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.
London, especially in late February, had the unfortunate tendency of becoming ugly after an inconvenient snowfall.
A cold wind came howling from the north, driving the lingering sleet and snow squalls south toward the city. The thick, unseasonal flakes blanketed everything they touched. The ugliness from this particular morning, however, seemed to arise not from the snow, but rather from the streets full of weary, irritable souls shuffling off in the cold to wherever their lives were leading them, and all in spite of the ill-timed follies of Mother Nature. The black stained mounds of half-frozen and trampled icy mush dotting the slick pavements and the closed Tube stations did nothing to help with the crossness of it all.
Caught in the middle of the desolate sea of irritability, Severus Snape, full of doubt, maneuvered silently through the cold, miserable crowds traveling along Charing Cross Road. He had hoped the weather would have put a damper on the Saturday morning bustle common within the city limits, but the very human instinct to rebel against forces greater than one’s control had guaranteed the crowds. Ahead, blue lights flashed and the sound of Muggle police whistles rang out down the lane.
Yes, he thought with a fatalistic snort, the morning is off to a tremendous start.
Severus secured the hood of his coat over his head and quickly crossed the road to avoid the pack of onlookers that had stalled, paralyzed by the terrible sight of a vehicle that had rammed into the rear of another at a junction. He wondered, as he so often did when he found himself in their world, how Muggles ever managed themselves without the aid of magic. How would they feel to know most of their plights could be simplified with a simple wave of a wand? Would they embrace it? Would they be frightened to the point of violence like his father was…
The train of thought disappeared from his mind and was quickly replaced by doubt as the grimy façade of the Leaky Cauldron came into view just beyond a Muggle bookstore. The closer he drew to the pub, the clearer the signage hanging from the entrance became. As he approached, Severus wished he more and more that he had just sent for what he needed from Culpepper’s by owl.
It had been two weeks to the day since he had stepped through the pub to Diagon Alley and was subsequently reminded of his place in the postwar Wizarding world. After the doubtless slanderous article in the Prophet detailing his release and the interview from St. Mungo’s staff that followed, the media frenzy seemed to have subsided. Whether his recovery and discharge from St. Mungo’s still sat bitterly with those of the Wizarding community remained to be see, and if Severus was being forthright, he was not keen to test the theory.
Severus increased his pace. The falling snow blew into his face and down his collar as a stiff breeze eddied down the street, and another two strides brought him to the doorway and out of the wind. Before he even opened the door, he was greeted with the faint smell of spiced wine, extinguished candles, and enchanted cherrywood smoke from the oversized hearth in the center of the pub. The mélange of a different world separated by brick and mortar and magic.
The reality of what he was about to do dizzied him for a moment, and he paused with his hand upon the latch. It’s not too late to turn around. It’s not too late to go back home…
But the door swung open as if it had a mind of its own. Severus spun out of its way, but was not fast enough; the heavy oak door caught the side of his foot, sending a shock wave of pain rippling up his shin. He shifted his weight off the throbbing foot entirely, using the pretense of holding the door open for whom ever had nearly knocked him senseless to keep himself upright.
“Watch it, there,” barked a cadaverously thin man. He was wrapped, or rather swallowed up by a violently purple cloak that looked two sizes too big. The wizard heaved a ragged cough, which seemed to rattle his bones. For a moment, Severus almost brought up a hand to steady the stranger, lest the icy mush at their feet take him down, but the man steadied himself and proceeded to tug a worn leather cap over his grey head as if nothing were amiss. The wizard made to move but stopped when he looked up to get a solid look at Severus, who was still partially behind the door.
Severus stood very still for a moment, watching as the wizard’s old eyes focused and refocused through the cloudiness from the visible cataracts, and waited to see if he had been recognized. He tried to shut all the consequences of this out of his mind, and even shut his eyes for a second. When he finally did open them, the man very faintly nodded his head toward Severus in a coarse bow of acknowledgement and shuffled out into the street on his way without further pause.
He watched the old man as he crossed the road and disappeared in the horde of people being redirected by the traffic accident, and he still did not relax. It was a well-known fact that people could be courteous when it suited them, and Severus knew it was also highly unlikely someone would attempt to hex him in the middle of Muggle London, but the previous exchange put to rest the hope that he would be able to go about his business without recognition from the average magical citizen. Severus heaved a thoroughly dissatisfied sigh and finally slipped inside the pub before he had time to change his mind.
The pub goers, he found with welcome relief, paid him little to no mind, otherwise occupied by their drinks, their conversations and their food. Severus moved between the tables, carefully keeping his face passive and his pace casual to avoid undue attention. It was a useful thing, the ability to make oneself blend in effortlessly by a simple impression of comfort and confidence. It was something a person never truly lost, even with months of idleness and a clamorous reintroduction to society. He smirked despite his earlier misgivings and whatever it was that had happened between him and the older gentleman, feeling the tension leading up to this moment slough off like a heavy cloak. Adelaide Harlowe would have wept at the sight of him releasing this particular demon and letting it fly. Silly woman.
The sound of everyone going about their business followed him down a small hall of the establishment that led directly into the snow-covered courtyard. Someone had only recently passed through to Diagon Alley; the gateway still sat open in a neat archway. Severus stowed his wand back in the interior pocket of his coat and stepped through, the sound of gravel and half-frozen slush crunching under foot.
He felt the familiar sensation of heightened awareness and slight pressure as the magic of Diagon Alley swathed him. It always caused the hairs on the back of his neck to stand on end and lasted much longer than he liked. On the other side of the wall, it was no great surprise to see that it was snowing in Diagon Alley, though the enchanted streets had a way of keeping themselves clear of the snow that fell.
Now begins the true test. Severus stepped out onto the damp cobbles, directly into the moderate crowd of witches and wizards. Not as bad as I would’ve guessed. He found his place along the street, taking care to orient himself with the flow of foot traffic and drifted down the alley in the direction of Culpepper’s. Ahead, he turned the corner by Gringotts and the alley began to narrow drastically as it sloped upward around the building. He glanced sidelong at two older women walking a few paces behind him. Neither witch seemed to notice that Severus Snape, famed murderer of Albus Dumbledore and derelict Headmaster during Lord Voldemort’s siege, was running errands. If they did, they made no spectacle of it.
Thankfully, Severus reflected, only a few people were heading the same direction. The south side of Diagon Alley, which only typically saw its largest crowds when the fall term began at Hogwarts or students were on a rare weekend reprieve, did not offer much beyond Culpepper’s, secondhand broomsticks, and a badly-named book store that found itself the butt of several off-colour pubescent laughs.
His destination came into view as he rounded a slight bend, the slope of the thoroughfare leveling off beneath his feet. Severus fiddled with a stray thread in the pocket of his coat as he drew closer, furling and unfurling it around his finger, and mentally ticked off items he would need for his afternoon meeting with Hermione Granger. If he left with only one thing this entire trip it would be the Glumbumble Treacle. Should her presumptive antidote fail, it would be the only way to bring whomever, and he guessed that happy fellow would be himself, out of the Alihotsy hysteria.
Severus walked through the apothecary entrance into the stiflingly warm interior. The marks of a slow morning were obvious: the clerk was sitting by the till, feet propped up on the counter with the daily edition of The Prophet blocking everything but the top of his head from view. Unopened crates sat near the storeroom door, packaging slips still attached. A few of the enchanted lanterns remained unlit in the back of the store.
At the insouciant sound of the door chime, the clerk glanced up from his reading. He caught sight of Severus and righted himself and his paper.
“How can I help you?” The round-faced wizard adjusted the glasses on his nose, offering a purposefully nonchalant smile. Severus noticed this was not the same clerk he encountered two weeks prior. This one was older, perhaps ten years his senior, by the greying in his goatee and hair. He also noticed the slight narrowing of his eyes beneath the lenses from what Severus suspected to be either suspicion or annoyance at having his morning interrupted.
“You can’t at the moment,” Severus answered, his tone smoothed to careful politeness. He walked past the clerk, who continued to watch him as he went, and began his search in the area containing the prepackaged antidotes and salves. It took him a moment of rummaging around on his knees before he found what he was looking for. Dust-covered and sitting on a low shelf was the treacle, nearly the color of pitch from age. When he picked it up, the thick black ink of the lettering on the label came off on his fingers.
The denseness of the treacle alone made the glass bottle much heavier than it should have been. Severus turned up the bottle and counted until a sticky globule formed and stretched due to gravity. It would do the trick quickly.
“Bit too thick for my taste, but that there is as potent as it comes.”
“That’s the idea.” Severus stood, frowning. So much for anonymity or, at the very least, peace.
To his left, the clerk was standing at the end of the narrow aisle, an arm propped up casually on a nearby shelf. He picked up one of the many bottles at his elbow and studied it with dry smugness. The wizard then offered a thin smile in response, that was more a duty to customer service than sincerity. “May I ask what you intend to use it for?”
There was a brief pause, in which Severus turned over various outcomes of this conversation in his mind. Unfortunately, most of them involved simply ignoring the clerk, hoping he would take the hint and leave him to his own devices, but something about the man’s demeanor suggested that was likely not to happen. So instead he said, “Strict circumstances of confidentiality, I’m afraid.”
“Ah, just as well,” said the clerk, his tone casual. The man rocked on his heels, hands in his pockets, and regarded Severus in a manner which he found to be strangely scrutinizing for an acquaintance. “You seem like you know your way around an apothecary, Mister Snape. I’ll just leave you to it then.”
Every thought in his head came to a screeching halt. “Excuse me?” Severus said slowly, resisting the urge to grit his teeth as he spoke.
“You looked familiar…,” said the clerk, leaving the sentence open. He did not even bother to look at Severus as he addressed him, but rather busied himself with straightening various phials and glass bottles on the shelf, though no amount of effort would give order to the layout. “I couldn’t place where I’d seen you at first, then I remembered the Prophet a few days ago. You’re him, aren’t you?”
“Is that going to be an issue?” Severus asked, the words coming with some difficulty. This was precisely what he hoped to avoid.
Behind them, the door chimed as someone else entered. Several moments later, the small bell at the till rang out through the empty apothecary. The clerk sniffed, offering a neutral shrug. “Far be it from me to judge, but not that I can see. If you’ll excuse me, duty calls.”
Severus considered a lot of things as he watched the clerk saunter up the aisle and out of sight. He considered taking the high road, refusing to dignify the clerk’s comment with a response. After all, Severus reflected bitterly, what the fuck did a complete stranger’s opinion matter? He considered owling Fergus Culpepper directly to file a grievance with his staffing. He also, with a spasm of defeat and deep personal regret, considered running back home to wait until the public forgot he existed, though the thought of having to explain to Adelaide why he had turned tail and ran stamped that option right out. All he wanted was to go about his business quietly and to be left alone. Why was that too much to ask?
It took a great effort to go back to the mental list of items he would need. He had checked his stock of ingredients before he had set out on this misadventure, and made note that he would need extra phials for Hermione Granger’s trials as well as fresh Alihotsy leaves for the draught. The phials would be easy enough to come by, but the leaves would have to be retrieved from the locked store room.
Severus stalked off toward the far end of the apothecary, his mouth pinched in a thin, stubborn line. The glassware and potions equipment lined the back wall of the shop, thoroughly out of sight of the till and the clerk. Brooding, he stared at the wall of glass instruments and cauldrons without really seeing any of it. He hesitated for a long while, listening to the conversation between the customer and clerk, half expecting his name to come up—it was predominantly about Harklump juice and its intended uses.
When their voices were drowned out by the sounds of the ancient till clanging, Severus selected a small wooden crate of standard grade phials, and tucked it under his arm. For his trouble, he picked up the latest model of the dragon-forged glass stirring rod he had been eyeing, and turned for the counter. Walking increased the feeling of impending awkwardness, but also his determination to ignore it, and by the time he had weaved his way through the narrow aisles, all he felt was annoyance. The clerk was there waiting for him when he approached the counter.
“Is this all?”
“No, it isn’t...” Severus hesitated, placing the crate of phials, the treacle, and the stirring rod on the counter. The clerk regarded him quizzically over the glasses poised delicately on the end of his nose, but did not interrupt. “I need Alihotsy leaves, dried or living, it doesn’t matter. Enough for a full draught’s worth.”
The clerk turned and grabbed a key from a peg behind the counter without further instruction and retreated beyond a sturdy oak door to his right where Severus assumed the more unforgivable ingredients were stored for liability. He reappeared a minute or so later with a small cylindrical tube in his hand. He peered at Severus seriously, placing the tube cork side down on the counter. “These are fresh, but I don’t need to tell you that, do I?”
Severus stared at him, and the clerk stared right back in an appraising kind of way before he finally extended a hand toward him. “Jepson Culpepper.” He flourished his other hand vaguely over the counter. “Fergus Culpepper is my father. He’s always thought rather highly of you, Potions professor and all.”
“I see,” was all Severus managed to say, eyes on the man’s outstretched hand. Then, quickly to change the subject, “This will be charged to my Gringotts account.”
Jepson Culpepper gave him a nod, and went to work transcribing the invoice. “He’ll be delighted to know you’ve stopped in,” he said as he wrote. “He’s been following your release in the Prophet.”
“I’m certain he has,” Severus said. The words slipped out of him bitterly. “When it comes to privacy and publicity, people always demand the former for themselves and the latter for every other miserable sod. I’m surprised the whole of Britain doesn’t know it every time I wipe my arse.”
The quill stalled on the page, and the younger Culpepper remained perfectly still with his eyes downcast. He hazarded a quick glance at Severus, cleared his throat, and went back to his writing as if it would expunge the entire exchange.
It was in that precise moment Severus realised he should not have been that deliberately misanthropic with a stranger, let alone one trying to have what appeared to be a genuinely innocent conversation. Instinct also told him not trying to salvage the situation would make him look like an even bigger twat than any apology he attempted. Jepson Culpepper slid Severus the copy of the invoice on the counter and started to bag his items without a word.
“Look,” said Severus, with as much regret as he could wrench into his voice. “I shouldn’t have—”
“No, I understand it,” said Culpepper, cutting him off. He handed Severus his bag, gazing at him levelly. “I’m sure life hasn’t been easy for you lately. What was it the Prophet said, seven months in the infirmary?”
Severus winced. “Nine.”
“I can’t imagine that,” Culpepper mused sympathetically. “Must have been torture.”
“You’re not far off,” Severus agreed, making his best attempt at keeping his tone conversational without betraying a hint of annoyance. He was making a solid effort.
“And to top it off, when you get out and go to live a peaceful, quiet life, they plaster your face on the front page of the Prophet, bloody press can’t leave anyone alone,” Culpepper said, trying desperately to find common cause with his patron. “They did the same thing with my father after his health forced him into retirement. After I took over, every day there were reporters poking about in the shop, trying to find some kind of story or scandal when none was there.”
Severus nodded, searching for a polite way to end the conversation and be on his way. “I’m sorry to hear about your father’s poor health. Please give him my regards. I was always impressed with the way he ran his shop.” Culpepper nodded in agreement sheepishly. “Although I’m sure he’s left it in capable hands. Have a good afternoon, Mister Culpepper.”
Severus noticed a smile emerge on the shopkeeper’s face. “Thank you, Mister Snape. And same to you.” Severus nodded respectfully, collected his things, and exited the shop, feeling fairly satisfied for successfully navigating his way out of the uncomfortable situation.
He had not waited to reach the appointed spot for Disapparition before he returned to Spinner’s End.
It was raining when Severus appeared in his small, fenced courtyard located round the back of the house. A glimpse of movement to his right seemed to suddenly catch his eyes, and he spotted a cat perched idly on the courtyard wall. The yellow-eyed creature flicked a thick paw at a deadened ivy vine covering the shared rock wall, and watched him in the sort of manner one would expect for having just witnessed something suddenly just pop into existence. Apart from the shabby cat, Severus was relieved to see the moody grey skies and unseasonably chilly temperatures had prevented any of his Muggle neighbours from witnessing his return. He stamped his feet on the cobbles to dislodge the packed snow and ice salt in the treads of his boots, and let himself through his back door, thankful for this small mercy.
Hermione Granger was set to arrive sometime shortly before noon, which gave him a little less than three hours to see to the Alihotsy Draught. A manageable job, Severus decided, as he shed his coat. He sent the bag from Culpepper’s upstairs with a reversed summoning spell and absently set about making the tea and locating the tin of chocolate biscuits that would see him through the task.
While he saw to his feeble attempt at feeding himself, Severus repeated the draught preparation directions nearly verbatim from the sixth-year Advanced Potion Making textbook. It was a dreaded shame his original copy along with his annotations had been lost who only knew where thanks to Harry Potter. It would have been nice to have it, if only for the nostalgia alone.
He stood there listening to the kettle on the hob click and tick, and his mind went witheringly, fleetingly to the ingredients for the Pain Relieving potion Hermione had personally delivered. They were still sitting unopened in the supply cupboard upstairs where he had promptly placed them. He had not fully understood it himself why he had yet to brew the potion. Perhaps it was the crippling fear he felt that upon attempting to brew it, he would find himself unable to do so. It had been, after all, quite some hand since he had tried his hand at potion making, and the thought that his time away from the craft had caused his skills to atrophy petrified him. For so long, his identity had been almost inextricably tied to his proficiency in making potions, to the point that if he could no longer make them, Severus was not sure he would know who he was.
Somewhat fortunately, Severus was interrupted from his pessimistic reflection by a rapping noise behind him. He turned around and spotted a large barn owl pecking at his window with a purple scroll in its beak. He stared at the bird through narrowed eyes, and tried to recall if he was expecting anything in the post.
It must be from Augusta, he thought as he opened the window and took the parcel from the owl. It hooted at him peevishly once it was free from its burden and took off through the chilly rain without accepting payment. Severus turned the scroll over and noticed the Ministry of Magic’s seal keeping it closed, and felt his mood plummet. He could not fathom what might be inside, but in his experience, anything which the Ministry was involved in was unlikely to be something he wanted to be a part of.
He carefully peeled back the yellow seal, and at once he realised that his instinct had been correct. The rolled-up parchment the owl had delivered was an invitation to a gala in celebration of the first anniversary of the Dark Lord’s demise. Severus had, among several others that had fought against Voldemort in the Battle of Hogwarts, been invited as a “Guest of Honor” to the event, and the Ministry made sure to mention what a privilege his attendance at the celebration would be.
“What a fucking joke,” Severus said with contempt as he flung the scroll carelessly on the kitchen table. He could have just as easily tossed it in the rubbish bin, he supposed, but he had not yet totally eliminated the prospect of setting it aflame should he need some amusement later. The fact that Shacklebolt would even consider sending him an invitation irritated him with the precision of a headache. Harry Potter had handed over the evidence proving his innocence or at the very least his allegiance, and still the new Minister felt compelled to have him monitored around the clock while he was still confined to his sick bed.
The forgotten tea kettle whistled at him from the hob, and Severus removed it from the heat, having lost the desire for it altogether. He left his kitchen and ascended the stairs leading to his makeshift workspace on the first floor. When he entered his laboratory, he gazed at it in a disconcerting manner for a few seconds, rolled up his shirt sleeves, and started unpacking the items he would need.
A simple wave of his wand had gathered a medium sized pewter cauldron, and ignited the magical flame over which it hovered unmoving. He added the weights to the scales manually to ensure the volumes would be absolutely accurate, and wiped the dust from the silver knife he would use to lightly crush each leaf, all the while ignoring the slight trembling of his hands.
The entire brewing process for this particularly draught was required a delicate hand and a watchful eye on the clock. One lightly pulverized leaf added every ninety seconds, followed by two clockwise stirs and one anticlockwise one until all one-hundred and three of them had finally been added to the salt water base. Much to his relief, Severus shortly realised that he still possessed as much skill as he had prior to his near-death experience nearly one year prior. He shook off any rust that he may have accumulated in the year since he last brewed more quickly than he had expected.
Severus continued the process of meticulously adding the tiny, crushed leaves one by one, and found himself feeling a comfort that had been absent for far too long. He had not realised until this moment how much he had missed the art which he had made his livelihood for over a decade. Back then, back when he wondered the halls of Hogwarts as a student and knew absolutely nothing at all about life and its tendency to go full-circle, he had not realised that he was missing his true calling.
In his youth he had had a genuine talent for potions that danced the razor’s edge of prodigious, but at the time Severus believed his true passion had been the Dark Arts. He spent a fair bit of his time perfecting that talent over the other, and had subsequently cemented his position in a much grander scheme than he could have ever imagined.
It was ironic the way life had a habit of working itself out in the end. And all despite the choices a person made.
Severus worked in welcome silence, concentrating on applying the exact amount of pressure to each leaf, and then adding it to the softly simmering liquid. A little over two hours later, the last leaf had been added and the required stirs completed. Severus took a step back and stretched mightily, waiting to see if the potion would turn from clear to a vibrant shade of blue. Slowly, deep azure-coloured fumes began to dance upward; the dark pigmentation appeared as expected and spread outward like unfurling tendrils.
Suddenly becoming acutely aware of the odorous fumes emanating from his cauldron, Severus cast a Bubble-Head charm to shield himself from inhaling the noxious vapors before he began siphoning the draught into the phials he had placed on his workbench. It was a slow, deliberate procedure, and one that required a great deal of concentration. Severus typically had no problem devoting his full attention to the task at hand as far as potion making was concerned, but nevertheless, a few phials in, his gaze was drawn to a figure moving briskly up the pavement leading to his front door. He immediately recognized the figure as Hermione Granger, glanced behind him at the clock on the wall, and found that time had elapsed more quickly than he had realised. Unable to leave the potion during this delicate stage, Severus sent his Patronus to fetch her from outside. Below him, the front door opened and shut, and the sound of her hurried footsteps echoed up the wooden staircase and down the hall.
“Professor Snape,” she said airily, knocking at the door frame. “Have I interrupted something?”
Severus cast a sidelong glance at her standing in the doorway, then quickly turned his attention back to his task. “On the contrary. Your timing is impeccable, the draught is nearly finished.” A thin, sluggish tendril of blue vapor drifted upward as he siphoned the last of the potion from the cauldron into the remaining phial. “Stand back from the fumes.”
She was behind him now, peering over his shoulder at a prudent distance. “That’s the deepest shade of blue I’ve ever seen the draught take. It’s quite strong.”
“Indeed.” Severus extinguished he Bubble-Head charm he had placed over himself, and placed the final phial of the potent draught in the rack. He turned to look at her, taking care to unravel the sleeve on his left arm. “They’ll need a few minutes to properly cure and cool. In the meantime, I’d like to know what you’ve spent the last three days working on.”
Hermione pulled her purple handbag from her shoulder and produced the red notebook and a Muggle stainless-steel thermos. “It took a while to find enough information on Rhododoldrum pods, specifically the effects in potion making. I think what I’ve done will work.”
Severus regarded her with an impassive expression. “Which is what?”
She handed him the thermos. “I’ve concocted a tea of sorts. The pods have been stripped and the seeds have been cracked open and steeped in hot spring water to release the tannins.”
Severus pried off the lid and gave the liquid inside a quick waft. “How long did you allow it to sit in the hot water?”
Hermione caught the look he gave her and frowned in recollection. “No more than an hour at most. I wanted to make sure it had the strength to work quickly.” She began to quickly thumb through her notes. “I wrote it down, wait a moment.”
“That won’t be necessary,” said Severus. He replaced the lid and sat it down on the table. “How did you crush them?”
“A granite mortar and pestle. They were extracted using a silver knife.”
“And the size of the granules?”
“I’m not sure exactly,” Hermione confessed. “They were too small to measure, but large enough to strain easily. I had to make sure seed coats had been compromised.” She went suddenly quiet, as though struck with an errant troubling thought, then said, “I’m certain it will be alright. Your book said the seeds are typically ground to almost a powered consistency, and the calming result after ingesting them is nearly immediate.”
“I see,” was all he said. Severus plucked a phial from the rack, gauging the temperature with the back of his hand. It was nearly there. “Considering your parameters and the manner in which you prepared the seed pods, I think it’s best for today that I be the one to test your first trial. I don’t think the Headmistress or the Examinations Authority would be particularly pleased if I allowed any harm to befall you.”
“Professor Snape, I’m sorry, but I don’t think that’s the best idea.”
Severus raised his eyebrows challengingly. There was a deep and awkwardly prolonged silence, disturbed only by the faint sound of sleet rattling the windowpane.
“Okay, fine,” said Hermione eventually, holding up her palms. “I can understand why you think you should be the one to test this with liability and all, but what if something goes wrong? To be honest with you, short of shoving a bezoar or a spoonful of treacle down your throat, I wouldn’t have the slightest clue what to do in an emergency.”
Severus looked long and hard at Hermione Granger, tapping a single finger lightly against his lips. Then he said, “You’ve said your tea will be sufficient, do you still hold faith in that assumption?”
Hermione gazed at him with odd attention. “I think so, yes. The tea has similarities to the Glumbumble treacle in effect. It should work, but—”
“Do you also trust your Side-along Apparition skills to reach St. Mungo’s should your antidote fail?”
“Do you intend to poison me, Miss Granger?”
“Of course not!” she shot back. Then more sheepishly, “Not on purpose anyway.”
“Right,” was all he said. He popped the cork form the phial and downed the entire thing before she could offer further protest.
Severus felt the potion slide down his throat, coming to sit heavily in the pit of his stomach. “Do you remember the effect time?” he asked her, watching the clock hanging on the back wall. He knew it himself, but desperately needed something to take his mind off what was about to happen.
“Two minutes or so before you feel anything, provided the draught has been brewed properly.”
“It has,” he said, still watching the hands on the clock tick the seconds by. Within a half a minute, Severus felt the beginnings of a tickle in his stomach, similar to the sensation one would feel after swallowing an entire mouthful of Fizzing Whizbees. As the sensation grew stronger, Severus let out a sound that was halfway between a hiccup and a belch. Hermione held back a giggle, but Severus had no such restraint and let out a loud burst of laughter.
“Professor Snape,” said Hermione gently but firmly. He felt her hand squeeze his upper arm. “Are you alright?”
“All right?” Severus managed between gulps of air. “Am I all right? I don’t know, Miss Granger, perhaps I am. Or perhaps I’m all wrong,” he said with a chuckle, “or perhaps I’m all left. Ha!” This bit of wordplay was enough to send him into hysterics. He let out a string of laughter the likes of which he had not experienced since his days at Hogwarts, and rarely even then.
Severus doubled over, clutching the side of the table to keep from falling completely to his knees. He shook his head in a
vain effort to jostle things back to normalcy and instantly regretted it. The dizzying effect only added to the madness within and he swayed on his feet.
"You really should sit down,” he heard Hermione Granger say, but Severus found it impossible to think clearly or rationally about anything at all, least of all her suggestion. His insides hurt from the nearly constant jiggling they seemed to be doing.
Then he saw her face, practically sideways and haloed in a wreath of her riotous hair; Miss Granger had positioned herself in the most ridiculous fashion to get a proper look at his face, and was staring at him with comically concerned expression. That had been altogether too much for him to handle and he giggled. Giggled.
He felt oddly impelled not to do what his hand and arm were intending to do, but no amount of good sense and decency prevailed. Severus reached forward, tugging one of the curls and snorted as it bounced back into her face.
"Right then," Hermione said, hefting him upright. "Time for tea."
Amid all the Alihotsy-induced chaos at least Hermione Granger had the decent sense of knowing when to act in the moment and ask the questions later. She thrust the thermos cup of Rhododoldrum tea toward his face. Half of it splattered on the floor between them and the other half very nearly drowned him when she poured it into his mouth.
Death by tea, even a rather rancid tasting tea was a splendid way to go, Severus reflected, and at that thought, another spasm of coughing and laughter came rolling out of him with enough force to horribly strain the muscles in his stomach. The rational side of him, hidden somewhere in the depths of all the insanity, wondered if the cocktail of Rhododoldrum tea and Alihotsy draught was making him delirious.
Hermione looked down at the tea over the floor, then to the empty cup in her hand, and finally to him, rather quizzically. "How do you feel?"
Severus peered down at himself, prodding around his navel with a finger. "A bit... bony... round the middle," was all he managed.
"I don't suppose you'd fancy more tea, Professor?" said Hermione, looking very bewildered.
"It tastes like piss, but think I do fancy it very much," Severus announced, as if he had just said the cleverest thing to ever grace humanity. He slapped at his own leg and missed.
"I’m sorry," Hermione blurted quickly. She poured more of the grey-green liquid from the thermos into the cup and handed it to him with care. "I couldn't add anything that would potentially alter the effect.”
Severus downed it in a single lukewarm drink, wriggling around as a small child would at having just been fed a bite of something particularly foul until the tea made its way down. Even after he had swallowed, he could not seem to get his body to cooperate in the slightest. Every inch of his skin from the top of his head to the bottoms of his feet itched and crawled, and no matter which way he moved, he could not alleviate the sensation. This struck him as both terrifying and hilarious and he broke into hysterical, panicked giggles again. Severus tried to move away from the work table, but the room pitched to the right rather brutally and he fell to his hands and knees, shrieking like a baritone banshee with laughter.
With a fair bit of effort on both of their parts, Severus was finally planted in the armchair with a tablespoon and the jar of Glumbumble treacle in his lap. Hermione wrenched open the lid and scooped a heaping portion of treacle onto the spoon. She held it up to him. “You have to eat this, sir.”
Through the tears in his eyes, Severus appraised the spoon and the glob of sticky goop at the end of it and snorted. “What a ghastly looking lolly, Miss Granger.”
"It isn’t a lolly at all!” she snapped needlessly, which caused him to laugh again, this time big whooping guffaws that shook him and his seat. Severus grabbed the arm of the chair with a vice-like grip to combat the fitful squirming, and snatched the spoon from her hand. He inhaled deeply to replenish the air that had been expelled from his lungs by his cackling, and inserted the enormous gob of treacle into his mouth. He would have had a hard time swallowing the viscous, bitter substance under normal circumstances, but his involuntary spasms of laughter made the process nearly impossible.
Feeling the treacle slide down his throat in one gelatinous mass was not something Severus would describe as pleasant, but he found a bit of comfort in feeling the desire to laugh slightly subsiding. A few more moments passed, and he found his breathing becoming more measured, and the tickle in his gut that had sent him into fits of laughter was all but gone.
“Oh God, I thought you’d been driven mad!” Hermione said, distressed and somewhat breathless from the encounter. Sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of the chair, she watched him closely, as if he might suddenly explode. “I’ve never seen anything like that.”
“Nor will you repeat an instance of this, ever,” he said, his tone threatening but not quite hitting its mark for wheezing. Severus deposited the spoon back in the jar and slumped in his chair. His brains felt rattled and the idea of acting like an absolute buffoon kept passing hectically through his mind throwing everything else into total confusion. To hell with liability and teachable moments, he thought. Next time she’ll be on the receiving end of the draught.
“It’s safe to say that was disastrous,” Hermione went on. She sighed and leaned back with her hands behind her for support. The girl looked nearly as befuddled as he felt. Just from the way she chewed at her lip, Severus could tell she was on the verge of an endless, nervous prattle. “I can’t imagine what—”
“No,” he insisted. “Don’t talk.”
Hermione frowned and tried to flip the hair back out of her face that had become dislodged from its tie in her efforts, but the curls were much too boisterous for such a thing, Severus reflected giddily. He stuck the treacle-covered spoon back in his mouth to keep himself quiet. He felt profoundly tired and depressed, and yet annoyingly buoyant and liberated all at the same time, which was entirely too much for one man to feel all at once.
And he was in the most desperate need of a drink.
Hermione stood up with a sudden fervor and paced the length of the room. Severus watched her as she stopped in front of the table, scowling at the rack of Alihotsy draught. She picked up one and the rest rattled violently in the stand from the movement.
Severus leaned forward in the chair and took the spoon from his mouth. “Not only do you have no time to sulk,” he said, “but it’s most improper of your House, Miss Granger.”
Hermione shrugged in what was an obvious effort not to get agitated and put the phial back where it belonged. “What do you suggest I do then?” she asked bluntly. “Because honestly, Professor, I’m at a bit of a loss, and I’ve less than ninety days to sort it out.”
“What to do is entirely for you to determine. I’m merely here to offer guidance as needed, and to see to it that you don’t blow yourself up in the process,” Severus admitted. “Your Rhododoldrum was a novel idea, I’ll give you that, but you ignored the one thing you shouldn’t have.”
“I did exactly as you told me,” she said in a sharp tone. Then quickly, “Sir.”
Severus looked at her with narrowed eyes. “Funny thing, that, because I recall specifically telling you to turn your efforts more toward naturally occurring substances. And today, of all things, you bring me tea.”
“I didn’t figure you’d want either of us to eat a raw Rhododoldrum pod. They tend to have hallucinogenic properties if not steeped or prepared in—” Hermione trailed off, looking bothered. Then she said, “It was never going to work, and you knew it wasn’t going to work from the moment I told you what I had. Why’d you even bother going through that, if you knew my tea wouldn’t work?”
Severus considered this for a brief second then simply offered her the truth. “You needed to see that it wouldn’t work for yourself to believe it.”
Hermione bristled visibly at this, shaking her head. “I don’t—”
“Would you have taken me at my word?” he demanded, cutting her off. “Is that what you’re about to say? You forget, Miss Granger, that you were my student for six very, very long years.” Severus pointed the spoon at her, as if to punctuate his point. The tone of his voice was such that Hermione stiffened in response. “You can’t instruct or guide a person toward anything for six years without gaining some insight as to how they operate. I could’ve told you it wouldn’t work, and yet you would have tinkered with it until you were certain you’d fixed whatever nonproblem you had found, because you think you know better. At best, you would have wasted another three days in the process and still achieved the same result.”
The small workspace went quiet, save for the now gentle but persistent rain that was pattering against window. Severus watched a number of expressions pass over her face before one of discernable malcontent gained the upper hand and stayed put. She sat herself on the nearby stool, tied her hair back in a ludicrous knot, and began leafing through the pages of the red notebook in silence. She doesn’t cope well with feeling helpless. Then again, what Gryffindor worth their salt did?
Her actions were at odds with the prim resourcefulness Severus had come to expect. She flipped with abandon it seemed, never truly pausing long enough to read what was printed on the pages and sometimes skipping large sections altogether. Then, in a sudden startling fit, Hermione slammed the cover closed. She stared at it with such deep loathing before she picked the notebook up and slapped it against the table with an emphatic whack.
In that precise instance, Severus wanted more than anything else to shut the world out and have nothing to worry about except himself and his own growing list of problems. Had they been back at Hogwarts, under different circumstances entirely, the outburst could have been handled with a deduction of points and two evenings of detention. At the same time, however, he was not a stranger to the frustration she currently felt. God only knew how many times he had chucked a stirring rod or worse across the room when something had not worked out for what felt like the thousandth time. He decided, in the end, to let her have that one selfish moment of failure-induced frenzy.
“Now that you’ve handled whatever nonsense that was,” Severus said with a cool tone of superiority, “what’s your intended course of action?”
“I suppose I’m starting over, sir,” answered Hermione, gazing out the window. She briskly wiped at the wetness that had found its way under her eyes, as though it were indecent. “I’m starting over again.” She repeated this with a strange calmness, though her fingers worked at the corners of parchment pages fretfully. It took solid effort to resist the urge to walk over and snatch it from her.
“It has been my suspicion from the start that you are searching for your answers in the wrong place,” he said instead. “Have you even bothered to look at Scamander’s compendium for suggestions?”
Hermione stared helplessly at him for a moment and said, “Newt Scamander was a thorough Magizoologist, Professor Snape. He catalogued nearly every magical creature he could find...”
“Yes, I do believe that was his intention,” Severus said, his tone dry. He stood up with no grace whatsoever, then very deliberately moved toward the wall for support. “Did you find a copy of it or not?”
“I think you should sit back down,” Hermione suggested, deftly ignoring his last question. She stood up and started toward him, but stalled when he held up a hand.
Severus half-expected her to argue, but she just stood there, looking at him with her head cocked in silent appraisal. Having the almost constant hassle of someone telling him what was best for him was slowly becoming a new personal vexation of his. He nearly said he was in his current state of imbalance because of her, but realised in that moment that he would have to listen to her reply, which would undoubtedly grate his nerves further.
“You still haven’t answered my question, Miss Granger,” Severus reminded her instead. “Have you acquired a copy of the anthology or not?”
“I did.” Her previous outburst of anger and pessimism had ebbed a little and she plopped herself back on the stool, fiddling relentlessly with the leather cuff at her wrist, as though it itched.
Severus took several cautious steps as if to test his equilibrium, and found himself slightly surprised when his head did not swim. He bent to retrieve the lid Hermione had left on the floor and screwed it tightly on the treacle jar. “And?”
“That is as far as I’ve managed. I don’t even have it with me today,” she admitted. Her tone had a bitter edge to it, though it appeared to be self-directed more than anything else. “I spent every waking hour researching Rhododoldrum pods and working on that stupid tea.”
For a self-indulgent moment, Severus found it so very satisfying to watch her come to terms with the blunder again. A certain amount of failure was good. Failure made you grow and adapt, and in her case, it forced her to accept that she did not know as much as she thought she did. It was admittedly difficult to teach a student that lacked general knowledge and skill, but it was close to impossible to instruct one who thought they already held all the answers.
“I don’t have to remind you that there are several thousand species in the anthology,” said Severus. He walked over to where she sat, and started to straighten his workspace out of habit. The rack of Alihotsy draught went on the shelf, the cauldron siphoned clean and placed back in its spot. “This draught has a shelf life of seven days. Do you think you’ll be able to come up with an alternate course of action in that time?”
Hermione shrugged. It was not the most reassuring of shrugs. “It’s quite a bit of reading, but it’s nothing I can’t handle over the course of a few days. I don’t know if I’ll have something physical to show for it, except for a few notes of course.”
“When the time comes, we’ll deal with that.” Severus waved a vague hand, the other coming to rub at the side of his head. The flippancy of the afternoon and subsequent treacle-aided flop had left him with a bothersome twinge in his temple.
At this, Hermione smiled at him, and as she did something about her expression caused everything else to stop and the synapses in his head to fire in rapid succession. Severus had always considered himself a vigilant person if not downright perceptive, but looking at her in that moment he sensed a certain ambiguous recognition he could not properly grasp. He had not felt a sensation such as this since he woke after weeks of unconsciousness, when his mind, weak from combined stress and excessive interventions from his Healers, tried to crawl its way toward something familiar, but was never able to fully reach it.
“Are you sure you’re well, Professor?”
“It’s nothing a strong cup of tea won’t cure,” he said, his mouth running on automatic while his thoughts tried to catch up.
“Would that help?”
“Well, yes, obviously,” Severus said, as though such a thing did not need pointing out. “The caffeine is a stimulant to counteract the treacle, though not with the same deadly efficacy as the Alihotsy.”
“I can bring you some if you’d like.”
Severus scowled at her. “No. I don’t need you to fetch me tea. I’m perfectly capable of doing so myself.”
“Honestly, sir, it is they very least I could do for you after, well, you know,” said Hermione. “Unless you truly insist I not, I don’t mind.”
“I truly insist, Miss Granger,” Severus said in a manner that made it clear he was finished discussing the subject. He turned and stalked from the room, and Hermione followed quiet as a shadow behind him. As they made their way to the kitchen, Severus paused at one of the bookcases lining the wall in the sitting room. He perused the top shelf for a moment before removing a well-worn copy of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them from its long-held station, on the off chance that they might need it.
Once they reached the kitchen, Severus handed the book to Hermione and began to gather his spare tea things from the cabinet. As he filled the kettle with water, he tried to make sense of the indescribable feeling he had experienced minutes prior, but he was interrupted by Hermione’s voice.
“They’ve sent you one too.”
He turned from the hob to look at her. “One what?”
Hermione held up the purple scroll from the ministry. “Your invitation to the Anniversary Gala.”
“No doubt a mistake by some Throttlebottom in Shacklebolt’s department,” he said, his tone corrosive. “But whatever the case, I will not be going.”
“May I ask why?”
The question suddenly seemed to symbolize all of the things Severus had been subconsciously trying not to think about. The top of the list was his apprehension of putting himself in the public eye more than was necessary. If the early morning trip to Diagon Alley had been any indication, people were still very much aware of him. Going to such an event would only feed the flames he wished would smolder out. Adelaide Harlowe was next in line on the list.
His fingers went to the Silhouette brand hiding beneath his shirt sleeve. As absurd as it sounded, she felt like his dirty little secret, and while he felt she deserved a great number of things, she did not deserve that. If the press were to confirm that he was part of the program, and he had been matched to a fresh-faced female nineteen years his junior…that was altogether too scandalous to dwell on, and Severus viciously stamped down the thought.
“I have no desire to participate in any false pretense of the Ministry’s goodwill.”
Hermione looked as though she had something to say to that, but she remained silent, turning the scroll over and over in her hands. “I haven’t made up my mind yet,” she said conversationally. “I’m not certain the date of my testing, but I believe it will coincide around the N.E.W.T. examination schedule. Priorities, you know.”
That struck him as surprising. Severus leaned against the counter, arms crossed impassively in from of him. “If Shacklebolt considers me an honoured guest for the evening, I would expect your presence is in much higher demand.”
“Something like that,” Hermione said. She put the scroll down on the table and frowned at it, as though it had committed some great offensive. “Harry and Ron brought Kingsley by so he could deliver my invitation personally. I suspect it was so the two of them would guilt me into going in the end,” she added petulantly.
That figures, Severus thought with bad grace.
“I don’t like the spotlight,” She admitted in a very unsteady voice. “Nor do I like to be reminded of being on the run from Death Eaters and Snatchers for nearly a year, or watching the people I grew up with die right in front of me.” She glanced up at him. “I wasn’t the most functional person once the adrenaline wore off.”
“So, don’t go.”
Hermione sighed, slumping forward in her chair. “It’s not that easy.”
“Of course it is,” said Severus. “You don’t owe the Ministry anything.”
“No, but I do owe it to Tonks and Lupin. And Fred Weasley. And Lavender Brown. And Colin Creevey. And the rest of the Fallen Forty-nine.”
Ah, there it is. The sentiment had many names—duty, obligation, guilt— and Severus knew it on a very personal level. It had taken him an upwards of twenty years to learn how to overcome such notions, and in quiet moments when he allowed his guard to be lowered just a fraction, it would still try to claw its way back to him.
“The dead don’t care. They’re gone and no amount of memorializing or mourning will bring them back,” he said, raising a finger to stop the words Hermione had not yet spoken. "And the only duty left to those of us alive is to go on living in the manner we personally deem acceptable in spite of all the guilt or remorse.” His eyes held hers. She needed to understand this, and heed it seriously. “Take it from someone who has had enough experience in the matter to last five lifetimes: if you let it, it will bury you just as you buried your dead.”
Hermione considered all of this, her fingers idly tracing the brass-cast lion sigil on the cuff around her wrist. Finally she said, “How did you manage it? There were days afterward—”
Beside him the tea kettle gave an impatient wail. Hermione fell silent as Severus removed it from the heat. He could lie to her, but what was the point in that? “I’ve never stopped managing it,” he said at last. It felt strange being so forthright with someone who knew the whole story, all the gory, sordid details included, but there was a large part of him that did not mind the intrusion, possibly even welcomed it. He tried and failed to recall something Augusta had once said about kindred souls, and suspected the treacle was making him maudlin.
Hermione picked up Scamander’s book and regarded its table of contents with forced interest before she gave up the pretense and sat it back down. Severus could sense the intense internal struggle she was having with herself over what he imagined to be another string of questioning. He waited in silence for her to find her voice, busying himself with making the tea.
“You’ve come a long way, Professor Snape,” she finally said.
Severus stared at her. “What?”
“I said you’ve come a long way,” Hermione repeated, this time with more conviction. “We all have.”
“Why would you say that?” he demanded, his voice pitched just loud enough to be heard. The conversation was now beginning to venture into territory that was not within his limit of propriety.
“Because it’s the truth. Had someone told me over a year ago that I would be sitting at your kitchen table, discussing attendance to a Ministry gala over tea I would have laughed in their face.”
That makes two of us, Severus thought, his eyes flicking away from her at last as he retrieved two cups from the cupboard. A year ago he was using a portrait to track of her and Potter and Weasley’s movements through the Forest of Dean. A year ago he was holding Hogwarts together by threads. A year ago things were chaotic and complicated and uncertain beyond all reason. Life had not made itself any less of those things, but Severus could say that it was at least manageable now.
“The difference a year makes,” Hermione said softly, as if she were expecting him to agree. When Severus said nothing on the matter at all, she released a shaky breath, stood as if she abruptly remembered somewhere she needed to be, and tucked her bag over her shoulder. “I should go. I’ve wasted enough of your time today as it is, and I have a lot of reading to do.”
He scrambled to make sense of her sudden change in mood. What came out was, “Same time next week?”
“Of course. Hopefully in a week I’ll have something to show for myself,” Hermione answered. She stopped just before she passed into the hall. “Thank you. For everything,” she said laying delicate stress on the word.
And then she was gone, the front door clicking shut in her wake.
Severus regarded the cup of steaming tea he had intended for her. “The difference a year makes indeed,” he told the cup just before he poured its contents down the sink.
She had no idea how right she was.
Hello All! It has taken longer than I would have liked to update, and for that I apologize. With the holidays, yet another family member’s death in late January, and work obligations I have had limited time to do much else except coast through the chaos. Summer is fast approaching, which means the school term will end and I will have ample time to sit and read and write and just be. Thank you to all who take the time not only read and review, but also hit the follow and favorite buttons. As always, if you’re following along, I’d love to hear from you.
With any luck the next update is coming in April, and hopefully by May you should see more regularity.