The last days of summer break dragged on with painful slowness. Hermione spent most of her time in the Room of Requirements while she forced herself to eat meals in the Great Hall with the staff. It was enough to keep the unpleasant side-effects of her self-isolation at bay, well apart from those dreams. They came back to her night by night and made her wake up sweaty and aching for more. But she refused to touch herself after having dreamt of a man who did not even like her. She would not fuel those feelings for him by giving in and fantasizing about something she could never have - not that she wanted to, after the things Professor Snape had done and didn’t even seem to regret.
Still, something kept nagging her in the back of her mind and after having awoken from yet another similarly agitating dream, she suddenly knew what it was. When she had first entered Professor Snape’s private quarters she had not realized it right away, but now she remembered that she had seen his sofa before - in one of those dreams . Suddenly, she was wide awake, her heart hammering with panic in her chest. Could it be that they shared those dreams through the bond - that he had them, too? Merlin, she hoped not, because this would give this current madness a whole new, mortifying perspective. But Hermione guessed, there was only one way to find out and she hastily slipped on her nightgown. She would go back to the Room of Requirements and do some research because sleep would not come for her anytime soon after this discovery.
One hour and one book later Hermione was certain. Again, the Room of Requirements had provided her with the book she needed and it had not taken her long to find the answers she sought. But they did not make her feel better in the least, because now she knew that dreams containing the both of them were usually shared and dreamt by both partners of the bond. It did not mean that they were any more realistic for that, as one could only influence small portions of the dream. That did not make her feel any better, though. Professor Snape was experiencing those dreams with her. He was dreaming of kissing her, touching her and desiring her. Sweet Merlin. She could only pray that he was not aware of this fact. Looking at him and bracing his lessons would be hard enough as it was.
Severus watched from the teacher's table as student after student started filling the Great Hall, each of them eager for the Welcoming Feast to start. He could spot Weasley, a wide grin on his face, as he joined Miss Granger at the Gryffindor table after hugging her way longer than it was appropriate, he thought. The girl did not seem to mind though, as she closed her arms around him with almost as much enthusiasm, a pleased smile playing at her lips. Had those two been this close last year?
More than once he had found himself wondering how it would be to simply hold her, encircling her with his arms, while his nose was buried in her curls. It was what those recent dreams left him aching for, this and her forgiveness, which he had at night only to be snatched away from him in the mornings, after he had woken up. Getting her forgiveness was always so easy in his dreams, usually, he kept convincing her of the truth of his feelings by kissing her until she whimpered against his mouth - until she forgave him. But as far as dreams went, the reality would not allow him to do such a thing, especially as he wasn't sure if Miss Granger would even welcome his advances. It was more likely that Minerva would be having words with him, soon after, and no amount of conciliation from Albus would stop her from having his balls. Fuck!
He needed to find another way to convince her, that he did care for her and that he indeed was sorry for what he had done. But how to do that without crossing the invisible line between teacher and student was beyond him. It was what he mulled over for days, without finding a solution. And now the last precious days of summer break were gone, without him having said a word to her. Morgana's tits! Even finding a chance to talk to her undisturbed would be hard enough with all those morons flooding the castle now.
Severus’s eyes drifted through the crowd. Potter and Malfoy were strangely absent and he could not help but ask himself if he’d already be forced to give his first detentions for the year. He would not be surprised if the two of them had gotten in trouble, probably even with each other. Their rivalry strongly reminded him of James and himself, only that it wasn’t quite clear who was taking James’ place in this peculiar comparison.
“Well, Severus, isn’t it lovely to be back at the castle?” Slughorn’s voice pulled him out of his musings. The man had gotten even more massive throughout the last years, even though Dumbledore had stated the old fart had been on the run. Must have been a slow run then, Severus thought, his mouth twitching with amusement. “I hope you won’t hold it against me that the Headmaster has offered me your old position.”
Severus schooled his features into a friendly smile. Dumbledore had given him a task concerning old Horace and he’d want the man to feel unworried about having Severus as a competition. If he wanted a good chance to get this memory from him, he’d need him to feel safe enough to relax in his presence.
“The Headmaster has found that my talents are needed elsewhere, Professor. There is no reason to begrudge you anything, as I have finally gotten the chance to try my hand in Defense against the Dark Arts - a topic, I have taken an interest in long ago.” It was the truth. Severus was actually quite happy to no longer be forced to teach potions, as most students were either free of talent or enthusiasm which made those hours hard enough to bear.
“Very good, very good,” old Slughorn exclaimed, his saggy cheeks wobbling as he nodded. “You can call me Horace now, of course. We’re colleagues now, aren’t we?” Slughorn laughed, before taking a generous swig of the wine, the house-elves provided for his dinner.
“I always found you were one of the most talented and promising students from my collection. Pity, that you did not put those talents to good use. But I guess not all of us can end up in politics, can we?”
With that, Severus felt a massive hand clap his shoulder and he immediately stiffened in discomfort. It was probably only meant as a friendly gesture, but it still took all of his self-control to not sneer at the man for his touchiness. “I found that not all of us have the desire to be famous,” he said, schooling his features into a mask of indifference. “As some do prefer to make use of their talents far away from the spotlight. But that does not mean, they have any less of an impact. Teaching those dunderheaded students is surely not what I envisioned myself doing, but I find myself unencumbered by my duties as a professor from time to time. Those moments are filled with experiments and inventions that strike me on a regular basis. And the patents I am holding do make for a nice, additional income. ”
"True, true," Slughorn admitted with a sigh before he finally removed his clammy hand from Severus' robes. Severus was sure he had wanted to say something else, but his concentration was broken by Potter and Malfoy, entering the Great Hall after dinner had already started. Much to Severus' satisfaction James's son sported a bloody nose as he made his way to the Gryffindor table where he was greeted with worried expressions from his friends. "This is Harry Potter, is it not?" Slughorn inquired, a hesitant undertone in his voice.
“Indeed,” Severus confirmed as neutrally as possible. Then he decidedly started savouring the food on his plate. Luckily his colleague got the hint and refrained from bothering him any longer.
“Merlin Harry, what happened ?” Hermione found herself asking, as soon as she and the boys had found themselves a silent corner in the Gryffindor common room. Hermione had moved back into the dorm this morning, the house-elves had been more than eager to help her with the luggage she needed to transfer back. Some things she left behind, knowing that Professor Dumbledore had allowed her to continue to use the room even though the new school year had started. But Hermione did not want to put too much attention on the fact, that she was now a permanent resident of the castle and therefore she would only use her private room in emergencies.
“Malfoy,” Harry said and gruffly rubbed his chin. She had asked him the same question during dinner, but her friend had only mumbled the name of his rival, before putting her off until after dinner. “I’ve been watching him in the Hogwarts Express.”
Hermione looked at her friend with furrowed brows. “Why?”
“Long story,” Ron mumbled next to her on the sofa and Hermione got the feeling that he already knew the full story. But luckily both of her friends did not hesitate to fill her in about their observations in Knockturn Alley. For once, Hermione did not scold them for their reckless behaviour and did not question what Harry had observed, even though something told her that there was more to the story than Malfoy suddenly being a Death Eater.
“So you suspected he was up to something and spied on him in the train?” she summarized and looked at her friend with a raised brow. “Looks like that didn’t go too well.”
Ron next to her snorted, while Harry looked at her with a grumpy smile. “Not really, no,” he muttered, ruffling his black hair. “Still, I just know he’s up to something. I just don’t know what that is…”
Hermione looked at him with a supportive smile. “Well, if he hides something, we will find out, alright? We’ll keep out an eye for him, carefully , and now that it’s the three of us again, I’m sure one of us will observe something eventually.”
“Does that mean you believe me?” Harry asked with a hopeful smile and even though Hermione was not thoroughly convinced, she would not tell him that. Not, when she finally had her friends back and needed their support as much as they needed hers.
They had potions first thing in the morning. Hermione half expected to see Professor Snape when entering the potions classroom, but instead of him, a large, grey-haired man was standing in the middle of the room, looking at the incoming students with happy, friendly eyes. The contrast between him and Professor Snape couldn't have been bigger. Professor Slughorn was probably twice the size of her former potions Professor and he had the aura of a friendly, good-natured grandpa. Where Professor Snape was all edges and unfriendly grunts and sneers, his successor invited them in enthusiastically and wasn't shy to chat to them or answer their questions. It was a refreshing change and even though Hermione had never minded Professor Snape as a teacher, she was sure that the old Professor who took his position now, would do a good job instructing them.
Ten minutes into the lesson Harry and Ron suddenly rushed into the room, explaining that they would now be able to join the course, as Professor Slughorn would be satisfied with their OWL scores. The Professor seemed most pleased with their appearance and after lending them some potions books their lesson finally started.
“Now, I was saying, I prepared some concoctions this morning,” The Professor continued while looking at them with a good-natured smile. “Any ideas what these might be?”
Hermione did not even have to look at the displayed cauldrons again, as she had already studied them as soon as she had entered the classroom. Therefore she eagerly raised her hand, before any other student could.
The Professor looked at her with a pleased smile. “Yes, Miss…?”
“Granger, Sir,” Hermione supplied helpfully and stepped forward. She halted at the first cauldron and looked at its contents with concentration. “That one there is Veritasserum. It’s a truth-telling serum,” she explained before motioning to the cauldron to its left. “And that one - it’s terribly tricky to make. This is Amortentia, the most powerful love potion in the world. It’s rumoured to smell different to each person, according to what attracts them,” Hermione continued and took a deep breath. And truly the smell of it was intoxicating: new parchment, freshly mown grass but also a more earthy smell, that strongly reminded her of Professor Snape. Her eyes widened. Merlin, she could not share that bit of information with the class, she realized and hastily took a step back from the cauldron that tempted her with its intoxicating smell. Without realizing it, she had slowly crept closer, sniffing it and now she could see several other students doing the same. But according to Professor Slughorn’s explanation Amortensia was the most dangerous potion in the room, after all.
A moment later Professor Slughorn closed the cauldron and introduced them to a potion he had brewed as a prize for the best student of this lesson. One small phial of Felix Felices was offered for the student who managed to brew a perfect sample of the Draught of Living Death, a potion Hermione had read about before in Professor Snape’s potion book and which she still remembered by heart. She was sure that with Professor Snape’s help she would indeed be able to brew a perfect potion for Professor Slughorn, as she was sure that the modifications the Half-Blood Prince made, would help her do just that. But should she? Would Professor Slughorn maybe even tell her former potions teacher of her success? Professor Snape would surely make the right connections and know, that she had used his notes to win the prize.
Hermione nervously chewed on her bottom lip, while she could see the students around her start setting up their brewing equipment. She would have to make a decision soon. Without doubt, a dose of liquid luck would be very useful in the dark times that might lay ahead of them. It could save her life, or Harry's life, if they used it wisely.
She nodded. This was the only answer she needed. Soon, there would be a war and she would secure every advantage she could get for her side. If that meant using Professor Snape’s knowledge, which he had freely offered to her, then she would do that. There were more important things than her wounded pride, winning the war and killing You-Know-Who for example.