Chapter 2 : Chapter Two - Severus
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On the Monday following my London lecture, I entered Professor Dumbledore’s office promptly at four o’clock to learn with what sort of child I would be wasting the coming school year. Since my last apprentice four years ago—whom I ended up failing halfway through the first term for unpardonable incompetence—I had avoided the obligation with a lucky string of incoming Hogwarts apprentices concentrating in mundane subjects such as Arithmancy and Muggle Studies. I was beyond irritated when, at the end of the previous school term, the headmaster had informed me that my time had come up once again and during this of all years; I had begun that spring researching and testing the theory of an Invisibility Potion. So far the work consumed me, and I could not imagine how I would be able to continue with my efforts the following year if I was constantly chasing after some bothersome graduate student. My only consolation was that at least the burden would be shared with Pomona Sprout since apparently the incoming was a dual major.
The afternoon sunlight shone through the western windows brilliantly, bringing my thoughts back to the situation at hand as it reflected sparkling rays off of the numerous Dark detectors and other instruments the headmaster had on display around the room. Professor Dumbledore was sitting at his desk holding a whispered conversation with Minerva. He raised a polite hand at me, signalling that I should wait where I was until they were finished. As I stood patiently, I heard a familiar voice above me speak up.
“Ah, young Severus, is it?”
I looked up at the portrait hanging high on the wall to my left. “Good afternoon, Headmaster,” I replied. The portrait was of Phineas Nigellus Black, headmaster of Hogwarts for a brief stint during the nineteenth century. He, like I was currently, had been the Head of Slytherin House in his time and never failed to try and chat with me about the current state of it whenever I came to see Professor Dumbledore.
“I am always pleased to see you,” Phineas continued. “All is well with the preparations for the new students of Slytherin House next week, I trust?”
“As well as can be.”
Phineas sat quietly in his painted chair for a moment, twirling his pointed black beard between his fingers thoughtfully. “It’s such a shame that you weren’t Head Boy, Severus.”
I sighed heavily. Phineas often broached this subject.
“You know that if I had been headmaster when you were at school, I would have made sure a well deserving Slytherin like yourself received that honour, not some upstart Gryffindor like that Potter boy. Well, not that it matters. You’re in a much better position than him now, eh?” Phineas emitted a cackling laugh. I tried to smile politely and was relieved to see Minerva getting to her feet. Professor Dumbledore rose as well as she left and summoned me to him.
“Tea?” Professor Dumbledore asked, gesturing open-palmed to a kettle whistling happily on his desk.
“No, thank you,” I replied as I took my seat in front of him. Professor Dumbledore poured himself a cup then sat as well once more.
“Well, as you know, I’ve asked you here this afternoon to discuss the apprentice you and Pomona will be supervising this year.” Professor Dumbledore lifted the tea kettle off a file folder and handed it to me. “Take a moment to look that over. I dare say you’ll find it … interesting. I also do not believe you will be able to find a single reason to sack this one. We were very lucky to procure her,” he said, sipping the hot tea carefully to keep it from running into his beard.
I raised an eyebrow at his last comment. I had never heard of our school “procuring” an apprentice before. Usually, candidates had to fight viciously for a spot at Hogwarts. The application process alone could take well over a year. I read the name on the folder: “Avrille Asphodel.” The last name struck a distant chord with me, and not because of the potions ingredient, but I couldn’t place it. I flipped through the file, scanning it quickly.
Mistress Asphodel seemed to be rather bright … She’d graduated Valedictorian from both The Salem Witches’ Institute and the Berkshires School of Witchery — quite impressive indeed—and was currently looking to fine-tune her potion-making and Herbology skills with the goal of becoming a professor herself. I read carefully the recommendation letters enclosed from the deans of her two schools with professional curiosity. Both described her as “a lovely young lady” with “great determination,” “high aspirations,” and “amazing talent for one her age.” I noted with interest that she had been bestowed a “Rising Star Award” recently, having won the same accolade myself when I was younger from the Potioneer Society’s European chapter. There was also a copy of her extensive Remedial Arts Thesis, all four hundred and twenty-seven pages, which I resigned myself to reading in full before she arrived. As I was perusing her marks from The Salem Witches’ Institute, I noticed something strange: there was no record of any marks before her sixth year, nor of her O.W.L. exams. However, her N.E.W.T. marks were included, all of which she passed with “Outstanding.”
When I mentioned this oversight to Professor Dumbledore, his expression turned suddenly unreadable, and he appeared to purposefully delay by rearranging himself in his high-backed chair. Finally he cleared his throat loudly and said, “Yes, well, I was going to get to that in a minute.” He removed a ring of keys from his robe and used a small silver one to unlock one of his desk drawers from which he removed another file folder, this one only half as full as the one I was now holding. It also bore the name “Avrille Asphodel” on it, but underneath, “CONFIDENTIAL” was stamped with Professor Dumbledore’s own official seal along with another seal I did not recognise. With a wave of his hand, a faint blue mist fell from the folder. It seemed Professor Dumbledore had dissolved some sort of charm that protected it. He set the folder down square in front of him and clasped his hands over it on the desk.
“There are no school records for Avrille Asphodel before her sixth year at The Salem Witches’ Institute because she did not attend there before her sixth year.”
“Was she a transfer student?” I asked. Transfer students were rare but not unheard of.
Professor Dumbledore sighed. “That’s what everyone at the Institute was told. Only the dean of the school, Abigail Proctor, and select members of her staff knew that in fact Mistress Asphodel had attended no school at all until she entered the Institute at age sixteen.”
“I’m afraid I don’t follow,” I said after a moment, Professor Dumbledore watching me intently.
“Mistress Asphodel is an exceedingly gifted witch but has a rather peculiar case history. As you can see,” Professor Dumbledore pointed to her N.E.W.T. scores, “she achieved top marks at The Salem Witches’ Institute, quite an amazing feat for someone with only two years of formal magical training.” Professor Dumbledore paused once more, trying to read my reaction. I, however, was just as confused as I had been before he began this “explanation.”
He continued, “When she was very young, Avrille began to exhibit astonishing powers, the depths of her innate magical reserves appearing to be well beyond the scope of anything her parents could have reasonably expected. Of course, being only a small child, she lacked the ability to control this disproportionately strong magic. If you would kindly take a look at this.” Professor Dumbledore removed a single piece of parchment from the mystery folder and handed it to me. It was dated from 1973 and seemed to be a letter from Mistress Asphodel’s mother to Dean Proctor detailing that her five-year-old daughter had somehow managed to—
“—Turn her house inside out?!” I exclaimed. “What exactly does that mean?”
Professor Dumbledore smiled underneath his silvery moustache. He seemed to be enjoying sharing this information with someone else immensely. “It seems that one day young Avrille was having some sort of childhood tantrum and managed to, well, turn her house inside out! Her mother wrote that all of the interior wallpaper could now be seen on the outside, all of the furniture had fallen onto the lawn, and their koi pond ended up rather unfortunately in what had been their kitchen. Several other incredible instances like this occurred again—quite at the chagrin of the local Accidental Magic Reversal Squad, I can tell you—but finally stopped when Avrille had matured a little more, around her eighth birthday.”
“But if she possessed such an immense power at such a young age, why did she not start school immediately? Why was she delayed until sixteen?” I asked.
“When Avrille was nine-years-old, her father was murdered by a group of American Voldemort supporters. Through a leak in the Institute, they had heard of the young girl’s extraordinary intrinsic power and went to her home with the intention of kidnapping her. They were planning on giving her to Lord Voldemort as a tool for him to increase his own strength. When they attacked the Asphodel home, Avrille’s father was able to hold off the assailants until his wife and daughter were safely away. Tragically, by the time reinforcements arrived to aid him, he had already been killed. Yet his death was not in vain, for he had managed to stun all but one of his attackers, who was later captured and sent with the others to the American wizard prison, Oswald Island.”
“Yes, I remember that now. The father’s name was something like Aramis … no, Armand. Armand Asphodel, was it not?” I asked. Professor Dumbledore gave me a pointed look, guessing the source of my information.
“Correct. Following her father’s murder, Avrille shut down completely.” Professor Dumbledore drew forth another sheet from the file and scanned it. “She refused to eat or sleep for nearly a week. Eventually her mother, at her absolute wit’s end, summoned a Healer to the house who sedated Avrille and fed her Nourishment Potions until she was physically well again. Unfortunately, it seemed that extensive damage had been done to her aura, leaving Avrille with seemingly no magical ability. She was brought to see many experts, even a Muggle psychiatrist—a sort of mind Healer—but no one could find any reason why her magic would suddenly stop manifesting. Mrs Asphodel, reluctant to keep her daughter a recluse from the magical world, corresponded with the dean of The Salem Witches’ Institute and reached an agreement that seemed to solve the problem. Avrille would be home-tutored in magical theory, work her hardest to hone whatever small amount of power she might be able to reawaken in the meantime, and then enter the Institute after the O.W.L. year. That way she would be able to avoid taking spell-heavy classes like Transfiguration and Charms and focus on more practical fields like—”
“—Potions and Herbology,” I broke in, with a small nod of understanding.
“Exactly. It turned out this plan worked surprisingly well. The Institute students simply believed Mistress Asphodel to be a transfer student from far away, and since she never had to perform spells in class much beyond the scope of lighting a cauldron, hardly anyone was the wiser. She achieved top marks in her chosen courses and went on to study them in even more depth at the Berkshires School of Witchery where, after hearing of her reputation, no one even thought to ask her to perform undergraduate magic. Yet even after all this time, her basic magical abilities outside of her fields of expertise have barely recovered. To this day she has a nearly impossible time performing, say, a simple Levitation Charm.” Uncontrollably, an image of Neville Longbottom with pigtails popped into my mind.
I sat quietly for a few moments, deep in thought. Professor Dumbledore waited patiently, pouring himself another cup of tea while I fully weighed the information with which he had just entrusted me.
“Not to make light of the girl’s grief for her father,” I said finally, “but doesn’t the complete suppression of magic of her calibre seem to be a rather severe reaction to the death of a loved one? Numerous wizards and witches have had immediate family members killed, even tortured in their presence, without any effect on their powers.”
Professor Dumbledore set down his teacup once more with an almost indiscernible clink. “I agree it is most extraordinary. I do not want it known to Mistress Asphodel, but her continuing magical handicap is one of the reasons I chose her for the apprentice slot this year. Make no mistake, her merits and accomplishments alone warranted the spot for her, but it was also of great concern to me that even now, almost fifteen years later, she has not recovered any notable magical ability whatsoever. There is no case like hers on file in the history of the Western World.”
I concealed a smile. Professor Dumbledore relished mysteries almost as much as the colourful Muggle sweets adorning his desk in jars. I found myself also becoming more and more interested in this girl. Could it be possible to somehow restore magic that had been buried so deep within a person for well over a decade? And if it were, how far would the limits of such a power reach if nurtured under the guidance of wizards such as Professor Dumbledore and myself?
Professor Dumbledore gave me a look which I could not decide was mischievous or cautionary. He simply said, “All I wish for you to do, for the time being, is to keep in the back of your mind while you are working with this young lady that despite her outward appearances, she harbours potential powers that are beyond the comprehension of most of the wizarding world, powers that have been sought after in the past. I ask you to be cautious, diligent, and discreet.
“After a period of observation, we shall meet again to discern whether or not it would be wise to go forward with any measures to help restore Mistress Asphodel’s magic to her. I will say this: unless I think it can be done with little to no risk, I shan’t consider it. It is possible she knows why her magical powers disappeared but is disinclined to stir up the matter. Currently, Avrille is living a full, relatively happy life. It would be a great injustice to her to reawaken burdens from her past, if burdens there still remain.” Professor Dumbledore rose, signalling the meeting was over. With a slight bow of my head, I took my leave of the meeting with certainly more curiosity than I had entered with.
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