“Granger,” the blond greeted, arm outstretched. Nodding in response, Hermione only hesitated for a moment before slipping her arm through his.
They Disapparated out of his Ministry office with a loud crack, the sound resounding through the trees, among which they now stood. Malfoy’s stiff forearm immediately fell away from hers, darting away almost violently. Hermione winced, a little stung by the action, but refused to say anything.
Malfoy was doing her a favor, escorting her to the Manor, and she would be polite and gracious for the entire experience. It wasn’t his fault that Harry had coerced her into watching over Snape—You’re training to be a healer, aren’t you, Hermione?—and it really could have been worse.
The thought did little to comfort Hermione, who couldn’t think of any feasible scenario quite as uncomfortable as the one she was in. She could pin the blame on Harry, but Malfoy was innocent. Hermione nearly laughed.
Draco Malfoy, innocent?
In this case, the statement was true.
She, Malfoy, and several healers would be staying in Malfoy Manor where Professor Snape was convalescing after his release from St. Mungo’s following the Final Battle — for the next six weeks or so. Snape was not expected to recover, and if, or rather when, he passed on, then she would return home and finally acquire her Healer’s License.
Hermione couldn’t help but feel that this ridiculously flawed plan would do more harm than good, though.
Snape hated her; there was no question about it. He was half-mad, slowly dying from Nagini’s venom and the Cruciatus curse, neither of which having been treated immediately, would surely cause an already unkind man to be an almost unbearable presence.
Still, it was the least that she could do. Hermione wasn’t doing this for her former Potions Professor, but rather for Harry. She owed it to him. Not to mention that it would give her enough hands-on experience to push her firmly into the “seasoned” area of Healing. In order to endure whatever the next several weeks would bring, Hermione tried to keep a purely academic perspective. Any sentimentality would surely be her downfall.
She and Malfoy made quick progress through the woods surrounding the Manor. Before Hermione realized it, they were breaking through the tree line.
The house was clearly visible from where they stood at the edge of the forest, huge and imposing. The sun barely peaked out over the horizon, but still managed to wash the white and black stone that made up the structure in a pale, rosy pink color. Dark green vines crept up one side of the house, somehow looking elegant rather than unkempt, and the artfully shaped hedges lining the gardens curled beautifully around each other, forming a tight fence of foliage around the Manor. Grass as green as Harry’s eyes crunched softly beneath their feet, the only thing that seemed noticeably overgrown.
“If my mother were here to see the Manor in such a state,” Malfoy muttered disgustedly, marching towards the front door at a brisk, long-strided pace. Hermione had to jog to keep up, but they reached the front door — a large, monstrous thing of dark, reddish-black mahogany and ivory — at the same time, which was all that mattered. The knocker was rather predictably shaped into the form of a silver snake, its coiled body serving as the handle. Emeralds the size of ten pence dimes glimmered at her, the stones fitting perfectly into the creature’s eye sockets.
Several healers, all men, were waiting for them inside the door, their white robes almost too bright to look at.
“Miss Granger, Mister Malfoy,” the tallest of the three greeted, throwing the door open behind him. “If you’ll just come right this way?” He led, though Hermione could see that it irritated Malfoy.
As her eyes skimmed over the lush draperies and beautifully-crafted paintings that lined the walls, Hermione had to suppress a manic giggle. The entire situation was almost too impossible to comprehend.
Six weeks locked in a house with the Malfoy heir and Severus Snape?
Somebody was bound to get hurt.
A choked sort of sound came from the last door of the hallway they were turning into, and Malfoy’s pace increased almost imperceptibly. A fourth healer slunk out of the room, face bloodless.
“I think it would be best if Mister Snape was left alone for a moment or -”
Malfoy cut him off with a forceful shove, his other hand reaching for the door. He paused, listening as the choked noise repeated itself, this time much louder. This time it sounded more like a sob.
Without further hesitation, Malfoy flung the door open, causing the wall to shudder a bit from the impact. Hermione gasped rather loudly, her eyes widening.
“He’s been very jovial these past few days,” the tallest of the healers — Fowl, his uniform read — told them, gesturing towards the half-naked man reclining on the bed. “A lovely change from the brooding of last week.” Snape was cackling like a fool, half-naked. Hermione noted his robes and shirt in a crumpled pile on the floor next to the bed. A copy of The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe was open in his lap, the cover new and shiny.
“Muggles are so odd,” he stated, flapping the book around dangerously, “Especially American Muggles.”
Malfoy stared at him, mouth agape in obvious horror. Hermione felt the urge to laugh so strongly she had to bite the inside of her lip to quiet herself.
“Mister Snape,” Fowl called out as if speaking to somebody with a hearing impairment. “Your godson is here with a former student of yours. They’ll be staying for a bit to visit with you.”
Malfoy took a half-step forward, stopped, and then took several backwards.
“Please do call me Sev, Mortimer. I think we’ve grown quite close — well beyond those stiff formalities.”
Malfoy looked positively green at this point.
“I’ll just leave you to it,” Healer Fowl whispered, closing the door behind him.
“Godfather?” Malfoy said, his voice soft and tentative.
“Hmm?” Snape answered skipping a few pages ahead, “You may call me Sev as well, Draco. There was a girl who used to call me that…” He trailed off, his fingers flipping through the pages frantically.
“Lily, Lily, Lily,” he sing-songed under his breath. “Why don’t you love me, Lily?”
Feeling suddenly faint, Hermione sank back against the wall, unsure what to do in the present situation. Give her an open wound or a rare physical ailment and she could cure it. Matters of the heart and mind were much harder to do away with.
“Who’s Lily?” Malfoy asked, stepping closer.
“Nobody,” Snape growled, eyes growing sharp. His pupils shrunk to pinpricks in the great expanse of charcoal that made up his eyes. He clenched his hands tightly around the book.
“Malfoy -" Hermione broke in, and Snape’s gaze swung to her.
“Ah, Miss Granger,” he greeted, voice painfully flat, “Lovely. We’re all gathered together by my death bed, just like a little family. Both of you, out.”
Hermione didn’t hesitate, turning and practically bolting out of the room, the very lost look on Severus Snape’s face etched into her mind’s eye.
Several days passed before she saw Snape again. Malfoy, on the other hand, she saw at mealtimes and every evening before retiring, since their rooms were located next to each other. Malfoy Manor was seemingly endless, with several dozens of everything from kitchens to ballrooms. Hermione would drift through the scattered hallways, curiosity niggling dangerously in the back of her mind as she explored.
There were libraries, too, thousands of books and shelves that went on seemingly forever. Potions she’d never heard of and spells she’d never thought to dream of called to her from within the pages of the darker texts, which she dutifully ignored. As she perused the main library, the one that Healer Fowl had shown her on her first day, Hermione noticed a slim volume with a violet binding. She gently tugged it out from between the two history volumes it was nestled between, running reverent fingers over the satiny cover.
“A Witch’s Guide,” she read aloud, the silvery text embossed on the cover winking at her when it caught the light. Quickly tucking it into her growing pile of spell books, Hermione made her way to an abandoned room down the hall that she’d begun using as a make-shift lab. With a muttered spell, she shut and locked the door behind her, her pewter cauldron already waiting on the edge of the sole table in the room.
She’d been hoping to brew something new ever since Healer Fowl had first shown her the expansive libraries, anxiously aware of the endless knowledge at her fingertips. It wasn’t as if Snape needed her at this point, she reasoned with herself. He’d been refusing to see her since that first visit, making her presence at the Manor useless. Still, Hermione couldn’t leave. A job had been given to her, and she felt compelled to see this particular task to the end.
The first tome of the pile happened to be A Witch’s Guide, and was by far the most frivolous-looking one of the bunch. Deciding to indulge herself just this once, Hermione scanned the first few pages, and stopped at page twenty-three.
Lover’s Draught: To ensnare a heart.
Intrigued, Hermione quickly skimmed over the ingredients list and preparation time, quickly coming to the realization that this would be a relatively difficult potion to brew. The ingredients were simple enough — rose hips, basil, chicory, unicorn hair, ginger, brandy wine, peppermint, and frozen ashwinder eggs — and it needed to brew for an hour or so, but the wand motions and stirring techniques were quite unfamiliar to Hermione.
“Nothing like a bit of a challenge in life,” she told herself as she reached for the tiny, unassuming purse that she kept with her at all times. Thanking Merlin for the undetectable-extension charm, Hermione reached into the beaded bag, groping for her store of potion ingredients.
Trouble came as she was adding the ginger, her last ingredient. The potion had turned a lovely shade of creamy lavender, and a fragrant steam was rising up from it, curling towards her nose. She inhaled, closed her eyes for a moment, and Severus Snape slammed the door open.
Hermione managed to keep hold of the silver spoon she’d been using to stir, but couldn’t hold back a little shriek of surprise. His eyes locked on hers as he shut and locked the door. In her shock she happened to notice he did so wandlessly, recalling that his wand had been confiscated when the state of his mind was realized.
“Lover’s Draught, Miss Granger?” he asked, voice raspy and low. “Used by witches in the Medieval Era to force the wizards they’d hoped to marry fall hopelessly in love with them! One only had to steal a bit of his hair — blood or semen, if the witch was clever enough — and consume the brew at sunset for the potion to take effect.”
Hermione felt sick with fear. Not a soul knew where she was, and the Healers usually left Snape to his own devices during the afternoon. How he had managed to just get up and go traipsing about the Manor in his weakened state was a mystery to her. She was completely isolated, trapped with a half-mad ex-Death Eater who was currently stalking towards her, an unreadable gleam in his eye.
“Professor Snape -" she started, reaching for her wand.
“Sev, please call me Sev,” he answered. He’d completely lost his grasp on reality, his eyes quickly glazing over.
Just as she was yanking her wand free of its place strapped to her leg, Snape lunged forward, surprisingly agile for a man of in his condition, and knocked her off her feet.
“Miss Granger,” he hissed, “You are brewing this incorrectly.” Her wand had landed about two feet away, the force of his blow disarming Hermione. Before she could reach for it, he grabbed it off the floor, righting himself in the process. Snape smoothed his robes as though nothing were amiss, and proceeded to her cauldron.
Speechless, Hermione watched as he picked up her bottle of brandy wine and poured another spoonful in, then reached into his pocket and dropped a silvery-white something into the cauldron. Snape stirred it once, twice more before extinguishing the flames.
“Drink this,” he commanded, ladling a small portion into one of the vials Hermione had previously set out to store her finished product. “Drink it now, Miss Granger, or I will have to use force.” Hermione slowly stood, staring all the while at her former professor, and gingerly reached for the now-turquoise potion and brought it to her lips. Snape’s firm grip on her wand gave her no other choice. Even in his current state, it seemed unlikely that she’d be able to overtake him. He’d formed a relatively powerful ward wandlessly, and completely knocked her off her feet with a mere shove. The smells of wine and eucalyptus were almost unbearably strong as she drank it.
“Oh,” she gasped, shuddering violently. “What have you done?”
He placed her wand very lightly on the table, looking extremely uncomfortable.
“You have her eyes,” he said, turning to leave. “Eyes like windows to the soul. I see his heart, and I will not let him suffer any longer. He will have you.”
Hermione snatched her wand off of the table the moment he left, cast a rushed cleaning charm, and ran out into the corridor. Thankfully, he was nowhere to be seen, and she headed in the opposite direction of his quarters. She had to find Healer Fowl. There had to be some way to stop the potion’s spread, and Snape needed to be found and contained. The only thing that could truly make the situation worse would be …
… to bump into Malfoy. She could see the insult in his eyes as he opened his mouth, then watched as it turned into a gasp. His pupils dilated in his translucent-gray eyes, breath leaving in a rough exhale. Hermione felt it, an insistent tugging on her chest and a tightening of her skin.
Before she could say a word, his lips crashed down onto hers, finalizing what she’d already known.
Snape had tied Draco Malfoy to her, and Malfoy wasn’t the only one feeling the effects.