Snape was right when he said it took a long time to fill the bath. At first Hermione thought a bucket of cold water for every two kettles of hot water would do but by the second bucket of water her bath was practically cold so she started again.
It was better, she figured eventually, to keep re-filling the kettle and also to use some of the newly cleaned saucepans to boil the water and only to add a bucket of cold water occasionally. The end result was gorgeously hot, especially after afternoon hike. It was quite a trek to the next habituated village and by the time they'd reached it she understood why Snape did not often go shopping anymore. Her legs hurt on their return but even as they thanked her for sinking into the hot, tin bath she heard someone's footsteps echo down the corridor from the sitting room.
"Hermione" Draco's voice echoed from the corridor "you forgot some things"
Hermione rolled her eyes.
"I'm sure I can do without them Malfoy"
"Not without a towel you can't"
Bother. He was right. She also forgot to bring fresh clothes with her, though sleeping in fresh clothes seemed a little pointless.
"Malfoy, do you think you could bring me down the nightie I had last night as well?"
"Yeah, alright" Draco's footsteps echoed down the corridor again until he reached approximately the end of the staircase where he met Snape
"I washed that nightdress this morning Draco; it's in the bedroom up two flights of stairs, second door to the right."
Hermione settled back in the bath, soaking in the heat. Carefully and a little gingerly she peeled off her eye patch and let her head sink underwater. Outside the sky was quite dark and the moon was three-quarters visible. It would be time to add Lupin's hair soon. She realised that she hadn't actually been in Snape's potion dungeon yet despite remaining here to "learn" the potion…
All of a sudden something hit the window, a bat or something. Hermione looked up to see not a bat but a man smirking in at her. She tried to scream but the noise strangled in her throat. The man leered vulgarly and Hermione finally managed to choke out a screech. She then screamed really, really loudly.
Chaos ensued. Snape burst in the kitchen door, closely followed by Draco but the man disappeared before Snape could reach the back door to open it.
"Lucius" he breathed.
Hermione was badly shaken. Once Draco realised that the moment had passed and that Hermione was wearing nothing in the bath he handed her the towel and turned so that she could get out of the bath to cover herself.
Telling herself to cop on Hermione stood and wrapped the proffered towel around her while she stepped into the horrible nightdress. Then she draped the towel over her shoulders and snapped back on her eye-patch before turning to face the men.
"What happened, Miss Granger?" Snape asked. Her mental shields were still firmly in place which was quite surprising after a shock like that.
"I don't know. I heard a noise and then suddenly a man appeared. I didn't recognise his face, well I did but I don't recall… and then I couldn't scream, then I did scream and then you both came in and he vanished."
"Do you think it was my father, Professor Snape?"
"Without a doubt"
Draco looked very troubled and said to Hermione "I don't think either of us should sleep in the sitting room tonight; it has a weak latch"
Snape strode over to the window and peered out.
"He will not return tonight. Besides, I made up two beds in Narcissa's room while you were out walking. I would have set both of you up in separate guest rooms but it's a raw night and I thought it would be better to share a room already warm. Miss Granger, I have some sleeping draught bottled in my dungeon, would you care to take some?"
Hermione nodded slowly, knowing it would be hard to sleep if she didn't. Snape moved out of the kitchen, leaving an awkward silence in his wake.
"Were you frightened?" Draco asked after a few moments.
"Yes" Hermione said and the silence resumed for a long while
"Would you like some tea?" Draco joked eventually
"You know Malfoy" Hermione said "I'd love a cup of-"
"In a large cup…" Malfoy finished with a smirk not unlike his father's.
As Draco filled the kettle and made quiet kettle-like whistling sounds (to encourage it to boil) Hermione felt she ought to be doing something. So she hunted out the bag of oats from a cupboard, poured some into a saucepan of milk and put the mix in the fridge.
"I'll make porridge in the morning," she said. "It's the only thing I can actually cook from scratch; I used to make it for myself. Neither of my parents were early risers…"
Snape came back into the kitchen. "It took a while to find it" he said with a sniff as he handed Hermione a blue, slightly blobby potion. It was a far sight from the brilliant azure water he used to brew in Hogwarts.
"It may be stronger than usual-" he added "-the contents have been allowed to ferment longer, giving it a gloopy appearance. I'd recommend a spoonful washed down with tea. Is that Classic Blend you're brewing Draco? I'll have some if it is, if not I won't bother."
Draco made a pot and carried it to the table. He poured out three cups and retrieved biscuits from the cup cupboard. Hermione pulled a cup near to her and cautiously uncorked the sleeping draught. It frothed up rather like a bottle of coke does. When she went to pour some it stuck heavily to the glass of the bottle before some oozed out. The spoon filled slowly and a drop eased over the edge where it hung, defying gravity and looking for all the world like a large, blue lump of snot. Hermione ignored the part of her brain telling her not to risk it and used her teeth to scrape the gunk into her mouth before swallowing hesitantly.
She began to cough as the gloop caught in her throat. Snape promptly leaned her head back and effectively poured down her throat. Hermione shuddered, gulped and fell backwards off the bench fast asleep. Luckily, for her, Snape's arm was behind her shoulder and he was able to ease her fall to the floor. It wasn't so lucky for Snape; he dragged his arm from under her back and looked up.
"Draco-" he said "-carry Miss Granger upstairs would you. She's a dead weight"
At least, Draco thought, Snape was not asking him to bury her in the back garden – for a brief moment he'd thought they might have to. They staggered upstairs carrying her and settled her into a bed. Draco said he'd hit the sack for the night as well. Snape nodded and closed the door on his way out.
Draco's shirt was half way over his head when Narcissa spoke;
"You were right Dobby, he wasn't angry"
Draco spun on his heel but his mother was still asleep. She must have been sleep-talking he supposed. Yet several minutes later, as he climbed between his sheets, she spoke again
"Never killed him, no-no, the rat did. The rat killed him. Bit his neck it did. Not you at all. Hah! Harry, killed by a rat."
Narcissa laughed mirthlessly, still asleep and then moaned
"Come back Lucius, I need to tell you something…"
She rolled over and muttered something into her pillow and then relaxed back into dreamless sleep as if nothing had happened.
In the morning Hermione woke fairly early feeling refreshed. She sprung from her bed and tiptoed over to the door, careful not to wake Draco or his mother who were still sound asleep. Snape sat fast asleep at the foot of the stairs so Hermione moved quietly towards the kitchen. Beside Snape lay the sleeping draught she had taken some of the previous evening. Presumably Snape and Draco had carried her upstairs and then Snape had come downstairs and fallen asleep in an armchair from the sitting room.
Hermione went into the kitchen and put the porridge on to heat slowly as it needed to be left cooking for at least a couple of hours. As she dropped the pot onto the stove a gentle tapping sounded at the window. A small speckled-brown owl scraped the pane with its talon. She recognised it immediately. Hermione looked around the kitchen, checked that Snape was still asleep in the corridor and then let the owl in. It lifted its leg to allow her take the unmarked letter and flew off swiftly, as it always did.
The letter read:
This note is charmed to self-destruct in 35 seconds. You may or may not know that Lucius Malfoy was sighted in England on Monday. We need to discuss the new circumstances. Please go where the river flows underground, I'll wait all day if necessary.
Hermione hastily dropped the note into the sink where several seconds later it burned without producing flame. She washed its ash down the sink and glanced up at the clock. Twenty past seven. Outside dawn had barely broken and it seemed hardly likely that anybody would wake for an hour if not more. Hermione crept down to the sitting room and dressed quickly in fresh clothes. She also tied up her unruly hair and stuck her wand in her pocket, despite having not carried it for many months now. Then, with as little noise as possible, she left through the servants' entrance at the back of the house and walked swiftly over broken ground towards the riverbank.
It was the rich smell of porridge that woke Snape sometime later, or perhaps it was the slight click of a door opening and closing. He sat for a while, sniffing the air as he woke properly and then rubbed his temples carefully feeling his greasy hair as he did so. He needed to wash it really; perhaps he'd use some of that Kangaroo-hoof stuff Hermione left by the bath last night.
His neck hurt and he deeply regretted not owning slippers as his feet were freezing. Actually, he hadn't intended to sleep in the chair but he'd half expected Lucius to return. Snape prised his chilled legs from the chair and made his way down to the kitchen.
Hermione stirred the porridge. "Morning Severus," she said when she heard him come in. "Would you like some porridge?"
Snape didn't answer; he was too busy staring at the cat which lay stretched across Hermione's feet.
"Do you like him?" Hermione asked. "He was sleeping on the windowsill this morning"
Snape gave the cat a venomous look.
"Six days ago I brought that cat to the vet to have it put down. It was prowling around like a bad smell."
Hermione waited for more, which Snape shortly supplied.
"I dislike cats…immensely."
He sat down by the table until the cat got to its feet and prowled over to him. He then hastily stood up again.
"I shall wake Malfoy and see if he wants any porridge. After breakfast Miss Granger we shall add some of Lupin's hair to the potion and then I have some pruning to do in the greenhouse."
As it happened, there was no need for Snape to wake Draco because his mother had already done so.
"Get up" she'd hissed two minutes previously "Get up you lazy sod"
"Mother?" Draco sat up and threw his legs over the side of the bed, dragging a weary hand over his face and noticing that he needed to shave.
"Draco, give me a hand out of this infernal bed then fetch my clothes" Narcissa snapped.
Swiftly Draco stood and helped Narcissa get out of the bed
"Pass me that hairbrush" she said and Draco obliged. He hadn't noticed a dressing table in the room before but now that he saw it he noticed its intricately carved roses and snakes patterns.
"Stop dawdling Draco, fetch my clothes"
Draco hurried from the room. As he rounded the corner he ran full force into Snape.
"She's better Snape, she's walking around and wants her clothes"
"Really?" Snape seemed a little thrown. He brushed past Draco and swept into the bedroom, as always closing the door behind him. Draco considered going back in but shook his head, better to find his mother's clothes and then go back.
Snape studied the back of the woman's head as she brushed three nights' worth of knots out of her hair. In fact, there weren't many knots; it looked unusually sleek and not like it hadn't been brushed for ages.
She looked up and stared at Snape in the dressing table mirror.
Snape frowned and then spoke,
"You seem much better today" he observed.
Narcissa's lip curled in derision
"Very astute Severus, very astute of you indeed"
Something about her curling lip struck Snape as being… off, somehow. She finished with the brush and laid it down on the table before focussing her entire attention on Snape's reflection in the mirror. There was a wicked gleam in her eye as though she was playing a joke on an old friend. Their eyes locked in a relentless stare until, almost in-perceivably, hers flickered over the wardrobe. Snape was suddenly struck with a suspicion.
In two swift movements he had locked the bedroom door; in another two he had wrenched the wardrobe doors open.
An exact duplicate of Narcissa Malfoy lay lifelessly in the otherwise empty wardrobe. She wasn't wearing her nightdress (how could she be when the other Narcissa was wearing it) but a long cloak, boots and other articles of clothing were thrown in on top of her. Snape checked her pulse, it was still there, slow and rhythmic but that was because she was sleeping deeply.
He turned to the Narcissa by the mirror.
"You were meant to go to the village for the night." Snape snarled accusingly "That was our agreement, why did you renege on it?"
"Why Severus, I had no intention on going back to the village. Why should I? My choice was either to sleep in a mouldy shack with all kinds of insect life crawling over me or to come back here and sleep in a decent bed."
Narcissa, or more accurately the person masquerading as Narcissa, swivelled on the dressing-table chair to look Snape directly in the face.
"It was all very well pretending to be Lupin for a couple of hours while you went shopping but I had no intention of prowling around in werewolf skin for longer than absolutely necessary. So, when you were out shopping I came up with a simply marvellous arrangement of my own; a real stroke of genius. Almost worthy of the Dark Lord himself I think. Would you like me to share it with you?"
Just then Draco rattled the door-knob until he realised it was locked from the inside.
"Snape!" he yelled. "Open the door Snape!"
Snape closed over the wardrobe and moved to the door.
"We're not finished here" he said quietly over his shoulder before he unlocked the door.
Draco burst into the room and looked from Snape to what he thought was his mother.
"Are you all right Mother?"
"Put the clothes on the bed Draco and get out"
Draco's brow creased but he did as he was told. Once Snape was sure the boy was gone he closed and locked the door once more. "Narcissa" continued.
"You see, as Narcissa lay here in a superbly comfortable bed (which she was quite unable to appreciate) and as I was to spend the night in squalor yet again I thought I would – how shall I say this – make the most of the facilities I suppose. In my Lupin-skin I planned to come upstairs, take a few hairs from Narcissa, leave the house when you came back and hide out in the greenhouse until night fell. Then I would steal back into the house – as Narcissa – come back upstairs, lock the bedroom door and sleep in a comfortable bed for the night. As my true self obviously."
"Your true self is a rat Lucius" Snape said but Lucius Malfoy continued as though he hadn't heard anything.
"Of course, when I came upstairs I didn't expect to find Narcissa awake and lucid. We had a small chat and then I found a bottle of sleeping draught in your dungeon with which to put her sleep again."
That, thought Snape, would explain why I found it up here last night.
"Nevertheless, my plan was undaunted. I'd still sleep here in the dark. In the morning I'd disguise myself as Narcissa and leave somehow, I hadn't quite got that part sorted in my head when you suddenly came back from the shops. Anyway, it was an arduous plan, and not guaranteed to work but you gave me such an easier time of it:
"Come back tonight," you said. "Give Mud-blood Granger a scare when she's in the bath, I want to know what she's up to." Tell me Snape, what is she up to?"
Snape grimaced "I don't know yet" he said.
"Really?" Narcissa's features twisted into Lucius' cruel smile "How odd. I thought you'd be able to tell me why she left the house at half seven this morning and walked up the valley towards the old mine shaft …"
He waited for Snape to pass comment but Snape remained impassive
"Oh well, I was just after scaring the mud-blood wasn't I? So, as all of you panicked in the kitchen I came in through the sitting room window – you need to get that fixed Severus old chap, quite unsafe – and I ran upstairs. It gave me quite a turn to see the extra beds in here. I'll admit it fairly messed up my plan. I ended up sleeping in the wardrobe which was both uncouth and uncomfortable.
"Then this morning Miss Granger woke me as she left, I took some more of that Polyjuice you gave me and switched places with my wife. So, here I am, and nothing to it. Except, of course, that we'll have to hide Narcissa somewhere and keep her sedated until I can make a break for it."
Snape's next words were long-suffering, "Why, Lucius, didn't you just go back to the village when you realised that you wouldn't be able to sleep in a bed?"
Narcissa's comely mouth smirked patronisingly
"Because, Severus, the village is swarming with ministry officials and has been since shortly after I arrived on Tuesday."
Lucius let this sink in, enjoying the almost comical effect it had on Snape
"You thought Lupin genuinely needed potion? No chance. Tonks was trying to get into your house. You disabled the ministry's last spy and Tonks was to be the replacement from what I gathered. They didn't expect to find Draco and Narcissa here although both had been reported missing some hours previously. Tonks disappearated to inform the ministry of her find and within two hours they had a fully functioning stake-out in the house next door to mine. It was rather amusing to listen to as they seemed to think I'd turn up."
"Which you did," Snape pointed out scathingly. "Before you cut in I was about to say I thought you arrived on Wednesday. Why didn't you tell me about the ministry being here when you first arrived up Wednesday evening?"
Lucius did not like Snape's tone of voice.
"Less of the scowling Severus, I've told you now haven't I. And now you can see why you have to help me get out, preferably with a lot of money, to start a new life."
"No, why would I do anything as absurdly dangerous as that?"
Narcissa's eyes glittered maliciously.
"Because, Severus, you're a marked man. They've broken your little potions racket. From what I heard it's only a matter of time before they throw you into Azkaban. But their waiting for me to turn up first so, listen carefully, I have another plan…"