Chapter 9: Corday Blankenship
The squeezing blackness of Apparition ended with a pop and . . . a slight sense of familiarity.
Snape had waited almost a full minute before following the girl, to ensure that she did not hear his arrival. Now he had to find her. He was in an alleyway that looked wizard-built, which was probably why his surroundings seemed familiar. Still Disillusioned, he followed the narrow slit between the buildings and the only possible route the girl could have taken.
As he approached the intersection of the alleyway and what appeared to be a larger street, his sense of familiarity blossomed into full recognition. She had Apparated to Hogsmeade. Snape made his way to the end of the alley. Hogsmeade was the closest town to Hogwarts and Hogwarts meant Dumbledore. Was that where she was headed?
Looking to his left, toward where the turrets of the school could be seen above the buildings and trees of the town, he scanned the folk strolling about the street. He could not see anyone matching her description heading in that direction. Then he scanned right and caught glimpse of the girl just as she entered a shop about three buildings down. He hurried after her.
There were only a few shops left on this street before the town petered out into an unpopulated country road – almost as far from Hogwarts as one could get. Why Apparate here? Could she be meeting a contact? Would that even be possible? He had conclusive evidence that she had traveled into the past. He was also reasonably certain that her time-travel had been accidental – or at least she had not known what was happening to her when it occurred. If she knew precisely where someone was going to be in the past, could she intercept them? But how likely was that?
As Snape approached, he saw that the store was a greengrocer. The shop's double doors stood open to the public and many witches and wizards entered and exited. He stood back and waited a few moments so that he could slip inside without bumping into anyone. Quickly spotting her by a table piled high with oranges, he cozied up to a bit of wall that offered him a comprehensive view of the store as well as being out of the path of most shoppers. She selected three oranges and plopped them into a grocer sack she must have snagged as she had entered.
He watched her intently as she moved about the aisles and among the tables picking up a cabbage here and a few peppers there. At no time did it appear that she was looking for anyone in particular, though she did smile at an elderly witch when they both reached for the same head of lettuce. Then she moved quickly to the back of the shop – where the potatoes were kept.
Of all natural foodstuffs, the potato was the easiest to magically duplicate and transform into any other edible. They could be turned into vegetables, fruits, meats, grains - anything that a witch or wizard could imagine. Plus, they kept well. Hence, the wizarding world supported a thriving market in potatoes. Hermione scooped up what looked like a twenty-pound sack of the tubers and then headed for the checkout.
That was it. No clandestine meeting with someone she knew in the future. No contact with lurking spies who would run off with information to Voldemort or Dumbledore. Unless she had slipped the elderly witch a secret note near the lettuce section – doubtful – there was no treachery here. Snape headed for the exit, waited for her to finish and then followed her back out into the street.
Hermione went down some other alley behind an adjacent building and Disapparated from Hogsmeade. When Snape used his wand to see where she had gone, the familiar layout and furnishings of his kitchen met his mind's eye. Relief flooded through him and he leaned his back against the alley wall and let his head bump against the hard bricks behind him.
Snape just realized now, for the first time, how wound up he had been since he had found the witch in Knockturn Alley. He could tone down the paranoia a notch – at least with Hermione Granger.
"Corday, this is Severus Snape. Severus, Corday Blankenship," Augustus Rookwood sat down at a creaky table as Snape shook Blankenship's hand. The two men joined Rookwood, taking seats on either side of him. They had decided to meet at the Leaky Cauldron for an early lunch and discuss the possibility of contracting with Snape for a potions job. The whole idea had been Snape's, but Rookwood had presented it to Blankenship as his own. That was part of Snape's plan as well.
All three of them looked up as Tom approached their table. All three of them ordered the special of the day, just as everyone else always did. Snape wondered why Tom ever bothered to ask.
"Augustus tells me you might need a specialized preservation potion," Snape began, addressing Blankenship.
"I need to know your qualifications before we discuss any specifics," Blankenship said.
"Top potions student when I graduated Hogwarts," Snape replied. "Horace Slughorn can vouch for that."
"Slughorn is a Slytherin," Blankenship countered.
"As am I," Snape said softly. Blankenship's jaw tightened and he threw Rookwood a nasty look. Augustus held up a hand.
"I've checked around, Corday – he's one of the best potion masters out there and not just for rote formulation. He designs original potions as well as making significant improvements on existing ones. He already has two contracts with the Ministry of Magic and several with Hogwarts. Even Albus Dumbledore gives his seal of approval."
"I don't require specifics about what you are doing," Snape interjected nonchalantly – Blankenship need not be alerted to how much Snape wanted this to work. "Just specifics about what you want the potion to do."
Blankenship looked conflicted. He obviously needed the type of assistance Snape could provide, as Snape suspected and had counted on, but he was having trouble with his being Slytherin, as so many people did. That pernicious prejudice is what gave Lord Voldemort his following.
"I have some very fragile parchments that need to be conserved. They contain writing that might be valuable at some point – we're not sure yet – and that writing needs to remain undisturbed, or improved, by the preservation process."
"Was the parchment made before 1750?" Snape queried.
"What does that matter?" Blankenship shot back.
"After 1750 parchment was made with different potions as coatings to increase longevity and better retain the ink used on them," Snape explained simply. "Not taking that into account might destroy what you are attempting to save."
Blankenship did not reply, but sat there in an almost churlish silence.
"I can see you do not wish to engage my services," Snape said and stood to leave. "I'll not waste any more of your time, or mine. I have plenty of work to attend to as it is." He turned to Rookwood and offered his hand. "Augustus, thank you for considering me for your project. If I come across any potioneers that might be suitable for this job, I'll pass their information on to you. At this juncture, I know of none. Good day." He nodded cordially to Blankenship, whose face looked like it was wrestling with resignation.
He approached the bar and Tom, filling a mug with butterbeer for another customer, glanced at him.
"Make mine to go, Tom," Snape said and dipped into a pocket for payment. He felt a hand on his shoulder. "Changed his mind?" Snape asked of Rookwood and turned to face him.
"That he has – just as you predicted," Rookwood confirmed in a low voice. Snape shook his head, set his jaw and glared at the man in front of him – he wanted Blankenship to think he was now rejecting the proposition.
"Now do your best to convince me to return, Augustus," Snape said, in an even lower voice, encouraging the man to maintain the farce.
"We actually do need your help, Severus," Rookwood said and Snape looked up at him in surprise. "This could be a very important discovery and I really did look into your background. Slughorn told me you were the most innovative potion maker he has ever encountered."
Normally, Snape would have been pleased with this praise. Now, he grappled with the suspicion that Rookwood had been playing him; that the Unspeakable had pretended to be interested in joining the Dark Lord so that he could manipulate Snape into assisting with this project. Either Snape was succumbing to extreme paranoia, again, or he was exercising appropriate caution. How to tell the difference?
"And the information garnered might assist the Dark Lord as well," Rookwood's voice was nearly a whisper. Did Rookwood sense his hesitation? That would not do. He would have to watch him closely for signs of double-dealing. Now genuinely hesitant to return to negotiations with Corday Blankenship, Snape slowly headed back to the table but stood solemnly behind the chair he had previously occupied.
"You don't need to know about the project we are working on?"
"No. I only need to know the parameters pertaining to the actual parchments."
As Blankenship considered, Tom came with their meals. Snape's food was in a sack, which he exchanged for a few coins, determined not to stay any longer than needed.
"Okay, then," Blankenship finally conceded. "Bring us your preservation potion and if is effective, we will purchase it from you."
"I'm afraid that's not how it works. Would you donate three to four weeks of your time to the Ministry of Magic and not expect to draw a salary during that period? You do not want a standard potion that can be brewed in a day or two. This is a new formulation that will require research, experimentation - quite a bit of labor. And one for which demand will likely be low. I'm in this for the money - it's my livelihood. I will need a weekly stipend until I can design the appropriate formulation. Fortunately for you, I am very good at what I do and it shouldn't take too long."
By emphasizing a reason that Snape wanted the job – money – and insisting on payment, he hoped to deflect Blankenship from imagining another reason he might want to be involved with the project. It worked.
"Done," Blankenship said, consenting with consternation.
"Do you have a scrap or two of the parchment in question that I could experiment on? That would be ideal and the safest procedure."
"Unfortunately, we have quite a few scraps. That is why we will be forced to hire you."
Snape conjured a small piece of new parchment and a self-inking quill. He quickly scratched out some information and handed it to Blankenship.
"Twenty galleons a week to be deposited into that account at Gringotts. Send the parchment samples to the listed address. I have an apprentice now, so someone will be available to receive your parcel."
Blankenship's nod was curt.
"Before or after 1750?" Snape asked again.
"Before," Blankenship said flatly.
"Enjoy your lunch, gentlemen. It is a pleasure doing business with you," Snape said, turned and strode out of the Leaky Cauldron.
Hermione placed the parchment upon which Severus had scratched out the ingredients and instructions for Pepper-Up Potion on the workbench in the potions lab. The handwriting was a peculiar combination between the tiny, cramped lettering in the Advanced Potions textbook belonging to the Half-blood Prince and what she recognized as her Professor Snape's familiar spidery writing on his chalkboard during Potions class. No wonder she, Harry and Ron had never made the connection between the two. She paused a moment and considered whether she should mention this to Severus. No. Some things in the future just had to work themselves out on their own.
Watching him across the workbench, she studied his features: the pale skin, black hair and eyes and the furrowed concentration as he listed, on parchment, possible ingredients for his new project. He had used a strip of leather to tie his hair back and seeing the ponytail for the first time had made her realize that she had never seen her Professor Snape brew a single potion.
Hermione began assembling the ingredients on her list and the equipment to carry out the instructions. Something seemed off. She had seen recipes for Pepper-Up before and this version had a lower dose of black pepper. Substantially lower.
"Hm?" He didn't look up from his parchment.
"Isn't black pepper the active ingredient for Pepper-Up?"
"There doesn't seem to be enough in this recipe."
"Ah. And do you think we are making it too far ahead of the cold and flu season?"
"Now that you mention it, we probably are."
"That's why," he replied. Oh, she just loved it when he went cryptic on her.
"Elucidate, please," she requested.
It took a fancy word, but that made him look up.
"The potion is more efficacious and there are fewer side effects if it ages several months before use. If you need some in a pinch, the maturing process can be replaced with an increased amount of pepper. The recipe you saw likely came from a lazy potion maker who preferred to dispense with that vital step altogether." He went back to his list.
She glanced at his youthful face and shook her head. Was he born knowing all this? Such a fierce and exacting intelligence he had.
"I see you procured a new wardrobe," he continued.
"Yes. Madam Malkin's shop is still arranged exactly like it is now so it was easy to find the type and size I wear."
"Apparently, there were no problems with Fortescue?"
"He seemed a bit put out that I delivered the potion instead of you, but otherwise, none," she replied. "Oh, here's what's left of his payment." She reached into a pocket, pulled out the sack the ice cream maker had given her and laid it at the end of the workbench – out of both of their ways.
Severus had looked up from his work when she mentioned the galleons and now seemed to be studying her.
"Oh – I also stopped and bought some food. I think I used the last of what was left making breakfast this morning," she added. He gave her a half a smirk and seemed to relax somehow.
"Thank you for your thoughtfulness," he said and seemed pleased that she had taken the initiative to restock their larder.
Hermione began prepping her ingredients – grinding the precise amount of pepper, mincing an ashwinder egg with a silver knife, and crushing billywig stings, to start. She set up her cauldron and nudged a low fire under it with her wand. Adding a silent Aguamenti spell, she filled the vessel with warm water and sprinkled each ingredient across the surface, waiting 10 seconds between additions. As it simmered, she went to the shelves on the long side of the room and procured a bottle of salamander blood. Pulling a set of scales from under the workbench, she tared a watch glass and then added weights preparatory to precisely measuring that stickiest of ingredients. She removed the stopper.
"You didn't calibrate your scale," Severus interrupted.
"You did it Monday morning, as always," she replied, glancing over at him. "And so it should still be accurate." Then she grinned at him. "At least that's what I've been told."
Although his lips were pursed and his jaw set, there was merriment in his eyes.
"You have learned well," he said.
"Your teaching was quite thorough," she returned and bent over the scale, ready to decant the salamander blood onto the watch glass.
She startled so badly she almost dropped the bottle. The nervous, churning reaction she always had when the Hogwarts Potion Master so sharply upbraided his students returned full force and she jerked her attention toward that voice.
But the expected angry glare of consternation that she expected to see was not there. Instead, Severus' face wore an expression of mock horror.
"P-Professor?" In her apprehension, she reverted to a Hogwarts schoolgirl, first year.
"I am quite certain I would never have allowed that," he protested and leaned across the workbench toward her. With long fingers, he gently took the lock of hair that had escaped her tie and pushed it back from her cheek. Pressing the errant strand behind her ear, she felt a tingle as he must have cast a charm to keep it in place – or was it just his touch that evoked such a response from her? His intense concentration on this simple task hinted at other than potion-brewing protocol.
Her eyes caught his as he removed his hand and she watched them as they scanned her face and returned to her own, black meeting brown. There would be no way he could miss the rosy glow she felt blooming on her cheeks. Breathe, Hermione, she told herself and did so. It came out as a sigh. The glow heated up and she looked down, disconcerted.
"There," he stated matter-of-factly. "You may proceed."
"Hm? Oh – oh, yes," she said quickly and picked up the bottle of salamander blood she could not recall having set down.
As she slowly tipped the bottle and the contents slid onto the waiting watch glass, her hands were shaking, but for a different reason now. Somehow, she was careful enough to pour a sufficient amount of blood to put the scale in balance without spilling it onto the pan itself. She slipped the watch glass into the fledgling potion, watching as it fluttered to the bottom, dispersing the blood throughout.
Her rattled nerves settled as she made 12 clockwise stirs and then fished the watch glass out of the cauldron. Between quick glances at Severus – who was again completely preoccupied with his own project – and watching for her potion to turn magenta, she wondered how this man had turned into bitter, old Professor Snape. What would happen to him that wiped out all laughter and good humor from his countenance? Was it spying on the Death Eaters for Dumbledore? Was it joining with Voldemort's cause in the first place? She pondered this over the next hour as she finished her first batch of Pepper-Up.
After cleaning up and starting a second batch, another glance across the workbench showed Severus rolling his quill between his fingers. Since his furious scribbling had subsided, she decided to hazard interrupting him.
"So you almost sorted Ravenclaw?"
"Yes. It wasn't quite a hatstall, but the old bonnet seriously contemplated that house for a while."
"But you wanted Slytherin, didn't you?"
"It was the house that I had dreamt of for as long as I could remember," he said. "I'd found my mother's copy of Hogwarts: A History in the attic and learned about the different houses. Slytherin appealed to me the most."
"But why?" she asked. "They hate and persecute Muggle-borns and I suspect they scorn half-bloods as well."
"I was accepted completely," Severus said. "And I knew several Muggle-borns sorted to Slytherin and none of them had problems."
The way in which he related that comment reminded Hermione of what he had said about Slytherin this morning – that they were more like a family than a gang. Had Severus Snape needed a family?
He tilted his head slightly, studied her thoughtfully and then added. "My best friend was Muggle-born."
"Was?" she asked. "He's no longer your friend?"
"My friend was sorted Gryffindor. That eventually drove us apart."
"Because he was Gryffindor or because you were Slytherin?" she asked pointedly. When several moments went by without an answer, Hermione added, "Or because you became a Death Eater?"
"We parted ways in fifth year. I didn't join the Dark Lord until after I graduated."
Since he seemed amenable to the direction this conversation was headed, Hermione decided to push it a bit.
"It didn't bother you that . . . the Dark Lord . . . was evil?"
"He teaches that there is no good or evil only . . ."
". . . power and those too weak to seek it," she finished for him and then added softly, "What if a loved one is too weak to seek power? Or is not interested in that kind of competition? Do they deserve to be enslaved or murdered by your Dark Lord? How will you feel when that loved one becomes threatened by such teachings?"
Her words seemed to have no effect on him; he stood there looking at her as though he could not comprehend her meaning. A sudden flash of insight overwhelmed Hermione and realization set her thoughts afire. Severus had no loved ones. The closest thing he had to family was his fellow Slytherins, most of whom supported Voldemort. To leave the Death Eaters, he would have to betray everyone he cared about. And yet, she knew this man was going to do precisely that. She attempted to swallow the lump forming in her throat. Since he would be able to read those sentiments in her eyes, she bent her head to check her potion. After a few more moments of silence, he spoke.
"The Dark Lord watches out for his own. He has begun with protecting and benefiting Slytherins, for which I am quite grateful," he said and glanced about the lab. "Eventually, when the rest of the wizarding world gets behind him, we will make ourselves known to Muggles and they will be integrated into our society, rather than us having to hide from theirs. Everyone will benefit."
"Right now he seems to be benevolently leading the Slytherins to a better life," Hermione said, "but eventually the true meaning of his teachings will become clear when he starts destroying everything around him in his selfish pursuit of power. He doesn't care about anyone, Severus."
"This is what's happening in your time?"
"For the most part, yes," she said. "And as I have mentioned, you decide to help Dumbledore stop him," she added quietly, hopefully. He studied her for a few moments and then returned to his task.
Somewhat dejected, Hermione resumed her work as well. She was able to brew three more batches of Pepper-Up as evening crept up on them and then Severus called a halt to the day's work. He moved the new bottles of potion into a storage cabinet at the back of the lab as she finished cleaning up the workbench, stowing the scales and the cauldron and returning ingredients to their proper shelves. He made a quick dinner, pasties, and they ate just as quickly at the tiny table in the kitchen, in silence.
"What do you have planned for tomorrow, Severus?" she asked when the pasties were gone.
"Sunday is a day of rest," he said.
"I had no idea you were the religious type."
"I'm religiously devoted to a complete day of study, research or just good old-fashioned reading. I usually end up spending the entire day in my library."
"Well then, I best get a good night's rest so that I can more fully enjoy a very pleasant tomorrow." She took her plate, preparing to stand, but he interrupted.
"One last thing," he said and leaned across the table. His fingers found the spot where he had charmed the lock of her hair back from her face. Another tingle and it swung free. "It's more effective if I remove my own charm."
So much for a good night's sleep, she thought.
Author's Note: I usually have a difficult time conjuring up names for my characters, but Corday Blankenship was the easiest one I've ever constructed. I came across the name Corday while doing genealogical research and Blankenship just popped into my head for some reason. So the title of this chapter is simply a tribute to the fact that one invented name, finally, was an effortless task. Well, that and the fact that Corday's eventual fate advances the plot, so remember that name!