Chapter 11 : Chapter Eleven - Avrille
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I don’t think I’d ever been so drenched as I constantly found myself the first two weeks in October. It was an absolute miracle I didn’t get sick, between the numerous soggy trips back and forth to the greenhouses and then sitting soaking wet in the freezing dungeons for Professor Snape’s classes. Normally I don’t mind rain, but by mid-month I was ready for a break. Therefore I was extremely thankful for that one sunny Saturday when Professor Snape offered to let me assist him with the Wolfsbane Potion. Because the weather was so nice that day, along with giving the grounds a much-needed afternoon to dry out, Professor Sprout had decided to do some shopping in Diagon Alley. That left me to be the one to help Professor Snape harvest his herbs and through that get into the topic of the Wolfsbane Potion in the first place.
Now that the weekend was over, the stormy weather had returned, but I refused to let it get me down. The prospect of receiving private instruction from Professor Snape was enough to keep me in high spirits. I was hoping Professor Snape’s offer was a sign that he was starting to finally like me a little. After all, he was inviting me to help him with something that had no connection to my apprenticeship, meaning he had zero obligation to do it.
During my little bit of free time during that week, I sat in the library refreshing my memory of the Wolfsbane Potion. Professor Snape didn’t reference it very much in his own books, except to mention that the difficulty in brewing the Wolfsbane lay not in the rarity of its ingredients or the need for advanced magical ability; so few people were able to brew it correctly because it was a potion where the utmost, painstaking diligence had to be exercised in each step of its preparation and brewing. Depending on the potion-maker’s individual technique, the Wolfsbane Potion could take up to a month to brew, and not many people had the attentiveness, or motivation (unless they were a werewolf), to see it all the way through to its completion.
Finally it was Friday night, and I was already feeling nervous about being alone with Professor Snape the next day; ever since the encounter in the library, I was more often than not likely to be battling a severe case of giddiness every time Professor Snape was anywhere in my vicinity. I hadn’t had an observation that day, so I spent most of my afternoon wandering around the castle. I told myself I was simply interested in the castle itself, but in truth I knew it was all because of my recent attempts at researching Professor Snape’s past. I, of course, knew all about his academic history but realized I knew next to nothing about him personally. I knew the school had an awards room, so I eventually wandered over in that direction. However, a thorough inspection of all of the trophies and plaques from his era yielded nothing with Professor Snape’s name on it.
I then went to the library after dinner to look at some of the old Hogwarts records, yet I struck out there as well. Professor Snape’s name wasn’t on the lists of former prefects nor on any membership rosters of school clubs or student organizations. If I hadn’t known without a doubt that he had attended Hogwarts, I would’ve started to think he’d never stepped inside the building before he was hired here.
After a couple hours in the library yielded nothing, I trudged back up the marble stairs to my rooms. When I entered, I saw that everything for bed had been prepared for me already, as it was every night. There was a warm fire burning in the hearth, and a pile of freshly laundered clothes sat folded on my turned-down bed. As I put away my clothes, I called for Caligula, wanting to give him a hug since I hadn’t seen him all day long. After a few minutes of calling and Caligula not appearing, I started to become worried.
I combed through my rooms three times over; I looked under all the furniture, above all of the bookcases and cabinets, even in the cupboard under the bathroom sink. Caligula was just simply nowhere to be found. A sudden panicky thought seized me, and I dashed over to the window I’d left open in the sitting room. Glancing down over the edge with my heart in my mouth, I fortunately didn’t see anything on the moonlit ground three floors below me. I did notice for the first time, however, that there was a sort of ledge running along the mortar right under my window pane. Leaning out as far as I dared, I saw that the ledge ran the entire length of the castle wall and therefore beneath countless numbers of other potentially open windows. The ledge was no more than a few inches wide, but I knew that would be plenty of room for Caligula to trot across if he were feeling daring.
Pulling on my school-robes once more, I left my rooms and walked back in the direction of the main staircase. Sure enough, there was another open window just a few rooms down from mine, in a little alcove that held an ancient, cordoned-off wooden bench. I leaned over the rope to examine the seat and was just able to make out where a set of paw prints had smeared the dust. Wonderful. Caligula could be absolutely anywhere in the castle by now.
I had no idea where to begin looking. I knew he’d be safe enough by himself, but that still didn’t keep me from feeling anxious. What if he found the castle to be so exciting that he decided to never come back to my rooms? What if he somehow managed to slip out a door leading outside or jump out of a ground-floor window? Having no real options, I decided to just start wandering around and hope luck was on my side tonight.
It was already past ten o’clock, so curfew had already come and gone for the students. The torches set in the walls were burning low, creating innumerable pockets of shadows in corners and behind statues. I first made a stop at my office, hoping that perhaps Caligula had followed my scent there. No luck. I continued back to the main stairway and walked down to the entrance hall. The only sounds were the distant ticking of an enormous mounted clock and the quiet hum of portrait residents who were still “awake.” I poked my head into the Great Hall, looking rather dark and creepy in its unusual emptiness. I was just about to resign myself to spending at least an hour crawling around on the floor, searching under the House tables when I heard a noise behind me.
I turned to see Fred and George Weasley creeping across the entrance hall to the main marble staircase, having apparently just come from the corridor facing me. They froze when they saw I’d spotted them.
“It’s a little late to be out walking around the school, guys,” I said, heading toward them. Now coming closer I could see that both Fred and George were hiding something behind their backs.
I heard George whisper to his twin, “I knew we should’ve checked the ma—”
“—Shut up!” Fred hissed back.
I stopped in front of them with my arms folded and an eyebrow raised. Fred looked to George, and both sighed in heavy resignation as they each produced a precariously balanced stack of cream pies. Their identical freckled faces were crestfallen, as if they knew for sure they’d just earned detentions. I, however, was not going to let enforcing a silly rule take precedence over the great windfall I’d just received from apprehending these two gentlemen. From what I’d heard from several different teachers, no one in the school, not even Mr. Filch, knew Hogwarts better than the Weasley twins.
“I’m not even going to ask what you’re doing with those, because I’m pretty certain I don’t want to know,” I said, jerking my chin at the two stacks of pies. “Now, I’m sure you’re both aware that you’re not supposed to be out of your dorm this late. However, I’m in a bit of a pinch here and willing to overlook whatever it is you two are doing if you can lend me a hand.”
“Anything you need, Mistress Asphodel! The Brothers Weasley are at your service!” Fred declared with an attempt at a debonair bow that unfortunately left his nose covered in whipped cream. George snickered as Fred wiped his nose on the shoulder of his shirt embarrassedly.
Forcing myself not to snort as well, I said, “The thing is, my cat’s escaped from my room. You two haven’t happened to see one wandering around, have you?”
George and Fred looked at each other in surprise, and I allowed myself a small gleam of hope.
“What kind of cat is it exactly?” George asked as he shuffled back and forth in an attempt to keep the swaying pies from toppling onto the floor.
“A chocolate-point Siamese.”
The twins shared a grin.
“I think we know just where that cat is, Mistress Asphodel,” Fred replied.
“—And Fred would be only too happy to escort you there!” George added. Fred looked aside at his brother, his face reddening. “I should probably return to Gryffindor Tower and see that our … ah … cargo is safely stored.” George nodded at Fred to signal that he should put his stack of pies on the ground. Shrugging, Fred obeyed then pulled out his wand.
“Wingardium Leviosa!” Fred intoned, causing the pies to levitate at hip height beside his brother.
“Well, carry on then!” George called out, with another meaningful look at Fred. Turning to the hovering pies he said, “Come on, you,” and trotted up the staircase with the stack of desserts floating obediently after him.
“Okaaay …” I muttered quietly to myself. I looked expectantly to Fred, who was scuffing a sneakered foot against the cobblestones with his hands dug deep into his pockets.
“Oh, right. Well, er … if you’ll just come this way, please,” Fred said and turned back toward the corridor he and George had just come from. I followed a step behind Fred, noting that this was the first time I’d ever seen the two of them apart. Fred seemed somehow much smaller and quieter without his brother there.
I knew this particular corridor led to both the Hufflepuff dorms and Professor Sprout’s rooms, but Fred took a sudden turn away from that direction, leading me down a flight of shallow stairs. At the bottom was another corridor, brightly lit and decorated with many portraits of various types of food.
“George and I sometimes come down here to … er … well, you know how it is …” Fred muttered, looking sheepishly at me, his hands still shoved into his pockets. We stopped in front of an enormous still-life portrait of a bowl of fruit. Fred reached up above his head and stroked one of the giant pears. It emitted a small giggle before popping out a little green doorknob.
“Er … Just in here, Mistress Asphodel,” Fred said as he opened the door and held it ajar for me.
“Thanks,” I said with a smile, which for some reason made Fred blush bright red, and stepped up and through the hole in the wall.
I was immediately hit with numerous smells and sounds. I couldn’t see anything straight away because the entire room was filled with steam. Even though it was impossible to discern any particulars of the room more than a foot or two in front of me, the echoing of the continuous clanging and the encompassing sound of rushing water led me to believe the room was as cavernous as the Great Hall itself. The air was filled with the tart scent of dishwashing soap. Mixed in with the lemony fragrance was an older smell of cooked meat and baked bread, making me fairly sure I’d been brought to Hogwarts’s kitchens. Turning back, I could just make out Fred as he climbed in after me.
“Er … He should be around here somewhere,” Fred yelled over the noise. “George and I saw the house-elves feeding a Siamese when we were down here a little while ago.” Fred motioned for me to follow him once more as he started carefully forward. We waved our hands in front our faces, trying to clear away some of the steam. Still, we nearly both tripped as two house-elves appeared in front of us out of nowhere.
“Is you requiring more pies, young sir?” one of the elves piped up. Fred’s face reddened once more.
“No, thanks. We’re looking for that cat that was in here before.”
“Right this way, young sir and Mistress!” the other elf squeaked. Each house-elf took a small handful of our robes and pulled us forward through the misty maze of the kitchens. I was just able to make out dozens of other house-elves through the steam, all wearing the same uniform as the two with us: crisp white togas bearing the Hogwarts coat-of-arms. Each elf we passed bowed low to us before turning back to their duties at their sinks, counters, or ovens.
“Here we is finding the kitty!” the first elf proclaimed proudly, stopping in one of the far corners where, sure enough, Caligula was gorging himself on a plate piled high with juicy roast beef left over from dinner. Caligula gave me a passing, nonchalant glance before sticking his face back into the plate. I felt another small tug on my robe. I turned and saw standing behind me a female house-elf with floppy, puppy-doggish ears and enormous electric-blue eyes.
“Mistress Asphodel! I is Pinky, the house-elf in charge of your rooms, Mistress!” Pinky curtseyed so low that her knees nearly brushed the gleaming white floor.
“Oh! Nice to meet you!” I said and held out my hand to her, bending over slightly to be more at her eye level.
Pinky stared at my offered hand then glanced at the two elves who had brought us in. They both nodded their heads eagerly, so Pinky placed her tiny hind in mine so I could gently shake it. When I let go, Pinky stared at her hand in awe, a small smile on her face.
“Thank you so much for everything you do! My rooms are always so well taken care of,” I said, hoping this was the sort of thing one said to a house-elf. This was my first real meeting with one since we didn’t have any house-elves in our family, and I never saw one at either of my schools.
“Mistress Asphodel is too kind with her words!” Pinky declared. “Pinky is honoured to serve!”
Suddenly Pinky dropped her gaze to her bare feet. “Pinky is sorry that she is not returning the kitty right away. Pinky thought that the kitty might like some food first. We is not often getting kitties in the kitchen, Mistress.”
“No, please, thank you for taking care of him! I didn’t think I’d be able to find him again so easily, but now that I think about it, this was the first place that he would’ve gone to.” I turned to Fred who had been watching our exchange with interest. “Thanks, too, Fred. Even though it seems Pinky was going to bring Caligula back, it was great of you to lead me to him.”
Fred’s scrunched his face in confusion.
“Caligula?” he asked.
“That’s my cat’s name.”
“Wasn’t Caligula … like … a crazy Muggle king or something?”
“Uh, sort of …” I replied with an embarrassed smile. My mom was right; I should’ve just named him Fluffy or Mittens.
“Anyway,” I said as I scooped up Caligula, who growled fiercely at the removal of his face from his food, “we should both be getting to bed. Thanks so much again, Pinky. Shall we go, Fred?”
Pinky curtseyed low once more as the two other house-elves scurried to clean up the half-eaten plate of roast beef. Giving Pinky another smile, and scruffing Caligula to keep him from vaulting over my shoulders to get back to the meat, I followed Fred back through the noisy, slippery path to the portrait hole.
The air outside seemed freezing cold after the hot, muggy kitchens. The sudden silence also made my ears, still ringing from the clamour, feel like they were full of cotton balls. Caligula turned his face away from me peevishly and licked his nose, which was still pink from the roast beef juices.
“Have any fun plans for the weekend?” I asked Fred as we climbed the stairs back up to the ground floor corridor.
“Nah, just Quidditch practice. Not that that isn’t fun, of course. It’s just Wood’s gone completely mental since we have the match against Slytherin in a few weeks.” Fred rolled his eyes, making me laugh.
“Yeah, I’ve seen Slytherin practicing from my window. They seem really fast.”
Fred huffed angrily. “They’re fast, alright. Draco Malfoy’s father bought the whole team Nimbus Two Thousand and Ones. Bloody rich git,” Fred muttered then looked to me in mortification.
“I didn’t mean to say that out loud!” he gasped.
“I’ll just pretend I didn’t hear,” I said good-naturedly. Fred relaxed visibly.
“It just not on that a team could take a gift like that …” Fred continued to grumble.
“Well, I’m sure Professor Snape wouldn’t have let Mr. Malfoy give the team the brooms unless it was allowed. It’s pretty unfair, but I guess it’s just bad luck that Draco wasn’t in Gryffindor instead.”
Fred made a face. “Forget that! I’d much rather have Potter as our Seeker than Malfoy with a pile of Two Thousand and Ones any day!”
“Well, there you are,” I replied with a grin.
Fred shrugged. “Anyway, thanks a lot, Mistress Asphodel, for not giving me and George detention. We wouldn’t have been so lucky if it’d been Professor Snape who’d lost a cat.” As he said this, an image of Professor Snape in the Great Hall, on his hands and knees looking under tables, flashed into my mind. I burst out laughing, startling Caligula, who’d been enjoying his ride with his head on my shoulder. Fred looked to me in confusion, but I just shook my head against Caligula’s fur, unable to stop giggling.
“Uh oh …” I heard Fred murmur. I calmed down with effort and looked up to see that we were back in the entrance hall. As though summoned by our talk, Professor Snape himself had just emerged from the dungeon stairwell.
“What are you doing out of bed, Mr. Weasley?” Professor Snape asked sharply as he strode toward us. Fred’s face, which had been slightly pink this entire time, blanched white. He dropped his head to stare at the stone floor with his hands shoved in his pockets once more.
“He was just helping me find my cat. Thanks again for your help, Fred. Off to bed now,” I said to him with a meaningful look. Fred nodded quickly and shot off up the stairs before Professor Snape could ask him why he’d been out of his dormitory for me to ask for his assistance in the first place.
Professor Snape seemed about to yell something after Fred, so I quickly said, “It’s all my fault. I left one of the windows open in my room, and Caligula managed to climb out.”
“… Caligula?” Professor Snape asked in the same confused tone as Fred had before. Here we go again … Oh well, at least it distracted Professor Snape from Fred’s escape.
“Yeah, I know it’s weird. I’d been reading about ancient Roman history in my Muggle Studies book that day.”
At the mention of his name, Caligula had perked up his ears and was now studying Professor Snape with acute professional interest. He gave me a look that clearly stated, “So this is the male you always leave me to go see.” He was struggling against my grasp to turn his body around so he could sniff Professor Snape better. Professor Snape, meanwhile, was eyeing Caligula with just as much interest, the slightest ghost of a smile on his face.
“You can pet him, if you want,” I offered hesitantly. Professor Snape met my eyes for a moment then reached his hand slowly forward to scratch Caligula between his ears. Caligula made a show of sniffing his hand briefly before allowing himself to dissolve into a floppy, purring bundle of contentment.
“I used to have a cat …” Professor Snape mused quietly. “A long time ago.” For the briefest instant, I thought I saw a flash of pain in Professor Snape’s eyes, but when he blinked, it had vanished. He removed his hand and took a step back. Caligula glared at him and yowled reproachfully at the withdrawal of attention.
Professor Snape cleared his throat. “He’s very handsome,” he commented, which was coincidental because that’s the exact same thing I was thinking about him at the moment. There was just something about the flickering torchlight in the hall that made Professor Snape look even more striking than usual.
“And he certainly knows it,” I replied, rearranging Caligula so his head was resting on my shoulder once more. One thing was for sure: Caligula had not needed that extra meal in the kitchens, and my aching arms were a testament to the fact.
“I was on my way to put this in your box.” Professor Snape held up a piece of folded parchment in his other hand. “But since I found you instead …” He Vanished it with a twist of his wrist. “I just wanted to inform you that I have everything prepared, and I would like to commence work on the Wolfsbane Potion tomorrow afternoon, if that is convenient for you.”
“Yes, that would be great!” I said excitedly. I was really looking forward to starting work on the potion, and even more so to having private tuition from Professor Snape himself.
“If you could come down to my office around one.”
“Sure,” I replied, batting Caligula with slight annoyance as he was attempting to chew on my hair. “I’ll be down straight after lunch”
“‘Till tomorrow, then,” Professor Snape said with a shallow nod of his head and a faint but definite smile on his lips. “Good night.” He turned and walked back toward the dungeon staircase.
“Thank you! Good night!” I called after him, my heart thumping from the treat of seeing him smile for the second time. Once he was out of sight, I shifted Caligula around so I could look him straight in the eyes.
“I’m locking the windows from now on,” I told him, nose to nose.
The next day, as if to take revenge on me for removing any future castle-wandering prospects, Caligula threw up magnificently all over the carpet by the fireplace just as I was about to go down to Professor Snape’s office. Running at him while yelling and waving my arms hadn’t been enough to get him to hurl onto the hearthstones instead, so I had to waste several minutes on my hands and knees scrubbing cat-sick. Now that I had actually met Pinky and knew how hard she must work to keep my rooms looking so wonderful, I felt incredibly guilty just leaving the mess behind for her to clean up.
Two minutes before one o’clock, I threw the last vomit-damp towel into the laundry chute and ran at breakneck speed down the ninety-seven stairs leading from my rooms to Professor Snape’s office. Students stared at me as I tore past them, but I didn’t care. There was no way I was going to be late when Professor Snape was doing me such a favour by letting me assist him. I skidded to a halt in front of his office door and made myself take a few slow, deep breaths as I rubbed at a stitch in my side. Even after I could breathe normally once more, my pulse continued to race. Professor Snape and I had never spent any significant time alone together, and I felt half-ready to puke just like Caligula. Oh God, what if I made a mistake and totally ruined the Wolfsbane Potion? Professor Snape would never trust me again!
I shook my head fiercely to drive all self-doubting thoughts away. I knew I was an excellent potion-brewer and had nothing to worry about. Though I had never actually made one, I had studied the theory of the Wolfsbane Potion extensively. Also—this thought making me glow a bit on the inside—Professor Snape would never have asked me to help unless he was confident I wouldn’t screw the whole thing up. Inhaling a few more deep breaths of chilly dungeon air, I gave myself a little shake to dispel the nerves and knocked on the door.
“Come in,” I heard Professor Snape call. I opened the door and stepped into the office. Professor Snape had been standing at his desk, flipping through some papers and glanced up when I entered. His long, black hair was tied back in a simple tail, and his sleeves were rolled up, revealing his forearms. I felt my ears turn pink as I looked at him.
“Mistress Asphodel. Right on time.” His eyes flitted to the clock, which had just sounded one chime. “If you would follow me,” he said, grabbing his work-robes from a chair. He strode out through the door I held open for him. I closed it behind us, and Professor Snape locked it with a flick of his wand back over his shoulder. I followed him down the hallway past the classrooms until he stopped in front of a room I’d never entered before. He waved his wand once more to unlock this door as he pulled out a key from his robes’ pocket with his other hand.
“This is for you,” he said, handing the key to me. “We will be brewing the potion in here. Since it is so valuable, the door is to be kept locked at all times.” I took the key solemnly and placed it in a secure zippered pouch in my shoulder bag.
“After you,” Professor Snape said, opening the door and standing aside to allow me to enter first.
As I stepped through, a set of torches flared to life, illuminating a medium-sized room that smelled musty and unused. Old cobwebs hung in corners, blowing like ghostly hair in one of the ever-present nippy draughts. There were several ancient-looking oak tables, on which Professor Snape had set up all of the tools we would be using. Professor Snape walked past me to the nearest table where the herbs I’d given him last weekend were laid out on squares of white linen. I followed him to the table, depositing my bag under it, and stood ready for instruction.
Professor Snape looked up from the dried Aconite he had been appraising and said, after gesturing vaguely at my face, “Your hair.”
“What?” I asked, passing a hand over the top of my head. I didn’t have a huge cowlick or something, did I?
“Could you tie it back? A single strand could potentially contaminate the potion.” That explained why his hair was pulled back as well, something he never did, which was a shame because he looked even more handsome as he was now.
“Oh, of course. Sorry,” I said and knelt down next to my bag, biting my lip. I’d meant to put my hair up before leaving the room, but Caligula’s mess had distracted me. After digging around slightly in the shadows, I managed to locate a hair elastic. I wound my hair up into a secure knot then stood back up. Professor Snape was pulling on a pair of dragon-hide protective gloves, so I followed suit.
“These herbs,” he said, “were soaked for twelve hours in an arnica oil-in-holy water emulsion and have been drying over the week. If you’ll look here,” he said, picking up a dried sprig of Aconite between gloved fingers, “you can see the leaves are dried to the point where they make a clean break yet are not so fragile that they crumble.”
Though there were several torches lit, the room was still fairly dim. This gave me a good excuse to move closer to Professor Snape than I normally would’ve to see better. He held up a leaf, cleanly broken in two, to which I nodded.
“Now,” Professor Snape said, moving to a second table as I trailed after him, “here I have set out saffron water, rosewater, and simple distilled water.” He placed a hand on the cork of each corresponding glass jug in turn. “And, as you can see, there are four cauldrons, one for each herbal infusion we will be setting to brew today. But first, we should put on these.” Professor Snape conjured two white facial masks for us. I took one from him and tied it behind my head, completely covering my mouth and nose.
“Since the Aconite is obviously the key ingredient in this potion, it requires the most care,” Professor Snape continued, his voice the slightest bit muffled by the mask. “The leaves first need to be removed with a silver dagger, then quartered, crushed, and finally smouldered in a crucible. Would you like to begin?” he asked, holding a silver dagger out to me, hilt first.
“Alright,” I replied hesitantly, taking the dagger carefully from him. I wasn’t sure how comfortable I was being given the contingent herb to start off with.
Professor Snape must’ve sensed my hesitation, for he added, “Don’t worry, I’ll watch you,” in a soft, encouraging tone of voice I’d never heard him use before. Smiling a little to myself behind my mask, I fetched the Aconite from the other table.
Under Professor Snape’s expert eye, I sheared all of the leaves from the stems, then lay them flat on a bamboo cutting board. With the utmost care, I sliced each leaf into four, even parts then placed them into a mortar. With the pestle, I ground the leaves into a fine dust while Professor Snape set a crucible over a lit burner on the other side of the room. When I was done, he took the powder from me.
“You need to be extremely careful,” he said as he cautiously poured the poisonous dust into the crucible, “because though the mask prevents the smoke from being inhaled, it can still severely damage your eyes and cause blindness.”
Once the Aconite was set, Professor Snape returned to the table. Into one of the small cauldrons, he poured even parts rosewater and saffron water. Into the second cauldron, he poured only rosewater and only saffron water into the third. Into the fourth cauldron, he measured in a few tablespoons of distilled water. He then set me to separating the flowers from the leaves of the Sol Terrestis while he ground up the Lady’s Foxglove and a few drops of rosewater into a sticky paste. Professor Snape then added the Sol Terrestis flowers to the paste and further ground it. The Sol Terrestis leaves were placed in the saffron water-filled cauldron to simmer.
“How long does this potion normally take you?” I asked as I shredded Yellow Avens leaves and dropped them into the rosewater cauldron.
“About three and a half weeks,” Professor Snape replied from the corner where he was checking on the Aconite. He removed the crucible from the heat to allow it to cool. “We will have to repeat some of these steps on Wednesday and next Saturday with freshly cut herbs to create a concentrate, which has to ferment over two weeks. The final ingredients are then added and kept at a simmer overnight, after which the potion is chilled. When it is finally allowed to return to room temperature on the last day, it is ready for consumption.”
My tasks for the moment being completed, I sat back on a stool and watched Professor Snape as he examined the scorched Aconite. Perhaps confident in his own ability to not catastrophically screw up, he’d allowed his mask to fall so it hung around his neck. Even though I knew that he was exceedingly skilled in handling the poison, I still felt nervous watching him with his face so close to it as he checked for even blackening. One careless sniff and he’d probably be killed. I breathed a silent sigh of relief as he finally nodded in satisfaction and dumped the charred bits into the fourth cauldron containing the plain water. With a long silver spoon, he stirred the mixture, occasionally adding a few more sprinkles of water until he was satisfied with the consistency.
More than once I had to force myself to concentrate on what Professor Snape was specifically doing because far too often I found myself watching him instead. I loved the way he squinted his storm-grey eyes when he was really concentrating on something. I was mesmerized by the way the torchlight made his hair shine like black fire. I could have easily spent the entire afternoon just watching the graceful way he moved his fingers as he was sorting through the herbs.
Much too quickly, an hour or so later, we were done for the day. All four cauldrons were steeping their respective contents.
“I will find you Wednesday after classes have concluded so we can continue,” Professor Snape said as he locked the door behind us with his wand. We started to walk back up the corridor to his office.
“Yes, please do,” I replied as I pulled the tie out of my hair to let it fall back down. I had done it up so tightly that my scalp was aching, sending sharp little pains up from each follicle. I combed the fingers of one hand through it to try and dispel the tingling, then I noticed Professor Snape was staring at me.
“It hurts if I leave it up too long,” I explained, thinking that must’ve been why he had a strange expression on his face. He started a little.
“Yes, it does, doesn’t it?” he remarked simply, pulling the tie out of his own hair as we reached the office door. “I have some marking to do, so you’ll forgive me if I go ahead.”
“Would you like any help? I mean, only if you think I’m ready … I wouldn’t want to presume …”
Professor Snape stopped my rambling with a raised hand.
“Thank you, but you have helped me enough for one day. There isn’t much to be corrected, though perhaps another time …” he trailed off, managing with few words to convey that he did believe me ready but simply didn’t need the help. My heart swelled with pride from knowing he was starting to trust me enough, so soon in my apprenticeship, to let me handle some of the students’ work. Maybe I’d impressed him just now with the Wolfsbane Potion. I secretly thanked the stars I’d made myself review that formula over and over again last night.
“Alright, well, I guess I’ll see you in class on Monday, then. I’ll be in with the sixth-year N.E.W.T.s,” I said, running a hand through my hair one more time.
“Yes, and thank you again for your help today,” Professor Snape said. I wanted to thank him again for letting me assist, but thinking we might end up in a never-ending exchange of thank-yous, I gave a shy smile and hurried past him and up the dungeon steps. I was so happy that I had to physically cover my beaming smile with my hand so I didn’t look like I’d been hit with a well-executed Cheering Charm. Things were really starting to look up. Professor Snape truly seemed to be finally starting to like me just a little.
That week, as he’d stipulated, I assisted Professor Snape twice more with the Wolfsbane Potion. These two sessions didn’t take quite as long since we only needed to boil fresh herbs, which I’d harvested for us, and add the strained liquid to the original four cauldrons to further reduce. We didn’t talk much when we were alone in the dungeon; I was too shy and Professor Snape probably too focused on the work. While we worked in near silence, I kept repeating over and over in my mind that Professor Snape was my supervisor, and it was wrong of me to be taking so much pleasure in staring at his revealed jaw-line and neck beneath his pulled-back hair.
In a weird way, I was glad when that week was over because it really threw off my emotions seeing him like that, that is as a working man as opposed to a stoic professor. The next week we went back to our normal schedule of only seeing each other during my observations or briefly during meals, neither at which we talked at all.
Finally it was Halloween and the conclusion of my second full month at Hogwarts. I was very glad I still had eight months to go since I was enjoying myself at Hogwarts far more than I ever had at my own two schools. Here I was, more or less, a teacher and could move through the corridors with a kind of superior sense of purpose that one didn’t have when one was a student. Lavinia Sinistra and I were quickly becoming fast friends. Though, I felt bad thinking it, she didn’t have the brilliant intellectual genius of Professor Snape, she was an absolute blast to gossip with.
We sat next to each other at the Halloween Feast, talking merrily as we split a decently sized jug of hard apple cider. The Great Hall looked even more spectacular than it had during the Welcoming Feast, with Hagrid’s giant pumpkins carved into enormous jack-o-lanterns flanking the staff table. I was at first a bit squeamish when I saw all of the live bats hanging from the rafters, but Lavinia assured me they very rarely flew into anyone’s hair. The food had been amazing, though the desserts were almost too numerous and sweet even for me. Once or twice I looked down the table to where Professor Snape sat at Professor Dumbledore’s left hand, hoping he was enjoying himself a little.
Because I drank a bit more than I probably should have, I started to feel drowsy halfway through the desserts course. Laughingly brushing aside Lavinia’s pleas to stay with her in case Lockhart came over and tried to tell her about the time he had deflowered a veela or something, I left the Great Hall before the other teachers and walked up the back stairs to my rooms. Once there, I took a luxuriously long bubble bath then headed straight to bed without an inkling of the strange occurrences that had taken place probably as I was staring at my bubbly, wrinkled toes.
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