Severus opened the door to his lab and ushered Hermione inside with a wave of his hand. "Caroline made good on her threat," he said, moving toward a small table. On the table was a tray that held a pitcher of pumpkin juice, two empty glasses and various fruits. He poured pumpkin juice into the glasses and offered one to her. She accepted it gratefully.
"Have you started already?" she asked looking toward what would be their work area.
"The cauldron is set up and I have prepared the ingredients we will need for the base," Severus replied. "I have also set out other ingredients that may prove useful. There are several books on the other table for our use." He paused and met her gaze. "Do you require anything else?"
Hermione blinked in momentary surprise. "Not at all Severus," she said politely. "This is perfectly fine. You are the expert here."
"Then let us begin," he said seriously. He set their notes on the table and began unrolling the parchment. "Bring the tray," he added, not raising his eyes. Hermione grinned and grabbed the fruit tray. She set it on the table and sat down next to Severus.
Draco had invited Harry and the Freemans back to his private quarters once training was finished. Andy arrived a short time later, glad to take a break from Arcanus. He had entered the sitting room looking distinctly ruffled and irritable. "Alright there?" Draco asked.
"Long day," Andy muttered. "It took half an hour just to throw the crazy naked guy out. Several people went overboard with the drinking. A couple of guys got into a fight and tried to have a wizards' dual. Once they remembered that they couldn't dual in the club they ended up sword fighting with their wands, resulting in one getting poked in the eye. They were both three sheets to the wind of course." He rolled his eyes. "The bouncers and I had to have a long chat. They let it go a bit too long for the sake of amusement and that's how people get hurt. At least the Streaker isn't really likely to cause harm to anyone."
"I don't know about that," Harry said, laughing. "Seeing his naughty bits flopping about could cause some psychological damage."
Andy chuckled. "True," he agreed. He accepted the glass of wine that Draco offered him and then went to sit down next to Jenna. "How was training?"
"Sweaty," Jenna replied, wrinkling her nose in distaste.
"I think it went well," Harry said, stretching his legs out in front of him and folding his arms over his chest. "Everyone worked really hard. I think it was a brilliant idea to train this way. And the girls dressed Hermione up," he added with a grin.
Andy raised his eyebrows in interest. "Really?" he said, eyeing the sisters.
"She wore a cute little outfit," Jenna said. "Like Caroline's. You know the one." She grinned and Andy's look of astonishment. "I fixed her hair up a bit."
"She looked amazing," Harry mused.
Andy smiled, not surprised. "How is that girl still single?" he asked.
"Good question," Draco commented. "I thought Granger and Weasley were together."
"They were," Harry said with a sigh. "That was a disaster. They fought like crazy. Ron still fancies her, but Hermione needs something more. I could never tell Ron this, but I think he sort of holds her back. Their personalities simply clash too much."
"I could have told you all that," Draco muttered. "That relationship was doomed right from the beginning."
"I just love your optimism Draco," Caroline said with a laugh. She stood up, yawning. "I'm exhausted. I'm gonna go get showered and head off to bed." Her sisters followed her lead, bidding everyone a good night.
Draco watched them leave with a thoughtful frown. He turned to look at Andy. "How do I win Caroline over?" he asked abruptly.
Andy blinked in surprise while Harry laughed. "You snogged her in the teacher's lounge," Harry chuckled. "I think you've won."
Draco shook his head. "I kissed her, but," he hesitated, not enjoying the feeling of vulnerability. "I want more than that. Not just to get into her knickers," he added, seeing Harry's smirk. "I want her to be mine, not just willing to let me snog her."
Andy pondered Draco for a moment. "Caroline's been through a lot," he said slowly. "It's not really my place to explain all that. But, I will say that I know Caroline well enough to tell you that if she allowed you to kiss her, then she is already receptive to you. She wouldn't toy with you. She's a little shy and very afraid of having her heart broken again. We just need something to push her over the edge," he said, his fingers drumming against the arm of the couch while he thought.
"I don't want to trick her into anything," Draco protested. "It doesn't mean much if it's not her own choice."
Andy regarded him thoughtfully. "I love Caroline," Andy said seriously. "I have been entrusted with her safety and well-being, and as far as I'm concerned, that extends to happiness. I would never do anything that would cause her pain." Suddenly he smiled. "I think I know what to do."
Draco leaned forward eagerly. Andy set his wine glass on the side table and then rested his forearms on his thighs, his eyes glittering with excitement. "You have to sing to her," Andy said dramatically.
Draco slumped a bit in disappointment. Harry rolled his eyes. "She's a siren," Harry said. "Why would she want to hear someone else sing?"
"Trust me," Andy said with a grin. "It's a way for you to share in her world. It'll show your acceptance of who and what she is. And it'll be sexy," he added. "There's a song that I play for the girls. They love when I sing it, and they can't resist joining in. I'll teach you."
Draco sighed. It sounded a bit ridiculous. But, surely Andy knew Caroline better than anyone else. "Let's do it," he said.
Harry laughed and said "This I've got to see."
Hermione smothered a yawn with her hand as she stared down into the cauldron. She looked into the cauldron and smiled in satisfaction. "It worked," she said. "The base is perfect. What's the next step?"
"Bed," Severus replied flatly. He took in her appearance with a frown. "You should have told me that you were tired."
"I didn't notice," Hermione said. At his disbelieving look she said "I was enjoying this. I got distracted with our work and it wasn't until we stopped that I suddenly felt so tired. But I don't want to slow you down."
"Destroying the potion by falling asleep while brewing would slow me down," Severus responded, rolling his eyes. He cast a stasis charm over the cauldron. They set about cleaning up their work area and collecting their notes. Once finished, Severus looked back at Hermione to see her wincing and rubbing her shoulders. "What is it?" he asked.
"Just a little sore," she murmured. "Everywhere," she added ruefully. With another shuddering yawn, she moved toward the door. Severus swiftly moved to the door and opened it for her.
"I will escort you back to your quarters," he said a bit stiffly. He offered her his arm, managing to mask his uncertainty. Strangely, when she accepted his arm, he felt both relieved and unsettled. He was glad that she didn't seem to think anything of taking his arm, but having her so close made him feel a bit uncomfortable.
Hermione was exhausted, but she was keenly aware of the strangeness of her current situation. Her left arm was entwined with the potion master's arm. She couldn't recall a time that she had been so close to him. However she could recall a time that even the thought of being in such close proximity to him made her stomach clench in fear. She chanced a glance at a face and blushed when their eyes met.
"What is it?" he asked her gruffly.
"Just thinking," she murmured in embarrassment. "You've changed so much. I suppose we all have over the years, but it's especially noticeable in you. I imagine it has something to do with not being your student. But, I think it's something else as well." She noticed that he looked very uncomfortable and she hurriedly went on. "I don't expect any kind of explanation from you. I'm merely saying that I've noted some changes. It allows me to appreciate you as a person rather than just a brilliant potion master."
They stopped in front of her door, their eyes avoiding contact. After a moment, Hermione forced herself to look at him. "I do really want to be your friend, Severus," she said quietly.
"Why?" he snapped. He cringed inwardly. Her statement had surprised him and as a result, he instinctively lashed out at her.
Hermione flinched slightly at his harsh tone, but didn't move. "Because we all need friends," she said gently. "We'll be working together on the potion and we'll be fighting vampires before long. We need to be able to trust and rely on each other." After a moment of hesitation she added "We weren't exactly on good terms while I was in school and I don't see any reason to dwell on that. I owe you my life many times over. Calling you my friend seems like too little."
Severus stood completely still for a moment. For once, he could think of nothing to say. Here was a woman that he had been so cruel to when she was young, offering friendship that didn't seem to be out of pity or a desire to manipulate. Part of him wanted to sneer at her and toss her "white flag" back into face. Severus did not like to feel vulnerable and Hermione had unknowingly left him feeling exposed. He cleared his throat and straightened his robes mechanically. Unwilling to respond directly to her previous statement, he reached into his robes and pulled out a vial. He handed it to her stiffly. "A healing salve," he said, not quite meeting her eyes. "Do not drink it," he warned her. "Rub the salve into the muscles. A little will go a long way, so use it sparingly. You could lose feeling in your limbs if you use too much."
"Thank you Severus," Hermione said, sounding relieved. "I'll be careful. Goodnight," she added, offering him a hesitant smile. She was pleased when he gave her a tiny nod before sweeping back down the hallway.
"Well, if the vampires don't kill us off, this school year might," Draco said, sitting down next to Severus. It was a Hogsmeade weekend for the students and the professors had been just as happy about it as the students. Draco had convinced Severus to go into the Three Broomsticks for a drink instead of the Hogshead. Caroline preferred the Three Broomsticks, so Draco could have a drink with Severus knowing that the beautiful siren was likely to show up before long.
Severus, of course, was aware of Draco's reason for insisting on entering the Three Broomsticks. However, Draco's reasons didn't make it anymore appealing for the surly potions master. "There are far too many students in here," he grumbled irritably. "Can you not simply ask Caroline to meet you at the Hogshead? It is not as if you are fooling anyone. I am sure she knows that you come here because you know she will be here." He smirked at the scowl Draco shot at him. He gestured to the round table they were sitting at. "Why else would you select such a large table?"
"She prefers this place," Draco said firmly. "I don't mind it, though I agree it would be better without all the students here." After a moment of hesitation he added "Potter and Granger will be coming with her." He was surprised when this information was met with a simple nod and nothing more. He had expected a lot of scowling and complaining. "Impressive," he muttered, smirking when Severus looked up curiously. "Caroline said that you and Granger were friends, but I didn't really believe her."
Severus rolled his eyes. "No need to be so ridiculous about it," he drawled, waving his hand dismissively. "We had a rather one-sided conversation. She said that she wanted us to be friends, and I simply did not reject her."
Draco laughed. "Well, I'm glad you're not going soft on me," he said, shaking his head. After a moment he went on. "I think it's a really good thing. You spend a lot of time alone. You've not been the same since you were in Azkaban." He pretended not to notice the potion master's slight flinch at his mention of the prison. "Granger will be good for you, I think. And I don't think she has an abundance of friends that share her passion for knowledge. It certainly helps that she's hiding a great body under those robes," he added slyly.
Severus coughed and then cleared his throat. Meeting Draco's gaze he said "That was surprising to say the least."
Before Draco could comment further, he saw Caroline approaching the table. She slipped into the sat next to Draco with a shy smile. "I hope I'm not interrupting," she said politely.
"Not at all," Severus replied smoothly.
"Harry and Hermione will be here in a moment," Caroline said. She giggled and said "They got a little tied up."
Before the two men could ask what she meant, Harry and Hermione came into the pub. Their cheeks were flushed and they were both a little breathless with laughter. They moved toward the table, trying to get control of their laughter and not doing a very good job of it. Hermione sat down in the empty seat next to Severus, visibly shaking with suppressed giggles. Harry sat down on the other side of her.
"What the bloody hell have you two been up to?" Draco demanded, looking at the pair as if they were completely deranged. Hermione tried to calm down enough to explain, but dissolved into helpless giggles again. This only made Harry laugh even harder. "For the love of Merlin, Severus tell me you have a calming draught," Draco said in exasperation.
Smirking, Severus held a vial to Hermione. "Do not choke on this," he demanded sternly.
Hermione took a deep breath and took a swallow of the potion before passing it to Harry. Within a few moments, they had calmed down. "Sorry," Harry muttered sheepishly.
"What happened?" Draco asked.
Caroline giggled. "Harry is just a little too famous," she said grinning. "There were some students that had apparently been following us. When they caught up to us, the girls cornered Harry."
"They practically mauled me!" Harry interjected, blushing slightly. "Hands were everywhere..." He trailed off with a shudder, looking rather traumatized.
"One girl's brother told us that they had tried to make a potion," Caroline went on. "They were trying to look older. I'm not sure what they used, but it seemed to work like some kind of lust potion instead."
"Oh my," Severus said, in a choked voice.
"I panicked a little," Hermione said ruefully, not noticing Snape's tone. "Harry was surrounded and those girls weren't showing any signs of stopping. They were surprisingly aggressive." She hesitated, clearly not wanting to go on.
Caroline, however, didn't mind finishing the story. "Hermione levitated these girls and hung them like ornaments from the nearest tree," she said laughing. "Then she sprayed them with cold water, all the while lecturing them about behaving with dignity and modesty," she added, shaking her head in amusement. "Harry, by this time, has recovered from the attack and is sitting in the middle of the lane laughing."
"It's been a long week and the whole thing was bloody weird," Harry said defensively.
Hermione rolled her eyes. "After that, the headmistress showed up wanting to know why I was watering a tree full of students," she said with a sigh. To her surprise, Severus chuckled.
"Forgive me," Severus said, struggling to suppress his mirth. "I would have loved to see the expression on Minerva's face."
At this, Hermione grinned. "It was priceless," she assured him.
"Did you leave them in the tree?" Severus asked her, unable to dismiss his amused smirk.
"No," Hermione replied. "Harry had to hide behind some bushes while we got the girls down. Minerva escorted them back to the castle. Poppy will have her hands full."