Chapter Two

The sickening sensation of port key travel was never pleasant, and it was even less so when forced to endure its effects in the presence of a new employer.

"Miss Granger, I presume?"

Hermione's eyes were still scrunched tightly closed as she fought against the overwhelming urge to deposit her lunch on her best pair of shoes. "Yes," she said faintly, and felt an arm wrap around her.

"It will pass momentarily," the disembodied (because she still couldn't open her eyes) voice informed her. "Allow me help you to a chair."

She cracked open her eyes wide enough to see a worn but beautiful Persian rug beneath her feet, and then she was being tucked into a comfortable armchair. When her stomach had settled, she noted that the room was similarly appointed—old but expensive furniture.

"I'm afraid that the wards make port key travel even more uncomfortable than it already is by nature."

She started at the voice, almost having forgotten that she was in the presence of her new employer, and that she had yet to greet him.

"I'm so sorry," she said, and attempted to stand to greet him properly.

He waved a hand at her, gesturing for her to remain seated. "You fared better than many," he told her, standing beside the rather impressive fireplace and slightly to her side. "Dumbledore regularly tossed his lemon drops upon arrival."

She clapped a hand over her mouth at the image of the venerable wizard in so delicate a predicament. The wizard in front of her appeared to be somewhat older than herself. Perhaps Professor Snape's age, she decided. The few strands of gray in his hair gave him an air of maturity, but didn't take away from his fit appearance. If she had to guess, she would say that the gray was the result of stress, and not age. She looked away, conscious that she'd been studying him longer than was polite.

"The effects of passing the wards can linger," he told her. "I suggest that you rest for the remainder of the afternoon and then join me for dinner. We can discuss the areas of research I would like you to focus on."

"Yes," she agreed. "I'm eager to get started." She would have suggested starting immediately, but her stomach, though much improved, was still protesting.

"Mona," he called, and a wrinkled elf appeared. She matched the room, Hermione decided, since the pillowcase she wore was obviously high quality linen, but ancient and showing signs of wear.

"Please show Miss Granger to her room," he instructed, and the elf bobbed her head eagerly.

"Thank you..." She paused. "I'm afraid I still don't know your name, sir."

He studied her silently for a moment, and she wondered if she'd made her first of what would most likely be many blunders. She fully intended to respect his privacy, but did he really expect her to keep calling him "sir" for the duration of their acquaintance?

"Jamie Peters," he finally said. Instead of shaking her hand, he bowed slightly in her direction. "Dinner is served at six thirty." He turned and left the room, leaving Hermione to the care of Mona.

"Oh, you'll be liking your room," Mona said, touching Hermione's leg gently and bringing her focus back to the house elf. "It's the yellow room, it is, and one of the mistress' favourites."

"Mistress?" Hermione questioned, but Mona was hurrying her along, pointing out various rooms as they passed them. Though she was grateful that the elf hadn't Apparated them (she didn't think her stomach was up to more magical travel), she was quite lost by the time they'd ascended to her room on the third floor of what was proving to be a monstrously large house.

"I'll be coming back for you in times for dinner," Mona said, and then frowned. "There were no trunks for Mona to unpack."

"Oh!" Hermione reached into her purse and set the tiny trunk on the floor before returning it to its normal size.

"Much better!" Mona said, obviously satisfied. "I will puts your things away while you rest," she promised, and proceeded to levitate the trunk into the dressing room attached to the bedroom.

Hermione bit her lip, reluctant to let the sweet house elf do a task that she could very easily do for herself. "It's no trouble for me to unpack the trunk myself," she said, and followed Mona to the dressing room.

"You will rest," Mona said sternly. "Master said so. And you came by port key. If you want to be eating dinner, you must rest."

Hermione nodded, seeing that it was useless to upset the elf further. A nap didn't seem like a terrible idea, either, she thought, covering her mouth as she yawned. "Will you wake me in time to get ready for dinner?" she asked, hoping to keep the elf's good side. "As I'm unfamiliar with the customs here; perhaps you could help me choose what to wear."

Mona nodded so hard that Hermione worried she was in danger of toppling over. "I will wakes you. Sleeps now, please."

Hermione found herself summarily tucked into an old-fashioned curtained four poster bed, reminiscent of the one she had slept in at Hogwarts. The mattress was thick and fluffy, and completely unlike anything she had ever slept on, but as she was asleep in a matter of moments, it made little difference.

For perhaps an hour she slept undisturbed. The house was quiet, save for the occasional creaking of ancient floors and walls, and the cocooning effect of the curtained bed was unexpectedly comforting. A sound eventually permeated her consciousness, though she was hard-pressed to identify it. The wind against one of the many strange corners of the house? A machine of some sort? If she were in the Muggle world, she would have written off the sound as a vacuum cleaner being run several rooms, or even floors, away. Could Mr Peters be doing an experiment with some sort of equipment? The sound was too faint to form any sort of reasonable hypothesis as to its source, and so she fell back to sleep. Her slumber this time was uneasy, and punctuated by the image of a woman wailing piteously over an empty cot.

Whatever else he might or might not be, Jamie Peters was an excellent host, Hermione decided, sighing in near ecstasy as she took another delicate mouthful of cream of leek soup. Mona hovered at her side, eager to provide her with anything she could want, and several things she did not want. Hermione had been primped and preened within an inch of her life (and Mona's life, too, though Hermione had restrained herself with notable patience) and was secure in the knowledge that, though she might be uncomfortable wearing one of her better robes, and having her hair wrestled into an elaborate twist, she at least could do the dining room justice.

And though she was loathe to admit it, even to herself, she couldn't help but want to impress her employer, the still mysterious Jamie Peters. It wouldn't last, she knew. Soon, she'd be working long hours researching whatever area he chose, her hair would frizz from being tugged into pony tails, and she'd be donning the most comfortable clothes she owned. For one night, this first night, it felt good to be attractive.

As the elaborate meal continued, the silence grew heavier and more oppressive. Though she truly despised Ron's deplorable table manners, by the time pudding was served she would have been grateful for a snippet even of Quidditch conversation. Peters ate neatly, but as the meal progressed, she noticed that he spent more and more time scowling at his food, and less time actually consuming it.

"Did Mona provide you with a tour of the estate?" he asked abruptly, his hazel eyes fixed on a point approximately six inches above her head.

Hermione frowned. "She pointed out various rooms on the way to my quarters," she replied. Did that constitute the full tour, she wondered? She rather hoped that she would be given leave to explore more of the house. The only other estate on a similar scale she'd had the opportunity to tour was Malfoy Manor, and she rather thought it would be more satisfying to explore a house that held no secrets or painful memories for her.

"You will do most of your work in the library on this floor," he informed her. "It is quite extensive, and I am hopeful that you will find all the information I require. You may also, upon occasion, be required to assist me in the brewing of potions. I have a small laboratory in the dungeons."

Of course, Hermione thought, remembering the dismal and always cold potions classroom at Hogwarts. The dungeons, though unpleasant, were admittedly the safest and most practical space for a potions lab.

"You have free run of the house," he continued, "aside from my quarters in the west wing of the third floor. Also, you will not, under any circumstances, set foot on the fourth floor." His hazel eyes hardened, and Hermione had to fight not to flinch. "I trust that you will respect these boundaries."

She nodded, confused by the intensity of his words and demeanor. After a short but increasingly uncomfortable silence, she recalled the matter she had wished to address.

"I will need to place a Floo call this evening," she said, falling back on a habit which had served her well in the Ministry: when in doubt, speak firmly and confidently. "I trust you have accommodations for Floo calls in place?" she finished briskly.

Mr Peters, however, was not galvanized into action by her commanding tone. Instead, he took another sip of coffee. "The rules of disclosure apply," he informed her. "Your position here will be terminated should you share any information I have not approved."

"As we've yet to do any work, and you've yet to even see fit to tell me what areas I'll be researching, I fail to see that any conversation I might have tonight could in any way violate my contractual duties," she retorted stiffly. "The Floo, Mr Peters?"

"The fireplace in your room is equipped for Floo conversations," he said, and stood as she immediately pushed back her chair and made to leave the room. "The wards prevent Floo travel from it, as well as passed objects. You would find breeching the wards... unpleasant."

"Yes," she said, irritation making her voice sharp. "We've been over this. I've read the contract. I've signed the contract; agreed to abide by it. Now, if you don't mind, I've promised my Auror friend that I would check in this evening, so that he would know I haven't been captured by a Death Eater and forced to do unspeakable things. Unless you'd prefer to bring Harry Potter and his legion of sycophantic supporters from the Ministry down on you? I assure you, he's not above throwing his weight around if he thinks one of his friends is in danger."

Mr Peters' face was suddenly pale beneath his mop of untidy dark hair, and she wondered if she'd gone too far. Merlin, she'd only been in the house a matter of hours, and already she'd stooped to threats! This did not bode well for her continued employment. And it wasn't as if she really suspected him of anything nefarious. Certainly, he was taciturn, and Merlin knew what his projects would entail, but there was something about him. Something that told her he could be trusted, even if he had secrets and his own agenda. Why she should trust him eluded her, but for reasons she couldn't explain, the trust was there, firmly planted.

"Potter, you say?"

She frowned at the strangled quality in his voice and reminded herself that just because she trusted him didn't mean she couldn't keep her eyes open and her wits about her. "Yes, Harry Potter. My friend, who is ridiculously protective."

"Go," he said, waving one hand while the other clutched his chair in a white-knuckled grip. "Floo your friend. Discussion of your assignment will wait until tomorrow morning."

Confused both by her host's behaviour and her own willingness to assume the best of him, Hermione nodded and hastily exited the dining room. The two flights of stairs seemed interminably long, and the corridor was significantly darker than when she had first been led to her quarters in the afternoon. Still, she managed to find her room without having to suffer the indignity of calling on Mona. With the door firmly closed behind her, she threw off her fancy robes and tugged on her favourite pair of jeans and a jumper. Looking attractive was obviously getting her nowhere; what she needed was comfort.

"Hermione!" Harry's relief was palpable as he answered his Floo. "How are you? Are you settled in? Are you safe? Shall I come and get you? I can come and get you."

"Harry!" she exclaimed, her good humour immediately restored. "I'm fine. I'm settled, thanks to the help of a lovely house elf named Mona," she rolled her eyes, "and I'm as safe as can be expected."

"Thank Merlin," he muttered, and seemed to sag before her eyes. "I was worried," he admitted.

"No shite," she retorted. "Honestly, Harry, I'm fine. Mr Peters seems to be halfway decent. Though I think he may have taken lessons in deportment from Snape."

Harry's eyes widened. "Are you sure you don't want me to come and get you?"

"The wards wouldn't let you," she informed him. "They were keyed to receive me, and I still thought I was going to be positively ill when I arrived. Nasty wards, those. I think I'll spend some time examining them. Apparently Dumbledore set them, and they even bothered him. I'd like to know what they're based on, and how they're keyed to read magical signatures..." Her voice trailed off, as it often did when she was contemplating a new opportunity of study.

"Mr Peters?" Harry pressed, having ignored most of what she'd said. "First name?"

"Jamie," Hermione replied. "I don't know if that's a nickname or his given name."

Harry squared his shoulders. "It's enough to give me a start in looking him up," he said, filled with purpose. "I'll look into it."

Hermione nodded. It was most likely a fool's errand, but it would make Harry feel better. Her, too, if she were being honest with herself. Not because she was scared for herself, but because dinner with Jamie Peters had only heightened her curiosity about the extremely private man.

"So," Harry said, shifting out of view for a moment, and then reappearing, seated in a much more comfortable position and holding a bottle of butterbeer, "Tell me about the place you're staying. Do you have decent quarters?"

She launched into a detailed description of the house, including her observations that it had fallen into a state of decline.

"Are you certain you'll be paid?" Harry asked, frowning. "If this Peters bloke is experiencing money troubles..."

"No," she said thoughtfully, "it's not like that. People in financial straits usually give off a slight aura."

"Aura?" he questioned. "Merlin, Hermione, you sounded just like Trelawney for a minute, there. Are you sure you're okay?" He cocked his head to the side. "Did he drug your food?"

She rolled her eyes so hard she had to blink to regain her focus. "He didn't drug my food. And I did not sound like Trelawney. Take it back," she demanded.

"Make me," he countered, a grin stretching from ear to ear.

"Don't tempt me!" she laughed. "I'm dying to know if I can send hexes through the Floo!" Harry's wince pleased her to no end. The Saviour of the Wizarding World still had a healthy dose of respect for her temper, and that was as it should be. "Seriously, though. You can always tell when people have money trouble. They show outward signs differently, but they all have the same look in their eyes."

"Whatever you say." Harry obviously didn't believe her, but that was fine. He had a name to investigate, and that would keep him happy for quite some time, she hoped.

"I should go," she said, covering her mouth as she yawned broadly. "Tomorrow I start work on whatever evil scheme Mr Peters is plotting."

"Not helping, Hermione," Harry warned, shoving a lock of thick black hair off of his forehead.

She grinned and blew him a kiss as she ended the Floo connection.

When Mona drew back the heavy curtains on her bed the next morning, Hermione let out a disgruntled growl. "It can't be morning," she mumbled, cracking one eye open long enough to take in the still dark room.

Mona tutted in what Hermione supposed was a sympathetic manner, but she found it irksome, all the same. "Master Peters is ordering breakfast for you," she said, and Hermione caught the aroma of fresh coffee. Well. That was something, at least. Not much, of course, but...

"You will be gettings out of beds, miss?" Mona asked hopefully. "Master Peters is waiting."

"Fine," Hermione mumbled, and threw back the blankets. The room was chilly, but not to the point of discomfort. Mona silently handed her a robe, followed by a cup of coffee. She drank it in one go, and felt immensely better. Hurrying to her dressing room, she asked, "Do you know what Mr Peters has planned for today?" she asked. "Should I be dressed formally, or will I be in the laboratory?"

Mona frowned, as if she had not anticipated this line of questioning and was unsure of how to deal with it. "I am not knowing," she admitted. "Shall I find Master—"

"No, no, please don't bother," Hermione said, selecting a pair of serviceable trousers and a blouse which she hoped would be suitable for whatever he had planned. She completed her toilette as quickly as she could, her eagerness to know more about her job growing each minute. When she was ready, she followed Mona down the same dark corridors and long flights of stairs, but was led to a room much smaller and more intimate than the dining room had been.

"Good morning, Miss Granger," Mr Peters said, standing to greet her.

Hermione nodded and took a place at the table. Mona immediately poured her another cup of coffee and filled her plate with eggs, rashers of bacon, and fried potatoes. Hermione tucked in and did justice to the meal, though she resolved to speak to Mona about adding a higher contingent of fruits and fibre to her meals in the future. When she had cleared her plate, Mr Peters broke the silence.

"Today you will be researching the most recent attempts at modifications to the wolfsbane potion," he informed her, causing her to choke a little on a mouthful of orange juice.

"Wolfsbane?" she questioned. "Really?" She set the glass aside, all thoughts of breakfast gone.

Mr Peters studied her carefully. "Are you pleased?"

"Yes!" she exclaimed. "Oh, yes. I've always been interested in finding a better alternative for werewolves," she explained. "Think how the quality of life that could be improved for so many! When I think of the painful transformations, the guilt the werewolves feel for their actions when they've turned, how they're marginalized by society..." She shook her head. "I know a better potion can't cure all of their problems, but it's certainly a start." She rubbed her hands together in excitement. "Have you read Severus Snape's latest findings published in Potions Today? He's had some success with adding milk of..." Her voice trailed off as she realized that Mr Peters was looking decidedly frustrated. "I'm sorry," she said, heat suffusing her face. "I tend to ramble when I feel strongly about a subject."

"You will find pertinent texts in the main library." He clapped his hands, and Mona appeared. "Please escort Miss Granger to the library and show her to the magical creatures section." He turned and strode out of the room without a backwards glance, leaving Hermione to wonder what she had done to irritate him so badly.

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Author's Notes

Characters from the Harry Potter series are the property of J.K. Rowling. They are used without permission and not for profit.

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