I steel myself as I walk into our next potions session, being sure to arrive a few minutes early. I approach Professor Slughorn as he casts a scourify charm at the blackboard to get it ready for the class. "Professor Slughorn," I call, trying to cover up my nervousness.
"Miss Bradford," he says with a slightly hard edge.
"I, I just wanted to apologize for my behavior last class. It was immature, and reckless, and I truly am sorry. I'm especially sorry that my actions caused you harm," I say despondently, shifting my gaze from him to the floor.
I hear him sigh and stop cleaning the blackboard as he gives me his full attention. "Thank you Eleanor; I appreciate that. Your behavior was quite disappointing, especially from such a skilled and well-behaved student, but I can understand that you were frustrated with your potion being ruined. You have always taken your work quite seriously, and I respect that. In the future, though, if something should go wrong, please try to control your temper."
"I definitely will," I assure him. He gives me a huge smile and I know that I am back in his good graces. Too bad I am going to fall back out of them when my performance in class begins 'slipping.' Especially since it was going to begin its downward spiral today.
The other students begin pouring into the classroom a few moments later, and, not surprisingly, Severus is one of the first ones to arrive. For once, though, Lily is not walking in with him. Maybe my luck is turning even without the Felix Felicis.
"Ah, Severus, good afternoon," Sluggy greets him cheerfully.
"Professor," he replies simply with a slight nod of his head.
"Congratulations again on your Draught of Living Death. I haven't seen that potion brewed so well since I myself did it. You are the first person I have awarded the Felix Felicis to in all my years teaching."
"You won it?" I ask before I can stop myself.
"Yes," Severus answers as he meets my eyes for a moment, then goes to take his seat across the aisle from me.
"That's great," I continue with a smile that has naturally formed just from being in his presence. "It was a really complicated potion."
I am thrilled that Severus is talking to me, but I can't help but wonder if I'll ever be able to get more than one-word answers from him.
"Do you have any particular plans for your spoils?" Sluggy asks him as he claps him on the back, making Severus look distinctly uncomfortable.
"I am weighing the options," he drawls, earning him another smile from Sluggy.
"Of course you are! I know you'll use it wisely."
"I shall," he agrees distractedly as Lily enters the room and he follows her to the front with his eyes.
"Hi Sev!" she greets happily as she flounces down into the seat next to him.
He smiles softly at her and his black eyes seem to sparkle just a bit. "Hello Lily," he replies with a hint of happiness in his voice that kills me just a little.
I turn away from him so that I don't have to see him moon over her and notice that Yaxley has opted to sit all the way in the back right of the room, as far away from me as he can get. At least there is one positive consequence of my embarrassing explosion yesterday.
The rest of the class goes by as usual, except for the fact that for the first time in my Hogwarts career (other than yesterday, which I don't count do to extenuating circumstances) I fail to correctly brew a potion. Slughorn peers into my cauldron with a furrowed brow and a troubled look in his eyes.
"What happened Eleanor?" he asks me.
"I don't know," I reply with a shrug as I look at the runny blue liquid that looks nothing like the thick purple sludge pictured in our books.
"Well, perhaps you are still out of sorts from our last class. You've never had any issues before, so I am not concerned. I am sure you'll get it next time," he says with a half-hearted smile.
Severus raises an eyebrow in my direction and leans over a bit to peek into my cauldron, recoiling back, almost in horror, when he sees my erroneous concoction. I give him a small shrug and a half smile/half grimace but he doesn't make a comment.
"Excellent work as usual Lily!" Slughorn praises as he evaluates the contents of her cauldron. Severus looks at her work and gives her his shy smile, making me want to punch her. I almost reconsider my plan, but I know I have to do something drastic if I ever want to get Severus alone, so I suck up my pride.
The next four weeks go by without me getting a single potion right and failing two quizzes. One thing is certain; I have gained Severus' attention. Each time that Slughorn laments my failure, my tall, dark, and handsome love interest turns that upraised brow upon me and leans over in curiosity to see what I could possibly have brewed this time. Once I thought he had even given me a sympathetic look, but lately it seems like they are more suspicious. I hope he isn't catching on to what I'm doing.
"Miss Bradford, could I speak with you?" Sluggy asks as he dismisses the rest of the class after a particularly spectacular failure of mine that results in projectile green sparks and a melted cauldron. I nod at him and see that Severus hangs back for just a moment, looking at us both curiously before Lily calls for him from the hall. He turns away, quickly grabbing his book, and putting it into his black shoulder bag as he moves purposefully down the aisle to the door. He gives us one more quick glance then exits.
"I honestly don't know what's going on with you," Slughorn huffs at me as he settles his girth upon the edge of his desk. "You used to be one of my top students, but lately…well quite frankly, your work is atrocious! You melted a cauldron today! While trying to make a freezing potion!" he shouts in exasperation as he tugs on his sparse blonde hair.
"I know," I lament. "I'm sorry…I just can't seem to get the hang of the potions this year. Advanced Potions is turning out to be much more difficult than I had imagined," I say with a crushed look on my face.
"You are far too good of a witch and a student to fail Potions," he says pointedly. "It would reflect very poorly upon me as your Professor…and on you, of course. We have to do something about this."
I smile quickly before suppressing it. He is playing right into my hands! "I definitely agree. I was thinking that perhaps I could benefit from some more personalized attention. Maybe a tutor? Someone who is learning the same things I am, but understands them explicitly," I suggest innocently.
"A tutor! That's an excellent idea," he agrees with a wide smile. "I have the perfect student in mind, too."
I smile widely, this time letting the Professor see my hopefulness. "That's wonderful! Thank you Professor."
"My pleasure, my dear. By our next class it should be all arranged."
"Excellent!" I exclaim with an irrepressible grin.
At dinner that evening, my smile still had not faltered. I just keep imagining Severus and I sitting together, side by side at the lab table, knees occasionally touching, as he demonstrates his genius. He would lean over to point something out in my text book, and then glance up at me with his silky black hair falling into his eyes. I would gently push the hair back, tucking it behind his ear, and he would lean into my touch. Then, he'd raise his head fully and stare into my eyes for a moment, surprised at the depth of feelings that were manifesting within him, before moving slowly closer and pressing his sculpted thin lips softly against mine.
"Who cast a Cheering Charm on you?" Cassie asks suddenly as she practically throws herself into the seat across the table from me, effectively breaking me out of my daydream, much to my dismay.
"I have no idea what you're talking about," I say with feigned ignorance.
"Ellll…." she leads, making it clear she is not going to be dropping the subject anytime soon.
My smile widens even further as I cave and tell her of my brilliant plan to get closer to Severus.
"You're purposely failing Potions!" she shouts far too loudly.
"Shhh!" I hiss as I look around in horror, but thankfully none of the other tables were paying any attention to us.
"Eleanor Ann Bradford! You've never failed anything in your life! You freak out when you get a 95% on an exam! You were disappointed at getting ONE 'E' and EIGHT 'O's on your OWLS! What in the name of Merlin has gotten into you?!" she seethes in disbelief.
"Calm down, Cass. I'll be able to bring my grade back up way before the end of the term, so there won't be any harm done, and I'll finally have a chance to spend time with Severus."
"You're mental, you know that? Completely, utterly, barmy!" she huffs in exasperation.
"Maybe, but I prefer to think of myself as eccentric, as all geniuses were," I retort haughtily, causing her to roll her eyes and smile a bit at my false egotism.
"Fine, I'll let it go for now, but if you haven't gotten your marks back up by November I'm pulling the plug on this plan of yours."
"Deal," I agree with our traditional handshake as the huge smile once again creeps onto my face as I picture Severus and I huddled close together over a Potions book in the deserted library.