Chapter 5 – A New Commission
Ten days had passed since Hermione had been forced to realise that her weakened condition required her to stay at the hospital wing, as were Madam Pomfrey’s orders. Though there were only three patients at the infirmary – a couple of little Hufflepuffs who had dashed against each other during Quidditch practise, and a feverish Colin Creeves – Hermione was located in one of the private rooms.
It was a small, yellowish chamber, with only the most necessary furnishing: a narrow bed against the wall, a nightstand covered with flowers and cards, a few chairs, and a window. Hermione believed it to be enchanted, because the weather seemed to be sunny and warm for the fifth day in a row, and it really was not possible in Scotland at that time of year. To tell the truth, it was not possible at any time of the year at all.
Ginny, Ron, and Luna had visited her the previous evening and brought her a box of chocolate frogs and a few books they had found in her room while getting some socks and underclothes she had asked them to bring for her.
Regular, though artificial, sleep had made her feel a little better, so she was now able to sit on her bed and lean against the grand cushion she had put between the wall and herself. She riffled sluggishly through a book called ’Lunar Phases and Their Influence in Transfiguration’:
“When the moon is in its last quarter, in the sign of Pisces, it is a very favourable time to change water containing objects into creatures with legs, and vice versa. Although, it should be considered that…”
Hermione noticed it was very difficult to concentrate, and her thoughts fled frequently to the sparse incidents she had faced during her illness.
Professor McGonagall had paid a visit to her every day, with an apprehensive look on her pale and furrowed face. She had tried to ascertain the reasons that had led Hermione to this state, but her questions had only frustrated and frazzled the patient.
If I knew what caused all this, I most certainly would have done everything I could in order to fix it, Hermione thought in a dispirited manner.
Perceiving discontent in McGonagall’s eyes made Hermione even more miserable. She really couldn’t bear to cause disappointment to her teachers in any situation.
Wasn’t it the irony of fate that in these seven years at Hogwarts, she had never given an incorrect answer to any questions asked, but was now totally incapable of giving an answer of any kind to the questions concerning her own condition?
Severus Snape frowned and weighed with a critical eye the light green and brave little sprouts that had dared to pierce the ceiling of their comfortable and moist, but ever-so-dark home. Full of foolish trust, they were reaching out their fragile heads towards the unknown and immensely vast new realm.
Although, they really did not have another choice, because the Potions Master had sprinkled a magical fertiliser to the soil, already enriched by the slashing and burning. Burgeoning was fast and the small shoots were exuded with bold eagerness and zeal, like the illegal and overloaded Weasleys’ Crook Cannon. (Professor Snape had been very unlucky to get acquainted with one, when he had confiscated a school bag of one of his pupils some time ago.)
The garden had undergone a great transformation, and without any “foolish wand-waving”, as Snape would have put it. He had made a great deal of progress with only some carefully designed physical efforts. And he had enjoyed it, surprisingly. After he had spread layers of earth, clay, and gravel to the right places with his bare hands, he had set some decorative flagstones to form paths around the garden. When he had put all seeds and plants in their right places, he felt a new kind of warmth flowing through his veins, and what delighted him the most was that he had slept better than he ever had in the last twenty years.
Severus looked around and felt like the old and bitter soul of the garden had vanished and been replaced by a fresh and springy atmosphere, full of new promises.
Recreating the garden had invigorated him. Physical exercise and a silent, tranquil ambience, where no one could come to disturb him, had been exactly what he needed but was unable to consciously pursue.
Snape had never been an athletic man. Sports in all its unpleasant forms had always been repulsive to him. Working alone in a private place, invisible to everyone else, fitted him perfectly. Large windowpanes in the ceiling brought plenty of fresh air to the conservatory, so it was as good as being outside exercising. For the very first time in his life, Snape felt there was something else in his life than his work. Well, actually, this was work too, but it did not feel like it. It was more like a rewarding hobby.
Severus was almost embarrassed to even think about that word. It reminded him of the handcrafts of witches, Quidditch, or playing the violin.
I have a right to do pleasant things as well, don’t I? he argued with himself. Or would it be better to bore myself to death in a bitter, empty life full of involuntary obligations?
Images of horrible incidents with Death Eaters, crawling in front of the Dark Lord to postpone the inevitable disclosure, arguing in the secret meetings of the Order of the Phoenix, and going through never-ending piles of lousy scribbles by his students surged into his mind uninvited.
Therefore, although he was not happy for getting an important assignment, where his mission was to return that insufferable Granger from the infirmary to the library, where she undoubtedly belonged, he was remotely grateful for getting this great place of many opportunities for his own, personal use.
It didn’t take long that night. Everything that needed to be done was finished, and from now on the garden would mostly take care of itself. To recover from the nightly labour and the sleep deprivation it had caused, he decided to retire to his bedroom earlier than usual.
After he had spent over half an hour in a bath somewhere in between sleep and consciousness, he finally fell to his bed and would have fallen sound asleep in seconds if it had not been for Headmaster Dumbledore to unexpectedly pop into his chamber and scare him half to death.
It was so uncommon that anyone ever visited him, he had almost forgotten the fact that his fireplace was also an entry to his dwelling and not just an exit.
“Dear Merlin, I didn’t expect you to already be sleeping,” said Dumbledore in an apologetic tone. “I’ll be brief, so you may get back to your dreams in no time. And don’t bother to rise for me.” He tried to deter Snape, who was already standing, wearing nothing but his black, silky dressing gown that he had Summoned as quick as lightning.
“What is it?” asked Snape with a hint of impatience in his voice. He really wished that for once the old wizard would be frank and use only short sentences to get to the point.
“First, I’m highly interested to know how have you progressed with that powered potions project. Has the conservatory on the roof been suitable enough for your work?” Dumbledore started, getting nearer to the thing he really wanted to discuss.
“The garden is proper. The plants should be full grown in a few weeks. What else?” Snape sat in the armchair next to him and waved the headmaster to do the same. Either Dumbledore did not notice the polite gesture, or he preferred to pace on the stone floor, between the heavy woollen carpets.
“The process of investigating Miss Granger’s situation has not gained ground, as we had hoped for. As a matter of fact, I just came from the infirmary now. Poppy and Minerva have talked to her many times, but without any success. So, with Filius’s help, I tried to increase my comprehension in this matter by using some Radarous Charms, but they told us only the things we already knew, that she suffers from serious insomnia and nervous disorders.”
Those dunderheads couldn’t fish the information even if it was written on a big hunk of cardboard floating in the rushes, Severus thought with great irritation. If the reason for her state is not clarified soon, I cannot dilute the right potion for her. Then I can’t test the effectiveness of my powered potions with her. And then I’d have to kiss my Order of Merlin, First Class and acknowledgement in the Potion Masters’ International Magazine goodbye. Besides, if the treatment of Miss Granger is not soon started, she will die from excessive usage of Sleeping Potions.
“Perhaps you have not approached her in the right way,” Severus said and straightened his long legs towards the newly-lit fire. “It is hard to imagine Professor McGonagall moving ahead tactfully and cautiously in her pursuit of knowledge. It would be much more effective to do the investigating in a more sly and slithering way…” Snape continued, realising far too late what kind of impression his words might give.
Dumbledore’s face lit up and he leapt at Snape, taking his hand in an enthusiastic shake.
“Brilliant, Severus, brilliant! I was secretly hoping you would suggest that. Naturally you are right for the job, as the spy and a Slytherin. You are the perfect one to succeed in this difficult task where every other has failed!”
Brilliant, Severus, indeed, Severus mocked himself, grinding his teeth and feeling like he was a wolf that had been trapped by a bunny. You are stupider than I ever gave you credit for. I’m surprised you didn’t offer to stay awake and watch Miss Granger’s bedside too. Why not offer to scrub her teeth and empty her chamber pot while you’re at it? You should have been thinking before blurting out whatever came to your mind. And no, sleepiness will not do for an excuse. The camouflage of an absent-minded and goofy wizard had once again fooled him, and got Severus to underestimate Dumbledore’s sharp intelligence.
Damn you, Albus, you cunning old closet-Slytherin, I couldn’t have been craftier myself, Severus cursed in his mind, when the hem of the headmaster’s robe flashed into the now cold fireplace, but he could still hear his voice echoing in his ears: “See you in the morning at the infirmary, eight o’clock sharp. Sweet dreams!”
Thank you for my lovely beta mystical spirits! And thank you all brilliant readers who were kind enough to comment. You know, commets are better than the Potions Master’s sweet dreams!