A/N: Okay, it was 3 o’clock in the morning. I was thinking about this challenge and Soup of the day somehow morphed into Flavour of the Month, which somehow slipped into this story. Anyway, I woke up with it going round in my brain, and technically it’s not a true drabble because while it’s exactly 1600 words long it’s not broken up into 100-word bites. I’m hoping that my cute looks and irresistible charm will let me get away with it.Special thanks to the amazing stgulik for her sterling beta work. I cannot do this without you, Jules.
Harry’s are green, and taste of soft mint and a trace of lime. Ron’s are blue, and rather predictably, are as ginger as a ginger thing. Voldemort’s, which are the colour of mold on bread, taste bitter and sharply of bile. There is even an Umbridge, which is the vilest shade of pink and reputedly tastes so sickly sweet, one feels ill after eating just one. The Bertie Botts people have been somewhat kinder to Lucius Malfoy; his is the color of snow and tastes, so they say, of pine needles and white chocolate.
It is a bold and brilliant move by the confectioners, cashing in on the popular celebrities of the day. “Heroes and Villains,” this new line of beans is called, and it represents everyone from Dumbledore (cinder toffee – the BB folks did not want to court too much controversy) to Neville Longbottom (coffee with a slight whiff of cordite), Sirius Black (licorice all-sorts and dust motes) to Professor McGonagall (Scotch and cat hair). Other flavours are said to be in the making for Ginny Weasley and Seamus Finnigan, if they can stabilise the gelignite. In the Villain corner, Bellatrix Lestrange even gets a shoutout (sweat and black pudding), with developmental flavours for Barty Crouch and Gregory Goyle in the works.
The candy will not be released until next Thursday, but the witches and wizards honoured with this new packaging received an unmarked bag of their own beans today. Attached to the bag is a flashy card extolling the exciting new box design, and a handwritten note from Alphonsus Botts, the company’s managing wizard, hoping they will enjoy their custom-designed flavour and “tell all your friends to be on the lookout for your one-of-a-kind, exciting new flavour!”
Judging by the expression on her colleague’s face, Hermione Granger realises Severus Snape has come to the same conclusion as she. “What?” she asks wryly. “Don’t tell me you aren’t delighted that you’ve been given your own Bertie Botts bean.”
He scoffs and shoots her a look of pure disdain. Hermione knows there is more self-deprecation than contempt behind that sneer. “Oh, joy of joys,” he drawls. “A free sample of something I gave neither my permission nor approval to create, in hopes I’m going to be so thrilled with it, I tell every witch and wizard in the free world.”
“Some of our fellow teachers were actually upset they weren’t selected, you know,” she adds, glancing around the faculty lounge conspiratorially.
“They can have mine.”
“You might be pleasantly surprised.” Hermione knows he won’t, but she loves playing the devil’s advocate with him. He regularly gives as good as he gets.
“I seriously doubt it.” His eye roll is epic. “Risking my life for the Greater good, and what thanks do I get? ‘Congratulations, Severus, here’s your bean’.” His mood turns as sour as his expression, and he sighs. “Meanwhile, Bertie Botts is getting richer at my expense. And as if that isn’t embarrassing enough, you can be sure mine will be avoided like the plague. The last ones rattling around in the box will be the Severus Snape-flavoured ones, mark my words.”
It is on Hermione’s lips to chide him for being overly dramatic, but something in his expression stops her. Surviving the war has not been easy on Severus, even if he is in the Hero category. Derision has dogged him, and no matter how many times either she or Harry or any of a dozen witnesses extol his loyalty and his bravery, there are still some who mistrust him and whisper of his duplicity and his darkness.
“Well, you’ll never know until you’ve tried them,” she ventures. She glances down at her own unmarked bag. “Maybe these beans will be the making of you.”
“Oh, please, Professor Granger!” he snaps. He only calls her that when he is truly aggravated. Normally it is Hermione and Severus, but this little bean has got in his boot, and it irritates. “This is a jelly bean company, not Honeydukes Finest! They lack both the imagination and tact to do justice to most of the people they supposedly honour. They will taste the way the public expects them to taste. Mine will no doubt be redolent of dog ends and muddy water, just like their namesake.”
The bitterness in his voice saddens her. “I wouldn’t be surprised if mine tastes of ink and parchment, with a side order of Brussel sprouts.”
“That’s not going to happen, girl, and you know it,” he replies morosely. “You’re Hermione Granger, war heroine. I’ll wager you taste delicious.” His sallow cheeks darken slightly.
Ignoring the big double-entendre-shaped elephant in the room, Hermione tosses her bag in his lap. “Quid pro quo, then. I’ll taste you, and you can taste me.” She can’t quite prevent the blush she feels rising in her own face. “I’ll go first, shall I?” she declares briskly, and busies herself with the knot at the top of the bag.
The beans that spill from its mouth are pitch-black, with a white line running around the circumference of each, like wishing rocks. There is a faint silvery shimmer swirling beneath the black surface, as if fine glitter has been cooked into the candy. “They’re actually quite pretty,” she whispers, holding one to the light.
“You don’t eat with your eyes,” he grumbles, but he is intrigued in spite of himself. Impatiently, he urges, “Well, go on then.”
Hermione pops one in her mouth. When she begins to chew, a mélange of flavours burst on her tongue. Smoked salt, Lapsang Souchong, burnt sugar. Flavours that shouldn’t be flavours, like patchouli and leather, and the darkest, bitterest chocolate laced with the zing of sour cherries. It shouldn’t work; it should be too much of too much, but Hermione eats eight more before she can stop herself.
Severus watches her intently, his expression turning more curious with every bean she eats. With a tone of incredulity, he says, “I’m cautiously optimistic. If you hate it, you have a strange way of showing it.”
Coming out of her reverie, Hermione laughs. “I don’t know exactly what I was expecting, but it’s fantastic, Severus! I mean, it’s not for everyone and certainly not for the unsophisticated palate, but the flavour combinations are simply incredible. I mean, whoever designed this bean really knew what they were doing! It has umami and mouth feel and tastes that are actually scents and ideas, and─”
“You got all that from a jelly bean?”
“I did! Severus, this is delicious! Not for the kiddies, no. But adults will be fighting over these.” Hermione has to force herself to stop reaching for more beans. “In all truth, I’d say they’ve captured you perfectly. Honestly, I could eat this entire bag. I could eat them all day-”
She glances up to find Severus looking at her. “…and never get enough,” she says.
His expression is as complex and provocative as the flavour of his namesake beans. So many things wage war in that look. He is searching her, his eyes threatening Legilimency, but he finally remembers himself and clears his throat. “Well, then,” he says, and looks down at the bag before him. “It’s my turn.”
Severus’ hand delves into the bag and when it emerges, he is holding seven Hermione Granger-flavoured Bertie Botts beans in his palm. To her relief, they are an inviting shade of russet brown with golden flecks. They seem to pulse with a softly glowing light. He takes one and holds it by the tips of his fingers, studying it. Then he lifts it toward her face. “I’ll give them this,” he murmurs, looking from the bean to her, “they’ve matched the colour of your eyes perfectly.”
He brings the bean to his nose and gives it a sniff. “Rather caramel-like,” he muses, and places it on his tongue. Gazing past her shoulder, he chews for what seems an eternity. His expression is unreadable; Hermione has absolutely no idea if he likes it or wants to spit it out.
Despite her earlier flippancy, she is more than a little curious to find out exactly how it tastes. Severus is not alone in worrying that this might be a way to embarrass her. It’s a silly thing to fret over, but they are neither one of them perfect.
He swallows, smacks his lips, then chases it with a sip of water. Instead of reporting his findings, he gives her a wicked look and casually pops another into his mouth. He’s playing with her, the bastard. “Oh, for Merlin’s sweet sucking sake!” she exclaims. “Put me out of my misery!”
He gives her an indulgent smirk. With laughter in his voice, he says, “Relax, Granger. It’s not ink and sprouts.” She reaches for the bag, but he teasingly snatches it out of reach. “Alright,” he says, and places the bag back on the table. “I thought I detected caramel in the scent of it, but I was wrong. It was nothing like caramel. I tasted cinnamon, and sugar, and warm, buttered bread. I tasted chai tea with milk and honey.” His eyes soften. “I tasted home.”
There is a calmness in him that the world seldom sees, and in that moment, Hermione falls, hard. She picks up one of the Wishing Rock-shaped beans and holds it out to him as a gift. Severus allows her to feed him; his eyes widen, then close, as he lets the flavours work their magic.
When he opens his eyes, and sees the flavour of home looking back at him, he falls as well.