Chapter 5

The leisurely weekend passed quickly for Hermione. She accomplished a lot of reading as well as extracurricular potions work, preparing for research with Professor Snape. Every time she thought of the educational benefit of working with the older wizard, she got a small flutter in her stomach with excitement.

Monday night Hermione ate her dinner swiftly, barely taking the time to chew her grilled chicken and rice. Immediately following dinner she ran upstairs to the Gryffindor Tower to gather her books and her note taking book for her meeting with Snape. Once her rucksack was full with the necessary supplies, Hermione smoothed her robes, took a deep breath and then made her way back down to the dungeons.

Severus had his laboratory prepared for the wolfsbane base just in time for the timid knock. The bench was clean, the platinum cauldron was set above a burner with the striker nearby, and his notes were situated between the two stools so they could both read them. Satisfied with the appearance of the room, Severus went and opened the door.

"Good evening, Miss Granger," he greeted her, his face stern. "Do come in."

Hermione bowed her head and stepped inside the room. She followed him into the lab and seated herself at the stool furthest from the door. Opening her rucksack, she took out her research notes and a quill with an ink well.

"Tonight I am merely brewing the base, Miss Granger. You may take diligent notes on the procedure, paying attention to the details. If you do not understand something you are expected to ask," Severus instructed. As Hermione opened her mouth to say something he added, "This will not be like my classes, Miss Granger. You will find all of your questions answered, and no House Points will be taken nor received. In addition, I will require a foot long essay after each extracurricular brewing session we engage in noting your observations."

Hermione nodded. "Yes sir," she responded quickly.

With a curt nod Severus turned his attention to the cauldron. He began chopping dittany roots with his practiced ease while Hermione scribbled furiously on her note page. The silence between them was comfortable, and Hermione had a little smile situated on her face as she wrote.

Little was said between the pair throughout the brewing. Severus added the final ingredient, stirred exactly six times counterclockwise followed by three clockwise stirs. The brew was set to simmer for twenty four hours on a low burner setting. Content with his work, Severus turned in his stool and looked at Miss Granger, who was finishing off her notes, of which she had taken five pages full of details and meticulously mapped steps.

"Before I read your notes, Miss Granger," Severus drawled softly. "Do you have any questions regarding procedure or ingredient properties or functions?"

Hermione completed the last sentence and looked up to meet obsidian eyes scrutinizing her. "No, sir," she responded. "I believe I have an understanding of the ingredients, and the procedure is now clear."

"Excellent," Severus smirked. "Then you will allow me to take your notes and analyze them tonight, so that I may point out your errors tomorrow when we re-convene to finish the base and contain it. I do hope they exceed my expectations, Miss Granger."

Glancing down at her notes with slight apprehension, Hermione nodded and swallowed. "Absolutely, Professor," she handed her book over to him, leaving it open to the first page of notes on the Wolfsbane base.

Severus' smirk grew more pronounced when he noted her nerves. He knew she needed a challenge, and he would certainly endeavor to provide one. He took her book which was covered in her loopy handwriting.

"Return the lab to its original state of cleanliness, and then you may go, Miss Granger. I will provide you with an evaluation of your notes tonight tomorrow, and expect your foot long essay tomorrow during Seventh Year Potions." Without waiting for her response, Severus strode from the lab, leaving Hermione nodding in his wake. While she cleaned, he prepared tea and started a fire.

Sitting on his chair, he examined her notes carefully, making his own corrections where applicable. Overall her work satisfied him; most of her assumptions regarding ingredient usage were correct, and the procedural details had been noted. Her work needed a more professional tone, and a new vocabulary base, but he knew that would come with practice and time. He had finished with her notes and his first mug of tea before Hermione emerged from the lab.

When Hermione did finally open the door, she watched as he placed he mug down. Wondering if she would ever get used to his lithe motions, she infinitesimally shook her head. As she walked by his chair, he looked up and locked eyes with her. As always, his face was void of expression. She could feel her own face forming a mask of scrutiny while she peripherally noted details about his posture, appearance, and the state of the room.

"Would you like some tea, Miss Granger?" Severus asked, barely opening his mouth. He wasn't sure why he asked; his brain made the instantaneous decision to keep her there longer without consciousness. His eyebrows twitched as he gauged her reaction.

"Tea sounds delightful, sir," Hermione said breathlessly.

Keeping his eyes on her, Severus retrieved the kettle and fixed a second mug of tea for himself, and one for her. He handed her the mug and made a duplicate chair for her facing his. They both sat down and looked at each other, sipping the tea.

"According to the Headmistress' schedule, we are on patrol together on Wednesday." Severus said matter-of-factly. "Afterwards, would you care to join me to indulge in a spot of tea and biscuits?"

Hermione looked at the greasy haired professor as if he was a massive three headed dog. He's asking me to tea and biscuits for seemingly no reason? She thought, this bizarre behavior must be the result of inhaling too many diverse potions fumes in a day. Trying to recover from her dazed state, and end her internal monologue, she nodded slowly.

"That sounds agreeable, sir," she said slowly, further articulating her dumbfounded confusion to him.

Apparently, there is a way to shut that mouth of hers, Severus thought, you merely have to shock her. He laughed in his head, and watched her face. Nodding, he gave her the slightest of smiles and sipped his tea.

"On that night, then, we shall begin to map out a long-term research plan," he reverted to his professorial tone. "Are you planning on staying here for the term breaks?"

Originally she wasn't going to, but Hermione knew her time would be better spent at Hogwarts over Christmas than the Burrow. Harry and Ron would just have to understand her drive to create her future.

"I will, sir," she said brightly. A chill of excitement ran down her spine at the thought of potioneering with Snape over the holidays. Perhaps his personality will be more agreeable over the holidays without the students present, she hoped.

"In that case," he started. "I have some reading material for you to begin studying which we will discuss in immense detail over weekends and holidays. It is imperative that you have a foundation of understanding well beyond NEWT level potions for the research we will conduct." Severus left his chair and began plucking volumes from his bookshelves. He effortlessly balanced all nine books in the crook of his elbow while he searched; making sure that was all of them. Nodding slightly to himself, he handed Hermione all nine texts, taking in her wide grin and wonder at the titles. "Please begin reading them tonight," he said, reseating himself. "Although I will not assign specific readings, I will ask you questions pertaining to them from time to time as we get closer to the break. Read them in the order from the top of that stack to bottom."

Hermione placed all nine books carefully in her rucksack, taking care to preserve the order. She was beyond gleeful having his books temporarily in her possession.

"Thank you, Professor. I will start reading tonight," she said with overzealous excitement.

Severus inclined his head, mentally giving himself a pat on the back for making her happy. "It is late," he said, ever-so-slightly reluctantly. "You should return to your dormitory if you plan on starting tonight."

Hermione nodded, a small frown settling on her face. "You're right," she replied. "Thank you again, sir, for the books and for the tea. I find spending time with you is enjoyable, Professor." Oh, great. Now he's going to think I'm a stalker, she mentally chastised herself for such a bold comment.

Severus laughed lightly, just loud enough for her to hear. "Our time has been a worthwhile investment, Miss Granger," he said. He watched as she erected herself from the chair and strode out of the room, looking back to give him a smile before closing the door.

Left alone in his quarters, Severus cleaned the sitting room, allowing his mind to wander. Enjoyable it has been, Miss Granger. I merely hope that you continue to find my presence bearable, for your intellect and sincerity intrigue me. Many cups of tea I foresee us sharing over discussions of potions, books, and infinitely many academically interesting topics.

Wednesday night could not come fast enough for Hermione. After receiving Snape's comments on her notes and storing the wolfsbane base her mind had not left the lab. She went through the motions of classes and meals, eagerly awaiting nine o'clock for her patrol. Neville had cornered her during breakfast, inquiring about the upcoming Hogsmeade weekend, and she very nearly brushed him off in her semi-conscious state. Finally, when nine o'clock did arrive, Hermione nearly sprinted to the fourth floor where there patrols always began. Seeing Professor Snape already situated by the Headmistress' hidden staircase she slowed to a mere walk to catch her breath.

Smiling widely, her heart fluttering with exertion and anticipation, Hermione joined Severus. He had shed his outer layer of robes, left in only his frock coat, white undershirt, and black trousers. His hair was greasy, but the skin of his face looked clean, as if he'd washed before coming up. His black eyes surveyed her appearance, taking in the details as she was.

"Good evening, Miss Granger," he said. "I trust the rest of your classes were productive today?" He began walking slowly down each corridor, keeping his ears open for any sounds out of the ordinary. Hermione followed, matching his pace and his diligence.

"Yes," she said. "Arithmancy and Potions were productive; Transfiguration was informative. Professor McGonagall lectured on the art of becoming an Animagus, a topic that I have always found fascinating." She found herself babbling, and looked over to see him watching her intently, listening to every word.

"Hm," he sorted his thoughts on the matter. "Animagi are dedicated individuals. Many try to enter their animalistic form; few succeed, and even fewer are able to return to their human form afterward. I understand that the transformation is easier when a person has a distinct reason for requiring an Animagus form and that animal is compatible with their personality."

Hermione nodded slowly in understanding. "Have you ever attempted the transformation, sir?"

"It was quite the fad in my time," he replied darkly, conjuring thoughts of the marauders. "But no, I have never endeavored to join the animal kingdom. My time was better spent by a cauldron."

They walked in silence; they walked so close together that Hermione could almost reach her small finger over to brush his. Their patrol was peaceful as they made their way to the seventh floor, not yet having seen a student out of bed.

"Sir," Hermione broke the silence as they neared the Fat Lady. "I've heard from Harry what James, Sirius, Pettigrew and Professor Lupin did to you, and I understand the animosity you feel. I'm sorry they treated you so poorly. You deserved a better childhood." She was whispering when she finished, still audible due to the silence of the halls.

Severus frowned. He disliked discussing his past as a principle. To talk about it with a student was unacceptable; a student so close to the bloodline that caused such pain was unthinkable. Yet, his vocal chords had other plans than his mind.

"What James Potter and posse did was unnecessarily immature and demeaning. They had it out for me immediately due to my compassion towards Lily Evans, which I am sure you know all about," Severus grimaced slightly when Hermione nodded. "When that Potter crafted the fa├žade that he was better than me he won Lily and continued his loathsome acts. I did and said some self-incriminating things as a result and now have no means of receiving forgiveness despite my lamentation. And so, a Death Eater was fabricated." His lips were pursed with disgust. He truly hated who he was then, and although his attitude towards others had yet to see detectable change, he knew he was a better person now. Time had allowed for evaluation of the past and planning for the future.

Hermione could see his emotions for the first time all over his face in the dim candle-lit corridor. Shame, anger, sadness, passion, and indifference each ran their course through his rant, and Hermione wanted nothing more than to see his emotions even closer. Staring into his stark black eyes she felt him welcome her into his mind.

"Snivellus, Snivellus," chanted a young Sirius Black. The devilishly good looking teenager taunted the meek black silhouette by the lake. "Aw, what's the matter Snivy? Potter got your girl?"

The younger Severus whipped his head around to face Black, his hatred radiating from every pore on his body. His face was contorted into a menacing glare, his wand raised.

Peter Pettigrew, Remus Lupin, and James Potter could be seen sauntering over to Black's side, ready to play with their favorite prey.

"Hey Prongs," Black started. "Snivellus thinks you're a bully." The young man smirked, egging Severus on. "He said he was too puny to take you on for Evans."

James leered at Severus, silently casting a body bind jinx rendering him unable to move. Stepping right up to his frozen body, James whispered to Severus. "Listen Snivellus, Lily doesn't like you. She is better than you in every way, and is much better suited to a man like me who compliments her talents. If you ever call her a mudblood again I will personally see to it that you're strung from a quidditch hoop and left there until somebody stumbles upon you." Righting himself, James re-joined his three compatriots.

"Come on guys," he said. "Let's leave Snivy here and catch some lunch before double Charms."

Severus watched the four nasty Gryffindors leave with the most powerful sense of pure loathing. Twenty minutes later he regained feeling in his limbs. A single tear left the corner of his eye as he trudged back to the castle.

"Sir," Hermione whispered in awe. She wanted to hug him and apologize for her House-mate's inexcusable actions and let him know he didn't have to worry about them anymore, but she knew that he would not receive her embrace well. Instead, she settled on watching his mask of emotionless indifference resituate itself on his face.

Severus shook his head, unwilling to accept what he perceived as her pity. "The past is the past Miss Granger," he said. "Although I am upset about their actions and my own there is nothing to be done now except to learn from experience." He quickened their pace as they began descending to the dungeons. "I believe our patrol has been successful. Have you commenced reading any of the texts I gave you on Monday?"

Author's Note: None of the characters are mine. I hope you enjoyed this chapter; I thoroughly enjoyed writing it. Wish me luck on my two exams this week! Thermodynamics and Differential Equations, fun fun!