Chapter 11 : A Cunning Trap
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It was Saturday morning and Severus was in the greenhouse, carefully pruning the yellowed, drying leaves off of one of Professor Sprout’s plants. Students in her N.E.W.T. classes were required to sign up for practical hours. They were meant to re-pot and water plants, prune dead leaves, and in some cases, feed the plants. It was an easy mark, mostly because the work didn’t take very long and was hardly strenuous. Severus actually enjoyed the peace and quiet; the Slytherins had been quite noisy the night before, having won their first Quidditch match against Ravenclaw.
He pruned a final leaf and stooped to gather the leaves and throw them into the compost bin. On his way to the door, he heard a strange choking sound; it almost sounded like strangled breathing. He paused, craning his neck to get a better listen.
It was definitely a choking noise, he decided, but it was also accompanied by a series of hiccups and sniffles, so he doubted that it was an emergency. Raising an eyebrow, he dropped the leaves in the compost, then, very carefully, peered through the doorway towards the source of the sniffling.
There was someone there—a student, presumably—but he couldn’t tell who it was because the figure was hooded. Hunched over, its hands covered its face and its shoulders shuddered with every sob. Usually Severus would have fled from a situation like this, but his curiosity was getting the best of him. Besides, the figure was wearing Slytherin robes, and he was fairly certain it was a girl.
After a few seconds of deliberation, he decided to approach the student, coughing gently. He stopped when he was within a yard of her, shifting his weight uncomfortably. Unsure of what his next course of action should be, he watched the figure, trying to come up with something to say.
He decided on, “It’s too cold to be crying. You should go inside.”
The figure gave a little sob and lifted her head. It was Florence, and she looked awful. Her eyes were pink and puffy and there were red streaks down her cheeks from where the skin had been agitated by her salty tears and the autumn chill.
“Snape,” she said, and promptly began to cry some more. Severus was so unaccustomed to being around such blatant emotion that he felt uneasy. Her blue eyes welled up and large tears spilled down her cheeks again. He tore his eyes away from her and stared at the frozen ground. He didn’t think he’d done anything to make her more upset, but it was difficult to tell.
“What’s wrong?” he finally managed to ask. “Did someone die?”
She shook her head, hiccuping back another sob. “Die?” she repeated a little hysterically, “no, no one’s dead. Not yet.”
It was at this point that he realized the probable source of her tears: Rosier. Rosier had been the star of the Quidditch match the day before, and he had probably spent much of the night celebrating.
“Should I find Narcissa?” he asked, trying not to wince.
“No,” Florence said. She was wiping her eyes and nose with the sleeve of her robes, leaving behind glistening streaks on the black woollen material. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
He nodded, feeling a small amount of relief, then backed away. Her refusal to speak was fine by him. He managed two or three backwards steps before she broke down again. Her entire body shook with sobs and she was practically gasping for breath. He was at a loss as to how he should handle the situation; they weren’t exactly close. He briefly considered going back to the castle and getting Narcissa anyway, but Florence let out a broken cry that made his skin ripple in gooseflesh and stopped him dead in his tracks. She sounded like a banshee. An extremely depressed banshee.
He couldn’t explain why, but part of him felt compelled to take a few tentative steps towards her. He almost reached out to her, but felt it was inappropriate to use such a personal gesture. He probably should have said something like, “there, there,” but that sort of thing didn’t come naturally to him.
She didn’t seem to mind. Without warning, she stepped towards him and curled into his body. He was barely aware of this happening, and once he realized he was rubbing her back, he was shocked.
“He spe-hent the ni-hight with her,” Florence gasped into the front of his robes.
Severus made a noise in the back of his throat, but couldn’t think of a comforting reply. Of course Rosier spent the night with that girl. Rosier could drop his robes quicker than any other ponce at Hogwarts.
“He-he used me,” she continued. “I’m such a f-fool.”
“Yes,” he agreed, patting her back sympathetically. It was true, and he couldn’t help himself.
“I really loved him,” she sobbed, and he felt her warm breath against his chest.
“No, you didn’t.” Why, he wondered, why was he putting himself through this?
“I did!” She gave a gigantic sniff and lifted her head, blinking at him. “I think I did.”
“Oh, come off it, Florence.” Severus pulled back and grasped her by the arms, shaking his head in annoyance. “Just last week you thought things were going to end. As I recall, you already suspected his little…rendezvous.”
She blinked at him. “But it got better—“
“—You let yourself think that it was better,” he corrected. “You’re wasting tears. It’s ridiculous.” He felt like shaking some sense into her, but lifted his fingertips to prevent the impulse.
She frowned at him, another tear trailing down her cheek. “You don’t understand,” she said, somewhat angrily. “You’ve never loved anyone.”
“Thank Merlin,” he replied. “If I should ever turn into such a blithering, love struck idiot, I’ll Avada Kedavra myself.”
“I’d be sorely tempted. It would be no worse than a broken heart, by the looks of it.” He stared at her pointedly.
To his surprise, his comment seemed to amuse her, and she hiccupped out a giggle. “I’d like to see that.”
“You’re very macabre,” he mused.
“Not your suicide,” she said, smiling grimly. “Just the thought of you in love.” He raised his brows in surprise as she continued, “If I saw it, I’d think I was dreaming. Or at least in some sort of bizarre plane of existence.” He must have looked perplexed, because she laughed, wiping her eyes again. “Oh, Snape,” she sighed. “I thought he really liked me. He’s the first boy that’s ever really shown interest.”
Thinking about Regulus, Severus shook his head. “He’d show interest in the giant squid if he could make certain it was a female.”
“Mm,” she murmured, blinking up at him. “That doesn’t make me feel any better.”
“It wasn’t supposed to.”
He nodded. “Well, I should go,” he said, inching backwards. “It’s much too cold to be standing out here.” That and he’d definitely spent too much time in Florence’s company. His tolerance for her had reached its capacity.
“Oh, right. Well, I’ll see you, then.” Florence was staring at him, brow crinkled.
Severus nodded and began to leave, but Florence unexpectedly closed the small gap between them. She grabbed the front of his robes, pulling his face down to hers.
“Wha—?” he gasped, and then she came terrifyingly close. Before he had a chance to escape her clutches, he felt her press her mouth against his. Her lips were soft against his tight, horrified scowl, and she was so close that he could count the number of freckles on her nose.
It only lasted a few seconds. When she pulled away, she gave him a sick grin. “Don’t look at me like that,” she told him.
Severus’s hand was already resting on the wand tucked inside his pocket. “What in the hell do you think you’re doing?” he snapped.
“Self-preservation,” she said. “If you tell anyone that you saw me crying over Rosier, I’ll let it slip that we kissed.”
He stared at her in horror. If he’d ever doubted it before, it certainly was clear: she was a Slytherin through and through. He would’ve been angry with her had her impromptu move not been so clever. “You’re a conniving bint,” he told her.
She grinned at him, though her lips were wavering slightly. Then, as suddenly as her grin had appeared, it faded, and her eyes widened with shock.
“Oh, buggering Hell.” She nodded towards something behind him.
Severus turned around, dread filling his stomach. He spotted a figure peering at them from behind the other greenhouse. It was Bertha Jorkins, the school gossip.
“Shite,” he said hoarsely, spinning back around to face Florence. “You have to Obliviate her,” he said.
“No!” Florence protested, looking horrified. “I don’t know how to do that!”
“You’d better think of something,” he replied, grabbing her by the sleeve and dragging her along beside him. “If this gets out, you will sincerely regret it, I promise you.”
“Snape!” Florence gasped, wrenching her arm away. “What do you want me to do?”
“Curse her.” He continued to walk briskly, and Florence was panting, attempting to keep pace.
“I can’t!” she said. “If I lose any more points for Slytherin, I’ll have to sleep in the Common Room.”
“Would you rather have that kiss become public knowledge?
Pressing her lips into a pensive frown, she eyed Bertha reluctantly. Bertha was already opening the doors to the Entrance Hall. Severus knew that she’d buckle under the pressure of preserving her reputation. “Merlin,” Florence whispered, and she started to run towards the castle.
Severus was on her heels, and together they bolted towards the Entrance Hall. When they reached it, he flung open the door and darted inside, Florence following two steps behind. He froze over the threshold and felt Florence stop short behind him. The scene before them was mortifying, and he gawked in horror, imagining that Florence probably looked similarly. A crowd of interested Hufflepuffs was gathered around Bertha, who was talking animatedly with her hands. When she heard the sound of the doors opening, she turned around and greeted them with a proud, boastful smile. “Ah,” she said, “here they come now.” The group of girls tittered in amusement. “They hid their relationship well enough,” she said, glancing at her companions and letting out a laugh that made the hairs on Severus’s arm stand on end. “I’d have never imagined it had I not seen it with my own eyes.”
Severus realized, with a hot rush of anger and humiliation, that she’d already told the crowd of students what she’s witnessed. Before he fully comprehended what he was doing, he’d drawn his wand and pointed it at Bertha.
“Don’t,” he heard Florence say, though her voice seemed tinny and far away. “You mustn’t.”
“Langlock!” Snape spat, jabbing the air with the end of his wand. There was a flash of light, and Bertha suddenly clutched her throat and jaw, staring at Severus with goggle-eyed surprise. Her tongue was glued to the roof of her mouth. It was the perfect jinx for an insufferable gossip.
He had absolutely no remorse for her, of course, and watched her struggle with a satisfied half-smile.
Unfortunately, his pleasure vanished when two figures swiftly descended the Grand Staircase, shouting and fussing at the students. Professors Sprout and McGonagall had been on the landing. He hadn’t noticed.
“Severus Snape!” a voice harped, and he felt Florence sidling away. She gave him a look and disappeared into the shadows on his left. Meanwhile, Professor McGonagall was striding towards him, furious and white-faced. “What on earth do you think you’re doing?” she barked.
It was no use trying to get out of it, he realized, so he answered Professor McGonagall quite bluntly, “Cursing Bertha.”
He watched Professor Sprout cluck over Bertha like a mother hen. She and the other Hufflepuffs escorted Bertha up the staircase towards the Hospital Wing, where, Severus assumed, Madame Pomfrey would be waiting. No one was aware of it, but the spell that Severus used was one of his own creations, one of his experiments with Latin. He really didn’t feel like revealing the counter-jinx any time soon, though he supposed Madame Pomfrey would find out soon enough.
“An utterly terrible decision,” Professor McGonagall spoke up into his ear sharply. “Professor Slughorn will be very sorry to hear about this, I’m sure. What on earth possessed you to jinx her, and in front of two professors at that?” She pursed her lips and eyed Severus severely through her spectacles. “Come with me, Mister Snape,” she said. “You’re going to speak with the Headmaster.” She made it sound like it was a death sentence.
Severus followed her obediently, not bothering to give a backward glance to Florence. He’d been in trouble for cursing people before, but this was the first time that he'd ever been sent to the Headmaster’s office for it. Not that he harboured regret for his actions. Bertha deserved it. In fact, he had half a mind to do something similar to Florence if he happened to cross paths with her any time soon.
* * *
“Good afternoon, Professor McGonagall.” Dumbledore looked up from the letter he was writing and smiled at his guests. “I take it you’re not stopping by for tea?”
Severus and Professor McGonagall were standing at the threshold of his office, and compared to Dumbledore, their demeanours were stiff and unenthusiastic. The entire way up the revolving staircase McGonagall had berated Severus for his poor decision making skills, and though he didn’t think it was possible, by the time he’d reached Dumbledore’s office his mood had soured tenfold. He did his best to sink back into the stairwell alcove and meld into the wall.
“I wish the circumstances were as pleasant,” McGonagall sniffed, giving Severus a dark, sidelong glance. “However, it seems we have another matter to discuss.”
“Oh?” Dumbledore asked, lifting his eyebrows.
“Indeed,” McGonagall answered tartly. “Mister Snape here has just hexed Bertha Jorkins in the Entrance Hall, directly in front of Professor Sprout and me.”
Dumbledore looked unsurprised by her announcement. “I see,” he said slowly. “In that case, would you both please have a seat?” He waved his wand at two comfortable looking chairs facing the fireplace, and they were quickly transported so that they were facing his desk.
Grudgingly, McGonagall and Severus both took their proffered seats, Severus slumping into one chair and McGonagall perching stiffly on the other. She glared at Severus expectantly. He supposed she was waiting for him to talk, but he had no desire to do so. It was a battle of wills.
“Perhaps you’d care to explain the situation?” Dumbledore prompted helpfully, ignoring the tension.
It was McGonagall who broke first.
“As I said,” she began grudgingly, “Professor Sprout and I were standing on the landing in the Entrance Hall. Bertha Jorkins was among a group of her friends when Severus stormed through the door and cursed her.” She shook her head. “It happened so quickly I—“
“—Actually, Minerva,” Dumbledore interrupted, “I was hoping that Severus might enlighten us.”
Professor McGonagall twitched, looking surprised. “Oh,” she said, “yes. Of course.”
Now the two faculty members were watching Severus, waiting for him to begin. He was extremely unhappy with the situation, and shifted in his seat a little before clearing his throat. He was trying to figure out how he could explain the situation without embarrassing himself.
“Bertha was telling a lie, sir.”
“Oh?” Dumbledore asked. "What sort of lie was she telling?"
Severus closed his eyes briefly, cursing Florence a hundred times over. “She told the other students that I had a relationship with Florence Jenkins.” He glared at the two faculty members defiantly, but he could have sworn that there was a moment where both of them looked terribly amused by his revelation. As soon as the glimmers of humour had appeared in their eyes, they'd disappeared, so he couldn’t be certain.
Dumbledore nodded, clasping his hands together. “Which is the lie, obviously.”
“Why would she start spreading lies about you, of all people, Severus?” McGonagall asked. “I hardly think she’d want to start trouble with you.”
“I don’t know,” Severus said, shrugging. He lowered his gaze to the floor and stared at it sullenly, refusing to offer up any more information. It was only when he felt a strange prickle at the back of his neck that he looked up. Dumbledore was gazing at him thoughtfully.
“Was Florence involved in this attack?” Dumbledore asked.
“No,” Severus replied quickly, which was not entirely false.
Dumbledore nodded as though he accepted this. “Presumably, you jinxed Bertha because she was lying, then.”
Severus hesitated, frowning. He decided to choose his next words very carefully. “What she said to the others was a lie, sir.”
“Ah,” Dumbledore said quietly before turning to address his colleague. “Professor McGonagall, would you mind paying a visit to Ms. Jorkins? If Madame Pomfrey has managed to reverse the effects of Severus’s jinx, I wouldn’t mind speaking to her.”
Professor McGonagall nodded and stood up, straightening her robes. “Of course,” she said. “And what shall I tell Horace?” Her steely gaze rested on Severus.
“I think thirty house points and a night’s detention will do,” Dumbledore replied. McGonagall nodded before exiting the office.
Severus sighed internally. He loathed losing points. He didn’t consider detention a pleasant alternative, either, but he supposed he was getting off rather easily.
“Yes, sir?” Severus’s gaze flickered over to where Dumbledore was sitting. The elderly wizard was watching him again.
“Though I cannot say whether or not Bertha acted innocently, it was wrong of you to hex her.”
Severus quirked his mouth to the side. “Yes, sir.” Somehow, he felt that Dumbledore actually knew what had happened. It was disconcerting.
“Many a wizard and witch have misconstrued information about me and, I daresay, on a much grander scale than a room full of students,” Dumbledore continued, “but I have learned to take such rubbish with a grain of salt, as they say.”
Severus blinked, unsure of what Dumbledore was getting at. How on earth did the man know so much when he hadn’t even been present?
Dumbledore leaned back in his seat and stroked his beard thoughtfully. “You mustn’t let your anger control you,” he said. “I have met many wizards who let their anger control their decisions. They often end up acting rash and unnecessarily.”
“I’ll try not to, sir.” Severus couldn’t help but feel insincere, knowing very well that his impulses of anger worked more quickly than his sense.
Dumbledore nodded. “Very well.”
He stood up, gesturing to the door with his hand. “You may go. And please,” he said, giving Severus a significant look, “think about what I’ve told you.”
“I will. Thank you, sir,” Severus said, quickly rising from his seat. He exited Dumbledore’s office swiftly, feeling relieved, angry, and humiliated. As he stormed through the castle’s corridors, he wondered whether or not he should confront Florence. It would be awful enough if the entire school learned about their tryst; he had no intention of fuelling that particular fire by having more contact with Florence than was absolutely necessary.
After some deliberation, he decided to take sanctuary in the library. There was less of a chance that he’d run into Florence and Rosier, and the strange prickle on the back of his neck had prompted him to do a little reading. After scanning through the familiar Defence Against the Dark Arts titles, he settled on a title and searched through the book’s index under the letter “L”.
* * *
He was so engrossed in his reading that he didn’t notice when a figure sat down at his table. It was only when he heard someone clearing their throat importantly that he looked up. Regulus was frowning at him.
“Yes?” Snape asked wearily.
“I thought you might be here,” Regulus said.
“Were you looking for me?”
“Everyone is looking for you,” replied Regulus. He began to tick names off of his fingers. “Rosier, Narcissa, Professor Slughorn, me…” He shrugged.
Severus pulled his hand down the length of his face. “What time is it?”
“Ah.” He wasn’t sure what to say, so he turned back to his reading. Unfortunately, Regulus did not leave him be for long.
“So it’s true, then?” Regulus asked. “Did you kiss her?”
Clenching his jaw tightly, Severus turned to glare at Regulus. “I did not kiss her.”
“But you kissed?” Regulus looked disheartened, which sparked fury inside of Severus.
What little patience he still possessed was completely exhausted. He shut his book with a snap and leaned across the table, whispering harshly, “None of this concerns you, Black. I have no intention of sharing anything with you, nor should you expect me to.”
“It was just a question—“
“—An interfering question. Stay out of my business.”
Regulus looked as though he’d been slapped, and he glowered at Severus, pushing his chair back with a loud scrape. “Fine,” he said. “I didn’t come just to ask you about snogging Florence, you know.” Severus scoffed, but Regulus shrugged. “Rosier was looking for you. I reckon’ he wants to have a chat,” he said smugly, making it quite apparent that a chat wasn’t what Rosier was looking for at all.
Severus made a disgusted sound in the back of his throat while Regulus turned on his heel and stalked off. He mentally cursed Florence again; just when he’d managed some semblance of order in his life, she turned it upside down. He knew he’d have to encounter Rosier later, as well. Severus was not about to hide out somewhere for the night; it would be cowardly. The only choice he had was to return to the Common Room and face Rosier.
* * *
It was nearly eleven when he entered the boy’s dormitory. Severus managed to stay in the library most of the night until Madame Pince kicked him out, and then he skulked around the dungeons for a while, checking on the Veritaserum and avoiding his peers’ whispers and stares. When he entered the door, he saw Lestrange, Rosier, and Carrow sitting on their beds. They all looked up when they heard them, and Lestrange’s mouth immediately curled up into a smirk. Carrow gave Lestrange an exasperated look and shook his head.
“Snape,” Rosier greeted gruffly.
Rosier shifted so that he was sitting up and swung his legs around to the side of the bed. He stretched his arms and gave a false yawn. “I heard a funny rumour this afternoon,” he said.
“I’m sure you did.” Knowing what was coming, Severus did his best not to feed into Rosier’s game. Nevertheless, he paused by the door, bracing himself for the worst.
“Is it true, then?”
“I doubt there’s any validity to it.”
Rosier stood up suddenly and walked towards Severus. “So you’re not going with Florence?”
Severus blinked. He hadn’t expected Rosier to come to that conclusion. “Going with her?” he repeated incredulously. “No!”
Rosier narrowed his eyes. “She denied it, too.”
“When she was dumping Rosier,” Lestrange interjected. He appeared to be thoroughly enjoying himself.
“Shut it,” Rosier snapped, whipping around to yell at Lestrange. “I’m not talking to you!”
Lestrange ignored him completely. “Rosier actually thought you were the reason she dumped him,” he told Severus. “Can you believe it?”
Severus could only stare his roommates in horrified bemusement. It was absolutely surreal to think that Rosier suspected him of stealing Florence away.
“I did not think that!” exclaimed Rosier. He turned back around to face Severus. “I didn’t think that,” he repeated. “I was just wondering how it feels, Snape, to have second-hand books, second-hand robes, and now, second-hand bints.”
Severus narrowed his eyes. “If you think you're hurting my feelings,” he said tartly, "you're wrong."
“Right,” Rosier replied, shaking his head. He was clenching his fists tightly at his sides, and for a second, Severus thought Rosier might hit him. In the end, Rosier simply turned around and crossed the room to his bed. “Well, you can have her, Snape,” he said, crawling onto the mattress and drawing the bed curtains. “She’s rubbish, anyhow. Perfect for you.”
Severus stared at Rosier’s bed curtains and then glanced over at Rabastan. He was grinning widely and giving Severus the thumbs-up sign. Severus sighed and lugged his things to his bed.
He hadn’t gone very far when Carrow spoke up.
“Oh, right,” Carrow said. “You got a parcel earlier. It’s on your trunk.”
Sure enough, on Severus’s trunk was a tightly wrapped parcel. He grabbed it and crawled into his own bed, closing the curtains with a flick of his wand. Another spell severed the string binding the package, and the brown paper flapped open to reveal a new pair of dragonhead gloves and three new quills, along with a sealed envelope. Glancing at the gloves and remembering the events that transpired with Lily, he shook his head and sighed. Luck did not seem to be on his side as of late.
Picking up the envelope, he unsealed it and began to read his mother’s handwriting.
I’m sorry it took me so long to get these to you. A few events have prevented me from finding a spare moment to get this in the post. I trust that you’re in good health, seeing as that I haven’t heard from you in some time.
Your father is well. He’s worked overtime at the factory for the past few weeks, and when he comes home he spends most of his time in bed. I’ve been feeling ill myself, though it’s nothing to worry about. I’ve been told time and again that I’m working too hard and exhausting myself. Mr. Montford provided me with a few herbs that I’ve begun adding into my tea, and hope to feel their effects soon. He asked about you and wondered if you would be returning over the holidays. I suspect he misses your company, though he would hardly admit it.
Severus snorted in amusement, knowing very well that Mr. Montford would never admit to such a thing.
As long as I’ve brought up the holidays, I hope that you’re considering coming home. Soon you’ll be too involved in your own endeavours to spend time here. Let me know your decision as soon as you can.
Take care of yourself, Severus.
He read the letter twice before folding the parchment up and tucking it back into the parcel. He hadn’t really wanted to return to Spinner’s End for the holidays, but supposed that it was only right that he should. He also hoped, somewhat desperately, that it would be one of his last times to return to the dreadful place. He was ready to move on and break his ties with the Muggle world, if he could help it.
His mother would understand, and if she didn’t, he’d explain it to her over the holidays.