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Chapter 8 : Chapter Eight - Severus
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The day of Avrille’s first Potions observation was one of the most nerve-wracking in my recent memory. Perhaps the nervousness I had felt before presenting my Black Arts Thesis to the Optime Magestri of the Academia Veneficiorum came close to the feeling I awoke with that Thursday morning. The anxiety I felt concerning Avrille’s first observation with me had permeated my dreams to a point where I was woken an hour earlier than usual by a wrenching stomach-ache. After downing a tonic for my stomach that I Summoned from the medicine cabinet, I lay in bed awash with conflicting emotions, the forefront being extreme annoyance.
I was annoyed at my normally steady mind for betraying me during the night and leading my body to follow it in its churning whirlpool of discontent. I was annoyed that now, with very little restful sleep, I would be faced with supervising a long Quidditch try-out which, would most likely determine whether or not Slytherin had a crushing advantage over Gryffindor, following an already full day of classes. In one of those classes would be Avrille, leaving me trapped in close quarter, annoyingly, with the one person I had been doing my damnedest to avoid. This thought made me realise how incredibly annoyed I was that Avrille was turning out to be so damned perfect. However, that annoyance was truly rooted in sheer panic; her apparent perfection was causing my regard for her to grow exponentially each day, leaving me, frankly, terrified. After all, it had only taken one meeting of her fiery brown eyes with mine for all of my carefully constructed emotional walls to come crashing down around me in the halls of St. Mungo’s.
I had worked so hard over the past ten years to fortify myself against this sort of thing. I figured in my present location, I was relatively safe since the only female staff member even remotely close to me in age was Lavinia Sinistra, who never ceased to remind me why I couldn’t stand being around her every time she opened her mouth. I filled every waking minute with work and research, effectively convincing myself that one did not need a partner in life to be happy. And I was happy, more or less. Every time I received one of my completed books in the post from my publisher, I filled myself up with the satisfying feeling of accomplishment, reinforcing my belief that I was living a full, successful life. But now that I had met Avrille, I felt as though I could never be completely happy again unless she was mine which, of course, she never would be.
I rolled over in bed and stared off into the comforting darkness, wondering if I would perhaps be able to fall back asleep for a few more minutes. Unfortunately, now that I was awake, my mind would not settle on anything but Avrille. I felt rather guilty over my words to her the day before, but her thoughtfulness had disarmed me, making me adamant in wanting to prevent another such occurrence in the future. The only way I could think of to regain my former self-control would be to find some flaw of hers that I could exploit. If there was something about her that I disliked, I could wrap myself around it and perhaps bring her down from the pillar in my mind she was currently occupying to her lowly place as an apprentice whose presence was severely interfering with my quest for the illusive Invisibility Potion.
I sighed. I knew that was impossible. I knew already how this was all going to play out; I would spend the entire school year in agonising amorous torment, and then when summer came and Avrille went back home, I would be left behind to pick up the shattered pieces of my life, knowing until the day I died I would never be content again.
Very well, I knew I was being melodramatic, but that was the sort of mood I was partial to when exhausted. I forced myself out of bed eventually and ate breakfast alone in my sitting room. I mentioned before that I had been doing my best to avoid Avrille. Since that first breakfast when Avrille was “introduced” to me, I had resumed an old practise of taking breakfast here in my rooms to reduce the chance of having to talk to her. I would have skipped every meal in the Great Hall, given the option, but I suspected such an action would attract Professor Dumbledore’s notice. With the aim of avoiding any awkward questions, I did force myself to eat at least one daily meal in the Great Hall. During the rest of the day, I tended to remain in my office or private rooms and avoid public areas such as the staffroom or library where I might potentially meet her. All in all I wasn’t sure if the seclusion was helpful. I began to realise that without some conversation with the other professors, I had nothing to distract me from constant thoughts of my alluring apprentice. Nevertheless, I had no better ideas, so in my rooms I remained.
As it turned out, my avoidance tactics served me well that morning for I did not see Avrille until the actual observation following lunch. I entered the larger dungeon classroom at exactly one o’clock to behold an unusual sight. Normally whenever I walked in at the start of class, all of the students would be sitting ready at their tables with their equipment set out in front of them. Well, today all the male students and equipment were at the tables but about two-thirds of the class’s girls were gathered in a loudly chattering crowd near my desk. At the epicentre Avrille was just barely visible where she sat on a high stool. It seemed she was being besieged with questions and was trying her best to answer without being smothered to death.
The moment the girls heard me slam the classroom door behind me, they fled to their tables so quickly that the speed of their passing ruffled the leaves of parchment the boys had set out for their notes. Avrille was left looking rather shell-shocked, though still excruciatingly lovely in a long dress of dusky rose under her black school-robe that made her creamy complexion glow. Still standing in shadow by the door, I clenched my fists and gritted my teeth as a now familiar wave of utter longing passed through me. Fortunately it was quickly chased away by the displeasure I was feeling over my buzzing class.
Usually the moment I entered, the room would fall absolutely silent. However now, though the girls had scattered like rabbits, they had not ceased their loquacious yammering. As I strode to the head of the class, Avrille flashed me an apologetic smile that somehow, in combination with a raised eyebrow that I found unintentionally seductive, conveyed to me that the moment she had entered, she was besieged and had had no control over the matter. I gave her a passing nod to show I understood before grabbing an old wooden pointer near the blackboard and bringing it down hard with a resounding crack on my desk, finally silencing the room in its entirety.
“Thank you,” I said quietly as I placed the pointer back against the wall. “Before we begin I would like to remind certain members of the class that Mistress Asphodel did not travel over three thousand miles to this school to be harassed by inane prattle,” I stated, focusing my sweeping gaze pointedly for a moment on Miss Chang and Miss Edgecombe, who had seemed to be the two loudest interrogators.
After roll call I gave a brief lecture concerning the Shrinking Solution before setting the instructions on the board and letting the students get to work. I was beyond thankful Avrille sat quietly on her stool in the corner taking notes. I had no idea what to say to her. I rounded the dungeons several times, giving criticism where it was needed until the end of the period. As soon as the bell sounded, the class scattered, the girls fortunately too chastised to speak to Avrille again. I cleared the board with my wand while Avrille packed her bag.
“Do you have any questions, Mistress Asphodel?” I asked quickly as I gathered my things as well.
“No, I don’t think so …” she said hesitantly.
“Right then, good afternoon,” I bade her and hurried from the classroom. Granted I did have to go immediately to the smaller dungeon for the sixth-year N.E.W.T. class, but I still felt like a coward running away from her.
That day ended most satisfactorily. Marcus Flint had taken my instruction to heart and had managed to spread the word about the Seeker try-outs; there were over twenty eligible candidates besides Draco Malfoy. It was honestly the first time I had ever seen Draco nervous about anything. He dropped his normally swaggering manner and listened to Flint’s directions with such rapt attention I was actually impressed with the boy. It made me wish he would apply the same sort of concentration and diligence to his schoolwork. Draco was the last to show and managed to catch the Snitch each time in under twenty seconds. It was beyond obvious he was the best flier. Flint briefly conferred with Madam Hooch and me. Madam Hooch was glad to witness that Draco had vastly outperformed the competition, even though several of the other candidates were exceedingly good fliers.
Flint appointed Draco Seeker on the spot. Most of the other Slytherins congratulated Draco since they mostly just wanted Slytherin to retain a firm hold on the Quidditch Cup. When the try-out was fully concluded, I returned to my office and penned a letter to Lucius, relating to him the outcome. After dinner Madam Hooch caught me as I was returning to my rooms to inform me that six Nimbus Two Thousand and Ones had just been delivered. It was really quite astounding what enough money could do.
After Avrille’s first observation, I figured I was out of the woods. The anxiety leading up to the event had been much worse than the occurrence itself. I noticed that when I was in class with Avrille, something about the atmosphere and the presence of students kept my wandering mind grounded. It was easy to slip back into the old routine of teaching and pretend Avrille wasn’t even there, which was precisely what was supposed to happen in these first couple months of her apprenticeship. Now that I had reaffirmed I could conduct myself appropriately, by Avrille’s second observation the following week, I was almost calm.
I made sure to be in the classroom Tuesday before the students entered, to hopefully deter any mob from forming again. As it happened Avrille had a Herbology observation directly before that period, so most of the class had already assembled before she arrived. As she opened the door to the classroom, I tried to not roll my eyes as I was shown an example of the great emotional divide between third- and fourth-year students. Whereas the third-year boys last week had barely even looked at Avrille during class, the moment she entered the room now, every single set of male Gryffindor and Ravenclaw eyes were glued to her. Fred and George Weasley even went so far as to stare with their mouths hanging open as she hurried past, making me want to smack them both upside their freckled, ginger heads. Since Avrille was distracted preparing her notes hastily, she noticed none of this, which was probably for the best.
After the class had finished brewing their Motivation Injections and the bell rang, I was beginning to feel rather confident about the whole situation. At least when Avrille was in class with me, I could sort of think of her as another student and not be continually distracted by her presence like I had feared. As long as I continued to avoid seeing her whenever possible out of class, I figured I could manage until the infatuation had run its course.
That strategy would have perhaps continued working for me if later that week a cross-section of the student body had not been gripped suddenly with something I could find no better term for than “Avrille Hysteria.” I don’t know what brought it on so suddenly, but when I arrived at my first class of Gryffindor and Hufflepuff fifth-years Thursday morning, I was greeted by a most peculiar sight: several girls in the class had tried to make themselves look like Avrille.
During school hours Avrille usually wore her long hair up in a dishevelled yet elegant bun, robbing me of the guilty pleasure of watching it cascade like a skein of silk when she turned her head quickly. Perhaps another professor might not have noticed it (and I must have been suffering from a similar malady as the students to notice their hairstyles at all), but because I had already formed the unfortunate habit of studying Avrille intently, I could tell right away that each girl with long hair had managed to copy her chignon perfectly. I discovered a pair of copycats in my later sixth year N.E.W.T. class as well. Along with a similar change in hairstyle, these girls had also swapped their normal penny loafers or oxford shoes for high heels; since Avrille was an apprentice and therefore not required to wear full-length staff-robes, her stylish shoe choices were always on full display.
At first I thought I was just being paranoid. It was possible I was simply the fixated one and taking note of coincidences that in actuality were completely unrelated to Avrille. But by the time classes had ended for the day, I was growing more and more convinced it had not been my imagination. The few cases of supposed Avrille-fever I had glimpsed cut an even larger swath through school’s female population by breakfast the next morning, like an out of control tongue of Fiendfyre. I don’t think even the Great Dragonpox Epidemic of 1921 worked its change on a populace so quickly.
By lunchtime that next day, if a girl did not have her hair tied up in the signature knot, then she was bound to be wearing high heels. How they had managed to obtain the shoes in the first place was beyond me, for no Hogsmeade weekend had been even announced yet. Perhaps they had all plotted together and wrote ahead of time to their parents simultaneously to ask for them in the post, or they had convinced a much more experienced student to reproduce a pair of their own by a Cloning Charm. Some of the younger student girls, who had tried to copy their older peers, were not as adept at walking several inches higher on something the same thickness as the average wand point and kept getting their spikes caught between flagstones; I saw more than one girl fall flat on her face that week. The most vexing thing was that I couldn’t do anything about this sudden explosion of Avrille-mimicking, which was now reminding me of her every single time I saw a girl trying to look like her; technically the girls weren’t breaking the dress-code, so I could not tell them to go change.
Another, more general phenomenon was a sudden obsession with American culture. It seemed whatever Avrille had told various students about her schools back home had sparked a frenzy in their adolescent minds. Suddenly the most popular items for trade were no longer Chocolate Frog cards or limited edition Gobstones but instead back-issues of American fashion magazines, the most recent being the most fervently sought. I had the unhappy pleasure of discovering these Friday afternoon.
Padma Patil and Hannah Abbott had been reading one such magazine under their table during double Potions. They had been so distracted giggling over the articles that they did not even notice my approach until I physically snatched the magazine out of their hands. At the end of class, the two girls approached my desk.
“May I please have my magazine back, sir?” Miss Abbott asked me.
“No,” I replied sharply. “And you should be thankful I am not giving you both detentions, which will certainly occur if I ever catch you reading rubbish in my class again.”
Miss Abbott looked on the verge of tears after I said this. She allowed herself to be led away by Miss Patil, who I heard whisper consolingly, “Don’t worry, my mum is getting me and Parvati each a subscription. You can have mine when I’m done reading it, ok?” Miss Abbott sniffled loudly and turned back to give me a teary look before following her friend to their next class.
I sighed deeply once they were out of sight and fetched out the magazine, which I had tossed into a desk drawer after confiscating it. I turned it over to reveal a cover blazing the title “Teen Witch USA!” in hot pink letters with a flashing pink heart dotting the i in “Witch.” Beneath the title was plastered a photo of an emaciated teenaged girl “dressed” in what seemed to be strategically draped, shredded scarves and displaying enormous gold earrings that hung down to her bare shoulders. She also kept tossing back her dark, dreadlocked hair while repeatedly flashing a dazzling smile that rivalled Lockhart’s in its peroxided whiteness. Morbid curiosity forced me to investigate further.
I flipped the magazine open to a random page in the middle which bore, in a slightly different shade of blinding pink than the cover, the bubble-lettered headline: “Twenty Totally LEGAL Charms to Make Him Notice You!” I quickly flung the magazine into the rubbish bin then incinerated it for good measure. That article looked absolutely terrifying. I was horrified at the thought of Avrille possibly having read things like that when she was younger, and I made a mental note to stay on the lookout for boys suddenly swooning after normally unpopular girls.
If any doubt remained in my mind that nearly everyone in the school was obsessed Avrille, it was removed once I started to actually listen to the students’ conversations, something I always tried my utmost to avoid. The first time it had happened quite accidentally. I had been in the library hunting down some books when I heard two girls talking a few rows behind me. Because it was dinnertime and the library was absolutely silent, I had no choice in overhearing a few sentences of their giggled exchange.
The first girl said in a dreamy sigh, “Didn’t Professor Lockhart look so gorgeous this morning at breakfast? He and Mistress Asphodel would make such a cute couple …”
“No way! Mistress Asphodel is the coolest, but he’s mine!” the second girl declared fiercely. Convinced I had just heard some of the most nauseating statements ever uttered in the history of mankind, I quickly cast a Silencing Charm around myself before I overheard any more and was actually sick.
After that I began to pick up on what students were talking about more and more as I passed them in the halls. Within a single walk through the entrance hall, I heard one girl say to another, “You know, you should ask Mistress Asphodel about that! She gave me some great advice the other day,” and someone amidst a congregated group of male Hufflepuff seventh-years moan quite loudly, “Miss A! I love you!” which made all of his friends burst out into riotous laughter.
I really did not know how much more of it I could stand. It was getting ridiculous at the staff table as well. Lately all I heard Pomona talking about at dinner, no matter who was listening, was how impressed she was with her apprentice. I started trying to avoid sitting near her as well as Avrille so I wouldn’t be drawn into one of these conversations. As much as I agreed with Pomona’s sentiments, I did not think I could put words to them so easily if asked my opinion of Avrille. I would probably just choke.
I wondered how long all of it would last. I had never seen so significant a reaction to a new staff member before. Even Lockhart did not seem to be leaving such a lasting impression on the students. Avrille just seemed to have the perfect mix of stunning good looks, sharp intelligence, charming amicability, and foreign mystique to make her a virtual celebrity to both the girls, who wanted to emulate her, and the boys who, well, were probably thinking the same thoughts I was.
The most extraordinary aspect of this whole series of events was that I was almost positive Avrille herself had no idea any of it was going on. She always appeared simply too busy to take much notice of what the students did, and I knew that was partly my own fault. Ever since her first observation, it was evident Avrille was doing everything she could to impress me. This completely unnecessary mission of hers stemmed from how I could never think of a safe way of letting her know how good her work was already. I feared that even a simple compliment might alert her to how I really felt about her. Therefore, I kept doing as before: trying my best to avoid Avrille, hoping she wouldn’t work herself into the ground, and attempting to ignore the mania my apprentice had unknowingly caused all around her.
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