Severus Snape smiled as he poured out a dose of his latest potions creation into a flagon and tucked it away into his robes. It was not a pleasant smile, but almost a pained one, as if the muscles in his face were unused to smiling and had to be reacquainted with the practice.
He was excited, or as close to it as the dry and humorless man ever got, about testing the potion and hoped an opportunity would present itself this evening. Tonight was, after all, the Valentine's Dance and what better occasion to try out a love potion? But he had no intention of using it on himself, or indeed making himself the target of the potion, merely administering it to an unaware test subject and standing back to watch the effects. In fact, he already had a few candidates in mind.
Argus Filch scowled at a pair of passing Hufflepuffs, poor second year girls whose only offence was to giggle in as they neared the Hogwarts caretaker whose hawkeyes watched for the slightest infraction. Once they passed, he returned to cleaning the frames of the paintings on the second floor hallway. He was moving to the next frame when he heard a faint meow from downstairs and immediately pocketed the can of Quixley's Quick-Clean and dirty rag and hurried off to the stairs, ducking through the mess of flying Cupids delivering Valentines.
Mrs. Norris was calling him, a student caught in the middle of some flagrant school violation he hoped, something dire enough that Dumbledore would realize it was time for some real punishment those little shits would understand, ideally involving the manacles and chains he had been polishing for such an occasion.
Filch could not, nor would he ever try to, explain to anyone the connection he shared with his beloved Mrs. Norris. No other creature – wizard, muggle or none of the above – had such an understanding with him ever, and they had been together longer than either could remember. He couldn't even recall when he got her, or rather when she got him; he had no illusions to the fact that she kept him and not the other way around. He had been young, probably seven or eight when she showed up, Mrs. Norris looking just the same as she did now and she had long since passed the normal life expectancy for a cat.
He crept down the first floor corridor, past the marble staircase, his ears open and alert for another sound from his precious, hearing nothing at first. He saw the open door to McGonagall's office just ahead and, as he approached, heard the suspicious sound of purring. He peeked in, quite startled to see Mrs. Norris eating some sort of meat from a bowl on McGonagall's desk while allowing the teacher to pet on her.
Filch was the only human that Mrs. Norris had ever shown any liking to, but she seemed quite content to allow McGonagall the opportunity to pet her, and that surprised him. Neither had noticed him yet, or at least did not appear to, so he stood silently, watching.
Minerva McGonagall was of an indeterminate age, though Filch estimated her to be in her seventies. Her long black hair was pulled back neatly into a bun, her square glasses perched carefully on her thin nose, and a small smile played at her lips. He had wondered sometimes what it would be loose Minerva's bun, to watch that thick black hair cascade down her elegant back, to break through her icy demeanor.
Finally recognizing his presence, Mrs. Norris glanced up and looked at him disapprovingly, as if she had been reading his thoughts, as it most certainly seemed at times.
"There you are, my love," he said to the cat, quietly for McGonagall had yet to acknowledge him and he did not wish to startle her.
It was not his voice that startled her so much, but his words. Her eyebrows knitted as she turned her attention from the cat in front of her to his figure standing in the doorway, her lips pursed as if preparing to give a sharp reprimand, but they softened into a smile when she saw him.
"Forgive me, Argus. For a moment I thought you were referring to me." She looked back at Mrs. Norris. "The poor dear seems absolutely starved. Do you even feed her?"
He snorted. "Of course I feed her. And she can fend for herself quite well, I'll have you know, enough that she doesn't need me."
"That's ridiculous. She needs you very much, I can tell."
At her words, Mrs. Norris purred loudly, rubbing her head against McGonagall's outstretched hand, her yellow eyes trained on Filch, and he frowned at both the witch and the cat.
"I appreciate the kindness you have offered to my dear Mrs. Norris," he began, faltering slightly as he searched for something to say, "but in the future, please refrain from feeding her. I have her on a strict diet to keep her in shape for prowling the halls and the slightest alteration could increase her need for sleep."
McGonagall snorted and Mrs. Norris dropped lightly from the desk and sauntered past Filch, stopping only to bat at his ankle with her claws as she passed.
"What was that for, my sweet?" he cried as he rubbed his leg, missing the fleeting smile that crossed McGonagall's lips, replacing the frown that had bubbled up.
After a moment, she observed, "It would seem Mrs. Norris does not wish to give up my treats."
"Well, she don't have the choice," he said forcefully, his yellow eyes glowering beneath his bushy grey eyebrows, but he did not understand why McGonagall's involvement with Mrs. Norris bothered him so. He turned to leave but stopped at the sound of her voice.
"Argus, how would it be if I only fed her conjured food?"
He frowned a bit, pursing his lips as he thought over her suggestion. She thought he was still going to refuse until he finally expelled in a held breath, "If it's conjured, then … that's fine. But, wouldn't Mrs. Norris know she wasn't eating the real thing?"
She smiled just a bit. "She hasn't complained yet."
Filch's eyes narrowed. "You mean … and she didn't mind?"
"When you walked in, she was eating conjured tuna. She has developed a bit of a stomach over the last few months, surely you have noticed. I thought it would be better for her. She's a smart cat, she knows I conjured the whole thing."
"If she don't mind," he began, then trailed off, dropping his eyes to the floor. "If you'll excuse me, Professor, I should be getting back to the portraits."
"Will you be at the dance tonight?" He stared blankly at her until she clarified impatiently, "The Valentine's Dance, of course."
He had forgotten it was Valentine's Day. Not forgotten, really, more like shoved from his mind purposefully. He would as soon announce his inadequacies as a wizard to the entire school as celebrate a holiday for love, but Dumbledore didn't offer such an option.
"Of course," he muttered, not quite meeting her eyes. "Otherwise the grounds would be overrun by hormone-driven teenagers snogging everywhere."
"I have no doubts that you are right. I shall see you this evening, then."
"Professor McGonagall," he said, slightly tipping his head forward and leaving the office.
He turned towards the stairs to return to cleaning the portraits when he heard a crash down the hall followed by the sound of maniacal laughing that he recognized so well.
Mrs. Norris prowled the halls, her sensitive nose twitching at every scent, her ears swiveling on plates at the faintest noise. She was watching for Gryffindors, preferably Gryffindors in flagrant violation of Hogwarts policy, severe enough that would warrant the involvement of the Head of House. She had a plan, a subtle feline plan that had been in the works for many years now, and finally it seemed to be making headway.
For too long, she had been the sole companion of Argus Filch, and she was growing tired of such responsibility. She felt it was time for dear Argus to have more human relations. So far he had yet to take the bait, but over the last six months she felt the bait was starting to wriggle a bit more on its hook, as if enticing him on her own, something that pleased Mrs. Norris immensely.
The idea of the perfect match for her master had been fermenting in her brain for at least twenty years, but finding a match for someone like Filch had proved very difficult and challenging. Indeed, Mrs. Norris was beginning to lose hope until one night six years ago, as she prowled the halls, she ran into Minerva McGonagall, also prowling the halls, but this time in Animagus form. Both cats were wary of the other at first but after a few more meetings, they became friends and once or twice a week, they still roamed the halls together, racing and playing.
The more Mrs. Norris thought about it, the more obvious it was to her feline intuition: they both adored cats, both strict and demanding, and most importantly, both had been single for longer than Mrs. Norris herself could remember. Not to mention that Argus himself had mentioned the woman in his late night ramblings that she often tuned out, since he felt it necessary to confess and confide all his feelings in her, a cat, but she certainly did not find it imperative since mostly he complained about the students and Dumbledore not allowing him to show them "real discipline," nothing of real significance.
But her six years of hard work had been nearly sabotaged irreparably after the debacle two years ago when Filch had tried to whip the Weasley twins, and it had taken weeks, months even to sort through the business and get Minerva to the point of even forgiving him. That had been a near fiasco.
However, tonight Mrs. Norris had hope that her plan would finally be brought to fruition, in part because of the nature of the holiday itself, but mostly because she knew her plan was perfect, and as long as Dumbledore carried out his part of it, everything was set.
Minerva McGonagall left her office feeling slightly off, in no manner she could identify. She locked and warded it behind her, then set out for Dumbledore's office. She did not have a previous appointment for tea, but it was a long-standing, unwritten agreement that she could show up morning noon or night and he would say nary a word.
She rapped on the polished door with the Griffin knocker, pausing only a moment before pushing the door open and entering the Headmaster's office.
"You know how I'm always on you to keep that door locked," she admonished him, her severe eyes softening as they found Albus Dumbledore's electric blues.
"My dear Minerva, it was locked until you knocked -- did Filius not share his latest charm with you? Opens the door automatically to a select and trusted few, as long as their intentions are honourable. And in your case," he paused and a sparkle lit his eyes, "whenever you fancy a cup of tea, honourable intentions or not."
Minerva threw back her head and laughed, a rich resounding laugh that bounced off the walls, ricocheting off portrait frames.
Albus smiled too, glad to see his dear friend laugh like that. He had not seen her happy in a few years, though she was not the only one as it had become harder to find happiness under the glaring shadow of Voldemort. He summoned a house elf and put in for an order of tea and chatted about quidditch while they waited.
"You know, the Slytherins could still be in it for the Quidditch Cup, you know," Albus reminded her gently when she commented on how she loved keeping the Cup in her office.
"The only way they could pull it off would be to beat Hufflepuff by more than two hundred and eighty points, plus our margin."
Albus laughed. "You don't even play Hufflepuff until next Saturday."
She frowned at his disbelief and said, "It will be the last game for Potter and Weasley, not to mention Ginny is in top form as well, and she's the best chaser in the school. And Hufflepuff has been weak for years. Pomona had better hope there's some talent in her first- and second-years that no one has spotted yet."
Thankfully for Albus, the tea arrived before Minerva could dissect the Hufflepuff team further and he promptly switched tracks.
"Will you be attending the dance alone tonight? Or is there someone you haven't told me about?"
"Albus, what are you talking about?" she demanded, lowering her cup to its saucer. "There is no someone, though I'm not sure I would tell you if there was."
His eyes twinkled as he sipped his tea. "What about Severus? I think he is single tonight as well."
With a grimace, she replied, "Why must you insist on playing matchmaker? Severus is far too young for me. He needs a sturdy young woman, is what."
Dumbledore and thought for a moment. "You should really let down your hair, my dear. I can't even remember how long it's been since I saw that beautiful black hair."
"It was probably in the sixties, with all that rampant feminism."
He smiled knowingly. "I seem to remember fancying a go at you myself back then. But I was still too old for you, even then."
"Dumbledore, that is quite an appalling thing to say to me now, more than thirty years later! I had quite the impression that you were -- how shall I say it --"
When Minerva faltered in her word choice, he quickly stepped in.
"Gay?" he asked with an amused twinkle. "No, I am not gay or queer or whatever you might call it. Although in my younger days, I would have called myself equal opportunity."
"Albus Dumbledore! I am shocked!" she exclaimed, hand over mouth as a modest smile quivered underneath his snowy beard. "I was going to say asexual!"
They shared a laugh together before Dumbledore said, "Seriously though, Minerva, I think a change in appearance is in order for the evening. You should treat us all to your radiance."
"My radiance?" she scoffed. "You're beginning to sound like you never quite got over your desire for me."
"I wouldn't be the only one pining for you if that were the case," he replied, and Minerva scowled at the twinkle that lit up his eyes.
"You're becoming more daft with each year. There is not a man at the school interested in me."
"My dear, I believe you will find yourself mistaken."
Hermione Granger opened the door to her room cautiously for she did not want the boys to see her in this unready state, in her dressing gown with her hair in curlers and make-up charms half applied. She was shocked, however, to find her Head of House standing before her in the hall, a deer-in-headlights look on her face.
"Professor McGonagall, is everything alright?" the Head Girl asked, unable to keep a hint of concern from creeping into her voice as she tried to shield herself behind the door.
"Of course, child, everything is fine. I was hoping to have a word with you before the dance."
"Would you like to come in?" Hermione asked, opening the door and allowing the older witch to enter.
Minerva took a moment to survey the room, her pursed lips forming a small smile when she saw the walls covered in books, books on the bed stand and on the floor beside the bed, a stack by the chair before the tiny fireplace. In fact, the only place free of books was the bed itself, though Hermione's cat Crookshanks had sprawled on the red Gryffindor quilt and was attempting to take up as much room as possible, and a beautiful emerald gown lay on the opposite side.
"Is that what you will be wearing tonight?" When Hermione nodded, she added with a smile, "That is my favorite colour, you know."
Hermione smiled and asked, "What can I do for you, Professor? Won't you sit down?"
Hermione indicated the chair by the fire, and with her wand, turned the chair towards the bed and moved it closer, allowing Minerva to sit.
"I thought -- I thought you would be the proper person to ask, since I see much of myself in you at that same age, and I know you to be discreet as well."
The younger witch perched on the edge of her bed and leaned forward in her eagerness to hear the request, though she could think of nothing that would warrant McGonagall's presence here.
After a moment, the witch finally burst out, "I want to look … radiant tonight and need your assistance. I can't trust Sprout to keep her mouth shut and I certainly couldn't ask Sinistra or Hooch for help."
"Or Trelawney for that matter."
Minerva snorted. "You however…."
Hermione watched her for a moment, debate raging in her head, finally said, "If you want my help, you'll have to promise me one thing."
Eyeing her warily, Minerva ran through the possibilities of what Hermione could insist. "What must I promise?"
Hermione smiled as she twirled her wand in her hand. "You can't look until I'm finished."
All heads in the room swiveled to the doors as Minerva McGonagall entered the Great Hall, or at least it seemed that way to her. They were no doubt critiquing the amount of cleavage shown -- ample yet tasteful, according to Hermione -- by the low cut, jewel-encrusted ruby gown in which she was ensconced; too much back as well, though at least her hair covered most of that, as it reached down to the small of her back and hung in loose waves.
Across the room, Severus was indeed staring, quite perturbed by Minerva McGonagall's beautiful makeover, and quickly settled upon her as his target for the potion and began plotting how to slip it to her. He waited and watched as she glided across the floor, amused at the number of students who stopped her to chat, until she finally settled beside Albus Dumbledore on the far side of the room.
Severus immediately started for the punch bowl, where he adeptly dumped into the nearest cup the contents of the small vial that had been hidden in his hand then picked up that cup with one hand and an untainted cup of punch for himself and moved through the throng of people to McGonagall and Dumbledore. As he neared them, a body crashed into his own and both cups flew into the air, the liquid flying every which way and the cups smashing to the ground.
He whirled, his eyes burning and he found the culprit: "Mister Longbottom."
Neville cowered before him, holding two shaking cups of his own, as the Potions Master turned on him.
"Why should I be surprised that you would be the one responsible?
"Please, Professor," said Ginny Weasley, who had just stepped to Neville's side and taken one of the cups before he spilled punch everywhere. "It was an accident, and no one was hurt."
"Someone could slip on the punch --"
"D--Detergeo," Neville muttered, having pulled his wand out with his free hand and pointed it at the mess. "Reparo."
The cups gathered themselves up off the floor and pieced themselves back together and floated to Neville as the punch disappeared from the floor. He managed a weak smile at Snape, who only scowled harder at Neville's effort.
"Five points from Gryffindor," he hissed.
"But that's not fair!" Ginny exclaimed. "He cleaned up his mess and everything and it's Val--"
"Would you like it to be more points taken, Miss Weasley?"
"C'mon, Ginny," Neville urged, gently leading her away. "Let's go find the others."
Severus scowled at their retreating backs and felt in his robes for another vial of the potion and had to restrain himself from hexing Longbottom when he remembered he had only brought the one. He certainly had not intended to waste that dosage, and so he would have to return to the dungeons to procure another.
Finally, hours later after retreating to his dungeons for another dose of the love potion, he had been able to give McGonagall the drugged punch, pretended to be interested in the inane chatter of the other teachers as Minerva stood around holding her drink, and finally wandered off to watch her from a safe distance.
Several songs later, Severus stared impatiently across the floor filled with foolish students dancing crazily to the music pumped out of unseen speakers, his eyes firm on Minerva as she moved to Hermione Granger and set down the drink in order to talk more animatedly with Hermione Granger, her arms waving as if trying to show the girl something. Draco Malfoy and Ron Weasley stood off to the side, whispering to one another and Harry drifted off to the side, alone and dateless as had become his custom at these dances, despite all effort by any available student at catching Harry's eye.
At long last, Minerva picked up the drink from the table and finished it. He eyed her carefully for signs that the potion was taking hold, but nothing showed. Thirty minutes passed, with Severus carefully tailing Minerva, alert for anything out of the ordinary, and he finally gave up after an hour and headed outside where he would hopefully catch some snogging students to put him in a better mood.
"Hermione? Are you alright?" Ron asked worriedly.
"Where did he go?" she queried of no one in particular, her eyes rapidly scanning the crowd in the Great Hall. "Did he leave? I have to see him!"
"Hey, Potty, I think your friend's having some trouble," Malfoy drawled and Harry turned away from his conversation with Ginny and Neville.
"It's Hermione," Ron said as he leaned around Draco, nodding his head at her. "She's been talking to herself for a bit now."
With a frown, Harry moved to her side as she said, "Where did he go? I wanted to talk to him!"
"Who are you looking for, 'Mione?"
"Snape. I didn't see him leave."
"Why are you worried about Snape?" Harry asked. "You'll see him soon enough, since your N.E.W.T. class is tomorrow."
"But I wanted to dance with him," she whimpered and started to move through the crowd.
"What?" he said with a start. "You're joking, right? Where are you going?"
"To tell him that I love him," she replied.
"To tell him -- wait, stop, you can't tell Snape --" he threw a hand to her shoulder but she ducked it and darted through the crowd.
Harry waved at Ron and Draco and they followed her out of the Great Hall to the marble staircase where they found her sitting, her shoes strewn on the steps and the matching emerald jacket from the dress on the floor as well, and she was struggling to gather the full skirt together.
"Hermione," Harry spoke quietly as he sat beside her on the steps. "Are you alright? What's wrong?"
"I'm so hot, I have to take off this dress," she said, pulling the skirt up to reveal red satin panties, to Harry and Ron's embarrassment and the amusement of Draco, who shoved his fist in his mouth to keep from laughing.
"Go get McGonagall," Harry snapped at Draco, who pouted but after an encouraging nod from Ron returned to the Great Hall. Harry immediately turned back to Ron and said, "We better get her to the hospital wing."
They marched her to the infirmary, one arm in each set of hands to prevent any further attempts by Hermione to disrobe in the hallways. Draco appeared moments later, carrying Hermione's things, followed closely by Minerva McGonagall.
Poppy Pomfrey was already ministering to Hermione, having quickly sedated her and shooed the boys out of her way, who now loitered at the next bed over.
"What's wrong? Draco only told me she was acting unusual," Minerva asked, hovering behind the mediwitch.
"You'll know as soon as I do," Poppy assured her. "But I must be allowed to work."
Minerva looked to Harry, Ron and Draco, who sat side by side on the next bed over, and she sighed. "Return to the dance. I will keep an eye on her."
"But Professor --" Harry began, but stopped when McGonagall glared at him. "Yes, ma'am. Can we stop by later to check on her?"
Hours later, Poppy pronounced Hermione out of harm and insisted that McGonagall return to her own quarters, and Minerva was too tired to protest as her eyelids felt weighted and she had dozed off several times in the last hour. All the dancing she had done with Flitwick, Dumbledore, and Bill Weasley, this year's Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, had left her exhausted and she slowly made her way down the hallway towards the stairs. As she reached the second floor, a rough voice startled her.
"Who goes there?"
"Oh, Argus, you startled me!" she exclaimed, laughing at her own fright and leaning against the wall.
"Professor McGonagall," he said slowly, as he drank in her appearance, the dress, the long black hair, everything. "You look so … so …."
He trailed off and stared at her openly, oblivious to the warm flush rising over her face and neck. How he wanted to touch her graceful neck, to run his fingers through the thick black hair coursing down her back. As if finally snapping to his senses, Filch straightened his shoulders and cleared his throat.
"I had better continue my rounds," he said severely and started down the corridor.
McGonagall frowned at his retreating back, then turned the opposite direction to continue to the first floor, only making it a few steps before something wound about her ankle and she fell to the floor with a surprised yelp. She landed hard on one knee, felt the fabric of the dress rip, and ended up with her face on the stone. A nearby hiss told her it was Mrs. Norris who had tripped her, and judging by the hiss, the cat was not happy.
Filch was by Minerva's side in a moment. "Professor, are you alright? Shall I summon Madam Pomfrey?"
"No, there's no need," she said, picking herself up and cringing, she sat back on the floor. "I just bruised my knee and skinned my hands a bit, it would seem, nothing I can't handle, although it seems I could use some assistance standing up."
Argus leapt to his feet and offered his hands, gingerly avoiding the abrasions on her palms, and he hoisted her off the floor. He ignored her protestations and assisted her down the hallway, her arm around his shoulders and his hand firmly in the middle of her back. As they walked, Dumbledore's words from earlier flitted through her head and she thought about how he had stared at her earlier, not stared, but something … and it wasn't the first she had noticed it before from Filch.
Minutes later, they arrived at her office and he averted his head as she unwarded the door.
"Thank you, Argus," she said quietly as she leaned against the door frame.
"Welcome," he muttered and made to leave.
Her voice was soft and he turned with trepidation to look at her, but her eyes only held kindness.
"How did I look tonight? Tell me."
His breath caught in his chest and he blinked rapidly as words passed through his head but none felt right so he finally whispered, "You are the most beautiful creature I have ever seen."
A smile spread across her face and her cheeks blushed and she said, "Argus, would you like to come in for a cup of tea? Or maybe a glass of Firewhiskey?"
He did not reply at first, it dawned on her that maybe she had made a mistake and the smile had just started to fade when he nodded, imperceptibly at first, but finally he added his voice and said, "Yes, yes I would."
He turned to Mrs. Norris, sure he saw her wink and smile, before she stalked down the hall, her tail waving proudly behind her as she headed out to watch for students, then Argus followed Minerva into her office.
Early the following morning, Severus left for the Great Hall feeling ravenous and actually desiring breakfast, which was an unusual change and since it was Saturday, he did not have to worry about sharing his breakfast with the entire student body. He was quite startled, however, to see Minerva McGonagall standing at the top of the marble stairs hand-in-hand with Argus Filch, and horrified, even, when she reached over and kissed him gingerly on the lips.
He shook his head as if to clear it, but the image remained and he quickly moved to the Great Hall so there was no chance she would see him and he would not have to speak with her about it, though he wished he could at least discuss the aspects of the potion with her; he really needed to know what kind of side effects accompanied it. He swept through the doors, glared at the startled yelp at his entrance that emanated from the Gryffindor table, unsurprised to find Potter, Weasley and Granger all staring at him, though they ducked their heads quickly.
With a swish of his robes, he changed course and stood directly behind Potter and Granger, while Weasley looked up with a mouth stuffed full of eggs and sausage, by the looks of it, and nearly spit out the lot on Harry.
"If only you would have paid me so much attention in potions, Potter, perhaps you would not have done so poorly on your O.W.L.S."
Harry bit back a retort, so Snape slithered away without further comment.
"D'you think he knows?" Ron whispered once he was away.
"He'd be the last person to say anything about it, I'm sure," Hermione mumbled into her cereal. "It's probably just as horrifying for him as it was for me."
"I'd say he'd be lucky to have you lusting after him, 'Mione," Harry said with a smile. "Probably be the prettiest girl who ever fancied him."
"Yeah, and like Pomfrey said, someone wanted you to fall in love with him," Ron added.
"Actually," she began slowly, "I'm not sure that's true."
"What d'you mean?" asked Ron around a mouthful of toast, his eyebrows leaping up into his hair.
"I've been reading up on love potions since we're due to begin them next month, and that type of potion is very difficult to brew, much harder than the regular love potions we will be studying. But the one I was given did not react like it should have. It didn't force my feelings for Professor Snape."
"It didn't force --" Ron began, looking blankly from Hermione to Harry, whose glasses had slipped down his nose and he was staring at Hermione with his mouth open. "You mean, it didn't force your --"
"Yes, Ron, I mean it only enhanced my own secret desire for him," she snapped, at once regretting it as his face fell and everything she said sunk in.
Snape watched with subdued interest as Minerva McGonagall entered the teachers lounge and folded herself into the other chair opposite the fire. There were dark circles under her eyes and she looked older than her years, though Snape had no real idea how high that number ran by now.
"How was your evening?" Snape asked McGonagall with a barely concealed smirk.
She glanced at him sharply and frowned. "Quite fine, though I did have to escort Hermione Granger to the hospital wing a little before ten, though I'm sure you had already snuck out by then. It seems someone slipped a love potion into her drink and she had a bad reaction to it. I was up with her until nearly one in the morning."
Snape raised one elegant eyebrow as his mind quickly calculated what she was telling him. If Granger ended up with the love potion, it would certainly explain her behavior at breakfast this morning … but then what had he observed between McGonagall and Filch: true affection? He was suddenly horrified that something terrible had really happened, something he had not engineered himself. He had half a mind to use legilimency on McGonagall to find out what really happened, but there was no way he could hide it from her as they were the only two in the teachers lounge and she was staring at him intently.
"Have you been working on love potions in any of your classes, Severus?" she asked and she glared at him, and he was relieved to find that she suspected a fellow student in the spiking of Granger's punch.
"I only teach love potions to N.E.W.T. level classes, and not until later in the spring," he drawled, keeping his voice devoid of any interest. He quickly added, "If Granger was on the receiving end, I would not be surprised to find Draco Malfoy involved in some manner."
"I doubt that, since Ron Weasley would have objected to it."
Severus shrugged and picked up his cup of tea from the table beside him and lifted it to his mouth.
"I think you should also know that she was asking about you all night."
Snape sputtered into his tea and quickly set it back down on its saucer. "What?" he asked, voice low and dangerous.
"Yes, it seems that's when Potter and Weasley noticed something was wrong. She kept asking where you were and whether you'd dance with her."
His eyes widened slightly. "Why me?"
"Madam Pomfrey says it was no ordinary love potion, since they generally lead the person to fall in love with the next person they see –"
"Yes, yes," he interrupted impatiently, leaning forward unconsciously, "I am the Potions Master in case you've forgotten. What else about the potion?"
"After she started asking for you, she apparently got warm and began taking off her clothes," Minerva said, a hint of pink tingeing her cheeks.
Snape stared at her in abject horror as the puzzle pieces slowly rearranged themselves in his mind and the realization of what happened dawned on him. The whole point of the potion was to make the person -- victim -- fall in such a deep state of love with another person -- his or her deepest, darkest desire -- and to be so in love that he or she cannot do anything but act upon that love. And he was the only person who knew and understood why exactly Hermione Granger was yearning for him.
"Is she still in such a state?" he asked with carefully covered trepidation.
"No, thankfully. Poppy reckons someone deliberately targeted you as the object of Hermione's desire."
Snorting, he answered, "That would take a potions skill level higher than any students here."
McGonagall pursed her lips and watched him carefully, and Snape, mindful of her scrutiny, raised his cup of tea to his lips and before taking a sip said, "If you wish to ask whether I brewed the potion, please do, though I could see no benefit in having Granger pine for me, other than my own humiliation."
She snorted and looked away, letting the issue of Hermione Granger's misfortune rest, quickly absorbed in her own thoughts.
"So tell me, Minerva," Snape drawled after a time, "how are things with Argus?"
The sudden panicked look in her eye confirmed his darkest suspicions regarding the pair.
"How did you know?" she demanded. "Were you in my head just now? You have no right to do that!"
He snorted and replied, "No, I merely witnessed the two of you at it this morning on the stairs."
Minerva looked aghast. "Good heavens, a student could have seen!"
"Unlikely. I believe I was the only one to be scarred so horrendously."
She scowled and said roughly, "Can I count on your silence?" When he simply eyed her, her tone grew threatening and she added, "Upon further thought, I have no doubt you were involved in that business with the love potion last night, and I would hate for students to start whispering that you wanted Granger to be in love with you."
Knowing he was beaten, Severus glared at her with all his might, but she was impervious and finally he gave in, "Very well, you have my silence." He paused then purred, "But since I already know, there's no harm in giving me the details."
"And have them used against me later?" she snorted. "No thank you. It is my business and if it ever becomes yours, I shall inform you at once."
The door to the lounge opened and Pomona Sprout bustled in, carrying what appeared to be a large blue fern.
"Good morning, Minerva, Severus," she called as she set the plant down on a table. "I thought this would brighten up the room. Oh, Minerva, one of my students told me something happened to Hermione Granger last night, bad punch, I believe. Is she alright?" She didn't see the look Snape and McGonagall shared as she tended to her plant. "She is such a bright witch, with such a wonderful future."
"She's quite alright, Pomona." She paused and looked at Severus, a smile spreading slowly across her face, and she said, "Many a wizard would love to catch her I'm sure."
First off I must say: this fic is all thanks to Shiv, who planted the seed for this ficlet with her own lovely fic(let) "Arithmantic Dating Agency", so this one is for you, Shiv -- and really, no matter how you might try to worm your way out of it, it is your fault!
I hope all of you enjoyed this as much as I did writing it … haven't had that much fun since "Subterranean Homesick Potions Master." For those of you waiting impatiently for the next installment of "All Secrets…", fear not, for writing this has been a pleasant distraction and I'm feeling fresh and revived.
Please, review and let me know how the characterizations are. This is my first attempt to write something not based on SS/HG, so I'm a little nervous. Thanks for reading everyone!