- Hermione Granger
- Drama Romance
- Multiple Eras
- Philosopher's Stone Chamber of Secrets Prizoner of Azkaban Goblet of Fire Quidditch Through the Ages Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Published: 03/19/2002Updated: 09/01/2005Words: 220,150Chapters: 28Hits: 163,807
Falling Further In
- Story Summary:
- The story begins in the summer holidays before the sixth year. After her parents are murdered by Voldemort Hogwarts becomes Hermione's home. She joins the staff in the fight against Voldemort and learns more of the man behind the dark sarcasms of the classroom. Will *eventually* be Snape/Hermione. Lupin is again the Professor teaching Defence Against the Dark Arts, and has a black dog who lives with him - Sirius Black in his animagus form.
- Chapter Summary:
- Hermione learns more about the man behind the dark sarcasms of the classroom
Snape owled a full account of Oliwa's talk to three of his regular correspondents before his growling stomach insisted he have breakfast. After a lengthy stretch of pure well-being, he slumped bonelessly. Time free of specific duties was still something of a novelty and this new sense of... Not peace exactly but... If this was contentment he could grow accustomed to it very quickly.
Propping his elbows on the desk and his head in his hands, he tried in an unpractised kind of way to make sense of what was happening to him - not that he'd had much experience of self-appraisal over recent years. Life had been grim enough without that. The events of the last few weeks had been extraordinary - not least because he was still alive when he had almost prepared himself for death. The real problem was he was learning to appreciate life in ways he couldn't remember before - although that might be due to the fact his battlefields had become more clear cut over the years.
His carefully developed emotional armour had worn so thin it was thread-bare. Whether that wearing away came from his defences crumbling under a two year bombardment from the Cruciatus Curse and near-constant pain he didn't know, but the change had left him feeling as naked and vulnerable as a snail being slowly winkled out of its shell. He could almost feel the hooks in his heart, belly and balls and he had absolutely no idea what he could do about it.
He hadn't known he had friends at Hogwarts - or anywhere else for that matter. There had been scholarly exchanges by owl post with some of the great minds in wizardom but... Despite his carefully fostered reputation he had been greeted as an equal at the House of Mirth.
It had been a pointer to what life could be like once Voldemort was defeated.
He glanced at his bare forearm but there was still no sign of the Dark Mark. Instead of being able to relax and enjoy his restored health during what remained of the holidays, he kept losing the moment worrying when he would be summoned again. If it didn't happen before he would be called on the twenty-fifth to celebrate the initiation of the new Death Eaters.
And while he knew - knew - that James' son couldn't possibly have made the same mistake he had, still the fear squatted in the back of his mind. He doubted if he was the only one with such worries.
His eyes infinitely weary, Snape shivered and left the desk to move into the sunlight that was pouring into his study high in Serpens Tower. Settling himself in a window embrasure, he stretched out to soak up the heat, although even the sun couldn't erase the icy fear he had lived with for so long. Not so much of death itself, but the manner in which it might come. Or worse yet, of being left to vegetate in a bed in St. Mungo's with his mind shredded.
Stupid to dwell on things over which he had no control; he should be used to that by now - the burr under his skin which never quite went away.
Despite Potter's victories over the Dark Lord, they had only been partial victories; Voldemort always returned, seemingly stronger than ever while they -
Why, they relied on lion-hearted, bone-headed children to fight their battles for them.
Albus never spoke of it, but it was obvious he had little expectation of victory. Despite the hopes they'd had of his being able to provide useful knowledge he was no longer privy to Voldemort's plans. The information flowed one way, and the misinformation he fed Voldemort was, of necessity, slight. Despite his constant failures the headmaster had never uttered a word of reproach each time he returned with nothing that could help their cause, and with so many potential spies living in Hogwarts they had run out of misinformation to give him.
Snape knew that the odds he would still be alive at the beginning of the new term were poor. But at least junior Potions would be in the safe hands of Remus Lupin. He would have liked to pretend it was the quality of his instruction but suspected it owed far more to Lupin's natural ability, stifled by a poor teacher when he was a child. But Remus wasn't capable of brewing the one potion he needed most. How to ensure...?
His stomach growled with increasing insistence.
Shaking off such morbid thoughts, Snape got to his feet. He would worry about that later. In the meantime he was alive, on holiday, hungry and with the promise of a day - and night - of pleasure ahead of him. He headed into the bathroom for a quick shower and change of clothes.
Snape was still plaiting his wet hair as he strode into the Great Hall. He stopped dead when four pairs of eyes examined him with various degrees of subtlety. There were times when living in Hogwarts felt like occupying a goldfish bowl surrounded by hungry cats - and they purported to be his allies.
"You're looking well," remarked Professor McGonagall, managing to load the innocuous phrase with so many layers of meaning that Snape gave her a wary look.
"Come and sit down, Severus," encouraged Madam Pomfrey, patting the empty chair beside her.
"Yes, you must be tired," continued Professor McGonagall blandly.
Taking his seat, Snape gave her a resigned look and parted his hands. "If there's any mercy in you - which I doubt - get the witticisms over with now. There must be some humorous quip you've forgotten."
"Let him be, Minerva. He looks hungry," said Flitwick.
"That's because I am," said Snape, wasting no time in beginning to eat. "Has anyone seen Albus? I met him in the grounds earlier but - "
"The Ministry wanted to see him. Which means he's probably having a doze until Fudge stops waffling," said Professor Sprout.
"He mentioned that you'd said Oliwa was at the House of Mirth last night," said Flitwick, excitement causing him to sway where he sat.
"Indeed he was. You would have enjoyed it. He's a lucid speaker. He began by drawing parallels..."
"I could murder March sometimes," muttered Professor McGonagall. "How are we supposed to get Severus back on track while he's - "
"Minerva," said Professor Sprout wearily, "some of us prefer the subtle approach."
"Oh, very well." Professor McGonagall sliced the top off her boiled egg with real venom. She wasn't sleeping well and didn't expect to until after the twenty-fifth. Not that she wanted to see any Hogwarts students go over to the Dark Lord, although in the case of three Slytherins even Severus seemed to have given up hope of being able to prevent it. But what if Harry...?
Shooting her a shrewd look, Professor Sprout took care to draw her into the ensuing discussion.
"I have a copy of Oliwa's paper in my quarters. I'll get a house elf to send it along to you," Snape told Flitwick. "Ceres, I have some Centennial Lily seed for you. Apparently it - " He disappeared beneath voluminous folds of fabric as an ecstatic Professor Sprout launched herself at him. When he finally emerged from her embrace he was somewhat rumpled.
"Yes, well..." he said, eyeing her nervously.
It took ten minutes for Professor Sprout to stop telling everyone else about this rarest of lilies' unique properties.
"Given all the delights of the House of Mirth, I'm surprised to see you back today," she added to Snape.
"I'm proposing to get down to some long-overdue potion-making now I can finally trust myself not to drop everything."
"Oh," said Professor McGonagall, a wealth of meaning in her voice.
Snape set down his jam-laden triangle of toast. "Why? What alternative delight did you have planned for me today?"
"Not just Minerva," corrected Professor Sprout. "Albus intends to hold a meeting of the Inner Council after the full moon. Before then Hermione needs to get that visit to her old home over with. We've all made suggestions but she keeps finding excuses to put it off."
"So would I in her place. There's no rush, surely," said Snape. "There are another five days before Remus will be free."
"'While grief is an agony, it's the agony of the moment. Indulgence of grief can be the burden of a lifetime,'." quoted Madam Pomfrey a trifle self-consciously.
Snape almost choked on the mouthful he was eating.
"Poppy!" he protested. "The only thing drivel like that demonstrates is what a prosy old fool Lakmer the Tuneful really was. He must have composed that pap by the bucketload."
Madam Pomfrey gave him a cross look. "The fact remains, the sooner Hermione deals with the outstanding issue of the house the better. We thought - hoped - that you might be willing to consider... Because you were so effective last time..."
"Make her see to it today," cut in Professor McGonagall.
"Not a chance," said Snape decisively, taking a reviving sip of cold tea.
Three voice protested at once. Unmoved, Snape refilled his cup then made the mistake of glancing at Flitwick, who was watching him with unmistakable disappointment.
"No," he said, pushing away the rest of his toast.
"As you will," said Flitwick. "Although I don't know who else you imagine has your experience at recognising danger... Perhaps if I were to accompany Minerva..."
"This is the first holiday I've had in almost two years. Do you know how long it's been since I've been able to do any brewing?"
"I know," said Flitwick, "and it's unfair of us to expect you to do more."
Snape's lips moved in silent imprecation. While Flitwick couldn't hear what he was saying, the gist was obvious. He was careful not to smile.
"All right," growled Snape. "I'll do it."
"It will be a difficult day," warned Professor Sprout. "Whatever happens, don't let Hermione clam up."
"Indeed no," said Madam Pomfrey. "Keep her talking at all costs."
"Talking is healthy," said Professor McGonagall with all the assurance of one parroting something only half understood many years ago.
Snape looked unimpressed. "Talking is what left me KO'd by a chit of a girl last time. I hope you haven't forgotten how to mend broken noses, Poppy."
"Thank you, Severus," murmured Flitwick. "I appreciate this."
"I bet you do." Rising to his feet, Snape glared at him. "This is the last time, March."
"Absolutely," Flitwick agreed.
"Outmanoeuvred by a Ravenclaw..." sighed Snape, leaving before they found some other 'simple' task for him to perform - like capturing a live Manticore.
As he left the table something fluttered to the ground, but by the time Professor McGonagall had found her wand and levitated the embossed card into her hand, Snape had left the Great Hall.
"Oh," she said, holding out the card.
"Minerva McGonagall, did you just read Severus' private - ?"
"It was face up," said Professor McGonagall defensively.
Professor Sprout gave her a hard stare before twitching the card out of her hand.
"Oh my stars," she said. "It's tickets for tonight's talk by that Hungarian Potions Master Severus is always going on about. Why didn't he say?"
"What would be the point? We'd already decided his day for him," said Flitwick. "Miss Granger is an estimable young woman, but she's a Gryffindor, not a Slytherin. She isn't Severus' responsibility. Poppy, you're her guardian, this was up to you."
"I know that, just as I know it might look as if I'm abrogating my responsibilities. But Severus is by far the best equipped to protect her. And at the moment I think he's the one most likely to be able to help her. Hermione has said more to him than to any of us. I'm worried about her. There's something wrong - beyond the obvious grief for her parents."
Professor McGonagall lost what little colour she had. "I've been so busy worrying about Harry... You don't think - ?"
"She's an obvious target for Voldemort," said Madam Pomfrey. "Close friend and confident of Potter's..."
"Thank you, Poppy. Just what I need, someone else to worry about," said Professor McGonagall. She relieved Professor Sprout of the card. "If Severus isn't back in time do you suppose it would be bad form to use his ticket?
"What?" she demanded, when she looked up to find three people glaring at her.
Hermione wandered aimlessly into the walled garden, where Professor Sprout maintained a large herb garden. Many of the herbs were past their best but she nipped off a sprig of Apple Mint, refreshed by its fresh, clean, green scent. The air was thick as honey and so still it was an effort to move through it. And it was only breakfast time.
Lured by the sound of the fountain she rounded a brick-paved path edged with lavender to see Lupin and Black sprawled in the shade, the remains of a picnic breakfast in front of them.
Smiling their welcome, they scrambled to their feet before she could stop them.
"You look remarkably hot," said Black with his usual degree of tact.
"I feel it," Hermione conceded, nodding her thanks as Lupin handed her a glass of chilled raspberry juice. She settled on a rug with her back to a wooden post and only her feet in the sun. Kicking off her soft-soled shoes she wiggled her bare toes.
"This isn't the obvious place to find you," she said.
"That's what we hoped," said Lupin. "We're hiding from Ceres until she forgives us."
"What have you done now?" asked Hermione, knowing Professor Sprout had been less than impressed with their ability to identify plants.
"I knocked a prepared tray of Vigotree seeds into some fertilizer," said Black ruefully. "And we didn't notice until two hours later - "
" - by which time the Vigotree seeds had broken through the roof of one of the potting sheds," added Lupin.
"I spent hours soaking and peeling those wretched seeds," Hermione told Black severely.
"It's quite unnerving, for a moment you looked just like Snape," he said, with a dramatic shudder. "Don't worry, we'll be making our penance in the form of manual labour. Though not, I hope, in this heat.
"I had an owl from Harry at the beginning of the week," he added in an abrupt change of subject. "He seems pretty miserable."
"I thought so too," nodded Hermione. "He always hates the summer holidays because of staying with the Dursleys."
"He said something about not being able to stay with the Weasleys for the last two weeks..."
"That's right. Fred and George needed more money for their joke shop so they sold the patent of their Ton-Tongue Toffee to get it. They spent some of the proceeds taking the whole family out to see first Bill, then Charlie. Obviously it would be far too difficult to guarantee Harry's safety on a trip of that kind."
Black nodded. "I had hoped that Albus would allow Harry to spend the holidays here but he insists Harry is safer with the Dursleys. I can't go to him for obvious reasons."
"Harry understands that," comforted Hermione. "At least he knows you're safe and well."
"Sometimes that's not enough. Do you know how little contact I've been able to have with him in the last four years? You can't just pick up on someone's life after so long and why am I telling you this?" Black broke off to say, looking embarrassed.
"Because I'm quite a good listener, though I never used to be," Hermione admitted. "I was too busy trying to prove myself and to fit in. There's a lot of prejudice against Mudbloods at Hogwarts."
"Hermione! You know better than to use that term," said Lupin, sitting up.
"We all do," she said. "It doesn't stop what I said from being true."
"No," he conceded.
"Bloody Slytherins," said Black, his expression hardening.
"If it was just them I wouldn't mind so much but Ravenclaws and Gryffindors can be just as bad. Hufflepuffs pity you, which is even worse," she added.
"Much," smiled Lupin. "The holidays must have been dull for you with no one of your own age around. You must be missing Harry and Ron."
Wondering how anyone could possibly call these holidays dull, Hermione shook her head. "Not so much since I started spending more time with you and Mr Black," she said without thinking.
"'A hit, a very palpable hit'," said Snape, approaching from a path behind them in time to hear that.
"It was a low blow," agreed Lupin, smiling at Hermione's look of embarrassment. "Relax, Miss Granger. I, at least, know a compliment when I hear one. Join us, Severus?" he added, as if it was the most natural question in the world.
"It's tempting, if only to enjoy the expression on Black's face."
"Drink this instead, it's very good," said Lupin peaceably, pouring out some of the chilled juice.
Disdaining the shade, Snape sat in the full sun with obvious enjoyment and Hermione wondered how he survived in the dankness of the dungeons.
"I intended to resume work on various potions but discovered I need some fresh supplies. As I'm going to Diagon Alley I came to see if there is anything you want. You, too, Miss Granger," Snape added as an obvious afterthought.
Stung, she gave him a cold look.
"There are a number of things I need," said Lupin, scrambling to his feet. "Only with the full moon approaching I prefer to stay close to Hogwarts. Is - ?" He could not quite conceal his anxiety.
"There's an ample supply bottled and stored in the usual place," said Snape. "I'll make more when I get back in case anything should... It's useful to have a reserve."
"Are you sure?" demanded Black. "I mean, we all know how much you love werewolves."
"Sirius!" snapped Lupin, rounding on him. Even in human form he retained something of the heightened senses of a werewolf - it was helping him to become a decent potions-maker - and so he could smell Snape's fear every time they were in close proximity. A fear Snape had never permitted himself to betray since that terrible time when Sirius had tricked him into going into the Whomping Willow. "Severus, I'm - "
"If you start apologising for Black you'll never stop," dismissed Snape, in a cold, clipped voice. "I leave within the hour, with or without your list."
"Yes, of course. Thank you."
"Black?" added Snape. It had the sound of an obscenity.
"You'll grow old waiting for an apology from me. I don't trust you and I'm not about to pretend that I do."
Snape's look of disdain would have ruffled calmer souls than Black's.
"Miss Granger? Is there anything you require?"
"I didn't realise I can't go to Diagon Alley by myself. Does this mean I can't leave the grounds unaccompanied?" She felt immediately indignant - not that she had wanted to go anywhere, until now.
"The headmaster would prefer that you didn't."
"Wonderful." She exhaled crossly. "I can't go shopping at the moment. I won't have any money in my Gringotts account until my parents' estate is resolved - "
"Then the sooner you set that in motion, the better. In the meantime, an accommodation has been arranged for you. Just let me know the sum you require and I'll obtain it for you while I'm at Gringotts."
"Mr Frayne has thought of everything," said Hermione with relief.
"Hasn't he just," said Lupin, nobody's fool.
Snape ignored him.
"Let me have the list of things you need," he said to Hermione.
"There are things I need buy."
The frown line between his eyebrows deepened. "Such as?"
"Tampons, for one," she said bluntly. If she had hoped to disconcert him she was disappointed.
"You don't need to buy those. The Infirmary maintains large supplies of sanitary wear," he said without turning a hair.
She noticed that Black seemed afflicted with the same deafness which affected Harry and Ron whenever anything remotely approaching 'women's matters' was mentioned.
"Then I need some new clothes - and Muggle underwear, it's far prettier and much more comfortable. The academic supplies I'll need for next year. Some books. And make-up."
"That's a requirement?" teased Lupin. "Miss Granger, it's obvious we've been remiss. You do indeed need to go shopping. For some time by the sounds of that list."
"Yes," said Snape in a hollow voice. Memories of being dragged off shopping in Hogsmeade with girlfriends was a horror which had lingered down the years.
Black began to cheer up as he appreciated the misery which lay ahead of Snape. "Hours," he said happily.
Snape's expression further soured.
"I could send Harry a list," said Hermione without much conviction.
"Yes, that would do it," said Snape.
"He's not that bad."
Snape gave a snort of derision.
Hermione didn't attempt to defend herself. The only thing she could have said that would have been less convincing would be to have suggested she send the list to Ron.
"What about one of the girls in your class?" asked Black, taking pity on her.
Snape sighed. "Can you think of a woman alive who would permit another woman to select her clothing or make-up for her?"
Hermione blinked. "Do you have sisters?"
"No, just powers of observation."
"And a history of - " Black fell silent under a glare from Lupin.
Hermione glanced at Snape, who gave her a disagreeable look back before he obviously remembered his allotted task.
"Accompany me to Gringotts and Diagon Alley. If you need Muggle shopping we can attend to that before we go on to your parents' house."
Only then did Hermione realise how neatly she was being trapped. "No. It's too soon. I'm not ready. I can't - All in one day?" she added in a small voice.
"We'll take a leaf out of your book and use a time turner. I won't pretend this is going to be an easy day but delaying it will only make it harder. Will you trust me to take care of you?"
He was the last person in the world she would have expected to make that kind of emotional appeal. Put like that there was little else she could say. Hermione gave a jerky nod.
"But I'll need to change," she said.
If she had expected polite denials, she was to be disappointed. Snape case a disparaging look at her shabby dress and bare legs.
"Yes," he agreed.
Rather than being offended Hermione subdued the impulse to giggle hysterically. Snape was going to help her choose new knickers. The world had gone mad. What was worse, there was no one with whom she could share the joke.
"Uh," said Snape, in a rare display of public uncertainty. "will I pass for a Muggle in these clothes?"
Yet to accustom herself to his new face and body, Hermione tried to be objective in her study of him. While superbly tailored his outfit was a little theatrical, although it couldn't be denied that it made the most of his best features... In London it would go unremarked, except possibly in the City.
"You'll be fine," she said, refocusing to find Lupin trying to subdue a grin and Snape looking irritable and self-conscious. She hoped vaguely that she'd done a better job than she remembered of not staring but suspected she couldn't have from the way Snape's hands were draped in his lap.
Lupin collected up the rugs and picnic items with a flick of his wand. "We'll come inside with you. I can sort out that shopping list. Sirius could use a few items too."
"Yes, I can think of several things to give him," agreed Snape, ignoring the glare boring into his back with the ease of long practise. "Miss Granger, how long will it take you to get ready?"
"How long is a piece of string?"
"Thirty minutes in this case. I'll meet you at the main door. Don't be late."
As they passed through the second set of doors into the imposing marble hall of Gringotts the head of every clerk seated behind the high counters turned, marked them, then flicked back to the huge ledgers, but the air remained full of resentment and suspicion. Hermione resisted the temptation to clutch at a portion of Snape's frock coat for reassurance.
Only then did she realise she had tucked her arm into the crook of Snape's.
"Uh. Sorry," she gabbled, leaving her arm where it was and holding on tight. "It's just... I hate this place," she whispered. "I always feel as if they resent us." She gestured to the Goblins scowling down at them.
"They do. They loathe withdrawals even more. Which reminds me, you'll need some Muggle money for your shopping. Let me know how much and I'll check the exchange rate at the Bureau de Change before we go down to my vault."
"What about all the other vaults - Professor Lupin's, mine and - Oh, I suppose his isn't..." Hermione trailed off into silence under the influence of Snape's repressive stare.
"Quite so," he said in a quelling tone. "By your own admission, your vault is empty, that of our canine friend is frozen by the Ministry and I have no intention of going inside Lupin's when he isn't present."
"If I may be allowed to finish?" said Snape irritably.
Hermione glared at him but didn't release his arm.
"I'll simply place IOUs in my vault until they can be redeemed," continued Snape.
"Wouldn't it have been easier to say you're going to be bankrolling all of us?"
"Certainly. Imagine Black's delight."
"But I thought you hated him."
"Oh, I do. But I save it for things that matter. It's only money, Miss Granger. Hold it in too much reverence and you might find yourself being offered a job at Gringotts. Si possis recte, si non, quocumque, modo rem."
Busy filing away this new side to Snape, Hermione nodded vaguely while her mind worked overtime. Anyone with such a lofty disdain for money had obviously never known what it was to be without it.
As they headed down the hall there was something of a commotion before they were surrounded by obsequious Goblin helpers, bowing in a manner she found highly embarrassing. From the way Snape's jaw tightened she had the impression he wasn't enjoying it much either.
"Miss Granger, Griphook, head clerk of Gringotts. Griphook, Miss Granger. A word, if you will."
Detaching himself from Hermione, Snape moved away a couple of paces, bent his head and had a fast, muttered conversation. Griphook looked furious. Snape shrugged, checked the exchange rate between Galleons and Muggle pounds and turned back to Hermione with an odd expression.
"All that, just to buy underwear?" he said incredulously. She obviously had hidden depths. Or some physical deformity which was not immediately apparent.
"That coming from a man whose clothes and boots are handmade," Hermione retorted, disconcerted by his dark-eyed appraisal of her person. She had never been so completely assessed - and approved of - as a woman before. Her mouth dry, her palms damp and her nipples springing erect, she didn't know whether to be affronted or flattered. She was certainly nervous and acutely aware of the intense masculinity housing that acute mind and sharp, sarcastic tongue.
Snape looked puzzled. "How else would they be produced?"
"Oh," said Hermione, taken aback. "I never thought of that. It's different in my - I don't even know which is my world," she burst out. "Here I feel... I'm a Mudblood when I come in here."
"Racism from the founder of S.P.E.W.? Only those of full Goblin blood actually work within the bank itself. And you, like so many of our pupils, are of both worlds. Although if you could concentrate on this one for now we might actually get something done. This way." Returning to her side, Snape waited until she tucked her arm in his before encouraging her to continue down the crowded hall to a door at the far end. Griphook slouched along in front of them, radiating disapproval.
Realising where they were heading, Hermione stopped.
"Couldn't I stay here?" she pleaded. "Only those carts give me motion sickness."
"No. Vomit anywhere you like, except over me," added Snape, displaying his usual amount of concern. He steered her out of the hall and into a narrow stone passage which sloped at an alarming angle.
"Follow Griphook," he murmured. "I'm right behind you."
"And this will reassure me because...?" Afraid he might misunderstand her feeble attempt at humour, she swung back to him.
He turned her forward again and gave a little push between her shoulder blades.
Their boot heels echoed in the silence, torch light casting ghastly shadows on the uneven stone walls. The path levelled out only when they reached the narrow rail track.
Once Snape sat beside her in the small cart Hermione closed her eyes. As the cart shot off at a dizzying speed her hair came unbound to stream out in Maenad locks, her stomach threatening to disown her. She clutched at the first available support.
The blood supply in his arm in danger of being cut off and most of Hermione's hair in his face Snape resigned himself to an uncomfortable journey. To his relief her nausea didn't find physical expression.
Dizzy and disoriented, Hermione staggered as they left the cart. She flexed the hand cramped from its death-grip on Snape as she looked up. The vault must have been used by the Snape family for some years judging from the exquisite metalwork decorating the vast door. Predictably, there was a large and very beautiful serpent coiled around what she presumed was the tree of knowledge. The conceit of the one apple, waiting to be plucked, made her smile wryly.
It was a moment more before she saw the ornate script curving around the crest: Cor tuum si te decipiet, asendere noli.
How very Snape, she thought, then jumped as the supercilious serpent raised its head, its tongue flicking out as it seemed to stare straight at her.
"Miss Granger?" said Snape, seemingly blessed with the ability to see in three different directions at once.
"It's nothing. Just... That snake looked at me." Expecting derision at best, she was pleasantly surprised.
"Yes, I haven't found a way to stop it doing that," said Snape pensively, stepping aside so Griphook could open the door.
"The smoke from my vault is blue," said Hermione as clouds of green and silver smoke billowed out past them.
Snape looked pained. "Do try and concentrate on essentials. In you come."
Hermione stayed where she was. "You want me to go inside your vault?"
"I want you where I can see you," he corrected her, sounding more irritable by the minute.
"But Gringotts is the safest - "
"You may recall the break-in during your first year at Hogwarts."
"But I'm not nearly as valuable as the - " Remembering Griphook's presence, she ground to a halt, uncertain whether the Philosopher's Stone could be spoken of in public, even now.
Snape turned in the doorway to glance back at her. "Humility from a Gryffindor. The world must be coming to an end. The quicker you do as you're told, the quicker we can get out of here."
"Griphook doesn't look very happy at the idea of me seeing inside your vault," noted Hermione, staying where she was.
"What I choose to do in my vault is my business." Arrogance falling away, Snape went back to looking irritable again. "Will you get a move on! I swear you're more trouble than twenty first years."
If there was any justice Hermione's glare would have reduced Snape to a pile of greasy ash. Then she moved around the door, saw inside his vault and blinked. It was huge and almost full of stack upon stack of Galleons and chests overflowing with rich coloured gemstones, making it obvious that Snape could not be reliant on his teaching salary from Hogwarts. As displays of wealth went it was impressive. Hermione was more interested in trying to read the faded titles on the small pile of books on top of an open casket of what she took to be diamonds.
Following her line of vision, Snape swept past her and virtually pounced on the books, ignoring the column of Galleons he had knocked to the ground.
"I thought I'd lost these. And Radiccio Levant's Treatise... Never mind." A Reducing Charm later the books were safely stowed away in one of his pockets. "Excellent." He turned to leave the vault, crunching over the fallen Galleons.
"Um, Professor. Won't we need some of these?" asked Hermione, charmed by this display of single-mindedness.
Snape's expression soured. "If only you were amusing as you believe. Stop smirking and fill these up." Handing her two small leather sacks, he kept two more for himself.
About to ask how much she should take Hermione watched him stuff handfuls of Galleons into the sacks until they were full and followed his example.
The trolley back never seemed so bad, probably because escape from the bank was in sight. After a brief pause at the Bureau de Change to change some Galleons into pounds they were back out in the bustle and heat of Diagon Alley.
Hermione took a deep lungful of the smelly air.
"That's better," she said, releasing Snape's arm. "It would be quicker if we split up."
"What a good idea," said Snape with suspect affability. "Or you could just hold up a placard announcing your presence and see what comes crawling out of the woodwork."
"A simple no would have sufficed," Hermione pointed out.
Glancing down at her, Snape grinned despite himself. "Not with you," he said with conviction. "Necessities first."
Hermione had never had much cause to spend long in the apothecary's before, let alone go into the dimly-lit back room which was, if anything, even more cluttered than the store. While the appalling smell was gone she couldn't shake off the feeling that she was being watched but the only eyes belonged to some long-dead creatures and were floating in a colourless liquid.
Disdaining the offer of refreshments without consulting Hermione, Snape wasted no time in placing his order and agreeing on a delivery date for the school supplies.
"Miss Granger, put that Manticore skin down before you cut yourself on its - Too late. Try to staunch the bleeding or we might find Mrs Comfit selling your blood to someone." Snape's voice was so bland and silky that it was a moment before Hermione recognised the steel behind it. Taking out his wand, he made no pretence of hiding the fact he was removing all traces of Hermione's blood from the hidden spines on the Manticore skin.
"Professor Snape, as if I would," Mrs Comfit crooned, in an oily, sleepy kind of voice. "Let me tend to the little dear."
"I'm quite capable of seeing to the cut myself, thank you," Hermione said. Without being conscious of it she moved even closer to Snape when it occurred to her that she wasn't sure what Mrs Comfit was.
Pausing only to confirm delivery of the items for his personal use, Snape steered Hermione back out into the street without further ado. A few moments later he herded her through a narrow door.
Recognising her surroundings, Hermione grinned. She hadn't known Diagon Alley had a Witches' Toilet.
"Should you be in here?" she asked.
Snape ignored the facetious comment to peer at her gashed palm. "That's a deep cut. You say you can see to it. Poppy's allowing you to - ?"
"Not exactly," hedged Hermione. "But I know the theory and I'd far rather test it on myself than on someone else."
"Spoken like a true Gryffindor. I suppose I could try to stop the bleeding," said Snape, taking out his wand. The doubt in his voice hardly inspired confidence.
"No need. See, it's virtually stopped already," said Hermione with relief.
"Thank you for your faith in me - though you're probably right to be cautious," he admitted, looking as irritated as only a wizard accustomed to excelling could when faced with his own limitations. Tucking away his wand, he was fishing in an inside pocket as he spoke. "Sit on that chair and hold out your hand." Crouching down beside her, he took the stopper from a small vial. "This might sting a little," he warned, before he used the tiny pipette to apply one drop of the purple liquid to the wound.
"A little!" Hermione gasped, tears springing to her eyes.
"Better a small smart now." Snape examined the gash without touching it, although Hermione had the strangest feeling he was sniffing the wound. "I thought so. Mrs Comfit does love to have her fun." He produced another small vial from an inner pocket. "Keep still. This won't hurt. I promise," he added, glancing up at her through his ridiculously thick eyelashes.
"What was wrong?" asked Hermione, watching as he applied three drops of a clear liquid that smelt of nothing more than lemon balm.
"Nothing, except she must have treated that Manticore skin with a preparation of her own. A minute amount of that potion got in that cut of yours. Rather than repelling Charms, the Manticore skin - and you - would attract them like a powerful magnet. If we had time I'd go back and collect a sample. I think I know the potion she must have used but... No, leave your hand like that for a moment more. A small Cheering Charm will confirm whether I've dealt with the problem.
"No desire to beam at everyone you meet?" Snape asked a moment later.
"Excellent. Then we can get on. Do you need new robes?"
To Snape's relief Hermione proved an efficient shopper. She knew what she wanted and had no interest in browsing so the rest of their shopping in Diagon Alley was almost a pleasure. They spent longest in Flourish and Blotts, Snape heading for the antiquarian section as soon as the school books had been purchased. Ignoring the familiar lure of the books, Hermione found herself watching his unguarded face instead - although her gaze slipped downwards a couple of times when he bent to select volumes from the lower shelves.
Snape's concentration was total and it was only when one of Hermione's pointed coughs penetrated his abstraction that he appreciated how long they had been in the shop - and how many books he had acquired. Noticing Hermione's wistful gaze on them, he sighed.
"Yes, you may borrow them. Do not pass them around your classmates."
Hermione raised her eyebrows.
"That was a foolish thing to say," Snape conceded. "The likelihood of any of them voluntarily picking up a book.... Except perhaps Malfoy. And you'll hardly be lending him anything."
"Not in this lifetime," she agreed.
Snape let that pass. "Is there anything else you require in Diagon Alley?"
"You're being very..." Hermione suddenly thought the better of what she had been about to say.
"Quite so," he said, undeceived but the glint of amusement was back in his eyes.
"London here we come," she said, trying to inject a note of enthusiasm into her voice. Once she had bought a few clothes there would be no excuse for further delay and thanks to the time turner plenty of time to go through with the visit to her parents' house.
A hit, a very palpable hit
- Hamlet: Shakespeare
Si possis recte, si non, quocumque modo rem - If possible honesty, if not, somehow make money.
- Ars Poetica: Horace
Cor tuum si te decipiet, asendere noli
If thy heart fail thee, climb not at all.
- Elizabeth I
My grateful thanks to Susanna for translating this into Latin for me.
The idea of being able to reduce items was inspired by Disney's 'Sword in the Stone' (I didn't
say I was proud of it