"Gently, girl! Some things should not be rushed."
Hermione slowed her hand's movements gradually until, with a nod and a twitch of his lips, Severus indicated his satisfaction. Sweat sheened her face and gathered to trickle in rivulets between her breasts as she concentrated on maintaining the slow, steady action Severus found optimal while at the same time trying to anticipate his next demand by monitoring his expression. Suddenly, her efforts reached their culmination.
"Now, idiot girl, now!" Severus barked as the potion abruptly began to darken.
Hermione dowsed the flame under the cauldron with a flick of her wand.
Severus lifted the vial to the light. "It is darker than it should be."
Hermione ducked her head in embarrassment. "I can pay you—" she offered.
"That will not be necessary," Snape cut in. "I doubt Lupin will quibble. It will be adequate to his needs." He placed the vial into a box with several he had made. "Next month, if he doesn't spend the full moon with Greyback and the others, you may make all he needs."
"You mean I did it?" Hermione squeaked.
"Yes, you did it. Now, stop grinning like an imbecile and make some tea."
"You're going to have to set up a laboratory wherever you are staying," Severus informed her as he sipped his tea. "It would be wise to spend a few days brewing rudimentary healing potions. Then, assuming those around you lose interest and leave you alone, you will be able to simply pass these off as your own."
"And if they decide it's such a good idea they all want to pitch in?" Hermione asked.
"Then, you must announce that you intend to attempt the Wolfsbane potion and require a distraction free environment if it is to be ready in time."
Hermione swallowed. She suspected that Snape had played her, using her curiosity against her. There was no question that being able to brew Lupin's potion was a major advantage. However, the commitment required to maintain the deception was going to be detrimental to her research. She wasn't sure the trade off was worth it.
"Couldn't you send them by owl?" she asked.
"Anonymously, Hermione? Or perhaps you want me to sign the note? I'm sure Lupin trusts me." Ebony eyes stared into her. "Besides, they'll never believe you can improve the formula if they don't believe you can brew it."
"You set me up, you sneaky Slytherin bastard," Hermione glared at him with mixed disgust and admiration.
"Of course, but you Gryffindors make it so easy."
"Have you really improved the formula?" she demanded.
"Not yet," Snape purred, "but now I have time on my hands and my own laboratory, rather than having to rely on Riddle's hospitality, I might consider it... after I build up my stocks. However, if you can't pass it off as your research it would be pointless." He waited.
"Quid pro quo," Hermione finally haggled. "Former associate of Voldemort, switched sides, probably deceased, initials R.A.B."
Snape's eyes narrowed in suspicion. "Testing me, Miss Granger?"
"What?" Hermione spluttered, taken aback by his hostility.
"If you wanted to check whether I'm relaying our conversations back to the Dark Lord, then you would have done better to ask a question that couldn't be answered by any half-witted dunderhead who cared to spend two minutes chez Black."
Hermione's jaw dropped open for a second. "Regulus? It's not like we knew him or his middle name." She jabbed an accusatory finger into Snape's chest. "That might make me a dunderhead, but it's still better than being a paranoid, obnoxious misanthrope."
"I think you forget who you're talking to, Miss Granger?" Snape bit out.
"Really, Severus?" Hermione drawled. "I don't see anyone else around here to whom that description might apply."
"If our arrangement is to continue, I must insist that you accord me the respect that is my due."
"I just did," she answered coolly. "If Harry or Ron knew that I had asked you that question, I don't think they would ever speak to me again. I demonstrated my faith in you and in return I get nothing but abuse. How much respect do you think that buys you?"
The vials sat on his workbench as a constant reminder. He would have liked to say she stormed out in a fit of pique, but she had gathered her things together with a quiet dignity that left him wanting to find some way to stop her but unable to think of anything that didn't involve a humiliating apology, and so she had gone... was still gone three and a half days later. The full moon was getting perilously close. He could simply point out that Lupin would suffer needlessly.
As he wrote the letter, the door opened.
"I brought take-away."
"You don't normally come in the evening," he remarked, keeping his voice as neutral as possible.
"It's easier to get away early, but Molly and Arthur were busy and Ron and Harry headed off on the latest Snape sighting... and this way, if it's still okay, I can make the Wolfsbane tomorrow, now I have everything set up."
"And where am I now?" he asked, relaxing slightly.
His eyebrow shot up and his lips tightened momentarily.
"Too close to home?" Hermione asked.
"They're taking too many risks," he sighed.
"They must think you're worth it," Hermione suggested. "Chicken satay?"
Hermione watched him as they ate. Severus Snape seemed to be at his ease, sitting cross-legged on a hearth rug, using chopsticks to do battle over Chinese food straight from the foil containers.
"Something amusing you, Mi— Hermione?" he asked.
"Your lab has everything you could think of, but you have one cereal bowl and a plastic spoon? Men are hopeless."
"I've been busy."
"So when were you planning to be able to actually cook here? April?"
He considered. The Wolfsbane was done. He could afford to spend a few days getting comfortable. "Friday, lunch? If you can make it..."