I stood in the Great Hall, my arms folded across my chest in silent contemplation. I'd been standing there since dawn. I'd managed something quick and unremarkable and then stood at my post in the center of the room to keep watch for cheating. Chairs and tables had filled, emptied, and then pushed back around me without anyone bumping my frame. No one, human or house-elf, dared to bother me. They knew better. Thankfully.
Now, however, the hour was approaching. Dimly my senses picked up movement as my mind reached out to take account of the activity in the castle. Students in various states of nervous tension. House elves beneath me, cleaning and preparing for the dinner tonight. Faculty busying themselves in the areas their finals would be. Lucius, skulking about somewhere in the upper levels, bidden but unwelcome nonetheless. And, somewhere close, a shimmer of awareness from a certain bushy-haired brunette that greeted my thoughts reflexively. Outward, my face stayed the same but inside, I smiled.
A bell chime brought me from my mind and I opened my eyes. The world took focus as I remembered myself. Severus Snape. Previous student of Hogwarts School. Ex Death Eater. Pronounced deceased for half a day. Potions Master about to lead a N.E.W.T. for Gryffindor and Ravenclaw.
"Attention." I spoke in a low drawl as conversation stopped. "The final bell has chimed, and your N.E.W.T. is about to begin. I would say I hope everyone studied, but such desire is moot at this point, as your test will be far more practical than that."
A low murmur of voices twittered across the crowd. I ignored them for the most part, then my eyes noticed the pale faces of Sharron McKendrick and Jessica Noble. I smiled wide. Oh yes... "Prior to today we had two students volunteer to preform their N.E.W.T. before everyone, so sure of themselves were they in their success. Would Miss McKendrick and Miss Noble please step forward?"
Heads turned as both girls walked toward me. Jessica looked very worried, while Sharron looked ready to kill. I greeted both coolly, waving my wand to produce two chairs. "Please, have a seat."
After they sat I flicked my hand. Two small vials appeared in each, marked and labeled in curly, flowing handwriting of the owner. Perhaps one was more pointed than the other, or a tad round when it came to "e's", but I wasn't out to grade handwriting. I showed the vials to the girls. "Do these belong to you?" They nodded. I raised my voice. "The contents of these vials contain Veritaserum and Amortentia brewed by Misses Noble and McKendrick. Each in turn will swallow the contents and answer questions pertaining to the potions consumed. Assuming all has gone well, they will let us know how the Amortentia has affected them. If all has not gone well..." I paused for a moment, lifting my eyes to the ceiling and looking regretful. I swore I could hear the students gulping. Finally I blinked and handed the vials to the owners. "Miss McKendrick, if you would do the honors."
Her hands shaking, she uncorked the bottle. Full teacher persona took hold, and I noted the color (or lack thereof) of the potion for grading purposes later. She sipped, and my eyes paid careful attention to her skin, making sure she wasn't sweating too much, or looked nauseous. Moments passed, and all seemed well.
"Are you alright, Miss Ashdown?"
"Do you know my name?"
"Yes. Professor Severus Snape."
"Please inhale the other potion."
She opened it. Swirling smoke issued forth, and I relaxed; a mishap in this brew would have been instantly evident. She breathed deep, and a sheen came over her eyes.
"Tell me what you experience, Miss Ashdown."
"I smell fire burning low, cherry incense, and dog hair."
A chorus of shocked gasps intermixed with laughter drowned out the choked squeal Sharron McKendrick had made moments after speaking. I ignored all remarks, and instead turned to the other. "Now then, Jessica Noble, if you would..."
Noble's face was so pale I wondered if she would faint, but she managed to take the clear sifter from my hand and drain the liquid with steady hands. Her cheeks filled with color afterwards, and she raised her head. I handed her the other vial, eyes fixed steady. The contents gave no hint of mistake, and I let my breath go. She removed the stopper.
"What are the effects, Miss Noble?"
She closed her eyes,seemingly lost in the senses. "I smell the ocean... Candle flame... Vanilla fabric softener... And my sister's boyfriend's hair."
I couldn't help but smile as the room erupted and Noble's cheeks turned fiery red. Ancient though my methods, obviously lessons were learned. I didn't stop either girl from departing from the front of the room and out the door, chased by the comments of their classmates. Long time coming though it was. I thought. Perhaps they will think better of trying to play revenge on others next time...
"Enough delay." I called over the masses. "Please line up single file... One at a time into the small room there... I'll have your potions ready..."
I had watched the small show, and the secrets spilled, with a flurry of emotions. Somehow, everything clicked. Jessica had never told me what Snape had decided as punishment, nor named her cohort on the prank. Now I understood both. I had to admit, it was terribly amusing.
Waiting in the Great Hall for my turn, I came to a decision about my feelings: lesson learned. Jessica I felt slightly sorry for, but the moment of embarrassment would soon pass. Hopefully it would stay, and she would next time not try to sneak into someone's rooms on trumped up charges. And... I thought, maybe it wouldn't hurt if I bought her some chocolate frogs...
"Hermione Granger." Snape's drawl issued from behind the wooden door. I got up from the bench I was sitting on and walked into the room.
It was small, very small, with a stool sat in the center and Snape behind a desk a few feet away from it. He was writing something down, likely the results of the last student, but looked up when I entered.
"Ah, Miss Granger." He smiled, and I saw a shadow of Severus in it. "Please, have a seat." he motioned with his hand, and before he finished the motion, two vials had appeared. He floated them to me, letting them hover in front of my eyes. "Are these yours?"
"Yes, Professor." I took them from the air.
"The Veritaserum first, then."
I opened the small draught and swallowed. An interesting feeling took hold of me, and I became highly alert, somehow more calm, and ready.
"Is it affecting you?"
"Yes sir." I answered with perfect clarity. I felt as though I could answer any question, solve any riddle, so long as it was asked. I could realize anything, even if I never had before. My mind raced, ready to tell the absolute truth.
"Please open the Amortentia."
Yes. The Amortentia. Strongest "Love Potion" in the world. Doesn't create actual love, just powerful infatuation. Smells like the things that one is most attracted to, the deepest desire of one's heart... "I smell freshly mown grass." I began, the truth spilling out as it came to my mind. "New parchment." The soft, earthly scent then changed, to the herb mixture I had smelled before, so many times before... "And your scent."
My heart stopped beating. I really swear, for a few moments, my heart stopped beating. Then it pounded, faster than it ever had before, as everything clicked in my head. The new smell that I couldn't name... The feeling I couldn't put my finger on when Severus was carrying me back from Hogsmeade... The places my thoughts drifted to when I hugged him or sat near him... The dreams...
Severus Snape stood at his desk, his eyes wide and shining, shadowed behind a curtain of raven hair. "Do you... love me?"
I couldn't stop the truth. Not to him, not to myself. "Yes." I then rose quickly, gave him one last look, and ran from the room.