"Well, I thought it was funny," Daffy Apcarne said as they drifted off toward Hufflepuff House. Maddie Madrigan and Sanjiv MacPherson were meandering along to either side of them. "Snape just hasn't got a sense of humor."
"Tell me about it." Tonks shrugged. "Don't know what he has about a few plants in the cauldrons. I thought it spruced the place up a bit."
"I think it's that they were giant pink carnations," Maddie pointed out. "And you put bows on them and they grew on the floor and the wall when you tripped over Paul Parkinson's cauldron."
They reached the stairs that led down to the Potions dungeon, and Tonks stopped walking. "This is it."
Sanjiv grabbed her upper arms, dropping into one of the many characters who lived in his head. "Don't go, Tonks!" he pleaded melodramatically. "No one comes back from that awful place, and I shall ruddy die if I lose you!" He collapsed into mock sobs on her shoulder.
Tonks patted his head. "There, there. If Snape kills me, you can have my Ensorcelled Elves poster."
Sanjiv stood up. "Oh, well, in that case, have at it. We'll see you later."
Tonks watched them wander off toward the sunnier end of the corridor, then sighed and trudged down to the dungeon. Snape was standing beside his desk when she got there, glaring at her. The flowers were long gone, but he kept glancing suspiciously at the walls, as though they might reappear at any second.
"D'you want me gut frogs or whatnot?" she asked, heading for the supply cupboard. Potions detentions had become part of her routine during her first three years at Hogwarts, despite Sanjiv's joking, and she imagined fourth year would be more or less the same. She normally got them for being cheeky, which to Snape seemed to mean answering his questions too quickly or telling a joke in class.
"I will not tolerate being insulted in my own classroom, do you understand that, Miss Tonks?"
"I wasn't trying to insult you!"
"And you will address me with respect."
"Of course I will."
"Of course I will, sir."
"Making insolent faces is not a particularly strong beginning."
Tonks forcibly arranged her features into something less baffled than she supposed she was projecting, and said, "Yes, sir."
Snape narrowed his eyes and looked like he intended to pursue it further, but ultimately just curled his lip and said, "You will be brewing an Exposing Elixir this evening, and you will remain here until you get it right."
"A what, sir? We haven't covered that in class."
Snape waved his wand at the blackboard, and a complex series of instructions appeared. Tonks groaned inwardly.
"An Exposing Elixir," Snape said, his voice taking on the dangerously smooth quality that she associated with imminent punishment. "A Potion that will force anything altering its appearance with magic - or anyone who is - to expose its true shape."
"Couldn't I just skin shrivelfigs?"
"You will do precisely what you were told to do," Snape said, his jaw tight. "And you will do it neither argument nor conversation."
Tonks resigned herself to it, and went to the table where he had the more obscure ingredients laid out. She opened her own Potions kit (she'd long-since painted the wooden box a happy sort of purple, and written her last name on it in large orange letters with blue lines around them to decorate) and took out what remained. The first thing to do was always the nitpicky measuring and chopping and such, so she laid out her scoops and cups and started in, humming under her breath. By the time she'd got to chopping the fluxweed - it was used for some kinds of transformative Potions, and she supposed it gave the Exposing Elixir its transforming power -she was muttering the words to the Ensorcelled Elves' new song, "Hopping (Like a Hinkypunk)."
"...and we're hopping, hopping... like a hinkypunk... into the fog and"
There was a sharp click, and she stopped singing. Snape had planted his wand firmly at the end of the table to get her attention.
"Yes, Professor Snape?" she asked.
"If you refuse to take this assignment seriously, you will find yourself here for a great deal of time."
Tonks frowned. "Have I done something wrong?"
Snape glowered over her measuring cups and her balanced scale and examined her fluxweed cuttings in minute detail.
"Not yet," he snarled, sounding considerably angrier than he did when her classmates actually forgot things. He often seemed most annoyed with Tonks when she was doing well. "But this is a detention, not a Hufflepuff talent exhibition, Miss Black."
"My name is Tonks, sir."
His upper lip curled and his nose... twitched. "As you like," he said.
"It's not a question of liking or not liking, sir. It's just my name."
Snape looked at her coldly. "Finish your Exposing Elixir," he said. "And refrain from caterwauling while you do it."
She finished chopping and measuring and started fiddling with the magical fire. Snape hovered while she did this, waiting to pounce on any mistakes, but Tonks loved controlling fire and she hadn't made a mistake at it since first year. When she'd gotten it to the right temperature and intensity, he skulked away to mark papers.
She lined up her ingredients in the right order and added them according to the recipe, trying to figure out the logic of it as she went. Why wait long enough for the dittany to soften, but not long for it to wilt, before adding the fluxweed? What was special about that moment? And why powdered unicorn horn? Was it the truth element? Snape never seemed to talk about that kind of thing in class, but it was what interested her most about Potions. How else was she supposed to make new ones to do new things, like the business with the flowers?
She frowned as she added a whole ginger root to the mix, wondering if that was why Snape didn't like to answer all of her "why" questions. She considered asking, looked at him glaring daggers at the pile of scrolls in front of him, and opted not to. Instead, she added the last of the ingredients and tweaked the fire to a new temperature. He set her to cleaning the tables while the Potion brewed. She set a charm on her skin to itch when it was time to check, and Snape again seemed disappointed that he didn't have to remind her.
The Potion had the consistency of fresh chicken broth, with herbs and spices laced through it. The ginger root drifted through it like a soup bone. She dipped a phial into it and brought it to Snape.
He frowned at it and held it up to the window, where the day's dying light caught it. He held it to his nose and sniffed it, and finally handed it back to her with a disgusted sneer.
"Drink it," he said.
"It needs to be tested. Drink it."
Tonks drank it. Nothing happened.
"I knew you made a mistake," Snape said, his voice managing to be cool and triumphant at the same time. "What did you miss?"
"Nothing, sir. The potion is fine."
"I see no change."
" I'm just not morphed," she said. "This is me."
Snape clenched his jaw and sat down. "Clean up," he said. "And if you speak to me disrespectfully again, it will be three days' detention."
Tonks shook her head and left him to his bafflement, going up into the light of the Great Hall to join her friends for dinner.