Chapter 9 : A Walk in the Woods
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Disclaimer & Story Warnings: The characters and the world of the HARRY POTTER universe belong to JKR. The plot is mine. This story plot is rated MATURE. If you are not 18 years or older, this story is not for you. You have been warned!
Hermione walked quickly on tiptoes as she followed Severus through the castle halls. Severus was walking quite fast for Hermione, whose shorter (and much weaker) legs could barely keep up. Her breathing was starting to sound a bit labored from the sudden exercise when Severus halted and swung around, causing Hermione to slam right into him with an "Ummp!"
"Either cease your breathing this instant or I will take you back to your rooms! The spell and the cloak are useless if someone walks by and hears your irritating breathing!" he whispered vehemently, and he brushed off his robes as if she might have gotten something on him during their brief contact.
Hermione was glad she was invisible since the heat rising in her cheeks had her blushing in embarrassment. "Sorry, sir," she whispered back. All the rest of the way out of the castle, Hermione was thinking about one thing: air. She tried to breathe slowly and quietly while also concentrating enough to tiptoe behind Snape and not fall behind…or fall, period. To her amazement she made it all the way out the castle doors and was halfway across the grounds when she tripped and fell on the ground. Severus heard a noise behind him and was about to start scolding Hermione again when there was a pop! that announced Snarky’s arrival.
Severus raised his wand and performed an Invisibility Charm around all three of them so he could remove the spell and the cloak from Hermione and see what had happened. "Snarky, find her and remove the cloak," he spat after waving his wand to remove the spell. Snarky glared at Severus as she caught hold of the silky material and pulled the cloak off Hermione.
Severus took one look at Hermione’s pale features before kneeling next to her and waving his wand over her to see what was wrong. "She not breathing well, sir," Snarky said as she poked and prodded around Hermione with her own magic. "Sir be walking too fast for Missy – Missy be too weak to keep up. Sir should know better than to overwork Missy!" Snarky snapped at him as she cast magic over Hermione, forcing oxygen into every inch of Hermione’s bloodstream. The shock of the sudden change to her system caused Hermione to cry out in pain.
"Miss Granger, are you all right?" Severus was unable to mask his obvious concern.
"I’m, better. I’m sorry, sir, but it’s been a while since I’ve walked the long halls and down the steep stairs. If you want, I can ask Snarky to take me back to my rooms so I don’t bother you further," she began, even more embarrassed by their awkward situation then she could have imagined possible.
"Don’t be silly, Miss Granger. You are to be imprisoned for a year and I would rather waste my valuable time escorting you on walks than see you go mad from cabin fever. It would be terribly inconvenient for me to have to babysit you for more than a year if you lost your mind, given that no one can know where you truly are," he snapped, his usual stern visage firmly back in place as he waved his wand and conjured a goblet of cold water for her. "Drink this, and when you feel ready we will get this over with," he ordered, handing her the water and turning his back on her for both their sakes.
Hermione drank the water in silence while trying to hold back a snigger. Snarky was facing Severus’s back with a scowl so fierce Hermione was betting the little elf was just inches from cursing him into oblivion, no matter the consequences.
After handing the now-empty goblet to the still scowling Snarky, Hermione carefully stood up and retrieved the cloak and put it around her, making sure her feet were not visible. "I’m ready, sir," she said quietly.
Severus tapped her on the head through the cloak and the spell took effect once again just as Snarky disappeared with a pop! "Stay close to me. I will try to walk slowly," he snapped in irritation. Hermione followed Severus in silence as they made their way into the edge of the Dark Forest that surrounded the school. As soon as they were safely out of view of the castle, Severus removed the spell and told her she could remove the cloak. "As long as we stay within a mile of the school we will not be breaking any rules, since that is the legal extent of the Hogwarts school grounds. And since we have to be out here, you will assist me with gathering a few ingredients in the Dark Forest."
"What ingredients are you looking for?" Hermione asked as she started to pay attention to her surroundings and adjust her eyes to the darkness around them. The only light besides Severus’s wand was the full moon that penetrated only sporadically through the thickly spaced trees.
"Fluxweed, hellebore, and caterpillars are my main concern, though I would be happy to find some Belladonna. That is a rare find so close to the castle, since desperate students find it useful to replenish their potion-making kits by picking it themselves instead of spending their spare Galleons on mail orders," he replied stiffly.
"Sir, if you don’t mind me asking, why would you not just order those? They aren’t the rarest or most expensive of ingredients, after all," Hermione commented quietly. She truly didn’t expect him to answer and was quite shocked when he did.
"Yes, those and several others are quite common and cheap, yet there is an old magic not often taught in potions today. When one becomes a Potions Master, certain secrets are bestowed when one is preparing to strike out on his own as a Master of Potions. For example, just as our bodies are made of seventy percent water, we as witches and wizards are made of equal parts of magic. It flows in our blood and is part of us as a whole. When Potions Masters take the effort to procure their own ingredients, it lends more power to our own potions as we make or create them. This is why most of the wizarding community relies on Potions Masters for their potions instead of brewing their own. They are more powerful," he stated, just as if he was in a classroom.
Hermione watched him in confusion and awe as he stopped to collect leaves from the hellebore plant at his feet. His whole demeanor and tone of voice during the "lecture" were so smooth and almost…nice sounding. Not one word was spat out like he would do when irritated. She had never heard Professor Severus Snape sound so…normal.
Severus was too wrapped up in carefully harvesting his ingredients to realize this fact.
Hermione, hoping Severus would continue to be so easygoing, decided to press on with the many questions she had. "So I know that since I’m grading the first through fourth year work, it gives you more free time to spend on your own work. Would you mind sharing what sort of potions you are working on? I mean, what potions do you prefer to work on? And are you planning to publish? I’ve read hundreds of Potions Monthly journals and I’ve never come across your name before," she said, her enthusiasm for the subject apparent.
Severus stood up and looked over to where Hermione was carefully picking up a caterpillar from the branch of a walnut tree. A part of him wanted to lash out at her and tell her to be quiet, while another part of him was piqued. He had never known many of his former students to be as studious as Hermione Granger, much less actually interested in Potions. For her to know he had never published irked him.
"I have no intention of wasting my time writing boring drivel about my work just so I can be acknowledged for it. I do not care to have people grovel at my feet because I am well studied and successful. I would rather share my work anonymously," he replied defensively.
"Sorry, sir," Hermione replied softly. "I didn’t mean to touch a sore spot. I guess I’m too curious for my own good sometimes," she remarked as she spotted another caterpillar and started to stand on her tiptoes to reach it. It was out of her reach, though, and Severus scoffed as he walked over and leaned around her to get it himself. As he pulled away from her, his eyes met hers and he froze for a moment and then stepped back quickly and fixed a scowl on his face.
"Please try to restrain yourself from doing such things again. You’ve already fallen once this evening; I would rather you not lose your balance again," he stated angrily.
Hermione opened her mouth to snipe at him for being so mean and rude, but then she closed it, turned around, swung the cloak back on, and strode away from him without a word.
Severus pulled out his wand and did something he hadn’t done since his youth. He pointed his wand where he could see footprints forming on the path in front of him and cried, "Levicorpus!" There was a scream and the cloak fluttered to the ground as Hermione rose in the air, dangling by the spell’s hold on her ankle.
"Let me down!" she shrieked as she held onto her tee-shirt to make sure it didn’t slip over her head and reveal anything.
Severus couldn’t stop the smirk that flitted across his features as he approached his prey. "Settle down this instant, Miss Granger, and I will," he answered.
"I’ll settle down when I’m safely on the ground! Now let me down!" she yelled.
Severus flicked his wrist and watched as Hermione crashed down on her side and grunted in pain at the hard landing. She sat up slowly and turned to look at Severus, who was watching her with an impassive face. "Now, let me get this straight, Miss Granger, because I’m quite tired of your badgering me with details that are not your concern. We will go on walks to give you fresh air. You will help me if I’m harvesting ingredients, since it’s the least you can do to make up for interrupting my life as you are doing. You will not ask me questions; you will not blabber on about anything. You will be quiet, breathe fresh air, then I will escort you back to your rooms and you won’t pester me. Do you understand?"
Hermione was furious. She got to her feet and faced Severus, "How DARE you! Forgive me for asking a few questions and just being civil. Forgive me for pestering you. I only saved your life, after all. You know, I think I might prefer to be in prison if I can’t even be with you for two minutes without you sniping at me! Would it honestly be worse for you to just talk to me like a normal person than to be dead?" she said, outraged and fed up.
Severus snapped his fingers and Snarky appeared. "Take Miss Granger back to her rooms. She’s had enough fresh air this evening," he ordered.
"You is being rude to Missy. I be telling Headmistress on you, sir!" Snarky replied, even as she grabbed Hermione’s hand and popped them back into the castle.
Severus stared at the spot where Hermione had just stood. He was ashamed of himself, he realized. Hermione had, after all, saved his life, and how did he treat her? Though part of him rebelled at the idea that he should have to be civil to anyone, the power of the debt he owed her seemed to nudge him somewhere deep inside, forcing him to realize that he would indeed have to be nice and civil, since it was the least he could do.
I might be better off dead, he thought tiredly as he walked deeper into the forest to gather a few more ingredients.
Hermione paced by the wall of windows in the two-story common room; though common room was a loose term since she was the only person there. What is his problem? she wondered as she walked back and forth in front of the windows, the moonlight washing over the room behind her as she thought about everything that had happened that evening. Severus seemed like he was actually trying to be civil before he stepped in and got that caterpillar, then suddenly he reverted back to his usual old self, she pondered. Suddenly she stopped and just stared out at the grounds below as it hit her. He only reverted to his old self after that moment when he was close to me and our eyes met…whoa! she thought, and her eyes flared with a new sort of understanding of her old Potions Professor.
"Snarky!" Hermione called. She rushed over to the desk and hurriedly stacked the graded papers out of the way and pulled out several new pieces of parchment and a quill.
"Missy be calling me?" Snarky said after popping into the room.
"I was wondering if you might be able to help me. You see, Professor Snape and I had a bit of an argument earlier, and it’s made me see that the next year might be hard for us both, what with me working for him and all. But I had a thought – I wondered if you might be able to retrieve some journals for me, and maybe some memories from the Headmistress," Hermione said as she looked at the little elf with hope in her eyes.
Snarky regarded her curiously. "What kind of journals and memories is Missy wanting Snarky to get?"
Hermione smiled shyly. "Old journals of Professor Snape’s, and any memories the Headmistress has of his youth…."
A/N: I hope you enjoyed this! More to come soon. Please review! *HUGS*
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