"What in the name of—Hermione!"

Hermione Granger flinched at the sound of her name being bellowed by the master to whom she was apprenticed.

"Yes, sir?" she inquired cautiously. For the first year of her apprenticeship, she had religiously called him by his formal title of Master Snape, and he had addressed her as Apprentice Granger. Upon their first jointly published article, however, he had informed her that she was free to call him Severus. It had been an equally awkward transition for both of them, but as she grew in knowledge and competency in blending potions, they slowly developed a less formal relationship. His current tone of voice, however, caused her to revert automatically to their former style of address.

"Where is the larkspur venom? I know that you gathered a generous supply at the last full moon, and yet—"

"Oh!" she exclaimed, relieved that to discover that the problem could be easily solved. "It's next to the Essence of Murtlap."

She heard the clinking of vials, and Severus Snape emerged from the store room cupboard, holding the desired ingredient.

"May I inquire as to why the larkspur venom was not catalogued correctly between Laprosikeel oil and lost Lovegood infusion?"

Pausing only long enough to smile at the name of the rare ingredient Luna had found after completing her mother's research, Hermione raised an eyebrow. "I believe the answer is evident," she answered mildly.

Severus scowled at her. "It would appear that I am not privy to what my apprentice considers evident."

"Really, Severus," she replied, meticulously purifying the cauldron they'd used that morning to brew a double batch of Pepper Up for the infirmary. "What is the next ingredient listed in the Replenishing potion?"

"Essence of Murtlap," he answered automatically. The fact that he answered at all informed her that he was more intrigued than irritated by the fact that she was acting as if he were the apprentice.

"And where did you find the larkspur venom?"

"Next to the Essence of Murtlap," he said, his tone thoughtful. "But—"

"Name one potion that does not require Essence of Murtlap if larkspur venom is called for."

His face grew blank and she could practically see him running through the thousands of potions he'd committed to memory. "I can't," he admitted, surprised.

"Exactly so," Hermione rejoined smugly. "Plenty of potions call for Essence of Murtlap on its own, but I can't find any record of a potion, not just the ones in common use, that doesn't require it when larkspur venom is an ingredient."

"But there is no known relationship between the two," Severus said, setting the vial on the work table. He cocked his head to the side and then shook it. Instead of beginning the base for the next potion, however, he wandered into his private sitting area. Hermione followed, flicking her wand to set the tea steeping.

"Have you ascertained a connection?" he asked, settling himself in his favoured straight-backed chair.

"Not yet," she admitted. In point of fact, she'd only noticed the relationship the previous day, but she wasn't about to admit that. Surprising the brilliant potions master with her knowledge was a depressingly rare occurrence, and she was determined to string it out for as long as possible.

The kettle whistled and she deftly prepared two cups, both steeped so strong as to be almost black and flavoured with a generous splash of lemon. "Biscuit?" she asked, summoning her private tin of decadent sweets, sent to her from France by Harry as he continued his tour of Europe.

"Sweets are for the weak-minded," he reminded her, sneering down the length of his nose.

"That's not true and you know it," she chided. "How else would I have made the connection between larkspur venom and Essence of Murtlap? Perhaps you ought to try a chocolate biscuit," she mused. "Endorphins, you know."

He glared at both her and the proffered biscuit. "I assure you that I do not require either chocolate or endorphins to exercise my intellect," he informed her, taking a large mouthful of tea. "I even entertain hopes that one day, Hermione, you will be able to say the same."

"Until then," she said, "I'll continue to enjoy my sweets. They are rather good."

Taking a substantial bite from the biscuit, she smirked to herself and pretended not to notice the momentary flash of hunger in her mentor's eyes.


"Severus?" Hermione questioned, peering intently into the cauldron she was tending. Was the mirkweed supposed to ripple? The directions didn't say anything about rippling...

"Not now," he replied, hunched over his own cauldron. "Thirty-six… thirty-seven…"

She waited as he counted fifteen more stirs. The rippling was going stronger, and she didn't like the fumes that were starting to gather.

"Severus," she repeated, worry sharpening her voice. "I really think—"

"Fifty-two—can you not see that I am—fifty-three—occupied?" he snapped. "Fifty-four. I am at a critical—fifty-five—stage of this potion—fifty-six—and—"

"Severus!" She shrieked as a tendril of poison green flame wrapped itself around her stirring hand and tugged. She felt herself being pulled forward, her face drawn into the menacing fumes. The tendrils invaded her mouth, ears, nose, eyes, until she was blind, mute, deaf, and unable to breathe. Her skin was burning. She was burning. She was going to die, hunched over a standard grade two titanium cauldron.

She woke to a familiar refrain of remonstrations. "You silly girl! Of all the imbecilic, moronic, dunder-headed, Longbottom-ish—"

She tried to sit up, but was firmly pushed back to a prone position. "Oh, now you're capable of movement," he muttered. "Where was this ability earlier when the potion started to go wrong? Why did you not back away immediately, you silly—"

"Ugh," she interrupted, not interested in his litany of "affectionate" endearments for her. The one guttural sound she'd been able to make comforted her, however. Obviously she wasn't permanently deaf, mute, or unable to breathe. With supreme effort of will, she tested the condition of her eyes by cracking one open.

She was no longer in Professor Snape's private lab, but in a rather spartan but adequately appointed room. His private sitting area, then.

"What happened?" she choked, her voice as rough as sandpaper. "I was brewing—"

"If you call that catastrophe brewing, Apprentice Granger, you are in sore need of a refresher course," he retorted, his tart tone telling her that he was more concerned than he wanted to admit. "That was nothing less than a disaster narrowly averted."

"Was it averted?" she asked anxiously, once again attempting to sit up. This time, he did nothing to stop her, and she continued to struggle until she was able to rest against the arm of the sofa. The effort taxed her, however, and she didn't even entertain the idea of standing.

"I believe so, yes," he answered. "My diagnostic spells do not indicate any permanent damage. You will, no doubt, be somewhat fatigued for a few days."

Judging by her headache, "somewhat fatigued" was a polite way of saying miserably ill in order to pay for her mistake.

"What did I do wrong?" she asked, wincing as she tried to recall the steps of the potion. Everything had looked perfect until the point when the potion had seemed to grow arms, will, and intent to harm.

Severus pressed his lips together and looked away. "I believe that one of the ingredients may have been to blame. Do you, by chance, recall the texture of the dirkwood dust?"

She frowned, ignoring the spike of pain at her temple as she struggled to recall the detail. "Finely powdered," she said, closing her eyes to visualize it.

"I thought as much. Unfortunately, it was not dirkwood dust that you added to the potion." He paused, and Hermione had to bite her lip to stop herself from demanding that he explain himself.

"It was belladonna powder."

She gasped, and felt her throat constrict, whether from terror or residual soreness she wasn't sure.

"Sweet Merciful Circe," she whispered.

"Quite," he agreed. "It is a wonder that you did not suffer a worse fate than inhaling mildly corrosive fumes."

"It has hallucinogenic properties," she remembered. "I thought I saw—" She stopped abruptly, somehow ashamed to mention the tendrils of smoke she'd seen. More than that, she'd felt them grasp her arm, pulling her in…

She shuddered, reliving the horror.

"Tea," Severus declared, and flicked his wand in the direction of the tea pot. "Hot tea will combat some of the residual effects."

"Chocolate," she countered, raising an eyebrow and daring him to disagree.

Pressing his lips together, he nodded shortly. "Damn werewolf," he muttered, "teaching an entire generation to combat the slightest upset with chocolate."

"Hey!" she protested. Summoning her latest gift from Harry, a box of dark chocolate, she broke off a piece and sighed in contentment. "Really, Severus, you ought to try it."

He raised a thin black brow.

"I ought to, ought I?"

"Spoil sport."

"Weak-minded ninny dependent on—"

"Tea?" she snapped, pouring his cup without waiting for his answer.

They sipped in silence, licking their wounds.

Hermione eyed the brick of dark chocolate, but decided that it was a little too rich for a second helping. Still, she wanted something

"Accio Hermione's biscuits," she ordered, and waited expectantly until a tin came flying toward her. She opened it eagerly, only to frown when she discovered nothing but crumbs.

"How odd," she said, trying not to whine. "I'm almost certain that I had a few left."

"No doubt you consumed them in a chocolate-induced frenzy and have banished the humiliating memory," Severus said briskly. "Now, if you are not going to expire on the spot, I suggest that we take a moment to review the subtle, yet critical, differences between belladonna powder and dirkwood dust."

Flushing at the reminder of her spectacular failure, she set the tin aside and steeled herself for the inevitable lecture.


Hermione scowled at the stack of parchments in front of her. She'd been a third-year student once, of course, but she'd never been as ignorant, lazy, and short-sighted as the students whose papers she was now grading. Had she? If one more student used an apostrophe to indicate plural rather than possessive, she was going to scream!

"When you are finished with those—" Severus began.

"I'll never be done with them," Hermione snapped. "Never! They multiply, Severus; I'm sure of it!" Throwing down her quill in disgust, she massaged her temples and wondered if either Severus or the students would notice if she started assigning grades randomly. Severus probably wouldn't care. He'd most likely done it himself, she thought, frowning at his near-empty desk. How else could he have possibly made his way through the fifth, sixth, and seventh-year essays while she was still stuck on the third-years'?

She picked up the discarded quill only long enough to jab the parchment closest to her, and then glanced up at the potions master. Under normal circumstances, she wouldn't interrupt him. And if she did, she'd apologize immediately. Now, however, she felt fully justified in glaring at him just as intently as she'd glared at the parchments. No matter that it wasn't his fault so many children seemed to have slept through the grammatical portions of their early school years. Or that they clearly hadn't done the required reading which would have at least made the essays a regurgitation of fact rather than a desperate attempt to fill the required inches of parchment with something. Anything, actually, she guessed, glancing down at the parchment she'd been poking. If she wasn't mistaken, the middle five inches of writing contained no actual thoughts on the assigned topic, and were, in fact, the words to the latest Celestina Warbeck hit.

"As I was saying... " he repeated, somehow managing to sneer down the length of his nose at her even though they were at roughly the same height as they sat facing each other across his large desk, "you are unwell," he said, staring at her intently.

Hermione winced, knowing that at the moment she couldn't possibly be in any way pleasant to look at. Her head ached, her eyes were burning from staring at poor penmanship all evening, and her abdomen— "I'm fine," she said through gritted teeth.

"Clearly, you are not," he retorted, eyes narrowed.

"Do you really want to have this conversation?" she challenged.

Severus blanched. "Apparently, I do not," he said, obviously remembering the last time Hermione had been affected by her monthly courses. "Er..."

"Oh, relax, Severus," she snapped. "I'll live. I'll even manage to finish reading these blasted assignments. But it might be best if I'm left to do so in silence." If she hadn't been feeling so miserable, she would have appreciated the irony of practically demanding that Severus cease talking, seeing as she'd spent the first year of her apprenticeship being shushed every other minute.

They continued working in silence for thirty minutes, Hermione finding more and more mistakes in each essay, and writing corrections so vigorously that the quill was often in danger of perforating the parchment.

"That is sufficient for today," Severus finally said, setting aside the last of the fourth-year essays. When she looked up in surprise, he merely added, "I fear for the state of your quill if you continue. It was not built to withstand such punishment."

She looked down and saw that she was gripping the quill so tightly that it bent at an unnatural angle. She threw it down on the desk, not caring that ink splattered on one third-year's exceptionally terrible essay. Being granted a reprieve from the tedium of grading was welcome, but it also meant that her mind was free to focus on the cramps that had been plaguing her for the last hour. A hot bath, she decided, was called for.

Gathering her pyjamas and toiletries, she nodded to Severus, silently informing him of the fact that she was taking over the washroom for the foreseeable future. He nodded, settling himself on a comfortable chair with a book.

With a last-minute wave of brilliance, Hermione Accio'd the brick of chocolate from Harry. After all, if she wanted to eat chocolate in the bath, who would stop her? Instead of a bar of chocolate, however, all that flew toward her was a scrap of paper. Examining it slowly, she realized that it was the wrapper from the chocolate.

She stared at the brightly coloured foil for a good deal longer than was necessary.

"My chocolate is gone," she stated, not quite believing that the food that had been her constant friend since childhood could have disappeared without a trace. It was unthinkable! Didn't the chocolate know that she needed it? "Gone, Severus!" she repeated, dumbfounded.

"Are you certain that—"

"Yes, I'm certain that I didn't eat it myself! I was saving it for an emergency. Like this!" she exclaimed, waving the wrapper angrily. "Who could have done this?"

He frowned and turned back to his book. "The rooms are warded, as you very well know. Had anyone entered, I would know. Only the house elves have access." He paused. Without looking up from his book, he said, "Perhaps one of them still holds a grudge from your S.P.E.W. days?"

"That's ridiculous," she snapped. "I've told them again and again that I'll not force clothing on them. I've learned my lesson, thank you very much. Seriously, though. That was the last of my chocolate!" She sighed heavily.

With a sigh of his own, Severus marked his spot with a bookmark. "While you draw your bath I will visit Minerva. I'm sure she has some chocolate stashed somewhere in the midst of her interminable supply of biscuits."

"Really?" she asked doubtfully. "You would do that for me?"

"Yes, well, I can see I'll have no peace if I do not," he snapped, but there was little heat in his words. As he swept from the room to pilfer Professor McGonagall's goodies, Hermione couldn't help but think he looked faintly guilty.


"Happy Publishing Day to us, Happy Publishing Day to us! Happy Publishing Day, Hermione and Severus, Happy Publishing Day to us!" Hermione sang as she walked into the sitting room carrying a cake adorned with blazing candles.

Severus rolled his eyes, but obliged her by making room for the cake on the small table. "If I had known publishing a second article together would lead to this sort of nonsense, I would have burned the article rather than submit it," he said mildly.

"Oh, hush," Hermione chided. "You have to admit that discovering the secret binding agent between Essence of Murtlap and larkspur venom is worth a celebration. And since you won't let Minerva throw a party for you…"

"For us," he corrected her. "You are the one who noted the original connection."

"Yes, but I never would have been able to break down the composition of the larkspur venom so completely as to identify the element that draws itself to the Essence of Murtlap. You used spells and techniques I'd never even heard of," she reminded him.

"Well, the article is published and both of our names are in the by-line. I see no reason to belabour the point by consuming more mind-rotting garbage, and if you hope ever to publish another article, you'd best do the same."

"Nonsense," she said briskly. "A slice of cake won't do any harm. And if you insist on being a stick in the mud, I'll simply eat your piece as well. We wouldn't want it to go to waste, after all."

"No, we mustn't have that," he said, watching as she cut a generous slice and placed it on a plate. "Did you think to make tea, or has the chocolate already weakened your mind to the point that you do not recall what I asked for in the first place?"

"It's notjust chocolate," she said, closing her eyes and sighing in pleasure at the first bite of cake. "It's a red velvet cake, and it's amazing."

Severus frowned and stared at the cake. "It's red," he said flatly.

"Yes," she agreed. "Isn't it lovely?"

"I've never been partial to red," he said pointedly.

"Oh, hush," she replied, closing her eyes as she placed another piece in her mouth. Carefully, she placed the fork upside down to ensure that only cake, and no metallic taste from the tines of the fork, came in contact with her taste buds. "It isn't as if it's Gryffindor red. It's a lovely, rich, dark, decadent red."

"But what did they add to the cake to make it red?" Severus asked.

Hermione shrugged. "At home, we added red food colouring. What the house elves used, I have no idea." She took another bite. "And I couldn't care less. This really is divine, Severus. Won't you try it?"

"I'm quite content with tea," he said drily. "Not that any tea has made an appearance as of yet…"

With an aggrieved sigh, Hermione flicked her wand and a tea service floated toward them and set itself down on the table next to the cake. "Now do stop griping," she scolded, "or you'll ruin the flavour."

"And we mustn't have that," Severus agreed, rolling his eyes and taking a deliberate sip of tea.


Hermione woke suddenly from a deep sleep and sat up in her bed, hand scrabbling for her wand. She knew that something had woken her, but what? Her question was answered only seconds later when she heard a muffled bang and a familiar curse.

Grumbling quietly to herself, she shrugged into her robe and walked softly to the private lab. Severus often had difficulty sleeping, and on particularly bad nights he would rise either to grade essays or to brew the mundane but necessary bases for the most common potions. Neither idea was particularly wise since the grades of the students tended to drop alarmingly when he was sleep-deprived, and he often managed to bruise himself as he puttered around the cold, dark lab in the middle of the night. From the banging noise she'd heard, it was obvious that he had opted to brew and that his shin had already come in contact with a hard surface.

She flung open the door to the lab expecting to find him hunched over a cauldron and stirring vigorously. Instead, he was—

"Severus!" she exclaimed, startling him and causing him to drop his fork. It clattered to the plate, landing on a half-eaten slice of the cake he'd categorically scorned only the previous afternoon.

"I—" he began, and then stopped, looking down at the cake as if surprised that it was there. "I was merely attempting to ascertain the means by which the chocolate was rendered red," he said briskly.

She raised an eyebrow.

"For research purposes," he clarified.

She crossed her arms over her chest.

He countered by glaring formidably.

"And are you often in the habit of tasting your experiments?" she questioned incredulously. "Or is this a new protocol of which I am unaware? It doesn't seem particularly safe to me, but you are the Potions master…"

"Fine!" he hissed, glaring at her. "I've been eating your chocolate, and your biscuits, and your bleeding cake for the last two months!" The 'and what of it?' was left unsaid, but hung in the air between them.

Hermione stared at him, eyes wide. "You mean you—Wait! The last two months! You finished my biscuits!" she accused, pointing at him. "And my chocolate!" She poked his chest. "I needed that chocolate! I thought the house elves were hiding things from me!" She paused and gave him another strong poke. "I offered to share with you! You said chocolate was for the weak-minded!"

His eyes darted to the side. "Yes. Well. I suppose, in retrospect—"

"I'll retrospect you," she muttered, scowling.

Drawing himself to his full height, Severus towered over her. "I apologize," he said stiffly. "I will be certain to replace the chocolate."

"And you can bloody well stock your own from now on," Hermione added. "At least until you cotton on to the concept of sharing."

He opened his mouth as if to object, whether to her tone of voice or the content of her words she wasn't sure, but merely nodded instead and swept from the room. Hermione's lips twitched as she watched him go. Apparently the house elves did use red food colouring in the cake, though in rather larger amounts that was strictly necessary. Perhaps when Severus wasn't feeling quite so out of sorts she'd point out the fact that both his mouth and hands were stained with the substance.

Or not.

He did, after all, look quite handsome in red.

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Author’s Notes

Written for Week 5 of The 2013 Summer Challenge at The Maple Bookshelf: The War of the Words. Prompt: red. Bonus Situation: someone eats cake. Thank you to my editors who caught an embarrassing number of typos. *blush*

Disclaimer: Characters from the Harry Potter series are the property of J.K. Rowling and Scholastic Books. They are used without permission, although with a great deal of affection and respect. Story copyright by Ryl, 2014. Graphics copyright 2014 by Mary N.

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