The very next afternoon found a very excited Hermione as she fidgeted with her notebooks and checked to make sure she had the proper amount of parchment, quills, and other items that would help her be an aid to Professor Snape. She debated on asking Snarky to find her a set of dragon-hide gloves and apron, but she figured Severus would want to supply her with such things since different potions required different forms of protection.
Severus, she thought, smiling. Only hours after her talk with Professor McGonagall and she was already that much closer to becoming more than an acquaintance with Severus Snape. The mere fact that he had agreed to allow the use of his first name—albeit in private—would go a long way towards making their year together easier to bear. With a pop, Hermione was startled out of her thoughts by the arrival of Snarky.
“Snarky is being asked to show Miss the secret passage to Professor’s lab. We is needing to leave now; the path is being quite long since it is so hidden,” Snarky said, opening the door to the empty hallway.
“Just a moment, Snarky, I need to put my things in my bag,” Hermione said, pulling the bag out and carefully putting the rolls of parchment and such into it. “I was so absorbed with making sure to get everything together that I might need, that I failed to pack them,” she remarked a tad bit anxiously as she closed her bag and walked to the door.
“Professor is wanting Miss to take her time on the steeply stairs,” Snarky said, motioning Hermione over to the right side of the long hallway towards a large window that, from the outside of the tower, would be invisible and part of the seamless stone wall. “He is wanting Miss not to fall again, he is saying,” she remarked as she pointed to a sconce on the right side of the wall. “Miss is needing to pull the sconce down for the door to be opening, ,” Snarky said.
“How many floors do these secret stairs bypass, Snarky?” Hermione asked, eyeing the dark descent with caution as they slowly started down the curved stairs.
“The stairs be going down over seven stories into the dungeons, Miss.”
Hermione put her hand near the wall and started to regulate her breathing. “I know we are going to Professor Snape’s personal lab, but where in the lab does these stairs lead, exactly?” she risked between breaths.
“There is a magic doorway that appears next to the Professor’s fireplace. Only Miss and Headmistress and Snarky can make it appear,” Snarky answered.
Hermione nearly fell in her brief moment of shock and had to balance herself before catching up with Snarky’s fast little legs. I will be allowed back into his personal rooms? With his permission? She wondered as her eyes caught a glimpse of light below. As they neared the bottom of the stairway and approached the door, the light from beyond it seemed to shimmer. Hermione stepped toward the shimmering barrier and felt goose bumps all over as she passed through. She turned around once she was in the room and watched the shimmer fade until the wall looked solid once more. “Interesting,” she mumbled curiously. She was already itching to have a go at the school Library to research such protective doorways. But Snarky pulled on her hand and pointed to the door Hermione knew led to Snape’s lab.
“Miss is to be waiting for Professor. Professor wants Snarky to tell Miss not to touch anything while she is waiting,” Snarky said, clearly unhappy with having to be so rude on Snape’s behalf.
“Thank you, Snarky. I promise I won’t touch anything while I wait,” Hermione said, her eyes already wandering and absorbing the differences as she entered the lab she was already familiar with.
The well-designed lab seemed to have been cleaned from top to bottom. The shelves opposite the main door that housed mortars and pestles, glass beakers and other instruments of potion-making gleamed with their immaculate contents and were well organized. The main difference she noticed was the six cauldrons on the right side of the room. They were made of a liquid-looking black metal; a material she knew was rare and very expensive. The purpose of the Black Metal Cauldrons was the spells woven into the metal while it was shaped. This helped produce potions that would last even a wizard’s lifetime, much less a Muggles. Muggles would call it “preservative”, while it would also increase the potency of any potion brewed within them.
Hermione walked to the nearest one and looked at it closely, admiring the craftsmanship with awe and anticipation.
Severus walked in to see Hermione’s head bent over as she inspected the detail of the Black Metal Cauldrons and paused. He watched as she admired them and wondered if she was truly that interested or if it was a simple case of being intrigued at seeing such an expensive piece of equipment for the first time.
Without warning her of his presence he set the objects in his hands on the preparation table next to Hermione and the Black Metal Cauldron she was admiring. “Miss Gra—HERMIONE! If you are done ogling my equipment I would like to get this evening’s task underway,” he said tersely.
It wasn’t the sudden noise of the ingredients being set down next to her that made her jump and stare at him so much as his words. It took every bit of her willpower to resist glancing downwards or give in to the laugh she felt bursting inside of her. And if Severus had realized exactly what he’d said, he hid his own reaction. Standing up straight and facing him, Hermione pushed the funny moment behind her and stood at attention.
Severus, seeing that she was ready to follow his lead, proceeded to point and direct her. “From that cupboard you will need the glass mortar and pestle. From the shelf below you will need a platinum blade for chopping. Tonight we will start by creating a large supply of infused gingerroot. The process I have developed to maximize its quality when infused will take us approximately five hours. If at any time you feel as if you are the slightest bit tired, you will inform me promptly and retire. When creating infusions on a large scale for potions that are very delicate, it is important not to fall asleep or get clumsy with the process, or you will cause serious problems, if not actual danger, with the later stages of brewing. Do you understand me?” he said, staring her down to bring his point home.
“Yes, Severus. I promise to inform you if I am unable to continue,” she said, feeling a bit nervous. In all the years of brewing in his classes she had never felt so anxious. Brewing alongside thirty or so other beginners was one thing. Brewing complex potions with Severus Snape there to witness every aspect of your work was another. “May I ask what potion would need such amounts of infusion of ginger?” she asked, retrieving the materials as directed.
Feeling a surge of his teacher self come forth, Severus began to explain even as he picked up a gingerroot and started to show her the proper way he wanted each root sliced. Hermione listened intently and then she, too, started slicing.
“I have been formulating a potion to counteract and possibly even prevent the effects of the Cruciatus Curse,” Severus began. “I have never had the opportunity to truly experiment with my formula, which is why we will be preparing such larges batches of all the ingredients I will be using in the experimentation process.”
“How do you plan to test the variations?” she asked, concerned about the possible side effects when toying with such dangerous anti-curses.
Severus raised one eyebrow in a questioning manner. “I intend to test them on myself, Mis—Hermione,” he stated firmly.
“Is that . . . wise, Severus? You are the one who should be testing it on someone else. You are more equipped with fast reflexes. What exactly do you expect me to do if something goes wrong?” she asked, pulling out a notepad a bit nervously with the intention of copying down his instructions verbatim.
Severus looked at her as he replied. “I will test these on myself because I don’t know for sure what the outcome will be. In the worst-case scenario, you will not tell the Headmistress about the situation unless you think I will actually die if I don’t receive proper help. As for what you should do in such a case? I have a cupboard over my desk there that houses a variety of strong healing and pain-relieving potions. Treat me as best you can, and don’t let Minerva find me in such a state. Tell Snarky to pass on the message that I’m sick. I’m notorious for my bad moods when I am ill, and Minerva won’t come anywhere near me unless it is an emergency,” he remarked.
Hermione walked over to the cupboard and looked at the potions, wanting to confirm that the remedies she would use would be on standby. She hated to admit how scary the idea was of having to lie for Severus while he was seriously injured but not dying. As she perused the bottles, she noticed a flask made of the same black metal as the cauldrons. She picked it up carefully and noticed that the label stated simply, “If all else fails”. “What is this one?” she asked, holding it up and looking over her shoulder in question.
Severus almost smiled as he remembered its effects. “That is exactly what it says. If all those others fail and you become desperate, then you will make me drink it. It’s an old Potions Master secret, so you can’t reveal its contents or its effects to a living soul. It’s a backup that will do the job the others cannot, but I will warn you now that we’d better not have a need for it. The side effects will put me out of . . . commission . . . for several days. The only good thing about it is its ability to keep a person from dying,” he answered.
Hermione put the flask back and closed the cupboard. “So besides ginger, what other ingredients are we going to infuse?” she asked, changing the subject.
Severus motioned for her to continue cutting the gingerroots. “We will need infusions of hellebore, pokeroot, and wormwood. The more precarious part of this process will be the use of betony, crampbark, asphodel, belladonna, and fluxweed. Not only will those have to be prepared to exact amounts, but the way in which we combine them with the base of the infusions will be dangerous. We will have to study with small amounts of everything first, just to make sure none of the steps we take will cause an explosion or melt the cauldrons. Once we perfect the orders in which the ingredients can be added without danger, then we will make those variations in amounts that can be tested. That is when we will enter the realm of the unknown. You will take notes as best you can, unless you are too busy treating any possible side effects that may incapacitate me. It is extremely important for you to keep your calm in those cases, and observe as best you can while reacting and treating, do you understand me?” he said, looking over at her.
Hermione looked at him, their glances catching as they looked hard at one another. Severus was intrigued to see seriousness laced with apprehension cross her features. Hermione was fascinated by the trust he was giving her. She was going to be responsible for his life in those situations. “I understand,” she replied simply, her every word firm.
As they spent the rest of the evening preparing the gingerroot, they were silent except for the occasional question and answer between student and teacher. Yet their relationship was more than just that now. It was unspoken, but a sense of friendship and camaraderie seeped into them both that evening.
Late that night, long after Hermione had left with Snarky, Severus sat in a chair in his sparsely decorated sitting room. The greenish glow from the lake cast an eerie light over the room, broken only by the faint glow of the candles. Despite his depressing surroundings, he was anything but depressed. If he were to give a name to his mood, it would be complacent. His mind turned over and over, recalling the evening with Hermione and the work they had begun. Never in his life had he enjoyed his job so much. It wasn’t just the surprise he felt at finding companionable someone he had once loathed, but the work itself. He was finally taking steps into a project that meant so much to him. Work he did for anyone else was merely slave labor. He was acting as a true Potions Master should, experimenting and making use of his hard training. The unknown for a Potions Master was the whole reason for the job. Any wizard or witch could brew everyday potions, but to be the mind behind new creations and new possibilities was a thrill that only one such as himself could truly appreciate.
As he sipped his tea and fingered the black bone china between his hands, his thoughts went to his assistant. He pictured in his mind the moments spent in the lab. The thoughtful questions she asked, the way in which she watched him work. The way she caught on quickly when told to chop those roots a certain way, the way she noted down the littlest thing even though she obviously remembered each instruction she was given. The way she smiled slightly when he had reluctantly complimented her on a job well done before she left for the night. Severus scowled to himself, wondering why he’d thought of that moment. Thinking that he was letting his mind wander a bit too far, he set his cup down on the bare coffee table. He went to bed with hopes of forgetting such things.
A/N: Thank you all for the long wait. The plot bunnies have returned and I await your many reviews! *HUGS*