Chapter 9 : Chapter Nine - Avrille
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Since I was determined to improve my standing in Professor Snape’s mind, I skipped lunch before my first observation with him and instead spent over an hour filling and arranging the student store cupboard so that it was perfect. The class directly followed lunch, so many of the students arrived early as well once they were done eating. Seeing the classroom door was already open, and their professor wasn’t there yet, they filed in curiously to see what I was doing and to hang out with their friends before the bell. I soon found myself surrounded by over a dozen girls, who immediately introduced themselves and began peppering me with numerous questions, like what did I eat at my old school and wasn’t I sad that I hadn’t gone to school with any boys? I was actually glad to have this extra time to learn the girls’ names before Professor Snape arrived. Once the students were all in their seats and thoroughly cowed by his obvious irritation, he ran through the attendance so quickly I barely had a chance to scribble names onto the rough seating chart I’d drawn up to use in my observation notes.
During that first observation, I found myself sneaking glances at Professor Snape whenever I could. I don’t know what it was specifically about him that made him so riveting. It had something to do with his rigidly straight posture and the way he could command the attention of the room with a tone only slightly louder than a whisper. I think most of the students were absolutely terrified of him. It was like they knew that if Professor Snape ever had to raise his voice, it would be akin to heralding some unthinkable disaster upon everyone.
One thing I really liked about his teaching style was that he didn’t help the students at all once they set about to start the actual brewing of their potions. If they made an obvious mistake, he pointed it out—rather publicly—but otherwise he left the students to figure things out on their own. It might’ve seemed a harsh way of teaching to the students, but I knew Professor Snape’s method was installing early critical thinking and problem-solving skills, which were essential if one wanted to become a successful potion-maker. Following a professor’s carefully laid out instructions would only get you so far; the real test came when you messed up and if you were able to salvage your work and continue on. I found I really admired Professor Snape for making even the younger students responsible for their own outcomes.
Once the class was over, I spent a little time returning the unused ingredients to their containers in the store closet, balancing the ledger, and tidying up before returning to my rooms. By now I’d managed to have a few conversations with Lavinia, who’d told me about of all sorts of useful things around the castle. For one, each staff member had a speaking tube in their rooms that led directly to the castle kitchens, so if you had to miss a meal, you could request one to be sent directly to your room instead. I took advantage of this as soon as I kicked off my shoes, ordering a sandwich and some amazing clam chowder that made me a little homesick.
After eating I walked down to the office I’d been given on the second floor. Since I was only an apprentice, the office was more like a glorified closet, but I was happy simply because it was mine. Once at my desk, I took out my notes from earlier and mapped out a basic outline. I then worked for hours straight on my written evaluation for Professor Snape. He’d been right when he mentioned that his expectations were more exacting than Professor Sprout’s. Professor Sprout was happy with a single roll of parchment and had basically told me to turn it in to her whenever I was done. Though Professor Snape had given me three days in which to complete the evaluation, I really wanted to impress him, so I stayed up all night finishing my first one. I bet the house-elves must’ve had a continual pot of coffee brewing that night just for me.
The first draft ended up being over five rolls of parchment. I managed to cut it down to a still impressive three and a half, hoping the content was “profound” enough for him. After making one final draft, painstakingly copied in my best handwriting, I walked down to Professor Snape’s office and deposited the finished product in the mailbox outside his door just as the castle bell tolled five in the morning. Since I didn’t have any observations that day, I went straight back up to bed and slept until dinner.
Saturday morning dawned sunny and warm, making me extra glad I’d managed to complete my work early. I ate a leisurely breakfast with Lavinia. She also asked me about my former schools, with certainly more professional interest than the students, though she too was dying to know how I’d survived with no boys around. She made quite the comical face when I remarked that I’d always been too busy with work to really notice. She didn’t know of my difficulties with magic, so I suppose it was hard for her to understand how schoolwork could literally take up all of my time. Professor Snape was at breakfast as well for once, though he didn’t speak to me, making me wonder if he’d even received my evaluation yet.
As I was getting ready to leave the staff table, Lockhart came up to where I’d been sitting with Lavinia. Today he was wearing mauve robes that made the apples of his cheeks seem pinker than normal as he grinned at me. At least I hoped it was the robes creating that effect; I honestly wouldn’t have put it past him to use blush.
“Would you care to join me in a walk around the grounds later this afternoon, Mistress Asphodel? I was thinking of taking a turn after I’ve completed my daily fan mail replies,” he said in a disgustingly cheery voice. I heard Lavinia snort a laugh behind me then try to cover it up as a strange cough.
“I don’t think I can. I’m afraid I’m just bogged down with work today, Professor Lockhart,” I lied. I wasn’t sure if I was simply being paranoid, but it felt like Lockhart had been everywhere I was the past few days. Every arrival of mine at mealtime had been quite interesting because I had about two seconds to peruse the seating arrangements and quickly find a place where Lockhart couldn’t sit next to me and also try to avoid sitting near Professor Snape since I was petrified of potentially embarrassing myself in front of him.
Lockhart waved a hand effeminately in front of himself. “Please, please, call me Gilderoy! I’m sure you can find some time! I personally try very hard not to overwork myself. Bad for the complexion.”
“Again, I’m sorry Professor Lo … ah … Gilderoy. Professor Snape asked me to do something for him that just can’t wait. Maybe another time.” Just as I said that, I noticed Professor Snape had risen from his seat near the center of the table and seemed to have glanced in my direction just as the words had left my mouth. Damn it. Why hadn’t I said Professor Sprout instead? She’d left the Hall long ago.
With that I hurried out the staff door before Lockhart could argue any further and before Professor Snape passed me on his way out. I was furious because I had wanted to take a walk later, but now I had to pretend to be working so Lockhart wouldn’t see me and ask me awkward questions. Well, why didn’t I just go for a walk now? Since he would be busy with his fan mail (oh God …), Lockhart wouldn’t know I was outside, would he?
It was very warm already, so I didn’t even bother to return to my rooms for a cloak. I set out directly from the front doors and walked as quickly as I could away from the castle. First, I made a stop down by the lake, which was glittering brightly beneath the late morning sun. The walk had made me pretty hot, and I was just wondering if the students ever went swimming when several giant tentacles pierced the water’s surface before crashing back down with an explosive splash. I nearly fell over in my surprise. I had no idea what that had been. I had to assume whatever it was, Professor Dumbledore knew about it, and therefore it was probably nothing to worry about. Probably. Nevertheless, I suddenly decided that the school’s gardens would be much more pleasant to walk through.
Hogwarts’s gardens were enormous and stretched on for acres. I walked aimlessly through rows of green squash and cabbage, picking out a weed here or there when I saw one. Ahead of me I noted what looked like an orchard, so I strode over to investigate. I saw trees heavy with apples and vines covered in plump grapes, but I also noticed there were odd trees growing as lushly as the more expected ones. I definitely saw several positively dripping with juicy oranges, and when I walked across a few rows, I was stopped dead in my tracks by the sight of a line of tall palms bending slightly with the weight of numerous bananas. I heard a heavy set of footfalls approaching behind me. I turned, my mouth hanging open, my eyebrows knit together in disbelief, and with an arm stretched out in the direction of the certainly out of place fruit, to be greeted by the hearty laugh of Mr. Hagrid.
“Didn’ believe those meself first time I saw ‘em!” he said merrily, leaning on an enormous hoe, the handle of which was about the size of one of my bed posts. “Professor Dumbledore has those charmed so tha’ they survive even in the snow.”
“Wow …” I breathed quietly.
“I was jus’ abou’ to take a break here. Care to join me for a cuppa tea?” Mr. Hagrid asked. Now there was an invitation was I glad to accept.
“Sure!” I replied and followed Mr. Hagrid as he led the way through the orchard back to his little hut just off the edge of the sweeping castle lawn. As Mr. Hagrid leaned the hoe against the side of the hut and opened the front door, a large hound dashed out. He circled me a few times excitedly before bounding away into a patch of enormous pumpkins just off to the side. Maybe he sensed I was a cat person at heart.
“That’s Fang, tha’ is,” Mr. Hagrid said fondly, looking after the dog. “Don’ mind him. He’s jus’ a big baby.” This last comment left me wondering as I followed him into the hut, for the last sight of Fang I had was of the dog ripping a length of rope to pieces while growling furiously.
Mr. Hagrid motioned for me to sit at one side of an enormous scrubbed oak table as he filled a giant copper kettle with water and placed it over the fire crackling merrily in the hearth. “Tha’ shouldn’ take too long,” he commented as he sat down across from me with a great sigh and stretched his massive arms up over his head.
“Thank you very much for inviting me over, Mr. Hagrid,” I said sincerely. It was nice to talk to someone who wasn’t Lavinia or Professor Sprout. Or Lockhart, for that matter.
He waved a meaty hand in front of himself, creating quite a different effect than when Lockhart had done it earlier, and said, “Now, none o’ this ‘mister’ nonsense! Jus’ Hagrid will do fine.” He leaned forward on the table, his bushy beard scratching against the surface as he studied me intently. “So,” he said finally. “How are yeh liking the school so far?”
My first instinct was to fall back on time-honoured politeness and say, oh I was having the time of my life and nothing could be better, but something about Mr. … I mean, Hagrid’s warm, crinkled eyes made me feel like I could really open up to him.
“Actually,” I began, “I love the school, but I guess I’m worried Professor Snape doesn’t like me very much.”
To my great surprise, Hagrid’s face broke into an even more crinkly smile as he sat back and slapped his knee in amusement. “That’s the same thing tha’ Harry said when he first came over fer tea!” Hagrid laughed.
“Harry Potter?” I asked.
“Yeh,” Hagrid replied. “Tho’ I reckon Harry was righ’ on tha’ one. There’s some history there … But I find it very hard ter believe tha’ Professor Snape wouldn’ like you,” Hagrid finished with a decisive nod that almost made me blush. “He’s jus’ been in a sour mood ever since Professor Lockhart was made the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. Professor Snape … well, I don’ really like ter gossip, but he’s been applyin’ fer the Defence post ev’ry summer since he started workin’ here years back.”
“Why doesn’t Professor Dumbledore just give it to him?” I asked curiously.
“I don’ rightly know meself. I’m sure Dumbledore’s got his reasons. He probably figures it’d be impossible ter find a better Potions master than Professor Snape. Easier ter just appoint a new Defence teacher, even though this one makes me wonder …” Hagrid trailed off, making me grin this time since I knew he was just too polite to put words to what he thought of Lockhart.
“My point is,” Hagrid continued, “Professor Snape’s jus’ one o’ those people who takes a while ter get over a disappointment. Once he’s done stewin’, I’m sure he’ll come ‘round to yeh soon enough.” I nodded silently, hoping he was right.
Fang barked loudly outside. Hagrid, who was facing the window, squinted and murmured, “Well, speak o’ the devil himself …”
I whipped around, wondering if it could possibly be Professor Snape, but was alarmed to see it was Lockhart instead, striding purposefully toward the cottage while whistling jauntily. Something about my expression, probably set in a grimace of utmost horror, told Hagrid I was not keen on seeing Lockhart right at that moment.
“I got a back door, if yeh wan’ ter use it,” he whispered conspiratorially.
“Thanks!” I gasped and jumped up. Hagrid led me around the corner of his bed and pulled back a hanging quilt to reveal a small, bolted door. Hagrid lifted the heavy bar with one hand and held the door open for me.
“Sorry about the tea,” I said quickly.
“No matter, I understan’. Maybe some other time!” Hagrid “gently” shooed me outside—making me nearly stumble down the two steps—just as Lockhart knocked on the front door. Hagrid gave me one more friendly grin before closing the back door. I quickly set off back through the orchards and didn’t stop for breath until Hagrid’s hut was well out of view. I felt sort of bad abandoning Hagrid to deal with Lockhart by himself, but I figured Hagrid was up to the task. I walked briskly back to the castle, wondering why Lockhart had been out so early. Maybe he had decided to save the fan mail until later …
Unfortunately, Professor Snape’s forthcoming change of heart toward me, that Hagrid had seemed so confident I was due for, didn’t seem like it would be going into effect any time soon. Monday morning I walked down to my office to check my mailbox and saw that Professor Snape had returned my evaluation. I eagerly unrolled it but then started to wonder immediately if he’d read it at all; there were no corrections or notes that I could see. I turned to the last page and saw then that he had written a comment. It simply said, “Satisfactory.”
Satisfactory? That’s it?
I slumped against the wall in disappointment and felt something brush my ankle. I looked down to see another, smaller piece of parchment at my feet. It must have fallen out from the roll, and in my haste to check out the evaluation, I hadn’t noticed it. I bent over to retrieve the scroll then unrolled it. After reading a few lines, I realized it was an answer to the question I had asked Professor Snape at his lecture in London. I smiled to myself, touched that he had remembered. His answer was brief, yet comprehensive, and seemed to have been written before he’d known who I was. I thought it was a little odd that he’d tried to reply without knowing my name (which had obviously been added later in a slightly darker ink) or address, but just figured he was one of those people who didn’t like to leave loose ends. The letter made me feel slightly better, but I was still fairly let down that Professor Snape hadn’t seemed to be impressed with my speedy writing skills. At least so far he hadn’t mentioned overhearing me lying to Lockhart the other day, though I figured if he had, he probably would’ve understood.
The next week of classes passed rather the same as the previous one. I finally had my first Herbology observation. My second happened to be the class in which Harry Potter was member. I had to admit it was rather anticlimactic seeing him in the flesh after hearing about him for half of my life. He was just an average-looking preteen, though slightly on the scrawny side, his lightning bolt scar usually covered by thick bangs I suspected he grew out just for that purpose. He and his friends were polite and respectful to me, making me wonder if these were the same Harry Potter and Ronald Weasley who’d caused such massive damage to the Whomping Willow with their illegal flying car.
Professor Snape’s classes were always interesting, though predominately sedate and uneventful. Professor Snape barely spoke to me except to ask if I had any questions, to which I always replied no. He never openly criticized anything I did in the observation, so I assumed I was meeting his expectations. I didn’t exhaust myself with an overnighter for the next evaluation and handed it in after two days. Professor Snape didn’t mention the difference in delivery time, so I didn’t worry about it. I received that evaluation back with the same note of “Satisfactory” as the first one.
Before long it was the weekend once more. I did actually have more work to do than during the last one, but I finished most of it Saturday morning. On my way to dinner that night, I remembered there was a book I’d been meaning to track down. After I finished eating, I headed up to the library, which was surprisingly full with students doing research or conducting study groups.
The entry for the book in the card catalogue stated that it was to be found in row XVII of the Restricted Section. Even though the Restricted Section was only separated from the main library by a short metal gate, it seemed the whispered hum of the students’ voices ceased the moment I stepped into it. Even the soft clank the gate made when I latched it behind me sounded thin and hollow as though the thick books cramming the shelves sucked every sound into their brittle pages. As I slowly made my way through the towering shelves, my shoes made no discernible noise on the scuffed wooden floor, even though I was making no particular effort to be quiet. Every few moments I felt a prickle at the base of my neck, perhaps caused by the waves of magical knowledge interlacing throughout the aisles, unchecked and waiting for an inquiring mind to soak them up.
I easily located the row I needed about halfway into the Restricted Section. The light was dimmer back here than in the main aisles, but with a bit of squinting and brushing off dusty call numbers, I finally found the shelf where the book was supposed to be. Ah yes, there it was, its dark navy spine sticking slightly out from the others on the shelf as if a browser had decided at the last moment not to take it after all. The only problem lay in the fact that the book was resting on a shelf three rows higher than eyelevel for me. Even standing on tiptoes, my groping fingers fell a good foot short. I tried jumping for it, which only resulted in streaking dust down the front of my robes. I stared venomously up at the book, so frustrating in its nearness. As I thought about it, I didn’t recall seeing any sort of stools or ladders around the library; obviously out-of-reach books were easily levitated down by students or with the aid of a faculty member. Ha.
I had just tried reaching up again in the crazy hope that perhaps I could will my arm to stretch an additional twelve inches when I heard a deep voice say, “Mistress Asphodel?”
I jumped at the sudden sound and whipped around to see Professor Snape staring at me quizzically from the end of the aisle, holding several books himself.
“You startled me!” I gasped with a hand over my heart. The eerie quietness of the area had muffled his approach totally.
“Forgive me,” he said and took a few steps down the aisle toward me. “Could I help you with something?” he asked, surprisingly kindly.
“Oh, yes, if you wouldn’t mind,” I replied, pointing up at the book I wanted. “I was starting to consider climbing.”
“I would not have recommended that,” Professor Snape said matter-of-factly, with a quick glance down at my three-inch heels, as he withdrew his wand from his robes. With a sharp flick, Professor Snape easily Summoned the book to him. He glanced at the cover before closing the space between us and handing it to me.
“Thanks!” I said, accepting the book. Professor Snape stored his wand away once more and wiped his dusty hand on the inside of his sleeve.
“Not at all.”
Turning away from him slightly, I opened the book and quickly flipped through a few pages to see if it was worth the trouble after all. It did look quite technical, but no more than I’d expected. I knew the author had included a few new theories about the lasting potency of potions containing the powdered horns shed from female unicorns as opposed to the preferentially used males since the females’ powers tended to wax and wane ever so slightly with each moon cycle as per their mating times …
I glanced up and was surprised to see Professor Snape was still there since I’d assumed he’d leave once he’d handed off the book to me. He met my inquiring gaze and was silent for a beat before jerking his chin slightly at the open book in my hands and remarking, “I found that rather interesting.”
“Oh, I know,” I replied as I snapped the cover shut and appraised the author’s moving portrait on the back of the jacket. “I mean, you referenced it several times in Reconstructing Medieval Poisons and Antidotes, so I thought I’d check it out for myself.”
Professor Snape looked at me in what seemed to be a combination of confusion and astonishment. “You’ve read one of my books?” he asked after a moment.
“I’ve read all of them! That one was my favourite, though. I loved your theory of how it must’ve been a Unicorn Tincture that saved the prince of Denmark from that poisoned duelling blade …” I found myself enthusiastically blurting out. Inside I winced, hoping that I hadn’t sounded as much of a fangirl to Professor Snape as I had to myself. However, that quick embarrassment was soon forgotten as Professor Snape did something I’d never seen him do before.
It had been brief and almost indiscernible, as he seemed to have tried to hide it by ducking his head slightly as he shifted his few books from one arm to the other. The movement made his black hair fall protectively over his eyes, but it still failed to completely conceal the quick half-grin that, for the briefest moment, completely transformed him from the stern instructor I was used to into a quite handsome man. I was suddenly acutely aware once more of the dark grime smearing the front of my robes and of the fact that I was wearing the skirt with the fallen hem I hadn’t gotten around to mending.
However, as quick as the smile had been there, so it was gone. When he looked back up at me, Professor Snape’s face was once more as cool and impassive as ever. “I’m very flattered,” he said. “Well then, I shall see you in class on Monday.” With a slight incline of his head to me, Professor Snape turned and walked briskly back down the aisle and around the corner.
As soon as he was out of sight, I let out the breath I hadn’t realized I’d been holding and leaned against the bookshelf, ignoring the fact that I’d now have a nice dust stripe down the back as well. It seemed almost unbelievable, but that’d been the first true conversation I’d held with Professor Snape since my observations with him had begun. He barely seemed to notice me the entire week when I wasn’t in class with him. I, of course, simply assumed he had more pressing matters to see to than spending unnecessary time with his apprentice outside of class. Maybe he’d finally noticed the extra effort I’d been putting into my work for him and had been trying to make some extra effort himself just now. But for whatever reason he’d stayed for that additional moment, the encounter wrought an almost instantaneous transformation within me.
This might sound really strange, but up until that moment, I’d never really stopped to consider that Professor Snape was just a regular person like everyone else. It was just that I’d read and reread his books all through school to the point where, though I didn’t even know what he looked like, I completely idolized him. He was just so incredibly brilliant and made me see so many things in potion-making that I would’ve never learned from school alone. Even after I arrived here at Hogwarts and actually met Professor Snape, I still felt he was so intellectually above me that I never stopped to consider that he was just a man; an ingenious, fascinating man, perhaps, but still a human being, not some Potions demigod.
But that smile … That changed everything for me. Somehow I’d managed to chisel a crack into his stoic, authoritarian wall and for an instant had caught glimpse of a man just a few years older than me, with a smile that made his grey eyes shine in a way which, with the combination of a few roguishly out of place jet-black locks, made me feel a little breathless at the sight of it.
After a few more deep inhales to pull myself together, I pushed off from the bookcase and beat as much dust off of my robes as I could manage. I shook my head at my unbelievable obliviousness, with a small smile of my own turning up a corner of my mouth. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t realized it before now; it was so glaringly obvious. As I walked out of the Restricted Section, I pondered the enormous problem suddenly on my hands. I’d only completed the first two weeks of my ten-month apprenticeship, and I had the most embarrassingly huge crush on Professor Snape.
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