Chapter 4 : Chapter Four - Severus
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After breakfast I walked straight down to the dungeons, unable to reckon with what vindictively fickle Fate had suddenly thrown my way. I barely noticed arriving at and opening the door to my office; my mind was absolutely consumed considering the incredible inconvenience which had just arisen from my “meeting” Mistress Asphodel. I just couldn’t believe the coincidence that my apprentice turned out to be the Canadian witch who had run into me before my lecture.
The witch whom I had not been able to successfully dissect from my thoughts for the past six straight days.
I sat down at my desk and tried to come to terms with the fact that both that young woman and my enigmatic apprentice were the same person. Since my meeting with the headmaster on Monday, I had spent the week reading through Mistress Asphodel’s R.A.T. From evaluating her work, which was uncommonly insightful and detailed, I had begun to form a mental picture of the author as a sort of young Minerva McGonagall-type, complete with square spectacles. Never had I imagined that Mistress Asphodel would turn out to be so … well …
When I had returned from London, I tried to bury myself in my work and push the fleeting encounter with the “Canadian witch” (since she had left me no name by which to call her) from my mind. Unfortunately, before long I realised it was going to be harder than I would have thought to simply forget about her. I found myself researching an answer to her lecture question and writing her a response letter, even though I had no idea where to send it. I couldn’t explain it in any sort of logical way, but it felt as though when she had run into me in the hallway of Saint Mungo’s, she had actually jarred my overall sensibility. After the lecture the realisation began to dawn of how incredibly self-absorbed I had been the last decade; so self-absorbed that it took an actual collision for me to even notice a beautiful woman, and then not even have the common sense or courtesy to ask her name or introduce myself.
Yet, in spite of everything, as the week progressed and my memory of her faded, I had begun to slip back into my old mind-set. After all, I knew so very well what a dangerous and destructive power “love” was. I knew if I wanted to protect myself, an attraction that could develop eventually into such feelings needed to be stifled immediately and at all costs.
But then when I saw her entering the Hall with Hagrid this morning, all of last Saturday’s unexpected sentiments came flooding back to me with the comprehension that my “burdensome” apprentice was none other than the young woman who had captivated my mental attentions all week. Alone now in the quiet, I reflected on my actions and was glad I had put off meeting with Mistress Asphodel for a couple of days.
Without question I blamed the circumstances over the course of last year and this passing summer for my sudden emotional variability. Just as I had quelled my frustration over Professor Dumbledore’s apparent lack of concern for the odd behaviour of Quirrell, who turned out to be completely possessed by the Dark Lord, the headmaster overlooked me yet again for the Defence Against the Dark Arts position and gave it to perhaps the most pretentious, obnoxious wizard ever to walk the face of the earth. I just could not understand the injustice of it all; my warnings ignored and then not even being rewarded for my correct assumptions. Of course Professor Dumbledore cited his belief that I was simply too valuable as his Potions master and “where in the world would he ever find anyone competent enough to replace me” should I be given the Defence job. I suppose he had his reasons.
Shadows played before my eyes as I stared at the mortar wall, my untended fire dying down to embers. As I watched the light slowly fade away, I reaffirmed my previous conclusion that my inexplicable interest in Mistress Asphodel was nothing but circumstantial, and I would do best to try and ignore whatever partiality I might be feeling towards her until those unsolicited stirrings inevitably dissipated.
With a wave of my hand, I extinguished the last light and plunged myself into darkness.
Tuesday morning dawned much more quickly than I would have liked, for with it came the responsibility of having to spend my first day with Mistress Asphodel as well as heralding the start of the school year; the students would be arriving at sundown.
I had told Mistress Asphodel the previous night at dinner to come down to my office at eleven in the morning for her introduction. Although I had been tempted to ask Pomona for her opinion of our apprentice, I resisted and decided draw my own conclusions without any prior prejudice influencing me; apart from that little, inconsequential initial physical attraction I was moderately convinced I was already putting behind me.
At ten minutes to eleven, I was rather surprised when a knock sounded on my door as I was perusing my class rosters. The last apprentice I had supervised had believed his own schedule was far too important to show up on time, let alone early. Yet the surprise soon bristled into annoyance as I remembered that seeing Mistress Asphodel again and without the distraction of my colleagues could potentially summon the return of those … feelings.
“Enter,” I said as coolly as possible. Mistress Asphodel opened the door and slid lithely through. My God, she was beautiful, there was simply no denying it; and far, far worse, I knew she was intelligent.
I looked back down and shuffled through the rosters. “Mistress Asphodel, when I asked you to come to my office, I believe I stipulated the time for our meeting to be eleven o’clock, not ten minutes before or ten minutes after.”
She was quiet for a beat then replied, “I’m sorry, I’ll adhere better to your set appointment times from now on. It won’t happen again. Should I wait outside for the meantime?” I glanced up, expecting some sort of cheeky smirk, but was again surprised to see she was completely serious and had even backed up a few paces, so that she was already half out in the corridor once more. I stifled the urge to shake my head and stare in open disbelief.
“That will not be necessary. You may sit until I am ready for you.” I pointed to the pair of chairs near the fireplace with my quill. Mistress Asphodel crossed to the nearest one, which was turned slightly towards the other and facing my desk. She sat down carefully, her hands folded delicately on her lap. To be perfectly honest, I had no idea why I was acting like a pedantic prat, but at the moment it seemed to be the only way I was going to get through this morning without losing my train of thought whenever I happened to look at her.
Unfortunately, even though I had returned my attention to the paperwork in front of me and thus removed Mistress Asphodel from my actual view, I could still see a perfect image of her branded into my mind’s eye. This morning she was wearing robes of burnt umber that gave her porcelain skin the illusion of glowing in the firelight. The colour of the robes also accented the red in her russet hair, which at the moment was hanging loosely down her back and over her shoulders, perfectly framing her lovely, heart-shaped face. The brief sight alone of Mistress Asphodel crossing her shapely legs and adjusting the hem of her knee-length skirt when she’d taken her seat had been enough to send a blazing arrow of unadulterated desire shooting through my bloodstream. After winning an intense battle to inwardly compose myself, I found that I was running my quill down a class list I had already reviewed five minutes prior. I quickly flipped it to the bottom of the pile and willed all of my concentration back to the task at hand.
The next few minutes I spent signing off on all of the remaining rosters. Since I felt like I was now bound by my own insistence on exact punctuality, I shuffled papers around on my desk, hoping it didn’t look as completely useless as it actually was. Finally the clock above the mantel sounded the first stroke of eleven. If I had wanted to be a real bastard I would have made her wait until the eleventh stroke before further acknowledging her, but even I realised that was a bit much. With a gesture of my hand, I beckoned her to move to the chair positioned directly across from me. She immediately came over, her eagerness betrayed in the way she pulled the chair closer so she could rest her elbows on the desk. I found this, regretfully, undeniably charming. I sat back purposefully in my chair to put a little more space between us.
“Now, Mistress Asphodel—” I began, with the clock chiming quietly in the background.
“—Oh, please,” she interrupted with a shy smile, “call me Avrille. ‘Mistress Asphodel’ just seems so formal.” I wished inwardly that I could call her by name, perhaps in a whisper against her ear while I ran my fingertips over her hair to see if it was really as soft as it looked, but at the moment formality was all I had, and thank God for it.
“While you are working for me, I shall address you as ‘Mistress Asphodel,’ and you shall address me as ‘Professor Snape.’ Is that understood?”
“Yes, sir,” she replied quietly, sitting back against the chair as well.
“The ‘sir’ won’t be necessary.”
“Yes, s— … I understand.”
“As I was saying,” I began again, “today begins the first official day of your apprenticeship. Right now I will give you the basic guidelines I expect you to follow as long as you are apprenticing under me, then I shall give you a brief tour of the facilities.” Avrille nodded solemnly and sat forward in her chair once again.
“The core of the apprenticeship will be class-time observation. It is my aim to have you observe at least two classes of each House from each year before the end of the first term. Since the purpose of your apprenticeship is to prepare you for your own classes someday, I do not expect you to cast your teaching style from mine. Perhaps some professors would be flattered or even insistent on it, but I am just as interested in what you disagreed with from what you observed as what you liked.
“You may choose to include in your written evaluations what you would have done differently in a certain situation, had you been the teacher, though I strongly advise that you back up your suggestions with valid studied citation or a flawlessly airtight argument. You are going to be responsible for the intellectual development of thousands of students over the course of your career, so every single decision regarding how you decide to teach could have far-reaching consequences. Although currently you may have the factual knowledge needed to be a professor, you have none of the hands-on experience that is essential for creating a successful classroom. Every student is an undetermined variable in your plan. You must be prepared for every possible contingency. Now is the time to glean as much experience as you can while you still have relatively little personal responsibility.
“As for specific guidelines, first off, I expect you to arrive punctually to every class of mine that you will be observing as well as any appointments we keep. For the classes you may arrive early, if you wish, but for appointments with me, I ask that you not.
“Second, I expect the written evaluation of every class you observe during the first term to be handed in no later than three days after the observation. I presume Professor Sprout has outlined her own requirements to you already, and I apologise if mine are slightly more demanding. Since I expect more from my students, I expect that much more from my apprentices. Each evaluation should be on average three roles of parchment, less if the content is especially profound. After the first term, if I deem you have a sufficient grasp of the classes and progressions, you may stop handing in written evaluations. I would recommend that you keep your own written records from that time on, however, since we will still be discussing class-time in length during your scheduled assessments. You might find referencing personal notes to be helpful. Do you understand all of this so far?”
Avrille nodded and seemed as though she wanted to ask something.
I motioned for her to speak. “Please, I do encourage that you ask questions whenever you have need to.”
“Thank you,” she replied. “I was wondering if I could still hand in written evaluations after first term ends if I wanted to, and if you wouldn’t mind.”
Did I hear that right? Was she asking voluntarily for additional work? “Yes, of course,” I said. “Although you’ll have to forgive me if I do not have time to read them right away when it is closer to exam time. However, if that is something that will help you to better gauge your progress, then I would be willing to oblige you.
“Besides the written evaluations, I will ask that you aid me with other things throughout the year such as keeping things generally orderly and organised. Later in the term, I will ask you to mark some of the younger students’ assignments, which I will then check over before handing back. All this combined should amply prepare you for the culmination of your apprenticeship, which is, of course, your final evaluation where you shall be teaching a day of classes yourself. If you follow my guidelines and instruction, I am confident you will succeed admirably.
“If you have no more questions, I shall now show you the classrooms.” I stood and Avrille stood as well. As I held my office door open for her, she passed me with a gracious smile, the scent of lavender lingering in the air for the briefest of moments before dissipating. I locked the door and led the way down the dimly lit main corridor. Avrille followed a pace behind me.
A ways down I turned into the larger dungeon classroom. As we entered, the torches flared alight. The headmaster had charmed the lights in every room Avrille would be likely to enter so that they would illuminate automatically, saving her the worry of struggling to light them with magic.
“This is the main dungeon where most of my classes are held and where you will be spending the majority of your observation time. It’s rather self-explanatory. Students are required to supply their own cauldrons, standard equipment, and common ingredients. Over there, by the sinks, are the student stores which provide whatever additional materials the students might need for the particular assignment of the day. On the days you observe, one of your duties will be to review the assigned potion and stock the student cabinets accordingly before the start of class. It will be your responsibility to make sure there are enough ingredients for each student and that they are not given access to things they should not have.” Avrille nodded in understanding.
“Over here,” I said, walking across the room, “are my private ingredient stores where you will find everything you need to prepare for class. The door is always kept locked, and to prevent student-theft, it cannot be opened by simple unlocking spells. Therefore, you will need this.” I pulled out the spare storeroom key and handed it to Avrille. She quickly pocketed it as I unlocked the storeroom door with my own key and opened it so she could see inside. “Whenever you remove anything from here, I ask that you make note of it in that ledger. You are, of course, welcome to use any ingredients for your own personal research should you wish to do so, as long as you document it.” I closed the door and locked it again.
“If you leave this room and continue down the passage, the smaller dungeon classroom is the first door on your left. I hold the N.E.W.T. level classes there, which tend to be fairly small since I do not allow anyone except those with an “Outstanding” O.W.L. to continue Potions with me. That is really about all there is to see. Working down here is perhaps not as visually stimulating as the greenhouses, but it suffices.”
Avrille walked around a little, seeming to get a feel for the place. “It’s interesting that you allow even the younger students to use a self-selection technique with their ingredients. Have you ever read Moulding the Independent Student by Jacques Rose-Cochon? He writes extensively on the topic for a few chapters.”
By all means, be more rude, an annoying voice in the back of my mind chimed in sarcastically. I realise you’re all for distancing yourself, but she deserves for you to act like a gentleman, at the very least.
I cleared my throat. “I have not. It’s simply the way that the professor who taught me arranged the classroom.”
“Oh. Well anyway, I think it’s wonderful how much open workspace there is down here. I’d guess that with the high ceilings, fumes aren’t normally a problem?” Avrille asked.
“No, not usually, although you should be prepared for at least one explosion or other such catastrophe a term nevertheless. The students do not need the excuse of befuddled minds to botch assignments beyond any recognition. I refuse to tidy up after their mistakes, so I will never ask you to. The students can handle that themselves in detention, or Mr Filch, the caretaker, can be summoned. Now, unless you would like to look around more, we can return to my office, and I can give you your paperwork.”
Avrille stated she had seen enough, so I doused the torches and led her back down the corridor. Once we were settled in my office again, I handed Avrille her timetable for the upcoming month as well as a complete syllabus.
“This,” I said, as I handed her the syllabus, “outlines what each class will be doing during each lesson for the entire school year. I have never gone off schedule, but I suppose an emergency could come up. In the case of that happening, I will draw up a new one for you to follow.
“Professor Sprout has asked for your time tomorrow, so your first observation with me will be the Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff third-years directly following lunch on Thursday. They will be attempting to brew a Shrinking Solution, so you will need to be sure there are enough daisy roots and shrivelfigs for the entire class—”
I was interrupted by a sharp rap on the door. I excused myself and upon opening it was surprised to see Lucius Malfoy standing in front of me. His face bore its usual smug expression, and like always, he was dressed immaculately in silk brocades and sable furs adorned with his heirloom platinum Slytherin broaches. He extended to me a black leather gloved hand.
“Severus, I trust I find you well,” he said, as I forced myself to shake his hand civilly. I’m not sure which of us was trying harder to have the firmer grip.
“Quite well, thank you,” I replied, noticing out of the corner of my eye that Avrille had leaned back in her chair to see who had called. Lucius’s attention flickered away from me for a moment, and when he saw her, a distinct smile of amusement crept over his lips.
“Forgive me if I am intruding, but I wondered if I could have a word. I’ve just put Draco on the train and need to discuss some business with you before he arrives.” Lucius was using his silkiest voice, which only meant one thing: he wanted something.
“You’re not intruding at all. I was just acquainting Mistress Asphodel with Hogwarts’s dungeons. She is fulfilling her Potions and Herbology apprenticeships here this year.” I motioned for Avrille to approach.
“Mistress Avrille Asphodel,” I said as she extended her own hand to Lucius, “Mr Lucius Malfoy.” Instead of shaking it, as I’m sure she expected, Lucius took her hand and kissed it, all the while keeping her fixed with his icy grey eyes. I cleared my throat when Lucius allowed his hand to linger on hers. “Mr Malfoy is one of the school’s twelve governors, as well as father to one of my students in Slytherin House, Draco.”
Lucius straightened up and adjusted his sweeping cloak, which had shifted slightly. “Delighted, Mistress Asphodel, and might I say that Hogwarts is fortunate indeed to have such a lovely new addition to its staff.” I saw with my peripheral vision that Avrille was blushing self-consciously, but smiling politely none the less. I tried very hard not to roll my eyes. Anyone who knew Lucius personally was quite aware of the fact that he spent much more time seducing young women than at home with his wife and son.
“Well, if you would please excuse me, Mistress Asphodel, while I speak with Mr Malfoy. I can address any other concerns you have later.”
“Thank you for your time, Professor Snape. Mr Malfoy, it was nice meeting you,” Avrille said with a smile and walked breezily out of the room. Lucius’s eyes trailed after her until she was out of view on the staircase, and I noticed too late that mine did as well. Lucius’s gaze flicked back to me in what seemed a challenging manner. Perhaps I had imagined it, for the next instant it was gone. I stepped back to allow him to enter my office.
“Well, well, Severus,” Lucius murmured as he removed his gloves and took the seat in front of my desk which Avrille had just vacated. “Finally able to mix work with pleasure, I see?”
“I’m sure I do not know what you’re talking about,” I replied brusquely, glad that my back had been turned when Lucius said that, so he did not see the momentary sneer of embarrassment I’d been unable to stop from hardening my face. As I walked back over to my desk, I relaxed my expression into one of complete dispassion.
“Do you not?” Lucius raised his pale eyebrows in mock astonishment. “No, I suppose you wouldn’t; always too busy with what’s directly in front of you, never able to see beyond the end of your wand. Really, I’m amazed you haven’t found a nice girl yet and settled down. It really isn’t hard, you know, especially for one in such a position of prestige as yourself.” I took my seat and stared unblinkingly at Lucius, daring him to continue this vein of conversation. Lucius seemed to take the hint, for he continued on, “But never mind that. I’ve come here today with a proposition for you.”
“I’m listening.” Inside I was smouldering. Lucius was just the sort of man whom I normally detested. However, our past ties as Death Eaters seemed to have linked us together irrevocably, and now that he had a child in the school, I knew I couldn’t shake him off so easily.
Lucius hesitated and smiled faintly, revealing a line of perfectly white, magically-capped teeth. He shifted in his chair, crossing his legs and resting his cane across them. Looking behind him to make sure I had closed the door, he finally said, “I was curious as to if you had considered anyone to replace the Higgs boy as Slytherin’s Quidditch Seeker, owing to the fact that he graduated last year.”
I folded my arms across my chest and glanced up at the Quidditch Cup resting on a top shelf near the door. Indeed I had given it serious thought, seeing as how now the Slytherin team would need a decent Seeker to compete with James Potter’s vile spawn, who had managed to worm his way onto the Gryffindor team a year early last season. I had been most displeased when Gryffindor had beaten Slytherin in their match last year, even though in the end we won the Cup since Potter spent the Quidditch final in the hospital wing. Minerva had recently resumed making blatant comments about finally taking the winning streak from Slytherin, so I was all the more eager to retain it.
“Not really,” I lied, knowing full well what Lucius wanted from me. Draco was entering his second year and would be eligible to try out for the team.
Lucius gave my intentional reticence a tolerant smirk and twirled his cane back and forth in his fingers. “Well, allow me to make a suggestion, if I may. Draco is an excellent flier and very eager to prove himself, especially against that half-blood Potter boy. He wants to set a good example for the school and show that pure-bloods will always succeed over those less deserving to be students at Hogwarts.” He lounged back in the chair and eyed me thoughtfully.
“Yes, I agree that Draco is a very promising student and a loyal member of Slytherin House. However, I would have to insist that I at least see Draco fly with the other members of the team before appointing him Seeker,” I replied carefully, not to put Lucius completely off.
This seemed to faze Lucius very little. “Of course, Severus, of course. Naturally you want to be sure you have the best flier for the position. However, let me add that once you see the other students try out, I would be honoured to sponsor the Slytherin team should you find Draco the most suitable Seeker. It’s the least I can do for such a dear, old friend such as yourself.” Another indulgent smile played across his lips.
“Sponsor? What exactly would that role encompass?” I asked cautiously. As far as I was concerned, Lucius already had far too great an influence on Hogwarts business.
Lucius’s eyes dropped with feigned modesty to his coin purse, which seemed to be close to bursting and rather uncomfortably squeezed between his leg and the armrest. “Well, let us say that since I was already planning on buying Draco a new racing broom for a start of term gift, I would be only too pleased to outfit the entire team with brooms from the new Nimbus Two Thousand and One line, should he make the House team this year.” Lucius grinned triumphantly at my startled expression.
I could not deny that having the entire Slytherin team flying Nimbus Two Thousand and Ones would give us an insurmountable advantage over the other three House teams. Most of the other players flew old Shooting Stars or Cleansweeps, virtual antiques. Potter had the best broom currently of any Quidditch player in the school, and his was the already redundant Nimbus Two Thousand model. Unable to resist such an exceptional offer, I forced myself to return Lucius’s smile with one of my own.
“I will, of course, need to confer with my captain, Marcus Flint, on the subject, but I cannot find a problem with appointing Draco Seeker if he is as accomplished a flier as you say he is.”
“He is indeed, and as you know, I never lie, Severus.” Lucius’s cold eyes gleamed dangerously in the firelight. Of course Lucius would never lie, unless one counted all the political deals and renunciations he had to make to avoid Azkaban after the fall of the Dark Lord.
“Of course. I meant no slight to your honour,” I replied, tipping my head deferentially. “Once the Seeker try-outs have concluded, I shall send you an owl immediately with my final decision.” I rose to signal that I had no more to say on the matter.
“Thank you for your time, Severus. I know you shall not disappoint.” Lucius gave me a curt bow of his own then swept from the room.
When the door had closed once more, I dropped down into my desk chair and allowed myself to seethe furiously. How dare Lucius speak so familiarly to me about my personal life! How dare he hint, with such presumptuous unsubtlety, that the likelihood of my relationship with my apprentice moving beyond the realm of chaste professionalism was not merely something that was possible, but moreover that it was something to be expected … nay, encouraged!
I suppose my self-righteous outrage at such a suggestion, coming from Lucius of all people, was rather senseless; after all, a man with almost no scruples like him would not be able to entertain the possibility for even a moment that another man in a similarly respected circle of society wouldn’t leap at the chance to engage in a bit of extracurricular amusement with a beautiful, subordinate colleague. No, as much as I didn’t want to admit it, the part of me that was truly furious was the one that couldn’t deny there was yet another, guilty part, that had already started fantasising about that exact eventuality and had been thoroughly enjoying it.
Though I had been trying for over a week to think about anything else, as I sat now, I realised I could no longer afford ignoring the fact that the interest I had in Avrille could, if unchecked, very well develop into an infatuation. At first I had hoped it was a simple physical attraction; it could not be denied that she was one of the most stunning women ever to grace the halls of Hogwarts, at least in my opinion.
Before this morning, I had pushed the matter of her corporal allurement from my mind with the expectation that spending time with her today would help quell at least some of the minor affinity I held towards her. I had tried to convince myself, for instance, that perhaps she would turn out to be an insufferable nuisance, whose annoyances would soon drive away any partiality I held for her beautiful appearance. Of course, that was probably one of the more unfounded things I had ever hoped for. A young lady did not become a Valedictorian of the Berkshires School of Witchery, the most prestigious graduate school for witches in the entire North American continent, by being a dunderhead. Therefore it was hardly surprising I was now discovering that far from causing me to lose favour for Avrille, being alone with her for a single half-hour induced me to be even more enamoured of her than ever before. This greatly increased my discomfiture, for a reason besides how it denied all sense of logic.
It simply would not do. This could not be allowed to spiral out of control. I reminded myself, with a hollow cold deep down, that even if by some miracle Avrille ever began to care for me in return, a true, meaningful relationship was out of the question. My father had done his best ensuring that.
Do not forget, Severus. Do not forget.
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