darkness of his eyes. She heard the door open behind her and several students enter. She did not turn, letting her body block him from their view. She was rewarded with the slightest flicker of his half smile.
“That is acceptable, Miss Granger,” he said, his voice hardening back into his classroom tone. He handed her a stack of essays from the corner of his desk. “Mark these and return them to me after breakfast, before you leave for Hogsmeade.”
“Yes, sir,” she said, demurely ducking her head as she slipped them into her bag.
“Hermione Granger, you’ve never shown a moment’s interest in shopping or dressing up since the year you went to the ball with Viktor,” Ginny started the second they’d split from the boys in Hogsmeade. “Why on earth are you suddenly so intent on it this year?”
“Ginny, I was only pretending to be interested so the boys would think we’re looking for me a dress.” She had thought up the excuse the night before. She knew her friend would not let this foray go unquestioned.
“And what will we actually be doing?” Ginny said slowly, confused.
“Looking for you a dress. It’s my Christmas present to you! I’ve already gotten the boys something and I thought maybe this would help you liven things up with Harry.”
“Hermione! That’s too much. I can’t ask you to spend that much on me.”
“Don’t be silly. I want to. I insist, in fact,” Hermione said firmly. “Well, let’s get on with it.”
It had been a long time since they’d had a girls’ day and both enjoyed it immensely. In the end, both had found dresses that they were quite pleased with. Hermione had spent slightly more than she had intended but the dresses were so perfect that she decided it was completely worth it. After Ginny went to find Harry for lunch, however, she ventured back into the shoe shop they’d visited earlier. If Ginny had seen her buy the shoes she’d picked out, no amount of gift-giving would have distracted her suspicions.
She had checked in with Snape a few times during their shopping but they didn’t exchange much more than a cursory hello every now and then. The potion seemed to be working quite well but had only lasted for about three hours. For that time, however, she found it shockingly easy to simultaneously converse with him in her head and Ginny out loud.
Instead of having lunch with the others, she went back to the castle early. After dropping her purchases in her rooms, she went to the dungeons. When she reached his office door, she was only slightly surprised that it opened before she knocked. He’d obviously been expecting her. She entered his lab and they discussed the pros and cons of the day’s work with no preamble or formality. She was quite pleased that they seemed to be moving slowly but surely towards a tenuous friendship. Nothing comes from nothing. They’d have to start somewhere.
They decided upon a course of action, slightly changing the amounts of the ingredients in order to make a longer lasting potion. They immediately began brewing since the potion would have to sit another week before testing and the Christmas holidays started the following Sunday. They would be forced to test on the day of the Yule Ball before she left the next day. She was intrigued by this new turn of events. If all went as planned, they would still share their connection for much of the ball. She hoped to use this to her advantage.
The next day, she was called to the Headmistress’s office. Though it was Sunday, she was unconcerned about the summons as she and the Headmistress often had tea together in the afternoons. She was, however, surprised with what the older witch had to discuss with her.
“Miss Granger, I have a rather imposing favor to ask of you,” she began. “It seems that Professor Flitwick has been called away for the holidays and it would be very helpful to me if you could stay to assist me with various school activities in his stead.”
“Of course, Headmistress,” she said, both disappointed and hopeful, “but if you don’t mind me asking, ma’am, why me? Wouldn’t one of the other professors be able to assist you better than I?”
“Yes, I’ve considered that. The only Professor who has the magical talents for much of what I need assistance with is Professor Snape. He does not, however, have the patience required. Much of what I do during this time is with the children who stay behind. It has always been my objective to make it as lovely of a Christmas as I can those who are not with their families.”
“Absolutely I will help, ma’am.”
“Thank you, Miss Granger. It will be much appreciated. I will make arrangements for you to travel by portkey to the Burrow the morning of Christmas Eve. I won’t have you missing time with Teddy just for my sake. You can return after the Order has their holiday celebration Christmas evening.”
“Thank you, Headmistress!” Hermione could not believe her good fortune. She would be able to both have her two days with Teddy and two and a half weeks of time at the castle to work with Professor Snape. She wisely did not mention the latter to the Headmistress. While she was aware that Hermione spent a few hours each Saturday with him, she didn’t want her getting the wrong impression about their relationship, as sadly they didn’t have one.
Around the middle of that week, she began wondering where the year had gone. Every week seemed to pass without having time to think. The last four months had been a never-ending stream of busyness, school work, marking Potions essays, and meals in the Great Hall, punctuated by Saturdays with Professor Snape and a few visits with Teddy in Hogsmeade. She hoped that spending the holidays at Hogwarts would afford her opportunity and courage to carry out what she’d been planning. She hadn’t had a chance to tell him she was staying and made a mental note to tell him later.
Hermione met Professor Snape in his lab briefly Saturday morning. They took the newest form of the potion, tested it briefly and then parted ways. They were still able to project both sound and image into each other’s thoughts. It was just a matter of how long the affects would last. According to the calculations based on the previous trials, it should last twelve hours—from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
They each had much to do with the ball that evening and hols beginning the next day. She spent most of the morning helping the younger students finish packing and preparing to leave. Every hour or two, she and the professor mentally checked in with each other. Usually one or the other had some complaint about dunderheads (him) or the silliness of girls getting ready for the ball hours in advance instead of packing (her).
When she arrived in the Great Hall for lunch, she noticed a sign on the door that informed them the hall would close at 1pm for decoration and preparation. No one was allowed in the room until it was revealed when the ball began precisely at 6pm. With an eye roll, she flashed a mental image of the sign to Severus. Seriously? She glanced up to his place at the Head Table in time to see him smirk into his goblet.
Indeed, came his answer. She’s just as ostentatious as Albus was...I sincerely hope not worse.
She smiled as she sat down with her friends. They ate and chatted, mostly about the ball, to Hermione’s irritation. It just made her nervous. Maybe her plan was a bad idea. She briefly considered scrapping it all and coming down with a sudden illness to skip the whole thing.
Oh, no, Miss Granger. If I’m forced to be a party to this nonsense, so are you.
Without thinking, she immediately looked up to the Head Table to find him arguing with the Headmistress about something and clearly losing. She guessed it to be his own attendance.
Did I think that out loud?
Miss Granger, given my former ventures and suspicious proclivities, I find it quite easy to read a person’s expressions, especially when she is obviously planning an escape route. His words were harsh but his tone was amused.
Then, yes, sir, I shall be there, she said with forced resignation, smiling into her plate. His teasing fortified her and her plans.
She took the rest of the afternoon for herself, turning down Ginny’s offer to help her get ready. She hadn’t been sleeping well again and decided that if she was going to make it through the long night ahead, she’d have to have a nap. As Head Girl, she would patrol with the other professors after the Ball ended to ensure all the students made it to bed—alone. It was certain she wouldn’t see her own bed again until at least 2 a.m., if things went well. She’d relax in a nice hot bath for a bit, have a lie down and then be good as new for the dance. She let Severus know she’d be indisposed for the next couple hours and she’d check in when she woke. He assented with disapproval though she thought it was closer to jealousy because she’d been able to procure time for herself when he had not.
Just before she drifted off to sleep, she thought of him, as she usually did before bed. When she woke she would convince herself that she had dreamt his voice whispering, Sleep well, Miss Granger.