'Today, you will be brewing Amortentia,' announced Professor Slughorn. 'Unfortunately, I did not have time to prepare a sample for you to examine, however I believe you will remember seeing the potion at the start of your sixth year class.'
Hermione frowned, sitting up straight as Slughorn explained the details of the potion. Though it did not take long to prepare, she knew Amortentia was an extremely complex potion. Of course, she was familiar with the theory, having memorised her whole potions text book. However, to her annoyance, it had not stopped Tom Riddle from surpassing her in every single potions class in the few months since term resumed after the Battle of Hogwarts.
It frustrated her, the way his lips would twitch into the slightest smirk, fully aware that she was watching him from the corner of her eye. No matter how much Hermione prepared beforehand, it seemed that he was always just one step ahead of her. At first, the challenge excited her - after months of deliberate underachieving, the return to her own time had been liberating. Even more so, knowing that she now had Tom to compete with.
Of course, she hadn't expected that Tom would surpass her in every single class. Alas, it was a bitter pill to swallow.
'... and though I expect few of you will perfect the potion on your first attempt,' - his eyes flickered to where Tom and Hermione sat together at the front of the classroom - 'you have until the end of the class to do your best. You may begin.'
Hermione quickly scanned the ingredients list one last time before hurrying to the supply cupboard, hastily collecting her ingredients and rushing back to start her potion. She had already finished slicing her first ingredient by the time Tom returned to his desk.
'Why so eager, Hermione?' he asked, looking amused.
'It's a complex potion, Tom,' she said shortly, 'and we only have just enough time to complete it, assuming nothing goes wrong.'
'Oh, I'm not worried. It's not so complex, Amortentia, once you get the hang of it.'
Hermione looked up sharply, her blade paused on her chopping board.
'Once you get the hang of it?' she repeated. 'Do you mean to say-'
'That I've brewed this potion before? Indeed. It was merely weeks before you graced us with your presence in my time, if I remember correctly,' he said smugly.
Hermione did not reply, but resumed her chopping rather aggressively. At length, as her potion progressed and she had time to think while carefully stirring the slowly simmering liquid, a thought occurred to her, which she had initially overlooked in her competitive hast.
'Tom?' she began slowly. Tom, who was stirring his own potion rather intently, did not look up. 'What did you smell when you last made Amortentia?'
He did not answer immediately, and had Hermione not been remarkably perceptive, she might have missed the way his arm twitched subtly as he continued to stir his potion. Slowly, without looking at her, he answered.
He did not elaborate.
Hermione frowned, returning to her own potion. Something did not seem right, but she could not quite put her finger on it. And then it occurred to her. She had never known anyone to smell only one fragrance in Amortentia. It was usually three, rarely two, and Lavender had insisted she smelled five. So why did Tom only smell one…?
A small voice in the back of her head suggested, because he is pretending. He did not smell anything.
Hermione struggled to hold her arm steadily as the thought occurred to her. Hadn't Dumbledore always said that Voldemort had never known love? But surely, surely Tom was different? He was not Voldemort, after all?
But Slytherin had unintentionally appropriated some of his traits as his own, had he not? He could not be sure, as it was extremely rare dark magic, but Dumbledore had said that Slytherin's assumption of Tom's identity had been so convincing that it seemed the most probable scenario.
Hermione bit her lip, blinking back hot, prickly tears. She knew her relationship with Tom was not conventional. He was unlike other teenage boys, and she had treasured that about him. His talent, his raw power and authoritative persona intoxicated her. And though Tom clearly enjoyed her company, she could not be sure just what his feelings were. They had kissed of course, many times, but he had never told her that he cared for her as she had told him. She had dismissed this, thinking that perhaps he was not very expressive… but now, she was not so sure. Perhaps he was incapable of loving her the way that she loved him.
As the class progressed, wafts of shimmering steam started to emanate from a small number of cauldrons across the room. Slowly, the smell grew stronger and stronger and Hermione sighed longingly as she recognised the familiar scent of freshly mowed grass, new parchment and a new scent that she could not quite place but that she strongly suspected related to Tom. She soon found herself humming softly.
To her surprise, Tom looked up at her sharply, clearly frustrated.
'Must you be so distracting? Isn't it enough that the floral scent of your perfume is suffocating me? I can't concentrate,' he said.
'But Tom,' she said, confused. 'I ran out of perfume weeks ago'.
They look at each other, then, slowly, they both turn in unison to look at Tom's shimmering potion.
Hermione looked away, a small smile playing at her lips.
I couldn't help myself - I had to go back for this epilogue. I hope you enjoyed it and I would love to hear any feedback you might have. Thank you all for making it to the end of this story and to those who stuck with me. I finally finished it... 8 years later!