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. Since the class directly followed lunch, many of the students arrived early as well once they were done eating. I soon found myself surrounded by over a dozen of the girls who immediately introduced themselves and began asking me numerous questions like what did I eat at my old school and wasn’t I sad to not have 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, he ran through the attendance so quickly I barely had a chance to put names to the rough seating chart I had drawn 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 the most of the students were absolutely terrified of him. It was as if they knew that if Professor Snape ever had to raise his voice it would be like 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 it out on their own. It might have seemed a harsh way of teaching to the students, but I knew that 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 work.
Once the class was over, I spent a little time returning the unused ingredients to their containers in the store closet and tidying up before returning to my room. By now I had managed to have a few conversations with Lavinia, who had informed me of all sorts of useful things around the castle. For one, each staff member had in their rooms a speaking tube which 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 and ordered a sandwich and some amazing clam chowder which made me a little homesick.
After eating I walked down to the office I had 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 had been right when he mentioned that his expectations for my apprenticeship 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 have 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 that the content was “profound” enough for him. After making one final draft, painstakingly printed 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 that I had 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 had survived with no boys around. She made quite the comical face when I remarked that I had always been too busy with work to really notice it. She did not 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 did not speak to me, leaving me wondering if he had even read my evaluation yet.
As I was rising to leave the staff table, Lockhart came up to me. 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 would not 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 am 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 since I had about two seconds to peruse the seating arrangements and quickly find a place where Lockhart could not 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 this, 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 had left the hall long ago…
With that I quickly 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, now would he?
Since it was very warm already, I didn’t even bother to return to my room for a cloak but set directly out of 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, but assumed whatever it was, Professor Dumbledore knew about it, and thus 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’ gardens were enormous and stretched on for acres. I walked aimlessly through rows of green squash and cabbage, picking out a weed here and there when I saw one. Ahead of me I saw 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 that 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 literally 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.
“Just… how?!” I gasped.
“Ah… Well, Professor Dumbledore has those charmed so tha’ they survive even in the snow,” he replied, leaning on an enormous hoe, the handle of which was about the size of one of my bed posts.
“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 dog came dashing 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 as 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 black, crinkled eyes made me feel like I could really open up to him.
“Actually,” I began, “I love the school, but I’m rather worried that Professor Snape doesn’t like me very much…”
To my great surprise, Hagrid’s face broke into an even more crinkly smile as he 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, unfortunately… 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 ever 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. 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’ had a rather rough time lately. I’m sure he’ll come ‘round to yeh soon.” I nodded silently, hoping that 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 that it was Lockhart instead, striding purposefully toward the cottage while whistling jauntily. Something from my expression, probably set in the utmost of horror, told Hagrid that I was not keen on seeing Lockhart right then.
“I got a back door, if yeh wan’ ter use it,” he whispered.
“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 bolt 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 briskly walked back to the castle, wondering why Lockhart had been out so early. Maybe he had decided to save the fan mail until later…
Unfortunately, Hagrid’s assurances of Professor Snape’s change of heart towards me did not pan out as he had predicted. 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, then wondered if he had received it after all; there were no corrections or notes that I could see. I turned it over to the last page and saw then that he had written a comment. It simply said, “Satisfactory.”
Satisfactory? That was it?
I slumped against the wall 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. I bent over to retrieve it, then unrolled it. After reading a few lines, I realized that it was an answer to the question that 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 had known who I was. I found it strange that he had tried to reply without knowing my name (which had obviously been added later in a slightly darker ink) or address, but just figured that 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 rather disappointed that Professor Snape hadn’t seemed to be impressed with my speedy writing skills. At least he never mentioned that he had overheard me lying to Lockhart the other day, though I figured if he had, he probably would have understood.
The next week of classes passed rather the same as the last 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 which 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 had caused such massive damage to the Whomping Willow with their flying car.
Professor Snape’s classes were always interesting, though rather 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 that 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 did not 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 had been a book I had wanted to look for in the library. After I finished eating, I headed over 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 grate, it seemed that the whispered hum of the students’ voices ceased the moment I stepped into it. Even the soft clank the grate made when I latched it 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 fingers were a good foot short. I tried jumping for it, which only resulted in streaking dust down the front of my robes. I stared up hard at the book, so frustrating in its nearness. As I thought about it, I did not 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 slightly 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 totally muffled his approach.
“Forgive me,” he said and walked toward me down the aisle. “Do you need help with something?” he asked 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 handing it to me.
“Thanks!” I said, accepting it. Professor Snape stored his wand away once more and wiped his dusty hand on the inside of his sleeve.
“Not at all.”
I opened the book and quickly flipped through a few pages, wondering if it was worth the trouble after all. It did look quite technical, but no more than had I 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 that Professor Snape was still there since I had assumed he had left once he handed off the book to me. He met my 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 would check it out.”
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 on how it must have been a Unicorn Tincture which 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 fan-girl to Professor Snape as I had to myself. However, that quick embarrassment was soon forgotten as Professor Snape did something I had never seen him do before: he smiled.
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 had failed to adequately 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 had not realized I had been holding and leaned against the book shelf, ignoring the fact that I would now have a nice dust stripe down the back as well. It seemed almost impossible in its unlikelihood, but that had been the first conversation I had had with Professor Snape since my observations with him had begun. He barely seemed to notice me the entire week when I was not in class with him. I, of course, had been beginning to form the impression that he always had more pressing matters at hand than to spend unnecessary time with his apprentice out of class. Maybe he had noticed something to the same effect and had been trying to make the extra effort just now. But no matter why he had stayed for that additional moment, the encounter had wrought an intense transformation within me.
This might sound really strange, but up until just then I had never really considered Professor Snape to be a normal person. It was just that I had read and reread his books all through graduate school to the point that, though I didn’t even know what he looked like, I practically idolized him. He was just so incredibly brilliant and made me see so many things in potion-making that I would have 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.
But that smile… That changed everything for me. Somehow I had managed to break through his stoic, authoritarian wall and for an instant 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 close to fainting at the sight of it.
After a few more deep breaths, I righted myself and beat as much dust off of my robes as I could manage. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t realized it before now; it was so glaringly obvious. As I walked out from the Restricted Section, I pondered the enormous problem suddenly on my hands. I had 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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