For the Potions Master's Amusement
Chapter 1: The Humiliation of Miss Hermione Granger
The basement kitchen at Grimmauld Place was dark in the way only a windowless, underground room in the dark of night can be: absolutely. The silence was total, as well, save for her own breathing, but Hermione scarcely counted that. It might be quiet now, but she was sure she had heard a sound—that it had woken her from her sleep—and she had come downstairs to investigate. The boys were at the Burrow, the Order were out and about their business, and on this night only Hermione and Arabella Figg occupied the Black house, its rooms chilly even in August. Tomorrow, Hermione would journey on to Ottery St Catchpole; tomorrow, Arabella Figg would return to Little Whinging. But for tonight, they were two women alone in the great old house, and Hermione was quite sure she had heard a noise in the cellar.
Standing in the doorway, Hermione held her breath and listened. It might be nothing more than Crookshanks chasing a mouse or Kreacher lurking beneath his dresser in the boiler room—but Hermione did not care to leave it to chance. The war was on, this summer after her sixth year at school; Lord Voldemort's Death Eaters were abroad, even in daylight, wreaking havoc—they would certainly not hesitate to invade the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix if they could manage it.
But she heard nothing, save the pounding of her heart in her ears.
She slipped her fingers up her sleeve, meaning to draw her wand and light the gas lamp—but she was suddenly and inexplicably pressed to the wall. The unmistakeable tip of a wand thrust roughly beneath her chin, forcing her head back, even as a large body trapped her against the wall and a gloved hand covered her mouth. Instinctively, Hermione raised her knee sharply, seeking to disable her captor, and she continued to scrabble for her wand.
'Fuck,' an angry voice grated, and the body twisted against her, a sharp hip slamming against her, knocking her head against the wall as a brutal grip about her wrist foiled her attempts to reach her wand. 'Be still!'
Her head hurt; she knew she would have a goose egg beneath her hair. Still, she parted her lips and bit the palm of the hand over her mouth as hard as she could.
'Bloody fucking hell!' the voice swore, and her wand was ripped from her sleeve. She heard it strike the wall across the room as she was pushed to the floor on her face with a heavy body straddling her.
Hermione bucked against the weight, trying desperately to dislodge her attacker. Suddenly, light flooded the kitchen, and she blinked against the unexpected illumination.
'Granger! I might have known!'
The weight was then gone from her back, and Hermione launched herself up and away, desperately looking about for her wand.
'Are you looking for this?'
She turned wildly, ready to fight, to bite and claw, if necessary—but it was only Professor Snape, her Potions teacher, standing beyond her reach, his wand held at his side, pointing at the floor, whilst her own vine wood wand dangled from the fingertips of his other hand.
'P-professor!' she gasped.
'Take it, stupid girl!' he spat at her, and Hermione scurried forward to retrieve her wand from him.
'But sir—what are you doing here?' she asked. Snape wasn't supposed to be in town—she had heard Mundungus Fletcher whisper as much to Mrs Figg the night before. He was spending the summer with …
Snape tucked his wand away and peeled the glove from his injured hand, revealing the clear indentation of her teeth marks across the palm of his hand.
'Oh, sir!' she cried, grasping the injured hand to look it over more carefully. 'I'm so sorry, but you ought not to have been skulking about in the dark!'
Snape snatched his hand from her with a hiss, whether of pain or disgust she could not tell. 'Go to your room!' he snapped at her, turning away and moving to the counter, snatching open the door of the cupboard above it.
'If you're looking for first aid supplies, they aren't kept there anymore,' she said. 'I rearranged in here.'
'I suppose you also rearranged the location of the fucking gas lamp,' he snarled, slamming the cupboard door closed and wrenching open the one next to it.
'Yes, I did move it,' she admitted. 'Of course, I had no way of knowing you would be back from Volde—'
He spun where he stood, his face twisted into a mad, nearly inhuman mask of fury and hatred. 'Shut up!' he thundered at her. 'Do not speak his name!'
The injured hand was no longer nursed to his chest but now clutched his left forearm, where Hermione knew the Dark Mark was burnt into his flesh. Dimly, she wondered if it hurt him when someone spoke Voldemort's name aloud. Disregarding his peremptory commands, she walked past him to the dresser, and opening the bottom drawer, she withdrew a box of first aid supplies.
'If you will sit, sir, I will clean your wound,' she said, moving to the kitchen table and placing the box upon it.
'If you will get the hell out, I will attend to it myself,' he replied without looking at her.
Hermione watched him, standing across from her with his face averted, his attention on his bitten hand. His greasy black hair hung about his face, obscuring it. He wore a black travelling cloak, still fastened over his clothing, and she could see his customary black trousers over his black boots. He looked as if he had come a long way.
'Please, sir,' she coaxed, as she might with one of her recalcitrant male friends. 'Let me help you.'
His black eyes were then upon her, burning with dislike and disdain, and she quailed, stepping back from him as if struck. 'You have helped me quite enough for one day, idiot girl!' he hissed. 'Get out! Don't I have to put up with you enough during term time? I ought not to be troubled with you now! Out!'
Hermione swallowed her fear, watching as he staggered over and collapsed into one of the chairs. He seemed truly unwell—he ought to permit her to …
He jerked the box toward him, ignoring her as if she were not present in the room. He murmured a cleansing spell over the bite, then withdrew a bottle of the essence of dittany, spelling the cork from the bottle. She approached slowing and quietly, as if attempting not to frighten a tiger in the wild. His face was bent over his arm, and she saw the concentration he focussed on the task, as he looked when marking essays at his desk in the dungeon Potions classroom. She had covertly watched him at it more than once, wondering what she would have to do to earn his approval …
She froze, and he looked up from his task, his empty black eyes boring into hers.
'Granger, get out. I neither need nor desire your assistance, much less your company.' He spoke the last word as if it were meant as an affront.
'You needn't be insulting!' she cried indignantly. 'I only want to help!'
'Yet I have repeatedly spurned your offers of help, have I not?' he inquired softly, menacingly, turning his eyes from her dismissively.
'But I …' she began, only to have him cut across her yet again.
'Using your pure-white hands to administer first aid to the injury you gave me will not increase my regard for you,' he said cuttingly. 'I am not impressed with you, stupid girl, and I am never likely to change.' He completed the application and dittany and began to bind the hand with white gauze. 'Go. Away.'
He was distraught—he must be hungry and tired—he couldn't possibly really mean what he was saying to her. She took another step towards him. 'I could fix something for you to eat,' she said in her coaxing tone. 'I could make sure the bed in your room is made up …'
With a non-verbal spell, he sent the box of first aid supplies floating to the dresser, where the drawer opened to receive them, then closed gently and finally.
'Do you know what your problem is, Granger?' he inquired, removing a flask from the pocket of his cloak and taking a long pull from its contents. 'Your problem is that you think you know better than me, even as I am explicitly telling you what I want for you to do.'
Hermione stopped within an arm's reach of him, her brow furrowed in thought. 'You're implying that I don't listen to you!' she accused.
'It's not an implication,' he replied. 'You don't listen to anyone. Only Hermione Granger knows what is best to do in any situation, big or small.' He sneered at her. 'Arrogant, headstrong, and foolhardy—the symbol of your House, as it were.' And he tipped the flask to his lips, the spirits he consumed burning her eyes with the strength of their vapours.
'No one—no teacher—has ever said that about me!' she objected hotly.
His thin, cruel lips curved into an unpleasant smile. 'None of your other teachers see you for what you really are,' he said silkily. 'Mundane, pedestrian—nothing but a memorising, word-spouting popinjay with no real talent and less character.' His voice dropped even further, and his insolent eyes raked her from head to toe. 'I see you, Granger. You'll never fool me.'
Instinctively, Hermione crossed her arms over her chest, suddenly mindful of her nightdress and her loosely belted dressing gown. His bark of laughter startled her, and when he stood from the table, she fell back a step.
'Don't flatter yourself,' he sneered. 'As little as I am interested in your so-called intellectual powers, Granger, even less am I impressed by your non-existent feminine wiles.'
She burned beneath the scourge of his brutal disdain. 'I'm not without talent!' she cried, near tears.
His merciless black gaze burned through her. 'Would you like to have the opportunity to prove it?' he asked dangerously.
Hermione swallowed, feeling her heart fluttering in her chest like a hummingbird at an orchid. What would he ask her to do? Solve a logic puzzle, like the one he had written to protect the Philosopher's Stone? Recite a one of the Laws of Magic? Brew a complex potion?
He crossed his arms over his chest as he waited for her response, and she noted the breadth of his shoulders over his slim hips, his lithe grace proclaimed by his very posture. He had looked her over with a sneer on his face, but she was a young woman, and he was a … a man. Perhaps he would ask some other sort of proof altogether …
'Well?' he demanded. 'It's not as if you could succeed at what I will ask.'
She took an impetuous step towards him. 'I can! I will!'
He stepped forward and his thin, pitiless fingers dug into her shoulders. 'Then do not move,' he said. 'Stand here, in exactly this attitude, until I tell you to move. Show that you are capable of understanding and following instructions.'
She opened her lips to object. Stand in the cold, dark kitchen all night? In her nightdress? What did that have to do with proving her talents?
'And do it silently,' he added, as if tightening a noose about her neck.
Hermione slowly closed her mouth, looking up into his thin, sallow face, wondering how it had come about that she had left her warm, welcoming bed to creep down into the basement in the dead of night and be challenged by the most provoking man she knew to remain here all night. His fingers were unkind as they dug into the flesh of her shoulders; his hair was oily, stringy, and unclean as it hung about his disagreeable face; and his crooked, yellow teeth were horrid to this daughter of dentists, even as he bared them at her. Why in the world would she care what he thought?
'Blink once for "yes",' he told her, his Firewhisky scented breath hot on her face.
And she did.
He extinguished the gas lamp before striding out without another glance as her, and she could hear his repeated snorts of laughter until he climbed so far up into the house that distance alone hid his amusement from her. She stood where he had left her, determination holding her rigidly in place. Why hadn't she thought to visit the loo before coming down here? Well, she wouldn't think about needing a pee. Going to the bathroom would invalidate her response to his challenge, and she was determined not to do that. This was her chance to impress him—to prove something to him—and she would take that opportunity and use it. Every teacher she had ever had, magical or Muggle, had praised Hermione Granger for her work, her attitude, and her acumen. Who was Severus Snape to deny her what was her due?
He doesn't think it's your due, the critic in her mind pointed out. He thinks you're nothing but a sycophant and a memoriser of facts, with no true understanding of application—he thinks you're mundane and pedestrian.
Mundane! That was the epithet Professor Trelawney had used for her. She would prove him wrong!
Her bladder ached.
She would prove him wrong, no matter what it took.
Standing where he had left her, with one foot slightly in front of the other, she began to recite in her mind the twelve uses of dragon blood.
She held out for three hours before her bladder would hold no more, and she cringed with shame and mortification as the hot, acrid liquid first trickled, then flowed down her legs, wetting her clothing, soaking her socks, and creating a puddle upon the kitchen floor.
She was dozing on her feet when he swept into the kitchen the next morning, freshly showered and shaved, his still damp hair combed straight back from his forehead. She fluttered to awareness, desperate to turn away from him in her humiliation but equally desperate to stand her ground until he spoke words of approval.
'Oh my,' he said, staring at the spot she had occupied for the last interminable hours, seeming to relish the puddle of urine there. 'I didn't think you would actually do it, Miss Granger—did you honestly think I cared whether or not you stood here all night?' He sneered at her. 'You had best go wash, hadn't you? I've been in public loos that smelt better.'
And without another word he swept out of the room and out of the house, leaving her standing in her degradation and rage. It was not until she heard the front door slam behind him that she moved from the spot, her feet squelching disgustingly in her urine-soaked socks with every step she took.