A/N: This particular story is the result of a collaboration between two Snape enthusiasts: KeeperoftheNine and emdramaqueen. We have been writing it now for about seven months, and have finally gotten around to posting it! We hope you enjoy reading it as much as we love writing it. Should there be any mistakes, it is entirely our fault.
Disclaimer: J.K. Rowling owns absolutely everything, except for Isolde and of course a little bookstore in the back alley of Hogsmeade. They belong to us, we use them to lure the Potions Master.
Chapter One – An Odd Place to Meet
A furious wind whipped the tiny township of Hogsmeade, shrieking through alleyways, rattling windows and carrying a most unwelcome tumult of blinding snow. One or two people could be observed ducking from building to building in an attempt to go about their daily business, but most chose to curl up in their favourite pub or cafe, escaping the sharp talons of winter.
Isolde was well aware that her decision to boycott the toasty warmth of The Three Broomsticks, and subsequently the company of her friends, was an antisocial one. The seventh-year Slytherin could not help that she found welcome solace within the embrace of Zuranders second hand book shop. Few students knew of the place, but Isolde had been fortunate enough to stumble across it in her fourth year. Its dusty shelves enticed her, every one brimming with an eclectic mix of titles. Her favourite shelf contained shameless bodice rippers, with titles like Love Slave to the Warlock and In the Vampire's Bed. The contents of the tiny shop also attracted a number of interesting clientele and it was one of these individuals in particular that truly drew Isolde into the depths of its obscurity.
It was Snape who had led her there in the first place, in fact. Unbeknown to him, Isolde had followed his billowing dark robes to its doorstep and watched him survey its dusty shelves from the chilly observation point of a side window. She still remembered how ragged her breath had been after trying to keep up with his heavy tread in the snow, and the way her own breath, smearing the ice-cold window pane with wantonness, had obscured her already restricted view of her professor.
The shop – every murky inch of it – had been a natural enticement to Isolde. But what increased its pull tenfold was him. Her professor.Just the way his onyx eyes scanned the shelves, the way his silent strides through the aisles pronounced his authority, made Isolde bite her lip with exhilaration. She could not imagine a more fitting backdrop for the guarded figure she had known for years, and yet learnt very little of. Still, she felt a somewhat girlish sense of privilege that she alone had glimpsed him in his element – this haven to which he always ventured.
She had never dared to go inside - not when he was in there. No. Isolde would wait in the wintry confines of the side passage, taking mental notes of every detail, every footfall, every finger as it grazed a moth-eaten spine.
It was only once he had gathered his cloak and left that she would ever allow herself access to his retreat. There she would trace his steps, running her fingers over the same books in the hope that they might still hold a vestige of his warmth. At times, she even imagined a hint of his scent still lingered in the air long after his departure. Peppermint and sandalwood was an intoxicating combination and Severus Snape was an enigma wrapped in a dark, brooding and delicious shell - a mystery she longed to solve.
On this particularly bitter day, Isolde did not have the luxury of extended observation. It was not the weather that drove her away from her usual watching post, but rather the promise of her latest order. Through the murky glass of the shop doors, she could see the small package sitting on the edge of the counter, deceptively innocent in its skin of brown paper.
Instinctively, she allowed her eyes to wash over the landscape. The snow under her feet was pristine, tainted only by her own footfalls. The shop itself was empty, but for the ancient gangly wizard behind the counter, his flat nose buried in a dusty tome.
Snape was not there. She was safe.
A blanket of warmth engulfed her upon entering, exorcising the bitter fingers of cold from her shivering figure. The tinkling of the door bell caused the aged wizard to peer up from his book, but as was his custom, he did not utter a word. Their transaction was equally as silent, his only acknowledgement a curt nod as she handed over her coins.
Excitement coursed through her veins, imbibing her with a sense of recklessness only a new bodice ripper could bring. Slowly, tantalisingly, she removed the brown wrapping, her cheeks turning scarlet as her periwinkle gaze fell upon the title: The Potions Master's Mistress by Gabrielle Mercer.
It was shameless, it was horrific and yet it was another small delight that this hidden treasure, this Aladdin's cave of book shops, could provide.
Her eyes still transfixed on her sordid purchase, Isolde shuffled absentmindedly away from the dark wooden counter, allowing a squat, wrinkled witch to place her items on its surface, pulling the shop owner once more from his book. Though a low-pitched, guttural exchange ensued, Isolde could not draw herself away from the moving image on the front cover: a tall, dark-cloaked figure with his back facing her, fumes of concealed potions rising above his broad shoulders. The movement was so subtle that it could have been blamed on the dim lighting, but as Isolde narrowed her eyes, she indeed saw the clouds of vapour swirl nonchalantly around the black, bowed figure. Each curl of mist looked so authentic that, for one brief deceptive moment, she almost felt the heat of the steam on her fingertips as she caressed the hardback cover repeatedly.
She smiled. If she did not know any better, she would have thought the illustrated figure was a portrait of –
"Has it arrived yet, Brinkley?"
The familiar baritone jolted her fixations.
Isolde had been so immersed in the hauntingly real image that she had not heard the door bell's morbid tinkle; had not felt the soft winter air tease her ankles as the door opened; had not noticed that her very own Potions Master had crossed the threshold and was now standing just inside the shop's entrance. Out of the corner of her eye, his black boots stood resolutely on the thread-bare mat.
"I'm afraid not, Professor Snape," the shop owner twittered apologetically. "It's a very rare edition, you know, hasn't been in publication for decades..." he trailed off.
His feeble fingers tapped the surface of the counter and Isolde could feel her heartbeat match the same harried rhythm as she wrestled for a solution to her predicament.
Her back was partially turned towards the counter – perhaps he wouldn't recognise her within their cluttered and dim surroundings?
She wasn't afraid of being caught in the shop; it certainly had not been mentioned on the list of forbidden ones for students. In fact, it hadn't been mentioned at all. No – her only concern was the unquestionably distasteful book in her grasp. Merlin, she could feel her fingertips slide effortlessly across its surface, leaving fleeting imprints of sweat on the cover.
Remaining as stationary as possible, her back still turned, she began to gradually slip the book beneath her robes.
It was only once the three hundred and ninety-four pages of shameless smut were pressed against her heart, snug in the inner pocket of her sable robes, that Isolde's heartbeat returned to a healthy tremor. This was perhaps fortunate, for the silence of the shop was soon broken by the even click of his austere boots against polished floor boards. Soon his long, pale fingers were resting on the counter, his wool-clad arm just millimetres from her shoulder. The masculine scent filled her nostrils, bewitching her mind and ensnaring her senses to such a degree that her mind could barely function. She was furious with herself, incensed that he had such an effect on her. She was a Slytherin, for Merlin's sake! Such behaviour was indicative of a bumbling Hufflepuff fourth year.
"Can you give me an estimation on how long it will take, Brinkley?"
Brinkley appeared as flustered as Isolde, though clearly for a very different reason. Snape kept his voice low; he usually did, but every syllable was wrought with meaning, every inflection demanded the sole attention of the recipient. The man oozed authority, and a mere word from his tongue could damage more than the Cruciatus curse. Sometimes Isolde wondered if his voice should be made as unforgiveable as this curse, for at the sound of it, she felt all sanity leave her mind.
Once again she scolded herself for falling under his spell, for discarding her self-worth and pride.
"I'm sorry Professor Snape, sir," Brinkley squeaked, sweat beading on his aged forehead. "It could be anything from a week to a month."
Isolde, though diverting her gaze from Snape the entire time, could almost imagine a thin, black eyebrow shooting up his forehead.
"I hope for your sake it is the former, Brinkley."
With a sharp turn of his heel, Snape uttered a curt, "Good day, Miss Hamilton", before swooping from the shop, onyx robes billowing in his wake.
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