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Chapter 10 : Chapter Ten - Severus
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September soon passed into October as the students and we faculty alike finally surrendered the struggle of transitioning back into a regular 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 this was because she would be helping to alleviate the burden of marking the dullest homework I usually had to suffer through 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 wouldn’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 greenhouses to pick up some herbs Pomona had promised to set aside for me; the Herbology professor did not appreciate anyone “mucking about” in her greenhouses on their own, even those who were internationally recognised Potions experts and who could certainly tell a sprig of peppermint from poison ivy without assistance.
The castle was wonderfully empty since almost every person was either in Hogsmeade or out on the castle lawns enjoying the first sunny day in over a fortnight. The afternoon air was warm and smelled fresh from the weeks of continuous downpour. I made my way slowly to the greenhouses, 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 most likely emanating from the lake, where most of the students were lazing around. However, as I neared Greenhouse Four, I started to hear another sound, obviously not the song from a bird but sounding just as lovely.
I located the source of the singing as I passed the cracked-open doorway of one of the greenhouses containing 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 greenhouse, Avrille had removed her work-robes, leaving her clad only in a sleeveless jersey dress that left her arms and shoulders tantalisingly bare. The dark brown shift 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 out an apparent crick in 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 greenhouse.
Normally if I found myself intruding on another’s solitude, my first instinct would be to remove myself promptly from the area before my presence was noted. 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 gaze to focus completely on the song wrapping itself tightly around me. I closed my eyes to block out the visual temptation before me and concentrated on Avrille’s voice instead.
I could not understand the words she sang, though they sounded like French. I doubt that if I could have comprehended the lyrics 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 filling 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 submerge 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 greenhouse. 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 and 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 as I stood in its range and was affecting me by way of increasing my self-confidence. My rational-self informed me it would be prudent to return to the castle quickly and come back for the herbs some other time. A cold shower probably would 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 on the wooden door frame to attract Avrille’s attention.
Avrille spun at the noise, and she abruptly ceased singing. This stopped the spell as well, subjecting me to an effect akin to 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 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 mused. It appeared she truly had no idea of the magic she had just been working after all.
Having finally spoken aloud helped me to re-gather my wits. “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 I could help you with instead?” Avrille asked as she turned back towards me, while lifting a freshly potted flower and depositing it on a table standing between us.
“I just needed some herbs.”
“I could get them for you, if you want. I know Professor Sprout doesn’t usually like people poking around in her greenhouses when she isn’t there, but I’ve been given Official Mucking About Privileges,” Avrille said, with a slightly conspiratorial smile as she brushed off her hands once more. “Why don’t you follow me to Greenhouse Two? I’m sure I can find what you need there.”
“I suppose, if you wouldn’t mind,” I said, taking a step backwards to clear the doorway. Avrille grabbed her work-robes and slid them on. I relished the mixed scent of warm earth and Avrille’s perfume, heightened slightly by her perspiration, as she strode past me out the door.
As I followed her back through the rows of greenhouses to the one situated closest to the castle, Avrille turned her head slightly to glance back at me over her shoulder and said, “I’m sorry if I made it sound like I assumed you were scared of Professor Sprout or something just now. I only said it because I know she can get surprisingly riled up if her work area is disturbed.”
“By all means, assume away,” I found myself saying. “Hardly a year goes by when she doesn’t feel the need to chastise me yet again for ‘borrowing’ herbs in an attempt to brew Felix Felicis on my own in my second year.”
What are you even blathering on about, Severus? Your youthful transgressions cannot be something she’d be interested in. Please attempt to keep your mouth shut until this Strengthening Charm has fully dissipated and you’ve regained some bloody common sense.
However, contrary to my inner critic’s opinion, Avrille laughed as she rummaged around in her pockets for her greenhouse keys.
“So, I guess that means you didn’t get to try it, huh, since she caught you?” she asked, while trying a series of almost identical-looking keys in the lock of Greenhouse Two.
“No, not until my first N.E.W.T. year.”
“I bet you would’ve succeeded, though, if you’d been given the chance. It’s probably a good thing she confiscated them.”
I gave a small shrug. Personally, I was certain I would have, but it felt unnecessarily boastful to agree with her. Avrille finally liberated the lock on the fifth key.
“Which herbs did you need today?” Avrille asked me as she slid the tracked glass door open for us.
“Aconite, Sol Terrestis, Lady’s Foxglove, and Yellow Avens,” I listed. “They’re for a Wolfsbane Potion.” I added this hastily because a couple of the herbs also factored into several love potions; I didn’t want Avrille to form any more strange impressions of me, after I had already admitted to trying to brew liquid luck as a twelve-year-old.
“I’ll need these, then,” Avrille murmured to herself, grabbing 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 species 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 very few 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?”
“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, without taking even a moment to calculate. 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 a little disbelieving shake of her head. “Wow … A Wolfsbane Potion. Can’t say I’ve ever made one myself.”
“Would you care to assist me? Then you can say you have.” Once again, the words were out of my mouth before I even had a chance to consider them. My usual first reaction would have been to curse myself for my rashness and hope, by some chance, Avrille would decline, but instead I found, perhaps because of a trace of Avrille’s magic still within me, I did not regret saying it at all. Actually, I was hoping she would agree because I was starting to realise how much I was enjoying this time alone with her. Despite all of my past qualms, in actuality she was surprisingly easy to talk to.
Just as I’d hoped, Avrille’s face lit up as she replied, “I’d 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 proving that I could hold a conversation longer than two sentences with her without compromising myself.
“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 absolutely amazing,” Avrille said as she sheared off several sprigs of Lady’s Foxglove. “That’s one of the few master-level Potions we didn’t end up covering in school. I never attempted it on my own, either. My first few years of grad school, I was following along with an old journal of my dad’s—he was a Healer at the Angitia Sanatorium on Prince Edward Island—and practising every potion he mentioned brewing for work, until I had them all down pat. He, um … he didn’t have the Wolfsbane listed in there, though …” Avrille trailed off the sentence quietly, as though she hadn’t meant to say quite that much. She must have been unsure whether or not I knew of her personal history, and I didn’t blame her for not wanting to go into further detail.
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 a superb potion-maker his daughter had become, yet I was painfully aware of the fact I did not know Avrille well enough to express such a personal 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 I had come for, I thanked Avrille and left her to her own work. I decided to return to the castle immediately to store the herbs safely away. When that task was accomplished, I retreated to the dark sanctuary of my rooms. I knew 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 own applications to graduate schools. However, I felt even I deserved 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 this afternoon; she did still possess practical magic ability, and it seemed just as powerful as Professor 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 to return to full strength. However, there was nothing recorded that 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 appeared to have such an innately strong reservoir of ability within her, it would take that much longer for it to be recovered; e.g. a lake drained of water would take an exponentially longer time to refill than a spilled bucket of water. But, from what I had felt coming from Avrille earlier in the greenhouse, that did not seem to fit. My instincts told me that all of the power Avrille had ever had was there, somehow buried deep inside of her. Since it seemed highly unlikely 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 sift through your most guarded and secret memories for an hour or two.”
In order to make any headway with 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 also it would most likely 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 perceived no likelihood 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 blastedly complicated. I was sure, however, that the thing I wanted above all was for Avrille to be happy. And even if she could not eventually care for 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 knew why Avrille had not attempted a Wolfsbane Potion when she was using her father’s journal as a study guide, and I knew why she did not elaborate on the reason herself. Her father did not list the Wolfsbane in his workplace account because he had never known of its existence; the potion was invented in 1980, three years after his death.
I had been in my final term at Hogwarts the spring Armand Asphodel was murdered. It was only by an off 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 Asphodel, Carrington had revealed with obvious disappointment.
I don’t know why that seemingly random event stuck in my mind for so many years afterwards. I think it was perhaps because it was then that 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 sickened 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 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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