Chapter 10 : Chapter Ten - Severus
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September soon passed into October as the students and we faculty alike struggled to transition back into the school routine. I was already once again quite used to sacrificing most of my evenings and Saturdays for detentions and back into my usual schedule of sleeping less than six hours a night due to the amount of assignments there were to mark. I was greatly looking forward to the following month when Avrille would be starting to correct some of the easier assignments herself. I told myself it was because of her removing some of the burden of marking the dullest homework I usually had to read and not at all because it was an airtight excuse to spend several hours at a time shut up alone with her in my office.
The first two Slytherin Quidditch practises had proved very promising. Despite his nerves during the try-outs, Draco fit in with the established team well and continued to catch the Snitch incredibly quickly. As long as Draco was able to keep a clear head in front of the crowd, I could not find a reason why Slytherin shouldn’t be able to keep a firm hold on our winning streak.
The second Saturday in October found me miraculously without any detentions to supervise, so I decided to go to the hothouses to pick up some herbs that Pomona had promised me. The castle was virtually empty since almost every person was either in Hogsmeade or out on the castle lawns enjoying the first sunny day in over a week. The air was pleasantly warm and smelled fresh from the week’s continuous downpour.
I made my way slowly to the hothouses, enjoying the sunshine and not even particularly annoyed that a good six inches of my robes were soaked from the dripping grass. The land around me was quiet except for the chirpings of birds, the castle providing a welcomed sound barrier to the noise coming from the lake where most of the students were laying around relaxing. However, as I neared Hothouse Four, I started to hear another sound, obviously not the song from a bird but sounding just as sweet.
I located the source of the singing as I passed the open doorway of one of the hothouses which contained the more tropical plants. Avrille was standing just inside the doorway with her back turned towards me, repotting several drooping Ochre Orchids. Because of the steamy conditions inside the hothouse, Avrille had removed her work-robes leaving her clad only in a sleeveless jersey dress which left her arms and shoulders tantalizingly bare. The dark brown dress hugged her slim form, no longer leaving the exact curves of her body to my imagination. One of Avrille’s hands broke away from the flower she had been tending to rub at her neck, which was glistening with a mixture of sweat and condensation. The movement dislodged a shiny tress that had been threatening to escape Avrille’s loose bun. I let my eyes follow the runaway strands as they slowly slid down her back and knew that the sudden rush of heat I felt had nothing to do with the climate of the hothouse.
Normally when finding myself in such a situation, my first instinct would have been to remove myself promptly from the area. Yet something about Avrille’s quiet singing fixed my feet to the ground. The quality of her voice was crystalline in its untrained purity, her notes lilting and effervescent. The strange thing was, even though on the surface the song sounded light and airy, Avrille was somehow infusing it with great power, a power so strong that it was able to distract me away from devouring Avrille with my eyes to focus completely on the song wrapping itself tightly around me. I closed my eyes to block out visual temptation and concentrated on Avrille’s voice instead.
I could not understand the words she sang, though they sounded as though they could have been French. I doubt that if I could have known the words to the song it would have mattered much. The power was coming from Avrille herself. It hung heavy in the moist air; I could almost feel my lungs fill with it as I breathed. The magic she was creating with her voice was like nothing I had ever experienced before. I found her magic to be as intoxicatingly alluring as Avrille herself was physically to me. I wanted to lose myself in the warm waves of her sung spell and never come up for air.
Once inside me, the spell seemed to settle in my soul. It plucked at the loose emotions that had begun struggling futilely against the cold stone weight of my better judgment the moment I had realised Avrille was alone in the hothouse. From deep within me, I could almost feel a voice humming, Why don’t you just talk to her? She obviously admires you… What harm could a little conversation bring?
My ever present rationale, of course, began to try to regain control of the situation immediately. Logic told me that, though perhaps she was doing it unknowingly, Avrille was somehow casting a Strengthening Charm on the flowers. This charm, passing through Avrille’s voice, had of course begun to influence me and was affecting me by way of increasing my self-confidence. My rational-self informed me it would be prudent to quickly return to the castle and come back for the herbs some other time. A cold shower probably would probably be beneficial as well. However, the enthralling lure of Avrille’s magic was too strong. Before I realised what I was doing, I had knocked quietly on the wooden door frame to attract Avrille’s attention.
Avrille spun sharply at the noise, and she abruptly ceased singing. This, of course, stopped the spell, leaving me with the effect of something like having ice-water poured down my neck as I stood there, now in the full blast of her startled exquisiteness without the comforting hum of the strengthening spell for support. I was at a loss for words. Avrille seemed rather the same, her gleaming skin colouring with a self-conscious strawberry flush as she furtively tried to brush off her soil-caked hands.
Finally Avrille broke the few awkward moments of silence by remaking embarrassedly, “I know it’s silly, but I always sing when I’m gardening… Muggles seem to think that it helps the plants to grow healthier.”
“Well, most of the spells in ancient times were sung,” I found myself saying, falling back as usual on factual knowledge to sustain a conversation. “Perhaps Muggles have some sort of innate understanding of the power of music.”
“I never thought of that…” Avrille said musingly. It appeared that she had no idea of the magic she had just been working after all.
Having finally spoken aloud helped me to gather my wits once more. “I was actually looking for Professor Sprout,” I said truthfully.
“She had to go to London for the day,” Avrille replied, turning back to the Ochre Orchids.
“I see.” I fixed my gaze solidly on the dripping green foliage above Avrille’s head to avoid more dishonourable voyeurism.
“Is there anything that I could help you with instead?” Avrille asked as she turned back towards me while lifting a repotted orchid and depositing it on a table standing between us.
“I just needed some herbs.”
“Well, that’s easy,” Avrille said as she brushed off her hands once more. “Why don’t you follow me to Hothouse Two? I’m sure I can find what you need there.” With that, Avrille grabbed her work-robes and slid them on as she strode past me out the door. I relished the mixed scent of warm earth and Avrille’s perfume, heightened slightly by her perspiration, before following her back through the rows of hothouses to the one situated closest to the castle.
“Which ones did you need specifically?” Avrille asked me as she pushed the door open for us.
“Aconite, Sol Terrestis, Lady’s Foxglove, and Yellow Avens,” I listed. “They’re for a Wolfsbane Potion.” I hastily added this because a couple of the herbs also factored into several love potions, and I didn’t want Avrille to form any strange impressions of me.
“I’ll need these then,” Avrille murmured to herself as she grabbed a pair of dragon hide gloves along with a set of shears. “That’s quite the potion! Do you mind if I ask why you’re making it?” She led me down a row of plants, scanning for one of the ones I needed.
“Certainly not,” I replied. “Saint Mungo’s hospital runs a monthly public service clinic where werewolves can receive the potion free of charge. Since not many people can correctly brew the Wolfsbane Potion, the hospital asked me a few years ago if I would be willing to contribute to the program. I usually help supply the potion for November.”
Avrille gave me one of her glowing smiles as she stopped in front of the Aconite. “That’s so nice!” she said. She pulled on the gloves and asked, “How much of the potion will you be making then?”
“A whole cauldron full. Size three.”
With a deft motion, Avrille sliced exactly the right amount of sprigs required for that amount of potion from the plant. I Conjured a bag and held it open for her as she gathered the cuttings delicately between gloved fingers. “I assumed you wouldn’t need extra. You must be a master at that potion by now,” she commented with another smile as she gently placed the cuttings inside. I was honoured by her compliment and could not think of any words to say in response. It didn’t seem to bother Avrille for she moved on down the row to the Lady’s Foxglove.
As she appraised the plants to find the freshest leaves, Avrille gave her head a little disbelieving shake and breathed a low whistle. “Wow… A Wolfsbane Potion. Can’t say that I’ve ever made one myself…”
“Would you care to assist me? Then you can say that you have.” The words were out of my mouth before I even had a chance to consider them. My first reaction would normally have been to curse myself for my rashness and hope that by some miracle Avrille would decline. But instead I found, perhaps because of some remnant of her earlier Strengthening Charm still within me, I did not regret saying that at all. Actually, I was hoping that she would agree because I was realising how much I was enjoying this time alone with her.
Just as I hoped, Avrille’s face lit up as she replied, “I would love to! I mean, are you sure you don’t mind?”
“Not at all.” And I meant it. I found that although talking with Avrille like this was not helping me with the problem of being completely taken with her, at least it was making me less terrified of being in her presence.
“I’ll be starting the preparations later in the week. Because the full moon is mid-month this year, I’m not in any rush. I would be glad to walk you through it step-by-step if you wish.”
“That would be really great,” Avrille said as she sheared off several sprigs of Lady’s Foxglove. “Not to speak badly about my Potions teacher at the Academy, but she was a rather impatient woman so we didn’t end up covering quite as many of the potions with long brewing times as I would have liked. My father, actually, knew how to brew the Wolfsbane but… Well… He wasn’t able to teach me…” Avrille trailed the sentence off quietly as though she hadn’t mean to say it. Avrille must have been unsure whether or not I knew of her personal history, and I didn’t blame her for not wanting to talk about it.
I watched Avrille harvest the last of the herbs with a heavy heart. I knew that had he lived, Armand Asphodel would have been proud to see what an excellent potion-maker his daughter had become, yet I was painfully aware of the fact I did not know Avrille personally enough to express such a sentiment to her. However, I did take note that Avrille had never mentioned her father to me before, so perhaps this was a sign she was starting to trust me a little.
Once I had the herbs that I had come for, I thanked Avrille and let her to return to her work. I myself decided to return to the castle to store the herbs safely away. When that was done, I retreated to the dark sanctuary of my rooms. I knew that I should have forced myself into my office instead since I had a dozen recommendation letters to write for seventh years who were beginning their applications to graduate schools. However, I felt even I could use an afternoon off once in a while.
After changing into more casual clothing, I ordered tea to be sent down. While I waited for the tea to steep, I sat deep in thought. One of the mysteries surrounding Avrille had been solved that afternoon: she did still possess magical ability, and it seemed to be still just as powerful as Dumbledore had implied it to be at the beginning of the term.
After I had formally met Avrille and found myself to have a more personal interest in her, I had done a little research into documented occurrences where a witch or wizard had their powers sapped from emotional trauma. In all of the cases I reviewed, the person eventually recovered their magical ability, though for some it took several years. However, there was nothing recorded I could uncover where the person had gone without magic for fifteen years, such as Avrille had so far. A possible explanation for Avrille’s situation could be that since she had such an innately strong reservoir of ability within her, it would take that much longer for it to be recovered; e.g. a pond drained of water would take a longer time to refill than a spilled bucket of water. But, from what I had felt coming from Avrille earlier in the hothouse, that did not seem to fit. My instinct told me that all of the power Avrille had ever had was there, somehow buried deep inside of her. Since it seemed highly unlikely that she would consciously negate her own magic, there must be something in her unconscious refusing to allow the magic to manifest itself.
I poured myself a cup of tea and added a splash of cream. I sat back against the chair and stared at my reflection in a mirror across the room. The easiest way to solve Avrille’s problem would be to go into her mind itself and see if there was any visible hindrance, such as a repressed memory. A full probe of her mind would also reveal if she had been the unknowing victim of a curse or poison around the time of her father’s death. The problem with this was, of course, that I couldn’t simply go up to Avrille and say, “Good afternoon, I would like to penetrate your mind for an hour or two.”
In order to make any headway on Avrille’s problem, I would need her complete trust. Forced entry into her thoughts could never work. Not only would it be the most reprehensible of actions, but it would most likely also cause the mental equivalent of a knee-jerk reaction, making Avrille clamp down even more tightly on sensitive memories to protect them.
I placed the empty teacup back on the saucer and Vanished the serving set back to the kitchens. I had hoped that some refreshment would relax me, but I was too far gone with hypotheses and conjectures to allow my mind to rest.
There were many things I wanted concerning Avrille, and none of them were permissible at the moment. She did not fancy me, and I saw no chance of her ever doing so in the future. I wasn’t even sure if I wanted her to feel that way. Everything in my life was just so complicated. I was sure, however, that the only true thing I wanted was for Avrille to be happy. And even if she could not eventually love me, I wanted her to trust me. But how could that ever happen? Trust was a two way street. In order for me to learn more about her and discover what fears might be blocking her magic, she would have to know my own history first.
I stared down hard at my left forearm, revulsion burning like bile in the back of my throat. How could I delude myself that Avrille would trust me when she found out what I used to be? That would be the end. Once she knew the truth about my past, I would disgust her.
I had been in my final year at Hogwarts the spring Avrille’s father was killed. It was only by chance, a whim of Fate perhaps, that I had even heard of the event at all. I had been told by a friend of mine named Carrington who was a fellow Slytherin and later became a fellow Death Eater. It turned out he had an elder cousin in Canada who had been one of the men captured at the scene of the crime and sent to Oswald Island for attempted kidnapping and accessory to murder. Unfortunately, the cousin had not been the wizard who cast the fatal curse on Armand Asphodel, Carrington revealed bitterly.
I don’t know why that event stuck in my mind for so many years afterward. I think it was perhaps because it was then when I realised just how far the Dark Lord’s power had reached if murders were being committed for him across oceans. At the time I had thought it awe-inspiring, even exciting. I had yearned to be like those men in Canada, to believe in something so strongly I would be willing to kill for it.
Remembering those feelings now left me feeling revolted and ashamed. It could be argued that risking my life for the Order of the Phoenix later redeemed my past feelings and actions. I could convince myself I had been simply young and vulnerable to outside influence. But to me no excuse would ever be able to justify those six months when I had been a willing, eager servant of the Dark Lord. If I could not even forgive myself, how could I expect Avrille to understand me?
How could I ever tell Avrille that I had once willingly aligned myself with the very monster in whose name her father had been murdered?
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