The room was small, much smaller than she had imagined, and papered in a revolting shade of biscuit. The floor was unglamorously linoleum, and it was devoid of any furnishings save for a rickety table, with an iron cauldron and a set of ingredients. The door that led to the room was made of some rusted metal, with nails driven across it, and a large placard on both sides that read: No. 27.
'You,' said the blonde invigilator, who had led her to the room. 'You're No. 27. Get in- this is your room.'
Hermione swallowed nervously, as she surveyed the interior of the room.
'This is it?' she asked.
'This is it exactly,' clarified the invigilator. 'You will find an envelope inside, with instructions as to which potion you're expected to brew. The envelope will open exactly at 9 O Clock. Do not try to open it before hand. This will be counted as cheating, and your score for the duration of the examination will be nullified. Furthermore, you will be considered inapplicable for any Ministry-Approved post in the Academia.'
Her voice sounded metallic and rehearsed, like she said them to every person who entered every room in this corridor in the same way, with the same intonation. Which she probably did, reasoned Hermione. Nonetheless, she felt a little offended.
'I won't cheat,' she said, with what she assumed was quiet dignity. The invigilator did not
notice. She gestured into the room.
'In you go, then,' she said, 'Like I said, the envelope opens at 9 O Clock. I will be coming to collect your sample of the potion within two hours. Understood?'
Again, Hermione felt that inexplicable frisson of anger. She took a deep breath. Exam nerves, she told herself, and suddenly wished that she had squeezed in one more smoke during the walk from the Underground to the Ministry Gateway. She wondered if her hands would start shaking during the exam.
The invigilator was already leaving the room, shutting the door with a crisp, coppery bang behind her. Hermione sighed, and looked around the room for a chair. When she couldn't find out, she leaned against the wall and glanced at her watch. Five minutes to nine.
'Breathe deeply,' she told herself, sternly. 'You're going to do just fine. You've revised everything to perfection. You will be selected!'
She said this to herself once more, just to re-enforce the idea. Rummaging through her pockets, she found the small badge that had been spit out of the telephone booth slot when she entered the Ministry.
Applicant for Apprentice Audition
Even now, that she sitting- well, leaning against the wall of the room where she was going to give the exam, she felt a little flash of excitement as she saw those two words. Apprentice Audition. What an honor. For how long had she worked towards this? She thought of endless nights she had spent after graduating, holed up in the small room of her tiny apartment poring over books and sheaves of parchment. All that, she knew, would end here, the moment she opened that envelope and saw what potion it was she was supposed to brew within two hours.
Qualifying to this level itself was commendable, she knew. In fact, she had been terribly proud of it until she had reached the Ministry this morning, and seen a long line of applicants with badges similar to hers. She had counted off the numbers, and it went somewhere up to three hundred and twenty. Three hundred and twenty odd applicants, she reminded herself, of which only ten would get selected as Apprentices.
A series of sharp, stacatto beeps sounded, yanking her from that train of thought. Hermione frowned, and then glanced at her watch.
It was time.
Her gaze swung around to the small envelope on the table, beside her cauldron. The glossy seal had split into half, and its flap wavered temptingly towards her. Making a noise somewhere in between a gasp and a choke, Hermione flung herself across the room, and opened the envelope, slipping out the small piece of paper inside it.
One sentence was written in a neat, precise handwriting.
You are required to brew a Memory Obscuring Potion within the designated time limit.
Wave over wave of relief passed over Hermione's tension-wracked body as she read the line. She knew this! A Memory Obscuring Potion- her mind ran through the words that she had read about it one night in one of her books, and then over the list of ingredients, and the amounts. She glanced at the tray of ingredients kept beside her. It was well organized. A small knife, grater and ladle sat beside it.
Immediately, Hermione fell to work. She chopped her lacewings, and finely diced her Flobberworms, added them at just the right time, and stirred them with just the right movement. Her fingers flew over the tray of ingredients, cutting, grating and then sliding it into the cauldron, occasionally picking up the ladle, stirring it and then dropping it frantically down again. The potion turned from a mild brownish color to a vicious shade of red, and then slowly dulled to a more sober burnished amber. Hermione nodded approvingly, and then uncorked a small vial of phoenix tears, and let three drops fall into the potion.
Immediately, it transformed to a more vibrant shade of amber, as though the cauldron had suddenly been filled with the substance itself. Dull, golden lights were flung out from the mixture in the potion, and decorated the walls and the ceiling with a dazzling array of specks. Hermione surveyed her cauldon complacently, and was about to re-cork the phoenix tear vial, when she stopped.
Instinctively, her mind raced back to the night she had spent poring over page after page dedicated to potions intended to obscure memories. She remembered somewhat shaky comparisons that had been drawn between the healing properties of phoenix tears, and their ability to induce amnesia. The chapter had been nicely summed up by a small quote- "After all, what is forgetting if not healing of the mind?"
'What, indeed?' murmured Hermione.
An idea was beginning to form in her head- an idea that was making her distinctly uneasy and undeniably excited both at the same time. Her fingers, clasped around the vial, felt tight and uncomfortable. Her mind felt faintly feverish.
What would happen, she wondered if she were to add more of the phoenix tears? It wasn't reccomended in any books that she had read so far- but what if she did? She had heard enough cases of people drinking a Memory Obscuring Potion, and not having their memories obscured entirely. If she were to add more of the tears, wouldn't that ensure that their minds were completely wiped blank? At the same time, phoenix tears were known for their healing properties. Adding more of them couldn't possibly harm the ingestor of the potion.
Quickly, she made up her mind.
Gritting her teeth together, Hermione Granger made what was possibly the most important and startling desicions of her life. Despite the fact that no book had told her to do so, she uncorked the vial of phoenix tears once more, and added four more drops. Then another for good measure.
The cauldron hissed slightly. Hermione leaned forward over it, wondering if perhaps it would turn an even darker shade of amber. She watched the liquid inside the cauldron roil and bubble against itself, heard a soft hiss.
Then, there was a splintering noise, like paper tearing, followed by a loud bang, and Hermione found herself covered from head to toe in thick, dark red gloop.
'Ouch,' said Ron, sympathetically. Hermione had joined him and Harry for drinks at a pub near her apartment, and told them all about her Audition. 'That sounds pretty horrible.'
Hermione nodded miserably, and then slumped down against the surface of the table they were sitting at. Too late she remembered the whiskey rings that adorned its surface, and heaved back to an upright position. Her hand shot to her forehead, and she felt a slight dampness there.
'Oh, great,' she said, dejectedly. 'Now I have whiskey on my head.'
'There's some in your hair too,' Harry said, kindly. 'I would attempt to charm it off, but given that I'm not entirely sober right now...'
'Don't,' said Hermione, with a shudder. 'I'd rather keep my head on, thank you very much.' She reached out, and grabbed the bottle of whiskey that they had been sharing all evening. She took a long swig, and then sighed, and leaned back in her chair.
'Hermione, relax,' Ron said, soothingly. The effect was ruined by the fact that he was shamelessly slurring his words. 'There's still a chance you may get selected.'
'Ron,' she said, patiently, faintly aware that she too was slurring, 'My cauldron exploded. I did a complete Neville in there. At my Apprentice Audition! They deduct marks for things like adding an extra lacewing, or stirring in the wrong direction!'
'What did the invigilator say?' asked Harry, leaning forward to grab the bottle as Ron tutted morosely.
'Well, she didn't see the mess till she came to collect my sample,' Hermione said, with a sigh. 'I tried to clean some of it off the walls and the ceiling, but I was covered in the stuff, and besides, it was all the wrong color. She gave me the bitchiest look ever. And the worst part was, all I could think of was sneaking off and smoking a cigarette!'
She glanced gratefully down at the cigarette clutched firmly between her fingers, and took a long drag to emphasize her point.
Harry sighed dramatically, and then leaned over the table and took her other hand between his. He pressed her fingers firmly, and said, 'Don't worry, Herms. Something better will come up.'
'Will it?' demanded Hermione, dangerously. 'Will it?'
'Of course it will! This- this Apprentice Audition isn't the beginning and end of the world!'
'It's the beginning and end of my world.' Hermione said, with a little shiver. She pressed a hand against her own cheek, and noticed that she was drunk enough that it was almost completely numb. 'I've been thinking of nothing else for so long now. I worked so hard for it. I can't believe I screwed it up like that.'
There was a brief silence. All three of them looked melancholy. Ron sighed deeply, and then perked up a bit.
'I know what you need!' he said, sitting bolt upright, face beaming.
Hermione looked puzzled. 'You do? What?'
'You need to get drunk!' Ron said, with a broad smile. 'That's exactly what I do when I'm not feeling very perky!'
Hermione contemplated this for a moment. 'You know, Ron,' she said, thoughtfully. 'I think I already am drunk.'
Harry snorted. 'Ah, this is nothing.' he said, dismissively. 'Child's play, is what I call it. Hang on.' He glanced around and caught sight of a blonde waitress in a tight black dress, who was drifting amongst the tables balancing a tray in one hand. 'Hey!' he called out, loudly. A few people seated an neighboring tables turned around, but Hermione was too drunk to be embarassed.
'Hey!' called Harry, again. 'You! Waiter!'
'Waitress!' Hermione hissed.
'Tress, then.' said Harry, with a little wave of his hand. The waitress had caught sight of them, and was apprehensively approaching their table.
'Can I help you, sir?' she asked, tentatively.
Harry flashed her a bright smile, and then nodded vigorously. 'Yes!' he said, bobbing his head up and down. 'Yes! In fact, you can. You see, my friend here-' he pointed towards Hermione with a shaky finger, and she smiled bashfully up at the waitress- 'Just screwed up the most important day of her life. She's feeling a bit down, you know. Besides, she doesn't know this, but Ron and I always keep track of her dates, and it's the fifteenth, you know- that time of the month,' he added, with a significant wink. The waitress looked faintly appalled.
'You keep track of my dates?' asked Hermione, with interest.
'Anyway,' continued Harry, who was still talking directly to the waitress. 'We told her that the best way for her to deal with this was to get drunk. Don't you agree?'
'Um,' said the waitress.
'So, could we have a round of tequila shots, please? Actually, make that two.' said Harry, with a little smile. 'And salt and lemon. A little quickly, because she might start crying anytime soon.'
'I will do no such thing.' said Hermione, with dignity. The effect was ruined as she slumped sideways in her chair, and grabbed hold of Ron's arm to keep balance.
'Two rounds of tequila shots, coming right up,' said the waitress, who now simply looked amused. She drifted away, and returned in a few minutes with a tray piled with six glasses and a bowl of salt and chopped lemons.
'Enjoy,' she said, and left.
Author's Note- So. Just something new I'm trying out. I thought I'd start it on a light note, and then see where it goes. You like?
Please, oh please, review. I have this thing for feedback. =)